Asia Aviation Europe Food Hotels Travel

24 Hours in Istanbul

This is part ten of my travel series to South Africa. For the series so far, please see below:

Traveling to South Africa – South African Airways and Federal Air
Singita Ebony – The Lodge
Singita Ebony – Day to Night
Singita Sweni – The Lodge
Singita Sweni – Day to Night
Cape Grace
Cape Town – The Peninsula Tour and The Boat House
Cape Town – City and Winelands Tour
Cape Town – V&A Waterfront, Test Kitchen, Fork and Table Mountain
24 Hours in Istanbul

On the way home to San Francisco from Cape Town, we ended up having about a 24 hour layover in Istanbul. Somehow after we booked our trip, we got it into our heads that our layover was only a few hours, and thus of course didn’t book a hotel in the city. By the time we were in Africa however, I realized that we had an overnight and quickly booked us a room and jotted down a few recommended sights in Istanbul. Our overnight ended up being the ideal plan – it was great to break up the long travel time back, and plus we got to dip our toes into a new country!

So on the morning of our flight from Cape Town, we headed to the airport and got ready to board our plane.

By the way – if you are checking any baggage, I’d highly recommend that you have it plastic wrapped. Everybody from the concierge to the airline staff were recommending this step.

DSC02028

And then we boarded our plane! It was the first time on Turkish Air for both me and Mr. Feather.

DSC02036

Thought this was a nice touch – flowers near the entrance on the plane while we were boarding.

DSC_0621

Our seats. Turkish flies a two class plane from Cape Town to Istanbul. This was their business/first equivalent.

DSC02031

The seats were lie flat and they offered turn down service.

DSC02038

Decent sized personal on board entertainment screen.

DSC02040

We were quite happy with the Turkish Air seats – they were your basic business lie flat and while not brand new, they were definitely newer/in better shape than those on SAA.

The service was also quite good – more on the efficient Lufthansa “How can we solve this problem side”, versus the Cathay/Singapore “How can we make your day better” attitude. I like both equally so was happy.

Where Turkish really excelled however was the food. They had some great service flairs, like clearly outlining in a folder the food options for the different segments of the flight.

DSC_0628

What I also really liked was the check off system for breakfast – so instead of an attendant coming around and asking for your breakfast order, you simply filled out this card before going to sleep.

DSC_0631

The Cape Town to Istanbul flight has about an hour stop in Johannesburg (you don’t deplane). During that flight, we were served small sandwiches, a sweet nutty tart, and drinks.

DSC02045

Then, after we took off from Johannesburg, the dinner service began.

Nuts and small bites served before appetizers.

DSC_0637

There was also a mixed appetizer cart that rolled around, and you chose a selection to go on a plate. I’m a huge tapas fan so this was one of my favorite parts of the meal!

DSC_0639

Here are our selections – I made Mr. Feather get another serving of the egg roll type things because I love egg rolls. These tasted similar enough!

DSC_0641

DSC_0642

Then, a light soup was served.

DSC_0644

Main course – we both had the chili shrimp with rice.

DSC_0647

Dessert was served via another rolling cart (hooray!).

DSC_0648

I chose the fresh fruit and baklava, with some custard ice cream on the side.

DSC_0654

After our meal, a movie or two and some hours of sleep, we landed in Istanbul! We hopped into our car and headed to our hotel, The Neorion.

DSC02055

DSC02056

I booked the Neorion last minute while in Africa…it was the #1 hotel on Tripadvisor for Istanbul at the time, and the Four Seasons was a multiple like five times more. While I can be a bit of a brat with hotels, for a quick layover the Neorion was perfect for what we needed.

They were very gracious and let us check in quite early. Our room was clean and spacious.  The service was also very good. When they saw that I was quickly going through the two small complimentary bottles of water in the room, someone was quickly dispatched with multiple 1L bottles to the room, all complimentary.

DSC02053

Complimentary Turkish delight in all of the rooms and in the lobby.

DSC_0671

We found this letter on our bed along with a farewell gift of Turkish delight when we got back from our sight seeing- thought was a very nice and hospitable touch.

DSC_0666

In the mornings, there was a very good complimentary buffet, and in the afternoons there was afternoon tea. In the evenings, there was a complimentary glass of wine on the rooftop where you could enjoy the sunset. Unfortunately we never made it to the tea or the evening drinks, but we did get a quick peek at the rooftop view in the morning when we checked in.

DSC_0656

Overall, I would highly recommend the Neorion. It was a great hotel with service from employees who felt like they genuinely cared. The price was very good (like I said, orders of magnitude less than a “true” five star hotel) and there were lots of lovely little extras. A few cons were that the bath amenities were less than luxurious and the towels and especially the bedding were very thin. In fact, I had to ask for more blankets to be sent to the room. On our next trip, I might try out a Park Hyatt or Four Seasons, but wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Neorion as a very good three/four star option!

Now…onto our day. We had a quick breakfast down at the buffet, and then headed out to walk around. Neorion was located in Sultanahmet, or the Old City, where many of the tourist attractions were. The neighborhoods right next to the Neorion, while obviously catering to tourists, were very charming to us.

DSC_0674

We walked to the Hagia Sophia, but unfortunately didn’t go in. We were quite tired and on a “lazy person’s” tour of Istanbul where we (well really me), ate lots and rested frequently on benches. Actually we weren’t supposed to even get this close to the Hagia but I wanted to at least take a photo, because I always got the Hagia Sophia as a cultural achievement when playing Civilization IV. Anybody else still play Civ? Anyone?

DSC_0714

The one sight that I knew I definitely wanted to see and that we prioritized, was The Blue Mosque. I was really excited when we saw it even from a distance, the architecture is just amazing.

DSC_0691

DSC_0696

The line going into the Mosque wasn’t too bad, and entrance was free. I would recommend if you’re going to any religious sites in Istanbul to come prepared with your own headscarf and to wear something covering your shoulders and coming down near your knees. By the way, leggings don’t count – too tight!

I was wearing shorts and didn’t have a scarf, so had to borrow a complimentary head scarf and don a robe as well. They both smelled… musty. Next time I’m bringing my own head scarf, wearing something knee length and I would recommend that any female visitors do the same.

It was worth it though. The inside of The Blue Mosque was so beautiful. We sat on the ground and just stared up at the ceiling.

DSC02054

After our visit to the Blue Mosque, we took a short walk and soon were at our lunch destination – Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi.

DSC_0726

DSC_0725

This is a very famous spot for meatballs, where we saw tourists and locals alike eating. You could watch the chefs preparing delicious kebabs and meatballs right from the window outside.

There’s another restaurant just a little bit away with the exact same name (don’t know if it was deliberate), so make sure you’re at the right one if you go. The “copy cat” restaurant reminded me a bit what you see in China.

Our orders. We shared a mixed salad, and I had the meatballs while Mr. Feather had the lamb kebab.

DSC_0735

Mr. Feather loves lamb so insisted on ordering lamb while I had the meatballs. I think he didn’t think it would be an issue because I don’t each much beef and can never finish it. These meatballs however, were an entirely different story. I could have easily eaten the whole plate, and then some… they were that good! Unfortunately I didn’t get to finish my plate because Mr. Feather, who was beginning to become alarmed by the rate I was devouring these at, quickly grabbed a few and ate them! I brought up this food thievery for the rest of our day.

DSC_0734

After lunch, we walked around and just explored the local neighborhoods. All around Istanbul, there were cats roaming the street. Reminded me a bit of Italy.

DSC_0721

DSC_0717

Passing by an exhibition from South Korea in the city center – apparently this was set up to introduce local residents to Korean culture.

DSC_0690

After some walking around a bit and a mere two hours after lunch, we decided to have some afternoon tea and headed back to our hotel’s general vicinity. Located a mere five minute walk from the Neorion was one of the more famous dessert shops in Istanbul – Hafiz Mustafa.

DSC_0687

Hafiz Mustafa is open 24 hours a day, and once you see the displays from the window, you can’t help but go inside. Take a look at the amazing treats below.

DSC_0681

DSC_0678

DSC_0675

DSC_0680

DSC_0683

There’s seating on both floors, inside and out, and we opted to head to the second floor and to take a table next to the open window so we could people watch outside.

DSC_0686

The GIANT menu they brought over – each page had a huge photo of a dessert or drink and a description. It took us probably 10-15 minutes just to go through this menu and figure out what we wanted. There are so many options that look delicious that unless you know what you want from the get go, you really have to start a “short list” and then eliminate and choose from there.

DSC_0753

Here were the choices we ended up with – a pistachio pudding…

DSC_0755

…and a doughy dessert soaked with syrup (ekmek kadayıfı).

DSC_0754

We tipped like we normally do in the US and the waiter brought over some complimentary tea. I’m not sure if this would be for everybody or if it was because of the tip! Either way it was appreciated.

DSC_0758

After a little rest at Hafiz Mustafa, we headed over to check out The Grand Bazaar, which we then found out was closed (it was a Sunday). Instead, we detoured about 5 minutes and went to the Spice Market instead.

DSC_0742

It was very cool getting to see all of the very busy bazaars and spice sellers at work. I was tempted to purchase some but there were so many options that it quickly became overwhelming.

Actually, I also was thinking about purchasing some caviar, there were lots of sellers of caviar from Iran, Russia, and more.

DSC_0748

DSC_0743

After the Spice Market and a brief siesta at our hotel, we ventured back out for a final meal.

Yes, it probably seems like we ate a lot on our day and yes, that is true. There were so many places and dishes that I wanted to try out and it was very sad only having basically a day and night in Istanbul, so we tried to stuff as much food down our gullets as possible. It was totally worth it though we did feel a little bit like stuffed sausages on the plane ride back to San Francisco!

So for our last meal in Istanbul, we decided to stay quite local and went to a tourist favorite called Aloran for an early dinner. For those of you who do stay at the Four Seasons Sultahnahmet, this is right next door.

DSC_0764

Complimentary bread that was still hot from the oven.

DSC_0765

There was only one dish that I really, really had to have – the manti. Manti are basically Turkish dumplings, like Russian pelmini or Chinese lamb versions. I try dumplings (and noodle soups) wherever I go!

Aloran’s lamb dumplings were amazing, especially with  chili peppers and yogurt sauce on top.

DSC_0766

Mr. Feather ordered the pizza. We had been told that Turkish pizza was excellent. This was very good, though perhaps not as unique or different than the pizza we get at home.

DSC_0767

After we finished our small meal at Aloran, we rolled ourselves and our big stomachs back home. We were both dead tired but decided to take one last look at the city from Neorion’s rooftop.

DSC02049

We had so much fun in our brief 24 hours in Istanbul, and now we know we can’t wait to come back and visit wonderful Turkey.

The next morning, we hopped on our United flight (transferring through Frankfurt) back to San Francisco. After two weeks, it was time to head home…

…and that wraps up my trip report for South Africa, 2013. It was one of our favorite trips that we have ever taken and we truly felt incredibly fortunate to experience everything we did. We still talk about our favorite meals in Cape Town, the wonderful hospitality and wildlife at Singita, and the beautiful architecture of Istanbul. See you again soon, South Africa and Istanbul…and thank you for reading along!

You Might Also Like

  • Sonya
    December 2, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Wonderful post. We were there a few years ago for a wedding and stayed at the Four Seasons Bosphorus property; I would recommend. You would love it Kat!

    • Katherine
      December 2, 2013 at 9:14 am

      FS Bosphorus and Sultanahmet are on my list for next time…I’ve heard that Bosphorus is a beautiful beautiful place!

  • Ammu
    December 2, 2013 at 8:30 am

    So amazing! Did you do any shopping in Istanbul? One of my favourite presents (from my mum) when I moved to nepal was a set of four coasters and two incredible hand-made bowls from her trip to Turkey. So stunning.

    • Katherine
      December 2, 2013 at 9:13 am

      No I didn’t get to do much (except for a wee bit of food). I can imagine the shopping there is amazing, I want to go back!

  • laura
    December 2, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Istanbul is in my top 5 of places I’d like to go next… although my husband, not so much (sidenote, he still places civilization..hah!).

    • Katherine
      December 2, 2013 at 9:12 am

      Excellent, glad to hear of another civ fan! 🙂

      I would highly recommend Istanbul – I think it has something for anyone. I hope you go!

  • Irina
    December 2, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Hi Kat – excellent recap:) What I like about Turkish airlines ( and they have been one of my favorite ones for a few years now) is that for the travelers on budget, they are the best value. Even the economy class food is not bad at all (on transatlantic flights, at least), and also normally, if you have a layover for 24 hours in Istanbul, they will give you a hotel room. Granted, it’s not in Sultanhmet, and it’s not 5 stars but I stayed once in a VERY nice hotel and it provided the shuttle bus to the touristy area that you could take ( i opted for public transportation:)).
    I think it’s quite impossible to have Blue Mosque on your list and not end up near Hagia Sofia, they’re just across from each other! But my favorite mosque by far is Suleymaniye, it’s not as pretty as Blue Mosque but there is something about it that makes me calm and happy . And next time you are in Istanbul, definitely go eat at the fish market ( in Taksim area, I think, is the most popular one). I can write and write and write but i will stop now. Have a good week and Happy Holidays!!!

    • Katherine
      December 2, 2013 at 12:53 pm

      That is great to know about Turkish Air…I had no idea! If only we had been flying with them the whole way through…then we could have gotten free hotel 🙂 It is a must that we go back one day and when we do we will visit your recommended mosque and also eat in the fish area! I may hit you up for more tips right before we leave too. Thanks Irina!

  • Dianne
    December 2, 2013 at 11:08 am

    What beautiful and delicious shots! Those nutty treats look amazing. Hope to make it Turkey one day!

    • Katherine
      December 2, 2013 at 12:52 pm

      The desserts are amazing…any dessert fan needs to visit Turkey!

  • christine brightside
    December 2, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Your posts brought back a lot of great memories, Katherine! I stayed in the same hotel for one night – but rather on accident. We were searching for a hotel quite late at night (and definitely did not have the W Hotel budget), and found the Neorion.

    Hafiz Mustafa is a killer, right? I bought as much as I was able to carry when I was in Istanbul, and my travel mates were predicting I would die before eating all that stuff… fact is they got very jealous of those bags full of goodies and started begging for delights 😉 My bags lasted about four days long though…and we were 6 people travelling through Turkey back then…

    • Katherine
      December 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      YES! I want to go back to Hafiz, so cool that you stayed in the same place 🙂 Did you like it? I thought it was a great little hotel – I just wish they had longer blankets! Maybe I’m just an American who is used to huge blankets!

  • tonya
    December 2, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Thanks for the Cyber Monday links! I was able to snag the Tory Burch tan and black Kaitlyn pumps for $150 (orginally $295) on Bloomingdales site today so liking Cyber Monday so far 🙂

    • Katherine
      December 2, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      Hi Tonya, that’s an awesome deal – almost 50% off basically! I saw the Bloomingdales announcement in my inbox this morning but didn’t have time to look through the selection…now I’ll have to take a closer look when I get home from work! 🙂 Enjoy your pumps!

  • Ella Pretty Blog
    December 2, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Love Istanbul – hubby and I vacationed there for a week pre-kids. The food, the sights, the shopping, the people – it was such an amazing experience! One of my favorite places was the Basilica Cistern – so hautingly beautiful…and of course I spent hours at the Grand Bazaar.

    Reading your post made me want to go back again – and take the kiddies this time too 🙂

    And I never tried those meatballs or dumplings – but really want to now!

    • Katherine
      December 3, 2013 at 7:35 am

      I have to add the Basilica to my list for next time – thank you!

  • Adele
    December 2, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    Lovely photos which bring back memories for me – I used to travel to Istanbul every 8 weeks on business so got to see a fair bit of the city over the year. So glad you enjoyed the Blue Mosque, definitely need to hit the Bazaars next time!
    Happy Tuesday Katherine xoxo
    http://www.intotheblonde.com/

  • Emily
    December 2, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing your travels to Turkey. It’s definitely on my bucket list of places to visit one day. Will add The Blue Mosque and Hafiz Mustafa to my places of must see! Great pictures!

    • Katherine
      December 3, 2013 at 8:40 am

      Thanks Emily!

  • Trang
    December 2, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    Great review of your mini trip to Istanbul Kat! I love reading about your travel adventures; you really bring me along with you with your descriptions. I had the opportunity to visit Istanbul many years ago and loved both the bazaar and the hagia sofia. I hope you get the chance to experience both. There’s absolutely nothing in the world like standing under that grand dome and thinking, they built this WHEN??!!

    On a different note, I shopped JCrew’s cyber monday sale and picked up the swiss dot tuxedo shirt you had recommended. Can’t wait to get it!

    • Katherine
      December 3, 2013 at 8:40 am

      Ah now I have to go to the Hagia Sofia! We need to book a week next time we are in Istanbul I think.

      I love that shirt and honestly I think it gets better as you wash it. Enjoy!

  • vanessatime
    December 3, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Love this post like always Kat….How much I am enjoying reading it and love beautiful pictures you captured :))

    • Katherine
      December 3, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Thanks Vanessa!

  • Story Paige
    December 4, 2013 at 6:43 am

    The manta looks very interesting 😉

  • Stacey
    December 9, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    I love Istanbul! We spent over 2 weeks traveling all over Turkey some years ago and it remains my favorite trip. It’s an amazing country with so much to offer. We stayed in a boutique hotel in Sultanahmet that was so charming. I don’t typically stay in luxury hotels as I’d rather spend the money on excursions, but if you can afford it, it’s a nice treat.

    • Katherine
      December 9, 2013 at 12:59 pm

      Hi Stacey, I’d love to know the name of the boutique hotel!

  • Singita Sweni – The Lodge | Feather Factor
    December 9, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    […] Traveling to South Africa – South African Airways and Federal Air Singita Ebony – The Lodge Singita Ebony – Day to Night Singita Sweni – The Lodge Singita Sweni – Day to Night Cape Grace Cape Town – The Peninsula Tour and The Boat House Cape Town – City and Winelands Tour Cape Town – V&A Waterfront, Test Kitchen, Fork and Table Mountain 24 Hours in Istanbul […]

  • Joy @My Traveling Joys
    December 10, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    Great recap! I lived in Istanbul for 3 years and absolutely loved it. Those kofte were always some of my favorite too. For your next trip, I’d recommend doing a hamam and buying some Turkish towels. Perfect for the beach or at home!

    Also, my friend Bilge at Ucuzcular, no. 51 in the Spice Bazaar will ship her yummy Turkish spices just about anywhere! As a professional chef, I can highly recommend her. 🙂 Her website is http://www.ucuzcular.com.tr

    • Katherine
      December 11, 2013 at 8:41 am

      Thank you for the recommendation! I’ll definitely stop by her area next time I am in Istanbul!

  • Marilyn
    December 14, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    I love your travel blogs. I’ve been to South Africa three times and visited the sites you saw in Cape Town. CT is truly a world class city and I love it. If you return to Cape Town you must try Vineyard Ventures for a winelands tour. They know excellent restaurants and wineries. We had fabulous lunches at La Columbe at Constantia Uitsig (sp?) and at Tokara Winery. Your safari photos were wonderful too. I’ve yet to visit Singita but it’s now on my list.

    • Katherine
      December 14, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      Thank you Marilyn! You must add Singita, you won’t regret it. I’m adding Vineyard to our list for CT for next time and I am still hearing from people about how we missed out by not going to La Coloumbe!