... how would you spend it?
Which 8 hours are you talking about?!
but since the question was so vague, i'll give you an equally twisted answer.. although you can probably clearly tell i'm not really itching to. so i'll tell you what to do between 9am and 9am and you can pick the 8 hours you want.
lets start with the touristy essentials. at 9am you should be standing in the Sultanahmet neighborhood. Maybe you could start at Hagia Sofia and spend an hour or so taking it all in. you could spend more time there but we got ground to cover. then step out and walk across the garden to Sultanahmet Camii (aka Blue Mosque). I personally wouldn't spend more than 15-20 minutes there. its famous so check the box. then next to it is what your travel guide would call the Hippodrome. This is where the gladiators used to do their chariot thing. its all gone now so you can take a peak, as you walk over to Basilica Cistern, at the surviving obelisks, one original and one replica and the surviving lower half of what was probably a caduceus. now you're at the Cistern. you could spend some time here. its going to wow you.
save the best for the last, Topkapı Saray (palace, see dictionary below for basic stuff, most people don't speak English so it'll take you a long way if you picked up basic stuff). if you wanted you could spend two days here. but spend a couple of hours checking out the treasury and the harem (its not all you've probably imagined, harem basically means the inner sanctum where the family lives, but while you're in a touristy mode, knock yourself out, let your fantasies run wild!)
its noonish. lunch time. eat at Khorasani. its a kebab house. try Kağıt kebab (paper kebab on the English menu if you get one, you will). and you'll have everything else there. then you can ask for the directions or follow the street signs over to the Grand Bazaar (aka Kapalı çarşı). here again, you could decide how much or little time you wanna spend walking around. its covered. its huge. its a labyrinth. if you don't have cells, stick together!! on second thought, even if you have cells, STICK TOGETHER! carpets, backgammon boards, spice mills, clay pottery (pretty good). its all there.
aiite!! cutting to the chase.. WOMEN! ask for Cevahir Bedestan. its the jewellery part. lots of silver and some gold work. something special? you'll see some work there from the Trabzon region on the Black Sea. these are usually silver strings weaved into small balls almost as if someone was making it from wicker. simple but unique. you can also get it in gold but its gonna be gaudy and you're gonna blind the peeps around you with the bling. now i am telling you all of this only coz we're the mafiosi. if you see a girl i've given this Trabzon stuff to, you don't have to tell her that i've told you and the rest of the world about it. pretend it was a secret. appear impressed while you're being told all about it.
if you came to the bazaar from the Sultanahmet side, you probably passed Beyazıt Camii (Mosque), and saw next to it the beautiful facade of the Istanbul University campus. anyhow, the point is that the grand bazaar has a main passage and the maze extends to one side of it. like a D flipped over the straight side. so you will enter from one side of the main passage and you should exit from the other.
you will come upon Nurosmaniye Camii. small and absolutely one of the most beautiful mosques i've ever seen. it is baroque and its the only Ottoman mosque (or possibly any mosque) that has an elliptical courtyard. the inspiration was St. Peter's Basilica. ooops! you can guess, it was controversial when it was built.
when you're done with this, you can walk on to Mısır çarşı, aka the Spice bazaar. After the grand bazar, you'll find this boring. but stroll through. check it off and exit the other side and you'll come upon Eminönü. you can take cruises up and down the Golden Horn here.
BUT... i almost forgot about the most beautiful mosque in Istanbul. Sülemaniye Camii. The architect who built it was Sinan, aka Mimar Sinan (architect sinan) or Sinan Hoca (endearingly, professor/teacher sinan). Turks love and respect him a lot and if you see this masterpiece you will too. Sorry, I have to bore you here a little bit but I can't hold this part back. He refined and developed the Ottoman tradition of architecture as we know it, the pencil like minars, the domes, the dome support on more cascading half domes to minimize the use of pillars underneath and creating wide open spaces within. he was an Albanian janissary and took up architecture as his specialty. he lived to be 98 and was made chief architect in the court very early so he was able to shape the whole empire pretty much. he built all these beautiful mosques but he also laid down the entire urban plan for Istanbul and parts of the empire, from bridges to aqueducts, cisterns, schools, soup kitchens, roads etc etc. the mosque that he called his own best piece of work is Selimiye (in Edirne, about 3 hours away so we wont go there), but he had a special spot for his second favorite, Sülemaniye, and chose to be buried next to it. i guess no one wants to leave Istanbul.
but you could walk around the entire complex and miss his grave. because the piece of land that he chose for his grave is a V shaped juncture where two almost parallel lanes intersect. he couldn't come up with a use for that small corner so he put his grave there. its right next to the mosque. for a man of his stature, to say the least, its humble, and its deeply humbling. pay your respects!
now back to Eminönü pier. you can walk across the Galata Bridge. over to the right you'll see a round tower with a conical top. its the Galata Tower. did i say Galata Tower, or did i say Galata Tower?!! hmm.. I think I said Galata Tower! damn straight!! this is where I used to live! not in the tower. but right next to it. you can go up the tower (paying an arm and a leg) to get a 360 view of the city. but the tower is almost better to look at from the outside than being inside it and looking elsewhere. bunch of random people (aka hippies) are dancing, playing music around it in the evenings so you can chill out there, walk around the small street and explore shops and coffee shops. Hotel Anemon, next to the tower, has a great wine cellar in the basement and a rooftop with a breathtaking view of the tower for a late night drink.
Now on to Istiklal Caddesi (Istiklal street). Its a 3km long pedestrian avenue with shops, coffee shops and bars on both sides. it begins in Taksim square (aka Taksim Meydan, the equivalent of a times square, but a wide open space where you have all big gatherings and protests etc. yes, the last bomb went off here but don't sweat it, get with it!) and ends close to Galata Tower in the area called Tünel. we will begin our tour in Tünel. So from Galata Tower, there is a street that leads up to Tünel. Ask for directions to Istikal and anyone will tell you. Get up to Tünel and starting walking up Istiklal. There are shops, coffee shops, bars etc. on both sides. but the real stuff is in the little neighborhoods on either side. explore, get lost. you can spend an entire day here or split up your time between the Sultanahmet, bazaars and this.
If you get hungry walking up, try the gözleme. Its the Turkish version of the roti or paratha in the Indian food. but not oily. and filled with cheese, spinach, potatoes or minced meat. whatever tickles your fancy. or try manti. its small steamed dumplings with yogurt and olive oil, and filled with minced meat or spinach etc. there are tons of kebab shops but save your appetite. As you are walking up one of the first side streets will be Asmalımescit. Nothing much to see here in the day but note it down for the dark hours. Starting on and perpendicular to Asmalımescit and along Istiklal is Sofyalı Sokak (street). This neighborhood comes alive at night so we'll come back here later. half way up Istikal, you'll come to a bend and will see the big gates of Galatasaray high school, opposite it is the fish market (Balık Pazarı), we'll come here at 4 or 5am. But from Balık Pazarı, you will also go to Nevizade, a small street with tons of bars and restaurants.
when you get up to Taksim square, ask for directions to the Cihangir area. Walk down this street downhill to the Cihangir neighborhood from the Taksim square. its where live all the artsy fartsy people, the intellectuals, the pseudo intellectuals, all those who are wanna be artsy or intellectual and all the expats who want to feel good thinking that maybe where they ate dinner, there might have been a Turkish artist sitting next to them. that they might not know any of their names or faces and couldn't recognize if the guy bumped into them is a minor matter we'll ignore. anyhow, so you have a bunch of funky shops you can pick up stuff at. some cool restaurants, bars.. get a drink at While Mill Cafe. they have a garden in the back. early evening is not bad. late night is good.
Dinner!! this is my best part. i'll suggest two options. first, go to Fatih. Its a neighborhood named after the Fatih Camii. The Camii is named after Sultan (Mehmet) Fatih (ie the Conqueror). The mosque is huge and he also sleeps there. you can pop in if you want. but i would head straight to Itfaiye Caddesi. There you will ask for Sur Ocakbaşı (surocakbasi.net). Don't get freaked out by the picture with the kid popping out of a melon on the website. they thought it was cute. these boys come from the Kurdish part of the country. its funny there. and the food is dangerous!! seriously..
try the Buryan kebab (its steamed lamb), and the Saç Tava (tomato based meat dish) and the mixed kebab platter. they make killer ayran (the yogurt drink), its fresh and frothy, and get the house dessert with tea. you're not gonna wake up after this. Fatih is also a very conservative neighborhood of the city so you'll see a totally different side of things.
the second option is you take a ferry from Beşiktaş to Kadıköy, across on the Asian side. the restaurant is called "çiya sofrası". (http://www.ciya.com.tr/index_en.php). this place is sick.. just sick. the guy has traveled all over Turkey to gather recipes for home cooked food from all different regions. so every day of the week they have a different menu. i saw even the Istanbullus talking to the chef to find out what the different dishes were before ordering. they have some kebaps too.. they have three locations on the same street. i suggest you skip the kebabs here and go to the one where they have home cooked food, the "sofarsı".. nothing you will ever get at any Turkish restaurant anywhere outside Turkey. or at least not this much collection of unique dishes. and its just a low key plain restaurant. even if you eat like a pig, you will pay about $20 or less for a meal.. if you're paying more, means you're taking the taxi to the ER right after. the desserts are even worse.. lets not go there. anyhow, when you're done or when they're done destroying your will power you can head over to Kadife Sokak (street). this is where the hipsters hang out. 5 minutes walking distance. bunch of cool bars, coffee shops etc.. get some Turkish coffee coz the night is young and long.. take the taxi back and you'll drive over the Boğaz bridge to get back to the European side.
if you don't wanna go off route to Fatih or the Asian side for a meal, go to the Nişantaşi neighboorhood. eat at Köşebaşı. its amazing food but you'll need reservations and this one is gonna be pricey. on to nightlife.
a few options. you can hang out in the Asmalımescit/Tünel/Sofyalı area that i mentioned earlier. its a maze of small streets and its a sea of people. on Sofyalı, my favorite spot is Faces. A small, comfy place.. they play some mainstream music but its a break from the house and trance pumping everywhere else. there are a bunch of cool places around you can check out. Kafe Pi is nice, Lokal is not bad either. Nu Teras is close by. insane view from the roof top dance floor.. this place is baaaad.. but a bit pretentious.
on that note, some more pretentious options. you can hang out in Bebek. its the beverly hills equivalent of Istanbul, along the water. Lucca Lounge is always good. or you can check out Anjelique in Ortaköy neighborhood. its lso on the bosphorus. walk over to the pier to take a look at the lit up baroque mosque (Ortaköy Camii) right under the Boğaz bridge. its one wicked scene!
The best for the last. head over to Reina. Its an institution. in fact, its an instytushun. its gotta have its own word coz there aint anything like it anywhere in the world. i heard they closed down Studio 54 when Reina opened. ok, i'm getting facetious but you get the idea. it has a big open air space right on the bosphorus. its right under the bridge and you look across at the Asian side, with the lights on the hillside like rocks on velvet. now, of course, this sort of space has its attitude. cute ain't enough, girls. BUT where there is a will there is a way. there is the main door, where if you're not on the list, you don't go in. you can, if you show up really early, like 10 or 11ish but then who is gonna check out all those other neighborhoods?? anyhow, there is another door. down the street for those with table reservations. walk up with don't-waste-my-time-bitch attitude and ask that you would like to get a table. they'll let you through because the table is reserved at the desk inside.. but who said anything about actually going there.. just walk over inside to the bar and THE HOUSE IS YOURS!! the lie shall set you free.... mu ha ha ha ha ha ha ha haaa!!!!!! in all seriousness, drinks are priced crazy.. so if you're in a group of 4-6 people, get a tall table with a bottle and split it. ok.. by now i've spilt beans like martinis. you better keep it to yourself or my blood is on your hands.
its 5am now. the crowd is still not thinning but we got unfinished business back at Balık Pazarı (the fish market on Istiklal, remember?). when you enter the street, the first one on the left is şampiyon kokoreç and next to it is golden kokoreç. you wont go wrong with either. ask for "yarim ekmek kokoreç". its gonna be spicy, and get some "midye dolma" (stuffed mussels), put some lemon on it. get some ayran to put it all down with and making it to 9am will be tough.
its 6ish. take a taxi over to Rumeli Hisar. lets say you get there before 7 sometime. its a neighborhood up the bosphorus from Bebek. its named after the fortress Rumeli Hisar, AGAIN, on the bosphorus. Sultan Mehmet built it to conquer Istanbul. he wanted to stop the supplies route from the top of the bosphorus to make the siege effective. they built it in 4 months. its not elaborate, just functional, but when you look at it and think about the four months part, it'll wow you. actually, you might not be able to go inside this early, but take a walk around and along the bosphorus. its nice. then walk to Lokma restaurant. the address is 18 Yahya Kemal Caddesi if you need to ask. but you'll be on Yahya Kemal so shouldn't be bad finding it. you have to get some "bal-kaymak" (honey and cream), and a couple of different types of menemen (an egg dish, some distant cousin of omlette). i'd say go for pastirmali menemen (the turkish cousin of bacon) and sucuk menemen (sausage)..
its 9am. you're a little late for your 9am flight, aren't you?! if you miss it, you can come back into the city and go to Beşiktaş area and either get a cruise on the bosphorus or visit Istanbul Modern for contemporary art and last but not the least again, check out Dolmabahçe Palace. It was the last Ottoman palace. also baroque. mind blowing!
we are well over our time limit folks and i got a train to catch. stay out of trouble!
PS. the basic reading help. C = J. "ı" = "u" as in 'but'. ş is like "sh". ğ is g but silent. ç is "ch". ö and ü are funny versions of o and u. don't worry about it too much but if you're curious, ask Zeidan for a demonstration. enjoy when you hear these sounds.