Europe 2016 Day 1: Istiklal

I was right. Mun was right. I did get a virtual spanking today…

Okay, okay, okay… I’m going to talk about Day 1, okay?

Day 1 began with me touching down in the Istanbul Ataturk Airport, so…

Istanbul Atatürk Airport

The Atatürk Airport is an interesting airport. It feels completely different from every other airports that I have ever touched down on. And I have touched down on quite a number of airports all over the world.

The Atatürk Airport is…

Okay, okay… no more airport talks! Which is good actually, because when I touched down, I have not slept for close to 24 hours so I was a walking zombie for most parts. The only thing I could focus on was to get on the bus and head to my AirBnb apartment to crash. Taking note of the airport and whipping out the camera for pictures did not even occur to my tired brain.

And I have already written about that part of my Day 1 when I was actually there in Istanbul (link above), so… moving on…

Taksim Square

After catching up on sleep for a few hours, I finally dragged my sorry ass out of the apartment at 3.30 PM local time for a bit of exploring.

I did mention that my apartment was only about 100 meters from Taksim Square (Taksim Meydani), didn’t I? Naturally, that was the first place I hit…

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Taksim Square

If you must know, taksim is the Turkish word for distribution. So Taksim Square is Distribution Square. This is because during the Ottoman era, this place originally housed a stone reservoir and acted as the central water distribution point for the area.

Today though, it is just a major tourist attraction. Instead of the reservoir (which is no longer around), people come here to see the Republic Monument (Cumhuriyet Anıtı), a monument designed and built in 1923 to commemorate the the formation of the Turkish Republic a year earlier.

There are sculptures on all four sides of this monument, and they represent Kemal Atatürk and his goons. As you can see from the picture above, thousands of people will flock here every day to see and take selfies with the sculptures, because Kemal Atatürk is the founding father and national hero of the Turkish Republic.

I don’t know which one is Kemal Atatürk…

Istiklal Avenue

From my apartment, by walking across Taksim Square, we would arrive at the Istiklal Avenue (İstiklâl Caddesi).

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Istiklal Avenue

This is the most famous street in Istanbul, and probably the most congested. According to my apartment host, more than three million people use this street every day. Yes, three million people every day. And all the shops and departmental stores are here, so if you are into shopping then this is the street to be in. I suppose you can call this Istanbul’s High Street.

This is also a rather long street. I cannot be sure how long exactly, but I’m sure it is at least over 1 kilometer long.

You know what, let’s validate my claim…


I was right…

When I tell you it is probably the most congested street in Istanbul, I am not exaggerating. Look…

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You might think this picture doesn’t tell you much, but imagine almost the entire 1.3 kilometers of road to be more or less the same as this! The best part is, although there are a lot of tourists in the mix, most of the people here are locals.

Here’s another interesting fact. You might think that with all these people walking along this street all day long, that this is a pedestrian-only street. So I took these pictures at the entrance of the street to show you that if you think that, you’re wrong.

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See the tramway?
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Because trams go through this street

As if this isn’t crazy enough, notice how the tramway side of the road is actually tarred? It is because this road is NOT closed off for pedestrians only. Cars can go through here if they want to.

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Like this

Seeing this car braving the human traffic, horning and inching forward slowly really blew my mind away. I don’t think I have ever seen something like this before, moving cars and walking people co-existing peacefully on the road at the same time…

Here’s some more random photos that I took along Istiklal…

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Street performers
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Have I mentioned that Istanbul is a rather open city, Muslim as it is?
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Galatasaray Football Club victory tram

One thing I noticed is that the big departmental stores here have tight security procedures at their main entrances. Not just guards, but you would have to go through the whole security screening thing just to enter.

I suppose you guys have heard of the terrorist bombing in Istanbul back in January 2016? I think this measure is a direct response to that.

Also, I noticed a lot of side strips off the Istiklal. There are more shops and restaurants in these side strips, so if you are exploring Istiklal, it is not just the 1.3 kilometer stretch. I probably ended up walking close to 2 kilometers that day…

No, not 2 kilometers. I walked down the street AND BACK. So it was at least 3 kilometers of walking, probably 4

Another thing I want to show you is the many shops selling Turkish Delights along Istiklal. Here, you can either pack some to bring home with you as souvenir (most of them provide vacuum seal services), or you can sit down and order some to go with Turkish tea as a way of relaxing after all those walking.

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Fresh pastries and Turkish Delights

If you want to go full tourist mode then you can try the baklava here. Baklava is a traditional Ottoman sweet pastry with chopped nuts, syrup and honey as filling.

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Baklava rolls

I did not try the baklava and tea experience though. I was given a small piece to sample in one of them shops and decided that it was too sweet for me. Too bloody sweet! These sweet delights are not for me!

I guess the lack of sleep was really bad for me. After this 3 kilometers plus walking, admiring and taking photos which took me close to 3 hours (it was about 6.30 PM when I finally made it back to Taksim Square), I could feel my body really giving in. So I grabbed some street food and headed back to my apartment and called it a day.

Happy now? This is really the official start of my travelogue if you disregard the airport tales.

Or you don’t think so? You don’t think exploring the high street is a form of proper travel and are only interested to see those palaces and museums?


  1. I am not a fan of history, but I don’t mind reading about museum trips just for knowledge and entertainment.

    Oh Turkish Delights, I remember that, it was really really very sweet, too sweet for me plus it was gummy and sticky, anyway not a fan of sweets also

    • That’s what I thought. If it is too sweet for my Malaysian tongue, then it is probably no good for Singaporeans hahaha! 😛

    • Well… exploring shopping is also one form of exploring the place if you ask me, hahaha! But seriously, Istiklal is not just about shopping. It is also about experiencing Turkish rush hour, and how the locals deal with it, etc. You can learn a lot about the locals just by joining them in the walk…

  2. 3 million people to walk through Istiklal Avenue each day is quite impressive. It sounds and looks more congested than Petaling Street during the CNY season – last time I was there it was shoulder to shoulder and it was in the evening, and my mum even queued up to buy the tau foo fah. But from the photos, it seems that people are inclined to give way, since that they are giving way to the car…well, sort of.

    The car driving through the crowd is certainly something – but from the looks of it, the locals seem used to it.

    I’m not a fan of Turkish Delight. I think that is one of the sweets you either love or hate. As for baklava, I don’t love it but don’t hate it either. Generally, I prefer savoury over sweet.

    • Petaling Street on peak season is probably worse. But the thing is, Istiklal is much wider and longer, and being wider, longer and almost as congested means much more people. I cannot imagine myself enjoying Petaling Street a lot were I a tourist, to be honest. (And I’ve recommended it to other travelers, gasp!!)

      I’m not against sweet, in fact I like sweet, a lot. But there is such a thing as being too sweet. Just because I like sweet doesn’t mean I enjoy putting a spoonful of sugar in my mouth. The stuff here are almost to that level 😐 …

      • Sounds like Istiklal and Petaling Street have in common, crowds. A crowd is a crowd, no matter how long or wide the road is 😐

        Not surprised you recommended Petaling Street to travelers. If they are after touristy things to do, that’s a place to check out. Fair enough.

  3. I have eaten Turkish Delights like the one Mun mentioned. It comes is a box and there is a variety. Some are quite good but as you said, they are too sweet for our tastebuds.

    • I wonder if what Mun tasted are Turkish Turkish Delights or some other versions, like English Turkish Delights. The ones here are really sweet. I would be shocked if Mun really enjoys them, seeing how she prefers subtle flavors. 😐

      I could probably eat them with a straight face, now that I know what to expect. But the baklava really came as a huge shock the first time I bit into it…

      • Hahaha, I ate the pistachio Turkish Delights when I was about 15 years old, 30 years ago when I think they first appear in KL. Yes, they were sweet at that time too but I was young so I like sweet things then. That is also why I did not eat them for about 30 years now apart from the fact that they are expensive here.

        • I dunno… I like sweet things too. But they say their Turkish Delights are same sweet as their baklava, and the baklava was too sweet even for me… Imagine putting a spoonful of sugar in your mouth, it was almost that 🙄 … Maybe what we can find in Malaysia is the toned down version or something…

  4. Wow!!! 3 million people would ply Istiklal Avenue. Incredible. Sounds like Tokyo’s Shibuya.

    The pastries and rolls would attract me anywhere. I must sink my teeth on them.

    • The amount of people is probably similar, but the nature of the street and the architecture is miles apart…

      If you like VERY VERY SWEET stuff then yeah, these are for you. 😉

  5. For one, I don’t know why but Ottoman Empire kept shooting out of the pictures when you said that Taksim means ‘distribution’ in Turkish. The tram does slightly remind me of San Francisco, but the fact that pedestrians are sharing the road with trams and cars is a little tough to comprehend. (I shouldn’t be that surprised since they used to do that in Rundle Mall back in the ancient days.)

    Gee, I’m relieved to know that I’m not the only one who feels that baklava has too much saccharine in it. Meh, I’m more keen in reading posts about high streets rather than museum – I may love history, but I’m easily bored out by reading about museum trips.

    • Well, that’s to be expected, because Istanbul was the capital city of the Ottoman Empire. Everything here are Ottoman in nature! 😉

      I’ll have quite a few of them museum and palace posts coming up, so let me apologize to you first in case I made you fall asleep. 🙄

      • No wonder! I figured that it had the historical linkage! 😉

        Nah, it’s okay. I don’t mind reading about museums – as long as it’s just a bit. 🙂

        • We’ll see. I think I don’t have much museums to write about, but probably a lot of combined historical sites…

          • In that case, don’t fret. Historical sites are perfectly fine. I’d love to learn more about how Ottomon Empire conquered Turkey from the Crusaders. 😉

            • Then you should find some time to visit Istanbul, most of the historical attractions here are related.. 😉

  6. Really a crowded street.. I wonder what if the car grazed someone on the road, reminded me of Vietnam but this one is a car instead of motorbikes… I won’t dare to drive in this type of crowd.. 🙂 So they have security devices as one enters the malls? Everywhere seems not safe nowadays…

  7. Exploring the high street counts but at least give us a time reference of roughly what time you started exploring. 1pm Turkey time? or 3pm Turkey time?

    You didn’t try any Turkish Delights? just sampled a small piece of the baklava? I heard that Pistachio Turkish Delights are super tasty so it would be great if you have tried some authentic ones from Istanbul itself.

    In Petaling Street, you will get cars moving into pedestrians and I hate that. They should just make Petaling Street for pedestrians only.

    And I think you purposely wrote Day 0 so that you will get a virtual spanking from Countess. ;p No more spanking for you now because your post today pass the test. Thanks!

    • Wah! You even want the times?! You’re worse than Le Countess! Okay… I left the apartment around 3.30pm local time, and I got back to Taksim Square around 6.30pm, hence the almost 3 hours. (Added these into the blog post also) >.< No leh, the photos for the airports, I actually uploaded them to the blog before boarding the flight at Changi, but I did not have enough time to write the post. I was planning to write this Day 0 with or without Le Comtess, but because she berated me, only I made the post sound like I was goading her. 🙄 Yeah, I only tried the baklava piece. I was told that all their Turkish Delights uses the same syrup and honey, so I did not even think of trying more pieces. It was really too sweet for my palate, don't think I could stomach them easily and actually enjoy them... 😐 I thought Petaling Street is closed off? Isn't that what that arch and roof is all about? I remember that other street that cuts across Petaling street was open for cars, but usually people would move aside when cars are approaching. Nobody would be crazy enough to stand in the way of cars as far as I can remember. Here in Istiklal, people clear up a path for the cars at their whims and convenience. Sometimes the cars have to horn for a few times and still no path is forthcoming, and they could not drive into people...

      • It has been a long time since I last went to Petaling Street so you may be right that Petaling Street itself is closed off but the road that cuts across Petaling Street should be closed off too. In Penang, you know the street where people queue up for the famous Penang Road cendol, cars will still squeeze into that lane itself and honk like crazy at those people in the queue. That lane should be closed to cars.

        Have you eaten any Turkish delights here? They are very different from Baklava. The baklava that I have eaten before are like deep fried or baked pastries whereas the pistachio turkish delights are made up of lots of pistachios stucked together by gummy jelly so while it is sweet, the pistachios will make it very nutty and nice. Hhhmmmm, now I feel like going to Istanbul just to eat pistachio Turkish delights, hahahahaha!

        Turkish delights texture is somewhat like USA gummies candies but softer. This is from what I ate here, not sure they are authentic or not.

        • Strange, I actually don’t remember having bad experiences with cars when I was hanging around in Petaling Street and also the few times I was queuing for the Penang Road cendol. Sure, it was tight and cars do go through them, but it was nothing like what I saw in Istiklal. Istiklal was basically full on people on the road itself rather than on the side strips. And they won’t scatter the moment a car horns them. They would take their own sweet time to clear a path. 🙄

          There’s actually quite a few variations of Turkish Delights, but yeah, they’re all kind of gummy or sticky and nothing like baklava. Trust me on this one, you will understand if you taste the real ones here. They are SWEET! If you treat sweetness the same way you treat savory, trust me, you will not like these one bit at all!

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