Serif Yenin is the go-to specialist for Istanbul walking tours. He has toured Princess Michael of Kent and Pope Benedict XVI about his favorite city. He’s even collaborated with the world’s most recognized celebrity, Oprah Winfrey.
I called Serif and arranged to spend a day with him on a walking tour of Istanbul. I walked in with eagerness and an open mind, with no preconceived notions. I departed with a deeper love for the city, a better grasp of its history, and a renewed admiration for my host.
Serif did not take me on one of his normal trips, which I understand are also fantastic. He researched my blog and created a customised tour based on what he thought would be most interesting to me. My personalized trip had enough of history and attractions interspersed with opportunities to try local cuisine. He was able to create a day that was exactly tailored to my interests, and his attention was evident throughout the day.
We met at Taksim Square, a central place that made it simple to find him. As we walked to the metro, Serif started detailing the city’s rich history, which dated back to 6,000 B.C.
He emphasized that Istanbul is the only metropolis in the world that spans two continents as we dropped down to locate our subway. I expected there would be an obvious difference in culture or cuisine between the two sides of the city, but Serif informed that this is not the case. The Asian side is more residential and has fewer visitors, but there is no discernible difference in cuisine. Both sides have an unique Istanbul flavor.
We arrived at our first metro station, Istanbul University. The institution was founded in the 15th century and now has eighty thousand students enrolled.
We went through the neighborhood, eventually arriving at the Sehzade Mosque. Serif pointed out the neighborhood’s distinctive characteristics, booths, and businesses as we strolled.
The Sehzade Mosque is really magnificent. Mimar Sinan is a well-known architect in Turkey. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent commissioned the mosque for one of his sons, I learnt.
Rather of speeding around the sight and giving me the highlights, we stopped on the stone stairs for a time and took it all in. Serif told me about the history of the places, giving off architectural characteristics and design components.
We spoke about how battles and numerous empires had changed and shaped the city’s history. There was no haste, no hurry. Serif welcomed inquiries, and his responses were really detailed and informed.
We wandered the grounds as we left the mosque and discovered a little graveyard. I’d never seen anything like these headstones before. The smaller headstones seem to mark where children are buried.
Our first gastronomic trip was for a simple yet flavorful meal. Serif stated that it was one of his favorites, and the restaurant he had picked was well-known for it. Kuru fasulye is a meal made of dry beans and rice. Dinner was substantial and satisfying, and Serif warned me not to overeat since this was just the first of numerous visits.
We left the restaurant and went for a walk around the neighborhood. This section highlighted artisans at work. Serif described how the area had evolved in many ways over the years while remaining basically same.
Our second visit was for boza, a traditional local drink. Boza is a kind of early beer that has 1-2% alcohol and is often drank in the winter. In a method comparable to beer, the liquid is fermented but not filtered. It’s thick and creamy, and it’s topped with cinnamon. I confess that I was apprehensive at first, but I completed my glass. Serif picked a store for us that has been serving customers since 1876, so it’s safe to assume it’s one of the finest in town.
The next trip was at a store that sold an intestine sandwich, a local delicacy. I’d eaten it before, and although it’s excellent, I normally have problems eating a meal that involves organ meat. Still, I like the spice on this sandwich, and the bread was delicious.
It was fascinating to watch the seller assemble sandwiches. He was fast yet efficient, as if he’d prepared more sandwiches than anybody could count. He took a skewer of grilled intestines from the roaster, rapidly diced the meat, and put it into the chewy bread with ease.
Serif then informed me that our next destination would be a raw meal. I pretended not to be worried, but I immediately realized it was a raw vegetable dish. This seller was the day’s main attraction. A small group of people gathered around him to watch him prepare and season the filling. He distributed lettuce cups to each person before filling them with the mush. We all tested his masterpiece after a last squeeze of lemon. The meal was light and flavorful at the same time.
Finally, we came to a halt in an alley that I would have missed if I had been alone. We settled down for the first of numerous Turkish coffees that day after a few short laps. Serif shown how to enter your sugar choice while placing an order.
I’m not a huge coffee drinker, but there’s something about Turkish coffee that I like. It takes skill to swallow it. You must wait until the grounds have settled in the bottom of the cup before sipping, and you must stop before drinking all the grounds.
There was no haste this time. We sat and drank our coffee while watching the neighborhood go past. People bargained on the streets, merchants polished their stalls, and residents went shopping. That was a familiar sight in a strange place.
When I told Serif I wanted a beautiful city image, he claimed he had just the spot. I got my shot after a short stroll and a few flights of stairs:
Serif was true; there was no discernible distinction between the European and Asian sides of the city during our trip. The Asian side was less busy, although with recent events, Istanbul as a whole is less populated. We discussed how those events impacted tourism and his company.
Tourism is dropped dramatically, by some estimates up to 90%. We spoke about how life must move on even after a horrific occurrence. Individuals must still go back to work, school, and live their lives.
We tried typical Turkish treats on this side of town. Try the pomegranate double roasted pistachio variation if you have the opportunity. I consumed many of them despite my assertion that I don’t like sweets.
Serif pointed out stores and companies that had been in operation for more than a century as we walked back to where we had met. With such a contemporary metropolis, the combination of old and new is practically seamless. I can only think of a few cities that have a comparable personality.
As we said our goodbyes and wished each other well, I reflected on how I had begun the day with no expectations. Yet Serif had managed to raise the standard for my future travels. The day was certainly a great combination of old and new history, gastronomic delights, and new cultural and traditional information. While organizing your trip to Istanbul, I strongly advise you to contact Serif and organise your own tour.
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Istanbul Walking Tour: Useful Information
To schedule your tour, go to Serifs’ website.
Disclaimer: I’d like to thank Serif for having me on his tour. While the trip was complimentary, all comments are my own.
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