Africa & Middle East / Europe / My Travels / Turkey

Istanbul: Truly Beautiful and yet…

“If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” – Alphonse de Lamartine

Bosphorous Bridge

Bosphorous Bridge that connects Europe and Asia

I have read a lot of experience from travelers about this city and everyone has been agreeing to that fact. It is often compared with Rome and Athens, but with rather rich and definitive culture. Istanbul was the European Cultural Capital City in 2010. It is the only city in the world which is both in Europe and Asia geographically, it was once a capital city of 3 significant empires, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire during their rule.

Moda

Moda

It is in almost everyone’s list of places they wanted to see and it was on mine too, so when my friends in Singapore (RH and Jet) asked me to join them, I didn’t hesitate to go.  It will be a quick getaway only, so we can only stay in Istanbul, other parts of Turkey that I want to see should be visited when I return and hopefully I will enjoy it more!  Not that I didn’t enjoy this trip, but it was cut short coz I need to be back home to celebrate our anniversary coz Laurie had bought our show tickets already. It was a shame but I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

Anyway, 3-4days isn’t that bad anymore to see what Istanbul has to offer, besides I wasn’t enjoying it that much coz all I think was to go back home earlier. I am glad that RH and Jet were with me and we had fun by making silly about everything and anything, just like the good ol’ times ;)

colorful shophouses

colorful shophouses at Sultanahmet

DAY 1:
I arrived one day earlier, so I met up with my local friend, and he showed me around the area where we booked our hotel (Taksim) and then we went to the Asian side of Istanbul. From Taksim Square, we walked along Istikal Street to reach Karakoy (Europe port) and take the ferry to Kadikoy (Asian port).

I find Asian side of Istanbul more appealing than the Europe side, the atmosphere is quieter and less touristy, there are more locals if you really want to see how they really looked like, and ironically, the establishments looked more “European” to me! I love the Asian side but the attractions are more on the Europe side so it is not practical to stay here for your accommodation.

Asian side of Turkey

Asian side of Turkey

Places I’ve seen and things I’ve tried:

1. Taksim Square, it is a park where the Monument of the Republic is located, this is also where the central station of the Istanbul Metro is located. From this square, you can already ride the Nostalgic Tram for free and will pass along the Istikal Street.

Taksim Square

Monument of the republic at Taksim Square

2.  Istikal Street, is a very busy and crowded street with people walking and only the Nostalgic Tram going back and forth and some police cars are passing along that street) you can see an array of shops, restaurants, bars and clubs, it is very busy during the day so I expect it to be busier especially during the night, and it is! There are also universities and a catholic church which has quite an impressive architecture.

Istikal Street

Istikal Street and the old tram

3. Tünel is located towards the end of Istikal Street, it is the world’s third oldest subterranean urban rail line after the London subway and New York subway.

4. Galata Tower, which offer a nice view of whole Istanbul main city, but we didn’t go up knowing that I might visit it again the next day. Upon reaching karakoy port, we walked along narrow cobblestoned pavements with rows of very interesting artsy fartsy crafts and musical stuff.

Eye

Eye

5. Kadikoy port, when we reached this port,  there is no sign that welcomes you to Asia haha, but there is a giant air balloon called Turk Balon which can lift 30 people 200meters from the ground to see a panoramic view of both Asian and Europe side, unfortunately they closed it due to some accidents happened recently.

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Turk Balon

6.Bağdat Caddesi, we walked around and decided to try the Turkish coffee on one of the outdoor cafés in this area, it is usually considered as one of the most European-flavored street of Istanbul but it is located on Asia side.

Bağdat Caddesi

Bağdat Caddesi

Turkish brewed coffee is like double espresso!

Arabic sweets and Turkish brewed coffee is like double espresso!

7. Moda, this is where we ended our long walk around Asian side and went to Moda Terrace to try the Turkish Apple Tea this time and it is now my favorite! Moda is a great place to hang out, have some drink etc. You can take the best sunset picture at Üsküdar (sunset over the historical İstanbul silhouette with maiden’s tower).

Turkish apple tea in a tulip-shaped tea cup...Tulips are originally from Turkey!

Turkish apple tea in a tulip-shaped tea cup at Moda Terrace…Tulips are originally from Turkey!

U

sunset at üsküdar

We went back to Europe side after the sunset and went to the following:

8. Corlulu ali Paşa Medresesi, a hookah/shisha place at Sultanahmet, Nargile as how the locals say it or the water pipe. There are a lot of places to try this but this place is the best, it is huge and very authentic as you can get. It was one of the oldest Hookah place in Istanbul built in 1700’s and a favorite hang-out to chat with friends while having tea and play the gammon.

9.  Nevizade Sokak, Asmali Mescit and Kucuk Beyoglu are all party streets in Taksim area, we checked these places and felt it is just too much for me for the day, so I just decided to just have another authentic dinner on one of this streets and call it a night.

And that’s all in just my first day! :D

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Street food mussels! aka Midye Dolma

DAY 2
I am excited to meet and be reunited with my friends from Singapore (RH and Jet) after all, they are the reason why I pushed this trip. As soon as they arrived in the morning, we didn’t waste time any longer and went straight to explore more of the city! We took a cab from Taksim to Sultanahmet and had some breakfast at the coffee shops outside Hagia Sophia. We tried House of Medusa Café coz of its cute al-fresco dining :P

House of Medusa Cafe

House of Medusa Cafe

These are the places we visited:

1. Hagia Sophia (25 TL), of all the places I’ve visited in Istanbul, this is the one that impressed me a lot! We have studied about its architecture during college and now that I’ve seen it with my own eyes, I couldn’t be more amazed and admire its original architects and engineers.

Christian

Inside hagia Sophia’s Christian details

Inside Hagia Sophia, details of Islam & Christian combined

Inside Hagia Sophia’s Islam details

Hagia Sophia, one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture, once a Catholic church, turned into a Moslem Mosque and now a museum.  It was built by Constantine The Great as a Roman Catholic Church in 360AD, after the Ottoman Turks conquered the city, they turned it into a Mosque, by taking out and covering with plaster all Christian images.  In 1935, President Attaturk made it a museum and removed all the plasters and carpet revealing the original marble floor, and because of this, the condition of the building has deteriorated and is now under World Monument’s Watch.

People inside the Hagia Sophia

People inside the Hagia Sophia

2. Sultanahmet Mosque aka Blue Mosque, is just opposite Hagia Sophia. Its architecture and the rest of the other mosques in Turkey are patterned to Hagia Sophia. This mosque is open for public except for praying times. Ladies are advised to bring a head scarves or you can borrow one from the entrance. I was not that impressed at all after seeing perhaps the Sheik Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE which is more extravagant and grand.

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

3.  Hippodrome, it’s funny how we thought we can’t locate this place, our guide inside the Hagia Sophia told us that this place is twice as big as the Colloseum of Rome, so we were expecting a huge arena, but it was just like a flat park! Haha! It used to be a ground for entertainment like horse racing, chariot racing and gladiators fights. Now, it is a huge park between Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. You can still see there the Egyptian obelisk, German fountain in the Byzantine era and the Serpent Column.

Hippodrome

Egyptian obelisk at Hippodrome

4. Basilica Cistern (10 TL), is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. Before being converted to a cistern, a great Basilica stood in its place; the enlarged cistern provided a water filtration system to the Great Palace of Constantinople and continued at Topkapi Palace during the Ottoman period. Now, it is empty with water with only a few feet of water lining the bottom of the columns. The entrance is near Million (the former city center).

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

5. Sultan’s Pub Restaurant, we were supposed to have lunch at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi (opposite Blue Mosque) as they serve very special Turkish meatballs, but we were lured with the rooftop dining of Sultan’s Pub as we want to see the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque on a higher ground. The view is fantastic but the food is just okay, pricey coz of the small serving which is quite unusual in Turkey.

Hagia Sophia, view from Sultan's Pub Restaurant

Hagia Sophia, view from Sultan’s Pub Restaurant

6. Topkapi Palace (25 TL), after lunch we turned left to the backside of Hagia Sophia and it lead us to the Palace. Before reaching the palace two important sights are the Fountain of Sultan Ahmed III and the Sogukcesme Sokagi.  You can buy your tickets just before you reach the gate, next to the Executioner’s Fountain.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

We didn’t go inside the “The Kitchens” in the second courtyard as the queue to get in was too long,  we didn’t go inside “The Harem” also which adjacent to the third courtyard, as you need to pay another entrance ticket (15 TL) so we just pass on it. We went inside “The Imperial Treasury” in the third courtyard, and saw all the intricate details of the gold and gems used in their accessories. You can’t take photos here.

Inside Topkapi Palace

Inside Topkapi Palace

We all like the “The Fourth Courtyard” at the Northern end of the palace, which provides magnificent views of the Bosphorous, there are cafés there but we just decided to go back to our hotel and snooze as we are all feeling tired of the flight and walking tour.

It was already very late when we decided to go out for dinner around 10pm. I forgot the place we went to at Istikal Street coz it’s an Italian restaurant so it’s not authentic Turkish for me to share hehe. We just felt tired and sleepy so again, we called it a night :)

DAY 3

1. Bosphorous Cruise (25 TL)
We took a cab to Eminonu where we can began our Bosphorus Cruise. As we were there early at 9am and the ferry will leave at 10:35am (first trip) we had our breakfast first at Aruna Café, again pricey coz of it’s’ location but we had no other choice, it was ok, coz they have wifi :P

Aruna Cafe

Aruna Cafe at Eminonu Port

Fish

Fish and sandwich at Eminonu Port

The route of the cruise is from Eminonu – Besiktas – Kanlica – Yenikoy – Sariyer – Rumeli Kavagi – Anadolu Kavagi, this is where we decided to alight and climb up to the hill and reach the walls of fortress of Yoros Kalesi (Genoese Castle), a ruined castle at the meeting of the Bosporus and the Black Sea, to the north of Joshua’s Hill. There you will see the Bosphorus meeting with the Black sea. There are many nice fish restaurants you can have lunch and prices are relatively cheap, we had ours just beside the port so we can see our ferry departing at 15:00pm.

Bosphorous Cruise

Bosphorous Cruise

Jet and RH at Anadolu

Jet and RH at Anadolu Kavagi

Yoros Kalesi

View of Black Sea at Yoros Kalesi

Along the cruise you can see the following from the ferry:
(1) Galata Tower (2) Dolmabahce Palace (3) Ortakoy Mosque (which is under renovation) (4) The Bosphorous Bridge (5) Beylerbeyi Palace (6)Goksu Pavillion (7) Rumeli Kavagi

There are pamphlets that you can take with you from the station at Eminonu to see these details, and there is also audio-guides for better option.

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Sariyer – one of the station of Bosphorous Cruise

2. Ortakoy, since it is Sunday, we went to this place coz they always have Sunday Bazaar to where they gather around the Ibrahim Pasha fountain, you can also watch the sail boats docked at the wharf and nice sunset view. You can see the most famous image of İstanbul (the mosque under the Bosphorous Bridge) but unfortunately the mosque is under renovation so it is covered entirely and you wouldn’t even see the bridge.

Ortakoy

Ortakoy

So we just walked around and tried the famous Turkish delight, Kumpir, it’s a baked potato with lots of choices for fillings. Ortakoy has always been the best place to try this delicacy.

Kumpir at Ortakoy

Kumpir at Ortakoy

3. Cemberlitas Hamami, we felt too exhausted to visit the Grand Bazaar (the biggest old covered bazaar in the world, with over 4,400 shops!) so we ended up visiting and trying hamam or Turkish bath :D It is located in the same area as the Grand Bazaar, there are a lot of hamams in Istanbul but this is the oldest and most famous one as celebrities often go here to try it too, regardless of being warned that this hamam place is a bit pricey and touristy, we couldn’t care less about it :P

The oldest Turkish bath

The oldest Turkish bath

It wasn’t as liberating as what I felt with Japanese Onsen or Korean Jimjilbang before, but I somehow felt again how I used to hate it when my mum bathe me when I was a kid! Haha! According to Jet, perhaps, it’s a painfully good way to reminisce us who’s celebrating birthdays soon! :D For me it is pricey coz it was very quick, the scrubbing is a bit harsh, but experiencing it is just priceless so it’s just fair enough I guess!

Grabbed from this blog as it is not allowed to take photos inside.

Photo grabbed only  from this blog as it is not allowed to take photos inside.

4. Club Lupe, since it was Jet’s birthday eve, we celebrated it by partying at Taksim. We were supposed to go to Babylon but it was closed for renovation. We tried going back to the areas I first visited on my first night, but nothing impressed Jet as he was looking for a club that plays R&B music or at least House. So we went to 2 clubs, before we ended up in Club Lupe which is just located along Istikal Street.  We stayed here longer and party all night haha! We went back home around 2am and the area is still very much alive considering it’s a Sunday night!

Police Station

Police Station

DAY 4:
I managed to find a flight back home earlier! I thought I couldn’t find one already coz cheap flights are all sold out. But like they say, if there’s a will there’s a way, so there, even if it caused me more bucks, it’s definitely worth it and I never felt happier coz I know I will be able to be with Laurie on our anniversary ^_^

After having breakfast at Istikal Street, we took a cab going to Attaturk Airport, we arrived early but it’s just enough to queue 3x! Airports in Istanbul is just so busy, proves that there are too many visitors in this city! Going inside the airport is already long queue as they are quite strict with baggage inspections, then checking-in will take time too as several flights have only one queue for all, so I strongly advise you to web-check-in to be safe. Then the queue going to passport control/immigration is even longer! So by the time we got inside the airport, it is already time for RH and Jet to board their plane, I felt sad that it was too short, but I am hoping we will still see each other again on our future travels ;)

Turkish man selling Pomegranate fresh juice

Local guy selling Pomegranate fresh juice

I liked Istanbul and will recommend it for everyone to visit. However, it is not a place I wanted to visit again, I want to see other parts of Turkey like Pamukkale, Capadoccia, Troy, Epheseus, Antalya, etc but definitely will not stay longer anymore in Istanbul. I’ve seen enough of things I needed to see whilst there and for me it’s not something I want to come back and experience once again. I would rather go back to Rome, I don’t know, perhaps I expected too much of the city because of all the compliments it’s getting or maybe it was just me and my anxieties during the whole trip? Maybe.

I have Turkish friends and they are nice. But my experience during this trip is something that made me not appreciate them that much as people, especially the men. I am not generalizing, like I said I have nice Turkish friends. Also, I don’t usually write something about the flaws of people when I travel, but this time, I was just so disappointed. Their country is magnificent, yet your experience wouldn’t be that fantastic just because of some locals trying to rip you off (especially cabs and food bills), harass you by staring and stalking even if you have already told them to stay away and their hot temper regardless if they are in customer service.
It’s a sad truth, again I am not generalizing.

Local lady

Local lady

I know that there are also this kind of people in any country, there will always be an exception. People are unique individuals and you can’t compare yourself with them, coz one is different from another. People vary, sometimes even in your own circle too, you can’t guarantee that everyone in your circle is your friend, some will tend to lie thinking you are that stupid not to discern their lies, and some will just take advantage of their dominance just because they think highly of themselves.

You can find these people everywhere and will meet them at some point in your life, however judging a place coz of one slight flaw is just not fair, otherwise, just like James Michener said that if you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home! Remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you (visitor) comfortable, but for its own people to be comfortable ;)

I liked Istanbul and experiencing it, despite of some people who will try to spoil it, but hey! It’s all part of the adventure in traveling, it’s not the destination that matters… it’s the journey :)

Moi

Moi

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