* Prices may differ from that shown
One of the most romantic cities in the world, Istanbul will offer you so much that you wouldn't like to leave the city. This year (2010) it is the European culture capital so if you are travelling to Istanbul this year, count yourselves lucky. There are loads of cultural events taking place all over Istanbul from jazz, rock, pop, classical concerts to some wonderful exhibitions.
If you are into galleries and exhibitions that you should definetly check out the two major galleries: Istanbul Modern and Santral Istanbul. There are also many more galleries and museums which offer more historical works.
If you want to see the touristic places, then the ones not to be missed are as follows: The Galata Tower, The Blue Mosque, The Hagia Sofia, A Bosphoros Trip ( the one which takes 3 hours in total with an hour in between for lunch break) a stroll on the most famous street in Istanbul which is in the area called Taksim, the street is calles Istiklal Caddesi, there you can experience so many things at the same time: shopping, arts and crafts, galleries, book and music shops, bars and clubs and many more.
Enjoy Istanbul and make the most of the cultural events this year!
WHEN WE WERE IN ISTANBUL:
We spent five days in Istanbul just before Easter 2009 and we stayed at the Orient Express Hotel in the Sirkeci area of old Istanbul. (Another separate review)
Istanbul is the only city built on two continents and split by the sea. The Bosporus is the section of water which unites the two continents and joins the Sea of Marmara to the Black sea.
The first thing that struck me as we drove from the Airport to the hotel (apart from the speed and interesting lane changes) was the number of spring flowers along the roadsides. There was a mass of colour which constantly changed from red to blue to yellow then orange, purple and so on. There were tulips en mass and I just was not expecting this in Istanbul, it was the sort of display found in Holland in spring. It was a sunny and bright day and along the shores of the Bosporus people were enjoying picnics, children were playing and everyone was out walking - it was a wonderful and we couldn't wait to be there so we could be part of it and not just observers.
SUNDAY IN ISTANBUL:
Once we had deposited our cases in our rooms and sorted ourselves out in the hotel we headed out into the city to become part of the Sunday afternoon in Istanbul. We turned left out of our hotel and followed the tram tracks towards GULHANE PARKI which was once the Palace Park of the Topkapi Palace. It was really quite crowded but people were walking in all directions not like a football crowd all heading the same way. The park was really colourful with spring bulbs, tulips of all colours and lots of primroses. Above us in the trees were large storks building and renovating their nests and loudly telling everyone about it.
At the entrance gate near the Topkapi Palace entrance there were several street vendors with trolley stalls selling candy floss, Turkish bread, chestnuts and other interesting snack types of food. We walked through the park enjoying the sunshine and flowers taking photos and generally soaking up the atmosphere of Istanbul/. At the other end of the park you come out onto the road running along the Bosporus towards the Galata Bridge. It was quite difficult making your way along the pavement because of the sheer number of people but we shuffled, dodged and wound our way to the area around the Galata Bridge.
THE GALATA BRIDGE:
On Sundays it seems that a huge number of people grab their fishing rods and come to the Galata Bridge to dangle their rods from the top level of the bridge into the Bosporus. Although it is not an old bridge it seems to have a big part of Istanbul Sunday as people gather on the top level to fish and the level under the road on either side has restaurants, cafes and shops. There were almost as many people enjoying the cafes and restaurants underneath as there were fishing on top.
The thing to eat here is a fish sandwich. Mackerel is cooked fresh on a griddle and then slapped between two halves of a bread roll - you could have it plain or with some salad. We had to try it so we shared one between the four of us and it was certainly very tasty.
As we walked along the under level of the bridge we had a curtain of spider's web fine fishing lines running past us into the water from above. We looked over the side into the water and were stunned to see thousands of jellyfish. I certainly wouldn't want to fall in the water round there, I've never seen so many. At the end of the bottom section of the bridge was one cafe that had lots of brightly coloured bean bags to sit on and enjoy coffee, other drinks and a smoke of the hookah pie and shisha tobacco.
We were beginning to get tired so decided to head back to the hotel. We used the underpass to cross the road. We stood at the top of the stairs and looked down on the seething crowds going through the underpass with market stalls and we wondered if we would ever get through. We sidestepped and shoved our way to the other side and breathed a sigh of satisfaction before we walked on passed the New Mosque and towards the spice bazaar MISIR CARSISI. We saw how crowded that was and decided it was too much and walked on passed. We came back this way on other days and it was nowhere near as crowded as on this Sunday.
We planned to get to the Palace as it opened in order to avoid the crowds so we headed on turning left out of our hotel towards Gulhane Parki and then on up the drive towards the Palace entrance. The tickets were 20Turkish Lira for the Palace and another 15 Turkish Lira for the Harem. We were there early so we headed straight for the Harem as queues build up quickly as numbers allowed to enter are limited.
Originally the Palace was built for Mehmet the conqueror not long after he took over the city of Constantinople in 1459. The Palace is a huge complex of several courts and living quarters and in its heyday it held a population of over 3,000 people from servants to concubines to officials and royalty. It was the last word in luxury and opulence and was the home for the sultans for over 300 years. It was really an entire city within a city and allowed the Sultan's family some privacy within these walls. Originally the Palace was named Yeni Sarayi (New palace) and the name change to Topkapi Palace came in the 19th century and it was named after a gate which no longer exists.
The Palace has had parts destroyed by fire and other parts added over the years and covers a huge area of about 700,000 sq metres from the Gulhane Park to the Sea of Marmara on a high promontory. The Harem was where the Sultan's mother, wives, concubines and children lived and of course the eunuchs who guarded the women. There are many rooms connected by corridors and courtyards within this complex. Many of the rooms were beautifully tiled and highly decorated and I particularly liked the Privy Chamber of Ahmed III which had walls covered in paintings of flowers and fruit and may have been a dining room - it is called the fruit room (Yemis Odasi) today .The Sultan and the Queen mother's baths were also rather spectacular with golden grills and in the Turkish style with hot and cold bath areas. There are many other areas of interest in the Harem from the Golden corridor or road so called as the Sultan was supposed to have thrown down coins for the concubines on festival days. It is well worth a visit even if you do have to pay extra as it does give an idea of how the women lived and many rooms are beautifully decorated in an Ottoman style which is quite different from our style of this era. As you go through the Harem you are taken from room to room and eventually end up back in the main Palace through the Aviary or Harem Gate.
You could spend a whole day in the Palace but being unable to take in too much historical information in one go we chose a few buildings that we thought would be of interest to us and visited them.
The place that we found most fascinating was the Privy Chamber where there was the most incredible collection of sacred relics including; the staff of Moses presumably the one used to part the Red Sea, locks from the Kabah in Mecca, Joseph's turban (not sure if this was Jesus' dad or the one with the many coloured coat!), swords from the first four Caliphs and a carpet that belonged to the daughter of Mohammed and also John The Baptist's arm encased in a metal sleeve. The most prized relics for Muslims are those that belonged to Mohammed; his cloak, his sword, one of his teeth, his battle sabres, an autographed letter and several phials containing hair from his beard. These items were considered so sacred that even the sultan and his family only visited them on the 15th day of Ramadan each year but luckily although Muslims still make this visit as a pilgrimage it is possible for anyone to see these items whenever the Palace is open. It is hard to believe that some of these are actually what they are believed to be but if they really are then, amazing and weird pieces of biblical and religious history is there for all to experience.
Another building that held a bit of a macabre interest for us was The Circumcision Room. This room was built in 1640 as a room for the circumcision of the Princes as circumcision is a rite of passage in the Muslim faith. Today it is of course empty apart from the decorative tiles which cover the outside walls and interior. They are recycled antique tiles from other palaces and are extremely beautiful. Inside the room is symmetrical with stained glass windows and fountains in the window bays. I am not sure whether the young princes would have appreciated the decor at the time but it was very beautiful.
The gardens in the Palace were once again full of spring bulbs and colourful. Some of the trees were interesting as they were hollow. Apparently they had been affected by a fungus which hollowed out the trunk but the trees are still alive but it does make them look a bit odd or very intriguing if you are a young child as it is somewhere good to hide.
We spent about four hours in the Palace and walked for miles in and out of the various room, kiosk and buildings. There really was a lot to see but it is hard to do it justice so I have picked on a few areas that most interested us to share with you.
The day that we decided to visit the Sultanamet Camii was unfortunately for us, the same day that Barrack Obama also decided to make his visit. This meant that all the streets and pavement surrounding the area were closed from early in the morning until about 1pm. Initially we were quite excited by the prospect that we might see the man himself but as every avenue we tried was blocked we rethought our day.
We found a place we felt would be good for a sighting of the Presidential Carcade and waited along with a group of other locals and foreigners. This was on the corner near Gulhane Parki. After about an hour and a half of hanging around on the street corner we were rewarded with a sighting of the armoured cars with darkened windows travelling past about 100 metres away. A little underwhelming but we did see the cars and one of them was carrying the President. So having been thwarted in our attempt at the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia we decided to give up and make our way to the water front area and try to visit the Yeni Cami near the Galata Bridge and then make our way back through the spice Market.
As we made our way past the Sirkeci Train station we noticed the crowds were lined along the street along the front and again there was a huge police presence so we stood on another street corner holding our breathes in anticipation for about 5 minutes this time before we were rewarded with the Presidential Carcade driving past once more. This time was far more exciting as Barack Obama had wound down his window and was waving, we actually saw him in the car. My daughter was jumping around in excitement squeaking, 'We actually saw the President of the USA .WOW!!'
This mosque is similar in style to other mosques in Istanbul with a number of rounded domes and then two tall minarets sticking up into the air, the number of minarets vary but this is the style of mosque seen in Istanbul it seemed to me. Building began beside the Bosporus on the sight of a former slum area in 1597. There were many problems during the building, water seepage, the death of the Sultan and money problems but after 40 years it was finally completed. It is not as well known as the Blue Mosque or the Suleymaniye Mosque but it is part of the water front skyline and is right near the Galata Bridge so someone arriving by boat would see this Mosque's silhouette most clearly.
The Mosque was part of a larger project which included a hospital, school and public bath as well as the Spice market. We arrived just before prayer time so we did not spend too long inside. Outside on the steps were several street vendors selling bird food and Mary Poppin's song kept on coming into my head no matter how hard I tried to think of other things. Also on the steps was a with a bucket of water and brush cleaning off the pigeon poos - obviously the street vendors were keeping him in work too.
As you entered the mosque courtyard there was the usual water feature for washing prior to prayer which looked like a small building or summer house and then you went in towards the door where you collected a for your shoes (re-cycled supermarket bags) and put on your head covering or borrowed a wrap if your shoulders or legs were uncovered and entered the mosque. It was very similar to other mosques in Istanbul with highly decorated inner domes and carpeted floor with a slight odour of feet pervading. I always feel slightly awkward in mosques prayer time and always do my best to cover up and not walk where I'm not welcome etc but all this does take away slightly from the beauty of these buildings. I am not religious but I do find there is an aura in churches and mosques, you speak quietly and look around in wonder because that is how they make you feel - in awe.
MISIR CARSISI OR EGYPTIAN SPICE MARKET:
We continued on through this area to the Misir Çarsisi or Egyptian Spice Market, which was not nearly as crowded on a week day as it was on the Sunday. It was an array of sights and smells with spices of all colours piled into neat mountains, huge lumps of Turkish Delight the size of a large kitchen bin filled other stalls, fantastic soaps and lotions using olive oil peanuts, dates and dried fruit and nuts of every conceivable variety and many other local specialities were on offer. As we wandered through sniffing and looking we were offered tastes of baklava, Turkish delight, flavoured nuts and dried fruit. I smelled so many soaps but restricted myself to purchasing only three to enjoy at home. The stall holders were friendly and pleasant, they were happy for you to smell, look and taste, bargain or buy if you wanted but there was not the tense unpleasant atmosphere that we have encountered in North Africa , they were nothing but pleasant and we felt at ease and unthreatened throughout our stay.
ALI MUHIDDIN HACI BEKIR:
We walked on through this area a couple of streets to Hamidiye caddesi 81 where we visited the original Turkish delight shop of Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir. Initially we thought we would just have to buy some Turkish delight as there were only three tables inside and it was too cold to sit outside but the owner welcomed us in and invited us upstairs to sit. It was tiny upstairs with very low ceilings which was interesting as my husband and son-in-law are both over six feet tall but daughter and I at just over five feet only had to bend a little. We were not sure what to order apart from coffees as there was so much choice and so the helpful owner said he would bring a plate with a variety of pastries. He also brought us a plate of Turkish delight sample on the house to try.
I had tried Turkish coffee before and not enjoyed the thick mixture so I joined my daughter and asked for hot chocolate, the other two had tiny cups of thick Turkish coffee. After eating a plate of baklava type pastries and Turkish delight (I did put some in a paper napkin) so we did not offend our host, we felt just a bit icky from the sweetness. We asked for the bill and they brought us ANOTHER small plate of Turkish delight which I had to decant into my napkin in my bag as none of us could face any more. It was an interesting experience and we felt very well looked after by the owner and his staff.
The story goes that Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir made the original for the sultan I who was fed up with hard sweets causing him to break his teeth and so Ali Muhiddin came from Anatolia to create this sweet for the Sultan in the 1700s and it was instantly popular with the Sultan and has been made in Turkey ever since. I'm not sure how true this is but it is a nice story.
In the evening we went to see the Sufi concert and Whirling dervishes at the Sirkeci train station (i wrote a separate review about this experience)
THE BLUE MOSQUE OR SULTANMET CAMII:
The Blue Mosque gets its name from the decorative tiles inside the mosque, prior to my visit I thought that it was from the grey blue stone from which it is built. This mosque was built between 1610 and 1617 and is the only mosque in Istanbul with six minarets. It can be seen rising up on the hill as you enter Istanbul from the Bosporus and is one of the many mosques seen on the skyline of the city at dusk.
As you enter the mosque, covered as you need to be out of respect and shoe less, you are immediately aware of how much light is coming through the 260 windows. The wonderful blue tiles - 20,000 of them are decorated with plant and flower motifs. It is a huge space inside and looking up to the dome you are made to feel very aware of just how big this building is. It is beautiful inside and very peaceful but I was almost more impressed with it from the outside as it is a lovely grey blue colour and the six minarets stand up like candles on a birthday cake.
I just stood between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia and looked from one to the other as they are both such lovely looking buildings so close to each other - very special indeed.
Behind the Blue Mosque is a bazaar known as the Arasta bazaar which was excavated to expose 42 columns and mosaic floors of the lower court of the Great palace, today this is a mosaic museum. above the mosaic museum are the shops of the Arasta Bazaar which is where we sat at a small restaurant for lunch waiting for prayer time to end in order to go into the mosque.
THE HAGIA SOPHIA:
This beautiful building faces the blue Mosque across the square and it has had a very up and down history. It was first built in 60AD and was burned in 404 and destroyed in 532 in the Nike riots. It was rebuilt between 532 and 537 as a church with a dome supported by 107 pillars. One of these pillars is known as the sweating Pillar and if you put your finger in this hole it feels damp and it is meant to bring you good luck which we had to try of course.
The Church was converted into a mosque in 1453 by Mehmet the Conqueror. It has since been renovated and restored and finally in 1934 it was closed as a religious building and is now a museum with no religious ties but there is still evidence inside of both mosque and church features. Unfortunately when we visited there was also evidence of restoration with huge scaffolding dominating the central interior which did rather spoil the interior's beauty and a lot was covered up. Entrance was 15 Turkish lira per person when we were there.
THE GRAND BAZAAR OR KAPALICARSI:
This is one of the largest covered markets in the world, it has over 4000 shops in 64 streets and 25000 people work in there. As well as the shops there are two mosques, twenty two gates and four fountains. It is a shopper's idea of heaven but it is also very easy to get lost in there as you wander from one temptation to the next. You get lured into one shop to look at carpets then sit and enjoy a coffee before haggling with another shop keeper over a Turkish tea set or leather handbag. The shop keepers were not in the least aggressive; indeed rather than hassle you then joked and chatted in a cheerful banter which made the entire experience a pleasure.
We went in expecting to be hassled and pressured as we had been in Tunisia and morocco but this was quite different and because they were so pleasant we actually spent more as we did not feel uncomfortable at all while we looked, touched, smelled and admired different items while chatting to the various shop keepers.
The carpets were quite pricey so you would have to actually want a Turkish carpet before buying one rather than thinking it is so cheap I'll have it as a souvenir. The cushion covers were good value and very nice in a kind of kilim weave - I bought several. The leather goods were also not really cheap but again I didn't really want a handbag so they may have been really good quality but i don't spend big money on things like that. We had a lovely time not buying very much but enjoyed the whole atmosphere of the place.
We had planned a boat trip on the Bosporus and tried to select a day when the weather was warmer. The ferry called the Eminonu - Kavaklar Bosporus Special Touristic Excursion leaves from the Bogaz Hatti dock at Eminonu every day at 10.35. However if you want a good seat then it is advisable to get there at least half an hour early as everyone just rushes on and the seats with views are limited. Indeed even if you get a good seat people seem to walk almost on top of you when they want to take a photo. The trip is a real bargain at 12.50 Turkish lira per person return for a trip which takes an hour and three quarters each way.
On the way the ferry stops at Besiktas, Kanlica, Yenikoy, Sariyer, Rumeli Kavagi and finally Anadolu Kavagi (in Asia) which is the turnaround point. If you decide to get off at any of the places on the way then you'll need to buy a new ticket to go onwards - you can of course return with a return ticket. Initially the ferry was packed but as we continued on to the turnaround point it became less crowded and we were able to enjoy the views without people walking over us and standing inches in front of where we were sitting, thus totally blocking our view.
On the way waiters bring coffee, tea, Turkish bread, yogurt and other temptations which you are able to buy from them. The poor young lads spent their entire time walking between the crowds of tourists balancing trays full of various offerings.
We stayed on till the last stop, Anadolu Kavagi, as we wanted to visit the Asian side of Istanbul. We didn't get there until about 12.30 and as soon as we got off at Anadolu Kavagi we were in amongst a multitude of wonderful fish restaurants. We chose one was right at the water's edge. Once again we decided to start with a meze but this time it was all seafood - smoked octopus was my favorite dish. The main courses were all different types of fish or seafood and so fresh and tasty. There were several cats hanging around and they did try and jump on the table but I'm afraid they were firmly pushed away by our table and most of the other diners too.
After lunch we walked up the hill Yoros Kalesi which was extremely steep and i could feel the calories being burned off as we walked up to the ruined castle. The main reason for the mammoth effort walking up is to be rewarded with a view of Russia over the wonderful blue water of the Black Sea. We had a few minutes at the top for photos and to recover our breath and then had to come down again to catch the ferry which left at 3pm. Coming down I found much harder on my knees and we developed an interesting zigzag walk across the path which seemed to ease the pressure on the knees.
The return journey on the ferry was very warm and sunny so we sat on the front deck on the floor. Everybody else also had the same idea but it didn't stop a group of local men playing music on their mobile phones and clapping and dancing which provided free entertainment for the rest of us.
The views as we approached the city of Istanbul were lovely with a skyline of mosques with their minarets. As the sun went down we were walking back to our hotel quite tired after our day on the boat and the hike up the mountain to look at Russia. A really great day out with something different to see at every turn, a nice sunny day and delicious fresh fish and seafood for lunch; what more could anyone want?
This is by no means an exhaustive list of sights to see in Istanbul. I think you could spend months there and still be finding something new to see but my review will hopefully tempt someone into a visit or give someone some ideas of what they might like to see if they visit Istanbul. I was most impressed and Istanbul is now certainly one of my favorite cities, there was lots to see, the food was good and it was easy to get around with friendly helpful people.
This review may be posted on other sites under my name.
Everything people say about this city is true- romantic , busy , bustling, ancient , fascinating. It is also a young city as , its population , currently estimated at anywhere between 15 and 20 million, depending on who you ask, is more than 60 % below the age of 35. This lends the city a vibrancy that grabs you by the throat . Getting there in summer is not cheap but there are still some bargains to be had if you don't mind which airport you go from or dont mind a stop over. Swiss air often is cheap but you pay for everything extra on board the flight and will change in Zurich.
There is much to do there and even if you think you aren't interested in Roman or Byzantine or Islamic art and architecture it will be hard to avoid getting interested , as Istanbul is layer after layer of the many civilisations that have ruled here, built on top of one another . What always amazes me too is the relative tolerance of the place in terms of religion and ethnicity.Mosques inside former Christian buildings , Anglican cathedrals nearby to Dirvish schools ,in turn near to an old synagogue. The Jewish presence in this city , which derives mainly from the invitation of the then Sultan to Spains Jews, following their expulsion by the Inquisition is still visible in the names of stallholders in parts of the Grand Bazaar. East certainly meets west here and the colourful nature of the markets, the faces seen and languages heard as you wander the markets and streets is sometimes astounding in their variety.
For those of you intent on buying always haggle. Yes, I know the British sometimes find this difficult but never assume that the price asked for is the price you should pay. Show some reluctance , some hesitation. You will always get a reduction or something else thrown in .If you can, get a local or guide to haggle for you, assuming that you know they aren't involved with the sellers! The exchange rate too isn't bad ( at the time of writing)considering the £ has slumped against so many other currencies. The range of currency exchange values in Istanbul can be quite startling and is worth shopping around for . ATMS are everywhere , so using your cards isnt a problem but you will need cash for many places . One tip for shoppers and in general, for putting off shoe shine boys ( who will polish your open toed sandels if you let them) or others intent on selling to you is not to shake your head from side to side - it doesn't work. Instead jerk your head up with chin up as it is more effective in registering your disinterest.
The city can be exciting and if in your stay there you want to get away for a few hours for a breather , take a ferry to one or more of the Princes Islands . The journey is relaxing and the islands are pretty with plenty of interest including food and walks and little motorized traffic . Approaching the city from the sea on your return is stunning and romantic too. Women visitors should not be too worried about the fact that Turkey is predominantly Muslim. You will be expected to wear a scarf in the mosques and both sexes , if in shorts, will have to wear a wrap round skirt. Shoes come off but are quite safe to leave whilst you explore.
Alcohol is readily available there, though spirits have been put up in price in the last year or two. Food is great - have a fish sandwich by the ferry port or try kokoretch a delicacy the EU has tried to ban, as it is spit roasted sheep intestine. Sounds revolting but is excellent and cheap. Restaurants just as in most big cities range from the cheap to the absurdly overpriced . Avoid the most obvious touristy places , though Kumkapi district has many good eateries , especially fish. Ask in your hotel for good places - they always know somewhere.
I'm not religious but am interested in the effect religions has and had on culture. One thing I would not have missed out on in Istanbul is attending a ceremony by the Suffi ( whirling ) Dervishes. Whilst a bit touristy it is a captivating experience and oddly moving . As to guidebooks we have liked both the Rough guide and the Dornton Kindersley guides to Turkey and Istanbul. Even though they sometimes contradict each other in their views, both are extensively researched , the latter with good photographs and plans of major monuments. Worth buying before hand and reading ahead of a visit to plan what you want to see.Saves you buying the overpriced guides that that are always on sale outside each monument or inside the hotels. You wont get it all done in one go . I'm going again in July 2009 for a weekend and already planning to see bits that my last 8 visits have left untrod . Do go and be prepared for a very different experience. We usually go with half empty cases- there are always bargains to be had!
One of the world's biggest cities, Istanbul is almost too diverse and too historic to sum up in one review. One could spend weeks in this fascinating metropolis and still barely scratch the surface. The city is at once bewildering, enchanting and exciting and exploring it can sometimes feel like hard work but your efforts will be rewarded many times over. I can only give a very general overview of Istanbul here, it's unrealistic to think that one could give any more in a couple of thousand words but at the end I'll give some suggestions for reading and viewing material that I think will complement and extend what I want to say about the city.
Istanbul has a population of around 12 million - more or less; the authorities don't really know how many people actually live there because hundreds more people arrive from rural areas every day, many of them living in illegally built apartment blocks on the outskirts of the city (although Ankara has an even greater problem with this). It's known as the city where Europe meets Asia but that is a little confusing because what is geographically the European side is the part with the more Asian feel and the very oldest buildings such as the hippodrome, the Basilica Cistern and the Grand Bazaar. Conversely, the "Asian side" with its main shopping street Istiklal Caddesi off Taksim Square feels much more European.
Istanbul is a watery city standing on the River Bosphorous and the section of the Sea of Marmara known as the Golden Horn, which cuts through the western shore. Istanbul is a major port and the Sea of Marmara links the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Vessels bound for destinations around the world pass through Istanbul. Its geographic position explains why Istanbul has always been a cosmopolitan city and why its fortunes are inextricably tied up in commerce. For centuries Istanbul has been a place to buy and sell goods and do business. I can think of no other city so caught up in commerce as Istanbul. Of course, while some visitors enjoy the haggling and the satisfaction of getting a bargain, just as many loathe the attentions of the touts who are determined to make a sale.
Many people mistakenly think that Istanbul is the capital of Turkey but that distinction was taken away from the city in 1923 when Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, decided to move the capital to Ankara because he wanted to throw off the associations with the Ottoman regime. When the Ottomans established rule in what we now call Turkey, they also tried to remove aspects of other empires who had reigned over the city. The famous Haghia Sophia cathedral became instead the Aya Sofya, a magnificent mosque, today one of the city's chief attractions and the old name "Constantinople" was changed to Istanbul by Mehmet the Conqueror.
Istanbul is teeming with historical treasures which means you are really spoiled for choice in deciding what to do. You do need to come to terms with the fact that on a short visit you are unlikely to be able to cram in as much as you'd like. Most places have long queues and, if you visit in the height of summer, the heat will slow you down. Don't be tempted to squeeze in too much sight-seeing; accept that you can't see everything. Places like the Topkapi Palace need at least half a day to do them any justice and even a visit to the Grand Bazaar will take longer than you think as you retrace your steps time and again to find that shop with the really nice cushions.
The chief sights most tourists head for are
- The Blue Mosque - built by Sultan Ahmet the First to create a monument to overshadow the Aya Sofya. In a city full of grand mosques, this one is instantly recognizable as it has six minarets. It gets its name because of the thousands of blue tiles that decorate it. Admission is controlled because of the high number of visitors. This is a working mosque so women should bring a head scarf to cover up.
- The Aya Sofya - Built for Emperor Justinian and completed in 537 AD this was regarded as the greatest church in Christendom until Mehmet the Conqueror took the city in 1453. He ordered it to be converted into a mosque and in 1935 the government of the Turkish Republic turned it into a museum. It is the most amazing building I have ever set foot in. Words can scarcely describe the feeling of awe it inspires with its gravity defying dome and wonderful mosaics.
- The Topkapi Palace - the Palace was built for Mehmet the Conqueror not long after he took control of Istanbul. After his death successive sultans lived here until they moved to more modern palaces like the Dolmabahce Palace in the nineteenth century. The Palace is huge and a guided tour is recommended - or at least an audio tour. In addition, you can see the Harem but this can only be done a part of a guided tour. The harem was not as many believe where the Sultan engaged in hanky-panky with whichever of his concubines took his fancy that particular day, but where his "wives" and children lived.
- The Grand Bazaar - in Turkish the "kapali carsi"; to visit the grand bazaar you need to be in a good mood other wise don't bother. You will be approached constantly and invited to haggle. Do join in, it's fun and you might get a good bargain. Some of the stuff is rubbish but some is quite nice and worth taking home for souvenirs. There are rug sellers, tea stalls, jewellery and more commercial items such as t-shirts and all manner of items bearing the symbol that will protect you from the "evil eye". For a slightly less touristy experience try the Egyptian Bazaar (also known as the Spice Bazaar) which will have your senses in overdrive.
- The Galata Bridge - the bridge joins Old Istanbul with Beyoglu and crossing it is a very symbolic business. Not only do you get tremendous views of the city from the bridge but also a curious feeling of being in a quite special place. Hundreds of men with fishing rods dangling over the side of the bridge fill baskets of fish to take home but on the next level down you can enjoy some freshly caught fish in one of the many restaurants. I found it quite odd - but very enjoyable - to be eating a fish sandwich while sitting on the Galata Bridge.
- The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts - I have a particular interest in Islamic art but I was surprised how busy this museum, situated in the Palace of Ibrahim Pasha by the hippodrome, was. There is a fabulous display of exquisite carpets and you can see how the tradition varied from region to region. There is a brilliant ethnographic collection including a very interesting recreation of a parlour in an Ottoman house and a nomadic tent.
This is just a selection of the interesting things to see and do; personally I could spend days visiting the different mosques or exploring the museums. On the whole the attractions of Istanbul are historic ones and not everyone is interested in history. If you have no interest in history then it's probably not the destination for you.
Istanbul is a great place for shopping and ceramics and leather goods offer excellent value. Other good items to buy are olive oil soap and textiles such as linens and woollen items from eastern Turkey. The Grand Bazaar is where to buy fun items but you will find better quality items elsewhere, especially in the Handicrafts Market in Sultanahmet.
While you can find food from all over the world in Istanbul, Turkish food offers the best value for money. Generally I would suggest visitors avoid restaurants in the Sultanahmet district as they tend to be over-priced and not very good. If you do eat in Sultanamhet find somewhere off the main street where lots of locals are eating.
For meat dishes - an endless array of different kinds of kebabs - simple café-style places cannot be beaten. For something less heavy the same places do lamahcun - a very thin dough base covered with spicy ground meat and (for the veggies) "pide" a Turkish style pizza shaped vaguely like a boat.
For Turkish mezze head for a "meyhane" (roughly translated - inaccurately in my opinion - as a tavern), There are lots of these in the streets behind Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu. They are good value for money and give you a chance to try a little of everything.
Istanbul has a reputation as a very stylish city with some of the most cutting edge design on show in the new upmarket bars and restaurants. It's not really my kind of thing but if it's yours, head for Beyoglu or Taksim Square. Who knows you may spot some of the footballers from Galatasaray, Fenerbahce or Besiktas posing in the VIP areas.
There is a massive amount of accommodation in Istanbul; all the international chains are there but there is a vast selection of accommodation right across the spectrum. Wherever you stay I would recommend you take advantage of airport transfers, if you are arriving or departing by air. The larger hotels do this independently but the hostels and smaller hotels have a joint service which they will book for you. Your first time in Istanbul can be quite overwhelming and the transfer service is less expensive than you might think. Usually I don't bother with them but Istanbul is one city where you might want to consider it.
Istanbul is a wonderfully exhilarating city to visit. It's a place where you use all your senses and a true "experience". There really is nowhere quite like it. It can be overwhelming but it can also be incredibly friendly and peaceful. The Aya Sofya might be teeming with tourists but the magnificence of it made me almost forget I was among so many people. I have hardly scratched the surface - either in this review or in my own visits. I know I'll be back to see other parts of the city ; to be honest you could spend a lifetime in Istanbul and never see everything. A weekend trip will only tempt you to go back but even a weekend can give you a tantalizing taste of one of the world's most compelling cities.
Winter in Istanbul can be cold and cruel, the summer painfully hot. Go in early or late summer to enjoy some warmth but not be too hot to enjoy it. If I could offer one piece of advice it would be don't skimp on time; a weekend is OK but a minimum of four days will allow you to see a reasonable amount. Leave time to stop for tea, a Turkish institution; find a shady tea garden and order a glass of sweet black tea. Be sure to take to the water, even if it's just to cross over to Beyoglu as the best views of the city come from the water. If your hotel room has a balcony - or your accommodation has a roof top terrace do make sure to be outside at least once at evening prayer time when the call of the muezzins from all around starts to echo hauntingly around the city. For me it is this evocative sound, more than anything that sticks in my mind and I can't wait to hear it again.
To learn more about Istanbul I recommend
- "Istanbul: Memories of a City" by Orhan Parmuk
- "Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul" - a brilliant film about musicians in Istanbul
- Any of the crime fiction novels by Barbara Nadel set in the city
- "The Janissary Tree" by Jason Goodwin, murder and mystery in Ottoman Istanbul
Despite visiting Istanbul last in Summer 2007, I am very keen to add my voice to the positive reviews as I absolutely loved my time there and am desperate to return. While Inter-railing, my partner and I arrived in Istanbul on a 2 day, 2 night train journey from Budapest... now that bit I don't recommend! After my partner had his card swallowed in the station cash point, we stepped out into the heat to be confronted by hoards of milling people, haggling diners at kebab stands and the sight of a very large hill in the direction we were pointed. Shouldering our backpacks and pushing initial misgivings to one side, we set off to our Hostel, the Antique Hostel in the middle of Sultanamet, the main tourist area and Old Town. After a long walk the hostel was a welcome sight - and we were greeted like old friends by the owners, high speed internet and a water/coffee machine, fantastic! From then, Istanbul did not disappoint over the 5 days we were there. The historical sights are worth every bit of the hype, especially Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque (complete with friendly cats). The Grand Bazaar received a few return visits from us, and I can back loaded down with beautiful faux-lapis lazuli jewellery, some cabochon stones and (of course) some little evil eye pendants. We found the people to be wonderfully friendly - one store owner I spent a modest sum and a lot of time with gave us as we left a jade beaded bracelet for luck, in addition to the delicious apple tea we had been plied with! We visited the Sofa Café on a number of occasions for dinner, as their marinated chicken kebabs and seasoned rice were just too good to resist, and the owner, who had sat and talked with us on every occasion, presented us with Baklava (by then a new found addiction!) and apple tea on our last night as a parting gesture. This sort of kindness was typical, and really made our visit. We went across to the Asian side on the ferry once, but after the liberal European side of Istanbul I made a big wardrobe mistake and had worn a calf length skirt. My legs caused so much staring (horror and disgust from the women, another emotion entirely from the men...) we scurried back to the other side before going more than a few metres into Asia! Istanbul has now out-ranked Paris and Venice in my "Favourite Places in the World" list, and I can't wait to go back.
Go, now! And bring me back some of the wonderful hand painted ceramics - I was dying to buy some but we had another 4 weeks of train travel to go, and I don't think they would have survived...
While living in Northern-Cyprus I saw myself confronted with the situation, that whenever I wanted to leave the island to visit my family back home I couldn't do so with a direct flight, but had to endure a stop-over in Turkey.
As I had visited Istanbul before my relocation and loved the city, I always made sure that this stop-over was not only going to happen there, but would also last a minimum of 3 days - rather then the usual 30 minutes pit-stop it would take to reach the UK, or anything between 1-8 hours, as in my case, to reach Germany.
With my husband being Turkish-Cypriot and having friends in Istanbul we didn't have to bother with accommodation.
"Lucky you" I can hear some of you thinking. Well, everything is relative and visiting friends in Turkey and wanting to do some sight-seeing within a rather short span of time can be relatively stressful, if not impossible.
With the Turkish people being very guest-friendly, you can be sure that not only your friends, but also their whole family will have been notified about your impending visit and that they all would be gravely insulted, if you don't show up to pay a visit. This including baba (father) and anne (mother), kardesler (siblings), teyzeler (aunts) and amcalar (uncles).
Whilst we loved them all, especially the dolma (stuffed wine-leaves) of the anne, we soon decided to keep our visits a little bit more secret and stay in a hotel.
Usually you will, probably, have your hotel sorted before starting your journey. If not, like us, there is a hotel finder in Atatürk airport which tells you the location of the place and the price and right opposite there is a counter from which you can check if they have vacant rooms, make the reservation and organize transportation.
In most cases, unless you go for the more expensive hotels which have their own shuttle service, this will be by taxi.
Now here comes the first point were it will be a clear advantage to be accompanied by someone who speaks Turkish to mother-tongue level, as the local taxi drivers, like in many other places of the world, seem to love to fleece tourists and yes, they did try.
Of course my husband did realize and, after a short and heated conversation, which was conducted in a speed that was a bit too fast for my understanding, the mistake was corrected. Leaving us with a mad cabbie and the driving standards were accordingly.
The most common trick used is to put the taxi-meter on gece (night), which will be accompanied with either a red or blue light. Taxi fares from midnight on are higher and most taxi drivers will expect that you don't know that. Also make sure that you have enough changes to pay your driver the exact amount, as some of them will see the left-over of a bill as a tip.
We usually choose hotels that are situated very close to the things we want to see and were especially happy when we once booked one, that was situated right behind the Blue Mosque. Until the muezzin woke us up at 5 am for the morning prayers... Well, at least we were dressed, fed and ready to go before the hordes arrived at the points of interest.
I would recommend a hotel in the area of Sultanahmet, as you will be able to reach a lot of the landmarks from there by walk.
To get around in Istanbul is fairly easy. If you have a centrally located hotel you can do quite a bit by walking. Make sure to wear very comfortable shoes, as the pavements are very uneven (a real killer with high-heels) and full of pot-holes, big enough to bury a cat inside.
The pavements are also very high, so crossing the road can be a bit of a climb and, if like us, you are travelling with small children, who still need a buggy, be prepared to have either quite some lifting to do and or take the public transport or a taxi to get around. For wheelchair users it will be even harder to get around and I fear that Istanbul generally doesn't compare very well when it comes to dealing with the needs of the disabled.
To take a bus or tram you will have to buy the tickets before, most stations have a ticket box where you can buy them. The tram can get very full and your fellow travellers might get closer to you as you like, even my husbands seventy years old aunt got pinched in her bottom, I usually respond by stepping on the offenders toes. Shame the heels had to stay in the hotel ...
So before we start sightseeing lets see why we have come here :
Istanbul is not only the biggest city in Turkey, but also the only city in the world, that is located on two continents, with its northern part being geographically in Europe and the southern part, divided by the Bosphorus, in Asia.
It looks back proudly on 3000 years of history and is considered to be the oldest, still existing city in the world.
Originally it was founded by Greek settlers, way back in 667 BC. They named it Byzantinum after their leader Byzas of Megara.
Nearly 1000 years later, in 324 AD, after the fall of Rome and the Western Roman Empire, it became the capital of the new Roman Empire. They called it, very un-inspired, Nova Roma, which translates as New Rome. The population obviously didn't like this too, and straight renamed it, after their Emperor Constantin the Great, into Constantinople.
With its strategically very important position as a crossing point between Europe and Asia and being able to control the route between the two continents, as well as the passage from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, it was not left alone for too long and in 1453 the Ottomans took over.
Naturally, during their reign the city went through a massive cultural change, from being the centre of the Orthodox Church to being an Islamic centre and most of the churches were converted into mosques.
Still, until today, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who is the leader of the Orthodox Church, has his seat here.
The modern Istanbul, as we know it today, was born in 28.03.1930, when the city was renamed again, 7 years after the declaration of the Republic of Turkey and the capitol of the country being removed from Istanbul to Ankara.
With such a colourful history, Istanbul offers many sights, which remind of its former rulers and a diversity which I have never encountered in any metropolis I have visited before.
Istanbul can be very modern, like in the office districts in Levent, or very traditional, like in the district of Fatih, were most inhabitants will be found wearing the Muslim habit, ladies in grey or beige coats over layers of clothes with their hair hidden under a hijab and the gents with a takke (small hat), baggy trousers and coats.
If you take a boat-trip on the Bosphorus, you will see the elegant and luxurious houses and palaces of the rich, while a trip into one of the Ge¸ekondus, drab estates, that often have been built illegally on land that belonged to the government, will show you in which poor conditions one third of this cities population are living.
There are the very modern shopping malls, full of giggling teenagers clad in mini-mini-skirts and designer (?) jeans and the old bazaars.
The modern highways and by-passes, filled with-too many - cars, some very modern and some so old, that they could be easily found in a museum here.
The labyrinth of narrow and uneven streets, in which you easily can get lost will lead you, sooner or later, into one of the neon-light filled Boulevards and the world's leading fast-food chains exist happily next to the traditional buffe, serving dishes like kelle paça (soup made of sheep's brain), tripes and kebab.
It's a fast living city, but still its inhabitants are lively and loud, friendly and helpful, everybody seems to have time for a little chat - and a smile.
As you've taken my advice and booked into a hotel in the Sultanahmet district, we won't have to bother with transportation, as it is close enough to walk, and our tour can start with some of the sights that I like best
This horse-racing arena dates back to the year 203 when Emperor Septimus Severus had it built to replace the much older one, that had been erected by the Byzantines. Later it was renovated and enlarged by Emperor Constantin and was big enough to entertain up to 100.000 spectators with chariot races, fights and executions.
Impressing, isn't it ? Well, no it actually isn't...
Most of the hippodrome has never been excavated and therefore lies a few meters under the ground. The way they laid out the pavement is meant to give you an idea of the dimensions of the racetrack, while the only thing that is really old here are the two Obelisks , which are around 4000 years old and in very god condition and the Serpentine Column, which once held the tripod of the Apollo Temple of Delphi.
I'm obviously not going to spend too much time here, so let's stroll over to the mosque.
The Sultanahmet Mosque
You will probably know this one under its more common name Blue Mosque, a name it was given because of the more then 20.000 ceramic tiles inside, which are mostly coloured in blue.
This mosque is a place of worship and therefore might be closed to non Muslims during the prayer times. Please make sure that you are dressed adequately, you wouldn't probably go half-naked in a church either, and the ladies should cover their hair. You will be asked to remove your shoes.
If the weather is fine the Blue Mosque is beautiful, with the light falling through its 200 stained glass windows, but on a rainy day, when there are only the chandeliers, it doesn't look that impressive.
From the outside it is definitely worth seeing, with it's massive dome in the middle, surrounded by lots of ascending smaller ones and its six minarets.
The Blue Mosque is the only mosque in Turkey to have that many minarets.
The Ayasofia is right opposite of the Blue Mosque, which isn't a coincidence but well planed, as the creators of the Blue Mosque wanted to show the world that they could out-do any Christian creation.
Once the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople the Ayasofia is now a museum.
During the time when the church served as a mosque all the mosaics had been plastered over, but now have been brought back to daylight and there are some really stunning ones.
The massive dome is really spectacular, although the view is somehow obstructed by a scaffold that must have been there for ages, as I've never seen it without. Maybe they are trying to keep it there long enough to make it an antique sight too...
The whole park area around the Hippodrome, Sultanahmet and Ayasofia is famous for it's pick-pockets, so make sure to hold on to your bits and bobs.
The Topkapi Palace
One of my favourite places and I can easily spend a day there. It is right behind the Ayasofia. You might encounter long queues in front of the ticket boxes, so I like to go there early. Especially in summer, before it gets baking hot.
The Topkapi was built for Sultan Mehmet II and completed in 1465. There is quite a lot to see, like some old clothes that belonged to the sultans and their families, old armour, the throne room, the kitchen, the largest diamond in the world, ...
There is an absolutely great view over the Golden Horn up there, nice gardens to walk around if in need of a break, and a restaurant, too.
I wouldn't recommend to eat in there, as I found the food very overpriced, not too usual standards and the whole place is much too busy for my liking.
If you want to see the harem too, then you will have to pay extra for this, so remember, when purchasing your tickets. Something I always find a bit strange, I've come that far, of course I want to see it all !
The Kapali Carsi (Covered Bazaar)
The covered bazaar can be found by following the signs from the Topkapi Palace.
This is one big market hall, with hundreds of shops, a maze of streets, and continues on the other side throughout many streets on the outside, all the way down to the Bosphorus. Actually, it isn't big, it's HUGE.
Now the shops on the inside are mostly plain tourist traps, selling fake designer articles and overpriced jewellery and souvenir items (still cheaper then here though) and as soon as you check the outlay, the shop-owner will try to cajole you into his premises.
Which you should avoid, as you really can get the same item cheaper somewhere outside. If you can't resist, then you'll be asked to sit down, be offered a drink (usually tea, but as I do not drink tea, it will be a Kahve for me, sade please, as I don't take sugar). Then the haggling begins and, depending on how good you are at this, you will either leave a very happy shop-keeper behind, or one that is still earning much more then his colleagues outside of the bazaar.
I love this place for it's atmosphere, never miss to come here, and, if you follow the signs, there is a lovely restaurant, situated in a patio, right in the middle of the bazaar.
The Misir Carsisi
The Egyptian market, also known as Spice Market, is located in Sirkeci, so you can take the tram down there.
It is another inside market, this time mostly dedicated to spices, sweets (such as Turkish Delight in many variations), dried fruits, coffee and tea. I love this one - not only for the sweets - but just for the scents, which enter your nostrils as soon as you set one step inside.
Next to it is an animal market, which I beg you to avoid under any circumstances, as it is heart-breaking. I've seen there creatures being held in dirty and dismal cages, many being very obviously ill or disabled, not very looked after and the whole place is just shocking.
The Adalar (Islands)
The Princesses Islands, 5 there are, are located in the Marmara Sea and are a much more cheerful place as the one named above.
They can be reached easily through a deniz autobüs, which is a ferry boat, the biggest and most popular one being Büyükada ( Big Island).
You take the tram to Sirkeci, don't forget to have a look at the Büyük Postahane, which is the most elegant post-office I've ever come across.
Ticket counters for the crossing can be found along the quays, very well signed out, and start your journey. It will take around 45 minutes and you can buy food or drinks on the ferry.
There are no cars allowed on the islands, which is a welcome relief after the mad traffic in the city, with its forever honking horns and exhaust fumes.
The only means of transportation are horse drawn carriages, which can be found not for from the pier, and bicycles. Only the police and ambulance are allowed to drive an engine powered vehicle here.
You can take a trip over the whole island, which will last a bit more then one hour, in one of the carriages, which are reasonably priced.
There are plenty of restaurants, mostly specialized on sea-food,shops and several hotels.
Do I have to mention that our girls loved this trip ???
Back on the mainland you can take a stroll around the waterfront, which is especially nice at night. There are always small fishing boats docked on which the owner cooks the fish on long skewers. These taste and smell absolutely delicious.
Eating in Istanbul can be very enjoyable, although it might be a bit stressful to find the right restaurant, as they will try to get you inside as soon as you seem to be interested - which makes it nearly impossible to check a menu before.
I would recommend to avoid the very busy tourist areas, even the restaurants might look nicer there, but the portions will be smaller and much more expensive.
The starters, meze, will often be offered on trays, so that you only choose which ones you want. The selection should offer hot and cold dishes. We sometimes get a bit carried away here and choose that many, that there isn't really any space left for a main course. If this should happen to you too, then don't worry, the waiters are used to that and don't mind.
Soups are very popular and, apart from the tripes and the sheep-head -soup, which I don't touch as my stomach turns at the very thought, very nice. My favourites here being mercimek (red lentils, bit spicy) or yayla (yoghurt soup).
Meat dishes are usually either made of chicken or lamb, beef is less common. As it is a Muslim country you won't find any pork.
Koefte are small meatballs which are usually cooked on the grill. As a side dish rice is more common then fries and they often mix chickpeas into it.
The desserts are usually very sweet , as they work a lot with sugar-syrup here, and can be very filling. If I still have space for a dessert I rather take fresh fruit or keîkül (almond pudding) and leave the baklava for a coffee-break.
After the food you will be offered kahve. This comes in small portions, tastes very much like espresso and you will have to tell them before how sweet you want yours, as the sugar is being added before the boiling process.
Sade means no sugar, orta is 1 flat coffee-spoon and sekerli one heaped coffee-spoon.
After about two sips of the kahve you will realize that your cup is empty and all that is left is the coffee-powder at the bottom, as they do not filter the kahve before pouring it. Some people believe that, if you turn the cup upside down and let the powder residue run unto a plate, you will be able to tell your future from what you find. Now, if this works than my future will be very messy, as a big mess was all that I have had on my plate so far....
All in all I would recommend a trip to Istanbul to all that are interested in the oriental history ,but still want the comfort of the modern, western life-style. Families with very small children might have a problem here, as there isn't much around to keep the little ones amused. Parks are rare, play-grounds even less and forget about theme parks.
Wheelchair users and disabled people in general will find this city very unwelcoming, as it is not only very hard to get around in it, but it also misses often such important things as disabled toilets and ramps.
Thanks for reading , Sandra
This review has also been published on Ciao
Im pinching myself hard as it seems only a couple of weeks since I posted my travel review on Venice, and now here I am posting another on Istanbul.
There are two reasons for this there was only a month between school half-term holiday and Easter this year, due to the moving feast nature of Easter, and I didnt really sit down to write the Venice one immediately.
ISTANBUL A UNIQUE PLACE
For one thing, its the only city in the world that spans two continents. Indeed, if it wasnt for the fact that one third of its people live in Asia, it would knock London off its Europes Largest City pedestal by a few million souls. Censuses are suitably vague on the subject, but the overall population may now be in the region of 12,000,000.
In truth, the city is in three parts, two in Europe and one across the entrance to the Bosphorus in Asia. The two European parts are separated by a stretch of water called The Golden Horn. This is an elongated bay, with several bridges crossing it, the most famous of which are the Galata and the Atatürk Bridges. These both carry road and pedestrian traffic, and the newer Galata Bridge carries Istanbuls smart new trams down the centre as well as having a lower deck with a promenade brimming with fish restaurants, and a thousand invites to look at menus.
The southern half of the European side is really the site of the original Constantinople, eastern hub of the latterday Roman Empire, complete with Mark 2 Pope installed, and this is the bit we stayed in.
To my mind, its the most atmospheric and picturesque. The many cobbled streets with their quaint clapperboard houses, many lovingly converted into small hotels are a Mecca (no pun intended) for independent tourists including us. I dont suppose the coach drivers are too happy with the arrangement though many off these streets are more or less out of bounds to large vehicles. Many of these hotels have been granted permission, subject, of course to safety regulations, to operate outside of the official hotel grading system, as being restored mansions, fitting lifts and other mod cons is not an easy option. We had a superb room and bathroom, but it was still a three-floor trek to breakfast.
We stayed in Amiral Tadfil Sokak (Admiral Tadfil Street) in what was actually the eponymous Admirals house, now called the Angels Home Hotel; so called because his wifes name translated means Angel.
It is now run by Okkan and Hakkan, two brothers with a penchant for old American cars (our courtesy car from the airport was their own 55 Chevy BelAir) in turquoise (what else in Turkey?) and white. They also looked like a composite of the Bee Gees, with swept-back hair, goatee beards and the occasional earring. Come to think of it, Paul Whitehouses dodgy little bit werrrr, little bit waaayyy cockney comes close too!
They couldnt have been more obliging if a little vague. Requests like, Can you book us on the Bosphorus day tour tomorrow, were met with a Sure, why not?, only to find the following morning, that they were waiting for us to ram it home with Well, WILL you then? Fortunately, it wasn't fully booked out already.
When Hakkan and his lady wife were off home in the evening, leaving Okkan as duty manager, it was nothing for a group of guests to hitch a ride with them in the Chevy to some convenient point before being dropped off, having saved a cab fare. Of course, it didnt always start .
Breakfast was taken on the top floor of the hotel, and was the usual Mediterranean fare, topped up with a least one hot fresh item everyday, maybe a pancake or some eggy-bread.
The icing on the cake was the roof-top sundeck. From here, such magnificent buildings as the Sultan Ahmet Camii (aka The Blue Mosque) and The Aghia Sophia (St Sophia latterly converted to a mosque, and now a museum) were easily seen, with a largely unrestricted view The Blue Mosque was in fact only three hundred yards away, and didnt we know it, as the muezzin called the faithful to prayer at 5 a.m. every morning? The wide sweep of the neck of the Bosphorus as it widens into The Sea Of Marmara, and Asian Istanbul beyond completed the panorama.
PLACES TO GO PEOPLE TO SEE
I dont suppose many first-time visitors to Istanbul would come away without a visit to The Blue Mosque. This is a magnificent structure, the second largest outside Mecca, Im told, and daring to equal it with 6 minarets. To be honest, I found the interior rather disappointing. We went on a dull day, so sunshine wasnt pouring through the stained glass. Electric lamps hang in hundreds from the ceiling to just above your head. This effectively obscures your view, partly because of the glare in your eyes and partly because of the number of wires involved. I have to concede though, that the walls are rather, well, blue, as it happens, in intricate Islamic patterns. You have to take your shoes off, and carry them round but this at least means that you get your own shoes back, and you can now be ushered out of a different door to your entry point! Dont be fooled by all the hat and pashmina salesmen outside you are NOT obliged to wear them as a visitor, although some decorum is advised. Bare legs and arms would be a definite no-no, although it was chilly so that was not a problem. Entry is free, but there is an upkeep charity box, just as youd expect to find in a UK cathedral.
As I mentioned before, more by luck than judgement, we did end up booked on a one day tour of the Bosphorus and the Asian side, taking in a lot of other spots, including lunch as we went. The Bosphorus is a 30-mile channel, some quite gorge-like with steep sides and narrowing to around 650 metres. It links The Sea of Marmara to The Black Sea. The Sea of Marmara is effectively a large bay south of Istanbul, which again narrows at the infamous Dardenelles before flowing to the Aegean Sea and thence the rest of The Med. It really is quite an awe-inspiring site to watch a super-tanker or some other bulk-carrier plodding its way along the Bosphorus, no doubt with the pilot on board, but without a tug in sight, bearing in mind what I said about width earlier. Its no wonder that The Sea of Marmara seems to be littered with anchored ships, no doubt waiting for their turn to enter the gorge, safe in the knowledge that nothing bigs coming the other way.
During the trip, you pass under two graceful suspension bridges, which are effectively the road link to Asia. More prosaically, they carry traffic jams caused by the toll booths, rather like the Severn Bridges really! A large number of Istanbuls office workers choose to live on the more residential and therefore quieter Asian side, and this stands out a mile at rush hours. The houses by the water side are incredibly posh I shudder to think how many noughts they would have attached to their price in the new lira let alone the old ones.
During the boat journey, you pass many minor palaces (I say minor advisedly, since THE palace is of course the famous Topkapi) and visit castles created on the Roman side to guard the narrowest part of the gorge. Lunch is included, though why they felt the need to retrace the boats steps in a tour bus just to have our meal, and then to return all over again in Istanbul's appalling traffic is beyond me.
The Dolmabahçe Palace, built for the last of the Ottoman rulers was, however, well worth the visit if only so you can say youve seen a 4-ton chandelier and a staircase with crystal glass banister supports. Thanks to the traffic, we were rather late getting there, and the staff had obligingly kept the place open for us way past normal hours. You didnt have to speak Turkish to translate what the various cleaning ladies were saying. No doubt something like Oi, dont keep in and out Ive just vacuumed there! The Palace has amazingly lush gardens at this time of year.
The final stop of the day was over one of the graceful suspension bridges to a high vantage point on the Asian side just as the sun was setting over the European areas. Heady stuff, but tiring. Of course, we had done two continents in 10 hours. The tour costs £30/head including food but excluded extra drinks.
Flying in the face of tradition, we never did get to Topkapi, partly because of the dire queues that formed immediately it opens and partly because .well, just because, really.
We did however do something slightly less conventional and travel to the north east part of the European city to see the Rahmi M Koç Museum. Mr. Koç is the man, who amongst other things made my Beko fridge (available at Currys now). This museum is a treasure trove of all things industrial, and is very hands-on. They have a superb collection of vintage (mainly) American cars, trains, aircraft. Even the car-park has a Douglas DC-3 Dakota on a tripod, and an Lockheed F-104 Starfighter (or Widowmaker* as the Luftwaffe gruesomely call them) by the gatehouse.
*When you see one, you can see why. Its more akin to a rocket with a bit of wing thrown in, in case its expected to land and take off.
Entry to the museum is a reasonable £2.50 with extra £1.50 to visit a mothballed submarine moored just beyond the car park. Due to a language problem, we never were sure whether photos were allowed the tariff board implied that we could pay extra, but when I pointed to my camera with that IS OK? look, hands were waved in what seemed a negative manner. Whether they meant no cameras or no charge is anyones guess. All the school-kids were clicking and flashing away like mad in front of attendants so I suppose we were worrying over nothing. In the end, we settled for taking non-flash photos when no-one was looking!
Another must see that we did see is the labyrinth of water cisterns at Yerabatan Sarnici (Basilica Cisterns), a stones throw from the Blue Mosque and our hotel. These would make an ideal visit on a dull day since youre about to spend an hour underground. These were built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD to supply the original city with fresh water, fed by aqueducts. The symmetry of row upon row of dramatically up-lit columns is amazing, although vexatious for a photographer. I settled for whacking my new Nikon D70 up to 1600 ASA and not using flash. The results are grainy but steady. Id also recommend this place in the dire heat of summer. Entry was about £2.50/head.
Now then, The Grand Bazaar, or as Hakkan put it so succinctly Iss only good for you look, not to buying. Theyre obviously getting the message about hassle. Despite the first avenue on our point of entry being the jewellery quarter, not once were we invited to step inside to discuss prices. Keeping your eyes on where youre going and looking like a grumpy old curmudgeon probably helps too. This seemingly goes on for ever well, when you hate shopping as much as I do, it does. As a veteran of the Marrakesh souk, it held no fear for me!
GENERALLY SOAKING IT UP
To be honest, this is what I think its all about. I dont suppose Ill be going back just so I can say Ive been to the Topkapi Palace, but Ive seen todays Istanbul by the cartload.
The people are fun even the eatery waiters with their incessant invitations. The whole place just never stops for breath.
The taxi drivers are in a class of their own, and one of lifes mysteries is how come there arent more dented cars in Istanbul. If youre looking for a steady income, set up a taxi drivers body shop. They are competitive in the extreme and will frequently battle it out going up a hill, despite one of them having to spend half a minute on the wrong side of the road. The phonetic nature of Turkish does at least allow for you to ask for places and be fairly confident theyve understood. The meters currently are cranked to 1.3 new lira before you start, and despite the insinuations of Hakkan, they seemed generally on the level, especially when they realise you can see the meter. An airport transfer cost us 23 new lira (about a tenner including the tip).
Istanbul is hard on the feet, calves and knees. Take foot-ware more suited to hiking. The trend to put back all the old cobbles means that pavements are universally uneven, by intent, it seems. Kerbs can be very high and there is little sign of concessions to wheel chair users.
The early Spring weather was a mixed bag, and surprisingly, not much different to the UK we know, we watched BBC Prime on the hotels cable TV.
LANGUAGE AND FOOD
If that seems like an odd mixture, what better time is there to get a handle on a language than when youve a menu in front of you?
Many decades ago, Turkish underwent a migration to the European alphabet, with the happy result that it is largely phonetic. Therefore, you can pronounce words you dont actually understand quite easily. When this took place, it was however necessary, to assign certain accents and squiggles to letters to get a pronunciation best fit.
NOTE: Dooyoo doesn't seem to accept exclusively Turkish characters even though they look OK in the edit box. The next one is supposed to be an S with a cedilla under it.
For example, an s with a cedilla, which is pronounced sh, hence 'shish' kebap.
Similarly, ç is pronounced ch, and so çay (which is tea, incidentally) is pronounced ch-eye. The national drink of apple tea is spelt elma çay. Piliç is chicken.
A simple c is pronounced as a soft j, like the French usage e.g. JE ne sais pas. Therefore, cacik, the Turkish equivalent of Greek tzatziki, the yogurt and cucumber dip, is really pronounced jajik (but softly).
Ö and ü are pronounced as they are in German, the former like the U in slur, and the latter like the pure sound of a U in French (avez-vous DU pain?). Köfte are often described as meat balls, although in reality they arent always spherical, sometimes even slab-like. Döner kebaps are no stranger to the British High Street either.
Sorry, I couldnt think of a food item using ü.
Note: Dooyoo doesn't seem to accept exclusively Turkish characters even though they look OK in the edit box. The next one is supposed to be a G with a 'half moon' above it.
Probably the hardest letter to get your head round is ğ this is silent. The best I can come up with is that it seems to separate two vowel sounds, making the first one dominant. If a man called Raoul was to spell his name in Turkish, it might look like Rağul, I suppose.
If anyone knows how to correct these character set defects let me know. I've tried cutting and pasting from Windows Character Map to no avail
Anyway, language lesson over. Now for the grub.
I REALLY like Turkish food, both in Turkey and at home. I find it colourful, spicy, unpretentious and wholesome well, the savouries anyway. Im not so sure about all those sticky sweets, although the ubiquitous baklava or loukum (Turkish Delight) goes down nicely with a coffee!
Turkey is fortunate to be more or less self-sufficient in food, although you do still see the odd 'Bob Dole' banana. They grow rice, potatoes and wheat which takes care of their immediate staple needs. Fruit varies between temperate and Mediterranean apples to grapes and a lot more in between, like pomegranates.
In meats, lamb and chicken predominate although beef features too. Being a Moslem country, bacon sandwich addicts should think twice about coming.
Istanbuls menus offer a wide range of local and regional dishes; Adana and Iskender kebaps being examples of the latter. The Iskender is like a döner kebap, with thinly sliced lamb from a vertical rotary spit, but instead of being a largely fast food item, it is served in a spicy tomato and chilli sauce on a bed of pide (pitta), with a dollop of that lovely dense yogurt (the antidote to the chilli, no doubt), and often a heap of rice or cous-cous and salad.
Mezes feature widely too, either as starters, or, if you order enough, as a meal in themselves. Many of them will be familiar to lovers of Greek food too the two countries having been entwined (whether they like it or not) for hundreds of years!
Tarama = taramasalata = smoke red mullet row dip
Humus = houmous = well, err, houmous actually, the chick pea and tahine (sesame pulp in oil) dip
Dolma(si) = dolma(des) = stuffed vine leaves. I've put the respective plurals in brackets since you frequently get more than one. Dolma = Turkish for full or stuffed, hence the dolmus minibuses that are packed with passengers.
Cacik = Tzatziki = Cucumber, garlic and yogurt dip
Köfte = Keftedes = Meat balls
It goes without saying that genuine Turkish coffee is the usual 'thimbleful' with a foreshore of coffee grounds once the tide is out just like Greek in fact. They do also tend to give you a glass of water as a matter of course.
Simit is a circular ring of sesame-encrusted bread, the size of a respectable deck quoit, often sold by street traders, from carts, rather like New Yorks pretzel men.
Can someone please explain this mystery? When you can go in a homegrown fast food cafe at lunchtime serving meat balls and kebabs only with salads, get your food within a minute of sitting down, and come out having only paid the equivalent of £3 each, why oh why do even the Turks go to the MacDonalds over the road, to eat that sanitized excuse for food?
OTHER BITS AND PIECES
Turkish money, and its associated inflation rate has long been a puzzle to most people, what with all those noughts on the end when paying for seemingly small items. At last call, before they put a stop to this nonsense, you only needed 40 pence to be a Turkish millionaire. Now theyve done the decent thing and lopped 6 zeros off the end, rendering around 2.50 YTL (Yeni Türk Lirasi - NEW Turkish Lira) to £1.00 sterling. Off course, this doesnt in itself lick inflation thats another hill to climb for the Turkish economy. We were there during the interim period, where 1,000,000 (old) lira notes were still being accepted, but nothing smaller it seems, despite a reputable establishment palming us off with a ½ million note yesterday.
Entering the country can be vexatious as you are still expected to pay (in hard currency, i.e. your own) for a 3-month visitors visa if you are from the UK, and a whole list of other countries, which only becomes apparent when you get to the front of the passport queue, behind lots of Brits seemingly having no trouble getting through. Youre then given the glad news that youve got to join the even longer Visa queue and stump up your £10 a head for a sticker, which is dispensed immediately, leaving you to go to the back of the passport queue.
Since the process is quite literally a rubber stamp and thanks for the money affair, one wonders why they cant re-employ the visa officers to boost the numbers of immigration officers and let them do it. There are no warnings of this; no signposting at the airport telling of the significance of the visa queues; no information to the effect from British Airways prior to landing, and nothing from our on-line bookers, Expedia either. Where would be the harm in BA announcing British visitors who havent been to Turkey in the last 3 months are reminded to join the visa queue first'?
To be honest, Id vaguely remembered something similar 10 years ago, but must have assumed that this nonsense had stopped, what with Turkey wanting to join the EC and all. At least theres no longer a departure airport tax, also needed in sterling.
Cellphone users will no doubt be pleased to know that Turkcell reception is good in the Istanbul area and our O2 phone had no trouble latching onto their network.
If using the internet (our hotel had free broadband for guests to use), dont forget there are two letters I on a Turkish keyboard - one in the usual QWERTYUIOP row and another i in the row of extra Turkish characters. Contrary to what you instinct would tell you, use the Turkish version when surfing or typing in passwords etc. The QWERTY version isnt recognised. Oh what fun I had trying to log into websites with my nibelung/billynibbles ID so prevalent I wondered why Google was the only thing I could get! Also, the @ symbol is found nested with Q, and you have to use the AltGr key to access it.
Mains current is the usual 220v AC with European plug sockets.
Whichever way you look at it, Istanbul is an assault on the senses, most pleasant but all memorable. It satisfies that need to feel that Im somewhere really foreign, rather like Greek cities did thirty years ago, before they started putting signs up in English!
I have to say that Im not sure Id go again, even if the Topkapi Palace and Gardens do still await my return. Palaces just aren't my thing really.
Im glad I went though. I can dine out on taxi-driver stories for ages yet!
The light blinded me as I stepped out onto the roof-terrace where I was going to have my breakfast. My first view of Istanbul in daylight was wondrous. The Marmara Sea, on one side, covered in a haze as the sun did not fully manage to burn through the light clouds. On the other side of the hotel, the magnificent domes and minarets of Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque overlooking the scenery. Instantly I knew that I wouldn?t be able not to return to this place at least once in my lifetime. GOING THERE I used expedia.co.uk to book my flight from London, and got a rather good deal flying with KLM via Amsterdam for app. £220 return. Since I wanted to go for Easter (which is a very popular time to travel), and only made my booking a month in advance, I had to sit for a few hours in front of the computer before I could dig out my deal. British Airways fly straight to Istanbul, but at this time it was a more expensive option. ?It seems like they don?t know what to do with us; we have been allocated to a gate which is already occupied by another plane? We have only just landed, and the trouble starts already! When hearing the captain?s voice I pictured that this was the beginning of a problem-ridden holiday, quite in accordance with the guidebook?s warnings about cheaters and touts. If I only had known how wrong I was! This was one of very few difficulties I encountered during the whole journey. The taxi driver was friendly, and took us straight to the hotel for $15 dollars. STAYING THERE My boyfriend and I found a nice, clean, and cheap hotel (£17/night/person) called Hanedan Hotel, conveniently located in the Sultanahmet area and within easy reach of all the main sights. Even though it was close to the busy touristy areas, it was on a quiet side street and had a very peaceful atmosphere. If you are looking for a cheap but nice hotel or hostel, this is the area to look. THE SIGHTS A
ll the sights that I am describing are located in or within easy reach from Sultanahmet. Please remember that this is my personal view of the sights that I went to, and a few of the major sights (such as the Topkapi palace ? I am not overly excited about the estates of worldly rulers, no matter how splendid they might be) have not been included. Aya Sofia Aya Sofia was once the greatest church of Christianity. After the conquest (or the fall of Constantinople as it is referred to by Western Europeans), the church was converted to a mosque. I was actually slightly disappointed with Aya Sofia, as the place is nowadays a museum, it has a totally different atmosphere to that of mosques or churches in use. Of course it is incredible, but the crowds of tourists don?t really behave in the manner you would expect people to behave in a sacred edifice of such religious importance. The enormous scaffolding taking up about half of the main dome on the inside also destroyed a bit of the sensation. Sultanahmet Camii (The Blue Mosque) Built in the 17th century, this is one of the most magnificent things that you will see in Istanbul. The mosque with its six minarets and surrounding park was the sight that I returned to several times during my short stay, because of the location and the feeling of the place. After having struggled my way through the bazaars and steering clear of the money-makers it was almost as if I was drawn to this area. Just stepping in to the court in front of the mosque helped my pulse to settle. After removing my shoes I was welcomed by the attendant, and inside the atmosphere was so alive that I could sense it in my body. The Sunken Cistern If you are feeling too hot (it will get hot in Istanbul in summer!), you should consider a visit to the Sunken Cistern. It was built in AD 532, and is the largest surviving Byzantine cistern in Istanbul. Nowadays it is used as a tourist attraction.
When you walk down the stairs, you are met with a damp and cool atmosphere, quiet music and an almost eerie feeling comes upon you when you see all the rows of columns extending into the darkness. I looked down into the water, and saw some fish, coins, and even a pair of sunglasses. Capali Carsi (The Grand Bazaar) Gold, antiquities, fabric, soaps, tea-sets, carpets, cushions, lamps, books, you can find it all in the Grand Bazaar. If you find your way around the place, that is. The Grand Bazaar comprises several blocks of small shops, cafés and restaurants, all under one roof. If you stop to look at an article, you have to expect that the shopkeeper will come and talk to you and try to start a haggle. If you do get into the haggle, remember to be persistent! Apparently our bargaining was more of the careful kind, because our seller looked a bit too pleased when the deal was made, and he eagerly showed us the way to the nearest ATM when we realised that we didn?t have enough cash for the purchase. Even if the shopkeepers might think that you are crazy paying so much for the goods, you will still get a good deal seen from a westerner?s perspective. For the same articles you would most likely pay a much higher price if bought in Western Europe. Süleymaniye camii If you arrive in Sultanahmet by boat, this enormous mosque built on one of Istanbul?s seven hills, is what will catch your eyes. It is the grandest of all Turkish mosques, and it was built in the 16th century. I was a bit unlucky, because when we were about to enter the mosque two huge tourist busses were unloaded just outside, and it ruined my experience to a certain extent having people talking and taking flash pictures just next to me. At the back of the mosque I got a bit of peace and quiet though, and the view from there was fantastic. I just sat down in the sun and enjoyed the peace of the place. The Hippodrome In fro
nt of the Blue Mosque (the north-west side) you find the Hippodrome. This is one of the places in Istanbul where the different historical eras clash. On one hand, you have the kind of Roman city planning with large, straight, open squares and streets, on the other hand the grandiosity of the mosque. This is all mixed up with the Eastern European vibe that the run down wooden houses manifest. At the Hippodrome there are three obelisks, on of them looking shiny and new, like if it was made in the forties or something. When going closer, I noticed that it had carved hieroglyphs, and on the sign it said that it was carved in Egypt around 1450 BC! I.e. it is about 3500 years old! There are a couple of restaurants/cafés at the Hippodrome, and it is nice to spend a couple of hours on one of the sofas, sipping some tea or maybe smoking a water pipe. Hamams (Turkish baths) After struggling your way through hot, dusty roads, traffic fumes and smells, you have the wonderful opportunity of visiting a Turkish bath. There are plenty of them, but it might be worth it to visit one of the more touristy ones. You have the options of a self-service bath, or a bath with massage. I went for the self-service one, as I was a bit anxious of being beaten by a not-so-gentle-masseuse, but I soon realised that this is what you have to choose to get the most out of your experience. Without a massage, the only thing you can do is to lie on a flat, hot, marble plate, scrub yourself, and wash yourself. There are baths with a sauna, but the traditional baths don?t have saunas, pools, showers or anything of the kind that we are used to from western spas and bathhouses; it might get a bit tedious just relaxing and washing yourself. It is still worth a visit, but only if you?re not a prude! Despite signs requesting visitors not to be naked, a lot of people were. Men and women are however separated. Don?t worry if you don?t know what to do when
entering the bath, the attendants are used to tourists and will tell you how to go about things. This bath was actually the only place I encountered offering a discount for students, so if you?re not going for a bath when in Istanbul don?t panic if you forgot your ISIC-card at home. The Bosphorus Even if you are only staying for a few days in Istanbul, I would still recommend a boat trip on the Bosphorus. It is a very nice way of getting out of the city to breathe some fresh air, and to get a break from the noise. You can easily walk from Sultanahmet down to Eminönu, which is where the ferries leave from. At dock three you fill find the ferries for the Bosphorus. There are several different options of boat trips, the private ones are more expensive, they have smaller boats with a sundeck, they only go half they way up the Bosphorus, and therefore take half the time (3 hours). I went on the local ferries that go almost all the way up to the Black Sea, stopping in several villages along the way. It took about 1 ½ hour one way, and the whole trip lasted 6 hours. The last place on the route, Anadolu Kavagi, is a little village on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. When you leave the boat the fish restaurants use all their arguments to lure you to sit down at their tables. ?Yes hello we are here we are the best!? ?Hello seaside!? ?Hello terrace!? were only a few of the attempts at persuasions that I encountered. When having had a nice meal, you can walk up to the ruins of a medieval castle where you get a fantastic view over the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. FOOD I LOVE mid-eastern food, and there are innumerable restaurants in Istanbul. Being a vegetarian, I am always prepared for any hassle when eating out, but I had a really easy time seeing that restaurants usually offer at least one vegetarian main course, or if not, there is always plenty of cold and hot starters to choose from. <
br> The only difficult thing about finding a restaurant, is that in the tourist areas you won?t get much time to decide where to go before an eager waiter pushes up a menu in your face and almost without you knowing how it happened seats you, brings some bread and water, and waits for your order. ADVICE You might wonder what the title of my op indicates, and finally you have arrived to the delicate matter of travelling as a female. Before I hit the road I read about the experiences of a female traveller in the Middle East, recounting how many hands had touched her bum during her journey. Not having visited any country in the Middle East, or any Muslim country anywhere else, I didn?t quite know what to expect, and thought that I would maybe feel uncomfortable in certain places or situations. There was nothing of that kind to worry about though, and having my boyfriend by my side probably helped a lot. Even travelling as a single woman I doubt that there would be any inconveniences as long as you use your common sense. When it comes to money matters, Istanbul is a great place to visit. You will get a lot for your money, as long as you steer clear of the obvious money traps. And don?t forget to bargain! As the Turkish currency fluctuates all the time, I haven?t given any prices for the attractions. You won?t have to worry much about the money though, as most things are cheap. The most expensive entrance fee was probably for Aya Sofia, and that cost about £6. All the mosques are free and open to visitors, but please pay by showing your respect for these sacred places.
Merhaba, hi and hello, dear reader, place a glass of Turkish tea beside your computer, two cubes of sugar, no milk, lean back and follow me!
I've wanted to go to Istanbul for yonks, but somehow never found the time in the ideal period for visiting this city which is from the middle of May until June when it's not too hot yet and spring in full swing.
The being responsible for the weather in Turkey hadn't read our guide-book, though, we started from a wonderfully warm spring in Germany and landed in rainy and cold Istanbul (4° !) Divine inspiration had made me pack my warm coat which helped me survive the first two days, the rest of the time it was a bit warmer, but never as warm as in Northern Europe at the same time.
Why Istanbul at all? I love Byzantine and Islamic art and the sound of the Turkish language. How can I know when I've never been to Turkey before? Well, I hear it every day, I only have to leave my house and go shopping or to the pedestrian precinct. Turks have lived in Germany since 1961 when the economy was booming, now there are about 2 1/2 million living here.
My husband and I didn't go with an organised tour, we went to a travel agency and booked a flight with Turkish Airlines (Türk Hava Yollari) and a hotel from a brochure. I could travel with my identity card, my Italian husband couldn't, he needed his passport and had to get a visa for 10 Euro ( ~ 7 GBP) at the airport in Istanbul, you would have to do the same.
When I asked in our bank if I could buy Turkish money the clerk looked at me sympathetically, no bank has Turkish money, they simply haven't got the space to stock it. ( 1 GBP = 2.529.963 Turkish Liras !) When in Turkey it's advisable to change only a small amount of money whenever you go to a bank, it's very probable that you get more for your GBP the next time you go, Turkey is a country of high inflation. The Euro is the seco
nd currency in Turkey (unfortunately this information doesn't help you much) with which you can pay nearly everywhere.
I won't give you the prices for the museums we went to, I don't assume you'll board a plane immediately after reading my op, and when you'll go one day the prices won't be the same any more.
Let's look at what is left from the Romans who founded a city on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium under the Roman Emperor Constantine and called it Constantinople. What did the Romans do wherever they were? They built city walls, aqueducts, water reservoirs, stadiums and erected columns, not surprisingly they did it here, too.
Nowadays the Hippodrome is more or less only a wide open place with a column from Roman times and an Egyptian obelisk, you have to imagine it as the centre of civic life and the 30 000 spectators watching horse races, executions and other spectacles (no TV then!). The remains of the two-storey high aqueduct which served the city with water for more than 15 centuries are more imposing, they span one of the busiest streets of Istanbul and can be seen from far away. The remaining 7 km of the Roman city wall are part of the universal cultural heritage of the UNESCO.
But the most impressive heritage is the Yerebatan Sarayi (which translates as "Sunken Palace"), Istanbul's largest underground cistern, it had a capacity of 80 000 m². One enters this massive 140m long and 70m wide room via 52 steps. 336 Corinthian and Doric columns 90m high and 4.8m apart hold it up, the brick walls are 4.8m thick.
Today Yerebatan Sarayi is a major tourist attraction and offers cool respite from Istanbul's searing summer heat (something we couldn't experience!). Tourists walk on an elevated boardwalk (Attention, it's a bit slippery!) through the cistern, pulsing lights, water dripping from the ceiling and eerie music played o
ver strategically placed loudspeakers add an air of mystery to the place. It became famous when James Bond started his operation against the Russian Embassy here in the film 'From Russia with Love'. (10 am - 5 pm, closed on Tuesdays).
And then there is the Hagia Sophia, for almost a thousand years it was the largest church in the world and served as the Cathedral of Constantinople of the Byzantine Empire when the city was Nova Roma, the Rome of the East. The name means 'Sacred Wisdom'.
After the Turkish Conquest in 1453 it served as the imperial mosque of Istanbul for almost five hundred years, in 1934 it was converted into a museum (9 am - 4 pm, closed on Mondays).
Unfortunately there was a scaffold inside when we were visiting, the inside of the dome was being restored, nevertheless we could feel the impact of the enormous building. When the Muslims converted the church into a mosque, they painted and plastered the mosaics over, but didn't destroy them, nowadays they're restored and Christian mosaics and writings from the Koran exist side by side.
Here I was in the old Byzantium, at the cradle of Byzantine art, and deeply disappointed! The mosaics are sparse and very small, I've seen many more, bigger and better preserved ones in Italian churches. Later we went to the small church-turned-mosque-turned-museum Chora which has the best conserved Byzantine mosaics and frescoes of Istanbul. The impression there is better because the building is very small and intimate and one can have a close look at the works of art, but I wasn't satisfied, I had expected more.
We've reached the Ottoman Empire now, at its highpoint the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul was the centre of the world for the people from the Nile to what is Hungary today. Here the Sultan lived with his extended family (harem), servants and the people necessary to conduct the business of ruling the Empire, 5000 altogether.
He chose the most exposed point of the city at the tip of the peninsula between the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. Unlike the European palaces, Topkapi is not a single monumental structure but a more organic structure made of various gardens, kiosks and buildings. In 1924 the complex was turned into a museum (9.30 am - 5 pm. closed on Tuesdays). Tourists can visit the various buildings and the treasury with the famous dagger which was 'stolen' in the film 'Topkapi' (1964) by Peter Ustinov, Melina Mercouri and Maximilian Schell, for a tour of the Harem an extra ticket must be obtained.
A former dooyooer advised me to get up early in order to be on the spot before the tourists came in droves, we didn't though, there were hardly any tourists, let alone droves. During the week we were there I didn't see one British or American group and only very few individual travellers, the war in Iraq had kept them at home, good for us but a tragedy for the Turkish tourist industry. Most foreign tourists came from France, some from Italy and Germany.
I already knew that Turkey doesn't have mosques like they stand in Isfahan in Iran or Samarkand and Buchara in Uzbekistan with their wonderful gold covered domes and walls with coloured tiles, but I expected at least some nicely decorated interiors in the Topkapi palace; I was disappointed again! Most rooms were only sparsely decorated or unadorned, not like the marvellous Alhambra in Spain, which we visited some years ago.
We saw the famous Blue Mosque on a cold and rainy day, it had no chance to impress us with its glory, the windows didn't sparkle in sunshine and with no shoes on we got cold feet on the cold carpet. Our favourite mosque was the Sülemaniye built by Koca Mimar Sinan in the 16th century, the Michelangelo of Istanbul, but we also liked the very small and intimate one beside the first bridge across the Bosphorus in Ortaköy, not only because it has a heat
ing system under the floor!
How did we get from sight to sight? By taxi. We are in the happy and enviable position of knowing someone in Istanbul, a young Turkish woman who had lived in our town in Germany and moved back to Istanbul. She accompanied us for the first two days and the last evening out, through her we got to know Istanbul from the inside, we'll be forever grateful for that.
She told us that she needed one hour to get to work and one hour to get back home and that she only ever moved through the city by taxi. She doesn't like too close contact with pongy fellow travellers and pickpockets and then going by taxi is cheap, you pay for the distance only, not for the time you need. On our last evening she wanted to take us to a fish restaurant on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. We got stuck in a rush hour traffic jam before we reached the bridge, she told the taxi driver to take the nearest exit and go to a place on the European side, the taxi driver got lost because he'd never been in that part of the city, all in all we were in that taxi for two hours and paid ~ 9 GBP!
When we were on our own, did we follow the advice of the guide books and discuss the destination with the taxi driver and haggle over the price before getting in? Were we cheated? No, we didn't, and yes, we were.
The bright yellow taxis are ubiquitous, they cruise the streets day and night, you just step into the streets, wave and the next second a taxi stops. You must hop in as quickly as possible if you don't want to endanger your life as there is no extra lane for them, you can't stand in the street and start a discussion. All taxis have taximeters which are switched to 1 Million Turkish Liras (40p) when you get in, sounds good, doesn't it?
But what can you do when the driver switches on the night tariff which is twice as high as the day tariff, what if you have to pay 5 Million (~ 2 GBP), give a bank
note of 10 Million and the taxi driver smiles at you thanking you in Turkish, Russian and English and simply refuses to give you any money back? Or if he pulls some banknotes out of your hand while you're still struggling to get the millions right? Hit him? Go to the police? How would you find the nearest police station anyway? You'd have to go by taxi! We soon found out that only the old drivers are crooks and only got into a taxi after examining the driver's face, anyone looking older than 30 didn't have a chance with us!
As even the exaggerated prices weren't exorbitant for us, we decided not to overreact, we don't go on holiday to be angry all the time.
In case you've followed me up to here you might have got the impression that my trip to Istanbul was a flop. No, not at all, the trip was certainly different from what I had expected, but interesting all the same and worth while the time and money.
Let's fetch another glass of tea so that you stay awake for the rest of my report. The glasses have no handles, how then can you hold them when they're blazing hot? Well, they're served on saucers and when you can touch the rim of the glass the tea has cooled down enough to drink, clever, innit?
Istanbul does not only mean 2000 years of history, it's also a present day city, one of the largest and most populous cities on the planet, a megalopolis with estimated 15 million inhabitants, nearly a quarter of the Turkish people live there.
How do they live, what do they do? We didn't only move around by taxi, we also walked, we walked for hours, we lost two kilos each although we ate regularly. Where? Well, wherever we were when we became hungry, the Turkish cuisine is tasty. The traffic is rather civilised, not to be compared with the one in Southern Italy. The drivers obey traffic lights, stop at zebra crossings, hardly honk or shout at each other, the only
irregularity we could notice was that they overtake from the left and the right.
So crossing a street is no problem, but walking on the pavements is. Nearly everywhere the paving tiles are irregular, stick up, are broken or missing leaving holes in the pavement and the kerbstones are extremely high, sometimes up to 30 cm. Only some pavements have ramps, no wonder that one hardly sees handicapped people in the streets, I only noticed two wheelchairs in one week.
The city isn't very dirty, some parts of London are dirtier, road sweepers are busy everywhere. We heard that for ten years the aspect of the city has constantly been improved, tanneries have been moved away from he Golden Horn which is a dead end stretch of water by which the quality of the water has been improved considerably.
Our hotel was in the quarter Laleli (Lah - la -lee), why it's not called Little Russia I don't know. There are Russian speaking people everywhere, the shopkeepers, the touts, the taxi drivers, the staff in the restaurant, they all speak Russian to a certain extent, all the shops and hotels in the area have Russian speaking staff, the writing is in Russian. Why's that? People from the former Soviet Union come and buy clothes, especially made of leather, shoes, also underwear, take the things home and sell them there. We saw people doing business everywhere, the famous Great Bazaar is also in this quarter. We saw people doing jobs we didn't even know existed.
No matter where you are there's always someone wanting to sell you something. You can't look at the goods displayed in front of the shops or in the shop windows, not for one second, there will be a man at your side at once telling you very often in fluent whatever-is-your-mother-tongue to come in, to look, to drink a glass of tea. If you find this annoying, don't go to Istanbul!
When we came from the Chora museum we walked through the poor
quarter of Balat, but even there each house had a shop on the ground floor. On the other end of the scale of what we saw is the Shopping Mall Akmerkez in Etiler (daily 11am - 10 pm), an American style shopping mall with 140 top designer shops and restaurants which got the 'Best Shopping Center Europe Award'. Name an expensive brand name, they've got it! Bigger contrasts are hardly imaginable.
Where did we rest and recreate? Istanbul is a grey city, there are hardly any parks or trees lining the street, how anyone can call it 'very lovely' will remain a mystery to me. The best places are near the water, of course, the café beside the Dolmabahce Palace for example, or the cafés and restaurants in Ortaköy, a former village outside the city, but now part of the centre. It's there where people sit and play backgammon or smoke a water-pipe, men and women alike, and where young people while away hot summer nights if they aren't in the clubs near the Galata Tower or round the Taksim Place. My favourite spot was beside the second bridge across the Bosphorus we finally got to on our last evening, one ship after the other came from or went to the Black Sea. I love ships! If I should ever go to Istanbul again, I'd only go there, sit on the bank and look at the water.
For us Istanbul was an interesting, thought provoking and very different, oriental experience; my friend's son studies Turkish and Arabic, he was in Cairo for a language course for half a year where he suffered a severe culture shock, after that he went to Istanbul and felt that he was back in Europe again. Everything's relative, you see.
Have you enjoyed my tour? Memnum oldum, it's been a pleasure guiding you.
The proverbail joint of East and West,istanbul conbines the beauties of both Europe and Asia in a city separated by the strait of bosporus.No other city is so well known for featuring beautiful Orthodox cathedrals complemented with the dome-shaped mosques that are a symbol of islam. In many respects,istanbul is no different than any other European city.But at 5PM,the melange of cultures that makes istanbul unique becomes very clear,The islamic prayer is broadcast throughout the city [like the American Express commercial],and when you realize that is normal,it really puts the city in perspective. The food in turkey is quite good. The seafood in istanbul is excellent,and what trip to the near east would be complete without some kebab. Vegetarians can stick to veggie skewers,but the meat in istanbul is not like anything you;d find in other European city. Aside from religious beauties,istanbul has several museums,the most famous of which is Topkapi. I have never been to a museum that compared to Topkapi's quality and quantity of jewels.There is one dagger that i still remember today.It has three HUGE emeralds the size of walnuts,as well as lots of intricate art patterns. One part of the museum that i regret not visiting was the harem chamber. I dont know what is in there. But i do know that the castration tools are on exhibit somewhere in the harem. It was customary to castrate all of the male servants so that they would not look towards any of the princesses. I gress they really disliked the idea of any aladdin stories getting out/// If you are American,i suggest visiting Turkey during te high season. I have a friend who went in february and he was the only tourist in town. Normally, this would be considered a good thing,but he claims that every carpet seller in the city invited him for tea so that they could try and sell him a nice carpet.I love that kind of hospitality,but one can only buy so many rug
s. Another part of Istanbul that you will find in any European city is the bazarr. You;ll find in all sorts of asian and latin Ameriacan countries,but he concept seems to be missing in the est of Europe. The bazaars are huge, covered areas that most closely represent a mixture of a mall and a farmers market,You can buy fresh fruit,top notch leather jackets,and mostinportantaly,a good backgammon set. If you're American, you're almost definitely end up paying,what someone would call,too much".
Beggars hold out their hands in desparation as they sit outside the Topkapi Palace. Inside there are millions of pounds worth of emeralds, rubies and diamonds. An 84 carat diamond set in a gold mount and surrounded by 79 brilliants (these are what they call the relatively small stones that are worth little more than our average house) is displayed in a glass cabinet and the entire place is bursting with almost unseemly wealth. Meanwhile, the people scratch for a living. You walk across the Galata Bridge and a child approaches with his entire stock of cigarettes (two packets) hoping to sell you one for a few pence profit. If he doesn't sell them quickly the rate of inflation will render them worth less than he paid for them. Have you seen the exchange rate? You get around a million lira to the pound, it was 30 when I first visited in 1979. Another child, or maybe an adult, offers to sell you a couple of raw fish displayed on a tea plate whilst others sit at the side of the road begging. If you see a car less than 30 years old its probably a tourist, and most of the others are taxis. I saw a motoring shop with some bald tyres in the window and a price tag on them - the canvas had not completely worn through yet so they were obviously considered to be roadworthy (compared to some of the taxis they were). This is certainly a city of extremes, and not just those of wealth and poverty. The area around the Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque is tired and run down, whilst the area around Taksim Square is more modern and contains most of the tourist hotels. The trafic here is unbelievable - don't expect them to stop at pedestrian lights, they won't even stop for policemen. Then there's the contrast between the European and Asian sides of the city, forever separated by the Bosphorus. I went for a week at Christmas but was surprised to see frozen puddles in the park as I took my morning stroll. It gets very hot here in summer so I guess autumn or sprin
g would be good times to visit. We did most of our exploring on foot, but I must admit there were one or two occasions when we didn't feel too safe, especially down the back streets of the old town. Yes, I'd go again, but only for a couple of days at most.
About as far as you could reasonably travel for just a long weekend away, Istanbul is about three hours' direct flight from London. It's a hip destination, frequently appearing in broadsheet travel supplements at the moment, and regularly featuring in travel magazines. Things are also looking up for the city – it's a candidate city for the 2008 Olympic Games, and was the setting for Jackie Chan's 2001 Hong Kong-funded film, 'The Accidental Spy'. Istanbul is also the only city (other than London) that has been used twice in James Bond films ('From Russia With Love' and 'The World Is Not Enough'). There's certainly a lot for tourists to see in the city, and the bazaars provide a shoppers' paradise, however, Istanbul is far from perfect. Wandering a short distance from tourist attractions or from commercial centres can lead into disturbingly slum-like streets filled with stray cats, and continual hassles from carpet sellers can mar an otherwise restful trip. HISTORY Occupation of the area can be traced back to 676 BC when Greek explorers founded the city of Chalcedon on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. In 667 BC, an additional Greek settlement was founded on the European side of the Bosphorus, named Byzantion, which was to become modern Istanbul. Over the next few hundred years, the city endured Lydian, Persian and Macedonian rule before briefly regaining autonomy, before subjugation by the Roman Empire as Byzantium in 64 BC. Chalcedon was devastated by the Goths in 258 AD, but Byzantium survived. In 324 AD, Constantine the Great, ruler of the Roman Empire, moved the capital from Rome to Byzantium – which became known as Constantinople. Constantine oversaw the construction of an enormous Great Palace, which occupied much of what is now the southwestern peninsula of the city. Several walls of the palace still exist, to the southeast of the Blue Mosque. Theodosius I,
one of Constantine's successors, divided the Roman Empire between his two sons in 395 AD. When the latin-speaking western Empire was defeated by barbarian hordes in the 5th century, the eastern Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire survived. In the 6th century, the Byzantine Empire was governed by Justinian, a wise ruler who developed the city into a successful commerical centre, and almost managed to recover the western Empire from the barbarians. Justinian was responsible for much of the city's most stunning architecture, extending the Great Palace, and building the church of Haghia Sophia, the Valens aqueduct and the Basilica Cistern. Following Justinian's death, the Byzantine empire began to crumble, although for several centuries, Constantinople remained a centre for learning and culture. The first crusade passed peacefully through Constantinople in the 12th century. However, in 1202, the fourth crusade led by the duplicitous Doge of Venice Enrico Dandolo, stormed the city of Constantinople, and installed Alexius IV as ruler of the Byzantine Empire. When this plan failed to earn the crusaders the financial reward they expected, they ousted Alexius, and installed one of their own, Baldwin I, as ruler. During this period of Istanbul's history, the area became known as the Latin Empire, and descended into anarchy. The rightful Byzantine rulers lived in exile outside of Constantinople. In 1261, Constantinople was recaptured by Michael VIII Palaeologus, with the assistance of the Italian city of Genoa, who naturally opposed Venice. However, for their assistance, the Genoese insisted on founding a colony across the Golden Horn from Constantinople, and controlled the city's trade. The city remained in this state, until the Muslim Ottomans attacked Constantinople in 1422, eventually conquering the city in 1453, under the rulership of Sultan Mehmet II. Under Mehmet II, the Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace were built
in the city, the Haghia Sophia was converted into a mosque, and the city became known as Istanbul. One of his successors, Suleyman I, was the most influential Ottoman ruler, commissioning some of the city's most impressive mosques, with the assistance of the architect Sinan. The Ottoman Empire extended into the early 20th century, declining in territory following wars with Russia and Austria, as well as with emerging nation states. In World War I, despite its victory at Gallipoli, the Ottoman Empire found itself on the losing side. The city of Istanbul was occupied by French and British troops, and much of modern Turkey was occupied by Greek forces. Nationalists wrested power from the sultan, and at the instigation of Mustafa Kemal Pasa (better known to history as Ataturk – "Father of the Turks"), Turkey fought a war of independence to regain territory lost to the Allies, and Greece in particular. Turkey was declared a republic in 1923, and the capital was moved from Istanbul to Ankara. GEOGRAPHY Istanbul is in the extreme southeast corner of Europe, spanning Europe and Asia. The city is spread over three peninsulas; the southwestern and northwestern European peninsulas are separated by the Golden Horn, and these are separated from Asia by the Bosphorus. The majority of the tourist attractions are located on the southwestern peninsula, which has the Ottoman sultans' Topkapi Palace at its eastern tip. Istanbul is an easy place to navigate your way round if you stick to main streets. However, if you're anything like me, you're going to want to wander off down side-streets, and get more of a feel for the city. If you do this, however, you're going to find yourself lost in a rabbit's warren of twisting, windy lanes. It's often difficult to get a fix on a distant object in order to maintain your sense of direction, because the buildings lining the narrow streets are so tall, and if you do ca
tch a glimpse of a taller building, it's likely to be a mosque – and in a city with so many mosques, these are unlikely to provide a useful landmark from which to work out your position! Every building bears a small blue plaque with its address on it, however, which is extremely useful for looking up your position on a map. The street name is printed beneath the building number on the blue plaque. More useful than this, however, is your mobile phone. If your UK mobile phone provider has a roaming arrangement with Turkish providers Telsim or Turkcell (which it most likely will – check before you go), then everywhere you go in the city, you can glance at your mobile to find out where in the city you are. This is really handy, with the name of the locale you are in appearing on the screen. It's extremely accurate too, sometimes able to locate you down to a specific square or street – who needs GPS? GETTING THERE Most visitors arrive at Istanbul's modern Ataturk airport, located about 16 kilometres outside the city, to the west. The easiest way to get from there into the city is by taxi, which will cost around £8 (12,000,000 Turkish lira, when I visited the city). Most hotels and guesthouses operate a taxi service from the airport, at no additional charge, if you give them details of your flight before you leave. You don't need to get a visa in advance to visit Turkey, however, you do have to buy one when you arrive in the country. They're sold at desks in the airport, just before passport control, and cost £10 – in fact, they're clearly printed with a price of 10 British Pounds, rather than a price in local currency. You can pay in Turkish currency, if you're prepared to tolerate a woefully bad exchange rate, but you're best advised to carry some British currency with you, to pay for this. It's still possible to travel to Istanbul by train, arriving at the lovely Si
rkeci station by the side of the Golden Horn, which was the last stop of the Orient Express in times past. GETTING AROUND Most of the tourist attractions in Istanbul are within easy walking distance of each other, however the warm and humid climate means that walking long distances is often less pleasant than it might be. The main form of public transport that tourists are likely to use is the air-conditioned but crowded tram system. The tram system begins running at about 5am, and keeps going through to midnight. At almost every time of day, the trams are incredibly crowded, and it's likely that the only space available will be standing. However, the efficient air-conditioning, and the plentiful hand straps, mean that travelling on the trams is not as unpleasant as you might think. To travel on the trams, you need to buy tokens, called jetons, to put in turnstiles to gain access to the raised platforms alongside the road. The tram runs in both directions, on separate rails... remember that they drive on the right in Istanbul, to work out which platform you want to stand on! At every platform, you can buy jetons from a small booth nearby, on one side of the road. However, expect to be ripped off by the person selling the tickets... who may well deliberately give you inappropriate change and pocket the difference, assuming that the dumb tourist can't work out how many zeros there should be in their change. If you feel you have been short-changed, complain to the security man working on the tram platforms... though frankly, as it's likely to be only about the equivalent of 10 pence that you've been cheated out of, you might not think that it's worth the effort. Tokens, good for travel any distance on the tram system, cost about 25p (400,000 Turkish lira). The tram service runs on the southwestern peninsula of Istanbul, starting outside the city walls to the west, and hooking around the peninsula to the west of th
e Topkapi palace, before ending on the north side of the peninsula at the port of Eminonu. There is a shorter, older tram system in the northwestern peninsula of the city, unconnected to the other, which essentially serves just to ferry passengers up the steep hill. The Istanbul metro system is unlikely to be of any use to tourists, extending from the suburbs to the west of the city, through to the northwestern peninsula, with no stations in the tourist centres of the southwestern peninsula. Personally, I didn't use the service. There are plans to extend it out to the city's airport, though this has yet to happen. The city's taxis are very efficient. Make sure, when you get in, that the driver turns on the meter, which will save you some awkward negotiations over cost when you reach your destination. Taxis are comfortable, and drivers are generally very pleasant, even if they do force you to endure some execrable Turkish pop music on your journey through the city! There are innumerable ferry services running across the city's major waterways – across the Golden Horn between the European peninsulas, and across the Bosphorus between Europe and Asia. The main port for ferry services for tourists is Eminonu on the north side of the southwestern European peninsula, which is where you can catch the twice-daily ferry up the Bosphorus (Gate 3). When you buy your ticket, queue at the ticket counter for the ferry terminal you want to travel on – DO NOT buy your ticket from a street vendor, as they will attempt to sell you over-priced, and possibly not even genuine, tickets. Travel on the ferry up the Bosphorus (the longest ferry journey you can take from Eminonu) costs about £1.30 (2,000,000 Turkish lira) for a return ticket, which represents superb value for money. It's worth getting there early to secure a decent position by a window, or at the bow or stern of the boat. Istanbul does also have an overworked
and overcrowded bus system, and a network of "dolmuses". Dolmuses are shared taxis with fixed routes that don't leave until they have got a full compliment of passengers. They run more regularly than buses, and are cheaper than taxis. If you want to get out at any point, you have to shout out "inecek var" ("somebody wants to get out"). ECONOMY A word on Turkey's economy. If you think inflation's bad in the United Kingdom, believe me, you have no idea what it's like in Turkey. At worst, inflation in Turkey runs at about 2% per week, and the Government doesn't seem to be making any particular efforts to counter it, or even revalue their currency. The result is that the value of the Turkish lira against foreign currencies is continually sliding. When I visited, one pound would buy you an unbelievable 157,000,000 Turkish lira. As an example of the rate of inflation, my guidebook claimed that a token for the tram system costs 30,000 Turkish lira in 1999 – in 2001, it costs 400,000, even though the UK equivalent price (about 25p) hasn't changed! For this reason, many shops will more eagerly take UK or US currency than Turkish currency. In fact, street vendors are far more likely to tell you the price in US dollars than in Turkish lira. You will need some Turkish currency, and because of the currency's instability, you would be best advised to withdraw this from your bank as soon before you go as you can, or (better still) withdraw it from a cashpoint once you get there. You're only allowed to take £100 in Turkish currency per person into the country, anyway. However, there's nothing to stop you bringing in as much US currency as you want to, which will serve you better, and can be converted, if necessary, into Turkish currency in any bank, hotel or guesthouse. If you're a believer in travellers' cheques (and believe me, one day you will learn...), you'
re going to find Istanbul a major hassle. You can exchange travellers' cheques in most hotels and guesthouses in the city, so long as you're not worried about how bad the exchange rate you're getting is. A far better exchange rate is offered by the city's banks, but spectacularly few of them are prepared to honour travellers' cheques – you'll end up searching for a branch of the Turkish national bank (Turkiye Is Bankasi), and waste about half an hour queuing. Believe me, you're better off withdrawing cash from cashpoints – all of the banks have cashpoint machines that can take most credit cards... HOTELS Istanbul has accommodation to suit all budgets. The largest hotels, including the mammoth Holiday Inn, are located near to the airport, to the west of the city. It is here that the majority of American tourists stay, not leaving the hotel apart from to board coaches ferrying them to tourist attractions in the city centre. Nearer the centre of the city are some very nice smaller hotels and guesthouses. In the area that was once occupied by the Great Palace of Constantine, to the southeast of the Blue Mosque, are some pleasant, and very affordable, hotels. We stayed in the Hotel Tashkonak, less than a couple of minutes walk from the Blue Mosque, which cost $55 per night for a twin room, and included breakfast on a rooftop patio, overlooking the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. Although the area wasn't a terrifically nice one aesthetically, with several burned out buildings nearby, it was a safe one, with children playing in the streets until late into the evening, and the hotel itself was very nicely decorated. Probably my one major objection to the hotel, which probably applies equally to hotels across the city, is that it was located directly opposite a mosque. The first call to prayer comes at dawn – about 4.45am in May – and since the muezzin call is amplified by loudspeak
er, it's unlikely that you'll manage to sleep through it every morning! FOOD Eating out in Istanbul is a great experience – food there is absolutely first rate. I must confess that I did eschew the doner kebab (usually referred to merely as "kebap" out there), where meat is cut from a large block which rotates in front of a grill... much as we get it here. Shish kebabs, in which pieces of meat are cooked on a rotating skewer, were far better, and generally very cheap. Also worth a try are the kofte (meat balls), which are generally excellent. Meat tends to be served with rice and salad – a salad of haricot beans in vinegar known as piyaz is particularly good. Breakfast in Turkey consists of feta cheese, cucumber, olives and tomatoes, served with bread, butter and jam (often rose-flavoured). Coffee in Turkey, like that served in Greece, is a sludgy dreg-filled thick affair, drunk black and unsweetened. If you want ordinary western coffee, then ask for Nescafe, as requests for "instant coffee" are likely to be received by blank looks. Tea, by contrast, is invariably exceptionally sweet. Apple, pear and limeflower teas are all very popular and extremely sweet – though that generally doesn't stop the Turks dropping in additional sugar cubes! Street vendors sell Turkish bread products, including the hard, ring-shaped, sesame-covered simit bread, boreks (pastry wraps, typically stuffed with cheese and herbs), dolmas (mussels or vine leaves stuffed with rice) and gozleme (a thin pitta bread-style snack, stuffed with meat or cheese). Also, be sure and try real Turkish delight – it's a lot nicer than that sickly sweet stuff we get over here – and the honey-dripping delights of baklava. SHOPPING Shopping in Istanbul is a delight, particularly in the bustling Spice and Grand Bazaars. The price of everything is up for haggling – expect
to pay about one third of a marked price, if you can actually find one, otherwise expect to pay about half the vendor's opening gambit. Due to the country's spiralling inflation, everything sounds like it's more expensive than it actually is, so make sure you've got a good understanding of the exchange rate before you begin haggling. Even if you do think that the initial price is a reasonable one – do haggle, it's part of the experience, and the vendor will expect it of you. Plus, if you just pay the asking price, you're spoiling the fun for future visitors! The Spice Bazaar sells spices (well, duh...) as well as honey, caviar, and Turkish teas. The Grand Bazaar sells everything from carpets to ceramics, souvenirs to jewellery, leather goods to pots. Nothing can really prepare you for the bustling insanity of the Grand Bazaar, and it's highly unlikely that you'll see the whole place in a single visit. It's a dizzying and disorientating place, but you can pick up some real bargains. I bought a hookah pipe (or nargile, as they call them in Turkey) for under £7 (10,000,000 Turkish lira). Other top selling souvenirs in the bazaars include decorative knives (sold blunt so that you can get them back through customs!), tiles decorated with arabic writing, blue glass eyes (which repel the evil eye, apparently), musical instruments (particularly drums and mandolins), and matroushka dolls (which are decorated with Russian women or with Ottoman sultans). If it should occur to you that buying a carpet is a good idea, be prepared for a shock. Yes, they're cheap compared to the UK, but they're still very expensive. The baths of Roxelana between the Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque has been converted into a carpet showroom, run by the Turkish government, and carpets there cost between 60 and 90 pounds per square metre. In other words, a decent sized carpet is liable to cost you around £200. These are ext
remely good quality carpets, however, a less good quality one from the Grand Bazaar may well cost about £100, but won't be so hard-wearing. If you want to buy a carpet, leave aside a few hours, because the salesman is likely to spend quite some time showing you the carpet, and then negotiating a price. TOURIST ATTRACTIONS Istanbul has a lot of great tourist attractions. Within easy walking distance of each other are the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, Haghia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace, all of which are at the east end of the southwestern peninsula. All of these are definitely worth a visit, though try to get to the Topkapi palace as early in the day as you possibly can – it gets very very busy with tourists as the day wears on. Within the grounds of the Topkapi Palace is the city's archaeological museum, which is also worth a visit. Further west are the Grand and Spice Bazaars, the Suleimaniye mosque and New Mosque, though you might want to use the tram to get there, as it's quite an uphill trek! All of the city's mosques are open all day, from dawn to midnight, though although the courtyard remains open to tourists, the building itself is closed to visitors during prayers. Most other attractions in the city, including the Haghia Sophia, which is no longer an active mosque, are closed on Mondays – so if you're in the city for a long weekend, use the Monday for doing your shopping! CATS, DOGS, MUEZZINS AND SHOES Everywhere you go in Istanbul, you'll see the city's stray cats, which sit and look hungry at you while you eat. Personally, I would be wary of petting them, for fear of being bitten or scratched, and picking up some nasty disease while on holiday... but if you're happy running the risk, feel free. At night, walking around, you will see more stray dogs too, who seem to run amok through the city's parks and squares. In terms of personal safety,
Istanbul is no more dangerous than any other major city. Obviously, in crowded places, you should watch for pickpockets, just as you should in Paris, London or New York. Walking around the streets of Istanbul after dark is not a threatening experience, in fact, if anything, it feels safer walking around the city centre after dark than some areas of London. It's worth walking around the city after dark too, because you get to see how beautifully the city's mosques are illuminated. Five times a day, wherever you are in the city, you can hear the muezzin's call to prayer. The exact timings of the prayer calls seems to vary a bit from area to area, as well as with the time of year. However, the first call seems to come invariably at dawn, the second at about lunchtime (12.30-1pm), the third at the end of the working day (5-6pm), and then two calls in the evenings (at about 8 and 10.30pm). The muezzin's call is amplified by loudspeakers lining the mosques' minarets, ensuring that the sound overwhelms that of the city's traffic. Sitting down in any of the city's parks will attract an army of Turks eager to shine your shoes, regardless of how recently your shoes had been shined, or whether your shoes are actually polishable. Even when I was wearing trainers or canvas shoes, I was approached with offers to have my shoes shined. If you should be wearing polishable shoes, then don't think that merely saying 'no' is enough to ensure being left alone. One enterprising young shoe-shiner who was being ignored after spending five minutes insisting that he could polish canvas, decided to smear a daub of shoe polish on my father's shoe, so that he could point out how in need of polishing it was. CONCLUSIONS Istanbul is a fascinating city, with some really impressive historical monuments to visit. The only things that spoil your enjoyment of the city are the Turks' eagerness to fleece tourists out of
their cash, and the trash-filled slum-like streets that you find by wandering off the tourist-beaten track. Nonetheless, these really aren't enough to detract from the sheer magnificence of structures like the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern. Shopping in Istanbul is an enjoyable, if frustratingly taxing, experience, and you can get some really great souvenirs from the Spice and Grand Bazaars – at great prices, if you've got the patience to haggle aggressively! Food is excellent too, even though you will pay more than the Turkish people at the neighbouring table!
I lived here in Istanbul for over 10 years and where I lived is so close to Bosphorus. I can say that Bosphorus is the best place I have ever seen. There are also two fabulous bridges on Bosphorus. Bosphorus is the name of the sea between Istanbul's Asian Side and Europen Side. You can cruise in Bosphorus. Also you should see thir from bridges too. It look fabulous. If you wanna see more about Istanbul and Bosphorus go to that address : www.exploreturkey.com.In this address you can also fond the best views from all over Turkey.
If you've lived in a European city all your life you have no idea of what you await in Istanbul. It is a place which has almost been taken out of a movie, with dazzling sunsets, enchanting sounds and stunning smells. Built on two sides of the bosphorus it is the melting pot of two cultures: european and islamic, and what better way to represent it than admiring the architectural genious of the bosphorus bridge connecting these two sides!!! Istanbul has so much to offer!! Historically it is one of the most important cities in the world, and you will realise this by the number of monuments and ruins you can visit. Its walls have lived many battles and have defeated the greatest of them all: time. Walking amongst its busy streets, watching the hustle and bustle, watch workers carrying spices, farmers selling drugs or smoking them, all in the most relaxed of manners, one truly realises the ethnic mixing which has occurred on this land. Touring the Grand Bazaar, which is truly GRAND, you can admire almost every product you can think of at the most ridiculous prices. If your a foreigner, you will notice they give you a starting price 5 times higher than that of a Turk, so be prepared to bargain. Whats amazing in Turkey is the new boom in electronics. You can find copies of all the latest games and osftware for half a pound. Its that amzazing (and that illegal). The bazaar also offers perfect imitations of designer brands, with labels and washing instructions identical to the costly originals. BE WARN sometimes they are the originals!!! However thay are stolen, cause Turkey hosts thousands of factories for designer labels!!! The food in Turkey is delicious. It is very mediterranean, consisting heavily on vegetables and sauces. Fish is also very common, and Istanbul, due to its access to sea has a fresh supply just waiitng for you in restaurants hanging over the calm blue waters of the bosphorus!!! I wouldn't really trus
t the many small snack sellers, well I trust them just don't trust the meat. This is importnat as it is common of tourists to presume all food is safe. Hotel prices are rather high, that is because Istanbul is a city on great request due it growing popularity, and all the major hotels belong to big Western companies, but don't worry, the real low cost of living and goods compensates for this matter. Istanbul is mainly a city for youngster and elderly, however not really suitable for children. It offers great nightlife and optimal relax for those who get tired a bit too easily. Children will need to be kept pretty close forsafety as it is really easy to get lost in the crowded cities of one of the most influential cities in the world. If you want to make the most of a holiday in Istanbul keep these tips in mind: 1 Grabbing a taxi is an art so make sure you always check the taxim meter is on and always check the price of the run. 2 Never wonder at night on your own, its a very busy city and all sorts of things can happen. (not necessarily violent) 3 If you don't want to hang around in the toilet during the holiday, make sure you bring the right medication 4 enjoy the stay.
I reccommend Istanbul as a must for any traveller. It is the most beautiful city that I have been to and I have travelled my share of the World. The highlights of this bustling city full of people has to be the Blue Mosque for me. Its amazing Architecture reaching back several hundred years is truly an amazing sight. The high domes and the intricate detail on the Inside with domes and arches merging into each other is truly a sight for any mathmetician/architect to view. My first thoughts were how did they make it with the tools they must have had in those days. To add to the delight of the Mosque there is a truly delightful garden with winding pathways and a beautiful fountain in the middle. One can sit on the benches surrounding the fountain during the hot summer days and feel the gentle spray of water on ones face. Istanbul also has the Great Topakapi museum. The museum holds great artifacts, ornaments and items of great value dating back thousands of years, a great day out for those interested in studying the history of this great city and the origins of the religion of Islam. Just a ferry ride away is the magnificent Princess Islands. What amazed me most about these Islands was that there were no motorised transport allowed on it. The only means of travel were by cycle and Horseback. Taxis were also bikes with little carriages behind them. A taxi tour would cost you £10 and give you a full tour of the Islands. Istanbul is also Half in Europe and Half in Asia. Many tours take tourists over to the Asian side to visit the Spice Markets for shopping. One will notice that the Asia part is rather less developed than the European side. Istanbul has a unique Ferry and Tram service for getting around and is so cheap compared to British Transport, it's not even worth making the comparison. For those shoppers out there you have to visit the Grand Bazaar, the largest in Europe and a Bargain Hunters Paradise. You
can get all the Latest Brand Names for dirt cheap prices, how comes you are wondering, well the main reason is because they are all fake copies, but even I have to admit the copies are sometimes as good as the original if not better. My Timberland top costs me just under £10 and a friend of mine bought his in London for around £70 and people seemd to prefer mine. Well anyway apart from clothes there are plenty of ornaments and rugs to view. The turkish cuisine is really nice with Kebabs to Turkish Pizzas to nice cold deserts, the turks really do present a nice meal. This is very unlike their nickname here in England of the Doner Men. Infact I can't remember seeing a Donner at all. A meal for two should not cost more than £8 - 11. Which is really good for the size of portions. The people are really nice and helpful and one can go for walks late in the evening and enjoy the warm summer nights without fear of being attacked or hassled. Advice -------- 1) Make sure the Taxi man uses his meter, if he doesn't then make sure you haggle the taxi fare down to 2/3rds of his asking price. 2) In the Bazaar alway remember that prices are over inflated. E.g - I saw a watch that moved via Kinetic energy and occasionally required a wind, the guy selling offerred me the watch for approx £40. Since I wasn't interested I started to walk, with every step he seemed to come down a few million lira, I gave him a ridiculous price of around £14 to get him off my back. Before I knew it i had bought the watch for £14. See what i mean. Many clothing items i bought were haggled to almost 50% of the asking price, thats why I said it's a Bargain Hunters Paradise. 3)I got ill in Turkey after having a Kebab that wasn't cooked to well, so watch your kebabs. 4) Keep an eye on your wallet, it can go missing in the Grand Bazaar where it can get really busy 5) Don't walk roun
d with a Union Jack T-shirt, realtions have been strained due to Footbal violence recently and it's not wise to incite the people who are generally mad about football 6) Take advice regarding state of places due to recent Hurricanes Apaart from that relax and Enjoy
"Istanbul (Turkish: İstanbul, Greek: Κωνσταντινούπολη, historically Byzantium and later Constantinople) is Turkey's most populous city, and its cultural and financial center. The city covers 25 districts of the Istanbul province. It is located at 41° N 29° E, on the Bosphorus strait, and encompasses the natural harbor known as the Golden Horn, in the northwest of the country. It extends both on the European (Thrace) and on the Asian (Anatolia) side of the Bosphorus, and is thereby the only metropolis in the world which is situated on two continents. In its long history, Istanbul (Constantinople) served as the capital city of the Roman Empire (330-395), the Byzantine Empire (395-1204 and 1261-1453), the Latin Empire (1204-1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922). The city was chosen as joint European Capital of Culture for 2010. The "Historic Areas of Istanbul" were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985."