Friday 31 January 2014

Nargile smoking in Istanbul

If you are wondering what Nargile could be, let me tell you it is a word widely used in Turkey for a water-pipe, hookah-pipe or shisha (whichever expression you might find familiar).

There are countless places offering nargile smoking to tourists and locals alike. Obviously not all of them are equally good. You can expect cheaper tobacco varieties in those places catering mainly to tourists. How water pipes are maintained also varies from place to place.

If the place is serious about their Nargile experience, they should have different equipment for each variety and they should clean it as often as possible.

Obviously places specialised in nargile smoking are generally more professional but you can also expect them to be a bit more expensive.

You can order nargile with tobacco in a variety of flavours, apple being the most popular. You can also try cherry, banana, coffee, orange or melon flavours, in addition to many others.

However, if you are in search for the real deal, try locating a place that offers Al Fakher or Nakhla molasses. They are stronger and are often not mixed with fruity flavours. They might be a bit hard to find, but worth the effort in my opinion.

Apart from those I really liked apple with mint and also melon flavours.

Many claim Erenler Nargile (located on the Yeniçeriler Cd, near the Grand Bazaar) to be the best place for a proper nargile experience and suggest one should order Double Apple to get a taste of the real thing.
We also found a great place specialised in nargile smoking on the Asian side of the city and another decent place on the Akbıyık Caddesi near Sultanahmet (rougly in the middle section of the street). It is called Mitani.

If you are thinking of buying Al Fakher or Nakhla molasses for home use, you are up for a challenge. Since a lot of the stuff on the market is fake you can never tell whether it is original until you smoke it. If you look like a tourist, your chances for a good deal are even slimmer.


Wednesday 29 January 2014

Galata Tower by Day and by Night


Monday 27 January 2014

The Basilica Cistern in istanbul

Basilica Cistern is another popular attraction located near Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) and Hagia Sophia. It is quite unique and in my opinion well worth a visit.

It is even more spectacular if you look at it through the prism of time. It was built in the 6th century AD during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I and is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. It must have been quite an architectural challenge and it is no wonder that 7,000 slaves were involved in its construction.
Hundreds of them died during the process. This might be the reason for an eye with tears engraving on one of the columns.

It is basically a huge underground chamber approximately 140 metres (450 ft) by 65 metres (210 ft) and is capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres (2,800,000 cu ft) or 100,000 tons of water. The ceiling is supported by 336, nine metre (30 ft) high, marble columns (mostly carved in Ionic and Corinthian styles).

Its initial purpose was to store and filter water for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other buildings on the First Hill. It continued to provide water to the Topkapi Palace even after the Ottoman conquest and also into the modern times.

At the far end (northwest corner) of the cistern there is a couple of Medusa column bases. One is placed sideways and the other upside down. According to tradition the blocks are oriented sideways and inverted in order to negate the power of the Medusa's gaze.

The place is lit with water reflections in mind and the effect is aimed to emphasize the countless number of columns. I hope this is obvious from the included photos.
There are even some fish traces visible on the first photo.

At the time of our visit the entrance fee was 10 TL. Basilica Cistern is open every day from 09:00 until 18:30. It took us almost an hour to walk through the place and take those countless photos. I guess without a camera it could be done much quicker.


Saturday 25 January 2014

Explore Tenerife and its Outdoor Attractions

Holidays to Tenerife have long been a popular choice with European and especially British holidaymakers looking for a little slice of sunshine.

As the largest of the Canary Islands, nestled off the north western coast of Africa, Tenerife benefits from incredible climes and blistering sunshine throughout the year. Whether you choose to travel in the summer, to take advantage of temperatures that soar into their 30s, or you prefer to enjoy milder weather consisting of temperatures in the mid-20s with an accompanying Atlantic breeze, Tenerife holidays are the perfect answer.

While many of the accommodation options on the island involve all-inclusive, bustling resorts that families are drawn towards because of their great value, there are also plenty of luxury hotels and villas for you to call your own, too. Sophistication can be found in various corners of the island, waiting for you to snap it up!

Once you have your accommodation sorted, it’s time to plan your activities. Many will be content with simply lazing on the sands and enjoying the resort’s amenities but if you do wish to head for the great outdoors, there’s plenty to see and do, including:

  • Teide National Park dominates a large portion of the centre of the island, and is well worth visiting if you have a day spare. Mount Teide is the third largest volcano in the world and regular bus tours and camel rides will enable you to see this majestic formation in all its glory.
  • Barranco del Infierno in Adeje is perfect for walkers and hikers who love to get to grips with the terrain beneath their feet. The walk takes about four hours, and has an extensive range of fauna, flora and watering holes to spot.
  • Icod de los Vinos on the west coast is the place to go, not only for the Cueva del Viento which is the largest volcanic cavity in the world, but also to admire the mythological Dragon Tree, which some say is over 800 years old!

Make the most out of your holiday to Tenerife and explore beyond your resort of choice. There’s so much to see, it’d be a shame not to!


Friday 24 January 2014

Real Turkish coffee in Istanbul

Even though I am not a coffee drinker (I consider myself more of a tea person), I like to try a good cup of coffee once in a while. I really liked the coffee I tried in Rome some time ago and was looking forward to trying a Turkish variety.

It might come as a surprise to you but finding a good cup of Turkish coffee in Turkey can sometimes be very difficult. All too often it is thin and watery, rather than thick and viscous.

I doubt we would have ever found a proper place on our own, but luckily we had a local friend to turn to.

A small coffee place tucked in a narrow street in the Asmali area of Beyoglu was exactly what we were looking for. It is called Mandabatmaz and has been serving coffee since 1967. The name of the place could supposedly be roughly translated into “so thick even a water buffalo wouldn’t sink in it.” And that is just what the brew made here is like.

The brewmaster of the place has been doing it for the last 21 years. They have a blend of coffee delivered to them that has been blended and roasted especially for them. The blend itself is a carefully kept family secret.

The coffee is really thick and strong. As I have been told, you should constantly swirl the coffee cup in your hand not to let the thick stuff sink to the bottom. This should allow you to finish it all.

Not being a coffee drinker I must admit I had trouble drinking it all. Italian coffee varieties with some milk are definitely closer to my taste. If coffee is totally not your thing, you should perhaps try a glass of freshly made tea instead. It is also supposed to be very good.

I definitely recommend this place, but you should not expect exemplary service or an extensive menu. However, a genuine experience is guaranteed.
You can expect to pay around 3TL for a cup of coffee.


Wednesday 22 January 2014

Views of Istanbul from a ferry


Monday 20 January 2014

Food we loved in Istanbul

Apart from Turkish fast food I wrote about in the previous post we have tried quite a few other tasty dishes, while in Istanbul, Turkey.

We were happy to learn seafood is a big thing in the Istanbul area. If you find a good seafood restaurant you can hardly go wrong with a vast variety of fresh fish, shrimps and clams.

So when deciding between a multiple course meat dinner and seafood dinner, we opted for the seafood variety. We were lucky enough to get a restaurant recommendation from a local friend who generously agreed to join us for the evening. We went to a restaurant on the Asian side of the city, which tourists rarely decide to explore.

It was a typical Turkish sit down Meze meal with many delicious starters, followed by some additional fish and washed down with a bottle of Raki.

Everything was really delicious but some of the starter dishes are still making my mouth water. I guess I enjoyed shrimps in garlic butter the most. Also fried calamari were some of the best I ever tasted (and I usually do not even like fried squid).

You should definitely try this type of meal at least once. Since there is a good chance you will want to do it more than once, I suggest you do not save it till the end of your trip.

Another dish you just have to try while in Istanbul is a rather simple soup. If you want a short break with quick meal between two attractions on your sightseeing list and you are not into any of those fast-food options, there is a tasty alternative you can try - Lentil soup (Mercimek Çorbasi).
It is usually served with lemon wedges and dried red pepper flakes. A squeeze of lemon and a teaspoon of red pepper make it even more delicious.

We have discovered a simple place offering delicious lentil soup near the Sultanahmet area where most of the famous attractions are situated. Karadeniz Aile Pide ve Kebap Salonu can be found in the Biçki Yurdu Sokak street just off the Divan Yolu Caddesi (nearby the Sultanahmet tram stop).

Since they also make decent pides (a Turkish variety of pizza) you can look forward to a delicious fresh-made bread to accompany the soup. We liked the soup so much we even stopped there for the second time during our short stay.

The soup makes quite a filling meal - especially considering the low price. Definitely a delicious, affordable and healthier fast-food alternative.


Friday 17 January 2014

Fast-food deliciousness of Istanbul

Many varieties of fast food can be found on the streets of Istanbul but I guess the undisputed king of Turkish fast-food must definitely be kebab (or kebap). Kebab places range from low budget street stands to high end restaurants.

There are also many varieties to choose from, but to really appreciate the difference among them, one should visit a propper restaurant. Among the few varieties I tried, I liked İskender kebab the best (it has lower fat content compared to more widely known Döner kebab and is cut from larger pieces of lamb). Just delicious!

Those street kebab varieties might be made out of lower quality ground meat, but in my experience they taste pretty good nonetheless. On these same street stands they often also offer freshly squeezed juice. The most popular varieties are pomegranate, orange and grapefruit and all are a great source of vitamins.

Apart from that I also have to recommend a fast food version of seafood. Numerous stalls can be found on and just next to Karaköy Fish Market. It is situated just next to the Karaköy ferry port (west of the Beyoğlu end of Galata Bridge). Just outside the market you can find delicious, freshly made mackerel sandwiches. Crusty bread loafs are stuffed with fish, vegetables and spiced just right.
Considering the price (around 6 TL), this was my favourite snack of the trip. Even those amongst us who do not like mackerel absolutely loved this.

I found the fish market interesting enough even without the food. It just has a special vibe to it and there are countless sorts of really fresh fish and shrimps on display. The setting definitely offers countless photo opportunities.

However, even if you absolutely adore fast food, you can not afford to leave Istanbul without trying a traditional Turkish dinner with countless starters (mezes) and wash it all down with a Turkish national anise-flavored spirit (raki).
You can find out more about that in our next post.

Clicking on any one of above photos will reveal it in a much more flattering resolution.


Wednesday 15 January 2014

Moon over the Süleymaniye Mosque


Friday 10 January 2014

Mosques of Istanbul

Churches are an important piece of the western tourism puzzle. To be honest, some of them really are spectacular. Consequently they can often be found on various top tourist attractions lists.

This however can not be said for the Islamic world and their mosques. If churches generally welcome visitors without exception, that is usually not the case with mosques.

Mosques are above all a place of worship and usually as such do not welcome tourist visitors.
Some places are quite strict about this and other not so much. Istanbul is definitely one of the less strict places - there is a free entrance for everyone to all mosques.

That gives a visitor of this great city a chance to see some great architectural monuments from up close.

Usually mosques look pretty spectacular on the outside but not so much on the inside. Even more so if you compare them with richly decorated basilicas of the Christian world. Often a large dome of a major mosque is accompanied with a few high minarets.
These dominate the skyline of Istanbul and offer great photo opportunities - especially at sunrise and sunset.

When choosing from many of the city's Mosques (according to Wikipedia, in 2007, there were 2,944 active mosques in Istanbul), you should definitely at least consider these:

  • Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka Blue Mosque) is the only Ottoman mosque with six minarets. It was completed in 1609 and was built in a period of 10 years.
  • Suleymaniye Mosque was built in 1558 after only 8 years of construction. It is one of the most monumental examples of the classical Ottoman architecture and seems to be partly inspired by Hagia Sophia. It is the largest mosque in the city.
  • Mosque of the Valide Sultan (aka Yeni Mosque) is an Ottoman imperial mosque located in the Eminonu district of Istanbul, near the Spice Bazaar. It was built between 1597 and 1660.
  • Bayezid II Mosque has a central large dome surrounded by four semi-domes. It's construction began in 1500 and was completed only 5 years after.

From today's perspective it is truly remarkable that half a millennium ago they were able to build such architectural masterpieces in such a short time. I doubt we could do it today with all technical equipment of our time and also make the results last for such a long time.

Apart from those listed above, there is also the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), literally meaning Holy Wisdom. Standing directly across the Blue Mosque (or the other way around), it was originally built as a Christian basilica in 537 but was converted to a mosque in 1453. In 1935 it was transformed into a museum. Some original Christian frescoes and mosaics have been preserved to this day.
Since it is a museum, they charge an entrance fee of 25 TL. It is not cheap but still worth a visit in my opinion.

I visited a few mosques before during my other trips. You can check out a post from my Moroccan adventure (Casablanca and Hassan II Mosque) and a photo of a Blue Mosque from my first time visit of Istanbul.

Even if open to public, mosques are still a place of worship. Do try to remember that and behave respectfully during your visit. Usually they even provide scarves (which you can borrow for free) and bags (to carry shoes you take off, with you) at the entrance.

Clicking on any one of above photos will reveal it in a much more flattering resolution.

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