Showing posts with label Istanbul. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Istanbul. Show all posts

Friday 7 February 2014

Tram and metro network of Istanbul

While in Lisbon, Portugal almost exactly a year ago, I snapped a few nice photos of their famous Tram 28.

At that time I did not even suspect I will find myself in Istanbul after a year to admire a similar sight. Like in Lisbon there is an extensive tram network also in Istanbul.

Since there are quite a few hills within the huge city (just like in Lisbon and Rome), Istanbul also has a couple of funicular type trams to help transfer passengers uphill.

Apart from those there is also a stretch of the metro line simply called Tünel. Just recently a celebration took place to mark the establishment of the Tünel (139th anniversary), which is the second oldest subterranean urban rail line in the world. Only the London Underground (est. 1863) is older.
Today it is just a part of the municipal transport network and serves some 12,000 people daily.

Among the many public transportation rides we took while in Istanbul, we also had to try the Tünel. It was built to provide an easy ride between the neighborhoods of Galata in Karaköy and Pera (60 meters higher) in Beyoğlu, both of which at the time were in the relatively newer part of Istanbul on the northern shore of the Golden Horn.
The only direct street connecting the two, Yüksek Kaldırım, is steep and narrow. At the time of the construction of Tünel, it was crowded with 40,000 pedestrians a day.

We also tried walking uphill that street and I would definitely have to agree it is quite a workout. You can easily try both options and you will get the idea pretty quickly yourself. If it is not obvious enough, I suggest you take a ride through the Tünel uphill and walk the streets downhill.
You can also check out the spectacular view from the Galata tower while in the area.

If you plan on using the pretty convenient public transportation network a lot during your stay in Istanbul, you should consider getting an Istanbul Card (Istanbulkart), which you can fill up with cash as you go. You can get it at the airport as soon as you arrive.


Wednesday 5 February 2014

Sweet memories of Istanbul


Monday 3 February 2014

Church of St. Anthony of Padua, Istanbul

Istanbul is not all about mosques and Islam. There are also a few pretty nice Christian churches hidden within the city. This is a pretty good indicator of city's cultural diversity.

One of them is definitely the Church of St. Anthony of Padua (aka Sant'Antonio di Padova). It is situated just off the İstiklal Avenue in the Beyoğlu district.

It is quite nice and worth a quick look if you are in the Beyoğlu neighbourhood, but not so special to deserve a dedicated visit from the opposite side of the city.

It was built in 1725 by members of Italian community, but later demolished and rebuilt again between 1906 and 1912. It is actually considered a minor basilica and is run by Italian priests.

According to Wikipedia Pope John XXIII preached in this church for a period of 10 years (when he was the Vatican's ambassador to Turkey) just before being elected as pope. He is known in Turkey with the nickname "The Turkish Pope" because of his fluent Turkish and his often expressed love for Turkey and the city of Istanbul.

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


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.


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.


Wednesday 25 December 2013

A trip to Istanbul

In the beginning of December M. and I have visited Istanbul, Turkey for the second time. Since our first visit only lasted an afternoon we were very excited to see some more of this huge city.
If you are interested in my first-time experience a few years ago, you are welcome to check out this post published as a part of our Egyptian adventure: A day in Istanbul.

This time we were lucky to get our hands on some very affordable return flight tickets from Ljubljana to Istanbul. As was the case last year on a trip to Lisbon, Portugal, we went as a group of 7 travel friends.

Unfortunately being a pretty large group usually has some disadvantages. For instance choosing a date that was OK for all of us proved to be quite a challenge. Also going for a period longer than 5 days was out of the question.
Everything worked out just fine in the end and we were all happy we went.

At first I was a bit sceptical about visiting the Turkish capital in December but everything turned out just perfect:

  • no tourist crowds at all,
  • it was not too cold (temperatures never fell under 8 degrees Celsius) and
  • we were also lucky enough to make it through without some serious rain or snow.
Also the air was really clear for most of the time, allowing me to snap a few really nice photos.

Since this was another of our budget trips, we stayed in a centrally located hostel. Bahaus Hostel proved to be clean, pretty affordable and there was breakfast included in the price. But then again, it is nothing to write home about.

During our stay we have visited a few tourist attractions and also tried to sample some local past time activities. We were lucky enough to make contact with a local who showed us some really genuine places we would have never found by ourselves. Thanks again Burcu for making our stay even more enjoyable!

I will try to point out at least a few of these places. Hopefully this will help many travellers to this beautiful destination enjoy it even more.

Stay tuned for my next posts.

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


Monday 16 January 2012

Dreaming of a Summer Vacation

In central Europe this is a season for winter sports. I am actually going skiing in a couple of weeks, but this still doesn't keep me from planning my summer vacation.

Summer might still be quite a few months away, but as I am always on a lookout for good deals on travel tickets, this is just the right time to plan it. One can usually get the best deals on flight tickets about half a year in advance. Sometimes it is hard to plan in advance, but in the end it is always worth it - the less you spend on a travel ticket, the longer you can enjoy your vacation.

A friend's travel stories reminded me of a great time we had in Istanbul (Turkey) a couple of years ago. When I was there I promised myself I would definitely go back one day.
Since Turkey is a large and diverse country it is quite hard to choose one destination within the whole country. If you are looking to spend a week or two by the sea you can easily reserve a direct flight to one of many seaside destinations. For instance you can check out flights to Bodrum to get a feel for the price range. Bodrum is a famous tourist destination that also has loads of historic sites nearby well worth checking out.
Other Turkish seaside cities famous for great beaches also worth checking out are: Fethiye, Antalya, Alanya, Dalyan, Ephesus and many more.

Even though these places definitely have a special appeal, I would probably go for a bit different option. I think the best way to truly get to know Turkey is to fly directly into Istanbul and spend a few days there. In this bustling city you can literally get a little bit of everything - for a really good price.
After a dew days in Istanbul I would try to arrange a local transportation to the eastern part of the country. I guess this should not present a problem, since there are good flight connections from Istanbul to other larger cities within the country.

From what I have heard one has to travel further inland to see the unspoiled parts of Turkey. The further to the east - the better.

The most convenient means of transport to cover shorter distances are definitely buses. Turkey has a good short- and long-distance bus network with air-conditioned buses, possibility of seat reservation and generally good-quality service.

All this said, I hope someone finds it useful. As I have just found out chances of a long vacation this summer are looking really slim for me. I still hope things will work out somehow. Keep your fingers crossed!


Monday 26 November 2007

A day in Istanbul (Day 15)

There was almost a three hour wait in front of us when we arrived to the Cairo airport. Our plane to Istanbul was scheduled for 2:30 AM.
When we finally landed in Turkey it was around 5 o'clock in the morning.
Wandering around airports, waiting for airplains always seems to tire me out. This time it was no different. Regardless of that, we have decided to take a day-trip to the center of Istanbul. Our other option was to wait at the airport for our flight to Ljubljana - more then six hours later.
Our last-time experience with prices on this same airport was not very pleasant (you can read more about that in this post). So with no real alternatives available we changed some of our money into Turkish Lira and caught a train to the city center.

The transport took quite a while. Once we got to the city center it was only time for a few things. First we went to see the Blue Mosque (a.k.a. Sultan Ahmed Mosque).

On our way to the mosque we went by Sultanahmet Square where stands one of the many obelisks that were taken from Egypt. If you ask me those things should be left in Egypt in the first place. I have been ranting about that before (you can read it in this post).

The Blue Mosque is one of two Turkish mosques with six minarets. When the number of minarets was revealed, the Sultan was criticized for presumption, since this was, at the time, the same number as at the mosque of the Ka'aba in Mecca. He overcame this problem by paying for a seventh minaret at the Mecca mosque.
We were quite impressed with its size and simple beauty.

By the time we were done with the mosque we were getting quite hungry. It was a perfect time to try a local stew called Chorba (or Çorba). It is a kind of lentil soup.
The first course of many meals in Turkey starts with some kind of soup and this is the most common one. Lentil soup is very healthy and is not prepared with heavy saturated fats. Because of its health benefits many Turkish babies/children grow up eating lentil soups.
So we had a delicious bowl of Çorba with hot crusty bread fresh out of the oven. Drizzly some lemon over and you have yourself a hardy meal for only a couple of Euros!

With our tummies full we went for a short stroll around the city center. Before we caught a train back to the airport we couldn't resist buying some Turkish souvenirs.

Our flight home went by as planned and around 5 PM we landed in Slovenia. The Egyptian adventure was over and has left us pretty much exhausted. On one hand it felt nice to be back home again, but on the other hand it was soon gonna be all work and boring routine again - I was missing Egypt already.
After getting to our flat we had a thorough shower and went strait to bed.

M. and I both slept like dead for the next 15 hours.

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