So I began my Turkey trip with Istanbul.Spent 4 beautiful days, Istanbul’s my favorite destination in Turkey. So here’s an account:
Day 0: Arrived at the airport at 11am, and soon I realized it wasn’t going to be very easy communicating in English. Got a metro to Zeytinburnu,and then a tram to Sultanahmet, costs just 6 TL, seemed like a very nice and quick way of getting to the city,although the tram was more of a bus,stopping at every signal. Reached sultanahmet after an hour, and the Ayasofya stood right infront of me, never imagined it would be that big. Stayed at Eurasia hostel, was a good location,and the prices were excellent. Had lunch, an excellent mixed mezze plate with lavash at Elif Cafe,next to Arasta bazar,for just 10 TL. After some rest went out to get money changed,walked till the Grand bazar,but then I found the rates improving as I walked more, finally got the best ones near the Laleli university tram stop. I was surprised at how bright it was,seemed like midday at 5 PM. Spent the whole evening around Blue mosque, Ayasofya and the gardens that lay beside them and absorbing the sights and sounds of Sultanahmet. The light and the overall atmosphere got better and better as evening approached. I was completely overwhelmed by the Blue mosque,never imagined it would be so beautiful(Tip: dont look at pictures of any place before you go, you’ll be overwhelmed by every place you visit). Dinner was at Doy doy restaurant,again good food, just 11 TL for a vegetarian pide. Instantly fell in love with pide, I did not expect pizza to taste so good without the tomato sauce.
Day 1: Started pretty early,at 8, for the Topkapi palace,which was just a few minutes away. Felt good for getting the Muze Pass as I could see people standing in lines for quite sometime. The entrance to palace itself seemed brilliant, the park was very well done, can’t think of a better setting for a palace,with the sea on one side,and gardens on the other. For me Topkapi palace was Islamic art at it’s best, very well done tilework,with flowers and gardens being abundant everywhere. Harem was great too, I don’t understand why do people ask if they should visit the Topkapi palace.There’s a really long corridor on the right, which shouldn’t be missed. The treasury too was great,but I dont think it was the best part of the palace. Spent a good 3-4 hours at the palace. Then walked down the street towards Sirkeci, had lunch at Cafe Mese, again a mixed mezze,which was pretty good,and just for 9 TL, and the owner was really friendly.
In the afternoon I went to explore the Eminou area, walked till the Eminou Jamii or Yeni Jami(found out it’s not Cami,it’s Jami), wonderful local atmosphere, it seemed far away from the Blue Mosque. The interiors too were different and impressive. Then I went to the Egyptian bazar,strolled around,tried Turkish delight at various places, and soon I bumped into this local food market, everything here seemed to cost less than half of what they were priced in the Egyptian bazar. And everything was so vibrant, definitely a mood lifter,after traveling alone since 2 days. Then I got to Rustum Pasha Jami, and it asn’t very easy to find it,another impressive mosque, but with better tilework(atleast to my eyes), and it’s small size made everything look closer, especially the string coming from above. And silence in the mosque struck me..it had never been so beautiful.There was this local selling tiles right inside the mosque, never buy tiles from him,I realized I had paid triple the amount (3TL, vs 1 TL in sultanahmet), I was just assuming since the locality is non touristy, it would be cheaper.
Then I walked up to the Sulemaniye Jami, the walk was definitely no through the nicest areas of Istanbul, but the mosque blew me out completely. The atmosphere was so sublime, the stone had a beauiful grey shade, really different from the Blue mosque. And just locals,that too not many,just the kind of atmosphere I was looking for,and the mosque was huge.. And since it was nearing sunset, the light got better and better. I must say this was the best evening in my entire trip. Then I had kursufaliye outside the mosque, just for 6TL,with ayran and salad. Pretty similar to indian dal and rice. Came back to my hostel,was tired from the walking,so I just went to sleep. I realize I’ve written a lot for one day,but the days in Istanbul were large,and filled with many sights and experiences.
Day 2: Again woke up early,had the standard turkish breakfast, and marched towards Ayasofya. The lines were HUGE, but my Muze Pass got me across them,and when I entered I realized the building was so massive that all the crowds were easily accomodated. I was obviously overwhelmed by the interiors, and I wished the restoration work wasn’t going on(but then it has to be done sometime) and how I wish I was the only in the entire building. After spending a couple of hours I went to the Archaelogy museum, everything was great,however the sarcophagi collection completely overawed me. Lunch was at Makarna Sarayi,near Cemberlitas, well made falafel for just 6 TL,and pomegranate juice for 5 TL. After an afternoon nap, I walked down till Eminou and took a bus to Chora church( get down at Edirnekapi), the bus passed through the Valens Aueduct,so got a good view of it. Seems it was my Byzantine day, so Kariye(Chora) did fit in perfectly. Although I did not recognize any of the figures on the mosaics, the quality of the mosaics was great indeed. I was initially planning to skip this place, but I’m glad I didn’t. Bought
Came back to Eminou, the sunlight had turned golden, the whole place was just out of a fantasy book, ships sailing, mosques, people in traditional attire, the sky was great too,just the perfect amount of clouds. Took a ferry to the Asian side, have to say this was my best ferry ride ever. Views were changing every moment, the weather was crisp, and the mosques looked beautiful. Upon reaching Uskudar I walked up till I could see the Maiden’s tower clearly. Took out my tripod and stayed for quite sometime. Everything was just perfect,the light, the sky, the tower and views of Sultanahmet. The Dolmabahce Palace too had a gorgeous look. Time just flew by,I realized it was almost 9 PM and needed to get back to the other continent! Although ferries do run till late, I skipped my planned dinner at Ciya and left by the 9.30 ferry(a big shame,I know).
Day 3: Decided to go for the Bosporus cruise,went pretty early,like an hour before the cruise starts, still I could barely manage to get a place to stand(15 TL one way).The ferry was pretty overcrowded,but the views made up for that. The dolmabahce palace, the Rumeli fortress and the pink Jura forests all looked great on the way,and it was nice to have good think yoghurt after a long time. Finally reached Sariyer at 11.40, it had become really sunny and bright. So I took a bus to Emirgan, the bus stop at Sariyer as about 2-3 mins from the dock. The bus journey was quite interesting,with fishing villages and great views of the Bosporus. Reached Emirgan,had Gozleme at the entrance(just 4 TL for a cheese-spinach one) and explored Emirgan park. There were quite a few people,despite it being a monday. There were plenty of flowers,especially black and pink tulips,but most other tulips were done with their flowering. Nevertheless, a good place to spend an afternoon,although morning would have been nicer. Then walked to Rumeli fortress,a 20-30 minutes delightful walk along the coast and explored the castle. The views from top were amazing,especially those of the bridge,the ships passing below it and towers of the castle. A perfect seashore castle. Then I took a bus to Ortakoy, grabbed a giant plate of kumpir (12TL) and went to the sea shore again. Then got another bus to Taksim,walked through the Istiklal street ,which was vibrant but nothing that I would call crowded. The livebands,the mansions above the street,the tram all gave it a very European touch,nothing like I had seen before in Istanbul. I walked uptil the Galata tower, had to wait in queue for quite sometime,but still I managed to reach before the sunset to an amazing view of the city. Then I again walked backed to Sultanahmet,which was a long but scenic walk across the Galata bridge.This is where I got the best views of the Sulemaniye mosque.
Day 4: It was my last day,and I still had the Basilica cistern and Grand bazar left. Went to the cistern on the morning. It did a very mystique feeling to it, was well lighted and I could feel that empires have existed here before. A very neat place IMO. After sometime I realized I had spent more than 2 hours just in the Cistern. Then I just roamed around Sultanahmet and I realized how crowded it had become just in 4 days. Lunch was a t Neyzade restaurant, I ordered vegetarian Turkish ravioli, which came with a walnut based dip and bread , all of which was very well done(and just 13 TL). Do ask for the dip when you eat here.
In the afternoon I explored the Grand bazaar, the experience was quite different from the Spice bazaar, and I dont think the Bazaar is overrated by any standards. The photo-ops were especially great, the Lantern shops, the t-shirt shops, the hans were my favorite. Had an apple tea at one of the tea shops.
I realized I needed to get better shots of the Blue mosque,so I went for some view hunting. Hotel Blue’s view of the Blue mosque did not really excite me, then I just bumped into the Lady Diana hotel,went to it’s rooftop,and I got the best views of the mosque. Though I did not ea anything here, I would strongly recommend this place, because even the prices seemed to better than most restaurants on the main road. Later picked a cig kofte durum from Osman Cig koftesi ,between Cemberlitas and Beyazit tram stops, it was one of the tastiest things I had in Turkey, and one durum just for 3 TL.
Now the next destination was Selcuk.
On the last day while returning back, Took a flight back to Istanbul early in the morning from Sanliurfa, I spent hours shopping. Most of it was food shopping, loads of Turkish delight, baklava from Karakoy Gulluoglu, dry fruits, spices, cheese( the cheese was brilliant), olives, apple tea..spent almost 3 times of what I had budgeted for shopping. I also bought some paintings, tiles and the mandatory “I love Istanbul” tees. Can’t think of many places where I would shop so much without any indifference. Gorged on my favorite Mado’s ice cream(pistachio and strawberry flavors), had a Falafel roll and a plate of pomegranate flavored Gavurdag salad,repacked all the shopping and headed off to the airport.
Getting a visa: Turkey provides an easy eVisa application for 98 countries. The visa can still be obtained upon arrival but they are supposed to phase this out soon. The Turkish Government has made an excellent website. However, if you want the help of a visa specialist that accepts payments online in any currency my recommendation is to get your Turkish Visa Online with iVisa. They provide helpful advice and the staff is knowledgeable.
A brief summary of my Trip to Turkey.
Being Vegetarian in Turkey
4 Days in Istanbul.
Selcuk and Ephesus.
Afrodisias:The Best Graeco Roman Ruins
4 Days in Cappadocia.