Friday, 26 April 2013

Istanbul 2013

I arrived at Sabiha Gokcen airport at 12 noon. I paid my £10 for my passport stamp, collected my Backpack and went outside into the bright sunshine. The Havatas bus was there waiting outside the terminal. It cost 13 Turkish Lira (TL) for the 28 mile, 1 hour journey to Taskim Square. It was a pleasant journey through Asian Istanbul, across the river Bosphorus and onto Taskim Square in European Istanbul. Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey with a population of over 14 million. It is the only city in the world to sit on 2 continents. Asia and  Europe, with the Bosphorus flowing in between.

I was greeted by Ayadin, the owner of the apartment I was staying in. We walked  for 20 minutes along Istlikal Caddesi to my apartment in Beyoglu. The apartment is superb and a bargain at 75$ a night. It seemed to be in a handy location.  Apartment details.

I unpacked and headed out for a wander. 

The buildings were magnificent. I carried on through the Galatasaray district onto Galata tower which rose up in between the buildings of the narrow streets. The queue to get in was long, so i will save that for another day.

I walked down the steep hill to Karakoy on the banks of the Bosphorus. The area was very busy and the views were stunning. I crossed Galata bridge and had Calamari at one of the many restaurants under the bridge. One Large Effes beer and Calamari came to 30 TL, quite expensive but very good. I went back onto the top of the bridge and watched the men fish over the edge of the bridge. There must have been over 1 hundred men fishing.  The skyline was fantastic with the Minarets of several Mosques dotted around. I stayed around to watch the sun set over the Golden Horn from the bridge.

New Mosque, Istanbul

I made my way back to the apartment via the steep hill I descended earlier!! A good work out, I get the feeling my legs are in for a pounding this break. I got back in the darkness and had a few glasses of wine from a bottle I had bought earlier for 6TL. A bargain. In the background I could hear the Mosques wailing a call to prayer, and Karaoke coming from a nearby bar. I think the Wailer had the better voice!

 Tomorrow I will have a good explore.

I got up and was out by 9.00 am. I walked down the hill past more Mosques to Tophane. I caught a tram (3TL) to Beyazit, near the Grand Bazaar to look for somewhere to have breakfast. It was a struggle to find somewhere that did  breakfast, but eventually found a street cafe and settled for cheese on toast and a Cappuccino. I sat by a group of tourists from the far east. It was comical to watch them order their breakfast. The waiter was getting more and more annoyed with them, as they kept on adding to there order. It kept me amused for a while. 

Feeling refreshed I carried on walking down the tram route to Sultanahmet, the historic area where the huge Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are located.

They were magnificent buildings, they certainly know how to build a Mosque over here. The Blue Mosque was completed in 1616. It now one of the most celebrated Mosques in the world. It is known as the Blue Mosque  because of the Blue tiles inside. The queue to enter was long but only took about 20 minutes to go down. Once inside it felt incredibly peaceful. The inside was huge and the details on the tiles were perfect.

I carried on to Hagia Sophia, a former church built in 537AD. Another incredible building, the size is immense and is an architectural wonder. It was converted from a church into a Mosque in the 15th century. It is now a religious museum. Its closed inside on a Monday, so will come back another day to go inside.

I walked on through some parkland to Topkapi Palace. Again the queues were massive. I decided to give it a miss, maybe for a future visit to Istanbul! As I walked through the grounds, the Mosques started their call to Prayer. It sounded so atmospheric and exotic. It was so loud, you would be able to hear it across the whole of Istanbul.

I continued to the area behind the new Mosque, where the Spice Bazaar was located. I had a quick snack of Lamb Doner with Pita bread and Sprite for 10 TL, at a small street Cafe outside the Bazaar. The Bazaar was very busy and the colours and smells inside were so intense.

I went to another old Mosque in the Bazaar, up the steps and inside. Another beautiful building with intricate work on the tiles inside. I watched a couple of men going through the prayer ritual. They started standing with their hands by their ears, then kneel down and then lean forward to kiss the carpet. This is repeated a number of times.

I went back outside into the hot sun, and made my way back to Galata bridge. I found a good bar on the underside of the bridge to sit and sip a few glasses of Effes and watch the world go by. Free Wifi available too!

I headed back to my apartment for a quick shower and change, before going out for Dinner. I decided to go to the famous Nevizade Sovak. A tiny street crammed with restaurants and bars. It looked a lively area and the vibe felt good. I ate at a restaurant that seemed the busiest.  I had Calamari to start followed by a Mixed grill. Washed down with Effes and Raki. the Raki was like fire water, but it went well with the meal. After I went to James Joyce Irish Bar round the corner. They showed the Aston Villa V Sunderland game live on Sky. It was great to see my team beat Sunderland 6-1!! I celebrated with more Effes and eventually got back in at 01.00AM!

I allowed myself a bit of a  lie in to nurse my hangover and left at 10.00 am. I walked around the local neighbourhood. There were several Antique shops and some decent cafes and Bars.  I had a take out Coffee from Holly Coffee shop and walked in the sun. I had a delicious Egg Toast breakfast and Juice at a small cafe for 6 TL. I carried on walking to Tophane to catch the tram  across Galata bridge to Laleli. Its a 10 minute walk from Laleli to the huge Suleymaniye Mosque. Yet again an incredible building. The Huge Dome and Minarets dominate the skyline.

I made my way to the Grand Bazaar.  The Grand Bazaar is a huge indoor complex originally built in 1461, although it has been destroyed a number of times by fire and earthquakes. Its like a rabbit warren with lots of streets with stalls selling gifts, carpets, clothes, spices, jewellery etc. This is repeated throughout the Bazaar. I had a nice Chicken Kebab and Sprite at a small Cafe inside as the Mosque inside the Bazaar began its call to prayer. 

I left the Bazaar and made my way to Sultanhamet, to the underground  Basilica Cistern. The Basilica is a huge underground chamber that sits under Istanbul. It was built in the 5th Century to store water for the city. An incredible bit of engineering back in the day.

It was nice and cool inside, and a good place to take a breather from the hectic pace of life on ground level. Back outside I walked across the road to Hagia Sophia, to go inside. There was a long queue to buy a ticket (25 TL), although I was inside within 45 minutes. 

After looking around Hagia Sophia I headed to Eminonu to catch the ferry across to Asian Istanbul. I made a fateful error. I was at the wrong part of Eminonu and caught the wrong Ferry!! The Ferry went in the other direction up the Golden Horn to Ayup. The round journey back to Eminonu took over an hour and cost 3TL each way. It was actually quite a pleasant journey, and I saw a bit of Istanbul that I hadn't planned on!
When I got back to the Ferry port, I found the right side to catch my ferry across the Bosphorus to Uskadar on the Asian side. 

The journey took about 20 minutes in the huge ferry across the river. Seagulls followed us across, feeding on  Fish and bread.

I had a walk around the area for about an hour. It was a busy area with markets and Mosques and lots of cafes and Kebab Houses. I had a Fish sandwich for 5 TL from a small Cafe. Very Tasty, just enough to keep me going until dinner later! I wanted to catch the ferry before sunset, and I timed it just right as my Ferry came at 19.40. The Sun began to set behind Galata tower, and looked spectacular.

I got back to Eminonu just as the sun fell. The Mosques were lit up for the night and looked beautiful.

I found an Indian restaurant called Dubb which had great views up on the top floor, overlooking the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. It is worth the climb up the stairs to the top! I had  a great Mixed platter of various Indian Dishes and a Soda for 50 TL.  I caught the tram back to Tophane and walked back up the hill home. I'd been out all day since 10.00  and got back in at 22.30. A great day out seeing some great sights.


My last full day in Istanbul had arrived very quickly. May 1st. I should have checked the date when I made my plans for my last day. It was of course May Day and the Turks love a riot!!

I left my home at 08.30 to have a wander. Istanbul seemed to be on Lock- Down. Hundreds of police were about. Riot vans were parked and coach loads of police had been sent in. All the entrances to the main Istiklal Caddesi were shut. Apparently a few years ago some people were shot dead in Taksim Square on May Day, and there has been protests and demonstrations every May Day since. Even Galata bridge had been raised to prevent people moving about. Fortunately amongst the Chaos a ferry was available to allow you to cross the Golden Horn.
I made it across and watched a few people shout slogans and demonstrate. It started off in good spirits then another group of demonstrators turned up. they were Anti-Capitalist Muslims. The Riot police lined up, and then there was the confrontation!!!

It was exciting watching it in front of me and I had a bit of an adrenalin rush taking photos of the action. I made sure I could get away quickly if it got any worse. The demonstrators were dealt with the full force of the police. Tear gas was thrown in to make them disperse. There were worse riots in other parts of Istanbul. 
After a while it all blowed over and calm returned. The bridge was lowered and people were able to carry on with their day. I wasn't able to go on my Bosphorus tour, but got to see a riot instead!!

I had lunch under the bridge and a few glasses of Effes sitting in the sun. I made my way back to Galata, and to Galata tower. I was surprised there wasn't a queue there, so I took the opportunity to go to the top of the tower. The Cylindrical 62M high tower dominates this side of the Golden Horn. The former watch tower was built in 1348. The views from the top are fabulous.

 I carried on back home, and spotted a Hammam called Firuzaga Hamami around the corner from my apartment. It was 75TL for a bath, soap scrub and oil massage. I decided to give it a go. The baths were not a touristy place, and seemed to be for locals. The scrub down and massage were good, although I think in the one room there was a lot of suspicious activity amongst the males in there, judging by the noise coming out of there!! I made sure I didn't go inside that room!!!  Had I gone to a gay Hammam!!??

I made it back home, unscathed to pack my backpack ready for my flight tomorrow. It had been a bit of a weird day, eventful and exciting,  certainly not one I had been planning. All part of the Turkish experience!

Istanbul is a stunning city. The architecture and history of the place is incredible.  It would be nice to return one day to go on that Bosphorus Tour!!

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