The end of 2010...decision needed to be taken on where to spend the New Year's Eve. So we decided to go to Istanbul - Turkey. Why Istanbul? I think it was a combination between the excitement to see a place which is somehow at the edge of Europe but in the same time different. To this add the need to spend the New Year's Eve in a quiet much warmer location (last year's choice was Prague, Czech Republic).
And there we were, four young women, storming to new horizons. Otopeni Airport - Bucharest on 28 December 2010 after a miraculous taxi trip with a cab driver that for sure forgot to drink his coffee.
Almost 2 hour trip latter and there we were...Istanbul. I am not going to annoy you with tales about touristic objectives and details about our 6 days stay in Istanbul. Instead, I am going to share with you some impression about this city which hopefully will get you excited and make you wanna put this on your trip list.
Istanbul is first of all a huge city. Forget about the tram, the metro, the ferry, the train...there's nothing quiet enough to cover it all.
For an European, used to flats of apartments and orthodox or catholic churches and women who express themselves in far to many words and far to less clothes, Istanbul will strike you with its mosques and very conservative women. You can find a bit of everything once you get here.
In a few words, make sure to visit the following:
Blue Mosque and Saint Sofia Church (pay attention to the prayer hours when Blue Mosque is closed to public - recommend you to go in the morning). This will open your eyes to Muslim colors and mosaic and carpets and the need to take your shoes off and cover your hair (if you are a woman). Mosques are all over Istanbul. You will notice most of them by their towers (minarets) and you will "hear" them when the imams will call the people to prayer for the five prayers that a Muslim must observe within a day. Do not miss Suleymaniye Mosque (is full of light and might impress you more than the Blue Mosque), Yeni Mosque (or the New Mosque for the blue mosaic), Iskele Camii (Asian side with heated floors), Semsi Pasa Camii (small and beautiful
and one of the last works of the great Sinan).
Enter the Basilica Cistern to see the old drinkable water system. Go on Yerebaten Cadessi, walk for 10 min and on your right you will find a little restaurant called Fishouse. They make the most amazing fried shrimps in butter covered with sweet pepper. Ask for hot "halva" with ice cream as desert.
Walk on Divanyolu Cadessi to get used to crowd and shops and baklava as you go towards the Grand Bazar. When you enter the Grand Bazar be prepared for a place where you can buy anything at any price. No price lists, no strings, no rules. Negotiation is the rule and is a cultural thing. Here you will be surrounded by gold, silver, precious stones, smoking pipes, glass, porcelain, lighting appliances, Turkish delights, sellers who are there to sell you just about anything. Check out the painting on the walls if you are an art lover, check out the street with gold sellers if you like jewelery and start negotiating if you like scarfs.
Do not miss Dolmabahce Palace (European in style) and Topkapi Palace. Take a guide or at least an audio-guide. Learn
about harems and look at the walls around you. The mosaic it's amazing.
Forget about museums. Instead walk the streets near Eimnou Port and go to the spice market. Enter the train station at Eimnou. It's new and modern now but it used to be the last station on the tour of Orient Express. If you pay attention to details you can still see the old structure of the train station and imagine the passengers of the Orient Express with their fancy clothes just sipping a coffee in the train station coffee place.
Take the tram over Galata Bridge an get down in Taksim Square. Walk on Istiklal Street for shopping. Shopping malls are to far away and just on't worth the hassle. Here you can find a lot of clubs and bars for having fun. Ada Cafe (which is a restaurant and a bookshop) has a great New Year's Party. Forget about Coffee House is to crowded and to European. Choose instead one of the side roads of Istiklal and find a local small restaurant were you can drink Turkish coffee and eat baklava.
In the night take the elevator in Galata Tower. The view on
the top is amazing in the night. Stop at the coffee place at the last level to enjoy a nice Turkish coffee with biscuits and watch over the Old City of Istanbul.
Take a trip to the Asian side. Ferry leaves from Eminou port regularly. The trip is no more than 20 minutes. When you get to Uskudar visit the three mosques on the shore and that's about all. You will notice that the people here are more conservative and rather curious with tourists than in the European side.
Enjoy a nice traditional food in one of the restaurants where you notice a woman in the window making bread (some sort of pancakes). You can find two of this restaurants on Hudavendigar Cadessi which is in Sultanahmet (great neighborhood for finding your hotel). Make sure you try the lamb kebab and the local red wine. Ask for starters (zacusca and yogurt with cucumber).
Last but not least take a cruise on the Bosphorus. Choose the one that is around 2 hours is enough to give you a great view both of the European and the Asian side and a glace at Marmara Sea and in the same
time spear you of seasick in case you have this kind of issues.
Souvenirs are cheaper than in other places. Make sure to drink bottled water, stay away from spicy food and street food unless you have a strong stomach!
For architecture fans search for a book on Sinan on Istiklal street and enjoy the mosques. Over 400 works are attributed to Sinan. For movie fans, make sure you buy DVDs in one of the DVD/Bookshops - they have a good price and you can find the Audio in English. For cooking fanatics do not miss the spice bazar and make sure you take home sweet pepper, sumac, mint and saffron. For music lovers book a night in one of the restaurants with traditional dances and Turkish belly dance.
Hope you enjoyed the trip!
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