Published: October 10th 2012October 10th 2012 The flight
Grand Bazar entrance gate
The gate to hell? If you're claustrophobic - Yes!
All I can say is thumbs up for Turkish Airlines. Even though we took off 20 minutes after schedule and had quite a few scary turbulances, we arrived well in time at Istanbul Ataturk Airport. The flight took about 2,5 hours and it was pretty much filled with on board service including a hot meal, soft drinks, beer, wine, tea and coffee. And then, right on time for sunset, we arrived in the former city of Constantinople. Getting away from the airport
Typical for a big city, it's pretty easy to get from the airport to the city center. Even a lot easier and remarkably cheaper than any other European city I've been to so far. Basically just follow the Metro (Subway) signs until you arrive at the gates that take you to the trains. You have to buy a token (jeton) for 3 lira at the machines. Then you just get on the train and wait. After 20 minutes you reach Zeytimburnu station which is an intersection with the tram line. For another jeton you get on the tram. In my case, I went all the way to Sultanahmed tram stop. So far so easy.
Sultan Ahmet Blue Mosque - Istanbuls 2nd largest mosque with 6 minarettes
The city was already dark when I got off the tram but still full of life. The first thing you see when you get off Sulanahmet tram station is the impressive and huge Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmet. Now I had to find my hostel. The description was a bit blurry, so I basically surrounded the Mosque a few times while being directed into different directions by helpful strangers on the street. I guess I was the idiot because I kept walking in circles. Then, finally I made it to the Big Apple Hostel
. The Big Apple Hostel
The hostel is a lot smaller than I had expected, and there was no 'helpful English speaking staff' that hostelworld had promised. I was checked in by a guy who barely understood a word I said, didn't even make me pay and left me without a key to my locker, only to find out later that they were all lost. But then I got one the next day from a girl that checked out. There is only one communal key to the dorm. The last person to leave the room is to hand it over to reception, which makes
The Haga Sofya museum
the whole thing still quite safe. And with the lockers under the bed and the free safe boxes at reception you can sleep and walk around without worrying about your valuables. It also turned out the daytime staff is a lot more helpful than the night staff.
The breakfast is included in the price. I paid about 15 euros for a 6 bed female dorm with ensuite bathroom. Thats a pretty good deal if you ask me. The breakfast is plentiful. It has bread, cheese, jam, cereal and yoghurt, salads and eggs. Only what I was missing is coffee as there is only way too strong black tea. But I'm not complaining. The internet is fast and free which is awesome. The only thing that really bothered me about this hostel and which is probably a dealbreaker is the noise. And that wasn't even the hostels fault. But every night of my 3 night stay there was one really loud snorer in my room AND which was a lot worse a huge group of Russians who thought it would be fun to have their loud chats and laughs right in front of our door. ALL NIGHT LONG. Even when
people kept coming out to tell them to shut the fuck up, they would just shush each other for like a minute and then go on. ALL NIGHT LONG. So all in all it is a good hostel, but i didn't get too much sleep. Sultanahment
The city itself is quite amazing. I didn't see too much of the city itself as it is really incredibly huge. I walked from Sultan Ahmet tram stop to the Grand Bazar and then the other way down to the Bosphorus shore. Sultanahmet is the old part of the city with the famous Blue Mosque and the Haga Sofya, which used to be a church and a mosque and is now an overpriced museum (25 TL to get in). The surroundings are quite nice as well, so I found it unnecassary to go inside as museums bore me anyway. The Blue Mosque is probably my favorite landmark of the city. The architecture is amazing and so refreshing if you're sick of churches and castles. Its open to the public. The Grand Bazar
The Grand Bazar was really disappointing. Its the biggest indoor Bazar in the world but it only
has like 2 or 3 exits and entrances. So once you go inside, you get lost so easily. Its a maze of alleys and small shops each one like the one next to it so there is no way to orientate. Also, it is pretty much only made for tourists and thus it is ridiculously overpriced. You'll pay more for clothes than you would back home. Not even to mention the jewllery. So I bught some pants for 25 TL and tried to get out ASAP. Not so easy! I got lost and couldn't find the exit. I walked around for about 20 minutes until I finally found the exit. So, if you're claustrophobic you might want to stick to the shops on the street. They sell the exact same stuff and sometimes even cheaper. The Bosphorus to the Black Sea Cruise
As I'm not such a huge fan of aimlessly walking through a huge city and especially not of museums and historical things to look at with no one or nothing to explain the context, I spent a few bucks on a full day tour the next day. I picked out a full day Bosphorus boat cruise
Connecting Europe and Asia
up to a village on the edge of the black sea in a brochure I got at the hostel and walked into a random tourist office (there are so many of those) to book it. It cost me 70 euros, which I think was worth it. I got picked up at the hostel in the morning by a bus that took us to the boat. The tour guide told us lots of interesting facts about the city and its rich history from the Ottoman empire. As the boat went down to Golden Horn, he pointed out mosques and churches, neighbourhoods and bazars. The wind was cold but the sun was shining so even though it was chilly it was a really pleasant and quiet boat ride. We cruised around the Bosphorus for about an hour before we went off for the first stop. The Dolmabahce Palace
. The entrance fee was included and the guide guided us through the palace and told us more interesting facts about the Ottoman empire. It is a ridiculous palace filled with handmade furniture and carpets, golden ornaments and polar bear furs. It seemed like the Sultans back in the day were crazy crazy crazy
On the boat
Cruising the Bosphorus
rich. We walked through a few of the rooms, we saw the Harem (which looked exactly like the other parts of the palace) and the gardens. I mean, I'm not so easily impressed by castles. And this was just another castle, just a bit different a bit more golden. But if you are easily impessed by castles and Palaces, it is definitely worth a visit. I still learned a lot of facts about the Sultans and life in Turkey before it became a republic.
We reembarked the boat around 1 o'clock and a plentiful lunch awaited us. There was cous cous salad, potatoe salad, chicken salad, regular salad, pasta salad, grilled eggplants, fresh grilled (on the boat!) Köfte (turkish meatballs), chicken kebab and bread. It was amazing! You'd never get a lunch THIS good on a boat trip in any other European city without paying a fortune! I skipped the meat and I still had a full plate and a happy stomach. As I finished my plate, the boat went further up the Bosphorus under the two bridges that connect the European and the Asian part of Istanbul. Only now I got to see how big this city really
was, as it went on forever. After a few km down the river, we finally saw some trees and ancient fortresses on the hills. The boat ride was really nice until we got to our first stop on the egde of the Black Sea: Anadolu Kavagi
. Its a nice little town by the sea, but still quite touristy. We stopped there for about 45 minutes, just enough time to walk from one end to the other, have some delightful turkish ice cream and a soda. I met a sweet little stray dog that basically cheated all the tourists for their ice cream and ate it himself. Unfortunately, strays seem to be a big problem in Turkey in general. In the city it was mainly cats on every corner and once we got out of the city there were dogs everywhere. They did have a tag on their ear, but didn't seem to have an owner. But it still seemed like the locals treated the dogs well as they were pretty much clean, healthy and well fed.
Back onto the boat. A little bit further down the river and further into the Black Sea we reached a village called
Are your shoes dirty?
I'll clean them for you!
. There was really nothing special about it, except that it had a beach. Some brave people from the boat actually went for a dip, I decided to stay safe and dry upon the shore. I walked back and forth on the beach, met another two stray dogs and back on the boat. Because of my lack of sleep I slept through almost the whole ride back to the city and woke up when we reached the second bridge of Istanbul. Here we all got a place full of fruit and more information about Istanbul, this time about the Asian side. We cruised back into the harbour as the sun went down and saw a beautiful sunset over the old part of the city. AMAZING!! So worth it. The last part of the trip I did not like so much. It was an Anatolian dance performance by 4 teenagers and I hate people dancing for me. But thats just me, the rest of the group seemed to have enjoyed it quite a lot.
All in all I can really recomment this full day tour. It was well worth the money and I wasn't disapointed. If you get seasick, you
might want to skip it though, as the water got quite rocky once we reached the Black Sea. So thumbs up for the day tour.
Today I will make my way to Fethiye by nightbus. I will just walk around the old city for a few hours, try to buy some cheap clothes or jewllery and then head to the bus station.
To be continued
There are more photos below