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Published: October 30th 2013
Wow, where to start with my 5 nights in Istanbul. I arrived at the Istiklal hostel around 7 pm after a long day of travelling which included the taxi journey from the Asian side to Sultanahmet. It's fair to say the driver was more concerned about the many phone calls he needed to make whilst driving well above the speed limit. Anyway - I arrived to a warm welcome and a cold beer. I instantly already loved the hostel - I wonder why?
Given the fact I'd been travelling all day, I didn't anticipate having a few beers with some of the other travellers staying at the hostel but that we did. A few beers was the order of the day up in Taksim square which was full of life when we arrived at 10 pm. Istanbul is similar to New York in some respects as the city never seems to sleep. Shops are open all day, everyday; bars/restaurants are constantly busy and get busier the later in gets and the main pedestrian streets are just crammed with locals and tourists. This creates a great atmosphere which is certainly evident.
Whilst in the City - I did lots of
walking, preferring not to use the tram system and metro just to save some money. However, it is very easy to use and transport is frequently available to all parts of the city. Each ride is 3 Turkish Lira so if you intend on using the public transport on a regular basis, I suggest you pick up a transport card which is available from various places.
The highlight of my trip was the Bosphorus Cruise I took all the way up to the entry point of the Black Sea. Make sure you put this into your itinerary if you are in Istanbul for a few days. Get the government boat next to Galata Bridge rather than the other private companies as they are the most reputable company. I'm also led to believe that this is the only boat travelling all the way up the Bosphorus. So the boat journey - everyone saw Istanbul in all it's glory once we left Eminou and had the pleasure of seeing beautiful quaint fishing villages; mosques and palaces which were built next to the river during the Ottoman Empire; dense forest especially closer towards the Black Sea; marine life and the many cargo
ships which pass through this area. Istanbul really is a major hub serving the Black Sea! Once you arrive at the final stop on the cruise, make sure you head up the hill towards the old ruins as the views are just spectacular. Also, sample the fish sandwich which is a local dish and you can't get fresher than this fishing village. For a cheap eat, head further into the village as the restaurants along the front are twice the price. A friend and I paid 6TL for a Fish Sandwich which included a healthy portion of Mackerel and salad.
As well as the cruise, I explored the historic Old Town which despite being rather touristy, is a must do. The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofya are just stunning architectural builds and when lit up at night they really do provide a good view. As well as the mosques, head to Gulhane Park which is a beautiful pine forest and a walk in here provides a little bit of green space in this wonderful city.
The Grand Bazaar was as chaotic as I had anticipated and it was also huge. The buzz created in this indoor bazaar is
incredible and interestingly enough, the market is split into the different types of things available to buy. I hadn't intended on buying anything but was just happy to soak up the atmosphere.
New town - Taksim square and beyond I saw over two days, getting lost once or twice as I ventured off the map. Istkiklal Caddessi is a pedestrianised shopping street and probably the most famous street in Istanbul - I can see why. Apparently 2 million people use this street per day, I'm not certain on this figure but it certainly gives you an idea of how busy it is - You just can't comprehend how many people walk up and down here on a regular basis. The street typified Istanbul which is of course a very cosmopolitan and multicultural city. The street is great for shopping, music and it's many bars - all of which I sampled. More the latter really! There's much to see and explore in this area of Istanbul and I wandered for miles.
In summary, Istanbul was a great start to my trip and I'm especially glad I decided to spend a few days there. History, culture, good food and a
decent beer in Efes is guaranteed.
- Sample some of the takeaway food - it's extremely cheap and very tasty. A good sized kebab can be purchased for 6 TL.
- Baked Potato (Kempur) is a Turkish equivalent of a potato but the fillings they use are very tasty.
- Bakhlava is a sweet pastry - stay away, it's like eating a tablespoon of suger. Far too sweet.
- Beer is expensive - however, if you are in a group and opt to sit in a bar. Do a deal, also get them to write the price down on a piece of paper so you avoid being ripped off.
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