Spanning two great continents in Istanbul


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Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul
June 3rd 2018
Published: June 22nd 2018
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So here I am back on the road again, taking in three days in Istanbul en route to a guided tour of the three Caucasus countries. This is in fact my first visit to Turkey in 44 years, the last visit being as an irresponsible young backpacker and sadly, given that I got completely inebriated my first night in Istanbul then, I have no real memory of the place and thus no point of comparison. This time I’m travelling with my mate Bruce and I’m pleased to report he took better care of me than my travel companions clearly did all those years ago! I was amazed to hear that Istanbul, which of course is partially situated in each of Europe and Asia, separated by the mighty Bosphorus, now has a population of 17 million. But from a tourist's point of view, all the main attractions are centred around the old city area of Sultanahmet and the newer area across the Golden Horn of Beyoglu, along with the pier area and the Galata Bridge at Eminonu. <br style="color:𶐎 font-family: sans-serif; font-size: 13px;" /> The long flight across, transiting on the way in Singapore, and comprising two overnighters back to back, was pretty tiring, and being seated close to the back of the plane on the second leg, I was expecting a long wait in Immigration on arrival to add to the pain. But to my absolute amazement, we queued for only about 5 minutes and when we came out our bags were already on the carousel. We in fact were safely ensconced in our hotel within an hour of hitting the tarmac. Well done, Turkey! Our accommodation was a cosy little hotel (Hotel Safir), well situated in the old city near all the attractions, with staff only too keen to assist in any way. Some of the lounges in the foyer looked like they had come out of the ark, but they added a certain colonial atmosphere to the location. On arriving early morning after our extended night, we decided that day one had two main objectives - to get oriented with the old city and to keep walking as a means of staying awake and resisting the need for an afternoon nap, which turned out a good tactic. Being a sunny and warm Saturday, all the main sights were swarming with tourists but this didn’t really detract from our enjoyment. Main sights visited included: a) Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) Church, the one time Greek Orthodox basilica and later an imperial mosque, which is now a very impressive museum; b) Blue (Sultan Ahmed) Mosque, dating from the 1600s, renowned for its blue stained glass windows and painted ceilings, but not as impressive inside as the Ayasofya in my opinion; c) Basilica Cistern, the largest of the many hundred ancient cisterns lying underneath the streets of modern Istanbul and a real photographer’s challenge; d) Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi) and Spice Bazaar, both centuries old and very extensive, catering for both the tourist and the locals. Day two comprised an organised tour, taking in some of the wider surroundings. We took in two quite different panoramic views of Istanbul at each of Pierre Loti Hill on the European side and a similar high point on the Asian side. We also had an escorted tour through the Dolmabahce Palace, situated on the western shores of the Bosphorus just north of Istanbul, which was built in the mid 19th century and was home to six sultans up until around 1930. Following that, we took a late lunch cruise up the Bosphorus as far as the entrance to the Black Sea. My memory of taking a similar cruise in the 1970s is very limited but I do remember the friendly little fishing village of Anadolu Kavagi we visited at the end of that cruise. Fifty years later, this same ‘little’ village gets around ten thousand visitors per day and comprises over two dozen restaurants scattered along the waterfront! Day three centred around the newer area of Beyoglu, starting at the popular meeting place of Taksim Square, described as ‘the cultural and social heart of Istanbul’, and meandering slowly along the cobblestoned and pedestrianized Istiklal Street, where you can eat, shop, check out buskers or just people watch (by the throngs!). This street eventually runs into the famed 1,500 year old Galata Tower, the enduring and iconic landmark of this part of the city, with this medieval tower standing well above all other buildings and offering superb views of the city, the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. At the bottom of this street lies the 6th century Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn and joins the new and old parts of the city, adjoining the cruise piers and another congregating area for the myriad of tourists and locals. Immediately below the Galata Bridge, just above the shoreline, is a string of a couple of dozen restaurants, specialising obviously in seafood cuisine. So what were some of the items that drew my attention in Istanbul? a) Not only did we experience a very efficient immigration system, but I thought their Metro system was first class. This above ground transport covers all the main tourist spots, runs every couple of minutes and is cheap (but crowded) once you have purchased your Istanbul card. b) I was amazed at the proliferation of fishermen (clearly very much a male pursuit!) on very available waterway, of which Istanbul offers plenty. Of interest was that of the over a thousand I must have seen, despite the hot weather I don’t recall seeing a single guy in shorts. What were they catching? Little silver fish about 3 inches long by the hundreds (literally!), which I can only assume are either kept as bait for bigger fish (which I never saw) or used in fish stew or curry. c) Finally, we were spoilt with our three great dining experiences. The first two were at two of the string of restaurants underneath the Galata Bridge, where we were treated to superb Fishermen’s Baskets and a 2.5 litre ‘yard glass’ of the local Efes beer, complete with its own tap, all for prices you wouldn’t contemplate back home. Sitting back watching the sun set over the Golden Horn with the mosques as backdrop might even get a positive rating from the Donald. Nice! <br style="color:𶐎 font-family: sans-serif; font-size: 13px;" /> So what were the lowlights? Undoubtedly the main one was that my companion Bruce was scammed and robbed on our first night. On the way home from dinner, as he crossed a road and squeezed between two parked cars, a young girl pushed past him then suddenly fell to the ground screaming. I was somewhat surprised to see Bruce move quickly away rather than offer to help her. When quizzed, he said that he smelt a scam and had a feeling that she was going to claim that he pushed her over and seek some compensation so he decided to move on quickly. Five minutes later we found out he was half right in his assumption - either she or one of her companions had helped themselves to Bruce’s wallet! As well as the obvious feeling of being violated, it was not a lot of fun trying to cancel Bruce’s credit cards at 4am Sunday morning back in Oz. But all in all a fabulous three days with almost perfect weather for touring and a great way to get acclimatised and prepare for our Caucasus adventure. Unfortunately the passage out of Istanbul was not as efficient as the passage in with us being caught in a traffic jam around the airport at 5am (sic) and the chaos of working our way through an unexpectedly crowded terminal, but with no major dramas. So next stop is Baku on the Caspian Sea and meeting up with our tour group.


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22nd June 2018

Istanbul
Great to see you are kicking up your heels Neil and as Canned Heat would say...On the road again. Enjoy.
22nd June 2018

Istanbul
Thanks David. Of interest, the formatting screwed up on me (first time ever) and printed it all as one paragraph with some style and font info plugged in for good measure. Have you any idea how I get rid of this as it is doing it on my remaining blogs as well?
24th June 2018

Istanbul ...
Hey Neil, Husband Ted, and I, loved meeting you at our (fairly) recent TB get-together at Dancin' Dave's. Always love to meet and chat away to fellow bloggers and hear of their experiences. I can certainly understand the feeling of being violated when robbed of your possessions - certainly when travelling in a foreign country. Happened to me in St. Petersburg several years ago. With credit cards stolen and a huge debt run up on my behalf in a matter of 20 minutes. However, still love St. Petersburg and high praise for our bank, which acted very quickly once informed. :) Can't say the same for the police department in St. Petersburg though, when reporting the robbery. All day Russian bureaucracy at it's best. :) However, all part of the experience, I guess but, not really one I would put on my list of Top 10. :) Will look forward to some more of your blogs. Enjoy the Caucasus. :) Jan
24th June 2018

Istanbul
Thanks Jan. I've done St Petersburg and while I enjoyed the visit, your story doesn't surprise me at all. Of interest, the formatting on the Istanbul blog screwed up on me (first time ever) and printed it all as one paragraph with some style and font info plugged in for good measure. Have you any idea how I get rid of this as it is doing it on my remaining blogs as well?
28th June 2018
The Grand Bazaar ...

An amazing city
Love the energy in the market.

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