Love affair with everywhere--istanbul

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Where I stayed

Flag of Turkey  ,
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

purpose: fun, HIGHLY recommend

stayed--hilton. fabulous hotel near taksim square (less than 10 min walking). clean, spacious rooms, friendly staff and beautiful views of the bosphorus. got lucky with hilton's any weekend, any time promo E85 inc breakfast. One of the best lebanese restaurants in istanbul is located on 9th floor--Al Bushra--definitely a must if you enjoy lebanese cuisine

Currency is turkish lira. While the euro is available at all ATMs, the most accepted form of currency is the lira.

Istanbul. I have wanted to travel here since I was a kid and it finally worked out in december. I decided to travel in the off season, mostly because I had a few days off and figured why not. Turned out to be perfect! The city was crowded as usual, but not with tourists. The locals enjoy their country more in the winter months, and they make their living (well, those who survive on tourism) in the summer months. The weather was perfect, and though we were told that was unusual for this time of year, we welcomed the 18-20C daytime weather.

within the first day, istanbul joined florence, barcelona and jaipur among my fave cities in the world. It is the perfect blend of europe and the middle east. has the welcoming middle eastern charm and hospitality, not to mention history with the liberal, free spirited attitude of europe and a skyline that places it among the most architecturally and culturally rich cities in europe. i fell in love with the city and can't wait to go back....

istanbul, known throughout history as byzantium and later constantinople, is the only city in the world where you can be on 2 continents at the same time. for you history buffs, there is no shortage of historical relevance and significance in this modern day metropolis.

to do:
Bosphorous Cruise--you can hop on any number of boats that take you on a tour of the bosphorous. It will cost you about 10TL for a 1.5 hour cruise. If you are going in the winter months, try to go around 330 pm so you can watch the sun setting on the city as you head towards the bosphorous bridge. istanbul from the water is truly a magnificent sight--the minarets against the orange and pink sky are breathtaking, and watching the city light up as night falls, well, you will just have to see it for yourself to understand.

Galata Tower--if you are walking from taksim to the galata bridge, just walk on istikal ave and you will end up there. from the tower you can catch 360 degree views of the city

Galata Bridge--full of fisherman on the upper level and there is a lower level full of restaurants, cafes and bars. this area is quite touristy and you will inevitably be stopped by every single business owner offering you a meal or a cay (turkish tea).

Istikal Avenue--reminded me of any major shopping street in Europe. similar to corso buenos aires in milano, avengida diagonal in barcelona or regent street in london. crowds of people walking the streets, great shopping, yummy sweet shops, narguile (shisha or hookah) cafes, bars, live street performances and an all around great atmosphere. Be sure to wander off the main road--one to avoid the crowds and two, to discover the lesser known (to tourists) hotspots. Just off the main street towards the tower you will find yourself in an area full of bars and restaurants. Pretty much any place you choose will be great.

to see
no trip to istanbul would be complete without at least a full day dedicated to sightseeing. fortunately most of the sights are in the same area, so even if you have only 24-48 hours, you can visit them all. Most of them close at 5, so start early.

Ayasofya (hagia sophia): probably istanbul's most famous tourist attraction. first a church, then a mosque and now a museum. entry is 20 TL. Make sure to lose the crowd and head to the upper level where you can get a closer look at the mosaics.

Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque)--directly opposite of the Ayasofya, the mosque was built during the Ottoman empire period and incorporates architectural elements of both the ottoman and byzantine empire. It is called the blue mosque as the inside it decorated in blue tiles. Also take note of the calligraphy and massive chandelier that adorn the prayer area.
When visiting the mosque, be sure to enter through the visitor's area if you are not a practicing muslim. There you will be given a plastic bag to carry your shoes in.
While it has become known as one of Istanbul's famous tourist sights, it is in fact a mosque, so keep that in mind as you make your plan. The mosque does not accept visitors for the 30 minutes following the call for prayer, but you can enjoy the courtyard and architecture outside while you wait. Also, for women, it is important to respect the fact that it is a place of worship--they may not allow you in without proper attire. It is requested, but not required, for you to cover your head.

Basilica Cistern--one of the coolest sights in the city. Just a couple steps from the Ayasofya, was the water filtration system designed during the byzantine era. Served as underground water supply to Palace of Constantinople. entry is 10TL. 2 heads of medusa are also a part of the former basilica turned cistern.

Topkapi Palace--home of Ottoman sultans, 20TL, did not go, chose to go to Dolmabahce instead

Grand Bazaar--imagine 4000 shops under one roof. even if you don't want to shop, you must make your way to the bazaar. And if you do want to buy some turkish souvenirs, here you can find beautiful turkish lamps, carpets/rugs, shishas, jewellery, scarves, teacups, etc. I highly recommend walking through the Egyptian Bazaar (also called the spice market) up to the Grand Bazaar.

Dolmabahce Palace--different period than topkapi. the architectural style here is neo-baroque. closes at 4, and the last english tour starts at 2, so be sure to get there in time for the last call. it is not permitted to go through the palace on your own, you must be part of the group. there is an english group and turkish group--each leaves every 15-20 minutes. Beautiful location on the Bosphorous, so if it is a nice day, leave some time to enjoy the gardens and scenery outside the Palace.

Nightlife--GREAT! best to ask the locals based on your preference in music and style. some popular names are babylon, reina and supper club

make sure you visit a local kebap house--in the middle of the street...
try turkish cay (pronounced chai) which is the local tea.

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