Istanbul, A city that bridges Europe and Asia

Trip Start Dec 26, 2009
Trip End Feb 02, 2010

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Istanbul Must-Do
1. Visit Aya Sophia, Basilica Cistern & Blue Mosque
2. Join Bosphorus Strait Cruise
3. Shop at Grand Bazaar & Spice Bazaar
4. Eat beef, chicken and fish kebab
5. Drink çay (Turkish tea) for breakfast, kahve (Turkist coffee) for lunch, Efes beer and Raki for dinner
6. Bath at hamam and enjoy Turkish shave
7. Repeat item 1-6 again

1. Stay in Sultanahmet area (Europe side) cause that's where all the attractions are. Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern are meters from each other.
2. Shop in Spice Bazaar first, survey the price before going to Grand Bazaar to avoid getting "slaughtered".
3. Turkish are very calculative when it comes to kebab, they weigh the meat first before stuffing it into the bread, don't expect a meaty meal.
4. Fish kebab in Eminonu is a must try.
5. TL10 for 3hr cruise along Bosphorus Strait, if you missed that, you're "very not clever"
6. Beer from grocery cost TL2.5, beer in restaurant/bar cost TL7, you pay TL4.5 for the atmosphere, choose wisely.
7. Coffee, tea and raki serve in "extremely small" serving, get used to it
8. Beware of carpet seller! To avoid them, see my Carpet Q&A on getting rid of them
9. If you don't like yogurt... like us, don't ever try aryan.
10. Try to avoid using the term "breakfast", they will automatically assume it to be Turkish breakfast.

We flew in from Abu Dhabi on Turkish airline on boxing day. After 12hrs (7hrs to Abu Dhabi + 5hrs from Abu Dhabi to Istanbul) of sleep, we're all geared up for the excitement. There's 2 airport in Istanbul, Atatürk and Sabiha Gökçen, Atatürk serves mostly full service airlines while Sabiha Gökçen serves mostly budget airlines. Transport from Atatürk is easy, just take train+tram to get to Sultanahmet while if you landed at Sabiha Gökçen, you'll need to catch a Havas bus to Taksim Sq then catch funicular and follow by tram to Sultanahmet. Tram and train fare is easy, TL1.5/entry regardless of journey length. After checking in at Best Island Hostel (5mins walk from Blue Mosque), we head out to take our breakfast. 8 out of 10 shops sell kebab, so to avoid the obvious, we had some bread/pastry stuffed with potato (meat or cheese filling available as well). We went to this Sedef Döner (recommeded by Lonely Planet) and we're too early for the kabab. Had our kebab at another cafe but it weren't anything great at all cause too little meat and bread instead of pita. I tried çay and the flavor was intense, cause normally tea in Malaysia are usually diluted. Surprisingly, they stuff french fries into it, not a few but only one "stick" of fries. 

Our first stop was Aya Sofya, better known as Red Mosque or Hagia Sophia in Greek, which was a church built in 537AD, converted to a mosque by Ottoman Turks and now a museum. There are numerous beautiful mosaic church art and also the beautiful window art. If you're lucky, you'll get to meet one of the 7 resident cats, even Barrack Obama also like them (see The only pity is that the museum is forever under restoration... the scaffolding obstruct the view. My advice is, go early, after 9am, you'll see hordes of tourist swamping Aya Sofya. The other thing, carpet sharks also swim around gate, beware! Entrance fee is TL20 but it's worth it.

Blue mosque is next on the list. It's free and tourist have to enter from the side entrance. It's closed during prayer time. It was built later than Aya Sofya and to be bigger than Aya Sofya. Interior decor, nothing really special but it's look much much more impressive from outside.

Lunch was of course kebab again at Sedef since we didn't get to eat there in the morning. Unfortunately they don't serve chicken kebab so I have to buy potato stuffed pastry while Philip enjoy his meaty meal. It seems like everybody was drinking this milky drink called aryan, he then ordered one and found out (with regret) that this is a yogurt drink (yogurt+water)... it taste like... hmmm.... how to put it... sour expired milk, yuk~ He forced himself to down the drink cause if he don't, people may feel offended. He face looked like sour plum for the next 15mins... hahaha.

We spent the afternoon at kapalı çarşı (Grand Bazaar). From Sultanahmet, it's about 10-15mins walk or you can take tram there as well. If you have time, you can visit the Süleymaniye Camii (camii is mosque) next to it. We didn't go but it should worth the visit cause up at the gallery you can get a good view of the Golden Horn. The Grand Bazaar has everything to offer and it's divided into sections, each with it's specialty like leather, jewelry and etc. Remember tip no.2. I ended up buying scarfs and other stuff at a premium (I found out the same thing at Spice Bazaar much much lower priced). Don't repeat our mistake. We bought some hand painted bowl (broken during flight back to KL), scarfs, fridge magnet, bookmark and other stuffs. Philip had his first Turkish coffee there as well, he says it's fine grinded coffee boiled on a stove served in a small cup. The coffee powder are not filtered away (Chinese use a small net to filter the leftover) but poured into the cup as well. He says it taste great, concentrated but without the aroma of our local coffee. For me, I like çay only.

We wanted to try out the meze (small dishes) so we headed out to Taksim Sq for dinner. It was raining and by the time we reached there, it's fully booked. Disappointed, tired and cold, we quite ate some Italian spaghetti at a nearby restaurant then head back to rest.

Day 2 started with Turkish breakfast at the rooftop cafe in our hostel with a great view of Aya Sofya. Turkish breakfast basically consist of tomato and cucumber slices, bread, butter, jam, cheese and boiled egg. We don't really like it cause we had too much bread last night (thanks to kebab) and we don't like the white cheese. I didn't have much sleep last night cause our room was next to the reception and the constant noise of people talking keeps me awake at night. The other dreadful part was that the bed wasn't comfortable at all, coupled with a shower that alternative between hot and cold water "automatically"... that's real bad. Our first stop of the day was again Blue Mosque cause Philip wanted to take some HDR when there's ample sunlight. After that we head out to Eminomu to catch the Bosphorus cruise. It cost only TL10 per pax for a 3hrs cruise, ain't that a bargain? Along the cruise we passed by Dolmabahce Palace, Dolmabahce Mosque, Ortaköy Mosque, Rumelian Castle, Bosphorus Bridge and many others. It's well worth the price you paid for. Once we're onshore, we smell fried fish, somewhere nearby. Following the smell and the crowd, we found the fish kebab (TL4 and taste great) served from a rocking boat. What I meant is they cook the markerel (my favourite) on a boat that keeps swaying with the current. Checkout my video on this. We then cross the road to Spice Bazaar, also known as Egyptian Bazaar. They sell all sort of things there, many of the food (unlike Grand Bazaar), including meat, cooking utensil, coffee, cheese, Turkish delights and of course the usual ceramics, souvenir and etc. The price there are more reasonable, I found the same scarf that I bought in Grand Bazaar earlier, at a much lower price... arghhhh. Philip bought heaps of Turkish delights, coffee, coffee making utensils while I bought a lot of souvenir for friends. Our flight to Kayseri on Pegasus ( was at 9pm but it took us more than 90mins to get to Sabiha Gökçen. It's 1hr++ flight to Kayseri and it took us another 1hr by car to get to Goreme in Cappadocia. The airport transfer cost TL20 per person and have to pre-booked.

~ By Sarah

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Ironic on

Have been to Istanbul too many times as I'm married to a Turk :-) Love the photos especially how you've captured the colours in the market stalls!

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