Istanbul, A city that bridges Europe and Asia
Trip Start Dec 26, 2009
6Trip End Feb 02, 2010
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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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FJj8uzGVlY). 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).
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.
~ By Sarah