Usbircan has very kindly edited my trip report - he has fixed it up with clickable links, references etc. And made it into one post. For all his work I'm very, very grateful. And I hope it will be easier to read that way.
It is time to give back. I enjoyed reading the posts here for months before our trip, and also got very good and helpful answers to my own questions along the way. I always really like trip reports - they give you such a variety of ideas of how to enjoy and explore a place.
First a bit about us. This time we traveled family-style. Husband and myself, both mid-forties and my parents, both 70. We have traveled together often, but also travel a lot as couples. We mix up our trips. Sometimes we use guides or drivers, sometimes we don't, depending on the destination and how accessible it is. We always plan our own trips and make up our own itineraries. And we never travel as part of a group.
This trip we had an initial night in a hotel in Istanbul, before flying on to Nevsehir in Cappadocia, where we spent 4 glorious days. When we arrived in Istanbul the second time, we were happy, relaxed and full of all our experiences hiking, ballooning etc. So pretty laid back. Which is not the worst approach for a city as intense as Istanbul proved to be.
We had a pretty good idea of what to do on the 7 days we were there, we had planned an itinerary, where we had the tightest schedule for the first days and less activities planned for the last few days, so we had room for things we found out along the way that we wanted to do. We had tried to make it easy for ourselves with buying tickets for the museums we wanted to visit beforehand, where we could and by making dinner reservations for a few restaurants.
As for transport, we knew that our traveling style is usually a mix of public transport and taxis. We walk a lot, so try not to walk for long stretches just to reach public transportation - in that case we take a taxi.
We had chosen not to stay in Sultanahmet or Taksim. We knew that we don't enjoy staying in areas where there are lots of tourist hotels (nothing wrong with that, we just enjoy more local locations). We also knew that we wanted to walk to locations primarily in the Fatih district. So we chose the Niles Hotel on a side street a couple of minutes walk from Beyazit Square and tram stop. The hotel has many glowing reviews, and I won't go into detail, but will just say that they are justified. Great, personal service, incredibly clean, helpful with anything and everything. We felt safe and comfortable in the area and loved watching the people working in the shops around us go about their daily business. This is a clothing district, so lots of wholesale.
[Editor's Note: Hunbille's review on Niles Hotel:
"I would absolutely stay in the same hotel - I really enjoyed the location, which felt very genuine to me (for lack of a better word). I liked being very centrally placed for our specific interests - mainly walking the old part of the city - and yet away from Sultanahmet. I liked the places we visited in that area, but was very happy to get out again and stay somewhere else. And the Niles Hotel just had that personal, family-like feel that is so hard to find. At least without the service becoming idiosyncratic - which it never does. Personal, yet professional.
OK, I'll stop the overflowing recommendation now, but it really was THAT great!" ]
After having been installed in our rooms (suites - a steal at 135 euro), we ventured out straight away. We had various maps with us and they all proved inadequate over the next few days except the Moleskine Istanbul handbook map. Highly recommended. It has all the little alleys etc that other maps lack with their names on it. Plus it is so much easier to handle a little notebook when walking around than having to fold and unfold conventional maps. We saved those for planning in our hotel at night.
We went straight for the mayhem of Beyazit Square, crossed it and saved the Grand Bazaar for another day. We then walked up to the main entrance to the university. The area is very busy with students - lots of books, rucksacks and concentrated faces. We walked along the side of the park behind the university and turned right to reach our first destination: lunch! Perhaps it is only right to say right now that we are big food lovers. And where to eat is a big part of any holiday. We also like it, if we can combine a good meal with an interesting setting, which is what we hoped for this time. So we headed for the Daruzziyafe Restaurant [web: http://tinyurl.com/Daruzziyafe], which is situated in an old courtyard building next to to Suleymaniye Mosque. I forget what it's exact former use was. Gorgeous and blissfully shady, and supposedly authentic Ottoman cuisine. The food was not in any way memorable or exceptional, but the setting lovely. [Google walk : http://tinyurl.com/niles-to-daruzziyafe – Not excatly as Google map can't find all pavements.]
We were anxious to explore, so didn't hang around for long, but headed across the street to the Mosque with a short detour to the turbe of Sinan at the street corner. When in Istanbul, it sort of feels right to pay homage to the man who was the genius of so many of the buildings we were to enjoyed for the following week.
The Suleymaniye Mosque stunned us. So beautiful. And relatively visitor free compared to some mosques. We enjoyed the tranquility and the fact that visitors here seemed quite respectful. Meaning that they kept quiet inside the mosque, didn't go in only semi clothed and respected the off-limits areas. Can I just air a pet peeve? I think it is insulting to the people to whom this is their "parish church" or who have come to visit for religious reasons to complain about having to wear a scarf, to chat and laugh loudly etc etc. Respect is very simple!! It means doing your homework. And I don't think it ever killed anyone wearing elbow length sleeves and carrying a light scarf in their bag. Anyway, back to the mosque. Well worth a visit, one of our favourites in Istanbul. Make sure you remember to check out the turbe of Roxelana etc on the back of the mosque.
From the back of the Mosque we strolled aimlessly downhill through a busy commercial district with everything and anything for sale. We had planned to go searching for the entrance to The Rustem Pasa Mosque, which is apparently difficult to find. We never needed to, as we literally walked right into it. I know that every guide book says that it has very few visitors, but they seem to have caught on. There were a few while we were there, but it was still a very peaceful place. The tiles are just beautiful and very varied. [Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/Suleymaniye-RustemPasa]
From here we continued into the market district and more or less got sucked into the Spice Bazaar. Lots of people and fun to visit, but we enjoyed the areas around it just as much. We had our first lokum here: pomegranate and pistachios. And my world was never the same, I was hooked. From this point on I couldn't walk past a place selling the stuff without having to check it it out (and rarely leaving empty handed...)
Suddenly we were in open air again, right in front of the New Mosque. We found a bench and sat down to enjoy the throngs of people around us. Sitting there we were approached by a group of teenagers asking if they could interview us for a school project. As there were four of us, they interviewed us in turn - very efficient. They had a project in English classes about tourism, so asked us where in Turkey we had visited, what we thought of the Turkish People etc etc. So polite, and very happy to have found a whole group of willing victims in one go.[ Google walk: http://goo.gl/maps/WVjR ]
Abruptly, I'll stop for now. More to come....
Day one continued...
Right in the square we found one of the little kiosks selling Istanbulkart. They turned out to be very handy and easy to use and there are lots of places to top them up. I'm glad we didn't have to fumble for change for jetons every time we had to go somewhere.
After enjoying our first view of the Galata Bridge, Galata Tower and the Golden Horn, we jumped on the tram heading for Sultanahmet. As soon as we got of the tram we knew we had landed in tourist-land. Lots of choice in hotels, restaurants, shops with every conceivable item with "Istanbul" printed on it....so we didn't stop but headed straight for our dinner - or so we thought.
We had dinner reservations at the restaurant at Rast Hotel. It doesn't get spectacular reviews, but not bad either. And as promised on their website, the restaurant terrace on the top floor has stunning views of both the Haghia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. When we got out of the elevator, the restaurant was empty. Not only no guests, but no staff either. We tried looking around for someone, but nobody was around. All the tables except one (ours!) were completely bare, no tableware or anything. The whole situation felt odd, especially as we had asked for the restaurant at the reception, so they knew we were coming up. So we decided to leave. We did meet a waiter on the way out and told him we were leaving and why.
So at 7.30 pm in a busy tourist area we didn't have anywhere to eat. Piece of cake, right? Except I really wanted us all to enjoy some of the spectacular views, I knew Istanbul had to offer, on our very first night. What to do? I remembered reading about a restaurant called Seven Hills, and knew it was int the Sultanahmet area, but not where. So it could be close or far. Instead of running around like headless chickens, we get a cab. He drives us there, not very far, but kind of in a roundabout way - which could be justified as the streets were narrow and some one way only. When we got there, however, he tried to charge us 30TL for the mini-ride. So we had our first taxi-incident on our first night. We refused to pay and ended up giving him 8 TL. I have a feeling it was still more than sufficient - he scuffled off, not making a big deal of it. [Google traffic: http://tinyurl.com/rast-sevenhill-taxi ]
So the Seven Hills. [TA Review: http://tinyurl.com/TA-SevenHill-rest ] A big terrace, and only one table available. In the exact position I would have chosen, having been given a choice. The hotel/restaurant is placed between Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque - and close to the Bosporus. We had a table on the side facing the city - and great views of both buildings. We watched darkness fall on them, and had very good fish. I'd recommend the restaurant for views and food, but it's not big on ambiance before dark. Not a romantic sort of place.
Took a taxi home, this time driving further than the last time, and it cost 9 TL - so we were getting a feel for taxi cost. [Google traffic: http://tinyurl.com/sevenhills-niles-taxi ]
At the hotel? No talking, reading or socializing. Straight to bed (great beds!) and we all slept like babies. Never heard the mosque up the street. Never heard it at any point during our stay - none of us. I think we just managed to exhaust ourselves to the point of reaching unconsciousness every night when we hit our pillows...
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Photos-Suleymaniye ]
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Photos-TKale ]
After a filling breakfast (any hotel that serves good eggs for breakfast has me feeling upbeat) and wonderful views from the rooftop restaurant of the ships on the Bosporus, we headed out for day two: the Sultanahmet pilgrimage.
Whenever I visit places that I positively know will have many, many visitors I approach it as a general would approach planning the attack of his troups. When, where, how to enter most successfully. And to us the criteria for success is to have as few fellow visitors as possible. So the choice was to be efficient in the morning or take our chances and hope to hit a time with few visitors later in the afternoon.
So here's what we did. We had bought the tickets online at home. We went to the Haghia Sophia first thing in the morning and were there about 8.45 am. We showed our tickets to the guards (no ticket controllers yet) and they indicated that we should stand right in front of the gate. There were a lot of tour groups who had tickets too, but when the gates were opened, they couldn't move as fast as our little group. So if you are there at that time, and have the tickets, there's a good chance of you being the first to be let in, like we were.
We love photography, so for us, being alone in a huge monumental building is photography heaven. We managed a couple of minutes alone in the main part of the Haghia Sophia, before we were joined by others. A good tip is to head straight for the part you want to see most, and not see a monument or building in the "right" order - that way you get a better chance of seeing what is important to you properly.
The building was lovely, with morning light hitting the domes and all that yellow paintwork giving off a warm, golden glow. As the masses of people increased, we left for the Basilica Cistern, pretty much across the street.
I liked the way the Cistern was lit - very atmospheric. And the slow sound of water dripping. Interesting.
Back into the throbbing masses and onto the Hippodrome. Everywhere you go in this area you have the feeling of the mosques looming over you, which I enjoyed. The Hippodrome itself was good for people watching, but I found it hard to imagine how it must have been. Over restored, maybe?
We followed the flow into the Blue Mosque. I'm not going to air my pet peeve again, but really didn't enjoy the remarks of fellow visitors about the need for scarves, longish pants etc. The noise level inside was deafening! It was now late morning and it seemed that everybody in the city was there. So we left, and walked towards Divan Yolu.
We wanted to see the Cemberlitas/Burnt column[TA Review: http://tinyurl.com/Cemberlitas-column ]. Somehow this column, standing alone, impressed me more than the columns on the Hippodrome and set my imagination alive. In this area, right on the Divan Yolu, you will find the Tomb of Mahmut II, the turbe and a cemetery, with some very old headstones. A nice little green patch and a breathing hole.
Having gotten caught up in seeing the "biggies", we had forgotten to eat. We looked around, but didn't really find anything that appealed to us, and decided to head down to Hocapasa Street in Sirkeci...
Day two continued...
We took the tram for a few stops to Sirkeci and quickly found Hocapasa Street by asking someone in the street. Throughout the week it never seized to amaze us how much people wanted to help, and generally it always proved easier to just ask than guess. [Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/sirkeci-hocapasa ]
Hocapasa Street is sort of a restaurant street, with various kebabish places - simple but good. We ate at several this week, and enjoyed them all. This first time in the street, we looked specifically for Kasap Osman Kebap, which had been recommended in the Istanbul Eats book, [istabuleats.com: http://tinyurl.com/isteats-KasapOsman] we had bought on their website. Highly recommended, by the way - if you are remotely interested in local food, this is the book for you. The iskender kebab, which is their specialty, is lovely - tender, thin slices of meat, served on bread with a rich tomato sauce and the smoothest of yoghurts. Yum!
There is a mosque right across the street, so while eating lunch we could watch people coming and going, which we really enjoyed.
Stuffed and happy, my husband decided to enjoy one of his favourite travel indulgences: the local barber shop. He has nerves of steel, so gladly let the barber trim his hair to ½ centimeter....and got a double shave, which left him rubbing his chin in satisfaction for the rest of the day.
While he enjoyed his barber session, I was about to have a revelation. I decided to walk around the neighborhood in the meantime, and happened to walk by Hafiz Mustafa. The sweets looked amazing, so in I went. And as the staff encourages you to try the different sweets, I quickly found my favourites: all things lokum. My favourite this first time tasting lokum was pomegranate with pistachios - and it still is. I ended up buying a few different kinds for ud to find out which we liked the best. I returned every time we passed by Sirkeci for the rest of the week! [Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/kasaposman-hafizmustafa]
Afterwards we walked over to Sirkeci Station to see if we could catch a bit of that classic Orient Express feeling. You do get a sense of the grandeur in the waiting room, and there is a room which is generally closed to the public - available to rent for functions apparently - which had that feel too. A nice lady let us in there. There is a tiny one-room museum as well, which shows items from the Orient Express and that era of riding the train. Cute, although probably not quite historically correct...
By this time our feet were pretty sore, and we thought we'd just go back to the hotel for a rest. By the time we reached Beyazit tram station, the Beyazit Mosque [TA review: http://tinyurl.com/TA-Beyazit] lured us in that direction, and we thought we'd check it out, since we were almost neighbours. Another lovely mosque with very few visitors. It was very peaceful, considering how lively the square outside it was. For some reason there were lots of groups of young women there this afternoon. All giggly and happy. And so many different styles of how to wear your scarf fashionably were on show.
By the time we got back to the hotel, we only had time for a quick shower before heading back out. This time for dinner at the Hettie Hotel in Karakoy. It is right on the pier, on the right hand side of the Galata Bridge, if you are coming from Sultanahmet. Right where the ferries leave for the Asian side. [Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/Kkoy-Hettie]
This has got to be one of the best kept tourist secrets in Istanbul. We went to quite a few places with views, but this was by far the best. The Puddra Restaurant is situated on the top floor of the hotel, but not on a terrace. However, they have windows, that can be removed entirely, and on a warm night (this was in late May), with the windows gone, you fell like you are eating al fresco, yet are sheltered from the breeze. There were 4 or 5 tables right by the windows, and if you ask for the one in the left corner, by the window, you get the best of the lot. Make reservations by email. Sultanahmet, the Golden Horn, Galata Bridge and in the distance the Asian side - all in full panorama view. WOW, just WOW! The food was pretty good too, especially the meze selection, and not expensive by Sultanahmet standards. Go there before everyone else catches on!! And be ready to spend lots of time as you will want to savour the views and watch darkness fall (so go just before dusk) and the lights of the city be turned on. Not to forget taking lots of photos and enjoy your food. Not a one hour thing.... [TA Review: http://tinyurl.com/TA-Hettie]
Another night of stumbling into bed and sleeping practically before we hit the pillows. Blissfully happy.
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/photos-Kkoy-Hettie ]
To avoid repeating myself, I will refrain from reviewing the breakfast every day. We left full and happy at around 8.30 but didn't get far before we were distracted by a jeans sale. After having tried Levi's, Wrangler etc, my husband actually ended up preferring a Turkish brand called Whitesea - at half the price. Back to the hotel with the jeans - we didn't want to be lugging them around with us all day. And off again, this time with no distractions. We followed the road up the side of the university, that we had previously taken, then took a left turn and another right and were quickly deeper into Fatih. We walked through an area with a mix of studentish shops and tradespeople - ironmongers, woodshops etc. All busy and seemed to have been at it for a while already.
We were heading for the Sehzade Mosque. It was easily found, as it is quite large and situated close to the Ataturk Boulevard. It lies in a beautiful garden, very tranquil. Parts of the outside are under restoration, but that doesn't detract from the obvious: this is a beautiful oasis. And almost empty at this time of the day (mid-morning).
It was a bit mind boggling to leave the mosque and then two minutes later be standing in the middle of what seemed like a dozen roads, on a concrete island, cars blaring by. But it was worth it, because here in the middle of Ataturk Boulevard you have a great view of the Valens Aquaduct. Great for photos.
We walked along the boulevard, because we wanted to get closer to the aquaduct, to get a feel for its size and structure. From the opposite (Golden Horn) side of the aquaduct we took the first little street left along it, up a little hill. Within a few minutes this landed us in Kadinlar Pazari, which is the most wonderful street. It is a market street full of greengrocers, butchers, spice shops, honey shops and restaurants. In the middle of the street, which is mostly pedestrian, there are tall, old trees and green grass. Old men and new mothers sit on the benches, the pace here is busy, yet slow. Lovely, lovely place. We didn't eat here, as it was too early for us, but the restaurants looked great. Everywhere we were greeted with smiles and invited to sit down - but never pushed. After walking up one side of the street and down the other, we followed the aquaduct for the last stretch and then found ourselves were we had hoped to be: In the middle of the Wednesday Market in the area around Fatih Mosque.
It seems that all of Istanbul was gathered here - from women clad entirely in black to pretty young things tottering along in skyhigh heels and jeans sooo tight. From old men in traditional attire, to business men with suits and cellphones glued to their ears. The market was absolutely huge - every time we looked down a street that we passed, the market went on there too. I'm sure we only saw a fraction of it. You can buy anything here. Food, household goods (zebrapatterned set of 3 pots, anyone?), clothes, plants...
We let ourselves be washed along with the tidal wave of people, and still miraculously landed right outside the Fatih Mosque. It has been undergoing massive restoration, but was to be officially opened by the end of May, so I guess this has happened by now. At this point the mosque wasn't open, but the outer expanses and the courtyard were. All the worshiping has been moved to under the porticoes in the courtyard, where rugs formed a colourful pattern.
After our visit to the mosque, we wowe our way through more expanses of market activity towards the Zeyrek neigborhood. This seemed to be a very poor neighborhood, and the inhabitants mainly of a different ethnic background than we had seen elsewhere - roma, perhaps? The area was a mix of neglected traditional wooden buildings and ones that had been beautifully restored. It seemed like an area on the brink of gentrification. We got lost in the maze of streets, where lots where unnamed. A young man came to our rescue, and walked us to a point, where we could see the Zeyrek Mosque at the end of the street.
The Zeyrek Mosque is also known as the Church of the Pantocrator, and is a Byzantine church, which was changed into a mosque. We could only admire it from the outside, as it was undergoing restoration. [TA Review: http://tinyurl.com/zeyrek ]
We didn't mind so much, as we were starving. Fear not, food was not far away. Right along the mosque/church is the Zeyrekhane Restaurant. This restaurant has a terrace with views of both the mosque and a good part of the Golden Horn and old Istanbul, especially Suleymaniye Mosque. It was a bit more expensive, but still very reasonable by Western European standards - and the views were to die for. The observant reader will by now recognize my insatiable desire for great views, and this was definitely worth the hike. If you were to take a cab from Sultanahmet it would be easypeasy, as the restaurant is situated very close to Ataturk Boulevard, which is a major road. We felt very decadent eating here - very sumptuous decor. [TA review: http://tinyurl.com/zeyrekhane ] [Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/fatih-zeyrek ]
Very full we decided that we needed to rest after lunch, so a boat ride up the Golden Horn was just the thing. Only thing was that the ferry only leaves once an hour, which at this point was 25 minutes away. We quickly paid, and started marching down the hill to Ataturk Boulevard. Lucky for us, there was a walking underpass right at this point, so we could cross to the other side, and try to get a taxi with it's nose pointed towards Eminonu...
To be continued...
Thank you all for your kind messages. It's actually a lot of fun for me to go through the trip again in this way - it helps me put everything in place in my head plus I relive a great week. So here goes!
Day three continued...
We did get a taxi very quickly, but no one could foresee that traffic was at an absolute standstill at Eminonu. So the driver ended up suggesting that we just gave up going any further and pointed us in the right direction. At this point it's 5 minutes to scheduled departure time. We can't find the ferry and everyone we ask points us in a different direction. Finally we find the little narrow path around the Stork Building. At this point we are running madly, people actually cheering us on. I'm sure we looked like total idiots, but hey, we made the ferry! Sweating and panting, but we made it. We used our Istanbulkart for the ferry ride, so it was cheap, only 2 lira a head minus the discount (forget how much that is).
The ferry ride up the Golden Horn was wonderful. As the body of water is not very wide at any point, you had beautiful views all the way. It was a relaxed 35-40 minutes with a couple of stops before reaching the harbour at Eyup.
None of the maps we had covered Eyup in detail, so we only had a general idea of which direction to go. So we followed the flow of people up a shopping street until we reached a large square with a huge fountain. From here you can turn left, and find the turbe of Sokullu Mehmet Pasa. Clearly very important to a lot of people. There was a quiet and reverential atmosphere considering the many people inside the turbe.
We sat on the steps on the square for a while, watching people coming and going to the Eyup Sultan Mosque. There seemed to be quite a few little boys dressed in princely fashion, and we saw these boys at other mosques as well. I'm not sure what the significance of the outfit was, though it was clearly celebratory, as they mostly had a large number of family members with them. Some kind of rite of passage?
I really liked that we were in a spot that was clearly a tourist attraction - for Turkish people that is. Lots of kids running around, lots of ice-cream cones and shops selling gadgets, souvenirs and toys. Great people watching!
The mosque was very lively as it holds an important turbe and has many people who pay a visit. As religious tourists, one could say.
After a while we decided to head towards the top of the hill and Pierre Loti. Right after the mosque you turn right along the back of the mosque. There are some turbe too. A few minutes down this road, the path up through the Eyup Cemetery to Pierre Loti is on your left. If you continue for another minute, you get to the cable cars that can take you to the top. Another place where you can pay the fare with your Istanbulkart. The cable cars have thrilling views of the entire area, and you get a good idea of the course of the Golden Horn. [Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/Eyup-Loti ]
At the top you disembark pretty much right on in the middle of the Pierre Loti Cafe. We had actually planned to take a break here, but thought it too crowded and rather dark. Most tables were actually so much in the shade between the trees, that there was no view, so we thought it a bit glum. Plus the constant traffic of people walking by. I know this is contrary to most reviews, but it wasn't a place we wanted to hang around.
So we just started strolling down the hill. The cemetery is wonderful. Old and crumbling and just beautiful. Flowers grow randomly and the sun shimmers through the treetops. The headstones of the graves are rarely standing straight. Once in a while there is an opening in the trees, and you can enjoy the views down the Golden Horn towards the Old City where we had come from.
At the bottom of the hill we started heading back the same way we had come. It was now late afternoon, and families were getting ready to head out. We had time for an ice-cream before going. I loved the texture - smooth and silky, yet a bit chewy. Very different to the ice-cream I'm used to.
The ferry ride was once again wonderful - now with the added pleasure of soft, golden late afternoon light. [Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/Loti-Eyup ]
Back at Eminonu we decided to hang around for a while instead of going back to our hotel. We were having dinner in Karakoy just across the Galata bridge, so it made sense. We sat down at one of the fish sandwich sellers and ordered one to share. We were amazed how the cooks on the boats bopping around on the water actually manage to cook anything with all that bopping going on. But they did - and they cooked lots! Those boats seems so outlandish with all their golden cupolas and bright paint - but they definitely draw the crowds. And we enjoyed the fish sandwich.
Staying with the fishy theme, we walked up on the bridge to watch the fishing. The fishermen (and a few women) seemed to be of all ages and from all walks of life. And all totally absorbed in the fine art of getting a catch. Fishing rods whirring up and down could be heard, but not much talking. We were totally fascinated with how these people could stand so closely together and yet nobody got their lines tangled. Impressive.
On the other side, we walked down to the left, through the fish market and restaurants. They looked very appealing, but as we had other plans we stuck to looking at fish being prepared and sold. We followed the walkway under the bridge to the other side, and were now back where we had been the previous night. In front of the Hotel Hettie by the ferry pier. Fishermen here had cleaned their fish and left all the heads for the gulls. And they were at their most boisterous and raucous. Screaming and puffing their chests to deter the competition from whichever fishhead they had gotten their beaks around. Very entertaining.
On the street parallel to the pier lay our destination for dinner: The Karakoy Lokantasi[TA Review: http://tinyurl.com/KarakoyRestaurant ]. The restaurant has a decor almost entirely with turquoise tiles and is stunning. The food was great too - I had some of the best squid I've ever had and they generally have interesting and unusual meze. Very much recommended.
By the time we left the restaurant we were tired - it had been a long day. But when we walked by a Koska sweet shops on our way to the tram station, we were not tired enough not to go in. I don't think I could get too tired for that! But after... looking for the perfect lemon lokum can be very exhausting!
[Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/Eonu-Kkoy ]
Luckily we didn't have to wait long for the tram, and in 20 minutes we were ready for bed. Once again I never heard the calls from the mosques in our neigbourhood. Which I actually wanted - I do love to wake up to that calling.
I think I will post the link to the photo sets on flickr.com from now on. For today they are:
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Kalenderhane ]
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/KadinlarPazari ]
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/FatihPazar ]
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/ZeyrekPhoto ]
The Golden Horn
[Photo: http://tinyurl.com/GHornPhoto ]
[Photo: http://tinyurl.com/EyupPhoto ]
This sounds trivial, but another bright, sunny morning in Istanbul. And extraordinarily much activity on the Bosporus. From our vantage point at the rooftop terrace of the Niles Hotel the boats look like colourful toys spread out on metallic, shiny blue water.
Today we have planned to go to Chora Church [TA review: http://tinyurl.com/Kariye ] - what else we are going to to is a bit fuzzy. The hotel calls us a taxi, and we notice that every time the hotels call taxis, there is never an issue with how much the fare is. Though slightly irritating at times, we never got into any real trouble with the drivers about the fare. Nothing that being stern and firm couldn't solve.
The drive was maybe 15-20 minutes and we mainly rode on Fevzi Pasa Caddesi. It was actually a fun ride, as this road is the original wedding extravaganza. Bridal shop after bridal shop with dresses more exquisite, shiny and extravagant than any I have ever seen. I think this street would make a fun walk, when the shops are open. As we wanted to get to Chora (also called the Kariye Museum) before it opened, it was also before opening hours at the shops. [Google traffic: http://tinyurl.com/Niles-Kariye ]
We arrived at Chora at about 8.30 and there were only a few people there, and nothing like a formalized place to queue. So we walk around the streets right next to it - there are some with some very cute and colourful little wooden houses. We also spend time with local cats. They were the very affectionate kind! One of them singled me out and jumped on my lap, when I was sitting on a low railing. It purred like the best of them at the volume of a tiger and was having the time of it's life. So much so that when I tried to get the cat to jump down from my lap, it refused and firmly stuck it's claws in my shirt - very irresistible. For a moment I really wanted to take the little thing home with me.
At 9 o'clock the museum opened, and we did what we always do - didn't stop to stroll the garden and smell the roses (the garden actually does have beautiful roses!), but went straight for the inside of the church. Once again we had it to ourselves for a few minutes. I always treasure those moments of silence in a building, where history is oozing out of the walls. The mosaics were gorgeous and seemed to radiate light....or maybe it was just clever lighting? Either way, they were impressive. I liked that the church is actually an intimate size - it seems to add poignance to the mosaics that they are not 10 meters above you, but on the walls right beside or above you. About half an hour after opening, the museum started filling up with tour groups, and we left.
We wanted to see the Land Walls of Theodosius [TA review: http://tinyurl.com/Ist-walls ], and as we were quite close to them here, we headed out to find them.
To be continued...
Day four continued...
The Land Walls turned out to be a lot closer than we thought. Only a couple of minutes north through winding streets, and we were there. There is a street running along the inside of the walls and we followed it to the left in the direction of the Edirnekapi Gate. Not very far down this street, there were steps to the top of the wall. They were quite easy to climb. Once up there we had fantastic views in every direction. The walls themselves were impressive because of their sheer size, but seemed to have been restored a bit heavy handedly.
We continued to the Edirnekapi Gate, which is a mayhem of traffic. Right there is the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque [Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/Kariye-walls-mihrimah ].
[Editor's Note: “It is reported that Sultan Suleyman, the Kanuni, had constructed two large mosques and education complexes, one in Uskudar and one in Edirnekapi, ¬ naming them after his daughter, Mihrimah Sultan, born to Hurrem Sultan. The interesting thing related to those historical works is that, while the sun is rising behind one minaret of the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque in Edirnekapi, the moon emerges between the two minarets of the mosque in Uskudar. Mihrimah is a Persian word, meaning “sun and moon” “- Source Mihrimah Bath web].
It is recently restored, and some of the outer areas are still being worked on. It's smaller than many of the mosques we had visited, but very beautiful. It's very special in the way that there are windows and stained glass everywhere, so it is lit very differently from other ancient mosques. This is another mosque which sees very few visitors, so is very calm and a joy to be in. [TA review: http://tinyurl.com/mihrimah ]
There is a hamam attached to it, which is supposed to be very good. We didn't visit any hamams this time around, as I have a shoulder injury which doesn't allow much pulling of limbs. We have enjoyed hamams in other countries, and if we had gone to a hamam in Istanbul, the Mihrimah Hamami [web: http://tinyurl.com/MihrimahBath ] would have been our choice.
From here we didn't really know which direction to take - we didn't have any plans. We started to walk along the Fevzi Pasa Caddesi, but thought it too loaded with traffic, so we took a random left into the neighborhood there. This was a time for our trusted Moleskine map. We noticed that it wasn't too much of a hike to the Fethiye Church, and started winding ourselves in that general direction through lots of little narrow streets, uphill, downhill, around corners. While there is not much in terms of architectural splendour in this neighborhood, it was a lot of fun. Lots of little shops, lots of people in the streets - just life being unfolded before us.[Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/Mihrimah-Fethiye ]
When we reached the Fethiye Church (also called Pammakaristos) [TA review: http://tinyurl.com/FethiyeCami ]the person in the ticket booth seemed genuinely surprised to see us. I got the impression this place doesn't get many visitors. It's like a miniature Chora Church, I think. The mosaics are not as extensive or intricate as those of Chora, but it is such a charming place, well worth a visit.
From here we headed northwest back towards Chora, once again through small streets. We noticed here (and elsewhere) that the inventive Turkish housewives seem to shop in a way where they shout to someone they know in the street, or their kids down there playing, who then tells the local shopkeeper what they want. A bucket comes rustling down a rope from the womans window on the 4th floor (or high up, anyway), and her shopping is put in there, and she pulls it up. Very time saving, I imagine.
By 11.45 we were back at Chora, and had 15 minutes to kill before our lunch reservation at Asitane Restaurant, which is right next door to the museum. There is a shop right next to the restaurant (opposite side of the church), which I thought was quite interesting. They have mostly clothing and jewelry. What made it interesting was that the clothing was older garments form the Middle East or new clothes made from reused material, mainly silk. I bought two silk kimono style jackets there, that I'm very happy with.
Time for lunch! The terrace at the Asitane [TA Review: http://tinyurl.com/Asitane ]is lovely and shady, and the weather was really warm, so we sat outside. I should perhaps say that this is the kind of place where you are better off to make a reservation. The restaurant filled up very quickly. The restaurant is not cheap by Istanbul standards, but also not fashionably expensive. The guests seemed to be mainly businesspeople, with a few tourists and groups of friends/families thrown into the mix. The food was amazing. The take on Ottoman cuisine that is exercised here seemed far more refined, yet experimental than anything we had elsewhere. I had a duck kebab with currants and pine nuts and honestly, the thought of it still makes my mouth water. Highly recommended.
After lunch we had the restaurant call us a taxi, as I'd read stories of taxi drivers trying to push prices in this area. The ride back to Beyazit was uneventful and the fare was 18 lira.
We had been in the area for a few days, yet hadn't gone to the Grand Bazaar [TA review: http://tinyurl.com/TA-GrandBazaar ] yet. I guess we had figured that it was so close to our hotel, that we didn't need to schedule a visit. Now was the time. I had seen photos of the bazaar, so I can't say that it was a total surprise that it wasn't so much a bazaar in the old fashioned sense as lots of ordinary shops under one roof, many glass fronted etc. I've travelled a few counties where bazaars are the place to shop - for locals and tourists alike. And I hate to say this, as I generally really liked Istanbul, but I absolutely didn't like the Grand Bazaar. I preferred the markets in Fatih on Wednesday and Kadikoy (Hasanpasa) on Friday. And thought the Bazaar much less interesting than those of Marrakech, Damascus, Aleppo and Cairo.
I could see that there was great choice and selection in items that a tourist may want to take home. That's just not my thing, so I'm sure others might enjoy it - just don't expect a genuine local experience, but rather an alternative shopping centre.
One thing I did get out of my visit there was that I found my "must-have" item from Istanbul. I noticed that a couple of carpet shops had carpetsacks (sort of) which could be stuffed and used for pillows/cushions. There were lots of pillows/cushions on sale that had a front made of old reused carpet that had been cut to size. But few that were woven, and originally constructed for filling with whatever. The few I saw at the bazaar were incredibly expensive, so I made a mental note to go elsewhere in search of these and left.
Quick shower at the hotel (no, we didn't spend much time there) and back on the road to an evening we had really looked forward to. The Kebab Krawl with Istanbul Eats. [web: http://tinyurl.com/Isteats-KKrawl ]We had prebooked via email, and had also prepaid US$ 60 per person. We met at the bar of the Buyuk Londra Hotel [TA review: http://tinyurl.com/TA-BuyukLondra ]at 5.30 pm. This place is straight out of a quirky historical novel. Lots of old furnishings and velvet and the works. Fun place for a drink.
Our group consisted of our guide Megan and 10 people. She introduced us to the evening's eating concept of restaurant-hopping and we were off in a minibus which drove us to Little Urfa [Google traffic: http://tinyurl.com/BLondra-LittleUrfa ]. Little Urfa is an area, where lots of the inhabitants come from Urfa and have taken their culinary traditions with them. It is not too far from Aksaray tram station. We absolutely loved the tour. We loved most of the food as well, but not all - but that is the whole point, I think. To expose yourself to food you haven't had before, and then decide what you think. We visited a few restaurants that all welcomed us with open arms, even though we were only there for a short time. We had lamb soup, lamb liver, kibbeh, fresh bread out of the oven of the local baking king Bube, aubergine kebab and a milky cake for desert. For more info on exact places, check my photos or the website of Istanbul Eats. Some things we saw being made as well, so it was a good learning experience and not just a filling one. The guide Megan was great - very knowledgeable about Turkish food in general, so we got to ask her all the questions we had about all the food we had encountered. Plus she has some interesting stories about living in Istanbul.
A great evening that ended about 9.30 pm. The people that needed a taxi were helped to hail one, and drivers were given instructions on where to go. The rest of us were walked to the tram[Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/Lurfa-Aksaray ]. For us it was only a few stops, and by 10 I was feeling the love of my comfortable bed. Another night of sleeping like a log!
The photos for today are here:
Edirnekapi (Chora etc.)
Carsamba (Fethiye etc.)
Beyazit (Grand Bazaar, Hotel Niles etc.)
Galata (Buyuk Londra Hotel)
To be continued...
This Friday we woke not only to grey skies, but to clouds that were the colour of slate in the rain. So it took a bit of effort getting ourselves out of bed - especially as we had decided that we wanted to get on the road early. This was the day for our trip to the Asian side - which was more of a hop than a trip - I think the ferry took 15-20 minutes.
We skipped breakfast at the hotel and got on the tram for Karakoy. We wanted to take the ferry from there, as it stops as Haydarpasa. As soon as we reached the pier, it started raining and we committed a sin: we skipped the simits on the pier in favour of coffee at Starbucks. We were excused though, I think, getting soaked is not an ideal start to the day.
We were there early, maybe 7.30, so the ferry wasn't very crowded, as most commuters seem to go in the opposite direction. The ferry was very comfortable, with big sofa-like seats, which reminded me of nostalgic trains. We stayed inside for the duration of the crossing of the Bosporus, as it kept raining.
Miraculously, as soon as we got off the ferry, the rain stopped - still dark skies though, and a bit windy too. So we headed straight inside the Haydarpasa Train Station[TA Review: http://tinyurl.com/TA-Haydarpasa ], which was what we had come to see. It is very grand with gorgeous stained glass windows and huge marbled halls. It reminds you of times when taking a trip by train was something special. The waiting rooms have wood-panelled walls and an eclectic mix of seating. And several of them were empty except for the famous Istanbul cats.
If you walk through the main hall, when you enter, in the direction of the tracks, you will find a number of rooms on your right. There are bathrooms, but also an old-time barbershop and waiting rooms. Some were locked, but a couple were open. We really enjoyed seeing this place - the history is clearly felt, even if the grandeur is faded.
Next we had planned to go to the Friday Market in Hasapasa. We had been advised to take a taxi, so we did. It may be different, if you are heading there from Kadikoy, but our taxi driver was in disbelief, when we said we wanted to go to the Cuma Pazari (a local expat had told me that the Tuesday Market is Sali Pazari, and the Friday version is Cuma Pazari). He asked a few times if we wanted to go to Kadikoy Market, and we shook our heads. We only know very few words of Turkish, and his English was on level with our Turkish. Then he lit up in a mile, made signs as if he was eating fruit, and we nodded. Then he pointed to his clothes and we nodded even more! This made everything clear, and off he went. The drive was about 10 minutes and cost not very much (I forget the amount)[Google traffic: http://tinyurl.com/Hpasa-CumaPazari ].
The market area was like a huge parking lot with market stalls - lots of them covered/shaded. Not a tourist in sights. What was on offer was mostly stuff that we wouldn't be buying, but we really enjoyed looking around. And actually did buy a few things as there are quite a few stalls offering flea market items - old jewelery, porcelain, candle holders etc. etc. There was lots of clothing and lots of linen as well. And mountains of lovely, fresh vegetables, and I mean that quite literally. As this market was a bit out of the way compared to others we had visited, it seems that each stall-holder had more room. And took advantage of it by displaying his wares not only invitingly, but also in a manner trying to outsize the competition...
After spending a couple of hours, we headed towards the central part of Kadikoy - there are taxis waiting outside the market.
Somehow we couldn't really get our bearings and seemed to walk in circles. I think it would have been easier if we had taken a taxi to the pier and walked from there instead of getting out in a random street. We really liked the area though - lot's of little shops and interesting things to see. And lots of restaurants too. I noticed there were lots of young people around and party-style restaurants in one street. I forget the name, but it looked like a fun place to spend a night restaurant/bar-hopping.[Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/CumaPazari-Ciya ]
Somehow we did end up exactly where we wanted to be: at the Ciya Restaurant[TA Review: http://tinyurl.com/TA-Ciya ]. What a great place. By now the sun was out, so we sat outside, and went inside to collect our meze of choice, which are sold by weight. All fantastic. And easily picked out as there is someone to guide you in your choosing what to eat. Afterwards we had a meatball dish and a kebab dish - a both very tasty as well. And reasonably priced. It's clear that the forumites (and other guests in Istanbul) have discovered this gem - lots of different languages were spoken at the tables. Which were all full by 12 o'clock by the way. So if you don't have a reservation, be there early.
Happy and full we proceeded to do some food-shopping... A contradiction in terms, but the restaurant is right on a lovely market street. And there was a very good selection here. I got the good kind of pomegranate syrup, some urfa pepper to sprinkle on food (look for flakes that are almost black with a burgundy sheen) and whole sumac. And some great dried cranberries with incredible amounts of flavour. A very yummy place to shop.
There is a mosque right in this area, and apparently a very popular one on Fridays. The faithful spread out into all the little streets around it, rugs and men with bent head everywhere. It was a great sight, and as many of the shops close for the duration of the prayers, just sit down and enjoy being in the middle of it!
Back to more worldly things, we walked up from the direction to the bull statue, turned right, and were on Bahariye Street. It's a high street much like any you would see in a large city - except for the tram running down the middle of it, which keeps people on their toes as they get in it's way... We walked to the other end of the street, and decided to mingle with the fancier folks on Bagdat Street[Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/Ciya-Bahariye ]. We took a taxi there - it was just over 20 lira and quite a distance. But a fun ride as we had a very talkative driver who was eager to discuss football (the European kind). And took a special shine to my husband, when he revealed that he had bought jerseys from all the big Istanbul teams.
We got off at Suadiye [Google traffic: http://tinyurl.com/Bahariye-Suadiye ]and headed straight for the Mado Café[web:http://tinyurl.com/MadoCafe ]. We were looking forward to ice cream, but ended up not having any. After the first 5 flavours we picked from the menu were all not available, we gave up and just had coffee. Disappointing. It was a good place to watch the pretty young things of the city though. Lots of teens and young women showing each other what they had bought, with lots of appraising and exclaiming going on. It was clearly an affluent crowd - expensive clothes and very fashionable. And iphones and ipads all over the tables.
We walked to our left when we left the café - which seemed to be the right choice, as we met all the big international brands and a few Turkish ones on our way. Interesting to see how the Turkish also live. It would be easy to think that Istanbul is just what goes on in the old part of the city, but it is so much more. So while I enjoy spending time in the areas that differ from what I know the most, it's still nice to see other aspects of the city and it's people. [Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/BagdatSt ] [TA Review: http://tinyurl.com/TA-BagdatSt ]
By 6 pm we were outshopped and outwalked and the rain started again. We took a taxi back to Kadikoy and caught a ferry to Karakoy. We could have gotten one to Eminonu too, but this one was there first, and as the two destinations are only one tram stop apart, it doesn't really matter if you take one ferry or the other.
We got off the tram at Sirkeci, to go eat at one of the Kebab places on Hocapasa Street. This little enclave of restaurants was becoming a favourite with us. Very accessible, cheap and good food. Once again we chose one we hadn't been to before - this time I can't remember the name. I had the Adana kebab, which is ground meat on a skewer, served with bread etc. Nice and spicy.
A speedy meal meant we actually had the energy at the hotel to read for a bit - a welcome change after many nights of passing out. Of course we spent it reading up on the Topkapi Palace and plan our "attack" the following morning - but at least we read something...
To be continued...
Day five continued...
Actually only the links to the photos are missing, so here goes:
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/photos-Kkoy-Hettie ]
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Photos-Kadikoy ]
At this point I had accepted that I was unable to do anything but sleep through the morning call to prayer. Once again I slept like a baby - a good thing when you have a morning of military precision ahead of you.
When we made our itinerary, we had had a hard time finding a morning for the Topkapi Palace[TA Review: http://tinyurl.com/TA-TopkapiPalace]. We wanted to go early, but all the other mornings were "taken" by activities or sights that for one reason or another couldn't easily be moved. We were a bit concerned that we would be run over be masses of people, as this was a Saturday, so had decided to be there quite early. We had planned to be at the gate at app. 8.30 as the palace opens at 9 am. As it turned out, we were there a bit later, as the walk up the hill inside the walls took a little longer than we expected[Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/Niles-Topkapi ]
When you approach the entrance to the Palace, the ticket booth is on the right, maybe 50 meters before the entrance. Lots of people there. At the entrance we asked the guards (no ticketing staff there yet) where to stand with our tickets bought online. They directed us to stand right in front of the opening in the middle of the gate area. This was at about 8.45, and we were the first there - everyone else there was in line for tickets. Immediately after the big tour groups started arriving, and a long line formed behind us.
As soon as it was 9 o'clock we were let in and went through security. We had looked at maps of the area beforehand, so knew where to go, and what our priorities were. So we headed forward and a bit left, and made a beeline for the Harem. We also had online tickets for here, and went straight in. This turned out to be a good order of things for us. I know it is generally advised to see the Treasury first, but as we really like taking photos, we preferred to have the Harem to ourselves first, as there isn't really any photo opportunity connected with the Treasury.
In all the time we spent in the Harem, we only met two other people, giving us ample time and space to enjoy the beauty and simplicity of the rooms and the magnificent decorations in the form of tiles. And lots of opportunity to take photos without the disturbance of people in the frame.
From here we crossed over the courtyard to the Treasury, admiring the divans and kiosks on the way. There was a line to get into the treasury, and inside a single file was snaking it's way along the walls and the exhibits. It moved relatively fast though, so we didn't regret not going there first. The exhibits here really give you an idea of the massive wealth of the Ottoman society - and of the complexity of the items that they were able to manufacture. Our two must-see areas completed, we just strolled around the palace randomly, pausing for any structure or detail we found interesting. We did not go into detail with the rest. At the risk of being a philistine, there is no way I would spend 4 hours in the Palace as generally recommended. I think half that is enough to get a good feel for the place and see chosen areas in detail.
We spent quite a bit of time on the terraces admiring the views over the Asian side, the meeting of the Bosporus and the Golden Horn and over the Galata Bridge and Beyoglu. Gorgeous! This is at the far end of the Palace from the entrance.
Once again, when exiting, we were stunned at the amount of people that had arrived without us noticing - this really is a popular place, so go early! We made a sport out of who could spot the most interesting sign being held up by a guide in order to be recognizable to his or her tourists. I particularly enjoyed a stick with a car on top... and loved a whole group of visitors who had b
een issued with identikit turquoise hats! I would have been a rebel and refused to wear it, I think...
We walked back down to the tram station at Gulhane[Google walk:http://tinyurl.com/Topkapi-Gulhane ], and took the tram down to Eminonu. We had been on the square in front of Yeni Camii/New Mosque a few times during the week, but wanted to linger a little longer as there is some much going on at all times. We had about an hour before our lunch reservations at Hamdi Restaurant, which is right there.
We spent it shopping a bit more lokum in the shops at the Spice Bazaar which is also right around the corner from here - you can never get enough! This time we found some really good lemon lokum. I spent the rest of the hour sitting on benches people watching. The seed sellers in front of the mosque, small children, some feeding the pigeons and some chasing them. Lots of people passing through on their way to a ferry or the tram or a bus - some with shopping, some promenading the latest skinny jeans. I could pass a lifetime there - somehow it is the epicentre and the very essence of Istanbul - at least to me.
To be continued...
Day six continued...
By lunch it was just a skip across the square to Hamdi Restaurant. The restaurant has I don't know how many floors and room for lots of people - and lots of great window views. If you want a table on the little terrace on the top floor, you either need to make a reservation well ahead of time, or get really lucky. There are as I recall it only about 5 or 6 tables there. We had asked for the one in the left hand corner, closest to the New Mosque, and it didn't disappoint. The view of the whole area was amazing! It was a lot of fun to watch all the different means of traffic weaving through each other from above. And the Galata Bridge and New Mosque both looked stunning.
I was a little hesitant to expect much from the food at a place that seats that many people, but I was wrong. The meze were great and you had a choice from different varieties brought to your table, and the grilled meats even better - both the iskender kebab and the kebab with pistachios were among the best we'd had. It was a long leisurely lunch, because we couldn't really tear ourselves away from the view. The waiters in no way hurried us, which was nice.
Back down in the real world, we decided to head up to Taksim and walk down Istiklal Street. As you probably noticed by now, we had largely planned our trip around the older parts of the city, but thought that we couldn't really go home without having at least been there - if not at night. Nights were not really in play for us - we were up too early and too active during the day to have the energy or desire to explore much at night. We took the tram to Kabatas from Eminonu - then the little funicular to Taksim Square.
It being a Saturday, the street was full of shoppers, both the window-kind and the laden-with-bags-kind. I mostly looked for signs of old Pera - the building details, art nouveau lettering over an old café, lamps in the halls of apartment buildings. Generally I was kind of disappointed in this aspect of the area - I didn't think much of the architectural heritage had been looked after very well. And even though I managed to find quite a few of the old passages, including the Flower Passage [TA Review: http://tinyurl.com/TA-CicekPasaji ], I found them to be either in neglect, where practically no signs of original building details were left, or over restored and plastered with signs, advertising and things for sale. Laws on that sort of thing can't be very strict! Looking up you saw very beautiful and ornate buildings though - just too bad that hadn't been kept up on street level.
The nostalgic tram was really cute. But so crowded, people literally spilling out of it. So we decided to skip it, and just enjoy the sight of it.
We walked the entire length of the street down to Galata Tower [Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/Taksim-Galata ]. Had we not had more than our share of gorgeous views while visiting Istanbul, we would have gone up, but instead chose to sit in the little square in front of it for a while, looking at the beauty of the tower and people passing by. Another great spot for people watching!
Continuing through Galata towards the Galata Bridge, I enjoyed the winding streets and the steep downhill climb - just glad we hadn't chosen to walk up! I though this area had more charm than Istiklal Street, especially the area where nearly all the shops sold musical instruments, sheet music etc [Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/Galata-Karakoy ].
At Karakoy we didn't linger - on the tram and back to the hotel. When we got there it was already dinnertime, and we knew that were we to venture out for dinner, we were at risk of never returning. Our legs might just fall off! We asked at reception, what to do, as we knew the hotel only served breakfast and drinks. It turned out that they had an arrangement with a local restaurant that brought food in - whether you wanted it served in the breakfast room or your own room. Another adana kebab for me - I really fell in love with that dish - loved the spiciness of the meat.
Off to bed with a book and a selection of lokum - now that's the recipe for a great night in!
Links for photos for day six:
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Photos-SAhmet ]
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Photos-Eminonu ]
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Photos-Taksim ]
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Photos-Galata ]
To be continued (and soon done!)...
So, time has come for the final bit of my trip report - never thought I had that much to tell, but it sort of wrote itself.
After an entire vacation of early mornings, we took a more leisurely approach to our final day. We had saved this for all the things we just hadn't done during the week or wanted to do again. So no plans set in stone.
After a long breakfast on the terrace, we headed for the Turyol Bosporus cruise [TA Review: http://tinyurl.com/TA-Turyol ] at 10 am - the first one of the day. It's on the left side of the Galata Bridge, when you are standing on the Eminonu side. This seemed to be a popular choice with both tourists and locals on a Sunday - the boat filled quickly. We had bagged seats on the right side, as we had read on this forum that the ship follows the Asian shore on the way out, and the European shore on the way back. Apart from a skip over to Uskudar harbour, it actually turned out to be exactly the opposite way around. So a left side seat would be my choice if I were to go again. It was a nice, warm day, and we enjoyed seeing Dolmabahce, Ortakoy, the bridges, Rumeli Hisari, Beylerbeyi, Maidens Tower etc. etc. from the water. And the wonderful homes all along the shores. The cruise is 1½ hours and they pass pretty fast - lots to see. In order not to miss anything, I would read up on which sights are in which order, so that you don't spend the entire time with your nose in a guidebook.
Back on land, once again we headed to the area around the New Mosque. It seemed to keep drawing us back. We loved the many scenarios played out here, always something new to see. Today lots of people seemed to have brought lunches and were enjoying them on benches and steps.
We spent some time watching kids feeding the pigeons seeds, bought from the seed sellers in front of the mosque. Some were fearless and stepped right into the midst of the pigeons, while others were fascinated, yet shrieked every time a pigeon came near. Inside the mosque were lots of visitors and yet hardly any worshippers. And this was the first mosque we had visited that had a carpet that wasn’t red, or some variation of red. The blue carpet was very striking against the tiles of the mosque. Lovely.
We headed down behind the mosque in the direction of Sirkeci, following Hamidiye Caddesi [Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/YCami-Akdamar ]. We wanted to visit the famous sweetshop Haci Bekir on the way. I have commented on this on another recent post on buying sweets in Istanbul, so I will keep it short. Give it a miss. Visit Hafiz Mustafa (best one right next to Sirkeci Station) or another sweet shop instead. While the one kind of lokum, I did taste there - the ginger variety - was good, the staff was rude and unhelpful. To the point where I was left, whenever a local customer came into the shop. Needless to say, I ended up leaving myself. I can honestly say this was the only experience of rudeness or indifference i experienced anywhere in Istanbul. Everywhere else we were treated with nothing but kindness, sometimes accompanied by curiousity.
Luckily Hafiz Mustafa was on our way - and we bought another box of lemon and rose lokum. Didn't tuck in though, as it was lunchtime, and we wanted to kebab it up. We went around the corner to our favourite foodhaunt: Hocapasa Street. This time we ate at Akdamar - another great kebab choice. Adana for me again, this was fast becoming my very favourite. On the fence next to the restaurant was the strangest poster I've ever seen. I assume it is based on the Turkish love of cats and monuments - at least I can't find any other explanation for it. It has two white cats/kittens photoshopped into a picture that also includes a mosque or church (not quite sure) and a waterfall. Scenic, but strange! Anyway, it kept us smiling throughout lunch, check it out in my flickr.com Sirkeci set (link below).
After lunch we decided to walk the entire stretch of Divan Yolu to Beyazit, where our hotel was. It's very doable [Google walk: http://tinyurl.com/Akdamar-Niles ]. I also wanted to make an attempt to find the large wowen cushions/pillows I had seen in the bazaar, but had thought too expensive. They were not made from scraps of old carpets, but had been originally made this way. We visited lots and lots of carpets shops on the way, including a detour to Arasta Bazaar, but couldn't find any. Well, a couple, but they were just too worn. Finally on a stretch between the Hippodrome and Divan Yolu, we found a carpet shop, where they had what I was looking for. The prices were fair, I thought, so while I'm normally a tough cookie bargaining-wise, we didn't take long to agree a price this time. About 100 lira each - quite reasonable, I thought.
Satisfied, we decided to revisit another good people watching spot - this time with an ice cream in hand - the benches right outside the cemetery and turbe of Mahmut II. As it was Sunday, it was obvious that lots of people were promenading. Lots of couples holding hands and lots of young couples with small children. The ice cream sellers were having a field day! We strolled back slowly to our hotel, postponing the inevitable: packing.
We somehow ended up enjoying the packing - I think we always do in a way, because seeing all the funny little things we have bought along the way make us realize what a great trip it has been. An uneventful, but lovely last night of packing, checking in for our flights and having food brought to the hotel.
So that's it... the Istanbul part of our trip.
In closing I would comment that we were glad we went to Cappadocia before Istanbul and not vice versa. It was a slow and intimate introduction to Turkey, which I wouldn't have wanted any other way. There were things we chose not to see or do based on our experience and interests. No hamam this time, due to a shoulder injury, I didn't fancy having rubbed too much. No Dolmabahce - we didn't really like what we read about lines, lack of information on tours etc. and thought it would take too long compared to so many other things we wanted to do. No Ortakoy either. We passed on our Bosporus Cruise, and decided to give it a miss, as the mosque was totally covered in scaffolding. This may sound silly, but I wouldn't go there, knowing I wouldn't be able to see the iconic sight of the mosque under the bridge. I would have loved to spend more days walking the streets of the different neighbourhoods of Fatih and have visited Kuzguncuk on the Asian side. Strolled the entire length of Fevzi Pasa Caddesi with all the bridal shops, explored Fener and Balat. I could go on forever!
Photos from this day:
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Photos-Turyol ]
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Photos-Eminonu ]
Sirkeci (don't forget the cat poster!)
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Photos-Sirkeci ]
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Photos-SAhmet ]
And photos from the first day, which I never posted links for:
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Photos-Suleymaniye ]
Tahtakale (Rustem Pasa Mosque, Spice Bazaar etc.)
[Photos: http://tinyurl.com/Photos-TKale ]
Thanks for reading along!