Posts Tagged With: Istanbul

Turkey – Istanbul to Jordan – Amman, 18 December 2010

With a flight to Jordan in the early evening, effectively, we only had about half a day. Through our brainstorming session, our options included a trip up the Golden Horn to St. Stephen’s, a trip across the Bosphorous to the Asia side for a little stroll, or something in between.

In the end, we decided to take a truncated version of the full Bosphorous tour, which usually runs from 10 am to 3 pm (1 trip, 20TL/~14USD) during the winter, with more trips during the summer. Run by other non-official companies, it starts from a harbour further inside of Eminou, and goes up two bridges, and covers both the European side and the Asian side. It lasts about 2hrs, and touts along Eminou will be happy to introduce this 10TL (~7USD) tour to you, if you will give them your time of the day.

It was a pretty decent tour, and it fit into our tight schedule, which would not have allowed us to take the Bosphorous Tours offered by the official Turkish travel company. It is quite true that parts of Istanbul are best seen from the sea, as it will be hard to appreciate the scale of some of the buildings, unless you see it from afar. I could barely capture the pictures of some of the palaces even from afar! Imagine how large they will be up close! It was definitely a useful way for us to spend our time!

To get to the airport, we took one of the airport minivans available in the many tour operators in Sultanahmad district. For 10TL (~7USD) per person, they have a door-to-door service, that leaves approximately once every hour, half past the hour. One of the booths can be found outside the Hagia Sofia. It took approximately half an hour before we got to the airport.

Our flight to Jordan was somewhat delayed, so by the time we reached Amman, it was time for us to rest in preparation for our super early JETT bus to Petra the next day. My first impression of Jordan was not exactly good, as everything looked very one-colour and concrety.

For this night, we stayed at the Arab Tower Hotel on Hashmeni street, near the Roman Theater in downtown. It was about 14JD/~20USD per person per night. I didn’t really like it, as the bathroom was small, and looked pretty crummy. Thankfully, it was just one night, and we’re off to Petra. (I don’t take photos of crummy hotels)

Bridge linking Asia and Europe, and the Asia side

Lighthouse

New Istanbul

Last meal in Istanbul – Shwarma Plate and Chocolate Pudding (about 12 lira)

Categories: Boat, Food, Jordan, Sights, Turkey | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Turkey – Istanbul, 17 December 2010

With most of the major sights in old Istanbul covered, my two travel companions decided they wanted to see modern Istanbul (I passed out from exhaustion). It was a great suggestion! We used quite a few means of public transport to get there, and some of them were just awesome fun!

First off, we took the train to Eminou, for the Spice Market before we make the crossing. I did finally loosen my purse strings at the spice market, getting some spices for cooking when I get back, and different sorts of tea for various people.

After our little shopping detour, we decided to walk across the bridge. There were many people fishing on the bridge, with varying degrees of success. Amazing that they can deal with the wind!

We then proceeded to try and locate the furnicular. Built in 1875, it is Europe’s second oldest underground metro after London. I didn’t enjoy it that much, as it being underground meant we didn’t get to see anything. But after exiting from the furnicular, we boarded an antique tram, which reminds me of the tram in Hong Kong, the difference being, it’s not a double-decker. I stayed in the conductor and driver’s compartment, which gave me a great view, as the tram made its way through the shopping district of modern Istanbul.

Next stop was lunch break that involved more swarma in one of those cafeteria-like establishments. Most of the dishes were under 10TL (~7USD). We worked off our lunch by strolling down the path that public transport brought us up, admiring the architecture and some of the shops in modern Istanbul. I particularly liked the street that was above the furnicular. It had a very artsy vibe, and seemed to be frequented by students, and had quite a number of shops selling musical instruments and cheap fruit juice. (most were around 2TL/1USD)

We got a glimpse of life in Istanbul beyond tourist sights, and that I enjoyed thoroughly.

Spice Bazaar

Turkish Delight

Furnicular

Tram

From the Tram, Looking Out

Walking through Modern Istanbul

Walking through Modern Istanbul

Seen in Modern Istanbul

Hooka Cafe

Categories: Sights, Travel Tip, Turkey | Tags: | Leave a comment

Turkey – Istanbul, 16 December 2010

I didn’t quite figure how compact the main landmarks in Turkey really were! We managed to see the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace, all in one day! After reading about queues on Lonely Planet, E suggested we head for the Hagia Sofia first. I guess one of the marvels of travelling off season is the lack of crowd. There was absolutely no queue in the Hagia Sofia (entrance = 20TL/~14USD). We just waltzed into the main hall, and at no point did we feel crowded.

The Hagia Sofia is no longer an active site of worship, but it was last used as a mosque. Before its last life as a mosque, it used to be a cathedral. But after the Crusades, the Muslim conquerors decided to turn the former cathedral into a mosque. Uncovered parts of the Hagia Sofia show some of the Christian emblems that have been covered over. For instance, near the upper levels, on the four corners, there are three stars, but the last one is an angel. I guess the stars were used to cover over the angels. It is a really remarkable architecture!

Next, we headed towards the Blue Mosque, which faces the Hagia Sofia. As it was prayer time (and hence, we couldn’t go into it anyway), we decided to take a lunch break in the nearby area. That was the first of many swarma sandwiches on this trip. It was at an ok price of 5TL (~3 USD). The interior of the Blue Mosque is pretty stunning. It is blue because the interior is blue in colour, and part of the reason being the number of blue mosaics used. This was my first visit to the interior of a mosque. Inside the mosque, there were also four disproportionately huge pillars. Probably need about four people linking hands to surround it! Well, I ran out of words to describe it, so hopefully the pictures will give you a better idea.

Next, we headed to the Topkapi Palace, which is behind the Hagia Sofia. The three buildings seem to have been laid on some sort of axis, making them really walkable (less than ten minutes from one end to the other). We took a detour to get to the Topkapi Palace, which brought us up a little hill path with a hooka café, and graffiti by an inspiring artist whose workshop is made of galvanized iron. Perhaps it is because it is wintertime, but the Topkapi Palace felt like a ripoff. The 20TL (~14USD) entrance fee gave us access to the general areas, but several of the potentially interesting places like the kitchen was closed. So there wasn’t much to see with the general entrance. Entrance to the harem (inner court of the palace) was another 15TL (~10USD). There are some beautiful mosaics in the harem, but some parts were badly lit, making it hard to see things like frescos. Also, there was quite a lack of explanatory signs.

After visiting these three landmarks, next we headed for the Grand Bazaar (which closes at 7pm) for some shopping before dinner. Honestly, I wasn’t so impressed with the Grand Bazaar. It is like a regular shopping mall, just that all the shops are on the ground level, and in various nooks and crannies, making it quite easy for one to get lost. Prices were also much higher than the Spice Market. I did enjoy taking pictures of souq life, though. Dinner was by a cafeteria near the Grand Bazaar that offered bargain meals. I ordered a swarma dish for 6TL (~4USD), which came with an tasty butter rice, delicious grilled aubergines and peppers. The swarma was almost like a side dish, than the main event for the dish. I finished my meal with a sinful chocolate baklava (1TL/~0.60USD). Yum!

Hagia Sofia

Inside the Hagia Sofia

Inside the Hagia Sofia

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque and Cat

Inside the Blue Mosque

Graffiti in Istanbul

Grand Bazaar Life

Good for sale in the Grand Bazaar

Categories: Architecture, Sights, Travel Tip, Turkey, UNESCO | Tags: | Leave a comment

Turkey – Istanbul, 15 December 2010

We arrived in Istanbul in the evening, and was welcomed to the city by a light drizzle. Being that late, there was little we could do, but have dinner, and have an early night.

The hotel recommended a barbeque kebab place near the Blue Mosque. It was a little on the pricey side (mains are around 15TL/~10 USD), but it was delicious and filling. I tried the Adana kebab (11 TL/ ~7 USD), which I guess is a specialty from Adana. I found it a little too salty for my palate. My friend ordered lamb (16TL/~10USD), which was excellent, too. The restaurant gave us a complementary dessert, and little trinkets as souvenirs for dining there.

The hotel we checked into, Rast Hotel, prides itself for its excellent view of the sights – Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque. We booked the hotel for this reason, and so after dinner, we decided to check out the view from the rooftop restaurant.

The view was indeed spectacular, as advertised. We could see these two Turkish landmarks beautifully lit at night. We busily snapped away, despite the cold drizzle.

Rast Hotel is a midrange boutique hotel that is about five minutes walk from the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, and ten minutes walk from the Grand Bazaar. It is near the Sultanahmed Metro stop. Our triple room cost us 25 Euros per person per night, and for staying with them for three nights, there was a free one-way airport transfer. Included in the price was an excellent breakfast at the rooftop.

The bedrooms have a very classy design, and the triple was spacious, with a little balcony overlooking the street below. I guess the most uninspiring part of the hotel was the bathroom. It was functional, but not spectacular. The hotel has some tours, but they do cost quite a bit. Nevertheless, the staff was pretty helpful – I needed an international plug to charge my computer. Although they ran out of plugs, they sent someone to buy some for me the next day.

Triple Room in Rast Hotel

Istanbul at night

Blue Mosque from Rast Hotel

Categories: Turkey | Tags: | Leave a comment

Upcoming: Turkey – Jordan – Syria, 15-28 December 2010

15 December 2010: Istanbul, Turkey

16 December 2010: Istanbul, Turkey

17 December 2010: Istanbul, Turkey

18 December 2010: Istanbul, Turkey to Amman, Jordan (plane)

19 December 2010: Amman to Petra, Jordan (bua)

20 December 2010: Petra, Jordan

21 December 2010: Petra to Madaba, Jordan (bus)

22 December 2010: Madaba to Dead Sea, Bethany beyond Jordan, Mount Nebo to Madaba, Jordan (taxi)

23 December 2010: Madaba to Amman, Jordan (taxi, bus)

24 December 2010: Amman, Jordan

25 December 2010: Amman, Jordan

26 December 2010: Amman, Jordan to Damascus, Syria (bus)

27 December 2010: Damascus, Syria

28 December 2010: Damascus, Syria to home.

Categories: Itinerary, Jordan, Syria, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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