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mistybleu Istanbul - A travel report by Amanda
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Istanbul,  Turkey - flag Turkey -  Istanbul
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mistybleu's travel reports

Highlights of Istanbul

  11 votes
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Nearly 4 hours flying time from London and two hours time difference, Istanbul is the second largest city in Turkey. Ankara is the capital, however Istanbul the heart, cultural and financial centre.

The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque
Everyone knows that it is the only city in the world that sites on two continents, in the west Europe and in east Asia; but what the ensures is that it is rich in culture and history.

Whilst being the densest city in Turkey, Istanbul has been the capital various times in the country’s history. It has the country's largest port and is situated on the Bosphorus Straits; the narrow Bosphorus Straits links the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea. There are two bridges that cross the straits – The Bosphorus Bridge and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge which is closer to the Black Sea.

When arriving into Istanbul Atatürk Airport, (which is about 20km west of the city centre), it will cost around 20 Euros to take a taxi in to the heart of the city. There is a good public transport system available from the airport, including an express bus and metro.

Traffic within the city limits can be manic and driving very stressful, especially as the city has more than 1,500,000 automobiles and 12 million people at least.

Most western European passports do not require a visa if their travels is for 60 to 90 days. However for UK citizens they are required to have visa which can be obtained at the border gates, as well as prior departure.

The currency used is the Turkish Lira (YTL) although the euro is also accepted at many tourist locations. I was told 'only exchange what you need', as outside of the country; I could find it difficult exchanging my leftover lira. However more and more, ATMs are being used for cash and they aren't that expensive.

[I visited Istanbul quite a few years ago, so apologies if any information isn't current.]

Favourite spots:
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
The evening entertainment is fabulous in Istanbul, whether it is seeing the whirling Dervishes or belly dancing; it is usually good fun.

In the old waiting room of Sirkeci Station you can find the performance of the Dervishes. The Sufis Dervishes are technically Islamic mystics, who believe that whirling will bring them closer to Allah. They whirl and twirling in utter silence, all adorned in the traditional white robes with tall, felt hats; kneel, pray then do it all over again.

We found a great restaurant that created a brilliant night's performance. The room was decorated with a lot of fabric draped throughout in red and gold; with mood lighting, then cushions was scattered on the carpet. We sat around on the cushions and watched Turkish folklore dancers, including belly dancers and listened to traditional musical instruments. It was like an assault on the senses, with a perfect mix of music, dance, great food and a weird mixture of alcohol.

What's really great:
Views of the city
Views of the city
Taking in Turkey's tourist 'culture' can be fun; here are three to experience:

Definitely an essential part of any trip to Turkey is visiting one of the many Turkish baths (hamam). These hamams were built during the Ottoman era and have a distinctive domed profile, with bottle glass directing light inwards. They are filled with interesting features, including a fountain surrounded by changing cubicles. Then there is some small cooling off sections, which opens into the hot and steamy, marble baths.

The Old Grand Bazaar has an estimate of 4000 shops in its covered walkways. Exploring this labyrinth of side streets can be daunting at first yet exhilarating and shouldn’t be missed. The shops are organized by what they sell, for example the silver jewellers, the carpet shops, the shoe shops. It is a hive of colour, smells and sounds

The Egyptian or spice bizarre is located on the golden horn and is known as a place to buy spices for cooking and medicines. This area is very popular.

Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace
Three main historical places of interest:

The Church of the Holy Wisdom or Hagia Sophia, was designed by Sultan Ahmet and was once considered the greatest building in the world. It dates back to the 6th century and was built on the ruins of an old pagan temple. It was constructed for the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and became a mosque in the 15th century when the minarets were added and finally turned into a museum in 1930's.

The Topkapi Palace is a fine example of the Ottoman empire and is lavishly decorated; there are 4 main courts each exhibiting the finest decor. You have to buy an additional ticket for entrance into the Harem and the State Treasury. The former imperial residence is a spectacular museum that has one of the largest collections of Chinese and Japanese porcelain.

The Sultanahmet or Blue Mosque is a working mosque (and is an incredible place to visit); but as a result shoes must be removed before entering as well as no bare shoulders or shorts should be worn.

Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace
The Intercontinental is a fabulous five star hotel, located in the heart of Istanbul only 20 something kilometres from the airport. It is in a great location only fifteen minutes away from some major tourist sites like: the Taksim square, Blue Mosque, the Old City and Topkapi Palace.

It has great facilities including, I believe, five restaurants; some of the rooms have views over the Bosphorus and other over the city. My room had a city view and it was so nice to watch the traffic and lights way down below.

But just like most countries all forms of accomodation is available.

Inside the mosque
Inside the mosque
I eat mostly in the hotel, but they went out of their way to give me a flavour of Istanbul.

Their food isn't especially spicy and is served with a lot of vegetables. The most popular meat is lamb and kebabs are the national dish which is really tasty.

Breakfast is a very important meal in Istanbul and usually includes fresh olives, cucumbers and tomatoes with bread and cheese with coffee. Turkish coffee is stronger than espresso and is drunk without any sugar as they believe sugar takes away from its rich flavour.

Turkish Tea is the national drink and is usually drunk from a little tulip-shaped glass with a cube of sugar, but never with milk or lemon. They serve this everywhere, I tried it whilst crossing the Bosphorus.

Raki is Turkish brandy and is usually served with meze, appetizers such as roasted chickpeas, salted almonds, olives, tomatoes or cheese.

Off course a must purchase is fresh Turkish Delight and with the variety of flavours available.

Other recommendations:
Distant views of Istanbul
Distant views of Istanbul
To visit Istanbul and not jump on a ferry to get to the other side would be criminal. It is really cheap and takes around 30(?) minutes.

The Asian (Anatolian) side of the city has many sights which include:

The Camlica Hill – one of the highest hills of Istanbul; there is a park with a few cafes with an Ottoman atmosphere.

The Beylerbeyi Palace – built by Sultan abdulaziz over four years and was completed in 1865. It sites near the Bosphorus Bridge.

The Princes' Islands lie on the southeast of Istanbul and consists of 8 islands. Buyukada is the largest and has a peak that reaches to 202 metres high.

Btw, both bridges are tolled, so which ever way you chose to cross (excluding walking) you have to pay.

Published on Saturday May 16th, 2009

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Sun, May 17 2009 - 11:27 PM rating by louis

Nice report Amanda. As always very detailed with good information provided. I have been in Istambul few years ago, but I hadn't chance to see the Derwish and I haven't been in hammam, so there is good reason to go back there.

Sun, May 17 2009 - 03:31 PM rating by eirekay

I love the tip about the Turkish bath! And you description of the restaurant is marvelous! I think this is our next destination!

Sun, May 17 2009 - 11:46 AM rating by krisek

A great report, Amanda. Very informative with good tips. I like the photos, too - the one from inside the mosque looks great. I heard that the ferries were not very safe... Is that the case?

Sun, May 17 2009 - 02:17 AM rating by madness

Nice report, but I know it is hard to mention all the things about Istanbul in one report, it is really impossible.
Both bridges are tolled, but you have to pay only passing from European side to Anatolian side, it is about 3 Turkish Lira for taxi. We don t name it New Turkish Lira anymore:)

Sat, May 16 2009 - 06:23 PM rating by jacko1

Great report, makes very enjoyable reading with lots of info.

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