Sunday, 5 May 2013

Tram Istlikal Caddesi

 May 2013

I arrived at Sabiha Gokcen airport at 12 noon. I paid my £10 for my passport stamp, collected my Backpack and went outside into the bright sunshine. The Havatas bus was there waiting outside the terminal. It cost 13 Turkish Lira (TL) for the 28 mile, 1 hour journey to Taskim Square. It was a pleasant journey through Asian Istanbul, across the river Bosphorus and onto Taskim Square in European Istanbul. Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey with a population of over 14 million. It is the only city in the world to sit on 2 continents. Asia and  Europe, with the Bosphorus flowing in between.

I was greeted by Ayadin, the owner of the apartment I was staying in. We walked  for 20 minutes along Istlikal Caddesi to my apartment in Beyoglu. The apartment is superb and a bargain at 75$ a night. It seemed to be in a handy location.  Apartment details.

I unpacked and headed out for a wander. 

The buildings were magnificent. I carried on through the Galatasaray district onto Galata tower which rose up in between the buildings of the narrow streets. The queue to get in was long, so i will save that for another day.

I walked down the steep hill to Karakoy on the banks of the Bosphorus. The area was very busy and the views were stunning. I crossed Galata bridge and had Calamari at one of the many restaurants under the bridge. One Large Effes beer and Calamari came to 30 TL, quite expensive but very good. I went back onto the top of the bridge and watched the men fish over the edge of the bridge. There must have been over 1 hundred men fishing.  The skyline was fantastic with the Minarets of several Mosques dotted around. I stayed around to watch the sun set over the Golden Horn from the bridge.

New Mosque, Istanbul

I made my way back to the apartment via the steep hill I descended earlier!! A good work out, I get the feeling my legs are in for a pounding this break. I got back in the darkness and had a few glasses of wine from a bottle I had bought earlier for 6TL. A bargain. In the background I could hear the Mosques wailing a call to prayer, and Karaoke coming from a nearby bar. I think the Wailer had the better voice!

 Tomorrow I will have a good explore.

I got up and was out by 9.00 am. I walked down the hill past more Mosques to Tophane. I caught a tram (3TL) to Beyazit, near the Grand Bazaar to look for somewhere to have breakfast. It was a struggle to find somewhere that did  breakfast, but eventually found a street cafe and settled for cheese on toast and a Cappuccino. I sat by a group of tourists from the far east. It was comical to watch them order their breakfast. The waiter was getting more and more annoyed with them, as they kept on adding to there order. It kept me amused for a while. 

Feeling refreshed I carried on walking down the tram route to Sultanahmet, the historic area where the huge Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are located.

They were magnificent buildings, they certainly know how to build a Mosque over here. The Blue Mosque was completed in 1616. It now one of the most celebrated Mosques in the world. It is known as the Blue Mosque  because of the Blue tiles inside. The queue to enter was long but only took about 20 minutes to go down. Once inside it felt incredibly peaceful. The inside was huge and the details on the tiles were perfect.

I carried on to Hagia Sophia, a former church built in 537AD. Another incredible building, the size is immense and is an architectural wonder. It was converted from a church into a Mosque in the 15th century. It is now a religious museum. Its closed inside on a Monday, so will come back another day to go inside.

I walked on through some parkland to Topkapi Palace. Again the queues were massive. I decided to give it a miss, maybe for a future visit to Istanbul! As I walked through the grounds, the Mosques started their call to Prayer. It sounded so atmospheric and exotic. It was so loud, you would be able to hear it across the whole of Istanbul.

I continued to the area behind the new Mosque, where the Spice Bazaar was located. I had a quick snack of Lamb Doner with Pita bread and Sprite for 10 TL, at a small street Cafe outside the Bazaar. The Bazaar was very busy and the colours and smells inside were so intense.

I went to another old Mosque in the Bazaar, up the steps and inside. Another beautiful building with intricate work on the tiles inside. I watched a couple of men going through the prayer ritual. They started standing with their hands by their ears, then kneel down and then lean forward to kiss the carpet. This is repeated a number of times.

I went back outside into the hot sun, and made my way back to Galata bridge. I found a good bar on the underside of the bridge to sit and sip a few glasses of Effes and watch the world go by. Free Wifi available too!

I headed back to my apartment for a quick shower and change, before going out for Dinner. I decided to go to the famous Nevizade Sovak. A tiny street crammed with restaurants and bars. It looked a lively area and the vibe felt good. I ate at a restaurant that seemed the busiest.  I had Calamari to start followed by a Mixed grill. Washed down with Effes and Raki. the Raki was like fire water, but it went well with the meal. After I went to James Joyce Irish Bar round the corner. They showed the Aston Villa V Sunderland game live on Sky. It was great to see my team beat Sunderland 6-1!! I celebrated with more Effes and eventually got back in at 01.00AM!

I allowed myself a bit of a  lie in to nurse my hangover and left at 10.00 am. I walked around the local neighbourhood. There were several Antique shops and some decent cafes and Bars.  I had a take out Coffee from Holly Coffee shop and walked in the sun. I had a delicious Egg Toast breakfast and Juice at a small cafe for 6 TL. I carried on walking to Tophane to catch the tram  across Galata bridge to Laleli. Its a 10 minute walk from Laleli to the huge Suleymaniye Mosque. Yet again an incredible building. The Huge Dome and Minarets dominate the skyline.

I made my way to the Grand Bazaar.  The Grand Bazaar is a huge indoor complex originally built in 1461, although it has been destroyed a number of times by fire and earthquakes. Its like a rabbit warren with lots of streets with stalls selling gifts, carpets, clothes, spices, jewellery etc. This is repeated throughout the Bazaar. I had a nice Chicken Kebab and Sprite at a small Cafe inside as the Mosque inside the Bazaar began its call to prayer. 

I left the Bazaar and made my way to Sultanhamet, to the underground  Basilica Cistern. The Basilica is a huge underground chamber that sits under Istanbul. It was built in the 5th Century to store water for the city. An incredible bit of engineering back in the day.

It was nice and cool inside, and a good place to take a breather from the hectic pace of life on ground level. Back outside I walked across the road to Hagia Sophia, to go inside. There was a long queue to buy a ticket (25 TL), although I was inside within 45 minutes. 

After looking around Hagia Sophia I headed to Eminonu to catch the ferry across to Asian Istanbul. I made a fateful error. I was at the wrong part of Eminonu and caught the wrong Ferry!! The Ferry went in the other direction up the Golden Horn to Ayup. The round journey back to Eminonu took over an hour and cost 3TL each way. It was actually quite a pleasant journey, and I saw a bit of Istanbul that I hadn't planned on!
When I got back to the Ferry port, I found the right side to catch my ferry across the Bosphorus to Uskadar on the Asian side. 

The journey took about 20 minutes in the huge ferry across the river. Seagulls followed us across, feeding on  Fish and bread.

I had a walk around the area for about an hour. It was a busy area with markets and Mosques and lots of cafes and Kebab Houses. I had a Fish sandwich for 5 TL from a small Cafe. Very Tasty, just enough to keep me going until dinner later! I wanted to catch the ferry before sunset, and I timed it just right as my Ferry came at 19.40. The Sun began to set behind Galata tower, and looked spectacular.

I got back to Eminonu just as the sun fell. The Mosques were lit up for the night and looked beautiful.

I found an Indian restaurant called Dubb which had great views up on the top floor, overlooking the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. It is worth the climb up the stairs to the top! I had  a great Mixed platter of various Indian Dishes and a Soda for 50 TL.  I caught the tram back to Tophane and walked back up the hill home. I'd been out all day since 10.00  and got back in at 22.30. A great day out seeing some great sights.


My last full day in Istanbul had arrived very quickly. May 1st. I should have checked the date when I made my plans for my last day. It was of course May Day and the Turks love a riot!!

I left my home at 08.30 to have a wander. Istanbul seemed to be on Lock- Down. Hundreds of police were about. Riot vans were parked and coach loads of police had been sent in. All the entrances to the main Istiklal Caddesi were shut. Apparently a few years ago some people were shot dead in Taksim Square on May Day, and there has been protests and demonstrations every May Day since. Even Galata bridge had been raised to prevent people moving about. Fortunately amongst the Chaos a ferry was available to allow you to cross the Golden Horn.
I made it across and watched a few people shout slogans and demonstrate. It started off in good spirits then another group of demonstrators turned up. they were Anti-Capitalist Muslims. The Riot police lined up, and then there was the confrontation!!!

It was exciting watching it in front of me and I had a bit of an adrenalin rush taking photos of the action. I made sure I could get away quickly if it got any worse. The demonstrators were dealt with the full force of the police. Tear gas was thrown in to make them disperse. There were worse riots in other parts of Istanbul. 
After a while it all blowed over and calm returned. The bridge was lowered and people were able to carry on with their day. I wasn't able to go on my Bosphorus tour, but got to see a riot instead!!

I had lunch under the bridge and a few glasses of Effes sitting in the sun. I made my way back to Galata, and to Galata tower. I was surprised there wasn't a queue there, so I took the opportunity to go to the top of the tower. The Cylindrical 62M high tower dominates this side of the Golden Horn. The former watch tower was built in 1348. The views from the top are fabulous.

 I carried on back home, and spotted a Hammam called Firuzaga Hamami around the corner from my apartment. It was 75TL for a bath, soap scrub and oil massage. I decided to give it a go. The baths were not a touristy place, and seemed to be for locals. The scrub down and massage were good, although I think in the one room there was a lot of suspicious activity amongst the males in there, judging by the noise coming out of there!! I made sure I didn't go inside that room!!!  Had I gone to a gay Hammam!!??

I made it back home, unscathed to pack my backpack ready for my flight tomorrow. It had been a bit of a weird day, eventful and exciting,  certainly not one I had been planning. All part of the Turkish experience!

Istanbul is a stunning city. The architecture and history of the place is incredible.  It would be nice to return one day to go on that Bosphorus Tour!!

September 2014

My second trip to Istanbul was in September 2014. Even better as I'm no longer travelling solo, as I'm meeting up with my girlfriend Pinky from Hong Kong!
We are spending 3 nights in Istanbul, and then flying to Cappadocia, before returning to Istanbul for a further 3 nights.

I had a good flight with Turkish airlines, and arrived in Istanbul at 17.00. I was quickly through immigration with my new electronic Visa which I arranged before my trip (cost 20$)

 The next stage was a bit more of a struggle. Heavy rain began  to fall as I caught the Havatas bus from Ataturk International  airport to Taksim  square (cost 11TL). The traffic was  horrendous, a combination of rush hour traffic, and the rain  caused major congestion on the roads. The journey took over  an hour and half to reach Taksim.

 There was still torrential rain as I walked from Taksim down  Istiklal caddessi, to Beyoglu, the area which my apartment is  in.

 I got soaked and so did most of my luggage! I was glad to  finally arrive to meet Ayadin the owner of the apartment. It's in  the same building as last year, in an excellent location.  Although this year I've taken a bigger place.

 The apartment is like home from home. Its a fabulous place to  stay and gives you the opportunity to live like a local. Its  furnished with a mixture of Turkish antiques and has a small  balcony over looking the back yard.

I showered and dried off and waited in a local bar for the arrival of Pinky! She arrived late by taxi without her luggage! Aeroflot had managed to leave her suitcase behind in Moscow on her connecting flight, but it was just good to be back together. Fortunately she was reunited with her luggage the following night, thanks to the help of Ayadin and his wife. 

We went out at 10.00 am to exchange some money and get breakfast at a restaurant called Otantik Anadolu Yemekleri. It was a traditional Turkish restaurant with a woman rolling out some dough in the window. We ordered a traditional Turkish breakfast, which was heavy on Cheese and bread! We had a savoury spinach pancake to accompany it. washed down with a cup of Cay. It definitely was filling, and I think bread and cheese will feature quite heavily over the next 9 days!

We had a wander down Istiklal Caddessi, taking in the atmosphere of the busy pedestrianised street (apart from the vintage nostalgic tram). The sweet foods that were in the shop windows looked amazing, and  beautifully presented.

We went to a shop that sells Turkish delights and traditional Turkish tea and coffee, and enjoyed a cup as a free sample!

We have arranged with the Manager of our second Istanbul apartment in Tophane, close by to Beyoglu to rent a Pocket Wifi device for the next 7 days. The router allows you unlimited wifi data and you can connect up to 10 devices to it. It costs 26 Euros for up to 10 days to hire.

We found the apartment okay, and after a few problems to start with, we were fully connected within a couple of hours. It worked well, and provided good coverage for both Istanbul and Cappadocia. 

I then bought an Istanbul kart  for us to share. (cost 6TL plus 20TL credit). It allows you discounted travel on the network of trams, buses and ferries throughout Istanbul.

We caught the tram from Tophane across the Galata Bridge to Sultanahmet, to where the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are located.

The buildings around here were as stunning as I remember them to be last year. Beautiful looking domes and minarets.

 It's Pinky's first time in Turkey so I'm quite enjoying my time as her personal guide!

 We went to the sights I visited last year, but it  was good to have some special company this  year to share it with.

 Hagia Sophia really is a  truly beautiful building  and well worth a second visit

  We went onto the Grand Bazaar for some retail  therapy. I've caught the shopping bug off Pinky  and made  a few purchases myself.

 It was late in  the  afternoon, so it wasn't too crowded and  quite  easy to get around, although just as easy  to get  lost!

 We stopped off at one of the cafes inside for a  tea and coffee, for a spot of people watching.

 It was raining quite heavily outside now as we  made our way out of one of the many exits, so we walked under the covers of the awnings that lined the streets. We headed down the hill back towards Eminonu, the area near Galata bridge. We spotted a small cafe selling spicy chicken snacks on the way, so stopped to share some wings, drumsticks and rice before carrying on in the rain.

We reached the open space by the New mosque and took refuge inside the beautiful building. The New Mosque is not actually that new as it was completed in 1665, and in my opinion is a close rival to the bigger Blue Mosque, but without the crowds. We were able to walk straight in there to admire the detailed work on its interior and to watch the men pray in its peaceful surroundings.

Next to the entrance of the New mosque is the Spice Bazaar, which sells a variety of spices, Turkish delights and other traditional Turkish goods.

We had covered a lot of ground, and although the weather hadn't been great we had made the most of the day. We took the tram back to Tophane and walked back up the hill to our apartment in Beyoglu.  We were both pretty tired, but we had a couple of glasses of wine at a bar next to the apartment, and planned our next day whilst waiting to be reunited with pinky's missing luggage!

  The following day we were up and out by 10.30  in search of breakfast. We found a great locals  place on Istiklal Caddessi. We ordered a couple  of savoury meat filled pastries and a sweet  pastry square that was chopped up into small  pieces for us. It tasted amazing, one of our best  meals so far, and cheap too. 12TL for 2  including tea and coffee.

After breakfast we carried on down Istiklal Caddessi towards the Gallata tower. This area is great to explore and spot the brilliant street art around the buildings. 

The Gallata area is full of funky gift shops and small cafes, very hip and one of my favourite areas on the European side of Istanbul.

We finally reached Karikoy at the bottom of the hill and then took the tram back to Sultanahmet. We visited the magnificent Basilica Cistern under the streets of Istanbul.

By the time we reached the surface the grey clouds had lifted and at last we saw a bit of blue! 

We got back to our apartment at about 18.30 and freshened up before going out for a meal. We found the same restaurant I dined at last year down the busy Nevizade Sovak and sat on the rooftop terrace. We were initially served by a friendly waiter who showed us a tray of Mezzes that we could order to start with. We chose some spicy rice patties and some yoghurt salad. 

The service afterwards went rapidly downhill, as the most miserable and rude waiter took over. He was that bad it was comical as he plonked the food down, whilst mumbling away to himself. He was definately in the wrong job! A Shame really  beacuse the Mezzes and the Mixed Grill we had, tasted good.

We had a drink at a bar high up in one of the buildings on Istiklal Caddessi and then a couple more in a good bar down by our apartment. The road next to our appartment called Cezayir Sovak is a great street full of bars and restaurants in a great setting. There was live music playing and the atmosphere was good.

The next day we packed and checked out. We left our bags with Ayadin, so we could make the most of our time before we needed to get to the airport for our flight to Cappadocia, later in the evening. We checked out the local cafes and antique shops in the quiet chilled out area, around Beyogolu and Galatasaray. We chose a selection of sweets and pastries for breakfast, which tasted very good with a coffee. 

After breakfast we wandered down Defterdar Yokusu back towards Tophane tram stop. There were some good view points along the way towards Galata tower and the mosques across the Golden Horn.

We took the tram from Tophane to Eminonu and took in the atmosphere of the street food cafes on the waterfront. It was nice to see this area under blue skies and sun, rather than the previous days clouds and rain. We walked back across the bridge to Kalikoy to have walk around the market next to the ferry port. There were plenty of stalls selling cooked fresh fish, so we had a delicious portion of Calamari and salad to keep us going.

After a coffee near to our apartment it was time to collect our luggage and walk towards Taksim Square to catch our bus to the airport.

We arrived in plenty of time at Sabiha Glokcen airport to catch our Pegasus flight to Cappadocia - the next part of our travels was about to begin .................

Cappadocia blog here

We arrived back after 10.00pm and caught the Havatas bus back to Taksim. It was a 25 minute walk to our new appartment in Tophane, via a Kebap stall on the perimeter of Taksim Square. 

We found the appartment okay and finally hit the bed at about 02.00. This apartment is in a good location near to Tophane tram stop, so is ideally situated to get around Istanbul. Its a lot more modern than our previous place, but not as charming. It was still clean and comfortable though and good value at 50 euros a night. 

We slept quite well, and were out and about looking for breakfast by 10.00. We wandered down a street across the road from the Tophane tram stop and found a Turkish canteen serving sweets and pastries and tea. We had two dishes, one with cheese and one with meat, both equally disgusting! Our first bad meal of our stay, but it only came to 18 TL, so no major damage done. 

After breakfast we carried on walking through Tophane and onto Karikoy. We have planned to take the ferry across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul to an area called Kadikoy. The ferries run from Karikoy every 20 minutes and you can use your Istanbulkart as payment. It took about 30 minutes to cross the Bosphorus to reach Kadikoy.

Kadikoy is a vibrant area of Asian Istanbul, full of life. There are lots of cafes, restaurants, bars and shops to keep you busy for a day. Its a place i'd choose to live in, if I was to have an apartment in Istanbul. A great place with a great atmosphere.


The market was full of fresh vegetables and fish, and some of the shops sold great street food.  The Mucver below was great and only cost  1.5TL.

We carried on walking around taking in all the sights. There is some great street art dotted around the side roads. We ended up in a bar called Bilardo cafe. I had a couple of large glasses of efes beer and Pinky had a Gin and Tonic. The worlds strongest G&T! I think it was 3/4 Gin to 1/4 Tonic.

We made the mistake of hitting the shops after our drinks, and got carried away buying Turkish delights, Turkish Tea, Turkish Tea spoons, several evil eyes and I bought two Turkish towels - Hammam style! All cheap and good fun though.

We started to feel hungry and spotted a street cafe that was full, in the centre of the market. We grabbed a couple of seats and ordered a famous Turkish dish called Lamacun. This is a thin crispy pizza type dish, served with tomatos and minced lamb. You squeeze lemon juice on to it, add some fresh Parsley and then roll it up like a wrap. Delicious. 2 spicy soups and 2 Lamacuns only came to 10 TL. Fantastic local food and great value.

We bought some roast chicken and some beers  from a local shop, to bring back to our apartment for supper, and then headed back to Kadikoy ferry port to catch the ferry.

The ferry passed the magnificent and now defunct Istanbul railway station, and then crossed the Bosphorus back to Europe as the sunset lit up the sky. It had been a great day, and  Kadikoy was definitely one of our favourite areas of Istanbul.

Our apartment came complete with a free wake up call service........

Our last full day had arrived, and we were out by 10.00 and caught the tram from Tophane to Eminonu. we are going on a DIY boat tour along the Bosphorus. Something I had wanted to do last year, but the May Day riots prevented that!

The public ferry (15TL one way or 25TL return) left Eminonu and set off down the Bosphorus, heading towards the Black sea. we decided to go one way on the ferry and then catch the coastal bus back.

We passed some great buildings along the way, and went under the two big suspension bridges that cross the Bosphorus. The ferry took about 2 hours to reach the port we had decided to get off at.

We had arrived at Sariyer, a small town on the European side of the Bosphorus, not quite the last stop of the ferry, but not far from the Black Sea. It seemed to be a nice quiet fishing town, with some nice restaurants and cafes.

We settled for a cafe, that served some excellent pastries and snacks, to chillout for a while with a coffee. The mosques wail was our soundtrack to our brunch.

We caught the 25E bus out of Sariyer. The route was scenic along the banks of the Bosphorus passing through several villages along the way.

We got off the bus at a Marina in a town called Emirgan. We had a walk around, and bought a coffee and beer to have sitting on the harbour wall. Good chillout times.

Next stop on the bus was to Rumeli Hisan. This is a fortress situated on a hill next to the Bosphorus. It was build by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II between 1451 and 1452. It has been well preserved, but it was a pity you are not allowed to climb the fortress walls and castle towers to take in the full view.

We caught the 40 bus back from Rumeli Hisan back to Taksim passing through the Besiktas quater. This looked a good area to explore if we had more time.

We arrived back at Taksim Square and walked back down Istiklal Caddessi stopping off to pick up a takeaway selection of meats and rices and some wine to have back at our appartment.

We had another good day out, and another time I might do a similar tour coming back along the Asian side by bus.

Our time in Istanbul was now over, another great trip, and our time together in Cappadocia had been fantastic. Our next meeting is scheduled for November in Malaysia - blog to follow!

My other travel blogs........Please Click on links below!

Taj Mahal Blog

India by Rail. South India

India by Rail. North India

Central Euro Rail


Baltic States


Hong Kong