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Top Attractions of Istanbul

Top Attractions of Istanbul

Being in Istanbul is magical.  The people are wonderful and very friendly and we feel as ease instantly. Expecting a quick one week stay (that morphed into four weeks!) I wanted to make the most of our time so referencing www.thatbackpacker.com and www.lonelyplanet.com I set about to discover the top attractions of Istanbul.  Check out my map that shows the attractions we visited.

 

Our Top Attractions of Istanbul

How To Arrive In Istanbul The Easy Way

Having met a fellow German traveler, who happens to live in Turkey, Detlef gave us an invaluable tip on how to enter this thriving metropolis in order to avoid the 16 lane motorway into the centre.  He suggested we drive across the other side of the Sea of Marmara after our Gallipoli visit, and enter from Yalova by ferry, which worked out perfectly.

Where We Parked In Istanbul

We were lucky with the weather in November, for the entire month we had one day of rain.  The locals said this was most unusual and at this time the previous year they had already seen the early winter snow. We managed to park Betsy in a prime location next to public transport in a Sports Complex that is secured by a surrounding gate.  For just €20 per night we have access to free washing machine, electricity, water, grey and black water dumping, chooks and some very cute cats.  The owner suggested we might like to take one of the cats, who adopted us, with us when we left.  Sadly we couldn’t. Alan made friends (not) with the local roster who was afraid of no-one or nothing.  He would come running after Alan once his back was turned and wanted to protect his brood.

Electric Bikes in Istanbul

The electric bikes made getting around Istanbul heaps of fun.  Bikes, of any description, seem to be a rarity in this part of the world, and when it was realised ours were electric it attracted quite a following.  After three offers to purchase them (before they heard the price) we kept our bikes and just as well because when leaving the country we were questioned about them. Our expected timeframe for Istanbul was one week, but it soon became apparent that wasn’t going to be enough time to fully immerse ourselves into this wonderful, vibrant city, nor to see all it had to offer. We ventured out almost every day, seeing something new.  Our jaws kept dropping with the architecture, basilicas, mosques, museums, palaces, bazaars,  shops, monuments, and tours to undertake.  It was like a city that kept on giving. After four weeks in Istanbul, we felt like locals.  We had our local fishmonger, greengrocer, grocery shop, bread shop and a cheap place to eat where the locals eat – see photo below.

Visiting Mosques & Basilicas

There are lots of mosques and basilicas throughout Istanbul and you shouldn’t think that once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.  They do vary and if you have the time then pop your head into several. Be prepared, however, to dress appropriately.  For women that means taking a shawl to wear over your hair, and cover shoulders and knees.  Some mosques actually provide additional layers of clothing but I would suggest being prepared and take your own.  Men’s dress is not so critical, but from memory, there are no singlets allowed.

* The Blue Mosque (also known as the Sultanahmed Mosque also spelled ‘Sultan Ahmed’) is possibly the most well known of all attractions in Istanbul, it graces the skyline and you cannot help but see it from several spots around Istanbul).  We purchased a three-day city pass which allowed us to enter different attractions at a discount.  I can’t quite remember all the details and they are likely to change regularly anyway.  I suggest you search these out either when you visit your first attraction or beforehand by going online.

* Suleymaniye Mosque

* Hagia Sophia (it’s a basilica)

* Little Hagia Sophia (well worth a visit and quieter than his big sister)

* Chora Church (this was a little way out of the city centre but easy on the bikes to reach).  A fascinating Church that was undergoing restoration while we were there (in November 2017)

* The Basicilia Cistern is well worth a visit – it is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul.  You might want to take a good camera as photographing this in the darkness is difficult.  Alan’s digital SLR camera captured a great shot that is at the beginning of this blog.

Istanbul, Turkey by eBike

Istanbul, Turkey by eBike

TRAVEL
Istanbul by Electric Bike
Alan Gow Checked Out in Istanbul, Turkey
11 November 2017

Traversing into and through the busy centre of Istanbul on electric bicycles may not sound like the most cunning of plans for the safety conscious.  However as we found out, it is great fun, super effective and really didn’t seem to risky, especially for a city with almost no cycle lanes.

Our journey today was taking us about 6km from our camper parking spot by the Yenkapi Sports Ground to the fantastic Dolmabahce Palace and involved crossing the Galata Kolpruo Bridge over the arm of the Bosphorus that divides the vibrant centre of Istanbul.

After several forays into Istanbul, we reckon we are getting pretty good at this and already have our favourite routes and short cuts to save time and avoid congestion.  With the aid of Google Maps displayed on a phone holder on the handle bars, we are happily finding all of the points of interest we have loaded in from our MyMap of Istanbul.

There is always the mix of emotions as we bypass the queues of taxi drivers at the Yenkapi Ferry Terminal then brave the busy Kennedy Cd with the high-speed morning commuter traffic zipping past us.  The cars are OK but its a little disconcerting when the road narrows to two lanes at the same time as some heavy trucks crowd us right over to the kerb.

Over the pedestrian crossing and up Aksakal Sokagi then thread our way through the wrong way up the one way Nakilbent against the traffic and pedestrians.  The car park is a welcome opportunity to gain some ground and incidentally has a great fresh fruit and vege market on a Wednesday morning.

The road opens onto the Hippodrome where Roman charioteers once raced and gladiators fought to the death.  We are luckily only jousting with early morning pedestrian today as we dash past the  Museum of Islamic Art on the left, and the magnificent Blue Mosque on the right.

The majestic Blue Mosque
Photograph by Alan Gow
The Hippodrome also encompasses other impressive monuments such as the Obelisk of Theodosius and German fountain.
“After the headlong rush down the tram lines, the pace slows”

After a brief pause to catch our breath, it’s time for the fun to begin as we position ourselves between the tram tracks running down Alemdar Cd, watching out for the oblivious pedestrians, who saunter in front of us, while keeping an eagle eye out to make sure a tram isn’t screaming up behind.  This is easily the most exhilarating way to move around Istanbul and the trip from the Hippodrome past the Archaeological Museum and down to the vibrant docks at Eminonu is over all too soon, leaving us wondering how we managed to traverse such a distance in one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities in such a short time.

After the rush of the headlong trip down the tram tracks, the pace slows as we wind our way along the docks, through the pedestrians and street hawkers selling a smorgasbord of tasty morsels, such as the round bread ‘simic’ that is as cheap as chips and is sold on nearly every corner, and the seasonal ‘kestane'(roasted chestnuts) which are artistically stacked on the vendors cart after being roasted to perfection.

A Kestane Vendor – Service with a Cigarette
Photograph by Alan Gow

The sight of hundreds of fishermen lined up on the docks, and smell of dead fish and bait are an assault on the senses as we check out their catch of buckets full of tiny mackerel and bluefish from the rich waters of the Bosporus and wonder what sort of dishes they would be cooking up with such tiny morsels. Maybe we should break out the fishing rod and join the locals?

Picking our way around a cosmopolitan mix of families, tourists, the woman in burkas of various levels of severity, armed police, and wall to wall fisherman etc we wind our way over the Galata Kolpruo Bridge and again centre ourselves on the north running tram lines which go most of the way to our destination.  There is a strong feeling of ‘should we be doing this?’ as us and the occasional trams are the only travellers on this prime real estate.  The cars are virtually bumper to bumper in the adjacent lanes as our electric bikes eat up the remaining distance in next to no time.  We get a hint that maybe we shouldn’t be there from the wild gesticulations of a tram driver coming the other way and think that maybe we shouldn’t push our luck on the way back and just take the road or footpath – a shame really as it feels very safe being out of the way of traffic and pedestrians.

Arriving at the Dolmabahce Palace, we double lock our bikes and head in to experience the magnificence of one of Istanbul’s finest palaces.  That though, is a story for another day.