Summer vacation to Istanbul: part 1

There hasn’t been much of a summer to speak of here in Belgium these last months, more like a fall-phenomenon, you might say. So what better place to soak up some sun than in Turkey, Istanbul!

When we booked it was a bit with fear in our hearts: “will we dehydrate? will we suffer from the sun?”, cause all advise on the net was avoid going in summer time (July/August) and preferably go in April or May. As you can see, I’ve lived to tell the tale.

I had a bit of a shock the day of arrival in Istanbul: the heat and the pollution got to me. I was ill on the first day. Don’t worry, I recovered and maybe it’ll happen to you as well. It’s just adjusting to a city with so many cars and traffic (and exhaust fumes) and in that heat.

Luckily, there are people selling water everywhere you look, and cheap too. Otherwise it would be cruel!

BEING MOBILE IN ISTANBUL

First things you notice: cars are rulers and pedestrians are worth nothing (slight exaggeration). The cars don’t even try to slow down when you cross the road. Real survival instincts are needed. They do stop at traffic lights, but there are very few of them.

Positive: they have a great public transport system. The metro stations are new, clean, spacious and handy. But it’s mainly the trams that will be precious to you, especially the T1, which gets you to most of the sites ( Eminönü district where you have the Spice Bazaar, transportation boats & Sultanahmet district where you find the Haya Sofia, Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace & Fatih district where the Grand Bazaar and the Suleymaniye Mosque are…). We used this line a lot… and I have a thing of looking for trams in every city we visit. I always must have a picture of the local tram. I don’t know… my dad worked in the public transportation services, maybe it’s that.

We stayed near Takism Square, which is in the Beyoğlu district (with the Istiklal Caddesi ~ Istiklal Avenue – a 3km long shopping street, where a nostalgic tram runs (yeay vintage!!!), and you can shop till you drop until midnight!) and you’ll have a great connection to the T1 tram via the funicular (a bit like a tram) which takes you from Taksim to Kabataş, the last station of the T1. The T1 goes along the Bosphorus, over the Golden Horn towards the Old City (Sultanhamet) and beyond.

I’ll give you a little overview from the districts, the things worth seeing and what I liked. 10 days of Istanbul were not enough to see it all, but we covered it well. And maybe someday, we’ll go back to finish the things we didn’t get to see.

VERY HANDY LINKS: these links will prove useful on your trip to Istanbul one day:

If you can get your hands on an Akbil, you’ll amaze me. The Akbil is an electronic ticket system for bus, funiculars, LRT, metro, commuter trains, ferryboats and trams (a lot like a smart ticket). It proved a bit tricky in the summer. Either the selling points ran out very quickly or you had to stand in a huge queue for it. We just used the tokens for each tram we took. But you could save up to 10% if you have an Akbil.

THE DISTRICTS AND SIGHTS

Beyoğlu

Taksim Square is a usually filled with a lot of traffic: yellow taxis galore, dolmuşes (bigger yellow taxis which take a larger number of people between places – a bit like “hop on, hop off”), busses and local drivers. It’s the central point where you can take a bus to most everywhere (airport busses HAVAŞ as well), where the Funicular and metro take you to most any other place you need to go. The sound of incessant honking, police cars and ambulances seem overwhelming at first, but I must say… being back home now, I kind of miss the noise. I associate it with summer vacation now.

If you are at Taksim Square, you’ll easily find your way to the Istiklal Caddesi, the pedestrian/shopping street that never sleeps, so it seems. At the beginning of the street at your right you’ll find an orthodox church, Hagia Triada Orthodox Church. Very odd, because you expect only to find mosques in Istanbul. We would have loved the chance to visit it inside, because it seemed unique in this city. A bit further in the street, we stumbled upon a catholic church: S. Antonio di Padova Catholic Church. Again, a surprise.

The stores aren’t that exceptional, and we have most of them here in Brussels as well, except you wouldn’t be shopping for Puma’s at 11 PM during the week as in Istanbul. There are many eating places, coffee corners and Turkish delight shops to be found (mmm!). Back at the beginning of the street, you can try the famed Turkish burger: Kızılkayalar Burger, which is smaller than a hamburger, but the amount of garlic could potentially get your stomach upset during the night. 🙂

In the streets off the Istiklal Caddesi, you’ll find many clubs and bars and some eating places as well. Just mind the prices and if they offer nuts with your drink, beware! They forget to tell you you’ll have to pay for the nuts afterwards (unlike here in Brussels, where they are free with a drink!).

Through the Istiklal Caddesi, there is a nostalgic tram that takes you from one end of the avenue to the very end. Ringing its bell to warn the window shoppers it’s coming, the tram gives you another perspective of the avenue and the mass of people in it.

We stumbled upon a free exhibition in the avenue at the Arter Space for Art, where an expo by Patricia Piccinni was running. I’ll put some pictures in my Flickr space on the site.

At the end of the Istiklal Caddesi, and the end of the nostalgic tram ride, you can easily walk to the neighbouring district Galata or take the Tünel, which is one of the oldest metro services in the world, which takes you to the other side of Galata, near the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn. There you can either cross the bridge towards the districts Eminönü and Sultanahmet or take the T1 tram over it, at the station Karaköy.

Galata

At the crossing from the Istiklal Caddesi towards Galata district, we were set on visiting the Galata Convent of Whirling Dervishes (Galata Mevlevihanesi), but we were told they had closed for the summer for restauration to the building and hall. That kind of bummed me out. Not far from there you can visit the hotel room where Agatha Christie wrote one of her books. I should look up if it happens to be Murder on the Orient Express, because it is in Istanbul that the Orient Express had his final stop.

Do go to the Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi), once part of the Galata city wall from Byzantine/Ottoman times. You can go to the top for 20TL (a bit less than 10€) and have a view. But the tower closes rond 7PM, which is a pity, cause Istanbul in the evening is beautiful with all the mosques lit up.

The streets surrounding the Galata Tower are a lot of fun to walk through (or climb through, cause a bit steep). I had never seen so many guitar/instrument stores so close to each other. It’s a wonder we didn’t get back from our holiday with an electric guitar! Really, really nice stores!

I must say, the Galata and Beyoğlu districts didn’t make you feel like a tourist too much. And I like that. I felt very at ease and safe wandering the streets. Without pressure. Which is nice.

End of part 1 (To be continued in an other post).

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