It is good to understand what the country is all about before you embark the city. Set against the rest of the country it is the only place in the world where eastern paradise meets the west.
The best tip I can give you is to have the utmost respect, for the culture, the people, the language because it is a liberal Muslim country that has adapted to the ideals of the west. The locals are friendly, not slimy and they truly possess the gift of the gab. Be prepared to be sold everything from sweet honey filled Gozleme - (pancakes) to fake designer rip off gear (just remember to check the spelling, I came back from the local Egyptian market with bags full of designer gear to find that my designer Gucci t-shirts were spelt Goolies).
The street vendors are colourful and funny and will entice you with anything. Don't pretend you don't speak English as I guarantee that the Turks can speak every language under the sun, try to learn the lingo 'Merhaba' (Hello) and 'Teshkuredrim' (Thank you) will take you a long way.
Never refuse the hospitality of a Turk, they will offer you tea and food with good intentions. Refusing can often offend people. Take English pounds and the euro and I guarantee that you will have the best bartering tool, a strong currency.
It’s the only place I know that is unspoiled by the explosive tourist trade and its currently one of the safest countries to visit in the Middle East. Turkey: it's definitely not just for Christmas.
When I visited the Topkapi Palace during the holy fasting month of Ramadhan, they had a special display of the Prophet Muhammad's sandals at the Pavilion Of The Sacred Relics. I was surprised to see it there as I didn't find it showcased in guidebooks.
Rumeli Hisari is the fortress on the European side of the Bosphorus. There are about 10 cafes and restaurants nearby and they are all very popular with Istanbulites. They can get really crowded especially on weekend mornings but the wait is worth it, the place is absolutely phenomenal. And after breakfast you can have a stroll on the banks of the Bosphorus. One tip: Parking is nearly impossible, take a cab and ask to be taken to Rumeli Hisari.
When Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi tried to fly from the top of the 62-meter-high Galata Tower across the Bosphorus to Asia in 1638, most thought it the improbable hallucination of a mad scientist. Yet it was a dream befitting a period in which the Ottomans' imperial aspirations were truly astounding - and, like the winged Celebi, successful.
Standing atop the tower today, with all of Istanbul spread out 360 degrees all around, one appreciates the incredibleness of the feat, even while hoping to avoid trying to duplicate it oneself.
Although venturing onto the uppermost cylindrical ramparts of this narrow tower built by the Genoese in 1348 induces vertigo for some, it is a truly magical experience, especially at sunset, when the low haze of smog hanging over the western horizon turns the sky copper-red, as the distant mosques start to wail mournfully, seabirds circle down over the boats of the Golden Horn, and the bridges below resonate with the burden of traffic. Indeed, it is at the Galata Tower where one can truly experience this sprawling city in all its unfathomable glory, briefly attaining the tranquillity to take it all in, far above the massed multitudes of Istanbul's streets.
Galata Tower- Büyük Hendel Sok, Beyoglu, up from Karakoy
A pursuit dear to the hearts of many foreign visitors to Istanbul is the hunt for an authentic Turkish carpet. Of course, everyone who has ever sought to nab one has experienced, or at least heard of, woeful tales of deception, misrepresentation, false threading and just too much free tea for the trouble.
That said, a little advice picked up from the experts in the business might be useful.
When looking for carpets, be sure to look around and compare before committing (a little home study before arriving is great too). Try to look for shops with serious tradition (family-owned is a good sign) and an attested reputation; such firms are keen to keep up their business and good name and enjoy repeat business- another good indicator.
Further, you'll be wise to demand Turkish rugs only, with certification. The last few years have seen a proliferation of cheap, mass-produced carpets from Afghanistan and Pakistan passed off as the real thing.
Third, avoid the touts and well-attired persuaders strategically located nearby the prime tourist sites; they are working on commission and not particularly scrupulous.
Now that you know what to look out for, where to go?
The Grand Bazaar is of course the prime place for shoppers (though not the only), teeming with over 4,000 shops of all kinds. Although there are many excellent carpet dealers, one unique and rather hip one is Ethnicon, a small but now quite well known outlet offering unique “fusion” rugs and wall hangings, or "kilims."
The vision of the company was to cater to an emerging market (the modern urban interior of varying degrees of minimalism) while at the same time addressing an acute need: the increasing scarcity of antique carpets coming from Anatolian family collections, which have gone from a flood to a trickle over the past 20 years.
To get around this lack, Ethnicon decided to use what was to be found from damaged antique partial carpets, nomad tent coverings, soft casings, scraps and so on, patching them all together through a 15-step process. The result is alluring rugs and wall decorations that combine old ingredients with modern deco tastes. With widespread media attention, the Ethnicon style has become a brand in its own right.
Ethnicon- Grand Bazaar, Kapalýcarsý Takkeciler Sok. 58-60
A delightful medium sized cafe on the European banks of the Bosphorous. There is a good variety of food on offer, both Turkish and international, and their salads are particularly good as is their chocolate-almond cake.
One of the nicest times to visit this cafe is between 5 and 7pm in summer when you can watch the sun setting over the Bosphorous and the sea ferry's travelling across it.
Just for information, Ask (pronounced Ashk) means love in Turkish.
Its on the city's beach road next to the Makro centre
Tourists should visit the Kapali Carsi (Grand Bazaar). The shop owners try to catch tourists' attention with calls. It’s a unique experience.
On the other hand, in the Tahtakale market district, workers shout and make jokes with each other. You can find a variety of fantastic objects here.
Istanbulites are more than eager to help visitors who appear to be in distress, even without being asked. We found that they were so eager in fact, that they would give us any information, even misleading us, rather than not help.
That's why we were suggested 5 different bus lines to get to the same place by people who actually took the trouble to get off their own bus to show us where they thought we needed to go. It is best to double check before you follow someone's very friendly advice.
The main central areas of Istanbul can quite easily be explored on foot. For longer distances there are taxis, as well as tram and metro systems.
An absolute essential whilst in Istanbul is to take a local ferry across the Bosphorus, for example to Uskudar on the Asian side of the city. The crossing will give magnificent views of many of the historical buildings whilst emphasising the city’s extraordinary setting, which sprawls over several hills. Regular ferries leave Eminonu on the Golden Horn for the Asian side. Tokens are best purchased from the official kiosks and not from touts who will happily overcharge or short-change the unsuspecting tourist before vanishing into the crowds.
To reach other parts of Turkey there are regular train services and a very good bus network offering cheap and frequent departures countrywide. Istanbul’s main otogar (bus station) is situated on the north-western outskirts of the city at Esenler and easily reached by local train.
Although there is easily enough in Istanbul to occupy the visitor for several weeks you may wish to take a trip to one of the nearby attractions for a day or two.
With this in mind the city of Bursa makes for an interesting stopover. The city is beautifully located against a mountainous backdrop and offers skiing during winter months. There is a thriving bazaar and several lovely examples of Ottoman-built mosques such as Yesil Cami.
To reach Bursa take the regular catamaran from Yenikapi to Yalova (badly hit by the 1999 earthquake) on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara, then catch a bus from outside the ferry terminal for the hour-long drive to Bursa’s otogar.
A feasible daytrip from Istanbul is to the historic town of Edirne about 3 hours north-west of Istanbul close to the borders with Greece and Bulgaria. Catch one of the frequent bus services from Esenler. Arriving in Edirne may feel as though you’ve returned to Europe but there are some interesting Ottoman monuments to be seen here including the beautiful Selimiye Camii mosque.
Ortaköy is an area of Istanbul on the European side of the Bosphorous just under the first bridge.
There are many cafes and little shops in which to poke around but they are a little more expensive than the norm.
Despite this you can sit with a drink, watch the boats glide past, and admire the bridge which is lovely by day or night. Heaven!
Ortaköy is very easy to get to from any central area. Buses or minibuses going up the Bosphorous coast road all pass through it and a taxi from Taksim will cost about 10 lira. Ferries go there and if you cannot get one to Ortaköy then go to Beşiktaş and get a minibus for the remaining 2 km.
Belgrade Forest (Belgrad ormanı) is a large green area to the north of the city. It has many entrances but I recommend the one at Bahçeköy which is closest to Neşet Suyu, where there is a 6km path/track around a lake. Here you can walk/run in the fresh air and then enjoy a snack at one of the little cafes near the start. The area is very busy at weekends in the summer for barbecues so I would recommend a visit in midweek or in the off peak seasons.
It is lovely to be only 20km from the centre of the city and yet only hear birds.
It is possible to explore further, but signposts tend to be Turkish only, which could be awkward! It costs 5 lira for a car to enter the forest or 1 lira for someone on foot.
Getting there is the problem!
The 42T bus from Taksim will take you to Bahçeköy and from there it is a very short walk to the entrance.
Alternatively a minibus from Beşiktaş towards Sariyer passes the Kilyos turning to Bahçeköy and people frequently pick up hitch hikers from this corner. (I must point out that this is not a good idea for women on their own).
Unfortunately from the entrance it is then a further 2 km to Neşet suyu which would tire out smaller children.
Ideally you need some sort of personal transport or a reliable taxi service to make the journey easier. A taxi from 4. Levent (the last stop on the metro from Taksim) will cost about 25 lira one-way (a tenner) which is very good for four people.
One of Istanbul’s most photographed monuments which incredibly dates back over 2,000 years, you simply cannot miss the iconic Kiz Kulesi or Maiden’s Tower, out on its own little island at the mouth of the Bosphorus.
In its capacity as customs control, defence tower, lighthouse and now restaurant, you can’t help but wonder what this intriguing structure has bore witness to over the centuries. This is truly a unique dining experience in what is itself a one-of-a-kind city.
The food is good, but who cares? It’s the view of the sun setting over old Istanbul from the tower’s summit that people really come here for.
Transfers from Salacak (Asian Side) and Ortakoy (European Side) daily – check the website for times. Booking recommended.
Tel: 0216 342 47 47
There is no shortage of good places to eat in Istanbul. Around Sultanahamet you will find many ‘tourist’ type restaurants serving a range of Turkish and western dishes.
Walking around any of the other neighbourhoods you will come across traditional Turkish concerns frequented by locals where you can try authentic food including kebabs at very reasonable prices. The roads leading up to Taksim Square from the Galata Bridge have many kebab cafes. There are several good seafood restaurants in the Kumkapi area, serving locally-caught fish.
Finally for the less adventurous, Istanbul has the usual array of global fast-food outlets scattered around.
good value place situated in Kumkapi. Some distance from the main tourist areas but offering clean en-suite rooms with balconies, helpful English-speaking staff. Caters for the ‘weekend city-break’ market.
Kadirga Limani Caddesi 85; tel: (0212) 517 4203
Street in Taksim? If your answer is no, you should take time to see it. It’s a great place to people watch. In addition, there are buildings from the Ottoman period, bookstores, consulates, exhibitions, bars and cafes.
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