Nov 4, 2009
I made a last minute change to my travel plans and decided to spend two days in Istanbul, worth every penny of the airline change fee. If you travel to Turkey no pre arrival visa is needed, at Istanbul airport you purchase a visa stamp based on how many days you plan to stay. With only 48hrs in town I wanted the ability to move around fast, I discovered that a majority of the famous historical sights I wanted to see where clustered around old Istanbul and since traffic congestion is a major challenge using the local transportation system made sense and would save time and money. As I exited the airport, I walked down to the basement level bought my “Jeton”(subway token) and rode the metro to “ZEYTINBURNO”, that is the stop that you will need to change to take the tram which runs all over the old city, the tram system is simple to use and stops at all the major sights to include the grand bazaar. I paid another jeton to ride the tram (no free transfer from the metro), and while riding the tram I passed many of the sites I planned on visiting as the trams stops near each location. I had made hotel reservations at the “Erboy Hotel” a basic 3 star hotel with quality 6 star service. The hotel location and service are its strongest assets. After dropping my bags off @8:30am, the hotel graciously offered me FREE breakfast which was tasty and hit the spot, I was off on my adventure. A 5 minute uphill walk from the hotel I arrived at the Blue Mosque, this is a spectacular mosque, across the street from the Blue Mosque is Haghia Sophia another lovely and magnificent building/church with a lot of history; Sophia is perhaps the most impressive building/church I have ever seen second only to St Marks in Venice and is a MUST see for any visitor. Across the street from the Blue Mosque and Sophia is Basilica Cistern (water storage cavern built by the Romans), words can not describe this amazing underground cavern I rented the English self guide and it well worth the rental cost. Visiting all three places will take a few hours depending on your walking speed and crowds. There are numerous restaurants and tourist trap eating establishments all over the area/square. Around the corner from Sophia is the Topkapi Palace which house’s some of the finest collections of Sultan era and Muslim artifacts in the world, plan on spending a minimum of at least 3 hrs visiting the palace, go early in the morning before the crowds gather and rent the self guide. From my hotel, I walked the opposite direction (Blue Mosque & Sophia to my back) towards the ocean (you can see the cruise ships docked) and crossed the river walking on the popular Galata Bridge, it is better to walk under the main bridge visiting both sides in both directions, there are restaurants galore on the lower level and people fishing on the top level. The bridge is a nice place to sit in the evening have a drink and look at the sights. I walked further across the bridge to Galata Tower (I was told it was the oldest tower in the world) paid my admission and rode the elevator to the top, at the top you will get fabulous city views well worth the admission price. From the tower it is an easy walk to the main street (can not recall the name), it is where residents of the city eat and socialize, to me it was another street similar to Times Square. Other places I visited were; the Kariye Museum (The Chora Church/over rated) with its early Christian frescos, getting to the Kariye museum was a little difficult as I had to ride the bus and ask for numerous directions close to the Kariye museum is the old city Wall. Climbing the Wall is a bit challenging but once you get to the top the view will make the tough climb worth it. I also rode the tram to the grand bazaar (a shopper’s paradise, it is immense) and just looked around. Food in Istanbul is delightful and there are many restaurants which seem to have the same items with similar menu prices, I seldom eat in hotels but at the Erboy hotel there is a terrific rooftop restaurant with competitive prices, good food and the view alone is worth the price of the meal. Another excellent place I found to eat is the “Kathisma” restaurant; it is two blocks down the street from the Topkapi palace entrance on a side street on the right, tasty high quality fare. In conclusion, I would recommend Istanbul to anyone just have good walking shoes (many of the streets are coble stone and not smooth). If you arrive via cruise ship, forget the expensive excursions, you can ride the tram which stops a few minutes walk from the terminal and goes back across the river then follow my itinerary. Happy walking Istanbul is not to be missed.