It was mid of April when I went to campus library with Aditya and found a rack full of Lonely Planet. I was taking the Istanbul guide book home and asking “should we go to Istanbul next month? It looks beautiful!” which Aditya answered with “of course, why not! Just plan the trip, and let me ask my professor if it’s okay for me to take a leave”. Nice!
After got a green light to go, we immediately made the flights reservation, the hostels, and apply for e-visa. We were so excited for this trip! Not more than 2 weeks later, we went to Turkey and stayed for 5 days in Istanbul.
How was Istanbul? It was really really great. Before exploring Istanbul, we got ourselves an Istanbulkart and a Muzekart. Istanbulkart is a smart card for public transportation payment in Istanbul. It can be used for any transportation mode in Istanbul. We got one in the airport and topped it up easily in everywhere. Since the transportation mode in Istanbul is pretty good, this card is very useful. Muzekart is a museum pass that can we buy in one of the museum. The price is 85 TL for 3 days. By using this card, we are able to visit several historical places in Istanbul without having to queue. This card really is a great deal. So, before you go, make sure to check the opening days and hours of each museum so you can plan your museum visits and use this card effectively, LOL. Psst, with this card, we also can get discount on Bosphorus cruise! :p
There are so many things to explore in Istanbul; historical buildings, cultural heritages, local foods, etc.
Check this list of things that we enjoyed during our days in Istanbul for details! :D
Visited Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet Mosque
Went to Istanbul but didn’t go to these places? Heee you gotta be kidding me. These two is a must visit! :D
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) is one of historical building that still remain til today. Formerly, it was the biggest church that built by Roman Empire (ca. 300 CE) and has been reconstructed three times during the Byzantine period. After Ottoman conquer Constantinople, the church was renovated into a mosque. Now, it serve as a museum. The history makes the interior of this building unique. We can find the trace of Christianity and Islamic sign stands side by side.
Across the Hagia Sophia, we can find a big mosque with voluptuous blue-grey dome, Sultanahmet Mosque or popularly known as Blue Mosque. This mosque was built by Sultan Ahmet I 400 years ago. Until now, it is still used for prayer 5 times a day. During the prayer time, the mosque is closed for tourist, only worshippers are able to enter through the main door.
When visiting the Blue Mosque, take your time to strolling around the area and find Hippodrome of Constantinople. In its time, the hippodrome is a place for horse/chariot racing and social center of Constantinople. Now, it is named as Sultanahmet square. There are other craftsmanship that the empire brought here, such as Serpent Column, Egyptian Obelisk and Walled Obelisk.
Ate Kumpir while relaxing in Sultanahmet Park
Kumpir is baked stuffed potato. The filling is vary from mayo, yogurt, cabbage, corn, olive and whatnot. We taste one in Sultanahmet park for 15 TL and as I remember, the baked potato have not less than ten fillings! Nom!
BTW, when I was sitting back and enjoying Kumpir, I found that the adzan (prayer call) in this area unique. One muadzin from Blue Mosque will read one phrase and other muadzin from Hagia Sophia will response with the next phrase. It was the most beautiful adzan I’ve ever heard. <3
Felt the underground sensation in Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici) is the largest ancient cistern that lies beneath Istanbul city. The entrance is located across the entrance of Hagia Sophia. This cistern was built in Byzantium era 1500 years ago to store water that delivered through aqueduct from reservoir that located 20 km away. The area is supported by more than 300 marble column. In the corner of the cistern, we can find that two columns are using Medusa head as its bases.
Felt the majestic atmosphere of Topkapi Sarayi
Topkapi Sarayi located near Hagia Sophia. It was a palace that formerly was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans. The palace is separated into several courtyard and each courtyard is consist of several section. The most interesting place in the palace is the Harem section. Harem is a private quarter for the member of royal family. So basically, it is home of the sultan, sultan’s mother, sultan’s wives and concubines, their children and their servant. I just knew that sultan’s mother hold the highest hierarchy in harem. That’s why the apartment of the queen mother is the largest section of the harem. BTW, the line of succession in Ottoman empire is kinda unusual compared with other monarch. It is like an open succession, all of the sultan’s sons have the same chance to claim the throne. Because of this practice, the wives try to get their son to the throne so they can get to the top of the hierarchy in harem. Uhhh, living in harem must be really really tense. :))
FYI, this palace is not big, it is HUGEEE. I recommend you to visit it in the morning. Back then, we started at 11 am and could not finish to observe all of the section because it was very crowded and we were very very hungry. :p
Prayed at Suleymaniye Mosque
If you think, Blue Mosque is too crowded, I recommend you to visit Suleymaniye Mosque. Suleymaniye Mosque is the biggest and grandest imperial mosque in Istanbul. The mosque share similar architecture style with Blue Mosque. Compared to the popular Blue Mosque, this mosque have less tourist around (maybe because the location is not in the touristy area), so it’s very comfortable to perform prayer inside.
After praying at the mosque, don’t forget to stop by at the Lokantasi (restaurant) that located behind the mosque. They serve delicious local food with affordable price! :D
Ate Turkish desserts
Turkish cuisine is very rich in desserts. Istanbul is like a paradise for sweet tooth like me. Even if you are not a fan of desserts, try to indulge yourself with Turkish desserts. Besides Baklava, I also tried Tel Kadayif and Lokma. Don’t forget to try Tavuk Gogsu Kazandibi which is a caramelized chicken breast pudding. Ew, that might sound disgusting, but trust me, this milky dessert is something! You still can feel the texture of shredded chicken, but it doesn’t taste like chicken at all. Unique!
P.S.: I fell in love with Baklava since the first bite. And now, I miss it so much!
Ayran is a cold yogurt beverage mixed with salt. It’s like…a Turkish national drink! You can find it in anywhere. While staying in Turkey, I always ordered ayran in the restaurant, even in the flight. So far, the best ayran I’ve ever taste is the ayran in Eminonu Durumcusu, Sirkeci. It was frothy, creamy and have a butter-y taste. Me like it!
Since ayran is not available in Saudi, whenever I want to drink it, I simply blend 1 cup of cold thick yogurt, 1 cup of cold water, and salt. Perfecttto!
Saw the old treasures in Istanbul Archaeological Museum
The museum complex separated into three main parts: Tiled Kiosk which display the collection of Iznik Tiles during the Ottoman Empire, Archaeological Museum which display the artifacts and sarcophagi from Roman era, and Ancient Orient which display the collection of pre-Islamic era included a series of large glazed brick from ancient Babylon.
Went to the Asian part of Istanbul
One day, we went to Uskudar which is the Asian part of Istanbul. We went there by train that travel through the sea. Unlike the touristy atmosphere in the European side of Istanbul, the Asian part of Istanbul is very…local. Many people speaks little to no English. And there are residentials everywhere. It was a holiday in Turkey, so many people were chilling out alongside the Bosphorus straits.
We had a late lunch in one of the restaurant alongside the sea. We tried Balik Ekmek (fish sandwich) and Hamsi Tava (friend anchovies).
After walked so far and got lost, we finally decided to back to Sirkeci by ferry. :))
Hopped back and forth between Europe and Asia
We spent our fourth day in Istanbul for Bosphorus cruise. It was a full day cruise, started at 10 am and finished around 4 pm. The ticket can be bought in Sehir Hatlari office, near Galata bridge, just across the Eminonu tram station. The cruise was fantastic. We were hopping back and fourth between Europe and Asia, from Eminonu to Anadolu Kavagi port near the Black Sea. A flock of seagulls were accompanying us during the cruise. We stopped for a few hours in Anadolu Kavagi and decided to explore the area. We went to a hill nearby and climbed to the ruin of a castle. It was a very cloudy day, but the view was still wonderful.
Visited the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar
Going to Istanbul is not complete without visiting Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. Grand Bazaar is the largest and oldest covered market, built in the 15th century. It sells souvenirs, jewelleries, carpets, lanterns and whatnot. Meanwhile, the Spice Bazaar sells mostly tea, coffee, turkish delight, and spices. I’m not good at bargaining prices, so I was just strolling around. LOL. :p
Well, there are still some more things we did on our trip to Istanbul. Will put them in the next post.