Why Istanbul ?
A lot of people have asked me this question. The truth is that as the first true holiday I did not want to go to an european country. I wanted something different, something that did not make me feel at "home". Istanbul is what I was looking for. The city between Europe and Asia.
I think it is useless to tell you about the voyage until Turkey so I'm gonna start directly from the arrival.
I landed at Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, the airport in the asian part of Istanbul. Near the airport exit there are the HAVABUS shuttle that departs every 30 minutes to go to the town. 10 LT (Turkish lira) (2.20 €), 1h of travel and I was in Kadikoy, one of the nicest districts in Istanbul. It's full of pubs, bars, restaurants, kebabs, shops and much more where you can relax in the evening drinking a beer with friends or just walk around the shops. Kind of San Salvario of Turin ... in Istanbul (before the ban).
First dish : ISKENDER kebab from HD ISKENDER (sorry, I do not remember the price).
It's delicious. Sliced and cooked meat, dough filled with tomato sauce and a kind of yogurt serving as a seasoning sauce. One of the best dishes I have ever tried.
For those who will go to Turkey, if you see HD Iskender, you have to go in. Trust me!
Istanbul is very organized and confusing at the same time. There are always so many people around even if not a lot of them speak English so if you have to ask for informations, it is better to ask to militians or sellers in the various kiosks scattered around the transportation exchanges.
To go on the other side of the Bosphorus, the best way is the ferry. There are several mooring points and each point has a different destination so pay attention to not mistake (as I did). The ferry ticket costs 3 Turkish lire (about 0.70 €).
Alternatively you can go by metro that connects the Asian part of Istanbul to the European via an underwater tunnel in the Bosphorus Strait. The line is called Marmaray. For those who are already dreaming to see a kind of aquarium traveling through the subway, I'm sorry, but you can't see anything. The tunnel is dark and the only thing you would see in the carriage glass will be your face disappointed with expectation.
The other convenient way to get around is the tram, if you do not want to take long walks.
For the various transfers, you can buy a ticket before you get on the transport. At every stop there are electronic ticketing and if you do not understand something, you can ask for help from someone who will be happy to help you. Obviously at every point there are the fake helpers that I personally preferred not to trust and so I asked for help from the militiamen.
As an alternative to single tickets, you can buy an "Istanbulkart", a rechargeable card that allows you to use all the transportation by paying with credit on the card. The card costs 20 Turkish lira (4.50 €) and there is already credit inside. To know your credit card or to recharge it, just put it in an electronic ticket and follow the procedures.
What to visit
Unfortunately I could not visit all the interesting places because I only had 4 days available and I have not always had my guide at my side, but I hope to be useful the same.
⦿ The Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi)
ticket price: 20 Turkish lira (4.50 €)
Do you like Dan Brown's "Inferno"? Did you like the final setting of the movie?
The Basilica Cistern is the largest underground cistern in Istanbul. Dozens and dozens of columns support the ceiling immersed in darkness interrupted by soft lights at the base of the columns and the illumination of the path which, however, does not make much light to spoil the atmosphere. The columns have a part of the base immersed in the water flowing continuously from outlets at the bottom of the tank. It is something mystical and relaxing. Inside, there is almost a zen music that makes it all more interesting and immersive.
The path is not very long and there are basically two stages: the Crying Column and the heads of Medusa.
• The Crying Column
The Crying Column is one of the 336 columns inside the Cisterna Basilica. It is different from other columns as it has special designs and is always damp. Observing it closely, you can notice that the surface is always wet. Legend tells us that liquid on the column represents the tears of slaves who have lost their lives during the construction of the Basilica Cistern.
• The heads of Medusa
At the end of the path there is a small square where there are two columns separated from the others. Their peculiarity is that each of them, at the base, has a head of Medusa. One inclined and the other upside down. These heads are probably from Constantine's hole, as pieces of other monuments were reused for the construction of a large part of the Basilica Cistern.
For the rest, the Cisterna Basilica offers a truly unique environment that is not disturbed by the many tourists present, as the most of them are abducted by the atmosphere of the place, so they just walk around without talking.
It is allowed to make photos and videos, but it's really dark there. I had a lens with a minimum of f3.5 so I could not make optimal shooting, but I hope you like my shots the same, as well as the video.
⦿ Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)
ticket price: 40 Turkish lira (9 €)
Hagia Sophia is one of the monuments that anyone visiting Istanbul has to visit.
It was both a Christian basilica and a mosque, but now it is a museum open to the public. Security check at the entrance: I want to specify this for vloggers who will visit the Basilica. They sequestered the external microphone of my camera! I did not really understand the reason, but apparently inside it is forbidden to record some sounds. Fortunately, the guard did not know that my camera has the built-in microphone, but in any case I recommend you to pu on an external microphone, in this case they'd sequester that one instead of the entire camera.
The Basilica is .... great. I'm not a religious, but I like visually beautiful things, and let's say it, the photos below do not need any additions.
Unfortunately, when I visited it, there were works in progress and the scaffolding covered a part of the basilica, but this did not ruin my experience.
I spent most of the time with the head tilted to look up.
The first things to notice are the giant medallions with Arabic scripts.
The dome is one of the greatest I've ever seen and under it there are four six-winged angels. Unfortunately one was covered by the scaffolding.
The peculiarity of Ayasofya is that it was a Christian Cathedral transformed into a mosque. During this transformation many of the painted crosses were removed or covered by muslims. But not all of them. You can see an example in the photo.
The whole Basilica is full of both historical and religious ornaments and references. Going up the top gallery you can observe everything in its entirety and in its charm.
In Ayasofya there is also a column called "The Crying Column". It is a column with a hole and, it is said, who puts a finger in the hole and the it gets wet, it will be cleansed of all the evils. Truth? Mythology ? I have tried. Who knows ? ;)
But I do not want to write anything to you. I leave you the photos and the video I did when I was there
⦿ Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet)
ticket price: free entry
Sultanahmet is an active mosque (not a museum like Ayasofya) but it can also be visited by tourists as long as they take off their shoes (at the entrance there are envelopes to put them on).
Women will have to wear a long skirt and a veil to cover their hair (near the entrance they will be able to receive them for free and then return them all at the exit).
It is also known as the Blue Mosque due to blue tiles in the interior of the dome.
⦿ Topkapı Palace (Topkapı Sarayı)
ticket price: 40 Turkish lira (9 €)
The Topkapı Palace is a complex of small buildings that served as an administrative center and residence of the sultan, but now it's a museum opened to the public.
In addition to the harem, exposure of ancient weapons and large courtyards, after a long walk you can enjoy breathtaking views of the Bosphorus Strait.
⦿ Dolmabahçe Palace
ticket price : 20 turkish lira (4.50€) - principal zone
40 turkish lira (9€) - principal zone + harem
In front of the building there is a fountain with swans, lions, plenty of vegetation. The atmosphere is really relaxing. And then in front of you you will find the facade of the huge Dolmabahçe Palace.
Dolmabahçe is the biggest palace in Turkey. Already from the magnificent entrance you can understand that there will be a great show in and it is really so.
On the left of the entrance we can see a giant gate (you can see it in the video) with scattered vases with a bad watching goat (there are others throughout the Dolmabahçe territory)
Here you can see the vastness of Dolmabahçe seen from a ferry crossing the Bosphorus
Unfortunately I can not let you see the interior of the building. It is strictly forbidden to take photos/videos and there are guards that control visitors.
There is a guided tour of about 40 minutes, which explains what the palace was once and how the rooms were used. The visit is included in the price of the ticket purchased at the entrance.
It's really cool inside. It goes through the rooms used in everyday life. The visit mainly concerns the second floor because the first was used by the servitude and therefore is less decorated and more "poor", although the whole palace is something magnificent. The interiors are in Asian-European style and, between huge crystal chandeliers and the furnishings of the past time, the desire to take some photos is always present. But pay attention, the guards are alert. Unfortunately.
I tried to do some clips trying to hide the camera from the guards, but to seem natural in the movements I did not take good pics and I was caught once and the guard told me to turn off the cam. Not having much desire to be arrested in Turkey, I accepted and followed the guide enjoying the visit.
However, in the final part, we went to a mosque inside the Dolmabahçe Palace. There were guards there too, but I took a picture (which you can see alongside).
It is not in focus, but you can notice the magnificent three-dimensional drawings that give a fake depth to the dome.
Last, but not least
⦿ Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi)
ticket price : 25 turkish lira (5.50€)
There is not much to say about the Galata Tower.
It is a tower located in the Asian part of Istanbul. Taller than 60m high, it was a sighting tower, but now it is one of the tourist attractions that anyone in Istanbul has to see.
It can be seen from almost all Istanbul, especially from the places that overlook the Bosphorus.
At the entrance we can see a huge antique bas-relief depicting the Galata Tower when it was part of the perimeter of the citadel.
It has undergone many changes and now, past the metal detector and bought the ticket, is used an elevator to go almost to the top.
Inside there is a restaurant, but those who do not want to use it can go directly to the balcony to watch the whole city.
The scenery is magnificent. You can walk around the tower and see Istanbul in almost every part. From the Bosphorus Strait to the dozens and dozens of mosques scattered around the city to various ships crossing the waters up to the huge variety of colors that paint Istanbul.
It is one of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen and, surely, when I return to Istanbul I will come back again. Waiting for the long queue to get in is repaid to 1000% from what you see once you go to the top.
(you can see a part of the view from the Galata Tower at the beginning of the Istanbul page, but I strongly recommend watching the video below. It's worth it, trust me.)
A GREAT thanks to Ceren, my friend and guide, who had to bear me and let me see the coolest places of the city.
Teşekkür ederim !
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