Sunday 4 May 2008

Istanbul break

So here I am, back from a short, but full of events trip.

It was not long ago that we were seated on a restaurant's terrace when someone came up with the idea of going to Istanbul on 1 May since we had a few days off for Easter and everything. From a group of 7 people, we eventually ended up going only 2 of us: my best friend and I. I think her husband managed to panic a little when he heard that it would have been only us girls in a city full of men who cannot help asking you "where are you from?" We didn't pretty much cared, just wanted a nice holiday for ourselves. All being said, we booked the hotel and bought our plane tickets and off we went.

We left on 30 April in the morning and we arrived at the hotel in Istanbul around 2 pm, after praying for our lives in the crazy traffic of Istanbul. We checked-in and didn't waste too much time, grabbed a map and we left towards the Dolmabahce Palace, on the shore of Bosphorus.

It was a wonderful day outside, sunny and very warm. The palace was looking amazing! The concept of the palace was developed by the sultan Abdul Mecit in 1843 and the castle was opened in 1856. It has 46 rooms full of gold and crystal, trying to compare to the Versailles palace. The last sultan that lived in the palace left for exile in 1922. The famous Ataturk lived here until his death on 10 November 1938 and all the clocks in the palace are stopped at the hour of his death, 9:05.

All the above information I got from a guide published by Dorling Kindersley and not from the guide who accompanied us in the palace because I couldn't understand much of what he was saying. He had a very funny accent, palace was "pee-yeah-luhs" and it was the first time when I realised that the word "scared" could have around 5 sylables and not only one.

After the tour inside the palace, including the harem, we went outside to look over the Bosphorus and took some very nice photos. Click on the photos below for a larger size.

From the Dolmabahce Palace, we hurried towards the Galata Tower, but we stopped to eat something on the way because we were starving. Got to the tower and was a bit disappointed by the fact that the coffee shop inside was closed at that hour. I left Leila downstairs and I went up into the balcony of the famous tower.

The tower was built in 1348 by people from Genoa and is 62 m high. From the balcony - if you don't suffer of claustrophobia and you don't meet Israelian people who stop way too much on the way, so you're stuck with them - you can enjoy a view of both the new and the old Istanbul, as well as of the European and Asian sides along Bosphorus. The view toward the Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofia and Sultanahmet is great! Pictures follow...

We crossed the Galata Bridge and hurried towards the Eminonu docks where we jumped on a boat that was about to leave for a tour on Bosphorus. We bought simit, of course, and had tea. I personally would like to apologise to the man on whose lap I fell because of the way the boat was moving. *blushing* At least it was just my first day there, so I wasn't as heavy as on the last day, so... cheers mate! :D

Beautiful views on the tour. We could see a lovely sunset, the Dolmabahce Palace, the Ciragan Palace that looked amazing, the expensive houses from Bebek and the Beylerbeyi Palace. You may see below...

We jumped into a taxi after the tour ended and finished our day with a nice dinner in a restaurant close to our hotel near the Taksim square. I became a fan of ayran and I only wish all dairy products were as good as that!

We started our second day in a very funny way... It was 1 May. Some of you who usually watch the news will know what happened in Istanbul on that day. If you're not one of those people, continue reading.

As we left our hotel and headed towards the Taksim square, we realised that we couldn't cross it because it was closed with fences and there were tons of policemen. Hmmm... we wondered what that was about, but because next to the group of policemen, they were selling beautiful flowers, we thought that maybe there will be some... quiet marchings or something like that because of the International Labour Day. We kept walking towards the Kabatas pier where we knew we could take a boat to the Adalar or Princes Islands. We met like 20 more policeman groups on the way, looking like the Ninja Turtles, prepared for good fighting... When we got to the pier, this calm policeman stopped us and asked where we were going. We explained what we wanted, but he said that the boats were not making tours on that day. No one could explain what the reason for that was. Everyone kept saying that something MIGHT happen. Therefore, we ignored them all and just decided to go shopping. First, we tried to go to a shopping center, but we couldn't because of the police. We ended up in what seemed to be like the most expensive shopping center, then we took a cab and went to Nisantasi although the taxi driver kept begging us to go to the hotel and sleep. It was the wrong day to be on the streets! We had this feeling that something had already happened there because of the... you guessed it, policemen, as well as the bricks laying on the ground. It all got very clear when I felt like something got in my left eye and when I opened it, it was burning as hell and tears were flowing freely down my cheek. Need I say my make up was ruined? Damned tear gas! Even the press had gas masks, why couldn't have we thought of bringing some to continue our shopping? Maybe next time when in Istanbul... The good thing was that it wasn't too much tear gas and as we walked backwards, it started to fade away.

From there we hurried to the hotel, where the driver basically pushed us out of the cab and pushed on the gas to get away from the area as soon as possible... Very strange behaviour... Hmmm... We got to the hotel, dropped the bags and decided to go to the Golden Horn, thinking that there were no problems there. The guy from the reception looked at us very strangely when we said we weren't afraid to go out... Took another cab and went to the Topkapi palace, but decided to eat in a traditional restaurant before visiting it. When lunch was finished, we realised we couldn't visit either Topkapi or Aya Sofia because it was too late, but we did get to see the Basilica Cistern and Sultanahmet, then hurried to the Grand Bazaar. We took some photos in front of Aya Sofia too! The pics...

We started our third day in the Golden Horn where I went to see the Topkapi Palace and Aya Sofia while Leila waited for me coz she had seen those before. There was a cute cat in Aya Sofia, looking at the tourists. You'll see it in the pics. Istanbul is full of cats, I loved it! :)

Once I have finished visiting those two, we went to the Kabatas pier to try once again to go to Adalar. It worked this time and we got on a boat full of locals and tourists. We were crushed by two Turkish women who didn't care that the bench we were sitting on was for maximum 3 persons and 2+2 = 4. I found it a bit peculiar when I opened the map to look at the islands and one of them started pointing to stuff on it and talking to her friend. Hmmm...

We went to Buyukada, the largest island and the last on the way. First thing we did was to get a huge ice cream, then we hopped into a carriage that took us through the streets of the islands. At the end of the trip, we climbed a hill for about 15 minutes and we ended up to the Ayia Yorgi, a little orthodox church. Lovely view from up there. We bought some souvenirs and hurried to catch the boat back to Istanbul. Another wonderful sunset, we saw dolphins and then it started raining...

The night ended on the Istiklal Caddesi which was full of people flowing from all directions and shops were still opened at 10 pm! Ahem, people with shops from other countries should hear this... I was so tired that I could barely move and if someone were to push me just a little, I would've just dropped on the stone right there. My muscles hurt like hell and when I went back to the hotel, I fell face down on the bed and didn't move anymore.

We spent the last few hours we had in Istanbul doing a bit of shopping and then prayed for our lives while in the taxi to the airport. My God, the Turks are the craziest drivers ever! :) We made it home safely and that's all that counts. The entire experience was lovely and I know I'm gonna go back someday to see the rest of things I could not see or just to sit in the sun in the park between Aya Sofia and Sultanahmet.

Tesekkur ederim, Istanbul!

No comments: