City Profile: Istanbul, Turkey – Part II

THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN ISTANBUL, TURKEY

Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar)

The bazaar is walking distance to Beyazit and Sultanahmet square. Take the tram to Beyazit square and find “Carsikapi,” one of the main entrances of the Grand Bazaar.

Istanbul.GrandBazaar002Photograph by Georges Jansoone JoJan via Wikimedia Commons

Get lost in the Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar), the world’s oldest and largest shopping centre. A shopper’s paradise since the mid-15th century, this vibrant bazaar has everything you could ever hope for and more. With over 58 streets and 4,000 shops, there is a lot to explore. Make your way through the labyrinth of of spices, carpets, bangles, and gold-plated ‘eyes’ which are believed to ward of evil. Walking through the maze is a physical and mental feat, as one must resist the hundreds of carpet sellers eager to lure you in their store, where you may end up leaving with a life-savings worth of rugs.Trade funny banter with the shopkeepers offering bargain deals and children eager to be your guide as you navigate yourself through the web of precious gems, fur, hadicrafts, leather, antique coins, and jewelry.

Bosphorus Night Cruise

Eminönü waterfront-Ferryboat docks or Golden Horn (West Side of Galata Bridge) for the TurYol boats

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Photograph by  via Pixabay.com Commons

To truly experience Istanbul’s romantic splendor, take the Bosphorus night cruise with the Ferry or the TurYol Boat. Experience the Old City, as you watch the fishing boats gently rock to and fro on the waves. Let the twinkling city lights, and the curtain of stars above your head be your guide as you sail through this 32-km strait, joinng the Sea of Mamara and the Black Sea. From any direction you set out towards, the Southern or Northern Bosphorus, Rumeli Kavagi, or North of the Fatih Bridge, you are bound to pass through some breathtaking sites, samles of such are: the six Ottoman palaces, the Rumeli Hisari (Fortress of Europe on the Northern Bosphorus), Sariyer (Fish market on the North side of the Fatih Bridge), the Topkapi Palace (on the Southern Bosphorus). Revel in the myth and mystique of Istanbul as you listen to stories about the sunken cities under the Turkish coast, how the Bosphorus is believed to be the source of Noah’s flood, and how Hera made Zeus’ mistress into a cow.

Topkapı Palace

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Photograph by Mircea Ostoia from Focsani, Romania (Topkapi Palace Istanbul) via Wikimedia Commons

Hours: Wed-Mon 9:00am-5:00pm

Tel: 0212 512 0480 (info)

One of Istanbul’s many highlights is that its history is a dramatic one. The Topkapi Palace is evidence of this, as it was the former home of Selim the Sot, who drowned in the bath after too much champagne, as well as Ibrahim the Mad who was inprisoned in the palace kafes (cages).  The tragedies do not end here, as the Topkapi has enough historic tales to fill a national library.

The Topkapi Palace, when translated, means “Cannongate Palace” and was primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans, as well as the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire. Built by Mehmet the Conquerer after his conquest of Turkey in 1453, the palace underwent numerous renovations all based upon Mehmet’s original four-courtyard pattern. Enjoy the splendors of the past as you walk through the Harem, the Fountain of Sultan Ahmet III, the Audience chamber, and Conquerer’s Pavillion. The harmony of its austere layout and intricate details have made this “Palace of Felicity” a paradise on earth.

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıçı)

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Photograph by Pnc net via Wikimedia Commons

Yerebatan Cad 13

Tel: 0212 522 1259 (info)

Hours: Oct-Mar 9:00am-5:30pm, Apr-Sep 9:00am-6:30pm

Web: http://www.yerebatansarnici.com

The Basilica Cistern, also known as the Yerebatan Sarnıçı, is an architects dream. As the largest of the hundreds of ancient cisterns beneath Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern has 336 columns, a grand ceiling, and a dramatic carvings, such as the upside down Medusa heads and teardrop designs. It was built in AD 532 by Emperor Justinian I with material from ruined buildings, as a place to store water for the Great Palace and surrounding buildings. In its sheer grandeur and composition, the Basilica Cistern is a breathtaking example of Byzantine sophistication.

GALATA TOWER

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Photograph by Penguin Cakes via Flickr Creative Commons

The Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi in Turkish) or better known as the Tower of Christ, is a sight as powerful as its name. As a former stronghold of the Genoese defense system of 1348 in Pera, this intimidating sight dominates the Istanbul skyline. Standing at 66.90  meters, the Galata Kulesi was once used as an observation tower for spotting fires during the Ottoman period. The view from the top is not to be missed, especially at sunset when the colors of the city come alive.

City Profile: Istanbul Food Trip

One of the most exciting aspects of traveling is trying out the local cuisine. Istanbul, for foodtrippers, taste-test junkies, and just plain old food lovers, is a 24-hour gastronomic feast. A fusion of Eastern and Western delights, the delicacies of Istanbul will invade the senses. From traditional Turkish and Mediterranean fare to international dishes, there is something to be found for every kind of palate.

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The gala of food can be found anywhere and everywhere in Istanbul, such as the Divan Yolu and Akbiyik Caddesi in the Sultanahmet, but for a true ‘taste’ of variety, head to the Beyoglu. Walking along the Istiklal Cadesi, you’ll find an array of restaurants and eateries. Ranging from doner kebap places to international style taverns, there’s little chance of leaving this area on an empty stomach.

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                                                                     Photograph by Damien Roue via Flickr Commons

Another prime area for food aficionados is the Kumkapi fish market. With rows and rows of fish restaurants, you’ll feel as though you’ve entered some strange “fish wonderland.” At nights, the area is ablaze with firelamps, fairylights, and glittery tambourines. It’s also a prime shopping location, with stalls and wandering sales people selling everything from rugs to rag dolls. Here you can get your fill of fillet kebaps, tamarind juice, arabic hummus, fish chowder soup, and ayva dolmasi (stuffed melon).

For those wanting to do a cook’s tour of the city, check out the local markets. If you still havent had enough of fish from the Kumkapi, check out the Eminou waterfront where you can literally, buy the ‘catch of the day’ from the fishermen who’ll even cook their catch for you for the all-inclusive price of 1 Euro. Another great area is the Egyptian market on wednesdays, where you’ll find a diverse selection of spices, dried fruit, sweets, and yes, fish.

Istanbul is a city for the senses and food is its most tangible delight. With specialty restaurants, historic markets, and mouth-watering street food, eating is not only a passion and a pleasure in Istanbul–it’s a way of life.

City Profile: Istanbul, Turkey – Part I

Want a chance to be in Europe AND Asia? Well, Turkey is one country where you’ll be able to explore these two continents. Learn more about this fascinating country by reading the first part of Hostelfy.me’s City Profile series!

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Photograph by Moyan Brenn via Flickr Commons

Turkey is culturally, historically, and geographically the cradle of civilization. It has been the fountainhead for the three most powerful societies in history: the Hitite, the Byzantine, and the Ottoman Empire. Situated between the continents of Europe and Asia, the country is a fusion of the East and West. It is considered as the link between cultures, as eight countries borders this transcontinental land: Greece on the west, Iran to the east, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to the northeast, Bulgaria to the Northwest, and Iraq and Syria to the southeast. It is surrounded by the Black Sea to the north, the Aegean Sea to the West, and the Mediterranean Sea to the South.

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The Bosphorus Bridge by night, as seen from the Ortaköy mosque. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto via Wikimedia Commons

Although Ankara is the state’s capital, Istanbul, being the country’s most populous city, has steadily grown to be the financial and cultural center. This developing metropolis, formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, is one of Europe’s most exciting and alluring cities. Encompassing 25 districts, this vibrant city stretches towards the European (Thrace) and Asian (Anatolia) side of the Bosphorus Strait. Thus, making it the only city in the world whose home belongs to two continents. The sights, smells, and sounds will intoxicate the senses–with its inspiring architecture, savory selection of street food, and sound of prayer–makes this city a truly physical and spiritual experience.

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Photograph by Moyan Brenn via Flickr Commons

Istanbul is not only caught between two continents, but also by two world views–the traditional and the modern. Despite this, most of the population live in harmony with one another. It is one of the few cities in the Muslim World that embraces both the cosmopolitan way of life and religious conservatism.

The city’s biggest draws? Its plethora of cool events!

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Photograph of the Istanbul Jazz Festival by GriZine via Flickr Commons

The abundance of events in Istanbul lead to an exotic and exciting trip. The Holy Month of Ramadan would have most of the people fasting from sunrise to sunset (at the exact times), therefore be polite and save your feast for sunset when they break their fast. If you really cant help yourself, there are a few restaurants and cafes open for the rare individuals choosing not to participate and for the non-Muslims.  The end of Ramazan, the festival of  Şeker Bayramı, is the feast of all feast. It turns into a massive party full of food, dancing, and mingling. Its also a massive cavity-fest, wherein the most tempting and delicious sweets are distributed. This three-day national holiday is when the city is truly alive with businesses closing and public transport being heartily championed.

Turkey’s most important religious celebration is the Kurban Bayrami. This four-day event is the commemoration of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. The celebration results in the city sky being filled with fireworks and sheep being sacrificed and distributed to the poor. Thus, if you would like to participate in the festivities, early planning is essential, since hotels are often fully booked and public transport tends to be packed like sardines.

Turkey, being predominantly Muslim, follow the lunar year of Hejira which is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian year. Thus, every year Muslim events occur 11 days earlier.

Another interesting times to visit this thriving city is in April for the Istanbul Film Festival, where the brightest stars of Turkey come to walk the red carpet. Other great events include the Conquest of Constantinople ceremony in May, the International Istanbul Music Festival and International Istanbul Jazz Festival in June and July, the International Istanbul Biennal in September and October.