Thursday, 2 July 2015
The first thing I did this morning was check my swollen feet…all the walking on cobble streets, up and down hills, took its toll on me the previous day. But icing and some anti-inflammatories seem to have had the desired effect. And we had a bit of a different day planned…a Bosphorus cruise.
The Bosphorus is the strait that connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara in Istanbul and it separates the Asian and European continents. Ideally, if we had more time in Istanbul, we would have loved to make a trip inland. There is so much to see in Turkey, but alas we didn’t have the time. But we were definitely going to do a cruise on the Bosphorus! We needed a little bit more of a relaxing day after two extremely busy days and decided to take the Şehir Hatları cruise, the official ferry company. They offer several Bosphorus cruises, and we chose the full Bosphorus cruise, which takes an hour and 45 minutes, to its final stop in Anadolu Kavaği, the last port before the Black Sea. If we left at 10:35am, we would arrive in Anadolu Kavaği just after 12:00pm, which would give us sufficient time to have a look about and have some lunch, before the return journey at 15:00pm. And we would be back in Istanbul in time to still do something else. Perfect!
We left the apartment and stopped for a traditional Turkish breakfast at Istanbul Travel Café, en route from our accommodation to the tram station.
We took the tram to the Eminönü harbour and bought a return ticket for TL25. We also decided to rent guided tour headsets and settled inside the ferry. The guided tour was interesting and came with a booklet and gave lots of information about the many large homes and palaces (yalı) on the banks of the Bosphorus. There was a map (much more detailed than the picture below!) accompanying the headsets, and we had much fun trying to identify the houses from the pictures…not always so easy.
The ferry stops at a few ports along the way, but not long enough to disembark. The Bosphorus is quite a sight and it was clear why this strait has fascinated so many over the centuries. The legend goes that the Greek God Zeus had an affair with a beautiful woman named Io. When Hera, his wife, discovered his infidelity, she turned Io into a cow and created a horsefly to sting her on the rump. Io jumped clear across the strait. And hence the name, as bous (cow) and poros (crossing place) was combined to form Bosphorus or the crossing place of the cow…
Sitting high on the hills overlooking Anadolu Kavağı and the Black Sea is the Yorus Fortress, built by the Byzantines in the same spot where Phoenician and Greek ruins from hundreds of years BC are being excavated today. It was the perfect position with views in all directions.We saw the fortress from the ferry and wanted to walk up, but I must admit we underestimated the climb quite a bit, but it was definitely worth it! The views over the Black Sea were magnificent!
Back at the harbour, we had a fantastic lunch of local produce and fish (of course).
After lunch, we made a move on the ferry as we wanted to have good seats on the way back. While we were waiting for the ferry to depart we enjoyed the views and scenes, including local afternoon activities!
The return trip was relaxing and we had beautiful views over the European banks and even had a glimpse of the Dolmabahçe Palace.
We disembarked at the Karaköy harbour and took the tram to Taksim Square, at the northern end of the most famous shopping street, İstiklal Caddesi, our next place to explore…We had a coffee at Starbucks, as you do with a teenager on tow, and set off to explore. İstiklal is a pedestrian road and reminiscent of many European and British shopping streets with the likes of H&M and many other high street stores dotted with family owned Turkish shops. It was quite a sight. There is also a historical tram running down the street.
As this was almost the last day in Istanbul, we did a little bit of shopping, before we finally rested our tired feet at a local Kebab restaurant. Joining just as the locals were breaking their fast, we were astonished at the sizes of some of the feasts being consumed around us! After dinner, we walked the last bit to our apartment, and fell into bed exhausted!
Friday, 3 July 2015
It was our last full day in Istanbul…and we could not believe it. Our days in Istanbul were packed to the brim and we had seen and experienced so much, but we were not done yet, and we wanted to get the most out of our final day. Which meant we had a very full day planned, mainly shopping. Anya made lists of everyone we still needed to get gifts for and saved it on my iPad. We had leftovers for breakfast and made our way to the Eminönü district.
First stop the Spice Market! I bought spices and Anya bought some of her loved Apple tea, Then we made our way, as we did with Cammie on Tuesday, past the sweet shop, stopping for tulumba and onwards to Altan Sekerleme, for some sweets and Turkish delight.
Our next stop was at the Yeni Cami or New Mosque where we met Cammie the first day. We were given cloaks to cover ourselves and entered. It was prayer time, and we traipsed around quietly while taking in the beauty.
We made our way to the Suleymaniye area, because there were one other thing we definitely wanted to do and that was to visit a Turkish bath. And there was a Turkish bath in the Suleymaniye district, and we decided it would be the perfect stop after our next escapade, the Grand Bazaar! We made a reservation and went to the Grand Bazaar or Büyük Çarşı. It is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets, with construction started in 1455! And who says shopping is a new hobby??
Our bartering skills were tested at the bazaar and on more than a few occasions, we would walk away wondering whether you got a good deal or not, but it was a fantastic experience and we managed to spend a fair amount of Turkish Lira…!
At the end of the day, we were exhausted and as we made our way to the Suleymaniye Hamam, we were looking forward to a pampering session! The Suleymaniye Hamam was commissioned by the Sultan Suleyman the Great and was built in 1557. It is a small hamam and caters for families and couples as opposed to most of the hamams in the city that separates men and women.
And pampering it was…As you enter the hamam, you are given a bikini set made from material and a Turkish towel, as well as wooden slippers. The routine starts off with a sauna session on a large slab in the centre of the domed hamam. You then proceed to one of the rooms leading off from the sauna area where you are scrubbed and foamed from head to toe! They even wash your hair if you so wish. After the 15-20 minute scrubbing session, you are given dry towels to wrap yourself in and are led of to a small lounge, where you can order refreshments while you wait to dry completely.
Of course, with all the shopping, and snacking all day long, both Anya and I had not eaten much during the day and it was already 16:00 by the time our hamam experience started, and we both got headaches from dehydration. I would definitely recommend making sure you are properly hydrated before going to a hamam!
After getting dressed (there are even hairdryers), we relaxed for a while in the common loung area, before starting to make our way back to our apartment with all our shopping!
I took a headache tablet on an empty stomach at the hamam, and this resulted in nausea, so I needed to lie down for a little bit. The lie down was fairly short though, because there was one more item on our list of things to do…dinner on the Asian side.
We made our way back to the Eminönü and caught another ferry to Kadıköy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. We made it to Kadıköy just in time to view our final sunset and what a sunset it was! The view of the Hagia Sophia from a completely different continent was mind blowing. There was an live band playing music and people walking around in traditional clothes.
We made our way to the Ciya Sofrasi restaurant, another recommendation from Cammie. As they were not allowing English menus during Ramadan, it was a bit of a confusing effort to order dinner, but we managed eventually and had a good meal.
As we made our way back to the apartment, knowing that we didn’t have much time for anything other than packing the next day, we had mixed feelings. We wished that we had a few more days in Istanbul or even enough time to go and see a bit more of Turkey, but also looking forward to sleeping in our own beds again.
Istanbul was an experience that transcended anything that I was expecting. The indisputable place where east and west meet, in the architecture, the food and the people. I would love to go back one day and spend more time in this city with new experiences around each corner. And maybe venture into the rest of the country.
Until we meet again!
(if you missed the first two parts of this journey, click here)