I went there exhausted, without expectations and stayed greatly impressed. Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, is such a cosmopolitan place of various religions and cultures, situated on two continents and two seas, Marmara and the Black Sea. It was the capital of two empires, Byzantine and Ottoman, and now is the most populous city in Turkey and Europe. My travel comprised of four tours, three of which were walks afoot around the city, and one taken with the ferry to Adalar, or also known as the Princes’ Islands. Here, I present them together with a thorough list of the sites I visited myself as well as all those interesting places to be seen in general. I hope you will enjoy sharing my travel with me!
First Tour around Istanbul
I thought, as for the first tour of all, it was going to be the most ambitious though, compared to the rest upcoming, the all four of them would come relatively so.
A view from the Golden Horn embankment garden to the North European part of Istanbul with the sea boats, the large white silhouettes of Istanbul Naval Hospital, North Sea Area Command and other of the buildings of Beyoğlu district.
The day began at pre-noon time with the usual late breakfast, a trade mark of mine, and straight forwarded to the Golden Horn direction. The three main targets aimed there were the Galata Tower, the Iron Church and the Palace of Porphyrogenetus, also popular as Tekfur Saray. The plan was drawn well, and with good speed and organized march promised to be successful. The sunny day promised the same, and together with the picturesque route winding above and along the Golden Horn revealed a walk full of pleasure. Honestly, I was going to taste the delight of this walk much later because what I felt instead was being strained under pressure. Usually, first round is the godmother of the whole visit as it returns with precious information for the actual features of the situation and personal potentials there. Succeeding to fulfil the plan would repay with good amount of sight-seen places at noteworthy distances.
The first part of the leg went contentedly under the schedule. Galata is a remarkable district in the North European part of the city, famous for its settlers – comers from Europe, and therefore European-oriented architecture. The Tower was a mighty site to experience. Climbing at its top I was granted with an unforgettable breath-taking panorama viewing over entire Istanbul and to all of its directions. I had the double chance to walk around the neighbourhood with my eyes and then on feet along its lovable streets. I loved the atmosphere right from first sight for the majority of buildings there were from the 30s, a favourite style and time of mine. Offer me to have my house and I am there. Everywhere it smelled like Europe and I myself felt like home. Difficult to farewell but the rest of the targets were waiting impatiently.
Crossing Golden Horn through the bridges is not an easy experience because of the heavy traffic but it rewards back along the embankment sidewalk. Somewhere there in a neat park garden lied the Church of St. Stephen, known as the church of Bulgarians, an exquisite work of art made entirely from iron. The natural waving of pride and excited respect; my heart sank once for its beauty and then again for its current physical condition. Could such a masterpiece be left to the rust and corruption?! Could its owners have left their Holy Beauty to ruin to dust little by little?! The answer was quite obvious, rusty and painful…
Time good enough to have a resting lunch with the fabulous Soup of the Day, Istanbul dainty, the most delicious lentil soup I have ever tasted (well, but mom’s); and with fresh strengths (were they?!) on to the rest of the program awaiting. The question was what way to approach from. Keeping along Golden Horn to Blachernae seemed certain but longer-taking. So, I agreed to the more interesting and (so thought) shorter way, directly pushing through the adjoining neighbourhood. What doubled my determination was catching glimpse of Greek School in its amazing crimson silhouette. Compared to Galata, Fener is a classic model of the Orient. Most peculiar place with old unkempt houses tumbled-down and scattered in chaotic order. “Directly” was quite the funny word concerning this picturesque area with little passages and winding streets, easy and sure traps for underestimating “stupid tourists” (as the word) to get lost, and as we found ourselves to be.
Yet, despite the strikes of uncertainty and momentous fear of losing way in the fading daylight, and although succeeding to reach only a part of Blachernae walls, short of time to see Tekfur Saray itself, now I can totally appreciate it. Meeting the real face of Istanbul, the odd group of youths at the corner, the man ready to polish our shoes for nothing just for being “komshi” and his parents – our compatriots, the people trying to help over the map in an incomprehensible language, the kids laughing and following after us in curiosity, it was the real experience, exciting to its utmost.
Second Tour to Adalar
The second tour from all the four was a ferry walk to the group of nine islands in Marmara Sea, off the Asian shores of Istanbul, known as Princes’. Officially and simply, they call them Adalar.
The ferry port cafe of Buyukada, Adalar with a view to Heybeliada and Kinaliada islands.
The undertaking was amazing because it was all self-improvised. Started with the ferry from the European part of Istanbul, tripped to the isles and had a romantic walk around the largest one, Buyukada, the Big Island, first with a carriage and then afoot to its well-known Silent monastery on the higher hill from two.
It was sunny that day but too windy in the sea as well, and therefore a bit chilly. So, footed on the island, I found the atmosphere very patient. The weather was a warm feeling, just like in a fairy-tale… More that I came across those little green bottles of red wine sold in the monastery kitchen to warm me up further. I fell in love, I was seeing such cute little green bottles of red wine for the first time!! We had a meager lunch because of the food eaten up in the basic part by some luckier reached there before us, but at the expense of it we were rewarded with an unforgettable shining see view from the same top of the Island.
No cars allowed there. Only carriages and walks afoot. Between the two I undertook, I could not make any special difference because of our horse which found to be the laziest of all in the heap and made us creep uphill with a walker’s tempo. Good thing was that the time was quite enough for us to enjoy the heavenly scenery together with the gorgeous residences stretched along the alleys. All a perfect dreaming!! I had never expected to so much love a wooden villa in my life. And I did. They were just so white, romantic and so… sea-magic. I have even decided to dedicate an entire new topic on Buyukada architecture – it has completely deserved my special attention with its fairy and eccentricity.
The island is uninhabited until the vacation season. The only creatures met in the empty streets besides the tourists were the keepers and maintainers of the rich estates as well as the island’s puffy cats. I was almost made an adopter of a one when it decided to like exactly me and fixed upon me. Regarding the villas, the owners seemed to be of pretty wealth. So, me as a master of a Buyukada cat would have surely been my utmost material achievement for that moment. They say same Sean Connery has a residence somewhere there in the range but I did not see anything to prove for real.
Next, took the last ferry back but this time landing on the Asian side, my first time ever, found a casual microbus taxi and drove along the magnificent Bosphorus Bridge over the nocturnal Bosphorus. A glorious experience!! More exciting for everyone was put in wonder why a one would choose a longer taking path to cross the Strait instead of using the faster and easier ferry service?! And finally, mostly fabulous because the day was the 31st of December and I just turned back to the initial point at the hotel headquarters through the famous Taksim Square to literally meet the New Year.
Third Tour around Istanbul
This was the tour leg with the largest program and therefore the most tiresome of all. The reason, the little pebble in my shoe, was that I had missed the entire previous day, the first day of the New Year, in an accidental and all personal manner, and needed to catch up with its appointed visits as well. Despite of it, I should say, I had felt more pressure during my first walk and would feel the already loaded exhaustion in the upcoming.
Basilica Cistern underground water with golden fish and thrown-in coins.
I succeeded to see all of them, the Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sofia, the Basilica Cistern, then to throw myself as further as the Yedikule Fortress and the Golden Gate, and finally to turn back through the Valens Aqueduct. Taking a look at the map, only then you will be able to realize what the whole picture resembles in kilometers. I was on foot the entire time except for the segments from the Center to the Istanbul University, from around there to the Belgrade Gate, and from Yedikule to the Valens Aqueduct.
Take also into account that most of these places are world-famous monuments of history and culture, important to be seen, and to be seen thoroughly. They need our time and attention to reveal their prominent features, and we would need the same on our behalf to be able to rationalize this great amount of information, welcoming the chance to experience the strong emotion of our meeting in a natural way. Moreover, the Topkapi Palace is a place usually taking a day for a visit because of its dimensions and complexity. Actually, it is a monument composed of numerous others.
I think the main reasons for such an ambitious round to turn to be successful were the top central location of my accommodation; also the fact that the first main group of places of interest was in a very close range to one another and one hand distanced from the hotel. Surely, I do not want to miss mentioning the politeness of Istanbulites, always ready to help and guide, the well-developed urban transport net, and finally, the luck. Of course. In the end, I was awarded for my hard pushing. I saw a fabulous fortress, although half of it in dusk, and one of the most exquisite sites my eyes had ever touched, the lovely Basilica Cistern, full of beauty, music, golden fish and water. You might say, a place born just for me and I would totally agree.
Fourth Tour around Istanbul
The last day of my visit we had snow, wet and falling in heavy white rags, a great surprise even for the city itself. You have already seen what the winter sea climate of Istanbul looked like during our presence there in my pictures so far. After the wonderful sun we were blessed with on the first day of the New Year and remembering the time before, the fairy-tale weather of our ferry trip to the islands, that day we reached the complete set of experienced emotions.
The desert embankment of the snowy Marmara Sea.
I am quite far away from a winter lover. Disliking its frost and chill to my deepest, I am born to make it through them all and welcome the green. Despite my nature, this extraordinary snow made it all special in my eyes and I could feel truely satisfied with my stay there. As when you could get everything, even the impossible. As if Istanbul wanted us to leave fulfiled, with a basket to the top with every piece of Turkish delight existing in taste and colour. I loved the feeling and I loved having warmer clothes in my luggage too.
Yet, speaking of the cold, I could not escape the extreme experience with my visit to the Blue Mosque. As it usually happens, the monument we used to face every single day on start and turning back in the evenings; the one, closest to the hotel, was left unseen for the final. So, it is the rule, you get what you have prepared. There is a law in the Islamic world to take shoes off before entering a temple. And while it was snowing most heavily in the meantime, I could have no different choice. You can propably imagine how neither the thick red carpets nor the golden splendour inside managed to warm my poor frozen feet… I was only left to warm my soul in the spiritual sense.