A stunning metropolis that stretches on two continents. The city where Europe shakes hand with Asia via Bosporus Bridge and also the city where two distinct cultures live in harmony and respect each other. We always wanted to come over here so it’s time to take out the travel bag again…
We arrived to Istanbul by bus early in the morning and although it is not far from Bulgaria’s Burgas, the border checks are still precise so it’ good to be prepared for it and count at least 2 hours of delay. I started to wake up as soon as we entered Istanbul and the timing was perfect because we were just moving from the European part to Asian part of the city over the Bosphorus Bridge. The differences between Europe and Asia can be seen even from the window of the bus and I have to say we were pleasantly surprised with what we saw. New roads, everything clean and tidy. Our bus parked near the Grand Bazaar and we could finally go for a walk around this amazing city. Let’s start with the best what Istanbul offers – visit of Blue Mosque.
The biggest mosque in the city and one of the most visited monuments in Istanbul was built in 17th century. Its disposition and decoration is considered as the top of Ottoman architecture. It is surrounded by 6 minarets and is also called Sultanahmet. Blue Mosque consists of 3 parts: outdoor and indoor gardens and mosque itself. It’s called blue because it is decorated with lots of blue tiles with various plant motifs, but also with paintings, chandeliers, alabaster pillars and window fillings that create blue atmosphere. There is a spacious courtyard outside with a nicely decorated fountain. Entrance is free with appropriate clothes and we highly recommend the visit of this famous landmark. Our next stop – boat cruise under the Bosporus Bridge connecting Europe with Asia.
Boat trip through the Bosphorus strait which connects Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea is always a highlight of our trips to Istanbul. It starts alongside the European side and the view of the city from the sea is even better. In the distance you can see all the landmarks such as Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, Galata Tower and many more. After a while we finally noticed the gigantic construction of the famous Bosphorus Bridge which connects 2 continents. The trip continues alongside the fortress of Rumelihisari up to the next Fatih Bridge. Behind the bridge the boat turns to the right and moves towards the Asian side and continues to the port. Istanbul is a huge metropolis with many things to watch so you can easily get tired. That’s why the best what you can do is get on the boat and see the whole beauty from the upper deck. We carry on to Grand Bazaar.
The Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s oldest and biggest covered bazaars. It covers an area of 61 streets with more than 4,000 shops. The entrance is free and it will be a feast for your senses. Even if you don’t buy anything this place is definitely worth the visit. The mixture of varieties of colours, smells and flavours with all those vendors shouting at passing by tourists and inviting hem into their shops. You need to see it to believe it. It’s one of the tourist traps, always full of people but some souvenir always comes handy. Our next stop – Istanbul Aquarium.
Aquariums belong to our favourite places so even in Istanbul we couldn’t miss it. It is considered to be the world’s largest theme aquarium. Sea life with interesting species from all around the world attract many visitors. Once you get here look for the shark tunnel and the mirror labyrinth. From aquarium we are heading to next landmark – Dolmabahce Palace.
Along the Besiktas football stadium we reach one of the most preserved palaces which once used to be a sultan residence and also the centre of the Ottoman empire. It was also a residence of the first Turkish president – Father of the nation Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The palace is located near famous Taksim square in the European part of the city. It’s really worth the visit not only the inside of the palace but also the outside magnificent gardens. There are 285 rooms inside the palace and the dance hall is one of the largest in the world. The gardens are covered with lots of sculptures and fountains and you can get the best view of the Bosphorus from here. We recommend that you reserve at least half of the day to see everything inside and outside of the palace. The best always come at the end and for us it was the visit of the world-famous temple of Hagia Sophia.
Hagia Sophia also called Church of the Holy Wisdom is the absolute masterpiece of Byzantine architecture and belongs to the main landmarks of Istanbul. The building that represents Christianity and Muslim ideology went through a turbulent past. The construction was completed around year 562 and at that time served as an Orthodox church, later was under the administration of the Catholic Church and ended up as a Muslim mosque. During the Muslim supremacy there were 4 minarets built next to the main building which have been preserved until today. Nowadays the building is a museum and inside the basilica you can see many frescoes, mosaics, chandeliers, sacred pillars and green marble. The entry fee is around 9 Euros but it is definitely worth the visit of this historic gem.
Istanbul – Constantinopole – Byzantium is a huge metropolis with even bigger potential in which every visitor will find something of his interest. The city full of mosques and minarets, famous labyrinth of Grand Bazaar, endless traffic jams, opulent Bosphorus, rich history, excellent cuisine and unforgettable nightlife is a complete rarity that won’t disappoint you. It is one of the largest places in the world and it will take you several days, patience and good condition for if you want to see the best of it.
There are many other interesting places to see in Turkey for sure but if you start with Istanbul you will be pleasantly surprised when you find out how stylish can Europe get along with Asia…
Tip 1: The best way how to travel around Istanbul and to avoid the traffic jams is to buy a tram day ticket or take a Big Bus Tour and visit all attractions in a one go.
Tip 2: There are always long queues to Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia and it’s wise to wake up early and start the visit early morning.
Tip 3: The best place where to try delicious Turkish cuisine an see amazing atmosphere of total chaos is Grand Bazaar.
Total costs: 1 night (Accommodation + bus from Bulgaria + Meals): £100.00
(Prices as of June 2011)
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