“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” I couldn’t agree more with this quote from Freya Stark. While mornings are beautifully different when you’re greeted by a new place to experience and discover, solitary traveling has been encouraging me to become more responsible, independent and self-reliant.
Like what I usually do nowadays when I travel, I tried to explore the charming city of Istanbul on my own. Although I was provided with a guide-map by the people from the hotel I stayed in, I did little interactions with friendly locals and a few tourists by asking them directions to my itineraries.
KARAKOY AND TOPHANE IN BEYOGLU DISTRICT
Previously known as Pera (which means, “across” in Greek), I found Beyoglu district in Istanbul, Turkey so quaint and very fascinating. Located at the European side of the city, Beyoglu is geographically detached from the more touristy area of Sultanahmet, or the Old City of Istanbul, by the Golden Horn and the Galata Bridge.
Because my chosen bed-and-breakfast accommodation, Sub Karakoy Hotel is located at Beyoglu district, I had the luxury of strolling around nearby streets before I went to my destination in the morning. Here’s a quick glimpse to what I visually savored (Oh how I miss the scenes and scent of winter!)…
Random street that’s a stone-throw-away from Sub Karakoy Hotel.
Old is gold, as they say. I found gold and mint in this stunning structure.
Istanbul skyline is crowned by domes.
Kilik Ali Pasha Mosque at the background, and Tophane fountain.
And of course, the Galata Tower dominates the Beyoglu skyline.
I reckon I am good at directions. However, something went wrong when I was trying to figure out my way to Taksim Square via Istikalal Caddesi. I took the wrong way from Karakoy going to Dolmabahce Palace directions (which I failed to visit due to heavy snowfall and limited time – that made a legit reason to come back), instead of walking towards Galata Bridge. It was a blessing in disguise, so to speak, as I became more oriented and familiar with the place.
At last, the intersection in Karakoy, just off Galata Bridge!
For some reason before embarking on my first trip to Turkey, I was warned several times by my Turkish friend, Mehmet, to be extra-careful in dealing with taxi cab drivers in Istanbul. Hence, I ditched the idea of taking cabs and embraced the joy of commuting around the city via public trams, armed by a reloadable Istanbulkart. I bought Istanbulkart from a newspaper and magazine kiosk at the junction of Karakoy and Galata Bridge, for 26 Turkish liras inclusive of load already.
Reloadable Istanbulkart. My access to trams that kept me mobile when I was in Istanbul.
Few steps from where I availed of my Istanbulkart, I found the oldest tram in Turkey. I had the privilege of riding that 140-year-old-tram that brought me from Karakoy to Beyoglu proper, near one end of Istiklal Avenue. Built in 1875, the tunnel’s considered as the world’s second oldest underground metro. It’s also amazing to note that each of the two operating trams in the tunnel completes one-way-journey for 90 seconds and together make 181 trips per day!
ISTIKLAL CADDESI or ISTIKLAL AVENUE en route to TAKSIM SQUARE
Right after the turnstiles, Beyoglu district greeted me with sights of Simit carts (Simit is Turkish pretzel with sesame seeds; a must-try-street-food) and those two heritage red cable cars that run along Istiklal Caddessi all the way to Taksim Square.
I opted to maximize my Istiklal Avenue experience by taking the historic cable tram for one way to Taksim Square, and walk my way back to the Tunel. That Istanbulkart was so useful even on this tram!
I had to go down halfway to sample that Turkish pretzel encrusted with sesame seeds. Simit has its own character; each variety differs from city to city as per my readings. This affordable one-Turkish-lira-bread prepared with fine flour and molasses, is so crispy and crunchy that would give your teeth a challenge; nonetheless, you’ll crave for it afterwards as it’s surprisingly filling and could sustain you for hours!
Sampling Simit. That Turkish bagel or pretzel sprinkled with sesame seeds. Yummy!
To say that Istiklal Caddesi is a busy pedestrian street is an understatement. It effortlessly attracts people from all walks of life, both travelers and local tourists. Coffee shops, eateries, gorgeous old buildings built in neo-gothic and neo-classical architecture, mosques, churches, restaurants and boutiques make Istiklal Caddesi even more interesting!
Local and foreign coffee shops spring like mushrooms in Istiklal Caddesi!
A few steps more and I found the roundabout at the Taksim Square. The other terminal end of Istiklal Avenue where the Monument of the Republic stands proud!
THE REPUBLIC MONUMENT AT TAKSIM SQUARE
Cumhuriyet Anıtı in Turkish, or The Republic Monument located in Taksim Square, Istanbul is a commemorative structure to honor the establishment of Turkish Republic in 1923. Impressively built at the center of a roundabout where the historic red cable trams revolve, the Republic Monument has two faces fronting northwards and the other one towards Istiklal Caddesi- each of which has the statues of the founders of Turkish Republic. The first president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was depicted in the monument by two important roles that he played in the history of his country -one of his statues shows him as a military man, the other as a statesman.
Monument of the Republic at Taksim Square.
Ataturk at the center, as a statesman.
Ataturk at the center, as a military man.
Eateries that sell freshly squeeze orange juice and pomegranate juice, doner or Turkish shawarma.
I initially thought of taking the tram one way, however, I rode it again halfway back to Istiklal Caddesi to look for Minor Basilica of Saint Anthony de Padua. Then I relied on my feet again back to the Tunel.
En route to my return to the Tunel via the tram in Istiklal Caddesi, I almost didn’t see the largest Catholic Church in Istanbul. Known locally as Sent Antuan, Church of Saint Anthony of Padua in Beyoglu is considered as a minor basilica and is run by Italian priests. It’s a destination in Istanbul regardless of your religion.
With almost empty stomach except for what I had during breakfast buffet in the hotel, and that ingested Simit, I came back to Karakoy and waited for the train that took me to Sultanahmet. Amazing what I could experience and see in a matter of few hours in this beautiful Turkish city!
I went back to Sultanahmet area and paid Hagia Sophia a visit. After indulging on a bit of history, heritage and religion, I tried to find the Grand Bazaar just to take a glimpse of it. Shopping was not on my list of things-to-do in Turkey except for few handy souvenirs like fridge magnets and postcards.
Because I didn’t have roaming services on my mobile phone and I had to satisfy my craving for lunch, I was in dire need of a restaurant that serves tasteful local cuisine with fast and free wifi and a decent and clean washroom. Luck was on my side that despite gloomy winter weather which ironically, I warmly received, I quickly found Saray Restaurant just beside Yeni Cami or the New Mosque which I regret not to visit. Saray Restaurant is located right across the Eminonu train station.
About an hour later, I braved the cold weather and went my way across, near the Golden Horn and Galata Bridge.
GALATA BRIDGE OVER THE GOLDEN HORN
And then I was mesmerized by the populated district of Eminonu.
Perhaps, other than Simit and that Turkish Shwarma called, Doner, no visit to Istanbul is complete without tasting what Eminonu is famous for. The Balik Ekmek or the fish bread. Currently sold at 6 liras per order, the freshly grilled fish fillet on a sandwich filled with onions and seasoned with lemon juice and salt, defines Istanbul as a harbor-city. As fascinating as this modest staple food, Balik Ekmek is being grilled inside ornately decorated Turkish boats docked in the shores of Golden Horn at one corner of Galata Bridge.
Glorious sunset, majestic view of Galata Tower and entire Beyoglu, the calm waters of Golden Horn, the sight of pedestrians and vehicles in Galata Bridge, the unique beauty of Istanbul and that fish sandwich called Balik Ekmek. It was a memorable and special winter afternoon for me!
At around 5PM on my second day in Istanbul, I took the train from Eminonu to Karakoy. Actually, I could’ve walked my way back over the Galata Bridge if it wasn’t for heavy snowfall. From Karakoy station, I strolled my way back to Sub Hotel.
Fershen up and rested a bit, I had dinner with my Turkish good friend, Mehmet, who’s a photographer, a businessman, a travel-magazine writer, and someone who traveled the world and who experienced Palawan, Bohol, Batad, Sagada, Cebu, Manila in my country.
After Mehmet treated me over dinner of Turkish Kebap and other dishes, Baklava for dessert and local tea and yoghurt, he drove me around and took me to Ortakoy and Asian part of Istanbul.
Ortakoy is a small village right in the shores of Bosphorus at the European side of the city. It boasts of a scenic view of Bopshorus Strait under the Bosphorurs bridge, that links European side to the Asian continent.
Immediately after parking, we walked towards Ortakoy Mosque. Several local eateries sell that baked potato dish with whole lot of toppings called, Kumpir. Because we just had dinner, I failed to try Kumpir. Now, add that to my list of things-to-do when I find a chance to revisit Turkey.
Mehmet told me that the view of Asian continent from Ortakoy Mosque at the Euopean side of Istanbul, with Bosphorus Bridge and Bosphorus Strait is a favorite subject in photography. I only took a photo of such iconic scene using my mobile phone. Then he drove me around Asia and took me where I had a view of the islet where Maiden’s tower stands at the southern part of Bosphorus strait. It was already dark and my photos didn’t do justice to capture the view. I know there’ll be time for me to go back to Maiden’s Tower and Ortakoy, to enjoy Turkish tea with Kumpir one afternoon along the shores of Bosphorus.
It goes without saying, I didn’t only take photos during my first trip in Turkey but created and collected fond memories from Istanbul that are worthy to cherish for a lifetime!
I hope to see you again next winter, Istanbul!
*This Istanbul Travel Blog Series includes :
- My Travel Checklist and Turkey Tourist Visa Requirements for Filipinos in Dubai
- Sub Karakoy Hotel : My Home in Turkey
- Galata Tower At Sunset
- Sultanahmet District : Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Hippodrome, Basilica Cistern
- Istiklal Caddesi, Taksim Square, Karakoy in Beyoglu, Eminonu and Ortakoy