Learn about Istanbul, Turkey by reading Incredible
Istanbul by Gary W. Bloom, WTA Member and Leisure
Traveler/Writer. It features a mini, but thorough tour of the
destination, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip
including how to get there, objective information on places to stay
and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided
a summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!
Istanbul, Turkey - Incredible Istanbul
Gary W. Bloom, WTA Member and Traveler/Writer
The haunting cries of
the muezzins woke me at sunrise my first morning In Istanbul. Startled, I
lay in bed, wide-awake, listening to their cries to come to prayer shouted
from hundreds of minarets. I had never heard anything quite like it, and
hearing it for the first time in a strange city was a little frightening.
In an age of homogenized cities and people, I was suddenly aware that I
was in a foreign land far removed from home.
I went to the window of
the hotel room. The sun was just beginning to penetrate the haze and
glisten off the Golden Horn. The solemn cries continued, as they have for
centuries. There are few places in the world that conjure up images of
intrigue, secrecy, and romance, as does Istanbul.
When taking a walking
tour of this mysterious city surrounded by water, the Galata Bridge is a
good place to begin. From this shifting bridge built on pontoons across
the deep waters of the Golden Horn, old Istanbul can be seen to the south,
the Pera district to the north, and the Asian continent to the east. The
bridge is a convenient resting stop between the sites in old Istanbul and
the Pera district, where most of the modern hotels are located. The bridge
has two levels, with pedestrian traffic on the lower level, along with
many seafood restaurants and shops. An evening dinner on the Galata,
watching the fishing boats ply the Golden Horn and listening to the
constant barter of the merchants and the muezzins cry from the surrounding
minerets, is a once in a lifetime experience.
The mystical Istanbul of
A Thousand and One Nights can be found in the Topkapi Palace. The Palace
took 14 years, from 1465 to 1478, to build. Inside its gates is a
cacophony of architectural styles that reflect each succeeding sultan's
tastes. The one theme that predominates is the openness of the palace,
with its many courtyards, fountains, and covered walkways. The beautiful
fountains and latticework were more than just ornaments. As an early form
of espionage, the grated windows were an effective means of suppressing
criticism of the sultan, who at any time could be listening from behind
the latticework. And to keep others from listening in on him, the sultan
employed strategically placed fountains whose tranquil sounds concealed
his secret conversations. The fountain near the entrance to the palace at
the Gate of Salvation served yet another purpose. The chief executioner
used this fountain to clean up after performing his grisly duties.
The Topkapi Palace is
divided into small museums devoted to particular aspects of palace life.
There are sections devoted to Ottoman weapons, the sultan's robes, sacred
relics, silverware, and porcelain. Chinese porcelain held special
significance for the sultans, since it was believed to expose poisoned
food. The Treasury Section contains the famous jeweled Topkapi Dagger and
the 86 carat Spoonmaker Diamond.
The area of the Palace
known as the Harem has been the subject of countless novels and fantasies.
Only a few of its 400 rooms have been opened to the public, but they
provide a glimpse into what was once forbidden. Although some sultans
required the company of more than a thousand women, there was one sultan,
not particularly interested in girls, who wore nail-studded shoes to warn
the concubines to get out of his sight.
The Author in Front of the Blue Mosque
You could spend weeks
exploring the mosques of Istanbul, since there are more than 400 within
the city. The Suleyman is one of the most famous, and is also the largest.
Suleyman the Magnificent, a fierce warrior, led his army on 13 campaigns,
extending the Ottomon Empire from central Europe to Asia and North Africa.
The mosque took seven years to build. The extensive complex included a
hospital, colleges, a soup kitchen, and numerous baths.
Istanbul is also a
shopper's paradise, if you're willing to bargain. The Covered Market, also
known as the Grand Bazaar, is the oldest and largest marketplace in the
world, dating back to the 15th century. There are more than 50 streets and
3,000 shops beneath the calico patchwork of canvas tents. The street
names, such as Yorgancilar, which means quilt maker, are from the days
when guilds congregated along certain streets.
This wouldn't be Turkey
without Turkish baths, and the Turks swear they're the best hangover
remedy ever. The full treatment consists of a massage in the steam room
and then a bath by an attendant who uses a course mitten to scrub every
last remnant of the night before out of you. After being doused with cold
water, you're ready again to face the world.
In an age when it's
sometimes difficult to distinguish Madrid from Minneapolis, Istanbul
continues to astound visitors. There were the Gypsies I encountered,
posing for me with their two brown bears. There was the wonderful, exotic
dinner at the Pera Palace Hotel, where Agatha Christie wrote much of her
novel, Murder On The Orient Express, and where the Mata Hari, the
World War One spy, once stayed. As I left my modern hotel for the trip to
the airport, an ox-drawn cart was lumbering down the street, one last
reminder of this very foreign city of endless contrasts.
Airlines offering service from the US to Istanbul include American,
Delta and Turkish Airlines, which have direct flights, and
Northwest, KLM, United, Alitalia, Austrian, and Lufthansa, with
connecting flights. As of April 2002, round-trip airfare from the US
could be found for around $700. Shuttle buses provide inexpensive
service from Ataturk Airport to Istanbul, a distance of about 15
Where to stay:
Mesrutiyet Caddesi 98-100, Tapebasi , Istanbul
This four star hotel was built in 1892, as suitable luxurious
lodging for those arriving on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie is
among the many famous guests who have stayed here. Some rooms have
views of the Golden Horn. Close to the British Embassy and US
Consulate, and about 5 miles from the Blue Mosque. Excellent
restaurant and bar, where spies such as the Mata Hari used to hang
out. Doubles are about $150 with breakfast included.
Pierreloti Caddesi 5 Sultanahmet,
This small hotel is located in Old Istanbul close to St.
Sophia, the Topkapi, and other major attractions. Restaurant and
bar. Doubles are about $80.
Empress Zoe Hotel
Akbiyik Caddesi Adliey Sok. 10, Istanbul
A small boutique hotel near the Blue
Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia, Empress Zoe is a restored
Ottoman House. The terrace bar has views of the Marmara Sea. Double
rooms are about $70 including breakfast.
Where and What
Shish Kebab, which had its beginnings with Ottoman soldiers cooking
chunks of lamb on their swords over a campfire, is just a small
taste of what Istanbul has to offer. Food experts rank Turkish
cuisine right up there with French and Chinese. From seafood to lamb
and chicken dishes to its famous Turkish delight deserts, Istanbul
gives the visitor exotic foods to match its location.
Yakup 2 Restaurant
Asmalımescit Sok., 35/37, Tunel-Beyoğlu
Tel: (90-212) 249-2925
A smoky hangout for journalists and locals, this restaurant is known
for its mezes. Prices are inexpensive, with most dishes under $12.
Try their octopus salad or stuffed clams.
Misir Carsisi (Spice Bazaar), Eminonu, Istanbul
Located at the foot of the Galata Bridge, Pandeli’s is one of the
best restaurants in Istanbul in one of the best locations, with
spectacular views of the Golden Horn. Prices are moderate, with
main courses under $15. Specialties include Bass
Cooked in Papilote and Lamb Shank with Vegetables. Open only for
lunch, 11:30am to 3:30pm Monday through Saturday.
Balikpazari, Gumusyuzuk Sok 7, Samataya, Istanbul
Develi is an excellent kebab restaurant located in one of the oldest
quarters in the city, with a mesmerizing view across the Sea of
Marmara. Its spicy specialties are from southeast Anatolia. Prices
are in the expensive range, around $35.
When to go:
Istanbul has a temperate climate and the weather is relatively
pleasant throughout the year, though winters can be cold and rainy.
Late summer is the busiest. During the spring and fall the weather
is nice, there are fewer crowds and hotel prices tend to be lower.
Taxis are an inexpensive way to get around Istanbul. The taxi should
have a meter running. If the meter’s “broke” find another taxi.
Istanbul also has good bus and tram service. Ferries leave from
around the Galata Bridge and are an excellent way to see the sights
on both sides of the Golden Horn. Another interesting way to travel
is by dolmus, which means “full” in Turkish. These are usually large
vintage American cars with as many people as possible crammed
inside. There’s a sign in the corner of the windshield with the
destination and you can get off anywhere along the route.
The Turkish currency is the lira, abbreviated TRL. As of April 2002,
one USD converts to about
1,333,825 Turkish Lira. As these figures imply,
inflation is a problem and the exchange rate can change
dramatically. Exchange rates are generally better inside Turkey than
Topkapi Palace , Sarayici, Sultanahmet , Istanbul
Hours: 9:30am - 4:00pm daily except Tuesdays.
Entrance Fee: about $5.
DolmWTAhce, Besiktas, Istanbul
Hours: 9:30am – 4pm daily except Mondays and Thursdays
Entrance Fee: $7 for Sultan’s quarters. $7 for Harem. Or $13 for
Hours: 9am – 5pm Tuesday – Sunday.
Entrance fee: $6
Turkey Travel and Tourism Office
2525 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
Notice: This information is current as of April 2002. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the websites above to determine any changes to the information.