Posts Tagged ‘istanbul’

40 things to do before you’re 40 – Number 31

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Stroll across continents and through the centuries in Istanbul

Sunset on the Bosphorus

Sunset on the Bosphorus

If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital – Napoleon Bonaparte

Picture the scene: an evening sun sets silhouetting an undulating row of domes and minarets in the distance; in front of you an entire armada of every known type of vessel, from humble fishing boat to mighty oil tanker, criss-crosses the Boshphorus that separates you from Asia; as you sip on your tea the light breeze off the straight carries with it the compelling sound of a hundred competing calls to prayer and the rich smell of a multitude of spices and dishes being cooked up all around you. Welcome to Istanbul!

Straddling two continents, this magnificent city is a bustling and lively metropolis set amidst the timeless remnants of centuries of history and competing civilisations, making it one of the most exciting destinations on any traveller’s roadmap.

A brief history through time

The first to occupy this coveted spot was the Greek city of Byzantium over 500 years before Christ. In the fourth century BC, some 200 years after the city was absorbed by the Roman Empire, then Emperor Constantine decided to relocate the capital of the entire Empire from Rome to what would become known as Constantinople. After the Roman Empire split, the Eastern Empire, better known as the Byzantine Empire, continued to thrive for centuries after the downfall of its western counterpart with Constantinople as its capital. By the 15th century AD the burgeoning Ottoman Empire had conquered all of the Byzantine Empire beyond Constantinople. This once mighty empire, now reduced to just the city within its fortified walls – the remnants of which are still very much visible today – survived an eight-week-long siege before finally falling under Ottoman rule. It wasn’t until after the Ottoman Empire itself collapsed 500 years later and the modern state of Turkey was created that the city would come to be known as Istanbul.

Present-day Istanbul

Picture-perfect Blue Mosque

Picture-perfect Blue Mosque

Often touted today as the place where ‘East meets West’, this tag is as much a cultural description as it is a geographic location, as centuries of influence from both camps compete to create its modern landscape. And there is no better way to absorb the cultural contrast and lengthy history than to stroll through the centuries as you saunter down the city’s streets and narrow alleys, encountering ancient relics and religious monuments, all the while being greeted by the exotic sights, sounds and smells of modern Turkish culture.

Five must-dos in Istanbul

– See the city’s grandeur from the water on a Bosphorus cruise: whether you choose a two-hour option or go for a full afternoon on the water, this is a truly fabulous experience not to be missed as it gives you the most comprehensive perspective of the city from the very waters that define its existence.

­– ‘Come into my shop while I rip you off!’ You will inevitably be hassled as you stroll the maze of aisles and hundreds of shops that make up the Grand Bazaar, but don’t let this put you off; instead take it in your stride, as it’s frequently good natured and often even entertaining. Even if you’re not looking to buy, just witnessing the variety of what’s on offer and the techniques used to lure you in is worth experiencing at least once.

– Stand in the middle of the Hagia Sophia and gaze up in awe at the dome above you. Commissioned to be a cathedral worthy of a mighty empire, the Hagia Sofia was and still is an architectural masterpiece. It also embodies the history of the city, as evidence of its conversion from cathedral to mosque and then museum is very much evident.

– While the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, is the most famous and renowned throughout the Muslim world for its architectural splendour and definitely worth a visit, the older, and in fact bigger, Suleymaniye Mosque with its combination of Islamic and Byzantine styles shouldn’t be missed either.

– One evening choose from the many nargile bars to be found under the Galata Bridge spanning the Golden Horn and lie back on a beanbag and witness a spectacular sunset while puffing on a water pipe sampling a variety of flavoured tobacco or just sipping on a rich Turkish coffee or refreshing beer.

Nearly all of Topdeck’s trips in Turkey include a few magical days in Istanbul, which will give you the chance to really get a grip on this culturally fascinating and historic city.

Istanbul, Turkey: Where East Meets West

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Topdeck’s Kara takes on Istanbul - and survives!


“If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul,” Alphonse de Lamartine, 19th-century French writer and politician.

Views from Topkapi Palace

Views from Topkapi Palace

In hindsight it might have been a good idea to bring directions to the hotel.

Stepping off the tram in Sultanahmet, backpacks in hand, we soon realised we had no idea how to get from the station to our accommodation.

It was around 9pm and the information centre was closed so after a brief moment of panic we asked a man in a snack stand for directions. We’d barely shown him the name of the hotel when he was on the phone and calling the manager to get someone to meet us. What service!

And that was the first and last time we got lost in Istanbul.

The next morning we were woken at dawn by the Muslim call to prayer. Thankfully we were able to fall back to sleep for a few more hours.

When we finally emerged we were greeted by a stunner of a day!

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Istanbul is a beautiful city rich with history, culture and all the trappings of a first class European capital, but the exotic mix of Far East makes this a European city like no other.

The only city in the world situated on two continents, Istanbul lies on the Bosphorus Strait that divides Europe and Asia.

This meeting of East and West is cultural as well as physical and the two come together in a perfect balance.

Beautiful European buildings and Mosques stand side by side and the day’s calls to prayer are heard across the city.

While the majority of the population dress in a secular fashion, observant Muslim women mix traditional head coverings with stylish modern clothing that wouldn’t look out of place on the streets of Paris or Milan.

Beautiful chandeliers inside Hagia Sophia

Beautiful chandeliers inside Hagia Sophia

The entire district of Sultanahmet is a Unesco World Heritage Site packed full of historic buildings, museums, bars and restaurants.

It’s fairly easy to make your way around the entire district on foot, but if you’re short for time or your legs are a little tired you can always jump aboard one of the efficient (and cheap) trams.

Our first stop of the day was Topkapi Palace – home to the Ottoman Sultans from 1465-1856.

Today Topkapi Palace is a museum with a massive collection of artefacts including royal robes, weapons, armour, manuscripts, murals, treasures and jewellery. It’s also a great spot for panoramic views of the city below.

My favourite sights were the collection of Sultans’ robes, jewelled and golden ornaments (very bling) and the Harem (definitely worth the extra entrance charge!).

Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque)

Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque)

Back down in the main town square with visited the impressive Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia).

Hagia Sophia began life as an Orthodox Christian Church between 532 and 537, before becoming a mosque and finally a museum.

Entering the grand building the first thing you notice are the dozens of low hanging glittering chandeliers that look as though they are floating just over your head.  There are also several well preserved Christian mosaics on the upper floor that are well worth a look.

Ornate tiles in the Blue Mosque

Ornate tiles in the Blue Mosque

Just across from Hagia Sophia is another iconic building – the Blue Mosque.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 during the reign of Emperor Ahmed I. Its nickname comes from the ornate blue tiles that cover its ceiling.

Remember to dress respectfully when you stop by as it’s still a working mosque.

A must see for your visit is the Grand Bazaar; one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with a maze of 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops.

Stalls are organised by the types of goods they sell such as jewellery, furniture, leather, clothing and trinkets.

Our expedition was rather successful as I picked up a leather foot stool, pashmina scarf, some pretty sweet harem pants and several pairs of earrings.

Remember to haggle for a price you’re happy with and don’t be afraid to keep walking or say no if you’re not interested in what someone is selling.

Not too far away lays another shopping hub, the Spice Bazaar.

Exotic sights and smells at the Spice Bazaar

Exotic sights and smells at the Spice Bazaar

Also known as the Egyptian Markets, the Bazaar is the centre of the spice trade in Istanbul so go along for the sights and smells.

It’s a great place to pick up some tasty produce or, if you’re me, copious amounts of Turkish Delight.

Speaking of tasty treats, I could have written this entire blog post about all the heavenly food on offer in Turkey!

A melting pot of Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan cuisines you’ll be planning your meals throughout the day!

Pastries, corn on the cob, baklava, halva, pide (Turkish Pizza), Turkish delight, köfte (meatballs), apple tea, Turkish coffee & of course, the kebabs! Ah the kebabs!

The best kebab I had was köfte, tomato and eggplant. Our waiter took it upon himself to demonstrate the correct procedure to eat it - mush everything together with your fork and wrap it up in a piece of Turkish bread – divine!

On that note, get yourself to Istanbul for exotic sights, sounds, smells and tastes and an amazing time.


Experience Istanbul on Topdeck Travel’s ANZAC trips to Gallipoli, Turkey Explored, Eastern Explore and Bosphorus Adventure.

NOTE: All travellers arriving in Turkey (except those on New Zealand passports) will need to buy a visa on entry (approximate 15 euro).

Turkey: An ANZAC Pilgrimage

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Topdeck’s Amelia Lawrence makes a pilgrimage to Gallipoli, to remember the fallen ANZACs.

Anyone who has been lucky enough to travel to Turkey will know what I mean when I say that the locals’ continuous use of the phrase “my friend” doesn’t seem false.  To wander through the streets of almost any Turkish town or city, the locals appear to be genuinely excited to meet and talk to visitors to their country.  Being regaled with stories of an uncle, sister or next door neighbour’s second cousin (twice removed) who now lives in your home country (“do you know them?”) seems to be a favourite past time of the Turks.

Lone Pine, Gallipoli

Lone Pine, Gallipoli

When we first arrived in Istanbul my travel companions and I had but one aim – to get to Gallipoli and see where the ANZACs landed in 1915.

We had done minimal (actually, zero) preparation for our trip and just knew we wanted to get to ANZAC Cove somehow.

Within moments of our arrival the friendly locals had welcomed us to their country and helped us organise our pilgrimage to Gallipoli, with a friendly local guide to give us an idea of what we were actually off to see.

As the location of one of the most well known landings in World War One, the Gallipoli peninsula today is a serene and beautiful area.  The first thing that you notice is the amazing landscape where the ANZACs landed in 1915 - calm, clear waters border the rugged coastline and from ANZAC Cove it all becomes clear to a modern day visitor simply how impenetrable the sheer cliffs must have seemed to the Diggers.

It is still possible to walk from ANZAC Cove to the Australian Memorial at Lone Pine.  The idea of a 3.1 kilometre dirt track may seem quite simple, but in reality it is anything but.  The walk takes travellers past Shrapnel Valley and Beach Cemeteries and then follows Artillery Road inland as it slopes uphill past Shell Green Cemetery to Lone Pine.

The dirt road and is steep and uneven in places and while only carrying our small day packs my companions and I are sweaty and short of breath as we reach Lone Pine.  Nevertheless, the Australian Memorial site stands out dramatically against the blue sky and beautiful national park background.  The sheer number of names of those lost on the memorial is overwhelming.

From Lone Pine it’s still another 3.2 kilometres to the New Zealand Memorial at Chunuk Bair.  The road slopes uphill past the Turkish 57th Regiment Memorial and even though it is tarred it is a hard slog.

We’re young, we’re fit – we’re all red, breathless and really starting to appreciate how much harder the ANZACs had it.  In fact, only our friendly guide seems to be fine with the walk, giving us details of exactly where skirmishes took place between the ANZACs and Ottomans and how many lives were lost.

The results once we reach Chunuk Bair are worth it.

The battle of Chunuk Bair has spawned many stories and legends about both the ANZAC and Ottoman troops and the area today tells a story you cannot put into words.

At the end of our day at Gallipoli, we are all both physically and emotionally exhausted.  To be able to stand and see where 97 years ago both the Australian and New Zealand nations started to forge their own individual identities, and to see where such fierce fighting during World War One took place, is something to behold.

It is easy to believe when Mustafa Kemal Attaturk told the mothers of the lost ANZAC soldiers that their sons “having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well” the words were truly meant by the Turkish nation as a whole.

Go to for more information about Topdeck’s range of trips to Turkey and Gallipoli, including dedicated ANZAC Day trips.