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AttilaTheFun

Our (long) DIY experience in Istanbul with pictures

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I've been posting a review on the Princess boards, but wanted to share in this section as well. It's posted in multiple parts as I'm limited to 6 pictures per post. Hope someone finds useful!

 

Istanbul is such a fantastic city – very modern and clean, but filled with fascinating history. I would love to return and spend an overnight there, but I think we covered the highlights during our time in port. With a good map, Istanbul was easy to navigate the old city area after a quick ride on the tram from the cruise terminal.

 

Istanbul is a very easy city to do on your own – I would not recommend taking an excursion/tour unless you want a guide for the sights. Princess offered an independent shuttle service for $10USD or 8 euros per person, round-trip, that dropped you off at the Grand Bazaar. If you have limited mobility, this would be a good option, but we chose to take the city tram, which is only 2 Turkish Lira (TL) or about $1.10 per person, per ride.

 

We docked at the Salipazari cruise terminal, which is the further of the two. I’m not sure if Princes ever docks at Karakoy terminal, which is closer to the Galata Bridge and the tram stop.

 

When docking at Salipazari terminal, you have 2 options of getting to the nearest tram stop, which is Tophane:

1) Take a right when you exit and go out the normal port exit. Once you’re out, you’ll see the tram tracks immediately and just follow them LEFT until you get to the Tophane stop – about a 10 minute walk, but with beautiful things to see along the way.

2) Take a left when you exit and look for a turnstile door that says Taxi Exit. You should be in a parking lot, but keep going left until you can take a right and get to the main road. You should see the tram tracks immediately on the main road and just proceed left until you get to the Tophane stop – about a 5 minute walk.

 

One of the mosques we passed while walking to the Tophane tram stop

 

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We exchanged currency for TL in Kusadasai – the first ATM I’ve ever seen to dispense 3 types of currency – USD, Euros, and TL. However, the machine gave us two 50TL bills and we found out that the tram ticket machine only takes 20TL bills or smaller. Luckily, another tourist couple was able to make change for us and we purchased our 2 tickets.

 

Here are some tips for purchasing your tram tokens (other than having small bills/coins available to pay with):

 

Here’s a picture of the token machine – jetonmatik

 

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In the picture below, notice the button circled in red – it’s a language button to switch to English. It will ask you the quantity you want (blue-circled button) and then you use the OK button (green-circled) to advance screens. It was very easy!

 

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Here’s a picture of what the tram tokens look like – we thought they were like poker chips.

 

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It was surprising that the tram runs on a bit of an honor system – you insert your token into a turnstile, but could easily walk along the track to avoid the turnstile and there’s no proof that you paid/didn’t pay. I guess the Turks are very honest people!

 

We rode the tram from Tophane stop to Sultanahmet, where most of the major sights are located. You’ll ride over the Galata Bridge and get a great view of the Bosphorus River.

 

We found lots of stray cats in Istanbul as well and I have to share one of my favorites – a cat hiding among the pansies, near the Blue Mosque

 

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Next up, the major attractions in Istanbul!

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The Blue Mosque was our first stop – it was very close to the Sultanahmet tram stop. Just look for these obelisks and the entrance is right next to them.

 

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The Blue Mosque is absolutely stunning – both inside and out!

 

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We made sure to wear jeans and shirts that covered our shoulders, but it wasn’t really necessary as they give you free blue wraps for anyone wearing shorts or whose shoulders weren’t properly covered. I would definitely recommend wearing shorts in Istanbul and just covering up with their wraps for the Blue Mosque.

 

Here are some men sporting blue wraps because they wore shorts.

 

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You also need to remove your shoes when visiting the Blue Mosque, so you may want to bring a pair of socks if you’re wearing sandals. They give you a small plastic bag to store your shoes in that you carry with you. You can see the shoe bag in the picture above too.

 

There is a barrier that you cannot go past as that area is reserved for those praying.

 

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The whole mosque is carpeted and the detail and workmanship inside is awe-inspiring. Here’s a picture of the dome ceiling and the stained glass windows.

 

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The Blue Mosque is free to visit and we took about 20-30 minutes to wander around. Pictures are allowed inside, but it can be tough to take a good one – most of ours turned out too dark.

 

I apologize for breaking up Istanbul into multiple posts, but Cruise Critic limits the number of pictures you can include per post to 6 and I have so many pictures I want to share.

 

Next up - Arrasta Bazaar, the cutest puppy in the world, and the Hagia Sofia.

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After the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia is right across a street. However, I read on the Ports of Call board that some people recommended checking out the Arasta Bazaar, which you can do by taking a right on the road between the Blue Mosque exit and the Hagia Sophia entrance area – there were also some signs pointing the way. We really enjoyed the Arasta Bazaar (http://www.arastabazaar.com/shops.asp) and were relieved to find the shopkeepers did not pester us as we browsed. There was a lot of jewelry, pottery, and other souvenir-type items as well as a few cafes/restaurants. We ended up buying some bead bracelets as gifts to take back with us and we thought there was a better selection of unique items here (ie not magnets, lighters, t-shirts, etc) than at the Grand Bazaar. Check it out if you have time!

 

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Walking back, we saw the cutest puppy ever – he was chewing on a pillow and just being adorable.

 

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Next up was the Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sofya, lots of different spellings)

 

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The Hagia Sophia was formerly a church and then a mosque and is now just a museum. Tckets cost 25TL per person and we purchased our tickets online in advance (no added charge) at https://www.muze.gov.tr/buy_e_ticket which is run by the Turkish government for museums, so you know it’s legit. They email you a ticket that you simply print and take with you. The line wasn’t terribly long when we entered around 10am, but was much longer by the time we left. Save yourself some time and buy online.

 

Unfortunately, there were no brochures left in English (which happened again at the Underground Cistern), so we just read some of the signs about the history of the place and wandered around. We spent about 30 minutes here. There are amazing Christian mosaics mixed with Muslim pieces and it was very interesting. You can also try the Sweating Column, which I read you’re supposed to stick your thumb into and rotate your hand completely around. If your thumb comes out wet, your dream/wish will come true. These instructions aren’t posted anywhere, but there was a line of people waiting to try it. In case you were curious, we didn’t come out with wet thumbs.

 

Although it was tough to get good pictures inside due to lighting, here are some of the better ones we took.

 

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One other thing I forgot to mention about the Istanbul tram – the stops are clearly posted above the doors, announced before each stop, as well as being posted on an LED sign. It’s very easy to take, even if you don’t speak any Turkish. We were very impressed by how efficient, easy, and clean it was. Here’s a picture of the front of the tram.

 

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Next up – the Underground Cistern and lunch!

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After the Hagia Sophia, we proceeded to the Underground Cistern, which a friend had told me about. The signs don’t do a great job of explaining the cistern, but basically it was a forgotten underground reservoir with beautiful columns and is surprisingly large. The entrance is not very obvious and the entrance fee was 10-20 TL, sorry can’t remember the exact amount.

 

Unassuming building is the entrance to the Underground Cistern

 

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Look for this sign on the building

 

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After paying, you walk down a long series of steps and into the cistern. Surprisingly, the first area you enter is filled with tourist trap stuff like a model of some Turkish amusement park and a photo opp with people dressed like “ancient” Turks. We also found there were no brochures on the cistern available in English – annoying. However, the experience after that is very cool – you just wander around and admire the columns, with a couple notable areas like the green column and the Medusa heads. Note that the floor is pretty wet and can be slippery. My sister wore flip flops that day and almost fell multiple times, so ended up walking very slowly and holding the railing the entire time. It was a very unique site and I highly recommend it to anyone.

 

It’s a bit hard to take good pictures with a normal camera as the lighting is very low in the Underground Cistern, but here are a few.

 

 

A view from the top of the stairs (you can see the photo op people in the lower-right corner)

 

 

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The upside-down Medusa head

 

 

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We weren’t too hungry after, but I had read great things about the Sultanahmet Koftecisi meatball restaurant and it was right on the way to the Grand Bazaar, so we stopped in for a meatball snack! As soon as you’re seated, they give you gigantic bread rolls the size of softballs. We split an order of meatballs, which came with 6 patties, and a side order of rice pilaf, plus a bottle of water (guidebooks said not to drink the tap water in Turkey).

 

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The meatballs were delicious and there is a red condiment on the table that was similar to harissa – a spicy pepper paste. It was the perfect amount of food to keep us going that day and the whole thing came out to less than 20 TL! The menu is very limited, but good and cheap!

 

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We continued on our way to the Grand Bazaar and encountered this cat that looked dead, but was just sleeping.

 

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We love food and eating, so also checked out a couple cafes and other food spots on the way, just for fun.

 

 

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The total walk from the Underground Cistern to the Grand Bazaar is less than 10 minutes – another reason Istanbul is great for exploring on your own as most of the popular sights are close to one another.

 

The Grand Bazaar is not my cup of tea – it’s filled with tons of stores, but most of them all sell very similar stuff – mostly knock-off designer items. My sister must have visited every one of those counterfeit stores and didn’t even end up buying anything! The prices for a decent knock-off were higher than we expected, although some were pretty convincing. I also didn’t like the haggling routine and we found that if my sister low-balled some merchants too far, they would just shut down and not even speak to you further. However, she did really want to purchase a mosaic lamp and we found a merchant with “fixed prices” who she was still able to negotiate a bit with, so don’t be fooled by such signs. We had to find an ATM to withdraw some more cash, but I feel like it’s better to go with too little cash and find an ATM, rather than be stuck with leftover Turkish Lira, which can’t be used anywhere else.

 

I didn’t feel like the shopkeepers harassed us, but they definitely try to strike up a conversation every time you pass, which got old quickly. I would have preferred to spend very little time here, but my sister liked looking at all the fake stuff.

 

This picture of a lamp store that my sister took is one of my favorites and is now my desktop picture at work

 

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One of the many entrances to the Grand Bazaar

 

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The inside is a bit of a maze and it’s hard to keep your bearings

 

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There are guards stationed at most entrances/exits, so we asked for his assistance in finding our way to the Spice Market. It was a little confusing to get there as you walk down narrow streets that are PACKED with people, but we just kept asking for directions every few blocks. This was by far the most crowded area of Istanbul though.

 

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The Spice Market was small (as anything is compared to the Grand Bazaar), but nice. We found that the merchants would not haggle and all the stores were basically priced the same. My sister found a cute spice set for a friend that likes to cook and some apple tea for her boyfriend. It’s a fun place to walk around and doesn’t take very long.

 

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Some stores also sell fragrances/perfumes

 

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fter exiting the Spice Bazaar, we were very close to the water and Galata Bridge and I was determined to try a fresh fish sandwich from the boats. These are very elaborate boats with giant griddles onboard, crafted specifically for operating fish sandwich shops. You wait in line and tell the guy how many sandwiches you want and he grabs the sandwiches from the boat in between all the bobbing.

 

 

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For only 5TL, you can get a large fish filet (although with many bones in it) on fresh bread with lettuce and onions. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a space at one of the tiny tables with stools and use the lemon juice on your sandwich, while constantly being asked by young boys if you want to buy wet wipes. I found it pretty obnoxious, but I guess it’s the experience. We spent our last few lira on this snack plus 2 sodas, which was perfect.

 

The tables/stools are always full, so you have to hover like a vulture to find a seat

 

 

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Since the Galata Bridge was right there, we walked the lower level and saw many more restaurants, some which also serve fresh fish sandwiches for only 5TL.

 

 

 

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Once we were back on the top level, we hopped on the tram at the Karakoy stop, which is at the end of the bridge, and rode it one stop back to Tophane and walked to the ship. I think we were back onboard by about 4pm, so we crammed in a lot into 8 hours in port! We loved Istanbul and would definitely return. It’s a great port to explore on your own – don’t bother with guided tours and enjoying discovering this wonderful city!

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Thanks for sharing. I'm still deciding what we should do there next July. I absolutely love your lamp store picture

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Wonderful pictures! I loved Turkey as well. It is a real treasure. I toyed with the idea of getting one of those lamps, which were actually reasonably priced but with shipping and having someone convert the plug over- I didn't feel like dealing with it.

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Great advice & photos. Expect to be there for a couple of days in November 2013, and I'm already excited!

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Thank you for the directions and experiences. Having been to Istanbul already this gives me faith that we can DIY our next trip! Love the pictures, too.

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I am not a very adventurous or experienced traveler, but with your photos and step by step directions, I feel like I really CAN DIY Istanbul when we are there in November. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to post all of this. :p

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Appreciate so much your posting and travel details. The visuals bring back nice memories from our two days in Istanbul in June 2008. Such a totally amazing city with unique history, charm and interest.

 

THANKS! Enjoy! Terry in Ohio

 

Did a June 7-19, 2011, Solstice cruise from Barcelona that had stops in Villefranche, ports near Pisa and Rome, Naples, Kotor, Venice and Dubrovnik. Enjoyed great weather and a wonderful trip. Dozens of wonderful visuals with key highlights, tips, comments, etc., on these postings. We are now at 100,904 views for this live/blog re-cap on our first sailing with Celebrity and much on wonderful Barcelona. Check these postings and added info at:

http://www.boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1426474

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I am not a very adventurous or experienced traveler, but with your photos and step by step directions, I feel like I really CAN DIY Istanbul when we are there in November. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to post all of this. :p

 

Aw, thank you for the kind words! I'm glad my rambling has helped someone :)

 

Istanbul is a beautiful city and with a decent map of the area, it's fairly easy to navigate. Don't hesitate to ask the locals for assistance - they were all very kind and understanding.

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Oh the memories! Thanks so much. My DH and I had a day on our own very similar to yours except we did love the bazaar and spent a fair bit of time there, and we walked on the top deck of the Galata Bridge.

 

Your photos are great and your useful information is top notch.

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AttilaTheFun - thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to write such a wonderful post. Great info and photos and very much appreciated! We had a one day stop in Istanbul 5 years ago and did the ship's tour to the Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Weather was not good and we really wanted to see more of the city. In November we will be lucky enough to overnight there, so looking forward to having 2 full days to go off on our own. I like the idea of not being pressed for time on the first day. Not sure we would go back to the Grand Bazaar, as one time was enough and there were not any "deals" there - just more of a touristy thing as far as we were concerned. (Loved the Khan El Khalili Bazaar in Cairo much more!). Appreciate the info on the Arasta Bazaar.

 

How far of a walk was it from Hagia Sophia to the Underground Cistern? Are there signs to follow, or can you provide directions on getting there from Hagia Sophia? Also, how far of a walk from the Grand Bazaar to the spice market? I can't remember much from driving past it 5 years ago.

 

Also, do you know if you can get the tram to Topkopi palace, and what stop for the palace?

 

Sounds like you had a great day on your own and were able to see quite a bit. We hope to do the same this time. Thanks again for such wonderful and helpful information. It is most appreciated!!:)

 

Leslie;)

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How far of a walk was it from Hagia Sophia to the Underground Cistern? Are there signs to follow, or can you provide directions on getting there from Hagia Sophia? Also, how far of a walk from the Grand Bazaar to the spice market? I can't remember much from driving past it 5 years ago.

 

Also, do you know if you can get the tram to Topkopi palace, and what stop for the palace?

 

 

Leslie;)

 

I'm not Attila, but I can answer some of your questions.

 

The Cistern is very close to Haghia Sophia. (In fact, all of the main sites in Sultanahmet are easy walking distance from each other.) If you walk up to the main street -- the one the tram runs on -- and cross over to the other side from Haghia Sophia, you should see signs pointing up a side street to the entrance of the Cistern. It's only about a half block from that main road. The Turkish name is Yerebatan Sarayi, but I think the signs are in English too.

 

If you want to go to Topkapi Palace on the tram (coming from the ship), the closest stop is called Gulhane. However, the next stop, Sultanahmet is the one that lets you off just at the Blue Mosque and it's not all that far to walk from either one. Gulhane is a bit closer though.

 

Yes, you can walk from the Grand Bazaar to the Spice Market, but unless you're going to the Grand Bazaar, it's easy to simply follow the tram track on foot back from Sultanahmet or Gulhane stops and you'll pass right by the Spice Market. Or if you're tired of walking, you can get on the tram (as if heading back to the ship) and get off at Eminonou stop. After shopping, hop back on the tram, go over the bridge and get off at the stop nearest your ship (where you got on).

 

Istanbul really is one of the easiest cities to get around in from a cruise ship for the day!

 

Here's a link to the tram map: http://www.hanedanhotel.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/RayliSistemler.jpg

 

The blue line is the only one you'll need to use for the main tourist sites.

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The cisterns are just across the street from Hagia Sophia. Literally.

 

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/maps/europe/turkey/istanbul/

 

There are signs but I will tell you that the entrance is a very unassuming small square building on the corner. You enter, pay the entry fee, go down the stairs and you are in the cistern. Very neat place.

 

Can't help with the walk from the Grand Bazaar to the Spice Market. We did not walk directly from one to the other.

 

As for the palace, check the above map for tram stops. The closest is Gulhane. The tram will announce the next stop and there is also a lit board showing the next stop too. Also there is a map of all the stops on the inside of the tram cars. But I would get a tram map and familiarize yourself with it ahead of time.

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We walked from the bazaar to the spice market. We just kept going downhill as we knew it was by the river close to the bridge.

 

It was a very interesting walk. There were few if any other tourists and there were lots of fascinating shops. It seemed to be the district for sewing supplies. Several stores had nothing but buttons, others buckles, others fabric, etc. It took about 10 or 15 minutes but we went slowly.

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Thanks for the details for DIY Istanbul! I'm on the Ruby Princess Sept 15th and plan to follow your route. Your photos are beautiful!

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Wonderful review. I was wondering if all the sites were wheelchair friendly (except Cistern). Also, was the tram accessible in your view. We were hoping to DIY.

 

Apologies, I didn't really pay attention, but I found this great site about accessibility in Istanbul and they confirm that both Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia have ramps, although I think there were some stairs inside the Hagia Sophia.

 

http://www.sagetraveling.com/Disabled-Access-in-Istanbul/

 

The Spice Market and Grand Bazaar should be accessible, but can get crowded.

 

That same site confirms that the tram is accessible at most stops, but lists the ones that are not:

http://www.sagetraveling.com/Accessible-Travel-in-Istanbul

 

Hope that helps!

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