any good beach in istanbul?

Photo by Henri Bergius

Istanbul is a city not only along the sea but it is a city that lives with the sea. She’s surrounded by Marmara Sea, Black Sea and Bosphorus Strait that connects Marmara and Black Sea. If you take a dolmus (shared taxi) to Anatolian side, after 40 minutes ride from Taksim, you could swim at the beaches that are along Suadiye, Goztepe, Caddebostan within the city borders! Also Princes Islands offer some beach options. If you would do a bit more effort then you could reach Silivri, Celaliye, Kumburgaz beaches that are around 50-60 kms away from the city center. But transportation is a bit tricky and taxi would be an expensive option.

So, now my top recommendation for Istanbul beach comes. If you’d like to have a superb beach experience with fine natural sand and clean blue water then forget about the places we mentioned above. You should head to Kilyos which is located at the European part of Black Sea. You can sail, windsurf and Kitesurf there as well. It is possible to find rental equipment for these sports. In fact, Turkish legs of the Kiteboard Professional World Tour have been done in Kilyos many times in the past. Also there are quite a few beach clubs in Kilyos if you are after good food, drinks and some music as well as sun and sand.

Kilyos is around 40 kms from Taksim. If you take the underground from Taksim to the last stop (Ataturk Oto Sanayi) and then take a taxi, you can reach there easily within 40-50 minutes time. The journey will cost you around 60 Lira one way. It’s possible to reach there by public transport and this would be much cheaper but it would mean many changes of buses or mini-buses.

swim from asia to europe!

It sounds like a big challenge but not really. If you can swim for around one hour (or 3 kms) in a swimming pool then you can do it! I’m telling this because I did it some years ago!

You can try to do this when you are in Istanbul but considering strong currents and heavy ship traffic it might be wise to join the Bosphorus cross-continental swimming race that is organised by “National Olympic Committee of Turkey” every year in July. During this event, the whole ship traffic is stopped and also there are quite a few fast boats monitoring the swimmers. So, the chances of getting to the other side is higher!

The race course follows the direction of the channel current except for the portions at the start and finish (I guess nobody could finish this race otherwise!). The race starts at the Anatolian side of the city, in Kanlica and ends on the European side, in Kurucesme (near Ortakoy), the total distance is 6.5 kms. Bosphorus currents are very strong and run in different directions but if you use them wisely they help you a great deal (the speed of channel currents varies between 2.5km – 7km/hour).

If you don’t want to win the competition -luckily I didn’t and please don’t ask my ranking!-, you can take it easy and leave yourself to the channel current. Then watch the beauties of Bosphorus. You even pass under Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge! But you should be powerful at the beginning to enter the channel current and especially more powerful at the end to swim across the opposite current after you exit the channel current. Strongly recommended, go for it! More information is on the official website: http://www.bosphorus.cc/

istanbul during ramadan: party goes on!

Photo of special Ramadan dessert “Gullac” by Jackson Gibbs

You might be trying to decide whether it’s a good idea to visit Istanbul during Ramadan or not. Most probably you are asking some questions to yourself such as shall I find open restaurants during the fasting hours? Will I be able to drink some beer, wine and raki? Should I wear more conservative clothes during Ramadan?

Be assured that Istanbul is a big metropolis that is effected in a positive manner from Ramadan. The restaurants, bars, clubs run as usual, they are as crowded as other times. Dress code doesn’t require any adjustment, so feel free to wear whatever you wear in your own country.

Restaurants get very busy during the fast-breaking time though (sunset time and it is called “iftar” in Turkish). If you decide to fast one of the days and join the crowd for fast-breaking, you’ll be surprised to find out that you have such a big appetite and the food can be so delicious! Even if you don’t fast, you can still join the iftar table and have a unique experience.

During Ramadan, there will be some special food available such as “gullac” (a delicious dessert) and pide (round, thinnish bread) that are not available at other times. So do not miss the opportunity to try them. Ramadan drummers are also something interesting. In the middle of the night you might see some guys walking around the streets and drumming to wake up people for their last meal before sun rises. Yes I know this might not sound so sleep-friendly but it is still interesting and makes a scene!

Simply Istanbul during Ramadan is even a more interesting Istanbul… Come and enjoy!

surprises and reflections of a recent istanbul visitor

Midgeo visited Istanbul recently and wrote his surprises and reflections about the city in a wonderful way. Enjoy…

Surprise: the cats of Istanbul. Cats are everywhere (except, evidently, indoors as pets), even in the restaurants. Turks and tourists alike seemed to like them and be caring for them. We even saw a tram driver stop to let a young cat cross the tracks. They seem quite the hardy souls!

Surprise: how many, many ways you could die in Istanbul! Drive a car. Cross the street when a car is barreling down a narrow street about 50mph. Step out in front of a car. Get hit by the tram. Ride in a taxi with no seat belt. Trip and fall on the cobblestones. Fall down the steep (often dark) narrow spiral staircase in your hotel. Have a heart attack from climbing too many stairs. Breathe too much second-hand smoke!

Surprise: that there are not hundreds of traffic accidents and pedestrian deaths per day. We saw at least that many near misses! Turks have good reflexes (and brakes)!

Surprise: how much watermelon is consumed on a daily basis. And tomatoes and cucumbers.

Surprise: workers rebuilding a cobblestone street by hand!

Surprise: the mixture of old and new. An old abandoned mansion next to a restored or new building. A crumbling roof next to the terrace of a nice hotel. The past and the present mingling as they probably have for thousands of years. How very old “old” is! The mixing of old and new with women’s dress as well. Women dressed conservatively in a buttoned up coat and head scarf alongside a woman in a short dress with spaghetti straps. The gorgeous ball gowns in the store windows we saw from the bus.

Reflection: Istanbul is an amazing and magical city. Layers and layers of history, and we only scratched the surface. Always we found the Turkish people to be friendly and helpful, going out of their way to help guide us when we were clearly bewildered. We were also impressed with their work ethic. What some perceive to be pushiness by shopkeepers is their industriousness – going to the customer, inviting him/her in, working hard to earn your business.

We met Nuuri – who could have any name – when looking for a hotel near the tram that we’ll return to. He not only found the hotel for us, but invited us back to his restaurant where he served us watermelon and apple tea while we chatted with him in English (he was very fluent) at no charge. We became such fast friends – and we truly did enjoy visiting with him – that he offered to sell us an antique bowl he’d had for some time, perhaps it was his grandmother’s, in the morning. Hmm, well…. But this is part of the magic of Istanbul. Dare to be friendly, and unique opportunities will come your way! Written by Midgeo and published by his permission.

does any dog own an apartment?

I’m not sure! What I know is everything is possible in Istanbul! This sweet dog you see in the picture lives in an abandoned historical building in Galata. The building has a heavy iron door that has chains and locks to stop intruders going in. I’ve passed in front of this building so many times and seen this lovely dog so many times sitting in front of the window or strolling the neighbourhood but I’ve never understood how he made his way into his apartment!

If you’d like to visit him, here is a tip to help you to find him: His building is just across the open car park that is next to ‘Dogan apartmani’, in Serdari Ekrem street in Galata. Don’t forget to ask how he gets into the apartment and say hello from me!

to tip or not to tip!?

Tipping called “bahsish” in Turkish and it is expected at a moderate level. Restaurants, hotels, barber shops are some of the places that you are expected to tip. 5 to 10 % of the bill is a normal amount for a tip. If you don’t tip it is fine too! So don’t worry too much and enjoy the service you’ll get. Yes, service level is really high in Turkey. I guess only exception is taxis, unfortunately!

The Mystery of the Sinking Palace

One of the most exciting discoveries for a first time visitor to Istanbul is the easy grace with which the city is at once ancient and modern. It is a place full of an infectious vibrant energy, encircled by an ancient and crumbling city wall. In the same moment, you feel the excitement of a 15 million strong cosmopolitan city, while standing a few feet away from ancient Byzantine buildings and relics. Or in some places, above them.

The Basilica Cistern was founded by Justinianus I, of the Byzantine Empire (527-565), and was built on the site of an early Roman basilica, hence the cistern’s namesake. Nicknamed the “Sinking Palace” by locals, the forest of Roman columns rising from the black pools of water in the Basilica Cistern certainly do look like the skeleton of a once grand residence, slowly succumbing to a watery grave. The cistern lies underground, just below the tram lines and busy streets of Istanbul’s Old Town. The largest of several hundred cisterns below the surface of Istanbul, its 336 massive columns support a space large enough to hold 27 million gallons of water (carried in from 12 miles away via clay pipes and aqueducts). The Sinking Palace once held an emergency water supply for all of Constantinople, but today has been drained, save a foot or two of rainwater teeming with goldfish.

A wooden walkway allows visitors to tour most of the cistern, and in spite of the modern sight-seers, it manages to retain its dark and eerie ambiance. The moody sound of echoing dripping water follows you as you make your way through those great columns. The columns themselves were not carved for the cistern, but were recycled by the builders, who collected hundreds of leftover columns and stone from earlier Roman ruins around the city. This is why they don’t all match. A few bulky and unattractive columns especially stand out. These, unsurprisingly, are the result of a modern solution to keep the structure sound; cracked columns completely encased in concrete.

As the years passed, the pipes eventually became clogged and the cistern slowly fell out of use. For many hundreds of years, it was completely forgotten. No one knew that just below their feet was a great underwater palace. It wasn’t until the 1500’s, when a Dutch traveler, P. Gyllius, got word that locals in a certain area were getting fresh water, and sometimes even catching fish, by dropping buckets through holes in their basements.

Gyllius was in Istanbul studying the archaeological remains of Byzantium, and these strange basement wells intrigued him. He managed to enter the forgotten cistern (perhaps by breaking into it through one of these basement holes), and rowed around it in a small boat, taking notes. He published his findings in a travelogue, and before long, visitors were asking to see the cistern by name. It was difficult to view, as it was full of water, and had to be navigated by boat (the cistern in this water-filled state made a cameo in From Russia With Love) but eventually Istanbul got wise to the treasure under their feet, and the cistern was emptied out and restored for visitors to walk through.

Little did P. Gyllius know, the cistern held a mystery, which wasn’t discovered until the water was drained. In the very far left corner of the cistern, placed under the weight of two columns, are two marble Medusa heads. One head is curiously upside down, and the other rests on its side. It is generally agreed by historians that the heads came from an early Roman building. No one knows why they were placed here so many years ago, to stare out deep under the water of the cistern. Some believe they were simply just the right size to prop up two short columns, wedged in by a time-pressed Byzantine. Others speculate that they were trying to get rid of them, to pin the monster down, under the water, facing the wall. But there could be another reason.

The image of Medusa, with snakes for hair and a face so horrible that any who look at her turn to stone, was placed on many important Roman buildings. In mythology, Perseus destroyed Medusa in her sleep by slicing off her head (he avoided looking at her by using her reflection in his shield), and used her head as a weapon against his enemies. It is believed that statues of Medusa mounted on important buildings was done in the hope that she would protect them from enemies. Medusa’s face was not unlike the evil eye protectors found in every nook and cranny of Istanbul today (more on evil eyes in a later post). Her face and writhing hair was used on everything from coins, breastplates and tombstones, in hopes of providing protection. Perhaps the masterpiece of the cistern, and the city’s water supply, was worthy of such security.

The mystery of the Medusa heads trapped under the cistern’s columns may never be fully understood. But perhaps it is as it should be; a bit of a mystery is most befitting to a forest of marble columns, a magical sinking palace just under the surface of the modern world.

The Cistern’s Official Site

Article is originally written by Dylan Thuras and Michelle Enemark on Curious Expeditions

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Mobile shops in Istanbul

Sorry that we’ll not talk about mobile phones here! But, we’ll tell you the story of mobile street sellers. In Istanbul they still exist and they add so much charm and character to the city. Barbequed chestnut sellers, cooked or grilled sweetcorn sellers, vegetable sellers, fruit sellers are only some examples of them.

When women see the fruit or vegetable on the small-lorry, they take their baskets out of their windows and descend them with a piece of string. What a lovely view is this! Money is put into the basket, so the salesman get it and put the fruit/vegetable and spare money in. Another interesting thing with these salesmen is the way that they shout out their products to get people’s attention. They shout out very loud but nearly impossible to understand what they sell only with your ears!

In the past, when I was a child, we had more of them and the variety of the goods they sold was more too. These days it is hard to see milk-man, yoghurt-man, sahlep-man and boza-man on the streets (Sahlep and Boza are delicious winter drinks). The last two belonged to winter nights but they nearly extincted now, at least in Istanbul.

A good Turkish invention called Dolmus

What is Dolmus? It is a word pronounced as “dolemoosh”, meaning “filled” in Turkish (remember “Dolma”!) and a transportation miracle to overcome over-crowded traffic. Basically it is a shared taxi but they are completely different than taxis. Dolmus has a different license than taxi and they can’t run as a taxi. They are usually bigger than Taxis, so eight passengers can fit in comfortably. They run on some specific routes. They have a start and arrival stop but in between these two stops they can drop you off and pick you up anywhere on the road. So practical! Great isn’t it?

Champs Elysees of Istanbul: Bagdat Avenue

Bagdat avenue, in a way, is even nicer than Champs Elysees! Many visitors skip the Anatolian side -also called Asian side- of Istanbul completely. But if you’d like to see the biggest wealthy district of Istanbul then you should visit Bagdat avenue. Along Bagdat street you’ll see many restaurants, cafes, shops and many well dressed people strolling along. Generally speaking Anatolian side will give you a more residential feeling than European side. May be this is related to the fact that this part of Istanbul was used as summer residence with some beautiful houses in the past.

Bagdat avenue and coastal road run almost parallel to each other for around 9-10 kilometres. Sometimes these two roads get close to each other and sometimes get distant. The best part of Bagdat avenue is the part between Bostanci and Goztepe. So it might be a good idea to take a dolmus from Taksim to Bostanci. Dolmus stop is right next to Ataturk Kultur Merkezi (Ataturk Culture Center). Then you start your walk at Bostanci along the Bagdat street and end it whenever you are tired. You just wait along the street and one dolmus will stop to pick you up. Some of them go to Kadikoy, so make sure that you get on to Taksim dolmus. Or if you wish you go to Kadikoy and then take the boat to Karakoy or Besiktas.

In summer, don’t forget to bring your swimming suit with you! There are some small beaches along the coast road that you can swim.