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A Bosphorus Cruise to Anadolu Kavağı

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One of the most popular excursions in Istanbul is a ferry ride to Anadolu Kavağı, near the entrance to the Black Sea. The Bosphorus Cruise offered by the city-run Şehir Hatları company costs just 15 Turkish Lira, making for a cheap and easy day out on the water.

Anadolu Kavağı

Really, a tour of the Bosphorus Strait should have been among our first adventures in Istanbul, instead of one of the last. The ferry trip lasts for 90 minutes each way and provides a wonderful overview of the city, introducing many of the its best sights. I have no idea why we kept putting it off.

But cruising up the Bosphorus felt appropriate as a “farewell” tour. We passed by neighborhoods which we’d become familiar with — Ortaköy, Arnavutköy, Kanlıca — as well as some of our favorite sights: the Beylerbeyi Palace, Dolmabahçe, Küçüksu, Rumeli Hısarı and the Sakıp Sabancı Museum. It was a great way to reminisce on what have been three of the most entertaining months of our lives.

At Anadolu Kavağı, the boat anchors for a few hours, which is plenty of time to get lunch at one of the many seaside restaurants, or to climb up to the old fort at the top of the hill. The fort itself is not all that impressive, but the hill is worth ascending for the view of the Black Sea and the Bosphorus.

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July 1, 2013 at 6:39 pm Comments (5)

Büyükada – The Big Island

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With a name that literally translates to “Big Island”, Büyükada is the largest of Istanbul’s nine Princes’ Islands. We spent a day biking from one end to the other, enjoying fabulous views of the sea, swimming with jellyfish, climbing hills and finding ways to escape the crowds.

After disembarking the morning ferry, we hunted for a bike to rent and went straight to the shop with the newest-looking bikes on display. After receiving the payment, the guy took us past the nice bikes, around into a back alley and hauled much older bikes out of the shop’s garage. Shenanigans. We could have (and probably should have) complained, but were keen to avoid stress. Büyükada had already cast its “chill-out” spell on us.

Not even hordes of screaming Turkish high-schoolers could ruin our relaxed vibe. After having visited Burgazada on Easter Sunday, we had sworn to never return to the Princes’ Islands on a weekend… and so, we choose to visit Büyükada on a Monday. Little did we know, however, that this particular Monday was a school holiday. Every teenager in Istanbul was on our ferry, and they were all in exuberant, screechy spirits. Luckily, most of them made a beeline for the first beach and we quickly found peace.

At Yörükali Beach, on the southwestern end of the island, we paid 15 lira apiece and walked down a long path to the sea. The cover charge is apparently a way to keep the kids out, because we were completely alone except for a British couple and a few shirtless Turkish guys working on a new boardwalk. Acceptable. The sea water was cool and refreshing, and I would have stayed in hours but for the jellyfish.

Büyükada Bay

For lunch, we biked to the center of the island, where roads converge in a mad intersection full of bikes, tourists and donkeys. This is the central nexus of the island, where you can grab lunch or choose to climb one of Büyükada’s giant hills… or have a donkey climb them for you. We felt guilty about burdening the poor beasts, so locked our bicycles and walked up. At the top of the southern hill, we found the Greek church of St. George, and a surprisingly affordable restaurant with a view of the Marmara Sea.

After eating, we punished our aching legs even further, and hiked up the other of Büyükada’s big hills to an abandoned Greek orphanage. This massive wooden building was falling apart, and a little creepy, so I wasn’t upset when we weren’t able find a way inside. From here, we returned to the ferry terminal. The great majority of Büyükada’s 7000 residents live on the northern side of the island, and hidden among the impressive mansions is a dilapidated home which hosted Leo Trotsky for four years.

This was a fantastic excursion, perfectly manageable in a day. It might be the busiest of the Princes’ Islands, but Büyükada has a lot more to do than Burgazada, and is the more lovely of the two. We never made it to the other islands (Heybeliada and Kınalıada) so are unable to conclusively judge which is the best, but it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying day out than the one we enjoyed on Büyükada.

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June 30, 2013 at 7:46 pm Comments (9)

The Green Mosque

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More from Our Trip to Bursa
Introduction | Gazi Plaza and the Market | Karagöz Puppets | Muradiye and Around

The neighborhood of Yeşil (Green), separated from the city center by the Gök Dere river, takes its name from Bursa’s most well-known sights: the Green Mosque and Tomb. Visible from across Bursa, the mausoleum sits atop a hill and is covered in monochrome tiles of a unique light-green color.

Bursa Mosque

Green is definitely the color of Bursa. Its most famous mosque complex is decorated in green tiles. An entire neighborhood is named “Green”. Despite the urban sprawl, there’s a generous amount of parks and trees, and the city is surrounded by a green landscape at the foot of Mount Uludağ. The football squad Bursapor’s color? One guess.

(On our second day in the city, there was a massive green procession from the football stadium to the town center. Thousands of people had taken to the streets, wearing green jerseys and carrying green Bursaspor flags, to mourn the passing of the club’s president. He was a popular figure in the city, having brought Bursa its first and only domestic championship in the 2010/11 season.)

Bursaspor Deatch President

The Yeşil Camii was built in 1421 by Sultan Mehmed I, who had reunited the Ottoman Empire after an eleven-year civil war. His mosque is one of the more unique we’ve seen; far removed from the massive complexes of Istanbul, the Yeşil Mosque stands out for the lovely turquoise color of its tiles. The surrounding courtyard and tea houses, too, are beautiful, and boast views overlooking the valley below.

Just behind the mosque and further up the hill, is the Yeşil Türbe. This octagonal tomb holds the remains of Mehmed I, and is perhaps even more striking than the mosque itself. During our visit, just before the call to worship, it was filled with locals counting beads, reading their Korans and praying.

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June 16, 2013 at 3:33 pm Comments (3)

An Excursion to Bursa

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More from Our Trip to Bursa
The Green Mosque and Tomb | Gazi Plaza and the Market | Karagöz Puppets | Muradiye and Around

Bursa is Turkey’s fourth-largest city, and was capital of the Ottoman Empire a hundred years before Constantinople had even been conquered. It makes for a great excursion from Istanbul, almost directly across the Sea of Marmara.

Bursa Ferry Istanbul

“Excursion”, I say. “Day Trip”. We planned for about a day and a half in Bursa. This is a city of 1.7 million people. That’s more than the entire state of Idaho, to which we devoted a full 91 days! It was ridiculous to think that we could comfortably see this huge city in such a short amount time, but we put in a good effort. Luckily, most of Bursa’s sights are clustered closely together and, by the end of our trip, we had accomplished more than expected.

Bursa had long been a Byzantine backwater, and only rose to prominence in 1326 after the arrival of the Ottoman Turks. With its strategic (and beautiful) location along Mount Uludağ and within range of the Marmara, Bursa was made capital and grew steadily over the centuries. It was at the western end of the Silk Route, and has long been a major center of trade. Today it’s a sprawling metropolis, and home to Turkey’s auto industry.

It took us about three hours to reach Bursa from Istanbul. We hopped on a speed ferry leaving from Kabataş (2 hrs), and then had to employ both bus (40 mins) and metro (20 mins) to reach the city center. This was the first Turkish city we’ve visited, apart from Istanbul, and we noticed immediately how different it is. Very few tourists. Cheaper. Less English spoken among locals who are far less willing to have their pictures taken. More religious, and with far fewer places to grab a beer.

As you’ll see in our pictures, the weather was not our ally during our short time in Bursa. It was consistently overcast, and the city’s famous mountain views almost completely obscured. But that didn’t detract too much from the experience. Bursa was a lot of fun, and there are plenty of reasons to make the journey to Istanbul’s little sister across the sea.

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June 16, 2013 at 2:23 pm Comments (0)

Çengelköy and the Beylerbeyi Palace

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There’s no shortage of charming neighborhoods lining the shores of the Bosphorus, but lovely little Çengelköy is among the very best of them. We had breakfast here on a Sunday morning, before walking along the coast to the incredible Beylerbeyi Palace.

Beylerbeyi Palace

Çengelköy literally means “Hook Village”, and was so named because it occupies a section of shoreline that hooks around a bend in the Bosphorus. The layout provides a perfect view of the strait, south to the Bophorus Bridge and into the Sea of Marmara beyond it. On the Sunday we visited, there was a market selling custom-made clothing and jewelry, and a pleasant, unhurried atmosphere in the cafes and restaurants.

After eating, we made a leisurely stroll to Beylerbeyi: another neighborhood about fifteen minutes down the Bosphorus. (You might be noticing an overuse of terms like “leisurely”, “unhurried”, and “relaxed”. But this it’s simply the frame of mind which the area inspires! Everything about it is peaceful and calming. The sound of lapping water, the fishermen focused quietly on their lines, the shade-giving plane trees, the old men drinking tea and playing okey (a Rummikub-like game). It’s a welcome change of pace from the normal mayhem of the city.)

Beylerbeyi is almost as cute as Çengelköy, and known for its amazing palace. Built in 1832 as a summer residence for Sultan Abdulaziz II, the Beylerbeyi Palace sits almost directly underneath the Bosphorus Bridge. Having arrived a little late (our stroll was leisurely, after all), we were compelled to join a Turkish-language tour of the palace. The English tours were done for the day. So, I spent the tour inventing imaginary translations of what our guide might be saying. Such as:

“This vase alone is worth more than your puny lives put together! Bow before it, you filthy swine!”

“Look at this golden mirror. It once reflected the image of a Sultan, but now it shows only an unwashed peasant! That’s you I’m referring to, by the way.”

The palace, of course, was astounding. It was similar to the Dolmabahçe Palace, which we had visited just a few days before. But the fact that this was just meant to be a “summer residence” really hammered home how wealthy the sultans of the late Ottoman Empire truly were. In the reception hall, for example, there’s a fountain and pool — inside the palace! Visiting a place like this can really make a guy feel inferior.

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June 15, 2013 at 10:11 am Comments (0)

Büyük Çamlıca: Istanbul’s Biggest Hill

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As anyone who’s spent time walking around Istanbul will know, it’s a city of hills. Giant, soul-crushing hills which suck the very life from your legs. Although we had been dreading our ascent up the tallest hill in the city, the Büyük Çamlıca, we were also excited to be done with it. After this, it couldn’t get any worse!

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Istanbul is big, but it’s hard to grasp exactly how big until you’ve seen the view from the Büyük Çamlıca. From here, on a clear day, you can see for miles in every direction. And what will you see? Istanbul: for miles in every direction. Istanbul stretching out infinitely to the north, the west and the east. And to the south, as well, until it’s mercifully cut short by the Sea of Marmara.

Besides the view, the park has a pleasant tea garden, and is a great place to spend a lazy couple hours. Taxis drive all the way up the hill, so taking in the bird’s eye view of Istanbul doesn’t really require any effort at all. If you’ve got some extra time, and want to see the true extent of this gigantic city, definitely make the trip out to the Büyük Çamlıca.

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May 29, 2013 at 11:18 am Comments (2)

The Land Walls – Day Two

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At just six kilometers in length, the Walls of Theodosius can be traversed in a few hours, but there are so many sights along the way that we needed two days. Exploring the southern half of the fortifications had been a lot of fun, and our day spent on the northern half would prove to be just as rewarding.


Eager to get started on a big day of walking, we arrived at the Topkapı tram station, and were soon… seated in a lovely tea garden? The Fatih Belediyesi Çay Bahçesi was simply too inviting to pass up. Pressed up against the walls, this tea garden is run by the government and has prices which can’t be beat. Just one lira per cup.

Pumped on caffeine, we could now begin our walk in earnest. On our first day along the walls, we had wandered through some gorgeous cemeteries, and our second day started at a cemetery of a different sort: the new constructions of Sulukule.

For over a thousand years, Sulukule had been home to Istanbul’s Roma community. But in 2005, the neighborhood was targeted for an urban redevelopment project, and thousands of Roma were compelled to sell their property to the state. Those who refused were forcibly evicted. Suspicions immediately arose that the government was attempting to push out “undesirables”, but protests fell upon deaf ears. Modern townhouses sprang up where the dilapidated housing had been, and the old families of Sulukule, unable to afford property prices 10 times the amount they had received from the government, were effectively barred from returning.


Past Sulukule, we came upon the Mihrimah Camii, which enjoys a prime location upon the highest of Istanbul’s seven hills. Mihrimah was the daughter of Süleyman the Magnificent, and the mosque built in her honor is one of Mimar Sinan’s finest works. The square-shaped interior is bathed in light, thanks to a large number of windows, and the Mihrimah is one of the most beautiful, and beautifully situated, mosques in the city.

Near the mosque, we found the Theodosian Walls’ highest tower, which requires a fair amount of bravery to tackle. The staircase to the top is really more of a crumbling stone ladder, with narrow little steps that can barely accommodate a foot. As we steeled our nerves and began the ascent, a group of Turkish kids gathered at the base of the stairs, and encouraged us on with jeering and laughter. “So cute!” I said to Jürgen. “So cute, I could just kill them!”

The view from the top of the tower was worth the ridicule. We could see from the Sea of Marmara, all away up the Bosphorus and into the Golden Horn, the entirety of the old town laid out spectacularly before us.

After entering the neighborhood of Blachernae, we abandoned the walls and descended to the Golden Horn through twisting alleys and scenes of local life which were almost suspiciously quaint. “Yeah, sure, there just happens to be an elderly man drinking tea in the sun while a group of mischievous rascals play with a pea shooter”, I kept thinking. “Where’s the film team?”

We can’t recommend a walk along the Theodosian Walls enough. The fortifications themselves, the neighborhoods they cut through, and the abundance of nearby sights provided some of the most memorable moments we had in Istanbul.

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May 3, 2013 at 2:44 pm Comments (2)

Easter Sunday on Burgazada

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Burgazada is the third-largest of the popular Princes Islands, found just off Istanbul’s southern coast in the Sea of Marmara. Around 2000 people live there permanently, but its population swells considerably in the summer… and on sunny Sundays, like the one we stupidly chose for our visit.


While boarding the ferry at Kabataş, we were shocked by the crowd. When the sun is shining, a single idea pops into the collective mind of Istanbul: “Princes Islands!” This was the first truly warm weekend of the year, and we had expected a mob, but not like this. We crammed on the ferry, lucky to snatch a seat, then watched with increasing dismay as it filled to capacity. And then continued filling. 30 minutes past the scheduled departure time, people were still squeezing on, occupying every conceivable inch of space: the floors, aisles, railings, laps.

And this was just at the first stop! The ferry also picked up passengers at Kadiköy, where hundreds more people somehow managed to find space on the already-overflowing boat.

Despite the crush, the atmosphere on the ferry was festive. After a long period of rain and cold, the sun was finally shining, and people were in good spirits. In the aisle, a guy jammed on his guitar while friends and strangers found room to dance. A group of Turkish students challenged each other to backgammon. And despite my distaste for dangerously overloaded ferries, I found myself curiously content. I wouldn’t say the boat ride was “fun”, but it was certainly entertaining.

Any stress began to evaporate the minute we arrived in Burgazada. Friends of ours were visiting, and we wasted no time in finding a four-person phaeton (a horse-drawn carriage) to carry us off to the far side of the small island. By the time our rickety journey ended at Kalpazankaya Beach, we were rejuvenated and ready for some amusement. “What should we do first?” I asked.

“Drink rakı”, came the immediate, unanimous reply. Exactly the answer I’d been hoping for!

So we sat down to a great meal of meze and grilled fish at Kalpazankaya Restaurant, where we had a lovely view over the Sea of Marmara, Asian Istanbul looming surprisingly close on the horizon. (We had to fight for a table here — be sure to make reservations if visiting on a weekend.) After eating, we relaxed on the beach a bit and then began a slow, leisurely walk back to the port, about two kilometers away.

There wasn’t much to do on Burgazada; the island’s only museum, dedicated to novelist Sait Faik, was closed for renovation. But I suspect that “doing things” isn’t really the key to enjoying the Princes Islands. We admired the sea, played with stray cats, took pleasure in the lack of cars and city-noise, and wandered around the lively port area before boarding the ferry back home.

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April 17, 2013 at 6:57 am Comments (6)
A Bosphorus Cruise to Anadolu Kava?? One of the most popular excursions in Istanbul is a ferry ride to Anadolu Kavağı, near the entrance to the Black Sea. The Bosphorus Cruise offered by the city-run Şehir Hatları company costs just 15 Turkish Lira, making for a cheap and easy day out on the water.
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