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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)

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)

Kız Kulesi – The Maiden’s Tower

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A stone’s throw off the coast of Üsküdar, the Maiden’s Tower is one of Istanbul’s most instantly recognizable landmarks. It’s been a place of intrigue, legend and strategic importance since the city’s earliest days.

Historical accounts mention the Kiz Kulesi as a toll station used by the Greeks as far back as the 5th century BC. The Byzantines used it to chain off the Bosphorus, and thus extract a levy on ships entering and leaving the Black Sea. And the Ottomans used it as a watchtower.

All of which is very interesting, but not nearly as compelling as the legends which surround the tower. In the most famous, a sultan had received a prophecy that his daughter would be killed by a snake bite on her 18th birthday. So he tried to trick fate by placing her off shore, in the Maiden’s Tower. As dusk approached and the terrible prophecy remained unfulfilled, the sultan ferried across to celebrate, with a basket of fruit.

But alas! A venomous asp had smuggled itself into the basket. The princess was bit, and died in her tearful father’s arms.

Another legend tells the story of a girl named Hero who lived in the tower, and the young man Leandros who loved her. Every night, Leandros would swim to the tower, guided by a lamp lit in the tower by his fair maiden. One stormy night, though, Hero’s lamp was extinguished and Leandros, unable to find his way, drowned in the choppy water. When she saw his lifeless corpse wash up onto the rocks, Hero threw herself from her window and landed THUD next to her departed lover.

Today, the Maiden’s Tower serves little purpose other than touristic. For 15 Turkish Lira, you can ferry across for a visit. The bottom floor converts into a restaurant at night and, at the top, there’s a nice (and very expensive) cafe, as well as a platform which offers a unique view of the Bosphorus.

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June 15, 2013 at 5:27 pm Comments (4)

Eyüp: At the End of the Golden Horn

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Found outside the old city walls at the end of the Golden Horn, the neighborhood of Eyüp is one of the most sacred spots in the Islamic world.

Eyüp Mosque

The best way to get to Eyüp is aboard the Haliç (Golden Horn) ferry which leaves from Eminönu. But as luck would have it, water traffic was closed on the Saturday morning that we had chosen on our visit, after heavy fog had caused a ferry collision. So we were forced to reach Eyüp by bus… providing a lesson that we’ll now impart to you: if you have to take a bus to Eyüp, you might as well walk! The traffic along the southern Golden Horn is ridiculous, especially on weekends, and it took 90 minutes to complete the five kilometer journey.

By the time we finally arrived, we were in miserable spirits. But Eyüp made a valiant effort to cheer us up, with its cute, pedestrianized streets and festival-like atmosphere. This has been an important pilgrimage site for Muslims for centuries. Ayyub al-Ansari, the friend and standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed, died here during the first attempted Muslim conquest of Constantinople, and was buried in the location that would later bear his name (Ayyub → Eyüp).

Apart from its lovely location on the Golden Horn, Eyüp’s prominent feature is its enormous mosque. We ducked inside during prayer time, but left quickly; the place was so packed we could hardly find an open patch of carpet on which to stand. Right across from the mosque is Ayyub al-Ansari’s türbe, or tomb. Although closed during our visit, it’s supposed to be amazing; completely covered in Iznik tiles.

For centuries, Eyüp has been the most fashionable place in Istanbul to be laid to rest, and it’s surrounded by cemeteries. The largest of these stretches up a steep hill that eventually ends at the Pierre Loti Café, named for the French novelist. This lovely garden cafe boasts a view that takes in the entirety of the Golden Horn, all the way to the Bosphorus Strait. Breathtaking, and it was the perfect way to end a long day.

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June 11, 2013 at 6:11 pm Comments (3)
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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