Saturday, July 23, 2011

My evening with the beautiful view. of Sea of Marmara...

I might not have mentioned earlier, at the rooftop of my hostel I can enjoy the best view of the Sea of Marmara. My "room" is just right beside where I am sitting now. My "room" might not be as strong as the room built of concrete, but I fell in love with it for the breath-taking view. Imagine yourself, sitting in Europe, looking at Asia every night before you sleep, isn't it wonderful?

I haven't been writing about my trip for days, because, everyday, we went out early and came back really late. There were no time for blogging, no time for photo-uploading. Traveling on the land, and across the sea were interesting. I was talking about visiting Hippodrome on the first day, but I forgot to mention about the entrance fee for the Basilical Cistern. It's the cheapest entrance fee - 10T.L., as it's just an underground place to contain their water during the Roman Empire, and the audio guide was 5T.L (RM 8.2). The audio guide will tell you how big it is and who built it, the only important thing to see there would be the "Medussa head" - 2 stone-bases of 2 columns carved with a lady face with hair of snakes, it's at the inner most of the cistern from the entrance, there will be sign boards directing you to the 2 columns, you will know when you are there as there will be the brightest side of the cistern. There were legend about the Medussa head, but I think it's better to let the audio guide tell you about that.

As for Hippodrome, you don't need to pay to see it, it's just an open place with 2 huge columns. So, damage-free for your wallet!

Have I or haven't I mentioned about the "free information" volunteers? There are a group of university students from different part of the country, in their blue shirts and jeans, gathering at different places in the Sultanahmet, where most of the tourist attractions are, standing by to assist the tourists, either bringing them to their destinations if they arewithin walking distance, or showing them the way on their maps. What a wonderful work done by the Municipal. O ya, don't forget to grab your Istanbul map at the tourist information center near the Hippodrome. It'll be very helpful.

When we were at Hippodrome, we were sitting on the grass as the others were, too tired to continue, a man approached us with a stack of "Istanbul" guides. With the price of 30T.L., we thought the book is a little too expensive, so we rejected, he continued to "bargain" with us, we didn't want the book as we had our guide, he insisted, guess what, we got the book for 5 T.L. with a stack of postcard for free! Worth it! So if you don't really need it, don't give in until they do!

Then, we went to the Grand Bazaar, as we thought it's too late for museum trips. It's really huge, for those that know Moscow, it's something like the old ismailovskiy park where they sell clothes are everything else. We didn't get anything there as we thought of surveying the price first, we don't want to get cheated. Keep in mind that they'll be closed at 7.00pm, and on Sunday, so don't go there when it's really late.

After the Grand Bazaar, we thought of getting ourselves a Turkish dinner, but a pure one is really hard to find, as Sultanahmet is full of tourist and the locals have adapted to the tourists' taste, they were trying to sell us PASTA! Why would I eat PASTA in Istanbul? At last we thought it'll be a good choice to dine in at Izmir Restaurant, located on the way from Grand Bazaar back to Sultanahmet, the food wasn't bad, but one of the manager wasn't honest at all. There was one dish that they didn't manage to serve, the waiter, knowing no English, trying to inform us about that, but a sign was given by that particular manager and the waiter kept quite, we knew that something wasn't quite correct, and we waited really long, so we asked for the bill, knowing in our heart how much the total should be, the manager counted the dish that was not served and trying to cheat us, but after being reviewed, he was just trying fool around, we weren't happy with his attitude, there might be such people when you don't speak their languages, so BE CAREFUL!

On our way home, we grabbed 2 real cheap T-shirts, only 5T.L., not bad isn't it? That's how we ended our first day. I'll attach some photos next time, got to grab something to fill my stomach now, really hungry!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Istanbul - a historical city

We were well known for carrying the heavy bags along the street, when we depart from our hostel, heading to our very first destination - The BLUE MOSQUE, we were invited to have tea in a restaurant - Ocean,s 7. One of the managers or bosses said that he recognized us carrying heavy bags. At first, I was trying to walk away, as I always think that these people were just trying to catch customers from the street. But, this time, it's hard to reject, he invited us for free Turkish Traditional Black Tea, which is one of the drink in our list, so, we just went in.

I guess most of us wouldn't feel appropriate to leave without ordering something else in the menu, at least pay a little? We ordered a simple chicken sandwich, as we didn't plan to spend a lot for lunch. It's one of the cheapest thing in the menu - 7 T.L (RM12.60), it's in the snack section, so we thought that it'll be a small piece of bread with some boiled chicken fillet and a few slices of cucumbers and mayo. But it came in a huge place with one large piece of bread cutting into half (something like Russian "baton"), with huge pieces of grilled chicken fillet, cucumbers and tomatoes, and is garnished with fries. So, lunch is done!

Walking under the hot sun was unbearable. It's 31'C according to google. With my spectacles on, I can't put on my sunglasses, I didn't have a hat. I just felt like fainting.

The Blue Mosque was magnificent.
Free of charge! It's quite congested, there were people praying, cleaning up themselves at the "fountain". The queue was pretty long, but the workers are efficient, we didn't wait long to enter.

It wasn't early when we finished visiting Blue Mosque, and the tiredness of traveling from the airport earlier, we didn't enter Hagia Sophia the same day, though it's just opposite of the blue mosque. Instead, we went to the Basilical Cistern, a place we visited quite coincidentally that day, as it was suggested by a shopkeeper, who ran across the road to grab customers for his shop, located just next to the cistern.

One of the thing I hate the most about traveling in Istanbul is, they don't have discount for student! And all the 50% discounts, with or without müzekart, are only valid for their own citizen. Entrance fees for various museums varies from 10-20T.L. (RM36-72). Pretty expensive.

Then we went to the Hippodrome, nothing much from there, but it's famous for its remaining building structure.

There are so much more to mention about the first day, but it's pretty late now. So, it's time for bed. Let's continue tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My way HOME...

6 years have passed, and I am no longer a student, but a graduate. I have spent my last week in Moscow packing, never-ending packing. No matter how many times I thought I have finished packing, I ended up stranded in a pile of stuff, to be thrown away?to be given away? or... ... (confusing)

This very morning was my last day in Moscow and I was heading to a must-visit place - Istanbul. It's an early flight, so we didn't spend much time in bed, just a couple of hours. Thank God, we were able to take a short nap in the plane. Turkish airlines - I would give them an 8, out of 10. I love it for its seats. They are so spacious. The food is good. Generally they got A+ for everything except there are no smiles on their air-stewardesses' face, probably due to early hours?
Turkey international airport -Artatuk airport is pretty cool, except that YOU NEED AN 1 OR 2 EURO COIN FOR THE TROLLEY.

The so-called coin exchange service doesn't look honest at all. I have 10 euro note with me, all I need is him changing it into coins, but instead, he tried to give me Turkish Lira instead, no exchange rate stated, nothing was told or indicated. He looked like he's up to no good, so instead of accepting his TL, I grabbed my 10 euro note and ran. I might be too paranoid, but I think it's better for me to drag or pull my luggage than got cheated!!

Right outside the exit of the baggage claim, there are many ATMs, HSBC is one of them. If you are citibank ATM card holder, you might need to walk all the way to the domestic terminal to withdraw. To me, withdrawing from ATM is the best way to avoid cheating.

The way to the hostel was a very tough one. We should have asked for a transfer from the airport to the hostel, we regretted. Having 30 kgs luggage with you, you better take a cab or a shutter! We took 3 hours to reach safe and sound but smelly and sweaty! However, God is good, on the way, we met plenty of good hearted people. 1st came the English speaking pretty young lady, showing us the way, helping us to buy the multiple metro pass. For so long we have never felt so lost, it happens when you don't speak their languages.

After leaving our over-weighted luggage in the hostel, we began our tour in Istanbul. Sultanahmet - it's indeed a very pretty place.... - to be continued..