On a cobbled path

On a cobbled path

Travel tales

On a cobbled path

Istanbul is the only city in the world that is spread across two continents — Asia and Europe — with the two parts separated by the Bosphorus Strait, connecting the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.

Both parts of the city are well-connected by three Hanging Bridges. One shouldn’t miss passing over the Hanging Bridge over Bosphorus Strait. Tramways also pass over this bridge.

Since we had a US visa, we got our Istanbul visa online immediately after making the payment. It’s a very simple procedure for those who hold a US or a UK visa. We had booked our stay at a hotel in Taksim Square, the central part of Istanbul. Taksim Square is a large open ground where people meet, spend time and enjoy snacks sold by cart vendors.

It is a very convenient central area with several options for shopping and hotels around the Square are well-connected by public transport like buses and subway. We took a Havatas bus from the airport to Taksim Square.

At Taksim Square, there are at least four to five currency exchange dealers who offer a better rate without charging any commission. Also, very few people speak English in Istanbul but they are nice and affectionate and try to help you.

Just opposite the hotel where we were staying, there is a walking street named Istiklal Caddesi, meaning a street; a busy shopping area, where you can get anything. This street also has a good number of eateries. A heritage tram car runs in the middle of the street and it is fun to take a ride in this bright red tram which has just one coach.

There are lots of shops in Istanbul selling sweets and cakes. ‘Baklava’ is one of the famous sweets and you get varieties of it with dry fruits and nuts. The other famous sweet made of milk is ‘thrileje’ which looks attractive and tastes fabulous. One can find cart vendors selling roasted chestnuts, American corn and ‘simit’, a soft and tasty bread which is sliced in the middle with Nutella spread on it. One can find many such vendors in almost all the streets and around Taksim Square and other tourist centres.

Istanbul is a very clean and tidy city with well-laid roads and footpaths. The people have good civic sense and it is a pleasure to walk on the pavements. Where the pavements are very broad, a portion of it is rented out to small business establishments without affecting the free way of the pedestrians.

The city has an excellent public transport system comprising buses, tramways, subways, aerial tramway and ferryways. The city also boasts of a dedicated bus lane which is widely used for speedy travel.

Each part of the city is very well-connected. In Istanbul, a prepaid travel card will suffice to travel by any mode of transport within the city. It has six Metro lines connecting every nook and corner.

The Blue Mosque is a large mosque, fully carpeted with a balcony. The walls are well-designed with blue marble chips. The Grand Bazaar is an old shopping market which has several entrances and many roads and crossroads. It has plenty of shops dealing in almost everything.

Bargaining is rampant here and one has to be very cautious in striking a deal. One of the things that I really liked here is the ‘Istanbul chai’, without milk, that is sold at a very reasonable price in an hourglass-shaped cup.

The most interesting place was the Miniature Park which has a huge collection of scale models of almost all the buildings of Istanbul including the airport. Each miniature looks as good as the original. The park has a 4-D theatre named Flyride.

A half an hour show will take you around Istanbul and another half an hour show will take you around Turkey. The Pierre Loti Hill is another place from where one can get a beautiful view of the city. If time permits, one can go to the Prince Island for a rural touch. A ferry will take you across after sailing for an hour or so.

We also tried ‘gozleme’, a stuffed ‘roti’ as thin as ‘roomali roti’, with stuffings of our choice. Being vegetarians, we opted for only cheese, red pepper, tomato and onion. Another popular drink that’s available is ‘aryan’, a spiced buttermilk.

Overall, the visit to Istanbul was a pleasant one and we then moved on to Cairo to join a group from Bengaluru on a package tour, carrying everlasting memories of this beautiful city.

(The author can be contacted at drpg2805@gmail.com)