A January 2002 trip
to Istanbul by kiwilee
Quote: Being put up in The Hilton, then roughing it backpacker style, I got to see the best of both worlds. It was the first Muslim country I had visited, and the fascination I found from the culture and architechture has left a lasting impression on me.
The architechture of the perennial favourites astounded me. From the intricate designs in the Harem of the Topkapi Palace, to the immense domes and stained glass of the Blue Mosque, these sights lived upto their billing as the city's top tourist sights.
Taxim is the place to head to find the nightlife and to mix with the locals. It is also a major hub for transport to various parts of the city.
To see things from a different perspective, head down to the Sirkeci Ferry terminal and take a river cruise up the Bosphorus and enjoy a meal of fresh seafood, sitting on the deck of one of the many restaurants that surround all the stops along the way
Try and get a Bosphorus facing room as the views are simply stunning (see photo). If you can't, then soak up the same views from 'The Terrace' restaurant while having a drink.
There is nothing that sets it apart from any other deluxe hotel, but it has everything you need, and the staff are all polite and very willing to help.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 23, 2002
Cumhuriyet Caddesi Harbiye
Istanbul, Turkey 34367
0090 212 315 6000
Right in the heart of the action in Sultanahmet, a mere 5 minute walk from the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, and the most spectacular views over Istanbul (Asia) and Sea of Marmara.
A lively hostel packed with travellers from all over, and a plentiful amount of Kiwis and Australians. The dorm rooms are quite sparse, with just the bunk beds. Make sure you take locks for your backpack as there are no lockers in the rooms. A locker room at reception is provided though. There are clean bathrooms and showers which seemed to be unisex.
What makes this hostel something special is the views that it offers. On the 3rd level there is a restaurant and bar which keeps going late into the night. Even a telescope to take advantage of the views on the Asian continent or passing ships. Head up another flight of stairs and the lovely roof garden has tables, chairs and a sound system so you can relax in the sun. This is the place to be to first hear the call to prayer at 6pm (hear it on their website and read about it in 'Haunting Melody' entry), then to watch the sunset behind the minarets of Blue Mosque, a very special sight indeed.
You would be forgiven if you thought you were in a five star hotel, not a hostel as you are almost a stones throw from the two towering monuments, also the sea.
With a nightclub in tow, offering activities like Turkish Pipe Smoking and the everpresent Belly Dancing, this hostel has everything you could want for.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 24, 2002
Orient Youth Hostel
Akbiyik Caddesi 13, Sultanahmet
Istanbul, Turkey 34400
+90 212 5180789
Attraction | "Aya Sofia"
This amazing building was originally built as a church in 537, used from 1453 as a mosque, and was opened for public view as a museum in 1964.
During this time it has endured numerous earthquakes which have cracked its 56m high dome, while the tile mosaics have been covered over on more than one occasion during the Ottoman period.
Although it has now been restored, the magnificence wasn't all apparent. Ongoing works at the time of my visit, covered half the dome with a huge construction of scaffolding (15 floors high), which looked rather out of place in such a building. It allowed me to get a reasonable idea of the building, but not in its full splendour.
You could spend hours looking through all the different nooks and crannies, but on a limited timescale, a quick stroll was all I could manage.
I was impressed by the huge green lavahs (painted wooden shields) which hang at gallery level. They are covered in Persian script which date from restorations of the Fossatis in 1847. The six levahs are spread areound the interior of the dome and add to the visual splendour of the building.
One interesting feature is the column of St Gregory the Miracle Worker, in the near laft corner when you enter the main room. Dating from his visit in 1200, there are still believers that kiss the brass or rub their shoulders and breasts against it, hoping that it will cure their pains.
For everyove else, putting your thumb in the hole worn by many others before, and rotating your hand around full circle will bring good luck (see photo). While those that have eye afflictions, the moisure inside the cavity, should cure this, or at least improve your fertility.
The outside grounds also hold many interesting relics as well. Several tombs of Ottoman Sultans are to be found in the gardens to the south of the building, as well as ruins from another imperial construction which you pass on the left as you enter the complex.
I would have loved to have seen the Aya Sofia in its full beauty, not covered in scaffold. But, if this is what has to be done to preserve this treasure for future generations, then I'm more than willing to come back at a later date.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 29, 2002
Aya Sofya/ Church of Holy Wisdom
Attraction | "Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque)"
The six imposing minarets and the great dome are surely the first things you will notice, even from a distance. It is from these great heights that the call to prayer (see journal entry) is announced each day via loud speakers.
After entering through the courtyard, you walk around to the south west side to the tourist entrance. Is is essential to take off your footwear here (plastic bags supplied), also that females who are not fully clothed cover themselves, otherwise you will not be allowed into the building.
Once inside, you will find the floors covered with rugs which make it very comfortable for sitting and absorbing the serene atmosphere and straining your neck to the roof of the central dome which stands at 43m high.
The light that streams in is all natural, coming from the 260 windows which were all originally stained glass from the 17th century. Many fell into disrepair towards the end of the Ottoman Empire and are now being replaced by modern imitaions.
Take note of the size of the huge pillars that support the upper levels and also of the intricate tile designs that weave their way around the walls and ceiling of the main area and also the four semidomes surrounding the larger one.
This is definately a venue if you feel the need for relaxation or some sort of spiritual experience, but remember that you are invading someone else's place of worship.
After donning your footwear at the exit, the plastic bags for your footwer are collected and there is a desk for donations, a worthy gesture as there is no actual entry fee.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 28, 2002
Attraction | "Basilica Cistern - Yerebatan Saray"
Originally used as a water supply for Constantinople to keep its residents watered during war times when the city was under seige. It seemed to be forgotten until about 1547 when it was rediscovered by Petrus Gyllius. The Basilica Cistern (named after the Stoa Basilica that it was originally built underneath) is now one of Istanbul's most fascinating sights, and also one of the more popular.
The huge underground cistern is almost 140m long, doubling the length of the Hagia Sophia, whilst the width of 65m is comparable aswell.
As you descend from the street level you can peer through the darkness, only lit by atmospheric spotlights, just adding to the mystery and tension apparent in the building. A wooden walkway leads you beneath the magnificent domes and through the pillars topped with Byzantium Corinthian capitals.
With the obligatory coin throwing dispensed with, I made my way past the 28 rows of columns the cistern encompasses. While most of the 8m high columns are identical, there are a few that beg to differ. The most prominent of these can be found in the far left corner.
After reconditioning in the 1980's where about 8 feet of mud was removed and the walkway built. Two columns that sat upon bases depicting Medusa heads. One lies sideways, the other upside down, as legend states that if viewed the right way up, you would turn to stone. A talking point of any visit.
I left thinking what a fantastic acoustic it would be for a concert venue, and found that there is a small stage jutting out over the water where concerts are held on occaision. If this is the case then I would beg you not to pass up the opportunity, not only to see an ancient treasure of Istanbul, but to add to the sensual experience with live music.
Southwest of the Hagia Sophia
I stopped and listened.
Having never visited a Muslim country before, I had only read about the call which happens every day. I was instantly transfixed, as were many others, judging by their lack of movement.
The speakers of the Blue Mosque boomed as a lone voice moved up and down; a Gregorian Chant is the closest thing I can associate it to. Then another was heard, this time coming from a mosque about 50 metres down the road. Finally a third was added to this medley from an unsighted mosque in the Sultanahmet area.
It seemed a good time for relection to me. Perhaps it was the thought of sitting in a strange, beautiful country, experiencing something like this for the first time, but I was very moved.
The men's voices continued together, dissonant, but strangely harmonic. Then, one by one, came to a halt and I was left to comtemplate the silence that was left.
To hear an example, though not quite as emotive as the real thing, go to www.hostels.com/orienthostel then click on 'Our Facilities' where you will find the link.
London, New Zealand