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Istanbul, first day

We’ve just come to the end of 24 hours in Istanbul. I’ll remember this city for a long time. It’s very busy, full of life, not pretty – in fact quite the opposite in places – but distinctive and of course has a stunning number of truly great sights. We appreciated its layout first of all: built on three stretches of water, the Mediterranean, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, the sea is at its heart and there is a continual stream of ferries in all directions, plus occasional larger vessels passing along the Bosphorus.

We docked at Karakoy, on the european side of the city (we didn’t get to the asian side at all, in fact) near the northern end of the Galata bridge. Our cabin was on the seaward side so from our balcony we had a view of some of the sights of Istanbul across the water, including the buildings of Topkapi Palace coming down near to the water’s edge, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the new Mosque, Suleymanye Mosque – all on the skyline and demanding attention. We’d decided we wouldn’t do any excursions, so we went ashore at just before 2pm on the first day looking for the tram station on the northern end of the bridge. Those first few minutes ashore are always a nervous time, as you politely rebuff the calls of “Taxi, sir, madam?”. The dock area ls like all dock areas in the Mediterranean – quite run-down and scruffy. I had a general idea of the direction we needed to go in so we zig-zagged along a few streets before hitting the main road just before the bridge, where we spotted the tram station. At this point the tram lines are in their own carriageway in the middle of the road, and the station, with its two low platforms is clear to see. Next came the job of getting tickets. We’d obtained Turkish currency before we left home so I got a 5 Turkish Lira note ready, walked up to the ticket booth at one end of the tram station and asked for two tickets – holding up two fingers (politely of course) to reinforce the point. The attendant duly gave us two little tokens – “jetons” – and 2 TLira in change. Then it was just a matter of walking a few yards further to the turnstiles, inserting our jetons, and walking onto the platform. A few minutes later the tram came and we boarded.

The trams are very modern and have on-board announcements and indicators. The announcements weren’t easy to follow – for example that the actual Turkish pronunciation of the word “Gulhane” isn’t what I would expect it to sound like. But the name of the next station is also shown on the indicators, and there are tram route plans inside the tram, so it was easy to know when to get off. That said, we got it wrong – we were going to Topkapi Palace and should have got off at Gulhane but instead stayed on one more stop, to Sultanahmet. No problems – we just walked back back along the line. To leave the stations, by the way, there are exit turnstiles at the ends of the platforms. All in all we were very pleased at how well our tram experience went – we were off the tram before 2:15, about 20 minutes after disembarking. It took us a few minutes walking to find the entrance to Topkapi Palace, but once we did it was easy to navigate. Entrance was 20 TLira each, and they were only taking Turkish Lira. Once inside we bought an illustrated guide book for another 10 TLira, and that was 50 TLira gone.

I won’t right too much here about the palace – there is a lot of information available about it – I’ll just say that we had a wonderful afternoon. We didn’t see everything in that time – specifically, we couldn’t go into the Harem – and I’m sure there were buildings that we missed out while other buildings were closed. But we felt in the end that we had been right to do it on our own: we saw several excursions, including some from Solstice, being herded along with no chance to slow down, or take a break. Then it was back to the tram route and back to the ship by about 6 o’clock or just before.

One thing I ought to explain is the ‘Turkish Landing Card’ system. Before we docked we were told that we had to complete a Turkish Landing Card. These weren’t available until after we’d docked, so I assume they were supplied by the Turkish immigration authorities. Basically we had to give our name, the name of the ship and its port (or nation) of registry. We had to do one each, and we had to take them with us when we disembarked. We got ours from Guest Relations, but they were also handing them out during the disembarkation procedure. Then after disembarking everyone had to go through a Turkish border control point, where a bored-looking Turkish soldier/police office briefly looked at the landing card as we waved it at him. We kept the same landing cards for both days, and had to leave them at the foot of the gangway when we returned to the ship after our last trip ashore. But that was on the second day, not the first; and as this post is getting a bit long I’ll restrict it to the first afternoon’s experiences. The next post will include the first evening and the second day.

One Response to “Istanbul, first day”

  1. sultanahmet says:

    I have been there! And they day was as sunny.

    I will go there again.

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