Europe 2016 Day 2.1: Ill Prepared…

Day 2 was a Monday, so even though I woke up just shortly after 5 AM, I did not make plans for an early day out. I have seen enough from yesterday evening’s walk that although Taksim is an area full of tourists, there are also an equal number of locals.

Monday is a working day, and I thought the morning rush hours should be common all over the world, so I thought it best to wait it out. So I went back to bed for a few more hours (or did I not get back to bed, but started blogging instead?) and finally stepped out of the apartment shortly after 9 AM.

This greeted me…

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Shit! I did not account for heavy fog so late into the morning. And it was bloody cold. And it was only then when I realized I did not bring any lip balm and Vaseline with me. Double shit!

So I quickly ducked into the closest Simit Sarayi that I could find and had breakfast, wanting to wait the fog out…

I was in the simit cafe for almost an hour when I realized that the fog situation was not going to get any better anytime soon. So there was nothing much I can do except go next door to the pharmacy, got myself a lip balm stick and a bottle of Vaseline, and then officially began my itinerary for the day.

Going to Dolmabahçe Palace

Today was actually not part of my original itinerary. I was supposed to fly in today and fly out tomorrow. The only thing that I planned to do was explore the Istiklal Avenue. But thanks to SQ rescheduling my flight to a day earlier, and I already did the Istiklal stroll yesterday, so now I have one whole day with absolutely no idea what to do.

So I thought, why not just go ahead and visit that famous Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe Sarayi) because it is located on this side of the city anyway? So that’s what I decided to do.

To get from Taksim Square to Dolmabahçe Palace, you could actually walk. It’s not that far to be honest, probably about 1 kilometer. But it was really bloody cold that morning! So I decided to take the Taksim–Kabataş funicular instead.

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Yeah, like the main trams, the funicular here is a modern one too, complete with air-conditioning. And this one’s a short, one station ride only. It took me to the Kabataş station and saved me 500 meters of walking distance. I wouldn’t have done this if not for the cold.

I exited the underground station to find myself staring at this place…

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Ferry terminal

I shall take note of this ferry terminal, this is one of the places where you can get a ferry ride across the Bosphorus straits into Anatolia Turkey on the cheap.

But I wasn’t here for the ferry ride today. Time to get walking. From here, head north. How do we know which direction’s north? Easy. If the sea is to your right, keep walking. If the sea is to your left, turn around.

Right next to the ferry terminal are jetties where all the boats for the Bosphorus cruise tours can be found.

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Lots of lovely advertising billboards along the sides
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Some folks getting off their cruise tour

Hmm, they don’t look too thrilled, do they? Not the faces of people who just got off a wonderful and enjoyable cruise. I guess that’s completely understandable. Heavy fog, remember?

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Imagine going on a cruise to see lovely sea view… of fog!

So here’s a tip from me: If you want to visit Istanbul, and you want to take a cruise tour of the Bosphorus Straits, don’t pre-book. Come here and buy your tickets on the spot! Because you never know if the day you pre-book would be a heavily fogged day or not.

Let’s get a move on…

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Pedestrian walkway towards Dolmabahçe Palace
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Some buildings

Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe Sarayi)

It’s quite impossible to miss this wonderful royal palace of the Ottoman sultans. It is just beside the main road and overlooking the Bosphorus Straits. If somehow you do not feel confident that you have found the right place because all the mosques and palaces here seem to look the same, here’s another clue for you…

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New stadium in construction just across the main road from the palace
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Dolmabahçe Palace

Up till this point, I have been taking photos using my trusted smartphone. It was easier than whipping the camera out from my backpack. But the palace is a different kettle of fish. Time to break out the camera.

And… time to finally see the camera screen flashing this indication: [No Card].

No!!! Oh fuck!!! I took the memory card out to transfer the photos to my laptop, and forgot to replace it! Oh shit!!!

I thought of going back to my apartment to get my memory card and come back, but after some deliberation, it felt like a very stupid move, and I was lazy, so… whatever you see of Day 2 (this post and tomorrow’s post) were all taken using my smartphone. The camera gets an off day!

Oh well…

To enter the palace premises, you need to go through a round of security screening. In fact, I later learned that this is standard protocol for every historical sites in Istanbul.

It was here where the security officer dropped me a further piece of bad news. Okay, not me exactly. She dropped the bombshell to the American couple in front of me, and I overheard.

No entry to the Palace insides! We closed Monday Thursday! Only garden is free!

What??!! Palace is closed on Mondays???!! Well… fuck!! First the fog, then the forgotten memory card, and now this… This isn’t going to be an enjoyable day for me, is it?

So instead of touring this royal palace today, this was as far as I could go…

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Palace entrance

Well, the garden was free, but… there’s nothing much there. It was basically a few patches of grass, a few trees, a few benches… There’s a ticket counter that was not open… There’s a not-so-tall clock tower…

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Looks a lot taller in picture than it really is

There’s also a restaurant which, ironically, remained open. Probably to capitalize on frustrated souls who came and found out that they could not enter…

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Okay, it’s not the Palace’s fault. It was solely my fault. I did not do my due diligence before coming here. If I had made better use of my early rise this morning and do a proper search of visiting information, I would have known not to waste my time and come here.

Still, it did not prevent me from feeling more than a little sulky…

I was at a lost. I had expected to spend at least half a day here. After all, I heard that this is a freaking big palace. And now I was done in less than 15 minutes. Crap! Gotta find something else to do…

Let’s Take a Walk

Remember the new stadium under construction?

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This one

I actually did not know that this stadium is going to be here. From the looks of the billboards, this will be Beşiktaş’s new stadiumBeşiktaş is one of the few football clubs based in Istanbul, probably the third most popular after Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe.

Well, I had time to spare, and I was intrigued. I have actually never seen a stadium still under construction, up close. Then I spotted that there’s a hill just across another road from the stadium. So I made a spontaneous decision to climb that hill and see if I can find a vantage point which would allow me to see inside that stadium.

Off we go!

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Oh good! There’s stairs!
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More stairs…
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OMG, more stairs! When is this gonna end?

I think I climbed more than 100 steps to reach the end of the staircase. Half of the Batu Caves climb?

And I emerged from the stairs to find myself staring at this…

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Uphill road leading to who knows where

Gahhh…. no vantage point but more uphill road! But since I made my way here, might as well keep walking and see if I can find anything interesting to see.

I didn’t. I kept a constant uphill walk for what seemed like 100 kilometer (I might have exaggerated the distance) before deciding that enough was enough. I was already sweating like a pig and my thighs were sore, and the end of the road was nowhere to be seen.

So I decided to turn around and head back. But I was not satisfied. So I entered one of the small alleys, thinking to find some local residential area and see how Turkish houses look like.

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Some alley
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Looks exactly like how people park their cars in San Francisco

To be honest, I was really beginning to find that Istanbul has a lot in common with San Francisco in terms of geography and the buildings…

I was walking and walking and cutting across a few different alleys. It was almost time to turn on the GPS and figure out how to get back out there when…

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I found myself back in the open, by the row of buildings I saw when walking towards the Palace.

Once I found myself here, I knew exactly where I was, and how to get back to the Kabataş station. Seems like GPS is not needed yet…

This row of buildings was on an elevated piece of land, so from here, I could get a clear view of this…

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Dolmabahçe Mosque (Dolmabahçe Camii)
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The trams

I think I have done enough walking for now. Time to make my way back to the tram station…

Travel info: Istanbul Rail

I guess not many tourists to Istanbul would dare take the inter-city trains. Apart from those hardcore budget travelers, most of the other travel blogs that I’ve read advocates walking and taking the taxi. The main excuses reasons are: the trains are confusing without English words, the trains are for the locals, the taxis are safer, we should spend more on taxi because we are here to boost their tourism income (okay, the last one is bullshit that I added for sarcasm)…

You know I’m not a hardcore budget traveler. My food should have already told you that. And I’m here to tell you that you need not fear the Istanbul trains. It looks a lot worse on paper than it actually is.

A few things:

  1. The Istanbul train network is made up of a few different lines and they consist of metros, trams and funiculars. But they’re all air-conditioned carriages so to me, they’re all just… trains.
  2. Unlike in most places where you pay once to get from point A to point B regardless of how many transits, here you pay once per line. If your A to B involves 3 different trains, you pay 3 times.
  3. BUT… most of the tourist attractions and historical sites can be found along the T1 (Blue) tram line, the Kabataş – Bağcılar line, so you don’t actually have to worry too much about overpaying as a tourist.
  4. I don’t think the trains are for the locals. In fact, I think the locals don’t prefer the trains (probably too expensive to pay a few times to get between home and work). The few times I took the tram at 6 PM, it was not full and there was ample standing space. Also, the trains are good during rush hour because the traffic can be hideous.

So, there are two ways for you if you decide to try riding the trains.

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Method 1: Jetons

Jeton means ticket. Each jeton costs 4 TL (Turkish Liras). You don’t have to buy them at the specific station which you are going to board. You can buy a bunch and keep them and just use them whenever you need. The way to purchase these jetons (you can ignore the poster instructions, sometimes they’re old):

  1. Insert cash,
  2. Press the green button,
  3. Take jetons and change (if any), and leave.
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Method 2: Istanbulkart

Istanbulkart is like the Touch n Go card, and it is specifically for the trains. You can buy them at machines that look like above, pay 10 TL and get 4 TL credit (so the card costs 6 TL here). See those tiny flags on the left side of the screen? You can select language there.

But the machines will usually be out of stock, so the next best place to find them: most of those supermarkets and convenience stores will sell them too, pay 7 TL and get 0 credit (card costs 7 TL).

With this card, you top up some values in, and use them until you’re running low, and top up again. Also, you don’t need 1 card per person. You need 1 card per group. If you have a group of 10 people, you can share 1 card, just make sure you have enough credit in the card.

I have one of these cards, and let me tell you why. If you use jetons, each ride costs 4 TL. If you switch trains, it is another 4 TL. With Istanbulkart, it is 2.30 TL per ride, and if you switch trains then subsequent rides (as long as you did not get out of the station) are 1.65 TL each.

You know I took the trains to and from the airport. I had to switch trains once each time. So if I used jetons, my return trip would be 4 jetons, or 16 TL. With Istanbulkart (I was lucky I managed to snag the last one on the machine in the airport Metro station), it’s 13.90 TL (6 TL card + 3.95 TL from airport + 3.95 TL to airport). Not the mention the discounts I got when I was going around town.

And I get to bring back a practical souvenir for myself from Istanbul. If you plan to go to Istanbul, you can borrow it from me…

Wow, I’ve written a lot today. Day 2.2 continues tomorrow…



  1. That is quite thick fog there. Either your lips are naturally dry and can’t withstand the cold, or you are still acclimatizing, or you re dehydrated. I’m not a fan of lip balm, even when in the cold. My face just goes numb.

    It actually looks like a very relaxing day exploring, and there aren’t any crowds around. It must have been nice overall despite not being able to go into those historical buildings.

    • Well, I think that’s the case for most Malaysians who travel to cold weather countries? We’re not used to the dry atmosphere, so our skin/lips get dehydrated more easily. I always need lim balm and Vaseline 🙄 …

      It was a Monday, and working hours, AND THE DAMN PALACE WAS CLOSED ARGHHHH… so naturally there would be next to no one there. Only an idiot would go there on a Monday. 🙁

      • Maybe it is a Malaysian thing. My mum likes to use lip balm in the colder months…but after a few years here she has acclimatized. Hopefully other parts of your face weren’t prone to cracking. While my lips are okay in the Melbourne winter, my cheeks always sting and turn red in these cooler months 🙁

        Well, if the place works on weekends technically they are entitled to a Monday off… 🙄

        • That’s the keyword: acclimatized. It only happens if you live there long enough. The longest I have ever stayed in a cold and dry place was 7 weeks in Colorado, I was able to be lip balm free by week 4 or 5 I think. But now that I’m back here for so long, I lost that “power” 🙄 …

  2. Omg, when I was young, first see this mosque in the the documentary, I was already wish that I would be there one day, don’t you realized all the buildings that was made by marble are way more extremely attractive?

    • You mean the mosque or the palace? That mosque actually not that famous leh, the famous one is Blue Mosque (not here). The palace is a different story, that one very geng!

  3. Didn’t you say that you would disappoint me as you are not into historical buildings? You have posted more than I expected with so long lines of stories. Thanks for telling us not to pre book the cruise too.

    I always carried 2 batteries and 2 memory cards.during my travels. Enough lessons learnt in the pasts.

    • I posted how I failed to get into ONE historical building and you are satisfied, hahaha!

      Yeah, I did not have enough lessons to learn in the past. Previously all business trips, so even though I had my camera, I have not tried being out and about for entire days. Now I know…

      • Of course, even the exteriors of this beautiful palace and old buildings along the streets fascinated me enough like orgasms! Muahahaha

        I forgot to explain why I carried 2 batteries. In Japan, it takes like forever to charge my mobile phone and camera batteries!! Argh!

        • It is the same in the US, expect your charging time to be doubled. This is because their plugs’ voltage and current levels are lower than what we get in Malaysia…

  4. Murphy Law rulezzzz!! Now I understand why u have been walking so much jst for nothing, haha! Same goes for me last time, I thought of going to Hagia Sophia but it was closed on Monday! ugghhhhh!!! As for the stadium, I have seen/witness an entire sport village with stadiums being built on zero land, that is Bukit Jalil Commonwealth ‘Village’ (dunnno why they called it village back then). So I guess I won’t be so curious about the interior of a half-constructed stadium (which eventually led to more walkings..). Anyway, I dun tink I will prefer walking much on a foggy and cold day…

    • Hahaha, you are right, Murphy Law zzz…

      I won’t be interested with Bukit Jalil stadium also, but I would be interested with football stadium! Hahahaha!

      I think you typo on your email address, that’s why the comments went to Spam.

  5. You see, you forgot to take your lip balm and got cracked lips on day 2 already but blame it on our hot weather when you came back! 😛 Your photos taken with your handphone still as good what….

    • I got the lip balm immediately so my lips DID NOT crack on Day 2 hahaha! Aiya, my lips cracking when I get back to Malaysia is normal. It happened all the time when I went to US and Tokyo. 🙄

  6. What a long post hah..hah… I like! Seems like it wasn’t your day, huh? Fog, forgot lip balm and vaseline and then no memory card. But still, quite an adventure and so much walking! I don’t mind all that walking since it was very cold. Reminds me of my trip trip to Boston years ago. Sigh….

  7. I was reading your post, line by line, and then I see Taksim Square.. Taksim! I saw in FB that Taksim kena bomb or what airlines crash, etc? And lucky you came back already, wah, “hak sei ngor” when I see the work Taksim kena something something leh!You took the trains here and there and to the airport somemore? 1 way all the way terus takpe, this one need to change trains, if me, I cry+whine liao.. My heart beating leh.. You imagine our local LRT stations, ask me queue up and then dunno what I want, stand there like s*h*i and kena scolded somemore ask me faster faster, then I see those mountain people, I sure panic attack one!

    • Suicide bomber last Saturday, and on the same street that I blogged about 🙁 . I’m lucky, but not those who got killed in the bombing. Haih, the military can secure all the buildings, but those suicidal assholes target the streets with people, nothing much can be done. Shit!

      Our LRT station really will kena scold one ar? I thought I sometimes show black face is the worst there is… But I won’t black face to someone who obviously don’t know what to do lah, I will go and assist him/her. I only black face those that dilly dally (queue up, reach him/her only slowly take out purse from bag and dig out coins, after get ticket slowly replace change into purse, slowly put purse back into bag) with that lansi face. Those assholes I will black face and give them the “fuck off lah” look…

  8. Ooh that looks really foggy and cold. And yep, I’ve totally done that where I walked far somewhere only to find it closed heh. But if I remember correctly, you went back and saw it again. It wouldn’t really have mattered that you had no card in your camera anyway, since it’s no pictures allowed inside :P.

    • Hehehe, yeah… so I ended up sticking to my original itinerary and squandered this extra day that I got 🙄 … Well, you’re giving spoilers to my chronological posts! But doesn’t matter I guess. 😛

    • Why you count the photos hahaha… Just say the Dolmabahce Mosque lah 😛 … I actually thought the tree was “kacau” in the shot, but there was no way for me to not include it, unless I use photoshop. Good that you liked it though… 🙄

  9. “This greeted me” Then I see pictures of so many birds and then you wrote, “SHIT!”

    OK. I thought bird shat on your head the first thing you stepped out of your apartment. LoL!

    No Vaseline nevermind lah. The next time you have breakfast, keep the butter in your pocket and slather it all over your lips from time to time 😀

    • I show fog and you see birds. Good! 😐

      Keep butter in pocket, you good lah you…Do you do that??

  10. Wow! What a long and detailed post! Thanks!

    1. It must be very, very cold or is it because you are not wearing the right clothes (you wore like what you usually wear in Penang?) You who took off your clothes in US snow is afraid of the cold in Istanbul? Cannot be gua….

    2. I repeat it must be very cold for you to buy new lip balm and vaseline and not just walk back to your apartment to get them, assuming that you did bring lip balm and vaseline from m’sia. Are there familiar brands for you to buy? How much did the vaseline and lip balm costs?

    3. My point and shoot camera has internal memory so if I forget to put in the SD card, I can still use the camera by storing the photos in the internal memory and then transfer them to a SD card. Your camera doesn’t have internal built-in memory?

    4. Lucky you did not go back all the way to get your card for the camera. Else you make a trip back and then go back to the palace to find that it was closed you would be so so so so angry.

    5. Good exercise walking up all those stairs. I see some buildings with air con units jutting out that look like the buildings here.

    6. You are one smart cookie to use the Istanbulkart to use the trains and save money in the process. You cannot sell the card back to them to get back your deposit like in HK and Taiwan? How long is the validity period for the card? One year? Or no expiry date?

    7. Your breakfast of Spinach Boregi (4.50 TL), Cheese and Pepperoni Simit (4.25 TL), Carrot Juice (5 TL) can last you for so long in the cold and enough to fuel you to walk all those steps ah?

    8. Looks like the place where the palace is located has no fog. Does the fog have any smell? What does the fog smell like?

    Ok, 8 points for this post for now. 🙂

    • Wow! What a long and detailed comment! Your comment almost as long as my post hahaha!

      1. That US stunt was just that, a stunt. It lasted 10 seconds. And usually in the US, we don’t do a lot of walking when it was cold. The only walking we did was from the car to the building, and vice versa. Walking 1 kilometer is a whole different prospect 🙄 …

      2. No, I did not bring those from Malaysia. I totally forgot until I saw the fog and remember: “Oh yes, this is cold weather country!”. I got the lip balm and Vaseline both together for 30 TL. Don’t know which one’s more expensive, but the lip balm was very good. It kept my lips safe throughout. Incidentally, I dropped it in Istanbul Airport while waiting for the flight back to Singapore 😐 …

      3. Nope (At least not that I know of). If I try to take a picture without card, it shows up when I press the Display button, but the moment I turn off the camera or connect to USB, then the picture’s gone.

      4. YES! YOU ARE SO RIGHT!!

      5. Yeah, most of the houses here have air-cond and also heating systems separately. Not like the combined systems that I see so commonly in the US.

      6. I actually knew about Istanbulkart before I came. I did my due diligence on the logistics side of things (where to stay, how to get there), but somehow neglected the actual attractions that I want to visit 🙁 . From what I know, there’s no expiry date, just like Touch n Go. Thanks for bringing up the refund topic. There is a counter at the airport station which will buy back your card if you choose to, but I heard they only refund you the deposit (6 TL), but whatever balance that you have left will be “contributed towards the betterment and expansion of Istanbul’s public transportation”. So make sure not to load too much money into the card. For me, I loaded 20 TL (that makes 24 TL in total), and there was a 1.25 TL balance left so it was okay. Anyway I already decided to keep the card as souvenir, moron tourist that I am, so… yeah… 😀

      7. Well, when you’re out and about, can lah. Breakfast was around 9 AM, and lunch was around 2 PM. It was about 12.30 PM when I got onto the tram leaving this area…

      8. Got fog! But because I wasn’t shooting at a vast area from afar, it is not so pronounced. Remember my Z3 has amazing fog/haze filtering function >.< ... I didn't notice any special smell, the fog was just those cold water fog. Of course, Istanbul itself has a unique smell that is a mixture of the sewerage and Turkish tobacco and pollution and whatnot. Just that, I didn't find the fog contributed any extra smell...

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