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…
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.
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…
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.
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?
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…
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…
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!
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…
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…
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…
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?
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 stadium. Beşiktaş 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!
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…
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.
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…
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…
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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):
- Insert cash,
- Press the green button,
- Take jetons and change (if any), and leave.
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…