We have been in Istanbul for almost 2 weeks now and are having a great time exploring this crazy city using the public transit system. There are 6 metro lines, 2 tram lines, 2 funicular lines as well as busses and ferries to help people get around. To get started purchase the reloadable Istanbulkart at any metro station, it works on any public transportation. Istanbul can be intimidating but Google maps has really helped us to find our way around. Also the people here are so friendly and helpful that every time we look even the slightest bit puzzled someone is always offering to help us.
A fun neighborhood to explore is Balat, the traditional Jewish quarter of the Fatih district of Istanbul. The old crumbling buildings are being restored, and trendy cafés are springing up all over the place along with the traditional shops. I loved this part of the city for its vibrant colors and sheer fun atmosphere. On a steep hill overlooking the neighborhood you also find Phanar Greek Orthodox College, founded in 1454 to allow Greeks to be educated in their own language. We had lunch in Cafe Maide. They serve delicious Turkish ravioli and homemade lemonade. There are quite a few tourists in the main streets but just a few blocks further on we found ourselves in the midst of a street market with artistic displays of fruits and vegetables and all kinds of household articles for sale and not a tourist in sight.
Another day we headed for the Balgrad Forest, 5500 ha of mostly hardwood trees with hiking trails and picnic areas. To get here you take the M2 metro line to its terminal station Haciosman, then take the 42HM bus to the end of its line in Bahçeköy. Probably on a summer weekend this place would be quite crowded but on a warm spring day in the middle of the week we had it almost to ourselves. The forest is home to birds and animals with wildflowers growing underneath the trees.
There is a Hop-On-Hop-Off Bospheros tour boat (20 Lira/person) that’s really fun to take. You can take the boat from Kabataş dock. Boats leave 11:15 am, 2:45 pm and sometimes 16:45 pm. To get there we took the funicular from Taxim Square. This is only a short ride but it’s totally unique, don’t miss out if you are in Istanbul. We got to the docks a bit early so wandered around a bit looking for coffee and found Runner Up. This is a trendy little café with a resident cat, Chico, who’s a little devil by the way. Stop in and say hi to the great people there as you sip your coffee and munch on a yummy pastry.
Anyway, the Bospheros tour takes you past the amazing national palaces and the Rumeli Fortress, and you pass below 2 of the Bospheros bridges for great photo ops. There are several stops where you can get out and walk around. We decided to explore the area around the Anatolian Fortress, which is a cool neighborhood. In fact we enjoyed ourselves a little too much and missed the last boat back. Through Google maps we were able to find another way back by bus and metro and actually crossed over the 2nd Bospheros Bridge.
It’s time to get this postcard off to you guys. Our plans for this week include a trip to Riva on the Black Sea and a visit to the Istanbul Tulip Festival. Talk to you soon.