First Day @ Istanbul

My trip out from the Attartuk International Airport to Sultanahmet area where my guesthouse is located at was an uneventful one. I was pretty nervous at the thought of figuring out Istanbul’s transportation system, but it was surprisingly advanced. And since Liping will not be arriving at Istanbul until late afternoon, I had the whole afternoon on my own after checking in at Bahaus Guesthouse.

Istabul Tram

The tram system in Istanbul is surprisingly well-established, connecting major spots within Istanbul with frequent and spacious trams. This was a breathe of relief from the sardine-packed Singapore’s public transportation system. According to Lonely Planet, the ambitious Marmaray Project were initiated to easy the congested Istanbul’s streets, but throughout my stay here I hardly encountered any traffic jams. All in all, Liping and I were very impressed for the level of ease to move around this fine city.

The Sultanahment

From Sultanahmet tram station to the hostel area, you’ll walk past two of the most iconic landmarks of Istanbul – Aya Sofya and Blue Mosque. You would think that would have been a fabulous treat. Yes it was, but after walking past them everyday for the entire trip, they kinda blend into the background. How many travelers can say they got “bored” by the two? Well, Liping and I can. LOL.

Bahaus Guesthouse

The kind of breakfast offered for free everyday at Bahaus, which I devoured with religious regularity between 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. every morning. The spread is always the same: two slices of bread with butter, three slices of tomato, four cubes of cucumber, four olives, two slices of cheddar cheese, two cubes of feta cheese, three slices of ham meat, and a cup of coffee. You get kinda bored after the third or fourth of the same breakfast, but hey, you can’t really complain about something offered for free, can you?

Bahaus Guesthouse

The view of my room at Bahaus Guesthouse. Overall I am very pleased with my choice of accommodation. The place was sufficiently clean, including the toilet, heater is always working, warm water is available throughout the day. The owner and his staff are very helpful and friendly… but I gotta say the best feature of staying here is the top floor bar (the famous roof top bar was closed as it was winter), where the friendly barman entertained visiting guests with games and drinks. I had some of my best times here, getting to know fellow backpackers from all over the world.

As luck would have it, one of my fellow roommates (there were four beds in the dorm) was a Singaporean! I met Wilson when I was unpacking in the room, and upon greeting each other, immediately we know we shared the same accent and all that. Wilson spent a few days in Istanbul as a “hop over” to his real trip in Syria and Jordan. Boy… talk about being adventurous! Wilson, Liping and I ended up spending quite a bit of time together.

The other roommate we had was Ben Trimm. He was from LA – yes, the land of Hollywood – and, surprise! He is an actor! Too bad we only get to talk a little as he was heading of for a one week tour elsewhere within Turkey.

More of my fellow backpackers later on.

Around Sultanahmet area

The venerable heart of the Old City, Sultanahmet, once home to Byzantine emperors and Ottoman sultans, is now first port of call for most visitors like yours truly. As Bahaus is located mere minutes away from this area, I spent most of my time here exploring this part of Istanbul. Here, all within walking distance of each other, are mosques, museums, hotels and cafés, such as Aya Sofya and Blue Mosque, which I visited only on my second day here.

Around Sultanahmet area

Sahlep is a winter drink in Turkey. Made out of tapioca root, it is a thick, milky concoction of heavenly sweetness sprinkled with a dash of cinnamon. I fall in love with it the first time I tried it, and subsequently got Liping hooked on it as well. The quality of Sahlep varies depends on where you buy it from. Your best bet are those from roadside peddlers and kiosks, instead of fancy eateries and onboard ferries. A cup of Sahlep shouldn’t cost you more than YTL2.

Around Sultanahmet area

Starbucks Coffee – how could I do without it? The branch at Sultanahmet provided many instances of relief to me. Something familiar in a foreign environment.

Dinner at Backpackers Cafe

Finally Liping has arrived! Her flight got delayed for an hour in London, so it was almost six p.m. by the time she reaches Sultanahmet. After settling down in Bahaus, we went to have a simple dinner at a nearby eatery called (surprise, surprise!) Backpackers’Café. It was here that I had my first, and last, taste of Raki – Turkish version of vodka which tasted like Hacks the cough sweet. Awfully sweet and not in a good way.

Just Bar at Sultanahmet

On the same night we chilled out a place called Just Bar. Much to my annoyance, I realized that in Turkey, it is okay for smokers to light up within a confined space. So throughout my trip here I had to endure second-hand smoke in almost all the places I ventured into. It was either that, or I have to endure the cold weather of outdoor seats.

Talking about the weather. I really, really loved the chilly wind of winter. Yes, sometimes I shivered so much I can’t speak, but I loved it. I had always wanted to experience a full-scale winter, so the “mild” winter temperatures of Istanbul (about 8 – 10 degrees most nights) was a good induction for me, before the more severe chill of London.

More photos of my first day in Istanbul? Click here.

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