Winter Holiday 2008 – Istanbul, Santorini, Athens & London

I can’t believe it. I am done. Done with 22 days worth of blog posts for the holiday of a lifetime.

If you are reading this and wondered why my blogging has kinda taken a back seat recently – now you know. I am still blogging, but backdated. To document my 22 days journey to Istanbul, Santorini, Athens and London in December 2008. It took much longer than expected, what’s with literally 1000+ photos and memories of all the places I have visited.

But blog I did. And it is with great pride that I share with you my story of the holiday of a lifetime. Please show your appreciation for my hardwork by leaving comments! :D

Istanbul, Turkey (12th Dec 2008 ~ 19 Dec 2008)

The View of Bosphorus Straits... and the Black Sea in the distance

Day 1 (12th Dec)
Departure from Singapore. Spent the night with the lovely Cheryl and adorable Shafik.

Day 2 (13th Dec)
First day in Istanbul. Checked in to Bahaus Guesthouse (my backpacker accommodation of choice) before venturing aroun Sultanahmet area on my own, since Liping will arrive only in the evening. Night time was spent traipsing around the backpackers street.

Day 3 (14th Dec)
Second day in Istanbul. Visited the various famous landmarks: Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, Arasta Bazaar, Hippodrome and Basilica Cistern, among others. Spent the night at the backpackers street again.

Day 4 (15th Dec)
Third day in Istanbul. Visited the extremely-touty Grand Bazaar, had my first Turkish bath experience at Cemberlitas Hamam, walked across the Golden Horn via Galata Bridge to visit Istiklal Cadessi. Spent the night having an aboslutely fabulous (if a little pricey) dinner.

Day 5 (16th Dec)
Fourth day in Istanbul. Spent the day doing an excursion to the lesser known Western District, and visited Mihrimah Sultan Camii, Chora Church, Sultan Selim Cami, Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate and Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars. Had the infamous “balik” (fish) sandwich along the Golden Horn.

Day 6 (17th Dec)
Fifth day in Istanbul. Spent most of the day at the HUGE Topkapi Palace, one of the most important Islamic Empire historic site in the world. The place easily takes up to six hours to explore fully. We didn’t, as we also took a ferry ride to the Asian side of Istanbul, to the town of Uskudar.

Day 7 (18th Dec)
Sixth day in Istanbul. It had been a tiring five days for us in Istanbul so far, so we did something a little different and took the Bosphorus Straits Cruise. The Cruisie ended at Anadolu Kavagi, where we hiked up to a fortress and saw, for the first time in my life, the Black Sea.

Day 8 (19th Dec)
Seventh, and the last day in Istanbul. We covered the last attraction spot of Istanbul and made a trip to the Princes’ Island. Got to know a Brazilian chap, Jose, together with whom we made an awesome threesome for the excursion. Spent the day ferrying from island to island, before spending the early part of the night at Galata Tower and Istiklal Cadessi, and finally a wild night of partying at Bahaus Guesthouse with fellow backpackers. They were awesome!

Full set of Istanbul blog posts here, full set of Istanbul photos here.

Santorini, Greece (20th Dec 2008 ~ 23rd Dec 2008)

Sunset at Fira

Day 9 (20th Dec)
Enroute to Santorini, where our flight from Istanbul to Athens was delayed, and hence we missed the connecting flight to Santorini. Had to take an evening flight instead, which was also delayed! By the time we checked in to Hotel Antonio (which was GREAT, by the way), it was past 10 p.m. We were dead tired, but still managed to check out the nightlife of Santorini. Good thing we did, because the town of Fira was alive only that particular night while we were there!

Day 10 (21st Dec)
Santorini Day 1 – Liping and I rented a car for a land excursion around the beautiful island of Santorini. Visited a number of places, such as the Perivolos Beach (a black sand beach), Akrotini (ancient city site), Red Beach (where I sang my heart out) and our first visit to Oia. Oia is so beautiful that I could cry.

Day 11 (22nd Dec)
Santorini Day 2 – Walked around the main town of Fira, where we stayed, before hitting the road to explore Kamari and Ancient Thira. Ended up at Oia again in the hope of catching a true Santorinian sunset (no such luck), but some interesting experiences awaited us instead. Involving an ancient wood heater and a bookshop.

Day 12 (23rd Dec)
Santorini Day 3 – Our last day on this beautiful island. We remained at Fira, where we finally, finally caught a heartbreakingly beautiful sunset, and got to know a friendly (and potentially stray) dog which we named Raki. We left for Athens the very same night.

Full set of Santorini blog posts here, full set of Santorini photos here.

Athens, Greece (24th Dec 2008 ~ 28th Dec 2008)

The Acropolis: A View of Lykavittos from Acropolis

Day 13 (24th Dec)
First day in Athens! Reached our accommodation of choice, Athens Backpackers, the night before. Had a 2-hour walking tour in the morning, before embarking on our journey to the famous sights of Athens – Acropolis, Ancient Agora and Roman Agora. We even witnessed Greek riot police in action!

Day 14 (25th Dec)
It’s Christmas Day! Despite being in one of the most scenic cities in the world, the day was less glamourous than it sounds. But fun nonetheless. Had a communal kind of Christmas lunch celebrations (involving some vege chopping and a 5-hour wait for a piece of turkey!), and some nice time with fellow backpackers. Certainly an interesting way to spend Christmas!

Day 15 (26th Dec)
It’s Boxing Day! But alas, the day did not start well when our plan to visit the nearby Delphi was foiled. The best part of the day happened at night, when I had a whale of night trawling the nightlift of Athens with one Swiss dude and two German lads.

Day 16 (27th Dec)
Once again, our attempt to go to Delphi was foiled by an idiotic cab driver who sent us to the wrong bus station. We thought all hope were lost… until we finally managed to visit the National Archaeological Museum of Greece. I also managed to get a winter jacket from Zara at Ermou Street (akin to Orchard Road in Singapore). The last night in Athens was spent in a drunken haze… oh, the drama! I like! Heh.

Day 17 (28th Dec)
Final morning in Athens was spent having a leisurely breakfast at Athens Backpackers, and an unhurried train ride to the airport. I had a nice 4-hour flight on EasyJet towards London. LONDON! I can’t believe that I am finally in London. By the time we reached Liping’s house in Maida Vale, night has fallen. After having an authentic British pub grub nearby, I decided to call it an early night.

Full set of Athens blog posts here, full set of Athens photos here

London, United Kingdom (29th Dec 2008 ~ 2nd Jan 2009)

Christ Church, Oxford

Day 18 (29th Dec)
London Day 1! I was still grasping with the realisation that I was in London. Spent the entire day exploring the famous sights of London, including Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. James’ Park, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and London Bridge. Met up with James and his friend. Also explored Soho at night. Had a wonderful time. I really, really like London!

Day 19 (30th Dec)
London Day 2. Made my way to Chinatown late morning and had a leisurely brunch. Caught an afternoon Matinee show of Les Miserables, in which I shamelessly cried my way through the three hour musical. Met up with Liping, Huisi, Huili and Melvin at night for a roast duck dinner and pubbing.

Day 20 (31st Dec)
London Day 3, and it’s New Year’s Eve! Decided to make a day trip to the university town of Oxford. My main purpose was to visit the shoot location of Harry Potter. Being at Christ Church was a heady experience – you have to see the photos (the Great Hall of Hogwarts, OMG) to have an inkling what I have seen. Also managed to go to King Cross Station for the famous Platform 3/4, before headed towards the London Eye to join almost half a million Londoners welcoming the new year in a celebration of fireworks, drinks (with videos!)… and rowdiness and huge human jam. Awesome and terrifying all at the same time.

Day 21 (1st Jan)
Happy New Year! Decided to cover two famous London landmarks on my last day here – St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London (which, to my utter disappointment, was closed). Managed to watch my favorite musical, Hairspray (I know, right!) before spending my last night here in Soho, getting to know a couple of Londoners in the process.

Day 22 (2nd Jan)
Final day in London. It was a long, long journey back to Singapore, with a 14-hour wait back in Attartuk International Airport (that’s in Istanbul) before finally touched down in Singapore on 3rd Jan. The end of a journey of a lifetime.

Full set of London blog posts here, full set of London photos here

Winter Holiday 2008 - Istanbul, Santorini, Athens & London by

Comments

  1. Jim says:

    Thanks so much for your blog. The info will be very helpful when I go to Istanbul in December. By the way that Ottoman food looked great! Thanks again

  2. Razlan says:

    @ Jim – Thanks for dropping by. Do let me know if you enjoyed your Istanbul trip!

  3. Ahmad Fuad says:

    how about the weather? Extremely cold or just fine

  4. Razlan says:

    @ Ahmad – Depends on which city you are talking about. Istanbul and Athens were similar, at about 12-15 deg in the day time, and about 8 – 10 at night. Santorini is colder since it is an island. London was the coldest, hovering at 5 – 8 in the day time, and can fall below 0 at night. Then again I was there end of Dec, just before the snow falls.

  5. Ahmad Fuad says:

    Thanks Russ, for good and fast response.

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