What is if I say that you can travel to the country and spend a day in the city absolutely free without spending a dime . Exciting isn’t it ? Well, here is the thing that while I was planning for my Europe Trip . I went ahead and decided to fly with Turkish Airlines because of being economical , budget friendly and it suited my timing more so because, it was giving me a long layover. So, while I was returning from Vilnius, Lithuania, I had a long layover in Istanbul for almost a day .
I already had a valid Schengen Visa which enabled me to apply for Turkish E-Visa just few days earlier than my visit. Infact, it is also possible to get the E-visa at the airport. But, to avoid unnecessary rush, to save time and for the sake of comfort , a prior purchase of visa is always suggested. Turkish E-visa can be applied through the official site of Govt of Turkey which is https://www.evisa.gov.tr/ . It costed me USD 44.5 . And, the process was super easy to do it online.
Since, I reached in Istanbul at 22.00 hrs on the previous day than my onward flight to New Delhi which was next day around 20.30 hrs. Either I had an option to stay in the airport or else to book myself a stay for the night. Hence, I decided to resort to Couchsurfing and luckily I got a very good host who not only agreed to host me even for the few night hours but also took all the trouble to come and pick me up from the airport just out of gratitude. I came out of the airport finally around 11.30 pm after passing through immigration process. We decided to check out the beautiful Bosphorus , which is a natural strait connecting the two continent. I went to quite a number of places which included driving through two out of three bridges which connects Europe and Asia . Witnessing the historical city at 2 am was way more fun than I thought.
Oh, for those who might be thinking about the safety part .I would suggest to do this only if you are with a local or a trusted source.
There are places that we decided to check out as per the recommendation of my host. As I was super excited to see the first sight of grand Bosphorus Strait from the moment I landed. And hell yeah, there I was! standing in front of the same overlooking the Maiden’s Tower . The Maiden’s Tower, also known as Leander’s or Kizkulesi Tower since the medieval Byzantine period. It is a tower lying on a small islet located at the southern entrance of the Bosphorus strait 200 m from the coast of Üsküdar in Istanbul. The tower was used as a lighthouse and control tower also during Ottoman period after the Conquest of Constantinople.
There was a constant chill in the wind which was gushing through my tired spine. Hence, we decided to sit by the bay to sip my very first Turkish coffee.
The two bridges that I passed through were Bosphorus Bridge and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge out of the total three bridge connecting the two continents. The third bridge is called Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge.
There is a striking contrast between European and Anatolian or Asian side of Istanbul . While European side, they say is more calm and organised but Asian side also happens to boast some of the busiest and coolest neighbourhood like Kadikoy known for hip cafes , shopping scenes and night life almost at half the price.
Of the several mosques and churches to choose from in Istanbul, Ortakoy Mosque is one of the prettiest mosque which sits pretty on the banks of Bosphorus. Hence, the night view of the same was nothing but stunning as I stood beside the same to feel the cool breeze of water. Ortakoy Mosque is actually a pint sized as compared to other mosque in the city which is built in Neo-Baroque style. But, a visit to the same is definitely recommended. It is also suggested to visit the mosque early morning hours specially to enjoy sunrise with a delicious cup of Turkey Coffee overlooking the Bosphorus .
The city is interesting enough to keep you on your toes to have a glimpse at the vibrancy of the same . But I was already tired and worn out to call it a day as I had to wake up early morning to move out to make the most out of my limited time.
Now, one of the main reason to choose Turkish Airlines was, I came to know that since I had a long layover for almost a day. They offer a daily city guided tour inclusive of two meals absolutely free of charge.. Happy Dance! Hence, next morning I reached back the airport at around 7.30 am to book myself a city tour as per my onward flight schedule. The staff at Turkish Airlines took our boarding passes and assigned us the tour accordingly.
And there I was, sitting with group of passengers who were transiting from all around the world in the bus towards the city. Since, my layover was the longest, hence I opted for the longest tour which was from 9-6pm. In the bus they gifted us with a welcome kit which included a beautiful city map and a cool bandana.
The places which was covered as per the schedule were Hippodrome – German Fountain, Blue Mosque , Serpentine Column, Obelisk of Thedosius , Hagia Sophia Museum and Museum of Islamic Arts and Culture followed by some me time to explore Grand Bazaar.
For breakfast , we were taken to a very nice restaurant somewhere close to the Blue Mosque and for the lunch , we headed to a traditional style old school restaurant which served us mouth watering Turkish cuisine. On other days of the week, if you visit , they also make you experience the sumptuous Turkish style lunch on the banks of Bosphorus overlooking the beautiful Top Kapi Palace. So, tempted enough??
Our guide, Emre was absolutely fantastic to explain us the history and the story with great detail. After getting happily tired and content , we bid goodbye to Istanbul and headed back to the airport for our respective flights , taking back countless pictures and memories.
The other things which I missed out was to visit Top Kapi Palace, Taksim Square and many such things as it was not possible to cover everything in one day and also that few places were closed as well.
We ended our tour at the Grand Bazaar and after making a brief stop to explore the Museum of Islamic Art and Culture. Although, I hardly had any local currency with me but strolling through one of the oldest and largest souk in the entire world which sheltered more than 4000 shops , I could not resist myself to exchange some euros to quickly get some Turkish Lira (their local currency) to do litttle bit of “Yes I have been to Istanbul” shopping . I bet this place is just irresistible to shop.
Well, I am definitely sure that one short visit like this is just not enough to soak into the richness of this city . I have to and yes I will definitely be back to Turkey next time for a proper trip.
So, if you are transiting to /from Europe or Westward somewhere , my recommendation would be to definitely avail this offer if you are one of the first timer like me and wants to get the first hand impression of this vibrant city.
Istanbul was never a part of my main Europe itinerary but definitely left me with a long lasting desire to be back again.
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So are you planning a trip to Europe or somewhere ? Do you need tips for safe and smart travel ? Hit me up in the comments below, like I say I am always there to help.