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Weekend Break in Istanbul

The grand city of Istanbul is steeped in history with a unique georgraphical positioning that places it half in Asia and half in Europe. It is one of the world's largest cities and is at the centre of Turkey's finance and rich culture.

It’s one of the easiest cities to access from Bulgaria, but relations between the two countries haven’t always been as easy. For almost 500 years Bulgaria was held under Ottoman rule, in which Turkish forces attempted to force the religion of Islam onto the stoically Christian Orthodox nationals. Bulgaria eventually freed itself from the rule and reclaimed much of the land seized by the Ottomans.


Getting there - The city has been a popular tourist and business destination for many years. There are two airports in the city; Atatürk International Airport, which is based around 24 km west from the city centre, and Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, which is around 45 km east from the city centre, but 20 km from the popular Asian district of the city.

Reaching Istanbul from Bulgaria is easy, as there are networks of coaches and buses that will take you to the city.

Most routes will go through Bourgas, so if you live in the North or the West of the country, firstly take a train or bus to Bourgas where a coach will take you further south down the coast, stopping at Malko Tarnovo, then driving on to the centre of Istanbul. Return tickets with Eurolines are from 130 leva, it takes about six hours and refreshments are included.

Architectural delights - From Otogar station, take the very inexpensive Metro to to Zeytinburnu and then board the Zeytinburnu-Kabatas (-Besiktas) tram if you wish to go to the centre. This take you to the very heart of historic Old Istanbul - Sultanahmet Square - where there are numerous sights to be seen.

 

The Blue Mosque, so called because of the blue tiles on the upper level, was built in 1603 and finished in1617. The Blue Mosque is open to the public at most times of the day and entry is free of charge. Just a stones throw away is the majestic older sibling of the Blue Mosque.

 

 

 


The Church of the Divine Wisdom or Ayasofya is still regarded as one of the most important buildings ever constructed. When Emperor Justinian first built it on the site of Byzantium in 537 AD, it was an incredible architectural feat. The church remained the largest Christian church in the world for many years, until Rome’s St Peter’s Basilica was constructed and claimed the title. Upon being seized by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453, the church was renamed a mosque, and in 1935 the building was reclaimed as a museum.


Also in this area is the crossroads to old Asia Minor, officially named Eminönü. You can catch one of many ferries across the Golden Horn to Karaköy. Both sides of the river are great places to shop for all kinds of local produce, from fish, cheese, baklava and other pastries, to hardware, silks and clothing.

 

 

The Spice Market is one such example. Also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, the market is home to all kinds of exotic fragrances and tastes from the East, including a variety of spices, dried fruits, nuts, seeds and Turkish delight.

 

There are restaurants and cafes aplenty in the centre of Istanbul offering typical local dishes as well more International cuisine. For traditional meyhane dining experience, visit Nevizade Sokak or Asmelimescit Caddesi in Beyoglu, where you can sample lamb Dolma or Sarma, followed by a sweet pastry and a small cup of thick, black coffee. There is also a very reputable fish restaurant called Balikçi Sabahattin, on Seyit Hasan Küyü Sokak Street, Sultanahmet, where you could try fish börek; a filo pastry dish made with the fish of your choice.

Where to stay - With the huge influx of tourists and business visitors, there is a wide range of hotels catering for every budget. A cost effective option would be the Hotel Agan, located in Sirkeci, which has prices starting from just 25 euros per night. The Hotel Sultan’s Inn, in Sultanahmet, is slightly prettier, but still modestly priced and prices start from 26 euros. More expensive hotels include the Madison Hotel in Taksim and Topkapi, near Sultanahmet.

If you want to sample the exotic delights Istanbul has to offer, then set aside a weekend to visit this vibrant and historical city. Hosh Geldiniz!