Istanbul is one of the world's fastest growing cities in the world and during our visit in 2013 it is the world's second largest city (after Shanghai)! It is the only large city in the world that is situated on two continents; the largest and historically and economically most important part is situated in Europe, while the East part, mainly residential, is situated in Asia. The wide strait Bosphorus divides them and they are connected by ferries. The famous bay called Golden Horn divides the old city center in two parts; connecetd by the Galata Bridge. On the south part is the Sultanahmet area with Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and other interesting site, while you find the main street Istiklal Caddesi, the Galata Tower and Taksim Square, that is considered the heart of Istanbul, on the north side. The lake Marmaris is situated just south of the city center, as well as the relaxed Princes Islands. To the North of Istanbul, the Bosphorus strait flows into the Black Sea, that has borders to many Eastern European and former Soviet countries.
Istanbul has a very important role in the history, first it was the capital of the Byzantine (East Roman), then for many years it became muslim under the Ottoman rule after and in the 1920s the nation Turkey was born, and the still popular prime minister Atatürk secularized it. The still can find many large mosques everywhere and you can here call for prayers as much as 5 times a day! Despite its gross size Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey, it is Ankara.
You can find many rundown streets and buildings, even near tourist areas, as well as beautiful historic monuments, buildings and mosques, but there are also very modern parts, especially in the outskirts where you can find as much as 3 modern districts with tall skyscrapers, highways and large shopping malls. If you take the popular Bosphorus ferry, like we did, you can see the European side on one side, and the Asian on the other. Along the trip, you will find large palaces, modern office buildings, large apartments blocks and small fishing villages with charming colourful mansions.
The traffic is very chaotic, it is totally crazy, the cars drive very careless and sometimes you can't find pavements and crosswalks are hard to find. Not many traffic lights either, making it very dangerous to cross the streets. The local traffic is ok, but not very extensive. You can buy and refill cards for every trip, but you have to combinate different systems; lightrail trams (always overcrowded), historical trams, subway, trains, buses, taxi buses and ferries. The yellow small taxis are cheap but they always take twice the price for tourists and its hard to negociate it because they can't speak English. In general, however, most Istanbul citizens are pretty good on basic English.
Our stay was excellent. We got a great offer at a 5 star hotel, Celal Aga Konagi Hotel! It featured 2 large swimming pools, free brunch, large chandeliers, Turkish bath/spa, sauna, aquariums, bar, 2 restaurants and a double room with jacuzzi, ac, virtual fireplace and flatscreen TV. It is centrally located at Lalei district with easy connections to the Sultanahmet historic district.
The video from my trip, don't miss it:
• Video Link