Must See Places in Istanbul (Part 1)

Istanbul is a city that fascinated me since I was young. It’s the only country that straddles two continent – Europe and Asia. It’s been made capital of 4 empires:  Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Latin Empire and the Ottoman Empire. It’s richness in culture and history easily rivals that of Athens in Greece and Rome in Italy!

Just last week, I can happily say that I’ve visited this beautiful city! I was there for 4 days but I would love to come back for more – more of the architecture, of the food, of the history!

Here’s a short list of things you shouldn’t miss if you decide to visit Istanbul:

1. Hagia Sophia (Turkish: Aya Sofya)

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)

Originally built as a Greek Orthodox Church. It was later converted into a mosque. It is now being used as a museum. It used to be the main mosque of Istanbul until the Blue Mosque was built.

Ceramic tile work inside the museum

Ceramic tile work inside the museum

The minbar with a calligraphic pane beside it

The minbar with a calligraphic pane beside it

Posing in front of the Sunu Mosaic that dates back to the 10th century

Posing in front of the Sunu Mosaic that dates back to the 10th century

Entrance fee: 30 TL
Operating hours:
Summer schedule: Apr 15- Oct 1 07:00 – 19:00
Winter schedule:  Oct 1- Apr 15  07:00 – 17:00
***The museum is closed every Tuesday.
Do not miss: the mosaics, the dome, the calligraphy panes, and the tiles amongst others
How to get here: Alight at Sultanahmet tram stop

2. Blue Mosque (Turkish: Sultan Ahmet Camii)

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

Sultan Ahmed Mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque after it’s blue tiled interior. Built during the early 1600s, it is still used as a mosque to this day.

Visitors are expected to follow their dresscode

Visitors are expected to follow their dresscode

Head and shoulders covered, check!

Head and shoulders covered, check!

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

There is no fee to enter the mosque. However, visitors have to abide by the dresscode since it is a place of worship. Women must wear scarves to cover their hair – or if one’s jacket has a hoodie, that would suffice too. Also, women must be dressed modestly – no exposure of shoulders nor knee. Same goes for the gents, no shorts for them. Everyone is expected to take off their shoes as people who goes in there for worship would kneel on the carpet. You can leave your socks on though. Plastic bags are provided for so that visitors can carry their footwear with them at all times. During times of prayer, no visitors (tourists) allowed inside unless if you’re there to join the prayer.

How to get here: Alight at Sultanahmet tram stop

3. Basilica Cistern  aka Sunken Palace (Turkish: Yerebatan Sarayi)

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi)

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi)

Basilica Cistern was built during the reign of the Byzantinian emperor, Justinian 1 during the 16th century. It’s primary purpose is to contain and supply water to the Byzantine Palace. It’s the largest and best preserved ancient cistern that lies beneath the city of Istanbul. This was the place that easily intrigued me most as I happened to read Dan Brown’s Inferno (which was set in Florence, Venice AND Istanbul) which gave information about the popular spots of the city – as well as the meaning of the symbols behind them (yes, I am recommending that book if you happen to plan to visit any of the 3 aforementioned city). ;) With the place bathed in a warm orange glow, cool and damp place with water trickling down from the ceiling and with classical music in the background (not to forget the head of Medusa to boot), I was just entranced with this place!

Entrance to the Basilica Cistern

Entrance to the Basilica Cistern

The lamps that were used to light the path, we used as our spotlight as we couldn't get a nice sho down there - too dark!

The lamps that were used to light the path, we used as our spotlight as we couldn’t get a nice shot down there – too dark!

An upside down head of Medusa was used as a base for one of the column. It is said to be placed that way to negate the power of the Gorgon - turn everything that stares into its eyes to stone.

An upside down head of Medusa was used as a base for one of the columns. It is said to be placed that way to negate the power of the Gorgon – turn everything that stares into its eyes to stone.

Entrance fee: 10 TL
Operating hours: 09:00 – 18:30
How to get here: Alight at Sultanahmet tram stop

4. Spice Bazaar aka Egyptian Bazaar (Turkish: Mısır Çarşısı)

We know we found our destination upon seeing this plaque upon the entrance of the Spice Bazaar.

We know we found our destination upon seeing this plaque upon the entrance of the Spice Bazaar.

Named as the Egyptian Bazaar since the money used to built this came from the revenue of the Ottoman eyalet (state) of Egypt. The bazaar is centre of spice trade in Istanbul. Also, according to our local guide, it’s cheaper to buy things from here than the Grand Bazaar. This is the second largest covered bazaar in Istanbul.

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I couldn't get enough of their scarves - all so beautiful!

I couldn’t get enough of their scarves – all so beautiful!

Spices everywhere! Lots of dried fruits being sold! Turkish delights to be sampled at every turn!

Spices everywhere! Lots of dried fruits being sold! Turkish delights to be sampled at every turn!

Operating hours: 08:00-19:00, closed every Sunday
How to get here: Eminonu is the nearest tram stop. Alternatively, you can get here via Marmaray, at Sirkeci stop.
Here’s a great read on what to buy when in the Spice Market of Istanbul.

5. Taksim Square (Turkish: Taksim Meydani)

Taksim Square

Taksim Square

Taksim Square is considered to be the centre of modern Istanbul – a transportation hub and a favourite location for social events/ gatherings. Pictured above is the Monument of the Republic. It was built in 1923 by Pietro Canonica to commemorate the 5th year anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. Istanbul’s most popular pedestrian shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi, leads to here.

Waiting for our local guide to arrive in Taksim Square

Waiting for our local guide to arrive in Taksim Square

How to get here: Nearest metro stop is Taksim

Day Trip to Plitvice Lakes

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Plitvice Lakes National Park

Michael, my boyfriend, and I love to travel. According to him, the fact that I’ve been to many European countries makes it difficult for him to decide on where else to go in this part of the world. I informed him I haven’t really travelled on the eastern side. ;) Setting our sights on it then, we chose to go to Croatia. More specifically, its Plitvice Lakes. Yes, we know people normally go there for Dubrovnik – but we kinda had our fill of old towns/ forts/ cities at the moment and would appreciate nature more.

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To get to Plitvice Lakes:

Fly in to Zagreb – capital city. Get on a bus from the main bus terminal bound for Plitvice Lakes – just double check with the driver if they’ll make a stop here. Travel time is 2hrs 20mins.
OR
Fly in to Zadar – city by the coast. Get on a bus bound for Plitvice Lakes. Travel time is 2hrs.
Last bus bound for Zagreb where we stayed at is at 6:30pm. I’ll advice to getting back to the bus stop well ahead of that as some of the buses would either get there ahead of their schedule – or later, but why risk missing your trip back?

I love road trips! Even if it means just sitting on a bus. The promise of an adventure is just so exciting!

I love road trips! Even if it means just sitting on a bus. The promise of an adventure is just so exciting!

Entrance Fees:

110 KN – 1 adult/day
180 KN – 2day ticket
55 KN – child

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Entrance 2’s bus stop

Don’t forget:

Wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking quite a lot. You don’t want your feet to hurt afterwards.
Water/ drinks to keep yourself hydrated.
Snacks if you’re like me who almost always seem to be eating! ;)
Camera to capture those moments – unless you’re not into it.
Shades/ hat for those bright, sunny days.

 

About to start our walking adventure. :)

About to start our walking adventure. :)

Lots of walking!

Lots of walking!

By the information counter near both entrance,  there would be boards which show you options on what route to take and how long it’d take. Pick the one that you’re comfortable with.

Paths are clearly marked with signs like this.

Paths are clearly marked with signs like this.

Our route:

We started our walk in ulaz (entrance) 2. That’s ST2 there. We took the train/bus to ST3. From hereon, we walked downwards to P2 then to P1. In P1, we got on the boat that sailed towards P3. We then walked towards the big waterfall then to ST1 where we again rode the bus towards ST2 to catch our bus back. All in all, it took us around 5 1/2 hours. That’s us stopping for snacks and lots of photo ops or to just plain stop to soak it all in! There’s no need to pay for the bus and the boat as it’s part of the entrance fee. This might be a bit confusing but once you have your ticket in front of you with the general outline of the park, you’ll understand perfectly what we did.

The park's train/ bus. It'd take you from ST1 to ST2 to ST3.

The park’s train/ bus. It’d take you from ST1 to ST2 to ST3

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One of the boats sailing across the still waters of Plitvice

One of the boats sailing across the still waters of Plitvice

Good to know:

The park is open all year round.
There are toilets/ WC in ST1, 2, and 3 as well as in P3.
You can buy some food and drinks in the places mentioned above as well as the 2 entrance to the park.

I loved walking on their wooden pathways. Felt like I was a kid! It was well maintained too.

I loved walking on their  well maintained, wooden pathways. Felt like I was a kid!

We think a day trip is enough to see the whole park. Unless your main objective to travelling there is to take pictures and might wanna be there during sunrise/ sunset – the golden hour of taking photographs. If that’s the case, you might need more then. ;)

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We encountered many kids on a school trip and people on tour groups. Don't let it dampen your trip. We're all there for the same reason :)

We encountered many kids on a school trip and people on tour groups. Don’t let it dampen your trip. We’re all there for the same reason :)

Making sure he doesn't get his shoes wet.

Making sure he doesn’t get his shoes wet. :)

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He says it’s one of the most beautiful place he’s been to in Europe. I have to agree!

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Have you been to Plitvice Lakes? Planning on going there? It would be great if you could share other tips and suggestions! Or ask here if you have questions. :)

Happy travels everyone!!!

Daytrip to Keukenhof

April 27, 2014
Lisse, Netherlands

Flowers in bloom

Whenever choosing my next travel destination, it had always been a question of do I go back to a place I absolutely enjoyed/ loved or do I explore someplace new? I’ve been to Netherlands before and that was because there was a really good bargain by Megabus so off I went for a weekend of partying in Amsterdam just in time for their Queen’s Day too. Well, it was never my plan to go back there – not anytime soon at least – but the Queen abdicated last year to give way to her son and as such, the country is celebrating their first ever King’s day. It’s spring time too and the fact that I wasn’t able to visit the tulip field on my first visit there warrants another visit!

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How to get to the gardens:
From Amsterdam:
From the central station, take a train bound for Schiphol Airport, € 6.40. If you haven’t bought your ticket for Keukenhof Gardens online, you can do so here – just search for the information counter. pictured below. Beside the information is the event desk where they’re selling the tickets, € 23.00 includes a whole day admission and a return bus ticket from the gardens to the airport. After securing your ticket, head out and look for bus #858. Last trip back of the bus is at 7:30pm.

P1130163When to visit the Keukenhof Garden?
I would have to say that the last 2 weeks of April is best as the tulips are in full bloom. The same is true for the tulip fields in the area as chances are they’d have been harvested is you visit late in the season.

First glimpse

First glimpse of the tulip fields!

Inside Keukenhof Garden

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 Beautiful flowers are in bloom. It is truly spring!

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Keukenhoff is so beautiful! BUT I have to say, make sure to make time to go around the fields. That’s where we became plain giddy with excitement! I would suggest riding a bicycle, € 10.00, for the day. I’ve just learned how to bike so I’m always keen to give it a go. And there I was coercing my friends to join me. They agreed only after we were able to charm our way into paying for the bikes at half-price! Well, it was already past 5 so it was quite easy to convince the guys manning the bikes for rent.  Sooo fun!!! :D


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Jess asking tips on which route to take

Jess asking tips on which route to take


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How to Apply for an OEC?

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What is an OEC?
OEC stands for Overseas employment Certificate.  These are exit permits issued to OFWs which are to be presented to the Immigration counter at the airport prior to departure from the Philippines.

Who needs an OEC?
If you’re an overseas Filipino worker going on a vacation to the Philippines, you’ll need to get one. On the plus side, once you’re on your way back to the country where you’re working, you won’t have to pay for the terminal fee as well as the travel tax that’s usually imposed on other Filipinos.

What to bring?
You  need to bring your passport as well as the green OWWA form since written there are all the information that the consulate would need to know. The form that you have to fill up, you could either download here or just ask for it at the consulate.

When to apply?
The OEC that’d be issued is valid for 60days so do it near your departure date.

How much does it cost?
The actual OEC is really cheap at £2. However, I was informed that we’d be needing to renew our OWWA membership every two years and that’s going to cost you £18.

Where to apply?
Just head to the consulate nearest you. The Philippine Embassy in the United Kingdom is closest to Charring Cross tube station.

 

http://philembassy-uk.org/labor-welfare/overseas-employment-certificate-balik-manggagawa

Inside: Carnival in Venice

It’s already February and am yet to travel. *gasp*

Where to, to start another year of globetrotting? Back to Italy! Where specifically? To Venice for their carnival! :D

First time in Italy. First time to visit Venice. :)

First time in Italy. First time to visit Venice. :)

The first time I travelled to Italy was 2 years ago. I travelled solo for a week and visited Rome, Florence then Venice. The most popular route. Typical? I guess. But for a reason most definitely! I keep telling my other friends who seem to shun touristy things that touristy places/ things are the way they are for a reason and it’d be a shame to skip them just to avoid the crowd.  Anyways, since I had been couchsurfing my way around bella Italia – and met many wonderful people and got to see places I grew up studying and dreaming of- … I wanted a break from staying at other people’s place and and to just be on my own and to treat myself I guess, so I booked for a room by the Rialto bridge  in Venice. It was perfect!

Sunset in Venice

Sunset in Venice

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I like how Venice is really just any other city except for the fact that it has canals instead of roads. Vaporettos instead of buses. Water ambulance, fire boat, etc. Awesome! I wasn’t really aware of Venice’s masquerades back then but seeing all of the masks by the streets, I figured, buy one and come back to Venice to actually use it in the festival season.

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And that’s what I exactly did last week! :D

With travel buddies, Shalinee and Jessica

With travel buddies, Shalinee and Jessica

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Venetian Carnival is an annual fest held in – as the name suggests – Venice. It is celebrated until before the start of Lent, 40 days before Easter. Here are pictures taken during the last Venice Carnival.

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The cons of visiting a place during a feast is the seriously huge crowd of people!

The downside of visiting a place during a feast is the seriously huge crowd of people!

P1100441Venice. Expensive. Touristy. Crowded. Still, it was a truly fun experience! We’re even thinking of going back to another carnival wearing a full costume. Should be fun! ;)

Best done with friends. If you wanna go there for romantic purposes, better go off season to avoid the throng of visitors – or at least to not have as many of them there.

*If looking for accommodations and you realize that Venice’s hotels are out of your budget range, look for a place to stay at in Venice Mestre. It’s in the mainland and much cheaper. And besides, it’s just 15mins away by bus. :)

AAU Trip to Rome

Second attempt at making a video out of the pictures of a trip. This one’s with my workmates in London as we embarked on a whirlwind overnight trip to the eternal city of Rome. First flight in, last flight out. If I’m with people who are up for all of my crazy ideas… these are the sort of things that would ensue! lol

Enjoy watching! :D

 

Dublin on a Rainy Day

You’re staying in one of the great value Travelodges in Dublin, looking forward to exploring all the city has to offer, and the heavens have opened. Don’t be dismayed – there’s no reason why you can’t still enjoy Dublin to the full. Take a look at some of our favourite rainy day activities in this vibrant city:

National Aquatic Centre

 At Europe’s largest indoor water park, AquaZone, it doesn’t matter what the weather is like outside. With high octane rides, the lazy river and a wave pool, you’ll have a blast whatever the weather.

The Ski Centre

 Dublin’s Indoor Ski Centre is a great place to learn to ski, brush up on existing skills and have fun on the slopes. Nearby is the Children’s Museum and Rainforest Adventure Golf, so there’s enough activities in the immediate area to keep you out of the rain all day.

Butlers Chocolate Experience

 Discover what happens in a working chocolate factory on this great interactive tour. With plenty of chocolate tasting opportunities along the way, this tour is a huge hit with chocoholics. Perhaps you’d prefer to pop into the Butlers Chocolate Café in Wicklow Street instead? Imagine a café dedicated to all things chocolate. Packed to the rafters with decadent delights from hot chocolate in a tantalising array of flavours, to signature sundaes or perhaps a slice of the Butlers Chocolate Temptation Cake.

 Traditional Irish Music and Dance

 Why not spend the evening discovering the traditional music and dance of Ireland? With everything from traditional Irish dancing to the acclaimed ‘Celtic Nights’ show and much more besides, there’s bound to be something that will keep you singing, dancing and laughing until the early hours. The Irish are famous for their hospitality and sense of fun after all.

Whatever the weather, rain or shine, you’re sure to have an amazing holiday in Ireland’s enchanting capital city.

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