It’s almost Thanksgiving, that peaceful time of year when family and friends gather together to reflect on what they are most thankful for. Of course, as most of us know, the main event of this harmonious day, is feasting on a tantalizing turkey – with all the trimmings!
Few thrills match the experience of standing on the deck of a Turkish ferry as it sails into the Bosporus (Bosphorus) Strait at sunrise, as the first rays of light strike the domes and spires of Istanbul’s heart-stopping skyline. It’s a magical sight, made even more dramatic by the haunting sound of the muezzin’s call to prayer echoing through streets dotted with colorful cafés, markets and mosques.
Wait, when did I get to Asia?!
Istanbul is the only city in the world sited on two continents, Europe and Asia. Istanbul blends the cultures of Europe and Asia into a setting as rich and varied as the pattern of any kilim. Water also defines its character: the city stretches along the Bosporus, the channel that links the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and then narrows into the Golden Horn, a fresh-water inlet intersecting the European side of Istanbul.
Several bridges span the Golden Horn, most notably the Galata Bridge. Here a steady parade of cars, donkey-carts, and pedestrians stream between the old city of Stambul to the south and modern Beyoglu to the north. A great spot to embrace the sights and surroundings of the city.
Must See Palaces, Mosques & Museums in Istanbul
Immerse yourself in Istanbul’s past by exploring its opulent palaces, mosques, and museums, structures evoking the splendors of the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman empires that flourished and fell over 3,000-years.
The old city is home to dazzling architectural gems from those fabled times, including Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish), and Süleymaniye Mosque, which houses a priceless array of treasures.
Istanbul is considered one of the world’s greatest shopping centers. Don’t miss the Grand Bazaar, the planet’s largest covered market, a labyrinth of streets containing more than 4,000 shops that sell everything from leather goods to carpets, from jewelry to meerschaum pipes.
Here bargaining is a fine art that proceeds over tulip-shaped glasses of hot tea. Watch craftsmen at work at the Bazaar of Istanbul Arts. Then visit the Spice Bazaar, a delightful throwback to Ottoman times; here you’ll discover such exotic treats as bee pollen, saffron, and lokum (Turkish delight).
You’ll find the cuisine in Istanbul second to none. Meals usually begin with meze, cold appetizers of an infinite variety, and proceed to a meat or fish course, which you choose either right in the kitchen or from offerings brought to table.
Some of the best fish are found in charming little restaurants along the Bosporus, but the streets around the Kumkapi fish market are also packed with dining spots-as well as a lively, music-filled scene.
After the excitement, revive your senses at an incomparable Turkish bath: the soothing massage, warm suds, and body scrub will soothe you.
Bucharest to Istanbul by Train:
A pass is a great side-dish for your Turkey travels! Though reservations must be purchased locally, you can get a jump on your rail travel around Turkey by getting a Balkan Flexipass. Having a flexipass will allow you to travel throughout Turkey as well as Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia.
Another option, for those of you who plan to do extensive travel throughout Europe, would be to get a Eurail Global Pass. This rail pass gives you unlimited travel on the national rail networks of over 20 European countries by train – including Romania & Turkey.
The train trip from Bucharest to Istanbul is a little over 19 hours. Don’t let the travel time discourage you though, the trip is well worth it!
For this route, you will travel on-board the Bosfor Express. The train departs Bucharest at approximately 12:30pm, and will arrive in Istanbul at approximately 7:30am the following day. This train offers 1st and 2nd class sleeping accommodations. We suggest you opt for the 1st class compartment as it provides more comfort and space. In addition, the bathroom in the 1st class carriage provides both a toilet and shower. The supplement for 1st class sleepers is roughly $50 per person.
When you arrive in the border town of Kapikule you will need to exit the train (you can leave your belongings in your sleeper compartment) and visit the visa/passport office for entry into the country. You will then get back on the train. Before the train can depart, passport control is conducted on-board. After, there is the customs inspection. You may be asked to open your luggage for inspection, and the officers may ask some basic questions, typical TSA type questions like what are you transporting, duration/purpose of trip, etc. When this is all complete, the train will depart and you will continue your journey.
Due to track work at the moment, another stop will be made in Cerkezkoy where you will transfer to a motocoach for the remaining hour and a half trip to Istanbul.
A trip to Istanbul will leave you with fond memories. The variety of things to see and do make Istanbul a destination that truly does have something for everyone. Plus, it’s the only city in the world where you can visit both Europe AND Asia!