Istanbul is a very big city, with more than 12 millions inhabitants; but the most striking fact is its position, straddle two different and contrast worlds: Europe and Asia, East and West. But fortunately, Istanbul is not a contradiction, as it in fact represents two different and separated realities. You can hear the muezzin preying while having a cocktail in a cutting-edge bar, or you can quickly skip form the antiques mosques and palaces of the conservative Sultanahmet to the modern, vibrant and relaxed atmosphere of Taksim Square. Istanbul is oppressed by pollution and traffic, but it can still offer a very wide range of options for responsible ecotourism.
Getting around in Istanbul
The best way to explore Istanbul is a combination of public transport and foot. Since you arrive at the airport, there is no need to take a cab, as there are other cheaper and convenient ways to get to the city. From Sabiha Gokcen airport, there is an interesting option of joint transports: both Havatas company buses (direct, 8 liras) and E10 public buses (5 liras) are outside the terminal and can drop you at Kadikoy pier, where you can hop on the first ferry and get off at Eminonu (1,5 liras). From there, Sulatanahmet is just at 5 minutes walking distance. This is also a way to see the city from an another, beautiful perspective. From Ataturk airport, there is the option of a combined metro and tramways, or the easier, direct Havatas buses that rides from the terminal to Taksim Square. Once in Istanbul, if you have enough time, the best choice is to walk as much as possible, in order to discover the beauty and the peculiarities hidden behind any corner. But sometimes, heat and long distances compel to save energy, so public transportation could be a wise choice. Trams, metro, ferries, regular buses and BRT (bus rapid transit) can take you virtually anywhere. The Bosphorus cruise on a public ferry and the Tunel funicular (it is 130 years old!) are attractions and transportations at the same time. The bike is not a good idea, unless you dare to face traffic and erratic drivers, or prove your strength cycling the numerous hills.
Eco tours in and around Istanbul
A more expensive, but still valuable way to discover Istanbul, is to take part to one of the different tours, in and around the city. DeliciousIstanbul organizes small groups to visit typical markets, restaurants and caf?s, explaining the meaning and the importance of any ingredient and tradition.
Fest Travel offers walking tours with a focus on museums, Islamic culture and bazaar.
Ecoturkey is a specialize ecotourism operator, whose goal is to organize responsible holidays all over Turkey, including Istanbul (so it is also a good source of information about veggie restaurants and green accommodation).
A more specific Istanbul green tour is proposed by Toursinturkey, with custom-made eco packages (7 or 8 days) departing everyday.
To join a Bosphorus tour, just call at the one of the office at the port in Eminomu, but actually, as soon as you get to the port, there will be an horde of shouting operator trying to get you on their boat. Iti is possible to choose between a half day or a full day tour.
Green accommodation in Istanbul
Finding a place to stay in Istanbul is very easy, and so it is at a fair price. Avoiding big chains hotels is the best way to observe the real Turkish hospitality. Plus, small family hotels and guesthouses in Sultanahmet feature a terrace (for breakfast and dinner) with a stunning view over the sea. Speaking of green accommodation, an eco-minded travel could have a hard time, but on the other hand a sustainable place to stay is very common. An example could be the Empress Zoe Hotel, which rooms are decorated and furnished with wood, stones, original paintings and Islamic folk art. Kybele Hotel its a cosy and homely place, thanks to genuine artworks, such as handmade carpets, and antiques the owners used to make it typical and original. Both are located in Sultanahmet.
Organic Food and Vegetarian Dining
Organic and vegetarian food, fresh local product and seafood, can be purchased at the numerous street markets, widely spread in the city. The biggest markets are the Tuesday market in Kadikoy and the wednesday market in Faith. But to try some specialties, also at reasonable price, there is a bunch restaurants that won't disappoint. One of these is Parsifal, in Beyoglu, just below Taksim Square: it is a vegan restaurant with a French flavor d?cor. Zencefil is a recommended alternative, with a creative, though not very broad, vegetarian menu. Any dish is prepared using fresh products. Yes, Istanbul is not just about kebab! Moreover, joining a food tour, it is possible to discover Istanbul cuisine, little known special restaurant, cafes and shops.
Shopping in Istanbul
Anyone going to Istanbul is aware of the Grand Bazaar (Kapalicarsi), one of the largest covered market in the world (60 streets and over 5.000 shops). In here, it is possible to find jewelery, hand-painted ceramics, carpets, spices and antiques and clothes. It is open every day, except Sunday and bank holidays, from 9:00 to 19:00.
Misir Carsisi, the spice market, is very popular with locals, is also known as Egyptian Market (when is was constructed, in 1600, all the spices were brought here from Egypt), is situated near Yeni Camii pier; this is the best place to buy love potions, lokums and the Turkish viagra!
Between the Grand Bazaar and Beyazit Mosque, the antique book bazaar (Sahaflar Carsisi) is a very nice place to call at, but it is actually easier to find new books than old ones.
Since 2006, Istanbul has a proper organic market, the Ekolojik Halk Pazari, where it is possible to buy any kind of local food. It runs every Saturday and draws shoppers from everywhere in the city. This green market is located in Sisli, in the northern area of Istanbul.
photo by maistora fliker