Snow looks so good on Blue Mosque.
The Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Mosque up close sans snow. Colossal. Iconic. Stunning!
The heritage tram that plies along Istiklal Caddessi to Taksim Square in Beyoglu district.
When the German Fountain at Sultanahmet Square was blanketed by snow.
Iznik tiles in floral patterns adorned the interiors of domes of the Blue Mosque.
Sub Karakoy Hotel : Where I savored restful sleep and indulged in uncomplicated hospitality.
First Turkish feathered friend I’ve met atop Galata Tower.
Staring contest with the upside-down Medussa base-pillar inside Basilica Cistern.
 AyaSofya or Hagia Sophia. Homage to once Orthodox Church turned mosque, now a museum.
Men with fishing rods in Galata Bridge. The cold didn’t bother them anyway.
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My spontaneous attempt to look the part of an Ottoman sultan.
Istiklal Caddesi, you became one of my favorite streets in the world!

Snow-capped domes of Hagia Sofia.
Thankful to experience that 140-year-old-subway tram from Karakoy to Istiklal Caddesi.
European side from Galata Bridge. Istanbul skyline is crowned by domes and I don’t hate it.
Lunch at Sultan Restaurant just off Sultanahmet Mosque.
Galata Tower at dusk.
The view from Galata Tower. Just before stars sparkle and blue sky retire.
From Egypt to Turkey. The Egyptian Obelisk at the Constantinople Hippodrome.
The façade of Saint Anthony de Padua Church tucked in Istiklal Caddesi, Beyoglu district.
Balik Ekmek or fish sandwich. Freshly grilled fish fillet sandwich from Eminonu area.
Ordinary day just off Galata Bridge, however a memory to cherish!
Ortakoy Mosque, Bosphorus Strait under Bosphorus Bridge, linking Europe and Asia (mobile photo).
Sun rays shine on 13th Century Deisis mosaic panel depicting Christ (with Virgin Mary and John the Baptist not in photo) at the Upper level of Hagia Sophia.
Train, trams, but never taxi. I didn’t take a taxi cab on this trip.
Found kindness on random street scene.
Winter dark clouds over Hagia Sophia.
What lies beneath. More than 300 pillars support the ceiling of Basilica Cistern.
Unforgettable mornings at Sub Karakoy Hotel.
Sampling sensational Simit for the first time! I loved it!
The Monument of the Republic, Taksim Square.
Boats where fish fillet sandwiches are grilled. I miss you, Eminonu, Istanbul!
Inside Hagia Sophia.
Those red trams again from Istiklal Caddesi.
Joy atop Galata Tower!

Tesekkur ederim, Turkey! Seni seviyorum, Istanbul!

(Thank you, Turkey! I love you, Istanbul!)

*Full stories, more photos on my Istanbul Travel Blog Series that includes :





Get yourselves a tall glass of cold water before you scroll down and read this. I kid you not.



Try to sip it first, then promise to control salivating, worse -drooling over this mouthwatering blog post.

Here we go.

I am a firm believer of the facts that not all pizza and pasta are created equal, and not all meals are worth-sharing. Hehehe! Agree? I may not be a food connoisseur or a food critic with discriminating taste however, I certainly know my palates so well.

My very first dining experience at Itzza Pizza in their flagship store along Jumeira Beach Road, Dubai was remarkably worth-sharing! It was extremely pleasant and completely exceeded my expectations. I highly recommend it to everyone in the emirates and to those who will visit UAE soon. Here are my 10 reasons why you should try Ittza Pizza and why I fell in love with this pizzeria in Dubai :


How could you go wrong with freshest ingredients?

When our friendly host, Katrina -the Events and Marketing Manager of Itzza Pizza, was casually briefing us about what makes Itzza Pizza different from other commercialized brands in the market, one thing sounded so unique, “Our ingredients are not frozen but fresh.” In my cynical mind, I was thinking silently, “Yeah, right, I heard that before, blah blah…Words are cheap..” But I was totally wrong! There was nothing but truth in all that she said. I personally found their pizza crust tasteful even sans toppings. A simple proof that their dough is made special and baked inside wood fired oven. Seafood, chunks of meat, vegetable toppings on pasta and pizza tasted so pure and organic.

Spaghetti Seafood (available in red or white sauce). A school of shrimp, calamari and mussels. ILOVETHIS!
One Meter Long Pizza : We chose Seafood, Lamb Roast and Itzza Classic. Go try it when you’re in UAE!20150323_200846
Refreshing drinks! I sampled their non-alcoholic Mojito and Lemon Mint. Two thumbs up!


Itzza Pizza was awarded by Virgin Radio via public voting no less, as the Best Wood Fired Pizza! And I am guessing it was not only based on taste, but probably on variety as well. From their very interesting and fascinating One Meter Long Pizza where diners can combine up to 3 flavors perfect for sharing, to the common round pizza on the menu, the flavors are almost countless! The Norm flavors include Buffalo Margherita, Margherita, Pepperoni, Mushroom, Diavola (tomato sauce, salami, roasted garlic and chili flakes), Capricciosa, Vegetarian, Rocket pizza (with rocket leaves, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, parmesan, garlic olive oil), Itzza Classic. The New Generation flavors include Mediterranean, Veggie Mediterranean, Chicken Spicy, Chicken Tikka, Chicken Alfredo, Tuna, Anchovy, Seafood, Hawaiian, Cheese Trio, BBQ Chicken and Itzza Spring. And from their menu of Itzaa Signature, the list includes Lamb Roast, Tawook Chicken (Arabica), Four Meat, Spinach Pizza, Italian Sausage, Double Mushroom and Brown Mushroom and Beef Bacon. Whew!!! Choosing from enormous variety was such a happy problem!

One Meter Long Pizza! So special as I don’t share it everyday!


Itzza Pizza has more to offer than pizza and pasta. From starters, one can enjoy Garlic bread, Shrimps and Calamari, Risotto balls, Mozzarella sticks, Potato wedges, Bruschetta, Buffalo Wings and BBQ Wings. We tasted the last two appetizers mentioned and similar to their pizza, there’s distinction in taste – incomparable to the usual chicken wings around.

Buffalo Wings and BBQ Wings. Just Wow!

Surprisingly for a pizza restaurant, Itzza Pizza provides one of the best tasting desserts I ever dunked my fork into! I am referring to the must-try-highly-recommended by yours truly : Lemon Baked Cheese Cake. I repeat. I love Itzza Pizza’s Lemon Baked Cheese Cake. Why? Firstly, the flavor’s so divine and one of a kind. It’s miles-away-from the usual blueberry and/or strawberry cheese cake you always have in you-know-where. This one from Itzza Pizza has no overwhelming flavor; the scent and taste of lemon infused on the cheese cake and as toppings are very subtle, the consistency is just sublime! For only 18 dirhams with a slice that’s good enough to share to a group of 3 or possibly even 5, one couldn’t help but crave for more!

Lemon Baked Cheese Cake. One of the BEST tasting desserts I’ve tasted. It’s that great!

Although in the dessert department, Itzza Pizza only has 3 as of this writing (Lemon Cheese Cake. Apple and Cinnamon Calzone, and Chocolate Calzone -not on photo but think of Nuttella on Calzone!), the quality overpowers quantity.

Apple and Cinnamon Calzone. Homemade dough with apples and cinnamon. Another must-try! A brilliant Italian version of apple crumble.


Three  words : Value for money.

Itzza Pizza’s pizza prices range from 39 to 58 AED. One meter long pizza ranges from 159 to 189 AED good enough for a group of 6 or an entire family. Appetizers from 18 to 29 dirhams in large servings too! Desserts at 18 AED and drinks from 4 AED and up.

Freshness in a glass! Must love that Lemon Mint! One of my favorite coolers in the emirates!


Another unique feature of Itzza Pizza that’s worth mentioning is the power and the opportunity they give to the diners to be creative. From the list of starters on their menu, one can combine half portions of 3 starters for the price of 39 dirhams only. As for pasta, they have Create-Your-Own-Pasta from which diners can choose their preferred pasta, type of sauce, and choices of toppings and they’ll cook it for you. The same goes with their pizza, you can also create your own.
Our friend, Arence’s  Create-Your-Own Pasta: Fettucini with seafood toppings mixed with rocket leaves, cooked with pink sauce (fusion of red and white sauces).


Fast, friendly and attentive. Wait staff are well-versed with everything on the menu. Katrina, our host and the Events and Marketing Manager of Itzza Pizza is such a people-person; she represents the restaurant and their food so well!

Katrina of Itzza Pizza (right), with one of my former Nursing students, Jill whom I consider now as a family here in Dubai.


Casual, non-intimidating, relaxed, inviting, welcoming. Interiors was made simple yet homey and enticing.

Doesn’t it look so welcoming and inviting?


Their flagship store in Jumeirah Beach is just along the road.
Ittza Pizza Flagship Store in Jumeira, Dubai.


  • Sundays -Pizza Mania (Feast on all your favorite pizza all-you-want) for only 35 AED.
  • Mondays -Pasta Galore (Pasta all you can for 35 AED only).
  • Tuesdays – Ladies Night (50% off on total bill).
  • Wednesdays -Wild on Wings (Choose from Buffalo or Barbeque flavor and go crazy over unlimited wings for only 29 AED).
  • Saturdays – Starter Saturdays (For any order of pasta or pizza, get itzaa triple only for 15 AED instead of 39.

Lasagna : Wood fired Oven Baked. Sooooo delicious!


Smiles for Itzza Pizza (from left to right) : Jason, Jill, Katrina (Events and Marketing Manager of Itzza Pizza) and Rino.
My friends (left to right) : Jason, Rino, Jill+Arence of arencejean.com (do check out his blog!).

My foodie-team that evening (from left to right) : Jill+Arence of arencejean.com, Katrina of Itzza Pizza (Massive THANKS for the invitation; I immensely enjoyed everything!), yours truly, Jason and Rino.


For more details on Itzza Pizza, visit their website at  www.itzza-pizza.com

*YOU CAN MAKE ME WIN A TRIP TO ITALY, or an iphone 6, or an ipad mini by clicking my entry to ITZZA PIZZA’s ITZAASELFIE CONTEST. The entries with most number of likes on instagram and facebook combined-votes until 30th April 2015 will win! So vote for me, will you? My entry is posted on my Instagram, @iamdocgelo and facebook account. THANK YOU!

*All photos on this post were taken using Samsung Galaxy Note 3 only.


“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”  I couldn’t agree more with this quote from Freya Stark. While mornings are beautifully different when you’re greeted by a new place to experience and discover, solitary traveling has been encouraging me to become more responsible, independent and self-reliant.

Like what I usually do nowadays when I travel, I tried to explore the charming city of Istanbul on my own. Although I was provided with a guide-map by the people from the hotel I stayed in, I did little interactions with friendly locals and a few tourists by asking them directions to my itineraries.


Previously known as Pera (which means, “across” in Greek), I found Beyoglu district in Istanbul, Turkey so quaint and very fascinating. Located at the European side of the city, Beyoglu is geographically detached from the more touristy area of Sultanahmet, or the Old City of Istanbul, by the Golden Horn and the Galata Bridge.

Because my chosen bed-and-breakfast accommodation, Sub Karakoy Hotel is located at Beyoglu district, I had the luxury of strolling around nearby streets before I went to my destination in the morning. Here’s a quick glimpse to what I visually savored (Oh how I miss the scenes and scent of winter!)…

Random street that’s a stone-throw-away from Sub Karakoy Hotel.
Old is gold, as they say. I found gold and mint in this stunning structure.
Istanbul skyline is crowned by domes.
Kilik Ali Pasha Mosque at the background, and Tophane fountain.
And of course, the Galata Tower dominates the Beyoglu skyline.

I reckon I am good at directions. However, something went wrong when I was trying to figure out my way to Taksim Square via Istikalal Caddesi. I took the wrong way from Karakoy going to Dolmabahce Palace directions (which I failed to visit due to heavy snowfall and limited time – that made a legit reason to come back), instead of walking towards Galata Bridge. It was a blessing in disguise, so to speak, as I became more oriented and familiar with the place.
At last, the intersection in Karakoy, just off Galata Bridge!

For some reason before embarking on my first trip to Turkey, I was warned several times by my Turkish friend, Mehmet, to be extra-careful in dealing with taxi cab drivers in Istanbul. Hence, I ditched the idea of taking cabs and embraced the joy of commuting around the city via public trams, armed by a reloadable Istanbulkart. I bought Istanbulkart from a newspaper and magazine kiosk at the junction of Karakoy and Galata Bridge, for 26 Turkish liras inclusive of load already.
Reloadable Istanbulkart. My access to trams that kept me mobile when I was in Istanbul.

Few steps from where I availed of my Istanbulkart, I found the oldest tram in Turkey. I had the privilege of riding that 140-year-old-tram that brought me from Karakoy to Beyoglu proper, near one end of Istiklal Avenue. Built in 1875, the tunnel’s considered as the world’s second oldest underground metro. It’s also amazing to note that each of the two operating trams in the tunnel completes one-way-journey for 90 seconds and together make 181 trips per day!


Right after the turnstiles, Beyoglu district greeted me with sights of Simit carts (Simit is Turkish pretzel with sesame seeds; a must-try-street-food) and those two heritage red cable cars that run along Istiklal Caddessi all the way to Taksim Square.


I opted to maximize my Istiklal Avenue experience by taking the historic cable tram for one way to Taksim Square, and walk my way back to the Tunel. That Istanbulkart was so useful even on this tram!

Nostalgic. Memories inside the tram in San Francisco flashed back swiftly.
Never I have fall in love with a street since Ginza in Tokyo! You are amazing, Istiklal Caddesi!

I had to go down halfway to sample that Turkish pretzel encrusted with sesame seeds. Simit has its own character; each variety differs from city to city as per my readings. This affordable one-Turkish-lira-bread prepared with fine flour and molasses, is so crispy and crunchy that would give your teeth a challenge; nonetheless, you’ll crave for it afterwards as it’s surprisingly filling and could sustain you for hours!
Sampling Simit. That Turkish bagel or pretzel sprinkled with sesame seeds. Yummy!

To say that Istiklal Caddesi is a busy pedestrian street is an understatement. It effortlessly attracts people from all walks of life, both travelers and local tourists. Coffee shops, eateries, gorgeous old buildings built in neo-gothic and neo-classical architecture, mosques, churches, restaurants and boutiques make Istiklal Caddesi even more interesting!
Local and foreign coffee shops spring like mushrooms in Istiklal Caddesi!

A few steps more and I found the roundabout at the Taksim Square. The other terminal end of Istiklal Avenue where the Monument of the Republic stands proud!

Roundabout in Taksim Square.


Cumhuriyet Anıtı in Turkish, or The Republic Monument located in Taksim Square, Istanbul is a commemorative structure to honor the establishment of Turkish Republic in 1923. Impressively built at the center of a roundabout where the historic red cable trams revolve, the Republic Monument has two faces fronting northwards and the other one towards Istiklal Caddesi- each of which has the statues of the founders of Turkish Republic. The first president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was depicted in the monument by two important roles that he played in the history of his country -one of his statues shows him as a military man, the other as a statesman.

Photo taken by a kind Chinese tourist; the Republic Monument at the background.

Monument of the Republic at Taksim Square.
Ataturk at the center, as a statesman.
Ataturk at the center, as a military man.
Eateries that sell freshly squeeze orange juice and pomegranate juice, doner or Turkish shawarma.

I initially thought of taking the tram one way, however, I rode it again halfway back to Istiklal Caddesi to look for Minor Basilica of Saint Anthony de Padua. Then I relied on my feet again back to the Tunel.

How could you not fall in love with such charming avenue?


En route to my return to the Tunel via the tram in Istiklal Caddesi, I almost didn’t see the largest Catholic Church in Istanbul. Known locally as Sent Antuan, Church of Saint Anthony of Padua in Beyoglu is considered as a minor basilica and is run by Italian priests. It’s a destination in Istanbul regardless of your religion.

Almost lunch time, I strolled back to the Tunel and went my way to my next itinerary.
Where Istiklal Caddesi meets the alley to Galata Tower, near the Tunel (that oldest tram).

With almost empty stomach except for what I had during breakfast buffet in the hotel, and that ingested Simit, I came back to Karakoy and waited for the train that took me to Sultanahmet. Amazing what I could experience and see in a matter of few hours in this beautiful Turkish city!


I went back to Sultanahmet area and paid Hagia Sophia a visit. After indulging on a bit of history, heritage and religion, I tried to find the Grand Bazaar just to take a glimpse of it. Shopping was not on my list of things-to-do in Turkey except for few handy souvenirs like fridge magnets and postcards.

Because I didn’t have roaming services on my mobile phone and I had to satisfy my craving for lunch, I was in dire need of a restaurant that serves tasteful local cuisine with fast and free wifi and a decent and clean washroom. Luck was on my side that despite gloomy winter weather which ironically, I warmly received, I quickly found Saray Restaurant just beside Yeni Cami or the New Mosque which I regret not to visit. Saray Restaurant is located right across the Eminonu train station.

About an hour later, I braved the cold weather and went my way across, near the Golden Horn and Galata Bridge.




And then I was mesmerized by the populated district of Eminonu.

Eminonu. Where you can sample famous Turkish street food, Balik Ekmek or fish sandwich.

Yeni Cami or New Mosque.

Perhaps, other than Simit and that Turkish Shwarma called, Doner, no visit to Istanbul is complete without tasting what Eminonu is famous for. The Balik Ekmek or the fish bread. Currently sold at 6 liras per order, the freshly grilled fish fillet on a sandwich filled with onions and seasoned with lemon juice and salt, defines Istanbul as a harbor-city. As fascinating as this modest staple food, Balik Ekmek is being grilled inside ornately decorated Turkish boats docked in the shores of Golden Horn at one corner of Galata Bridge.

Glorious sunset, majestic view of Galata Tower and entire Beyoglu, the calm waters of Golden Horn, the sight of pedestrians and vehicles in Galata Bridge, the unique beauty of Istanbul and that fish sandwich called Balik Ekmek. It was a memorable and special winter afternoon for me!

I sat and ate with them and felt like I belong.
Stalls that sell pickled chili drink which I didn’t like.

Balik Ekmek or Turkish fish bread. Two thumbs up for fish bread and those caramelized doughnut-like crunchies. 

At around 5PM on my second day in Istanbul, I took the train from Eminonu to Karakoy. Actually, I could’ve walked my way back over the Galata Bridge if it wasn’t for heavy snowfall. From Karakoy station, I strolled my way back to Sub Hotel.

Fershen up and rested a bit, I had dinner with my Turkish good friend, Mehmet, who’s a photographer, a businessman, a travel-magazine writer, and someone who traveled the world and who experienced Palawan, Bohol, Batad, Sagada, Cebu, Manila in my country.

With my Turkish good friend, Mehmet. Follow him on Instagram at @alty80.


After Mehmet treated me over dinner of Turkish Kebap and other dishes, Baklava for dessert and local tea and yoghurt, he drove me around and took me to Ortakoy and Asian part of Istanbul.

Ortakoy is a small village right in the shores of Bosphorus at the European side of the city. It boasts of a scenic view of Bopshorus Strait under the Bosphorurs bridge, that links European side to the Asian continent.

Immediately after parking, we walked towards Ortakoy Mosque. Several local eateries sell that baked potato dish with whole lot of toppings called, Kumpir. Because we just had dinner, I failed to try Kumpir. Now, add that to my list of things-to-do when I find a chance to revisit Turkey.

Ortakoy Mosque, Boshphorus Strait and Bosphorus Bridge linking Asia and Europe.

Mehmet told me that the view of Asian continent from Ortakoy Mosque at the Euopean side of Istanbul, with Bosphorus Bridge and Bosphorus Strait is a favorite subject in photography. I only took a photo of such iconic scene using my mobile phone. Then he drove me around Asia and took me where I had a view of the islet where Maiden’s tower stands at the southern part of Bosphorus strait. It was already dark and my photos didn’t do justice to capture the view. I know there’ll be time for me to go back to Maiden’s Tower and Ortakoy, to enjoy Turkish tea with Kumpir one afternoon along the shores of Bosphorus.

It goes without saying, I didn’t only take photos during my first trip in Turkey but created and collected fond memories from Istanbul that are worthy to cherish for a lifetime!

I hope to see you again next winter, Istanbul!


*This Istanbul Travel Blog Series includes :





Intoxicatingly beautiful. Uniquely charming and inevitably addictive. The city that’s built in between two continents, with skyline crowned by domes of ancient mosques, and intriguing streets adorned by museums, hammams and souqs, Istanbul simply left a brilliant impression in my memory!

Setting foot in the Old City of Sultanahmet twice, under relatively varied weather, for two consecutive days, was one of the most special, sensational and significant decisions I ever made in my limited traveling history.

Here’s the chronological list of places, travel tips and tales of my days in the Old City of Istanbul, Turkey.

Sultanahmet Train Station, Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, 16/2/2015.

Without taking any taxi cab rides during my entire short stay in Istanbul, I wandered around via tram lines to Sultanahmet, Karakoy, Eminonu and Beyoglu districts as I maximized the use of Istanbulkart reloadable travel card that I purchased from a local newspaper and magazine kiosk for about 20 liras, located in one of the corners at the intersection of Karakoy, near the Galata Bridge. It kept me mobile and provided convenient and cheaper access to public transportation via trams apparently.




Upon leaving my accommodation in Karakoy on foot, I trooped to the tram station and found my way to Sultanahmet. First on my agenda on my second day at Turkey was to visit the city park that was known during the early era of Emperor Constantine as  Hippodrome of Constantinople.

The presently called Sultanahmet Square was then a sports, social and political center of Constantinople, the capital of Byzantine Empire. Horse and chariot races lorded the square during those ancient times. How true was it that even circumcision ceremony of the sons of Sultan Ahmed III was held in Hippodrome?


Constantinople’s Hippodrome then, Sultanahmet Square now.


If this obelisk could speak; it’ll tell tales of recent and distant past.


Originally carved in pink granite, this Egyptian obelisk was erected in Temple of Karnak in Luxor in 1490 BC during the reign of Thutmose III. What stands mightily until now is the topmost portion, after the great  Emperor Theodosius divided it into three parts and brought to the Hippodrome in Constantinople in 390 AD. The base of the obelisk depicts Emperor Theodosius as he offers a laurel wreath to the victor from the Kathisma at the Hippodrome.


The Egyptian obelisk at the background and the base of the Serpent Column in front.

Another work of art that highlighted Constantinople as the capital city then, was the Serpent Column. It was brought by Constantine to the Hippodrome from Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The column used to symbolize the triumph of the Greeks over Persians and was noted to be previously adorned with a golden bowl and three serpent heads that were destroyed in time.


 or more popularly known as THE BLUE MOSQUE

Built during the early 17th century fronting Hagia Sophia, within the vicinity of the ancient Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque was considered grand and beautiful in more ways than one. As common in mosques to have 4 minarets, the Blue Mosque has 6. According to accounts, Sultan Ahmet I instructed his architect to make gold (altin) minarets, which was misunderstood as six (alti) minarets.

Contrary to what others may think, the exteriors of the Blue Mosque isn’t blue. The term, “Blue Mosque” refers to the blue Iznik ceramic tiles beneath the domes.


There she was. Just like in the movies. Amazing! I still couldn’t believe I had a rare chance to enter the Blue Mosque.  The ornately decorated ceiling of those majestic domes made me almost speechless! One of the most magnificent architectural structures I’ve seen! More than its splendor and aesthetic charm, it remains to be a sacred place of worship.

*Some personal tips to remember before you enter the Blue Mosque :

  • Open daily except during Prayer Times. It closes for 90 minutes at each pray time.
  • Closed at 11:30AM, 3PM, 5PM.
  • Open at 8:30AM, 1:15PM, 4PM (I went there at 4PM).
  • No admission fee.
  • Women must wear head scarves. Head scarves are provided in Blue Mosque just before its entrance, for free.
  • Visitors must enter at the back side; shoes must be removed so better wear socks unless you’re fine with walking on bare foot. Plastic bags are available and free of charge for you to keep your footwear before you leave them on wooden shoe racks inside the Blue Mosque.
  • Respect the faithfuls particularly during prayer time.
  • Observe decent clothing, particularly for women.
  • No flash photography inside the Blue Mosque.

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Because I arrived during Prayer Times, and raindrops were pouring from heaven, I took advantage to meet one of the most basic physiological needs -to eat! It was hours past usual lunch time and I could honestly hear my stomach’s growling with borborygmi. An apparent sign to sample some Turkish meal and local drinks.


From where I sat inside Sultan restaurant just outside Sultanahment Mosque for late lunch, I had a great vista of the German Fountain. That gazebo-liked fountain with octagonal dome, supported by eight marble columns, was notably built in Germany and was said to be transported to Turkey piece by piece; then it was assembled and  erected to commemorate the second anniversary of German Emperor Wilhelm II’s visit to Istanbul in 1898.

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Meanwhile for lunch, I savored one of the most tender chicken kebab dishes on the face of the Earth. Served with pita and sliced Turkish bread, an ample amount of Turkish rice (quite moist and sticky which I liked), some fresh vegetable salad and potato fries, I enjoyed everything with Coke and Turkish tea, all for 25 liras. Of course, people watching made deglutition and digestion more pleasant!



Located a stone-throw-away or about 40 meters southwest of Hagia Sophia is the The Basilica Cistern or the Sunken Palace. The grandest of all cisterns, that were often built to catch and store rainwater, with nearly 2.4 acres that literally appears like an underground palace, can hold 80,000 cubic meter of water. Over 300 columns support the ceiling of this subterranean chamber; most columns were remarkably taken from ruins of other ancient buildings. Two of the most famous columns are located at a corner in northwestern area of the Basilica Cistern. Their bases were heads of Medusa – one is inverted, another one is positioned sideways. No documents were written to site the origin of the Medusa column bases, other than they were probably removed from old buildings during the late Roman era.

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*Some personal tips to remember before you enter the Basilica Cistern :

  • Open daily
  • Admission fee : 20 Turkish liras as of 16th February 2015
  • Waiting period on queue outside the humble-looking building : around 15 to 30 minutes
  • Slippery stairs and walkways. Watch your steps!
  • Kiosks for coffee, tea, soda and souvenirs are available near the exit area
  • Kois and other fish swim freely in the water that even kids would enjoy

After I went to Basilica Cistern, I walked back to Sultanahmet Square and headed my way to enter the Blue Mosque.


 or more popularly known as THE BLUE MOSQUE


Random scenes in front of Sultanahmet Mosque, aka Blue Mosque.

The modest entrance to Blue Mosque.

Behold. What lies beneath the cascading domes, seemingly guarded by 6 minarets are Iznik ceramic tiles in varied floral designs. It was a time when spasm of muscles didn’t bother me at all in hyperextending my cervical region, to simply appreciate such stunning work of art! No visit to Istanbul is complete without paying homage to the Blue Mosque. Arguably, it’s almost synonymous with Istanbul!

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Because Hagia Sophia is closed every Monday, I reserved experiencing it as my first priority the next day.

Clear skies, cold breeze, cloudy winter morning. That’s how my third day in Istanbul started until I went down from my hotel room to indulge in breakfast at Sub Karakoy Hotel’s dining area.

Unexpectedly, I noticed there were minimal snow flakes falling from above. Excitedly, I stepped out of the hotel to frolic under the snow in the street. Five minutes after, my child-like merriment halted. Snow stopped. No complaints or disappointment. Time to continue my first meal of the day.


At the Galata Bridge, it was never difficult to appreciate a better-looking winter weather. Crisp fresh air,  birds flying in flock, a sight of heritage city built in busy shores and friendly harbor. I witnessed local men eagerly throwing their fishing rods to the Golden Horn, with a few who were thrilled to pull up and gather their freshest catch that morning. Such an inviting scene to further enjoy the day in this historic and ultimately fascinating Turkish city.

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Can you identify their catch for the day?

Not long after, the clear sky became gloomy to almost zero-visibility. Cool breeze became cooler. Temperature dropped to negative degree-Celsius in a blink. Snowfall progressed heavily.

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The change of atmosphere was so abrupt; it’s like flight of ideas of some schizophrenic maniac! Undeniably, my mood went with the sudden change of season. From being excited and happy to becoming euphoric and ecstatic! Why, it was my very first snowfall experience! The Asian-kid-in-me who grew up under a tropical sun, was in the state of supreme bliss!

For a while, I took videos of the snow at the Galata Bridge, snapped photos on a whim, however when I noticed the snow was getting more severe, I went down an underpass, and went up again to finally cross the street and take the tram back to Sultanahmet.

Winter season worked well with me. Thankfully, I experienced Sultanahmet with and sans snow!



Magical. Surreal. Dreamy. The iconic Blue Mosque beautifully capped with snow.

Sultanahmet Mosque appeared more fantastic with snow! It was how I imagined Narnia after walking inside that wonderful wardrobe! I could not help but utter, “Winter looks real good on you, Istanbul!”


The German fountain in Sultanahmet Square looks more fantastic with snow, doesn’t it?

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Another unforgettable highlight of my first trip to Istanbul was going inside AyaSofya. I have never been to any place where more than one religion share the same roof.

Hagia Sophia or AyaSofya in Turkish, was originally built as a magnificent Greek Orthodox church, which later was transformed into an Imperial Mosque, and at present a museum.  Images of the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus, Arabic calligraphy, Islamic mirhab that indicates the quibla or direction of Kaaba in Mecca, a minbar where an Imam leads the Muslims in prayers -basically Christianity and Islam are found under AyaSofya’s domes because of its historic and religious transitions through the years.

*Some personal tips before you enter AyaSofya :

  • Entrance fee of 30 Turkish liras per pax as of February 17, 2015.
  • Museum is closed every Mondays
  • Don’t forget to appreciate the Upper Gallery -the dilapidated Mosaic panels created during 11th, 12th and 13th centuries were like documentaries-come-alive right before your eyes! However, seeing them gradually destroyed in history, imposed a severe noxious stimulus in my being. I wish efforts in restoration, if not, means of preservation must be employed by authorities for future visits and generations to come.
  • The museum-souvernir shop at the lower ground level holds a collection of quality postcards, books and whatnot that’ll remind people of their once-upon-a-time-in-AyaSofya.


Then AyaSofya or Hagia Sophia was blanketed by snow. Equally beautiful as the Blue Mosque, isn’t it?

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The queue was long under the cloudy sky and snowfall. But every minute was truly incredible and worthwhile!

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THE MARBLE DOOR, 6th Century


“The Marble Door separates the section where there were the private chambers of the Emperor (metatorion) and meeting place for the Church members.” –as posted in AyaSofya.


MOSAIC PANEL, 13th Century Deisis

“Christ in the middle, John the Baptist on the right, and Virgin Mary on the left.”

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MOSAIC PANEL, 12th Century

“Virgin Mary in the middle, Child on her arms, Emperor John II Komnenos on the left, his wife the Empress Eireen on the right, their son Alexios above the buttress. The Emperor and his wife donated money to Hagia Sophia.”


MOSAIC PANEL, 11th Century

“Christ on the throne in the middle. Emperor Costantine IX Monomachos on the left, the Empress Zoe on the right. The Emperor and his wife donated money to Hagia Sophia.”

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I walked my way to Grand Bazaar from AyaSofya however, I did not spend much time. Probably, shopping was not on my mind, or perhaps, I was more interested in wandering and creating travel memories, rather than splurging in unnecessary things.

Due to restless snow, my planned visits to Topkapi Palace which is within Sultanahmet district too, and to a few more suggested museums (Archeological and Chora Museums), other mosques, Dolmabahce Palace and cruising the Bosphorus Strait, were all shelved to my next trip to Istanbul.


It was a great pleasure to experience you, Sultanahmet!

Tesekkur ederim, Istanbul! (Thank you  Istanbul!).


*This Istanbul Travel Blog Series includes :




The Galata Tower dominates the Beyoglu skyline, viewed from the streets in Karakoy, Istanbul.

What do you do when you only have limited time, like three days and two nights to spend in one of your dream destinations? Do you ever plan to maximize your stay and enjoy the experience in a city, where even a month-long trip isn’t enough? What measures do you do when inevitable instances occurred, like delayed flights that led to late arrival, and eventually, checking-in at hotel after desired schedule?  Neither I rush, nor I waste time. I just don’t.

I experienced all those actually in my maiden trip to Istanbul from my current homebase in Dubai last February 15 to 18, 2015. More than a month before the trip, I carefully chose my itineraries, figured out which museum or place of interest is closed on what days, researched the admission rates and timings, read about most practical means of transportation, and laid out options if in case plan A or plan B won’t work.  No, I’m not obsessive-compulsive traveler, however, I never go out to war without being armed.

When I arrived in Ataturk International Airport later than expected due to delayed flight, I knew I could only go to one destination near my accommodation -Sub Karakoy Hotel. Without a hint of hesitation, I let go of the idea of touring Istiklal Caddesi and riding its heritage trams, and decided instantly to just savor the city’s view from the panoramic balcony of Galata Tower on my very first day in Turkey. In my mind, what else could be more fitting introduction to Istanbul than that?

Right after a quick and hassle-free check-in, mandatory dropping of my 50-liter-backpack and duffle bag in my room, a short but much-needed ritual in the toilet and shower, a few-minute-change to appropriate winter clothes, I was already on the road to find Christea Turris (or Tower of Christ according to the Genoese), or the Megalos Pyrgos (or the Great Tower according to the Byzantines), or simply Galata Tower or Galata Kulesi in Turkish.

Despite my personal preparation for the trip, I was still caught unprepared. I honestly forgot that other than the fact that Istanbul is rich in history, culture and diversity, beyond the common knowledge that the city has Asian and European parts, this beautiful Turkish city was built on seven hills literally. And so my mortal being was physically challenged for walking uphill on a steeply inclined cobble-stone alleys en route to the iconic tower.

I was panting under seven-degree-Celsius-weather. Deep breathing went even deeper. Pulse rate became full and bounding, my heart beat was rapid. My first exposure to Turkish winter almost numb my joints; but because I was euphoric just the same each time I travel, the almost pathologic cold breeze made me feel so alive! However, at that moment, I was clueless where to go and simply relied on the flow of tourists that thankfully led me to the right path. Nonetheless, I was in blissful state when I found myself standing at the foot of the Galata Tower. Then my ultra-light neurotic mood only came back to reality state when I needed to pay 25 liras for the entrance ticket.
Tourists and travelers brave the steep alleys en route to Galata Tower.
The long queue that winter afternoon. It took me more than half an hour to get a ticket.

My first near-encounter with Galata Tower. 

After a ride on the lift and a few steps on the wooden stairs to reach the Tower’s restaurant, and finally the  balcony, the 360-degree-view of Istanbul was truly breathtaking! Even more stunning before dusk as the city lights gradually glow and became brightly twinkling before dark!


There was a signage that directs tourists to move towards the right, but of course, a few hardheaded went against everyone. Unbelievable! In spite of chaotic traffic, no one stole my attention from the incredible view! I submitted myself to the once-in-a-lifetime-chance and let Istanbul welcomed me at the Galata Tower! I tried to absorbed the moment for several minutes until I realized that the sun is setting down; and I needed to immortalize the poetic view in my humble captures.

Even the view below was fantastic! Thank God, I didn’t feel nauseated or acrophopic.

Inspired by a few I found online, I created my own guide of sights of interest located at Sultanahmet – the Old City of Istanbul, as viewed from the Galata Tower.

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Learning and personal discovery are a priceless gifts when we embrace traveling. I initially thought that the Golden Horn or the urban waterway under the Galata Bridge, bisects Asian and European parts of Istanbul until my Turkish friend, Mehmet whom I met and dined with, explained to me casually that it runs through both European sides of Istanbul, and that the Asian part lies just across where Golden Horn joins the Bosphorus Strait.
Can’t leave Galata Tower without a souvenir shot!

History of Galata Tower as printed on the entrance ticket :

“Galata Tower, one of the oldest and most beautiful towers in Istanbul, was built of wood as lighthouse in 528 by Byzantine Emperor Anastasius Oilosuz. It was rebuilt of stone masonry and called Christea Turris (Christ Tower) by the Genoese in 1348. The tower, captured by the Turks when Istanbul was conquered in 1453 is 66.90 meters high from the ground and 140 meters from the sea level. It has a diameter of 8.95 meters and wall thickness of 3.75 meters.”


When I descended from the panoramic balcony just before riding down the lift, I took advantage of the touristy booth that transformed me into a regal and dignified Ottoman Sultan for 15 liras. Why not.

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Ottoman Sultan Gelo, hahaha!

Upon exiting the tower, I did some early little shopping for cheap but quality postcards and meticulously chosen fridge magnet souvenirs, I also scouted for place that serves local food for my dinner. I had Pilavustu Tavuk Doner and a small bottle of Coke for total cost of 7.50 liras only. It was a tasteful Chicken doner that’s quite popular street food in Istanbul. I also ordered from another stall, a cup of orange juice that was squeezed freshly right in front of me for only 1 lira.  How’s that for my first ever Turkish meal?!

Pilavustu Tavuk Doner

As a last note for my first day in Turkey, allow me to add something from one of the famous quotes about Istanbul. According to Alphonse de Lamartine, “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze at Istanbul.” I say, If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze at Istanbul from the Galata Tower.


*This Istanbul Travel Blog Series includes :


Galata Tower opening hours : 9AM-5PM (until 7PM during Summer) |Address : Bereketzade Mh., 34420 Istanbul | Reservation : Phone +90 (212) 293 81 80, Fax : +90 (212) 245 21 33 | Tram : Karakoy Station then walk your way up.



Sub Karakoy Hotel, Istanbul, Turkey.

Great and accessible location, relaxed and beautiful ambiance, adequate and clean room, fantastic complimentary breakfast, fast and free wifi, efficient service, friendly staff. I was blessed to experience all these positive qualities in Sub Karakoy Hotel in Istanbul. It felt so good that I was never wrong in deciding to reserve my three-day-two-night-stay in this gem of accommodation at the heart of the iconic city, in between two continents! Everything was pleasant and made my first trip in Turkey incredibly memorable!

From the time I started writing them e-mails for my inquiries until I departed for Dubai, Sub Karakoy was so consistent in being excellent in rendering their humble service. They replied to my e-mails promptly, and even noted every bit of information I provided them. Such distinction has been a rarity particularly to large chain of hotels nowadays.

If you must know, my flight from Dubai via Emirates Airlines was delayed for 45 minutes, but I was thankful to the airport pick up from Sub Karakoy that they waited for me despite the inevitable circumstance. Their rates for airport transfers was reasonable, and I was provided with a huge van for pick up and departure that I enjoyed alone. I found it less demanding and more convenient, rather than taking public transportation, at least from and to the airport.

Although the trip from the Ataturk International Airport to Sub Karakoy, both located at the European side of Istanbul, took more than half an hour, the location of Sub was perfect and accessible to all. During my entire short stay in Istanbul, I used to walk for 2 to 5 minutes to the tram station en route to Beyoglu district and Sultanahmet area. Mini-groceries, bus, tram and ferry stations, small eateries and the Galata Tower, art galleries, even the Dolmabahce Palace are just a stone-throw-away from Sub Karakoy. What more could you ask for?

A warm smile amidst the cold winter afternoon greeted me when I arrived in Sub Karakoy from the airport. The receptionist knew my name; check in was done in a breeze, and before I knew it, I found myself sipping their sweet Turkish drink and savoring a Turkish pastry offered by the courteous wait staff who immediately asked me, “How was your flight to Istanbul? Is it your first time to visit Turkey?  It was nothing grand, but everything was done with a warm welcome.

The minimal noise from the vehicles in the street was tolerable, actually insignificant. The calming music and cozy ambiance inside the creatively built Sub Karakoy’s reception and dining areas were sublime and more relevant. The space wasn’t enormous however, the atmosphere and its entirety are a destination on its own in Istanbul!
My favorite couch from Sub. I spent delicious mornings here! My solitude was priceless!

Situated near the ferries, Galata Bridge and the majestic Golden Horn, Sub Karakoy Hotel’s interiors is apparently inspired by the nearby harbor. The steel bed frame reminded me of a ship, while noticeably, the minimalist design and the choice of materials and colors complemented the nautical theme so well. Aesthetics to me always comes secondary to comfort. And Sub Karakoy provided me both.

The harbor-inspired interiors is spontaneous to the comfort room. Small, however spotless.


On top of my sincerest Hallelujahs to Sub Karakoy is their simple, yet bountiful and deliciously satisfying complimentary breakfast. A well balanced variety of breads, heart-shaped pancakes, fruits, cold cuts, cereals, yoghurt, jams, spreads, all sorts of cheese, a choice of eggs, overflowing Turkish tea, coffee, orange juice, and a dessert of the day that a wait staff offers from table to table were truly unforgettable!

Undoubtedly, I spent beautiful mornings in Istanbul as I started them with gorgeous breakfast from Sub Karakoy!

On one of my days, I opted to have Menemen, or Turkish omelet that was included in the free breakfast and was cooked and brought to my table in a blink.

Then as mentioned, a dessert of the day was offered by a wait staff from table to table every after breakfast. One of them – a mildly flavored sweet-lemon pastry and a melt-in-your-mouth-chocolate pudding the next morning. Both were tasteful and certainly a class act to do such!

Every after a day in Istanbul, I indulged in their dining area, savored a sip of either a Turkish tea, Turkish coffee, a rose wine, a bottle of one of the local beers, Bomonti. Things I don’t do routinely. Ahhh, what a vacation it was!

It was snowy Tuesday from morning till night, but I had to depart from Sub Karakoy to Sabiha Gokcen International Airport at the Asian side this time, of Istanbul to catch my flight with Air Arabia Airlines. The manager of Sub Karakoy was even worried that my flight that midnight was included in the cancelled flights that day due to heavy snowfall. The receptionist was kind enough to volunteer and verify my flight status online. Even better was an offer to stay for extra night. The flight status was positive and I was brought to the airport safely, again alone with the driver in a huge van, with proper time allotted for me to check in and rest a bit in the terminal.

My stay was short but definitely sweet!


*This Istanbul Travel Blog Series includes :


Although this is NOT a sponsored blog post, I was thankful for the 25% discount provided to me as a media-travel-blogger by Sub Karakoy. And of course, even grateful for the warm, safe, and pleasant stay I had with them. Definitely, I highly recommend and would stay again the next time I revisit Istanbul.

For more details, visit their website : http://subkarakoy.com/ | facebook : https://www.facebook.com/subkarakoy




My Tourist Visa to Turkey from Dubai released in two days!

There was a light bulb flashed on my head after my Chinese colleague told me casually, “You’re already halfway your journey the moment you start preparing for your trip.”

True enough! Although spontaneous adventures may surprise travelers and tourists with unexpected fun, there’s nothing better than exploring a new place armed with concrete plans and options from A to D. My personal travel and life philosophy is simple : Better be prepared than sorry.

Once I decide to travel and destination is set, I usually start my preparation like a good old boy scout that I was! Always be prepared! Or at least I try my best all the time.

Below is the random checklist I usually prepare, research, complete and tick before leaping to another journey :

  • limited budget and currency exchange rate,
  • preferred accommodation (I tried the 100 Baht per night-10-people-per-room to the most luxurious 123-square-meter-suite),
  • airfare tickets and flight timings,
  • itineraries (I have to be wise in choosing where to go, what to eat, what to experience, as I don’t have all the time and money in the world. My Turkish friend and a Turkish hotel staff told me they haven’t explored neither the country nor Istanbul entirely yet. According to them, even one month isn’t enough in appreciating Istanbul),
  • weather (Be appropriate with the climate. Important to know the weather forecast on the dates of your trip. Apparently, it dictates what to wear and what to bring! Can you imagine going to Turkey in slippers and shorts during winter?),
  • dates of any holiday or festivals coinciding with my travel date,
  • destination’s customs and traditions,
  • time difference between destination and place of origin,
  • mode of transportation,
  • local food,
  • any endemic disease,
  • any political conflicts or social unrest, current events,
  • my few gadgets and their chargers (I only usually bring my DSLR, mobile phone; sometimes I bring laptop),
  • universal adaptor (very important as some hotels could not lend you adaptor for your gadgets).
  • ballpen and my small travel journal (I support my friend’s handmade travel journal –Surat Journals).
  • ATM Debit card, Credit cards (I read it’s wise to bring at least your debit card and just withdraw cash from ATM machine in local currency).
  • and the most important : VISA REQUIREMENTS (does the country-destination require visa application? or visa on arrival? malarial or yellow-fever vaccine? 2×2 photos or 5×6? etcetera, etcetera!).

In my recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey (stay tuned for the rest of my Istanbul Travel Blog Series!), I thought I came so prepared on the day I went to the Consulate of Republic of Turkey at the 8th floor of  Dubai World Trade Center (white building, left side from World Trade Center Dubai Metro Station). I even had my Turkey Tourist Visa Application form typewritten, however the officer at the reception desk found my requirements incomplete because I brought passport photos with incorrect size! Oh well! See, even the in your most prepared times, you’ll find some instances that put you inevitably into clueless state. I browsed the net, read the requirements from their website, but still something went wrong.

Below is the list of requirements for Turkey Tourist Visa for Filipinos living in Dubai :

  • Completed Application Form (download from : http://www.mfa.gov.tr/data/konsolosluk/visaform.doc),
  • Original Passport (with validity of at least 6 months from the time of application),
  • Copy of Passport, Copy of Residence Visa in UAE,
  • Two passport photos, 5×8 cm (I brought the usual passport size photos thus, I was advised to return once I have the right one. Luckily, there were two other Kabayan who went down with me to the ground floor of the same building, and had our photos scanned, resized and reprinted in a shop as per requirement, but of course, it almost cost me my arm and leg as I paid 30 AED or approx. 8 USD for those two photos!),
  • No Objection Certificate or NOC from sponsor,
  • Salary Certificate,
  • Copy of confirmed flight and hotel reservation,
  • Copy of 3-month-bank-statement,
  • Application Fee of 225 AED (Tip : Be ready to pay in exact amount).

After presenting all my documents to the officer at the reception desk, I was given a token or a number (I was early, so I was number 6 on queue) and waited shortly until the consulate office opened at 8:30AM (they only accept 60 applications per day, only until 11AM). I turned off my mobile and submitted to the reception desk prior entering the office.

Process of presenting documents and paying the Turkey Tourist Visa Application fee of 225 AED (as of February 2015)was done quickly. I was given a stub with date and time of collection. Visa collection starts 1PM to 2PM.

It only took 2 working days to collect my passport after I applied it from Consulate of Turkey in Dubai. I was granted a Turkey Tourist Visa, single entry, valid for 3 months.

And that my friends, gave me access to one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been.


*This Istanbul Travel Blog Series includes :



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