Take a Bosphorous Cruise and return ferry ride to a princes’ island on the cheap

Since the aforementioned are two of the best highlights of Istanbul, a multitude of companies offer organised trips to both which can cost anything between 200 to around 400 Turkish Liras (TYR)  depending on the company you choose.

I am of the opinion that organised trips are not value for money; they are typical tourist traps and best avoided by savvy travellers. In case you didn’t know, both can be done cheaply on a do-it-yourself basis without missing out on much.

1. The Bosphorous Cruise:

Take a day cruise offered by one of the commuter ferry services like Turyol. They have dedicated day cruises on the Bosphorous that last an hour and a half. The ticket is only TRY 15. The last cruise is around sundown, which is the best time to hop on a ferry to appreciate the beauty of the Bosphorous and take memorable pictures in ideal light conditions. There are no belly dancing and dinner combos on offer but I take those as a big plus. Take in the views of the strait without distractions.

You can take the ferry from any point served by Turyol. I took it from the station below the Galata Bridge (forgot station name) and disembarked at the Asian side by choice. The ferry does a round trip so you can return at the point where you boarded it.

2. Princess Island Ferry:

Büyükada is also served by many stations across the city. Take a one way ride and return at will. During summer time, it might be busy but ferries to Istanbul are dispatched around the clock: if you miss one, there’s always another one to take you back.

I took one from Beşiktaş and spent half a day at the island, roamed around at will, took a phaeton ride to the reserve, and bought another one-way ticket back to Istanbul, which made stops at both Kadıköy and then at Eminönü. The one way ticket cost TRY 7/8.

At the end of it all, I had covered the cruise jing bang in 30 TYR instead of a mammoth 400 TYR!

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Ghost of Hamlet & The Strait of Øresund

If you are in Copenhagen, an easy and enjoyable way to go to Sweden is to cross the strait of Øresund that divides the Danish islands from the Swedish mainland. Øresund bridge, which has the honour of being the longest rail and road bridge in Europe, connects the two countries. You can take a bus from central Copenhagen that will take you to Malmo (app. one hour) or you can take the quick train. I, however, opted for a ferry ride between the Danish coastal town of Helsingor (Elsinore in English) to the Swedish town of Helsingbor (don’t confuse the names!) from where you can go to Malmo and farther afield.

My reason for taking the ferry was to be in Helsingor to see Kronborg Castle, which is the fictional location of William Shakespeare’s drama “Hamlet.” Being an aficionado of literature, I wanted to relive from memory the tragic story of prince Hamlet by being inside the very walls in which Shakespeare had imagined it.

Palaces and castles in Scandinavian countries are quite modest by European standards and this one is no different. This is where the monarchs of Denmark would come to seek leisure during summertime and enjoy beautiful vistas of the strait and be able to see the coast of Sweden on a clear day, as did I on the day I was there.

Don’t miss to visit the dungeons below the castle – a dank and dark labyrinth of cells where prisoners were kept in subhuman conditions. There is a life-sized statue of Ogier the Dane at one end of the dungeons. Legend has it that one day he will wake up from his stony slumber and conquer all of Scandinavia and rule forever!

A Day in Bratislava

It was not until I was mapping my way to build a viable rail itinerary through Italy, Austria, and Hungary that I discovered Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. I knew immediately that I would need to make room to explore it, and I did.

Bratislava is only one hour by train from Vienna and can be visited comfortably as a day trip. Trains depart every other hour and return with the same frequency. Having seen the highlights, I believe it deserves at least a couple of days to properly explore the city and its surroundings; even more if you want to go deeper into Slovak territory to see places that are not frequented by tourists on a busy itinerary.

The pièce de résistance is the picture perfect Devin Castle (Hrad Castle) sitting atop a hill that looks as though it was made from marzipan, like the eponymous hotel in the film “Hotel Budapest”, and the well-preserved old town centre with many historical sites to see on both sides of the River Danube that divides the city in two.

Various statues and artworks that dot the city centre provide another attraction to the visitors. Some of them are wacky and intended for fun, especially the signature landmark of “Man at Work.” Visitors take obligatory pics there and those who wish for good fortune are told to rub its nose. I duly observed the ritual!