A Travellerspoint blog

Istanbul

Practical tips

sunny 26 °C
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Arrival: Our top tip is to avoid arriving at the main Otogar (bus station) just after sunset on a Friday. We did just that and found it frenetic, stifling and extremely difficult for the unwary traveller straight off the bus from Bulgaria.

We returned at other times over 4 days - after we had become more familiar with the city - and found it not so busy or so confusing.

But here's the issue: you are dumped off your bus from Bulgaria with no Turkish currency (there is no exchange point anywhere on the route from Varna) and no idea how to get to our hotel, except that it would be about 4 metro stops and another 22 tram stops after that...if we could work out the local transport system.

We decided to catch a cab. But for that you need cash, and there was no sign of an ATM at first. There seemed to be only one in the whole bus station, which we found after walking through various sections of this enormous station.

The traffic in istanbul is notoriously bad and Friday evening it is probably at its worst. The cab we caught by randomly finding a cab offloading someone at the bus station (there is no cab stand or queue). Cab driver was fine and got us to our apartment in about an hour...

Local Transport; Next morning when we arrived at the tram stop, we were none the wiser about how the system worked. And although machines were in English, they didn't explain that a 'Jeton' for 4L was a one-off ride, whereas the 2l15 'single ticket' was only relevant if you already had an Istanbul Card.

Istanbul Card you can only buy at large metro and tram stops, and in fact it's only at the airport (we went there on an errand) that you get staff on hand to explain the system.

System works well once you understand it, but we saw a lot of confused tourists struggling with the machines.

Also note; the machines appear to give you a time limit to top up the Istanbul Card, but don't panic as the 20 seconds just starts again if you fail to upload in time.

Want a cheap ferry ride on the Bosphorus? Take the 20 minute ride over to Kadikoy on the Asian side. Not only sosts you only 2L15 (with Istanbul Card), but actually has a more relaxed feel than the ever bustly European side.

Food: Don't miss the three boats moored by Galata Bridge (south side away from Bazaar side of the road) where you get delicious fish sandwiches for 6L each. Join thousands of locals and tourists doing this every day.

Bazaars: We loved the Spice Market. Felt the Grand Bazaar just too big.

Tea: Don't miss Erenler Water Pipe and Tea Garden near Grand Bazaar (on the main tram route road, but hidden away behind a stone wall) - very iconic, but mainly men. On the Kadikoy side we found more mixed tea rooms with actually more women than men.

Coffee: Great artisan coffee shops to rival London's best. Try Kronotrop near Taksim or twins between Taksim and Kabatas.

Kebab: Don't be fooled by the UK use of the word. Kebab can be a very posh and expensive restaurant. It's Doner Kebab places that resemble what we are used to back home...

Posted by UnwindRoad 10:34 Archived in Turkey Tagged local bus tea transport station ferry coffee bazaars Comments (0)

Varna

Practical tips

sunny 26 °C
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Local transport: At last, a country where they let you pay on the bus! In fact, in Varna, there's even an old-fashioned bus conductor and she will find you rather than you being the one who has to find them. Bus station is quite a long hike from the centre of town so worth getting the bus.

Swimming: There's a fantastic complex of outdoor pools down by the harbour with great Black Sea views. Beware: you have to wear a swimming cap however little hair you have (there's a shop at the complex and we found a cap for 10Bulgarian.

Old Town: Lots of ruins of Roman baths and other ancient monuments to wander round and look at.

Coffee: Try My Cafe by Ani Boland rather than Ginger Coffee across the road. Well that's our tip anyway.

Tea: Check out the lovely Jasmine Tea House; It's more a vegetarian restaurant in the evening but has some great teas and a nice cake stand for the afternoons!

Buses to Turkey: Leave morning and evening. Funny that there are two companies doing the run but with almost identical prices and timetables, I'm not sure what the point of the competition is. If you want to buy in advance, there are ticket offices for both companies just along the road from the central tourist info office in town. Cash only to buy tickets.

Currency: If you are travelling to Turkey by bus, be aware that there is nowhere to get Turkish lira until you arrive in Istanbul (and even then there is no exchange office - just an ATM right across the bus station, but more on that under Istanbul); and nobody wants your remaining Bulgarian currency in Turkey so spend it while you can.

Posted by UnwindRoad 06:06 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged local bus tea turkey transport buses swimming to coffee currency Comments (0)

Constanta

Practical tips

sunny 27 °C
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We were not in Constanta long enough to draw any conclusions, but we did experience some travel headache which this post might help others to avoid...

Local transport: We were in a hotel about a mile and a half from the station, with lots of buses going past frequently. But there was nowhere obvious to buy tickets and you cannot buy on the bus. So we had to walk a good 15 minutes in melting sun before we found a kiosk with a sign saying it sold bilete. Trouble was this kiosk was some 200m from the next bus stop so there seems to be no local logic to where you can buy bus ticket.

Our advice: if you are staying more than the few hours we were there start looking out for bus ticket kiosks (combined with newspapers and ciggies etc in our case) well ahead of you actually needing them.

Long distance buses: Top tip for Romania: Ignore the Romanian online bus timetables.

We saw online that there were hourly buses from Constanta to Varna in Bulgaria so we decided to go for a paddle in the Black Tea and have a leisurely walk/bus up to the bus station. Big mistake.

Those hourly buses were scheduled to run from 1 April to 1 October, but somebody clearly decided to pull the plug on them early, as by the time we got to the bus station, THE daytime bus to Varna had left at 10am and everybody said: come back tomorrow or come back for the night bus tonight.

Another observation: Nobody 'knew' anything for any service except their own. So this involved going into about 5 different bus companies to check for sure that nobody had a bus going to Varna still.

Having confirmed the bad news, we decided to go back to the main bus terminal (100m back towards the railway station) and have a coffee.

As we walked past three guys sitting in the sun, one of them shouted out: are you going to Varna?

Word had obviously gone round the bus station that these two western tourists were late for THE daytime bus...And this guy ended up taking us in his private car, all the way from Constanta to Varna (at a cost about 3 times the price of two bus tickets, but worth it for us) and we arrived in Varna only 20 minute after the 10am bus would have...

So that was transport in Romania...

Hotel: highly recommend Hotel Ferdinand in Constanta. Cost a bit at 44 euros, but great service, lots of free fruit in the room, great breakfast and good rooms with (almost) Black Sea views

Posted by UnwindRoad 08:48 Archived in Romania Tagged sea local hotel bus buses to black station getting online timetable varna constanta Comments (0)

Brasov

Practical tips

sunny 25 °C
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Train station: It's a couple of miles from the train station to the old town. Beware if you get a taxi. The first guy we asked wanted 16Euros or 60Lei so we walked away. A second guy ran up and offered to take us for 25Lei so we accepted, though a subsequent trip cost 20Lei only.

The local bus costs only 2Lei though so if you can find the bus routes and a kiosk selling tickets, go for it. We took a bus to the station on our way back and it all went very smoothly.

Bran Castle is the big tourist draw, but we didn't go because we know it has no link to Bram Stoker's Dracula. Since we didn't go, we can't say whether or not it's worth seeing in its own right, whether or not you're into Dracula.

We tried the 4Lei50 bus ride up to the ski resort of Poiana Beautiful 20 minute bus ride but nothing particularly to grab our attention up there so we didn't stay long.

Cable Car: You can go for long cable car rides up to the ski slopes from Poiana, but since we;d done the excellent ride up above Brasov from the town itself the previous day, we felt cable car'ed out. Highly recommend the cable car ride above Brasov to walk by the Hollywood-style Brasov sign above town. Great views up there. Slightly wobbly cable car, but nice ride.

Coffee: don't miss Cafeteca.

Tea: Cafeteca do a good brew too, but try also Open Heart Tea Lounge.

Restaurant: Try Ceasu Rau for excellent local food at reasonable prices. Ten minute walk from town centre.

Posted by UnwindRoad 11:20 Archived in Romania Tagged restaurant bus train tea car ski cable transport resort station public coffee dracula Comments (0)

Cluj-Napoca

Practical tips

sunny 26 °C
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Romania's 2nd city is dominated by its universities, and the number of students gives it a youthful, bohemian feel. The old town covers a very small area, though, which makes walking around the centre a very relaxing experience.

Train station: Is about a mile from the old town. We took a taxi because we weren't feeling well, it was hot and we didn't know about buses. Taxi had to go round the houses to avoid roadworks so ended up costing 16Lei (about 4Euros).

Buses: Lots of buses go straight from the station (Gara) to the old town, but make sure you buy a ticket first from one of the kiosks on the side of the road, if you can find them! On our way back, we walked half way to the station before we spotted one. Bought our tickets and got on, not knowing how to 'compost' the ticket, so we didn't...

Make sure you compost or validate the ticket. There's an old metal bell-looking thing by eacch door and you slip the ticket vertically down and then press the 'bell' to punch a hole in it. Of course, with us not having done it, there was a ticket inspection one stop later, and we were given a stern talking to by the inspectors, who we thought would be the first fine/bribe we'd have to pay on the trip so fat. But they let us off...

Tourit Info: very helpful in the old town, round the corner from the Orthodox Cathedral (right opposite Caffe Olivo)

Don't miss ( as we did cos got there after 4pm) the History of Pharmacy Museum - medical things are big in Cluj and this museum is supposed to be excellent.

Cinema fans: go to the Cinema Victoria and just see whatever is on, as we did: a Danish film with Romanian subtitles. Sounds impossible to follow, but you can really do it. Films are visual after all...

Coffee: Coffe Olivo is the best coffee in Cluj; but look also for Captain Bean on his bike just past the bridge heading towards the station from the old town. Coffee not as good, but still pretty decent and a great guy running the show.

Tea: Do NOT miss Samsara Tea House (further up the same street as Samsara Food House) - take you back to the hippy 60s with its music, no shoes policy and relaxed feel, but also has great tea and lovely raw cake.

Samsara Food House also good especially if you are into vegetarian or vegan food

Posted by UnwindRoad 08:05 Archived in Romania Tagged food train tea museum transport tourist station public coffee cluj cinema info Comments (0)

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