10 days in Istanbul- Trip Report
Replies: 10 - Last Post: Dec 3, 2012 1:23 PM Last Post By: beerfree
Nov 30, 2012 8:07 AM
10 days in Istanbul- Trip ReportIf Istanbul is not the easiest city to discover and explore than I don't know what is. Its like a blend of Paris and Rome for me, and my wife and I enjoyed the city's offerings so much, we never left, yes, 10 days of eating, drinking, shopping, museums, churches, mosques, ferries, trains, taxi's and always a nice sweet dessert and tea or coffee to relax with. The rich culture, long history, and friendly locals, make Istanbul one the best cities we have visited, and we will return to Turkey in the warm months for more exploration along the coast, and also ruins and natural wonders.
We arrived from Chicago on a Swiss Air flight via Zurich, we bought for $511PP R/T, returning on Lufthansa via Munich. That was a steal, and it was over the American holiday weekend of Thanksgiving as well. We stayed at 3 different Hotels, though all on managed by the same people. The first 3 nights we had reserved at Penisula Hotel, a great location next to the Aya Sofya, but when we decided to stay in Istanbul, and not go to Cappadochia, and Izmir areas, we moved 1 night across street to Hanedan Hotel, and then they arranged for us for 7 days at the Grand Peninsula Hotel down a few blocks, which was great, as there is a Mosque behind the Peninsula that was screeching loud, as well as construction on a home, so the peace and quiet at Grand Peninsula was welcome. The staff at the properties was excellent, the rooms super clean, and just a top notch operation for the money.
The reason we decided to stay in Istanbul and not move about, was mainly the fact we like cities, culture, and food, and this is one city that has that in spades, as well as moving about via trips to and from airports that are long, and cave hotels didnt interest my wife as much as the hiking did, but the flights there, and the hotels, are a tad expensive for the value we had in Istanbul, not to mention we dont like tours, we like to be on our own. As for Izmir and the areas ruins, yes we could of flown in and out for a night, but the weekend we wanted to go, it was forecast to rain a lot, and it did, and the activities in that area are all, outdoors, from thermal pools to ruins, so we punted, and have no regrets, we know we will be back for sure, and properly spend time in those areas, and even rent cars to explore.
So, what is there to report you may ask, well, I only have 100% positive memories, and want to relay to anyone considering a trip to Turkey, that even a long weekend here is endless cultural and historical sites and areas to enjoy, all on your own terms, and all via public transport.
Here is what we did listed each day. We more or less spent the mornings at a Museum or Holy Site, then bummed around the afternoon in different areas, shopping, eating and just exploring the huge city. I collect old coins, and sculpture, and my wife is from Beijing, and loves anything old, from books to paintings, mosaics, tapestries, film, traditions, and cultural nuances, which this is one country that is got all that and more.
Arrived Friday Evening, airport pick up 20 Euro to Hotel. Took about 35 minutes at rush hour to hotel. Outbound to the airport looked awful and congested. Had dinner and went to bed.
Saturday- Wife was dead, so after breakfast on roof, she went back to bed, and I went to get a Transit card at the News Kiosk at the Metro Train stop, its 7 Lira, and I put on 25 Lira. Its about 2 Lira a ride on the train, more on the ferry. I then walked across street and changed some Euros, 100 EU get my 225 Lira. I then went for a haircut, hot shave for 40 Lira, then walked to get a Chicken Kebab, and some sweets for the room, a bottle of wine, and walked back to Hotel about 3pm. We took a walk to the Blue Mosque area, though could not enter due to prayers, then looked at a few places selling dishes and housewares, and then had a early dinner in a cozy place on the main stretch, relaxed with wine and had a great seafood casserole and bread, the bread there is out of this world...OMG.
Sunday we were still a tad out of whack on the jet lag feel, so we went to the Blue Mosque first thing, then we went to the Grand Bazaar to see what was what, get ideas on prices on things we were interested in, but didnt buy anything. We ended up at a little cafe on a side street with BBQ, then went to a cool locals Hookah lounge next to an old graveyard off the main metro train stop up the hill, hung out there a few hours and smoked and drink tea, met some local guys that were nice and more on the bohemian lifestyle side, and had a great chat.
Monday was warm and sunny, so we went on the Bosphorus Cruise for 15Euro, from 1130 to 230, it was a nice boat, though windy once out on the water, needed a hat and scarf for sure, as we did most the time there. This gave us a nice lay of the land, and also it was very relaxing. When we returned, we took a nap, then went for a nice fish dinner at a fishhouse BBQ, yum yum. We walked over to the Blue Mosque at night, enjoyed the locals relaxing about, the fountain and the atmosphere between the two lovely museums. We then had some coffee and desserts at a place near the train, in a white marble facade, OMG, traditional sweets to high heaven, thank my allah for these...
Tuesday was a lot of shopping, mainly the Faith area and near the Uni we bummed about, nothing to note other than a nice day walking around and meeting nice people, shop owners and eating and drinking...kind of a no plans day, as we knew at this point, we had a week to keep exploring. We spent a few hours at the Archealogical Museum that afternoon, that is an amazing collection of tombs, I cant believe you are allowed to touch them, they need to stop that. We also went to Hammin for couples at a nice turkish Bath near the Uni, its was okay, preferred the Hammins in Morocco, as you got a one hour massage and steam. Dinner that night was a place next to the Four Seasons hotel, the big front windows you sit on the floor in sack chairs and eat and smoke a Hookah, just chilled here and ended up talking to a local couple on a date, he was a wealth of info, as they lived in Taksim, and that was the next days plan.
Wednesday we took the train to last stop at Kabatas, then walked up to Taksim as traffic was nuts for a taxi. This right at the Palace junction, which were saving for a rainy day. We loved Taksim, walked the side streets, had some great steamed mussels at the Fish Market in the little plaza there at Nevizade Street, and wondered all over this area, then on to Galata tower, hitting the churches on the way, the Armenian church is really pretty at Nezizade, and also the old Catholic church near Atlas Passage. It seems the Galata area is new up n coming trendy and hip place to be, side streets from the tower had boutique hotels, swanky nice designer clothing stores, interior design stores, and spas and such, also some great cottage industry places, found a guy making handmade wooden sailing ship replicas, and also a woodworker making great wall sconces and trim. We had dinner at some chic cafe with a hop crowd, and then walked to train and scooted back home about 9pm.
Thursday was Thanksgiving day for us, so we planned on another big BBW fish dinner, but the wife came down with a fever and sore throat, so in the morning I went to the pharmacy by the train stop/money changers and dessert places, and got a throat spray, some desserts, changed money, and delivered it to the room, made some hot tea with honey, and left her to rest, I went to the train, then to Eminonu and caught a ferry to the Asia side at Uskader, I got a great map at the tourist office where the ferry terminal is, its excellent an shows all the holy sights, all the ferry terminals to all the ports, and routes of main trains and streets, for all of Istanbul, so these tourist offices are in the main areas a tourist would be, so hit them up first thing, there is one at the Serkeci stop as well, anyway, I walked the market there, goofed off, went up to park at Dogincilar, then walked down to the Salacak area, had lunch in a small cafe, watched soccer and had a few beers, then walked along the sea wall and the fisherman everywhere, had some hot tea while I waited for the next ferry back, then it was growing very windy and rain was starting, so the ride back on ferry was a tad nuts, but fun. When I got off the ferry, the sun came thru and rainbow went from the Galata tower to the Asia side like a huge bridge in the sky, had everyone taking pictures and smiling... That night we hunkered down at a local place indoors, the Meat House, what a hoot the owner is, and great food for the money...
Friday was finally the Topkapi Palace, my lord, what a grand setting this is. The Harem and the history is simply jaw dropping. We goofed off all over the property, and spent most the afternoon there. That evening we for Chinese at Cheng Chang, I must say, it was better than the food in China, and we lived in Shanghai and Beijing last year for 6 months. My wife was impressed, not cheap, but very very very fresh and authentic.
Saturday was raining, so we went to the Cistern Basilica Museum first, then to Aya Sofya finally, it was not too crowded either, hired a guide to teach us about the entire place, 2 hours later our heads were spinning, but smiling in awe. That evening we went to Taksim again, and had more steamed Mussels and hit the bar street with all the cafes, its was happening, got pretty blitzed in the end, had a great time though, met some great folks, then took a taxi back to hotel 18 Lira.
Sunday we got the train and then the ferry at Halic pier, you walk from the Galata bridge 20 meters, then went up the Golden Horn to Ayansaray, two stops on the ferry, and walked along the old city walls to the Chora Museum Church, for sure get the Headphone tour here, there is some very important history and beauty to grasp there, its about 20 minutes walk from the pier. From there we meandered down the main street, watched a soccer game and had some beers, and then walk further and enjoyed the endless wedding dress boutiques and locals going about their day off. Then we got a taxi back to hotel, was 18 Lira. Tha night we had Chinese again, it was so good and spicy, just had a hankering for more. We walked to the main Plaza and fountain area and had a little dessert, then heard some live music and smoked a hookah down at the outdoor cafe there by the shopping area behind the Blue Mosque.
Monday, last day in Istanbul... :(
We took the train to the Kabatas stop, and went to the Dohambance Palace and Museum, wow betty, that is one darn nice place, the grounds are lovely too, and the setting on the Bosphorus just so majestic. We then took train back but decided to go to Taksim/Galata again, so got off at Galata bridge, took the Tunel tram to Galata and walked to the Fish Market for one last meal, then back around to Galata area, went up in tower at sunset, stunning views and a full moon too boot, then meandered around until hit the Galata Bridge, walked across, and went to the Whirling Dervish show at 730pm, what a nice night for a stroll, and the 1 hour show was mesmerizing to say least, I was pooped, and ended up entranced in the entire ritual.
Now we did a lot of other stuff but I can list it all, I bought some coins, and we also went to a jeweler near the Grand Bazaar in the street with all the jewelry stores, we shopped there 3 times before pulling the trigger on a nice evening ring after getting comfortable with the ins and outs of what was offered at what prices, buying diamond jewelry was fun though, and the ring was in a older Ottoman style setting, very unique, and was a great price for the quality in the end. I already had it appraised here in Chicago for Insurance, its was four times what we paid, so close to wholesale in the end.
So thats it in a nutshell, we got stuck in Istanbul and didnt care to leave. It was a very pleasant vacation for us, also budget friendly, besides the jewelry/coins and home decor stuff, I took 1000 Euros for 10 days, for hotels, food, museums, guides, transport, everything, and spent it to the penny, happily.
Thanks for the help and input when planning this trip, and I hope this report helps others. From speaking to other travelers, its seems you need a good two weeks for the main highlights in Turkey, but dont discount Istanbul, its has a lot of charm and culture to enjoy.
Nov 30, 2012 8:15 AM
Nov 30, 2012 9:18 AM
2Thank you for taking the time to post up this lovely trip review,I felt I was walking each step with you :) Another good one for the sticky.
I'll be referring a lot of folks to this I think,especially those who post up saying"I will have around 5 days in Istanbul,is this too long,will I be bored?"They always make me smile....
Nov 30, 2012 11:19 AM
3Damn nice report, Tim. I printed the thing and will use it as a guide when we take our daughter to Istanbul after she graduates from Radiology school in August. Thanks!
Nov 30, 2012 2:02 PM
Nov 30, 2012 10:29 PM
5That rainbow was exceptional,it was even reported on the evening news as it was so big and bright.
Maggiemae,a trip review would be great,everyones experiences are different and good to share.
Dougv;I am so happy to hear you are returning to Turkey(it's got into your blood!).As your daughter will be of the medical fraternity perhaps she may be interested in visiting the Florence Nightingale Museum if you have time.
This is located in the Selimiye Barracks close by Harem otogar on the Asian side of the city,so just a short walk from the ferry pier there.This is still a functional military base so one needs to book a visit 48 hours in advance,submitting passport numbers for security clearance first,your hotel can do this for you.On arrival your guide will be one of the officers based there,they assign one with excellent knowledge and English so you don't miss out on anything.If you are interested remind me nearer the time and I'll post up the contact details and address for you.
Nov 30, 2012 11:04 PM
6Thank you Sarikanarya. Yours is a very kind offer. Her first degree was in history, so Istanbul will be a treat for her as well for many other reasons.
Dec 1, 2012 3:07 AM
7I wish I had known about the Florence Nightingale Museum as well, when got off the ferry on the Asia side and and got my hands on the great map, and figuring out where I would take a 2 hour walk, I saw the museum listed and didnt have my guidebook with me, and didnt recall the LP saying anything about it. Now I dont feel so bad that you need to pre-arrange a visit, but had I known I would of tried to focus on it. I was at dinner last night with my best friend and his wife, who actually met in Istanbul as both their families were on a 3 generation vacation on the same small cruise ship, and when I mentioned this they were super interested in knowing more.
It is a nice area on that side,nice residential streets and middle class, had a different feel to it than anywhere else I went, felt somewhat detached from europe side in a calm way, there is little traffic in the area I walked, and lot more of the old wooden frame homes in excellent condition.
My wife is from China and studied Chinese History, and worked for CCTV as a editor for the documentry programming, traveling all over China exploring the ethnic and regional languages (57) in China, and focused a lot on the west of China, mainly muslim provinces, and Inner Mongolia peoples and tribes, but she always said the Chinese held high respect for the Turkish peoples, on a business level, they were true merchants and masters of trading, and negotiating, she said after visiting Turkey, she can see why, she said if she she had a sales force related company, she would hire all Turks/Kurds, due to their demeanor and social attributes, and I have to agree. I wonder what it was like to travel the silk road back in the day of train travel or prior in caravans, and arrive in Istanbul and enter the huge bazaars and markets, anyone have any good reading to suggest?
Dec 2, 2012 8:47 AM
Dec 2, 2012 7:19 PM
9Nice report with helpful information. I return there next September and I can't wait!
Istanbul - where too much time is never enough!
Dec 3, 2012 1:23 PM
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