We had a fantastic tour of Istanbul last week with Lale from KSG Tours. We arrived in port on the Seabourne Odyssey and were the first ones off the boat. Lale and our driver were waiting for us at the exit to the cruise terminal with our private minibus, which was very nice, spacious and clean. We left immediately for our day tour.
We had originally requested the tour of the old city of Istanbul which included the Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapki Palace & Harem and the Grand Bazaar. We actually changed this a bit as the tour progressed through the day. This is ONE of the things that made the tour so special for us, Lale worked with us throughout the day to adjust the tour on the fly as we toured Istanbul. We had 4 couples on the tour with us and most of them had seen some of the old city, so we ended up skipping the Hagia Sophia (which we had seen before) and adding the Spice Market, which was fabulous.
We started the tour on the Hippodrome and it was obvious that Lale both loved her home town of Istanbul and knew a wealth of information about it. She was completely enjoyable in the way she presented information. We moved from the Hippodrome to the Blue Mosque where she found a quiet place for us to sit while she shared the history of the place. After we wandered around exploring on our own a bit we walked to Topkapi Palace, stopping along the way for some fresh squeezed grapefruit juice that Lale helped us with from the street vendors.
At the Topkapi Palace Lale secured our tickets for us while we visited the WC, no standing in line for either! She then proceeded to lead us through the Harem and the Palace with amazing stories and information. After the tour of the Harem we had time to view the Artifacts, library and jewels at our leisure. What an interesting site.
At this point we were a bit famished so we skipped the Hagia Sophia and went straight to lunch at the Pudding House restaurant. A very fun place with some great turkish food. More great conversation with Lale over lunch about herself and Istanbul and how she became a tour guide. She had been a tour guide for 23 years, so we had some amazing stories.
Next we were off to the Grand Bazaar. We had the private minibus, but were more interested in seeing the streets of the city so we asked Lale if we could walk. It was a short walk, but she was happy to oblige so we set off, enjoying the streets of Istanbul along the way.
The Grand Bazaar was almost overwhelming. Almost. It was great to have Lale with us showing us some of the history, but the best part was her understanding of the Bazaar, its vendors and how it works. As Americans the process of negotiation in the Bazaar is somewhat foreign to us, but Lale explained it to us well. She also went into each store we wanted to stop at with us to help insure the vendors were fair with us. She explained that most the vendors are fair, but you will get some that try to really take advantage of you and by having her with us in the stores she could help insure they were being fair, or she'd turn them in to the authorities. That eased some fears in the shoppers. We spent a few hours here looking at the many different options including clothing, watches, silk & cashmere and gold. Lots of gold.
When we grew overwhelmed with the Grand Bazaar we still had time left on our tour so we asked Lale to take us to the Spice Market. This was an amazing place like nothing we have experienced in America. Mounds of strong spices displayed in booths, many types of Turkish Delight the vendors were eager to share with us and some amazing teas. We stopped in several booths and bought some very wonderful foods and spices. This was the highlight of the tour for many of us. The vendors selling their spices, the booths of cheese, the fish vendors outside and the fresh produce was all amazing. We stopped on our way out and got some of the best cherries I've ever tasted.
For our last stop we asked Lale if she could find us some authenticate Turkish coffee to try. She took us to a restaurant at the top of one of the buildings near the water that had amazing views and great turkish coffee. It was a relaxing and fantastic way to finish a great day. We enjoyed the coffee and more of Lale's stories and the amazing view.
From there it was a quick ride in the minibus back to the cruise terminal. Thank you Lale for making our day in Istanbul unforgettable for all of us.
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