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Istanbul Trip Report- the good, the bad and the ugly

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Istanbul Trip Report- the good, the bad and the ugly

We traveled to Turkey the first week of July and spent about one week in Istanbul. Prior to our travel, we did a lot of research on tripadvisor, turkeytravelplanner, DK Eyewitness guide book and Frommers Turkey guide book. The DK Eyewitness guidebook was ok for learning the background of the places we visited but it's restaurant and hotel recommendations left something to be desired. Turkeytravelplanner, although useful was sometimes overwhelming and, in the end, we feel that its review of one of the hotels we stayed in was misleading. Anyway, here we go-

Istanbul is filled with history. We decided to stay in Sultanahmet so we could be in the center of it all. We enjoyed our visits to the many beautiful mosques in the city. We visited the hippodrome which includes the obelisk, Keiser fountain and other features, the blue mosque (referred to as the Sultanahmet mosque), there's a big park area with water fountains and we saw the Hagia Sophia. We also visited the Mehmet Pasa mosque which was close to our hotel. We visited the Basilica Cistern, Topkapi, Dolmabache Palace, did the Bosphorous Cruise (hiked all the way to the top to see the castle), walked outside the Istanbul University (it's next to Grand Bazaar), Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Eminonu Mosque and the Sulaimaniye mosque (visited the tombs there, even though mosque is closed for renovations it was still worth the trip). We walked across the Galata bridge, and walked along the Istiklal Cadesi street in Taksim. It's pretty easy getting around all the major sites in Sultanahmet. You can use the tram, the metro, or your own legs. Also, contrary to what I'd read before, you can even bargain with the cab drivers. We were able to go from Taksim back to Sultanahmet one night for just 10 liras (at around 11pm). Don't be afraid to approach a cab driver and try to bargain with him (especially if you're a group and sometimes going on a very crowded tram doesn't make any financial sense).

We also ate at Hamdi which is in Eminonu area (twice-the first time we had a pleasant experience but the second time, I went by myself with my two kids and they tried to rip me off). They added two items to our receipt that we hadn't ordered. I told them about it and they removed them. Their service was awful too the second time (their bread was old and stale, they took forever coming to us and they were not attentive at all). I'd still recommend that you go there to eat at least once so you can get some pretty tasty mezze and their kabob is ok (sorry but I've had some pretty good kabob in my life and there's, although tasty was good but not excellent).

We also ate at Devilli, which is somewhere else where you need to take a cab ride to. However, you can also call them and they'll pick you up! We discovered this when we were leaving. They took us back to our hotel for free. The prices are more expensive than Hamdi and, honestly, if you don't want to go through the small hasstle, you can skip it. I felt that their kabob was very similar to Hamdis. They have nearly the same mezzes too. Their service however was very good. The real treat is the view... you eat overlooking the Bosphorous.

We also ate at various "fast food" joints in Sultanahmet and off of Istiklal Cadesi street. Nothing that we ate was anything to write back home about. They were all mediocre food honestly including the doner. We also ate at Haci Abdullah which I had read about but it was awful with mediocre food and poor service. I can't recommend that place.

One thing that really bothered us about Turkey was that we always felt that restaurants were trying to pull one over us. It was strange to us how they serve the mezzes then give you bread (and charge for the bread baskets--- every single one of them without telling you that). The same thing goes for serving water. Also, we had several incidents in which the restaurant added menu items to our receipt that we had not ordered. This was frustrating and stressful. My daughter and husband both got severe diarahea and food poisoning as well (even though we were eating at recommended places). I had read in the DK book that hygiene isn't a top priority in Turkish restaurants and I had thought that was insulting. However, I have to admit, that's what I believe too.

Another ugly thing about Istanbul is that it smelled like trash/sewage in places, there was trash everywhere (few garbage cans) and it's annoying how shopkeepers (including restaurants) try to talk you into coming into their stores/restaurants (we'd leave places that were so pushy and never wanted to go into them).

Also, people do not stay in line. At the Dolmabache palace, it was remarkable and frustrating at the same time. We were in line (probably 10 people ahead of us) but as the time went by (they had stopped selling tickets because they said there were too many people inside) we found more and more people cutting in line and standing ahead of us. When the ticket person finally opened the booth, a rush of people from the back of the line, rushed toward the front to purchase their tickets. It was frustrating dealing with things like this.

The bad thing about Istanbul during the summer is that it was packed with people. The trams were filled with people.

We traveled with our three kids and found Istanbul not to be a child friendly place. I hate to say this because I really thought otherwise before our visit. On the Bosphorous cruise, a woman sat on my son's hand. He was reserving the seat next to him for his dad who had gone to buy some water. She first told him to remove his hand (in Turkish) but he told her that he was keeping it for 'baba' and he left his hand. She sat on his hand. On the same cruise, coming back, my daughter was keeping a seat for her father. She kept her purse on it and put her leg on the seat. Another woman came, removed her purse, and sat down (of course my daughter was protesting the entire time) and then her husband came and sat next to her (on a two seat row!). In other words, they had basically taken over the two seats (there was no room for my daughter who was practically falling over the edge of her seat).

Another good thing about Istanbul was the veggies. We purchased cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon and figs from the supermarkets. They were fresh and delicious. My favorite thing though was the Magnum icecream...mmmmm.

A bad thing about Istanbul was seeing all the stray cats and dogs in the streets looking for food. They really need to do something about this in Istanbul. The dogs look so sad and depressed. Someone in the government needs to set up an animal control department (if they don't have one yet) and really get a move on it!

Before we left to go to Izmir, we took the tram and stopped at the second stop. There were a bunch of stores and restaurants outside. We ate at the first restaurant on your right. It was our best fast food restaurant place! Very good value for the money too and the service was superb.

We stayed at the Sultanahmet Suites for the first three nights and at Daphne for the remaining four nights. I can't recommend the Sultanahmet Suites. The room was a good size, clean and a good value. However, the hotel was located in a VERY poor area of Sultanahmet (I was really disappointed that turkeytravelplanner had not stressed how awful the neighborhood is around the Suites). We felt uncomfortable at night coming back to our room. Also, the room's bathroom had an awful sewage smell. We later discovered this sewage smell was not limited to this hotel only but it was awful! The suites were also located at the bottom of a very steep hill. Lots of energy to get to the top of the hill (which you must do to get to all the sites in Sultanahmet).

We liked the Daphne hotel's service. Their staff was very helpful and pleasant (even the guy at Sultanahmet Suites was a nice guy). We got two connecting rooms at the Daphne which was nice. One of the room's bathrooms had the same sewage smell though. It wasn't obvious the first two days but the second two, it was strong! They also had a breakfast which was ok. I didn't like the fact that the food was kept uncovered for so long though. Cheese, milk, yogurt---- these should be kept in refrigerated boxes or something to keep them from spoiling. Other foods should be covered (especially since all the windows are open and bees/flies/insects are flying inside). The rooms however were clean and nice. They had a small roof terrace with a decent view of the Bosphorous. We asked the hotel to give us a wake up call so we could make our flight to Izmir, but they never woke us up. Fortunately, we had also set our iphone alarm. At least, they had our driver ready to take us to the airport.

If you have any questions or want some honest advice, let me know! All in all, I'd give Istanbul a B-. There's some work the government should do to make Istanbul an A.

Montbéliard
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1. Re: Istanbul Trip Report- the good, the bad and the ugly

Looks like you didn't see the same Istanbul as I see when I go there...It's true that speaking a few words of turkish prevents you from these kind of bad things in the restaurants or anywhere else.

Sceaux, France
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2. Re: Istanbul Trip Report- the good, the bad and the ugly

Turkish governement needs someone like you, you should apply!

Gocek, Turkey
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3. Re: Istanbul Trip Report- the good, the bad and the ugly

In Turkey, as in the UK, children are expected to stand and let elder people sit down.

I think you were suffering from a culture clash.

It will be interesting to read the report on the rest of your stay in Turkey.

London, United...
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4. Re: Istanbul Trip Report- the good, the bad and the ugly

oh dear - it seems a bit inadequate to say it is a shame you had such a terrible time!

Funny though - I've never read anyone complain about "sewage smells" in Istanbul before, apart from a recent review on the Sultanhamet Suites by somebody called deereyes from the Amman. Maybe you were both there at the same time.

Surrey, UK
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5. Re: Istanbul Trip Report- the good, the bad and the ugly

I am sorry you didn't have a better time - and indeed you didn't seem to see the Istanbul that we see when we visit (as someone else said, a bit of a culture clash too I suspect) - but we all like different things and all reviews are equally valid as they are an individual's perception of the city.

Istanbul is a busy, chaotic, crazy city - and in the height of the tourist season, it is very crowded indeed. For that reason, we visit off season so we are not standing in endless lines of people. When planning trips to the city this is worth serious consideration - especially if it is a first visit and you plan to see the sights - and so will be standing in lines.

With regard to the street dog situation - yes this is a problem, as it is in many countries around the world. Most of the street dogs you see in Istanbul now however have ear tags - which means they have been neutered - as there are organisations running trap neuter return programmes - far more humane than the indiscriminate and barbarically inhumane poisoning campaigns of the past. Things are improving but any lasting management programme takes time, commitment and in such a huge city, lots of money! The cats however are less managed but do at least serve to keep down the rat population! These are often fed by local people, businesses etc. Not ideal - but sadly not internationally unusual either.

Not everyone will love Istanbul - it isn't clean, shiny and organised nor is it some kind of historic theme park. It is organic, bustling and often scruffy and rambling. It is real - full of real people - and in Sultanahmet they are often poor living in broken down but historic houses something we are not used to coming from the UK or US. It is however magical, evocative and unique.

I hope you enjoyed the rest of your Turkey trip more than Istanbul.

6. Re: Istanbul Trip Report- the good, the bad and the ugly

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Istanbul
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7. Re: Istanbul Trip Report- the good, the bad and the ugly

Sorry you had such a bad time! But my good friend Busy-retired says Istanbul is not for everyone and how right she is. Turkey presented you with a culture shock I suppose. And definitely Turkey is not DC or Amman!

As Attagul says "deereyes" seems to be following you in Turkey wherever you go...Or is it, by any chance, a multiple screen name?

Better luck in your future travels!

enigma...

Sceaux, France
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8. Re: Istanbul Trip Report- the good, the bad and the ugly

the first idea is the best..

Turkey: not an easy trip to plan :-(

Posted by: momplaygroup on Apr 9, 2009 at 04:52 PM Posted in: Europe Tagged: Turkey Jump to last reply

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I'm hoping someone can help me. I've been having a difficult time planning our 2 week Turkey trip this July. I'm starting to wish we hadn't chosen Turkey for our summer vacation this year!

For one thing, the hotels are very expensive! We usually travel in the U.S. and reserve one double room for, at most, $100. In Turkey, our family of 5, is looking at having to reserve two rooms for at least double that amount! A lot of hotels/apartments, will allow a max of 4 people in the room. With just 1 additional person, they are saying we'll have to reserve a second room. I'm even starting to contemplate faking that we're 4 and seeing how that works. (My girls ARE twins, lol). Anyway, I've raised our budget to $150 a night for Istanbul--- but even that doesn't seem reasonable. Anyone have any ideas? We'd like to be in a good location and just get a clean room.

www.fodors.com

Istanbul, Turkey
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9. Re: Istanbul Trip Report- the good, the bad and the ugly

I just have a couple of comments to make on this issue.My recent guests from Australia had been to Paris before coming to Turkey and they commented on how shocked they were at how filthy Paris was.

After spending a week with me in a rural part of the country we then had a few days in Istanbul.They had no preconcieved idea's of how the city would be and were pleasantly surprised at how clean it was and how regularly rubbish was collected and the general cleanliness and tidiness of such a huge city.

They were impressed also by the hygiene standards of a country which is often wrongly percieved as being dirty and having lower standards than European countries.Even the toilets inside Grand Bazaar were an eye opener for their cleanliness and this in one of the oldest buildings in the city and possibly some of the busiest loo's in the city!

They were not blind either to the obvious problems of the place and we discussed the difficulties the council faces in trying to solve them and they remarked that there are no easy solutions but that the local authorities should be commended for what they are achieving in Istanbul.

They are certainly not Pollyanna types yet left Turkey with far more favourable impressions than you did and yet had done none of the pre trip homework that you had done.Perhaps the difference is that they were happy to accept any culture differences they found and were not so quick to look for faults and didn't have an attitude problem thinking everyone was out to get them.Maybe in your research you asked too many material questions and not enough about Turkey and Turkish culture.

Surrey, UK
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10. Re: Istanbul Trip Report- the good, the bad and the ugly

One additional thing to note - things change fast in Istanbul.

Hotels and restaurants change hands or change managers frequently, new ones open and old ones close, and so relying on guide books (which will have been written at least a year before publication - or sometimes not updates from previous editions) not surprisingly often leads to inaccurate information.

Use guidebooks for the maps and information on the sights and what to do (the stuff that doesn't change), then come somewhere like TA for up to date info on hotels and restaurants.