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Comments On Recent Istanbul Trip

Omaha, Nebraska
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Comments On Recent Istanbul Trip

We recently returned from 4.5 days in Istanbul. Rather than a long trip report, here is a quick list of impressions, focusing on practical matters:

1. Covering Istanbul reasonably well takes 3 days. Two in Sultanahmet and one for the Bosphorus and Villages.

2. Istiklal St. and Taksim Sq are not worth the time or energy. There is nothing there to see. No interesting stores or sights. Apart from the Galata Tower, there is very little worth bothering about in new town.

3. Don’t waste a full on the full Bosphorus cruise. It isn’t that interesting apart from historical interest and looks the same going both ways. Spending 3 hours sitting around a small village is wasted time. We got off in Sariyer (1:15 min) took the bus to Rumeli Castle, looked around, had tea by the Bosphorus, walked to Babek, took the bus to Kabatas tramline. That’s a good Bosphorus trip. Alternatively, I would take the 2 hours circular cruise.

4. For pure romance, it is hard to beat sitting on your hotel roof at night with the floodlit Blue Mosque hanging in the background a few hundred feet away.

5. If you go to Topaki, get there first thing in morning and go directly to the Treasury. Topkapi gets mobbed by midmorning and the Treasury most of all. Expect a long visit since there are many buildings and a lot to see.

6. The tramline is a great and is your best friend in Istanbul.

7. Google maps are highly inaccurate for Istanbul. Do not rely on them for navigation.

8. As I expected, the grand bazaar was barely worth a walkthrough. It could easily be skipped. Same with the spice bazaar.

9. Despite what guidebooks say, the rule that women must wear head coverings in mosques is not enforced (at least in the tourist areas where we were). Many women had uncovered heads. Unlike what the guidebooks say, there were also no people handing out loaner scarves for women who don’t have one.

10. The constant pushy salesmen get to be annoying. They also really hurt you interaction with the locals because you can’t tell who is just being friendly and who wants something from you. I’m afraid that we blew off and insulted some genuinely friendly people because we couldn’t tell them from the annoying touts when they approached us just trying to be helpful.

Omaha, Nebraska
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1. Re: Comments On Recent Istanbul Trip

11. We bought very little because we didn’t want to deal with the touts. We didn’t even want to do any window shopping or to ask prices after a while. I’m convinced that all their constant pestering really backfires on them. We would have probably bought a lot more if we could simply have looked unmolested.

12. Never, never buy anything or order any food without knowing the exact price beforehand.

13. This especially applies to taxi drivers. Cab rides from honest cabbies a very good deal (Sultanahmet to St. Savior was 20 only TYL), but there are lot of crooks out there, as our hotel clerk warned. If you ask and the cabbie says “its on the meter,” run away as fast a possible. Always ask your hotel clerk what a reasonable fare is. In one case, a cab driver wanted to charge us 4 times the rate that the hotel guy suggested.

14. Being shortchanged is *very* common. Always count your change carefully.

15. The major pleasant surprise: Rustem Pasha mosque. The only word to describe it is “elegant.” (Finding the entrance, however, is not easy. It is on a small street of stores and up some stairs. Unlike the big mosques, the visitor entrance is not clearly marked))

16. The major disappointment: there is virtually nothing of Byzantium left in Istanbul, except for and St. Savior, a few moasics at Hagia Sofia and a few pieces of wall.

17. The ferry ride to Kadikoy was worthwhile. You get to see the real Istanbul inhabited by real people. You also get to see Hagia Sofiya from the water and can clearly appreciate that that’s how it was designed to be seen most impressively.

18. Food. Ciya Sofrasi in Kadikoy was the only notable dinner we had. It was very good, but not the mind blowing experience we had been led to expect. It was also very hard to find. Sultanahmet Köftecisi was also good. Overall, however, food in Istanbul was OK, but nothing special. I’d had traditional Ottoman food several times before the trip and did not especially care for it. It’s just too weird, and I don’t like eggplant, period. We stuck mostly to kebabs and to fish. We have fondest memories for a meal at a very simple little place called the Angel’s Home, which is a hotel restaurant that opens right out on to the street. After a hard day of sightseeing, we popped in there just for convenience and got a laugh at their menu because it featured “fish and chips.” English food? Not at all. We got very nice pan fried/grilled fish plus home made chips plus a beer for 12 YTL. It was not the kind of place you find in guidebooks, but it was the right place at the right time.

19. We also enjoyed our fresh daily hotel breakfast of simmit, tomato, cucumber, cheese, yogurt, figs, etc. It must be one reason you see so few fat people in Instanbul. The constant climbing up and down hills probably helps, too.

20. The second major disappointment: the fish sandwiches from the boats at Eminönü. They are on big mushy roles and had absolutely no taste whatever.

Omaha, Nebraska
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2. Re: Comments On Recent Istanbul Trip

21. The second major pleasant surprise: Efes is very good beer. It is your second best friend in Istanbul because the local wine is yuck and expensive. A glass of Raki is fine, but you wouldn’t want on get bombed on it.

22. The third major pleasant surprise: Apple tea. A very, very nice drink.

23. The best roof view in Sultanahment is from the Seven Hills Hotel.

24. The most overpriced seafood in Sultanahment is from the Seven Hills Hotel. We have no complaints though. We knew what we were getting into. It was too cold to be outside on the roof, so we had to pay to sit inside and to get the view.

25. The first few days, I couldn’t understand how anyone got a decent night’s sleep there. The call to prayer at 5 AM woke me up. The last few days, I slept right through it. So the answer seems to be that you simply adapt and learn to tune it out.

26. The best view of Istanbul 1: from the middle of the Bosphorus Bridge on the way to Sabiha airport

27. The best view of Istanbul 2: Flying from Sabiha over the city. You see the geography clearly and only then can appreciate what made Constantinople what it was. Curse the Crusaders and the Venetians.

essex
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3. Re: Comments On Recent Istanbul Trip

What an interesting review.We are due to spent a week in istanbul later this month and have booked 2 nights at a convention hotel but the 5 prior nights at the saphire hotel in sultanahmet.It will be our 1st visit to the city and i'm sure we will explore a lot of your agenda.I will post a few questions next week.Great report.

eric

Gocek, Turkey
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4. Re: Comments On Recent Istanbul Trip

I'd take a lot of these assertions with a pinch of salt, licksmith. Anyone who thinks that apple tea, which is made from crystals and usually contains no tea whatsoever, is a "very, very nice drink" has a seriously flawed judgement.

This whole trip sounds very much like "tick the box tourism" and unfortunately the OP has missed many small gems as well as seemingly being totally estranged from the atmosphere of the city.

Kadikale, Turkey
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for Turgutreis
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5. Re: Comments On Recent Istanbul Trip

a tad harsh dudi, but ... yep, gotta agree with you.

Omaha, Nebraska
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6. Re: Comments On Recent Istanbul Trip

"I'd take a lot of these assertions with a pinch of salt, licksmith. Anyone who thinks that apple tea, which is made from crystals and usually contains no tea whatsoever, is a "very, very nice drink" has a seriously flawed judgement.

This whole trip sounds very much like "tick the box tourism" and unfortunately the OP has missed many small gems as well as seemingly being totally estranged from the atmosphere of the city."

I expected such a response. Everyone knows that I am suppossed to say "Ooh, Istanbul was wonderful and everything was awe inspiring ad you need to spend a month there to understand the culture" blah, blah, blah.

What nonsense. My views reflect the more realistic situation of most travelers who have limited time and money and who want to see as much of the world as possible. I'm not interested in spend a long time and seeing every little minor museum, shack and run down neighborhood. I'm there for the highlights and then move on.

The impressions and advice I give are far more likely to help real travelers, and, yes, I mean "tourists", then the self serving opinions of a "destination expert" whose goals are completely different - selling the place as much as possible. In short, they are the internet equivalent of the touts at the bazaars.

Omaha, Nebraska
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7. Re: Comments On Recent Istanbul Trip

Here's a few more observations for real travellers:

28. Euros, dollars, and lira are virtually interchangeable as far as the stores and restaurants are concerned. ATM’s give you the choice of any of these currencies. Every businessman there apparently knows how to calculate the exchange rate to 10 decimal places in half a second. I’d do my own calculations.

29. Aya Sofia is in a terrible state. The cost of restoration would be astronomical, so it will probably essentially stay that way. Still, it’s a don’t miss. You can only imagine what it must of looked like in its day.

30. The calligraphy museum is closed. Wish we had known. It would have saved a lot of wasted searching.

31. The mosaic museum was a bit shocking. The Romani must have really loved their bloodsport, since most mosaics show gorey scenes of animals attacking and eating each other. It’s a marginal investment of time.

32. The cheapest place for standard kitch souvenirs I saw in Sultanahment was on Divan Yolu near where it meets Soğukçeşme Sokağı. The stores actually had prices on their items, which also made life easier.

33. If really you want a bazaar shopping experience without the pressure, I suggest the Arista Bazaar, simply a pedestrian street, because it is a lot more relaxed than the Grand or Spice Bazaars. (You need to go through it to get to the Mosaic Museum.)

34. If you have a pickup at the airport, good luck in finding it. After you exit security, you run smack into chaos - a mob of people and about 1000 signs being waved by drivers looking for their passengers. It is not easy finding the right sign, even if it’s there. Instead, I’d recommend arranging to meet at the information kiosk, about 50 feet to the left of the exit.

35. That’s also where the ATM machines are. There are a bunch banks I’ve never heard of an HSBC machine. It’s relatively straightforward to use the ATMs.

36. Virtually every business person in Sultanahment speaks English, so language is no problem.

37. The Hippodrome doesn’t really exist. It’s just a street with a small park in the median. I don’t know why guidebooks even mention it. It is not a sight or attraction in any sense.

38. Every form of transportation, bus, funicular, ferry and tram cost the same 1.5 YTL, although different forms of transport use different “jetons,” ie tokens. You usually can get them from a machine, but in a few cases you need to buy them from a nearby store.

Gocek, Turkey
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8. Re: Comments On Recent Istanbul Trip

As a DE I have absolutely no desire to "sell" anything, nor do I have anything to sell. I just happen to spend as much time as I possibly can living in my village and thanking God that it's not the sort of location that will appeal to many tourists whilst being prepared to help and advise if and when I can.

I'm just a normal tourist myself when I visit Istanbul and what annoyed and upset me so much about this thread is that you've just dismissed whole areas of the city out of hand and clearly missed many, many things.

Istanbul, Turkey
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9. Re: Comments On Recent Istanbul Trip

Hi marse,

Thanks for sharing highlights of your visit. One thing to ask about article #7;

I'm also using google maps for navigation on my mobile and its %100 accurate. What was wrong with it?

Alper

http://locallypera.blogspot.com

Perrysburg, Ohio
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10. Re: Comments On Recent Istanbul Trip

Hi Marse,

While I disagree with many of your observations, I appreciate the time you took to share your perceptions of Istanbul with the forum. Thanks for posting.

Jo