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Trip Report Amazing family holiday Part 1 - France and Spain (and a touch of Istanbul)

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We (family of 4 – Mom, Dad and daughters aged 18 and 19) are not long back from an amazing holiday visiting France, Spain, Jordan and Egypt (about 7 weeks over December / January). Many thanks to everyone, on both the Europe and Africa / Middle East forums, who answered our questions and posted their trip reports. Your input added to our wonderful holiday experience! This trip report covers our experiences in Europe and I will post separately on our experiences in Jordan and Egypt in the Africa / Middle East forum.

We left Australia in dribs and drabs. First, Daughter #1 left in late November to attend a French language school in Lyon. For her first week there she stayed with friends (a French family who hosted her for 10 weeks on a school exchange 4 years ago). Daughter #2 and I (Mom) left a week later, and joined her in Lyon for 9 nights, with all 3 of us then staying in an apartment. We then went to Paris for a week, before flying to Barcelona, where Dad joined us for the rest of the holiday. We spent 2 weeks in Spain staying in Barcelona, Granada and Seville, before moving on to Jordan and Egypt for 2 weeks. We had one night in Istanbul en-route home – not long enough to see much, but long enough to fall in love with the city!

LYON

LANGUAGE SCHOOL – My daughter attended a French language school at Lyon Bleu (http://www.lyon-bleu.fr/ ) for 2 weeks. She chose this language school for several reasons: (1) She wanted to return to Lyon where she had spent her previous exchange, both to see her exchange family and to share her love of Lyon with her mother and sister; and (2) she only had 2 weeks available for a language course and many of the schools she looked at required a minimum stay of 1 month. After being assessed, she was placed in the advanced stream at the language school (she has studied French at school for 6 years and university for 2 years). She thoroughly enjoyed the course and found it beneficial, and would happily have stayed longer if time had permitted it. If anyone has any questions about the language school, please ask and I will get her to reply.

TRAIN: PARIS - LYON - PARIS. We flew Sydney – Singapore - Paris (CDG) – a trip of about 24 hours. Despite being very tired, we found connecting to the train to Lyon to be straightforward, and the journey quite scenic. I had pre-booked our train tickets and printed them out at home before leaving, allowing a little over 2 hours between flight arrival and train departure. Arrival procedures in Paris were much quicker than we anticipated, so there was time to get some breakfast whilst waiting for our train. We had bought non-changeable tickets as they were considerably cheaper than fully flexible tickets, and decided that if we missed the train due to a delayed flight, we would deal with buying replacement tickets at the CDG station. However, all went smoothly.

LYON HOTEL – We spent our first night at a hotel in Lyon as we arrived in Lyon at about 11am, and were not sure whether we would be able to check into our apartment so early. By this stage we had been travelling for about 28 hours, and we thought a night in a hotel would be the easy option. We stayed at Hotel La Residence (http://www.hotel-la-residence.com/english/index.html ) very close to Place Bellecour, and around the corner from our daughter’s host family. We were met at the station by the French family and escorted to our hotel (train / walking), so that was easy. We spent most of the afternoon walking around to stay awake, and after dinner with our French friends, we passed out for a good night’s sleep. I really cannot say much about the hotel as I was so tired, I don’t remember much. It was clean, comfortable, well located and served a good breakfast.

LYON APARTMENT– We found looking for an apartment in Lyon much more difficult than Paris. We did not find many recommendations on Fodors, and sites like VRBO did not seem to have much within the city of Lyon itself. We eventually stumbled across the Urban Sejour website and shortlisted a couple of 1 and 2 bedroom apartments which we thought may be suitable. We ran them past our friends in Lyon and they suggested one as being in a nice neighbourhood and close to the language school. They also suggested that as we were there for the Festival of the Lights (8th December), it would be a much quieter location when the millions of tourists came to town. We believe they were accurate with their advice and we really loved our Lyon base (http://www.urbansejour.com/appartement/lyon/lyon-6-duquesne-foch-furnished-apartment-with-1-bedroom/1 ). The apartment sleeps 4 – a double bed in the spacious bedroom, and very comfortable, large, double sofa bed in the living room. The apartment is bright and airy, has free WiFi and is located on the edge of a square with a picturesque church in the middle. We used to eat at the kitchen table, looking through the full length glass doors, past the bare winter trees, to the church. The apartment is close to a bakery and a supermarket, close to the metro, and has a Velo station (Lyon bike hire station) right opposite. The apartment is well equipped – lovely bed linen, plenty of kitchen utensils etc. The owner’s agent, Elizabeth, was delightful to deal with. We would definitely stay in the apartment again if we returned to Lyon!

Whilst we sometimes crossed town using the metro, we mostly walked everywhere in Lyon. We had time on our side – we did not have to race to see and do things – so we usually walked up to one of the two rivers in town and then strolled along the river wherever we were going. One day we hired bicycles from the velo station outside the apartment, and cycled through Parc de la Tête d'Or, which was most enjoyable. If the weather had been a bit nicer (we had quite a lot of dull, wet days), we may have used the velo system more and done more cycling. I believe Lyon is the second largest city in France, but despite this, it has the feel of a large country town, and we found cycling easy in the city.

FESTIVAL OF THE LIGHTS – We were lucky to be in Lyon for the Festival of the lights and really enjoyed the spectacle. Whilst the “sound and light” type show of the festival goes across several days, the 8th of December was special as that is the day everyone puts candles on their window sills. It is difficult to describe the magic of a city that is lit up with thousands of little candles on windowsills and balconies across town! The tourist numbers for the Festival of the lights was incredible! On the afternoon of 8th December we saw a huge number of tour buses coming into town for the event. A lot of the light “shows” were in squares and it was a sea of people moving along to view it. It was all very well controlled with one way foot traffic, meaning everyone was moving as a mass in the same direction. I really don’t like large crowds, but I managed well in Lyon despite the crowds, and am very glad to have experienced the festival.

LYON SIGHTSEEING – We did not “do” museums or art galleries whilst in Lyon, but rather just enjoyed exploring the town – often heading out without a clear idea of where we were going. We did do an English speaking walking tour of the traboules which was run by the tourist office, and really found it interesting. Whilst one can visit the traboules on your own, it is a question of knowing where to enter. Some traboules are marked with signs at the entry door, but others are not. Even for those that are marked, it felt like we were “trespassing” – these are entrances to private homes. Other places we enjoyed visiting were the Basillica on Fouviere Hill, the Roman amphitheatre near the basillica, the Croix Rousse area, the Christmas markets, and the fresque Lyonnais (murals on buildings).

We were also fortunate to spend a most enjoyable weekend in Macon (Burgundy region), being shown the area around there, as our friends have an apartment in Macon where they reside over the weekends. Sadly the weather was not compliant (drizzly and cold), but we still got a feel for the “little chateaus” in the area. Our friends went out of their way feeding us all manner of Lyonnais specialities that weekend – I don’t think I have ever eaten so much! A really fun weekend – even though they speak hardly any English, and I speak no French, and understand not much more – my daughter did a marvellous job as translator as we discussed a huge range of topics. Despite the language “barriers”, conversation flowed well all weekend!

PARIS

From Lyon we travelled to Paris by train – once again a straightforward journey. Upon arrival at the station in Lyon we quickly managed to get a taxi to take us to our apartment. My research had suggested that getting a taxi at the station could be somewhat lengthy, but we barely queued at all for a taxi, and arrived early at the apartment.

PARIS APARTMENT– We stayed in a lovely apartment in Paris near Place des Vosges (http://www.vrbo.com/79965 ). Once again, a great find, and we would definitely stay there again!! The apartment sleeps 4 – a master bedroom with a queen bed and two beds in the living room. It is equipped with lovely linen, has plenty of kitchen utensils, free WiFi and a “welcome pack” of fruit, chocolate, biscuits and soft drinks. One day Madame Jagou very kindly dropped off some French pastries for us too - yum! There is a bakery and a supermarket close by, the apartment is very quiet as it faces onto a courtyard, and it is well located to the metro – Chemin Vert is very close, although we often used to walk a couple of blocks further (still close by) to Bastille as it was a better connect line. There is also a bus stop almost out the front.

PARIS SIGHTSEEING – As we have been to Paris a couple of times before, we did not race around trying to see all the “sights”. However, we did revisit the Louvre and L’Orangerie (just love those Monets), returned to St Chapelle and Notre Dame, had a great day when we headed out to Fontainbleau, enoyed a trip up to Montmartre (very different atmosphere in winter to summer), and of course went up the famous tower (nearly froze waiting in the queue, which I had thought may be shorter being winter)! We loved heading down to Place des Vosges and then just wandering around and see where we ended up. We also used to hop on buses and see where they took us. As our younger daughter has an amazing sense of direction we never got lost!

NAVIGO TRANSPORT PASS – We decided to buy the NaviGo transport pass, and found it to be fantastic. As the weather in Paris was decidedly miserable at times, we used the metro and buses extensively, often just to “warm up” between destinations. As we had the pass, we did not think twice about using public transport. Perhaps if we were buying individual tickets each time we may have thought more carefully about taking a bus or metro trip. As we used it to go to Fontainebleau and to the airport when we left town, we felt it was good value. I had come armed with the necessary passport sized photos we required for the NaviGo pass and purchased it at Gare Du Nord when daughter #1 headed off to London for a brief visit to a school friend.

PARIS RESTAURANT – When we were in Paris we received our younger daughter’s final high school results. I am pleased to say that whilst it was a long, hard year of studying, she did exceptionally well, and has been accepted into her university course of choice on a scholarship. Needless to say, we were keen for some celebration! A quick post on Fodors, and within 24 hours I had a list of local, recommended restaurants nearby. Thank you to all who gave their input. We ended up celebrating at L’Epouvantail (6 rue Jarente) and had a lovely meal that did not break the bank! A word of caution though - if you order steak, think about how you would like it cooked. Knowing the French propensity for very rare steak, we asked for well done, and that was a mistake. It was very well done by Australian standards – medium would have been a better choice I think. However, I hasten to add, that was our mistake for not being a little clearer when placing our order. I cannot remember what we had for desert, but I do remember the deserts being delicious – we joked we would like to go back the next evening just to eat all the deserts!

Leaving Paris had some minor hiccups. We received multiple text messages and emails from the airline advising that due to airport strikes we had to make sure we were at the airport sufficiently early to allow for delays. This meant we got up earlier than anticipated and left the apartment whilst still dark. We caught the metro from Bastille to connect with the train to the airport. Unfortunately daughter #1 managed to get the metro turnstile stuck in her suitcase handle just as we entered the metro. (Don’t ask me how – I am still trying to work that one out). The turnstile would not budge and neither would her suitcase, and the metro was devoid of staff! We pushed, we pulled. and we muttered under our breath. Fortunately a very nice French gentleman came along, and with him pushing from one side, and me pulling from the other, we managed to ease the suitcase free! We headed off with many grateful “Merci Monsieurs”!! Only one or two stations along the metro journey, we stopped for a rather long time at one of the stations. Then there was an announcement in French – thank goodness for Dear Daughter’s French. The metro ahead of ours had broken down and hence the line was not operating until the problem was fixed – we were all to leave the carriage! So much for trying to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare! So we lugged our bags back up the stairs and out into the dark streets, saw 2 groups ahead of getting into taxis, and we waited for a taxi. Yes, you guessed it – a sudden absence of taxis. We were just contemplating the sign on a local bus stop when we managed to hail a taxi who took us to the station. We boarded the train (no suitcase handles anywhere near turnstiles!!) and finally headed for the airport. When we got there, there was no sign of chaos or delays – everything very calm, and we were advised our check in queue was not yet open!! A quick airport breakfast and without further incident we headed to Barcelona where we were to meet Dear Dad!

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    What a great opportunity, to travel with your daughters. I am enjoying your report very much. Sounds like a lot of good experiences, and that you planned well. You managed the turnstile/suitcase problem vy well. I would have freaked out bigtime. At least it ended well!

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    Thanks for the kind comments. It was a special trip, and we enjoyed the opportunity for some exclusive "girl time" (although we missed Dear Dad very much)!
    I have been fortunate to do a similar thing 2 years ago when our elder daughter finished school - 3 weeks in Italy with the girls before having hubby join for the rest of the trip - something the girls and I still talk fondly about!!

    Here is the Spain portion of our trip. I will do Istanbul next.

    SPAIN
    This was my second trip to Spain, having travelled there some 28 years ago during summer, but was a first trip for the rest of the family. We chose Spain as my husband really does not like the cold weather, (but December / January is a good time for us to travel) and Spain seemed like a European option which would not be too cold. Being winter it was obviously still cold (there was snow on the mountains just outside Granada), but our days in Spain were all crisp with bright blue skies – much more pleasant than the weather we had experienced in France. We really enjoyed Spain in winter!

    Our time in Spain was split as follows:
    Barcelona – 4 nights
    Flight to Granada for 2 nights
    Train to Seville for 5 nights
    Flight to Barcelona for 4 nights

    Barcelona was split across two stays as my husband’s flight to Europe came into Barcelona, and our best option to fly onwards to Amman was also from Barcelona. Our flights within Spain were not part of our international tickets, but were “cheapies” which we picked up using the Skyscanner website. We flew internally with Spainair, but I hear that they are no longer flying.

    BARCELONA
    BARCELONA APARTMENTS. We booked our Barcelona Apartments through Habitat Apartments, and stayed in the Eixample area both times. For our first 4 nights in Barcelona we stayed in Alibei 3 (http://www.habitatapartments.com/en/barcelona/apartment/view/alibei-3.htm?arrivalDate=17/12/2011&departureDate=21/12/2011&n_bedrooms=2&n_adults=4&n_children=0&n_babies=0&area=5&orderBy=price&pagina=1 ) , and for the second 4 nights we stayed in the Arc de Triomf apartment (http://www.habitatapartments.com/en/barcelona/apartment/view/arc-de-triomf-10.htm?arrivalDate=17/12/2011&departureDate=21/12/2011&n_bedrooms=2&n_adults=4&n_children=0&n_babies=0&area=5&orderBy=price&pagina=2 ). While both apartments were reasonably close together, the Alibei Apartment was probably a little better located. We found it to be a bit closer to things, as we walked almost everywhere. We had a bit of confusion checking into the Alibei Apartment - we were waiting outside the apartment building for check in, and the agent from Habitat Apartments was waiting inside the apartment. (We wasted over half an hour like this – definitely a miscommunication, so just make sure you know what is expected.).

    I cannot fault either apartment, and we would use Habitat Apartment again in Spain. My only comments are (1) we did not think that the apartments in Spain had the same quality finishes that we experienced in our apartments in other European cities – it is hard to quantify exactly what I mean by this .... sorry to be vague. (2) None of the apartments we rented in Spain had any sort of “pantry items” in the apartment. Whenever we have rented in Europe, there always seems to be supplies including salt and pepper, olive oil, often tea and coffee, some spices, garbage bags etc. Perhaps just things left by previous occupants, perhaps supplied by the owner ... not sure. None of our apartments had any of this provided. We certainly left such supplies when we moved on, so I hope it was there for the next tenants.

    BARCELONA SIGHTSEEING. On our first full day in Barcelona, hubby’s first day, we walked a lot. The aim was to keep hubby awake all day so that he would get an early night and a full night’s sleep (we find this the best approach to jetlag). We had a lovely walk down to Placa Catalunya, down La Rambla (I know people say it is full of pickpockets, but it is a street with a really lovely feel to it!), all the way to the dock, all around the waterfront (being a Sunday it was packed with locals enjoying the sunshine and la fresco dining), caught the cable car across to the Jardins de Miramar (great views across Barcelona!). We eventually caught a taxi home as we were too tired to work out where we had ended up, or to trek back across town again.

    We bought a 2 day ticket for the Hop on Hop Off bus for our next 2 days. We found this gave a good orientation to the town, and provided transport between sightseeing. Great views from the open top, but even though it was sunny, the wind was freezing! (Unfortunately sitting downstairs on the bus, they have silly designs painted on the windows which severely hamper one’s view). Once again, we chose not to “do” museums and art galleries – it is not really our thing. La Sagrada Familia was probably our favourite sight in Bareclona - absolutely fascinating, both inside and out! It is so unlike any other church we have ever been into. Really well worth a visit – but busy, even in winter! Just wandering the streets looking at Gaudi’s architecture was another of our favourite pastimes.

    BARCELONA DAYTRIPS. When we returned to Barcelona we enjoyed an afternoon excursion to the pretty seaside town of Sitges (easily accessible by train). Being winter it was fairly quiet, but a pleasant afternoon.
    We also did a daytrip by train to Montserrat. I had read so many different opinions as to whether it was worth going to, but we really enjoyed the day! We do enjoy getting out of cities into the countryside, and even just the train trip was interesting. We had not had a particularly early start, and were amazed at how busy the train was. A lot of people ended up sitting on the floor of the train as it is a long way to stand all the way. If I were to go again I would try to get a much earlier train in an attempt to avoid the crowds. When you purchase your ticket, you either buy it in conjunction with an aerial cable car ticket, or with a rack railway ticket. I understand the cable car is a quicker option, but we opted for the rack railway. The advantage of the rack railway option is that on the return journey, you get on the train when it is empty. By the time the train stops for the cable car passengers, the seats are already all taken. Montserrat is basically a monastery on the mountainside, but for us the scenery was beautiful and was what made the day special! There are several walks in the area – we did not do much walking unfortunately as a few of us were suffering the tail end of colds and flu, without much energy.
    We had hoped to have the time to get out to Girona or Figueres one day too, but as we had had colds and flu, we used the last day for some retail therapy instead.

    GRANADA HOTEL. We booked our hotel in Granada over the internet through booking.com and stayed at Hotel Sercotel Carmen (http://www.booking.com/hotel/es/carmensercotel.html?aid=311088&label=postbooking_modemail ). We chose the hotel based on trip advisor reviews and price. It was only for 2 nights and we did not want to spend a lot of money – our main aim going to Granada was to see the Alhambra Palace. The hotel was very comfortable, and we found it to be a good downtown location. Would happily stay there again.

    GRANADA SIGHTSEEING. Our prime reason for going to Granada was to see the Alhambra Palace, and it did not disappoint – loved it! We prebooked our tickets over the internet before leaving Australia, with a 9am entrance into the Nazrid Palace. We were told we could pick up our tickets from any La Caixa terminal in town, but we never managed to master the machines! We always ended up getting Spanish instructions, and despite all attempts we could not get our tickets. (I am sure we were doing something wrong, but we never figured out what). Instead we took a taxi up to the palace on the first afternoon, asked at the information office, and picked up our tickets with great ease at the La Caixa machine on the sight – no problems. We then walked down the hill (lovely autumn colours – pleasant walk) back through town, detouring through the Albaycin (old Muslim quarter). As it was siesta time, it was pretty quiet. (Read afterwards that area should be avoided during Siesta time due to muggings?? No doubt this is true, but we barely saw anyone at all.)
    We visited Alhambra on our full day – getting there at between 8am and 8:30am and leaving after lunch. A solid half day was most enjoyable! In the late afternoon we took a taxi up to Mirador San Nicolas for amazing views of the Alhambra Palace in the late afternoon light. We returned to town on the little local buses.
    Whilst in Granada we noticed everyone seemed to have hot chocolate and churros in the late afternoon. Tried it in a cafe filled with Spanish speakers. Did not really care for the churros, but enjoyed the experience!

    SEVILLE
    We travelled from Granada to Seville by train. The train was quite full – probably as it was 23rd December – so we were glad we had booked seats before leaving Australia. The journey was pleasant with some really pretty scenery en-route!

    SEVILLE APARTMENT. We booked our Seville apartment through Sevilla5 and stayed in the 2 bedroom Antonia Diaz apartment (http://www.sevilla5.com/apartments/seville.html ). Check in was not ideal. We had advised Sevilla5 of our arrival time when we booked and were told to call when the train got into Seville. We did so when our train arrived on time at 2:30pm, only to be told we would be let into the apartment at 4pm. This left us standing waiting outside the apartment for well over an hour! As there were 4 of us, with 4 suitcases and carry on bags, it was not easy to try and find a cafe nearby to wait until 4pm. On the flipside however, the fellow who checked us in, was very helpful and informative. He also offered to book a taxi for our departure. We did email him during our stay to take him up on his offer of booking our taxi, as we had an early flight and we needed a large taxi which could take all our luggage. He not only booked the taxi, but also sent us back up telephone numbers in case the taxi did not come, and wrote down in Spanish what we needed to ask for. We really appreciated this help, and in my eyes this “offset” the initial wait we had for the apartment.
    Our apartment was situated right next to the bullring in Seville, and we found the location convenient, walking almost everywhere from there.

    SEVILLE SIGHTSEEING. Our favourite sights in Seville were the Alcazar, and surprisingly, Plaza de Espana. I say surprisingly, as we really had not read much about it. We visited it over Christmas when so much was closed and found it to be a beautiful area. The ceramics are gorgeous and our photos of it are testament to its beauty.

    On Christmas we went to a Flamenco show at the Flamenco Museum. It was an interesting evening, but none of us would rate it was a “must see’ of the trip. I was really surprised that none of the dancing used castanets, as I thought it would have.

    On 26th December, when a lot was still closed in Seville, we took a bus to Arcos de la Frontera. I would have loved to have visited some of the other white villages, but without a car this was not feasible. We enjoyed the day in Arcos, and especially the scenery on the trip there and back.

    Our all time favourite day in Spain was our daytrip to Cordoba! The mezquita is amazing! My guidebook says “It is hard to exaggerate the beauty of Cordoba mosque....” and I fully agree with that. The simplicity of the Islamic mosque is breathtaking – I think it is probably the most beautiful building I have ever seen. What makes it even more interesting is that when the Christians conquered Cordoba, they placed a cathedral in its centre. The cathedral has the same “skeleton” as the mosque, but the decoration is such an immense contrast to the original mosque, it is hard to put into words. A definite “must see” in my opinion!! We found the city of Cordoba lovely to explore after out visit to the mezquita, and enjoyed tapas at a local restaurant.

    I feel sure that we will travel to Spain again – perhaps not in winter, probably renting a car, and probably combining it with a visit to Portugal!

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    Thanks for your trip report.

    Sounds like you had a lovely family holiday. We too like to stay in apartments and enjoy the added space.
    We will be back in Europe later this year and I always enjoy reading and researching places to see and stay.

    I too visited Spain 29 years ago and would love to return. So I will be bookmarking your information.

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    Great report, thanks, and yes, Córdoba is a wonderful city!

    When it comes to castanets and flamenco, they are used in other Spanish music/dance forms as well and in fact relatively rarely in flamenco, although common in the flamenco like Sevillanas and tourist shows.

    The top flamenco dancers use them every now and then in special settings, but castanets has no place in most flamenco dances. The arms and the the hands are much too important in themselves. Fabulous Rocío Molina in Mujeres: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eO2OsiN0pxI

    Next time in Sevilla, you should see flamenco in Casa de La Memória or in one of the many theaters. The finest flamenco artists in the world perform here all the time.
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187443-d539294-Reviews-Casa_de_la_Memoria_de_Al_Andalus-Seville_Province_of_Seville_Andalucia.html

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    ISTANBUL
    From Spain we travelled to Jordan and Egypt and stopped in Istanbul on our way home. We had originally booked our international airfares into Paris (Barcelona for hubby) and out of Cairo, but after the January 2011 troubles in Egypt we became rather “nervous”. Thus we changed our international tickets to return from Istanbul rather than Cairo, and just bought regional flights from Cairo to Istanbul. We reasoned that we were not yet prepared to give up our dream of visiting Cairo, but IF the situation got worse we could change our itinerary and spend time in Turkey rather than Egypt. Fortunately it did not come to this, so we only had a “taste” of Turkey.

    We had planned 2 nights in Istanbul (and 2 in Singapore), but unfortunately just before leaving Australia, Singapore Airlines cancelled one flight a week between Istanbul and Singapore, and it just happened to be the day we were due to fly on. Instead they moved us to a flight one day earlier, and we were unable to change it to a flight one day later. This meant we had 1 night in Istanbul and 3 nights in Singapore. (Would have preferred it the other way around, but it was not meant to be). So, with just 24 hours in Istanbul, we cannot by any means say we saw much, but enough to fall in love with Istanbul. We definitely plan to return and travel further in Turkey.

    ISTANBUL HOTEL. When looking for a hotel in Istanbul we were looking for clean and comfortable, and located near the main sights (Sultanahmet) to maximise our limited time there. We settled on The Basileus Hotel (http://www.basileushotel.com/index.php ). We stayed in a Superior Room and the girls had a standard twin room. Both rooms were spotless and tastefully furnished; ours had a small balcony and looked down into a courtyard, while the girls had a ground floor room with a high, narrow window without a view. We found the location to be excellent – very quiet, yet an easy walk to the main sights. We also used the transfer options provided by the hotel, which made arrival and departure very easy for us – 4 people travelling with baggage often meant it was difficult using a single taxi, so transfers were important to us. The front desk staff were always extremely helpful, always ready with a smile and a chat! They made useful suggestions of what we could see and do with our limited time, and were more than happy to suggest a range of restaurants nearby when we asked. We felt the hotel was excellent value for money and we will definitely stay there again when we return to Istanbul!

    ISTANBUL SIGHTSEEING. Given our limited time in Istanbul, we cannot hope to provide meaningful tourist advice to other travellers. Suffice to say, we loved the city! We managed a pleasant boat trip, visited the Blue Mosque, enjoyed wandering in the spice market and did some shopping in the Grand Bazaar. We also enjoyed sampling some of the local food – a delightful little cafe selling some pastries – don’t know what they were called, but YUM ..... as well as a very nice dinner! A lovely city to end our holiday!

    FOR AUSTRALIAN TRAVELLERS. As I have mentioned, this was our first time stopping in Istanbul, but I think we will make this a feature of our future visits to Europe. It seems to be easy and relatively cheap to hop from most European cities to Istanbul, and it means that the flight from Istanbul (the very edge of Europe) to Singapore is only about 10 hours – about 3 or 4 hours shorter than flying into Paris or London. We found the Istanbul to Singapore leg of the trip almost “short”, and found that we did not suffer nearly as much from jetlag on this trip as we have in the past. We will definitely stop here on our return journey in future.

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