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Trip Report These Feet Were Made For Walking: Istanbul, Croatia and Italy in 2010

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Before I begin my trip report I want to thank all of the posters on this forum who answered my various questions, to the people who posted trip reports so we could research our destinations and fellow travelers who gave us so many helpful tips and hints about travel in the countries we visited. Your assistance made our trip very memorable!!

Part 1 Istanbul
DH and I began the first leg of our amazing vacation with a long flight to Istanbul. When we booked our flights (using airmiles) our itinerary included short layovers in Toronto and Düsseldorf. We were concerned about our luggage arriving at our final destination at the same time that we did, so we decided to go with carryon luggage only. Each of us had a regulation size carryon and a backpack. This proved to be a very wise decision on our part, we never had to wait for our luggage or worry about it being lost. Our connecting flights were on time and we marveled at how smoothly everything was going. What a great start to the trip. When we arrived in Düsseldorf (at 6:05 AM local time) we walked to a different terminal, got our boarding passes and found the gate with about 15 minutes to spare.

Our flight arrived in Istanbul on time and we quickly found the visa office and paid $60 US each to visit this amazing city. We arrived at the exit and were met by the driver from the Ilkay Hotel in Sultanahmet. The transportation to the hotel was included in the price of the room. The ride to the hotel was our first opportunity to see the fantastic city of Istanbul and we were not disappointed in our choice for our vacation.

The Ataturk airport is about 15 km from our hotel. Our driver negotiated the busy roadways with ease. We could see the oil tankers in the harbor and he slowed down as we went past a fish market. There were old and new apartment buildings, some looking very luxurious and others looked as though they were abandoned, but then we saw the laundry hanging on the balconies. As we neared the hotel he turned off the main road and began winding his way up and down narrow streets past restaurants, Turkish baths, grocery stores, carpet shops and trinket shops selling everything imaginable.

Check in at the hotel was quick and efficient. Our room overlooked the street that the trolley runs down. We were concerned about it being noisy but we were never bothered by the sounds from the street below. The room was small but clean and included breakfast. A discount was given for paying cash on check in. We found the staff to be very friendly and helpful. The weather was perfect, 21C with a slight breeze.

We stopped at our room for a few minutes to relax and study the maps. After grabbing the compass (a must in this city) we headed out for a walk. The streets were bustling, cars and trolleys and people everywhere. We finally decided it would be best if we followed the street that the trolley ran on, for sure we wouldn’t get lost. We admired the items in the shop windows, until we discovered that the least little bit of “showing interest” led to a 15 minute stop while the street “hustlers” tried to convince us to check out the carpets in their stores. We drooled over the baklava and checked out the menus at a few of the restaurants and cafes. We eventually found ourselves across the street from the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Today was not a day to visit the “must sees” of Istanbul, our intention was to have a look around, find out where the main sites were and come back another day. We listened to the “call to prayer” and it hit home that after months of planning we had finally arrived in Istanbul!!!! We were both feeling the effects of being awake for over 24 hours so we had an early dinner. Before heading to bed we took our laptop to the Red River Pub (in the hotel) where there was a WIFI connection to check our email.

The next day we had breakfast in the hotel and then walked back to Sultanahmet Square. DH and I have found that taking a city tour when we first arrive in a location helps us become oriented with the transportation system and also helps us plan our stay. We were both suffering from jet lag and decided a walking tour might be too much so we decided to join the Hop On Hop Off city tour of Istanbul. We sat on the upper deck and had an excellent view of the city. When we arrived at Taksim Square we got off the bus and went for a walk down İstiklal Caddesi, a long pedestrian walkway with upscale shopping, restaurants and hotels. The crowds were unbelievable. Some of the side streets had fresh veggies and fruits, fish and meat for sale. We enjoyed observing the people sipping tea and playing backgammon at tables along the streets. We got back on the bus and drove past the ruins of the Walls of Constantinople. We crossed the Golden Horn on both the Galata and Ataturk bridges. I would recommend the tour as a starting point for your vacation, especially if you are short of time and would like to see the highlights of the city. In the evening we enjoyed Ottoman cuisine at the Pasazade Restaurant at the Erboy hotel.

On our third day we decided to visit the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market. It was a short but scenic walk and we entered the bazaar through the main gate. It was early in the day so it was not very busy and we were able to stop and look around without bumping into crowds of people. There was a huge number of jewelry stores lining the street, selling watches, diamonds and gems of all kinds. Then we entered the leather district, full of jackets and handbags. A salesman who was eager to make his first sale of the day stopped us. He soon realized we weren’t interested in buying anything but he was interested in what our impressions of “his city” were and also made some suggestions of places we should be sure to visit while in Istanbul. Many of the shopkeepers called out as we passed, offering bargains and trying to entice us into their shops. Everything we could possibly want was for sale, one street was lined with shops selling wedding and formal gowns, traditional clothing for the Turkish women, shoes, and lingerie. Another street had a zipper shop, one selling only buttons, fabric shops of all kinds, stores with sequins, lace and thread, definitely a dressmakers dream!!!! We walked around for a couple hours, but didn’t come close to seeing it all. When we stopped to purchase a few souvenirs, we enjoyed conversations with the shopkeepers about Canada, sports and the history of Turkey. The streets were getting very busy by the time we were leaving and we were very happy that we had spent the early part of the day at the Grand Bazaar.

From the Grand Bazaar it was a short walk to the Spice Market. It was easy to know when we were getting close because of the wonderful aromas of spices. As well as spices, there were cheeses, olives, coffee, fruits and nuts and other items for sale. We sampled a few of the spices before buying and we also enjoyed tasting the chocolate covered lokum (Turkish delight candy), which was offered at many of the stalls. We walked towards the Galata Bridge, strolled along the lower level past the restaurants and bars and then sat and did some people watching. We never had any problems finding a place for dinner, there were so many choices and everything was very reasonably priced.

The next day we started out with a visit to Topkapi Palace, the imperial residence of the ottoman household. There are many priceless collections stored at the palace, and the views of Europe and Asia on the Bosphorus Strait were fabulous. We also toured the harem, where the sultans used to live with their families. An interesting place to visit!!! The sun was fighting to break through the cloud cover we have had for the past 2 days so we took our time strolling around the Hippodrome, the Arasta Bazaar and the grounds around the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.

In the afternoon we took the tram to Karakoy and walked up to the Galata Tower. This was not an easy walk and I questioned the whereabouts of the funicular that is supposed to run to the top of the hill. Thankfully, there was an elevator that took us most of the way to the top. We arrived at the top to find the observation deck that goes around the outside of the tower crowded and then we were reminded about how much neither of us is fond of edges. We took some photos and then headed back inside. We rested at a small bar in the tower square before starting the walk down the hill. We walked across the Galata Bridge and watched the fishermen. It must have been a good day for fishing because they were shoulder to shoulder on both sides of the bridge!! By the time we made it back to the hotel we had walked 17 km and it was time for a beer and a rest. Our favorite watering hole was the Red River Pub. The staff was always very friendly and enjoyed visiting and answering our questions.

On our second last day in Istanbul we visited the Blue Mosque, built in seven years following the Ottoman Conquest of 1453. It is a fine example of magnificent architecture. They are very strict with their dress code; no shorts or short skirts, ladies had to cover their heads and arms, men and ladies had to remove their shoes. Again it seemed to pay off to visit it early in the day, the lineup to get in moved very quickly and it was not crowded inside.

Then we boarded a ship for a cruise of the Bosphorus Straits that separate Europe and Asia. Historically very important, the Bosphorus also joins the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. Fishing boats, tankers, freighters, yachts and pleasure craft of all kinds can be seen. On the shore there were huge numbers of multimillion-dollar homes, lavish hotels, and, of course, mosques. The cruise goes under the Bosphorus Bridge, built in the early '70s that connected Europe and Asia. 10 TL and 90 minutes later and we were back at the Galata Bridge. We went for stroll through the Spice Market and some local markets areas near there. It is estimated that 400,000 people visit these markets every day. I think we bumped into half of them!!!

We ended the day with a magnificent meal of Turkish cuisine on the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Orient Express. The view was spectacular. The Bosphorus Bridge was lit with changing colored lights and with the full moon in the distance it rivaled the Eiffel Tower for its light show.

We saved one of the best for last day of our visit to this fantastic city. In the morning we visited the Hagia Sofia Cathedral, built by the Byzantines around 500AD, but converted rather hastily by the Ottomans in 1453 to a Mosque. The old Christian symbols were plastered over and replaced with Moslem symbols. Several centuries later much of the plaster fell off revealing the Christian paintings underneath. In the 1930's it was converted into a Museum showing its dual purpose as a cathedral and a mosque. There were many great opportunities for photos.We made a quick trip to the Medusa's head in the Basilica Cistern. If I was pressed for time I think I might leave this off my list of things to do in Istanbul. We spent the last afternoon doing some shopping and then we took some time to sit in the park between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia and reflect on all that we had seen and done in Istanbul. People watching has always a favorite pass time and this was a perfect place for it!!

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    Thanks for all your comments!! I'm working on Croatia and should have it posted in a couple days. Writing the trip report has brought back so many wonderful memories of the trip!!!

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    Excellent report...I'm going to Turkey (coast, Cappadocia and Istanbul) in May and your report has given me a good overview of what to see in the 3-4 days we have in Istanbul. Glad to know there is a "hop-on-hop-off" bus. Your pace sounds exactly like mine! Thanks for posting!

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    Part 2 Bosnia and Croatia (And The Not So Amazing Race Through Four Countries)

    We were up at 4:00 AM to head to Bosnia and Croatia. Our driver picked us up on time and traffic was light all the way to the Ataturk Airport. We entered the airport and went through security immediately, the lineup was shorter than in many airports we have been to. We decided to stop for a coffee. Definitely not worth the $11 CDN we paid!! Then the thunder and lightning started!! After the time for boarding had passed they announced that there was a gate change for our flight. Back we went to where we had started and discovered we needed to go through more security to get to the gate. Our 7:30 AM flight to Vienna was over an hour late departing, and we only had 1 hour and 15 minutes to switch planes. Could it be done???

    Our plane arrived and we were down to 35 minutes until the next plane took off. We hustled though customs and then ran to find the check-in for Croatia Airlines. Fortunately I asked one of the attendants and she was able to get us checked in with out having to wait for the lineup. The only problem was, our plane had already started boarding!! Off we ran to find our departure gate. And guess what.... more security!!!! The lineup was very long and when I told the staff that our plane had started boarding they just shrugged their shoulders. Then we could hear them calling our names. Panic was setting in...what if we missed our flight??? We finally arrived at security and it was off with belts, watches, jackets and everything out of the bags. We were lucky they sent us through and we started running. Down the stairs we went and a then down a long hallway. We arrived at the gate and jumped on the bus that took us out on the tarmac to meet the plane. The rest of the passengers were all seated when we hurried on. I think the engine started before I had my seat belt fastened. Again we were very thankful that we didn’t have checked luggage!!

    We headed out of the Dubrovnik airport and found the shuttle bus that would take us to the bus station. It was 12:15 and we had a 3:15 bus to Mostar to catch. After we got our bus tickets and bought some Kunas we walked over to a tiny market and bought some snacks and water for the bus trip. The bus station in Dubrovnik was very clean; the staff was quick to mop up any spills and swept the floors at least 3 times while we were waiting. There was a 3 Kuna charge to use the restrooms, but they were spotless, so it was worth it!!! The bus arrived and when we boarded we discovered that all the seating was assigned. There was also a small charge for storing luggage in the lower storage compartment. We headed up the coast. The scenery was spectacular as we drove along the sea. When we turned inland we saw huge orchards with oranges, lemons, pomegranates and olive trees, and greenhouses full of ripe tomatoes and peppers, fields full of cabbages and rows of grape vines. We stopped frequently so that our passports could be checked. And then, just when we thought we were on the home stretch the bus stopped again. An announcement was made and everyone stood up and started filing off the bus......now what???? The driver motioned for us to get off and get on the bus parked beside it. We never did figure out what the reason behind the switch was, but we finally made it to Mostar. We had made arrangements with the Villa Anri to be met at the bus station. A driver was waiting for us and it was a short drive to the hotel.
    The Villa Anri was a short walk from the old town. We cannot say enough good things about the Villa Anri, excellent service, everything was clean and modern, a delicious breakfast was provided for all guests and the locations was great!! Our room had a fantastic view from the balcony of the famous Stari Most Bridge. The bridge was such a beautiful sight and we could hardly wait to go for a walk to see it close up. We stopped for dinner at a Balkan Restaurant and then walked the almost deserted streets of war torn Mostar. When we arrived back at the B&B we spent some time visiting with the manager and browsing through books of Mostar, before and after the war. The staff was very helpful, providing us with many tips of places to visit and things to see in Mostar.

    The next morning we took pictures from the roof top of the hotel and then went on a walking tour of the old town. The area around the bridge was beautiful. Although lots of war damage is still evident, many buildings have been restored. Nearly every roof in the city and all of the windows, doors and floors have been replaced, bringing back some of the pre-war beauty to the city. I would certainly recommend an overnight visit to Mostar. We were able to avoid the large groups from tour buses by doing sightseeing in the evening and in the early part of the day. By late morning the streets were very busy. We took a taxi back to the bus station and boarded a bus for Split. The bus departed in the early afternoon and we arrived in Split by 5:00 PM.

    When we arrived in Split there were numerous people waiting at the bus station with apartments and rooms to rent. We settled on a one bedroom apartment located a short walk from the Old Town. The owner drove us to the apartment and pointed out restaurants, super markets and bakeries close by. The Police station was next door and it was a quiet but safe neighborhood. The apartment was similar to a studio apartment with a kitchen, bed/sitting area and private bath. On our first night in Split we tried some traditional Croatian food. I had a beef dish called pasticada served with gnocchi and DH had a beef goulash. Both dishes were delicious. We headed to Diocletian's Palace and strolled past many shops and cafes. It was a very popular place with tourists and locals alike.

    The next morning we headed to the bakery for some fresh pastries and also picked up a few groceries to make lunches. Everything seemed to be very reasonably priced. We ate breakfast and then did some laundry. We decided to go for a walk around the palace and see it in daylight. We checked out the fish market and enjoyed the sound of the vendors selling their fresh fish. We came across a walking tour and decided to join a small group for a tour of the palace. Our guide was a bit long winded and much of the tour was a too long history of Diocletian and not enough of a description of what we were seeing. There were some posters describing parts of the palace so we went back and read them after the tour. We just got back to the apartment when a thunderstorm struck so we had a rest and did some reading. We had a late dinner and walked down to the palace. Many of the shops were closing up because of the rain and cooler temperatures.

    The sun was shining the next day when we took an intercity bus to Trogir. It is an island town and has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. We walked across a small bridge and checked out the cathedral and market square. Then we walked down to the military fortress and enjoyed the view of the surrounding yacht harbors, beaches and town. We stopped for lunch at the Farmers Market. Along with fresh fruits and vegetables, they were also selling honey, olive oil, fresh flowers and, of course, pastries. We caught the bus back to Split and walked back to the Palace for one last look. We walked to the Bus Station and purchased our tickets and confirmed the time the bus departed for Dubrovnik in the morning. There was an Internet café and Book Store on our way back to the apartment so we stopped to check emails and post on our blog. It was very peaceful to sit and watch the sun setting over the water.

    The bus ride to Dubrovnik was long because there were many stops along the way. Our landlord’s sister met us at the bus station. She helped us get on the correct bus to the old town and the Pile Gates where Edi was going to meet us. We were staying at Edi’s Seaview Apartments. We had contacted him and he promised us a room with a view of the sea...and we got just as he promised!! The apartment was just outside of the old town walls. We were on the first floor and we had a fabulous view of a small bay. There was a market across the street, restaurants and bars nearby and it was just a short walk from the Pile Gates.

    After we settled in, we went for a walk and ended up at the famous Buza Bar. We found it by chance, the entrance was a hole in the wall and it opened up to a wonderful spot to watch the sunset. We arrived early enough to get a table and we had a few beverages and watched people diving off the rocks into the water. The sunset was spectacular!!! Later in the evening we went to a concert in the Franciscan Monastery. We were treated to a program of classical music played by a string quartet. The acoustics were great and it was a wonderful venue for a concert. We started the next day with a walk on the walls of the old town. There were lots of steep steps going up and down and some narrow ledges. I am not fond of heights or edges so I was not sure about the walk but it was definitely worth it. The scenery was breathtaking. We saw quite a few swimmers, even though the locals think the water is too cold to swim in October. There were plenty of opportunities to stop and rest, take photos and enjoy the view. After lunch we visited an outdoor market and went to the harbor to watch the boats come and go. We also booked a three Island tour for the next day. That evening we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary with dinner at a Bosnian restaurant in the old town.

    We went on a 7-hour cruise through the Elephite Islands on our last day in Dubrovnik. There were ruins of former patrician summer residences scattered around the islands as well as sandy beaches, old churches, botanical gardens and small summer resorts (most were already closed for the season). Our first stop was at the island of Kolocep. We went for a walk to the sandy beach and waded into the water. Some of our group went swimming and others opted for a beer at one of the sidewalk cafes. What a peaceful little spot!!! After about an hour we headed to the Island of Sipan. When we arrived we were entertained by a group of young children down on the pier fishing with a long spear. They caught a fish and also a small stingray. As we walked around the island we came across them running home calling "Mama, Mama!!" anxious to show what they had caught. A few minutes later we came across the same group of children playing cards near the dock. What a fun time they seemed to be having!! Lunch was served on the boat while we were stopped. We had a choice of chicken or fish and I chose fish. It was served whole on my plate with some salad greens and bread. It had been pan-fried and seasoned, was quite good. DH had the chicken and it was also very good. Our last stop was the island of Lopud. There were no cars on the island, we saw a few bicycles and golf carts. We went for a swim; the water was crystal clear, but a bit chilly when you first got in. There was an outdoor shower and change stalls on the beach so we were able to change out of our wet suits and relax in the sunshine. Some of the group walked to the beach on other side of the island, and there were golf carts available for hire as well. The ride back took about an hour as we wound our way through the Dalmatian Islands. We saw people sunbathing or fishing off the rocks. I would highly recommend taking a cruise of the islands if you have a short stay in Dubrovnik, it gives you a taste of island life and gets you away from the crowded streets of Dubrovnik. Next stop: Rome!!!!

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    Hi Snowflake,

    Thanks so much for your great report. I loved reading about your experiences in Istanbul with all your good tips.

    I was surprised to hear that your Visas cost $60 each. I had read in other posts they were more like $20 each. Yikes! That's a lot for a family of 4...

    Thanks again,
    Dina

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    Loved your commentary on Croatia and Mostar. Dubrovnik is one of my favorite places on earth, but I haven't yet been to Split. Did you prefer one over the other?

    We also loved Mostar. I wasn't prepared for the bullet-riddled and bombed-out buildings in the center of town, though. There were children skipping to school past them which was quite a sight. We were told that BIH doesn't have the funds to tear the buildings down let alone rebuild them.

    It sounds like you had a wonderful trip - and to spend your anniversary in Dubrovnik - heaven! Looking forward to Rome.

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    Thanks to everyone for your comments.
    dina4: the cost of the visa in Turkey varies in price. Most people pay $20 but Canadians pay $60. Be sure to check before hand how much it will cost so that you can have the exact amount in TL, Euros or US funds.
    ellen75005: I don't really have a favorite between Split and Dubrovnik. Both cities have so much to see and do. I would have loved to visit some of the islands from Split but we didn't have time. The island cruise from Dubrovnik was a highlight for us!!

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    Hi which part of Canada are u from? We are planning a trip for Sept to Turkey and Amsterdam for just over 3 weeks! Am trying to decide if we should also add in Croatia..So really the dilemma is, should we stay in Turkey for the full 2 weeks and then into Amsterdam, or should we cut Turkey short, say 9 or 10 days, fly to Dubrovnik for 5 or 6 days and then onto Amsterdam for the remainder..do u wish u woulda spent more time in Turkey? We are from Edmonton BTW! Thanks!

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