A First and Fantastic Visit to Istanbul


Nov 25th, 2011, 01:42 PM
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A First and Fantastic Visit to Istanbul

We arrived in Istanbul on a Monday in early July at noon and stayed for three nights. Of course, we wanted to maximize our time and do as much as we could since we weren’t sure we would be back to this part of the world again for a while. Our three days in Istanbul were at the end of a three week trip through Italy and Greece. Our kids had gone home at this point, and my husband and I enjoyed exploring a new part of the world on our own.

our hotel -- the W ISTANBUL
We enjoyed a free stay here on starwood points. The service was excellent, and our upgraded room was spacious and comfortable. In terms of location, I would have rather stayed in the Old Town, but of course the price was right at the W.

Day 1: A long walk from New Istanbul to Old Istanbul

First, we had a truly excellent kabab lunch at Kosebasi in Nisantasi (not far from our hotel) and then cabbed to Takism Square to start our walk west along Istiklal Street. WOW! The crowds were in full force and mesmerizing -- cosmopolitan, young, and vibrant. We turned off of a few alleys, saw the fish market (missed the flower market), and before we knew it we were taking the Tünel ride down the hill.

We then enjoyed a leisurely walk across Galata Bridge (we change levels via staircase half way across). It was fun seeing the fishermen in their daily routines.

We somehow managed to find Rüstem Paşa Camii. I had read about how special this place was and was not disappointed! The colored tiles inside this tiny mosque were beautiful, and we were the only visitors.

After visiting the mosque, we made our way to the Spice Market (Mısır Çarşısı). This was such a wonderful experience -- the colors, the smells, and the people watching. We bought some spices -- lemon salt and oregano -- which I am sure we paid too much for, but we had a lot of fun with the shop owner.

Afterwards, we took a ferry back to the W in Besiktas. This was a gorgeous way to commute. The Bosphorus was busy and beautiful. Our weather, by the way, was perfect, too -- sunny and 70 degrees F.

After a rest at our hotel, we took a cab to HAMDI back in the old town. Our concierge had reserved a table for us on the terrace. The food was decent, but the view from the terrace is amazing. We were there at dusk, and our views of the Bosphorus and the New Mosque were beyond belief. (Not sure this restaurant is worth it if you’re concierge can’t get you a terrace seat.)

We were thrilled with our first day in Istanbul and were looking forward to day 2, where we would meet our wonderful guide for day filled with sightseeing.
dina4 is offline  
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Nov 25th, 2011, 03:12 PM
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Very interesting so far, dina4! Looking forward to more!
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Nov 25th, 2011, 05:32 PM
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Turkey is the most interesting of countries-layers and layers of history! I can't wait to read more.

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Nov 26th, 2011, 08:50 AM
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DAY 2: Sightseeing at Sultanahmet and Chora Church

Our guide, Yavuz, met us at our hotel at 9am. Yavuz spent the whole day with us, giving us the historical and cultural background of every place we visited, making it all come alive in a way that we couldn’t have experienced our own. He was so interesting, thoughtful, and kind -- we really couldn't have asked for a better guide.

We visited the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome area, the Basilica Cistern and Hagia Sophia. We had delicious kabobs from a place he recommended and ate them while walking. We then headed to the Ancient Roman Aquaduct and paid a short visit to the Grand Bazaar and Süleymaniye Mosque. These places are written about so much, that I don’t think I need to elaborate on them other than to say that each place was even better than I had even expected and none is to be missed. I am, of course, more than happy to answer any questions you might have about these places or the logistics of visiting.

Afterwards, we took a cab to the Chora Church which has truly spectacular Byzantine mosaics, and is definitely worth the drive. After making a stop at the Orthodox Ecumenical Consulate, we drove by the Ancient Triple Walls of Theodosius and through the colorful streets of Balat.

By now it was 3pm, and we were getting tired. We said our thank yous and goodbyes to Yavuz, and took a ferry back to our hotel.

After resting a bit, we walked up to Vogue, a rooftop bar/restaurant very close to our hotel for drinks. The view was truly spectacular! The drinks and appetizers were great, too.

For dinner that night, we took a cab to Orkatoy -- a crowded, fun area to walk around. We got into the Haus Cafe without reservations. The setting was beautiful and the food was really good! After dinner, we hopped on a 1 hour boat cruise up the Bosphorus. Being on the water at dusk and seeing all the beautiful houses, hopping clubs, and candlelit restaurants definitely felt like a once-in-a lifetime experience. We hadn’t planned on taking the cruise, we sort of just hopped on spontaneously, but we were so happy we did!

We were already sad that the next day would be our last in Istanbul.
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Nov 26th, 2011, 09:03 AM
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Reading.... Just spent a first long weekend in Istanbul myself so I'm enjoying your journey.
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Nov 26th, 2011, 04:01 PM
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Lucky you to see such great sights, dina! Lovely trip!

I would LOVE to visit Hagia Sophia!
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Nov 28th, 2011, 06:49 PM
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DAY 3: NATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGY MUSEUM (instead of Topkapi Palace) and KADIKOY (Asia)

Our plan was to arrive at Topkapi Palace before it opened to beat the crowds. Upon arrival, we had our first major disappointment in Istanbul... the palace was SO unbelievably crowde -- MOBS AND MOBS OF CRUISE SHIP TOUR BUSES, so we decided to skip it.
As a result, we discovered the nearby Archaelogy Museum was a lovely way to spend the morning. This place was gorgeous, and we enjoyed a good two hours wandering the grounds and the museum!
Afterwards, we took a tram down to Eminonu, and then a ferry across the Bosphorus to Kadikoy. We wanted to check out the Asian side of Istanbul, as well as have lunch at the highly touted Ciya Sofrasi-- which by the way was EXCELLENT!

These were the directions I copied from a kind soul on Fodors (sorry i can’t remember which of the many kind souls it was that helped me on this trip!), but I am including them here as they were helpful to find the restaurant -- “to head for the area of Çiya and the shopping streets you have to come out from the ferry dock and walk forwards heading towards the right and cross the roads where you can, basically diving between the stopped traffic, then turn right and walk past the Bambi fast food place and past an old Cami (mosque) to Starbucks on the corner. Here you turn left and walk up the hill past a newer Cami and then turn right into an attractive, narrow street lined mainly with restaurants and bars. There are actually 3 Çiya restaurants – 2 kebap places and the Çiya Sofrası"”

During our walk to the restaurant, we enjoyed strolling through the pedestrian-only shopping mall/ outdoor fish/veggie market. And, like I said, the lunch was delicious!

After lunch, we return by ferry to Beikstas and relaxed in our hotel a bit before heading to the Ritz Carlton for our Hamams.

Hamams at the Ritz Carlton were wonderful! My husband and I enjoyed it immensely and HIGHLY recommend it.

Afterwards, we had drinks and appetizers on the terrace of the Ritz Carlton. It was quite lovely and relaxing, and we were so in a trance that the thought of going far for dinner was daunting. So we took a cab to KOSEBASI , which we had enjoyed so much for lunch on our first day, and had a great dinner.

The next morning, we basically packed and got ready to head to the airport for our 11am non-stop flight back to Los Angeles.

What a trip! We loved Istanbul and hope to go back soon. I’m sorry that this report is so late, but I hope someone might find it helpful. I am more than happy to answer any questions. I am SO grateful to all the people who were helpful to me in planning in this trip. A huge thank you to them, and thanks, also, to you for reading.
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Nov 28th, 2011, 08:10 PM
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Thanks so much, lots of good info
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Nov 29th, 2011, 08:49 AM
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Thanks for the report. I am visiting Istanbul next March. Can you navigate the city with English only. Or is it extremely difficult without knowing the local language?
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Nov 29th, 2011, 07:24 PM
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We did not know any Turkish at all, which was worrisome to me because I always try to learn just a little bit of the language of a country we are visiting. However, we did not have any problems. Most people seem to speak English, and everyone we encountered seemed gracious and happy to be helpful. I wouldn't worry about it!

Have a great time!
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Dec 4th, 2011, 09:36 AM
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Dec 4th, 2011, 09:45 AM
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Would love to go there. Thanks for the TR!
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Dec 4th, 2011, 11:44 AM
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Bkmarking. Leaving April 11 for Istanbul -- just decided last week. Lots to research. Thx.
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Dec 6th, 2011, 01:09 PM
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Very nice trip report. I was in Istanbul for 3 1/2 days in September and was totally blown away by the city. Not nearly enough time to see and do everything I wanted, but all the more reason to go back and spend 2 weeks in Turkey--hopefully in 2012! For anyone on the fence, I cannot recommend Istanbul highly enough!
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Dec 6th, 2011, 04:15 PM
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That's a whirlwind report! For Topkapi & Aya - go late. We went to Topkapi on opening (on a day Aya was closed) & the crowds were just bearable. The next morning Aya had an amazingly long line. We wandered by again around 5 PM & there was no line & there were few people inside. The tours were back on their boats getting ready for their feeding. Go late.

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Dec 6th, 2011, 05:23 PM
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You know we didn't really have lines anywhere else... Just at Topkapi. We were so sad to miss it, but didn't think it was worth the agony. All the more reason to go again.

And, yes, we were blown away by the city as well...
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Dec 8th, 2011, 04:31 PM
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What company was your guide with? Sounds like he was great and we would like to try to get him too for our stay in Istanbul.
Thank you. Jackie
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Dec 10th, 2011, 11:51 AM
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He wasn't from a company. Here is his email if you'd like to contact him. We found his fee to be a great value.
Here's his contact info:
Yavuz Göksel Özdeniz
[email protected]
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Jan 29th, 2012, 12:18 AM
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I was interested to hear of your trip to Kadikoy. Sounds like you found your way around ok - I'm a bit nervous about that. But my real question is about the traffic and crossing the roads, especially on the Asian side. Are there pedestrian crossings or pedestrian underpasses near where you get off the ferry, and elsewhere. And does the traffic stop for the people using the pedestrian crossings!?
I'm travelling in May.
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Jan 29th, 2012, 02:06 AM
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Better late than never. I still havent done my journal from last trip August 2011. Enjoyed review. Sadly only there overnight but hope to see the main sights. Did you feel safe wandering around the neighbourhoods like you did? Where did you catch the boat cruise and do you remember how much it was? Is it necessary to get different money than Euros? I know ??? sorry cheers from Tasmania
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