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Trip Report First trip to Istanbul (or adventures of an idiotic tourist)

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It’s been more than a couple of years since we’ve last travelled, but I’ve finally managed to visit a city that has been on my to do list for many years. We had a greatl time, and I left feeling I will definitely like to return. In general , I found the Turks to be warm, friendly and generous. Many of my pre-existing stereotypes were completely wrong (particularly religious aspects).

As always, my thanks to Fodorites whose assorted postings have greatly helped. In particular I must single out Isabel, whose trip report from 2009 was an inspiration as well as otherchelebi whose numerous posts about Istanbul were a major source of information. The stupid errors, blatant ignoring of good advice, and resulting issues are all entirely my fault.

Our normal travel style is to book an apartment and work from there. This time , as it would be our first time in Turkey, We have been more conventional, booking everything through Expedia, and are staying in the Erguvan Hotel in Sultanahmet. It is a pleasant enough place, situated between the Blue Mosque and the Sea of Marmaris. Nicely located for most of the sights, and within easy reach of the Sultanahmet tram stop.

So we saw many wonderful sights, got lost more times than I like to remember, got scammed by a shoe polisher (I'd been warned) , ate some overpriced, indifferent fish (ditto), found that kepabs could actually be far more than the disgusting things than only eaten by people coming out of pubs (a British tradition), stroked numerous cats, jumped onto ferries as often as possible and overall enjoyed most of it immensely.

It might take me some time to compile the full report, but I've put some assorted photographs up , which I need to sort and refine the order as Google seems to have made so rather random arrangements

There is another set of pictures which will bore many to sleep - they are all animals (mostly cats) that we saw or cuddled while on the trip. Istanbul will probably stay in my mind as "city of cats" as they were everywhere.

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    Day 1

    We flew out from London Gatwick on Turkish airlines, the flight slightly delayed, but we arrived about 20 minutes late after seeming to have sat in a holding pattern for half an hour.

    There were huge queues at passport control, snaking back and forth through roped off channels and I guess it took us a good hour to reach the desk once we joined the end. Several people seemed to have entered the wrong system and had to double back against the flow of hundreds of people. One youngish woman (nationality unknown) forced her way through the waiting line, then when she got to the front of the queue threw a complete "hissy fit" - shouting, screaming, crying and throwing herself to the floor before being led away by several immigration officers. Well at least it was mildly entertaining!

    Once we got out of passport control, and picked up our bags, we went out to find our prebooked shuttle. More correctly, not to find it: Nobody was waiting, I checked all the name boards several times, asked at several information points as to the whereabouts of the firm, and tried every combination of the provided phone number - all to no avail. I've still not had a reply back from Expedia after my request for clarification of what went wrong.

    In the process of looking for the taxi, I passed the "previously hysterical" woman boasting to her friends how she had jumped the queue and "blagged" her way past immigration despite not having an Electronic Visa!

    Two hours after landing, and no solution in sight, We decided to catch public transport into Istanbul, and try and find our Hotel. We bought an Istanbul transport card each, charged each with 20 TL, and set off on the metro.

    At this point I will comment on how superb the public transport was: clean, fast, regular and frequent in most cases - if a little crowded at times. The transport card , like a London Oyster card was just tapped onto turnstiles to get onto Trams or ferries (or into some public conveniences) or onto reading pads on buses.

    We changed from the metro to the tramway at Zeyinburnu, then got off at Sultanahmet - all simple and straightforward. Now for a challenge of "Find the hotel. I'd downloaded the relevant google map information for the area, and could use the location marker to see where I was, but for some reason, the marker I'd put on the Hotel was only intermittently visible at certain magnifications.

    We walked through the Hippodrome, and down the hill but got hopelessly lost in the maze of backstreets before we were helped out by a local man. He spoke no English, we no turkish but he was able to communicate by using a translation app on his phone. He was able to point out that we were only about 100 yards from our destination, having already walked past it.

    We were now exhausted, but needed to eat, so we dumped our bags and headed out to a nearby street where we had passed some restaurants. We had little hope of finding anything open as it was well past 10:30. We passed the Hippodrome restaurant, an enquired on the off chance as to the possibility of getting a meal this late. A very pleasant member of staff assured us that we could still order and it would be no problem.

    The meal was very good - two sorts of Kebab , one with Aubergine, the another with tomato and yoghurt. Both very tasty, and the beers accompanying beers went down very well. We collapsed into our beds around midnight.

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    Hi annhig

    We were there for 10 days. The hotel receptionist looked at us and said "It's too long, you'll get bored".
    He was wrong.
    From reading your various postings over the years, my guess is that you'll love Istanbul.

    One of my favourite cities is Rome. Istanbul has most of the things I love about the Italian capital : Incredible history, ancient monuments, incredible buildings, good food. There's a real buzz to the place. I'd highly recommend it and can certainly see myself going back very soon.

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    He was able to point out that we were only about 100 yards from our destination, having already walked past it.>>

    sounds just like us, willit. and don't mention the time that we spent about an hour on the station at Schoenefeld trying to catch a train into Berlin and not being able to work out which were the right ones.

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    nice to know that there IS an easy option.

    and yes, it does sound like my sort of place. DH possibly not so much.

    looking forward to reading more about the trip.

    [had to split the post up to post it]

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    Thanks willit, and glad that you enjoyed our fair city.

    The buzz that you heard may have been the sound of content our two cats were making after I gave them a large portion of their special treat and they curled by my side as we watched an old Tarkovski film.

    I wish you had written to me so that we could have treated you to some special sites during your visit.

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    Thanks otherchelebi - There's always next time because I missed far too much this time around to not want to return.

    I also read through a large number of your posts from the last few years, made a note of several of your suggestions, saved it as a document on my Kindle, then left my kindle at home :-(

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    I'm struggling to write this report - probably still too tired - I cant decide whether to dump all the controversial stuff at the end and just focus on the holiday maker bit to start with.

    I've just downloaded the short, cryptic notes I made on my phone - one of the note says "Salesman, Fresh Almonds, Ice , Why ??" I think it refers to exactly that, large plates full of almonds, but with ice cubes mixed in - and I'm not sure why you would want to keep them cold.

    Day 2

    The world ended at around 5:45 am. The morning call to prayer booming out from the minarets of at least four nearby mosques including the Blue Mosque. If there had been a camera in the room, I suspect the footage would show that I rose vertically from the bed in the manner of a cartoon character. I managed to drop back off to sleep, and awoke at a slightly more civilised hour.

    We showered and went and had breakfast on the samll terrace with a view of the Blue mosque to one side, and the Sea of Marmaris to the other.

    Breakfast was excellent, although initially seemed unusual - a large buffet containing, among other things, cucumber, tomatoes, olives, radishes, peppers., grapes, raisins, figs and dried apricots There were also cold meats, several types of cheeses, multiple types of bread including the wonderful simit rings, bowls of fresh fruit, stewed fruit , yoghurt and many varieties of cakes and biscits.

    We tended to eat large breakfasts every day, then go waddling away knowing we wouldn't need feeding again until mid evening.

    Needing to orientate ourselves, we wandered around the local streets then took a slow walk down along the Hippodrome, past the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, eventually reaching the waterside at Eminönü.

    I really like Eminönü - it's all hustle and bustle, with the ferries criss crossing the golden horn on their way into the Bosphorus. The restaurants on the Galata bridge might be tourist traps, but it was a great place to spend an hour or so, with a drink, watching the chaos.

    On this occasion we watched as a ferry docked, ready to depart for the Asian shore and Kadıköy - on a whim, we jumped on, and thoroughly enjoyed the first of many such trips

    Tired after the previous day's exertions, we just sauntered through the district enjoying the ambiance. The market was in full swing and we had a great time looking at the produce. I felt very comfortable in Kadıköy , when I next come back to Istanbul I might see if I can get an apartment on this side of the Bosphorus. It is a little far out from the main sights, but there are plenty of bars and restaurants to amuse us in the evening.

    We were sitting in one such bar, drinking the local beer and listening to the Red Hot Chilli peppers when the call to prayer started again. It was quite surreal. A large ginger cat at pub, won't take no for an answer from owner/regular, after a minute being ignored lands unannounced on his lap. Still obviously feeling unloved several minutes later he does the same thing landing on Jenny's lap. Certainly no shortage of confidence there.

    Returning to the European side, we ate at a restaurant called Little Havana. A really small restaurant of maybe four inside tables. The food was decent enough and the owner was extremely welcoming and amusing. I experienced Manti for the first time: "Turkish ravioli" served in a yoghurt, garlic and chilli sauce. It tastes much, much better than it sounds.

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    @annhig - definitely, definitely visit Istanbul! And other parts of Turkey. Great destination, loads of history, beautiful sights, good scenery, just exotic enough to intrigue without putting you on overload.

    Oddly, I've been to Istanbul five times (and other parts of Turkey fewer times) and never been woken by the call to prayer.

    Have not made it to eastern Turkey yet, but western is a good start.

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    I'm enjoying your trip report! We got back from Turkey three weeks ago and would love to go back. Your arrival was definitely different from ours. No wait, the immigration officer didn't even look at us, stamped our passport and we were on our way. Fortunately there was no problem with our transfer. After traveling for 17 hours I don't think I'd be ready to navigate public transportation.

    When I woke up most mornings, I wasn't sure if I'd heard the call to prayers of if I had been dreaming.

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    Day 3
    Today was Sunny. We wandered around blue mosque exterior and courtyard but decided to leave interior until later.
    Caught a tram to Kabataş, changed to the funicular to Taksim, then walked down İstiklal Caddesi (Independence avenue - but didn't know that until I googled the spelling) An interesting saunter, but we made sure we were back in Eminönü by 12:45pm to get tickets for the long Bosphorus cruise up to Anadolu Kavağı at 1:30.

    We made excellent time, enough to have a quick look through the hardware stores near the Galata bridge (we hadn't realised they were all hardware shops at the time) the paint shops with all there displays of packets of pigments were interesting.

    Try as I might, I could not find the ticket office for the official long Bosphorous cruise, although several people were selling short trip tickets. We retired to one of the restaurants on the Galata Bridge for a beer, and another rereading of the guidebook. Suddenly, it became clear, I'd been looking on the Eastern side of the Bridge, when the ticket office was as obvious as could be on the Western side. Still, no time to lose, drink up, rush over , stand in queue only to find that Unfortunately our guide book was out of date, and the 1:30 tour no longer operates in October.

    So we took the next "short tour" - up past the 2nd Bosphorous bridge and back - The guide book erring again when suggesting you should find a seat on the right side of the boat - in this case the right side was definitely the left as this gave the best views for the entire trip. Still, there are much less pleasant ways to spend a couple of hours than cruising up the Bosphorus. I noted as we passed the Ottoman castle at Rumeli Hisari that this was one fortress I definitely wanted to see, and we pencilled it in for later in the trip.

    Got back to Eminönü around 4:30, and decided to cross back over to Kadıköy again to get supper there. We ate in Ciya Kebab and the food was excellent - so good in fact, that we ate there several times over the trip

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    Day 4

    Time for some sightseeing. First Little Hagia Sophia (in Turkish Küçük Ayasofya Camii), a sixth century Byzantine church later converted into a mosque. It was beautiful, and nearly empty.

    As with all mosques, there is a strict dress code : Visitors are expected to have their shoulders and legs covered, and women to wear a scarf. As with many such buildings in the tourist areas, if you are not suitably dressed, then appropriate apparel is available on loan. The headscarfs at Little Hagia Sofia were particularly nice - or so the small group of tourists we saw stuffing them into their handbags must have thought.

    Which brings me to a rant - I know it is highly hypocritical for a tourist to complain about the behaviour of other tourists, but some of it made me want to scream. As a guest in a country visiting a holy site, how difficult is it to cover up briefly and follow the very polite notices about behaviour within the boundaries of the mosque? Apparently impossible - many treated the requests with contempt trying to enter the buildings in miniskirts, tiny shorts, painted on leggings or vests - more night club than place of worship.

    Outside of the blue mosque, taking off their shoes , only to put them on immediately they passed through the doors. Similarly headscarves were discarded almost immediately by many, requests not to use a flash, or photograph worshippers widely ignored.

    I felt ashamed for them. This idea of everywhere you visit being some sort of amusement park, and not real life seems very prevalent. Rant over :-)

    We then visited the Blue Mosque again, hoping to get inside, but there were two or three enormous cruise ships docked, and the organised tours meant the queues to get in were extremely long - and it had just started to rain. Best leave it to another day. We wandered for a while around the Arasta Bizarre , pleasant enough, but I felt no great urge to buy anything.

    I really enjoy historical castles and strongholds and wanted to see Yedikule Hisari (The fortress of seven tours) built at the southern end of the defensive walls of Constantinople. Looking at my map book, we took a tram, then walked down to the nearby station and then onwards to where the castle should have been - no luck , all I could find was heavy roadworks and construction. We walked along the main road for far too long, but found nothing - retraced our steps, looked again at the map - couldn't understand where we had gone wrong.

    It looked like were on the wrong side of the railway, so we used an underpass and found ourselves lost in another maze of backstreets where we felt increasingly uncomfortable until we eventually came across a street market where we felt safer. Slightly further on we found a set of old city walls against the sea - but still no fortress - How does one manage to lose a castle?

    With the afternoon wearing on, we decided to abandon the hunt and catch a bus back to Saltanahmet, or Eminönü. All went well until we hit an immovable traffic jam - after 45 minutes of the trip, we had moved maybe 3 miles in the first 10 minutes, and about 300 yards in the second half hour. Passengers were asking the driver to open the doors, getting out and walking. We followed suit eventually, and walked back through Gülhane Park a lovely tranquil garden around the Topkapi Palace.

    We ate that night at Mostra Balik fish restaurant in Sultanahmet. The restaurant had excellent food but service and atmosphere not really to my liking - which is unfair on them as they were very efficient - I just didn't feel comfortable.

    So , what happened to the Castle? Idiocy and inability to read a map. In my guide book the maps of Sultanahmet, and the Western Districts lay side by side - but I hadn't noticed that a strip of maybe a mile or so was missing between the two. The Station I had been at was Yenikapi, entirely different to Yedikule.

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    May I join your rant? In Europe I am usually bothered by people who ignore the no flash and/or no photo signs. Outside Europe I'm bothered by the people who have no sensitivity to dress codes. Rant, rant....

    Might I suggest a smart phone for the next trip? I have been getting a great deal of use out of the map app on my mine. It even understands buses and trains (most of the time).

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    Bustling, lively, colourful, busy, packed Istanbul. I admire any tourist who attempts to do it on his own for the first time. It's a maze near the bazaars and the senses easily become overwhelmed.

    Oh, I want to go back. The energy of the city is beckoning.

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    Enjoying this Willit. My little brother attended a wedding in Istanbul a few years back and still hasn't stopped raving about the place. It's on my bucket list - along with everyone else I know - think its the spanning two continents thing that makes it seem so intruiging.

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    Nice start to your trip report! Our very first encounter in Turkey (in Selcuk) was similar to yours--where we were lost and the proprietor to a hotel that was not ours bent over backward to help us find our hotel. It was lovely.

    Annhig, you must go. I even love Istanbul more than Paris!

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    thursdaysd "Might I suggest a smart phone for the next trip?"

    I have one, and used it, but the cost of data was prohibitive (£5 per MB) , and I didn't get around to fitting a Turkish SIM card.

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    Great report willit. Turkey is one of the most favourite countries I've visited and I throughly enjoyed Istanbul for all the same reasons you've mentioned (people, food, atmosphere, ambiance, history, architecture, weather, etc.). Never a boring moment.

    I had 4 days there before moving on to Izmir and driving to Sirince and Selcuk and Ephesus for another 4 days, and then to outstanding Cappadocia for 5 more. If you loved Istanbul, you won't want to leave these other places... they're stunning... and that's not even including the turquoise coast... You have lots of treats in store for your next visit to this amazing country.

    Look forward to reading more. I'm allergic to cats so will skip those reports.

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    Oh and I meant to say, Turkish breakfasts are the best ! Everywhere I ate one, it was always a delicious variation on the one you mentioned at your hotel; when served an a la carte breakfast for one, it can be the equivalent of a star meal at some small hotels, B&Bs or boutique hotels.

    One other thing, no matter where I was eating it, breakfast always seemed to come with a fantastic view.

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    Love your cat pics and report.

    Istanbul was on my wish list for years. I finally told DH that if we didn't go, he would be standing by my grave saying he was sorry. It was one of our best trips and we fell in love with Turkey.

    There were lots of dogs as well as cats. I may not have understood correctly, but I read that the city, rather than maintain expensive shelters, and killing thousands of animals, hires people to collect the cats and dogs, spay/neuter and release, and clean up. Seems cheaper and more humane. On one street with several restaurants, traffic was stopped to allow a whole group of them to cross. Each restaurant had a time they fed them. Seemed to work well, less garbage, not as many rat problems as we are having in some of our cities.

    Love the cat on the motocycle, the one on the car hood and the one sitting on two steps.

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    Day 5

    Having worked out where the Yedikule fortress actually was, I was determined to get to see it, and some of the old city walls.

    We caught a bus along the shoreline, and soon spotted the towers on our right. Getting off at the nearest bus stop, we followed a narrow road up over the railway line, and then in the general direction of the castle. There was a great deal of barking ahead of us, and we soon found ourselves in the midst of a large pack of dogs living around some sort of sanctuary.

    This was OK until one of the larger dogs started growling - then it became a little scary because there was no obvious human activity or anywhere to go should things have got nasty.

    We arrived unscathed at the entrance only to find it padlocked with an apologetic note saying "Castle closed, opening uncertain" - so it looked like I wasn't going to get to see it after all.

    Never mind - there were always the ancient walls. Built by the Emporer Theodosius in the fifth century the walls withstood multiple sieges until they were ultimately breached in 1453 by the Ottoman forces.

    To anybody who loves military history, they are fascinating. A 12 Metre inner wall running nearly 6 Kilometres between shorelines, lined with 96 towers, protected by a substantial outer wall and moat system.

    The ruins of many of the towers remain, broken down by warfare, neglect and earthquakes , and in parts the walls have been reconstructed to give an indication of what they would have been like at their peak. You can walk along sections of both the reconstructions, and for a short period, the original walls. There are no safety rails, and the older parts are quite perilous.

    We ended up walking the entire length of the walls , taking too many photos, admiring the allotments and smallholdings in the area where the moats would have been (and in the spaces between inner and outer walls).

    We got to near to the end, we managed to take a wrong turning. Somebody offered us directions, and took us on a convoluted route which seriously began to ring alarm bells when I realised we had doubled back at least once. With hindsight, it seems so obvious that the shoe polisher (for that's what he was) was up to no good.

    Realising we were well away from the beaten track he then wanted to polish my boots. After giving me some sob story, he started quoting me ever increasing amounts for what I owed him, eventually demanding I pay him 20 Lira. When I seemed to relent, adding "for each" , so 40 Lira.

    I have to confess that at this stage I lost my temper and used excessively industrial language. I threw him TL10 and told him to "go forth and multiply", He started to get angry , and then realised there was a significant disparity in our sizes. I think my display of anger intimidated him, and he scuttled off muttering.

    I felt such an idiot, I had been warned, had been conned, and now I was lost. Fortunately it didn't take me too long to find my way out of the maze, and we arrived near the bridge just in time to catch a ferry down to Kadıköy.

    We stopped off at one of the restaurants on the bridge, ordered a couple of beers and decided to share a plate of grilled calamari that turned out to be excellent despite my misgivings.

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    After our snack we decided to walk up to the Galata tower , and on my way I did something which may still get me kicked off of Fodors - I bought a selfie stick.

    Yes, I am ashamed as I get overly annoyed with my fellow tourists parading around everywhere waving their phones around on poles like primitive clubs. And now I had bought one (I could barely resist the 5TL price tag.) My first few pictures were all taken unintentionally as I tried to figure out how it worked. I could post them as a series "Stupidity in action"

    The Galata tower was crowded and expensive (it's much cheaper for Turkish citizens, and I don't have a problem with that). The narrow balcony around the outside was heaving, and people walking against the "please walk in this direction" signs were not helping. If you are lucky you can find a place in the lee of the supporting pillars so you can photograph and the views - because they are stupendous.

    After descending the tower we slowly walked back down the (very) steep hill to the waterside, and realised there was a ferry just about to depart for Kadıköy - oh well, why not. Another couple of beers and we ended up back at Ciya - its menu had too many wonderful looking kebabs to ignore and again, it didn't disappoint

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    I knew the mention of a Selfie stick would kill this thread :-)

    Day 6

    Time to visit some museums.
    The Istanbul Museum pass cost us 85 TL each, and was valid for 5 days (this was 2 days longer than the information supplied in most guide books, so I suspect the change is recent). It gave us a and ccess to around a dozen museums, including The Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and the Chora Church.

    We bought ours in a kiosk outside Hagia Eirene where there were no queues at all, and as we were already there it seemed silly not to visit.

    Hagia Irene predates Hagia Sophia, but was damaged in riots and earthquakes and in its present form is mostly 8th century. It is a beautiful church, but unfortunately restoration work meant we could only visit the nave, and heavy netting strung across from the balconies obscured our views.

    Moving on, we went to our main goal of the day, the Archaeological museum. More restoration works made many of the exhibits unavailable, but two hours in Museum of the Ancient Near East was enough to leave us nearly mentally exhausted as we looked at the wonderful collections including Egyptian artefacts, Glazed tile images from the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and a three thousand year old peace treaty.

    Halfway through reading up on the history of Istanbul itself, we needed a break and retired for coffee in the outdoor museum cafe. There we spent an amusing half hour being entertained by the local furry residents. One pair of American ladies had ordered tuna sandwiches, and spent fifteen minutes trying not to be mugged by around eight cats of assorted age and size.

    After a break , we went back into the museum and spent about another hour there, but both of us were finding it difficult to concentrate - there is only so much you can take in at one time. We ended the trip by visiting the tiled kiosk, which is spectacular.

    After a quiet afternoon, we set out looking for some supper, thinking we might go to Beyoğlu.

    We didn't get that far, getting drawn into a restaurant on the waterfront in Kadıköy. It seemed to be mostly full of Turkish people and I was attracted because the doorman wasn't pushy

    One of the things I really don't like is people being overly assertive when trying to entice you into a restaurant , so walking down any street in a restaurant district proved an ordeal in Istanbul - There was a lot of this "badgering" in the markets as well, which I had been expecting. No I don't want to buy a carpet\leather jacket\assortment of spices thanks very much.
    It's actually counterproductive - I might actually stop and look if I could think for 10 seconds or so.

    So anyway, the restaurant was full of locals, the menu looked OK, the Meze were very good, but then I made another error that I'd been warned about - I ordered some fish without fully checking the price, and ended up with a small, expensive meal that was indifferently cooked.

    Two minorly interesting things happened while we were there: While I was away "Washing my hands" , The young women at the table next to ours came across to Jenny, and asked her how to pronounce a particularly difficult word, they had on a smart phone screen and what did it mean. The word was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

    Earlier there had been some musicians warming up at a table in the corner, but they had disappeared. As we exited the restaurant, we heard them, playing on the first floor. It seemed to be a good party going on judging by the numbers dancing on the tables.

    When we got home, we checked the notebook, and saw all the messages from family and friends who, knowing we were in Turkey, were worried for our wellbeing.
    We had no idea what was happening and hastily checked the news. Suicide bombers had killed over 100 people at a rally in Ankara that morning.

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    Seems I've lost an audience here - too long winded I expect. I'll finish the trip report anyway - might prove useful to somebody some day.

    Day 7

    Grey, overcast and raining heavily in parts. A good day to see more museums.

    First, the trip out to the Chora Museum. This is another Byzantine church, converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest when the wall were plastered over, hiding the original mosaics. I'm not a religious man, but I am fond of Churches. I think the mosaics here were among the finest I have ever seen - absolutely magnificent. Unfortunately the experience was slightly spoilt by my fellow tourists.

    It was crowded, and we waited patiently to gain access to some of the nooks and viewpoints. We has been standing in one area for about 30 seconds, and I'd taken a couple of photos, when I was berated by an elderly pair of women: "Are you going to stand there all day? Other people want to see you know" I moved aside. One of them started to take photographs with a flash, despite numerous signa around, and the chiding of the staff. Five minutes later they were still there - comparing images with pictures in their guide book, and generally preventing anybody else from getting their chance.

    Despite this and the closed off areas (more renovations) It was definitely one of my favourite places in Istanbul.

    Walking back to the waterside, we found the next ferry was nearly an hour away, so we caught the bus back to Eminönü and walked back up to Gülhane Park via the Sirkeci Railway station (Last stop of the Orient Express in past times).

    There wasn't a lot to detain us at the station, except for an interesting destination board (Did I really want to go to Tehran? Part of me was vaguely tempted) and a somewhat sinister statue of the head of possibly Atatürk which reminded me a little of "Big Brother is Watching you"

    Once in the park, we headed for the Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam. This is fascinating, and in many ways.

    It is very well laid out, there are some beautiful displays of exhibits such as astrolabes, water clocks, ancient surgical equipment, models of catapults, trebuchets and other military hardware, and very many animated explanations of how things worked.

    What was strange was the whole tone of the museum that seemed to me to be one of righteous indignation that the world does not recognise the contribution of the Islamic world to science. One explanatory panel after another appears to condemn the west for overlooking the contribution of one Islamic scientist or another, and point out that the ideas and theories are often wrongly attributed to the Greeks or Europeans who "stole" the ideas.

    It is a little ironic because while there may often be some truth in this, it appears that in many cases no credit at all is given to the work of earlier civilisations that such as the Chinese on whose works the Islamic world improved. Aso, a museum that wants to be taken seriously really shouldn't use such derogatory phrases as "Jewish Myths" in its displays.

    Overall, it was well worth the couple of hours we spent here, but as both of us come from scientific backgrounds, we left slightly bemused.

    The day before we had bumped into the hotel receptionist as we neared the Sultanahmet tram stop. He thought we were looking for a restaurant, and advised us that all of them in the immediate area were poor, and expensive. He mentioned a couple that were OK, but suggested we might want to go further afield.

    Tired from a weekend's sightseeing, and as it was raining quite heavily, we decided to have an early supper and we happened to pass one of his "OK" restaurants called Massa.
    True to his word it was friendly, not too expensive, but nothing really to mark it out as special.

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    willit, I am quite sure that posters on theese forums and especially those who right trip reports as well as you do ever lose their audience.

    A large part of the audience prefer to lurk. Some are stingy with their compliments, others do not realize that posters love compliments.

    Rest assured that your report will be read not only by the currently interested but also by future travelers who will start to search in the months to come.

    Places change, the people who visit are different and experience their trips from different perspectives. So newcomers will try to get not only the more recent information but also the experience from those they can identify with in terms of age, values, interests, budget, etc.

    I know that I have left quite a few of my trip reports unfinished for similar reasons in the past, but now realize that it was wrong to do so.

    I know that I gained some very useful information and insight from older trip reports regarding many places we visited and many times forgot to post a word of appreciation. So I deserve more than one slap on the wrist.

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    Sorry willit - I'm traveling and not posting much. Intrigued by your report on the scoence museum, which I haven't visited. I believe it is true that Muslims were responsible for reviving classical learning, and making a number of advances themselves. What is sad is that it was several centuries back.

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    I'm still reading - I know the time and effort TRs take and how seeing people are enjoying it can keep you going. Btw on a misery guts thread about self-indulgent TRs, someone once griped about how boring foodie details are so I make special efforts to cram in as much grubbing info as possible to every TR I write in revenge. I urge you to do the same :-)

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    I just discovered your TR. Very well written and not too much detail at all. I thank you for your effort as Istanbul has long been on my bucket list as well. Your report has certainly moved the city much closer to the top. Thank you!

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    "Glazed tile images from the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and a three thousand year old peace treaty."

    Wow. That sort of thing just wows me. But 2 hours is my max in any museum these days - maybe three with a break. You did very well.

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    I'm still here, also! Haven't commented as yet, but very much enjoying your somewhat unusual take on Istanbul, or should I say, your somewhat unusual experiences in Istanbul!!

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    I genuinely had thougt that nobody was reading anymore - and now sound a bit like a whiny child :o

    Day 8
    Monday. Today was almost as though it were a different city. Compared to the weekend it seemed empty. I presume it is because the long weekenders had gone home, but there also seemed to be no cruise ships docked.

    As a result, there seemed to be no queues, so we headed to the Blue Mosque. As I'd been warned, "It's not as blue as you'd expect". It is still spectacularly beautiful - although it did seem to disappoint many of the visiting tourists, who probably spent no more than 5 minutes inside.

    Next to the exit there was a notice from which I'll quote:
    "We consider it our duty to meet you If you would like to know Islam ... So whether you are a visiting Christian, Jew, Hindu, Atheist, Agnostic or a member of another religion, come in just to say hello, have a friendly talk, get some brochures of ask questions, basic or advanced"

    I really like this approach - It seemed subtle for a place of worship. The information was there if you wanted. There was another, even better example of this later in the trip, but I'll get to it later in the report.

    From the Blue Mosque to Hagia Sophia. While the former was inspiring and beautiful, the latter was almost overwhelming. Large areas are scaffolded off for renovations, but the overall impression is jaw dropping.

    This was the great cathedral of Constantinople, then a Mosque. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk ordered that it became a museum, so now it contains both Christian and Islamic symbolism.

    We spent a couple of hours exploring and it ranks right up among the most magnificent buildings I have ever seen.

    At the entrance to the nave is a very pretty, snub nosed, tabby cat guarded the door, accepting the occasional cuddle as his due, and seemed very much of the opinion that this was his church, and we were all there on sufferance.

    Two of the major sites done, and maybe time for just one more before the onset of brain failure. The Mosaic museum is in the Arasta Bizarre behind the Blue Mosque. It is on the site of the remains of the great Palace of Constantinople and the tiles probably date back to around 530 AD.

    It was good, and would have been well worth the 10TL entrance fee if it were not already included in the museum pass. Several years ago I would have raved about it, but they compare unfavourably to the mosaics at the Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily.

    Where it does score heavily is in a long series of panels around the walls outlining the history and methods of the preservation and repair of the tiles.

    Enough culture for the day, and almost inevitably we found ourselves on a ferry to Kadıköy where we spent the afternoon looking around the area, peering into antique shops (There seemed one shop devoted entirely to vintage Hi Fi equipment, some of which I dreamed about owning as a student 30+ years ago).

    We stopped at an "international beer cafe" and drank some UK ales. It's not that I minded the local brews, just that I fancied something with more flavour than Efes or Tuborg.

    With an hour or so to kill before dinner would have been reasonable , we walked aimlessly until we came to a waterside park to the south of the ferry port. It seemed the local retreat for young lovers, and there were couples cuddled up all over the place.

    Between the park and the water was a barrier of rocks and concrete, and hidden among these were numerous cats, most of whom seemed to want stroking. As it seemed unfair to ignore them, our shortish walk took far longer than expected.

    Having tried and enjoyed the Ciya Kebab menu, Jenny really wanted to try the traditional Turkish dishes at Ciya Sofrasi. Given the glowing reviews, I was a little underwhelmed - but the food wasn't the real issue.

    The restuarant was shut early, and it looked like there might be trouble. I posted an account\question at It is worth reading for Otherchelabi's reply.

    We curtailed our trip, and headed to the ferry (we didn't want to be "trapped" on the wrong side of the Bosphorus if things had turned nasty"

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    While looking through my notes and photos, I was perplexed to find almost no pictures of the Blue Mosque. By coincidence two things happened that meant I hadn't downloaded them from either camera - so I have added them to the collection in the link at the top.

    Day 9 (Tuesday)
    At this stage we had three days of our trip left. Jenny wanted to do the full Bosphorus cruise up to Anadolu Kavağı, I want to see the fortress at Rumeli Hisari, we both wish to see the Topkapi Palace, and we've not visited the Grand Bazaar or the Suleymaniye or New Mosques. How could we have "wasted" so much time?

    The day was overcast with strong likelihood of rain, which ruled out the cruise. Topkapi is closed on Tuesdays, so that leaves Mosques and the Bazaar.

    We thought that rather than catch the tram, we would just head west from our hotel , gradually moving uphill until we reached the vicinity of the bazaar. We are very glad we did, because we found ourselves in a district completely away from the main tourist areas (or so it seemed) where shoes were made.

    In some shops, they sold just shoe soles, in others there were supplies of leather and fabric, yet others exclusively stocked buckles, heels and decorative "bling".

    In Workshops dotted among the supply stores were small workshops where you could clearly see the manufacturing going on, and many were attached to outlets selling the finished products. It was really interesting and it appeared we had stumbled on a corner of "real life" not far from the famous sights.

    Onwards to the Bazaar itself, and although I didn't hate it quite as much as I believed I would, it was still hard going. To revisit an earlier point, some of the leather shops looked very good, but as soon as you even looked like you were thinking of perusing a display, the hard sell started. Jenny was quite interested in the goldsmiths, but everything was far too elaborate for her tastes.

    Some of the small courtyards were fascinating (I know I've overused this word in connection with Istanbul). In one of these areas a shop was producing decorative braiding, with machinery which would instantly have brought the Health and Safety team down to close the whole operation in the UK. Amidst all the chaos, lying in the window was a mother cat and her litter of kittens.

    There was only so much shopping I could stand in one go, and as we came to one of the exits we saw a mosque outside. The Nuruosmaniye Mosque was built in the mid 1700s in the Ottoman Baroque style. It is beautiful - light, airy with many windows - and we had it almost completely to ourselves.

    Heading briefly back into the bazaar, I noticed the suspended notices giving the history of various sections of the market, but it is very difficult to find space to stand and read while being assailed on all sides by shoppers and shoppers.

    Out of the bazaar proper, heading towards Eminönü we found ourselves in a far more "realistic" market: full of local shoppers buying everyday items - fish, cheese, vegtables, olives etc, and we spend a very pleasant hour or so just meandering around the streets.

    Much of the heavy lifting here was being done manually - people lugging hugely laded trolleys, others with vast packages being carried on their backs (in some cases by men looking well past retirement age). The Grand Bazaar has a marvellous history, but seemed almost a theme park compared to these streets.

    We found ourselves just under the Suleymaniye mosque, and climbed up to visit. It was significantly quieter than the Blue Mosque, but did have a reasonable crowd visiting.

    After taking in the architecture we found ourselves listening to a young volunteer, one of several at the edge of the visitor area. His English was excellent, he was well spoken, he was there to guide, answer questions and proclaim Islam in subtle ways.

    He was explaining the history and architecture, touching on the meanings of the calligraphic inscriptions, offering to explain the meanings and significance of the verses but sensing peoples moods was happy keep purely to the secular or expand further.

    Two elderly tourists were telling him it was all wrong , and that Christ was the messiah, and he patiently explained the belief that Jesus was a prophet of Islam as well only for the tourists to laugh in his face and call him stupid (I cringed)

    To me, he and the other multi lingual guides , as well as the subtle signage in other mosques really surprised me - this was not what I expected at all. It seems so at odds with the religion as proclaimed by hard liners and fanatics from parts of the middle east.

    We traced our way back down to the shore, walked across the Galata Bridge, then took the funicular up the hill before walking onwards to Taksim Square. It was aimless wandering really and all the more fun for it. We ended up near the Galatasary fish market, and the nearby restaurants. It was too early for us to eat, but we looked at the menus (and again were hounded by the waiters - one who insisted his name was George Clooney).

    With nothing better to do , we sat in a bar and had a beer while reading the guide book. Opposite the bar was a place called "Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi" that was mentioned in the guide as a favourite of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (although Tripadvisor wasn't complimentary about it). The Clientele seemed local, and regulars, so it seemed worth a try.

    We ordered four random cold starters: marinated anchovies, stuffed mussels, octopus and an aubergine and tomato mixture. The octopus was great, and the least impressive of the four - really superb. We ordered main courses and my fish was a little disappointing, although Jen raved about her meatballs with cheese. Altogether an excellent meal (but I still wasn't brave enough to try Raki).

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    Day 10 (Wednesday)

    Topkapi Palace, and back among the hordes. Every exhibit had queues, space was at a premium, and the experience wasn't as enjoyable as could have been. Armed troops were very obviously on guard (whether this is normal, or a result of the previous weekend's bombings, I don't know).

    For all that, It was a terrific place to visit. Many of the exhibitions have a "no photography" rule - which is a bit of a pity, but obviously the items on display are historically important and need protecting. Most people didn't think so. A group of four people in front of us , whose appearance I can only describe as "Eastern European gangster" took photo of everything, all with a flash. When told not to do so they first denied they had seen the signs, then tried trickery (two would act as lookout ) , and finally intimidation. It worked, they left with a full set of photos.

    I particularly enjoyed the kitchens (variously set up to show how they would have been in both early and late Ottoman periods) and the exhibition of Armour and weapons. The queue to get into the hall of Ottoman costumes was doubled back several times, and the entrance to the Harem had a similar crowd outside - weighing up our options we decided that the four hours we had already spent in the palace were probably enough, and that we needed to keep something back for "next time".

    As it was still early afternoon, I wondered if it were possible to visit Rumeli Hisari (the Fortress near the second Bosphorus bridge). We caught a tram to Kabataş and looked for a bus heading in the right direction. It soon became clear that we weren't going to make it in time as we got snarled up in one traffic jam after another, and made very poor progress. Realising the futility of our efforts, we got off the bus at Ortaköy

    We walked around for a bit, admiring the views, and following a path up the hill, managed to trigger a metal detector on what was the outside gate of a Police station - hasty apologies and a quick retreat were needed.

    Unfortunately the beautiful mosque at Ortaköy was closed that evening - Possibly just because it was approaching prayer time, but I was unable to find out.

    We stopped at a bar called the Bomonti Brasserie to enjoy watching the world pass over a couple of beers. Jenny wanted to share some food so we ordered Nachos (why? I have no idea either - just sort of happened) , but they were indifferent and the beer itself seemed overly sweet compared to the Efes we had become used to drinking.

    Heading back to Kabataş , we took the funicular up to Taksim square again, and another slow stroll down İstiklal Caddesi, purely because we enjoyed the atmosphere.

    As we got down near the fish market and associated restaurants we discussed how good the food had been the night before, and soon found ourselves back at Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi where the food was every bit as good as previously.

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    Have been reading all along and really enjoying your report. I've been to Turkey only once and would love to visit again. I remember coming back to New York City from Istanbul….. NY seemed SO quiet!

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    thank you for this report...brings back so many of my favorite cities in the the call to prayer...honestly every time hear it I stop and take in the scene and as you listen you know you are really "somewhere" really transports you to another world and Istanbul spoils you in a way for other cities than seem so "ordinary".

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    Day 11 (Thursday)

    Day 11
    We headed down to Eminönü to catch the ferry for the full Bosphorus cruise. This is a six hour round trip with a 3 hour stop at Anadolu Kavağı near the Black Sea. Our plan was to arrive at the final stop around noon, walk up to the castle on the hill, and get back in time to catch the 2pm local ferry across to Sarıyer and get a bus down to see Rumeli Hisari.

    We were on the ferry early and it was very busy, but we found some reasonable seats in sheltered positions. This turned out to be a good thing, because it was surprisingly cold and this soon drove many of our fellow passengers inside, leaving us almost alone in our heavy coats. There really are far worse ways that spending 90 minutes cruising along the Bosphorus, and again, we really enjoyed the trip.

    It was around 12:15 when we arrived in Anadolu Kavağı, and frankly a bit of a scrum as we were met by the owners/staff of multiple restaurants all trying to herd us into their establishments. I suppose the daily boats must be the bulk of their income, so you cannot really blame them. We stopped briefly for coffee before heading up the hill to the ruins of Yoros castle. The climb was steep, and made me realise that I am not nearly as young or fit as I once was, but the views from the top are rewarding.

    I was particularly interested in the new bridge being built near the entrance to the Black Sea. The towers and suspender cables are in place, and the deck is being extended from both directions. Even at full magnification, I wasn't able to get clear enough photos to work out exactly what was happening.

    We had planned to stop at one of the nearby restaurants for a beer before heading back down to the village, but we spent too much time admiring the view so ended up in a mad rush back down the hill, but eventually reached the ferry in plenty of time.

    We were in Sarıyer by 2:15, so it seemed an easy thing to get on a bus, and still have at least 90 minutes to see the fortress at Rumeli Hisari, but I hadn't reckoned on the power of stupidity. For a while everything went well - the bus followed the road along the water as expected, then it diverted away, up the hill and onto a major road. I glanced at the automated board at the front of the bus, and realised that this wasn't the Number 25 I wanted, but the 25T heading somewhere I couldn't even find on the map.

    The outcome was that some of the later bus stops were labelled as metro stops as well, so we stayed on the bus until we got to the shiny office blocks of Levent. Calculating that even if we caught a bus back it would be too late to see the fortress, we cut our losses and took the metro to Taksim.

    After a brief discussion as to what to do next, we decided to go and say goodbye to Kadıköy, so took the funicular back to Kabataş and caught a ferry.

    There we did some window shopping, stopped for a couple of beers and had a final kebab at Ciya before heading back for a relatively early night.

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    Day 12

    We had a flight out at around 2pm, so wanted to make sure we got to the airport in plenty of time. The local agencies were advertising shuttle buses to the airport at €5 each, and it seemed worth it not to have to drag my suitcase uphill to the tram stop.

    The shuttle driver was of the "Lewis Hamilton" school of driving and we were soon careering down the road, doing about 120km/h in a 40 zone, only for the brakes to be slammed on just as we approached a green light at an intersection - I then saw the traffic calming measures in place, presumably to try and stop carnage at the junctions.

    We reached the airport in less than 30 minutes, so weren't worried about time when we found a huge queues for security at the entrance of the terminal. This really should have been the end of the story, but there was a final, bizarre twist.

    The plane was at a stand away from the terminal building, so we got there by bus. We had seats near the front of the economy section which meant that Jenny had a grandstand view for the entertainment. From what we could gather, a woman's companions had missed the boarding time, possibly because they were shopping.

    She was a stern faced, elderly woman who wanted the plane to wait so her friends could get on board. The crew started off patiently trying to explain, but the situation got out of hand while the passenger had what can only be described as a two years old's temper tantrum. She threw herself the ground shouting and searing and refused to move despite being attended to by several cabin staff.
    Annoyingly, it worked, the plane waited, the companions arrived, the flight was delayed by nearly an hour. I was hoping police would be waiting for her in London, but there weren't.

    After the warmth and exitement of Istanbul, the journey home was rather bleak. The delay had knocked all our plans out, and we ended up spending a very cold, miserable 50 minutes waiting in the dark at Fareham station - a rather sad end to a wonderful trip.

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    Thoughts , musings etc

    I was going to waffle on about some of the dark sides to Istanbul and Turkey, but there is a very good thread where far better informed people are discussing events better than I can:

    There were several bad points during our trip, particularly the bombing in Ankara and the subsequent political wrangling. It seemed that everybody had an agenda and was pointing the finger of blame. Being a bit of a wet lefty, I both loved how liberal parts of Istanbul felt, but also felt quite intimidated by the police (and sometimes military) presence, and the feel of some of the political tents (There is a forthcoming election) where the martial music seemed very similar to the old Eastern block "Patriotic songs" - I must quickly add that these are impressions only I speak no Turkish and we had limited access to news other than through the BBC world service.

    Once we'ed returned, things seemed even worse. Overall, I was appalled by the takeover of opposition media, by the AKP regaining the majority, by a man whose platform seemed to be "It's either me or Chaos", when most of that chaos appeared of his making.

    More so by the apparent lack of condemnation from the West. Like the days when you could be a bloody tyrant providing you were anti Communist, now it seems anything goes if you profess hatred for ISIS.

    I believe that the AKP still does not have a sufficient majority to change the constitution, so presumable we can look forward to even more crackdowns on the opposition?

    As the UK wrings its hands over the problems with migrants, and is "generously" going to take in 20,000 Syrians over the next five years, it was staggering to find that Turkey currently has two million Syrian refugees. There were a lot of beggars, many having signs saying they were from Syria I'm in no position to judge how many were genuine, but there were many family groups huddled in doorways in the Sultanahmet district at night.

    Some silly points.

    There were several people socks in the street that I noticed in the first couple of days. I thought nothing of it until I wanted to go into a mosque, removed a boot, and found my toes sticking out of holes! I'm not sure there is any relationship, but I did make sure I carried spare socks from then on.

    In between the Blue mosque and Hagia Sophia, there is a very elegant building that I believe as an Ottoman bathhouse. On the walls were illustrations of how it is now and how it may have been. These include a Harem scene of scantily clad women. We spotted a couple taking pictures of the building, both in traditional Islamic clothing - at one point the woman, in flowing black robes and full face veil was contorting to try and ensure her clothing covered all of the harem image. It was immensely funny .

    Coming home to the hotel on the Tuesday night, and all the staff were huddled around the television. Turkey were playing Iceland in the European Championship qualifiers. If Turkey won, and Holland lost , then the Turks would automatically qualify. Just before midnight, there was a great roar, Turkey had scored in the last minute.

    At Ciya (and other restaurants) , they served Pita bread that, filled with air, expanded in the oven to the size of a football. On one occasion we were seated at an outside table, and came back out after washing my hands to find Jenny chasing our bread up the street - a gust of wind had blown it away as though it were a balloon.

    All the friendly cats in Istanbul made me realise how much I missed our recently deceased elderly cat. Within two weeks of our return, I am now writing this surrounded by two enormous galumphing black cats that we rescued from a nearby shelter.

    In summary, I loved Istanbul: the people, the food, the history, the architecture, the Bosphorus and the atmosphere. I disliked the politics and really fear for the future. I have to go back - there is so much I still haven't done.

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    With so many places to visit and so little time off from work I rarely visit the same place twice but Turkey is one of those places/ I visited solo around 2003 and again about 2013. I think Istanbul like NYC is one of those cities you never grow bored of. It's an amazing country, I just hope things don't continue to make a turn for the worse. Married now and I'm determined to take my husband back for a visit. It's a place to which I've fantasized moving; such an enchanting city. Thanks for the report, it took me back in my daydreams.

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    Many thanks for triggering off the (remaining) memory brain cells; the shock of realising that our trip to this wonderful city was five years ago - predictable, I suppose.
    Your excellent report will have to do as a stand-in for a return visit, for the present at least.

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    I loved your excellent and detailed trip report! I just got back from a trip to Europe with my Mom and we spent a few days in Istanbul on the front end. Far too brief -- I short changed it! What a completely amazing city. I share your views on the cat epidemic and promise not to judge you for getting a selfie stick! :) Istanbul, I'll be back! :)

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