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Istanbul: hectic, opulent, diverse and extremely welcoming


May 18th, 2015, 12:13 AM
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Istanbul: hectic, opulent, diverse and extremely welcoming

Being the organiser of a group of 20 adults who were going to Istanbul for four nights, I was responsible for choosing a suitable hotel, a knowledgeable German-speaking tour guide and, as I often do on these trips, a chance to meet some warm and welcoming locals. My requirements for the hotel included a quiet, clean and yet conveniently-located hotel with a rooftop terrace and a view of the Bosporus, which is why I chose the Ottoman Hotel Park. We needed a tour guide for three and a half days and, through internet research, I booked the lovely and highly-competent Serhat Basaran and lastly, we could have not met a warmer and more interesting fellow-Fodorite in Turkey than Otherchelebi.

Istanbul: Istanbul is located on seven (sometimes rather steep) hills. There are many kinds of areas in Istanbul although most people stay near the Taksim area or the Sultanahmet area. The Taksim area is perfect for those who want less historical buildings and more nightlife. Sultanahmet is perfect for those who are interested in the history of Istanbul and want to be near the major sights. Both are connected by a tram that is very easy to use and costs 4TL per ride, or if you have an Istanbulkarte, (6 TL), it's 2.15 TL per ride. This is the cheapest and often fastest transport in Istanbul because the traffic can get very congested at times.

The area around Ottoman Hotel Park: http://www.ottomanhotelpark.com/

The hotel is located in a quieter area between Kumpaki and Sultanahmet. It’s at the bottom of a rather steep hill and across the street from a park visited by the locals. This is a quiet area in the evenings where the locals play rummy and the traffic becomes a trickle. The hotel is tricky to find for some taxi drivers so make sure you have the name and address of the hotel. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk from the Blue Mosque. You’ll be walking uphill on paved/cobblestoned streets. If you are not a good walker, this is not the hotel for you. If you enjoy walking through a quieter area before being surrounded by the wild hectic life near the tram lines and the blue mosque, then this hotel may be just perfect for you.

The condition of some buildings in the hotel’s vicinity: Some people have mentioned the desolate state of nearby buildings. This is indeed true and if you understand the reason behind this state, it will be easier for you to understand why some are in such poor condition. There are many houses listed as historical in the area so they cannot be torn down and must be renovated using similar floor plans as the original building. Because renovation costs are high and often the original plans are no longer of interest for buyers, no one invests in the buildings and wait for them to decay to the point of having to be torn down. This is very evident of some buildings in the area which may make it seem “ghetto-like” for some. I personally enjoyed the area and being away from the busy touristic streets of Sultanahmet. The area was a welcome reprieve from the high-level noise found in many Sultanahmet streets.

Safety in the area: We felt completely safe in the area. In fact, we felt very safe in all of Istanbul. We were told that Sultanahmet and the Fatih area have very little crime and if there are pickpockets, they are usually on the Taksim side. The locals left us alone and there was very little begging. If we looked lost, the locals who could speak English or German were very happy to help us find our way
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May 18th, 2015, 12:24 AM
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Our Itinerary:

Day 1:
Shuttle bus to the hotel: Euro 250 for a return trip
Hotel Ottoman Park: Kadırga Liman Caddesi No: 41
Sultanahmet 34126 İstanbul – Türkiye

Eat sandwiches at the hotel
Meet Herr Serhat Basaran for ½ day tour
A stroll through the old city
The Grand Bazaar
The Spice Bazaar
A special view of the city from the old silver smith buildings
Dinner: open

Day 2:
Meet Herr Serhat Basaran for a full day tour
Süleymaniye Mosque
Wooden houses in Süleymaniye
Walenz Aqueduct
A stroll through the religious conservative areas of Fatih, Fener und Balat
St George's church
Bosporustour (2 hours)
Meet Otherchelebi for dinner

Day 3
Meet Herr Serhat Basaran for a full day tour
Topkapi PalaceThe Blue Mosque
Hagia Sophia
Cisterna Basilica
Eat at Calamares in Kumpaki

Day 4
Meet Herr Serhat Basaran for a full day tour
Dolmabahce Palast
Taksim / Istiklal Street
The alleys and passages in the new city
St. Antonio church
Galata Bridge
Take a ferry to the Asian side
Eat at Fener (the Lighthouse) in Kumpaki

Day 5
Morning Free
Leave for the airport with the shuttle bus
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May 18th, 2015, 07:55 PM
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I love Istanbul. Such an interesting and vibrant city.
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May 19th, 2015, 03:56 AM
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Kleeblat, you either are a very lucky organizer or a great trainer for having such a group which enjoyed each others' company, stuck together, were not openly critical, generally appreciative and friendly.

And, I cannot even say, "You carried your weight" because you probably weighed not much more than half of that of the next lightest of the group.

I was amazed that you could control them with just a few remarks and suggestions.

The only unpleasant experience was when two of the ladies decided to find the lavatories themselves and somehow ended at the ones under construction near the fitness center at the basement of the club with no lighting and possibly no fixtures. And even then, they were smiling when telling about it. Maybe where they went were not even meant to be lavatories.

It was good fun meeting you and your group; a new experience and a way for me to get away from my boring high school classmates who happenedo have a gtg at the same location the same night.
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May 19th, 2015, 07:55 AM
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Thank you, dear sweet OC. I'm usually quite good with people and I know them individually well so I can monitor the group's dynamic pretty quickly. They trust me and know they can talk to me if they feel uncomfortable about something. If a solution is to be found, we'll find it.

Next year, if all goes according to plan, we'll be going to St. Petersburg.

But back to Istanbul....

in a moment
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May 28th, 2015, 02:50 AM
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Here are a few impressions and suggestions of our stay in Istanbul.

- Istanbul is safe, clean but very hilly when exploring the different areas so where good shoes.

- Make sure you have a good map or a good app with you. It’s easy to get lost in Istanbul. We got one at our hotel that was excellent.

- Transportation: We used a taxi to get to our hotel from the airport. If you arrive at the airport around rush hour, you may want to consider using public transportation if your hotel is near a stop due to the intense traffic jams in the city.

- Istanbul public transportation is terrific. Each journey costs 4 TYL and you'll get a jeton to insert into a slot at the turnstiles. If you have an Istanbulkaarte (which costs 6 TYL from an official agent or 8 TYL from a street vendor) each journey costs 2.15 TYL. The Istanbulkaarte is much like an oyster card in London, where you pay a sum of money onto your card and top it up when needed. You just need one card per group and you swipe it over a reader at the turnstile.

- Clothes: We wore short sleeves and our legs were more or less covered. Sultanahmet (named for Sultan Ahmet)and the areas around it are more conservative and we were glad not to be showing too much skin. To enter the mosques, women needed to use a scarf to cover their head and everyone had to take off their shoes. All of us had brought socks with us so we weren't barefoot. Bare shoulders and bare thighs needed to be covered up. Taksim is more European and therefore, there is less concern about being "covered up."

- We really loved the special rooftop view of Istanbul from a traditional but dying silversmith factory near the Grand Bazaar (check out the first half of this website for instructions on how to get there because it’s a bit tricky but definitely worthwhile:
This is a really good website for other ideas too.

- The Walenz Aquaduct and the Süleymaniye Mosque. These are located in the conservative area of Fatih and then we continued our walk down to the Golden Horn. On Wednesdays there's a bustling bazaar in Fatih that's worth seeing. It's quite different from the Grand Bazaar. There were lots of women in black robes and veils, some faces covered and some not, as well as many groups of children attending religious classes in the area.

- Make sure to walk through the Grand and Spice Bazaars. The Grand Bazaar is huge but we enjoyed the Spice Bazaar a bit more.

- The Topkapi Palace is amazing, huge but VERY crowded. Be sure to get there by 9. The lines to see the jewels are long.

- The gorgeous Blue Mosque smells of stinky feet.

- Before visiting the Hagia Sophia, now a museum, do some research first. It's a stunning building erected by the Roman Emperor Constantine as a Catholic church and then converted to a mosque later. The dome was the largest of its time and many arches needed additional supporting to avoid the structure from caving in.

- Some imagination is needed to envision the Hippodrome and its significance. It’s similar to the Circus Maximus in Rome. Hippo means "horse" and drome means "race course" in latin.

- The underground Cisterne blew us away. We especially found the Medusa carvings at the other end of the Cisterne to be remarkable. Again, read up on its history to get the full appreciation of the reservoir.

- Our biggest surprise was the Dolmabahce Palace on the Taksim side. We had a tour guide who took us through it and made it come alive. We visited the harem and were grateful to have a guide give us the Background to each room's purpose or they would have lost a bit of their magic. There's so much recent history in this palace including it being the residence of the last ruling Sultans and the home of Ataturk.

- Don’t miss the arcades off Istiklal street: http://istanbul.for91days.com/2013/0...iklal-caddesi/

- Also, the restaurants around Imroz (I think this is the restaurant our tour guide recommended off Istiklal Street) are delightful.

- The Asian side. We got off in Kadikoy and walked in the local shopping area near where restaurant Moda Spor is (just to give you an idea where it is… we didn’t go into the restaurant.) It’s a lovely area and really worth seeing.

- We took a two hour Bosporus boat tour which met our needs.

- Our hotel was called Ottoman Park Hotel and is about a 15 minute downhill walk from the Hippodrome. If you’re in the area, stop in and have a drink on their rooftop terrace. You’ll be away from the masses of people and in a more local area.

Hope these suggestions and insights will make your trip to Istanbul even more enjoyable.
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Jun 9th, 2015, 08:40 AM
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Thanks for the very useful advice
Bookmarking for our trip in September.
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Jun 21st, 2015, 08:47 AM
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Thanks for reading
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Jun 21st, 2015, 09:57 AM
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Great report and I agree with your impressions. I would add that the Harem at Topkapi Palace, an extra ticket bought once inside, is a treasure of tilework and not to be missed.
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