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Istanbul trip report -- a gorgeous city to negotiate

Istanbul trip report -- a gorgeous city to negotiate

Old Jul 26th, 2006, 12:41 PM
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Istanbul trip report -- a gorgeous city to negotiate

I don’t normally do detailed reports but there isn’t enough info on Turkey on this board compared to Western Europe so I decided to write something up….

Flew through LHR to get to IST and had to check my 22” carry-on since the connection to IST was on British Airways. They have become incredibly strict with the carry-on sizer at LHR – you have an unlimited weight allowance now for your carry-on on BA, but the sizer is thinner and taller than what American Air uses. The dimensions of my carry-on were quite a bit smaller than their sizer but the wheels protruded too far by an inch or so to fit into the box. I had to scramble to take a few things out of it in case the bag was delayed, I’ve never had to check this bag before and it totally took me by surprise. Had to wait an extra 30 minutes to get my bags when I landed in IST. Some of the ATM machines at the Ataturk airport give you a choice to withdraw in Lira, Euros, or Dollars. If you got a quote from your hotel in Euro and wanted to pay cash for a discount, this is a good time to withdraw the amount since I didn’t see this option at ATM’s outside of the airport.

Complimentary Airport Pick-up:
The guy with the sign from the hotel was hard to pick out – there are dozens of people holding up signs with names of hotels, etc. I had to walk back and forth several times before I finally recognized a sign. The driver was really nice and when he found out I enjoyed fishing, he drove me through a large Fish Market on the side of the road so I could see the fresh catch spread out at different stands. He’d call out to some of the men as we drove by and then he’d tell me the prices – “see that flat fish (looked like a flounder or small halibut), that’s 90 Lira a Kilogram!” and things like that. I didn’t have any change but had some Euro coin with me so I tipped him 4 Euro for the ride to the hotel. We left the airport at 5 pm on a Sunday and there was very little traffic – I really enjoyed this pleasant ride along the water for much of the way.

Hotels— We just absolutely loved our hotels – the Germir Palas in Taksim and The Uyan Hotel in Sultanahmet.

The Uyan is a smaller family owned hotel that has just undergone renovations, it’s located a few buildings down from the Four Seasons (this is what you tell people when trying to find it since it’s a smaller hotel and some cabbies/people don’t know it). The Uyan is only four stories and has a beautiful roof-top terrace with views of the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia right smack in front of you – unbelievably beautiful. I really enjoyed the breakfast – cherry and orange juices, excellent breads and rolls of all kinds, chocolate croissants, great butter and cherry jellies, olives, lunch meats, fresh fruit, and very good cheese. The yogurt is excellent – I always ate a big bowl with honey drizzled over it. The coffee, as at most places we found, is not very good – it tastes very watery to me – I’d prefer to drink Nescafe to this stuff. They were nice enough, however, to make us Turkish coffee when we requested it. We ate our breakfast overlooking the Bosphorous, Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia – what an incredible way to begin our mornings.

The basic rooms with two twin beds are small but very cute – we had a view of the sea from our room 403 (?) that was flooded with light in the morning and afternoon. The room had hardwood floors with oriental rugs, AC worked very well, a mini bar fridge hidden under a small table with a small tv on top, clean tiled, spacious bathroom with tub/shower. One problem – the room smelled slightly moldy, esp, the bathroom although the bathroom was spotless and new-looking. We would throw the windows open and the moldy smell went away but the bathroom was difficult to air out. We lived with it and tried not to spend too much time in there. The deluxe rooms have just undergone pretty extensive renovations and are much bigger than the standard rooms. The room next to us at the end of the hall had a tiny, really adorable balcony with geraniums in overhanging flowerboxes – also with a view of the sea. This room didn’t cost more but it didn’t have two twins as we needed – I’d take it in a second if traveling with my boyfriend or alone.
I believe the hotel has two standard rooms with small balconies at no extra cost but you must request it. They are very responsive with emails and easy to communicate with. Uyanhotel.com

The cost with breakfast for two was 82 Euro/night with the cash discount (90 Euro regularly). The cost quoted in USD was $120 which was not an advantageous exchange rate when I booked, so I opted for the Euro rate. The owners and staff are great and very gracious and friendly – the son is a very talented piano player and he would come up to the breakfast room in the afternoons after everyone was done eating and play classical music, jazz, he was a real pleasure to listen to. They have speakers out on the terrace playing Turkish music and have an elevator that went all the way up to the breakfast room and terrace which was good for my friend who can’t climb many stairs. The hotel overall was very tastefully decorated with nice touches – we loved staying here. We were able to get a wireless signal here in our room or on the terrace which was great – they also had a computer room open 24 hours where you could go on-line, but there’s no printer. The hotel’s location was excellent – maybe a 6 minute walk to the Blue Mosque, the Palace, Aya Sofia. We took cabs to the Grand Bazaar area for 3 lira. Had dinner at the Green Room (Yesil Ev?) outdoor patio garden which was right around the corner from the Uyan. This looked like a very elegant hotel – lovely surroundings. I had the Turkish ravioli which wasn’t very good – covered with a yogurt sauce, I should have ordered the crepes instead which were very good.

The Germir Palas in Taksim Square was a more luxurious hotel and we got a great rate through the conference we were attending – only 70 Euro/night for two twins. The travel agents work wonders in Istanbul. I tried negotiating for lower rates on my own at several hotels by offering to stay 10 days and paying in cash, none of them budged on their prices, it might be because July is high season and they don’t have problems filling their rooms. When my friends tried to book the same hotels just a month before arrival dates, none of them had any more vacancies at all.

Our room here, 601, was dark and had carpet (I always prefer hardwood) but the room was larger than the Uyan with higher-end touches that you’d expect in a larger 4 star hotel. The breakfast here was very, very good – and they offered eggs and sausage in addition to the usual breads, rolls, cereals, cheeses, olives, yogurt. Free wireless internet in the lobby. Bar on the first floor and on the rooftop terrace which had a decent view of the city but nothing like the stunning views from the Uyan. They were filming a movie here one morning on the rooftop terrace during breakfast. The bathroom was immaculate and the shower/bathtub had moan-inducing water pressure. Germirpalas.com.

I think you can negotiate for lower rates at all these hotels in the low season. But I must say, the weather in July was gorgeous and perfect for light silk skirts and dresses in the daytime, the air cooled a bit in the evenings and it was lovely to be outside. It does get windy on those rooftops though – move down a floor if it’s too much – you still get great views. They also always bring you large pashminas to wrap around your shoulders in the evenings. Watch out with this season’s short shorts, I had to go back to the hotel and change – the men are shameless flirts and give you endless amounts of attention which can be fun and playful if you’re with a group, but can feel more like harassment when walking around alone. I felt comfortable wearing tank tops but showing a lot of leg seemed to garner *way* too much attention. Be prepared for marriage proposals and perhaps less decent proposals…especially at the Grand Bazaar but more on that later.

If I had a choice, we would have stayed in the Sultanahmet area the whole time since we’re not nightlife, clubbing people. I’m someone whose idea of a great evening is talking with friends late into the night on a rooftop terrace or cozy little café with endless cups of wonderful teas, comfortable couches, candles everywhere, and seeing the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia lit up in the distance, or staying for several rounds of drinks after watching the sunset over the Bosphorus. Sultanahmet is very quiet in the evenings, definitely not a place to party hard -- there are not throngs of people walking through the streets and if I were alone I would have been a little nervous walking at night through this area. But with friends it was a dream – we had to work on our laptops in the mornings and it was fun to find these tiny little cafes open in the mornings on the narrow little streets of Sultanahmet – we had to work inside since otherwise there was too much glare on our laptop screens. The most rundown little places were delightful inside – pretty rugs thrown on the ground, stone walls, tiny little seats with cushions. And the nicest most hospitable people – after our Turkish coffees (1.50 Lira) and tall glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice (3 Lira) , they’d insist on bringing us complimentary glasses of apple and rose tea. We’d pay for them anyway by leaving a large tip – at these small cafes, the prices were great. For the same thing on a rooftop terrace, Turkish coffee was 5 Lira. We did tarot card readings for a few hours at Metropolis Café which was just a few minutes down from the Uyan – I think the Metropolis was on a street referred to as hostel avenue – there are tons of American and European backpackers and hostels on this street but the Metropolis made you feel transported to some far away place. The owners and staff are great – they read your fortune in your Turkish coffee for you, very good fun, they seemed pretty good at it. (At some places, the boys were just flirting, “Hmmm, I see romance in the very near future,” etc.) They seemed really interested in our tarot cards and pulled their chairs up to listen to what we were doing. The Metropolis has a rooftop as well and I had a great dinner here – I ordered the Sultan’s favorite which was a lamb stew on top of pureed eggplant – really delicious, very flavorful, and great with the baskets of excellent bread they bring to your table. We loved this place. Also, the Seven Hills Hotel is right next door to the Uyan and had the most beautiful rooftop terrace we’d ever seen. The entire indoor part is all glass and the views were breathtaking. We had coffee very early in the morning one day and it was like being in a dream – seated on a little couch outside overlooking the water. Dinner was less impressive although I enjoyed my Turkish lamb flambé entrée – the chicken kabobs my friend had were dry and tasteless but the artichoke appetizer was excellent. Prices here are a little high because of the view but I’d go here at least once, preferably early morning or at sunset when you can still see the blue water. The pictures we took here are priceless.

More on this area, Taksim, the Bosphorus cruise, Grand Bazaar later…
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Old Jul 26th, 2006, 04:31 PM
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VERY interesting report--looking forward to more. Jane
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Old Jul 26th, 2006, 06:33 PM
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I am also looking forward to more.
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Old Jul 27th, 2006, 06:38 AM
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Great report, fishee!!

Bookmarking so that I can read the rest...
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Old Jul 27th, 2006, 05:27 PM
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More Fishee More!!!
This is great!!
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Old Jul 27th, 2006, 05:35 PM
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We want to know about your dealings with the carpet dealers.
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Old Jul 28th, 2006, 10:04 AM
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One thing I forgot to mention – if you are a U.S. or EU citizen, you need to purchase an entry visa right after you deplane within the IST customs area – I think I paid 15 USD and I was glad I had this cash with me.

As I said, the peace and quiet of the Sultanahmet was magical for us, with the call to prayer resonating from the gorgeous mosques. It’s touristy and a total orientalist fantasy, but hey, that’s sorta what we wanted for our first trip to Istanbul. But seeing Pizza Hut and Burger King outside my window at my Taksim hotel snapped me out of it pretty quickly.

I must admit we did really enjoy walking through the Taskim Square area one evening, jam packed with Turks of all ages, with many younger people. It was a nice to see “locals” and Turkish tourists hanging out on the weekend, and we perused the music stores and tons of inexpensive clothing stores along the pedestrian walk, Istiklal. We ate at a very good restaurant mentioned in many tour books, Haci Baba along this walkway – reservations are important to get a table on the outside terrace section where it overlooks the beautiful garden of an old church, and the place had a great vibe. The Mezas (?) were excellent – the artichokes, different preparations of eggplant, yogurt and dill, hummus, stuffed peppers, etc. The waiters invited us to walk over to point out what we wanted to eat, the same thing for our entrée courses. I had an excellent entrée of lamb medallions with a neatly trimmed ring of crisp fat around each piece – finish this dish quickly while the fat is still crisp and succulent.

My friends’ whole fish dishes were slightly overcooked – something I noticed that happened quite frequently during our visit, pretty disappointing. Desserts were really good here – I ordered two – one of them a rice pudding with a burnt top, the other a long donut shaped sweet with a dollop of something reminiscent of cream cheese but not sour. My friends had caramel crème – a pretty basic flan – not as creamy as the Pilipino kind which is my preference but still very good for an egg-y flan. The desserts are pretty repetitive everywhere we went – flan, rice pudding, baklava, sometimes tiramisu. One night I tried figs and apricots with crème at Metropolis Café – I enjoyed it but the crème was whipped crème out of a can, I imagine a good restaurant could have prepared this simple dessert very well.

The Bosphorus Cruise: this was so much fun and a steal at 7.50 lira roundtrip – avoid the people trying to get you on their tour boats if value is important. It was hard for us to find the correct booth along the waterway and we walked all over looking for something called Turkish Maritime Lines (TML) as our Insight tourbook instructed – turns out it’s been renamed something like IDO with a dolphin symbol. I followed the advice of another Fodorite and we sat on the left-side of the boat facing front which was great.

This is a public type ferry with no guided tour so bring a book that will guide you through the highlights as you sail by, otherwise you have to make stuff up. My Insight Tour book had only very few details that I was reading aloud and anyone within earshot that understood English was leaning towards us. We were strapped for time so only got off at the last village of the cruise, Anadolu Kavagi, and took a taxi up to the castle ruins – a gorgeous almost 360 panoramic view of the Black Sea connecting to the Bosphorus and you can see the city of Istanbul on your far left side. Stunning and made for wonderful pictures. The cab driver waited for us for 30 minutes since my friend can’t walk down and it’s difficult to flag a cab up here. I think he charged us 15 lira for the roundtrip plus 30 minutes, for just a one way up to the castle it was 5 lira. If my friend didn’t have injuries, we would have walked down, stopping at the cute outdoor roadside café on the way down for a cold drink.

Great simple little seafood stands at this fishing village, selling fresh grilled and fried mackerel, bluefish, etc. at great prices – 7 Lira (4.20 USD). Pay more and sit up on a terrace with great seaside views. We hurried through this town since we didn’t have much time and we were trying to catch the 3:15 pm ferry back to IST – hang onto your ticket since you need to show it to them to get back on for the return.

On our way back we sat on the same side of the ferry to see the other shore-line but we eventually went downstairs and outside to lean against the rails – you are literally standing at the waterline so it’s an exhilarating ride back. Resist the urge to just nap on the way back to IST – standing outside with the water splashing just at your feet is like an invigorating slap in the face – in a good way. We bought these great looking Istanbul t-shirts from a vendor walking around on the ferry – for 5 lira (3 bucks?), makes for good gifts. Oh God, DON’T miss the yogurt being sold by the concessions boys – called something like Kanlika(?) they put a spoonful of powdered sugar on top for you – this was the best yogurt I’ve ever tasted – I ate three total on the way there and back. My friends don’t even like yogurt and they ate them too – these were wonderful, 1.50 Lira. The owner of the Uyan told us that this yogurt is quite famous and comes from one of the coastal villages on the Bosphorus – we looked for it in the stores but never saw this particular brand. I might be getting the brand wrong – in trying to remember the name, we came up with “Kana lick this off your face?" so anything that sounds sort of like this is the right one. There are really cute concession boys walking around the boat the entire time, selling drinks, snacks, breads, yogurt.

The Grand Bazaar was great. With Thingorjus in mind, I prepared to strip off all my jewelry and designer clothing and then realized that all my jewelry and clothing is from TJ Maxx. If you’re a woman under 55, perhaps 65 on a good hair day, you are the most gorgeous thing to ever walk through the Bazaar, I mean the guys are just friggin shameless in using your stunning beauty as an opening to get you into the store. Every store you walk by, you’re breaking someone’s heart. Me and two other Latina women I met in a leather store were doubled over in laughter because they had told all of us, separately, that we looked just like Jennifer Lopez. The doubling over in laughter part was due, in part, to the fact that I’m not Latina but quite obviously Asian…

I love haggling in general but I saw many American tourists at the Bazaar looking kind of defensive – an almost angry posture. If I could offer a little bit of advice, this probably isn’t the best approach. My friends and I were really playful with the merchants, telling them after they gave us the price of a $2000 carpet to give us a card and we would go find someone rich to give it to, or that we'd come back with rich husbands in a few years. We smiled and laughed constantly, mostly because we thought all their antics and remarks were truly hilarious and they seemed to appreciate our entertaining playfulness (you figure they're bored to death doing this all day...) I think it helps to go to the Bazaar with a full stomach so you’re not hungry which would make me really grumpy and less tolerant of B.S. And there’s a lot of B.S. at the Grand Bazaar. When they would get too touchy (holding my arm too long, trying to kiss my shoulder, etc) I would tell them that they were making me uncomfortable now and they would back off immediately and apologize.

I bought a handful of loud D Squared and Dolce and Gabbana t-shirts for my queer boys back home – anywhere from 5-15 Lira. The merchants right outside the actual bazaar along the alley streets (but still reachable through the bazaar) offer lower prices since I’m guessing their rents are lower. Oversized Gucci sunglasses with a cheap case, 5 Lira. Two large, very pretty ceramic plates, 15 Lira each. This season's canvas Prada carry-on bag (60 Lira) was a bit too much but I was getting tired, I think 40+ Lira would have been more appropriate.

The knock-offs comes from different factories (I’m guessing from China) so they vary in quality – shop around before doing any heavy bargaining, although it’s *really* hard to hold off, I saw a better version of my bag at another shop in spite of knowing better. My friend bought a smaller leather D&G purse that began at 180 Lira for 80 Lira – they’re much more willing to bargain heavily when you buy multiple items (this was the same shop where I bought the carry-on bag that I needed to bring back all this crap). Don’t have your heart set on anything and don’t get into the heavy haggling game unless you really want something.

In one shop, they rolled out gorgeous rugs in front of us despite our protests that we weren’t looking for a rug, nor could we afford anything. I asked them to bring out their ugliest and worst quality rug and maybe we could start talking, at which point they’d say that they have no ugly or low quality rugs, etc. A small kilm rug (wall-hanging size) that was marked 340 Lira on the back was eventually offered to me at 45 Lira which is what I said I could afford to pay (said laughingly and sheepishly, with theatrics). But I had to deal with the owner proposing marriage and asking my friend what hotel we were staying at, etc. which was really creeping her out (she’s sensitive). The whole thing was really funny to most of us, took around 25 minutes, we had a couple of glasses of apple tea, and laughed until we were near tears. I don’t think this was even a great bargain, honestly, and the places that put prices on the backs of rugs, of course those numbers are totally meaningless. I really like the wall hanging and to me, it’s well worth what I paid for it but I’m not deluded enough to think I actually got away with something. These guys are very shrewd businessmen and aren’t going to “give” anything away.

Another shop owner had tea with me as I looked at “antique” drawings and miniatures – he gave me a really cheap, not very nice print for free with his cell number, etc. The guys are just pretty outrageous, I don’t know if women actually do ever go out with these guys who offer to take you out to dinner, show you around town, etc. But if some of you are vaguely interested in casual relations, there are ample opportunities and some of these guys are really attractive (unfortunately, the older guy that proposed was not so…). Even some of my gay friends got a few cell numbers although we’re not sure if they were trying to take them to a belly dancing strip club, thinking they were straight. Sexual relations between men are ostensibly illegal in Turkey but legal prohibition is generally a sign that something is being widely practiced so who knows….

Anyway, I’m getting off on tangents, all I can say about the Bazaar is go when you’re not tired, not hungry, and when you have a lot of energy and patience, early on in your trip. Shop elsewhere first and try to peruse the Bazaar before buying so you have some kind of guage for prices. There were nice gifts at the Palace gift shop too – prices are set and not as good as the Bazaar but I felt like it gave me some sense of relative value. If you’re not a haggler, I would peruse the tour books for good gift shops to avoid the hassle.

I can't believe I've gone on like this, perhaps more later.
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Old Jul 28th, 2006, 01:41 PM
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Thanks for the nostalgic trip back to the Grand Bazaar! Good job.

Thingorjus would be impressed.
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Old Jul 28th, 2006, 02:08 PM
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I can think of no higher compliment -- Thin does not seem like one to suffer fools gladly... I actually thought of her report while I was there and would actually laugh at loud trying to picture the madness -- the cigarette burnt carpet heiresses and Muffy falling into the Bosphorus after too many martinis, I tried to relay these brilliant anecdotes to my friends and they thought I had lost my mind...
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Old Jul 28th, 2006, 02:43 PM
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Great writing.
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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 08:31 AM
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Finally – I normally avoid the “touristy” eateries and cafes like the plague when I travel. However, since my friend needs to rest a lot, I had to ditch this strategy and we ended up sitting down at places like Dervish Café right next to the Blue Mosque and I have to say, I really enjoyed this. We didn’t eat there, only had several coffees and teas after dinner but the live music and view of the mosque directly in front of us at sunset was amazing. There was also another outdoor café with tourist menus right next to the smaller bazaar (the Arrasta (?) Bazaar area) which looked like it would be terrible but they had the best chicken kebabs of the entire trip and the menu was translated into 3 languages, I think there were even color photos of the food (I know, I know). This place had all the signs of the paradigmatic “place from hell” – yet our lunch was excellent. I’m sure some of these places are truly horrid but I found we had better luck in Sultanahmet than I expected and I stopped automatically walking away whenever I saw a translated menu.

Hamdi near the waterfront was very good (most frequently cited IST restaurant on boards and in guidebooks) but I think you need to be a lover of our friend, the lamb, to enjoy this place. My friends don’t normally enjoy lamb in any form and so they had a disappointing dinner here while I loved my lamb kebabs. I would order almost all of their appetizer dishes – eggplant preparations, peppers, hummus, stuffed grapeleaves (they had 6 offerings when we were there) and maybe skimp a bit on the entrees. Do make reservations a couple of days in advance – if you can’t get an outdoor terrace table just ask for something near the window on the 3rd or 4th floor. I found that it can become uncomfortably windy in the evenings on these outdoor terraces anyway, esp. after 9 pm… This restaurant was packed and very lively.

Also, the cheaper cafeteria style places offered very good food – these places have trays of hot food displayed in the window. You just ask and point, and then they bring your selections to your table – we’d peek inside and sit down whenever we’d see local workers mixed in with the clientele.

O.K. – I should include the warning about cabbies which I started in a separate thread while I was still there.

ALWAYS try to give cabs exact change as they seem to frequently try to switch your bills, telling you that your 10 lira bill was a 1 or worse, your 50 Lira bill was a 5. This happened to us three times and after getting ripped off the first time, we’d just walk out of the cab after paying, not sticking around to argue and waving them off when they began their “this isn’t enough” schtick.. Agree beforehand on who will pay for the cab or if you do have to take contributions from your friends (i.e..”Who has a 1 Lira coin?”) just have the money ready and make sure you’ve counted it out correctly.

Pay attention to your meter throughout your ride, as one cabbie used his hand to try to cover the meter face and pressed a couple of buttons, adding another 10 Lira to the fare 30 seconds before we stopped. When I pointed out that it was only 8 Lira when I looked at the meter a minute before, he just grunted and took our 8 lira.

The vast majority of the cabbies (20/24) were great but be aware of the less honest ones. We did always try to tip *at least* a couple of lira for longer rides, and driving an alternate route didn’t always mean they were trying to rip us off. A couple of cabs took us down narrow, tiny streets to bypass the congested thoroughfares during rush hour and we’d strategically pop out and merge onto the busy street, having bypassed much of the traffic In these cases our fares were almost the same as when we were being driven around with no traffic whatsoever, quite an amazing feat since the traffic in this city is horrible. Also, when you’re in the congested Taksim area, make an effort to figure out which side of the street you should be on so you’re already heading in the right direction when flagging a cab – it was really hard for some of them to turn around and two cabbies told us to get out and walk across the street rather than have to drive in bumper to bumper traffic with the meter running and turn around 5 minutes later.

Lastly, everything they say about not wearing heels in this city is true…I’ve worn 4 inch heels while walking around Italy and Spain but this was impossible in IST due to the condition of the sidewalks and roads. Whether it was 4 inch stilettos or my 3 1/2 inch espadrilles – neither of them worked. I swear I think I saw some local guys taking bets about how many more steps I could take before falling -- my heel was literally getting firmly stuck between cobblestone, I was walking around like a horse competing in dressage. (We jumped into a cab as soon as we could….) My 3 inch Aerosole slides were fine however – you just need something that won’t get wedged into the many narrow and wide cracks that cover the walkways…. I will post any other details that I can remember if I think they might be useful. Thanks to everyone who helped me out with this trip, it was amazing.
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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 09:29 AM
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Thank you for your great report. I am especially glad that you mentioned the visa issue because the process had been unclear to me. I first read that the visas were $100 pp but have since been reduced.
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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 02:58 PM
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Thanks fishee-

My travelling partner is a vegetarian.Was it hard to get vegetarian only meals in Istanbul?

I love lamb so I am looking forward to the food in Turkey!!
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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 04:19 PM
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Eggplant is VERY BIG in Turkey. They put it in everything. It is on every restaurant menu.
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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 04:46 PM
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Hi,
I love your report. Thank you.

yipper
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Old Aug 1st, 2006, 06:58 AM
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IOC is correct -- eggplant in various forms is everywhere. Also stuffed peppers and grape leaves seemed to be vegetarian although I wouldn't be surprised if there was a meat broth used at some places, since these were quite flavorful. If she's strict vegetarian, it might be a little boring, although she's going to love the bread. (The salads are quite bad and have no dressing or seasoning, just a wedge of lemon usually)

I particularly like the aubergine preparation of the eggplant, plus another eggplant starter at Hamdi which was excellent -- slightly spicy so pinkish in color and creamy looking with chunks of eggplant, really delicious. They also had a vegetable kebab entree at Hamdi that my friend ordered but she ran into a nut in their complimentary meatball starter and so couldn't really taste food afer that but it looked very good. These vegetable kebabs are available at most places we went to.

I love lamb too, it was everywhere and usually excellent. But if a waiter rec's the chicken and not the lamb, listen to his advice -- when I didn't I ended up with a dry lamb kebab while my friends ate the best chicken kebabs we'd ever tasted.

The breakfasts are vegetarian and so delicious, have a great time and thanks everyone for your help and comments!
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Old Aug 1st, 2006, 07:29 AM
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Istanbul is a fabulous city, but I'd be cautious with the cabs (as I've mentioned in another post.) While many drivers are honest, this is probably the city I've had the worst problems with re: trying to overcharge tourists, using outdated currency, etc. It's always best to confirm the amount that the cab will charge (approximately) before getting in. Ask you hotel about how much to expect a cab to charge. Yes, I always tip, but I also expect that a cab will be honest (trust but verify with the hotel!)
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Old Aug 1st, 2006, 03:07 PM
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Oh, forgot to mention the Turkish baths, most popular being Cagaloglu and Cemberlitas -- both in Sultanahmet, fairly close to the Grand Bazaar. Both places have websites that post pictures but not prices. I emailed and will paste prices below.

We planned on going after an exhausting day of shopping but we decided to save our money for more shopping. We had a few colleagues from the U.S. go and regardless of location, they didn't seem to really enjoy it.

After listening to them, I realized they were expecting a spa experience, not a public bath which is really different. In East Asia, the baths have a pragmatic vibe where you have some gruff old lady grunting at you to turn over, etc. and she scours you rather harshly with sandpaper-like gloves.

If you do decide to go just be prepared for something other than a Western spa experience and I think it would have been great (had i coughed up the money) -- i.e. enjoy the 400 yr old architecture and a harsh exfoliation of a lifetime but it's the opposite of pampering. They also complained they felt like they had to keep tipping everybody and ended up being more expensive than they expected.

Here are prices that Cagaloglu sent me as of July 18, 2006:

1. Self-service bath: 10 Euro (just entry, no scrubdown or treatment)
2. Scrubbed Assisted Bath: 15 Euro
3. Massage a la Turk: 17 Euro
4. Complete Bath Service: 20 Euro (assisted scrub and massage)
5. Complete Oriental Luxury Service: (it's the complete bath with an extra soapy bath rinse, this is what the women got...) 30 Euro

rental of towel, slipper and soap included in price.
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Old Aug 1st, 2006, 03:24 PM
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A friend of mine just returned and told me I must try the bath. However, after reading your post I think I will skip it. I went the Hot Springs baths while visiting Arkansas and was completely grossed out. There are many other experiences I can have in Turkey without repeating that yucky feeling. I love spas.
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Old Aug 1st, 2006, 03:47 PM
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Awesome trip report fishee! I'm bookmarking this for my own trip planning purposes
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