Trip Report: 5 Days in Istanbul

Old Jul 9th, 2015, 12:44 PM
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Trip Report: 5 Days in Istanbul

During my planning phase, many Fodorites were very helpful and encouraging, as always! So, I’ve provided this trip report to share my experiences and return the favor. Be forewarned, it may be lengthy!

BACKGROUND: I’m a solo traveler and have travelled all over the world but had never made it to Istanbul although it was always in the back of my mind as an interesting spot. So, when I saw a cruise that departed from Istanbul and went to several Croatian ports, I knew that was the answer. I booked the cruise and spent 5 days in Istanbul on my own before the cruise. This trip report will only describe the Istanbul portion.

PLANNING: Due to my Type A mindset, I like to do a lot of research beforehand and create a daily “to do” list that groups sights/activities in geo areas. I looked at nearly all the Istanbul guidebooks, web forums and blogs to figure what I wanted to see and glean any “off the beaten track” suggestions. Rick Steves’ book was very useful – for basic information, he can’t be beat and he gives very specific directions on what buses to take, where to turn when exiting a metro station, etc. – which is invaluable and not provided by any of the other books I used. Since it had color photos and a fair amount of history, I purchased the Lonely Planet guide to bring with me for on-site reading, which I used a lot (especially at night, either to read about what I had seen/done that day or to plan the next day’s events).

Flights-flew Turkish Air direct from JFK to Istanbul – what a great experience! After reading reviews, I opted for their Comfort Class since it provided a much larger seat (46” pitch versus standard economy pitch of 19”). It was $2000 round trip whereas economy would have been about $900 but it was worth it. Seating is 2-3-2 and I selected the aisle seat in the 3-seat configuration and both times, the middle seat was empty which is always nice. Each seat had individual entertainment screens, noise-cancelling headphones were provided and we got 2 meals, plus snacks. The restrooms were bigger than normal and cleaned throughout the flights. I would definitely fly TA and Comfort Class again.

Lodging – Someone’s Fodorite trip report (sorry, I forget whose!) intrigued me because they stayed in 2 hotels, one in the Old City and one on the other side of the Galata bridge. I was worried about crowds, so the idea of only spending a couple of days in the Sultanhamet area appealed to me. There are so many hotels and many seemed similar in terms of cost, rooms, etc and I ended up selecting the Pierre Loti Hotel which was right on Divan Yolu. Cost was about $230 in total for two nights in a standard room and a one way transfer from the airport (that was 35 euros).

When I checked in, they upgraded me from my standard room to a suite on the 5th floor (#502). A corner room with doors opening onto two balconies, a completely glass walled Jacuzzi tub and shower (toilet was behind frosted glass walls). So, the room looked great and after I unpacked I went out to explore the area. Unfortunately, I had to change rooms due to noise. The problem was that the hotel has a very popular roof top bar, which is reached only from the 5th floor and the elevator was right outside my door - and when I say, right outside my door, I mean about 4 feet away. So, everyone coming to the bar came up the elevator, walked down the hall & up the stairs to the bar; same process in reverse as they left although they chatted and laughed as they waited for the elevator to reach the 5th floor. It was so loud. Then, the music started and reverberated through the ceiling. After about 90 minutes of this, I got dressed and went downstairs to ask for a new room. They had nothing available then, so they agreed to call the bar and ask them to turn down the music and move me the next day. The next day, I had to pack everything up and left it in the room so they could move me to the new room while I was out sightseeing. The other room was much smaller, which was fine, on the 3rd floor at the end of the hall near the emergency stairs. It was quiet and had everything I needed, so was fine.

Breakfast was included and was offered in their main level restaurant. Fruit, breads, hot dishes, yogurt and cereal which was fine. The hotel was in a great location - literally a 7 minute walk to Hagia Sophia, Bascilica Cistern, Hippodrome, etc and is across the street from a small cemetery with sultans’ tombs & statuary. There were several restaurants, bakeries, newsstands and souvenir shops right next to the hotel on Divan Yolu, plus the Sultanhamet tram stop (which had machines to top up Istanbulkarts). I would stay there again, but would specify a room far away from the elevator (it's a smaller hotel, with just 40 rooms).

I also stayed at the Pera Palace Hotel in the Upper Tunel area of Beyoglu. I enjoy staying in places with a historical connection which this certainly has (although the guest rooms are all modern). Even though I arrived at around 10:00 am, they had a room ready for me (a Golden Horn view room (#406). King bed, with an actual gilt card explaining the "pillow menu", great bedside lighting, linen floor mat next to the bed w/Pera Palace slippers placed just so and French doors to the balcony with a small table and chair. Nice décor details including painted details on the ceiling, automatic curtains, chaise lounge, and gold embroidered pillow cases. Standard marble bathroom with shower that had an overhead rain deluge, a wall mounted pool spray and a handheld shower attachment, with a marble bench. Lots of hot water & strong water pressure - very relaxing after a day of sightseeing.

Had room service both nights for dinner - menu was varied, good guality ingredients, speedy and not crazily expensive. Location was useful - just a short walk from the Tunel funicular and the Sistane metro stop, plus the main shopping street (Istiklal Avenue).

Note that I made both hotel reservations via their web sites and had no problems; both hotels emailed confirmations and transfer information.

Day One: FRIDAY, JUNE 19, sunny and about 80 degrees
Arrived at the airport around noon. I had signed up for a one-way airport transfer offered by the Pierre Loti Hotel, so located the driver (a private van) just outside the baggage area in a crowd of drivers with signs (had to walk the length of the area twice before they had added my name to their long list of names so if you don’t see your name at first, don’t panic!) The drive to the hotel took about 35 minutes.

Checked in to a large, bright room and went out to explore the area and visit the Hagia Sophia. Walked around the corner onto the commercial street, Divan Yolu, past the Sultanhamet tram stop; noticed a few restaurants that looked interesting and stopped into a bakery (Cigdem) for a chocolatey cookie. At the tram stop, I veered to the right into the park-like Hippodrome area, walked around a bit, and continued to Hagia Sophia. Got in the line to buy a museum pass and was surprised that the only card available was the 85TL version, which the web site said was for 3 days and I wanted to buy a 5 day card for 115TL. But, they were insistent that the 115TL card wasn’t available, so OK. Also rented the audio guide for about 10TL. No line to enter using the Museum pass. Inside, an overall impression of height and gilt. Although it wasn’t shoulder to shoulder crowded, there were a lot of people milling around so it was a bit difficult to filter them out & concentrate on the building and décor. I liked the 2nd floor best since it was emptier and there was a better sense of the soaring spaces, vaulting and ceiling decorations. I got a chuckle out of seeing all the people over the years who had scratched their graffiti into the white marble sills – guess it’s an eternal urge to commemorate your presence! Also interesting to look at the backs of the huge circular calligraphy signs (leather that was stretched over a wooden frame). Large entry door accommodated the sultans arriving on horseback. P.S.: Audio guide was worth it.

Spent about 2 hours inside and sat in the outside café to rest a bit and figure where to go next. Visited the museum gift shop which had some nice quality items at fair prices, but since it was literally my first stop, I opted to hold off on any purchases. My buddy Rick Steves’ book noted the sultans tombs around the corner, so I walked over – what a great find! No charge to visit these exquisite tombs, with chandeliers, tiles and vivid painting. My first experience with taking my shoes off (Fodorites suggested bringing little socks and a head scarf, so I was prepared). They were quiet and peaceful – perfect way to appreciate the artwork and details.

Since the Arista Bazaar was consistently mentioned as an alternative to the bazaars with nice quality, uncrowded and fair priced items, I walked over there (behind the Blue Mosque & Hippodrome – about 10 minutes from Hagia Sophia.) This was my kind of place – not too many options, but enough to offer variety. Stopped in Jennifer’s hamman shop where they had a huge range of peshmetals (thin towel/shawls/cloths) in different fabric weights and colors and patterns. Very appealing but still Day one, so not ready to buy yet. Also checked out Iznik Tiles; both shops had pleasant, helpful staff. Saw some carpet pillow covers in another store so decided to keep all these in the back of my mind.

Headed back to the hotel via the Hippodrome; not sure if this was special for Ramadan, but there were a number of craft stalls set up – some food (baklava & ice cream) and lots of doodads. Nothing interested me. Saw my first large public fountain and had a refreshing drink of cold water – I really like this concept.

Stopped into a take away and bought 2 cans of soda and a meat pastry to eat in my room. (For me, I’m usually so tired after a full day of sightseeing that I prefer to eat dinner in my room and relax.) Watched TV and to bed….only to be awoken numerous times due to noise..grrrr.

Tomorrow…Topkapi, Spice Bazaar, Gallipoli, Rustim Pasha
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Old Jul 9th, 2015, 02:18 PM
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Waiting for more of this wonderful report! We love Istanbul.
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Old Jul 9th, 2015, 02:23 PM
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Lucky you, Vicky, 5 days in Istanbul, perfect!
We were very happy with Turkish Airlines, too, a bit disorganised on the ground, but super comfortable seats/ amazing food.
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Old Jul 9th, 2015, 03:20 PM
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My sister and I are going to Istanbul for a week - really looking forward to reading more of your report.
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Old Jul 10th, 2015, 10:31 AM
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Day Two: SATURDAY, JUNE 20, sunny and about 78 degrees
Had quick breakfast at the hotel (cereal & yogurt) and headed out for a full day. Since I’ll be using public transportation, I bought an Istanbulkart transport card at the tobacco shop near the hotel for 10TL and the shop keeper told me to put money on it at the tram stop which was easy to do. There was a guy waiting for his tram who helped me out and then started chatting, offered to walk with me to his family’s store just down the road…yada, yada. I politely turned him down and walked to Topkapi; since this is just behind the Hagia Sophia, it was another quick walk. Took a mini-detour through Hippodrome to leave my buddy behind and enjoyed seeing the modern fountain with tile inlays around the base – especially the segment with the dervishes since they’re on my “to do” list.

Entered Topkapi through the Imperial Gate at 9:15 and there were barely any lines; used my museum pass and rented the audio guide (very glad I did – had lots of info). Following the advice in every guidebook and travel forum, I started in the Harem since I guess it gets most crowded. Fascinating architecture, tile work, gilt décor, carved wood, lattice work – not to mention the actual history. The sultans’ mothers connived & manipulated to run the empire!! The rooms go on and on, through hallways and entry rooms and are up and down a stair or two. Definitely got a sense of the history and life in the harm – such as the huge gilt mirrors that the eunuchs used to monitor who was coming/going and the lattice windows above the courtyard. Because of the size and multiple rooms, I was always able to get space by myself for photos or just imagining the court life.

After the Harem, went through the 3rd and 4th courtyards and buildings since they were right there. In the 4th, I liked the gold roofed sitting spot overlooking the Golden Horn for the sultans’ exclusive use – esp for breakfast or moonrise. A bit tired & hungry, so decided to have lunch at the Konyali restaurant (the self-service portion). As every book indicated, it was slow service and expensive, but the view over the Sea of Marmara couldn’t be beat. Had tasty chicken in puff pastry and a soda and read up on the history of the palace. Made the poor decision not to use the WC at the restaurant and backtracked to the 2nd courtyard and the exit. It was early-mid afternoon and much more crowded so very glad I started when they opened. Stood in a mile-long, slow moving line for the WC kicking myself for not going when I had the opportunity at lunch!! The kitchens sounded interesting but not much to see – lots of china and pots; I was OD’d at this point, so bought a soda in the café and sat in the grass to people watch and decide on my next stop. On my way out, I bought a guide to the palace in the museum shop and used another ornate fountain.

Had wanted to see the Sirkeci train station due to the historical connection and Orient Express so took the tram. It was a non-event – the station exterior is under scaffolding and the interior is sadly under used. There is a café which was not very inviting and a teeny railway museum; no charge for the museum and not of much interest except to train buffs. So, decided to visit the New Mosque.

Tram to Erminou (hot & stinky and an older man kept flicking my arm and saying something laughingly in Turkish; I smiled, said no, sorry about 3 times but he kept smiling away and tried to get an even older man involved who gave him the cold shoulder. I checked to make sure I wasn’t standing in someone’s way, blocking an entrance, etc. but finally tuned him out.) Erminou is a major transportation hub but you can’t miss the mosque since it’s so big. Wondered why so many people were sitting on the steps, cluttering them up – oh, it’s closed for prayers! So, I joined the step-sitters and people watched. Later, donned socks & scarf and entered. Huge, soaring domes; colorful, ornate paintwork on the domes and buttresses plus tiling galore. Very interesting to see how people behave in the mosque; some are praying (kneeling, standing or prostrate), others are lying on the carpet talking to others; kids are running around and playing; etc so it’s communal as well as spiritual. Like the low hanging chandeliers – huge wrought iron circles with clear glass tulip shaped bulbs, now they have light bulbs but in the old days, probably candles or oil. Also interesting to observe over the 5 days, the different carpets used in the mosques which are softer underfoot than marble, absorb some noise and are another colorful element.

Since the Spice Bazaar is so close, decided to see what it’s all about but on my way there, I passed a huge poster for an exhibit on Canakkale 1915 (Gallipoli & WWI). I’m a sucker for any historical exhibits so zipped in. It was in the Isbank Museum – a former bank that’s been turned into a museum – and called “From the Depths to the Trenches – Canakkale 1915” (exhibit closes on 8/15/15). Free entry and the very helpful guard gave me a free audio guide, plus written materials. Audio guide was excellent, as was the exhibit. Diorama, movie, photos, relics, news articles – all told the story of the submarines and boats that were sunk in the campaign and life in the foxholes. It’s a shame, but Americans are generally not very familiar with Gallipoli since our forces weren’t involved but there was a huge loss of life for the Turks and ANZAC troops. Fascinating and balanced. What a great find – that’s what I love about travelling – being open and stumbling across things that turn out to be highlights.
Onward to the Spice Bazaar – yuck. I can’t stand these kinds of places and should have known better – crowded with shops and shoppers, all the shops carry the same items, and you can’t just go into a shop and look without being asked a zillion questions by the staff. I had read about a certain shop for nuts & dried fruit so found it and ended up buying very expensive pistachios and dried cherries. It was my fault (I kept saying smaller, smaller but he filled the bags up) and I wimped out and paid and beat a hasty retreat. I had decided not to visit the Grand Bazaar, but this confirmed it! I reminded me that I know myself and should follow my instincts but at least it was a quick visit.

Since Rustim Pasha mosque was close by, I found it and waited until prayers were over. Sat in the outer courtyard and watched the ablutions. Smaller than the New Mosque, but a riot of blue and white, with red accents from the tiles and ceiling. Really studied the patterns on the tiles up close – lots of variations on flowers, leaves and flowy shapes. Got a chuckle out of the American men who were given Hawaiian print sarongs to cover their shorts and legs – of all the fabrics available to make these, someone chose royal blue with big pink hibiscus flowers…

At this point, it was about 6:00 and I was tired, and everything was blurring together, so took the tram to Sultanhamet and stopped in my favorite bakery. This bakery, Cigdem, Divan Yolu No. 62/A, had tons of pastries plus some savory items; each time I was there, locals were buying boxes of cookies, pastries or having coffee in the little café. I discovered two must haves: a large horn shaped cookie, filled with chocolate – not ganache, but not chocolate cookie either – and topped with slivered nuts. The other was also horn shaped but filled with ground hazelnuts, cinnamon & sugar – with light dusting of sugar on top. They always had the chocolate ones but I only had the hazelnut cookie once …and still remember it.

Took my goodies and a soda back to the hotel, to check out my replacement room. While it was much smaller than the 5th floor suite, it was as far as possible from the elevator and perfectly fine. Ate in bed, watched TV and slept soundly.

Tomorrow…Basilica Cistern, new hotel, Ortakoy & dervishes
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Old Jul 10th, 2015, 12:44 PM
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Day Three: SUNDAY, JUNE 21, sunny and about 78 degrees
Skipped breakfast and walked right to the Basilica Cistern, arriving shortly after they opened. It was 20 TL entry (museum card not accepted) and the audio tour was another 10TL – afterwards, I realized I shouldn’t have bothered with the audio guide, since there were only 5 or 6 spots with narration and they each had signs with English descriptions so there was no need for the audio guide. Very atmospheric, with candle-like lighting, drops of water from the ceiling and Gregorian-chant type of music playing. Wish they provided more history about how the water was transported in viaducts and then distributed to the city. Spent an hour there which was sufficient and involved 10 minutes waiting for the groups to move so I could focus on the Medusa heads. I wouldn't make a point of going here at the expense of other Istanbul sights, but it is interesting and since it’s located next to Hagia Sophia and around the corner from the Blue Mosque and Topkapi, it’s certainly convenient.

On the walk back to the hotel to check out & move to the next hotel, I stopped at Cigdem for another cookie. Investigated the cemetery across the street from the hotel – small, shady w/various funerary monuments and a sultan’s tomb. Tomb was simple but impressive – white marble interior which was carved, crystal chandeliers and draped sarcaphogaus behind brass fencing. Compact but like a sparkly jewel. Another stumbled across gem.

Cab to the Pera Palace Hotel was only 21TL and took about 15 minutes (light traffic on Sunday morning!) I do love the luxury of hotels like the Pera Palace; I can’t normally afford them, but this was an advance purchase deal – 260 euros a night for a king room w/Golden Horn view. Built in 1892, the hotel’s exterior, lobby, lounge & bar have been restored in the historical style but the guest rooms, halls and spa are sophisticated contemporary style. Arrived to doormen, bell boys and much fanfare (which must be their norm since I don’t engender fanfare regularly.) Check-in took a while since the guest in front of me needed 6 rooms, etc. so I wandered around the lounges. I was pleased that even though it was 10:00, they had room ready (#406) so I got organized. Calm, elegant décor – great reading lights next to bed, upholstered chaise lounge, King bed with an actual gilt card explaining the "pillow menu", and French doors to the balcony with a small table and chair. Marble bathroom with shower that had an overhead rain deluge, a wall mounted pool spray and a handheld shower attachment, with a marble bench. Lots of hot water & strong water pressure - very relaxing after a day of sightseeing.

Handy location- just a short walk from the Tunel funicular and the Sistane metro stop, plus the main shopping street (Istiklal Avenue).

It was another nice day, so I decided to go to Ortakoy (a town a bit up the coast) and walked up Istiklal to Taksim Square to get Funicular #1 to Karabatas; then took a local bus to Ortakoy. From the Ortakoy bus stop, had to walk a few blocks back to the town center and veered left toward the sea front. (Good directions from Rick Steves’). Lots of cafes and tacky souvenir shops; two market areas – one right next to the mosque and the other a block away. Nothing appealed but fun to see. Waited for prayers to end and did socks/scarf routine for mosque. Small, but very different décor from the mosques I’ve seen so far – pastel colors and rather European Romantic appearance; lots of white marble with pastel inlaid plaques and crystal chandeliers. Two heights of mullioned windows made it bright and feeling of space.

Ready for lunch so went to Pasa Doner (a chain) and had a chicken doner & soda, sitting outside watching the world go by. 6TL total

Out of things to do, so decide to go on a 1 hour Bosphorus cruise – 15TL. Lots of small craft on the water and then realize it must be a demonstration or protest since many of them were flying flags and banners (don’t know what the banners said – tried to Google it, but couldn’t figure it out). Sailed past beach clubs, old mansions, new mansions, local swimming areas, kayaking clubs, etc. Entertaining and nice to sit and let the sights pass by with no effort on my part!

Ready to go back to my nice fancy, schmancy hotel but can’t find the bus stop – must have walked up and down the same area 3 times, each time going a bit further until finally (duh!) I went far enough and there it was. Just a silly thing that I was getting myself worked up about and then realized for no reason; you have to laugh at yourself sometimes. Disaster though –my Istanbulkart has run out of money and there’s no where to fill it up….luckily, the driver was kind and let me go on for free. At the Karabatas stop, I added 20TL to the card and took the tram to Karakoy. I had decided to take a chance and try to buy a ticket at the door for the 5:00 pm whirling dervishes show at Galata Mevlevihanesi. Since they’re located on Galipdede Caddesi, not far from Tünel at the end of Istiklal Caddesi, I figured I could take the tram to Karakoy, then hop on the Tünel funicular and it would be easy. Famous last words. I guess I was looking for a more obvious entrance to the Tünel but I walked right past it and kept walking and walking and walking, past hardware stores galore. When I finally realized I was too far, I stopped into a hotel and asked for directions and they sent me across the street and walk up the hill. Well, that was some hill! Steep, steep, steep – I had to stop to catch my breath twice. Finally got to the top and then asked 3 different people, all of them knew right away where I was going but the little lanes, and twisty turns don’t lend themselves to directions. I kept trekking up hill and figured I’d ask one more person and then give up, especially since it was nearly 4:45. Luckily, it turned out that I was almost there – phew!

No problem getting a ticket (so much for all the forums and trip reports that said “buy a ticket the day before or at 10:00 on Sunday”) which was 50TL. The room is circular and all the seats in the first 2 rows were taken, but I sat in the back row planning to stand up for a good view. It was a full house and the performance was one hour. Unique Turkish flute and other instruments. I had read up on the Sema ceremony and the meaning of the different hand positions, revolutions, etc which made this spiritual and cultural concert more meaningful for me. Afterward, I wished I could have stayed and explored the cemetery but the employees were urging us to “please go home”.

The Pera Palace was actually fairly close so I bushwhacked my way there and stopped at a mini-mart for soda, chips and candy. Walked past an antique book, maps & ephemera shop where a sultans print caught my eye – something to check out tomorrow! Had room service (lamb kofte: meatballs, yogurt raite & rice and soda) – only 45TL. Sat on my little balcony to watch the sun set over the water and people going home.

Tomorrow…Lost again, Karakoy, Suleiman Mosque
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Old Jul 10th, 2015, 03:16 PM
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Enjoying your TR...I'm going to Istanbul next so your details are helpful.
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Old Jul 10th, 2015, 03:54 PM
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Great TR, vicky - making me relive my own visit!
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Old Jul 13th, 2015, 12:33 PM
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Thanks for the intriguing trip report on Istanbul. I'm considering a trip there in March, for a week with a knitting group. Safety is a concern but apparently you felt safe there and had no issues. I would like to extend the trip and Greece is the most logical, but I've been there a couple of times. Can you share details about your cruise to Croatia from Istanbul? Thanks.
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Old Jul 13th, 2015, 01:15 PM
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Thanks for the encouraging words - I've been swamped at work today, but will add more tomorrow.

CarolJ: Before I left, I was concerned about safety but once in Istanbul, I never felt the slightest worry or sense of danger. Admittedly, I wasn't walking around much past 7:00 pm but I don't think you need to be worried about that at all. I will post a separate report about the cruise stops but here's my quick two cents: Kotor, Montenegro and Korcula, Croatia....and then, there's always Venice!
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Old Jul 13th, 2015, 02:20 PM
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Wonderful report Vickie, the detail really helps.
We just had a 'taste' of the city with 3 days, and a revisit would be great.
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Old Jul 13th, 2015, 02:39 PM
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Enjoying your report. I had a week in Istanbul in the late 1990s and loved it. I actually learned my way around the Grand Bazaar! Looking forward to more.
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Old Jul 14th, 2015, 02:34 PM
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Glad to hear you're interested in my ramblings!

Day Four: MONDAY, JUNE 22, sunny then cloudy
Skipped breakfast and walked down the block to the antique book store. Funny store – heaped with literally piles of books, prints, etc.; dusty counters and old tile floor. The little sultan print I saw in the window was so old & dusty that the price tag sticker had faded and curled up. Shop keeper spoke English and the print was 250TL; the matting and framing was super but I wasn’t convinced so left.

My plan was to wander the Çukurcuma, area, off Istiklal Caddesi, since it’s supposed to be a neat area of little, windy streets w/antique shops, etc. The hotel concierge gave me directions which featured turning right at the high school “which you can’t miss”; yep, missed the turn and pulled out the maps. But, saw the sale sign on the Mavi Jeans store and stopped in; what a bonanza! 30% off sale, plus the prices were low already. Bought 3 t-shirts (two with nice Istanbul graphics) and 3 or 4 blue/white cotton scarves w/colorful tassels (the scarves were less than $3 each). Quality of shirts was nice and I would have tried on jeans, dresses, etc but not in that mood. It was interesting that of the 3 staff, only one spoke enough English to answer my question about which items were on sale; not that I expect everyone to speak English, it’s just that in a large, tourist-focused city, on the main shopping drag, I thought they would. However, every store I went into was very pleasant and the staff made a point of finding the staff whose English was best – it didn’t impede my shopping at all!

Back on the trek for Çukurcuma, I walked along steep streets heading down toward the water. Enjoyed some very artistic graffiti on the way down, a few interesting shops and cafes. Ended up at the waterfront, near the Istanbul Modern Art museum (closed on Monday) and decided to explore the Karakoy area and find the bakery Gulluoglu.

Saw the large Kilic Ali Pasa Camii Mosque complex w/hamman, school, cemetery & fountain, so went in to explore. I found this one of the most interesting and peaceful mosques; got the sense that is a neighborhood place that tourists don’t often visit. There were large carpets on the outside porch area and what I think was a religion class taking place – a middle-aged man was definitely instruction young boys. I was amused to see an official person vacuuming the entry way carpet (of course they would be vacuumed, I just don’t think of spiritual places as having mundane roles like that ) and he soon turned off the vacuum and joined the group; a security guy did the same, so maybe the group was more discussion than lesson? Not sure, but it was nice to see the range of ages and that these middle aged men were interested enough to participate.

Walked down the side street of the mosque, which went past one of the entrances to the cruise ship terminal and turned right onto a semi-main drag. I had read that Karakoy used to be a fairly rough area but that it’s been getting better and I passed some fancy gifty shops that could only be for tourists or up-scale residents (bought some neat boiled felt hot plates). Took some side streets with really neat graffiti and buildings being renovated. Not a lot of people around except workers but didn’t feel anxious. Back on the main street, I came to Karakoy Gulluoglu which was a bustling spot (in fact, just before it, I passed a really busy deli (NY style where they were making huge sandwiches and all the tables were filled with people eating pizza, pasta and salads). Gulluoglu is a big bakery, with tables inside and out, self-service. But, very few employees spoke English; I had printed info from their web site about certain items that sounded appealing – mostly cherry pastries so I showed them to one guy and he took me around to the correct counters. I had to pay for them first (the cashier spoke English) and then go back to the counters to get my selections. Sat outside to eat them and realized that none of them were the items I had printed (w/cherries). Oh well; very sweet so not really my favorite but glad I went. While I was sitting outside, there was a steady stream of people in and out, with large bags of goodies.

Came to a large waterfront plaza, with benches (the only one with an empty spot had a pile of small fish heads on the ground but I was tired so skirted the bloody guts and settled down). Watched a lot of men studying the cruise ship ropes that moored it to the dock, plus some guys fishing and just a bunch of people. Walked over the Galata bridge but the restaurant level was dullsville since it was mid-afternoon and no business for them! Not sure what I felt like doing, so sat on that waterfront and pondered. Felt like I’ve hit the wall – too much sight-seeing, everything is blurring, too many new experiences and I’m tired. But….there’s still more to see! How can I miss the Suleymaniye Mosque…which is on this side of the river… so off I go.

On the map, it didn’t look too far but those twisty, steep, uphill streets nearly sent me over the edge. I felt like I walked miles but i saw lots of local shops and shoppers on the way. Finally came to a rear entrance to the cemetery which was worth the trek. So fascinating to see different types of funerary monuments – the shapes, turban finials, the decorations, all are different. Very large cemetery with nice gardens and fountains. I liked this mosque better than many of the others. Large outer courtyard area with fountains, walls and great view of all 4 minarets. In the mosque itself, there were 2 volunteers next to the bookshelf of religious pamphlets and they were very enthusiastic about answering questions so I asked about the calls to prayer (how they seem to intersect with neighboring calls and it turns out that is a deliberate plan by the mosques) and the women’s areas in the mosques (he said the women like privacy).

There’s a Turkish café adjacent to the mosque so I stopped for a rest and had apple tea (quite good) and rice pudding. It was cloudy and cool, so left. Lo and behold, the Metro stop was just down the hill so I took it to Sistane and walked the few blocks to the hotel.

Tired, so did room service again (spaghetti this time).

Tomorrow….last day in Istanbul: Pera Museum (great stuff), Chora Museum, sultan print
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Old Jul 16th, 2015, 10:29 AM
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Day Four: TUESDAY, JUNE 23, overcast and humid
Checked out of the hotel and left my bags with the bell captain. Had noticed a huge banner announcing a Cecil Beaton exhibition at the Pera Museum (a block away) and the hotel gave me a pass for free entry. Forget Cecil – I was so much more intrigued by one of their other exhibits, a British artist named Grayson Perry. They had two floors of his modern tapestries, ceramics and maps plus broadcasts of the BBC documentary about his most recent tapestry series. Very humourous, detailed and really struck a chord with me. I spent 2 hours in that exhibit and bought the book (would have bought a t-shirt too if they had any!). After that immersion in wit and comedy, Cecil’s photos were dry so I zipped through and left.

Today’s plan is the Chora Museum and Rick Steves’ book provided detailed instructions about taking public buses, so took the Tunel down the hill, walked across the bridge to Erminou and to the bus stop. There were literally dozens of buses and even though I knew what # I needed, I wasn’t sure where to find it…asked at the ticket office and it was right there! (who knew?) Waited about 15 minutes while the bus filled up and then a 15 min ride to the Erdikapi stop. Very interesting ride since the main drag the bus followed was store after store of wedding gowns, for blocks. They were usually displayed in floor to ceiling 2nd floor windows and ran the gamut from huge, poufy to one with wings and feathers (I kid you not) and svelte, slinky etc. That street must be THE place to go for wedding dresses (sort of like the street off Karakoy by the Tunel is THE hardware street – w/DeWalt, Makita, Black & Decker, Husquavarna, etc stores galore).

Ate Erdikapi, the museum wasn’t immediately obvious and there weren’t any signs so I started walking down hill. I was in a residential area and stopped twice to consult the map, turning it, looking up the buildings, etc. – clearly lost. A city street cleaner smiled and looked like he wanted to help, so I pointed to the church name on the map and he gestured down and left. We both smiled – he did a good deed and I actually asked for help!

Museum (church) is under construction, so it’s even smaller than normal. Maybe I was burned out by too many scenic sights, but it felt so-so to me. Free with museum card so I rented the audio guide which was useful but it just didn’t grab me. Spent 45 mins max and left. There’s a café right next to the entrance and a fine dining restaurant, Asitane, next door in the hotel where I had planned to have lunch, but it was early and I wasn’t in the mood. So, bus back to Tunel. (The bus was full but not crowded and a man who was obviously much older than me, offered me his seat. I said no but he insisted so I took it. This also happened on the Tunel and made me wonder if I look antiquated or feeble. I mentioned it to someone else and they explained that everyone is very courteous and they noticed the similar thing. Which is a very nice testament to the Turkish culture.)

The Tunel exit at top is at the end of Istiklal and it was 3:00 and I was hungry, and the Shake Shack was right there. For those who don’t know, the Shake Shack began in NYC and was a huge hit among residents from Day One. They have multiple locations in NYC now and others around the world so, a person might say, how disgraceful to be in a foreign city and eat a hamburger in an American chain restaurant, but I was in the mood for a greasy, juicy cheeseburger and it was right there. So, enjoyed my burger and soda from a window seat and watched the world go by.

On the way back to the hotel, I walked past the antique book/map store and decided to buy the sultans print that I’d been pondering for the past 2 days. Went in, she cleaned it off and I was ready to hand over my credit card when I spotted a watercolor on the wall behind some racks; it was a cemetery, with wooden houses & trees and since I particularly enjoyed wandering around the cemeteries, I bought it instead of the sultans print. Much happier with it. Lastly, at the Pera Palace, they got me a cab to the cruise ship terminal and my Istanbul visit was over.

General thoughts:

Istanbul felt very exotic to me. I’m familiar w/Western European history, art, etc so I think everything about Istanbul felt new and different - the architecture, language, food, etc. I liked that since that’s the whole point of travelling!

As a solo female, I never had any safety concerns or felt nervous walking or taking transportation.

Everything seemed very inexpensive – don’t know if that’s solely due to the dollar vs TL, or if Istanbul prices are just low in general. But, prices in restaurants, stores, clothing, were very inexpensive (with the exception of souvenir shops or the Grand & Spice bazaars).

Despite my very full days, I had a great time in Istanbul. Since I wasn’t sure whether I’d return another time, I wanted to see all the spots on my list; I’m happy I did that but it did result in some “blurring” and OD’ing. Now, I’m thinking about going back to Istanbul in January for 3 or 4 nights and then to Venice for 3 or 4 and maybe Bologna. I really like travelling in the off-season and would be interested in experiencing a very different feel of the city.
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 10:41 AM
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Nicely done! I'm taking notes and planning a September 2015 visit with my husband. We'll wander much as you did . . .
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 03:12 PM
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Thank you for a great trip report! My husband and I will be in Istanbul in September and I appreciate your insights. I laughed at your Shake Shack stop because while I try to eat at local places when traveling, I know we will have a burger craving at some point and have already mapped out Shake Shack.
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 04:24 PM
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Wonderful, detailed report. Did you prefer one hotel's location over the other? Which area will you stay when you return.
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