Time spent: 24 hours – Not long enough!
Stayed at: The Airport (stopover before Greece)
Time of year: Late June
Temp: 35 degrees
Before we flew out, we were warned by a myriad of people to “be careful”, “watch out”, and “stay close to the airport”. Funnily enough, Turkey tops my list as the safest feeling place in Europe. Chaos is contained to one small area, zipped up inside the square, and there was not even a hint of unrest where we were.
The people were wonderful. We had three different people try and help us on one ten-minute train ride. Kids were fascinated by us, asking questions and offering their “help” and “advice”. When we ate at a restaurant, the owners were welcoming, warm, attentive, and just grateful we had chosen their place to dine at. Perhaps some of the service staff in the southern hemisphere could learn a trick or two. The fresh and wholesome food was out of this world, and we ate like kings for $15 AUD. Information was easy to obtain, and we had no problems navigating the city.
It was really cool to see examples of strong family networks and communities; where a handful of extended families would gather together in a small square or sort-of park, and eat, drink tea and laugh, while their kids ran amuck. My favourite moment was watching a group of kids in the park play UNO with WWF?! cards. Go figure. My favourite sight was seeing the Turkish people pause for tea/coffee time. They stop whatever it is that they are doing, wherever they are doing it, and just park up on the sidewalk, or at a nearby restaurant, to drink tea/coffee, and have a good gossip. Since when has life ever stopped in Sydney or Auckland?!
The big question for tourists surrounds what to wear. I opted for long sleeves under a maxi dress and it made me feel a lot more comfortable, and seemed to make people feel more comfortable around me. We were sitting at the train station next to four Asian girls wearing short shorts and tight tops, and EVERYONE was staring at them, where as we got smiles, interest and help. It also meant all of the tourist areas, like the inside of the Blue Mosque were open to us.
We packed a lot in, but it went far too fast. Turkey; we will be back soon.
HOW TO GET AROUND
The Tramway and Metro. It’s the most simplistic transport system I’ve ever come across. It’s particularly great when coming from the airport, as there are only a handful of lines, and people go out of their way to offer you assistance on the train. Buy tokens from the vending machine (ask the attendant if you’re confused) and enjoy the ride on the spacious, new and clean trams/trains. A single ticket costs 1.5 Lira ($0.85 AUD).
WHAT TO DO
The Blue Mosque
The stunning Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii) was constructed between 1609 and 1616 and is one of Turkey’s most popular tourist attractions. It was nicknamed “The Blue Mosque” due to its blue tile interiors. As well as being the last mosque of the classical period, at 72m long, 64m wide and a center dome measuring around 43m, it’s HUGE. And, although it’s no longer adorned with the gold and gems of its former glory days, it’s still magnificent. Make sure you dress appropriately; long sleeves and skirts for women and pants for men, or you won’t be permitted entry.
My favourite sight of the day was the Basilica Cistern or “Sunken Palace”. The biggest of hundreds of cisterns lining Turkey’s underground, the Sunken Palace was built in 532, with the purpose of delivering water to the Byzantine Palace. It’s weirdly beautiful, with its soft, hazy lighting and eerie marble columns – 336 in total. Located at the Sultanahmet Square, it costs only TL10 to enter.
The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar was nothing like I expected it to be. It’s like last century’s equivalent of a mall experience. Hundreds and hundreds of shops sell everything from carpets to fresh fruit, spices and jewellery. Many of the stalls are similarly stocked and I had had enough of the body-to-body contact after 20 minutes. The setting itself though is very grand, and it’s worth a visit to see the décor. Be wary of the prices, as the food and fresh produce costs double or triple what it does in the street stalls.
The oldest and largest surviving palace of this day, the Topkapi Palace was the home of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years. It’s now a museum, featuring Ottoman treasures and old Islamic relics. It’s also a World Heritage Site, and the history behind it is fascinating.
Try an Authentic Turkish Dining Experience
Choose a low-key, no frills, family-owned restaurant and enjoy the fresh taste of Turkey. The places are so tiny, you can watch your food being prepared in front of you. Make sure you conclude your meal with Turkish tea or coffee… or both!
BE WARY OF
Do your research before you go, and stay away from Taksim square, where the rallies, protests and riots are taking place.
WHAT TO EAT
- Turkish tea and coffee
- Turkish spices
- Grilled meatballs (Izgara Köfte)
- Fresh kebabs (Kebap)
- Pita (Pide)
QUICK PRICE CHECK
- Cost of sparkling water: TL1.00
- Cost of coffee: TL1.50
- Cost of restaurant food: Salad TL 3.00, Kebab (with all the trimmings) TL 8.00-12.00
ISTANBUL ON A BUDGET: TOP TIPS
- Use the metro and tramway systems
- Avoid anything at the airport – Prices of Wi-Fi, food, coffee etc. are all ridiculously hiked up
- There are some awesome street vendors for coffee and tea and lunch/snack foods including hotdogs, meatballs, chickpea wraps, grilled meat and rice
- The small family owned restaurants can be cheaper than street vendors
- Don’t buy food at the Grand Bazaar
- The portions are HUGE so don’t over order
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