I have been to Istanbul quite a few times. I love the buzz of the ancient city and you can feel its history hanging in the air. I always go to Mısır Çarşısı, the spice bazaar, and the Grand Bazaar, which is the main bazaar in the city. What I like about the spice bazaar is that it is right by the ferry terminal and next to the Galata Bridge and Tower. It’s just relaxing and so different from its counterparts in Morocco. The colorful stacks of spices make a wonderful photo opportunity and the smells of saffron and cumin float through the air. It’s never too crowded and there are always bargains and fun to be had here.
From here you can walk to most places and certainly walk across the bridge to the other side of Istanbul. Restaurants near Taksim Square are not bad and the Besiktas Stadium, where the main soccer and basketball clubs play, is only a 10-minute walk away.
Down towards the Bosporus, there are lots of restaurants which liven the waterfront. Everyone that visits Istanbul must do a cruise of the Bosporus. It takes you under the great bridge that connects Istanbul to Asia and all the way to the Black Sea. It’s the best sightseeing tour in Istanbul as it escapes the clogged streets of polluted traffic. It’s cheap to do and you can book directly at the port terminal by the Galeta Bridge.
And in the meantime, go see the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, visit the Basilica Cistern, a sunken palace and one of the largest of the ancient cisterns, and of course take some time out to visit the beautiful Topkaki Palace with its stunning views across the Bosporus. Finally, end your visit at the Grand Bazaar. One of the world’s most famous souks, comprising of more than 60 streets brim full of anything and everything. So much shopping to do and so little time.
If you are a US citizen, you will need a visa to get into Turkey. It costs $35 and can be purchased on line. The great news now is that the old airport is closed and the new one open which is about a 45 minute taxi ride from the city. The new one is HUGE – so big in fact that it can take 30 minutes to walk to your gate so be aware! Istanbul is a city with so much to see and ancient reminders of old civilizations. The old city of Constantinople is everywhere. Turkey is one of my favorite destinations.
Long day at the Airport
Hotels always give out bad information on the time it takes to get from them to the airport. It’s not that they’re overly cautious, they’re just wrong. I just often wonder how many of the people who give us this advice, have actually ever been to the airport that they’re guiding us to. Case in point, Marmaris center to Dalaman airport. The journey takes less than an hour. Hotel advice is that it takes two hours and of course they recommend, given the problem of security, that you get to the airport at least 2.5 hours before departure. Of course it’s all about the rooms really. They wanted the bloody rooms! I should have known.
I hate being at airports too early. I am a “maximum of 1 hour before” guy. As it were, traveling is like marriage. Once you’ve been at it for while you become ever more inventive in your ways to keep it fresh. I like the excitement of possibly missing the flight. I like to see how fast I can move through security, how economically I can buy souvenirs (if I really have to) and it means I don’t have to spend endless hours drinking dreadful coffee and eating plastic sandwiches in some awful lounge.
So here I am, spending endless hours drinking dreadful coffee in some awful lounge, wondering why I fell for the bad information yet again. To add insult to injury, my flight to Istanbul, of course, is delayed. From Istanbul, to London there’s a change of terminals before connecting to Dublin. More delays. More plastic sandwiches. This day, a mélange of Turkish Air, British Airways and Aer Lingus, a feast of cultural diversity and sweaty planes (lovely), started at 6am in the morning. It will not end until Turkish time, 2pm the next day. In other words, Australia would have been a more convenient option and certainly more fun!
Gulet Sailing through Aegean Seas
If you find yourself traveling to Southwestern Turkey then there is a good chance that you’ll be taking or at least you’ll be tempted to take a Gulet charter boat http://www.admiral-tours.com Most of the great charter companies are based in either Bodrum or Marmaris and the Gulet boat, which varies in size from 14 to 35 meters, is an ideal vessel to sail the calm waters of the Aegean. All of these boats have sails, typically two-masted, but most of them poodle around the coast on engine power alone. They have a huge back seating and dining area with lavish bedroom space underneath. In the height of the summer months, the harbors of Antalya, Marmaris and Bodrum are full of these types of vessels. Originally much smaller and designed for fishing, they evolved to meet the rise of tourism in the 70s. They are a lot cheaper than renting a boat in Greece and so ideally if you wish to stay away from the crowds, then an itinerary that starts in Bodrum and skips over to the tiny airport-less islands in Greece is optimal.
For those of us who’ve managed to sail throughout the Greek Islands and along the Turkish coast, there is nothing quite like entering the port of a beautiful horseshoe harbor at night. It is both magical and mystical. My favorite Greek Island…well that would be giving the game away, but I would say that Symi and Sifnos come to mind and of course there’s always Mykonos for a good party. Recommended tips on Greek Island navigation is to plonk yourself down in a place like Symi, grab a small hotel room and rent a small Zodiac speedboat for a couple of weeks. Every day take that boat, cruise around the island, find a deserted spot or a deserted beach, or a tiny restaurant on a deserted beach (yes, they do exist!) and just pretend that this is the way life is forever. And every evening eat in one of the many restaurants that are dotted around the harbor. I don’t care how many times you’ve had grilled octopus and a Greek salad, it never tires…unless you’re a vegetarian. Best time to go and cheapest rates, mid-September through mid-October. The weather is still amazing and the crowds have decidedly dimmed.
If there is a town to avoid in Turkey, than that would be Marmaris. We had docked there on the last day of a Gulat trip and for some reason we had thought it would be a great idea to have a wander through the town. It was, I recall a very hot day and Marmaris’ harbor fans out and is full of bars, restaurants and a very cheap and tacky arcade.
The shops sell soccer shirts and awful souvenir trinkets and the tourists are decidedly a blend of Brits and general Euro northerners; most of them sporting tattoos, tank tops and walking with their kids while smoking cigarettes. Cheap cruise ships dish out the hordes, every few hours or so.
As one departs, another seems to pop up in the harbor, as everyone heads to the fake bazaar to buy souvenir fezes and tacky shawls. No cappuccinos along this waterfront; it’s all pints of lager. Marmaris is about as Turkish as Turkish Delight. We didn’t stay long. It was so scary to my upper class English friend that he thought it was one of the most terrifying experiences of his sheltered life! We fled to our boat and retreated to a distant cove. We would come back under cover of darkness to grab some grilled octopus. Late at night, after a glass or two of wine, it seemed decidedly less tacky.
Bodrum is a short distance down the coast from Izmir and a 45-minute flight from Istanbul. In late September the weather is absolutely stunning. The last time I was in Bodrum was around 15 years ago; it was a lively town, I recall, some nightlife, a castle by the harbor and a few restaurants dotted here and there. So the change I saw was significant, it was surprisingly moderated by taste and relatively careful development.
Bodrum is a port city. It is the hub way of the Gulet boats and although there are few beaches within easy access, once you have driven around the bay, the inlets and coves provide spectacular settings for the hotel industry. And what better hotel to have nestled about 30 minutes away from Bodrum center, than the Kempinski Hotel? There is an incredible swimming pool, a wonderful spa, fabulous views and a strip of private beach that looks as though it has been painted onto the landscape.
If you like swimming, the large infinity pool is as good as it gets, and the water in the Mediterranean in late September is perfect for long swims or short splashes. I would return to this hotel anytime. The rooms and service were brilliant. It’s a pity we had to work.
Turkish Air (www.turkishairlines.com) seems to have appeared out of…well, out of thin air. They now fly non-stop from many North American cities and in my case they offered non-stop service from Boston to Istanbul. The transatlantic flight has brilliant service and a premium class that is as good, if not better than most of its European counterparts. Though still not a part of the European Union, Turkish Air won Europe’s Best Airline from Skytrax Passanger’s Choice Awards for the past 4 years. And if you happen to be passing through they even offer a free city tour, called, Touristanbul (http://www.istanbulinhours.com/)for passengers with a 6-hour layover. Great name, great idea!
If you’re staying in country, chances are you’re going to be taking a lot of short flights to Antalya, Cappadocia, etc… The fact is that there is no train system and the distances are substantial. Even though the buses are fantastic, with bus attendants and food served, it’s just cheaper and more efficient to use Turkish Air. On the short haul flights the service is fantastic; you actually get something to eat on a one-hour flight and the flight attendants are actually nice – yet another reason to travel to this country.