ISTANBUL – TURKISH DELIGHT
No place is ever as bad as they tell you it’s going to be – Chuck Thomson
Chuck’s statement above could not be further from the truth! I went to Istanbul against multiple travel advisories issued by the State Department and a lot of concern from my friends and family. Istanbul has been a top travel destination for me for many reasons. When a travel deal from Airfarespot came my way I did not hesitate to book it. I had four months to prepare for the trip. In those four months a lot happened in Istanbul. There was an attempted military coup that shut down the city and a bombing at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. This led to many injuries and deaths linked to terrorism. My ticket was fully refundable and I debated whether to cancel the trip for a while. Eventually, I chose to travel. I am very glad I did. Another solo trip well navigated!
Istanbul is a beautiful city! A city on two continents – Europe and Asia, connected by the beautiful Bosphorus Bridge. The views of the city and the bridge from my hotel room were stunning! I found it unfortunate that tourism to the city had been greatly affected by the security threats. It was also nice to be able to navigate the city easily without massive crowds.
I found most of the basic phrases quite hard to pronounce. Most of the locals at the hotels did speak English which helped but the language barrier frustration hit it’s peak when getting a taxi and seeking directions.
Hello: Merhaba (mer-hah-bah)
Goodbye: Hoskacal (hohsh-chakhal)
Please: Lutfen (loot-fehn)
Pardon me: Pardon (pahr-dohn)
English? Ingilzce? (een-gil-iz-jay)
Yes: Even (eh-veht)
No: Hayir (hai-yuhr)
Currency: Turkish Lira
1. Make sure your taxi driver turns on the meter at the beginning of the trip when you get in the car. Taxi drivers are known to the biggest scammers who target tourists.
2. Do not exchange your currency at the airport as you will receive the worst exchange rate and high fees. Your home bank may have a foreign currency exchange service that will save you money. You’re better off using the ATM at your destination or looking using a Forex Bureau to get a better exchange rate.
P.S. Download the Currency XE app to get the most current exchange rate to avoid being ripped off.
I stayed at two hotels – Rennaissance Istanbul Polat Bosphorus and Renaissance Polar Istanbul both of which were amazing. I got to meet a staff member at the hotel that I’d had the pleasure of meeting while in Bangkok a few years ago. I had him to thank for my suite upgrade and awesome amenities received at both hotels.
Being at the hotel came with the advantage of having the Concierge arrange most of my tours and activities.
*Please note that hotel security is under the law. Purses, bags and packages must be passed through x-ray machines while entering the hotel. The rule has been established for your safety.
Things to do:
Amongst the many things to do in Istanbul these were my favorite:
1. Take a tour of the city in the Big Bus hop on/off open top buses. I had always been hesitant of tour buses. I like to do my own thing when traveling and hate being hurdled with others BUT this tour changed my perception. It is the BEST way to get the lay of the land in whatever city they are available. You get to move at your own pace and save yourself money on commute charges. The commentary available in several languages is an added advantage. The tours are usually available for 24hr-48hr from activation time. The tour starting point was located at Sultanahmet Square where the stunning Blue Mosque and Sophia Hagia are located.
2. Visit the Blue Mosque and Sophia Hagia. These mosques are breathtaking. The architecture and design leave you in awe. I happened to visit during a prayer call that was music to my ears. Dressing modestly is a requirement. Avoid anything too tight, low-cut tops, short skirts or shorts. I had to improvise and use my sweater to cover up my head as it is required.
3. Indulge in a Turkish bath – I had done my research prior to my visit and this kept coming up a lot on recommendations. My naturally curious self had to find out what the hype was about! Let’s just say it was not disappointing! It was the weirdest yet best experience from my trip! My skin has never felt smoother! My bath was performed by a woman who had to be over 65 years of age…. and that wasn’t the strange part. Once I got over the fact that I had to be in the nude with a stranger, I was able to enjoy the experience! I requested the deluxe package because… YOLO!! This included washing, peeling and a super massage. They do provide a locker for your belongings.
4. Visit the Grand Baazar. This is the largest open market in the world. There are many wares to look at and buy! I had to get over been called Beyonce and Rihanna by aggressive marketers! There were those who wanted to know how I felt about Donald Trump prior to our general election. I never get involved with talk on politics when traveling. The key is to be gracious, smile and stick to small talk!
5. Take in the night life! This is not to be missed! I had an amazing time. The hotel’s concierge recommended a few spots that were totally worth the visit. I must say most of the people there are not used to solo female travelers clubbing on their own but were still respectful. I received mostly curious looks. It never felt weird. I’ve gotten used to it after a few solo trips.
6. Food: You must try the kebabs, Kofte meal balls, Baklava, Turkish delights, Turkish coffee and Lahmacun. I found the food to be very flavorful. Don’t forget to get some fresh fish cooked to order at the Galata Bridge.