Gap Year Days 173 – 188
I had been looking forward to getting back to Turkey since we were here 18 months ago. Sure, Turkey is not the number one place many want to travel to at the moment but we have felt perfectly safe during both of our visits and I am fairly sure we will be back again in the future.
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Our week in Istanbul was going to be a bit crazy. As travel hackers (for want of a better word) we were keen to retain our Hilton gold status, and knew we needed to do a few more stays before the end of the year. Our itinerary for the upcoming months was taking us to either places where there were no Hiltons or where the Hiltons were at the top end of the price scale. Istanbul though, has many Hilton properties, and we were able to come up with one for each night at under $100AUD/night. So each day we checked out of one Hilton, and into another. We were making our way across this huge city from Ataturk Airport on the European side where we flew in, to Sahiba Gocken airport on the Asian side, where we flew out!
Yes, this was madness, but it had some good aspects too. We got to see so many parts of Istanbul that most tourists miss. Last time we barely left the tourist hubs of Sultanahmet and Taksim. It forced us to learn the public transport system. We travelled by train, tram, bus and ferry during our visit. We visited attractions we would not have been to otherwise too. We went to local restaurants and malls, honing our sign language when English was non-existent. We even learnt a few more Turkish words.
On our first morning we changed hotels then made our way into Sultanahmet. We had hoped to get there in time to do the free walking tour. Even though we had visited this area last year, including all the big attractions like the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, Topkapi Palace and the Basilica Cisterns, we wanted to hear from a guide too.
Unfortunately it took longer than we had planned to get there and we missed the tour. We had forgotten we needed a transport card for the buses, it’s not possible to pay the driver! This meant instead of hopping on the bus right outside the hotel, we had to walk twenty minnutes to the metro station to buy the cards. We spent the day wandering around the Sultanahmet area, taking photos, trying the food and drinking the tea. Eventually we got to the one big name place we did not visit on our last trip, the Grand Bazaar.
I enjoyed wandering up and down some of the sixty streets that make up the bazaar. It was crowded, but not overwhelmingly so. In some ways it was good to see more people around. When we were in Istanbul last year there were barely any tourists. We walked into both the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia with no queues at all. This year there were many more people waiting, and after hearing last year how much people in the tourism industry were suffering with the lack of tourists, it was a relief.
We changed hotels quicker the next morning and got to Sultanahmet in time for the free walking tour. Unfortunately this was not one of the better ones we had done. We visited many of the main sites and heard about them, but almost half of the places listed on the internet (and the brochures we were given) we did not visit. I am not sure if this was due to our specific guide, or all guides. I also found our guide a little bit dry and, dare I say it, boring. He has been working as a guide for over forty years, but I didn’t find him as engaging as many of the young guides we have had.
The next Hilton saw us on the Golden Horn. We had decided this was going to be a rest and work day, but as we stood on our balcony admiring the view, something caught my eye. A quick Google told me this was Miniaturk, and at only 15TL ($5AUD/$3.75USD) we thought why not go have a quick look. Miniaturk is a park of miniature Turkish landmarks, buildings and attractions. We spent a couple of hours admiring all the models. Our comments wavered between “Now we’ve seen everything in Turkey we don’t need to go anywhere else” and “Wow that looks fantastic, now I really want to see the real thing”.
Our next move took us close to Taksim, so we spent the day wandering around the area we stayed in last year. Istikal Street was a wide mall with tram lines through the middle. An old tram ran up and down this track. Mostly you could ride them, but every now and then instead a special tram would have a band on it playing, adding to the atmosphere in the street. This year, Istikal Street was a building site! I’m not exactly sure what they were doing, but I am hoping it was just rejuvenating the mall. The tram was stopped, and in some sections the tramlines were no longer there. In other sections it did look like they were putting them back in, and I really hope that is the case.
While here we visited some familiar places. Simon had been waiting for months to get back here to buy some “mushroom chocolate”. We went to the exact shop we bought it last time, and stocked up with goodies to last a few days. We also went back to a coffee shop we found last time that serves coffee the Australian way. Again they did not disappoint and we enjoyed our lattes.
We walked down to the Galata Bridge and as we reached it, it began to rain. The fishermen on the bridge did not bat an eyelid, and still stood with their rods pulling in the fish. We had previously said once we got to the bridge we would buy one of the fish sandwiches (balik ekmek) but once there, we were not hungry. It would again have to wait until next time.
It was now time to go to the Asian side of Istanbul. It was a complicated trip requiring three buses and more than two hours. We got there in the end and discovered we were right across the road from a huge outlet mall. After six months of continuous wear, some of my clothes were no longer looking their best, so I thought this might be a great opportunity to refresh my wardrobe a little.
As strange as it might sound coming from a female, I don’t like shopping much. I particularly don’t like shopping when it’s crowded, and unfortunately the mall was crowded. I likened it to the Christmas sales back home. I’m not sure if this mall is so popular and always like this, or I had just picked a bad time. A couple of hours later, I had spent only $13AUD on two t-shirts when I gave up and retreated back to the peace and quiet of the hotel.
We were up early the next day to head back to the Galata Bridge. I wanted that fish sandwich! Being on the Asian side we got to catch a ferry across the Bosphorus. It was a perfect sunny day, and it was so nice enjoying the sights from the water.
Almost as nice as our fish sandwiches! While I like fish, I’m a little fussy about it. Sometimes I find it too “fishy”! (I know, what do I expect??) But these sandwiches were fantastic. It’s basically bread, lettuce and grilled fish. There was vinegar and lemon juice to add if you so desired. For 10TL ($3.30AUD/$2.50USD) it’s a bargain too.
While we were here, we made a quick visit to the Spice Bazaar. I just love the smells in these places. It’s so Middle Eastern, and conjures up all the images of the region. I always wonder what happens to those perfect pyramids when a purchase is made. Does the shopkeeper scoop spices from the top and then rebuild the pyramid as the buyer walks away? Or does he run out the back and get some spice he keeps there so as to not mess up his display?
Our last full day in Istanbul started with a sleep-in. Most mornings we had been up early to change hotels and go out to explore. We knew we had a reasonably early flight in the morning, so decided to take it easy. The buses to the next Hilton near the airport again took almost two hours. By now we were getting the hang of the public transport, but it still amazed us that this city and traffic seemed endless. There are many new metro lines being built, and current lines being extended, and soon it will go all the way to Sahiba Gocken Airport, and that will make this journey easier.
Our flight the next morning took us to Bodrum, on the south-west coast of Turkey. This is a summer holiday resort area, with many big name hotels having huge resorts along the coast. By the time we arrived in October, the summer season was over and many resorts had closed up until next year. We had booked an apartment in town, and it was lovely, with whitewashed walls, a pool, and resident kittens to keep us amused.
The town itself reminded me of the Greek Islands, all white buildings, pretty blue trim and bright pink bougainvillea. The marina was full of sailing boats with Turkish flags flapping from their masts. The beaches were covered in umbrellas and beach chairs, with eager restaurateurs spruiking their wares if you came within earshot. All in all it felt relaxing and summery.
Simon had been hinting about going fishing, and someone handed us a brochure at just the right time and we booked it. A full day out in a boat! It was good fun while we were fishing. The line barely got down to the bottom and the fish were biting. We lost count, but after a couple of hours we had caught over thirty fish each. The fish were small though, at least by the standards we are used to in Australia. There we would have thrown them back to be caught again in a couple of years. Here they just seemed so abundant maybe overfishing is not an issue.
It was not mentioned on the brochure, during the booking, or even on the way, but after a late lunch including grilled fish, we ended up at what was a lovely swimming beach. It was too cold for us or anyone else on the boat to swim, so it was a bit disappointing that they didn’t give us the option to skip this and fish for a bit longer.
Our next city was Antalya, a seven hour bus ride towards the east. This was a lovely, comfy bus, with seatback tv screens, USB charging sockets and wider seats, only three across the bus. Some of the scenery was absolutely stunning with towering mountains on both sides. I spent a lot of time staring out the windows!
Not for the first time on our trip we arrived at a different bus station than what we were expecting. I couldn’t find wifi anywhere, so we jumped in a taxi and just hoped he wasn’t going to rip us off too bad. I have to say, we really try hard not to catch taxi’s. Every traveller knows the perils of overcharging, taking the long way and some taxi drivers doing anything to deceive an arriving tourist. My way around this is to ask more than one source and approximate price for the ride in advance, and to watch Google Maps while we are driving. This works best if the driver knows I am watching. Even without data, I ensure the maps are downloaded in advance and I can just use the GPS feature. If I am really organised, I can look at the driving directions while still on wifi, so I know the quickest way for the driver to go.
Not for the first time on our trip we arrived at a different bus station than what we were expecting. I couldn’t find wifi anywhere, so we jumped in a taxi and just hoped he wasn’t going to rip us off too bad. I have to say, we really try hard not to catch taxi’s. Every traveller knows the perils of overcharging, taking the long way and some taxi drivers doing anything to deceive an arriving tourist.
My way around this is to ask more than one source and approximate price for the ride in advance, and to watch Google Maps while we are driving. This works best if the driver knows I am watching. Even without data, I ensure the maps are downloaded in advance and I can just use the GPS feature. If I am really organised, I can look at the driving directions while still on wifi, so I know the quickest way for the driver to go.
We used quite a few taxis in Turkey, and I think they were all honest. One I had to direct him, but at least he openly said he didn’t know the best way and he could see I had it on my phone. Most drivers spoke little to no English, but we were still able to work it out.
In Antalya we were staying in the Lara area. Here is where the best beach in the area is. We ventured down there late morning thinking we would have a quick dip, grab some lunch then head off to look around. It didn’t quite turn out like that, and we spent the whole day relaxing at the beach!
This left us with one day to explore Antalya. What better way to start than with a free walking tour. We had to get there first, and our hotel told us where to catch the bus and which number to catch. They neglected to tell us we had to buy a transport card first! We jumped on the bus and went to pay the driver. Of course he said no, but he spoke very little English and didn’t understand us when we asked where we could buy tickets. We also couldn’t understand his instructions. In the end he just waved us onto the bus. Thank you bus driver, another free ride!
Just before the correct time, we arrived where we were supposed to meet for the walking tour. There was a distinct lack of other people waiting. The guide was missing too. Hmmm. After waiting for about fifteen minutes, we went to find a tea place with wifi. We checked the details, all seemed okay. Not sure what happened, but clearly there was no walking tour that day! Maybe they only run in the busy summer season.
Instead we explored the old section of the city ourselves. It really is quite lovely, and there were so many cute little hotels and restaurants we were almost kicking ourselves we didn’t stay here instead. There are plenty of scenic places along the shoreline, and a small beach easily available.
After a late lunch, we went on the hunt for the elusive bus passes. After asking around, we were pointed in the right direction, and this time there was no issue when we got on the bus for the return journey back to our hotel.
We still had enough time for a quick dip in the pool. I got my toes in the water and decided it was too cold for me. Simon jumped straight in – and then straight out! He declared it freezing! He was so curious as so exactly how cold it was that he asked the guy behind the bar. He didn’t know, so called someone else. Soon a maintenance man appeared with a thermometer. The water was 20 degrees Celsius. Definitely too cold! It was nice laying in the sun warming up again though.
Just before the sun went down we made our way back to the beach. Not to swim this time, but to visit Sandland. This was a great big sandcastle display. It’s open all day, but as the sun goes down they light it all up with multi-coloured lights. I wouldn’t make my way across the city to see his, but since it was nearby, it was a pleasant enough way to spend an hour or so.
And just like that our time in Turkey was over again. We flew out of Antalya to meet our connecting flight in Ankara. When we got off the plane, it seemed like the whole huge airport was deserted. There were hardly any people around and whole sections of the airport had all the lights off as if they were closed. It looked very new and modern and clean, so maybe they built it with the future in mind.
We still love Turkey and I’m confident we will be back. There is just so much to see and do here, in Istanbul and beyond.
Public transport in Istanbul is easy to use through Google Maps. All forms seem to be on there, and from our experience, the times and other information were correct. All forms use the one transport card that you can continuously add as much extra credit as you need. There may be other locations, but we did it at metro, tram and ferry stops. The cost of the rides varied, but in general it’s around 2.65TL for a normal ride. A bit less if it’s a connecting trip, and more if it’s a longer journey. Our trip on the bus from the Europe side to Asia was about 6TL, so not sure if there was a toll or extra charge for crossing by road.
Wifi was not too bad in the Hiltons. It was also widely available in restaurants and shopping malls. In Antalya it was even provided on the beach by the beach club we were at!
We found Turkey to be cheap. Accommodation at Hilton’s could not be found many other places for as cheap as this. Taxis were also particularly cheap, and that’s why we used them more often than usual. Sometimes it was worth the few dollars extra to save an hour and two buses.
Hilton Garden Inn Istanbul Ataturk Airport
Yenibosna Mahallesi Köyalti Mevkii Yalcinkores Cad. No:14, Bahcelievler, 34197 İstanbul, Turkey
218TL ($75AUD/$56USD) per night
Hampton by Hilton Istanbul Atakoy
Atakoy 4. Kisim Cevat Dursunoglu Ca, Bakirkoy, 34158 İstanbul, Turkey
TL239 ($82AUD/$62USD) per night
Hampton by Hilton Istanbul Zeytinburnu
Professor Muammer Aksoy Cad. No:3 Zeytinburnu, Zeytinburnu, 34020 İstanbul, Turkey
TL195 ($67AUD/$51USD) per night
Hilton Garden Inn Istanbul Golden Horn
Sutluce Mah. Imrahor Cad. Dutluk Sok. No:3 , Beyoglu, 34445 İstanbul, Turkey
TL266 ($92AUD/$69USD) per night
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Istanbul Piyalespasa
Kaptanpasa Mahallesi, Piyalepasa, Beyoglu, 34440 İstanbul, Turkey
TL200 ($69AUD/$52USD) per night
Hilton Istanbul Kozyatagi
Sahrayicedit Mah. Batman Sok No:4, Kadikoy, 34734 İstanbul, Turkey
TL281 ($97AUD/$73USD) per night
Hilton Garden Inn Istanbul Umraniye
Yaman Evler Mah. Haldun Alagas Cad. No:2 Umraniye , Umraniye, 34000 İstanbul, Turkey
TL241 ($83AUD/$62USD) per night
Hampton by Hilton Istanbul Kurtkoy
Yeni Sehir Mh. Millet caddesi 27 Pendik, 34912 İstanbul, Turkey
TL276 ($95AUD/$72USD) per night
Central Suite Excellent View (AirBnB)
Yokuşbaşı Mh, 48000 Bodrum/Muğla, Turkey
$44AUD (33$USD) per night
Holiday Inn Antalya – Lara
Guzeloba Mah. 2290 Sok. No:5 , 07230 Antalya, Turkey
€40 ($63AUD/$47USD) per night
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