Gap Year Days 173 – 188
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.