LANGUAGE – Turkish
- Hello – Merhaba (mur ha bah)
- Goodbye – Elveda (El vay dah)
- Thank you – Teşekkür ederim (Tea Sugar a Dream)
- Where is the bathroom – nerede banyo (nare a day bahn yo)
I LOVE Istanbul! Solo travelers, friends, couples, families it doesn’t matter you will find something beautiful and interesting for everyone. I can’t wait to go back and see more. As you will learn, I am not a repeater. I would much rather go to a place I have not visited before revisiting a familiar location. For me to say “I can’t wait to return” is a big deal.
If your hotel doesn’t provide airport pick up ask them to provide an estimate of cost for a taxi ride. We stayed in the Sultanahmet area (by the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia) and our taxi ride was about $22 one way for two people. If you are located in the tourist areas of the city, there should be no reason to need a taxi again unless you need help carrying your goodies from the bazaars. With two metro lines, five tram lines and two funiculars getting around Istanbul is easy. Getting lost in Istanbul can be easy too, but don’t fear it is just as easy to find your way back to the main road. Carry a map with you just in case you do get lost. It is much easier to get past the language barrier by pointing to where you want to go than hand gestures and body contortions. The public transportation runs often, and the cost is very reasonable considering the alternative is sitting in traffic. Be sure to check last transportation times depending where you are traveling. I do not recommend renting a vehicle. Traffic and parking in the city are insane. You will spend your entire vacation in the car getting from point A to Point B and trying to park.
The Tea – Black tea served hot in a tulip shaped mini glass on a red/white color blocked coaster, add sugar or cream to taste. Not only is the tea delicious it represents everything about Turkish hospitality. Everywhere we went from stores, restaurants and friendly locals on the street, so many people offered us a cup of tea. A popular belief is when one shares a cup of tea you have become friends for life. If you get a chance to tea with a local – do it!
The Food – I can be picky when it comes to food, but the food in Turkey was delish. Every place we ate was wonderful. The service in Turkey is exceptional, as well. They take an interest to make sure you like what you are eating and do their very best to satisfy you. Don’t be shy. Engage in conversation with your waiter. They are great resources for recommendations on what to see and do.
The Sweets – Mmmmmm! I am not a sweets person; instead, I will fight you for a bag of chips. That all changed on this trip. Once I tasted one pastry I wanted to eat them all. Turkish Delight (Lokum), Baklava, Tulumbra and Lokma being my favorites. Lokum is a mixture of gel and sugars with some crushed nut assortment mixed in. My taste buds screamed for the pistachio lokum. Tulumbra and Lokma are fried donut mixtures covered in a syrupy gooey delicious mess. Baklava is probably the most famous Turkish pastry. Until I passed our first pastry shop, I had no idea there are so many different kinds of baklava. By the way…If you have nut allergies, Sooo Sorry! You need to stay away from all of the above.
Meeting Locals – Make a friend for life. To keeps things new – offer a local a cup of tea.
Mosques – I believe we were told there are over 3,000 mosques in Istanbul. Every mosque offers something unique to its visitors. Some mosques are better equipped to handle visitors than others. The Blue Mosque is the most popular, the Süleymaniye Mosque is the largest and the Murat Paşa Mosque one of the oldest. I recommend visiting at the very least 2 or 3 different mosques during your stay. I am not a uber religious person, but I do like learning about all religions. I am ever fascinated with the various rituals and how a worshiping community interacts with each other. Try to visit 30 minutes to an hour before prayer to have a chance to observe the pre-worship culture. You can feel the dedication to their beliefs and the closeness of the community as the greet each other and cleanse themselves before prayer.
Bazaars Grand and Spice – I enjoyed both bazaars. The Grand being the larger and more touristy of the two. I found the Spice Bazaar less expensive and easier to manage. They both contain mostly the same type of goods. The spice containing a bit more food and less touristy type items.
Dolmabahçe Palace – Guided tours are mandatory. No photography is allowed. This place is beautiful. The over 4 ton (yes. over 4 ton) chandelier is jaw-dropping. Go early and stay at the front of your tour; otherwise, you can’t hear a thing.
Adamar Hotel – this is one of my favorite hotels. The staff was excellent. Full of great recommendations, friendly and helpful. They even helped us with our Turkish pronunciations. The rooms are on the small side but still comfortable. The best part of this hotel is the mouth-watering breakfast buffet served on the glass-enclosed top floor. The views from the restaurant and the open rooftop are the best you can get anywhere in the area. You get a 360-degree view from the roof, and it is spectacular day or night. If you are unable to stay at the hotel, in the very least plan drinks at the Panoramic Restaurant. I promise you will love what you see.
Istanbul has plenty of lodging for all budgets all over the city. I recommend the Sultanahmet area. The heart of the old town is easily walkable and convenient. There are plenty of public transportation pick up areas to get anywhere else you want to go. When staying at a hostel just make sure the taxi driver knows the location. Ask the hostel contact for closest landmarks.
Favs: One of my favorite spots was where the Galata Bridge meets Sultanahmet, there is so much life there. You have Fisherman on the bridge, the hustle from the main ferry terminal, the much more enjoyable and manageable Spice Market and two distinct views. One direction you have the Galata tower surrounded by a buzzing metropolis of skyscrapers, and the other direction the New Mosque is perched at the entrance of the old and powerful city center. Just observing the terminal area, you can start to get a sense of the endless tide that is Istanbul, forever moving forward.
Chora Church: if you enjoyed the mosaics in Hagia Sophia or just mosaics, in general, the Chora Church is a must see. It is not much to look at from the outside, and it is sandwiched into a neighborhood that is certainly not on the beaten path; so I highly recommend a taxi for this adventure. Inside you will find some of the most amazing mosaics on display in the world. This place is covered with them: walls, ceilings, arches and anywhere else they can find. The scenes unfold with rich colors and intricate details it is not to be missed.
Insider Info: 1) If you are thinking of doing a Bosphorus Cruise, and want to do it at a reasonable price, take the Public Ferry. It takes you on about a 4-hour roundtrip journey for 25TL ($11.50 USD) and passes all the same sites the other cruises do. You even get to stop in a small Asian fishing village for lunch before your return trip. Catch the ferry between the Galata Bridge and the Sirkeci train stop. It leaves at 10:35 year round with an additional 13:35 departure from April to October.
Photo Tips: 1) Honestly this one’s a mixed bag, exploring a new city calls for all kind of photography. Pinpointing one thing is almost impossible.
If you are up for a challenge and have the means, put a prime or fixed lens on your camera preferably a 50mm, and head out into the city. The fixed lens will help keep your mind active as you have to move to get the shot you want; you can’t just zoom in or out. This exercise will help lead you to unique photos that won’t match up to the thousands of people before you.
Recommendable: YES!!!!! Anytime of the year. Summer is the busy season.