Istanbul 2012

I recently had an enjoyable 5 night break in Istanbul, Turkey with some slightly crazy photographer friends. It’s an interesting city to go and visit, full of contrasts between old and new, secular and religious. Lots of interesting places to visit and some great food (providing you eat in the right places) although alcohol is not cheap.

We stayed in the old sector at the Hotel Anik Ipek which is a bit of a bargain really. It’s quite cheap but clean, in decent condition with friendly service. It’s reasonably well located being about a 15 min walk to the trams and 5 min away from the sea and close to many of the main sites in the old city. The single rooms are tiny though, don’t expect to be able to  swing a cat! (of which there seems to be loads in Istanbul roaming all over the place)

We managed to see most of the main sites including the New Mosque, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, Sophia Hagia, Topkapi Palice, Galati Tower, Basilica Cistern, Suleymaniye Mosque, wandered around the streets a bit, saw a Dervish show and got a ferry to Anadolu Kavagi to climb a steep hill and see an old bit of a castle! Oh yes, we also ate lots 🙂

One thing I would say is that it’s fairly easy to become ‘mosqued out’ so I’d advise spreading the visits to them out between doing other stuff. Wandering the streets is quite fun and there is always lots happening and plenty of nice little café’s to visit along with just loads of sweet shops. They do like their hand made sweets and must be one of the worlds major honey users!!

Some useful tips:

Traffic is pretty bad in Istanbul, use trams when possible. They are dead easy to use and it costs 2 Turkish lira a trip. There are machines at each stop to get a token from and you can save time and buy several at once.

If you get a cab check the price first. Cab drivers don’t know where everything is so a map with your hotel on it can be useful at night to make sure you can get home. Public transport stops at midnight so they are the only way of getting around.

Alcohol – not available in all places, especially the old sector, and very expensive

Avoid eating in restaurants and try the kitchen type places. They have all the food cooked in trays and on display. It’s very cheap (£3-£4 for a big meal) and very good. There were about 3 in the same road as our hotel and they turned out to be the cheapest we found. They staff don’t all speak English so it’s sometimes a bit of a lucky dip on what you get but that’s part of the fun 🙂

Take ear plugs. They have prayers at all hours and they are broadcast over load tannoys!

Avoid the big attractions during the peak hours. Get there early or late to avoid the masses.

See the Sophia Hagia last of all the Mosques, it’s easily the most impressive.

Take British pounds and exchange it there, you will get much better rates than in the UK

Easyjet fly into Sabiha Gokcen which is about an hour or more from the centre of Istanbul, traffic is very bad during the day going into Istanbul but not so bad coming out. The transfer on Sunday morning back took about 50 minutes, the journey into Istanbul took nearly an hour and a half.

We got a shuttle from the hotel to the airport and they seemed pretty reliable. Sent them an email the day before telling them which hotel we were in and they turned up on time. It was 10 Euro each and I’d advise paying in Euro as their ‘on the fly’ exchange rate is not good! Get in contact with them here: info@sabihagokcenairportshuttle.com

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