Now that you know where we stayed in Istanbul (we got lucky!) I’ve put together a couple of my 1st thoughts, impressions and observations from the time that we arrived & got settled in.
Quite a few people have asked me where Istanbul is so let me put you on the map (quite literally!):
Map of Istanbul (above) and the Turkish flag (below) patriotically flown throughout the city.
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey (it’s not the capital though, but is 3 times the size of the capital, Ankara) and is home to around 15 million of the country’s whopping 80 million inhabitants. Turkey is bordered by eight countries: Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria to the southeast.
Not sure if there are direct flights to Turkey (except for Turkish Airlines) but we really wanted to fly Emirates (it worked out well that they were also the cheapest) which meant going via Dubai. Flight time from Jhb to Dubai was around 8 hrs and then from there to Istanbul a further 4 hrs. From the time we walked out of our front door in Jozi it was almost 24 hrs till we arrived in at our hotel in Istanbul.
Turkey – a Eurasian country…
Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles 2 continents. In fact when I initially tried to book our flights I chose “Europe” on the Emirates site when asked to choose the continent and was rather puzzled when I didn’t find Istanbul there as a destination to select but after some head scratching I realised that they had actually classified it under Asia. The city’s European and Asian roots are mixed with a Middle Eastern influence, adding to its unique cultural diversity. The European side is filled with the hustle and bustle of businesses like banks and modern hotels while the Asian side is more residential and green.
Men fishing over the Bosphorous Sea.
The Bosphorous Sea – a lifeline
Turkey is capsuled by several seas, most notably the Bosphorous, spanning 31 kms. The Bosphorous is an economic lifeline to Istanbul and also serves to divide the European and Asian sides of the city. There is constant traffic on and over the Bosphorous (there are 2 suspension bridges across the sea and plans for a 3rd one has been signed off this year) with 3 million people doing the daily commute between the two sides for work. The Bosphorous is also a major tourist attraction, but more on that in my next post.
The gridlock of peak hour traffic – note all the cabs in yellow. We found a restaurant with this amazing view and decided to sit it out instead…
That brings me to the traffic, which over peak hours in Istanbul is insane. There were a few times we stopped cabs asking them to take us to certain areas and they simply refused. Once a taxi driver said he would take us, but refused to use the meter and wanted to charge us a (ludicrous, thumb sucked) flat rate instead, saying it’d take him forever to get there and back. We passed!
No speak English…
Turkish is of course the official language, being the mother tongue to 85% of the population. I was surprised that there wasn’t more English in the city e.g. road signs and notices on public transport etc. Its said that English is relatively widely spoken and while that may be, it’s not, in our experience very well understood. Of course this is much better in hotels and tourist areas but I fondly recall my hubby spending 10 minutes and using various hand signals asking a waiter for butter 🙂
Show me the money
The Turkish Lira (TL) is the local currency in Turkey and is worth about 5 times the South African Rand. I learnt quickly to stop doing those mental conversions although learning that I’d just paid R100 for a milkshake nearly caused me to choke on it. Euros are also accepted in malls etc. but local small businesses may insist on the Lira.
Islamic fashion worn by some Turkish women of all ages.
Turkey is at least 97% Muslim with Christians and Jews making up the remainder of the population. There are over 3000 mosques in Istanbul and the athaan (Islamic call to prayer) can be heard throughout the city. For us what was great being is Istanbul is that we had a lot more food choices than we ever have (even vs. SA) as most (but certainly not all) food is halaal. Some of the Muslim women were recognisable by a particular style of what looked like a longer-length Trench coat (it must get hot under all that!).
Waiting for a tram, which was never a long wait…
The public transport system is more than adequate and you have a choice of busses, trams, trains and taxis that run well into the night – all of which were accessible by foot from our hotel. Quite different to back home in SA public transport is widely used by most people (although the traffic issue persists). What’s great is that with the exception of taxis, all the public transport works off one (pre paid) card which is very easily rechargeable. We mostly used the trams (never ever count on getting a seat) as they were cheapest and then taxis for the rest of the time wherever trams didn’t run…
This has got to be the cutest thing I have seen in a long, long time. Spotted this cutie napping in a suitcase on the pavement outside an antique store 🙂
Here kitty kitty…
There are stray cats everywhere in Istanbul and everyone is really kind to them. Cat food and water put out on the pavements are common sights. It is still a bit of a sad sight still as I saw a few who were injured.
There is so much to say about Istanbul, but I’ll curb my tongue for now. Like any other city Istanbul has up-and-coming neighbourhoods and some rather posh ones. The city is streaming with tourists and you can tell just by all the accents you hear on the streets. It was a good time of the year for us to visit as it was the first month of Autumn and temperatures were mid to high 20’s everyday – not a day of bad weather!
In upcoming posts I’ll be telling you more about the sights (gosh where to start!?), Turkish hamaam (spa) experience & amazing variety of food of Istanbul (let’s just say my diet started as soon as soon as I landed home).