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Trip report 3/29/09-4/5/09

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Columbia, SC
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Trip report 3/29/09-4/5/09

We're back from Istanbul and now it's time for my trip report! I'm breaking this into two posts so you don't have to scroll through an opus on every page. :0

We arrived around 3:00 at the Istanbul airport. Transfer was waiting on us - used the Istanbul Airport Shuttle which was great with one tiny exception (more on that later). After I made my peace with God more than once on the ride to the hotel, we arrived in one piece.

We stayed at the Best Western President hotel in Beyazit. It was an easy block and a half up the street to the main boulevard through the older part of town and the tram line. We had arranged for our hotel to obtain an Akbil for us before we got there - GOLDMINE! The Akbil rocks. I'm not sure why Rick Steves doesn't like them, but we loved it.

We managed to avoid any jetlag naps and make it down to the Blue Mosque and the Hippodrome area. It was actually a nice time of day to visit the sites - the crowds were virtually non-existent. I did cover my head with a scarf at the Blue Mosque, but no one was monitoring my entrance and did not make me do so. I did not do so throughout the rest of the trip at other sites and it was not an issue.

As we were walking around in the little park between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, we heard a voice from behind us asking if we were Americans. We told the Turkish guy who asked us that we were. He asked what state. When we said South Carolina, he said, "oh, my wife is from Charleston!" After reading all the pick up lines from crazy salesmen on here, I thought, "yeah right, buddy." Then when he found out the town we were from, he named one of our city councilmen and knew all these details about him. Turns out this guy works as a wholesaler of carpets and has dealt with this guy from our hometown pretty often. He asked that we stop by his shop sometime during the week and we agreed.

Back to the hotel for a quick freshening up and then to the Orient House show. While touristy, it was a good activity for us on the first night we were there because it was in our hotel and kept us awake for a while. :)

The next day, we got up bright and early and hit the Basilica Cistern and Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia in particular was just beautiful and HUGE. Hubby was very excited to get a picture with one of the famous Hagia Sophia stray cats sitting on a column.

We had a nice, quick lunch at Sultanhamet Koftecisi - meatballs and kebabs and piya (the white bean salad, which was as good as everyone on here advertises).

We then hit the Archaeological Museum, the Tiled Kiosk and Oriental Exhibit. The Archaeological museum was awesome. I was not as thrilled with the other two buildings, particularly the Tiled Kiosk - just not too much to it compared to other sites. If we had been limited for time, I would have felt okay skipping this part. By the way, the grounds surrounding the museum and Topkapi were beautiful. It was close to 70 when we were there, and all the tulips and other flowers were out - gorgeous!

Afterward we walked through the Grand Bazaar for about thirty minutes (once you've walked around for a little bit, it's pretty much the same thing over and over). We bolted after a little bit, but not after being asked, "hey lady, how can I hustle you?" and "Oooh, those shoes (hubby's shoes) look like they are from Arizona." Much better than the Grand Bazaar to me were the streets between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market - we were literally the only tourists back there.

The Spice Market was wonderful - smelled great, lots of neat things to look at. We hit the goldmine at Malatya Pasari - we stopped by three times for more dried fruit during our trip. :)

That evening we had supper at Hamdi restaurant, which had very good food (try the pistachio kebap)with a nice view of the city. Unfortunately, as others have mentioned, we also felt very rushed. I think they basically had far too many guys on the floor waiting to serve everyone so they are a little too on top of things for my liking.

Columbia, SC
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1. Re: Trip report 3/29/09-4/5/09

On Wednesday, we visited the carpet wholeseller's shop - the guy we met our first afternoon. He happened to have had a rug made of Rainbow Row in Charleston (for those of you unfamiliar, it's a row of historic homes painted in different colors like a bunch of Easter eggs) hanging in his shop. We stayed there for a while and got a carpet tutorial and had our first glass of apple tea. He had some beautiful carpets, but we weren't really looking to buy any carpets on our trip, so we managed to escape in a little over an hour.

Next we were off to Topkapi Palace and the Harem. Compared to a lot of the other palaces I've seen in Europe, Topkapi is completely different and I actually was a little underwhelmed with the palace itself. The grounds were beautiful, though. The Harem was extremely interesting and definitely worth the extra charge. We unfortunately ran into a HUGE group of Turkish schoolchildren while we were in the palace, so I think that possibly affected my impression of the palace because it was so frustrating to try to see anything with 200 twelve year olds running all over the place.

After we finished up the palace and Harem, we stopped by Konyali for lunch. It was expensive and we tried to go cheaper by doing the self serve option. The sandwich I had was okay, not outstanding. The view is good, but you can see the same thing from the overlook above the restaurant. I would maybe suggest taking a picnic or sandwich and just enjoying the free view while saving $$$.

Next we headed to Taksim Square for a stroll down Istikal St, which I really enjoyed. Between Alper's blog and Rick Steves' walking tour, we hit a lot of places. Particular highlights were getting helva at Koska Helva (#122). I also found some lovely, reasonably priced, and REAL silk scarves at Ipek Silk Shop (#120). The salesmen were extremely helpful and pulled several scarves out for me. We also stopped by Pasabahce Glass, which had some lovely pieces. Finally, we stopped and had our first Turkish coffee in the historic Markiz Cafe (#172A). The first two-thirds was great until I got a mouthful of the sludge at the bottom of the cup. :)

Re-energized, we headed down the side streets down the hill toward Galata Bridge and Tower. We turned in particular down Galip Dede (right where the tram ends) which was full of music shops. I found a tiny soap shop on that street selling wonderful olive oil/scented soaps which were very reasonable. She had such a lovely little shop, so if you're nearby, try to find it. I missed the name unfortunately, but if Taksim is at your back, it is on the left. After packing up our soaps, we also got our first cup of fresh squeezed orange juice - very tasty.

After snagging some pictures from the Galata Tower, we headed to supper at Rumeli Cafe. This was one of the best meals we had in Istanbul. On a damp, cool night, the smaller, candlelit rooms were a welcome sight as were the roaring fireplaces! We sampled the borek platter and tried Raki for the first (and last) time! I had the chicken stuffed with pilav and hubby had sea bass in a thick Mediterranean sauce, which was fantastic. I cannot recommend this place highly enough!

On Thursday, we got up early and flew to Izmir airport for our day trip to Istanbul with Celsus Travel. On a side note, we again used the Istanbul Airport shuttle which was recommended on here. Overall, they were good but they apparently have a different definition of "private" transfer than we did. We had others on our transfer two out of the four times we used them. Normally not a big deal, but it does cost a decent amount extra to get a private transfer.

Bekir picked us up at the Izmir airport and transported us around Selcuk and Ephesus in a nice black Mercedes van/minibus with leather interior. His official first tour of the season, we went to the house of the virgin Mary, St. John's Basilica, Ephesus and the Ephesus Museum. We had lunch in a little hole in the wall place in Selcuk which turned out to be the best lunch we had in Turkey, hands down. Since we had time to kill before our flight home, we stopped by a carpet cooperative and learned how they make rugs, how they spin the silk, etc. Overall, Bekir was awesome, very knowledgeable and spoke great English. I would highly recommend him.

On Friday, we took the ferry trip up the Bosphorus. We tried simit for the first time, which was good. On the ferry ride, we met another couple from our state - too funny. We hiked up to the Yoros Castle - holy glutes and hamstrings! I certainly didn't feel guilty eating baklava after the fact! We had a wonderful lunch at the bottom of the castle overlooking the Black Sea and Bosphorus. I nervously tried the fried mussels, but all is well (at least so far!).

After cleaning up a little at the hotel, we headed to Leb-i-Derya in the Richmond Hotel for a few drinks before dinner. Beautiful place, fantastic view, pricy drinks (but worth the splurge!). We were up there around 8:30 and easily found a seat at the bar. Do stop by even if just for a drink.

The only real disappointment we experienced was at Rejan's for supper that night. The food was just okay, the service was terrible. Our waiter disappeared for twenty minutes at a time. After we sat down, our table was physically moved not once, not twice, but THREE times. The first time was immediately after we sat down, and the guy adjusted our table so I could see the live music - no biggie. The second time, our table got shoved a few feet with no warning by a waiter seating a couple behind us. The third time, a large party came in and the manager basically came up to us yelling, "Move, move, move" and shoved our table clear across the room. No, "I'm sorry, I need more room for a large table, would you mind moving over here?" It was really rude. Hubby was only further ticked off when the bill we received included about 30 extra lira than what we had calculated. When he asked the manager whether a service charge had been included, he said, "Oh, no, of course not." Hubby asked for an itemized bill and, sure enough, the service charges had been added in. I would not recommend this restaurant.

On a lighter note, the Tunel was closed when we finished supper, so we took our first taxi ride with no problems.

On our last full day in Istanbul, we spent the morning and early afternoon finishing up shopping. I had read about a store in the Grand Bazaar that had South Sea pearls for very reasonable prices. After much wandering and asking for directions three times, we finally found the place - Narezde or Stil Inci in the Old Bazaar area of the Grand Bazaar(apparently brothers with two different shops - I didn't catch the whole story and was so overwhelmed by the store that I didn't care!). If someone wants directions, I can give them to you. Basically, it was a closet sized shop with strands of pearls, beads, raw sapphires, rubies, etc. hanging all over the place. Everytime I looked up I saw something else worth drooling over. Hubby and I escaped with three South Sea pearl necklaces - 32 inch strands - for around $200 a piece. I could have done so much more damage in there . . . :) I highly recommend the place - the owner helped me pick out strands that matched in order to make the longer necklace and showed me what to look for. Our necklaces were put together and done in around 30 minutes. We also revisited the Spice Market and bought more dried fruit, baklava, and Turkish Delight for the folks back home.

We took a nice walk in the park surrounding Topkapi and enjoyed seeing the families out enjoying the beautiful weather. We tried turkish ice cream - lemon flavored - which was very good.

After finishing up shopping and taking a much needed nap, we headed to Sarnic for supper. The restaurant was amazing - it is in an old cistern lit with candles and with wrought iron accents. Beautiful and oozing with charm. OUr waiters were attentive without being overbearing, and the food was excellent. In hubby's words, "this place rocks!"

Since everyone has been so gracious with their advice/time during my planning of our trip, I'd like to offer myself out there to answer any questions anyone may have about our itinerary or certain sites. Thanks to the generous contributors to this board, we had a fantastic time!

Naples, Florida
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2. Re: Trip report 3/29/09-4/5/09

What an enjoyable report. You certainly made the most of your time there, I'm exhausted just reading it. Glad you had a wonderful journey.

Perrysburg, Ohio
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3. Re: Trip report 3/29/09-4/5/09

Two, you have no idea how much I enjoyed reading your trip report. It brought back such fond memories of my first trip to Istanbul...especially the part about making your peace with God several times on the trip from the airport to the hotel! Your necklaces sound gorgeous...I don't recall ever seeing that shop, but I'll definitely keep a look out for it.

I'm so glad you and your husband had such a great time. And please keep posting on the forum, as your advice to future visitors will be so helpful!

Jo

Columbus, Ohio
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4. Re: Trip report 3/29/09-4/5/09

Great review! I really enjoy reading and reliving what I did while in Turkey and planning all the things I want to do next trip.

Nannup, Australia
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5. Re: Trip report 3/29/09-4/5/09

A great report! I'm taking notes for my trip next month - particularly the restaurants.

Istanbul
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6. Re: Trip report 3/29/09-4/5/09

Hi two,

I am glad you had such a great time Istanbul. Hope to see again in Turkey. BTW your hubby and Obama has something in common: "fotogaleri.hurriyet.com.tr/GaleriDetay.aspx…" :))

enigma...

Rugby,England
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7. Re: Trip report 3/29/09-4/5/09

Excelent report and a very useful tool for me to use as an itinary planner when i arrive in the great city in July. Thanks for that. You mentioned Akbil - can you tell me more about this i have not heard of it before

Johnco UK

Surrey, UK
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8. Re: Trip report 3/29/09-4/5/09

Fantastic trip report - and I really enjoyed reading it. You managed to fit in a lot in your visit to Istanbul - and most importantly (from my point of view!) you managed to do some good shopping and eating!!

I agree with your husband about the Sarnic Restaurant - it rocks!! We have celebrated all our 'big events' there (first holiday together, engagement, marriage, and so far three anniversaries) as we love the atmosphere so much. The standard of food varies (depending on the chef I suspect - we have been going there for 14 years so have seen a fair few chefs come and go!) but the atmosphere and the service stays the same.

We have never eaten at Rumeli (we tend to eat at the Mosaik next door) but it is on our list for next time thanks to reviews like yours.

I shall be looking out for the shop you mentioned in the Grand Bazaar.......

Istanbul, Turkey
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9. Re: Trip report 3/29/09-4/5/09

Thanks for sharing, great report.

Alper

Columbia, SC
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10. Re: Trip report 3/29/09-4/5/09

Thanks everyone for the nice comments.

Thanks for the picture Enigma! I promptly emailed it to my husband.

Johnco - the Akbil is a rechargeable transportation chip that allows you to get around on 90 percent of the different forms of transportation in Istanbul. They are available at several kiosks, but several people have reported difficulty buying them. I just asked my hotel to please purchase one and add it to my hotel bill, which they did. It sort of looks like a tiny bottle opener you would attach to your key ring.

Once you obtain it, there are little recharge kiosks at several tram stops (off the top of my head, at Sultanahmet, Beyazit, etc). You simply place the Akbil up to the sensor, put money in the machine and it charges it right up. It then automatically deducts lira every time you use it at the turnstile. It was very easy, and multiple people can share one.

One other note to folks walking down Istikal Street - we spent a lot of time early on backtracking because the numbers on the two sides of the street do not correspond. In the US, usually shop number 215 will be on one side of the road and 216 will be directly across the street. On that street in particular, the numbers were waaaaay off between one side of the street and the other. Just took a little getting used to!