Now that a few days have passed and I have had a chance to absorb my recent Istanbul experience, here is the first part of my trip report. Rather than attempting to write one epic report, I will submit multiple reports of readable lengths. Hopefully this will make the report easier to read for all interested readers on the forum.
The focus of this report will be on the following: Turkish Airlines Comfort Class experience, arrival at Istanbul and first impressions.
Our voyage began on the night of June 30. When planning for the trip, I was quite excited to learn that the Toronto-Istanbul route was one of the routes where Turkish Airlines’ new Comfort Class seats would be offered. Prior to this trip, I had never flown with Turkish Airlines and didn’t really know much about the airline at all. Check-in at Toronto Pearson International Airport was relatively smooth. We had checked-in online and had printed our boarding passes, but there was not luggage drop-off line at the airport, so we still needed to line up with all the other passengers to check in our luggage. (This was probably the only area where I would have discounted some points for Turkish, since Lufthansa does offer a luggage drop-off line for customers who have checked in online.) In any case, the wait was reasonable and the check-in process was smooth. (One surprise was that boarding for the flight began 1 hour before take-off, which I found to be earlier than expected. In my experiences with Lufthansa, Austrian, and Air Canada, for example, boarding usually began about 20-30 minutes before take-off.)
The Comfort Class seats did not disappoint. The seats were quite a bit wider than those in Economy and the foot rests and greater reclining angle made a huge difference in the 9.5-hour flight. (For those who are wondering, my Comfort Class ticket was about $500 more expensive than Economy Class tickets.) All passengers received a travel-size amenity kit as well as a pair of slippers – very nice touches. The headphones provided were of good quality and were effective in blocking out other noise.
By far, the most outstanding aspect of Comfort Class was the cuisine. In short, I was stuffed when I got off the plane in Istanbul. For the first meal, we started with beverages and canapés in the form of finger sandwiches and finger pastries. Then came the main course, which featured 2 appetizers (mixed green salad and roast beef with avocado). The appetizers were huge and I was nearly full before even starting the main course. For the main course, I selected the braised beef which was very tasty and well prepared. Dinner rolls were served warm and tasted like real rolls (unless those strange tasting ones that I had on an Air Canada flight last year). At that point, our trays were taken away, to be replaced by the dessert tray, which consisted of three items: a cheese plate, a fruit plate, and a slice of cake. Dessert was accompanied by tea/coffee. The quality of the food was excellent and comparable to what many airlines would consider to be business class cuisine. About two hours before arriving in Istanbul, we were served a second meal which consisted of fruit salad, cheese plate, and a hot omelette dish, along with beverage, bread, and tea/coffee. I wasn’t overly impressed with the omelette dish (was a tad dry) but it wasn’t bad at all…it just paled when compared against the superb dinner described previously.
Overall service was excellent. The flight attendants were friendly and attentive. Prior to landing, the passenger sitting in the row ahead of me fell ill. His wife was distraught as she was afraid that he was having a stroke. The flight attendants quickly found two doctors on the flight (turned out to be nothing serious). What was most impressive was that two of the flight attendants worked together to distract the passengers young son by talking to him and trying to cheer him up, as the young boy was clearly frightened by his father’s condition.
Overall, I was extremely pleased with the entire flight experience and felt that the premium paid for Comfort Class was well worth it. Even after flying for 9.5 hours, I was not tired or uncomfortable at all. Interestingly, about one month before my trip, I checked the prices for both Economy and Comfort Class seats and the difference between the two was only $295 per ticket.
Arrival and First Impressions
My first impressions of Atatürk Airport are mixed. The airport is relatively large and modern, but there were three things that I didn’t particularly like. First, air ventilation inside the building wasn’t the greatest…the building felt stuffy and if one had to wait in line for a long time, it could become very uncomfortable. Second, the building seemed very dark in places. The lighting was very dim (perhaps because of energy saving initiatives?) and it just made the whole building look less-than-attractive or welcoming. Third, the ceiling in the arrivals area was very low, which didn’t really cause a problem, but gave arriving passengers a feeling of being crammed (not to mention that the terminal truly was crammed with arriving passengers). Having said that, the airport was quite efficient at moving passengers. The line up to obtain the entry Visa moved fairly quickly and passport control was much more efficient that I had expected (I waited longer in a shorter line entering Frankfurt or returning to Toronto.)
We were greeted by our hotel transfer from the Best Western Premier Acropol Suites & Spa at the airport. A friendly gentleman quickly got us out of the terminal and into the hotel mini-van and we were on our way. The drive from the airport to Sultanahmet was fairly smooth. We got our first view of Istanbul and of the Marmara Sea during this drive. The first striking image for us how the route leading from the airport was dotted with very nicely planted flowers. This may seem trivial but it really gave a pleasant first impression of the city for us. Traffic was not too bad and we only encountered heavy traffic once we were in Sultanahmet.
We arrived at the Best Western Acropol Suites & Hotel and we checked into our rooms very quickly. The welcome drink offered by the hotel was much appreciated. After settling into our suites, we decided to go out for a short walk. It was about 6pm at this time and we didn’t want to venture too far, but wanted to get a general orientation so that we could hit the ground running on the next day. From the hotel, we walked up the hill to the entrance of Topkapi Palace and lingered there for some photos. Even though I had seen many photos of this particular spot in my trip planning, it looked different in person and it took me a while to realize that I was standing in front of Topkapi Palace. We then continued our walk to the side of Haghia Sophia and meandered amongst the vendors in the area. We just wandered through the side streets back towards the hotel area, stopping every so often to look into the shops and the restaurants, just wanting to admire this part of the city, which is very different from anything that we have in North America or even in the parts of Europe that we had visited.
We soon returned to our hotel and decided that it was time to experience our first meal in Istanbul. For this very symbolic and important first meal, we dined at the Metropolis Restaurant, located right beside our hotel (not very adventurous for a first meal, but we really didn’t want to wander too far after a long flight and this restaurant did have very good Tripadvisor ratings). For those who are interested, I have already posted a separate review of this restaurant on Tripadvisor.
We ended our meal very satisfied and having already obtained a positive first impression of the city, we were very excited to begin our first full day of sightseeing. We were equally pleased with our choice of accommodations – the suites were clean (newly renovated) and the beds comfortable. All of us slept well and were fully energized the next morning to begin exploring Istanbul.
Coming up in the next installment: Exploring Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu.