Intriguing Istanbul

Istanbul Travel Blog

 › entry 1 of 7 › view all entries

Well our flight out of Houston was an hour late leaving on Turkish Airlines, we arrived safely nearly on time to Istanbul. Turkish airways flight was very nice and while we sat at the back of the plane is served us well because we got to unload from the front and rear exits. That was the quietest overnight flight I have ever been on as it was nearly silent all night! The nice Turkish airways employee who issued our boarding pass, since we had to show our passport even with online check-in, was kind enough to block out the middle seat so that we would not have to wait. This could be because we were in the business-class line only because Ned has gold status on United which is a skyways alliance member.

Also, we were invited to go to the United club in terminal E because we were on Turkish airways flight, which we enjoyed for an hour before our flight. He was also able to go ahead and produce our boarding pass for our flight from Istanbul to Naples, Italy the following day because it was within 24 hours of our landing in Istanbul. this means, we do not have to be in line to get our boarding pass two hours before our 11:45 AM flight tomorrow :-) Also, because our airport in Istanbul is close to the airport with minimal traffic, we do not have to leave too early.

It took one hour 45 minutes from the time we left home until we got through security. We parked in the Echo Park for long-term parking at the airport and apparently you have to chase down the correct shuttle bus or it will leave without you. Then you have to wait another 10 minutes for the next bus to proceed down the road where people are parking. So be sure to go where they want you to park and then chased down the correct bus.

I love how they feed vegetarians first! :-) they gave us a cute overnight kit with eyemask, earplugs, and toothbrush with toothpaste.

We arrived at Istanbul airport and took a quick airport shuttle from the airport to our gate. It was easy to find signs to passport control. Since we already had our visas from the online visa process for $20 each, multi entry for 90 days, we could get in the fast-moving line.

We found the taxi line at the front of the exterior arrivals (go right to get to the front of the line) and our taxi driver was rather annoyed that we did not have the phone number for the hotel so he could talk to them about where they are. We did however have an address and Google maps, but he was muttering the entire way – ha ha! It cost 15 Turkish lira is from the airport, although he did not seem to use a meter and our hotel doorman had to help us translate to get a price :-)

The Wyndham Petek hotel is very nice and they spoke rather good English with a smile. Our prepaid rate is just over $100. dip and we do not really have time to go to town tomorrow, and free breakfast is included, I think we came out ahead even with a taxi and transport charges.

Istanbul is seven hours ahead of Houston and the flight was long enough that after they fed us dinner two hours into the flight, we had time to sleep for eight hours, before they woke us up almost 2 hours before the flight landed. We were on a 777–300 and had individual TVs with good movie choices!

After dropping our bags in our room we went downstairs to catch a taxi. We should have ordered a taxi while we were at the front desk because it took about 10 to 15 minutes for one to come for us. Someone else's taxi was there waiting. It was 55 TL to get to the Grand Bazaar in the old city. Istanbul is fascinating and that it is the only city to span two continents and also it has been around since 79 A.D., the first century! 

We made it to the Grand Bazaar just 10 minutes before it closed and we were happy to try some street food and some baklava while we were there. The fried corn had a nice flavor but had been cooked all day :-). We also stopped in a café where we got some hummus and falafels which seemed beautifully presented and cooked, but not particularly tasteful. We got fresh squeezed pomegranate and orange juice from a street vendor for 1 TL each for a small cup. We also tried a chocolate pastry and apple pastry from a vendor who shop just closed for 2TL each. When people asked where we were from, we sadly felt most comfortable saying Canada. We did meet lots of tourists from all over the world, all trying to figure out how to buy the MetroCard. Apparently, at the kiosk, you can refill a card but you cannot buy one. We went across the street with a Chinese family who are now living in Germany to try to buy a card at the newsstand, but they either would not sell to us or were out of them. It's a tossup which.
We also went into a mosque where only a few men were praying at the time. You have to remove your shoes and leave them outside and right before we went in, the guards in the booth knocked on a class but then seem to waive me in. I don't know what the deal was but after admiring from near the doorway the beautiful mosaic ceiling and the grandeur of the mosque, we quietly exited. Later we heard some beautiful singing that sounded like it was on a loudspeaker outside, which we think was a call to prayer, that occurs five times per day.

Since we could see the tram stop, we figured out how to buy at the jeton machine for 4TL each a jeton, which you put in the turnstill to walk through on at the entrance of the platform of the tram. We managed to get on T1 tramline, which is purple on the metro map or navy blue on our online one. This was not so easy because by the time we finally bought a jeton, the turn stills would not take the jeton, but the security guard across the tracks walked over, told us to walk around, the platform onto the tracks, and back up on the platform and took our jetons. 

Many people spoke basic English! I was surprised by the number of signs on buildings that were in English. We were, however, on the European side of Istanbul, so I do not know what it is like on the Asian side. Also, our Wyndham Hotel takes European plug converters. On our flight, and even on the tram, the announcements were Turkish, followed by English. However, on our plane I have to admit it was some of the worst English I have witnessed. :-) Still, it was better than my Turkish. While I thought Turkish Airlines did a fine job, IFAR preferred Singapore Airlines. There was also confusion at boarding with everyone cramming to the front preparing to board and it was five minutes past boarding time before they ever started boarding. Announcements in advance would have saw some of the crowding.

To further our experience, we took the T1 tram to the Zeytinburnu stop to transfer to the M1a metro toward Ataturk Airport. How did we find the metro? From tram stop, we simply asked someone on the tram platform where metro was and they told us to walk out and around and up the steps to the metro. We again had to buy more jutons to take the M1 Red Line metro even though it was essentially just a transfer. I believe it would have cost 2 TLs beats rather then 4TL to get the same thing, had we had a card.
When we got to our stop, Yenibosna, which was two stops before the airport (which is the end of the line, which is how the stops are direction-designated, by the last stop), we found a huge bus lot, but not many taxis. We stood behind some other guys at a taxi sign and eventually one came and they got in, discussed something with the driver, and then they got out so we got in. We had gotten a card from the hotel and it had a maps also on the back and so the driver did not need to call the hotel and took us there. However, it cost 17 TL instead of 15 TL from the airport. It looked on our Google maps like our driver did a little bit of a circle, But in hindsight we might as well have gone two more stops to the airport and taking the enormous taxi line there.  

The conversion rate is like 2.25 TL to $1 US. So in total, for our trip back to the hotel, we spent 4 for the tram, 4 more for the metro, and 18 for the taxi= 32 TL versus the 55 TL for the taxi and I thought it was an interesting fun experience.

It took a lot of work, but we packed light again! My bag is under 15 pounds and Ned's is under 20. They did not weigh our bags at all. They said their carry-on limit is 17.6, but no one seem to be checking anyone's weight.

What a fascinating trip we've had in Istanbul! 

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
photo by: Memo