I have been home just over 12 hours and wanted to get started on posts from my vacation and thought it would be best to start with the most recent since it is fresh in my mind.
We almost didin’t make it home (okay slight exaggeration but it could have been a distaster. Istanbul has two airports and thousands of cab drivers that don’t speak English and we were unlucky enough to flag one of them. Barely understood airport! I almost jumped out but didn’t and thank goodness I had read an article about the 2nd airport and where it was and realized we were going the wrong way and was able to tell him ‘No, other one’!
Tip: Find out what airport you are at (and no, it doesn’t say on my email confirmation and no it isn’t like hear where Pearson would be where you’d catch a long haul flight not Billy Bishop) and write it down for the driver. Our driver shouted at us in Turkish – I am assuming he figured the louder he said it the more likely we would understand? It was something out of Amazing Race!
Also, everyone says 2 hours is enough time. Go 3 in advance – there are 2 security checks and 3 passport checks before you board that plane!
Istanbul is a bustling city with a population over 20 million! Be prepared for sensory overload! It took us a day to settle in and a day with a local tour guide (she was worth every Euro!) which I recommend to everyone.
We saw the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, the Spice Market, a rug manufacturer and wholesaler where we saw a woman weaving a rug by hand, the Grand Bazaar and did a cruise on the Bosphorus where I saw dolphins swimming along side our boat.
The food is great, the people are too (well most of them – we had some experiences where we were ignored or felt like we were being treated differently) but it is a culture so very different from our own – not that that is a bad thing, just something to be prepared for.
Our second day there we ventured out on our own and went back to the market and the bazaar for some haggling for souvenirs. Our last stop was a traditional hammam – try one if you are ever in Turkey! We went to Cemberlistas which is an historical hammam built in 1584. We were scrubbed, washed and massaged – it was peaceful compared to the bustle outside but not for those that are shy as there is very little covered up on you and your ‘washer’.
Tip: One thing that we learned once we had our local tour guide is that we got ripped off by the driver from the airport (Welcome to Istanbul!) – he charged us more than it should have been when we asked and with the tip it was probably double what it should have been. It pays to do some research on what cab fares should be to and from parts of the city to the airport.
Much more to come in the next days and weeks!