What can I say about Istanbul? Three words come to mind: breathtaking, historical and expensive.
Visiting Istanbul has been my dream since I saw “The Cities of the Underworld” on the History Channel. Unlike many other places, people and stuff in general, my high expectations were fully met and even exceed. This includes transportation, food and accommodation, the topic of this post.
Transportation. Let’s start from the beginning—the Sabiha Gokcen Airport. It is a newly built thing, lot further than the Ataturk Airport, but comfortable and nice-looking. Discount airlines land there. It took us two hours to get from the airport on the Asian side to our hotel, but it was fine, because when else would we travel through that part of Istanbul? To get to the historical city, we took a bus, a ferry (crossing Bosporus from Asia to Europe) and a 20 minute walk. We could’ve taken a tram from the ferry, but the overwhelming presence of the city at 8 a.m. made us jump up and down, despite the luggage.
Transportation in Istanbul includes ferries across Bosporus, trams, buses and a subway. There is no subway in the historic part—I guess it makes sense, given that there are Byzantium antiques lying everywhere you dig. Mostly, we walked around, cause when you’re in Istanbul for 7 days, you don’t want to spend time looking at it from the tram window.
Accommodation. I was afraid that our hotel room would look different than its ad picture—happens all the time. However, it was exactly the same. We requested a room with a balcony that overlooked the courtyard, but got something lot better—a courtyard itself! And, there was an option of having a room with the view of the Marmara Sea, for additional 10 Euros, but we decided to save the money and were right: all of the balconies were facing the sea, including our first floor, so we saw it perfectly. I guess the more expensive room was on the highest floor and had a better perspective, but I bet it did not have A SWING AND A LITTLE GARDEN!
You can get any kind of accommodations you want—from a 10Euro hostel to a 160 overlooking-the-sea suite. Breakfast is included. Receptionists everywhere are extra sweet and speak around 4 languages. Breakfasts are usually same everyday, but ours included so much stuff that we could eat different food for a week—and even the shittiest breakfast offers 5 varieties of olives and cheeses, which is like amazing!
Food. Foodwise, we went to Istanbul prepared. We watched my favorite TV chef’s Antony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” in Istanbul and marked the places and the food we wanted to eat. Among them were: a whole lamb cooked in a stone pit, a delicious, calorie-packed wet burger and a lamb wrap with an unbelievable lavash.
Food in the historic part of the city (which is where you’ll end up being anyway) is 10 times more expensive then where the normal people live, so we just skipped lunch or dinner and ate once a day (well, after having like 5 courses for breakfast) and munched on bread, fruit and cheese we bought in the discount supermarket.
The hotel provided two bottles of water and that was wonderful, because you can’t drink tap water and there are no drinking fountains. For water, try discount supermarket, because its prices triple (literally) in the touristy places.
And as an endnote: almost every restaurant and hotel has a rooftop terrace. It is absolutely the best idea ever, so please don’t visit Istanbul in the winter, you’ll miss the terrace experience!
pics: the rooftop terrace in our hotel (can you see the sea?), the Bambi Cafe (poor Bambi, do they serve venison?), and I am passed by a historic tram (modern ones cruise the rest of the city).