First impressions of Istanbul

We’ve just returned from a lovely 4 night trip to Istanbul.  It was part wedding anniversary trip, part wedding present trip since the flights were bought using vouchers we received for our wedding 7 years ago!

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We flew from London Heathrow which isn’t exactly local to us, but we have friends who don’t live too far away and they offered to keep our car on the drive while we were away and it meant we managed to fit in time to chat too!  We were in the new Terminal 5, although it’s probably not that new now!  Checking in / bag drop was dead easy, except for choosing the wrong queue (every time!) and it all felt really compact since our gate wasn’t far from the security passport control bit.  Speaking of which, James and I breezed through security but both Marcus and Alex got stopped and searched.  They were not pleased!

It was a four hour flight and we had some wonderful views.  I just wished we had a real time flight position so I could say what we were looking at.  We passed some gorgeous mountains which I think may have been over Romania?  Mesmerising!

Our short trip to Istanbul

One of the best bits about going to Turkey and this trip to Istanbul for us was the fact we’d need a visa.  I guess that it’s a downside for many people due to the cost, but we just loved getting stamps in our passports!  Since we have British passports and have travelled in the EU so far we’ve had zero stamps which makes us sad!

We’d arranged a transfer to our hotel which was the lovely Yazar hotel in the old part of Istanbul, I didn’t fancy negotiating streets and really wanted a nice easy arrival.  It was a lovely hotel with some really friendly staff, the manager took great delight in trying to get Marcus and Alex out of their shells as they were being quiet and shy.  Breakfast was included in the hotel which was nice, but had some odd items like chips and salad!  The room was great for us and had 2 singles pushed together for James and I and the kids had a single each too.  Really clean, bathroom great, free wifi.  Perfect hotel for us and we’d definitely return.

Although I say the bathroom was great, on the first day I don’t think the rest of the family would have agreed about it being lovely.  On looking at the welcome sheet it said “do not put toilet paper down the toilet but in the bin provided”.  Cue horrified looks from all of the family as it dawns on them that this isn’t quite like home!  Culture shock before we even get out of the hotel!  On further investigation we found a tap that acted like a bidet and washed the areas that needed it and since they had no choice, they got used to it!  Actually, it was really odd going back home and throwing toilet paper down the loo!

It was dark when we set off for our first look around Istanbul which always makes me wary.  I do not like being lost and so was on guard to make sure I knew which way we were going.  I always research with a guidebook and the internet beforehand, but still.  James is terrible for just going off down streets and not thinking about where he’s heading, where I like to keep going straight so I know I can retrace my steps!  I have the better sense of direction too so I win 😉

We managed to find the Blue Mosque quite easily and of course opposite it is the Hagia Sofia.  It was beautifully lit up and also thankfully quite quiet since all the tourist buses we’d see later in the week had gone home.  We decided to take a tentative look around the Blue Mosque, not really knowing if we could go in at that time, and as soon as we stepped on the steps leading up to it the call to prayer sounded!  It was the first time we’d heard it.  There is a large courtyard at the mosque that we stayed and looked around in since it was prayer time.  What was really weird was looking up to the sky and seeing birds flying round and looking like some kind of weird bat as they were lit up.

We continued having a wander, trying to also find somewhere to eat.  I’ll admit I’m rubbish at deciding where to eat, and trying new food, but I’m trying to be better.  We ended up in a very small kebab shop having the cheapest item, since we weren’t quite with it with the exchange rate yet, which was a chicken wrap.  Yum.  It cost us in total 20 turkish lira for 4 kebabs and 2 cans of pop which was just less than £6!  Bargain!

That first night Alex and Marcus definitely weren’t too keen on Istanbul.  There were people all over asking us to go in their restaurants and shops and it was just not what they are used to.  It also felt really male dominated to me, being night time there were very few females out and about.  I’d not told the kids what it would be like, mostly because I didn’t know myself, but also because I don’t like to put my own preconceptions on to them.  I could have told them to beware of touts and told Alex to be careful no-one touched her bum and said that Turkish men are notorious for being a bit forward (I don’t think they particularly are, but its the kind of things I’d been told before), but I really wanted them to make their own judgements of this slightly different culture to ours.  I think exploring in the dark didn’t help, and they certainly felt a bit better the day after when we got used to it in the daylight


If you’d like to see my other posts about our trip to Istanbul then check out:

Istanbul for Kids – the good and the bad

First trip to Asia – a Bosphorus cruise

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