Our trip to Turkey in December was far away from the southern beaches of Bodrun and Antalya, instead concentrating solely on what many perceive to be the capital, Istanbul (the capital is actually Ankara). The trip killed two birds with one stone, neither of us had ever been to Turkey before (even though its a haven for Iranian tourists on shopping trips) but it was also the best way to get my visa for Iran which was our next stop. With no Iranian Embassy in the UK any more the options where Istanbul or Dublin. The price of travelling from Manchester to Istanbul and then Istanbul to Tehran was actually cheaper than Manchester direct to Tehran so we would have been foolish to not take this option and make a little holiday out of the visa run.
We stayed near Taksim Square and unfortuanley our taxi driver had no idea where our hotel was despite even calling the hotel to find out. As a result we spent an hour driving around Taksim before anyone from our hotel decided to come out of the hotel and assist. Not a good start!! Once all this was rectified and we had checked in it was time to eat and when in Turkey do what the Turks do and eat kebab!! This became our staple diet for the next few days along with the usual visit to McDonalds so Aida could see if her double cheeseburger tasted any different!!
The Iranian Embassy was on the other side of the Bosphurus (river) and after a short taxi ride and submission of my passport to the friendly staff we had the rest of the day to check out the city. The Embassy was in an area that reminded me of Paris with its cobbled streets and winding roads up small tight hills with cafes either side. As we strolled around we saw the signs for the famous Grand Bazaar so decided to hit there and see if we could find any bargains.
There was plenty of souvenir shops and places to buy your designer gear although fake at the right price. I’d luckily realised that I’d left my sports trainers in the UK so I would try and find some here if the price was right. As with all these places you have to haggle and be willing to lower your morals and not worry about how you may be ripping them off. At the end of the day they always win it just depends by how much. Some of the Paul & Shark jumpers were unbelievable in their likeness to the real deal. I’m told that some of them are near enough genuine and the cost is considerably higher than those which are more obviously fake. Either way, as we were eventually on our way after Iran (for which I had enough winter wear) to Malaysia, a jumper was not on the agenda. I did buy a polo shirt for $15 which I regretted just because I didn’t really need one, but I felt a bit bad as I had been there for so long. The bazaar is worth a visit and you could easily go crazy and buy lots of things you don’t necessarily need especially when you think you are getting a bargain.
The main and probably best attraction in Istanbul is Hagia Sophia and its basically a 5/10 minute walk from the Bazaar. Next door to this is the Blue Mosque so you can easily spend your day looking around this area. Topkapi Palace was an additional surprise just behind Hagia Sophia so make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes for this day trip.
We even decided to walk back over the Galeta Bridge which took considerably longer than expected. On the evening we cruised around Tahlia and Aida found a Mango Shop (clothing not fruit) where she was able to pick up a few bargains as well as gifts for family in Iran.
The next morning we walked up to Tahlia to take some photos before heading on a cruise along the Golden Horn. As it was pretty chilly, a nice cup of Turkish tea is great to warm up the insides before cruising round checking out the sights on both the European and Asian sides of the city. Wrap up warm as it is cold on the boat as you need to be on the deck to take good photos, the heaters are on down below but the windows steam up spoiling the view.
Again the evening was very quiet, kebab followed by a short walk and an early night.
The next day we sailed along the Marmara Sea to head to the Princes Islands, popular with the locals in the summer months. No cars are allowed on the island so the best form of transport is horse and cart or for us…by foot. This is one trip I didn’t really find overly interesting, if you are pushed for time definitely miss it out, but if time is of no concern then its a nice day away from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.
On the walk back up from the docks to Talhia we walked past Galata Tower and I managed to find some New Balance trainers for $15 sold from the back of someone’s car. (They lasted me three months and saw me through until my other trainers arrived in KL from the UK).
As we lay in bed that night Aida jumped up suddenly saying it was snowing. It was actually snowing so hard that, that nights Chamoipns League game between Galatasary and Juventus was abandoned.
It meant our last day in Turkey was going to be a wait to see if the snow cleared and our flight was to go ahead as planned. Luckily we had completed all our sightseeing so we just stayed around Talhia watching the snow ball fights and it finally looked like Christmas was approaching. Our flight was thankfully delayed and not cancelled so we said our fond farewells to Turkey and we certainly will go back as there is still so much to do.
Chris 7/10 Aida 8.5/10