The Sights of Istanbul

One of the most wonderful parts of touring is the time we have to see the sights.  Not all tours spend so much time in each city, but being an international tour means that we’re not on a bus traveling to the next city every couple of days . We really get time to see the sights.

Getting around Istanbul can be both easy and frustrating depending on the method you choose.  The metro system is good and easy to use, but doesn’t cover Istanbul particularly well without changing lines between the Metro and the Tram.

We took the Metro to Taksim Square where we could take the Nostalgic Tram down the length of Taksim Street.  You buy a card at a machine to go on the tram.  I couldn’t work it out, since it didn’t seem to translate to English.  I kept trying to put money in, but it wouldn’t accept it.  Well, as in one of my previous posts, I mentioned how nice the people are here.  A lady who was also buying a card tried to help, but she couldn’t speak English either.  She phoned her brother, who spoke perfect English and he guided me through the process. We took the tram to the bottom of the street. There are a lot of cool stores, restaurants and bars on Taksim.  I also noticed a Shake Shack, which I figured may come in handy when the kids need a break from Turkish food.  Once at the end of Taksim we took a taxi to the Blue Mosque area. One of the cast members had told us about a restaurant there with rugs and cushions to sit on with excellent authentic Turkish food. It was fantastic! We ordered a mixed shish platter. I paid the bill and gave an extra 100 TL to get change for tip.  The owner of the restaurant came back and told me my 100 TL was a fake. He asked if I knew where I got it.  I did.  On the taxi ride there I had tried to pay with 100 TL bill  The taxi driver gave it back to me and asked me for smaller change.  He must’ve swapped out the note.  I was so annoyed. This was the beginning of my troubles with the taxi drivers in Istanbul.

My family, Richard and Jason, flew in from London for the weekend to see the show and spend some time with us.  It was so good to have family here. Especially since I don’t get to see them so often when we’re back in NYC. We’ll probably see them more this year than usual as they plan to come to a couple of our destinations.  They were able to see the show twice  The Saturday matinee and the Sunday evening performances.  I took them for a tour backstage.  Richard is a musical theater composer, so he loved getting the full tour, as did Jason.  I don’t think you can understand how huge these productions are unless you see it.

Monday we had a day off for sight seeing.  Clare joined us too. First we went to the Basilica Cistern.  This was one of my favorite sights. It’s an ancient cistern that lies beneath the city and houses two Medusa heads.  It has such a cool vibe down there, between the sound and the lighting. Of course, my DJ self couldn’t help thinking what a cool place this would be for a party. We dressed up in traditional Ottoman clothing and had photos taken.  I usually don’t buy into anything being sold to tourists, but these photos were really good. We bought four framed prints, two hanging pieces of wall art and a CD of the photos for 150 TL (about $50).

After the Cistern we went to visit the Grand Bazaar.  It was a little too much chaos for me and definitely for Olivia. None of us were good at haggling and for the sake of a few dollars I really couldn’t be bothered with it.  By this time Olivia just wanted to eat.   We bought a couple of souvenirs and made our way out.  We walked through the streets of the old town trying to decide where to get lunch.  The streets were packed with people.  We ate lunch at a small Turkish restaurant.  It was so cheap, about $6 each and a huge amount of food.  We went back through the streets of the old town to find the oldest Turkish Delight store in the city. It was a long walk. I’m surprised I didn’t hear the kids complaining.  Usually a couple of blocks walk in NYC and I would be hearing “are we nearly there?” or “I can’t walk anymore”.  After the store we jumped into a taxi to go back to the hotel.

The hotel was hosting a party for the cast and crew.  We stayed at the party for an hour, but the kids were exhausted and wanted to go to the room.  I had arranged for one of the cast members, Christina, to babysit, so I could have an evening out with Richard and Jason. I hadn’t been away from the kids since we got here, so it would be nice to have a couple of hours out with adult conversation. The girls had been asking if Christina could babysit too. They love being with her. I’m not sure if they were more excited about Christina babysitting, or I was about going out.  We went to a restaurant called 360.  If you’re in Istanbul and looking for an upscale restaurant with a view, I highly recommend this one.  We had a delicious meal overlooking the city.  360 turns into a club later. None of us had the energy to stay out though. Yep, I’m getting that old.

Richard and Jason left the next morning, We were sad to see them go, but we’ll to see them again in a few months.

It was a show day, but we had a few hours to see another sight.  We took the metro to Taksim Square. This time we walked down the length of Taksim Street.  We were heading to the Galata Tower.  It looked like Rapunzel’s tower from the outside. As we stood in line I just prayed that we didn’t have to climb stairs to the top, or more so, make our way down winding stairs. I always feel like I’m going to fall. I was very relieved to find there was an elevator. The views from the top were beautiful, looking out over the Bosphorus and the entire city.

On our next full day off we visited the Prince’s Island.  This is an absolute must if you’re visiting Istanbul with children.  We were so lucky, it was a beautiful sunny day.  Ok, so here I go again ranting about the taxi’s. Firstly, the hotel called a taxi to take us to the ferry terminal.  As we were driving I thought we were going too far. Looking at the map, it seemed pretty close.  I mentioned this to Clare, but we just thought since the hotel called the car, the driver must know where we’re going.  He ended up dropping us at the Grand Bazaar, which is nowhere near the ferry. Now we only had 20 minutes to get a taxi back to the ferry, I was in a panic. I didn’t want to miss the ferry cause the next one was two and a half hours later and we would miss most of the daylight on the island.  We got in a taxi and explained the situation, The driver understood English which is not common for taxi drivers. He said he would have to drive us the long way round cause of the traffic would be bad, but he thought he could get us there in time.  It was like being on a car chase.  We were all giggling with excitement and a little fear. Flying down the highway and driving along a tram line behind a tram. We did make it to the ferry with a couple of minutes to spare.  It was 47 TL, double the fair to the Grand Bazaar and not far from our hotel, but I didn’t care as long as we made the ferry.  Clare and the girls rushed out of the taxi to get tickets for the ferry and I paid the fare.  I gave the taxi driver 100 TL. He swapped it for a 20 and said that’s all I gave him.  I knew exactly what I had in my wallet, which wasn’t a lot at this point.  I only had another 20 and some loose change, so I gave him what I had, with no time to argue and ran out of the taxi to get the ferry. I’ve since found out this is quite common with the turkish taxi drivers.

After all that drama, the ferry schedule wasn’t even the same as the one I had. The ferry wasn’t till 2pm. Thankfully, Clare is not at all like me when it comes to stressing out.  She completely calmed me down and I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the day.

The Prince’s Islands are an hour by ferry from the city.  The ferry ride was lovely and relaxing apart from the toilet. It was the most disgusting toilet I’ve ever seen and I’ve traveled a lot.  It’s literally a hole in the floor. I would post a picture, but I don’t want to put you through that.  The sight and smell left me nauseous for a good thirty minutes.  We arrived on Prince’s Island and immediately looked for somewhere to eat.  Clare, Eliana and I could’ve just about eaten anywhere, but Olivia refused to go into every restaurant on the strip. It was too crowded. the tables were close together and she felt she needed space.  I was really irritated with her fussing, but Olivia not eating is a recipe for disaster.  We found a really lovely restaurant on the water and I was thankful she had fussed cause we wouldn’t have made the effort to find it otherwise.

There are no cars on the island, so you travel by horse and carriage.  We took a 45 minute ride around the island. It was so beautiful and relaxing. The perfect escape from the city.  I don’t think I realized how much we needed that break till we were there.

 

We took an early evening ferry back to the city.  We really didn’t want to take another taxi ride so we decided to take the metro instead.  While we were on the metro an argument broke out.  A woman was screaming at an old lady.  Everyone on the train was watching. Unlike NYC where every would try not to watch. We had no idea what they were arguing about, but a young lady next to us translated the gist of the argument.  As we got off the train we continued chatting with her. It turned out she had spent last summer in NJ and stayed with family who live very close to us. I’m always amazed by how small this world is! Clare exchanged cards and invited her to see the show, which she did a few days later.

In each city the production hire a Young Shrek  It’s competition by the presenters.  We had become friends with Lal, one of the girls chosen to play the role.  We arranged to spend the day with her and visit the Topkapi Palace.  It was so interesting to visit the palace and see how the Sultan lived with his family and Harem of women. Lal’s mom, Irem, was able to give us so much insight into the history. We spent a few hours there, including lunch at the palace restaurant.  We still hadn’t seen the Blue Mosque or the Hagia Sofia apart from the outside, but the kids had definitely had enough history for one day,  We went for a walk to see them from the outside again and to grab some photos.

The girls wanted to play Laser Tag at the local mall.  The malls in Istanbul are amazing! They have full on play centers, unlike anything I’ve seen in the US or the UK.  This one had Laser tag, a roller coaster, bumper cars and arcade games. It sure beats the little toddler rides they have scattered through the malls here.  The girls had a great time playing and I was so glad they made a new friend and I had too.

It was our final morning off and the only place we hadn’t gone to which was on my list of “must sees” was the Spice Market.  It was pouring rain. The spice market was inside, so that didn’t matter.  It was so much nicer than the Grand Bazaar.  I picked up a few spices, tea, more turkish delight and Olivia and Eliana got little bottles of oil perfume.  The smells were so good and it was filled with vibrant colors.  A perfect end to our trip. We went back to the hotel to get ready for the final weekend of shows.

I feel so lucky that we were able to spend the month in Istanbul.  We learned so much about the city and the culture. We made new friends, ate wonderful food and really had the time to soak it all in without feeling rushed. With the exception of the taxi drivers (which is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed for Istanbul tourism), we had a fantastic time in this beautiful city.  I’m sad to leave Istanbul, but if this is what our tour is going to be like, I really look forward to our future destinations.

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