Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Can You Visit Istanbul In A Day?

 Whilst we were on holiday in Antalya Turkey. We had a day trip to Istanbul, with Pegasus airlines. This was a huge task because it meant getting Tilly up at 4am. Transfers from hotel to the airport were booked through Pegasus too, but in all honesty, they were quite rubbish they turned up 35 minutes late to take us to the airport which meant we only had about an hour to go through security find our gate and get on the plane.

When I told people I was going to Istanbul for a day they looked at me as if I was mad or crazy, they told me that Istanbul can’t be done in a day. So was I crazy? Was I, in fact, wasting a whole day just on travelling to get to a place where I would only spend seven hours visiting tourist attractions and getting some shopping in at the Grand Bazaar.
So can you do Istanbul in a day? well, that answer is yes you can! Here was our itinerary for the day and although we didn’t get to see all of Istanbul we got to see the old city and we travelled a lot through the poverty-stricken areas and saw the Galatasaray football stadium.

We got up at 4 AM and the taxi transfer arrived at 5:15am, it was a 50 minute transfer time to Antalya airport where we went to terminal one and fund the domestic terminal. It’s easy to get confused with the different terminals but if you contact your airline they will tell you what terminal your plane leaves from and this is what I did with Pegasus and they were fantastic with all the help they could offer.

We managed to find the domestic terminal by 6:15am and just went straight through security because we only had hand luggage. As soon as we went through security had a look around some of the shops and grabbed the bottle of water we were ready to board our plane by 6:50 AM. To be honest, this is the kind of airport waiting times and I like, so maybe getting to the airport with less time worked out better if you’re travelling with a child, although I was panicking all the way down and didn’t get stuck in a traffic jam. The plane took off at 7:20am and we were in Istanbul by 8:40am. This timing was perfect because the day was just starting for everybody.

We were in our transfer minibus by 9am but it took two hours to get into Istanbul! The traffic is worse than London! It’s stop-start-stop-start-stop-start and as you crawl along the motorway, you have people running up to your car on the trying to sell you bottled water and fruit, although this is good in the summer it’s actually putting their lives at risk something that shocked me to see. When we actually arrived in Istanbul we seem to drive around forever looking for the hotel for some Russian visitors but this gave us time to look at the surrounding areas and realise the extent of poverty in some areas of Istanbul. Now I’m not rich by any means I struggle day by day and I save up all year for a holiday like this But when you see children running up to your car with the hands out asking for money it’s actually quite heartbreaking because a lot of the children were younger than Tilly

Eventually, we were dropped off in Sultanahmet, in the old city and just walked up a small hill where it took us to the Blue Mosque. Although the Blue Mosque is closed for renovation at the moment, we were able to get into the grounds and we spent some time admiring the mosque and reading the posters explaining the religion and the traditions with the Muslim religion. Not only was this fantastic for Tilly to learn but Also for me because you don’t really learn about stuff properly until you’re in a situation where you are physically there and you can see things firsthand.

By 12, ready for some lunch so just a small walk up from the Blue Mosque and on the way to the Grand Bazaar is a McDonald’s where we stopped and grabbed a bite to eat. We were told you could get a tram to the Grand Bazaar area from the Blue Mosque but it’s only a 10 or 15 minutes to walk there and you get to browse the local shops and see the Turkish food on your way too.

The Grand Bazaar has 4000 shops inside and it is impossible to get that done in the day because you just end up getting lost and repeating back on yourself so we possibly did a tiny fraction of the bazaar, but as the shops are mostly the same anyway selling the same fake products (which we like) and Turkish outfits as well as Turkish tourist gifts then I don’t feel that we missed out on any of the shops. If you’re worried about security in Istanbul, don’t be! We had to go through a metal detector to get into the bazaar and there were security and police all over the place. The things in the bizarre were extremely cheap Tilly bought her friends some Turkish purses and they worked out at three for a pound, something you could never get in England and it’s a genuine gift from Istanbul. I bought a small carpet, Which cost me 3 pounds!

As we left the grand bizarre we had got a little bit lost, so we ended up going out of a completely different door that we had come into, so we found ourselves in windy little streets and trying to get back on to the Main Street back to the blue mosque area. I don’t actually mind getting lost in a new city because that’s how you find quirky little streets and things that you might not normally see.

By now, it was 2:45pm and we were ready to sit down have a drink and catch up breath so we found a little Turkish tea shop, where Tilly chose an ice cream sundae, that was actually huge and only cost a few lira but as we sat enjoying our ice cream children were running up to us and asking for money. To see this firsthand is really sad And as much as you want to help them, you can’t help them all you can’t give them all money. The poor cafe owner had to keep shooing them away.

Next on the agenda was to go to Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia. We were running out of time by now and we only had an hour and a half left before our transfer was leaving back to the airport. As we queued to get into Hagia Sophia, we were approached by ticket touts. These ticket touts sell the tickets for a tiny bit more than the price on the gate but you have to queue about 20 minutes at the gate to get your ticket. So we ended up paying about £1.50 extra to get a ticket from the ticket tout and walking past the queue. We were also told that the ticket booth only takes Turkish lira too, maybe it was just to get us to buy a ticket from them -I don’t know. But our time was running out and we were happy.

Inside Hagia Sophia, it was huge and full of history. It is actually one of the oldest buildings In the world that I have been in. The only other buildings that were older than Hagia Sophia, were in Jerusalem where I went 25 years ago. Hagia Sophia was built in 537 AD and it served as a cathedral for over 900 years until 1453, when it was captured by the Ottoman Imperial and it was converted into a mosque. It remained a mosque until 1931, and it was turned into a museum where all visitors could go and see the beauty inside. Hagia Sophia was the worlds largest Cathedral until Seville cathedral was built in 1520. Inside was just so beautiful. The original building work that is still standing all of these years later and the 55-metre tall dome that looks magnificent from the outside as well as the inside. You can see the history of the different religions that have used Hagia Sophia over the years and now it is the perfect place to show off the artwork inside Hagia Sophia, that itself is up to 1000 years old.

When we had finished in Hagia Sophia, the fog was setting in and it was time to make our way back to our airport transfer. I must admit that I had a heavy heart as I wanted to stay in this beautiful city for longer, so maybe everyone was right and you couldn’t do Istanbul in a day! We hadn’t had time to do a boat trip on the river Bosphorus and I was slightly disappointed but when you have limited time, you can’t do everything.

We climbed into our taxi transfer and started to doze off, but suddenly we were heading to a port instead of the motorway to the airport. We were only taking the river crossing across the Bosphorus and cutting out the traffic on the road. I could have actually kissed the transfer driver! Now I felt that my day was complete. Okay, it wasn’t a nice tour but it was a trip on the river and it was most unexpected. It cut out some of the travel time to the airport.

In the car on the way back to the airport, I checked in to our flight and I realised my plane left at 8.05pm and not as I thought of 8.45pm. Again panic set in as it took about 90 minutes to drive from the port to the airport and we arrived at the airport 90 minutes before our plane left. Flying with Pegasus was a pleasure, they seem to be a budget airline on the same levels as Ryan Air or Easy jet but they were lovely. The staff obviously knew from their paperwork that we were English and they made us feel welcome by speaking English. We had booked meals on the plane as they were only about £3 or £4 but as soon as you take off, you’re served your meal and before you finish it, you’re landing again. I would skip the meals next time, but they were lovely meals - the best airline Meal that I have ever had.

We landed back at Antalya by 9.20pm and we were ready to go back to the hotel. Yes! Istanbul can be done in a day but you will only see a fraction of it. I am so glad we went there and experienced the beautiful city, I would go back there in a heartbeat!

There are a few things to take into consideration when you travel to Istanbul.

  • Take Turkish Lira, although they accept the Euro, it isn’t as widely accepted as it is in holiday resorts. Some places will only accept Lira. 
  • If it’s possible, travel to Istanbul Atatürk airport, we travelled to Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen airport which was further out. Istanbul Atatürk has better transport links, but the planes that suited us travelled to Sabiha Gokcen. 
  • Remember if you’re travelling from a beach resort, you need to wear appropriate clothes. Unfortunately, I didn’t think about this and wore short leggings and a beach top. I must have looked so disrespectful, but I really didn’t think about what to wear. Next time I would dress to fit in. 

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