I lived in Turkey for two years in the 1980s and although I went back to Istanbul five years ago I had never ventured to the place where I lived for longest- the coastal town of Kusadasi. This year I spent a few days in Istanbul, which is one of my favorite cities. If you go there you should read Orhan Parmuk’s memoirs of his home city during your stay. Five years ago I could feel the melancholy hanging over the city that he describes so well, but this time (although I only stayed in my favorite area of Sultanahmet), it seemed to have dissipated. Perhaps Istanbul has found its place as a European city, although you can see more women wearing head scarves and long black cloaks than you would have done five years ago. It could be that they were on holiday there from small villages in the Asian part of Turkey, which is, of course, the majority of the country.
If you visit Istanbul then you should be aware of the fact that there are now two airports serving the city, one Ataturk airport and the other SAW on the Asian side of the Bosporus. If you are landing there then you should book a shuttle service online before you go. You only pay when you arrive at your destination and are met and escorted to the large minibus that will take you to your hotel. The charge is 10 euros per person and you pay the driver when you reach your destination. On the way you will get an impromptu guided tour of the Bosporus area so you won’t have to pay for one of the “Bosporus tours” which are touted by tour agencies. You see both sides of the river and are told what it is you are passing.
The best area to stay at is Sultanahmet and this is a surprisingly cheap area to stay in – 65 euros per room, that is the price for two people sharing a double or twin room with ensuite bathroom. To get there, head for Saint Sophia street which is at the back of the famous church of Saint Sophia, now a museum, and close to the Arasta Bazaar. On that street there is a selection of hotels all at around the same price per room.
Sultanahmet is where Saint Sophia and the Blue mosque have been facing each other for many centuries, and these are iconic buildings, along with the Topkapi Palace which is also close to them. There is a park now separating these two museums, and on the left hand side, as you walk towards what is reputed to be the oldest church in Christendom, you will see the tram-lines and modern trams which will take you to the Grand Bazaar or down to the Bosporus. At the corner, near the tram stop you will see the Mosaic cafe, which serves fusion food, a blend of East and West which is what Istanbul ultimately is. If you turn right and walk past the cafe you will come to a cul-de-sac which houses the Sah (pronounced shah) bar, bistro and restaurant which serves very good Turkish food and where, on a Tuesday and Friday you can hear live music from the Istanbulls, a local group. It is a pleasant place to sit and one of my hideaways when I have had enough of the hustle and bustle.
The Grand Bazaar is where you can find the cheapest souvenirs, including carpets, although there was a time when it was cheaper to buy such items in the small shops in Istanbul. This is no longer the case, but remember that you are expected to haggle – don’t simply accept the first price you are told.
If you tire of Istanbul and want to head for the coast, there is a bus service which takes you to Kusadasi and Bodrum, and seats may be booked from any tour agency. It is best to book from the one nearest your hotel as the tour agencies are the pick-up points for the shuttle service which will take you to the bus station in Aksaray. The bus goes over the Bosporus on the ferry which shortens the journey, so to Kusadasi takes about ten hours, although you will be told that it takes twelve. You may be able to sleep on the bus, which is very comfortable, and for the 34 euros (70 Turkish liras) you pay, you get free refreshments on board and can buy food at one of the stops along the way. The bus stops approximately every two hours as there are no toilets on board. The trip to Bodrum takes about twelve hours.
You may wish to spend the whole of your holiday in Istanbul, or tour Cappadocia to see the “fairy chimneys ” and live in a cave- hotel like a troglodyte for a few days.
Turkey has a lot to offer and is cheap at the moment, so why not grab a cheap flight to SAW airport and try not to be daunted by other travelers’ tales? Turkey is a wonderful place for a holiday.