A 5-day break from the hot, crazy & hectic Cairo was welcomed… My first impression of Istanbul was an interesting blend of Islamic & European cultures. People looked like a mix between Russians & Arabs, but were nicer than Egyptians in some ways…
We flew from Cairo with Egypt Air and I can honestly say that I was impressed by the service, quality of food and punctuality. In Istanbul airport, I was immediately upset with the fact that Canadians have to pay $60US for a 3-month visa. This is by far the most expensive visa I ever had to pay to enter a country (except Burma where we paid hundreds of US $$$ to get into the country). Canada was also the ONLY and MOST expensive country on the list… WHY? (Maybe as a Canadian, I am used to be loved; welcomed and appreciated everywhere I go…)
Money changers at the airport have lower rates than in town (by about 3%) and all of them charge 4% commission. My advice: change only few bills and wait to be in town.
The metro (which leaves the airport) and the tram were definitively the best way to get in town. For 1.10YTL ($0.90US) for the metro and another 1.10YTL for the tram, it was 20 times cheaper than a taxi and about twice as fast. Clean, efficient & easy to understand. WOW! Well done Istanbul.
We stayed at the Side Hotel and Pension (www.sidehotel.com) for our 4 nights and I have nothing but excellent comments about this place. Staff was very friendly, drinks and internet were cheap, rooms were impeccably clean, and breakfast was included (all this for 40 Euros a night for a triple room). Excellent value for what you pay.
I won’t detail all the sightseeing we did in our trip, but let me tell me my top 3:
We spent 4 hours visiting the Topkapi palace (which was built in 1423A.D) and this was definitively a place to spend half a day. The visit of Harem was well worth the 10YTL, but the compulsory, organized guided tour was unnecessary. I would have preferred to wonder through the rooms at my own pace.
Shopping was great and ceramic & carpet shops were absolutely everywhere. Stouts were desperate for business because it was low season. We bought ceramic bowls that were originally priced at 25YLT a piece ($22US) and we ended up paying 25YTL for 4 bowls! My advice: bargain hard. Go 50% off the initial price (at least). Don’t be afraid to walk away.
Food was excellent and fairly cheap, but only when we ate Kebab sandwiches and food from small local shops. We found that restaurants were at least 8$US per person if you decided to sit in a restaurant.
Fish sandwiches on Galata Bridge were delicious, but you really wonder how healthy is your meal when you look at the water flowing under your feet.
Overall, it was a really pleasant holiday. We walked, ate, shop, visit more than you can ever imagine!!!