Sunday, September 13, 2009


Friday, November 2nd, 2007 flight to Istanbul, Turkey….

Awake before the alarm and wakeup call; we were downstairs and waiting for the driver by 5 am. He arrived at 5:15 as scheduled and we were whisked to the Athens Airport in a beautiful new Mercedes. A big difference from our bus that we took in from the airport several weeks ago; the tour company set the transportation up as part of our package for the cruise. It’s nice to be spoiled at times.

Easy flight that lasted just over an hour; the pilot apologized for taking off a little late due to two passengers arriving late at the gate. Nice surprise to find that we were served a light breakfast on the plane and it was a smooth flight to Istanbul. The pilot referred to our destination as: Constantinople instead of Istanbul. We were on Olympic Airlines and the Greeks may prefer that name; don’t know for sure.

Arrived at the airport about 9:30 pm; paid our $20.00 USD each for our Visa Stamp and proceeded through customs without a hitch. Found a change machine to get some Turkish money…the machine ran out of money as we were using it. We put in a twenty euro bill and received Turkish coins valued at only five euro. A nice tourist, either Greek or Turkish…don’t know…took us over to a booth and explained our problem. He immediately went to the machine and gave us another fifteen Turkish Lira. Then we found an ATM machine. Jim tried first and it didn’t accept his card. We went to another machine and tried mine and this time we received some Turkish Lira. About that time a gentlemen kept asking us if we needed a Shuttle Bus? Jim finally talked to him about price and got him down from twenty-five Lira to twenty Lira for two of us to our hotel. We had to wait about ten minutes while they tried to get a few more but it ended up to be three of us in a van. The third person was a young thirty year old fellow from Southampton England who had a few hours between flights on a business trip so he was going into the city to see some of the sites. We all enjoyed our ride into the city even though it was raining.

Our hotel is the Yasmak Sultan, a four star hotel that is located very near to the Topkapi Museum and is extremely busy we found out. They said that our reservation was made for only for one person and they had no double rooms available. While waiting I had overheard a couple that were switching from another hotel to this one because they liked the rooms better. I said to the manager “how did you have a room for these people without a reservation and you don’t have one for us?” As I suspected they were getting a suite; but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to mention the fact. They wanted to switch us to another “first class” hotel but I wanted this one.

So, I said to the manager that I wanted him to contact the tourist agency who had set up our reservations before I would agree to change hotels. After about five minutes the managers came back and said our agent would not agree to a change of hotels and that they would assign us a room and move some other guests to the other hotel. We didn’t get a view room, but it’s a very nice room and we’re happy campers. My thought is that the agency puts enough business to this hotel that they had some pull in making sure we stayed at this hotel. Best of all; I have free wireless Internet in the lobby.

By 11 am we were checked in and ready to roam the streets. We headed out with umbrellas and headed towards the Grand Bazaar, had to ask directions several times but finally saw it up ahead. Just before entering we passed a mosque where men were washing their feet before entering. We will have to take our shoes off and they may require me to cover my head when we go tomorrow??

So glad we found the bazaar because the rain started to come down in torrents just as we entered; it was body to body most of the time. One could spend days inside and since it was covered it was a perfect place to get out of the rain. We walked the width and breath of the place several times and finally felt we’d done the deed so after spending a fortune for a large pretzel (the kid knew we didn’t understand the money) we headed out into the rain for our trip home. Opps…we were completely lost. We kept asking directions to the hotel and each time they would send us off in a different direction. We had our Turkey Eyewitness book with us but that didn’t help much. We’d asked for a map at the hotel but they were out of the free ones. When we finally returned I had Jim purchase a map for five Liras but at least now we know where we are when we’re outside of the hotel.

After two hours of walking Jim was actually ready to pay for a taxicab to get back to the hotel but we were walking against traffic on a one way street when we finally spotted the hotel two blocks ahead of us. Jim went back out and found several nice restaurants close by for an early dinner. So, by the time we both went to read the menus posted out front the waiters were sure they had a ready diner and worked hard to get us to sit at their place. We chose Pasazade – Ottoman Cuisine. We ordered stuffed chart leaves that were called Pazi Dolmasi in Turkish: rice, pine nuts, currants, parsley and minced lamb rolled into a chart leaf. We had a soft cream cheese or plain yogurt sauce to dip the rolls into before eating, really good. Our second plate was Su Boregi; Turkish cheese and tomatoes baked in filo dough. That along with bread and Turkish Beer (EFES Pilsen) filled us up so much we didn’t even get the ice cream for dessert that we’d talked about.

Walked around the area for a while and then headed back to the hotel for some Internet time before calling it a night. We decided to sit in the bar instead of the busy lobby for our Internet time and Jim made the grand gesture by ordering me a drink: Chives Regal on the rocks. Little did he realize that he’d ordered one of the most expensive drinks offered; it was 22 Turkish Lira…that’s a little more than $25. USD for about a shot and a half….I could have purchased the whole bottle at Costco for less than my one drink cost. I savored every last drop. Later we read in the travel book that alcoholic drinks are very, very expensive in Turkey. The beer at dinner was 5 lire so we should have known something was different as that was twice the price that we paid in Greece.

A grand first day in Istanbul with lots of experiences or as we say when we’re traveling: “That’s a journal entry!”

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