Sadly, this is my last post about my travels through Istanbul. It took a good few months for me to compile and complete my travel diary but I really love letting my thoughts and experiences “simmer” in my head before just jotting everything down for the sake of content. If you want a quick run down on what happened on my two week adventure in Istanbul and then I will link everything bellow. I started off with my accommodation in Istanbul where I stayed at Holiday Inn Istanbul City. I did alot of exploring and sightseeing and of course you tend to notice the little things and one of them being the Cats of Istanbul that I absolutely fell in love with. Now of course we want to save money while traveling, so I created the perfect guide to Istanbul, Turkey for the traveler on a budget – that I think you should totally check if you find yourself wanting to visit Istanbul. I believe the best way to see and explore any city is to actually walk around and that is why I suggest that you explore the streets of Istanbul on foot – to really experience everything that the vibrant city of Istanbul has to offer. If there is one place that I would highly suggest you visit then it is Madame Tussauds Istanbul – if you want to rub shoulders and snap a pic with a few celebrities. Where do I even begin? This is the last post so it feels like I have so much say, I suggest you grab a cuppa and get comfortable while I tell you all about – what I consider to be two of the most memorable weeks in Istanbul. There is no doubt that I will be returning to Turkey (God willingly) because I feel like two weeks was just not enough time for me to see and do everything that I wanted to. I now have a feel for the city so I know exactly which areas I would like to explore more of.
Quick Tip: If you’re a South African citizen traveling to Turkey, you require a visa. You can apply for your visa online (e-visa). When I applied for my visa, I got a response in less than two days. Applying for a visa online is also completely free – which is also where I could save some money.
What I wish I knew
1: Pick-pocketing is thing
I didn’t know this. I read this a few weeks back when someone I follow on Instagram mentioned it. In a post that I published a week or so ago, I mentioned that I felt 100% safe in Istanbul. I then remembered an instance where I just got off the tram one afternoon and a lady walked pass me and told me that my bag was open. I Thanked her and we were both on our way. To me it was strange that this had happened because I am an ultra careful person when it comes to my handbag. In this instance I wore a backpack because I just didn’t want to walk around with a handbag and I am happy I decided on this because I would have lost it in one of the souks. Now this attempted pick-pocketing must have occurred on the tram as I never took my backpack off from my back and the trams were always packed! Luckily for me, I left things like my passport back at the hotel and things like my cellphone and purse were at the bottom of my backpack with a light jersey covering it and a bottle of water ontop of it.2: Cover up
You don’t have to cover up completely, don’t get me wrong but when visiting places like Süleymaniye Mosque or Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque) for example, covering up is essential. Istanbul might be a cosmopolitan city but covering up at these holy places will not only show respect towards Turkish culture but also show a sense of appreciation towards the Turks for allowing us into their holy place of worship as tourists. When visiting some of the famous mosques around the city, there are skirts and pashminas available in order for tourists to abide by the dress code when entering the mosque. I’ve seen women – expats, locals and tourists, wear anything from bodycon dresses to shorts; it is really not frowned upon. What you wear is also very much a personal preference and obviously aligns with the weather. I am a modest dresser by nature and some days I didn’t feel comfortable with what I wore and changed into something different, which saw me repeating outfits once or twice. 3: Be aware of the scammers
Okay, let me first explain myself a little bit. If I have learned anything from my visit to the UAE then it would be that pesky salesmen are everywhere and tourists are seen as cash cows. In Istanbul they lurk around the touristy spots and then engage in a conversation with you and seem very interested in your travels and where you come from. This is all just tactics to get you to their shop to sell you either Turkish tea/coffee, carpets, Turkish towels, or Turkish Delight. I came across this at the Blue Mosque when a guy wanted to sell me a Turkish rug and even offered to fold it so small that it wouldn’t take up much space in my suitcase and be totally undetectable by customs officials. I had to quickly put the salesman in his place by telling him that I am a broke student.
That is just one of the instances that made me realize that people mean business out in those Istanbul streets! Another instance that clearly stands out to me would be the day my brother inlaw paid R90 for one scoop of icecream on a sugar cone. I was in complete disbelief. One would swear the almighty scooped the ice cream himself. Have you seen those videos on the internet where the guy plays all those tricks where he hands you the ice cream cone but he doesn’t really and then he does a few more tricks like turning it upside down… this was the whole smoke a mirrors incident until he gave the price for the ice cream when the whole “show” was over and you already had a lick. On the topic of tourists being cash cows, when you strolling around in the Grand Bazaar, the word “pesky salesman” get a whole new meaning. The will try sell you any-and-everything! They follow you around for a few meters and try sell you things that you don’t need/want at inflated prices. If I could give you one tip then it would be to not buy from the first shop that you see. Look around first because you are most likely to find it cheaper elsewhere. If you’ve been to Turkey then you would know those beautiful handbags that they sell. My sister and I have been eyeing it since we saw it but the prices that some of these shop owners sold it for was just insane. We later found the handbags at a little shop down of the narrow roads at half the price. When you pass a shop in the Grand Bazaar for the first time they would give you a price for an item but a few minutes later they would forget the price that they initially told you and the price would increase. The Grand Bazaar is a total gem for local and authentic Turkish gifts with over 4000 shops, just be aware of those salesmen!4: Language Barriers
Whoooweee! Now this was an adventure on its own. When we were looking for a particular spot or place, one’s initial reaction would be to ask someone on the street. Unfortunately this was nearly impossible to do in Istanbul as majority of the people spoke Turkish. I have always been told that I look alot like the people from Turkey and while I was there , I was mistaken for a local a few times. People would speak to me and I would have to signal that I don’t understand and they would switch to Arabic and I didn’t understand that either and I had to say “English” and they would know that I don’t understand. Luckily there were maps all over the city so we could find our way but I do however wish that I was better prepared by downloading a language app. At the hotel that we stayed, staff spoke fluent English and even at stores like Sephora, H&M and Madame Tussauds – so you won’t be completely lost. The shopkeepers and salesman were also fluent in English so you can bargain with them when you want a better deal on something. One thing that I can say is that the kindness, hospitality and friendliness of the Turks breaks all language barriers as those enduring traits are understood beyond any language. 5: Have an itinerary
When we arrived in Istanbul, we didn’t have a set out plan on what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. We kind of just adopted the “where the wind takes us” vibe and didn’t get to see as much as we wanted to and also not making it to Isfanbul. We really really really wanted to visit Isfanbul but they were fully booked for a few days and only had tickets available for the day we left, so we settled on visiting MoiPark instead but it was definitely not as fun as I think Isfanbul would’ve been. I think that having a set out plan on what you want to do won’t work for everybody as it really does depend on the type of traveler that you are. I know of many people that would rather be the type that explores off the beaten path but if there are things that you really want to do when you’re visiting a different country then it is best to have an itinerary in order to prevent disappointment. When my travels to Europe’s busiest city ended, I realized that Istanbul has timeless charm and is a cultural hub of rich history. Two weeks in Istanbul was definitely not enough. I long for the day that Covid19 can be gone and that we can all travel again. Until that day, we shall reminisce and find inspiration on where we want to go to next.