Turkey Travel Guide
Let’s get this out of the way. Istanbul isn’t just a big city. It’s a massive city of over 14 million people. That’s six million more people than in all of NYC—the biggest city in the U.S.
Like any city this size, one needs to escape, if only for a day—escape the honking, sirens, haggling Turks on seemingly every street corner. New York City has the Hamptons. Istanbul has the Prince Islands.
Historically speaking, during the Byzantine era, the islands existed as a place of exile for royalty and later the Ottoman sultans. As you can probably see, this is where it got its name as the “Prince Islands.”
Today, of the nine islands once used for exile, only four are open to the public—Büyükada (the most popular) Burgazada, Heybeli, and Kınalıada—making for a perfect Turkish day-trip. Here's what you need to know in reaching and enjoying these paradisial spots that have entranced Turks for centuries.
”You look like you’re from America. Would you like a cup of tea?”
”It would be an honor if you looked in my shop.”
"Nobody comes to Turkey to buy a rug, yet, so many leave with one.”
It's true. The carpet salesmen in Istanbul are crafty, insidious, and on the prowl to give you an offer you can’t refuse. Oftentimes, it’s literally impossible to refuse with shop owners refusing, sometimes with physical contact, to let you exit their store without purchasing something.
The approach begins innocently enough and within five minutes of standing near attractions like the infamous Blue Mosque, “Did you know the Mosque has six pillars because the Turkish word for 'six' is similar to the world for 'gold.'"
Next thing you know, you’re invited into his shop for a cup of tea and a crash-course in Turkish rugs—hint: It’s all in the double weave. Before you know it, you’re negotiating over a $1,500 rug, and, worse yet, rationalizing purchasing it for $1,100.
Don’t worry. This happens to most tourists in Istanbul (this post on Scam Detector proves it), so here are some tips to prevent a possible scam.
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You've booked a ticket, bought a guidebook and Netflixed a documentary; it's official that you're excited to travel to a new destination. That is, you were excited until you read that the country requires a visa. We're not talking about the plastic credit card, but a little piece of paper or sticker that means you've filed paperwork and paid for the privilege to cross a border.
Obtaining a visa can either go the hard way (like Brazil) or the easy way (like Australia), and we're thrilled to announce that one visa-requiring country has made the decision to take their process completely online. Beginning April 11, 2014, Turkey will require visitors to file an e-Visa.
There’s something new for business travelers to check out as part of the in-flight entertainment, and we’re not talking about PowerPoint slides or the new cover sheets for the TPS reports. Turkish Airlines is now loading some business pitches right into the seat back screens, as it's launching something it calls Invest On Board.
Sit back and enjoy being sold a new business idea as you fly through the skies, and then when you hit the ground you can invest plenty of startup capital—or at least that’s the plan. There’s roughly ten different pitches from which to choose for business class passengers, and if you’re stuck on the ground you can even watch them online.
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2013 really seemed like it would be the year for Istanbul tourism. International flights from the US to Istanbul have been extra cheap ($500-700 roundtrip!), andperhaps most importantlythe majority of our friends either have just returned or are preparing to leave for a quick visit to the city, so a cloud of Istanbul chatter on social media is influencing vacation decisions. Or was.
Protests, rioting and the threat of a "Turkish Spring" are quickly chipping away at the tourist desire to visit Istanbul in 2013. To be clear, the protests, which began with the aim of opposing development of the beloved Gezi Park but quickly developed a broader focus against the current Turkish government, are dangerous; this is no Occupy Wall Street situation with drum circles and damp sleeping bags.
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Welcome to "What Everyone's Buying," a new series on souvenirs, wherein we investigate what tourist trinkets are the hottest selling in hotspots around the world.
Yes, Istanbul has Starbucks. Inside those Starbucks, as in every other cafe in the city, you'll be able to order the thick, deep umber of Türk kahvesi, or Turkish coffee. Starbucks won't offer it in anything more than a plan white espresso mug, but elsewhere you'll likely lift exquisitely styled cups decorated in copper or even more precious metals, each with its own lid.
The bazaars of Istanbul offer sets of these mugs, often with a matching sugar bowl or carrying tray. They're beautiful and make excellent hostess gifts, but resist the urge to keep them away in a curio cabinet; they're best appreciated in use!
Kitty cats. They rule the internet and, whether we realize it or not, pretty much the world too. Ever noticed how cats sometimes stake out the coolest spots in a city? This new featureTravel Catfocuses on exactly that. Submit a photo to be featured by tweeting or Instagramming it to us (details below).
Travel Cat spotted in: Istanbul, Turkey.
This week's Travel Cat is from Instagrammer @aksakosha, who shares a very different perspective of a local cat in what we're coming to realize is like cat-city, Istanbul. His comment, "Доброе утро, сказал рыжий турецкий котик," translates to the very cute little message of, "'Good Morning,' said Turkish red cat."
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We have all had a terrible meal on a flight before. In fact, we have shown you some of the sadder trays slid in front of us. With this new series of amazing airline meals, we can revel in the airline culinary delights and give kudos to the airlines that got it right.
While it's extremely rare to find an airline with as large a variety of vegetarian meal options as Turkish Airlines, we already opined on this at length last month. Now let's get to the meat of the matter, literally.
All meat served on Turkish Airlines is halal, so clicking the box to request the "Moslem Meal" is redundant. As we recently discovered, even flights as short as our 4-hour trip from Madrid to Istanbul (on a brand new 737-800 with Boeing Sky Interior!) see passengers presented with printed menus and entree choices (even in Economy, where we were).
Our choice on TK 1858: Grilled Chicken Medallions with mustard curry butter, ratatouille, tomato rice, french green beans in olive oil, and plum cake. (The other option was "Tas Kebab," or traditional beef stew in tomato sauce).
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18. Eighteen. That's how many specialty meal types an international airline offers, on average.
21. Twenty-one. That's how many you'll find in the drop-down meal options when you book on Turkish Airlines. That's quite a feat, considering how complicated it already is for catering to stock an airplane with meals for several classes of service, then to throw special dietary requests into the mix.
We actually ordered a Moslem meal for our recent flight to Istanbul, but come to find out that all standard meals served on Turkish Airlines fall into this category, as the meat is halal and all ingredients are "in accord with Islamic religious beliefs." Next time we're definitely going for a vegetarian meal, because that's where things get crazy. Turkish Airlines has no fewer than seven different vegetarian meals! Check 'em out:
When we travel, one of our favorite things to do is to pop into a local grocery store and check out the food products and candies we'd never find anywhere else. So we're trying out this new feature, Foreign Grocery Friday, where each week we'll feature some of our (and your) favorite overseas treats. Got a recommendation? Let us know!
Forget bagels. Let's talk about the Simit. These baked rounds of dough are covered in molasses and sesame seeds and, though they look more than a little bit like pretzels, have a flavor all their own. First-time visitors will be dazzled by the Simit vendor balancing act of navigating crowded streets with a tower of Simits atop their head, while seasoned Istanbul travelers are like, "whatever."
The utility of the Simit in Turkey is similar to that of Chile's Hallulla bread. It's the cheapest of the cheap, you-can-count-on-it carbohydrate beloved by all walks of life, for meals at all times of the day. We've had it cut into bite-size pieces for breakfast nibbles, slathered with Nutella as an after dinner street snack, and wholly plain during a fit of hungry stomach grumbles.
The Simit may not be a exclusive to Turkey, but the use of molasses sets Turkish Simits apart from those of the Balkans and Middle East.
New York has its Staten Island Ferry, Venice the Vaporetto and Bangkok the Chao Phraya River Bus, but no city ferry line seems quite as regal as that of Istanbul.
Last night, we hopped a Vapur (the name for these old ferries) for the first time, traveling from the docks at Eminönü near the Spice Market to about 25 minutes up the Bosphorus to Ortaköy, a neighborhood just before the towering Bosphorus Bridge. Though a private water taxi charges 120 Lira ($67 USD) for a one-way ride between these points, sharing the ferry means a far budget friendlier cost of only 3 Lira ($1.67) each way.
There's no shortage of excellent inspiration travel quotations, that's for sure. We have a few well-known favorites ourselves. Here's a few:
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." -Robert Louis Stevenson
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been; travelers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux
“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine
All these you've probably already heard more than enough to cause them to lose the strength of message. However, we've got one to add, and it's simple and sweet and packs such a punch that it approaches tattoo-worthiness. Ready?