It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been planning to visit Turkey but each time there would be one or the other unrest in the capital or Istanbul ‘coz of which our travel plans always got evaded or rescheduled. After consulting with multiple tour guides as well residents in Turkey and heeding to their safety assurances, we decided to fly in to this fantasy land which always reminds me of 1001 Arabian Night stories.
We flew Atlasglobal from Tbilisi (Georgia) to Istanbul. Our flight took off at 03:45 from Tbilisi International Airport and arrived at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport at 05:45 in the morning. The airport was crowded even at this hour of the day with many transiting and many more pouring into the country. The immigration procedures completed soon and we walked towards the conveyor belt to collect our baggage. Lot of refurbishing works were happening in the terminal, so we got a bit confused to locate our belt which was hidden behind a temporary wall / divider at the far end of the hall. One Lira coin should be inserted to release the baggage trolley, a fact I was unaware of (I had no coins with me and neither the Money changer in the terminal)!!
We were greeted with hordes of private taxi drivers and tour operators offering their help in the terminal lobby. We came out of the airport and flagged down a City Taxi and showed him the address to our hotel. Though he was not sure of the exact location, he agreed to drive us there and called up the hotel for accurate directions. It took less than 30 minutes to our destination (coz the roads were deserted at this hour of the day… Lol), Elite Marmara Hotel in Güngören district of Istanbul city.
The Hotel was located within a residential area and quite far from the main attractions of the city. We were shocked when we entered the room. The room was a shabbier version of those polished photos posted on the booking sites as www.booking.com (through which I had reserved the room). The room had a musty stink and there were stains on the sheets. The bathroom was a disaster. It took them more than 30 minutes to switch on the air conditioning after repeated calls to the reception. There were lots of repair works going in there, especially in the room next door. We could listen to every vehicle on the street as well the noisy boarder next room. The receptionist paid little heed to us. The breakfast spread was hopeless. The only pros to this hotel is the view from the terrace and the fact that they allowed to check-in early. That’s it!!
After resting for some time (somehow), we got out to explore the city. We walked couple of meters uphill to the Nur Osmaniye Mosque in Güngören for the Jumaa prayers (Friday Prayer). Lunched at a small Döner Shop across the street which cost 6TL for two of us… wow! While retracing back to the main road we hopped into this divine looking sweet shop – Abdullahogullari – that’s in business since the 1800’s. I was awed at the array of sweets and cakes on display. I decided to try the green colored baklava which is filled to the brim with pistachios and Shy chose a milk pudding – Sutlec.
We took a dolmus (mini bus) from Güngören and the driver dropped us at Topkapi station. We decided to take an initial tram tour of the city, so hopped into a tram from Topkapi and just sat in their absorbing the views of the bustling city as well few monuments and the Bosphorous.
Alighted the tram at Eminönü and then took a taxi to Miniatürk, which cost 35TL due to the heavy traffic hour. Our first stop in the city was Miniatürk. Miniatürk is a wonderfully constructed park housing miniature replicas of all the wonders of Turkey. Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, The stone houses of Mardin, Sumela Monastery, The statues atop Mount Nemrut, Temple of Artemis of Ephesus are some to name. You can visit all most all the attractions of Turkey without actually travelling distance. For tourists like us who would spend not more than a week or two in the country and is impossible to squeeze in a visit to all the attractions in the country (even though your heart wants to), this park is the place that gives contempt to your heart.
Miniatürk is located in the Beyoğlu district. The Entry fee is 20TL per person. An option of your preferred language is given at the entrance with a bar-coded paper strip that can be used to listen to the narration about each exhibit. You can listen to the narrations in some of the major languages as English, Arabic, Russian, French, German, Chinese, Japanese and Turkish. There’s a mini children’s play area in a corner, a helicopter tour simulation (separate entry fee) and also a photo studio where you can get yourself clicked in the traditional ottoman attires for just 25TL. There is café/restaurant at the ground level and a souvenir shop at the first floor through which you may exit the park. You may complete the Park in an hour but I suggest at least 2 hours if you really want to savor on and its worth. I strongly recommend a visit to Miniatürk. You may click here for further information on Miniatürk.
Our second stop for the day was decided to be the Magic Ice Museum located within the Forum Mall. So we took a taxi from Miniatürk to Forum Mall and we were relieved to meet a taxi driver who spoke English. He did warn us that its peak traffic hour and the fare might be on the upper side and said instead he can drop us at another mall that is close by but we declined. He took us to the mall and stopped at the drop-off and the meter showed 45TL. Shy handed him a 50TL note and just as we were about to open the door he said “Sir, Excuse me but this a 5 TL note and your fare is 45 TL”. Maybe Shy got confused with the currency and handed him the wrong one. I asked the driver if he had change for 200 TL as I had only that in hand and he said he has and not to worry. I took out a crisp 200 TL note from my wallet, checked it carefully, lest I mix it up with the Georgian Lari or Qatari Riyal that I had in my purse and handed it to him. He took it and in a flash of second said “Sorry dear but this is a 20 TL note that you have given me. Looks like you are confused with the notes of Turkey” and laughed. I got wild at him as I was 100% sure that I handed him a 200TL note (coz I hadn’t any other Turkish notes in my wallet plus none of the ATM machines or Currency Exchanges in Turkey give you a 200TL note). We kept on with the argument and I said I’ll call the police. Cars started honking behind us as the traffic’s blocked and a security guard came running. We tried to explain the situation to him in whatever meager Turkish we could and rest of English but I guess he understood nothing. Finally the driver drove off swearing at us and we stood there trying to digest the scam that we had fallen into!!
With a long face we entered the mall and walked to the Ice museum only to find that it was closed for the season (this was not mentioned on the site). Huh!! The other attractions in there were the Jurassic Park, LEGOLAND, and the Aquarium which we were not interested in as we had visited the likes of it in Dubai Mall, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. So we walked into the Real Market to get some drinks and munchies. The architectural concept of the mall resembled the Forum Mall in Delhi.
Next we took metro from Forum Mall to the Otogar or the Intercity Bus Terminal of Istanbul. The Otogar or bus terminal is situated next to an Old clothes market to which the Otogar Metro exits. We dined at a shop in the market and felt that being tourists we were overpriced. I bot an Istanbulkart at a grocer’s and he charged 8TL. Istanbulkart is an essential if public transport is your preference. More details on the card can be found here.
The moment you step in to the Bus terminal, you’ll be swarmed with salesmen from various bus companies trying to usher you to their respective offices. These offices close by 23:00 and open only after 07:00 in the morning. So you have to purchase your ticket beforehand from these offices or then online. We opted to fly to our next destination as the time spend on land travel was too much (6 hours to Ankara and 12-14 hrs to Adiyaman). Took the metro back to Güngören, letting ourselves to get lost and wander around the city, discovering more beautiful parts of the city which are never seen in any travelogues or blogs.
Retired for the day with mixed feelings about the city. I was trying to gauge if it was more negative after the rip offs’ of the day! There were those who were nice and congenial enuf to walk us to the right place when we got lost in the middle of nowhere, the owner of Side (pronounced see-dey) cafe who insisted on trying out some of the Turkish specialty food like Simit & Borek at his cafe, (free of cost!); on the other end there’s the conman taxi driver…!?!??