civilization, language, currency, customs, room hotel, tourists, map, train,
street, information, shopping, shops, rug, tea, aroma, tours, mosque, food,
entertainment, exotic, holiday
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Istanbul, Turkey - Where Two Continents Meet
by: Lori Guretzki
Istanbul, situated along the shores of the Bosphorus Strait, is the only city in
the world bridging two continents, Europe and Asia; it is as old as civilization
itself and as modern as carrying cell phones.
My husband and I were very excited about vacationing in Istanbul. We flew with
Lufthansa Airlines from Vancouver, B.C., stopping in Frankfurt, Germany to
change planes and approximately 15 hours later, we were there.
The entrance requirement for Turkey was a Passport with an expiry date one month
past our exit date, and a Visitorís Visa. The Visa can be purchased at the
Ataturk Airport upon arriving in Istanbul. The cost is $45.00 U.S. per person.
We were met at the airport by the Bell Hop from The Hotel Zurich, the hotel we
had booked over the Internet. We became friends with the hotelís general
manager, Mr. Turan islam, exchanging e-mail messages until we had agreed to
$50.00 U.S. per night. The rate included a full breakfast daily, all the
services in the hotel and transportation from the airport to the hotel. The Bell
Hop had arrived in a taxi to pick us up.
Riding along in the back of the taxi, we were somewhat apprehensive as to what
we should expect next, we were at the mercy of the Turks. We couldnít speak the
language and we werenít familiar with the currency or their customs. Well, we
didnít need to worry; we were greeted with the very best in hospitality. A fruit
bowl, a bottle of wine, an ample supply of bottled water and juice, and a hand
written note from the general manager were all waiting for us upon arrival.
We were delighted with our room. We were on the 6th floor, a large room with
huge windows that allowed us an unobstructed view of the Sea of Marmara and a
large modern bathroom; hand soap, face cloths and tissues were not included. We
were only steps from the hotelís pool, exercise room and the stairway to the
I was relieved to see that female tourists were not expected to cover their
heads with the traditional scarf called basortusu, or wear the traditional long
baggy trousers called salvar.
Finding our way around Istanbul was easy (a map helps if you remember to take
one); transportation by taxi, bus or Tram was efficient and inexpensive and a
life saver in the heat. Tickets for the Tram could be purchased at the kiosks
located on street corners everywhere adjacent to the Tram stops. Istanbulís only
train travelled only around the outside of the city. It was clean but old and
slow. We rode the train once and met an English speaking doctor who was born in
Toronto and has lived and worked in Istanbul for the last ten years.
We found ourselves lost many times so we would ask anyone on the street for
directions; with a little sign language we always got the information we needed.
I would recommend that upon venturing out, you take the card from your room with
the hotelís name and address on it.
Public washrooms were not plentiful. When we did find one, a Turkish gentleman
would be sitting outside the doorway for the equivalent of 25 cents he would
give me two squares of toilet paper, that resembled sand paper. A good idea is
to carry your own tissue.
I canít say enough about shopping in Istanbul. The Grand Covered Bazaar has over
4000 shops, selling everything from Turkish rugs to leather goods, beautifully
embroidered linens and fine jewelry. It was not unusual to see a shop selling
tourist trinkets located next to a shop selling fine silk fabrics. We wondered
for hours up and down the many lanes and alleyways and still didnít see it all.
When we tired of shopping in the Bazaar, there were shops, boutiques and kiosks
leading to the Bazaar and down every street. This was a shopperís paradise. It
was rare to see women working in the shops though; men dominate the market place
even in shops where only womenís undergarments were sold.
The Turks are masters at bargaining so be prepared. Donít pay the price marked
on the item or you will have insulted the shopkeeper. If we left home thinking
the last thing we needed was a Turkish rug, think again. We would be invited
into a shop, offered a cup of sweet apple tea, or black coffee served in a cute
little demitasse cup, and the bargaining would begin. Donít be surprised if you
go home with a rug, we did.
Also worth visiting was the Spice Market. Before entering the huge partially
covered areas, the smell of cinnamon, mint and thyme greeted us at the door.
Upon entering, I was hypnotized by the beautiful brilliant reds, oranges and
yellows of every spice and herb imaginable. They were displayed in large jute
sacks neatly stacked on the floor at the entrance to each little shop or in
glass containers on shelves that lined the walls of the shops. The aroma of
coffee beans, bulk tea and fresh baked goods made our mouths water. Be sure to
purchase Saffron and pure Vanilla while you are there, the prices were
reasonable and makes for wonderful gifts for family and friends back home.
There are many tours available in Istanbul and they offer English speaking
guides. She Tours picked us up at our hotel and brought us back at no extra
cost. The first stop on our tour was the beautiful Beylerbeyi Palace on the
Asiatic shore of the Bosphorus Strait. It was the summer residence of the
Ottoman Sultans, built in 1865 and is now a Museum for the public. As we entered
the Palace, we were given plastic boots to cover our shoes, our purses were
searched and we went through a metal detector before starting our tour.
Continuing on, we crossed The Bosphorus Toll Bridge linking Europe and Asia and
then stopped at Camlica Hill, the highest point in Istanbul. The view of the
city was breathtaking. This tour lasted five hours, cost $30.00 U.S. each and
was well worth the money. She Tours offer many tours, one to fit every interest
and time schedule. The larger hotels are happy to arrange the tours for you.
We didnít need a tour guide to visit The Museum of Haghia Sophia or ďDivine
WisdomĒ that was built in the 6th century or, The Blue Mosque named for the blue
tiles covering its interior walls and built in the 17th century. The Blue Mosque
is the only mosque in the world with six minarets and is the most beautiful and
grand mosque in Istanbul.
We also visited The Beyazit Mosque the oldest mosque in Istanbul; the entrance
fee was $2.00 U.S. per person however we found out later it should have been
free admission. This mosque was the only one where we had to remove our shoes,
and I was given a scarf to cover my hair. The scarf smelled musty and wasnít
The Turks are purists in their culinary tastes so food wasnít smothered in
sauces and very little herbs or spices were used in the dishes we tried. The
seafood was local and tasted fresh and was usually served with boiled rice; it
was very tasty. A favorite meal of the locals was a Kebap; a large roll of
mutton or beef cooked slowly on a vertical skewer in front of a heating element.
When we ordered a Kebap, we could watch as it was shaved from the roll and
served on an open bun. We didnít need anything with it, it was very tasty all by
The evening meals could be compared to an evening of entertainment. We were
wined and dined for hours in air conditioned restaurants or outside on the
patios and we would leave full and feeling like we had made new friends.
Breakfast was not a popular meal in Istanbul. If your hotel doesnít offer it, be
prepared, restaurants donít open for business until late in the morning. We were
fortunate to be staying in a hotel that offered a large variety of fresh
breakfast items every morning; items like sweet buns, yogurt, cereal, hot soups
and scrambled or boiled eggs. Their morning drink was the ever popular Tang
The water in Istanbul was safe to drink but not wanting to take chances, we
purchased our own bottled water very cheap (5 liters for the equivalent of 90
Every evening we would watch from our hotel window as vendors pushed their carts
up and down the streets, offering stuffed mussels, meatballs made from barley,
and pancakes filled with raw meat, as well as other carts loaded with every kind
of fresh garden vegetable and locally picked nuts. And, not to be overlooked,
Istanbul does have a MacDonaldís Restaurant for those who want to try Turkish
hamburgers, french-fries and ice cream.
We never found a Laundromat anywhere in the city. With the use of sign language
and lots of laughter, the maid in our hotel understood that we needed to do some
laundry. She took it with her and brought it back the next day, ironed and
hanging on hangars or folded very neatly. We used the service twice and the cost
was $100.00 U.S. I would recommend purchasing clean clothes as you need them;
Turkish made clothing was very inexpensive to buy, and fun to shop for.
Istanbul is the largest city in the Republic of Turkey. It has a population of
more than nine million people and can have as many as eight million tourists
visiting at one time. Itís main religion is Muslim; five times during the day
and night, at precise times, we would hear the call to prayer from the various
mosques. In the beginning, especially when we were awakened in the night, we
would hear wailing echoing through the city, however after a few days and after
we knew where the sounds were coming from, we became accustomed to it and
actually listened for it.
The currency is the Turkish Lire. There were many banks in Istanbul; the most
popular being the Yapi Kredi Bank where we could exchange our money or if the
banks were closed, we had no problem using the many ATMs situated around the
Tipping was not the norm but just like at home, when we were given good service,
we felt they had earned a tip. In our hotel, by the time we were leaving for
home, we had trained the staff to accept our tips; they had definitely earned
This holiday was an amazing experience. I have barely touched on the many
interesting places we visited. It wasnít necessary to know the history, the
language, customs or currency before embarking on this trip to Istanbul. We were
made to feel welcome by everyone and the language barrier, only a minor
inconvenience. I would be amiss if I didnít mention that at times there was the
odd hint of terrorism but nothing that affected us in any way nor would it stop
us from returning to Istanbul.
As we were loading our luggage into the taxi to take us back to the Atutark
Airport for our journey home, the staff on duty and the ones not working at The
Hotel Zurich that evening came out to bid us a fond farewell and safe trip. Has
that ever happened in any other country? I know we have never experienced it,
and it was such a wonderful feeling to know we were accepted, respected and
considered their friends.
If you are looking for an exotic holiday destination, with friendly, hospitable
people, an ideal climate and beautiful scenery or if you want to explore a city
filled with Ancient sites and ruins mixed with increasing modernization, or how
about just a fabulous shopping holiday well, Istanbul is the destination for
About The Author
Lori Guretzki lives in Abbotsford, B.C. with her husband of 23 years. She works
in the office of a large high school in Abbotsford and has a home based business
called Loriís Canine Creations that she started 4 years ago. She also shares the
love of traveling with her husband and together they have visited such places as
Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, Aruba, West Indies and many, many more.
Loriís latest accomplishment is her book, The Reluctant Traveller, an amusing
and entertaining day by day diary of the trials and tribulations of holidaying
in Peru, South America, a country she new nothing about. Her book is in the
process of being published and will be available soon through the Internet.
Loriís husband is also a recent published author.
Loriís future plans include retiring from her full time job within 2 years;
continuing with Loriís Canine Creation and traveling with her husband.