|(Based on Paul and Helen's trip
to Istanbul and Antalya in February 2003)
Turkey is a fantastic place, admittedly not to everyone’s
tastes, but there’s a certain unpredictability about life
here that really appeals to me. I’ve only been the once, and
as my visit coincided with Istanbul’s snowiest winter in around
7 years, it’s pretty likely my experiences will be different
from most visitors.
One thing to look out for is the number of touts everywhere: markets,
shopping streets, restaurants, tourist attractions and bar areas.
All are trying to take you to their uncles/cousins/friends place,
where they can “get you a very good price” – this
is all done for back-handers and commission: don’t take it
personally, it’s just how Turkish society operates. You have
three choices here: ignore them completely (very rude, but very
effective); go along, have a cup of apple tea and decline politely
(time consuming, but polite); or go along, drink the tea and feel
obliged to buy (very gullible). As someone else mused on the “TAMB”:
“You will get ripped
off: accept it! It’s all part of the game!”.
Getting a taxi can be a life-affirming experience. Apparently,
brakes are a luxury: along as the horn works we’re good to
go. There is a Turkish view of fate that suggests Allah (and luck)
decide on whether you’ll crash, so driving safely is a secondary
consideration. I enjoyed it myself, but always made sure my seatbelt
was on! Taxis were not the rip-offs they are warned to be, as long
as you just use them for getting from A to B – ask for any
assistance (such as procuring match tickets) and you will
be stung. Even the Istanbul airport taxis advertise a very good
deal, however we took the bus instead.
For an Islamic (albeit “technically” secular) country,
Turkey has a very relaxed attitude to alcohol – the local
beer, Efes is everywhere. Efes is a very pleasant pilsner, far better
on draught than from bottles (and far better in bottles than in
cans) – you won’t be disappointed. The other indigenous
drink is Raki, an aniseed liqueur similar to Greek Ouzo or French
Pastis, and drank in a similar way with water. It’s lethal
stuff – don’t believe the tourist t-shirts that state
“Raki is the answer”! Turkish wines, especially reds,
are also very palatable - if you fly Turkish Airlines you can always
try on the plane.
Food wise, kebabs are everywhere (even in posh hotel restaurants!),
and are very highly recommended. Vegetarians are very well catered
for, with pide (Turkish pizza) definitely something you should try
(it comes in meat flavours as well). Lamb is the main meat on offer.
One last, crucial, piece of advice – learn some very basic
Turkish. I learnt my usual stock phrases, and was treated like a
king everytime I used them. It seems that for all the European tourism
(mostly English and German, to the coastal resorts), very few make
the effort to learn, making it all the more appreciated if you do.
Here are the phonetic spellings of the phrases that got us by for
- Merhaba - Hello
- Iki bira - Two beers
- Lutfen - Please
- Tashikur Edirum - Thank You
- Allaha Ismarlidik - Goodbye
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Turkish society is technically secular thanks to measures introduced
by Ataturk (“Father of the Turks” – real name
Kemal Mustafa), although this isn’t really apparent, as minarets
dot the skyline, and the haunting call to prayer is often heard
across the cities. Religion and national pride are two things that
seemed to be very close to the Turkish populaces heart. There is
intense pride in the national flag (so much so that I got an ad
hoc discount to Aya Sofia merely for wearing a Turkey shirt!) and
in Ataturk – it is actually illegal to criticise or belittle
either (but if you’re the sort of person who would do such
a thing in a foreign culture, then NATA Online probably isn’t
Being a “westerner” in Turkey posed no problems at
all – I wore my kilt for an entire week and was treated with
warmth and friendliness (and a bit of awe given the three foot of
snow and the freezing temperatures). A favourite game of market
traders is to try and guess where you are from by shouting across
the bazaar at you: alongside the full gamut of European nationalities
that was shouted at me (and the obvious "William Wallace?",
the funniest was “Mexicano” – obviously he thought
the kilt was a poncho!
If you do go visiting mosques (which I would recommend), bear in
mind to dress conservatively: men should have their heads uncovered,
and women should have theirs covered. Also, knees should be covered
(so no short skirts or shorts) and shoes have to be removed (so
don't wear socks with holes in!). I put trousers on under my kilt
in order to comply at the Blue Mosque - this was despite being told
I didn't need to by the Mosque attendants (I did anyway - I didn't
want to upset anyone praying). Flash photography is frowned upon,
and you are expected to leave a donation when visiting. In reality,
the above rules don't seem to be steadfastly observed (particularly
at a major attraction such as the Blue Mosque), but just because
other people are ignorant of these customs doesn't mean you have
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Prices are not an indication in Turkey; merely a suggestion –
practically everything in shops is negotiable, and not only is not
rude to barter, it’s expected. Buying at the first price you
are offered is a sign of weakness that will be pounced upon! Two
rules here: don’t make a counter-offer unless you are really
serious (if it’s met, you will be expected to buy), and don’t
be afraid to politely decline if your offer is not met. In reality,
and any barterer knows this anyway, you will likely strike a compromise,
so always start lower than you are prepared to pay (it’s all
about losing face – the trader wants to believe he has made
you pay more than you would have wanted, and you want to pay less
than he first suggested).
You can’t go to Turkey and not come back with an armful of
things that you never knew you needed (or even knew existed). Turkey’s
all about commerce and bartering, so do bear in mind that the drum
the trader offered for £50, and you’ve just paid 20
quid for, is only a bargain if you really need it!
Some of the souvenirs we came back with were:
- Five (yes FIVE) football shirts (Galatasaray, Besiktas, Trabzonspor,
Antalyaspor and Turkey): going rate was under £18
- Apple Tea and an apple tea set: been back 6 months –
never been touched)
- An engraved drum: Offered at £50, bought at £20.
Only used to annoy Helen, but looks nice
- Loads of Turkish delight: top notch stuff, and popular with
- A t-shirt with the Turkish emblem on it: kept the locals very
happy, and us safe at football matches!
- Some ceramic painted ornaments of Istanbul and Antalya: nice,
colourful and sat on the mantelpiece in the place for revolving
holiday souvenirs for a while.
Some other stuff you may consider:
- A “Raki Is The Answer” t-shirt (it’s not,
- A bottle of the aforesaid Raki
- A cheap leather jacket
- A carpet (risky business mind - read your guide book!)
- A belly dancing outfit for the missus
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Often portrayed as a seething mass of humanity, I was quite surprised
by how pleasant the city was. It’s certainly more liveable
than say, London, Hong Kong or Seoul (similar populations). The
two main areas for tourists are Sultanahmet and Istiklal Caddesi
(the main shopping street) leading up to Taksim Square. Taksim itself
is part of the business district, and has several classy accommodation
Sultanahmet is where most of the classic sights are (below), and
most guide books suggest staying here. I took the opposite view
– if you do your sightseeing during the day, when public transport
and taxis are easily available, you get back to your hotel without
too much trouble. It’s far more difficult to get safe passage
across town to your hotel after staggering out of a bar at 4am.
We stayed in the Divan hotel at the northern edge of Taksim Square
– not as posh as the nearby Marmara or the Intercontinental,
but more authentically Turkish (with one of the best confectionery
shops in the city.
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Aya Sofia – facing
the Blue Mosque across a small square and gardens. This massive,
ancient red brick building was built in the 6th Century as a church
(St Sofia’s), before being converted to a mosque by the Ottomans,
and then a secular museum (as it is now) by Ataturk. The price you
pay at the gate gets you in to the ground floor – to climb
the stairs seemed to be extra. There are also a swarm of guide waiting
to pounce on you as soon as you walk in – it’s up to
you if you want to pay for one; we didn’t. Take time to wander
around and look at the sheer scale of things, including the massive
domed roof (which had scaffolding when we were there).
Blue Mosque – absolutely
stunning 17th Century mosque in Sultanahmet. Take care to avoid
prayer times, and make sure you act with appropriate humility and
respect. Shoes must be removed at the entrance (regardless of the
weather – we were there in a blizzard), and men should have
their legs covered and their head uncovered (no caps or hats) –
I took along some trousers and pulled these on under my kilt. Women
on the other hand should cover their heads (a scarf should do it
– Helen used a pashmina she’d got the day earlier at
the Grand Bazaar. No flash photography is allowed. In practice,
when we were there, many visitors were flouting all of these rules
(bar the shoes) – my view on this is that if you know how
you are expected to behave, then you should take care to stick to
Sunken Cistern – a
bit of an oddity, this was an underground reservoir to serve the
Palace and Sultanahmet district built, used and then forgotten about.
Apparently some French engineer in the 19th century heard stories
about locals fishing through cracks in their basement and uncovered
it again. A damp, eerie place, but worth a look.
Kapali Carsi – The
“Grand Bazaar”. Has to be seen to be believed. Thousands
of stalls in dozens of passages, up and down hills, around corners,
hidden courtyards, and more leather goods than you could ever believe
- and all under one roof. This place is mental – we went on
a Saturday afternoon, and found it pretty crowded, so probably best
to try during the week if you can (it’s shut on Sundays).
Remember the advice on haggling above. A great place to stock up
on souvenirs you didn’t know existed, let alone that you wanted
to buy them.
Tunel Railway – Not
just a sight, but a necessity for getting up/down the big hill from
the end of Istiklal Caddesi to the riverside of the Golden Horn.
The main shopping street and commercial artery of the city (Grand
Bazaar aside). This street has a lot of big name shops, and is also
dotted with restaurants and bars.
Things we didn’t see or do, but
wish we had:
Bear in mind we were in Istanbul in February 2003, in the middle
of the worst cold snap that the city had suffered in years, so this
did affect our options. That, and the fact we were so hung over
both weekend mornings that we didn’t get out of the hotel
- Bosphorus cruise – The
busiest stretch of water in the world has loads of boats plying
their trade, but you’re unlikely to be able to flag down
a tanker for a pleasure cruise. A short stretch of the shore of
the Golden Horn on the Sultanahmet side (Eminonu, strictly speaking)
is the ferry hub – there are also dedicated (and more expensive)
pleasure cruises available.
- The Asian Side –
we wanted to see this, but a combination of freezing temperatures
and the fact we were going to Asian Turkey (Antalya) a few days
later put us off. Apparently, there’s not too much to see,
but you can catch the ferry from Sultanahmet to just down the
hill from Fenerbache’s ground.
- Topkapi Palace –
possibly the number one tourist attraction, and very handy for
the other Sultanahmet sights. We had a choice of Topkapi or Aya
Sofia and the Blue Mosque, so we chose the latter two. When we
go back (which we will), we’ll give it a visit.
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Fenerbache – the club
of the people (and of Ataturk, allegedly), blue and yellow Fenerbache
ply their trade in the Asian side of the city. Very popular team.
Besiktas – traditionally
the third side of Istanbul, they wear black and white stripes and
have far and away the handiest ground in the city (just north-east
of Taksim Square). Everyone in Antalya, and Turkish Airlines stewardesses,
all seem to support them, and they won the league in their centenary
season of 2003.
Galatasaray – the
club everyone loves to hate, which is a wee bit unfair. Tragic as
the Leeds incident a few years ago was, you can’t hold an
entire club and it’s fans responsible for the actions of a
few. We watched a game there and were treated like royalty by the
stewards, police and fans alike (possibly out of respect for me
wearing a kilt in three feet of snow!). To get to the Ali Sam Yen
Stadium (aka "Hell"), take the tube from Taksim. Do not
buy a ticket from a taxi driver – they will
rip you off (part of the game, remember, part of the game!)
Istanbulspor – the
city’s “wee team”. The Barnet of Istanbul play
well out of the city, out near the airport. Never went, but it’s
remote location, small fan base and limited ground suggest that
it is only for the desperate. Or non-league fans.
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For a Muslim country, there really is no shortage of bevvy options,
although not in the Grand Bazaar, which we found a wee bit surprising.
- Irish Pub – at
the top end of Istiklal Caddesi, this identikit Irish pub is insanely
popular with the locals, and has a very good resident band on
Saturday nights. Admission charge at weekends (with one or two
free drinks), but worth it. Much as I loathe Irish pubs, I did
enjoy this one.
- North Shield –
Bizarrely, a chain of English theme pubs owned by an anglophone
Turk. From humble beginnings, there is now a chain of these the
length and breadth of Turkey, including several at airports. We
only went in the central Istanbul one once, for less than a minute,
before we were driven out by loud dance music, but seeing as we
did okay in the one in Antalya (see below), maybe we should put
ot down to a bad night?
- English style pub on IC –
I don’t know what it is with English style pubs, but there’s
another one (that I can't remember the name of) further down on
IC itself (i.e. away from Taksim)
- Fish Market – Off
IC, the covered fish market houses a couple of decent places,
including the Caravan Rock Bar and two very nice café bars
(the one on the corner is called Vera, and was really laid back)
- Hotel bars – There
are three bars I can definitely recommend in this category. Pera
Palas, down near the Tunel area, is where Agatha Christie
used to stay. The bar is on the ground floor, and is very haughty.
The toilets are dead posh (this is a good thing to know in Istanbul!).
The other two are top floor bars and face each other across Taksim
Square: The City Lights
bar at the InterContinental hotel and the Marmara
bar. Of the two, the City Lights probably offers the best
views (across the Bosphorus and down onto Beskitas' stadium).
The downside of all three bars is you can expect to pay around
triple what the pubs charge, but the prices are still favourable
compared to London pubs.
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Antalya airport is a few miles to the east of the city along the
main road, and has both domestic and international terminals –
you will be processed according to where you started your journey,
so a flight from Istanbul will have passengers spilt up as they
disembark (if they were connecting). Likewise, when returning, even
you are changing at Istanbul, you can check straight through in
the International terminal.
The city is set in the elbow of a 90-degree bend in the Turkey’s
southern Mediterranean coastline, and is in a wide valley flanked
by high snow-capped mountains to both the east and west. The old
city grew up in the very apex of the bend, and is the site of a
spectacular Roman harbour and the walled city of Kaleci. The city
sprawls backwards and to either side, however you will probably
be most concerned with the area near the coast. To the west of the
centre, the sloping cliffs drop away until there is a stretch of
sandy beach: this is where you will find a number of hotels, including
the top class Sheraton. Kaleci itself offers a range of accommodation
options, including the sublime Marine Residence (where we stayed
- the picture on the of the harbour at dusk was taken from our window!).
Whilst the city itself is functional as well as pretty, it also
serves as a hub town for many resorts on the Mediterranean coast,
and it is easy to picture the streets thronged with tourists in
the high season. The area is very popular with Germans - even though
we travelled in February, the airport was packed with German package
Orientation-wise, I have to confess I struggled badly! Kaleci can
be a maze of narrow streets, but once you get a fix on where the
harbour is, you'll be okay. The main streets that pen Kaleci in,
Cumhuriyet Caddesi and Ataturk Caddesi, meet at 90 degrees near
the Fluted Minaret.
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There are enough sites in the city itself to warrant
package companies bussing in loads of tourists in the high season,
as well as numerous nearby attractions.
- Fluted Minaret - This
is the city's landmark, and is beautifully set above the harbour,
with the Bey mountains in the background. It belonged to a mosque
built in the 13th century (now ruined), and is unusual because
of the "fluted" effect.
- Kaleci - The old walled
town and harbour date from Roman times, and are very picturesque
(which translates to tourist prices in the surrounding bars!).
If you can get a room at the Marine Residence hotel, you may be
lucky enough to get one overlooking the harbour itself.
- Museum - The museum
is out near the Sheraton Hotel, but you can grab a tram from the
Fluted Minaret. We never went there, but heard it was good (if
you like museums and that).
- Markets - Be warned -
Antalya has not one but two markets! The touristy bazaar is at
the intersection of Cumhuriyet and Ataturk Caddesi - it's a much
smaller version of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. The other market is
set back and is mainly a fruit and veg market, but with lots and
lots of cheap clothes stalls (I picked up an Antalyaspor scarf
here, and a shirt in a nearby sports shop). Both are good fun,
provided you remember the rules about shopping and bartering!
- Beach - We were there
in February, and although it was t-shirt weather, it wasn't quite
beach hot. Not that I'm one for beaches anyway. Get the tram to
the museum/Sheraton and make your way downhill. Apparently there
are better beaches in the area.
- Duden Falls - The Upper
Duden Falls are visible from coach/taxi trips (never saw them),
whereas the Lower Duden Falls can only really be seen by boat
(available for charter from Kaleci harbour - you can barter a
- Ruins - Antalya is in
a very historically significant part of the world, and is near
several ancient ruined cities, including Perge, Termessos and
Aspendos. All of these are accessible via hire car, or more sensibly,
taxi tour. Most taxi companies around town post tour rates on
the street outside their offices, and again, all are negotiable.
Works best with 3 or 4 in the car. We had the choice of this or
a boat, and chose the boat.
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There are plenty of places to eat in Kaleci, although expect to
pay touristy prices near the harbour. One great source of local
cuisine is in "Kepab Street" - "Eski Sebzeciler Ici
Sokak ("the Old Inner Street of the Greengrocers Market")
is awash with kepab shops. Expect to be touted, and check the prices!
We had some good pide here. We also had a really nice, Italian-influenced
meal at Stella's Bistro, near the tram terminus at the southern
end of Ataturk Caddesi.
Antalya's nightlife was not as immediately apparent as Istanbul's,
however I suspect it may be a seasonal thing. The following places
were sampled during our visit:
- Pendelen Music Bar -
A superb find. A rare wee bar, built into the rock and wall of
upper Kaleci. Really friendly bar staff, decent prices, and very
popular with the locals (judging by the bottles of Raki they were
going through) - we even saw some live Turkish folk music. I think
it's on Pasa Camil Sokak - just head down from the Minaret and
look down the streets on your left.
- Hotel Bars -
lobby bar was an identikit posh hotel bar, but the Sports Bar
should now have it's own Scotland shirt (courtesy of Gordon and
Morag), although it was shut when we were there. The Best
Western's ground floor bar is noting
special, but take the lift to the top floor for a great view across
the city - cheaper prices (and decor) than the Istanbul equivalents,
but who's complaining?
- Rock Bar - Posher than
the Lonely Planet made it sound, this grungey upstairs bar (with
it's very own downstairs Kepab shop) was functional and friendly
enough, but not worth searching out. Stay in the Pendelen instead!
- Highlander - A Scottish
pub? In Antalya? With it's own highly desirable (and very expensive)
polo shirts? Oh yes! Obviously suffers during the winter - when
we walked in they phoned for the band! Nothing special (and certainly
not Scottish!), but they did make a big fuss over us. Good location
near the harbour, although I can imagine it being a big hit with
the busloads! Still, you can't go and not go and drink in a Scottish
pub, can you?
- North Shield - Part
of the North Shield empire in Turkey, and sited opposite Stella's
Bistro (southern end of Ataturk Cad), in the far corner of a car
park for some reason. A passable interpretation of an English
- Shopping Centre bar -
Of all the places we drank in Turkey, this was the closest we
got to how the locals drink. Right opposite the Kepab Street,
and on the first floor of a down-at-heel shopping centre, this
un-named bar exudes a strange blue glow. The bar staff were genuinely
shocked to see us in there, but did provide us with the cheapest
beers of trip (60p a pop). The downside was the oppressively male
atmosphere and the toilets (back out into the mall).
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