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(Based on Paul and Helen's trip to Istanbul and Antalya in February 2003)  

Turkey Introduction

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 a week:

  • Merhaba - Hello
  • Iki bira - Two beers
  • Lutfen - Please
  • Tashikur Edirum - Thank You
  • Allaha Ismarlidik - Goodbye

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Who needs brakes when you've got a horn?


Turkish Culture

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 for you!).

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 to be!

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Women should have their heads covered in Mosques

Shopping & Souvenirs

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 work colleagues.
  • 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, of course)
  • 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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The colours of the Grand Bazaar


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 choices.

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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Sultanahmet across the Golden Horn

The Blue Mosque, in the snow

What to see

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 the rules.

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.

Istiklal Caddesi– 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 until lunchtime!

  • 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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Aya Sofia

The Blue Mosque


Local football in Istanbul

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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A snowbound Ali Sami Yen Stadium

Gala fans huddling for warmth

Turkish fans: excitable

Besiktas' stadium

Where to drink

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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Paul cradles his Pera Palas cocktail

Helen in the fish market


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 tourists!

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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The streets of Kaleci

The Med: sun, sea and mountains

Antalya and the Fluted Minaret from the sea

Kaleci at dusk



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 decent rate).
  • 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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The view from our room!

The Fluted Minaret in all it's glory

The end of the rainbow


Eating & Drinking

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 - The Sheraton's 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 pub.
  • 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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Lunching at Amors

The Highlander Bar, Antalya

The Shopping Centre bar


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