Istanbul/Marriotts/1/2 day PM tour

1. how long will it take us to drive on a Saturday morning around 6AM from downtown Istanbul (possibly Asia side) to Ataturk Airport? 2. Is 2 hours ahead of flight-time enough time, or should we allow more? 3. Anyone have experience staying at either of these Marriotts?(am interested in difficulty in traveling to Sultanahmet and Ataturk, and quality of hotel and their A/C):Renaissance Istanbul Bosphorus Hotel (Besiktas), Istanbul Marriott Asia Hotel (Atasehir), The Istanbul Edition (Levant).The Ritz Carlton Marriott in Sultanahmet area would be ideal,except for the 400 euros+ price!
4. Our Nautica cruise ship docks at 2PM, Oct. 17, 2013. We have a 4 1/2 hour tour planned, but the government has closed the bazaars from the 15th-19th (fine, as I really don't want to shop in them anyway), and we are looking for something historical/cultural that would be open after 4:30PM to visit. Our agency says the sound and light show at the Blue Mosque is only in the summer. My guide book says thru October. Anyone have personal and recent experience? Thanks, Maureen

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

There is no traffic at 6am. I went to the airport early once - about 5ish and there was hardly anyone on the road. As far as the hotels go, they seem like your typical international 4 star business hotels so I don't think you'll have issues. If they're off the metro, you'll be fine. Don't remember the light show - all the other sensory overload was way better than any light show.

Posted by maureen
miami, florida, USA
4 posts

Agnes, thanks for your reply and advice. Do you think that Ataturk airport security/baggage, etc. requires more than the international norm of 2 hours early? Do you remember the name of a good 4 star hotel in Sultanahmet area, that might not cost a fortune?
Did you have any problems with taxi drivers? I have read some strange "scam" stories, then also how welcoming and friendly everyone is too. Just hope demonstrations don't cause our ship to cancel this port. We are also porting 3 days in Haifa,Israel, so praying for peace there too. Maureen

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2608 posts

Maureen... if you have your hotel arrange your taxi it can be a fixed price. That way there are no surprises. I did not stay on the Asia side and actually would not stay there now that I have been to Istanbul. It's just so much easier to get to everything when you are close to the main sites.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

Maureen, I would follow the guidelines on the airport website - 2 hours seems reasonable to me. I would point you to booking.com for hotels; I stayed in an apartment. Most of the modern highrise business hotels are in the new city or Levant section (north of Galata bridge), not the Old City (but you can still find a Best Western in the Old City). I never took a cab, only a shuttle to the airport which cost almost nothing (although most of them cater to tourists and they'll cost much more) - the rest of the time I took public transport and ferries. I would not worry about taxi drivers - just find out what it should cost and settle on that beforehand. There is nothing unique about Istanbul that you should worry about, except maybe the driver may not speak English (but that's similar to other countries)

Posted by Rob
Dunwoody, Georgia
235 posts

Some of this has been covered by earlier posts, but here are my thoughts on your questions: 1). The travel time at 6am on Saturday varies depending on where you're staying. It'll probably take about 20 minutes from Sultanhmet and 40 minutes from Taksim. Both of those areas are on the European side. I'd ask your hotel when you check in how long you should allot for travel; they'll have a good idea. 2). Two hours should be enough time even if they are conducting 100% bag searches. 3). I don't any experience with those hotels. Consider some of the less expensive independent hotels in Sultanahmet. Many are quite nice. The Blue House (painted blue and right next to the Blue Mosque) has an elevator and very nice rooms. The Empress Zoe has a spectacular suite (but not elevators). I'm sure others can provide additional recommendations. 4). What is already covered by your tour? Check the hours of sites you are interested in that aren't covered. Some extend their hours in summer. Some mosques adjust their hours based on prayer times which move as the days lengthen. The marquee sites in my mind are the Aya Sophia, Blue Mosque Topkopi Palace and Archaeology Museum. All are right next to each other. The Basilica Cistern is also in that area and is typically open later than otehr sites. The Hippodrome area is open 24/7. Good luck!

Posted by maureen
miami, florida, USA
4 posts

Dear Terry, Agnes and Rob, I really appreciate all your advice, to the extent that I started searching for a new hotel last night in the Sultanahmet (not a Marriott), via the recommendations on TripAdvisor. One lovely hotel (more like a B and B) has only 1 room left, so we need to move fast.
Tours: Yes, I've checked the closing times in October, usually 4 or 4:30, the complication being our tour agency is based in Kusadasi, our agent seems to have gone on vacation (now there's a sub), plus the government has decreed there's a religious holiday from the 15th to 19th of October. I would like to visit the Suleymaniye Mosque, and Cinem's tomb, and the gardens if they aren't closed for prayer, and after we visit the Topkapi Palace, Hippodrome, and Basilica Cisterns (2:30-7PM) the 17th, then return to the Nautica, then the 18th is another 6-8 hours of touring. I just can't judge how much time is involved, and wonder if the agent from Kusadasi has a handle on it. Has anyone seen the Dolmabahce Palace, to know the time involved visiting it, and if it is worth the money, etc? We will probably go there on our own, if we ever get a hotel in the Sultanahmet. Thanks again to all for suggestions, Maureen

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

Maureen, try not to squeeze in Topkapi in the afternoon - it really deserves at least 3 hours and first thing in the morning to avoid lines - I think I spent more than half a day there (to each his own, I found it fascinating) easily and it was worth every minute - get a separate ticket to the Harem section. It was so crowded by the afternoon that I was glad I got there right at opening time. By the way, you can look into the The Empress Theodora Hotel - its location is perfect - close (5-10 min) to everything and right off the tram (Gulhane stop). The Archeoological Museum nearby is great as well.

Posted by Rob
Dunwoody, Georgia
235 posts

Hi Maureen, Sorry I missed that your trip was in October when I posted my earlier advice. That fact that you're traveling during Eid explains the closed bazaars and full hotel rooms. There may be more closures that you should investigate (a bigger risk on the first day of the holiday). This link has a bit more background: http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/Religion/kurban_bayrami.html I suspect that the Suleiman mosque may be closed by 7:00 for evening prayers, but check to make sure. You can see the Hippodrome at anytime - it's a big open rectangle with momnuments. Consider moving that site to the evening to see the mosque in the afternoon. Given that you have limited time - two partial days - I would skip the Dolmabahce Palace. It is not near other (and better) sites, so you'll also lose time traveling to and from it. Below are my top site recommendations beyond what you already have on your list and rough times needed for a decent visit. I've only included those in or near the Sultanhmet area to reduce travel times and have included no bazaars or shopping areas. 1). Aya Sophia - the top site to see. 1 to 2 hours. 2). Archaeology Museum - 4 hours, 1-2 hours if you want to bungee in for the marquee sites (e.g. Alexander sarcophagus, Ishtar gate artwork) 3). Blue Mosque - less than 1 hour 4). Islamic Art museum - 2 to 4 hours
5). Rustem Pasha mosque - less than 1 hour In the evenings once the sites are closed you'll have the option of walking around and exploring. The Galata Brige area and Istiklal Street have both character and lots of restuarants. There is a restaurant at the top of the Galata Tower (I've never eaten there, but the views are nice from the top). No matter whatever you're able to see and do, you'll have a great time. Good luck!

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

Re: the Dolmabahce Palace (Tophane tram stop)..I really enjoyed it but there was a long line to get tickets AND it was timed entry (you have to go in with a guide and group of folks as opposed to touring it by yourself). So I'm sure it took me around 4 hours to get through it all. Given your lack of time (you really, really don't have enough to add this to the mix), I would recommend that you see attractions only close to where you're staying and to get to the most popular ones (Topkapi, Haghia Sophia, Blue Mosque etc) as early in the morning as possible. My personal favorite was Topkapi and it required the most time. If you want to see a small bazaar, try Arasta Bazaar right by the Blue Mosque..it's very laid back and has high quality stuff (you can find the stores online).

Posted by maureen
miami, florida, USA
4 posts

Hi Agnes, Rob and Terry, I just wanted to let you know that I appreciated your comments and kindness in taking the time to help. Life suddenly invaded and changed our plans last week when Mike came home from the dermatologist. She said his Moh's procedure was so complicated and serious, that he needed to have it finished in the hospital, and then it would be followed by 12 weeks of radiation treatments. The good news is that the operation is done and successful, and that the skin cancer is the least dangerous of any (basal cell/not malignant), but apparently grew from the inside out (something left from a prior removal),so is stage 4. The radiation is a precaution against possible cancer cells not removed, also because the cancer is near the facial nerve, behind the right ear. Florida sun is rough on our Irish-English-Norwegian-German type skin. My blond sister with lovely Italian type skin has baked in the sun (on purpose!) all her life, and I have all the skin cancers. We have cancelled our July Caribbean cruise and the October Athens-Istanbul cruise. I really don't even regret it; I am just hoping and praying for good health and results, and am grateful for the results we have so far.
Miamitennismom (Maureen)

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

Maureen, I'm sorry to hear your sad news. I hope everything turns out well - health is definitely more sacred than travel. Take care and when you are ready to travel again, come back to the helpline.