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Istanbul

Here are some random thoughts on Istanbul if you are interested.

The area I stayed in, Beyoglu, felt like a European city. Like Lisbon specifically.

Informality still reigns in Istanbul: there are people everywhere selling things, offering services, outside of normal businesses

Pedestrians most certainly do not have the right of way

The area just west of Ayasofya (Grand Bazaar, and Spice Market) feels like the Middle East

You really feel like you’re in an exotic place when you use a squat toilet. Bring your own tissue. You've been warned.

The call to prayer is beautiful. You first hear it far away, then closer, then it’s coming from the minaret on the street you’re on

People of Istanbul are the friendliest of any big city I’ve been to. Not just the people trying to sell you rugs either

On that note, learn to say no. Those guys are very good salesmen.

Food is good and cheap. Better than Rome and Paris and cheaper

Turkish delight (lokum) is worth betraying your family to a witch for

There’s an obscene amount of construction going on out side the city center: huge shopping malls, condos, office towers, etc.

The main historical buildings (Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, Ayasofya, etc.) are not worth going to Istanbul for if that’s all someone is interested in. European palaces and museums are much more impressive. I recommend going, but I wouldn’t go all the way to Istanbul for them

The Basilica Cistern was very impressive

Drinking tea on the ferry across the Bosphorus is a great experience

Drink tea every chance you get

The Asia side feels more like Europe than the Europe side

It’s safe. I never felt unsafe and I was alone the whole time

There are a lot of feral cats and dogs

The Metro is cheap and easy to use

I’ll probably go back again some day

The biggest take away: no matter how much you know the news media are liars, nothing drives it home more than going to a place I'm supposed to be afraid of and realizing everything they tell me is completely opposite.

I should have included my YouTube videos of the trip when I first posted. Here they are if you are interested. Sorry about the length of the first one (almost 16 min), I was just on a roll and didn't want to cut anything later.

01 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2lhPg5MHgE

02 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqILErq0Odo&t=24s

03 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3Azk3XtXME

Posted by
7050 posts

I'd love to go back right now since the Lira is so down, but there is no evidence to suggest that random/semi-random bombings are going to disappear anytime soon (see below link). News like this works very well to keep people away, although the city is huge and many incidents have occurred in areas where you'd likely find more locals than tourists (like a soccer/football stadium or a near a police station). I've been to Istanbul three times (once for over two weeks) and the best way I could describe it is it's like a giant bazaar or an onion with many, many layers. I've seen everything from very poor, traditional neighborhoods to the most modern, gleaming cityscapes. It's a very interesting place but I don't think it will "feel" (or "be") totally "secure" anytime soon. Having said that, I'm not particularly risk-averse when it comes to travel...but the constant news of violence is unnerving. But each person has to decide for themselves whether making a trip there would be more beneficial to them than not. People are definitely kind and friendly, I never had a problem with the locals at all (of course they are aggressive salesmen but that's expected).

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-blast-idUSKBN13Z0QS

Posted by
9 posts

Agnes. Thank you for your reply. I truly wouldn't blame anyone for not wanting to go to Istanbul right now, and it certainly does not good to see the world with rose colored glasses these days. However, what bothers me is the lack of perspective. We have friends who were afraid to go to Istanbul because of the travel warning, so they went to Thailand instead. Thailand, which has around 2 terrorist attacks every week.

Posted by
7050 posts

So what prompted you to visit Istanbul at this time? I admit I've been there when there are travel warnings I didn't even know about (they wouldn't have changed my mind anyway)...this was pre-coup. (By the way, I do think that Topkapi in itself was worth the trip. I've never seen anything like it anywhere else. I spent all day there. Getting a Turkish bath was worth the trip. Even taking a ferry on the Bosphorus was worth the trip).

It's great that you had such a good time and without all the worry and anxiety that most people ascribe to traveling there.

Posted by
9 posts

I'm studying Turkey for my PhD and presented at a small conference in Istanbul. I do think Topkapi was better than Dolmabahce.

Posted by
7050 posts

Did you get any sense of the effects of Erdogan's crackdowns on higher learning/ international exchange? It sounds like your conference went on as planned, but was there any sentiment of negative change on the ground that can affect future conferences and efforts to exchange information?

Posted by
9 posts

It seemed to me there isn't a lot of fear for academic freedom. I talked to one older man who was very negative about the future of the country and plans to move to the West. He was the only one.

Posted by
18860 posts

Headline "Turkey fires 21,000 teachers and demands suspension of every university dean in post-coup crackdown" Yup, but that was July. That could never happen again.

Posted by
1878 posts

I wish that my wife had gone to Istanbul in 2011 when we had the flight booked on the front end of a cruise RT out of Athens. It was just too much to handle at the time so we scaled it back. Now we are probably never going to make it there.

The coup attempt this year, terrorism, the country pulling back from democracy. I am sure one could have a perfectly nice visit there, as you did. But it just seems like too much drama to deal with for me (or potential drama).

Is there no toilet paper anywhere, or only in public toilets and restaurants, etc.? I am genuinely curious about this. Many countries have issues with Hepatitis, etc. and I wonder whether the sanitation issues are from the pipes or at the point of food preparation, or both.

Posted by
18860 posts

VS, its a giant world out there. Putting off one particular place only serves to open up a number of other opportunities. I was in Istanbul about 2 years ago and it was a very educational experience; but not a good experience. Glad I went, but not returning. As for risk, I think its manageable for my tolerance level so that's not what keeps me away; and if that's the only issue you may want to reconsider.

Posted by
295 posts

I loved Istanbul, it has been one of my favorite trips, it is so complex and full of different things, you have the old post, with the mosques and palaces, you have the modern part, very European, you have Asia, the ferries... It is so so interesting! That leaving out the huge parts of the city that are not touristic, but so worth visiting!

I thought the mosques and palaces in Sultanahmed were very worth the visit...

And regarding to toilet paper, you can find it in hotels, restaurants, shopping centers toilets.... Just not on the public toilets on the street or next to the mosques... But I would love to have so many public toilets in other cities, toilet paper or not!

Posted by
5450 posts

Well, using toilet paper is considered nasty to many cultures. I bet they wonder about our linkages to hepatitis. In Turkey, and many other countries, it is considered much cleaner and more sanitary to use the small water hose attached to the toilet to clean yourself. To equate the lack of TP with lack of hygiene could be considered offensive.

Posted by
7050 posts

VS - what was going on in 2011 that made you not go? I took an RS trip there in 2011 and went independently for over two weeks and I don't know of anything that seemed problematic at the time. There was no issue filling trips back then (and even years later). To each his own, but it's a shame you missed out...it's a huge country, it's not just Istanbul. I had a good experience there each time I went, although there were certainly some instances of feeling a bit out of place as a solo female traveler. Overall, given the number of interesting archeological and other sites, the trips were probably the best value trips I've ever taken...lots of high quality things to see and very affordable.

The toilet paper thing is not as big a deal as it sounds - yes, they have squat toilets. And they have plenty of Western-style ones too. There is no shortage of toilet paper. But you're not supposed to throw toilet paper in the toilet because their plumbing just can't handle it. When you're out and about, it doesn't hurt to carry your own. I always have a little travel sized kleenex in case because you can't depend on clean and staffed public toilets. The ones that have people working there and small fees (like by the Galata bridge) are fairly clean from what I remember. You have to keep in mind that there are over 14 million people in the city, not counting the tourists (albeit not many now)...that's a lot to keep up with.

Posted by
742 posts

Ballingerbnb, How recently were you in Istanbul? I was there about a year ago and absolutely loved it. I plan to be there again briefly this coming March, and I am curious about the security situation.

Posted by
18860 posts

On a scale of 1 (low) to 4 (high) the prevalence of Hep A in Turkey is a 3 (the US and Western Europe is 1)
On a scale of 1 to 4 the prevalence of Hep B in Turkey is a 2 (the US and Western Europe is 1)
On a scale of 1 to 4 the prevalence of Hep C in Turkey is a 3 (the US and Western Europe is 2)

I have been in public toilets in Istanbul, but I am no clinician; but I would find it reasonable to consider that the conditions I observed in the restrooms contribute to diseases such as Hepatitis A. Finding this recognition offensive makes absolutely no sense. Every environment, every location, has its issues. Identifying them is the first step in overcoming them. Yes, carry something to clean yourself and throw it in the bin rather than trying to flush it and yes, carry hand disinfectant as it appeared to me that most surfaces that I came in contact with had a high possibility of contamination. And yes, take photos of the squatty potty to show your friends back home…….

The facilities in most of the restaurants I visited and in my hotel were immaculate. But I frequented the better restaurants and I had an outstanding hotel with a stunning roof top view, superb service and a very kind and caring staff.

I remember Egypt around 1980 – right after the Camp David Accords. No paper, but they did have feces encrusted pipes that shot water up towards your ….. well you get the idea. Then the attendant would hand you a nasty brown (originally white) towel to dry your hands. And that was in the good areas of town. I will confess I didn’t get sick, but I hoarded paper every chance I got.

Posted by
9 posts

I didn't think the experience was particularly dirty or bad. I've been to much worse toilets in the US. The only ones that were really bad were on the ferries.

I found the experience of using toulets and their dispersal more positive in Istanbul than Western Europe.

Posted by
9 posts

Marie. I was there from Nov 20 to 27. I found nothing really unpleasant about it. I felt very safe, and I even went to a couple gecekondu.

I can only report what I saw. I look forward to take my whole family there.

Posted by
1878 posts

The reason I did not go to Istanbul was because the prospect of a full month of travel was too much for me at that time, not because of any bad stuff happening in Turkey (which there was not as far as I know). I was pretty nervous about the constant strikes in Athens as it was, and we had originally planned to drive in Greece for eight or ten days. The driving in Greece part was what finally made me decide to shorten the trip. Like I said, the Istanbul part I really regret not doing. My biggest travel regret. It was all planned very on the fly and I just had a gut feeling of anxiety that I was biting off too much.

I would not avoid a country just because of the health risk (at least not one on the level of Turkey), and actually I have been immunized for Hep A due to travel to some interesting places on business. That said, for personal reasons having to brush my teeth with bottled water is a pretty big inconvenience. That does not mean I won't go to a place though.

Sometimes the local travel health department at my doctor's office guidelines are less stringent than the CDC site. An example is Hungary, where CDC says don't drink the tap water, but my travel health office said don't worry about it.

I do hope the political situation improves in Turkey such that my wife and I may consider going there in the future. The OP's post confirmed my belief that it's a great destination.

Posted by
18860 posts

VC!! My G-d!!! Now you have insulted my wonderful HUNGARY!!!! Naaaaaaaaa..... just kidding. I have had something to do with renovation of plumbing in Budapest and having seen the systems up close and personal I sort of have mixed emotions about drinking the water in the inner city.... I brush with it, but I don't drink a bunch of it. Not the nicest tasting stuff either.

Posted by
1878 posts

I really like that you always talk up Budapest... three way tie for most underrated big cities in Europe: Madrid, Lisbon, Budapest. I know you are just kidding, but no insult intended to that great city. For the record I brush my teeth with the tap water in Budapest!

Posted by
18860 posts

But I try to be honest, and Budapest like most old third world country major cities has some suspect plumbing situations like leaky old sanitary sewer pipes buried directly above leaky old potable water pipes. Then there is the lead issue .... :-)

Lisbon is on my top ten list right now. Just waiting for someone to run a discount flight between Lisbon and Budapest......