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My current experience in Istanbul

I am now in Istanbul, and spent a few days here a couple of weeks ago as well. For those of you who are nervous about Turkey, I have found the city calm, peaceful and very friendly, with infinite things to see and do. No signs of turmoil, other than the emptiness of many restaurants and shops that cater to tourists. Two weeks ago I arrived at the end of a holiday, which was followed by a long weekend during the "back to school" shopping season for local families. Certain areas were very crowded with Turkish families having a fun time strolling around, or shopping. Relatively few international tourists, it seemed, and you heard very little English or other Western languages on the street. Most of the international tourists appeared to be Saudis, from the long, black clothing of the ladies. This visit is much quieter, fewer people in general, fewer Saudi visitors as well. I spent a good part of today at the Grand Bazaar, and it was deader than a Macy's when there is no sale going on. One shop owner was dusting all his ceramics, and said that was just something to keep him busy, the alternative being reading the news, which seemed all to be bad. People depending on tourism for their incomes are really hurting. I think the US government went way overboard when it discouraged people from coming to Turkey at all. I won't mention all the major sites which are well-covered in all the guidebooks. I have really enjoyed the Regie Ottoman Hotel in Sirkeci, about mid-way between Sultanamet, the Grand Bazaar and the Galata Bridge. It is a lovely boutique hotel with great rooms and beds, a wonderful buffet breakfast, a very friendly staff, and reasonable prices. Also enjoyed the excellent full-day food tour I took with Culinary Backstreets of Istanbul. Was disappointed with the Chora Church, out of the way and hard to locate walking, and the entire outside and a good part of the inside are under renovation and covered up or inaccessible.

Posted by
8293 posts

Glad to hear from someone now in Istanbul but it made me sad at the same time. I think of the little Empress Zoe hotel and wonder if it will survive, and the small shop keepers, too. Maybe in the Spring I can get there ......

Posted by
6858 posts

Look forward to your entire report, especially contrasted with your experience in Bulgaria (which I expect is a lot more mellow). I hope you can make it to Topkapi Palace and the Archeological Museum - they are extraordinary. I don't think a Byzantine church like Chora would be unique enough especially if you've seen some beautiful frescoes and icons in Bulgaria, Italy, and other places. Where Istanbul excels is the incredible food stalls/markets (I liked the more low-key Arasta Bazaar much more than the Grand Bazaar), the Bosphorus, and the sheer variety of interesting mosques and museums (some off the beaten path ones I really enjoyed were Eyup Mosque along the Golden Horn, Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, Küçük Ayasofya Church, Istanbul Modern Museum, Museum of Great Palace Mosaics), and the islands south of Istanbul (Buyakada, etc.). Hope you also have time for a Turkish Bath - it's a true cultural experience and a nice treat.

Posted by
3099 posts

That's great info Larry!

We were just wondering if it might be a good time to visit.

Thank you for taking time to post!

Posted by
14790 posts

Hola, Lorencito! I'm so glad you stuck with the plan to see Turkey and are enjoying it. It truly is sad that there are few tourists.

Posted by
489 posts

Oh Larry, I am so jealous! I hope you enjoyed that Food tour! Have you been to Croatia or just going now? With the lack of tourists I'm sure you saw all the grand sites in Istanbul! If we hadn't had to get back for work, we'd had stayed in Istanbul for 3-4 days. We flew thru Istanbul and the only added security I experienced was a random security check for our flight back to the USA. All the US flights had this random security check. I still hear from my sources that Turkey may not be off the travel warning list for possibly this entire next year.
we didn't get to do this but while in Croatia look for this...

Posted by
33 posts

Hi, Larry. I'm glad to hear you are enjoying yourself and that all is calm. We are traveling to Turkey for 11 nights from NYE to early in January so I'm watching for all news for Americans traveling to Turkey. We figure on the first 5 nights in IST, then dividing 5 nights between the Ephesus area and some coastal town (thinking Bodrum, but open to any suggestions that might involve less further travel). I will continue to follow your post for any information you have to share. Thanks so much for your post and reassurance!

Posted by
9 posts

I just returned from 2 weeks in Turkey. Situation there is very safe and calm. I wouldn't hesitate a moment going anywhere in Turkey except maybe for the Syrian border area. I also did not notice any protests or any other mass gatherings. Talking to vendors and tour operators, apparently it's just not Americans not going to Turkey right now. They've also said they are seeing fewer tourists from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and other Western European countries.

Posted by
60 posts

@ Annie.
In January forget the coastal resorts,much of the town centre are closed up for winter,not much going on and it is heavy rain season too.Not the best time to visit these places tbh.
You mention time in Istanbul and then down to Selçuk Ephesus,but on top of those you could also add an overnight stay in Edirne on the Turkey /Greece border.This is a former Ottoman capital city and has a great deal of interest for history lovers.There are buses almost hourly for this 3 hour ride.
Yet another former Ottoman capital is Bursa,now known as the silk capital of Turkey :) You can take the ferry from Yeni Kapı over there for a day trip.Whilst there you could take the teleferik up to the top of Uludağ Mountain too or go to Cumalıkızık a UNESCO World Heritage village full of old wooden Ottoman houses similar to those in Safranbolu.
If the weather is kind to you yet another interesting place close to Istanbul is Iznik on the side of a besutiful lake.The town is most famous for those fabulous blue ceramic tiles you see in the mosques but there is a great deal to see there too,enough for an overnight stay.
Hope this gives you some idea's for coastal town alternatives in winter.

Posted by
24 posts

I'm so glad you had a good time, but I'm sad too. I recently received an email from the Ayasofya Hotel where I stayed this past July as well as 3 years ago. They had to close. Such a sweet place, too.

Posted by
1 posts

Wow! I miss Turkey. I have been there for 12 days and really, its one of the countries I love. So sad that these bombing happens. I hope I can go back soon!

Posted by
6 posts

My family of 5 just spent a week in turkey. We hired a RS guide names mert tanner. We also used RS guide Lale Aran to help organize the trip. It was awesome! We spent 4 days in Istanbul before traveling to capadoccia and Ephesus. Istanbul was amazing. Things were very uncrowded- which was perfect. We toured the normal tourist sites, spent extra time in the blue mosque, and spent extra time at grand bazaar and spice market. We even did a Turkish bath and a Turkish hair cut! Because some US citizens are nervous about traveling to turkey, there were no lines, no crowds, and things were less expensive. My family has red hair and very pale skin, so we do not blend in at all. We felt very safe and comfortable there.

The people in Istanbul were so kind and friendly. They often asked where we were from, and were so excited to hear that we were from the US. They treated our 3 kids (ages 14, 11, and 9) with such kindness and generosity. We loved it! I would definitely recommend mert taner as a guide. He was so knowledgable. He made the trip fun and educational. Cannot wait to go back!