I truly had no plans to be in Istanbul, however that modified once I observed a particular promotion on the Turkish Airways web site when reserving my flight to Tbilisi. Lured by the promise of a free lodge — as long as I stayed in Istanbul for no less than 20 hours — I turned what can be a 5-hour switch at Istanbul’s airport into a 36-hour layover.
I had been to Turkey solely as soon as earlier than. It was round 15 years in the past once I was school age and on a low cost all-inclusive resort vacation to the southern Turkish coast with some pals. However ever since I’d principally forgotten about Turkey as a journey vacation spot.
Perhaps that’s as a result of that journey again then was a lot of enjoyable however perhaps not probably the most refined. We spent most of our time lounging by the swimming pool or consuming free raki at night time. Aside from a day tour to some Roman ruins, I didn’t see a lot of Turkey past the confines of a walled-in resort full of Russian vacationers.
(One man we met at that resort was supposedly ex-FSB; on the seashore he stood straight like a colossus simply staring on the horizon for ages, solely to out of the blue run into the ocean like a madman after which swimming into the open waters in a straight line till not seen. Fascinating character that was. However I digress.)
Anyway, my layover in Istanbul lastly acquired me a recent albeit temporary take a look at Turkey — and this time, I used to be in a position to take in far more of the tradition and native vibe.
How to get a free lodge in Istanbul
Comparable to different stopover offers provided by nations like Iceland and Portugal, Turkish Airways will comp you a free lodge when you join by way of Istanbul and determine to keep in the town. Clearly, they hope it will promote Turkey as a vacationer vacation spot. The supply is open to any financial system or enterprise class clients.
Turkish Airways is a fairly strong airline that I’ve loved flying with a number of occasions. They function a good hub that connects properly to Africa, Central Asia and past; I as soon as additionally flew with them from London to Bangkok at a really discount worth.
To qualify for the free lodging you want to keep in Istanbul for a minimum of 20 hours. You’ll want to put a deliberate stopover in your flight itinerary, which you are able to do through the use of the multi-stop flight search on the Turkish Airways web site. Enter each legs of your flight itinerary individually, after which add an additional day in between the 2 flights.
The airline web site has particulars for a way to request the voucher. I used to be given a selection of 4 motels, of which the Clarion Golden Horn was simply the fanciest one (its normal rooms usually go for 120 EUR a night time). I used to be tempting nevertheless it was nicely out of city, so I went with a smaller lodge in the historic middle, the Orka Royal.
Was it value it? Eh, perhaps. I need to confess I’m not a fan of inns; the service is all the time so impersonal, the WiFi is all the time crappy, and the rooms are sometimes so characterless. On my second night time I stayed in a 10 EUR a night time hostel and this was rather more my sort of type. That hostel might not have had AC, a rooftop pool or a health club, however it did have pleasant service and a pretty environment — not to point out a chilled out bar the place I might pay attention to tales from some dudes who’d hitchhiked to Istanbul from Ukraine.
However hey, that free lodge acquired me into Istanbul I assume! Like a true Dutchman, I’m simply persuaded by a freebie, and I clearly wouldn’t need to look a present horse in the mouth. I’m completely happy to say that my Istanbul layover was unbelievable, and that the town is very value testing even on simply a temporary go to.
Issues to do on an Istanbul layover
I’d hate to use such a cliché, however Istanbul genuinely felt to me like East meets West. Situated proper on the fault line between two geographical and cultural spheres, some elements jogged my memory completely of Asia whereas others are completely European. It’s a fascinating metropolis with a deep historical past, serving because the capital of the Byzantine Empire and as soon as a key metropolis in the Ottoman Empire as properly.
My layover in Istanbul little question coated a few bog-standard sights and locations, however every of those have been pleasant and never to be missed. Do you have to additionally end up in Istanbul on a temporary go to, I can simply advocate the next highlights.
Rooftop river views
After arriving in the town in the night I instantly wandered alongside the Bosphorus riverside promenade, after which dove into some neighborhoods in the historic middle. I came across an alley coated in coloured umbrellas (this appears to be the cool factor today?) which led up to some stairs to a cluster of rooftop bars. I sat myself down on one of many roofs of the Bab-ı Âli Kahvesi cafe [map].
From right here, you’ll be able to have some sensible views of the Bosphorus and the Suleymaniye Mosque behind you. The bars round listed here are all fairly native and English menus appeared to be a rarity, however it shouldn’t be an excessive amount of of a problem; with a little improvisation you possibly can simply order one thing very scrumptious. (Trace: any kind of grilled meat they do very properly in this nation!)
This grand constructing served each as a cathedral and a mosque all through the ages, going again so far as the occasions of the Byzantine Empire. For almost a thousand years, the Hagia Sophia was in reality the most important cathedral in the whole world. When you step inside, it’s instantly clear that it was certainly meant not simply to encourage religion in God however certainly additionally to exhibit the facility of no matter empire held it on the time.
It’s a little bit of an compulsory cease in Istanbul, so I figured I ought to tick this off very first thing in the morning. The construction is massively spectacular in its personal proper, although I feel even higher appreciated with a educated information.
The Basilica cistern
This historic underground reservoir and filtration system as soon as offered water to the Nice Palace of Constantinople and different close by buildings. It’s a (actually) cool and mysterious place, that includes a number of Medusa head columns and different fascinating particulars. I liked taking place the steps into this little underground world and immediately transporting myself to Roman occasions.
As you could, Istanbul was as soon as generally known as Constantinople and served because the capital of the Byzantine Empire (which was the japanese half of the Roman Empire when it cut up into two). The town is understood typically because the “second Rome”, and you may undoubtedly see this historical past right here and in different places across the previous metropolis.
Having coated a number of the historic metropolis and strolled by means of its parks, by mid-day I felt compelled to cross the Bosphorus river to the opposite aspect. I adopted the Galata Bridge which, considerably oddly, has a lot of eating places on its decrease degree. I then stumbled upon Karaköy [map], a riverside neighborhood full of funky cafes, ateliers, road artwork, and little alleys coated with vine roofs.
It’s a very browsey a part of city that’s clearly a favourite amongst many locals. I like to recommend sitting down right here for a good brunch or lunch, perhaps having some positive Turkish tea or a shisha, and simply watching the world go by. It’s a fashionable a part of city however appeared slightly unfrequented by vacationers, making it a enjoyable space to catch some native environment.
Dem Karakoy cafe has a tremendous specialty tea and cheesecake choice…
Considered one of my tried-and-tested methods to discover a metropolis is just to stroll in the direction of no matter subsequent landmark I can see off in the space. On prime of a hill I noticed a Romanesque fashion tower and thought I’d as properly set it as my objective.
It turned out to be Galata Tower. A fast look on Wikipedia knowledgeable me this was in reality constructed by the Genoans in the 14th century. The republic of Genoa (the northwestern little bit of Italy) was as soon as a buying and selling nation that rivaled Venice in its attain and affect, they usually constructed quite a few buying and selling posts and colonies across the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Galata Tower was the centerpiece of their Constantinople colony.
There was a big queue to go up the tower which I couldn’t be bothered to cope with. However wanting up, I noticed a good rooftop terrace contained in the Anemon Galata Lodge [map], from the place I might get panoramic views of the tower in addition to the Bosphorus river under.
Whereas strolling the neighborhood round Galata Tower through the afternoon warmth, I noticed one thing really fantastic. Many individuals will put out plates with meals and bowls with water on the streets there for any thirsty or hungry cat. The felines are extremely regarded inside the native tradition, thought-about by many to be guardians of the town and the one-time defenders from rat-borne plagues. Jodi Ettenberg wrote a fantastic story on the historical past of Istanbul’s relation with cats. (Canine, apparently, are handled with a lot much less reverence.)
The Grand Bazaar
As night approached, I topped issues off with a go to to the Grand Bazaar, which is likely one of the oldest coated markets and sometimes considered one of many first purchasing malls of the world. It as soon as sat at a key node on the Silk Street, and to this present day it’s crammed with lantern outlets, gold jewellers, silk clothes shops, and so forth.
It’s a enjoyable space to stroll round in even when you’re not intent on shopping for. I used to be additionally relieved to discover that the sellers listed here are in no method pushy or annoying (a lot in contrast to in Turkey’s coastal resorts or, say, in the souks of Morocco). Nonetheless, you could want to learn this text on how to discount like a professional on the Grand Bazaar.
On the finish of the day my ft have been undoubtedly drained from all that strolling and I used to be craving a chilly beer on a roof terrace. That stated, the historic elements of Istanbul are extraordinarily walkable, and you may pack a ton of sightseeing into a mere 24 hours. Whereas I usually like to keep someplace longer to get to comprehend it inside out, I felt my layover in Istanbul was solely worthwhile regardless of simply seeing it in a flash. With its lengthy historical past on the coronary heart of a number of empires, Istanbul provides a wealth of historic and non secular locations to take in, and has a pretty road vibe to boot.
I ended the day again at my hostel for the second night time — the Istanbul Concord Hostel — the place at its rooftop bar I traded journey tales with a number of the different visitors. The tales of hitchhiking by way of Ukraine, seeing balloons fly over Cappadocia, and boating throughout the Caspian Sea on a once-a-week ferry made me doubly excited to dive into my subsequent journey journey: a journey by way of Georgia and Armenia. (Posts coming quickly!)