Category Archives: Turkey

So you’re visiting Istanbul: read this

Istanbul-Bosphorus250MN052213After living in Istanbul for over two years, I’ve amassed a fair bit of advice and recommendations for visitors. Every few months, especially towards summer, I get emails from friends and friends-of-friends wondering what they should do with a day/week/month in the city. So rather than continue sending the same email around, I thought I’d collect everything I’ve written or forwarded into one post, from the general to the specific.

Google Map of my favorite Istanbul spots

Misconceptions about Istanbul: Chances are, if you are planning a trip to Turkey, you don’t think everyone rides camels and has a harem. But in case you have a nervous aunt, you can send her this post.

Istanbul in 2 days: my very quick-and-dirty advice for first-timers. A few updates:  if it’s a reasonable drinking hour, look for a rooftop bar to see the city instead of Galata Tower; Buyuk Hotel Londra is my favorite. Also, the Ortakoy mosque is under renovation, but the neighborhood is still fun to visit.

From EatingAsia.com: How to get the most out of Istanbul. Advice so great I wish I’d written it myself. They also have great stories about lesser-known spots all around Turkey, such a drool-worthy quest for anchovies.

Your Turkish food gurus are the good people at Istanbul Eats/Culinary Backstreets, with a blog, a book, an app, and excellent city tours to help you find amazing hole-in-the-wall eateries.

More great food tips from the Rome-based (but also well versed in Turkish food) Katie Parla, who now has a spiffy new app for the city.

Istanbul on and off the beaten path: A fairly standard list, but I wanted to compare the standard tourist attractions with some lesser-known spots.

Where to shop outside the Grand Bazaar: Note: the wonderful Kagithane House of Paper no longer has a shop in Galata, but they still have stores in Nisantasi and inside Bej Kahve in Karakoy.

Istanbul after dark Another oldie but goodie I wrote in my early months on Gadling, mostly to post about

Google map of my favorite places in Nisantasi

SantralIstanbul: One of my very favorite off-the-beaten-track museums. I last visited it with a friend when I was eight months pregnant and had the “brilliant” idea of taking the ferry. We hired a small boat to take us the rest of the way, and while sitting on the smelly Golden Horn with a strange and sketchy-looking man was less idyllic than imagined, it was an experience.

Eating kosher in Muslim Istanbul: Not relevant for too many visitors, and not the most useful post if you are hoping for a bevy of options, I’m afraid, but thought I’d share our experience with a past guest.

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The Turkish Airlines deal that wasn’t

Note: I originally wrote this a year ago, but never published it. They run the same promo every year, in case your travel plans are less complicated.

This week, I discovered a stellar fare sale on Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to the United States (as well as many other destinations in Asia and Africa) for 999 euro in business class, 399 in coach, with a second passenger for just 1 euro more (even less for Europe and the Middle East). Aimed at Valentine’s Day travel, the departure dates all fall in the week leading up to February 14, and there are four US gateways for Turkish Airlines: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. As I’m due to fly to the US next month for a wedding in Austin, I jumped at the chance: $1300! In business!

The deal is only bookable by phone, and while I seemed to have some language issues with the Turkish reservation agent (“fare sale” and “campaign” was confusing, “promotion” was the magic word), she was helpful and patiently checked all the routes. New York and LA were sold out, but she managed to find a pair of seats nonstop to Chicago from February 14-22. The maximum stay for the deal is eight days, and while I hoped to spend more time home in the US, it would have to do. The grand total for two adults in business with all taxes and fees would come to a little over $2,000, at least $400 less than ONE business class seat from Istanbul to Chicago with a stopover on a less-preferable airline. I happily made the reservation with 24 hours to call back and purchase. $2000 for two! In business!

There was just one small problem: I’m traveling with my baby. When I spoke to the first reservation agent, she explained that I would have to purchase the baby’s seat for a non-promotional fare AT the airport and she couldn’t add her to the reservation. This seemed like a confusing and potentially expensive plan, but I figured I’d sort it out when I called back to ticket. On most airlines, lap infants pay 10% of adult fare for international flights (usually free on domestic flights) and a quick search online estimated this to be up to $500 for the same flights. But still: $2500 for a family! In business!

Though I booked the second seat in my husband’s name, I knew it was a long shot that he’d be able to travel with us, so I offered up the deal on Facebook. Not everyone is able to fly off to America for eight days with three weeks notice (especially for Turks who have to apply for advance visas), but I soon found a friend who thought she might be able to swing it. Sure, she wanted to visit New York and not Chicago, and I’d still have to book flights from Chicago to Austin to New York and back to Chicago, but those would cost under $500. $3000 to and around America! Some of it in business!

After a few frantic hours of searching hotels and domestic flight schedules, my friend reluctantly decided that she couldn’t go after all. We were disappointed, but I understood it was hard to make such big plans under pressure, and maybe we’d still find seats available closer to the date. Maybe I’d be able to just book the baby in the second seat, as ridiculous it sounded for a seven-month-old infant, it’d be cheaper to just eat the cost of the second seat than to book at regular price. Unfortunately, when I called back to book, I learned that the baby could not fly in the second seat, it would have to be an adult. Furthermore, we’d be looking at full fare for the two of us. $5000?! In business?!

More questions and searches by the reservation agent yielded that I COULD book the baby’s ticket at the airport or with the reservations office after booking, at a more reasonable $465 for her. The catch was that both adults on the promo fare would have to fly all legs of the trip, or the tickets would be canceled and the fare forfeited, so if I booked a ticket for another person who didn’t show, none of us would be flying. I briefly considered stopping random strangers on the street to see if they could fly to Chicago, until I decided it might be a sign. Maybe it wasn’t the right deal for us. Maybe I should wait to book tickets on flights I actually wanted, for the right time frame, when even my husband could fly with us. Then we’d really be in business.

Epilogue:  In the end, we booked tickets through Husband’s work, got stuck at the airport for 12 hours due to a strike in Frankfurt, missed the friend’s wedding in Austin, and spent a very quick weekend in NYC. But that’s another story…

Why I’m traveling with my baby

This week, Vera and I came back from a few days in London to see friends and get a little dose of Christmas (it turns out, 3 days of pre-holiday shoppers and relentless Christmas music is plenty). The UK is country #6 for my baby who is not yet five months of age, and I’m already itching to plan another trip. On each flight, a fellow passenger or flight attendant will ask, “Is this her first flight?” and I respond proudly that it’s her 12th and counting. When I talk to people about traveling with the baby, I’m often met with reactions that indicate I must be insane, reckless, or just selfish. These are all valid points, but so far Vera is a very healthy and happy baby, and I hope to keep traveling as long as she remains so. I’m paranoid about ever being the mother-with-the-crying-baby on a plane so I watch her like a hawk for signs of distress and I’ve been lucky so far to have a nearly perfectly-behaved baby (it helps that all I can really do with her is feed and hold her, which are her favorite activities) on each flight. Occasionally, I doubt my own sanity and decision-making when I’m walking around a foreign city late at night with a crying baby, taking a cross-border bus with no adult help, or trying to  juggle a stroller and a suitcase while nursing and walking, but I have no real regrets.

So, in case you wondered, why the hell am I dragging my baby around the world?

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Expat lesson learned: there’s a Turk for that

The most striking thing I’ve found about living in Turkey is not so much the east-meets-west cliche, but the fact that the modern world and the old school of doing things coexist. While I can order food delivery online, you still see many Turks lowering baskets into the streets and getting passersby to go on a beer run (okay, more likely an Ayran run) for them. I can shop or eat at nearly any multi-national chain, though there are also tons of tea houses women haven’t entered in decades and shops that have probably have been running in the red for as many years. I’ve also learned that nearly any task or errand can and will be performed by a specialist with a job description that you may not find anywhere else. No matter what you need done, chances are, there’s a Turk for that. Continue reading

Knocked up abroad: into the home stretch

If you’ve been following me on any sort of medium that I update regularly, you’ll know that I’m expecting a baby here in July (just under 7 weeks away now!). H and I haven’t quite decided on what to call this baby girl yet, referring to her as Rasputina or the Young Turkess (though she’ll be as Turkish as I am, which is to say, not at all). I’ve been documenting the pregnancy on Gadling on a series of posts called “Knocked Up Abroad,” a name inspired by our favorite documentary series ever and conceived long before the actual baby. Here’s a recap of the posts so far:

As I head into the home stretch and don’t have any further travel on the horizon, I’m debating on what to post next. I’ll have plenty to share about childbirth and traveling with a young baby (we are already planning trips when she’s 6 and 10 weeks) but not for another few months. My third-trimester travel consists mostly of subway rides to the grocery store, though the Southeast Asia trip was right on the cusp of seven months. I’ve yet to do any actual baby shopping as I haven’t decided on what we need and it’s baffling enough for a first-timer, let alone in a foreign language, but that might come up. Also have been thinking about attitudes toward pregnant women and babies in various countries (Turks LOVE the babies, New Yorkers can’t be bothered to give you a subway seat and sigh loudly at the sight of a stroller), though I’m reluctant to start any debate after reading all the hateful comments on my first post. Anything you’d like to read about being pregnant abroad?

Discovering Istanbul as a tourist

Just another day at the office

Thanks all for reading and commenting on my pity-party post, I wanted to dispell the myth that I’m sitting languidly at a cafe and having charming shopping expeditions to local fish markets.  After two weeks in the city (first at the airport and now in an apartment), I’m starting to adjust to living in limbo a foreign country. A week in an airport hotel made me a crackerjack Istanbul transit user, well-acquainted with all of the hotel staff, and adept at running across highways, and now we’ve been moved to an apartment in Nisantasi for at least the rest of the month. I went to Milan for a few days and returned to Turkey with my mother to play tourist for much of last week, along with running the many errands that come along with settling into a new place. Unfortunately, the internet in the apartment building was down for much of last week, making any updates infrequent and my “to look up when I have internet” list a mile long. Every day as a new expat is a series of major and minor fails, a few satisfying wins, all in a constant state of bafflement and very different from just visiting a city.  More on life as a new expat to come, but first a few observations/discoveries from my time as a tourist here.

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Mary G.’s Grand Tour

While I spent much of my childhood on family trips around New England and the US, save a trip to New Zealand with my mother at age 8, I didn’t really become a world traveler until age 24 and have been accumulating passport stamps as often as possible ever since.

My mother Mary, on the other hand, has never been to Europe but due to my Istanbul move, that’s going to change next month.  To sweeten the deal, I have a cousin in Milan who is moving back to New Zealand over the summer, so now is our last chance to visit a family member in Italy. Originally, we thought about adding London to the trip, as a Europe “warm-up” and a place she’s always wanted to visit, but decided 3 countries was too much for 2 weeks. Besides, the trip is more about visiting family living abroad than seeing the top cities of Europe.

Now that my move and my mother’s trip are imminently approaching, I’m heavily into planning mode. A tentative itinerary:  Mary would fly from Raleigh, NC, arriving in Milan on a Thursday in May. I’d follow the next day, and stay through Monday or Tuesday. We’d then fly together to Istanbul and she’d stay 5 nights with me and return home Istanbul-Raleigh. Some thoughts/questions:

  • Any recommendations for airline booking sites best for open-jaw tickets? I generally use Kayak and was recommended the excellent Skyscanner.com for intra-Europe flights, but always on the lookout for other ideas.
  • Skyscanner found me a gonga deal on the Milan-Istanbul flight: $60 on budget airline Blu Express, any feedback on the airline or how to get from Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport to downtown?
  • We definitely plan to see the Last Supper and see an opera at La Scala in Milan, other must-sees for first-time visitors? Day trips from Milan?
  • In terms of timing, any advantage to booking the trip for early May rather than mid-May? Since I’ll be arriving in Turkey the last week of April, I’d rather have a few weeks to get acquainted before hosting visitors but if the cost difference for hotels is significant, I could be flexible.
  • Finally, I’m looking at hotels for Milan and possibly Istanbul (in case we aren’t settled in an apartment) and open to ideas. Worth using some Marriott points for the Milan Marriott?

Any and all advice for a European first-timer is appreciated. Though it won’t be my first time to Italy, it will be my first time in Milan, and my once semi-fluent Italian is quite rusty, my hand-gesturing is almost native. I’m excited to experience two fantastic countries with someone experiencing Europe for the first time.

Edited to add: Fantastic linkage and advice from Jessica of http://www.italylogue.com: a must-read for anyone visiting Italy!

Looks like you’re talking about a 4-5 day stay in Milan, yes? That’s definitely time to get all the highlights in, plus take a day-trip (or two, if you end up hating the city!). I happen to really like Milan, but I’m looking at it from the perspective of someone who’s planning to live there – and I’m the first to admit it’s not ideal for most tourists in Italy.

Having said that, I do think it’s absolutely Italian – it’s just not the “Tuscan sun” side of Italy. 🙂

Anyway, I’ve written quite a bit about Milan, so here are some articles that should help get you started:
* General Milan travel guide, with lots of links to other Milan-related articles: http://www.italylogue.com/milan
* My suggestions on the top 10 things to do in Milan: http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/top-10-things-to-do-in-milan.html
* Information about seeing The Last Supper (warning: get your tickets ASAP!): http://www.italylogue.com/things-to-do/the-last-supper.html
* Going to the La Scala Museum: http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/la-scala-in-milan-its-not-just-for-opera-lovers.html
* A few options for day trips from Milan: http://www.italylogue.com/things-to-do/day-trips-from-milan.html (which reminds me, I need to update this article)

Other Milan thoughts:
* I’d recommend staying in the city center, if for no other reason than it’s close to the things you’ll want to do/see and it’s a helluva lot prettier than the outskirts (although the outskirts are cheaper). Really, even some parts that can be called “city center” are kinda meh looks-wise (around Garibaldi station, for instance), but again, this isn’t “Tuscan sun” Italy… And hey! Look at that cathedral! Now THAT is pretty, eh?
* Milan is (in my opinion) Italy’s most international city, so you’ll run into plenty of English-speakers (your Italian may come back to you, but the English might be nice for your mom).
* Having someone you’re visiting who’s familiar with Milan (your cousin) will help you steer clear of the so-so food and whatnot, I’m guessing, which is never a bad thing. But do yourself a favor – seek out Il Massimo del Gelato (you can read about it on the Tour del Gelato on my friend Sara’s blog, link below) and get a scoop of the mango flavor. You will be transported. I promise.

On Monday the 5th, I have another Milan article set to publish – “Things You Should Know About Milan” – so that’s one I’d also recommend you take a look at… When it’s live, of course. 🙂

Other thoughts:
* My friend Sara Rosso (@rosso on Twitter) blogs at Ms. Adventures in Italy (http://www.msadventuresinitaly.com/blog/) – she lives in Milan and has some good Milan info on her site.
* Another expat friend is Katie Parla (@katieparla on Twitter). She lives in Rome, but is a guidebook author for both Roma AND Turkey, so she’s got you covered on both counts.
* Another blogging friend, Melanie Renzulli (@italofileblog on Twitter), lived in Turkey for a couple of years. I think she just moved back to the US within the last year or so, so she might be another good source of Turkey info.