Tag Archives: istanbul

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.

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?

Expat lesson learned: pantomime and broken Turkish

I’m going to ignore my many pending posts and excuses about not blogging and just post about a typical Istanbul experience. Months ago, Husband got the bright idea to apply for a mortgage refinance on our Brooklyn apartment. Due to annoying coop rules about subletting, it has been sitting empty since we left in April and with lower interest rates, he figured it would be a good way to save some money on the place while we’re away in Turkey. With visions of a few hundred dollars more in my bank account each month, I agreed and applied online through our bank. A few weeks after getting approved for the lower interest loan, I received a letter by email outlining the many pieces of paperwork I’d need to provide the bank, and then realized my coop board would require even more. Thus became the first of many times in which I burst into tears of frustration over the refi.

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Expat lesson learned: you don’t have to go home but you can’t bank here

Another bit of frustration I’ve experienced here has been financial, and not just the exorbitant prices I’m willing to pay for wine and pork products. While banking and international transactions can be tricky whenever you travel, it gets more complicated when you are traveling long-term and don’t know when you’ll next be home or near your local bank branch.

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