Istanbul Travel
Misc. Info

I was in the bazaar when I heard alot of men yelling vehemently. There was a large group of them waving their hands and making alot of noise. I became concerned that it might be a demonstration. I asked a shopkeeper. He said, "it is...(he searched for words)...Wall Street!" I felt silly.
We have run into a couple demonstrations. There are sometimes very large ones, which take place in a park on a hill where you are not likely to go.
The first time we went, there was an important international conference and the teachers were demonstrating. There were police in riot gear bordering it. It was kind of scary, but they just re-routed us around it. The last time we went, it was the police who were demonstrating. They were not happy with the government. We know of a couple that canceled their trip on news of this, but it was really nothing. There was an increased police presence. They mostly seemed to be flexing their muscle, but did not bother us at all. There were actually tanks on Isteklal street.
We believe it is best to avoid any crowd with police in riot gear, but we've never run into any real trouble.

There have been warnings on the tv in Istanbul about scams where someone will fall as if perhaps ill or injured, and when you go to help them up, someone else comes and picks your pocket. Watch your back and keep your valuables secure.

We just took our first real trip outside Istanbul, to Ankara for 4 days. We really recommend a side trip to Ankara for a couple days if you have an interest in traditional music, culture, and arts. We actually saw little of the town because we were there on 'business', but what we did see was great. You can find info on getting there on . (We've used this site several times on this trip, very handy. Thank you Tom!) We took 2 days wandering around the area of the Hisari (castle/fortress) We found such great shops and interesting people. Ankara is more laid back than Istanbul. At night, the place to be is Kizilay (red moon) where you can find great music and dancing traditional style.

We've added some google video links to these entries. Lots of good stuff! Most are pretty short. I sat up til 2am searching google videos so you don't have to!
Check out this lovely commercial for Istanbul travel by clicking here. is the motherlode of clips of Istanbul

I like this web-site. It's done by Tom Brosnahan, who's written for Lonely Planet and Frommer's guides after duty in the Peace Corp in Turkiye. The name says it all! Lot's of good info. He's also written a book called "Bright Sun, Strong Tea" about his years in Turkiye in the Peace Corp, which I enjoyed quite a bit.

You might want to climb the Galata Tower just to see the view. Though, it used to be free to go up, now it's 10 lira. This is the vantange point that we used to snap the photo that you see on the inside of the Alleys of Istanbul CD. Do yourself a favor, though, and walk down the hill to it. I believe that it is on GalipDede Caddesi. If you are going up to the top of the hill to the area of Istiklal Caddesi, take the funicular railcar. When you cross the Galata Bridge it will be to your left. If you reach the shore on the right side of the bridge, then you can cross the street underground on your right. There are some shops down there. There's also public restrooms there. After you emerge, look for the sign that says "Tunel". For pennies, you can save your legs. I believe it closes rather early, though. When you emerge at the top, you can turn left for more public restrooms, or right to go up Istiklal Caddesi.

The first time we went to Istanbul, the Turkish Currency (Lira or TL) was 73,000 to the Dollar. The last time we went, the rate was about 1,500,000 TL to $1! Making purchases could be a little confusing. On Jan. 1 2005, Turkiye changed their currency (Yeni, or "new" Lira, or YTL) and simply dropped several zeros! Yay! I haven't been there since the change, but I expect it will make purchasing things less confusing. (Update....gone back since,and yes, it's SO much easier to deal with making purchases now!) My poor little brain would seize up when it saw so many numbers. For those of you who feel the is now safe to come back to Istanbul.
Also, the last time we were there (2013)
they had lowered the visa fee. An entry visa stamp to come in to Turkey had been $100. But at the time of this writing (3/31/2013) the visa was dropped to $20 for Americans! Great surprise! More $$$ to spend in Istanbul's fabulous shops. But, check before you leave to find out what the current entry stamp fee is and make sure you've got that much cash (USD is ok) when you get off the plane.

Check out a movie called "Topkapi" with the late, great Peter Ustinov. It's set in Istanbul, and there are lots of great shots of the city and Turkish culture. There is a scene featuring traditional wrestling that shows a cool band playing a Janissary march.
The James Bond film "From Russia with Love" also shows alot of Istanbul, including scenes filmed in the Yerebatan Cistern. (Click here for a video walk through the cistern)
And if you are thinking of misbehaving, you should, of course, see "Midnight Express". The hero goes to the pudding shop next to Yerebatan Cistern, which is still there and is a great place to get lunch when you can't read a menu. Try the zucchini stuffed with cheese. Yum! The prison has been turned into a very posh hotel.
Note- Recently, the book's author and the screenwriter apologized for the film's inaccurate portrayal of the Turkish people and augmentation of the story to make a more exciting film. But, the damage is done.
There is an Italian film called "Hamam" that has some Istanbul scenes. It's about an Italian man that inherits a Turkish Bath in Istanbul.
My favourite film that features Istanbul, however, is the TLC series called "Byzantium". It's just fantastic, the filming, the narrator, and the way the information is presented. If you love Istanbul, you've got to see it.
Here are some random video links...
A lovely commercial from the ministry of tourism
The lobby of a palace
A walk through the market
This is a clip showing old and new Istanbul set to "Uskadara Gideriken"
Random Istanbul and more random Istanbul
A walk through some of the grounds of the Topkapi.
The interior of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, well worth the walk.

Istanbul is full of Internet cafes now. It's a great way to connect with people at home and let them know you're ok and having a fantastic time in Istanbul! Time is about $3 an hour. That's a bargain compared to international phone charges. (especially from your hotel, which often adds quite a surcharge) Postcards are a pain since you have to spend your precious Istanbul vacation shopping for them, writing them, finding stamps, and mailing them. Some places that sell stamps will slap you with an outrageous surcharge, as well! And you will probably get home before they do. You can find internet cafes by looking up. They are everywhere in second floor apartments and over shops. And it's not like the signs are in Turkish; they say "internet cafe". Once you spot one sign at second story level, you'll see they are all over the place. The only drawback is the keyboards. The "i" key will come up as an undotted Turkish "i". Folks at home will either see a "y" in it's place in your e-mails or a character string that looks really weird. (Guess where y am? Or worse, Guess where &iundot; am?) Use the "i" on the right of the keyboard. Otherwise, there's not much problem. If you don't want to carry around everyone's e-mail address, send yourself an e-mail before you leave that has everyone's address, then copy/paste.


My daughter just sent me an e-mail from Thailand. Her first trip abroad! (Unless you count that quick run into Canada to buy hockey gear, poor thing!) How could I have neglected to warn her about the hustlers?! They are worse in some countries than others. They 'bout drove us nuts sometimes in Morocco; not so bad in Istanbul. The more 'touristy' the area is, the worse the hustlers are. Mostly in Istanbul, though, it's rug sellers. Everybody and his house cat has a rug shop they really want you to visit; or sometimes it's a trinket shop, or maybe a restaurant. There will be someone accosting tourists walking down the street. You soon learn to ignore them. A little more difficult to ignore are the freelance merchants walking around with random items to sell just outside the covered bazaar. But, as Bob says, "don't give them face." If you acknowledge their existence, you can't get rid of them. Or, if you find that uncomfortable, try saying "iyi günler" (good day) to make a polite end to the meeting as you keep walking.
Then, there are the guys down at the ferry docks that pretend to work there. Buy your own ticket at the window with the right neighborhood listed; it's not that confusing. There are printed schedules, but they can be hard to get. If you look at google maps, you will see dotted lines that denote the ferry routes. The name of the line is written on it. Very handy. Here is a link to the feribot web-site.

Don't bother with traveler's cheques in Istanbul. They are a waste of time. It's just too easy to get money from the ATMs that you can find everywhere. Plus, they just dispense Turkish lyra automatically so you don't have to bother with exchanging dollars. ATMs also offer good exchange rates. When you do exchange dollars, though, don't frustrate yourself with banks which charge a commission and have more restrictions. You can find a doviz anywhere. They are little walk up places that are easily identifiable by their exchange rate signs with the red lighted numbers. There is rarely a line, and never a fuss. Just slip them some $$$ through the glass, and they hand you lira back, along with a receipt so you can check it. They don't, however like to take bills that are torn or very worn. Don't let them give you any bill larger than 100tl. 200tl notes are VERY hard to unload. Before you leave home, tell your bank that you are going to Turkiye and that you want to make sure your debit card will work. Tell them to put a note on your account saying you'll be in Turkey during ___dates. We and some of our friends have had the unpleasant experience of suddenly having our card stop working. We had to call the bank (very expensive) and get it straightened out. They said, "Well, we called you to ask if this were suspicious activity, but we couldn't get you, so we shut it down." No kidding, I'M IN ISTANBUL! They actually asked, "Oh, do they have banks there?" One must resist the urge for sarcasm. (No, I'm calling with my cell phone in the middle of the desert on camelback)
One card would work in the ATM's, but would not allow us to make purchases with it. We found that our bank slapped us with higher service charges at some banks than others, but it's hard to tell by your online statement as the ATM listing is not by which bank you used, but by the neighborhood you are in at the time.

The background of this page is made up of one tile from Iznik. Iznik, Turkiye is famous for it's ceramic glazed tile, and when you go to Istanbul, you will certainly see them for sale everywhere. You may wish you could tile your entire house with them, but probably settle for bringing back a couple to use as trivets in your kitchen.

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