It's a city that spans two continents (Asia and Europe), was formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople and 15 million people call it home. Turkey's most populous city, Istanbul, was our destination.
As we sat in Kaş harbour over winter we naively made a rough plan to sail all the way up the Turkish coast, make a right hand turn into the sea of Marmara and sail to Istanbul. When winter turned to spring and we properly looked at the logistics of that trip we came to the conclusion that it was too big of a trip that would take a lot of time to complete.
But you can't be in Turkey and not pay a visit to Istanbul, so we booked a flight and a hotel for 3 nights and off we went.
The Istanbul trip was a spur of the moment thing and the online booking was done quite hastily and unfortunately we didn't read the reviews for the hotel until after it was all booked and paid for.
There were several complimentary reviews, but the vast majority were very scathing. One reviewer even described the hotel as a scam. He described how he was told upon arrival that his booked room was not available because it was flooded by a burst water pipe in the bathroom. There were no other rooms available and they'd managed to book him into a nearby hotel. The backup hotel was described as smelly, dirty and not fit for habitation.
Feeling some trepidation we figured that we'd just see how it all turned out once we got there.
Saturday morning we were the only two passengers on the shuttle bus from Kaş to Dalaman airport which was a 2 hour drive. Our plane departed on time and an hour later we touched down at Istanbul's Sabiha Gökçen International Airport.
We'd researched and printed out the various buses and trains we need to get on to reach the hotel and after buying an Istanbul travel card and loading it with some cash we began our 2 hour trip across the city.
The buses and trains are very efficient and they even have written and spoken messages in English so it's very easy to make your way around.
The last part of our journey to the hotel was on foot and was just a 15 minute walk from the train station. Using Google maps we easily found the hotel and went in to the reception area. We showed them our booking confirmation and they asked us to take a seat. Then the two guys started making calls on their mobile phones. Aannsha and I glanced at each other and raised an eyebrow.
A few minutes later one of the guys came over and said that unfortunately there was a problem with our room. Apparently a water pipe had burst in the bathroom and the room was flooded. As the hotel was fully booked they had arranged for us to be put up at a nearby friend's hotel.
Hmmmm that story had a familiar ring to it. We declined their offer and asked if we could get a refund and then we could go and find a hotel somewhere else. The guy explained that we could apply for a full refund once we returned home. I explained that I'd like to get it all sorted before we left and asked if I could use their phone to call Expedia the company we'd booked through.
He said his phone could not make international calls, I said that my Turkish sim would not allow international calls either, so he'd have to figure out some way that we could call Expedia in America.
He asked me to take a seat and wandered off outside. While he was gone the second guy came over to explain that we couldn't stay because someone had left a big window open on the 5th floor and the rain had come in from a storm the previous night and flooded the whole floor. I think they need to work on getting their stories straight.
The first guy came back into reception with a phone that he'd borrowed from a neighbouring business and after a short conversation with a very nice lady at Expedia a full refund was organised.
Find a hotel
Before we left the Milano hotel we went online and booked another hotel which was just 2 kilometres (1.25 miles) away. However in my haste I had mistakenly booked it for the following month so that when we arrived there was some confusion until the mistake was spotted by an eagle eyed manager. Unfortunately this weekend was a public holiday weekend in Turkey and the hotel was fully booked.
Back onto the computer and I found another hotel just 1.5 kilometres (0.9 miles) away that had one double room still available. This time I phoned them up and asked them to hold the room as we'd be there in 20 minutes.
When we walked into reception the guy asked if we had a booking, I explained that I'd spoken to him on the phone and that we were after the remaining double room. He looked totally disinterested and said the hotel was fully booked.
Night was beginning to fall and we decided that as there are hotels every 10 paces in Istanbul we'd just walk into receptions until we found one that had a vacancy.
The third hotel we tried was a winner and the nice guy at the Darkhill Hotel reception booked us in and 5 minutes later we were shown to our very comfortable room.
Out and about
Visiting a big city like Istanbul requires planning and patience. The main attractions are very popular and the queues are very long. It can also be quite expensive if you pay separately at each tourist attraction. If you're a Turkish citizen or a temporary resident then you can purchase an annual Musekart for 70 Lira which you can use at many locations. It literally pays for itself the first time you use it. Great value.
We wandered to the Hagia Sophia where the queue was long, we walked to the Topkapi Palace where the queue was even longer and we crossed the Bosporus to check out the Galata Tower and the queue was so long that it snaked around two streets.
By now it was mid afternoon so we decided to go back to the hotel to freshen up before finding somewhere to have an early dinner over which we'd come up with a new plan to implement the following day when we'd begin to explore and take in the many wonderful and ancient sites that Istanbul has to offer.
Link to Barry's next blog