My feet throbbed and I was very glad that I’d worn my comfy walking shoes. After 4 hours of criss-crossing Istanbul’s streets looking for a hotel on one of their busiest holiday weekends, I was very ready to sit down. But unless we found a hotel room soon, I had imaginings that Baz and I would spend the night on a park bench.
We were in this predicament because the Milano Hotel we’d booked on line for a three night stay in Istanbul - through www.Expedia.com - turned out to be a scam.
Unfortunately we hadn’t read the reviews as we normally do before booking. However after we booked the hotel we did read them with increasing trepidation, as many of them were scathing about the location, food and room quality. Some mentioned that on arrival they’d been told there wasn’t room available because of a burst water pipe in the bathroom so they’d have to spend the night somewhere else. The alternative hotel they’d been sent to had been of very poor quality and despite being promised that they’d be able to move back into the Milano the following day, they’d ended up spending their entire stay in the alternative. Some had not stayed and were told they could request a refund on returning home. That had turned out to be futile as they were told that the hotel had a no-refunds policy.
Baz and I had a great 5 hour journey from Kaş that morning – two hours from Kaş to Dalaman airport, one hour in the air, and another two hours travelling from Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen International Airport ending with a walk of 2Km through an increasingly dodgy looking area, we arrived at the Milano Hotel.
On arrival we approached reception with a sinking feeling as the lobby looked as if it was someone’s living room with furniture scattered untidily around the space.
One of the two owners told us that there had been a burst water pipe and our room was flooded, while his brother told us separately that there had been heavy rain which had come in through a window and the whole floor had been flooded. At that point, they said they could ring around the hotels in the area and see if they could find us alternative accommodation.
Primed with prior information, we very politely yet assertively told them we didn’t want that, but wanted a refund instead. They said we’d have to ring Expedia travel in America, but they couldn’t help us as their phone couldn’t ring international numbers. When Baz explained that ours didn’t either and they’d have to find a phone that did, one of the brothers went and borrowed one from another business. While Baz rang Expedia and sat on hold for a while, I quietly turned on our video camera. I’m glad I did because we do have some footage that we’ve been able to use in tomorrow’s video. Baz eventually got through and the lady at Expedia rang the Milano hotel to confirm our refund. We heard the conversation as we were sitting a few metres away from the reception. The Expedia rep then got back to Barry and told him a full refund was on its way.
We asked the brothers if we could use their electricity to power our laptop (and recharge my phone which I’d been using with Google maps to navigate through Istanbul). They kindly let us and Baz eventually found another hotel which he booked. The hotel was 2Km away and we set off through peak hour traffic, dragging our little cabin bags behind us. We arrived at the very nice Q Inn Hotel but they didn’t seem to have our booking in their system. I sat down in despair and let Baz handle it because I didn’t want to interfere and complicate things. While I was waiting a very nice staff member brought me a Turkish tea.
Eventually an eagle eyed staff member noticed that unfortunately we’d booked the room for the following month! And as it was a public holiday, they had no spare rooms. Again we asked if we could recharge our phone and power the laptop to find another hotel. Baz found one on line that had one room available and rather than go through the booking process, he rang the hotel and told them to hold the room as we’d be there in about 20 minutes. That’s how long it would take to walk the 1.5Km to get there.
Are you adding up the kilometres?
On arrival Baz rocked up to reception to be told that there were no rooms available as we didn’t have a booking. The guy behind reception looked as disinterested as a cat being offered lettuce, so we exited the building.
It was getting late and we were getting slightly anxious. Rather than look online any more, we opted to walk into the nearest hotels until we found one that had a room. One – sorry no room. Two – sorry fully booked. Three …
I sent out a “Please help us Universe” mental plea as we traipsed the next few hundred yards.
The Darkhill Hotel looked nice from outside and we hauled our bags up the short flight of stairs into a very nicely appointed lobby. The receptionist gave us an appraising look and when we asked if he had a spare room he said that normally he kept a couple of rooms for nice people and “you look like nice people”.
I nearly sprang over the counter to kiss him. But my feet wouldn’t have anything to do with that idea. So I waited patiently while Baz checked us in. The porter took our bags and escorted us to our room. After he’d given us the standard little sales pitch on discounted massages, spa and breakfast, he left and I sank onto the double bed.
As Baz quickly filmed the facilities, I realised that rather than feel like a victim of the whole scam process, I’d handled it rather well and was just grateful that we’d found a nice hotel to finally call home for our three nights in Istanbul. Baz felt the same and at a nearby café over a meal later that evening, we discussed how we were pleased that we’d arrived at the Milano hotel forewarned by the reviews.
Lesson? Read reviews before you book anything on line.
First impression of Istanbul?
Yes we were scammed. But to be fair, one random guy along the way had kindly carried Barry’s bag up some steps on one part of our journey through Istanbul, and everyone else that we met on our trip was very friendly and helpful. So Istanbul itself is not a bad place. It’s just that we encountered a couple of rotten apples that are always present in any large city. The city itself seemed extensive with an exotic blend of ancient and old buildings, nestled amongst brightly lit attractive shops and restaurants, and connected with a vast network of underground trains, buses and trams. I couldn’t wait to explore it over the next couple of days.
Istanbulkart - If you’re going to travel on public transport in Istanbul, get yourself an Istanbulkart for 20TL (about AUD4) plus whatever amount you decide to load onto it (allow about 5TL (AUD1) per person per trip). These are available near public transport stops and we got ours from outside the airport terminal at the bus depot. You only need one per couple (or family) as you’re allowed to reuse it for each person. This is valid on buses, trains, trams and the Marmaray which crosses the Bosporus River.
Also, if you’re going to use public transport, I’d recommend you write down your itinerary so that you know what number bus you’re looking for, and where you have to walk to find the correct bus stop.
Musekart - In order to get value for money visiting Istanbul’s historic attractions, we’d learned that Turkish residents or citizens can purchase a Musekart which costs 70TL (AUD14) each and pretty much pays for itself on the first use. It can also be used to enter many other attractions throughout Turkey. There is a card option for non-residents which is more expensive, but if you’re wanting to visit a few sites, it will be worth purchasing.
We awoke the following day feeling very rested and full of excitement at exploring Istanbul. We had a few places of interest on our list:
Topkapi Palace Museum
The Spice Markets
The Grand Bazaar
The Blue Mosque
After a traditional Turkish pide (like a long thin pizza in very soft fluffy bread), Baz and I made our way to the Hagia Sophia but when we arrived it looked as if there was a long queue to enter. We headed instead for the Topkapi Palace Museum and once again were met with a queue for tickets that we estimated would take an hour to process, followed by another wait to actually enter the Palace.
After a quick confab, we decided to head on down to the Bosporus River and then over the Galata Bridge to the Galata Tower which was originally constructed in AD528, stands 61 metres high with 3.75m thick walls and an internal diameter of just under 9 metres. Apparently there is a magnificent view from the top and we figured it would be a good ‘next’ place to start.
The Bosporus is a madly busy river with countless ferries, broiling currents and a sea of people on either bank. We walked over the bridge, passing men fishing, although with the amount of ferries that passed under the bridge I’m not entirely sure how much fish you’d actually catch there.
The ancient street winding up the hill to the Galata Tower was lined with colourful old shops and cafes and we joined a throng of tourists walking slowly to the top.
Our hopes of climbing the tower that day were squashed when we saw the length of the queue. It snaked all the way from the tower steps and around two streets before it petered out, with people constantly joining the end of the queue. There was no need for a conversation about this: Baz and I looked at each other. No Tower today!
It was way past lunchtime at that point, so we decided to head on back over the bridge towards our hotel. We needed to sit and take stock, and formulate a plan for actually entering some of Istanbul’s amazing attractions. But we’d have to get the passes early before any queues formed to give ourselves time to actually visit a few cultural treasures in the one full day that we had left.
On our way back to the hotel, we happened to stumble across the Spice Markets which were on our list! They were a colourful blend of sights and aromas - selling sweets, spices, herbs and other exotic wares.
We were determined that the next day we'd get to see some of Istanbul's attractions. How did we get on? I’ll let you know next week.