Turkish Delight /noun/. A small cube of starch or sugar gel that has chopped nuts and dates generally flavored with rosewater, mastic, bergamot orange, or lemon. Otherwise known as lokum. Otherwise known as the gift our families, friends, and colleagues don’t want to receive from our trip in Turkey. Hahaha! One of my friends actually said that her officemate threatened to disown her as a friend when she brings her Turkish Delight. Well, some people don’t like it but others like it that’s why this sweet delicacy is quite popular. I haven’t eaten a lot of Turkish Delight in my life but I’m neutral to it. I like the one with cherry flavor. Anyway, because this treat brought laughter in our trip, I am using it as the title of the series of entries about our recent trip to Turkey. It captures the feeling we had when we landed in Istanbul. We were delighted! And for the rest of our trip, that’s a fit description.
I told you about the planning and preparations we had for Turkey in this entry. You should visit it when you want to know more about our budget and itinerary in one reading. Before going it is best to read about the weather on your tour date so you’re prepared. We specifically chose to go on January because it is winter in Turkey and we were praying that it will snow (because sometimes it does). Going to Turkey during winter is a bit tricky because there are some tourist spots that you might not see properly or activities that you can’t do because of the unpredictable weather.
TIP: The most ideal time to go to Turkey is April, May to mid-June because it’s spring. This is the peak season in Istanbul and Cappadocia. Book early!
We piled our luggage with winter clothing and accessories. Our baggage limit in Saudia is 20 kilos and I had a medium-sized luggage which had three coats (one padded) and lots of leggings and thermal shirts (you can buy them in pack of 2s from Debenhams). I also have a pair of boots from Crocs. We spent a few weeks looking for the best boots in Riyadh. Here’s the thing, I’m not fond of wearing boots (as a matter of fact I don’t own a pair of boots) and I’m worried that I won’t have enough time to break into the new pair I’m buying for our trip. Enter… Crocs. I found their — winter boots on sale for SR 175! Yeyyy! It was the perfect boots as it can go from sunny to rainy to snowy! And no paltos (blisters)! I brought a lot of band-aids for probable blisters but I didn’t have one! My two friends got their own pairs too and we got them in different colors. Haha! Don’t fill your luggage to its maximum capacity because you need the space for souvenirs and gifts. 😉
So anyway, we flew via Saudi Arabia Airlines from Riyadh’s King Khaled International Airport to Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport on the morning of January 25, 2015. It was a quick five hour flight that we spent chitchatting and sleeping. There were five of us in our group and we pretty much had our section of the economy class to ourselves. The plane was a bit empty that we even had the chance to take a picture of us like we didn’t have any companions in the plane. Amin ‘to baket ba?!? Hahaha!
Prior to our flight, I already booked a hotel in Istanbul. Aristocrat Hotel is this charming, little boutique hotel that looked like it sprouted in between two bigger hotels. Nasingit lang ba, haha. I also booked an airport shuttle from them that will take us to the hotel for 40 Euros (170 SAR). Honestly, I felt that we can navigate the city and take the local transportation (the metro or taxi) to go to the hotel but since we arrived at around 2:00 PM, we won’t have enough time to go to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia which close at 5:00 PM if we waste more time in getting lost. Also, we don’t know the ongoing rate for local taxis. We had our Saudi riyals changed in the airport’s currency exchange booths. Some say it’s better to exchange in the city but again, we figured we needed to tip the driver and pay the hotel in Turkish Lira so… there. For conversion purposes, 1 Turkish Lira (TRY) is equal to 1.53 Saudi Riyals (SAR). I will try to give the equivalent SAR currency in prices as much as I can in our entries. I used xe.com for the conversion rate.
TIP: Exchange a few Saudi riyals to Turkish Lira in the airport. Shops also accept Euros and US Dollars.
So, immigration and baggage carousel was a breeze. We were met outside by this handsome young man (handsome agad and description? haha, ask my friends!) holding our name and the hotel where we stayed. We waited for the driver to come and we were finally on our way to our hotel in the Sultanahmet area inside a tourist van, which is the typical mode of transport for tourist groups in Turkey.
TIP: Stay in a hotel in Sultanahmet area where it is walking distance to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
We found Aristocrat Hotel very charming. Like I said, it was as if it just magically appeared in the middle of bustling hotels and shops in a cobblestoned street. Our rooms are clean and nice but they were small. Space is a luxury in Istanbul. Aristocrat has a terrace that has a view of the nearby Blue Mosque but a tree was impeding it, haha. Our room has the basic amenities but it was really small for two huge luggages and persons. 😛 We had a free breakfast with our booking but we didn’t get to eat it because we had a local flight scheduled the following day at 7:00.
After a few minutes of settling in and freshening ourselves, we immediately went outside and walked to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia grounds. We were trapped in traffic going to Sultanahmet that’s why we didn’t get to enter the mosque and Hagia Sophia. We just spent our time taking pictures and getting the feel of the place. We like the fact that it’s so laid back and normal in this side of the world.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or popularly known as the Blue Mosque for its blue tiles, was built from 1609 to 1616 by the Amhed I, sultan of the Ottoman Empire. If it looks grand outside, it’s grander inside. Opposite it and a park away is the equally stunning Hagia Sophia, a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica aka church that became an imperial mosque, and now a museum.
Both are the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Just by standing outside of it and gazing upon the majesty of both, we felt like being taken back in time already. Ahhhh… we had to dig deep into our minds for the lessons we had in World History… uhmn, to no avail. Haha!
There were carts selling chestnuts and bagels. We sat in the wooden benches and savored the scent of Istanbul on a wintery afternoon. We decided to look for activities by going inside a travel agency in the sidewalk fronting the Blue Mosque. We entered Turismo Travel Agency and asked for a night cruise in the Bosphorus River as it’s probably the only touristy thing we could do since most of the famous tourist attractions and buildings were already closed. The guy suggested a night cruise complete with dinner and dancing. Hmn, sounds fun so we signed up for it for 145 TRY (SAR). There will be a van that will pick us up at around 7:30 that evening and will take us to the docking area for a three-hour cruise.
We headed to a restaurant with a nice terrace overlooking the Hagia Sophia. This is where we fell into our first tourist trap, haha! The dishes were expensive but doesn’t taste great. However, Sultan Pub introduced us to the typical Turkish appetizer known as meze/mezze composed of beyaz peynir (white cheese), acılı ezme (hot pepper paste), patlıcan salatası (cold eggplant salad), cacık (yogurt with cucumber and garlic), and dolma or sarma (rice-stuffed vine leaves). We encountered these selection of small dishes throughout our meals in Turkey. And of course, Turkish coffee!
After eating, we headed back to our hotel to freshen up a bit before our van arrives and takes us to the cruise. Our van arrived a bit late as it also picked up a few more passengers along the way who are joining the cruise with us. My friends drank salep from a vendor on the street while waiting.
A few minutes and we arrived in Kabatas where we went onboard Turna Tour’s Basari 5 ship. There were already a lot of people inside and we were squeezed in a long table with a couple of ladies. It was a bit noisy and the ship was rocking quite strongly. The trip and the dinner commenced a few minutes after. While underway, a speaker began explaining the buildings we were passing by. Frankly, we couldn’t see clearly as we were seated in the middle of the ship. We ate a dinner of grilled fish that wasn’t appetizing to look at but proved to be fresh and tasty.
A program started in the middle of the ship (so it’s also a good thing that we were there). A traditional Turkish musical called Uskudara Gideriken was performed. After, a belly dancer came out to the shouts and glee of patrons, haha. Other folk dances came but we were getting quite bored especially after eating.
TIP: If you’re a guy on a budget, steer away from the belly dancer! Hahaha!
We decided to go on the upper deck and savored the cold biting air. Brrrrr… we endured the cold because the view is better on the top deck. We got to see:
The tour lasted for three hours and ended around midnight. A few minutes more and would have frozen our asses off at the top deck. When we got off the boat, we were ushered to our tour vans again and were taken to our hotel. Ahhh, it was a well-spent day and we needed to go to bed pronto because we had to check out of the hotel at 5:00 in the morning to catch our flight to Izmir.
ISMIR. That’s what’s up next in my Turkish Delight entry. Stay tuned. 😉