Saturday, December 09, 2006 Turkey Turkey

Talking Turkey

Asian İstanbul [Enlarge]

We had always planned to slow our progress once we found ourselves somewhere cheaper than Western and Central Europe, so now that we've finally made it to İstanbul, keeping just ahead of the approaching winter, that's exactly what we have done. We had booked the first night in a decent hotel in advance, and intended to find somewhere cheap (but still nice) once we had arrived.

Once we'd taken the much longed-for bath and polished off the last three Mini Babybel (Real Great Cheese, All Wrapped Up!™) that we had bought as sustinence for the bus journey, we decided that we would like to extend the hotel booking for an extra night. This would allow us to wash our outer clothes and give them a chance to dry before moving on. We went down to reception and asked if we could have the same room we were in for an extra night, at the Expedia rate—bear in mind that the price on the wall behind the desk was 220 Euros and we'd paid half that. The man behind the desk went through the motions of checking his computer before saying curtly "No. We're full." Either Expedia screw their hotels so hard that they are just not allowed to match their rate, or he was willing to gamble that he could sell the room at the full price in the next 24 hours.

We asked the concierge where the nearest internet connection was. We were sent up to the 'business centre' where we found two PCs with free internet access, and a couple of overflowing ashtrays. Nice. We logged into Expedia and re-booked for another night at the same price: GBP 75 (USD 147). We decided to leave it until the morning before breaking the bad news to the concierge.

Rested and breakfasted we went to reception to let them know that the Livett booking for December 7th and the Livett booking for December 8th were both for us, and could they please be linked together on the computer. Otherwise we were going to have to pack up our stuff, check out at 12:00, sit in the lobby until 13:00, then check in again. The concierge (a different one than the previous night) promised to speak to reservations and ring us in our room, so we went up and waited. And waited. And, you guessed it, they didn't ring. Eventually Glenn went back down to ask and was told that it was fine. So we shut most of our stuff in the wardrobe and hoped it would still be there when we got back.

We still needed to find a long-term place which was much cheaper than the Dedeman. We had discovered during our taxi ride of the night before that our hotel was some way out of the city centre. We asked at reception if they had a city map and were given a 'shopping map'. Great if you want to know the way to the nearest Emporio Armani, but not a lot of good if you are trying to navigate the city by public transport or on foot. The GPS showed us that it was 5 km to where we wanted to be, in a straight line. We knew that there was a large body of water in the way, with steep hills on either side. What the map did show was ferry routes and although there were no direct boats it looked as if we could get one boat across to the Asian side of the Bosphorus and another one back to where we wanted to be. Isla loves boat trips so we decided that it was worth a try. It was quite a trek from the hotel to the docks and we tried very hard to ignore the fact that all the downhill trudging on the way there would be uphill on the way back.

December seems to be a good time to come to İstanbul. The boats are very frequent, but not busy. We paid 1.30 Lira (GBP 0.46 / USD 0.91) each and boarded the boat. A couple of minutes later it set sail and we were on our way to our first new continent. To be honest the ferry port on the Asian side (Üsküdar) didn't look or feel any different than Beşiktaş, where we'd come from. A quick snap was taken of Isla (see photo) and we walked over to the departure point for Eminönü, handed over another 1.30 Lira each and got on another boat. It had been only a flying visit to Asia, but we intend to come back!

Still mapless, we were a bit lost so we made finding a map our first priority. Close to the docks is the railway station and we spotted a kiosk there selling street maps. We bought the largest, most detailed one we could find for 10 Lira (GBP 3.57 / USD 7.01).

The tourist centre of Istanbul is Sultanahmet and we knew from research on Hostelworld that there are plenty of hostels there as well as some high-priced places like the Four Seasons. We'd written down the details of a few places that looked good and there was one in particular that stood out from the rest: The Antique Hostel, so we decided to head there first. We were almost at the door when we were stopped by a friendly Turk. Wouldn't we like to come and see his carpets? Not really, we said. We're looking for accommodation. "Hey, no problem, my friend has a hotel. Very nice big rooms, very reasonable prices. Come and see." It couldn't hurt to have a look—it made sense to have something to compare other places with and we weren't short of time so we followed him round the corner to his friend's hotel. The two friends had a brief conversation in Turkish and the hotel owner turned to us. Glenn explained that we hadn't looked anywhere else yet so we wouldn't be booking immediately, but we'd very much like to see the room and find out the price. It was a very nice big room with a good bathroom, but it was 60 Euros a night (our absolute ceiling was 40). We made "this is nice" type noises and went back out onto the street.

Although always an experience, we have found that one of the disadvantages of being led off by carpet sellers is that you lose your bearings and it took us quite a bit of walking around to get back to where we'd started. We went into Antique and asked about rooms. They were full for the next couple of nights, but could accommodate us from the 11th. We asked to see the room. They could show us one of the two doubles so we went up and had a look. It had a wonderful view over the Marmaris Sea to Asia and was very clean so we went back downstairs to talk terms. They agreed to let us have the room for 40 Euros if we took it for a week.

With accommodation sorted from 11th onward all we needed was a bed for the two interim nights and we decided that now that we knew the lie of the land we'd be better off on Hostelworld, where we could read the reviews, than walking door to door so we headed back towards the ferries and the long trudge uphill to the Dedeman.

We'd realised by now exactly why this 'five-star' hotel (really four-star at best) was so (relatively) cheap: it was miles from anything. We hadn't had lunch so we were resigned to taking an overpriced hotel bar snack. Actually the 15 Lira (GBP 5.39 / USD 10.52) club sandwich was very tasty and huge so we didn't feel too cheated. We booked two nights in the Bauhaus Hostel in Sultanahmet (just around the corner from the Antique), had another bath, another good sleep and checked out as late as possible before availing ourselves of the free internet for another three hours post checkout. We're getting good at making full use of free stuff. In fact we hogged one of the two internet terminals so much that a sign has probably gone up limiting use to fifteen minutes. Since we don't intend to go back to the Dedeman we don't care!

So, we're sorted out with accommodation until December 18th. Now all we have to do is put our good intentions of slowing down and getting to know a city into practice. Sounds easy.