The weekend before last I travelled with 6 friends to Istanbul for a long weekend. It was AH-MAZING! Two things made this trip really memorable; First, traveling with a group of guys. I haven’t done something like that in years! And I loved it! Second, Istanbul is just an amazing city, it’s so beautiful! my brother in-law has been telling me about it for years, but you don’t really appreciate it until you go there yourself. It really is an amazing city.
Below are some random thoughts and observations from the trip.
On traveling with six people
The most important attribute you need when traveling with a largish group like this is flexibility. I went with a mind set of being open to suggestions, and made a point of not taking charge at all. If you’re too demanding or impatient, then you’re bound to have a clash of egos. With us it went swimmingly, no one was too pushy or too opinionated on what to do or where to go.
On Turkish Airlines
I’ve only been to Turkey once before, and that was to Antalya in 2002. I travelled on Turkish Airlines and it was a very unenjoyable trip. The service was really lousy. The service on this trip was better, but I can’t say I’m a fan of Turkish Airlines, it still needs a lot of refinement.
On the Turkish people
I’d say very warm people but a bit rough (I don’t mean to be offensive in any way at all). They have a certain bluntness about them, which can be mistaken for rudeness, but it’s not. When you look a bit deeper you notice that they’re very warm. I guess every culture is unique that way.
A new currency
My wife reminded me before I left that we still had some Turkish Liras from our last trip. It was a few hundred thousand (or maybe even a couple of millions), so I took the money with me, thinking that it might be worth a couple of hundred dollars at least. Well, it turns out that they changed the currency in Turkey a few years ago to “new” Liras. When I asked about the value of my big wad of cash the concierge told me it was worth maybe fourteen dollars! Oh well, so much for that…
On being a vegetarian with a group of carnivores
Like I said at the start of this post, you need to be flexible when traveling with a large group. I was the only vegetarian in the group, and I made a point of not being demanding or picky in the places we go. We went to some great kebab places and i just ordered whatever I could that was suitable. I still eat fish, and one of the days we had lunch in a lovely fish restaurant by the Bosphorus. It was lovely.
A truly magnificent city with a deep culture and heritage. The old mosques and palaces are just gorgeous! I cannot recommend visiting this city enough. I’d say it looks more European than Middle Eastern, and on a par with any of the beautiful cities of the world like Paris or London.
Lots of Russians
I guess Istanbul is a big tourist destination for Russians. I also think there’s a lot of business between the two countries, as I noticed quite a few Russian businessmen as well.
On the Four Seasons
One of the guys got us a great rate at the Four Seasons Istanbul on the Bosphorus. It was the first time I stayed in a Four Seasons, and let me tell you, it was amazing! The service was just impeccable. You could not fault them on anything, from the rooms, to the service, to the cleanliness to everything really. If you can afford it, I’d say definitely stay there.
On having breakfast in a hotel
The hotel had a lovely morning buffet. And of course like all breakfast buffets there’s a lot of unhealthy, tempting stuff like pancakes, muffins, waffles, etc. My advice is to always start with a bowl of fruits. Start with the healthy stuff, so that you get full with that, and only have the sugary, sweet stuff if you’re still hungry. But if you start with the sweet stuff, you’ll fill yourself up on that and might skip the healthy options altogether. So remember start with a bowl of fresh fruits, at least you’ll get some nutrients and vitamins.
On sightseeing in Istanbul
There is lots and lots to see there! We tried to cover as much as possible in that one weekend, but we probably only saw maybe 1% of what there is to see. We did see the important things like The Haga Sophia, The Blue Mosque, The Topkapi Museum, and The Grand Bazaar. There are some nice ferry rides that you can take as well, but we did not manage to go on one of these during this trip.
On the ancient Islamic relics in the Topkapi
The Topkapi Palace was the residence of the Ottoman Sultans. It has a section that shows ancient relics, including the sword of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) and some of his Sahaba (disciples). I don’t know how they verified that these items are genuine, but it’s impressive nonetheless to see a sword that may have actually belonged to the Prophet! They also had the sword of Imam Ali (AS). Interestingly, it did not have two tips. (This next bit will only make sense to Arabic readers and muslims, feel free to skip) In Arabic, we say that Imam Ali (AS) had سيف ذو حدين which can mean a sword with two tips, or a sword with two edges. A friend once explained to me that Imam Ali (AS) had a European sword which was straight with two edges (as seen in the Topkapi), unlike the traditional Arab swords which were curved slightly and had only one sharp edge. I don’t know if any of this is true, but I thought it’s an interesting observation.
That’s all I can think of for now. Here are some photos. Hope you like them: