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Istanbul and Amsterdam to End 2008 and Start 2009

Istanbul and Amsterdam to End 2008 and Start 2009

Old Dec 24, 08, 6:57 pm
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Istanbul and Amsterdam to End 2008 and Start 2009

In July of this year, shortly after my partner and I got married in San Francisco (see trip report), I started planning a trip for us in late December. I had banked over 600,000 UA miles, and wanted to use some of them, so I researched what would be available using ANA's award availability tool. My spouse was tired of hearing me talk about my trip to Turkey in June (see trip report), so we made a deal: He would agree to go to Istanbul for the trip, and I would stop talking about Turkey. I was excited about going back to Istanbul, because I didn't get to explore the sights as much as I would have liked during my trip in June. We also decided that a stopover in Amsterdam on the way back would be a great way to welcome 2009.

Here's the itinerary we were able to book:
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
UA 1576 Depart TPA 1:35 p.m., Arrive IAD 3:49 p.m.
UA 946 Depart IAD 5:56 p.m., Arrive AMS 7:15 a.m.

Thursday, December 25, 2008
TK 1952 Depart AMS 11:40 a.m., Arrive IST 4:10 p.m.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008
TK 1953 Depart IST 1:50 p.m., Arrive AMS 4:35 p.m.

Friday, January 2
UA 947 Depart AMS 12:20 p.m., Arrive IAD 2:59 p.m.
US 1645 Depart DCA 7:35 p.m., Arrive TPA 9:55 p.m.

We were able to get F on the TATL flights, C on the IST flights, and F on the DCA-TPA flight. Of course, TPA-IAD is in TED...

...and that brings us to today.

UA 1576 was delayed. Unfortunately, it was the continuation of UA 1560 ORD-TPA, which was delayed by over three hours. Not because of weather, but because it went mechanical. It was supposed to leave ORD at 9:11 a.m., but it didn't leave until after noon. It was due into TPA at 4:03 p.m., and united.com was still showing us leaving TPA at 3:56 p.m. That didn't make any sense to me until I realized United was switching equipment. Regardless, a 3:56 p.m. departure would not get us into IAD in time to connect with UA 946. Therefore, the agent at check-in confirmed us on a flight from IAD to LHR and protected us on a TK flight between LHR-IST.

When it became obvious that the connection to AMS through IAD would not be possible, I called United. A very helpful agent offered to re-ticket us through LHR. She asked if I was near an agent at the airport, and I told her that I was. She told me that he would have to "off-load" us from the flights we had checked in for--un-check us in, so to speak. She put me on hold, and I went to an agent at Gate E-75, and the agent off-loaded us. The agent on the phone came back, and I told her we were done.

However, we weren't done. The phone agent said we weren't un-checked, and asked me to go back to the gate agent. During the next 75 minutes, I was on the phone with one agent and talking face-to-face with another. The problem? I was off-loaded from all of my flights, but my spouse was still checked in on AMS-IST. The problem with that was that a new ticket could not be issued for him until he was off-loaded. The gate agent called a TK agent at ORD, and after finally getting through, he was told to call another number, and yet another. No luck.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

United Airlines 1576
TPA-IAD
Scheduled Departure/Arrival: 1:35 p.m/3:49 p.m.
Actual Departure/Arrival: 3:47 p.m./5:57 p.m.
A-320
Seats 1A and 1C


We departed TPA not knowing if we would be re-ticketed. The gate agent had done everything he could, talking to two TK agents who told him to call a different number and a third who hung up on him. The phone agent didn't offer much encouragement: "We can't re-ticket your companion until someone at Turkish un-checks him."

It goes without saying that we were both a little anxious on the flight. The though occurred to me that we might arrive at IAD in time to make the AMS flight if it got delayed a little. Unfortunately, we no longer had seats on that flight, so that gnawed at me a little.

OK, there was something noteworthy about the flight. When beverages were served, my spouse got a whole can of Diet Coke, and I got a whole can of Sprite Zero. TED is dead, except for the lack of an F cabin. And my Sprite Zero was from Thailand!

We landed at 5:40 p.m. The flight was uneventful, bumpy during the last ten minutes, and I really started to wonder if maybe we should have stayed on the AMS flight.

My doubts were erased after a long taxi and a wait for our gate. Before we arrived at the gate, I saw on my iPhone that UA 942 departed at 5:54 p.m. I was relieved, but there was still the uncertainty about whether or not the rest of our trip could get ticketed.

As soon as we deplaned, we walked to the International First Class Lounge. During the next 30 minutes, the two attendants at the lounge worked to re-ticket us. We are especially grateful to Holly, who was supposed to leave at 6:00 p.m., but stayed until she was sure everything was OK and told us to go have something to drink and eat while they took care of everything.

So here we sit, waiting for our flight to LHR. We're a little bummed that we will not get to IST until 10:00 p.m. on December 25, but all things considered, things could have turned out a lot worse. A whole lot worse. Right now, our biggest concern is how to spend nearly six hours at LHR Terminal 3.

I see that SQ has a Silver Kris lounge there....
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Old Dec 25, 08, 6:45 am
  #2  
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Flying Buccaneer, do you have plans for New Year eve?
On "De Dam" in Amsterdam, there is a big party.
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Old Dec 25, 08, 7:32 am
  #3  
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Wednesday, December 24

United Airlines 924
IAD-LHR
Scheduled Departure/Arrival 10:04 p.m./10:15 a.m.
Actual Departure/Arrival 10:05 p.m./10:00 a.m.
B-777
Seats 1E and 1F


We left the International First Lounge at 9:15 p.m. and made the long walk to gate C-27. By the time we got there, boarding had already started, so we didn’t have to wait.

Once aboard, we made the left turn to our seats and stowed our bags. Before we could take our seats, a FA was offering champagne, water, or juice. I had the champagne and Mr. FB took water. We settled in for the flight with our guidebooks in hand. When we boarded, we were the only pax in F, and it stayed that way for awhile. However, when the door closed, F was full.

Our plane pushed back about one minute late, and after a 20-minute taxi, we lifted off for London. Shortly after takeoff, the FAs were in the aisle taking dinner orders, and then coming around with warm nuts and drinks. Service was quick, efficient, and friendly.

Menu

appetizer
Cumin scented oxtail empanada with a red Fresno pepper-kumquat sweet relish

soup
Curry tomato lentil soup

salad
Fresh seasonal greens with plum tomatoes, cucumbers and seasoned croutons
Served with your choice of dressing: Ranch or Asian Sesame Ginger

main course
Orange and ginger cured duck confit
Roasted shallot vinaigrette, braised fennel and hazelnut jasmine rice

Cellophane noodles in hijiki broth
With broccoli raab, shiitake mushrooms and spicy cucumbers

Pan-seared filet mignon with bacon, crumbled blue cheese and green peppercorn sauce
Roasted fingerling potatoes and sautéed summer squash medley

Cheddar parmesan potato-crusted halibut with pomodoro sauce
Milanese saffron risotto and steamed asparagus

dessert
Ice cream with sundae toppings

Cheese selection served with red grapes and crackers
Manchego – rich, semi-hard Spanish cheese with full buttery but piquant flavor
Rosenborg Noble Blue – blue-veined cheese strong in aroma and flavor
Montrachet – soft, moist, creamy and slightly tangy goat’s milk cheese

I started with a glass of the Ra Nui Sauvignon Blanc 2007. After our last trip to New Zealand, I fell in love with their Sauvignon Blancs, and this one did not disappoint. I had all of the courses. I had planned to skip the appetizer, but the FA said he would bring it anyway. The empanada was good, but I really liked the kumquat relish. As soon as I finished the appetizer, a FA would clear my plate and the utensil I had used, and another would bring the next course.

I had the noodles, and Mr. FB had the duck. The noodles were simple and light, but they had a very nice flavor. They were complemented by a side of grated parmesan cheese, an interesting combination, but a good one. The cucumbers were more sweet than spicy. They reminded me of how my grandmother used to prepare fresh cucumbers – thinly sliced with vinegar and sugar.

After two scoops of ice cream, it was midnight EST. I set my watch to 5:00 a.m., put the seat into the bed mode, and put on the eyeshades and earplugs. I rested well, and awoke at 9:20 a.m., just as breakfast was being offered.

breakfast

Spinach, artichoke and cheese omelette
Sautéed turkey sausage

Fresh seasonal fruit plate with muesli

I really just wanted tea, but I took the fruit plate. I had a little bit of the fruit, the muesli with milk, and the croissant. And two cups of tea. Mr. FB slept through the breakfast service.

The landing and taxi were uneventful, and we arrived at the gate ahead of schedule. We said our thanks and Happy Christmases to our FAs. As we stepped off the plane, we were met by someone to help us with our transfer to Terminal 3. We have never enjoyed transiting though LHR, but this made it easy. About 20 minutes after we deplaned, we were going through security in T-3. International First is nice!

Of course, having over five hours to kill is not so nice. We did some shopping. Being re-routed through LHR had a couple of advantages: I was able to pick up a copy of Q magazine (the best music magazine in the world), and Mr. FB was able to get some Fruit All-Sorts (he lived in London for 5 years as a pre-teen) and John Barrowman’s new CD (he is a big fan of Torchwood).

We relaxed in the crowded hall for awhile. My spouse told me that he would go stir crazy in an airport lounge for 5 hours. After a few minutes in the din of the hall, I told him that I was going stir crazy sitting there! We decided to have a light snack and then head to a lounge.

A little after noon, we headed to the Singapore Silver Kris Lounge. The attendant welcomed us, and explained that because they had so few pax today they were just beginning service. I told her that we didn’t mind; we were just looking for a quiet place to sit.

We walked upstairs, and the lounge was dark, a little warm, and totally empty. Mr. FB pointed to the adjacent SAS Lounge and asked why we didn’t go there. I suggested we wait it out. We helped ourselves to bottled waters and commandeered a corner for ourselves. An hour later, we are still the only guests in the lounge, but the service has started with a choice of snacks and sandwiches. Warm foods are not out yet, but neither of us is hungry.

We still have a couple of hours before our gate opens. I think this is the best place to spend them before our four-hour flight to IST.
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Old Dec 25, 08, 7:36 am
  #4  
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Originally Posted by hmv View Post
Flying Buccaneer, do you have plans for New Year eve?
On "De Dam" in Amsterdam, there is a big party.
hmv, no plans yet, but we hear that Amsterdam is one big party on New Years Eve. That's one of the reasons we planned the stopover there. I remember on one of my trips there, I marveled at Rembrandtplein on Friday night, and a local told me I should be there for New Years Eve. After maybe a dozen trips there, I am finally going to take his advice. I understand that everyone goes out with a bottle of champagne and shares it at midnight. Doesn't sound very hygienic, but it does sound like fun!
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Old Dec 25, 08, 4:06 pm
  #5  
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Yeah, Amsterdam is one big party town one New Years Eve.
Are you also planning to do some sight-seeing in The Netherlands?
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Old Dec 26, 08, 10:34 am
  #6  
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Thursday, December 25

Turkish Airlines 1992
LHR-IST
Scheduled Departure/Arrival 4:10 p.m./10:05 p.m.
Actual Departure/Arrival 4:05 p.m./9:55 p.m.
A-321
Seats 4A and 4C


The Silver Kris Lounge had a very convenient location. At 2:50 p.m., we saw the inbound TK flight from Istanbul deplane next to us. As it turned out, our boarding gate (gate 9) was the closest one to the lounge.

At 3:15 p.m., we left the lounge; there was only one other couple there when we left. We gave our boarding passes to the agents at the gate and found two seats together for the short wait before boarding began. The business class passengers were the last to board. Another pax also had seat 4C, but the business class cabin was pretty open (8 pax of 16), so it was not a problem.

The flight pushed back 5 minutes early, and took off at 4:25 p.m. After takeoff, a FA passed out headphones and menus, then took drink orders and distributed warm towels. I ordered the sourcherry juice, and it tasted as good as I remembered the last time I flew TK. It was served with a package of Turkish hazelnuts.

MENU

ASSORTED TURKISH APPETIZERS

MARINATED GREEN BEANS

Which would you like as your entrée:

MEDITERRANEAN PRAWNS WITH TOMATO SAUCE
sautéed leaf spinach/buttered rice

or

SPECIALS FROM TURKISH CUISINE
TURKISH STYLE GRILLED MINCED BEEF
sautéed zucchini and red peppers/bulgur rice

or

HOME MADE ARTICHOKE RAVIOLIS
Pan fried artichokes and cherry tomatoes parmesan
___

HOME MADE PROFITEROLES WITH VANILLA CREAM AND CHOCOLATE SAUCE
___

ASSORTED CHEESE
___

oven fresh bread selection

freshly brewed coffee or tea

The FA cleared our glasses and brought a tray with three small dishes containing the green beans, profiteroles, and cheese. On another plate was the appetizer: sliced chilled chicken breast served on pureed eggplant and topped with eggplant strips. The pureed eggplant had a very nice olive oil flavor, and it went well with the warm rolls the FA offered from a basket. The FA then came through the aisle with a cart offering entrée selections. We both chose the minced beef. The meatballs were good, though I thought they tasted more like lamb than beef. Also, they didn’t have that smoky flavor that I like. But compared to other airline meals, this was an above average dinner.

While I ate my dessert, the FA offered a choice of coffee or tea. I chose the tea.

After the tray and other dishes were cleared, I took a short nap and ignored the movie (Meet Dave). However, napping in seat 4C was not easy, because a parade of pax from Y were using the lav in the C cabin. Because 4 was the last row in the C cabin, every time a pax walked up from Y, the curtain dividing the cabins was pushed into seat 4C.

Service during the rest of the flight was available, but not offered. In other words, the FAs were not coming though asking if anyone wanted anything, so if you did, you had to ring your call button and ask for it.

Our flight landed at 9:45 p.m. and reached the gate 10 minutes later. We each paid $20 for our visas—there was no line—and had to wait only a minute for immigration. The bags took 20 minutes to come out, and we flew through customs. We stopped at an ATM to get some YTL and then took a taxi to our hotel. About 30 minutes (and 40YTL, including tip) later, we arrived at the W Istanbul.

One of the ways that I was able to lobby successfully for a trip to Istanbul was that we could get 5 nights at the W using Starpoints. This is the first W in Europe, and upon arrival, we could certainly see it was a W! There was cool music playing, and the lights were low. The night manager enthusiastically greeted us and told us that he had upgraded us to a suite. He took my info and a copy of our passport and a very friendly (and handsome) young man took us and our bags to our room.

The junior suite is about 12’ x 25’ in the main area, with a separate entry and bathroom. The extremely comfortable king bed is at one end of the room and a 42” flat screen TV is at the other end, behind a glass panel and above a desk. Between the bed and TV is a sitting area (sofa and table). The bathroom has a main area with a double lavatory and separate WC and shower. The shower is a huge rain shower. After having traveled for over 24 days, the shower was wonderful. So far, the W gets an A++!

We went to bed at midnight, and were asleep shortly afterward. However. I woke up at 2 and again at 3:30. The second time I was awake for nearly 2 hours. We promised to be up and about by 8, but we broke the promise and slept until 10. About an hour later, we were ready to head out and explore Istanbul.
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Old Dec 26, 08, 10:47 am
  #7  
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Originally Posted by hmv View Post
Yeah, Amsterdam is one big party town one New Years Eve.
Are you also planning to do some sight-seeing in The Netherlands?
Not this trip. Unfortunately, we will be pretty short on time. I have visited Den Haag, Rotterdam, Leiden, Haarlem, and a few other places in the Netherlands. It is one of my favorite countries. I have been told I blend in well, because I am tall (6'5") and fair-skinned!
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Old Dec 26, 08, 3:24 pm
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Have fun at the W istanbul, I will be spending New Years eve there !
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Old Dec 26, 08, 8:09 pm
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Friday, December 26

Realizing we had slept until 10 o’clock, both of us were filled with conflicting feelings: We had to get out and explore Istanbul, but another couple of hours in that bed would have been wonderful. The instinct to explore won out, and we showered, dressed, and headed downstairs. The W is in Beşiktaş, which is an area of Istanbul along the European side of the Bosphorus. The Four Seasons Bosphorus and Swissotel The Bosphorus are not far away, nor is Dolmabahçe Palace. The immediate location has upscale shops such as Tumi and Mark Jacobs.

The location would be out of the way, or even daunting, for a first-time Istanbul visitor who had not done any research. I even read a review of the hotel on Trip Advisor in which a man said he and his wife felt like a hostage in the hotel, because taxi drivers could not find the hotel. That’s pretty melodramatic, if you ask me. If you walk out the front door and down the hill, then turn right, you are about a 15 minute walk from the Kabatas tram stop. From there, you can take the tram directly to just about anything in the Old Town you could want to see for a mere YTL1.40 (less than US$1). We took it to the Sultanahmet stop which is within short walking distance of Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and everything else we wanted to do today.

But the first thing we wanted to do was lunch! Thankfully, the tram stop was also a few steps from where we wanted to go: Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi – Selim Usta. I had eaten there in June, before I had even read about it in guidebooks. It’s been around since 1920, serving nothing but köfte (meatballs), sis kebabs, mixed salads (with or without beans), and a couple of desserts. It was much less busy today than it was in June, and we got a table for two next to the window. While we looked at the menu, our drinks and a basket of crusty bread arrived. We each got an order of kofte and shared a mixed salad with beans. I am sure that the sis kebab is good, but this place is known for its köfte. The salad and köfte came quickly, and we devoured everything as we heard the call to prayer from the Blue Mosque. We paid for our food (YTL30.50, including service), and walked outside.

The cold and dreary day had also become drizzly, so we walked over to Hagia Sophia. Words can’t describe how spectacular this nearly 1500 year-old cathedral turned mosque turned museum is. We spent over an hour walking around the lower level and upper gallery. Then we walked across the park to the Blue Mosque. I enjoyed seeing my spouse’s reaction as we walked in and he saw how beautiful it was. Rarely is something so grand on the outside even more beautiful when you walk in. Before long, visitors were being hastened out before the next call to prayer, and we took pictures of both Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. By now, the drizzle had turned into light rain, but it didn’t dampen the beauty of these two great buildings.

The rain also didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the people trying to get our attention and money as we walked in the park. All anyone who wants some company needs to do is walk around here. You will get lots of attention, though probably not the type you want. My spouse learned one word quickly: “Yok!” It comes in handy here.

We walked around the Hippodrome and heard the calls to prayer from the Blue Mosque and at least two other mosques. Then we headed to the Basilica Cistern. It’s funny how in June the cistern was a refuge from the heat, and in December it’s a refuge from the cold and rain. It’s one of a number of cisterns open to the public in Istanbul, but probably the one to visit.

After rambling around underground and finding the Medusa columns, we exited and followed the tram tracks in the general direction of the Spice Bazaar. We stopped at a coffee shop called Red River. Not an authentically Turkish place, but a nice spot to get our bearings while we had something warm to drink. We eventually made it to the Spice Bazaar, enjoying the colors and the aromas while we dodged the crowds and calls for attention. We escaped without buying anything (this time), even though the Turkish delight was tempting. However, as pretty as it was everywhere we saw it, we decided to go back to the Hafiz Mustafa shop we had passed earlier. The friendly man behind the counter offered us samples of every type of Turkish delight you could imagine, as well as other tasty sweet things. We decided to get a box of two varieties: pomegranate with pistachio and orange with hazelnut. He sliced the gooey chewy sweet stuff and arranged it artistically in a box. Then he offered us more samples before we paid and left.

It was nearly 5 o’clock. We were cold, tired, and wet, so we took a taxi back to the hotel. I had the hotel’s address, which made it easier to get where we wanted to go. Traffic was bad, but the ride was only YTL7.50 plus tip. We were so tired that we feared that if we went up to the room we would not come back out. We decided to explore the neighborhood. One street away from the W was a shopping and dining street that was a more typically Turkish street. I say that as a compliment; I enjoy exploring these areas and eating at the restaurants that don’t see as many tourists. We had dinner at a small place that looked similar to many others on the street and in Istanbul. It might not have seen many tourists, but it was prepared with English subtitles on the menu! My spouse had the Iskender kebab and I had the peynirli pide and a çoban salad. Before our food arrived, the waiter brought out hot bread, butter, crumbled farmer’s cheese, and plate with lettuce and red hand-formed mounds.

This was the second time I had seen the hand-formed mounds. The first was when I went to a similar place in Antalya in June. I wasn’t sure what it was then, but I tried it. It was very spicy with an interesting texture, so I thought it was kibbeh. I wasn’t sure then, and I didn’t think anyone would understand if I asked what it was, so I tried it again. Same texture and spicy flavor. I’m pretty sure it’s kibbeh. When Mr. FB asked what that was, I explained: minced raw meat, cracked wheat, and hot stuff shaped into pieces. He seemed shocked that I was eating it. It wasn’t bad, and I would have felt funny leaving not eating any of it.

His food came quickly. It was layers of sliced meat in a delicious sauce on bread with a big serving of yogurt on the side. My pide arrived soon after with my salad. We gorged ourselves on our food. The waiter then brought two glasses of tea and the check. With service, the bill came to YTL30.00, a bargain considering the amount of food we had and how good it was.

We continued down the side street, and the W was straight ahead. It would be easy to miss this neighborhood from the W, but it’s even easier to find. As you walk out of the hotel, turn left and walk uphill (away from the Bosphorus), then take the first right. There’s a supermarket, the place we had dinner, and meatball place, and a pizza place as you approach the busier street.

When we got back to the hotel, we decided that we were in for the night, even though it was barely 6:00 p.m. We are not night owls anyway, but being sleep deprived and having full bellies didn’t help. We went back down to the lobby and spent some time taking advantage of the free wi-fi. We went back to the room, ate some Turkish delight, looked at the photos we had taken, and passed out sometime after 9:00 p.m.
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Old Dec 26, 08, 8:10 pm
  #10  
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Originally Posted by couscous View Post
Have fun at the W istanbul, I will be spending New Years eve there !
It is a great place! I am sitting in the lobby at 4:00 a.m. (darn that jet lag!) and the night manager has addressed me personally twice.
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Old Dec 27, 08, 12:41 am
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Keep the restaurants advices coming, I am planning my trip with your help !^
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Old Dec 27, 08, 9:19 am
  #12  
 
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Hi FB,

I am really enjoying reading your detailed report as my partner and I are doing the exact same trip (only Istanbul, sadly no time for a stop elsewhere in Europe) in Sept '09. We live in Fort Lauderdale, and are flying via Montreal and Paris (AC to TK C class). Sounds like TK will be a pretty good experience.

We are staying in the W as well. While we have never been there, I for one am looking forward to a slightly out of the way hotel location away from the tourist areas. Keep the comments coming as they are most appreciated! My interest in visiting the city was really sparked after reading the novel The Historian which is partially set in Istanbul. The layers of history and unique combination of eastern and western cultures sounds fascinating.

BTW, congratulations on your marriage. We used to live in MA and were married there in '04. It was truly a heartfelt experience.
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Old Dec 27, 08, 7:43 pm
  #13  
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Saturday, December 27

Once again, we didn’t wake up until 10 a.m. Jet lag still afflicts both of us. I awoke at 2:30 a.m. and found my better half awake. He had just returned from the lobby and was ready to try and sleep again. I decided to go to complete the December 26 installment of my trip report, and then I went to the lobby to post it, check email, and do some other stuff online. I don’t think I went back to sleep until after 5 a.m.

Before we started Saturday’s exploring, we visited the concierge. We told him that we were going to Topkapı Palace, and we were interested in taking a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul on Sunday. He told us that he would send a ferry schedule and a restaurant recommendation to our room. He also suggested taking a taxi to Topkapı Palace and taking the tram back. He told us that we had been lucky with taxi drivers so far, but that many tried to take advantage of tourists. He told us that if we ever had a taxi driver try to overcharge us for a ride back to the hotel, we should refuse to pay them and get a hotel employee to intervene.

We decided to eat before going to Topkapı Palace, so we went back to the area near the hotel we had explored Friday evening. Shop owners were displaying fresh foods, flowers, and other items. Döner shops seemed to be everywhere. We went to one called Best Kebap. One of the employees spoke English and helped us with our order. I ordered a chicken wrap and my spouse ordered a beef wrap. The wraps were thin but stuffed with meat, pickles, tomatoes, and French fries. Perfect for a meal on the go! With sodas our lunch bill came to YTL14 total.

We walked back to the W and ordered a taxi, and about 20 minutes later we were at Topkapı Palace. When I visited in June, I spent a little more than an hour there, and that was not nearly enough. Following the advice of our Rick Steeves travel book, we bought tickets to see the Harem after entering when we saw that line was pretty short. To say that the Palace and Harem are opulent does not do them justice. It’s fun to imagine having lived in such a pace, but not as one of the eunuchs!

After we walked through the Harem, we were ready to take a break. We went to the café for a snack. Because of the cold weather, self-service customers were able to sit indoors, but not in the prime Bosphorus viewing spots. Two cays, a couple of sweets, and a cheese pastry came to YTL39.50, our most expensive “meal” so far on the trip. While the view was certainly not the best in the place, it’s always nice to sip tea while looking at two continents at once.

We continued walking through the different areas of the palace. While taking pictures, we ran into a couple from Seattle whose trip had been delayed by the snow there. We took photos of them and they took photos of us. (Our Rick Steeves guide gave us away; they had one also.) I think the highlight for both of us was the fourth treasury room.

Over three hours after arriving, we left Topkapı Palace, walking past Hagia Sophia, then along Divan Yolu toward the Grand Bazaar. During my first trip to Istanbul, I did not get to visit the Bazaar. Even though it’s considered a tourist trap by some, and Istanbullers will tell you that it is not the best place to shop for bargains, it is still a must see. Even before we walked in we were being accosted by carpet salesmen and others trying to convince us to buy what they had. My approach to dealing with them is to use phrases like “Leather makes me bleed” or “I am allergic to carpet” or “I have to have my clothes custom made.” Alternatively, you can just pretend that they don’t exist. My spouse took another approach: He takes video. His approach worked better. We walked through, spending a little less than an hour and YTL55 for a plate that started at YTL85. We probably could have done better, but we thought it was a fair price.

It was about 6 p.m., and we were tired and hungry. We decided to eat before going back to the hotel, Most of the places around the Beyazit tram stop offered primarily outdoor seating and no table service, so we went to a place called Seos and sat upstairs. I had the Iskender kebap and my usual çoban salad, and Mr. FB had a pide with chopped lamb. With sodas and tip, our meal came to YTL30. It was filling, tasty, and relatively inexpensive, a bonus in such a touristy area.

We planned to take a taxi back to the hotel, but we ran into a group of predatory drivers. One asked us where we were going and I said, “W Hotel in Başiktaş.” He recited the address and said he knew where it was. It would be 50YTL. I replied, “Fifteen?” thinking maybe I misheard him and he repeated, “Fifty.” I told him to forget it and another driver came along and said, “He is crazy! I will take you there with meter!” so we got into his taxi. The other driver banged on the window and he told him to leave us alone. He then informed us that there was a big festival in Taksim Square and that he would have to take an alternative route, so our fare would be about YTL40. I said, “Taksim Square is out of the way,” and we both exited the taxi. He yelled, “What is your problem?” as we walked away. Another driver yelled, “I will take you for YTL10,” but by this time we wanted nothing to do with taxis or the men who drive them. It was great theater, though! We bought tram tokens, took a tram to Kabataş, and then made the 15-minute walk to the hotel. We began to realize that the concierge’s advice should be heeded!

Before we went back to the room, we visited the Migros supermarket near the hotel for water and snacks. We ended another day in Istanbul exhausted and ready for the next.
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Old Dec 27, 08, 7:47 pm
  #14  
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Originally Posted by couscous View Post
Keep the restaurants advices coming, I am planning my trip with your help !^
Thanks couscous. My spouse and I have not had a splurge, yet, but we do plan on one or two nice meals while we are here. The kebap and pide shops in Istanbul area a great value and their food is almost always freshly prepared. I haven't had a bad experience at one yet!
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Old Dec 27, 08, 7:56 pm
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Originally Posted by wanderlustFL View Post
Hi FB,

I am really enjoying reading your detailed report as my partner and I are doing the exact same trip (only Istanbul, sadly no time for a stop elsewhere in Europe) in Sept '09. We live in Fort Lauderdale, and are flying via Montreal and Paris (AC to TK C class). Sounds like TK will be a pretty good experience.

We are staying in the W as well. While we have never been there, I for one am looking forward to a slightly out of the way hotel location away from the tourist areas. Keep the comments coming as they are most appreciated! My interest in visiting the city was really sparked after reading the novel The Historian which is partially set in Istanbul. The layers of history and unique combination of eastern and western cultures sounds fascinating.

BTW, congratulations on your marriage. We used to live in MA and were married there in '04. It was truly a heartfelt experience.
I enjoy flying TK. Even on the short domestic flights I took in June, the FAs served snacks!

You will love the W. The employees are very helpful and attentive. I am sitting in the lobby at a little before 4 a.m., and the bar just closed. Apparently, this is where all of the beautiful people in Istanbul come on Saturday night, and I have enjoyed watching them walk by. The rooms are what you would expect from a W, and I cannot say enough good things about the neighborhood. I would stay here again without hesitation.

And thank you! We had been together for nearly 6 years when we got married, but it was still special for us to be able to exchange vows (and have those vows recognized).
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