Beware of Taxi!

The number of tourists in Istanbul is increasing exponentially. in April, 2012, during Easter, queues at the entrance to the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace were record-breaking at an all-time high. A sudden increase of foreigners in a city will inevitably attract unbecoming elements that try to take advantage of the situation.

Unfortunately, we hear more and more reports of tourists scammed by taxi drivers. It is never appropriate to generalize, but it’s pretty well known that the category of taxi drivers sometimes put aside honesty when the opportunity presents itself.

There is not much wonder, then, that in a city of 16 million inhabitants, Istanbul taxi drivers are clamoring to unpick as much money as possible from the tourist who has just arrived and may be understandably confused.

Knowing this, we can take precautions.

In theory, the safest way to avoid disappointment would be to select a metered taxi. The rates should be as follows: getting on the taxi meter should indicate 3.20 lira, which is the minimum rate of departure, the price per kilometer is 2 lira (updated to the latest increase of August 2014).

However, be cautioned that the inclusion of the taximeter is unfortunately not enough to be safe.

The trick most frequently played on tourists is to take the longest route possible to reach a destination. Unfortunately, it is also quite common to be led around for half an hour and finish the journey a few meters away from where you started. It has also been reported that a meter will go slow for most of the route and then suddenly triple the amount at the end of the ride.

If a driver is truly criminal, then neither a taximeter nor a pre-negotiated price will be enough to avoid paying 40 lira for a ride that should only cost 10 Llira (it happens!). Therefore, it is essential to know how much it should cost you on average to get around the city center.

Know , therefore, that a ride from Taksim-Sultanahmet, at any time, costs about 10-12 lira (€4-5), even a run from Ortaköy-Taksim costs more or less the same. Sultanahmet-Eminönü can cost up to 7 lira, as well as Sultanahmet-ksaray. Perhaps the longest of which a tourist can use is Sultanahmet-Ortaköy and costs no more than 20 lira.

Know, therefore, that within the tourist perimeter you will never spend more than 20 lira. If the driver asks you for 50 lira (often), then give him 20 and exit quickly from the taxi. If the driver begins to scream do not let that intimidate you. Just threaten to call the police.

Honestly, the taxi fares would be very convenient if you would not run the risk of being scammed. The advice we can give is to use public transport as far as possible. It is more efficient and cheaper. But if you are forced to take a taxi, do not EVER take the first taxi passing by you on the street. Always call a taxi from your hotel, or restaurant, or the room in which you find yourself, or take one from a real taxi station. This way you will be 100% safe from trickery. No driver will dare to do something wrong because they will know that they can be traced in just a few minutes.

The use of some Turkish language generally discourages drivers from trying to cheat. However, the probability of elderly people or groups of girls being scammed is very high.

Some good news is that the taxis from the airports are safe and there is no danger of being scammed. The fare from Ataturk Airport to the city center is about 45-50 lira, while from Sabiha Gökçen airport is about 90 lira.

After giving fair warning, we like to relate two positive episodes of which we were witnesses. Some time ago, we had forgotten our cell phone in a cab. When we realized what happened, we tried to call, hoping that the taxi driver would answer. He did, and the taxi driver returned back to return it to us, without making us pay the extra fare. The second episode concerns a tourist who had left his camera in the back seat, and given it up for lost, only to find it delivered to the hotel the very next day.

I have to admit that I have never liked to take a taxi. I prefer to walk, but lately I have been taking them and I have found them very good. It’s fun to practice speaking Turkish with taxi drivers. I often do and sometimes even receive a discount . A foreigner who speaks the local language always manifests a very positive effect from their audience!

The city of Istanbul is aware of “problem taxi drivers” and is considering strict regulations in the future that protect the public from mistreatment. In the meantime, we hope that you do not have any negative experiences (as it is certainly a question of luck, but we are still masters of our own destinies, so always keep your eyes open and your reflexes swift)!

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The Museum of Innocence

museo dell innocenza

It is with great pleasure that we introduce an article sent to us by our dear reader Anna, who we had the honor of meeting in person, in the company of her husband Philip, a few weeks ago here in Istanbul.

The Power of Imagination to Shape Reality: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

Imagine being in Istanbul, specifically in Beyoğlu, and entering an old house in the neighborhood of Çukurcuma; a beautiful three-story building has been well restored with dark red walls, at the corner of Avenue and Çukurcuma Dalgic Sokak. It is now a museum, but once, in the 1970’s and 80’s, there lived a family Keskin: the young and beautiful Füsun with his parents.

Here Kemal Basmacı spent most of his evenings with this family, for the love of Füsun, were he had collected hundreds of small objects; furnishings, clothes, photos, newspaper clippings, and documents preserved with care over many years, because they contained the memory of all the most intense moments of his shocking and unfortunate love story. In this house Kemal lived the last years of his life (he died in 2007) surrounded by all of his treasured momentos, with the desire to organize them and exhibit them to the world. In this house he dreamed to be able to tell visitors not only its history, but also of daily life in Istanbul during the city’s most beloved years.

I believe that with this state of mind we should enter the Museum of Innocence, with the pleasant and seductive illusion that everything in this place is as it was. Of course, the rational part of us knows that it is fiction and that the museum is an integral part of a 10 year project carried out by Turkish writer and 2006 Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. The novel, “The Museum of Innocence” was published in 2008, the museum itself was inaugurated in April 2012, and soon after, the catalog entitled “The Innocence of the Objects” was printed last November.

In a few months, the museum has already become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city, with many thousands of visitors. However, when Basmacı asked Pamuk to realize the novel as a museum, he determined that the exhibit should not allow more than fifty guests at a time, and, therefore, you can enjoy peace of mind that the special atmosphere is preserved inside.

The help of architects, artisans and other specialists in Pamuk’s detailed curation greatly enhances the exhibits: the stairs that ascend through the three-story home follow a continuous line of 83 wooden boards (the number of chapters in the novel, although some are still closed because they are not finished). Most of the paintings and objects (more than 700, all of which are mentioned in the book) appear to us arranged in actual compositions. Everything – the wise choice of light and played in some parts of the museum, the spiral drawn on the floor of the ground floor (which represents the flow of time and the unfolding of the story), the ascension to the top of the house that allows you to watch the whole museum – everything contributes to the creation of a very special and charming experience.

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Visiting the Asian Side

kız kulesi 2

Istanbul is the only city in the world to be built on two continents. There is no doubt that the presence of the “Asian side” beyond the Bosphorus appeals powerfully to the European collective imagination.

Sometimes this prerogative may give rise to strange doubts and unrealistic expectations.

The strange doubts are condensed in the question that sometimes comes to us via e-mail and to which we hope to answer once and for all: No, you do not need a passport to go to the Asian side of Istanbul…

Unrealistic expectations can be, instead, glimpsed on the faces of groups of tourists that we happen to see every now and then getting off from the ferry at Üsküdar. The eyes and ears which have imagined to savour the East collide with chaotic traffic and the huge construction site of the Marmaray Tünel. Few minutes later some even get back on the same ferry to return to Sultanahmet, sadly bewildered and disappointed.

The reality of Istanbul is very complex; we will never be tired of reminding it. The city is a collection of many cities, the architectural landscape and the social context change quickly and radically, within a few feet and/or a few months. It is enough to just move a few meters from Taksim to Kasımpaşa or from Sultanahmet to Kadırga to bump into very different realities. It is thus not necessary to cross the Bosphorus to search for the more oriental, the more Muslim, the poorer and the truest part (?). These classifications are meaningless in Istanbul.

In the European as in the Asian side there are more conservative districts (Fatih and Ümraniye) and more modern ones (Beyoğlu and Kadıköy), areas full of history (Sultanahmet and Üsküdar) and areas voted to shopping (Nisantasi and Bağdat Caddesi), neighbourhoods with an interesting religious mixture (Fener /Balat and Kuzguncuk /Yeldeğirmeni) and pretty villages on the Bosphorus (Arnavutköy and Çengelköy).

Our advice is, therefore, to give a chance to the Asian side, without preconceptions and in a more informed manner.

For a long time we have received requests from people really curious about this part of the city. However, we were intimidated by the thought of how to enclose in a few hours its major points of interest, especially because we did not know what the latter were exactly, given that no printed travel guide speaks extensively of these zones (indeed they are often excluded even from the map).

For this reason, from March 2012 we have studied and put into practice an itinerary which includes the three most representative quarters of the Asian side of Istanbul (Kuzguncuk, Üsküdar and Kadıköy), providing within 5-6 hours a view as comprehensive as possible of the area, showing its historical, social and artistic complexity. The experience gained through the itinerary already existing, of Fatih, Fener and Balat, by now operative for two years and for which we keep receiving hundreds of positive comments and emails of gratitude, has pushed and motivated us to create this new tour, which offers a more complete and less stereotypical image of the beautiful city we live in.

Üsküdar is one of the oldest districts of the Ottoman Istanbul; a residential district from the start as it continues to be nowadays.

There are more than 180 mosques in the district. Some of them date back to before the Ottoman conquest, thus, among the oldest ones in Istanbul. The largest mosques are those of Mihrimah and Yeni Valide, while the most interesting are the smaller ones, Şemsi Pasha, Kaptan Paşa, Çinili.

The history of Üsküdar has its roots well back in time, long before the Ottoman conquest in the 14th century and also the founding of the city of Byzantium by Greek settlers in the 7th century B.C. During the excavations for the Bosphorus tunnel were in fact found many ruins of the ancient Chrysopolis.

Besides the historical importance of the mosques and the beauty of the district in itself, one must indubitably take a walk to Salacak and arrive in front of the Kız Kulesi, a legendary tower which stands on an islet situated where the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea finally meet. The Kiz Kulesi with the historical peninsula as background delivers one of the most striking spectacles of Istanbul.

Not far from Üsküdar is Kuzguncuk, a neighbourhood inhabited since the early 16th century by the Jewish population, which later also welcomed Greeks and Armenians. Kuzguncuk is absolutely one of our favorite spots: it is basically a long and narrow valley, with both sides descending steeply to the Bosphorus. The placidity transmitted by its old wooden houses and the green of its plane trees makes this neighbourhood a really special place.

It is only here that one can see a mosque next to an Armenian church and a synagogue side by side with an Orthodox church. It is no exaggeration to take this small neighbourhood as a symbol of the tolerance and harmony present in the Istanbul of the Ottoman Empire. Kuzguncuk also still preserves the atmosphere of a fishing village, a place for the soul that has inspired and continues to inspire artists, poets, filmmakers, architects and dreamers.

Its points of interest are many: the synagogue of Beth Yakov, the Orthodox church of Ayios Panteleimon and the Armenian one of Surp Krikor Lusavoriç, not to mention the beautiful Fethi Paşa Park which offers fascinating views of the Bosphorus.

The last area that our Asian itinerary touches is Kadıköy, the ancient and famous Chalcedon, founded actually 20 years before Byzantium by Greek settlers from Megara. Kadıköy’s very ancient history remains in the background of what is now in effect one of the most modern and lively districts of Istanbul.

From the beginning of the 19th century that which in the Ottoman era was just a residential area for wealthy nobles turns, thanks to the construction of the Haydarpaşa Train Station, in a neighbourhood extremely diverse in terms of ethnic identities and social groups. At the beginning of the 20th century the population of the district was made up of Jews, Greeks, Armenians, Albanians, Bulgarians, Persians, Italians, Germans and French. It is in this district that the first modern “apartments” made of stone and marble were built in Istanbul.

A walk through the suburb of Yeldeğirmeni will hence bring us back to mind a period not long ago when German engineers and Italian stonemasons worked together, both as immigrants, in the cosmopolitan Istanbul of the early 20th century.

Kadıköy is a modern district, considerable in size and densely populated (more than half a million inhabitants), with a great variety of atmospheres and architectural styles. A longer tour would lead you up to Bagdat Caddesi, a 14 km boulevard along the Marmara Sea, dotted with malls and shops of the most famous international brands. If one substitutes the plane trees with palms, it would really seem to be in Los Angeles.

However, it is in the centre of Kadıköy that we recommend travelers to spend a few pleasant hours. The Central Market is one of the most interesting and picturesque of the city, is a very suitable place for a mini-culinary tour. Among the many kiosks there are countless specialties to try, which each retailer will let you taste with a smile on his face. Either lovers of savouries and sweets will be satisfied: in fact, it is here that they will find some of the most historic and famous pastry shops.

A trip to Istanbul without visiting the Asian side would definitely leave a sense of incompleteness; however, it could be even more disappointing if one will arrive on the Asian side with the wrong expectations. We, therefore, hope that this article has provided the traveler with a clearer picture of an area of the city so important, although so often overlooked by the printed travel guides.

If you are interested in making a guided tour with us of these neighbourhoods, please, do not hesitate to contact us via email or leave a comment below.

We started 5 years ago to make guided tours with italian groups and you can read hundreds of feedback on our italian version of the blog and on tripadvisor. Now we can do it also in english!

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Hotels and apartments in Istanbul

Hotel-Appartamenti-Istanbul

There are always a lot of emails and comments that inquire advice about hotels, hostels, apartments and, in general, on where to stay in Istanbul.
We have dedicated a section of our blog to this subject, but we will revisit this issue in order to offer further clarification for our dear friends and readers.

As Istanbul has become more and more fashionable, tourism has been icreasing with annual growth rates in the double digits. As a result, hotels offer both a wider and more varied selection. We would like to be honest. With thousands of hotels in the city and hundreds under construction, it is clear that the typical question “What do you think of this hotel?” can not always be responded to in an appropriate manner. It would be beyond presumptuous to claim to know all the hotels in the city.

But we live in Istanbul, so we are in a position of privilege for reviewing local hotels. We will inform our readers to the best of our abilities; critically analyzing a reckless place and giving due credit to more respectable businesses. We also interview the professional sector and interact with hundreds of tourists who tell us about their experiences.

And then the resources that the internet makes available to us come in to play. In sites such as Booking.com, besides being able to make reservations online, you can read thousands of reviews on all the hotels in the city. So the choice becomes easier and the margin of error is reduced a lot.

One point that is worth dwelling on is the best location to choose as a “base”. It all depends on your preferences.

In Sultanahmet, there are many options, it is the tourist district par excellence, and the hotels are very concentrated and the prices often advantageous. If you know where to look you can find some good deals. But, the fact remains that in Sultanahmet besides the monuments there is nothing else. It is turning into a tourist enclave, so for those who want to observe the “real” life of the city, or simply enjoy some nightlife (or a chance to eat at some good restaurants), it is not a good choice.

The area south of the Golden Horn, the Sirkeci and Beyazit districts may be attractive alternatives, being very well served by public transport and having a good selection of hotels.

To the north of the Golden Horn, is the area that is now referred to as ‘the modern Istanbul’ (but in reality it is rich in history). In recent years we have witnessed its rapid and appreciable redevelopment. The districts of Galata, Cihangir, Beşiktaş, Ortaköy and lately Karaköy hotels and apartments are of excellent quality. The zones represent the true center of Istanbul and they can help to appreciate its vitality with their restaurants, trendy bars, restaurants, and art galleries.

On the basis of our experience and therefore our philosophy of tourism, we have compiled a list of a dozen hotels that we recommend.

This is obviously not for luxury hotels, or golden palaces isolated from the world with ultra-servile waiters, in which a cup of tea costs 20 pounds! Those are not for us! Ours is a list that features well located, sophisticated, fun, hospitable institutions at acceptable prices.

One of the most important criteria to be taken into consideration is nightlife. If you care to eat well and have fun then a hotel near the night life is for you. On the contrary, if you are more interested in the quality of your sleep, then stay away, because Istanbul at night can often be more noisy than during the day. We listed the hotel areas that we prefer. Do understand that we do not like the artificial atmosphere of Sultanahmet, so the hotels there have not been listed. However, if you prefer to have a close proximity to the monuments, then it is not difficult to find good deals in the area.

Here’s our brief selection of hotels. Decide always in relation to your needs!

Pera Palace Hotel
Mesrutiyet Caddesi No:52, Beyoğlu
www.perapalace.com

For this hotel, not many words are needed…it is one of the symbols of the city…a classic. It is a privilege to spend a night in it.

The House Hotel Bosphorus
Salhane Sokak No: 1, Ortaköy
www.thehousehotel.com/Bosphorus

The House Hotel Galatasaray
Bostanbası Caddesi No:19, Beyoğlu
www.thehousehotel.com/Galatasaray

Two of the three locations of the House Hotel, the first located in Çukurcuma Beyoğlu and the second in Ortaköy, a beautiful and privileged position on the Bosphorus. They are without doubt the most sophisticated hotels in the city, both in 800 year old historic buildings, restored and decorated in an idealistic style. The insides display antiques and works of art, blanced with themes of modernity.

Galata Hotel
Mesrutiyet Caddesi No:84, Beyoğlu
www.galataflats.com

Nar Suites Pera
Sahkulu Sokak No:20 Beyoğlu
www.booking.com/hotel/nar-suites-pera

Two excellent options near Şişhane. We love this area, a stone’s throw from the Galata Tower and at the same time close to the nerve center of the city.

Tomtom Suites
Boğazkesen Caddesi, Tomtom Kaptan Sokak No.18, Beyoğlu
www.tomtomsuites.com

Located in Tophane, an area in which more and more is being developed and the modern art community is taking root. The extraordinary decoration makes it unique.

Karaköy Rooms
Kemankes Caddesi, Galata Sarap İskelesi Sokak No:10, Karaköy
www.karakoyrooms.com

Karaköy is becoming an increasingly active area, with speedy restorations and trendy hotels. The area is on the sea, in the middle of historic buildings, churches and the historic port of Karaköy. A bonus to take into consideration is the possibility to try the restaurants of the highest quality that have opened in the area recently, especially seafood lovers.

W Istanbul
Suleyman Seba Cadddesi No:22,Beşiktaş
www.wistanbul.com

The only “luxury” hotel on our list, but of exquisite quality. It is within the city, in Beşiktaş, the neighborhood in which we live. Very close to everything, just a few meters from the Bosphorus, in the middle between Taksim and Nisantasi, well-served by public transport. You also have the chance to try out new bistros and brasseries that have opened recently to Akaretler.

Şebnem Hotel
Adliye Sokak No: 1, Sultanahmet
www.sebnemhotel.net

If you really want to stay in Sultanahmet, choose the Şebnem Hotel. It’s lovely, small, well maintained,and has a nice atmosphere and a good view. The price is great.

Hush Hostel Lounge
Rihtim Caddesi Iskele Sokak, No:46 Kadıköy
www.hushhostelistanbul.com

Choosing a hotel on the Asian side of the city is not a bad idea. Kadıköy district is a beautiful and it is easy to get downtown by ferry. This hostel also has an art gallery inside. Definately give it a chance.

Sumo Cat Hostel
Ali Hoca Aralik Sokak Bina No:9, Beyoğlu
www.sumocathostel.com

A very nice hostel in Galata, right in the center of the typical district and not on the main street, this makes it one of the most peaceful places to stay in the area. Very quaint and decorated in a fun way. We like it a lot.

Cheap holidays, often for young people and ultimately suited to the economic crisis, are becoming a necessity. This does not mean, however, we must give up traveling.

We have also added a couple of hostels because there are many people who decide to visit the city with a low budget. Cheap holidays, often for young people and ultimately as a result of economic crisis, are becoming a necessity. This does not mean, however, we must not surrender travelling.

In recent years, many travelers, families or groups of friends, have been staying in apartments properly equipped for the needs of tourists. If
you are interested in renting an apartment please consult our section dedicated to the topic.


Sea in Turkey

mare turchia

We are approaching the holiday season and begining to get a lot of mail in which we are asked for advice on the seaside in Turkey. We are a blog that mainly focuses Istanbul, but being experts and users of Turkish seaside resorts, we can certainly give good advice.

The tourism sector in Turkey is growing and it is certainly driven by stylish cities such as Bodrum and Antalya, but there are many other less known and even more beautiful places.

If you would like advice on Turkish seaside resorts, you can contact us via e-mail or leave a comment below, we leave you with a full article written by the Press Office of the Embassy of Turkey.

THE CLASSIFICATION OF BLUE FLAGS 2015: TURKEY GETS 2TH PLACE

Turkey with its 436 Blue Flag-certified beaches has ranked second among 47 countries, according to the 2015 list established by Copenhagen-based Foundation for Environmental Education, or FEE.

In the list, Spain holds the top spot with its 578 certified beaches. Turkey is followed by Greece (395), France (379) and Portugal (299).

Turkey had 383 beaches certified Blue Flag in 2014. The country joined the program in 1994 with only 12 Blue Flag beaches.

The beaches in the province of Antalya are, without doubt, the most awarded with Blue Flags. 174 to Muğla, 28 to Izmir, 20 to Aydin, 17 to Balikesir, 5 to Çanakkale, 1 to Mersin, and 1 to Tekirdağ and Düzce.

The Blue Flag is an international award, established in 1987. The Blue Flag is awarded every year in 41 countries. Initially, it was only given in Europe. Now, non-European countries (South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean) also receive the award with the support and participation of the two UN agencies: UNEP (United Nations Program for the Environment) and UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) with which the FEE has signed a Memorandum of global partnership.

Blue Flag is a voluntary eco-label awarded to over 3650 resorts seaside (beaches and marinas) that meet criteria relating to sustainable land management. The award of the Blue Flag for beaches and marinas is based on 32 specific criteria that cover four major areas: environmental education and information, water quality, environmental management, safety, and services. The main objective of this program is to encourage local management of coastal resorts to adopt environmentally sustainable policies.

Official website of international http://www.blueflag.org