Three things that surprised me about Istanbul

Hi Frugalistas!

I don’t know about you, but when I travel to a new place I always some preconceived ideas about what I am going to experience.  My trip to Istanbul was no exception.  I was delighted to discover some of my preconceptions exceeded my expectations, and some of my negative preconceptions were just plain wrong!

travel, travel tips, travel planning, Blue Mosque in Istanbul in the early morning light

Visiting the hammam was heavenly

I wrote previously about how much I enjoyed my hammam experience at Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami.  While I was looking forward to going to the hammam, I didn’t realise just how enjoyable it would be.  A good session at a reputable hammam really is like a wonderful treat at a very exotic spa.  If you like massages, facials and other spa treatments, I thoroughly recommend a trip to the hammam – there really is no experience like it!

travel, travel planning, travel tips, entrance plaque to Ayasofya Hurem Sultan Hamami

A good hammam is a glorious indulgence

Istanbul is actually quite easy to navigate

Looking at the maps in my guidebook I was a bit daunted at the prospect of navigating my way round Istanbul.

two boats on the Bosphorus, Istanbul, travel, travel tips, travel planning

I found navigating my way round Istanbul quite easy

Apart from the road traffic that is truly awful, in reality, getting around is easy.  Armed with some thorough research planning my route, and a decent map, I was able to find my way round town without a hitch.  Streets are quite well sign posted and popular tourist sites have their own directional signage.  I found the tram lines a good “marker” to help navigate my way as I walked around.

travel, travel tips, travel planning, entrance to the Grand Bazaar

I found my way round the Grand Bazaar using the goods for sale in each zone of the Bazaar. Much easier than trying to find the “streets”

The Spice Bazaar is not so big, so is hard to get lost in.  Many guide books will have a map of the Grand Bazaar.  While I didn’t always know exactly where I was in the Grand Bazaar stalls are grouped into zones within the bazaar.  By using the goods on sale, and the zones identified on my guidebook map I was able to navigate my way round quite comfortably.

While streets are narrow and winding in places, and I didn’t always know exactly where I was, Istanbul wasn’t daunting to navigate at all!

Quiet spaces do exist, even in busy tourist areas

The Sultanahmet area is crazy busy, but look carefully and tranquil spaces do exist.  Beside the Topkapi Palace one morning I wandered into the Gulhane Park.  The park is somewhat protected from view as it is inside the old palace walls.  It made a wonderful place for a quiet morning walk.  With only the odd jogger, some fellow walkers and plenty of birds for company I enjoyed a peaceful morning.  Outside the tourists bustled, the tour buses queued up to part outside the Palace, and the touts touted.  But we lucky few explored a quieter, more tranquil Istanbul.

travel, travel tips, travel planning, interior of the Suleyman mosque

Quiet corners do exist, even in much visited mosques

Even in busy tourist sites like the Topkapi Palace and mosques, it is possible to find a quiet place.  On a busy morning, the gardens of the Topkapi facing out onto the Bosphorus were surprisingly quiet.  I was able to sit alone on a bench and enjoy the gardens and the view.  By moving to the side of the tourists areas in mosques such as the Blue Mosque and the Suleyman Mosque I was able to avoid the worst of the crowds, still enjoy the architecture and spend as much time as I liked taking the beauty of the mosque, completely uninterrupted.

Entrance to the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Even the Topkapi Palace has quiet places if you know where to look

Sometimes I love it when I’m wrong!  I always felt I would enjoy Istanbul, but was a bit daunted at finding my way round, and wasn’t sure whether I’d cope with the crowds and noise.  While I love facials and massages, I hadn’t experienced the hammam, and wasn’t sure what I would make of it.

When did you visit a place and find it to be even better than you expected?

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7 Comments on “Three things that surprised me about Istanbul”

  1. Rosemary Kneipp 05/02/2014 at 9:25 pm #

    I am bookmarking all these posts about Istanbul which is high on my list of places to go. Thank you.

  2. frugalfirstclasstravel 05/02/2014 at 9:39 pm #

    Thank you Rosemary. I do have some further posts in this series. It’s a wonderful city.

  3. Pretraveller 06/02/2014 at 10:07 pm #

    Jo, it is great how places sometimes take you by surprise when they are different to what you envisaged but in a good way!

    After all of your inspiration about Istanbul I have decided to contribute with my next post being about some great travel options in Turkey! I would definitely love to visit this part of the world one day.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 07/02/2014 at 6:17 am #

      Thanks Anne. Istanbul is an inspiring place, so I’m delighted it’s had that effect on you!

  4. emptyrucksack 18/02/2014 at 5:38 am #

    I had no idea about 1&3 maybe it is for my next trip there. But I agree with second but the city and rich history may seem complicated from far but are fairly easy to figure out and navigate.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Weekly Blogger Round-Up: Advantages of Paris in Winter – Surprising Things about Istanbul – Eating Rules for French Children | Aussie in France - 20/02/2014

    […] I wrote previously about how much I enjoyed my hammam experience at Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami.  While I was looking forward to going to the hammam, I didn’t realise just how enjoyable it would be.  A good session at a reputable hammam really is like a wonderful treat at a very exotic spa.  If you like massages, facials and other spa treatments, I thoroughly recommend a trip to the hammam – there really is no experience like it! Read more […]

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