A short break in Istanbul in the last week of April turned out to be all that I hope for. Ananth and I were on our way back from a short visit to Netherlands to visit family – we had opted to fly by Turkish Airlines in order to take this stop over. The Airline has great connections to all of Europe – but otherwise not anything to write home about. We stayed at the Angel’s Home Hotel, something we had booked online, using the experience of Rahul and Mukta who had been to Istanbul a couple of years ago. It was a stones throw away from the Blue Mosque, a fantastic location. It was, like most of the hotels in that area, a kind of extended home stay – older homes to which additional floors had been added and usually having 8-12 rooms. As the Manager told us, the permissions for the additional floors are a bit iffy – reminding us of home!! But, it was clean with friendly helpful staff.
Turkey is the 6th most visited tourist center in the world with nearly 31 million visitors in 2011 (compare to 6.3 million to India). Athough, the beaches and the many Roman and other historical sites around the country are popular, few first time visitors would skip Istanbul. We spent 3 sunny, warm days – beautiful Mediterranean climate – in which to see this really charming city. Being situated along a beautiful waterfront, with the city spread across both sides, it has all the picturesque advantages of such a location – San Francisco and Sydney being others that I have visited. Of course, it is so much written about, that there is little that I can add, except to say that there is no substitute to standing in the square between the Hagia and Blue Mosque in the evening, when the fountains are flowing and the monuments are lit up.
For a tourist, it is an easy city to traverse. All the sites are within very easy distances, the tram service is efficient, and cheap and the people are really warm and friendly, especially to Indians. It is an Islamic city with huge towering and impressive mosques, but is also European in its efficiency, cleanliness and organization. In fact, the mix of the Asian and European is very interesting – the markets resemble Chandni Chowk, while the main streets could be in Berlin or Rome! Street food is hygienic and plenty, MacDonald and Pizza Hut/Dominoes do not dominate the streets. English is understood almost by all those you have to deal with. THe Grand Bazaar and Spice Market are experiences in themselves.
Even the showers on the last day of our say did not dampen our spirit and we headed for the airport for the flight home, fully satisfied with our stay.