Turkey in June
May 15, 2006 10:50 AM   Subscribe

We're going to Istanbul for about a week and a half in early June. Any suggestions?
posted by lalalana to Travel & Transportation around Byzantion, Turkey (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in Turkey last year, I spent a couple of days in Edirne and I really appreciated being able to get out of the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.

This is largely a temperamental preference, but I found that getting out of Istanbul and being able to experience something else of the country was really nice. Edirne is a relatively quiet town, but it's not without its sights, in particular the Selemiye mosque -- considered Sinan's greatest accomplishment.
posted by camcgee at 11:36 AM on May 15, 2006

Assuming you'll do all the usual must-sees (Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, etc), I'll just recommend a somewhat quirky tourist spot: the Basilica Cistern. It was a functioning part of Istanbul's municipal water supply for nearly 2,000 years, which has got to be some kind of record for a public utility.
posted by Quietgal at 11:41 AM on May 15, 2006

Second the cistern, and get to as many of the great mosques as you can. And be sure to see the Kariye Camii (formerly the Byzantine Chora Church ; some pictures here). It's one of the most amazing buildings I've seen, and isn't as heavily touristed as the sites closer to the center of town. (Try and stay in the Old City if you can, not in those soulless megahotels north of the Golden Horn.) And if you can get hold of a copy of Strolling Through Istanbul, it's a superb guide to the antiquities of the city. (If you can't, a lot of the information is in the Lonely Planet Istanbul guide, if I remember correctly, and John Freely has done other books as well.)

Oh, and beware the rug merchants; they can drive you to distraction, and there's no really good way to deal with them—even pretending not to speak English doesn't help, because they know all the tourist languages. My wife and I were nearly driven to murder once in Beyoglu when an elderly gentleman came up, asked us what we were looking for, pointed us in the right direction with impeccable grace and courtesy, and then mentioned that he had a cousin with a shop just around the corner... Once we might have been charmed, but we'd really had it up to here by then. All I can say is, be merciless or you'll waste a lot of time. If you do want to buy rugs, learn as much as you can before you go and be even more merciless—you can cut the price a lot more than you might think.

Which reminds me, you can and should bargain for just about everything in Turkey, even things you'd think would be fixed, like bus prices. All the bus companies have offices next to each other at the main station, and if you don't like the price to Bursa, say "Thanks" and walk away to check next door; they'll come after you with a better price. Don't feel abashed—bargaining is a national sport and they appreciate a good game. (And do visit Bursa [photos] if you can—it was one of the early Ottoman capitals and has splendid mosques, especially the Green Mosque, and you can great silk at the Koza Han.)
posted by languagehat at 12:08 PM on May 15, 2006

Granted it was about 15 years ago, but I found this book to be a fantastic traveling companion in Istanbul. It's a little (but not overly) academic, and I wouldn't use it for restaurant recommendations and such, but it was incredibly thorough about history and architecture.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 12:31 PM on May 15, 2006

The number of people trying to scam tourists in Istanbul can be overwhelming. I had a guy very ineptly try to steal my money. It was more odd than scary.

That said, do all the standard stuff. Don't miss the Suleiman Mosque which is a little more classy and less touristy. I enjoyed doing a sightseeing boat trip too, but I can't remember too many details. Also had a good time at the bar in one of the hostels, but again I'm fuzzy on the details. Taxim was cool and the war museum had a pretty cool daily performance of Ottoman Military Music. (sounds weird, I know) The performers had excellent moustaches.

Have you considered traveling outside of Istanbul? Turkey has very cheap buses and lots of other great places to see.
posted by Xalf at 1:07 PM on May 15, 2006

well, it really depends on what you're into. istanbul is very similar to new york city, in that there are a million things to do depending on your preferences and the stuff you like to do. are u into shopping? history? night life? food? culture? there's so very much to do in the city.

the scamming is and can be a big deal, especially if you're not a big city person. i am biased (i was born and raised there) but i don't think it's much worse than many big cities. you just have to know what you're doing and carry yourself like you know what you're doing.

i'm happy to give you specific recommendations if you give me a bit more info on the kind of stuff you like to do. also if you would like to have a contact there, just in case, my family still lives there and i am happy help if you need anything. feel free to email me karen at karenika dot com.

as others have said, turkey is cheap and there are lots of places to visit. june's a bit early for swimming but you can still see troy and go to cappadocia, as well as many of the smaller towns. either way, i hope you enjoy your time there. :)
posted by karen at 1:30 PM on May 15, 2006

I found this book to be a fantastic traveling companion in Istanbul

That's the one! Not Lonely Planet, Blue Guide; sorry!

i don't think it's much worse than many big cities

Yeah, it really is, unless by "many big cities" you mean Marrakech and Dakar. I've traveled a lot and I've never seen anything like the touting that goes on in Istanbul. It can make it very hard to enjoy one's stay.
posted by languagehat at 2:09 PM on May 15, 2006

I'll be there in August. Read up on Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire before you go - you'll be gald you did while walking around the city. Huberto Eco's Bardolino is also a fun read - I read it in Istanbul last summer, more or less on the same street and hill that it's fictional characters relate their story.

The Egullet boards have a lot of info on dining in Istanbul, and don't forget the kebap houses... the little place at the corner of the Galata bridge in Karakoy is my favorite for inegol kofte (little round burger balls, essentially, but the ones God eats.)

Tip: Go to the Fatih market, which is located on the western end of the Aqueduct in Aksaray (along Bulevard Ataturk.) the meat market is ringed with small restaurants offering "buryani kebab" which is whole lambs roasted in a tandoor oven, served on fresh flat bread for about $6.

Also, try learning a little bit of Turkish. It is absolutely regular - no irregular verbs, easy on the tenses, only the word order will seem strange. Chatting in bad turkish is one way to make friends with the average folks, who are some of the most kind, helpful, and generous folks on the planet.

Try not to hang in Sultanhamet - it is the tourist trap zone. Beyoglu is happening. The back streets around Istikklal Cadessi in Beyoglu are also full of "Alevi Bars" - small folk music clubs with live saz music and serving beer and raki. These bars serve as a form of worship for the Alevi sect of Bektashi dervishes, who spurn going to Mosques or separating women, or not drinkling, and like dancing. My kind of sufis.
posted by zaelic at 3:07 PM on May 15, 2006 [3 favorites]

Oh, and I recommend the Time Out guide to Istanbul...
posted by zaelic at 3:10 PM on May 15, 2006

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