“If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital”, Napoleon Bonaparte had famously said. The French Emperor predicted well, but I’d hear about Istanbul from another French. writer François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand’s observation that “there is no other place on earth as beautiful looking as Istanbul.” Well, he said it better than the emperor. Sitting smug over Asia and Europe, there’s something magical about the Turkish capital - the circular chandeliers of Hagia Sophia; the graceful blue of SultanAhmet (Blue Mosque); history chattering in the Topkaki Palace; the aroma of baklava in the Grand Bazaar; and winsome smiles of the Turks that turns a stranger into a friend.Here are a few smarter ways to see Istanbul.
A historical photograph of Turkish Airlines’ which was established in 1933 with 7 pilots, 8 mechanics, 8 clerks, and one radio operator. The first fleet had two 5-seater King Bird aircraft, two 4-seater Junkers F-13s, and one 10-seater ATH-9. The first flights were done in the triangle of Istanbul, Eskisehir and Ankara. (Photo courtesy: Turkish Airlines)
Layover Istanbul by Turkish Airlines: Turkish Airlines offers free Istanbul tours from the airport. If you have a connecting international flight in Istanbul with a layover between 6-24 hours, opt for free Touristanbul Service that offers three extensive tours which last for 6 or 9 hours and covers the city’s most famous sights, such as the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Basilica Cistern. You don’t need a listing or booking to join our free tour. You can sign up for the tour at the Hotel Desk in the International Arrivals Terminal of Istanbul Airport.
For details, visit: www.turkishairlines.com
E-Visa: Indians with valid US/UK/Schengen visa can avail the e-visa facility which is an alternative to visas issued at Turkish missions and at the ports of entry. Apply online with required information and making payments (roughly $45) by a credit or debit card (Mastercard, Visa or American Express). The Turkish e-visa is typically valid for single entry into Turkey within a 180-day period and the stay cannot exceed 30 days. E-visa is granted only for tourism and trade purposes.
SultanAhmet, usually called the Blue Mosque.
Istanbul Tourist Pass: Istanbul’s one and only sightseeing pass with free access to 30+ attractions and includes services such as mobile internet connection all around Turkey and a complimentary airport transfer. Available in 2/3/5/7-day passes, the price starts at 95 euros per adult, 45 euros for child (2-day pass); the 7-day pass costs 145 euros. The airport transfer and Internet connection need to be booked at least 2 business days in advance.
Buy the Pass online at www.istanbultouristpass.com
Guided Museum Pass Istanbul: Skip the long queue for tickets with Guided Museum Pass Istanbul (50 euros per adult) that takes you through Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace (does not include Imperial Harem ticket for Topkapı Palace), Basilica Cistern, Dolmabahçe Palace, Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque and more. The trip with an English-speaking guide gives you one entrance right to every museum listed under this Pass. From the first entrance, you can use it in 5 calendar days.
IstanbulKart provides access to Istanbul’s integrated public transpire system.
IstanbulKart for public transport: Purchase 1-ride/5-rides İstanbulkart from the yellow vending machines located in every station of the subway, trams, metrobus, funiculars and some kiosks located near public bus stops. Coins are not accepted by the machines and the machine won’t give you any change. Credit as low as you need for your trips. The card comes with no credit - you first need to credit money to the card in order to be able to use it for your rides. Rough cost per ride (all prices in Turkish lira): buses, trams, metro, cable car, funicular: 2.60 each; boats: 2.60-4.00. Rent a bike: To avoid too many traffic snarls in Istanbul, specially in the Old Town, rent a bike. Www.istanbulonbike offers several tour options including Eurasia Bike and Boat Tour, Old City Tours, Istanbul in 4 days, and Golden Horn Tours. If you wish to bike around Istanbul on your own, you can still do it; the rent a bike service includes helmet, lock, reflective vest (for night hours). www.turkeybikerent.com offers motorcycle and scooters on rent. The minimum age for motorcycle rentals is 21 years. Insurance can be expensive - for example, insurance fee (customer’s risk) for XT 660R Yamaha is 700 euros. GPS rental costs 7 euros per day.
You can also book bikes online at www.bimbimbikes.com
Grand Bazaar is a must-do for shopping.
Shopping: Istanbul is literally the shop-till-you-drop city. Malls, souks, shops galore. The Grand Bazaar is a must-do on everyone’s list. Polish the art of haggling before you enter the Bazaar. If you do not have Turkish lira, shell out the Euros and US dollars (not the coins, though). A few shops do not accept credit cards. There is a Money Exchange kiosk at the entrance of the Bazaar.
Tipping in hotels is usually between 5 percent and 10 percent.
Tipping: Tip 5-10 percent in restaurants, cafés and bars. Most hotel staff expect tips for their services ranging between 5 and 20 Turkish Liras for their services.
Turks don’t tip taxi drivers, but round up cab fares.
Tour guides are usually not tipped individually. If you are in a group, tipping between 20 and 30 Turkish lira is common.
At airports, a porter expects 2-3 Turkish lira per suitcase.
Other dos and don’ts: Carry a head scarf for your Blue Mosque visit. If you forget it, pick one free from the counter before entrance. Remove your shoes, put them in a bag and carry them with you (entry/exit points are different). No shorts, no sleeveless outfits. Do not walk in front of a praying person.
Nodding your head can confuse a Turk. For ‘yes’, one downward nod of the head is enough; to say ‘no’, lift your chin, raise your eyebrows, and click your tongue.
Hair Tourism: It’s a hair-raising fact for bald men. Home to hundreds of hair transplants centres, Turkey retains the world’s highest number of JCI (Joint Commission International) approved hair transplant centres, with Istanbul alone having hundreds of them. According to The Washington Post, the average cost of a hair transplant operation in Turkey ranges from $1,700 and $2,000. While the same operation in Britain or the US could cost up to $25,000. Preeti Verma Lal is a Goa-based freelance writer/photographer. Read her columns