It was 2019.
We were in those heady days when we could travel where we wanted, when we wanted.
Constant mask wearing and hand washing was a thing of the future!
I was visiting Istanbul!
A place that straddles two continents and had an air of complete mystery to me. I really wasn’t sure what to expect out of Istanbul, in my mind I imagined a large, sprawling, chaotic city. One that was difficult to get around and was, dare I say, a little intimidating.
Yes, I let my negative imagination run away with me!
How wrong I was! The city was nothing like I imagined!
Instead of sprawling, I found all of the main tourists areas were actually in very close proximity to each other.
Instead of chaotic, I found somewhere that was, well, not calm, but definitely not overwhelmingly busy and in your face.
Instead of being faced with difficult or no public transport, I found we could actually walk to most places, or hop on a tram to those further afield.
Istanbul was a surprise and a definite delight!
We arrived at the new Istanbul Airport, which had only opened earlier that year. It. Was. HUGE! Flights were transferred to the new airport in April 2019 and the place was still very much under construction when we arrived. It looks like it was planned for it to be a major hub and a major player in the airline world once it was finished, which according to one report I read was not going to be until 2027…but I wonder how covid-19 has affected those plans?
The airport was so big that even our Captain on the plane commented on how long it would take us to taxi to our gate! And yes, it did take a little while..!
I had been a bit apprehensive about how we would get from the airport to the hotel. I had investigated the hotel pick up, but that was very expensive.
Then I had investigated the Havaist bus service which runs a shuttle service between the airport and the city. I found the website very confusing and couldn’t quite work out where the bus dropped off and how far it was from the hotel.
It turns out the stop in Sultanahmet (the main tourist area) wasn’t very far at all, so it would have been fine for our trip into the city. With that knowledge, at the end of our trip we caught it back to the airport instead – it cost us 18 lira (approx £2.30 / US$3) and took just over an hour.
I also investigated airport taxis and found a few reports that these couldn’t be trusted, you had to be careful that it was metered and that they didn’t rip you off!
Great! What a start!!
However, I also found a few helpful people on the internet who assured everyone that it wasn’t that bad, so in the end we plumped for the airport taxi. We figured that even if we got overcharged it would still be cheaper than the transfer the hotel could organise!
So first problem solved!
Once we had arrived and cleared immigration and had gotten our bags (which took ages!) we found our way out to the arrivals hall and took a breath.
We needed to get some cash so set out to find the ATMs. These were hidden right down one end of the arrivals hall (so if you are looking for them, just keep walking and you’ll come across them eventually!). We figured out how to get money out of one of them (not as straightforward as you may imagine!) and then made our way out to the taxi rank, which was thankfully located straight outside.
The majority of the taxis are orange and they were plentiful. It was well organised, we joined a short queue and then were hustled into the next available taxi. It proved helpful to have the name and address of the hotel printed out for the driver. We also found the rates of the taxis were printed on the pillars in baggage claim when we first arrived. This was helpful and gave us an idea of what we would be charged.
This, of course, increased when we arrived at our destination and we ended up giving a tip as well, so paid about 200 lira (£25 / US$33) which was above what it should have been. But that was fine, I wasn’t going to quibble over a few pounds as we wrestled our bags out of the taxi in the cobbled street, as cars waited impatiently behind us!
We had made it into Istanbul and arrived at our hotel – The Best Point Hotel
And we couldn’t wait to explore the city – but a shower, food and a good sleep was on the cards first!