Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Istanbul: Day 1

After an 11 hour plane ride, we landed in Istanbul to a cloudy, drizzly day. Since we hadn't checked any luggage, we didn't have to fiddle-faddle with baggage claim so we headed straight towards the Metro.

LEARNING HOW TO USE THE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM
The Istanbulkart/Akbil (like a refillable metrocard) machine was out of order so we had to get tokens from the Jetonmatik machine. It actually worked out because after that, we never saw an Istanbulkart/Akbil machine again, so we wouldn't have been able to refill our cards anyway.
How it works:
1. Insert your money (coins or bills, 20TL is the largest bill the machine will accept).
2. Press the blue button to change the quantity of tokens you want. Each token costs 2TL.
3. Press the green button to make the machine spit out the tokens and your change (if applicable).
4. Make sure you get enough tokens for your trip. Transfers are not free and you will have to use another token to switch from one line to another.
For example, let's say you want two tokens and you have 5TL. Insert your bill and the machine will show, "1 token, 3TL change," (except in Turkish). If you hit the blue button once the machine will then show, "2 tokens, 1TL change," and at that point you can hit the green button and the machine will spit out two tokens and 1TL coin.
We encountered both blue tokens and red tokens while using the Metro and tram and funicular.
The MetrO app (free) was really helpful for us. It's an app that doesn't require internet however, it's limited in that you have to know what starting and ending stations in order for it to generate a route.

We stayed at the Raymond Hotel, located right in the heart of Sultanahmet, and we thought it was a lovely hotel. The lifts were really tiny (only fits 4 thin people) but the rooms were cute, bathrooms were clean, and the staff were really friendly and helpful. We were surprised to find how low the ceilings were (I could reach the ceiling and I'm 5'2") but it started to make a bit of sense when we realized how tiny Turkish people were.
After unloading our luggage and giving our feet a rest we decided to spend our first day just walking around, getting to learn our neighborhood.

We encountered a cat eating McDonald's chicken nuggets near the Hagia Sophia while a second cat watched (not sure if he was watching enviously or just merely curious).
We also saw our first dog, just hanging out on a lawn near the Hippodrome.
And we took a few rainy photos in front of the Blue Mosque, which was lovely, even with a dreary, cloudy sky behind it.
We also stumbled upon this strange block of faux colorful homes painted onto the siding of some cafe.
After a few hours of wandering around, we headed back to our hotel to take a nap, as we were majorly jetlagged.

For dinner, we went to Pa┼čazade, which was a 2-minute walk from our hotel. It was a bit strange because the waiters were dressed up in kitschy vests and were a little too attentive. However, we were starving and the food was delicious.

We were given bread and some spreads to start. Then we shared a vegetable salad, which was just cucumbers, tomatoes, and olives tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then I had sea bass stew while my travel cohort had grilled seasonal fish (they didn't specify which kind) and pilaf. For dessert, we shared baklava with vanilla ice cream. The baklava was really delicious but the ice cream had a weird playdoh-like texture.

And they also gave us complimentary Turkish delights. I would compare them to Jujube candies. I wasn't a huge fan because they were overly sweet for me.









After dinner, we headed back to our hotel and had a lovely night's sleep.

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