12.09.2014 - 16.09.2014 26 °C
Arrival: Our top tip is to avoid arriving at the main Otogar (bus station) just after sunset on a Friday. We did just that and found it frenetic, stifling and extremely difficult for the unwary traveller straight off the bus from Bulgaria.
We returned at other times over 4 days - after we had become more familiar with the city - and found it not so busy or so confusing.
But here's the issue: you are dumped off your bus from Bulgaria with no Turkish currency (there is no exchange point anywhere on the route from Varna) and no idea how to get to our hotel, except that it would be about 4 metro stops and another 22 tram stops after that...if we could work out the local transport system.
We decided to catch a cab. But for that you need cash, and there was no sign of an ATM at first. There seemed to be only one in the whole bus station, which we found after walking through various sections of this enormous station.
The traffic in istanbul is notoriously bad and Friday evening it is probably at its worst. The cab we caught by randomly finding a cab offloading someone at the bus station (there is no cab stand or queue). Cab driver was fine and got us to our apartment in about an hour...
Local Transport; Next morning when we arrived at the tram stop, we were none the wiser about how the system worked. And although machines were in English, they didn't explain that a 'Jeton' for 4L was a one-off ride, whereas the 2l15 'single ticket' was only relevant if you already had an Istanbul Card.
Istanbul Card you can only buy at large metro and tram stops, and in fact it's only at the airport (we went there on an errand) that you get staff on hand to explain the system.
System works well once you understand it, but we saw a lot of confused tourists struggling with the machines.
Also note; the machines appear to give you a time limit to top up the Istanbul Card, but don't panic as the 20 seconds just starts again if you fail to upload in time.
Want a cheap ferry ride on the Bosphorus? Take the 20 minute ride over to Kadikoy on the Asian side. Not only sosts you only 2L15 (with Istanbul Card), but actually has a more relaxed feel than the ever bustly European side.
Food: Don't miss the three boats moored by Galata Bridge (south side away from Bazaar side of the road) where you get delicious fish sandwiches for 6L each. Join thousands of locals and tourists doing this every day.
Bazaars: We loved the Spice Market. Felt the Grand Bazaar just too big.
Tea: Don't miss Erenler Water Pipe and Tea Garden near Grand Bazaar (on the main tram route road, but hidden away behind a stone wall) - very iconic, but mainly men. On the Kadikoy side we found more mixed tea rooms with actually more women than men.
Coffee: Great artisan coffee shops to rival London's best. Try Kronotrop near Taksim or twins between Taksim and Kabatas.
Kebab: Don't be fooled by the UK use of the word. Kebab can be a very posh and expensive restaurant. It's Doner Kebab places that resemble what we are used to back home...