For my first travel post, I’ve decided to write about my first travel ever.
Let’s start from the beginning. My first time in an aeroplane was a long flight to Turkey, It took ten hours to fly to Rome, then 5 more hours waiting in the airport for the next flight to Istanbul. Crazy, I know, I was 21 years old, cursing the last year of a hospitality degree and I had never ever flown in my life, not even to São Paulo, a city just next to my hometown Rio de Janeiro.
My stay in Istanbul was very short, only for two days, but it was an incredible experience. First, because it is a Muslim country with culture, food, music, environment completely foreign to someone from occidental, or a Christian country.
I truly love to discover new cultures, but when it is completely different from what I am used to, I get even more passionate and excited. Listen to Turkish songs, eat the real kebab, drink tea with Turkish people, visit mosques were one of the best parts of this experience.
I had no problem with communication over there, Turkish people are very friendly and helpful, they can communicate well in English, and sometimes they even tried to speak Portuguese with me, especially in the grand bazaar when they were trying to sell me something.
The city is very cheap. Transportation, markets, food and everything else is good for a backpacker’s pocket.
“A man washing his feet before prayer”
-Istanbul is divided into two parts. Old Istanbul, where the area is more conservative, it is where a few tourist places like Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sofia and Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as blue mosque.
The other part is new Istanbul. I could say that it is where the youngest part of the city is, the area is a bit less conservative than old Istanbul and it is where the famous Galata tower is located. You can find a variety of modern bars, cafes, hotels, shopping malls, and restaurants over there.
-A nice thing about visiting a Muslim country is to hear they inviting muslins to pray five times a day, every day, where muslin stop to do whatever they are doing to go to the mosque to pray. It is very beautiful to see the devotion.
-CURRENCY: Turkish Lira
-TRANSPORTATION: The main airport is Istanbul Atatürk Airport. The subway connects you from the airport to the city.
To walk around the city I would recommend taking trams or the subway, but you should try to avoid the rush hours, early in the morning and evening.
-CLIMATE: I was there in February, the last weeks of winter and the temperature was around 10 to 12 degrees Celsius at night and around 14 to 16 degrees Celsius during the day. Cold but not too cold. During summer it can vary between 20 to 30 degrees Celsius.
-SAFETY RATE: Turkey’s position is 149 out of 163 countries. The lower the number in the security rating the safer the city.
-LGBTQ+: Even though Turkey is a Muslim country, homosexuality is not a crime there, although same-sex couples are not given the same legal protections available to heterosexual couples. Turkey is not the most liberal county in the world but it is still a place LGBTQ+ people can visit comfortably.
-WHERE TO GO/WHAT TO DO
-Blue Mosque- A popular tourist site, hand-painted blue tiles adorn the mosque’s interior walls. There is no entrance fee, but they accept donations to maintain the property. Women have to wear a hijab to hide their hair but they provide it at the entrance. You also must take your shoes off while walking inside. It is best to avoid the mosque during prayer time, as it closes for 90 minutes.
-Hagia Sophia- This is the former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral. The unique architecture makes it look like a mosque. It is located at Sultanahmet Square, directly in front of the Blue Mosque. The cathedral is opened from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Hagia Sophia is not for free, you must purchase a ticket to enter which costs 60 TL. It is recommended to purchase it on the internet.
-Galata Tower- Was used as a watchtower to help defend the city. Entrance ticket costs 25 TL and is opened every day from 9:00am to 8:30pm. Walking to the top of the tower will provide you with a beautiful view of the city.
-Grand Bazaar- Is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. You can find everything you’re looking for such as beautiful carpets, lamps, handcrafted products, and more. It is opened from 9am to 7pm during weekdays and 10am to 7pm on the weekends.
-Galata Bridge- This bridge spans the Golden Horn – a large river in Istanbul. I would totally recommend a visit at sunset. There are many restaurants there, and it is a nice place to break for a coffee or have lunch or dinner. Visiting the bridge as the sun descends is beautiful and an incredible experience.
The Basilica Cistern- This is the largest of many Cisterns in Istanbul. It was built in the 6th century and is located in Sultanahmet Square. The Cistern is opened every day from 9:00 am to 5:30, and the tickets cost 20 TL.
Turkish Bath- There is a variety of Turkish baths in Istanbul. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to experience the bath and it is a big regret in my life.
What you need to know about the Turkish bath is that there is three famous way to have it.
1- You bathe yourself and bring with you all the products, like soap, towel, etc. This is the cheapest option and cost around 60 TL. I personally would not recommend this one if you wish to enjoy the full experience the bath has to offer.
2- This is the traditional style. This option is the closest to a real Turkish bath experience. You don’t have to bring any products with you, an attendant will wash and massage you for about 15 minutes, and it will cost you around 95 TL.
3- If you want to improve the experience you can pay a bit more and they will offer other services such as facial, clay mask, aromatherapy, oil massage, reflexology and Indian head massage.
I would recommend checking some bathhouses websites for more information.
For backpacker travellers, I think the good options in Istanbul would be to stay in a shared room in a hostel or look for a hostess in a couch-surfing app, for free. If you search carefully you will find nice hostels and couch-surfing rooms that will allow you to travel cheaper.
I personally love to listen to tips form the locals, so I believe couch-surfing is a great choice, especially if you are travelling solo. You can also find hostels for $12.00 to $15.00 American dollars if you prefer to share a room and meet other travellers on your stay.
When you go to Grand Bazaar you will find cheap things but you can always bargain and ask for a better price.
Turkish people love to drink tea so whenever you go you will see a Turkish person drinking it and they will also serve you a cup of tea for free. If you accept their offer it will make them very happy.