The International Living Podcast

Episode 47: What We Learned From One Week in Istanbul, Turkey

October 18, 2023 International Living
Episode 47: What We Learned From One Week in Istanbul, Turkey
The International Living Podcast
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The International Living Podcast
Episode 47: What We Learned From One Week in Istanbul, Turkey
Oct 18, 2023
International Living

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Jim Santos, and his wife, Rita, continue their long-delayed roving retirement plan. As Jim records this episode, he and Rita are in Istanbul, Turkey checking out the city before they head to Vienna and Prague to continue their nine-week romp through Europe.

In a change to the usual format, in this episode, Jim himself takes to the mic, giving his impressions of a city that straddles two continents, maintains thousands of years of history, and bridges the Western and Eastern worlds. He shares details of where you should visit, and when. Jim’s tips and hacks on how to avoid the worst of the tourist crowds, what to look out for when you book your accommodation, and how to keep yourself safe and sane in this city of 15 million inhabitants, are invaluable preparation for a trip to Turkey’s largest city.

Join Jim as he talks us through the sights, sounds, and smells of Istanbul, from the subterranean city cisterns to the glorious dome of the Hagia Sophia; across the Bosphorous Strait for lunch in another continent, to fresh pistachios and Turkish Delight at the Grand Bazaar. When to go, what to wear, and which days to avoid…it’s all included in the latest episode of the International Living Podcast.   

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform: https://lovethepodcast.com/internationalliving.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Jim Santos, and his wife, Rita, continue their long-delayed roving retirement plan. As Jim records this episode, he and Rita are in Istanbul, Turkey checking out the city before they head to Vienna and Prague to continue their nine-week romp through Europe.

In a change to the usual format, in this episode, Jim himself takes to the mic, giving his impressions of a city that straddles two continents, maintains thousands of years of history, and bridges the Western and Eastern worlds. He shares details of where you should visit, and when. Jim’s tips and hacks on how to avoid the worst of the tourist crowds, what to look out for when you book your accommodation, and how to keep yourself safe and sane in this city of 15 million inhabitants, are invaluable preparation for a trip to Turkey’s largest city.

Join Jim as he talks us through the sights, sounds, and smells of Istanbul, from the subterranean city cisterns to the glorious dome of the Hagia Sophia; across the Bosphorous Strait for lunch in another continent, to fresh pistachios and Turkish Delight at the Grand Bazaar. When to go, what to wear, and which days to avoid…it’s all included in the latest episode of the International Living Podcast.   

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform: https://lovethepodcast.com/internationalliving.

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube


[00:00:11.050] - Jim Santos
Hello everyone. I'm Jim Santos and this is the International Living Podcast. In this podcast series we introduce you to a bigger world full of communities that are safe, welcoming, beautiful and sometimes undiscovered. A better world too. A friendly, warm, great value world where you can live richer, travel more, invest for profit and enjoy a better life. So let's get started.

[00:00:44.030] - Jim Santos
Hello everybody and welcome once again to the International Living Podcast. Today's show is a little bit of.

[00:00:49.730] - Jim Santos
A departure as we do not have a guest.

[00:00:52.100] - Jim Santos
As our regular listeners know, Rita and I are currently testing out Roving retirement with a rather ambitious nine week romp.

[00:00:58.760] - Jim Santos
Around parts of Europe. In fact, as I record this show.

[00:01:02.280] - Jim Santos
We are in a nice one bedroom apartment in the heart of Vienna, Austria.

[00:01:05.660] - Jim Santos
The city of Music.

[00:01:07.350] - Jim Santos
Next we're off to five days in Prague, two weeks exploring the coast of.

[00:01:10.980] - Jim Santos
Croatia, a week in Barcelona and four.

[00:01:13.430] - Jim Santos
Nights in Lisbon before heading back to.

[00:01:15.140] - Jim Santos
The US for the holidays.

[00:01:17.040] - Jim Santos
We've already visited Greece and just came from a weekend of the city I want to share with you istanbul, capital of the Republic of Turkey. Now, whenever we talked about our itinerary with family and friends, the city that evoked the response OOH, I always wanted to go there was hands down, Istanbul. We also heard some concerns about how dangerous it might be to visit such an exotic place. I've received emails from friends of the show asking about this fabled city.

[00:01:44.760] - Jim Santos
So I thought I would take the.

[00:01:45.910] - Jim Santos
Opportunity to share with you our experience.

[00:01:48.070] - Jim Santos
There, what we did right, where we.

[00:01:50.230] - Jim Santos
Made mistakes and what we would do differently. First, a little perspective and a bit of a disclaimer. Although we spent seven nights there and walked an average of 6 miles a day, sometimes closer to nine, you must keep in mind that Istanbul is huge, like a population of 15 million huge. The urban area covers almost 1000 sq.

[00:02:11.840] - Jim Santos
Mi and the metro area twice that.

[00:02:14.890] - Jim Santos
We saw nothing of the rest of Turkey, which has a plethora of interesting areas and historic sites outside of the city. Our explorations were mostly confined to the historic center or Old Town. What you're hearing now is a sound that we heard five times a day, as the Moezens called the faithful to prayer. It certainly added to the atmosphere of Old Town as we walked the cobblestone streets and saw a wild mix of architecture spanning at least 2000 years and combining byzantium Greek, Roman and Islamic styles. Our airbnb was well placed. We were in the Sultan Ahmed neighborhood, which is literally around the corner from.

[00:02:59.390] - Jim Santos
The hippodrome, which was used for horse.

[00:03:01.460] - Jim Santos
Racing and circuses back even before the Constantinople days, about 1800 years or so.

[00:03:06.650] - Jim Santos
Ago when the city was known as Byzantium.

[00:03:09.730] - Jim Santos
Today it is the Sultan Ahmed Square and home to the obelisk of Theodosis and the public walkway to access many.

[00:03:16.110] - Jim Santos
Of the tourist attractions.

[00:03:18.270] - Jim Santos
The blue Mosque was almost directly behind our room and the famous Haja Sofia.

[00:03:23.240] - Jim Santos
Just a few blocks away.

[00:03:25.170] - Jim Santos
We also had plenty of restaurants to.

[00:03:26.950] - Jim Santos
Choose from and convenience stores.

[00:03:29.490] - Jim Santos
One potential issue resolved itself right away. We had learned a bit of Greek.

[00:03:33.580] - Jim Santos
On the first part of our trip.

[00:03:34.970] - Jim Santos
And I had even started being able to read a few Greek words.

[00:03:37.830] - Jim Santos
But Turkish looked to be quite difficult.

[00:03:40.950] - Jim Santos
Fortunately, just about everyone we ran into spoke at least some English, and communication.

[00:03:45.820] - Jim Santos
Was not a problem.

[00:03:47.130] - Jim Santos
Many of the signs were also captured.

[00:03:48.960] - Jim Santos
In English, as were the menus.

[00:03:51.370] - Jim Santos
So back to our accommodations.

[00:03:54.010] - Jim Santos
The location, like I said, was great.

[00:03:56.250] - Jim Santos
But one thing we should have looked into more closely was the number of.

[00:03:59.550] - Jim Santos
Stairs to access our room.

[00:04:01.950] - Jim Santos
Luckily, staff was available to carry our luggage up when we arrived and bring.

[00:04:05.810] - Jim Santos
It back down when we left.

[00:04:07.380] - Jim Santos
But winding staircases are not popular amongst.

[00:04:10.120] - Jim Santos
Us post retirement age folks.

[00:04:12.590] - Jim Santos
Also a big reason we are using airbnbs on this trip, besides the fact that they are tending to be half the price or less the cost of.

[00:04:19.270] - Jim Santos
A hotel, is that we have a kitchen and a washing machine available as well. This saves us some money, as we.

[00:04:25.220] - Jim Santos
Can have breakfast or lunch at home.

[00:04:27.000] - Jim Santos
Bring back leftovers and travel with a minimal amount of clothing.

[00:04:31.110] - Jim Santos
Unfortunately, in this unit we shared a kitchen with six other rooms. It was very small and hot and.

[00:04:37.610] - Jim Santos
There was not really a place to sit and eat.

[00:04:40.170] - Jim Santos
Worse, to get to it, we had to navigate one of those twisting stairways of death. Finally, the washing machine being shared by seven rooms was filthy inside and did.

[00:04:49.870] - Jim Santos
Not work well, leaving our clothes soaking wet when it was done.

[00:04:53.380] - Jim Santos
No dryer, which isn't that uncommon in Europe, but also no place to hang.

[00:04:57.320] - Jim Santos
The clothes to dry.

[00:04:59.070] - Jim Santos
We were forced to take two loads to a nearby laundry, which was fast.

[00:05:02.350] - Jim Santos
And efficient, but charged a ridiculous amount of money for the service. The best part of our location, as.

[00:05:09.510] - Jim Santos
I said, is that we were able to walk to many great sites and.

[00:05:12.630] - Jim Santos
I'll get to a few in a minute.

[00:05:14.140] - Jim Santos
But first I need to point out some things to be careful of when.

[00:05:16.890] - Jim Santos
Walking around Old Town Istanbul. You must be very careful as a pedestrian.

[00:05:22.790] - Jim Santos
I did not see a single traffic light in Old Town and in fact.

[00:05:26.330] - Jim Santos
There were no stop signs either. There were some one way and do.

[00:05:30.410] - Jim Santos
Not enter signs, but these were routinely.

[00:05:32.800] - Jim Santos
Ignored, especially by motorcycles and other two wheeled vehicles.

[00:05:37.300] - Jim Santos
It is important to stay alert at all times because bikes and cycles can appear out of nowhere, moving in either.

[00:05:43.220] - Jim Santos
Direction on either side of the street. And don't think you are safe if you're on the sidewalk either.

[00:05:48.990] - Jim Santos
Motorcycles will pop up onto them if the streets are full and cut across.

[00:05:52.840] - Jim Santos
Pedestrian walkways when convenient.

[00:05:55.490] - Jim Santos
Not to mention that sometimes cars and busses.

[00:05:58.030] - Jim Santos
Consider the sidewalk an excellent place to park.

[00:06:01.490] - Jim Santos
Add to this throngs of tourists of all nationalities.

[00:06:04.110] - Jim Santos
Speaking a host of languages, istanbul hosted 50 million tourists in 2022, and a stroll to the museum can be quite an adventure.

[00:06:12.870] - Jim Santos
That leads me to my first tip.

[00:06:14.480] - Jim Santos
For visiting Istanbul avoid the high tourist.

[00:06:17.760] - Jim Santos
Season, which runs from June to August.

[00:06:20.650] - Jim Santos
Now, this makes no sense to me.

[00:06:22.190] - Jim Santos
As those are also the hottest months of the year, but that's when you'll.

[00:06:24.820] - Jim Santos
Find the most people. The weather is much nicer and prices.

[00:06:28.420] - Jim Santos
Are a little lower if you go.

[00:06:29.710] - Jim Santos
In the fall and the spring. But even so, expect crowds.

[00:06:34.230] - Jim Santos
We found that since Istanbul is a.

[00:06:35.980] - Jim Santos
Popular cruise ship stop, it also is.

[00:06:38.450] - Jim Santos
A good idea to plan on getting to the big attractions either early in the morning or later in the day. By 10:00, a.m. Bus after bus is discouraging cruisers, and things get busy very quickly. We arrived late on a Thursday, so our first full day was a Friday. Another mistake on our part, as Friday is a holy day and tourists cannot.

[00:06:57.840] - Jim Santos
Enter the mosques until after 230.

[00:07:00.310] - Jim Santos
By that time, the lines put any.

[00:07:01.990] - Jim Santos
Disney attraction you've been to to shame.

[00:07:04.870] - Jim Santos
Our solution to this problem was to.

[00:07:06.730] - Jim Santos
Instead go visit the Basilica Cistern. You may have seen this ancient underground.

[00:07:11.380] - Jim Santos
Water system in the movie Inferno, based.

[00:07:13.770] - Jim Santos
On the Dan Brown book or the Bond flick From Russia With Love.

[00:07:17.850] - Jim Santos
An amazing place, and we were helped by poor signage. It is right across the street from.

[00:07:23.550] - Jim Santos
The Hajj Sofia, but it takes a.

[00:07:25.340] - Jim Santos
While for tourists to discover it, as.

[00:07:27.070] - Jim Santos
It'S not marked particularly well.

[00:07:29.180] - Jim Santos
Entrance is through a rather nondescript looking yellow building that only has a small sign near the door that says that.

[00:07:35.110] - Jim Santos
It'S the entrance to the Basilica Cistern.

[00:07:38.210] - Jim Santos
Also in the hippodrome is the Hajia Sophia History Museum, which provides a wonderful historic summary of the various phases of.

[00:07:44.800] - Jim Santos
The structure, presented in an audiovisual format.

[00:07:47.740] - Jim Santos
As you move from room to room.

[00:07:49.020] - Jim Santos
And era to era.

[00:07:50.730] - Jim Santos
It was a little pricey at €51.

[00:07:52.960] - Jim Santos
Each, but hey, how often are you in Istanbul on the subject of prices?

[00:07:58.220] - Jim Santos
It is possible to buy an Istanbul epass to get you into a bunch.

[00:08:01.470] - Jim Santos
Of museums for a set price 149.

[00:08:04.570] - Jim Santos
Euro per person for five days, for instance.

[00:08:07.110] - Jim Santos
But much of what we wanted to see was free.

[00:08:10.330] - Jim Santos
For example, we had a great time walking around the Grand Bazaar, the Egyptian Bazaar, also known as the Spice Market.

[00:08:16.400] - Jim Santos
And didn't pay any fees at all.

[00:08:18.670] - Jim Santos
Well, we did end up buying some.

[00:08:20.140] - Jim Santos
Turkish delight, fresh pistachios at the Grand.

[00:08:22.390] - Jim Santos
Bazaar and a variety pack of spices.

[00:08:24.970] - Jim Santos
Yet, hey, we're only human.

[00:08:31.170] - Jim Santos
The background you hear going now is from our stroll in one of the busier sections of the Grand Bazaar, which.

[00:08:36.070] - Jim Santos
Seems to go on forever.

[00:08:37.910] - Jim Santos
Both markets are indoors, under beautiful domed ceilings and arches, so they are great rainy day spots as well. Saturday we got up early and went directly to the Hajjia Sofia after breakfast, arriving at 09:00 a.m. Just in time to queue up behind about 1500 other.

[00:08:53.530] - Jim Santos
Early risers, which I know sounds bad.

[00:08:56.480] - Jim Santos
But by the time the line started moving at 930, there were at least.

[00:08:59.690] - Jim Santos
Another 1500 behind us. It moved along quickly though, and the.

[00:09:04.050] - Jim Santos
Mosque is quite large and holds an.

[00:09:05.650] - Jim Santos
Amazing number of people, so we could.

[00:09:07.730] - Jim Santos
Still feel the awe and enjoy the.

[00:09:09.250] - Jim Santos
Splendor of this incredible structure. The crowd was generally quiet and reverent as well, so it was a surprisingly peaceful setting. A couple of pointers for visiting the Sofia and indeed any mosque or holy area. Proper dress is required. Men must wear pants, no shorts, no bare shoulders, women must wear pants or.

[00:09:29.370] - Jim Santos
Dresses below the knees, and no bare.

[00:09:31.180] - Jim Santos
Shoulders, and also must cover their hair to enter.

[00:09:34.470] - Jim Santos
Shawls are provided for free if you.

[00:09:36.490] - Jim Santos
Did not bring something to wear.

[00:09:38.790] - Jim Santos
Another consideration you have to take off your shoes and store them on a shelf system before entering, so it is a good idea to wear shoes that.

[00:09:45.710] - Jim Santos
Slip on and off easily. We tried to do the Blue Mosque.

[00:09:49.620] - Jim Santos
On the same day, but by the time we emerged from the Hajia Sofia.

[00:09:52.900] - Jim Santos
The lines were too big to consider.

[00:09:55.550] - Jim Santos
Here we had success by waiting until later in the day, when most people.

[00:09:58.750] - Jim Santos
Had gone off in search of dinner or to return to their cruise ships.

[00:10:03.250] - Jim Santos
We visited the Tupkapi Palace in Harem.

[00:10:05.930] - Jim Santos
Several other museums, and really just enjoyed walking around and soaking up the cultures. It seemed like the styles of the.

[00:10:12.390] - Jim Santos
Area changed every time you rounded a new corner, and there was always something.

[00:10:16.060] - Jim Santos
New and different to see.

[00:10:18.710] - Jim Santos
As far as prices in restaurants, we found it generally to be pretty reasonable.

[00:10:22.400] - Jim Santos
For a tourist area, a couple can.

[00:10:25.030] - Jim Santos
Have lunch for $20 to $30 and dinner for two with drinks between 40 and $50.

[00:10:30.410] - Jim Santos
We had been warned of price gouging.

[00:10:32.260] - Jim Santos
For bottled water, but most places were charging only ten to 20 Turkish lira.

[00:10:36.240] - Jim Santos
For them, about $35 to $0.70.

[00:10:39.690] - Jim Santos
Speaking of money, it is helpful to have some Turkish lira, but the exchange rate of one Turkish lira to about.

[00:10:45.790] - Jim Santos
Three and a half cents makes it a bit unwieldy.

[00:10:49.390] - Jim Santos
Most places were happy to take credit cards, although some frowned on American Express.

[00:10:53.720] - Jim Santos
And restaurants and cabs also welcomed Euros.

[00:10:58.210] - Jim Santos
Contrary to our usual touring practice, we.

[00:11:00.320] - Jim Santos
Did sign up for one tour group.

[00:11:12.230] - Jim Santos
A dinner cruise on the Bosphorus that included shows featuring a whirling dervish, a few other ethnic dancers, a knife throwing act and a belly dancer of sorts. I don't think traditional belly dancers encouraged admirers to stuff bills in their various crevices. It was a little hokey, to tell the truth, but for $50 each, including meal, alcoholic beverages and transportation to and.

[00:11:34.270] - Jim Santos
From the dock, it was still a.

[00:11:36.060] - Jim Santos
Pleasant diversion, and the views of the city at night were quite beautiful. An interesting thing about the cruise highlights.

[00:11:42.220] - Jim Santos
What a cosmopolitan city Istanbul remains to this day. At our table, visitors from the US. Switzerland, Peru and Poland were represented.

[00:11:51.320] - Jim Santos
The MC did a little musical tribute.

[00:11:53.400] - Jim Santos
As an opening, playing a little music.

[00:11:55.350] - Jim Santos
From each country present and encouraging the representatives to dance. And that included at least two dozen.

[00:12:00.720] - Jim Santos
Different parts of the globe.

[00:12:02.790] - Jim Santos
One thing we definitely wanted to do.

[00:12:04.740] - Jim Santos
Was take advantage of an interesting fact about Istanbul. The city actually straddles two continents.

[00:12:10.610] - Jim Santos
The Bosphorus Strait marks the boundary between.

[00:12:12.880] - Jim Santos
Europe and Asia, so naturally the Nerd.

[00:12:15.460] - Jim Santos
In Me had to take the ferry across the river to have lunch in Asia.

[00:12:19.790] - Jim Santos
We walked to the Eminonu port where.

[00:12:22.130] - Jim Santos
There'S a ferry that runs about every 15 minutes, depositing us at Catacoy on.

[00:12:26.610] - Jim Santos
The Asian side of Istanbul. I was surprised to find that there actually were some noticeable differences, not just.

[00:12:33.570] - Jim Santos
The style of architecture, but the local.

[00:12:35.170] - Jim Santos
Trams were a different design, and there.

[00:12:37.110] - Jim Santos
Were desserts and meal choices that hadn't been displayed on the European side. We did indeed find the Karakoi market.

[00:12:43.400] - Jim Santos
Area and had a fine lunch before saying goodbye to Asia and returning to Europe. The ferry cost just ten Turkish lira each way, about thirty six cents. And you don't need to buy tickets, you can just tap a credit card at the turnstiles. So to sum up the trip, would.

[00:12:59.310] - Jim Santos
We ever want to live in Istanbul? Well, I can say without reservation that.

[00:13:02.830] - Jim Santos
The answer is a hard no. We really enjoyed seeing it as tourists.

[00:13:07.060] - Jim Santos
But for us, 15 million people is.

[00:13:08.960] - Jim Santos
Just too big of a city. I would say, however, that we always felt safe walking about, even after dark. Except of course for the Kamikaze motorcyclist. And the locals we met and interacted.

[00:13:20.200] - Jim Santos
With were all very friendly. What will we do differently? Well, for one thing, make sure there.

[00:13:25.270] - Jim Santos
Are fewer stairs to our room.

[00:13:27.410] - Jim Santos
Starting our trip on a Saturday might have been better, but you also have to keep in mind that many museums.

[00:13:31.830] - Jim Santos
And attractions are closed on Tuesdays. And on reflection, I think we should.

[00:13:36.010] - Jim Santos
Have planned for one or two fewer days in Istanbul and maybe one or.

[00:13:39.220] - Jim Santos
Two more days in Vienna. But that's a story for another day. So that's it for now.

[00:13:46.310] - Jim Santos
I've enjoyed sharing with you some info.

[00:13:48.400] - Jim Santos
On our recent stay in Istanbul, Turkey. I'd like to thank you for listening.

[00:13:52.190] - Jim Santos
And look for more about Istanbul and our travels in upcoming articles in the magazine and on the International Living website@internationalliving.com.

[00:14:14.210] - Jim Santos
If you enjoyed this episode and you'd like to help support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media or leave a rating and review. If you have an idea for an episode or a question you'd like us to answer, email us at mailbag@internationalliving.com. And don't forget to put podcast in the subject line of your email that's mailbag@internationalliving.com. We created the International Living Podcast to help showcase the ideas we explore in the magazine and our other publications each month and to grow our community of travel lovers, expats, and experts who believe, as we do, that the world is full of opportunity to create a more interesting or international life. You don't have to be rich and famous to do that. You just need to know the secrets. And that's what we bring you at International Living. If you haven't become a member yet, you can do it today with a special discount offer for podcast listeners. You'll receive our monthly magazine, plus a bundle of special extras. You'll find the link in our show notes, or you can go to intliving.com podcast. That's intliving.com podcast.

[00:15:25.370] - Jim Santos
Next week, I'll tell you about another stop on our European tour the majestic city of Vienna, Austria. Until then, this is Jim Santos with the International Living Podcast reminding you there's a bigger, better world out there just waiting for.


Istanbul—An ‘Ooh, I Always Wanted To Go There’ Destination
The Old Town—The Historic Section of a Huge City
Communicating—English is Widely Spoken in Istanbul
An Airbnb in The City—What You Get, And What NOT to Expect
The Best Times, and Places, to Beat the Tourists
Prices, Passes, and Free Fun
Prices, Currency, and Credit Cards
Crossing the Bosphorous For Lunch in Another Continent
What We Got Wrong, And How We’d Do It Differently