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4 hours in Istanbul

I did it! I managed to leave the airport during a long layover, go into the city, and come back in plenty of time to catch my flight. As I mentioned in my last post, I had a 10 hour layover in Istanbul on the way to Kuala Lumpur, and I thought it would be silly to spend it at the airport, especially since I don’t particularly enjoy Ataturk airport. I know that I’m not the best planner, but I usually do pretty ok once I get to my destination.

It was actually pretty hard to plan this layover – I found it difficult to find clear information on what to do, where to go, how to get there and how late things would be open. It turns out that Istanbul is a modern, clean and friendly city, and navigating my way to Sultanahmet square was super easy. Here’s a breakdown of my afternoon, in case it can help someone else in the future!

First of all, it’s interesting to know that Turkish airlines actually organizes free guided tours of the city for long layovers, starting at 9am and 12pm – a pretty great offer, if you ask me! Unfortunately, my flight landed at 3:30pm so I was on my own.

It took just over an hour to get out of the airport after my flight touched down – the passport control line was quite long. As of 2014, a lot of nationalities (Canadians included) need to get an e-visa in advance of arrival. For Canadian passports, it costs 60 USD. The process takes about three minutes and you just print at home – once I made it to the head of the immigration line, it took about 1 minute to be waved through, no questions asked. Once I left the controlled area, everything was really clear – there’s a wall of ATMs right at the exit, and luckily, no one hanging around offering to help every two minutes. The information desk is also right there, and I headed over to grab a free map and directions to the old town. I left the airport around 4:30pm

 There is a metro station right at the airport, which I love. Each trip takes one token, and each token costs 4 lira. You can also purchase a reloadable card, and on those, each fare is 2.10 lira. Note that the actual card costs 10 lira though, so for one day it didn’t work out to be cheaper and I just bought 4 tokens. You buy the tokens from machines at the top of the metro stairs – the machines take 5, 10 and 20 lira bills and are super easy to figure out.


From the airport, I got on the metro to Aksaray station – the ride is about 45 minutes. The instructions I was given were “get out at Aksaray, and follow the tram lines until you get to the blue Mosque”. It was great advice! By doing this, you walk through a few neighbourhoods, past the Grand Bazaar (which was open! I was there until about 6pm and they showed no sign of shutting down soon) and finally into Sultanahmet square. I didn’t want to stay out too late or go too far and since that’s about all I wanted to do, I stopped there. I only stayed late enough to see the Mosque at dusk, caught a tram from Sultanahmet to Aksaray, switched to the metro and got back to Ataturk quickly and easily, with tons of time to catch my flight.

Some quick recommendations: 

– If all you’re planning is a quick in and out like I did, you won’t need more than 50 or so lira for the day. I took out way too much!

– The one thing that I would definitely recommend researching is restaurants – tons of hawkers tried calling me into their places, which was just more tiring than helpful

– I was told by the information centre that you can also continue the walk to Galata bridge into Beyoglu, which I’ve heard has many dining options. Maybe on my next layover!

– One concern that I had was over safety. I am not the authority on safety in Istanbul, but during my short time there I felt safe walking around (I was out until about 9pm). 



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Time to dust off the old blog…

It’s been a while since I’ve written, mostly since it’s been a while since I’ve had much to say. My first MSF mission was cancelled before it even started, so there wasn’t much to say about Lebanon (except oh my god, the food), and I’ve been living in Montreal for a bit now – the travel adventures have been few and far between!

But! It’s time to dust off the blog because boy, am I about to go on an adventure! I’m turning 30 next week and I decided to mark the occasion with not only a new country, but a whole new continent – I’m sitting at the airport, waiting for my first flight to Asia!

I’ll be spending the next 17 days traipsing around Malaysia and Indonesia – catching up with some old YPN friends, eating some delicious food, getting out of the endless Canadian winter an mostly just adventuring on.

My biggest problem is that I’m not that much of a planner – I got as far as booking my flight (All on aeroplan, no less! But that’s a blog for another day…) and booking hostels, but beyond that… I’m just throwing myself out there. I always figure, hey, as long as I know where I’ll be sleeping that night! (See, mom? Nothing to worry about.)

So, the first stop on my trip is an 11 hour layover in Turkey, inspired by Turnipseed Travel’s whirlwind round-the-world trip. I’ve got my visa, I’ve calculated the exchange rate, and I’ve written down the transit instructions from the airport to the Blue Mosque. That’s a good enough start, right?


I’ll let you know in 24 hours ๐Ÿ™‚

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Travel Photo Tuesday

In 2006, I spent a week in Dakar. There was a 12 hour layover in Casablanca, Morocco along the way, and the airline provided us with a bus into the city and a hotel room. Now, I am not the type to miss out on seeing as much as I can of a new city, no matter how tired I am. So, I dropped my luggage off in my hotel room and powered through, and went exploring with a girl that I met on the plane.

We were told ahead of time that it was Eid, a religious holiday, and that everything would be closed and we were likely to see a lot of dead sheep everywhere. We were not disappointed! I asked these two boys if I could take their picture, and they were so excited to pose for the camera! Afterward, they asked us what we were doing, and we told them that we had been hoping to visit the city, but that everything was shut. The man standing behind them to the right was their uncle, and offered to drive us around the city and show us the sights. Airplane girl and I jumped at the opportunity, and got a private tour of different Casa neighbourhoods, including a stop at this man’s mother’s house where we watched her clean and prepare the sheep (we were invited to dinner – a great honor – but had to decline because of our flight) and a private tour of a palace, where we ate sheep intestines with the guards. What a great day!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA