Istanbul on a budget

We arrive in Istanbul at 6am to a full onslaught of taxi drivers wanting us to go this way, that way, no this way, NO THAT WAY !!!
It’s too early for this much noise…and stress.
With much effort we find a bus which will transport us half way to our pre-booked hostel and hop on.
At Aksaray, we depart the bus to another onslaught of taxi drivers. As it seems so much effort at 6.30 to try and navigate our way on the bus, we go for a taxi driver who offers us ’15 to Sultanahmet square.’
As the taxi stops, our ears ringing from the extremely loud Turkish music, our throats rasping from his chain smoking with the window up, he demands “MONEY!”
We hand him 15TL, he says he meant $15, we argue that he said 15, and since we’re in Turkey we assumed it’d be in the Turkish Lira…
He refuses to let us get our bags out of the boot until we pay him 30TL.
This was our first lesson in Istanbul, don’t catch taxi’s!
We later find out that this is why there are Tourist Police located by the square.
We check in to our very swanky hostel, in the heart of Sultanahmet, Cheers Hostel. Very impressed with the spacious rooms, comfortable beds, smiling receptionist (even after being woken up at 8am) and super friendly pooch, we head out to explore Istanbul.

I must admit, I did have high hopes for Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey with a population of 16 million, 4 times the amount of people than in New Zealand.
We’d been told to make sure we had at least 4 days there, to even extend that if we could, that Istanbul was “F***ing COOL” by some enthusiastic American hipster, that we’d love it, that the bazaar is amazing, that it’s the place to visit.
So throughout our 5 1/2 weeks travelling Turkey, we had been getting our hopes up for our final destination… Istanbul.
This was our first mistake, once you create expectations about a place, there is room for disappointment.

We had 4 full days in Istanbul, with a 350TL budget, which equates to €119 not including accommodation and breakfast. That’s 43TL each per day.

What we discovered very fast was that Istanbul on a budget is tough.
We realised within the first day, that our location, in Sultanahmet, was tourist central = everything was double the cost.
For one chicken kebab in Sultanahmet, it would cost 8-9TL, for a meal not including drinks, the cheapest we found was 15TL, with the average being around 25-30TL.
Most tourism activities were beyond our price range with the cheapest Bosphorus boat trip costing 10TL per person, entry to Hagia Sophia 10TL per person, to the Basilica Cistern 10TL per person and any food tours or tours of the city reaching 100-200TL.

As a compromise to the Bosphorus boat tour, we opted for the 6TL per way, 15 minute ferry to the Asian side. We’d now been on the Bosphorus by boat,so could tick that off the list!
The Asian side seemed less touristy and cheaper, but adding the cost of getting there into the equation the overall cost went up and over our budget.

Cost cost cost… The burden of our trip in Istanbul!

After the discovery of Beşiktaş, the un-touristy cheap-side, that offered kebabs for 3.50TL and the cheapest meal we found (an entire roast chicken, two portions of rice & bread) for 15TL, this became our new hangout.

Istanbul is a big city, a huge city in fact. One day we walked aimlessly looking for interesting things, and ended up walking for 2 hours through streets selling pot plants, then a street selling diving gear, a street selling gas masks… You could walk for days in hope of finding a funky, free, hangout and only find more things to buy.
I’d never holidayed in a city before, and have come to the realisation that in order to really get the most out of a holiday in Istanbul, you need enough money to be able to indulge in a few luxuries here and there.
We felt like we should be working! With no money to spare and people trying to sell you things left right and centre, the majority of our time was spent trying to avoid them, and walk.. And walk.. And walk.

It was an amazing place to visit, a place which I’m sure, with more money and time, we could have explored more.
But this time round, Istanbul got the better of us!

For details of what we saw, tasted and smelt, see my next post ‘Istanbul in a few days.’

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