Friday, 16 March 2012

Arriving in Istanbul (or, how not to travel)

Apparently I have more in common with Oasis than a boy scout. On my recent trip to Istanbul, my motto was most definitely 'roll with it' as opposed to my more customary 'always be prepared'.

Surprise number one was the weather. After spending a week in Spain in January, during which the unsuspecting sevillanos and valencianos were treated to a glimpse of my winter white arms, I'd been expecting Turkey to deliver the goods, sun-wise. We certainly weren't expecting snow. Touching down at Sabiha Gokcen airport in early February, the cityscape wasn't just studded with endless minarets - it was also shrouded in slush.

Following the long bus transfer into the city and a lunch purchased largely by pointing and smiling, we set out in search of the hotel we'd booked months ago (very prepared) after a glass or two of wine (less advisable). Like most others, our hotel was located in the Sultanahmet district among the majority of Istanbul's sights, while the transport hub of Taksim Square is north of the Golden Horn, the inlet of the Bosphorus that separates the old and new European sides of the city. The easy option would have been to take a taxi, but who needs ease when you have public trabsport? With the help of a map, the metro station security guard and a moustachioed shoe-shiner, we purchased an Istanbulkart (similar to London's Oyster card) and planned a circuitous route involving a funicular, a tram and a suburban commuter train. The first two methods of transport were modern and efficient, whirling us downhill and across the water onto the southern side of the Golden Horn, the picture-postcard side of the city. The commuter train was akin to something from the Soviet era, and deposited us in an equally joyless area close to the water's edge. At this point, the wine-inspired hotel booking seemed like a distinctly dodgy idea.

A typical Sultanahmet view

Trailing up the hill from Cankurtan station (not a Sultanahmet sight you ever need to acquaint yourself with), our map-reading skills led us to our hotel's address. A tumbledown, uninhabited house complete with broken windows and a mournful-looking mangy cat on the doorstep. Either the past few months had been very unkind to Esans Hotel, or we needed to sort out our sense of direction. Fortunately, more friendly locals came to our rescue and pointed us towards our home for the next three days. Thankfully, it was still standing. The immediate area around the hotel was only slightly more inviting than Cankurtan's environs though, so we weren't out of the panic woods yet.

A view of Cankurtan by day. It was bad, honestly.

Sultanahmet is peppered with houses-turned-hotels, set up by families with varying degrees of success. If the TripAdvisor reviews of Esans Hotel were anything to go by, the proprietors had managed it admirably: guests praised the establishment's atmosphere, service and value. Stepping inside and being greeted by four different people and a budgie was definitely a warm welcome, though somewhat unexpected. So too was the talk (some more prone to exaggeration may even have termed it a lecture) we received about the different perfume diffusers available for us to try out during our stay. Named 'Essence' Hotel after the perfumier who resided there during the nineteenth century, not only are the rooms named after different scents (or 'odours', following an unfortunate translation), the owners have also developed a range of scents for guests to fragrance their rooms according to mood. It's certainly a USP, but as welcome information goes, a map would have been more handy.

We were also offered a cup of tea, and being British and polite, we accepted. The chill was soon banished from our bones, but due to the tea's temperature, we had to linger in reception. Taking in the surroudings, we relaxed a little. Esans Hotel definitely homely: the breakfast area and lounge merged, and comfort was prioritized over the usual trappings of a hotel lobby. The budgie swooping overhead added a quirky feel, which continued in our superior room: the Sultan odour room. It may not have smelt of sultans, but it did have glittery wallpaper. Bling aside, it was well-appointed and comfortable - and a definite bargain at just €100 each for a three-night stay with breakfast. It just goes to show that sometimes, Oasis have the edge over boy scouts.

You can read about the rest of my trip in part 2 next week. For information on Istanbul's culinary delights, read my 'on location' post for Girl Eats Oxford here.


  1. So far so good. Can't wait for next week:) Planning to go on a trip to Mardin in Turkey so eager to see what is coming up next.

  2. Loved this post Kate - and glad you used the word moustachioued. It's equivalent in Spanish is by far my favourite word :)

  3. Thanks! Alex, I only went to Istanbul but I hope it'll still be interesting.
    Kim, I agree - good word!

  4. Instanbul looks beautiful! I spend much of my holiday time on Hamburg city breaks trips but this year I think I may try Istanbul with the family.

  5. If one day I have the chance to chose where to live, Turkey and especially Istanbul will be my choice, this is second place on Earth after home where I feel really perfect!

  6. This gave me a pretty good insight as to how the actual condition was as I'm such a sucker for nice embellished website like the one they have, so I need de facto opinions. I'm planning to visit Istanbul next month, will keep looking for hotels just for comparison to Esans Hotel.

    I'll go through the rest of your Istanbul posts. Once again thanks, Kate :)

  7. Thanks, I'm glad you found it helpful! I did look at TripAdvisor reviews but nobody had focused on the location. It was nice in the end, just a little out of the way. To be honest, I think I'd be tempted to stay in 'new' Istanbul next time for proximity to restaurants etc - those in Sultanahmet were mostly quite touristy.
    Enjoy your trip to Istanbul!


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