Istanbul: Accomodation/Hotels

Salaam

‘If you are granted only one glance at the world, be sure to make it on Istanbul.’ 

Every since I shared photos on Instagram when visiting Istanbul a few weeks back, I have received a lot of questions and requests for suggestions on where to go and what to eat etc. I thought I would collate all that I know in to a few blog posts, to both share our experiences as a family and provide some useful information for those who will be visiting Istanbul in the future.

WHERE TO STAY:

We have been blessed with the opportunity to visit Istanbul on a number of occasions, and have stayed in a fair few places during our trips. I can’t say I’ve found the perfect place to stay as yet, and we will keep trying out different Airbnb’s and hotels on future visits. However, here’s my review of the various places we’ve stayed in so far, alongside some recommendations.

On one trip, we chose to stay in a little guesthouse we found on Airbnb. I loved that it was family-owned and run, as I like to support local businesses whenever possible. It was reasonably priced, offered a free roof-top breakfast, and was close to the main attractions. It was down a little steep cobble-stoned road (not far from the Four Seasons). We managed to get to the location in a taxi, and, because we didn’t have much luggage, were able to carry it up the stairs (no lift) to our room on the first floor. 

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Photo of Airbnb Room (ceiling and all in bad lighting!)

Our room was a nice size, and looked very much liked the photos on their website. The staff were friendly, and our room was always kept nice and clean (you can read my Airbnb review on the listing above). The only issues we had were that the shower water pressure was not always sufficient, and that the cleaning lady put away our things in the bedside drawers, so we ended up leaving a few things behind, thinking we’d lost them.

I have seen a few more places I would like to try on Airbnb next time. If you are using Airbnb for the first time, you can sign up using this link to book and get some money off!

We stayed in another hotel which was well maintained and in an excellent location, but our experience during our stay meant I won’t be mentioning them on this blog (staff walking into our room uninvited on 3 occasions during the course of our stay!)

Our latest visit found us staying at Victory Day & Spa Hotel – a 4 star hotel close to the Grand Bazaar, a very short walk away from the Beyazit Metro station. Overall, our experience at the hotel was very good. We found the staff to be friendly, a decent breakfast spread was provided, the beds were comfortable and the room spacious (we booked a family-sized room). However, the toilet flush kept running after usage, and made all kinds of weird noises. There was a slight smell in bathroom which we noticed on day 2, as it was disguised by strong air-freshener on our day of arrival. The small hotel pool which my daughter used, while being clean and modern, was extremely cold, so she found it difficult to swim in. As with most buildings in Turkey, there was not much soundproofing in the hotel rooms. Other than that, it was a good stay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Living Abroad

Last night, yet again, someone said to me: “I don’t know how you do it! You must be very strong”, referring to my living abroad without a familial support network. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard. Some days I want to pack up our things and run back to everything familiar (read Greggs cheese and onion pasty and a Costa hot chocolate) but those days are far and few between. It’s been almost 8 years since we left the breezy shores of the Queen’s country, and I can honestly (regardless of how cheesy this sounds) say life has never been better.

A few weeks ago, another friend reminded me that some people are born and die in the same house, having lived their lives in a linear and conventional manner. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to meet people who hail from many different points on this vast earth, and each person has had a lesson to teach me about myself, life, and God. 

In other totally unrelated news, I met someone from Kyrgyzstan the other day! How cool is that!

Syria

The Syrians taught me about the  multiple uses of chickpeas by means of  delicious street food they cook – chickpea fettah, falafel, and hummus – and it was also the first place I discovered drains installed in kitchen and bathroom floors, to make cleaning these rooms so much easier. They (and now I) use what can only be described as a broom like wiper thingy to direct the buckets of  water thrown onto the floor down into the drains, taking all of the grime and dirt with it.. Another cool floor-cleaning hack I learnt from the Syrians is to  use  a hard-bristled broom with soap to scrub floors clean!  Damascus  taught me about the nature of surprises in alleyways, not knowing what would be found at every turn – surprises of marketplaces filled with spices, fake designer handbags, oud music, and whirling dervishes.

Jordan

Jordan was a short-lived experience, but beneficial. It was where I discovered the importance  of healthy eating. I used to bake brownies with a Betty Crocker mix and then gleam with pride when they turned out well (yep, true story!). I remember going to a lunch date at someone’s house and taking these boxed brownies and being looked down upon like I’d committeda  heinous crime. I have since repented and seen the errors of that boxed life. I now make brownies from scratch using this great recipe (with my own health tweaks of course like coconut sugar). They would be proud.

Saudi Arabia

Where do I begin the eye-opening experiences Saudi provided us with? We learnt the art of sand-surfing (it’s really a thing!), the blessing of having a small but incredible group of like-minded friends around us; we also experienced a lot of kindness from both natives and expats alike. We lived amidst  mountains and scorpions, and learnt to connect with nature by growing our own veggies. We were able to road-trip to the two blessed cities frequently,  and completed the lesser pilgrimage more than ten times. We were able to have the time and space for introspection, and make life-transforming changes.

Qatar

This was a shock to our desert-adjusted quiet souls. Traffic, food, malls amongst the glitz and glamour of well.. Qatar. We survived, ate lots and did lots of cool things like participate in a home-schooling co-op for the first time!

Turkey

I think Turkey has been the cream on the cake as our adventures come to an end soon (inshallah!). We have discovered  comical ways of communicating beyond language. Our eyes have been opened to the vast richness of Turkish culture, food and history – oh, and also Turkish television series (check them out!). Turkish home-keeping and their approach  to home cleaning and organisation is the best of the best. I look at awe at the speed in which Turkish women operate, cook and complete their daily tasks- ‘bish, bash, bosh’ is their slogan. This has also been the COLDEST place we have lived in, with temperatures dipping to -13 degrees  accompanied by up to 3 feet of pure white snow. 

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Konya in the snow, 2016

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Aleppo, Syria circa 2009

 

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Al Madinah al Munawarrah 2014

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Istanbul 2017

Food and Travel

I sometimes cannot believe I haven’t documented more of the food across my travels in the Middle East.

Travelling has opened up the food world to me, introduced me to new flavours and spices and combinations.

The tart, red dust from berries called Sumac that Damascus introduced me to, as a topping on a Fattoush salad. It is used in marinades, dry rubs and sprinkling over salad and food before serving.

The dried yoghurt/buttermilk balls in Jordan called Jameed served with the traditional rice dish called Mansaf.

The national rice dish of Saudi Arabia, Kabseh (rice and meat seems to be a common denominator across the Arab world!).

The wonderful drink, inspired by the South East Asian workers of Qatar (similar to the Indian Masala chai, called Karak.

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Tea and Pecan Cake at CocoMaya, London

The calorie-laden iskender kebab of Turkey – bread chopped up in to bite-size pieces, slices of doner meat topped with yoghurt and sometimes, tomato sauce, finished off with sizzling golden butter!

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Iskender Kebab near Haci Bayram Veli Turbesi and Mescit in Ankara

I pledge to blog more about food but you can also find photos of our food adventures on Instagram.

If there are any requests or things you’d like to see, drop me a comment or an email!