Login Now to remove this and all advertisements (GOLD and SILVER members)
Not a member? Register Now for free

A short trip to Turkey & Greece

Status
Not open for further replies.

Mattg

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2011
Messages
9,769
Solutions
5
Points
1,125
I am currently spending 10 days in Turkey & Greece and thought I would post a mini-trip-report about my experiences.

I'd always wanted to visit Istanbul, and as it happens I'm not the only one. When I was planning this trip I discovered that a friend of mine from Canada was also thinking of visiting at the same time so we made plans to travel together. He met me in Berlin and we have been travelling together.

The flights are all with Aegean Airlines, except for two Turkish domestic flights with Turkish Airlines. I will be crediting all flights to my newly opened Aegean's Miles & Bonus account and as all flights will (just) be completed before the changes take place on 25 November, I expected to be able to earn Star Alliance Silver status from this trip. It turns out I made a miscalculation and will actually be 500 miles short :shock: but as I will being taking four Aegean-operated flights, I will now have a chance to get Star Alliance Gold fairly easily if I choose to go down that path later. (If you've been following the Miles & Bonus program and the recent changes, you'll probably know what I'm talking about!)


On the first day of the trip we flew from Berlin to Istanbul, with a five hour stopover along the way in Athens.

Flight 1: A3 853 Berlin (Tegel) - Athens
Airbus A320
Departure time: 11:10
Arrival time: 15:05

image.jpg

The flight to Athens was my first with Aegean Airlines. The check-in process at Tegel Airport was a bit of a shambles - three check-in agents for the entire flight. We queued for nearly an hour to be issued with boarding passes. There were no kiosks, and business/Star Gold customers did not have a clear priority check-in counter so had no choice but to cut in front of the line, which annoyed a lot of people. The check-in process took so long in fact, that the boarding of the flight and subsequently departure was delayed as there were still people needing to be checked-in when boarding time came around, and the check-in agents were the same people who boarded the flight.

The 10-15 minute delay in our departure was however one of the only complaints I have about the flight, which was otherwise pleasant.

For some reason I was expecting a completely LCC experience with Aegean. I certainly wasn't expecting a meal as I have rarely been served a full meal on intra-European flights, even on "full service" airlines. Which is why I was thrilled when I saw the flight attendants wheel a trolley full of hot meals to the front of the cabin and begin a full meal service shortly after takeoff! For lunch a tasty, hot bolognese with pasta was served with a bread roll, cheese & crackers and a choice of drinks. For an intra-Europe flight in economy, I was actually quite impressed.

image.jpg

The flight attendants were friendly and provided good service throughout the flight. They even did several drink refill and tea/coffee runs after the meal service was completed.

There was no in-flight entertainment on this particular A320 aircraft, which was 7 years old but this is standard for European short-haul. My only real criticism of the aircraft was that I found chewing gum not only under my armrest, but in the seat pocket in front of me too. Not a good look.

I had a bit of a laugh at this page in the Aegean in-flight magazine, particularly the "you've earned it" line:
image.jpg

We landed more or less on-time in Athens, having flown over Aegina Island before turning and approaching the airport from the south.

image.jpg
Flying over Aegina Island

image.jpg
The Greek coastline

I was pleasantly surprised with Aegean. So far it seemed like there is actually more to the airline than just its generous ;) frequent flyer program.
(I suspect there are a large number of Miles & Bonus Gold status holders out there who will never discover this.)
 

Mattg

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2011
Messages
9,769
Solutions
5
Points
1,125
We had an awkwardly-timed 5 hour stopover before the flight to Istanbul. As I don't (yet, anyway) have status with Star Alliance, we weren't entitled to any lounge access. We had plenty of time to spare, but not quite enough to make a visit to the city worthwhile, considering how far out Athens Airport is, and that we'd be returning next week anyway. We wandered around the airport and the carpark for a short while before deciding there really wasn't anything to see and going through immigration. In total we had about 4 hours airside in Terminal A. The airport is nice enough, but there wasn't a great variety of shops, restaurants or things to do airside and the free wifi access was limited to one hour. (It's times like these I wish I was flying oneworld!)

The hours passed and we boarded the next flight, albeit (again) a bit late, this time due to the late arrival of the operating aircraft.


Flight 2: A3 994 Athens - Istanbul (Ataturk)
Airbus A320
Departure time: 20:20
Arrival time: 21:40

This aircraft seemed newer than the previous A320 and featured overhead screens, although I discovered later it was actually about 6 months older.

For the short flight we were able to choose exit row seats when checking in. Interestingly, a requirement to be allowed to sit there was an understanding of the English language, despite it being a flight to Turkey on a Greek airline.

Once again, the service was very good and despite the length of the flight (just under an hour) another full meal was served. The meal service seemed a little rushed, but understandably so. On this flight a small dish of hot tortellini was served with a bread roll, fig bar and choice of beverage. It was served in a box, a bit like I hear Qantas is trying to do nowadays.

image.jpg
image.jpg

There was a loud high-pitched noise coming from the emergency exit next to my seat for about half the flight. Not sure if that's normal for an A320...

We disembarked in Istanbul at around 10pm. The lines for immigration were long but moved relatively quickly. Eventually we got out of the airport and onto the metro, but didn't arrive at our hotel until midnight.

By the way, the best value way to get into the city is with the metro. You can take the M1 line to Aksaray for 4 liras (around $2), or 2.15 if you have an Istanbul Card (which you should if you plan to use the trains/trams/ferries at all during your stay). From Aksaray you can change to the T1 tram, however you need to pay again each time you transfer.

image.jpg
The Istanbul metro

By the way, Australians (and citizens of various other countries) need to get a visa for Turkey. The cost is US$60 and you can get an electronic visa very easily online before you travel.


I am absolutely loving Istanbul! I will continue this trip report in the coming days...
 

Major

Established Member
Joined
Jan 21, 2011
Messages
4,309
Points
820
Qantas
Bronze
Virgin
Platinum
You need to be careful with Greek white wine...some of it is like battery acid :p
 

amaroo

Enthusiast
Joined
Sep 22, 2011
Messages
13,639
Points
10
Qantas
Platinum 1
Looking good ... and, looking for tips for our upcoming ATH & IST adventure.
 

robd

Established Member
Joined
Nov 8, 2011
Messages
2,268
Points
10
Heading to IST next May. Looking forward to your report.
 

Mattg

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2011
Messages
9,769
Solutions
5
Points
1,125
We've been really busy so I haven't had much time to update this thread yet but we had a great time in Istanbul. What an amazing city!

There is so much to see and do: the mosques, the Grand Bazaar, the Bosphorus bridge, the underground basilica, the countless markets, Taksim Square, and many more sights.

We stayed in Beyoglu which we found to be quite central and not too far from the main tourists sights.

I'll post some photos from our time there...

The Blue Mosque:

image.jpg

image.jpg


The Blue Mosque is probably the biggest and most impressive mosque in Istanbul. In fact, I believe that it's one of the modern wonders of the world. Architecturally, it's magnificent.

It is still a functioning mosque, but visitors may enter free of charge outside of prayer times. Headscarves are loaned free of charge to female visitors if they need them, and plastic bags for your shoes are provided.

There are clear rules for visiting and I must say, I was a little disappointed with the behaviour of some of the tourists who were giggling and taking selfies the whole time. And then there was the Japanese man who entered the prayer area and went right up to a man who was praying and took photos in his face. I guess this could happen anywhere but I found it disrespectful.

Hagia Sofia:

image.jpg

image.jpg

image.jpg

Hagia Sofia was originally built as a Christian church over a thousand years ago and later converted to a mosque. Today it's a museum. This is another mosque worth visiting, although entry was 30 liras. You can still see evidence from the time it was a church, such as a large painting of the Virgin Mary. Note that the Hagia Sofia is closed on Mondays.
 
Last edited:

Mattg

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2011
Messages
9,769
Solutions
5
Points
1,125
The underground Cistern Basilica was not far from these two mosques in the "touristy" part of the city in Fatih. Entry was 20 liras and it's basically a large underground area where the highlight was the well-hidden Medusa heads.

image.jpg

image.jpg

This bridge connects Karaköy and Eminönü. There was always dozens of fishermen there every time we crossed over, and it would seem many were successful too.

image.jpg

Not far from this bridge, on the Eminönü side, you will find a large spice market. The smell was incredible - really, really good (unlike the fish market...).

image.jpg
image.jpg
 

Mattg

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2011
Messages
9,769
Solutions
5
Points
1,125
Arguably the best place for shopping though is the historic Grand Bazaar. It's massive, but there is so much variety of good quality but affordable goods. I found it to offer a great mix of price and quality - you might pay a little bit more than in (say) South-East Asia, but at the same time most of the products are made in Turkey and aren't fake.

The main thing to remember about the Grand Bazaar (as with the rest of Turkey) is that you need to bargain! Don't just settle for the first price! If you can bargain well, there are some fantastic bargains to be had! After spending several hours at the Grand Bazaar, I just wish I had a bigger suitcase.

We mostly didn't have any problems, except at one place. We were buying Turkish delight and the salesman tried to change the price we had agreed on after packaging all of our food. I then tried to pay by credit card (they advertised that they accepted cards) but they put through several transactions. I was watching them closely - the first transaction had declined because the man actually pressed the red "decline" button on purpose. The second time, he didn't put my card into the machine properly. After the second failed attempt, he claimed that the machine was broken and I would have to pay cash (which I didn't want to for various reasons). I knew he wasn't being honest with me so told him I had no cash and was about to leave if he didn't put the credit card transaction through properly. I also asked for the receipts from the declined transactions, which he very, very reluctantly gave me. After this, the machine worked perfectly all of a sudden. I should point out that I had several similar experiences when trying to pay by card - for some reason nobody wants to accept them, even if it is advertised. It would be easier just to take cash, I think.

The Grand Bazaar:

image.jpg

image.jpg

On Sunday morning we found ourselves caught up in the Istanbul Marathon. The tram wasn't running as a result but we joined in in the atmosphere and were actually able to walk alongside the runners to our destination.

image.jpg

The area around Taksim Square was a nice night spot, although we found it a little bit too touristy. Istiklal Cd, the street in the second photo was full of chain stores and expensive restaurants where the waiters speak perfect English. That's nice, but not what we came to Istanbul for.

image.jpg

image.jpg
 
Last edited:
Vinomofo is the best wine deals site on the planet. Good wines, real people and epic deals, without all the bowties and bs.

Recommended by the Australian Frequent Flyer

Mattg

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2011
Messages
9,769
Solutions
5
Points
1,125
We were staying on the European side but did a day trip on the Sunday across to the Asian side of Istanbul. Istanbul is literally the place where East meets west as the European & Asian continents are separated by a river which runs right through the middle of the city.

The voyage to Asia took 20 minutes on the public ferry and cost a grand total of 2.15 liras, or around $1.

The ferry was a nice place to see the skyline of Beyoglu.

image.jpg

There wasn't as much to see & do on the Asian side, but it didn't feel very touristy which I always find to be a good thing. The main highlight was the fish market but I found it interesting enough just wandering around and taking it all in.

image.jpg

The fish market:

image.jpg
image.jpg

By the way, if you want to get out and see Istanbul from the water, another option is a harbour or Bosphorus cruise which takes you all the way out to the Black Sea.
 
Last edited:

Mattg

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2011
Messages
9,769
Solutions
5
Points
1,125
One of the highlights though of Istanbul for me was the delicious Turkish food. We tried our best to stick to non-touristy restaurants and overall we did pretty well in finding great cheap, authentic food.

Among the local foods we tried are döner kebabs, baklava, börek, hamsi, roast chicken, Turkish style omelette, Çay (Turkish tea) and many more specialties including chicken liver.

Our favourite restaurant was one in a back street not far from Taksim Square. I could recommend a restaurant called "Damak Tadi 2 Lokantasi" which we found just by wandering around looking for a place to eat.

The place is full of locals, and most of the staff don't speak English, so it was a welcome change from the expensive & overly touristy restaurants just a couple of blocks away. The service is efficient and not that refined, but the food and overall experience more than makes up for that. And it won't cost you the earth. Delicious, cheap and authentic Turkish food - what more could you ask for? My favourites were the stuffed zucchini and baklava.

A small selection of Turkish food from Damak Tadi 2 Lokantasi:
image.jpg

Lunch one day. Here you can see two traditional drinks, çay (Turkish tea) and Ayran:
image.jpg

Baklava - mmm...
image.jpg

If you're just looking for a snack, there are plenty of people selling corn, chestnuts, various pastries and other things on the streets. There is also no shortage of refreshing freshly squeezed orange or pomegranate juice, as pointed out by someone on another thread.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to Istanbul which has been a fantastic cultural experience. I found the city to be safe and the people very friendly. Even if they can't speak English, most will still try to help you. I also noticed how well-presented people were. Suits were a common sight.

Everything was so reasonably priced too. For example, it is possible to get a meal such as a döner kebab and drink for 5 liras, or $2-3. And even then, you can negotiate the price if you wish.

I would have loved to stay longer in Istanbul but our journey continued with a day-trip to Ankara on Tuesday. I'll write about that in the coming days...
 
Last edited:

Major

Established Member
Joined
Jan 21, 2011
Messages
4,309
Points
820
Qantas
Bronze
Virgin
Platinum
Looks like a bunch of chips on one of those plates :):confused:
 

Mattg

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2011
Messages
9,769
Solutions
5
Points
1,125
On Tuesday we did a day trip to the Turkish capital of Ankara. When we told Turkish people that we were going to Ankara, many asked "why?!" Well, there were a couple of reasons. Firstly, my friend has a friend there who we hoped could show us around. Secondly, we thought it was a major tourist drawcard as it is a city of 5 million people and the capital of the country.

As it turns out, my friend's friend was busy and Ankara ended up being one of the most tourist-unfriendly cities I have ever been to! But was it a waste of a day? No way!

We started out with a short domestic flight on Turkish Airlines:

Flight 3: TK2138 Istanbul (Ataturk) - Ankara
Airbus A320
Departure time: 10:00
Arrival time: 11:05

One thing we noticed about the airport in Istanbul (and later in Ankara as well) is that you had to clear security twice - once before you enter the terminal and once after check-in.

I noticed this sign in the airport restrooms:

image.jpg

The flight with Turkish Airlines was relatively uneventful. The taxi to the runway seemed to take forever but we had some good views of Istanbul after take-off.

image.jpg

image.jpg

The Bosphorus Bridge which connects the Asian and European sides of Istanbul:
image.jpg

A small meal and a drink were served.

image.jpg
 

Mattg

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2011
Messages
9,769
Solutions
5
Points
1,125
When we got off the plane in Ankara we searched around the airport for a tourist information point, or even a map of the city. The airport itself was large and modern but we found absolutely nothing of use.

We walked past what might have been an information desk and asked the man behind the counter for a city map. He didn't speak any English but tried calling for someone who did, we think. Obviously he must have been unsuccessful as he eventually came out from behind the counter with his smart phone open to Google translate. He got us to speak into the phone and I asked for a city map. My question was translated into Turkish and he spoke into the phone in response. He showed us the English translation and it said "love you babe"! :shock: But he didn't have a city map.


In fact, nobody in the city seemed to have a map. And nobody spoke English either. We had trouble working out even how to get a bus to the city. We couldn't find a ticket office for the bus company and none of the people working for the bus company spoke English so we just got on the bus. In this case it was okay as they sold tickets on board the bus. However we had no idea where we were going. We thought Ulus might be the right place to disembark, but had no way of knowing when we arrived. Each stop was announced in Turkish only.


Eventually we arrived in the city centre of Ankara. We had planned to visit the Atatürk Mausoleum, which was one of the only tourist attractions in the city but we didn't know how to get there. There was no tourist information to be seen, so we tried following the streets signs to the "Anitkabir" but they weren't reliable and we got quite lost at one point. It took us about two hours to work out where to go (it should have taken 30 minutes) but in the end we did arrive a little over an hour before it closed.


I thought that the mausoleum was indeed worth visiting. Atatürk is one of the most loved and respected figures in Turkish history. He was the first leader of modern day Turkey, a military hero and a man who introduced significant reforms. The mausoleum reflected his importance in Turkish history through its grand scale. Most of the visitors were of course Turkish. I admired the respect shown by most of the visitors and even groups of school children visited in suits.

image.jpg

image.jpg


There was a free museum underneath the memorial which actually had some things translated into English. To be honest, I couldn't have cared less about the hat Atatürk once wore, or his fitness equipment from the 1930s but I did find one exhibit particularly interesting. There was an exhibit about the battle at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli against the Australians & New Zealanders in 1915. What I found especially interesting was the way it was portrayed and explained from the "other" side. There was a model/diorama depicting the battle, similar to something you might see at the Australian War Memorial but it was from the perspective of a Turkish soldier in the trenches, looking down onto the beach and the ships approaching the coastline. In Australia of course, you always see it from the perspective of someone in a boat approaching the shoreline and looking up towards the hill.

image.jpg


After the mausoleum we went into the city centre and got some lunch. One of the waiters spoke a little bit of English (hallelujah!) so we asked him about getting a bus back to the airport. We had done some research but there was virtually no information and we honestly had no idea where or how to catch the return bus. He asked a colleague and at once five people tried giving us instructions in Turkish at the same time. We worked out that we needed a white bus and that was about it.


Ankara itself was actually a large, modern and very clean city. Even more modern than Istanbul, I would say. As a city, there was nothing much wrong with it. My only complaint is that there wasn't much to do, especially as a tourist who doesn't speak Turkish.

A few photos from around the city:
image.jpg

image.jpg


We did eventually work out where to get the bus back. It took about an hour in peak hour traffic.

In case anyone is planning to visit Ankara, some quick instructions on the airport bus:
You want the Belko Air 442 bus. The ticket is 8 liras each way and you pay after boarding the bus. The bus departs from the airport and runs in a loop, picking up passengers and returning to the airport. For downtown Ankara, you probably want to use a stop called "Kizilay". The buses run frequently during the day. (The other option is to take a taxi - that would be easier but it would cost 50-70 liras.)

Would I choose to go to Ankara again? Probably not. But was it a waste of a day? No way! It was a very interesting experience, actually.
 

LadyC

Established Member
Joined
Feb 21, 2012
Messages
2,578
Points
695
Enjoying the report so far. Both Turkey and Greece are on my list so interested to read more :)
 

Mattg

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2011
Messages
9,769
Solutions
5
Points
1,125
Nice Pics!!! How was the overall experience?

You wouldn't happen to be from Ankara would you Ank? :p

As I said, Ankara was certainly an interesting experience. It seemed like a very liveable city but in a similar way to Canberra - it seems to be full of students and politicians, and not that much to do, particularly for a tourist who doesn't speak Turkish. I'm glad I made the effort to visit but I won't be in a hurry to return.

Istanbul however was incredible! I absolutely loved it and will be back!
 
Last edited:

Mattg

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2011
Messages
9,769
Solutions
5
Points
1,125
After the day in Ankara we flew back to Istanbul.

Flight 4: TK2179 Ankara - Istanbul
Boeing 737-800
Departure time: 22:00
Arrival time: 23:05

We had a bit of time to spare at Ankara Airport. The place seems large and very modern, although I don't recommend buying anything there. As an example, we bought simit (a Turkish bread roll) on the streets of Ankara for 50 cents, but at the airport they wanted 4 liras.

image.jpg
Ankara Airport ESB

The flight back to Istanbul was pleasant enough although it was nighttime so we couldn't see much out the window. We were in row 10 on the 737. The seats in the entire front section of the cabin (forward of row 10) were convertible business class seats with the middle seat kind of split into two, with two tray tables etc. Having said that I found the leather seats on this aircraft particularly comfortable.

image.jpg
The middle seat split in two

Once again a small meal was served. Like the option in the morning it was all vegetarian and quite nice - a salad sandwich, beans and a piece of cake.

image.jpg

After landing in Istanbul we headed to a different hotel in Aksaray for the night. We considered sleeping at the airport but I wasn't too keen on that and we chose Aksaray as it is directly connected to the airport with the metro.
 

Mattg

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2011
Messages
9,769
Solutions
5
Points
1,125
We were back up early on Wednesday morning for the return trip to the airport. Today we were flying to Athens, where we would spend 4 days.

Flight 5: A3 991 Istanbul - Athens
Airbus A320
Departure time: 09:30
Arrival time: 10:45

image.jpg

This was another pleasant flight. The plane was pretty empty and the flight attendants were friendly.

As we boarded we were handed "incoming passenger cards" for Greece containing questions relating to the Ebola virus, such as "Are you coming from a country of West Africa?" The cards were collected as we disembarked in Athens.

image.jpg

The meal on this flight was a hot pastry filled with feta cheese.

image.jpg

One of the best things about the flight was the views as we departed Istanbul and flew over the Aegean Sea en-route to Athens.

image.jpg
After takeoff in Istanbul

image.jpg
Approaching Athens

We arrived early in Athens and immigration was a breeze. We actually got out of the airport so quickly that our taxi driver hadn't turned up yet.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Community Statistics

Threads
86,613
Messages
2,100,661
Members
53,917
Latest member
martinmathews
Top