A fabulous first day and night in Istanbul Turkey
The only transcontinental city in the world is located on two continents, Europe and Asia. Welcome to Istanbul Turkey, once known as Constantinople. I was looking forward to spending the next ten days exploring the wonders of Turkey, starting with a few days in its largest city.
Istanbul was settled in the 7th century BC, which means the city has HEAPS of history to experience (It is officially a UNESCO world heritage site). With over 13 million visitors a year this is the world’s eighth most visited city. The population is officially quoted as just over 15 million residents, so the town is very, very crowded.
Flying just over 20 hours from Brisbane, Australia to Istanbul, with a one-hour transfer in Doha was a long trip! As travelers know, this 20 hours extends dramatically when you consider that you have to check in and clear customs 3 hours before you travel, and then factor in the collection of luggage and clearing customs once you arrive at your destination. So, I would say around 25 hours of travel, with little sleep. Yet, arriving in the afternoon local time, I was keen to get out and explore my first experience of this vibrant city.
With five others from my tour group, we caught the hotel shuttle down to a walk along the river, the Bosporus strait. Here were the sights, sounds and smells of a city that was wonderfully different from home.
Istanbul successfully marries together the respect of the old and ancient with the love of new and modern. Even seeing an old boat amongst the newer models on the river shoreline was a pleasant sight. I am just not sure how seaworthy this old vessel was, but the cat has made itself at home upon it.
Food seems to be available from street vendors everywhere here. These small operators hawk their wares such as roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob to passersby, fresh fruit is available to munch on whilst strolling along the boardwalk and fried pastries are enjoyed as predinner delights.
One vendor was making a type of toffee on a stick as you watched. I didn't taste it but was suprised when they rubbed the sweet confection on the lemon at the end.
With the evening approaching, we noticed a variety of boats along the river offering dinner cruises, complete with live entertainment. This sounded ideal and a bit of bartering enabled us to get a group discount (there were six of us). As the winter evening was a bit chilly, we were even invited to sit on the boat earlier than normal. This was a lovely start to a perfect evening. The three-storey boat holds 500 people but did not seem crowded. The table settings looked lovely with their white chairs and beautifully decorated long tables. There were some two seat tables set aside for romantic couples as well.
The service we received from the staff made us feel like VIPs. Our drinks were continually refilled, the food was delicious, and our waiter answered all our questions happily. His English was perfect, which was fortunate, as our Turkish was non-existent. Before the meal, he invited us to step out the back of the boat and marvel at the view. He also offered to take group pictures of us. It was truly wonderful service. By the way, it is usual to tip hospitality staff in Turkey at the end of the evening.
I would highly recommend this dinner boat cruise and show as an Istanbul experience. We sailed up and back the Bosporus for around three hours. I enjoyed the night sights of both continents and the well illuminated Maiden’s Tower, Galata Tower, the mosques and bridges, and the many riverside restaurants which could be clearly seen from inside as well as on the open deck outdoors.
Oh, the food! What a delectable introduction to Turkish cuisine. The different delights on the appetizer plate were explained to us by our waiter. I can still joyfully remember how delicious each mouth-watering morsel was.
The portion size was plentiful, and I am glad there was a break between courses, just to let the food digest and settle a bit. The main course was a choice of mixed grill, fish or a vegetarian dish. I opted for the mixed grill and enjoyed chicken and lamb on skewers with potatoes and vegetables, as well as a side salad. The meat was lightly spiced and tasted amazing. Honestly, I could only eat half. Have you ever wanted to keep eating because the meal was so delicious, but you were totally full? That was each of us that night. Then the others in my group enjoyed dessert, a type of baklava with slices of fruit on the side. (I do miss eating sugar at times, especially when my dinner companions enthusiastically gushed about how incredible the sweets were!)
The live music and stage performances were thoroughly enjoyable. The performers were highly energetic. Their smiling faces and joyful exclamations showed they were having as much fun as we were. Whirling Dervishes, Turkish Folk Dancing, Flamenco Dancing, Belly Dancing were all delightful to watch. The belly dancer came through the crowd after her stage performance. She danced for individuals and posed for photos in exchange for a monetary donation.
At the end of the set entertainment, the audience were both invited and encouraged to get up on the dance floor and join in the fun. I have to admit that my face was aching from all the laughing and smiling I had been doing all evening.
The dinner cruise was truly one of those spontaneous experiences that you have when traveling, one that you will remember forever. Not only did it solidify friendships with new friends from our tour group, but it was a wonderful way to be introduced to Turkey. The entertainment was fun and unique to this thrilling land that I was keen to get to know. The service from the boat staff was incredible, truly first class. https://www.lufer.com.tr/en/Bosphorus-dinner-cruise
I also attended a dinner cruise the next night that had been prebooked when I was home in Australia. Sadly, it was nowhere near as good as the Lufer cruise. If you are visiting Istanbul, make the Lufer dinner cruise a definite on your bucket list.
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