Last week I made my way to Istanbul, Turkey as part of a media trip with Turkish Airlines. It’s actually quite bizarre how this happened. I get a lot of invites to events and in more recent times, I’ve declined many of them. Some because I just can’t make it and others because there really is no real benefit for me or my readers or followers. About five weeks ago, I got an invite to a Turkish Airlines event and the invite grabbed my attention right from the start. The invite was a puzzle and I had to put the pieces together to figure out when the event was happening and what it was all about. I’ve flown the airline once before on a trip to Germany and I was bummed that I never got to see Istanbul, so I thought let me go and see what was happening with them now. I also thought because I find myself in a traveling state of mind, that this would be good especially since I’m trying to do a lot more travel and lifestyle pieces now.
Before we left, I asked my Facebook friends for tips, tricks and places to visit ahead of the trip and I got some great feedback and suggestions. Turns out a lot of what we were already going to see and do was already included in our itinerary, so that worked out well. I’m also one of those people who likes to explore, get lost and see new places through the eyes of the locals, so I’m open to all suggestions but also to the experiences that await me and that’s when you generally find the gems. So on Tuesday the 2nd of September my media friends and I boarded our Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. Look, flying isn’t the most comfortable mode of transport ever known to mankind, but I did have an emergency exit seat, which is always great. I didn’t get much sleep on the flight, but the in-flight entertainment was on point and it made up for the lack of sleep. If we’re talking ‘first world problems’, I was a little bummed I didn’t get to taste the homemade lemonade that was on the menu. I think the airhostess didn’t quite understand my request, but really it didn’t ruin the experience.
After clearing customs and a long wait for our luggage, we made our way to the hotel where we had breakfast, freshened up before heading out for our first sightseeing experience of the city. Our tour guide for the week goes by the name of Hakan. What a great, knowledgeable guy. I knew Turkey was a very historical city, but I didn’t know to this extent. Hakan’s stories of the city were both useful, and very informative. We got to see the Blue Mosque, before heading off to enjoy a traditional lunch and then we made our way into Sophia Hagia (Aya Sofya), which is absolutely incredible. My grandfather always says how the builders of today aren’t as thorough and pedantic as they used to be, but this is on a whole other level. The vision these people had way back when was something quite special. While their ways and means of building might be questionable, the fact that such beautiful structures exist is actually quite ‘divine’. After that we went through to Topkapi Imperial Palace, which was great but packed. It’s still high season over there, so you can expect to stand in queues to see some of the more historical artefacts. The queue moves, but because this was a quick trip, a few of us decided to venture around and explore some of the other areas of the Palace. We then took some time out to enjoy an ice cream overlooking the Bosphorus. Plus we got to see the different levels of selfie-taking, from models to wannabes, try-hards, monopods and the “HUH? Are you for real?” I’m telling you there’s a TV show just waiting to be made for people watching and watchers ;)
On Thursday we got to meet the team from Turkish Airlines at their headquarters. It was there that we also got to enjoy a traditional Turkish coffee with the CEO of the airline. What a nice man and I say this with the utmost respect. It’s not often the CEO of the top airline in Europe makes time for you, engages with you and shares some of his successes and future plans for the airline with you – and to do so in such a humble manner. He wanted to know about our experience with the airline and suggested that we call him (yes, he gave us his number) for occasions when there is something wrong or if we had any feedback for him and the team. One of the many wise things he said, “We are not the best airline, but we have a heart,” and how true is that?
Our meeting with Temel Kotil was followed by a tour and a demo of the flight simulators. It’s actually scary how real it is in there. Check out this little video to catch a glimpse:
And then we got to enjoy a ‘business class’ lunch at Do&Co, which is the official catering service for Turkish Airlines, as well as many other big brands in the market. You can understand why people fly business class and why the airline has won several awards for its ground and in-flight services. It makes me want to travel business class – one day when I’m big ;)
On Friday, we hopped on board a ferry, where we enjoyed a tour of the Bosphorus. It’s interesting to note that one side of the Bosphorus is Europe and the other is Asia… So I straddled two continents on that day. Weird, but in a nerdy kind of way cool too. I was a little worried about my ‘sea legs’ but I handled it well and coped just perfectly. So if you’re worried about that, don’t be. You’ll be just fine. It’s also a great, alternative way to see the city, but don’t expect to wonders from the on-board city information. It’s not clear, but Hakan was with us so that helped. After that, we headed off to the Grand Bizarre… epic. We didn’t have nearly enough time, so I’m pretty sure I lost out on good deals. In fact, I probably got screwed over, but hey I put it down to experience really. If you’re heading to the Grand Bizarre, you should give yourself at least half a day, if not more. There are so many stores and if you’re looking to find the best deal, you will need time. If you want traditional Turkish delight, then you’ll definitely find some there. Trust me I smashed a lot of tasters in my face, nom, nom. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay long because we had to make our way to the airport and peak hour traffic was looming, but when I go back, I’m definitely heading straight there. There are so many places many of you recommended I go and see, but timing didn’t allow it, so it really is just an excuse to go back.
I’m doing a fair amount of traveling at the moment and one of the deal breakers for me is the visa situation. I was lucky enough to get a 10-year visa for both the USA and Canada, which is extremely helpful, but for me Europe is a giant pain. They only give you a visa for the amount of time you’re in the country, and it’s really expensive for us South Africans to constantly pay the visa fees. The same applies to the UAE (I tried with Emirates and Dubai but apparently I’m not eligible for their complimentary visa). Turkey isn’t like that. I applied for my visa online and within ten minutes it was in my possession. I didn’t have to pay either, which is such a bonus. So if you’re looking at flying Turkish Airlines, take note of this. If your layover is long enough, the airline offer a free city tour, valued at 100 Euros. #WINNING! Plus, if your budget allows, do yourselves a favour and try and get into the CIP Lounge. What an incredible experience. From showering to delicious food, drinks, coffee and water on tap; a movie theatre to enjoy some music concerts, it’s just the bomb. Some of my colleagues encountered some rude staff there, but I didn’t so my experienced was nothing short of amazing. How does one ever travel normal again? Click here for my Instagram video… a taster of what you can expect. My trip to NYC via Dubai is going to be very, very, very long… No special treatment with the Emirates folks sadly, such is life.
***** Thank you to Turkish Airlines for making this trip possible*****