In readiness for our morning flight from London Gatwick Airport we had stayed overnight at a Travelodge in Crawley. This proved convenient as buses depart from near the hotel (Bus 10) to the south terminal taking only 20 minutes with tickets from the driver costing just £2.50.
We arrived at the airport at 7.25 a.m. and were pleasantly surprised to find no queues whatsoever at the Turkish Airlines check-in desk. As our flight wasn’t scheduled to depart for a further three hours we were able to make use of our ‘My Gatwick‘ membership and popped into the Regus Express Business Lounge for a complimentary cup of coffee. If you plan to call in there, just download a voucher in advance and include your flight details. Complimentary access is available for up to one hour but as the lounge is before security we only stayed about 40 minutes.
As it happened, it only took a few minutes to pass through the screening process so we picked up some newspapers and sat down awhile to catch up on the news before boarding our A321 airliner for the 3 hour 55 minute flight over to Istanbul. Our seats 10A and 10B towards the front of the economy cabin were in a good position and our flight left on tine with what appeared to be a full load.
One hour into the flight a cooked breakfast was served which was of a good standard and comprised of a warm roll, butter and jam, feta and tomato salad, tomato and mushroom omelette and apricot sponge cake, so we didn’t starve! No alcoholic drinks were available on our morning flight but I was more than happy with my orange juice and coffee. When the trays were being collected, a second beverage service took place so I enjoyed an additional cup of coffee to keep me wide awake whilst watching some films.
All seats are equipped with seat back screens and I enjoyed watching ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ as I’d read the book some time ago. There was then just enough time for a second film so I selected ‘Stockholm’, a true story about the relationship between hostages and their captors in a Swedish bank. I timed the film to perfection as the credits had just started to roll as the wheels touched down on the runway of Istanbul’s new airport.
Prior to leaving the U.K. we had obtained our Turkish visas via an on-line application at a cost of US$20 each and we just needed to show these at Border Control along with our passports which only took a few minutes. It was my second time flying Turkish Airlines as I had travelled to South Korea with them the previous year but on that occasion I had transited through the old Ataturk Airport and not stopped over in the city centre. The new Istanbul Airport is light, airy and spacious and a huge improvement on its predecessor. Our bags were already waiting on the luggage carousel and on entry into the Arrivals Hall we obtained some Turkish Lira from an ATM (7TL to £1 at the time of writing).
In possession of some cash, we followed signs down to the bus station on the lower level and from a ticket booth near the entrance we purchased a Transport Travel Card (TL 6) and loaded this with TL 94 credit. Please note that payment for both the card and credit needs to be made in cash and that only one card is required for each group travelling together.
We then boarded Coach 1Y run by bus company Havaist to Aksaray, tapping twice with our newly acquired card to pay the TL 18 fare each for the 47 km one hour journey. As you place your luggage in the hold the driver hands out a corresponding receipt so there is no danger of anyone taking your bags.
On leaving the bus we used Google maps to navigate to our hotel, approximately a 15 minute walk away.
We had reserved a room at the Holiday Inn Istanbul Old City for the next five nights which was located on a quiet street with pedestrian access only during the day. Check-in was efficient and within a few minutes a helpful porter was transporting our luggage up to our spacious room on the third floor. The room had a contemporary feel with wooden floors and a recently installed stylish bathroom with a large walk in shower.
Just as we were unpacking, we heard a loud noise from out on the street and, dashing to the window to see what was happening, we noticed the minarets of a mosque across the road. The ‘call to prayer’ wailings continued for some time and we hoped that we wouldn’t be woken up at 6.00 a.m. in the morning with them too!
With a four hour flight plus a two hour tine difference it was already 7.30 p.m. and we enjoyed a stroll through the narrow streets of the old town which was bustling with activity. Traffic seemed to be at a complete standstill and it was a chaotic scene. After walking around awhile to familiarise ourselves with the neighbourhood we ate dinner in an authentic Turkish restaurant. Our orders of lamb kofta and meatballs served on flat bread with yoghurt , salad and rice tasted delicious and we rounded off our first evening with sweet treats of baklava for dessert. Our mains were very reasonably priced at TL 35 (£5).
On our way back to the hotel we called in a small corner shop for a litre of milk which we popped in our in-room fridge for our cups of tea. Despite the two hour time change we were exhausted by 11.00 p.m. after such an early start to the day so we were soon tucked up in bed in readiness for a full day of sightseeing in Istanbul the next day.
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