The plan sounded simple; get an apartment in Istanbul for the month of November, see the sites, meet up with another American family for Thanksgiving dinner, and have a great time. Sometimes, things don’t always go as planned.
As hard as we tried, we could not find an affordable apartment in Istanbul. We contacted every online listing we could find, begged and pleaded with agencies and the owners for a discount, but in the end, nothing. We decided that we might have better luck once we were in Istanbul and booked the cheapest apartment we could find for one week.
The bus from Plovdiv, Bulgaria was smooth and uneventful and we arrived in Istanbul on a Friday. As the bus traveled through the city we were shocked to find Istanbul so large. Upon getting off the bus we caught a free shuttle van that dropped us off at Taksim Square in the center of the city. We knew that Istanbul was large, but we had no idea just how large it is. In fact, Istanbul has a population of 16 million people and is said to be the world’s second most populous city. It’s huge! The traffic from the bus station to Taksim Square had been horrendous. We got a taxi and made sure that he would use his meter. He agreed, but because of the traffic he drove us all over the city and the meter went higher and higher. When we finally reached our destination the meter was at 39TL, which was about $20 USD. I knew that he had purposely taken a longer route than was needed to get more money, so I handed him 40TL while Kerri got the bags out of the trunk. He ripped the two 20TL notes and threw them at me and said they are ripped and he didn’t want them. Having just witnessed him ripping the bills and not sure what he was talking about, I tried handing them to him again. He refused to accept them. Not fully understanding his weird game I opened my wallet and handed him a 50TL note. He took it and held up a 5TL note and said I gave him a 5. Knowing that the only Turkish money I had on me had been some 50’s and two 20’s I went off on him that I had just handed him a 50. He handed me the 5 and I held my hand demanding that he give me my change. Having now just realized that he had just angered a travel-weary American who despises dishonest taxi drivers, he gave me all the change he had, which came to only 3TL. The next day we were talking to a fellow traveler that overheard a guy in a hotel in Istanbul complain about falling for the same scam and giving the guy another 50TL note after thinking he gave him a 5.
After a long day of traveling we were happy to be in the apartment. The owner of the apartment actually lived there and was planning to go on vacation while we stayed at her place. The apartment was small, typical for a large city, but would work for us.
During our one week stay in Istanbul we realized just how disconnected the mass transit system is. Even though there is an underground subway, it did not go anywhere we needed to go and there were no subway stops near our apartment. To get to the tram that would take us to the Blue Mosque and other touristy areas, we had to first walk a mile. We did a lot of walking and enjoyed seeing Istanbul, but we quickly realized that Istanbul is just too expensive for budget travelers like ourselves. The food, lodging, transportation, and attractions were all really expensive. Even though we had made plans to meet up with another American family traveling around the world and spend Thanksgiving with them, we sadly knew that we could not afford to stay another 3 weeks.
In looking at our options we found an apartment in the Turkish city of Fethiye on the Aegean Sea for only $313 USD a month. Yes, you heard correctly, for the entire month! We had spent more than that for our one-week apartment rental in Istanbul and were happy to find such a good deal. Before heading to Fethiye we spent 5 days in the Cappadocia region and toured the faery chimneys and underground cities. Even the touristy Cappadocia region is cheaper than Istanbul.
Once we reached Fethiye we knew we had made the right choice in leaving Istanbul. The weather was fantastic, the Aegean Sea was beautiful and still warm enough to swim in (it was November!) and the area had plenty of things to do to keep us occupied. Plus, the prices were much cheaper and the area had amazing fresh produce available at the street markets.
In case you are unfamiliar with the American Thanksgiving, it is one of our larger holidays and is a time for family and friends to get together and give thanks. Being overseas and surrounded by non-Americans can be really lonely. So, we were excited when the American family we had hoped to meet up with in Istanbul had agreed to accept our invitation and to come celebrate Thanksgiving with us. From the sound of it, they needed a break from Istanbul and could use some warmer weather in a quiet town while celebrating Thanksgiving with other Americans.
We met Bobby, Ariel, and their daughter Cora at the bus station and welcomed them to our temporary home. We had a great time hanging out on the beach, exploring the street markets, and getting a chance to spend time with another American family again. It is not too often that we get to meet fellow traveling families, let alone have one stay with us.
The one thing that our apartment lacked was an oven. Since the traditional Thanksgiving dinner’s centerpiece is usually a large turkey cooked in an oven, we had to look at other options. Around town were several places that specialized in wood fired rotisserie chickens. We had scouted the different places and found the place with the best looking chickens just a 20-minute walk from the apartment. On Thanksgiving, Bobby and I walked to the rotisserie chicken place and found them sold out of chickens. It seems that every other American expat in town had the same idea. Not daunted, we continued walking down the road towards the center of town and after another 20 minutes we came to another rotisserie chicken place. The chickens in Turkey are more natural than their hormone enriched American counterparts and therefore smaller. We purchased 3 whole chickens, just to be safe, and hopped on the dolma bus to get back to the apartment before the chickens got cold.
Thanksgiving dinner was amazing. Dinner consisted of the wood fired Rotisseries chickens, mashed potatoes, gravy, salad, deviled eggs, and of course good company. We really enjoyed getting the chance to meet new friends and to be able to spend an important holiday with them.
The next day we decided to take the dolmus bus to a nearby ghost town and hike along part of the ancient Lycian trail to a beautiful beach. What better way to burn off Thanksgiving dinner! The hike was fantastic with amazing views of the Aegean Sea far below. We made it to the beach just after sunset and enjoyed a light snack. We hopped on the dolmus bus back to Fethiye.
The next day we spent the day on the beach before taking Bobby, Arial, and Cora back to the bus station for their return to Istanbul. We promised to meet up again in the future and were very grateful that we had the chance to meet them and to share an important holiday.
Before we left on our trip I don’t think we would have ever invited total strangers to come stay in our house and celebrate a holiday with us. Long-term world travel has made us realize the importance of meeting new people and to be more welcoming of others. This alone has made our trip halfway around the world totally worth it!
I’m wondering how the prices in Istanbul compared to those in Paris? Turkey is on our someday list.
I have to say the trip to Istanbul may not have been what you planned, but it sounds like it worked out even better. The photos are beautiful and you shared an amazing experience with another family.
What a lovely Thanksgiving with new friends; we’ve also found that travelling allows us to meet people we never would have back home and make friends in new places. That taxi scam is horrendous though! It’s funny because a similar thing happened to us recently in Vietnam, we gave a shop-keeper a high-value note which he took away and then gave back to us a minute or so later complaining it was ripped. We were pretty sure the note we actually gave him hadn’t been ripped as it had come straight out of the ATM – it seemed as if they had swapped our note for a badly ripped and possibly fake one. We were angry and confused though as we couldn’t be sure of what had just happened; it’s so easy to be caught off guard, especially with unfamiliar currency. Luckily we were able to use the note he gave us elsewhere but the experience certainly made us more wary!
Janet Vincent says
I didn’t think Istanbul was all that expensive. Street food and accommodation was reasonable. The sites are pricey and crowded but you’re there to see some top of the range sites. There are better mosques than the Blue mosque. Respect the culture and don’t lie around on the carpet in the mosque!! A whole day trip on a local ferry to the Black Sea cost about $20-Fabulous. Fethiye was my least favorite place. it tended to be targeted towards the British tourists. Roasts on every menu and soccer on all the TV’s.
When your daily travel budget is $100 USD for 3 people, which includes lodging, transportation, and food, Istanbul is expensive. As for disrespecting the culture by getting down on the carpet in the blue mosque, I disagree. You are supposed to get down on it, and as long as you don’t point your feet toward the Qibla (wall indicating the direction of Mecca) it’s not a problem. Plus, it was really comfortable and more people should do it 🙂