Ten Tips to Make Your Family’s Istanbul Adventure a Smashing Success

Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!Have you smelled the salt in the air and felt the press of the crowds while virtually bopping around the Bosphorus and ancient city of Istanbul with us? I’m wrapping up our Turkish Family Travel Adventure series today with my top ten tips for making your own trip to Istanbul both budget-friendly and a smashing success!

Let’s get right to it, shall we?Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

Get an e-visa. The majority of travelers will need a visa to enter Turkey. Unlike other countries with arduous processes (ahem.. Russia), obtaining a visa to enter Turkey is relatively painless and can be done online in advance here.

Bargain with your hotel to include breakfast and a ride to or from the airport.

Nearly every hotel I looked at (and believe me, there were scores I researched), offered free breakfast. Many also offered a one-way private transportation from the airport (Atatürk – not Sabiha Gökçen) with a stay of 3 nights, and a return service with stays of 6 nights or more.

It is possible to get to Sultanahmet from Atatürk via public transportation, but I would not have wanted to do that with the luggage we had from moving to the US. If you’re leaning toward DIY or your hotel won’t budge even when you pit different properties against each other, check out this comprehensive guide to your options as well as tips on getting from Sabiha Gökçen to Sultanahmet.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!You should know that even if you have a private driver waiting for you, finding him in the insane arrivals hall will be your first taste of the frenzy that awaits.

Pick a hotel in Sultanahmet or the Galata Tower (Beyoğlu) area.

By staying in one of these two areas, you’ll be within walking distance of as many sites as possible. When researching accommodation options, I (erroneously) thought that the Galata Tower area was too far away from most of the places I wanted to go. I didn’t know about the T1 tram or how easy it is to use. For an overview of the pros and cons of both areas, click here. For where not to stay, click here.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

Avoid bringing a stroller if at all possible.

Istanbul isn’t known as the City of Seven Hills for nothin’. A simple walk from your hotel to the nearest tram stop becomes a tad more treacherous when you add a San Francisco-style grade to the route. If you do bring a stroller, you’ll likely save the kids’ energy but burn your own going steeply up and down all day long. It is possible to get on and off trams with a pram, but metro stations are more tricky to maneuver since most have stairs instead of elevators. Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

Discuss cultural and religious differences in advance.

Unless your family is well-versed in Muslim culture, your kids will likely ask questions about why the women have their heads covered and why they hear the azhan (call to prayer) broadcast over loudspeakers five times per day. Encourage them to ask questions, find commonalities, discuss their thoughts, and learn about local traditions and customs like bargaining. Also, It’s always courteous (and fun!) to learn a few simple words and phrases in the local language.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

Practice restaurant manners and encourage an open mind about new foods.

My kids rarely ate in restaurants during our four years in Germany (their parents aren’t, uh, crazy about German food), so they were a bit on the rusty side when it came to table manners and how to behave in a restaurant. Thankfully, the boys are usually pretty good about trying new foods, but I thought it would be fun to make a little game of it by encouraging them to find the similarities and differences such as how Lahmacun is like pizza or Kofti is different than Italian meatballs.

Save on dinner out by sharing adult portions with your kids and declining drinks.

For our family of five – and our three boys already practically eat as much as we do, we often ordered three adult portions and licked the plates clean. No leftovers means no waste and no extra cash going to meals out. We figured we could always buy Turkish bagels or fresh juice if we needed a little something after the meal.

We bought 5L bottles of water at local convenience stores and used these to refill our smaller water bottles at the hotel. We brought snacks with us from home instead of trying to find a supermarket in Sultanahmet (good thing, too, because – well, good luck with that).

Prepare for total strangers to touch your children and offer them gifts.

This happened to us in South Korea, too, but it didn’t make it any more pleasant for me or my boys. Decide beforehand what your family’s response to such gestures will be. I tried to be polite and gently decline the candy or whisk it away as soon as the stranger left. While that might have been a noble effort, in reality my kids hated being touched by strangers. Bravo smacked a man’s hand away because, “He wasn’t my friend.” Charlie was so sick of the attention that he threw down a piece of chocolate offered to him by a flight attendant. They were OVER it.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

Time your visits to popular sites when crowds are smaller and in the shoulder season whenever possible.

When we visited the Hagia Sophia first thing in the morning, we were joined by throngs of other travelers. But, when we passed by it in the late afternoon, the lines were nearly nonexistent. A fluke? Maybe. I would research the best times to visit each site on your list (you may be surprised what you find). And shoulder season is always a bargain.. if you can handle the cold!

Seek out local playgrounds to reward kids and give everyone a break.

The best playground we found (okay, the only one) in Sultanahmet was Gulhane Park. The large Gulhane green space was a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. The park wraps around the north and west edges of Topkapı Palace.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

The Palace seemed grand from the entrance, but that’s as far as it went for us. Yes, I know you you can peek into the sultan’s harem for an a token admission fee, but we preferred to enjoy the fresh air and rare opportunity for the kids to run free.

By the way, there’s a lovely tea garden on the far (north) side of the park overlooking the water. The tea service itself is pricey by Turkish standards, but the view is absolutely free.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

If you’re counting, you know we’re at 10 already, but I thought I’d toss in one more tip of a more serious nature..

Have a plan for what to do in case your family gets separated.

It’s no secret that Istanbul is incredibly crowded. Getting on and off trams and subways can be squishy business, and tourist buses can unload and overwhelm a site in an instant. Decide what to do if you get separated from one another, and know emergency numbers and phrases.

YOUR Family’s Adventure

You made it through all the tips (yeah!), and now you should have a better idea of what to consider, research, plan and look out for while in this crazy middle-eastern city.

‘Tis true – Istanbul is loud, smelly, and intense. It is NOT a destination for those seeking rest and relaxation, though I hear Turkish beaches are well-suited for such purposes. However, don’t let that discourage you from giving Istanbul a go; there’s lots to love and gems to be found in the middle of all that mayhem.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travel: Top 10 Tips for Traveling Families.. what you need to know before taking the kids to Istanbul!

Here’s to your own family’s Turkish travel adventure!

What tips would you add from your own research or travel experience in Turkey? What do you wish you would’ve known before you went or what question are you hoping to answer before you go?

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

All images are mine except the first one (credit).

Turkish Family Travels: Bucket List FAIL and the Mishap That (Almost) Ruined Our Trip

Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travels - Bucket List Fail and Major Hotel Mishap

This post appears as part of our Turkish Family Travel Adventure series, chronicling a fun fall fling in the city of Istanbul… well, except for the hotel shenanigans I’m sharing today.

It’s obvious from comments both written and spoken that some people think the life of an expat or long-term traveling family is one of endless glamour. It must be amazing to see so many places in the world! You are so lucky! I wish I had your life! Hmmmm.

Amazing? Yes, at times.

Perfect? Hardly.

I think the travel blogging community doesn’t do enough to show the other side of travel. You know… the my-kid-threw-up-on-the-train-and-we-just-had-to-leave-it-or-miss-our-connection side. The diaper-blowout-that-coated-the-entire-car-seat-at-4am side. The I-so-looked-forward-to-this-place-but-it-totally-let-me-down side.

I’m definitely an accomplice in this only-show-the-pretty-side routine. It’s not that I want to purposely hide anything. It’s more that I prefer to write about the fun times and often forget to write about the travel disasters.

So, today I’m sharing a bucket list FAIL and a nasty hotel mishap that nearly ruined our trip.

You can read more about our mishaps and total travel fails in Italy, Bulgaria, Karlovy Vary, and Seoul via the links provided.

Out of Time

You’ve probably seen my bucket list here. The last item on the list is something I’ve never done before – visit two continents in the same trip without flying between them. Fortunately, this is easily done in Istanbul… if you have time.

But, time we did not have. Sadly, we could only sail between Europe and Asia, touching the former but not the latter. All in all, not a super big deal. Plus, it means I’ll have to go back. Three cheers for silver linings!

Now, on to the dark cloud..

Istanbul Accommodation Hunt

Normally we stay in vacation rentals when we travel. They’re cheaper, provide more space than a traditional hotel room, and give us the opportunity to imagine living in the city.

I had a terrible time looking for accommodations in Istanbul. It seemed that all of the apartments were in Galata – or much further away.

I wanted to be within walking distance of as many places as possible in Sultanahmet since we only had three days. I had no idea (and had no time to research because we were moving) how we would do on public transportation, and I didn’t want to risk it.

Numerous searches did not turn up any apartments that fit my criteria – and yes, I continually loosened my expectations over the weeks I looked for a place. Finally, I had to fact the facts – a holiday apartment was out. Time to look for a hotel.

Shabby Digs – Chic Prices

Many of the hotels looked ridiculously run down, shabby quarters with royally high prices. We needed a cot of some kind for Charlie at least two double beds for the rest of us. I hoped for a door of some kind to make the room a suite so that Doc Sci and I could hang out at night while the boys went to sleep. A kitchen is also a huge plus for us.

The hotel rooms my search returned were both depressing and hilarious. Some of them were decorated with antiques in a rich, granny style which is fancy but never feels clean to me. Others appeared so cheaply put together and dirty I could easily imagine the grime and the bugs (not pictured, of course).

My absolute favorite was a “family room” (their words, not mine) sporting a double bed and a single bed in one room… both were nestled in the main room next to a hot tub with neon lights. Just – wow.

Lucky Strike?

I finally found a hotel I thought could work. The Hotel Enderun featured a beautiful breakfast area enclosed in glass and a small green area perfect for little boys to let off steam in a stressful new city.

The rooms did not have kitchens, but I figured that we would not need to cook when staying only a few days. Having breakfast provided would be enough for 1-2 meals a day (we usually make sandwiches with buffet items).Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travels - Bucket List Fail and Major Hotel Mishap

The description on the website stated that the Family Room (the language suggests they have only one) had two connecting rooms, one with a double bed, and the other with a single. However, the photos showed two singles and one double. Either way, that would work for us – and it had a DOOR! After all, that’s what connecting means, right?

Wrong.

When we arrived, we were shown to a regular hotel room (ONE room) that had one double bed and three portable cots. Yep, this hotel expected my big boys to sleep in baby beds. Even worse than that, they completely lied about the description of the room.

From the Hotel Enderun website:

Family Connected Room has 2 Connected Rooms each other. One of them has 1 Single beds and the Other Room has 1 Queen Bed, Private bathroom with shower, Dual action (heating and cooling) air-conditioner, 24 hour hot water,Satellite LCD TV with major European channels, Direct dial telephone, Mini bar, Hair dryer, Safe deposit box,WI-FI, Free internet connection. Buffet Breakfast, Non Smoking. Maximum 3 Person per room in existing beds.

 

At first they were “full” and then they suddenly had an extra single room next to that “family room” that they could give in addition to the room we currently had. But, my kids are too young to sleep alone in a strange hotel in a new city, and I didn’t feel comfortable going in the hallway in the night if they needed us.

Plus, this was NOT what I booked. The manager on duty finally admitted that the room we had was a “deluxe” room – great, but NOT what I booked.

I can handle a lot of stressful situations but being tricked and ripped off is not one of them.

I explained that this situation was unacceptable and showed them on their own website. I asked repeatedly to see that room in the pictures. The manager told me he had never seen those photos and had no idea they had that kind of room. Wow… Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travels - Bucket List Fail and Major Hotel Mishap

After a bunch of “But, we’re full..” garbage, I was finally allowed to see a suite – again, not the same as the photos. I was assured nothing could be done that night. And I assured them I would not be paying the quoted rate for that night.

We had no choice but to sleep in the room offered or be on the street that evening. I paid half of the nightly rate and also negotiated a free return taxi to the airport at the end of our stay.

The Saga Continues

The next day, we finally were able to see what was supposedly the advertised room (“It’s our best room! You’ll love it!”).

Want to guess what we found?Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travels - Bucket List Fail and Major Hotel Mishap

Inside were one double, one single, and one roll-away bed (NOT four real beds). There were indeed two rooms at one time, as in probably a hundred years ago, that now are one big room with a six-foot opening in between.

No door.

Once more, c’mon, let me hear it… NOT WHAT I BOOKED!!!!Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travels - Bucket List Fail and Major Hotel Mishap

I was – naturally – furious. But what could be done? Either I could accept this room and make it work, or I could let this ruin the rest of my vacation.

We chose the former.

Buyer Beware

Unfortunately, the photos of this fake room are still up on the website.

I know now that these are photos from various rooms, not one room, put together in a slideshow to lead the customer to believe they’re getting something that does not exist.

I know this because I’ve been in these rooms. The bathroom pictured is from our first room (the one with three baby cribs for three big boys). And several of the other photos are from the other family room I was shown, but that we did not stay in.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travels - Bucket List Fail and Major Hotel Mishap

I write about this not to shame a particular hotel (though that is an added bonus), but to caution you. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

In this instance, the price wasn’t outrageously high or low, and nothing about the website seemed sketchy. I wish I would have had a backup plan so that when I was offered a room at another hotel, I could’ve had something to bargain.

Be Bold!

False advertising?! Language translation error?! Who knows – what I do know is that I wasted hours on this mess, and it nearly ruined our entire vacation since we had to deal with this garbage on two of our three days in town.

If blatant misrepresentation happens to you, do not be afraid to call management out on the error and negotiate terms to make the stay acceptable to you.

These infuriating shenanigans are part of that less glamorous, least-publicized, rarely discussed side to travel. These kinds of situations are the mishaps that make a place memorable – for better or worse.

What about you? Have you ever bumped into false advertising on your travels or had another mishap nearly ruin your trip? What would you do if what you got was not what you paid for?

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Lead image credit

All other images are from and link to the Hotel Enderun website.

Turkish Family Travels: Haggling Through the Grand Bazaar (Without Being Ripped Off..)

Grand A Family Adventure in Turkey - Top Tips for Haggling Through the Grand Bazaar with Kids! #familytravelThis post appears as part of our Turkish Family Travel Adventure series, chronicling a fun fall fling in the city of Istanbul.

Getting ripped off is one sure-fire way to ruin your holiday, and the Grand Bazaar is the best place in Istanbul to do just that.

Middle Eastern cultures are famous for haggling, the custom of arguing over a price before agreeing on the final amount. True, it’s much more work than buying items at fixed prices. But, when in Turkey, do as the Turkish do.

The problem is that if you’re reading this, you’re probably not Turkish which means your Turkish haggling skills probably leave much to be desired.

So, how do you learn to bargain like a pro and avoid handing over too many Liras to a smooth-talking shop owner?

That was the very question I needed to answer for myself. I scoured articles, posts, and guide books for the best tips. Some of the advice was contradictory (be the first customer – no, you should be the last!). But, surprisingly, most of the suggestions worked like a charm.

Read on to find out how you can get the best prices in the Grand Bazaar.

Prepare Yourself

Haggling with experienced merchants is not for the faint of heart… nor for those hungry or in a hurry. Set aside a fixed amount of time you are willing to devote to a shopping excursion.

Eat a decent meal beforehand, and bring sustenance. Trust me, you do not want to go into this hangry.

Also, if you’re somehow able to secure a map of the Grand Bazaar, this will help you find your way out of what should really be dubbed the Grand Maze.

If you’re curious, here is the map I used. (not an affiliate link)

Decide What You REALLY Want

I have two absolute favorite Middle Eastern artisan objects – lanterns and decorative plates. I knew I wanted to buy several lanterns and at least one plate to adorn our new home (wherever in the world that ended up being). I wasn’t sure what else I wanted to buy, but I was fairly certain I could skip the tchotchkes and cheap imitation designer clothing.

If you don’t know what you are looking to buy in the Grand Bazaar, I highly recommend browsing the shops. Preferably, this would be on a day or during a time other than that which you’ve set aside for actual shopping.

Without this step, you may find yourself obligated to take home that shimmery belly dancing outfit and matching sultan costume.Grand A Family Adventure in Turkey - Top Tips for Haggling Through the Grand Bazaar with Kids! #familytravel

Do Your Homework

Okay, so you’re well-fed and armed with your list plus a fistful of Lira. Time to start bargaining, right?

Wrong.

First, you need to establish what the going rate is for each item on your list. I did this by wandering through the stalls, fixing my eyes only on those adorned solely with lanterns. When I found a lantern I might like, I used this formula:

  1. Ask the price of an item you do NOT want first.
  2. Ask the price of an item different from the first, and preferably smaller and/or cheaper.
  3. Ask the price of the item you are actually interested in buying.
  4. Politely thank the proprietor, and walk away.

I repeated this in multiple shops until I had an idea of the going rate for lanterns that I liked. In the questioning phase, I learned valuable background information such as the different metals used for making lanterns and that blown glass lanterns are of better quality and more expensive. I also was able to look at a wide variety of lamps that helped me narrow down the options and know exactly what I wanted to buy.Grand A Family Adventure in Turkey - Top Tips for Haggling Through the Grand Bazaar with Kids! #familytravel

Expert tip: Avoid the shops that advertise “Fixed Price.” These shops are designed for tourists not skilled in bargaining who just want to pay a certain sum and be done with it. You’ll end up paying much more than the items are worth. And, really, you CAN do this bargaining thing.

Deflect the Charm

During your research phase, you’re going to hear a lot of schmooze from the mouths of the shop keepers. Your money keeps them in business, and they are not shy about going after it.

As an introvert, this really wore me down. I just wanted to browse in peace and quiet. I’m content to be ignored by German shopkeepers; but, this is simply not the way things work in Istanbul.

Be polite, but firm. And, under no circumstances should you sit down to tea with a vendor if you do not intend to make a purchase!

Name Your Price

When you have a decent data set for your coveted item(s), decide how much you are willing to pay. However, this number is top secret and should be known only to you. Burn it into your mind, because you’re going to need it in a few minutes.

Take a deep breath, and approach the merchant with confidence. Follow the first formula mentioned above, always asking about several items instead of only the one you actually intend to buy.

The price he offers you (and it’s always a he) will be massively inflated, and your job is to talk him down. Here are the steps I followed to negotiate a reasonable selling price:

  • Ask the price of several items as described in the first formula. Do NOT show special interest in the object of your desire.
  • When he offers you a price, slash it by about 60%. The first price you offer should be lower than what you are actually willing to pay. For instance, if you thought it was worth 50, offer 40.
  • Use phrases like, “It’s a beautiful piece, but my budget is only 40.” Or, “I would really like to buy it, but I was only looking to spend 40.”
  • He will counter your offer. Keeping with the aforementioned numbers, if you offered 40, he may counter 60. At this point, you can either make another offer or politely decline and either ask about another piece (starting the process over) or walk away.
  • Prepare your second offer. To do this, you have two options. First, you could stick to your original offer to see if he comes down any. He might offer you 50. Or, you can up your offer, and say something like, “It’s a lovely piece. Would you be able to do 45?”

The second offer sometimes turns into a third offer or even a fourth. The pressure can build, and you can find yourself emotionally involved in the negotiation. If this happens, simply tell the seller you need a moment to think about it.

Take Ten

Remember that secret price you decided on before entering the shop? It’s time to bring that number to mind.

Evaluate the negotiation that has already taken place. Is the owner willing to agree to an amount less than your secret price? Are you willing to go a bit above it? Only you can answer the second question, but it’s important not to let the pressure of the situation push you over-budget.

You can always walk away and try again with another shop. You can even come back later to the same merchant if no other stall offers the same piece (which actually is rather rare).

The most important thing to remember is that YOU need to be satisfied with the price you end up paying.Grand A Family Adventure in Turkey - Top Tips for Haggling Through the Grand Bazaar with Kids! #familytravel

Did I get the most amazing deal on the lanterns I bought? Honestly, I have no idea. But, I do know that I talked the shopkeepers down significantly and paid what I thought the pieces were worth.

Whether I got the best price or not, I’ll never know. However, I am confident I got the price that I was comfortable paying and have no regrets about my purchases. That’s what matters.

Bribery and Coercion

This last one has nothing to do with salespeople and everything to do with little people. I’m guessing by this point, you’re thinking the whole thing sounds completely exhausting.

Guess what? You’re right.

And if you feel that way, imagine how the little ones with you are going to fare during your negotiations. Mutiny is the word that comes to mind.

I highly advise talking with your children in advance about the proposed activities of the day.

Explain that you’ll be looking for (lanterns), and ask for their help spotting (lanterns). Be honest and tell them that it might take a while to find the most special one for the best price.

If you know how long you intend to spend in the Grand Bazaar, tell them. And then describe what kind of reward they’ll receive if they help you buy the perfect (lantern) by behaving well while you talk to the shopkeeper.

We used one big reward at the end of the day (I’m sorry to say it was eating dinner at McDonalds), and several smaller rewards in the meantime.

If they have a handheld toy or book, bring it. Just keep in mind that the floors of the Grand Bazaar are icky at best, so don’t plan anything that requires rolling around on the ground.

Pack snacks and water. This is battle, and you definitely don’t want to go in unprepared.Grand A Family Adventure in Turkey - Top Tips for Haggling Through the Grand Bazaar with Kids! #familytravel

But, What About the Spice Market?

You may have noticed that I haven’t whispered any expert tips on shopping at the Spice Market. That’s because I found it to be overly touristy with virtually no Turkish people shopping there. All the shops featured the same products; I could find nothing unique from one stall to the next.Grand A Family Adventure in Turkey - Top Tips for Haggling Through the Grand Bazaar with Kids! #familytravel

If spices are what you’re after, head outside of the Spice Market and make your way to the west side. There, you’ll find more shops selling spices and other Turkish delicacies and Turkish customers.

Just hold your nose – the fishy aroma is on the potent side.

Wrapping Up

Is shopping at the Grand Bazaar as stressful as it sounds? Absolutely.

There is no question that scoring the most beautiful lanterns or the most intricately decorate plates is going to be tense and tedious. But, if you know this going in, and you arm yourself with the techniques above, you can have a successful – maybe even enjoyable?! – haggling experience.

Have you visited or lived in a culture where haggling is the norm? What strategies have worked for you?Signature Thrifty Travel Mamafirst image credit

Cheap Family Eats: The Istanbul Edition

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravelThis post appears as part of our Turkish Family Travel Adventure series, chronicling a fun fall fling in the city of Istanbul.

There’s something for everyone in Istanbul – sights, sounds, smells, sweets and savories. The trick is finding your flavor… and on your budget.

Whenever possible, we shop at local groceries or markets and prepare most of our own meals. It saves money, and I don’t have to stress about which restaurant to choose. Too many good choices lead to an incredible amount of stress to pick the “right one.”

In Istanbul, neither an apartment nor a kitchen were in the cards for us. That’s just as well, though, because I only saw a few very small markets in Sultanahmet. We would’ve been out of luck had we relied on our culinary efforts alone to sustain us.

Maybe you’re also headed to Istanbul and your head is spinning at all the options. You might also secretly be wondering if your kids will boycott any and all attempts to experience local cuisine, lobbying intently for dinner at the familiar golden arches.

Have no fear! Here’s a quick guide to what our family bought and bit into while in Istanbul. And yes, there’s even a review of Turkish McDonalds!Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

What to Order

In Sultanahmet, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant gem without a guidebook or online reviews. Restaurants are a dime a dozen, and every last one of them has hired a hawker to welcome you, “my friend,” to eat at their establishment for “a very special price.”

However, you’ll also likely be frustrated in your attempts to decipher addresses and locate that particular Lokanta that garnered gangbuster reviews on Yelp.

So when you’ve had enough of everyone offering you “the best food in Istanbul,” when your feet are aching from all the miles you logged in the Grand Bazaar, and your kids won’t stop the are-we-to-the-restaurant-yet mantra, just pick a place and order one of these simple dishes.

  • Lahmacun — Similar to a pizza, Lahmacun is flatbread topped with a combination of meat, onions, and spices and then baked. It’s often served with fresh vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce, or parsley. You can eat it like a pizza, fold it like a taco, or roll it up.
  • Kebaps — Kebap is similar to what you might already make on your BBQ at home: skewered, grilled meat. Lamb and beef are more common but chicken is also possible.
  • Döner – You may have seen these gigantic cylinders of meat rotating on a vertical spit at various places around the world (I first saw one in Russia). The meat is shaved and usually deposited in a portion of flatbread and then topped with vegetables and/or sauce. If you’ve been to Germany, you probably already know (and possibly love) Döner.
  • Köfte — A main dish resembling meatballs, Köfte are often made from ground lamb mixed with breadcrumbs and spices. The Köfte are usually grilled and sometimes served with other grilled vegetables.
  • For more well-known Turkish dishes with descriptions, I recommend checking out Witt Istanbul’s list.

Our Favorite Finds

Most hotels in Istanbul include breakfast in the nightly rate, and ours was no exception. Turkish breakfast turned out to be quite an adjustment for us since no one was really keen on olives and tomatoes for the first meal of the day. Read up on typical morning fare you can expect while in Turkey here.

For lunch and dinner, we just roamed. We did our best to find the recommended restaurants I had scribbled on my map. But, sometimes we failed, and I just picked what seemed both affordable and the least likely to give us food poisoning.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

Most guides tell you not to eat street food in Istanbul. You don’t want to spend your time in Turkey getting to know the toilet.

One notable exception, however, is the fresh-squeezed juice. You MUST try the pomegranate. Each cup is pressed to order, and the flavor explodes – tart yet sweet – on your tongue. Expert tip: Start with the smallest size possible. The nectar is very strong, and you’ll want to try it before committing to a larger size.

Beans & rice is one of our staple meals at home. When I found out that there’s a Turkish version, I knew I had to try it. Surprise, surprise – we loved the Middle Eastern twist!

The best places to sample Kurufasulye (Turkish beans and rice) are near the Sulemaniye Mosque. We chose Ali Baba on the corner because it had stellar reviews, but other restaurants on that row serve similar dishes.

The beans are cooked in a spiced tomato sauce and the rice is more of a pilaf. We also sampled the couscous which was equally as flavorful. Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

As you walk across the Galata Bridge, you’ll see scores of amateurs and professionals doing their best to snag a decent day’s catch. It’s true that Turkish people love meat, but with its close proximity to the sea, fish is always available in Istanbul. Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

However, if you’re a bit on the fence about fish like I am, you can tread lightly and make a sampler dinner by ordering a fish sandwich to go from Furreyya Galata Balikcisi and supplementing with delicious falafel from Kikero Falafel across the street. We rounded out our meal by picking up drinks at a small market and walked back down toward the Karaköy tram station.

With food growing cold and tummies rumbling, we ended up making a picnic – right in the middle of the road. It was fabulous to be in the eye of the traffic hurricane while munching on moist fish and crispy falafel.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

You may have heard of the legendary Turkish coffee – stiff and gritty like the streets of Istanbul. Maybe grounds with your brew isn’t your thing, though, and you want something a bit more like your morning Joe at home.

Enter Kahve Dünyası. This western-style coffee shop serves carefully crafted caffeine as well as CHOCOLATE SPOONS. Seriously. I highly recommend sharing a treat here after a long (morning/afternoon/day) of haggling at the Grand Bazaar.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

Typically, our diet leans heavily on the healthy side of the scale. Living in Germany forced me to make nearly everything from scratch and to appreciate simplicity of flavor and ingredients. So, it may come as a shock to you that Doc Sci and I have tried McDonalds in nearly every country we have visited. Yep, shameful but true.

Despite this reality, I never set out to taste-test Turkish McDonalds. Unfortunately, once my kids saw the big M, it was all over.

I find it funny that they ask for McDonalds and even consider it their favorite restaurant since I can count on one hand the times in their lives when we’ve eaten there. But, everyone has their breaking point. Four hours in the Grand Bazaar was theirs. If I wanted to bring home some lanterns, I was going to have to give up something in return. And so the if-you-don’t-whine-and-let-me-bargain-in-peace-I’ll-buy-you-gross-McDonalds-for-dinner plan was hatched.

Verdict? It’s pretty nasty as far as McDonalds goes. I’ve definitely had better Big Macs. But, they loved it, and I got my lanterns and no one threw up. That’s a win in my book.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Cheap Eats in Istanbul for Families with Kids! What to Order and Where to Eat in Instanbul on a Budget! #familytravel

Honorable Mention

  • Dondurmasi Ice Cream – This is one part entertainment, one part humor, one part ice cream thickened with mastic, among other things. There’s a shop with a show near the corner of Divan Yolu Cd. and Babı-Ali Cd. on the tram line. You can catch a preview of what’s in store for you here. The conniving cream peddler wasn’t at his post when we walked by, so we bought ice cream at the grocery store just north on Babı-Ali Cd. When we returned to Divan Yolu Cd., the show had begun. We ate our ice cream at a safe distance from the slick man and his stick.
  • For more restaurants gleaned from friends and guides, you are welcome to view my Google map here. I have not personally tried everything on the map, so I can’t guarantee every spot is open and of good quality. However, I always welcome a place to begin and a fall-back list in case I run out of time to complete my own research before traveling.

What’s your favorite Turkish food? If you were in Istanbul right now, what would you most look forward to tasting? Do you have any family- and/or budget-friendly restaurant recommendations to share? Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Turkish Family Travels: A Budget-Friendly Bosphorus Cruise

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - A Budget-Friendly Bosphorus Boat Trip with Kids! #familytravelThis post appears as part of our Turkish Family Travel Adventure series, chronicling a fun fall fling in the city of Istanbul.

While the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque are generally the stars of the Istanbul show, let’s not forget that the Bosphorus has made headlines for thousands of years.

Until 1973, the only way to cross the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia or vice versa was by boat. Now, for the mere price of a toll or subway ticket, you can whoosh your way back and forth between the continents.

But forget all that modern innovation – wouldn’t you rather experience the strait like a pirate on the high seas?

Okay, maybe not a modern pirate. Those chaps are mighty frighty. More like a fairy-tale, swashbuckling-yet-serene pirate. Eye patch optional.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - A Budget-Friendly Bosphorus Boat Trip with Kids! #familytravel

Since we only had a few days in Istanbul, I didn’t want to devote an entire day to one tour. If I would have had the time, though, we could’ve sailed straight up to the Black Sea. Throw in a walk up to the medieval Anadolu Kavağı Kalesi and the opportunity for a stellar picnic, and I’m sold.

Ah well, that adventure will have to wait until our next time in Turkey.

Not wanting to give up on the dream entirely, we settled for a shorter cruise. Our ship left from Eminönü right down in Sultanahmet and was scheduled to depart at 1430. We showed up about forty minutes prior to sailing, bought tickets, and boarded.

Fortunately, the boat wasn’t crowded, but the upper deck filled quickly. Expert tip: Stake out seats for your party as soon as you board. Don’t stop to use the loo or buy a drink. If you do, all the choice spots will be gone.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - A Budget-Friendly Bosphorus Boat Trip with Kids! #familytravel

From the upper deck, we were treated to a view from above of the spice market area as well as the back side of Topkapi Palace and two other mosques. All that, and we hadn’t even left the dock!

The ship chugged out of port, slipping past behemoth cruise liners and dingy fishing boats on its way out to sea. She stopped briefly to pick up another set of passengers at Ortaköy which is near the most charming little mosque (Büyük Mecidiye Cami) and nearly underneath the massive Bosphorus Bridge.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - A Budget-Friendly Bosphorus Boat Trip with Kids! #familytravel

Viewing this feat of engineering from such a close angle completely fascinated me. I learned later that the bridge took more than 3 years to build, boasts 8 lanes which can be assigned to either direction depending on the time of day and flow of traffic, costs about 4TL to cross, and is closed to pedestrians.

Apparently, it was possible to walk across the bridge in the first few years of its opening, but this is now forbidden. Too bad, because that’s definitely something we would have done!Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - A Budget-Friendly Bosphorus Boat Trip with Kids! #familytravel

As we made our way up toward the Black Sea, our eyes were treated to beautiful palaces, mosques, homes, and gardens along the water. We were given a free brochure with the names of these landmarks, but no further information was provided. If you’re particularly interested in learning more about each building, it’s possible to rent an audio guide for the journey.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - A Budget-Friendly Bosphorus Boat Trip with Kids! #familytravel

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - A Budget-Friendly Bosphorus Boat Trip with Kids! #familytravelOnce we reached the second bridge (Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge), the ship sputtered around, spinning to position herself for the journey back to Istanbul. I had hoped for a bit of excitement, say nearly missing a colossal container ship, but no dice. Slow and steady she went.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - A Budget-Friendly Bosphorus Boat Trip with Kids! #familytravelThe unfortunate reality for both the full and half day cruises are that there’s only one way up to the Black Sea and back, so you’ll have to retrace your steps no matter what.

At this point, the constant whir of the motor, the lapping of the waves, and the sea breeze lulled me to dreamland. Docking back at Eminönü rudely interrupted my 12TL nap. Shame.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - A Budget-Friendly Bosphorus Boat Trip with Kids! #familytravel

So, was the Bosphorus Boat Cruise worth it? Eh, maybe. The answer really depends on why you want to set sail.

We had two purposes in indulging in our maritime excursion: (1) Grab a glimpse of the Anatolian/Asian side since our short stay made exploring that area impossible and (2) entertain little boys who think boats are pretty awesome. Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - A Budget-Friendly Bosphorus Boat Trip with Kids! #familytravel

While we did fulfill both of those wishes, I can’t say that I thought this boat trip was in my top five Istanbul favorites. Top ten, yes. Top five, no. Perhaps I shouldn’t have expected pirates, James Bond, or container ship collisions.

There are certainly worse ways to spend two hours of your life, but I can think of better ones as well.

Now before you write me off because boats are to you what trains are to Sheldon Cooper, you should know that I’m not totally a boat trip hater. We’ve had great fun at sea in Brugge, Hvar, and Berchtesgaden just to name a few.

So, tell me, are you a boat trip aficionado? Would you want to do the full-day Bosphorus tour or skip the seas all together?Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Turkish Family Travels: Exploring Istanbul from Underground

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Basilica Cistern with Kids! #familytravel

This post appears as part of our Turkish Family Travel Adventure series, chronicling a fun fall fling in the city of Istanbul.

There are so, so many ways to explore a city.

Strolling “ordinary” neighborhoods, attempting public transportation, cooking native cuisine, people watching from a café, peering over the skyline from above with a bird’s-eye view… these are just a few of our family’s favorites.

It’s rather obvious to see the sights from the ground level, and often more thrilling to take a look from on high. Please tell me I’m not the only sap for an amazing view from above?

Most overlooked, however, is the belly view – experiencing a city from under the ground. One such subterranean experience in Istanbul awaited us at the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici).

But would it give us that unique Turkish twist we were seeking?

First Look

After a rollicking morning across the street at the gorgeous Hagia Sophia, we showed up at the Basilica Cistern eyes and cameras ready for more amazement. However, as we approached the entrance line, we thought there must be some mistake.

After all, most of Istanbul’s historic treasures are total eye candy. Not this building. In fact, if it weren’t for the queue of tourists, we very well could’ve been vying for a spot in a Turkish jail cell.

A postage-stamp building, bars on the windows… are people really going to steal the water in the cistern or attempt to make off with a gigantic stone column?

As if.

Down

Forty Turkish liras later, we slipped down the slimy marble steps to the cistern itself, water source to emperors and sultans for over a thousand years. From the staircase landing, the 336 columns come into view. Chipped but sturdy, these pillars remind all who enter just how surprisingly solid ancient structures can be.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Basilica Cistern with Kids! #familytravel

Now on the platform level, we began to wander down the corridors of dramatically lit columns, and I begin to wonder… If it weren’t for the theatrical lighting, would this place have much to rave about?

Around the prescribed path we walked, trying to envision James Bond hightailing it past us in To Russia With Love. That would certainly up the thrill factor, because right about now, I’m thinking I just paid nearly 15 bucks to stroll around a big room on a platform with nothing but a thin layer of murky water covering the floor.

Whoop. De. Doo.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Basilica Cistern with Kids! #familytravel

Medusa

But, wait, you say. What about the mysterious medusa heads?

Ah, yes, the snake-headed sisters sitting at the base of a couple of columns on the northeast side. Such a thing is surely worth a look. So, look we did… along with every other cruise-ship-sailing day-tripper. Hence the blurry photo.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Basilica Cistern with Kids! #familytravel

It’s no use denying that the bases with faces are a curious thing. Why would one erect a column atop an inverted or rotated Medusa head? Would the images ward off those who sought to poison the waters? Or were the heads inverted to stunt the power of the Medusa? Or might they be borrowed from an earlier structure as part of an ancient recycling program?

The solution to Medusa’s mystery is anyone’s guess. But, here’s a mystery I’ll just go ahead and solve for you right now. There’s really nothing special about the Medusas that can’t be seen in photos on the Internet. In fact, those photos will probably be better than anything you or I could attempt, given the frenzy over the heads that makes it nearly impossible to get a clear shot.

Light Delight

At this point, we had walked up and down every bit of bored-walk. No matter where we rested our eyes, we could only see two things: people and blazing stone columns. Is this it?

Well, yes – yes, it is.

In an effort not to let those forty Turkish liras go completely to waste, I decided to have a bit of fun with my camera. Taking photos in the dark isn’t something I do often, so it’s a challenge to snap a decent shot without a flash.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Basilica Cistern with Kids! #familytravel

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Basilica Cistern with Kids! #familytravelPainting the darkness on my camera screen with flaming streaks of orange light provided a brief reprieve from pillar monotony. Well, that is, until I realized my boys were also bored and making a break for the three-inch pool beneath the boardwalk.

Time to go.

Say Cheese

Now off the precarious elevated path, I took one more quick look around as a last-ditch effort. Surely, there has to be something else of interest down here…?

There, in the corner! The shiny costumes flickered at me from afar. Sumptuous fabrics and fanciful headpieces adorned a couple intent on returning home with evidence that they had, in fact, lived like a sultan and queen while in Istanbul.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Basilica Cistern with Kids! #familytravel

You’d think I’d scoff at such silliness, but actually, a part of me wanted to give the absurdity a try. Anyone can shimmy into a pair of chaps or wiggle into a saloon girl dress in America, but Turkish royalty costumes are a bit harder to come by.

Unfortunately for me, Doc Sci wasn’t at all interested in foolishly gallivanting as Ottoman royalty. Such a shame, since masquerading as Korean royalty in Seoul was his idea.

The Skinny

Unless you’re doing your best to beat the Turkish summer heat, the Basilica Cistern isn’t worth a slice of your Istanbul travel budget. Your time and effort would be better spent scrolling through photos online or even taking a virtual tour, available from the Yerebatan Sarnici website itself.

My advice? Buy a postcard, and spend your 20TL per person elsewhere.

What featured attraction(s) have you been to that didn’t live up to their hype or seemed like a waste of time and/or money?

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Turkish Family Travel: Two Magnificent Mosques

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravelThis post appears as part of our Turkish Family Travel Adventure series, chronicling a fun fall fling in the city of Istanbul.

Have you ever given much thought to how your neighbors look or compared the similarities and differences in culture and custom? In the US, I never thought much about the families in the next house or car or Target aisle because, well, they all pretty much looked like me.

Mosaic of Culture

My neighbors in Germany, though, reflected many beautiful people groups from around the world. I regularly shared the elevator with women in saris, hajibs, African headwraps, dirndls, and wool hippie clothing. Unfortunately, other than a handful that spoke English, I couldn’t ask them about their culture or customs. While I wished I had both more vocab and courage, I was mostly content to admire this sampling of international style.

It’s true that many areas of America host a mosaic of nations. But in order to really get a feel for a particular people group, you need to set foot on their soil and soak up their native atmosphere.

Germany is home to loads of Turkish people, but they have to adapt their way of life to the dominant German one. Experiencing Turkish culture in their homeland was one of our greatest privileges during our time in Istanbul.

First Impressions

Seeing as this was our family’s first visit to a Muslim country, it’s only natural that little boy brains were filled with questions.

What is that strange sound broadcast several times per day? Why do the women dress this way?

What’s a mosque?

Why are those people on their knees, touching their heads to the floor?

I relished these dialogues and hope for many more of the same on our subsequent trips to Muslim nations. I hate that fear in America has created stereotypes; not every Muslim is a terrorist as certain media outlets would have us believe.

I don’t have to agree with everything one believes in order to show compassion and care. We must love people because they are people – daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters – that, on a basic human level, are just like us. One of the best ways to understand this is to observe and interact with people different from ourselves in their home environment.

So when my boys imitated the call to prayer, we explained the importance of these sounds to the people of Istanbul. We taught them to respect rather than mock. When my boys asked why I had to wrap a scarf around my head inside a mosque, I pointed out that all the other women in the mosque covered their heads, and as guests in this land, we must respect local customs.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravel

All those conversations (and likely the fact that they could sit on the comfortable, carpeted floors) pushed the intricately decorated mosques up to “favorite” status with everyone in the family.

The Blue Mosque

When you visit your local place of worship, do you wait in line? Probably not, but it’s also likely not as famous as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, aka the Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Camii.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravel

On the day of our visit, we slowly snaked past a hut loaning out cover-ups and headscarves for female guests until we reached the actual entrance. We bagged our shoes as requested; this helps the plush carpets inside to remain clean. I then blanketed my head with a gauzy scarf and stepped inside.

You don’t need to be an interior designer or artist to appreciate the graceful patterns adorning mosque interiors. The Blue Mosque, as the name suggests, is particularly famous for its woven lines in a dominantly blue color scheme.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravel

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravelThrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravelTip your head up to appreciate the fullness of the decorated ceiling, but be careful not to fall over backwards in awe or bump into another visitor. Delight your eyes with blue, gold, and persimmon dancing in harmony over every inch of wall and ceiling.

See, magnificent, right?!

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravel

Tips for Your Family’s Visit to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque:

  • Entrance to the Blue Mosque is free. However, the mosque is closed during prayer times. Be sure to check the current times here.
  • If you are not Muslim, you will only be permitted to visit a small part of the building. However, even the third or so of the main floor is worth your time.
  • Women, tuck a scarf and cardigan in your day pack, and be sure to wear a long skirt or pants. If you forget or don’t have these items with you, garments are available to loan just before the entrance.
  • If you’re bringing a child in a pram, know that you’ll need to park it outside the mosque. We didn’t bring one, so I can’t say for certain how that works. However, I did see the stroller parking sign at the top of some stairs, so I highly recommend a folding stroller or a baby carrier instead.
  • When the weather in Istanbul broils, dip into a mosque. The carpets are cool and the atmosphere calm.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravel

Sülemaniye Mosque

Less famous than the Blue Mosque, Sülemaniye Mosque crowns one of Istanbul’s seven famed hills. Practically speaking, this means two things: (1) the view is amazing but (2) the climb to get there is a royal pain.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravel

The largest in Istanbul, Sülemaniye Mosque was constructed in the 16th century at the order of Sultan Süleman. History nerds, you can read more about the mosque’s construction here.

I must admit, Sülemaniye ended up stealing the #1 mosque spot from its indigo sister. Fewer visitors, no line, and a clean white interior – the Blue Mosque just couldn’t top that.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravel

After a serious hike up the hill to reach the mosque, we paused for a moment to enjoy the amazing view from Sülemaniye’s garden. From there, we could see Galata Tower and Bridge and even the ships beyond.

As is common in Istanbul, haze caused low visibility and construction props obstructed part of the view. But still – you do not want to miss this panorama, especially since it’s completely free!Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravel

Sülemaniye’s courtyard delights at first look with stone latticework, arches, and colonnaded peristyle. While there, I noticed that we were sharing the space with other Muslim tour groups instead of foreign cruise ship/tour bus groups. I learned while staying at our hotel that many Muslim couples choose Istanbul as a honeymoon destination. Fascinating!Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravel

Sans shoes, inside we rested on the carpet, recovering from the strenuous climb up the crooked streets of the hill. The boys explored the interior on hands and knees, and they assured me that the carpets are as comfortable as they are beautiful.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravel

The interior of Sülemaniye is calmer on the eye than the Blue Mosque. Of course, it’s not devoid of the delicate designs that are typical of the Islamic style. A broader color palette – pink, cinnamon, hunter, navy – is sparingly crowned with shimmering gold script. Other areas of the walls and ceiling offer a more subdued pattern, cleaner but elegant in its simplicity.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravelThrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravelThrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravelWhen the eyes have had their fill, the stomach often wants its turn. And boys only act like gentlemen for so long before they go the way of the wild. They’d behaved so well, so quiet and respectful inside, we determined to end on a good note.

So long lovely mosque. Hello, lunch!Thrifty Travel Mama | A Family Adventure in Turkey - Visiting Istanbul's Magnificent Mosques with Kids! #familytravel

Tips for Your Family’s Visit to Sülemaniye Mosque:

  • Entrance to the Sülemaniye mosque is also free and closed during prayer times as mentioned above. To see a general guide to prayer times, click here.
  • Tips regarding attire apply to all mosques. Not all mosques have loaner garments, but like the Blue Mosque, Sülemaniye does.
  • Don’t forget to explore the mosque grounds. They’re more extensive than the Blue Mosque and provide panoramic views of Istanbul.
  • I noticed a pleasant tea garden right outside the mosque walls, but since we were all hungry for lunch, we did not get a chance to try it.
  • The bathrooms in the courtyard of Sülemaniye were abysmal and overpriced when we visited. When you gotta go, you gotta go – but just know that you’ve been warned.
  • Talk with your kids about appropriate (quiet, calm) behavior. The Blue Mosque is much noisier due to its heavier traffic; Sülemaniye is much quieter so rambunctious rascals will surely stick out!
  • For more general do’s and don’ts for mosque visitors, click here.

Have you been to either the Blue Mosque or Sülemaniye Mosque? If not, which one is more your style?

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Turkish Family Travels: Hagia Sophia, the 8th Wonder of the World

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) in Istanbul with Kids

This post appears as part of our Turkish Family Travel Adventure series, chronicling a fun fall fling in the city of Istanbul.

Only a handful of places in the world really live up to their travel hype, and the Hagia Sophia is one of them. You guys – the Hagia Sophia is one of the most phenomenal places I have ever been!

Since my final teenage year as an art history university student, I have wanted to see the Aya Sofya with my own two eyeballs. Coffee table photo books just.do.not. do it justice.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) in Istanbul with Kids

From church to mosque to museum, this masterpiece has seen a lot of history since she was completed in the sixth century. Gorgeous, amazing, and gigantic – you do not want to miss this!

Unfortunately, the rest of the world feels the same way, and they’ll be accompanying you on your visit.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) in Istanbul with Kids

We arrived as early as humanly possible with 3 kids and no threat of fire. We still waited in line for a bit and had to endure the constant hawking of tour guides touting their services to the queue. Thankfully, we did beat the cruise ship / tour bus crowd, but only by about 30 minutes.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) in Istanbul with Kids

With the exorbitant (for Turkey) admission fee paid, we made our way to the entrance. I stopped my boys in front of the doors and snapped a photo of them. The three amigos have no idea what the Hagia Sophia is, but some day I can show them the photo as proof – both that they did visit and how small they were compared to the towering doors.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) in Istanbul with Kids

Once inside, we decided to go up first since most of the crowds stay down on the main level. After peeking down on the hordes and up at the marvelous ceilings from the mezzanine, I went searching for a few ancient pieces heretofore only seen in textbooks.

I found the famous glittering mosaics hidden away in on the far side and, sadly, falling apart. I had hoped for more mosaics (love them!), but much of the interior is painted, not tiled. I loved that I was privileged to see them; I hate these tiled masterpieces only left me wanting more.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) in Istanbul with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) in Istanbul with KidsDownstairs, the main area was completely filled with tour groups. Making elbow space to take a photo proved challenging, as was taking pictures sans tourist heads or arms. We didn’t rent an audio guide, but I imagine it was difficult to get near some of the featured points of interest because of the crowds.Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) in Istanbul with Kids

Though the Aya Sofya is no longer a mosque, the interior is heavily decorated with Islamic motifs. These are sprinkled in among the early Christian art. I found it to be an intriguing mix, but you’ll have to draw your own conclusions concerning the design.

Was visiting the Hagia Sophia worth it? This is not even a question worth answering.. You cannot visit Istanbul and not experience the Hagia Sophia. It’s a crime against art.

The “8th wonder of the world” truly is an architectural, historical, artistic, and cultural gem that should top every family’s Turkish bucket list and one deserving of the price of admission. I feel like I should say more, but I really can’t do the place justice. You’ll just have to see it for yourself!Thrifty Travel Mama | Visiting the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) in Istanbul with Kids

Tips for Taking Your Family to Hagia Sophia

  • Go early! Arrive before opening time, if possible. It may have been a fluke, but we did notice that the entrance line tapered off around 2pm. Perhaps the tour groups are all finished for the day by that time. It’s worth asking around to find the best time to go on a particular day.
  • We spent about an hour inside. I would have liked to stay longer, but the crowds weren’t going away and my kids weren’t magically going to turn into art history buffs (sad, but true). Plus, we wanted to end the visit on a meltdown-free note. I recommend researching the treasures of the Aya Sofya in advance so you know what you absolutely want to see.
  • Getting to the second floor with a pram would be problematic. Use a baby carrier, or plan to take turns exploring the upper level.
  • You can rent an audio guide, but the masses may make it difficult to get near some of the featured points of interest.
  • Use the free WC before you exit the grounds. Bathrooms are hard to find in Istanbul!
  • The courtyard has a small café where you can make a pit stop before moving on to your next adventure.

Have you ever wanted to visit the Hagia Sophia or another famous historical place? Do you think places such as this are worth visiting despite the crowds?Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Our Turkish Family Adventure: A Fall Fling in Istanbul

Thrifty Travel Mama | Family Adventures in Istanbul - Tips on Taking Your Kids to Turkey

Are y’all ready to check out the sultan’s sweet digs, savory street food, and a super cheap sea cruise? My family-friendly Istanbul recap is finally here!

An effort nearly a year in the making, sharing our family’s Turkish adventure with you is obviously long overdue. In between spelling tests and science experiments, I’ve been editing photos and typing up posts in my rare spare minutes over the past few months.

We enjoyed such a marvelous last major travel fling in the Middle East before moving to America, a trek complete with marvels and mishaps, that I couldn’t keep it all to myself.

After a trip like this, the first thing I want to do is capture the essence of the adventure in words and pictures (which, unfortunately takes for-stinkin’-ever these days). Following that, I wish to share what we experienced and learned with you and all my fellow traveling families.

I personally rely on these kinds of recap and bucket list posts from other travelers and especially family travel bloggers. So, without further ado, here are the treats awaiting you in the next few weeks. Links will be added to the list below as posts are published.

Istanbul Bucket List

All that, and….

As always, I’ll discuss my thoughts on whether I found Istanbul to be kid-friendly or not. I’ll be handing over my best tips for taking your family to Turkey including valuable advice on what to know and prepare before you even leave home.

I also have a harrowing hotel tale to share in hopes that you’ll avoid any potential arguments with your own accommodation arrangements. Plus, I’ve got a review of our experience flying Turkish Airlines with kids in the works.

It’s both thrilling and slightly depressing to be reliving our Turkish adventure here in words and pictures. Thrilling because, hello, we went to Turkey with our kids and had a blast. Depressing because of the whole being regular Americans now with real jobs and commitments who can’t travel whenever they feel like it (whine, whine). But, whatever.

Down with the reverse culture shock dumps, I say! Every day, this new life gets a bit more bearable. Meeting fellow expats helps. Making new expat friends helps. Using my passport again REALLY helps. And, writing here helps. It reminds me that we traveled before, and we can travel again. It may not look the same as it used to, but travel is different for every adventure-seeking family.

So, let’s do this Turkey trip recap thing together. I’ll write the posts. You plan, scheme, and dream up your own version. (And, failing that – just pin it all for later.)

See you back here in a few days when we explore the 8th wonder of the world! In the meantime, if you have a hankering to browse other bucket lists, you can find our Tuscan one here and our Croatian one here.

Which part of the bucket list are you most looking forward to? If you’ve been to Turkey and have a story or link to share from somewhere not on our bucket list, would you share it in the comments below? Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

 

Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids – Part 2

Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!

You’re about to dive into Part 2 of my one-day adventure in Dresden with three boys and no husband. I last left you in a park bench on the south side of the Elbe with some questionable characters for lunch mates. To read Part 1, click here.

Dipping into Dresden Neustadt

With bellies finally satiated, we traipsed across the Elbe to Dresden Neustadt, following Albertstr. until we reached a Platz of the same name. It’s not every day you get to stroll across a bridge that survived while nearly every other place in the city was bombed out. But of course, the little people in my party were oblivious to this historical fact. Instead, my boys just enjoyed the fountains at Albertplatz and admired the statues encased in falling water.Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!

We like fountains, yes we do! We like fountains, how ’bout you?

All that rushing water made a certain little somebody have to go to the bathroom right.this.minute. You might not know this about me, but one of my biggest sources of travel stress flows from the difficulty of finding bathrooms in foreign countries. Most of the places I’ve visited do not have shiny porcelain loos in every store, restaurant, or train station like in America. Potties are often impossible to find, ridiculously expensive,  gag-me-disgusting… often all three.

I frantically looked around for any feasible WC possibilities while the little guy insisted that no, of course he could not wait (silly Mama!). The only option in sight – an automatic toilet.

I’ve used these contraptions in Berlin and Paris, and they’re a force to be reckoned with. It’s bad enough to have to wade through that mystery muck on the floor and ignore the thoughts of who might have been there before you.. but when strobe lights come on and the latest club hits come streaming through the speakers (yes, this really happened to me in Berlin)… Just no.

Plus, trust me, you do NOT want to get stuck in there. Apparently, these stalls are locked after every visit and completely cleaned and sanitized with water jets and streams of chemicals. Could you imagine…?!

But hey, when one of your posse has to go, he HAS TO go. So, one euro and five frightful minutes later, we emerged only slightly traumatized and decided we’d had enough of Dresden Neustadt.

We turned around and headed back toward the Elbe in search of gelato to soothe our shaken psyches. We found the creamy goodness near Augustusbrücke, and gazed at the row of masterpieces stacked against the horizon on the south side of the river… just waiting there for us to explore the moment the ice cream melted.

South Side

It was the Katholische Hofkirche that greeted us first. Old and darkened yet still fiercely beautiful, she must be regarded before reaching the more lovely and famous Semperoper. Read up on the opera’s history here.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!I loved the opera house – magnificent, imposing. My boys, on the other hand, just wanted to climb the gigantic statue of King Johann on horseback opposite the entrance. Boys.

Last, we stumbled upon the Zwinger, only a stone’s throw from the opera house. Gigantic and gorgeous, the Zwinger just might tie with the Frauenkirche for my favorite place in Dresden. The fountains, the deep turquoise rust, the sheer size, all highlights in my memory. I savored the atmosphere in the courtyard – crisp air, the melody of rushing water, and peace despite the crowds.Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!

A Serendipitous Find

Our day in Dresden was drawing to a close, a fact I met with relief thanks to my exhaustion of toting a little man on my back and melancholy because of the beauty we would leave behind.

The boys and I retraced our steps to Prager Str. on the way to the train station when I noticed we actually had a bit of time to spare. How did THAT happen?! On a whim, I yanked them into an outdoor, REI-type store.

To our utter delight, we discovered a climbing wall (free!) with loaner shoes (also free!) that the kids could use. They gobbled up the last minutes in Dresden scrambling up and down, up and down, until the clock decided they could climb no more.Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!

Adieu

When we could not spare even one minute more, we raced hand in hand toward the station and found our train. As we stepped aboard, I finally exhaled. I had done it – solo! And I did not hate myself or my small-ish companions! Small miracles, right?

Alone, I had managed to explore a completely new city with three little boys and without any help. We four shared a lovely day, and I will never forget experiencing the Jewel Box that is Dresden with my sons. Though I don’t wish to travel without Doc Sci, my husband and best friend, at least I know that I can do it should the need or urge arise.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: One Day in Dresden with Kids!Places I would like to have visited with the luxury of more time:

  • The Fresh Tea Shop. Actually, we did go here (see photo above). The tea I ordered was fresh (yes, really) and so incredibly refreshing. I took the cup back with me to Leipzig and kept filling it up with water because the mint and fruit were so flavorful.
  • Pfunds Molkerei. This quirky place seemed right up my alley. The most beautiful dairy shop in the world, a milk bar where one can taste varieties of milk, cheeses paired with German wines and specialties like milk jam.
  • Dresdener Parkeisenbahn. A steam train for kids, run by kids. Awesome, right?!
  • Paddle Steamboat Ride on the Elbe. My kids love exploring cities from the water, and the Sächsische Dampfschiffahrt operates the largest and oldest fleet of historic paddle steamers in the world.
  • Playgrounds! Check out this link for a map with recommended places to let the kiddos burn some energy.
  • Dresden Children’s Museum. This for-kids-only area is part of the Dresden Hygiene Museum. How very German!

Now that you’ve seen the highlights, what would you want to explore first in Dresden? Do you have a scary potty story to share? Come on, don’t be shy!

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama