Sightseeing in Istanbul
If you visit Istanbul, you’ll more than likely find yourself at some point strolling around the square in front of Sofia. Once you realise that this kind of activity is akin to making your way through a minefield due to the large number of selfie-takers that you will inevitably photo-bomb, you might decide to follow the trickle of people walking up the spacious street on the right.
If you do, you’ll most certainly reach the Topkapi palace. You can enter the first set of gates and you’ll find a nice viewpoint on the right and a small but pleasant park in front of you. You can keep going, buy a ticket and enter the palace itself which is said to be magnificently lavish. Or lavishly magnificent. I can’t remember which one.
But if you’re like us, you might decide that another enclosed space with hordes of tourists just isn’t what you feel like facing and you may very well head back to the main square with the fountains.
Cruise around Bosphorus
It is at this point that you might meet Barhan. Barhan is a lovely man who can be found hunting for tourists around small cafes in this area. He will offer you a cruise around Bosphorus. Your first thought might be that it is too expensive. You’re just a budget tourist with no need and no means to spend hours cruising on the azure sea. But Barhan is a generous man. He will take the original price of 50 Euros per person and keep slashing away at it until he reads in your eyes that he has offered a reasonable price. For us, that price was 10 Euros. We didn’t even need to open our mouths. Barhan carried out the bargaining alone and successfully convinced us that we needed to take this cruise.
Come on. Only 10 Euros for a cruise on the azure sea. I’m a budget tourist. This is exactly what I’m here for!
It is at this very point that you should thank Barhan for his time and keep on strolling. Don’t get me wrong. Barhan is a great guy and he doesn’t rip anyone off. He drives a fair bargain and looks after his customers. The only problem is that the cruise that he advertises is sub-par at best.
If you fall into the same trap that we did, this is what your cruise experience will look like.
You’ll meet at a café at about 16.00 (or 9.00 or 12.00 depending on which time you prefer). You’ll sit for about 15 minutes in the hot sun with limited seats and shade before being rounded up by a tour guide who has about 50 other tourists in tow. You’ll walk, in this large group, under the scorching sun, to the shore where your boat will be waiting for you. You won’t board immediately. Instead you’ll stand here for another 10 minutes making the walk about 25 minutes in total.
Once the boat is ready, the scramble for the best seats will begin and once the shaded seats are taken, you’ll be left to sit out in the blazing sun with no shade at all. We avoided this and scored a shaded seat but were still incredibly hot throughout the entire journey.
The cruise will begin after a few minutes and soon you’ll be gliding your way across the glistening water which is really gorgeous. It’s just hard to stay positive about it when the hard wooden seat is digging into your backside and don’t expect to get too much from the guide explaining things through the loudspeakers. Even though she speaks reasonable English and Spanish, the whole commentary is pronounced as one long sentence with no intonation or breaths. You’ll probably switch off after about 5 minutes of trying to follow her.
If you feel hungry, you can buy fresh watermelon or exorbitantly priced pancakes with Nutella (literally a thin piece of lavish bread that someone waved a pot of Nutella over – the chocolate was scarce).
If you do decide to go to the toilet, make sure you ask at the café for a napkin because there is no toilet paper.
Oh, and expect to be hassled a few times by some performers dressed in traditional Turkish costumes. They are very stubborn about convincing you to have your photo taken with them.
When the cruise comes to an end about 90 minutes later, you’ll bolt off the boat in search of shade, some cold water and a break from the white noise.
Yes, 10 Euro for a cruise is incredibly cheap and the views were stunning. We just couldn’t enjoy them due to our discomfort and noisy surroundings. If you’re looking for quality, best to pay a bit extra and go for a fancy cruise. It’s definitely worth it.