From Ancient Galatia to Modern Ankara

 

When arriving at the Turkish capitol, Ankara, we felt like we had gotten a lot closer to our home country then we had been before on our Silk Road journey. Ankara felt much more European that I had expected, but just like Istanbul it had its districts that had more in common with its neighbouring countries in the East.

Ankara Castle was definately one of those places. Here the streets were narrow, the buildings were worn and lots of people were selling handicrafts for the tourists. It was also here I realised how big the city really is after walking on the castle walls, overlooking the city from all sides. From there we headed over to the museum of Anatolian Civilization, then to the tomb of Ataturk and when asking our guide what was next he said there were no next. As such a big and historically important city I would have believed it to have more to offer, but sights are also not all. We spent the rest of the day eating one euro kebabs and celebrating having finished a legendary journey through the Silk Road as the group split up here going in different directions and eventually home to their own countries.

 

Flying Business Class With Turkish Airlines

I once said I will never fly business class, but what I should have said is I will never buy a business class ticket being four times more expensive than regular economy ticket. I had won two round trip business class tickets to Istanbul and did not refuse going.

Already at Oslo Airport the business class experience started with own check in counter, fast track security, priority boarding and the SAS lounge where we could enjoy strawberries, cheeses and sparkling wine and other food and drinks from a self service bar.

The SAS International Business Lounge in Oslo

On the flight to Istanbul (an Airbus 321-200 machine) we were let in first and were immediately served a pre-departure drink from a selection while waiting for the flight to take off. The chairs were super nice with lots of adjustment possibilities but the entertainment system was the same as for economy class which is pretty bad when flying Turkish. We did not have much need for entertainment though, as we enjoyed having the full attention of the flight attentants and the business class chef who came around with newspapers and drinks throughout the flight.

I chose to have a pasta dish as a main course while my girlfriend chose scampi, and together with the starter, sides and dessert we had way too much good food and were stuffed throughout the flight.

On the way back the business experience was even better; where we had our own airport entrance, and a lounge ten times bigger with massage benches, pool tables, gaming halls and self service cafés and self service restaurants.

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The airplane on the way back (an Airbus A330-200/300) was also much more modern with massage chairs leaning all the way back, a much better entertainment system and more privacy.

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When getting off the plane we had decided that we would never again say never to business class tickets, as other than price it is a far more superior alternative to flying economy class.

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 The seats on the Airbus 321-200 machine

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The Turkish Airlines Business Lounge in Istanbul

Clelebrating New Years in Istanbul

Our plan was solid: travel business class in the evening, being all suites up so that we could just drop off our luggage and head straight out for dinner and new years celebration. Although all went well, it was not quite what we had imagined, mainly because rain was pouring down from the sky the whole evening.

We also had chosen Taksim Square as the place to transit into the new year because of some reccomendations that I will not pass on. For some reason there were no shops around selling alcohol, around 95% of the people there were men (probably keeping wives and children at home), there were hardly any fireworks to see and there was no countdown, only people dancing and singing around midnight so we lost the whole feeling of passing from 2014 to 2015.

So, Istanbul might not be our choice for the next new years celebration, and if we do decide to spend new years here again we would choose to celebrate around Karakøy Street looking at fireworks over the Galata Bridge, which is connecting Karakøy in Europe and Eminønu in Asia. Apparantly the street parties there have outdoor DJs, foam and light shows, but that might also be different when it is raining heavily.

Luckily we had more days to spend in this lovely city and although it was cold the whole stay (0-3 degrees celcius) there was no rain and we managed to have a good time. We got to relax

We had also planned to spend a day in a traditional Hamam (Turkish Bath), but when we saw the steep prices we decided that we would rather watch the “Hobbit” at the Cinemapink theater which was quite interesting as all chairs had been replaced with couches and there was a smoke break halfway through the movie. High prices are probably a way of making the hamams more exclusive, as fewer people would use them, just like the 4TYL/2USD you had to pay every time changing tram, while a cheap kebab will cost almost half as much. It is probably neccessary in a city with 12 million official innhabitants and a few million unofficial ones.

Istanbul is a city with lots of history and a great mix of people and cultures and is a city that I will visit again already in May this year. It is a city worth spending a few days in and a city you might find yourself returning to many times afterwards, but maybe not for new years which might better be spent elsewhere.

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Istanbul; The gateway to Asia

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When I first came to Istanbul, I was surprised how overwhelming the city was. With a population of 12 million people and all the tourists who where there during the high season it felt like it was a New York of Eastern Europe. I don´t want too sound too cliché, but I must admit that I have fallen a bit in love with Turkey. 

Everything is cheap, people are really friendly and are offering to help (without wanting money afterwards, like in Bulgaria) and there is a lot to see (such as the great mosques, the Turkish dervishes and the catacombs), try (haggling at the spice & silk market, ride the hot air balloon and go up the Galata tower) and taste (Turkish delight, Turkish coffee and real kebab).

The first day I spent walking around looking at the touristy things on the European side, when I heard someone call my name. I then turned around to see a friend who I was studying with a few years ago in Norway and her boyfriend. We were both surprised to see each other in the second biggest city in Europe, and decided to have some beers by the view of the hostel rooftop and go to a couchsurfing party afterwards. There I also met people I had gotten to know in a hostel in Serbia, and I also found someone who was willing to host me the last nights in Istanbul. This guy lived on the Asian side of Istanbul, which was perfect as I then got to take the ferry over, and have someone guiding me through the part of Istanbul which I had not yet seen.
 
I feel like four days was not enough for such a huge city, and wish that I could use my whole three month Turkish visa to stay here in Istanbul.
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