On the Silk Road through Istanbul

Zurich to Istanbul 1097 miles

So long Swiss life.

So, I am off to Istanbul on the first leg of my transcript global flight home. It will be the third time in Istanbul this year making it my second most visited European Hub after Milan.

I fell in love with Istanbul the first time I came. It is a “Jules City” : big, vibrant, noisy, dirty, active and in your face. 2000 years of history, empires, sultanates, 15 million people and an awesome food culture.

It started on my Turkish flight, albeit less populated than the City itself, we are four in biz, and a glass of raspberry juice. Nothing as prosaic as apple or orange and the other offerings are pomegranate and blueberry.

Turkish has a great safety video run by the Lego team. Great way to start the morning.

I am going to just miss the new Istanbul airport as it opens on October 28th but Ataturk will suffice for today,

Ataturk is a massive airport at the cross roads of Asia and Europe and it shows in the arrivals area. masses of people cram into the cattle pens of Turkish immigration. Thankfully, the star alliance / fast track line was short and I slipped through passport control earning my 37th travel stamp of the year.

Of course now I had to wait for my bags. bag check in is a novelty of sorts as I can pack an 11 day trip into a backpack and an R2 unit. So i stood and waited and waited. 20 minutes until Sasha and Digweed, my suitcases appeared.

As it was 5 1/2 hours until my flight to Inchon and I didn’t want to drag two full sized suitcases, through Istanbul, I dropped the bags off at the Airport’s surprisingly effiecient left luggage area. Gul and Deniz offered me an apple tea as we went through the bag drop off and in less that five minutes, of which 4 were spent drinking tea, I was off again.

This was my first lone trip through Istanbul as I usually am there with the wife and kids and we book a car service to our hotel as it is just easier and more entertaining, but for all of my princessness in the air, I love mixing it up on the ground. If there is a train or bus into the city, i will take it. I have generally avoided cabs absent business meetings or arranged pick ups.

Istanbul is no different. Although Ataturk is only 7,5 miles from the city, traffic is a nightmare. We were once stuck for 45 minutes only 500 mteres from our hotel. Ya just never know.

I decided to go public which is surprisingly easy and this is how to do it.

When you exit the controlled area after baggage claim, turn right and walk all the way to the end of the terminal building. Take the escalator downstairs to the Metro level. Everything is marked by a stylized blue “M” on an orange background.

Just before you get to the Metro area, there is a little snack stand. Stop here and get an Istanbul card that looks like this.

I would have filmed the process but fell afoul of the Turkish Secret Police and having seen Midnight Express, and being a fragile soul, I didn’t want to risk it.

Top it up with 20 Turkish Lira and you will have more than enough to spend the day. (I will deal with longer trips later.)

Make sure you go to “the Guy”, no one mans the metro station ticket booth. The machines, when working, work in Turkish only (I need to learn the language, I know.) Tap your card on the reader and use the escalator down to the metro level.

The airport is the terminal station for this line so you can’t go the wrong way no matter what you do.

It’s about 10 stops to the tram line and you will have to switch at Zeytinburnu and this is how difficult the process is:

Take the T1 in the direction of Kabatas and it is a rapid 15/20 minutes into the Grand Bazaar.

I love the Grand Bazaar, yes it is touristy, yes all of that but it is as much fun as you can have buying.

Remember that everything is negotiable, cut the price in half and have fun with it. Tell a story, feign bankruptcy, the more outlandish the better.

Buy a fez

Or a bracelet with your name in Arabic

With lunch of a kebab, it was time to reverse course and head back to Ataturk.

Door to door took about 45 minutes.

Once at Ataturk, and through passport and exit controls, it was time for my second fav airport lounge. The TK lounge is a great place to spend the day, never mind just a few hours.

With showers, a billiard table, movie thestre, day rooms and showers (did I mention the masseuse wandering around)

Alas, it was time to go, my layover was done and Inchon awaited.

Au revoir Istanbul

This was another day at the office.

My name is Jules and I approved this message.

#zrh #istanbul #turkishairlines #turkish #ist #grandbazaar #traveller #blogger @julesbaabes #asiana

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