The trip from Belgrade to Istanbul went well, with only a few moments of feeling like you’re being herded to the Gulag. Preparation – covid test, documentation, etc. – was the hectic part. I made the 1.5-hour flight via Pegasus, a new airline to me. It’s a small Turkish carrier, but compared to similar European airlines, like Ryanair, it’s luxury. Pegasus even allows passengers one free 20 kg (44 lb.) piece of checked baggage – shocking!
I sat next to a friendly couple – man from Los Angeles with a Serbian wife. They live in Belgrade and have a home there, but are searching for an apartment in Istanbul.
Pegasus flies into Sabiha Gökçen Airport (SAW) instead of Istanbul International (IST). I can’t tell the difference, as both are huge. Unlike Frankfurt, SAW has an easily identifiable covid testing area.
My airport transfer went a bit mad. With covid precautions, drivers aren’t allowed inside the terminal. Instead, they wait outside, holding up a sign with your name. After figuring that out, the next hurdle was passing a horde of aggressive hawkers. Somehow, they’re “tuned-in” to pickup service website info (maybe hacked). They huddle near the exit doors and approach travel-weary passengers coming out of the terminal, claiming to be airport transfer “coordinators”. Some even find your name and destination on their smartphone!
Eventually, I found the driver and made it to my apartment in Beyoğlu. The location on Istanbul’s European side is fantastic – a hop and skip to Istiklal Avenue. I enjoyed a light meal at a cozy restaurant near my apartment, where the waiters were friendly and helpful. It was packed with jovial locals.
In May, Turkey was under a 15-day covid lockdown. Restrictions were lifted and didn’t apply to tourists? Last night, I noticed quite a few people out and about on Istiklal Street.
I’m planning my stay, which will be low key, just enjoying this massive, exotic city and its fantastic outdoor cafés. I’ve done most of the touristy things during previous visits. Attractions, like the Spice Bazaar, whirling dervish performances, and a Turkish hammam, are a must to experience local vibes and culture!
The Istanbul Museum of Modern Art is a three-minute walk from my apartment, so it’s first on my list. I’ll get an IstanbulKart for trams and ferries which will provide easy access to the Asian and European sides of the Bosphorus. Wearing a mask on public transportation will be essential.
I’ll revisit a favorite attraction, beautiful Hagia Sofia, which was converted to a mosque recently. Both Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque are exquisite Istanbul landmarks. Hagia Sofia was originally a Christian Orthodox church. transformed into a mosque by the Ottomans after their conquest of Constantinople in 1453. In 1934, it was declared a museum by “secularist Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk“. In 2020, the current Turkish government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, returned the extraordinary building to mosque status.
Istanbul weather is cool (low 60s to 70s), but it’s supposed to heat up next week. I’m experiencing Belgrade withdrawal. To soothe this distress, I may indulge in a baklava binge with freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice as a chaser :o).