Our Delhi – Istanbul ticket was originally booked for 21 December on the 1050 am flight on a sale in May. As the day of departure came closer, we made a rough plan for exploring parts of Turkey we hadn’t been to in 2018; and Trabzon (located on the Black sea coast) is the first destination we decide to head to. Our return flight has been booked for 4 January 2020.
Indigo customer care guys are kind enough to change the date of our flight to 19th December at 0530 am (with no fee) because there is a change in the time of the original flight. Although there are multiple reasonably priced flight options (100-120 Turkish Lira) from Istanbul to Trabzon, we decide not to pre-book a flight. We have practical concerns – 1. New Istanbul Airport, so not sure about immigration times and the time required for connecting flight (from IST Airport or Sabiha Gokcen) in case the landing flight gets delayed. 2. Currency exchange rates at the airport are always the worst.
So, we decide to take things as they come and give ourselves plenty of time as our revised flight is scheduled to arrive at 1030 am in Istanbul. It leaves us with the possibility of exchanging currency at a good rate in Istanbul and then taking an evening bus to Trabzon that would reach early morning the next day.
19 December 2019
Early (really early) morning flight from Delhi to Istanbul. On 18 December in Delhi, we have wandered in the Lajpat Nagar Afghan area and impulsively brought 2 kilo kinnows. The sunny weather suddenly turns cold and we decide to carry the oranges in our hand baggage to eat in the flight! Both of us pack light and carry 1 backpack and 1 daypack each. Carry Euros from Delhi @ 79.20 INR per Euro with bill.
Reach Delhi airport at 1-130 am. Indigo flight is on time and after pre-booking some alcohol, we lie down on the cosy chairs spread across T-3. Have got a tiffin packed with ajwain paranthas and potato sabji, bhujia and some dry pickle to eat in the flight / arrival in Istanbul (since it is a 7 hour flight). Eat a few oranges before boarding, get some curious looks at Delhi airport.
Sleep on the flight. Water served. No food as expected. Similar to a domestic flight, just longer. Wake up an hour or two before landing and feel hungry. Polish off my share of the paranthas, sabji and namkeen. Land at New Istanbul Airport, even before the scheduled time of 1000 am.
New Istanbul Airport
Huge airport, no queues at all. Number of gates for Turkish Airlines passengers and other airlines is just humongous. Very forward looking, airport has been planned for double the present traffic it seems. Immigration takes less than 1 minute. Funny incident – Out of habit we try to stand in a queue in a counter where there are already 4-5 members of a family standing. Get called by an officer at an empty immigration counter who tells us they have made the new airport so that we don’t have to stand in a queue!
I remark that our passports are stamped in lesser time than it takes one to pee! Search for drinking water. Forgot asking the Indigo guys to fill the bottles before leaving the aircraft. No free drinking water at Istanbul airport arrival. Browse through duty free section, good prices on some products. Use free airport wifi to check up on whatsapp and social media etc.
Clean washrooms as expected. Do the needful, freshen up and get prepared for a long day and then an 18 hour bus ride to Trabzon!
Exit airport and check foreign exchange prices at different bank offices. We have to exchange a minimal amount to enable us to buy+recharge the Istanbulkart and buy water before we exchange the bulk of our Euros in Sultanahmet/Aksaray. Ziraat Bank has least commission loss (5-6 %) among the banks at the airport – Euro to Turkish Lira official exchange at 6.56. For 20 Euros we got 126 Turkish Liras.
Havaist – 20 from New Istanbul Airport to Sultanahmet
Buy IstanbulKart with the help of locals, use sign language since the man is from Gaziantep and can’t understand English. Thankful to him as he is really helpful and also helps us load 50 Turkish Lira on the Istanbulkart. Run to try and catch the 1130 am Havaist Bus to Sultanahmet (from Pillar 12 – Havaist IST-20 Bus), bus after every 30 minutes.
When we are asking for directions to Pillar number 12, one of the locals remarks that we can catch the 12 noon bus. We see its only 1127 am and know that we will be able to catch the 1130 bus if we are smart enough. Lucky that we get to the bus at 1129. The bus guy hands us our luggage tags after keeping our bags and the bus starts as soon as we sit. Happy to notice that there are 2 empty seats in the middle. Super comfortable. Istanbulkart swiped for 18 TL per person fare.
Barren scenery, pass through local markets. Takes around 60-70 minutes to reach Sultanahmet (100 minutes as per bus schedule). 3-4 stops on the route and passengers get down as per their requirement. We get down at the last stop in Sultanahmet, near Hagia Sophia. Give in to temptation and indulge in touristy delight of eating corn – very expensive at 5 TL!
We are very hungry and thirsty now that it is almost 1 pm. Sunny weather and nice chill in the air. First, a supermarket – 0.90 TL for 1.5 litre water bottle. So we buy 2 and fill our 1 litre bottles and drink our fill. Start walking to find an old food joint from the last visit in 2018. Find it and order a tomato and egg curry(15 TL) and a non-veg sub(6TL), like always the bread comes free with the egg curry.
Tasty food and enjoy the setting of sitting in the street watching the locals go by their daily life. Exchange a smoke with locals. Pleased to eat nicely and the tummy is full now. Also finish the food that we have carried from India. Now for the main task, currency exchange for 800 Euros and around 200 USD that we have decided to exchange into Turkish Lira. Keep walking past the Grand Bazaar in Sultanahmet, exchange at one crowded office.
1 Euro for 6.56 and 1 US$ Dollar for 5.90 when the official rate is 6.58 and 5.92 respectively on xe. All in all, our final exchange rate turns out to be 12.07 INR per Turkish Lira after calculating the INR to Euro to TL conversion. Funny moment at the exchange when our 6000 odd Turkish Lira are strewn across the floor when they slip out of our hands! No damage done as they are all safely collected. Very happy at the excellent exchange rate and minimal transaction loss.
Start our walk to Aksaray Metro as we want to head to the main Otogar (Bus station) of Istanbul at Esenler. Little disappointed seeing a signboard on the way, 6.59 TL for a Euro and 5.94 for US$. The exchange rates had just gone up and it might have created a minor 40 TL fictional loss for us! It is around 230 pm and we are pleased to have saved some time for a possible visit to a open air café.
We have already checked the timings for Istanbul-Trabzon buses on an online Turkish application (obilet) and know that the preferred 2+1 buses leave at 5 pm. (2+1 bus means there are 2 seats on one side and 1 seat on the other side, essentially meaning there is more space than a 2+2 bus which has an extra seat with the same space on the bus. There is hardly a difference of 5-10 TL (if any) in the bus fares for 2+1 and 2+2 buses so we always prefer the 2+1 buses, given a choice.)
Sit in the shade at a nice looking café beneath a tree full of autumn colours. Picturesque setting for Turk Kahvesi (Turkish coffee) + Antep Baklava (pistachio) for 25 TL. Little expensive but this is Istanbul and we are pleased with the fine quality of the baklava (the Turkish coffee is good everywhere!) Walk to Aksaray metro station and catch the metro to Kirazli, get down at Esenler Otogar and reach the bus station area.
Buses in Turkey
As we are getting out of the metro, a guy from one of the bus companies asks us where we want to go. We reply Trabzon and he takes us to the Kanberoglu bus office with a 2+1 bus leaving at 6 pm.
It is currently 345 pm and 6 pm is too late for us, as it would mean us reaching Trabzon at around 11 am as it is around 17-18 hour ride. Camberoglu officials try to entice us by reducing the price from 160 TL to 140 TL and telling us this is the only bus from Istanbul to Trabzon etc etc. Have rough idea about Ali Osman Ulusoy having a bus at 5 pm and we walk to their office. VIP Bus (2+1) leaving at 4 pm for Trabzon. They quote 150 TL per person and we settle for 140 TL for seats in the front of our choice.
Overjoyed! Put our bags and get luggage tags. Great day already, going to plan even though we have it all flexible. Very very comfortable reclinable seats, and wifi in bus. On this trip to Turkey we have not bothered to take a wifi card / sim card and have no phone connectivity and are wholly relying on free wifi everywhere!
Beautiful sunset and evening colours from the bus, stunning autumn colours in the landscape, green boulevards on the side of the road, personal screens for entertainment with movies, games, tv etc and a butler serving water, coffee, tea, juice, snacks. Stop at a place by the name of Bolu for dinner at around 8 pm (no charge for WC, so very happy!). Ulusoy is surely the best bus service in all of Turkey!
Eat patatesli gözleme (potato parantha) for dinner for 8 TL; boring but somehow manage to fill my tummy. Buffett is available for 35 TL per person. Mostly all other locals eating Çorba (lentil soup) with bread and sipping çay (tea). Local olives, chestnuts, honey available for very reasonable prices at the shop.
Brrr cold outside. Temperature inside the bus is comfortable rather than being too heated or too cold. Very comfortable sleep. Passengers get half empty on the way at numerous stops. Sleep on an entire seat each. Bus stops for WC near Samsun. Wake up to a surreal sunrise on the black sea coast as we near Trabzon. The bus rolls into Trabzon Otogar at 8 am.
Very very cold and breezy morning in Trabzon. Have identified 2-3 probable places to stay in Trabzon at a distance of around 2 kms away from Otogar. Ask for help with wifi at one café on the bus stand and they let us load the walking map for directions. Start walking in the blistery wind to one shortlisted heritage homestay in Esentepe area in Trabzon. Super surprised to see a bus on the main road with a signboard – Istanbul to Baku.
Initially, this post was meant to be a part of the Trabzon experience but as I started penning it down, I realised it was better to make this a separate article for the readers. Aren’t we all trying to get away from the capital of the landing country at the soonest?
This initial success was to prove a vital link to our explorations across Turkey. Will make separate posts about different cities that we visited on this winter trip.