“Istanbul… the constant beating of the wave of the East against the rock of the West…” – Susan Moody
Call us crazy, but when our kids were younger, we had the opportunity to venture abroad to spend 10 glorious summer days in Istanbul, Turkey. As one of the biggest cities in the world, Istanbul is a land immersed in historical and geographical significance and it is the only city on the planet that is located on two continents.
The thought of travelling to a foreign nation with a baby and a toddler was certainly scary, but without having to spend a cent of our own money (yes, you read that correctly), we knew that this was to be a once-in-a-lifetime expedition that we simply could not pass up!
This is how things unfolded…
My husband needed to be present in the financial district in Istanbul for a five-day work conference and we somehow convinced his employers that I could tag along with the kids. Whoop whoop! However, this would also mean that I would be mostly alone with both kids during the day – far from the comforts of home.
Hmm… I figured that being alone with my kids in an exotic locale during summer – by far my favourite season by the way – was far more appealing than staying home alone with them in a miserable, wet and rainy Cape Town!
So, with little hesitation, we set off to try and make this dream trip a reality. We had a very short time to sort out passports for the kids along with an unabridged birth certificate for my toddler. To be honest, there were so many odds stacked up against us, that I seriously doubted the journey would even happen. If you’ve ever been to a local home affairs office in South Africa, you’ll understand my scepticism!
Miraculously, we received all the paperwork just in the nick of time, and in a matter of weeks, we were packed up and ready to hit Turkey with two suitcases, two kids and two strollers loaded!
We opted for night flights to try and maintain some sort of normal bedtime routine. However, the move from an icy Cape Town to a full-blown European summer was quite a challenge with kids in tow. We did learn a thing or two about flying with kids and you’re welcome to read my article on the topic here.
On arrival, we were captivated by the sights and sounds of a bustling Istanbul. We had finally arrived in this culturally diverse and eclectic city – and excitement mounted as we headed for our hotel in Muslak, the biggest business district in Istanbul.
With hubby at his conference during the week, I wish I could say that I was brave and that I ventured out alone with the kids to explore the surrounding areas, but alas, with no knowledge of the Turkish language, I didn’t dare! Luckily, we made the most of the great weather and spent most of our days lazing in the hotel’s pool and enjoying some much-needed rest and relaxation.
We did, however, pack in as much sightseeing as possible during the off days. The renowned spice markets, many iconic temples, harbour and aquarium were on our list of spots to visit. We also took the kids onboard a ferry on the majestic Bosphorus and also enjoyed a glimpse of Turkey from the water’s edge.
We also opted to do the big bus tour of the city which I highly recommend as this really does give you a full overview of the city and all it has to offer. We have done the big bus in Cape Town, Athens, London and now Istanbul. And I’m pretty sure we’ll do it in the next city we find ourselves in! The great thing about the bus tour is that you are granted a full day pass and can hop on and off at various tourist spots.
Besides trying to get around with toddlers – on trains, buses, ferries, taxis and more – we also had the difficulty of navigating Turkish streets and reading foreign signposts, locating kid-friendly restaurants, and keeping cool amidst the blistering summer heat.
We were, however, pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of the locals who went out of their way to accommodate us… mostly because of our kids. We had people stand up to make way for our children on the subway and we even had a local waiter insist that she hold our baby while we eat our food in peace!
At one point on our travels, after exiting a very busy train station, my husband and I quickly realised that we wouldn’t be able to make it up a long flight of stairs with two strollers and no help. Before I could even raise my concerns, a friendly older Turkish gentleman picked up one end of my kid’s stroller and without any hesitation, gestured toward the stairs where he swiftly helped me through the bustling crowds. He put down the stroller and quietly went on his way before we could even express our gratitude for this small act of kindness.
Overall, I feel blessed that my kids had the opportunity to experience life in a different city, even for a short while! Istanbul is rich in culture and tradition, and together we learned so much about this wonderful city.
Interesting things we learned about Istanbul:
• Istanbul is the only city in the world which is both in Europe and Asia geographically. We had the rare opportunity of travelling via bus from one continent to the next – how many people can say that they have done that!
• Istanbul is one of the biggest cities in the world, with around 15 million population, which is more than that of 177 countries around the world.
• Istanbul has the third oldest subway in the world, built in 1875. London has the oldest, followed by New York.
• Grand Bazaar is the biggest old covered bazaar in the world, with over 3000 shops. It is chaotic on any given day and I found myself praying aloud that I wouldn’t lose my family in the masses!
• Hagia Sophia was the largest church in the world for about 900 years.
After 10 glorious summer days soaking up the culture, traditions and decadent food of Turkey, we were ready to return home. We didn’t leave without stocking up on chocolates and indigenous treats including Turkish delight – which was unlike any of the variations I had ever tasted in South Africa!
It has been over two years since we made this fascinating journey across the oceans, and although my kids were far too young to appreciate or remember the intricacies of our trip, we have many photographs and beautiful reminders about that one time we travelled abroad with our young children.