(As told by Shahidah staff, Ahmad Zaki Abu)
Last June, enroute to Madinah, Saudi Arabia, I had the opportunity to experience a day tour of Istanbul. This complimentary tour is available for Turkish Airlines passengers in transit in Istanbul. There are 3 timing options every day: 9am to 3pm, 9am to 6pm and 12 to 6pm, depending on your arrival time in Istanbul.
On 3rd of June, I had the chance to go on the 9am to 6pm tour and had a fascinating peek into the classic cultural Turkey which I’ve previously only seen in travel magazines.
Upon arrival in Ataturk International Airport and going through immigration (passport control, not the one for transit passengers), I headed to the Turkish Airline Hotel Desk (after arrival hall exit, make a right turn, all the way to the end of the hall, The Turkish Airline hotel desk is located right next to Starbucks).
Basically, the Turkish Airlines staff will hold on to the boarding pass to your final destination (in my case, Istanbul to Madinah) and return it just before the roll call when the tour is about to commence a few minutes before 9am.
Before we started the tour, we were treated to a Turkish style breakfast at a restaurant. An introduction to Istanbul that begins from the stomach is always a good idea! 🙂
After breakfast, we dived in straight into the historical heart of Istanbul. Our first stop was Hippodrome, where they used to hold chariot races in the old days. We were then brought to the majestic Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque) and spend about half an hour admiring its architecture while our English-speaking tour guide, Ihmet, shared about its rich history.
Unfortunately we did not get to visit the famous Hagia Sophia. As we passed by this historical structure that had witnessed a transformation from a church, to a mosque and finally into a museum, the guide shared the stories of Hagia Sofia which made me even more determined to return to Istanbul next time and visit this enchanting building again.
A short walk up ahead and we were greeted by Topkapi Palace, a must-visit museum in Istanbul that houses precious relics in Turkish history. We felt very privileged as our group got an express entry into the museum, much to the envy of the snaking queue at the entrance. After a brief orientation by the tour guide, we were given time to explore the museum at our own leisure.
At about 1pm, we were brought to Tamara Resturant for a Turkish lunch feast of lentil soup, bread and chicken/mutton kebab, before we resumed our visit to Basilica Cistern, which is a short walk from the restaurant.
The visit to Istanbul Museum of the History of Science & Technology was our final stop, where we strolled past Gulhane Park. We also passed by a bazaar which tempted us with colourful Turkish souveniers and trinklets. As time was on our side, we were given about 20 minutes to explore the bazaar before our bus arrived to bring us back to the airport.
Time definitely whiz by too quickly when you’re having fun and after this peek into Istanbul, I felt even more intrigued by what else Istanbul has got to offer.
Back at the aiport, while preparing for my next flight to my destination, I found myself already planning my next holiday with my family to Istanbul.
Thank you to Turkish Airlines for this short but wonderful experience. I will defintely come back for more!