Thursday, October 13, 2011

Exploring Istanbul: Visiting the Old City with Plan Tours

Our weekend in Istanbul, Turkey was spent for a trip around the Old City. It was a day without work so we decided to grab the opportunity and tour around this country since it is a rare opportunity for us to come here.

Istanbul is said to be the historic capital of the world. Mostly of the places you can go here dates back to ancient history. It was once considered to be the capital of the Roman Empire and also, here is where Troy, from Greek Mythology is found. It's history is very rich and so is the culture. Another cool thing about it is the only place in the world wherein it is both located in two continents, Asia and Europe.

The City Tour Bus
We got a tour package from our hotel, Byotell, and they gout us booked with Plan Tours for this trip. They offer a lot of different package tours around Istanbul. The following are some your choices:
Tour 1: Istanbul Classics
Tour 2: Ottoman Relics
Tour 3 Byzantine and Ottoman Relics
Tour 4: Bosphorus Cruise
Tour 5: Dolmabahce Palace & Two Continents
Tour 6:  Bosphorus Cruise + Dolmabahce Palace & Two Continents
Tour 7: Princes' Islands
Tour 8: Bosphorus Dinner Cruise
Tour 9: Istanbul by Night
Tour 10: Green Bursa
Tour 11: Troy & Gallipoli
Tour 12: Cappadocia
Tour 13: Cradle of Civilization
Tour 14: Ephesus & Virgin Mary's House
Tour 15: Pergamum
Tour 16: Pamukkale
There are other tours, some are private tours and some are available only when booked in advance. Each tour cost different amounts depending on the inclusion in the package. What we has was Tour 3 which is the combination of tour 1 and 2. We paid 70 Euros for the tour plus an additional 25 Euros (it was 50 Euros divided by 2) for the service shuttle to and from the meeting place. We are located at the Asia side of Turkey and the tour is all on the Europe side so we need a ride going there. We paid a total of USD135 for all the expenses. The trip takes on the following itinerary:
  • Hagia Sophia
  • Hippodrome
  • Obelisk of Theodosius
  • Blue Mosque
  • Grand Bazzare
  • Lunch
  • Topkapi Palace
  • Rustem Pasa Masque
This is the first time I am joining a group tour since I am used to exploring and creating my own itinerary. I availed the package for experience and also since I am not sure if we could survive a foreign land where there are a few English speaking people.

Hagia Sophia

Blue Mosque

We were fetched at the hotel at around 7:30 am. Since we were in Asia side, we need to be on the Europe side since the tour starts there. The pickup service was paid with 50 Euros for the two of us. we split it up. Nice thing about it is that it includes the pickup from the tour back to the hotel.

We arrived at the start of the tour where a bus was waiting for us. We were the first ones to arrive there at around 8am and we need to wait a long time for the others. It was not that nice to have paid for this trip and wait for that long for it to start. Also, the lady that was giving us stickers to indicate what tour package we availed doesn't even smile at us. She even don't give any effort to tell us when we will be going. After almost an hour of waiting, the bus finally moved. After a few minutes we stopped again and some of the passenger alighted because they are for a different tour package. all was left was those who availed for tour number 1 and 3. We proceeded after the guide listed our hotels.

Our Tour Guide

The tour guide was a chubby guy who calls us by "My Group! My Group!". He holds a black umbrella so that we could see him. I am not really sure if were really slow or he was walking really fast. It was tiring following him and it was not that fun. It was nice that he discusses stuff and explains everything in English and in German.


Obelisk of Theodosius

The tour was like being packed in so little time that we only got 30 minutes to go around the Grand Bazaar and they care less of their clients since the bus left us because we got there a bit late. Yeah, did I mention that you need to walk around 200 meters or more to go there and all the stalls are inviting and it was our chance to get some stuff for home. I was a bit pissed since we need to take a cab just to rejoin the group in a restaurant the guide didn't even tell us about. Yeah, we're tourists so we just don't really know the area. Good thing we catch up.

Carpets in the Carpet Show

Grand Bazaar

We had lunch in a restaurant where the first drop off point was. We were served salad, bread and some appetizers we didn't really enjoyed. The main dish was really good. It was really filling. I think that part was the one I enjoyed. The dessert is 3 pieces of fruit. yes, only 3 pieces. When we thought that it comes with a drink, we ordered a cola and guess what, it wasn't part of the package. Yes, a USD100 plus package doesn't include drinks on their lunch package.

Appetizer (I didn't like this much)


Turkish Layered Pastry (This is very good)

Grilled Chicken with Mash potato (main dish, and this is yummy!)

Green Apples and Orange slice (dessert)

Lots of preserves in the restaurant (I'm not sure if it was for sale)

We continued the tour to the remaining places in the itinerary and after all the walking and hurrying up just to not to be left by the bus. And after the tour was over, they one by one dropped the guests near their hotel. Yes, they will walk to their hotels to wherever they are dropped off. Good thing we were the last to go and there is a pickup service that we paid for so it wasn't that of a hassle.

Topkapi Palace

Rustem Pasa Masque

So overall, the pros of this tour was:

  1. Pickup from hotel was on time.
  2. The guide was knowledgeable and accommodating to the guests inquiries
  3. He has a loud voice to guide his group on where he is.
  4. Everything in the itinerary was followed making the money we paid worth it.
And the cons:
  1. It didn't start on the time it was supposed to. 
  2. The staff looks not so friendly and not talk to the guests.
  3. They give little time to a place difficult to reach and it wasn't that sufficient.
  4. They leave guests and so, if we didn't thought of calling them, they wouldn't have mind us.
  5. No drinks included in the lunch set.
In general, I will give this tour an average rating. I didn't enjoy much a group tour and proffered a smaller group rather than this. I guess I'll still try group tours but I'd rather prefer the DIY itinerary if possible.

For the company who provide, I hope they train their staff more to attend to the guests with a smile. It was a bit scary to see crews that are frowning.

So whenever you're in Istanbul, Turkey try out Plan Tours if you prefer to join a group tour or just get my Itinerary for it. I would be glad to help you build it if you like.

For more information:

Plan Tours
Cumhuriyet Caddesi, 83/1 34373 Elmadag, Istanbul
Telephone No: +90 212 234 7777 or 230 2272
Fax: +902122318965

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