Istanbul with Baby

At 2.5 months old, Kasper is already a pretty well traveled baby. As far as his age group is concerned a few 8+ hour car trips to south Germany and Switzerland seems like it counts as "well traveled.  This month we decided to embark on our first "real" family vacation and the three of us boarded K's first ever flight and hopped over to Istanbul for a long weekend.

Having never been to Turkey before, S and I did a bit (and I mean a tiny bit) of research before our departure date on things to do and sites to see in Istanbul. In all honesty, we were relatively unprepared for this trip. My mom had been visiting for the previous two weeks and somehow the time just flew by and about 48 hours before our flight we were reminded of our upcoming vacation by the check in e-mail sent by Turkish Airlines. Ok...that makes it sound more spontaneous than it really was, but honestly, we spent the night before in a panicked rush to pack. In the end, we got to the airport on time, had a wonderful time in Turkey, and got back home with only minor setbacks.

This trip was hastily booked sometime in April to coincide with a work related event for S, and as I was still recovering from pushing out a 10lb baby, I'll admit I maybe skipped a few of the "vacation best practices". When we got to our hotel we discovered our reservation was actually for the following month (oops) and the hotel was completely booked out for the weekend. In a moment that could have been a Vodaphone commercial, we stood in the hotel lobby, I pacified the baby, S tethered his laptop to his phone and booked us a new hotel (a better hotel!) and in about 20 mins we were in another cab on our way to the Asian side of the city. This was the first time I've ever crossed a continent border in a cab. Anyways, we ended up in a beautiful hotel right on the Bosphorus, just steps away from an incredible market and the ferry at Kadiköy.

Here are a few of the best travel tips I have for anyone trekking to Istanbul with a baby.

Choose your flight with care

 The ideal scenario on any flight with baby, is that he sleeps from boarding to landing happily and quietly. It can happen, but its not realistic to expect it. Babies, regardless of age, will probably wake up at some point and we all know fussiness is part of the game. You can increase your chances of a pleasantly sleepy flight by choosing a departure that aligns with your baby's sleeping schedule. For us that meant an early trip to the airport. Kasper, for the most part, has a pretty concrete schedule. We chose a 7:30 flight to hopefully get up, out of the house, and through security with him sleeping. The timing worked out well. I fed him at the airport, changed him right before we got on the plane, and he slept in his car seat for nearly the entire plane ride.

Leave the stroller behind

We thought long and hard about whether or not to bring the stroller. We've got the most recent version of the Bugaboo Chameleon^3 which is pretty easy to collapse, and even allows you to switch out the regular seat for the maxicosi carseat, but Kasper and I would be flying home alone the following Monday and I was pretty motivated to decrease the number of "bags" I would need to attend to. In the end, we decided to leave our beloved Kinderwagen behind and just take the car seat. That turned out to be one of the best decisions of the whole trip. The streets of the old city aren't exactly prime strollering turf. The cobblestones, potholes, crowded and narrow pathways, coupled with some drivers that put Grand Theft Auto to shame make navigating the city with a stroller scary, and probably even a little dangerous. Besides safety and convenience, another point that speaks against dragging around a buggy are the shops and restaurants. Unlike Berlin and Stockholm, Istanbul's most exciting destinations are not very stroller friendly. There are a million hole in the wall restaurants offering the city's most authentic food, which require a climb up a flight of stairs or some creative acrobatics just to get through the door. We ended up popping Kasper into the Moby wrap most of the time and heading out with just my purse.

Your baby is famous

Turkish people LOVE babies. Love might even be an understatement. Kasper literally drew crowds of people wherever we went. It didn't matter if we were standing in line for a boat tour, buying ice cream from a gas station, or negotiating for Turkish lira symbol 8x10px.png30 knock off Nikes, people would come up to us and babble away at the baby, grab his hands, pet his head, and pinch his cheeks. As an American I found this incredibly creepy. There was even one occasion while we were browsing around a spice shop in the Grand Bazaar, one of the employees literally grabbed K from my arms and walked him around the shop naming each of the seasonings in baby talk. Its just the culture and sometimes you gotta go with the flow. Think of it as an exercise in laid back parenting and bring along an extra bottle of hand sanitizer.

I know its an American thing, but I can't endorse hand sanitizer enough. Istanbul is full of stray cats and raw fish.

Take the ferry (and skip the boat tour)

The Bosphorus is one of the main attractions in Istanbul. It's lined with billion dollar mansions, yachts owned by the rich and famous, intricately detailed mosques, and some of the most impressive views of the city you'll see. Opt to take the ferry instead of a cab and head over to Eminönü for all the tourist attractions like the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar. The ferry is actually just standard public transportation and its pretty cheap, about Turkish lira symbol 8x10px.png4 a person. If you've got older kids with you they'll love the big cargo ships you can see and you might even spot a few dolphins. Something you may want to pass on is the boat tour of the Bosphorus. You see just about everything you would from the ferry and you will save yourself the 2 hours that could be better spent on other adventures. Every 10 minuets for the entire boat ride a man with a tray of snacks comes by and nearly slaps you in the face with a not-so-fresh sandwich demanding Liras. I imagine it would get old fast with toddlers.

Bring a scarf

A few of the most impressive mosques (including the blue mosque) remain in-use as places of worship. If you plan on checking out some of the oldest operating structures in the world bring a head scarf with you. Most mosques require that women don a head covering, and those that generally cater to tourists have a few pieces of fabric available to wrap around your head. Before we toured the Blue Mosque we stood aside from the line for a few minuets of people watching. What I noticed immediately is that the fabric provided went onto the heads of MANY women. Ladies would que up, throw the turquoise fabric around their head, proceed into the mosque, then whip it off and back into the bin for the next person to use upon exiting. This seemed like a great way to get lice (or at least gum in your hair). When it was our turn to enter I ended up creatively folding the Moby wrap around my head and carrying Kasper.

While were on the subject of clothes and accessories, I can offer a few tips on how to dress while your in Istanbul. Shorts might be tempting in warm weather. The palm trees and blue waters can trick you into thinking you might be in Florida. Even though your favorite pair of booty shorts seem like a good idea while your packing, you might want to leave them in your closet. Most mosques require women to have their legs covered, and you'll quickly notice a trend for pants and leggings among the locals. In my opinion, being sensitive the local fashion sense is all part of the adventure. Wear socks if you can help it.

 In the Blue Mosque visitors are required to remove their shoes. Trekking through the grand bazaar and the crowded spice market make sneakers a must. Sandals are great for the beach, but you will get your toes stepped on at some point in the city.

Chia has the good food

We always ask the locals where to go for great food. After wandering around the streets of the old city one evening, we got 3 recommendations from 3 different natives for the same place. Chia. I can only suggest you go there, and try it. It is seriously delicious. Just a quick note though, there are actually 3 restaurants with the same name, on the same street, almost right next door to each other. One is the regular, full restaurant with a proper menu, and the other 2 are more like döner or street food. All 3 are good, but try a dish at the restaurant. It's really really good.

Speaking of good food, if you happen across a little store that appears to sell honey, stop inside. We found this place totally by chance one afternoon. They were selling honey from what appeared to be raw combs in big glass boxes. Yogurt with honey was about the only thing on their "menu" (menu as in, sign on the counter with 2 items: "small yogurt" and "large yogurt"). This was one of the best things we ate on the entire trip. It was amazing and that will be the first place I seek out when we return.

The city was fascinating and so different from Berlin. We we absolutely re-visit Istanbul at some point, even if its just for great Turkish tea, and ultra cheap knock off shoes.

Have you been to Istanbul? If you've got anything to add let me know in the comments!

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