While traveling we’ve developed a system for finding places to stay. We use booking.com to find hotels in the area, we filter by rating: anything lower than an eight must mean a few serious negative reviews, so they’re out. Then we sort by price and start looking at pictures. We do not book, we just go to the hotel, see the rooms and try to get a rate better then on booking.com.
This mostly works.
For Istanbul we deviated from our system, we found a place so cheap that we didn’t want to risk not getting it, so we booked through the site, blind. I’ve been to Istanbul before and knew the general area, I thought. The neighbourhood modern and hip, lots of small bars and restaurants. But as we fought our way through Istanbul rush traffic to get to the hotel, we soon lost this image of Istanbul; streets got dirtier shops and bars got less fancy, less frequent and then seemed to disappear altogether. This was hardly the safe and friendly area I knew. I felt bad towards Pepijn, he was always somewhat hesitant about coming to Istanbul, mega cities like this are not his preferred environment, and so far, Istanbul was proving him right.
We found the street our hotel was supposed to be on and parked the bikes on the corner. I went on ahead, in search of the hotel while Pepijn stayed with the bikes, a system that we use everywhere especially while the luggage rolls and tank bags are still on the machines. The street wound upwards a bit and became a small alley, smelling like piss, some chickens on the sidewalk. Half the buildings were derelict and some partly collapsed. The hotel was a small building, freshly painted on the outside as if that would cancel out the rest of the neighbourhood. I didn’t go inside.
Not wanting to make the choice alone, together we rode our bikes to the hotel. I pointed the building out to Pepijn, he took one look at it, revved his bike and we rode off without ever looking back. The hotel was paid for in advance, we’re never doing that again, but gladly wrote of this expense as a lesson paid for.
In a small coffeeshop we fired up booking.com again, found a very well reviewed hotel, checked the street side pictures this time, and called them. Okay, so the rates were three times higher than slum we’d just fled from, but far from bad for Istanbul. The owner was very kind on the phone and he convinced me that this was a very decent up market place. As a bonus: they have a neighbour who runs a guarded parking.
The Nabu hotel made up for all the disappointment earlier that day, what a wonderful place. The friendliness and willingness to help of the entire staff can not be overstated. I don’t want to turn my blog in to an advertisement, but if you are ever looking for a friendly, hip and all round great place to stay in Istanbul, check them out! (and send Khan and Erol, the owners, our best regards!) http://www.nabuhotel.com/We forgot to take some decent pictures of the hotel, so I stole a few from their facebook, I assume they won’t mind…
Oh, and then of course Istanbul was full of stories here untold, we figured out the shoe-shiners scam; had great food; had bad corn on the cob; danced with girls from Kazakhstan; danced with a drunk gay guy from Istanbul; more food; got stopped by the police; got send along by the police; too many stories for just one blog.