This time last year hubby and I were counting down the days till we were leaving on our overseas trip. Our second country on the trip was Turkey where we’d join the ANZAC Day Tour with Topdeck Travel.
Our main reason behind the trip, was the once in a lifetime opportunity to be at the ANZAC Cove Dawn Service for the 100th Anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. I’ve already written about the ANZAC Day Service itself here. This post is a more general overview of the ANZAC Day tour with Topdeck Travel.
The exact tour we did was the called the ANZAC Patrol and it was considered to be 5 days long. However, Day 1 was the day we arrived and did a meet and greet dinner with everyone, while Day 5 was the day which everyone departed. So technically it was really only 3 days long.
Included in our tour was 3 nights accommodation at Hotel Vicenzia, which is what I’d call a 3-star (Australian standard) hotel with breakfast included each morning we were there. Hubby and I skipped breakfast on Day 5, as our airport transfer arrived early. Day 2 was a walking tour of Istanbul, while 3 and 4 were spent on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
The walking tour on Day 2 started with our local Turkish guide telling us, “finding your way around Istanbul is very easy, as long as you know where the train tracks are”. This was some excellent advice, as hubby and I found out later on that day. Our guide said to take note of how you get to the train tracks, then all you do to get anywhere of note, was to hop on the train, or walk beside them to where you needed to go.
With this being said, our group set off following the tracks to our first stop of the day, the Grand Bazaar. It was a bit of an assault to the senses at first…. so much colour, so many people, and so many things to buy! It was amazing! Unfortunately we weren’t offered time to go exploring inside this monster sized market, which I was thought we would be, so I was a little bit disappointed. However looking back it may have been a good thing, as my suitcase wouldn’t have fit many purchases.
Once we’d walked through what I can only describe as the centre of the Bazaar, from one side to the other, our guide took us inside another building. It was a Hamam, also known as a Turkish Bath. I hadn’t heard of this type of bathhouse before, but it certainly sounded like an interesting experience. I’ll have to try it next time
Our next point of interest was supposed to be the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (AKA the Blue Mosque), but it was not to be. Arriving at the Mosque and seeing the line of people waiting to go inside it, our guide changed our plans. Apparently there were 5 cruise ships which had arrived that day and, every passenger had come off the chips to go see the Blue Mosque. Instead of waiting around our tour headed into the Basilica Cistern. This was considered an extra activity and hubby and I paid to do this. The Basilica Cistern is the largest cistern (of several hundred) underneath Istanbul. You descend into, what feels like a very eerie cave, but it’s beauty is shown in the very yellow and muted lighting once you’re down there.
A boardwalk takes you around the cistern and you can get a look at the heavy duty columns and brick work that support this colossal cistern. If you look closely when the light is at the right angle you can see fish swimming in the shallow water which remains. Our guide told us that no one knows how the fish were introduced to the Cistern, but one day they were just there, swimming around.
Once out of the cistern we headed for the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia when built in it’s current form was originally a catholic church. It was later converted to a Mosque and then opened as a museum. Before the Blue Mosque was built, the Hagia Sophia was the main mosque in Istanbul. The building itself is just beautiful. There is a lot of gold mosiac work and against the marble stone it looks even more incredible. During our time in the building, our guide was telling us about all the different pieces of it, but I wasn’t really paying attention, because I was too busy looking at all the mosaics! It was undergoing some more restoration work while we were there, so the scaffolding was covering one wall. It was still well worth going to see though. This activity was not included in our tour price, so we paid the admission price.
After leaving the Hagia Sophia, it was time for lunch. After lunch the group was going to the Blue Mosque, then onto a cruise of the Bosphorus (both included). While I did want to see the Blue Mosque, in the end hubby and I decided to head back to the hotel. I had not slept the night before (thanks Turkey Tummy) and hubby was starting to feel unwell, so we took it as a sign to get some rest before heading to ANZAC Cove very early the next morning.
We found the train tracks and walked for about 45 mins following them back to the hotel. Thanks to this trick, we found our hotel with no trouble at all. The rest of the day we rested, and packed up ready for our overnight excursion. The group got back to the hotel about 6pm and we later found out that one of them was wearing an activity tracker. Supposedly they has walked a total of 15km’s that day!
Once we arrived back in Istanbul after the ANZAC commemorations, we stayed in the same hotel again for the night. The morning of Day 5 we all went out separate ways, with hubby and I heading to the airport to catch our flight to Paris. While we were still quite tired, we were both very happy and grateful that we were able to have this experience.
All in all I found that the ANZAC Day tour with Topdeck Travel is a great way to see Istanbul and attend the ANZAC Day service. It was approx $730 AUD per person and I do believe it was well priced for what we received. I would’ve liked another day in Istanbul added to the tour. This would have given us some free time to explore by ourselves. While Topdeck do provide other tours around Turkey which include ANZAC Day, they still only have 1 day in Istanbul.
Topdeck Travel is aimed at “18 – 30 somethings” and while hubby and I were 30 and 29, we did feel older than the rest of the group. I’d love to do another tour with Topdeck Travel again, but maybe something which might attract a group closer to 30. I’d definitely recommend Topdeck to anyone in the 18 – 28 age bracket.