I should have posted this blog more than 2 months ago but I got busy with settling down in Toronto and with my new job so I had to wait for the holiday season to go back to writing travel blogs and I am so happy to be able to do that again.
In September 2020, I finally decided that it is time to return back to Canada after spending a bit more than 2 years in Kuwait. However, I had some free time to spend somewhere before heading back to Toronto and because of the global pandemic and all the craziness that is surrounding it, my options were significantly limited as a handful number of countries were open for travelers. After a careful read about other travelers’ experiences and after a thorough research, I decided to choose Turkey and Ukraine as stops to spend a few weeks at and I am so glad I did so.
I spent 18 days in Turkey; 14 days in Istanbul and 4 more days in Bodrum. In this post, I will be writing about my personal experience as a traveler in Istanbul during COVID time. Note that my trip took place on September, 2020 where many rules were totally different as there was no lockdown in Turkey during that period. Turkey didn’t report many daily COVID cases back then and no PCR test was required to enter the country (which is not the case now in December 2020). Therefore, many facts mentioned in this post may not be valid by now.
Landing in Istanbul
I landed in Istanbul on September 12th after a relatively short flight from Kuwait (take a look at my blog about my first flight during COVID here) which lasted for about 3 hours. When I traveled to Turkey back in September 2020, I didn’t have to do any PCR test as it wasn’t required to have a negative test result to enter Turkey (now you need a negative PCR test result to enter Turkey). All I had to do was to get an e-Visa and it was a simple process, it’s a multiple entry visa that costed me $60 and that is valid for 6 months.
To be honest, I didn’t know for how long I was going to stay in Istanbul. I knew that I shouldn’t delay my return to Canada and that I should be back before end of October so Istanbul was a base for me to do remote interviews and to apply for new jobs in Canada.
A few days before my trip, the Turkish government mandated mask-wearing in all public places; indoor and outdoor. It wasn’t a big issue for me although sometimes it can be really challenging to wear a mask outdoor all the time especially if the weather is hot.
In this post, I will be describing my impressions about Istanbul during the global pandemic and I will also say my opinion about traveling during this turbulent time.
My First Impression
After about 6 months of harsh and strict lock-down in Kuwait, the first impression I had in Istanbul was “I felt alive again”. I truly felt revived once I landed there. I checked into the hotel, left my luggage at the reception and rushed into Istiklal Avenue which is the busiest and the most lively street in Istanbul where I had my first Turkish breakfast and my first Turkish coffee. It was a real joy to see bustling streets again and most importantly, I liked to see how majority of people were wearing masks although social distance wasn’t really practiced most of the times
Sightseeing in Istanbul
I visited Istanbul numerous times before so I’ve already been to most of the famous attractions. However, as a history lover, it’s hard to imagine that I would spend 2 weeks in Istanbul without seeing Hagia Sofia and Sultan Ahmet mosques again so that’s exactly what I ended up doing in my second day there as I headed to Sultan Ahmet area to enjoy the magic of these architectural and historical wonders. The call to prayer from these mosques gave me a chill from head to toe and brought a lot of peace to my heart, it just felt great to be there.
The spectacular views of Istanbul
I had the opportunity to enjoy some breath-taking views of the city either while on a boat from the European to the Asian side or from a roof top restaurant, or even capturing the sunset while having a late afternoon stroll.
Food in Istanbul is in a different league
I am not a food blogger so I will not write much about this area as it’s not exactly my specialty but I love good food and I guess everyone does and I am confident to say that you can find the tastiest dishes in the world in Istanbul. For about 2 weeks, I had nothing but a great quality of food every single day for very affordable price.
Where did I stay in Istanbul?
I managed to get very good deals during my stay in Istanbul. I spent the first 2 nights in a hotel and 12 nights in 3 different Airbnb apartments and paid about 30 USD per night on average for the apartments I rented and they were all located around Taksim area. Great deal, isn’t it?
Istanbul is the city of cats!
I am a big lover of cats and it was a real pleasure to see all these cats everywhere in the city and how well-fed they are. I liked it how people in the city feed them and treat them with a lot of mercy. There are bowls with cat food in every corner of the city and there is that strong bond between cats and the people of Istanbul. It is truly “the city of cats”.
Things I didn’t like in Istanbul during COVID
I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to travel around in this turbulent time but I must admit that during this trip to Istanbul, there were a couple of things which I didn’t enjoy experiencing. On top of them is constantly being surrounded by so many smokers everywhere in the city and unfortunately, many of them simply didn’t understand that they may cause a serious risk on public health as secondhand smoke can transmit the Novel coronavirus. I also didn’t like that cars rarely stop for pedestrians even when they cross the road from a zebra crossing. I didn’t like that many people didn’t respect any personal space and that social distance didn’t exist at times. I also didn’t like the crazy Istanbul traffic and I didn’t like that I had to use cash instead of credit card a plenty of time.
Things I liked about Istanbul during COVID
I truly enjoyed my trip to Istanbul and as I mentioned above, I felt alive again because of this trip. There are plenty of things I liked about the city apart from the good food, beautiful views, and amazing sights. I liked how many Turkish people seemed to be responsible as they wore masks all the time (especially those working in the hospitality industry) and many of them properly practiced social distancing. Temperature checks were everywhere. Generally, people there were not paranoid about the pandemic but I would say, they were reasonably cautious. I didn’t feel that life has stopped in Turkey. Instead, people continued living while taking safety precautions. I mentioned above that not everybody complied with that but I would say, a very large percentage did and that made feel generally safe about being there.
I also liked that Istanbul is incredibly affordable although I understand that the main reason behind that is the collapse of Turkish Lira, which is really sad for the locals.
In addition to trying amazing food every single day, I enjoyed a Turkish bath, Turkish massage, visited a great barber shop twice (to trim my beard, obviously) and visited the dentist where I had a check up plus cleaning and paid a fraction of the price which I would pay for that in Toronto.
Is it a good idea to travel during a global pandemic?
Many of you who are reading this might be asking this question. Some may say that I did the right thing and I probably had an amazing time and that I truly saved my summer while some others might be completely against the idea of traveling in this turbulent time and they might even think that I am crazy.
What do I think about it? Was it a good idea to take a flight from where I used to live to another country and spend 18 days there and then fly to one more country and spend almost 2 weeks before eventually heading crossing the Atlantic to Toronto? Was it a good and wise decision? Short answer is, I don’t know! It is impossible to say as it’s extremely difficult to assess risk. I am not a high risk taker myself and I try to avoid risky experiences but back then in September 2020, Turkey seemed to have the pandemic situation under control; there were much less cases per capita in Turkey than where I used to live in Kuwait so statistically, I was less likely to contract the virus while in Turkey than in Kuwait. I know that many people would say “when you travel you go out more and you come to contact with more people and that increases the risk of contracting the virus” and that can be theoretically correct but there are many other risks associated with traveling as well such as getting robbed, losing a suitcase, losing your passport, or even getting scammed and these are all likely to happen to any traveler. Would we stop traveling because of such risks?
Wearing a mask both indoor and outdoor was mandatory when I visited Turkey and that made me feel generally comfortable but I must admit that I was stressed at times when some people weren’t wearing masks properly or when they didn’t respect social distance.
I must admit that there were times I felt anxious and I asked myself “what if I get COVID here?”; there is a chance that I wouldn’t have any symptoms but there is also a chance that it would send me to ICU (like what happened to the famous vlogger bald & bankrupt when he got COVID in Serbia). I worried about cancelling flights or imposing a new lock-down or even curfew! Luckily, non of that happened and I had an amazing time. I did my best to be responsible, I avoided crowded places as much as possible and I was on alert most of the time and luckily, it worked out and turned out to be an amazing trip. I know that I needed luck to be on my side as even if I was on the highest alert, I would still have got that virus and things could have taken a different turn.
Bottom line, if anyone decides to travel during COVID, they have to accept the consequences such as flight cancellation, getting stuck, or even getting COVID while being in a foreign country. However, till when we will be locked inside our homes? I guess it’s a very difficult equation, isn’t it?
Would I travel again during COVID? Short answer is, I would say, 51% yes and 49% no 🙂