A. Ilknur Karaagnac (Anna)
Professional Tour Guide
tel. 090 212 - 557 95 83
I have to preface this with a little background information about how my husband and I prefer to travel. We have never been the type to take packaged tours. We would never join a crowded, all-inclusive tour that herds gawking tourists from sight to sight while glossing over the important facts in favor of cramming in as much as possible into one day. It's just not our style. We always prefer to take our time, plan our own trips without travel agents and guides, and leave our days open and unstructured. We hold advanced degrees in art history and history, both speak several languages, and prefer and do our homework before taking off to a new destination. This method has worked beautifully for us as we have traveled extensively throughout Europe over the years.
But last year, when we were in Croatia, we often encountered beautiful and intriguing sights for which we could find no explanation or information. The few guide books on Croatia that we could find offered little help. We are not proficient in Croatian, and most descriptive signs were only in the native language. On many occasions, we wished that we could get some sort of guide to provide us with some information about what we were seeing. With that in mind, prior to traveling to Istanbul, my husband went online and researched private guides with the hope of locating an individual that could take us on a highly informative guided tour of Istanbul's sights. We didn't want to be left wondering during our first visit to this exciting city.
So that's how we came across Anna. She was exactly what we were looking for - a private guide well versed in Turkish history and culture who could ensure that we weren't left in the dark wondering about the origins of Istanbul's major sights. She has been an active official tour guide since 1995, and is a member of IRO (Istanbul Guide Association), license no: 34/2263. I have to admit that before meeting her, I was skeptical about taking a guided tour, but after a few minutes with her I knew that we made the right decision.
We spent an entire day with Anna, strolling around Sultanahmet at a leisurely pace and learning a lot about the city and the sights. We selected what we wanted to see with Anna prior to arriving in Istanbul, but the day was not rushed and didn't feel structured. Anna's areas of expertise include Ottoman and Turkish history, mythology, archaeology, and Christianity, and she was able to tell us things about the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic History, Topkapi Palace and the Cistern that we never would have known if we had winged it on our own or joined a large tour group. It sounds like a lot to see in one day, but we never felt strained or overwhelmed. She allowed us to dictate the pace. We were able to engage in intelligent conversation with Anna, and were thrilled with her easy familiarity with the sights and also with her delightful personality. She was able to get us past long lines of cruise ship tour groups, and she is well versed in the ins and outs of entrance fees, tickets and protocols at the museums and mosques. Our day with Anna was more like spending the day with a well-informed friend than taking a tour. We made decisions on the spot and changed our plans as we went along. We decided to add the Topkapi Palace (which was fantastic!) to our day, and we lingered behind the too-large tour group that struggled to keep up with the official palace guide as Anna gave us a detailed history of the palace and its inhabitants. You must take the official Topkapi tour in order to gain entrance to the palace, but we never could have even heard the official guide, let alone learned anything from that tour. Lagging behind the group with Anna was perfect -- the palace is too intriguing and fascinating to not have a firm idea of what you are looking at.
Anna was able to provide us with answers to questions we had accumulated during our first few days in Istanbul (even silly questions, like is the call to prayer a tape or live?). We felt very comfortable with her and really enjoyed our day with her. After years of studying Aya Sofya in college classrooms and textbooks, I finally visited the real deal with Anna and was very impressed with her extensive knowledge of the building, its history and local lore. She was able to point out the spot where Empress Irene sat as she attending Christian services, and was also able to discuss the aging building’s many structural faults and Turkey’s attempts to save it. These are things we couldn't have gleaned by simply paying the admission fee and wandering around on our own with a skimpy tour book. Even with my having studied the history and art of Aya Sofya, my appreciation and enjoyment of the former church and mosque was greatly enhanced by Anna’s informative commentary. Most of the mosques have no signage in any language, and most guidebooks offer only elementary descriptions and histories, so I really appreciated Anna’s input. The Turkish & Islamic History Museum, the Cistern and Topkapi Palace had little or no information in English or other languages – so it was truly helpful to us to have Anna to explain things in detail. We left Istanbul knowing that we did not visit the city blindly, thanks to Anna’s wonderful narration.
Anna possesses a very firm grasp of the English language and spent two years in England studying at Lewes College and living in Brighton. She has also well versed in German, and has a degree in travel management from Aegean University in Izmir. Her website is very informative and provides interesting background information about Anna and her many credentials, and also includes suggested itineraries to get you started. We spent only one day with Anna, but she can work with you to put together an itinerary that best fits your needs and interests. She can also arrange for drivers and other more extensive services, which we did not take advantage of. We paid Anna $100 USD for a full day, and paid our own museum admission fees. We feel that this fee was well worth the wealth of knowledge she shared with us. She met us at 9 am at our hotel and we shared a nice lunch together as well. We ended our day with tea at the Grand Bazaar, where she even helped us bargain with shopkeepers. It was a great experience, and I am so glad we decided to hire a private guide. (That is something I never thought I’d ever say!) She even gave us suggestions on what else to see in Istanbul. If you really want to understand the wonderful attractions of Istanbul, rather than just looking at them, I strongly suggest a tour with Anna Karaagnac. You will come away not only with a firm understanding of the history behind what you saw, but with a greater appreciation for Turkish culture and Turkish people as well.