Please sign in to post.

3 weeks to fall in love with Turkey

Best of Istanbul + Best of Turkey

On May 19 I flew to Turkey. 5 days prior, my niece sent me her 23andme genetic results: I learned that I am "~3.2% Anatolian." Suddenly my perception of having 50% Sicilian heritage became much more culturally diverse. Not surprising geographically. But intriguing to learn.

This has added an entirely new dimension to my back to back Rick Steves tours - Best of Istanbul this week followed by Best of Turkey - as I feel I'll be learning not only about Turkey, but also about myself. My niece says my genetics were calling me.

This thread will be written (and responded to) as and when I have time on tour. I'm sure my thinking about Turkey will evolve. Already I hope that it will encourage those of you for whom Turkey is "on your list" to start sketching your visit. For now, I hope you'll join me on this journey!

Posted by
2639 posts

COVID stuff first

It's true, my PCR tests (yes 2, and if I had needed them at all I was VERY glad I had a backup one...long boring story of an erroneous "collection date") were superfluous. The only thing I uploaded onto the United website was a photo of my US CDC card. The tests served one purpose: confirming that I was starting out "clean."

Oh, and my Turkish VISA ($51.50) which took minutes to apply and receive. (Website link added.) And the COVID era passenger form, complete with the full address of each of 8 tour hotels. That took longer. Maybe an hour since I had to do it twice.

Posted by
2639 posts

Lost and Found

I didn't even make it out of the Denver airport without losing something. Sheez. Rookie. Left 1 of my 2 long sleeve shirts and my only sweater. Somewhere. I'll be adopting mln's cinch sac strategy for future trips.

Last night I tried to fill out a lost and found report at DIA: I can't even get to the website. Is it because I'm in Turkey? Don't know, but it was easier to go shopping than to worry about it. A visit to Colombia Sportswear near the Haze hotel and I'm the proud owner of a souvenir men's navy shirt. Do Turkish women not buy sporting gear? Not one ladies' shirt on the racks.

Posted by
2639 posts

Incredible location of the Haze Hotel

After our hotel-arranged driver met us at the airport and fought the honking jam of inbound traffic, we unloaded into our city-sized (tiny) but air conditioned hotel room and made the most of the central location by walking 2 minutes to the Galata Bridge for our first taste of Istanbul on a Friday night. Alive with locals, tourists and fishermen, I couldn't help but absorb the energy of the crowds. I kept my purse close but felt 100% safe.

Posted by
142 posts

Looking forward to the rest of your posts. We are supposed to do Best of Istanbul in October, if we don't decide to bail because of the return testing requirement (my husband can't bear the thought of being separated from our elderly dog any longer than necessary). Please share details about the Haze hotel as well!

Posted by
2639 posts

First Morning Stroll along the Bosphorus

Awake before the sun, we took an early stroll through the umbrella alley that we later learned is a thriving scene of cafes and restaurants (1 minute walk from the hotel) to the promenade along the Bosphorus. We watched a huge yacht slip in. And saw our first "mermaid serpent queen" sculpture art... my name.... I'll tell you the story after our guide shares it with us.

The morning sun sparkles on the water and my landlocked Denver-based friend and travel companion for this trip is so happy to be near the sea.

Posted by
1286 posts

Sounds like it's been too long since your last international trip 🙂. But seriously, it sounds like things are improving. I hope you're having a great time! Keep us posted!

Posted by
2639 posts

Incredible staff at the Haze

I'll skip ahead to tell you that these friendly people are here to welcome you and help you. We wanted to go to Iztiklal Street - a major retail and restaurant avenue to rival any big city. Rather than trying to explain how to get to the funicular and buy a ticket, Rafi walked us over there. When the ticket machine got the better of even him, he paid for our tickets and sent us off.

Posted by
1286 posts

When we were in Turkey a Turkish person told us that Turkish people are very helpful, even when you don't want to be helped.

Posted by
2639 posts

kayla.p., I empathize with your husband's concerns. We'll see how my story ends. So far so good as we tested negative for the reinstated start-of-tour test. It helped ease some anxiety about our first group dinner, with 22 people at 2 long tables under the Galata Bridge with huge sliding glass panels that were fully open to the fresh sea air.

Oh, and my Mom - bless her generous heart - is taking care of my dog, so I get that part too.

Posted by
2639 posts

The delight that is a full Turkish breakfast

As much as anything, I was eagerly anticipating the food in Turkey. After just 2 days, I'm in heaven. The setting at the Haze doesn't hurt: a rooftop restaurant with ceiling panels that are open to let in the fresh air. The tables are nicely spaced - an unexpected surprise for someone used to tight quarters in San Francisco eateries.

And the food: breads with a selection of fruit jams, honey and spreads; crisp vegetables, a variety of olives and olive salads, cheeses and a sweet pumpkin dish; then deep fried donuts and fried bread, another way to enjoy the jams and spreads. And my first Turkish tea....I may forgo coffee for these 3 weeks.

Just 3 hours to another breakfast!!

Posted by
2639 posts

Turkcell SIM: thanks to forum contributors who confirmed my research, I bought the 389 TL (Turkish Lira) / about $24.50) Turkcell Tourist Pack which gives 20GB of data and some minutes plus free messages on WhatsApp. It's working great and has already given us the confidence to find our way through the busy maze of Old Town.

Posted by
2639 posts

Call to Prayer

It's 4:30am and I just stepped out on the balcony to hear the morning call to prayer. It's haunting but kind of peaceful. A curious melody alongside the screeching of the street cats. You'd think they'd be used to it. Our guide told us the morning prayer is longer - get up, get going! The final evening prayer is more concise, wishing the faithful and tourists good night. I think if you grew up hearing the calls to prayer you might miss them elsewhere.

And he's finished. On queue, the city is waking up.

Posted by
220 posts

@ CWsocial I’m able to access the DIA form, send me a DM if you want me to fill it out for you. Btw, there is an option to select either ‘pick up item’ or ‘send item.’

Posted by
2639 posts

360 Views from the Galata Tower

I can understand why this isn't on either tour: it would be crazy to manage 20+ people through the entry line and up the 4 ( is it 6?) person elevator to the viewing balcony. Arriving at 12:30 (instead of the 8:30 that we'd planned) my friend waited in the 15 minute ticket line while I waited in the 20 minute entry line. On a Saturday.

The 130 TL fee that we paid is included in the Istanbul Museum card that our guide gave us at the welcome meeting, so we may go again.

The views are incredible, and it helped me gain perspective on our surroundings. There's the Blue Mosque! And the Hagia Sophia! That's Europe.... and around on that side is Asia.

I lugged my tiny binoculars from San Francisco to Denver to Istanbul for this moment. Worth it? Maybe. Perhaps more for viewing Mosque ceilings.

Two comments. I'm seriously afraid of heights but had little trouble on the tower balcony. With its guard wall and an outer don't-throw-stuff-off ring, you really can't see straight down, just out to the views. Good thing because it's tight quarters, squeezing past the others trying to get their perfect selfie.

Those aside, please make time for this!

Added hint: bring a map of Istanbul so that you can interpret what you're seeing. On your phone. Or the hotel has one for 20TL.

Posted by
2639 posts

mln, wow thank you! I may take you up on that... if you're back home. Definitely not if you're still traveling though!!

Posted by
2639 posts

Like a Polish milk bar

Skipping past the touristy looking, 2 language menu of hamburgers and pizza directly on Iztiklal Street, we found what seems to me to be the Turkish equivalent of a Polish milk bar for a fast and flavorful lunch. The menu for Hayvore Cafe - with 4 or 5 small outdoor tables - was only online, so you'd need a data plan or the cafe's wifi. We opted to point and choose our lunch from the glass counter. For 120 TL / $7.55, I chose 3 appetizer sized portions with bulgur pilaf and a coke.

Definitely a better choice than the tourist menu!

Posted by
220 posts

CWsocial I’m home so can do, just lmk.

Great trip report, makes me want to go pronto!

Posted by
2639 posts

Turkish Dance Evening

My travel delight is to attend a dance event, especially one with a local tradition. The Rhythm of the Dance Show at the Hodjapsha Cultural Center is my favorite such show ever. Anywhere. The troupe is talented across a variety of styles with Greek, Russian, maybe Irish (?) and of course Turkish traditions. The show kept me entranced for its 75 minutes. The male rhythm dancer was exotic and sensual. The choreography of the female "belly dancer" created perfect isolations to the rhythmic drummer's beats. This is not Hawaiian belly dancing.

Shows sell out. Seats are reserved based on your purchase date, so reserve early for best seats. But you really can't go wrong, it's a tiny venue. Maybe 3 rows of seats that surround the dance floor. Very intimate with the performers.

Finding the place is tricky.... an alley off an alley. Leave plenty of time to locate the venue. We found it and then had a glass of wine nearby to wait for doors to open.

Our guide is making tickets available to anyone who wants to attend the show on Thursday night. We may go again. Many thanks to forum posters who recommended this dance delight!

Posted by
652 posts

I’m so happy you have decided to write a trip report! Sounds like you are off to a great start!

Posted by
2639 posts

You inspired me to do it, Christine. Well, and perhaps with inspiration from the sights and sounds of my first 2 days in Istanbul.

Off for an early walk along the Bosphorus promenade!

Posted by
1886 posts

I'm really enjoying your reporting, the dining and sightseeing impressions, and also the helpful staffing. Share some of the sights and sounds - and how are the tour members?

Posted by
3344 posts

It sounds like you are already falling in love with Turkey! I am really enjoying your report. Thanks for sharing all the details!

Posted by
2639 posts

More dogs than people

I ended up wandering the nearby lanes and found a bakery cooking up the morning's Simits, a local breakfast favorite. For 12.5 TL / $0.79, I wandered around with my warm Simit and hot chai from their personal stash.

The lanes were nearly empty of people, and a very few shopkeepers, but lively with scrabbling cats, and street dogs, which are tagged and neutered. Apparently they are well fed because one dog turned up his nose at my small offering of a bit of my Simit.

Posted by
1556 posts

We tried to get friends to go with us and they wouldn’t. They missed out on a great tour. I love reading about your experience. Makes me want to go back. Stay healthy.

Posted by
1348 posts

Keep the posts coming, CWsocial! We are on Best of Turkey in September and added three additional nights to Istanbul at the start. Just bought our tickets to the dance show you recommended!

Sounds like a wonderful trip already!

Posted by
2166 posts

Enjoying your on the ground reporting Catherine. It all sounds so wonderful, especially those breakfasts! When we went to Egypt I was so excited to hear the call to prayer. Towards the end of the trip, I had had enough. 4:30am is too early IMHO for any kind of praying!

Posted by
940 posts

I'm so glad you love Turkey! I went there for 3 weeks in 2007 and fell in love with that country. It is an amazing place with amazing people. I have been wanting to go back since then and this is strongly encouraging that.

Posted by
2639 posts

Dolmabahçe Palace

The Best of Istanbul tour starts at 3pm, so we were able to visit the Dolmabahçe Palace in the morning. It's not on the itinerary for either the Best of Istanbul or the Best of Turkey tour.

The RS guide needs updating on two points:

  1. Reservations are not required and provide little value. You still wait in the long security line, which moves quickly. You cannot buy a ticket online, only at the onsite kiosks. And it was definitely crowded. But would they sell out? It seemed unlikely.

  2. There are no longer one hour guided tours, but rather an audio guide for a self-guided tour of the Selamlik (Sultan administrative) side - which is more opulent - and the residential Harem side.

We had hoped to wander the gardens on the sea side of the palace, but they are under renovation, with nothing to see except bulldozers and bare dirt.

We still felt the visit was worth the (dull) 2.4km walk from the hotel. You can walk partway along the seaside promenade, but the last km or so is back on a busy street after the promenade ends.

Posted by
2639 posts

This is an active tour!

Day 1: with the palace visit in the morning and the tour beginning at 3pm, I walked over 21,500 steps, covering 10.49 miles.

Day 2: I took a walk in the morning and we had a fast paced and full day of walking on cobblestones, pavement, hills and plenty of stairs. I logged 26,188 steps for 12.64 miles. This was after taking the tram to get across town!

One tour member with knee troubles dropped out first thing this morning and we're not sure if she plans to return.

I recommend you bring your very best walking shoes, confirmed for miles of comfort. Most people are wearing tennis shoes or sandals. I've worn both and plan to switch off.

Our guide has promised that tomorrow will be fast paced again and the tour will slow down beginning on Day 4.

Posted by
2639 posts

diveloonie, I'll admit the call to prayer may be better as a new and interesting sound when I'm awake at 430am anyway, than it will be after I'm on normal sleep hours.

You'd love the activity level of this one!

Posted by
2639 posts

I won't restate the Best of Istanbul tour itinerary, but rather give my impressions.

Sights and sounds of the Grand Bazaar

You think you can keep track of where you're going or where you've been, but it's easy to get hopelessly turned around in this maze of a place. After a while the aisles all look the same; the vendors all look the same; and the goods especially all look the same.

Our guide kindly gave us a map with a blue dot showing where to meet back at the appointed time. Had it not been for a vendor who took pity and pointed us in the right direction, I'm pretty sure I'd have wandered for hours. Thank heavens for these helpful Turkish people, right Carol?!?

And I can't imagine how draining it must be as a vendor, day after day in that chaotic scene!

Posted by
2639 posts

Diane, what are some of your favorite memories of Turkey and your tour?

Mardee, what kinds of things will you do on a return trip? Would you go to Istanbul or to other areas?

Posted by
2639 posts

Andrea, how exciting! We were originally scheduled for Best of Turkey in October but jumped on the opportunity to do the back to back tours when spaces came available in May.

Posted by
2639 posts

Welcome Dinner

We had dinner in a restaurant on the lower level of the Galata Bridge. The restaurant has glass doors that fully slide open to turn every table into outdoor dining.

Our guide said he would never eat in the touristy restaurants on the Galata Bridge, except for work or guests.

Posted by
2639 posts

Self Guided Progressive Dinner

I watched a lot of YouTube videos about Istanbul in the last few months, including several on Turkish street foods. My travel friend and I made lists of those we wanted to try. Tonight we did an impromptu progressive food tour and sampled a few.

We started in the lanes about 30 seconds walk from our Best of Istanbul hotel and found Midye Dolma - mussel shells stuffed with rice, mussels and herbs. Big fan! And cheap:

Cost: 30 TL / $1.89 for 6 fresh mussels and a diet coke. At home you couldn't get 1 for that price!!

A bit further down we stopped at a place that sells soup from 7am - 2am, with about 16 varieties to choose from. I tried lentil sour soup - another good choice!

Cost: 25 TL / $1.57 for the very large bowl.

We decided to try Midye Taba - deep fried mussels. I much preferred the Midye Dolma.

Cost: 25TL / $1.57 for 8 Midye Taba

After spending $5.03 each, we were full but went looking for a glass of wine. We found that at a small corner bar with 7 outdoor tables. And a fruit waffle - another wishlist street food - that came from the dessert cafe just across the lane and was big enough to share. Yummmmm - blueberries and strawberries and striped in chocolate sauce.

Cost: 100TL / $1.29 per person for the odd combination of wine and a dessert waffle.

Total: $6.32

We've had Borek at breakfast and we'll see if we're brave enough to try Kokoreç! More likely we'll go back for stuffed mussels. Maybe a few times!

Posted by
2639 posts

who's having a good time then?

You're right about that, Nigel!

Posted by
142 posts

After reading your entries so far and telling my husband about them, we're going to do the tour, return testing be damned. It sounds wonderful so far!

Posted by
1348 posts

Are you paying for everything in Turkish Lira cash?

Posted by
2639 posts

Thank you, Janis, yes it's wonderful! So much to see and do here and I just love the energy of Istanbul.

Posted by
2639 posts

kayla.p., that's exciting!!

We have 2 more group dinners, tonight and the last tour night. Our guide said the last one is on a rooftop restaurant. I don't know about tonight.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that we had several people wandering the indoor Grand Bazaar - teeming with people - without masks yesterday. Despite multiple requests from the guide. I won't comment further because I don't want to derail the fun of this thread. But I also want to be transparent about our experiences in that regard.

Since we have to test again on Day 1 of Best of Turkey, we are being as cautious as we can.

For example, at breakfast we sit near the floor to nearly ceiling sliding glass windows, opening the one nearest us. We're nearly "outside."

Posted by
2639 posts

Yes, Andrea, we've paid for everything using either credit card or Turkish Lira cash. We went to the easily available ATMs last night to have money for our little progressive dinner. Each "course" was too small for credit cards. Also, negotiating at the Grand Bazaar for a small notebook, one vendor only accepted cash lira. His best price with credit was 2.5x due to his fees.

Posted by
2639 posts

Packing Tip - solid sunscreen

It has been non-stop sun here. I found a deodorant style solid sunscreen at Target that has worked perfectly. I'm sure I could buy more here. Humidity is very low, not sticky.

I've needed a light shirt or jacket in the mornings and evenings, with the cool air from the water on multiple sides. Big temperature differential between daytime and night - I'm used to this from home. Brief and occasional forecasts for showers have barely been enough to notice... I'm glad I left the raincoat in the suitcase. I am wearing my sun hat regularly as a heat and sun guard for my heat absorbing dark hair. A scarf would also work and fits right in.

I expect inland will be much different.

Posted by
2639 posts

Museum Pass and Transit Card

We got both cards at the Best of Istanbul welcome meeting and have put them to good use, including trams and today the ferry back from the very colorful Fener neighborhood of Balat.

The Museum Pass is good at the Galata Tower, so you could go there at the end of one of the dinner-on-your-own days for "free."

Posted by
2639 posts

Half off is not always a good deal

I have started buying journals on my travels - thanks Christine! For Turkey, I'm using a journal I bought at the Mucha Museum in Prague.

Yesterday, at the Grand Bazaar, I found a journal that I wanted. The price was 350TL and we bargained it down to 100TL. I happily pulled out my credit card, only to learn it was a cash only price. Fair enough, it's only $6. I wouldn't do that to a small vendor at home either. I hadn't brought much cash and decided I'd come back another day.

Today at the Spice Market I found the identical journal for a starting price of 65TL and paid 60TL. Cash.

I'll use it in Portugal.

Lesson learned.... comparison shop!

Posted by
2639 posts

15 Degrees of Separation

In 2 days and 42,000 steps we've marveled at everything from the trendsetting architecture of the Hagia Sophia to the humble center of the Orthodox faith during our visit to the Fener neighborhood. We've learned how they designed the buildings to withstand weather and earthquakes. We learned less about how different the faiths are and more about their similarities. We learned why it's said that the Christian and Muslim faiths are separated only by 15 degrees.

But the moment that made this real for me was when I spent a few quiet moments in the "Ladies Section" of the Hagia Sophia. A group of elderly lady friends in conservative dress were trying to get a selfie. I offered to take their photo and they were smiling and seemed so happy to be together in that sacred place.

I asked if I could have a photo to remember them. One lady gestured that I should get in the picture and she would take it. (She didn't speak English, but I clearly understood her.)

We took turns taking photos, their arms around me as part of their little friendship circle.

Then she came to me and kissed me on both cheeks and said (in English) "now we are friends."

Yes. We are.

Posted by
2639 posts

Guide among Guides

The guide for our Best of Istanbul tour is the magical Mert Taner. He has masters degrees in biblical studies. He has been hired to be the guide for people such as Senator Lindsey Graham and Tom Hanks. And many other important people. Including other Rick Steves guides: he was the guide when they all took the Best of Turkey tour in December for guide training. He more often leads the Best of Turkey tours; only occasionally the Best of Istanbul. We got lucky.

I don't know how, but he pays attention to everyone. Individually. As an example, the lady who was having trouble keeping up has rejoined us. Mert brought in a Rick Steves guide-in-training to help her. (I assume part of the exchange is getting to see Mert in action.)

Another tour member was worried that she'd lost her phone. Mert called and asked the hotel to check her room. The phone was there.

Oh and he knows a thing or two about Istanbul. (And just about everyone!)

Mert's magic may be nothing out of the ordinary to those of you with Rick Steves tours under your belt. But for this first timer.... I'm a believer. Rick Steves hires great guides!!

Posted by
258 posts

This is such a good thread, I just want to express my appreciation. I am on the Oct 17-29 Best of Turkey tour and can't wait.

Posted by
2639 posts

We're at dinner with Mert. You have scored. He is scheduled to be your guide. He says hello!

Posted by
226 posts

@CWSocial love this trip report - its making me want to get to Istanbul this year. 10+ miles of walking daily sounds intense. keep the posts coming - we are living Turkey thru your words

Posted by
1348 posts

CW, any chance Mert is doing the September 5th tour? Thanks in advance!

Posted by
2639 posts

Yes, Andrea, he said that's his tour also!

Mert is doing 8 of the 32 Best of Turkey tours, so I guess you both got lucky too! Although I've read good things about the other guides as well. Mert says our Best of Turkey guide is also good, just in a different way.

Posted by
220 posts

CWsocial thank you so much for taking us along on your adventure, fantastic descriptions! Turkey was on my short list and now it’s a definite, just reserved a tour for this Fall.

Posted by
2639 posts

mln, I am so excited for you!!

To everyone, thank you for your kind comments. And for joining me on this journey. It's fun to have you all along!!

Posted by
1348 posts

Thank you, CWsocial! I appreciate your asking!

Posted by
2639 posts

A $150 dinner for $30

If your guide says, hey anybody who wants to go to dinner tonight, meet me in the lobby at 730. Be there!

Only 4 from our tour took Mert up on the offer. I feel bad for the others because they missed out!

On our own, we'd have probably eaten at Joe's Kebab shack. Instead we had the most delightful dinner at OCAK, not far from the spice market. Mert knows the chef and the owner. (Did I mention that he knows everyone in Istanbul?)

Chef Omer spent nearly the entire evening with us. Recommending dishes and telling us about his food: a more refined take on home cooked Turkish favorites.

The mixologist came to our table to recommend drinks. I had his invention - a "Prince of Persia" - with vodka and pomegranate juice and simple syrup. Yes, sweet, but not exceedingly so.

We had about 5 courses, shared as small plates. Chick peas 3 ways. Mini dumplings. A curry spiced from the same spice vendor we visited earlier at the Spice Market. (The chef explained why their spices are superior and his choice at the restaurant.) And quince with clotted cream for dessert.

I'm sure this would have been $150 each in expensive San Francisco. Assuming we got the friends and family discount, it was an unbelievable value at $30 each.

But more than that, it was a fun night out with some of my favorite people on the tour. We laughed and joked around and got to know each other "outside the tour."

I can't guarantee your guide will take you there. So you may just want to make a reservation for 4 people and invite 3 of your favorite tour mates. Tell the chef that you heard about OCAK through Mert!

Posted by
2639 posts

PS - the value of the Turkish Lira is changing so rapidly that the restaurant doesn't print prices on their hard copy menus. Only the digital version. Who knows what the dinner might cost if Turkish inflation continues. $20?

They do have wifi to read the menu.

Posted by
2639 posts

Barefoot in the Mosques?

As you're packing for Turkey, please remember that you'll have to take your shoes off in the Mosques. Along with 1,000 of your best friends that day. Some places supplied shoe booties, others didn't

I didn't want to be barefoot. And I didn't want to sweep the carpets with my socks. So on the days we were visiting the Mosques, I brought socks (if not wearing them already) and my own shower-cap booties. And I was glad on the days I had velcro shoes; laces were an added pain.

Another 20,000+ step day today. Almost 10 miles.

Posted by
2639 posts

USB power on the buses?

We rode a bus today, out to Fener. It is the bus for the Best of Turkey tour leaving today. I had read elsewhere that the Turkey buses - there are 2 - don't have power, unlike other tours.

But I saw USB ports at each seat on the bus. I didn't have a cable with me so I can only hope they're functioning USB power.

The bus is a big comfortable coach. There's been a lot of chatter about getting the preferred front row seats. I had a superb view out the huge side windows. I can get seasick on any boat but had no trouble on the bus. Maybe after 5 hours I'd feel differently.

The overhead space would fit a medium sized backpack but not a roller bag. There's plenty of room under the seats. A bit more than on an airplane because there are no dividers between the seats. So you don't get to fight over armrests, but you can fight over foot space.

Or just sit in your own row. There's plenty of room.

Posted by
1286 posts

Catherine, though I'm not interested in going on a tour I am really enjoying your travelog. I appreciated your comments on the view from Galata Tower. We also went there and agree that the view is incredible.

Please keep posting. Accompanying you is great fun!

Posted by
2639 posts

Day 4 already? It's flying by. I'm very glad to be doing both tours.

The cats are kind of cute. I'm too allergic to be around cats, but seeing them when I was out for an early morning walk was cheery. They mind their own business, as cats do. But it's fun to spot them in places... like the dwarves in Wrocław. There's a pair chatting with each other at the corner. There's one in the psychedelic chair in that storefront window. There's one on the hood of that white mini truck.

Please see a hint I added in the Galata Tower section above.

Posted by
1817 posts

So glad to hear such positive things about lovely Turkey, and that you are having a wonderful time!
I’ve been there 3 times, and have Turkish friends who live there, in Bursa.
The people are so hospitable and so amusing, able to have endless fun and laugh at themselves.
They are like your family after a short time with them.
And the food!!
I love the breakfasts.
Can’t wait to hear more!

Posted by
2639 posts

S J, lovely to hear your comments. I'm a new fan. Yes, the food!!

Please feel free to add anything else that comes to mind.

Posted by
2639 posts

The ATM 10 second rule.

Your guide will teach you how to use the ATMs and show you the ones nearest the hotel. A big block of them, all in a row. They weren't working the first time we tried them. But there's another block of them nearby.

But here's the important thing in case you go to an ATM at the airport or before your tour. Which you probably will because surely you won't be buying Turkish Lira before you get here. It could be worthless by the time you arrive!

After you ....
Insert your card
And enter your PIN
and finally get the screen to choose an amount

You have 10 seconds before it keeps your card!!

Apparently it's a fraud thing. So the thing about Turkish ATMs is...

Know how much money you want before you insert your precious card!

The minimum we've seen is 200TL, which will last you a lot longer than the equivalent $12.40. I've seen options for 500, 1000 and "other."

Posted by
2639 posts

who's having a good time then?

Nigel, indeed I am!! I do wonder how much the tour is contributing to that.

I've gotten pretty good in my independent travels at signing up for tours and activities to make the most of my time. We were originally scheduled for Best of Turkey only and were well on our way to designing our own Istanbul tour, including guided activities.

But this is a big city. And while there are tradeoffs - and plenty of threads on the topic - I'm glad I'm on the tour, and I feel like it's giving me a solid and positive foundation to set me up for future visits.

Posted by
2639 posts

Awww TexasTravelmom, that's so nice of you to say! It's evening here, time for a glass of wine.... I'll have a drink with you across the miles!!

Posted by
27713 posts

here's raising a glass to you, Catherine, and to Texas Travelmon...

Posted by
2639 posts

Culture Never Changes

A little background: I dropped out of high school World History class. Hated it. Possibly the only real class I ever dropped.

If Mert had been the history teacher, things might have been different. I'd have known the Ottoman Empire from the Roman Empire; Süleyman the Magnificent from Alexander the Great.

I caught up a bit today with the most engaging one hour history lesson ever....just before we entered the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. (Best of Istanbul goes there, I think the Best of Turkey tour does not.)

We learned about the rise of the Ottoman Empire with the development of tools and trades. We learned, again, how similar things are across cultures. I wish I had videotaped his performance. I was too busy listening.

In the museum, we admired the sarcophagi. Huh, really? Not usually my preferred way to spend an hour. But Mert made those things come back alive! We learned about the symbols and admired the details. The entire group was riveted: snapping pictures and leaning in for a closer look.

He taught us how to tell a Greek sculpture from a Roman one - it's all in the support!

I think someone asked if he'd ever considered teaching history. Nope.

Those of you on Mert's Best of Turkey tours are in for a treat. I can't imagine the performance he'll give at Ephesus!!

Posted by
2639 posts

Just in Case Packing Tip

Ok. So I assume you are all going to ask your doctor for prescription tummy medicine before you go to Turkey. Yes?

I'm keeping mine for a real emergency.

But let me suggest that you also pick up some over the counter Pepto, or similar, to carry in your day purse. That way, if you feel a little unsettled, you can take something early.... while you're out sightseeing. And hopefully you won't need the prescription stuff.

Posted by
1348 posts

CW, did you take Dukoral before you left? We are planning on that.

Posted by
2639 posts

I am eating everything

I decided that I would eat raw, uncooked vegetables and salads. Despite what the doctor said. (I did get the recommended Hep B shots!!) Rick Steves isn't going to put us in a hotel where everyone gets sick, right? I took one Pepto today. All is well.

I am not drinking the Haze hotel water. Others are and it hasn't bothered them.

There are a couple of markets - one is about half a block from the hotel - where we've bought bottles of water: 6 for barely more than a dollar. And the hotel gives us 2 bottles each day.

You will forget and run your toothbrush under the tap. I brought 2 extras. The nearby drug store sells them for about a dollar apiece. Maybe 2.

I put a cloth over the tap so I don't keep forgetting.

Water bottle hint: it takes me about half a bottle of water to brush my teeth.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor!

Posted by
2639 posts

Andrea, I did not take Dukoral - hadn't heard of it, to be honest. Can you please enlighten us?

I did get the 3 Hep B shots that my Kaiser travel nurse recommended, the series taking 6 or 7 months.

Posted by
2639 posts

Fish Sandwich and a Coke on the Bosphorus

I listened to a bunch of the Rick Steves audio guides for Turkey. He asked 2 guides what they would recommend as their favorite thing to do in Istanbul. One guide answered: sit on the Bosphorus and have a fish sandwich and a Coke and watch the boats.

There's a vendor not far off each end of the Galata Bridge.

I did that. Twice. Once at each end of the bridge. $3.08 with the coke.

Posted by
2639 posts

Rick Steves audio guide tracks for Turkey

Listened to most of them while I walked my dog. She stops to sniff everything, including the roses. One walk = 1 track.

Posted by
1348 posts

Dukoral is the oral vaccination that Canadians often take to prevent travelers diarrhea before heading to the Caribbean. We took it prior to a China tour and were the only ones who didn't get sick (either end).

Posted by
1143 posts

CW, reading you trip report is giving me such pleasure!
It's been 20 years since my Best of Turkey tour, and you are making me want to go again!
I'm looking forward to seeing you and hearing more great stories!

Posted by
2639 posts

Oh SharYn, I don't want to rush this part, but I'm also looking forward to the bigger Turkey picture. Can't wait to swap Turkey stories!

Posted by
2639 posts

Balcony rooms

For the Best of Istanbul tour members, lots of rooms at the Haze have balconies, but maybe not all. 206/306/406/(is there a 506?) have them. They're tiny, but the balcony is lovely right now, cool breeze, lots of honking. Typical city noises. And it's been a great place to hang laundry.

You might email the hotel and request a balcony room.

Posted by
2639 posts

Speaking of Laundry

Our closet has 5 hangars. Non removable. I'm very glad I brought folding plastic travel hangars.

And no stopper in the sink. My travel partner's husband bought one for her that we're using. Hooray for husbands who know to shop at Ace Hardware!

The towel rack has a perfect bar for hanging clothes to dry. We usually hang it on the balcony rails.

PS - for 250TL (~$15.31) the hotel will do a grocery bag sized load of laundry.

Posted by
2639 posts

The Galata Tower at Sunset

We went to the tower again tonight, about 8pm. With our Museum Pass, we ignored the long line for tickets and went straight to the entrance where there was one couple ahead of us.

Lots of Instagrammers were already positioned to get their perfect shot. But we still found a good place to watch the sun set over Old Town.

And then back down 7 flights of the narrow spiral stairs, weaving past more photo opportunists.

Worth it!!

Posted by
2639 posts

My confession

I brought 3 pairs of shoes. There. I said it. Usually I bring one pair.

My trusty Skechers - they never let me down. Except in rain, when they do, literally, let me down.

My Aetrex walkers - sturdy backup, better in rain.

Naot (correction: Aetrex) sandals - their maiden voyage, a big success. Even on the city cobblestones and hills and stairs.

In a carry on bag that I checked. So glad I didn't have to carry it up and down the stairs and habitrails at Frankfurt airport.

19,322 steps today, 9.09 miles.

Posted by
2639 posts

Nurses have the right idea

I bought a pair of nurses pants and brought them. Big win!! Super lightweight. No wrinkles. Easy to sink wash. And really cool in the hot sun.

No more expensive REI pants for me. Well, maybe.

Posted by
2639 posts

Istanbul and Turkey?

I got a great question about whether it's worth it to do both Best of Istanbul and Best of Turkey.

None of our tour mates thought so.... we're the only ones continuing on.

The Turkey tour does a condensed version of a lot of the same things.

Example: Hagia Sophia
Of course they both go there. And I'm looking forward to going again.

Example: Bosphorus Cruise
The Istanbul devotes almost a full day to a Turkish brunch, cruise, set down in Asia, ferry back.

The Turkey tour does a cruise, no brunch, no Asia. Maybe a few hours?

I'll continue to comment on this next week.

Posted by
2639 posts

Extra Days in Istanbul

Even if you don't do both tours, you'll want extra days in Istanbul. At least a night or two before your tour.

By the time we started planning our extra days, it wasn't much of a stretch to do both. And we still found things to do on arrival, since we still needed to arrive before the tour.

Posted by
3344 posts

Catherine- “Nurses have the right idea.” I got rid of my scrubs about a year ago. You are spot on about the material! Wash & hang dry. I had a pair of black that were nicely tapered and would have been perfect for warm weather! Who knew? Great tip. Looking forward to more of your “on the ground reports.” Serefe!

Posted by
2639 posts

Nope I didn't buy a rug

But I thought about it! The demonstration was amazing. And served to justify the prices. Designs can take years to complete.

Sadly, my budget and my taste do not align. But I really enjoyed learning about the art!!

And our guide was there to rescue us if we had any trouble breaking free.

Posted by
2639 posts

If I go to sleep, my Turkish breakfast will come sooner!

Posted by
1817 posts

CWSocial:

You're hilarious!
We can feel your enthusiasm across the miles!

I second the fish sandwiches from the boats along the sea front.
The first time I was there, I ate one which was just delicious, and asked the boat owner if the fish was caught locally.
He grinned at me with no teeth, shook his head and said "Nor-vay"!!!!! :))

Posted by
1143 posts

CW -- you will probably have another opportunity to buy a Turkish rug in Cappadocia!

Posted by
2639 posts

Oh SharYn, I hope the $6000 indigo and blue silk one comes down to $600. With inflation maybe?

My travel partner bought a souvenir for one daughter. Knowing the 2 girls need to have the same set of gifts, she went back for a second one. Inflation and the euro exchange rate (and maybe a different salesperson) had made it more expensive by 400 TL. $25 in 2 days!

Moral of the story: don't wait for a sale in Turkey.

ETA: except at the ATM. Maybe I'll be able to get enough lira by Cappadocia that I can afford the rug in lira!

Moral of that story, don't take out too many lira at a time.

Posted by
2639 posts

Hanging them out to dry

You know those little plastic thingies you get when you buy 5 pairs of Laura Ashley undies at TJ Maxx?

Well they work in Turkey! With no adaptor.

Just wash your undies, hang them back on the little hook thingies that they were born on, and find a bar to hang them on your balcony. You get dry clothes. And you feel like a local with your laundry hanging on the balcony!

Posted by
2639 posts

Speaking of balconies

Our balcony is real. With 2 chairs and a table.

Many of the balconies are decorative, and useful for letting in the fresh air and the calls to prayer (which haven't been waking me up at 4:30.)

But you can't sit on them. The 06 and 07 rooms have the real ones. Good thing. We need the space!

A fellow traveler in an 04 single room does not have a balcony. She said her room is tiny. I think we lucked out with the balcony.

Posted by
2639 posts

Nor-vay, love it SJ!!

We've been learning one Turkish word or phrase each day.

Merhaba (hello)
Good-night-n (good day)

And thank you. Which I can't master. It's not that I'm bad at languages; I'm bad at Turkish. Oh well, I wander around saying Merhaba to everyone. Even the cats!

Posted by
2639 posts

Men get all the good pockets

I've been wearing my bought-in-Turkey men's Columbia Sportswear shirt. And I noticed a zippered breast pocket. Turns out it's the perfect place to put the whisper device while on tour!! Or your phone with a Turkcell SIM.

I'll be buying a few more men's shirts. This one is Steinbock brand.

Posted by
2639 posts

From mishaps come great learnings.

-- first time Istanbul visitor

Posted by
27713 posts

Rick Steves audio guide tracks for Turkey

Listened to most of them while I walked my dog. She stops to sniff everything, including the roses. One walk = 1 track.

I never thought of your Farrah (sp?) as a Tour Guide Dog.

Posted by
27713 posts

Our closet has 5 hangars. Non removable.

I hate those!!!! Not because I worry about hangers ( I am a man) but because my wife makes so much noise banging the hangers together trying to get stuff on and off them. Disrupts my sereneness...

(besides, I'm supposed to be the one making noise. Then I don't mind it at all............ )

Posted by
2639 posts

I never thought of your Farrah (exactly right) as a Tour Guide Dog.

Hilarious, Nigel!!

Posted by
2639 posts

my wife makes so much noise banging the hangers together trying to get stuff on and off them

And these hang front to back instead of side by side. So you have to bang all the front ones to get at the back ones.

Posted by
1286 posts

Catherine - I was always embarrassed to hang my undies outside. Ok to hang Mr.'s, though :) Mine were hanging in the shower! I'll need to get folding hangers. I bring two plastic hangers but they're a pain to fit into my suitcase.

Also, after we returned from Turkey I started getting cucumbers, cheese, olives, breads, etc. together for a cold breakfast. We call it our Turkish breakfast. Somehow it's not the same.

And I missed the call to prayer after we returned. Some people find it annoying but we didn't. We would often stop to listen, especially in the evening.

Posted by
258 posts

Just jumping in again to say this thread is EPIC and represents everything I come to the forum for! And I am thrilled to have Mert as my guide in October! Cannot thank you all enough for the collective wisdom.
Cynthia

Posted by
2639 posts

The stuff that broke today

I broke my little plastic thingie for hanging socks and undies. Drat!

More importantly, two people had their tour headsets break today. One gal was out of luck and had to stay near our guide to hear. I'd recommended that my friend bring a headset from home, which she happened to have in her purse, so she was still able to listen.

Packing tip for tours: bring your own wired headset and carry it with you as a backup.

Posted by
2639 posts

A lot fewer steps today: 16,500 for 7.9 miles. An "easy day" on the Best of Istanbul tour.

Tonight there was a big lightning storm that put on quite a show. But no rain.

Posted by
2639 posts

The sun is always shining

My favorite non-essential thing that I brought is my little foldable sunhat. With a small brim to keep the sun out of my eyes. Some of the ladies on tour have bought straw Panama hats. I can see that those would be cooler and still keep the sun off.

Thank heavens I brought sunscreen and SPF face lotion.

I don't know what it's like in the fall, but this week has been bright and sunny and getting hotter. Not a cloud in the sky kind of days.

Posted by
2639 posts

This water. Not that water.

I wanted to clarify that I am drinking the water they pour for us from a carafe at breakfast at The Haze (Best of Istanbul.)

Our wonderful breakfast waiter Halïl just told me ... and showed me ... it's bottled water. Nicest guy. How can he be so cheery 6 days a week starting at 7am???

Posted by
2639 posts

Bosphorus and Bubbles

Today we admired everything we'd seen this week, and more, from the sunny deck of our private cruise. Thank heavens for my sun hat. A chin strap would have been a nice safety feature: it's windy when you get out near the Marmara Sea! Mert pointed out where his friends lived; his new neighborhood and where he went to high school.

I set foot in Asia for the first time! Briefly.

Back in Europe, we went for our Turkish bath. I can't explain the sensation of the bubbles: it was like they unrolled a layer of bubble bath around us.

Cost for our chosen treatment: €135 (credit card accepted) + tip (cash in lira.)

It was the perfect way to cleanse away a busy week and refresh ourselves for tomorrow's early start of the Best of Turkey tour!!

Posted by
2166 posts

What a wonderful time you are having! Jealous! I’ve been home 3 weeks from France and I’m ready to go again (to anywhere)!

Posted by
27713 posts

from the sunny deck of our private cruise.

life's hard, eh?

Posted by
62 posts

CW, I'm joining the chorus of posters who are so enjoying your Turkey travels! Love your engaging writing style--your posts are the first ones I look for when I log into the Forum. Truth be told, Turkey's never been near the top of my list of places to visit, but after vicariously following along on your tour, I'm wondering why the hey not. More more, please!

Posted by
2166 posts

buglife, this is the problem. Reading the forum (daily for me), just makes my travel wish list grow longer! Turkey IS on my list!

Posted by
6338 posts

Love hearing that Mert is still Mert. Amazing guide.
Loved my RS Istanbul tour. Great memories.

Posted by
1556 posts

I hope you are enjoying the food. We loved it! Our trip was 6 years ago and was our first RS tour. We are still in contact with several tour members. I can’t wait for your posts as you go deeper into Turkey.

Posted by
2639 posts

life's hard, eh?

Oh yes, we were definitely feeling pampered yesterday! Sun. Cool breeze. Juices, sodas and Turkish tea. (Small extra cost....50TL / $2.80 for fresh OJ. Small bills, cash lira definitely best.)

And, for a little perspective, we motored past the Four Seasons on the Bosphorus. And the $25,000 / night rooms where Presidents and Prime Ministers stay. Including whichever statesman was touring Istanbul yesterday and for whom our tour schedule was rearranged. Who(m?)ever he was, he warranted 2 Turkish coast guard boats. The top people get 25.

We all chuckled as Mert pointed out the Starbucks on the Bosphorus. Yep.

Honestly, I preferred the cruise being on our last Best of Istanbul day. A nice finale.

Do any of you "collect" river cruises. The Danube cruise past Hungarian Parliament, when lit up at night, is pretty special. This cruise just jumped into my first place. Life is good.

Please add a Bosphorus cruise to your wish list!!

Posted by
2639 posts

And Mert tells us we get to do the exact same cruise on the Turkey tour. We do??

Ok, I guess I'll go!! 😎😎

Posted by
2639 posts

Getting to Know You Istanbul

The nice thing about having signed up for both of the Turkey tours has been getting to know Istanbul. We've gotten to see more, spend more time and learn more about this amazing, vibrant, friendly to tourists city during the Best of Istanbul tour. This is the way I like to travel, with time to get to know a place.

I will miss the Haze, our balcony, our friendly breakfast waiter, the tiny corner bar where we sat outside and had a 60TL (cash is best) glass of wine - most recently with new tour friends - and the kittens on the steps of the grocery store around the corner.

I took my last morning walk to enjoy the neighborhood and snap a couple of photos: the man having soup at the place that serves it 7am - 2am and the fisherman tossing his line out towards the Hagia Sophia across the water.

That's where we're headed this morning.... across the Golden Horn to the Old Town.

These next 2.5 days in Istanbul will be kind of like my second visit: with a new hotel, different restaurants, different views and sounds during my morning walks, and new cats to say Merhaba to.

Posted by
2639 posts

Clean pre-tour COVID test. On to Best of Turkey!!!

Posted by
1886 posts

Did you use one of your own test kits or was this from a visit to a pharmacy? How was the pharmacy?

Posted by
2639 posts

The late May tours were given short notice of the reinstituted pre- tour test, so a home test (non proctored) was acceptable.

Other tours may have different requirements.

Posted by
2639 posts

diveloonie, I get it. It's such a high to be traveling again, and Istanbul is pulsing with energy. I'll need a voltage converter to return to real life!!

Posted by
2639 posts

bugslife, thanks for traveling along. It's so fun having all of you to share this wonderful trip with! I wish you all were here!!

Posted by
2639 posts

Janis, yay, nothing to stop you now!!

Claudia, oh he's still Mert all right. And I think he's hoping his 8 year old son will be mini Mert. He's got the start of a big personality.

Diane, the food was one of tha big attractions and it hasn't let me down. Spices. Flavors. Interesting combinations. I love the walnuts in everything. Last night we had a kebab that made me like them.

Posted by
2639 posts

Dinner on top of Istanbul

Our farewell dinner for Best of Istanbul was at Momento restaurant, atop a hotel, with panoramic views through the sliding windows of the Old Town and the Golden Horn. I don't think Mert ever sat down as he wandered around explaining each dish and checking in with everyone.

I had brought a pair of compact binoculars which we passed around to check out the Mosques that we now recognize: Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Suleymaniye Mosque; and on the Asia side, the illuminated communications tower.

Our new tour friends are headed home or to Ephesus or the Princess Islands or Sicily. Had we not been heading to Best of Turkey, I might have been sad.

Instead we looked across at Old Town, where we've now relocated, and wondered what this next tour will bring!!

Posted by
2639 posts

The Story and the Storyteller

It was wonderful to revisit Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia with energetic guide Mine: Mee-nay.

We visited different areas of the palace, heard different stories and gained another perspective on Palace life. In Hagia Sophia we picked up new details, including this important one:

As you exit Hagia Sophia (there's only one way out) down the wide corridor that leads outdoors, there's a huge mirror. It reflects one of the remaining mosaics of Christianity. Don't miss it!

Posted by
2639 posts

Guide Mine has promised the ladies she'll teach us to tie our scarves!! I watched a few videos, and it will be good to have some expert guidance.

Posted by
2639 posts

5 Delightful Young Ladies

We have 5 young ladies (in their 20s?) on our tour!! 2 cousins traveling with their aunt. And 3 unrelated. A few are traveling for their graduation presents, at least one from college.

One gal joined us at our dinner table. What a delightful young person! Bright. Terrific manners. She looked like an angel in her head scarf - I wanted someone to paint her! A nice conversationalist, asking questions about us and showing interest in getting to know us "older folks." And an interesting future, with her first job waiting until she's back from her summer of travels with her family.

It's quite a nice change to meet a young generation of travelers!!

Posted by
2639 posts

Balloon Ride Anyone?

We signed up for the balloon ride today. I'm committed.... step aside fear of heights, I'm not missing this!!

Cost: 'round about $220 or $250 maybe? Depends on the exchange rate by then. Could be more; might be less. Good thing they take credit cards!

Posted by
2639 posts

Big room, cranky shower, great location

Our room at the Acra Hotel in the Old Town is nice enough, lots of cupboards and drawers, clean and spacious, no balcony but a peekaboo view of the Bosphorus.

The shower's a little cranky. I fiddled with things and opted for a bath.

Its best feature.... you Rick Steves travelers already know.... the location!

5 minutes from Hagia Sophia
5 minutes from the bath house at the Hagia Sophia
7 minutes from the Blue Mosque
5 minutes from the Museum of Great Palace Mosaics

Posted by
2639 posts

By Order of the Health Department

Don't drink the tap water in the Acra Hotel

Posted by
2639 posts

Presidents Get a Submarine

Mert reminded us that US presidents are protected by a submarine and the coast guard ships when they stay in the fancy place on the Bosphorus.

Another cruise day. Life is rough in Istanbul.

Posted by
2639 posts

Cutest Little Neighborhood

Out the hotel door and to the left is the cutest little block of small shops and eateries, each one more colorful and decorated with flowers and bric-a-brac than its neighbor. Even the little laundry place is photogenic.

And the friendly young man driving the tuk tuk for early morning deliveries for the Family Bakery signed for me to take a 2nd photo so he could smile and pose.

Bring your camera.

Posted by
958 posts

What a fabulous ongoing tour report. It really makes me happy to read that most things have gone right and that you are having so many wonderful experiences. Your writing makes me yearn for the same experiences although my old knees might not stand up to back to back days of so much walking. I'll continue to read as you share your views of the Turkey tour. Thank you so much for sharing your accounts of this great adventure!

Posted by
2639 posts

Life is Good

I'm on the Best of Turkey Bosphorus cruise. Between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Not too close to the latter, don't worry.

Same private boat. Same drink options. The only difference is that we don't land in Asia to walk around. Therefore the cruise takes us back, whereas previously we took a public ferry.

Guide Mine is hosting her son's birthday party today. So we have the privilege of being led this afternoon by Lale Surmen Aran, co-author of the Best of Istanbul guidebook!! Rick Steves Royalty. Now I have a signed copy!!

Packing tip: bring sunscreen. I took a non drowsy dramamine just in case, but didn't really need it. The water is very calm, no waves.

Posted by
2639 posts

Important Questions Answered

Why was Suleymaniye so Magnificent?

Why is the Golden Horn golden?

Why do some mosques have 1 minaret and others have 2 or 4 or 6?

Why was the Blue Mosque built so close to the Hagia Sophia?

Our magnificent guides have answered all these and more! Incredible patience.

Posted by
2639 posts

Why is that tree right in the way of my photo of the Blue Mosque?

There is a palm tree right in the way of taking a great photo of the Blue Mosque. Why? Who put it there?

I don't know, but I do know that you can get a beautifully unobstructed view from the side nearest the Acra Hotel.

From the hotel, navigate towards the Museum of Great Palace Mosaics, which is about 400m from the hotel. When you're nearly there, look up and to your right. Voila! The Blue Mosque. No palm tree. Perfect photo!! Well, except for some scaffolding, but not enough to ruin your cool photo.

Posted by
2639 posts

Do you Like Puzzles?

If you've just gotten your great, unobstructed photo of the Blue Mosque, you might as well drop into the Museum of Great Palace Mosaics. You're nearly there.

If you've already had your Welcome Meeting, you can use your Museum Pass. Otherwise it's 45 lira, ~$2.83.

There are some great story boards that describe how they unearth the mosaics, clean them and put the thousands of teeny tiny pieces back together so that we can traipse over there and see them.

And no, you can't start by finding all the edge pieces.

Posted by
2639 posts

Wait, which Mosque is that?

When you're on your tour, if you start to get confused between the Mosques, well, me too.

Just remember these hints:

The Blue Mosque is not blue, except inside. But that's all covered up and you can't see it. The roof does look kind of bluish, in a slate gray sort of way.

Hagia Sophia is not named after anyone named Sophia. But it's kind of pink, for a girl. It's lit up at night, but that doesn't help you during the day.

The New Mosque is really a pretty old Mosque, built in the 1600s, but it's newer than the oldest Mosques, so it's the New Mosque. It's just left of one end of the Galata Bridge.

And then there are a whole bunch more. I have no idea about any of their names.

Posted by
2639 posts

Best New Purchase

A European adaptor (not convertor, which isn't needed) for my phone. Works with or without my mini travel extension cord which can take USB or US (or other worldwide) plugs or the new European adaptor.

Power within easy reach, no matter how few outlets there are.

Cost: 40TL / $2.44, from somewhere in the maze of the Grand Bazaar.

Posted by
2639 posts

Morning Rituals

I walked the 3 minutes from the Acra Hotel to the Hagia Sophia. The sun is just up behind it.
There are a few dozen people instead of many thousands. Taking photos. A few workers taking measurements. The pigeons are having their Turkish bath in the fountain while a worker sweeps up after the visitors, making things tidy for a new group today.

Worth getting up early for the short walk to a peaceful morning view of these great Mosques.

It would be perfect if the Call to Prayer were to begin, but that was hours ago.

Posted by
2639 posts

As you enter the grounds of the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, from the direction of the Agra Hotel, there is a sign for a Carpet Museum. Something to do during my next visit.

Posted by
2639 posts

No USB on this Bus

The other bus looked like it had USB power. This one does not. Good thing I lugged my Dad's power bank.

The AC works great. And with my TurkCell SIM I can post little updates!

One guy has his travel pillow. Smart!!

Posted by
2639 posts

Just as Active as Best of Istanbul

First day, Best of Turkey, I logged over 23,200 steps for nearly 11.3 miles. That included time spent on the Bosphorus Cruise. We did walk back from the New District, over the Galata Bridge and back to the Acra Hotel, rather than taking the tram. 4 tram stops covers a lot of ground!

Posted by
2639 posts

First Rest Stop

A string of Turkish fast food options, each of which takes credit cards, few speaking English. Point and nod worked perfectly. Also a Burger King and Starbucks if you're missing home.

I had a doner sandwich and a coke. 58TL, less than $8. There was also Borek with meat or cheese.

Clean, free restrooms.

Posted by
2639 posts

Best of Istanbul breakfast - our friendly waiter Halïl at the Haze hotel brought breakfast to our table with an open air view of the Bosphorus.

Best of Turkey in Istanbul - the Acra Hotel sets out the selection and we choose what we want. There's tea of course, also a coffee/cappuccino machine. I love the addition of yogurt and dried fruits.

No view but there's a cheeky cat sitting outside the back door who doesn't mind if you throw him a bit of a crepe. But like the dog in the New District, the cat turned his nose up at the simit. Why don't they like my simits?

Similar food choices: cheeses, olives, salads, jams and honey, breads and spreads.

Posted by
2639 posts

What's 32 C in Fahrenheit?

The temperature display at the front of the bus says 32 degrees C. That's freakin' hot to you and me. I think that might be bloody hot to you, Nigel.

Forecast for more of the same this week. At 14% humidity, it's survivable. Especially on our air conditioned bus. Far from the hippie days of Rick Steves in a van - thankfully!

Posted by
2639 posts

Good morning, Texastravelmom!

Oh, and hi to my Mom in case she's reading my travelog this morning!! Guess what, Mom, I bought a new scarf. You can never have too many scarves. Shades of blue, of course.

Posted by
2639 posts

Hello, Nance, thanks for riding along! Literally riding today as it's our first day on our bus, driving from Istanbul to Ankara.

I don't know how many kilometers it is, but it's 3 drives of 1.5 to 2 hours punctuated by 2 rest stops. 50 minutes for lunch. 20 minutes for a break and to grab a snack at the mini mart: like a 7-11 plus a section with dried fruits and nuts by the kilo. Make your own trail mix!

Posted by
27713 posts

Merhaba, CWsocial, still ticking along I see....

can never have too many scarves.

32 is silly. that's all. silly. don't melt now, hear?

Posted by
2639 posts

Merhaba, Nigel, just arriving in Ankara! Not melted.

Posted by
1143 posts

Still loving this report, CW!
When I did the Best of Turkey in 2002 we took an overnight train to Ankara.
I don't think that most of us slept very well, but it was fun to wake up for breakfast and then a full day in Ankara.
And we had Lale as our tour guide -- very knowledgeable and a lovely person.

Posted by
2639 posts

Oh wow, SharYn, the overnight train sounds fun! I can understand about the sleep though.

That's so cool that Lale was your guide. She commented to us that it had been too long since she'd been "in the field." I'm sure you learned a lot from her!

Posted by
248 posts

Hi, C
Just letting you know I'm following along and enjoying all the comments.

L

Posted by
2639 posts

Ankara

The Capitol. Big. Modern. Wide boulevards designed when the population was only 10,000, with the foresight that now serves a population of 6 million. One tour member said she'd love to live here.

The businesslike hotel is modern, efficient and spotless. 2 fast elevators. No warning signs from the department of health, but I'm not taking chances with the tap water.

The burger pub around the corner could have been in America. Possibly except for all the young people smoking at the patio tables. We ate inside in a section for our group.

Can we go now?

Posted by
27713 posts

ready for the next stop, CWsocial?

Is it musical chairs on the bus or staying in the same place? Just curious....

Posted by
2639 posts

Mostly the same, Nigel, a few swaps but nothing too daring. Noone even vying for the front. Yet. It's just open.

Posted by
2639 posts

Ankara: Changing of the Guard at the Atatürk Mausoleum

Like the changing of the guard anywhere, everyone waits for the high stepping, rifle carrying soldiers to pass by in perfect time. They take their new places for a 2 hour watch.

Today is different. It's graduation time. Thousands of graduates from kindergarten to high school, each group in their school's colorful caps and gowns. They fall into order for a group photo then rejoin the chaos.

It's like the Washington Monument and Buckingham Palace and graduation in any American stadium combined.

The guard plays Taps. Even the littlest graduates pay their respects, during a moment of silence, to this Founder of the modern Turkish culture.

Posted by
2639 posts

COVID??

Stats are super low in Turkey: 9 per 100,000 and around 1000 / day total. Mask protocols are dropped for transportation - including our bus - and in all but the strictest settings, such as healthcare.

We're so far from the cities now that we barely see people, never mind masks.

Posted by
1286 posts

Good morning, Catherine, but I guess it's good evening for you. We didn't go to Ankara on either of our trips to Turkey. We took an overnight bus from Gorema, Cappadocia to Antalya and bypassed Ankara. It seems like it's a modern city but I seem to remember there are some historical sights there. Are you spending much time there?

Posted by
2639 posts

My Journal is 50TL at the Rest Stop

Identical journal. I sure am glad I didn't pay 350 TL at the Grand Bazaar!

Posted by
2639 posts

Good morning, Carol!

We arrived in Ankara in time for dinner last night. We visited the archaeological museum this morning, and the Atatürk Mausoleum is in Ankara. We had lunch and are driving to Cappadocia.

The landscape has changed from green hills to the city to now flat farmland. Not yet the rocky scenery of Cappadocia.

Posted by
1286 posts

Catherine, we flew from Istanbul to Cappadocia and got a car there but turned it in because the drive was too long from there to Antalya. We got a car in Antalya and returned it a week later in Izmir and flew back to Istanbul. That was our first trip. Turkey is a big country with so many historic sights and beautiful scenery and architecture. It's hard to plan a trip because we have to leave out so many worthwhile sights.

I'm so glad you're finding Turkey as exciting, beautiful, and delicious as we did. 🙂

Posted by
2639 posts

ATMs at 2nd Rest Stop

Best of Turkey, Day 4 on the drive to Cappadocia. A row of ATMs. The first one I tried didn't like something. The 2nd one worked.

Posted by
2639 posts

Flying High With No Fear

I am crazy afraid of heights. Walking across bridges scares me. I had trouble walking along the path along the Snake River canyon... it's about 20 feet from the edge.

The balloon ride didn't bother me a bit.

I'm glad I took a non drowsy dramamine for the windy drive to the site. And very glad I had sturdy shoes... we had a short trek from landing to minivan through grass and weeds and along a dirt track.

The balloon ride itself was peaceful, though our landing may not have been their preferred location!

Credit cards ok. Slight discount for cash.

Posted by
2639 posts

Correct. And no further comment.

I'll be happy to answer questions via private message for anyone deciding about their upcoming Best of Turkey tour experience. The situation here likely wouldn't apply to the other tours.

Posted by
27713 posts

I'm so very glad that the balloon trip was as good as you hoped - maybe better - and that your brain and bod didn't play up.

I'm expecting pics at the next zoom. Wow! Can you tell that I'm a little jealous - nay, a proper lot. Wow!

I worried a little - you've done Great! Well Done...

Posted by
2639 posts

Thank you, Nigel, I'm surprising myself! I didn't have to overcome the fear, there just wasn't any.

Today: sturdy shoes for UUUUUPPPPP and DOOWWWN the "streets" of this little town. The residents must be in great shape.

Posted by
2639 posts

Laundry

My laundry is hanging on the line to dry, thanks to the Upper Greek House hotel. 200 TL cash.

Posted by
2639 posts

A Bit More About That Landing

Our balloon conductor announced "10 minutes to landing." Two minutes later he hurriedly said "landing positions." Weird, we wondered, where did the other 8 minutes go?

Still, we dutifully grabbed the hand holds, bent our knees and crouched. And honestly, the landing wasn't the problem, but rather the location - as we skidded through a small tree and bumped through the scrub grass, then tilted down a tiny slope. No danger at all, except for avoiding tree branches as they scraped by.

Balloon dilemma: how do we get out of here? Normally you let the balloon deflate, they pick you up and you go drink mimosas.

But we were surrounded by scrub grass and vineyards and a camper's tent. We basically had to take off again, just a couple of feet, to position ourselves onto the truck bed.

After many attempts and a few tilty balloon basket moments later, they dragged us to open space. New problem... through a narrow dirt track with bushes and trees on both sides. One guy had to climb up into a tree to free the lines and try to keep their expensive livelihood from ripping.

After a few close calls with trees, and ducking to avoid being skewered by a branch, they got us into a clearing and we were rewarded with our mimosas.

As an aside, there's a technical university in the area specifically for learning the skills of ballooning. Perhaps we were part of their Balloon Landings 101 class.

This usually doesn't happen. We're told.

Posted by
2639 posts

I'm Never Leaving

I want to stay forever at our "hotel" in Cappadocia. It's the most adorable place ever. Each room is different.... we all toured each other's rooms. Some are little hobbit dwellings. One room is halfway up the stairs. Another has a little loft thing.

If I test positive, could I please do my time here?

I'll show photos at our East Bay Travel Group meeting on June 11 if you remind me. Feel free to join us... search the Travel Group Meetings section.

Posted by
1286 posts

Are you in a cave hotel? Which town, did I miss it?

Posted by
3344 posts

A bit more about that landing -Nothing like an exciting end to a balloon journey! “l’ll have a double Mimosa- yes please!” Enjoying your “expect the unexpected.” Ahhh… memorable.

Posted by
2018 posts

Thank you for posting. I’m so enjoying your tour reporting. I have been on the Istanbul City and the (now defunct, sadly!) Villages Turkey tours and both were wonderful. I learned so much! One highlight in Istanbul was the unexpected appearance of the Patriarch head of the Eastern Orthodox Church when we visited St George’s Cathedral. Saying he “loves Americans”, he graciously allowed his photo to be taken with our group. This is one of my most favorite travel memories. I am hoping to take the Best of Turkey tour sometime soon, too. I treasure our time there..

Posted by
2639 posts

Are you in a cave hotel? Which town, did I miss it?

We're in Mustafa Paşa in the Cappadocia area.

I don't think it's one of the cave hotels. The roster says we're in the Cappadocia Estates, but I thought we saw those across town. There's another Best of Turkey tour, 2 days behind us, and they may be over there.

I'll check the name tomorrow.

Posted by
2639 posts

Ahhh… memorable

You're so right, Janis. We all agreed that anyone could have a smooth balloon landing, but few would have a story like ours.

I do wonder how the debrief went!

Posted by
2639 posts

Andi, I'm glad this is bringing back good memories. It sounds like you had some great moments! These are my first Rich Steves tours, and I'm sure all the destinations are fabulous. But it sure seems like Turkey must be the best!

I'm curious about the Village Turkey tour and whether it went any of the same places Best of Turkey goes.

Posted by
1556 posts

I’m not afraid of heights but I am afraid of crash landing! What an experience! Several of our tour mates opted out of the experience. We decided to opt out because insurance does not cover the activity.

Posted by
2639 posts

I thought about insurance, Diane, and contacted Nationwide. They cover being a passenger in a hot air balloon, as it is neither considered an Extreme Sport nor an Adventure Sport, per their definitions. One of those categories referred to "high altitude activities" as not being covered, so I contacted them specifically on this topic and was surprised that it was covered.

My regular health insurance covers me internationally, in any case, so Nationwide travel coverage would have been for Trip Interruption.

It pays to ask and is important to be sure.

Posted by
2639 posts

We are staying at the Upper Greek House. It looks a bit like some of the places that call themselves cave hotels ... made of local stone, no apparent rhyme or reason to the layout, each room shaped differently. So it has tons of local character, but "cave" doesn't come to my mind.

ETA: the description does refer to cave bedrooms. I didn't know, thanks Carol!

Posted by
2639 posts

One tour member took the balloon ride today and said they had a textbook perfect landing on the balloon trailer rig. The way it's supposed to be.

Posted by
2639 posts

Hi Mom, if you're reading this, we didn't crash land. We were skimming nicely along the ground. It just wasn't great terrain for a balloon landing. Had it been a grass field, it would have been a perfect soft landing.

The riskiest thing we have planned now is the carpet demonstration and not getting carried away to buy a $52,000 Turkish carpet!

Posted by
2639 posts

Things to Collect

The ATM will spit out 100TL bills. The small vendors may snarl (but not bite) if you try to buy a 35TL hot air balloon keychain with it. Same as at home.

A collection of small bills and coins for the occasional pay toilets (2 or 2.5TL) will be valuable. Restrooms at the rest stops are often free, but not always. The attendant can make change.

Shopping tip: early on, buy a little a Turkish change purse for your small bills and coin collection.

Posted by
2639 posts

I Bought a Turkish Carpet

I didn't think I would. In fact, I had given up. They didn't seem to have anything I would want. Then Guide Mine helped translate my color preferences. Off we went to a different room, full of choices and sizes!

They will ship to your home, free of charge, courtesy of the Turkish government.

Posted by
27713 posts

oh my. Don't have to Carry it On?!!??? Or stash it under the bus?

Stop Press - C's house undergoes personality adjustment - open for inspection in a future zoom !!!

Oh, by the way, as some know I watch numbers (not closely) but this is post 200 on this thread.... what a busy girl and happy fellow travellers following her every step (and gentle balloon landing).... 😁

Posted by
2639 posts

Indeed, Nigel, the house is undergoing a transformation. In fact, I had brought a photo.... just in case.... as a color swatch.

Now we're off to the pottery place, shipping not included.

Posted by
2639 posts

To Tour or not to Tour

I design pretty good solo travels. Lots of interesting sights and activities.

There is no way I could have accomplished all of the Best of Turkey, in this amount of time, at this level of interest and variety, with virtually no travel stress. What a great decision this was for me.

I look forward to future discussions of "tour vs. Independent" with personal experience of both.

And Guide Mine is a genuinely delightful person, interested in ensuring that each person's tour experience exceeds their expectations.

It helps that there are no grumps on our tour. Wonderful people, cheering each other on, watching out for each other. Some of us becoming friends.

Posted by
2639 posts

200 Nigel?!?

Only 2400 (or more) to catch up to your epic thread!!

Posted by
1286 posts

Catherine, cave rooms are not the cave you would imagine! We stayed in one in Goreme, very nicely appointed. Fun except for the short doorway. Ok for me but Tony left some of his scalp there :)

Posted by
2639 posts

Carol, our cave room is also very nicely appointed with a clean, modern bathroom.

Posted by
1286 posts

So glad you're having a good time. The cave rooms are probably recently updated. In 2011 our cave room bathroom was very modern. It's truly an experience!

Posted by
2639 posts

Laundry Packing Tip

The Upper Greek House has laundry lines that hang over the edge of the upstairs balcony. During the day, they use the lines to dry guest laundry (see earlier post.) In the evening they are available for guest use. It gets very windy up here at night so, if you are staying here (some tours do not) and want to do any of your own laundry during the 3 night stay, you may wish to add laundry pins/clips to your packing list.

Or figure out how to scramble down the hotel walls to retrieve your dirty-again socks from the cave ruins next door.

Posted by
2639 posts

Bill Gates and Ash in Turkey?

We are having breakfast indoors this morning because there is a thick layer of ash/dust covering everything. The sky is completely obscured. I'm sure balloons cannot fly.

The man at the hotel kindly cautioned me not to sit down or my clothes would be covered.

The explanation included pointing to the sky and the dusty tables and clearly saying several times something about Bill Gates. Does he influence the skies over Turkey?

This will require some clarification.

Posted by
2639 posts

Not Bill Gates

Something in Turkish must sound like "Bill Gates" because apparently he has nothing to do with the skies, full of dust blowing up from the south: Saudi Arabia, or maybe monsoons from India. Camel weather, like dusty fog. For non-camels, masks will have a new purpose.

The tour behind us did not get their balloon ride, along with thousands of others now backed up and hoping for tomorrow, which is already full with its own reservations.

This only happens about twice per year. Fingers crossed for them!!

Posted by
2639 posts

Pottery Museum

We opted to stop at the Pottery Museum. Good decision! This was the most colorful 200 year family collection of extraordinary ceramics, handmade, some by master artisans, a few of whom we saw at work.

I bought a framed tile in my favorite colors with beautiful symbols of Islam. I knew it was mine when I saw it.

The carry-on dilemma will have to be solved later. I'd be fine on United, but not sure about Sun Express from Izmir to Munich.

There are so many surprises along this tour, not on the itinerary. I am so happy for those of you who will be going. A bit selfishly because I'll get to relive it through your eyes this fall!!

This is my trip of a lifetime.

Posted by
2639 posts

Turkish Hospitality

The staff of the Upper Greek House all came out to wave goodbye after getting to know them during our 3 night stay. Such kindness.

The manager oversees several properties. A new breakfast waiter was in training, watched closely by his boss, the breakfast table set according to strict instruction.

We have 2 young ladies who are highly allergic to walnuts. I moved the small bowl of them away from the girls. The trainee noticed they were out of place and swiftly moved them back.

And again.

We gestured to explain the situation so that he understood it was ok to leave them and he wouldn't be corrected.

Posted by
1348 posts

Catherine we are really following in your footsteps! --we are also on Sun Express from Izmir to Munich. Please report on that flight too!

Posted by
2639 posts

Will do, Andrea!

As of when I left home, Sun Express didn't recognize me, even with their reservation number. I hope United has had a word with them.

Posted by
2639 posts

My Favorite Little Mosque

If I were going to attend a Mosque, it would be the friendly little Mosque in Güzelyurt, on the way to Konya.

Built in 1992, in all my favorite colors, the interior is decorated in all my favorite tile patterns, with beautiful, soft carpet. I could be happy to go there 5 times a day!

The young imam is so friendly and patient with our Islam 101 questions. His gentle smile says "I understand your question, my friend, let me explain."

The imam says he doesn't have a good voice for prayers: his chanted prayer for us sounded perfect to me. Like an acoustic performance of a favorite soulful song, I didn't want it to end.

I can understand why someone would find peace in that little Mosque.

Posted by
2639 posts

Riddle Me This, Secular Democracy

I thought I was beginning to understand the culture of this secular democracy, founded by Atatürk, with their separation of church and state.

And then the imam, translated by Guide Mine, mentioned the governmental Department of Religious Culture!!! With its director appointed by the president.

Huh???

I did follow the answer, and it makes sense. My oversimplification is that it keeps the religion centered, avoiding extremism. It doesn't mandate anything, including participation.

But wow, watch out for those linguistic "false friends" - the same words don't necessarily mean the same thing.

Posted by
2639 posts

Good Shoes a Must

Even on our long bus days we've walked 5+ miles. On cobblestones. Dusty uphill roads. Uneven downhill paths. We even went off roading in Mustafa Paşa in search of some cave ruins and a path that used to drop down into town.

I'm feeling pretty smug about having my 3 pairs of sturdy shoes/sandals to switch between.

Posted by
2639 posts

Where's my Whisper?

I started out with my whisper (audio to listen to the guide) hanging from its strap around my neck. That got old fast, tangled in everything.

Shirt Pocket - a great option, I just leave it in there

Nurses pants pocket - if your ear wires are long enough, this pocket where nurses put their cellphones is even better.

Purse pocket - my least favorite, gets tangled in the purse strap when you go through the security checks at every museum.

Posted by
435 posts

Thank you, CWsocial. I am enjoying this trip report very much. I've been to Turkey 3 times and as recently as last May and this report makes me want to go again (soon!).
Türkiye is a beautiful country and remains one of my favourite. Continue to enjoy.

Posted by
1348 posts

Catherine, I had the same problem with my Sun Express booking number, and it was causing me anxiety. I finally figured out it only works on their app, not a desktop/laptop computer. Have you tried installing the app?

Posted by
2639 posts

Andrea, great tip! I have not tried the app. We'll be in a business type hotel tonight in Konya that should have good wifi, so I'll give that a shot. Thanks!

ETA: OK, they at least recognize my booking on the app. And I can take 30kg of luggage, but it's not clear how many pieces. The United guy assured me it would be their baggage policies that prevail. We shall see.

Posted by
2639 posts

Bring Your Own Headphones

The provided ones don't seem to last. And even my own cheap pair went bad so I'm glad to have a spare. Wired only. No bluetooth.

The Whisper audio device takes a type B (asymmetrical) USB cord. The guide supplies one charger per room, with a very short USB cable. If you bring your own cable, you can charge 2 devices at once. And it'll probably be longer than their supplied one.

Posted by
2639 posts

Contrasts

The contrast between Mustafa Paşa in Cappadocia and Konya couldn't be greater: country character and big city modern. Konya has high tech: we passed solar companies and a Mercedes dealer.

Cave hotel rooms vs business modern.

The Konya light rail looks sleek and modern. In Cappadocia, a tuk tuk John Deere type vehicle rumbled over the rutted roads during my morning walk.

We're headed out for an evening orientation.

Posted by
940 posts

Mardee, what kinds of things will you do on a return trip? Would you go to Istanbul or to other areas?

I would definitely visit Istanbul again - I loved that city. I would really like to head farther east on another trip, although I'm not sure how feasible that is. I would also like to revisit Fethiye, but spend more time there exploring other places on the coastal line.

Posted by
2639 posts

Fun, Mardee! I don't know much about the east either, since the tour is only in the west. Our guide told us stories but they're from 20 years ago.

Posted by
2639 posts

Rose Vaseline

The combination of dry air, air conditioning and the dust storm yesterday were too much for my nose. So off I went to the eczane (pharmacist) for saline solution and vaseline.

The delightful pharmacist had just opened his shop. The extent of his English was "thank you." Google Translate (Turkish language previously downloaded) to the rescue. A few gestures, pantomimes and key translated words later and we were at the vaseline shelf.

No, not that inexpensive, but large one. Smaller, smaller I showed with my hands. How about this small rose smelling one, he asked with his eyes? Yes, perfect, I replied with an enthusiastic smile!

He showed me the price for my 2 items, 100TL, on his calculator. No bag, thank you, I pointed to my purse.

Thank you, he said, his only English. Thank you, I said with my hands, because I still massacre it in Turkish.

As I left the shop and walked past him in his shop window he gave the most gracious smile and blew a warm kiss of new friendship.

Posted by
2639 posts

Packing Tip: dramamine, less drowsy

Today, Day 8, is the long and winding road from Konya to Antalya. Tomorrow is the (optional, 600TL cash) boat ride.

Several of us are chewing dramamine.

Even if you aren't in the front seat, the huge, panoramic bus windows are ideal for gazing off in the distance.

Posted by
2639 posts

Allergies, not COVID

3 tour members tested negative today, suffering from allergies and dust, not COVID.

It's a good - not perfect - indicator for the rest of us.

Posted by
2639 posts

Turkish Speed Trap?

No, probably just one of the 4 foot long cardboard cars with flashing police lights, positioned periodically to keep drivers on their toes. Or off the gas, in this case.

Posted by
2639 posts

Rose Aromatherapy

The Rose Vaseline inside my N95-turned-dust mask is lovely! I wonder if it comes in lemon or menthol!

Posted by
2639 posts

Turkish Landscape

As one tour member just said, there isn't any one Turkish landscape. Today's drive reminds me of highway 36 driving to Boulder, Colorado, with the approaching mountains with a few remaining laces of snow providing the backdrop to farmlands and fields of spring flowers.

Ladies are bent over in the fields. And there's a patch growing colorful flowers for sale at markets. Perfect rows of tall white flowers, short purple ones, maybe salvia or lavender. A small tractor doing the heavy work.

Posted by
2639 posts

Electronic Tip: Google Map for Turkey

If you pre-download the Google map for greater Western Turkey, you can follow along the drive and see where you are. Without a data plan.

The blue dot shows we're halfway from Konya to Antalya, approaching the green swath of the Taurus Mountains.

Or follow along on the plastic covered map clipped at the front of the bus where Guide Mine occasionally points out our route and location.

Posted by
2639 posts

I Don't Want to Miss a Thing

I don't want to close my eyes
I don't want to fall asleep
'Cause I'd miss [the view]
And I don't want to miss a thing

Songwriter: Diane Warren

Posted by
4984 posts

Cathy, what a fantastic report! I love the idea of filing your report as you travel. Wish I had thought of it; we just finished our second RSE tour this season, and I’m dreading putting the reports together.

I just told Stan I’m reading the best trip report ever; he can’t wait to follow along.

Posted by
1348 posts

Jane, you're lucky Stan has the enthusiasm. I keep describing the things in the report to Chris and his eyes glaze over. No chance he'd read it.

It's not that he won't be enthusiastic and love our tour, once we are on it, it's just that the pre-planning, discussing, enthusing, etc, doesn't matter at all to him.

I guess that's why I turn to all of you!

Posted by
2639 posts

Oh Jane, thank you! I know I couldn't have organized things afterwards. This has been a lot easier to jot little notes as I think of them.

And a lot more fun!

Andrea, my dog wants no part of any of it. I'm very glad for all of you!

Posted by
2639 posts

My Pictures Finally Uploaded

The wifi at the last 2 places couldn't handle the load, but my pictures finally uploaded at Ninova Pension in Antalya. And the garden is pretty spectacular. Which all makes up for the promised Rick Steves bag schlep, this tour's third one of note.

So I changed my mind, this is my new "Plan B" hotel!

Posted by
1556 posts

Interesting that the boat ride is optional. It want when we went. We didn’t go far. People did jump off for a swim. The coast is beautiful from the sea.

Posted by
1143 posts

Catherine, our boat ride was included (in 2002.)
It was a wonderful afternoon motoring up the coast and then swimming in the sea.
The included lunch prepared by the crew was also memorable.
I hope that you go.

Posted by
2639 posts

Oh I'm going on the boat ride for sure! I think everyone is. And it's 400TL...I might have said 600 up thread. So $25.

Tomorrow is billed as the vacation from our vacation day, so everything is optional: boat ride, Turkish bath, a museum, which may be included in our museum pass.

Posted by
1732 posts

We were on the last Turkey tour that did the boat trip in 2012 I believe. Our guide Taylan informed us of this so we considered ourselves lucky. It was a nice outing that included lunch and swimming.

Posted by
370 posts

So glad you are writing this report! Can’t wait to talk to you next week.

Posted by
1348 posts

Catherine, is there time to do both the Turkish bath and the boat?

Posted by
2639 posts

My Heart Will Go On

Yes, they played it. And "The Love Boat." How can you not enjoy the nostalgia when you're motoring in your private double decker boat on the Mediterranean, with drinks for sale. Fruit and cookies, no lunch.

And then you're swimming in the Mediterranean. Another first for me? Maybe. We paddled around a bit, floated easily in the salty water, then discovered the 2m diving board and took turns.

The boat has a hose for a quick fresh water rinse, and a bit of a sun dry while motoring back. I brought a small cloth to dry my face. They supplied towels.

We opted to go from the boat to lunch and a museum. Still wet hair. Not yet dry swimsuit.

Worth it for that cool dip in the Mediterranean! Can we do it again tomorrow?!?!?

Posted by
2639 posts

is there time to do both the Turkish bath and the boat?

Yes! In fact, we went to lunch and a Museum and took the tram to arrive back at the hotel by 4pm. The Turkish Bath group are leaving the hotel at 5:30pm.

Turkish Bath 600TL cash, plus cash tip. About $40!!!

Posted by
2639 posts

How Much?

Dinner tonight: grilled calamari steak, enormous tomato and cucumber salad, soda and a glass of white wine.

Where: an open air restaurant in the heart of tourist Antalya, at a seaside table overlooking the Mediterranean.

Restaurant: Mermerli, 10 minute walk from Ninova Pension.

Cost: 330 TL / $20.75 with tip.

Posted by
2639 posts

Cost of Meals

$356.98 for 17 days; $21 / day
- includes lunches and dinners
- 2 days before tour and during tour
- includes wine, snacks, water bottles
- does not include breakfasts
- mix of street food and some very nice sit down meals

0.5L Water Bottles
- 5TL on the bus (keep track, pay at the end)
- 3TL at rest stops
- 10TL in tourist areas?

Posted by
27713 posts

oh dear this sounds like settling up. Not at all the playful fun loving bit.

I have an 'orrible feeling this adventure is coming to a close. Sad. 😢

Posted by
2 posts

Oh I am so glad to have found this thread. We were supposed to be on a Best of Turkey tour now but a COVID exposure before we left changed our plans. We are now rescheduled for a mid-October trip. Can't wait! Thank you for the wonderful day-by-day commentary!

Posted by
2639 posts

No worries, Nigel, just waking up to Day 10 of 13!

Off to Pamukkale. A city with kale in the name? But rhymes with .... hmmm... what does it rhyme with? Sale? No. Ukelele? No. Valet? No. Pray ... yes, just the last bit.

Anyone?

Posted by
2639 posts

I hope you had a Turkish bath....??

SJ, yes we did!! In Istanbul. We didn't do this one in Antalya. I heard it was just as wonderful, bubbles and all.

And cheap compared to Istanbul. About 600TL here (maybe $40 with tip) vs roughly 2800 / €135 in Istanbul.

Similar services. Maybe not identical. Istanbul vs Antalya.

Posted by
2639 posts

dfollman18, you may have been on our tour as our roster dropped from 21 to 19 at the last moment.

The good news is that when our tour is behind us, you will have yours to look forward to!

Posted by
2639 posts

About 1/3 of a mile

This morning's return to the bus was 750 - 1000 steps, cobblestones through the pedestrian zone and bumpy sidewalks to the bus.

And our bags have multiplied! Everyone has a shopping bag of snacks and critical, but heavy, bottled water.

And the souvenir bags, of course! Though RS tour veterans know those can go in the under bus compartment for long term storage that you don't bring in to every stop.

Today we need a swimsuit bag for use at the Cleopatra pools.

Posted by
2639 posts

From Palm Trees to Pine Trees

We've left the seaside and are heading over the mountains. Guide Mine says it's not a dramamine day, but I just took one anyway. As we start to gain elevation, it's a 4 lane (2 each way) divided highway, not winding through the mountains but definitely meandering to stay between the rocky slopes.

Guide Mine is so caring - and presumably would prefer to avoid a puke stop. She just came back to see if I wanted the front seat. Nope, I'm good with a big window. And apparently this winding bit is brief. The bus is getting a workout and my ears are popping.

The front seat of our bus has largely had the view to itself.

Posted by
2639 posts

Above Treeline

As anywhere, little homesteads dot the slopes and valleys of the mountain range. And here's a town, all white houses with red tile roofs. My California perspective makes me hope they would deter a fire, though it's mostly rocky up here.

The bus shows the temperature has decreased from 25C to 19C. I'm learning to think in lira and Celsius; Turkish? Not so much.

Posted by
2639 posts

Resort Hotel & a New Sewing Kit

I used my emergency sewing kit for the first time when I popped a button. Liking the food much? Still, I walked nearly 8 miles the past 2 days, and yesterday was a long bus day. It must have been loose when I left. Hah!

I replaced the sewing kit here at our 1 night stay at the Pamukkale Lycus River resort hotel, which boasts a huge outdoor pool and 2 thermal pools, one indoor, one outdoor.

Other emergency kit items:

I've used sunscreen every single day.

One of the young gals wearing sandals was also wearing bandaids on her blisters. I've been wearing sandals nearly every day since Istanbul with no problems.

I haven't used any stomach meds since the first few days. Same routine: eating everything in the hotels and restaurants, including salads, raw fruit and veggies. I haven't been drinking hotel water, regardless of signage. This one has a do not drink sign, even though it's a fancy resort.

I wash fruit from markets in bottled water if I eat it. Usually I don't, but most others do and they just take some Pepto if needed.

Posted by
2639 posts

Calcified Cliffs and Steep Climbs

Day 10 Best of Turkey

My trusty Aetrex (not Naot, as I described them above) were easy to take off when we waded in the calcified pools, and sturdy enough to make the steep, hot climb up to the Roman Theater, which still hosts events. Good thing we've been putting in the mileage to be in shape to hike to the top!

The Instagrammers know to go early to avoid the human chaos on the cliffs, which looked much more peaceful this morning from the photo opp below, where the only chaos was the geese on the little lake.

Posted by
2639 posts

Small Town Big Market

Day 10 Best of Turkey

It's as if a Walmart and a Dollar Store and a Home Depot and a produce market each unrolled their wares in the cobblestone lanes of this little town.

This area had clothing. Need an extra shirt or skirt? Over here were farm implements and hardware. Did you forget a charger in a hotel room? Or need a new headset? They've got it.

And don't forget to visit the produce market where friendly vendors were chatting with their regular customers, and still took time to sell me one banana. With a genuinely friendly smile.

The lady at the sewing notions table could have sold me a needle and thread, and even a new button if I'd needed it. She was the perfect person for a Rick Steves video, in her "baggy pants" and scarf, with a smile that said she was happy to see me.

I will remember the market. I have pictures so I will never forget the friendly man who sold me the banana and the auntie whose smile must warm her grandchildrens' hearts.

Posted by
2639 posts

Which Purse?

Wandering around the restored Theater in the Roman city of Aphrodisias, I was glad I had a bag in which to carry my sunhat, an 0.5L bottle of water, my museum pass for entry and an accessible pocket to grab my phone for pictures. My hands were free to scramble around on the unevenly restored seats and stairs.

Our hottest day, it's 30C at 13:45.
ETA: high temp was 35C / 95F!!

A little ruins cat was snoozing on a shady old block of stone. Does he get fed like his city cousins?

Posted by
2639 posts

Country Mosque City Mosque

When I drive through the northeast of the US, I love to see the white church steeples. Driving through the Turkish countryside, it's the minarets. Each little town and community has its Mosque. The church bells ring the time of day. The minarets sound the Calls to Prayer.

Each brings its community together in prayer.

From home, perhaps I saw differences. Here,
I hope I've learned to recognize similarities.

Posted by
2639 posts

We're arriving in Kuşadasi. Tomorrow is Ephesus!!

Posted by
1732 posts

I am enjoying your day to day reports and may adopt this format myself for our next upcoming tours. We did the RS Turkey tour many years ago and enjoyed it as well. Your reports are refreshing my memories of the tour even though some aspects of the tour have of course changed over time. Did you swim in the Cleopatra pool at Pammukale? That was so fun. I had a mulberry ice cream after the swim. Delicious!

Posted by
2639 posts

Thanks, Mary! Glad it's bringing back good memories. We did not swim at the Cleopatra Pool, though a few of our tour members did. The mulberry ice cream sounds like the perfect apres-swim treat!

Posted by
2639 posts

Negative Self Test

Drat! This might have been a lovely place to quarantine. We've got a sliding door that opens to a 5th floor side view of the Aegean Sea and the cruise ship port. I could have read books with the door open to let in the sea breeze.

But if the real test confirms the self test, we'll be going home. Until then, 2 more full days (1 tour and 1 extra) of adventures!

Posted by
1286 posts

Love your quote re steeples and minarets- from home perhaps I saw differences, from here I recognize similarities. Isn't that what travel is about? Isn't that part of why we travel - to experience other countries, other ways of living and recognize that there's not one 'right way'. These experiences and differences may be what we have been missing these last two years.

Posted by
27713 posts

From home, perhaps I saw differences. Here,
I hope I've learned to recognize similarities.

Love it. Absolutely love it!

and the sentiment, "Drat". I get that one too...

Posted by
27713 posts

3 weeks to fall in love with Turkey

Looks like it worked...

Posted by
2639 posts

Rooftop Pool With a View

We're enjoying a sea breeze from comfy chairs at the rooftop pool of the Hotel Ilayda Avantgarde in Kuşadası.

We're at eye level with the best suites of the 2 enormous cruise ships, just 200 yards away. The Greek island of Samos is visible across the Aegean Sea, which we stuck our toes in this afternoon. Hundreds of small ships are in the harbor, protected from the sea by a rocky peninsula with a small lighthouse.

Tonight is our farewell dinner, so we'll have to wait until tomorrow night to see the sunset from up here.

Thank goodness we've booked an extra day in Kuşadası!!

Posted by
2639 posts

Looks like it worked...

I already have a hint of an idea for my next visit!

Posted by
1348 posts

Sounds idyllic. Let us know what you do with your extra day. We've booked three additional nights there. DH just wants to stroll and swim and eat. I'm okay with that!

Posted by
2639 posts

Our guide suggested a place called Charisma beach or spa, a small resort type place where you can rent a beach chair for the day and hang out.

We're planning to make better use of the rooftop pool and explore the nearby shopping.

Posted by
1143 posts

On my tour Lale told us that some of the shops offered a discount to customers who were staying in hotels rather than cruise ships.
I bought some lovely gold earrings!

Posted by
2639 posts

Zaide

There is a lot of shopping near the cruise ship harbor. Clothes. Trinkets. Shoes. Prices marked in Euros or Dollars. Shopkeepers were surprised when we asked for prices in Turkish Lira and they had to scramble to do the calculation.

Deeper in the maze, we found some handcraft shops where the artisans were the shopkeepers. Some expressed disdain at the transition away from tradition and quality to selling (what they referred to as) junk.

One artisan owner overheard our discussion of Turquoise vs "aqua" stones, as another merchant had described his jewelry. In her excellent English, she explained the tactic and saved my friend from an expensive mistake. (Though the piece was still very pretty, just perhaps not worth the selling price.)

We then spent 30 minutes chatting and buying jewelry and scarves with handcrafted decorations from the 3 sisters who had named their shop after their mother. They were selling pieces in the styles they had learned from her to make.

"Zaide" was their mother's name. And we have a picture of the 3 sisters as a souvenir of our lovely shopping connection.

Posted by
2639 posts

I bought some lovely gold earrings!

SharYn, I think we'll be looking today for more of those quality shops. And maybe a last trinket or two!

Posted by
2639 posts

Inflation is Everywhere

When Guide Mine was last in Kuşadası - just a few weeks ago - for a tour, the cost for the toilets was 3 TL. Yesterday it was 4TL.

Fortunately for you fall travelers, the exchange rate has gotten more favorable also, as we've watched it creep up during our 3 weeks.

Please do not buy any Turkish Lira in advance.

PS - contactless cards have been the easiest to use. Cards that insert into the machines are also perfect. I've never once used the PIN for my new credit card, though of course I've used the PIN for my ATM card.

Posted by
2639 posts

Andrea, you may want to check the cruise ship schedule to see how many ships wil be docked in Kuşadası during your extra days and choose activities accordingly.

There are none here today, a noticeable change from yesterday. Monday there will be 5, to the delight of the shopkeepers and guides.

Posted by
2639 posts

Painstaking Restorations

The ruins at Ephesus are astonishing. The public buildings .... stadium for 25,000, library and baths ..... exceed anything that I recall from my travels. Or maybe it's been too long for me to clearly remember the Parthenon in Athens, the Coliseum in Rome and the streets of Pompeii.

I definitely do not remember seeing anything that has blown my mind like the residences of Ephesus, being painstakingly restored with the effort of thousands of graduate student hours, recreating floor and wall mosaics, refreshing Roman frescoes that depict the fashions of the times and dozens of hillside homes with glass walkways that allow visitors to see into the lives of the former residents.

Wow.

We are fortunate there are computer simulations and people with the patience and will for this remarkable work.

Posted by
2639 posts

DH just wants to stroll and swim

This hotel pool is teeny tiny, but cold enough to counter today's mid 80s temperatures so that you can stay longer to appreciate the Aegean view.

The Charisma beach club costs 400 TL for the day, which gives you a place for the day on their beach plus 100TL on a refillable card you can use towards drinks or services.

Posted by
27713 posts

I hadn't worked out (yeah, he loves geography, but has not a clue about Turkey) that you were anywhere near Ephesus. Wow! It sounds fab.

On your own or with a guide?

Posted by
2639 posts

On your own or with a guide?

Ephesus was our last big hurrah with Guide Mine and the last full day of the Best of Turkey.

The poolside lounging today is a self-guided tour up to the 8th Floor.

Posted by
1348 posts

Thanks Catherine for the link. I had checked the port schedule on a different website, and it was incorrect. Looks like a fair few cruisers around on a couple of days.

Posted by
652 posts

Hi Catherine,
Thank you so much for your trip report! It's been such a pleasure to wake up every morning and read your tour updates on the RS forum. Sounds like you had a wonderful trip to Turkey!. So happy for you!
Christine

Posted by
2639 posts

You Don't Have to be a Pigeon

Fine non-neathered friends can stroll right out to Pigeon Island from the Kuşadası hotel. It's not far... you can see it from the harbor, if the cruise ships aren't in the way. And no wings required to wander out along the peninsula and circle the fort to see the lighthouse. Why's it called an island then? Perhaps it should be called Pigeon Lollipop.

But then lollipop lovers would be disappointed.

You will not be disappointed with the amazing views looking out to the Aegean Sea or back at the Kuşadası harbor.

Posted by
2639 posts

Hi Christine!

I'm so glad you've enjoyed my travels to Turkiyë, as it's now officially known.

My poor spell check was just learning to deal with Kuşadası.

Posted by
2639 posts

Packing Tip

I can confirm that the expandable section of a carry on bag is the perfect size to take home a framed Turkish tile wrapped in bubble wrap. And some tea and spices from the Space Market. And a medium box of Turkish Delight.

In case you were wondering.

Posted by
1286 posts

Catherine - just one medium box of Turkish Delight?? Such willpower!

Posted by
7688 posts

What a treat to join you as you travel in Turkey!
I think we need to return for another visit!

Posted by
1556 posts

Ephesus is mind blowing! The homes were amazing. I enjoyed the library, communal latrine and all of the cats. The cats are well cared for.

Posted by
2639 posts

Carol, the problem is the tile. More specifically the framed tile. I had to sacrifice more Turkish Delight to get it to fit!

And I had to use my space bags. They were empty on the way out, but they're being put to use on the way home!

Posted by
2639 posts

Suki, me too! Then I can bring 2 suitcases and buy more tiles.

Posted by
2639 posts

Diane, mind blowing is just the phrase I was looking for!!

Apparently they had musicians at the communal latrines. And why not.

Posted by
27713 posts

live music while you go? altogether? wow...

dunno ... tile? genuine Turkish Delight? ... hmmm.... which to leave.... tough call!

Posted by
2639 posts

I'm up early for breakfast, thanks to the adjusted schedule for the Best of Turkey group immediately behind us. They did get their balloon ride...2 days late due to the sky blocking dust storm.

They're off to Ephesus early, intending to arrive before the invasion of the tours from the cruise ship that just pulled in.

I wish I could join them for an Ephesus encore. Next visit!

Posted by
2639 posts

Nigel, no contest. Turkish Delight will be gone. The Turkish tile I can dust forever!

Posted by
2639 posts

SunExpress Izmir to Munich

Andrea, everything with SunExpress has gone smoothly and we're at our gate in Izmir.

SunExpress never recognized their own reference number, so I could not check in online.

We left the hotel at 830am on a Friday and we're at our gate at 1015 for 1030 boarding and an 1130 flight.

At the airport international terminal:

First was a general airport screening. Not TSA of course.

Next we checked in at Sun Express with lots of stations off to the left. 1 person in line ahead of us. Checked bag - on the weight scale - through to our final destination.

In perfect English she asked to see my passport and my negative test. She provided my 2 boarding passes.

A nearby lady had no test. No vaccine. She wasn't going anywhere.

I asked if my 20" backpack was ok. She glanced - no weighing or sizing - said yes, and added a cabin sticker. My friend didn't ask about her traditional backpack. The lady didn't even look at it.

I asked if I could take 2 items or if I needed to stuff my purse in the backpack. Two is fine.

Next line is passport control and we got our picture taken, visa stamp check (did not have to show paper copy) and a souvenir passport stamp.

Then gate security, not much different than the first security check. Better screeners maybe. No need to remove shoes or liquids. That will be in Germany.

Free toilets. And then our gate downstairs. Looks like a bus to our plane.

It's past 1030 boarding time. Just sitting here.
11:00 gate staff have arrived. Now standing here.
1115 random chaotic bus loading with passport and boarding pass check.
1122 on plane. 1130 departure? It seems so!

Some people have roller bags. Are they on our flight? Update: Yes, roller bags on board.

Next stop, Munich.

Posted by
27713 posts

Have a pretzel on me. Great story. Thanks again.

By the way I'll send you my address for the Turkish Delight....

ooopppss too late - drat

Posted by
1348 posts

Thanks Catherine for the information on SunExpress. Glad the airport check in was fine, because I expect to have the same issues with the app check in as you did. I double checked for transiting in Germany, and no testing required for us (at this time). Seems a lot of ever changing rules for the staff on the ground to enforce.

I am definitely looking for Zaide! I often buy jewelry as my main souvenir. Nothing very expensive -- I think the most I've spent on jewelry was in Scotland (a Sheila Fleet set and a Skye Silver set).

I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed your live reporting! And I look forward to some of your post trip reflections as well.

Posted by
1348 posts

Catherine how did you travel to the Izmir Airport? BTW, yesterday I was reading up about Adnan Menderes, the person the airport is named after. Interesting.

Posted by
2639 posts

The Dreaded SSSS

Yep, I got it. Munich airport. Hadn't noticed it until we were landing.

Shoes off.
Liquids out.
Figure out how to get my tablet out of its cute little cover.
Any tea or powders more than 12oz? Of course, I just came from Turkey!

They were all good natured and it wasn't more than 10 extra minutes.

At our gate in Munich.

Posted by
2639 posts

Yes They Checked My Test at Munich Airport

I had to show my negative test just before the SSSS security. She checked it very carefully for date and comparison to passport.

Posted by
2639 posts

how did you travel to the Izmir Airport?

Those who left after breakfast on the final day took our tour bus to Izmir airport. Free of charge. Left at 8 or 830. Guide Mine says she always makes her 1030 flight.

Staying an extra day, we arranged a driver through the hotel to Izmir airport. Added €60 to our bill and allowed for up to 4 people, paid via credit card when we settled up. Driver tip extra, cash Lira. Left at 830 arrived at 930.

It's a scenic drive along the Aegean coast before heading inland to the airport.

Adnan Menderes, the person the airport is named after. Interesting.

Thanks, Andrea! I'll read up while I'm on 24 hrs free wifi at Munich airport.

ETA: oh my. Interesting is right.

Posted by
2639 posts

I am definitely looking for Zaide!

We ran into 2 of the sisters again last night. They're newly on Instagram: ZaideCraftShop

They've got a tiny kiosk on the waterfront every evening. Out the hotel door, cross the street and walk a short distance to the left. There was a sculpture exhibit before we got to them, but that may be temporary.

Posted by
2639 posts

2.4 miles thus far through Izmir airport and (mostly) Munich airport. Good thing I've been working out in Turkey.

Posted by
2639 posts

I often buy jewelry as my main souvenir.

A door or two down from Zaide is another jewelry worker. His shop name is Antiches or similar, as he sells antique handcrafts. And he makes jewelry. I think a tour member bought something.

Another vendor on the corner sells dresses made from beautiful fabrics in simple 60s throwback styles. I loved the fabric of one but couldn't reach to button the back buttons. Apparently in the 60s girls had someone to help button up their dresses. I should have just bought it for the fabric.

Posted by
2639 posts

Does it Fit?

Every time I see an airline sizer, I drop my 20" backpack in and take a photo to remind myself that it fits. Today I've collected proof-it-fits photos for EasyJet and Lufthansa/SwissAir/etc.

Posted by
2639 posts

Turkish Breakfast?

I'm back in Denver, where I'll be through most of July visiting my parents, while friends are staying at my house, seeing the sights of Northern California. My dog gave me her version of a Turkish Bath when I showed up unannounced in the back yard, and hasn't let me out of her sight.

I woke up at 5am to birds, missing the Call to Prayer. I did my best to simulate a Turkish breakfast from the fridge; I'll have to work on that when I'm home; I don't think my parents will go for olives for breakfast. I hope my Mom and I will enjoy a cup of Turkish tea later this morning.

I did scribble in my carefully prepared journal, as we bumped along through Türkiye. I will paste a few more mementos before it joins recent journals on my travel shelf. But this has really become my travel journal for this trip. So I hope you will humor me if I make a few more entries as I look back at my photos and reflect on my trip.

I want to thank everyone who has followed along and cheered me during the journey! It was more fun knowing that I was traveling with friends who love travel as much as I do. Please feel free to ask any questions as your own trip to Türkiye approaches, on this thread of via private message.

I will eagerly look forward to reliving my RS Best of Istanbul and RS Best of Turkey (should that be Best of Türkiye?) travels with those of you who will embark on this magic adventure in the fall. Şerefe!!

Posted by
2639 posts

A Delicious First Taste of Turkey!

Please share details about the Haze hotel as well!

I learned today that some of your Best of Turkey tours will start at the Haze Hotel. As I was looking through my pictures, I remembered our dinner in their restaurant the night of our arrival. Thanks to another forum member, I knew to contact the hotel to make a reservation for a busy Friday night, else we wouldn't have gotten in.

The restaurant has a traditional menu, although we made a meal of appetizers (meze) from their point and choose glass case. It's in the same dining room where you'll have breakfast, with sliding glass panel windows that fully open for a stunning view of the Bosphorous and the start of the Golden Horn.

Posted by
2639 posts

Euros. Dollars. Lira. All fine in Kuşadası

Andrea, you asked, Are you paying for everything in Turkish Lira cash?

Prices and payment in most places were Turkish Lira, cash or card, with the usual DCC option if you wanted to pay the less favorable conversion rate for dollars.

Kuşadası was an exception. Because it's a big cruise ship port, with a majority of their visitors not carrying any Turkish Lira, the prices in their shops were quoted in Euros and Dollars, and payment was accepted in either currency by cash or card. We surprised vendors by wanting to know prices and pay in Turkish Lira.

ATMs are everywhere in the tour cities and at the rest stops.

Posted by
2639 posts

Strenuous Walking

This is a very active tour!

On the RS Best of Istanbul tour, we regularly used public transportation as a group; during free time, I rarely took public transit, preferring to walk. The mileage includes tour activities and my own free time activities.

Best of Istanbul
Minimum: 6.87 miles
Maximum: 12.65 miles

On the Best of Turkey tour, most of my walking was with the group, during tour activities.

Best of Turkey
Minimum: 4.58 (does not include last day of tour, which ends after breakfast)
Maximum: 9.77 miles

Posted by
2639 posts

vandrabrud, I'm so very glad to hear it!

I've been doing my best to cobble together a Turkish breakfast at home. Fortunately my parents have plenty of olives in the fridge, though they haven't bought in to having them for breakfast.

Posted by
3344 posts

Catherine, welcome back! Thanks so much for sharing your well written report. It was a joy to be a part of your wonderful journey! I think journaling daily is the best way to capture all the memories and emotions along the way. Sounds like your goal of “self-discovery” was realized! Great job!

Posted by
2639 posts

Thanks, Janis, and thanks for traveling along with me! I agree that this daily channel was a fun way to capture the sights and sounds that caught my attention, amid the hustle (and miles!) of the activities.

It may also have caused me to pay closer attention to those memories that have stitched an unforgettable new frame around the blockbuster sights. Whereas, at first glance, my emotions bristled at the separation of the ladies in the Hagia Sophia, my framed memories will be of the smiles and hugs I exchanged with some of those ladies, which could only have happened in the relative quiet of their private sanctuary. Instead of thinking how wrong or backward it is, I can see how my friends may have the right idea.

Perhaps Rick is onto something when he says that the ultimate souvenir is a broader perspective. This trip has certainly broadened my perspective.

Posted by
2639 posts

Out Takes: questions still unanswered

Who cleans up after the street dogs, because I never saw a single dog mess in Istanbul!

What happened to the little street urchin who came to our outdoor dinner table hoping to sell us a rose, but instead found himself being dragged off by the elbow by 2 policemen who dropped out of the sky like Spidermen, took his photo and marched him off to some juvenile penalty.

What do the fishermen on the Galata Bridge do with all the fish they catch?

Why does the soup place open at 7am and the coffee shops don't open until 9 or 10am?

And importantly, who wakes up the man who wakes us all up with the morning Call to Prayer?

Posted by
1348 posts

Catherine, I'm enjoying your post-tour musings as much as your on-the-ground reports. The number of miles is daunting! Must step up my exercise regime!

Posted by
2639 posts

Andrea, as I was walking my dog this morning, I was thinking about your comment about an exercise regime. Before my spring travels, my usual was a 2-4 mile day with my walk-sniff-walk-sniff dog. But I remembered that I had a weeklong warmup trip to Washington D.C. just 2 weeks before Turkey with 5.5 - 8 mile days. I suppose that helped. Still, it wasn't like we walked 10 straight miles!

I was glad I was in reasonable shape at the cliffs in Pamukkale, from which it was a hot, dusty, vigorous climb to the top of the theater. At Ephesus, we entered at the theater at the base, but it was well worth the view of the entire stage below to climb the dozens of uneven steps to the top.

And I took morning walks before breakfast while we were in Istanbul. We started too early for that most days during the Best of Turkey tour. So perhaps the best thing was an early rise regime; but that was easy with the time zone change.

Posted by
2639 posts

Pants With Elastic at the Ankles

I had an "aha" moment on the plane home when I realized how handy it was to have my REI pants with elastic pulls at the ankles. Definitely easier than trying to keep things tidy in the airplane and airport bathrooms. Also would have been good if you ever had to use the "squatty potties" (as the twenty-somethings called them) in Turkey, but I never did.

Posted by
1068 posts

I wanted to mention that I walked 55 miles on my recent 15 day trip (< 4 miles per day). Much less than CWsocial. I took the Best of Turkey tour in 2019 after an arthroscopic knee surgery. My knee works better now than in 2019. For those of you that wouldn't be able to walk that much, you can still enjoy the Turkey tour. I didn't walk up to the top of the theatres, I skipped the optional hike in Cappodokia....

I always start out writing in my travel journal every day. But sometime during the trip I seem to lose interest in it. I think I get tired and just want to get to sleep instead of reflect. I have loved CW's musings and such on this thread!

Posted by
17 posts

This was great! Thanks. Booked Best of Turkey in 13 days tour over a year ago. Finally heading out on the tour at start of September in just over 2 months. First RS tour and my only real hesitation is how much I love to plan independent travel. Giving this a try to switch things up and finding your report very helpful and encouraging. I hedged a little bit by planning an independent trip in Europe for a week before the Turkey tour. I enjoyed all of your thoughts, comments, and stories. Very fun!

Posted by
2639 posts

sometime during the trip I seem to lose interest in it. I think I get tired and just want to get to sleep instead of reflect.

Vandrabrud, the same thing happened to me at night. I was glad to have my TurkCell SIM as I wrote a lot of my entries during the day, while we were on the bus. That, along with watching the scenery, interesting commentary from Guide Mine, and the frequent stops, made the bus time seem a lot less than it was.

Posted by
2639 posts

First RS tour and my only real hesitation is how much I love to plan independent travel.

Mile High 33, interesting you should say this, as I thought the very same thing as this tour approached and have been thinking about it since I've been back. My most recent travels have been solo, and I also enjoy the planning. The extra days in Istanbul before the tour and 1 extra day at the end in Kuşadasi still allowed me to plan a few extra activities. Having plenty of free time during the tour still gave me some sense of independent travels.

These were my 1st and 2nd RS tours, although I was signed up for RS Best of St Petersburg twice in 2020 and again for 2022. St Petersburg and Turkey were destinations that I didn't want to tackle on my own, and places I didn't want to travel to by myself. Also, I was traveling with a friend and didn't want to be "responsible" for the success of her trip. It was relaxing to defer to the guide for our itinerary and logistics.

And interestingly, now I would feel completely comfortable planning an independent trip to Turkey. I guess the RS mission to equip American travelers worked with me. In fact, I'd like to try this blended approach again, with independent travels before and after a tour. Now I just have to choose which tour!!

Posted by
2639 posts

All these ATMs, which one should I use?

Skip to the Conclusion: unless you're withdrawing an awful lot of Turkish Lira, it probably doesn't matter much which ATM you use. ATMs in Turkey don't charge fixed transaction fees, but some charge the dreaded DCC fees.

Cultural Variety: Finding ATMs

If you like traveling for variety, then you'll love the ATMs in Turkey. Whereas at (my) home, ATMs are scattered - a Wells Fargo ATM here, a BofA ATM across the street - ATMs in Turkey are often clustered, even at rest stops. Sometimes 6 or 8 in a row, as in these photos.

How do you choose one?

I had done some research, but my experience shows this 2020 article wasn't entirely accurate. This is what I found for AK Bank and Halkbank, the only ATMs I used.

Travel wisdom suggests using an ATM connected to a physical bank: if your card is eaten by the machine during banking hours, the bank personnel might help. Occasionally I saw bank ATMs, but more frequently not; and definitely not at rest stops.

  • AK Bank ATM: in Istanbul, you'll walk past an AK Bank and connected ATM as you go from the Haze Hotel towards the Galata Bridge.

What to Expect at the ATM
- both AK Bank and Halkbank offered English
- you can often choose multiple currencies (Lira, Euros, sometimes USD and GBP)
- neither AK Bank nor Halkbank charges a fixed fee per transaction
- ATMs often spit out 100TL bills

AK Bank (the red ones): will ask whether you want a DCC or non-DCC transaction; Decide ahead!!
- If you choose DCC (Dynamic Currency Conversion) you'll get a lower rate and less cash, but no separate fee.
- if you choose non-DCC, you'll get more cash, but you'll be charged a 6.99% transaction fee.

Since Schwab refunds my ATM fees worldwide, I chose non-DCC and Schwab refunded $10.52 on ATM withdrawals of $191.72.
- after the 6.99% fee, I saw a variance of less than 1% from Historical Exchange Rates on 2 AK Bank transactions.

Halkbank (white ATM with a blue sign):
- I don't recall Halkbank offering a DCC/non-DCC option
- per the Halkbank site, "Halkbank do not charge any fee or commissions while carrying out transactions on Bank24s with other banks’ cards." Nope, no fee on my ATM slips.
- I saw a variance of about 1% - 3.5% from Historical Exchange Rates on 2 of my Halkbank transactions.

Summary

  • if your bank refunds transaction fees, AK Bank may be the better option as your bank will pay the 6.99% and they give an exchange rate closer to the actual day's rate.

  • if your bank doesn't refund worldwide ATM fees, Halkbank may be a better option, as their actual exchange rate varied less than the 6.99% AK Bank transaction fee.

In reality: if you're using a credit card for most things and cash only for smaller items, you won't need much in Turkish Lira and so you won't incur a lot in ATM fees. So this is a very long post to talk about ATM savings of $10.52!!

Far more financially relevant to have a credit card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you for all of the information you have shared in such an engaging way.
Re: Bring Your Own Headphones Do you happen to know if the standard iPhone type would work?
Cheers!

Posted by
2639 posts

Mary Lou, I hope it's helping you with your own trip planning!

I can't quite answer that because I have an Android phone. The 2 wired headsets I used were standard airline issue. So if those work with your iPhone, the same type will work with the Whisper headsets.

Posted by
2639 posts

Found Zaide Shop in Kuşadası

I found the little alley of handcraft shops in Kuşadası! The shop with cotton dresses in beautiful fabrics is Los Banditos Kuşadası; the little antique and handcrafted jewelry shop is Antiqueche de Scalanova; Zaide Crafts doesn't show in Google Maps (too new, I expect) but if you click on the Google Maps link above for Los Banditos, you'll see the little block that they're all in. Judging from Google Maps, there are a lot more handcraft stores that we didn't stumble across.

If you want to make your own simple jewelry souvenir from Turkey, there is a fabulous bead shop called Ada Doğal Taş Dünyası nearby. I bought the beds, earring hooks and little silver-colored star and crescent moons to make my own set of Turkish flag earrings. I just learned from this video that they are a local manufacturer and when we were there, the lady was working in her workshop at the back.

After all that shopping, we took a break and had a Turkish coffee and made-to-order Kunefe (the sweet cheese pastry, takes 10 or 15 minutes) at the little cafe just opposite the bead store.

Posted by
27713 posts

that sounds so much fun. When we used to travel to Haarlem and stay with friends there the wife make that sort of jewellery as a side line. One of her efforts is my wife's fav pair.

Posted by
370 posts

I finally had time to read and enjoy your full report! Thanks so much for all the time you put into it!