Adventures in Turkey

I thought I'd share some of our thoughts from our recent trip to Turkey. For several reasons (including frequent flyer ticket availability) we started our trip on August 26, a little earlier than I would have liked. Normally we travel September-October. We booked the Sirkeci Konak hotel in Istanbul, for a little luxury to start our trip. They picked us up at the airport when we arrived, gave us a free dinner at their rooftop restaurant, took us on a free walking tour of the Golden Horn, had an interesting wine/cheese tasting late one afternoon. It had a great location (halfway between the Blue Mosque and the harbor). It was a great place to stay. Unfortunately Istanbul was in the midst of a heat wave when we arrived, and I almost suffered heat stroke our first day. So I didn't enjoy the sights of Istanbul as much as I would have had the weather been cooler. Istanbul entails lots of walking, and many sights close around 5 pm, so anyone uncomfortable in extreme heat should plan to visit at a cooler time of year. My favorite place was the Basilica Cistern, because it was underground and very cool. I could have stayed there all day! To minimize crowds, we used this site http://ports.cruisett.com/ to see how many cruise ships would be in Istanbul each day, and saved our visits to the major sites for a day with no big ships. We also purchased our Hagia Sophia tickets at our hotel, to eliminate waiting in line.

Posted by Charlene
Centennial, CO, US
911 posts

After four nights, we flew to Cappadocia, to Kayseri. Our hotel (the Kelebek Special Cave Hotel) had arranged a shuttle to bring us to Goreme. We love having transportation waiting for us when we step off airplanes! The Kelebek was a great hotel. It's located at the edge of Goreme, up a small hill, so it has beautiful views of fairy chimneys in town and in the valley. When making your reservation, you choose your room, ranging from small cave rooms to large, luxurious suites. We chose one of the few rooms with air conditioning; it does cool down at night, but we were happy to have it just in case. The Kelebek is associated with Butterfly Balloons, so we had booked a flight with them our first day (getting a discount for staying at the hotel and for paying in cash). We were glad we had booked it for our first morning in Goreme, as it rained the second morning and all flights were cancelled. And you don't want to miss a balloon ride. It was the high point of our trip. There's no real sensation of height or speed ... just floating over that incredible landscape. Breathtaking. Highly recommended. On that second, rainy morning we went to the Goreme Open Air Museum. One of the hotel staff gave us a ride and offered to pick us up afterward, but the rain had stopped so we walked back. These churches and chapels carved into the rocks are also amazing. We were there when it opened, so had the place to ourselves. It was almost surreal. Our favorite restaurant in Goreme was the S&S. At this little restaurant, we had a Cappadocia specialty ... pottery kebob, which is a stew (beef, lamb, chicken or seafood) cooked in a sealed clay pot. They crack open the pot at the table. It was delicious and fun and inexpensive. S&S is located near the pharmacy, near the road to the Open Air Museum. We only had three nights in Cappadocia; a fourth night might have been nice, but we were ready to move on.

Posted by Charlene
Centennial, CO, US
911 posts

Now we wanted a beach, and after much deliberation we had chosen Patara. It has the longest sand beach in Turkey (11 miles), a piece of the Lycian Way footpath, and some interesting ruins. It also was a major effort to get here! Our day started at 9:30 am with a shuttle back to Kayseri; we flew to Istanbul, took another flight to Antalya, and had a taxi (!) pick us up for the 3 1/2 hour trip to Patara. The taxi cost about $100 but the -native was a taxi from Antalya's airport to its bus station, then a 5+ hour bus ride to the bus stop about 2 miles outside of Patara, from which we would have had to call the hotel for a ride. I did not figure out these logistics until well into our trip planning; I probably would do something different next time, but not sure what! Patara is a tiny, beautiful town. We stayed at Akay Pension, a huge change from our previous luxury accommodations. The room was very basic, and the bathroom even more so. No shower enclosure ... just a showerhead on the wall and a drain in the middle of the bathroom floor. No hot water faucet on the sink, so luckily the bathroom was small enough that my husband was able to stretch the shower head over to the sink to shave! What we did have here was blessed air conditioning (the heat wave had followed us), a big balcony with three clothes lines (which we needed at this point!), the kindest and most helpful owner we have ever met, and the best food in Turkey. Breakfast (included in the $30 room charge) was good, but dinner (about $10) was incredible. It's a set menu; at breakfast, Kazim tells guests what's on the menu that night and saves you a table if you'd like. Non-guests can also eat there if space allows. Kazim will begin remodeling the rooms and bathrooms next year, so there will be no reason to stay anywhere else!

Posted by Charlene
Centennial, CO, US
911 posts

The beach at Patara is maybe a 20 minute walk from town, or you can take a shuttle bus, which is pulled by a tractor. You pass through the ruins on the way to the beach and buy a pass (inexpensive). At the beach you can rent sunbeds and umbrellas, and they have a good little restaurant. We took a couple of day trips from here. Our biggest misadventure started with a day trip to Saklikent Gorge. It's a beautiful gorge; you pay an entrance fee, go down a walkway, and come out at a rocky spot where people climb over slippery rocks to get into the river and then make their way upstream in the freezing water! It's a little risky (a man had just been carried out with a broken ankle) but a good challenge for those so inclined. We passed on it and instead had lunch & hiked a bit, then waited for our bus, which never arrived. We scrambled to find a bus to Fethiye, then another back to Patara; it took 4 hours to make what should have been a 30-minute trip. We were not happy. Kazim called the driver, who never could explain why he abandoned us but at least refunded half our fee. We also took a better trip to the sunken city at Kekova. This involved a bus to Kalkan, a bus to the harbor, about six hours on a boat, then two buses home. Everything we did in Turkey seemed to involve lots of travel time! But it was a fun day. After seeing the ruins, we swam off the boat, had a lovely lunch and visited a town with a Crusader castle. We spent a morning at the ruins of the ancient city of Patara, once the capitol of Lycia and a major seaport. Outside the city gate is a large necropolis, with several types of Lycian tombs. The burial of the dead must have played an important role in the religious beliefs of the Lycians, as we saw many funeral monuments in this region, including those carved into the cliff faces later in Dalyan.

Posted by Charlene
Centennial, CO, US
911 posts

Our next stop was Dalyan, and we found the bus trip there very amusing. Kazim told us to catch the 9:30 bus to Fethiye and then go to Ortaca. We asked what time the Ortaca bus left, and he said not to worry. So we got on the bus to Fethiye. When we arrived, there were men standing in the parking lot, asking passengers where they were going next. We said, "Ortaca", and a man grabbed my suitcase, whisked us over to an office, and ordered two tickets to Ortaca. We gave some money to the agent, who handed us the tickets, and the man picked up my suitcase again and hustled us over to another bus. Minutes later, it closed its doors and was on its way! It was almost shocking in its efficiency! When we arrived at Ortaca, we got off and hesitated a moment, and another man appeared, asked where we were going, we said "Dalyan" and he whisked us over to the waiting dolmus (mini-bus). We paid the driver and a few minutes later we were in Dalyan! Dalyan is a pretty little, touristy town. You come here to see the Lycian tombs, take a riverboat trip, have a mud bath, and see the sea turtles at Iztuzu Beach. So that's what we did. We stayed at the Kilim Hotel, which was great. The biggest of the remarkable Lycian tombs were carved into a cliff right across the river from our private dock, so we had a great view of the tombs themselves and of the riverboats streaming by all day. One day we took a boat trip across the river to the market, had lunch, and stopped at the mud baths on our way back. Mud baths are slippery and smell of sulfur, and you get mud into places you didn't know you had, but it is quite an experience and supposedly makes you look 20 years younger. There's a sea turtle hospital at Iztuzu Beach that we found fascinating. Turtles are rescued and treated here, and released with transmitters on their backs. Some of them go as far as Africa and return to Dalyan to lay their eggs.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

That is a fantastic report - all the places you went to outside Istanbul are on my list and sound very interesting. Knowing what you know now, would you have rented a car in some areas instead of paying to be ferried from place to place or waiting for buses (they work well there though, I have to admit)? Did you arrange your trip efficiently in terms of flights or would you do anything differently? I think every trip teaches us something. I felt I would be much more comfortable with a rental car in Turkey after I visited, and I also think the long-distance buses and dolmuses are great in filling gaps in the transportation network (they are fairly flexible and well-functioning).

Posted by Charlene
Centennial, CO, US
911 posts

Our final stop was the pretty little town of Datca. We took a dolmus to Marmaris and a bus to Datca. By now we are feeling comfortable with the Turkish bus system, which is remarkably efficient. We had booked the Fuda Hotel in Datca. When I had asked them for directions from the bus, they said, "It is simple! Ask anyone on the street!" So we did, and it was. The manager must have heard our suitcases clopping down the cobblestone street, because he came running out and said, "The Bresadolas!" I evidently looked extremely hot (the heat wave was still in progress) because he immediately offered us lemonade, or water, or anything! He then took us to our room ... an upgraded, huge room with a huge balcony overlooking the sea. The hotel is a bit tired looking; it could use some fresh paint and spiffing up. But the location is perfect and the staff is so helpful and hard-working. It was a pleasure to stay here. After almost three weeks of near constant motion, we happily whiled away a day just relaxing on the lovely pebble beach. And then we spent our final day at Knidos, another archeological site. Located at the end of a peninsula where the Mediterranean sea meets the Aegean, this had been a prosperous port city. You can still trace the city walls, and sit in the theater. We found these ruins fascinating. And so ended our adventure in Turkey! The next day we took a bus to Marmaris, a ferry to Rhodes, and a plane to the Greek island of Lesvos, where we spent the next 12 days. My advice to prospective travelers would be to visit at a cooler time of year. Stay away from salads. Drink bottled water. But don't spill that water on your camera ... as I did, in Rhodes. I was able to recover my photos but the camera is ruined. Other than that, it was a wonderful trip.

Posted by Charlene
Centennial, CO, US
911 posts

Agnes, we usually get rental cars for at least part of our trips. We were a little wary of doing this in Turkey for some reason. In retrospect, I think it may have been good to have picked up a car in Antalya to keep through Patara probably ping off in Fethiye. But on the other hand, it made more of an adventure to go without a car. Just experiencing the bus system was so interesting, once we figured out the dolmuses (which, I should have explained, are little white mini-buses that run up and down the coast usually a placard in the front window showing their destination). It was hard for us to imagine a system with few timetables and schedules; but in practice, it works just fine. As for the planes, Istanbul to Cappadocia by plane is a no-brainer. From Cappadocia to the coast, there are overnight buses. I did try to figure out how to break up the trip to the coast with daytime buses, but gave up on it pretty quickly. Have you seen Ephesus? One thing I considered was Istanbul>Cappadocia>Izmir by plane, and then a daytime bus down to Datca, making our way south to Antalya, flying back to Istanbul at the end. But we'd seen Ephesus and decided not to repeat it. It's such a big country with so much to see.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

I agree, Datca was wonderful (as was Ephesus). I took a ferry to Datca from Bodrum - beautiful, relaxing ferry ride. I wish I could have stayed there longer - it was SO laid back. And ditto on doing things as the locals - it's a lot more fun to take buses/ dolmuses and they work very well. Thanks for that great report! PS. Are you serious about salads? Turkey had the best salads I've ever had - can't imagine staying away from them...they were the highlight. I'm a vegetarian (fish-atarian, more accurately) and had no issues with any vegetables or fish in one month of travel. Most people don't. That's not to say you can't get an occasional stomach bug from something, but you really can't/shouldn't stay away from mezze as a rule of thumb - they're far too delicious.

Posted by Charlene
Centennial, CO, US
911 posts

By salads, I meant lettuce salads. We were just being cautious, eating pretty much the way we would in Mexico. We had lots of salads and mezes that contained cooked vegies, and we would eat fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. It was mainly the lettuce we avoided. One thing I forgot: there were some mosquitos along the coast, especially at night. I don't like insect repellent, so I brought along some Tea Tree Oil Wipes; I think they were from Body Shop, purchased from Amazon. They did a good job of keeping biting insects away, plus smelled good and made my skin feel good! Easy to carry along in a soft little package.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4762 posts

This is an absolutely wonderful Trip Report! Sounds like you had a very memorable trip, enjoying that great Turkish hospitality, as well as the beautiful scenery.

Posted by Charlene
Centennial, CO, US
911 posts

Thanks, Jo. It was a great trip. And you're right, the hospitality we experienced made it all the better. Initially we were a bit out of our comfort zone, especially for the Mediterranean part of the trip. Normally I like to feel in control, especially in a country where I don't speak the language. Here we landed in Patara with really no idea of how to get to all the places we wanted to see over the next two weeks, and it turned out to be no problem at all. At each stop, our hotel staff was knowledgeable about daytrips and transportation and gave us great advice.