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Istanbul and western Turkey

During my 2-week spring break from teaching (which didn't match up with the rest of the family's break) I took a solo trip to Istanbul and western Turkey - my first time that far "east". It was an incredible (and very economical) experience.

The first week was spent in Istanbul. I stayed at a great "boutique" hostel called Cheers Lighthouse. It only has four rooms. I stayed in a room for six with a variety of roommates, all younger, but all perfectly pleasant and respectful. I booked early and snagged a great rate that amounted to about $15/day, filling breakfast included. I spent the week seeing all the big mosques, and a few of the smaller, lesser visited ones. I also saw the Topkapi Palace, took sunset photos over Istanbul from the top of the Galata Tower, sunset photos from the shore of the Asian side of the city, with the Maiden's Tower in the foreground, and took day trips up and down the Bosphorus Strait and to the largest of the Princess Islands. I was blessed with remarkably good weather for March, with rain only one day and sunny 50s and 60s (F) the rest of the days.

Then I took a bus tour of the usual tourist sights in western Turkey including Cappadocia (3 days), Pamukkale (1 day) and Ephesus (1 day). This included three nights in very nice hotels and three nights aboard a bus, driving the longer legs of the triangular route. The bus was far from ideal for sleeping, but the tour package covered everything except the evening meal and cost only a tad over $100/day. I was on a strict budget, so it was worth some discomfort to take such a memorable trip. Seeing the countryside without a tour seemed impractical given my time frame and budget. I could have arranged bus trips myself, but then I would have had to arrange for short distance shuttles or taxis everywhere. Driving a rental car would have consumed three full days just driving. No, the tour was the right thing to do under the circumstances. It was the first real "tour" I have ever taken. Yes, I did do an excellent hot air balloon ride while in Cappadocia. It was my one splurge. The tour company I used was called Turista Travel and is based in Istanbul. I found them to be very professional and thorough.

The trip never would have happened at all if I hadn't stumbled upon a great fare on Air Canada from Minneapolis (through Toronto) to Istanbul and back for only $550 back in late September. This was at a time when almost all other points in Europe were close to $1000. I couldn't believe my luck.

I found the city and country more modern than I expected and perfectly welcoming for tourists. Istanbul is not as elegant or refined in its neighborhoods as say, Paris, but it has more vibrancy and real local life than many other cities I have visited in Western Europe. That was great to see. The only drawback was the need to find bottled water for drinking - no tap water. But it's also super-cheap and available literally everywhere. No one is at risk of going thirsty. While not crazy-cheap, everything in Istanbul was a bargain compared to most major cities farther west. A decent meal can be had for $10 and a nice hotel room for $80, without even bargain hunting as I was.

I would encourage anyone who might have been intrigued by stories of visiting Istanbul or western Turkey but perhaps felt as if it might be a bit out of their comfort zone, to go ahead and plan a visit. You will be enchanted. If you are interested in a great deal more detail and lots of photos, you can click on my name and follow my travel blog found in my profile info. Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions. Thanks for reading.

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