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Trip report: Turkey October 2019

Impressions of our trip to Turkey (October 2019):

People: The people are warm, friendly and helpful. They are very hospitable, which might result in you eating way more for each meal than you intended, and drinking tea that you never order. English was spoken pretty widely in all the tourist areas we visited. Near the main sights there were a lot of pushy rug salesman, but they were easily dissuaded with a “no thank you.” It was pretty funny because even when you were saying no, they wanted to help. The would say, “ok, well if you are going to visit the Hagia Sophia, you should go to the ticket office over there because the line is shorter.” One guy tried to sell us pomegranate juice in Goreme on our hike, and even though we said no, he told us that we had passed the entrance to the trail and showed us where it was. People asked us where we were from and were always surprised when we said the US. They told us they haven’t seen many people from America lately but were delighted to have us.

Food: The food everywhere was delicious. Lots and lots of grilled meats, fresh veggies and fruits. The breakfasts especially were wonderful and humongous. Rick Steves’ book says not to drink the water in Istanbul. Our family that lives locally said they drink water in their area of Istanbul because the system is newer, but that they drink bottled water near the tourist area due to old plumbing. We did research and couldn’t find a specific reason that the water shouldn’t been consumed, but most sources agreed, so we didn’t just to be safe. We did drink the water at our family’s house that went through a Brita filter, and we were fine. David also used the water everywhere to brush his teeth and had no issues. All of the hotels and restaurants provided bottled water.

Transportation: We were a bit nervous to rent a car in a place we couldn’t communicate, but we had no issues. The roads were easy to drive on and the signs are the same as most of Europe. Google maps worked fine for directions, although the street names never matched so you just have to watch the distances for turns. We were warned by family that the police have random stops for document checks and that you just pull over if they wave you over and when they find out you are tourists they let you go, but we were never selected. At gas stations, the attendant has to pump the gas, you just tell him how much and what kind. If you are paying cash, you have to pay him. If you are using your card you go inside. They use unleaded gas (they call it benzin), diesel, and propane, so your rental car company will tell you what to use. In Istanbul, it is easy to get a travel card and use it on the metro or the tram.

Money: We used mostly cash for ease, as we found that not every place could get our card to run. The prices are very inexpensive, except in the most touristy center where they are most similar to ours. A very nice hotel in the center of the tourist area with included breakfast cost about $100-$120 per night. Bottled water came out to around $0.50, most meals were $15-$30 for both of us, with a few bigger splurges.

Politics: We were in Turkey when the US announced the removal of the troops in Syria and Turkey began the new offensive at the Syrian border. This news was obviously a little unsettling, but we remained in contact with our family in Turkey in case of any issues. We were registered for the US State Department STEP program and never received any warnings, and there was never a change to the travel advisory. Everything remained the same in all the tourist areas, we never felt unsafe. This situation is not new to the Turkish people, as there has been unrest on the border for quite some time. People have to decide for themselves if they ethically feel comfortable traveling to Turkey with the decisions of the current administration, but as far as safety at this time we did not feel any concerns.

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Animals: There were stray cats and dogs all over the place. The dogs were friendly and there were lots of cute kittens to watch. The community seems to feed them and the government apparently immunizes and tags them.

Daily:

We traveled on October 5th to Turkey for 10 days. We started in Istanbul for 4 nights. David has a cousin living in Istanbul with her family, and they picked us up from the airport and brought us to their apartment for the night. It was a really nice change to arrive from an international flight and not have to think at all about how to get to our hotel, how to manage public transit, and etc. They live on the Asian side of the city, about an hour from the tourist center, so we planned to only stay there for one night for sightseeing purposes.

They greeted us with a dinner of tantuni - a delicious street food sandwich made with a heavily spiced meat on bread or a wrap, and pida - a dough similar to pizza topped with cheese and other toppings. Both were delicious. We visited for a bit and then headed to bed early. Unfortunately I came down with a cold during our layover in Frankfurt that plagued me for the rest of the trip.

In the morning, they took us for a traditional Turkish breakfast, which was beyond incredible. The servers kept bringing dish after dish of things for us to try until most of the table was covered. There were different types of breads, an egg dish called menemen, sausages, vegetables, fruits, cheeses, honey, jam, and on and on. After trying everything, we were stuffed and happy. They drove us to a park on the Asian side of Istanbul with a beautiful view over the city and the Bosphorus, and then brought us to our hotel in the Sultanahmet district.

We stayed at Ada hotel, which was a cute, small hotel with a lovely rooftop terrace and breakfast. We liked the area, but in the future would stay somewhere less touristy for food purposes. All the interesting restaurants we wanted to try were across the Galata bridge in another area. David and I explored the area near our hotel on foot and found dinner at a perfectly adequate touristy restaurant near the Hagia Sophia.

David’s cousin met us on our first morning in the center of Istanbul and played tour guide for us. We went up the Galata Tower for views of the city, visited the Suleymaniye Mosque, walked down Istiklal Street, went to the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, and had a couple of exceptional meals. It is definitely nice to have the insiders view! We learned and saw so much. Behind the Suleymaniye Mosque there is a row of traditional bean and rice sellers that make super delicious, inexpensive traditional meals. That is something we would have never found on our own. For dinner she brought us to an Iranian Restaurant called Reyhun which was easily the best meal of our trip. The highlights were a rice dish topped with candied orange peel and a savory soup with pomegranate and walnuts. If you are in the city, I highly recommend this stop.

On our second day, the weather was rainy and we were on our own, so we went to the nearby Hagia Sophia in the morning, followed by the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque. The Blue Mosque was under construction, so we couldn’t see much of it, but what we did see was beautiful. We visited the Basilica Cistern, which was really interesting, and then ate at a nearby restaurant recommended by Rick Steves for kofte (meatballs). After lunch, we took the tram to the Dolmabahce Palace, as the Topkapi palace was closed for the day. The palace was beautiful and the grounds would be stunning with beautiful sea views if the weather were nice.

On our last morning in Istanbul, we visited the Topkapi palace and it was wonderful, especially the haram. I loved all the colors and textures and designs of the tiles. Then we took one more long walk around the city, ate at the Anthony Bourdain recommended Durumzade for durum, which was delicious, and then took a shuttle arranged by our hotel to the airport.

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We flew from Istanbul to Izmir, which was quick, easy and very inexpensive, I believe around $30 per person. We picked up our rental car and drove to Selcuk where we stayed at Akanthus. It was a beautiful hotel with comfortable, spacious rooms and another phenomenal breakfast. The Turkish people sure know how to do breakfast!

In the morning, we drove about 2.5 hours to visit Hierapolis and Pamukkale. We absolutely loved the ruins at Hierapolis. They were extensive, and we had them almost completely to ourselves. What a feeling, to be walking through these ancient places in the quiet and imagining what the people who lived here were like! The theater of Hierapolis is also stunning. After our time there, we ate at a pool bar and then visited the beautiful terrace pools of Pamukkale. These were just astonishingly beautiful, piles of white pools filled with aqua water. There were a lot of people wading in and enjoying themselves, but it was also easy to find quiet corners for photography.

We also visited the ruins at Laodicea, which were lovely and not at all crowded. They were located only about 20 minutes from Hierapolis, so it is an easy addition. The roads in the area were easy to travel on and Google maps were adequate for directions. We returned to Selcuk and ate at a hotel near ours before relaxing in our beautiful room for the evening.

On our second day in Selcuk, we visited the archeological site at Ephesus. I had always wanted to see the Library of Celsus, and it did not disappoint. The rest of the site was also wonderful, but it was extremely packed with group after group of cruise ship tours. I’m not sure if it is always like that or it was just bad timing, but I was surprised about the size of the crowds because that was the only place we experienced it. Our favorite part was the terrace houses, which are a separate admission. They are being beautifully excavated, and there are mosaic floors and frescoed walls still intact, with the site dating from the 1st century BC through the 7th century AD.

Next we visited St. John’s Basilica, where it is alleged that John the Apostle/Evangelical was buried. Also, the Ephesus Archeological Museum, which had artifacts from the site, mostly the terrace houses, and was a really well done museum. We drove to Kusadasi for lunch and a walk through the town. It was a beautiful setting, although quite hazy the day we were there. We then headed back to the Izmir airport, dropped our car off and flew to Kayseri.

In Kayseri we picked up a new car and drove to Goreme, Cappadocia where we stayed at Kelebek Special Cave Hotel. It was another awesome hotel, and very affordable. We stayed in a fairy chimney with a room that looked like a cave.

We had an early call in the morning, as we were flying in a hot air balloon at sunrise! I had looked forward to this for the whole trip, and was hopeful the weather would cooperate, which it did! The feeling of peacefully floating over the unique rock formations of Cappadocia as the horizon turns pink is unmatched! It was incredible and perfect and everything we had hopped for. We returned to our hotel for a beautiful breakfast, from the extensive buffet, on a terrace overlooking the valley.

We spent the afternoon on a hike through Love Valley. It wasn’t too difficult of a hike, and it wasn’t very busy either. There are a few tea houses along the way that you can stop at for drinks if you would like. The rock formations are stunning, and it feels similar to what you might find in the American southwest. A friendly stray dog found us on our hike and decided to walk with us for a couple of miles, which was a hoot.

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On our second day in Goreme, we visited the Goreme Open Air Museum. It was a very interesting collection of cave churches that had been painted in the Byzantine era. I was feeling pretty tired after this, so we had a leisurely afternoon poking around the shops in Goreme and taking a nap. For dinner we ate at Topdeck, which we had to have reservations for. If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend eating here. It was a small restaurant with about 10 tables run by the family that lives upstairs. It was the best Turkish food we had on our trip. There was bread and a plate of different meze dishes. Then we had borek, which was a spiced lamb wrapped in phyllo dough and fried, dipped in an herbed yogurt sauce. The main dish was roasted garlic chicken with veggies and rice. To cap it off we had a delicious baklava soaked in honey. It was a wonderful finale to our time in Goreme.

Our last day we went to Kaymakli to see the underground city. It was a series of caves that have been inhabited over several centuries by groups who were hiding from enemies, with the 7th century BC all the way through the 20th century AD. It was very interesting. We visited the town of Urgup and had lunch at Ziggy’s, which was once again very good. The highlight of that meal was dessert, which was a miniature borek roll covered in cinnamon and sugar which tasted like fresh donuts.

We had a bit more time to kill before our plane, so we went to Avanos. We just relaxed by the river and people watched. We really enjoyed a few hours there, as it had a much more local vibe and it was fun to watch people go about their daily lives.There were kids dressing in different super hero clothes walking with their parents and buying candy at a local shop, women with beautiful head coverings walking arm in arm along the path, men playing backgammon and smoking in the park, dogs wandering down the sidewalks, and all sorts of vehicles from motorbikes to ATV's to cars and busses zooming down the road. We loved the hustle and bustle and sights and sounds.

We caught a plane from Kayseri to Istanbul. We stayed in the Istanbul airport for the night at the Yotel, which was actually pretty nice, because we had an early flight home in the morning. It was very convenient to wake up just steps away from check in. We flew through Frankfurt once again. Luckily we had a long 5 hour layover, because I was selected for a random security check that took 2 hours! Many people waiting in that section with me were in danger of missing their flights.

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Agree, great report! We visited many of the same sights so your report brought back memories of our 2011 trip. And, surprisingly. while we were visiting the Sulimanye Mosque we were directed to the bean and rice restaurants by some German tourists! Great meal! So glad to hear that you had a great trip.

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6511 posts

Good report. Very helpful information for others. Thanks.

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5757 posts

Thank you, Tamara, for this very helpful trip report. As luck would have it, I just booked flights to/from Turkey last night, we will be going in March. I might ping you with some questions as my plans start to materialize.

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I really hope to visit Turkey someday. I lived there for 5 years as a kid. My dad was in the military. I have never forgotten the smell and taste of hot fresh ekmek.

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15053 posts

Tamara,

Thank you for the detailed, well-written, descriptive report. It brought back many happy memories and more anticipation for a probably short stay in May, on my way to the US.

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681 posts

That was a wonderful trip report. Thank you so much and glad it went so well.

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Kaeleku - I would definitely love to go back one day and see more sites off the beaten path. There is so much to see there!

Carol - I'm glad you found the rice and bean sellers! It was so much fun and delicious!

David - awesome, I hope you have a great trip! I'd be happy to offer all of the extremely limited knowledge I have :)

Thank you everyone for your kind words, I am glad it was helpful.