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Trouble in Turkey with new restrictions

in Istanbul, the first call to prayer just ended and with it the realization it really is a new and different day from yesterday. I’ve been here since Sunday with plans for another two weeks traveling around the country before returning home. I’ve never been so hand sanitized or temperature checked in my life. Everyone wears masks, preferring “medical grade” (not N95) as opposed to my snazzy cloth masks. Turkey even went so far as to ban outdoor public smoking lest you lower your mask to do it. Even my hotel has gone so far as to install touchless doors in their public areas. Wave your hand in front of a door and it automatically opens. Hand sanitizer pumps are foot operated so no touch. Every towel and washcloth is sanitized and wrapped in plastic (Egad, the environment) . A big shout out to Hotel Amira for their efforts. They’ve treated me great.

Even with these efforts, new lockdown measures were announced yesterday. Beginning Saturday, there will be a curfew with no one allowed outside from 8pm until 10am. People 65 and older can only be outside from 10am until 1pm. People 20 and younger will only be allowed out from 1pm until 4pm. Restaurants can only serve to go food. No onsite dining. The owner of the restaurant I ate at last night told me he would have to stop by 7:30pm so that he and his employees could get home in time for the shut in. My hotel is scrambling to figure out how to take care of guests if employees can’t come and go to work except during those limited hours. Turkish Airlines has all ready started adjusting schedules to accommodate the hours. I got a message last night that my evening flight to Kayseri today is being rescheduled for the afternoon. Right now the new rules apply to Istanbul. Outside Istanbul, the rules will be in effect only on weekends for now. At least the curfew hours, I’m not sure about dining rules. There is also talk of the government shutting down museums and other tourists sights too but nothing official as yet.
This does leave me in a bit of a quandary. I planned to fly from Kayseri to Antalya Sunday evening but now am uncertain if the flight will be cancelled as it is within curfew hours. Once I land in Antalya, it would be after 8pm. How would I get to my hotel? Things kind of cascade from there over my next two weeks. I knew these were the possibilities going into this. I made plans loosy goosy just because. Okay, the truth is my headiest adventures have been flying into Europe with only reservations for the first night or two, a rough itinerary and nothing but whimsy and adventure to guide me the next few weeks. I have to give this up when traveling with my husband and daughter. They like knowing where they’re going to rest their head for the night, convinced we will end up sleeping on a park bench somewhere. They never have and I’ve scored some of my best stays on the fly. I compromise now when traveling with them and book a few nights ahead. This trip I’m flying solo, off season during a pandemic so serendipity is my copilot. I booked my first few nights here. I booked today’s flight the day before yesterday. Glad I’m free of commitments as it looks like plans may go sideways this trip but what an adventure it will be!
The new restrictions will definitely have some negative effects on this trip. I probably would have rescheduled had I known of the new curfew and 2 weeks of takeaway food but I’ll make it work. I’ve benefited from outrageously low prices on hotels. Last night, the restaurant owner gave me free soup, baklava and tea just for coming in (I paid for it regardless. I want him to survive this too.) Now if I can just stay away from those darn Turkish carpet salespeople it will be an affordable trip.

Posted by
14211 posts

Wow, those are crippling restrictions for a tourist (and for many many locals as well). Good luck making lemonade. Here's hoping the restrictions will be fewer outside the major cities.

PS - think of the carpet pushers as a side show to be enjoyed :-)

Posted by
4348 posts

Covid cases in Turkey are almost at the levels of April’s peak. As in many countries, things in Turkey are spiralling rapidly and to date, there hasn’t been a full lockdown, but that could be in sight. You need a plan B - what happens if hotels have to close - how are you going to get home?

The joys of travelling in Covid times! Good luck.

Posted by
7202 posts

Is there a question here, or did you mean to post this in Trip Reports?

Posted by
12133 posts

thenosbigs; thank you for the update. Any and all posts as helpful and well done are welcome and appreciated. Make the best of the rest of your trip.

Posted by
12133 posts

thenosbigs

I didn't read any whining, just a good factual report. I am certain you knew the risk and at the invitation of the Turkish government decided the it was worth the try. I see you don't post too often here, and the personal attacks really aren't encouraging discussion. But know that of the (probably) thousands here there are only a few that are inappropriate. So keep us up to date and let us know how you made the lemonade.

Posted by
865 posts

Ashley, per usual, has good thoughts.

Keep reporting on your experience! While it doesn’t encourage me to head out anywhere, I am so interested to hear how it is going for you. (And I didn’t hear any whining either.....)

Posted by
45 posts

My mother always said if you didn’t have something nice to say don’t say it at all. Yep, I’m a forum stalker for the most part because I’ve seen the negativity splashed about too much. I posted today to give the heads up to people like James who have upcoming plans to visit Istanbul soon and thought they should know what’s going on here. Wow Bets, you’re really going to chastise me for posting under Turkey and not under trip reports? Did you scold the previous three Turkey topic posts: Just returned from Istanbul, Izmir in the news, or Great courses for not posting a question? Slick warp, the only whine I have is in my glass and it’s a lovely red. I came here eyes wide open. I caught covid in northern Italy in late January but at the time it was only being reported in China. By the time I hit Portugal I was horribly sick. My travel buddy thought I was going stop breathing or break a rib coughing. She insisted I get medical treatment. Still covid wasn’t a blip on the doctors mind and they loaded me up on meds and sent me on my way. I unfortunately infected her and we both limped home. I carry a lot of guilt wondering how many people I infected. Thankfully we both recovered.

Here in Turkey everyone is wearing masks indoors and out. You can’t turn around without being hand sanitized and temp taken. Much safer than my hometown. My husband is considered an “essential worker” so he can make sure the 1% has av-gas and jet fuel for their private planes and jets which puts him in a different hotel room 4 or 5 times a week. He’s living a high risk life and we agreed my risks are lower not being around him if I don’t have immunity. Yeah,I knew things could go south going into this. Yeah, I’m financially prepared staying for months if necessary.
Jennifer, I appreciate you’re concern. It’s seems genuine. From my side of the pond, we’re still arguing over masks as a political statement and it’s absolutely chilling. I’ve lost two friends so far over this. I take it seriously. Chani, thanks for your well wishes! I’m squeezing lemons as I type. Ashley, awesome advice. I got the alert from the embassy but hadn’t dug that deep regarding flights. Many thanks! James, thanks for speaking up. I really appreciate that.

Now I’ll crawl back into my cave and go back to stalking the forum from afar. I’ve got a balloon ride to catch in the morning.

Posted by
9074 posts

Thanks for the trip report. It seem people in Turkey are wearing masks while many people around me in the USA are not. You're probably safer there.

Enjoy the balloon ride.

Posted by
7964 posts

Please don't stop posting! Although I have no desire at this time to go to Turkey, I am interested in how this turns out for you. I am a traveler like your husband and daughter and it's always helpful for me to see how others can pivot when things go south or circumstances just change. It helps me be able to think of how I might have to flex plans in my future travels if a situation changes.

Ashley, very helpful information, particularly about medical care and hospitals.

Posted by
80 posts

Yes, thank you for your report. Please keep the updates coming!

Posted by
193 posts

Thenosbigs, thanks for your post. It is interesting to travel vicariously, especially during this crazy time. I hope you stay safe and continue to enjoy your travels. Please keep us updated.

Posted by
38 posts

Thanks for the update and please keep us posted. I hope everything works out well for you and for the people of Istanbul trying to make a living amid such harsh restrictions. Is there another country that is open that you could visit, such as Croatia? I know it would totally mess up your plans for a vacation in Turkey, but might be an option. Just a thought. Good luck!

Posted by
2 posts

I’m enjoying your post! Please keep us posted as I’m on the edge of my seat to hear how it turns out.

I’m living vicariously through you.

Posted by
6992 posts

Destination Q&A

Get help planning your trip. Ask a question or share advice.

I think this post is in "the proper place". A Question is not mandatory for a post to be here.

Please come out of the cave, otherwise the balloon ride will be disappointing

Posted by
14211 posts

Hi Thenosbigs. I hope you had a wonderful float over scenic views. My only balloon ride was over Cappadoccia at dawn and it was spectacular, a truly wonderful memory. Where are you now?

Posted by
942 posts

Since you are already in Turkey I would recommend staying put for a couple months as you might not be able to come home for a while depending on what country you come from and please quarantine when you arrive home.

Stay in Istanbul as hospitals are probably the best in the country, although I hope you have a translator available.

As a worker in the health services, I just want to remind people NOT to travel yet. As @slickwarp pointed out traveling during a pandemic for fun is foolish and saying that is not a buzzkill.

Posted by
12133 posts

Turkish Air is still flying to the US if that helps any. The next flight into Houston shows "in route" and "on time" to arrive at 7pm.

When I returned from Europe a few months ago I went directly to a test location; passed.
Spent 4 days inside unpacking and sleeping in then tested again; passed
Then went out for a good American dinner.

But I might be fortunate living where I do. I keep hearing that we need more and more testing. The implication is that its not available. Here, at least, the testing sites sit mostly empty. PRC tests same day. You could also choose to get your test at the Istanbul Airport. They will text the results so you will have them when you land. I think the cost is about $35, much cheaper than the US private sites. The public ones here are free.

Enjoy the rest of your trip!!!

Posted by
45 posts

Back by popular demand.....Thank you to all who encouraged me to continue to post. Let me give you an update now that we’re 24 hours into the new restrictions here in Turkey.

Apparently Cappadocia is the Wild West of Turkey and the sheriff ain’t in town. Here in Goreme the many businesses are continuing regardless of the new restrictions. The balloons flew as usual at dawn before curfew ended this morning at 10am. The red and green tours left at 9:30, breaking curfew as well. Restaurants are a mixed bag; some closed, some doing takeout only (as allowed) and some ignoring the rules by offering dine in service. It hasn’t been a smooth roll out; there seems to be a lot of confusion about the new rules. As one local commented, who was going to bother enforcing the rules in this small town? I think a lot has to do with the desperation of locals to make a living after months of just a trickle of normal business with no government help. It’s not for me to judge. I expect the larger towns and cities are adhering to the rules.

The current hot spots are Istanbul and Ankara according to my HES link. HES stands for Hayat Eve Sigar, a mandatory tracking number issued by the Turkish government for any domestic travel on bus, train or plane which facilitates contract tracing should anyone test positive while traveling. (A side note, Turkish Airlines never requested my number for my flight from Istanbul to Kayseri but Pegasus Airlines required it for my flight to Antalya tomorrow. ) The areas least affected are Antalya and Izmir provinces. Perhaps some eastern provinces as well but I wasn’t really looking at eastern Turkey. Turkey with a population of 83 million had 135 deaths from Covid yesterday. Their hospital beds are at 53.6% capacity. The HES does help making informed decisions. There is conversation of linking the HES code to people’s IstanbulCard for public transit in Istanbul as well. They have started closing indoor museums/tourist sites in Istanbul. “Indoors” seems to be discretionary. For instance the Underground Cistern was closed yesterday but not Topkapi or Dolmabache Palace.
Now for some second hand information I gleaned from two lovely couples I met here. A young couple from Istria, Croatia reported they were having a spike but their borders were still open. Masks were worn indoors but not outdoors, there weren’t temperature checks everywhere or as much hand sanitizer/“cologna” use. The other couple were 50-ish from Ukraine. She had some health issues. They were in Turkey to escape Covid in the Ukraine. They said the situation was bad there. Even though they had private health insurance, the private hospitals have refused to treat Covid sending patients to public hospitals which are completely lacking in resources. Hearsay though it is, I thought I’d pass it on.

I’ll try to post an update when I see how things are in Antalya.
Hey James, thanks for the Covid test info. I had all ready planned an exit test there before my flight home. Now they’ve made it even easier. Many of the hotels in Istanbul are offering a Covid test that comes to you at your hotel.
Hunkered down for the night until tomorrow at 10am, yours truly.

Posted by
12133 posts

Thenosbigs, thank you for the update. Its helping me make some decisions for December.

Posted by
12133 posts

Anyone that believed that the reporting has been accurate, especially from countries with challenging infrastructures or political situations,, has been in a dream world the last 6 months. Fortunately Turkish Air continues its flights to the US.

Posted by
103 posts

Thenosbigs, please keep posting! I’d like to go to Turkey some day and right now, I enjoy traveling vicariously via posts such as yours. Also, I’m curious about how other countries are dealing with the pandemic.

Posted by
2643 posts

Ufkak, Thanks for your continual valuable information about the region.

thenosbigs has disappeared for several days...can't help but wonder what has happened.

Posted by
45 posts

Hey guys, all good here in Turkey! Uflak let me first say my heart goes out to your friends and family in Bulgaria. I had read and seen a story about the situation there. It’s disconcerting to say the least.
Again, to anyone who wants to tell me I came here without my eyes wide open to the possibilities of travel during this time, I didn’t. I weighed my risks. I’ve been through Covid all ready and hopefully I’m ripe with antibodies still to protect me and those I come in contact with from spreading the disease. (Yes a few people have gotten it a second time, I know. I felt my odds are pretty good.) I don’t need scolding for being out. Save that for the states who still don’t have mask mandates. That said, let me pull up an Ionic column, loosen my toga and pour myself a goblet of sarap and tell you how it’s going. Sorry for the pun but I spent the day at Hieropolis today and the Roman is coming out in me.
After leaving Cappadocia, I flew to Antalya reasoning a 1 hour flight beat 10 hours in a bus for social distancing. I upgraded my $20 plane ticket by $5 to choose a seat in row 1 because as great as the airlines are with Covid protocols, as soon as they pull up to the gangway everyone shoves their way to get out regardless of being told to depart one row at a time.

After the chilly climes of Cappadocia, Antalya’s warmth and sunny beaches charmed me. Nestled into an old Ottoman Empire style mansion turned hotel within the walls of Kaleici a few blocks from Hadrian’s gate (Hotel 1207 for those interested) I succumbed to its charms and quickly began re-writing my travel plans. After visiting Aspendos and Side’s ancient ruins as side trips from Antalya, I decided I’d had my fill of ancient ruins and nixed my plans to go to Ephesus. It was kind of like cathedral burnout in Western Europe and I didn’t want the extra exposure of public transit. It was a bit sad wandering the labyrinth of streets where everyday shopkeepers set out their wares looking for the usual hordes of tourists. Other times it was exhilarating to have the lanes and alleys all to myself.
Interestingly every hotel I’ve stayed has slightly different protocols for Covid. One wasn’t doing maid service, one was but removed the coffee/tea service and mini bar contents, one had me fill out a length questionnaire, one had everything including towels “sanitized” and wrapped in plastic. All took temperature checks including one that did daily. The new takeaway only at restaurants rule has definitely put a damper on things more than I originally expected. I hadn’t realized how much it affects the contacts and connections you make with the locals and fellow travelers over a cup of coffee or dinner out. Those conversations are what drive my love of travel especially when I’m flying solo. Fortunately hotel owners and staff have filled some of that void.
Yesterday, I took the 3.5 hour bus ride from Antalya to Pamukkale. Temperature check before going into the bus station and again before getting on the bus. First thing they did was douse everyone with hand sanitizer on the bus then brought out the trolley with refreshments and snacks. Not bad for a $6 bus ticket.
Today was a blissful day walking the travertines of Pamukkale, exploring Hieropolis and swimming in the ancient pool among Roman columns and pediments. It was a brisk morning and as you have to walk barefoot on the calcium deposits, I waited until almost noon to start. Pamukkale had few visitors and I was able to take photo after photo with nobody in them. What a treat! I walked for miles exploring the ruins of Hieropolis with nothing but the breeze and the birds to interrupt my thoughts. I swam in the warm spring waters in the ancient pool which I had to myself albeit one other person. It was a pinch me moment having so much to oneself that I will never forget. Tomorrow I head to Istanbul to wrap up this extraordinary time. Scuttlebutt is more rules maybe announced Friday.

Posted by
12133 posts

thenosbigs, thank you for the update. I've been having conversations with a few folks I have come to know in Istanbul and Antalya; and your update is consistent with their input. Makes me wish I had left a few weeks earlier. I know you are out having a good time, but do drop us a note from time to time.

Best, James

Posted by
14211 posts

thenos - thank you for your reporting. It's brightened my days, remembering my own experiences. Wishing you nothing but the best for the rest of your trip.

Posted by
865 posts

Thanks for the update! I am glad you are having some amazing experiences and that things are working out for you. Turkey is a “some day” for me, but I love to read about it.

Posted by
3571 posts

I am glad it all worked out, allbeit with some trade offs. I remember being in Egypt a few months after the Arab Spring and having the inner chamber of the Great Pyramid all to myself.
I enjoyed my quick 3 days in Istanbul but never really thought of Turkey itself as a destination involving further travel. The more I read these trip reports and posts, the more it appeals.
Hope you have an uneventful trip home.

Posted by
525 posts

thenos- I found your updates quite interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by
12133 posts

asking about whether the mask mandates and lockdowns are really
enforced for tourists.

Don't believe I have seen that question on this forum. So why dont you stay with this one and avoid the bad ones.

Posted by
12133 posts

I have been working on a part business, part pleasure trip to Ukraine. I was surprised to find a govt Ukraine travel site with a bold header "Ukraine us open to Tourism". But they do have COVID test requirements. And I believe you can get the Ruskie vaccine there. Still, I will wait till March.

Posted by
14211 posts

There was an interview yesterday on Israeli radio with a college student who is currently in Istanbul. She's an Israeli, been there for a couple of months. Since her university here has remote learning, she's decided to stay in Turkey for the time being. She said - The current lockdown is from evening until morning (if I remember correctly, about 8 or 9 pm until 6 or 7 am). During the day everyone goes to work, school, etc. The nighttime curfew does not apply to tourists (!) or prayers at mosques. No music can be played after 9 pm (including in homes!). The curfew is pretty well enforced in the big cities, maybe not much in outlying areas.

The numbers of cases don't sound too high, but I did hear on CNN that Turkey only counts symptomatic cases (in the US only about 40% of all cases).

Posted by
12133 posts

When I discovered there was little uniformity in how the numbers were developed, and then combining that with strained or underdeveloped infrastructures charged with the number collections in many countries; I pretty much gave up tracking the numbers in a comparative attempt. ie. the US is worse or better than country X. The same people who say the US is the worst in the world also say a place like Turkey is the worse in the world, if it fits an a different agenda. No one knows. No one could know; but I suspect we are pretty much in the middle of the pack. How about we all just admit that its bad everywhere and everyone is struggling to keep a balance between dying today from the plague or dying today, tomorrow and for the next 20 years because of poverty and diseases caused or exacerbated by poverty. If you are going to travel, I think the local health care is a larger consideration than the numbers in all but the most extreme cases.