Oh the wonders of Turkey! The many sides of this country would take weeks to visit. Cramming it into one week didn’t do it justice. As I understand it, the European side of Turkey and the Asian side provide two very different experiences and adventures. We focused on the European side, given our short stay there, with an exception of visiting Cappadocia, which is in central Turkey.
I must stop and call out Turkish Airlines. Although I wasn’t impressed with the boarding process and timeliness of them – from / to JFK (my friend who was flying from Houston had a much more satisfactory experience with them), BUT the in-flight service and food was the best I’ve ever experienced with any airline.
In Turkey, we opted to fly between the cities using Pegasus airline, a no-frill airline kind of similar to our Southwest airlines. Problem was that they always had a delay and Istanbul is the hub, so no matter which city we were visiting, we had to stop in Istanbul and change airplanes. Because of this, we were forced to take super early flights to not miss too many daytime hours, it made for a very tiring trip with very little sleep.
One of the oldest and most interesting ancient ruins, I’ve visited. To walk down the walkway where Caesar, Cleopatra and the likes once walked is a pretty damn good feeling. Flying into Izmir and having to take a nearly 2 hour drive to Kusadasi was painful at 1 am and expensive. It’s the one place, I wasn’t able to find a cheaper form of transportation and haggling doesn’t work. They know you don’t have many options and it’s a take or leave it attitude. Taking a taxi or a previously scheduled shuttle (which we hadn’t) seemed to be our only options. The shuttle service was slightly cheaper. Daytime arrivals may be able to take advantage of a subway system that takes you close to the area and then buses are available.
The city of Kusadasi was like most beach towns. Pretty, scenic, a center with shops, bars, restaurants, beach and everything you would expect of a city by the Mediterranean. I did however nearly lost my life in the water. Since we had only one full day here and we had spent most of the day sightseeing, I was determined to get into the Mediterranean sea that I love so much. I decided to walk down from our hotel and find an access to the water. My friend opted for the poolside. As I was walking toward the center of the town with the public beach access, I came across a beach bar which reduced its entry fee of 10 euros to 5 euros for me to enter. To get into the water, I had to climb down some steps, which was fine, but at this point it was nearly 6 pm and tide was high. I swam a bit in very deep waters but when trying to climb back out, getting a solid hold of the steps and putting my foot on the very slippery steps proved nearly impossible as the waves were crushing into me and knocking me off. The other problem was that right behind the stairs were big rocks where the bar was built on. I had to forgo trying to hold on to my bikini in order to keep at least one hand tight around the railing so that the waves would crash me into the rocks. This exercise took nearly 10 minutes before I could get my foot on the steps and climb out. I did bruise my fingers in the process but I made it out. One gentleman finally noticed I was struggling. He was coming to the rescue but by then I had made it. I didn’t go back in .. as much as I wanted to.
I’m not sure if there is anything to see in the city of Izmir but doubt it. It’s just an airport to get you to where you really want to go, which is probably Ephesus. Ephesus is one of the best preserved ancient ruins and they are still excavating. Many of the discoveries have been under rocks and dirt due to the frequent earthquakes in the region. Ephesus holds the very first ever built library, the biblioteque (duh), and the second largest ancient coliseum, after the one in Rome of course. You can see the largest merchant trading square, where these merchants and royalties walked to get to this very modern city during its time. This is one of the few areas I recommend getting a guided tour. I wish I could remember the name of the tour company that we chose. He was extremely knowledgeable. Be sure to book a tour before arriving if you have limited time here. We were very lucky to find one as most were sold out or had already left by the time we woke up for breakfast.
This tour also included a visit to the Virgin Mary’s house, which I had no idea existed. This is the house where she resided after Jesus was killed and it is where she died. The house was buried under dirt and rocks for thousands of years until, as the story goes, a German in 1920s had a vision about the location of the house. It wasn’t until some 70 years later that the house was discovered. Today is a shrine and a big tourist site.
Also included, is the site of the old Apollo temple. You don’t need to go here. There is absolutely nothing left here of the structure except a few locals trying to sell you a book with pictures of what it could’ve looked like. Some tours include this but just be sure to not seek it or pay for it thinking that there’s anything to see.
We stopped at a authentic Turkish restaurant in a village near the ruins that had some of the best Turkish food Ive ever tasted. Ask for the place in Seven Sleepers.
The hotel where we stayed was nice but sadly there was a nightclub down the hill that kept the entire neighborhood up until 4 am. There was no escaping and no sleeping. Researching the hotels and staying at one of the more expensive resorts may be worth it. Oh and the random fireworks one night around 1 am for no real reason… as if we could sleep anyway. Earplugs didn’t do the trick for me!
This region has the biggest crop of fruits and vegetation in Turkey. You can see acres and acres of fruit trees and farms while driving about. I can’t recall for certain but I think dates and fig trees are mostly grown in this area. Given its rich soil, weather, location by the sea, and obvious derived benefits, no wonder the old world’s biggest merchant market was located here and was desired by many empires.
A painful early morning flight via Istanbul brought us to this magical city. I knew nothing about this place and wasn’t on my list of places to visit but it was on my friend’s list. This city will not disappoint and it is worth seeing at least once in your lifetime. It is a city right out of the movie sets, in fact the background for the movie Star Wars, was filmed in the outskirts of this town. The actual movie couldn’t be filmed here given the political turbulence of the time.
The city was built with homes in caves and some underground cities going as far back as 10,000 BC – that is as far as they can trace because there is nothing left of times prior to that. The underground cities can go as far as 12 levels. We made it to seven levels below. This is where in ancient times, the locals would hide, sometimes for months from invasions. The one interesting fact, is that we could see where they kept the live stock – yes underground – baked bread, water wells, slept..etc., but no sign of a bathroom. It is still unknown how they managed this.
Many of the hotels are built in the caves, so you can stay in a true cave hotel or a resort that resembles a cave hotel but it’s not, because it still need the use of air conditioning. We stayed at the latter. A very nice resort but not a true cave hotel. We saw our very first salt room. You can sit in this room and then go into one of the steam rooms or spa rooms. Salt is known to remedy allergies, etc. A very interesting experience. Cappadocia Cave Resort and Spa. Most people don’t want to stay in this part of the city, you have to catch a bus or taxi to get to the main town. A lot of the higher-end resorts are in Uchisar, which is an area set on top of a hill away from the downtown area. Uchisar Castle is on top of the hill in this area but it’s not much to it. Not a real castle… but if you climb to the top you will get a view of the city below. I didn’t find this much interesting.
A MUST DO- take a hot air balloon here. It is one of the most magnificent views you”ll ever see from a hot air balloon. The view is like something from a magical movie. You don’t need the 1.5 hour ride, one hour should do it and do your research online for deals before going there. But prices range from $180-300.
There are three types of tours you can take here and all tour companies sell the same but with a little difference in prices. The tours are red, blue, green. You can do the red tour on your own but just walking about the town. We chose the green tour, which took us to a hike near the river, site of the Star Wars filming and the cave attractions near by, and the largest underground city. I recommend this one. Goreme open air museum is a popular spot here, you can do this with the red tour or do it on your own. This is the section of the city with the ancient cave homes and cave churches.
Stay in the old city, a.k.a Sultanahamet area. You can walk to all the nearby attractions without a need for a tour, unless you are one of those people that prefers Touts. I’m not. I like being on my own time. The Blue Masque, Hagia Sophia, the museums, Basilica Cistern, Sultan’s palace… all around in one central location. One hint about Sultan’s palace, you can skip the long lines, if you didn’t pay the extra $25+ to get the fast track pass, by going around 3 or 4 pm. There is no line but what you should keep in mind is that although you can see the palace until 7 pm, the harem houses, which is the biggest attraction, close at 6. You can see them until 7 but you cannot buy the ticket after 6. This ticket is not sold outside with the entry to the palace ticket. you have to purchase it inside the palace, something tours don’t tell you.
Be sure to wear a long skirt or pants and take something to cover your shoulders when going to the masque. Ladies will be give a scarf for the head and shoulders but my friend who was wearing capri pants was given a hard time for the length of the pants.
Hagia Sophia is a combination of Islam meets Christianity and you can see the works of each inside this magnificent architecture. Right inside the entrance there is a video being played of the history of this monument. If you are not part of a tour, watch this. It gives almost all the information you would receive in the tour.
Basilica Cistern is an interesting place that most people don’t have on their list. Inside this ancient cistern that lies under the city, there are a few columns with the head of Medusa sculpted on the bottom. One of these is set sideways. There are a few explanations why, but I’ll leave it for you to discover.
Walk down the main road down to Zia Sark Sofrasi (restaurant) and order the dish Ali Nazik. I heard someone in Kusadasi try to order this dish the restaurant didn’t know what it was. Not sure if it’s a regional dish but when I got to Istanbul, I made sure I try this. Oh it will not disappoint. A Turkish pizza seems to be popular as well.
Bospherus tour – you will at some point lose your patience with someone trying to sell you the boat tour. At every corner, there are at least six people trying to sell you this tour. It is definitely worth take a boat ride but you can go to the ferry station and buy a ticket to get on the ferry for about $3. The tours will sell you a ride on their tour ferries for anywhere from $50 to up to $200ish, depending on what they offer on the boat. You decide if you want a quick ride around or need the frills. You may want to take the ride in daytime and night time to see the lights.
The spice market and Grand Bazaar are also within walking distance of the Blue Mosque. You will not need public transportation to get to any of these places, unless you decide to cross the river and go to the attractions on the other side, which is actually the Asian side but yet has all the Christians sightseeing, where as the old city, the European side has the non-Christian history. You can find a lot of shopping at the Grand Bazaar but don’t expect bargains. I found the prices same as, if not more, expensive as any other shopping area in Turkey. Bargain all you can.
If you find a nice place to take in a Turkish bath, I would recommend. Hagia Sophia bath house is the most famous but also the most expensive. We found a really nice one and a great bath/massage package at the Pierre Loti hotel. It’s private and not an open Turkish bath. So if you are looking for the authentic Turkish bath experience, you’ll have to go to one of the ones in town and not in the hotels.
One night walking about the neighborhood, we noticed a graveyard right on the side of the crazy busy street. It didn’t even phase us anyone else that this was a graveyard, there was a sign for a tea house and hooka bar. We sat among what seems liked locals, mostly young guys watching a soccer game on tv, and drank our Turkish tea. It became bustling with the young local crowd as the night wore on but not once did we think we were sitting in the middle of a grave yard.
Three days should be enough seeing Istanbul. In the summer time some take day trips to the Black Sea or the Princess Island, a remote island where only horse carriages and biles provide transportation. We didn’t do either but maybe next time.
I recommend eating a much as possible here. Try the fabulous Turkish cuisine as much as you can. It was one of the highlights of this trip for me.
One lat memory from this country, every shop owner will try to get you to go into their story in this manner “please come into my shop. Where are you from?” It didn’t matter where I said I was from there was always a story about that country to try to get you into the store. Never did I understand why! If I wanted to shop, I’d go in, regardless of what country I’m from. My nationality remained a puzzle to the Turks as they thought I was one of them, if not, I was either Brazilian or Italian or ,,,,, That part was entertaining.