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Trip Report Cappadocia/Kas/Cirali/IST Spring 2014 Trip Report

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This is a delayed trip report that I am posting on both Fodors and TA. Special thanks to everyone who helped with planning and logistics. For really good Turkey trip reports check out Ian, KJA, yestravel and xyz99 on Fodors (all of whom are regular posters with outstanding TR’s from all over the world) and biffdog on TA, who was new to me but has a fantastic Turkey TR blog with great info.

Rather than provide a day-by-day breakdown, I am concentrating on those questions that seem to come up a lot, in hopes it will help others with planning. Latter part of May/early June was mostly ideal weather everywhere.

ITINERARY DECISIONS – The best advice I received from the forums was to fly directly to Cappadocia, avoiding an extra overnight stay in Istanbul. We took Turkish Airlines nonstop from LAX with a 3.5 hour layover in IST, connecting on Turkish Air to Kayseri. This meant that we reserved Istanbul for the end of our trip and avoided an overnight in Istanbul on arrival in Turkey – a real time saver. Our full itinerary was 4 nights in Cappadocia (Goreme) so we would have three full days, 5 nights in Kas, 3 nights in Cirali, and ended with 5 nights in Istanbul. We scheduled an unusually long amount of time for R&R on the Mediterranean in the middle of the trip. For those not seeking extended relaxation time, this itinerary would work well for more of a “road trip” along the Mediterranean coast. Tip: It is very difficult to get nonstop flights from the Cappadocia area (Kayseri or Nevshehir) to Antalya unless you are willing to travel very late at night or early in the morning, so it can take a full day to get to Kas – as it did for us. For those who want to include Ephesus in their itinerary, you could more easily fly nonstop from Cappadocia to Izmir, see Ephesus and work your way down the coast toward Antalya before flying to IST. I have been to Ephesus before, so that’s why we skipped it this trip. Figure my husband will see it as a cruise ship stop when we are really old as opposed to just old as we now are.

BOOKING FLIGHTS/HOTELS – we booked everything 5 to 6 months in advance and were able to get good prices for the overseas flight as well as the flights inside Turkey. Use a Turkish travel agent to book domestic flights or figure out how to navigate the Turkish Airlines website for domestic use or use Atlas Air, as we did, for one of our domestic flights. All domestic flights were on time and with refreshments. I used TA and forum advice to pick hotels and booked them directly. Beware flying in or out of the Asian side of IST.

OTHER RESOURCES -- Didn’t really like any of the overall Turkey guidebooks, so photocopied pages from library copies. Used Rick Steves’ Istanbul and liked it. My husband strongly recommends the following app: Sygic. We used this for GPS navigation walking and driving without using any cellphone data; it’s a little idiosyncratic but once we got used to that it worked like a charm.

CAPPADOCIA – Amazing tourist infrastructure, great hospitality industry. Set up for very late arrivals, so no problem arriving to the airport at 10:30 p.m. and hotel at midnight. The Goreme vs. Urgup question: We were very happy in Goreme and liked the idea of the little town for wandering. We also liked being in the midst of the fairy chimneys at Aydlini Cave Hotel and were happy with our choice. The family is extremely nice and the breakfast and view are fantastic. Room 12 is one of the largest rooms and one of the only ones with a/c, which we didn’t need in May but may have appreciated other times of year. It wasn’t a full cave room – but had windows with a view of fairy chimneys and a lovely terrace. Nothing fancy but with character, clean, and overall a delightful place to stay. Our “fine dining” experience at Topdeck was not as good as others have found it, but we really enjoyed pide at a local place. I think we would skip the fine dining and go for more of the cafes along the main street in Goreme.

Three full days was just right for us since we weren’t rushed at all. We chose to skip the balloon ride (I’m afraid of heights and my husband is afraid of getting up early), but I was so glad I woke up the first morning to see the incomparable view of the balloons in the sky above the hotel. The first day we were dropped off by the hotel (our hotel provided this service within Goreme) at a trail to the various valleys and managed to get lost, which was fine. We followed walking groups, meandered through various valleys loving the hiking and scenery and saw the nicest of the hidden churches. Bought fresh squeezed orange juice along the way. After snacking on gozleme (yum) in one of the little villages the hotel picked us up and dropped us at the open air museum. To do the museum or not: Interesting to see the collection of churches, but not mandatory. From there we walked the half-hour or so back to Goreme and wandered the town a bit before dinner.

The next day we hired a car and driver through the hotel and were taken to the various spots to see interesting rock formations and walk around some more. We also saw an Underground City on that day. (On this day we did a combination of some of what's offered on the "blue" and "red" tours -- but at our own pace, without shopping stops, and a shorter day.)

On our final day we used the same car and driver to go to the Ilhara Valley and Selime Monastery. While it is over a one-hour drive, it’s worth taking a day for an easy and relaxing walk in the Ilhara Valley, which is really beautiful. You can do a long or short version. Either way, eating lunch at one of the restaurants on the river is delightful and only $10. The Selime Monastery was also very interesting. We could have done this on the “green tour” for less money, but it would have been a very long day since it includes the Underground City on the same day. However, for those on a tight budget or short on time, you can see a lot in a full day on the green tour.

KAS – Flew Turkish Airlines to Antalya, connecting through IST. Picked up rental car reserved through AutoEurope for 8 days. Could have saved a LOT of money renting through a local agency, but the third-party liability was spelled out on the AutoEurope website and made me more comfortable. Yes, gas is very expensive at $10 per gallon, but we only ended up filling the tank for about $75 for the whole week. The drive to Kas is about 3.5 hours – so it’s a long day from Cappadocia.

Staying in town or the peninsula: We chose the peninsula at Hotel Cachet so we could have more of a “resort” atmosphere with swimming pool and peace and quiet, gorgeous views and balcony. My husband loved it; I would have preferred to stay in town. I didn’t like the rutted and windy drive out to the peninsula or the sense of isolation. It was unseasonably cool and windy, so I didn’t even get to use the pool although we sat around it. This was our “veg” time so we relaxed most of the days, but went into the lovely town of Kas most evenings. Lots of restaurants to choose from and great for walking around. Find the bakery just off the U-shaped road that juts into the center of town.

We spent one full day on a boat trip which was great and would have been greater if it had been less windy and a bit warmer. Normally, it’s a wonderful opportunity for swimming and snorkeling. Captain Ali was a gracious and accommodating host, sailor, guide and cook on his boat BATIN and he is easily found once you get to Kas; he does respond to emails in advance (see TA reviews). One of our best meals of the trip was his fish lunch with the absolute best mezze we ate on our whole trip. He’s also highly attentive to his passengers’ individual needs. Highly recommend a boat trip if it’s warm and sunny! (Caution: If you have a tendency to get seasick, take pills before departing; it can be choppy – or it can be smooth as glass.)

We had some great “fine dining” meals in Kas, but had a terrific meal at a family restaurant, Kazim, where we had our first experience with hot baklava covered with ice cream.

Our other major day excursion was to see the ruins at Patara. We weren’t sure if we should bother because we’ve both seen plenty of ruins, but what makes these unique is their setting, their extent and the partial reconstruction, which unlike so many other ruins, allow your imagination to fill an image in what the city may have looked like.

For dinner there are a number of trout restaurants not far away from Patara at Islamar above Kalkan. We checked TA reviews and went to Pinarbasi with a great terrace. While the trout (freshly caught from their own pond) and accompaniments – especially the freshly picked “rocket” (arugula) – were all excellent, the baked halva was one of the extraordinary deserts we have ever eaten (really high praise from us for something containing no chocolate). Visiting the trout restaurants at Islamar is a nice change – many people go for lunch to avoid the heat of the coastal area.

For those who want more activities than we did, Kas is great. There is the boat trip to the Greek island, kayaking, plenty of walks and in-town beach platforms. We took the opportunity to go carpet shopping in Kas, thus avoiding doing it in Istanbul. There are enough shops for variety but the city is small and easy-going so it wasn’t a pressured experience, as we suspect Istanbul would have been, and that left us free in Istanbul to sightsee. We visited about 5 shops that were very low-key, and ended up very happy with our purchase from one of them. Much more of a soft-sell and a very positive experience during which we also learned a lot about carpets and carpet-making and drank a lot of tea. And BTW, the carpet looks great! Don’t forget to measure your space and bring swatches if you are trying to match a color. Ours was small enough to take home in a carry-on the store provided.

(In 2001, when I previously visited Turkey with my then-college age daughter, we took a gulet for six nights along the Med coast and visited all sorts of remote sites and ruins. This was a great way to travel and I encourage those wanting to explore the coastal area to research this possibility – especially if you have a large enough group to charter your own gulet. We joined a small group and got lucky.)

KAS OR CIRALI? That had been the debate for our coastal time, so we decided to do both since we had a total of 8 nights. Kas has so many activities and plenty of dining and shopping – but I LOVED CIRALI. If you’ve never heard of it, go on the TA Cirali forum where “canmom” answers questions. She is Carrie, who owns Canada House in Cirali, and since she’s Canadian she patiently answers questions in native English on TA. While we didn’t stay at Canada House, it is very popular and Carrie is a great resource.

We chose the Arcadia, because we wanted to be right on the beach. We were extremely happy with it. There are 5 bungalows on the beach side and 5 bungalows that are quite a bit cheaper across the “road” away from the beach. We liked being right at the beach, but you can’t go wrong. The wood bungalows are modern, rounded with window screens and everything opens up to beautiful landscaping….and from ours we could hear the ocean.

The charm of Cirali is that it is a tiny village with very little to do, unless you leave the village and take the 20-minute drive back to the D-400 to go see various nearby ruins. Once we were there, I wasn’t leaving! Again, the weather didn’t fully cooperate and it rained some of the time – unusual for early June. But the beach and sea are wonderful and it’s particularly popular with families.

We hiked to the Chimera one evening and highly recommend seeing this natural wonder. We were sure to do it before dark as the path is rather treacherous. Another day we walked along the beach to the ruins at Olympos – also very worthwhile. At night there are restaurants right on the beach along with other dining choices – all very nice, but nothing fancy. We were there three nights and I didn’t want to leave. You have to be willing to be “off the grid” a bit and we did not see any other Americans while there. What a great, off-the-beaten-path place.

Easy drive back to Antalya Airport, convenient car drop off and quick flight to Istanbul.

ISTANBUL -- First off, Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities for visitors. So much to see, do and experience and, of course, great food. Since so much info is readily available on IST, I will just touch, again, on the “decisions” to make.

How long to spend in IST? We had 5 nights, 4.5 days and that worked well for us, although another day is great for those who want to see sights more in-depth or take a cooking class. This provided time for an all-day food tour (see below), short visits to some of the main sights (Aya Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Underground Cistern) , a day on the Asian side exploring Kadikoy market and environs, and a 1.5 hour Tiryol boat ride on the Bosphorus. My husband visited the Archaeological Museum while I had an extra visit to the Spice Bazaar, which I preferred for our limited shopping time over the Grand Bazaar. If you are carpet shopping in Istanbul, definitely add more time. I realize there are many places we did NOT visit like other mosques, the Chora Museum, the fortress, etc. We purchased a museum pass to avoid lines, and was well worth it. Individual purchase of e-tickets to Aya Sophia and Topkapi were not available at the time; that would have been the most cost-effective for us.

Where to stay? We preferred Sirceci to Sultanahmet and were glad we stayed there. However, it wasn’t worth all my stress in trying to figure out where to stay. The Neorion is exceptionally clean and well-planned out with a beautiful view from the roof deck, but I would have preferred a place that offered breakfast on the roof deck. We really wanted a room without street noise and the Neorion delivered with a room facing the back that was very quiet. The trams are so easy that we would have been fine in Sultanahmet, but I liked having a shorter walk to the Spice Bazaar and the Galata bridge as well as being right next to Hocapasa Street for wonderful, inexpensive restaurants in a lively area at night. My vote is Sirceci over Sultanahmet.

We were THRILLED we took the Istanbul Eats Tour. I am always skeptical of organized tours, especially when they are $125 per person, but hundreds of five star reviews can’t all be wrong! What a great company (Culinary Backstreets) and great tours. If we had not planned on going to the Asian side to see Kadikoy on our own we would have taken the Two Markets, Two Continents Tour. Instead, we took the Backstreets of the Grand Bazaar tour, a slight misnomer because it was really the area from the Spice Bazaar to the Grand Bazaar and its surroundings. In addition to all the fabulous foods (and you can read all about this and their other tours on their website and in TA reviews) we saw little hidden workshops and got a feel for where and how the artisans work. We knew we were not in Kansas! This was a very special day and $125 per person well spent. If you don’t go on the tour, visit the website to order their wonderful pocket-size book of recommended restaurants – given free to those who take the tour.

Other miscellaneous recommendations about IST:

• Do go on the Bosphorous – but the 1.5 Tiryol boat ride was not mandatory (although enjoyable) once we took a ferry ride across to Kadikoy. Really enjoyed the Kadikoy market and walking the area, although Ciya restaurant didn’t quite live up to the raves. OTOH, Baylan, a bakery/ice cream shop, does live up to the reviews for its infamous Coupe Grille/Kup Griye – an ice cream confection with caramel and crunch that is actually worth the pricey $7.

• Pay attention to closing days of the major attractions and plan accordingly. Rick Steves has a handy list in his Istanbul guidebook.

• Do eat fish sandwiches with separate containers of pickle juice from "boats" set up at the side of the Galata Bridge.

• Watch out for ATM fees. Bank of America had no partner banks with ATM’s in IST and the fees were up to $23 for a single withdrawal. We withdrew a lot of cash in order to get the 10% hotel discounts, but in some cases the ATM fees may have really cut into that logic.

• Do visit the Gulluoglu baklava factory in Karakoy (right near where the cruise ships dock). They will vacuum pack small packets to take home as gifts that will remain fresh for 7 days. Great gifts, but you will also feel like you have extended your trip if you can eat real Turkish baklava when you get home.

• We also bought honeycomb honey in one of the markets that we had loved at hotel breakfasts and had it vacuum packed for travel. Really enjoyed this special treat at home. (Perhaps ask them to “double” vacuum pack.)

• As others have said, buy whatever teas and spices you can possibly use. They will vacuum pack them, they weigh almost nothing, and are much cheaper and better than at home – at least better than what we readily find in the US.

• Lastly, we were so glad we bought our carpet in Kas. It would have been so overwhelming to go rug-shopping in Istanbul.

Turkey remains a fascinating destination, even after my second trip. There are so many choices of areas to visit. Narrowing them down is the first order of planning your trip. Hope this helped!

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