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Trip Report Quick notes from 2 weeks in Turkey

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We got back from Turkey a couple weeks ago, and all I can is…wow! It was wonderful, and exceeded all expectations. Lots of thanks to this board who helped me with everything for planning the trip.
I will not do a day by day trip report, but will try to list some things that hopefully will help the others.

Domestic flights in Turkey – we flew both Turkish Airlines and SunExpress. They were all very good, always on time. I booked them online before leaving, and the booking process was easy. On all flights we got a snack (sandwich, salad, cookie) plus soft beverages, water, coffee, tea. Much better than any US domestic flight.

Car rental – we rented from Budget, who had the best price for what we wanted. We got an automatic diesel Citroen of some sort, and had no problems with it. Yes, gas is expensive in Turkey, but the car was very efficient and we used less than a tank in a week. There is no traffic, unless you drive through bigger cities, so you almost own the road.

GPS – we had our own which was in most cases useless (see the ton of bad reviews for Garmin/Turkey maps on Amazon). While it found our hotel each time, it never found any point of interest. In our case, the ruins…

Language barriers – there were none. Even in restaurants without an English menu and with nobody speaking English, people were so friendly and eager to help that we always managed to communicate with them.

Istanbul Card – we got it mostly to skip the lines, and it worked well for us.

Time in Istanbul – we had 3 ½ days and I think this would be the minimum to spend there. More would be better, as there is so much to see. Here is how we spent our time there:
Day 1 (the ½ day) – we were hoping to do the Bosphorus Cruise, but customs and getting to our hotel took longer than anticipated, so we decided to skip it. We just walked around, soaking the atmosphere.

Day 2 – Topkapi Palace (spent 4-5 hours there), then after lunch Hagia Sophia (about 2 hrs, maybe more), Basilica Cistern (~ 1hr) and the Blue Mosque (another hr or so). It helps that are all close-by. At Topkapi, we were there at 9am, and visited the Harem first, which was a very good approach to avoid the crowds. Hagia Sophia was absolute amazing.

Day 3 - Yenii Cami, the Spice Bazaar, Rustem Pasha, Süleymaniye Mosque and the Grand Bazaar. Finding an entrance to the Grand Bazaar was not as easy as expected, but it gave us the opportunity to see some parts of Istanbul we would have missed otherwise.

Day 4 - Dolmabahçe Palace and Chora Church. It was raining and we did not have time to go back to Galata Tower. But for Chora Church it was all worth it.

We did not get on the Asian side of Istanbul, so we will have to go back some day.

Public transportation in Istanbul – you can pay per ride (3 TL/ride), or get a card that costs 5TL (you get that back when you return the card) which allows you to pay just 2 TL/ride. The only problem was that while you can buy regular tokens at any tram stop, you can add TL to your tram card only in some places, and these places are not always a tram stop. In once instance we walked in circles to find the kiosk that would let us add more TL to the card, did not find it and bought regular tokens instead. So use the card, but make sure you add more TL in advance, to have enough on the card when you need it.
Trams are fast and frequent, easy to use.

Restaurants in Istanbul - let’s start with food in general in Turkey. Delicious! We did not have a single bad meal. We drank the local tap water sometimes, and had no funny stomach issue.
• Amedros – good food close to our hotel
• Sarnic – magic atmosphere in an old candle-lit cistern. Very good food, too.
• Pasazade – another great meal. The restaurant was at street level, but after dinner they invited us to have our drinks on their terrace on the 8th floor. Great views.
• Imbat – good food, nice service, but while we were enjoying our dessert they told us we need to move to a different table because ours was reserved by someone else. Couldn’t they waited another 10 minutes? We would have been out of there…oh well.

Ephesus – we did that as a very early flight from Istanbul, and spent the following night in Selcuk. Our hotel picked us up at the airport, so we were in Ephesus at about 10:30am.

We spent more than 3 hrs there, and it was amazing. Glad we went, even though the crowds were a lot worse than in Istanbul. We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the St.John basilica in Selcuk. Too bad the archeological museum was closed…

The terrace house require an additional entry fee, but it’s soooo worth it.

Cappadocia – we had about 3 1/2 days there, and were happy with that amount of time. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, and while we expected temperatures in the 60s, we got them in the 30s with periods of drizzle. It was only on our 3rd day there that we found a store selling hats and gloves…

We stayed in Goreme (in a cave hotel – I strongly recommend the experience), and given the Goreme – Urgup debate, we are happy we picked Goreme. It gave us a great base for exploring the area. We did not rent a car, but took a green tour one day for the Ihlara Valley and an underground city, and another ½ day tour for the Cavusin / Pasabagi Valley area. We passed through Urgup, and it looked much bigger than Goreme. We tend to like smaller towns.

I read a lot about how crowded the Goreme Open Air Museum was, but we found it ok. Maybe because of the rain? Again, the Dark Church requires an additional fee, but it deserves it.

Restaurants in Goreme:
• Seten
• Dibek – definitely one of the favorites of the trip
• My Mother’s House – ok. We wanted to try Topdeck, but it was closed that day (I think it was a Sunday), and the hotel recommended this instead. Not as good as the other two, but really, not bad.

We did not do the balloon ride. We originally wanted to, but changed our mind after the fatal accident in May. While we were there, the flights were canceled for 4 days in a row due to weather (is it “flights” when it comes to balloons?). Anyway, the 5th day they finally went up, and what a show that was!

Unfortunately, the winds were still stronger than ideal, and one balloon crashed into one of the fairy chimneys. There were no injuries, but a couple staying in our hotel happened to be in that balloon, and they said it was scary. Other people we talked to who were in a different balloon talked about spinning out of control at a point, although they did not have any incident. I guess after 4 days of no income, balloon companies were a little too eager to get back in the air, cutting some security corners. It made me wonder how many other “small” accidents were there, but without any fatality, that we never heard about.

Turquoise Coast – we flew from Cappadocia via Istanbul to Dalaman, and rented a car. We kept it for 6 days (4 in Kas, 2 in Cirali).

About Kalkan-Kas debate – we were happy to pick Kas. It’s smaller, with a nice pedestrian only zone, good restaurants, and a good base for the area.

Restaurants in Kas, all recommended:
• Ikbal – very good, we returned a 2nd time
• Maya
• Bahce

Cats in Turkey: they are everywhere, all very clean and (or at least so it seems), very well fed. They have good manners (if you can say that about cats), and while they are around when you eat, they never beg, never harass you for food. If you offer…then it’s appreciated.

How we spent our time:
Day 1 - Patara and Letoon
Day 2 – day trip to a Greek island (Turks call it Meis, Greeks call it "Kastellorizo" (or "Castellorizo"). It’s a small island, with not much to do, but a totally different atmosphere than Turkey.
Day 3 – Xanthos and Saklikent gorge
Day 4 – Kekova island and Simena (our hotel arranged the boat), then St. Nicholas Church, in Demre and Myra on our way to Cirali
Day 5 – Olympos

We flew back from from Antalya. Returning the car was easy, the only tricky part was figuring out that we needed to get INTO the airport parking lot for that, behind the barrier. The car rental return sign was small, on the left hand side.

I know this is just a summary, and if I had time and some talent I could write a book about it, but instead I will let you see the pictures and just encourage everybody to go to Turkey.
http://ioana-mark.smugmug.com/Travel/2013-Turkey/32591480_G4Gx7T#!i=2847434024&k=wBkSGCM

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