We have just returned home from a fantastic holiday of just over 3 weeks in Turkey.
I will start my report with some general comments you may find useful, then more details on the itinerary.
Weather – The whole of Turkey is extremely hot during July & August (high 30-45°C).
We are used to a cooler breeze in the afternoons at home (Sydney), this does not happen, the temperature stays high until after the sun goes down, then the evenings only drop to the mid-high 20’sC.
If you are able to be flexible with your travel dates April – May and Sept –Oct are the best times to travel.
Istanbul Museum card – This was worth getting to avoid the long queues.
Timing your day - At this time of the year there are a lot of cruise ships that visit Istanbul and Kusadasi (for Ephesus). This swells the numbers going through main attractions to extreme numbers on these days. So either get to the attractions you wish to see (e.g. Topkali palace) early (before 9am) or go later in the afternoon.
Dress for Women – Before leaving I was very concerned about if I had suitable clothing.
This worry was totally unnecessary; there is a full range of dress (from the full Burka to short shorts and singlet tops). If we were planning on going to a Mosque, I always had a scarf and wore a longer skirt that day. My husband had trekking shorts where he could zip-on the lower legs, turning his shorts into trousers.
Transport – Istanbul – There is an ‘Istanbul Card’ which is worth getting (15TL). This card can be used on all forms of transport in Istanbul –Trams. Metro, Ferries & Funicular.
You only need to purchase one card, which can be used for all members in your group. The cards are purchased at any kiosk (sells cigarettes, papers, etc) near transport station and you just top up as required depending on how much you use it. It is cheaper per trip than buying individual tokens for the tram etc.
Transport – regionally – Travel by Bus and Dolmus is very well set up and easy to use in Turkey.
We hired a car and so did not need to use the Dolmus, however, if you are younger and going to travel this way it is well organized and cheaper.
Hire Car – We collected the hire car at the airport and dropped it off at a different city so we did not have to drive through Istanbul.
Driving in Turkey – We survived!! It is a challenge (especially as in Australia, we drive on the left side of the road). In some towns the streets are VERY narrow and everyone just pulls-in wherever they like. There is little or no regard for road rules, i.e. pedestrian crossings and traffic lanes and lights are sometimes optional!
The main roads are well signposted and transport you though cities very well. However, once you get into the older sections of towns you need to know where you are going.
There is no speed limit on the main motorways, if you intend to overtake a car, you must check you mirrors 3 times further than you normally would for cars coming up behind you. Traveling at 110kmph you can easily be over-taken by another car that was not there a moment ago (traveling at 180kmph or more).
Navigating – Before leaving home I down-loaded, onto my tablet ‘’Maps to Go’. These are off line maps that do not require you to be connected to the internet.
This was fantastic, as the tablet has a GPS locater in it. I could open the maps while we were driving, enlarge the maps to see the road details and there was a ‘little blue dot’ which marked where we were. This way we knew how far we were along the road, and when we would have to change roads. (We even used this walking around Istanbul, to know where we were).
Accommodation – We found the Pensions and smaller family hotels were the best, with helpful staff and gave the time/interest to help you.
The bigger hotels may have been in good locations, but were just a hotel, found anywhere in the world.
People – We found the people of Turkey very hospitable and happy to out of their way to help you. Most people have some form of English, or there are ‘apps’ available for mobile phones that provide a translation
We flew from Sydney via Seoul (see separate report tagged Seoul) to Istanbul, with two sectors, each 10 & 11hrs in both directions.
Istanbul – 4 nights at Basileus Hotel in Sultanahmet. A friendly, family run hotel, I would recommend. The hotel is in the centre of all the main tourist sites.
The first two days we did the usual sites of the ‘old Area’ of Istanbul.
Headed out to Haghia Sophia. An amazing mosque built originally as a Christian church in 537, then a mosque from 1750. They are doing some major restoration work when we were there. We then wondered across to the blue mosque. They are both near each other with a large open square in the middle setting the whole lot off. It is impossible to convey the grandeur of everything.
We were then ‘accosted’ (politely) and taken into a carpet shop. There are lots of carpet shops and touts out trying to get you into their shops. We were very tempted to buy a rug, but we really don't need another one.
After lunch we wondered through the Cavalry Bazaar and the Mosaics Museum, before heading to the Basilica Cistern. A water reservoir built in 532, with over 300 columns holding up the roof, still standing there, with a city (buildings, & trains) above it. Finally spend the late afternoon getting lost in the Grand Bazaar.
Day 2, another big day of walking. Spent a good 5 hrs in Topkapi Palace (crowded due to cruise ship in town). The most amazing, grand place, with beautiful ceramic tiles covering many rooms and buildings. So different from anything else, amazing fusion of Middle Eastern & European styles.
In the afternoon we wondered down to the Galata Bridge area, to get an idea of where we have to go to meet tomorrow morning for our food tour. Saw the New Mosque and had a look into the spice market. Had a drink and baklava. The menu was a book (pages thick) of many different types of baklava. For dinner, we had a Testi kebab. This was cooked in a terracotta pot, which is then broken in front of you at the table. The little restaurant, spiled out into the street with cars going around you.
Day 3. Had our "foodie" day. Did the Culinary Backstreets Tour, starting in Karakoy under the Galata Bridge then crossing the Bosphorus to the Asian side. Each ‘tasting’ is in a different shop/location.
The morning started with a Simit (bread stick) and tea, and then went to another place for Turkish breakfast. Had Memenen (like scramble eggs with spices) and Kaymak which is water buffalo cream with honey. What was nice was to put Kaymak on you Simit with 'white' cheese.
Then onto a deli to check out their range, then sample some baklava. Borek = savoury, Shobyet = with Kaymak.
Caught ferry to Asian side checked out little stores with pickles, nuts & deli products. Then had some Mezes, then pizza & pide (so much nicer than home). Some soup then Kunefe (cheese desert) finishing with ice cream. Turkish coffee was somewhere in the middle of it all. It was great being taken to places and trying things we would never have known to ask for.
Hired Car and left Istanbul with overnight in Canakkale
Drove out of Istanbul, which just went on for ever, massive high-rise everywhere. There are 17 million people in Istanbul. (2/3 of Australia’s total population). We got to Gallipoli early afternoon. If you are really interested in this area, you should allow a full day to spend in the Gelibolu (Gallipoli) National Park area. You can really see why the WW1 landing was doomed to fail. Anzac Cove is a tiny area with sharp cliffs right at the coast. There is one point were the trenches for both the Anzac and Turks are only a few metres apart. They have made a nice drive (13km) around the area where you can stop at important sights for both the Australian and Turkish memorials.
Took the ferry across the Dardanelle's to Canakkale.
Left Canakkale this morning and called in at Truva (Troy). I was not expecting much, just the Trojan Horse and a few ruins, but there was a lot more than I expected. It is hard to get your mind around the age of everything (3,000BC).
The road south had some winding sections getting down onto the coast, giving some spectacular, iconic views. We had a nice stop on the beach for lunch, no one spoke any English and there was no menu. We ended up with a nice Gozleme that had a seaweed/herb filling.
Canakkale to Bergama. Stayed one night at Athena Pension (Ottoman). Great location and comfortable. We had tea in their back garden, where you can look up to the Acropolis. A nice little (52,000) town, does not appear to be too ‘touristic’. If you have time give yourself more than one night here.
We had a lovely day in Bergama, started by going to see the Acropolis, of Pergamum built on a hill side. It was originally 3 levels of city. The theatre was built over 300BC down a hill side and could sit 10,000 people.
In the afternoon we went to the Asclepius (medical centre), it was all amazing. We enjoyed it so much that it was 4.30 before we left for Selcuk (2hr drive away).
If you are interested in Turkish towels and woven goods, we meet a lovely couple (Jakup & Naoe) who own an interesting shop in the Covered Bazaar. They were very hospitable to us and interested in what we were doing, with great suggestions on what to see and where to go in Bergama. I had been looking for good quality towels and got some lovely, soft, hand woven ones here.
Selcuk, 3 nights at Homeros Pension. This is a lovely Pension filled with eclectic collection of traditional textiles, rugs and handicrafts. They have a lovely terrace and offer a traditional dinner that you can join if you wish. We enjoyed it and found it to be reasonably priced, so we had dinner here for two nights.
Visited Ephesus which was very interesting. Unfortunately there was a cruise ship in Kusadas, which must of unloaded 3,000 people into Ephesus, so it was very crowded. Ephesus is a lot more set up for the tourist and had a lot of reconstructed settings, including the library, which is all very impressive, but we enjoyed Pergamum more.
It was VERY hot, so after Ephesus, we had lunch on Pam beach nearby, then went for a drive into Kusadas (just a tourist beach town) and back for a late siesta before heading out for dinner
Started the next day by going thought St John's Basilica (ruins) which was beside the Castle. All dating back to disciple John, (69AD). In the afternoon we drove out to Tire, a regional town that has a market every Tuesday. Picked up some fresh fruit and nuts. On the way back we called in at Sirince, a lovely old Greece village on a hill. However, today it is set up for the tourist; I would compare it to Montville out of Brisbane.
Pamukkale -1 night
Headed east to Pamukkale, with a detour via Aphrodisias ruins. We were most impressed; there was so much of the original sculptures and building materials still there. They are doing a massive amount of excavation. There was a fully intact stadium (205m long).
Pamukkale, walked up the limestone terraces. There was water flowing all over them, and I expected it to be slippery, but it wasn't. (Gave our feet a polish) we wondered around the Hieraplis ruins at the top; yet another theatre. Then waited for sunset before heading back down the terraces. Of course there were people everywhere, they have made pools in the limestone terraces. They say, to protect the original terraces, they have made them off limits, and so have diverted the water into new pools, where you walk and swim. I’m not sure, without the water flowing over them, that it is preserving the travertine either.
Kas – 3 nights - apartment
Pamukkale to Kas, we took a detour via a back route which took us up over some interesting high mountains.
Called in at Fethiye to see the harbour, then finally onto Kas. The road winds its way between hills (mountains). We came around one mountain to find the road open out to a valley full of 'hot houses/green houses'. We were one of 'those' tourist - had to pull over to take a photo. Then a little further and another bend and it opens out to bright blue sea.
I didn't realise how close the mountains are to the coast, nor how high they are. The mountains we were driving though had snow poles, so would imagine the road gets hazardous in winter.
Day 1; Did boat trip starting at Ucagiz, sailing to a number of different bays/islands where you can go swimming in the Mediterranean. Interesting islands, with a Roman ruins. We sailed over an old Roman sunken city (struck by earthquakes). Finished the day by visiting Simena (Kale Koy), a Lycian city considered strategically important in 4th century BC, had a ruined castle on the hill giving great views over surrounding area. Islands are all very rocky; the Romans carved the houses out of the stone, (not built them with rocks).
Day 2; We decided not to drive as the roads are really windy and we wanted to look around. We did a jeep tour out to Saklikent Gorge. We started by heading out to Patara beach for a swim in the Mediterranean. Then checked out Patara ruins, which date back to Lycian times (4C BC). This city was once on the coast, but silted up after earthquakes changed the flow of the river. We were in a convoy of 4 jeeps each with 8 to 10 people. We had to buy water pump gun as there was a water fight between all the jeeps. This was happening along the road, I am so glad we weren't driving. By the time we got to the gorge (& lunch) we were soaked through, but with the heat we were glad to be cooled off. We had to walk up the Gorge though the water. The gorge was formed by an earth quake, at some points it is over 300 metres high and only 10 metres wide. To finish the day we did another walk into 'secret garden water fall' and a stop at Kapatus beach which they say is the best in Turkey. We are spoilt for beaches in Australia!
Antalya, stayed in Pension in the centre of the ‘Old Town’. Great location, they restrict cars entering the area. We only had one night here, but it is worth giving more time to this city.
On route to Antalya, stopped at Demre which has a church (has been rebuilt many times, and had beautiful mosaics) for St Nicholas (his burial).
Antalya is an interesting town with a walled old city and harbour. We just spent the afternoon walking around the city. There are many cruises that will take you out in old styled rig sailing boats.
Left Antalya for Konya. Called in to see the Aspendos ruins. Mainly all ruins except for the theatre. It was the best kept/restored we have seen. They hold concerts in this theatre. They held Aida on the Saturday, which would have been unbelievable to see in an ancient theatre (2nd C)
Konya one night. Rumi hotel, great location opposite the Mevlana Museum.
We then headed on to Konya. It was a harder drive than I expected. We did a lot of climbing; again we were driving up into the snow line (snow poles on the side of the road). The mountains are so rough and steep, we were making 180° turns and grades of 10% on a major road where everyone is travelling (or trying ) at 100 kph (or more). We did about 310km but it took 5 1/2 hrs.
Had a walk around Konya in the afternoon, lots of mosques everywhere, and had a look through the Mevlana Museum which is the centre for the Whirling Dervish.
Konya is the centre of fashion for the elegant long coat/dresses that the Muslim ladies like to wear. I don't know how they cope in the heat, when I felt the fabric it was alot lighter than I expected, but I still think it would be hot to wear.
We left Konya for Goreme, travelling across a plateau that was so flat (major contrast to previous driving); it reminded us of the flat plains out west (South Australia).
Took detour via Ihlara valley. It is a fascinating gorge, driving along we were on the plateau, then there is a gorge dropping below us. The gorge would have been 150 -200 metres deep. We had to climb down stairs, then went for a walk along the bottom. There are a number of old churches and homes carved into the rock face of the cliffs. The churches were painted with scenes from the Bible, however over time they have been badly defaced and graffiti.
As we came close to Goreme, we rounded a hill and were confronted with all the 'tuffs' - sand pinnacles that are unique to the area.
Goreme, (Cappadocia) 3 nights in Eren Bey Cave Hotel. This was our ‘treat ourselves’ accommodation. They were very friendly and went out of their way to help and suggest things to do.
Started our exploration of Cappadocia with an early rise at 4am for a Hot air Balloon ride. It was a lovely way to get an overview of the area, and it was quite special to be among all the balloons as they went up, all 130 of them. One of those 'pinch me' moments, we won't forget. We travelled over a number of valleys, including the Rose and Love Valleys. The pilot was very good and landed us very gently onto the balloon's trailer. We were back at the accommodation shortly after 7am.
Had a sleep and late breakfast before heading out to the Goreme open air museum. This is a World Heritage Site which has a number of Christian Churches which were carved into the tuffs/pinnacles. It is very hard to explain the vastness of the area.
After lunch we headed down to Kaymakli to the under ground city. This is a city that has been built totally under ground with 5 levels. Each room is connected to another. There were 3,000 people living here once where they didn't come above ground for 3 months. Living rooms, winery, & storage rooms. On the way back we had a look around Uchisar. There is an area of pinnacles that have been recently vacated. We have met a few people that have said they were born in a cave, and having seen Uchisar I can imagine the way they lived. Having said that, our accommodation was in a cave, just a modern version.
Today is an easier one with a little more sightseeing around the area. Started at Cavusin, just out of Goreme, more pinnacles. Met an older man who looks after a garden in amongst the pinnacles, he had every type of fruit tree imaginable.
Went into Guray Museum at Avanos, the town is famous for its ceramics. The museum had well preserved pieces dating back 3,000 yrs, plus beautiful modern pieces. They demonstrated the making of their ceramics. Of course a well equipped show room for you to buy.
Headed over to Urgup, the centre of town is centred around an old cave complex, where everything has grown out and down the hill. The main tourist street was lovely because it had wide awnings providing shade. The temperature has still been in the mid 30's (36) but is more bearable than down on the Mediterranean because there is no humidity.
In the evening, went to see a Whirling Dervish Ceremony which was held in a historic Caravansaral. There was no speaking, just the religious ceremony. I had wanted to see a Caravansaral, so this was a good way to combine both.
Goreme to Ankara 1 night
The drive was fairly good, in that the roads were all double divided roads, went via a massive salt lake (Tuz Gulu) where you could walk out onto the lake. There were cut pools (holes) where some women were siting with their legs in the very brown muddy, salty water. The Turkish women seem to like coating themselves in mud. (We also saw this on both days out of Kas) it is meant to soften their skin. So many products out there, I don't need to coat myself in mud - or am I being boring?
We arrived in Ankara mid afternoon and were overwhelmed by the massive city (3,640,000people), people everywhere. We decided we had had enough running around tourist sites, so just sat back in a coffee shop and 'people watched'.
We decided just to have a light dinner. We had the weirdest kebab/wrap we ever had, -- did not expect it to be in Turkey. The wrap pastry was very chewy, and the filling had a little meat, a tiny sprinkle of lettuce (I think it was or maybe a herb, not enough to tell) and then soggy potato chips and a spice sauce. Soggy chips seem to be added to westernise things (would have been much better without).
Our driving section of the holiday came to an end as we flew from Ankara to Istanbul.
Got to Ankara airport and queued for tickets, there were a number of local families in front of us, and each time it seemed to take them forever. When we got to the counter, we were given our boarding pass and were off. We have noticed this before, if locals try to buy an entry pass, it is always a longer process. I think the government keeps tabs on their movement a lot.
Catching the taxi at Istanbul airport was easy, however he had to drive around the Galata tower 3 times to find which one way street to go down to get to our accommodation. We were VERY happy we weren't driving.
Istanbul - Apartment near Galata Tower, Beyoglu, for 4 nights.
We could just walk straight down our street to the Galata Tower, the whole area is busy, cosmopolitan and full of life. We walked around the area and up Istiklal Caddesi. It is full of people, shops and restaurants.
Started the day going to Ortakoy, a nice village along the Bosphorus, it was meant to have good Sunday markets, but they were just another tourist market, predominantly selling jewellery.
We then queued with everyone else to buy tickets into Dolmabahce Palace, you can only go through the palace on a tour, so another queue to actually get into the building. There was a constant push and shove, we were told no photos, but that didn't stop most people.
Caught the funicular up the hill to Taksim square. The funicular goes up the hill underground.
We walked around Taksim (Taxim) park for a while then caught the tram down Istiklal Cad, only to get half way down and the driver decided he didn't want to go any further, so everyone off, and we walked the rest of the way back to the apartment.
Went up the Galata Tower early in the morning, (best time in the morning as we had walked around the tower a few other times, but there was always a queue. Also the morning light is better for photos over Istanbul) when there was no one around. It provided 360° views of the whole Bosphorus and Golden horn area. We walked by again in the evening and were glad we went early in the day.
We did a Bosphorus 'hop on hop off' cruise, which took us past most of the main sites. We hoped off at Kucuksu and had a wander around. All public Palaces are closed each Monday, so we just enjoyed the day out without trying to line up to get into an attraction.
On our last day, we had a wonder through the Grand Bazaar, lots of beautiful things, but it all becomes a bit much. Went into the Suleymaniye Mosque, another massive impressive complex. This is a lot simpler decoration than the Blue mosque or Haghia Sophia, but equally impressive.
Then wondered the streets and down into the Spice Market, before walking across the Galata Bridge and back up the hill to the apartment.
As we headed out for dinner the power died. We then realized why there were candles in the apartment (it wasn't just for a romantic setting), a lot of shops along Istiklal Caddesi had generators, so this was not an unusual occurrence.
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We have just returned home from a fantastic holiday of just over 3 weeks in Turkey.