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Trip Report Trip Report: Turkey, May 2008

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This year we decided to travel a little earlier than usual and visit Turkey. Our flights were as follows: SFO to NYC--RT $674 (spent a few days there with family), NYC to Paris (Air India)--RT $1120, Paris to Basel via TGV--$112, Basel to Istanbul--RT $60, Istanbul to Izmir--$120, drive from Izmir to Kayseri in Cappadocia, Kayseri to Istanbul--$68. Our total costs for flights and connection Paris-Basel were: $2154.

A note: I give prices wherever possible because that is the only way the reader can have an idea of potential costs and, as the narrative develops, what we consider cheap or expensive and eventually what our tastes may be. Clearly we have specific requirements because we usually plan to spend the second half of our travel vacation in France. My recollection that an open jaw ticket NYC-Istanbul Paris-NYC would have been very close to what we paid including all the extra legs. More creative searchers might find better prices. All of the plane tickets were purchased in January or February, and the train ticket was purchased as soon as PREM tickets became available. For later readers: These are Spring 2008 prices.

Someone much younger than we are could cross the Atlantic, arrive in Paris in the morning, take the train to Basel in the afternoon and then the night flight to Istanbul to arrive in Istanbul before daybreak. But we were unwilling to submit ourselves to such a regimen and my wife wanted to spend two nights in a hotel in Paris rather than stay with friends and the obligations that this entails. The Hotel Chopin (http://hotelbretonnerie.com/chopin.htm) in the middle of the passage Panorama was what she wanted and that is what she got. The room had no view, the window giving into an air shaft, the bathroom was recently renovated and was spotless, but the room itself was a little tired. We probably could have found a cheaper two star hotel elsewhere, but it did not have the appeal of a hotel in the middle of a passage.

From Paris we took the TGV to Basel, stored our luggage in the train station (6 to 8 CHF depending on the size of the locker), went to the tourist information, and then walked to the center of town and then to the music museum above the Barfüsserplatz. The museum is in the former prison (one cell is kept as it was) and has a wonderful collection of old instruments and opportunities to hear how they sounded. We arrive an hour before closing time, so we were let in for free. After the museum we ate at a nearby restaurant, good food but expensive as everywhere is Switzerland, and then went to the airport to catch our flight to Istanbul (the bus leaves from the central train station and is part of the municipal system--more on that in the trip report for the European part of the trip).

We took EasyJet to Istanbul and landed at Istanbul Sabiha Gocken International Airport on the Asian side of the city. We did not realize what this implied: a taxi ride to Istanbul is very expensive. But since there are quite a few flights arriving at that early hour, it is possible to negotiate a ride with the vans who are picking up someone else. While I was getting Turkish money, my wife was offered a ride for 20€ a person. She declined vigorously, as if she knew what she was doing. An immediate counteroffer came of 10€ per person, which we accepted. If one is not predisposed to such an uncertain situation, it might be best to arrange for a ride through the hotel. We were lucky and were the first ones dropped off in Istanbul. I thought that this told me how to operate to get to the city from that airport, but I have another tale to tell when arriving from Kayseri.

When landing in Istanbul, make sure that you have euros, dollars or Turkish lire to pay for the visa (cash only). There are no ATMs before going through passport control and one Danish national did not have any of the money specified and had great difficulty in getting the Turkish lire to pay for her tourist visa. But aside from having euros or dollars for the visa, we used our ATM card and Visa card exclusively. There are ATMs everywhere. We had no problems.

The three main guidebooks we used were Fodor's Turkey, the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: Turkey and Rick Steves' Istanbul. In addition we used recommendations from friends and information gleaned for the Internet, including this site. We are not absolutely systematic about using guides, with the exception of the Rick Steves'--to be explained in the Istanbul section. They serve mainly as general indications of what we should do, and then we do our own exploring.

Our basic itinerary was divided into three common parts: Istanbul, Roman ruins, and Cappadocia. We decided to visit Istanbul mainly at the end of our tour, but did spend two nights at the beginning as a way of recovering from all the international travel.

We reserved a room at the Hali Hotel (http://www.halihotel.com/) in the Sultanahmet area at the recommendation of friends of ours who had stayed there a few years ago. The official price per room is 80 or 90€ per night, but were given an immediate discount of 65€ per night, but paid in cash. We paid for the night when we would arrive around 5 a.m. and thus had a place to grab some sleep before visiting Istanbul for the day. The location is great (see photo no. 3), we had nice help from one man at the front desk, I believe that the rooms have AC which we never used, but they are a little tired. It's clean but a little worn--not for those looking for luxury. Our first room had two single beds, so we specified that we wanted a double bed when we were returning at the end of our tour.

We anticipated being tired from all our traveling, so instead of visiting Istanbul itself, we spent our one day there taking the boat ride to the Black Sea and back. It was just the right thing to do. We ate at the end stop which is a fishing village full of tourist restaurant serving mainly fish. We ate in one of them; it was OK, and I discovered that grilled mussels are really not worthwhile. We went back to Istanbul, had a nice meal that evening (more details in the main Istanbul section) and back to the hotel. The next morning, the owner of the hotel drove us to Istanbul Ataturk International Airport for 20 TRY, where we caught an ONUR Air flight to Izmir.

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