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Trip Report Turkey Quick Trip

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I was able to package a couple of days before and after a conference in Istanbul for my first visit to Turkey. Turkey was not on my top list of places to visit, but the opportunity arose, so I took it.
I'm an outdoor lover, not a city person. I'm a budget traveler by nature. It was a mix of sightseeing with colleagues while in Istanbul and going it alone to Cappadocia.

I had little control over my schedule, but I think the advice given often on this board is spot on about if you are going to fly into IST and then also visit other parts of Turkey, to make the initial flight all on one ticket and transit on to Cappadocia or wherever. I had to used separate tickets for business versus personal travel so I returned to IST just for an overnight near the airport. Worked out OK, but lost vacation time. The travel time into the city from IST warrants minimizing the in/out.

I used the Havataş airport bus to travel to Taksim stop. Easy--get TL from ATM in airport. Walk out the International terminal doors to the island and wait by the sign (a bus may be parked there). Hand over luggage. Get on the bus and pay 11TL cash to the driver. Every half hour. Will accept large bills from ATM and make change. Starting at the airport, continuing with the hotel, Metro, etc., I found Turkey to be one of those places where doing my travel homework paid off. Often the staff either couldn't answer my questions or couldn't help. I would have felt lost on my own not speaking the language and not knowing my way around.

I stayed in the neighborhood of hotels to the west of Taksim. A local called it a tourist ghetto, but it was convenient for the airport bus, my conference, and the Metro station. No local neighborhood ambiance, but lots of convenience shops and restaurants. I stayed at the Titanic and would recommend. I booked the deluxe plus breakfast. Deluxe ensured nonsmoking. It was roomy, clean, quiet and at least a little cool from the a/c. Free bottled water. Breakfast was good, but probably not worth paying for separately full price. There was a huge excavated hole across the street. What are they digging? Several buildings that were stopped in mid-construction. Recession? I left with lots of questions.

The Metro and trams were easy to use once I got the Instanbulkart. The clerk in the Metro station said we had to purchase in a shop, so we had to leave and get them, only to find there were machines in the station at which to purchase! Frustrating. Some taxis were good with nice drivers; others beligerent for no reason (Lack of food/water during Ramadan? Tired of tourist customers with lots of questions?). Just followed the usual drill of small bills, knowing where we were going, approximate price, etc. Traffic was horrible and some taxi rides downright scary. A colleague trying to reach our meeting was taken on joy ride by a driver who insisted that the meeting was in a different building of the campus, never finding it and returning to the hotel. We could see the top of his hotel from our building, but it was faster to walk than drive.

I found that my colleagues and I varied dramatically as to which sites and experiences we enjoyed, so I hesitate to say one "must see" them or which are overrated. As for my personal opinions:

I enjoyed visiting Haghia Sophia, but find it sort of sad. I liked the feeling that one is discovering what is under the plaster along with the experts, but didn't enjoy the usual crowds. It is a place I would enjoy lingering to find some gaps between groups to get a better experience. Lots of history there.

I only visited the courtyard and tombs at blue mosque. (I think I visited tombs elsewhere too?). No way I was waiting in a long line in the rain. Others told me I made the right decision.

Topkaki Palace captivated the three of us for half a day. Each in our group was interested in a different part and some of us waited for others at times. I wanted to see the jewel-encrusted daggers while a colleague couldn't stand the crowd. The colleague really enjoyed the kitchens while I thought one room was enough. Everyone enjoyed the harem section. We were lucky that a military band and choir marched in to perform. The uniforms? were fabulous.

The Cisterns weren't on my list yet I really enjoyed the experience. I wish there were more information about the practical side of how the area was used. Guides worked the line telling how if you hired them you didn't have to wait, yet the wait was less than 15 minutes at the time.

To me the Spice Market and Grand Bazaar were place to sightsee quickly, not to shop. I had info from some source about how to find an old courtyard in the Bazaar and also read the signs and history. That made it more interesting to me. However, I had several companions who seriously shopped at the bazaar. I will say that the snacks we purchased at the Spice market were the best I ate on the entire trip. We ended up walking some side streets around the Bazaar and I found that infinitely more interesting than the bazaar itself. Locals doing their shopping. Entire blocks of stores with just buttons or other specialties. Packed with people, but a nice crowd, willing to help with directions. Just intense.

I was disappointed in Galata Bridge. I think I expected something more scenic. Plenty of fishermen up top. Plenty of restaurant workers chasing us on the lower level. All the restaurant workers in Istanbul thought we looked hungry all the time. Good for night photos.

We sailed up the Bophorus as a group and I really enjoyed the views, especially after dark. Going around the horn on another night was nice, but the scenic part passed quickly. I meant to try a commuter ferry to the Asian side, but didn't find the time.

Istikal street was a big generic shopping street and was packed after dark. I can't say I enjoyed it day or night.

A nice surprise was Sulemaniye Mosque. We walked up from the Grand Bazaar for fantastic views and a quiet visit to the mosque and cemetary. Then it was downhill walk to the Metro.

Mosaic Museum was another quiet, but interesting stop that we visited just because it was nearby and included in the pass.

After the first day, I really worked at avoiding crowds. The line into Haghia Sophia didn't look too bad even though we were standing in the rain. It was slow as each person questioned why the sign offered 3 and 5 day passes, but they only sold one pass (sign hasn't been updated), people didn't have enough cash, etc. Then the tour guides/groups were battling with the ticket holder and pass buyers to get into the turnstiles. Lots of elbowing, shouting, and general unpleasantness. We just kept our heads down and shuffled through. No British queuing here.

Visiting during Ramadan did provide some interesting experiences. The Hippodrome area was covered with carpets, people, and picnic baskets after dark on a Saturday. Lots of energy.

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    Cappadocia was another story.

    An American living in Turkey told me I should try to get to Cappadocia even if for only one day. So, after only spending 3+ days sightseeing in Istanbul, I took the bus back to IST and flew to Kayseri. I followed advice from here and my colleague to let a hotel organize my stay. Difficult for a planner like me, but it worked out.

    I stayed at the SOS Hotel, a small family run operation with lots of personal attention, which can be good and bad, but turned out OK for my short time and solo status.

    It had been raining off and on in Istanbul and Goreme, but I was lucky that the skies were clearing, so I went to the Open Air Museum and wandered around with only 10-20 other people, so very private.

    After the crowds and traffic of Istanbul, the walkability of Goreme was a pleasant change. I settled on my screened balcony/porch to relax and watch the shifting colors on the rocks and listen to the call to prayers. The cool temps at night were also a pleasant change from Istanbul. I set my alarm tp awaken early and opened my curtains to see balloons sailing by. I hustled into clothes and out to take photos of the balloons amid the sunrise. Singles and couples from surrounding hotels emerged as well in various stages of dress to watch the spectacle and snap some photos.

    The hotel owner/tour guide offered his services as private guide for the day--ended up half day with him and half day with nephew as driver. We had an enjoyable talk during the drive to tour an underground city. I enjoyed going through the underground city. Quiet morning with no tour groups, just individuals, some of whom hired a guide who was standing at the door when we entered. I think it could be done without a human guide if one had a good guide book to explain, but the human guide was helpful with questions and I can see how one could get confused with the arrows pointing the directions through the maze. We loaded up produce for the hotel from a stand and headed back, stopping for views/photos enroute.

    My afternoon driving tour with the nephew and his visiting brother took in most of of the usual views. Although I am a keen walker, I had decided I should just chill out on this trip and asked for short walks to photo ops rather than my original plan for a multihour valley walk plus fewer photo sites. So, we made a loop with short walks to viewpoints at multiple stops and the obligatory ice cream show. A slow paced, but enjoyable sightseeing tour. I am really glad I went even though it was only for 1.5 days. I could see my husband and I staying in the area for 3 days to do walks and sightsee.

    I usually don't drive in foreign countries if I can avoid it. I'm on vacation and want to be able to look around without worrying about local traffic norms or rules. However, I can see that driving around Cappadocia would be easy--well maintained roads, not too much traffic.

    The shuttle pick up at Kayseri was an experience. After baggage claim there is a ramp, then a double door vestibule before the small sidewalk outside and the traffic lanes. The multiple shuttle drivers were huddled at the open door with their name cards, some containing 10-15 names. As clients were spotted, they were directed to stay inside the vestibule (it was raining) with much shouting "here", "there" as the driver waited for additional clients. The vesibule became crowded and eventually a driver dared to enter the vestibule and started sorting some clients to match to other drivers (they all knew each other). A Japanese group with my shuttle got irritated when the driver told them we would have to walk to the shuttle in the rain. Eventually the driver was able to pull the van up in the driving lane and shouted for everyone to hurry and get in. He wasn't supposed to stop there. We were the last to leave because a Korean group had somehow made it through the shuttle driver gauntlet without being stopped and had been wandering around outside the airport. Cappadocia is quite the international destination.
    Meanwhile, an elderly woman was being guided down to meet her waiting family. The door guard relented and brought the family into the airport to help the woman. A tearful reunion took place among the family crowded in the vestibule with all the tourists grouped for their shuttles.

    The flights from/to IST seemed to run a little behind schedule both days I flew. I don't know if this is normal for the route.

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    Kay2 - Just read your trip report, and enjoyed it! Great writing style, and you packed a lot into your short visit. I'm returning to Istanbul (5th/6th time?) in early November, always something more to see, and favorite sites to revisit!

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