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Trip Report Turkey Trip Report May 2011

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I’ve formatted my Turkey trip report a little differently. Rather than a daily report, here is an overview and a break down of the three areas we visited: Istanbul, Cappadocia and the southern coast.

Our 15 day visit to Turkey is best described as the Amazing Race to beat the tour groups. It is a beautiful country with a rich culture and history. May weather was in the high 60’s-70’s. Fields of yellow and purple wild flowers carpeted the countryside landscape and red poppies sprinkled through the ancient ruins in the south. I found the friendliest people to be the ones who do not regularly interact with tourist. This is understandable considering Western Turkey is saturated with visitors mostly from Western Europe, Russia and cruise ships. The food was good and simple, but seemed to lack in variety from restaurant to restaurant. Our favorite food was the seaweed/sea pods found in mezze. I also had an infatuation with a specific Pide place in Istanbul and sought out Hunkar Begendi, a decadent eggplant and meat stew.

Highlights included hot air ballooning in Cappadocia with Rick Steves, the drive to and hiking Ilhara Valley, renting a private Gullet for half a day near Kas, visiting Myra just before closing while listening to the call to prayer echo against the mountains and all types of animal traffic. As an animal lover, I was pleased to see that almost all of the stray cats and dogs looked well fed. A local explained that there is a catch and release program that spays/neuters and gives them shots annually. I made sure to bring along a bag of chicken “ham” from the breakfast buffet to feed any hungry looking furry friends. The myriads of cats were lucky to be fed cat food regularly at the mosques. The Anatolian sheep herding dogs were so unique looking and very friendly.

We spent 5 days in Istanbul, 3 days in Cappadocia and 7 days along the southern coast. We rented a car, except in Istanbul, and found this the best way to travel long distances with little time. Some of our most memorable experiences could not have happened any other way. Roads were good and signs clearly pointed to our next destination. The couple of times when we weren’t paying attention and took the wrong turn, were some of our best discoveries. Istanbul has easy inexpensive public transportation and main attractions are walking distance from one another.

It was half price to break up our car rental booking into two areas and take an overnight bus to connect. Our overnight bus was a terrible experience resulting in barely 2 hours of interrupted sleep. The 8 hour ride from Nevsehir to Antalya stopped every 1-1.5 hours, turning on all the lights, for 20-30 minutes breaks. The bus driver smoked even though there were no smoking signs posted right next to him. And we were also told that we had to put away our pistachios. There were tv screens behind every seat, but it was all in Turkish. We arrived at 5AM to pick up our rental car for a LONG day. If you take a long distance bus to connect cities, do it in the daytime when you don’t need sleep. Even better, pay for a faster dirt-cheap domestic flight that may only be a few dollars more.

As a seasoned traveler, I was surprised that all of the ATM’s give you a choice of Euro, USD or Turkish Lira. Turkish Lira was the best choice for payment and cash usually gave a discount. Turkey is not a cheap holiday and you definitely pay for what you get. Our budget accommodations ranged from $50US to $100US/night, and we were happiest with the $100/night accommodations.

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    We spent our first 4 days in Istanbul and visited all the usual suspects. This city is bustling full of activity with hoards of people navigating through the cobblestone streets practically all day and night. Everyone walked briskly with a mission. The typical attire for most of the women was a scarf covered head and trench coat. I enjoyed watching the men balancing trays of tiny hot tea glasses through packed narrow alleyways. Restaurant food orders were also delivered on trays in this manner.

    Of the many Mosques, we saw Suleymaniye, Yeni Cami, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Rustem pasa. We went underground into the damp dark somewhat eerie Cistern with soft sounds of hypnotic music piped throughout. Topkapi Palace was beautiful, but packed with so many tour groups and school kids that it ruined the experience for me. We spent more time in lines than actually seeing the site itself. We paid extra to see the Harem that was not as crowded and worth the extra cost. We also paid extra for headsets.

    At the Spice Market, we ogled all the colorful mounds of spices, honeycomb displays, barrels of nuts/dried fruits, sheets of baklava and stacks of sweet treats. It was very difficult to resist the seemingly friendly calls of the shopkeepers. They draw you in with free samples and then turn on the pressure if you walk into their shop or make eye contact. It surprised me that “no, thank you” five or six times meant nothing as they continued to persuade us saying “how can I take your money”. We bought tea, dried fruit and nuts for snacks. I also picked up some green plums to try with salt. We stood in the fast moving line for freshly roasted bundles of Turkish coffee grinds at Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi. It was interesting to see that many more Turks drink tea rather than coffee.

    It’s difficult to know what something should cost as a first time visitor and it is best to make all purchases at the end of the trip. We were warned of inflated prices and fakes in the Grand Bazaar. So we mainly used it as a pass through few times to get to another street, and stopped for coffee in the center of the mall at Sark Kahvesi. This was a good place to rest our feet and watch the crowds. For shopping, we went to the side streets outside of the bazaar where lower prices were listed on many of the items.

    One morning we walked over to Galata Tower to take in the skyline view of “old” Istanbul. It was marvelous, but later found the night view even more spectacular. Each time we walked over Galata Bridge, we looked into the buckets of the fisherman and only saw small sardines. Their fishing poles were large enough to catch sharks, so it must have been bait. At all hours, they were on the bridge hoping for a bite. Before crossing back over the bridge, we sampled a couple rice stuffed mussels which we were certain would make us sick since they were not on ice, just siting in a tray in the Kadikoy Ferry parking lot. Thankfully we have no illness to report from this trip. On the way back, we stopped at Eminonu to check out the red cart food vendors. Our favorite was Osmanli Lokmasi frying dough balls dipped in honey for 2TL. Be careful here though, we were short changed on our first order when I gave him a 5TL and he gave me 2.5TL back. The second order I handed him 2TL and he gave me a double take since he knew that he was caught.

    We ended this portion of Istanbul with a visit to Cemberlitas Hamami and a 90 minute Bosphorus Cruise since we were short on time and needed to be at Attaturk at 6p for our flight to Nevsehir. It was a nice inexpensive ferry ride with no explanations of any kind. A map or guidebook comes in handy to help explain the palaces and ports along the shoreline. The hamami was very expensive compared to the ones outside of Istanbul. They give you a large red and white checkered tea cloth, a pair of new black panties and a new buffing mit before sending you to the undressing room. My husband went over to the segregated men’s side and said his experience included a private room to take a nap. After changing, I was ushered into a large steamy domed room full of non-Turkish topless women lying on a marble slab waiting for their turn. Four bath attendants stood at separate sides soaping up the chosen ones. Afterwards, you can soak in the pools before your massage or just lounge there all day. Overall, it felt more like an assembly line rather than a relaxing day at the spa. In retrospect, we should have waited to use a Turskish Bath outside of Istanbul for a quarter of the price.

    We rushed back to our hotel to pick up our bags and take the tram with subway connection to the airport for about $3US each. We had no idea that Saturday was the busiest day and almost impossible to get on the tram…and even harder with luggage. We watched the first tram door open and it was overflowing with people pressed up against the glass and spilling out the door. We frantically ran to another door and it was exactly the same. We waited for the next one and it was just as full. At this point, we were about to miss our flight. My husband and I grabbed our rolling luggage like a battering ram and pushed our way in. About 15 stops later, we got off the tram at Zeytinburnu and switched over to the subway to the airport. It took about 40 minutes total and saved us around $25US. We used the same transport when we returned to Istanbul.

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    Fun to read Nicci.

    One correction: The small fish in the buckets are not sardines. They are horse mackerel and that is what the fishers try to catch. The horse mackerel, and especially the smaller ones are very tasty fried. They do not use bait, the hooks have their own silk thread to lure the fish and each line has up to twelve hooks.

    And one comment on your observation of women: Although fundamentalism is on the rise in Turkey, most of the women in Istanbul do not wear a turban (a head scarf tied in a certain way over a skull cap and a false pony tail. This became fashionable after having started as a political statement by fundamentalist islam about 15 years ago. This way of covering hair has no basis in religious beliefs). You unfortunately walked in the lower income areas where the women are much more subservient and sometimes even paid by ruling party to dress that way. If you had gone to Nisantasi, you probably would not have seen any of those. and maybe less than 10% on Istiklal street.

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    otherchelebi-Thank you for explaining about the fisherman/fisherwomen. I'm happy to know that they were actually successful. We did sample some of the freshly fried fish from the small Kadikoy seafood market next to the ferry. They cooked them in enormous wok style pans.

    The women with the decorative headscarves and tan/baby blue trench coats did not look subservient at all. Most were younger and looked modern, even though they covered their heads. I thought of it as a unique fashion trend, more than a religious statement. And we did walk down Istiklal at the end of our trip...but I'm not there in the report yet;)

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    The word "subservient" may not be apt.

    The situation is that, unless a man has his wife cover her head with the "turban", he will not get or keep a government job of any kind or get promoted in a government position or get assigned to a good spot. neither will medium size business men, contractors and suppliers win government or municipality contracts (fundamentalist contrloled municipalities) unless they require their wives to wear the turban publicly. Most of these men and women will also refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages in public, will not bathe together in public. and the men will at least make a show of going to Friday noon prayers.

    To many this is a fact of life or an economic necessity. Turkey ranks low on percentage of educated women and women who are gainfully employed and even less in number of women who earn enough to survive on their own, although we seem to have more women CEOs then many European countries.

    Almost none of my female friends with undergraduate, graduate degrees and even PhDs work or have worked since their husbands started earning enough to keep them in semi or full luxury. Some have never been employed in their lives.
    I strongly believe that even they, who have a very Westen higher education, sometimes in England or the United States, would succumb to pressure if forced and find some valid justification which does not openly conflict with their views on human or feminine rights and freedoms.

    The Anatolian culture, the culture of being imperial subjects for over a thousand years and feudal serfs or nomads before that makes this kind of reasoning very easy and plausible.

    There i go lecturing again. -:) Sorrryyyy!

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    This is taking awhile since I'm doing it all from memory and it has turned into more of a detailed day to day report.

    Part 2- Three Days in Cappadocia

    We had 3 FULL days to explore Cappadocia and by the end, wished we could stay longer. Our one hour flight on Turkish Airlines was one of the best flights that we’ve experienced in years. We landed into Nevsehir Airport in a downpour worried whether the rental car agent would show. The National Rental Car agent met us in the parking lot with the filthiest rental car in existence. It was raining and there was still some type of slime one the hood. The interior was disgusting with cigarette ashes everywhere. When I made mention of it to him, he said, “It’s a rental”. Isn’t that what customers jokingly say, not the agency?? It also had 105,000 kms on it and kind of a clunker for a rental. I was glad to see that the tank was almost full and he offered to let us follow him to Urgup where their office was located.

    Our destination was only another 8kms from Urgup, in the small village of Ayvali, at the family run hotel called Aravan Evi. The owner, Okan, greeted us at the door and showed us through their beautiful terrace to our arched ceiling stone room with huge marble bathroom. We mainly chose this place because of their highly praised tandir restaurant and organic farm, plus the 100% guest reviews on TA. Staying here was one of the highlights of our trip.

    Day 1

    I was certain that the wet weather was going to reschedule our balloon flight. That next morning at 4:20AM, Butterfly Balloons whizzed by to pick us up in their new black van. Next stop was Mustafapasa where a group boarded and I saw a familiar face. I looked at my husband in disbelief and said “isn’t that Rick Steves”? And it was! We were beyond thrilled considering we just arrived from Istanbul where we spent 4 days trusting his tips and suggestions from our Rick Steves Istanbul Guidebook. We also have a library of his guidebooks from our other travels through Europe. He told us that he joined up with one of his tour groups to do a quality check and scout out new footage for future filming.

    At the ballooning office, we were split up into 3 groups assigned to pilots. Mike, who was our pilot, moved from the UK about 10 years ago to continue flying in Turkey. We arrived at Love Valley just before sunrise and watched as their sideways baskets attached to gigantic balloons were inflated by massive bursts of flames. When they were full if hot air, the baskets turned upright and we were ready to board. Our basket held 14 people, which was a comfortable amount. As we rose from the ground, you could see other balloons in the distance like lanterns in the sky and the magical looking fairy chimneys of Love Valley below us. Our phenomenal flight lasted about 1 hour and 20 minutes until we found a clearing to land. The company’s truck was underneath waiting for us to land on top of it. And we did, flawlessly. The flight ended with on the ground with a champagne toast before returning us to our hotels for breakfast.

    Originally, we weren't sure if wanted to spend $450 for one hour in a hot air balloon since we already had a "once in a lifetime" ballooning experience over the desert and red dunes of Namibia 8 years ago. This splurge was definitely worth it because the beauty was not only the unusual topography, but also the gorgeous rainbow of balloons around us.

    After breakfast and a shower, we drove to the underground city of Derinkuyu thinking that all of the tour groups would be eating lunch at noon. Wrong. This place was so overrun with tour groups that we could barely move through the narrow corridors from one room to the next. It was even worse when we left since the only way out was the same way in and you have to go against all those who are entering.

    Next stop, we visited the valley of Soganli. Before entering, Buckle Church was on the right where we climbed up on the almost non-existent worn stairs on the side of a mountain. I was more afraid to go down since it looked like a smooth cliff face that would surely end my life. I built up the courage after watching another couple remove their shoes and scuttle down to safety. We paid the gate fee into Sognali and took the road to the right where we could see rock-cut churches perched high above the valley surrounded by carpets of yellow and white wildflowers. After a couple hours of exploring the caves and their ancient paintings, it started to rain making it a good time for lunch.

    Afterwards we spent some time at Keslik Monastery exploring all of the caves with more frescos, many vandalized with newer and archaic graffiti. I was more impressed with how well maintained the grounds were and the vegetable gardens with stacks of beehive boxes throughout. There was something very peaceful about this location.

    The last destination of the day was at the ancient city of Sobesos that is still being excavated. Under the shed, was a roman bath with well preserved mosaics. The caretaker was an elderly man who let us in the roped off area. This was the only free site of our entire trip. On the way back to the car we noticed a couple of well dressed young men in suits doing the landscaping. While in the car, we also noticed that the woman working the fields were completely covered from head to toe and wore cotton balloon like pants with elastic cinched at the bottom. The crotch was so low that it resembled a skirt. Also the headscarves here were mostly sheer cotton with little tassels or coins on the edges. Most Anatolian attire was formal regardless of their occupation.

    We ended the day in Mustafapasa where we enjoyed a dinner of manta, Turkish style ravioli in a yogurt sauce, at the Greek House. The freshly baked large doughnut shaped bread that accompanied our meal was scrumptious.

    Day 2

    Our second day in Anatolia started with a quick stop in Urgup to purchase our overnight bus tickets to Antalya. We explained that we needed to be dropped off close to the Antalya airport in order to pick up our rental car, about 18 kms before the bus station. They said they would tell the driver. I also had this request on a handwritten note as a backup.

    We started our drive towards the Goreme Open Air Museum with a visit to the viewpoint of Pigeon Valley and the cliff top village of Uchisar. I’m not sure what the draw to Ushisar is as it was pretty dead excepting for 3-4 restaurants with menus in French. It was much more impressive from a distance.

    We made it to the village Goereme for lunch before venturing up to the museum. There were ballooning companies, adventure outfitters and souvenir shops throughout. It was picturesque in a Disney way, I was glad that we didn’t stay here though. Goreme Open Air Museum was full of tour groups as expected. We rented audio guides that were impossible to use since the caves were crammed with people and you could not see all the coordinating numbers. Plan on extra time here since you need to wait for all the tour groups to pour in and out one by one. There was another section that you had to pay for separately that my husband went into and said the walls were covered with pristine frescos. They had been restored and there wasn’t any graffiti. I was tired of walking and happy to sit and wait.

    We took a quick drive through Avanos and we weren't really sure of what to do other than see the river mud that clay pots are made from, so we left and drove towards Zelve. We made it to Kizilcukur Valley for a breathtaking sunset looking over fairy chimneys and cave formations. We spent a couple of hours at the base of all of the fairy chimneys and watching the pigeons fly in and out of the carved pigeon holes. Standing at the top of overlook, we could see vineyards wedged between the conical rock formations and Zelve in the distance. Zelve was closed for the day, so we turned back towards Ayvali and ate dinner in Urgup at Ailanpa Wine House near the center of town. Excellent comfort food was prepared by the mother. We had stewed chicken with potatoes, manta and a big salad. My husband enjoyed a glass of local Anatolian red wine. They offered complementary Turkish Delight to end the meal.

    We got back and Skyped my parents from my iphone on wifi. Using the facetime function, we showed them what our room looked like and as much of Aravan Evi that we could see in the dark. They were watching our dog, Alice, and this gave us a way to see her too. We Skyped like this, at no cost, from most everywhere with free wifi in Turkey. It was a fun way for them to feel like they were there too.

    Day 3

    Our last day in Cappadocia was our favorite and most memorable of the whole trip. After checking out of Aravan Evi, we wandered into Ayvali on foot to explore the village more. It was very quiet with only a few villagers going about their daily routine. We noticed that there were a lot abandoned stone homes missing windows and doors. One doorway had 4 cows and a calf resting inside. The next house had a mammoth Anatolian Sheep dog chained to a tree. He was so very sweet and wanted us to stay petting him longer. We walked up a gravel road to the top of the village and found ourselves next to an apricot grove looking across the lush green valley landscape and caves along the riverbed below.

    On the way back to our car, we met two traditionally dressed Turskish women walking uphill. They showed us some cave rooms and then through charades, they asked us to give them a ride to their home another 1km away. We were invited inside for tea as gratitude. After spending half an hour with the entire family and one English speaking family member, we understood that they owned the 3 cave apartments from earlier and planned to open more. We asked why there were so many abandoned looking homes and they explained that there was 6 years of bad apricot crops and many people had to move for financial reasons. Also, the next generation was not interested in agriculture and left for the cities while their family roots died out. After a few photos together, the family stood at the side of the road waving to us as we drove off.

    Our goal was to visit Guzelyurt and Ilhara Valley, 100kms away, before catching the 8pm overnight bus out of Urgup. Less than a mile out of town, we saw the most beautiful purple meadow of flowers in the middle of an apricot grove. As we crouched down to take photos, we could here the buzzing of all the bees around us and could see them zooming in and out of the tiny flowers. This was the place that you want to spend an afternoon on your back gazing at the sky daydreaming. After an hour or so, we hesitantly drove on towards Guzelyurt, stopping a few more times for panoramic photos of the snowcapped mountains and various herds of animals blocking the road. On route, we noticed signs to underground cities and regretted that we didn’t wait to explore one of these instead of the more touristed ones.

    Guzelyurt was a small town with a nice square and no tourists in sight. We parked next to a donkey with an uncomfortable looking wooden saddle on it’s back. My husband said that must be just for carrying items. A couple minutes later, an elderly man in a three piece suit and sickle in hand hopped on it’s back and road off. After a quick pide and kapap lunch in the square, we climbed to the top of the cliff to see the view. Over the village you could see a hill with GUZELYURT spelled out like the Hollywood sign and in the other direction, an ancient cave city in the gorge below. We decided to leave since there was an entrance fee to the cave city and we were pressed for time.

    Ilhara Valley, a byzantine retreat for ancient Monks, was not far away and was set up more like a well-planned national park than a site. After entering the tourist facility, we comfortably walked down 360 large cement steps into the canyon. Before we reached the bottom, we explored a cave church with paintings. At the bottom was a strong river flowing with well constructed wooden walking bridges and well marked signs towards the next cave church. We crossed over and followed the snaking river towards the next few churches that seemed architecturally diverse compared to the others we had seen while in Cappadocia. The alarm went off on our phones at 5:30p and it was time to turn around and climb up all those stairs back to our car. We could have easily spent an entire day hiking tranquil Ilhara Valley. We left around 6p and had to wait while a couple of dairy farmers in three piece suits ushered their herd of cattle through the middle of town. We made it to Urgup by 7:30p with just enough time to return our rental car and board the overnight bus to Antalya.

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    Thanks, y'all:) It's hard to believe that we've only been back two weeks.

    Sorry about any the grammatical errors, run-on sentences and misspellings. It's been a challenge just getting it all on paper, but referencing my photos helps jog the memories.

    I'm only half way through our journey and working on part 3. I've already posted all my hotel reviews on TA and will add them here too.

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    Part 3

    The 8p bus was actually a shuttle to Nevsehir Otagar where we transferred to the bus for a 9pm departure. We showed our handwritten note about dropping us off near the Antalya Airport to the bus attendant and bus driver. Sure enough, at 5am, the bus pulled over and dropped us off on side of the 6 lane interstate near the Antalya Airport road sign. We were pretty worried until they pointed across the street at a taxi stand that seemed conveniently located for us, in the middle of nowhere. A taxi came around to pick us up and drove about 3 kms to our 24 hour car rental office that was unoccupied. The taxi called the emergency number listed on the door and left a message before driving off. About an hour later, the Almira car rental manager showed up in shorts and t-shirt telling us that his employees left their post last minute to drop off cars in Izmir. This was not a good excuse since we called him 2 days before to confirm our arrival. Our diesel Fiat was a better than our last rental. It was handed over to us on an empty tank, which I expected from reading other trip reports.

    Our destination for the next two nights was the coastal city of Kas. On route, we stopped at Side, Perge, Aspendos, and Phaselis. With only a couple hours of sleep and a long day of sightseeing ahead, we kept our visits to a tight schedule. The weather was very warm and humid compared to the last week in other parts of Turkey. We dug into our suitcases in the car's trunk for shorts and sandals to change into. We liked the grand Aspendos amphitheater and the quiet seaside ruins of Phaselis the best. The curved mountainous drive from Phaselis to Kas was longer than expected, making our arrival close to 7pm. All the way there the hillsides were covered with hothouses. The area is known for growing tomatoes and peppers. The hotel’s rooftop terrace had a lovely view over the Mediterranean, Kas Peninsula and Greek island of Meis.

    (Our second favorite day of the trip) The next morning we drove over to Ucagiz to rent a boat for the day, including a captain. It was a busy morning with animal traffic. The first herd of goats, all black with long hair, orderly crossed as a group from one side to the next. The second herd was multicolored and a bunch of them migrated over towards our parked car inspecting it as they passed. One rubbed its horns on the tires. Another friendly one came over to my husband for a scratch on the head. Others were engrossed in licking salt off of the rocks and some were drinking water that the shepherd was retrieving from a well. I was having so much fun that I could have spent the day there.

    Another kilometer down the road we entered Ucagiz. A man approached us and asked if we were interested in seeing his boat. We parked and followed him to the dock where he introduced us to his captain and a Gullet. This boat could easily transport 20-25 guests and it was just the two of us. We ended up negotiating 160TL for 4 hours, meaning we would be back at 3pm.

    Our first stop was in a rocky island cove with a few small ruins. We jumped off of the back into the chilly, clear turquoise water with our eye goggles and sandals on. When we snorkel or dive, we search for sea life near the rocks. We swam over towards the shallow, warmer water where we saw schools of small grey pink fish, about a dozen large needle-nose barracuda, colorful wrasse and a funky looking sea worm that reminded me of a flat caterpillar with dark pink feathery legs.

    After a couple hours, we motored over towards the Semina Castle with a pass over the sunken city. We didn’t see much except dark blue water. The captain explained that it is most visible in summer, which did not make any sense to us. There were some ruins along the cliff shore and walls visible in the shallows. We docked at a restaurant and started our climb up to the castle. As we climbed up, a pretty traditionally dressed Turkish woman carrying a basket of scarves accompanied us to the top explaining the names of wild herbs, fruits and vegetables. This is where we noticed a slight regional change in the pants with a higher crotch line and no elastic at the ankles. We offered her some money for her time and she declined saying that she would only accept money for her handmade scarves. Impressed with her work ethic, we purchased a dark pink scarf with glass evil eyes hand sewn on the perimeter. The castle had a sweeping view over the islands with anchored sailboats and yachts below. Wild oregano was in bloom all around the castle. There was a Lycian cemetery just outside of the castle walls that had tombs peppered throughout an old olive orchard. We went down to our boat and returned to Ucagiz by 3pm.

    We drove towards Demre and stopped on the side of the road at a kofte stand for a quick light lunch. It was very windy, but we had the ultimate view perched high over the sea. A late afternoon to visit Myra was the perfect time to go because all of the tour groups were gone and we were there with only a handful of visitors. The carved cliff face tombs had a dramatic effect combined with the evening call to prayer echoing across the mountains was a perfect end to our day. We walked through Kas and ate dinner in a garden patio restaurant called Bi Lokma. They had a delicious version of Sultan’s eggplant with stewed meat. I shared the last bits of it with the hungry looking cats under the table.

    The next morning we checked out of our hotel and started our day towards Pamukkale. First we drove about an hour away to Patara to see the amphitheater and sandy beach. We climbed the steps to the top of the ruin where we startled a goat that was resting in the shade of an arch. There was reconstruction with large cranes and bulldozers on the other side, so we went over to take a quick look at the sandy beach before moving on to Xanthos, Letoon and Tlos.

    Xanthos and Letoon were mostly rubble and didn’t take long to see. We wandered through a small village Saturday market between the two sites. There was livestock, produce, grains, fresh and dried herbs, cheese and food stalls along the street. We ate a chicken doner sandwich while watching all of the activity bustling around us. The locals that we met here were warm and the friendliest of our trip.

    Tlos was situated on a mountaintop and the sheer cliff tombs reminded me of Myra, but on a much larger scale. We only had an hour here, even though we could have easily spent a few hours. Anyone doing this route should skip Xanthos and Letoon for more time at Tlos. It started to rain and continued all the way to Pamukkale. Our plans to see Pamukkale at sunset were altered to sunrise due to weather.

    We woke up to blue skies at 6am and entered the gates at 6:15am noticing three other tourists with the same idea. We started with exploring the ruins of Hieropolis that were much larger and more beautiful than we anticipated. The morning fog rolled in making it a picture perfect experience through the cemetery. After a couple of hours exploring the well-manicured grounds, we joined all of the people walking barefoot on the calcified travertine falls into the shallow pools. This was pretty neat, but Hieropolis was the best part to us.

    We went back to the hotel for breakfast and a shower before checking out and heading towards Selcuk. One the way, we stopped at Afrodisias. A tractor bus shuttled us from the parking lot over to the site. It was not that far and completely level, so I am not sure why they offer this free service. We were only half way through the site when a hailstorm poured down and stranded us without any shelter. After huddling under a tree and realizing it was not stopping anytime soon, we pushed a barrier gate open next to a construction area and stood under an archway. It was obvious the rain was not slowing down, so we grabbed a couple of crumpled plastic tarps from the ground and ran to the entrance where there was a fantastic museum. Even on a sunny day, this museum is not to be missed.

    We rolled into Selcuk in time to explore the end of the Saturday market before dinner. We ate on the terrace of our hotel, Bella. The food was super and the gorgeous terrace had an awesome view of storks in nests feeding their babies. We were also across the street from St. John Basilica and a castle that was closed for reconstruction. Unfortunately, our room and stay at Bella was the worst of our trip.

    We walked through the lower gates at Ephesus at 8am and headed straight for the magnificent restored library. We purchased one headset that was helpful in understanding everything along with our details from our guidebook. It was nice to be the first ones there. We casually explored the ruins until about 9am when the tour groups flooded in from the top. There were adorable cats in every corner and crevice. We left a couple hours later hoping to find a restaurant highly recommended in our guidebook somewhere on the way to Kusadasi. We pulled over on the side of the road to take photos of an artichoke farm with 3-4 foot tall plants and artichokes the size of melons. We met some Kurdish farmers who were harvesting and wanted us to take pictures of them. They gave us their address to send the photos and offered me an artichoke as a gift. This interaction was one of my best memories of our trip. We ended up in Kusadasi meaning that we missed the turn off to the restaurant. We turned back and settled for a mediocre pide lunch in Selcuk.

    We spent the afternoon walking through St. Johns Basilica and the mosque below it until it started sprinkling. Then drove over to Sirince for dinner. The drive was all hairpin turns until the road ended and we parked our car at the entrance. We wandered through the village that loops around with stone-and-stucco homes and hotels on the upper side and restaurants towards the bottom. The small covered market offered some different items like soaps, olive oils and wines. One shopkeeper told us that Sirince was very popular with Americans and he had sort of a cynical attitude telling us about it. He gave us a lesson on how to find the best quality olive oil by looking at the acidity on the label. The best is under .5%. We dined al fresco by candlelight at Sirencem Restaurant and Café.

    We had an open schedule the next night and decided to spend it at Bafa Lake to see Herakleia after a morning visiting Priene, Melitus, Didyma. Priene was a steep hike up to the ruins perched high on the slope of Mt. Mykale. At the top, we saw the Temple of Athena with broken pieces of columns that looked like gigantic stone wheels scattered all about. The theater was located down a path behind the temple. We went over to the edge and heard a rustling sound near the bushes where two tortoises were shuffling through the dry weeds. The majestic setting of the mountain behind the temple made this a unique site. Melitus was just another amphitheater, so we took a quick look and drove on. Didyma’s well preserved Temple of Apollo had a grand entryway with massive carved columns lining the perimeter. We walked up the steps and down a passageway ramp to the interior. On the way back to the car, we saw a family with young children looking shocked as they walked past an open gate at a private home. My husband peeked in and said they were dragging a dead sheep that must have just been killed.


    We stopped in Akkoy for lunch at a patio restaurant under the shaded trees on the corner of the main intersection. A woman and her two daughters ran it. She brought us into the kitchen to show us what she cooked for the day. We had excellent fried chicken, green beans and two big potato stuffed Gozleme. It was nice to have something completely different and homemade.

    We drove to Bafa, took the gravel road to Herakleia and paid a park entry fee from our car. Less than ten minutes later, it started raining hard. We sat in our rental and watched the raindrops falling on the lake. After about an hour, we left since it was still raining. At the main road, about a kilometer down, was an open-air restaurant overlooking the lake with a large covered deck and free wifi. This was a good place to have some tea and search for somewhere else to visit or stay for the night. We weren’t coming up with anything and it was getting late making their hotel a good option.

    Once we checked into Club Natura Oliv, we explored the vast property set in olive grove with a path leading down to the lake. After looking into a couple of buildings with posters identifying wild birds, it was obvious that this was a hotel that specialized in birding tours. The beach area was set up like a resort with bar, wooden lounge chairs, kayaks and a swimming area. For some reason, we were the only guests.

    I was burned out from seeing ruins all week, so our last morning on the coast we drove to Milli Park. Hungry and short on time, we broke our “code” and stopped at McDonalds next to a factory outlet store in Soke. We don’t even eat this stuff at home unless we are on the road traveling. Soke was different because it had the first American fast food chains that we had seen here and in the middle of nowhere. There were white modern windmills on the hillside overlooking the commercialized city. The McDonalds experience was unlike any that I’ve been to in the past. I placed my order, the next customers placed theirs and we all stood around the counter for at least 20 minutes until food was put on trays. It was so slow that we could have gotten in and out of a local place faster.

    Milli Park is on the Dilek Peninsula. We could only drive so far before a military barrier stopped us. From what we read, it is to prevent anyone from swimming over to Samos. We misread the directions and drove on the southern part of the peninsula along a scenic marshy coast. Thinking we could cross the peninsula, we turned inland towards a village in the distance. The bumpy road didn’t feel right and we passed a movie crew filming that seemed a little annoyed by us. We came to a dead end and turned towards the other side discovering the most picturesque village of the trip. We parked and walked through the stone hamlet that looked like it should be part of a movie set or magazine cover. The perfect cobblestone streets and buildings were draped by lush pink and purple flowers, pretty scrolled wrought iron windows and beautifully carved wooden doors. The quality construction of this place was top of the line and seemed like where the wealthy retired or had a second home.

    After reviewing the map more carefully, we realized that the beaches of Milli Park were on the north side of the peninsula and we needed to turn around to the main road. We paid an entry fee at the gate of Mille Park and drove down to each beach before deciding on the last one by the military barrier. This one was quieter and had the best view of the Greek island of Samos. We rented a couple of chairs and an umbrella for two short hours. The beach was covered in smooth stones instead of sand. The water was cold and choppy, so we mostly lounged in the chairs except when trash would float by and I could fish it out. Every few minutes some type of garbage would float over. From our photos, you would think it was paradise, and it was, except for the rubbish. Our two hours was up and it was time to head to Izmir Airport for our 6pm flight back to Istanbul.

    We made one last attempt to find the secret restaurant between Kusadasi and Selcuk. We looked for the road to Camlik that we somehow missed again. We went through Selcuk and took the inland road back towards Aydin where we finally found our turnoff. We made it to the family run Koy Sofrasi in the village of Kirazli. We explained that we only had 45 minutes to eat in order to make it to the airport. They whipped together a quick, fantastic meal of mezzes with fried eggplant and potatoes topped with tomatoes and yogurt, seapods sautéed in garlic and lemons, stuffed rolled grape leaves, eggplant and yogurt dip served with freshly baked bread. The entrée was beef, onions and peppers served in a hot wok on our table. It was surprisingly delicious for something so simple. The father went out back and picked some fresh cherries to end our meal. Kirazli means “Place of Cherries”. We would have eaten here multiple times, if we had found it earlier.

    North of Selcuk we were given the option to take the toll road or the side road. We went with the toll road thinking it would be faster. The tollbooth didn’t give us a ticket and there wasn’t anyone to help. We drove on hoping to solve it on the other end. At the exit, a man pointed us to the toll office. We were joined by a couple of people waving toll cards and money. The toll official did not speak English and did not seem helpful. Another man walked up who spoke English and helped us by purchasing a card and swiping it at the tollbooth for us to exit before he went though. He only asked for 2TL, although it was closer to 3TL. We pulled into the airport at 5pm where the Almira car rental agent was waiting at departure. We returned it on empty, the same way we received it. He tried to argue that it had a quarter of a tank and wanted 20TL. I asked him to call the manager in the Antalya office. We continued fighting until an airport official walked over and then he drove off.

    We took the subway/tram transport from Ataturk back to Hotel Erboy. It was nice to be back in familiar territory. We decided to splurge and had a wonderful dinner at a new modern style restaurant called Lokanta Maya in Karakoy, a block or two from the cruise port. The contemporary food, high end service and bistro like atmosphere reminded me of many of our favorite restaurants. We ordered grilled octopus, zucchini fritters, baked fish, panna cotta and mastic pudding. On the way back, we strolled along the port promenade admiring beautiful Istanbul at night.

    Our last full day in Istanbul was reserved for shopping and an evening in the Taksim and Istiklal area. We started in the Spice Market for food and then wandered to the side streets for scarves, pashminas, kabob skewers and pepper grinders. Lunch was meat and cheese Turkish pizza with Coke Zero at my favorite pide place, Ozkan on Uzuncarsi. They seemed happy to see us again and remembered what I liked. We were glad to find Coke Zero almost everywhere during our vacation. We took a tea break in the picturesque sunken courtyard next to Suleymaniye mosque. Our last stop was to buy some Turkish Delight/Lokum and Helva at Ali Muhttin Haci Bekir. We went back to the hotel to drop all of our purchases in the room before spending an evening walking down Istiklal. Before going to the room, I stopped into the pharmacy across the street to buy some medicine that my insurance does not cover. Without a prescription, I showed the pharmacist the bottles and she handed me the Turkish versions at 1/4 of the cost. I stocked up.

    We took the funicular up to Taksim Square and followed the trolley car down Istiklal. It was a pedestrian walking street with retail and coffee shops, many American chains, on both sides. I was underwhelmed and not sure why this area is a must see. It pretty much has everything that I can find at home. We had dinner at a sidewalk table of a busy side street. The door guy entertained us while we ate our mezze. He spoke 5 different languages and tried to reel in customers with crazy one-liners that you would hear as a pick up in a bar. After dinner, we continued walking down Istiklal that ends just north of Galata Tower. I took the tram back to the hotel to pack while my husband stayed to take night images.

    Our flight back to Atlanta through JFK departed at 12:15p. We hired a car from the hotel to drive us since we had too many bags for the tram this time. We gave ourselves 2.5 hours for check in which was more than enough time. We would have been fine with 1.5 hours.

    Turkey was an exciting beautiful country to visit full of adventures. I hope to return and see Eastern Turkey someday. If I had to do this trip over again, I would spend less time at ruins and add 2-3 nights on a Gullet. I would go to heavily touristic ruins and sites in the early morning or late afternoon if possible. Best tips would be to rent a car, pay in cash for discounts and fly rather than overnight bus.

    We stayed at these hotels that I have linked to my reviews on TA. You can look under Nicci to go directly to my contributions. I’ve rated them based on our experience with 1 star as the lowest and 5 as the highest.

    Istanbul- Hotel Erboy- 4.5 Stars
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g293974-d296569-Reviews-Erboy_Hotel-Istanbul.html

    Urgup/Ayvali- Arvan Evi- 5 Stars
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g297989-d626681-Reviews-Aravan_Evi_Boutique_Hotel-Urgup_Cappadocia.html

    Kas-Hideaway Hotel-3 Stars
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g297965-d614461-r113311880-Hideaway_Hotel-Kas_Turkish_Mediterranean_Coast.html

    Pamukkale- Hotel Venus- 3 Stars
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g297992-d572880-r113304562-Venus_Hotel-Pamukkale.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

    Selcuk- Hotel Bella- 2 Stars
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g293976-d562572-Reviews-Hotel_Bella-Selcuk_Izmir_Province_Turkish_Aegean_Coast.html

    Bafa Lake- Club Natura Oliv- 3 Stars


    Favorite restaurants:

    Istanbul- Pasazade at Hotel Erboy, Ozkan Pideve Borek Salonu on Uzuncarsi Cad. and Lokanta Maya on Kemankes Cad.

    Cappadocia- Aravan Evi for lunch(dinner if you stay there) in Ayvali and Ailanpa Wine Bar in Urgup.

    Kas-Bi Lokma in center, 1 street off of the waterfront

    Akkoy- At main intersection, the open air restaurant on corner under shady trees

    Selcuk- Hotel Bella for dinner

    Between Secuk and Kusadasi (inland road) in Kirazli- Koy Sofrazi
    Don’t miss this one if you have a car.


    HAPPY TRAVELS!

  • Report Abuse

    Nicci, wonderful report. I am planning to go to Istanbul and Cappadocia in early September for two weeks by myself. I have now read quite a few negative reports of the Bella.
    Its a bit worrying as I plan to stay there for 5 nights and havent been offered a discount for being a solo traveller - double room €45 per night. Any tips on getting a better room there?

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks, Patricia1066- I was trying to be as detailed as possible to help future travelers like you.

    Bella quoted 100 TL per night for a room without balcony. No cash discount there, so we paid with a credit card.

    Maybe positive reports are from people who stayed in a balcony room, although I've read that there is street noise and sewage smell from the bathroom. I forgot to mention that awful smell in my review. Regardless of a better room, if that exists, the management needs major improvement of how customers are treated.

    I don't think there is a cancelation fee if you cancel with enough advance notice. And 5 days seems like long time for this area.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks Ian! I'm sure you would agree that's what makes renting a car and independent travel the best choice for those who like something different. It allows for flexibility of exploration and adventures.

    I forgot to mention that our Garmin GPS Europe 2011 map was useless in Turkey. A good road map, guidebook and the excellent road signs kept us on track.

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    Yes, I like to 'feel' a country & independent travel is a must for that.

    My TomTom - with updated maps - was just OK. Many roads were not existent & the routing was so-so at best. I had a Michelin map as well.

    Ian

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    We used the Michelin map too. The 2011 copyright was the most current from Amazon.com when we purchased it in April.

    The traffic lights were strange since they went from red to yellow, before turning green. And we were honked at if not moving on yellow. Some had a count down which was helpful.

  • Report Abuse

    Ha ha. I loved the traffic lights. A yellow to tell you it's turning green? I really couldn't understand it. I guess it gives you time to clutch & put it into gear but it was strange. And I was surprised at how the Turks obeyed the lights & the no right turn on red. It must be the number of stop light cams I also noticed. Much better drivers than I expected overall. Not even close to Naples or Sicily for vehicular insanity.

    Ian

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    Hi Patricia 1066 - we stayed in here Selcuk -

    http://www.homerospension.com/

    and whilst this place is far from the Ritz the owner (Dervis)is an absolute delight. His mother (Mama) and his sister mmmm can't remember her name but I think it might be Hoya all help him run the B&B. Mama and Hoya put on a beautiful dinner each night and you are offered a free glass of home made wine on the roof top to watch the sunset.

    They organised a driver -Osman, an absolutely delightful young man - to take us to to Ephesus and collect us a few hours later.

    I cannot believe how well we were treated there - they were delightful. Then my son visited a year or two later and they looked after him like he was their own.

    We had a hire vehicle and as we were leaving Hoya did a water ritual of blessing us and the car so we would have a safe journey.

    I repeat it is not the Ritz but sometimes a 'family' type experience is far more rewarding.

    Thanks for the report Nicci - Turkey has been one of my favourite destinations. Our friend is a pilot for Royal Balloons and they live in their own little Ev in Urgup - we found the Turkish people to be some of the most friendliest in the world.

  • Report Abuse

    @nicci I am hoping to see Aphrodisias, Priene, Miletus and Didyma and Selcuk is the most useful place for public transport connections. Also I like settling in and getting to know a place. I am spending 2 weeks in turkey, and had to radically cut out many of the places I want to see so I can avoid a windshield tour.
    @stormbird, the Homeros looks very traditional, just what I hoped to enjoy in the Bella. Very reasonable. I will see if they can put me up. Do you recommend asking for a room at the back?
    The friendship offered in a family run place is a great thing. Bella is very successful, I do not understand how they can survive if they don't deal with sewer smells, and as for pressuring about their shop and travel agency...

  • Report Abuse

    stormbird- Thanks for adding an alternative accommodation suggestion in Selcuk. I don't think there are any great hotels, but why not pay less if you have to settle for mediocrity.

    Patricia1066 - Hopefully one of your days in Selcuk is during their Saturday Market.

    Ian- I just cut and pasted my Northern Italy trip report from May 2009 for a friend flying into Milan this fall. It seems we were in communication on the forum back then as well. We still haven't opened any of the wine we carried back from Piedmonte. Are still holding onto your bottles of '01 Silvio Grasso Borolo?

  • Report Abuse

    Nicci - Cancelled Bella, and I decided to get the balcony room of Jimmys Place for same price as basic room at Bella's, looks nice.
    I am there on Saturday, and I'll make sure to keep a dy free to explore the market.

  • Report Abuse

    I am going to try to avoid the organised tours of the underground churches - I have done that kind of tour in Rome when in a catacomb with 30 spanish students! You are in a narrow space and have to share the viewing spot with 30 others all the time. I'll take note of the town you saw the underground city signosted Guzelyurt. Is that in the Ilhara valley?

  • Report Abuse

    Patricia1066- The underground city sign was on the way to Guzelyurt, before Ihlara Valley, maybe 20 minutes before.

    Bella does have a great terrace with awesome views of the stork nests, St. Johns Basilica and the castle. It's worth a visit for dinner since the mezze is very good and fairly priced. The service on the terrace was good.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks so much. I'm home exchanging in Istanbul for 3 1/2 weeks this summer. I am going to Cappadocia, but I am flying. I do have the use of a car. This was a very helpful trip report.

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