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Trip Report Turkish Delight

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First, I apologize for the title. I just coluldn't resist. ;-)

DH and I have recently returned to chilly Chicago from two wonderful weeks in Turkey. The advice and suggestions we received from the members of this forum were invaluable. Our trip was immeasurably better for it and we thank you all for your gracious input. As first time visitors to Turkey we made what I believe is a common circuit -- visiting Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Ephesus. Going with this assumption, I won't take time here to describe the grandeur of Hagia Sophia or the elegance of the Blue Mosque or the stunning landscape of Cappadocia, but instead will share some of the favorite moments and events that made our first trip to Turkey so memorable, and will offer some information, advice and suggestions that might be of use to future travelers.

To help make sense of some of my report, this was our itinerary:
Depart Chicago Thursday, October 18, nonstop to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines
Arrive Istanbul at 5 PM, Friday October 19
Rented an apartment in Sultanahmet, October 19-23
Departed Istanbul October 23 for Cappadocia (flying to Nevsehir on Turkish Airlines)
Stayed in Aydinli Cave Hotel, Goreme, October 23-27
Returned to Istanbul October 27
Rented an apartment in Beyoglu, October 27-31
Took day trip to Ephesus, October 30 (flying round trip to Izmir on AtlasJet)
Returned to Chicago November 1, nonstop on Turkish Airlines

We left Chicago on October 18, arriving at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport about 5 PM the evening of October 19. We found Turkish Airlines to be a perfectly fine airline; they didn't lose our bags, had better than average food and entertainment offerings, and kept to the schedule admirably. Ataturk is very big and busy and bustling -- there are an incredible number of flights in and out of that airport. Allow plenty of time (more than you'd expect) to get through visa and passport control when you arrive, and then again for security and check-in at the international terminal for your flight home. The arrival process took us over an hour; first the visa line (have $20 cash ready for each person if American, other amounts in other currencies for other nationalities) took about 30 minutes (only two of the several windows were manned) and then the passport control line across the aisle took another half hour or so. Then collect your baggage and exit the baggage claim -- that's where you'll find the ATMs and ground transportation. As you exit, there will be a long line of guys behind a waist-high barrier holding signs with names on them. If you have arranged for a driver, look for your name -- but be open-minded about what your name might be. I was expecting to see a sign with our last name, or my first and last name, or DH's first and last name. We looked and looked ... hmmmm, had we been stood up? Finally DH noticed a sign that said "Jim and Becky / Shellie's" -- our first names and the name of our apartment owner. And, also be prepared to wait some more; the guy holding the sign with your name is not your driver. He's on a cell phone talking to your driver (or someone -- a dispatcher maybe?) and he'll tell you to stand someplace and he'll fetch you when the driver arrives. If you're lucky that should be within 10 minutes, but it was over 30 minutes the night we arrived (the traffic was just unbelievable that night).

When we left two weeks later we allowed more than two hours at the airport and had only minutes to spare: security as you enter the airport; a huge, slow-moving line for passport control and then to check baggage and get boarding passes (although they were just restarting flights to New York after Hurricane Sandy when we were leaving on November 1 and that contributed to the confusion -- many people had tickets but no seat assignments, resulting in lots of unhappy arguments in a variety of languages); then another security check; then two more passport controls before reaching the gate. Also, don't wait for a boarding announcement at Ataturk; just watch for the people suddenly lining up and filing through.

Transportation: I mentioned earlier that the traffic was absolutely horrible the Friday night we arrived. It took us over two hours to get from the airport to our apartment in Sultanahmet (about three blocks from the Blue Mosque). There was absolute gridlock. We heard the next day from fellow tourists that they had been on a bus tour of the city that night and after the bus didn't move for an hour (literally) they got off and walked back to their hotel. While we never saw traffic that bad again in our two weeks, we used trams and ferries and trains whenever possible. Not only are they easy to figure out, but they have unobstructed travel pathways and they have set, relatively inexpensive fares. We took a cab only once, from the Chora Church to Pierre Loti, and the driver wanted 35 TL for that relatively short trip. I balked but still ended up paying him 25 TL -- it was early in our vacation and I didn't want to get in a big argument. At peak times the trams at popular spots, like Eminonu, were packed, sometimes *really* packed. For most of the "big" attractions in the old city (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topakpi Palace) it's easier, and more fun, to walk. I arranged for drivers from the airport to our two apartments in Istanbul, finding it easier to connect with apartment owners when there is an arranged time, and no worry about a cab driver trying to find an apartment's address. I have no idea what a cab would have cost for the two hour-plus ride from the airport on that first night. I also arranged for a driver for the early morning airport trip when we went to Cappadocia. For subsequent trips to the airport, when we were staying in Beyoglu, we took the Havatas bus that leaves from Taksim Square. 10 TL each and a posted schedule that they stick to. In Cappadocia I booked a driver and guide, as DH had no desire to rent a car and I had no desire to try and figure out road signs or best routes to various sights. I also booked a driver and guide for our day in Ephesus. We like to travel independently, but to also use our time wisely. We had only one day for Ephesus, and I didn't want to spend it dealing with car rentals and maps and an irritable DH when we got lost...

Food: Turkish cuisine is absolutely delightful. Some of our best meals were in the least impressive-looking places. On our first morning we took an Istanbul Eats tour -- Culinary Secrets of the Old City. We got an immediate introduction to Turkish foods, including white cheese, dried fruit, simit (like a Turkish bagel covered with sesame seeds available in street carts all over the city), kaymak (a very rich cross between cream cheese and clotted cream) with honey, pide (Turkish pizza -- sort of), lentil soup, rose lokoum (Turkish delight), roasted lamb, and Doner kebab. We also sampled kokoreç, sweetbreads bound up in lamb intestines, which is apparently a real favorite, but for us – not so much. The tour is a great introduction to Turkish food, and Istanbul, and we highly recommended. We had many great meals, but some of the best, in no particular order:

• A grilled fish sandwich at the Eminönü docks. There’s a boat/grill just as you get off the ferry that goes up the Golden Horn to Eyup. Freshly grilled fish, plus tomatoes, onions and lettuce on a crusty roll for something like 6 TL. Plus a little spool table to eat it on.
• Çiya Sofrası. Just a couple of blocks from the docks at Kadikoy, we had read a lot about this, and we incorporated lunch there with a trip to the Asian side. The cold mezes (appetizers) were exceptional, and the hot selections were delicious. If you speak Turkish you can sit at a table and order, but the rest of us go in and scoop up the mezes onto your plate (sort of like an American salad bar) which is then weighed – keep the ticket and your waiter will collect them to add to your bill. Hot selections are opposite, and someone will explain what each dish is. You can choose full or half portions (unless you eat A LOT, choose the half portions), and you select the one(s) you want. Those are delivered to your table. No alcohol. We had a generous selection of mezes and half portions of four different hot dishes and spent a grand total of perhaps 40 TL. http://www.ciya.com.tr/index_en.php
• Hayvore. Specializing in Black Sea cuisine, especially hamsi (sardine- or smelt-like fish eaten whole). A small restaurant just off of Istiklal Caddesi, it has friendly service and wonderful food. Order off the menu or go to the counter and choose from the selections (much like you do at Çiya). The Hamsi Pilav is absolutely to die for. Turnacibasi Sokak 4, Beyoglu
• Topdeck Cave Restaurant, Goreme. The menu changes daily at this small restaurant in Cappadocia. The menu has three selections -- lamb dish, beef dish, chicken dish – and the chef prepares whatever looks good and he feels like. DH chose the lamb and got a spicy stew on bulgar, and I had simple but delicious chicken with vegetables. Those, plus a meze plate, a couple of glasses of wine, baklava and coffee set us back 75 TL. Very small, so reservations are essential. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Topdeck-Cave-Restaurant/377918352227751
• Hoca Paşa Street. This little street in Sirkeci, tucked between the train station and Gulhane Park has a number of pide and kebap restaurants, besides a mosque and a cultural center. Much has been written about Kasap Osman, and this is good, but the other choices won’t disappoint for a quick, tasty, cheap meal. http://sirkecirestaurants.com/what-is-hoca-pasa-street-sirkeci-restaurants-istanbul/
• Asitane. Right next to the Chora Church, this Ottoman restaurant is in a lovely setting and the service is impeccable. We had lunch and DH got a shrimp dish and I had the Asitane Lokmaları, which they call “Asitane Treats” – basically an appetizer sampler. While the dishes were lovely to look at, they were somehow bland. But the couple at the next table had chosen the prix fixe “Sultan’s Sampler” (or something like that) – a multi-course extravaganza for 135TL each – and that looked quite spectacular. http://www.asitanerestaurant.com/English/

We also discovered many foods and tastes that became favorites. Pomegranates are in season, and juice carts and windows are all over. Freshly squeezed pomegranate juice is rather tart, but is really yummy mixed with orange or pineapple. Sour cherry juice (which is sold in grocery stores next to the orange juice) is surprisingly good and a nice change. The tomatoes are amazing; I had a tasty spinach/goat cheese lasagne at one of the places on Hoca Paşa and it was covered with chopped fresh tomatoes, which took it over the top. We got a couple of lufer (blue fish?) from a fishmonger and I cooked them up one night – these are amazing fish. I developed a real taste for Börek (cheese-filled flaky pastry). I first had it as part of a meze selection at a restaurant in Cappadocia – hot, crispy, flaky exterior contrasting with the slightly soft, cheesy interior. Yum. You can find many Börek shops in Istanbul, and I spent considerable time trying to find another sample to match that first one. None quite made the grade, but it wasn’t for lack of searching! We found lokoum to be unremarkable, although DH really liked the pistachio we got at Haci Bekir (there are several locations – we shopped at the one on Istiklal Caddesi). Baklava was ubiquitous, but the best we had was at the Old Greek House restaurant in Mustafapasa. We were told that grandma makes it in her kitchen down the street and they walk it to the restaurant. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I know it was wonderful.

More to come …

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    Hi

    Thank you so much for such an informative trip report. We too loved Turkey! I have bookmarked this for our future return to such fascinating country. Can't wait for your next instalment. :-)

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    Sites: As do most first time tourists, we hit the sightseeing highlights -- in Istanbul, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul Archaeological Museum, Basilica Cisterns, Egyptian/Spice Market, Grand Bazaar, New Mosque of Mother Sultan, Eyup Sultan Mosque, Chora Church, Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent, Rustem Pasa Mosque, Galata Tower. In Cappadocia we visited the Goreme Open Air Museum, the Zelve Open Air Museum, Pigeon Valley, Ihlara Valley, Rose Valley, Kaymakli Underground City, Avanos, Devrent, a caravanserai, and Devrent. In Ephesus we went to the Virgin Mary's House, the Ephesus Museum in Selçuk, and, of course, Ephesus. Each of these is wonderful in its own way, and deserving of a visit.

    Before the trip I had read a lot of tips about beating the cruise ship crowds, and timing of the visits. In the end, any attempts at strategic timing failed us, and I don't know how effective these strategies are anyway. I did purchase tickets to the big sites in Istanbul online from home before the vacation at https://www.muze.gov.tr/buy_e_ticket. This alleviated the need to wait in ticket purchasing lines, but didn't let us skip the security lines or other entry bottlenecks, but it helped some. I did not try to purchase the Museum Pass, which gives you slightly reduced admission fees, because it is only valid for three days after the first use. Since we were visiting Turkey for two weeks, and I didn't know exactly when we would see what, I instead purchased full price individual tickets. These are sent in a .pdf to your specified email; you print the sheet(s) and then cut apart. After I placed my order nothing appeared in my email and I was getting miffed about spending money for something that didn't seem to be forthcoming, until I thought to check my spam folder; the email with the tickets had been held as "foreign." But once I figured that out, it was pretty slick.

    In Istanbul, some of the most impressive sights are the mosques, which have no entry fees. Just remember to have a scarf to cover your head (ladies) and long pants and shirts with sleeves to cover legs and shoulders (ladies and gentlemen). There was a huge line to view Hagia Sophia the day we were there, but since we already had tickets, we slipped in the gate and went straight to security, and we were inside in about five minutes. It was easy to get into Topkapi Palace, but there were considerable lines to see the Armory, the hall of Holy Relics, and especially the Imperial Treasury. The Harem at Topkapi, one of the highlights for us, and wasn't very busy at all. The Archaeological Museum was fascinating and one large tour group hogged all of the viewing space as they moved through, but we had to just hop around them, viewing things out of order --not a tremendously big deal. Chora Church was very crowded, but since you spend most of your time looking up at the mosaics and frescoes, the crowds aren't too onerous.

    In Cappadocia, the Goreme Open Air Museum was very crowded, and there were lines to get into the Dark Church, the Snake Church, Sandals Church and Buckles Church. Since these are confined spaces, it can get pretty close inside. Zelve Open Air Museum was much less crowded and has some impressive cave dwellings. The Kaymakli Underground City was extremely crowded, and is surrounded with all the tourist trappings ... never let it be said that they missed an opportunity to set up a souvenir shop!

    Ephesus was more crowded than both Istanbul and Cappadocia combined. There were many many buses from cruise ships and the streets of Ephesus were clogged. We had hired a guide for Ephesus, and he tried his best to be nimble, bypassing a given "attraction" to come back later when the crowds had moved on. If you're patient and somewhat strategic, the crowds shouldn't ruin a visit. And the Ephesus grounds are large enough to handle everyone. After all, it was a city of 250,000 in its heyday.

    Our favorites? As I mentioned at the start, Hagia Sophia is just magnificent. Each of the mosques has its own charm, but all are oases of peaceful contemplation. We enjoyed the Egyptian/Spice Bazaar very much despite the large crowds, but after about 20 minutes we had had our fill of the Grand Bazaar. The Chora Church is spectacular -- worth the trip out there. The Basilica Cisterns are spooky and fascinating and kitchy all at the same time. Cappadocia is unique and fascinating, besides being historic and the birthplace of Christianity. And thank you again for convincing me to make the effort to visit Ephesus. The Terrace Houses are especially memorable -- don't miss the chance to tour those when visiting Ephesus, even though they are an extra, additional admission. You won't soon forget the mosaics and marble -- and indoor plumbing!
    Activities: When we weren't touring a museum or visiting a historic site, we did a lot of wandering. Once we learned the trams and the ferries we were free to go almost anywhere in Istanbul. Goreme proper is small enough to cover on foot in an hour or so. Ephesus is of course a contained site, but still offers lots of opportunities to explore.

    • In Istanbul we rode the elevator to the top of the Galata Tower, paying the 12 TL each to enjoy the 360 degree panoramic view of all of Istanbul, the Golden Horn, and the Bosphorus. The viewing platforms were extremely crowded so we had to make a very leisurely circuit, but that gave us plenty of time to take lots of photos.
    • We walked the length of Istiklal Cadessi several times, from Tunel to Taksim, taking in all of the shops, restaurants, clubs, and stores. One caveat -- fans of Rick Steves will be familiar with the "walks" in his guidebooks. In the fifth edition of his Istanbul book (copyright 2012) there's a "New District Walk" that covers the length of Istiklal but must have been written some time ago and is now somewhat incorrect. There are several mentions of Gloria Jean's Coffee shops (none of which are there any longer) but the most problematic is the entry for Mado Cafe, which serves as a Turkish Baskin-Robins and pastry/sweet shop. We followed the walk (as best we could, considering that some things weren't there any longer) and when we got to the Mado Cafe part, we dutifully went down the side passage indicated in the book ... which led directly to a bookie joint. We stood in the doorway, woefully out of place, and one gent got up from his table and approached us. I said, "ice cream?" and he knew what we were looking for, so apparently we weren't the first to make this mistake. He said, "Mado" and pointed to his left. We hustled out, and Mado cafe is now on the opposite side of the street about six blocks away.
    • We cruised the Bosphorus up to the Black Sea. We made the 25 TL round trip, which in the winter leaves once a day, at 10:35 AM, from the dock at Eminönü. It cruises up the Bosphorus to the little town of Anadolu Kavagi on the Asian side. Anadolu Kavagi's entire reason for being (apparently) is to serve lunch to the tourists on the Bosphorus cruise, as there are a clutch of restaurants and souvenir shops at the dock, and not much else. Hiking up to the abandoned Yoros Castle rewards with not only a vigorous workout, but wonderful views of the Black Sea. One tip -- they rent an audio guide in the cruise terminal for only 5 TL. While it's not good to use as you cruise -- the automatic GPS option doesn't match up well with reality and the descriptions usually aren't for what you are actually passing, and manually messing with the selections is distracting. And if it's a sunny day, the screen is almost impossible to see -- it is pretty entertaining while you're waiting to board (you need to show up at least 30 minutes early to get a seat with any sort of view) and while you're killing time after lunch in Anadolu Kavagi. There are detailed descriptions of many of the towns/buildings along the Bosphorus, along with peppy music. So while I would use something else as the actual "road map" of the Bosphorus, the audio guide has its uses.
    • Going to church. While Turkey is 99+% Muslim, there are some churches and synagogues in Istanbul. St. Anthony of Pauda Catholic Church on Istiklal Cadessi was only a couple of blocks from our apartment, and they have an English mass on Sunday mornings at 10 AM (a mass in Italian is done Saturday evenings, and the rest are in Turkish). The congregation was enthusiastic, the priest was Italian, and it was a satisfying service in a beautiful church.
    • Walking the Galata Bridge is one thing that every tourist in Istanbul must do at least once. We saw all of the fishermen fishing from the top, and we sat at one of the restaurants under the bridge and had an Efes beer and watched the water traffic pass by. A most pleasant way to spend an hour on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
    • In Goreme we visited a "salon" which featured women knotting rugs. While this is mostly used as a device to get tour groups to look at and then hopefully purchase rugs, we were on our own and they kindly gave us a private show. Demonstrations of wool-on-wool, wool-on-cotton, and silk-on-silk rugs are fascinating, as is the process of growing silk worms, boiling the silk pods and then spinning the silk. We saw the show and then left before they could offer us the apple tea (more on that later ...)
    • Hot air balloon rides are all but mandatory for any visitor to Cappadocia. There are probably more than 20 competing balloon companies, all lifting off shortly before dawn each day (does it ever rain in the mornings in Cappdocia? It was perfect weather each of the four days we were there). Your balloon company collects you at our hotel at an early hour -- we were picked up at 5:25 AM -- and then takes you and the other riders to their central gathering point. They serve a continental breakfast (we were with Royal Balloons, which I read is the only one to serve a hot breakfast, but I don't know that for a fact) and you get to mingle with your fellow passengers. We had an interesting group -- a couple from Canada; a family of four who were originally from Peru, recently from Seattle and now living in Istanbul (dad was a financial officer for Microsoft); a couple from Baltimore who had just moved from Chicago, another couple currently living in Chicago, and DH and I (also from Chicago). After breakfast you're driven to the launching point, you climb into the basket, and as the sun rises it's up, up and away. For the next hour or so you're treated to incredible views of the unique Cappadocian landscape, and of the 100 or so other balloons up there with you. Quite the experience! It was a bit nippy, but certainly not cold. Our pilot kept the balloon as low as possible so we could see into the houses and caves, and he told stories as we went. He was able to land on the trailer (the trailer driver helped out some with that), and then they set up a table with champagne, orange juice, flowers, and palm fronds (apparently Martha Stewart flew with them a couple of years ago and she gave them decorating tips -- I am not making that up). Then everyone toasts the successful landing with champagne, or orange juice, or mimosa. I am sure that most of the balloon companies do similar things, but we can highly recommend Royal for their promptness, attention to detail, consideration for passenger comfort, and a pretty high fun factor.

    Next up: shopping

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    I love the details!

    I am planning a trip for our family next spring and this is very helpful.

    Were you pleased with your accomodations, and would you recommend them?

    Looking forward to the rest.

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    Thanks, Peg!

    grendel, we were very happy with our accommodations, but the apartments wouldn't be suitable for everyone. I found them on VRBO, and both were fourth floor walkups with no elevator. This allowed us to have balconies with great views, and the hike up was OK for us, but wouldn't be for everyone. There are of course lots of other apartment options on VRBO, HomeAway, Air B&B, etc. We loved the Aydinli Cave Hotel in Goreme -- I think most all of the cave hotels have similar amenities and rooms, but the personal attention you get in this family-run inn made it really special.

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    Shopping: I’m not a big shopper, but you can’t visit Turkey without buying things. We found the Grand Bazaar overwhelming, with aisle after aisle of carpets, watches, gold, lamps, carpets, scarves, hookahs, carpets, watches … We spent maybe 20 minutes fighting the crowds and then escaped. The Arasta Bazaar near the Blue Mosque is much smaller and will meet all of your carpet and scarf needs, albeit with much less choice. We loved the Spice Market, although it was crowded, too. We did most of our buying there, and I brought home a boatload of spices (cinnamon, saffron, sumac…), some dried apricots and nuts, a pepper grinder … little things like that. They will happily shrink wrap spices and foods for you to bring home.

    We really enjoyed food shopping in the markets. On our Istanbul Eats tour we were introduced to cheese, fruits and nuts, fish, spices, tea, coffee, and bread. There are similar market options near the Kadikoy docks, and we shopped frequently in the Balık Pazarı (the Fish Market) off of Istiklal. I had an especially good time shopping there for our first home-cooked dinner. Lufer from a fishmonger, olives, a loaf of bread still warm from the ovens (purchased for one whole TL), salad greens, tomatoes, and an onion, and a bottle of wine. DH wanted some of the ubiquitous tea glasses to take home as souvenirs, and we found them widely available in the souvenir shops, usually for about 12 TL per glass/saucer set. We ended up buying a set of eight glasses at a grocery store for something like 14 TL, and then bought saucers separately for about 3 TL each. Quite the smart shopper coup!

    We weren’t quite so economical when it came to carpets. For those who haven’t yet visited Turkey, here is the general purveyor/customer routine, using a carpet shop as an example: You (the shopper) show vague interest in an item and/or make eye contact with the salesman (it’s always a man). You are invited in and offered a seat on a soft couch or chairs. You are asked where you come from, and the salesman finds some relationship with your home. After some small talk you’re offered tea. An assistant then begins to unfurl carpets, and you’re asked which one you like. If you demur, you’re encouraged to just say which color(s) appeal. Once you do that, more carpets of that color appear. Then your tea arrives. The salesman asks how much you think a given piece is worth. You have no idea… and finally he suggests a price. You shake your head, and more carpets appear. He then says that you’re the first customer of the day, and so for good luck he offers a lower price. This process continues until you are either hooked, or decide to leave. If you get up and start to walk out, the price will lower a bit more. He might throw in some pillow covers. Once you get to the door he may follow you out, so you can see how the carpet looks in natural light. And then you finally either buy – or don’t. It’s really a charming process in most cases, and the key to your success is really not caring, and really being prepared to walk away. It’s the same dance for any number of products – scarves, lamps, jewelry. I was in a scarf shop in the Arasta Bazaar and we started out at 85TL for one scarf and I finally left with four scarves for 100TL. I am sure we paid too much for some things along the way, but we didn’t come home feeling abused.

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    Holidays: We certainly didn’t plan for this, but our time in Turkey happened to coincide with two major holidays – Kurban Bayramı (Feast of the Sacrifice) and Republic Day. We happened to be in Cappadocia on the first day of Kurban Bayramı and it was much different than expected. I had read before traveling that it was, in today’s modern era, more of a symbolic sacrifice, where you give money to a butcher for a sheep or a goat; the animal is butchered and then the meat is distributed to the poor. This may be what happens in large cities such as Istanbul, but in the villages of Cappadocia, families gather in their front or side yards and slaughter and butcher a cow (usually) on a blue tarp. This was quite startling to my American eye! Our driver told us that in larger towns there is usually a central location designated for the “sacrifice” where people can perform the ritual in sanitary conditions. Our driver also told us that he and his neighbor had purchased two goats, and that the neighbor would do the ritual for both families, as our driver was working (driving us around), and then the meat would be shared by their two families, and also given to a family in need. We asked how this needy family was chosen, and he said, “Oh, the neighbors all get together and decide who needs it the most.” Charity at a grassroots level.

    Everyone was in quite a festive mood during the four days of the holiday. Men greeted each other at length in the streets. Shopkeepers handed out candy and trinkets. Restaurant owners passed plates of lokoum and fruit. The Turkish Airlines attendants distributed chocolates. Gatekeepers at tourist sites pressed treats on the visitors.
    We returned to Istanbul on Saturday, October 27, and I asked our apartment owner if there would be fireworks this year for Republic Day. She said that she didn’t know, because “the current government doesn’t like big celebrations. But they can’t stop us from marching.” I asked what she meant, and she said, “We will march on Monday. We have arrangements made through social media.” I asked if it would be inappropriate for me to watch this on the street and she shook her head. “No, that would be fine.” “But I’m not Turkish.” I replied. “That’s OK – I’ll give you a flag you can wave.” So Monday afternoon we returned to Istiklal to see hundreds of marchers, waving red flags and chanting as they slowly made their way to Taksim Square. A phalanx of police in riot gear followed behind. It was a little amusing – the police were mostly young, and as they slowly marched along every once in a while one of them would nip into a sweet shop along the way and buy handsful of lokoum or cookies or other sweets to distribute to his comrades. I’m not sure what the marchers were protesting, but it seemed peaceful enough. And it turned out that there were fireworks on the Bosphorus Bridge that night – quite a spectacular show even by American Fourth of July standards.

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    Random points that I forgot to mention before:

    • Check out the Sirkeci Train Station and pretend you’re taking the Orient Express.
    • Visit the Pera Palace Hotel, built to house Orient Express passengers – and Agatha Christie on occasion.
    • Moleskine makes the handiest little travel books, with detailed maps that show the little alleys and streets that big maps don’t. And they’re small and portable. Made navigating the old city a lot easier.
    • The cats. Don’t forget the cats.
    • It is true that some ATMs dole out a choice of TL, USD, or Euros. But not all of them do. Many just dispense TL.
    • One cautionary note – I do believe that all adult males and at least half of the adult females smoke. It was a pleasure to go to the airport and sit in a smoke-free environment for a little while.

    We will remember Turkey with great fondness. The people were kind, gracious, and generous.

    I remember the fishmonger who left his stall to walk us down the street and around the corner to the wine shop we asked about.

    Then there was the kindly elderly gentleman who sat across from me on the tram on the way to Chora Church, offering me some of his simit. And then offering again when I declined.

    We are grateful to the gentleman who led us to the Sultanahmet tram stop for the first time, showed us which direction to travel in, and then demonstrated how to buy a jeton.

    I will remember the young woman, draped from head to toe in her black burka, with sultry eyes – smoking a cigarette.

    And we will even fondly remember the shoe shiners around the Blue Mosque fountains; my husband’s shoes were a continuing sore point with them and they were bound and determined to shine them up.

    Maybe next trip.

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    Thanks for posting an immaculately detailed, organized and factual account of your travels. I am glad everything went well for you.

    Just a note to clarify :

    The marchers on Republic Day were marching to celebrate republic Day and not protesting anything. They were waving the Turkish flag. The government had made group celebrations on the streets and public squares illegal. That is why ther were police. At Ankara, the police had put up baricades to stop the marchers to get to the first parliament building and had tear gassed a large number of people who finally managed to get over the barricades including some opposition members of parliament.

    Can you imagine a similar ban for July 4th celebrations in the United States?

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    Thanks for the clarification, OC. That makes much more sense. The heavy police presence confused us. And you're right; I cannot imagine something similar here.

    I see that you've posted a report of your trip to the US -- I will look forward to reading it! I hope you had as fine a time as we did.

    Peg, I posted on your report that we seem to have channeled each other's vacation -- same apartment, same cave hotel, same Istanbul Eats guide (Megan) ... Other than delaying the opening of some sites on the first day, the holiday did not impact our activities at all. Tram and ferry fares in Istanbul were reduced for the duration, and everyone was extra nice and gracious, but that just made everything more fun!

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    purduegrad... great trip report with really good insight and details. so glad you had such a good time. i am SO ready to go back where i've been, and see what i've missed. Ephesus is calling! :)

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    PurdueGrad--glad to hear you had such a fantastic trip. It seems like eons ago that we were trading posts about our upcoming trips and now they are both wonderful memories. I've been telling friends here what an amazing country Turkey is. I really think it's an under the radar, undiscovered gem as far as American tourists go.

    A few questions or observations on some things from the various parts of your trip report:

    Hagia Sophia: Absolutely incredible. The second most amazing thing I have seen on this planet (after the Basilica di San Marco in Venice.)

    Going to church in Istanbul: I was lazy but after hearing about St. Anthony of Padua, I wished I had sought out a Catholic Church. I can imagine how spiritual and beautiful it must have been!

    Golden Horn Ferry: Were you able to find and ride one? As near as I could tell, they weren't running the day I tried (late August) and never could quite understand why. A big dissapointment for me as I was greatly looking forward to hopping on and off at various points of interest.

    Grilled Fish Sandwich: I did that also at the Eminonu end of the Galata Bridge. Lots of fun, super tasty, and dirt cheap.

    Grand Bazaar: Been there twice. Hated it both times.

    Carpets: Couldn't tell...did you buy one? I did not.

    Shopping: My two treasures from my two trips to Istanbul are my brown leather bomber jacket from Prens Leather and the impressionist-style oil painting of Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi from the Sea of Marmara that I bought at a funky shop in Pera.

    Asitane: Did you sit in the garden area or was it too cold by then. I enjoyed it...the food didn't knock my socks off but it was still a welcome respite on an otherwise hectic day. 3 *** out of 4.

    Dark Church: Did you visit? It required an extra fee and my tour group wasn't interested so I skipped it. Kinda wish I hadn't.

    Royal Balloon: Loved that experience. Did you have the Australian pilot? Can't recall his name.

    So where is your next trip to? I'm already planning Japan 2013!

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    Peg, we used Argeus for the Cappadocia part. We decided that in for a penny, in for a pound, so we did the whole nine yards, being picked up at the Nevsehir airport, spending three days with a guide and driver, and then being taken back to the airport for the return trip to Istanbul. I went back and forth with the Argeus agent, Erbil, for what seemed like weeks (was probably an entire week, though) about what we liked and what we wanted to do, and Argeus booked everything except the accommodations (I had already booked Aydinli before I started working with Argeus). So they did the flights, the balloon ride, provided tickets to everything that needed tickets (Goreme Open Air Museum, Zelve Open Air Museum, etc.), took us to what I later discovered were pretty standard lunch spots (like Belisirma in the Ihlara Valley), and drove us around in a Mercedes van with big windows. The guide had a national guiding license and he was particularly good with comparative religion -- which was a real plus given the location. To answer one of MinnBeef's questions, we spent over an hour in the Dark Church, going over the details of every fresco. We were really pleased with the service, and we got the intangible benefit of being able to talk about politics and electrical infrastructure and the logistics of sacrifices for Kurban Bayrami and the like at length with our guide and driver. We could have probably booked all of the stuff on our own, rented a car or made arrangements with Mustafa at Aydinli for a driver, and saved some money -- but would we have known to stop at that nondescript shell of a building that was a caravansary? And if we had stopped, would we have understood what we were looking at? We did a similar thing for the one day at Ephesus with Osman Travel, and were pleased with that, too. One thing that we particularly appreciated with Argeus was the lack of "shopping" pressure -- no rug shops, no pottery shops ... We were interested in carpets and had to ask where we might see them being made (and then have the apple tea and sales pitch), and they showed us where we could go to see this, but they didn't take us there. We visited on our own during our "leisure" afternoon.

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    Minn, I am glad that we both had fine trips! I know that we followed in some of your Ephesus footsteps, and that gave me courage to try long day trip in the first place. Glad we did!

    To answer some of your questions/comments --

    We always seek out a "local" church when possible; DH is Catholic and I am Anglican so we usually end up in the Catholic parish. We've attended services all over -- from the White Dove of the Desert in Arizona to Notre Dame in Paris to Maria Lanikala on Maui, and St. Anthony's in Istanbul was indeed something special. The congregation was engaged, the music was heartfelt, the priest had a nice Italian accent, and the church itself was just beautiful.

    I did a lot of research about the Golden Horn ferry before we left home, and it ran right on time (once we found the terminal in Eyüp...) We took it just one way and arrived at it in a roundabout fashion -- after Chora Church we had lunch at Asitane (inside; the service and decor were great, food so-so) and then took the overpriced cab to Pierre Loti. We had our tea overlooking the Golden Horn, and could see the little brown ferry building down there, and even watched the ferry make its way to the end. Then we walked down through the cemetery to the Eyüp Mosque, visited the mosque, and then we got lost. After several conflicting sets of directions we made our way to the little brown building we had seen from above and took the ferry to Eminonu. That's when we passed the floating fish grill.

    Carpets -- yes, we did buy. Three of them -- those are our souvenirs! DH was particularly anxious to buy a carpet and he had a greater tolerance for the apple tea and the "sales dance" than did I. Our apartment in Sultanahmet was on Klod Farer about three blocks from Divan Yolu and we had to walk past several carpet shops each time we made our way to, well, anywhere. One in particular caught his eye and on our second or third day we ended up drinking tea and looking at a wide selection of medium-sized rugs. We resisted long enough to end up with one largish rug, one smaller one, and some pillow covers thrown in for good measure. Then the day we were making our way to the Basilica Cisterns and Hagia Sophia (which is indeed amazing) we were helpfully "guided" there by a dapper English-speaking gentleman, who just happened to have a family-run carpet store right across from the Arasta Bazaar! How convenient! I wanted to just move on but DH was up for another go-round, so we went in ... And 30 minutes later left with a small, silk rug in a little rug duffel bag. It *is* quite lovely, in a Garden of Eden pattern, but I think I would have liked something like your oil painting better. But don't tell DH that.

    Our balloon pilot spoke excellent English, but was not Aussie. But he was a hoot and we enjoyed him a lot. One guy in our balloon was afraid of heights (an odd recreational choice for him, I thought) and the pilot made him laugh a lot so he forgot to be afraid.

    Our next trip will probably be fishing on the boat in Minnesota next July -- same trip we've taken for the past 24 years. That's DH's annual vacation pick. Fall is my pick. Last year was Montreal, Quebec and the Charlevoix. This year Turkey. Next year? One of my colleagues is pushing Africa (the same one who pushed Turkey, so he's influential!). We shall have to wait and see!

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    PG-I definitely didn't see any boat traffic on the Golden Horn while sitting at Pierre Loti, so for whatever reasons, the ferries were not running at that time. A bummer from my standpoint but only a minor dissapointment in relation to my whole trip. Glad you also had a wonderful time. Whereabouts in Minnesota do you typically fish? Brainerd? Detroit Lakes? Lake of the Woods?

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    Minn, we go each and every year to Cass Lake, about 15 miles from Bemidji. Somehow DH heard about it (from one of his coworkers, I think) and now he knows the lake so well that he can go to his favorite spots and fish without a depth finder (almost).

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    Great report, PG, thanks for taking the time to post it. I am in the early stages of planning a Turkey trip next year, and this was very helpful.

    Did you bring the rugs with you, or shipped them separately?

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    Thanks, xyz. I found others' reports very helpful when I was trip planning, and am glad that I am able to pay it forward.

    We brought the silk rug back with us, as it was small enough and light enough to carry easily. The other rugs we had shipped -- they took about five days to arrive. They were cleverly "shrink wrapped" in a heavy plastic, and were about the size of a really big bed pillow. The only hitch was that someone had to sign for them (a good thing, considering their worth), but we're at work all day. So we had to have them held at a FedEx office and we picked them up there, which added a couple of days to the delivery time. Other than that, they arrived without a hitch.

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    Did the store ship them, or you took them to the post office + ship them? I read stories about rugs bought in Turkey, supposedly shipped, and either never received, or different rug received.
    How did you do it?

    Also, did you know anything about rugs before buying them? I read other stories about rugs bought in Turkey that turned out to be made in China...how did you know what to buy?

    Maybe I should stop reading such stories, but we usually bring something for home from our trips, and a Turkish rug would be great, so I'm trying to educate myself. Thanks

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    We had pretty good weather for the period of Nov 4 thru 13. 70 and sunny most of the time in Cappadocia, 50 and rainy for a day around Hattusas, 60 and nice in Ankara, and 60's and nice in Istanbul.

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    Murat, as always, great advice. Thank you!
    I think it's safe to say that 1) we know nothing about carpets, and 2) we don't know how to haggle. Pathetic, I know, but that's who we are.
    So even though we will probably not bring any carpet back home, I'm sure there will be lots of other things for us to buy and remind us of Turkey.

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    The store shipped the carpets. We had an official invoice, and the salesman's card. When we purchased them we thought that we had agreed to having them shipped so they would arrive at our house shortly after we did (Nov. 1), and when they didn't arrive by November 6, I got a bit stressed. So I sent an email to the email addreses on the invoice (which matched those on the card) asking about where they were. The next day I got an email reply from the salesman (Ali) with a tracking number, and then I got an automated email from the shipper (TNT, maybe? They handed over to FedEx here, apparently). And then the next day I had a voice mail from some Turkish-sounding guy with a Chicago area code (maybe they really do have a brother-in-law in Chicago) urging me to call him for more information. Turns out that they *shipped* them on November 2; it took them five days to get here, and then the transfer to FedEx, and then we weren't home to sign so we had to have them held at the FedEx facility, yadda yadda. We finally had them in our possession on Nov. 9. But they really went over and above to communicate with us about the status of the shipment.

    I had always figured that if they just didn't arrive, I'd contest the charges and VISA would help us out.

    As for knowledge about rugs? We certainly aren't experts, but have done some shopping here, and some good friends have purchased several large rugs, so we had a general idea about the prices and characteristics of wool-on-wool, wool-on-cotton, and silk. We also got "papers" for the wool rugs, detailing their provenance. (We were told the silk rug was new, as no one gives away or sells a silk rug. And no one walks on them, except the sultans, and they're all dead.)

    Did we get cheated? Are the papers in any way true? We have no idea. But we are happy with the rugs, comfortable with the price we paid, and it is what it is.

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    A rug update -- we got a "Happy New Year" email from one of our rug salesmen, and last week he called. Apparently a cousin is participating in a rug show in Chicago and we were invited (urged) to attend. And buy another rug. Gotta love 'em!

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