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Trip Report Two Continents, Four Seas, and a Strait; 15 Incredible Days in Turkey

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Much of the fun of a trip for me is the planning. I use Fodor’s frequently and I want to thank all the Fodorites who gave me advice and information about Turkey, especially otherchelebi, who, as we all know, is so generous with his knowledge of Turkey. We visited three main areas of the country; Cappadocia, the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, including Ephesus, and finally, Istanbul. I’ll break this report into those major areas.

A note about the weather. We were in Turkey from October 23 – November 6. Except for a couple of days of rain, we had beautiful, warm weather. You’ll see the clear blue skies in many of the photos. I think the warm days we experienced in Cappadocia were a little unusual for the time of year, but being from Upstate NY, we didn’t complain!

I’ve included prices when possible because I know that many of you are in the process of planning trips.

We’ve talked about going to Turkey for a few years and one day we decided to stop talking and start planning. I always begin my flight search with kayak.com; Turkish Airlines and Delta’s fares were identical from NYC, $624, so we chose Delta because of its mileage program.

We flew JetBlue from Rochester, NY to JFK on October 22. We arrived without incident at JFK, but my husband’s suitcase didn’t. So far it’s still AWOL; we suspect it may have been stolen. Fortunately we buy travel insurance when we travel abroad and we’ll be reimbursed for the contents.

Arrival at Ataturk Airport was easy; it’s a clean, modern airport. You need to purchase an entry visa before going through passport control. Follow the signs for the visa window (just past passport control). For US citizens, the cost is $20 or 15 Euros per person. We bought some Turkish Lira at JFK, but were able to get more easily from one of several ATMs just to the right as you exit the controlled portion of the airport.

We had decided to take public transportation into town (even easier than we suspected because we were suitcase “light”). The subway was well marked although we were pressured to take a shuttle. The jeton (ticket) was 1.5TL. It took us to the transfer point, Zeytinburnu. An additional jeton of 1.5TL got us on the light rail which took us to the Sultanahmet stop, across from our hotel. The ride took just under an hour. The tram did get quite crowded, but we’re glad we did it. We used the tram quite a bit in Istanbul. It runs frequently, it’s clean, efficient, and cheap.

We stayed at the Faros Hotel on Divan Yolu Caddesi. The location is perfect, a short walk to all the sites in Sultanahmet and convenient to the tram. I’ll talk more about the hotel in the Istanbul report. European hotel rooms can be tiny, but this one was fairly spacious by European standards. First-time travelers in Europe beware; most European hotels neither supply washcloths nor sink stoppers, so if you plan to any hand washing, bring a stopper. The staff at the hotel is wonderful. We spent our first day in Istanbul looking for some clothes for my husband. Unfortunately due to his size (6’2” and big frame), it wasn’t an easy chore. The hotel manager suggested a large mall about 15 minutes away, so we spent Friday evening at the mall where he was able to buy some jeans and a several shirts. It gave us a peek into everyday life in Turkey that we wouldn’t have had otherwise :)

We ate that night on the rooftop garden at the Bodrum Café, with a beautiful view of both Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

The next morning we took a taxi to the airport for our Turkish Airlines flight to Nevsehir. The taxi was about 40TL. We flew Turkish airlines several times and found it to be on time, efficient and overall a good experience. The drive from Sultanahmet to Ataturk Airport parallels the Sea of Marmara. A lovely park stretches for miles along the sea and I was interested to see that people were using exercise equipment in the park (stationery bikes, stair climbers, etc.), and we even saw an exercise class in progress!

CAPPADOCIA

There are two major airports in Cappadocia; Kayseri and Nevsehir. Nevsehir is the closer of the two to both Goreme and Urgup, the two major tourist destinations. Arriving in Nevsehir could be described as landing on the moon with a little mix of US Southwestern desert; brown desert-y landscape and beautiful blue skies. As promised by our hosts, we were greeted at the airport and taken by a small van to our cave hotel in Urgup, about 30 minutes from the airport. The van was 15TL per person.

I did a lot of research on hotels before we left, and we chose the Melekler Evi Cave Hotel in Urgup; www.meleklerevi.com. Melekler Evi means “House of Angels”. Exquisite doesn’t begin to describe it. We were met by our hosts, Arzu and Muammer, both architects. They moved from Istanbul to Urgup three years ago with their two daughters to refurbish and operate the property. It has eight rooms, each uniquely decorated. The hotel (more like an American B&B) is built into a cave but it has large windows so there is no feeling of claustrophobia. When I wrote Arzu and Muammer to make the reservation, they let us choose our room. I chose the Cennet (Paradise). It has a sitting room and its own terrace with a wonderful view of the surrounding landscape. Heaven!

After spending four days in Cappadocia, we learned that Goreme (about 15 minutes from Urgup), while it also has unique and good accommodations, is popular among the younger, backpacking crowd. The two villages each have a different feel Goreme has a larger shopping area and Urgup has more of a small town feel. I don’t think you could go wrong with either, but we were so happy to have chosen the Melekler Evi; I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s spoiled us for any other hotel we’ll ever experience.

After we settled into our room, Muammer and Arzu came up (to our private terrace!) to ask what our plans were. We had decided not to rent a car in Cappadocia, and we didn’t have a set itinerary, so they suggested that we do three one-day tours. They also made reservations for us to see the Whirling Dervishes that evening. After months of planning, it felt good to put the next few days into their capable hands.

Since it was a Saturday, they suggested we visit the market in town. Muammer drove us, and we spent the afternoon walking around. The market was a fascinating combination of sights and sounds, and it had the biggest cabbages we’ve ever seen! We had a late lunch at a restaurant on the central plaza and walked back to the hotel.

They arranged a taxi to take us to Surahan, a restored caravansaray. The caravansarys were built as a rest and food stop for the merchants and their camels traveling the Silk Road between Asia and Europe around the 13th century. This one is beautifully restored and we enjoyed its beauty under the clear night sky. The Dervishes perform a religious ceremony, not a performance. It consisted of 10 Dervishes, five playing musical instruments (one chanting the Koran from time to time) and five whirling in a trance-like state. It lasted about 50 minutes and we were glad that we experienced it. The cost was 50TL each. The taxi driver waited for us during the ceremony and took us back to the Melekler Evi for 50TL.
We spent the next three days exploring the magnificent landscape and history of the area. The tours were arranged through Rock Valley Tourism and Travel in Urgup, www.rockvalleytravel.com.

I took over 1300 pictures during our 15 days (I told my children they have to look at each one; they didn’t see the humor:). I’ll include a small album of pictures for each section. Hopefully they’ll offer a taste of what we experienced.

Cappadocia Day One

We were transported in a comfortable 12-passenger van the first two days and a four-person van for our third day (that day there were only four of us on the tour). We lucked out and got the same guide all three days. Selim is a personable and knowledgeable guide who speaks excellent English. Like others in the tourism industry in Turkey, he has a degree in tourism. It shows; he was a wealth of information about the history and geological wonders of the area.

The first day included the Goreme open-air museum, a collection of rock-cut churches with beautiful frescos and monasteries, as well as fairy chimneys, sci-fi-like formations created by volcanoes millions of years ago and carved into unimaginable shapes by the ensuing effects of wind and water erosion.

We ended the day in Pigeon Valley, a crater-like valley of unique rock formations. It gets its name from the holes in the rocks. The holes attracted pigeons which throughout the history of the region were used as food and their droppings were used as fertilizer. Selim said his uncle, a farmer in Cappadocia, still uses pigeon droppings as fertilizer.

Next, more Cappadocia.

http://picasaweb.google.com/Ellen.Corradini/MeleklerEvi#
http://picasaweb.google.com/Ellen.Corradini/CappadociaGeneral#
http://picasaweb.google.com/Ellen.Corradini/CappadociaTour1#

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