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Trip Report 10 days in Turkey - Istanbul to Antalya

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Just back from 10 glorious days in Turkey, heartfelt thanks to you Fodorites, especially Otherchelebi and kja, your tips and suggestions were a huge help. Am not really describing the places we visited, instead taking this opportunity to list some points which could be helpful to others.

Our itinerary was as follows:

Istanbul – 4 days
Day 1: After much deliberation we decided to stay at the Uyan hotel and I couldn’t have been happier with the choice, right in the heart of the old town, with stunning views of the Blue Mosque and Aya Sopya from the terrace. Have booked the same place for next June when we’ll be in Turkey post-cruise.

The hotel had free pick-up from the airport and we were checked in by noon and after a quick lunch spent the whole afternoon at the archeological museum. I know most people suggest going there after seeing the sights but this was what worked best with our schedule, I found the place fascinating and wished I could’ve spent more time there. Later that evening we walked around Sultanahmet taking in the sights and the illumination – to die for!

Day2: We were at the Topkapi just as they opened and found it to be relatively quiet (the crowds arrived around 11am), visited the harem first and then the rest of the palace. We were there for about 4 hours, which I think is the minimum, anything less wouldn’t do justice to the place.

That afternoon we went to Aya Sopya and the Blue Mosque. What can I say about the former, it had me spellbound, took me back in time. I’d seen pictures of both these places and read about them, but nothing prepares you for seeing them for real, I never thought they were so huge and magnificent. The tiles in the Blue Mosque were outstanding, though IMO those at the Topkapi harem are just as good, if not better.

In the evening we followed the tram line and walked down to Eminonu. Our plan was to see the Spice Bazaar and then take a Bosphorus ferry, but that was rather too ambitious for DH, who protested his feet were aching! We finally ended up getting tickets for the Turyol ferry for a 90 min cruise, cost 12TL/pp. I’d been told one could rent audio guides, but no one seemed to know about it nor did anyone on the ferry actually have one, maybe they need to be rented before one boards? Wasn’t too impressed with the cruise, the crowd, a mélange of locals and tourists, was rather noisy, which made it almost impossible to hear the announcements about the places we were seeing. But the view of the city illuminated was lovely and more than made up for any disappointment.

Day 3: This was our day for the markets. We started off with the Grand Bazaar, next the Spice Bazaar (liked this one much, much more!) and finally the Arasta Bazaar, right next to our hotel. Frankly, I much preferred the Fes souks or the Khan al Khalili markets to the Grand Bazaar, felt they had much more character. In between the markets we also visited the Basilica Cistern and the Hippodrome. Surprisingly, unlike in Paris and Scotland, people didn’t seem to know about Dan Brown’s “Inferno”.

Day 4: We booked a tour for this last morning to visit the dungeons, Chora Church, Pierre Lotti hill and the Greek Patriarchate. Am not really in favour of tours but we were pressed for time; luckily there were just 8 of us in the group, so that worked well. Chora Church was my absolute favourite ( along with Aya Sopya and the Topkapi harem) and I was happy to have a guide explain the mosaics, this was the first time I’d heard any stories narrating Mary’s life.

We missed out on seeing Dolmabache palace as it was closed on Day 3 (Monday), also the Sulaimaniye and Rustem Pasha mosques, these are on the agenda for next year...

Denizli/Pamukkale – 2 days
We took an afternoon flight to Denizli, landing around 6pm in pouring rain. Originally we’d planned to rent a car but the rental companies were either charging way above what I thought was normal or couldn’t offer the kind of car we wanted. In retrospect this worked out well for us, since we’d really have had a tough time picking up the car and getting to our hotel in the rain, all without GPS.

Several people had recommended Venus hotel, but they were full for our dates and I found someone else who’d suggested the Sahin. We got lucky with this small family-run B&B, the owner Ibrahim is a super nice guy and extremely helpful. I’d called him about a week ahead of our arrival and he arranged for airport pick-up (25TL/pp), we had a car and driver to ourselves and came straight to the hotel.

Day 5: Ibrahim also put me in touch with a local agent Mislina Travel ([email protected]), they have a shuttle to Aphrodisias for 30TL. The owner Isa proposed a guided tour with lunch for 60TL, which I thought wasn’t bad at all, especially since we would be just 2 couples with a driver/guide, just like a private tour. Aphrodisias was simply beautiful and so serene, not many people at all, so we had the place to ourselves. The stadium had me floored, those ancient people thought big!

After lunch at a lovely little restaurant we got back to Pamukkale around 3.30pm, made a quick stop at our hotel and then headed straight out to the travertines, which are just across the street from Sahin hotel. Pamukkale has been high on my bucket list of places to see and it more than lived up to my expectations, climbing up the hill and wading through the pools was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life! We took over an hour to get to the top, stopping to take pictures and drink in the sights. Compared to Aphrodisias ancient Hierapolis wasn’t as magnificent, but here again the stadium was the highlight. There was a short spell of rain, but DH decided to check out the pleasures of the antique pool, so that was ok. Anyway, it soon cleared up and we got some pretty good pictures of the sunset. It was close to 8pm when we finally got back to the hotel, a long but fulfilling day!

Day 6: We’d booked our bus ticket to Antalya with Mislina Travel but had the morning to wander around town, also go to the travertines to the left of the south gate, you don’t have to pay for this part of the park.

Was most impressed with the bus service, which offers wifi, movies, music, etc, plus snacks! We reached the Antalya otogar in 3 hours and were met by a transfer to the Belek Calista hotel. While many people enjoy these all-inclusive hotels I’d much rather have stayed in a smaller place with more character. But DH had a conference here and hence the choice of hotel wasn’t in my hands!

Day 7: We rented a taxi (65 euros) to take us to the old town in Antalya, the driver dropped us off at the entrance to the Calieci and picked us up 6 hours later. I loved the maze of narrow streets winding down to the old Roman harbor, the small terrace restaurants, the fluted minaret and adjoining mosque, the boat ride in the harbor - all together a wonderful day!

The last part of our tour follows tomorrow!

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