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Trip Report A nine day whirl through Istanbul and Cappadocia

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My husband and I (40 and 38 years young) were in Turkey for 9 days in early September. This trip report is very late and I figured that if I didn't start now, I would never get down to putting words to electronic paper. So, here goes. Hope you enjoy.

Turkey has been on my travel bucket list for as long as I've had a travel bucket list. A vast country at the intersection of two continents with a rich history going back many centuries, a collision of cultures and varied landscapes means there is so much to see and do, and for this reason I pushed off traveling there until we could afford to take a 3 week vacation. Which ain't happening anytime soon. So, this year, with our usual two week vacation already split into two one week long holidays, I decided that it was time for a "Turkey lite" trip - to give us a first whiff of this alluring country and explore a couple of areas, leaving the rest for subsequent trips. Well, there was one other reason. My deep desire to own a vintage Turkish or Persian carpet. I have spent countless hours in Oriental carpet shops in NYC (where I live) including ABC Carpets, as well as online, and annoyed many a salesperson with my questions. I love the touch, feel, history, and craftsmanship of these intricately patterned pieces of art and was ready to buy one for our apartment.

Given our short trip (over Labor Day), we decided to split our time between Istanbul (4.5 days) and Cappadocia (3.5 days), leaving Western Turkey for another time. I spent an additional day in Istanbul at the end of the trip to finish up shopping. It was perfect! In Istanbul, we stayed at Hotel Uyan right behind the Blue Mosque for the first part of our trip, and at Empress Zoe, three minutes away towards the water, when we returned. We loved the Uyan for its location, staff and fabulous rooftop views and Zoe for its lovely albeit small rooms, artistic decor and peaceful courtyard garden. For Cappadocia, I pored over the descriptions and pictures of each of its towns and hotels to figure out where we wanted to stay and ultimately chose the Esbelli Evi in Urgup. Urgup because it looked like a quieter town, though much larger than Goreme or Uchisar, and away from the crowds. It is definitely more convenient to be in Goreme if you want to hike the many trails, but taxis back and forth are easily available and not that expensive. Of course, the dolmus is the cheaper option, but I found them to be infrequent. The first time I saw the Esbelli Evi website, I knew I wanted us to stay there. Quiet, elegant and unassuming are what spring to mind when I think of this hotel. I didn't even bother looking at other hotels in Urgup and desperately hoped that we would get a room and was thrilled when we did. Communication with the hotels via email was easy and quick. Tarik at Esbelli was especially helpful booking a rental car for us for one day and a hot air balloon ride with Butterfly Balloons. I also contacted Mehmet @ Walking Mehmet and organized a full day private hike with him in the valley, so we could walk and explore the less frequented trails with a local guide. We flew direct from NYC to Istanbul on Turkish Air and it worked out great - very comfortable with good food and a bonus goodie-box with socks, an eye patch, lip balm, toothpaste and brush. In economy, no less!

Next up: Our first day in Istanbul

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    exactly how we felt anout Esbelli Evi in Urgup..and for the same reasons...and that was nearly 20 years ago! I have directed several people to Esbelli including my own family travelers and all were satisfied.

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    We stayed ay Esbelli Evi due to a Tower recommendation and it was one of the nicest places we have stayed. After Tower stayed there, Suha the owner, started screening his guests more carefully.

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    We stayed at the Uyan too last September and again this June, absolutely loved the locaion, staff and wonderful views form the rooftop restaurant. In Capadoccia we stayed at the Kelebek Cave Hotel, another great choice. Waiting for the rest of your TR and pictures:)

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    LOL IMDonehere! We didn't meet Suha but Tarik was wonderful and so was Yasmin.

    Tower - I would have loved to see the place 20 years ago! Suha has bought neighboring properties over the years and expanded Esbelli, but it feels so cohesive and I loved all the little passageways and tunnels that connect the different areas. Just done so well.

    sarge - I promise to get to my next installment today. And, we have about 4000 pictures between the two of us that we need to cull, so I hope to get them done before the end of the year.

    geetika - Sitting on the Uyan rooftop looking out to the Blue Mosque with a bottle of Efes and some honey soaked and sticky baklava was a nightly treat for us and one that we will always remember. Sigh!

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    I' you ever made the cut is a mystery. Suha was one fine person. I remember he took photos of anyone staying at Esbelli Evi, which he sent to the Turkish CIA. Does he still do that?

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    At the crossroads of civilization in Istanbul

    Our Turkish Airlines flight leaves NYC an hour late so we arrive in Istanbul at 12:40 pm. Since we are staying at the Uyan for more than three days, we avail of their free airport pickup service. With our e-visas in hand, Immigration and Customs is a breeze. We find an HSBC ATM in the Arrivals lounge so withdraw cash before we meet up with our driver. The Friday afternoon traffic is bad as we get closer to the city, but our driver manages to swing in and out of traffic and through service lanes to get us into Sultanahmet in decent time. Ajit and I both gasp simultaneously at the first fleeting glimpse of Blue Mosque, while our driver expertly maneuvers the van through the narrow cobbled streets dodging people and massive tour buses. Yikes! We arrive at the Uyan close to 2:30 – we have the deluxe room (the standard rooms were sold out) which is large and comfortable. It even has a Jacuzzi tub that we never figured out quite how to use! We are usually more budget travelers. Haha!

    Eager to begin our adventures here and hoping to visit the Blue Mosque prior to the afternoon prayer time, we head out as soon as we freshen up. The Uyan is on a quiet street just steps away from the mosque and as we cut through a parking lot and turn into the street, we come face to face with this imposing structure with its six slender conical minarets, and can’t help but be awed. We join the long line of people making their way inside. Ajit and I are dressed modestly and I’m carrying a scarf that I cover my head and shoulders with. Otherwise, you will be required to pick up a head and body cover at a stall (free of charge) before entering. The Blue Mosque is actually the unofficial name for the Sultan Ahmet Camii, given to it because of the blue Iznik tiles used inside. Built in the early 17th century for Sultan Ahmet I, to reassert Ottoman power in Istanbul, and modeled after and in tribute to the Ayasofya (or the Basilica Hagia Sophia as it was originally called) erected more than a thousand years earlier. When we finally enter the prayer area, it elicits another gasp from us as we take in the scale and grandeur of the interior that is lined with tens of thousands of handmade ceramic tiles. The massive chandeliers, hundreds of stained glass windows, and the beautifully adorned majestic domes are so overwhelming that our senses can’t process them all at once. Throughout our trip, we will have similar emotions every time we enter an imperial mosque as well as the Ayasofya and Topkapi Palace. Even this large space feels cramped with the crowds inside and so we slowly make our way to the courtyard, from where we are able to appreciate the symmetry and architectural proportions of the mosque. It’s so easy to lose track of time but rumbling sounds emanating from our stomachs push us to head out to grab a bite to eat.

    For lunch, we check out Café Mesale just inside the Arasta Bazaar next door to the mosque. It is a cozy place with outdoor seating and there are a couple of women making fresh gozleme. Sold. We order a spinach gozleme, chicken shish kebap and a Turkish tea for me and coffee for Ajit. The gozeleme are made to order, so I go up to watch the woman roll out the dough until it is very thin, slap it on a large convex hot plate to cook, sprinkle fresh spinach and fold it into half and then quarter until it is cooked through and a little crisp at the edges. It is then cut into slices. The kebap is succulent and comes with a roasted chili, fresh salad and paper thin lavash. The meal hits the spot and gives us much needed energy to get us through the rest of the day.

    From here, we walk around the bazaar and to the Hippodrome, the sporting arena and social center of the Byzantine empire, when Istanbul was called Constantinople and was its capital. All that remains of the Hippodrome today are a couple of Obelisks, so some imagination is required to conjure up images of chariot races, grand ceremonies and gilded statues that were once associated with this space. It has been cloudy all afternoon, but the sun peaks out now and grey skies turn blue, so we decide to go back to the Blue Mosque from the Hippodrome entrance. This is really the way to do it as all guidebooks recommend, because of how the cascading domes reveal themselves one by one as we walk up the stairs and into the courtyard until we see the entire structure in all its glory. There are fewer people at this time, making it all the more enjoyable. It's almost 5, so we decide to check out the Basilica Cistern before it closes for the day.

    On the way, we pass the pretty Kaiser Wilhelm fountain on the other end of the Hippodrome, with its marble columns, bronze dome with a beautiful green patina and golden mosaics, gifted to Istanbul in 1900 to commemorate the German emperor's visit. We walk along the park in front of the Ayasofya and cross a main street to the cisterns. This is the largest and only survivor of the many cisterns that once lay beneath the city and was built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian to provide water to the palace and surrounding area. The cistern is a colonnaded labyrinth deep underground constructed using hundreds of ornately carved marble columns, likely salvaged from temples, and holding up to 80k cubic meters of water delivered via aqueducts from a reservoir near the Black Sea - an engineering marvel for its time of course, but with the added Greco Roman artistic influence! It is very atmospheric with the dimly lit passages casting a ghostly light and water dripping from the ceiling. The medusa head columns on the far side are especially lovely.

    Our sightseeing for the day done, we spend the next half hour as dusk approaches, sitting in the park across from Ayasofya, just enjoying being here in this city, watching families picnicking, vendors selling corn, fruit juice and Turkish toffee, kids playing in the fountain, and marveling at the layers of history surrounding us. As we retrace our steps back to the hotel via the Hippodrome, I spot the Mehmet Cetinkaya gallery, one of the stores on my shopping list. Yippee! I easily spend almost an hour here ogling the treasure trove of vintage textiles, weavings, Uzbek caps, kilims and carpets. It's no wonder since Turkey was the last stop on the ancient silk road and the merchandize in shops like this continues the age old tradition. The very specific carpet sizes that I am looking for (a NYC apartment restriction) means that I am limited in my options. Nevertheless, I find a couple of carpets and kilims that I like and take pictures so I can compare and contrast as I continue my shopping over the next few days. The men in the store are very patient and helpful as I ponder my choices. I would've liked to stay longer, but it's late.

    We go back to the hotel to rest up and shower before venturing out for dinner. The LP highly recommends a neighborhood fish restaurant, Ahirkapi Balikcisi, so we decide to give it a try. The staff at the Uyan prints out Google map directions for us and we make our way there. Right off the bat, we take a wrong turn, and what should have been a 5 minute stroll ends up being a 20 minute long wander with frequent stops to recheck directions with locals. A good way to check out the neighborhood though. Unfortunately, the place is full by the time we arrive (there are only 10 tables), so we retrace our steps and end up back at Cafe Mesale. We start with lavash alongside cacik and a tomato chili paste. I get an Adana kebap which is a spicy ground lamb skewer, while Ajit gets the Alinazik kebap, tender cubes of marinated lamb served over a smoked eggplant and yogurt puree, both excellent. We wash it all down with a coke and fresh orange juice, surrounded by tables filled with the loud chatter of locals and tourists alike and with fruit scented smoke wafting from the many nargile (shisha) pipes. After dinner, we go up to the Uyan rooftop with a couple of Efes beers and end our first day gazing at the brightly lit Blue Mosque on one side, a partial view of the Ayasofya on the other and the dark waters of the Marmara Sea on the third. This is bliss.

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    Thank you for the trip report.

    Tower-I believe that the only reason Suha sent your image to the Turkish CIA, was the paltry tips you left the staff. Obviously you weren't a rich American and wondered why you were his visiting beloved homeland.

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    Day 2 in Istanbul: A Byzantine day capped off with a ferry ride down the Golden Horn and the frenzy of the Galata bridge

    I am prone to pretty bad jetlag so stir at the first sounds of the muezzin’s call to prayer which is especially soulful and haunting in the wee hours of the morning. I manage to fall back asleep in some time and wake up a little after the call at sunrise. Our plan for the day includes the Ayasofya in the morning, which means we have to be out early. Breakfast upstairs has a wide array of offerings from cereal, yogurt, bread, eggs, borek, olives, fruits and a multitude of jams. We go up to the terrace to take in the Blue Mosque in the soft light of the morning, so lovely. The sea of Marmara is blue but hazy with seagulls hovering overhead, and we can see the faint outlines of the Asian side of Istanbul in the distance. The city is slowly awakening too and the terraces of the hotels and homes around us are being swept and cleaned for the day. We could have easily lingered here, but at about 8:30 we walk to the Ayasofya; the quiet streets with no tour buses in sight is such a relief. There is already a long line formed in front of the gates that open at 9, but since we plan to visit several sights over the next 3 days, I’ve opted to get the Museum pass (the cost savings isn’t much but skipping the lines is a great bonus). It’s unclear where we might get one, but I learn from one of the guides that I could either get it inside the grounds or from the van parked out front. So, we get our passes at 9 from the van and walk right inside. Sweet.

    The Hagia Sophia, as the basilica was originally called in Greek, was built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It was meant to be the greatest church of its time and the largest, and an engineering feat much like the cisterns we saw yesterday. It was surpassed in size only when St. Peters was built a 1000 years later. When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in the 15th century, it’s no wonder that they proclaimed this their principal mosque renamed Ayasofya, and it remained so until the Blue Mosque was built 150 years later. It also served as the inspiration for many of the other impressive mosques that make the skyline of this city so iconic and special. It is now a museum with large scale restorations done over the years and ongoing. The red brick and pink stone exterior of the Ayasofya is less imposing than the proportions of the Blue Mosque. But, all that changes when you take your first step inside and see the immense main hall; it’s simply jaw dropping. The slight chill inside makes us shiver a little and our eyes adjust to the darkness, the only light from the slivers of sunshine coming through the many small stained glass windows around the domes reflecting on the marble columns, the bulbs of the large circular iron chandeliers, and the millions of tiny golden mosaics glistening from the majestic domes that seem to hover high above us. The feeling of being overwhelmed washes over us, again. The silence inside is broken only by the sound of footsteps on the stone floors and the clicking of cameras.

    We spend a couple of hours just walking around the lower area marveling at the ambitiousness, skill and perseverance of the architects and craftsmen. The restoration process here had to have been tedious and challenging, given that important Islamic calligraphy and art exist over the original Christian mosaics – which one do you preserve? The restorers, we read, have attempted to maintain a balance to highlight this buildings long history as a church and mosque, and to our layman’s eye, they seem to have done a fine job of it. It’s so interesting to see Islamic calligraphy and the mihrab right next to a mosaic of the Virgin mother and child – granted its origin was not peaceful coexistence, but it still makes us wonder if only we as people could cohabit as secularly and harmoniously as these symbols of religion do today. Idealistic, I know. Looking up and squinting to take in all the gorgeous artwork makes for very stiff necks, so we head up to the mezzanine to enjoy some more fine mosaics at eye level – to really appreciate the detail, the expressions and finesse of these creations. Don’t miss the mosaics above the main doors and in the hallway as well.

    As we leave, we check out the ornate fountain in the garden used for ablutions by Muslim worshippers and then walk towards the tombs. It’s almost noon now and the entrance is teeming with people. Oh boy, we’re glad to get away from the crowds. The Ayasofya tombs are the final resting places of five sultans and their families – adorned with beautiful Ottoman tilework in brilliant shades of blue, green and turquoise, carved doors and ornate interiors, and without the crowds. We are sad to see a sign indicating that one of the finest Iznik tile panels on the exterior of a tomb is a replica since the original was taken away for restoration and never returned and is now exhibited at the Louvre in Paris. We saw similar signs regarding antiquities (like the Rosetta stone and bust of Nefertiti) in the Cairo museum when we visited Egypt in 2007. I am a firm believer that when home countries have the ability to care for their art or relics and request them to be returned, they should be repatriated to the country of origin, especially when said artifacts were the spoils of war or removed illegally.

    It’s almost one by the time we are done here and we’re hungry so we make our way towards Sultanahmet Koftecisi on Divanyolu. This is a no frills eatery and seemed like a good option for a quick lunch. We sit upstairs and order a sis kofte, an Izgara kofte, a mixed salad and Aryan (a buttermilk drink). The kofte (or patties) are tasty but dry and I’m not too thrilled. We later discover that there is another Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi a few buildings over, so we may have gone to the wrong one. From here, we plan to make our way to the Chora church by tram, so we stop by a newsstand across the street to buy an Istanbulkart card. If doing a lot of traveling by public transportation including trams, metros, funiculars and ferries, this works out very well. We buy one card for the both of us and then use the charging machine next to the tram stop to load up the card. We take the T1 tram to Topkapi (not the palace) and then the T4 to Edirnekapi. From here, it’s a short walk to the church across a busy road and along the city walls; we go the wrong way first towards a large mosque and are redirected by a few locals.

    The Chora church, one of the most beautiful examples of Byzantine artistry, later called Kariye Camii or mosque, is now the Kariye Museum. The museum pass allows us to skip the lines here as well. Most of what we see today dates from the 11th-14th centuries and the abundant dazzling and intricate, textured mosaics are a sight to behold. Even more so because they are easily accessible given the smaller proportions of Kariye. My favorite is the Christ Pantocrator with Christ at the top of the small dome with his minsters all around. The nave is currently closed for restoration, after which the outer porches will be closed. We are mosaic’ed out after this and take a tea/OJ break at the café out front and relax our tired feet and backs. Then, it’s a short stroll downhill along the old city walls through a more conservative, residential neighborhood to the waters of the Golden Horn from where we take a ferry, using the Istanbulkart, a couple of stops north to Eyup. This makes for a lovely ride on the water with a gentle breeze and pretty views of the old and new cities and the hills up ahead.

    Our destination is the Pierre Loti teahouse that sits on the top of a hill; we are here as much for the advertised panoramic views of the city as for some fresh air and a break from all the sightseeing. To get there, we walk to the funicular stop to take the cable car up but discover a line a mile long. So, instead, we walk alongside the Eyup mosque and trudge up the hill through a cemetery (scrambling on our hands and feet a couple of times) until we reach a path from where it’s an easier walk the rest of the way. Unfortunately, we picked the wrong day for this trip. It’s the weekend, so the hilltop is crammed with local families out enjoying a summer afternoon. And, the views are hazy, but having come this far, we decide to stick around for some time. We get lucky and find a table without waiting too long and order some tea, coffee and ice cream. It’s nice to just be, and talk about all the glorious things we’ve seen so far and people watch. On our way out, we stop at a food stand selling freshly fried potato chips on a stick – this we can’t resist! The entire process takes longer than we anticipate, and with the ferries plying every hour, we end up running late and hurrying down the hill nibbling at our very greasy potato chip sticks. Ack, we miss the ferry. We sit by the wall along the water as we await the next boat and watch; watch kids playing in the water, friends sitting and chatting by the shores, locals crossing the inlet in small motor boats, a father taking his young kids and scrappy dog for a quick ride on the water with the little girl’s happy giggles echoing in the distance. Missing a ferry should be on everyone’s travel plans.

    The ferry ride back is even more spectacular, past Balat and Fener (the old Greek and Jewish neighborhoods), Kasimpasa, under the Ataturk bridge as the Suleymaniye mosque looms atop a hill followed by the Yeni Camii on the shores of the Golden Horn by the Galata bridge, all bathed in the golden light of the evening. We get off at Eminonu and walk towards the bridge -the area around here is a beehive of activity, more so because it’s a Sunday. There are stalls by the water selling grilled and fried fish and sandwiches, mussels, clams etc. served with pickled turnip juice, garishly colorful boats on the water behind the stalls where men catch, clean, and cook the fish passing them to the stalls wrapped in newspaper, large crowds sitting at tables, on stools or just standing around relishing the fresh food, and vendors hawking everything from simit to trinklets to fake Rolexes. Ajit and I try not to lose each other in the crowds and almost do a couple of times. On the bridge are several hopeful anglers, young and old alike. And underneath, are restaurants and cafes serving all kind of food and drink. Across the bridge, the Galata Tower looks striking against a dark sky with seagulls shrieking all around us. It’s all quite crazy and atmospheric.

    To get back to our hotel, we take the tram from Eminonu to Sultanahmet and pick up some pistachio and walnut baklava and kadayif from Hafiz Mustafa right by the Sultanahmet tram stop. We had the hotel make a dinner reservation for us at Ahirkapi Balikcisi for 9pm, but are told that our reservation is for 8:30. So, we freshen up quickly and hurry over to the restaurant. We don’t lose our way this time and get there in 5 minutes. This restaurant is casual and open to the street. As soon as we are seated, our waiter takes us to the fish display to select a fish – we pick the sea bream. He seems to pressure us to pick a more expensive fish, but we decline and double check our order with him. We also pick a cold appetizer from the display – anchovies in a spicy sauce. For our warm appetizers, we get the shrimp cooked in a clay pot with loads of butter, garlic and pepper flakes and grilled calamari. To cool off, we both get raki, an anise flavored drink, similar to arak and ouzo, with water and a couple of ice cubes. We both love the raki so much we will order it almost every night on this trip. The food is good and fresh, but we both agree not worth all the hype in the LP. With all the tourist traps in Sultanahmet though, this is a pretty decent option. For dessert, we take our sugary and sticky baklava and beers to the Uyan rooftop and enjoy another night of dreamy gazing. It’s been a long but amazing day, and there’s much to look forward to tomorrow.

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    Not sure if anyone is reading anymore, but here's the next bit.

    Day 2: Uncovering the mysteries of Topkapi and smashing markets, cafes and food in Kadikoy

    Our third morning in Istanbul is also an early one and we walk to the Topkapi Palace after breakfast, crossing an ornate fountain before we enter the imperial gates. The palace, set in sprawling grounds, was the primary residence of the sultans for several years and is now a museum. It consists of a series of buildings including council and guest chambers, kitchens, treasuries, family and sleeping quarters, grand pavilions, and of course the harem. With our museum pass, we are able to skip the lines and head straight for the harem.

    As the name suggests, the harem was the private chambers of the sultan's mother, his wives and concubines and the rest of his family, including children. The entire system of girls entering the harem becoming ladies in waiting, then concubines and finally wives, as well as the eunuch servants (no, I'm not kidding) who served them, was tightly controlled by the sultan's mother, who clearly exerted a lot of influence on matters of state and home. If these walls could talk, it would make for some intriguing tales of debauchery, jealousy and revenge. I bet the guides all have their own spin to the stories too, and only they know which parts are true and which parts fantasy. Only a limited number of rooms in the harem are open, and as we go from room to room, we are constantly amazed by the fine tilework, murals, intricate carvings and latticework, mother of pearl inlays, gilded chandeliers and beds and painted domes. Each time we think that it can’t get any better, there is something even more magical around the corner. If you have been to Marrakesh, it’s like Dar Said and the Bahia Palace on steroids! Our favorite rooms are the Valide salon, twin kiosks and the privy chambers. We spend almost 2 hours here!

    The treasury is an interesting stop since it has an incredible collection of objects made with precious metal and stones, the most famous being the jewel encrusted dagger. From here, we check out some pavilions and the terrace with lovely views of the Sea of Marmara. Upstairs from here, is our favorite stop after the harem – the very picturesque Marble Terrace and the many beautiful rooms that surround it. Time just flies here as there is so much to see. And, when there are two of us who love taking photographs, everything takes longer. On our way out, we swing by the council chambers but skip the kitchens. It’s almost 1 now and there are long lines and crowds everywhere, so we decide to get out and get some lunch.

    We walk out via the Archeological Museum to the Gulhane stop and take the tram one stop over to Sirkeci. From here, Hocapasa Pidecisi is a few steps away. This is a hole in the wall eatery with plastic tables set out on the street, specializing in pide or the Turkish flatbread. It's located on a pedestrian street full of small restaurants frequented by the weekday lunch crowds. We order a lamb pide for Ajit and one with minced beef and onions on one half and spicy sausage on the other for me. The lamb and beef pides are delicious, while the sausage is just ok. It's fun to sit by the street, watching people ordering interesting food at the other restaurants around us.

    Our plan is to spend the rest of the day in Kadikoy on the Asian side of Istanbul, so we walk to Eminonu and take the Sehir Hatlari commuter ferry across the narrow Bosphorus strait that separates the two continents. The Istanbulkart comes in handy here too with an added discount. We get outside seats, and along with local commuters, enjoy the half hour ride across the water watching the many domes and minarets of Istanbul's skyline fade into the distance. When we get off at Kadikoy, Ajit wants to first check out the Hyderpasa train station that we passed by on the ferry ride over. It's a 10 minute walk to the station from the docks.

    This impressive neoclassical building, a gift from Emperor Wilhelm, was built in the early 1900s, and was the gateway to the city for those traveling to and from Anatolia as well as between Europe and Baghdad. I can only imagine wealthy European travelers on the Orient Express setting foot in Istanbul being mesmerized by the exotic East - the call to prayer emanating from the many minarets, the darker skinned people in their traditional clothes, hats and turbans, and the unusual flavors of the food. Back to the present day, this station, bombed during WWII and partly destroyed in a fire in 2010, is no longer in use with its future uncertain. Inside, it's as if time has stood still, with the lobby, ticket counters, platforms and signs just the way it would have been when it was functioning last. There are also a couple of trains on the platforms - all quite eerie. This makes for a quick but interesting detour.

    We then walk back to the docks past the busy bus stop and doner kebap stalls along the water and make our way up the hill. Market day here is on Tuesdays, which we couldn't swing given our short visit, so we have to settle for the daily market that is closer to the docks. But, before we check out the stalls, we stop for a tea at one of the many cafes and tea salons that line both sides of the pedestrian streets that go up the hill. It's been a hectic day so far and some resting up and people watching are in order. Later, we walk up and down the market street that has a multitude of food shops selling everything from many varieties of olives and pickles, cheeses, oils, honeycombs, all kinds of herbs, dried eggplant skins and peppers (that can be rehydrated and stuffed with rice and meat...yumm), bread, pastries, natural wonderful smelling soaps and much, much more. There are also several stalls selling fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. The market is loud and busy with locals picking up produce and other food on their way home from work, so we try not to get in anyone's way. We find that shopkeepers are friendly and generally not annoyed when we take a look at their wares or ask questions, as long as we're mindful of their actual customers - a couple of older men at a fish stall even pose for a picture.

    As we walk further down the street, we spot Ciya Sofrasi, which is where we want to have dinner, so stop to check if we can get a table at 7. They assure me that it will not be a problem, so we continue our walk through the neighborhood. Soon, we are ready for another break, and this time we go to a shisha cafe. I get an apple tobacco pipe and tea, while Ajit gets a couple of beers. Neither of us smokes, but I enjoy the occasional shisha, and we spend another enjoyable hour watching the world go by. All cafes have backgammon sets and we see friends talking, smoking and playing. So fun. I think all cafes in NYC should have board games for their patrons.

    By the time we get to Ciya Sofrasi, most of the outside tables are full, and we are lucky to get the last one. Note that there are 3 Ciya Sofrasi restaurants on the same street; we went to the one that serves an assortment of cold mezzes and unusual, regional hot dishes from around Turkey that changes with the seasons. For the cold mezzes, I pick up a plate full of delectable food which is then weighed to determine the price. We have yogurt and bulgur, muhammara (a red pepper, walnut dip), green hummus, tabouli, smoked eggplant and a salad. All fantastic! For our hot food, I point to and ask for the spanish style bulgur cooked to perfection, wheat balls in a yogurt soup that's divine, eggplant stuffed with beef, beef and cucumber in a yogurt sauce and meatballs in a tomato sauce. A wonderful experience!

    We walk off our dinner with a stroll through the main street that's now hopping with young people and pop music. As we take the turn towards the docks, we run into three hippie musicians sitting on the street singing soulful and catchy folk tunes, so we stand around and listen to them for some time as a crowd gathers around. Perfect. Then, it's time to hop on the ferry and head home. The ride back, with the bridges across the Bosphorus lit up with dancing lights and the twinkling city lights, goes by much too quickly. A short tram ride later and we are home. We continue our pre-bedtime ritual of baklava and beers on the rooftop before we call it a night.

    I wish we had an entire day to spend here so we could have walked down the waterfront and explored other neighborhoods like trendy, hip Moda. More time, and we would have spent it in Uskudar. Ah well, for another time.

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    Seemaskt, you write well and do a good job of combining facts, your views and feelings about places you visit and things you did.

    Good research, good memory and very useful information for future travelers.

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    Thanks OC! I did take down many of your restaurant recommendations but couldn't make them work on this trip. We did end up having memorable dinners at Karakoy Lokantasi and Lokanta Maya though. Next time, we'll have to get up to Ortakoy and Bebek.

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    Day 4: Chaotic markets, a shopping spree, bookended by the gems that are Suleymaniye Camii and Rustem Pasha Camii

    I've been waiting for this day for many months and I'm grinning from ear to ear as we head out this morning. Our first stop is the Suleymaniye Mosque, which we get to by tram getting off at the Beyazit stop. Then it's a short walk around the University walls and Grand Bazaar to the mosque. Situated atop one of Istanbul's seven hills, it was commissioned by Suleyman I and built in the 16th century by the most talented of the Ottoman architects, Sinan, whose extraordinary work is visible throughout the city. Inside, the architecture and embellishments are breathtaking and almost feels modern. It's also bright and airy, quite a contrast to the Blue Mosque, and why we love it so much. The colors, stained glass windows, painted honeycomb details and calligraphy are all gorgeous, a must see if you enjoy Islamic architecture. We stroll the gardens, check out the views of the Golden Horn from the back garden, but the tombs of Suleyman and his wife in front are closed. When we leave, we decide to walk through the backstreets since the LP notes that this area has several Ottoman era wooden houses, but most of what we see is derelict, so we don't linger. Sinan's tomb is also behind the mosque.

    It's almost noon so we head towards the Grand Bazaar to first feed our stomachs and then begin shopping. Yay! The detailed map of the bazaar in the LP is very easy to navigate with, so we find our way to the open, pretty courtyard of Cabeci Han, one of the bazaar's many caravanserais and an oasis of calm compared to the hustle and bustle outside. Lunch is at Kara Mehmet Kebap Salonu, a tiny place with a few tables out in the sun. We get a tomato parsley dip with fresh bread along with Adana and Urfa kebaps served with a salad and bulgur cooked in tomatoes. The kebaps are the best we've had so far - tender, moist, with just the right amount of spices and the bulgur, similar to the Ciya Sofrasi version, is just as good. At the tables around us in the han are groups of old men playing backgammon and drinking tea.

    Before we dive into our shopping adventures, I look through my extensively researched shortlist of carpet, kilim, suzani and ikat fabric stores and make a plan of attack. Our goal is to shop with single minded focus and not get distracted. Our first stop is Hakan Evin and in less than an hour, we break all the rules of negotiation in the Grand Bazaar and buy a fabulous, vintage Hereke carpet. We fall in love with our carpet at first sight and it is just the perfect size and the right colors, and it looks great in our apartment. What can I say! :-) The carpet will be shipped to us so we don't have to lug it back. We check out a few fabric stores and particularly admire the suzanis in Muhlis Gunbatti. Next up is a kilim shop, Recep Karaduman. They have lovely, vintage kilims from all over Anatolia and beyond. With kilims, it's harder to find the size we need, but we find two that are great. We buy the smaller one and take pictures of the larger one so we can decide once we've looked at a wider selection. Let's see, our current tally is 2 rugs in less than 2 hours - leave us here for a day and we'd be broke! I'm also on the hunt for silk ikat fabric and take pictures of designs I love at Sivasli Yasmacisi and ..., so I can come back on my last day to buy what I need. Since I have that day all to myself, I plan to finish up my shopping then, including peshtemals, soaps and ceramics.

    The bazaar, open since 1461 and with high vaulted and painted ceilings, is busy with throngs of people, but it isn't as crazy as we expect it to be. It is also very well signposted with the names of the many streets and avenues inside the large complex. Maybe it's because we look like we know where we're going and aren't just browsing, but we are not harassed by any of the shopkeepers either. As it approaches 3, we make our way out of the bazaar and walk downhill through the narrow uneven maze of streets of the Tahtakale market choked with both people and traffic. This is where the locals shop, for everything they might ever need. I am carrying directions for the bazaar walking tour, but we get lost pretty quickly and resort to asking for directions at every corner to find our way to the Egyptian or Spice Bazaar.

    Needing a break from bazaars, we opt to go to the Rustem Pasha mosque first, a stone's throw away and well hidden. This is a teeny tiny mosque in comparison to the others we've seen, but Sinan outdoes himself to create the exquisite interior covered with some of the finest Iznik tiles ever produced. This mosque was built for Suleyman's son in law, Rustem, a few years after his own mosque was built. Both mosques we visit today are quiet with hardly any people, which makes us appreciate them even more.

    As we walk towards the Spice Bazaar, we pass by a long line of locals outside Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, said to be Istanbul's finest coffee store, the rich aroma of ground coffee beans wafting through the area. Ajit has had enough of markets today, so decides to wait in a corner, while I make a quick run through the bazaar checking out the dried fruits, nuts, herbs, many varieties of lokum and spices. Several shops selling the typical tourist trap Grand Bazaar style trinkets have infiltrated the market, but hopefully they won't take over. Eager to get back and relax somewhere, I walk out with just a bag of roasted pistachios. We skip the Yeni Cami and take the tram back to the hotel.

    In search of a neighborhood teahouse, we walk in a direction we have't been before, towards the little Ayasofya. Yeni Marmara, on a street facing the water and recommended in the LP, looks closed. The little Ayasofya also has a tea garden so we decide to check it out. This small church built in the 6th century is pretty and has some impressive columns, but having seen two gorgeous mosques today, our eyes are too tired to appreciate it. The tea garden here doesn't look too appealing either, so we end up at our usual local haunt, Mesale. A couple of teas and coffees later and feeling sufficiently caffeinated, we head back so we can spend some time relaxing on the roof while its still daylight - it's such a wonderful respite after the busy day we've had and the cold beers definitely help.

    For dinner, we have 9pm reservations at Karakoy Lokantasi across the Galata bridge. We are a little early, so stop at Karakoy Gulluoglu, a block away, and famous for their baklava. You can sit there and get a massive sugar high on premises or take a box to go, like we do. We get the usual pistachio and walnut baklava, kadayif, and a couple of other varieties of phyllo pastry. We are told this will stay fresh for a week. We arrive at Karakoy Lokantasi on time and are seated right away. The restaurant is causal, open to the street and airy with brightly tiled interiors. We start with some chilled Tekirag raki, followed by muhammara and cicek with warm bread, delicious grilled octopus, and equally great lamb ribs with cracked bulgur for me and grilled bonito for Ajit. We should have stopped here but have to share the dried figs stuffed with walnuts and cream for dessert. A truly satisfying meal. We walk along the water back to the tram stop where there are kebaps being grilled and people eating at tables street side - quite a lively scene. For us, it's the T1 back to Sultanahmet and a good night's sleep.

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    Day 5: Modern Istanbul, a cruise down the Bosphorus and some fantastic dining

    Today is Ajit's last full day in Istanbul, while I will be back for another day at the end of our trip. We do a little packing after a leisurely breakfast and ask the front desk to arrange a taxi for our early AM flight to Cappadocia tomorrow. We have no real sightseeing plans for the day, except to wander around Beyoglu - the newer, more fashionable and hip part of European Istanbul across the Golden Horn from the historical center - followed by a short Bosphorus cruise in the afternoon. We start off at Taksim, taking the tram to Kabatas and underground funicular to get there.

    Taksim Meydani is a large square at the top end of the pedestrian street, Istiklal Caddesi, bordered by hotels and what looks like tourist trap restaurants. At 10:30 in the morning, it is almost deserted, but this square is the place for large gatherings and parades, as well as demonstrations and political protests. We stroll down Istiklal Caddesi for a bit, the street lined with shops opening their shutters for the day, restaurants, cafes, and banks, with residences on the upper floors. An old tram line, reminiscent of days past, still rattles up and down the street. Except for some interesting architecture and Ottoman era buildings, we don't find this section of the street particularly charming or interesting in the daytime, so take the side streets into the Cukurcuma neighborhood.

    Cukurcuma's cobbled streets wind down the hillside and are filled with antique stores and galleries, both the flea market kind in tiny, musty shops as well as the upmarket, highly curated variety. We spend a fun hour and a half browsing the many shops but leave empty handed. One of the shops in the latter category is A La Turca, a chic store with gorgeous textiles, kilims, furniture and pottery, all quite unaffordable but still worth the half hour we spent lusting after the incredible pieces. The homes in this area built in the early 20th century are also lovely - decaying but still graceful with distinctly European architectural details. Before we head back up into Iskital, we stop at a cute cafe on a quiet leafy street for some tea, sitting outside along graffiti covered walls. With the exception of a few women in traditional dress or burqa, most of the women we see here are very fashionably dressed in western clothes.

    Back on Istiklal, which is much busier now, we take a look at Cicek Pasaji, a historical covered passage with restaurants and shops and an atrium. I buy a bag of roasted pistachios here. Then, we check out the fish market or Balik Pazari, and the tiny stores that have been here for generations selling a variety of food and kitchen items. The outdoor stands selling mussels stuffed with rice are very tempting, but we don't try any, saving room for lunch at Ficcin, just off Iskital. The tables outside are taken, so we sit upstairs and order a chicken pate with walnuts, sauteed baby okra, peppers stuffed with rice and beef, and a ficcin which is a beef pastry. As we wait for our food, we see a woman bring out an interesting dish for the table next to us. We ask her what it is and learn that it's seasonal Turkish greens cooked in yogurt and topped with chili oil. Sounds delicious, but we already have a lot of food coming. Not to worry, says the woman who happens to be the owner/chef of the restaurant, and brings us a bowl of the greens to try. It's very generous of her and she even stops to tell us more about the dish in halting English. The food here is fantastic, with the flavorful greens the highlight of our lunch. Highly recommended.

    After lunch, we stroll through the side streets, past the Pera Museum and Marmara Pera hotel, past opulent buildings and vines hanging down the streets. Then, it's down Galipdede avenue flanked by store after store selling every kind of musical instrument, to the Galata Tower. Built in the 14th century as a fire tower, it is supposed to have expansive views of the city and the water from the top, but we don't want to deal with the crowds and pass. This is the heart of the neighborhood with seven roads connecting at the tower, and we walk up Serdar-i- Ekrem, a charming street with old homes, interesting galleries and funky boutiques, which are fun to check out. We spot Mavra, a cozy cafe perfect for lingering and whiling away an hour or two, and that's exactly what we do next. As dark clouds gather overhead, we make our way downhill once again, criss crossing the many winding streets that make up this area, finding fun things to look at - a brightly painted door, a dilapidated building, a cat falling from the roof and managing (as they always do) to land on its feet dazed. When we get to Karakoy, we take the tram across hoping to catch the 4 o'clock short Bosphorus cruise operated by Turyol.

    The boat is full by the time we arrive and it's drizzling, so we decide to wait for the next boat that leaves in 45 minutes. Turyol departures are frequent in the summer making it a great option for those like us who don't have a full day set aside for the cruise and exploring the towns along the water. As luck would have it, the rain stops and the dark skies clear up just a little to let the glorious late afternoon sun shine through, so the weather and light are perfect by the time we board and find ourselves good seats along the right side of the boat, pun intended. We sail along the European shore first, the wind in our faces, munching on the pistachios we picked up earlier in the day - passing by the decadent Dolmabahce Palace, the lavish digs of the 19th century sultans, the Ciragan Palace, the delicate baroque Ortakoy mosque with the modern Bosphorus bridge behind it, the elegant and fabulous river facing villas and hillside homes further north around Arnavutkoy and Bebek with boats and yachts either bobbing gently in the bay or being taken for a spin on this lovely summer day. Finally, we turn around at the fortress of Rumeli Hisari and sail back along the Asian shore. There are a couple of noteworthy palaces on the Asian side, but mostly we just enjoy the scenic beauty of the waterfront towns and imagine what it's like to live here. We stop at Uskudar, sail past Maiden's tower and finally make our way back to the docks where the Yeni Camii greets us. All in all, we enjoy our 90 minutes on the water immensely and couldn't have timed it more perfectly.

    We have a couple of hours to kill before dinner at Lokanta Maya, so hail a taxi to take us to the Marmara Pera, hoping to relax with a drink on their rooftop bar. Unfortunately, the driver takes us to the Marmara Taksim right at the top of Istiklal and we realize it too late. Our only option is to walk down the avenue, which is slow going since there are a few hundred people walking as well, the vibe entirely different from this morning. The 360 bar is closer and right on Istiklal, so we decide to get drinks here instead. While the 360 degree views (and hence the name) from the rooftop terrace are lovely and we enjoy our Turkish rosé, the bar is a little too glamorous and trendy for our tastes. Afterwards, it's a brisk walk down the hill to Karakoy past street musicians and dodging photographers with their tripods, to Lokanta Maya and we make it in time for our 9pm reservation.

    We weren't able to get reservations here initially, but stopped by last night after dinner next door at Karakoy Lokantasi and got lucky. We're very excited to eat here! The restaurant is small, casual yet elegant and almost full when we arrive. I get a glass of rosé and Ajit gets a sparkling wine from Tekirag. We are served a smooth cheese puree with pepper paste and olive oil with bread to start, which is yummy. Ajit gets grilled sardines with pickled herbs as his appetizer and I get the dried beef tartare with aubergine puree. For the main course, I get the caramelized sea bass and Ajit gets the lamb shank. Everything is fresh, light and delicious with subtle yet powerful flavors, and the sea bass is sensational. A modern twist to traditional Turkish food, done very well. For dessert, we share a glass of sweet Moscato with a mascarpone tart and strawberries. A fantastic meal to end our time together in Istanbul.

    It's drizzling when we step outside so we try to get a taxi. The driver wants to overcharge us, which really isn't much when converted to dollars, but on principle I decide to take the tram instead. Ajit isn't too happy about this, especially when the drizzle turns to rain and we get wet waiting for the tram. Luckily, the rain stops by the time we get off at Sultanahmet and I say a quiet thank you to the rain gods as we walk back to the Uyan. We have an early morning flight to Nevsehir tomorrow - Cappadocia, here we come!

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    This brings back such lovely memories of Turkey. I'm also jealous you got to walk with Walking Mehmet. I had trouble reaching him (tried all sorts of emails that bounced back) and by the time he finally replied to one I'd already booked with someone else. Looking forward to hearing how that went too.

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    Thanks for reading Peg. I've finally started the Cappadocia portion of my report, so you'll be reading about our wonderful day with Mehmet soon. He is an interesting person with loads of personality, and we appreciated his candor and love for his surroundings. His dog, Saki, joined us as well, and this was one of the highlights of our day with him. He did tell us about the issues with his domain name and emails. He's not internet savvy and relies on his partner in the Netherlands to manage it all for him. He is very busy these days and booked solid for months at a time, so even with all the issues, it seems that people are finding him.

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    Day 6: Our first day in the otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia

    Our flight to Nevsehir is at 7 am this morning, so are out the door by 5:30. We leave our large suitcase at the hotel since we'll be staying at the Empress Zoe, a short walk away, on our return. There is little traffic at this hour and the driver breezes through, cigarette in one hand, a cell phone in the other while somehow steering the taxi, as we try to remain calm. Luckily, we arrive at the airport without incident. Unfortunately, our flight is delayed almost an hour, but Turkish Airlines makes up for it by serving an actual meal on the short flight - a concept so foreign for most airlines these days. At Nevsehir, we have a taxi organized by Esbelli Evi waiting for us and off we go. It's a 40 minute drive to Urgup, and we watch in amazement as the landscape quickly changes from flat barren Anatolian plains to the rocky wonderland that makes this area so unique and a World heritage site.

    Esbelli Evi sits along a steep road on one of the hills in Urgup and Tarik is there is to greet us when we arrive. The nondescript entrance leads into the artistically decorated interiors of this cave hotel, carved from the soft volcanic rock just like humans have done here for thousands of years. When we are shown to our room, we are happily surprised to see that we have been upgraded to a suite almost as large as our apartment back in NYC. We are in suite 209, with a living area, a large bedroom, a kitchenette and two bathrooms - yes, two! And, a sitting area outside overlooking a courtyard. There's unlimited bottled water and an honor system for any alcohol consumed. With a bathroom each to ourselves, we freshen up quickly and head up to the terrace for breakfast - a lavish spread that includes granola, yogurt, honey and fruit preserves, freshly baked pastries and cookies, the plumpest and most divine figs I've ever had, OJ and omelets made to order, that we devour - overlooking the valley. Over breakfast, we make our plans for the day - check out the Goreme open air museum first and maybe a short walk/hike after lunch. Tomorrow, we have a full day planned with Mehmet, so will save the serious hiking for when we're with him. Ajit takes a quick nap after breakfast, while I pick up and study the maps and directions from Tarik, say hello to Yasmin, and admire the antiques and kilims strewn about the premises - this is one of those rare occasions where the property is more gorgeous in person than any pictures online - the quiet, understated elegance apparent in every nook and corner.

    At about 11:30, Tarik calls us a taxi to drop us off at the Goreme open air museum. As we get closer to Goreme, we see the fantastical honeycombed fairy chimney formations that put this little village on every tourist itinerary. How did all of this come to be? Ancient volcanic eruptions blanketed this area with thick ash, which coupled with wind and water erosion over many millennia shaped this incredible landscape. Humans then used the soft rock to their advantage, digging into the stone to create a network of cave dwellings and tunnels, and entire cities with as many as eight levels underground. With Anatolia sitting on the precarious boundary between rival empires and invading armies, these homes also served as hiding places. It then became a refuge for the early Christian monks fleeing persecution who established monastic communities here, creating frescoed chapels as early as the 6th and 7th centuries.

    Armed with this history and hats and with sunscreen slathered on, we enter the museum at midday and are rewarded with fewer crowds. The cloudy sky helps as well. This was an important Byzantine settlement and later a pilgrimage site, and the monks that lived here left behind several rock cut churches and monasteries and outstanding examples of Byzantine art. We spend a couple of hours here, marveling at the human spirit that produced these places of worship, as well as the underground cities in this valley. The detailed frescoes in vivid hues of ochre, red and blue, are relatively well preserved given the hot dry climate and until recently, the isolation. The Karanik Kilise, at the very top of the hill and recently restored, is the most stunning, with beautifully carved and painted domes, columns, arches and apses. We are saddened to see the graffiti on the walls in many of the churches and people ignoring signs taking pictures with their phones and cameras - it seems that just as human hands once created these wondrous works of art, so will these hands destroy it. On our way out and towards Goreme, we also stop at Tokali Kilise, the largest of the churches with massive barrel vaulted ceilings and domes. The intense, bright blue (from the lapis lazuli stone) pigmented frescoes here are unexpected and breathtaking.

    It's almost two, so walk towards the center of town to get lunch, passing markers for the many hiking trails in the area. We find Nazar Borek, recommended in the LP, across from the otogar or bus stop. The owner, Rafi, is chatty and we talk about commonalities in our cultures, languages and food. He enjoys old Hindi movies and even sings the chorus of a song "Awaara Hoon" for us. And, tells us about hosting Raj Zutshi, a Bollywood heartthrob (and someone my girlfriends and I swooned over) from the early 90s, at his restaurant. Our meal, sucuk and egg gozleme for Ajit and spiced potato and mint gozleme for me with a side of cucumber tomato salad, is very good.

    Feeling refreshed, we decide to do an easy walk along the Zemi Valley trail - not the entire loop, but half way down and back. The parts we walk on are flat and shaded, which is welcome in the heat of the afternoon, with nary a soul to be seen. There are cone and mushroom shaped rocks along the way, with a church (El Nazar) and a few dovecotes. This trail is prettier in the fall I'm told when the leaves turn color, but if you have a few hours to kill, then it may be worth doing. And, it does get harder further on, with some rope climbing and steep bits involved, but we turn around before we get to those parts and are back where we started in a couple of hours.

    On the hunt for a vintage kilim, we stop at Boutique Carpets in Goreme. This shop was originally called Tribal Collections, but the owners split up and Tribal Collections has moved to another part of town. Yes, very confusing, until this is fixed in the next edition of the LP. Faruq, the owner, is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about his kilims and carpets and has a wide selection from all over Anatolia and beyond. We are intrigued by a what was originally a camel saddle bag made by nomadic Bakhtiari tribes from Iran that was opened up and used as a rug in its later years when these tribes were settled. It is woven using three different techniques - knotted pile, kilim and soumak - and is lovely. It's just about the right size as well. Not willing to commit yet, we take pictures of the kilim so we can ponder our choice back at the hotel.

    It's almost 6, so we get directions to sunset point from Faruq and walk up the hill, past a dozen cave hotels, to the cafe at very top where we sit down with a bottle of chilled Efes beer. Aah! The views over Goreme valley are spectacular with hundreds of whimsical formations scattered in all directions, and in the distance, the plateaus of the rose and red valleys that become a deeper shade of pink and red as day turns to dusk. We walk out to the edge of the cliffs for pictures and watch a local man play fetch with his dog who manages to run up and down the steep rocks without slipping. We expect a circus up here for sunset and are pleasantly surprised by the lack of crowds.

    On our way back down the hill, we pass by Koy Evi and recognize the name and high praise from the LP, so we get a table outside before they get busy. We start with cold Raki and the meze platter that includes marinated sun dried tomatoes, tomato chili paste, hummus and yogurt with dill and garlic served with warm tandir bread fresh from the clay oven. For the main course, Ajit has the local speciality of lamb stew cooked in a terracotta pot that's cracked open tableside, while I have the grilled eggplant and beef. This is simple but good Cappadocian food and the bread is the best we've had so far. When we are ready to leave, the restaurant calls us a taxi to take us back to Urgup. Cappadocia is experiencing warmer than average temperatures for this time of year, so a light sweater is more than enough for us. Back home, we go up to the terrace and end the night with some Turkish white wine and gorge on the baklava that we've brought with us from Istanbul.

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    Seemast, I too am looking forward to reading about your time spent with Mehmet. I've just booked with him for 2 days of walking with him in March. Your insights will be most helpful.


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    PegS and jdc26, this is for both of you.

    Day 7: A fantastic day of hiking through the Cappadocian valleys with Mehmet and Saki

    On our second day here, we have a full day of hiking planned with Mehmet Gungor at Walking Mehmet. I found him through the LP where he is listed as the original and most experienced walking guide in Goreme, and I am sold. We've had a lot of fun hiking with local guides in other countries and always enjoy getting off the trail and gaining fresh insights and perspectives on local life, and we hope this will be no different. I managed to get in touch with him after a couple of failed attempts with changed domain names and emails. His new website is and email is [email protected], for those of you who want to walk with him. His partner, Els, in the Netherlands, answers his emails as his written English is not very good. I tell him about our interest in photography and wanting to see hidden churches and pigeon houses. We decide to meet at 9am at Local restaurant in Goreme and hike a full day from Goreme to Cavusin and finally Pasabag.

    After breakfast, we take a taxi to Goreme and meet up with Mehmet. He's a wiry man in his 40s, tanned and fit as anyone who has spent most of their lives outdoors would be. With him is Saki, a golden labrador, and his trusted walking companion. Together, we set off on our day's adventures, heading first into Kiliclar (Sword) valley. As we chat about our time in Turkey and Cappadocia, Mehmet asks if we were at sunset point yesterday, and only then does it dawn on us that it was Mehmet and Saki we had seen by the cliffs. There are not many hikers at this early hour and we have the trails mostly to ourselves surrounded by some amazing scenery punctuated with Uchisar castle in the horizon. The volcanic soil in this region is very fertile, and there are patches of family owned vegetable and fruit farms and vineyards amidst the rocky outcroppings. We say hello to the farmers tending their fields and gladly accept the sweet grapes that are offered us. Some of these farms have been cleared to make way for take off pads for the many hot air balloon companies that operate out of Goreme and want to ensure the best views for their clients. Sigh, the unfortunate side effects of the tourism boom. Early on, Saki gets easily distracted when he sees a couple of other dogs, one of them a bitch in heat. Can't blame the guy! He gets a lecture from Mehmet and it takes a couple of attempts (while we stand by laughing) to wean Saki away. He is on his best behavior the rest of the day.

    Up and down the rocks we go, through Meskendir valley and to Kizilcukur (Red) valley, the vistas getting better with every step we take. The soft sensuous folds of the rocks here look like a cross between the vast sand dunes of the Sahara and ice cream cones. Mehmet suddenly spots a sign with an arrow and the word "cafe" carved into a rock and starts swearing. Apparently, it's the handiwork of a local cafe owner attempting to "direct" hikers to his cafe. Lots of people including Mehmet have complained, but it hasn't stopped him. We spot many more of his signs along the way, some carved and some made with chalk, and each one makes Mehmet angrier. He wipes away the signs when he can, but knows that it's only a matter of time before they will appear again. Saki, on the other hand, is happy as a clam to chase after and fetch the sticks that Ajit and Mehemt throw him - scrambling up and down gravelly rocks and wading into water - he is a labrador retriever after all. Mehmet got him from the army a few months ago, A year old and born with a bad hip, the army had no use for him anymore, and that's how he came to be one half of the Walking Mehmet team.

    As we climb higher up the ridge, Mehmet pulls us inside one of the several thousand pigeon houses that dot the landscape. These multi-level houses were carved high up along the canyon's steep sides and used by the farmers to house and feed pigeons and in turn collect their droppings or guano to fertilize their fields. Many of these dovecotes, now empty, are also decorated with kilim style motifs on the outside and painted with vegetable dyes, each farmer expressing their unique artistic point of view. Mehmet is a wealth of information about the history of the region and its communities, as we climb up from one level to the next into the uppermost chambers. It's a little claustrophobic up here and quite a distance from the valley floor when we peek through the tiny windows, so we're glad to scramble out into the bright sunshine once again and join Saki. When we ask about his family, Mehmet tells us that he has two kids with his partner Els (who I had been communicating with over email), a girl and a boy, who live in the Netherlands with their mother. He will be joining them for a few months this winter which he is really excited about. His work, that he loves, keeps him in Goreme, so he only sees him a few times a year.

    On to Rose valley, where Mehmet asks us to take a look at one of the hidden churches, the White Church. So called, because the walls are the natural color of the rock devoid of any frescoes, but it more than makes up for the lack of color with its soaring vaulted ceilings and arches and beautifully carved imposing columns. Very unexpected, this high up the ridge. It's Mehmet's favorite church in the valley and we're glad to have experienced it. Soon after, we stop at a hut for a much needed break, shade and refreshments, cold water followed by some hot tea. As we start hiking again towards Cavusin, we realize that we've gained a companion, a beautiful dog who has taken a fancy to Saki and has decided to walk with us. Awesome! The sweeping rock formations here are some of the best we've seen so far, with the spectrum of hues, caused by the mineral deposits in the ash, clearly visible. Saki and his girlfriend walk ahead of us, clearly leading the way, and always finding a small patch of shade to rest in, when we stop to take in the panorama and a few pictures. They seem to enjoy the views as much as we do, as we descend into the village of Cavusin.

    Eager for some food, we walk into Panorama restaurant and sit in their garden. While Mehmet hoses Saki down to cool him off, we order a green salad, chicken kebap and spinach and cheese gozleme. Mehmet comes back with fresh chilies from the garden to go with his sandwich; he enjoys spicy as much as we do. While we eat, Saki curls up and sleeps, putting pressure on his weak hip that must be hurting after all the running up and down rocks. Awww. His friend, meanwhile, rests outside by the road, eating the bread that we give her. As we set forth after lunch, we are down to three again, as Saki's friend stays back in Cavusin. We walk around the imposing castle that dominates the old town, its facade crumbling and partly collapsed in an earthquake. Much of it is still intact and there is a church up on the cliff that you can explore if you are willing to climb through debris and haul yourself up to the higher levels, but we don't.

    The afternoon heat and big lunch conspire to make our feet heavy as lead, so the last hour of the hike is harder. The focus of our conversation with Mehmet shifts to Turkish ethnicity, culture, religion and politics and Indian customs. Coupled with his passionate opinions about environmental preservation and candid views about Indian tourists visiting Goreme, and this hour flies by all too quickly.
    The fairy chimneys in the Pasabag valley are very striking with smaller rock caps at the top of and balancing on the much larger rocks, some with even two and three caps. The last bit of the hike involves climbing over boulders, across ledges and up makeshift wooden plank steps. And then, we come face to face with the crowds that we had managed to avoid the entire day. We've arrived at the main entrance with its parking lot, cafes and souvenir shops which is where all the tour buses stop. And, it is where we end our day with Mehmet over cold beers.

    We estimate that we walked about 15 kms today. Our day with Mehmet is everything we hoped it would be and more, due to his intimate knowledge of the valley and trails and the routes he took us on, his vibrant personality and no nonsense attitude, and of course Saki. As he himself acknowledges, the locals don't walk for pleasure, so he has a reputation for being that "weird guy who walks for a living". At 4, we bid Mehmet adieu and give Saki hugs and kisses before catching the dolmus to Goreme from across the street.

    At Goreme, we stop by Boutique Carpets, to buy the kilim we had seen yesterday. Yes, it didn't take us long to commit to it. Haha. Faruq is on his way back from Avanos, so we are served tea while we wait. Once he gets in, we look at the kilim once more and settle on a price. There is not much negotiation involved and he throws in a silk ikat cushion that I've been eyeing for free. We've likely overpaid, but we love that this is a unique rug with a story and know that it will be way more expensive in NYC, so that's that. We also meet Faruq's wife and spend some time talking about their lives here, their business, rug collection and his travels. They have a golden retriever Snoopy, who is a fat slob and is always asleep in a corner, so we don't get to play with him. When it's time for us to leave, Faruq very kindly offers to drop us back to our hotel, so we are back at Esbelli by 5:30.

    Before we head to our room, we ask Yasmin to make dinner reservations for us at Ziggy's at 7:30. Which means we have a couple of hours to take a long hot shower and relax on the terrace watching the sun set. Ziggy's is just a 5 minute down the hill and we are seated on the lower terrace. I love their furniture with Singer sewing machines forming the base of the tables and seat cushions made with colorful fabric. We both order the tasting menu #1 along with what else but raki. For the next two hours, we are treated to course after course of deliciousness starting with the meze platter consisting of bread with a tomato sauce, green beans with olive oil, fava beans with dill and red onion, roasted eggplant puree, roasted eggplant with yogurt and a special Ziggy sauce, fried potatoes with lemon and parsley, grilled haloumi with olives in a spicy oil, stuffed peppers with rice and watercress with yogurt. Then, it's borek with pastrami, skewed chicken with garlic, lamb liver with onions and finally rice pudding. The mezes and chicken are the standouts in this meal. As we wrap up dinner, we get chatting with the couple sitting next to us and discover that not only are they staying at Esbelli but they are also from NYC. We talk to them for almost an hour before have to pull ourselves away and head back. It's been a long day and we have a very early wakeup call tomorrow for our hot air balloon ride.

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    Day 8: A hot air balloon ride and quiet churches in Soganli

    Our alarm goes off at 4 am and we get ready and go out to the door still groggy eyed. We've booked our hot air balloon ride with Butterfly Balloons (Tarik makes the booking for us but you can just as easily book directly with them for the same price). While they're on the expensive side, my research shows that they have at most 10-16 people in their baskets, compared to the upwards of 20 on other balloons, as well as an impeccable safety record. After a series of hot air balloon crashes most notably in Luxor and here in Cappadocia last year, Ajit is wary, but I manage to convince him since it's something I've always wanted to do. He first planned a surprise flight for the two of us in Sonoma Valley for my birthday many years ago but it was canceled due to high winds. When we traveled to Egypt and Tanzania, I briefly considered flights over the Valley of Kings and the vast plains of the Serengeti, but ultimately didn't feel the prices justified the ariel views one could get. Not so here in Cappadocia, where in my opinion, the unique topography makes hot air ballooning the perfect way to get a completely different perspective of the fairy chimneys and one that we couldn't get with our feet planted on the ground.

    We are the last people to be picked up and are whisked away to the Butterfly offices to check in, make the payments and get some breakfast. By 5:15, we are assigned our pilots and gather in vans to drive to the take off site. I am thrilled to learn we are assigned to Mike, the very experienced and highly recommended English pilot who has been flying in Cappadocia since 2000, the early days of ballooning here. Our take off pad faces Uchisar castle and is far from where most of the other balloons take off, another aspect of Butterfly that we appreciate considering safety. And, while our balloons are still getting fired up and inflated, several others have already taken off in the darkness, so they can be back in time to operate a second flight this morning. All things to note as you pick a company to fly with. Once the twelve of us have climbed into the basket and get our safety instructions, Mike steers the balloon off the ground and into the air with the ground crew's assistance, and we are off! It's 6am, and Mike has timed our take off so we can be high up in the air as dawn breaks and the first rays of the sun turn Uchisar castle into gold. It's breathtaking.

    It's wonderful to be up the air with a birds eye view of the valleys illuminated by the soft morning light, the slight chill and gentle breeze keeping us cool in spite of the giant fire ball above our heads. Mike expertly gauges the wind direction and speed and climbs or descends into air currents, as he maneuvers us into valleys, close to pigeon houses and interesting rock formations, or further up in the sky to enjoy the sweeping views of chimneys and patchwork of fields and vineyards below. He entertains us with facts and answers questions, all with his typical English sense of humor. His wife used to work as a Project Manager for Richard Branson for many years, and they were both part of the crew when Branson attempted to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon. And, he's flown the North Pole. Pretty cool credentials, no?

    An hour goes by much too quickly and soon we are on our way down, as the ground crew races to meet us there. And, the landing is perfect, as Mike gently lays the basket down on the trailer. Then, it's time to celebrate with champagne, strawberries and chocolate cake (we have a birthday girl in our midst today) and get our certificates. We spend some time chatting with Mike and his wife about living in Goreme and their travels, and playing with their golden retriever Maggie. Afterwards, we get dropped off at Esbelli - it's not even 8 when we get back but it feels like we've done so much already. We've arranged a rental car for the day which will be dropped off at the hotel at 9, so we eat a hearty breakfast and freshen up.

    When deciding what to do with our car, the two options I had considered were Ihlara valley and Soganli. Ihlara valley would have been a long day trip - four hours to get there and back with so much to see and do while there, including Selime monastery. Soganli, on the other hand, is closer and smaller in scale, and would be an easy half day, giving us time to also explore Uchisar and possibly Devrent valley. So, Soganli it is. On the way out of town, we stop to withdraw cash from an ATM. The 40 km drive south to Soganli is pleasant and takes just under an hour. We are the only ones here at this time, and are able to enjoy the churches in relative peace and quiet until the tour buses filled with local school and college kids arrive. Even with these people, it's still far less crowded than Goreme. We start off at Yilanli Kilise which has some lovely frescoes of Christ and his apostles. Then, we cross the valley and go up the hill to Kubbeli Kilise and the hidden church Sakli Kilise that's below ground. The valley here feels more open and is more green with tall poplars breaking up the volcanic landscape, and it's a short but nice walk.

    From here, we go back down to check out Karabas Kilise. When we go to our car, we realize that it's now sandwiched between two tour buses with no way to take it out. We can't find the drivers but the coordinator of one of groups offers to find the driver for us. Ten minutes later, our car is freed and we drive to the next church. Even through the graffiti and damage, the intricate detail and facial expressions in the frescoes here are divine. There are local women selling Soganli dolls outside each church, but we don't buy any. It's noon now so we skip the last church on our map (Tahtali Kilise or the church of Santa Barbara, which is supposed to have the best frescoes here) and instead head to the tea garden just outside the entrance. Set in a serene apple orchard, this is a perfect setting in which to unwind after a busy morning.

    On our drive back, we make a quick stop at Keslik monastery. This is a large complex with a church, chapel, living quarters, dining area and secret passages. Our favorite room here is the chapel which has one of the rare examples of iconoclastic frescoes in bright reds and yellows, very pretty. For lunch, we stop at Mustafapasa, a village with a Byzantine Greek past that still has remnants of old stone houses with carved doors and paintings on the walls. One such house, simply and aptly called the Old Greek House, is where we have lunch. The original frescoes upstairs are worth a look and so are some of their rooms. Back downstairs, we order fried zucchini and cacik, followed by Turkish ravioli served with yogurt and a tomato garlic sauce drizzled with chilli oil and a lamb stew. I have an Efes while Ajit, being the designated driver, has to settle for tea. It's at this point that our bodies begin to crash, so we decide to go back to the hotel and take a much needed nap.

    Feeling well rested, we set off for Devrent valley which has rock formations in interesting animal shapes, a camel here, a rabbit there and maybe a bear or was it a tiger holding a fish? You can let your imagination go wild. As we clamber up the gravelly rocks, I slip and end up with bleeding palms and elbows. Oh joy. My canvas shoes were a bad idea, after all. Our final stop before dinner is Uchisar, its rectangular crag sits dramatically on top of the hill and provides a great vantage point from which to watch the sun set over Gulludere (Rose) and Guvercinlik (Pigeon) valleys. The views are gorgeous, but after a couple of days of one incredible view after another, we are not inclined to stay up here long, especially when it gets too crowded. For dinner, we head back to Goreme to a place recommended by our dinner friends last night, Seten.

    It's takes us a while and multiple stops for directions to find it, tucked into a corner high up the hill from the center of town, on narrow, windy and unlit roads. We are lucky to get seated right away in the pretty courtyard, without reservations. We get bread with the standard tomato chili paste as well as olive oil and a pumpkin seed chickpea powder with zatar. The latter is simple goodness. We also get the spicy meatballs with bulgur, which is delectable. For the main course, I have the lamb and eggplant kebap that's too big a portion and just ok while Ajit gets the melt in your mouth lamb shank. For dessert, we share a baked pumpkin custard with walnuts and end with tea and coffee. Stuffed and happy, we drive back to Esbelli.

    We end our last full day in the Anatolian countryside out on the terrace and finish up the bottle of wine and remaining baklava, minus the ants that the kitchen staff so kindly clean up for us. We have the morning here tomorrow, our flight back to Istanbul leaves at 3.

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    Days 9 and 10: Our trip comes to an end but not before a pampering hammam experience and more fabulous shopping

    Our last morning in Urgup is a lazy one, and much needed after the two hectic days preceding it. We have a leisurely breakfast and walk around the beautifully landscaped property. Ajit has to make a quick run to a gas station nearby to fill the car up and leave it outside the hotel for the rental company to pick up. Yasmin has booked us seats on the airport shuttle that will pick us up at 12:45, so we walk to Ziggy's for an early lunch and relish one last time the meze highlights from a couple of nights ago. The owner, a jewelry designer, has a small shop downstairs and we get chatting about Ziggy, her airedale terrier, who the cafe is named after. I end up buying a cuff bracelet and a pretty necklace made from a vintage metal pendant from Turkmenistan hanging from a colorful knotted fabric. We have to hurry up though to say goodbye to Tarik, Yasmin and the rest of the staff who have been so gracious and helpful, and leave for the airport. Except for another hour long delay, the flight back to Istanbul is uneventful. We really loved our time here in Cappadocia and wish we had at least another couple of days to do a few more hikes and make it to Ihlara Valley.

    Back in Istanbul, we opt to to take the metro and tram back to Sultanahmet instead of a taxi, be forewarned that the walk from the terminal to the metro station is a long one. We ride the metro to the last stop and switch to the T1 tram at the Yusufpasa stop. This switch is not as easy as it looks on the map and involves multiple flights of stairs, especially when you're carrying heavy bags. But, given the evening rush hour traffic, this worked well for us. We pop into Uyan to pick up our suitcase and walk five minutes to our home for the next 2 nights, the Empress Zoe, a rather small but beautifully appointed room on the second floor. Luckily, they have porters here to lug our suitcases up the spiral staircase. One look at the suzani fabric draped over the four poster bed and I'm in love with our room.

    A boutique hotel, it consists of many old converted townhouses set around a serene garden alongside the ruins of an old hammam, whose ivy covered crumbling dome you can see from the terrace. It's very atmospheric and similar in its design aesthetic to the Esbelli Evi. For dinner, the staff recommends a family owned fish restaurant, Balikci Sabahattin, a short walk away towards the water. The restaurant is very busy but we are able to snag a table in the outside covered garden. We see at least twenty cats milling around the restaurant with some brave enough to come to the tables, hoping that the staff or feline loving patrons will throw them leftovers. The fish, bonito and sea bass, are well grilled, but the best part of the meal is the rice and mussels that we start with and is absolutely divine. We end the meal with a semolina dessert that's on the house. Back at the hotel, we get a couple of rakis from the bar and sit back in the garden, listening to the bubbling fountain and playing with the resident, very naughty but lovable kitten. This is our last night together on this trip. Ajit leaves for NYC tomorrow morning, while I have an entire day to myself here in this most amazing (and now my favorite) city.

    I'll be back soon with the final day and closing thoughts.

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    We wake up to cloudy skies threatening rain at any moment. Breakfast is indoors, the spread similar to what we had at Esbelli. We see many more resident cats in the light of day, each quietly prowling their turf. I'm very keen to get to a hammam today and the nearest is the historical Ayasofya Hammam. I have the front desk call to make reservations for the bath and aromatherapy massage package but they are full. Bummer. Luckily, there is a last minute cancelation so they are able to fit me in at 3 for the basic bath package - sold! Armed with a list of shops that I want to hit, we walk to an ATM to withdraw cash and then say goodbye to each other. Ajit plans to walk around the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya one last time before the taxi comes to pick him up at 10.

    My first stop is Jennifer's Hammam in the Arasta Bazaar. A Canadian living in Istanbul, she has 2 shops in the market, specializing in pestemals (flat woven Turkish towels), robes, linens, olive oil soaps, and many more hammam accessories. She uses organic cotton and other natural fibers that are hand loomed by artisan families using age old weaving techniques to create these pestemals. After checking out the different options and weaves, I pick up a couple of pestamals. As I make my way out of the bazaar and to my next shop, I spot Ernemet carpets which was recommended by the owner of La Turca in Cukurcuma. I spend a half hour here and take pictures of a couple of kilims that I like but I'm not going to be ready to buy until I go back to the Grand Bazaar and look at the kilim we had liked earlier in our trip. The owner tells me that they have stores in the US in Houston and Atlanta and sell new rugs there in the muted "antiqued" tones that American customers generally prefer.

    Next, I go to Cocoon on Kucuk Ayasofya Caddesi. They have 2 stores on the street, one specializing in rugs and textiles from all over Central Asia and the other in pillows, silk fabric, scarves, jewelry and knick knacks. I could have spent all day here happy as a clam, unfortunately with the limited time at my disposal, I focus my attention on the fabric and the gorgeous suzani pillows. I have a hard time scouring through the piles of fabric to pick one I like but end up with a couple of meters of a beautiful silk ikat in shades of yellow, red and black. I am very tempted to also buy a suzani cushion, but I already own one bought in NYC and decide against getting another - I do regret that decision. I also spend some time in their other store looking through their beautiful selection of vintage suzani bed spreads. If I had a guest bedroom, I would buy one of these to lay on the bed. I can almost picture what the room would look like in my head. Almost...

    Onward to my last stop before lunch, Tulu Textiles on Ucler Sokak #7. Owned by Elizabeth, an American and her Turkish husband, the store occupies four floors of an old townhouse and is filled with her bedding line, linens and fabric as well as antiques, rugs and vintage fabrics they've collected from all over Turkey, the Stans and India. It's paradise for someone like me. I buy some of her block printed fabric that's hand printed in India, to make seat cushions for a couple of antique chairs that we own. It's deeply discounted since this print is from last season and has been discontinued. I also get a couple of vintage hand painted ikat bowls from Uzbekistan. I also meet Elizabeth's husband who shows me some of the beautifully embroidered fabrics that they've procured and shares their history with me.

    When I step out, the skies are stormy and the light so beautiful that I take a quick detour before lunch to check out the courtyard of the Blue Mosque, it's so worth it. I barely make it to Mesale for a light lunch of potato mint gozleme and tea, before it starts pouring rain. Timed it just right. Sipping a hot tea while sitting on a couch under a tarp and watching the rain come down all around is bliss. When the rain turns to drizzle, I drop off my bags at the hotel and get to the Hammam for my 3pm appointment. The Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami, located between the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya, was built by renowned architect Sinan in the 16th century at the request of Suleiman's wife. It was used as a public bath until 1910 and then restored and reopened in 2011. It's interiors are opulent with soaring domes, marble covered walls and floors, and gold plated taps and bath bows. They have separate areas for men and women.

    Once I check in, I am given a pestemal and slippers and after I've undressed and wrapped myself, a woman comes over and leads me into the bath. First, she pours warm water over me from a basin in an alcove in the warm room and leaves me to sweat it out for a few minutes. Then, she leads me into the cold room where she proceeds to scrub me from top to bottom using a kese, a hand mitt with a sandpaper like texture. It's crazy the amount of dirt that washes off me and I had only just showered this morning! After rinsing me off with cold water, she leads me back to the hot room and asks me to lay down on the central platform. The last part of the process is a bubble bath. She uses a linen bag to create the soapy bubbles that she liberally slathers all over me, and then massages and washes me with an olive oil soap. And follows that up with a shampoo and head massage. Then it's back to the alcove for a final wash and it's over - all efficiently done in exactly 30 minutes. In the main lobby, I relax on the sofa with a cold hibiscus tea and lokum and wait to dry up. While I sit there, a large group of girls are getting the royal treatment with peels, masks and full massages. By 4, I've blow dried my hair and leave with squeaky clean and soft skin holding a packet containing body lotion and the kese. I absolutely love the oh so luxurious bath experience, and could certainly see myself do this once a month if I lived here. And, it isn't weird or uncomfortable. For me, this ranks up there with the onsen experience in Japan.

    The sun is out now and I catch the tram to the Grand Bazaar. I have three shops to visit today. First, I go to Recep Karaduman where I'm welcomed back with tea and immediately shown the kilim we had seen earlier. The minute I see it and having seen countless others this past week, I know it is the one. With that taken care of, my next stop is Yazzma, where I buy some more silk Ikat fabric, this one in red, black and white, as well as a scarf made with Bursa silk. Last, I stop at Abdulla Natural Products, where I pick up a couple more pestemals, olive oil soaps and a copper hammam bowl. I'm in and out of the bazaar in an hour and feeling very pleased with myself. After dropping off the heavy bags at the hotel, I wander over to Arasta Bazaar for one last look and spot another location of the Mehmet Cetinkaya store that I had somehow missed earlier. Oh my, I wish I had seen this store in the morning, they have piles and piles of the most beautiful hand woven ikats made in Uzbekistan. And, the most gorgeous antique ikat robes and embroidered Persian, Turkmeni and Armenian fabrics, sought after and bought by collectors. The fabric I buy here is the one I'm going to use for my lampshade. The guy in the store patiently answers my many questions about these prized antiques until they close at 7:30 even though it's pretty evident that I'm not buying any. I wouldn't be this lucky in NYC.

    For dinner, I stay close to the hotel and eat at what looks like the least touristy of the restaurants on the main drag. Basically, they don't have anyone dragging you off the streets into the restaurant. I have the minced beef Arabic pizza appetizer (which is thinner than the pide we had earlier), the Urfa kebap and wine. Afterwards, I go to a sheesha/dinner lounge nearby that Ajit and I had seen earlier but never found time to step into. They have very comfy sofas and lounge chairs and I happily sink into one of them, eager to rest my tired feet. It's chilly after the rains from this morning, and noticing me shiver a little, the waiter brings over a warm shawl - how nice of him! I order some tea and a sheesha and spend the next hour alternating between talking to the waiter and reading on my phone. And, so ends my day alone in Istanbul, and what a wonderful day it's been. I've only traveled alone a few times and much prefer traveling with Ajit and being able to share experiences and moments with him right when they happen. But, a few days here and there on my own can be fun too, especially in a city as fine as this one.

    The next morning is bright and sunny and I have breakfast in the garden and play with my kitty. He wanders over to beg at the table in front of mine which apparently is another cat's territory, and ends up getting hissed and swiped at, and what do you know, he runs scared right into my lap. He lets me rub his back for ten minutes before he jumps off to do more mischief. Before the taxi comes for me, I have time to look at the Iznik Classics ceramics shop at the end of the street (not the Arasta location). This one carries a few floors of gorgeous and very pricey ceramics made in Iznik by a variety of renowned traditional and contemporary ceramic masters and the Iznik Foundation, with the aim to revive this age old art. The pieces use quartz that give them a shimmery quality that beautifully complements the bright cobalt blue, red and green pigments. They have a shop next door that sells regular lead free ceramics where I buy a small bowl to add to my collection. Then, it's back to the hotel, to the airport and to NYC.

    On our next trip to Istanbul, I would like to spend a day at the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Mosaics. Another day, taking the Sehir Hatlari ferry to Sariyer or Rumeli Kavagi and the bus down along the Bosphorus hopping on and off at the various towns, walking from Rumeli Hisari to Bebek to Arnavutkoy, lingering in this sleepy fishing village with it's old river front yalis, and wrapping up the day in Ortakoy, checking out their lovely mosque and ending with dinner on the waterfront. Finally, I would love to spend more time on the Asian side in Kanlica, Uskudar, the Tuesday market in Kadikoy and Moda and maybe check out a summer palace. I'm so excited just thinking about it, that we'll have to come back some day soon.

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    Ajit's still working on his pictures, but I thought I'd provide a link to the ones I've uploaded so far. Here's Day 1.

    Doesn't look like anyone's still reading this trip report, but I hope someone planning a trip in the future finds this useful.

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    seemaskt, be assured that there are always readers. Many are lurkers for fear of their identity becoming known.

    Also, you write so well that few would find anything to question, add or criticize.

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    Thanks OC and jdc. I recognize that my writing style isn't for everyone and many people just prefer the facts and highlights. Hence, my comment about people finding this useful.

    Anyway, I'm glad I finished the report before the end of the year and that you both enjoyed it. I can now get working on the rest of my pictures. I took 350 on my second day (yikes!!) and need to start the difficult editing process tonight.

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    Thanks for a fabulous trip report, Seemaskt. I just discovered it last week so have been busily reading it and eagerly awaiting the last installment! I was in Istanbul in March and in 2012 and I'd go back at the drop of a hat. I haven't been to Cappadocia so was interested to read your report. Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed report. I'm hoping you keep posting pictures of the rest of your trip. Good luck with the editing!

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    What a great trip report! I enjoyed all the details. We were in Istanbul several years ago (along with Ephesus, Selcuk and Bodrum) and just loved it. Topkapi, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque--all amazing. We got to the fabulous Archeological Museum one hour before closing and I actually burst into tears--it was so fantastic and filled with treasures, I knew we'd miss most of it--and we did. Sigh. I highly recommend you budget several hours for the museum when you return.

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    Thanks so much belgazou and hax!

    belgazou - you're so lucky to have made it back to Istanbul twice in 2 years. Hope you can make it to Cappadocia one day. It was an excruciating process but I did manage to finish uploading pictures from Day 2. :-) The link is below.

    hax - I know what you mean about the museum. I'm thinking we'll need at least a half day, if not more. There's always so much to see and so little time and you can only do so much.

    Here are the pictures from Day 2.

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    Thank you for the amazing detailed report, and for taking the time to write it so eloquently! You can be sure that you are making a difference in the way a lot of people will experience Turkey, me being one of them! My upcoming trip in September now includes a full day walk with Mehmet (whom I'd never heard of before). I'm also armed with a list of restaurants, ways to get around Istanbul and a host of other great ideas. Though sadly I really have no space for rugs, your enthusiasm over shopping and the purchase of the cuff bracelet caught my attention. Did you find any other interesting jewelry shops? I'm glad you enjoyed Your trip, thanks again for sharing!!

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    Thanks soods! So glad you're walking with Mehmet as well. You'll have such a good time.
    Hope you enjoy Turkey as much as we did. And, if you enjoy jewelry shopping, you'll be in for a treat. I don't think names for you, but let me look up a couple of websites I used and see if they have good recommendations. The LP, not always great for shopping, did have some great options listed, so you can take a look at those as well.

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    And, here is a link to Day 3 photos. I'm a little disappointed with my Topkapi pictures, the low light made it hard to take good shots with my 35mm lens. Ajit's pictures are really good however, but who knows when he's going to finish them. ;-)

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    I really enjoyed your trip report. Excellent read and a great level of fun and detail. Turkey is wonderful and I don't think I will ever forget my visit to Goreme, especially the hot air balloon. Your great narrative brought it all back! Thank you! :)

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    Thanks so much Bostonblondie, soods and Sassafrass! I'm trying really hard to get all the pictures done before I leave for India next Friday. I'm bleary eyed from sitting at the computer all day at work and then all evening at home. :-)

    soods - I owe you some info on jewelry shopping. I haven't forgotten and will get them to you soon.

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    Love your detailed report,especially the shopping adventures!!have to look up items you mentioned. i am a sucker for linens and fabrics. Next time i am at Cost Plus Imports, i'll think about your trip report,lol!

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    Haha Indogirl! And thanks. Etsy is another good source for fabrics, at least to get a good idea of the different types.

    Pics from our second day in Cappadocia.

    @soods & @jdc26 - This is the day we hiked with Mehmet & Saki, so will be of special interest to you both.

    Should have pics from our last 2 days up either today or tomorrow.

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    Seemaskt your pictures are beautiful. I'm so excited about our hike. I hope our skies are as blue! Don't rush to send me the shopping info as you seem to be pretty busy right now! I have until September, so whenever you get a chance is fine. You've done an amazing job. Thanks so much

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    Seemaskt, as you must have realized by now, it is trip reports like yours which whet people's appetites, help them plan, find more about their interests and get down to serious details. These can be done only by previous travelers rather than a local like me.

    I can only help with out of the way places, hidden gems, special tastes, cultural-political-social-psychological-historical-literary-philosophical-archeological information, issues and specifics for those who have interests which relate to those areas.

    Otherwise, I try to stay out of the picture, except for notes of appreciation and correction.

    Your report, as I mentioned before, deserves a great deal of appreciation. So thanks again.

    And I hope that I am not upsetting any previous report writers because each report has something unique that gives a different perspective and some special bit of information and would always appeal to a large variety of future visitors.

    So, here are more thanks for all previous report writers also, which have made Fodors Turkey Forums one of the most useful forums on the web.

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    I'm sure your hike will be fantastic, soods!

    OC - Thank you for your very kind comments. And you're absolutely right about how travelers can help versus locals. It's the same with me when people ask me about NYC or India.

    On our next trip to Turkey, I will be reaching out to you for tips on out of the way places and hidden gems along the western coast.

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    seemaskt, I have so enjoyed your trip report and pictures. I'm definitely looking forward to my walk with Mehmet and Saki. Look Soods, I too am hoping for clear blue skies. Thank you.


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    You're welcome jdc. Have a great trip!

    Here are the last of my pics.

    There aren't too many, but this wraps up my report. I'll be back with an update when Ajit uploads his pictures.

    Thanks to all of you for reading along! Wishing you a wonderful holiday season!

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    Fantastic! I've only been able to skim your report but look forward to reading more as I'm planning a trip for next fall. Your photos are beautiful! Thank you for the helpful report.

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