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Trip Report Doing the Golden Triangle in Turkey

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Back from my awesome 11 day trip from Turkey and thought I would note down some of the impressions right away (much more enjoyable than responding to the 50 odd emails in my inbox anyway!).

Firstly, a note to all PARENTS: if you are even a little bit hesitant about taking your kid(s) to Turkey, dont be. Turkish people have to be the most child friendly that I have ever come across. Every shopkeeper, every steward, every hotel staff member would drop whatever work they were doing and come to chat with my 15 month baby daughter (and this was NOT a way to sell anything to us). We took her to little hole-in-the-wall eateries and then to some really high-end places for meals and noone was snooty. And I didnot have to stand in any line (not at Topkapi, not at Aya Sophia) because of the wonderful is that!

Secondly, many thanks to all the Fodorites who provided trip reports and information and answers to all my questions. I dont remember who recommended Nisanyan Hotel at Sirince, but I am SO happy to make that as a base to visit Ephesus. Again cant remember who gave the idea of Istanbul Eats culinary tour but the Two continents one was fantastic. The tip about renting a car in Cappadocia was the best - we really wouldnt have experienced the region as well without the flexibility of having a car.

My trip was divided into 4 parts:
Istanbul - Sultanahmet area for 3 days to see all the usual sights (flight from Delhi to Ataturk)
Cappadocia region - 3 days (flight from Ataturk to Kayseri)
Sirince / Ephesus - 1 day (flight from Kayseri to Izmir)
Istanbul - Besiktas for another 4 days to do more (flight from Izmir to Ataturk)

More details to follow....

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    This is almost exactly the trip I would like to do with my family next spring!

    I am looking forward to the details, and if you don't mind I would appreciate to know the prices of the domestic flights and the guided tours you took. Thanks in advance.

    Waiting for the suite....

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    I'm sorry, shwets, to disagree with you, but I reckon that the Ephesus section of the triangle is overrated. My advice would be to take in the Lycian coast between Antalya and Fethiye as 3-4 day section instead of the east coast/Ephesus.

    My reasoning - you'll be visiting some of the wildest, mountains-falling-into-the-sea spectacular coastline that Turkey has to offer and with plenty of wonderful ancient sites to visit.

    So, I say to grendel, ditch Ephesus and head for Lycia -
    Depending on when you're going, there are flights from Kayseri to Antalya, or always frequent buses from Cappadocia to the coast.

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    Grendel - Turkish airlines is a bit expensive than Pegasus (or other low cost) but not too much, especially if you book atleast a month in advance. Domestic flights were:
    Ataturk to Kayseri on Turkish: approx USD 270 (2 adults and one infant). You would get cheaper options, we did not want to fly from Sabiha Gokcen
    kayseri to Izmir on Pegasus: USD 145 (almost same for Izmir to Ataturk)
    Sorry, cannot help you on guided tours; we didnt take any.

    Croesus - 11 days was too less time for me to have done fethiye / lycian way. Ephesus can be done in 1 day. I have no way of comparing what would have been better.

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    Part 1: Istanbul - Sultanahmet stay

    Day 1: A direct flight from Delhi to Istanbul early morning on Turkish airlines, and the holiday begins. A smooth 1/2 hour taxi ride and we checked into our hotel. The weather was bright and sunny and we decided to hit the top sights. I have been to Istanbul before but walking to the point where you see the Blue Mosque on one side and the Aya Sophia on the other was still fantastic. Enough has been said and written about these 2 sights. Personally i liked the Aya Sophia way more - the mosaics, the history, the sheer number of additions and changes that this monument has gone through is amazing. We decided to take it easy the first day and eat in the hotel.

    Day 2: Because of the 2.5 hour time differnce (between Istanbul and Delhi), my daughter woke up at 5 am the next morning. Ouch! She was chirping and happy after her milk so there was no scope of us going back to bed. We went for a early morning walk to get oriented with the area. We took some beautiful shots of the meandering roads and the waterside and the sights with hardly any people. Saw the locals go about their early morning chores. And obviously were at Topkapi way before opening time. My baby was delighted with all the stray cats (it was amazing to see all of them well taken care of). My only tip for Topkapi would be to pay the extra money and see the harem - the old time sultans sure knew how to live life king size :-)
    After lunch, we decided to go visit Grand Bazaar. The taxi driver did not want to use the meter and demanded 10 lira to drop us at the market. We were really tired after all the walking in the palace and decided to hop in. And this is where my extensive research failed - i had not noted that the bazaar is closed on sundays. We asked the taxi driver to take us back to the hotel (this time using the meter) to chill.

    Day 3: We decided to cover Grand Bazaar today morning. And even after coming from India, where you have colourful markets, this covered bazaar is an enjoyable and different experience. I tried my (supposedly) time tested haggling skills with one shopkeeper and most probably it failed - paid too much for the small leather bag i bought!! We had a flight to cappadocia in the evening, hence decided to miss the couple of mosques in the bazaar district. Back to the hotel to pack and then stepped out for lunch. Airport post lunch for the next adventure.

    Some observations:
    - It was handy to have the hotel in walking distance since we were travelling with a baby. Else i dont think it is 'necessary' to stay in sultanahmet area.
    - At all places, we could leave the baby stroller and we always found it back exactly where we had left it.

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    Great report, love the details! Please tell about the rest of the trip...

    Thanks for the tips directed to me, I take note and will post my own thread soon in order not to hijack this one.

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    I have a question regarding a similar itinerary. We will be in Istanbul in early October and plan to fly into Izmir for
    a couple of nights see Ephesus and then we may travel to Pamukkale. Is Pamukkale worth the trip..haven't heard too many people mention it. If we do go to Pamukkale, should we
    fly out of Denizil to Istanbul or go back to Izmir? Hoping
    to hear from OC on this as I'm sure he can tell me about
    Pamukkale! Thanks

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    I will leave the 'is it worth going to pamukkale' part to other visitors to the area since it is a matter of preference and not perspective.

    The answer to your second question depends on whether you have a rental car. If you have one, you will need to bring it back to Izmir airport. If you do not have a rental car, your trip to Pamukkale may actually need to be an overnight one, especially since you should combine it with Aphrodisias which is some 60 kilmeters or so before Deizli on your route and on a side track. Otherwise, following bus schedules, and dolmus from Denizli to pamukkale and back, walking to various areas at Pamukkale will be too time consuming and rushed for a day trip from Selcuk. The trip both ways on public transport will take about seven hours.

    For your third question, I have never flown to or from Denizli. I do not think that the flights to/from Denizli are very frequent but you should check since that may be a solution.

    If you have a rental car, you should also consider the other alternative to Pamukkale, that is lake Bafa-Herakleia-Miletus-Didyma-Dilek National Park and Lagoon-Carina-Doganbey Village-Priene.

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    Great report, sheets! We'll be covering much of the same territory (which I guess is almost mandatory for the first time visitors) so looking forward to more.

    Four and a half weeks!

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    Part 2 - Cappadocia

    In my mind, the debate over whether to go to Cappadocia or Ephesus (if you have to choose one and thankfully we didnt) has been settled once and for all. Cappadocia is a stunning region. Rent a car and explore its beauty - walk, drive, go up on the balloon, relax and enjoy.

    Day 4 - We had arrived at Urgup the night before and went to bed early. My husband and I were doing the hot air balloon experience separately and he had to get up really early the next day. He met me for the lovely breakfast spread (at Esbelli Evi) after his flight all fresh and happy. I was struggling to feed my baby a banana and was happy to pass on the feeding duties to him.
    Yasemin had organised an automatic car with child seat in advance for us. The car was delivered to the hotel. We discussed our itinerary for the day with Yasemin and she made remarkable improvements to it, gave us a handy map and we were all set. My husband was driving on the right side for the very first time and hence was a bit cautious initially. So we did what Yasemin calls the 'Highlights of Cappadocia'.
    - we started with Deverant or 'imagination' valley
    - then moved to Zelve open air museum. Goreme is the more popular one and it was really nice to have Zelve with so less people. I think Zelve was stunning and less touristic.
    - then via pashbagi (where you see some mushroom formations) to Goreme for lunch
    - Cavusin was next on the agenda but walking around in Zelve (with the baby) had drained us and we decided to miss it.
    - Lunch at Orient restaurant
    - We went to Goreme open air museum and some guide in the parking lot told us its crowded and hot and not a good time to visit with a baby. We should instead go to Avanos and he pulled out some pottery place card where we could see how the pottery is made, and ofcourse can buy some. We had no desire to go to Avanos but the number of tourist buses was a bit discouraging especially after Zelve
    - We decided to kill some time and drove towards Uchisar castle, saw the pigeon valley and Uchisar town. The road between Goreme and Uchisar has some great viewpoints (one right before Panaroma restaurant) of the goreme valley and town.
    - Then came back to Goreme museum. The churches were interesting and so was the Dark Church, but by now I was getting irritated at paying twice at so many places
    - It was evening by the time we finished but still a bit early to go to Kizilcukur (sunset point). Since we had nothing to do, we drove there and decided to wait for the awesome sunset that we were promised. Soon, in the next hour, the entire place was filled with buses and cars and people. There were some hiking trails marked from the valley to Cavusin which seemed interesting.
    - 10 min before the sunset, the baby pooped. i being the first time hyper mommy wanted to first change her and this took more time than I realised. Clean baby, no sunset....such is life
    - Back to hotel. Yasemin had reserved a place at Ziggy's for dinner and it was an enjoyable meal.

    Day 5: Today was my turn to get up early for the hot air balloon experience. And it turned out to be memorable. Unlike the earlier day when it was quite windy and my husband experienced a bumpy landing, my flight was very very smooth. Driving all over the day earlier had give me an good orientation of the region and i was able to relate easily to deverant valley, zelve, rose valley, red valley, cavusin etc. The landing was so smooth that the pilot told us not to bother with the landing position.
    After a great breakfast, the three of us drove out to explore a different area - Ihlara valley
    - First stop at Kaymakli underground city. My husband feels a bit claustrophobic and I wasnt sure how Kaavya (my baby daughter) would react but we decided to experience the underground city. And were glad we did. Kaavya was asleep throughout the tour and it broke my back carrying her everywhere, but it was a good experience. Bizarre to see the 8 different levels where people actually lived, stored their food, made wine(!), prayed etc
    - Then on to Ihlara valley. It was good to drive through good straight roads with open fields on both sides, squashes lying in the open to be dried (?).
    - We were to first go to Bellirsima for lunch, then see the Selme monastry and finally hike a bit in the Ihlara valley. But sure enough we got lost. The signboards we followed got us half way to Aksaray before we realised something was amiss. We retraced our steps back, found a very narrow road leading to Bellirsima, the road got even narrower as we entered the village and we heaved a sigh of relief as we found the 4 restaurants near a water stream where we had a very good lunch (at one of them)
    - I bought the Ihlara valley tickets and instead of hiking along the stream where one can see some churches, we decided to drive to Selme monastry. It is quite a climb but well worth the view, lots of photo opportunities with bizarre rock formations, play of light. Everyone looked at us in disbelief as we carried the baby all the way up!!
    - It was early evening and we were all tired, so decided to skip the hiking along the stream. It wasnt an easy decision given that we are unlikely to come back to this region
    - On the way, it should have been a straight drive back to Urgup, except that we took some detour from Derinkuyu which was not towards Kaymakli and very soon landed up just 13 km short of Soganli monastry! Stunning scenery. I consulted the map and yes, this was a expensive detour in terms of time. Had we been on our own, we would have chilled and driven to the Soganli monastry, but Kaavya was not happy in the child seat for so long. After much consultation with the maps, we found our way back to Urgup.
    - Had an nice dinner at Han Ciragan and dropped to bed exhausted

    Day 3: We decided to take it easy today. The baby had had enough of loony parents driving her around and hiking in hot sun. We spent most of the day playing with her in the garden, except for a nice drive to Ayvali village for lunch. It was a tough choice between Old Greek House at Mustafapasha and Gamirasu hotel at Ayvali. Shuttle transfer to the airport in the evening for a late flight to Izmir. We took this option only because it was a direct flight.

    Some observations:
    1. Do the key sights on foot before you see them on the hot air balloon. I found this gave me a better perspective of the area we were flying over and i was able to appreciate all the views much more. 1 hour flight is enough for the experience. So if you need to save money, dont hesitate to take the 1 hour flight.
    2. Goreme open air museum can be quite crowded, so either do it very early or in the evening. And I found Zelve euqally interesting though for some reason, everyone goes to Goreme and not enough to Zelve.
    3. Underground city experience is great. We like to do things at our own pace with the baby and hence dont take group tours. we also prefer to read signboards and ocassionally listen to audio guides instead of hiring personal guides. So I dont know if guided tours anywhere would have enhanced our experience or knowledge.

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    It sounds like you had a wonderful time!

    Considering that you took a slow day in Cappadocia, would you say 2 days would be enough to cover the "highlights of Cappadocia"? Were there anything on that list you didn't do?

    Is Yasmine a tourist guide that others can solicit as well?

    Looking forward to hear about Ephesus!

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    grendel - 2 very full days should suffice to cover the main sights in cappadocia.
    theoriginal plan for the third day was Soganli monastry which we missed. Also, there are travellers who spend a day more in Ihlara valley but then these might be serious hikers.
    yasemin is the manager at the hotel where we were staying, so no, her advice is only for esbelli evi guests. i will post the next section on ephesus soon.

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    Part 3 - Sirince / Ephesus

    Day 7 - So a direct flight from Kayseri got us to Izmir and then we had prearranged a airport pick-up from the hotel. Although this was an expensive option, our flight was late in the evening. Despite the pre-arrangement, it was errie when we got out of Izmir and started climbing the hill roads in Sirince village. Our chosen hotel, Nisanyan sits right at the top. We were really late and there was no one to receive us. The taxi 9who works only for hotel guests) showed us the keys to the room and we fell in bed exhausted.
    The next morning rewarded us with a beautiful view of Sirince valley. And we got introduced to the resident peacock, peahen and the goose while having a leisurely breakfast. Kaavya couldnt have been more delighted. We planned to visit Ephesus post lunch, and later we postponed that to 4 pm. This was a good decision. We reached the site around 5 pm - the sun wasnt hot and most of the tourist buses had left. Since the site is open till 730 pm, this gave us enough time to wander this amazing ruin, see the Terrace houses (ticket windows close at 6 pm, need to be taken separately), take pictures and let the baby spend enough time with the (inevitable) cats.
    The hotel taxi picked us up and we were booked for dinner at the hotel restaurant. This turned out to be the one of the BEST meals that we had in Turkey (barring the dinner at Four Seasons which should not be part of the comparison since the meal wasnt turkish and was prepared by some michelin starred chef from chicago!). Next day was an early afternoon flight back to Istanbul

    Couple of tips for Ephesus:
    1. Do pay the extra amount for the Terrace houses - the mosaics, the insight into the lifestyle is quite worth it
    2. I would highly recommend an early evening visit to the site

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    Great information!

    I like the way you give a couple of tips for each location, it is really helpful for future travellers like myself.

    We will not be travelling with a baby but with our three teenagers (well, one is a pre-teen). Several people here on Fodors have rented cars to do the same golden triangle, and I will look into that option for our trip.

    I am looking forward to the rest (you still have some days in Istanbul, right?)

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    Part 4 - Istanbul (again!)

    Day 8 - An early afternoon flight got us back to Ataturk airport. And this time, we confidently walked past other (confused) tourists to the yellow taxi stand. We had decided to base ourselves at hotel W in Besiktas for this part of our trip. And for anyone doing more than 3 days in Istanbul, I would highly recommend staying beyond Sultanahmet for a part of the stay for sure (beyogulu, besiktas etc would be good).
    Leisurely lunch and some rest and we decided to visit Taksim square and Istiklal caddessi. Although the concierge at W did not approve of the plan - taking our 15 month baby daughter to such a crowded place. And crowded it was. Also tiring to navigate the way pushing a stroller. I would have loved to go inside some shops and try on clothes / shoes but Kaavya was getting quite cranky. So we took a detour, started walking downhill towards the bosphorous river. We found a taxi in beyogulu to take us back to the hotel. Dinner at okka restaurant in W.

    Day 9 - Dolmabache palace was part of the plan today. Super crowded. And you cant see it on your own - have to be part of a pre-arranged tour or join one in the palace itself (they have tours in english / turkish starting every 45 min or so). Having the baby got us out of the line for security check and ticket purchase but not while waiting for the next english tour ofcourse.
    The palace is quite stunning, especially the crystal staircase and the grand ceremonial hall. but it gets a bit repititive after a while. Also, the harem section here is nowhere as interesting as the one in Topkapi - many rooms are kept close and if time is a constraint, it can be easily avoided (one needs to pay extra for visiting the harem section). Going through the entire palace (or most parts) of it tired us and we decided to spend some time in the palace ground. Kaavya was delighted with the resident peacocks, cat, and the geese (she fed all of her cake to them).
    We then tried to figure out a lunch place. I had forgotten the notes on restaurant names, locations etc in the hotel room, so we decided to take a taxi till Ciragan palace. There are beautiful tree-lined footpaths on both sides of the road in this area and it was really nice walking and exploring the city on foot. But now we were seriously hungry. Much to our surprise, we ended up walking all the way to Ortakoy! This being sunday, there were many hawkers selling jewellery, small leather and cloth items and the entire area looked very festive. we had a very nice meal at one of the several restaurants overlooking the bosphorous.
    Back to the hotel for some rest. In the evening, we had asked the concierge to book us at Mia Mensa (an italian restauant recommended by one of the fodorites). The location is perfect, food was good and the service really good. A very enjoyable dinner ended the day for us.

    Day 10 - Today we had booked the 'Two markets, Two continents' tour with Istanbul Eats. We had to meet our guide Gokcen at karakoy, so we decided to leave the hotel early (without breakfast!). Soon, we met G and the 2 other couples who were doing the same culinary tour. This is an expensive tour but quite worth it. We went to some really small eateries starting with the european side and mainly on teh asian side that gave us a feel of the city, its people, local areas, markets etc. Starting at 9 am and ending at 5 pm (the tour officially ends at 3 pm but G allowed us several detours, changed the pace to suit our needs and was in no rush) with so much of eating. Let me try and remember:
    - breakfast (the best menemen and cheese pastry that i had in turkey)
    - walk around to get a feel of this really old area, have amazing turkish tea
    - cross the river to goto the asian side
    - the best kofte, bread (dipped in some amazing batter, really soft) and sauces
    - candy store - i tasted candied tomatoes, figs, walnuts, olive
    - stop at a pickle store for some tasting. i also had pickle juice!
    - another stop at a mezze place for some amazing selections
    - sweet shop for some baklava (by now i am completely full)
    - after a while, the lightest turkish pizza. i prefer veg food and am not used to beef but the topping was so good
    - turkish coffee (we spent a lot of time sipping our coffee and enjoying the afternoon)
    - more food: tantumi and aryan (this is exactly like the indian lassi). in fact, there are so many similarities between turkish and indian dishes
    - kokorec. When G said this are intentines filled with sweatbread, i let it pass. yuck! but an adventorous british couple found it very tasty
    - lentil soup and more food. groan!
    - another sweet shop. but here the sweet was not dipped in the sugary syrup - it was amazing, the flaky pastry, the pistachios and the clotted cream (i think)
    - icecream finally
    i have no idea how i walked back to the pier, took a boat / catamaran to besiktas. Besides the food, the walking (in non-touristy areas) gives you such a amazing feel of the city. Super day :-)

    Day 11 - Today evening we were booked on our flight home. We spent most of the morning lazing in the hotel. Also a trip to Istineye park for some shopping. Spent quite a bit of time getting tax refunds at the airport in the evening. and then what has to be one of the most interesting business lounges anywhere in the world - Turkish airlines business lounge has though of everything - very few airports (dubai is one for sure) have separate passport control and customs for business class passengers, amazing food and drinks, kid's play area, library, and what not.
    Boarded the flight and reflected on the past incredible 10 days...

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    Great trip report, shwets! On our first full day we're doing the Istanbul Eats "Secrets of the Old City" tour -- hope we have as much fun as you did. We're hoping it gives us a good introduction to use for the following two weeks.

    I'm also glad that your choice to split your time in Istanbul between Sultanahmet and Besiktas worked for you. We're following an almost identical itinerary -- Sultanahmet, Cappadocia, Beyoglu, with a day trip to Ephesus. We should also become confident airport-navigators before it's all over.

    Thanks for sharing. We leave two weeks from today!

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    Thanks for a wonderful and detailed TR shwets, DH & I are looking at a somewhat similar trip for next year, though we'd like to do about 15 days and take in Pammukule/Aphrodisias and Antalya/Fethiye. Did both of you drive, am debating renting a car as I'm not too sure I'd be comfortable driving and don't want DH to be stuck behind the wheel.

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    No geetika, I did not drive at all. However, if you are ocnsidering renting a car just within cappadocia, you neednt stress - driving distances are short. Also the roads here so good and traffic so less that driving is a pleasure.
    The first day 'Highlights of Cappadocia' - devrant valley, zelve, pashabagi, goreme, uchisar, sunset point, urgup etc are all within half an hour distance of each other.
    Underground city such as Kaymakli was about an hour from urgup and then about 1.5 hours to Ihlara (depending on not losing your way that is).
    Since we didnt do the turquoise coast, i havent done research about driving distances between ephesus, pammukule, antalya and fethiye.

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    Thanks shewts, I know Cappadoccia should be easy to do, it's driving down the coast which concerns me a bit, though DH probably wouldn't mind as he loves driving. Reading TRs is getting me excited already, will be back with more questions as soon as our plans shape up:)

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