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Greece and Turkey trip report - Mykonos, Santorini, Athens, Istanbul and Cappadocia

Greece and Turkey trip report - Mykonos, Santorini, Athens, Istanbul and Cappadocia

Old Sep 18th, 2006, 09:29 AM
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Greece and Turkey trip report - Mykonos, Santorini, Athens, Istanbul and Cappadocia

We had a phenomenal two week trip to Greece and Turkey.
Below is a review of each location. Enjoy!
</p>

Mykonos<br>

We arrived at the Hotel Kouros on Mykonos and were initially a bit
underwhelmed – the people who worked there kept us waiting for quite some time
before they checked us in, and they were not very friendly. The hotel is a short
walk from town, which is why we chose it, but I think were I to do it over, I
would choose to stay at the beach. The pool was pretty cold and the bartender
was never there. We ate at a great restaurant called Chez Maria’s which I
would highly recommend. We went to Platos Yielos to enjoy the beach – not
knowing about the incredibly beautiful Pssarou beach nearby. We visited
the latter on our ATV tour of the island and it was so gorgeous – we
wished we had time to spend a whole day there. I definitely recommend renting an
ATV as well – it was a great way to see the island and felt far safer than the
mopeds. Platos Yielos was just OK. We took a boat to Paradise Beach in
the late afternoon to check out the scene, and what a scene it was! We had a
great time people watching and then took the bus back to town which was actually
quite fun as well due to the crowd. We greatly enjoyed the nightlife on the
island. Everywhere we went was like a giant party.</p>

Santorini</p>
When we arrived at the Porto Fira Suites in
Santorini, the sight took our breath away. This hotel is so gorgeous – perched
in the cliffs overlooking the caldera and the beautiful sunset – and the people
who work there could not have been nicer. We sat on our balcony with the two
bottles of wine from the mini bar and enjoyed one of the most magical moments of
the trip – a sunset view with classical music from a nearby restaurant floating
over the cliffs. I will treasure that memory forever. The hotel is in a great
location in Fira, and we had an amazing dinner at the nearby Archipelago
restaurant. The tomato balls, the specialty of the island, were fantastic and
the wine was great. We rented a car and drove around this beautiful island,
visiting a few wineries along the way (even making friends at the winery with
whom we plan to meet up at home!) and ending up in Oia for dinner. We went to
Candouni
for dinner as recommended on these boards. We found it to be
overall just OK, and we regretted not having dinner on the caldera. My food was
great – the Butter Risotto – but my husband didn’t particularly enjoy his lamb.
It also seemed a shame not to enjoy a view in a place like Santorini. </p>

The highlight of our trip was a sail with Blue Lagoon
around the island. This was amazing. There were three other couples on the boat
and we all had a great time together. Ted Stathis is the name of the captain
(although there are two boats and he was on the other - they were filming a show
for the Food Network with Giada whom we met when we jumped off to swim!) The
sail lasts about 5 hours and in addition to seeing the incredible views, it was
fun to jump off and swim. As the sun begins to set, they grill the most amazing
dinner of calamari, prawns and pork chops accompanied by salads and pasta and
fabulous wine. This was one of our favorite parts of our whole trip. We were so
sad to leave Santorini and wished we had given ourselves more time there. Three
nights was not enough. </p>

Athens</p>
We stayed at the Elektra Palace hotel in The Plaka
which was great. We had a balcony overlooking the Acropolis and we sat with a
bottle of wine watching the sun set behind it (sunsets and wine were a big part
of our trip!) The location of the hotel is great, although the people at check
in were not. We were told that our room wasn’t ready but that they could
guarantee that it would be at noon. Since it was only 25 minutes away, we sat
and waited because we were really anxious to get changed and drop our stuff off
before heading out. Noon came and went and they said “Sorry – still not ready.”
No explanation. We just changed in the lobby bathroom and set out for the day.
Athens is fascinating with so much to see, and we really enjoyed all of the
sights. It was HOT as could be, however. That night we ate at an interesting
restaurant WAY off the beaten path as recommended by the concierge. While we
enjoyed it, I don’t know that I would recommend it to others because it was so
far away. It did have rooftop dining with a view of the Acropolis, which was our
reason for choosing it. It was also quite affordable. The name is Brachera.</p>

Istanbul</p>
What an amazing city. We loved the Yesil Ev hotel.
The people could not have been more gracious or accommodating. We enjoyed all of
the major sites – the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace,
Underground Cistern
, etc. We even enjoyed the Grand Bazaar although
neither of us were big into the whole bargaining thing. It made us feel that we
were certainly overpaying and at BEST would get a fair price, never a deal. We
bought some beautiful things, however, including mother of pearl inlayed jewelry
boxes and beautiful ceramics. </p>

What we couldn’t stand were the people bothering us in the
Sultanahmet area. They try to engage you in conversation so that they can
eventually take you to a carpet store of offer to be your guide or something.
They are extremely aggressive and don’t take no for an answer. On our first day,
the call to prayer began and we were stopped dead in our tracks, never having
heard anything so beautiful in our lives. The this guy comes up to pull one of
these annoying sales pitches and I was quite firm in telling him that I had
waited 27 years to hear the call to prayer and could he please not ruin it for
me. He kept on talking saying that I would hear it again later couldn’t he just
talk to us about where we were from. I was so incensed; we just walked away with
him trailing us for a good 3 minutes despite my quite rude comments along the
way. It kind of ruined a magical moment for us. We quickly learned not to even
pretend to be polite with these people. </p>

Aside from these men, however, we found the Turkish
people
to be such incredibly kind, interesting people. We had so much fun
chatting with our waiters everywhere we went. We were nervous about the kind of
reaction we would get as Americans in the middle of an unpopular war, but
everyone we met made a real point of telling us how they love Americans and were
so glad that we were visiting their country, which apparently took a big hit to
the tourism industry after 9-11. This was told to us on various occasions by
shopkeepers, hotel workers, etc. We went to this great little spot on a
pedestrian street – I wish I could remember the name but it is the street that
goes uphill from the entrance to the Hagia Sophia – and it is this quaint little
spot with seats almost on the ground. We ordered a water pipe and some fabulous
Turkish bread and spent a great few hours there chatting with our waiters, one
of whom was just learning English and was so excited to practice on us. They
were preparing for a religious holiday and (pardon my ignorance on the subject)
were eating these special cookies which they shared with us. For dinner, we
wanted someplace with a great view and asked at our hotel for a recommendation.
They ended up recommending this really wonderful place on the water at an old
police station called Feriye Lokantasi. In addition to the incredible
food and wine, there was a wedding going on the other side of the police station
which was so exciting to see and hear. At one point during dinner, a barge
pulled up and started shooting off fireworks in honor of the couple. It was
amazing. </p>

The next night we ate a place that was to become our
favorite location in the entire city. A the top of the Seven Hills Hotel,
there is a rooftop café with the greatest view in the city. With the Bospohorus
on one side, and The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia on the other, it was one of
the most beautiful places we’d seen. From the glowing sunset to the lighting of
the sights after dark, all while enjoying the beautiful call to prayer, this was
truly a highlight of the trip. The waiters bring you shawls after sunset and
again, these people couldn’t have been nicer. For dinner, they bring out trays
and you basically point at whatever it is you want. I had grilled prawns that
were incredible. We liked this place so much that we returned here twice more
for sunset drinks. We took a boat trip down the Bospohorus and really
enjoyed that. At the end they took us to a carpet store for a demonstration
which was fine, except the salesmen acted as if he was furious that we didn’t
want to buy anything at the end. I found that to be terribly annoying since we
were brought there on a tour and that stop wasn’t ever mentioned previously. It
was interesting to see, but I could have done without the pushy theatrics. </p>

Our last night in Istanbul, we went to The Orient House
for the belly dancing / whirling dervish show. You couldn’t get
anymore touristy, but we really enjoyed ourselves. We also decided to treat
ourselves to a night at The Four Seasons for our final night. What a
mistake. We were shocked to find that it is a rather business like hotel which
really lacked anything at all to account for the extremely high prices. The
concierge was lovely as could be, and yes we had a gorgeous bathroom, but I
would simply not recommend it for anyone not on an expense account. We found
Yesil Ev to have much more charm for a third the price. I’m not sure I
understand why the 4S rates so highly on all travel guides lists – there aren’t
any real amenities to speak of – no pool, and just a small little gym. This was
quite disappointing since we’ve had great luck with 4 Seasons in the past. We
were also the youngest people there by decades, which I suppose is due to the
prices. This was a big splurge for us, and it just wasn’t worth it. </p>

Overall, I would say Istanbul is one of the most exotic, exciting places we have ever been. </p>

Cappadocia</p>
Speaking of exotic… we loved this part of the country with
the bizarre landscape. Our hotel, Esbelli Evi, was absolutely beautiful.
We had a mystifying thing happen though – on our first night, we got locked out
of the hotel. They changed the locks, and that was it. My husband had to scale
the wall to get us in. When we told the owner the next day, he said “Oh yeah, we
changed the locks.” That’s it! No apology, nothing. He was not very friendly in
general. We asked him to make a reservation for a whirling dervish show. When we
asked him about it later he said he had forgotten to do so. End of story. The
younger men who worked at the hotel, on the other hand, could not have been
nicer. They were very friendly and helpful. Breakfasts were wonderful. Also,
physically, this hotel is just phenomenal. Beware of very low doorways, however.
My husband is 6’2” and whacked his head pretty hard a few times. We really
enjoyed drinking wine on the patio, chatting with other travelers. We rented a
car and drove all around, enjoying the underground cities, the Goreme
Open Air Museum
, etc. One of the real highlights, however, was the hot
air balloon ride at dawn
. This was another incredible experience that we
will never forget. Our company, Kapadokya Balloons, was the best. We ate
at a restaurant in Ugrup called Somine… unfortunately this stop gave my
husband food poisoning. He was violently ill for 24 hours – our last day in
Turkey. He and I ate the exact same thing everywhere except for here, which is
how we know it was the cause of his troubles. Given that, I can’t say I would
recommend it! </p>

Overall, we agreed that Greece and Turkey were two of the
most amazing places we have ever visited, and we have been to a great number of
places throughout the world. The food and wine were wonderful, the people
amazing, and the scenery out of this world. We will definitely return some day!</p>


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Old Sep 18th, 2006, 09:42 AM
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Sorry about the formatting - I keep trying to fix it but it insists on inserting random symbols!
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Old Sep 18th, 2006, 10:23 AM
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I loved your report! Thank you for taking the time to write. Of course I have questions. How did you find Blue Lagoon and book? I did a Google search and found an agency but wondered if there was a direct website. Secondly, how did you get from Greece to Turkey? Did you go from Cappadoccia and fly out of Istanbul. Where and how did you rent your car? Glad you had a great time> I can hardly stand the wait!
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Old Sep 18th, 2006, 12:17 PM
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I actually booked the sail through this site:

http://www.greektravel.com/greekisla...ling/index.htm

You will absolutely LOVE this. It is a must do! In terms of travel from Greece to Turkey, we actually flew from Athens to Istanbul, then flew to Cappadocia and back to Istanbul for a night before returning home. The car rental was done through Auto Europe which we just booked online - if you need automatic, you should probably rent well in advance. They are pretty scarce out there. You are going to have a wonderful time!!
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Old Sep 18th, 2006, 12:38 PM
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Thank you. Also wanted to mention that your observations about the Esbelli owner are suprising. He always gets such high marks in trip reviews and in the guidebooks. We are also planning to stay there.
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Old Sep 18th, 2006, 12:48 PM
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I was so surprised at this as well! When I told my husband that he was famous for his friendliness and hospitatlity, he laughed with surprise. I don't know if this was an off time for him. Don't let it worry you - you will love the hotel and the whole experience. I think I might not have even noticed if I hadn't been expecting him to be different. As long as you don't get locked out, you should be fine!
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Old Sep 18th, 2006, 03:02 PM
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BTW, I noticed on a website that I can across that Esbelli has opened some separate suite buildings. Did you happen to see them. I think this must be why we got a quote for a family room that was very reasonable and a much higher one for a "suite" with a kitchen. I just wonder if they are separate enough not to be able to meet other guests and worthe the difference in the price.
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Old Sep 20th, 2006, 05:47 AM
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You know I honestly didn't notice... the whole place looked pretty small. I would go for the lower rate if you can get it and you certainly won't feel far away from anyone else!
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Old Sep 20th, 2006, 07:46 AM
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Phenomenal trip and report! Thanks.

Greece is on our radar big time for Summer 2008 so this is helpful. I'm not really researching yet, but this caught my eye. I would love to also visit Turkey, but I was thinking it would be too much to do both on the same trip.....how did you find the moving about? Could you tell a little more about the logistics of getting from place to place and the time involved (ie. which airlines, timing)? Also, how many nights did you spend each place and would you do more or less (other than Santorini which it seems you wished you stayed longer)?
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Old Sep 20th, 2006, 08:17 PM
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ttt
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Old Sep 21st, 2006, 06:50 AM
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Hi fun4all4,

I have to say - it was a lot of travel and we were a little tired at the end, but only because we tried to do so much in such a short period of time. We were only in Mykonos 2 nights, Santorini 3, Athens 1, Istanbul 2, Cappadocia 2 and then Istanbul 1.

I think it is definitely doable to combine the two countries, but I would make sure you have a little more time to spend in each.

I honestly think the time we spent in each location was plenty for us with the exception of Santorini (I could have stayed 5 nights there!) but the flights between were a huge pain.

We flew from NYC to Athens then directly to Mykonos which was fine, then took the ferry to Santorini which was also fine and easier than flying. It was the quick flight to Athens for the one night stay and the quick flight the next day to Istanbul that got us, especially knowing that we would only have two nights before packing up and doing it again. We needed to split up Istanbul so that we could make our return flight back to NYC. Flying back from Cappadocia to Istanbul then to NYC wouldn't have allowed us enough time to make the connection. I also planned all flights for very early in the morning so that we'd have all day at our next location - that was a mistake. We ended up eating dinner late and enjoying the nightlife so much that the next day was pretty miserable when that 5am wake up call came around!

On the other hand, our thought was that we don't get to travel that much anymore with our work schedules and we didn't know when we'd have a chance to return to that part of the world. Therefore we thought it would be a shame to only see one, and they were indeed quite different.

Bottom line - if you have a little more time than we did, do it! And if you don't, you can still do it, just plan your flights for a bit later in the day to give you time to relax and be on vacation.

Best of luck in your planning!
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Old Oct 30th, 2006, 11:27 AM
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Great Trip Report Hawaiimoon!

I'm planning a trip to Turkey next September and considering adding on 4-5 and going to 1 or 2 Greek Islands.

Santorini and Mykonos have come up as options. From what you have posted sounds like I might do well with choosing Santorini for the whole 4 or 5 days!
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Old Oct 30th, 2006, 12:10 PM
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Hawaiimoon,

When or what dates were you in Greece and Turkey?

We're thinking of doing a day trip to Turkey from Rhodes.

Thanks!
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Old Nov 2nd, 2006, 10:43 AM
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I am so glad you liked Turkey. I just returned from my 3rd trip and love Istanbul more each and every time. This time I finally cruised the Bosporus (last time it was cold and rainy) and saw the mosaics at the Kariye Museum. I wish I had seen your info about the Seven Hills restaurant because I would have loved to go there but hey, next time...

Talking about the call to prayer...it is just magical. I love it each and every time. Sorry your first instance was marred by that annoying salesmen.

The Turkish people are WONDERFUL. They are friendly to adults but they are crazy about children. Both times I have been in Istanbul, I've tagged along with friends who have small children. The waiters look after the children during meals, bring them treats, etc.

This trip was right in the middle of Ramadan and it was great to see all the families with their picnic baskets spread out in the park situated between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque at dusk; it was such a festive time.

Turkey is a great destination for families!

Thanks again for the report!

Deb
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Old Nov 2nd, 2006, 12:56 PM
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What a great trip, Hawaiimoon5! Bookmarking this so that I can read it more thoroughly later...
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Old Nov 7th, 2006, 11:32 AM
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I read your comments with interest, having just returned from Turkey. My wife and I also had dinner at Somine. I'm sorry your husband was ill, but your conclusion that it was caused by what he ate becasue you had different dishes doesn't necessarily follow.

Having been a chef for years, working on food safety issues for a major food company and having just observed the restaurant, I would be surprised. Some illness while traveling comes from food but more often comes from bacteria on dishes or utensils. Illness from food usually isn't caused from one dish but from sanitation issues in a kitchen. No matter what the dish, sanitation can cause everyone to be ill.

Another culprit is food storage under proper temperature. A few years ago we were in Africa, stuck in an airport with very little to eat. Almost everyone in the group ate sandwiches with mayo stored in the open. I would only let the people with me eat packaged nuts. You guessed, those who ate the sandwiches were sick for days.

More often illness can be traced to touching something and then transferring bacteria to one's mouth or eyes. This is also true for catching the "common cold" -- people touch a door knob and then wipe their mouth or eye. Food illness tends to last for a few days, I'd guess your husband "picked up" a local bacteria.

My advice is to never eat anything, even a candy bar, without washing hands. Also, never taste anything that is out in the open -- breath mints in restaurant cash register areas have been found to have bacteria counts thousands of times above normal. Where it isn't convenient, use bacterial wipes -- I take dozens on trips.

As for Somine, my wife and I thought it was the best restaurant we visited in Turkey for food quality, authenic ingredients and overall value. We went to some great restaurants in other cities that were much more expensive and still preferred Somine.

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Old Nov 15th, 2006, 05:34 AM
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I agree with Chef Harry....
Somine probably the best restaurnat in the region. Living in Cappadocia and being in the travel & hospitality business we usually do not have much time to enjoy cooking at home...so you guess ? we eat a lot at Somine. Sometimes 5 night a week. I do enjoy every dish I have eaten there though altough they add many new stuff in their menu by know I know all by hearth their food is good, tasty and ingredients used are the best quality available. Sometimes you eat something earlier in the day and the results can be felt later in the day. Probably the incident mentioned could coused like that.
For the new comers to Cappadocia; Try Testi Kebab at Somine you won't regret.
Happy travelling and Bon a petite....

Murat
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