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Trip Report Short trip report – just a few tips for Istanbul, Goreme and Selcuk

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Since there are so many great trip reports I won’t go into great detail but I will concentrate on tips that I can offer that might help other travelers.

Turkish Airlines is great! We could not believe they served food for 50 minute flights even in coach. We booked business class for a couple of our segments since coach was almost as expensive and the food was great…amazing that they can serve a meal so fast that is very good. All of our flights were reasonably on time and our luggage came out fairly quickly. US airlines could learn a lot.

First Stop – Goreme – We stayed at the Kelebek and really liked our choice. Staying in Goreme seemed much better than Urgup after we saw both. Goreme is a nice quiet tourist spot that is a reasonable walking distance or a short cab ride to many of the valleys. Our best meal was at the Local Restaurant. We also ate at our hotel and Alaturka which were fine too.

We had a guide to go to the Open Air Museum which we thought added a lot to our visit. The hotel offered a tour each afternoon for 20 TL which includes a guide, entrance and transportation. It seemed like a great deal and we were the only guests on the tour which was even better.

At the hotel’s suggestion we booked a one hour (short) balloon ride with Sultan Balloons. The manager told us he liked their pilot the best and we agreed that he is great. The pilot opened his own company while we were in town so you will now find him, Mustafa, at Butterfly Balloons. The Balloon ride was the highpoint of this part of the trip. As an aside, a couple we met booked a long ride with Kapadokya Balloons and they seemed really disappointed in their ride. They said it was shorter than they expected and they did not see much. We felt like we saw most of the valleys on our short ride so I guess it depends on the pilot and their choice for a take off spot since the balloon can only go the way the wind blows. Perhaps the other couple had higher expectations since they paid much more but I think it means that the short ride is the best choice.

We found the Pigeon Valley difficult to navigate but had no problems in the Love, Rose or Red Valleys. We hired a private guide for a day trip to Kaymakli, Mustafapasa and the Keslik Monastery. It was interesting but a long ride for the sites we saw. I much preferred the area around Goreme and would have explored more of the valleys in hindsight.

We stayed three nights in Goreme and thought it was about the right amount of time unless you wanted to just relax in the scenery.

Next stop – Izmir – to Selcuk

We stayed at the Hotel Bella and were happy with the location and the staff. Everyone was very helpful and the food on the rooftop was some of the best we had during our trip. Our room was tiny and hard to walk through but for one night the location was perfect. We hired a private guide from the hotel for Ephesus and we were glad to have someone explain things to us. The guide book would not have been as useful. The site gets so crowded by 11 that it is difficult to walk around. The museum and the St. John Basilica ruins were interesting as well.

Next stop – we visited with some Turkish friends in Yalikavak on the Bodrum peninsula. Wow what a beautiful spot for your summer home. We toured the castle in Bodrum and the amphitheater. Both were interesting to see but the best part was the relaxing.

Next we returned to Istanbul for 5 nights at the Seven Dreams Hotel. The hotel was very nice and really modern compared to others in the area. It is owned by the same people who own the Seven Hills Hotel. I posted a review under Seven Dreams on trip advisor if you are interested. We loved the place. It was a combination of great location, nice staff and a fresh renovation.

Probably my best tips for Istanbul are to use the public transit system and get the Rick Steves book and use his tours. The book helped us to manage our time and we learned more information from that book than any other source.

Monday we arrived at the hotel around 2 and went straight to the Topaki Palace. We rented the audio guide since they were recommended to us but we got so much more information from the Rick Steves book including maps which helped us to navigate the Palace. We would have been wandering a lot without the book. The best thing I can say about the audio guide is that it played music to put you in the mood but it was pricey for that purpose. We had dinner on the roof of our hotel, it was included with our room since we stayed for 5 nights and we thought it was very good.

Tuesday was another beautiful sunny day so we decided to go on the Bosphorus cruise since the weather could change. We went on the public ferry and got there really early (a bit over an hour before) and lined up immediately. We got our second choice of seats which probably turned out to be the best seats anyway. We were on the top level in the last row on the European side for the way up the river and sat in the same seats for the return on the Asian side. The views are great on the trip and the hike up to the fortress ruins offer a great view of the Black Sea. We were really put off by the aggressive waiters trying to get us into their restaurants and ended up with some stuff from the bakery and grocery for lunch. We had the same reaction to most of the sales people in Istanbul. I can’t imagine that they really get business that way…seems to me they would scare people off if you can’t stop to take a look at the menu or their merchandise. That night we had dinner at the Meat House around the corner from our hotel and enjoyed the Chicken Casserole.

Wednesday - We visited the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Cistern, and the Hippodrome. That afternoon we went over to the Asian side to have dinner with our friends. What a long drive that was. If I had that do to over, I would take the ferry. The traffic everywhere is just crazy. All of the streets in the area near the Hagia Sofia were one way streets and apparently they were all going the opposite direction until the week we were there. No taxi drivers or our local friends could find our hotel on the first try. We generally had taxis drop us at main sites and walked back to the hotel since it would cost more getting around the one way streets than it did to get across town. Public transit worked the best. The trams are packed but move quickly.

Thursday – We visited the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market and the Suleyman Mosque (the Mosque is still closed but you can visit the mausoleums which are interesting). Then we had lunch at Hamdi which does have a nice view but we found another place we liked better that afternoon. Later we went on a search for the best view of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia with the Sea of Marama in the background. We decided that the Golden Horn Hotel was the best and got some excellent photos on their balcony over freshly squeezed juices. We also went to the Archeological Museum and thought it was worth the time to visit. It could have been really time consuming without the guidebook but seeing the highpoints was rather quick

Friday we took a cab to the Chora Church – the frescos are really wonderful and worth the cab ride. On our return we had the cab driver drop us off near the Galata Bridge since we were stuck in horrible traffic. From there we took the tram to Kabatas and walked the short distance to Dolmabache Palace. We thought that the public rooms in the palace were some of the finest we have seen in Europe. I would definitely recommend taking the time to visit. That night we had dinner at one of the restaurants in the Flower Passage with our local friends. It amazed us that they could order dinner without any menus or price lists and pay so little. We were certain if we were there without them we would have paid much more for dinner.

All in all it was a great trip. We found all of the people we encountered to be friendly and the sites were fabulous. The hotel staff was wonderful everywhere we stayed. No request seemed too much to ask. We hope to return to see more of this country.

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