Trip Report-OAT tour of Turkey

Old Oct 9th, 2007, 12:32 PM
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Trip Report-OAT tour of Turkey

Hi Everyone,

I returned recently from a three-week tour (8/31-9/22/07) of Turkey with Overseas Adventure Travel (www.oattravel.com) called “Magical Hideaways of Turkey”. Before I begin working on my photos (I took almost 1400—so I have lots of deleting and editing to do), I thought I’d send out this relatively brief description of my trip to those of you who might be interested. This tour had been on my “to-do” list for quite some time, and it didn’t disappoint.
What made this trip so interesting was the sheer diversity of the tour. We visited the southwestern countryside near the Syrian border, the metropolitan and sophisticated city of Istanbul in the northeast, the fascinating scenery of Cappadocia in the center of the country, the rural countryside further south, the Mediterranean seacoast, and finally the ancient Roman city of Ephesus.
The southwest was very different than the rest of the country. It was populated mainly by Arabs and Kurds, and was very conservative. Most of the women were totally covered—or at least wore headscarves. The majority of tourists we saw there were Syrians. We visited sites that ranged from the ancient (its history dates back to 1600 BC) city of Harran to the recent dam on the Euphrates River. This dam is one of 22 built in the last few years on the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. The project has radically changed the ecology of the area. What was once dry, dusty land not really suitable for crops has become an irrigated garden of plenty. However, the change from a dry to a moist climate has also brought disease—an outbreak of malaria. We visited many early Christian sites, saw exquisite Roman mosaics that had been excavated from a flooded city, and even a battlefield of Alexander the Great. During our cruise on the Euphrates River, I was surprised with a birthday cake! Nice way to celebrate a birthday. The highlight of this part of the country was a hike to the top of Mt. Nemrut—a World Heritage Site that has become a symbol of Turkey. This is the burial ground of an ancient king (64-38BC) who had delusions of grandeur. He felt himself equal to the gods, and thus erected giant statues of himself along with several Greek and Persian gods. After several earthquakes, the heads of these statues have all fallen off their bodies. Quite an unusual sight!
After 5 nights in the southwest, we flew back to Istanbul for 3 nights. Istanbul is a beautiful city located on the Bosphorus—a channel that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and Mediterranean. In fact, the Bosphorus is the dividing line between Europe and Asia. We had a busy three days—visiting wonderful places such as the Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, and Sophia Hagia. The latter was my favorite. It was built in 537AD, when Turkey was Christian, and was considered the greatest church in Christendom until Constantinople (now Istanbul) was conquered in 1453 and St. Sophia was converted into a mosque. It is now a museum. Some other interesting activities included a cruise on the Bosphorus and pampering in a famous Turkish Bath.
Next on our itinerary was the fascinating scenery of Cappadocia, where we spent 3 nights. The landscape consists of strange formations of volcanic tuff that have been sculpted over the millennia into fantastic shapes—called fairy chimneys, mushrooms, etc--by water and erosion. Many of them had been carved out and made into homes. We even visited an entire underground city there (8 levels deep), which had once been inhabited by Christians hiding from Arab invaders. I’ll always remember our early morning hot air balloon ride over this wondrous landscape and the evening religious ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes. Yes—they really do whirl.
Our long drive toward the Mediterranean coast was broken up by an overnight stay in a village home. Actually, our group of 12 stayed in two adjacent family homes. It was an interesting introduction to a typical Turkish family, if not the most comfortable lodgings. Our overnight there coincided with the first day of Ramadan, and we were awakened by village drummers at 3:00AM. These acted as the village “alarm clock”, awakening the villagers so that they could eat before sunrise. During the month of Ramadan, practicing Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink between sunrise and sunset! Luckily, we didn’t have to abide by this—and actually, many Turks did not either. As our guide said, many Turks are “lukewarm Muslims”.
We continued on toward the coast, stopping at the wonderful Roman (161AD) theater at Aspendos along the way. Our interesting hotel in Antalya was within the citadel area—the oldest part of this beautiful seaside city. While there, we took a day trip to the ruins of the ancient city of Perge (established around the 13th C BC, and enjoyed some free time for souvenir shopping and relaxation.
The next segment of our tour was a 5 night cruise on a typical Turkish sailboat called a gulet. Before boarding at Fethiye, we had some more sight-seeing to do, including another ancient city called Myra dating back to the 5th C BC, the Church of St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus), and a 5th C BC Lycean city that had collapsed into the sea in the 2nd C AD due to earthquakes. The cruise up the “turquoise coast” (the water was truly turquoise) was wonderful and relaxing. We swam, enjoyed the gorgeous mountain & harbor scenery, ate, napped, read, played games and periodically went ashore for hiking to various sites.
We ended the trip with 2 nights in Kusadasi, on the Aegean Sea, from which we visited the nearby sites of the Basilica of St. John and Ephasus. Ephasus is considered the best-preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterranean, and it certainly impressed me! Its earliest history dates from before 800 BC, but most of what remains is from the Roman period when it was the capital of Asia Minor. During this time, it attracted many Christians, including St John, the Virgin Mary, and St Paul.
Our guide, a tiny but strong young woman named Rana, was energetic, enthusiastic, accommodating, and an excellent lecturer. She covered a wide range of topics from the historical to the religious to the current political climate. She was one of the best guides I have ever had on my trips. We also had a great group of people on the tour-- 5 couples and 3 singles (including myself) for a total of 13, ranging in age from 57 to 82. For the southwestern segment, a “pre-trip optional tour”, there were only 8 of us plus our guide. An additional 5 joined us in Istanbul. We all got along very well, and everyone was friendly, cooperative and non-complaining. Unfortunately, an accident resulted in one of the couples leaving us in Cappadocia. Judy fell down some steps descending from a climb to the top of Uchisar Castle. She broke her arm and gashed her face—requiring 4 stitches. They flew back home to NYC so that she could get better medical attention. Luckily, they had travel insurance. They didn’t buy it through the company which works with OAT, though, which made everything much more complicated, and it was 2-3 days before they completed all the necessary arrangements to get home. I want to mention some fellow travelers who were very impressive. My roommate, Ida, had broken a bone in her foot 3 weeks before the start of the trip, but still managed to do almost everything despite a “boot” cast on her foot. She used two walking sticks to help her along. Mary and John were in their early 80’s, but were physically in quite good shape and managed most of the activities. John was especially eager to climb Mt. Nemrut on this, his 3rd trip to Turkey, but shortness of breath caused him to reluctantly turn back. He had had a heart attack a couple months earlier, so couldn’t chance it. Ed had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease several years ago. He is very determined to travel as much of the world as possible while he is able, and he, too, managed most of the trip. The hiking was quite strenuous, however, and they had to skip most of it. Some of the rest of us also skipped a couple hikes toward the end. The paths were just goat trails, and very uneven, rocky, and usually steep. Hiking boots and hiking sticks were a great help.
Our hotels were very good—generally 3 or 4 star—interesting and in good locations. The cabins in our gulet boat were, of course, small but quite comfortable. Ida and I were able to have our own cabins since the one couple left the tour, so we weren’t so cramped. There was plenty of room on the fore and aft decks for everyone to relax in comfort. Some people even slept up on deck, since the cabins could get rather warm at night.
The food was much better than I expected. Kebabs were a common main dish, but I was most impressed with the abundance of fresh fruits and wonderful breads. We ate breakfast and most dinners in our hotels, where the food wasn’t as interesting. However, Rana had scouted out wonderful little lunch places for us with delicious, varied, and inexpensive Turkish food. We all agreed that the cooking on the boat was the best. The Turkish beer was good (if a little too strong for me) but the local wines were so-so and pretty expensive. However, we didn’t let that deter us from having a glass of wine with dinner.
I would highly recommend this trip—especially for those interested in the historical sites—emphasizing the early Christian and Roman/Byzantium periods. I learned so much about the history of this part of the world—both during the trip and in my pre-trip research. My only disappointment was not having more meaningful contact with the Turkish people. We did have the home stay, tea with a family in Harran, and banter with many local shopkeepers, but I would have liked more spontaneous walks in small villages. Oh--and the weather in the southwest was terribly hot and humid--over 100F most days! It did curtail some of our activities. However, it had moderated for our cruise in the gulet, which was really special and the highlight of my trip.
If you are interested in receiving the detailed trip report that I will write up later and/or the link to my photos, let me know at [email protected]

Karin
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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 01:29 PM
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Thanks so much for this report, Karin! My DH and I were in Turkey & Greece last month, too, and your report brought back some very good memories.

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Old Oct 9th, 2007, 01:57 PM
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Thanks for the report. I am travelling with OAT in January (Thailand, Cambodia) and am glad that the overall impression seems to be very good.
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Old Oct 10th, 2007, 01:06 PM
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Correction to my report. I meant to say that the beginning of the tour was to the southeast of the country--not the southwest. Thanks, Tugrul, for Emailing me with that correction.
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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 12:16 PM
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Dear Karin
I am so glad that you liked my country.
Tugrul
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Old Jan 15th, 2008, 10:00 PM
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Can you tell me the age range of your tour group? And did you find it gave you any or enough independence? We are considering this tour vs. Cappadocia Tours vs doing a gulet with Peter Sommers or Tussock and touring with private guide. Any thoughts?? We are in our early 50's,independent travelers and fairly active. But we have been told a tour/guide are needed in Turkey. Thanks
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Old Jan 15th, 2008, 10:14 PM
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lajolla - who told you that a tour/guide is needed in Turkey? The first time I went was with a tour (with a large group of friends) and that was fine. But the other 2 times I've gone, we've done it ourselves.

Unless you want to do something unusual, I found Turkey easy. It really is one of my favorite places. Last time we rented a car and found the roads well maintained and well marked (even found a roadside McDonald's and Starbucks!).

You might want to check out the Turkey Travel Planner website. It offers a lot of options for travelers.
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Old Jan 20th, 2008, 02:04 PM
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I also took the OAT tour of Turkey in October and thoroughly enjoyed it. Ages ranged from late 40's to early 70's, and the older travelers were the most active. This trip has a great itinerary and includes some fairly challenging hikes for the active ones. The guides there are exceptional and everything we did was worthwhile. If you decide to take this tour, I can provide you with a number so that you get a discount for each person. Just email me.
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Old Feb 11th, 2008, 07:43 AM
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Karin,
It sounds like you had a wonderful time and provided us with great information. We are considering the same trip for May. In Jan. of this year, we did an OAT Thailand/Cambodia trip and really enjoyed it. The only thing that I would have to "complain" about is that we had very little free time on our own to explore. My question is, did you have time to wander around on your own? Also, I'm not a hiker, can you stay behind in a village and explore on your own or are you in the middle of nowhere and stuck doing nothing. OAT was a great trip, but really do like haveing time to do our own thing....could you on this trip. Thank you and happy traveling.
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Old Feb 11th, 2008, 04:31 PM
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Hi Southeastern, I saw your questions about the OAT trip to Turkey and thought perhaps I could answer them since we took that same trip last October. It is a wonderful trip, with lots of variety. The hikes are optional. My husband is not a hiker, and either spent the time in a village or on the boat for the ones that were done from the coast. There is some free time, depending, for instance, on whether you do the optional tour in Istanbul. I wouldn't say there is a lot of free time, but there's so much to see that I was always glad to go with the guide. We're going on the Thailand/Cambodia trip in November. Feel free to email me if you have any questions.



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