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Trip Report: Turkey, May 2008

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Aug 22nd, 2008, 04:47 PM
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Trip Report: Turkey, May 2008

This year we decided to travel a little earlier than usual and visit Turkey. Our flights were as follows: SFO to NYC--RT $674 (spent a few days there with family), NYC to Paris (Air India)--RT $1120, Paris to Basel via TGV--$112, Basel to Istanbul--RT $60, Istanbul to Izmir--$120, drive from Izmir to Kayseri in Cappadocia, Kayseri to Istanbul--$68. Our total costs for flights and connection Paris-Basel were: $2154.

A note: I give prices wherever possible because that is the only way the reader can have an idea of potential costs and, as the narrative develops, what we consider cheap or expensive and eventually what our tastes may be. Clearly we have specific requirements because we usually plan to spend the second half of our travel vacation in France. My recollection that an open jaw ticket NYC-Istanbul Paris-NYC would have been very close to what we paid including all the extra legs. More creative searchers might find better prices. All of the plane tickets were purchased in January or February, and the train ticket was purchased as soon as PREM tickets became available. For later readers: These are Spring 2008 prices.

Someone much younger than we are could cross the Atlantic, arrive in Paris in the morning, take the train to Basel in the afternoon and then the night flight to Istanbul to arrive in Istanbul before daybreak. But we were unwilling to submit ourselves to such a regimen and my wife wanted to spend two nights in a hotel in Paris rather than stay with friends and the obligations that this entails. The Hotel Chopin (http://hotelbretonnerie.com/chopin.htm) in the middle of the passage Panorama was what she wanted and that is what she got. The room had no view, the window giving into an air shaft, the bathroom was recently renovated and was spotless, but the room itself was a little tired. We probably could have found a cheaper two star hotel elsewhere, but it did not have the appeal of a hotel in the middle of a passage.

From Paris we took the TGV to Basel, stored our luggage in the train station (6 to 8 CHF depending on the size of the locker), went to the tourist information, and then walked to the center of town and then to the music museum above the Barfüsserplatz. The museum is in the former prison (one cell is kept as it was) and has a wonderful collection of old instruments and opportunities to hear how they sounded. We arrive an hour before closing time, so we were let in for free. After the museum we ate at a nearby restaurant, good food but expensive as everywhere is Switzerland, and then went to the airport to catch our flight to Istanbul (the bus leaves from the central train station and is part of the municipal system--more on that in the trip report for the European part of the trip).

We took EasyJet to Istanbul and landed at Istanbul Sabiha Gocken International Airport on the Asian side of the city. We did not realize what this implied: a taxi ride to Istanbul is very expensive. But since there are quite a few flights arriving at that early hour, it is possible to negotiate a ride with the vans who are picking up someone else. While I was getting Turkish money, my wife was offered a ride for 20€ a person. She declined vigorously, as if she knew what she was doing. An immediate counteroffer came of 10€ per person, which we accepted. If one is not predisposed to such an uncertain situation, it might be best to arrange for a ride through the hotel. We were lucky and were the first ones dropped off in Istanbul. I thought that this told me how to operate to get to the city from that airport, but I have another tale to tell when arriving from Kayseri.

When landing in Istanbul, make sure that you have euros, dollars or Turkish lire to pay for the visa (cash only). There are no ATMs before going through passport control and one Danish national did not have any of the money specified and had great difficulty in getting the Turkish lire to pay for her tourist visa. But aside from having euros or dollars for the visa, we used our ATM card and Visa card exclusively. There are ATMs everywhere. We had no problems.

The three main guidebooks we used were Fodor's Turkey, the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: Turkey and Rick Steves' Istanbul. In addition we used recommendations from friends and information gleaned for the Internet, including this site. We are not absolutely systematic about using guides, with the exception of the Rick Steves'--to be explained in the Istanbul section. They serve mainly as general indications of what we should do, and then we do our own exploring.

Our basic itinerary was divided into three common parts: Istanbul, Roman ruins, and Cappadocia. We decided to visit Istanbul mainly at the end of our tour, but did spend two nights at the beginning as a way of recovering from all the international travel.

We reserved a room at the Hali Hotel (http://www.halihotel.com/) in the Sultanahmet area at the recommendation of friends of ours who had stayed there a few years ago. The official price per room is 80 or 90€ per night, but were given an immediate discount of 65€ per night, but paid in cash. We paid for the night when we would arrive around 5 a.m. and thus had a place to grab some sleep before visiting Istanbul for the day. The location is great (see photo no. 3), we had nice help from one man at the front desk, I believe that the rooms have AC which we never used, but they are a little tired. It's clean but a little worn--not for those looking for luxury. Our first room had two single beds, so we specified that we wanted a double bed when we were returning at the end of our tour.

We anticipated being tired from all our traveling, so instead of visiting Istanbul itself, we spent our one day there taking the boat ride to the Black Sea and back. It was just the right thing to do. We ate at the end stop which is a fishing village full of tourist restaurant serving mainly fish. We ate in one of them; it was OK, and I discovered that grilled mussels are really not worthwhile. We went back to Istanbul, had a nice meal that evening (more details in the main Istanbul section) and back to the hotel. The next morning, the owner of the hotel drove us to Istanbul Ataturk International Airport for 20 TRY, where we caught an ONUR Air flight to Izmir.
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Aug 22nd, 2008, 04:50 PM
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My printout of the car rental agreement (Economy Car Rental--221€ for 10 days) was so weak that I did not notice the name of the actual rental company. After spending a few anxious moments trying to find the rental company inside and outside the airport, a clerk at another rental agency figured out that we wanted the Decar rental agency which was two counters down. From then on everything went smoothly. We got the car, which was a Kia Rio standard shift with a diesel engine--bigger than the VW Golf that we anticipated (here's a photo of the trunk: http://europetogo.yuku.com/reply/8810#reply-8810) and definitely bigger than what we needed. It had been recommended that we not take the smallest car available, but that would have been fine for us--small cars are within my comfort zone, which is what anyone should consider when renting. There was no reason to get a bigger car, except maybe that the smallest car might not have been a diesel--no way to know. At any rate, the car had plenty of zip. The windows had a film on it because of previous smokers and the radio eventually fell out and we simply took it off and placed it in the glove compartment. Our record keeping was lousy (I thought it was better than it turned out to be) so I can only give estimates in terms of fuel usage and costs. I estimate that the car went 37 mpg and that we used about 30 gallons of fuel, thus about $300+ in expense. These are educated guesses.

The airport is south of Izmir and driving to Selçuk was very easy. We stopped turned off a side street and came upon the first hotel recommended by Fodors'--Hotel Akay (http://www.hotelakay.com/) with Internet access in the lobby--$236 for 3 nights. We asked for a room, got a price and took it. It was more expensive than I recalled, until I read back in the Fodors' and discovered that we were in the new and higher priced section. There was nothing wrong with the room except for one thing that I pointed out to the owner. As an American (perhaps Europeans don't feel the same way), I am in the habit of locking my hotel room door from the inside. This room used the plastic card to turn on the electricity (a pain to separate key and plastic card) so that either the electricity was on or the room was locked but not both. It might have been possible to lock the door, remove the key to turn on the electricity (assuming one has a flashlight--which we did), but in an emergency, it would have been difficult without a flashlight to grab the key and look for the lock in total darkness to open the door. In other words the room was lacking a manual latch. We later discovered that perhaps we should have stayed at the other recommended hotel across from the ruins of St. John's Basilica and midway between our hotel and the center of town--the host appeared friendlier. Breakfast was the standard buffet: coffee or tea, hard-boiled eggs, cubes of Feta-like cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, yogurt, fruit drink and bread. I took tea because the coffee is normally Nescafe--a few places accepted Turkish coffee as a substitute, others charged extra for Turkish coffee.

Selçuk's only raison d'être is Ephesus. The center of the town is pleasant enough with a couple of walking streets, a large park with a café and an ice cream stand across from the museum, a square (two steps from the post office) shaded by an enormous mulberry tree and with a couple of good restaurants. It has the ruins of a Roman aqueduct running at the edge of the old town. We stayed near the Isa Bey Cami, which is interesting but nothing compared to the mosques in Istanbul; but the imam is very friendly and because the carpeting does not cover the entire interior, one can enter it without removing one's shoes. The DK Guide gives the impression that there is much more to the St. John Basilica other than Roman looking ruins. We visited both the mosque and the basilica in the same afternoon. If time is of the essence, these can be skipped. On the other hand, I strongly recommend the local small museum because it contains the statuary from Ephesus that is worth protecting from the elements.

Meals: We ate well. Our first lunch was in an outdoor garden right by the Isa Bey Cami, with the open air kitchen where the women make the Turkish pancakes at the entrance. It even has a tree house for group sitting. We were the only ones there, but I suspect that it is livelier on weekend evenings. We had a couple of pancakes and salad. We also ate twice at a restaurant with tables under the mulberry tree mentioned above. There are a couple of restaurants there, the one we patronized has a front man who is about 5'5" with the built of a wrestler and who speaks English quite well. The mezes are in a refrigerated case so that one can choose visually rather than trying to figure out what is appealing according the what is written on the menu. It took us a while to adapt to Turkish offerings and not over-order. There are a few fish dishes among the mezes, but most of them are forms of vegetable salad. One can make a meal of them without ordering a main course. The beer was very good. We also ate at the Ejder Restaurant recommended by Fodors'. The food was good, the service excellent. I had a friendly argument as to the age of the houses built between the pillars of the Roman aqueduct. It was cool that night, and one couple arrived with the woman wearing a light short-sleeve dress. They wee wondering if they should look for a warmer indoor place when the waiter (the owners' son) whipped off his jacket and put over the woman's shoulders. They stayed, naturally. The one disappointing meal was at the Hotel Akay, with lackadaisical service.

To the essential: Ephesus (http://www.turizm.net/cities/ephesus/). I will not compete with the various guides in its description. It must be seen. We went there early in the morning and started at the bottom. It turned out that by doing it this way, we saw the amphitheater and the library before the crowds arrived from the cruise ships. But it means doing the ruins trajectory twice, which we found worth doing. On the way back down we went into the covered area (extra fee) which is where the private mansions have been excavated, with interesting frescoes. There are no crowds there because the cruise ship visitors do not have the time to wander into that section. Besides, because they are coming from the top, they are automatically attracted to the library as the most impressive monument on that walk. There is a great deal of Ephesus that has not been uncovered. I followed a path in the flats that leads to the ruins of an early Christian church, and while looking at an adult baptismal font, a man standing on a small hill (probably an ancient wall) started telling me that he had been working there for 20 years--and that his father had worked there--for the archeological teams investigating the area. So while there has been silting, a good part of Ephesus on the flats continues towards the sea, and probably contained the poorer housing, shops and workshops. It turns out that the man had some "old" coins, was I interested?


The next day we decided to see the coast. There is a national park (Dilek Yarmadasi Milli Park close to Ephesus, and we wanted to see what it was all about. The northern side has several beaches, one might be sand but most are most are stony. Each beach has wooden pallets with a slanted upper part, probably for rent, that would be used for stretching out. The beaches are not large, but the area is very pleasant. There was one section which had a nature walk where the trees are identified. The interior is said to have a variety of wild animals. The national park is on a peninsula, but one cannot drive around it. Even if a road does go all the way around, the end is a military reservation with no civilian access. So we had to drive back, somehow check that our entry fee would let us in the southern part, and then drive back to the main road to cross the peninsula inland and then look for the southern entrance. Before doing that drive, we stopped at a restaurant at the entrance of the park. It was empty, but they had fresh fish available. We chose 5 rougets barbet about the size of grilling sardines, and they were deep-fried but not greasy and excellent. I estimate that we had 12 oz. of fish which cost us 16 TRY (about $12)--with water and a couple of mezes, we paid around 24 TRY. Fish and meat are relatively expensive in Turkey.

We drove back toward Kusadasi, the area between the road and the sea lined with summer homes for foreigners (many compounds had English names) as far the eye could see. There is construction all over Turkey, and inland I suppose that it is to provide housing for the local population. But it looks like Turkey is developing its coastline in this area (Didim was a particularly egregious example) as Spain developed its own 20 years ago. I do not think that they have achieved a proper balance between preservation, planning and economic development. We missed the turn off to the southern side of the park, which is why we saw all these developments, driving almost all the way back to Kusadasi. The southern side supposedly contained an old Greek village that was abandoned during the population exchange of 1924. We eventually found the village, although the signage was not too good, and discovered that it was less than meets the eye. There are ruins of old houses which show that these houses were built with dry stone walls plastered on the inside and stuccoed on the outside. But the core of the village had been rebuilt as a gated community. We eventually found the NP headquarters on that side, but it was locked up tight although someone was obviously keeping an eye on us while we looked around. It really is not worth looking for that village, but birders might be interested in the seashore and its adjacent marsh lands. We drove back inland to Selçuk, going by a lake said to be especially attractive--it was too hazy for us to appreciate it. A nice day all in all, but not worth it for those pressed for time.
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Aug 22nd, 2008, 04:53 PM
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When we left Selçuk we decided to use secondary roads. There is a river running to the coast. Aydin is on the north side of the river and we took the secondary road on the south side of that river valley. It was interesting but the best views of this agricultural valley were at points on the road where one would not dare to stop because of the blind curve ahead or behind. We stopped in one town to buy some fruit and found only some sad looking apples, of which we purchased a few. At one point my wife needed a rest stop and we arrived in a town, possibly Yenikoy, where a detour was indicated because it was market day. We parked the car, walked through the large and we think regional market, tried to buy a few tomatoes but the vendor refused any money and added 4 peppers to the bag. Walking toward the market we noticed a new Turkish pizza place and decided that the establishment would give us the best chance of finding Western toilets (my wife does not do well with footprints). We went in. The place was run by teen-agers. No one spoke anything but Turkish, and we spoke anything but. Somehow we managed to order a pizza (4" to 6" round) to which was added a salad and a grilled slide of flat bread with cheese on it. Bottled water was obtained from the cooler, and clearly was used as needed since one bottle was partially consumed--for all I know, the bottle was refilled with tap water. They had the necessary toilet and the meal was acceptable as fast food. The experience was unbeatable and we probably provided a conversation topic for the rest of the day. Total cost of meal: 5 TRY.

Secondary roads are slow so after that lunch stop we took the major highway to Aphrodisias (http://www.turizm.net/cities/aphrodisias/) because we knew we wanted to get to Pamukkale by evening. Aphrodisias has extensive ruins well worth a visit. Parking is by the highway in a free--at least we did not pay--lot where a shuttle is available to the site itself which has a large parking lot, but probably reserved for buses and handicap parking. The site has been excavated and partially restored by American archaeological expeditions (Ephesus by Germans and Pamukkale by Italians, if memory serves me right). It is located on the valley floor, so that it feels more spread out than Ephesus. It has an amphitheater, a forum built like a small theater intended for government deliberations and a large oval stadium built into the ground (access is from the top), as well as the ruins of baths and other buildings. It also has its museum of items that need to be protected from the weather or prying hands. From there we drove to Pamukkale.

Aphrodisias was in the middle of nowhere, or at least the nearby town was not obvious. Ephesus is a short distance from Selçuk, and Pamukkale is at the base of the mineral excretions while Hierapolis (http://www.turizm.net/cities/hierapolis/), the old Roman city, is at the top. It is not visible from the base, but anyone with time could take the path up the mineral springs to reach the Roman ruins. We drove up toward the springs on the main street between the town and the springs, and individuals along the road try to make you stop as if there is something wrong. They are only trying to get the traveler to stop at one of the hotels along that stretch. We stopped at one point, were offered a price for a room, declined it and then accepted with half board ($47). From the outside the hotel looks one grade above Motel 8. The lobby was acceptable, with internet access. The hotel was built around a large swimming pool and a smaller covered hot pool. Everything looked clean, but the rooms were minimalist motel style. The doors felt as if they were made of cardboard, the bathroom needed an upgrade. It was clean but not attractive. Dinner and breakfast were buffet style. The warm dishes were not appealing, but there was a large variety of mezes that were perfectly acceptable--an American tour came in, and from the sounds, the mezes were not acceptable to all. We spent the evening walking at the base of the mineral springs and in town (not much to the town), hoping to get a decent sunset picture of the springs which face west, but unfortunately the weather refused to cooperate. The next day we visited Hieroplolis, took a chance on the weather and left our rain gear in the car. The grounds of Hierapolis are quite extensive, especially if one decides to visit the necropolis, and by the time we were at the farthest point from our car, the skies opened up. We got soaked. There is a pay pool within the grounds, with a café and souvenir stores around it, and one can have the opportunity of floating in warm water amid sunken Roman columns. Our visit was a little short, but on the other hand we had a long drive ahead of us, longer than I anticipated. Hieropolis is a must for those wanting to see Roman ruins, and a natural stop between the coast and Cappadocia.

Here are the pictures of that part of the trip: http://tinyurl.com/6pkwye

From Pamukkale it took us two days to get to Cappadocia. The weather was stormy from that point on. We were not in rain all the time, but were at times when it was uncomfortable as when going over a mountain pass with the road unpaved because it was being enlarged. Often we saw threatening clouds in the distance. At one point I wanted to take a picture of a lake (possibly the northern edge of Hoyran Göl&uuml that had an amazing turquoise color, but by the time I found a place to pull over, a heavy downpour blurred the view of the lake. For a late lunch we stopped outside a town, either Yalvaç or Aksehir, at a newish restaurant that looked like the ones we found in Portugal--large dining rooms that accomodated families for their Sunday meals. It turned out to be a restaurant that hoped to cater to tourism, and charged accordingly. We had very little to eat, maybe one mezzo and one hot plate with coffee. While we were eating, someone took it upon himself to wash our car (tip expected?). We found a postcard of Pamukkale at their souvenir store that was just the thing for my cousin, so I bought it even though it was in very bad shape for four times the price of postcards anywhere else in Turkey (my cousin does not recall ever receiving it). But they had western toilets. It turned out to be a 30 TRY rip-off experience we could laugh about because it was so outrageous. In the late afternoon we arrived in Konya, after looking at some roadside hotels (probably for truckers) and deciding that we really could use better facilities.

Konya is a large city of 1,000,000 inhabitants. Driving in it was no problem because as with most cities or towns we drove in, large boulevards were carved out of the landscape or the neighborhoods. Finding a recommended hotel was another thing. Neither the DK guidebook nor Fodor's provide any map of the city. We decided to look for a hotel near a recognizable monument or site mentioned in the guidebooks, and when we saw posted signs for Mevlâna Museum, that's what where we decided to go. I think that we went from the north side of the city to the south side using a peripheral boulevard. We parked by the museum and set out on foot to find one of Fodor's recommended hotels: the Sifa Otel. It does not seem to exist. For one thing, the address given, Mevlâna Cad. 55, is the site of a 4-star hotel--far more than what we wanted to pay. For another, the restaurant is on the other side of the street, and it has no hotel next door. We found a hotel--Hotel Bergah ($55), with free off-street parking, which was fine for the night but the bathroom was too old and doubtful for more than minimal use. The hotel, almost across the street from the museum, used to be relatively upscale, for its large dining room had a large mosaic with English wording representing the eastern Mediterranean basin. They had a decent breakfast buffet, and was one of the few places that had an interesting variety of breads available. Its clientele was mainly Turkish--with a class or two of students--and a sprinkling of German tourists d'un certain age who looked as if they were traveling on their own on the cheap. We were not interested in the museum which sounds more like a memorial to Rumi and left the next morning for Cappadocia, traversing the city by following the signs to the next large town.

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Aug 22nd, 2008, 04:57 PM
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Going to Konya involved a fair amount of mountain driving, and the scenery had been dramatic, even if sometimes obscured by distant thunderstorms. The drive to Cappadocia is much flatter, with some roads going for miles on a straight-away through sparse rocky terrain. It was the one stretch of road where we saw quite a few large gypsy encampments just outside the towns and villages. Our plan was to visit the caravansary in Sultanhani, stop by the Ihlara valley and end up in Cappadocia by early evening. The map (Rough Guide Map which is serviceable but I wished for a better one) indicated that the historical site was one one side of the road while the town was on the other. So we missed the turnoff, stopped at a gas station where through hand signals we got the idea that we should go back 5 km. We went back and decided to follow signs for a B&B & campground, figuring that that would be our best bet for finding someone who spoke some English, le français oder Deutsch. It turned out that the owner spoke fluent French, and no thank you, we did not intend to stay in Sultanhani for the night. He had a friend just outside Ürgüp who ran a hotel--gave us the card--we'll see. But he also directed us to the caravansary which is worth a visit, and better in my mind than the one close to Avanos in Cappadocia. From there we drove to the Ihlara valley. A combination of the DK Guide and the road signs to the Monastery valley misled us into thinking that Güzelyurt was where we should start our visit of the area. The Monastery valley is pretty enough, but the one church I saw after a fairly difficult climb up the cliff (no stairs) was devoid of any decoration inside or out with the exception of a small carved cross. It is of interest only for those who want to hike through a pretty gorge, and it is what the guide does not say which is revealing: there is no mention of any frescoes in the churches that are near Güzelyurt (there is an entrance fee to the road leading into the valley). The Ihlara valley is something else, and I recommend it to anyone who can walk down (and then up) the 465 steps to the valley floor--plus steps up and down to the various churches. The decorations of the churches are more primitive than in Gorême, and the churches themselves are generally smaller. I just spent a couple of hours there (my wife stayed at the restaurant on top), but I can imagine someone wishing to spend the day walking the length of the valley.

From there we drove to Mustafapasa (5 km. from Ürgüp) and found the recommended B&B (Hotel Pacha - Ancienne maison grecque (http://www.pachahotel.com/index.htm), not to be confused with The Old Greek House), which was the best place we stayed at during our stay in Turkey--my wife found the laundry service (20 TRY) a little steep. The room cost us 60 TRY per night and the one dinner we had there--good family style Turkish food--cost 20 TRY per person without wine. It was the only time that the breakfast egg was other than hard-boiled. We stayed there 4 nights. The host was an interesting character. He started is life as a stone mason, eventually purchased the ruin of a Greek house, found an old photograph of the house in the town's archives and rebuilt the house as it was. It also owned one of the shops on the main street between the upper and the lower square which is now run by his son. He loved his job as hotelier: schmoozing with the guests (particularly young women), providing van tours for them (for a price), buying and selling rugs as an occasional activity. His French was fairly fluent, his English very limited. His wife was a very overweight traditionally dressed woman who did the cooking and cleaning with the help of one other woman and spoke no foreign language. For the most part she stayed in the kitchen. Mustafapasa is an interesting town. It was predominantly Greek before the population exchange and has quite a few mansions remaining from that time. Some of them are in ruins and some of them are being converted into hotels. It may be unrecognizable in ten years.

The Cappadocia area is relatively small and easy to navigate. For visiting we basically followed the three day suggestion given in Fodor's. We decided to go to the Goreme Open Air Museum on our first full day, which was a Saturday. We arrived there and went into the closest parking lot to the entrance. A young man approached us and suggested that the weekend was not the best time to visit because of weekend visitors, and that he could show us other areas that day, and it would be better to visit the museum during the week. We accepted his offer of 20 TRY to show us around. He showed us around the less crowded areas, took us to a good family restaurant in Avanos--it's behind the gas station at the crossroad on the edge of town (before the bridge crossing the river)--which he explained was started by the owner of the gas station because he was bored, had money to burn, and also had a physically handicapped daughter who was very intelligent. So he built the two-story restaurant and she is behind the cash register and apparently does the books. Sinan also took us to a carpet "school" (http://www.sentez.com.tr) which had beautiful carpets available for sale, and to a ceramics factory (http://www.gurayseramik.com.tr) which had beautiful ceramics--in both instances the prices were quite high. His English was quite good, and he had a good knowledge of the flora and fauna of the area. He disliked the very popular hot air balloon rides in the area on the grounds that they scare away birds such as the local eagle with their noise. His services cost us 30 TRY (we tipped high in this case) plus his part of the meal in Avanos. We visited the Gorême Outdoor Museum on our own, and it was crowded even on a Monday. Sinan had a good line.

We went back to Avanos on our own, and found the town center pleasant. Almost opposite the Alaeddin mosque there is a ceramic workshop (http://www.fircaceramic.com) in a complex of caves that is worth a visit; they also have branch stores in Istanbul. Those who enjoy markets should go to the Saturday market in Ürgüp. It at the edge of the town, on the way to Mustafapasa. Uçhisar is worth a visit, but should also be seen from a distance by going on the road that overlooks the Pigeon valley (getting down to the bottom of the valley is not very obvious or easy). The underground city in Derinkiyu is not for the claustrophobic. The tunnels are perhaps 4 ft. high and only wide enough for one person. I'll let my photographs speak: http://tinyurl.com/64bpoc.

We returned out car in Kayseri. We took Fodor's suggestion and stayed at the Hotel Almer ($88--less than we expected but no great shakes). We were wondering how we would find it, but it turned out to be at the corner of two main boulevards, one of which is the main road from Cappadocia. We fell upon it before we even had time to really get anxious because we did not know how close to the city center we were. The rooms were fine, but we had problems adjusting the AC, and could not figure out how to modulate heat and cold and noise. It was not that hot outside, and we should just have left the window open. The price was higher than cheap as listed in Fodor's. But they offered to call the rental agency to see if it was willing to pick up the car, and it was, if only because it was about to deliver a car to the hotel for someone else--it was the easiest car return we ever had.

In Kayseri we visited the Güpgüpoglu Stately Home (the medical museum was closed) and visited the bazaars. The Fortress itself is a bazaar. There is little of old Kayseri left except the bazaars and the caravansary that is now part of the bazaar. A man accosted us and tried to help us find bath mats with foot prints on them (every Turkish hotel has them), but they were nowhere to be found (we eventually found one in one of the little stores lining the peripheral boulevards that circle what is the center of Kayseri). Yes, he had a carpet shop (http://www.kaplancarpets.com) where we eventually landed, but he was a retired French professor who spoke good English and explained to us that most of old Kayseri was destroyed in the 60s and 70s in a frenzied need to "modernize" the city. The old residential areas are simply gone, replaced by rows and rows of modern apartment buildings. So there is not much to see of Kayseri. The town is also known for its Turkish pastrami, and there are at least a dozen stores specializing in pastrami and sausage on the pedestrian street between the fortress and the bazaars. I would say that Turkish pastrami is half way between Jewish pastrami and Bundnerfleisch.

We ate well in Cappadocia. Interestingly enough, because the general quality of Turkish food is quite good, I would not say that the fancier restaurants were that much better than the average ones. The family restaurant in Avanos was as good as the restaurant in Ürgüp, but the surroundings were much plainer. But here are the places I recall:

The café central in Uçhisar had a fabulous eggplant salad. My wife wrote down the ingredients to try to recreate the dish. The café has a large outdoor area which is very pleasant.
The Old Greek House (http://www.oldgreekhouse.com/) (recommended in Fodor's) is one of the few restaurants with set menus ( a 25 TRY and a 32 TRY prix fixe which were very good and eliminated the problem of choice. The guidebook mentions sitting on cushions, but I believe that this is mainly for tour groups. At any rate, they have standard tables in their covered courtyard. The meal was very good.
I am not sure that the Hotel Pacha offers meals to outsiders, but I recommend their meal--not as fancy as The Old Greek House's--for 20 TRY per person. It's good home cooking.
We had a nice meal in the center of Ürgüp--Sömine. (I suddenly realized that it was the Turkish spelling of cheminée.
Our one big disappointment Alaturca was what was called the best restaurant in Cappadocia. It wasn't, although the service was excellent. The most interesting dish was the butter we had with the bread--it was goat butter. We might have ordered wrong, but my impression is that it was simply a restaurant for those (Turks and small tour groups) looking for an upscale experience.
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Aug 22nd, 2008, 04:59 PM
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We returned to Istanbul via Pegasus Air, landing at Sabiha Gocken International Airport, We arrived at the domestic terminal with no vans to be seen. Walked over to the international terminal, and it was absolutely deserted. Obviously the vans are there when international flights arrive around 4 and 5 a.m. 7 or 8 a.m. is already too late. We walk back to the domestic terminal just as the last bus pulls out. The dispatcher whistles him down, the bus stops in the middle of the access road, we run like mad across the grass and climb into the back door. At some point during the trip, when the bus clears a little, I walk to the front and pay our fare. We did not catch the airport bus but a local bus. After a long ride, including crossing the Bosphorus on one of the suspension bridges, I see a metro sign. We get off, go down to the metro. We are at the last station. We take the metro to Taksim Square, the last station at the other end, go to the funicular which we take down to the streetcar which takes us within 1.5 blocks of our hotel in the Sultanahmet district. Total time: 2.5 hours. Cost: 16 TRY. To avoid the anxieties we experienced, one could take the airport limousine directly to Taksim Square--it also would speed up the trip. On the other hand, since all the rides are obtained at the beginning of the line, luggage is less of a problem in that one can place oneself comfortably in the bus, funicular or streetcar without having to push through a crowd.

We dropped off our luggage at the Hotel Hali and began our visit of Istanbul. We found that the Rick Steves Istanbul is excellent, particularly in its individual tours of major sites. The language is clear and opinionated, although not excessively so. At one point we had to choose between two museums: The Istanbul Archeological Museum and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. Here are the two descriptions given:

For the Arts Museum: Housed in the former Ibrahim Pasa Palace on the Hippodrome, this museum's 40,000-piece collection covers the breadth of Islamic art over the centuries.

For the Archeological Museum: In a city as richly layered with the remains of fall civilizations as Istanbul, this museum is an essential stop.

Essential caught our eye, so we chose the Archeological Museum with no regrets--and the book is quite correct in being somewhat dismissive of anything after the Roman period. We thought we had seen our Roman ruins and sculptures, but nothing like the sarcophagi of that museum.

For the most part we visited standard tourist Istanbul--the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi, the bazaars, the Chora Church. The Rustempasa Mosque is a jewel and the Süleyman the Magnificent Mosque is closed for restoration. If there was one disappointing walk, it was Rick Steves' New District Walk, but that was more due to the neighborhood which did not strike us as anything special, and that might be because it was our last very long day in Istanbul and it was hot. Rather than writing about what we saw, here are the pictures: http://tinyurl.com/5odgd3

We did wander a couple of times off the tourist track. Going through security in Kayseri my belt broke and needed a replacement. The clerk pointed us to the leather district which was within walking distance and in its character, noise and traffic jam, probably close to what the garment district in NYC used to be. To get there, walk up the hill from Sultanahmet toward the Grand Bazaar and after four or six blocks, drop down the hill toward the left and start wandering around. I suspect that late morning might be the best time. We found a belt, and bought from a corner grocery store the best cherries we had in Turkey.

My second little jaunt was toward the fishing port of Istanbul, essentially following the Piyer Loti Cd and its extensions down to the waterfront. Any street will do which is not a major street. This is not tourist Istanbul although along the Sea of Marmara, on the other side of the railroad tracks, there is a linear park with walks, shaded lawns and play areas, and perhaps more important, a series of al fresco restaurants obviously specializing in seafood. They looked good, much better than the fast mackerel sandwich places under the Galata bridge, but not as fancy as some of the better restaurants (see below). Had I known about them before we made a reservation, or at the beginning of our stay in Istanbul, I definitely would have tried one of them. There is also a Fish district on the inside of the RR tracks which has a main square surrounded by restaurants. They spill out into the street which are limited to pedestrian traffic (I can't be more specific than that because I was wandering around without a map).

On our last day we had to stay up until midnight to wait for our ride to the airport, arranged through the travel agency down the street, and all travel agencies in the Sultanahmet area advertise rides to the airport. Inquire about the price, and I see no reason to pay more than the cheapest price offered. TT was the day we did the New District Walk. After dinner near Taksim Square we took the funicular and then the street car back to our hotel, but rather than getting off, we took it to the end of the line. Once past the old city walls, Istanbul turns into a second world residential city very reminiscent of what one sees outside the core centers of large Mexican cities (Mexico City, Guadalajara, etc.). It is dark at night, with little public lighting and few stores open. The buildings are faceless concrete blocks two or three stories high. It gives a completely different glimpse of Istanbul. At the end of the ride we crossed the tracks and rode back to the Sultanahmet area, to sit in the park (the next to the last picture is a result of our sitting in the park) until we could pick up our ride in front of the hotel.

We ate well in Istanbul, and found these three Fodor's recommendations particularly accurate:

Rumeli Café ($68), Divanyolu Cd. Ticarethane Sk. No. 8, Sultanahmet, where I had some wonderful lamb chops--we had relatively little lamb on this trip.

Giritli ($155) (http://giritlirestoran.com) was fabulous, and is a must for a relaxing evening. The more the merrier, four would be better than two, six even better. The meal includes all you can drink of raki and wine. We started with 18 mezes, including tuna sashimi, ceviche and the tenderest octopus we ever had. But most of the mezes are vegetarian, including seaweed salad and a nettles and feta (the Turks would not call it that) salad. The picture on the web site gives a good idea of what is offered. The main course is fish which was very good but not quite as good as what

Balikça Sabahattin (http://www.balikcisabahattin.com) prepared ($104). We came without reservations and were not seated on their terrace, even though it was not full, but upstairs, which is just as well because I suspect that the open air seating is reserved mainly for tours. We had a small table for two right next to another one, which would make a table for four if needed. After we were seated, we were asked if they minded if another customer sat next to us. We did not. He had been sitting elsewhere, but his table was needed for a larger group. It turns out that he was a self-made man, quit school at the age of 14, who was in the garment business. He was a regular at the restaurant and did not bother to order anything--the maitre d' would simply decide what he would eat that night. He ate there 4 nights a week, and three nights elsewhere. He clearly was a fixture, and ordered drinks for friends at other tables although he himself did not drink. My wife said to him, you must not be married to eat here so often, and he replied that he had been divorced for 5 years or so. His daughter went to the University of Chicago and then he visited her also in New Haven (I suspect that she was going to Yale). That night he had the fish stew which he insisted we try even though we already had dessert. It was excellent but quite spicy. Aside from mezes, we had grilled fish. My wife had a whole sea or striped bass that was perfectly prepared, and I had two blue fish similarly prepared. The preparations were very plain but superb.

Both of these restaurants are on the edges of the Sultanahmet. The neighborhoods are a little dodgy, although the latter restaurant is at the bottom of a street that is clearly upscale. But follow the RR tracks past the restaurant, and old Istanbul reappears; and even more so when going under the RR tracks to get to Giritli. In ten years the neighborhood will not be recognizable.

Doy-Doy was fine, but only tourists were there. Don't go on the rooftop and expect to be sharing tables with the locals. At another time we also ate across the street from Doy-Doy. That restaurant was obviously in some French guidebook. It was fine, but nothing remarkable.

Haci Baba (http://www.hacibabarest.com/html/hakkimizda2_eng.html) was a disappointment for what it is ($47). The food was not bad, but if that had been the only example of Turkish cooking, I would have decided that Turkish food was not particularly interesting; maybe we chose the wrong dishes.

On the cheap side (although perhaps not cheap by Turkish standards) are the grilled mackerel stands near the ferry buildings--one sandwich (enough for 2) for 4 TRY, and the second restaurant in from the corner opposite the Süleyman the Magnificent Mosque--Rick Steves recommends the one on the corner: Kanaat Lokantasi. We also picked up stuffed mussels from stands--not for the the fussy since the ungloved vendor will automatically open the mussel for you. In general we ate the raw tomatoes, cucumbers and salads that were on our plates. We did not worry about it. Our only limitation is that we did not drink tap water, but we brushed out teeth with it. We had no digestive problems. For drinks we often had tea and often preferred apple tea. Beer is generally available, although we were told that restaurants can serve it only if they are a certain distance from a mosque. We rarely had wine--Giritli served wine from the Ankara region, said to be better than the Cappadocia wine.

Shopping: We purchased relatively little. We eventually found bath mats with footprints, one in Kayseri and then some in the bazaar in Istanbul. I suspect that all of them were seconds as they did not have the Made in Turkey label like the ones in the hotels. Some soaps and Turkish style nougat with a variety of flavors. Three pillow cases and one rug, a couple of shirts in the underground walkway to the ferry landing by the Galata bridge, and then an extra bag for our next purchase. We had avoided all rug buying up to our last day in Istanbul. Our denial was always: we already have a Turkish rug; which was true. On our last day my wife purchased two pillow covers, and then they offered us tea, and then started talking rugs. We were reluctant. He offered a kilim for 750 TRY. We eventually got it for 250 TRY. Even then he made a nice profit. Our host in Cappadocia purchased a knotted rug for 600 TRY, which he offered to any guest for 300 €. It was larger than the kilim we purchased. We were willing to pay that price, but no higher; and we got it as we were 50 ft. down the sidewalk and the vendor wanted a sale while we did not feel an absolutely need for that carpet.

We flew back to Basel and started our French part of the trip to be given in another report.
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Aug 23rd, 2008, 06:38 AM
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Thanks for your absolutely terrific report. We'll be in Istanbul for two days in early October, so I've been reading pretty much everything I can find about the city (mainly Sultanahmet). I was very disappointed that Sarnic restaurant had no availability for our dates. Any reason why you didn't eat there? Sounds like a most unique and extraordinary place. I'm still trying to decide where to have our two dinners. May try BS (though it gets very mixed reviews).
Thanks again-- great review!
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Aug 23rd, 2008, 08:39 AM
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We relied predominantly on Fodor's for restaurants, and it is not mentioned there. Nor did our friends mention it.
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Aug 23rd, 2008, 09:44 PM
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Thanks, Michael. Nice report, very detailed, it definitely encourage us to rent a car than take public transportation (of course, except in Istanbul). We'll be taking the same route Ephesus to Pamukkale. How was the drive? How long did it take you to drive from Selcuk to Aphrodisia? Then to Pamukkale?
 
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Aug 24th, 2008, 12:14 AM
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From Selçuk, leaving around 10 a.m., we arrived in Aphrodisias in the afternoon and in Pamukkale in the early evening. But we took a seondary road in the morning. If using the main road, the trip would be faster.
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Aug 24th, 2008, 05:29 AM
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Thanks for a very informative trip report. I'm just starting to plan for a trip to Istanbul in March. I was thinking of going just to Istanbul, plus whatever day trips are reasonable, but no other overnights. Do you think 7 or 8 days is too much. So far all the reports I've read are of trips of two or three days. I do like to take my time when traveling, and was very happy this summer with 7 days in Budapest, which lots of people think is excessive. But do you think we'd be bored with a full week?
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Aug 24th, 2008, 09:30 AM
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Thanks for such a great report, Michael! I traveled to Turkey for the first time in July and visited many of the same places. I hope your report will help put Turkey on the radar for other travelers. Thanks again for posting.
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Aug 24th, 2008, 09:35 AM
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Isabel,

It all depends on your style of touring. Here are some breakdowns in terms of days:

1 day for the trip up the Bosphorus.

1 day for the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. To which one can add the cistern and the archaeological museum.

1 day for Topkapi.

1 day for the bazaars, the Rustempasa Mosque and the area around the Süleyman the Magnificent Mosque.

That adds up to four days and there are still other things to see, if only by just wandering around different neighborhoods.

As mentioned in my report, I would get the Rick Steves Istanbul and use that as a means to plan the number of days.
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Aug 24th, 2008, 09:37 AM
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Isabel,

I might add that if you did not find a week in Budapest excessive, you probably will want to spend a week in Istanbul.
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Aug 24th, 2008, 09:43 AM
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Good report, thanks for posting.
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Aug 24th, 2008, 09:46 AM
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Isabel,

I had forgotten. You're a serious photographer. You'll need a week in Istanbul.
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Aug 24th, 2008, 12:29 PM
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Great report, I admire the attention to details, don't know how one does this, it's a mystery to me, but I love it, thanks.
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Aug 24th, 2008, 04:33 PM
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susanna,

I reconstruct the trip using my photographs, CC bills and various business cards picked up along the way. Others keep diaries.
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Sep 6th, 2008, 12:57 PM
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Thank you for this great report and the gorgeous pics. I'm going in December, I can't wait!!
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Nov 2nd, 2008, 01:55 AM
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"There is a river running to the coast. Aydin is on the north side of the river and we took the secondary road on the south side of that river valley."

It's the Meander River.
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Jan 25th, 2009, 09:34 AM
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ttt
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