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Trip Report: Two weeks solo in Turkey – Warning: Details, Details….

Trip Report: Two weeks solo in Turkey – Warning: Details, Details….

Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 11:48 PM
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Trip Report: Two weeks solo in Turkey – Warning: Details, Details….

Even though I travel quite a bit (this was my fourth trip this year) I’ve never posted a trip report before. I guess this is mostly due to commitment issues (I’m an infrequent poster on this board), and not wanting to share the names of the little hotels I find lest they become too popular I chose to write this one because I had such a great time, and while planning, I couldn’t find any first hand accounts of a couple of the places I stayed at, so I wanted to pass some information on. As I said, there might be too much info for some of you, so feel free to skim!

A Little background:
- I originally planned to go to Istanbul from Paris for a weekend last December. I did some research, then realized that a weekend was too short a time, and changed plans. Then when a friend said he was going to be in Ankara on business, I thought that was the perfect opportunity to visit. As it turned out, his business trip was postponed, but since I already had my ticket, I decided to go anyway.
- The weather was surprising good considering it was the first 2 weeks of December. It was never freezing (outside), and was often sunny and mild.
-The rate of exchange was 1 USD = 1,423,000TL. I taped the rate to my calculator, and used it for everything ( I have no shame!)
- I only used my credit card once, and paid for everything cash because I knew I’d get better deals that way.
-When emailing hotels for rates, I always asked if they offered discounts for cash payments and just about all of them did.
- I brought along a Lonely Planet Turkish phrasebook/dictionary which I bought as an afterthought, but it turned out to be extremely useful as I encountered many people who didn’t speak English.

Flew from JFK to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines with miles from AA. The 11 hour flight was a little rough because I have a hard time sleeping on planes, the seats were really uncomfortable, and the movies they showed were horrible. (Danny Deckchair!?) I have to say that the service was really wonderful though. The staff actually brought drinks to your seats with a smile, and were very friendly (try to get that to happen on Air France - HA!) Upon arriving in Istanbul, the first thing I noticed at the airport was everybody smoking. Had a 2 hour layover before the flight to Ankara.

The seats on this plane were much more comfortable, and even though the flight was only 1 hour, they gave us a delicious salad which I was glad I ate because it was my last meal of the day.

Somehow managed to get on a bus going to the bus terminal, then got a cab from there to my hotel in the Kizilay district(7 mil). The driver tried to, gently, talk me out of my hotel and into another one, but I didn’t take him up on it. I have to admit that upon seeing Hotel Ergen I had my doubts: very unattractive white commercial looking façade, dark gloomy lobby with middle aged men sitting around smoking. Despite the bad first impression, I was too tired to go searching for another hotel. Also, the main reason I decided to stay here was the $20/night room rate I was quoted over the phone when I called from home. Of course the front desk clerk said the room would be 70mil ($49), then “just for you, 50mil”. I then told him about the $20 price I was quoted and he said “no”. As I turned to leave, that “no” reluctantly became a “no problem”.

The room – well, despite the floral bedspreads, it was surprising ok for $20. It was one of those characterless, small rooms you encounter throughout Europe. The tv had the largest selection of channels of 5 hotels I stayed at on my trip, the water was hot, the pressure was great, There was a closet, desk. The only problem, which was actually a huge one for me, was the fact that there was NO HEAT!! I kept thinking “it’s going to heat up, it just takes time”, but that first night it never did! I went to bed at about 4h30pm. Woke up freezing at midnight, called the reception, they sent the porter up who fiddled with the radiator, said all was ok, but there still wasn’t enough heat. I should have asked to change rooms them, but was still so tired, that I just went back to sleep until the next morning – in my coat this time – Horrible!!


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Old Dec 22nd, 2004, 11:50 PM
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Now many of you are probably saying “why Ankara”. Well, I knew that I didn’t want to move around too much, I only had a day and a half before going to Cappadocia, and I also wanted to give my friend my impressions of the city in case he does end up going to work there. In hindsight, I could have gone straight to Cappadocia and enjoyed a full week there, but certainly didn’t regret Ankara especially for that short a period. If you’re a person who likes cities, then I think Ankara is worth a couple of days if you have the time.

The area I stayed in, Kizilay, is the student area of Ankara. The hotel was actually very well located, on a street with restaurants, a good internet café, and one block from Ataturk Blvd. The parts of the city that I saw were bustling with people. Ataturk Blvd. is lined with store after store, and there are little streets, some pedestrian, off the Blvd. with more shops, and restaurants. I only noticed/heard one family of English speakers the whole time I was in Ankara, there were no tourists around.

I spent most of the morning trying to get my Amex Travellers Cheques changed. I went to three different banks, and had to wait in long queues in each. One bank – Garanti – wanted to charge me a $7 commission for each cheque!! I finally went to Akbank where they didn’t charge a commission, gave me a good rate of exchange, but would only cash 3 of my cheques. I had to go to the main branch in Ulus to change the rest. (BTW, living in NYC, it was mildly alarming to have the bank teller chewing on his cigarette while counting out my Liras!)

Took the metro to Ulus in search of the main Akbank. While walking, made a “friend” along the way (an engineer who used to live in the States) who insisted on accompanying me. (Yes, I encountered men everywhere I went. Some just wanting to practice English, some wanting dates, some wanting to sell me every imaginable item. I noticed that there were very few women working in the shops, hotels, etc. that I came across. There were mostly men which I have to admit, worked to my advantage. I was always one of the only women walking around alone on the street - that didn’t bother me though). Anyway, when he realized how steep the climb up the hill was – he was of a certain age - he finally had to say good-bye. Walked up to Hisar a walled part of the city which sits on a hill. The view from up there was wonderful, especially since it was a mild, sunny day. When I finally made it to the museum of Anatolian Civilizations it was late afternoon, and I was too exhausted to concentrate on history.(I know, I know, and I apologize!)

When I got back to the hotel, they thankfully offered to change my room. This one had a view of the building next door, but was actually warm.

I had heard that Ankara shuts down at 8pm, but that wasn’t my experience. It was a Wednesday night, and there were still lots of folks out on the streets. Found a little place to eat where the owner, who spoke English, offered me some tea (of course), and pide (in this case, like a thin pizza with ground beef) on the house.

The most bizarre thing happened that night when I was looking for someplace to have dinner. A little girl of about 10 came up to me waving tissues (lots of people sell those on the streets). I shook my head and tried to walk around her, but she blocked my way, and held her tissue filled fists up into my face. Each time I tried to make a step around her, she’d block my path. I started to think, well maybe this is one of those situations where someone distracts you, then someone else comes along and steals your wallet, so I looked over at her friends, and they were involved in a conversation, not even paying attention to us. Not knowing what to do, I grabbed her wrists and said “Stop!”, she said “No stop, no stop”, and wouldn’t get out of my way. Now, I really can’t say that I love kids, so my first impulse was to snap those wrists! Then I remembered those scenes from Midnight Express, and decided not to do anything that might land me in jail. Finally after a couple of minutes I managed to push her aside, but not before she hit me in the stomach the little $*@*# !!! That was so strange all I could do was laugh. I passed her again later and she came up and took a swipe at the hood of my jacket – wow!


Next installment: Off to the land of the beautiful horses.


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Old Dec 23rd, 2004, 03:45 AM
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Keep it coming- it will help with the planning of my trip in June. Thanks!
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Old Dec 23rd, 2004, 05:42 AM
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I met that little girls brother in Istanbul. Same kind of behavior... I basically wound up walking into him several times!
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Old Dec 23rd, 2004, 06:32 AM
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Matisse, this is great! We're planning a trip to Turkey in September and I can't wait to read more about your trip. I already have some questions but will wait until the end of your trip report.
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Old Dec 23rd, 2004, 07:26 AM
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Very interesting, Matisse, thanks!

(and yet another testament to the folly of relying on traveler's cheques).
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Old Dec 24th, 2004, 12:13 AM
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This is fantastic, what a report so far! Cant wait to hear the rest. Planning a trip to Turkey thinking about Izmir and Istanbul!
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Old Dec 26th, 2004, 11:13 AM
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While checking out the next morning, I asked approximately how much a taxi would cost to the otogar (bus station). The owner of the hotel said he was going in that direction, and would give me a drive! It seemed to take about 15 minutes or less.

The Ankara bus station is a long building with a numbered row of kiosks with different bus companies going to different areas. I saw kiosks numbered up to about 60, and remember thinking “do they really need this many buses?”

The bus company I used was Nevtur. The bus was comfortable, fairly clean, and as others have said, an attendant (our bus had two even though it wasn’t full) comes around with a refreshing “tonic”for your hands and face, then water, coffee or tea, and cookies. The ride to Nevsehir (Nev-sha-here) took about 5 hours, including a half hour stop. The sun was out for a while, and the landscape was beautiful and snow covered with the tufa formations in the distance.

Nevsehir is a connecting point, so everyone had to get off and change buses; that’s when the confusion began. A man immediately came up to me, asked me where I was going. When I told him Urgup, he took my suitcase and directed me into an office where another man tried to get me to book a hotel/tour through him. (We’ll get back to him later). His tours were inexpensive - $35/day pp, but I’d already booked a tour.

After waiting around for about 10 minutes, I showed an employee my ticket with destination “Urgup” written on it, and asked about the next bus. He got very upset, started ranting (not at me), walked briskly away. After much debate amongst the gents, me struggling with my overpacked suitcase up and down 2 flights of steps (there’s no escalator/elevator at the Nevsehir otogar), I found out that there were no Nevtur buses to Urgup, and I shouldn’t have been sold a ticket with that final destination written on it. I was told to take a certain dolmus (dole-mush- a minivan that transports people point-to-point), but they tried to charge me 1.5 mil, which wasn’t a lot, but I didn’t want to pay on principal because I already paid 15 mil (about $10.50) for my ticket to Urgup. I just kept holding up my ticket with a confused look on my face, then the man who originally took my suitcase put me onto another dolmus assuring me I wouldn’t have to pay anything. Thank you. Moral of the story: try to make sure that your bus will actually be going all the way to your final destination, or if you’ll have to take the bus/dolmus combo which is actually quite simple IF you know in advance.

While I was sitting in the dolmus thumbing through my phrasebook, I could see that the man next to me kept turning his head trying to see it, so I offered it him a look. He seemed really fascinated. We had a short “conversation”, and at the end, of the ride he pointed to the phrase “Nice to meet you” - sweet.





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Old Dec 26th, 2004, 11:22 AM
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I only decided where I was going to stay that night when I finally got to Urgup about 45 minutes later. I had reservations for Elkep Evi for the following night, but had read about a place called Selcuklu (Sell-jook-loo) Evi, which looked really nice from the website.

Three men in a van came to pick me up 10 minutes after I called, and it was a short drive to the hotel. My room was very inviting: large with a sitting area; 3 windows; lots of dark carved wood: the ceiling, armoire, the door; kettle with porcelain tea cups; large marble bathroom with Jacuzzi tub (and sliding doors – yea, no leakage). It was sunny and very comfortable with lots of attention to details. The only problem: it was FREEZING once again!! I spent a good few minutes trying to figure out how to jump from the bath mat directly onto my slippers without stepping on the ice cold marble floor!Price:40euros/night. Btw, all hotel prices I mention are for cash payment, and include breakfast and taxes.

All I could manage that night was to go out for dinner. I was the only customer, and the staff were very friendly (the waiter also really enjoyed my phrasebook). Unfortunately the food wasn’t great, but maybe they were having an off night? Right next to the restaurant, Heybelli, is a very atmospheric bar owned by the same people. Candlelit, decorated with cushions/kilims, and a singer performing traditional Turkish music and playing the saz (lute).

When I returned to the hotel, I found out I was their only guest that night, so I asked for a tour of the rooms. There’s a “Sultan’s Suite”the size of a NY railroad apt., complete with desk and computer. Aside from the main bldg., there are also cave rooms which were all nicely decorated , came in various shapes and sizes, and were on different levels.

In addition to the traditional breakfast items, my bow-tied waiter brought me gozleme (a thin crepe with different fillings like spinach, onions, ground beef) courtesy of a lady making them right in the dining room on a flat round “stove” which sits on the floor. Delicious. I was happy and impressed that although I was their only guest, they still gave me the full treatment.

Next day, off to Elkep Evi about a 5 minute drive further up the hill. I had an even bigger room this time with a larger cushion filled sitting area inside; also one outside with a table; 3 windows; cd player; a good sized bathroom with tub and shower “hose”, but no curtain. Not as luxurious as Selcuklu, but still very nice and comfortable. Oh, the best part was they had put an electric heater in the room, which I immediately turned on!!! $50/night.The views from Elkep are wonderful, which is part of the reason I decided to stay here for the next 3 nights.

My first stop on my way down to explore Urgup was the Turasan winery - I had to prioritize. They pour generous tastings – a little too generous for that early in the day! I liked the Seneler 99 – a dry Bordeaux style red which was about 15 mil. It’s slightly cheaper if you buy it at the duty free shop at Ataturk airport, but then who knows if they’ll have it in stock.

Dinner at Somine (Sho-mee-neh). Supposedly one of the best restos in town, but I don't think I ordered the right thing. Highlights: homemade pide, and a crackling fireplace!

Next morning, off to go on a balloon ride with Kapadokya Balloons. I had read many good reviews about this company, and they are one of the few licensed operators in the area (Goreme Balloons is another). I was lucky because a group of 28 people from Japan/Singapore had booked with them just the night before, making it possible for us to go up. Myself and a lone Japanese woman were the only ones not part of the group, and I don’t think they would have taken just the 2 of us; 3 balloons in total went up. (One good piece of advice I read was to book for the day after you arrive, that way if the weather is bad, you still have the following days to go up. While I didn’t do that exactly, things worked out perfectly for me because they didn’t go up due to weather the day before, and probably not the day after either because it was cloudy and rainy, then they closed up shop the day after that. The owners/pilots go to their house in Burgundy for the winter – the poor dears.)

I have to admit I was really scared to go up. Watching the ground fade away was the hardest part, but surprisingly the ascent and whole ride was so smooth. I was very impressed by the skill of Lars our pilot. He brought us so close to the trees and landscape. What was nice too, is that all 3 pilots were in constant communication with each other, commenting on what they were seeing, etc. They really seemed to enjoy being up there, rather than it just being a job for them. What can I say about the scenery that hasn’t already been said – breathtaking! We were up for 1 hour, and I found that a sufficient amount of time(you can also go up for 1&˝ hours). Unfortunately there was no champagne to toast our landing, but there was juice and Efes which I opted for even though it was 8h30am. $120 including hotel pick-up/drop off.
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Old Dec 26th, 2004, 06:04 PM
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Matisse:

I am very much enjoying your report. A question please - you mention that the balloon ride was $120, yet their website indicates a per person charge of $230. Did you bargain for that rate?
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Old Dec 26th, 2004, 07:17 PM
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Hi HappyCheese,

No, this was the one thing I didn't bargain for. That price of $230 is for a one and a half hour flight which is an option during high-season, but was not while I was there; only the hour 1 flight was. Now that I think about it, I believe the price was actually $140 for one hour, or $120 if you paid cash. If you email them, they'll send a detailed reply with the prices, etc.

Thanks for reading!
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Old Dec 26th, 2004, 08:21 PM
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Loved your trip report...very interesting since you didn't use a tour. I'm planning a trip in September. What was the reaction to the EU vote?...or had you already returned.
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Old Dec 26th, 2004, 08:35 PM
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I decided to do a 2 day guided tour of the region since I was car-less and lazy. I booked with Cappadocia Tours partially because of good reviews I'd read, and also because of Suleyman's gentle follow-up emails. He was very friendly, prompt with his replies, and accommodating when I had to change from a 2 person tour to a private tour for 1.

My guide and driver ( I love the way that sounds !) arrived promptly at 9h30am. I won’t go into detail about the tour because others have written about these places already. I’ll just tell you where I went. On day 1, about an hour after the balloon ride, we went to the Devrent Valley, Pasabag (Pasha-bah) Valley, Avanos for a pottery demo, and the soft sell, Sirahan, the most well preserved caravansaray in the region, and finally the Goreme Open Air Museum. Lunch and the museum entrance fees were not included in my price (but they are in the group tour), and I recall the Goreme Museum being between 10 and 12 mil. I decided to cut the tour short this day because the early start was taking it’s toll, so I went back and had a nap.

In the evening, the director of Elkep Evi called me out of the blue. He knew I’d been sleeping, and hadn’t eaten, so he offered to drive me down to Urgup so I could get some dinner. How considerate of him!

I decided to try Han Ciragan (Chee-rah-ahn). (I wanted to go to the resto where my guide and driver had lunch, but it was closed in the evening. I think it was called Avra or Ahra, and they said it was reasonable with good food.) I also found a patisserie called Naturel Café owned by a very friendly gent (who’s also a tour guide and speaks French) and his wife. We happened to strike up a conversation, and next thing you know they were offering me some delicious, house-made baklava.

Out for drinks at Prokop which is another atmospheric bar with a fireplace. The crowd was mostly in their mid-20’s, somewhat hip, and the music was a mix of reggae, rock, and that 80’s pop you usually only hear in Europe. (One Night in Bangkok, etc…)

Day 2 of my tour started with the underground city of Derinkuyu, then onto Mustafapasa, Uchisar, Ortahisar, and Carpedocia to see a carpet weaving demo. I was actually very interested in the carpet making process which I found fascinating as I couldn’t imagine being able to do that myself. My guide told me that Carpedocia, which is a government sponsored co-operative with fixed prices, is where Turkish people shop. I found that a little hard to believe because after I bargained long and hard; after the manager said “It’s snowing outside, there’s no business, we need money”; they still wouldn’t go down low enough. I only got my frame of reference afterwards when I started going to shop after shop comparing prices and quality. I have to admit though, that the 2 carpets I was interested in there were among the most beautiful I saw during my trip.

I was very happy I opted for a guided tour for those 2 days. My guide, Ursan (I really hope that’s the correct spelling), was very informative and gave me some great history lessons about the sights. Having some background knowledge, really helped me to appreciate what I was seeing so much more than just showing up, and looking around. Also having private tour was a big plus as I was able to take a little extra or less time when I wanted.

I did finally buy my first small silk on cotton Sumac that night in a shop in Urgup. I decided that I’d probably get a better price there than in Istanbul because there were really no tourists around. The carpet salesman, a young guy who works with his father in the shop, was very pleasant to do business with, and spoke English well. He’ll probably offer to drive you to your hotel and pick you up again, as he did for me, while I was still considering whether or not to buy my carpet from him.

Believe it or not there's still more! Next, a (hopefully) brief tour of Istanbul.

Thanks for your responses.

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Old Dec 26th, 2004, 11:22 PM
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Hi matisse, i love your trip report. I was just wondering, i think you are travelling alone? How is it travelling alone, can you tell me a little about that? i am planning a trip alone for next year...

Thank you and i am looking forward reading more.
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Old Dec 27th, 2004, 07:35 AM
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Enjoying your report very much. It's a shame this is your first one - detailed reports such as yours are a great help to the many that read this board.
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Old Dec 27th, 2004, 10:19 AM
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Hi Cheesy,
I returned on the 14th, so I didn't get to talk to anyone about the EU decision. I did hear more than once from young Turks that they would love to travel, even move out of Turkey, but of course it's very difficult for them to obtain visas.

Bardo1,
I'm glad you enjoy reading all the little details. I debated whether or not to make the report this in-depth, but I just thought I'd put it all out there (well...most of it), then people can do what they want with the info.

Hola Belleza,
I have to say I enjoy travelling alone very much, and I've been doing it on and off for a while. Along with Turkey, I've travelled to Spain, Costa Rica, France, and some US cities on my own.

I don't know where or how you live, (where are you from?) or if you're used to city life, etc., but if you're an independent person you should be fine. Travelling alone is not for everyone though. I'll mention the obvious, always keep an eye on your bags, and don't put your complete trust in anyone.

The positive aspects are: not having to fight with anybody about what to do, where to go/stay, when to eat, etc. It's nice to have the option of changing/making plans on a whim if you want to.

The negative aspect for me is financial. I would usually stay in nicer hotels if I had someone to split the cost with. Also, if you take an organized tour which includes accomodation you'll be charged a "single supplement" if you want your own room, or sometimes you're given the option of sharing a room with someone you don't know.

As for being a woman alone, that aspect has never bothered me. At home in NYC, I do a lot of things alone - like going out to dinner/movies/museums, etc., so it's not that different when abroad. Also, I'm used to being approached for all kinds nonsense on a daily basis.

Regarding men well, you know they're weak, and they can't help themselves . They'll always approach you (sometimes whether you're alone or not), with the pretense of trying to help, or wanting to learn about where you're from, etc. Not just men either, I had a young female student come up to me in Istanbul. She invited me out for tea because, being an English major, she wanted to practice speaking. You just have to assess the situation yourself, because most of the time the guys have ulterior motives (and that can be ok too at times... ) You'll always meet people, and sometimes you can just end up having great conversations, and it's always interesting to get a local's perspective on things.

Just about everyone I met in Turkey was polite, friendly, and hospitable, so I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself.
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Old Dec 27th, 2004, 11:37 AM
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Thank You Matisse!

I just moved to Madrid a month ago and I have noticed there are so many great offers- air/hotel -so I am very tempted to travel because of the great offers. (350 Euro for hotel and air to Turkey for 5 nights). I am thinking that I will be going alone since most of the people i know here have regular jobs and can not take off when I would like to.

I have just hesitated because I have never travelled alone before and I feel a little insecure, but thank you for your advice, it helps alot!

And thank you again for a great report, I can not wait to read more, specially about Istanbul. Oh and please DON'T leave out any juicy details!!!
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Old Dec 27th, 2004, 01:51 PM
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Hi Matisse,

Thanks for the report. My boyfriend and I will be traveling around Turkey for 18 days in May/June. Turkey is a place that seems to escape many travellers so your info is terrific. Regarding tours in Cappadocia, is 35 euro the going rate for a tour? Is that per person? I will be with my boyfriend.

How much time did you spend in Istanbul? Were most things open on Sundays? Did you spend any time along the Turquoise coast or Aegean?
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Old Dec 27th, 2004, 03:43 PM
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I'm totally enjoying these reports, and I'm glad they are in such great detail! Planning to go to Turkey in September 2005, so the information is really appreciated.
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Old Dec 27th, 2004, 04:02 PM
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Hi EuroT,

I didn't do a lot of shopping around when it came to tours, but there are many guides, and quite a few tour companies to choose from.

The tour prices can be confusing because some companies, generally include accomodation in the price at first, then subtract accordingly from there.

The prices quoted to me from Cappadocia Tours were:
GROUP TOUR - $45pp including lunch and museum entrance fees;
CAR & DRIVER (Privately; no guide):
1 Person: USD 60 per full day, total to pay for the day.
2 People: USD 80 per full day, total to pay for the day, not per person.
CAR & PROFESSIONAL GUIDE (Privately): 1 Person: USD 100 per full day, total to pay for the day, not per person.
2 Person: USD 140 per full day, total to pay for the day, not per person.
Add $25pp for lunch and museum fees for the 2 above tours. They also offer a 10% discount for cash payments.
Keep in mind these are low-season prices, and I don't know if they go up during the high-season. Also, I didn't pay the full quoted price, so see what you can do.

I also met a tour operator in Nevsehir who offers tours for $35pp; I ran into him at Derinkuyu where he was giving a tour to 2 people. Their tour started after mine, and finished before if that tells you anything. Some people might prefer that though.

I was in Istanbul for 8 days. From what I saw the Grand Bazaar and Spice Mkt. are both closed on Sundays; while the Arasta Bazaar, Aya Sofia, the carpet shops south of the Blue Mosque are open, as well as a few stores, internet cafes, etc. Istiklal Caddesi in Taksim was still packed on Sunday night, and a lot of the restos/cafes/bars were open.

No, I didn't get to the other areas you mentioned.

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