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Trip Report Turkey trip report: 3 weeks in Turkey with two young children

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So, we’re just back from three glorious weeks in Turkey and we had a fabulous time.

Thank you to everyone who has ever posted trip reports and advice. I didn’t really ask too many questions but planned the entire trip using fodors/tripadvisor/turkeytravelplanner. I read lots of trip reports and used Lonely Planet and DK Eyewitness guide books. What I did find was that there wasn’t too much information on Turkey with young kids. Many times I second guessed myself because my kids are 2.5 and 5 years old, and most of the people traveling to Turkey with kids seemed to be staying in the all inclusive resorts in Antalya or Bodrum.

Anyway, I’m just going to list what we did and what I think might help other travelers considering Turkey especially with children. English isn’t my native language so I apologize in advance for any grammatical or other errors.

Istanbul: we spent the first four nights in the Sultanamet area close to the Sirkeci tram stop and the last four nights of the trip in the Taksim Square area. I will post hotel reviews separately.

IstanbulKart: We bought the card at the kiosk at the Eminönü pier. I wanted to pick it up at the airport but I had read you had to go to a level below and the lines at immigration were crazy. I was a little shocked when I saw the crowd, endless serpentine queues winding back and forth at least ten times. There were lots of screaming kids in the queues but fortunately, my youngest had napped well on the flight and was in a relatively good mood. A lot of other airports I’ve been through in the last few years (Dubai, Singapore, London, Hong Kong) with the kids have always given priority to families with babies and young children but not here. We spent an hour and half in the queue. I’m not complaining, just an observation.

Trams: My kids loved the trams although they did get crowded at certain times. The people were very very kind and would always offer us their seats. It is very true that Turkish people love children. My youngest is probably going to miss all the attention! They were given sweets, picked up and hugged, kissed, petted on the head.

Turyol ferry: We crossed the bridge to the other side to find the Turyol ferries for the 90 minute Bosphorus Cruise. I thought this is about the right amount of time for the kids to be on a boat and I was right. It was perfect. Just thought I’d mention there were lots of people with strollers on the cruise. You just park it up front where you board the boat. I wasn’t sure about taking the stroller and I couldn’t find much information online, but it was a breeze. Also, I wasn’t sure about using the stroller on the cobblestone streets of Istanbul where pavements aren’t the norm, but I my youngest’s legs would have given way if I made him walk through the Sultanamet area. So yes, you can use strollers on the streets of Istanbul (old city area). There were a lot of strollers about.

Definitely get tickets online for the Hagia Sofia and the Basilica Cistern. The lines were huge. My kids especially liked the fish in the underground cistern and running in the grass outside the Topkapi Palace! Also the German fountain.

Golden Horn Ferry: one day we thought we’d take the ferry to the stop Hasköy for the kids to visit the Rahmi Koc Museum. I followed TTP’s directions to find the ferry at Eminönü by walking west along the Golden Horn shore past the Turyol boats towards the T.C. Istanbul Ticaret Universitesi building. Then I walked towards the water and took a left. I got to a wooden building, except it wasn’t the right wooden building. I asked for directions and realized I had walked in the wrong direction. You need to take a right once to get to the water, or alternatively, its easier to walk through the bus stop/ parking lot (which we discovered when we got back). I had printed out the Golden Horn ferry schedule so we knew when to head to the pier to catch a ferry back to Eminonu.

Taksim Square/ Istikal Street: We flew back into Istanbul on the 15th of May (our hotel was exactly on the corner of Taksim and Istikal Street) two days after the mining disaster. I was a little concerned with the news reports of the protests and strikes in the area and called the hotel the morning we were to arrive to assess the situation. They said things had settled down and we shouldn’t have problems getting to the hotel from the airport. I booked a transfer from the airport just to be safe for 30Euros. We got there fine. My kids loved walking down Istikal street although there was heavy police presence in the area over the next 4 days. They loved the nostalgic tram and the furnicular to Kabatas. We also walked to the Galata tower area one evening. We saw a lot of the protesters (even the employees at the M.A.C. shop on Istikal had blackened their faces in protest) as we walked the area but otherwise things seemed normal. I was never concerned for the safety of my children. All the people we talked to said to only worry about the police using more force than necessary.

Dolmabahce Palace: I looked online and elsewhere for tickets in advance thinking the queues would be bad, but we got to the palace around noon and it wasn’t crowded at all. We only did the Selamik tour thinking my kids wouldn’t have the patience to walk through the harem as well and it worked well. You should have seen my 2.5 year old awed by the ceiling in the last hall. It was funny, he was walking with his head tilted up. We thought we’d have a bite at the café outside the palace. The service there was extremely slow. The worse we have encountered over our 3 weeks in turkey. The food was good though.

Grand Bazaar: we took the tram to the grand bazaar to walk around a bit. We didn’t really make many purchases. We found the spice bazaar better especially those alleys to the left.

Miniaturk: We took the bus from Taksim Square (54ht) to Miniaturk one morning, I thought the kids would enjoy seeing miniature versions of the stuff they had already seen on their trip. They had a good time. The whole place can be seen in less than 2 hours, it isn’t very big. If it wasn’t for the kids, I wouldn’t have bothered with it. My youngest train crazy son loved the train ride around the place.

Taxi scams: Only one time we took a taxi, we almost got scammed. I kept telling the driver to put the meter on and he kept pointing down to something saying it was. It didn’t look like a meter to me. We finally got to our destination and he punched some numbers on that gadget he had down and said it was 65TL. I had prices of approximate fares for the distances we intended taking cabs and it shouldn’t have been more than 25TL. I told him that wasn’t a meter and he wasn’t being honest, got out of the cab, took a picture of his cab and his number plate and him and took out my wallet to pay him. He immediately said I could pay him 30TL and please delete the pictures… other than that everyone we met was lovely.

Princes Island: It was pretty straight forward catching the ferry from Kabatas. Very nice day out.

Coming up: Cappadocia, Izmir/Selcuk/Kusadasi, Pammukale, Fethiye, Kas, Antalya.

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    Wonderful report, Boobaby!

    Wife and I, with twin teenage daughters, are doing two weeks Istanbul/Izmir/Selcuk/Fethiye/Kas/Istanbul beginning June 1. You have already addressed many of our questions and concerns (positively).

    We are VERY eager to read about the rest of your trip, which mirrors ours in many ways.

    Thank you!

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    Turkish Airlines: We were scheduled to fly Turkish Airlines to Kayseri and asked the hotel to arrange a transfer to the airport. We checked out and waited in the lobby for the transfer. It never arrived. The guy at the front desk kept saying the car is stuck in traffic and that all the streets in Istanbul have been shut for a cycling event (it was a Sunday, the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey ). 20 minutes past the time we were scheduled to leave the hotel, we told the guy at reservations to just flag us a regular yellow cab. We loaded our stuff and told the guy to hurry. Big mistake. I swear he was the craziest driver I have ever had the misfortune of encountering. In hindsight it’s a little funny, but he kept swearing, muttering, at one point stopped in the middle of the street to get out of the car to take off his jacket because he was stressed getting us to the airport on time! He went in reverse down narrow hilly cobblestone streets, he went in the wrong direction up one way streets, at one point we got blocked by a car that had parked in the middle of the road. The taxi guy got so mad he started honking incessantly but the street was deserted and he finally had to back up and take another route! And the streets of Istanbul were shut in many places because of the cycling tour but finally, finally, the driver managed to get us on the road to the airport. Needless to say, we got there with hardly any time to spare. We got to the Turkish Airlines Counter, proceeded to check in our bags and then the girl checking us in says can you follow me to my supervisor. We do, and we are told the flight has been overbooked. There are no seats left. Sigh. I’m like how is that possible when I have confirmed tickets booked back in February and there’s still an hour to take off. They say they will put us on the next flight to Kayseri, compensate us monetarily, give us use of lounge and wifi. Its not like we have a choice, so we acquiesce. I email our hote (Esbelli Evi in Ürgüp) and notify them of our rescheduled arrival and call the rental people (we booked through and notify them as well.

    My kids were actually fine with the delay, we had lunch at the airport and boarded the next Turkish Airlines flight to Kayseri without issue. The flight took off and somewhere over Ankara, there was horrible turbulence. The plane was literally rattling, violently. Then there is chaos in the front of the plane, screaming, and flight attendants running (grabbing seats to keep from falling) back and forth. One flight attendant asks for a doctor over the PA system. A young man in the seat in front of me rushes to the front. The pilot announces there is a medical emergency and that we will have to land in Ankara. (Someone on the flight had a heart attack).

    Anyway, long story short, the turbulence finally ceases, the doctor is able to stabilize the patient while we are still circling over Ankara waiting for clearance to land, and the finally, when the patient is off oxygen, the pilot announces we are headed to Kayseri after all. When the doctor walked back to his seat, the entire plane burst with applause. And there aresighs of relief. We landed an hour late.

    EconomyCarRentals: The rental guy was waiting outside the airport. Unfortunately, that was not the car we had asked for. It was supposed to be a Ford Mondeo or similar/diesel/manual with GPS. What was waiting was a very small Nissan with no GPS. No way our suitcases were going to fit into that trunk. So the rental guy says he’ll take us to his office and he changes the car to an automatic Hyundai with a bigger trunk. We are to drop off the car at the airport in 3 days. The GPS is set for Ürgüp and by the time we get on the road for the hour plus drive to the hotel, its about 7pm. About 20 minutes into the drive the highway was closed. The GPS wasn’t able to calculate an alternate route. After wandering around a bit, I used googlemaps on my iphone to make our way back to the Ürgüp highway. I also had paper printouts of all the routes we planned on driving with directions, just in case.

    Esbelli Evi: We got to Esbelli Evi around 9pm where Yasemin was waiting for us. She was super kind and upgraded us to a suite and ordered dinner from a nearby restaurant. The kids loved the ‘cave house’ and although I thought they’d be tired from the long travel day, they were actually all wound up and it took me a while to get them settled in…

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    Must have been miserable.
    But, in hindsight, these are the kinds of events that make a trip adventurous and memorable.

    Congratulations for your ability to see things from the perspective of your kids and for not projecting any of your anxiety and stress to them during those harrowing times.

    Next time you are in Turkey. Eser and I promise to baby sit your kids one evening while you enjoy a night out.

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    Hey OC, yes, I'm sure we're going to be talking about that day for a long time! It wasn't that bad though and my kids were actually fine, its funny. They thought it was all one big adventure... And thank you for your offer to baby sit!! We loved Turkey so much we definitely will be back someday!

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    Royal Balloons: I wasn’t quite sure if we should do the hot air ballooning while in Cappadocia because I knew the kids were too little but I emailed Royal Balloons and asked if my 5 year old would be able to ride. Minimum age is 6 years but he’s really tall for his age and wanted to do it. The chief pilot Suat Ulusoy, was very nice and replied to my email saying it would not be a problem and he wouldn’t even charge for his flight. So we got picked up at the ungodly hour of 445am by the Royal Balloon van and were taken to the headquarters for breakfast. There was a chalk board at the entrance directing us to our table and also letting us know which van to ride when it was time to get to the balloons. Very organized. Breakfast was over and done with soon enough and we went outside to see what was happening. It was really windy. After an hour had passed, the chief pilot announced the balloons wouldn’t be going up because of the weather and we could put our names down on the waiting list if we wanted to try for the next day. I wasn’t sure if I should. The weather forecast for the next few days was really bad with high winds and rain and the thought of having to wake up at 4am again was making me cringe. My son said we should put our names down just in case the balloons did go up, so we did. They called the hotel sometime after breakfast and said they would pick us up again.

    The next day we were up and ready, bundled in warm clothes because the weather was not the greatest again. I didn’t think the balloons would go up but we thought we’d give it a shot. So back to the headquarters, breakfast and then they actually loaded us into the vans and took us to the balloon sites. It was great to see the balloons filling up. Once our balloon was all filled up, we were loaded into the baskets. Then the pilot said he had to wait for the go ahead from the Ministry of Transportation, Directorate-General of Civil Aviation. We waited in the basket for over half an hour but it never came. The flight was canceled again. We got some great pictures though. And a refund. And that was the end of our ballooning adventure. I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing to begin with so I wasn’t really that disappointed. We now have a reason to go back to Cappadocia…

    Driving in Cappadocia: I think it’s a great idea to have a rental. Driving is very easy and I doubt we’d have seen as much as we did if we didn’t have a car. The first day we drove through Deverent Valley (stopping for pictures every few minutes!) to the Zelve Open Air Museum, which was quite deserted. My kids enjoyed exploring the area. We then got back into the car and drove through Pasabagi to Avanos where we stopped for a bite. My kids liked watching the ducks by the river. Then we got back on the road and headed for Goreme, making a stop at Cavusin to check out the church of St John the Baptist. The Goreme Open Air Museum was very crowded in caparison to the other places we’d been to, but we decided to head inside. The Dark Church is definitely worth the extra cost and effort. By now, my youngest was in need of a nap, we got back to car where he promptly fell asleep and drove through Love Valley. My husband and older son got out to stretch their legs for a bit and then we headed to Uchisar Castle. My older son insisted he wanted to climb to the top of the castle so my husband took him but I had read there are no railings etc and its not the safest place for children. I warned my husband to keep a tight leash on him. My youngest was still napping so I stayed with him but my older son had a great time trekking to the top. We thought we’d then go through Pigeon Valley and this was actually all we had planned for the day, thinking we’d take it easy. But it was still early afternoon. So we thought we’d drive down to Kaymakli, the underground city.

    Kaymakli: We got a guide to take us down and I would definitely recommend that. I’m not sure we would have found our way down and back without one. I didn’t know if it was advisable to take little children down, and I had read it can get crowded but our guide was very confidant it wouldn’t be a problem. And there weren’t many people at that time of day. So we went. My kids absolutely loved the place. My poor husband is 6 feet plus and he had to bend double in the tiny tunnels but for the kids, they could just walk and they loved it. It was very interesting. Our guide told us the story of a Polish guy who recently deviated from the path, went down the well with the handholds and couldn’t get out because it was slippery. By the time he was missed by his tour group, and underground city had already shut down for the night. Apparently, our guide was part of the rescue effort the following day to get the tourist out. He had spent the entire night in absolute darkness.

    Selime Monastery: worth the effort to get there. It was wonderful to explore this particular area. It was definitely a long drive getting there from Ürgüp though.
    Belisırma Village: cute little village, easy to get to, stopped there for lunch. I think its where most of the tour buses stop? It was pretty crowded.

    Ihlara Valley: we used a backpack carrier for my younger child to trek the valley. Lovely views. Going down was a breeze, getting back up not so much.

    Mustafapasa: Cute little village we stopped for a little bit at on the way back to Ürgüp from the Ihlara Valley.

    Overall, we all loved Cappadocia. The landscape is definitely unique and one of a kind. Our three night stay was adequate to explore the entire area and I’m glad we had a rental so we could go wherever we fancied and stop whenever we saw breathtaking views. It was much more flexible than taking one of the green or red tour buses. I don’t think I would have been able to manage those with the kids. Dropping off the rental was easy too. The same guy was waiting at the appointed time right outside the departure area. I think we paid about 100 euros for the 3 days.

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    Wow, that sounds like it was quite the day of travel to get to Kayseri. Too bad about the balloon because it is quite spectacular. As you said . . . next time.

    Enjoying your report . . .


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    Ian, yes, hopefully next time we can all go... We'll wait until the kids are older:)

    gmajor23, we got the tickets before we left at: I just checked and it says the site is closed for renovation? Hopefully it should be done soon, because the lines to the ticket kiosks were really really long...

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    SunExpress: Our flight was from Kayseri to Izmir at 855. We got there early, just to be on the safer side, after that whole Turkish Airlines experience, and good thing too, because the flight was preponed (is that a word?) to 830am. We had plenty of time to spare, but we never got any email or notification the time had changed. Anyway, it was a regular low cost flight, 15 kg check in allowance, snacks to be purchased on board.

    EconomyCarRentals: We got to Izmir about half an hour before we were scheduled to pick up our rental outside the airport. I called the number that was listed and told them we were there already. He said to wait outside the airport by the café and someone would arrive shortly with the car. Pick up was smooth, we had asked for a Duster/Manual/Diesel and that’s what was delivered. He loaded our luggage, took us to a gas station and filled out some paperwork. The tank was empty, so good thing we were at a gas station.

    Kusadasi: This was a last minute decision, staying at Kusadasi. I actually had reservations at a place in Selcuk, but just before we were to leave for the trip, my husband decided we could use our Hilton points and stay in Kusadasi (he’s a fitness fanatic and the fact that the Hilton has a gym was probably the deciding factor…). Drive was pretty straight forward. Used the toll road. I think that’s a brilliant time-saving concept, the whole sticker thing. There’s an OGS sticker and a HGS sticker. We had the HGS one and we drove though the gate that had the HGS sign on the top. As easy as that. We checked in, had lunch and rested and then made our way to the old town/promenade area. My kids had a blast, running around near the fountains, watching the kids rollerblading, watching the cruise ships at the harbor. We had a nice meal at a local restaurant and then my older one wanted an ice cream. The entire buying experience lasted 10 minutes with my son getting to wear the whole outfit and the ice cream man pulling pranks with his stretchy, magical ice cream. After this, every day my son wanted an ice cream… Our second day in Kusadasi was spent much the same way but we drove around looking at the views for a bit, walked to Pigeon Island and saw this bridal troupe taking sunset pictures, it was quite interesting to see the photographer brave the waves and slippery rocks to get a good shot…, took a sunset cruise, ate some more ice-cream…

    Ephesus: We drove as early as we could to get to Ephesus. We took the right at the main road that took us to the lower entrance parking lot. It was a really hot sunny day and I thought we’d enter from the lower entrance and see the Library of Celcius before it got too crowded but then we would have to walk uphill. Then this old guy approached us and asked us if we wanted to do the horse carriage ride to the top entrance and I thought the kids might enjoy that and we went with it. Definitely get a guide. Its hard to appreciate the ruins otherwise. I took the stroller for my younger son and it wasn’t hard to negotiate it down the cobble stones. Also it had a sunshade so he was quite content. It wasn’t very crowded, much better than I expected. Definitely buy the extra tickets for the terrace houses. For one thing, it is a covered area, a nice cool respite from the heat. Defintely carry lots of water, sunscreen and an umbrella, the heat was worse than I had expected but we were prepared so it was okay. The kids loved the friendly cats. The ruins are very impressive, quite on par with the ruins we’ve seen in Rome and Pompeii. Exiting from the lower entrance, there are a lot of stalls selling everything including ‘genuine fake watches’.

    The Temple of Artemis is only a column. We also drove by the cave of the seven sleepers but didn’t stop as I had read it isn’t very interesting plus my younger son had fallen asleep. So we drove to Selcuk for lunch and after, drove up the mountains to visit the House of the Virgin Mary. Its basicially like a shrine, and there is a small café at the entrance and shops that sell religious souvenirs. We got there before the tour buses and we had the whole place to ourselves. It was lovely, peaceful and the drive up the mountains was very scenic. We lit some candles, and walked through the house twice since there was no one else. As we were leaving, a few buses had arrived and a whole throng of noisy people was making their way up to the entrance. So glad to have missed that. The café at the entrance has some nice fast food, we picked up a few burgers for the kids on the way out.

    Sirince: We still had half a day ahead of us so instead of heading back to Kusadasi, we thought we’d drive to Sirince. Just for the heck of it. The kids had been fed and had napped and were good to go. Didn’t realize the roads up to the village were that narrow and uphill… and you have to park outside the village and its quite the distance to walk to the center. The village is lovely though, with the old ottoman houses and worth the effort to get to.

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    Driving to Pammukale: The drive from Kusadasi to Pammukale was pretty straight forward. The roads are good. We stopped somewhere en-route for a bite to eat, and then it was straight to Pamukkale. As we were approaching the GPS was a little confused and kept directing us towards Denizli but googlemaps helped again and we put in the hotel address and all was good.

    Venus Hotel: this was a one night stay and the hotel was alright. The staff was very nice and we had dinner at the restaurant that night, which was pretty good. The location is just a five minute drive from the travertines. If you don’t have a car, I suppose it can be quite a walk. The weather was really cloudy, cold and rainy when we arrived. The staff was very kind and lent us some umbrellas as we decided to brave the weather and head to the travertines.

    Hieropolis/Travertines: There was a lull in the rain for a bit so we decided to head up. I initially wanted to go to the North entrance and walk down to the thermal pools but the guy at the lobby thought it would be better considering the weather and the kids that we head to the South entrance. That is what we did. We parked and walked to the thermal pools first. There were people swimming. The shoe police are very strict about enforcing the no shoes rule, an elderly couple was whistled at for not abiding. And the pools that you can walk in are definitely not soft as cotton. There are sharp pebbles/stones and some areas are very slippery. My youngest was in the carrier but I had to hold on to my older son to make sure he didn’t fall. I managed to get a deep cut on my foot from the sharp pebbles but everyone else was fine. The views from the top were fantastic. So was the archeological site of Hierapolis. The theatre is quite grand. I didn’t realize it was that huge. We spent about four hours from 4pm to 8pm and watched the sun set. Again, it wasn’t as crowded as I anticipated, maybe because of the weather.

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