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Turkey trip report: Istanbul and car trip to Aegean region..part one..

Turkey trip report: Istanbul and car trip to Aegean region..part one..

Oct 21st, 2005, 06:55 AM
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Turkey trip report: Istanbul and car trip to Aegean region..part one..

After a 8 days in Athens and Santorini, I flew with a few friends to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines from Athens. The airline was excellent..comfy leather seats and good service. What follows will be a brief report on my 12 days in Turkey, which will be written in installments.

Upon arrival in Istanbul we took a taxi to the Four Seasons, where we had booked two nights. Taxis are easy to find at the airport and the ride to the hotel cost about 25 Turkish Lira, including an upcharge for baggage. Four of us fit in one taxi. Having heard some bad stories about Istanbul taxis, I will say here that I never had any problems during my stay. Meter was always on and the drivers seemed honest. I always hired a taxi outside my hotel or restaurant and had the doorman write the name of destination on it to forestall any problems. Taxis are not expensive (compared to NYC anyway) and were easy to find.

The Four Seasons has been written about often here so I do not go into much detail. The physical space is very impressive; my room was not very large but was comfortable times ten. The service is what sets this hotel apart. There seem to be many staff members for each guest and they will go out of their way to help guests. Although this is a chain hotel, the feeling is not chain-ish at all. Some of my friends had rooms overlooking the mosques which were lit at night. My room had a view of the inner courtyard and garden area. While the hotel has a roof deck that affords great views, I would recommend requesting a room with views of the two nearby mosques. My room cost me just over $400 US a night so I consider this a worthwhile once-in-a lifetime splurge. Next time I would choose one of the other nearby, more reasonable places. Freiends were very happy, for example, with the Nena Hotel.
On this portion of the trip, I stayed in the Sultanahmet area close to the hotel and did the usual sights, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia along with Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace. For people who are limited to one or two days in Istanbul, I recommend the Sultanahmet neighborhood due to its proximity to these and other sights; they are each walkable from the Four Seasons and the other hotels nearby.

Much mention has been made here about carpet touts and other city hassles. For my part, I did not find the touts too troublesome. Yes, they approach you with all manner of lines intended to lure you into a carpet shop. Yes, they can be a bit persistent. But I used these encounters to ask for directions..for example, "Where can I find good borek around here?" and was always treated with courtesy even when it was apparent I did not want to buy any carpets, or at least not from them. If someone is interested in high-quality carpets, there are many well-known shops that you can find on your own. I visited the famous Sisko Osman in the Grand Bazaar, as well as another very high-end place (Begins with M and has two words in the name..the Four Seasons will know it )located on the other side of the Arasta Bazaar from the Four Seasons. I wish I could remember the name. This place, in particular, was a treasure trove and I only wish I had space at home for one of their rugs. Note that these high-end places do not employ touts.

While I did not find the touts disturbing, there is one issue that I will lpost a warning about and this is ATM machines in Istanbul. While I had no trouble, my friend was approached at an ATM machine by a "friendly" local holding the hand of a small child, who asked if he could offer assistance with the ATM since the machine appeared to be jammed. Well, this "local" found a way to get my friend's card in his hand and quickly switched it with sleight of hand so that when my friend next attempted to use the card it was, of course, denied since it was not his to begin with but probably the card of some unlucky sould who had fallen for this trick a few minutes before. On another occasion, I was with a friend at at ATM when we too, were approached by a guy purporting to be friendly. Of course now we were wary and told them to get lost. So I mention this only to impress the need to be very careful around ATM machines in any city and to avoid using them, if possible, when the bank itself is closed. These incldents happened both in Sultanahmet and on Istiklal Caddessi. There has been a lot of talk about bad stuff like this being carried out by recent immigrants to the city from the Balkans. I have no idea if this is true, but that is what the word is in Istanbul.

Well, on to better things: Food is, of course, great in Turkey. During our stay at Four Seasons, we had two dinners near the hotel; both were good. First: Balikci Sabahattin. We ate outside under a (grape?) arbor surrounded by many locals and some European tourists. Meal begins with the usual array of cold and hot mezzes proferred on platters for you to make your chose, and then moves on to fresh fish. I did not much care for Turkish wine..the drink du jour with locals is, of course, raki, which they order by the bottle for the entire table. Wine is not inexpensive, as compared with Italy, for example, and I would recommend the raki route if your tastes (and intentines) allow. The next night we ate at Hamdi Et Lokantasi (Et means "meat;" Balik is "fish" both words give a clue to a restaurants specialty.) The day before I tried to reserve a table on the terrace which is reputed to have a wonderful view but the place was booked so we ate in one of the dining rooms..place was packed and service is lightening fast, too fast, actually. Here, and in many of the places we ate, English is not spoken by most of the staff but menus have (in some cases rudimentary and funny) English translations and it is really simple to point to what you fancy and order, either from the large platters for meze or from behind the counter where the meats to be cooked are laid out. Food here was good....kebabs, especially. By the way, the entrance is by elevator through what looks like a bakery..take the elevator up following the lead of the guy posted at the door who wioll check your names on his sheet. Here and everywhere else I had dinner, reservations were made for me in advance by the hotel staff.

After two and a half days in Istanbul, three of us set out on a car trip with a driver supplied by Mr. Kutay Gurel from Auto Turkey/Sunday Car Rental. I recommend Mr. Kutay highly; his number is 235 41 31 in Istanbul. We had five days and four nights for our trip. I planned the route and made our hotel reservations and Mr. Kutay supplied the personable, English-speaking driver, 30-year-old Hamdi. I should add that Mr. Kutay told us he has arranged car/driver jaunts for people such as Bill Clinton and US consulary officials. The price of the car with driver came to $1150 USD, split three ways between us. This included food and hotel for the driver and all taxes and car insurance. Our hotels and food, of course, were extra, as was gasoline which is VERY expensive in Turkey. We used three tanks of gas in our full-sized Ford and each tank cost close to $100 USD.

Midday one Wednesday, the Ford with Hamdi at the wheel arrived at the Four Seasons and we were off, via Cannakale, to Assos and our first night's stay in the North Aegean. To be continured....
ekscrunchy is offline  
Oct 21st, 2005, 08:01 AM
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Good stuff - looking forward to reading more!
Meredith is offline  
Oct 29th, 2005, 07:54 AM
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Part Two: After a morning spent visiting Topkapi (get there early..I was the only one in the Treasury immediately after opening; see the Treasury then get in line for your Harem tour tickets), we set off bound for Assos in our rental Ford with driver, Hamdi, at the wheel. The route took us along the highway towards Erdine. The road passes many miles of Istanbul suburbs after the airport, with high rises cropping up on every hillside. This toll road (minimal fee) is a good one, although not as wide or as smooth as a superhighway in the US. It is the main route to Bulgaria and Greece. We branched off near Tekirdag (home of the finest raki) bound for the Gallipoli peninsula. Parts of the road after Tekirdag were being resurfaced and were a bit rough; signage is all right but can be confusing at times around the detours due to road resurfacing. Thank goodness I was not behind the wheel. On this road, as elsewhere, there are clean bathrooms at rest stops. After driving a few hours, Hamdi announced that he wanted to stop for a snack (he was allowed to eat during Ramadan because he was traveling, or so he believed) at a good place. WHen I protested and asked to stop at a roadside kebab place, Hamdi urged me to wait for the best place to eat on this road. We were very excited about our upcoming taste of Turkish road food. Excitement turned to hilarity when Hamdi pulled of at his favorite lunch spot: Burger King. While he chowed down, I explored the large, modern supermarket next door to BK and found it filled with shoppers, their carts laden with Ramadan foodstuffs. I got on line to buy my large bottle of water and waited while the guy in front of me unloaded all of his vacuum-packed Vienna-style hot dogs, Fritos, and other holiday treats. I should add that good baklava is to be found almost anywhere, including supermarket bakery counters; however, it does not make ideal eating on long car trips due to the stickiness factor.

Once en route again, we drove along the Gallipoli peninsula (did not get to see the battlefields due to time limitations but I imagine they are moving and worth the trip) towards the Feribot that would take us across the Dardanelles to Cannakale. It was just getting dark when we arrived at the Feribot; however there was no "bot" in sight, so Hamdi decided we would press on further south to what he referred to as the "Speedy Feribot." The ensuing ride took us along unsurfaced lanes, through blocks of new apartment houses, past dense woods, with no signs in sight. I must say at times we wondered where in heck Hamdi was taking us but sure enough, after another half-hour or so driving we came to a tiny dock in the townn of Kilitbahir where a small ("speedy") ferry boat was just about to depart. Not one sign that I could spot indicated the presence of this ferry. This proved to be a crossing of only 20 minutes or so (it crosses a narrower section of the straits than does the larger ferry)...filled with what appeared to be pedestrian commuters and several medium-sized trucks. The town of Kilitbahir is dominated by a a 15th Century castle built by Mehmet the Conquerer which would make a good stop if you arrive before 6:30 closing time. We arrived in Cannakale just as night fell, so I would say after about 5 hours of driving from Istanbul. We did not stop, although C. appeared to be a pleasant large town. At dusk there were many food stalls set up along the waterfront and shop after shop piled high with the local halvah flavored with cheese and known as peynirli helvah. This is the center of the Anzac Day celebrations on 25 April as well as the jumping off point for the ruins of Troy. We had reservations in Assos, so we pressed on, driving in the night south along the coast and then inland on the rouad to Ayvacik. By the time we were outside Cannakale it was pitch black and the road signs were hard to see. All books had advised us against driving at night in Turkey so I was a bit nervous but Hamdi was a very safe, and even somewhat slow at times, driver. Around Ayvacik we stopped once or twice to ask directions and finally found the road back to the coast. (I will add here that the Dobag carpet cooperative showroom is on the Cannakale-Ayvacik road; we backtracked a bit to visit it the next morning)
The road from Ayvacik to Assos-Behramkale is a very narrow one with no lights at night. And it seemed very long! But we finally spotted the lights of Assos down below and about 8pm, after passing the well-known 14th Century bridge leading to the town, we pulled up in front of the Hotel Nazilhan in Assos. Assos is tiny; the town consists only of a row of restored stone houses, former Greek residences when this part of Turkey was in Greek hands, now turned into small hotels. Assos-Behramkale was founded in the 8th Century BC and was the home of Aristotle for several years. Behind the hotels there are a few streets of local shops. The main part of the town of Assos-Behramkale, the Behramkale portion, is on the hilltop overlooking the harbor, a short ride or a very, very long steep hike from the sea and the waterfront hotels. Surrounding much of it are remains of the ancient fortified walls. But we would visit Behramkale in the morning. This night after arrival, we checked in to our rooms. The roms are located up a stairway from the stone-walled lobby decorated with interesting Ottoman folk art and maps. Rooms at Nazilhan are small with stone walls and burgundy-colored shiny-material curtains and bedspreads. Sort of a cross between Poconos honeymoon hotel and charming Turkish seafront inn. En suite bathrooms are very small with modern fixtures. A small window in my seafront room (extra charge for sea view) looked out on the harbor, filled with many sail boats and small fishing craft. We saw no other tourists, save a small group of German women and one French couple. Dinner (and breakfast) was included in the price of the room (double about 130 TL) Dinner is served outside the hotel on the promenade facing the water. The set menu for hotel guests consisted of a small assortment of mezze, followed by fried whole local fish and salad. Good, plain food. A bottle of Turkish wine was about 20 TL extra. There are no restaurants open at night aside from those in the hotels. Resident cats congregate soon after fish is served. Many, many cats. While they all appear to be well fed, there was quite a bit of competition for the tastiest morsels of fish provided by the (human) dinner guests. I guess the feline dinner was not big enough for I saw what looked like these same cats tearing through the plastic garbage bag outside the hotel dumpster early the next morning. Truly it breaks your heart but the hotel workers assured me that the cats are well fed by tourists during the season. What happens after that was left unsaid.

So after dinner it was off to bed at the Nazilhan and an early wakeup for the promised breakfast buffet. We had planned originally to stay two nights in Asos but after surveying the limited scope of the town, we decided that after a morning visit to the Temple of Diana and the surrounding village on the hillside, we would press on in to Foca, by way of the Dobag showroom in Ayvacik and the coastal town of Ayvalik, site of a weekly Thursday market.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Oct 30th, 2005, 10:54 AM
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Thanks for the great trip report!
We will be visiting Istanbul with a spry 80 year old relative, would you recommend Nena Hotel, or one of the larger hotels?
ssnward is offline  
Oct 30th, 2005, 11:03 AM
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I did not stay at the Nena but some friends I was traveling with did and they really loved it. The breakfasts, in particular, got good reviews. But it is not a luxury place. Check the reviews on Trip Advisor. I see no reason why a spry 80-year old would find a problem with the place but you might ask for opinions of those who have actually stayed there.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Oct 30th, 2005, 11:21 AM
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Thank you, I'll try Trip Advisor. The Four Seasons sounds wonderful, but too expensive for us.
Traveling with my grandmother, I thought a smaller hotel, like Nena, might not have an elevator or the comforts she prefers.
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Oct 31st, 2005, 04:14 AM
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Dear Ssnward,

Here are two boutique hotels both of which are in the middle of everywhere. Only 5-10 minutes from all historic sites such as the Blue Mosque, St.Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, the Hippodrome, Cagaloglu Hamam, Grand Bazaar etc. They both have elevators as well.

Enjoy your stay in Istanbul.

With all good wishes.

http://www.amisoshotel.com/
http://www.celalsultan.com/



AsiaMinor is offline  
Oct 31st, 2005, 04:55 AM
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Asia Minor gives very good advice. I planned my trip using many of his recommendations.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Oct 31st, 2005, 04:25 PM
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Asia, thank you so much for your recommendations.
ssnward is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2006, 02:07 PM
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topping in response to recent query
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Dec 3rd, 2006, 12:38 PM
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Thanks for topping ekscrunchy!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2006, 01:08 PM
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You're welcome. I am a bit embarassed by the fact that I did not complete this report. I LOVED Foca and the Focantique Hotel. If you have any questions, just ask...
ekscrunchy is offline  
Feb 4th, 2007, 11:37 AM
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Just to add a small detail:

The name of the rug shop near the Arasta Bazaar is:

Mehmet Cetinkaya Gallery

Very fine rugs; many collectors shop here.

www.cetinkayagallery.com
ekscrunchy is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2007, 12:27 PM
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I realize that I never did finish this report; the rest of the drive included overnights at Foca and at Sirince. I will be happy to answer any questions about these two places, or the drive itself.

After Sirince, we drove back to Istanbul via the ferry at Bandirma. Long drive!

I then spent about 4 nights at the Marmara Pera Hotel in Beyoglu.

Please post any questions..sorry I did not finish the saga!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Jun 19th, 2007, 06:37 AM
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topping for JohnMango....
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