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Two Fantastic Weeks in Turkey (LONG report...)

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Sep 14th, 2012, 08:03 PM
  #1
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Two Fantastic Weeks in Turkey (LONG report...)

Wow...what a fantastic time! I had planned this trip for close to a year, ever since visiting Istanbul in Sept. 2011 after spending a week in Greece. Let me post some key observations to start with, and I'd be happy to answer any questions that anyone might have.

Fri. Aug. 24: Fly from Minneapolis to NY-JFK and from there, to Istanbul.

Sat. Aug. 25: Arrive Istanbul. Planned to take the Havas shuttle to my hotel (Witt Istanbul) in Cihangir. However there was some sort of re-routing of the Havas bus at Ataturk airport. The (supposed) Havas employees pointed me to where the bus was supposed to arrive but it didn't look to me like it would stop there, so I ended up taking the subway and light rail/tramvay to my hotel. Checked into Witt Istanbul into the penthouse suite. UNBELIEVABLE views of the Old City and Beyoglu. Took a shower and immediately hit the city. Visited the Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum, re-visited the Blue Mosque to get some better interior photos of the blue Isnik tiles, and strolled the Arasta Bazaar. Stopped and chatted with Jennifer at Jennifer's Bazaar. Returned to the Witt and later had dinner at Hatay a few blocks away. Picked up a bottle of Narince (native Turkish white wine) and enjoyed it on my balcony that evening while admiring the lights of the Old City and listening to the evening call to prayer. CRASHED!!

Sun. Aug. 26: Re-visited the Spice Bazaar. Debated buying some alleged Iranian Beluga Caviar (50 euro for 200g) but in the end, decided to pass. From there, visited the Rustem Pasa Mosque and the Sulyeman the Magnificent Mosque. (for my $$, even more beautuful than the Blue Mosque!). From there, spent about 3 hours at Topkapi Palace, although didn't make it in time to visit the Harem which closes at 5:00. Later that night, took a cab to Ortakoy. Had a stuffed baked potato and strolled around. Unfortunately the Ortakoy Mosque is still draped behind scaffolding, but the close up view of the Bosphorus Bridge lit up at night was beautiful.

Mon. Aug. 27: This was meant to be a day taking a ferry up the Golden Horn, stopping at St. Stephen of the Bulga'r Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, before heading off to the Chora Church. For some reason that I still don't understand, the Golder Horn ferries were not running. As near as I could tell from speaking with the gentleman at the ticket booth, the "bridge was too low". Now in late Aug. I can't imagine the river was too high, but I could see that the bridge immediately upstream from the Galata Bridge looked to be a low, little wooden bridge that didn't look like ANYTHING could pass under it. I'm still confused what the issue was. (Otherchelebi--maybe you could explain?). At any rate, I caught a bus to the Chora Church which was AMAZING. From there, I had lunch at Asitane (immediately next door) and then took a cab to the Eyup Sultan Mosque. After spending 30 minutes or so there, I walked to the Pierre Loti Cafe and caught the cable car up to the top. Enjoyed an apple tea while admiring the incredible views and listening to the call to prayer. Cab back to Eminonu. Had reservations for dinner at Antiochia in Beyoglu but with a thunderstorm, couldn't get a cab so just grabbed take out from up the street and enjoyed it on my hotel balcony while watching the Old City lights framed in rain,

Tues. Aug. 28: Fly to Izmir and meet my guide from AboutEphesus for a day tour of the Ephesus area. All I can say about Ephesus is WOW!!!! Even with the crowds, this was one of the top 2 highlights of my trip. The Library of Celsus is one of the 5 most incredible things I've seen on this planet. My tour guide was very good in the morning. However, things went somewhat downhill after the inevitable visit to the carpet shop. During lunch, my guide asked me what sort of car I drove and whether I owned my home. Being the straight shooting Midwesterner that I am, I answered honestly, at which point I realized I was being sized up. My guide actually said to me "I think you are going to buy me a big carpet" (!!!!). After I DIDN'T buy a carpet, my guide seemed to lose interest in explaining the sites to me. Whatever! In addition to Ephesus, we visited the House of the Virgin Mary, the remains of the Temple of Artemis, St. John's Basilica, and the Ephesus Museum. Catch the early evening flight back from Izmir to Istanbul.

Wed. Aug. 29th: Free day in Istanbul, primarily devoted to shopping. Bought a cool leather bomber jacket at Prens Leather. (NOT CHEAP, but love the jacket). Gave the Grand Bazaar one more chance. (still hate it!) although picked up a few Turkish Evil Eyes for my nieces and some olive oil soaps for my Mom. Dinner that evening at Mezze by Lemon Tree.

Thurs. Aug.30: Take a 7:00 a.m. flight from Istanbul to Neveshir to meet up with Euphrates Tours for a 2 day tour of Cappadocia. Spent the next 2 days on a tour with 7 cool South Americans. Euphrates Tours did an EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT job. I highly recommend them. We visited the Goreme Open Air Museum, Pigeon Valley, Pasabagi (fairy chimneys) and the Dervent Valley that day. I hit the sack by 8:30 that night as I had to be up at 4:00 a.m. that next morning for my hot air balloon ride.

Fri. Aug. 31: Up at 4:00 a.m. for a 4:30 pickup by Royal Balloon. After a hot breakfast, we drive to the launch site. 12 of us in the balloon for the 90 minute "King" flight. WHAT A TRIP! This was so incredible and peaceful. We glided over valleys and fairy chimneys. We saw them in different lights as the sun continued to rise that morning. I was grateful a gentleman at my hotel (Garimasu Cave Hotel) lent me his jacket because I didn't bring one and it was chilly at dawn.) The balloon ride is an ABSOLUTE MUST and along with Ephesus, the Chora Churck and Saklikent Gorge (coming up) was one of my favorite parts of the trip! Remet my guide and the South Americans and visited Mustafapasa (ancient Greek city), Uchisar Castle, and the Red Valley. Cappadocia was incredible. Dropped off at the Kayseri airport for the evening flight back to Istanbul.

Sat. Sept. 1: Spent the morning in Istanbul strolling and shopping in the Galata neighborhood. This is a cool, somewhat transitional neighborhood. Bought a few old-style black and white Istanbul photographs to have framed. Caught the 3:20 flight to Trabzon to get to my hotel for the next day's visit to Sumela Monastery. HATED Trabzon--it's ugly and congested. No reedming value (although wanted to visit its Hagia Sophia church but it closed at 5:00 and I didn't get to my hotel until near 6:00)

Sun. Sept 2: Catch bus with Eyce Tours to the Sumela Monastery. I was sooo looking forward to this day but in all honesty, it was a bit dissapointing. Not the monastery's fault. It was so drizzly and foggy on the mountain that all but the lower third of the outer view of the monastery was fogged in. The frescoes inside were still beautiful and the mountain atmosphere was very beautiful, albeit with the large crowds. Return to my hotel to catch the flight to Istanbul and from there, to Dalaman to spend my last 4 days on the Turquoise Riviera. Arrive at my hotel in Fethiye around 12:30 a.m.

Mon. Sept 3: Explore Fethiye. Explore the incredible Lycian rock tombs (Telmessos) above the town. Bag a few rays at the marina at my hotel. Take a dolmus and visit Kayakoy (abandoned Greek village after the population exchange in 1923).

Tues. Sept. 4: Take the dolmus to Oludeniz Beach for a much needed day of relaxation. Beautful beach area. Hang out at the lagoon on my chaise lounge, under my umbrella and just enjoy the gorgeous Turkish coastline.

Wed. Sept. 5: Take a hydrofoil from Fethiye to Rhodes, Greece. Spend 5 hours exploring the Old City of Rhodes. I was afraid to venture too far on foot into the Old Town for fear of getting lost, but did later hop in a tourist tram and saw the remains of the Acroplis of Rhodes and a brief view of the Palace of the Knights. Returned to Fethyie around 7:00 p.m. that evening.

Thurs. Sept 6: The final highlight of the trip. Hooked up with an ad hoc hustler tour that drove past Tlos (incredible Lycian rock tombs) and Yakapark trout farm, before dropping us off at the entrance to the Saklikent Gorge. Saklikent Gorge was INCREDIBLE. Wade through the rapids at the entrance before beginning my hike throught the riverbed and gorge. Gorgeous scenery that changes with the sunlight. Although the gorge is 18km long, I only walked an hour inward (perhaps 3km) before deciding that I no longer wished to risk dropping the camera in the river or twisting my ankle climbing over the slippery rocks, so turned around and headed back to the entrance. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the Saklikent Gorge as an activity on the Turquoise Riviera as it combines scenery, physical activity and great photo oppoturnities all in one.

Fri. Sept 7: Time to leave Turkey. Fly from Dalaman to Istanbul and from there, to Paris. Dinner that evening at Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. (I was somewhat dissapointed, in all honesty, although the wine and a few courses on the tasting menu were very nice.)

Sat. Sept.. 8: Fly home from Paris to Minneapolis. By 10:00 p.m that evening, CRASH like I've never crashed before!

In summary, an incredible trip to an incredible, diverse country. I so recommend Turkey to anyone with any interest in the country. One of the greatest cities in the world, Roman Ruins, incredible nature, Byzantine monuments, beaches...Turkey has got it all!!
MinnBeef is offline  
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Sep 14th, 2012, 10:11 PM
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Very nice trip report!!

Since you just got back...
did you feel any tension there due to this Middel East turmoil in the area?
We are planning for a trip in next 2 weeks.

Can you plese give me the web addresses fot the hotels in IST, Ephesus and Cappadocia along with the full anme of the tours (2 days trip to cappa...)
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Sep 15th, 2012, 12:02 AM
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kja
 
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So glad you enjoyed your trip! Thanks for posting.

And thanks for sharing your reaction to the Saklikent Gorge - I crossed if off my wish list for my recent trip early because I figured I'd fall, twist an ankle, and drop my camera and other carry-alongs. I'm glad you were happy to spend some time there, and I'm glad I used my time for other things!
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Sep 15th, 2012, 12:07 AM
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kja
 
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And BTW, there is no way this qualifies as a "long" trip report! If you want to see one that really does qualify as "long," see the report I wrote on my trip to China. ;-)
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Sep 15th, 2012, 04:14 AM
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What a great report! Thanks so much .. I have always wanted to go back and do part of the rest of Turkey in detail after loving Istanbul many years ago.
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Sep 15th, 2012, 05:14 AM
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I will be in Istanbul in November, and hope to have as great a time as you did. Great report!
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Sep 15th, 2012, 08:31 AM
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Sumplanner--no, I felt no tension whatsover, although the closest I got to the Syrian border was in Trabzon and Sumela Monastery which is in the northeastern part of the country, much closer to Georgia and Armenia than Syria. I think you'll be fine if you stay out of the southeastern part of the country.

Here are the links:

http://www.wittistanbul.com/

http://www.aboutephesus.com/

http://www.cappadociatours.com/ (This is Euphrates tours-they go under several different names.)

For AboutEphesus, my guide's name was Selcuk. While he was very knowledgable, as I mentioned, once I didn't buy a carpet (for him or myself), his interest and professionalism suffered in the afternoon while he spent more time on his cell phone and trying to briskly get me through the afternoon agenda. I just took the opportunity to be rid of him for a while and intentionally slowed the tour down by asking him many questions and commenting that he seemed "bored".

Our guide for Euphrates was Turan. He was outstanding!
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Sep 15th, 2012, 08:33 AM
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kja--I thought about you while I was having the apple tea and listening to the call to prayer at Pierre Loti. What incredible views!

On your next trip to Turkey you'll have to visit Saklikent Gorge. The ankle-twisting risk is quite real, I think, but I just took things slowly and as I said, only walked in perhaps 3 or 4 kilometeres. (as far as the waterfall)

BTW, I dont' recall from your trip report--what did you think of Ephesus?
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Sep 16th, 2012, 02:21 PM
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Great report, MinnBeef! Since we're following in some of your footsteps, especially those on the day trip to Ephesus, I'm glad you had a memorable experience, despite your carpet guide. And we're looking forward to our balloon ride, too. We're hoping for a fine a time as you had!
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Sep 16th, 2012, 06:21 PM
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PG--I think it was you who asked in antoher thread. Absolutely bring a sweater or light jacket for the balloon ride as you are in the dessert and at dawn, it will be chilly. You'll have a blast. And I guarantee you will love Ephesus. The Library of Celsus is breathtaking--I could have stared at it for hours!

Are you going to either the Turquoise Riviera or the Aegean beach towns?
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Sep 16th, 2012, 06:57 PM
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Minn, we are just doing the "big three" -- Istanbul, Cappadocia and Ephesus.

We originally were just going for nine days to Istanbul (a leisurely, in-depth introduction to the city).

Then my colleagues and friends insisted that we MUST visit Cappadocia, so we extended the trip to two weeks, adding in four nights there.

I was then convinced by our fellow Fodorites to include a visit to Ephesus; since our flights from Chicago were already booked, we squeezed in the day trip. So we're now four nights in Sultanahmet, four nights in Cappadocia, and then five nights in Beyoglu (the Ephesus trip is during the Beyoglu part). Wish we could see more, but if OC is right, we'll be back!

I'm especially interested in your experiences, since at least part of your itinerary is the same as ours. I'm glad you had such a wonderful time! And yes, it was me asking about the chilly balloon ride -- and we'll be prepared with something warm to wear, as our ride is near the end of October, when it will be, if anything, colder.
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Sep 16th, 2012, 08:40 PM
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MinnBeef, Thank you for the great trip report. We too are off on our trip in 5 weeks. We are seeing Ephesus on day excursion off sailing trip we are doing from Greece to Istanbul. I was on the fence on whether to do tour thru boat service or hire someone local. Your "carpet experience" helped me make decision to just go with boat tour. I enjoyed all you information on Istanbul, thank you again.
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Sep 17th, 2012, 11:26 PM
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kja
 
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> kja ... BTW, I dont' recall from your trip report--what did you think of Ephesus?

OMG, I thought it utterly amazing! I visited the Ephesus Museum in Selcuk before going to the site, and thought it had some truly remarkable pieces that were very well displayed. Kudos to the curators! And I believe that the musuem, and especially the site itself, gave me a better sense of the splendor of a city of that era that I had from Pompeii or Herculanum or any other ancient city I'v visited ... but I'm sure I was better prepared to appreciate Ephesus because I had already seen these and other ruins from rather roughly similar times and eras). I thought the terrace houses a true "must see" - they offer a unique insight into the domestic ideals of the age. (Did you visit them?) And the library, oh my, the library! From my earliest days, I learned through my family to treasure books and libraries, so I felt particularly moved to see the reconstructed parts of the library at Ephesus and to appreciate the effort that had been put toward developing and implementing technologies that would better preserve the manuscripts preserved there. And just a week or two before, I had stood within the space that was once the library at Hattusa, and then a week or so later, I visited a library of Topaki Palace (I think it was the Library of Ahmed III) ... how fortunate can one traveller be to see three such testaments to the value of the printed word spanning millenia, all in one trip?
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Sep 19th, 2012, 08:12 AM
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Wonderful trip report. I will be in Fethiye for a few days. I'm just wondering how long the ferry ride took to Rhodes Island? Is it worth visiting for a day? My other option is to take a day boat trip around Kas, so I'm debating which one to do.
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Sep 19th, 2012, 08:23 AM
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Michelle-the trip to Rhodes took about 90 minutes. The boat left a little later than it was supposed to, so we arrived in Rhodes at 11:00 a.m. rather than the expected 10:30. The ride back took considerably longer. Not sure why but the waves coming back looked larger so I suspect the hydrofoil slowed down. It took about 2:40 returning. In all honesty, I wasn't impressed with Rhodes. In its defense, I didn't venture too far into the Old City for fear of getting lost and missing the boat back. (I did hop on one of those tourist trams and that was nice enough to see the Acropolis and a brief tour of part of the island). But the part of the Old City I did see was just touristy type shops and restaurants. I wanted to say that I've been there as well as to see if it was somewhere I'd like to spend 2-3 days in the future if I return to Greece. But since the drive/dolums from Fethiye to Kas is comparable in time to the boat trip to Rhodes, I think I'd recommend giving Kas a try.
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Sep 25th, 2012, 10:38 PM
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Hey There Again MinnBeef!

Glad to see you had a great time. Ashamed that you got a trip report out before me (who knows when I will find time - I have about 3000 photos to go through too.

I can't believe I was just there in June - seems like a lifetime ago now.

Next up is a tame trip to Burgundy with my parents - but planning on taking another balloon ride there as well!
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