I am still savouring the memories of our trip to Turkey. My husband and I recently returned from Cosmos Vacations ‘Grand Tour of Turkey’. It was one of the most extraordinary vacations we have taken. We arrived a day early to ensure that we would have enough time to explore Istanbul; the crossroads of civilization for centuries. For history buffs such as ourselves, we were not disappointed. I tend to keep a pretty extreme pace because there is always so much to see and do, but I really made an effort to savour our experiences this time.
Upon arrival we promptly took a nap. We had flown from Saskatoon via Toronto and that flight is 10.5 hours long so a bit of a rest was needed. We were situated in the New District, close to Taksim Square, so we wandered over the Galata Bridge with all the people fishing off it and quaint restaurants below to the Old Town and took a ferry boat cruise of the Bosphorous Strait that divided Europe and Asia. Then we took the tram back and the funicular up to Taksim to walk the length of Istikal Cadesi (Street) back to our hotel. Istikal is the most interesting blend of old and new Turkey. An Adidas store, Starbucks and posh restaurants side by side with mosques, embassies, and a Turkish delight store established in 1777. This is a pedestrian street and is packed with thousands of people, mostly locals, both day and night. To our surprise, Turkey was an incredibly safe country and as a woman I could even walk around by myself after dark with ease.
The next day we explored more of the Old Town, across the Golden Horn, on our own. We started at the Istanbul Archaelogical Museum which boasts a very impressive collection of antiquities in three separate buildings and made sure to have a break in the gorgeous courtyard restaurant amidst beautiful ruins in a lush park. We then proceeded to the Basilica Cistern which was built in Roman times and was completely stunning (‘From Russia with Love’ Bond fans?). We continued to weave our way to the Suleymaniye Mosque which was designed by the famous 16th century architect Sinan, for Suleyman the Magnificant. It was a beautiful, tranquil space. We then proceeded to have a couples Turkish bath at the Suleymaniye Hamam. Hamams are generally sex segregated, but we wanted a couples experience and this was the only one in Istanbul. We were later brave enough to go on our own to another gorgeous 16th century bath in Bursa called the Kervanseray Hamam. Both were fabulous experiences.
The next day we joined our tour. Let the early mornings begin! Our Director was incredible as he was a Turkish National who had 15 years’ experience and a background in History and Archaeology. Everything came alive with his excellent knowledge, storytelling ability and humour. He also talked a great deal about present day Turkey and it was all fascinating. One point he made that he, and subsequently I have kept coming back to again and again, is that Turks are bad at marketing and sadly, that is true. However, their excellent attempt to go after tourism is paying off in a big way as it is now the second largest revenue stream for the country. So, back to the bad marketing….My husband and I consider ourselves to be fairly well read and intelligent people, but there was so much we simply did not know. Let’s blame it on the bad marketing. For example, tulips come from Turkey. Oh yes! They were the ones who traded them to Holland. The ancient city of Troy is in Turkey…I am ashamed to say I assumed it was Greece. Ever heard of Afrodisias? No? Neither had we, yet the splendour of those ruins rivaled famous Ephesus. As a matter of fact, more people on our tour who had never heard of it either were blown away far more there than at Ephesus. Don’t get me wrong, Ephesus was amazing, but the surprise of Afrodisias will stick with me for the rest of my life. The museum there had marble friezes from the city that rival the Parthenon friezes in the British Museum. Not kidding.
We also saw the stunning ‘cloud palace’ at Pamukkale and the magnificent ruins of Hieropolis. The other total standout was Cappadocia. It is the most unreal landscape and like everyone else, I do recommend the hot air balloon ride at dawn. Simply breathtaking. Being on the ground was amazing too from the ancient Christian cave churches, fairy chimney dwellings and an underground city dating from 2000 B.C., the whole region was phenomenal. We visited a rug factory and saw the weaving as well as a pottery factory than churns out remarkable handcrafted Cappadocia pottery. Turkey has exquisite decorative arts.
The tour also took in the WWI site of the Battle of Gallipoli and the sad history of the ANZAC and Turkish soldiers, the city of Konya where the Sufi sect of Whirling Dervishes was founded, the capitol city of Ankara, the end of the Silk Road, Bursa (loved the Silk Bazaar) and back to Istanbul where we had time to explore the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace (and the Harem!), the Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar.
The people were lovely, the food was tasty and the countryside surprisingly diverse. Turkey has 7 different climate regions and we visited many of them on the nearly 3300 km that we covered on our tour. Not bad for two weeks! The diet is quite Mediterranean and I enjoyed the breakfasts immensely as they always featured, alongside some traditional ‘western’ fare, garden cucumbers; tomatoes; fresh parsley; a minimum of 4 varieties of olives and several different types of cheese and always yogurt. Very healthy! Except for the ‘sausages’ that were on offer daily which were hot dogs cooked in various ways.
The weather was quite warm when we were there and unless one likes it toasty, I would recommend traveling in the spring or fall. Late June was a little warm for my taste, but at least the A/C in the hotels was very good and on the coach as well.
We loved our trip and met a lot of great people. The Globus and Cosmos itineraries are excellent and a wonderful way to see the country in addition to being great value for the money. We would absolutely go back and would like to see more of the ruins in the south and snorkel on the Mediterranean coast to check out the ruins of ancient shipwrecks. I would not hesitate to recommend this wonderful country to anyone who likes something a little more exotic, historically fascinating, and very affordable and safe.
Ixtapa Travel Advisor
We are on our first Crystal Cruise and are currently cruising with Crystal Cruises on the Serenity. Our itinerary is Monte Carlo to Barcelona. I will blog throughout our journey but this first blog is about our flying experience to get to Nice (the closest airport to Monte Carlo).
September 26th, alarm set for 3am. Showered, finished packing by 4am. Taxi arrives 5 minutes early 4:10am. Pleasant drive to the airport. Simple check-in with West Jet. Time for tea from Tim Horton's. No line up at security. Upstairs at the gate, crew arrives for this 5:45 am departure for Toronto. Then it begins. First announcement - the flight will be one hour delayed. Not good news as we are now going to miss our connection in Toronto to Montreal. We had a one hour connection there. No problem. I jump up to the counter, first in line. All we need is to be rebooked on the next Toronto to Montreal flight. This cuts our time a little short in Montreal before we need to catch our Air Transat flight from Montreal to Nice, but no problem. We can make it happen.
While the West Jet customer agent is helping us, she looks at me and says "one minute, I am expecting a call to come in". Then it comes .... The second announcement. The Saskatoon to Toronto flight will now be leaving at 12:00 noon. 6 hours late. Now we will miss all our flights to Nice.
Thank you TRAVEL PROTECTION. We call RBC our Travel Insurance provider. They open a claim for us. They inform us to make arrangments to get to Nice, and that the flights need to be booked in Economy class. Off to the Air Canada counter we go. We are not first in line there. Others are also trying to rebook to Toronto on the 10:55 flight. We panic a bit thinking we are not going to be able to buy a ticket. Our turn comes and we are right, that flight is now sold out. We tell Calvin, the wonderful Air Canada agent " Calvin, anything, just book us on anything that will get us to Nice tomorrow so we can catch our cruise". He punches away on the computer for about 5 minutes (seemed way longer then that). He covers his face with his hands then drops them to the computer to slowly turn the screen around. He did it, he pulled an itinerary together!! Saskatoon to Winnipeg, Winnipeg to Toronto, Toronto to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Nice. Price .... $4754 per person!!!!! All economy seats just like RBC instructed. The Saskatoon to Winnipeg flight is leaving shortly and closes in 7 minutes. Brian runs to the West Jet counter and retrieves our bags. We pay for the tickets and shout out "Hallelujah for Travel Protection".
Okay people out there who decline Travel Protection, one more story from us. I often hear people say "I am not cancelling". Okay, but what about the Interruption insurance. If I did not have Travel protection would I have forked over another $10000 to go on this trip? I don't know and I am really glad that I did not have to decide.
Ixtapa Travel Staff