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