Ten Days in Turkey Trip Review
Replies: 5 - Last Post: Jan 17, 2013 6:22 PM Last Post By: swampeastmike
Dec 18, 2012 3:27 PM
Ten Days in Turkey Trip ReviewWe have benefited so much from the Thorn Tree, hope this report is helpful to others.
Thanks to Thorn Tree advice, we spent the first part of our 10-day Turkey trip in Selcuk, touching down at Istanbul airport for several hours and catching an evening arrival on Turkish Air to Izmir. We bought the short leg through a Turkish travel agent. It was maybe half the price it would have been to buy this domestic one-hour flight from the US. He was very dependable, just let me know if you want the name.
Knowing we’d arrive in Izmir too late for the last bus or train to Selcuk, we pre-ordered car pickup with EGE Transfer Service, they were reasonable and dependable. It is so nice to see the guy with your name on a sign when you’re exhausted from travel! It’s less than an hour’s drive to Selcuk from Izmir and there’s no traffic at night.
Going further than Istanbul first, in order to acclimatize, is definitely the best. We really enjoyed Selcuk, which was very quiet off-season, and stayed three nights at Homer’s Pension. It’s chock full of Turkish textiles and knick-knacks, is super affordable, has a healthy breakfast, and even though in winter they don’t eat on the roof, we could go there for great views. We had to ask a few times for fresh towels and they don’t change the bedding, but hey, the price is right. They were at maybe less than half capacity so we basically had the upper floor to ourselves.
Ephesus was fantastic, even crowded in late November “off season.” We chose to do it without a guide but in retrospect we ought to have set one up in advance, I think. Hanging on to other people’s tours helps a little, but then you can’t really ask questions! We paid extra to enter the terrace houses, a more recent excavation of very fancy ancient dwellings in an adjoining roof-covered area. It blew me away to see that the actual wall paintings are still there, in all their colorful glory.
A crashing disappointment was that the Selcuk Museum is closed for renovations. You need to check on that but I don't think they'll open until Spring?
However, Selcuk is great to wander around in, even just to see the hundreds of old Turkish men drinking tea and playing board games. One wonders what their wives are doing—oh yeah, cooking, washing and cleaning! We went to the local hammam, a nice small one where we were the only tourists. It was cheaper than the large ones in Istanbul, a lovely experience. I was the only female but it felt totally fine. A note to people who are going to get the soapy rubdown: think twice before letting them soap your head with that stuff. It was like dish detergent, it stripped the very life out of my hair! (Maybe bring a shower cap from your hotel?)
Some noteworthy area adventures included a day hiking on at Dilek National Peninsula National Park, reachable via two fairly short bus rides. We were literally the only people in the whole park it seemed, other than some gendarmes. Gorgeous pebble beaches, turquoise water, fig and olive trees and surprisingly steep mountains rising up. We brought a picnic and had great tramping from beach to beach. The bus came back to get us when it said it would. We had dinner at a good but overpriced waterfront restaurant in Kusadasi (yuck, I don’t recommend this town, you can see the effects of the cruise ships, everything is tacky) before busing the final 20 minutes home.
Another real Selcuk-area highlight was going to the village of Tire for market day, a Tuesday. It’s a 40-minute bus ride, through neighboring villages and past olive groves. Fantastic! Bustling with colorful produce and items of all kinds including hand-dyed felt. Narrow streets, very picturesque. We had one of those language-free instant connections with a local village woman named Bahriye, who we ended up taking to lunch. She then insisted on buying socks for us! We are in love with her and have already written her a letter. By then we were also chummy with our Selcuk hostel owner and had fun finding the special bread he loved, to bring “home” to him.
Day 4 we bussed to Izmir. The bus takes you to an enormous hub bus stop that is quite a ways outside Izmir. You then have to take a free transfer bus into town. The wait can take quite a while and without help from a passenger conversant in this, we would have had no idea what was going on. In Izmir we stayed at Konak Saray Hotel, a clean and reasonable place (great breakfast, though I had to decamp to eat in the lobby because of all the smokers—that’s sometimes the way it is in Turkey!) in an interesting area right near the Agora ruins. Looking for live music, we talked a taxi driver into taking us a long ways to his friends fish restaurant which was fantastic. We didn’t see any tourists there, everyone was local. Live folk musicians and a young, super-motivated owner making a go of it. I had never eaten broiled halvah—delicious and bubbly.
Days 5-10 were Istanbul ( via Turkish Air) and I can echo what everyone says—amazing, delightful, exciting! Hotel Niles was beyond fantastic. It’s in Beyazit, the neighborhood 2 tram stops from Sultahnamet and “slightly” (though nothing in this area of Istanbul is ever completely) less touristy. The neighborhood is a mix of hotels and businesses and garment industry, with a view of Marmara Sea to the back. This hotel doesn’t have a “classic mosque view” (although you’re pretty near several of less famous ones) but more interestingly we looked across the street into a third-floor leather workshop where guys were stitching all day. I can’t recommend this hotel highly enough--fantastic service, wonderful breakfast, and the large junior suite (99 Euros) had a HUGE marble bathroom. Very deluxe after Homer’s pension! It’s one block from the tram so you can zip everywhere.
Of course we went to the Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia, the Cisterns, Topkapi Palace, Archaeology Museum, Mosaic Museum, and ended up in Beyoglu/Taksim nearly every night. A favorite restaurant was the cosy homemade Acik Mutfak in Galata, a few streets up from the Tower. A late-night walk back over the Galata Bridge was lovely and it’s nice to see the guys fishing.
A fast ferry runout to Uskadar, a town on the Asian side, was a nice steep-hill hiking opportunity that ended with a huge conversation with a local merchant (and, of course, eating hamsi!). If you want to visit mosques in Uskadar be aware of when they are closed to tourists for prayers. We also went to the Chora Church, getting lost as we walked up from the ferry stop (note—local people don’t seem to know the word Chora. They call it the Mosque). The Grand Bazaar is a bustling riot, though after a while you can feel like a piece of meat.
We also took the cruise up the Bosphorus to the Black Sea. The audio guide you can rent is cheap and, I think, worth it. At the furthest stop, Anadolu Kavagi, where you’re left by the ferry for a few hours, we clambered up the hill to the ruins of a fort, where we had fun watching a film crew. Actors were dressed at Ottoman warriors, duking it out.
We loved eating hamsi (anchovies) which were in season; I think I ate them maybe twice a day! We had a fun night at the meyhane (traditional music tavern restaurant) Despina, which is only 15 lira taxi ride, well worth it. Unlike the Lonely Planet meyhane description, it does not have a set price, and it did add up. But it was fun to be the only non-Turkish customers. I'm amazed at how even the most wealthy and sophisticated Istanbul people, including sullen teenagers, seem to get very emotional and even weepy at certain Turkish folk ballads. It was fun to see them melt and then dab at their eyes! And of course, sing along.
We did much more than this, I can’t remember it all. One last note--we were a couple, but I went plenty of places on this trip on my own as a single female and it never felt dangerous at all. I’m already dying to return to Turkey. Thanks again to the Thorn Tree.
Dec 18, 2012 10:46 PM
1Ah,you delivered on your promise :) Thank you so much for this lovely detailed trip review.
Good point for other Selçuk visitors;yes,the museum is currently closed for renovation but should reopen around June next year(hopefully!).
In the hamams it is soap they use which doesn't do a lot for your hair especially if it is a bit dry anyway,so take your conditioner with you,wave the bottle at the attendant with a smile and they'll apply it for you.
Glad you visited the Terrace Houses in Ephesus,well worth the extra payment aren't they?
Some meyhanes have a set price menu and others don't,some have them just on certain days.Things change so quickly it is sometimes hard to trust guide books on issues like this.
Music and poetry have a very special place in the hearts of Turkish people.I am still amazed at quite young children who can quote lines of poetry and tell you the authors.In my native UK(the so called land of literature!) most people would struggle to name 5 British poets!
In the meyhanes they sing mainly old folk songs and yes,even the modern,well to do Turks remember their not so well to do forefathers and their lives lived on the land.
Even though you may not understand the words the melodies and the emotion in the voices convey all you need to know.
Come back soon!
Dec 19, 2012 12:04 AM
2Great report, Maggie. It's always good when people come back with those extra little tips that make so much difference.
I'm sure it won't be long before you're back - turkey does that to people. :>))
Good that you found a cheaper domestic flight. However, it's possible to arrange this from home. Just for the sake of others reading this posting, I always check out flights with http://www.skyscanner.net.
Although I only fly to and from Turkey, from the UK, mostly by Pegasus, a cheap Turkish airline which does a lot of domestic routes, too. I've always found them very reliable and they often have special offers on flights.
There are many other low-price Turkish flight companies, too - Atlasair, Onurair, etc. - which are cheaper than Turkish Air; the latter even has its own low-price airline though I can't remember which one that is.
Dec 19, 2012 6:45 AM
Dec 19, 2012 7:27 AM
Jan 17, 2013 6:22 PM
5An excellent report! Thanks!
Glad to hear that you took and understood the advice about NOT staying in Istanbul at the beginning of your first Turkish holiday! Istanbul is not the place to either unwind from a long journey or to acclimate yourself to Turkey!
I could not agree more that it's great to be met at the airport for transportation to your hotel after multiple flights and a long time spent in the air! Even after six visits I still do the same.
(2 star Hotel)
From US$38.11 per night
(5 star Hotel)
From US$152.15 per night
(0 star Hotel)
From US$14.50 per night