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Turkey II: Istanbul, Cappadocia, And the Turquoise Coast


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In 2008 I travelled with my daughter to Turkey. One may wish to view the earlier trip report Istanbul and Some Sights of Western Anatolia. In 2012, Margaret, my wife, and I returned to Turkey. Nearly a month's exploration of old and new areas provided us with an appreciation of the rich cultural and historic heritage that is the Turkish people. What stood out for us were the genuine friendliness and good humour of its citizens.

Together we explored Istanbul, Cappadocia, and the Turquoise coast. Some things were familiar to me but took on a bright new perspective when viewed through Margaret's eyes. Other things surprised and awed us both.

Flying from Calgary entailed at least one stopover in either London, Frankfurt, or Toronto when travelling to Turkey. British Airways had the most attractive fare and flight duration time so we choose them. We splurged and opted for premium economy. At our age we felt it was worth the extra charge. Turkish Airlines would take us onward from Heathrow airport.

We travelled in September and early October of 2014 and packed light-weight clothing in anticipation of warm/hot weather. We were not amiss. Apart from one day of rain, skies were clear and in Istanbul it was very humid.

Hotel, rental car reservations and internal air transport reservations were made from home. As well, we requested, through our hotel that a car service meet us at the airport.

Margaret tends to take things as they go. I, perhaps because of this, tend to over plan. Places, with their contact information, copies of credit cards, passports, and insurance policies were left for relatives. The same was done for our own travel packet. Lonely Planet Turkey and Rick Steve's Istanbul were our guidebooks of choice. We also carried Lonely Planet's Turkish Phrase Book.

Clearing customs and obtaining our visas went quickly. So quickly that when we stepped out into the concourse our ride was nowhere to be seen. After a few anxious moments and a call to our hotel a breathless individual waving a sign with our names offered his apologies; traffic had been unusually heavy and he expected it would take longer for us to clear customs. For the trip in he had water and snacks on hand for us. Friends of ours found the public transport from the airport to their hotel easy to navigate and efficient.

Because of my previous positive experience we chose to stay at the Peninsula Hotel. It is within easy walking distance to all the sights in Sultanahmet. We were particularly impressed with the friendliness of all the staff, from students on the front desk, to the cleaning staff, to the manager of the breakfast room. As with all Turkish hotels we visited, the Peninsula had a full Turkish breakfast with eggs, fruit, yogurt, tomatoes, fresh sweet and savoury baked goods with a variety of juices and jams. We enjoyed this meal each morning from the hotel's roof-top terrace with views of the Bosporus, Blue mosque and Hagia Sophia.

We visited many of the same sights as on my first trip: Hagia Sophia,
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Chora Museum,
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the Cistern,
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the Spice Market among others. Visits to mosques elicited a sense of sadness and perhaps a little dismay from Margaret when she viewed the segregated areas for women and the preponderance of men attending services. Along with the Blue, New, and Suleymaniye Mosques we found the small Rüstem Paşa mosque had beautiful tile work. It has a modest doorway entrance off the street that can be easily missed. Merchants in the area will direct you if you are lost.

New to both of us were the grounds of the Archaeological Museums of Istanbul and the Museum of the Ancient Orient. With the Ottoman Empire at one time controlling the Middle-East, Egypt, parts of Africa and Greece, many historic treasures fell into its hands. They are near Gulhane Park and the Topkapi complex. The exhibits are arranged in an old static manner but the weight and import of them more than make up for the stodgy presentation. Here one sees the fabled Ishtar Gate tiles from Babylon, exquisitely-crafted sarcophagi such as that named for Alexander,
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cuneiform writings, statues of Assyrian and Hittite gods, and much more. All have English explanations next to them. Margaret was particularly taken with the Tiled Kiosk on the grounds. The pottery, tiles and other glazed articles provide a colourful history of this art form.

Another new experience was a ferry trip on the Bosphorus to the Black Sea. There are many private companies operating cruises of varying lengths and with different specialties. We chose to take the municipally-managed ferry from Eminonu docks to Anadolu Kavagi. It was an all-day affair with a couple of hours' stop at the turn-around point. We chose to walk to the fortress for a view of the Black Sea and we still had time for lunch at dockside. This was an inexpensive no-frills excursion which both of us highly recommend.
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Visits to the Asian side by ferry also provided us with splendid views of the city. These trips were part of the municipal transit system and were accessible by using our Istanbul Kart. We visited Kadikoy and Uskudar and walked the banks of the Bosphorus, sat in parks to watch the sea traffic pass and had quiet lunches. There was a more leisurely vibe here with fewer street merchandisers shouting their wares. The Istanbul Kart was one of the better buys for our time in Istanbul. It provided inexpensive, convenient transportation throughout the city.

We took in many of the usual tourist sights such as the fishers of Galata Bridge
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and street vendors
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but even with over a week we still didn't visit the Dolmabahçe Palace, Galata Tower, Grand Bazaar, or Pierre Loti Park.

As an alternative, we visited some lesser frequented neighbourhoods. The Fatih area is rich in historical and contemporary sights. The remnants of the great defensive walls of Theodosius, breached by the Ottomans in 1453, are near the Chora museum. I recommend a visit during daylight; there were some sketchy areas along its base. We enjoyed the Wednesday market near the Fatih mosque. It was huge and very crowded. We took our hotel host's advice and dressed conservatively and kept photo-taking to a minimum. The whole area is more traditional in tenor than the usual tourist areas.

To experience the very opposite end of the shopping experience we took the Metro to Levent station and wandered about the Kanyon Shopping Mall. There were many upscale stores here as well as theatres and restaurants. We were surprised when, as a precaution against terrorism we were required to go through an airport-style security check upon entering. The real star of the show is the building itself, built as an architectural interpretation of a, duh, canyon.

A walk from Tünel to Taksim Square along Istikal Street
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is a must. Musicians from different parts of Turkey performed on the street.
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We saw a couple celebrating their marriage with co-workers shouting best wishes from office windows. Children stole rides on the bumpers of the old tram that trundled down the street.
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Dining is not a problem; choosing which place is. I recommend exploring the narrow side streets off Istikal for authentic, substantial, inexpensive fare. We dined well and inexpensively in Istanbul. For any recommendation I might give, others can chime in with ten as good or better. Each visitor will find their own favourite.

On our final evening in Istanbul we strolled through Gulhane Park and had tea at a kiosk overlooking the Bosphorus.

Final words on Transportation. Car rental is not advised. Public transportation and walking got us to all the sights we wished to see. On the one occasion we used a taxi we had the hotel front desk arrange it. He spoke directly with the cabbie and told us what the meter should read at our destination. Most cabbies either do not speak or they feign no knowledge of English; carry hotel business cards in case of getting lost.

On To Cappadocia
The day before our flight, I made arrangements for a ride to the airport for us and our friends with a local travel agency. Everything was handled efficiently by the Efendi Travel Agency close to our hotel. The van arrived on time with simits and coffee. There was a long tie-up for the departures' gate so the driver dropped us at the arrivals' door and we took the escalator to our flight.

The flight with Turkish Airlines was uneventful and we arrived in Kayseri in the early afternoon. The rental car rep was waiting for us and went over the car's operation completely. He, on the spot, added our friends to the rental contract without charge. Our friends had made arrangements with the hotel to pick them up so they used the service. They were told there was no direct transport from the airport to Goreme and only found out of our rental after making reservations.

The drive to Goreme was uneventful. We made mental check marks to return to this caravanserai or that picturesque village. Finding our hotel in Goreme was another matter, even with a GPS. After numerous circles of the town we found a small lane that led us to the Canyon View Hotel. The building was a former monastery, artfully repurposed. Our hosts were friendly and helpful regarding sights in the area. The breakfast was plentiful. When booking in Goreme request a room with a balcony facing East for a view of hot air balloons.
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Many hotels have rooftop terraces for viewing. Be prepared to get up early to see them.

Exploring the area's walking trails was a primary reason for visiting. All the trails listed in the various brochures around town will be sure to satisfy. We were in our 60s and found all walks were easy. We enjoyed the Zemi Valley, Rose and Red Valleys with their churches, and, to bring out everyone's adolescent, there was Love Valley with its phallic shapes.
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Not to be missed is the Goreme Open Air Museum. It is a national park and there is an admission charge. The additional charge to view the interior of the restored “Dark Church” was worth it for us. While in the parking lot we were approached by an individual offering tours. We asked to see his certification and license as a tour guide. He produced it and we negotiated an afternoon to tour places off the tourist route. For four of us in was 100 Lira and well worth it.

Derinkuyu, an underground city, is about 30 kms from Goreme. It was an easy drive and there was ample parking at the entrance. Margaret joked that, like amusement parks, the site should have a caution “you have to be less than this height-and circumference- to enter”.
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Exploration of the complex is not for those who are wary of confined spaces. The complex could hold up to 20,000 individuals and in times of persecution was self-sufficient. Large boulders on each level closed off the tunnels. Our friends purchased Soganli rag dolls for their grandchildren from women selling them in the parking lot.

An obligatory “tourist trap” spot on organized tours is the Sentez Carpet Company in nearby Avanos. We went by ourselves on a recommendation from our guide. They experience was very educational. We were able to see the whole process and watch apprentices weaving the rugs. We weren't pressured to buy any. I'm sure they sized us , and our wallets, up as soon as we entered! Nonetheless they were cordial and unhurried in their presentation to us and showed a variety of exquisite rugs.
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Our three full days in this area of Cappadocia were about the right amount of time for us.

The Turquoise Coast
We woke early to start a long journey to the coast. At around 500 kms to Side with stops it would take about eight hours. Driving was easy across the Anatolian plain. A stop at the Sultanhani Caravanserai just off the D300 was worthwhile.
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We arrived before it was open but the door was open and we were able to wander throughout the complex by ourselves. Hans were placed one days journey apart across Anatolia to provide protection to merchants and travellers.

We had hoped to visit Rumi's, the Sufi sage's, tomb in Konya. However, misreading highway signs shot us pass the turnoff and we were in the country again heading to the coast.

We chose Side as a bolthole for the night prior to arriving at Çirali. Here we truly had the most bizarre lodging experience of our lives. It was Fawlty Towers on the Med. There was a retired British colonel harrumphing around the premises; a young woman looking longingly over the fence at the young men on their motorcycles; the young woman's relative (a maiden aunt?) sitting primly with her having tea; and the owner putting out 11 bowls for each of her named cats. The guests were overjoyed that one tomcat had made its way back after two days absence. One guest confided in me that we were extremely lucky: “tonight they're serving fish and chips” she whispered. Oh, and then there were the room and its amenities. There was a used bar of soap and one towel was so worn we could see through it. Oh well, it was only one night and best forgotten. That was not to be so!

Side itself was a disappointment. The vendors were unfriendly and more aggressive than anywhere else in Turkey. The main street was lined with currency exchange shops and souvenir tat. A stroll through the extensive ruins did nothing to raise our spirits.

We were up early to escape our confinement. The Turkish cook was concerned that we wouldn't be on hand for a “full English breakfast”. He kindly packed us a breakfast of simits, yogurt, fresh fruit and water.

Aspendos is a complete Greco-Roman theatre built into the side of a hill.
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We were too early for it to be open so we had a breakfast picnic in the field at the top of the hill overlooking the theatre. Waiting for it to open was not a disappointment; nor were the trails around it. It is about 5 kms off the D400 highway and 30 kms from Side.

Anatalya is a large city but the ring road, though heavily travelled, is easily navigated.

Çirali is a noted beach town with an extensive protected beach, the fire mountain of Chimaera, and Lycian city ruins. We chose to stay at the Canada Pension with a half- board option. I had visited here previously with my daughter and the hotel had kept its high standards for cleanliness, friendliness, and food preparation. A downside was that it was about a kilometre from the beach. To compensate it had a pool.

Like a bad penny, Margaret discovered the key to our Side room in her pocket. Our email exploded with pleas/threats to return the key. They had guests arriving and needed it. Our present host said he would mail it in two days, on Monday. Not good enough, could we drive back to give it to them. Well, no. We were plagued with emails for the next week until I suppose the key arrived.

I should have heeded the sage who said “He who climbs [the mountain] once is wise; he who climbs it twice is a fool.” The hotel organized a night trip to see the fires of Chimaera. Flashlights and transport were provided free of charge. Margaret forged ahead. I lagged behind and thought I'd see here coming down if I waited at the steps leading down. I missed her and by the time I returned to the bus people were ready to start a search party. Derisive hoots and applause ensued!

We entered the Lycian town of Olympos via the beach access from Çirali. The site itself was better groomed and some ruins restored since my first visit there. Still it was with a sense of adventure that we explored the trails off the main route.

From Çirali we set out to our destination for the week at Kaş. We had a short side trip on the way at Demre. We visited the Lycian city of Myra with its tombs lining the cliff-side.
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Sad to say the manners of the Russian tourists had not improved since my first visit. Not much else held our interest along the way. Plastic greenhouses took up much of the coastal area marring the view.

We picked up the key to our rental apartment near the harbour and promptly lost the individual on the motor scooter who was directing us to our place. He circled back and led us on a more travelled route . We were gobsmacked by our accommodation. The one bedroom apartment was newly constructed on a dead-end street high above the sea. It had all the modern conveniences. The real prize was its balcony. It faced West towards the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
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Although a tourist town, Kaş had a more laid back vibe then other places along the coast. We spent most afternoons in the town's main park enjoying tea and sampling mezes. It was a relaxing atmosphere. However I can imagine that it could be very busy during the summer tourist season.

Mornings were reserved for walks to places such as the small amphitheatre, area beaches, the harbour, the market and, of course, the bakery for fresh bread.
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Our one tourist activity was a cruise to to the sunken city of Kekova. From our balcony we had spotted boats racing out each morning. There was choice among operators. We found that prices could be negotiated. We finally settled on one operator who gently suggested that the passengers already booked were “more our age”. The cruise was an all day affair with stops in a number of coves for a swim. Noodles were provided for those unsure of themselves in the water. A series of earthquakes caused the ruination of the town. It was a protected site with no access for the general public. The cruise stopped at the village of Kaleköy. There was enough time to explore the castle and have a late lunch. Once back on board it was a race with 5 other boats to return to Kaş.

We were unable to take a day trip to the island of Kastellorizo. Greece and Turkey were having one of their disagreements and ferry service was suspended.

Our car remained parked for the week. Although we enjoy visiting historical monuments and seeing new things, a relaxing week in a relaxing town with friendly people suited us to a tee. However, it was time for our final run for the flight that would take us back to Istanbul.

Ruins, Old and New
From Kaş it was on to Ölüdeniz our last stop before the airport at Dalaman. Before our arrival in Ölüdeniz there were more ancient monuments to explore.

The first of these was the city of Patara near the beach of the same name. Patara was a Lycian commercial centre that saw a succession of occupiers from Alexander the Great, through the Romans to the Byzantines. Many of the buildings were undergoing restoration but the amphitheatre was complete. There was no admission charge and one was able to stroll through the site except for the areas under reconstruction. We took time to stroll along the beach. To our surprise, Christmas trees and furniture were everywhere. Filming was in progress for Yule commercials.

Xanthos was next on our route. It is just off the D400. Xanthos was the cultural and administrative centre of the Lycian Empire. As with many sites, significant relics now reside outside Turkey. The British Museum houses many important tombs. There still remains much to see, including a stele that has Greek, Lycian and another ancient language and the impressive Harpy tomb. The reliefs are copies; the originals are in the British Museum.

As part of the Xanthos complex and 5 kms away is the religious site of Letoon. Here we encountered for the first time, QR codes giving explanations of the monuments' significance. Since our phones weren't working we relied on the signs throughout the complex. Letoon was a religious centre devoted to the nymph Leto. Here, in her fury, she change offending shepherds into frogs for refusing her and her sons water. Although both were significant archaeological sites, we had Letoon and Xanthos to ourselves. Again there was no admission charge.

We arrived in good time to settle into our place above Ölüdeniz bay.
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The Paradise Gardens Hotel was a last minute choice. The main building was set in a park-like setting and the views of the bay were spectacular. There was a pool and outdoor breakfast buffet. Unfortunately yellow jacket wasps were drawn to it and measures to control them were inadequate. Here we also got an email from our son mentioning a letter arrived from a hotel in Side demanding the return of their key!

Our purpose for stopping here was to visit Kayaköy, a nearby abandoned Greek village. Margaret was especially interested in that it was the supposed model for Louis de Bernières' town in his novel Birds without Wings.

Kayaköy is an ancient village with the present ruins dating from the nineteenth century. Its Greek inhabitants were harassed by authorities many times in its history. Finally, in 1922, after the cessation of hostilities between Greece and Turkey the remaining inhabitants were deported to Greece. It was a sad walk among the ruins of the homes thinking about the destruction of this vibrant community. For the best views one should walk to the church atop the plateau.
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Local artisans had stalls along the main road through the village. Margaret decided to pick up some trinkets and dry goods. She does not like bargaining. I was surprised to see her in an animated discussion with the vendor. Margaret trying to get a better price? No, the woman was earnestly explaining that she HAD to bargain. Margaret, just as earnestly was offering to pay full price. In exasperation the woman took Margaret's money and added some bracelets and a beaded table runner to the bag.
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A leisurely hour's drive brought us to the Dalaman Airport. Returning the car was no problem. The representative met us at the terminal entrance and quickly processed the documents. We took the budget carrier, Pegasus Airlines, back to Istanbul. A caution, generally the budget carriers land at Sabiha Gokcen Airport. From there we took the shuttle to Taksim Square and thence back to the Peninsula Hotel for a remaining three days in Istanbul.

Much has changed in Turkey since we travelled there in 2014. Based on news reports, President has instituted a more conservative approach. Dissent is now repressed and there appears to be less governmental tolerance generally. He is seeking to establish a “new Ottoman Hegemony” in the Near East. The threat of terrorism, an influx of refugees, covid, and inflation have taken their toll on the populace.

Would I visit again? Yes, the ingrained friendliness of individual Turks dispels hesitations I may have. However, I would be more cautious in any large group. In rural areas I would dress conservatively. And even though visitors are assured covid precautions are stringent, I would not visit in the near future.
Some notes as of July 2021:
  1. Now travellers from Canada and the USofA can obtain a visa by the web; https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/
  2. International flights to Istanbul land at a newly opened airport. Frequent bus service to the city centre is inexpensive.
  3. President Erdogan has changed the status of major museums such as Chora and Hagia Sophia to mosques. Visitors should dress appropriately. Although there is no longer an admission fee, an appropriate donation for upkeep should be made.
  4. Turkey Travel Planner remains my go to web site for travel pointers: https://turkeytravelplanner.com
  5. Covid has caused the permanent closure of many establishments. Guide books may have become out-of-date.
  6. Quarantine rules change regularly. One should consult appropriate government sites for the latest update. This site, (https://www.visasturkey.com/travel-and-entry-restrictions/ ) outlines requirements for entry into Turkey. Individuals should consult their own country's regulations for rules regarding their return from Turkey.
  7. YouTube and other social media sites abound with suggestions regarding this “best” or that “not to be missed” A favourite channel of mine is Bery Istanbul Tips: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmP__pZ-wiLSMm-4t1Z8mMg

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