We just returned from two weeks in Turkey and had a fabulous time. Our vacation was really three separate trips: Cappadocia, Southwest Mediterranean Coast, and Istanbul. Here are some things to know before you go.
- So Much To Do. We could have stayed a week in each location we visited rather than a day or two. Between the natural scenery and historical sights, it would be easy to spend a week in one spot. In some cases we spent a couple nights, and in others just one night. Especially along the coast, with the multitude of beaches, possible boat trips and islands, there is a lot to see and do. I don’t’ regret our itinerary, I just wish I’d had a month instead of two weeks for this trip. It’s just a trade off as to how much ground you want to cover in one trip.
- Amazingly Friendly People. The Turkish people were some of the most helpful and friendly people we have met anywhere. In Göreme (Cappadocia), we arrived very late at night via a car rental from Kayseri, and Google Maps failed us in finding our hotel. We met a couple gentlemen and they had us follow them to our hotel to make sure we knew where it was. In another location, people gave us fresh vegetables from their garden, as we stopped for gas and visited with them for a few minutes.
- Taking the Road Less Traveled. It’s easy to get around Turkey by rental car. Historical/tourist sights are well marked with brown signs (like many in the US). Roads and directions in general are well-marked. Many roads are being upgraded, so be prepared for some construction. I had heard stories about crazy Turkish driving habits, but didn’t find it much different than Italy, for example. Having your own transportation will allow you to visit many sights before or after the crowds. We had the Library of Celsus (Ephesus) pretty much to ourselves in the late afternoon. Gasoline and diesel are expensive, however, around $10 US/gallon. While there aren’t many toll roads, don’t get on them without first getting a toll card available from gas stations. I learned the hard way, paying a $25 US fine for a $1 toll.
- Blow Your Socks Off Scenery. How about mountains, pine trees, picnic areas and Roman ruins all nestled around three perfect bays with turquoise clear water and perfect for swimming? Phaselis Beach and ruins (about 60 km west of Antalya) was one example of the incredibly scenic Turkish coast.
- Excellent Food and Restaurants. The Turks love grilled meats and fish dishes. In addition to good Turkish cuisine, we ate some excellent Indian dishes and pastas. We found restaurants open from about 11 am throughout the day, making eating whenever you want very easy. Salads were fresh and most dishes were served as an art form.
- Accommodation Options. Our accommodations averaged about $75 US per night for two people for decent rooms. Breakfast was included everywhere, no additional charge. Most locations had beautiful terraces where one could enjoy breakfast or dinner taking in the beautiful scenery.
- Religious Tolerance & Moderation. We often get asked “is it safe?” Short answer: Yes! While Islam is the predominant religion (be prepared to get woken up every morning a 5 am for the call to prayer), the people are very tolerant of other religions. One sees a variety of dress on the streets—from very conservative Muslim dress to very Western styles.
- A Turkish Bath. We got our first (and only) Turkish Bath experience in Kuşadasi. It was a mixed bath (men and women), and pretty modest. It is a multi-part process—sauna, exfoliation, soaping and rinse. Some baths have separate facilities for men and women. The person doing the scrubbing works you over pretty hard—be prepared for some bruises as they work the muscles! It was a fun experience.
- A Balloon Ride in Cappadocia. I’m thinking that most other balloon rides would be boring now. Our balloon ride over the unique Cappadocian landscape was a never-to-be forgotten experience. I will say more about this adventure in a separate post. Save your pennies, the ride is not cheap, about $130-150 US/per person.
- Awesome Weather. We visited in September. Every day was perfect—sunny and clear. While the Mediterranean coast was warm (mid-upper 80’s F) the humidity was low, and the water was perfect for swimming. We read in our travel books about mosquitoes and were prepared with repellant but didn’t notice any mosquitoes (and few bugs of any kind).
Also, Turkey is not a cheap country, many prices are stated in Euros, especially in Istanbul. There are entry fees at almost every historical and tourist site and those add up over time. It would be great if the Turkish government created some sort of membership pass for the historical locations for tourists, since they have a pass for nationals. Please note that there is a pass available (“Museum Pass”, good for 72 hours once activated) in Istanbul that covers the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Harem, Chora Church, and two museums. In addition to saving a little money, it allows you to bypass the ticket and entry lines and go right into the site. There is a booth to purchase the pass right next to the Hagia Sophia, it costs 72 TL (1.8 TL = 1 USD).