Here is my trip report for Istanbul, Cappadocia and Selcuk. This is a very detailed report so be warned! I apologize for those of you that don’t care for the details but I thought they were important enough to include.
We spent 2 weeks in Turkey and chose to do it at a leisurely pace, knowing that we would return to visit the coastal areas. We stayed 6 nights in Istanbul, 4 nights in Cappadocia and 3 nights in Selcuk.
Istanbul Part 1:
We arrived in Istanbul jet lagged and weary at about 11:30 p.m. on Friday, May 20th. We had arranged for a pick up through the Apricot Hotel but when we arrived there was no one to pick us up. Luckily, there was a tour group going to Sultanahmet so we caught a ride with them for 10 euros each. We arrived at the Apricot only to find that they had given our room away. They called the owner of a neighboring small hotel just a block away and we crashed there for the night with the promise that we could move into our promised room the next day around 4:00 p.m.
We awoke the next morning and headed back to the Apricot Hotel for their wonderful breakfast buffet. The buffet consisted of bread, two different cheeses, sliced cucumbers, fresh tomatoes, two types of olives, yogurt, either fresh strawberries or a delicious sour cherry compote that was perfect over the yogurt, cereal, tea, coffee and fresh juice. Omelets were offered as well. On most days we ate breakfast on the roof top terrace with a view towards the Bosphorus.
After breakfast we headed to the Aya Sophia (entry fee of 15 YTL). We arrived at about 10:30 and there was a short line of about 15 people. The Sophia was completed in 537. It was a Christian place of worship until Mehmet the Conqueror had it turned into a mosque in 1453. The mosaic tiles and columns are stunning! There is a stone ramp rather than stair that lead to the upper level. We spent about 1 ½ hours in Aya Sophia.
After leaving the Aya Sophia we had lunch at Doy Doy, a great place on a side street behind the Blue Mosque. It seemed to be filled with Turkish businessmen so we took this as a good sign. I had pide (Turkish pizza) with cheese and my boyfriend had lamb with yogurt sauce. The food was great.
After lunch we headed over to the Grand Bazaar and prepared ourselves for the onslaught of carpet sellers and other shopkeepers. It was much tamer than we had imagined it would be. Sure, there was always the “Hello, where are you from? Would you like to buy a carpet?” but it was non- offensive. We engaged in lively friendly conversation with several shopkeepers who showed genuine interest in where we were from and why we had chosen to visit Istanbul.
The Grand Bazaar is a true feast for the senses! The glare off the gold from the lamps that illuminate the jewelry is blinding and you can feel the heat from the many lights. Around every corner are men with trays full of teetering tea glasses. Colorful scarves, slippers and belly dancing outfits dazzle your eyes. Knock off purses, shoes and jeans will tempt those that can’t resist a bargain.
After an hour or two of wandering through this Turkish shopping mall we sat down for a cold beer at a café within the bazaar. We started chatting with a Canadian man next to us and came to find out that his daughter had come to Istanbul for a holiday and decided to stay! He visited Turkey at least once a year so we asked him if he knew a reputable leather shop where we could have a leather jacket made. Indeed he did! My boyfriend had a few photos of a leather coat that he wanted. We visited the shop, placed our order and told the shopkeeper that we would be back in 10 days or so to pick it up. The leather was high quality and the workmanship was very good. We felt it was a great bargain at $120.
From The Grand Bazaar we decided to head back to the hotel for a nap before going to dinner. When we arrived back at the Apricot around 5:00 p.m. our room still wasn’t ready. The owner, Hakan, took us to a restaurant around the corner called Sofa and told us to have dinner and drinks at his expense and he would come get us when the room was complete. I had curried chicken and Peter had a lamb dish with eggplant. The food was terrific. We were on our second beer when Hakan showed up and brought us to our room.
I should clarify that we weren’t staying in the regular Apricot Hotel but in a new building on the other side of the block. We knew from their website at www.apricothotel.com that this building wasn’t yet complete. What we didn’t know was that ours was the ONLY room that WAS complete! This meant that there was construction going on from the moment we awoke to the moment we went to bed, a lot of sheet rock dust and the threat of brushing up against freshly painted walls. We had no problem with this because the room was perfect and the staff was wonderful! It was actually a large room that could accommodate 2 adults and two children or three adults. The bathroom was HUGE with both a Turkish style bath and a fancy western style jetted shower with many different shower nozzles. We actually had the entire building to ourselves except for the construction workers. There is a nice terrace on this building with a view of the Bosphorus and the Blue Mosque.
We settled into our room at about 8:00 and decided on having a few drinks on the terrace. My boyfriend went back to the regular hotel and asked Hakan where we could purchase beer and wine. Hakan said that the wine in the nearby store was not very good so he gave us a nice bottle from his cellar! This was a fine example of the Turkish hospitality that we grew to appreciate! We sat on the terrace for a good 2 hours enjoying the view before we went to bed.
Day 2 we visited:
The Topkapki Palace(entrance fee 12 YTL, additional fees for the harem and treasury which we did not visit). We arrived at about 9:30 and there were about 25 people in line. The porcelain and ottoman clothing were fascinating and the view is incredible. We spent about 2 hours here. By the time we left there were hoards of people waiting in line to get in.
The Blue Mosque (free but donation strongly encouraged). This is still a place of worship so honor this by not wearing shorts, revealing clothing etc. I brought a scarf to cover my head but there are scarves available for loan. Prior to entering you are given a plastic bag in which to put your shoes. There is an overwhelming smell of feet in the mosque! The mosque was constructed between 1606-1616 and it is quite stunning. Make sure you come back to see it at night when it is illuminated.
The Basilica Cistern (entrance fee 10 YTL). We arrived here at about 1:00 in the afternoon and wandered around for about ½ hour. The Cistern was built in 532 and could store 80,000 cubic meters of water. Water was pumped in from a reservoir near the Black Sea. Although it was interesting, it is not a site that I would heartily recommend though I know others will feel differently about it. As soon as we got home we rented From Russia With Love of which about half the film was filmed in Turkey. The cistern is featured in this film.
The Hippodrome. This is now a nice outdoor park that seems to be most frequented by families on strolls. Within the Hippodrome is the Oobelisk of Theodosius which was carved out of granite in Egypt around 1500 BC and brought to Istanbul in 390 AD. We enjoyed sitting down for a while and watching the world go by. At one point we saw two adorable boys of about 6 and 8 dressed as though they were royal princes. They wore beautiful white suits trimmed with gold, royal blue capes trimmed with feathers (or fur?), blue and white ornately decorated crown type hats and they carried a very fancy ctu (cane type unit) trimmed with gold. I later asked our hotelier about this and he said they were heading to their circumcision ceremony. They get all decked out and are told they are now going to become a man so it is quite the event (and I imagine a bit traumatic!).
The next day we headed to Cappadocia, Land of the Fairy Chimneys. The name Cappadocia means “Land of the Beautiful Horses”. We stayed at the Kelebek Pension in Goreme. We could not have made a better choice! We paid $35 USD per night but I arranged this via email a couple of months before our trip and I negotiated for the lower rate. If a place like this hotel existed in Portland, OR we would pay $200 a night for it! The room was visually stunning and the bathroom was all marble with a large shower and great water pressure (one of the little pleasures in life!). The pension has a double decker terrace along with a raised platform covered with cushions. We sat up on this platform more than once to quench our thirst and gaze at the incredible view after a day of hiking. Each morning we had breakfast on the terrace. The breakfast was similar to the breakfast at the Apricot Hotel with the addition of dried apricots, figs and white mulberries.
On our first day we hiked up the road to the Open Air Museum (entrance fee 12 YTL plus and additional 5 YTL to enter the Dark Church). We arrived about noon and there were very few people here. There are several churches with incredible frescoes. You will notice that all the faces on the frescoes that are within reach with a long stick have their eyes scratched out. There are different reports as to why this was done. The first account is that strict Muslims who did not like the representation of the human form scratched them out. The second account is that local maidens believed that the blue eyes of the figures in the frescoes, if removed and powdered, could be incorporated to make a powerful love potion. We spent about 2 hours here. It was worth a visit, however, if you are on a shoestring budget you could wander through the valleys and see some very incredible churches and frescoes for free.
On our way back to town we stopped in at a little restaurant and market near the parking lot for the Open Air Museum. We had some wonderful flat bread with cheese that was made on a hot upside down wok type griddle. Accompanied by a cold Efes, this was the perfect snack! This is also where I made my first purchase of the trip. The shopkeepers in this market sell the same type of thing as the Grand Bazaar but it is a soft sell. I bought a beautiful scarf that is about 6 ½ ft by 3 ft for 10 YTL which is the equivalent of about $7.40 USD. Beware that many people will tell you that the scarves are pashmina (cashmere) but they are actually a man made material. You will find pashmina but you will pay about $30-70 USD for it.
We headed back towards Goreme and decided to take a right into the valley towards Rose Valley. We hiked around here for an hour or so and we both agreed that this was far more interesting than the Open Air Museum. Between the ferry chimneys you will find patches of vineyards, fruit trees and other small crops. It is a beautiful area and I recommend spending ½ a day just hiking through this valley. We had planned on coming back to hike here on our last day but the skies opened up and dumped rain for most of that day so we didn’t do this. We hiked through many other little valleys around Goreme. The scenery is smashing!!
Day 2 – Hot Air Balloon!!!!! We had done some research before our trip and it seemed that everyone was recommending Kapadokya Balloons. Kapadokya Balloons claims to be the safest and the best. Their price for a 1 hour and 15 minute flight was 230 Euro. The Kelebek booked us through EZ Air for $160 USD for the same amount of time! We were picked up at 5:00 and brought to the take off area in a clear field about a 5-7 minute drive from our hotel. We watched as the pilot filled the balloon and we stood by, ready for our first flight in a balloon. We were shocked and a bit disconcerted when another van full of people pulled up intent to get in the same balloon. We counted and there were 17 people plus the pilot! One lady almost backed out from fear. We all climbed into the basket with barely enough room to turn around it. Our particular basket had four compartments and one in the middle for the captain. To our amazement the balloon lifted off the ground and rose into the air. 10 minutes later we started to come back down again. You could tell by the look on everyone’s faces that we all were having the same thought; this balloon is too heavy! We came down towards two tall trees, heading right for them. The captain expertly maneuvered the balloon until the bottom of the basket skimmed the tops of the trees and then up we went again with a synchronized sigh of relief. At this point we realized we had an expert pilot on hand. We later came inches from a fairy chimney and came down on a hill low enough to skim the grass. We cruised through the valley and then rose as high as we could go into the air to behold the magnificent moonscape below us. We watched the other balloons around us and we unanimously decided we had received the best ride out of all of them. Many of the other balloons, including Kapadokya, went straight up in one spot and didn’t move around.
I later asked several people why Kapadokya Balloons seems to have a monopoly on the industry. Some people said that KB pays nice commissions to the tour operators and hotels but I can’t say whether or not this is true. We also heard that many of the balloon operators harbor some resentment towards EZ Air pilot, Hasan, since he is not originally from Cappadocia. Hasan guided that balloon as if it were a Cadillac on cruise control!
On day 3 we took a tour that brought us through Derinkuyu, Ilhara Valley, Pigeon Valley, Nigde, a caravanserai, Avanos, Devrent Valley and Pashabag. We booked it through an agency in town for $50 (I think it was in USD) and that included lunch. The Kelebek covers the same tour for $10 more. If I were to do it again I would go with the Kelebek. They only had about 8 people and we had 20 or so. A small group is so much nicer!
Derinkuyu – We spent about 1 hour here. We wandered around with our guide through this 7-8 story underground city. There are 100’s of underground cities in this region. They were not actually full time living quarters but a place to hide during an invasion. With advanced notice supplies were brought down and the people could stay for months at a time. It was worth a visit but I would not feel compelled to see this one again when I come back to Cappadocia. It was crowded and we often had to wait for a tour group to come down a passage before we could continue on.
Ilhara Valley – This valley is lush with greenery and incredibly scenic! On my next visit I will hike more of it without a tour guide. There are many dwellings within the valley. The hike with the guide is not strenuous for most people but we had an 84 year old man that was getting weary towards the end. Luckily, two young boys with a donkey offered him a ride. I don’t know what the charge was. At the end of our hike we sat right on the bank of the river and had a nice lunch.
Pigeon Valley – So called because farmers carved pigeon houses in the tufa formations and collected the bird droppings to fertilize their crops.
Nigde – We only visited the cliff side monastery here and it was quite interesting.
Caravanserai – These structures were built along the Silk Road and served as a resting place for the traders that would travel approximately 20 miles per day. The structures had a watchtower from which the traders could see if there was a threat of an invasion. They also contained a mosque, and a covered area for the camels.
Avanos – This stop was basically worthless. We were all rounded up to watch a pottery demonstration. After the demonstration we were herded into a porcelain shop with exorbitantly priced pieces and each person on the tour was shadowed by at least one sales person at a distance of about 2 feet. At one point my boyfriend and I had someone following us and we decided to split up to see what would happen. We each went in a different direction and out of thin air appeared another sales person to follow us! I quickly scurried out of the shop and walked down to the van. Within 10 minutes of our entry into the porcelain shop everyone on the tour was back at the van except for our guide. After about 15 minutes someone went and found him to tell him we were all ready to move on. Guides are paid a hefty commission when people purchase from these shops. I recommend saving some bucks and shopping on your own. The next day we came back by dolmus and wandered around town, had lunch and bought a piece of pottery. It is a quaint town and nice for a visit but I wouldn’t want to base myself here.
Devrent Valley and Pashabag – These two valleys have some very interesting formations. Devrent has a formation that looks like a camel. Pashabag has very phallic shaped chimneys and it was a beautiful site at sunset.
After our tour we were exhausted so we headed back to the hotel and had dinner on the terrace.
We spent the following day exploring Goreme and hiking through Love Valley and the valley behind our hotel. I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed this above all else in Cappadocia. Exploring on our own gave us the freedom to take our time and wander at free will. You could hike for days and still not cover all there is to see.
When we planned this trip we had originally planned on 3 nights in Cappadocia. We later reconsidered thinking that since Cappadocia was so far from everything we should stay for 4 nights because we might not return on our next trip to Turkey. Now that we have been in the region it has only whet our appetite to explore even more on our next trip!
Selcuk & Istanbul (on our way back through)
We left early the next morning for Selcuk via Onur Air. Unfortunately, the only way to get to the Izmir airport is via Istanbul with a 5 hour layover. We checked our bags into the left luggage at the airport and went into Istanbul for lunch.
We had arranged a pick up from our hotel and they met us at the airport to transport us to Selcuk. Upon first impressions Selcuk appears to be a charmless town. The buildings are all concrete blocks of about 5 stories. All the rooftops hold big canisters of water, solar panels and satellite discs. After exploring a bit we found that it is actually a very quaint town with lots of local flavor. When planning a trip to Selcuk I highly recommend you make sure you are there on a Saturday. The market is enchanting and geared toward the locals. Clothing, fruit, veggies, spices, tools and anything else you may need is for sale under raised tarps.
We stayed at Jimmy’s Artemis. This was close to the worst place we have ever stayed but we didn’t really expect much for 12 euro. They are at a new location a few blocks from the old place. We checked into our room only to find that it looked like it had not been vacuumed for weeks. Upon further inspection we found that the bathroom was also very dirty. We went back down to the front desk and asked them to clean the room while we went up to the restaurant on the 5th floor to have a couple of cold ones. We also walked around town a bit and made our way back to the hotel a couple of hours later. Our room had not been touched so we located a vacuum cleaner and cleaning supplies and proceeded to clean the room on our own. When we were done with the vacuum we placed it in the hall where it remained for the next 24 hours. There are signs all over discouraging us from bringing any outside beverages or food into our room. For this reason we could not purchase any of the appetizing fruit from the market.
Just out of curiosity we checked out the place the Jimmy moved from. It is now just called the Artemis. It was very nice and clean. The funny thing is that the new brochure for Jimmy’s still features the pool at the old location!
We had read great things about Hotel Kale Han and also of the restaurant so we decided to have dinner there. The service was cold and impersonal and the food was mediocre at best. The hotel itself looked nice and the garden area is beautiful.
Ephesus – We arranged a tour from our Jimmy’s for 30 euro. We arrived at Ephesus at about 10:30 or so and it was already packed with people. There were swarms of school children running and screaming through the ruins with apparently no appreciation for the history that surrounded them. Other than that is was interesting. We spent about 4 hours here.
Priene, Miletus and Didyma – We also arranged this tour with our hotel for 30 euro. Otherwise known as PMD, these ruins are much less frequently visited than Ephesus therefore it was much more enjoyable for us. I highly recommend this full day excursion! We also visited what remains of the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 wonders of the world. There isn’t much left of the temple but what remains you are able to imagine how massive this structure was.
Ephesus Museum - We were very glad that we visited this museum on the morning we left for istanbul. The artifacts are interesting and you can walk through and see everything within 1-2 hours. I highly recommend it!
From Selcuk we headed back to Istanbul to spend our last 3 nights.
Istanbul Part 2:
We had been highly anticipating our return to Istanbul. Upon arrival we headed straight to the Grand Bazaar to pick up the leather jacket my boyfriend had ordered. Once inside the bazaar we were once again drawn to the colors and smells and spent a good 2 more hours here. Keep in mind that some of the shops inside the bazaar pay $8,000. a month for rent so it may be better to buy any large purchases at another store.
Spice Bazaar – Walking through the Spice Bazaar we were constantly harangued by people in the shops. They were much more aggressive than the folks at the Grand Bazaar! We were in this bazaar for only as long as it took to get to the other side and out the door.
Bosphorus Cruise – You can walk down to Eminonu where the ferry departs from by cutting through the Grand Bazaar and walking down the hill. The neighborhood shops back here were full of hunting and fishing gear, mannequins, toys and many oddities. Trucks unload their wares on to the backs of men waiting to be loaded up like donkeys. The men wear a sort of makeshift backpack with padding down at the small of the back with a strap that comes up over the boxes and is held by the packer. The men then lean forward and trudge up the hill!
We got down to the ferry dock and we were immediately accosted by several different people trying to get us to board one of the boats for a $20 Bosphorus Cruise. We had been forewarned so we made our way to terminal 3 and purchased a round trip ticket for 7.50 YTL. We zigzagged across the straight from the Asian side to the European side picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. We got off at the end at Anadolu Kavagi and quenched our thirst at one of the many restaurants that line the ferry stop. We were here for about 1 ½ hours before we headed back to the ferry. This was one of our most enjoyable and relaxing days in Istanbul. The summer homes that line the straight range from regal to downright slum dwellings. I recommend boarding early to get a good seat outside on the stern deck.
Beyoglu – To get to Beyoglu hop on the tram and take it across the Galata Bridge to the first stop on the other side. Cross over the busy street and follow the signs for Tunel. This is a funicular that takes you to into Beyoglu. Hop on the trolley (reminiscent of the trolleys in San Francisco and take it to Taxim Square. From Taxim Square we started our stroll down Istiklal Caddesi. Entering this neighborhood we felt as if we had entered a different country again. It is very cosmopolitan, filled with beautiful boutiques, cafes and bars. On my next visit I will certainly spend more time here.
We ate at a restaurant on the left called Sutis Muhallabicisi. This was one of the best meals we had! I wrote down what we had and the prices so I will post these details:
Chicken shish 7.25 YTL (approx. 5.40 USD)
Roast meat 6.75
Lentil soup 2.50
Meze of cucumber and yogurt 2.50
Meze of eggplant called Patlican Salata 3.50
And the most incredible baklava I have ever tasted for 3.50!!
About ½ way down Istiklal Caddesi on the right hand side is a great market called Tarihi Beyoglu. No one is trying to sell you anything so you can take a leisurely stroll through here. The shops here sell many of the same things that the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market has to offer.
The Galata Tower – We walked up to it but decided against paying 8 YTL to get to the top since it was raining and quite socked in. I am sure the view is terrific on a sunny day.
The Galata Bridge – On top of the bridge you will find fishermen lined up catching small fish that I would guess they sell to the fish market on the other side. We didn’t spend much time at this fish market because there were 100’s of birds flying above and I had no hat! Underneath on the walkway of the Galata Bridge there are dozens of restaurants to choose from, all fairly reasonably priced. The restaurant staff will try to lure you in, practically stopping in front of you to get you to look at their menu. We walked along and found the one with the most locals eating and sat down to a nice cheap fish dinner. On two different afternoons we stopped at one of the restaurants, Yakamoz, and drank a couple of cold beers. The staff was very friendly and we had a few good laughs with them. Watching the commuter boat traffic from the bridge was like watching a finely choreographed ballet!
Other observations and info about Turkey:
Onur Air is a no frills airline with way too many seats for the size of the plane; read NO LEG ROOM! If possible request an emergency exit row. Other than that the crew was friendly and they were on time for 3 out of the 4 legs we flew on them.
Although we didn’t take any long bus rides because we chose to fly, we did take a dolmus from Goreme to Avanos and the dolmus was very clean. There don’t seem to be any bus stops. The dolmus just stops when people on the side of the road wave.
Don’t be surprised if the two lane road you are on is being utilized as if it was a three lane road. This is quite common. You may want to be blindfolded during taxi rides. It can be a frightening experience
Bring toilet paper and have it with you each time you go into a toilet. I would guess that about 70% of the public bathrooms didn’t have toilet paper. Most of them were quite clean though. Make sure you carry change. Most toilet fees are .50-.75 YTL.
Bring earplugs!! The first call to prayer was at 4:15 in the morning and it is broadcast from every mosque around. In Sultanahmet we were near at least 4 mosques so even with earplugs we still heard it.
Bring a small calculator to calculate the exchange rate. Very helpful when shopping.
Look at the money carefully. There are still notes with the 6 zeros so make sure you know how much money you are giving someone and count your change. We didn’t get ripped off anywhere.
Budget travelers will have no trouble finding cheap meals. Kebap joints are as common in Turkey as Starbuck’s Coffee is in the Northwest part of USA!
I felt incredibly safe everywhere we went. Unlike some cities like Budapest and Rome where I am extra cautious, I never felt anyone was waiting for me to put my guard down so they could mug me.
Take some time to learn a few words in Turkish. I listened to a Turkish CD for a couple of months prior to our trip and learned quite a bit. That along with a Turkish phrase book was a big help. Many people speak English but I like watching the surprised look on their face when I spoke to them in Turkish. At least learn please and thank you.
I may post more observations as I remember them.
As soon as I load my photos to a website, edit and name them I will post a link. Feel free to ask questions.
Our short 2 week trip through Turkey was one of the most memorable trips I have ever taken. I have no doubt that I will return again soon. The scenery if fascinating, the people are wonderful and the food is delicious!
Wow, that's a really long post!!! Good information although it would probably be better suited for our travel diary, travel blogs or destination comments areas which are meant more for reporting about a place/trip. Forum posts tend to disappear into oblivion over time and such detailed reports shouldn't be 'wasted'!!!
Thanks for sharing!!
Hello, I'm from the USA. Can you give me info on how much a room, cheap meal, bus rides from Istanbul to Troy and Ephesus would cost?
Just trying to set up a budget as I've been hearing that prices are rising there.