Visting Turkey Right Now

Feedback from travelers recently returned from Turkey: what's good, what's bad, what they found

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Tavsan
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Re: Visting Turkey Right Now

Post by Tavsan » Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:47 am

Again rumors of my death were greatly exaggerated! Seriously, I have been meaning to post this trip report since June 2011 but just haven't had enough spare time to pull it together until now. Below is a rather abbreviated summary of our trip.

We had an excellent small group trip in Mid-May that extended 16 days. We started our trip connecting through Chicago, then Brussels and then on to Ankara. Parasol Travel provided our airport transfers (affordable and attentive).They also supplied our bus for our week in Ankara and on our trips outside the city.

While in Ankara (MY TOWN!) we toured the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and the area around the Hisar. One of my favorite museums and it always delivers a few surprises. We lingered a bit in Ulus (Ankara’s hidden treasure no matter what anyone might tell you.) We also got to visit Gordion, Ataturk’s giant statue associated with the Battle of Sakarya, Hattusas, and Yozgat. We even had Yozgat Kebap fixed in clay jugs which were broken after everything was cooked inside. In Yozgat we also got to see the museum and met a rather jovial fellow at the old Ottoman house that has been restored there. He treated us to music (he plays the Saz) and Yozgat coffee (free!). He has a great personality and makes everyone feel welcomed. We were also fortunate to tour the Kerkenes Eco Center including the archaeological site. One of my best experiences ever in Turkey. Imagine environmental/sustainability efforts working hand in hand with archaeology and historical preservation. The iconic ivory piece in the museum in Ankara comes from this very site.

In Izmir we took the Havas bus from the airport and managed to get about 200 meters from our hotel. We stayed at the Kilim Otel and could not have been happier with that choice. The staff at the Kilim was simply top notch and provided some of the best service I have ever experienced in all my years of traveling. Waterfront views at the Kilim were unforgettable. Toured the Agora and Ephesus while there. The Agora is so often overlooked but it is one of the coolest sites I have ever explored. I simply loved the bazaar in Izmir and believe it rivals the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul in terms of good fun, browsing and shopping. I highly recommend the Mutlu Sekerleme candy store in the Izmir Bazaar. The woman who owns the store is simply one of the nicest people you will meet anywhere on earth. We dined at the hotel restaurant and had great fish. Of course one of my favorite places in Izmir, Topcu was right across the street. Oz Sut (an Izmir original) was right down the street for great coffee and desserts. We did get scammed via a taxi driver (small change I assure you but still). Apparently, some drivers are posing as tour guides hitting up unsuspecting cruise ship passengers for tours. We got scammed on the price of a cab fare to the tune of double its actual value. The guy kept asking us when we were headed back to our cruise ship. We kept telling him we weren’t cruise ship passengers. :? I don’t think it mattered. Be careful of these guys in Izmir and make sure the cab you enter has a working meter and get the rates quoted upfront in Turkish Liras, especially in the vicinity of the Agora. We took an Ephesus tour with a travel company that shall remain anonymous. It only reinforced why I prefer to wander Ephesus and the surrounding areas as I often do, by myself without someone hurrying me along. Not a bad tour but I prefer to take my time. Other foodie fodder, try the cheap sandwiches sold by the doner places at lunch. Find one of the places that is crowded and belly up to the bar or window and watch them prepare fast food at its top speed. One of these and a Coke won’t break your wallet and you can eat in transit to your next destination at a brisk walk. I did without spilling so much as a crumb. Izmir has way more going on in terms of places to visit, history, etc, than it seems to get credit for in guide books. It and its surrounding areas are worth several days of exploration.

In Istanbul we stayed at the Deniz Konak or Deniz Houses Hotel. Mentioned the Turkey Travel Planner and got a fruit basket for each of our rooms . The staff there was spectacular even with the most pesky hotel guests (I witnessed one or two of those personally). The staff was so helpful and we booked both our airport transfers with Backpackers Travel. Everything went so smoothly with them. Breakfast at the Deniz Konak was wonderful and the largest we experienced during our visit. The view from the Terrace was excellent. In Istanbul we visited all the standard sites including Chora Church. Chora is a site you don’t want to miss and well worth the trip. Make certain to see the nearby palace remains. The Harem at Topkapi was under much needed restoration as I understand. We caught all the usual places Blue Mosque, Dolmabahce, Archaeological Museum, the Cistern, Hippodrome, etc. Had some great meals at the Pudding Shop (Hooray for the 60s!), Doy Doy, and Café Rumist (I go back there again and again and have never been disappointed). At the Café Rumist upon my arrival the owner immediately ordered my coffee for me with the correct amount of sugar. I had not seen him in over a year and he remembered. I may eat there too much but it’s worth it. I actually dared eating at a greasy spoon or rather "greasy knife" doner shop near Istanbul Modern. Heavenly! We chanced upon a National Geographic photo exhibit of antique photos of Turkey from the NG archives housed in the building right next to Istanbul Modern. Simply stunning and the exhibit was free! Found a most interesting place I had only heard about near Ayasofya. It is in a small courtyard of a Mimar Sinan complex. It has artists working on crafts to sell to tourists but it was the architecture that brought me there. My son’s name is Sinan so having a big bust of the big guy himself there made it even more worthwhile. Also near Ayasofya I found a great store selling chalcedony so I scored some great earrings for my wife. Spent some time at the Arasta Bazaar. Fairly touristy as one would expect but found some great sales people willing to move merchandise and several with a superb sense of humor. Made the trek to the kitchen of Haci Bekir which is a must for fans of Turkish Delight. Of course I did the Grand Bazaar this time but only because someone gave me money to purchase something for them. Scored a great deal there and without spending a dime of my own money! The Spice Bazaar was incredible and I put it on the must do list for next time. Took the obligatory ferry boat ride up and down "The Bos" and stopped to pay our respects to Haydarpasa Train Station. I was just in its lobby in 2010 and I was so saddened to see pictures in the Hurriyet Daily News when fire broke out later that year. Of course I braved Taksim and Istiklal taking the funicular up near Istanbul Modern. Getting around Istanbul via things like trains and the funicular are ridiculously affordable making taxis less necessary than one might imagine.

I’ve said it before but never underestimate the value of a highly competent guide. We visit Turkey all the time so a guide for us isn’t always necessary but this time around with a group we hired a guide for roughly a couple of days. Worth every penny. It’s your time and money in Turkey, spend it wisely. A good guide can save you a bundle in terms of time, money, and overall satisfaction with your trip. I learned that lesson here from Tom Brosnahan and Selahattin Tumer right here on TTP.

Other lessons learned or reinforced this time around: Allergies don’t go away when you go to Turkey. In fact, mine are often irritated by the pollen and the pollution (in major cities). Thank goodness for well-staffed pharmacies who know just what to do when you show up sniffling and whining. You can rent a bus for a small group for a really affordable rate. It makes tailoring your trip for specific destinations much easier. Also, airfares within Turkey are so affordable. While there is the temptation to rent a car and drive, with gasoline as high as it is at present in Turkey you can save money and by flying, taking the bus, or a train. The latter two allow you the scenic view the first saves valuable time. Perhaps what stuck the most this time was the value of building your own itinerary with a busy/relaxed daily template. If the morning was to be busy and planned the afternoon would be relaxed and more laid back and vice versa. Also, after so many days of travel we had a day or afternoon off. We ended up in Istanbul as our departure city which allowed us plenty of time to tour and to just “knock around” including precious time to revisit places if we wanted to. Put enough time in your itinerary to actually see and experience what's around you. The lightning speed hurry up tours are just that and they later leave you wondering what you missed while you were hurrying along. Finally, trying to do a 5 Star approach to everything in Turkey ruins to whole trip. Go where your average Turk goes to eat, yes see the “must sees” but get off the beaten track. Hotels? Best recommendation I found was right here on TTP and it wasn’t by any means a luxury hotel but rather a quaint, converted old Ottoman house. It was perfect. I think we came in fairly under budget on both housing and meals meaning we had more cash to do things that weren’t even on the agenda originally and it gave us time to wander and that is always grand in Turkey.

For 2012 it is off to visit relatives (best part of any trip to Turkey). This summer there is talk of returning to Bodrum. Underwater archaeology museum here we come! :lol:

Tavsan


Tavsan
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Re: Visting Turkey Right Now

Post by Tavsan » Mon Apr 30, 2012 11:24 pm

One of the major travel magazines just did a brief piece on a new "remodel" for a hamam near both the Blue Mosque and Ayasofya. Does anyone happen to know if that is located in the Baths of Roxelana complex? It looks stunning and the Baths of Roxelana were closed last year so I put two and two together and just assumed that this is now the luxury hamam everyone is raving about. Anybody know for certain?

Tavsan

Tavsan
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Re: Visting Turkey Right Now

Post by Tavsan » Wed Dec 05, 2012 8:05 am

Headed out for about 20 days to Istanbul and Ankara. No real itinerary just whatever might come along. Looking way forward to that. Anybody else headed that way let's post a few of our more exciting days here.

Tavsan
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Re: Visting Turkey Right Now

Post by Tavsan » Sun Dec 30, 2012 1:08 am

Whew! We arrived and have not stopped moving since. We had a little trouble with the Lufthansa/United partnership in terms of how they assign seats. They had our toddler in a seat all by himself on the plane and the two of us split up as well. I don't know why they leave it to the flight attendants to work things out but you would think in this day and age a better seating process (perhaps using a sophisticated computer program) would be possible. :roll: Thankfully, we've made the trip more than a few times so the unexpected never seems to rattle us as much as it once did. Connected in Frankfurt from Denver this time and it was a fairly easy connection. Istanbul Airport was way easy to navigate this time around. We arrived in rain, survived a good snow but now things are just back to drizzly (if that's a word).

Enjoyed a bit of shopping in Istanbul at Cevahir Mall (largest in Europe I believe). I actually had to buy a sweater it was so cold but it seems to be warming up a bit. Enjoyed some great food in Ortakoy at The House Cafe. Excellent service and great food. Loved the wood burning fire place. Right on the water (The Bosphorus). We headed out to Ankara in time for Christmas. Stopped along the way at a travel plaza and had charcoal grilled koefte, lamb chops, and chicken. Totally took me by surprise. Some of the best lamb I have ever had in Turkey. Ankara was a flurry of visiting relatives and hitting I don't know how many of Ankara's malls for holiday shopping (i.e., Armada, Cepa, Gordion, etc.). Great sales and the dollar is doing great in terms of the exchange rate. Got to visit Tunali Hilmi (my favorite street). One of the hippest places in Ankara in my humble opinion. Missed going to the Flamingo Bakery but I'll survive. I so look forward to visiting Matras leather shop there on the corner. A great toy store is just up the street so my son scored a fairly authentic looking Turkish ambulance to keep him entertained. I also finally found the antique store I have been looking for just off Tunali Hilmi. It is right behind the kokoreç stand (kokoreç us fried lamb intestines and yes I passed on this one). Turkey still remains a great place for quality shoes. My wife walked away from a great sale at Karmen shoes and I still think she is regretting her decision to not buy a couple of pairs of their shoes. Big noticeable difference this time is just how comfortable Ankara seems compared to Istanbul and all its traffic. Ankara felt almost like a small town at times there was so little traffic.

Ankara is always in celebration this time of year and especially in commemoration of Ataturk's arrival in Ankara years ago. A great statue collection in a Dikmen park portrays the arrival near the exact location (at least I think). Missed the theater scene arriving a little late in the evening and then staying too busy on the remaining days there. In Ankara as always it was a food frenzy. Tried a great lentil koefte that was out of this world and had great carry-out pide (aunt prepared the meat at home) thanks to Aspava. Later in the week we ordered their doner wraps delivered. Incredible for fast food. Oz Sut's chestnut and chocolate cake (worth every lira and calorie) topped the week off for me before we had to head back to Istanbul today.

Don't know what's up for New Year's yet. We aren't really doing too much touristy kinds of activities but I'll keep folks posted. We are staying in Sisli so we're certainly not bored. I would like to get over to Sultanahmet to check out the redo of the Baths of Roxelana. Wouldn't mind a trip down Istiklal either if time permits. Some work coming up early next week so I don't know how much time we'll have to knock around before we leave but I am hoping enough time to relax a bit a see a few things before we head home.

Tavsan
Last edited by Tavsan on Mon Feb 18, 2013 4:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Tavsan
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Re: Visting Turkey Right Now

Post by Tavsan » Thu Jan 03, 2013 9:48 pm

Two rather off the beaten path experiences this week. First, I was bummed out the Ataturk museum was closed right before I set out to find it. Instead I knocked around Ferikoy and found the old Protestant cemetery. Also, we had a great dinner this week right on the Bosphorus at a restaurant for Police Officers and their families. My wife's grandfather was a police officer so we had access to a splendid view and incredible food. Turkey has all kinds of these hidden gems that are meant to provide a much deserved service for public servants or other sorts of employees. On my first trip to Istanbul I stayed at a Bosphorus hotel on the Asian side that was essentially a guest house for families who have a family member who worked in a particular vocation (it escapes my memory now). These gems are a part of Turkish culture I have really appreciated over the years. The cost for families who benefit from these? Let's just leave it at way affordable.

We visited one of the aquariums this week at an Istanbul Mall. It was quite impressive though I understand we visited the smaller of the two acquariums. Still it kept us busy for a couple of hours as we took our time going through and sat down at the end to enjoy some cold drinks and Turkish candy.

Food has been incredible as I have been hitting two grocery stores to pick up my favorite groceries (i.e., pastirma, ekmek (bread), etc.). I can spend hours in the grocery store here! :lol: Produce here is so fresh and the displays look like a post card. I also discovered a fresh produce market outdoors, but covered, this week. It was the size of a football field with a little bit of everything. The spice tables were my favorite. One morning I scooted out and got fresh simits for breakfast. A day or so latter it was fresh Turkish cookies. I have also almost made myself sick on fresh almonds and pistachios. Hazlenuts were my demise the last time.

My wife has been shoe shopping a half a dozen times. Oh she hasn't purchased a single pair yet. Buying Turkish shoes is possibly as involved and as much of an ordeal perhaps as buying a carpet. :roll: Leather goods, while not as cheap as they once were, seem to be enjoying a bit of a bouce back. The quality has never been compromised. I saw a leather jacket this week that made me leave the store for fear of what might happen (I had my credit card with me).

I'm amidst the trash talk of Turkish football when I am here. Apparently, little has changed since my last visit. Galatasaray and Fenerbache still hate each other.

Another day of work and then two days remaining in Istanbul before departure. Not sure what we will do for those two days but I am certain it will be anything but dull.

Tavsan

Tavsan
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Re: Visting Turkey Right Now

Post by Tavsan » Fri Jan 11, 2013 12:36 am

Well we returned from Turkey earlier this week. Had a great few days before departure including a most interesting time at the Ferikoy antique/flea market held on Sundays. A lot of really cool and interesting items, some definitely worthy of purchase. The weather was not all that bad for December/January in Istanbul. We did experience snow on the day of our departure to the point that they had to de-ice our plane. We got lemons from a delayed flight and a lengthy time in Customs which held us in Newark for another day before arriving home. We simply turned the lemons into The Big Apple for a brief visit thus seeing both Istanbul and New York within 24 hours of each other. The perfect cap on a great trip.

I also had the opportunity to enjoy Turkey without having a “tour” agenda or needing to see this site or that site. Not everybody has this opportunity I realize but consider putting some down-time or off-the-beaten-track-time in your itinerary This allowed me the opportunity to simply experience Turkey the way I like, daily life. Getting up early and finding something good for breakfast was refreshing. Finding places to eat that were definitely not in any guide book was even better. For instance, at the Ferikoy antique/flea market I enjoyed some of the best Gözleme ever.

Not being bothered by the need to “see” or the compulsion to “buy” made the unbeaten path way more enjoyable than some of my previous trips where literally you felt as if you were moving every minute of every day yet accomplishing nothing.
Turkey seems to be changing a bit. Turkish bread has given up some room to bread like a good number of us prefer here in the US, pre-sliced and in the shape of a bread pan. That being said traditional Turkish ekmek is still alive and well. Starbucks is literally everywhere. I can remember when it was a big deal that Istanbul had Starbucks on Istiklal and one or two more scattered around so it seemed. American fast food is even more visible but most folks I know there still have a preference for the Turkish menu especially when it’s pizza vs. pide.

Malls malls malls and oh yeah malls. I remember the debate about malls several years ago when some people worried they would literally explode across the Turkish landscape. In major cities that seems to have indeed happened. I found myself subject to the same amount of boredom I have here in the states when I must visit more than one mall in a single month. Seemingly the same stores at every mall. Good news I think sales are better in Turkey and business seems to be good. Based on observations alone it seemed as if the malls were doing a great amount of business for the holidays.

Here are a few bits of advice for visiting Turkey. It’s probably in previous pages but no need to scroll back. It’s all been said before but certainly still worthy of consideration:

1. Get some good advice and do your research. TTP here has a lot of good information that has served me well over the years and people who have been incredible resources for great recommendations. I come here first for most anything.

2.Don’t fear smaller hotels. There are a lot of them in major cities and smaller cities as well. The experiences there can be great and prices can be down-right amazing.

3.Go to the grocery store. It is pretty easy to get sucked into the notion you must eat every meal at a restaurant. Many hotels provide breakfast (that’s one meal down every day). Also, get off the tourist path and find a café where every day Turkish folks eat. And yes you can eat Turkish fast food and not feel as guilty as you might at home.

4.Turkey has great public transportation from taksi services to buses to trains, ferries, etc. And contrary to what some people might lead you to believe, it’s affordable. We took a cab to a nearby destination certainly too far to walk with a toddler and paid (pre-negotiated) 6 TL. You can also get ripped off so some caution is necessary. Honestly, I never felt as if I ever paid too much for a cab in Istanbul. Compared to places like New York or Chicago I would say cabs are a bargain. Buses, subways, and trains are comfortable and their systems easy to navigate.

5.Do research before you go and do know that a lot of the “touristy” things you might be interested in picking up there are now available here in the US and likely other places via the internet. Apple tea or traditional black tea, Turkish coffee, candies, CDs, etc.? If you need room in your luggage going home just know that some of the “goodies” can be ordered after you arrive back home and some of the more unique “must haves” can ride more comfortably in your checked or carry-on luggage.

6.Do drink bottled water. Also, know that while I hear less and less about people getting sick while visiting Turkey it does happen. Exercise the same caution you would at home. If the buffet food does not appear fresh or appears sketchy in any way, move on. You can eyeball cleanliness in Turkey pretty much the same way you can anywhere. Also, a crowded restaurant can be a good sign. Don’t let fear stand between you and a great experience of an evening out.

7.If you start feeling pressured to do anything walk away. Don’t shop, eat, tour, etc. under pressure. You feel it more in the heavily traveled tourist areas. Walk away and walk it off. Plain common sense should prevail as well. If it seems too good to be true . . . Repeat.

8.I have said it before and I will say it again, an excellent tour guide is worth every penny, dollar, lira, euro, etc. One of my best experiences ever in Turkey was working with a knowledgeable, considerate guide who was patient and so incredibly brilliant about every place we visited. His fee was fair and affordable.

9.It’s not your home but it can become your home during your visit. Be kind and courteous. Don’t be the loud, ugly (fill in your nationality) that nobody wants to encounter or sit beside (add alcohol to this and it’s even worse). I’ve ducked more than one of those folks over the years. These people are tolerated (however not always) but not liked I can tell you. Turks are some of the most welcoming people on the planet. If you encounter anything in gross violation of the aforementioned hospitality from your hosts or something doesn’t feel right (revisit 7).

10.If you don’t see it the first time around, resolve yourself to return. Turkey, while not exactly as affordable as it once was, is still a bargain and most definitely never dull.

We may be headed back in mid-to-late July for a little longer stay. If so I may need to switch to a blog! Thanks for reading everyone. We have exceeded over 100,000 hits on this thread since it started several years ago. Hope some of what we have said has been helpful. Thanks to Tom for once again providing a great place to discover Turkey.

Tavsan
Last edited by Tavsan on Mon Feb 18, 2013 4:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

suppiluliuma
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Re: Visting Turkey Right Now

Post by suppiluliuma » Mon Jan 14, 2013 10:52 am

Hi Tavsan.
Interesting, you're a fan of Ankara. May be because it's 'yenge's town :)
In Turkey, after you get married, you are the fellow folk of your wife's town now.
Do you know, what Istanbulites say about Ankara? What's the best thing about Ankara is to return to Istanbul :)
I don't agree of course. Istanbul is a mess to me.
I went to university in Ankara, for five years; changed a lot since then, still I like Ankara.
Come whoever you are...
just come as you are

Tavsan
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Re: Visting Turkey Right Now

Post by Tavsan » Wed Jan 16, 2013 8:46 am

Suppiluliuma

Ankara just feels more like me. I don't need all the traffic and noise. I can handle Istanbul but why if you can be totally entertained some place less crowded and easier to navigate. In Ankara I never get bored. Love looking out over the city from Mom-In-Law's balcony at dawn even in my bare feet on the coldest morning. You just feel more alive in Ankara. I have my favorite places I can always go back to and I can find things in Ankara. I can always go see Istanbul and visit there. I am actually planning on being in Istanbul at some point for an extended period of time for work but I will be slipping out to Ankara every chance I get. I do love that town. At one point I think I aspired to be the de facto mayor of Ankara in my retirement. If the job is open then . . . :lol:

Tavsan

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Re: Visting Turkey Right Now

Post by suppiluliuma » Wed Jan 16, 2013 10:54 am

At one point I think I aspired to be the de facto mayor of Ankara in my retirement. If the job is open then . .
Sorry I don't think so, as long as Melih Gökçek reigns... :D
He's at the top of my list what I hate most about Ankara...
I don't need all the traffic and noise. I can handle Istanbul but why if you can be totally entertained some place less crowded and easier to navigate. In Ankara I never get bored.
Totally agree... :)
Come whoever you are...
just come as you are

Tavsan
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Re: Visting Turkey Right Now

Post by Tavsan » Thu Jan 17, 2013 7:59 pm

Oh I remember him. He was the one who wanted to tear down buildings on ODTU's campus because he said they weren't legally constructed or something. Geez maybe I should run for that office now. I'd get the education vote at least. :lol:

Tavsan


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