Our Fifth Long Turkish Holiday (Aug - Nov) 2012

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

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SwampeastMike
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Our Fifth Long Turkish Holiday (Aug - Nov) 2012

Post by SwampeastMike » Thu Nov 08, 2012 2:49 am

Thanks yet again to Turkey Travel Planner! Both Tom's web pages and some helpful people on the message board helped us immensely in seeking out very interesting places to see during our driving tour of the Northwest region of Turkey. We've now spent at least one night in nearly every place on Turkey Tom's "Touristic Map of Turkey" while enjoying following many brown signs (often suggested by Turkey Tom) along the way.

Thanks also to the Turkish people! During our long stays we have cultivated some fine friendships as we make it a point to re-visit friends made in earlier holidays and my Turkish has improved to the point of "almost conversational" which helped make some excellent new friends this year. Staying with a Turkish married couple for a week around the Bayam holidays was a special treat! Also special was a family celebration shared with my favorite Turkish barber, his wife, children and some extended family. He is afraid of flying but his wife is not and I'm certain that she'll have him anesthetized if necessary to get him on a plane to the USA next year.

We again spent about a month in Bodrum. Unfortunately the hotel we have visited each year and truly enjoy has won the race to the bottom of the package tour business thus loosing the game! If l'Ambance Resort on the border of Bodrum and Gümbet just beside Myndos gate is open again next year, I will be rather surprised. The best thing this year about the hotel was an increase in Turkish guests. The Backgammon (Tavlı) board is a great way to make Turkish friends and we re-visited a number in various cities during our tour. The Turks are GREAT hosts sharing anything they have. We nearly gave up trying to pay for restaurant meals and received many gifts to treasure.

Highlights of the driving tour of the NW include:

1) Afyonkarısahar (Afyon). The Black Opium Fortress perched atop a mountain in the middle of the city is one of the most awesome sites I have ever seen. Perhaps it was the light rain making the rocks especially black, but it was incredible to see! Anyone who sees a photo (including many Turkish) begins with, "Wow! Where is that?" Kakmak Marble Ötel in the heart of the city was a touch expensive at 180 lira with rooms in need of some freshening, although there are two great things about it: perhaps the best view in the city of the fortress from a rooftop patio and the natural thermal swimming pool in the basement. The main commercial street of Afyon is very attractive at night with a huge choice of excellent cafes and restaurants. The "sugar houses" offer excellent confections to certainly include fresh, natural Turkish delight. (Note that in my opinion fresh, natural Turkish delight does not stay fresh for very long as within a few weeks the consistency becomes decidely tougher.) Even a Turkish friend who had previously shared a box of Turkish delight in Bodrum saying, "This is from my home town of Adana and it's the best in the country" was very impressed with what we shared from Afyon at first saying, "I didn't think you were going to Adana this year". If you visit Afyon and want to make a visit to the fortress site, be forewarned that the road stops well down the mountain and I suspect that there are hundreds of old steps to climb along extremely steep cliffs. We did not visit as there was no way I was going to do climb with light rain!

2) The Phyrgian Tourism Road slightly north of Afyon was an interesting back-road adventure. While you WILL get lost numerous times especially as you travel through villages where the main road disappears into a twisting maze of streets, nothing is too "scary" like our previous back road adventures in the Eastern mountains. Depending on your perspective the area has big hills/small mountains and roads that are almost always at least nominally two-lane and roughly paved with nothing approaching what I would call "slow, dangerous mountain driving". Fairy chimneys abound in the area as do churches, homes, "castles", etc. cut into the tufa. While far less extensive than in Cappadocia it is beautiful nonetheless with the well-scattered sites of interest nearly deserted. A main difference between here and Cappadocia is that water (while still not abundant) is plentiful enough for extensive agriculture with sugar beets the main cash crop and hill/mountain-top pine forests. Private transportation is required and give yourself a FULL day to explore. This is NOT a place to be caught driving at night, so if dusk approaches and you are not essentially on top of the main road at either end, seek any accommodation you can find as the worst road conditions are mainly at either end before you hit the highways.

3) Safronbolu and surroundings were GREAT to explore for a few days! Private transportation is very handy to access the interesting sites around the old, preserved, Ottoman city. While highly touristed most are Turkish and the very nice, mainly handcrafted item bazaar in the old city reflects this. Prices marked are very reasonable and very little bargaining occurs. We always buy at least one nice painting on each holiday and the price quoted for a beautiful and good-sized oil-on-canvas at the gallery near the old city hamam was so reasonable that I was almost embarrassed when my traveling companion attempted (unsuccessfully) to bargain down the price. DEFINITELY stay at one of the many old inns in the old city! We were very pleased to pay only 100 lira/night after a nice multi-night discount for a nicely located inn at the edge of the old city. Similar historic accommodation in the USA with the very same concessions made to an old building is easily three times this amount!

4) The remarkably well-preserved Temple of Zeus in the village of Aızano southwest of Kuthaya is a do-not-miss site if you are in the area! Beyond the temple itself you are treated to an extremely rare if not unique full basement underneath the temple the purpose of which is unknown. "Pristine" is the best way to describe the basement with all of its original lighting shafts intact. Presuming you stay in nearby Kuthya and have any need for fine porcelain dishes/vases/decorative items be certain to visit the area factory outlets. The good stuff is far from cheap but neither is it what I would call expensive given the quality and beauty. 90+ piece "basic" services for twelve are typically less than $1000 and an enormous, complete set of "everything" for twelve in the $3000-$4000 range. Any of the good stuff comes with a very nice and sturdy box suitable for shipment. The cases for the complete sets of dishes are the size of a large, multi-compartment steamer trunk that seems built to last for decades if not generations.

5) Amasra on the Black Sea coast was perfect to visit in early October. It is a picture-perfect, mainly holiday town with an exceptional woodcraft bazaar. Very popular with İstanbul residents during the summer seeking an escape from the crowds and noise I have a feeling that it is hideously busy and crowded in the summer months. Seafood is the thing to eat and nearly every restaurant has "balık" (fish) in the name. A cafe/bar I visited was the first and only such place I have visited where fish was given instead of bar nuts/vegetables/fruit!

6) Doing my best to follow the Aegean coast south of Çanakkale was great! Troy was not a disappointment as I expected very little. The best thing I can say about Troy is that the explanatory signs are excellent. My true feeling is that Troy is perhaps the worst destination you can pick in Turkey--unless you are traveling through, forget about it as you will miss almost nothing with far, far, far better places worthy of your valuable time! Once south of Troy, see suggestions by Turkey Tom or merely head towards the Aegean at the first brown signs you see pointing that direction and follow the brown signs to your hearts' content. MUCH to see and in my estimation ALL significantly more interesting than Troy! We spent only one full day (beginning with the Troy visit) in this area and it was insufficient. I intend to return for perhaps a week not only for more exploratıon but for what seem to be some wonderful small seaside hotels between Assos and Küçükküyü.

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A valuable lesson learned during this holiday is to NOT attempt to travel via land into a major city like Ankara or İstanbul on the final day of Bayram! This year it was a Sunday with Turkish Republic Day (also an official holiday) immediately following on Monday. We had to meet our best Turkish friend in Ankara for his birthday, shared with Turkish Republic Day. I thought, incorrectly, "It won't be too bad." WRONG! After meeting another Turkish friend in Kırıkkale for lunch and backgammon, we left for Ankara at about 4:00 p.m. The 80-kilometer drive took over 4 1/2 hours with one particularly nasty 10-kilometer stretch taking nearly an hour where I never left 2nd gear! Turkish news the next day was filled with stories about the hideous traffic heading into Ankara and İstanbul. Numerous serious accidents along the way with a great many impatient (insane?) drivers. Lots of very old, very underpowered and very overloaded with passengers and cargo vehicles guaranteed that nothing would move quickly...

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Another thing I learned is that while Rosetta Stone is an excellent tool for teaching language it has a downfall. More than anything using Rosetta Stone I have worked and worked at my pronunciation to at least sound slightly "Turkish". I succeeded too well! I could initiate a conversation in "Turkish-sounding-Turkish" to be utterly overwhelmed by the replies which I at best barely understood! Again, again and again, I heard "Your Turkish sounds beautiful!" to be both frustrated and angry at myself for not being able to understand most replies or carry on a reasonable conversation.

Here is a picture of the Black Opium Fortress at Afyon to whet your appetite:
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Last edited by SwampeastMike on Sun Nov 11, 2012 7:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.


sally
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Re: Our Fifth Long Turkish Holiday (Aug - Nov) 2012

Post by sally » Thu Nov 08, 2012 7:48 pm

Thanks Mike for this most enjoyable account. It was around the Phrygian valleys that we had a nearly disastrous encounter between our hire car and a cart pulled by two horses which I have written about somewhere in TTP.

We are about to spend 3 weeks in a hotel near Antalya but will probably break away for a few days to Burdur and Golhisar (thank you David Morgan).

I am in the process of planning two weeks in April flying to Izmir and going north to Ayvalik and Assos having been inspired by the blog of the Archers of Okcular. Any further suggestions most welcome.

SwampeastMike
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Re: Our Fifth Long Turkish Holiday (Aug - Nov) 2012

Post by SwampeastMike » Thu Nov 08, 2012 10:28 pm

Sally,

From Ayvalık work your way north on the D550 to Edremit to continue west on the D550 to Küçükküyü. This is a highly developed seaside tourist area that I believe is predominately Turkish. The olive oil museum at Zeytinli is supposedly very nice but we did not have a chance to visit (yet). From Küçükküyü you can continue due west along the coast (it is a two-lane secondary road that barel appears on maps but is in decent condition) where there a great number of small seaside hotels, restaurants and clubs that again seem to cater to Turkish tourists but is FAR less crowded and "spoiled" than the seaside farther east. This road ends at Assos where I suggest you give yourself at least three hours to explore as the entire mountaintop is filled with things to see. Night was approaching for our visit so we had to cut it very short. I am almost certain that at least a portion of a huge castle/fortress on one side of the mountaintop is still in use. The cobbled mainly one-lane road leading to a theater on the sea side of the mountain is rather spooky (I say that even having driven on some crazy roads in the Eastern mountains). Open your windows, turn off any music and give a long burst of the horn before entering the blind curves being careful to listen for other horns!

Another choice from Küçükküyü is to head NW to Ayvacık (another brown sign destination we did not have a chance to visit) and then SW to Assos though if time allows I would spend the night in that area I mentioned and do a bit of backtracking.

After Assos continue west to Gulpınar and then north to Pınarbaşa following brown signs to your heart's content. There are many. We saw a few and all save one were very worthwhile and even the "bad" one was better in my opinion than Troy... I suppose it's because of the myths, movies and mystique surrounding Troy, but one of the most disappointing things to me there is the fact that nearly everything is roped off and you are confined to a strict path. One of my favorite things about most sites in Turkey is that you are free to go in, through, on and under nearly everything as your abilities allow. Oh how I hope that U.S. style personal injury lawers and disability* advocates/lawyers NEVER get hold of Turkey!!! It will be ruined! You can then get back on the D550 to make your way rather quickly back to İzmir.

If you haven't yet visited Bergama, I would suggest going there on your way back to İzmir. It's essentially an ancient city that never died with three main sites slightly scattered within the city. One is a huge building complex supposedly dedicated to the Egyptian gods. Another is a mountaintop amipitheater and temple that must be reached by the recently installed cable cars as the road up has been blocked to traffic. The final is a good chunk of the city itself with a smaller theater and some incredible underground spaces including a very long tunnel through which runs water from one of the sacred springs via a still functioning drainage system designed in part to create a wonderful sound of water inside that tunnel. The water source is some distance from the tunnel as is the final exit. Presumably upon excavation the system began working again and save an obviously replaced collection area at the spring source appears utterly original!

If you do visit Bergama I highly suggest taking the scenic route that runs between it and the D550 a few kilometers north of Ayvalık. The scenery is luscious along an excellent secondary road much of which travels through a river valley in a beautiful pine forest. The pines are a strange variety that is not conical shaped; instead the tops are naturally round like deciduous trees. Very beautiful! Even if you have visited Bergama before I would suggest taking this route just for the drive as it will add little to the distance traveled and is well worth the additional fuel and time!

* Before you get upset regarding my comment about disability advocates understand that my mother was a severe polio victim who built and ran the family business. She accepted her limitations and did not expect extraordinary accommodation to her needs (at least not beyond father and I). After the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act she did a short stint working with a disability advocacy group. She began to understand the absurdity of the Act after suggesting to her church that they install a simple ramp instead of the light, portable plywood construction she used to get her scooter up the few rear steps. Such turned into an incredibly long, hideously expensive, terribly ugly thing surrounding nearly the entire building to give access to the main doors with an expensive to run and maintain class I snow melting system. She gave up the group after realizing that the Act was creating an entire class of "disabled" people whose demands for accommodation far outweighed their disabilities that were minor or even inconsequential compared to hers.

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David Morgan
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Re: Our Fifth Long Turkish Holiday (Aug - Nov) 2012

Post by David Morgan » Fri Nov 09, 2012 5:00 pm

SwampeastMike wrote:I suppose it's because of the myths, movies and mystique surrounding Troy
Yes, that's the problem with Troy, I think people's expectations are greater than the historical reality of the place. Basically it's a fairly important Bronze Age settlement at the periphery of the Hittite Empire, with its roots going a lot further back in time (about two thousand years before the "Trojan War"). If you're into that era, then it's a lot more interesting than, say, Beycesultan, an equally important site from those times.

I really ought to revisit it, I saw it '82. And Beycesultan, it seems that they've been doing some recent new excavations there - http://arkeoloji.ege.edu.tr/Protohistor ... nglish.htm

sally
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Re: Our Fifth Long Turkish Holiday (Aug - Nov) 2012

Post by sally » Wed Nov 14, 2012 10:17 am

Thank you Mike and David for all the useful information. I will report back.


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