13 months

Jun 6:
almost famous
Jun 11:
raising eyebrows
Jun 14:
speedy banana
Jun 16:
friendly stop in yenice
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Cappadocia, Turkey; Jun 18, 2005

the low down

What we did: Stayed a few days in Istanbul, then rented a car for 2 weeks. We meandered down the west and south coast enjoying beautiful beaches, then went inland to Pamukkale and on to unusual Cappadocia in the middle of Turkey. We took an overnight train from Ankara back to Istanbul, where we spent a few more days.

the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Overall: We left Turkey feeling like the whole country is magic! It's a unique mix of exotic history and traditions, unusual landscapes and modern convenience. It's easy to understand why people visit here again and again or just end up staying forever. We recommend it for all types of travelers.

Essentials: A headscarf or other type of cover-up for visiting mosques and other sites, as well as long pants or skirts. Also bring the will to bargain – you’ll need it!

Planning: We used an excellent website called turkeytravelplanner.com – it’s packed with excellent information, including suggested itineraries which really helped us out. The author, Tom Brosnahan, has written several popular guidebooks on Turkey.

woman in Sirince

Food: We continued our love affair with lamb that started in New Zealand. Grace cannot get enough of the lamb kebaps - they're everywhere and cheap. Strangely, seafood is very expensive even though a lot of Turkey is on a coast.

People: The Turkish are very friendly – some of the most friendly and outgoing people we've met on our trip. We had so many amazing experiences meeting people in small towns on our drives even despite the language barrier. The one exception to this is Sultanahmet, the tourist center of Istanbul – people here are a bit more aggressive, and of course everybody wants to sell you a carpet.

Standard of Living: varies throughout the country

Daily Budget: $75-$100 USD/day, depending on accommodations (does not include car).

Obelisk in the Hippodrome

Exchange Rate: $1 USD = 1.35 YTL. Note that both new and old currency are in use and while this can be a bit confusing, it’s cool to throw 1,000,000 notes around like candy (they’re worth about 75 cents). Susan was heard to say, “This is 250 Bin Lira, which is the same as 25 Yeni Kurus.” Huh?

Weather: At this time of year it's perfect - sunny, clear and mild all day. We're sure that this affected our impression of the country since everything is constantly cast in a glowing, golden sunlight.

Getting Around: It's easy to get around to most of the major sites in the country by bus, and the buses are very nice – cushy seats with a beverage and snack service on long rides. For two of our three weeks, however, we rented a car, and we're glad we did. It was expensive (more so because of a unexpected run in - see turkey: speedy banana), but it allowed us to keep our own schedule and stop wherever we wanted (small villages, less-visited sites). It was especially useful in Cappadocia.

Cultural Observations:
  - Praying up to 5 times a day certainly changes the general schedule of things.
  - Strangely, it is considered more polite to say you're going to meet someone at a certain time and simply not show up than to tell them you can't meet them in the first place.
  - See turkey: raising eyebrows for a funny story about communication barriers.

Major Difficulties: There’s a significant language barrier outside the big cities, although everyone is very friendly. It's certainly worth learning a few phrases in basic Turkish to help you get along.

Specific places we visited/things we did:
  - Blue Mosque: Spectacular looking from any direction on the outside. Next to a nice park where you can sit, rest, and take in the glorious view. The inside is also impressive although it is closed several times a day for prayers.

the tram on Istiklal Caddesi
from Taksim Square
Aya Sofya: In 537 A.D., when Emperor
Justinian I walked in to his creation for the first time, he basically exclaimed, "Wow, I'm great!" That’s a loose translation – a more direct translation is: “Praise the Lord who found me worthy to finish this project. Salomon, I have surpassed you.” In any case, it certainly is an amazing achievement. The inside is breathtaking even with the scaffolding due to the restoration in the middle. This huge structure makes you feel like the peon that you are. This is worth seeing.

- Basilica Cistern: This underground waterway is spooky, wet and voluminous. It's worth the money and a half hour of your time.

- Istiklal Caddesi (a street) is a great place to see where the young Turks hang out, eat good food and spend their money. There's a lot of good simple shopping if you need stuff or are looking for current Turkish music. Also check out the flamboyant maneuvers of the ice cream vendors on the strip.

- Grand Bazaar: It’s an appropriately named large bazaar where you can get all things Turkish. Bargaining is a must!

Suleymaniye Camii in Istanbul
Suleymaniye Camii: A mosque
not as frequented by tourists, partially because of a fairly brutal and confusing uphill walk to get there. It was well worth it, however. After passing through a maze of hemmed-in streets you go through a dark, not-very-promising-looking door to discover a beautiful mosque with lovely deserted lawns. It seems almost impossible that this spacious building and landscaping can exist amid its surrounding cramped and crowded neighborhood. And for some reason, perhaps because they don't get as many visitors, we were allowed to stay inside while prayer was going on.

If we were short on time, we’d skip these, but we enjoyed doing them nonetheless: Arasta market, the baths by Aya Sofya, Taksim Square, walking across Galata Bridge.
  >> Recommended accomodation: Apricot Hotel <<
website; email; phone: +90 212-638-1658; owner: Hakan;
address: Akbiyik Caddesi No. 75, Sultanahmet-Eminonu, Istanbul;
This place is reasonably priced, staffed with friendly folks, and in a great location in Sultanahmet.
cooking class at the Sarnic Hotel in Istanbul
Recommended activity:
Sarnic Hotel Cooking Class <<
website; email; phone: +90 212-518-2323; owner: Eveline;
address: Kucuk Ayasofya Caddesi #26, Sultanahmet, Istanbul;
We really enjoyed the cooking class, taught by an accomplished Turkish chef. You're in the kitchen for a few hours and then you sit down together with the other students (less than 10 total) and eat the dishes that you created. Yum! And if you'd like to do it again, they change the menu frequently so you can learn new dishes next time (just let Eveline know ahead of time). As an added bonus, the hotel is a great place to stay, too (though you don't have to stay there to sign up for the cooking class).
the Library of Celsus at Ephesus

- Ephesus Ruins: Large-scale
ruins, great to walk down the main marble passageway to give you a feeling of what it was like in the ancient times. Worth a half a day to walk around the circuit.

- Temple of Artemis: Considered by many to be one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world, this is somewhat of an anti-climactic site, especially if you've just visited Ephesus. There's really almost nothing left here now. But that means no tour buses, and it's so close to town that it's worth a look.

- Sirince: A small, out-of-the-way village, and a bit touristed by large van parties, but if you can get there easily it's worth a visit to look at the village life, the maze of houses, and the cute old ladies.
  >> Recommended accomodation: Jimmy's Place (aka Artemis Guest House)<<
website; email; phone: +90 232-892-1982; manager: Bron;
address: Ataturk Mah., 1016 Sok., No. 19, Selcuk;
In a great location right by the bus station (Otogar) and in town. This place can't be beat for the price and has dorm style and private rooms. Bron is super knowledgeable and helpful in planning travels around the area. They also have a huge library of resources that Bron keeps up to date, as well as a travel agent on site.
Aphrodisius: We debated whether or not to make the extra drive here, but we're glad we did. These partially restored ruins are much less touristed than Ephesus and allow you to more easily imagine the magnitude of the original buildings and site without a bunch of other people around. Allow a little over 2 hours to make the loop around the site, or 3 if you want to perform air guitar in the massive theater solo, while your wife or significant other laughs at you and throws imaginary jeweled bras at you.
the travertines at Pamukkale

- Travertines: Very touristy, but very cool. These are the natural, warm inifinity pools that you and P. Diddy always dreamed about. They are also reputed to have some healing properties, so it's a good place to join some locals in a casual soak. We suggest walking up from the northern entrance (you have to do this barefoot) and dipping your feet into as many of the pools as possible. Unfortunately you can't swim in all of them anymore, but you can swim in the central pool which actually contains some ruins. More unfortunately, it looks like a big waterpark and shopping center is being built at the foot of the travertines ruining the view somewhat and probably siphoning off more of the already dwindling supply of calcium-enriched water.

- Hieropolis: These ruins looked gorgeous in the evening sunlight but honestly, we were too tired to give them a fair look. We drove through some of it. They are located at the top of the travertines.

>> Recommended accomodation: Allgau Hotel <<
website; email; phone: +90 258-272-2767;
address: Hasan Tahsin Caddesi No. 19, Pamukkale;
They have an older building and a bright, brand-new building with new beds and balconies. A charming family owns and runs this pension and also makes delicious home-cooked meals. They have rooms to fit many budgets and a pool filled with calcium-enriched water from the travertines.

Oludeniz: A sadly touristy resort BUT it has a beautiful lagoon to swim in with a lovely sand beach. We didn’t stay, but if you can get over the overpriced feeling of the place (and the hords of English and Germans), it might be nice.
Cirali: A sleepy and much less-touristed beach town about 6 kilometers away from overly-backpacker crowded Olimpus. The waters are 3 shades of brilliant blue and calm.
  >> Recommended accomodation: Yildez Pension <<
website; email; phone: +90 242-825-7160; owner: Ali;
directions: find the road to the beach and when you get to the beach, stay to the left and drive about another 700 meters;
A quaint family-owned and run pension with cabin-style bungalows and clean regular rooms. They serve home-cooked Turkish food for dinner and traditional Turkish breakfast. No pool, but lots of places to hang out under trees on site and they're a short walk away from an even more secluded beach off the main strip.
Konya: A city famous for whirling dervishes. This is a typical big city and if we were to go back to Turkey we would probably skip it, though it is on the drive into Cappadocia from the coast, so if you're making that drive it's a good place to stop. We took in a whirling dervish show here (at the Cultural Center) but were disappointed. Comparing notes with people we met, it sounds like the show in Istanbul was better. Also of note is the Mevlana Museum and Mosque - definitely worth a look.
Yenice: A small village between Konya and Cappadocia - see turkey: friendly stop in yenice for the full story.
Cappadocia: This place was transported in from another planet. It’s literally fantastic with fairy chimneys and houses carved in volcanic rock. We stayed outside Urgup in a tiny village called Ayvali at Gamirasu Cave Hotel. The villagers still live in the old style and we awoke most mornings to the smell of bread baking in the cave ovens, ready to be brought to sale in town.
balloon ride with Kapadokya Balloons
Goreme Open Air Museum:
Though this is visited by a good number of tourist buses, it's still worth seeing (lots of cave churches). If you get there early in the day, it's considerably less crowded.

- Kaymakli Underground City: One of several underground cities in the area. It was well kept although not the place to go if you’re claustrophobic. This particular city goes 7 levels deep underground, though tourists are not allowed all the way down. We hired “Old Mustafa” to give us a guided tour and he’s great. He speaks great English and is great to be with.

>> Recommended activity: Balloon ride with Kapadokya Balloons <<
website; email; phone: +90 384-271-2442; owners: Lars & Kaili;
location: Goreme;
You have to wake up early (before 5am) and it’s not cheap, but it’s worth it if you can swing it! You get to see the gorgeous morning light over the fairytale landscape. We flew with Kaili, one of the owners, and had a great time. There are quite a few companies doing this now, but after some research we chose Kapadokya. We are extremely happy with our choice; they were very professional, knowledgeable, efficient, and fun. It was amazing to see everything from above. It was our first time in a hot-air balloon and it we really enjoyed it.
Gamirasu Cave Hotel
Gamirasu Cave Hotel<<
website; email;
phone: +90 384-341-7485;
address: Suleyman Cakir Istiklal Caddesi No. 19/9, Urgup;
Many of the accomodations in Cappadocia claim to be "cave hotels." Plenty of them are, but some aren't so make sure you know what you're getting before you book. The Gamirasu was a bit pricier than most of our accomodations, but we really enjoyed our stay here. We had a pretty nifty cave room carved out of the side of the mountain.
Overnight train from Ankara to Istanbul: This was comfortable and convenient, but the train does shake all night, so if you’re a light sleeper, this might not be the ride for you. Otherwise, it’s a great way to get a good price on a night’s accommodation and transportation all in one.

To see pictures of all of the above, check out the turkey gallery.

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


just checked out the turkey leg -- really nice work. our paths through turkey were quite similar -- glad you caught the key spots. beautiful photos and great explanations -- i will point friends who ask me about turkey to your site.

--Han T. (Los Angeles, California, USA); May 21, 2006


Loved your photos of Turkey. My husband and I are going in October, unfortunately we only have two weeks. Did you have any problems hiring a car? How did you handle the driving? I would like to have a car outside of Istanbul, but have heard bad reports about the traffic and the drivers. Any advise/comment would be great. How did you get back to Ankara? Was the train back to Istanbul cheaper then flying? It looked very comfortable.

--Sandra M. (Melbourne, Australia); Feb 15, 2006

One hears lots of horror stories about driving in Turkey, and I'm sure that things must go awry fairly frequently, but in our case, we didn't have any near-death experiences (we did get a ticket, however). My advice is to simply use common sense and drive defensively, though sometimes you also need to use a bit of aggression to get something accomplished (crossing an intersection, etc.). They do drive at high speeds, and they don't pass safely, so be especially careful of that. If you're in a jam, just pull over and let the chaos pass.

Renting a car was no problem for us, we arranged to be met in Izmir with a local car company and we dropped it off in Cappadocia. From there we took a bus to Ankara. And yes, I think the train was cheaper than flying, especially if you factor in that you save one night's accomodations. It wasn't uncomfortable, but I certainly wouldn't describe it as "very comfortable." :)

Hope this helps and best of luck with your upcoming trip!

--Grace; Feb 17, 2006


Nice update on Turkey, guys... I loved the way you did it... most people when they come here never take time to actually see anything other than the tourist centres... you went to heart of the country. Next time I suggest you visit Mardin, in the border with Syria. Quite a mystical place.

--Ivan (Istanbul, Turkey); Nov 30, 2005


This posting was fabulous. We in America need to know more and see more of the special, wonderful, ancient parts of the world.

--Lou Ann B. (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA); Nov 30, 2005


I want to hear the story of Grace scaling the outside of a hot air balloon in flight in order to take that amazing picture! (I am just assuming that only Grace would be foolish enough to do such a thing, since he is, apparently, the speed-racer of you too. Did you have to pay the ticket?)

--Joe C. (San Francisco, California, USA); Nov 28, 2005

Hmm... that story will have to wait until I am senile enough that I can lie without guilt. About the ticket, yes, we did have to pay. :(

Grace; Dec 1, 2005