Number of days spent in country – 25
Cities/towns visited – Istanbul, Goreme, Kahta, Sanliurfa, Harran, Olympos, Selcuk, Kusadasi, Pammukale
Number of different lodgings – 9
Flights – 1
Bus journeys – 11
Boat rides – 3
Combi/collective/taxi journeys – 13
Total US dollar amount spent – $2,445
Average cost per day, per person -$49
Average lodging cost per night, per person – $14.63 – We generally stayed in private rooms, often with our own bathroom, but in simple guesthouses. In Istanbul we stayed in dorms because of the high lodging cost.
Most expensive lodging – Shoestring Cave House in Goreme for $22.50 per person. This was our splurge because we wanted to stay in a cave hotel, of which there are zillions to choose from. You can do this much cheaper if you want to stay in a dorm. We ended up being upgraded for free to the penthouse room with our own balcony that looked out over the town and surrounding countryside. There was a good breakfast included, wifi, and a pool.
Least expensive lodging – Dorm bed at Red River Hostel for $11.00 per person. This was a good little hostel, brand new, near the Galata Tower in Istanbul. It’s a bit off the main roads, so it’s nice and quiet, but still right in the area you want to be in. Breakfast was included, and there was wifi.
Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $13.50 – Breakfast was included everywhere we stayed, but we ate out for pretty much all dinners and most lunches. The food was such an interesting change from S. America that we couldn’t help ourselves! You could probably cut this number in half if you stuck to kebabs or wraps, self catered some lunches, and ate at really basic places for dinner.
Olympos – The tiny village of Olympos is on the southern coast, near Antalya. The thing that makes it so great is that it combines two of our favorite things – Ancient historic ruins, and awesome beaches. At the end of the main road, which is really just a string of lodgings on a dirt path, is the ancient ruined city of Olympos, which dates back to, well, a very very long time ago. You can wander around in the ruins for a small entrance fee and at the end is a gorgeous stretch of beach on the Mediterranean.
If you’re there for a few days, buy the 10 entrance pass, it’ll save you a bundle since you have to pay to enter the ruins even if you are really just headed to the beach. Many accommodations include breakfast and dinner. We were there at the very beginning of June, just before the peak season hit, and had perfect weather, and a fairly peaceful stay. We hear it gets slammed in the summer, so if you are looking for a more laid-back time you should stick to the shoulder seasons.
Muze Pass in Istanbul – This was the best deal we’ve gotten on sightseeing in ages. The Muze Pass gets you into a heap of different attractions in Istanbul and is valid for 72 hours. If you get to 5 places, you’ll get your money’s worth, and if you hit up at least 6, you’ll be saving yourself some cash. You can buy it at any one of the attractions, and having it lets you skip the sometimes obscenely long ticket lines.
Vardar Pension in Selcuk – Most places we stayed in Turkey were pretty good, but we liked Vardar Pension in particular. Breakfast was served on the roof terrace, which had a great view of the countryside. They provided nice fluffy towels, each room had a little balcony space with ample laundry lines, and the mattresses were temperpedic-like and super comfortable. Finally, the bathrooms were IMMACULATE. That rarely happens, and I really appreciate having a bathroom where I don’t feel like I have to wear my flip-flops to shower. It was also very well located, right down the block from where the bus drops off, a half-block to the local markets, and walkable distance to all the ancient sites in town. The family who runs it is kind and accommodating, which is just a bonus at this point.
Tomatoes and cherries – Literally the best tomatoes and cherries we’ve ever had. We bought them all the time from the fruit and veg stands. We were there starting from mid-May, so perhaps it was the right season, but still….amazing. You can get more than 2 pounds of cherries for about $1.50!!!!
Ozturk Restaurant in Istanbul – Galipdede Cad #72, near the Galata Tower – This is really a pretty standard type of place, but it has consistently good food (we ate there three times…) and won’t break your budget. We were drawn to it initially because the menus are actual photos of the food. Normally this would make me avoid a place, but when you can’t figure out what anything on the menu is, it’s a lifesaver. The mincemeat pide is particularly good.
Getting scrubbed at the Hamam – Hamams are old-school bathhouses that are found all over Turkey. They come in every variation imaginable, from the super basic local operations to uber-expensive spas that cater to wealthy tourists. The gist of it is that you go in, get mostly naked (they give you a little modesty towel for walking around in), get a mud mask, relax in a sauna for a bit, lay down on a marble slab, get covered in bubbles, and get the top 14 layers of your skin scrubbed off by a burly Turkish woman (or if you are a man, you get a male attendant) who may or may not shake a mitt full of your dead skin in your face and chastise you for being so filthy. Afterwards you can usually go for a swim or another round in the sauna. I know, it sounds odd, but I swear, it was fantastic. You can also get massages and facial treatments at most places.
Mado Ice Cream – I am fairly certain their secret ingredient is crack. Justin and I both agree that this is hands down, the best ice cream we’ve ever had. That’s right, ever. It’s a traditional ice cream made with goat’s milk, kept in a big metal bin, and dished out on a huge stick by a guy who seemed to hate his job. There are LOADS of imposter ice creams that are served in the same fashion all over Turkey, but the original, and clearly the best (we know, we sampled…a lot) is Mado. On our Mount Nemrut tour it was actually a specific stop in the little town it originated in to taste it at the source. We weren’t supposed to stop there again on the way home, but we all begged the guide and driver and they finally relented.
We don’t have much to say here about places or activities in specific. There were things that were just ‘meh’, like the tour we took to Mount Nemrut…and really that’s just because we had a lapse in judgment and forgot how much we dislike being with tour groups…but otherwise, nothing stood out as really terrible.
Perhaps the thing that annoyed us the most was how despite the fact that most of the tourist parts of Turkey are pretty well organized, there is still a huge issue with littering, especially on the beach. People just leave garbage ALL OVER the beach. It’s awful. Beaches where you pay to have a chair have guys that pick up everyone’s trash, but we watched numerous sets of people just leave all their garbage behind on the free beaches (including newspapers, food scraps, soda cans, etc) when they left. We picked up after a bunch of people, but it really pissed me off that we were at this amazing place and there was such a lack of give-a-shit about leaving your trash everywhere.