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The Turkey Roundup

18 Jul

The Statistics

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

Budget

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.

Best

The beach at Olympos

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!!!!

Justin totally made friends with the fruit stand guys

Pictures are just so much easier…

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.

Triple scoop dipped in pistachio. Justin is in heaven

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.

Worst

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.

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Photo Friday – Produce in Turkey

15 Jun

This week I don’t have the most spectacular or artistic of photos, but it’s something that’s been very representative of our time in Turkey.  Turkey is the only country in the world that produces enough fruits and vegetables to feed its entire population.  The only one!  I am pretty amazed by that, and it certainly explains both the quantity and quality of fruits and veggies we’ve encountered here.  You can get a kilo (that’s more than 2 pounds!) of cherries or apricots for about 1.75…it’s unreal.  Breakfasts consist of tomato, cucumber, cheese, olives, bread, honey and in some places we also get huge slices of watermelon.

I’ve never seen tomatoes this consistently magnificent anywhere else in the world.  I kid you not, every veggie stand we pass has crates and crates of the most perfectly ripe tomatoes.  They don’t ever seem to be bruised, or picked too early, or worm infested.  I buy them sometimes just to eat whole, like an apple.  Mmmmmm.

Photo Friday – Mt. Nemrut, Turkey

1 Jun

Giant stone heads at Mt. Nemrut

We were incredibly bummed to not be able to pull off a trip to Easter Island while we were in South America, so when we heard that there we a different type of giant stone heads that date back to around 62 BC in Turkey, we were determined to see them.  It’s in the middle of nowhere on the eastern side of Turkey, and to see the sunrise on the heads you need to drag yourself from sleep at around 2:45 in the morning (give or take, depending on the season) in order to get to the mountain and climb up to the top.  While it’s no Easter Island, it’s definitely lovely and we’re glad to have made the journey.

As an aside, if you do end up going, try to remember that you aren’t the only one who got up before dawn to see this site.  The jackasses below insisted on taking all their group photos RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE HEADS as the sun was rising, thus preventing everyone else from getting a clean shot of the ruins with the pink morning light.  A number of us asked them to please move for a few moments so we could all get a picture, but they refused.  The obliviousness/obnoxiousness/self-righteousness of certain types of tourists really wore on our nerves throughout this little side trip, and reminded us why we generally avoid group tours.

Don’t be a jerk, remember other people want to take photos of that big famous monument as well.  Snap your picture and move out of the way.

Blue Mosque – Istanbul, Turkey

25 May

Blue Mosque main interior dome – Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul has so many things to see, we could easily spend months here and never be finished.  One of the first must-see items on our list was the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, which is more famously known as the Blue Mosque.  The nickname comes from the multitude of blue tiles that adorn the inner pillars and domes.  It’s one of the most beautiful buildings we’ve seen on this trip, and we walked out with dozens of photos of the interior mosaics.

Being Lost, And Found, In Strange Lands

22 May

Being in a foreign country, especially when you have a minimal grasp of the language, is both exciting and exhausting.  Travelling on a budget means that we pretty much never hire a tour guide, and we always go for the public transportation options.  Guidebooks are okay for getting a general idea of how to get around using public transport or our own two feet, but often the book falls far short of any real help.

Once in Valdivia, Chile we knew that we could get to a small park reserve by bus, but we just weren’t sure of the times, or where to catch it.  We asked our hostel, who told us a bus number that was totally incorrect.  We asked the tourist information office. Twice. They gave us the correct bus name, but couldn’t be specific about where it stopped.  We asked 7 different people who worked in the general area and they all pointed us in different directions.

FINALLY, the next day, we found the bus stop and, surprise surprise, it wasn’t anywhere near any of the places we’d been directed to.  Once we were on the bus we asked about specific return times since the reserve was nearly 50 kilometers outside of town.  We were told there were two return times – 2pm and 5pm.  As the reserve was the last stop, the driver assured us that this is where we needed to be to get picked up.

We were at the stop at 1:30pm, just to be safe.  We waited. And waited. And waited.  Finally, at 3, we started walking.  At 4:30 we managed to hitch a ride with a very nice couple who spoke zero English and didn’t seem to understand our Spanish very well.

Justin attempts to get us a ride on the long walk back to Valdivia…we had seen nothing but these sheep for 45 minutes.

Thankfully, they were able to drop us reasonably close to a town that had another bus that could take us back to Valdivia.  It was an adventure, to say the least.

My point is, sometimes getting around can be tough.  Every once in a while though, we encounter a stranger who helps us avoid yet another fiasco.

Today we were attempting to get to one of Istanbul’s oldest Byzantine churches, which is a bit off the regular tourist circuit.   We knew we could take a bus, but the place we had to get on was riddled with buses and we had not a clue which one we needed.  After asking about 7 different drivers, all of which just waved us towards the general direction of another dozen buses, we were approached by a man who asked (in English!) if we needed help.  We told him where we were going, and as luck would have it, he was also going that way.

Then we realized we couldn’t pay the fare in cash, we needed some sort of metro card, which we didn’t have.  The man paid our way with his own card and refused our multiple attempts at paying him back.  He then rode with us to our stop, got off with us, and led us for the 20 minute walk through winding streets to this little church.  There is no way we would have found this place on our own.

The whole time he’s helping us I was thinking, “What does he want? Is he going to charge us something for this?  Is he really dragging us to a carpet shop to try and sell us something?” but no, he was just really nice.  After getting us to the church he wished us a happy day and went on his way.

Every once in a while we are reminded that in this huge and crazy world there are genuinely kind people, and we are very thankful that we encountered one of them today.

New Continent, Old Friends

17 May

After what felt like a million hours of travel, and a near fiasco at JFK airport where we were told that we weren’t actually booked on a flight to Turkey (to which I replied “well we better be, because you took my money two months ago for that ticket”), we managed to make it to this fantastic eastern capital of Istanbul (or Constantinople?).

Totally randomly, two different sets of people we know from our ‘real lives’ back home are here at the same time as us!  We met up with one of them tonight for a lovely traditional dinner and ice cream before they had to leave to jet back to NYC and I have to say, there is a real danger of me gaining 100 pounds here.  The food is delicious!  Loads of eggplant, an abundance of lamb, olives galore.  The only downside so far is that most things are sprinkled with pistachio, which I am allergic to.  I’ve already taken to carrying around a little note in Turkish that reads “I am VERY allergic to nuts!” to try and avoid any mishaps.

We’re excited to start exploring this part of the world and we hope you continue to follow us as we make our way through the Middle East and into Asia!

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