9.30.2012 – 10.13.2012 || Istanbul | Selcuk | Bodrum | Cappadocia
We selected Turkey for our Fall 2012 vacation because 1) neither of us had visited previously, 2) there was a direct flight from DC, and 3) it would be a good mix of city exploring, relaxing along the coast, and smaller town adventures. The list goes on!
We created a 12-day itinerary that started and ended in Istanbul. The overnight flight from Dulles to Istanbul arrived late afternoon so by the time we arrived at our hotel it was close to dinner time.
We spent the first three nights at the Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus, a quiet location with great views about a 10-minute walk from Taksim Square. As a frequent business traveler I was able to use points and status to select a room with a balcony and river view. The view was pretty spectacular at night!
On the first full day we took a taxi to Old City and spent nearly the entire day exploring mosques and markets.
The Blue Mosque is hard to miss and is one of two mosques located in Sultanahmet Park.
It is popularly known as the Blue Mosque because of the color of the interior tiles but the proper name is Sultan Ahmet Mosque. When entering a mosque women need to wear a head covering so I planned accordingly but they will also lend you one for free.
On the other side of Sultanahmet Park sits Hagia Sophia with its red walls and minarets. Hagia Sophia is a museum today, while the Blue Mosque is still an active mosque.
We headed towards the Grand Bazaar to check out one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets. It was intense.
Hmm, how many of these do I need? ZERO according to my fellow traveler.
The best sales pitch came from a guy selling jeans. In clear English, he simply said, “you like jeans?”. YEAH. But it is too hot for jeans.
After lunch we went underground to look for two Madusa heads located within the Basilica Cistern. Found them and saw many columns salvaged from ruined temples to construct the underground structure.
I am the planner and the photographer and leave map reading to my travel partner.
We were in Istanbul for less than 24 hours at this point. While standing outside the Basilica Cistern we experienced a Call to Prayer (also known as ezan) for the first time in public. The sound lasts a couple of minutes and resonates throughout the city. It is one of the more incredible and memorable parts of a trip to Istanbul (and other parts of Turkey, too).
While not as large as the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar is also impressive. We strolled through the market and purchased some Turkish Delight and Baklava before making our way out of Old City. The Baklava.was.amazing.
Leaving Old City, we walked over the Galata Bridge and headed towards the Galata Tower. Instead of going up the tower we decided to have a drink at the rooftop restaurant next door. See the tip below.
The next day we walked towards Taksim Square to get a taxi towards Old City.
Our destination was Topkapi Palace, the former residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans. It was a bit hazy but the views from the Palace were worth the price of admission alone.
That wraps up the first leg of the trip. The next morning we flew to Izmir where we rented a car and then drove to Selcuk. We spent one night there in order to explore the ancient Greek city Ephesus, a large archaeological site that has been well-preserved and known for its visitor-friendly presentation of the monuments.
Couldn’t agree more on the visitor-friendly part!
We spent some more time exploring and imagining what it must have been like to be in one of these amphitheaters back in the day.
We also checked out a 6th century basilica, the Basilica of Saint John, that was walking distance from the hotel.
The next day we drove to Bodrum, a port city on the Bodrum Peninsula in the southwestern Aegean Region of Turkey. We spent four days relaxing at the beach and pool while enjoying coastal views and sunshine.
Those four days went by way too fast and before I knew it, we were off to our next adventure and the third leg of the trip. We read about Cappadocia’s magical “fairy chimneys” and sunrise hot air balloon rides so we were looking forward to visiting the historical region in Central Anatolia (in the middle of the country).
We flew into Kayseri and rented a car to drive the rest of the way to Goreme. This was the most challenging drive without wifi or navigation of any kind. The massive language barrier didn’t help when we finally stopped to ask police officers for assistance after heading back to the airport twice to start the directions from the top.
Looking back at the notes on the directions, I don’t even know what some of those scribbles mean but let’s just say it was the
funniest most pathetic game of pictionary that I’ve ever played and it was a miracle we found the road into Goreme before dark. I highly recommend springing for GPS if you plan on driving!
Cappadocia is best known for its unique moon-like landscape, underground cities, cave churches and houses carved in the rocks. It reminded me of a much larger version of the Flinstones Bedrock City!
First things first, we stayed in a cave hotel and it was awesome! We had the top portion of structure. It had a small balcony and then a much larger shared balcony.
Cappadocia is know for sunrise hot air balloon flights. We selected the company Voyager Balloons and were eager to experience the landscape from above!
We were in a larger basket with close to 20 people. This is a picture of our balloon courtesy of our new Canadian friends from the cave hotel. And we are off!
The sky quickly fills up with balloons and becomes quite magical. There are close to 100 balloons on any given morning!
Champagne on a balloon doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but cheers. Toasting to a successful balloon flight!
We had two sights picked out for the remainder of the day. After breakfast we headed to the Goreme Open Air Museum. This dog not only followed us the entire way there, but he came into the museum and waited for us if we went into an exhibit.
We tried feeding him some snacks but he just wanted to hang and perhaps show us the way?! We named him “Cappy” the dog from Cappadocia.
We also checked out Rose Valley to continue exploring the fairy-tale landscape.
We were looking for an afternoon activity that didn’t involve getting in the car so we decided to check out a horse farm that we passed near Rose Valley. Is this horse big enough for an adult male? No response. No advice or lessons were given either. Mistake number one.
They typically ride through Rose Valley as it is nice and flat but we asked for another option since we just walked through this earlier in the day. Mistake number two.
We were riding along and these horses were hungry. They couldn’t pass a bush without taking a bite out of it. The brown horse is also dangerously close to the edge!
No further pictures were taken because these horses were out of control the rest of the ride. One had to be walked back by the guide for being a little too aggressive. Won’t forget this adventure any time soon! The best way to see Cappadocia is by foot or balloon in my opinion.
Our final cave adventure in Cappadocia was a visit to the Zelve Open Air Museum, a former cave village and home to one of the largest communities in the region.
The next day we had a much smoother reverse drive back to Kayseri where we boarded a flight to Istanbul. We stayed in the Levent neighborhood for one final night. We mostly wondered around the neighborhood and stayed nearby since we did a ton of exploring earlier in the week.
That’s a wrap for Turkey! What an incredibly memorable 12-day trip spanning four different cities that started and ended in Istanbul.
- Matbah Restaurant is located inside the Ottoman Hotel on a side street next to Hagia Sophia. A great introduction to Ottoman food and traditions. Great spot for lunch while in Old City.
- Galata Tower in Istanbul offers an excellent viewpoint. The rooftop restaurant at the Anemon Galata hotel is a great alternative next door if you don’t want to climb the tower.
- We selected Voyager Balloons in Cappadocia for a sunrise balloon flight. There is one flight per day so be sure to plan accordingly in case the weather prevents flying on your selected day. Plan to spend as least two nights in Cappadocia.
- A Turkish co-worker recommended checking out Suada (Galatasaray Island), a very small man-made island in the middle of the Bosphorous. An opportunity to dine on the water in between two continents! The pool and several restaurants weren’t open in early October. It would be fun to go during the day when the pool is open but dinner was a great way to check it out too!
- We checked out the Çırağan Palace Kempinski, the only Ottoman Imperial Palace and Hotel on the Bosphorus because the Boston Celtics basketball team was in town for an exhibition game and rumored to be staying there. We didn’t see them, but I can confirm this is a gorgeous hotel property along the water if you don’t have ties to a hotel rewards program. #diamondmember
Below is a snapshot of our day by day Turkey itinerary and where we stayed.
Question: What’s your favorite way to explore Turkey?