Thursday 27 June 2013

Amazing Turkey

After months of debates and discussions on the ideal holiday destination, my husband and I zeroed in on Turkey. Turkey was actually never a choice during our brainstorming sessions until our travel agent ‘strongly recommended’ it . Thanks to him (not so thankful after the tour) the travel itinerary was tailor made to suit our needs.

Though both of us read quite a few travel blogs on Turkey and the places we would visit, what we experienced was out of this world. We landed in Istanbul on a bright sunny day of May 12, 2013. The first thing that impressed me at the airport was the speed with which the immigration line was moving. Once out of the airport ,we were  awed by this beautiful, picturesque city. I instantly fell in love with Istanbul.

Since our flight was delayed, we arrived late at the hotel (1400 hrs Turkish time) and missed our half day tour. Not letting that dampen our spirits we set out to visit the Hagia Sophia on our own. The one other good thing our travel agent did was that he booked us a hotel in SultanAhmet. SultanAhmet is the area where all the prolific historical monuments of Istanbul are located. Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome and Grand Bazaar  are within walking distance one another. So we walked to Hagia Sophia on our own.

Hagia Sophia (pronounced as Aya Sofya in Turkish) is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica (church), later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935. (Source:

Hagia Sophia is a beautiful monument. There is so much history. I won’t go into the details about the history of this grandiose monument. There is a lot written about it already.
My suggestion to anyone travelling to Istanbul is to book a hotel in SultanAhmet. And do remember that two days are not enough to explore Istanbul.  

On day two, we were first taken to the Spice Bazaar by our tour guide. Coming from India, spices are an everyday affair for me. I have spices lined up in the kitchen shelf. Even then I found the spice bazaar interesting. Because it had spices that I had not heard of before . It was the most spectacular exhibition of spices.
Shops after shops lined up with spices. If not for the 30 minutes deadline to explore this place I would have bought truckload of spices.

Our next stop was the Bosphorus Cruise.
It was an unforgettable experience. Firstly because of the picturesque view of Istanbul .Secondly because it was drizzling, we had no jackets and were freezing . It was worth it.

Next we visited the Topkapi Palace and got a couple of clicks. Since our tour on day 1 was messed up we had to visit the Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar on our own. 

It’s in Grand bazaar where I first tasted my new addiction, the apple tea. Like the old saying “All good things come in small packages”, apple tea came in a small glass(a traditional Turkish cup) with a refreshing apple flavour like never tasted before.  Grand Bazaar has everything you could imagine. Be a little cautious and always bargain.

One other thing everyone who visits Istanbul should try is the Baklava from Hafiz Mustafa. Its right across the Bosphorus near the tram station.  Every bite is like a piece of heaven melting in your mouth. The traditional Baklava and the pistachio filled one are both lip smacking delicious.

We dined out on both nights in Istanbul.  For a foodie like me I was in food paradise. The food served always exceeded our expectations, both in quality and quantity. The bread served with the prawn & garlic starter was awesome. Every dish we tried was yum. We returned to our room to pack and leave for Kusadasi.

Early next morning we set out for Kusadasi.  After the messed up Istanbul Itinerary we had very little expectations.

We landed in Izmir and were picked up by our guide Kennan .  We were going to the ancient city of Pergamon where we visited the Acropolis and the ancient hospital of Ascepilon.
Both these places shocked and awed us. Now these are just ruins discovered by archaeologists. For someone who loves history this is heaven, for others these are just loads of white rocks scattered everywhere.  Keenan, our guide, made the trip even more memorable with his in depth knowledge of Pergamon and his excellent narrative style. 

We had buffet lunch on the way back and then headed straight to Kusadasi  unaware that waiting for us was the biggest goof up (by our  travel agent)  of the entire trip - “Hotel Melike”.
Hotel Melike claims to be a 3 star hotel. The unbelievably small rooms, disappointing breakfast/dinner buffet (no butter for breakfast) and strong smell of urea are probably the 3 stars of this hotel. Do not go by the flowery reviews on Tripadvisor and do not … I reiterate… DO NOT trust your travel agent if he recommends this Hotel to you.

If you are visiting Kusadasi, please choose a 4-star hotel and one which is located near or in the City Center (Sehir Merkezi as it is called in Turkish).

We had no other option so we decided to stay there and make the most out of our situation by hanging out on the ladies beach near Melike.

We dined out on all three days. The City Center has some good eat outs. We tried the Dedem Corner and were happy with our decision. For an Indian used to eating food covered in red spicy masala, the sea bass and sea brim were a surprise. It looked bland but was full of flavours.

Next day we set out to visit the ancient city of Ephesus.  Only 15% of the entire city has been uncovered by archaeologists and it took us two and a half hours to explore this archaeological site.
Again this is a place for the hardcore history buffs. Else like many of our fellow tourists you will be bored seeing the white rocks scattered around. 

We then visited House of Virgin Mary and a carpet factory. The carpets here are all handmade by women.  Since weaving these carpets affects the eyes ,the women cannot work continuously and take months or even years to finish a carpet.

The carpet factories demonstrate the process of extraction of silk from silk worms and then women weaving the carpets. This actually makes you want to buy a carpet. It just that the price of the carpet reminds you how hard you will then have to work to own it.

Next day we set to visit Pamukkale. It takes 3 hours from Kusadasi. This place has the limestome formations and hot springs. Don’t forget to take your swimming costume when you visit this place.
There are 1 feet deep pools which are free for a dip. You can always swim in the 3 feet deep Cleopatra pool for about 38 liras an hour. All in all, a lovely experience.
For Turkish cuisine and for shopping, visit the city center in Kusadasi. 

Next day we departed to our final destinations in Turkey - Capadoccia. Capadoccia is famous for its rock formations and hot air balloon rides. Our travel agent did not include the balloon ride in our itinerary .As both of us are scared of heights we were not disappointed. But from what I heard from my fellow travellers, it something you should not miss.

We were put up in Hotel Mustafa. I would strongly recommend this Hotel, unless you want to stay in a cave hotel somewhere closer to the city center. We had the first day in Capadoccia to ourselves. So we explored the place.  It is a calm and peaceful place.We had some delicious Kebaps in Pide CafĂ© and bought pistachios and Turkish delight from a very friendly shop owner.
Shop where we bought Turkish Delight in Capadoccia

Next day we visited the rock formations in Devrent valley, Pasabag valley, Avanos valley, Uchisar and the open air museum in Goreme.We had a wonderful trip. The historical places we visited coupled with the tour guides made it a memorable one.

On our way back from Istanbul to India, I wished we had planned a longer vacation. 

If you are planning a trip to Turkey, the best option is to plan in advance and book you flight tickets and then contact a local tour operator in Turkey. Many of our fellow tourists had come to Istanbul and then planned their tour of Turkey. You will get better deals, better itinerary which is custom made to suit you needs, and of course at a better price.
Our local tour operator in Turkey was   Cross Roads Tours and Travels.

You can read more about Turkey at the following sites:
1.       WikiTravel
2.       Lonely Planet
3.       My personal favourite – Turkish Travel Blog


  1. We are going places... Literally and literary. Nice stuff. Written like a tourist. Spiced with frank comments..

    Ashwini Shenoy

  2. Very nice. Keep writing :)

  3. Honest Review of turkey on a whole and fun filled one as well. As a reader we should always be occupied while reading and I coudnt skip even one sentence.

    Neatly laid out by days and knitted by the experiences tastes much like the Grand Bazaar market's spice.

    As a food lover and an adventure junkie myself , I would definetly jump on every chance to vist turkey afetr reading this blog of course.:)

    Great Going!!!!

    Reg: Nitin Prasad