In my last post I shared my itinerary for my upcoming trip to Turkey and the Caucasus.
Now here’s some detail about the Turkey portion.
I am using the same day numbering here as I used in my last post. Days One and Two are travel days, so my time in Turkey starts on Day Three.
My flight is scheduled to arrive at Istanbul International Airport at 9:45 am. I have a pickup arranged to take me to my lodging, the Hotel Doruk Palas. (This is a change from my original choice, the Marmara Guesthouse. That place looked completely charming, and I’m sure it would have been really nice. But it is located near all the most popular sights. Doruk Palas is in the Beyoğlu neighborhood, where there are lots of shops, cafés, and restaurants, and fewer tourists.) Once I’m settled in, the goal for the rest of the day is to stay awake. I have nothing planned, but I am looking into a nighttime walking tour, as that can be an effective way to keep from going to sleep too early and suffering from jetlag for days.
I have a walking tour of the historical highlights of Istanbul today, starting in the morning. I’m not sure how long it will last. Here is what’s on the itinerary:
- Hagia Sophia. Built by the Emperor Justinian in the early 6th century AD and designed by Anthemius of Tralles and Isodore of Miletus, the church was converted into a mosque in 1453. In 1931 it closed, and it reopened as a museum in 1935, but it was, amidst great controversy, reclassified as a mosque in 2020. It is famous for its mosaics, including glittering portraits of emperors and empresses and a poignant Virgin and Child.
- The Blue Mosque takes its name from the exquisite tiles adorning its interior. Built by Sultan Ahmet I in the early 17th century and designed by a pupil of Sinan, the greatest of Ottoman architects, it is the only imperial mosque with six minarets.
- The Hippodrome, the stadium of ancient Byzantium, held 100,000 spectators and featured objects from all corners of the empire. Of these, an Egyptian obelisk and a bronze sculpture of three entwined serpents from Delphi survive. It’s now a public plaza called Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultanahmet Square).
- The Grand Bazaar, with some 4,000 shops, has been a bustling market since Byzantine times. My buddy Rick Steves describes it well and offers some strategies for navigating and for dealing with aggressive vendors.
At this point, I believe we take a lunch break before continuing at
- Topkapi Palace. Built between 1460 and 1478, this was the principal residence of the Ottoman sultans until the nineteenth century. In 1924 it became a museum.
Another organized tour today, starting with a morning visit to the Spice Bazaar, which dates from the 1660s. Long the center of the spice trade in Istanbul, today it has a total of 85 shops selling spices, Turkish delight and other sweets, jewelry, souvenirs, and dried fruits and nuts.
After that is a cruise on the Bosporus. And then the rest of the day is free.
Days 6, 7, 8, and 35
I planned my visit to Istanbul so I would have plenty of free time for my own independent explorations. In addition to the afternoon and evening of Days 3, 4, and 5, I have two full days free on Days 6 and 7. Then on Day 8 my flight doesn’t leave until evening, so I have the morning and early afternoon free that day as well.
On Day 35, I return to Istanbul from Yerevan, Armenia, early in the morning, and I don’t fly home until the wee hours of Day 36. So that leaves me pretty much all of that day free as well.
I’m trying to make a list of possible sights, tours, and activities beyond what’s included in the tours on Days 4 and 5. Here are some of the things I’m looking at:
- Hidden Beyoğlu: “On this food tour in Istanbul we will eat our way through the classic and unknown eateries of the [Beyoğlu] neighborhood, the old and the new, tasting specialties from all over Turkey.”
- Shop, Cook, Feast: A Hands-On Culinary Adventure: “After shopping for ingredients in one of Istanbul’s most food-centric neighborhoods, we’ll teach you how to cook six of our favorite Turkish recipes from all over Turkey in this Istanbul cooking class – dishes like Circassian chicken, stuffed eggplant from southeastern Turkey, Aegean-style mincemeat pastries and more.”
- Old Istanbul Evening Segway Tour: There’s a lot of overlap between this tour and my Day 4 tour, but this one is at night, so I would get to see things with a different perspective.
- Journey through History – Fatih, Fener, Balat, Beyoglu: This is an all-day walking tour through some neighborhoods of Istanbul that are off the beaten tourist path. Perfect for Day 6 or 7 I think.
- Princes’ Islands: I am trying to figure out if it would be possible to visit these islands in the Sea of Marmara on Day 35. The problem is I need a pickup from Sabiha Gokcen Airport and a return ride to Istanbul International Airport. Plus I need to be able to stow my luggage somewhere.
Self-Guided Walking Tours
In his Istanbul Guide Book, Rick Steves lays out a number of self-guided walking tours. These ought to be available in his smartphone app as well, so I can listen to him describe what I’m seeing without having to refer to his book or a map. Some of the tours duplicate ones I’m already taking, but there are a lot of good options:
- Archaeological Museums (covers the Museum of Archaeology, the Tiled Kiosk Museum, and the Museum of the Ancient Orient; closed Mondays)
- Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
- Old Town Back Streets
- Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent
- Chora Church (now called the Kariye Mosque)
- City Walls and Neighborhoods
- Golden Horn
- The New District (an area Rick describes as “lively, sophisticated, and very European” and “probably the most cosmopolitan part of European Istanbul”)
Kuşadası is my home base for the next part of my travels in Turkey. I fly from Istanbul to Izmir on Day 8, arriving at around 8pm. I’ll meet my driver at the airport, and it’s about an hour drive to Kuşadası, where I’m staying three nights at the Ilayda Avantgarde Hotel. Kuşadası is a beach resort on the Aegean Sea.
Maybe a late dinner after checking in. Or maybe straight to bed.
After breakfast at the hotel, I’ll take a tour 2.5 hours inland to Pamukkale to enjoy the spas, pools, and terraces of this natural wonder, called the “Cotton Castle”. We will also spend time in Hieropolis, with one of the largest and most diverse necropolis in the world. After the tour, back to the hotel.
It’s a long way to drive; I hope the van is comfortable and the other travelers on the tour are pleasant.
Thankfully, we don’t have to go as far today. It’s only about a half hour drive from Kuşadası to Ephesus.
The Ephesus group tour starts with a visit to The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. All that remains today are the ruins of the foundations, made of marble and full of sculptured columns’ capitals and shafts.
Our next visit is to the archeological site of world famous ancient Greco-Roman City of Ephesus. Our guide will lead us through the Magnesia Gate. From there we’ll walk past the Odeon Theater, the Celsus Library, the Temple of Hadrian, the Fountain of Trajan and the Great Theater. The theater, which seats 24,000 spectators, is believed to be the site where St. Paul preached to the Ephesians.
After a lunch break, we’ll visit the House of the Virgin Mary. This is officially recognized by the Vatican as the residence where the Virgin Mary spent her final days.
Finally we visit the Isabey Mosque, constructed in 1374–75. This mosque is one of the oldest works of architecture remaining from the Anatolian beyliks.
Then back to Kuşadası for one more night.
It’s an early morning, with a 5am pickup. Then back to Izmir Airport for my flight to Antalya. I arrive around 9am and will meet my driver, who will deliver me to the Elegance East Hotel, about a twenty-minute drive. Then I have the full day free to enjoy this Mediterranean beach resort. There’s a pool at the hotel, or it’s about a ten-minute walk to a small beach. Konyaaltı Beach, one of the main beaches in Antalya, is a short tram ride.
The hotel also suggests visiting the Antalya Museum and Kaleici (the Old Town).
It also might be a good day to do laundry…
Today I have another group tour, to the Pamphylian cities of Perge, Aspendos, and Side.
Perge was the capital city of Pamphylia , a vast Roman province, with a combination of Roman, Greek and Byzantine cultures. We’ll see the best preserved Roman Baths in Anatolia, the Agora, Colonnaded street, Nymphaion and a stadium with a capacity of 12,000.
After Perge we move onto Aspendos, which was one of the most important cities of Pamphylia. Aspendos theatre is one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres on the Asian continent. Built into a steep hillside and big enough to host 15,000 people, this vast semicircular edifice was used to stage plays in second century A.D. It’s perfect acoustics means that it is still used today for operas and ballet festivals.
Next we’ll experience the amazing engineering of the city’s high aqueduct near the Eurymedon River. We’ll have a lunch break by Seljuk Bridge over the river.
After lunch we will move onto Side, a town built on a peninsula, where we’ll see some more Roman stuff. Side used to be one of the most important trade centers in antiquity, and now it’s a popular holiday resorts in Southern Turkey.
Then back to Antalya for one more night.
Another early morning flight from Antalya to Kayseri, arriving at 9:30 am. I believe we then go directly to the tour, but maybe we stop at the hotel first.
Today’s tour of the northern part of Cappadocia starts in Devrent Valley, also known locally as Imagination Valley, where various types of fairy chimneys are abundant. Then we drive to Avanos, which is known for pottery, a craft dating back to the Hittite period. The red clay which is worked by local craftsmen comes from the residue in the Kizilirmak River, Turkey’s longest river.
Somewhere along the way we have a lunch break, and then we go to Göreme Open Air Museum to visit the churches, chapels and monasteries carved into the fairy chimneys from the 10th to the 13th centuries with frescos painted on the walls. Finally we head to the Hasse Cave Konak, where I will spend the next two nights.
Weather permitting, today starts with a hot air balloon ride. After that, we spend the day touring the southern part of Cappadocia.
First we visit to Rose Valley, one of the most beautiful trekking valleys in Cappadocia, and explore the famous rock- cut churches by hiking through the valley. Next is Cavusin, an old Greek village, known for its Christian houses and churches. After lunch we visit Ortahısar Castle, where storage caves can be observed. In the afternoon we will visit Kaymakli (or Ozkonak) Underground City where the early Christians lived in fear and faith. On the way back we stop at panoramic Pigeon Valley, where pigeons contributed to the lives of locals with their manure to fertilize the vineyards. And there will be an opportunity for some wine tasting at a local winery.
I have a morning flight back to Istanbul, and a few hours to spend in the airport before departing for the next leg of my adventure in Azerbaijan. I’ll be back soon to blog about my itinerary there.
After three weeks in the Caucasus, I return to Istanbul today. My flight arrives at Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, outside Istanbul, at 8:30 am. I have the entire day free after that.
I have arranged with Istanbul Airport Shuttle to pick me up at the airport and deliver me to Eminönü Ferry Terminal. They will hold on to my luggage while I explore Büyükada, the largest of the Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmora. The shuttle will meet me (with my luggage) when I return, and they’ll drive me to Istanbul Airport.
My flight back to Mexico City departs from Istanbul Airport at 2:15 am. How I will stay awake until then is anyone’s guess.
I realize that most, if not all, of the place names I’ve written about will have no meaning for a lot of my readers who’ve never been to Turkey. They have no meaning to me either.
But I hope you can appreciate the excitement I’m feeling as I look forward to seeing and learning about all these places.