Reflections on our trip to Turkey

The Turkey trip is winding to a close.  Here were some of the highlights (this posting is mostly for friends and family)…

Days 0-2: Istanbul.  Loved the boat rides on the Bosphorus.  Had fun on the main pedestrian street of Beyoglu (home to three Starbucks, one McDonald’s, one Pizza Hut, etc.).  A “pedestrian street” in Turkey means that cars only drive through every 2-3 minutes (illegally).  They push into crowds of dozens of people at 5-10 mph and honk if folks don’t jump out of their way fast enough.

Days 3-6: Assos, Troy, and Bozcaada (formerly Tenedos).  The Aegean coast is pleasant, especially when you are staying in a 20,000 square foot beach house with courtyard, infinity pool, and full-time staff, but seeing the walls of Troy is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  The site is not that popular with Turks, who claim not to see what the fuss is about and complain that the ruins are more ruined than Roman ruins.  I loved it and learned something new.  The famous photo of Sophia Schliemann wearing Helen’s jewels (within ) I had always assumed depicted Heinrich Schliemann’s daughter.  It turned out that the 47-year-old divorced German merchant married an 18-year-old Greek girl.  Met a good resource for the next trip:

Days 7-8: Istanbul sightseeing.

Days 9-12: Cappadocia, leaving girls in Istanbul, arranged by Ceylan at  This is truly one of the world’s most bizarre built environments.  The volcanic tuff on the surface facilitated the carving of churches, monasteries, houses, and hotels into rocks.  Erosion results in Bryce Canyon-style hoodoos sticking up in the middle of towns.  In the bad old days when Mongol and Muslim invaders rode across the plain, the Christians here defended themselves by building massive underground shelters, up to 8 levels deep and capable of holding thousands of people. 

Something new:  rode a hot air balloon piloted by Cihangir, a rock solid guy with 4000 airplane hours who turned to balloons 15 years ago.   Watched four guys dragging our balloon 300 meters from “near the preferred landing area” to the top of a flat trailer.  It turns out that being a balloon wrangler is pretty strenuous, esp. when 28 fat tourists are hanging underneath.  Earplugs are essential, at least for the one ear closest to the burner.  Layers are also a good idea as it starts out cold (pre-sunrise) and ends fairly hot due to burner.

What else?  Rode a horse (very different than in the U.S. due to lack of personal injury lawyers… and not in a good way).  Rode a bike (very different than in the U.S. due to the lack of Turks of 6′ in height and/or with any interest in precision bicycle maintenance).  Saw a beautiful silk carpet made by the Cenar family, about 1/2 square meter for a mere $67,000 (tour company, guide, and driver split a 40% commission so it would have been a good day for them if I had bought it).

Days 13-14: went into bazaar with two women; very costly error.  Normally I see something attractive and expensive and think “I would buy this but I’m not sure if anyone tasteful would think it was in good taste.”  Mallory and Oya have exquisite taste so when they responded positively to something that I picked out, I had to buy it.  Left the bazaar with a literally empty wallet, owing Oya about $80 and trailing a guy carrying all of our stuff.

Shopping in the bazaar can be a truly pleasant experience.  We sat in (owned by one of Oya’s uncles and a great place; they don’t pay commissions to guides so you start off with prices that are 30-40 percent lower than in the standard tourist places (that said, nothing is cheap in Turkey and you can probably buy handmade rugs for about the same price in the U.S.)) and were served the beverages of our choice.  When I mentioned to Oya that a doner sandwich would be nice one of the guys called up a nearby restaurant to have them bring it over.  When Oya suggested to Mallory that she get some tiles as gifts for neighbors, one of the carpet shop guys ran over to the tile shop and brought back a selection of tiles (about $2.50 each).

Last full day described separately in this Weblog under “Turkish Bath”.

Things that I learned that I will write in a future article…. (notes to self)

1) try to find a great guide and arrange his or her time in advance; the standard of education is not very high in Turkey and the typical guide will not have a university education in history or archaeology but rather will have attended a 6-month guide class.

2) go up the top of the Galata Tower near sunset to get good pictures of the Golden Horn and Sultanahmet.

3) fly into Kayseri instead of Nevsehir to visit Cappadocia.  The Nevsehir airport seems to have no rental cars, the flights are at bizarre times, there is no shuttle, and a ground transfer or taxi ride to Goreme will cost more than the flight from Istanbul.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on our trip to Turkey

  1. Selamlar, Philip–

    Glad you’re surviving in style… and thanks for mentioning Ceylan.

    The more user-friendly website for your readers is Equinox’s other site– –as opposed to the older, less informative , which is in need of updating — a task to be undertaken once the tourist season quiets down.

    Sounds as if you never had the chance to spend much (if any?) time with Ceylan’s business partner, Umit– who is an extremely well-educated guide and actually has a Phd. in Archeology….

    The baths are worth a second try— on your next visit, inshallah. But not alone. A half-day at the hamam is a social experience. How much fun is barbecue or dim sum for ONE?

    Wishing you a safe and TSA-free re-entry into Boston….


  2. ” A “pedestrian street” in Turkey means that cars only drive through every 2-3 minutes (illegally). They push into crowds of dozens of people at 5-10 mph and honk if folks don’t jump out of their way fast enough. ”

    Hey. This comment for Istiklal Avenue(Beyoglu) is very correct 🙂 I had not laughed as much as I read it before. You are right , Istiklal Avenue that is the name of the avenue in Beyoglu that is generally accepted as a pedestrian street.

    BUT; In fact it is wrong. It is not forbidden for cars. It is legal for cars to pass on this street. Do you know that there is no legal rule that forbids cars not to pass on this street? It is strange but it is. In fact in early 1950, cars could easily pass on this street. But, by the time passed the population got higher and higher and it became very hard for cars to pass on this street; thus a lot of drivers started to use alternative ways. But for some houses and for some stores it is impossible to carry goods without using that street. Thus these people generally use cars on this way only if they need it. (And also some bad guys even they do not need it but just for fun)

    But it is not illegal. 🙂

  3. I lived in Turkey – in the last century, 1958-1961. Had a good friend who lived on Siraselviler street, a block south of Istiklal. In those days, Istiklal wasn’t the shopping magnet it is today, and was filled with small restaurants, candy and cookis shops, and was an area you passed through from Taksim Square to somewhere else.
    I also traveled around Turkey and saw many of the same sites you saw, especially enjoying Troy, Ephesus, Konya, and all what are now major tourism stops. In those days, life was simpler and fewer people actually penetrated into central (and even fewer into eastern) Turkey.
    I’ve wanted to go back for 40 years or so, but haven’t because I fear that Turkey has suffered America-itis and has changed so much I would feel hurt if I found that Turks have changed as much as Americans have. In my day, if you had a Turk for a friend – as I do here in the U.S. – you had a friend for life.
    I’m in the distinct minority, I guess, as I try to be that way, as well.
    Good “journal”.

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