Overseas Adventure Travel’s Turkey’s Magical     Hideaways Tour
September 17, 2021 through October 4, 2021 

 

Due to the length of the review, it is in four parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of each page.


Page 1:  Istanbul
Page 2: Cappadocia
Page 3: Antalya
Page 4:  Turkish Gulet Cruise
Page 5: Kusadasi

 

Preface

After my late wife, Carol, died, I knew that the one thing I had to continue doing was traveling.  We had been to 95 countries together on over 55 cruises; but I knew that there were many places in the world that I still wanted to visit.  Many of them not visited by cruise lines.  I knew that to see some of these places I would need to start taking land tours.  Several of my friends had previously used Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) at www.oattravel.com.  They all raved about the great trips they had taken with them and how they included activities that helped you to understand the culture in the places they visited.  OAT also is very involved in charitable activities through their parent company’s Grand Circle Foundation.  OAT was the type of company that I thought would give a more immersive experience than I had with cruise lines.  They also didn’t penalize solo travelers by charging a large single supplement to take their trips. 

The first trip that I booked with OAT was one to a country I had been wanting to do a much deeper dive into than the two times I had previously just visited the port city of Kusadasi.  I especially wanted to visit Istanbul.  Everyone I know who has been there says that it is a must visit city.  I had tried to cruise there a couple of times, but it didn’t happen.  The last time, in 2016, a bombing at the Istanbul airport made the cruise embarkation port move to Athens from Istanbul.  Additionally, cruise lines are just now starting to include Istanbul in their itineraries.  The itinerary I chose also included a few days in the Cappadocia area of Turkey that has also been on my bucket list.  I booked the tour in July 2019 and would have to wait until September 2020 for the trip.  I would have to wait a lot longer.  With Covid, the trip was cancelled, and I rebooked it for September 2021.  I thought that it was going to be cancelled again, but thankfully at the end of August OAT started up this itinerary again.  I am so very glad they did.
 

Day 1 - Arrive in Istanbul, Turkey
When I looked at the OAT itinerary, there were several places that I wanted to see in Istanbul that weren’t on the itinerary.  I decided to arrive a day earlier, so I could take a private tour.  This would give me a chance to spend even more time in this wonderful city.  Since I had booked my flight through OAT, I had them change the booking a few months before the trip.  A real plus with OAT is that there was no air deviation fee, plus they provided a transfer from the airport to the hotel.  Quite a benefit!  I was booked on a direct flight from Miami to Istanbul on a 787, a plane that I had never flown on, so I was really looking forward to experiencing this new class of jet.  The flight was a long one, 11.5 hours.  The 787 is by far the quietest plane I have been on, plus they have technology to reduce bumps during the flight.  It must have worked since I did sleep much of the overnight flight.  It was also my first time flying on Turkish Airlines.  I was very impressed with the service and two meals that were served.

Before the trip started OAT had notified me that I had to get a PCR test and the Turkish Health Pass.  Since the PCR test must be done within 72 hours of the planes departure and the plane left at 9:00 PM, I was forced to get the test 2 days before leaving because the testing offices are not open that late.  When I went through immigration, they required to see my vaccine card but not the Health Pass or PCR test.  Apparently, Turkey doesn’t require them to enter, but since some of the guests have connecting flights through different countries that require it, OAT tells everyone to get one to eliminate the potential risk of being denied on a flight or entry into a country.  A good idea.

The traffic to get into old town was terrible.  With over 15 million people living in Istanbul, there are way too many cars and way too many narrow streets.  By the time I got to the hotel, it was dark outside.  I had communicated with the tour director, Ahmet Memis (ahmetmemis1@gmail.com), before the trip and was able to invite him to dinner, since he was also going to be arriving at the hotel early.  I couldn't asked fof a better tour director.  If I ever go back to Turkey, I will book him for a private tour, although he does book up quickly with tour companies too.  He made great itinerary into a awesome adventure.  He suggested an outstanding restaurant that specialized in Ottoman Palace cuisine, Deraliye.  Oh my, was it good.

On the way back to our hotel, we passed by an ice cream vendor.  Ahmet said that it was made from goat’s milk, so I had to try some.  I wasn’t expecting what was to come next; but Ahmet did and asked to borrow my iPhone.  It was a funny experience.

 

OAT likes to use smaller hotels for their tours.  We were staying at the 22 room Sultanahmet Palace Hotel (WWW.SULTANAHMETPALACE.COM).  There was an entrance on the street, which led to a lovley courtyard in front of the main entrance.

   

It is a very nice hotel in a great location right in the middle of old town.  I would find out the next morning how great it really was.  The room was very comfortable and clean.

   

I was a bit confused by the bathroom.  In the shower was a large bowl under the faucets.  It didn’t have drain and it filled up when I took a shower.  The next day Ahmet explained that it was a Turkish bath bowl.  There was a container in the bowl to pour over your body if you chose to do that rather than use the shower.  Ahmet said that as the rooms are being renovated, they are removing those, since less people use them rather than just taking a shower.

   

I normally bring several plug adapters when traveling out of the country.  In some hotels/cruise ships they don’t always have enough plugs for the number of devices that I need to charge, so I bought a great device from Amazon (LINK) that provides three US plugs and two USB ports from one European power outlet.  It made life so much easier at plug in time.


I was very ready to hit the sack after the long travel day.  When I laid down, I was surprised at how firm the mattress was.  I don’t mind a firm mattress, but this was a higher firmness number than I had experienced.  I would find that Turks do prefer very firm mattresses.  I still slept great dreaming of finally getting to explore Istanbul.

 

Day 2 – Istanbul, Turkey
I had a big day planned and was very excited about seeing the sights of Istanbul.  As usual when in a new city, I wake up very early, so also as usual, I walked outside to check out the area.  Right across the street from the hotel was the Blue Mosque.  I hadn’t seen it when I arrived, since it was so dark.  It has been closed for renovation due to earthquake and mold damage.  The hotel was really in the middle of all the old town sites. 

   

   

When the restaurant opened, I walked to the back of the hotel.  The restaurant area was very nice plus there was a great view of the Bosporus or Strait of Istanbul.  It separates the continents of Europe and Asia, as well as connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. It is the worlds narrowest strait used for international navigation.  Apparently, the narrowness limits the traffic so much that ships can wait for a long time to get through.    The new Istanbul Canal was announced in June 2021 that will greatly increase the ship traffic.  It is expected to take only 6 years to complete.

   

There was no buffet due to Covid, so the waiter served a selection of way too many items, as well as asking what kind of eggs I wanted.  I would find out that this seemed to be the way most meals came with so many different things to spoil your appetite before the main course.

   


I had found a tour guide for the day from a referral from a tour guide that I was going to use for a tour in 2016.  When that cruise embarkation port was changed from Istanbul to Athens due to the airport bombing, I had to cancel the tour.  In talking with Ahmet, I had told him the various places that I planned on seeing the day before the official tour began.  I then found out why most of them weren’t on the tour itinerary.  They were being renovated.  My guide for the day was Ezel Erdogan (ezeler@yahoo.com).  She was an outstanding guide and just a lovely person to spend the day with. 

Her husband and 4-year-old son arrived right on time at 8:30 AM to drop her off.  Her tour uses public transportation and taxis if needed.  Our first stop was at the Dolmabahçe Palace, which would require a ride to get there.  She asked if I minded if her husband drove us to the first stop.  It sounded great to me.  As we were heading there, she realized that we would have to wait a half hour at the palace until they opened at 9:00 AM and that it might be better to instead head over to the Asia side first to better utilize our time.  Her husband didn’t mind taking us, so we changed our direction and headed that way.  Ezel was in the back seat with her son in the car seat.  He was just such a cutie, and we were smiling at each other a lot.  He told his mom that he wanted to go on the tour with us.

With it being a Sunday morning, there was no traffic, and we were able to get around very fast.  She told me what her plans for the side trip were and they sounded great.  Our first stop was at Camlica Hill Park, one of the highest elevation places in Istanbul at 945 feet.  The views are incredible.  I have found that wide panoramic photos just don’t fairly represent how amazing the views are; but they at least give an idea of what can be seen.  The Park also has a restaurant and facilities for various activities.

   

Close by was the Camlica Hill TV Radio Tower.  This 369-foot structure was completed a year ago and replaced dozens of smaller towers that were spread all around the hill.  It also contains a restaurants and observation decks.

We drove to the next stop that was a short distance away, the Grand Camlica Mosque.  It is the largest mosque in Istanbul and was completed in 2019 at a cost of $110,000,000.  Its construction was quite controversial, since mosque attendance is down, and the funds were needed for more important projects.  But I must say the mosque is just stunning.  The interior is much more modern than other mosques we would see.

   

   

With the mosque being on the top of a hill, it was difficult to be able to get a full photo the exterior.  I was finally able to by going to the extreme end of the large mosque courtyard.  I would see the mosque regularly during my stay in Istanbul from the European side.  It was very hard to miss and most impressive.

   

Ezel’s husband was going to drop us off that the ferry dock to cross the Bosporus for our visit to the Dolmabahçe Palace. Our visit to the Asian side had taken up more time than I thought it would and it was after 9:30 AM.  But they had to stop on the way to the ferry to let me get a photo of the Maidens Tower.  It is a very popular tourist destination and has many interesting stories and legends about it.  It is also a great view of the city behind it from where we were.

Her husband than dropped us off at the ferry port, where we had a short wait for the next ferry to our destination.  I couldn’t thank Ezel or her husband for taking the time to show me their city.  It was also special to be able to be with her son.  The ferry ride was quick, but it gave me the opportunity to get some photos of the exterior of the palace and some other sights on the Bosporus.

   

   

The ferry docked very close to the Dolmabahçe Palace.  Since it was 10:30 AM, an hour and a half after it opened, we were concerned that there might be long lines to get in.  Not so!  With the greatly reduced number of tourists in Turkey, lines were never an issue on any tour during the trip.  However, as we left the palace around noon, there was a long line waiting to get in.  This is probably because it is a very popular destination for the locals also, especially on a beautiful Sunday.

The palace cost 35 tons of gold to build or a current equivalent cost of 1.9 billion dollars.  After the palace was completed in 1856, it served as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire.  The entrance gate and grounds are just stunning.  I particularly liked the statue of the lion and cubs.

   

   

   

The interior is amazing, but photos weren’t allowed, which I was not happy about.  One of the most revered places in Turkey is in the palace, the room where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the Republic of Turkey, died.

We then took an inexpensive taxi ride up the hill to the Galata Tower.  The tower was built in 1348, after the original one that was built in 528 was destroyed during the Crusades.  It is one of the oldest towers in the world and one of the symbols of Istanbul.  Before arriving at the tower, we already had a plan B if there was a long ticket line.  Surprisingly, there were just a few people ahead of us and the line to get into the tower itself was just a 5-minute wait.  This was the first place that had to see the Health Pass QR code to enter.  Turks must get the Covid vaccinations to receive their Health Pass so they can enter places that require them also.  This is apparently common in most European countries.

An elevator took us up six stories and we had to walk up the final two.  The views from the tower were great.  In the first photo, you can see the Grand Camlica Mosque in the upper left.  I will see it many more times.

   

   
After leaving the tower we had lunch.  It was so good!  It seems that every meal had an offering that I had never eaten before.  Turkey is a great place to overeat.  After lunch, we walked down the steep hill to get to where we would catch a bus to our next destination.  On the way we crossed over the Galata Bridge where many people were fishing off of it.

There were nice views back toward the European side, plus we could see the Galata Tower standing proudly on a hill above the city.

   

We then got on a bus that dropped us off close to the Rüstem Pasha Mosque.  Rüstem Pasha was the husband of one of the daughters of Suleiman the Magnificent.  He had quite a controversial life and wanted to build a mosque of his own to repair his legacy.  He died before it was completed in 1563 AD.

This is a very unique mosque for Istanbul, since its interior is covered in tiles.  It is very beautiful and a must see in my opinion.

   

   

   

For the rest of the day, we would walk in the Balat and Cora districts close to the mosque.  It was a hilly area, but pretty and interesting.  We did see one very cute baby, who was being kept between the house's window and bars.

   

    

   

   

Our last stop was at the St. George Greek Orthodox Church.  It is small, but quite a beautiful church.

   

   

   

Ezel asked if I wanted to see any more of the area.  I was beat and couldn’t do anymore walking.  22,000 steps by that time and I wanted to go back to the hotel to rest a bit.  But before going to my room, I had to stop at the hotel restaurant to have an Efes Beer.  I had discovered that beer the previous night at dinner and would have many more over the next couple weeks.

This itinerary would normally be a maximum of 12 people.  It turned out that our group that was supposed to have only seven people showing on the pre-tour paperwork, was now only going to be three.    The Covid restrictions encouraged some people to move their tours to next year.  I waited in the restaurant/bar area with Ahmet for the couple to arrive.  They had come from California and had several flights to get to Istanbul, so they were exhausted.  I had lucked out and gotten a very nice couple, Derby and Cam, to share the next 16 days with.

I asked Ahmet for restaurant recommendations for the night since he had other commitments.  He recommended a restaurant in a cistern not far away.  That sounded like a unique and interesting place.  I put it into my iPhone maps and began the walk.  It was a straightforward route and I only got lost once.  The map changed its mind mid-stream and turned me the wrong way.  When I got there, I couldn’t go in, since they were having a private party.  Bummer!  I just walked back to the hotel and had a light dinner at their restaurant.  It was just as well; I was exhausted from a wonderful day of touring.  But I did get to take some night photos of the Hagia Sofia Mosque and Blue Mosque during my walk.

   

 

Day 3 - Istanbul, Turkey
I didn’t previously mention about the cats.  They are everywhere on the streets in the Turkish towns we visited.  They really liked to beg for food at breakfast.  With the three people in our group all being cat lovers, they did OK with supplementing their diet.  Who could resist these two cuties?

Our first destination for the day was to Sultanahmet Square or the Hippodrome.  On the way there, we passed by a colorful grouping of what looked like small houses.

   

The Hippodrome was an area for social events and sports, particularly horse/chariot racing.  It was made in 203 AD and expanded in 324 AD by Constantine the Great, who Constantinople (Istanbul’s previous name) was named for.  The first monument we came to was the bare stone Column of Constantine Porphyrogenetus, dating from the 10th century AD.

Close by was the Serpent Column.  It was made to celebrate the victory over the Persians by the Greeks in the 5th century BC.  Constantine moved it from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.  The monument originally had a golden bowl supported by three serpent heads; but that was never brought to Constantinople.  Although it appears that the monument was installed partially underground, it was actually on flat ground before other layers were covered over.

The more prominent monument in the Hippodrome is the Obelisk of Thutmose III.  It was brought from the Temple of Karnak in Egypt in 390 AD.  The obelisk, which was erected in 1490 BC, was cut into three pieces to move it.  The top section was placed on a marble pedestal.  I wonder what happened to the middle and bottom pieces.

       

The other major piece in the park is the German Fountain.  The German government built it to celebrate the visit to Istanbul by German Emperor Wilhelm II.  The interior ceiling was particularly nice.

   

On the way to the Grand Bazaar, we stopped to see Constantine’s Column.  It was dedicated in 330 AD and at one time had a giant statue of Constantine on it.  After being felled, plundered and scorched by a fire, it was put back up and is referred to as the Scorched Column.  It doesn’t look much like the original.

I had heard about the Grand Bazaar for a long time and really didn’t know what to expect.  I have been to many bazaars around the world, but this is one of the oldest and largest.  It has 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops.  It was one of the worlds most visited tourist attractions, with between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily.

I was expecting a much more primitive place, but it was fairly modern, other than the main building structure itself.  I do believe that you could buy almost anything there.  Quite a place!  As you can see from the photos, it wasn’t crowded at all.

   

   

   

I was very excited to see our next destination, Topkapi Palace.  In the 15th and 16th centuries it was the main residence of the Ottoman sultans and the administrative headquarters.  It was replaced by Dolmabahçe Palace in 1856 and is now just a beautiful museum.  There are several gates and courtyard gardens to go through before getting to the main museum buildings.

   

   

       

   

Ahmet took a group photo at one of the gates.

Ahmet took us through each of the sections telling us about each of the different areas and what there was to see in them.  He then gave us plenty of free time to check them out on our own after our lunch at the museum cafe.  The galleries had a treasury, portrait gallery, royal pages, arms collection, china displays, imperial council room and others.  There are way too many special things to tell about each of the buildings and museums.  It would require a book to relay the info that Ahmet shared with us, so I will limit my comments on the photos.  They speak for themselves, and I know that you can tell when you see a sultan’s throne in a photo or a tiled wall.  Ahmet told us that photos in the galleries were not permitted.  When I saw lots of people taking photos and the guards just watching their phones or not really caring if anyone was taking photos, I joined in.  So glad I did because it was an amazing place.

   

       

   

   

In one area exited out to a courtyard with a great view of the city.

   

   

One of the galleries was particularly ornate.  There was eye candy everywhere.

   

I will comment on the two most famous items in the treasury, the Topkapi Dagger that was featured in a plot to steal it in the 1964 movie, Topkapi; and the Spoonmaker’s Diamond.  The diamond is 86 carats and is the 4th most valuable in the world.

   

I had been told before the trip that I had to go to the Topkapi Harem.  The harem is the sultan’s living quarters where his family lived.  Since Ahmet had given us plenty of free time, I purchased a ticket for the harem.  Thank goodness I did.

   

  

   

   

   

   

On the way back to the hotel, Ahmet took us through a shortcut to our hotel.  We walked down through a cistern that was recently discovered while excavating for a new building.  Interestingly, we came out next to the kitchen of a local restaurant not far from our hotel.

   

   

This was the night for the OAT welcome dinner.  Ahmet took us to a very nice restaurant.  Once again, we had many appetizers before the main course.  It was delicious.

On the way back to the hotel, I had to take more photos of the two mosques.

   

Once again, we had enjoyed wonderful weather, low 80’s and low humidity.  Perfect!

 

Day 4 - Istanbul, Turkey

This would be our last full day in Istanbul, and we had a lot to do.  In the morning we walked over to the Hagia Sofia Mosque.  On the way there I was able to get some photos of the Blue Mosque from a better angle.

   

The Hagia Sofia Mosque has been both a Christian church and a mosque and most recently a museum, until it was just changed back to being a mosque.  Which meant that the government couldn’t charge to enter the building, but we also had to take off our shoes like we had at all the other mosques.  I will mention that we didn’t need to show our Health Pass QR code when we were touring with Ahmet, since he had downloaded our info and provided when he purchased the tickets for us.  It did make it much easier.

The main entryway to the mosque was quite ornate. A preview of coming attractions.

   

It is just a gorgeous mosque, and I am so glad that this one wasn’t being renovated.

   

   

   

   

   

   

When we left from a different door, Ahmet pointed out the flying buttresses that had been added to support the roof.  I hadn’t realized what they were, since they don’t look like any others I have seen.

I also got to see a different view of the mosque from the back.  Still pretty.  The great weather makes for better photos, plus the high for the day was going to be a perfect 75 and lows in the low 60’s.  We had been most fortunate with the weather.

Our next stop was further away, so we had a van for the rest of the day.  It was a 12-seat van for the 4 in our group.  We could really spread out and be comfortable in it.

   

He drove us to a café where we had the room to ourselves.  We were going to a session that OAT called Controversial Topic: The challenges facing Syrian refugees in Turkey with a female refugee and a Turkish citizen.  OAT is a very charitable organization that supports many efforts around the globe.  They also like to get the tourists to experience the culture of the areas they are visiting, especially as it involves women’s rights.  Certainly, a relevant subject in this area of the world.

The Syrian refugee had a good job as a CFO for a local company.  The Turkish citizen was having difficulty find the type of job she wanted, so she was continuing her education.  The Syrian woman’s story about how she had to leave her country due to the bombings was heart breaking.  She hated to leave the life she was very happy with, but she knew that she could easily die if she didn’t leave.  She did talk about how she was making less than her male counterparts and didn’t fit in as well with the male members of the team; but they did realize how good she was.  She also explained how when she first came to Turkey a few years ago, the neighbors were friendly.  With the increase in the number of refugees, they don’t want to have much to do with her anymore.

The Turkish woman explained how the Turkish people want to help the refugees, but it is now hurting their ability to get jobs and they feel that the Turkish government is spending too much money on them and not helping the Turks as much.  It is a very difficult situation for Turkey, just like it is for other countries including ours.  Most people want to help those in need; but how can it be done without damaging the helper country.  It is particularly exaggerated in Turkey since they get most of the refugees and the EU wants them to stay in Turkey.  She also discussed the terrible situation with women being abused and raped in Turkey.  The police aren’t that concerned about it and when they do capture a rapist, they are given a very light sentence if any.  The male focused culture is not a pleasant one for many women.

We asked questions and Ahmet also brought up some subjects if there was a lull.  It was so nice to see how they talked to each other in a very calm and professional manner.  They both understood the others concerns.  It was a most informative session; but I left feeling so sorry for both of them due to the limited resources to solve the problem and the abuses that so many of the women are suffering from.

We then drove to Taksim Square.  It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul since it is a transportation hub, and the area is popular with tourists and residents for the many restaurants, shops and hotels.  It is also a place where large protests have been held, since it is a large open area. 

I was glad that we got to see the Istanbul Nostalgic Trams.  They have two lines for these electric vehicles.

I was impressed with the Republic Monument in the square.  It commemorates the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 and installed there in 1928.  One side has Ataturk in military uniform during their war of independence.  The other side shows him as a statesman with his comrades.

   

   

We then drove to our next destination, the Süleymaniye Mosque. It was commissioned by  Suleiman the Magnificent in 1550.  It was the largest mosque in Istanbul prior to the completion of the Grand Camlica Mosque in 2019.  It is well known since it is on top of one of the seven Istanbul hills and can be seen from all over.  It is a lovely building both inside and out. 

   

   

   

There was a famous imam sitting in the middle of the mosque with cameras pointing at him waiting for his broadcast.  Some of the visitors would go around the enclosure to have photos taken with him.

We walked out into the back courtyard which was really beautiful.  Wow!

We walked up to a viewing area above the mosque where we had a great view of the mosque’s roof as well as the lovely skyline.

   

While on our way to our next stop, I liked the way that the someone has come up with a new type of attractive phone booth.

Close by was the 350-year-old Spice Market.  It was quite a place.  They sell a lot more sweets than spices there. All of us were interested in getting some spices and we were also interested in the Turkish delight candy that Ahmet had been raving about.

We went into one of the stores.  Ahmet knew the owner and he told us about the various products providing samples of many of them.  Some were very good, and others weren’t for me.  I have never been a Turkish Delight fan, but the ones they had in this store were very good.  I was able to keep from buying them reminding myself about the luggage weight limit.  And if I ate them all, then I would exceed my personal weight limit. 

   

   

I did buy some saffron, since I was told that I had to when I was in Istanbul with the low prices.  At $3 per gram, it was a bargain compared to prices I had seen online prior to the trip.

One of my disappointments was that the Basilica Cistern was closed for renovations.  Ahmete said that it could be closed for a very long time.  He had suggested that we go to a more recently discovered one, the Şerefiye Cistern.  It is 1,600 years old and discovered in 2010 when a town hall was demolished.  One of the appeals of this cistern is that they put on a light show. 

The cistern itself was quite impressive on its own without a light show.

   

When the show started, it was mesmerizing.    I have included a video, since photos alone just don’t present how enjoyable it is.  I am so glad we got to see it, since the light show portion has just recently started.

   

   

 

 

After a great seafood dinner, we headed back to the hotel to pack and get ready for our flight to Cappadocia in the morning.  I was very excited to see this unique place.

 

 

 

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