Saturday, November 4, 2023

18 days in Turkey – Some Observations

Aphrodisias - reconstructed entrance - Tetrapylon Cappadocia - Love Valley stairs Istanbul - Galata Tower Istanbul - Yeni Cami Mosque
Left: Aphrodisias - reconstructed entrance - Tetrapylon.
Center left: Cappadocia - Love Valley trail.
Center right: Istanbul - Galata Tower.
Right: Istanbul - Yeni Cami Mosque.

Our recent trip to Turkey in many ways was the classic tour: Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Western Turkey. It was our first trip, so we gave ourselves a pass on being super-creative on the itinerary.

For more on the Istanbul leg of our trip, see Postcards from Istanbul. For a taste of our time in Cappadocia, see Pigeon and Love Valleys and Rose Valley Hikes in Cappadocia.

Some details of the itinerary:

  • We spent 6 days in Istanbul, 4 days in Cappadocia, 3 days in Selçuk and 2 days in Pamukkale. (The remaining days to make 18 were travel days.)
  • Our internal-country flights were from Istanbul to Cappadocia, Cappadocia to Izmir, Izmir to SAW airport.
  • Our entrance and exit point to the country was SAW airport. We departed and returned to Bergamo airport.
  • We rented a car in Cappadocia for a few days and had a car for the Selçuk and Pamukkale part of the trip.
  • All our flights were on AnadoluJet (Turkish Airline brand) and Turkish Airlines. Both were highly professional and efficient.
Notes on the length of time spent:

  • 6 full days in Istanbul was about right for us. We did 2 full day tours (a food tour and historical tour) with 4 days on our own for museums and sightseeing.
  • 4 days in Cappadocia could have been reduced to 3 perhaps.
  • 3 days in Selçuk (Ephesus) was about right. We did the classic full day at Ephesus, then one day at Miletus/Priene, and one day exploring Selçuk museums and then Dilek National Park.
  • 2 days in Pamukkale was about right. (Most might do day trip here, but besides Hierapolis/Travertine Pools, there is nearby Laodicea and a little farther, the amazing Aphrodisias.)

Notes on restaurants and eating:

  • The food was good but more of a commodity than we are used to.
    • Places names are named for what type of food they feature.
    • There was less regional variation in menus than we were expecting. We expected to see different dishes in the four different places we stayed but didn’t.
    • In Italy, you often see “Trattoria Rossi” or “Osteria della Posta”, where you will get something depending on part of the country you are in. In Turkey, you tend to see doner or korokeç or gözleme, the name of the food, maybe followed by the owner’s name.
  • In restaurants, WIFI is usually available and freely shared.
  • Wrapped silverware is common. You order, then wrapped silverware arrives at the table. Napkins are usually already on the table in a dispenser, at least in typical restaurants and not fancy ones.
  • We saw lots of menus with lots of pictures. We joked that we kept choosing restaurants with picture menus but realized the pictures help!
  • Many menus we saw had lots of things on them but only some with prices (written with marker) that typically means the item with no price next to it isn’t available. That took us a while to figure out.

Notes on driving:

  • Cops drive with flashers on (no sound) all the time. Don’t be alarmed.
  • Turkey doesn’t do tunnels (that much). However, travelling from Selçuk to Pamukkale we went through just a few.
  • We like traffic circles. We don’t like traffic circles with traffic lights. They just don’t work! We found a surprising number of complicated traffic circles in Turkey with traffic lights that were hard to see and understand right of way.
  • Traffic lights in general didn’t make sense to us in Turkey. Either they were very long on red or were red in the middle of nowhere when it wasn’t necessary. On a positive note, just before a red light turns green you get a flash of yellow. That is useful.
  • School buses (when not in service) are crazy drivers. Look for “okul tasiti” with yellow and black stripes written on the back of a white van-like vehicle.
  • On many two lane roads in the country or going through cities we joked, “never the right lane”. Why? Because something would always end up in the right lane: a tractor, a sleeping dog, a person in a motorized wheelchair, a double-parked car, etc.
  • Honking is a means of communication – don't be alarmed. Trucks honk greetings to each other.
  • Be prepared for dogs and cats to wander into the road. There are lots of “community” pets (that are well loved and cared for and very sweet) but wander everywhere. We saw many a dog pause in the middle of a busy street oblivious of traffic. Luckily drivers are used to this and stop and beep.
  • There are many roadside fruit/vegetable stands. If you want fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice or a jar of pickled veggies, don’t worry if you miss one stand, you’ll quickly see another.
  • Speed limits changed quickly and in a confusing manner. From 90 km/h (typically non-urban road) to 50 km/h (urban area) and back for no apparent reason. Just keep an eye on the signs and obey them even if everyone is driving faster than you.
  • We saw random checkpoints on roads (police pulling cars over) but we were never flagged down. Don’t know if they knew we were in a rental and let us pass or we were just lucky. They checkpoints looked to be simply checking that documents were in order.
Notes on towns:

  • We weren't afraid on the streets anywhere we went, be it in Istanbul or many of the smaller cities.
  • Turks walk in the street. Heck we even started to once we realized that sidewalks are an obstacle course.
  • The call to prayer was the most noticeable in Istanbul. Maybe there are more mosques or more frequent calls?
  • Each town/mosque had a distinctive call to prayer sort of like a sonic fingerprint.
  • After talking to someone who mentioned that the volume of the calls to prayer is increasing, we realized the potential controlling aspect of call to prayer. In Italy, we have bells, but they generally mark time, call for Sunday mass, or announce a funeral, that is, they are more informational.
  • Smoking everywhere, sometimes in restaurants. Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as we thought.
  • The Turkish people we encountered were kind and helpful.
    • Several times we handled the wrong amount of money over – too much – and people would hand it back and explain the mistake. There was about 30 Turkish Lira to 1 USD when were there and you know how it goes making those calculations in your head at point of purchase.
    • Another example of helpfulness is when we were going to the airport. We hired a private driver to take us to SAW airport. But once in the car and after some time we realized we were going to IST airport. IST airport is in the north and SAW in the south. They are far apart. So, our driver pulls over on the freeway and explains he just can’t turn around and go to the other airport due to contractual issues. But to help us out and gets out of the vehicle and – on the freeway – flags down a taxi. The second one he flagged was willing to take us to the other airport. Our driver (for the wrong airport) even negotiated the price (a fair one) and worked out the details for the taxi ride to the correct airport. We made it to SAW and on time for our flight only by the kindness of that Turkish driver and subsequent taxi driver.
  • We were asked a few times if we were "friends" or "brothers". Didn't know if that was code for something or people were just curious?
  • Atatürk imagery everywhere as Turkey gets ready for 100th year anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey.
  • We didn’t find classically “pretty” towns at least on our itinerary (see above). We drove thru and by a lot of dusty beat-up towns that we couldn’t say were beautiful. They are functional and vibrant places. Even the much-touted Şirince (just inland from Selçuk), we’d say was okay not great.
  • Even in Istanbul, we weren’t wowed by the architecture. Of course, there are magnificent churches, palaces, and such but the whole thing taken together isn’t always aesthetically pleasing.

Notes on flying:

  • We found Turkish airline to be efficient and professional.
  • A few times we heard this strange start of an announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen and dear children...” They didn’t take in account the screaming child behind us who we wouldn’t say was “dear”.

Aphrodisias - stadium Aphrodisias - the blue horse Aphrodisias - theater
Left: Aphrodisias - stadium.
Center: Aphrodisias - the blue marble horse.
Right: Aphrodisias - theater.

Cappadocia - Church in Cavusin Cappadocia - Love Valley penis formations Cappadocia - Old Church in Rose Valley 
Left: Cappadocia - Church in Çavuşin.
Center: Cappadocia - Love valley phallic formations.
Right: Cappadocia - Church in Rose Valley.

Cappadocia - Paşabağları Örenyeri Cappadocia - Pigeon Valley Cappadocia - Rose Valley 
Left: Cappadocia - Paşabağ Valley or Monk's Valley.
Center: Cappadocia - Pigeon Valley.
Right: Cappadocia - Rose Valley.

Cappadocia - Whirling Dervishes at Saruhan Kervansaray Cappadocia - Zelve Open Air Museum 
Left: Cappadocia - Whirling Dervishes at Saruhan Kervansaray (Avanos).
Right: Cappadocia - Zelve Open Air Museum.

Laodicea - theater
Laodicea - theater.

Istanbul - Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn Dilek National Park - view toward Samos Miletus - theater
Left: Istanbul - Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn.
Center: Dilek National Park - view toward Samos, Greece.
Right: Miletus - theater.

Ephesus - Library Celsus Pamukkale - Hierapolis Roman Theater Priene - Temple of Athena
Left: Ephesus - Library Celsus.
Center: Pamukkale - Hierapolis Roman Theater.
Right: Priene - Temple of Athena.

Pamukkale - Hierapolis ruins Pamukkale - Travertine Pools Pamukkale - Travertine Pools
Left: Pamukkale - Hierapolis.
Center and right: Pamukkale - Travertine Pools.

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