Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How to Visit Turkey in 12 Days

Turkey! Quickly became one of my favorite countries. It is quirky, diverse, with yummy food and nice people.
Here are some things that we learned along the way. Hope this helps your trip.

Go Beyond Istanbul

While Istanbul one of my favorite cities, there is so much more to Turkey. Whenever we talk about Turkey we wax nostalgic about Cappadocia and the Turquoise Coast the most. Consider extending your trip and getting out of the city.


In heavily touristed areas, the public transportation is usually enough. Likely you will not want a car when visited a big city (driving in Antalya nearly ended our marriage. just kidding, kind of).

  • We relied on public transport for most things. 
  • From the airport- book shuttle via hotel as ours was full for walk in. 
  • Around- public bus to the town above Rose Valley, to underground city. However, I wish we would have joined one of the colored tours (ask your hotel about them). We wasted a lot of time trying to figure out and wait for public transportation.
  • The buses do stop around dark, so prepare your activities to be home by then. 

Turquoise Coast
  • If anything, rent a car for the Turquoise Coast. Public transportation is limiting and these sights are not close to one another.
  • However, don't just stick to a car. Get on a boat!

  • The tram and light rail are really easy to use and got us most places. However, try to have a few tickets on hand. We missed it a couple of times when we were stuck at the ticket booth.
  • Walking. It's a pretty walk-able city, so get good shoes and get out there!
  • To the airport: for an early morning flight, it was easiest for us to book a shuttle through any of the travel agencies throughout the area. 
Turkish Airlines

We LOVED Turkish Airlines, Turkey's national airline. The three times we flew, we were served a meal even on our 50 minute flight (OK, it was a sack lunch, but still!). 

Our flight coming home was cancelled (Thanks for nothing, Air France) so we were rebooked on a Turkish Airlines flight. Upon arrival, we were given a welcome Turkish Delight, a little tin with socks and other toiletries, and unlimited movies. 

Prepare for Rain

And don't expect the cheap $2 umbrellas they sell on the street to last more than one gust of wind.

Dress (and act) appropriately. 

Mosques require a strict dress code. Both men and women must have legs covered. At the Blue Mosque, there are wrap-around skirts (big pieces of fabric) and head scarfs to borrow. Borrowing head scarfs seems like ew, so just carry a lightweight scarf in your bag. You will have to remove your shoes, but they give you a plastic bag to carry your shoes at the Blue Mosque.

We saw many people worshiping while we were visiting the mosques. Be quiet and respectful.

To make your visit more meaningful, read up a little about Islam so you can have an understanding of what you are seeing.

Beware the cats of Turkey

The cats of Turkey! They are everywhere. Sneaking up on you at a picnic, lingering at your feet at a restaurant. We often saw a cat stroll through an outdoor restaurant like he was the maitre de.

The boldest cat we saw even stood on its hind legs and put its paws on the table in an effort to beg.

The strays wandered onto the stage at the G-20 Summit last week. They have no shame!

Have an Open Mind

I had a friend tell me that she didn't like Turkey because she got ripped off at a money exchange. First, one bad experience shouldn't dictate how you feel about an entire country (keep trying to tell myself that about Jordan). And, you guys, why do people keep doing this? Exchange rates at a cash exchange are the worst! Use an ATM. :)

But seriously, Turkey was so different than any other place we have ever visited. We tried to learn and embrace, and we truly fell in love.

12-Day Turkey Itinerary

We had only had 12 days in Turkey. With an extra couple of days, we would have likely gone to Ephesus. The more I learn about a place, the more things I want to see. So I eventually had to stop reading about Turkey so I could alleviate some of the travel FOMO I was experiencing.

Day 1: Cappadoccia
Arrive in Cappadoccia in afternoon
Book shuttle through hotel.
Explore and relax.
Dinner at Seten Restaurant. Delicious! Get a reservation.
Stayed at Turquaz Cave Hotel

Day 2: Cappadoccia 
5 a.m. Hot Air Balloon ride with Butterfly Balloons
Gerome Open Air Museum
Hike through Rose Valley
Public transportation ends early, so plan accordingly

Day 3: Cappadoccia
Underground City
Arrived via public bus.

Day 4: Turquoise Coast
Overnight bus to Antalya (a nightmare, bite the bullet and fly instead)
Rented a car and visited the Lycian Tombs in Myra and flaming mountain at Mount Chimaera
Arrive in Kas
Stayed at Lantana Apartments

Day 5: Turquoise Coast
Boat tour along the coast- hotel helped us book
We bough snorkel gear but shouldn't have. The fish to see weren't that great.

Day 6: Beach hopping along the Turquoise Coast
Kaputas Cove
Patara Beach
Stayed at Yacht Club Hotel

Day 7: Turquoise Coast
Lazing around the beach at Oludeniz

Day 8: Pamukkale
Bus ride to Pamukkale, buy tickets anywhere in Fethiye
Stayed at Hotel Sahin- basic but great location

Day 9: Istanbul
Early flight to Istanbul
Visited Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Underground Cistern
Stayed at Airbnb apartment. Bit of a walk, but nice.
Get $25 off your first stay with Airbnb here.

Day 10: Istanbul
Bosphorus Cruise- check the forecast and schedule on sunniest day
Strolling around Istanbul before dinner

Day 11: Istanbul
Topkapi Palace
Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent
More shopping

Day 12: Istanbul
Grand Bazaar
Spice Market
Taksim Square
Istikal Street
Galata Tower

Day 13: Fly home!
Seems like most flights to the States leave first thing, so we booked a shuttle that left at the unearthly hour of 3:30 a.m.

As always, I love to talk about travel. Comment below or email me at stephaniefbenson {at} gmail {dot} com.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Istanbul- Top 9 Classic Experiences

Istanbul is possibly the coolest city I've ever been to.

It straddles two continents- the only city to make that claim. Turkey has it all: picturesqueness of Europe and the quirkiness of Asia. It's, you know, the perfect combination of sexy and cute.

With four days and so much to see, we hit the highlights hard. Below is a list of our top 9 experiences.

Blue Mosque

The most iconic building in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet. Called the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles on the interior. The inside is worth a visit, although the exterior is really what makes this mosque special. It dominates the horizon and is magical both day and night.

The line can be a bit long, especially right after it is closed for prayer. Make sure to dress modestly or borrow a wrap skirt. I borrowed a skirt but brought my own head scarf because borrowing one seems like ew.

The calligraphy throughout the mosque is exquisite. Depictions of people are not allowed in mosques, so the calligraphy and tiles are lovely.

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)

In my opinion, the Blue Mosque has the most beautiful exterior, but Hagia Sofia (which is just across the way) has the best interior.

Hagia Sofia has quite the history. First a church with the beautiful mosaics built in 532 AD. Then a mosque, where all mosaics were destroyed or covered, and now a museum. The juxtaposition of the two religions in the building now is beautiful.
The 24-foot wide medallions were stunning. Unfortunately, half of the dome was under construction (is everything old being restored?! haha).
Testing out the Column of St. Gregory. Supposedly you stick your thumb inside, twist and you will feel "holy water" with healing powers. I'm not sure if is the power of persuasion, but I swear it felt moist inside (possibly from all of the previous thumbs that have been in there...).

Can't find the column? It's in the dome. Look for the line.

Underground Cistern

Then we went underground to make things a little interesting. The Underground Cistern was juuuuust creepy enough to be the location of the climax of a Dan Brown novel. (Oh wait, it was).

Really, could be a super creepy place, but it was really cool. The size of about two football fields, it is a cool place to wander around. Look closely for the Medusa heads at the base of two of the columns.

Topkopi Palace

Next up on our Istanbul tour is the Topkopi Palace, administrative center for an Ottoman Sultan in 1470s, it became a residence for the Suleyman the Magnificent. And his Harem.

While the whole palace is interesting (albeit time consuming), I remember the Harem the most. The Harem, something that is weirdly fascinating and disgusting, is beautiful. Well worth the extra admission.

Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent

A much quieter and peaceful alternative to the Blue Mosque. First, the interior is pink. So that is amazing. But in all seriousness, it was quiet and calm.

Outside of the mosque is the mausoleum of Suleyman and his wife Roxelanna, a slave concubine who convinced the Sultan to marry her after he banished his first wife. Through conniving plots (included dozens of murders including that of her stepson), she secured the crown for her son.

See, history can be interesting, if not a little terrifying.

Bosphorus Cruise

Jacob's birthday was conveniently during our trip. His one wish was that we not go to any museums. So we spent the day on a cruise down the Bosphorus, which surprisingly is filled with jelly fish. Random, no?

The cruise criss-crosses between the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. It ends north by the Black Sea at the Asian fishing village of Anadolu Kavagi with enough time for lunch and a stroll.

Fresh lunch! At one of the only restaurants that didn't accost you on the street. I spent the whole day telling everyone that it was Jacob's birthday. I'm annoying like that. But it paid off when the ice cream boys sang Happy Birthday to him. Which embarrassed him mercilessly.

Could you imagine a residence on the shore of the Bosphorus?

Galata Tower

Galata Tower area in the New District is really cool. Great shops, yummy restaurants and the best views in town from the top of the tower.
The top of Galata Tower has an observatory with a cafe. Even when it is pouring rain outside, the view is still pretty great.


Everyone's always talking about Turkish Delight, but it's all about the Baklava! Dipped in Pistachio.

Shopping: Grand Bazaar and Spice Market

The famed Grand Bazaar is frenetic, fun and a little weird.

The spice market is a lot for the senses. We bought a beautiful painting from Ucuzcular Baharat.
But my favorite souvenir is our Turkish towels. Our favorite store was Jennifer's Hamman.

And with that, we said goodbye to Istanbul!

Have you ever been to Istanbul? Would you go?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pamukkale, Turkey

Our next stop was the Turkish delight (oh the puns!) of Pamukkale. It was beautiful, unique and somehow forgettable. Every time we retell our Turkey adventures, I somehow always forget Pamukkale.

Pamukkale, AKA Cotton Castles, is home to terraces and travertines of hot springs and mineral water.

It has been used as a spa since the 2nd century. The pools are relaxing despite that random impromptu sexy photoshoots from a surprising number of tourists. Is this a thing?

There is really one one way to the top which is to hike on up. While it is a little steep and uneven, it's fairly accessible.

The travertines are slippery and shoes are not allowed to protect it. So pack socks if you have tender toes.

If soaking is not enough for you, just above the terraces is the archaeological and UNESCO World Heritage site of Hierapolis.

The area is pretty extensive so bring more than flipflops if you want to move around.
Bathrooms and a snack shack are also available, plus fantastic views like the one below.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Beach Hopping along the Turquoise Coast

By this time we were already in love with Turkey.
Aaaand then we rolled into Kaş and this cemented the love affair. 
I mean, come on!

Kaş is a small beach town with fantastic restaurants, great shopping (Turkish towels!) and charming side streets. Almost every hotel looked a little like this...

Give me flowers or give me death!
If you're into seafood, Kaş has got you covered. Our favorite meal was the lamb. Jacob (love him) asks so many questions when we go out to eat. Ordering the lamb was no exception. He asked a few questions and confused the waitress. It came out and was honestly the best lamb I have ever tasted. I complimented the waitress on it and she replied, "So good your husband has no more questions!" Yeah, it was that good. :)

In between all of the eating and shopping, we hopped on a boat tour for the day. We ended up being some of the only foreigners on the trip so we high-fived ourselves for hanging with the locals. (I'm fully aware that by using the phrase "hanging with the locals" completely negates my high five privileges.)

While it's common to do a multi-day Gulet tour, I tend to get a little sea sick (I know, I'm the coolest), so we opted for a day tour that we booked through our hotel.

The water was fantastic and clear, we saw dolphins and swam with sea turtles all while docking at different locations throughout the coast. Most people were brave enough to jump from the boat, I was proud to graduate from a life jacket to a pool noodle. Winning.

Kaputaş Beach
Thus began our beach hopping down the coast. First up was my personal favorite, Kaputas Beach. While it is a bit rocky, the water is impossibly clear and the secluded (yet busy) cove lessens the intense waves. 

 Patara Beach

Patara Beach, while less picturesque as Kaputas, has great waves, better sand and much more space to spread out (11 miles worth). Umbrellas were cheap to rent for the afternoon with plenty of other facilities nearby.

Fethiye and Ölüdeniz 

It was really cool to see the hangliders fly in the sky above Ölüdeniz. I'm still kicking myself for not doing it! By the time we decided to do it the winds had picked up too much. 

This part of the trip was a little disappointing to me. All of the pictures you see of this area are breathtaking, but they are aerial shots. If you don't plan on getting up in the air somehow, I would skip it. 

And with that, we hopped on a bus to Pammukkale!