We had the pleasure of accompanying a group of Transat Holidays’ top producers on an educational trip to Turkey. We’ve been to Kusadasi and Istanbul as stops on a cruise a few years ago and while we loved the ruins of Ephasus, I have to say Turkey was not really high on my bucket list. Been there, done that!
Our tour was for three nights in Cappadocia and four nights in Istanbul. We have been so busy before the trip that I didn’t have any time to research our trip which is usually something I like to do so I don’t miss some really important sight. However, I was very comfortable that Transat Holidays had planned the trip and knew we were in good hands.
It’s a long flight from Toronto to Istanbul…about nine hours and Transat plane was very comfortable. Transat has announced that they are refurbishing their planes and even though this plane was not re-done, it was still good. The legroom was OK for my 5’9” stature but try to get an exit row if you can if you are any taller. If you can afford it, pay the extra for Club Class (about $300 per person, per direction) and you will love the extra space and the extra service.
We did have the Option Plus feature and enjoyed the champagne and amenities like blanket, neck pillow, etc but the best part was the dedicated check in and early boarding feature. Love that!
Cappadocia – this region is a result of the volcanic eruptions that formed a large tableland. Together with the erosion of the river and wind over ten thousands of years there appeared the “chimney rocks”, complete wonders of nature. See the pictures below, they are very cool.
The first Christians escaped from the persecution of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century B.C. came to Cappadocia and settled here. The first Christians created many cave dwellings and even churches. Because the rock is relatively easy to carve out, they also created a system of defense with whole underground cities which they used to escape the persecution of the Roman soldiers. These underground cities in Cappadocia were hidden with gates made in such way in which they couldn’t be easily observed. Since they lived in the underground cities for long duration without being able to go out, they developed these underground cities to include provisions rooms, ventilation chimneys, wine production places, churches, abbeys, water wells, toilets and meeting rooms. They also created secure doorways (huge stone rollers) that the Romans could not easily breach even if they discovered the underground cities.
While in Cappadocia, we stayed in a cave hotel, which was an experience in itself. Although quite dark and somewhat damp, it was worth the experience and definitely something you want to do if visiting the area.
The food and drink was very good and I was amazed at the quality of the Turkish wine from the area. It was very good and extremely affordable (under $10 per bottle). Another new experience was Raki, the traditional drink of Turkey. Not too different than Ozo, it is a liquorice flavoured drink that you add water to. Cheers!
Cappadocia is about an hour flight from Istanbul.
Istanbul – formerly known as Constantinople, is a very old city with a huge amount of history. A very dominant Muslim city, there are many, many beautiful mosques that dominate the skyline, perhaps none more famous than the “Blue” Mosque which we had the pleasure on visiting. Nicknamed for the blue tile used in the interior, you will be surprised at how very large the mosque is. They are very accepting of all tourists during non-prayer times but be aware that you must be dressed conservatively. My shorts didn’t cut it so they simply gave me a wrap to wear around my legs and many of the ladies were given shawl type coverings too.
Other notable highlights during our stay there included:
Topkapi Palace, the residence of the Ottoman sultans between the end of the 15th and the first half of the 19th centuries with its treasures (including an 89 carat diamond), terraces overlooking the Marmara Sea, the Bosphorus, and the Golden Horn
Haghia Sophia which started out as a Christian Church, transformed into a mosque and finally a museum.
Dolmabahce Palace the sumptuous official residence of the sultans after 1856.
Beylerbeyi Palace, once the summer residence of the imperial family,
We had a marvelous cruise on the Bosphorus as the weather was spectacular, and saw some very expensive homes along the way. Istanbul has some 15 million plus residences and the city extends for miles and miles along the Bosphorus on both the Europe and the Asia side.
One of our best days was an optional day to Princess Island (on my birthday actually). It’s about an hour ferry ride and there is no motor traffic on the island – only horse and cart transportation. During the Byzantine period, princes and other royalty were exiled to these islands. Later, members of the Ottoman sultan’s family were exiled there as well.
No trip to Istanbul would be complete to without stopping at the markets. The spice market was a treasure with baskets of every conceivable spice could be found (we bought quite a bit of several kinds of spices – we should be good for a while). Surprisingly, there was a good selection of Iranian caviar, and at what seemed like reasonable pricing to me. Not being a connoisseur, I could have been buying a imitation and so I passed.
The other great market you just can’t miss is the Grand Bazaar. It’s huge! There are sections to the Bazaar with leather, jewellery, fashion, souvenirs, antiques and much more. You really have to keep your wits about you so you don’t get lost. While the merchants are very aggressive to get you into their shop/stall, they were also very friendly and we never felt threatened. In fact, I felt the Turkish people were all very friendly and helpful. Despite being warned several times to be careful with pick-pockets, it was never an issue. The only time we were a bit nervous, was in the Taxim Square where they were celebrating the start of the Shopping Festival with a concert. There were several buses of riot police complete with water cannons on standby. Thankfully they were not needed.
To summarize, Turkey is a country that should be on your bucket list. It boasts an amazing history, fantastic sights, excellent food and drink and marvelous shopping. Transat Holidays has some excellent priced packages. Give us a shout and we’ll work on the right itinerary with you. Remember that I said they were refurbishing their planes? We rode back on one of the new planes and the change is amazing including more comfortable seating and a great in seat entertainment system! Highly recommended!