Under pressure from a pending Turkish war on the Kurds, Musharif's Emergency rule in Pakistan I had to make Turkey my place for my Visas. In doing so I did not get to see everything I wanted. But then that's all part of the journey ...
Istanbul: On the cusp of Europe this former capital is one of the most unique and architecturally beautiful cities on either continent. Also, another tourist mecca.
Hagia Sophia - You can't get much better than this in terms of architectural beauty. Take your time inside, and read how this former church became a mosque.
Sultanahmet Mosque - The infamous Blue Mosque, sunset pictures abound. If you can battle through the rich tourists.
Topkapı Palace- Some how this place did not do it for me, but everyone else raved on about it. Again, tourist overrun. Go early.
Grand Bazaar - If you have never been to a bazaar before, you will like it. If you have been, then it's far too well kept and orderly.
Ortaköy- Do not leave without taking an evening time stroll down here. Local markets, seller of everything and great local food. .
Taksim- Welcome to Asia! Take the numerous, ferries, or walk the bridge to this modern area. Enjoy a game of backgammon in a local hookah bar, and then head out for the night.
Ankara: The capital and to place to go when visa hunting for the rest of your journey.
Iranian Embassy - Tehran St. No. 10 Kavaklidere, Ankara, Turkey, Tel: +90-312- 468 2821. Do it in order. It's easy to find and you will like the giant one way mirror in the waiting room. The bank is around the corner. More info here on my visa section.
Pakistan Embassy - 37, Iran Caddesi, G.O.P. Ankara, Turkey
Telephone: (+90-312) 4271410-13. Just around the corner from the Iranian. A bit more touch and go. Have a chat with the guards outside to make a good impression. You are being watched ;-) More info here on my visa section.
Indian Embassy - 77-A, Cinnah Caddesi, Cankaya, Ankara, Turkey Phone: +90-312-438-2195. Believe it or not this was one of the harder Embassies to crack. And quite a distance. Keep in mind taxi's are very cheap and it is better to take one than walk. Though if you do walk, you will pass by the Afghan Embassy. More info here on my visa section.
It's a diplomatic city. Yes there are a few museums, but after that it's expensive with not much to do. Some nice coffee shops, and don't take photo's in the diplomatic area, they get a bit strange about that. Again, use Google earth or MSN to look into their posh gardens.
The tiny cave dwelling town in Cappadocia. It is a tourist mecca, but very few of the rich tourist buses stay over night. So you should. A great place to spend a week chilling out.
Fairy Chimneys - Yep, all round this strange magical little town are rock formations with little chimneys. And yes people do still live in them. And yes you can sleep in one as most are now hotels, or hostels.
Hot Air Ballooning - Personally at about 120 Euro for a ride I could not afford it. But I did enjoy many a sunset and sunrise watching them near silently hover in the sky. Worth the 4.30 wake up time. There's some more below in my FAQ's
Trekking - Head off and get lost with a little map into the valleys around. A great way to spend a day. Bring a camera as there are penis rock formations worth a photo or two in Love Valley.
Pot Kebabs - Head to a local eatery, and enjoy a kebab in a pot. A local tradition that involves you smashing open the clay pot in order to eat. Hence the massive about of clay flower pots around.
Underground cities - Head off to Derinkuyu to see the underground troglodyte like cities.
Bicycle, ATV, motorbike, horse hiring - It's cheap, and a great way to explore the surrounding valley's. There are plenty of rental store to choose from, shop around and bargain hard. Take a phone number in case you get a puncture!
Dogubayazit: The Kurdish border town with Iran.
Mount Ararat - This dormant volcano is where Noah's Ark is said to have been beached after the biblical flood. Unfortunately when I was there it was shrouded in cloud. It also seems inundated with 'tour' guide only treks.
Kurdish old town - There are many places I wished to have stayed longer. And this area is one of them. Wander around old town and talk with the locals over a tea or kebab. Well worth the effort in an other wise non de script border town.
I took the Bucharest Train to Istanbul that passed through Bulgaria. Border checks were the norm. At the Turkish side you need to get out. I have written about the process in my visa section here. Anyone I met coming from Syria had no problems on the overland routes. Going into Iran I have written up a guide on how to travel overland from Turkey to Iran overland
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I was in Istanbul during Ramadan, so day time food was scarce aside from tourist restaurants. But at night it was 3 Euro kebabs, pancakes, baked potatoes and corn/maize dishes galore. Indeed the Turkish Doner Kebab seems rarer here than in Spain, but still good for the penny pinchers. Breads in Turkey are stunningly good. I am not a sweet tooth, so Turkish Delight did little. However Baklava won me over, never a better sweet have I tasted.
About as friendly as they come. Even more so once you get to know them, and avoid the tourist spots. Mentioning politics is best avoided. A lot of Turkish men are very much into business. A lot more are very much interested in foreign women. Turkish girls are not as reserved as one might think!
If you can handle the Arabic guttural sounds, you can manage Turkish. It's actually quite doable, and the Turks are happy to help you out. In Touristy places English is well spoken.
Do your reading of Turkey before you go. It has a wealth on offer like few other countries. Don't mention the Kurdish situation as they take this more seriously than many other countries in a similar situation. Don't mock Turkey, again they are extremely proud of their past and current country. It may be very western but do not go around in bikini tops and show excessive cleavage, remember where you are. Do not get so drunk as to act like an idiot. Considering most Turks do not drink, it's you that will have the problems. Enjoy Turkish hospitality, it's some of the best in the world.
Where I stayed
Finding a hostel in Budapest that's not overrun my students or gap year party goers and not a terrible hole was a challenge in this city.
Istanbul - Sinbad Hostel - just outside the touristy/ backpacker Sultanahmet. Free internet, and Dorms for 10 Euro. But if you are looking to party, head back to Sultanahmet as you will find plenty of hostels.
Tree of Life Hostel - is rumored to be the cheapest at around 7 Euro a night.
Ankara - Head way past Ulus region in the city and start looking for one star hotels. Otherwise be prepared to fork out 25 -50 Euro. I found some private rooms for 16 Euro, but it was a hard search.
Goreme - Rock Valley Pension, or for 5 Euro a night single bed dorms and a swimming pool. Privates as well as a great breakfast. There are plenty of these little hotels, but this tops the list.
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I did not get to see even half of what I wanted to here. The Turks had just declared war on the Kurds, and a bomb on the Istanbul Ankara Train didn't help matters. Pakistan had just declared emergency rule. And I had spent many a day on the visa hunt. I missed Olympus, and further ventures into Kurdish lands. Having said that opportunities are abound in Turkey. For a price. If you can offer a Turkish business something, then the whole family will help you out. It's getting more expensive in Turkey, but it would certainly be worth a revisit. Yet if it becomes anymore touristy, it would spoil things.
How much is a daily budget for traveling to Turkey?
Turkey is getting more expensive every year. Once, or if it ever, joins the EU it will explode with even more tourist destinations. That's the biggest problem at the moment.
Venture into Istanbul's Sultanahmet square and see dozens of giant 2 story tourist buses take up entire road is depressing. As are the countless groups of elderly rich being led around by guides. Not my type of thing.
Hostels can be anywhere between 12 Euro and 20 Euro. Go outside the tourist areas and they will fall in price. An example is in Goreme. You can get a 120 euro hotel room, a 30 Euro private room, a 20 euro dorm room or a 5 euro dorm room. Shop around.
Food is cheap if you eat at the stalls. In the tourist restaurants its not so cheap. A kebab on a city corner will only cost 1-2Euro but in a tourist zone double that for the same kebab.
Restaurant meals can be had from 6 Euro for a basic main course.
Bus transport is cheap and great. Local city buses are 0.50 cents. While long distant bus services offer great value for money.
All in all on my kind of budget I would say 25-35 euro a day.
How to save money and do the visa run in Ankara?
With the cheapest budget hotel in Ankara being 20 euro, and visa wait times anywhere from a same day to one week for processing. How can you safe money here? Simple. Don't stay in Ankara.
Turkey is a myriad of bus routes. I stayed in Goreme at 5 euro a night. Then at midnight I would take a 8 euro bus to Ankara arriving at 5am. Eat at the bus station. I purchased a 10 ride metro ticket. And would head out to Kizilay metro and walk from there to the diplomatic area. Do my stuff for the day, and eat in fast food places or the local garden areas. Then at 5pm take the bus back to Goreme to arrive at 11pm.
Now for the mathematics out there this equals the same cost of a Ankara hotel. But since the average visa takes at least two nights to process. I saved money. Did not have to carry a single piece of luggage. And had a friendly welcome back in Goreme. The bus service in Turkey is the best I have ever taken anywhere in the world which made it that bit better. Keep in mind Turkey at this time was going to war on the Kurds, and Embassy's were very nervous about tourists traveling alone. I was in it for the long haul, and it worked out.
What's the best way to travel around Turkey?
If you have been reading the rest of this page, you will know the answer. The bus service is simply incredible. A luxury bus is better than most planes. You get free drinks and cake. Snacks and water are limitless here. You stop over at nice places to eat, and the drivers are usually friendly. If not, then the attendant on the bus is. Yes I said attendant. Sometimes even wearing a bow tie. Eurolines eat your heart out and learn from the Turkish bus system on how to treat your paying customers.
The only mass of confusion with the bus service is buying the bus ticket in the first place. A hotel or hotel should help you out. Heading into Istanbul's 7 stories of bus terminal can be daunting. Or Ankara's 170 office stalls. Keep in mind that they work on a system of companies, not so much routes. To get to Nevsehir means looking for companies going that way. They also vary in price. And as Turks like to bargain, then it's no problem to keep on asking. It takes some getting used to. But once you do, its just fine.
For those that say it's impossible to get a bus during Ramadan, they are mistaken. You might want to book a day in advance rather than just show up. But even then, just do so a few hours before you leave and you should be fine. The tram system in Istanbul, is seriously overcrowded though.
Where can I leave my luggage in Turkey?
Most hostels or hotels have baggage rooms. If you are only visiting a town or city for the day, head to a bus stations 'emanet'. Here you can store your luggage safely.
How to go Hot air ballooning in Turkey?
Head to Goreme and avoid booking online as it seems to be a bit more expensive. They were charging 150 Euro for 60 -80 minutes flight time when I was there. They pick you up, and drop you back at your hotel. It included a certificate to say you did it. The whole time frame is about 3 hours plus including transport to/from the hotel. Some other flights go up to 250 euro. And then the private flights are sky high! Things to look out for.
The balloons go out either very early in the morning, about 5am, or in the afternoon. They have medium and large baskets. Meaning 10 -20 people will be going along with you depending on what the owners decide. If you do go on a ride, make sure to take another day to get up early and take photo's of what you did the day before from a hill nearby. There's one such hill right beside the town center.
Just walk into the numerous balloon offices in the town to get a good deal, and bargain. Though set prices are common amongst all the companies.
Is Turkey too touristy to enjoy?
No. I was there during the height of tourist season and Ramadan. It was very touristy. Not just ordinary touristy, but I am talking mega bus loads of tourists from around the globe, both rich and backpackers. But mainly the affluent types. Turkey is slap bang in the middle of Europe and Asia and The Middle East, its super popular.
The best thing to do is stay away from the tourist routes. Run into Istanbul and the like, and see what there is to be seen and get out if it's too much. Enjoy rural Turkey and what it has on offer and you will enjoy. Places to go to avoid tourist and enjoy Turkey would be Cirali, Abak and Selimiye on the Hisaronu peninsula. Beaches, cheap and friendly.
For more on my journey through here check out my Travel Blog on Turkey.
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