I’m lazy! I’m blaming it on the holidays. Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and New Years. I’m blaming it on wanting to be with my grandson and his new baby brother. But all of this is just excuses and means I didn’t sit myself down and write about my adventure in Turkey. I went straight from Azerbaijan to Turkey, with no time to record my thoughts. And, in one day I leave for my next adventure. But I still wanted to preserve Turkey’s spot in my blog, if only to have it to savor later on.
So I am cheating, and being lazy (please forgive me). Below is an edited and abridged version of the itinerary for this trip presented by Overseas Adventure Travel, interspersed with my own photos.
- From Overseas Adventure Travel
From Alexander the Great to the Roman and Ottoman empires, Turkey’s colorful history has left behind remarkable cultural riches: ancient Greco-Roman ruins, Byzantine churches, Ottoman mosques, and more. On this adventure, we’ll discover multicultural treasures on a journey from the palaces and grand mosques of exotic Istanbul to the surreal landscapes of Cappadocia, a geologic wonderland in the Turkish heartland. Walk in the footsteps of saints and legionnaires in Ephesus, and then witness the cliff-top beauty of Antalya. Plus, you’ll ply the enchanting waters of the Turquoise Coast for four nights aboard a private 13-passenger gulet-style yacht—a modern version of the traditional wooden-hulled sailing vessels that plied the Aegean for centuries—where you can swim in translucent waters, witness Lycian tombs hewn into the cliffs, and visit a hidden bay where Marc Antony built baths for Cleopatra.
We interact with Turkish people everywhere we go—in locals-only, hidden markets; meeting artisans at a rug-weaving cooperative; talking about the Controversial Topics of women’s rights in Turkey and the challenges faced by Syrian refugees; and more. We’ll spend A Day in the Life of a small Cappadocian village, and even enjoy a traditional Home-Hosted Dinner as we discuss what life is really like for Turkish people in seaside Antalya.
Morning: Our Trip Leader will discuss logistics, safety and emergency procedures, and answer any questions we may have. Then, we’ll set off on a full day bus and walking tour of Istanbul, the historic city formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, with our Trip Leader. Due to its strategic location astride both Asia and Europe, Istanbul served as the capital of a series of empires since its founding back in the seventh century BC, and today boasts myriad treasures from its incredible history.
Our first stop is the Hippodrome of Constantinople, a lively central square that was the social heart of the city during the Byzantine era. We’ll witness the square’s defining features—two soaring obelisks—before continuing on to the Grand Bazaar. Upon arrival, we’ll delve into this lively and historic market. Home to more than 4,000 shops today, this remarkable complex dates back more than 550 years. Stroll through row after row of colorful stalls, sampling street foods and Turkish delicacies as you do.
Afternoon: After exploring the myriad wares sold at the Grand Bazaar, we’ll regroup around 1:30pm and begin making our way to Topkapi palace, another highlight of the city’s glorious past. The complex of grand pavilions and courtyards was built by Mehmet II in the middle of the 15th century (just after his conquest of Constantinople) and served as the residence of Ottoman sultans—along with their wives and concubines—for the next 400 years. Today, it is one of the world’s richest museums, and during our 1-hour visit, we’ll behold a staggering collection of arms, porcelain, and priceless treasures that include the jewel-studded dagger made famous by the Hollywood heist film, Topkapi.
Morning: At around 8:30am, we’ll begin our city tour of Istanbul. We’ll walk to Hagia Sophia—a true wonder of the Byzantine world. Completed under Emperor Justinian in AD 537, this massive building (known best for its resplendent dome) was a Christian church for nearly 1,000 years, until Mehmet the Conqueror claimed it for Islam. Kemal Atatürk, the revolutionary leader and founder of the Republic, proclaimed it as a museum in 1934—but it has reverted back to a working mosque in 2020. Its interior was designed as an earthly mirror of heaven, and as we explore, our Trip Leader will point out the stunning Byzantine mosaics and distinctive features that contributed to the success of this estimable goal.
Later we’ll drive to a café in Aksaray, an Istanbul neighborhood known as “Little Syria.” Here, we’ll sit down to learn about a Controversial Topic currently roiling the country: The status of Syrian refugees in Turkish society. We will meet with one of three female Syrian refugees and speak with her for about an hour to learn about her experience as an outsider in this country. A Turkish female speaker will also be on-hand to provide the complicated Turkish perspective on the situation: While most Turks recognize the refugees’ desperate situation, many are beginning to resent the Syrians for straining Turkey’s resources. It’s a emotionally charged issue for Syrians and Turks alike; for their safety, our speakers have asked that we not identify them by name.
Since 2012, more than 4 million Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey (though unofficial estimates put that figure much higher, at about 6 million refugees). Fleeing a war-torn region that has been battered by civil war, Kurdish militants, the Assad regime, and the Islamic State, these refugees have left all their worldly possessions, their homes, and in many cases their friends and family members—all in search of a better life in Turkey. But with so many refugees arriving penniless and desperate, attitudes among the Turkish are divided, and the refugees’ reception has not been uniformly welcome. In large part, this is due to the support given to the Syrians by the Turkish government: Syrian people receive priority medical treatment over the local Turks at hospitals, for example, and unemployment benefits are longer and more substantial for Syrians than for Turkish people. And as the number of Syrians in Turkey has grown, so, too, has their pressure on the system—Syrians now make up about 8% of the total Turkish population, a sizable minority. As a result, many Turkish people consider the Syrians a burden on society, taking work and resources away from Turkish citizens at a time of economic distress. Violence against Syrians is on the rise, particularly in the suburbs of Istanbul where there is a prevalence of both Turkish and Syrian gangs. Right-wing political groups are also taking aim at the refugees: There is even an increasing demand amongst hardline Turks that the refugees return home, creating an impossible contradiction—for many Syrians, there is no home to return to.
At the same time, many Turkish people have taken a softer approach to their new neighbors. They regard the Syrians as hardworking members of society and a welcome contribution to the fabric of Turkish culture, worthy of the same aid, dignity, and respect as any other person. But even among these Turks, there is a sense of fatigue: Many thought the refugees would only be in Turkey for 2-3 years, but the situation in Syria has yet to stabilize.
This puts the Syrians, who have already faced unimaginable tragedy, in an increasingly difficult situation. A great deal of them are taken advantage of by local employers, working for subpar wages and living in crowded dormitories. They are often regarded by Turkish citizens as outsiders. And yet the decision to assimilate into Turkish culture can be wrenching, with other refugees condemning their fellow countrymen for abandoning their roots.
We’ll hear from each of our speakers, then spend the remainder of the hour asking questions to further our understanding of the perspective of some of Turkey’s most invisible people. As you continue your journey through Turkey, be sure to keep an eye out to see for yourself how refugees have settled in to Turkish society, and how locals’ opinions about them vary from person to person.
Afternoon: We’ll reconvene after lunch to take a stroll around Galata, the old Genoese quarter. Our walk will take us through one of the oldest neighborhoods in Istanbul and to Istiklal Caddesi, a one-mile-long pedestrian street. As we walk, we’ll have time to witness and appreciate the colorful shops and wealth of Art Nouveau and Ottoman-era buildings that line this route. We’ll begin our return trip to our hotel around 3pm. En route, we’ll stop at Misir Carsisi, the Spice Bazaar—one of the largest bazaars in the city. Travelers who wish to participate can join our Trip Leader on a walk through its bustling stalls.
Morning: Today we fly to Cappadocia. Although our flight from European-influenced Istanbul to landlocked Cappadocia is only about 450 miles, it may feel as if we landed on another planet when we arrive. Over millennia, rain and wind have shaped the soft white volcanic rock—called tufa–of the surrounding Anatolian plain into an otherworldly landscape of dripping cones, pillars, pinnacles, and fairy chimneys soaring more than a hundred feet into the sky.
Afternoon: Our 1-hour drive to Göreme will be our first introduction to Cappadocia’s geologic wonders and remarkable human history. People have inhabited the region since ancient times, using hand tools to hollow out thousands of the freestanding tufa formations. These cave-like rooms once sheltered Turkey’s early Christians from invaders, and vast underground cities in the area housed up to 20,000 people. There are also more than 600 Christian churches carved into the soft rock, some dating to the third century AD. A few Cappadocian caves also serve as homes for modern-day troglodytes, who stay quite cool here in the hot summer.
Early Morning: At about 5am, early risers are welcome to join us for a spectacular experience: an optional hot-air balloon flight over Cappadocia, with the chance to view its surreal beauty from high above, illuminated by the rosy light of dawn. During this 2-hour excursion, we’ll soar over the amber terrain and fairy chimneys—all the while savoring this unique panorama in remarkable fashion. Travelers who partake in this experience will be back to the hotel by 7:30am, where we’ll re-convene as a group and depart for the unspoiled town of Cat. Nestled in the heart of Cappadocia, Cat is located in one of the popular travel destinations in Turkey. But while nearby towns have been transformed by tourism, Cat has retained its authentic character. The economy here is agrarian, and the town’s 2,200 residents still maintain their traditional customs and beliefs.
Very Early Morning: I have been dreaming for years about experiencing a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia and it still exceeded all of my expectations.
Breakfast: we’ll arrive at the pastures on the outskirts of Cat, where we’ll enjoy a typical farmer’s breakfast. Farmers in this area typically rise very early in the morning to tend to their fields, taking a break after the sun comes up to enjoy a simple breakfast from home. We’ll dine on modest fare similar to what the farmers enjoy every day while learning about local agricultural traditions.
After breakfast, we’ll bid farewell to the farmers and continue on to the town center. Here, we’ll be met by our community leader for the day and one of the town’s most successful residents. As a farmer, business owner, and well-regarded community member, he’s an ideal host for our discoveries today.
After spending some time learning more about this community, we’ll walk to a nearby teahouse to meet more village residents. Teahouses are typical Turkish “man caves”—places for local men to catch up with one another over a cup of Turkish coffee or a cold drink. While women are not forbidden from entering teahouses, their presence would be highly unusual. Fortunately for our group, the teahouse we’ll visit has an outdoor terrace where the patrons typically gather, and we will be most welcome to join them. In addition to socializing, men often play rummikub (a tile-based game similar to dominoes) at teahouses. We’ll get a primer on the rules and then challenge the locals to a friendly competition. Our visit to the teahouse concludes around 11am, at which time we’ll walk to a women’s cooperative. This cooperative was established by the local government to help local women learn how to make handcrafts (like lace, paintings, and reusable shopping bags) that they can sell to supplement their income. In addition to providing new skills, the cooperative is also a spot for socializing, serving as an alternative to Cat’s men-only teahouses. We’ll learn about its mission, talking to some of the local women, and even trying our hands at making one of their crafts.
Around 12:15pm, we’ll begin making our way to the home of a local family with whom we’ll enjoy lunch. As we dine on traditional, homemade dishes, our hosts will share what life is like in a traditional Turkish community, and we’ll ask any questions that we may have.
Afternoon: After lunch we’ll board a bus bound for a community storage facility. Carved into a rocky hillside, the facility is a cool, dark place for storing Cat’s most abundant crop: potatoes. Up to 25,000 tons of potatoes can be stored in the facility at one time, and the natural climate control keeps them fresh until they can be sold to individuals and vendors across Turkey. Later, we’ll bid farewell to Cat and begin the short return trip to Cappadocia, stopping en route to visit a few of the region’s most famous rock formations, such as the soaring Three Beauties or aptly named Camel Rock.
Morning: we’ll depart our hotel for a 1-hour hike to enjoy unimpeded views of the sweeping valleys and landscapes of Cappadocia without any of the large tourist crowds to interrupt the serene beauty of this magical region. Our explorations continue when we take a ride to Ozkonak, one of the remarkable underground cities dotting the local landscape. During the Hittite era, as successive armies swept across Asia Minor, these multi-leveled complexes were built as uniquely defensible communities—all had heavy millstones for doors that could be rolled in place to seal off the outside world. There are believed to be about three dozen of these underground cities in the region, but few have been excavated. In Ozkonak, we’ll explore some of the hundreds of rooms, which were designed to house thousands of people for up to three months. We’ll wander the narrow, sloping passageways between kitchens with enameled food storage areas, water cisterns, stables, and living quarters at the deepest levels—all well-ventilated by giant air shafts.
Afternoon: After lunch, we’ll make our way to a rug-weaving cooperative. Local artisans will help us learn about all aspects of this traditional Turkish craft, from silkworm cultivation to spinning, dyeing, and the traditional patterns and weaving techniques.
Morning: Today our next journey is southwest, across the Taurus Mountains toward the Mediterranean seaside town of Antalya. Along the way, we’ll discover one of Turkey’s iconic fixtures: the Whirling Dervishes. We’ll arrive in the city of Konya, a bastion of Seljuk culture and home of the Mevlevi—known as the Whirling Dervish for the dramatic whirling practice they include in formal ceremonies. Our visit with our Trip Leader will include the Mevlana Muzesi (a museum dedicated to Mevlana Celalettin Rumi), as well as the former tekke (dervish hall) that now holds the tomb of Celaleddin Rumi. Later known as Mevlana, he was the founder of the Mevlevi order and became one of the greatest literary and spiritual figures of all time—more than a million and a half Turks come here to pray each year. Shortly after noon, we’ll walk to a nearby restaurant for lunch.
Afternoon: Afterwards we’ll continue our journey toward Antalya. Along the way, the glimmering Mediterranean Sea will come into view, with mountain views all around. Once an old fishing village, Antalya is now a sprawling seaside resort that combines unspoiled beaches and modern homes with a walled Old Town. The eclectic architectural styles on display reflect more than 2,000 years of history.
Today’s discoveries feature the Controversial Topic of how women’s rights in Turkey are changing as society becomes more traditional. We’ll speak with one of two women with different perspectives on this troubling issue. Later, you’ll savor an authentic slice of Turkish life during a Home-Hosted Dinner with a family in Antalya. In even smaller groups, you’ll dine on traditional, homemade cuisine and enjoy spirited conversation about local customs and lifestyles.
Morning: we’ll gather in a room in our hotel, where we’ll be joined by an archaeologist for an hour-long conversation. Their insights will prove invaluable at our first destination: Antalya Muzesi, an archaeological museum located nearby from our hotel. We’ll observe artifacts from the Stone and Bronze Ages to Byzantium housed in the museum’s many exhibition halls and open-air galleries. In 1988, the museum won the esteemed European Council Special Prize. Perhaps most impressive is its largest collection featuring sculptures dating back to Roman times from the ancient city of Perge. Then, we’ll make our way to Kaleici, Antalya’s Old Town, for a walking tour. Kaleici translates to “within the city walls,” and among its myriad highlights is Hadrian’s Gate, a triumphal arch built in the name of the Roman emperor who visited Antalya in AD 130. As we walk about, we’ll have time to witness the neighborhood’s shops; honey-hued stone walls; and narrow, winding streets.
Late afternoon: We’ll make our way to a café just a few blocks from our hotel. Here we’ll meet with one of two young women who will share their insights into the Controversial Topic of the future of women’s rights in an increasingly conservative Turkey. Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, our speakers have requested that their names not be shared publicly. The café is an ideal setting for this tough conversation: Many teahouses in Turkey are reserved exclusively for men, but this café welcomes women as well. As we’ll learn from our speaker, this type of segregation is just one of the many hurdles women are facing as Turkey tracks toward a more traditional society.
Turkey has been a model of female empowerment in the near-Middle East since the early 20th century, when the country gained independence from the Islamic Ottoman Empire and began embracing democratic, secular ideals. In 1930, Turkish women received full political rights, including the right to hold office; 60 years later, Turkey elected its first female prime minister. Turkey has also amended its criminal and civil laws numerous times over the years to further protect women—including equalizing marriage rights and criminalizing honor killings. However, data from the last 15 years suggest that the march of progress has started slowing down—and may even be reversing.
Regardless of which of the women we speak with today, we’ll see they have witnessed this shift first-hand, albeit from different perspectives. One speaker is an English teacher and activist who has been volunteering at the Women’s Solidarity Foundation for over ten years, helping to support domestic abuse survivors and advocating for gender equality. She has had a front-row seat to the dramatic increase in femicide in Turkey—up 30% since 2009. She’s also keenly aware of the recent controversy surrounding the Istanbul Convention, an international coalition designed to address violence against women. Turkey was the first country to adopt the convention in 2011, but it sought to pull out of it in 2020, arguing that the convention harmed the traditional family structure.
Our other speaker comes from a more traditional background: She was raised in a conservative family and even had an uncle who was an Imam. Twice divorced and a single mother to a 4-year-old daughter, she faced backlash from her family when her marriages ended. She has also endured her share of professional discrimination. (In Turkey, women’s income is estimated to be just 44% of men’s, and women are regularly passed over for job promotions.) She now owns her own e-commerce shop and counts herself among the mere 33% of female Turks who are part of the labor force.
This regression of women’s rights is believed to have begun in 2002, when the conservative Justice and Development Party rose to power. Party leaders have made many statements that seem to run counter to Turkey’s founding pro-feminist ideals, including suggesting that it is “against nature” to treat women and men equally and encouraging men to harass women who are dressed “inappropriately.” Such statements have been embraced by fundamentalist voters while worrying secularists—effectively splitting public opinion in half. Our guest will share her opinions about women’s rights in Turkey; after learning more about the issue, we’ll have time to ask any questions we may have.
Morning: We’ll visit two ancient sites nestled along the coast near Antalya. Perge was originally settled by the Hittites around 1500 BC. This wealthy city was abandoned in the seventh century. Saint Paul visited Perge in 46 AD and preached his first sermon here. Highlights of the excavated city ruins include marble reliefs carved on the ancient theatre and a lengthy colonnaded road lined with the remains of shops, public baths, a gymnasium, and more.
Then we’ll drive to Aspendos, a city with roots dating back to the Hittite Empire (800 BC). Here, we’ll behold the best preserved Roman theatre of the ancient world. Built in the second century AD during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the theatre once hosted attractions for more than 10,000 people. Remarkably preserved and still with near-perfect acoustics, the space still hosts plays and operas today.
Morning: At about 8:30am, we’ll say goodbye to Antalya and journey south by bus, along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. This region is dotted with turquoise waters and plunging cliffs—impressive displays of natural wonders.
We’ll stop in Demre at the Church of St. Nicholas. Yes, that Nicholas: In the fourth century AD, St. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra. Known as a protector of children, the bishop showered them with gifts at every opportunity; later declared a saint, he was the model for Santa Claus or Father Christmas.
Afternoon: around 1pm, we’ll drive to to Fethiye, where we’ll meet our private gulet-style yacht. Along the way, we’ll travel through an area known as Kekova, a scenic region with few roads. We may see fishermen mending their nets, women curing olives or drying figs, and village children at play as we pass through.
Upon our arrival at the harbor of Fethiye, we’ll board our floating home for the next four nights, meet our captain and the friendly Turkish crew, and get our cabin assignments. Based on a centuries-old design, gulets are elegant vessels that seem to blend naturally with the landscapes of the Turkish coast. Built of teak and oak with sails and a motor, our yacht will feature an outdoor eating area, as well as comfortable cushions for relaxing on the observation decks, fore and aft. Your small cabin will include a private bath—please note that it will not feature air conditioning or overnight electricity.
Destination: Turquoise Coast
Morning: Off the gulet for a short bus ride to Kayakoy, a Greek “ghost town.” Anatolian Greeks once inhabited this city of about 600 homes, but in the 1920s, the entire population was relocated to Greece in the aftermath of the Turkish War of Independence. Upon our arrival at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, we’ll behold an eerie and moving place, a tragic reminder of how politics can affect human lives. This abandoned town also served as the inspiration for Birds Without Wings, Louis de Bernières’ popular novel about the waning years of the Ottoman Empire (I highly recommend this book). After a brief orientation walk with our Trip Experience Leader, you may choose how to spend your time in Kayakoy. Travelers who wish to experience more of the scenic surroundings can hike up to 3 miles along a winding path to a cove where our gulet will be awaiting their arrival around noon. Or, you might wish to explore more of the town with our Trip Leader or independently. You may return to the gulet whenever you please.
Afternoon: travelers can transfer to shore via dinghy to go for a quiet stroll along the beach, enjoy a dip in the turquoise waters, or take advantage of hiking opportunities in the area. Our gulet might also cruise to a different cove if travelers are looking for easier hiking options. A dinghy will bring travelers back to our gulet and the rest of the afternoon is yours.
Morning: we’ll drop anchor in a scenic cove sheltering the sunken baths of Cleopatra, built for her by Mark Antony. We’ll transfer by dinghy to the shore and embark on a 3-hour hike through forests, meadows, and coastal scenery to and from Lydea—a little-known Greco-Roman site. Our hike concludes around noon, at which time the dinghy will take us back to our gulet.
Afternoon: You have the freedom to do as you please this afternoon. Since legend attributes Cleopatra’s beauty to bathing in the waters here, you may wish to go for a swim. Or simply relax on one of the gulet‘s observation decks and reflect on the natural beauty of our surroundings. Perhaps you’ll ask your Trip Experience Leader for more insight into how this special region of the world evolved from Classical antiquity through Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottoman times to the present day.
Our gulet will cruise northwest toward Ekincik Cove, and we’ll drop anchor in the morning. There, we’ll be met by a small riverboat—and after transferring onto it, our small group will embark on a 30-minute ride up the Dalyan River. This tranquil waterway was named for dalyans, the fishing weirs that have supported locals for centuries. As we cruise this lovely waterway, we may well see some of the many species of birds that live here, from the shy ibis to the fearless gull. Depending on the season, we may also discover loggerhead sea turtles when our small riverboat brings us to the Dalyan’s estuary. Turtles have nested here since the age of the dinosaurs.
Mid morning, we’ll set out to visit Kaunos, an ancient seaport city with roots dating back to the ninth century BC. Our tour will shed light on this Carian city’s historical significance, known both for its figs and mosquitoes. We’ll view remains of a theatre, acropolis, Roman bath, and more. And since Kaunos bordered ancient Lycia—and took on aspects of its culture—we’ll also behold remarkable Lycian-style tombs hewn into the cliffs. As we walk, we’ll take in the colorful fruit trees that dot the ruins, from lemon orchards to pomegranate trees. Film enthusiasts may recognize similarities between this picturesque setting and one featured in The African Queen (1951) starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, which is said to have filmed on the banks of the Dalyan.
Morning: When our gulet reaches the port at Marmaris this morning, we’ll bid our captain and crew farewell, disembark the vessel, and board our bus for the day’s journey north. Our drive runs parallel to the Aegean Coast, offering us another view of this diverse land.
Today we visit one of the largest and best-preserved ancient cities in the world. The ancient Greco-Roman site of Ephesus—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—is a marvel of remarkably preserved wide marble streets, flanked by columns and temples. Ephesus was home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. No longer standing, it was said to be one of the most colossal temples ever built. During our exploration, we’ll behold many of the city’s highlights, among them the remarkable Library of Celsus, a tiered façade adorned with exquisite statues; the Great Theater, which is where St. Paul preached to the Ephesians; and some of the city’s well-preserved baths. And we may benefit from our small group size: When local restrictions allow, we might have the special opportunity to explore some of the lesser-excavated sections of this world-renowned site. We’ll also tout the nearby Ephesus Museum, a beautiful repository of marble and bronze statues, as well as many artifacts thought to have come from the Temple of Artemis. The rest of the day is yours to explore or relax.
- Overseas Adventure Travel Itinerary – the end
- The sixteen days I spent in Turkey were magical. From my favorite thing, the hot air balloon over Cappadocia, to the ruins of Ephesus, to swimming in the sea off our gulet, every day was spectacular. The food was some of the best I’ve ever had. Our crazy, smart, wonderful Trip Leader made Turkey come alive for us. Aykut Azun did not shield us from the not so nice aspects of Turkey, but helped us learn and understand. And he made the good and beautiful parts an experience to remember.
COVID notes: our COVID tests were arranged and performed at our last hotel and all 8 of us tested negative before we flew from Fethyie to Istanbul. Other than an unpleasant interaction with Turkish Airlines in Istanbul (I won’t fly with them again), my journey home was uneventful. We experienced safe practices everywhere we went. In almost all of the restaurants we patronized, we were seated in separate alcoves or rooms to better maintain our bubble.