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Turkey & Kurdistan

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Introduction

I was in Turkey two times. First it was tour package holidays and you can find short description at the end of the post. The second time I visited Istanbul and South-East Turkey or I should say Kurdistan on my own. This is the trip's story.
I won't describe Turkey’s attractions. You can find a lot of information about Turkey on Internet. The most valuable are travellers' websites. I try to advise you what is worth to see.

Istanbul

Istanbul is splendid. You need couple of days to visit the greatest attractions. At pick season (May-October) there are so many tourists in the capitol of Turkey. You need to be prepared to queue up at ticket office. Sometimes you spend more time queuing than visiting a site. Please remember about it when you plan your trip to Istanbul.
I spent four days in Istanbul and I visited following sites:
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) In my opinion the best tourist attraction on the banks of the Bosporus. Ticket: 30 lira. You need two-three hours to visit the site.
Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii) It is situated next to Hagia Sofia. It was built by Sultan Ahmet at the beginning of XVII century. There is a park located between Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. It is a perfect place to take pictures of the great sites. Both of them are illuminated and they look great in the night.
The Tombs of the SultansThere are many tombs in Turkey. Most of them look very similar. Sultans', pashas' or other notables' coffins are covered with green fabric and are placed in the tomb. The tomb was built and decorated according to Islamic style. There are usually many coffins in the tomb. The notable's coffin is surrounded by family member's ones. You can visit one or two tombs and it is enough.
One of the tomb is located very close to Hagia Sophia. It is called The Tombs of the Sultans.
Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi)
– magnificent residence of the Ottoman sultans.
Sultans lived here till XIX centuries. The area is very big and it takes almost all day to visit it. Ticket price: 30 lira + extra 15 lira for harem.
Dolmabahçe Palace was built in XIX century. Sultan Abdülmecid I wanted to reform the country due to western Europe standards. He started the reforms by building very expensive palace. In fact it was the end of reforms. It is good idea to visit palace and harem (you need to buy two tickets). The sites are visited with a English speaking guide. Taking photo is forbidden.
Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Saray) unique combine of a cistern and a Basilica. Emperor Justinian converted destroyed Basilica into the cistern in VI century. The cistern provided water to a palace at emergency situations. The site is located underground and very close to Hagia Sophia. There are many columns standing in the water inside. Basilica Cistern has been illuminated and looks amazing. The entrance fee is 20 lira. You must visit it.
Grand Bazaar (Kapaliçarsi)The main part of the bazaar is under the roof. However it is good idea to hang around narrow streets around the main part. Market stalls, local people, tourists make the place very vibrant. Local merchants sell souvenirs, clothes and other staff. You can exchange money at Grand Bazaar. Exchange offices offer very good rates.
Temples in Instanbul There are many mosques in the capitol of Turkey. They were built due to Islamic rules. Some of them are huge, the other small and cosy. They are more interesting outside than inside. Please remember to take off the shoes before you go inside. In my opinion these are the most interesting mosques in Istanbul:
Süleymaniye Camii was built by the most famous Turkish architect Sianan in XVI century. The mosque is located at hill next to Golden Horn. Magnificent temple and its location is a symbolic domination of Islam in this part of the world.
Rüstem Pasa Camii another mosque built by Sianan
Yeni Cami, mosque from XVII century
Eyüp Sultan Camii - mosque built in XIX century. There is a tomb of Eyüp (Job) al-Ansari, friend of Prophet Mahomet next to the mosque. The tomb is the most popular pilgrim destination in Istanbul. A lot of Turkish people come here to pay respect to Eyüp and pray in the mosque. It is great opportunity to watch Muslims at their holy site.
Chore Church (Kariye Müzesi) – famous of beautiful Byzantine mosaics. When you complete visiting the church hang around Eyup district. Many orthodox Muslims live here. They are dressed in traditional outfits.
Taksim Square – famous of anti-government protests
Istiklal Avenue – western style shopping street. Nothing interesting.
Galata Kulesi – tower built in XIV century. Panoramic view from the top. Entrance fee: 25 lira
Galata Köprüsü – bridge spans Golden Horn. Beautiful view on two banks for free.
Bosphorus Cruise (12 lira). It is a must. It takes about 1.5 h. Magnificent view on old and new Istanbul's districts. Don't forget to take a jacket. It is very windy on boat.

Cappadocia

How to get from Istanbul to Cappadocia? Take a plane, forget the bus. The plane ticket is not expensive and you can save a lot of time. The plane trip takes 1 hour but the bus one 11 hours.
The most touristic village is Göreme. You can find many hotels there. I recommend to stay in rock-cut room. The cost of the rock-cut accommodation: 120-150 lira for double room.
You need to stay in Cappadocia at least 3 days. This is the plan
1st day.Open Air Musuem (20 lira) + extra fee (10 lira) for the Karanlik Kilise-the most beautiful cave church at the museum. Don't throw away your ticket. You need it to visit Tokal Kilise. It is located outside the museum and it's big and well preserved. You can not take a pictures inside churches. Wall paintings are the best attraction of the churches. Many faces were scratched on the paintings.
When you complete the visiting of Open Air Museum, take a trek in Rose Valley. The rock formation are really great and they are red. On the way there are some cave churches but they are not as good preserved as the ones at Open Air Museum.
2nd dayIt is good idea to visit IHLARA VALLEY. It is almost impossible go there by public transport. The most reasonable option is to buy Green tour package at local agency (100 lira). The trip takes all day and this is a programme:
  • Derinkuyu Underground City,
  • Ihlara Valley hike,
  • Selime Monastery
3rd day. Love and White Valley is a plan for the last day. The valleys are quite long and it takes half a day to complete the trek. The start point is at the entrance to Love Valley and the end of Love Valley is the beginning of White Valley. It is amazing trekking. All the time you will be surrounded by extraordinary rock formations.
This is a link to Cappadocia map. You can need it when trek in Cappadocia:

In the morning or in the afternoon you can go to view point in Göreme to watch surise/sunset over rock formation. It is very romantic view. Ask local people how to get there.

Nemrtu Dagi

Nemrut Dagi is one of a 'must to visit' tourist attraction in Turkey. The status of a king Kommageny Antiocha I and roman gods was erected in 62 years BC. The statues were built on top of Nemrut Dagi mountain about 60 km from Kahta which is the best starting point to visit the site.
It takes all night to get from Cappadocia to Kahta by bus. There is no direct coach. First take a bus from Göreme to Kayseri and then direct bus to Kahta. Bus tickets cost c.a. 70 lira.
There are a few hotels and one hostel in Kahta. We paid 70 lira for double room with breakfast in the hostel. It is located in the centre of the town.
We bought sunset trip to Nermut Dagi at local tourist agency. There is also available sunrise trip. Please remember to take worm clothes because Nemrut Dagi is 2134 m a.s.l. It is chilli in the summer morning.
This is a plan of the trip:
  • ancient columns
  • ancient Roman bridge and road
  • Nemrut Dagi
The parking is 700 meters from top of the mountains. You need walk up several minutes to the top but you don't need trekking shoes to do it.
The site is divided for east and west part. There are the same statues on both sites. I am afraid heads and bodies were separated. It was caused by earthquakes. The bodies do not make an impression. The heads are better preserved. We can see Apollo, Fortuna, Zeus, Heracles, and Antiochus I Epiphanes, King of Commagene. There are a statues of lion and eagle next to the gods. The western statues were completely covered by snow in May. Please remember about snow when you visit the from October till May.
Kahta is very nice city. Hang around and take pictures of local people. They are very friendly.

Atatürk Dam, Gobekli Tepe, Urfa

We (five people) bought a trip (80 lira) to a few places on the way from Kafta to Mardin. We had following stops:
Atatürk Dam – this is one of the biggest dam in the world. It is really huge length: 1819 meters, and height: 169 meters. It cost 1,25 billion USD. The hydroelectric power plant has power capacity of 2400 MW. It was not human, heritage and nature friendly project. Almost 55000 people were relocated and ancient artefacts were covered by water.
The dam is very impressive and you can visit it on the way.
Göbekli Tepe is the oldest temple complex in the world. Archaeologists have explored ruins of very old temples.
The oldest temples were built in 9600 years BC and they are 6000 years older than Stonehenge of Egyptian Pyramids.
The disadvantage of the complex is a very poor exposition. The site is full of scaffolds which cover the artefacts.
Ufra (Sanliurfa) is a pilgrim site for Turkish people. The Abraham's birthplace (cave) is located in beautiful park, next to a mosque. The cave is illuminated and looks very holistic. There are two ponds in the park. According to a legend the ponds were created by God to save Abraham. King Nimrodem wanted to kill Abraham because he condemned other gods. Abraham was supposed to be fired. God changed the fireplace into the ponds.
There is a castle on the hill. There is a panoramic view of the city from the castle walls.

Mardin and surroundings

Mardin is very charming city. The old town was built in Arabic style. Stylish buildings and narrow streets make Mardin so beautiful that you can hang around all days. From time to time take a break and drink fresh orange, grapefruit or pomegranate juice. In the evening take a bath in one of old hamam.
There some interesting sites around Mardin. You can visit it by car or buy one day trip(75 lira) from local tourist agency. This is a program of the trip:
Deyrulzafaran Monastery It was headquarters of Syriac Orthodox Church from XII century till XX century. The church service is provided in Aramaic language. Jesus spoke the language. I recommend the site.
Dara Antique City –It was a ancient city and Roman fortress. You can visit rock-cut buildings, and tombs. In my opinion Cappadocia is much more interesting. You can quit Dara.
is very good preserved monastery from IV century. The oldest part of the building is a basement. Several monks live in the monastery. I recommend the site.
Hasankeyf The settlement was founded in 2000 years BC. It was important town of Roman Empire. The Romans built a bridge to the city. You can see rock-cut houses and ruins of the bridge. People of Hasankeyf have lived in rock-cut houses for 4000 years. I recommend to visit the site because Turkish government is going to flooded it with opening the Ilisu Dam.
Midyat is a small Mardin. Do not waste your time.

Diyarbakir

This is the biggest city in South-East Turkey with 1 million inhabitants. It is also a capital of Kurdistan. The country you can not find on a map. 35 millions Kurds do not have a state. They live in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Diyarbakir was founded 5000 years ago. It was a part of many empires and states. Huge walls was built by Roman Empire. They were maintained by Byzantium Empire. The walls are 6 km long and they are the second biggest walls in the world. The first one is Great Wall in China.
Some parts of Diyarbakir's wall are in very good conditions but the rest is covered by grass and more or less damaged.
Be careful when you walk along the walls. Hordes of teenagers hang around the walls and onslaught the tourist with bad words but sometimes with small stones.
The best part of the walls are safe and there is panoramic view on the city and Tigris river from the top of the walls.
The rest of the day you can spend in Old town:
  • Ulu Cami – great mosque. It was built as church by Byzantium Empire and converted into mosque.
  • Keldani Kilisesi – church built in XVII century.
  • Meryem Ana Kilisesi – Syriac Orthodox Church. The church service is provided every Sunday for a few families.
  • Hasanpasa Hani, caravansary from XVI century
Diyarbakiru is a must on your short list.

Van

Van is a name for a lake and a city located next to the lake.
Akdamar is an island on the lake. King Gagik I Artsruni built a residential complex on the Island. Almost all building were destroyed only church survived. The church is decorated with beautiful paintings, scene from Bible. Van lake is surrounded by mountains. The view is tremendous from the island. Stay there a couple of hours.
It is not so easy to get to the island. First you need to take local bus to the harbour and then go to island by ferry. Be patient the bus to/from the port goes very irregular. Sometimes you need to wait more than one hour.
Van is very nice city. You need half a day to visit it. First go to Van Kalesi. The castle was built in 7 cenetury BC and is located on the huge rock. When you reach the top of castle's wall there is panoramic view on the city.
The rest of the day you can spend hanging around the city and talk to Kurds. There are many Iranian in the city as well. They are very open and friendly people.

Ararat and Dogubayazit

In the very early morning we are going from Wan to Dogugayazit. The road is going along Iranian border and there is extraordinary view on Greater Ararat and Lesser Ararat. This is the best view on Ararat. Take as many pictures as you can and enjoy the view.
Dogubayazit is a starting point to climb to Ararat the highest mountain in Turkey (5137 meters a.s.l.). If it is to high for you you can trek to local villages and enjoy the view on the mountains.
Ishak Pasa Sarayi is a palace located 5 kilometres from the city centre. The palace was built in XVIII century. Mosque is the most beautiful building of the complex. There are ruins of old fortress next the palace. It was built on the very steep rock. It looks fantastic but don't go up to the ruins. It is not worth your afford. The best view on the fortress is from the palace.

Kars and Ani

Ani is abandoned city near the border with Armenia. This is one of the greatest tourist attraction in Turkey.
Ani was a capitol of Bagratid Armenian kingdom between 961 and 1045 and was called City of 1001 Churches. The population of the city reached 100 000 people. In 1250 the city was captured by Muslims. The inhabitants were massacred and many buildings destroyed. The earthquake completed the destruction and Ani was abandoned.
We can visit the ruins of Ani. There are some churches and city walls to see.
Kars is nice city. Old Town is the mixtures of Ottoman and Russian architecture. The most popular attraction is a fortress from XVI century, old bridge and Turkish baths.

Erzurum and Pasinler

Erzurum is modern city in eatern Turkey. It is perfect place for shopping. You need no more than two hours to visit all Erzurum's attractions. My favourite ones are: Çifte Minareli Medrese i Ulu Cami.
When you are in Erzurum you must go to Pasinler. The town is famous of thermal springs (30 lira for private bath). You can also hike to a ruins of castle in Pasinler and have panoramic view on the city and mountains. On the way to the ruins you will pass the Turkish poor district. It is save, sad and colourful. Children plays on the street. Colourfully dressed women go down the streets.

Trabzon

Trabzon is a big city on Black Sea Coast. The tourist infrastructure is very good. You can easily find accommodation and have delicious dinners in many local restaurant. I recommend sea food. It is delicious.
Trabzon is starting point to many Black sea beaches. They are outside the city and you can get there by public transport.
Buy one day tour to Sumela Monastery and Karaca Magarasi. Both of them must be on your short list. They are really great.
Trabzon is an interesting city too. You need almost all day to visit top attractions. Saint Sophia is the best one in Trabzon. It used to be a church but now it is a mosque.
Don't forget to go for a relaxing walk at the coast of Black Sea.

Useful advises

  • Visa. You can apply for the visa on line: www.evisa.gov.tr. It is cheaper than VOA.
  • Turkish Lira – exchange money. Exchange Offices offer the best rates at Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. There is no commission
  • Istanbulkart is a transport card. It a good deal to have it. You can save some money e.g. transport costs from/to airport to/from city centre:
    • airport bus: 14 lira
    • single ticket for public transport : 8 lira (underground + tram)
    • Istanbulkart: 4.40 lira
    You can get a card from a machine at the airport. Deposit fee is 10 lira. Top up the card 20 lira. It should be enough for three/four days
    There is one issue with a card. You can not get a deposit money back at the airport. Public transport customer office is closed at airport. To be honest it is not fair and very disappointing. The only option is to sell the card to the other passengers. When you arrive to Istanbul don't hesitate to buy the card from tourists. Nobody try to cheat you. They don't need the card any more and just try to get back deposit money.
  • Hotels Hotels are not cheap in Turkey. Prices depends on the season, standard and location. Istanbul's hotels are the most expensive 120+ lira. You pay 70-110 lira for accommodation in South-East Turkey. Prices for double room with bathroom and breakfast.
  • Food It is not very expensive. Traditional Turkish kebap and ayron (salty milk drink) cost 4-7 lira; dinner: up to 30 lira; fresh juice 1-5 lira; tea 1-3 lira.
  • Mosque Before you visit mosque please try to follow the rules:
    • dress code. Wear loose fitting shirts and pants or long skirt (for women). Arms and legs should be covered. Sometimes women are required to cover hair with scarf.
    • Remove your shoes before entering the prayer area.
    • Women and men are segregated in a mosque. Women are not allowed in the prayer area according to religious practices. They can visit the prayer area out of prayer times.
    • There are no chairs or pews in the mosque. You can sit on a carpet
  • Google Map Offline and GPS on your mobile. It is very useful when you visit Istanbul or other big cities. It helps you to find a way to a destination.
  • Coaches Roads is very good in Turkey. Coaches are very comfortable. A steward provide free of charge snacks and drinks. I recommend to travel by coaches in Turkey.
  • Hammam is a must. Book at least two hours for Turkish bath. This is step by step short guide:
    1. Decide on the treatment you want at reception desk. Ask for advise.
    2. Go to lock room and take off your clothes. Cover your body with fabric. It is given to you
    3. Go to steam room and relax for 15-30 minutes.
    4. Wash your body or if you bought wash service, attendant will do it. Don't worry nobody is going to wash your private areas.
    5. Go to shower room (it is locked) and wash the rest of your body.
    6. Rinse your body and relax.
    7. The attendant give 2-3 towels. Dry your body and go for massage (it is optional)
    8. You are clean and dry. It is time for relax (again). Sit and have a chat with Turks. You can read a book or do nothing.
    Hamam is not only a bath but it is a great way of relaxation.
  • Turks and Kurds are very hospitable. They always help you to find the way or give you useful advise. Always negotiate prices in the bazaar.


INTRODUCTION - PACKAGE HOLIDAYS


I bought two weeks holidays in German travel agency GTI. It was last minute promotion. The package include:
  • flight
  • accommodation. Diamond hotel was situated in the centre of Alanya, 250 meters form the sea
  • insurance
  • breakfast and dinner
In Alanya I went to local tourist operator and bought some excursions and attraction. Totally I paid Euro130 for
  • Cappadocia (3 days)
  • Pamukkale (2 days)
  • Aspendos
  • Hammam
  • Aqua Park
  • Whitewater rafting

Comparing to GTI offer it was good price for all these staff e.g. two days’ excursion to Cappadocia cost 85 Euro. I can recommend local travel agencies in Turkey.

Hammam


Turkish bath and massage is called Hammam. I was there about two hours. It included sauna, steam bath, peeling and massage. It was very relaxing.

CAPPADOCIA


Cappadocia is about 700 kilometres from Alanya. It took almost all day to get there by a couch. On the way we visited Konya. It is the holy city for Turkish. In XIII century Mevlana Rumi found Mevlevi Order also known as The Whirling Dervishes. There is a museum of Whirling Dervishes in Konya. The tomb of Mevlana and the hair of Mohammed’s bread are the holiest items for Turkish in the museum. Many Turkish pilgrims and foreign tourists visited the museum.
In the evening we arrived to Cappadocia and were accommodated in a nice hotel. The following day we spent in Cappadocia. Fantastic shapes of rock formations called Fairy Chimneys amazed me. We also visited an underground city and a church built by early Christians.
In the evening we took part in ‘Turkish night’ (extra paid). We watched dervish and belly dances. It was very nice show.
There was one disadvantage of the excursion. We did not visit Open Air Museum. The programme did not include the attraction and there was no opportunity to visit it by oneself.

PAMUKKALE, HIERAPOLIS


It is famous of vast white cliff side with scallop-shaped basins of water. It looks as if it was made out of snow or cotton. People destroyed some parts of the Pamukkale. UNESCO and Turkish government try to renovate it. We took a bath in warm water of Pamukkale springs.
There is also ancient city – Hierapolis nearby. The most beautiful part of the city is well-preserved theatre from II century.
There was hot thermal water in our hotel. The healing water contains iron. In the night I took relaxing mud bath.

ASPENDOS

Aspendos is known for its best-preserved theatre of antiquity with seating for 15.000 people. It is still used today. We also visited ancient city of Side and nice waterfall - Kursunlu.
It was a day excursion. It took us half a day to see all the attractions. We spent in gold and leather shop another half a day. If you go for an excursion in Turkey you will have to visit carpet, leather, gold or pot shops. You are not obliged to buy anything but it is waste of time.

THE OTHER ATTRACTIONS

  • WHITEWATER RAFTING - it was great fun. The distance was 17 kilometres. You do not need any previous experience. You can go by big raft, which carries 4-8 people. It is under the full control of a professional guide. There is another option too. It is a canoe for two people. It is up to you to control the canoe. It is more challenging and thrilling.
  • AQUA PARK - It is an alternative to sun and sea baths. There are several rides. Kamikaze was the most exciting one. It was great fun for two hours. The rest of the day I took sunbathe and watched pretty Russian girls wearing strings.
  • NIGHTLIFE - There are many discotheques, cafe’s, bars etc. in Alanya. Some of them are very impressive. It is great place for sex-holidays for women in Turkey. Every girl and mature women are picked up by young Turkish men.

SOME TIPS

  • BUSINESS NEGOTIATIONS OR HAGGLING - If you want to buy souvenirs or excursions you should negotiate the price. It usually takes some time but it helps you save some money.
  • EXCURSIONS - I recommend to buy excursions in local tour operators. It is much cheaper then your travel operator price e.g. GTI (German tour operator) offered two days’ excursion to Cappadocia for Euro 85. I paid Euro 130 for 6 excursions at local travel agencies. The quality of the service is comparable.
  • CAPPADOCIA - Be sure that a programme include Open Air Museum. If not, ask the salesman about the possibility of visiting the museum on your own. The programme of local travel agencies usually does not include the attraction.
  • HAMMAM - Turkish bath and peeling make your suntan persistent and nice. It is better to go to Turkish bath at the beginning of your holidays.
  • SHOPPING - Wherever you go with tourist operator (local or foreign) you will have to visit some shops e.g. leather, gold, carpet etc. It usually takes a lot of time. It is up to you and another tourists how much time you spend in the shop. Some people are crazy with shopping and all the tourists waste a lot of time because of them.










































































































































































































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