This year I took an exceptional break abroad over the Easter period – which is quite unusual to me as it tends to me more a family time for me.
I am lucky enough to have a friend – who is also a great travel companion 🙂 so this was a 1st time adventure for the two us travelling together!
We had quite a few discussions about where to go: where to find sun, nice food, nice sights…and preferably not too remote from our cities (London/Paris). Also, having deciding only 2 months before Easter, lots of option were already not affordable.
Looking for some sun and good hospitality, we finally decided to spend the Easter week in Turkey.
There are countless nice places to visit in Turkey – it is really hard to choose as many sites are quite distant from each other, so we focused on the Aegean shore. We wanted to avoid the crowd, but we couldn’t miss Istanbul – which I had heard so many times of.
The plan was Istanbul for a couple of days, before flying to Izmir, then driving to Çeşme peninsula, and finishing our stay with Ephesus/Selçuk.
First, I have to say I was quite shocked at the airfare proposed by Turkish airlines (ok, it’s Easter – but seriously more than £400 for a return ticket? you can fly to NYC with that!) It was finally cheaper to take the train to Paris and fly from Orly airport to Istanbul with Pegasus airlines (Turkish budget airlines – average comfort & some delays on local flights the price is unbeatable)
First impressions before departure were not that great – as we’ve been asked awkward questions at the passport check:
French officer: “you’re travelling alone?”
me: “no Sir, I’m with travelling with a friend of mine”
French officer: “Really? where is she? I don’t see anyone with you. hmmm that’s weird to go to Turkey alone – what are you planning to do there?”
Well-done! This is how you make people feel welcome in another country! Feels like you’re travelling to a country at war! (especially when you see how many tourists fly to Turkey every year)
At our arrival in Turkey, we haven’t been exactly welcomed by greetings or flowers…no no no …instead, we had to wait 45 minutes before we could get into our pre-booked shuttle (ok, waiting is acceptable, but at least it’s nice to keep your clients informed beforehand?). Then it was the beginning of a loooooong journey! What I hadn’t realised is, the Sabiha Gokcen Airport (where most of budget flights land/depart) is located on the Asian side of the the Bosphorus, whereas we stayed in the exact opposite direction (on the the European side). The ride last at least 1:30 (I cannot believe there were traffic jam at 1am) It took us more than 2.5 hours to get from the airport to our B&B.
Best option in Istanbul is to choose a “pansyion” – which offers reasonable price for a decent room & breakfast (and Turkish breakfast is rather hearty so you have fuel for the entire morning)
Sultanahmet is probably the area where you will find most of the hotel/b&b offers because of the proximity with touristic point of interest (Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque…). the modern art museum of Istanbul (Istanbul Modern) was also quite interesting as there lots of video displays, which gave insight on tradition in Turkey.
It was also nice to take a ferry trip to the Asian side (Kadıköy) and enjoy of more “laid back” atmosphere, completely different from the buzzing old town. You can mingle with students who go out for coffees. By the way, despite coffee having a reputation of “national drink” (with soo many places advertising for “Turkish coffee”), Turks seem to be definitely tea people (very infused & sweetened black tea, without milk).
Funniest experience in Istanbul was to to go a local hammam – and find myself stupid as the “scrubwoman” (whose job is to rub your skin with a glove before soaping & shampooing you) was trying to explain me that I had to get wet.
Travelling around Turkey is fairly cheap. A normal “Turkish” meal should cost no more than TRL10 if you are outside touristic areas. You can trust small eateries – the only thing that looked a bit “filthy” were the mussels (directly from the Bosphorus! yum!) sold in the street. The normal price for a glass of tea TRL1.5 in Istanbul. But the good thing is most B&B provide a kettle (which is a blessing for the huge tea-drinker that I am!) If you consider to bring some food back, consider to visit supermarkets (Migros is the main retailer, Şok market is more discount). This is where we went to buy some tea, cooking spices, sweets…you will probably find better value for money than at the Grand Bazaar.
Besides this, most touristic places (Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya…) entrance costs TRL30.
Disappointment came from our transit in airports where great part of the staff had close to zero English skills and tend to get annoyed/rude when asked something (the “this-is-not-my-problem” type of attitude if you see what I mean…). On the other side, you cannot cross any “point of interest” without being hassled by some guys who insist to bring you in their cafés/shop.
Worst, you can park somewhere (with no indication that you have to pay for a fee) until some guy approaches to
extort 10TRL of “parking fee” aka “otopark”). This happened in Ephesus – and left us a bitter taste – despite the interest of the site. Luckily there were cute cats to pet across the ruins <3.
After this “otopark extortion” experience (which luckily, was at the end of our trip) I have been under the impression that a lot of people see foreigners as a cash machine (o.k. this happens in quite a few countries like Morocco, but at least you could expect real hospitality) The same day, we were warmly recommended to visit the small village of Şirince (60o inhabitants, which is famous for its wine) => TOURIST TRAP! This looks like a total artificial uninteresting village (o.k. it might interesting if you lived in a remote island without contact to civilization…) where you will find basic products (olive oil, honey, wine) with a price premium.
Luckily, there were places where we could avoid the crowd, admire beautiful sceneries, and have more relaxing time. I really enjoyed the Aegan cost with its turquoise sandy beaches in Çeşme. Alaçatı and its Greek-alike architecture. Sunset in Kuşadası.