Monday, April 25, 2011

My travels: Turkey (2008)

August 19 - September 9, 2008
Route: Istanbul / İstanbul - Bursa - Bergama - İzmir - Çeşme - Selçuk / Efes - Bodrum - Kos - Pamukkale - Istanbul / İstanbul - Bourgas

Apart from Istanbul, I give the place names in original spelling, in addition to the so-called umlauts: ö and ü, there are other letters, such as:
ç, ş and ĝ; pay also attention to an “i” with a dot – just like in the English language, and the second “ı” without an upper dot.

Some remarks to begin with
This text contains the reminiscences of my holiday in 2008. Prices given here and some information may be outdated. There are no low-cost airlines from Poland to Turkey. You can try to find the promotional fares of Lufthansa and LOT or do as we did - fly from Katowice with Wizzair to Bourgas in Bulgaria and from there take a bus to Istanbul.
Poles don't need a visa to enter Bulgaria, because both countries are in the European Union. However, we need a visa to enter Turkey. You can buy it at the border. It's rather a border fee, you don't need a photo for it. Cost: $15 or
12.
Infrastructure: Turkey is a very fast developing country, with a well-developed road network - at least in the western part, and good links between major cities. Bus companies offer a high level of service, including service on board, the buses are clean, neat and comfortable.
Money: It's better to exchange U.S. dollars or euros for the new Turkish liras (YTL) in Turkey. Keep the receipts, just in case. For a Pole, Turkey isn't an expensive country, it's cheaper than, for example, Italy or Spain, but don't presume that the vacation here will be cheap.
Vaccinations: not required nor recommended.
Religion: Turkey is an Islamic country, but it's a secular state (it's not just a cliche). Everyone can feel comfortable here. On the streets of big cities you can meet both the veiled women and scantily dressed girls. In smaller towns and villages the population is, of course, as elsewhere, more traditionally oriented. In large cities you'd have no problem with drinking beer or wine to lunch or dinner, but in smaller towns and villages – it may be available in a bar to which only men go.

Interior of the huge Blue Mosque in Istanbul
Mosques: don't enter at a time of prayer and on Friday; take your shoes off; don't touch anyone; don't walk in front of the praying persons.
Tipping: 10-15% in the restaurants; 5% - if the service is included; taxi – no tipping, but you can round up the sum you give.

BOURGAS
From Kraków we take a bus to Katowice and then we fly with Wizzair low-cost airlines to Bourgas in Bulgaria, on August 19, early morning, at 5.20. We land in Bourgas at 8.05 (note the change of time). Airport is small, we run to the exchange, a fast food stall, and to the bus. The airport is situated 13 km from the city center. It's best to get there by bus no. 15, going to the train station. It runs every 20 minutes, 5.55-23.25. Tickets are bought from the woman who walks around the bus among passengers, which at peak times takes a while.
Buses from Bourgas to Istanbul depart from outside the booths on the Bulair street, about 500 m from the main bus and railway stations. You can get there on foot. Buses to Turkey are run by several companies, so between hours 12 and 20 there's a service almost every hour. Route of 365 km takes 7 hours, including a break for crossing the border. The ticket is paid in Bulgarian levs, more or less 100 PLN (
25). Traveling by bus lets you admire the beautiful landscapes along the way. Vehicles are comfortable, air conditioned. In Istanbul we arrive at Otogar Esenler, a huge bus station, it seems you can easily get lost here. Besides the station there's an entrance to the subway, which makes the access to the center is quite easy. No need to overpay for a taxi. People are nice and willing to help tourists.
Above the subway station there's a pavilion where you can eat something and exchange money; and on the way back it's a place to buy some souvenirs.

ISTANBUL / İSTANBUL
In Istanbul we spend several days and go sightseeing. For fun and relaxation we'll have time later, when on the way back we'll stop here again.
Planning your visit to Istanbul you must provide yourself with all the information about attractions or take a guide book. Although there's a tourist information office in the main square in the center, Sultanahmet Meydan
ı, it's useless to go there.

Images of God's Mother and an Angel in the ceiling of Aya Sofia
Accommodation
Most cheap hotels are located in the Golden Horn, especially around the old Hippodrome. Accommodation can be found here for 20-25 YTL per person. Alternatively, you can try small hotels in the vicinity of the Sirkeci railway station or in the district of Laleli. In the latter case the prices will be slightly higher, and yet you'll be in the heart of the shopping district; which is dominated by wholesale buyers from Eastern Europe, tourists can hardly be met here. Outside the Golden Horn hotels are quite expensive, prices start from 50 YTL per person.
Cheap hotels and guesthouses can also be found around the mosque of Sultan Ahmed and Aksaray (approx. 20 minutes from the mosque).
Don't think the rooms are comfortable. They're usually small, with a fan that barely works, so in the summer there's quite hot here. Everywhere else, outside Istanbul, the rooms are mostly air conditioned, clean and neat. Tourists bring them a lot of income so they know they have to take care of them.
Most cheap hotels and guesthouses offer a room and a breakfast. Don't think, however, that you'll eat up. Turkish breakfast consists usually of bread, boiled egg, several olives, a few slices of tomato and cucumber, a spoon of honey, tea or coffee.
So it's best to look around for cheap premises open from early morning near you hotel where you could eat something more.

Transport
Although Istanbul is a city with more then 10 million inhabitants, moving around isn't a problem.
From the main bus station to the center you can take the subway to Zeytinburnu and change for the tram Kabatas-Zeytinburnu, which will take you to the Sultan Ahmet Square. This is where the most monuments are situated. Subway from the bus station runs also to Taksim Square, in the heart of shopping and entertainment district.
The tram line cross the Golden Horn where the majority of sites is situated. Instead of tickets there are tokens that are thrown at the gate entrance to the bus / tram stop. It costs 1.25 YTL, regardless of how many stops you go.
It's more convenient to buy akbil - it looks as if someone put a large battery to a watch or a calculator into a small plastic handle. You attach it to a special sensor at the gate entrance to the tram stop or subway. Almost everywhere there are machines where you can buy tokens or recharge akbil.
Stops are guarded by security guards / police officers, so there are no crowds there. Coaches are modern and comfortable, air conditioned, more like metro wagons than the seedy Polish trams.
Outside the Golden Horn city buses and subway run and through the strait - ferries.
You can also move around the city by taxi. At the start you pay 1.75 YTL and then 1.25 YTL per kilometer. If the taxi is to cross the Bosphorus you pay additional fee. How it works, I don't know, we would take public transport only.
Ships and boats depart from the main harbor in
Beşiktaş or Eminönü on the European side. They go to the harbors at Kadiköy and Üsküdar on the Asian side. In the window (gişe) you buy a token (jeton). You can also take one of the private water buses which cross the Bosporus at certain points. At peak hours, they're reportedly the fastest way. They run until 1.00 in the night, longer than the state ferries.

Intercity buses
Long-distance transportation is well developed, at least in the western part of Turkey. Various forums recommend the company Kamilkoc. In practice, however, you use various carriers, choosing a route that suits you best. Most companies offer services at a similar level. Buses are comfortable, air conditioned, clean. Traveling at night isn't tiresome, you can sleep comfortably.
Something we don't have in Poland is a service on board. In every bus on the long route you get bottled water, coffee or tea, a cake or a croissant - almost like in a Polish airplane. Stewards (we were only once served by a woman) come up with a liquid for hand wash.
The only problem at the beginning is the orientation at the bus stations. The thing is that there's no central information desk, and each line has its own schedule and pricing. In large cities there can be more than a hundred such companies and desks - it's not a joke! Sometimes you need to walk around for quite a while to find a carrier that operates on the route that interests you, and convenient time.
If anyone feels lost, just ask an employee at the first desk. They are usually well informed and willing to help. If anyone has an unpleasant experience from other countries, such as Morocco, where everyone wants money for showing you the way, forget it. In Turkey such assistance is offered without expectation of payment. Turks are generally very polite and sympathetic. At least these are my experiences, both from big cities and small towns.

Attractions

Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
In Istanbul there are plenty of attractions worth seeing, so you'll need to choose. Below list of some of them.
*Cruise on the Bosphorus – there are a lot of ships and boats that you can choose from to have a shorter or longer ride.
*Aya Sofia or the Basilica of Divine Wisdom - the most famous monument of the Turkish capital. For about 1000 years it's been a church, then over the next five centuries - a mosque, and in 1935 it was transformed into a museum; open Tues-Sun 9-16.30, admission 20 YTL.
*Yerabatan
Sarayı and Yerabatan Cistern - Sunken Palace and Cisterns, opposite the Aya Sofia; open 9-18.30.
*Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts - the best museum in Turkey; open Tues-Sun 9-17, admission 10 YTL; worth visiting, there are many things to see here.
*Süleymaniye Camii - Suleymaniye Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, the second largest in the city; free admission; visiting 9-12.30, 14-16.30, 17.30-18.15 (breaks for prayer).
*Sultan Ahmet I Camii - Mosque of Sultan Ahmed I; visiting 9-21 (breaks for prayer as above).
*
Topkapı Sarayı - Topkapi Palace; some say you need a day to see the place; for others two-three hours will be enough; access to key facilities: 20 YTL, you need to pay extra for the opportunity to enter the harem and the treasury; palace can be visited 9-17, except on Tues. Theoretically, filming and photographing is prohibited in the interiors.

Topkapi Palace is a place to rest for a while
*Kariye Museum - Kariye Camii, Church of the Savior on the Mount; on the coast of the Golden Horn; there are some of the finest Byzantine mosaics picturing Adam and Eve in the world here and the frescoes with scenes from the life of Christ; open 9.30-16.30, closed Wed.
*At Meydan
ı – Hippodrome; located here are: the obelisk of Pharaoh Totmes, the Column of Constantine VII and the Serpent Column.
*
Kapalı Çarşı - Grand Bazaar and Spicy Bazaar; open 8.30-19, Sun closed; a place worth to go not only for shopping but also to soak up its atmosphere.
*Arkeoloji Müzesi - Archaeological Museum; open Tues-Sun 9.30-16.30, entrance 5 YTL.
*Eski Sark Eserleri Müzesi - Sumerian, Babylonian, and Hittite treasures; open Tues-Sun 9-17.
Moreover, it's worth to take a walk along Istiklal Caddesi - the most elegant street where there are palaces, churches, shops, restaurants and bars. Between the squares of Tünel and Taksim the historic tram runs.
In the old town you can take advantage of hamam, admission is usually 12-25 YTL, but you must remember that they're exclusively places for tourists, you won't find there the atmosphere known from old movies or hamams which can be found for example in Morocco.
Close to the Taksim Square there's the entertainment district, where pubs and bars are open almost until dawn. It's a good place to relax after a day of sightseeing, and for clubbing.


Blue Mosque and near-by gardens
make an impression on each tourist
I must admit that I fell in love with Istanbul. I'll definitely return there someday. People are friendly and smiling, you feel safe even after dark. You can admire the sights, get to know a different culture, but you don't feel like you're from another planet. You can spend an evening in front of the Blue Mosque, sitting on the bench, snacking peanuts or sipping apple tea, served by boys and men running among visitors. In one of the near-by restaurants you can watch the Dervish performance. I didn't suppose that a guy who turns around and around to the music can enchant the audience so much. Indeed, the performances of Dervishes are a kind of a spell. It's a pity we don't have time to go to Konya, which is the center of the Dervish culture. Maybe in the future...
You can spend late evening in one of the dozens of pubs or discos. There are even places where waiters come among the dancing crowd and collect orders. No need to huddle at the bar. Visitor from Western Europe or Polish can only regret a bit that in the discos they play mostly the Turkish hits. For me, it's OK, because they are very melodic, and they help to learn some phrases quickly.
In Istanbul, you can try almost every cuisine. But of course you don't go to Turkey to eat steaks or go to McDonald's. Unless it's a local equivalent of fast food. The most popular dish is obviously a kebab, served in a variety of ways. Every region and city, even some restaurants, has its own kind of kebab.

The shops and big bazaars of Istanbul are great places for shopping. You can buy both Turkish genuine leather shoes and Chinese sneakers, clothes from the finest materials and cheap jeans. Shopkeepers and stallholders are nice towards a customer and don't try to cheat him. After the experiences from Morocco we approach the sellers with caution, but it soon becomes clear that they don't require outrageous sums for any thing. Prices are real, and the goods are not expensive. Here they really care about the customer. At one of the stalls we see nice jeans, but not our size. The boy first shakes his head, but when he sees that we're determined to buy, leads us to a storeroom, where we try on several pairs of trousers and finally buy... three or four. It paid off for him.

Monument of Atatürk,
the father of the modern Turkey
BURSA
This is the fifth largest city in Turkey. There are no great attractions here, but it's still a nice place to make a short stopover. Bursa is almost 240 km far from Istanbul. It has good connections, the journey takes over three hours, the ticket costs 20 YTL. Bus station, as nearly everywhere in Turkey, is located 10 km from downtown. Bus ticket to the center costs 2 YTL, buses run frequently.

Accommodation
There aren't many hotels and guest-houses in the center, but you can find nice places hidden in side streets, so there's no noise, the double room costs 30-40 YTL.

Attractions
Tourist information office is located opposite the Galleri, the staff is helpful, provides you with all the information you need and free maps.
*Bursa is famous for its mineral waters, the most famous baths are:
Eski Kaplica and Yeni Kaplica.
*Mosque and the Tomb of Murad I - those places were under renovation, so I can't write much about them.
*
Kültür Parkı, Arkeoloji Müzesi - Park of Culture and the Archaeological Museum; open Tues-Sun 8-12 and 13-17, closed Mon, admission: 25 kuruş; a bit distant from the center.
*Muradiye Külliyesi - complex which consists of a mosque, madrasah and beautiful gardens; open 8.30-17.30, free donations; on the road between Park of Cultural and the center.
*Ulu Camii - Great Mosque, free admission (except for hours of prayer).
*Yeşil Camii and Yeşil Turbe - Green Mosque and Green Mausoleum; open 8.30-12, 13-17; the most beautiful buildings in the city; the terrace offers a breathtaking panorama; about fifteen minutes on foot from the center.


Tombs of local rulers in Bursa
The shopping center is as elsewhere in Turkey - Çarşı, or Bazaar. We buy here tons of T-shirts. At one stall they have such a choice as in the whole Tandeta shopping center in Krakow. At night we go to the pub. This day there's probably some important match on TV, there are crowds everywhere. Finally we come to a place where we find a table. Although we're in the Islamic country you can legally drink beer and even vodka or cognac, and nobody looks at you as you were a sinner.
We have also time to go to hamam. This is a place for tourists. But we don't regret. We are scrubbed and cleaned like never before. Whoever invented a hamam had a great idea.

BERGAMA / PERGAMON

The remains of the ancient Pergamon
Bergama is a small town, with 70.000 inhabitants. We take a bus from Bursa, it's about 290 km. Tourists usually come here just to visit the ruins of the ancient Pergamon, and leave. We decide to stay, to smell a small-town atmosphere.
Bus station is located at the southern end of downtown, but many buses coming from other cities leave passengers on the outskirts. You have to make sure if a bus you're going will take you to the bus station or just to the motorway junction. Ideally, of course, choose the first option. From the station to the center free buses run every half hour between 7.40 and 19.40.

Accommodation
There aren't many hotels here; you can find a place in a guest-house for YTL 20 per person.

Attractions
Tourist information is located at the İzmir Caddesi no. 54.
*Bergama is the ancient Pergamon, so as you might guess, the tourists are interested in the ruins of the ancient city. The two largest clusters are Asklepion and Acropolis; open 8.30-17.30; paid separately 20 YTL. They lie about 8 km from the town. You can choose an organized trip (so do most of the tourists) or go by taxi or bus from downtown.
*
Kızıl Avlu - Red Basilica, one of the seven churches of Asia Minor mentioned in the biblical Book of Revelation by John; open 8.30-17.30, entrance 3 YTL.
*Archaeological Museum; open Tues.-Sun 8.30-12 and 13-17; admission 3 YTL.


Red Basilica in Bergama
There's not much to do in the evening in Bergama. We go to probably the only bar though that name for this place is a little exaggeration. As befits the small town women don't go to such premises. Unshaven men at the tables drink mostly anise vodka, some of them have beer. It's gray from the smoke. Finally a place for real men! They look at us a little strange, apparently they don't often see strangers here. The bartender is a bit surprised when we order the fourth round of beer, probably wondering from where we come that we drink so much. We order some big kebabs which could feed the whole family.

Agora in Izmir
İZMİR
Izmir is an ancient Smyrna, Turkey's third city, the largest commercial port at the Aegean Sea. Two or three days here is enough because it's a big industrial city and doesn't have much to offer.
The distance between Bergama and Izmir is about 100 km, it takes 2 hours by bus. Most long distance buses arrive at a huge station located about 8 km northeast of downtown. To get to the center you can take a bus or a taxi. At first we're a bit stunned and we want to take another bus to escape from here; but after a few gulps of coffee we regain our courage and decide that we'll face this giant.
There's only one problem: we have noted some hotels from the guide book but the map doesn't have the names of the streets, all the streets here are numbered – it's very confusing. We descend to the lowest level where we ask a driver for help. As he hears that we're Polish, he warmly welcomes us in Turkey (probably thinking that we just arrived) and runs to another driver telling him to wait for us. That's the bus to the center. Our new "friend" tells his colleague to leave us where needed. We're saved. Every moment we praise the cordiality which we witness here at every step.

Attractions
Tourist information is located at Adeniz Maha no. 1344.
*Agora; actually a small square with a colonnade; open 8.30-12 and 13-17.
*Fortress of Kadifekale - it's rather a scenic location on a hill overlooking the town than a place to explore; there are small cafes where you can sit down for a coffee; reportedly the bus runs from Konak Square to the hill, but we bravely climb on foot; it takes a little and we reach the peak all wet so maybe it's better to take a bus.
*Konak Meydan
ı - Konak Square with a clock tower, a great monument and a park.
*Bahribata
Parkı - archaeological museum, open 8.30-17 and ethnographic museum, open Tues-Sun 8.30-12 and 13-17.
*Railway Museum - I don't know whether it's worth seeing or not because even at the train station at which the museum was supposed to be they didn't know anything about it.

Accommodation
As in every large industrial city hotels are quite expensive. For double room in the center you have to pay 50 YTL.


Statue of Pasha Gazi Hasan in Çeşme
ÇEŞME
This small town is a popular resort among Turkish families. You can meet only a few tourists from Western Europe here, it's a very peaceful place. The town lies about 80 km from Izmir and is easily accessible. Buses (ticket costs 8.50 YTL) arrive to the center.

Attractions
Tourist information point is located between the south tower of the castle and the sea, near the dock of the ferry lines Estürk, from where you can take a trip to the Greek island of Chios.
*Castle from the fourteenth century and the archaeological museum; open Tue-Sun 8.30-12 and 13-17; entrance 3 YTL.
*Beaches: in the town the beach is tiny and narrow. If you want something more you can go by minibus to one of the neighboring beaches: Çiftlik, Dalyan, Alacati, Resider or Ovacık.
If someone wants to spend their evenings in a pub or disco, go to the neighboring Ilica. Çeşme is a place to rest, a very small, with a nice square where you can eat and buy souvenirs or just sit by the sea.

SELÇUK / EFES
The easiest way to get to Selçuk is to take a bus from Izmir (ticket: 8,50 YTL; distance is about 80 km). It's another city to which tourists come for one day only to see the ruins of ancient Ephesus. These are a few kilometers away from the city, you can take a walk to get there.


In the complex of the ruins of the ancient Ephesus
*Admission to the complex of ruins is 20 YTL, but worth it. There you will find Vedius' Gymnasium, stadium, Arkadian Road, baths, port, gymnasium's port, theater, Celsus' Library, Agora, Serapis Temple, Scholastica's Baths, Hadrian Temple - or rather their remains.
*About a mile from Ephesus is the Mount of the Seven Brothers, and still further - about 8 km to the south, home of Virgin Mary (mother of Jesus Christ supposedly lived there for some time).
*On a hill called Ayasoluk there is St. John's Basilica where the author of the biblical Book of Revelation spent the last years of his life, very ruined.

Accommodation
The double room in a pension can be found for 15-20 YTL.

BODRUM

Bodrum is situated about 170 km from Selçuk, the trip isn't tiring. In this beautiful resort on the Mediterranean coast we spend a few days. The bus station is in the center, you can walk from there on foot to one of the many guest houses near the beach. The city is a popular resort, not only among the Turkish families, but also among the Germans or Poles.

View from the castle
Accommodation 
Near the beach you can find a double room with breakfast for 20-30 YTL. Foreign tourists usually come in organized groups with travel agencies and stay in the hotel complexes a few kilometers away from downtown. From the hotels minibuses run to the city every hour.

Attractions

St. Peter Castle
Tourist information point is located near the St. Peter Castle, at Baris Meydanı
*Sen Piyer Kalesi - St. Peter Castle, with spectacular battlements and towers; open Tues-Sun 8-12 and 13-17, admission 10 YTL.
*Underwater Archeological Museum - one of the most important and largest in the world; open Tues-Sun 9-12 and 14-19.
*From Bodrum you can take a day trip on a yacht with a crew, usually on the island called Karada or to blue lagoons; the price includes a meal. We resign from this tourist attractiona and choose instead a cruise to the Greek island of Kos.

Although the beaches aren't large, you can bathe in the sea here, and a few yards away there are places where you can eat cheaply. Shops and souvenir stands are open till late at night, as in most of the coastal resorts. In the cvening dozens of tourists fill the pubs and clubs which are scattered along the bay. Nightlife is booming. There are dozens of venues here so they must care for customers and come up with various activities to attract tourists. Here a bartender is juggling bottles, here the waiters are dancing on the balcony, here tourists are welcomed with flaming drinks. At the end of the promenade there's a giant disco Halikarnas, almost exclusively for tourists.
The town has a lot of different venues where you can eat. In many of them, staff has an unusual ability to memorize the faces of customers. We're amazed when a boy at the cafe where we had a croissant and coffee, the next day immediately asks with a smile if we want such and such croissant and coffee, for me of course with milk but without sugar.
One remark: be careful in the premises with live music. They don't charge admission but they have to pay musicians and performers, so the prices are much higher here than elsewhere. Beer can cost up to 15 YTL, which means 30 PLN (€7.5).


Harbor in Bodrum
KOS
Ferries from Bodrum depart daily at 9.30, return is scheduled for 16.30, a cruise lasts for an hour and costs €28.
On the island of Kos it's worth to visit the ruins of the castle from the fourteenth century (admission €3) and to sit at the table by the tree of Hippocrates (Kos is the birthplace of the father of medicine).
Other tourist attractions are: the Casa Romana, the archaeological museum and the Odeon.


The Knights' Castle on the island of Kos
Health and beauty bath
PAMUKKALE
On the way back to Istanbul we decide to visit Pamukkale, famous for its beautiful limestone deposits on the mountainside Cökelez. It has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
From Bodrum we go to Denizli, the journey takes about 5 hours; from here we get on the bus to Pamukkale. Landscape of hills from which the water full of calcium flows is really an unforgettable experience. Admission is 20 YTL but is worth it. It's probably the only such place in the world. In addition, the water is supposed to have medicinal properties and is good for skin! Along the way we pass people paddling wherever possible. Women put white clay on their faces. Maybe it would be good for us as well? At the hill you can bathe in thermal waters; however it's not a pool but actually a tank with rocks so you need to be careful not to break you legs. Relaxed after limestone baths and facials we go back to Denizli. At night we take a bus to Istanbul (service every hour). The journey takes 10 hours overnight, it's seems the ideal solution. In the morning we arrive to the Turkish capital where we feel almost at home.


Pamukkale offers one of the most magnificent views in the world
BOURGAS
After a few days in Istanbul we decide to go to Bourgas earlier than we planned, to explore a bit this Bulgarian town. After reaching the place we quickly find a hotel located just a few minutes from the bus station. We pay around €35 for a double room, but we don't want to look any futher.
Bourgas itself is ugly and has a musty atmosphere of the old socialistic time, apart from several streets full of tourists. Beach is broad, but neglected, with abandoned stands and ruined pavilions, which probably housed souvenir shops and restaurants many years ago. It doesn't make a good impression. Well, it's good we've stopped here only for one day.
9.09 in the morning, at 8.40, we have a return flight to Poland. We land in Katowice at 9.40. The bus to Kraków is already waiting for us.

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