It's our first time in Turkey and we had the pleasure to travel with On The Go Tours. On The Go Tours is a tour operator that offers guided tours and tailor-made trips to many parts of the world. Their tour lecturers are local experts who have a degree in History so they really knew their stuff. Another thing that makes them interesting is their itinerary. It's medium fast paced meaning you get to explore more places, there's no time-wasting, and you make the most out of your trip. But the most important thing is the price. With all the package inclusions, the cost of the tour is value for money.
The guy who was assigned as our Tour Guide was Recep Aydin. He has a degree in Archaeology and an ongoing Ph.D in History.
Our first day in Turkey was not part of the On The Go Tours itinerary. So Rock Licker and I decided to explore Taksim Square on our own.
Taksim Square is one of the busiest areas of European Istanbul with lots of nearby local and international restaurants, cafes, nightlife, shops, and hotels. It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul, where the central station of the Istanbul Metro network is located.
MONUMENT OF THE REPUBLIC
Monument of the Republic is a distinguished landmark in Taksim Square crafted by the famous Italian sculptor Pietro Canonica and inaugurated in 1928. It commemorates the 5th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, following the Turkish War of Independence.
One of the most important buildings along Istiklal Street in Taksim Square is the Cicek Pasaji. Çiçek Pasajı is a covered arcade with rows of historic cafes, winehouses and restaurants. This site was originally occupied by the Naum Theatre, which was severely damaged by the Fire of Pera in 1870. After the fire of 1870, the theatre was redesigned and became the first winehouse to be opened in the passage. By the 1940s the building was mostly occupied by flower shops, hence the present Turkish name Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage). After the restoration of the building in 1988, it was reopened as a galleria of pubs and restaurants.
Istiklal Street is a long pedestrian shopping street that ends at Taksim Square. A nostalgic tram runs from the square along the avenue, ending near the Tünel (1875) which is the world's second-oldest subway line after London's Underground (1863).
On our second day in Turkey (Day 1 with On The Go Tours), we visited the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, The Cistern, Hippodrome and Hagia Sofia. The first place that we visited in the morning was Blue Mosque. We were fortunate to have been able to avoid the usual long line as we were the first group to arrive there on that day. Before entering the mosque, we were required to wear a shawl over our head to cover our hair and take off our shoes and carry them with us using a plastic bag that they provided for us. Some ladies from our tour group who didn't have their own shawl borrowed one from the counter in front of the entrance free of charge. Inside the mosque, our group stayed in one prayer section where Recep gave us a lecture about the history of the mosque. After that, he gave us free time to roam around and take pictures and just met us in our rendezvous point.
Blue Mosque also called Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish, is an historical mosque in Istanbul. It is known as the Blue Mosque because of its over 22,000 blue Iznik tiles surrounding the walls of interior design and its unique 6 pirouettes which is the most in Istanbul.
After visiting Blue Mosque, our next stop was Topkapi Palace. Topkapi Palace is one of the must-see attractions in Istanbul that combines history and stunning scenery. They called it "Topkapi" which in Turkish means "Gate of Cannons" because of huge cannons displayed outside of its gates which were used during the Conquest. Topkapi Palace was built in between 1466 and 1478 by the Sultan Mehmet II on top of the ancient byzantine ruins, in a small peninsula, dominating the Golden Horn to the north, the Sea of Maramara to the south, and the Bosphorus strait to the north east, with great views of the Asian side as well. The palace was the political center of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries, until they built Dolmabahce Palace by the waterside.
From Topkapi, we had a short walk going to the Basilica Cistern. Basilica Cistern was built in 532 century, during the reign of Justinian, to supply water to the Great palace complex nearby and surrounding buildings. During the Ottoman Period, the water was again used for Topkapi Palace and watering the gardens of it. The cistern is 140 meters long and 70 meters wide and supported by 336 beautiful columns. Popularly called Yearbatan Sarayi (The Sunken Palace) in Turkish, it is known in English as the Basilica Cistern because it was built on the site of a former Roman basilica. Today, The Cistern serves as a tourist attraction and function hall for weddings and conventions.
Come lunchtime, our group feasted on delectable Ottoman traditional dishes at CAN Restaurant. We had green beans stew, stuffed eggplant, beef stew, fried chicken and grape leaf rolls.
After lunch, we headed over to Hippodrome and Hagia Sofia. Hippodrome used to be the location of chariot races and social center of Byzantine life for over 1000 years. Now, it is a small park with 4 monuments such as Egyptian Obelisk, Serpentine Column, Colossus and German Fountain.
Hagia Sofia was an Orthodox Church built in the 6th century during the Byzantine Empire, became a Catholic Church in the 12th century when the Latin Crusaders invaded the city, and then back as an Orthodox Church before being converted to a mosque during the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century, and finally to a museum during Ataturk's reign in 1938.
On our Third day, we drove from Istanbul to Gallipoli, and then from Gallipoli, we rode a ferry going to Canakkale. On our drive to Gallipoli, we visited the 57th Infantry Regiment Memorial, Lone Pine Cemetery and Memorial, NZ Chunuk Bair Memorial and Beach Cemetery. After that, we had a stop at a local restaurant in Gallipoli to have our lunch before continuing our trip to Canakkale.
THE 57TH INFANTRY REGIMENT MEMORIAL
The 57th Infantry Regiment Memorial is a Turkish war memorial commemorating the brave men of the Turkish 57th Infantry Regiment who died during the Battle of Gallipoli. The battles at Gallipoli were an eight-month campaign fought by British Empire and French forces against the Ottoman Empire in an attempt to force Turkey out of the war and to open a supply route to Russia through the Dardanelles and the Black Sea. The memorial was constructed in 1992 on top of a position called the Chessboard. In 1994 a statue of the last Turkish Gallipoli survivor, Hüseyin Kaçmaz, and his granddaughter, were added following his death.
THE LONE PINE MEMORIAL
The Lone Pine Memorial commemorates 4,934 Australian and New Zealand troops killed in the sector but who have no known grave. In addition, special memorials commemorate 182 Australian and 1 British soldier thought to be buried in the cemetery but whose graves have not been identified.
CHUNUK BAIR CEMETERY
Chunuk Bair Cemetery (632 burials) and Chunuk Bair NZ Memorial (850 names) take their name from the southern summit (now known as Conkbayiri) of the Sari Bair, the ridge which dominates the centre of the Peninsula. It was a main objective in the battle of Sari Bair from 6 to 10 August in a combined New Zealand, British and Gurkha assault. The crest was reached on the 8th and was held against incessant Turkish attacks on the following day, before being lost to a further counter attack on the 10th. This loss marked the end of the effort to capture the central hills on the Peninsula and was a turning point in the campaign. Burials made by the Turks after the battle of Sari Bair form the basis of the cemetery, with others being made after the armistice. Across the road from the cemetery and memorial to the missing stands the New Zealand National Memorial in the form of a tall tapering stone pylon.
Beach Cemetery is a small Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery containing the remains of allied troops who died during the Battle of Gallipoli.
Canakkale is a city and seaport in Turkey. It is the nearest major town to the site of ancient Troy. The "wooden horse" from the 2004 movie Troy was donated to the city and is currently exhibited on the seafront.
On our fourth day, we travelled from Canakkale to the ancient city of Troy. Then, we drove further south to the ancient ruins of Pergamum which is locally known as Bergama. After exploring the ruins, we moved on to Kusadasi, a scenic beach where our group stayed for 2 days.
ANCIENT CITY OF TROY
The name Troy refers both to a place in legend and a real-life archaeological site. In legend, Troy is a city that was besieged for 10 years and eventually conquered by a Greek army led by King Agamemnon. The reason for this “Trojan War” was, according to Homer’s "Iliad," the abduction of Helen, a queen from Sparta. This abduction was done by Paris, the son of Troy’s King Priam. Throughout the "Iliad" the gods constantly intervene in support of characters on both sides of the conflict.
Troy also refers to a real-life ancient city located on the northwest coast of Turkey which, since antiquity, has been identified by many as being the Troy discussed in the legend. The modern-day Turkish name for the site is Hisarlik. The idea that the city was Troy goes back at least 2,700 years, when the ancient Greeks were colonizing northwest Turkey. In the 19th century, the idea again came to popular attention when a German businessman and early archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, conducted a series of excavations at Hisarlik and discovered treasures he claimed to be from King Priam. Subsequent excavations revealed 9 ancient cities, one on top of the other, dating back to 3,000 BC.
Pergamum was one of the most influential cities in the Roman Empire at the end of the first century. The city had three temples dedicated to the worship of the Roman emperor, another for the goddess Athena, and the Great Altar of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods. In the Book of Revelation, Apostle John call it the dwelling place of Satan. In modern Turkey, this interesting archaeological ruins from the ancient Roman city of Pergamon is known as Bergama.
Kuşadası or Pigeon Island is a beach resort town on Turkey’s western Aegean coast. It is a major cruise ship stop and serves as a jumping-off point for tourists visiting the classical ruins at nearby Ephesus. Its seafront promenade, marina and harbor are lined with hotels, cafes and restaurants.
On our fifth day in Turkey, Recep took us to a local leather shop where we had a chance to watch a fashion show and bought quality leather jackets.
After the budget wrecking shopping at the leather shop, our group went for lunch at a traditional turkish restaurant, Yavuz'un Yeri. I had menemen, which is basically a scrambled egg with cheese while Rock Licker had Doner Kebab and Borek Peynirli. We also tried Ayran, a Turkish yogurt drink
After lunch, our group visited Ephesus, an ancient city in Turkey’s Central Aegean region. Its excavated remains reflect centuries of history, from classical Greece to the Roman Empire when it was the Mediterranean’s main commercial center to the spread of Christianity. Southwest of Selçuk stands the house where the Virgin Mary is believed to have lived.
TURKISH CARPET WEAVING SCHOOL
On our sixth day, we visited a Turkish Carpet Weaving School where we had a very interesting lesson in carpet weaving, and got to watch the lady weavers in action. In the showroom, the staff served us refreshments and showed us different kinds of rugs offered for sale. While the sales manager explained to us the discounted prices, the shipping details, the insurance, etc. The rugs were quite beautiful and were bargain-priced compared to the ones in Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We bought our carpet here, 40% off its original price!
After weaving lessons and carpet shopping, we drove to Pamukkale and visited the region's famed calcium rich terraced pools, known locally as Cotton Castles. Pamukkale was formed when warm, calcium rich mineral water cascaded over the cliff edge, cooling and depositing in the process. The calcium built natural shelves and pools on the cliffs known as travertines. Areas of the travertines can be walked upon in bare feet.
RUINED SPA TOWN OF HIERAPOLIS
There's also a thermal bath to enjoy a pleasant dip in warm waters. It is a thermal with submerged fragments of fluted marble columns located in the center of the ruined spa town of Hierapolis, which was a cure center founded around 190 BC by the Romans.
After a delightful tour around the travertines and Hierapolis, our group had a great meal with a great view at the thermal pool restaurant.
On our Seventh day in Turkey, we departed for Capadoccia, and visited Sultanhani Caravanserai, Mevlana Museum, Akpinar Market and The Statue of Yogurt Man, Nashreedin Hoca en-route.
Sultanhani Caravanserai have been used since the 10th century. Trade across Turkey in medieval Seljuk times was dependent on camel trains (kervan, anglicized as caravan), which stopped by night in inns known as caravanserai , literally caravan palaces. These buildings provided accommodation and other amenities for the merchants and stabling for their animals. Caravanseraies were first seen in Central Asia during the times of Caravans, Ghaznavids and the Great Seljuk State. They were building fortresses called Ribat. These buildings, first constructed as small buildings for military uses were later developed and changed into larger buildings and were used for both religious purposes and as inns for travellers.
Mevlana Museum is the mausoleum of a Persian Sufi mystic also known as Mevlâna or Rumi. It was also the dervish lodge of the Mevlevi order, popularly known as the whirling dervishes.
Akpinar Market is a local market in the town of Kirsehir Province in the Central Anatolia Region of Turkey.
Nashreen Hoca is a populist philosopher and wise man, remembered for his funny stories and anecdotes. He appears in thousands of stories, sometimes witty, sometimes wise, but often, too, a fool or the butt of a joke. A Nasreddin story usually has a subtle humour and a pedagogic nature. Nasreddin's tomb is said to be in Akşehir and the "International Nasreddin Hodja Festival" is held annually in Akşehir between 5–10 July.
HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE
Eight day was the most exciting day for everyone because it's the day for Hot Air Balloon Ride! We did the hot air balloon ride early in the morning before the sunrise. It was a beautiful way to start our day and quite a magical moment seeing the first balloon rise with the sun. Up above, we enjoyed the majestic view of Goreme Valley and the captivating fairy chimneys. The hot air balloon ride lasted 45 mins and our group wrapped it up with a nice champagne toast to celebrate our flight's completion.
KAYMAKLI UNDERGROUND CITY
After ballooning, we proceeded to Kaymakli, an underground city which served as a hiding place for the Christians who were trying to escape from persecution of the Roman Empire.
GOREME PANORAMIC VIEWPOINT
After our visit to Kaymakli, Recep took us to a local jewelry shop located across the panoramic viewpoint overlooking Goreme. Then, our group had a delicious meal with the Turkish family that hosted us for lunch.
On our way to Goreme Open Air Museum, we made a short stop to a nice spot to take pictures and admire the stunning view of the Uchisar Valley!
GOREME OPEN AIR MUSEUM
When we arrived in Goreme Open Air Musuem, we were no longer surprised to see the place jam-packed with tourists. After all, it's the one of the most important places to visit in Cappadocia.
Goreme Open Air Museum is a complex of medieval painted cave churches and monasteries carved out by Orthodox monks. As a member of the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1984, most of the churches date from the 10th to 12th centuries.
In the evening, our group went to Yasar Baba, a cave restaurant to watch a traditional turkish dance, whirling dervish performance and belly dancing.
On our ninth day, we visited Ataturk Museum in Ankara and Toz Gulu in Central Anatolia before travelling back to Istanbul.
Antkabir meaning, memorial tomb is the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the leader of the Turkish War Independence and the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey. The site is also the final resting place of Ìsmet Inonu, the second President of Turkey, who was interred there after he died in 1973. His tomb faces the Atatürk Mausoleum, on the opposite side of the Ceremonial Ground.
Lake Tuz or Tuz Gölü, meaning Salt Lake is located in the Central Anatolia Region. It is the second largest lake in Turkey and one of the largest hypersaline lakes in the world.
On our tenth day, we went up to Galata Tower, had lunch at a seafood restaurant under Galata Bridge and spent the whole afternoon until evening in Taksim Square where we had an authentic mixed kebab platter for dinner.
THE GALATA TOWER
The Galata Tower is a medieval stone tower in Istanbul. It is a high, cone-capped cylinder that dominates the skyline and offers a panoramic vista of Istanbul's historic peninsula.
ISTANBUL BALIK RESTAURANT
GEEZY CAFE & RESTAURANT
Our eleventh and last day in Turkey was spent buying souvenir items in Grand Bazaar and enjoying local foods at Istiklal Avenue, before flying back to our home base.
ACCOMODATION - On The Go Tours
Kent Hotel, Istanbul
Room Category: Superior | Hotel Category: 4 Star
Walking distance to the Grand Bazaar and Old Town in the Bayazit area in the European side of Istanbul, this charming hotel has a contemporary design and a friendly atmosphere. Guest rooms are superbly equipped with modern facilities including Wi-Fi connectivity, HDTV and telephone.
Room Category: Suite | Hotel Category: 5 Star
This hotel is beautifully located right in front of Canakkale River and walking distance to seaport. Rooms are comfortable and well equipped and offer guests nice view of the river and the city.
Marina Hotel, Kusadasi
Room Category: Superior | Hotel Category: 4 Star
Marina hotel is a modern hotel with a sea view and balcony from almost every room. It features an indoor and outdoor pool and guests may also use the facilities and beach of 5-Star Pine Bay.
Colossae Thermal Spa Hotel, Pamukkale
Room Category: Superior | Hotel Category: 5 Star
Set in landscaped gardens, the Colossae Thermal Spa Hotel has an amazing location close to the travertines in Pamukkale. Guest rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated. The on site thermal spa offers guests a chance to relax and enjoy during their stay.
Peri Tower, Cappadocia
Room Category: Superior | Hotel Category: 4 Star
The Peri Tower Hotel’s design is inspired by the region’s famous fairy chimneys. The contemporary guest rooms are comfortable and tastefully decorated with rich mahogany furnitures. The hotel also boasts its complete Turkish spa facilities which is very conducive to relaxation.
Titanic City Hotel, Istanbul
RoomCategory: Superior | Hotel Category: 4 Star
One of Istanbul’s most popular hotels, Titanic City offers modern accommodation in a central location. Guest rooms have Wi-Fi connectivity, HDTV, telephone coffee and tea facilities and mini bar.
TRANSPORTATION - On The Go Tours
Turkey is a beautiful country rich in culture and history. During our tour with On The Go, we visited 10 cities, 16 historical places and 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We highly recommend On The Go Tours to anyone who wants an in-depth tour of Turkey. It's the best way to explore this vast country hassle-free and with great company.