Monday, September 15, 2014


It was a great trip, fun educational, and exciting.

I had picked Turkey Tours By Local Guides based on their review on Trip Advisor. I will admit to being a little apprehensive on what we were getting into.

I was surprised to find that we needed to only pay 50% and the remainder upon our arrival in Istanbul, which was a good 6 days into our trip.

As it turned out I made an excellent choice and I can highly recommend them. The knowledge and passion of the two brothers Ozkan and Abdil, about the country, together with Ozkan's quirky sense of humor made our trip even more enjoyable.

As for Turkey, nothing would have disappointed me but it far exceeded my expectations. I was aware of most of the man made sites to see but not aware of the natural and scenic beauty, nor the helpful and friendly nature of the people.

There is much more to see and I hope to be back again in the near future. Until then I will savor my memories.

Görüşürüz tekrar (I believe that means - See you again)


Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday September 12

All packed and ready to go.

Went downstairs for breakfast, our ride to the airport will be here at 10:00 AM.

Left the hotel on time and arrived at the airport ahead of schedule, glad it was during the day since much of the road runs along the Sea of Marmara.

The airport is extremely busy but smooth running, and soon we were at the gate. At the gate there were checks and more checks before were allowed to board the busses that takes us to the aircrafts.

This airport is being expanded and desperately needs it; its one of the busiest international airport that I have flown from.

Turkish Airways was voted the best European airlines 4 years in a row and it's easy to see why.

We boarded the AB 330 - 300, nice light turquoise decor is soothing and inviting.

Soon after take off we were handed the food and beverage menu, in an attractive card.

This was followed by a box with amenities. The box was attractive and printed with information from the Ottoman Empire.

This was followed by a small piece of "Turkish Delight". Then came the drink service and all the drinks offered were free. All of this in economy class of today is hard to fathom but definitely enjoyable.

Dinner was served shortly after and I took the salmon. The grilled salmon was as good as if not better than that served at restaurants. It came with grilled vegetables and many side dishes. I am pretty sure this the best food I have had on an airplane for a long time and on par with some good restaurants.

I asked for another of the same Turkish wine after taking a couple of sips realized it wasn't the same and not very good. Turns out it was a cheap French Merlot - ugh!

The flight is long, although 4 hours shorter than the flight from Delhi, it felt just as long and boring. At least there is enough legroom to stretch my legs and the seat is good, so hopefully no crick in my leg or pain in my knee like the last trip.

About a couple of hours before landing we got our second meal, yet another tasty and substantial meal.

We finally landed, the flight was very smooth so that helped.

Went through passport control quickly but luggage took forever, fortunately the airport shuttle was held up due to a traffic jam so we made it.

The traffic was bad on way back as well but we made it home without incident at around 9:30 or so.

Looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Thursday September 11

Today there are no planned activities, so slept in a bit and went down to breakfast at 9:00 AM.

After breakfast we walked somewhat aimlessly past Taksim Square, for about an hour and then turned around and headed towards the hotel looking for a place to eat.

It was quite hot, 81 and bright sunshine. It is hard to believe it snows here in winter and the snow stays on the ground. I was surprised to find that Istanbul is on the same latitude as Chicago.

We stopped at a roadside cafeteria near our hotel called Nizam and had a light lunch.

After lunch we came back to our room to rest and catch up on my blog.

Eventually went out to dinner at Sisli Balikcisi restaurant. Pretty unique fish restaurant, we had to choose our fish downstairs at the fish market and they would cook it for us. We chose a Dorado, the fish tasted similar to sea bass but better yet.

I had a glass of the local red wine, and similar to the ones I have had before it was very good.

Only one thing marred a perfect dinner, the restaurant had run out of side dishes which usually accompanied the fish, the vegetables and rice. Dinner was still good and we walked back to the hotel happy.

Now its time to finish packing and retire for the night, we leave the hotel at 10:00 am tomorrow morning for our flight back home.

Vacations are always over too soon but this was way too quick. Oh well I just have to come back to Turkey again.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Wednesday - September 10

Today's guide was Abdil, we met him at 9:30 and discussed our options and decided on the Bosphorus boat trip and the Fishing Village at the mouth of the Bosphorous.

We boarded the 10:00 am ferry boat and sailed up the Bosphorous. Abdil pointed out many interesting sites along the way, I am glad he came with us. The thought of a country being split between two continents is intriguing and then to sail down the Bosphorous with Europe on one side and Asia on the other is better yet.

We passed some humongous cruise ships along the way, they looked totally out of place and an eye sore. This was something I really wanted to do, sail on the Bosphorous and I am so glad I got to do it.

We hugged the European side on the outgoing trip and turned around at the second bridge and came back hugging the Asian side. We stopped at a point on the Asian side and let some passengers off.

There were many interesting sites along the way.

After we got off the boat we went into the same store at the Spice Market to get some Baklava. They gave us a piece to taste and it somehow didn't taste as good as yesterday's. These have pistachio instead Walnuts, so I can eat them as well.

We then headed north out of the city towards the Black Sea. The freeway was very crowded up to a certain point and pretty soon gave way to beautiful forested area with very little traffic.

The road remained scenic all the way to the little fishing village on the Black Sea, Rumelifeneri that was our destination.

The name of the village is the same name of the lighthouse Rumeli Feneri, built in the 19th century and is still a working lighthouse. Rumeli is Rumelia, the European part of Turkey and Feneri means lighthouse.

Very close to our destination we passed the construction site of the third bridge joining Europe to Asia, this looked like a huge undertaking but is supposed to be completed by the end of 2015.

Before entering the village our guide Abdil told us that Black Sea people are known for their large noses and there are many jokes about them in the Istanbul area.

About an hour and 15 mins from the start we arrived at the fishing village and drove thorough it to the Mendirek fish restaurant. The restaurant was located on a higher ground where the Bosphorous flows into the Black Sea. What a beautiful and peaceful view, it's as hard to describe this place as it was to finally leave after a very long lunch.

The food was phenomenal as well. Abdul ordered for us, calamari, the best I have had so far and definitely the freshest, I should know being a calamari addict and having had calamari in every restaurant that offers it anywhere in the world.

The other appetizer was sole fish cubes, baked with onions, sweet red peppers, and mushrooms and then drizzled with olive oil. I have never had anything like this before and it was delicious.

Our main course was sea bass from the sea as opposed to farm grown. The fisherman go out early in the morning and bring their catch in to the market and restaurant goes and picks them up. This was a grilled dish and it was excellent and the presentation superb.

It was followed by a cheese sweet and Turkish Tea.

We reluctantly got up and Sudip walked down to the village to take a picture of a garlic vendor that looked like he had piled up a million garlics.

As he was taking the picture, 3 men resting under the shade of a tree started talking to him and wanted Sudip to take a picture of the three of them. When I drove down with Abdil to pick him up, they all greeted me and enthusiastically waved at me. What a neat experience.

I am so glad we made the decision to come here, a beautiful place, gorgeous view, great food, and charming people.

We left reluctantly and on the way back stopped at the ruins of an 18th. century fort.

Before reaching the hotel we stopped at a shopping mall to get the screw in Sudip's eye glass fixed. This was a ten story high shopping mall, I don't believe I have ever been in anything this big.

We said our byes to Abdil and Turkey Tours by Local Guides, tomorrow we are on our own.

We rested for a while and then went down to a local serve yourself restaurant called Pehlivan Gida. The food here wasn't good at all but after that fantastic lunch who cares. Although I have to say this is the only bad meal we have had so far.

Retired for the night.


Tuesday September 9

We were ready to leave at 9:00 AM as per Abdil's suggestion last night. We came downstairs and were met by a different person, it turns out that this was Ozkan, the person I was communicating with via emails, for the last three months.

The communication did not always go smoothly but everything did get pulled together at the end and I was confident that I had made the right choice and it was good to finally put a face to the name.

Our first stop this morning was the Spice Market. What an amazing place with vividly colored spices displayed alongside jewel-like lokum (Turkish delight). We ran into Abdil and his group of 4 tourist there.

This is an Ottoman-era marketplace, together with spices, stalls selling caviar, dried herbs, nuts and dried fruits.

The market was constructed in the 1660s as part of the New Mosque; rent from the shops supported the upkeep of the mosque as well as its charitable activities.

The next stop was the Basilica Cisterns, this subterranean structure was commissioned by Emperor Justinian and built in 532. Another amazing feat of Roman Engineering.

Next stop, the 7-tower dungeons. Another piece of interesting history, architecture and of course engineering.

Ozkan then took us to a gorgeous view point overlooking the Golden Horn.

We stopped to have Turkish Tea at Pierre Lotif. I quite like Turkish Tea, it was mild and fragrant.

It was almost lunchtime so we proceeded on to daruzziyafe restaurant, which is steeped in history. Darüzziyafe is the dining hall located within the Süleymaniye Social Complex and established by Sultan Suleyman.

Darüzziyafe was first used as an imaret house, one of a few names used to identify Ottoman soup kitchens built throughout the Ottoman Empire from the 14th to the 19th century. After 1913, the building became a Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, but was later transformed into a restaurant in 1992 in Istanbul after restorations were made.

Serving up historical Ottoman dishes like mengen soup made from milk and almonds, abant kebab and keşkül, a milk pudding made with coconut, the restaurant integrates a bit of cultural history with each flavorful bite. Tülüce said they are planning to offer a different menu every day.

Abdil and his guests were at an adjoining table as well.

After a delicious lunch we went to the Visit Sulemaniye Mosque. This is both Ozkan and Abdul's favorite and within a few minutes it was easy to see why that is.

This mosque was built on the order of Sultan Süleyman (Süleyman the Magnificent), who was fortunate to be able to draw on the talents of the architectural genius of Mimar Sinan. The construction work began in 1550 and the mosque was finished in 1558.

The Süleymaniye was ravaged by a fire in 1660 and was restored by Sultan Mehmed IV. Part of the dome collapsed again during the earthquake of 1766. Subsequent repairs damaged what was left of the original decoration of Sinan (recent cleaning has shown that Sinan experimented first with blue, before turning red the dominant color of the dome).

The headless body of the architect Sinan is buried outside but close to the complex.

Suitably impressed with The Sulemaniye we proceeded on to our last stop for the day, The Hagia Sofia or Aya Sofia as it is called in Turkish.

From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.

The advantage of it now being a museum was that there weren't any parts that were off limits to the tourists. There is talk about designating it as a place of worship again for both Christians and Moslems.

It is beautiful inside and well preserved due to the Moslems cementing over the Christian symbols, instead of destroying them.

What a great day of sight seeing, both Ozkan and Abdil are great guides even they have different delivery style and personality.they are both extremely knowledgeable and fun to be with.

Ozkan brought us back to the hotel and we said our byes since tomorrow it would be Abdil.

Rested up and went to dinner at Buy Pass, one of the restaurants Abdil had recommended. The food was rather plain and the service lukewarm. It was located right next to a Hilton where westerners stay so maybe that's why.

Still a great day and went to bed wondering what tomorrow will bring.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Monday - September 8

The hotel didn't look too bad in daylight but the steep incline from the side road to the main street still bothered us.

The breakfast was pretty spartan and coffee rather weak, we had a heck of a time explaining we wanted fried eggs not omelette.

As we ate breakfast there was still no communication from Turkey Tours and if we didn't owe 50% of our package price I would really start to worry.

While we were trying to decide what to do, a smiling and pleasant faced young man came to our table, verified our names and introduced himself as Abdil, Ozkan's younger brother. When I told him about the lack of communication from Ozkan, he smirked and obviously filed it away as an "weapon" against his brother.

Abdil went over the day's itinerary with us giving a brief description of each and pretty soon we were on our way

Our first stop was the Topkapi Palace. This is an expansive site with rich history. There is always some renovation going on here and so basically impossible to see the entire complex. Abdil said it would take two full days to see the whole thing if it was open.

There were some very beautiful wall decoration in tiles but its the rich albeit brutal history that's hard to fathom. Abdil spoke excellent English , had a great knowledge of history and folklore and was passionate about it. He also had a great sense of humor and was very personable. What else does one need in a guide, and I was breathing better that I picked the right Tour operator. Although from our experience in Ephes and Goreme I was 50% sure already.

The palace took a long time and according to Abdil we maybe saw 30% of the total. We then proceeded to lunch at a wayside restaurant famous for their freshly baked breads.

The name of the restaurant was Karadeniz which means the the Black Sea. We sat in open air and could watch the breads being made and come out of the oven. It was quite interesting and of course the smells were amazing.

I ordered the Turkish pizza and I believe its their breads that make the difference. Pizza lover that I am I can easily say this ranks up there. There were two large pieces and I only managed to finish one of them.

Abdil excused himself to go to the Mosque for noon prayers and was back shortly actually before we finished our meal.

Our next stop the Grand Bazar, this reminded me so much of New Market in Kolkata during my college years it was unbelievable. Even the placement of the stores, it could almost predict what stores the next turn will bring.

We proceeded on to the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) and honestly I wasn't as impressed as I thought I would be. Yes it was beautiful, but so are many of the other lesser known mosques in an around Istanbul. It is an active mosque so we could only go so far in.

Abdil said most of the locals think that Blue Mosque is too "busy" and it was very obvious all the lighting and decorations made it borderline garish, but it's still the Blue Mosque and thus a must see.

We walked out of it on to the remains of the Hippodrome. The biggest attraction is the Obelisk, the Romans brought the top half of the Obelisk as a turning marker for the chariots.

That was the end of the guided tour for the day, we decided on meeting at 9:00 AM the next morning when Abdil dropped us off at our hotel, he also suggested a few nearby good restaurants for dinner.

We went to our room, rested for a bit and walked towards the main street. The incline was really steep but manageable. We decided to go to The Fish Restaurant, about a 10 min walk and one recommended by Abdil.

We both had the grilled Sea Bass, which was excellent but didn't realize it came without any side dishes. I was still a bit hungry but the fish was certainly worth it.

Came back to our room and retired for the night.