Turkey & Egypt have always fascinated me, so I decided to combine the two, since they are only an hour’s flying time away from each other. I also had the advantage of a Turkish acquaintance who was able to give me some tips on what to do in Istanbul.
Turkey in April is cold, so be prepared! I didn’t know what to expect visually, but was quite surprised and disappointed in the modern architecture, which consisted of undistinguished residential tenement blocks. Many of these were unfinished or unoccupied, reflecting the financial downturn. I was also surprised at the amount of litter around in various places, which somewhat detracted from the wonderful scenery in places. We had booked a 2 week tour through an excellent company which specialised in small group tours. The guide and driver were both great, with the former being freelance and an ideal contact for anyone preferring to tailor an individual trip. (Details of the tour company & guide are available on my blog or by contacting me direct, as I am not allowed to provide details of either under the editorial guidelines.) Naturally, we did not see more than some highlights of the western part of the country. Another tour concentrated on the eastern areas & we may take that another time.
The Turks initially struck me as being a rather reserved race, but we found them to be most helpful and friendly when approached for assistance or directions and they were not pushy or intrusive. However, be warned that English is not the main language in Turkey and few people we came into contact with spoke more than a few words, so be prepared to mug up on some Turkish phrases and use a lot of sign language. If you speak some German or French it helps.
We covered the usual Istanbul sights of which the Topkapi Palace is the standout, particularly the exhibits in the former mint. The Blue Mosque was impressive but the Grand Bazaar was very touristy & not a patch on the one I visited in Teheran in 1968, although it did have some interesting shops in which you can loose yourself for hours. At no stage did we feel unsafe, even when wandering around in local areas that seemed to have few tourists, although we had been warned to stay clear of the unlit areas around the old city walls near our hotel, which no-one in their right minds would do anyway, even if only to avoid breaking a leg.
After the tour we did a Bosphorus trip on the state ferry, but would have been better off not taking a return ticket or going to the end stop, which has nothing apart from a good view at the top of the hill & a nice restaurant there; not enough to fill the several hours’ wait for the trip back. Instead, we should have taken a single ticket, got off at Sariyer, the stop before, had a look around and a meal, then taken the bus back.
Gallipoli was moving; the lime cascades at Permukkale fascinating; Antalya on the Mediterranean coast enabled us to thaw out a bit & go on a short boat trip around the harbour & coastline; the Fairy Chimneys in Cappadocia were interesting, but we spent too much time in that region before going to Ankara, where Ataturk’s Mausoleum was a real highlight. It contained some wonderful exhibits and one of the best dioramas I have ever seen covering the Gallipoli and Independence campaigns, with some fascinating history of how the Allies were defeated and driven out of the country. (Naturally, the British in particular don’t dwell on any of this when they teach history in their schools & I expect the same applies to the French!) The Anatolian Civilizations Museum was also most interesting & I felt that the tour did not allow enough time for those final two items, but that is only a minor quibble.
Finally, FOOD! The food in Turkey is great, particularly the sweets, so be prepared to put on weight, or take it off after your trip. The Turks have a very sweet tooth, but the sugar in their sweets is masked to some extent by the nuts they use in baklava etc. They also like their lunches and most stops on the trip were set up for a full meal instead of a snack.
In order to obtain maximum advantage of a trip to Turkey, you really need to do some preparation, which is simple to do on the net. It is a country which repays such preparation many times over & it would be a shame to just confine a visit there to Istanbul and a beach.