Istanbul, Pamukkale, Oludeniz, Cappadocia
Ivan: 7 yrs. old. Carolyn: 5 yrs. old
16 days in May & June of 2012
approximately $11,500 ($720 / day)
Kids' Favorite Things
Cats of Istanbul
"Cotton Castle" in Pamukkale
Balloon Ride in Cappadocia
Getting free stuff cuz I was so cute! - Carolyn
Lamb kebobs, Pide (Turkish Pizza), Fries, Green popsicle, Sticky ice cream
Parents' Favorite Things
Boat ride in Oludeniz
Balloon ride in Cappadocia
Lamb kebobs, Turkish Tea, Fries
Turkish Pop Music Playing 24/7 Everywhere
Turkey's rich history and many natural wonders made it difficult to decide where to spend our time. If this had been an adult trip, we would have visited more ancient ruins and museums. Since this was a family trip including our 7 and 5 yr. old kids, we decided to visit Istanbul and try more outdoor activities.
We would visit Istanbul for the beautiful buildings, Grand Bazaar and the city itself. Our apartment was a walking distance to many sites, and it also had a tram stop nearby, which we used frequently.
At Pamukkale, a World Heritage Site, we would hike up the "cotton castle" and hang out at the thermal waterfalls and pools. Then we get to relax and enjoy the picturesque Mediterranean beach of Oludeniz. I intentionally picked a hotel that was outside the "downtown", where it was quiet and had wild tortoises roaming among their vegetable gardens.
We would finish our trip at Cappadocia where we get to stay in a cave hotel and visit an underground city and ride the famed sunrise balloon to see the spectacular landscape.
ISTANBUL: The Mythical City
- Sultanahmet (The Blue Mosque)
- Hagia Sophia
- Tokapi Palace
- Basilica Cistern
- Galta Bridge
♦ Attended a service at Süleymaniye (the Magnificent Mosque)
♦ Shopped at
- Grand Bazaar
- Spice Bazaar
- Toy stores in Taksim Square
♦ Ate at a fish market/restaurant on Galta Bridge. Kids picked out the fish for dinner.
♦ Rode a Bosphorus cruise boat
♦ Watched a Whirring Dervishes show
PAMUKKALE: Travertine Cotton Castle
♦ Hiked Pamukkale and hung out at the travertine terrace thermal pools and waterfalls
♦ Swam in the hot spring pool that had Roman ruins
OLUDENIZ: Mediterranean Beach
♦ Played at Oludeniz beach
♦ Took a Mediterranean "lazy day boat cruise" and snorkeled
♦ Swam in the hotel pool
♦ Para-glided (Greg) over the ocean
CAPPADOCIA: Strange & Beautiful Rocks
♦ Hiked at Gorem's Open Air Museum
♦ Visited Kaymakli Underground City
♦ Rode an air balloon at sunrise
♦ Watched the Traditional Turkish Dance Competition
♦ Drove and explored the neighborhood
♦ Shopped for carpets
No. of Nights
Transportation in Location
Flew from L.A. to Istanbul.
Flew from Istanbul to Denizli.
Ocakkoy Holiday Village
Took a bus from Denizli to Fethiye.
Drove from Fethiye to Antalya. Then Flew from Antalya to Kayseri
Aydinli Cave House
Drove from Kayseri to Cappadocia.
Drove from Cappadocia to Kayseri.
- Based on our experience, some people might not like taking a bus from Denizli to Fethiye. It's a genuine Turkish experience, which comes with a tight leg room, no air conditioning, lots of people and some smell.
- I found out later that Aydinli Cave House offers an airport pick up/drop off service. I definitely recommend checking with your hotel for this service. Driving in a big city like Kayseri at night can be very challenging, especially if you don't know the local language. Once you're in Cappadocia you can rent a car and it's definitely an easier area to drive around.
|Roundtrip airfare|| $ 5,873||52%|
|All others|| $ 2,773||24%|
|Lodging|| $ 1,835||16%|
|Balloon ride|| $ 455||4%|
|Car rental|| $ 314||3%|
|Other airfare|| $ 131||1%|
|Total || $ 11,381|| |
- Car rental was about $78/day.
- The total cost does not include the carpet cost.
♦ Bring Kleenex: You will be glad that you did for the reason you can guess.
♦ Go to sleep at reasonable hours: The call for prayer goes on all day and has a brief intermission at night until the sun rises. If you go to bed too late, you will regret it when the first call comes on.
♦ Arrive early for popular sites: When the tour buses arrive, your peaceful moments and short lines disappear.
♦ Eat Turkish food: Don't order spaghetti or hamburgers because it's not what you expect. They all taste like Turkish food anyway.
♦ Be alert when paying: Taxi drivers, convenience stores and other shops know that you're a tourist and will charge you more given the opportunity.
♦ Wear respectful clothes especially visiting a mosque: Women need to cover head with a scarf. No tank tops and shorts/short skirts for men and women.
♦ Attend a mosque service: We visited Süleymaniye (the Magnificent Mosque), which was having a service, and we were allowed to sit in the back. It was truly an intimate experience and I felt like I connected and understood Turkey more.
♦ Long distance bus: We rode it about 3 hours from Pamukkale to Fethiye. It's a perfectly decent and economical transportation and a genuine Turkish experience. It had a tight leg room, no air conditioning, lots of people and some smell. After the bus trip, however, we decided to rent a car to go from Fethiye to Kayseri.
♦ If driving, get a GPS: Kayseri, a big city, was hard to navigate on a paper map. Not many locals speak good enough English to give directions.
♦ Shop carpets: You see carpet shops everywhere in Turkey and it's a part of the experience to check them out. Talking to shop owners can be interesting too. I met my "The One" in Cappadocia. It was hanging on the main wall and its peach color and intricate leaves and flowers sang to me. So it came home with us. To date, it is the most beautiful thing we have at our home.
♦ Don't drink/brush with local water: Things may be different now, but we were told not to drink the local water. We even used the bottled water to brush our teeth. Maybe it was an overkill, but we didn't want to take a change especially with the kids and nobody got sick.
♦ Strollers may not work: The streets were pretty cobble-stone or just beat-up concrete. Either way, they were not good for strollers.
♦ Wear swimsuits and socks at Pamukkale: Shoes are not allowed in Pamukkale. You can walk bare-foot, but I know our family wouldn't have lasted 10 min. on bare-foot, because the pretty surface was quite rough.
ISTANBUL: The Mythical City
Playing in front of Hagia Sophia
We stayed at a Tokapi Apartment for 5 nights, which was a nice 2 bedroom apartment in the Sultanahmet district. We walked to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. A tram stop was also nearby, which was our primary means of transportation to get around the city.
When we arrived in Istanbul, we were tired from the long flight, so we did an easy Bosphorus boat ride. The kids slept through the ride, but I remember the beautiful skylines of Istanbul, dotted with the domes of mosques, which was very different from anything I had seen. That was the good part. The bad part was that we got off at the wrong stop and almost lost Ivan at the crowded dock. Hence some angst and drama ensued in the foreign land.
The Blue Mosque was one of the most beautiful buildings I saw, and it made a profound impression on me. The tiles were laid exquisitely and the domes were perfect. I also like that Muslims don't believe in having statues of Allah or Mohammed. It was a place where you could imagine your spirituality living. We arrived early and enjoyed our space and peace. I came back for the second time during the day, it wasn't quite the same experience among a large crowd.
Hagia Sophia, the "church of holy wisdom" was truly grand and an architectural feat. It was first a Byzantine church, then turned into a mosque by the Ottoman Empire. Greg, who reads everything, explained that a physicist and a mathematician had to do the most difficult calculations at the time to design these gigantic domes.
The adults enjoyed the Topkapi Palace more than the kids, but the kids had fun running around the gorgeous palace grounds. In this palace, I could feel how great and rich the Ottoman empire once was. The palace was huge and beautifully decorated. I loved all the intricate designs of windows, doors and tiled walls. It was also a religious palace where an imam had been reading Quran continuously for 500 years in a room. They also have a cafe with a glorious view of Bosphorus. This is one of the images that makes me feel happy every time I recall it.
I loved shopping at the Grand Bazaar and loved Turkish jewelry! I bought some beautiful rings, bracelets, earrings and scarves, and I still wear them all with delight. While I was on my shopping mission, Greg and the kids enjoyed some yummy ice cream.
The entire family enjoyed walking on the stunning Galta Bridge over Bosphorus. Some people were fishing on the upper deck and the kids squealed when a few small fish from a fishing pole flopped and landed in front of them. We had our dinner at a restaurant on the bridge where the kids picked our fish, which was delicious.
Around this time, Ivan was obsessed with anything Lego related. He already had a large collection at home, and he wanted to see what Turkish Legos were like, which was completely understandable. At the locals' suggestion, we went to toy stores in Taksim Square, which was a famous shopping district. We went to a couple of toy stores and walked every single aisle at least twice and only found knock-off Legos, which were quite bigger than real Legos. Ivan was very disappointed, but he accepted that Turkey was different than home and more Legos had to wait. At least Turkey had better popsicles, which was enough to comfort Ivan.
On our neighbor's recommendation, we watched a whirling dervish show. As soon as the show started, with the dim light and the hypnotic music, kids fell asleep fast. After 10 min., Greg and I tried our best not to follow the kids, while the dervishes were whirling in their trance.
The kids played with cats all the time, and cats were everywhere in Istanbul. We saw that almost every restaurant was feeding cats, perhaps a natural way to eradicate the vermin. The cats were really friendly and Carolyn wanted to bring one orange kitten home. In the end, the kitty stayed in Istanbul.
By the end of our stay in Istanbul, Greg and I drank Turkish tea with every meal, and the kids were having kebobs or pides, a Turkish version of pizza. However touristy the restaurant was, we always got fresh bread, which went into the oven after we ordered. Even the fries were freshly made. The only down side was that it could take some time to get our food, but it was the Turkish way.
PAMUKKALE: Travertine Cotton Castle
We spent one night in the Melrose Hotel, which was a clean and relaxing place with a good breakfast.
I read a great tip that we should wear socks to walk in Pamukkale, since wearing shoes were not allowed. Even with our socks on, after walking on travertine for an hour, which was similar to rough pumice stone, the soles of feet were tender and super soft.
It was a beautiful and unusual sight where the hills were covered in white minerals, hence the name "Cotton Castle". What was more wonderful was that there were thermal springs. We had such a fun time getting soaked by warm waterfalls and wading in pools with amazing powder blue colored water.
On top of Pamukkale, there was a thermal pool where ancient Roman ruins were laying around, resembling props for a movie. It almost felt like an honor to put my bum on Roman columns while enjoying a thermal bath.
A special spa option was also available which involved a school of fish polishing the feet. You dip your feet in a big pond and these fish eat the dead skin off your feet! After the fish have their feast, your feet will come out feeling like a baby's (or at least that's what they claim). I didn't get to try the feet spa, as the kids ran out of patience, but I would love to try if I come across these special fish again.
OLUDENIZ: Mediterranean Beach
Oludeniz Mediterranean beach
We spent four nights Ocakkoy Holiday Village in Oludeniz. Some internet reviewers described the village as "heaven on earth", and I agree for the most part. This was the relaxing part of our vacation and I wanted our lodging to be relaxing as well. They had large grounds with vegetable gardens, wild tortoises and adult and kid pools. The morning breakfasts were plentiful and fresh, and this was where I learned to enjoy a combo of feta cheese and watermelon.
The beach was pebbly, but the water was warm and turquoise blue. The kids had lots of fun playing on the beach, even with the crowds. This area is also the capital of paragliding in Europe. Greg enjoyed jumping off the cliff and paragliding down to the beach, a great experience he still talks about to date.
We signed up for a blue cave tour, but somehow the hotel staff put us on the Mediterranean boat cruise. This could have been a bad situation, but the cruise was absolutely wonderful that I didn't mention the mix-up to the staff. The views from the boat were stunning and we got to play on the sandy beach and snorkeled a little. There was even an impromptu dance party on the boat!
Cappadocia: Strange & Beautiful Rocks
Balloons over Cappadocia
We stayed at Aydinli Cave Hotel for 2 nights. It was strange sleeping in a cave where the walls and ceiling were rocks and the windows were small. The kids thought it was cool to stay in a cave. The gentleman in the office was very nice and the breakfast was great.
Driving into town, I felt like we arrived at a gigantic sci-fi movie set. The tall pointed sand-colored columns (ok, phallic looking) surrounded the hills and leafy green trees were scattered in between.
We visited Kaymakli, an underground city. The place was set like a maze and some parts of the paths were so low that we had to stoop to go through. I learned that religious prosecution drove the people underground, and I hoped these tunnels helped these resourceful people to survive.
Before booking the sunrise balloon ride, I had to consider two things: getting up at 4am and fear of heights. Floating really high in the sky supported by some hot air sounded like an absolutely horrific reason to get up way before the crack of dawn. Eventually, my desire to experience the "once-in-a-life-time" opportunity won over my fear. I am happy to report that while I was still afraid of heights, the balloon ride was strangely enjoyable and the scenery was magnificent. It was a peaceful flight, as there was no sudden acceleration or deceleration. The only complaint I had was that the hissing sound of the gas was really loud, and it became unnerving when the flight reached approximately 3,000 ft.
Ladies in Istanbul
It had been more than 7 years since our family visited a place outside the U.S. or Canada, mostly because of Greg's doctrine of "we need to stay where the good hospitals are, in case the kids get sick". When it was deemed that 5 yr. old Carolyn was fit to travel abroad by Greg, I couldn't wait to get out the American continent. I picked Turkey because in my mind, it was a beguiling and mysterious destination where so much history took place, and probably the closest to a middle eastern trip that I would make.
When I mentioned visiting Turkey, people and Greg told me several times that we should go later when the kids were older, so they would remember it better. There was also some sticker shock for the trip. When it was just Greg and I, two engineers working full time, paying for trips was rather mundane. Now that I was working part-time and two more people were added to the roster, the price tag shot up financially and emotionally. We were the kind of family who only bought 3 year old cars and drove them for 10 more years. Taking an international trip that cost over $10,000, which the kids might or might not remember, seemed risky and financially irresponsible. After many discussions with Greg, eventually my wanderlust and the "this was the right thing" gut feeling prevailed. We gingerly went on the trip and came back as huge Turkey fans. All four of us had a fantastic time and the kids remembered plenty from the trip. Our experience in Turkey was worth every single penny.
Planning trips is usually a lot of work, but planning for Turkey took more effort, since some hotels only offer 3 single beds (I booked 2 rooms) and the website of Pegasus Airlines was not in English. I even talked to some Turkish parents from Ivan's school about the safety of traveling in Turkey with little kids. To all of my concerns, they assured me that the kids would be fine.
And the kids were fine. I have to say the Turks were the most kid-friendly people I’ve ever met. They were very kind to our kids and the kids received a lot of attention. Carolyn, at the height of her little-girl-cuteness, got a scarf, a key chain, a hat, cookies and some other goodies for free from her adoring Turkish friends. Even now she fondly recalls her magical days in Turkey when the free stuff flowed.
Traditional Dance Competition
It was also the kindness of Turkish people that made our trip extra amazing. We were driving late at night in Kayseri looking for our hotel and were feeling hopeless. The map we had didn't include enough details, and when we asked a policeman for directions, he gave us direction in Turkish. We drove around a little more and asked another man. He was trying to tell us the directions, and when he looked at the kids slumped in the backseat and the busy streets outside, he offered to drive us to the hotel, which he did. We safely arrived at the hotel, and when we turned around to thank him, he was gone!
When we checked in that night, it was close to midnight, and we had to get up at 5 am for our return flight home. The hotel clerk told us that we would be missing the free breakfast, but he would make a to-go box for us. When we were checking out at 5:30am, he handed us 3 boxes filled with fresh bread, humus and some stew, all still hot. It was one of the best hotel breakfasts we had.
Concert in the Sultanahmet district
Turkey was also full of "Turkish moments", the term Greg and I coined for quirky Turkish experiences.
- In an award-winning airport (with self-promoting banners all around), the elevators didn't work. We had to carry our big suitcases up two flight of stairs.
- The crowded bus was transporting huge sacks (like the size of half a sofa) and long pipes (about 10 ft. long) on the floor. All passengers, including a mom holding a toddler were expected to jump over the sack to get off the bus. When it was the mom's stop, she was hesitant to jump over the sack, because both the mom and the toddler would surely tumble over the sack, and the bus conductor was just watching her impatiently. Greg could not take it and tossed one of the sacks to the side, so she could just walk out. The passengers on the bus looked very surprised by Greg's action.
- Greg was in a restroom which had an automatic light switch with a very short timer. While sitting on the toilet, he had to wave his arms frantically to turn on the light several times. If he hadn’t done so, it would be pitch black!
- When we were picking up the car from the airport, I was looking for a rental car counter, but there was none. After some panic and confusion, a man approached me and told me that he had my rental car outside and he had been waiting for 3 hours in the parking lot. He brought the car from the city and waited for me according to the expected car pickup time I filled out on the website! (I tend to select the rental car pick up time 2 hours earlier than the actual pickup time to make sure my car is ready.)
- When we were driving, a bus was ahead of us and this road had a center island, similar to a sidewalk. Ahead of the bus was a lady pushing a wheel chair, and as the bus was slowly over-taking her, the lady and the wheel chair were squeezed between the center island and the bus side-view mirror! And the lady continued pushing the wheel chair on the road. Being a handicap was extra precarious in Turkey, since wheel chairs could not use the badly torn up sidewalk.
- I still love eating fresh feta cheese with cold watermelon. A major Turkish moment for me!
Way before deciding on where I am going next, usually some events and books pique my curiosity. In this case I would thank these two books, The Source and Istanbul: Memories and the City, for inspiring me.
I am a big fan of James Michener, who writes exciting and informative history fictions. When I read his book, The Source, I was fascinated by Istanbul (Constantinople), the city that was once considered impossible to capture and was the backdrop of many bloody battles over the years. Knowing my interest in Turkey, Greg gave me the book, Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk. This book describes what it was like to grow up in what was once the greatest city in the world, running around the magnificent buildings as a kid. As I was walking on the cobble stone streets in Istanbul, I almost understood how it would be living among a long tumultuous history and a lost grand empire.