Factor into your next vacation abroad, a trip to Turkey! The historic crossroads of civilization; Istanbul, Turkey, is a must-do destination! Even if it’s just for a weekend!
When travelling, we attempt to see as much as we can in as short a time as possible. Travelling in groups can be efficient but can lack the curated feel that many of us enjoy in our travel experiences. The best way to maximize time and budget while travelling to a new country is to hire a private guide.
Working with private guides brings numerous benefits to your trip, not the least of which is access. A private guide will often ensure you skip the queues, guarantee entry to attractions with limitations to bigger groups and you are far more likely to enjoy a more authentic cultural experience overall.
With only four total days, we were efficient with our time and connected directly through Istanbul to the Cappadocia region of Turkey. After being greeted at the airport by our guide, we were driven to our hotel, Argos a gem of the region featuring fantastic views, roaring fireplaces and rooms carved out of the mountain side. You’ll feel immersed in Central Anatolian culture the moment you arrive. Argos is located in the heart of Cappadocia on the site of an ancient monastery in Old Uçhisar Village. The property has been carefully restored the remains of the historical dwellings underground tunnels and caves.
In early January, the weather is a little bit crisp and can be windy, so unfortunately our hot air balloon excursion was cancelled. Instead we enjoyed a full day visiting the underground cities and fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. Whether in the cramped tunnels of the Kaymakli Underground City or the open-air museum of Goreme, our knoweldgeable guide showed us around like a good friend well versed in the local history. After a Turkish coffee and tea break overlooking the valleys below, we visited the small town of Avanos to check out the local artisans. Ceramics and carpet weaving are an ancient tradition in this part of the country and with just three of us visiting these workshops, it felt wonderfully intimate.
While in the area we tried Testi Kebab, which is meat and vegetables cooked slowly in a sealed clay pot, along-side many other local dishes of eggplant and lamb, peppers and rice.
After a full day in Cappadocia, we flew back to Istanbul, where we met our guide and transferred to our hotel, the Shangri-la Istanbul, on the Bosphorus Straight. The Bosphorus Straight, is a natural waterway connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and separating the Europe landmass from Asia.
If you’re on a tight schedule, there is no better way to get a feel for a city than to spend a couple of days with a private guide. Our experience in the grey weather of Istanbul’s weather was fantastic as we sipped tea in the shadow of the enormous Hagia Sophia with our guide Sinan, who was exceptional. The old city of Istanbul is quite compact, so many sights are within walking distance including the Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, the Hippodrome and the Sultanahmet Mosque (The Blue Mosque). Most sights have lines for tourist access and at most sites we sailed past the lines right inside, thanks to Sinan.
Sinan navigated us by foot a kilometre or so off the beaten path to a local place serving up fantastic Lahmacun, which is similar to pizza, dressed with chilli flakes and lemon juice. Of course, there is always kebab and until you’ve tasted Turkish kebab from the heart of Istanbul, you have no idea what it was meant to be. For the sweet tooth, Turkish pastries like sweet and sticky baklava are on every corner!
As we stroll around the small roads surrounding the Grand Bazar, the call to prayer fills the air, reminding us that we are in a predominantly Muslim country. The ambiance was intoxicating as Sinan helped us understand what all the Islamic writing adorning the beautiful architecture meant. Turkey is old, far older than many places on the regular travel circuits of Europe. Istanbul has been the end of the silk road, the crossroads of civilization, the bridge between Europe and Asia and before it was Istanbul, it was Constantinople, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Our travels throughout this city with a well informed private guide made Istanbul come alive in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in this short time on our own.