Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
After nearly four months of travelling and all the organisation and planning that that entails, I was about ready to hand over responsibility to someone else. After all, a holiday can actually be quite hard work – researching and booking accommodation, transportation, planning public transport routes, figuring out where to eat, trying to learn the basics of a new language…it can be quite stressful! For that reason, we joined a Fez Travel seven day Turkey Classics tour, where all we had to do was follow instructions about what time to get up and be ready for the day’s activities – everything else was taken care of for us!
Cagman (pronounced Charman) our guide, and Erim our minibus driver, took our small group of twelve tourists around some of the most beautiful sights in Turkey. Here’s a brief snapshot of what we did each day:
- Day One: Departed from Istanbul in the early morning to one of the most emotionally touching places in Turkey, the Gallipoli peninsula. We visited the WW1 battlefields of Gallipoli including the Long Pine and Chunuk Bair Memorials, ANZAC Cove, Johnston’s Jolly, original trenches and tunnels, and The Nek. Overnight in Canakkale.
- Day Two: We visited Troy, home of the famed Trojan horse, and then toured the magnificent acropolis of Pergamum. Its impressive temples and library made Pergamum a renowned cultural and political centre in its time. Overnight in Kusadasi.
- Day Three: We started the day with a visit to the carpet village where Turkish carpets are made by hand, and continued with a guided tour of Ephesus, the ancient city. We continued to the former Greek village of Sirince, famous for its fruit wines. Overnight in Kusadasi.
- Day Four: The morning started with a display of locally handcrafted leather goods before heading to the magnificent white calcium terraces, known as Travertines, in Pamukkale where we also toured the ancient city of Hierapolis. Overnight in Pamukkale.
- Day Five: We travelled the ancient Silk Road visiting Sultanhani Caravansary and the Mevlana museum in Konya along the way. Overnight in Cappadocia.
- Day Six: We started the day with a sunrise hot-air balloon flight over the lunar landscape of Cappadocia, before visiting an underground city, a gem and mineral shop, and the Goreme Valley Open Air Museum and the fairy chimneys. Overnight in Cappadocia.
- Day Seven: Early morning departure to the nation’s capital, Ankara, where we visited Anitkabir, mausoleum of the famed Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, before returning to Istanbul.
It was an absolutely incredible week where we saw the physical remnants of ancient history, learnt a lot about Turkish history and culture from our highly knowledgable guide, shed a few tears at Gallopoli, made snow angels for the first time, and in an absolute highlight of the whole tour, saw the otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia from the heights of a hot-air balloon.
Ephesus is an incredibly well-preserved ancient city, the Pamukkale travertines are a stunning reminder of what nature can create, and the remains of Troy are a warning against the consequences of indiscriminate fortune hunters carrying out excavations rather than trained archaeologists. The photos in the photo gallery below should give some indication of the beauty of the landscapes that we encountered and the majesty of the ancient cities we visited.
There are a few downsides to a short, intense tour like this though. Firstly, there’s a lot of early morning wake-ups – 6am starts to make sure that we get on the road for (second downside), hours of driving to get to the next destination. Days five and seven were particularly tough days, with more than eight hours spent in the minibus on each day. The number of activities planned also means that you are a little bit time-limited in certain areas – Cagman was able to allow us a designated amount of free time in each destination after he first did his tour, but if you wanted to spend more than an hour and a half at Pamukkale, you were out of luck.
You’re also hyper-aware about commissions and which stops on the tour were providing a kick-back to the tour company. The restaurants where we stopped for lunches (own expense) were generally designated tourist restaurants which served good food, but which were (I felt) overpriced for what we got when compared to restaurants we visited in Istanbul. No doubt the tour company received a commission for stopping there. There were also stops to places like the Turkish carpet workshop, the Turkish leather store, the Turkish gem store, the Turkish ceramics store, where we would receive some brief education about the creative process and be promised that there would be no ‘hard sell’, but then be led to a showroom with a dozen hovering salespeople.
However this didn’t ruin the tour, and I know why it’s done – the tour is so cheap (we paid $1600 for two people which included transport, accommodation, two meals a day, and the actual tour itself) that the company has to make some extra money up somewhere. Honestly though, I would have preferred to pay more for the tour itself and skip the hard-sell showrooms, instead spending more time in the historical sites that I did actually care about.
Finally, it’s important to note that often on a guided tour, the tour is only as enjoyable as the people that you’re travelling with. After months of travelling alone as a couple, it was really nice for K and I to have regular interaction with a fantastic group of fellow travellers who made the tour really special. With five Kiwis, four Aussies and three Indians on board our minibus, we got to know each other very well and created some strong friendships. Thanks Greg, Kim, Natalya, Angela, Janine, Chris, Lori, Sri, Neeli and Vasu for a fantastic week together and for our new friendships! I’m so glad that we had a small tight-knit group, rather than a large impersonal bus tour with over 20 travellers.
I highly recommend considering Fez Travel if you want to see a bit more of Turkey than just Istanbul. While it’s possible to travel independently around Turkey, it is difficult trying to figure out the connections between cities, not to mention the cost of travelling independently to the sites of ancient cities. Give yourself a break from the stress of making travel plans, and let Fez Travel take over for you!