Turkey, a country that embraces two continents, is a land of historic treasures from 13 successive civilizations spanning thousands of years. The Western part of the country’s largest city, Istanbul, is in Europe, with the Eastern part in Asia, both divided by the magnificent watercourse known as the Bosphorus.
With a glorious past as the intellectual, cultural and political center of the world, Turkey remains today an extraordinary and cosmopolitan country. We begin and end in Istanbul, the former capital of three successive empires: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman, where last year the city enjoyed the role of 2010 European Capital of Culture.
Arrive in the extraordinary city of Istanbul, the heart and soul of Turkey. Upon clearing customs at Ataturk International Airport, you will be warmly greeted by our Turkish staff and provided with a private transfer to our hotel. Once you are checked-into your room, you are free to relax for the afternoon. Following a long flight, you might want to try an optional Turkish bath. Also called hamam, this is a traditional treatment that blends the four basic elements of dry heat (sauna), moist heat (steam), cold water splash, and body massage. Stimulating, relaxing and restorative, it is renowned for enhancing one’s overall health.
Late in the afternoon we will meet with our guide for an initial orientation to our local surroundings. Taking in the Istanbul skyline, studded with domes and minarets, is an unforgettable site. Although today is a holiday in Istanbul, there will be many shops and restaurants open. After this visit, our guide will escort us to a local restaurant for our welcome dinner and first taste of delicious
Turkish cuisine. (Dinner)
We begin our day with a visit to the impressive Topkapi Palace, residence of the Ottoman Sultans between the 16th and 19th centuries. In addition to touring the magnificent gardens and opulent surroundings, we will also visit the Imperial Harem, the secluded quarters where the wives, concubines and children of the sultan resided. Following our tour of Topkapi Palace, we will break for lunch in a nearby area that offers numerous dining options for your selection. Then, we will continue on to the Blue Mosque. With its massive central dome flanked by six slender minarets, the elegant Imperial Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I stands as the single most recognizable monument on the Istanbul skyline.
Next we will visit the Byzantine Hippodrome, a short walk from the Blue Mosque. The Hippodrome was the center of Byzantine life for 1000 years, where chariot races and competitive athletic events took place. At the northern end of the Hippodrome, beneath a small park, lies the Basilica Cistern. Also known as The Sunken Palace, this reservoir is the grandest of all the hidden, Byzantine cisterns that lie below Istanbul. Covering over two acres, and with 336 marble columns, the Basilica Cistern was notably filmed in a scene from the James Bond movie From Russia With Love.
After such an exhilarating day of sightseeing, it’s time to return to the hotel and relax before dinner. This evening will feature a lively venue for dinner with superb local cuisine, live music and wonderful entertainment. (Breakfast, Dinner)
Our first stop today is the famed Church of the Divine Wisdom, better known as the Hagia Sophia or St. Sophia’s Basilica. Built by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine the Great in the fourth century, this was the greatest church in Christendom for a thousand years, and remains an architectural masterpiece to this day. Its immense dome rises nearly 200 feet above the ground and is more than 100 feet in diameter. The Ottomans converted the basilica to a mosque in the 15th century, but today the Hagia Sophia serves as a public museum, known for its majestic serenity and fine Byzantine mosaics.
We will leave Istanbul on a short flight to Cappadocia, Turkey’s most visually striking region. Here you will find a wonderland of unusual geographic formations sprinkled with green vineyards, fruit orchards and frescoed churches. Wind and rain have eroded the brittle volcanic rock to form rock cones, capped pinnacles and fretted ravines in colors that range from warm reds and golds to cool greens and grays. To truly experience this surreal landscape, we will spend the next two nights in a cave hotel, Cappadocia.
From the airport, we will go directly to visit Kaymakli Underground City, one of many subterranean towns extending seven or eight levels into the earth. Constructed by peaceful farmers who lived in the region centuries ago, these were originally meant as underground hideouts for early Christians and for others fearing attacks by warlike tribes. Cappadocia is also known for its pottery and we will include a visit to a workshop for a demonstration by local artists.
Following an excellent meal in a local restaurant, we will transfer to a Dervish House for a performance by the Whirling Dervishes. Out of respect, we do not offer this experience in a venue that serves dinner or includes belly dancing and folk music. In Turkish, dervish means “monk.’’. (Breakfast, Dinner)
The ultimate way to take in the otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia is by floating above it at sunrise in a hot air balloon. For those interested in viewing this dramatic and beautiful landscape from above, you will have the opportunity to enjoy an optional flight before breakfast.
Afterwards, we continue our discovery of Cappadocia with a visit to the renowned Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is also called the “Caves of God.” Here, we will see richly painted monasteries and churches hollowed from soft, volcanic rock. In the colorful valley of Zelve, the unique landscapes continue with crags, pinnacles and steep valleys. A highlight is a visit to the Valley of the Fairy Chimneys, where ongoing erosion to the huge boulders balancing precariously atop spindly cones of volcanic tuff is an amazing sight to see.
On our way back to the hotel, we will visit a Carpet Center. The handmade weaving process that goes into creating a fine Turkish carpet is a highly skilled art. The local women will first do a demonstration, followed by an offer to let us experience just how much expertise is required. Tonight you are free to have dinner in one of the several enjoyable restaurants near the hotel. (Breakfast)
With a full day of touring ahead, we will depart after an early breakfast for the biblical city of Konya. The drive along the famous Silk Road will take about 4 hours with a rest stop.
Along our journey, we will visit the Sultanhan Caravanserai, the largest of these roadside inns created in Turkey. It is the most impressive of the many huge stone buildings made to shelter “caravaners” or traders, along with their camels, horses, donkeys and all their cargo, as they traveledalong the Silk Road to trade their precious riches at the European markets. In Konya, we will visit the museum and mausoleum complex of Sufi philosopher, Mevlana Rumi, the founder of the mystical cult of Whirling Dervishes. The most valuable silk carpet in the world is on display here in the Mevlana Museum.
Enjoy the scenery as we drive through towns, villages and farms. Our destination is considered Turkey’s foremost mineral-bath spa because of its natural beauty and curative powers. Water is the sole architect of the gleaming white travertine cliffs of Pamukkale. Hot calcium-laden mineral waters rise from the ground at a temperature of nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, cascading over cliffs to build up fairy billows of brilliant, snow-white stone. The cream-colored stalactites formed during this ancient process have created a breathtaking sight unequalled in the world. On arrival, we will check into the Hotel for our brief, one night stay where we will have dinner and time to enjoy the thermal pools of the hotel. (Breakfast, Dinner)
Pamukkale means “Cotton Castle,” and as we will see this morning, it perfectly describes the white calcium cascades throughout the area. We will tour one of the first modern spa centers at the ruins of Hierapolis. This ancient city was famous as a healing center, with its hot thermal springs praised for curing benefits. We will visit the ruins of the biggest Necropolis Graveyard of the ancient world, as well as the Roman Baths, the Theatre, and the Sacred Pool, which still stands surrounded by marble columns from the magnificent Roman Temple of Apollo.
Our drive time to Kusadasi, about 5 hours, will be broken up with a visit to a special treasure, the ancient city of Aphrodisias. Dedicated to the Greek Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, the city is a remarkably well-preserved Greco-Roman settlement where great archaeological excavations are being carried out. Renowned for fine marble craftsmanship in its day, the ruins include marble-finished buildings and ornate statues, with the Theatre being one of the best examples.
On arrival in Kusadasi, we will check in to the Hotel, Tonight we will meet for a relaxing dinner at the hotel. (Breakfast, Dinner)
After breakfast, we set off for a short drive to the ancient city of Ephesus. Our guided walking tour will allow you to feel what life was like 2,000 years ago during the glory-days of Greece and Rome. In fact, there are actually more ruins to see in Ephesus than Rome itself! Because the terraced houses here were buried after an earthquake, the intricate mosaic floors remained well-preserved for centuries. Highlights of our visit include The Great Theatre, which was built by the Romans between 41 and 117 AD and is still used today. We will see the Gymnasium and the magnificent Library of Celsus, which has double walls to keep out the damp and to moderate the extremes of temperature. The Temple of Hadrian is guarded by a head of Medusa, and the House of the Virgin Mary is where she is believed to have spent the last years of her life along with St. John the Theologian. Later we will return to the hotel for dinner in a setting overlooking the scenic Aegean. (Breakfast, Dinner)
We depart Kusadasi after breakfast in order to arrive before lunchtime at the ancient kingdom of Pergamon. Here, we will visit the Acropolis, the Temple of Athena and the Great Library, known as the foundation of modern medicine. Later in the afternoon, we will come to the legendary city of Troy, immortalized by Homer in the stories of King Primus, Hector, Paris and the beautiful Helen. Our tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site will include the archaeological excavations that have revealed nine separate periods of settlement. On display is the symbolic replica of the wooden Trojan Horse, commemorating the epic war machine that was constructed in the 13th century BC., then spend the night at hotel. Dinner included. (Breakfast, Dinner)
In the morning we will transfer to the nearby port to board the ferry to Gallipoli. The cruise takes us across the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles Strait. Here, we will stop for a short visit to the battle fields of WWI and a brief tour of Anzac Cove before resuming our trip.
This is the longest stretch of our tour, with the drive taking about 6 hours along the Gallipoli Peninsula and back to Istanbul. Part of the trip will include beautiful scenery, but for the most part we will keep to the national highway to minimize our travel time. Along the way we will include a stop for a hearty lunch.
For a unique contrast to our first two nights in Turkey, we will spend the rest of our stay across the Golden Horn in Istanbul’s New City. Our hotel is the lovely Konak Hotel, set in the heart of modern Istanbul and only a short walk from Taksim Square. Service standards at the Konak are impeccable. Guest rooms are designed in Ottoman colors and feature A/C, satellite TV, direct dial telephone, complimentary high-speed wireless internet, mini bar, safe, and hair dryer in the bathroom. Tonight is free for dinner on your own and you will find outside the hotel the lively Taksim area, with museums, restaurants, shops, and a vibrant night life. (Breakfast, Lunch)
In the morning we will tour a highlight of Istanbul, the Dolmabahce Palace. The last residence of Ottoman Sultans, the palace was built in the mid-19th century and occupies an impressive 2,000-foot waterfront site on the Bosphorus. Its most imposing feature is the vast reception salon with 56 towering columns and a huge 750-bulb crystal chandelier weighing well over four tons. The Bird Pavilion, where birds from all over the world were once kept, is another attraction. It was here in the palace where Ataturk died in 1938.
Next, it’s a short drive over the Galata Bridge to the historic side of Istanbul where we will visit the 17th century Spice Bazaar. One of Istanbul’s most colorful and bustling retail spaces, the market is filled with the fragrance of the exotic East. Enticing aromas of cinnamon, caraway, saffron, mint and thyme fill the air, while shoppers make their purchases of spices, dried fruits, nuts, seeds and lokum, the sweet candy called Turkish Delight.
We have saved the best for last! A short walk away is the Grand Bazaar, the world’s largest and oldest shopping venue. Situated along the road that once led to Rome the Grand Bazaar is a maze of some 4,000 shops housed among its labyrinth of 80 streets and passages.
Still the commercial center of the old city, the Bazaar offers a fabulous selection for every taste and budget: Turkish crafts, brilliant hand-painted ceramics, copper and brassware, meerschaum pipes and excellent quality leather and suede products, and of course, world-renowned carpets. In the heart of the bazaar, the Old Bedesten offers an intriguing assortment of antiques. The rest of the afternoon is free to spend as you wish. (Breakfast, Dinner)
Enjoy breakfast at your leisure. We will arrange a group transfer to the airport based on the majority of the group’s flight schedules in the morning. (Breakfast)
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