Not delighted with Turkey tour

By Sheila Monk
This item appears on page 24 of the May 2013 issue.
This is subscriber only post.
Get one year of online-only access — only $15!
Below is a sample of the article.
Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

A friend and I booked the 15-day tour “Turkish Delight,” April 21-May 5, 2012, with Pacha Tours and got a great price, $1,490 per person, not including airfare. I asked the Pacha agent to book my airfare. 

On Jan. 3, I received an email from a Pacha rep stating that I was booked on April 21 on US Air from St. Louis to Chicago and on Turkish Airways for the Chicago-Istanbul leg. I was informed that these were separate flights and I’d have to pick up my luggage at the Chicago airport and recheck it before continuing. 

On March 6, Pacha informed me that the US Air flights on April 21 and (returning) May 5 had been changed; I was given the new flight numbers and confirmation code.

The day before the flight, I tried to print my boarding pass online on the US Air website but couldn’t. I called US Air and was told I had the wrong confirmation number. I was given another number, but that didn’t work either. On the next call, the US Air rep said my St. Louis/Chicago flights were actually with United Airlines. 

I tried the new confirmation number, which still didn’t work. 

I called United, and an agent emailed me a different confirmation number and told me the St. Louis-Chicago flight was, in fact, connected to the Turkish Airlines flight and that my luggage could be checked through. This time, I was able to print my boarding pass.

On April 21, when my friend and I arrived in Istanbul, the Pacha Tours representative was not in the airport waiting area. Our instructions were that if no one was there, we should go to the information desk. The woman there refused to page Pacha Tours‚ insisting she had to have the name of a person. 

A woman at a desk representing hotels (unfortunately, not our hotel) called the local emergency number Pacha had given us. No one answered. 

We began to call out, “Pacha? Pacha?” A rep from another tour company heard us and said the driver was a friend of his and that he would call him. On the phone, the driver kept saying “Bon jour” in response to my “Hello” and talked to me in a language I didn’t understand.

With help from the other tour company’s rep, my friend and I took a taxi to our hotel, where we found a Pacha agent waiting for us, asking worriedly, “Where have you been? The driver couldn’t find you at the airport.” 

We explained what happened. Our guide, Tolga Saydar, then asked what had happened at the airport. I began to tell him and he cut me off with, “It isn’t my fault.”

Prior to the trip, Pacha had not sent an up-to-date tour itinerary. Our guide printed an out-of-date itinerary for us off the company’s website. 

For the tour, itself, I knew we would be on the road a good bit, but I imagined we’d also be visiting villages and mingling with locals. The tour was packed with ancient Roman sites. We traveled on the bus over 2,000 miles in two weeks. Nearly every day, it was ride and visit two sites, then arrive at our hotel in time for dinner, after which we would go to bed.

All of the hotels, except the ones in Istanbul, Ankara and Antalya, were resort hotels with no local flavor. Their clientele were huge busloads of mostly French and German tourists. 

Meals were mostly buffets in the hotels, virtually identical and, in my opinion, largely devoid of flavor and personality. Lunches en route were usually at truck stops, although we had a few delightful picnics. 

Oranges were abundant in the area, but the buffets served only a Tang-like drink. We were on the Aegean coast but rarely were served fish; when we were, “sea bass” was the only option, except once when we were lunching outdoors at a trout farm. We never had shellfish. Lamb, of course, is widely consumed in Turkey but was not by us. 

There were only four of us on this tour. Seasoned travelers all, we agreed that Tolga was the worst guide we had ever had. We felt he was underinformed about the sites we visited and knew little to nothing about local plants, animals, climate and several other things we were curious about.

If one of us mistook our meeting place or time, Tolga would speak to that person in what we felt was a rude, condescending manner.

Our first day, he rushed us through the Spice Bazaar, which we all were enjoying and where we wished to stay longer, and onto a boat for a ride on the Bosporus. It wasn’t until we were under way that we realized it was not a short, functional ride across the strait but an optional, 90-minute boat tour — something my travel companion would not have chosen, as she gets seasick easily.

Our guide, who had hurried us onto the boat after purchasing tickets, was then astounded to learn that the ride was not included in the tour cost. He asked us to reimburse him, but, since we had not elected to take the cruise, we all refused.

No one in our group carried a computer, so we used hotel computers to access email. After several days of no access, we asked for assistance in finding an Internet café where we could stop for 15 minutes. It didn’t happen, the explanation being that Internet cafés were not on the itinerary.

We did make more than one stop not on the itinerary, ostensibly for our pleasure but actually, we surmised, because Tolga wanted to buy a pillow at the linen store and a coat at the leather place.

The driver was top-notch and was tipped generously. I’m sure Tolga was disappointed, but perhaps not surprised, to be tipped poorly or not at all by the members of our group.

I was disappointed in the trip, and, except for a wonderful hot-air balloon ride in Cappadocia, I wish I’d stayed home.

SHEILA MONK

Richland, MO

ITN e-mailed a copy of Ms. Monk’s letter to Pacha Tours (295 Madison Ave., 43rd Floor, New York, NY 10017; information@pachatours.com). A representative emailed, “I’ll write you our reply this week,” but, after two follow-up inquiries from ITN, sent no further response.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

A friend and I booked the 15-day tour “Turkish Delight,” April 21-May 5, 2012, with Pacha Tours and got a great price, $1,490 per person, not including airfare. I asked the Pacha agent to book my airfare. 

On Jan. 3, I received an email from a Pacha rep stating that I was booked on April 21 on US Air from St. Louis to Chicago and on Turkish Airways for the Chicago-Istanbul leg. I was informed that these were separate flights and I’d have to pick up my luggage at the Chicago airport and recheck it before continuing. 

On March 6, Pacha informed me that the US Air flights on April 21 and (returning) May 5 had been changed; I was given the new flight numbers and confirmation code.

The day before the flight, I tried to print my boarding pass online on the US Air website but couldn’t. I called US Air and was told I had the wrong confirmation number. I was given another number, but that didn’t work either. On the next call, the US Air rep said my St. Louis/Chicago flights were actually with United Airlines. 

I tried the new confirmation number, which still didn’t work. 

I called United, and an agent emailed me a different confirmation number and told me the St. Louis-Chicago flight was, in fact, connected to the Turkish Airlines flight and that my luggage could be checked through. This time, I was able to print my boarding pass.

On April 21, when my friend and I arrived in Istanbul, the Pacha Tours representative was not in the airport waiting area. Our instructions were that if no one was there, we should go to the information desk. The woman there refused to page Pacha Tours‚ insisting she had to have the name of a person. 

A woman at a desk representing hotels (unfortunately, not our hotel) called the local emergency number Pacha had given us. No one answered. 

We began to call out, “Pacha? Pacha?” A rep from another tour company heard us and said the driver was a friend of his and that he would call him. On the phone, the driver kept saying “Bon jour” in response to my “Hello” and talked to me in a language I didn’t understand.

With help from the other tour company’s rep, my friend and I took a taxi to our hotel, where we found a Pacha agent waiting for us, asking worriedly, “Where have you been? The driver couldn’t find you at the airport.” 

We explained what happened. Our guide, Tolga Saydar, then asked what had happened at the airport. I began to tell him and he cut me off with, “It isn’t my fault.”

Prior to the trip, Pacha had not sent an up-to-date tour itinerary. Our guide printed an out-of-date itinerary for us off the company’s website. 

For the tour, itself, I knew we would be on the road a good bit, but I imagined we’d also be visiting villages and mingling with locals. The tour was packed with ancient Roman sites. We traveled on the bus over 2,000 miles in two weeks. Nearly every day, it was ride and visit two sites, then arrive at our hotel in time for dinner, after which we would go to bed.

All of the hotels, except the ones in Istanbul, Ankara and Antalya, were resort hotels with no local flavor. Their clientele were huge busloads of mostly French and German tourists. 

Meals were mostly buffets in the hotels, virtually identical and, in my opinion, largely devoid of flavor and personality. Lunches en route were usually at truck stops, although we had a few delightful picnics. 

Oranges were abundant in the area, but the buffets served only a Tang-like drink. We were on the Aegean coast but rarely were served fish; when we were, “sea bass” was the only option, except once when we were lunching outdoors at a trout farm. We never had shellfish. Lamb, of course, is widely consumed in Turkey but was not by us. 

There were only four of us on this tour. Seasoned travelers all, we agreed that Tolga was the worst guide we had ever had. We felt he was underinformed about the sites we visited and knew little to nothing about local plants, animals, climate and several other things we were curious about.

If one of us mistook our meeting place or time, Tolga would speak to that person in what we felt was a rude, condescending manner.

Our first day, he rushed us through the Spice Bazaar, which we all were enjoying and where we wished to stay longer, and onto a boat for a ride on the Bosporus. It wasn’t until we were under way that we realized it was not a short, functional ride across the strait but an optional, 90-minute boat tour — something my travel companion would not have chosen, as she gets seasick easily.

Our guide, who had hurried us onto the boat after purchasing tickets, was then astounded to learn that the ride was not included in the tour cost. He asked us to reimburse him, but, since we had not elected to take the cruise, we all refused.

No one in our group carried a computer, so we used hotel computers to access email. After several days of no access, we asked for assistance in finding an Internet café where we could stop for 15 minutes. It didn’t happen, the explanation being that Internet cafés were not on the itinerary.

We did make more than one stop not on the itinerary, ostensibly for our pleasure but actually, we surmised, because Tolga wanted to buy a pillow at the linen store and a coat at the leather place.

The driver was top-notch and was tipped generously. I’m sure Tolga was disappointed, but perhaps not surprised, to be tipped poorly or not at all by the members of our group.

I was disappointed in the trip, and, except for a wonderful hot-air balloon ride in Cappadocia, I wish I’d stayed home.

SHEILA MONK

Richland, MO

ITN e-mailed a copy of Ms. Monk’s letter to Pacha Tours (295 Madison Ave., 43rd Floor, New York, NY 10017; information@pachatours.com). A representative emailed, “I’ll write you our reply this week,” but, after two follow-up inquiries from ITN, sent no further response.