Traveling with a guide in Turkey

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My husband and I, fit seniors in our 60s, are beginning to plan a trip to Turkey in autumn 2013. I do not want to go with a scheduled tour group as I have not found one that goes everywhere I want to go and skips places I don't want to see. Although we have traveled independently in Europe many times, we're thinking we don't want to travel independently in Turkey. I know there are many companies that will plan custom trips. My questions right now are these: 1. How comfortable/uncomfortable (socially, not physically) is it to travel with the same guide for a 2-3 week period? I have read articles about that type of personalized guided trip in ITN, but it seems there are usually more than 2 people (e.g., a small family or several couples who are friends). Is this a little too much companionship? What if you don't like the guide from the get-go, or worse yet, the guide is the owner of the company? It could ruin a trip. Would it perhaps be better to find a company that provides different guides in different locations, such as Istanbul, Cappadocia, etc.? 2. Is it important to work in a gulet trip of several days? Is this an experience not to be missed? Again, I'm not sure how this would work out for just two of us. The alternative would be to go by car along the Mediterranean coast to see some of those sights and villages. 3. Where would be the best place for a few days of R & R, perhaps at a resort? We get tired of getting up every day to trek off somewhere to see more sights and need a break to just relax in the sun for a bit. Antalya? Fethiye? Some small village? Thanks for any input. Cindy

I very recently returned from a private Jewish Heritage tour of Turkey from April 2-18 with Mr. Umit Dogan, owner of Treasures of Travel based in Edmunds, WA (www.treasuresoftravel.com). I have also travelled to Turkey with Umit 3 years ago for a total of 5 consecutive weeks (2 weeks on a private tour of Western Turkey immediately followed by 3 weeks on a small group tour of Eastern Turkey). You didn't specify which particular tour company you had in mind to use, but Umit is very personable, agreeable, and easy-going and thus you should not at all consider it an issue to be with him for 2 or 3 weeks. Plus he is highly regarded in the industry and has been previously recommended in this forum (check archived messages). He is an expert on Turkey and knows every square inch of the country to such extent that he could do it blindfolded or in his sleep. I wouldn't consider the same guide as too much companionship because you will have time to yourself in the late afternoons and evenings after the daily sightseeing is over (unless you want to have dinner with Umit as well, which I did).

I was also in Turkey on an escorted group tour with Odysseys Unlimited in April 2009. That particular tour included the gulet cruise, which in my personal opinion was a waste of time. It focused on very minor sights, which took precious time away from seeing more important ones that are not part of the gulet cruise. Some of the sites required hiking that was a bit too difficult for me, and which I skipped. Furthermore, April was too cold to go in the water and if you plan on taking the gulet in the fall you are likely to run into the same problem. Most of the people on my gulet cruise were not particularly happy with it either (and we thought it was one day too long), but nonetheless many others must like it well enough for Odysseys to keep running the same itinerary year after year. I know that others on this message board have sworn by the gulet cruise in the past (with OAT and other companies). But travel is subjective and the gulet cruise definitely wasn't my cup of tea.

Getting back to a private tour to Turkey with Treasures of Travel, if you decide to go that route, there are a few things that you should keep in mind:

1. It will not be cheap, but it should be cheaper with two of you than it is for one. My private tour to Turkey cost $9600. Had just one other person taken the tour, it would have decreased the cost by $3000 per person. Although Treasures of Travel does offer the Jewish Heritage tour as a group tour, it rarely gets enough people to operate. After trying to take it as a group tour for a number of years without success, I finally decided not to wait any longer and just to take it as a private. As expensive as it was, in this world of ever-increasing travel costs, this was as cheap as it's ever going to get for one person. It was my intention to post a small ad in the back of ITN asking if there was anyone else willing to take the tour with me, but I never got around to it. Don't know whether or not it would have attracted a positive response, but at the end of the day it was great to have a guide all to myself.

2. Umit was both my guide and driver, but I would highly recommend that you have a separate guide and driver. Parking is very difficult to find in both large and small cities in Turkey, and rather than going through the hassle of finding a parking space, in most towns Umit kept his car parked near the hotel and we walked or took taxis to our sightseeing destinations (as well as to dinner). We averaged 4 or 5 miles a day of walking. Although I am a good walker, this was a problem for me because I have very serious issues crossing streets. People drive crazy in Turkey and traffic lights don't mean anything. Oftentimes at a crosswalk cars would stop within less than a foot of us, which unnerved me (an understatement). I would have had much more peace of mind if I had a separate driver who would just drop my guide and me off at the various sites and restaurants and then worry about the parking.

3. Go over your itinerary with a fine tooth comb beforehand and get everything in writing. I went back and forth with Umit over my itinerary until it was perfect. On the tour we covered everything that was listed in my itinerary with one major exception that was beyond Umit's control (we couldn't visit the Ankara synagogue on Saturday, April 6 as we were scheduled to because for unknown reason no one showed up for Sabbath services that morning, including no one from the international diplomatic community based in Ankara).

4. As a corollary to the above paragraph, museums and other sites may be closed for renovation at the time of your visit. For instance, only two rooms of the Museum of Ancient Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara was open during my visit. The main hall was under renovation. To avoid disappointment, if at all possible, best for you to check the appropriate websites beforehand to find out what's open and what's not. That way at least you'll have a heads up and can plan an alternative ahead of time.

5. Umit chooses his hotels not on how many stars they have, but rather in terms of charm, cleanliness, location, and his rapport with the owner and/or staff that he knows personally from previous visits. I would say that the 8 hotels where I stayed averaged out to 3.5 stars (some were 3 star and others were 4 star). However, most of those hotels were not ones that I would have chosen if I was picking them myself. My hotel in Gaziantep had mold or mildew in the bathroom. Almost all of my hotels had a high bathtub that one had to step in and out of in order to use the shower -- in other words, not user-friendly, especially for those of us age 60 and over. Plus most of them had hand-held showerheads, of which I have never been a fan. Although there was a flimsy piece to attach them to on the wall to make them a "normal" shower, it was as if it was an afterthought. Don't laugh, but CNN is personally important to me when I travel and in several of my hotel rooms I had no English-language television at all (with the exception of Al Jeziera). My hotel in Izmir was a 4 mile round trip walk each evening to the area where the best restaurants are located. I feel that for the price that I paid I should have had 5 star hotels (although admittedly almost all of my hotels were centrally located and some of them may have been the best available). Although Umit sent me the list of hotels in advance, I didn't do my homework by checking their ratings on Trip Advisor because I simply didn't have the time and I automatically took his word for it that the hotels would be to my liking. I would recommend that if a guide picks the hotels for you, be sure to check their ratings beforehand and try to change them if they are not satisfactory for your needs and purposes.

6. Lunches are not included in Umit's tours, which was fine with me because I'm not a lunch eater. However, only half the dinners are included on both his group tours and his private ones. My 16-night tour included only 8 dinners in the cost. The remaining 8 were at my own expense. Although I knew that in advance, in hindsight I feel that for the price I paid that all dinners should have been included.

If you opt not to have a private tour, but rather to have a different guide in each city, there are a number of tour companies in Istanbul that offer half-day and full-day tours of Istanbul and vicinity and multi-day tours to other parts of Western Turkey (Cappadocia, Ephesus, Pamukkale, etc.). Plan Tours (www.plantours.com) is the concessionaire for Gray Line in Turkey and a company called www.turistatravel.com runs many tours, including a one-day tour to the wonderful town of Edirne (part of ancient Thrace), which was my favorite town on my recent trip because it has more of a European feel to it. For Eastern Turkey you would be better served having a private guide and driver or taking an escorted group tour.

For a few days of R&R, I would recommend Antalya or Bodrum, although they are quite touristy. Umit would have a better idea of small villages and more off-the-beaten-path sunny destinations on the Turquoise Coast that are unknown to me.

Hope this helps.

Adding to what Ada suggested:
We like having the tour company organize the trip and transportation with different guides for each segment.
This has worked well for us with only one exception when we had a personable but relatively uninformed guide in
South America which we quickly solved by giving him time off and hiring another one for a small cost.
I know people who have asked for mixed trips, part solo and part small group and been very happy with the combo.
I like to read about hotels and neighborhoods first and then discuss my wishes with the agency, sometimes
I have wished I had not accepted their recommendations since I know what works for me. On long journeys this
can be important. My husband and I find Istanbul easy to navigate on our own (we don't like to be over scheduled, have been there twice). This is not as time efficient but we get to see a city from a different perspective when we do it on our own. Your trip sounds wonderful, have a good time.

Dear Ada,

You must have spent an enormous amount of time writing your response, and I appreciate it so much. It is very, very helpful since we have never traveled this way before. Many of the points you mention, such as checking out the accommodations online, were things that in my gut I thought I should do but didn't know if that was possible. On group tours, it isn't. And we too like to have an English-language station, ideally CNN, available, also.

Your comments about the gulet trip coincided with ones I've read elsewhere. Would you tell me how many days you spent on the gulet and between which two towns it travelled? That might make a difference for me.

I also am familiar with Umit. I actually spoke to him about 15 years ago when I first thought about traveling to Turkey. I liked him.

Thank you again!

Cindy

Dear Sonia,

Thank your your further insights.

One question about Istanbul: Do you think it might be helpful for us to hire a guide for a day or two at the beginning of the stay just to help familiarize us with the city and take us to a few major sights as well? Some people think guides add a lot to their understanding of the major sights.

Thank you in advance.

Cindy

Dear Cindy,

Thank you for your appreciation of my response and the length of time it took to compose it.

The specific ports included in the gulet cruise that I took with Odysseys Unlimited can be found at http://www.odysseysunlimited.com/tours/europe/legendary-turkey. It was 4 nights and 4-1/2 days (Days 9-13 of the tour itinerary). By Day 3 I was outwardly singing the song "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" at our group's lunch table, equating the gulet cruise with the late Allan Sherman's fictitious Camp Granada. By dinner of the same day I was singing "Welcome to the Hotel California". BTW, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) and Adventures Abroad do an identical route on their specific Turkey tours that include the gulet. My understanding is that there are also gulet cruises in the Black Sea region, but I don't know anything about them.

Ada (currently in Santa Fe, NM with Road Scholar)

We visited Turkey in 2004 with OAT as part of their Turkey's Magical Hideaways tour. My responses to your query are based on that experience.

1. Since we traveled as part of a small group tour, I cannot address your specific questions regarding private tours; however, my husband and I frequently commented that we would have felt comfortable traveling independently in 2004 Turkey. Outside the major cities, especially Istanbul, we felt we could have navigated the signs and highways. Had we worked with a travel agent to coordinate itinerary, hotels, and local guides, we feel we would have had a very good experience. Of course, the political situation has changed greatly since then.

2. A big part of the OAT tour is the gulet cruise -- 6 days. We boarded in Finike and cruised west along the coast to Andriake, Myra, Kas, Kalkan, Kayakoy, Gemile Island, Lydea, Caunus, and debarked in Marmaris. We had long hard hikes to see the sites we saw and only brief mid-day stops in the villages we stopped at. We were on the gulet in May -- too cold for swimming. The gulet anchored in remote coves late afternoon while the crew prepared dinner and then the evenings were spent playing board games, reading, or whiling away time. We did not experience local evening life ashore. All in all, we felt we could have used our time better experiencing Turkey without the gulet. Our greatest frustration was the evenings on board. I've mentioned this before in ITN postings only to find others with vigorous disagreement. So, think carefully about your own personal travel style as you select your itinerary.

3. Where for R&R? Of course, you'll want extra time in Istanbul. We stayed at the Hotel Armada, a comfortable hotel within walking distance of Ayasofya, Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar, and other old city sites. From there we flew to Cappadocia. We stayed at the Ahbab Konagi in Uchisar, a small historic hotel built near Uchisar Castle. Other Cappadocia sites are a bit geographically spread. The highlight of our entire trip was the Hot Air Balloon ride among the 'chimneys.' We also were fascinated by a Whirling Dervish performance at the ancient Agzikarahan Caravan site.
But for the true R&R luxury, yes, we suggest Antalya with its proximity to Perge, Aspendos, modern city and yacht harbor. We stayed at the Marina Residence Hotel (www.marinaresidence.net) which I recommend. Our room overlooked the yacht harbor and the narrow walking streets surrounding the hotel are filled with fascinating architecture and shops. From there we were on the gulet until Marmaris and the loop back to Istanbul.

Good luck with your travel plans. Enjoy!

Yes, I forgot to mention that we booked a guide using ITN and intended to have her for two days but decided that after one day with her ( probably not the most experienced person) we explore on our own. She took us to different mosques, showed us the walls, and the Crystal Palace among other things. It was helpful and a truly experienced person would have been even better. I recommend it.

We stayed a few days at the Arcadia and enjoyed it (corner "suite" with views of the Blue Masque and the sea) but at night it was very hot because they turned off the air conditioning and did also during the day making it difficult to rest between day and evening activities. Wanting to experience the other side of the city - 5 minute walk but very different feel- we moved to the Hilton with it's large gardens and quiet feel that was good after several the first nights near the Mosques with their Calls to Prayer. I am glad we stayed on both sides and would do it again. If I had to pick one side I would pick the ancient one.

The guide told us about the mosaics at the Chora Monastery and one day we took a cab there and found it beautiful,
I love Byzantine art. We plan to go back to Chora on our next trip next year.The visit took about 2 hous including travel. After two visits to Istanbul we still have not seen most of the country and want to spend several weeks.
Feel free to ask more questions. Regards.

.

Thank you. Wanda, for your helpful comments and especially the details about the gulet cruise. I think perhaps we would fall in to line with your feelings. I'm starting to think that a one-day boat ride might be best for us. This was actually one reason that I discounted the OAT tour because the gulet cruise was too long.

I appreciate your other details so much as well. I will check out the hotels you mentioned.

Cindy

Thank you, again, Sonia, for these additional details. You have been so helpful.

Cindy

Thank you, Ada, for these additional insights. I'm thinking a one-day boat ride might be more our cup of tea.

Hope you're enjoying your current trip. I've never been to Santa Fe.

Cindy

We visited Turkey in late Sept of 2013 for two weeks. We visited 5 areas — Istanbul, Cappadocia, Fethiye, Pamukkale and Ephesus. It was an amazing trip. Ertunga Ecir was our guide for only the last leg of the trip, but he coordinated the whole itinerary and arranged excellent guides for the other areas we visited as well.I would highly recommend Ertunga as your travel agent and guide without hesitation. He kept to our hotel budget, finding us very good values in each area we visited. He was very good about calling and making sure that we were picked up by drivers and were going to the correct destinations on time. He was very knowledgeable about all areas. More than that, he was extremely nice and welcoming. He brought us to wonderful restaurants and sights and because our schedule was so flexible, he was even able to show us some of the nightlife. We had a blast, and will have great memories that will last forever.When I began researching our trip, I had found other reviews on Trip Advisor that highly recommended his services. So, I reviewed his website (www.ertungaecir.com) and I contacted him via email to see if he could help me too. He was always prompt about returning emails and answered all questions. We made all arrangements via email. While no trip goes without some hiccups, I would have to say that I cannot think of a single thing that went wrong. I placed a lot of trust in him to make arrangements that we would be happy with, and he did a great job.Ertunga is genuinely passionate about providing good service and being a great guide. Turkey is an amazing place, and it I am lucky enough to be able to return, Ertunga definitely will be our guide