1 TIP for visiting Turkey

BLUE MOSQUE

turkish tryptic

We expected Istanbul to be the highlight of our recent Eastern Mediterranean Cruise. It is the worlds 5th largest city, and the furthest East I have ever been. We planned ahead and hired a guild for 4 hours; I combed TripAdvisor and travel books and found a company with great recommendations. I will happily share info if you send me an email at hollee@moxiblog.com. I feel that this tip is the most important element to enjoying a visit to Turkey, after all you probably spent big bucks getting there, might as well enjoy it! GET A REAL ENGLISH SPEAKING TOUR GUIDE. Our guide was punctual and helpful and polite and really nice to the kids -we highly recommend him. He bought snacks, made all the arrangements, taught us about history and religion and even helped us buy medicine for Spartacus’ head cold. He new every date, every battle, every dead person and where they were buried, he shared info on every type of column and fresco and mosaic made in the last 5000 years. He maneuvered us through lines, around crowds, and past beggars and with the snap of a finger produced Turkish candies and warm bread and chocolate from the food vendors. We were never hassled for ID’s, we never felt unsafe, we never felt intimidated, or nervous or stressed about time or security. He carried Coco on his shoulders and routinely corralled the kids in a open corner while we were free to get photos and see details up close. He helped us get to the most significant sites in Istanbul and to understand what made them so awesome. It was a terrific contrast to the day before. My best tip to enjoying Turkey is PAY THE MONEY- GET A REAL ENGLISH SPEAKING TOUR GUIDE. I never ran across this advice while doing my planning for our cruise so I am sharing this one-and-only tip.

IGNORE AXEL. HE'S 8
I think that most European city’s are totally manageable with-out guides, but Turkey is a different animal. Their cultural norms including: everyday encounters with real poverty, confusing approach to traffic lanes, and some seriously aggressive salesmanship are difficult for normal westerners to navigate.

blue mosque.interior with family

izmir dave with moslim wife

family photo looking at sun
Our first day in Turkey was spent in Izmir ( not a place on my travel radar – truth is I had never heard of it until we booked the cruise) was not a highly anticipated stop. Originally we had hoped the weather would be warm enough to do some diving or a day at the beach, but a few weeks ago the reality of European weather left me researching a plan B. Izmir is home to, and surrounded by, many historical and Biblically significant sites. We visited Ephesus (The city was famed for the Temple of Artemis (550 BC), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) and was home to the apostle Paul for about 3 years during which time he delivered the famous sermon condemning the silversmiths and was illegally arrested and beaten).

thorntons in front of coloseaum

We got ripped off on admission for Axel because children under 12 are supposed to be free. Unfortunately MSC’s cruise policy is to  keep passports, and supposedly we weren’t supposed to need ID, but if only we had had A REAL ENGLISH SPEAKING TOUR GUIDE, we probably would not have had a slight altercation, been subtly threatened by the VERY UNPLEASANT MAN AT THE ADMISSION SHACK. I digress…. I won’t rant about the people who are there to swindle tourist, and I suspect, subsidize their paychecks. But, I will note that it was somewhat stressful and exhausting. Back on board the ship later that night we reflected on the sites in Izmir and the potential for a really amazing experience and agree that we could have benefited from A REAL ENGLISH SPEAKING TOUR GUIDE.

wow2

Unfortunately I did not know this the day we visited, nor do I have a referral. From the moment you get off the boat, you are looking for transportation opportunities to Ephesus – about an hour drive. I do not recommend trying to rent a car and driving yourself. In short, driving/parking in Turkey will be a nightmare, being a passenger is hard enough. We were in a hurry because we were only in port for about 5 hours and the round trip drive time to Ephesus is aver 2 hours. We did not see any shuttle services and were traveling with several other American families so we opted for the taxi service (in hindsight we could probably have negotiated a good price in advance~with the power of quantity in our favor, but we didn’t). We felt pretty cocky after getting the “taxi representative” to go down on price 30 Euro, and in the end we all agree our driver did a good job, more than I expected from a taxi driver.  But until we were back to the ship safely,  I was never quite sure if at any moment he would sell us to Al-Qaeda. He also seemed to have divided interest, perhaps the old “I will take you to my friend’s rug shop and my brothers shoe shop and the cousins pottery shop ring a bell”? He didn’t seem to speak English, but then again, we aren’t totally sure because at times he seemed to understand things like “Do you take cash or credit card?”, and at other times there was not a glimmer of comprehension- like when I said “no, we aren’t interested in buying rugs and cheap knock-off handbags”. A REAL ENGLISH SPEAKING TOUR GUIDE would have come in handy. Izmir had a lot to offer. Our taxi driver drove us all around, occasionally he would suddenly stop and direct me to get out of the car, sometimes I wondered if this was the moment that Al-Qaeda would surround us and throw a black bag over my head (have I watched too many episodes of Homeland). Turned out that he only wanted me to take photos of famous sites- problem was, I had no idea what they were until later when I looked it up. A REAL ENGLISH SPEAKING TOUR GUIDE would have come in handy. So the moral of the story is – whether you think you can wing it and hire somebody once you are on the ground in Turkey, or whether you book a recommended and licensed specialist ahead of time… Get A REAL ENGLISH SPEAKING TOUR GUIDE.

sophia with rugs

***In Istanbul, the friends we were traveling with were able to get a guide (UN-certified) on the fly when they hired a driver. He spent all day with them and helped managed the whole large group (6 adults & 12 children) for a fraction of the price we paid. I can also send you his contact info if you email me.

Have you been to Turkey or somewhere that threw you for a loop? Ever been on a vacation and got hijacked by a taxi driver? Have you ever wished you had a vacation do-over?