Out of Office: Patricia’s Multi-Generational Trip in Turkey

October 10, 2014 by

Places to Go

Viator’s team of travel insiders is obsessed with finding the best things to do everywhere we travel. From traditional tours to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, everywhere from Australia to Zimbabwe, we spend our time scouring the globe for the best tours and activities around the world.

Whether traveling for work or pleasure (or both!) our staff members are always on the go and we want to share their experiences with you! In this new series, Out of Office, we’ll bring you their stories, highlighting the best things to do and see in destinations around the world, as experienced by a real Viator Insider.

IMG_2536 (1)The Traveler: Patricia Pagenel, Director of Content

What’s your role at Viator? I am responsible for all content published on Viator.com – tour descriptions, destination attractions and recommendations, travel blogs, and customer generated content.

The trip: Turkey for 10 days in June, 2014

Why did you choose this destination? What appealed to you about the place?

Turkey had been on my travel list for a long time. We were traveling with my in-laws so I was looking for something that had lots of history and culture as well as offering amazing scenery, all while being a traveler-friendly destination and safe. Turkey definitely covered these and more, and we all had a blast!

What did you do on the trip?

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We spent a couple of days in Istanbul, discovering the top attractions like Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the little known but most surprising Basilica Cisterns. Istanbul is a huge city, and we could have easily spent double the time there discovering the back streets and little food stores around the city. Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are definitely must-see – for their own beauty as well as their significance in history. Exploring other areas like Beyoglu, with its busy Istiklal Caddesi, relaxing or drinking coffee outside the Galata Tower, or taking a cruise down the Bosphorus River will give you another perspective of Istanbul.

We then spent 6-days traveling across Turkey, from the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, to the white and blue pools of Pammukkale and ruins of Heriapolis, and to the fairy landscape and ancient history of Cappadocia. Ephesus was our first introduction to Greek presence in Turkey, and it was mind blowing to imagine the whole city entirely covered and built out of marble, buzzing with shops and people! The pools of Pammukkale are amazing, striking blue against the white rocks, and it was refreshing to wander by the pools. I have to say that Heriapolis was ever more imposing in my mind, picturing the whole site at its prime.

Finally, we made our way to Capadoccia, known for its eerie landscape and the fairy chimneys and other rock formations. But as we discovered there, these are just a tiny part of what the region has to offer. Finding out how rich in history the area was, back from the early Christians under Roman time up to when the Ottomans arrived was really unexpected. The Goreme Open-Air Museum is a must-do as you get to see amazing paintings from the 6th century, and some as delicate as what you could see back in Europe. Some of the rock formations are still inhabited to this day, making the experience very real.

What was the best experience?

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We went on a hot air balloon in Capaddocia. Flying over the fairy rock formations, actually going into the canyons, almost touching the rose and red rocks was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We had hiked the Red and Pink canyons that same morning, so seeing them from high above made the moment magical.

Did you take any Viator tours?

We first started our week by taking the Eat with a Local tour, which allowed us to enjoy a home cooked meal served by a family in their house. It was a great introduction to Turkish food, as well as taking in the famed Turkish hospitality. From the quality of the food – we had meat-stuffed aubergine served with traditional meze and lentil soup, accompanied by hot tea – to the friendly and welcoming family, it was a great night to start our trip.

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The 6-day Turkey small group tour then took us to some of the most famous attractions in Turkey – gGek Ephesus, Heriopolis and the white pools of Pamukkale, as well as three days in Cappadocia. It also included hotels and flights across Turkey which allowed us to enjoy more time in each destination, with all operational details taken care of. This was the perfect trip for us, and the tour guides helped bring the sites to life.

While in Capaddocia, we decided to treat ourselves with a hot air balloon, and went on a sunrise flight on early morning. A must-do while in Cappadocia, we were transported high up by a pilot expert who had us fly through canyons and around fairy stones.

Finally, we could not leave Istanbul without a Turkish bath experience. We opted for the Cagaloglu Hamman, a 18th-century bath house. This hamman is beautiful, white marble top to bottom, huge domes and large round massage tables. The place was spotless and the masseurs were very friendly and considerate.

Which attraction did you enjoy the most, and why?

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You can’t go to Istanbul and not see the Hagia Sophia – it should be on everyone’s list to see. Granted, it’s busy – very busy – but go early and you will take in the grand attraction to its fullness. Just thinking how old this sight is, and still in one piece, a sight respected by different religions, you admire every stone, every detail, every stained glass work. There are also amazing mosaics from the 12th century, that should not be missed.

What surprised you the most about the destination?

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The most surprising was the mix of European and Middle East culture. Turkey feels very Western in many aspects, but has a dominating Asian culture. With this unique culture and the mosques and the sounds of the prayers, Turkey and Istanbul really have a foot in both Europe and Asia

What sight, activity, or experience would you tell people they should not skip?

In Istanbul, the Basilica Cisterns are lesser known the majestic Hagia Sofia or Blue Mosque, but definitely worth the discovery. These are the ancient cisterns holding the water for the city. No longer used today, you can visit the huge underground and enjoy a very relaxing moment, and a good way to get out of the heat for a while. You can even have a coffee or cold drink there!

What was the best thing you ate or drank?

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Between doner kebab, shish kebab, yummy meze (traditional appetizers with hummus, yogurt, olives, feta cheese, cucumber salad, dips of all kinds), lokum or Turkish delights, raki, baklava, the journey through Turkish food is endless. But if I really had to pick one thing to eat, it would be the kunefe, a cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup – served lukewarm, it’s melting in your mouth! And for drink, the Turkish tea made my day, and several time a day! It was smooth and slightly sweet (one could always add more!) and had no bitterness at all, a real treat all day long. Even my coffee lover buddy and father-in-law loved their Turkish tea!

What are your top three recommendations to any visitor?

  • Try a new food every day. You can have something different every day and not eat the same thing twice in 2 weeks. Turkey is such a big country that you can discover different flavors in each area.
  • Learn some Turkish. A simple Merhaba (Hello), Tesekkur ederim (Thank you), Lutfen (Please) and counting until 10 will get you a long way, or at least will get you even bigger smiles.
  • Walk and walk. The best way to discover Istanbul is to walk around, getting yourself lost in small streets, so that you can discover small shops, people doing their shopping, kids coming back from schools, family relaxing and having picnic in parks – this is also what the country is about, beyond attractions and monuments, it’s how the people live their lives that makes the destination colorful and lively.

What’s the best Insider Tip you can offer future visitors to this destination?

Turkey and Istanbul are so rich in culture, history, food, attractions, that you will wanting to see and do more every day. Make sure to let some downtime aside, to relax with a hot tea at a coffee place, by the side of the Galata Tower, by the side of the Eminonu Square, or in a small village in Cappadocia.

Where are you off to next?

We are planning to go to Argentina this winter, hiking around Mt Fitz and Torres del Paine in Patagonia, and cruising along the Beagle Channel in Terra del Fuego.

 – Patricia Pagenel 

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