Istanbul and Selcuk (Ephesus) Turkey; Travel Logistics and Resources

by wired2theworld on June 26, 2012

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I can’t say “I’ve always wanted to go to Turkey.” In fact, in thinking back to our trip around the world in 1998-99, it wasn’t even on the radar then and I have no idea why. My interest first peaked back in 2006 and for a while my mother and I were planning a trip there but in the end we chose to go to Central Europe instead.

This year, Turkish Airlines started flying nonstop from Los Angeles and offered some tantalizing deals for a 13 hour flight. I’m a sucker for any flight which will get me to my destination without having to change planes. The timing worked with David’s spring break so we jumped in and bought the tickets.

Turkish Airlines

The positives: Great seatback video on demand system. Decent, edible food. Nonstop flights. Turkish Airlines offers free tours of the city, including lunch, if you are doing a stopover in IST for 24 hours or less. We didn’t do one of those tours but they look great if you are stuck with a long layover anyway.

The negatives: Horribly uncomfortable seats in Economy class, to the point where we upgraded to their version of Premium Economy (Comfort Class) on the way home. The seat pitch is so bad David could not put the tray table fully down onto his lap when the seat in front was reclined. Forget about reaching anything under the seat in front of you. In addition, it took 2.5 months to get United Mileage credit despite given them our FF numbers and there’s a definite lack of English with staff both in LAX and at International airport in Istanbul.

Turkish Airline Seats

Turkish Airlines; Economy on the left, Comfort Class on the right.

Arrival at Istanbul International was fine though it took quite a while for our luggage to arrive and when it did it came down to another conveyor belt than the one listed for our flight. We bought our visas on arrival  for $20 each and walked out to meet our ride. There are plenty of ATM machines in the airport, though we did not use them.

 

Izmir Airport

Izmir Airport

Atlas Jet

We flew Atlas Jet to Izmir. I chose them because not only did they have the best price, but they offer a free bus from the airport to the center of Selcuk which the the town connected to the ruins of Ephesus. Since we’d decided not to rent a car, this was a big savings both in time and money. The flight was comfortable and easy, as was the bus ride which took less than an hour.

Tip: when leaving the terminal in Izmir, cross the street and head to the open car park next to the parking structure building across from the terminal. That’s where the Atlas busses park and we had a bit of confusion trying to find them at first.
The bus drops you in the center of Selcuk which for us was only 2 blocks from our hotel. For the return airport bus, go to the municipal building across the street and wait there.

Stop for Atlas Jet bus back to Izmir Airport

Stop for Atlas Jet bus back to Izmir Airport

Local transportation

To and from the Istanbul airport we utilized private transfers booked by our hotels. It was just easier for us and the cost was about 25 euro each way. There is a subway line which goes to the airport however, and from this we would have had to transfer to a tram or bus to get to our hotel. Since each time we came into the city we didn’t know exactly where we were going, it was nice to have the car. Our departures were early both times and again, it was nice not to worry about it.

In town we took the trams frequently which cost 2 TL per ride (about $1.25) and the ferries which cost the same. I’ve read there are passes you can buy but we didn’t.

Tip: Most hotels expect you to pay for the transfers in cash, not as part of your bill on credit card. This happened in both places in Istanbul for us.

Selcuk; while we were there for 2 nights, we din’t use any local transportation. We walked around town and when it came time to visit Ephesus, our hotel brought us there and picked us up for free.

Hotels:

Outside Sari Konak Hotel

Outside the Sari Konak Hotel

Hotel Sari Konak
The Sari Konak is located in the old quarter, Sultanhamet. It’s on a fairly quiet street a bit out of the fray of the tourist center, yet within easy walking distance of every tourist site in the area. Many people warned us against staying here, saying that the touts would be annoying and that there’s a dearth of good food (both somewhat true), but for us, it was a good choice because it allowed us to see everything and return easily to the hotel if needed.

Our room (#202) was a small but sufficient standard room. It had a tiny balcony, but most of it was taken up by the air conditioning unit. After the first night, we noticed that the room next to us was empty and they allowed us to move there for an extra 10 euro a night. This was a much larger and brighter room.

Room 202 Sari Konak Hotel

Room 202 Sari Konak Hotel

Sari Konak room 203

Sari Konak room 203

Breakfast was included in the downstairs dining room, but in warmer weather they have it on the roof. The rooftop terrace was lovely, and I wish we could have used it but it was closed when we were there. It has a great view of both the sea and the Blue Mosque. The rooms have free wifi and they have a computer available for guests in the basement.

Residence La Vue;

The Residence La Vue is less than a year old and consists of 7 apartments. We had the one on the 5th floor and it had a fantastic view of the sea and across to the old town, Topkapi Palace and mosques. This place was twice the size of our hotel room at the Sari Konak for about the same price. We stayed here for the second part of our trip and this allowed us to easily see the more modern part of town. The neighborhood is on the edge of Beyloglu and Chihangir, both considered to be “trendy”. Indeed, there were many cute boutique shops and restaurants in the area. The downside is that it has as many hills as San Francisco and the walk UP to get back to the apartment was a bit of a challenge. We also had to walk uphill to get to Istikal Caddessi and the area around Taksim square.

5th floor apartment La Residence Vue

5th floor apartment La Residence Vue

Night view from La Vue Residence

Night view from Residence La Vue

Ship docking near Istanbul Modern

Ship docking near Istanbul Modern, as seen from our apartment at La Residence Vue.

Hotel Bella, Selcuk

The Hotel Bella has a fantastic location, friendly helpful staff, really good food and inviting restaurant/lounging area on top floor. On the downside, the rooms are super tiny and loaded with knic-knacs. I could do with a little less fringe on the walls if you know what I mean. But the shower was decent and the location (with view on St John’s ruins) was excellent. Wifi is available for free throughout the hotel. Rooms do not have TV.

We had lunch when we arrived in the hotel and it was fantastic (more on the food in a later post). We then took off and did some sightseeing then spent the rest of the day lounging upstairs. We did the same thing the next day and it was very relaxing. We could have visited some other places in the area like Mary’s house, or the village of Sirince, but we just needed a break and for that, it was perfect.

Hotel Bella

Hotel Bella, Selcuk. Our room, top, St Johns, and the hotel dining room/lounge, bottom.

Miscellaneous: 

Being a non muslim in a muslim world;
Call to Prayer: I absolutley loved hearing this, even when it woke me up before dawn every morning. It was soothing and exotic at the same time. When we got home, I found myself missing it for the first few days.
Clothing: Women should cover their heads when visiting mosques and dress nicely. I can’t tell you how many young women I saw dressed not only inappropriately for a mosque, but for just about anywhere but the beach. It was very disrespectful.
I noticed Muslim women in all manners of dress from the typical European (no head covering), to just a headscarf and jeans, to what I called the “raincoat” look, to full coverage with black robes exposing only the eyes. It was fascinating. I saw one woman with this type of full coverage in an Istanbul airport bathroom and she had on the fanciest pair of red high heeled platform shoes I’ve ever seen. Talk about contrasts. As a woman, I never, ever felt uncomfortable in Istanbul.

Restrooms:
If you are in need of a restroom, and can’t find a public one or restaurant, find a mosque. You may have to pay to use it, but they are typically located in the outer courtyard and are very clean. There are also public restrooms (for a fee) at either end of the Galeta Bridge. Many public toilets in Turkey are of the “squat” variety, so be prepared and always have a packet of tissues with you.

Entrance to Men’s restroom. See that table with open bag?  That’s roll your own tobacco, I kid you not.

Internet:
All the places we stayed offered free wifi, and for the most part they all worked without a hitch. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes which offer it as well. I considered renting a MiFi, but at the time of the trip, data charges would have been too expensive.

Travel insurance:
I bought travel insurance  for both of us through World Nomads. After doing quite a bit of research, I’ve found that they suit our needs the best. They offer the things we need, I found the rates to be reasonable, and they have a stellar reputation as well. My only criticism would be that I’d perfer to be able to specific the exact dates of the trip rather than pay for 2 weeks when I only need 10 days. On the other hand, I suspect the prices would not be substantially less. For more on World Nomads travel insurance, see our Travel Insurance page.

Money:
The currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira and at the time of our trip it was about 1.75 TL to $1. We used ATM machines with no problem; I stuck with the HBSC ones as they seemed to always work for us and were easy to use. I used a credit union ATM card which charges 1% per transaction instead of Citibank which charges 3%. We used credit cards a couple of times and both Amex and Mastercard charge 3% for the privilege. I recently got a Chase Sapphire card which has no foreign transaction fees and will be using that on our next trip.

Books and Website Resource Links:
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Istanbul

Knopf MapGuide: Istanbul (Knopf Mapguides)

Istanbul Eats: Exploring the Culinary Backstreets

Chowhound Europe Board (covers Turkey)

Fodor’s Europe Forum

Trip Advisor Forum for Turkey

Turkey Travel Planner

Parla Food Istanbul

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kent @ No Vacation Required June 26, 2012 at 6:59 am

Those regular coach seats sound/look awful. Can’t believe how cramped it was.

If you loved the call to prayer in Turkey, I’m sure you’ll LOVE it in Marrakech. Staying in/near the main square, you will hear and feel it 🙂

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2 wired2theworld June 26, 2012 at 7:08 am

Yes, the seats were horrible. Would have been ok for anything less than say. 4 hours, but for 13 hours? No way! Yes, looking forward to Morocco, but we’re running into some logistical obstacles in trying to GET there!

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3 Jim Twyford June 26, 2012 at 7:45 am

Hi Kristina,
Nice write-up! We enjoyed Turkey immensely, too. It was fun meeting up with Sharon in Istanbul. We had five days there, and could have spent more. Three weeks in country was a pretty nice amount of time to spend overall. We flew Comfort Class, too, and it was nice for the price.
On Sharon’s request, I have been keeping an eye out for any decent fares to Morocco, but it’s looking like flying to a hub in Spain/Portugal then hopping on an LCC or a ferry is the only economical way to get there. My focus is Asia and Star Alliance, so not my area of expertise at all.
We tend to travel where the deals are anyway, rather than picking a destination and making it happen.
I always enjoy reading your work, and thought it was time I said so! One thing, have you looked into an annual travel insurance policy? We have one that works for us (not World Nomads, as they don’t cover travelers over 65), a basic medical/evac with small baggage add-ons, runs a little over US$500 all in for both of us, per year, any trips under 90 days. If you take more than 2 or 3 trips a year, it may work out for you guys, too. World Nomads should have a comparable product.
Thanks again!
Best,
Jim T

Reply

4 wired2theworld June 26, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Jim- Thanks for the response! For us, annual travel insurance doesn’t make sense, yet. We just don’t travel enough, either in length of trips, or amount of trips to justify the cost. But for the sake of comparison, I looked at world nomads and they don’t really offer a comparable product because a year would be for a full year, not one for multiple trips under 90 days. I do hope to get to the point someday where this will be something we have to worry about however. 😉 BTW, world nomads age limit is 67, not 65, for anyone interested.

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5 Peter June 28, 2012 at 1:20 am

Further point of clarification – that World Nomads age limit depends on where you’re from. If you’re travelling from the US, the rules are slightly different to whether you’re travelling from the UK, for example. You can try setting your nationality and you’ll see the age limit change.

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6 wired2theworld June 28, 2012 at 6:09 am

Good point Peter, thanks for the clarification!

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7 Dave June 27, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Great walk-through Kristina! One of those important reads for anyone planning a visit to Ephesus and wanting to know how to do it easily.

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8 wired2theworld June 28, 2012 at 6:10 am

Thanks Dave! I suppose I should mention that it’s possible to take the bus to Selcuk from Istanbul, but it was much faster and easier for us to fly. Trains are a little more complicated in that part of Turkey.

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9 Andrew July 10, 2012 at 12:51 pm

We did Turkey for our honeymoon in April. I didn’t think Turkish airlines inside of Turkey was so bad. We even flew from Switzerland to Istanbul and the seats were ok. I didn’t like that things didn’t run on time and they changed our flight time a few weeks before we flew, but whatever. Kind of wish we had done a few more transfers, especially come back through Istanbul due to the rain, but again whatever. 🙂

Good write up. We loved Ephesus and Selcuk, though we got there via bus. Izmir itself was pretty neat for a single day too.

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