Thursday, May 1, 2014

Greece and Turkey - Santorini, Mykonos, Cappadocia, and Istanbul

Greece and Turkey - Santorini, Mykonos, Cappadocia, and Istanbul


Top: Hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey. Bottom left: view during breakfast in Santorini, Greece. Bottom right: Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet) in Istanbul, Turkey.

Also known as the time I joined my friends Trisha and Abhi, a married couple, on a 2 week vacation to Greece and Turkey! Let me give you the back story... My (now) husband had already been to Greece and Turkey so I knew my chances of going would be limited. I would be going on this trip a month before our wedding - doesn't absence make the heart grow fonder? And I'd be vacationing with one of the coolest couples I know. So when they asked if I was interested, I jumped at the chance!

Trisha and Abhi were traveling for a month and Greece and Turkey were to be the last 2 countries they visited. The plan was for me to meet them in Athens and we'd finish the rest of the journey together. If you know me, you'd know that I have mass anxiety about traveling alone to a foreign country, even if all I had to do was land in Athens airport and find my way to our airbnb apartment. My mind automatically goes to dark corners and imagines everything that can go wrong. To prepare, I studied bus routes, maps, street view near the apartment, and saved a picture of the walking route from the nearest bus stop.

I got to the apartment without incident and after a so-so dinner (we should've listened to Trisha and not let the taxi driver bring us to an "authentic" Greek place) we settled in so we could wake up super early to catch our 7am ferry to Santorini.

We traveled in October 2013 and our itinerary was:
  • Santorini, Greece - 3 days
  • Mykonos, Greece - 2 days
  • Cappadocia, Turkey - 2 days (I got my Turkey e-Visa online at https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/ - it was super easy! I printed it and taped it into my passport and I was ready to go.)
  • Istanbul, Turkey - 4 days
We booked all accommodations ahead of time except for Myknonos because we heard from friends that ferry schedules weren't reliable on account of the weather.

Santorini, Greece - 3 days
  • We bought tickets online ahead of time but it turned out the ferry company we bought tickets from canceled their trip. We went to another pier at the Port of Piraeus and bought tickets from another operator, Blue Star Ferries. It was a little chaotic but it all worked out in the end. We paid for a cabin so we could nap during the 8.5 hour journey.
Santorini bound - Getting on the 7am ferry
Santorini bound - Getting on the 7am ferry

Santorini - Mass exodus off the ferry
Santorini - Mass exodus off the ferry
  • Once we arrived on Santorini we took a taxi to Oia to get settled into our airbnb cave house. Yep, cave house. Our house was located right by the main Oia shopping path with restaurants, boutiques, and amazing views of the Aegean Sea.
  • I expected to see postcard-worthy views and I wasn't disappointed. Houses are painted white with beautiful blue shutters, domes, and doors - these were really amazing photo opportunities. Two things I didn't expect to see: weddings and donkeys. Santorini is no doubt picturesque so I must've seen at least 20 couples posing in full wedding attire. And then I saw donkeys - turns out they give tourists a ride up steep switchbacks from the old port of Fira. More on that later!
Santorini - Heading to Oia
Santorini - Heading to Oia

Santorini - The view a few steps away from our cave house
Santorini - The view a few steps away from our cave house

Santorini - The view during dinner
Santorini - The view during dinner

Santorini - Dinner our first night in Santorini
Santorini - Dinner our first night in Santorini

Santorini - Shops and restaurants along the main walk way in Oia
Santorini - Shops and restaurants along the main walk way in Oia

Santorini - The main walk way clears up pretty early at night
Santorini - The main walk way clears up pretty early at night

Santorini - View during breakfast
Santorini - View during breakfast

Santorini - The views are amazing
Santorini - The views are amazing

Santorini - We met up with Trisha & Abhi's friends Ratan & Roop
Santorini - We met up with Trisha & Abhi's friends Ratan & Roop

Santorini - Amazing views
Santorini - Amazing views

Santorini - Catching the sunset with Trisha & Abhi and Ratan & Roop
  • We took a 3-hour sunset cruise on our last full day in Santorini. We departed from the old port of Fira, docked at the small port of Nea Kameni with its active volcano, swam in hot springs (they were really more lukewarm than hot) off the island of Palea Kameni, and watched the sunset from the water before returning to the old port of Fira.
Santorini - Hiking on volcano island which still has smoking craters
Santorini - Hiking on volcano island which still has smoking craters

Santorini - Next to one of the smoking craters on the volcano
Santorini - Posing next to one of the smoking craters of the volcano

Santorini - Our cruise ship for the day
Santorini - Our cruise ship for the day

Santorini - View of the old port of Fira in the back. We'll ride donkeys to get back to the top!
Santorini - View of the old port of Fira. Later we'll ride donkeys to get back to the top!

Santorini - Watching the sun set from our boat
Santorini - Watching the sun set from our boat

Santorini - It was either walk or ride a donkey back up to the top so ride a donkey we did!
Santorini - It was either walk or ride a donkey back up to the top so ride a donkey we did!

Santorini - Breakfast of greek yogurt, honey, walnuts, and hazelnuts. Delicious!

Santorini - Donkeys heading to work
Santorini - Donkeys heading to work

Mykonos bound - Another ferry ride
  • We booked a ticket aboard a Hellenic Seaways ferry to travel from Santorini to Mykonos. Cost was about US$84 per person. It was a quick 3 hour ride.
  • We booked a hotel on Mykonos after we booked our ferry. I'm so thankful for smartphones!
Mykonos, Greece - 2 days
  • We were going to Cappadocia, Turkey next but we didn't have our travel booked yet. On Mykonos we found a travel counter and booked our ferry back to Athens and bought plane tickets online with Pegasus Airlines to travel from Athens airport to Kayseri airport. All that was left to arrange was transportation from Kayseri airport to our hotel in Cappadocia. More about that later!
  • We didn't do a lot on Mykonos - walked around, shopped, and visited Paradise Beach.
Mykonos - First photo opp was of these cute kittens near our hotel
Mykonos - First photo opp was of these cute kittens near our hotel

Mykonos - I love pictures of old doors
Mykonos - I love pictures of old doors

Mykonos - Beautiful winding streets full of boutique shops
Mykonos - Beautiful winding streets full of boutique shops

Mykonos - Trisha poses in one of the many doorways
Mykonos - Trisha poses in one of the many doorways

Mykonos - All the shops look pristine
Mykonos - All the shops look pristine

Mykonos - I'm loving those weather-beaten doors
Mykonos - I'm loving those weather-beaten doors

Mykonos - Beautifully maintained buildings
Mykonos - Beautifully maintained buildings

Mykonos - Beautifully maintained buildings
Mykonos - Beautifully maintained buildings

Mykonos - Exploring the windy streets
Mykonos - Exploring the windy streets

Mykonos - On the bus heading to Paradise Beach
Mykonos - On the bus heading to Paradise Beach

Mykonos - Paradise Beach
Mykonos - Paradise Beach

Mykonos - Bradley Cooper loves Haagen-Dazs
Mykonos - Hi Bradley Cooper! I love seeing American movie stars selling products overseas. Fun fact: did you know that "Danish-sounding" Haagen-Dazs is a made-up name? It was invented by Polish-born American Reuben Mattus who wanted the name of his ice cream to be unique and original. Mattus sold Haagen-Dazs to Pillsbury in 1983. General Mills bought Pillsbury in 2001 and produces Haagen-Dazs products through its Nestle's subsidiary Dreyer's.
  • We took a 3 hour ferry ride from Mykonos back to Athen's Port of Piraeus. Ferry tickets were about US$77 per person.
  • From Athens Airport we flew on Pegasus Air to Kayseri Airport to get to Cappadocia, Turkey. We had to switch planes at Sabiha Gökçen Airport (SAW) in Istanbul so our route was ATH-SAW-ASR. Flights were US$475 per person.
  • We reached Kayseri Airport at around 10pm and what happened next was quite an ordeal. Remember how we needed to arrange an airport transfer to our hotel? :o)
Cappadocia, Turkey - 2 days
  • Trisha booked a room for us at the Cappadocia Cave Suites and while we were on Mykonos she had been trying to arrange for an airport transfer for us with the staff at the Cappadocia Cave Suites. She emailed them our arrival info a few times but no one confirmed with her. See reviews of Cappadocia Cave Suites on TripAdvisor.
  • In Cappadocia passengers must arrange an airport transfer ahead of time in order to board a shuttle - you can't just get on a shuttle at the airport. If a shuttle driver is caught driving extra passengers, he'll be fined. We flagged down a tour guide who called Cappadocia Cave Suites for us - they didn't have us booked on a shuttle! We were on our own. The tour guide recommended we take a taxi and have the hotel pay for it. It was 10:30pm, the airport was deserted, and we were freezing.
  • We ended up taking a taxi to our hotel (he charged us double the cost of a shuttle ride). Taxis can only travel within certain zones so part way into our hour long taxi ride, our driver pulled into a gas station and asked us to switch to another taxi. I thought we were being kidnapped! We climbed into the new taxi and arrived at our hotel close to midnight.
  • Trisha and Abhi are an amazing team - they explained to the manager that for the last few days we had been trying to arrange for a shuttle ride from the airport but no one confirmed. We had to find our own way via taxi and we wanted the hotel to pay for it, which they did. Phew. We spent the whole day traveling so we asked where we could find something to eat. Unfortunately, everything was closed at that hour.
  • We got settled into our room for the night and 10 minutes later there was a knock on the door. It was one of the staff members who must've felt bad for us so he brought us a tray loaded with dried fruit, nuts, biscuits, and fruit juice. Dinner! We were very appreciative.
  • The next morning we booked a private Red Tour with a driver and a guide to visit the Goreme Open Air Museum, fairy chimneys, lunch, and a panoramic view. Later that night we went to see a performance of Whirling Dervishes.
Cappadocia - Our cave sweet cave for 2 nights
Cappadocia - Our cave sweet cave for 2 nights

Cappadocia - The grounds of Cappadocia Cave Suites
Cappadocia - The grounds of Cappadocia Cave Suites

Cappadocia - Market close to our hotel
Cappadocia - Market close to our hotel

Cappadocia - Caves and city streets
Cappadocia - Caves and city streets, quite an interesting mix

Cappadocia - Residential caves near our hotel
Cappadocia - Residential caves near our hotel

Cappadocia - Goreme Open Air Museum
Cappadocia - Goreme Open Air Museum contains the remains of many churches carved into the Cappadocia stone. Read reviews on TripAdvisor.

Cappadocia -  Dining table
Cappadocia -  Dining table inside one of the caves at the Goreme Open Air Museum 

Cappadocia - Me with Trisha and Abhi
Cappadocia - Me with Trisha and Abhi

Cappadocia - Some of the churches can only be reached by climbing some narrow stairs
Cappadocia - Some of the churches can only be reached by climbing some narrow stairs

Cappadocia - Fairy Chimneys
Cappadocia - Fairy Chimneys 

Cappadocia - We get to go inside homes made out of Fairy Chimneys rock formations
Cappadocia - We get to go inside homes made out of Fairy Chimneys rock formations

Cappadocia - Imagine climbing up these stairs! No thank you.
Cappadocia - Imagine climbing up these stairs! No thank you. I took this picture from the ground floor looking up a stairwell that went to another floor.

Cappadocia - Neighboring Fairy Chimneys
Cappadocia - Neighboring Fairy Chimneys

Cappadocia - We visited a pottery factory and got to try making some pottery
Cappadocia - We visited a pottery factory and got to try making some pottery

Cappadocia - My finished piece. It's abstract.
Cappadocia - My finished piece. It's abstract.

Cappadocia - Trisha gives it a whirl
Cappadocia - Trisha gives it a whirl

Cappadocia - Finished pieces by the master (left), mine (center), and Trisha's (right)
Cappadocia - Finished pieces by the master (left), mine (center), and Trisha's (right)

Cappadocia - Workers hand-painting platters
Cappadocia - Workers hand-painting platters

Cappadocia - Workers hand-painting platters
Cappadocia - Workers hand-painting platters

Cappadocia - Workers hand-painting platters
Cappadocia - Workers hand-painting platters

Cappadocia - Hand-painted platters for sale
Cappadocia - Finished hand-painted platters for sale

Cappadocia - Rock formations - can you see the camel?
Cappadocia - Rock formations - can you spot the camel? 

Cappadocia - View of the valley
Cappadocia - View of the valley

Cappadocia - Beautiful view of the city lights
Cappadocia - Beautiful view of the city lights

Cappadocia - Going to a performance of Whirling Dervishes
Cappadocia - Going to a performance of Whirling Dervishes

Cappadocia - Whirling Dervishes
Cappadocia - Whirling Dervishes - you watch these men spinning continuously for about 30 minutes; the dance represents the human being's spiritual journey and how the fundamental condition of our existence is to revolve
  • The next morning we woke up super early (3am? I can't remember) to go hot air ballooning. We booked a flight with Turkiye Balloons. The were very professional and a ton of fun. They picked us up from our hotel, we enjoyed a breakfast at their facilities, and then we drove out to the hot air balloon site all before sunrise. Read reviews for Turkiye Balloons on TripAdvisor.
  • We paid 120 Euros (cheaper if you pay cash) each for the ride. The basket fit about 22 people total.
  • It was super cold in the morning so we bundled up - I wore almost every shirt, cardigan, scarf, and jacket I had!
Cappadocia - Firing up the hot air balloon
Cappadocia - Firing up the hot air balloon

Cappadocia - Ready for take-off!
Cappadocia - Ready for take-off!

Cappadocia - Sun is rising and so are we
Cappadocia - Sun is rising and so are we

Cappadocia - Incredible views of the rock formations below
Cappadocia - Incredible views of the rock formations below

Cappadocia - It's fun to look at other hot air balloons and the scenery
Cappadocia - It's fun to look at other hot air balloons and the scenery

Cappadocia - The skyline is filled with balloons
Cappadocia - The skyline is filled with balloons

Cappadocia - Navigating over the landscape
Cappadocia - Navigating over the landscape

Cappadocia - The terrain looks so interesting from this height
Cappadocia - The terrain looks so interesting from this height

Cappadocia - Partial view of the city below
Cappadocia - Partial view of the city below

Cappadocia - Our pilot keeps us on course
Cappadocia - Our pilot keeps us on course

Cappadocia - Viewing rock formations
Cappadocia - Viewing rock formations

Cappadocia - Post-landing celebration
Cappadocia - Post-landing celebration

Cappadocia - We proudly show off our certificates
Cappadocia - We proudly show off our certificates
  • Later in the afternoon we went on a group Green Tour that included visiting underground cities Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. We capped off the day with a hike in Ihlara Valley. 
Cappadocia - Navigating the underground cities
Cappadocia - Navigating the underground cities

Cappadocia - Trisha and Abhi make their way up an underground narrow stairway
Cappadocia - Trisha and Abhi make their way up an underground narrow stairway

Cappadocia - Hiking in Ihlara Valley
Cappadocia - Hiking in Ihlara Valley

Cappadocia - Woman making gözleme, a pastry made of hand-rolled dough stuffed with various savory fillings
Cappadocia - At a restaurant in Ihlara Valley we saw a woman making gözleme, a pastry made of hand-rolled dough stuffed with various savory fillings

Cappadocia - Interesting view of a city among the rugged terrain
Cappadocia - Interesting view of a city among the rugged terrain

Istanbul, Turkey - 4 days
  • We flew Turkish Airlines from Nevşehir (NAV) to Istanbul (IST). Tickets cost about US$68 per person.
  • We stayed at an Airbnb apartment that was walking distance to the Blue Mosque
Istanbul - Visitors can only enter the Blue Mosque after prayer is finished
Istanbul - Visitors can only enter the Blue Mosque after prayer is finished

Istanbul - Close-up of some of the domes of the Blue Mosque
Istanbul - Close-up of some of the domes of the Blue Mosque

Istanbul - Stray dogs
Istanbul - There are a bunch of stray dogs running around Istanbul. They mind their own business and generally leave you alone. We saw some that were tagged so I assume they were vaccinated and spayed/neutered. More about stray dogs later...

Istanbul - Inside the Blue Mosque everyone must remove their shoes and women must cover their hair
Istanbul - Inside the Blue Mosque everyone must remove their shoes and women must cover their hair

Istanbul - The ceiling and lights inside the Blue Mosque are amazing
Istanbul - The ceiling and lights inside the Blue Mosque are amazing

Istanbul - There's certainly a crowd of visitors
Istanbul - There's certainly a crowd of visitors

Istanbul - The carpet inside is colorful and very comfortable
Istanbul - The carpet inside is colorful and very comfortable

Istanbul - This isn't at the Blue Mosque but muslims wash their hands and feet prior to entering a mosque
Istanbul - This isn't at the Blue Mosque but muslims wash their hands and feet prior to entering a mosque 

Istanbul - We visited Topkapi Palace - the workmanship on these doors is stunning
Istanbul - We visited Topkapi Palace - the workmanship on these doors is stunning

Istanbul - One of the many chambers in Topkapi Palace
Istanbul - One of the many chambers in Topkapi Palace

Istanbul - At the Spice Bazaar
Istanbul - At the Spice Bazaar

Istanbul - The Spice Bazaar is know for dried fruit, nuts, candy, and of course, spices
Istanbul - The Spice Bazaar is know for dried fruit, nuts, candy, and of course, spices

Istanbul - Spices at the Spice Bazaar
Istanbul - Spices at the Spice Bazaar

Istanbul - Dried fruit and nuts at the Spice Bazaar
Istanbul - Dried fruit and nuts at the Spice Bazaar

Istanbul - We took a cooking class with Cooking Alaturka. We're removing the skin from roasted eggplant.
Istanbul - We took a cooking class with Cooking Alaturka. We're removing the skin from roasted eggplant. Read reviews for Cooking Alaturka on TripAdvisor. Honestly I thought the class was just okay. Our instructor was kind of strict so it wasn't as much fun as other classes I've taken.

Istanbul - Taking a break at Cooking Alaturka
Istanbul - Taking a break at Cooking Alaturka

Istanbul - Topping off dishes of hummus
Istanbul - Topping off dishes of hummus

Istanbul - Our classmates and instructors
Istanbul - Our classmates and instructors

Istanbul - One of our instructors "helps" a student make Turkish coffee
Istanbul - One of our instructors "helps" a student make Turkish coffee

Istanbul - One of our instructors makes Turkish coffee
Istanbul - One of our instructors makes Turkish coffee
  • We visited Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami for a traditional Turkish bath experience - it's a popular facility so we booked ahead of time. I opted for a body scrub, bubble wash, and massage. Let me just say that if you go with friends, your friendship will never be the same! I've never been scrubbed and bathed before by someone else (well, not since I was a baby) and it's quite another experience to go through it with a friend. I couldn't take any pictures inside obviously but you're basically roaming around naked - you lounge around in these warm marble holding areas. There are faucets everywhere so you just pour water over yourself while you wait. When it's your turn to get scrubbed down, an attendant will loofah you all over and wash your hair. Then you're taken to the center of the bath and you lie down while they cover you in bubbles and massage you. They rinse you off and then shuttle you over to another section for an oil massage. I fell asleep during my massage - it was that relaxing! Read reviews for Ayasofya Hamami on TripAdvisor.
  • One night we finished dinner pretty late and started walking back to our apartment at around midnight. Our apartment was about a 10 minute walk from where we finished dinner and our route took us along the Blue Mosque. We were used to seeing stray dogs throughout the city and on our walk back that night we were joined by 1 or 2 strays and within 30 seconds we were surrounded by new fewer than 6 dogs! Trisha and I were a little frightened - the dogs would weave in-between us and nearly bump into us, forcing us to stop abruptly and change course. They would snap at each other occasionally. We were afraid they would attack us but Abhi was pretty sure they just wanted to play or were looking for food. We tried to keep calm and just look ahead (don't look them in the eye!). Meanwhile I was busy looking for trees or a fence I could climb in case I needed to escape! But by the time we passed by the Blue Mosque and entered into a more residential area the dogs dropped off and we were alone again. Phew! We made a mental note to not walk around again at such a late hour.
Istanbul - The Blue Mosque at night is really beautiful
Istanbul - The Blue Mosque at night is really beautiful

Istanbul - Color-lit fountain against The Blue Mosque
Istanbul - Color-lit fountain against The Blue Mosque

Istanbul - Side street near Taksim Square
Istanbul - Side street near Taksim Square

Istanbul - Baklava at Karakoy Gulluoglu
Istanbul - One of my friends recommended getting baklava at Karakoy Gulluoglu (Mumhane Cad. No:171 Karakoy, Istanbul, Turkey). He said it's the best and it was delicious! They won't serve you during prayer so just be prepared to wait. Read reviews for Karakoy Gulluoglu on TripAdvisor.

Istanbul - Interesting art for sale. I love the creativity!
Istanbul - Interesting art for sale. I love the creativity!

Istanbul - Market just outside the Grand Bazaar
Istanbul - Market just outside the Grand Bazaar

Istanbul - Entrance to the Grand Bazaar
Istanbul - Entrance to the Grand Bazaar

Istanbul - Merchants sell rugs, textiles, jewelry at the Grand Bazaar
Istanbul - Merchants sell rugs, textiles, jewelry at the Grand Bazaar

Istanbul - We picked up some Turkish Delight at the Grand Bazaar
Istanbul - We picked up some Turkish Delight at the Grand Bazaar

Istanbul - I'm a big transit buff so I was super excited to get a Turkish metro card!
Istanbul - I'm a big transit buff so I was super excited to get a Turkish metro card!

My metro card collection
Turkish metro card added to my metro card collection!
Top row left to right: Tokyo, London, Istanbul
2nd row L to R: Hong Kong, New York City, Paris
3rd row L to R: Chicago, Washington DC, Hong Kong
Bottom row L to R: Budapest, Boston, Amsterdam

If you enjoyed reading this travel blog please check out posts about my other trips:
Happy traveling and thanks for reading!

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for your tips on Cappadocia and Istanbul. The cooking class is one thing I SHOULD have done. and going back in May, it looks like you got amazing prices on the balloon rides. We paid 150-175 euros per person, while you got a great price at 120. Very worth it, still.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Philip! Yes, definitely take a cooking class but I would try another place. Our chef was a bit too strict which took the fun out of it.

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