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Posts Tagged ‘Bartering’

Getaway Dossier: What to know before you go to Turkey

When we introduced our new Taste of Turkey tour last week, there were a lot of things I wanted to tell travelers about Turkey in our press release. Things like, what types of foods are served there? How should you dress? What should you pack? What’s the climate like?

But there’s only so much you can fit into a press announcement.

So I decided to start a series on the blog called Getaway Dossier. Here, I’ll share the information I’ve learned over the years so you can get to know Friendly Planet’s fascinating destinations before you go.

I’ll cover the great places to eat, landmarks to visit, and all the essentials you shouldn’t forget to take with you.

Since Turkey is top of mind, I’ll start there. Here we go!

Weather: Know the seasons. Turkey has the most temperate weather in the spring (April and May) and the fall (September and October). These months are also the busiest tourist seasons. Spring and fall have the least amount of rain and the most comfortable temperatures. In the winter, travelers can take their pick of numerous winter resorts. This is also when you typically find the best travel deals. The country can be quite warm in the summer and travelers should prepare accordingly with sunblock and sunscreen. Overall, it’s a great destination to travel to year round.

Food: Order a cabbage dolma and a doner kebab. A can’t miss Turkish dish is cabbage dolma. It’s a combination of sauteed rice, pine-nuts, currants, spices, and herbs, all tightly wrapped in translucent cabbage leaves. There’s also baklava and many “muhallebis” (pudding shops) with dozens of different types of milk puddings. But my favorite Turkish dish is doner kebabs. They’re made from rotisserie grilled and sliced lamb meat cooked on vertical spits. The edges are shaved off, and the meat is served on a bed of bread, salad, or pilav rice. When you’re in Turkey, you can’t miss these kebabs. They’re a common meal here, and it’s easy to find them in any metropolitan area.


Currency: Lira or euros? The primary currency is the lira, but many stores will post prices in both lira and euros. As with many countries in Europe, Turkey sometimes includes tip on restaurant bills and other services, so check before tipping extra. However, in upscale restaurants, a good practice is to tip 10 percent additional, even if the tip has already been included on the bill. And speaking of tipping, tip porters three million lira and tip tour guides around five to 10 U.S.D.

Landmarks: It’s a grand time at the Grand Bazaar. One of my favorite places in Turkey is the Grand Bazaar. It has over 4,000 shops on 58 covered streets. Any shopper would get lost in the sea of jewelry, rugs, leather goods, tiles, pipes, painted ceramics, and antiques available here, many of which are handmade. Bartering is customary and a good rule of thumb is to initially offer 25 percent of the price you are willing to pay. Most shop keepers are hardworking, honest people but if you do buy an antique, be sure to obtain an official permit to export it.

Don’t forget: Sneaks and sunscreen. Turkey is rich in history and archaeological sites and much of its ancient architecture and cobblestone streets still stand today. While beautiful to experience, this means some walkways can be tricky to navigate. A good pair of walking sneakers or sandals is important for a pleasant sight-seeing experience. Sunscreen and a hat are also great items to bring along, as you will probably spend a decent amount of your time out and about enjoying the history and culture of the country. These are general guidelines for any destination, but are especially important when visiting a country as full of archaeological history as Turkey.

Culture: Modesty is important. Like many European countries, it’s considered respectful to dress modestly when entering a place of religious worship. Women should cover their shoulders and wear modest-length shorts, and everyone should remove their hats and sunglasses inside. In case you’re wearing summer clothes and decide to visit a place of worship while on the go, most will provide a shawl to cover exposed shoulders and legs.

Turkey is a destination for every lover of architecture and history. The country finds its roots in Greek, Roman, and early Christian history. It’s even the site of an epic WWI battle, the Gallipoli Campaign. You’ll notice how it’s Eastern and Western influences mingle in everything you see. Turkey’s language is based in Latin, so English-speakers will have a general understanding of some street signs. However, the tiles of the buildings have a distinguished Eastern influence.

Our Taste of Turkey tour has seven departures leaving from November until March 2012, so there are a lot of opportunities in the future to see what this historic country has to offer. You can visit our website for the full itinerary. And as always, feel free to write to me or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team if you have any questions about booking a trip to Turkey.

Fourth edition of a first-hand look at the Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise

When I ended my last post in this series, recounting the Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise, my friends and I had just found our way out of the Mykonos maze.

A. Mykonos. B. Kusadasi.

We spent our first night aboard the Aquamarine and woke up to views of colorful Kusadasi, Turkey. The geographically challenged (myself included) might be wondering how we ended up in Turkey on a cruise in the Greek Isles.

If you pull out a map, like I had to, you’ll see that Turkey also borders the Aegean Sea, and isn’t far from Mykonos or Patmos, another island we’d soon visit.

First order of business in Kusadasi, according to our tour guide, Izzy: Learn how to pronounce the name of this town. It’s koo-SHAH-dah-suh, not KOOS-uh-DASS-see. The incorrect pronunciation translates to Bird Island. Saying that to a local would be pretty embarrassing.

Kusadasi, Turkey

Kusadasi was the first place where I opted in for a shore excursion — a visit to Ephesus. This is the second most well-preserved ancient site in the world (after Pompeii, the city that was buried in ash after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.). Ephesus is located near Selcuk, Turkey, a 30-minute drive from Kusadasi.

Ephesus was first an ancient Greek City, and then a major Roman city. In fact, in the first century B.C. it was the second largest city in the world with a population of 250,000.

Izzy, was in a BIG hurry to get us to the site of Ephesus that morning. Why? Because when you’re the first to enter the city, you have some incredible, unobstructed views (and photo opps) of the ruins and the valley. It’s pretty rare to get a shot like the one below that isn’t packed with tourists. Be jealous. :)

Tourist free Ephesus

We saw some incredible things at the archeological site. It’s actually the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Izzy’s descriptions of what the site once looked like brought the city to life.

We saw marks that carts made in the stone pathways more than a thousand years ago, beautiful Roman-style columns, intricate lettering carved in stone, and most notably, the Library of Celsus. It was once home to over 12,000 scrolls.

The library’s facade has been completely reconstructed from its original pieces, and the result is breathtaking.

Library of Celsus

We also saw the Grand Theater in Ephesus, which seats about 44,000 and is believed to have been the largest theater in the ancient world. It was used as recently as 2001, when Elton John played a concert there.

After our tour, we headed back to Kusadasi to get a taste of Turkish life. The first stop was a Turkish rug store. The owner was VERY intrigued that there was a New Yorker in our crew. He asked her about a million questions about “the best city in the world,” and had pretty much invited himself to come stay on her couch by the time we left.

We watched a woman do the back-breaking work of weaving a rug on a loom, which can take years for the most intricate designs. And we learned about the different styles of rugs while we sipped Raki (the Turkish version of Ouzo).

Hand-woven Turkish rug

After leaving the shop, we headed into the marketplace in Kusadasi. Now this was an experience I’ll never forget. Heather had warned us that the shop keepers were a little aggressive. That was the understatement of the century. These guys would probably drag you into their store if you let them.

In the Kusadasi marketplace, you’re expected to barter for the best price on handmade Turkish goods, such as beautiful (and real) pashminas, handmade jewelry, pottery, and much more. Bartering is something that most people don’t have much experience with, so here are a few tips:

  • Ask how much they want for something. Offer about 2/3 of that, or less if you really think that’s all you want to pay for it, and go from there.
  • If they won’t budge on a price, walk out. If they really want to make the sale, they’ll chase you down the street to give you the discount you asked for.
  • Be respectful of the fact that they do need to make a living, don’t offer them pennies for their goods.

I spent 30 minutes haggling with one jewelry maker over a silver bracelet. I walked out when he wouldn’t budge. He even got his dad on the phone before he’d agree to a lower price. But I did get it for about $50 less than he asked for at first. :)

If you can believe it, our tour of Ephesus, lesson in rug weaving, Raki drinking, and Turkish bartering all happened in one morning. We headed back to the Aquamarine for lunch, as the ship set a course toward Patmos. More on that in my next post.

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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