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Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

See Turkey for free!

May 1 marked the beginning of the second round of our Win the World Sweepstakes. This time, one of the three trips we’re giving away is an amazing trip for two to Turkey on our 14-day Best of Turkey tour (a $4,000 value)! Today’s the last day to enter, so be sure to check out our Facebook page for your chance to win!

Turkey offers the best of the Middle East and Europe, and boasts a rich and long-standing history. Whether you’ve traveled there before or just visited in your dreams, our Best of Turkey tour is sure to amaze.

Don’t believe me? Maybe some of the pictures below will help exhibit all that Turkey has to offer.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more commonly called the Blue Mosque, is one of the most popular attractions in Istanbul. The blue tiles that adorn the walls of its interior are what give the mosque its name. This sight is not to be missed when visiting Turkey’s capital city.

Also located in Istanbul, Hagia Sofia was first an Orthodox basilica, then a mosque, and became a museum in 1935. It is said to be the epitome of Byzantine architecture, and many say that it inspired the design of the Blue Mosque.


Image courtesy of Istanbul.com

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in history. Shoppers can find jewelry, furniture, carpets, leather goods, clothing, and more while walking through this beautiful market. 

Kusadasi is a beautiful shore town on Turkey’s Aegean coast, and has long been a center of art and culture. Travelers will soak up the sun and fun in this sunny resort location.

One of the most famous sights in Cappadocia are the huge rock formations. The people who lived there carved out houses, churches, and monasteries from the rocks, and they’re a wonder to walk through. 

Pamukkale, located in Southwestern Turkey, is a natural site made up of hot springs and travertines. Travelers come from all over to bathe in the pools of water, and have done so for thousands of years. 
Troy is best known as the city from the Trojan War, around which the Illiad by Homer was based. Travelers will see beautiful ancient ruins, and feel like they’re stepping back in time. 
Ephesus was first a Greek city, then a Roman city, and now stands in modern-day Turkey. The Theater in Ephesus, shown here, has seating for 25,000 people and was used for concerts, plays, religious and philosophical discussions, and gladiator and animal fights.

This symbolic Trojan horse at Canakkale stands in commemoration of the fallen Turkish soldiers from World War I.
If you want to see more, you can … for free! Just visit our Facebook page to enter to win a free trip for two to Turkey. And don’t forget to refer your friends for more chances to win. Good luck to all our travelers!

The Chicago Tribune highlights great travel deal in ‘A Taste of Turkey’

I’m always happy to offer travelers fantastic tours at great prices, and I know that our Taste of Turkey tour accomplishes both goals. So I was delighted that Mary Forgione, a contributor to the Chicago Tribune‘s Taking Off blog, noted the same thing.

She wrote a great piece featuring our tour that takes travelers through the wonders and history of Turkey.

I also covered Turkey in a new blog series called Getaway Dossier, where I’ve posted some important and interesting facts that travelers will want to have about the destination before they venture abroad.

I hope you’ll check out the Turkey Getaway Dossier and then hop over to see all that Mary said about our Taste of Turkey tour. Thanks for the coverage, Mary!

First-time Friendly Planet traveler reviews our Best of Turkey tour

It’s been almost a year since we introduced Friendly Planet Travel’s Best of Turkey tour. And every Friendly Planeteer I’ve spoken to who has taken this tour tells me how much they loved exploring the country known as the crossroads of Asia and Europe.

I wanted to share with you what Ann Ott from Cedar City, Utah had to say about her trip to Turkey. She sent me an e-mail that I’ve pasted below verbatim.

“Just returned from my first trip with Friendly Planet and was so impressed that I had to write this note. You have a lot of choices in travel and I have found my tour company at last. Everything about my trip was amazing- our guide, Ibrahim, was not only extremely knowledgeable, but also patient and very funny.

Hotels, transportation, meals, added excursions were all superb. Everything went off without a hitch- I felt safe and cared for every minute and could spend ALL of my time enjoying the trip instead of worrying about the travel details. Turkey, its people, scenery, food, monuments and parks are just wonderful. I can’t wait for my next trip. So little time, so much to see.” — Ann Ott, Cedar City, Utah

Ann, it brightens my day to find out how pleased you were with your first Friendly Planet Travel tour! Let us know which tour you pick as your second trip. And thanks again for your note!

Friendly Planet Travel rounds out 2010 with media mentions

Before I put 2010 behind me, I have a few more things to take care of. One those is extending thank yous to the editors who covered Friendly Planet Travel’s Captivating Costa Rica, Best of Turkey, and Pyramids and Nile Cruise tours in December. Read on to see what pubs these Friendly Planet Travel tours landed in.

Frommer’s listed Friendly Planet Travel’s Best of Turkey tour on its “5 Deals for December 1, 2010.”

Captivating Cost Rica made an appearance on “Frommer’s 5 Deals for December 15, 2010.”

Lastly, Oregon Travel Daily talked about our Pyramids and Nile Cruise when we announced new departure dates.

Thanks again editors for featuring Friendly Planet Travel. Hope you all have a happy new year!

Fifth edition of our first-hand look at the Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise

View from the steps to the Cave of the Apocalypse

When I left you last I had boarded the Aquamarine after a morning in Kusadasi, Turkey. We were headed for the port of Skala on the island of Patmos.

This island is one of the original Dodecanese (meaning “12″) Greek islands. The earliest known temples on the island were the fourth century B.C. sanctuary of Diana. It’s believed that the name Patmos might come from Latmos, or Mt. Latmos of Turkey, where the goddess Diana was worshiped.

Patmos was populated beginning in about 500 B.C. by Dorians, then Ionians, and then the Romans in the second century B.C. It was during this time that the island fell into decline and was used as a place to banish “criminals and religious and political troublemakers.”

Not long after, according to some, Patmos makes its mark in the history books. The story has been subject to much scrutiny, but legend has it that John the Apostle (sometimes referred to as John of Patmos) received his first visions while living in exile on the island. These visions inspired the writings of the Book of Revelation, the last document of the New Testament.

It’s for this reason that Patmos is a frequent destination for Christian pilgrimage. So for obvious reasons, the shore excursion that takes Friendly Planeteers to the Monastery of the Apocalypse, Cave of the Apocalypse, and Monastery of St. John are very popular. This was the excursion my friends and I opted to go on, as did almost all of our tour group.

The port of Skala: View from the Monastery of St. John

We boarded buses in Skala that took us on a short drive up the hillside to the village of Chora where these three sites are located. The first stop was the Monastery and Cave (or Grotto) of the Apocalypse. The Monastery is small, beautiful, and peaceful with amazing views of Skala and the Aegean.

Next to the Monastery is a long stone staircase leading to the cave where St. John is believed to have written the Book of Revelation. We saw niches left in the wall marking the pillow where he rested his head and ledge used as a desk. Above your head is the crack in the rock said to be made by the voice of God honoring the Holy Trinity.

Further up the hill is the Monastery of St. John, built 900 years ago. The main church, still in use today, is known for its intricate frescoes and decoration. We were there the day before Palm Sunday, and leaves tied into delicate crosses were hung inside the building. Nearby is a small museum that houses priceless ecclesiastical treasures, books, manuscripts, mosaics, icons, splendid medieval textiles, vestments, and jewelery.

Drinking Ouzo on Patmos

After two hours of sightseeing, we headed back down to Skala to explore on our own. We went into the little white-washed shops to find gifts for our families, and sat outside of a cafe where we shared pastries — baklava and kataifi — and had our first tastes of ouzo.

Ouzo is typically mixed with water, which turns it from clear to cloudy. We forgot until about halfway through our drinks that we’d been warned about the drinking water on the islands. But luckily, we lived to tell the tale. :) When we asked the waitress where we could get our own ouzo glasses to commemorate our day in Patmos, she said, “You can keep these!” It was the perfect souvenir to bring home with us.

As night fell, it was again time to head back to the ship for dinner. This was one of my favorite stops on the tour — very beautiful, peaceful, and seemingly untouched by the rest of the world. If I had to choose one place to spend the whole week, this would be it. The next morning we’d be arriving at Crete to make an 8 a.m. wine tasting appointment. More on that in my next post.

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.

Oh my Greek god! An Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise for $1,249

The whitewashed houses that cling to the cliffs in the Greek Isles

Friendly Planet blogger Lucy has been giving you a first-hand look into our Athens and three-day Greek Isles Cruise she embarked on in March. What sparked her interest in the tour was the incredible discount we were offering in July 2009.

Take a look at your calendar. It’s almost July and we decided to bring the discount back for 2010. You can book the Athens and three-day Greek Isles cruise for $1,249 until July 30. It’s an epic eight-day journey through Greece. If you read Lucy’s posts, you’ll find out how we fit so much of Greece into just over a week.

The tour first takes you on a voyage through the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Aquamarine or Calypso, docking at the islands of Mykonos, Patmos, Crete, Santorini, and Kusadasi, Turkey. Then you return to land to explore Athens, the birthplace of western civilization.

A sea-side cafe in Mykonos

Pairing a journey to Athens with a cruise around the Greek Islands gives you the best of both land and sea. Your ship is your floating hotel, delivering you to islands full of history, myth, and vibrant towns.

But if you’ve taken a few cruises before, you’re probably accustomed to large, luxurious ships appointed with every possible amenity. Cruising the Greek Isles is different. Ships (including those of Louis Cruise Lines) are generally smaller and more agile, better suited for navigating the shallow waters and small ports of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.

These mid-sized ships are practical, comfortable, and equipped with all necessary modern conveniences. So as Lucy mentions, don’t over pack. A basic cabin has all the amenities, but it’s not overly spacious. Think of these ships as good three-star hotels, offering convenient and comfortable transport through the Greek Isles — which are the true reason for your cruise.

But there’s more to our Greek tour than the cruise ship. You’ll spend most of your days exploring the different islands. The first stop is the island of Mykonos. Here you walk its winding alleyways and whitewashed buildings, and relax by sipping ouzo in a café overlooking the Aegean Sea.

The next day you find yourself in Kusadasi, Turkey. Its close proximately to Mykonos makes it an easy detour to experience one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World: the Temple of Artemis.

Later in the afternoon, you head back to Greece to the island of Patmos, where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation. Then it’s on to Heraklion on Crete. It’s home to the ruins of Knossos, the palace with an intricate collection of over 1,000 interlocking rooms.

And we saved the most celebrated of the islands for last, Santorini. There you can catch the spectacular views of the sunken caldera and still-active volcano off the coast before you head back to Athens.

The Acropolis of Athens

Your remaining days are spent in Greece’s capital where you drop your bags in the Divani Palace Acropolis hotel. It is located in the heart of Athens, under the shadow of the sacred rock of the Acropolis where ancient Greek civilization meets modern life.

Step outside and you’re in the Plaka. It’s the historical district of Athens, known for its narrow streets, contrasting old buildings, boutiques, outdoor markets, and more. Traditional Greek music is heard from the taverns lining the streets. Walk inside and you’ll likely find locals and tourists singing, dancing on the tables, and partaking in the celebratory throwing of plates.

There is more information on Athens and the islands in Lucy’s posts, as well as our podcast with Judy Poliva, Friendly Planet’s resident expert on Greece. They’ll both teach you how to say some common phrases in Greek and give you tips on what can’t be missed when sightseeing.

We pack a lot into the tour, and the price as well. Included in the $1,249 price tag are round-trip flights from New York (other gateways available at low fares); three nights in superior hotel accommodations in Athens; three nights aboard the Louis Cruises’ Aquamarine or Calypso; daily buffet breakfast in Athens and all meals aboard the cruise; all group transfers; professional, English-speaking tour guides; and more.

There are only two departure dates available at this low price, so book the Athens and three-day Greek Isles Cruise for $1,249 by July 30 before it sells out. And if a three-day cruise isn’t long enough, why not consider Friendly Planet’s Athens and four-day Greek Isles Cruise, which includes a stop at the island of Rhodes.

After both programs you can take advantage of the already included airfare and enjoy a four-day Classical Greece extension. You’ll see more ancient cities, including Corinth, Mycenae, Olympia, and Delphi for $699. Plus you get breakfast and dinner daily, great hotels, and all touring.

We have a lot of Greek tours to choose from, so if you need any help deciding, write to me or give Friendly Planet’s reservations teams a call at 1-800-555-5765. We’ll get the right tour picked out for you.

Part three of our first-hand look at Friendly Planet’s Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise

Picking up from where I left off, recounting my experience on the Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise

When I left you last, we had arrived at the port of Piraeus where we would board the Aquamarine — the cruise ship that would become our home for the next four nights. For those of you who have never been on a cruise, the boarding experience, called embarkation, is exactly what you would imagine. Wait in a line, drop off your bags, and climb the gangway into the belly of the boat.

But there’s one thing about it you might not expect — you have to hand over your passport for the duration of the trip. Considering that international travelers are told over and over again that their passport is the single most important item they own, and that they must risk life and limb to protect it, putting that precious book in the hands of a very friendly, but completely unfamiliar port agent can be panic inducing.

But rest assured, this is how it’s always done. They will not take off with a few thousand passports for a good laugh. And it will be safely returned before you leave the cruise ship at the end of your stay.

Participating in our life boat drill

In return for your passport, you’re given a plastic ID card. This is your replacement passport. If you are ever asked to produce one while on a shore excursion, you can show them your cruise ID card and they’ll know exactly what it is. The card is also linked to a personal credit or debit card so you don’t have to carry around cash or other cards while you’re on the ship.

Upon boarding the ship, the five of us were greeted by the staff of the Aquamarine and led to our cabins. Quick note about cabins on a cruise ship: They are not designed for the over packer. Do everything in your power to keep pieces of luggage to a minimum if you want to be able to walk to and from the door.

After a lengthy (and hilarious) life boat drill, where many jokes about the Titanic were made, we spent the afternoon acclimating ourselves to the layout of the ship, lounging by the pool, and reading up on Mykonos, the first stop on our trip.

Once a quiet fishing village, this tiny island currently boasts a population of about 11,000 and has become one of the most popular summer tourist destinations in Europe. During the summer season, the population shoots to 55,000, and the beautiful beaches, narrow streets, and about 100 bars and clubs are packed with vacationers.

The winding streets of Mykonos

Before disembarking at Mykonos, our tour guide, Heather gathered us together to tell us a bit more about Mykonos. Her biggest piece of advice? Try not to get lost, it’s very, very easy.

Known as the windiest island in the Aegean, the town of Mykonos was built to break the gusts coming in from the sea. Wind enters the city through a break in the buildings, only to be stopped by a wall of houses where the road splits off in two, or three, or more different directions.

If you click on the image to the right, which I found on The Mykonos Island Reservation and Travel Agency website, you can see how the streets look like a tangled web. According to Heather, the confusing layout had a secondary purpose. It was a way to slow down the pirates who attacked the port from time to time.

While intruders would quickly get lost in the confusing streets, locals would shut themselves into their houses, climb to the top floor, and drop boards connecting balcony to balcony over the narrow pathways. They would run from house to house and hide, unbeknownst to the pirates wandering the maze below.

My first Greek sunset

Before disembarking at Mykonos, I had a minute to catch my first Greek sunset on film, looking over the deck of the ship. Then we were off, down the gangway on onto buses that drove us the mile from where the ship docked into the town.

Heather was right. From pretty much the moment we took our first turn, we were completely disoriented. Had we been there in season, when the streets are jammed with people, I don’t know how we ever would have been able to find our way out. But because it was late March, and the night air was still chilly, Mykonos was ours to explore.

Once we were thoroughly lost in the streets, we explored our way right into a local restaurant for dinner. We sampled delicious moussaka, pita, tzatziki, and chicken gyros.

Our waiter even offered us a round of complementary dessert liquor! We thought we were special, until the table of American guys next to us said they’d been given an entire bottle to share the night before. I guess it was just that famous Greek hospitality, not how cute we looked. :)

A narrow street in Mykonos

The experience in Mykonos might have been a bit different had we arrived two weeks later. It’s truly the heart of the European party scene, once the weather turns warm. But no matter what time of year you’re there, the architecture is beautiful, and you really feel like you’ve been transported to another time.

After finishing our dinner and more free drinks from our waiter, it was time to find our way out of the town (easier than we thought it would be) and back to the bus.

One island down, four to go! Check back for my next post and an explanation of how you end up in Turkey when you’re on a trip to Greece.

Experience Athens and the Greek Isles cruise

Plato once wrote, “every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.” And I am willing to bet that at the first touch of Greece, everyone becomes a lover. Because when you discover Greece, I swear your heart will sing.
In Athens, the past meets present and east meets west. With forefathers such as Plato, Sophocles, Socrates, Pericles, and Aristotle, there’s no wonder why Athens is considered the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy.
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Today, you can tour ancient monuments and works of art, such as the Parthenon on the Acropolis, amidst a city overflowing with Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman monuments, as well as modern landmarks from the 19th century Hellenic Parliament to the modern day Olympic stadiums.
Off the coast lie the Greek Isles, with some of the most resplendent and culturally rich coastal towns in the world.
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On our Athens and three-day Greek Isles cruise, you’ll see all of this, and more. Spend three nights exploring beautiful Athens, and three nights sailing aboard the M/V Aquamarine to the magnificent Greek islands of Mykonos, Kusadasi in Turkey, Patmos, and Rhodes.
The package includes flights, superior hotel accommodations in Athens for three nights, a Greek Isles cruise for three nights, buffet breakfast daily, all meals aboard the cruise, and all transfers. You’ll have the time to explore Athens and the islands on your own, or you can opt to take interesting and inexpensive tours, provided by Friendly Planet Travel guides. And best of all, now you can do it all for $999 per person. That’s if you book before July 17, with savings of up to $600 per couple.
Available dates for 2009 are Oct. 28 – Nov. 4, Nov. 4 – Nov. 11, and Nov. 11 – Nov. 18. And 2010′s departure dates include March 17 – March 24 and March 24 – March 31.
Got a little extra time? We also have an Athens and four-day Greek Isles cruise. Both trips cover the same ground, but the four-day cruise also hits Santorini, Greece’s most popular island. That’s nine days for $1199 if you book before July 17. That’s another sale price with savings of up to $600 per couple.
2009 departure dates for the Athens and four-day Greek Isles cruise have rapidly been selling out, but spaces are still available from Sept. 5 – 13, Sept. 19 – 27, and Oct. 10 – 18. Check out the Friendly Planet Travel Web site for more information.
You also have the option with either of these trips for an inexpensive and exciting four-day Classic Greece extension through Corinth, Mycenae, Olympia, and Delphi.

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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