Turkish Delights including tips for travelling with elderly

28 10 2019

Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “if the world was a country, Istanbul would be its capital”. The capital of Turkey, Istanbul is the only city in the world that sits on two continents. The ancient, culturally rich city has a rather unique “traditional eastern feel” coupled with a “modern western vibe”. It is hard to describe unless you experience it yourself.

Being a fan of Dan Brown’s novels, I was fascinated by Istanbul after watching the Inferno movie many years back but held back on the trip due to safety concerns after the Istanbul bombing. After so many years, I have finally mustered the courage to venture into this amazing country and I can say that I am blown away by the hospitality and friendliness of the Turkish. I have met wonderful locals including taxi drivers who despite language barriers, helped me navigate around the country and even gave me free rides when I am lost. So net, if you follow the typical “street smart rules” as you normally would in any country, you will quickly see that safety is a non-issue.

Unlike most of my travels, this trip has been more challenging as I was bring my elderly parents who may have some mobility challenges with me. Most on the information online on Turkey seems to cater to the younger (and physical active) travellers. As I can’t seem to find many information for travels with elderly who have mobility challenges, I will share some tips in this blog.

 

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Istanbul

The historic sites are all located in the Sultanahmet neighbourhood within easy walking distance (most sights can be reached within 5-10 minutes from each other). The Hagia Sophia is one of the most beautiful and historical monuments that catered to both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. To me, this place is a symbol of religious harmony, with both symbols of Christianity and Islam show on the wall due to its history as an Orthodox Cathedral which was later converted into a mosque.

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Opposite to the Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque, one of the most photogenic building and an important site in the Muslim world. The mosque is lined with over 20,000 blue iznik ceramic tiles and thus its name.

The Istanbul Hippodrome with the famous Egyptian obelisk sits between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

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For fans of Inferno, you will remember the sunken palace of Basilica Cistern where the bomb was hidden. This is located 5 minutes away from the Hippodrome. Maybe because of the movie, I find the sunken palace quite interesting. Do look out for the Medusa face at the end of the palace, but be warn, you may be turned into stone if you looked into her eyes lol.

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Topkapi Palace where many Ottoman Sultans resided for over 400 years is also not far away and a must-see.

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The Egyptian Market and the Grand Bazaar are interesting markets to visit to buy some local food and souvenirs. Do note that the Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays.

I will also strongly recommend taking the Bosphorus Ferry that sails along the Bosphorus which connects the Sea of Maramara to the Black Sea, separating Europe and Asia.

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Cappadocia

Many people will say that Cappadocia is on their bucket list and it is not hard to see why once I landed in Cappadocia. Though I have been to a modest number of countries with varying landscape and cultures, I have never seen a place with similar landscape like Cappadocia. Known for the whimsical fairy chimneys and peculiar rock formations, I feel as if I am on another planet.

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My hotel overlooks the Uchisar Castle which sits on the highest point in Cappadocia, offering great panoramic view.

Goreme is just around 10 minutes drive away from Uchisar. The Goreme Open Air Museum is a must see with churches carved into the caves.

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It is good to stop by the Love Valley, Pigeon Valley, Monks Valley for awesome views. If you love hiking, you can also go for a little hike in your of the valleys. The Imagination Valley (or Devrent Valley) is also quite interesting with rock formation taking the shapes of camels, lions, etc.

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I have read mixed reviews on underground cities, with many saying that there is nothing much to see in there. However, I really enjoyed my visit to Kaymakli underground city. I am always interested in history and love to see how people live in the challenging old times. So it is really fascinating to see people back in ancient times with no modern technology can build such an amazing underground city. As I roamed the underground city, crawling at various points through the tight tunnels and alleys, my imagination ran wild on how Christians in the early centuries were staying in such to hide from the Roman Empire and the Arabs. A word of caution though – this place is not for those who have mobility challenges as you may need to bend (and possibly crawl a little at some tight spots depending on how tall you are). There is also another popular underground city, Derinkuyu so you can pick either one.

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If you do get a chance to visit Cappadocia, I will strongly recommend taking the hot air balloon ride. The price is totally worth it and you will take with you an unforgettable experience. I am pretty lucky that I managed to ride on my first day in Cappadocia and got a really great hot air balloon pilot who managed to “chase the wind” and give us wonderful views of this amazing land with beautiful sunrise. Do note that you will need to climb into the basket of the hot air balloon which may be challenging for those who may have mobility challenges. If that’s the case, an alternative to hot air balloon is to view the balloons from the cave hotels in Uchisar or Groeme which also offer very nice views.

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As I only had a week in Turkey, I only managed to visit Istanbul and Cappadocia. There are many other nice places in Turkey such as Ephesus with its well-preserved ancient Greek city and Pamukkale’s Cotton Castle which you can consider visiting if you have enough time.

 

Tips:

  1. For international arrival/flight: The immigration at Istanbul Airport typically has a long queue (line) and takes around an hour or more to clear. If you are travelling on business class or have star alliance gold status, you can take the “fast track” to avoid the long queue. Your airlines will typically give you a fast track pass or it will be printed on your boarding pass.
  2. For domestic flight out from Istanbul Airport: Check-in for business class and star alliance gold is in the domestic VIP lounge and not at the counter. From the lounge, there will be special bus to take you to the boarding gate. However, do note that star alliance gold member can only bring one guest and the other guests will need to pay. So if you are travelling in a group and do not want me to pay for that lounge access for the “extra guest”, you may want to consider whether to just check-in at the economy counter. I am not sure if this would change with the new airport (I only flew out on an international flight from the new airport).
  3. Dress code: Even though the majority of Turkish are muslims, there is no need to wear a hijab or cover up except when you visit the mosque. However, for ladies particularly solo female travellers, it best to dress more conservatively to avoid unwanted attention. If you find the local men overly too friendly, just ignore them and they will soon leave you alone.
  4. Travelling around Istanbul: If you stay in the old town area, all the sights are within walking distance. If you are lazy to walk, taxis are readily available and are not expensive. Alternatively, you can take the metro and buses. Despite all the online comments on the safety of the taxis, I would say that I had very good experience with all the taxis that I took and it is safe. Make sure that they start the meter (you will be able to see the meter in the rear mirror) and you will be fine. Language may be an issue so what I did is to show the driver the name and address of the destination that you want to go. Price wise, taxi is not expensive in Istanbul so if you have 2 or more people, it may be more comfortable and efficient to just take a cab. Also, if you are travelling with the elderly, I will suggest taking a taxi to Hagia Sophia (which is on slightly higher grounds) and then walking from there to the other sites (either flat or downslope).
  5. Getting to Cappadocia: The most efficient way is to fly. It is a short flight from Istanbul to Cappadocia versus a 10 hours bus ride. Most flights go to Kayseri airport which is an hour plus from Cappadocia. Nevsehir airport is slightly nearer (around 40 minutes). I will recommend that you book the hotel transfer as it can be challenging to get a taxi.
  6. Getting around Cappadocia: I will recommend booking a car with driver who can then drive you to all the places that you will like to visit and you can customise your itinerary and the time that you will like to spend at each site. If you have 3 or more people, the cost is about the same as joining the group day tour. If you are travelling with elderly, this is also the best way to move around Cappadocia as the tours have fixed itineraries, some of which require trekking/hiking which may not be suitable for elder folks.

 

Place to stay:

  1. Istanbul: I have broken up my stay in 2 parts – one in the old town Sultanahmet (Double Tree) and the other in the new town near to Taksim Square (Grand Hyatt). This gives me easy access to sights around the region.
  2. Cappadocia: I will recommend a stay in the cave hotel or the fairy chimney. Most visitors choose to stay in Goreme given that it has almost everything. However, if you prefer a place that is a little quieter, I will recommend Uchisar which offers great view given that it is on top of the hill. I stayed at Hermes Cave Hotel that overlooks the Uchisar Castle and I must say that though the room is simple (but comfortable), the view is amazing!

 

Food:

There are a lot of online blogs and also on trip advisor on the recommended restaurants so I will not share the details here. I will just like to highlight some of the interesting food that you should try (and watch-out).

a) In Istanbul, you need to try the fish sandwich (Balik Ekmek) on the fish boat. There are 3 fish boats parked side by side bordering Golden Horn and Bosphorous (along the water front near to the Egyptian Market). The 3 boats served the same type of sandwich. I tried the first boat (picture below) though I see more people at the middle boat. The taste is good. One watch-out though is that the fish has lots of bones so be careful when you eat it (it can get a little messy).

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b) In Cappadocia, you need to try the pottery kebab. Though you can find this in other parts of Turkey, the best is made in Cappadocia. Restaurants that serve authentic pottery kebabs require at least 4 hours notice before you arrive so it’s best to call in advance to make your reservation. My cave hotel recommended Dibek which is a restaurant in a cave in Goreme city center. Apparently, the cave building is 475 year old and you seat on the floor (Turkish style) to dine. Lovely experience and the food is yummy!

 

c) Throughout Turkey, do try the kebab (mainly either chicken or beef). They are cheap and good.

 


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