Friends! Here we are again, another trip another blog post. I mostly write these for two main reasons: one, so I can actually remember what we did years in the future and two, so when friends ask for recs, I can just send them this post without having to dig up every restaurant and hotel we visited.
We have to start at the beginning. Ben and I were supposed to travel to Turkey in summertime but had a few snafus with the pals we were going with and some delays at the passport agency. Step 1 to making sure you can travel abroad, have an up-to-date passport. Renewal times are SLOW (like everything) in the pandemic.
We decided to go for New Years… not because we heard it was better to visit in january but that’s when Ben and I had the most time off. The weather is pretty much like that of DC. We got WILDLY lucky in fact with some warm days but we tend to like a winter vacay.
To enter Turkey, you need to show proof of vaccine and purchase a travel Visa (about $60 for both of us) and you can buy it at the airport or online prior. We bought direct flights via Turkish Air to Istanbul. The flight from DC leaves at around 10:30PM so we took a sleeping pill and woke up in Istanbul! At the time, we did NOT need negative tests to enter the country but needed them to leave. The hotel set up testing to come to us for about $50. You should always check travel requirements with governments as close to travel as possible since things are ever changing.
Day 1: Istanbul
Downtown Istanbul is about an hour away from the airport and you’ll need cash. There is no Lyft or Uber in the city so you’ll need to call taxis or use public transport. We stayed at the Conrad Bosphorous since Ben knew the GM and works for Hilton. It was a good location for what we had planned but if you only have 2 days in Istanbul, I would suggest staying closer to the Historic section. The first day we checked in and ate at Tugra (pronounces Toora) in Ciragan Palace. You need a res but it’s right on the Bosphorus and was yummy. We got clay pot dinners and amazing drinks.
Day 2: Istanbul
We were so fortunate to have our local friend Gizem show us around Istandbul the first day. I had a pretty extensive plan so she took the ferry over and joined us for our tour of the city. We began at Ortakoy to take some early moring photos (the light is best there at sunrise) and then had a Turkish breakfast at House Cafe.
We hailed a cab to Dolmabahce Palace and did a self tour to look at all the beautiful historic rooms. We got some tea in their restaurant before heading to a proper lunch. We got to explore the Balat District. It’s ‘up and coming’ so it felt super authentic and we grabbed from Pide (Turkish Pizza). After exploring the colorful streets, we hopped a cab to the Oldest part of Istanbul. We wanted to see the Spice Market and Grand Bazzaar. Honestly, this was probably my least favorite part of the day as it was extremely crowded and shopping is never number one on my list in new places. If you know what you want like a rug for example, this is your time to shine! We ended our day with a quick trip inside the Hagia Sophie which was stunning. You can triple this up with Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace but we wanted to split our days. We were also suggested the Blue Angel for a seafood dinner as a must!
The House Cafe + Ortaköy
Balat District (Pide & Kiremit St for colorful houses)
Spice Market + Grand Bazaar
On day 3 we had a Turkish breakfast at the hotel before heading back to the historic part of town. If we had more time, we would’ve explored the area near Galata Tower. There’s a cool artsy scene and Hoca Tahsin Sk Karakoy, a cool street for photos. Instead, we traveled to the Blue Mosque before checking out Topkapi Palace. The restaurant on the ground there is lovely and has an amazing view so after exploring, we grabbed a bite there with the kitties. The Kybele hotel or Seven Hills was also on our possible eat list but we had to rest up for New Years. I would suggest getting some Pistachio Ice cream. There’s a little show associated with the delivery of it! We took the ferry back which was faster than a cab. The street up and down the city is PACKED with cars and sometimes it’s easier to travel by boat! If you get a metro card as a visitor, you don’t need to attach your QR health code to it. To end the night, we ended up doing a fancy dinner at Novikov near our hotel.
Galata Tower Area
Novikov NYE Dinner
I’ve always wanted to visit Capadocia ever since I saw the hot air balloons online. It’s about an hour flight to ASR airport and hotels in both cities can help arrange shuttles to the airports. The area of Turkey we were in was SUPER tourist friendly. You don’t need a test or vaccine card to travel within the country. The flight to Cappadocia was about $70 and once you land, it’s about an hour drive to Goreme. We stayed at the Charming Cave Hotel and 10/10 LOVED. When we arrived, we scheduled all tours and the owner gave us the run down. The town is super walkable and we had dinner at Turkish Ravioli before calling it a night.
Check in Charming Cave Hotel
I had planned to do a balloon flight this morning but the wind would not allow any flights. The main risk in traveling during winter is that the balloons only take off in appropriate weather. Even if it is seemingly clear skies, if the wind speed is too much,, they don’t fly. We gave ourselves 3 mornings in Cappadocia to give ourselves the best chance at seeing the balloons and they flew ONE of the three days we were there. They usually fly every day nd in summer, chances are higher. Don’t only allow yourself one day if you have your heart set on balloons. We ended up booking a private car to the underground city. It was the perfect rainy activity. In the afternoon, the rain let up and we went ATV-ing! We ended the night with homecooked dinner at our hotel. Irfan’s mom cooks all meals at the Charming Cave Hotel but you must make a reservation in the morning.
Dinner at Charming
We began the day with the balloons!!!! We had the perfect view from our hotel. They take off at sunrise so set your alarm! After that beauty, we took a private Red Tour and saw national parks and overlooks complete with lunch and shopping. We ate dinner at Seten before some goodbye tea and a PCR test administered at our hotel. It was $60 for both of us and we needed one 24 hours before our flight.
We had a super long journey home but it was well worth it. The flight back is longer due to wind speeds and it was made even longer by that first leg from ASR to Istanbul but we have no regrets. The perfect week in Turkey!