Turkey – Ephesus, Pamukkale & Istanbul Food Tour

It was very late when I landed at Kusadasi and I just wanna crash and sleep. If there was one thing about being on tours, I forgot how tiring it was. You checked in late at night and wake up early the next morning. Stayed at Doubletree by Hilton which was arranged by the agency which was a very nice and comfy stay

DSC06562

Love my big and comfy room

DSC06563

And the equally big bathroom

Started my morning with a typical breakfast like this..

DSC06477

DSC06480

More cheese

DSC06479

and pickles

DSC06482

..before I was collected to start my Ephesus tour. Ephesus actually has a deep and interesting history and is also a city of imagination. lol. Well cos most of the structures are in ruins, you really need to imagine a lot.  Also, it is also known as the religious centre of Early Christianity. It is believed that Mother Mary spent her last few years in Ephesus and so our first visit of interest was to the House of Virgin Mary

DSC06493

Can’t remember what is this exactly but I remembered the guide said this is not a wishing well even though many will throw coins into here. But the keyhole-shaped has a meaning to it – it was meant as the key to heaven

DSC06486

The statue of Virgin Mary

DSC06487

And the chapel

DSC06489

DSC06490

Tap of Holy Water

DSC06492

And you can also write your wishes onto these white strip of papers. Well, I wanted to make a wish too. But I have no idea where to find the paper strips

Stayed here for quite abit before we moved on to tour the ancient city which is about a 2 hour walk from The Magnesian Gate

DSC06497

Hello doggie!

DSC06500

And here’s our guide for the day – Marci! She’s really the best I’ve encountered so far. She’s so passionate and animated that you don’t feel bored during the tour at all

DSC06501

So anyway this is the first structure you will see from the Magnesian Gate. And it is believed that in the past after travelling from a long journey, you will need to clean yourself when you enter the city and hence, the 3 doors. Each door actually leads to a different bath at different temperature and you will need to hop from one to another. So after cleaning and refreshed, you can move on to explore the city

DSC06508

And if you are a rich person, as you walk along the street, there will be young girls pouring red wine at your feet (aka like red carpet)

DSC06505

I thought this was really interesting as well. Early Christians used secret codes to reunite and protect believers of their faith and this is one of them. This was an early circular ichthys symbol, created by combining the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ, Ephesus

DSC06506

The square, where rich and poor can hang out together. And the poor will do everything to get money from the rich. lol

DSC06511

Ancient theatre

DSC06516

This was one of their main streets with shops on both sides. It’s where people used to do their high-end shopping

DSC06523

And if you are a rich person, you can walk on these mosaic tiles

DSC06530

Toilets, those days. So apparently when people visit the toilet, they can just sit and chat with each other

DSC06532

Probably the most iconic structure – the Celsus Library. Well, apparently there was a hidden underground passage at the library which would lead to the brothel opposite. So in the past men used to tell their wives they were visiting the library but in actual fact, using the library as an excuse to get to the brothel. lol

DSC06537

And this is the statue of Artemis, the Goddess of Fertility amidst other things. It is said she had 29 breasts. Well, that is interesting.

So we made it for late lunch after the tour and when we were lining up to take the food, we were dismayed to see similar items being served. And we went oh dear, it’s the same chicken and sauce again. HA

DSC06544

But to be honest, the food this time round was much nicer and there was vegetables. omg!

DSC06548

Our last stop for the day was at Artemis temple, dedicated to the goddess Artemis. There used to be a massive structure supported by 127 columns but it was destroyed by flood and arson so this was what that was left now – 1 column

DSC06549

So the guide told us to place our fingers next to it and imagine. It will look the same. HA

DSC06557

And we went on to one of those mandatory shops we have to visit on guided tours. At least we got to watch a fashion show

DSC06558

where they give you a slip and you can circle the items you have laid your eyes on

DSC06560

No, we didn’t buy anything. Cos not practical and erms, well not that cheap either

And so that marks the end of our tour and I had the evening to rest and relax. So I decided to check the hotel out to see what’s good for dinner

DSC06564

Ended up at their rooftop bar. I was hoping for an early dinner but their kitchen only opened much later

DSC06571

So it was a drink + sunset then

DSC06574

It was really nice to just chill and relax and take in the view, though at some point it was getting cold with the breeze

DSC06577

It was quite hard to catch the attention of the service staffs for some reasons since they were busy preparing for dinner service. And after like moments of waiting, I decided to walk over and grab a table myself, with a view of the coast 🙂

DSC06579

Complimentary bread basket

DSC06580

Really wanted something soupy and I got a seafood soup. Well it wasn’t exactly what I expected. It came in tomato-based with some hints of prawn taste. It was okay but not exactly memorable

DSC06583

The stir-fry chicken noodles were good at first cos you can really taste the fragrance of the sesame. But I think they added too much. In fact, they might have just stir fry with sesame oil instead. And the chicken was a little tough. I think they need a lesson on chinese-style cooking. To be honest, I think I could have done it better :/ But it was a good change to all the grilled chicken I had been eating for the past days. I just couldn’t take it anymore

Thoughts on Ephesus? I really enjoyed it. But I think much of the enjoyment stemmed from having an awesome guide. It’s a place I would recommend visiting if you are in Turkey and the coast is simply awesome

Had a tour to Pamukkale the next day. Translated as Cotton Castle in Turkish and known for its carbonate mineral, we spent about 3 hours in the city visiting the Ancient city and Cleopatra swimming pool as well. We had a different guide for the day and the way he conducted his tour was also very different. His favourite line was – Up to you, you choose, you decide. So we were supposed to go into the ancient city in which we could either choose to have an early lunch at 11.30am or late lunch at 2.30pm but we had to wait for 5 other guests who were supposed to be joining us. And the rest of us were like thinking, why don’t you decide since you will know best? So after like a no-response from us cos we were just like.. anything, he decided on late lunch for us instead. lol

DSC06589

Anyway there wasn’t much to see in the ancient city other than this hot spring

DSC06600

and Cleopatra pool which had gazillions of people in there cos it is believed the thermal spring water will make you 10 years younger. I’m not kidding. It was so crowded in there. So we could either choose to soak in the pool or visit the Hierapolis Ancient city. And the guide was like up to you, you choose, you decide. And one could choose to walk around the city or take a paid shuttle bus service located at the entrance of the Cleopatra pool which could take us to the major sights. And the guide was like up to you, you choose, you decide again

DSC06605

We went to the Necropolis – a large burial site

DSC06613

and I think we visited the Latrina as well

DSC06624

And of cos the Roman Theatre which was quite a sight to behold

Honestly I couldn’t remember much of this tour cos the guide wasn’t very good. I spent the next 45 minutes with this Philippino family chilling at the meeting point chatting while waiting for time to pass

IMG_4818

and they shared their biscuits with me 🙂

DSC06626

Before we were sent off to lunch. Lunch was actually not bad though I really had enough of meats. Visited an onyx factory which the whole group didn’t have interest in before we concluded the end of the tour. Then the few of us had a flight to catch back to Istanbul so that began our domestic transfer

Thoughts on Pamukkale? I’d say it’s a place to visit if you are already based in Kusadasi/Izmir. Else, I don’t think I will specially fly all the way down to visit this city

It was 9+pm by the time I reached the accommodation in Istanbul and I chose to stay in the Karaköy / Beyoğlu area this time round cos I wanted to explore a different part of Istanbul. So I booked this place called the Wings Hotel DeCamondo which used to be a mansion owned by a very rich Jewish family and after 5 years of restoration, they had opened it as a hotel

DSC06637

And I absolutely love the architecture of it. It’s so charming in its own ways

DSC06628

And I got a free room upgrade which I was so pleased

DSC06630

Really love the details of my room

DSC06631

And the huge toilet too

DSC06632

I really liked the 2 accommodations I had booked myself and this was probably my favourite stay in Turkey 🙂

DSC06638

So rise & shine the next day with the usual suspects

DSC06639

DSC06640

And I didn’t realise I could order eggs and latte until I saw someone else requesting for it. And the staffs didn’t ask. By then I was already done with breakfast 😦

So I set out to explore the area. The only bad thing about staying at this hotel was the area was so hilly and streets were so narrowed, the vehicles might have a little problem navigating and bringing you right to the doorstep with your luggages

DSC06660

Else, it’s so charming and full of character

DSC06643

Early morning quiet streets. It’s very different at night

IMG_4823

So I walked along the main shopping street all the way to Taksim square and back down to Karaköy just to see the city. You can find Zara and so many different shops selling the same Turkish delights in here. But there really wasn’t much to buy. And don’t worry. It’s safe to walk around. Then it started drizzling so I popped by Murver Restaurant for lunch upon a recommendation by a foodie local

DSC06646

Such a gorgeous place

DSC06649

I was probably their first customer

DSC06645

Unfortunately, not much of a view

DSC06650

Didn’t had much of the bread though the olive oil tasted really good

DSC06653

Mest TRY69

Even though there was not much of a view, one can still enjoy the afternoon with a drink. The Gin cocktail was not too bad though a little sourish

DSC06655

Shrimps with Cauliflower and Roasted Leek TRY165

Known for the grilled dishes, I had the shrimps instead even though they had chicken and steak as well. And it was really quite good

DSC06657

I enjoyed the cauliflower puree but not much of the leek

Wanted to save some stomach space for the Istanbul food tour which I have signed up for so ended up walking the area to kill some time. Went for the Istanbul’s Authentic Flavours: The 10 Tasting tour with withlocals cos I thought it would be fun to see Istanbul with a local. The guide for the day was Emre and I had booked the tour pretty last minute. We met at Restaurant Ozkonak Lokantasi which was the starting point for the tour. The various points of interest were all within walkable distance and you will part at the main shopping street at the end of the tour. So our first stop of the day – Cheese!

DSC06661

Savoy Patisserie, known for serving great cakes but also serve a good selection of cheese

DSC06662

And this was the selection of cheese I tried – Turkish white cheese, Kashar cheese, Tulum cheese, Isli corker cheese and Orgu cheese. I literally just took one bite out of everything cos I wasn’t a big fan of cheese. So Emre dabao-ed the leftover cheese home. lol

DSC06670

Second stop – Pickles

DSC06665

These pickles were marinated using natural salt which explains its saltiness

DSC06669

And I chose beetroot, cabbage and cucumbers. HMMM. It was okay, but not something I would like to have again. But the locals love it so much as a staple they actually ordered pickles for parties and events. Interesting

DSC06677

Third stop – Iskender Kebab. Heard from my guide this is his favourite food and he really enjoyed the platter of various kind of kebab on top grilled bread drizzled in tomato sauce

DSC06673

And this was what you get. Well I thought it was really quite nice. You can give this a try while you are in Istanbul

DSC06681

Fourth stop – Desserts

DSC06678

Known for their custard drizzled or more like drenched in chocolate sauce, this was my guide’s childhood snack. He told me he ate this since he was young. Well to be honest, the custard was too gooey and the chocolate wasn’t very fantastic. If you are expecting something similar to Swiss chocolate, this is nothing like that. It’s just chocolate without chocolate taste. I can definitely find better profiterole elsewhere

DSC06682

DSC06684

Fifth stop – Turkish delights.  Known for one with a deep history, their lokum are quite well known

DSC06683

It was.. too sweet for me. I usually take my tea / coffee with milk without sugar. So you can gauge from there

DSC06687

Sixth stop – Kebab rolls

DSC06689

Went for the chicken one. I think I died here. My stomach ran out of space. lol. This place is apparently very famous. But I thought it was just okay

DSC06692

These guys happily posed for me even though we didn’t try the mussels. But I heard from my fellow tour friends if you walked past these stalls selling mussels with rice, give them a try. Apparently it’s very good!

DSC06694

Seventh stop – Sweets

Well, tasted like sweets lor. It’s very sweet

DSC06699

Last stop – Turkish Coffee

DSC06698

Traditional Turkish black coffee served with just sugar. Tasted quite milkish but I thought the strength of caffeine wasn’t very strong. I mean, I could still fall asleep at night

I realised it wasn’t exactly 10 things I had tried. Not that I kept track of it cos I was quite full already but it was still an interesting experience. The guide would also explain to you about the sights along the way. Would I do it again? No. Would I recommend you to do it. No. I mean you have all the food places here – you can just explore yourself. And out of curiosity I asked the guide how he came out with all these places. So there would be this local who would collect feedbacks about which place / where to go and the guides would just follow the route. I guessed it was fun to explore these places using a local’s tastebuds even though the food might not suit everyone, especially if you are a foreigner. You might be better off listening to your hotel concierge advice’s for the best recommendations in the area :/

img 02

And since it was the last night, I paid a touristy visit to the Galata Tower which had a really long queue. Thank goodness the queue moved quite fast and I was soon at the front

DSC06703

img 03

Goodnight Istanbul!

DSC06723

Last breakfast in Istanbul with good weather!

DSC06726

And I had my latte + eggs 🙂

img 04

Fluffy clouds kind of day

So I really wanted to get some Turkish delights home but I didn’t want to buy them from the airport. Yet I didn’t fancy the ones I tried on the food tour. Yeah, I know. I’m difficult. So I went to the concierge and asked them if there’s any place that sells Turkish delights that are not too sweet. They actually burst out laughing. See, even they themselves agree the sweets are not the usual sweetness. They recommended me to try Koska which sells a greater variety so maybe I could find something from there. So after wandering..

IMG_4641

I bought this pistachio candy floss which had great reviews from the colleagues and friends. Tip: Buy the smallest pack cos the cubes are the smallest. So one bite and it’s gone and you can endure a shorter period of sweetness. HA

IMG_4642

And this pistachio chocolate that was gone in like 3 days. So I guess it’s good then. lol. There were no samples to try so I just picked randomly. I was glad the sweets turn out alright. And in any case, if you like some Turkish delights you can consider these two which are not available for purchase at the airport. As in, the airport does not carry Koska brand

img 05

It was really quite nice to explore in the morning with the good weather

DSC06733

and I grabbed a coffee along the way. It was listed as one of the top coffee places in Turkey. Well, the roast was a little too bitter. It could have been better. Lets just say the coffee culture isn’t strong in Turkey

DSC06734

Before I was soon on my way to the airport

DSC06736

I had lots of time to kill but lunch was my priority. And I had spicy seafood ramen at a Japanese restaurant which tasted more like noodles in soya sauce. Still, I was glad it was something different for a change. It was actually quite edible. You know I was telling my friends if I am a businesswoman, I would open up a restaurant in the old town area selling Asian (Thai/Jap/Korean) food catered for tourists and yes, just tourists only – definitely a hit. You can find abundance of Turkish cuisine anywhere but there’s very limited choices for other food.

Thoughts on my tour agency? Well, I chose them cos there were so many good reviews on TripAdvisor and I think you could read them yourself as well. But personally, other than being accommodating I don’t see other traits that were mentioned (like flawless, efficient, best guides). As I speak, I’m planning for another trip which I will be using a local agency for tours as well. Comparatively, the email turnover is so much faster (like less than 24 hours) even though there is also a 7 hours time difference. I felt like instead of Tourturkey keeping me updated, I had to chase them for it. Like they only sent me the updated itinerary (with hotel confirmation and flight tickets number) cos I asked them for it one week before departure. Even the use of a Singapore tour agency has a tour briefing 2 weeks before departure to keep customers updated. Perhaps it’s just a one-off event and I’m the unlucky one. So well I personally think that the reviews were a little over-rated. Or either that, my expectations were simply too high. Overall, I thought it was average at best but that’s just my view

So that pretty much sums up my trip. I fell sick 3 hours prior to landing back in Singapore. Not sure if it’s a stomach flu or something so I spent the rest of the week recovering. But still it was a pretty good trip and I had fun in Turkey. I’m glad I decided to go spontaneously despite many of my friends advising me not to. Would I visit again? Yes, but maybe 5 years later. HA

Read about my previous entry here on Istanbul Old City & Cappadocia