Turkey

Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class IST-IAH

Turkey Trip Overview
Booking Flights To Turkey
British Airways First Class Lounge IAH
British Airways 777 First Class IAH-LHR
Transiting Heathrow and British Airways A320 Business Class LHR-IST
Marriott Courtyard Istanbul Airport
Pegasus Airlines Istanbul to Izmir and Back
Ephesus, Mary’s House and Basilica of St. John
Swissotel Efes
Pamukkale Bus and Preiene
Ritz-Carlton Istanbul
Major Sites to see in Istanbul
Radisson Blu Bosphorus
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class IST-IAH

We boarded through door 2L and I crossed through the galley to the right aisle to settle in seat 3K, which I had selected via a call to Turkish Airlines once the seat selection window opened in June. And it was here that the tale of musical chairs began.

Turkish Airlines 33
IST-ISH
Boeing 777-300ER
Seat 3K (business class)

Continue reading

Categories: Star Alliance, Turkey, Turkish Airlines | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul

Turkey Trip Overview
Booking Flights To Turkey
British Airways First Class Lounge IAH
British Airways 777 First Class IAH-LHR
Transiting Heathrow and British Airways A320 Business Class LHR-IST
Marriott Courtyard Istanbul Airport
Pegasus Airlines Istanbul to Izmir and Back
Ephesus, Mary’s House and Basilica of St. John
Swissotel Efes
Pamukkale Bus and Preiene
Ritz-Carlton Istanbul
Major Sites to see in Istanbul
Radisson Blu Bosphorus
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class IST-IAH

As I mentioned in the second post in this series, I’d heard wonderful things about the Turkish Airlines lounge in the Istanbul Airport and wanted to check it out on my return flight.  The folks at SeaSong came and picked me up at the Radisson Blu Bosphorus and I enjoyed a private transfer.  My guide even came into the airport with me and ushered me through the ticket counter and up to the security checkpoint.  On our whole trip we enjoyed great customer service from the folks at SeaSong.

With a little time to kill, I set out in search of the lounge.  Maybe I didn’t know what to look for, signage-wise, but in the end I just stumbled upon it at the end of the concourse.TK Lounge Entrance Continue reading

Categories: Turkey, Turkish Airlines | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Radisson Blu Bosphorus

Turkey Trip Overview
Booking Flights To Turkey
British Airways First Class Lounge IAH
British Airways 777 First Class IAH-LHR
Transiting Heathrow and British Airways A320 Business Class LHR-IST
Marriott Courtyard Istanbul Airport
Pegasus Airlines Istanbul to Izmir and Back
Ephesus, Mary’s House and Basilica of St. John
Swissotel Efes
Pamukkale Bus and Preiene
Ritz-Carlton Istanbul
Major Sites to see in Istanbul
Radisson Blu Bosphorus
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class IST-IAH

Our final hotel for the trip was the Radisson Blu Bosphorus. Once again we arranged with the folks at SeaSong to transfer us from the Ritz to our new hotel. The hotels are only 2.5 km apart – 6 minutes with no traffic but that’s too far to walk with a week’s worth of luggage and significant traffic, so we were glad we opted for the private transfer.

As its name suggests, the hotel is located right on the water. It even had a small area for boats to dock and it was from here we were able to board the boat for our cruise of the strait. The main dining area is at sea level, which is one level down from the entrance and front desk. In addition to inside dining there’s also a covered terrace which provided a great view of all the traffic on the Bosphorus.

We checked in a bit early and our rooms weren’t quite ready so we sat in the lobby for a bit, wanting to get our luggage stored before our cruise. Just when we’d decided we needed to eat something (it was nearly noon by that point) before our cruise, our rooms were ready so we quickly took our luggage up then headed down to the patio to eat at the StarBoard Restaurant.

Radisson Blu Istanbul Front Desk

Radisson Blu Istanbul Front Desk

Radisson Blu Istanbul Lobby

Radisson Blu Istanbul Lobby

The waitstaff here could use a refresher course in service. I know that the standards are different in various countries and that in Turkey one is expected to flag down a server when something is needed rather than expecting a server to be proactive.  But at lunch the first day and both days at breakfast we often had trouble even finding a server or getting them to look our way so we could indicate we needed help.

After the fabulous breakfast we had at the Swissotel Efes, any other buffet would be a letdown so I was somewhat prepared for that but still, I was a little disappointed by breakfast here. I’m not complaining too much as it was free with my Club Carlson Gold status which I obtained just by having their credit card. While everything at the Swissotel seemed fresh and colorful, it seemed the buffet here was a bit dull. They did have a cook-to-order station one day though I don’t think they had it the next.

Radisson Blu Istanbul Buffet 1

Radisson Blu Istanbul Buffet 2

Radisson Blu Istanbul Buffet 3

Radisson Blu Istanbul Buffet 4

Radisson Blu Istanbul Buffet 5

Radisson Blu Istanbul Buffet 6

Radisson Blu Istanbul Buffet 7

Radisson Blu Istanbul Buffet 8

Radisson Blu Istanbul Buffet 9

Radisson Blu Istanbul Buffet 10

Radisson Blu Istanbul Buffet 11Cereal was an option on the buffet both days but there were no spoons on the table or by the cereal station. The first day my server managed to bring me a tablespoon (suitable as a serving spoon) while the next day I was directed to a basket of spoons – nowhere near the cereal – but they were iced tea spoons. I was hoping for a short-handled “regular” spoon or at least a soup spoon but got neither. I found it very odd that no one else complained about this.

The room itself was actually a very nice size. We’d ordered a twin room and had added a roll-away bed. They gave us a connecting room and the roll-away was place in front of the connecting door so we all got a little space this way. Unfortunately it also made it easier to hear the crying baby next door on the second night!

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Desk

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Desk

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Closet & Safe

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Closet & Safe

We got a chuckle out of the combination TV stand/mini-bar as it looked like something out of “The Jetsons” to us but we weren’t watching TV anyway. There were plenty of accessible outlets, which was nice but we did run into one unpleasant surprise. Only four devices per room may be connected to the internet during any 24-hour period. Unfortunately two of us cranked up our phones and tablets right away, leaving the third person without a connection. A warning certainly would have been nice! It’s possible that the front desk folks could have helped us but we didn’t realize the situation until we were all locked in for the night and we didn’t mention it the next day.

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room TV Stand

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room TV Stand

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Mini Bar

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Mini Bar

The bathroom has a window over the sink that looks back into the room. We were a little worried at first because we’re friends but not THAT kind of friends! Fortunately we found a shade on the outside of the window that raises up to give privacy in the bathroom. There was a single sink with a good-sized vanity. The shower/tub was fully enclosed with glass doors but it was quite a step up into the tub from the floor. While we three could handle this it might be tough for shorter people or those with mobility issues. Anne Semonin-branded toiletries were provided as was a hair dryer.

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Bathroom Window

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Bathroom Window

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Toilet - note the high step up to the tub

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Toilet – note the high step up to the tub

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Sink & Vanity

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Sink & Vanity

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Toiletries

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Toiletries

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Shower & Tub

Radisson Blu Istanbul Twin Room Shower & Tub

The hotel also had a small gym and a hair salon though we did not make use of either.

Radisson Blu Istanbul Gym

Radisson Blu Istanbul Gym

Radisson Blu Istanbul Gym

Radisson Blu Istanbul Gym

The location of the hotel is a beautiful one though I don’t think it’s very practical if you don’t have your own transportation. Just to the east of the hotel is the Ortakoy, a small outdoor mall of sorts. Lots of open air shops and cafes. We had fun just browsing through it and we ate dinner in the area both nights. Once you cross the main road in front of the hotel, go back a block or two and you start getting into a more residential area. We loved looking at the fresh food stalls as well as the non-touristy stores where the locals buy their goods. There is a small mosque not far away but it did broadcast the calls to prayers before midday – something we were thankful for because when they did broadcast it, it was quite loud.

Fresh Fish Market near Radisson Blu Istanbul

Fresh Fish Market near Radisson Blu Istanbul

Fresh Produce Market near Radisson Blu Istanbul

Fresh Produce Market near Radisson Blu Istanbul

So the service here is not what we experienced at the Ritz or at the Swissotel but then, neither was the price. I redeemed 100K Gold Points for this stay. If I’d held the credit card at the time I made the reservation the last night would have been free – as it was, I nearly cut it too close getting the credit card and the gold status came through just hours before we checked in.

Categories: Club Carlson, Hotel, Turkey | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Major Sites to see in Istanbul

Turkey Trip Overview
Booking Flights To Turkey
British Airways First Class Lounge IAH
British Airways 777 First Class IAH-LHR
Transiting Heathrow and British Airways A320 Business Class LHR-IST
Marriott Courtyard Istanbul Airport
Pegasus Airlines Istanbul to Izmir and Back
Ephesus, Mary’s House and Basilica of St. John
Swissotel Efes
Pamukkale Bus and Preiene
Ritz-Carlton Istanbul
Major Sites to see in Istanbul
Radisson Blu Bosphorus
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class IST-IAH

Istanbul is a teeming, vibrant city and there’s no way to see everything in the short period of time that we were there. Having spent a single day here previously I knew I wanted my friends to be able to see a few of the highlights during our short stay. Once again the folks at SeaSong provided us with a guide and a driver, which made getting around quite easy. I won’t go into a lot of detail because these are major attractions and there are plenty of websites that will cover these in more depth but here are what I’d consider our highlights:

The Big Three: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace

These are the three attractions that garner the most attention and they’re definitely worth visiting. They’re all within walking distance of one another so it’s very convenient to see them together. We visited the Blue Mosque and Topkapi in the morning, stepped away for a bit to have lunch, then came back to do Hagia Sophia in the afternoon. Since SeaSong had arranged our tours, they took care of getting the tickets and we had our own private guide, which was terrific. It’s so nice to be able to go at your own pace and have a guide who can answer questions rather than being rushed through or only having an audio guide.

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque Interior

Blue Mosque Interior

Blue Mosque Ceiling

Blue Mosque Ceiling

Fountain in the courtyard inside the Blue Mosque

Fountain in the courtyard inside the Blue Mosque

Egyptian Column in the Hippodrome outside the Blue Mosque

Egyptian Column in the Hippodrome outside the Blue Mosque

Ornate Gate inside the Topkapi Palace

Ornate Gate inside the Topkapi Palace

Tilework on the wall of a summer pavilion at Topkapi

Tilework on the wall of a summer pavilion at Topkapi

Balcony of Topkapi Palace

Balcony of Topkapi Palace

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia Interior

Hagia Sophia Interior

Mural inside Hagia Sophia. While the building was a mosque, murals like this had plaster put over them.

Mural inside Hagia Sophia. While the building was a mosque, murals like this had plaster put over them.

Grand Bazaar

After visiting the Big Three, our van whisked us away to the Grand Bazaar. It’s one of the largest covered markets in the world with 60 streets and 5000 shops. It’s always busy, attracting between 250,000 and 400,000 people daily. I love the signs in its midst that indicate it’s been open since 1461 – that’s over 550 years! Note that it is closed on Sundays and closes at 7 pm nightly. If you’re on foot, it’s about a 15-minute walk from the Big Three but there are also three tram stops nearby.

Grand Bazaar main entrance

Grand Bazaar main entrance

Grand Bazaar interor

Grand Bazaar interor

Dolmabahçe Palace

The Dolmabahçe Palace is the European-style palace that was once the residence of the head of state. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, considered ot be the father of modern Turkey and its first president, lived here and used the palace even after his presidency. It was here that he died in 1938. The palace is right on the Bosphorus which I imagine would be great in the summer since it could get the breeze from the strait, since there is no air conditioning here. There’s also a cafe on the grounds and we enjoyed having a dessert there after we took the tour. It’s just down the (rather steep) hill from the Ritz Carlton so we walked down there and took the tour ourselves. The box office was cash-only but fortunately we happened to have enough cash with us. There are several types of tickets that will let you into various parts of the palace. Don’t forget to check out the ornate gates that face the main road just outside as they’re quite beautiful.

Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahçe Palace gate from the street

Dolmabahçe Palace gate from the street

Bosphorus Cruise

After three nights at the Ritz we moved on to the Radisson Blu Bosphorus which is situated right on the strait. It even has its own small dock, which made it a perfect place from which to take a cruise. It was so pleasant out on the water and we got to see a side of the city that’s not as easy to view from the land. The folks at SeaSong arranged this for us and we were able to use their services to move our bags from the Ritz to the Radisson, check into the hotel then hop right on the boat for our cruise, which was very convenient.

Remains of fortress walls as viewed from the Bosphorus

Remains of fortress walls as viewed from the Bosphorus

Another view from the Bosphorus cruise

Another view from the Bosphorus cruise

Taksim Square

The Ritz is very close to Taksim Square, which has all kinds of food and a bit of shopping as well. There is a steep hill leading up to Taksim but that just made for an easier walk downhill at the end of the night. We ate dinner in this area several times and between Yelp and the Ritz’s concierge we were able to select a few very reasonably priced options for our dinners. There are also lots of ATMs in this area.

Taksim Square by night

Taksim Square by night

Rug Shopping

Finally, what’s a trip to Turkey without seeing how Turkish rugs are made? We did stop for a bit in a rug shop to see the demonstration and of course they brought out rug after gorgeous rug to tempt us. While the rugs were definitely priced well under what we’d pay for them here in the US, they were still outside my budget, sadly.
Of course there’s lots more to see in Turkey like the train station, home for the Orient Express, where the Whirling Dervishes perform, loads more mosques and temples to see and other markets as well. It’s definitely a city that deserves more time that we had to give it but hopefully one day we can return.

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Ritz-Carlton Istanbul

Turkey Trip Overview
Booking Flights To Turkey
British Airways First Class Lounge IAH
British Airways 777 First Class IAH-LHR
Transiting Heathrow and British Airways A320 Business Class LHR-IST
Marriott Courtyard Istanbul Airport
Pegasus Airlines Istanbul to Izmir and Back
Ephesus, Mary’s House and Basilica of St. John
Swissotel Efes
Pamukkale Bus and Preiene
Ritz-Carlton Istanbul
Major Sites to see in Istanbul
Radisson Blu Bosphorus
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class IST-IAH

Ritz Carlton Istanbul logo

After returning to Istanbul from Izmir via Pegasus Airlines, the friendly folks at Sea Song had booked us an airport transfer to the Ritz Carlton, where one of my traveling companions and I had used our Marriott points for three free nights. We were not able to combine our points but when making the reservation we’d gotten on a conference call with the Marriott agent and she was able to deduct points for two nights from my friend’s account and one night’s worth of points from mine. While they were two reservation numbers, there were notes in both reservations to point to the other reservation and that way we didn’t have to change rooms after two nights, which was nice.

The van dropped us off at the hotel entrance and, like at the Swissotel, our luggage went through an x-ray machine. But the bellmen took care of that for us so we were able to go straight to the check-in desk.

The lobby was just beautiful. Marble floors, lovely decorations, very calm and luxurious-looking. At certain times they also had pomegranate juice available.RC Lobby

RC Piano

RC FlowersWe were escorted up to our room on the fifth floor. We walked through the entry and past the bathroom and large closet into the main part of the room.
RC EntryIt contained twin beds and they brought up a rollaway for us. It made things a little tight in the bedroom area. We had to rearrange the chair a bit to make things fit.

RC Beds

RC Chair and ViewWe also had a desk with another chair, a combination TV stand/mini-bar and some floor space where we could put some of our luggage.

RC Desk

RC Mini Bar

RC ToiletriesWhile the bed area was a bit cramped, we had no such issue in the bathroom. It was huge! We had a separate tub and shower stall, only one sink but it had lots of counter space and a huge mirror over it and there was a separate toilet room. My only complaint about the bathroom was that the hair dryer was stored in a lower drawer and was somehow connected to the wall via the drawer. I’m a bit above average height for a woman and I got a good biceps workout trying to lift the hair dryer high enough to reach the top of my head because the cord kept pulling it back down. I’d really like to see them have a hair dryer on the counter top – though I suppose that ruins the effect of luxury when looking at the counter. Toiletries were Asprey brand.

RC Sink

RC Tub

RC Shower

RC ToiletThough we didn’t use them, the hotel had a nice gym and a gorgeous indoor pool with hot tubs. There was, of course, also a spa area with Turkish baths. There were also outdoor pools and lounging areas.

RC Gym Cardio

RC Gym

RC Indoor Pool

RC Turkish BathRight next door to the hotel Vodafone Arena is under construction. It will be the home stadium for Beşiktaş J.K., the city’s professional sports club which includes its football (soccer) team. The hotel is on a very steep street but it’s an easy downhill walk to Dolmabahçe Palace, the first European-style residence for Turkey’s rulers, which was completed in the mid-1850s. That’s well worth a visit too.

The staff at the Ritz was fantastic and the concierges gave us some great help with finding places to eat as we were so near to Taksim Square. Unfortunately the walk to Taksim was UP the steep hill but it made it easier coming home at night.

We really enjoyed our stay here and it was so conveniently located that we wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again.

Categories: Hotel, Lodging Review, Ritz Carlton, Turkey | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Pamukkale Bus and Preiene

Turkey Trip Overview
Booking Flights To Turkey
British Airways First Class Lounge IAH
British Airways 777 First Class IAH-LHR
Transiting Heathrow and British Airways A320 Business Class LHR-IST
Marriott Courtyard Istanbul Airport
Pegasus Airlines Istanbul to Izmir and Back
Ephesus, Mary’s House and Basilica of St. John
Swissotel Efes
Pamukkale Bus and Preiene
Ritz-Carlton Istanbul
Major Sites to see in Istanbul
Radisson Blu Bosphorus
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class IST-IAH

 

As I mentioned in the first post of this series, the impetus for visiting Turkey was that a friend of mine had rented an apartment there for a couple of months and we wanted to take the opportunity to see the country up close.

Although we spent the first several days in Izmir, my friend was actually staying in the port town of Kuşadası, which was about 45 minutes away. At one point he did try to come to Izmir and have dinner with us but the big city traffic was so nerve-wracking to him and he ended up going back to Kuşadası.

I checked on the web and determined that the Pamukkale (Pam-OO-kuh-lay) Bus could take us to Kuşadası relatively cheaply. I looked at buying tickets online but since the website was in Turkish I didn’t want to agree to anything by accident so I asked the hotel’s front desk staff about buying tickets. They pointed out a Pamukkale office right across the street – perfect! We were able to buy tickets there and then hop on their shuttle bus that would take us to the main bus terminal.Pamukkale logo

Once we were dropped off at the main bus terminal we obviously looked a little lost because we had several people point us to the correct place to board our bus. The bus had wi-fi and individual entertainment screens that featured videos (not sure if they were TV shows or movies, but they were in Turkish) and some games. It made the trip to Kuşadası quite enjoyable.

By this time it was late morning and my friend met us at the bus terminal there. While we’d seen ruins just a couple of days before, he wanted to show us another site nearby that was a bit of a different experience. We stopped at one of the many open-air cafes for lunch and enjoyed fresh Turkish kebabs before heading the rest of the way to Priene.

Priene was an ancient Greek site that was once on the sea coast. But as with Ephesus, time and earthquakes have taken their toll and now it’s now many miles inland. But it must have had a lovely view of the Bay of Miletus, off the Aegean Sea.

Priene once overlooked the Aegean Sea

Priene once overlooked the Aegean Sea

The remains of the agora are recognizable and the theater is still in relatively good shape. We found it interesting that there appeared to be seats for important persons right on the front row.

Theater in Priene

Theater in Priene

The remains of the temple of Athena (funded by Alexander the Great) are in abundance with pieces of pillars all around. Some pillars were reconstructed in the mid-1960s though it’s thought the original pillars were another 3 meters taller. Still, it helps to give us an idea of what the place might have looked like.

These columns were reassembled in the mid-1960s

These columns were reassembled in the mid-1960s

The last word of this inscription is Greek for "Athena"

The last word of this inscription is Greek for “Athena”

Remains of Athena's Temple

Remains of Athena’s Temple

What was nice about this historical site vs. Ephesus was that there were virtually no restrictions as to where we could venture. We could climb on these 2500-year-old ruins and run our hands over the carvings at will. It’s just amazing to think about how old some of these ruins are!

What looks like elephant feet actually represent eggs - and Athena as a fertility goddess

What looks like elephant feet actually represent eggs – and Athena as a fertility goddess

Pieces of columns

Pieces of columns

A throne of sorts for a priest(ess) or other important person

A throne of sorts for a priest(ess) or other important person

After leaving Priene my friend took us on a driving tour of Kuşadası before he took us back to the bus station. Getting back to Izmir was as easy as getting to Kuşadası. Getting from the main bus station back to our hotel was a little more challenging. We asked a couple of different people at the bus station where to catch the local Pamukkale bus. While they told us, we didn’t fully understand the instructions. Eventually we did find the location (right where they told us it would be!) only to find we’d missed the shuttle by about two minutes. So we sat around another half-hour for the next one. Not the end of the world but we were ready to get back to the hotel at that point.

But we’d highly recommend the Pamukkale Bus as a clean, comfortable, affordable way to get around Turkey without having to rent a car. And Priene was a nice contrast to Ephesus – off the beaten path, no crowds and a definite hands-on experience.

Categories: Turkey | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Swissotel Efes

Turkey Trip Overview
Booking Flights To Turkey
British Airways First Class Lounge IAH
British Airways 777 First Class IAH-LHR
Transiting Heathrow and British Airways A320 Business Class LHR-IST
Marriott Courtyard Istanbul Airport
Pegasus Airlines Istanbul to Izmir and Back
Ephesus, Mary’s House and Basilica of St. John
Swissotel Efes
Pamukkale Bus and Preiene
Ritz-Carlton Istanbul
Major Sites to see in Istanbul
Radisson Blu Bosphorus
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class IST-IAH

At last we had a day to ourselves. While part of me was ready to explore Izmir itself, the reality is that as 40- and 50-somethings, my friends and I just need a day off every now and then. And that’s OK. The good folks at Sea Song had booked us into the Swissotel Grand Efes Izmir and it was definitely worth whatever we paid. This hotel was recently named to the TripAdvisor list of Travelers’ Choice Winners for 2015 in the luxury hotel category, so you know it has to be good.

Our room was slightly larger than standard, which allowed us to add a rollaway along with the king bed. There was a small patio that overlooked the courtyard and the pool. We had a desk where we could set up the laptop and plug in our many electronic devices. A counter ran the whole length of the wall opposite the bed, which was nice for storing our stuff. There were a few drawers under the counter as well.Swissotel TV and Counter Swissotel King Bed and Rollaway Swissotel Desk

The closet was a good size, though we didn’t make a lot of use of it. The safe was large enough to store our tablets.

The bathroom was nice and big with a separate shower stall and bathtub. The sink area had quite a bit of counter space and there were shelves above and below it. Toiletries were Purovel branded.Swissotel Sink and Counter Swissotel Toiletries Swissotel Shower and Toilet Swissotel Tub

Perhaps the highlight of the hotel was the glorious buffet breakfast each morning. Wow! Words really can’t do it justice but if you couldn’t find plenty to eat here, you weren’t trying very hard.Swissotel Buffet 1 Swissotel Buffet 2 Swissotel Buffet 3 Swissotel Buffet 4 Swissotel Buffet 5 Swissotel Buffet 6 Swissotel Buffet 7 Swissotel Buffet 8 Swissotel Buffet 9 Swissotel Buffet 10 Swissotel Buffet 11

We also enjoyed sitting by the pool and just enjoying the warm sun. There are windows in the pool and there’s a restaurant underneath/beside it where diners can see into the pool itself. So, no skinny dipping! An indoor pool is also available year-round.

Swissotel Outdoor Pool

Swissotel Indoor Pool

Swissotel Courtyard

Though I didn’t take advantage of it, the gym facilities were really impressive. Quite a large weight room, a number of bicycles (they even have spinning classes) as well as yoga classes were available for use.Swissotel Gym Treadmills Swissotel Gym Weights 1 Swissotel Gym Weights 2 Swissotel Gym Cycles

Spa and salon facilities are also at the hotel. This hotel also has an entire building of meeting rooms and conference facilities and we saw a number of folks attending.

When we were working with Sea Song we’d been considering another hotel but they said that the Swissotel was the only one they worked with in Izmir, and I see why. We had a fantastic stay and wouldn’t hesitate to return.

Categories: Lodging Review, Swissotel, Turkey | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Ephesus, Mary’s House and Basilica of St. John

Turkey Trip Overview
Booking Flights To Turkey
British Airways First Class Lounge IAH
British Airways 777 First Class IAH-LHR
Transiting Heathrow and British Airways A320 Business Class LHR-IST
Marriott Courtyard Istanbul Airport
Pegasus Airlines Istanbul to Izmir and Back
Ephesus, Mary’s House and Basilica of St. John
Swissotel Efes
Pamukkale Bus and Preiene
Ritz-Carlton Istanbul
Major Sites to see in Istanbul
Radisson Blu Bosphorus
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class IST-IAH

I knew that Izmir (the ancient city of Smyrna) was close to the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus, which I had toured before while on a cruise. I thought it was fantastic and wanted my friends to be able to experience it. Through a travel agent friend I was put in touch with the folks at Sea Song, who are top travel specialists in Turkey and Virtuoso agents. While we probably could have put together some of these details on our own, we were able to concentrate on flights and hotels in Istanbul and we put our ground transportation and tours in their hands.

Our guide and our bus driver, yes we had a small bus even though there were only three of us, picked us up at our hotel and we were on our way. The ruins of Ephesus are about an hour away from Izmir via a modern highway, so it was an easy ride. The ruins are on a hillside and the driver drove us to the entrance at the top of the hill and we wound our way through the town down the hillside.

The book of Ephesians in the Bible is actually a letter written from the Apostle Paul to the city’s inhabitants. He spent a fair amount of time there, preaching and making tents. Shortly before the birth of Christ, Ephesus became both the seat of the regional governor and a major center of commerce – in short, a very prosperous city. Much of the remains we see now are from that time period.

It’s best remembered for its temple to the goddess Artemis, the library of Celsus and its amphitheater, which could seat 25,000.

Amphitheater in Ephesus

Amphitheater in Ephesus

Library of Celsus

Library of Celsus

We also got to tour the Terrace Houses, where excavation is on-going. Here we saw where the wealthier citizens lived. The floors all had mosaics and the walls were intricately painted too. These homes were up a side hill from Curetes Street, the main street of the city. The street itself is made of marble, which made it quite slick with all the dust from the area. The sidewalks, which were roped off, were elaborate mosaics that have held up amazingly well over the centuries – or perhaps just beautifully restored.

Mosaic on the floor of one of the Terrace Houses

Mosaic on the floor of one of the Terrace Houses

Sidewalk Mosaic on Curates Street

Sidewalk Mosaic on Curates Street

After finishing the tour our bus took us to a small restaurant in Selcuk, the town closest to Efes, where we had lunch and enjoyed some time in the shade. Aside from our time at the Terrace Houses, an area that’s covered, the rest of the time in Ephesus is out in the open and there’s very little shade to be found. So it was nice to be able to cool down for a bit.

Our next stop was the House of the Virgin Mary. While it’s not known for sure whether the mother of Jesus spent her final years here, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. There is a whole list of reasons why this might have been her house, but no one knows for sure. Additionally, the structure now on the site was “reconstructed” based on the finding of about a 2-3 foot section of wall. No photos are allowed inside. It’s very small and even though there was a line, it moved reasonably quickly. It was nice to see but if you don’t see this site, you haven’t really missed much.

The final stop was at the Basilica of St. John. It’s believed that the man charged to take care of Mary upon the death of Jesus lived out his final years and was buried in this area. Some 300 years later a small chapel was constructed over his grave and that was expanded into a basilica in the 6th century AD. The building became a mosque in the 14th century when the Turks invaded the area but later that century an earthquake left it unusable.

Ruins of the Basilica of St John

Ruins of the Basilica of St John

Grave of St John

Grave of St John

We enjoyed our tour and our guide, Tilda, was fantastic. She was our point of contact within Izmir, escorting us to and from the airport as well as on this tour. I’d highly recommend her as a guide!

After traveling for three days in a row and then being gone all day on this tour we were definitely ready for some recovery time and looking forward to our day of relaxation.

Categories: Europe, Turkey | Tags: | 2 Comments

Pegasus Airlines Istanbul to Izmir and Back

Turkey Trip Overview
Booking Flights To Turkey
British Airways First Class Lounge IAH
British Airways 777 First Class IAH-LHR
Transiting Heathrow and British Airways A320 Business Class LHR-IST
Marriott Courtyard Istanbul Airport
Pegasus Airlines Istanbul to Izmir and Back
Ephesus, Mary’s House and Basilica of St. John
Swissotel Efes
Pamukkale Bus and Preiene
Ritz-Carlton Istanbul
Major Sites to see in Istanbul
Radisson Blu Bosphorus
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class IST-IAH

 

The hotel shuttle dropped us off at the domestic terminal at the Istanbul Airport. Unlike most US airports where the counters are all in one long line, here there were several different banks of counters and we had to wander a bit to find the Pegasus Airlines counter. But we got checked in relatively quickly. We’d paid for the extra luggage allowance so that we wouldn’t have to worry about our bags being overweight.

The terminal itself is nothing fancy, to put it mildly. There were some fast food places and I think one friend bought a soft drink but we didn’t venture further. Clearing security was old-school with metal detectors.

Our gate was downstairs in a bare area with a concrete floor and some seats. We were a bit early so just hung out there. The area did start filling up as our flight time approached. When it was time to board, a bus pulled up outside the door and took us to our plane, which we then boarded via a staircase.

Pegasus flies 737s between Istanbul and Izmir several times a day for a very reasonable price. We’d booked our tickets via a travel agency/tour operator that not only got us these flights but also booked our hotel in Izmir and the tours we’d take on this trip.

The plane’s interior was perfectly functional but tired and a bit beat up. But as the flight was only about an hour, that was fine. Since we’d paid for the upgraded package, we got cheese sandwiches and a drink included, as well as bulkhead seating.

In comparison to the Istanbul Domestic Terminal, the Izmir terminal, was quite nice and modern. Lots of space and high ceilings gave it an airy feel.  The domestic terminal had just opened in March 2014.

On our return, our Izmir guide escorted us to the ticket counter and made sure we got through everything before dropping us off in the security line. Once we were airside we wandered a little bit, looking at the souvenir shops. I was very surprised to find how small the bathrooms were. Naturally there was a line out the door of the women’s side. Very sad to see that in a new airport.

Our return flight was much the same as the outbound. We parked at a remote stand at Ataturk and were bused to the terminal. It seemed to take quite awhile for our baggage to be delivered to the belt.

So Pegasus does what it needs to do: deliver people safely and on time for a very reasonable price. I’d compare it to flying Southwest Airlines in the US – although you can pre-select your seat. Perfectly fine for short flights though hopefully their international fleet is in better shape than their short-haul domestic fleet.

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Marriott Courtyard Istanbul Airport

Turkey Trip Overview
Booking Flights To Turkey
British Airways First Class Lounge IAH
British Airways 777 First Class IAH-LHR
Transiting Heathrow and British Airways A320 Business Class LHR-IST
Marriott Courtyard Istanbul Airport
Pegasus Airlines Istanbul to Izmir and Back
Ephesus, Mary’s House and Basilica of St. John
Swissotel Efes
Pamukkale Bus and Preiene
Ritz-Carlton Istanbul
Major Sites to see in Istanbul
Radisson Blu Bosphorus
Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul
Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class IST-IAH

After being picked up by the free airport shuttle, we were on our way to the hotel. It’s only about a 15-20 minute drive though since we’d been traveling for roughly 24 hours, it seemed further away. Our first realization we weren’t in Kansas anymore was that as the hotel-owned van pulled up to the entrance, we noticed it was a secured entrance. The guard came out with a long mirror on a stick and proceeded to check for explosives on the underside of our van. That was a bit of a wake-up call!

We were let out right in front of the lobby. There were a couple of others checking in at the time so we had about a five minute wait until those guests were helped. Check-in was pretty quick and efficient and all the front desk staff spoke English very well.

Since we were only there one night and we knew we’d be exhausted we’d only ordered a regular room with a roll-away. I did ask about it at the front desk and even though our room was ready for us, the roll-away was not in place. But I will give the staff credit for how quickly they got it to our room and set up. Yes, it was quite crowded with three people, three large suitcases and three beds but at that point we really didn’t care.

I did not take photos as it was so late at night when we arrived and we were so tired. The room was a bit smaller than a standard US hotel room, but that was to be expected. The bathroom was a nice size and had the standard amenities including shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hair dryer and soap.

We all crashed soon after arriving. My friends seemed to sleep well though, as usual, I got hot during the night. We had tried to adjust the thermostat before we went to bed but either we didn’t do something right or it reset itself but I did wake up several times due to the temperature.

We’d booked a fairly cheap rate but it did not include breakfast. I really need a good breakfast each day so I went ahead and paid for the full buffet. Not sure I got all my money’s worth but I didn’t want to do anything to make us miss the shuttle back to the airport. One friend decided it was not worth the price at all and another bought a package that allowed for cereal and juice only.

When checking in we’d made sure to verify which shuttle we’d need to catch back to the airport. We arrived a bit early to find quite a few others there and several had large pieces of sporting equipment. We were a bit concerned we wouldn’t all be able to fit in the van but we got packed in like sardines and were all able to fit.

The driver first went to the international terminal where everyone else got out of the van. Then he took my friends and me to the domestic terminal.

Next up: the domestic terminals in Istanbul and Izmir and our flights on Pegasus Airlines

Categories: Hotel, Lodging Review, Marriott, Turkey | Tags: | Leave a comment

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