I wish we have more time and money to explore the rest of Turkey, it is truly beautiful – both country and people!! You are so lucky to live there and know all of its significance; glad we found you . I told Maria, as much as I would love to ask you both to help us plan for our next Turkey visit (of everything else that we haven’t seen), we have to save up money and vacation hours first. In the meantime, you have to plan for your US visit . You all are more than welcome to stay with us if you visit Washington DC; we’ll definitely show you around
My husband and I recently did a 10-day Turkey tour early October 2015. So I/we wanted to go especially to Istanbul, Cappadocia, Ephesus, Pamukkale; other places include Hierapolis, Miletus, etc. Due to the multi-city itinerary with some of the places 1-2 hours (or more!) away from the airport, I decided to go with a private tour to ensure we have a ride to/from the airport/hotel/sites and of course, a private guide all to ourselves. I believe that going to a place without knowing the history/culture defeats the purpose of the travel. Mere photos are meaningless without the story behind them. Hence, I thought a tour guide is worth investing. I found this agency through Trip Advisor with all its high marks and great reviews(!). I got in touch with Ertunga’s wife Maria right from the start (~3 months in advance) and she helped me so much in getting the itinerary straight. Most of the time she is very prompt in responding, patient, and very flexible as well. Because PayPal fee was a lot, I paid via Western Union which was probably out of their way, but they never complained; and it worked out pretty well. When we arrived in Istanbul, someone was already waiting for us at the airport, and we had our own private van(!) that my husband was surprised we didn’t have to share with anyone at all . En route to the hotel, Maria called (the driver) to make sure we arrived safely, and informed me of the plan for the next day’s tour. I thought that was very thoughtful of her. Maria is very well organized and is very professional. All this follow up calls were consistent until we reached Kusadesi (as her husband Ertunga came to pick us).
In Istanbul, Ugur (all the while I thought his name was Onur, sorry) was our tour guide, who picked us up PROMPTLY at the hotel with the private van (a very presentable & fairly new VW). We however, had a little hiccup at the beginning of our tour – there were NO museum/site passes available anywhere(!). We ended up walking from one site to the next and back looking for a pass which we thought took some of our tour time but I didn’t think it was anybody’s fault; the city simply has a lot of tourists . And we were still able to see everything as scheduled. Ugur is very easy going and wonderful, as well as down to earth. He related the history/significance of each place fairly well, including some of his personal experiences in the city. And he had also read Dan Brown’s Inferno so I think he can relate to my excitement. I would have loved it if the day’s tour also included Chora Church, Bosphorus cruise, and maybe Dolmabahçe Palace though I am not certain how feasible it would be to fit it all in 1 day. Also, I don’t know if it would be possible to purchase the museum/site pass the day before to avoid recurrence of the above incident. But these are only my suggestions. Ugur taught us how to use the public transport (funekuler and tram) and we were able to roam around independently thereafter. Maria was also nice & honest enough to recommend watching the belly dancing/whirling dervish in Cappadocia as well as the Turkish bath as they tend to be overpriced in Istanbul.
In Cappadocia, again we were met with a private driver Mehmet who was SO kind and humble(!); & we had our private ride – a Mercedes! We had a late flight, and arrived at our cave hotel (1 hour away) around midnight. En route, Çihan (our tour guide) called to ensure our safe arrival, as well as confirmed our itinerary for the day starting w/ a hot air balloon ride at 0500(!) which was an amazing experience ! Çihan was very nice and accommodating as well, they were very prompt (that we were caught finishing our breakfast) and professional, and very considerate of our time. He discussed the plan for the day, made sure we see the nice views, explained how things/sites evolved, etc. Though my husband and I were not so sure how the tours in Cappadocia were supposed to be, we noticed mostly he would just explain things at the beginning, walk with us initially, and the rest of the time we were on our own exploring and taking photos; in the meantime, he would wait with the driver until we were done. The next day he was booked for another group, so we had another tour guide, also named Mehmet, and he was wonderful! He is slightly reserved, simple, and low key, but very well informed answering all of our questions, and truthful with his views. He has passion for the outdoors and what is beyond the usual and predictable routes which is cool! We got to see more than what a regular tourist would (or so we think ).
After Cappadocia, we flew to Izmir excited to see the ruins and hear from the ‘tour master’ himself, at the same time uncertain whether this was really worth the cost. I told my husband (not of the total cost ) of the high ratings and the great feedbacks people have expressed re: this tour agency. Ertunga met us at the airport himself as we planned to start the tour right away. He seemed a little intimidating at first UNTIL he started talking; we then can’t keep our ears off of him. He is very knowledgeable in the history of every ancient city we visited (and beyond). His passion is so palpable that I think it would do him injustice to transplant him to another country. As previous reviews pointed out he is very considerate that he always finds a shade when he explains things, that is so true and I appreciate it very well…though honestly I think he hates the heat too just like us . As my husband is vegetarian, he always makes sure that the place we’re going to for lunch has a good selection (or a tasty dish) for him. Since he found out I love donër, on our last day we explored the city of Didima for any donër, he wanted me to savor it again. With Ertunga, he makes every effort so we can be comfortable, so we can find stuff we need (camera memory card, grocery, etc), he is consistently prompt in every meeting…bottom line, Ertunga took very good care of us when we were there. With this trip, we not only gained knowledge of his country and the people, but we gained a friend for life as well! Thank you Ertunga, Maria, and everyone above named, for everything! You all are simply wonderful!
Vanessa and Steve