Trafalgar Tours, Turkey: How a bus tour won me over
11 March 2015
Peddlers are boisterously singing out from every direction, their voices getting louder and louder. "Do you want a carpet?" "Would you like handmade boots? These are the best in Turkey!" "What are you looking for? Lady! I have everything you want, just take a look in my store."
I'm lost in Istanbul's colourful and chaotic Grand Bazaar and it's exactly where I want to be. I lost sight of my colleagues maybe 15 minutes ago. We strolled into a non-descript looking eatery chock-full of laughing locals and shared a delicious meal of succulent lamb kebabs, freshly baked flatbread topped with spicy minced beef and swathes of creamy hummus that we mopped up with more bread until it was as if it was never there. It wasn't quite what we ordered… but that's half the fun.
I'm travelling with Trafalgar, traversing intoxicating Turkey by coach, but I quickly learn the coach is just a means of transportation, albeit a rather comfortable variety.
To be honest I've never considered coach travel before, picturing long days spent on an uncomfortable bus, perhaps sitting beside a hardcore knitter – or even worse – a hardcore knitter who won't shut up. But I was a coach travel neophyte.
We spend around two hours on the coach most days, and it's very comfortable. The seats have serious extending capabilities, there is plenty of legroom, there's a toilet on board, and there's even wifi when driving through large cities. There are no knitters on the coach (although I am travelling with other media). When I do meet members from another Trafalgar group and quiz them about knitting they look at me as if I'm nuts and go back to discussing the day's events over another wine. They stay out longer than me too.
A few days prior to getting lost in the bazaar we had a completely different dining experience. Arriving into the picturesque mountain-side village of Demircidere, we were welcomed by wide-smiling locals clad in colourful, patterned traditional dress, and after sampling home-made wine and freshly baked bread we formed groups of four and went our separate ways to the various homes peppered around the town.
We laughed while attempting to communicate with each other over a delicious meal of olives, soup, yoghurt, crisp-fried börek and dolma, all chased down with more gutsy wine. Trafalgar call this local dining experience Be My Guest and it's a popular component of many of their itineraries (they have over 100 Be My Guest experiences available across their various tours). I sure felt welcomed as a guest in a small tourist-free village (we were the only tourists there) I would probably not have been able to find on my own.
Sometimes we ate at low-key local eateries staring out to the sea, dipping doughy just-baked bread into the best olive oil I've ever tasted. Other times we went to flash restaurants with stunning city skyline views and feasted on fancy, regional delicacies washed down with more local wines and cocktails.
A global enterprise can't always know where the best places to eat are everywhere around the world, so what Trafalgar does is work closely with local companies to create itineraries and experiences that offer insider experiences. Guests use their hashtag, #trafalgarinsider, across social media platforms to share their insider experiences with the world. Thank God for the wifi on the coaches.
Our charismatic guide Yesim was a never-ending source of knowledge. Best olive oil in Turkey? Where to find the most beautiful ceramics? What time will the coach arrive at A, B and C? Yesim had an answer for everything… almost. When she didn't someone else jumped on board the coach.
When visiting Gallipoli a local expert took the group around the poignant site, delving into the history and significance of an event that will never be forgotten.
We explored the 2000-year-old marble city of Ephesus with another local specialist by our side revealing facts and figures about the archeology and the biblical legacy of the stunning site. Cappadocia was one of my highlights and the local guide (an author, speaker and archeologist) made the amazing cave city even better with his insider knowledge.
And when it was just Yesim she joked and chattered, usually utilising the last half hour on the coach before reaching a destination to talk about the upcoming sight's significance and history. This meant we had more free time everywhere we went. There was of course also quiet time on the coach and there's something calming about just staring out the window watching the world – a new and exotic world – go past.
Travel is impossible without transportation. We fly to one destination, then often it's a cab, a bus, a train, a boat… you get the drift. Often the most beautiful places take longer to reach, are harder to get to, and some – like Demircidere village – you mightn't get there at all.
Travelling with Trafalgar opened my eyes up to coach tours. Everything from transportation and meals, to luggage pick-ups and wake-up calls was arranged, and I sort of expected that. What I didn't envisage was laughing hard, learning a lot, sleeping a little, and walking away wanting to do it again.
The writer was a guest of Trafalgar and travelled parts of both the Best of Turkey and Highlights of Turkey itineraries.
Trafalgar offers two Turkey itineraries. The 14-day Best of Turkey tour starts and ends in Istanbul, travelling to Gallipoli, Çanakkale, Troy, Pergamon, Izmir, Ephesus, Virgin Mary's House, Hierapolis, Pamukkale, Antalya, Perge, Aspendos, Konya, Cappadocia, Göreme and Ankara, and includes a Be My Guest dining experience. It's priced from $2135 per person, twin share (land only) from April 2015.
The eight-day Highlights of Turkey tour also starts and ends in Istanbul and travels to Gallipoli, Çanakkale, Troy, Pergamon, Izmir, Ephesus, Virgin Mary's House, Pamukkale, Hierapolis and Bursa. It also includes a Be My Guest Dining experience and is priced from $1535 per person, twin share (land only) from April 2015. All Trafalgar tours include travel by luxury coach, the services of a professional guide/travel director, most meals and accommodation. See trafalgar.com
Read more: http://www.traveller.com.au/trafalgar-tours-turkey-how-a-bus-tour-won-me-over-13tp45#ixzz58MitudLn