Author Topic: Merhaba from Türkiye  (Read 2004 times)

Offline ponash123

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Merhaba from Türkiye
« on: August 31, 2021, 04:28:03 PM »
Merhaba from Türkiye

Points:
I based our schedule and itinerary largely due to Shabbos and the way the flights fell out. Ideally, I would’ve liked to do one day less in Istanbul and spend Shabbos in Izmir/Antalya/Kas and add in Pamukkale and Ephesus. Due to the way the flights were scheduled after Shabbos, it would’ve cut into our Cappadocia time too much, so we decided against it, but I’m just throwing it out there in case anyone is planning.

The Afghanistan crisis unfolded while we were in Turkey and it hit a lot closer to home than it normally would’ve. We met many Afghans, including one that was previously a translator for the US Army and whose family is stuck in Afghanistan in danger, and was trying to get out.

Although there is Chabad in Istanbul, as well as a kosher restaurant, we brought all our food with us.  Chabad was only open to Shabbos guests that are vaccinated, and we were hesitant to rely on the restaurants during COVID. We did end up visiting one for lunch and it was excellent – Café Eden.
There is also a catering company as well (that provided the airline meals for our homebound flight).



Monday:
We left JFK Sunday afternoon and had a long flight with Turkish Airlines. We lost time, so we landed in Istanbul at about 5:00 AM the following morning.
After landing in Istanbul, we took a taxi to our hotel. This was a great introduction to Turkey and its great prices, as our 50-minute drive was about the equivalent of $20.

We headed to our hotel, Romance Istanbul Hotel, which was a great little boutique hotel in a wonderful location. They were extremely accommodating for our Kosher needs and have beautiful clean rooms for a great price.
The hotel is located right off the tram tracks which is very helpful. You can walk around the city and always find your way back easily by following the tracks.
It took a while to check in, after which we rested for a few hours. In the afternoon (in an exhausted stupor) we headed out to walk around town a bit.







We travel like proper Jews:


Just walking around Istanbul is a treat and one can easily spend a few days wandering about.
It’s an incredible tapestry of modern and ancient, progressive and traditional, old and new.  Istanbul acts as an almost magical meeting place of the east and the west and is literally straddling two continents.
It’s a melting pot of people, with one of the highest number of immigrants and refugees from neighboring countries. We met more expats than native Turks, many from Syria, Afghanistan, and the likes.

Gülhane Park is located a few minutes from the hotel and is a beautiful, historical park adjacent to Topkapi Palace. We enjoyed walking around and sitting and relaxing there.






Eventually we heaved ourselves off the bench and continued on our way.  We walked a bit further towards the famous Hagia Sophia, which is a beautiful mosque/church and a landmark in Istanbul.





20210809_143744 by Flower R, on Flickr


Across from the Hagia Sofia is The Blue Mosque or the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. This was built in the 1600s and is quite beautiful. It was under renovations but did enter and explore a bit.

I’m noticing now that in our sleepless state, we don’t actually have any photos of The Blue Mosque that we are not in. Please pardon this terribly cropped photo.




We then made our way towards the Grand Bazaar, stopping on the way to do a fun costume photoshoot.



We spent some time walking around the Grand Bazaar, which I will go into further detail about later on.

We then made our way back to the hotel, spent some time in the spa and got an early night.

Around Istanbul:




Offline WhiteWolf

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2021, 10:23:48 PM »
Nice Report and great photos.

Offline ponash123

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #2 on: September 01, 2021, 11:24:10 AM »
Tuesday:

We spent most of Tuesday on an organized tour seeing the Jewish sites. Note: If you want to enter any of the shuls, it takes foresight and planning since you need to present your passports etc.
We booked a Jewish Heritage Tour through IstanbulLife.org and were really happy with them. It’s not cheap, but we felt it was worth every penny. Our guide was fantastic, knowledgeable and friendly, and extremely flexible to our wants and needs.
Though our guide was not Jewish, he possessed a remarkable amount of knowledge about our culture. We were of course duly impressed, until he outed himself by insisting that the chummus in our very fleishig meal had cheese in it.

We started off by going to several shuls.
-   Ashkenazi Shul: this is the only active Ashkenazic shul and has full services. The Chabad Shliach is the Rabbi of the shul.
-   Neve Shalom Shul, the largest shul (also known by some unfortunate terrorist attacks in the past).
-   Am Achrida Shul: one of the oldest shuls in Istanbul, which dates back to the 1430s. This shul is also known for being the shul where Shabbetai Zvi spoke and gave lectures on the prominent Ark shaped podium.

We also saw items in the shuls from the 1400's and siddurim translated from Hebrew to Turkish, which was pretty cool. It was interesting to see that the inner domed roof was painted with Magen Davids and Turkish stars, alike. In general the Jews have been treated fairly well in Turkey up until more recently when Israel relations strained things and caused tension. 








We strolled around the Galata and Balat neighborhoods, which were home to the Jews back in the day. There were many homes with name plaques of Jewish doctors and families, as well as Magen David designs built into the exterior design. Balat was later taken over and became home to the gypsies, which is evident by the colorful buildings and hip vibe.

We visited the Jewish museum which showed an interesting snapshot of the history of the country.

We also drove to Café Eden for lunch, where we really enjoyed having a hot meal and shmoozing with the owner in a smattering of Hebrew/Turkish/English.









Please note the woman below managing to admire the view and ogle the tourists all while practicing her kisui rosh.



Delicious spread in Café Eden:



We strolled across the Galata Bridge, which is the famous bridge that spans the Golden Horn.  When walking on the bridge, you get beautiful views of the city, street vendors on the bridge, people fishing, and can look west towards Europe and East across the Bosphorus, to Asia (you also get pungent whiffs of fish from all the vendors and food carts but that’s slightly less romantic, so we’ll leave that out).

Views from the bridge:



We walked around Ortaköy Square which is a nice waterfront square with cafes, music, and great views. There is a famous potato delicacy and one of the streets is lines with colorful carts piled high with toppings for this dish.




We walked through the Spice Bazaar, which of course we could not miss. It’s colorful, fragrant and has every spice imaginable. One coffee shop alone had hundreds of different native beans, and we bought fresh-ground coffee for half the price than you find at home!






After going back to the hotel for a brief rest and snack, we headed back out for a sunset cruise of the Bosphorus Strait.  We had a great boat ride which consisted of passing landmark sights, famous mosques featured in many Turkish movies, beautiful sunset, great view of the bridge which is lit up at night, and an hour of free time on the Asian side of Istanbul, which we used to relax at a cafe for Turkish tea, as there did not seem to be anything else of interest there.
We had a great time conversing with other guests, as well as our very passionate Afghan tour guide.
   
A palace that our guide excitedly pronounced as magnificent, beautiful and….bulky:







« Last Edit: September 01, 2021, 11:51:45 AM by ponash123 »

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #3 on: September 01, 2021, 12:31:38 PM »
Great report!

The achida shul’s bima is shaped like a boat as it was built by Spanish refugees who came by boat.

Here’s another angle that I took when I was there (had to hide my phone while taking it since the guy said that no pictures were allowed)


Offline ponash123

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2021, 02:29:49 PM »

Wednesday:

We had a relaxed morning and the headed out to the Princes’ Islands. Following various contradicting directions from passersby, we walked to the port where we caught a tram to Kabataş, and then worked our way through the chaos and the crowds to try to buy ferry tickets.
It was a bit of a hassle getting tickets as the machines had no English, were quite confusing, and there were massive crowds. We found ourselves with a Syrian family attached to us, who were very inquisitive as to our origins & in turn acted as translators with the port staff. We eventually found someone willing to help. We waited in line to buy tickets for a while, ran to get change (because of course the machine takes only exact change) and then finally got our tickets only to be smugly told that the next boat leaves in 2 hours. We ran (Syrian family in tow) about 2 blocks over where we were able to get tickets for a private boat that was leaving shortly. We used our previously purchased tickets for the way back, so all’s well that ends well.



When the boat arrived, we all piled on and settled in for the 2-hour boat ride, of which we spent most of it watching a riveting sales pitch for peelers. The whole boat was obligated to get involved and yell out the compulsory ‘oooh’ and ‘aah’ and various intervals.   



The Princes’ Islands are a group of charming little islands in the Sea of Marmara, off the coast of Istanbul.  The four main islands of the archipelago are Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, and Kinaliada. We chose to visit Büyükada, which is the biggest island (and interestingly enough, it was popular among Jews and Europeans from Istanbul).

Once you are on the islands you can stroll or bike through the streets, where beautiful homes and gardens line the way and views of the water spread before you.
Only bicycles and electric little cars are allowed on the islands (regular motor vehicles are banned) which lends an incredibly peaceful quiet atmosphere.
We rented bikes and spent an enjoyable few hours exploring the island, having lunch, sitting by the water, and strolling through the shops, which mainly sell kitschy souvenirs, flower wreaths and imitation brand-name products.














The boat ride home was quite long but it was riddled with entertainment as well. Though not quite as riveting as the peeler performance, we had fun watching this woman attempt to feed the passing birds by throwing bread in their path.




Thursday:

We spent Thursday exploring Istanbul, the bazaars, and the general sights.
We spent many hours in the Grand Bazaar and had a great time shopping and bargaining with the store owners (we had a proper training in the souks of Morocco several years ago, no bargaining can compare to what goes on over there).
Most of the locals in the Turkish Bazaars were not prepared for our skills and tenacity, and we heard many cries of "why you break my heart" and "how can I take your money" when we began bargaining. For the most part we settled on prices we were thrilled with, but there were some shops where the owners stood their ground.

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. It dates back to 1461 and has slowly expanded to its current size of over 4,000 shops and 61 streets.  There are sections of newer merchandise, souvenir style shops, a lot of imitation items of brand-name clothing, purses and shoes etc., and a large antique section in which we saw menorahs and other traditional Jewish items.

Even if you’re not shopping, it’s a great place to get a feel for Ottoman life. There are numerous shops for carpets and Kilims (flat weaves) which shows the rich heritage of carpet making from all over the country.  Lamps and lanterns are obviously a huge item and you will see the full gamut of styles and designs.
There’s a large section dedicated to gold, which is reminiscent of the Gold Souk in Dubai.






















We saw many of these tea and coffee serving sets with traditional Ottoman patterns and designs. The first time we looked at one of them, the shop owner excitedly took out a cup and started banging it on the floor to show us the durability. We were duly impressed. By the time we got to our 3rd or 4th shop, we were not that impressed anymore. If we so much as looked in the direction of the cups, the guy would enthusiastically start banging away while we yelled out – we know, we know! They don’t break!




In the afternoon we walked to the nearest intersection and battled the rush hour traffic to take a, quite overpriced, Taksi to Taksim Square, which is the most popular square in Istanbul, in a centralized location. The large, cobblestone square is frequented by carts selling roasted corn and chestnuts, elderly women selling flowers and lots of birds. We enjoyed walking around and taking in the lively atmosphere. The square has a very active nightlife with music and dancing, but at the time we were there it was pretty quiet and relaxing.

We then took a long stroll (or hike, depending who you ask) to the Nişantaşı neighborhood, which is an upscale area popular for fashion boutiques and chic cafes. We walked around and shopped for a while before heading back to our hotel. 







Around the streets:









Offline ponash123

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2021, 02:16:59 PM »
Friday:

We woke up early Friday morning, packed out of our hotel and headed to the airport for our flight to Cappadocia.
After a short flight we landed in Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport, a tiny little backyard airport about 40 minutes away from Goreme.



Cappadocia is a beautiful region in central Turkey famous for its distinct ‘fairy chimneys’, cave homes and hotels, remarkable rock formations and, of course, the hundreds of hot air balloons that soar in the sky during sunrise each morning. They say that the landscape is a result of volcanic eruptions years ago and centuries of erosion. Whatever the cause, the result is a dazzling array of colors, valleys, caves, and formations that comes together to create a fairy tale view that just blows your mind.

We absolutely loved our time here. There is something so peaceful and relaxing about the area, the people are so welcoming and nice, and the weather is magnificent.

We elected to stay in Göreme mainly due to the location. With the fairy chimneys and honeycomb-like cliffs, Göreme is so beautiful that it really does defy description. It's the tourist hub of Cappadocia, but somehow manages to retain the feeling of being a traditional village.
As if plucked from a whimsical fairytale, the whole area is just utterly spectacular. The weather is glorious, with a strong sun, clear arid air with temperatures in the mid-70s and crisp evenings.

We chose to stay in Kelebek Cave Hotel, one of the many hotels in the area that are carved in caves, all a perfect blend of historic and contemporary, natural and manmade, and comfortable and elegant.
Kelebek is in a great location, has beautiful cave suites and grounds, and wonderful service.
It’s also a sister hotel to Sultan Cave Suites, which is next door, and home to the famous rooftop for viewing the hot air balloons. When staying in Kelebek, you get access to all the amenities at Sultan, and vice versa.
It's definitely a unique experience to stay in a cave and we enjoyed immensely.









Once checked in, we planned our next few days with the concierge, and then whiled away the afternoon in the most pleasant of manners in the hammam and spa.

Shabbos was of the most peaceful, relaxing ones we have had in a while. The weather was absolutely perfect, we had breathtaking vistas surrounding us, and were able to just sit outside and enjoy.
As the sun was setting, we made our way to the rooftop and enjoyed the sights of the twinkling town beneath us as Shabbos slipped away.

Erev Shabbos views from our hotel courtyard:





« Last Edit: September 13, 2021, 02:21:43 PM by ponash123 »

Offline ExGingi

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2021, 03:28:38 PM »
Beautiful report.

Did you get to see the Ashkenazy shul in Istanbul?
I've been waiting over 5 years with bated breath for someone to say that!
-- Dan

Offline ponash123

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2021, 03:36:20 PM »
Beautiful report.

Did you get to see the Ashkenazy shul in Istanbul?

Yep!


We started off by going to several shuls.
-   Ashkenazi Shul: this is the only active Ashkenazic shul and has full services. The Chabad Shliach is the Rabbi of the shul.
-   Neve Shalom Shul, the largest shul (also known by some unfortunate terrorist attacks in the past).
-   Am Achrida Shul: one of the oldest shuls in Istanbul, which dates back to the 1430s. This shul is also known for being the shul where Shabbetai Zvi spoke and gave lectures on the prominent Ark shaped podium.


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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2021, 03:41:23 PM »
Yep!

Missed that.

There's actually a book about the shul and the community.  https://www.amazon.com/Hundred-Year-Synagogue-Yuksekkaldirim-Ashkenazi/dp/B0034WL44W
Is it the same shul or a different one? AFAIK the current cemetery in use is a different one than the one that was used 100 years ago (and up to ? ? ?)
« Last Edit: September 13, 2021, 03:46:25 PM by ExGingi »
I've been waiting over 5 years with bated breath for someone to say that!
-- Dan

Offline EliJelly

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #9 on: September 13, 2021, 03:51:05 PM »
Amazed by these cave rooms, more authentic than those of Santorini, but similar idea. Ever visited there?

Offline ponash123

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #10 on: September 13, 2021, 04:05:17 PM »
Missed that.

There's actually a book about the shul and the community.  https://www.amazon.com/Hundred-Year-Synagogue-Yuksekkaldirim-Ashkenazi/dp/B0034WL44W
Is it the same shul or a different one? AFAIK the current cemetery in use is a different one than the one that was used 100 years ago (and up to ? ? ?)

So interesting!

Offline ponash123

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #11 on: September 13, 2021, 04:17:28 PM »
Amazed by these cave rooms, more authentic than those of Santorini, but similar idea. Ever visited there?

Yes, it was quite incredible.
Never been to Santorini

Offline Ellen

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #12 on: October 06, 2021, 05:24:56 PM »
@ponash123 can we get the rest?  ;)
Really enjoying it so far!

Offline ponash123

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #13 on: October 06, 2021, 09:13:20 PM »
@ponash123 can we get the rest?  ;)
Really enjoying it so far!

Thank you! Been super busy over yt (plus another international trip in the interim), but hope to finish up shortly.

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #14 on: October 11, 2021, 01:22:12 PM »
Sunday:

We had an unearthly wakeup call on Sunday morning to head out for our sunrise hot air balloon ride. The company we booked picked us up from our hotel and brought us to their nearby headquarters for an early breakfast. We then piled into a van and headed to the valley.
We were hopeful since the weather seemed good, but it's always a tossup if the balloons will go out or not (which was one of the reasons we chose to spend a few days there).
A couple in our van said it was their third morning coming out, and both days before had been unsuccessful due to winds. I told them I was banking on their statistical chances and thankfully, we were in luck.

We drove up to the valley to a surreal sight. It was still dark out and barely visible were dozens of deflated balloons lying there like sleeping giants. The pilots and crew were busy getting started on inflating the balloons and lighting them up. After a bit of time, they were ready to go and we all climbed aboard.









The hot air balloons in Cappadocia are massive and a huge operation. Our balloon had about 20 people and there are others that are much larger. The pilots are highly trained, required to fly over 100 flights before they are allowed to carry passengers. The region is widely considered one of the best places to visit for hot air ballooning.
They always fly around sunrise, as that is considered the safest time to fly weather-wise.

We floated silently above the amazing landscapes and watched the sun rise around us. It was quite simply a beautiful experience and difficult to put into words. There were more than 100 balloons flying around us which added to the incrediblly picturesque view.
We were able to fly over the famed 'Love Valley' and see the fairy chimneys up close. There were scores of people gathered on the ground to capture this amazing view.
(Please excuse the excess of photos, I can’t seem to leave any out).

Balloons taking off:

















After about an hour, we drifted back towards the ground where a crew was waiting to meet us and directed a flatbed truck under us.  The company had a cute little champagne and pastry treat set up for us to enjoy on the ground.



We then headed back to our hotel where we napped a bit (after all, it was still only about 7:00 AM).


A bit later in the day we headed out to explore the town of Goreme.

The whole town consists of a few blocks, but we enjoyed strolling about. We shopped in various stores and spent an inordinate amount of time in carpet cooperatives.
We appreciated hearing about the process of procuring vintage carpets from around Turkey and restoring them and even made some purchases.
The town is quite small, consisting of about 4 blocks of shops, cafes and tourist gift stores packed with colorful hot-air balloon trinkets. The people are very nice and one of our newfound friends went as far as to offer us a lift back to our Cave up the winding mountain road.












In the afternoon we were picked up for our sunset ATV tour. This was a great way to explore the area and we drove through Sword Valley, Red Valley, and then lastly at Sunset Point to view a magnificent sunset.














Offline ponash123

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #15 on: October 11, 2021, 02:46:24 PM »
Monday:
Monday morning had us waking at an unearthly hour once again. We wanted to head to our hotel rooftop to see the balloons from another vantage point.
In a sense, viewing the balloons from the ‘ground’ was even more awe inspiring than being in one. There is something so ethereal and incredible about hot air balloons, how they float around you, so tremendous, yet so silent, and hovering so close by.












We hired a driver for a full trip to the surrounding areas. Our first quick stop was to Uchisar, a nearby town.
Uchisar Castle, a natural castle carved into volcanic rock, dates back to the 15th century and is an iconic landmark in the area.  There are also amazing views of the valleys from around the castle.
(You can enter the castle for a small fee and climb to the top, which we did not do).

Around Uchisar:


















We made a stop in a jewelry factory and shop that turned into a long visit and shopping expedition. It was really fascinating to learn about the different kinds of stones mined in Turkey and each of the regions (they specialize in Onyx and Zultanite) and see the different pieces they had.




Next up was Kaymakli Underground City. Buried underneath the surface of Cappadocia are several amazing underground cities built in ancient times to protect the local population from attackers and religious persecution. The known history is of Christians being persecuted but there is really fascinating history of Jews here as well (as written as Kaputkya in Gemera).

We chose to visit Kaymakli because it's a bit less claustrophobic than the other choice, Derinkuyu.

The underground cities were believed to have initially been built around 2000 BCE and later expanded upon by later civilizations. The city contains areas for storage, living quarters, wine cellars, and stables. It was fascinating to see and obtain a window into the underground city life, since we chose not to visit the popular Goreme Open Air Museum (due it being all churches).







We then drove a considerable distance to see Tuz Golu, otherwise known as the Pink Lake. Because of the evaporation that occurs in the summertime, most of the lake was dry and the salt was a whiter color. We were only able to see the pink hue when we drove further away from the visitor’s center.
It was impossible to capture on camera, but it was quite remarkable to see.
There was something very unique, different, and otherworldly about the sight, and being able to see the enormous expanse of salt as far as the eye can see was stunning.

We were determined to see the actual pink portion of the lake and did make our driver a bit crazy. After a bit of driving, we did indeed see pink and climbed out of the lake excitedly. We proceeded to walk for quite a while on the dry, craked lake until the salt became too muddy to walk in.









Some of the pink is visible in this photo:


Tuesday:

On Tuesday we headed back to the tiny little airport to catch our flight to Istanbul, where we connected to JFK.
« Last Edit: October 11, 2021, 03:45:28 PM by ponash123 »

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #16 on: October 11, 2021, 07:45:12 PM »
Very very nice trip report!
Unsure why I only noticed it only now.
I love how you visited the place properly and not only focused on Hyatt hotels and kosher food.

I was on this island next to Istanbul, and was annoyed at the time that a guy was selling grilled chicken and had a sign saying: "כשר לישאלים",with this typo.

I like the nice natural pictures and their description: I couldn't find the picture with the lady and the stick...

I agree with you that the Istanbul part could have been shorter by a day.

I would have spent that day flying back and forth to Dalaman airport to visit Dalyan.

I would have also cut 1 day off to visit Cappadocia and visited Pamukale.

(Both suggestions can been visited in a days time respectively)

Note, close to Goreme there is a ski resort, by Mount Erciyes 3,917 m (12,851 ft), but definitely closed in the summer. (See picture)

Also, Cappadocia is mentioned multiple times in Shas. (See picture)

As Turkey is becoming slowly more radicalized, it is good that you went for a visit now.

Again, thank you for the beautiful trip report!

Offline ponash123

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #17 on: October 11, 2021, 10:04:58 PM »
Very very nice trip report!

Thank you!!

I love how you visited the place properly and not only focused on Hyatt hotels and kosher food.

I take offense at the thought  ;)

I would have also cut 1 day off to visit Cappadocia and visited Pamukale.

Agree, it just didn't work with our schedule and Shabbos.

Also, Cappadocia is mentioned multiple times in Shas. (See picture)

Fascinating!

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #18 on: October 26, 2021, 09:19:27 PM »
excellent trip report and great pictures.

Did you feel safe travelling around Turkey? (were you obviously jewish?)

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Re: Merhaba from Türkiye
« Reply #19 on: October 27, 2021, 12:26:46 PM »
excellent trip report and great pictures.

Did you feel safe travelling around Turkey? (were you obviously jewish?)

Thank you!

We always felt safe, but we were probably a bit more careful than we are in other Muslim countries (like Morocco for instance).

We are females, so no yarmulkas or tzitzis, but we were all dressed modestly. We didn't really stand out since your average female dresses modestly there as well.

We did bring our own food and had no qualms about discussing it with the hotels. We also had no hesitation visiting the Jewish sites and shuls.

Hope that helps!