In 2011 I took a luxury group tour to Greece & Turkey with Tauck. This was my fifth trip with Tauck and, as always, they did a fantastic job introducing me to two fabulous countries. I love Tauck for their attention to detail, their tour/free time balance, knowledgeable Tauck Directors and local guides, and their overall value for money being an all-inclusive company.
After spending our first week exploring the mainland and islands of Greece, we were setting sail for Turkey! Our first stop was Bodrum on day 8 of our Aegean adventure, where whitewashed houses on hilltops greeted us upon our arrival into its two crescent-shaped bays. After disembarking, we took a guided tour of St. Peter’s Castle, which included a visit to the Museum of Underwater Archeology. We then explored the remains of the ancient city of Halicarnassus which contains the ruins of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (this is the tomb of King Mausolus of Caria, completed in 350 BC). Founded around 1000 BC, Halicarnassus was one of the first Greek settlements in Asia. Today Bodrum is one of Turkey’s leading resort towns on the west coast of Turkey.
Day 9 was probably my favorite day of the whole tour because we docked in Kusadasi and then made our way inland to Ephesus, the ‘City of the Gods’. Ephesus is one of the best-preserved ancient sites in the world and was once one of the most important Greco-Roman cities in the Eastern Mediterranean. It was set on a strategic trade route and was first recognized as a cultural and religious crossroads. On our guided tour of the ancient city we visited the Odeon, the Temple of Hadrian, the Slope Houses (these luxurious homes were still being excavated to reveal their beautiful frescoes and mosaics), Trajan’s Fountain, the Arcadian Way (the grandest street in the town which stretched from the sea to the theatre, where St. Paul is said to have preached), and the awe-inspiring two-tiered Library of Celsus (commissioned in the 2nd century to be both a mausoleum for Julius Caesar and as a reading room stocked with more than 12,000 scrolls). While exploring this ancient city was extraordinary, it was also hot! There is very little shade, so visitors should be prepared to battle the sun when visiting. After our morning visit, we headed back to Kusadasi to have lunch and visit a carpet shop. Here we had a demonstration of traditional carpet making and were given the chance to shop (and haggle) for carpets. A Turkish carpet was always on my list of souvenirs to bring home, so this was the perfect opportunity for me to find my carpet. After a lot of digging, and negotiating, I chose a fabulous silk on silk carpet that I now proudly display on the wall of my living room (no one is going to walk on my beautiful carpet, it’s art!); it still makes me smile every time I look at it!
Day 10 was spent at sea and it was the perfect opportunity to really explore the Wind Star and all of its amenities.
On day 11 we left our sea faring home behind and disembarked in Istanbul. The city straddles Europe and Asia, divided by the Bosphorus, and has been a bustling cosmopolitan crossroads for centuries. Istanbul is a city of contrasts; East meeting West, old meeting new, and tradition meeting modernity. We began the day with a visit to the exotic Topkapi Palace, the seat of power and residence of the sultans during the Ottoman Empire. We then spent time in the Spice Bazaar, which was so wonderfully colorful and fragrant, before ending our day at Sehzade Kulliyese, an ornate 16th century Ottoman imperial mosque complex. We had the rest of the evening free to explore and enjoy our hotel, the Intercontinental Istanbul.
Day 12 stared with a visit to the Basilica Cistern, a true architectural gem, referred to as the sunken palace. There are 336 marble columns that rise 26 feet to support the Byzantine arches and domes. This creates a hauntingly beautiful underground oasis beneath the busy city above. Next we went to the Hagia Sophia, which was first constructed in 537 AD before being destroyed and rebuilt. This cathedral was once the largest Christian church in the world before being converted to a mosque and most recently to a Turkish National Museum. While exploring this grand structure you can’t help but grow to appreciate the juxtaposition between the building’s different identities and how that contrast really encompasses what Istanbul is all about. We then enjoyed lunch on the banks of the Asian side of the city and a cruise down the Bosphorus, before being given free time to explore our own interests.
Day 13, our final day in Istanbul, began with the Blue Mosque, named for the thousands of blue tiles that adorn its interior, and a visit to the Hippodrome. We then spent a couple hours strolling through the Grand Bazaar where I was able to buy a few unique pieces such as a Turkish plate that now decorates a small corner of my kitchen. We finished our two-week tour of Greece and Turkey with a performance by the world famous Whirling Dervishes and a delicious outdoor farewell dinner on the European shore of the Bosphorus. It was magical to watch the sun set over this stunning city as our group said goodbye to one another.
Overall I had an amazing experience traveling with Tauck through Greece and Turkey. It was the first time I had combined sea travel with overland travel on a group tour, and I was very happy with the contrast between spending time inland and on the water. The combination of these modes of transportation really allowed me to appreciate the different landscapes of these countries. I don’t think you can get a true understanding of either Greece or Turkey, without visiting the surrounding islands and ancient ports. Their relationship with the Aegean is vital to both their history and their present day culture.
I can’t wait till my next adventure with Tauck!