Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Travel Under Your Own Power

There's a new web site that's devoted to weekend walking, paddling and cycling -- in the tradition of European inn-to-inn weekend treks. It has suggestions for routes and loads of first-person accounts. If you're looking for a low-cost weekend adventure, this is it. Go to

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Turkey: Visiting a Hamam

I've moved this up from the "comment" link at the end of the "Turkey Is Terrific" post. I suspect that anyone thinking of going to Istanbul will be curious about the hamams. --SB

Anonymous said...
My girlfriend and I will have a two-day stopover in Istanbul in November. What will the weather be like? What are the turkish baths like and is there one that you recommend? Thanks.

July 28, 2010 12:12 PM
Steve Bailey said...
It's likely to be chilly and rainy during your visit. As your visit there gets closer, use the Internet to check weather forecasts.

As for the Turkish baths, which are called hamams, the two best-known ones are near the Hagia Sophia. Cagaloglu Hamami (click HERE for its website) is one of the "1,000 Places To See Before You Die," and has had a lot of famous customers. The other is Cemberlitas Hamam (click HERE for its website). My wife and I went to both. Each charged 95 Turkish lira (about $60) for the deluxe program -- heat, body scrub and massage. At Cagaloglu, the massage part was incorporated into the scrub. At Cemberlitas, an oil massage in another room followed the bath/scrub portion. Both are beautiful places with separate facilities for men and women; most of the rooms have large, domed ceilings, often with tiny skylights. At each, the men wear towels for the whole process. At Cemberlitas, women are given panties to wear; at Cagaloglu, women are nude. At both, everything takes place in large rooms with other people. My wife and I agreed that we much prefered Cemberlitas -- the body scrub was better and the massage felt like a real massage. Cagaloglu does give you a souvenir, though: the rough silk mitt that was used to scrub you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Turkey: Arranging a Blue Cruise

A blue cruise – a gulet or yacht cruise along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast – can be done three ways. Probably the most popular with Americans is to do it as part of a complete Turkey tour package, such as offered by Overseas Adventure Travel (

A second way is to charter your own boat – with captain (and crew, if the boat is large enough) – and set your own itinerary. Most whole-boat charters are one or two weeks, Saturday to Saturday, so you’ll need to plan the rest of your time in Turkey around the boat schedule. Outfits such as Avrupa Yachting ( can help you find a boat.

Cabin charters are a third choice, and the only choice for anyone traveling alone; they’re also good for couples. My wife and I did a cabin charter in June 2010, a Fethiye-to-Kekova three-day cruise (four nights, but the first night was in the harbor at Fethiye). It was organized by Compass Yachting (, which is based in Fethiye and seems to be primarily a booking agent. Compass put us on a boat run by Big Backpackers (, which actually owned the Blue Key, our gulet, shown above in a photo that I took from one of the islands we visited. The cruise was 398 euros for both of us and included all meals; we had to pay separately for all drinks, including bottled water.

We had been told that such cabin charters were “OK for European backpackers trying to save money” but that “Americans find them unsatisfactory.” Other passengers on the boat included an American oncologist and his wife and two sons, ages 10 and 15; a 20-something Brazilian medical student; a 34-year-old Australian backpacker; a late-20's Italian couple; a well-to-do Polish couple and their teenaged son; and a Turkish woman from Istanbul. It was a very amiable group. The accommodations, however, weren’t so great. The cabins smelled of mothballs; my wife and I ended up joining a few other people in sleeping on deck in the area shown in the top photo. The food, however, was surprisingly good, especially fish the first night out, with wonderful salads at every meal. Lunches were vegetarian.

From what we could see of other boats (and these boats pretty much follow each other from one wonderfully scenic spot to another), the V-Go boats ( were a little nicer than ours. They also had canvas walls that could be unrolled to provide more shade in the aft seating area. We had considered V-Go, but Compass offered the schedule that suited us best. We saw no gulets under sail -- all were motoring. Indeed, our boat's sails stayed in the forward hold. "Light wind this time of year," the captain said.

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably looking elsewhere online and you may come across one traveler’s story of finding fresh rat droppings on the bed of a cabin charter. When we boarded the Blue Key, that was the first thing my wife looked for. “No rat droppings!” she called out. The owner of Big Backpackers, Soner Ayaz, stopped by to say hello, and he said that he thought there were no “Mickey Mouses” on the boat. We saw no signs of any.

Note: we were there near the end of June and the water was still rather chilly – to the point that it took a while for everyone to work up the nerve to jump in. The water was turquoise, of course, and amazingly clear. We were disappointed that we saw few fish; the Italian couple on our boat, however, spotted an octopus, and they harvested sea urchins, cleaned them and gave us tastes. (Sort of like oysters, if you’re wondering.)

We’re very happy we did the blue cruise. Do it again? You bet.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Turkey: Wonderful Place for a Vacation

My wife, Jane,  and I just returned from a trip to Turkey. From our modern boutique hotel in Istanbul to a cave hotel in Cappadocia, to four nights on a gulet (traditional Turkish sailing yacht) traveling among ruins-filled islands off the Mediterranean coast, we had a wonderful time. A lot of Americans who visit Turkey do it as part of a tour. Invariably, they wish they had more time in one spot or another. We planned our trip ourselves with the help of Fodor's Turkey guidebook and the Internet. We didn't see everything -- but we saw much of what is unique to Turkey. Among the trip's many pleasant surprises was the friendliness we encounted everywhere. Turks seem to like foreigners and like to talk about their culture and country. The food, especially the seafood in Istanbul and on the coast, was also a revelation. There's much more than kebabs to be had -- though they're good, too. Try the fish sandwiches (about $2) from the floating fish grillers at the foot of the Galata Bridge. Grilled octopus salad, smoked eggplant and other treats are widely offered as mezzes -- appetizers or small plates.