I SPY: Turkey

Oct 1, 2018

TURKEY: June 2018

Take advantage of a layover?  Oh YES.  We came.  We conquered.  Left in a flash.  Not the way I would recommend traveling through Turkey!  But heck if you've only got four days, you make the most of it.  Turkey is just too magical to skip.

En-route to Moscow this past summer 2018, to watch the World Cup, we had to stop over in Istanbul.  Never been to Turkey before, so it was an opportunity for us to get out and explore a few days.  At first it was just going to be Istanbul.  Then after researching the country I realized there was so much more beyond Istanbul.  The grand plan turned into a whirlwind trip of planes, no trains, but automobiles.  

This is how we accomplished it…

DAY 1 - Istanbul

Our flight from NYC arrived in Istanbul at 4pm.  Immigration was super duper slow that day.  Maybe because it was their Election Day?  Whatever the reason, it took us two hours to get through immigration.  Not cool!  So our day was shot.  We were exhausted by the time we exited the airport and decided to just eat dinner at our hotel and call it a night.

Cecconi's - An Italian restaurant set in a beautiful courtyard with outdoor and indoor dining.  As night falls, the twinkle lights sparkle, as you casually sip wine, and stuff your face with yummy pizza and pasta.  THE ambience!!

Soho House Istanbul - If you are a lover of interior then you will dig any Soho House in the world.  I haven't seen one I have not gone gaga over.  From the crown moulding, to the floors, to the tile in the bathroom, they have not skipped any corner on details.  This particular one is built in the old US Embassy.  Love at first sight!  Bonus - you don't need to be a member to stay or visit this location.

DAY 2 - Cappadocia

Caught a 6:30am flight and arrived in Nevsehir airport/ Cappadocia at 7:50am.  It was a little over half hour drive to get to our hotel.


Nazar Trees - In Pigeon Valley, you will find trees filled with the blue evil eyes 'Nazars', believed to ward off the bad luck.  I'm inspired for my next Christmas tree!

Goreme National Park - What are those holes?  Monastery's and churches carved into sand stone.  Some imagination is required to see how they were once used as living spaces.  But those frescoes decorating the walls dating back to 10th century were amazing!  I was really surprised by how well in tact some of them were.


Sultan Cave Suites - Experience sleeping in a cave.  Basic rooms.  Helpful staff.  But there are more luxe cave hotels in the vicinity, with pools, which I wish we had stayed at.

DAY 3 - Cappadocia + Izmir

We flew out of Nevsehir airport/ Cappadocia to Izmir on a 7pm flight, which gave us good use of another day in Cappadocia to explore.  Arrived late in Izmir for bed time!  


Hot Air Balloons -  Rise and shine at 5am to catch the hot air balloons from Sultan Cave Suites rooftop.    Cappadocia is famous for this.  Either your flying in a balloon, or your watching the sky fill up with colorful balloons.  We chose to be spectators since we have experienced a hot air balloon ride in Morocco before.  However, I thought we were having breakfast watching the balloons rise.  Or thats what Instagram had made it look like.  But I was disappointed to find out the Sultan Caves Suites only does a fake set up that everybody takes photos with.  Real breakfast isn't served till 8am.  The look on my face when I discovered this!  UGH.

Kaymakli Underground City - An underground city where people once lived dug 60 meters deep.  It was impressive!  The kids had fun getting lost inside.  

Double Tree Hilton Hotel, Izmir - We stayed at an airport hotel.  It didn't even look like one!  It felt luxe.  With five star service, having warm cookies delivered to our room for the kids.  Such a nice unexpected gesture.  Also the rooms were spacious, modern decor, marble bathrooms, with the best breakfast buffet and omelette station.

DAY 4 - Ephesus + Pamukkale 

Started our day at 9am with bags in tow.  Drove 1 hour to Ephesus, had lunch in Selcuk, drove another 3 hours to Pamukkale, and spent the night in a hotel an hour away from Denizil.


Ephesus - You will feel like your in Greece!  It was an ancient Greek city built in 10th century BC.  The roman ruins left of the library and theatre will have you in awe.

Pamukkale - White out conditions!  Another heavenly experience, that proves mother nature is amazing!  These thermal water travertine terraces are filled with calcium deposit, hence the color. But beware in summer the water is very low, and some pools were dried up.  So we didn't get the full effect. But still happy we saw it.


Anemon Hotel - Just a basic conference hotel less then an hour away from Pamukkale, and a hour from Denizil airport.  But they had a pool! Did we have a chance to use it?  No!!

DAY 5 - Istanbul

Left again at the crack of dawn to catch our early flight from Denizil back to Istanbul to connect to our flight to Moscow.  However on the way back from Moscow to NYC we stayed overnight in Istanbul again.  Which gave us a few hours to explore again.  But we were hungry and exhausted, so this is where our priorties lay!


Four Seasons Hotel - It is located right on the Bosphorus.  Five minute walk from where we stayed.  Their outdoor restaurant serves amazing food, drinks, hookah, a magical sunset and great people watching.  Very chilled evening we had sitting by the water, watching the boats go by.

Midyeci Ahmet - Known as the 'Lord of Mussels'.  We passed this street side stall walking back to our hotel from the Four Seasons.  It was packed, there was a line, and obviously it got me curious.  So we had to order a bucket to try!  It was so worth it.  Stuffed mussels that you could eat buckets full of.


Shangri-La Hotel - Boutique hotel, that lives up to the standards of the Shangri-la group reputation.  Gracious service, newly renovated rooms with a touch of Asian influence.  The only downside was that it's advertised to be on the Bosphorus.  Well technically it is.  But they do not have any restaurant or lounge on the Bosphorus…which is how we ended up at the Four Seasons Hotel!  But they did serve Chinese dim sum for breakfast which my kids were thrilled about!!  HA.


Without the help of our wonderful guide Umran, the last two legs of our trip to Ephesus and Pamukkale wouldn't of been possible, had she not planned it to a T.  She also arranged our accommodations and transportation.  A lovely lady, fun, modern, knowledgable, and speaks great English.  She is based in Istanbul.  Email her: umranaslan@hotmail.com

- In Cappadocia we had arranged a private guide through a tour company recommended by Sultan Cave Suites.  

Turkish Heritage Travel
Email: info@goreme.com

- Check if you need a visa to visit Turkey.  We did.  It's simple, and you can apply for an e-visa online.  If you forget to get one before arrival there is a counter near immigration to purchase your visa.  But, why wait in another line?

- Uber is cheaper then taxi's in Istanbul.

- Turkish Airlines flew us international and domestic.  No hiccups.  I am amazed that they never lost our bags with some very tight connections.  Hats off to them, because in the USA, our bags would've surely got left behind!

- Try the local delicacies such as the Kebabs, Turkish Delights, Apple tea, and Turkish coffee.  The 'real' coffee that will have you growing chest hair!  HA.

The only down side of our itinerary was we were so rushed we didn't get to see Istanbul.  Even though we slept there two nights!  Hopes were in transit through Istanbul we had that extra energy to get off the plane, drop our bags at hotel and run out to see a mosque before closing.  But food was more important!  Bummer we missed the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.  But I figure we can always do Istanbul solo or in transit to another destination in the near future.  We will be back.  For sure!  Beautiful country. Friendly people.  Delicious food.  Plenty of shopping…and man you can really get the bang for your buck with the current USD exchange rate!

I SPY: Brooklyn

Sep 4, 2018

Are you getting depressed from the spam of back to school photos exploding in your social media feeds?  It's a fat slap in the face that summer is over, isn't it?  So here's another slap to re-emphasize my point!  HA.

If my 9th and 4th graders cuteness did not turn your frown around, you now know how I feel having a high school'er in the house.  UGH.  Send help!

Listen up New York…CHEER UP.  Summer ain't over if you don't want it to be.  The weather should still be nice for at least another month, and I spy Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur coming up. Thank you Jewish holidays!  Fingers crossed no rain (which we've been having way to much of this summer).  But if your not Jewish and reap the benefits of a long weekend and a day off then I say you still have time for one last summer bang.

No planes required.  Sleep with a local.  Hop across the bridge, or take the water taxi.  Skip the Hampton's traffic.  And look what I found…sweet deals in Brooklyn!  This stay-cation is a win.  Especially if you have your four legged friend tagging along.  Eddy was welcomed at every spot on this list.  Ain't that nice?


1 Hotels Brooklyn Bridge
This new modern eco friendly boutique hotel has it all.  Large rooms with floor to ceiling views of Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty in the far distance!  An amazing rooftop garden, and private outdoor pool is the epitome of this hotel day or night.  Also their spa is top.  I really needed that massage and quiet time!  HA.  If you wish to venture out, the hotel is set in DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge) along the waterfront on prime real estate, that overlooks Manhattan, with many outdoor activities and restaurants outside their doorstep.  So conveniently located.

The Williamsburg Hotel
Set in Williamsburg, duh!  For those who aren't familiar, it is a different area of Brooklyn, about 15 minutes from DUMBO.  Another hip hotel with an outdoor pool, a lit day party scene open to the public, Tiki cocktails on repeat, daily yoga on the rooftop, and again plenty of restaurants and entertainment in the neighborhood thats provides lots of fun.


High tea at The Williamsburg Hotel on weekends is a nice switch up.  They serve tea in their lobby communal bar area, where dogs are allowed.  It's scrumptious and their tea pots are so cute!

Smorgasburg - WILLIAMSBURG
A weekend gastronomic affair, where I always eat way too much with no regrets though!  Even though I always have to get a ramen burger, my new must is Lobsterdamus' Lobster Nest served over garlic noodles.  Then the post food coma daze on a bench overlooking the Manhattan skyline is mandatory too!

Sugarcane - DUMBO
Love this place!  Dining el fresco at its best.  Perfect wine and dine spot with open views to watch the sunset over the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge right from your table.  A great variety of small plates to share, like sushi, a full raw bar, crudo, grilled meats…my kind of food.  Make reservations.

Sunday In Brooklyn - WILLIAMSBURG
All about that brunch life.  Open everyday, not only on Sundays.  Just had to clarify that!  A drink list too cute to pass up, and their malted hazelnut praline pancakes…ahhh drool!!  If you need a table to sit outside with your dog, then get there early before 11am.  Or you will be waiting.


The obvious when in Brooklyn is to bike or walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.  It's a beautiful experience to remember, if you've never done it before.  It's a tourist trap for a reason!  Otherwise, these places also serve great outdoor activities.

Brooklyn Bridge Park - DUMBO
An 85 acre park with endless activities.  Basketball courts, bike paths, bocce, dog run, hand ball, ice skating, kayaking, ping pong, playgrounds, soccer fields and volleyball.

Where the old Domino Sugar Refinery use to be, is now a new 5 acre playground for all ages!  An awesome playground, sprinklers to cool off in, the famous Tom Fruin stained glass house, and yummy tacos from Hey Tacocina makes a great outing for a picnic.

Janes Carousel - DUMBO
This glass box houses a vintage 1922 restored carousel.  It's so gorgeous!

Waking up on a different side of the bridge makes a difference.  So does room service and not having to make your bed.  The luxury of a pool and views like these really made it feel special.  Point taken, you don't need to go far to get a change of scenery and enjoy the last days of summer…says the girl who claims on Instagram @she.is.never.home  But hey, I was for this escape (my birthday), and I'd be happy to park my butt again in this spot!  See you in Brooklyn?

i * SPY CANDY. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.