Gems of Turkey – The People, The Beauty, The History, Aug 29 - Sep 19 2021
Tour Date
29 August – 19 September, 2021
21 Nights / 22 Days
Tour Leader
John O’Neill and Julie Roller
About the Leader
John O’Neill and Julie Roller
John O’Neill and Julie Roller are from Santa Cruz, California. John was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Sultanate of Oman from 1977-79, where he taught English and became proficient in the Arabic language and has also traveled in East Africa. He has a master’s degree in International Studies. He taught English to students from around the world for the past 39 years in California colleges and he's now retired. He has been to Turkey 17 times since summer 2005 and in those trips has spent over a year in the country. One of John’s passions is the study of comparative mythology, and he adds this dimension to our explorations of the ancient and modern cultures of this region.
Julie has a Master’s degree in geology and has worked in many fields over the years. She was the onboard geologist for Special Expedition EcoTours in Baja California and Alaska, and the director of Elderhostel, now called Road Scholar, in northern Arizona, where she created and led educational tours to the Grand Canyon, and Navajo & Hopi reservations for Elderhostelers from around the world. She has been to Turkey 14 times since 2008 and, along with John, has traveled from one end of Turkey to the other and seen much of the country. She currently owns a small import business with Turkish towels, textiles and jewelry.
“We are excited to share our experience of the land, people, culture, and food gleaned from multiple lengthy trips to Turkey as independent travelers in the last 14 years. Our intention is to create a fun, educational, active and relaxing journey to our favorite places for independent travelers like ourselves.”
Tour Description

Gems of Turkey for the Independent Traveler – the people, the beauty, the history

This itinerary is specially created by John O’Neill and Julie Roller, 2 experienced independent travelers from Santa Cruz, focusing on the sites and experiences they love. This tour is not designed to drag you from site to site with a mechanical tour guide, but to make sure you enjoy the country at its best. We visit most areas for two to three days and check out the best local sites, enjoy beautiful beaches and mountains, eat in small local restaurants, sip at nice bars and chill out zones, shop the back streets, and get in touch with local people as we travel through the magical landscape that is modern-day Turkey.
This is a small group tour with maximum 16 passengers on board.

Tour Details

29 Aug 2021, Sunday, Istanbul (D)

Welcome to Istanbul. This is our first day in this magical city. Upon arrival you will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel in the heart of the Old City.
Tonight, we enjoy a welcome dinner at a favorite restaurant with stunning views.  You will meet your guides and the rest of the group tonight as well as enjoying a lovely dinner. 

30 Aug 2021, Monday, Istanbul (B)

We start our day with a walking tour of the Old City and visit Topkapi Palace with its spacious grounds, four courtyards and treasury.  After lunch break, we continue with a visit of Blue Mosque, the 17th century imperial mosque famous for its six minarets and its interior blue tiles.  We then step out in the Hippodrome Square, which was considered the heart of Constantinople.  Optional: We’ll walk you to the Grand Bazaar, the largest and oldest covered market in Istanbul with more than 3000 shops selling carpets, leather, jewelry, spices, antiques, and more. Test your bargaining skills or just enjoy the scene while wandering the many narrow “streets” of this market.
Free evening.

31 Aug 2021, Tuesday, Istanbul (B,D)

Walk to the Underground Cistern, the ancient water supply for Istanbul.  It is beautifully restored and enveloped in a magical mystical atmosphere.
We then take the tram to Eminonu and pick up the local ferry to travel up the Bosphorus Strait between Europe and Asia, enjoying the sights of beautiful mosques, palaces and old houses along the shore.  
On our way back to the hotel, those who wish, can join John & Julie for a walk into the Spice Market (Egyptian Bazaar). The rest will  take the quick tram to the hotel.
We’ll later meet to transfer to our cooking class for a 4 course Turkish meal.  Our chef will talk about Turkish culture and cooking methods while guiding you through preparing a meal.  We’ll enjoy the fruits of our labor with local wine for dinner. 

1 Sep 2021, Wednesday, Istanbul (B)

Another beautiful day soaked in history and culture. We start the day with Hagia Sophia, the 6th century Byzantine basilica, the largest church of its era and the architectural glory of the Byzantines. Our next stop is the Archaeological Museum with its stunning collection of sculptures, sarcophagi and other objects from ancient sites around Turkey.
Overlooking the Golden Horn, we visit Rustem Pasa Mosque, enveloped by beautiful blue Iznik tiled walls.  
Taking the public transport (the "tunel" which is the second metro line built in the world), we move to the Pera Beyoglu area for a walking tour of its vibrant cosmopolitan Istiklal Street, with many points of historical, architectural and cultural interest – Christian, Greek and Armenian churches, picturesque shopping arcades and passages, old Ottoman Hans, bazaars and coffeehouses, bustling with shoppers, students and young professionals. Along the road we will pay a visit to St Antonio Church, the biggest and the most beautiful on Istiklal Street.  Finally, we end up at the Galata Tower, watchtower of the Genoese fortifications dating from 1349, which we will ascend to the upper public viewing balcony for a 360 degree panoramic view over the Golden Horn, Asian shores, Bosphorus and Princess Islands. 
Free evening in Istanbul.

2 Sep 2021, Thursday, Pergamum (B)

We leave Istanbul and head south on the fast ferry for a two-hour ride across the Marmara Sea to Bandirma on the Asian continent.  We then drive to Bergama to visit the ancient city of Pergamum, one of the finest archaeological sites in Turkey. The city was a great center of culture, the capital of East Roman Empire and boasts the steepest theatre of Anatolia.  Overnight in Bergama.

3 Sep 2021, Friday, Selcuk (B,D)

We enjoy a relaxed morning in our hotel and walk to the Red Basilica before heading south to Selcuk. After lunch, we’ll visit Can Carpets, a small atelier, where they still use the traditional paint extracting method from plants. Here we learn about the dying process with a demonstration and watch the women making traditional one-of-a-kind carpets.  
Overnight in Selcuk. Enjoy the chill out zone and pool of our nice hotel after a long day.  

4 Sep 2021, Saturday, Ephesus/Selcuk (B,D).

Late morning, we visit the street market of Selcuk, shopping along with locals buying snacks of figs, dates, olives and fruit.  We then visit Ephesus Ancient City in the late afternoon to avoid the crowds and walk the marble royal road. Ephesus, once the second largest city in the Roman empire, is the best-preserved Greco-Roman site in Turkey and includes the famed Grand Library of Celsius and the Great Theatre, capacity of 24,000 spectators.

5 Sep 2021, Sunday, Pamukkale (B)

Today we drive to Pamukkale, famous for its travertine deposits and warm mineral waters plus explore the important ancient city of Hierapolis. Overnight in Pamukale.

6 Sep 2021, Monday, Aphrodisias/Dalyan (B,D)

We leave Pamukkale and drive to ancient Aphrodisias, site of a current dig, with its spectacular marble Roman Stadium, the best preserved in all of Asia, theatre and monumental city gate. A wonderful small museum is also on site. We then drive over high-plain country and down to the Mediterranean Sea. Overnight in Dalyan.
We will enjoy dinner served by the pool at our hotel. 

7 Sep 2021, Tuesday, Dalyan Boat Trip (B,L)

From Dalyan, we enjoy a boat cruise past magnificent Lycian tombs carved into the rock face 3000 years ago. We’ll visit the ruins of Caunos then motor to the wonderful sandy expanse of Turtle Beach (Caretta Caretta) where turtles lay their eggs. Swim in the beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea and enjoy lunch on the boat.
Overnight in Dalyan.

8 Sep 2021, Wednesday, Kas (B)

We travel in the morning to hike in Saklikent Gorge, challenging the rushing cold waters and admiring nature’s beauty.  Afterwards, you may want to enjoy a trout lunch and a cold beer on a platform over the river, then head to Kaputas Beach for its glorious blue waters and a swim. Then make the short drive to Kas, a lovely small Mediterranean harbor town. Overnight in Kas.

9 Sep 2021, Thursday, Kas (B,L)

Today we explore gorgeous bays and inlets of the warm turquoise Mediterranean on a gulet cruise. Our private boat will take us to Ucagiz, Simena, and Kekova bays where you’ll swim in the crystal blue waters, see Lycian sarcaphagi and relax on board sailing through nature. Fish Lunch is served on the boat. Overnight in Kas.

10 Sep 2021, Friday, Kas (B)

This is a free day for you to relax and explore the town of Kas, visit the local market to pick up picnic food for Saturday, swim in the refreshing spring fed sea waters and shop at night. You can join John and Julie for dinner at a favorite local restaurant. Overnight in Kas.

11 Sep 2021, Saturday, Antalya (B)

We continue south along the Med Coast and visit beautiful Phaselis to enjoy the mixture of nature with history. Phaselis was a major trading center with three separate harbors. There are many fine examples of aqueducts, an agora, baths and a theater.  Sheltered pebble beaches are delightful, and the waters are shallow & calm.  The site is surrounded by peaceful pine groves with a breath-taking view of the Taurus Mountains in the distance. Our lunch will be a picnic amongst the pine trees on the water.
After a relaxed morning and lunch in Phaselis, we head to Antalya for a visit to its fantastic museum with over 5000 pieces of stunning art on exhibition. Many of the sculptures and statues recovered in Perge are in this museum.  Our hotel is located in historic Kaleici district by the old Roman harbor, where you can enjoy an evening in the old town. Overnight in Antalya Kaleiçi.

12 Sep 2021, Sunday, Perge, (B)

Another day soaked in the stellar archeological heritage of Anatolia visiting Perge near Antalya, which was settled during Hittite times and was an important Hellenic and Roman city. 
You’ll have free time in the afternoon to enjoy our hotel pool and wander the narrow streets of the Kaleici.
Overnight at Antalya.

13 Sep 2021, Monday, Konya (B)

Our morning takes us to stupendous Aspendos, the best-preserved Roman theater of antiquity.  Built in the 2nd c AD, with a capacity of 15,000 people, it’s still used today for choice performances.  We then leave the coast and head inland for a scenic drive crossing the Taurus Mountains.  We arrive in the religious capital of Turkey, Konya, where we will visit the Mevlana Museum.  Mevlana is known as Rumi to most Westerners.  We’ll visit the small living history display and outstanding museum and learn about Mevlana and his renowned Sufi philosophy.  We’ll visit a Sufi healer friend and learn more about their beliefs. Overnight in Konya.

14 Sep 2021, Tuesday, Catalhoyuk / Cappadocia/Urgup (B)

We begin our day with a visit to Catahoyuk, one of the most important Neolithic cities from 7000 BC and one of the world’s most important ongoing archeological digs, where we will have a tour of the site.
After lunch, we head for Cappadoccia and stop by the Sultanhani Caravansarai, which was a waystation for travelers, merchants, and their animals moving along the Silk Road and is a beautiful well-preserved example of Selcuk architecture from the 13th century.
Then we drive across the Anatolian Plateau to one of the most magical sites of the world, Cappadocia.  Upon arrival in Urgup, we check into our cave hotel and enjoy some free time to explore the small friendly town. This evening is free for dinner. Overnight in a cave hotel in Urgup, Cappadocia.

15 Sep 2021, Wednesday, Cappadocia (B)
Optional: Rise very early before sunset, for a hot air balloon ride over the magnificent landscape of Cappadocia. 

The surrealistic geological formation of Cappadocia is one of the wonders of the world. It is the result of natural forces during intense volcanic activity.

We start our morning in the incredible “moonscape” of Cappadocia in Zelve Valley.

Then down the road, we’ll visit the traditional pottery town of Avanos where you can watch the pottery making process and learn about the process of turning clay into a traditional form of artwork with intricate painting and detail. Of course, you can purchase some pottery if you like. We then drive to nearby Pasa Bagi to stroll through this landscape of tufa (volcanic rock) fairy chimmneys.

Optional Evening Activity- check out local Music Cave Bar with John & Julie

16 Sep 2021, Thursday, Cappadocia (B)

Head south to Mustaphapasa, an old Greek town. Then we visit the famed Underground City of Kaymakli, which dates back to Hittite times (1200BCE). On our way back to Goreme, we visit Uchisar Castle and take in a favorite view spot. We finish our full morning with a lunch break in Goreme. After lunch, we visit the nearby Goreme Open Air Museum with its dozens of painted cave-churches then return to Urgup for some free time to enjoy the grounds of our hotel and town.

17 Sep 2021, Friday, Cappadocia (B)

We have a free day for our last day in Cappadocia to relax & enjoy our hotel pools and book a hammam bath, enjoy the laid back town of Urgup and do some fun shopping.

Optional Activity - Morning Love Valley Hike with John and Julie
After dinner, we’ll head north to watch a Whirling Dervish ritual dance, called a Sema, in the historic Sarihan Caravansarai near Avanos.  We’ll meet with the lead Dervish and talk about the Sema and its significance. Overnight in Urgup

18 Sep 2021, Saturday, Istanbul (B, D)

Today, you will take a morning flight back to Istanbul. The hustle and bustle of the city may be a nice change after the quiet plains of Anatolia. Enjoy a free afternoon in Istanbul. You can catch up with last minute shopping, enjoy a Turkish bath or simply relax in one of the many nice cafes of the Pera/Taksim area.
Tonight we will enjoy a farewell dinner in a beautiful fine dining restaurant in Istanbul.

19 Sep, 2021, Sunday, Istanbul (B) 

This morning after breakfast, you will be transferred to the airport for your flight back home.

Price Details

Tour Price (Per person in DBL room)
Single Room Supplement

Prices are per person and quoted in USD.

We require a $300 downpayment for booking and the balance 6 weeks prior to departure.

Price Includes:

  • John O’Neill & Julie Roller as tour leaders
  • Services of an English speaking professional Turkish tour guide
  • Airport transfers and all transport in air-conditioned, deluxe small vehicle
  • 21 nights’ accommodation in guest house & fine hotels
  • Entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary
  • Domestic flight from Cappadocia to Istanbul
  • Meals as mentioned in the itinerary (20 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 6 dinners - including welcome, farewell dinners and cooking class)
  • Cooking class with Beril Koroglu
  • Boat excursions on the Bosphorus, Dalyan and Kas
Price Does Not Include:
  • International flights
  • Meals not mentioned in the itinerary
  • Drinks with meals
  • Tips for guide and driver
  • Personal expenses
  • Optional Balloon Ride