Traveling to Turkey While Most Countries are Closed to Americans
Traveling and planning a trip during the age of COVID-19 is a challenge but also has certain perks. We have just completed two weeks in Turkey, where we were able to experience some of the best of the country without the crowds but with all safety precautions in place.
To start at the beginning, we had originally planned a totally different trip: Portugal was supposed to be the first stop. One of the key attributes for any travel advisor or client is to have patience and flexibility. Rules are changing by the minute. Therefore, plans are subject to change, too. The trick of surviving this is never to give up and roll with the punches. While it can have its ups and downs, with the right attitude and perseverance, one can travel the world now with relative ease.
While not a requirement at the time, we were tested for COVID-19 just prior to departure, so just in case rules did change, we were all set. We chose to fly Lufthansa in first class and connected to Istanbul via Frankfurt. Services have not been cut or diminished at all. Lufthansa’s business is also almost fully the same as it was before. Only changes now are that masks are required and there’s a lot of sanitizer to go around. Flying was still a joy and luxury pleasure.
Upon arrival, there was a health questionnaire, temperature screening, and then, we passed right through. On our tours, there were separation dividers in all of the vehicles, kits provided with masks, wipes, and sanitizer, all at your disposal at all times. Tons of attention were spent to providing guests with a safe and fun journey. Crowds during this time, of course, are a fraction of normal, especially in the biggest sites. We had many to ourselves; it felt as if we had private access. Ephesus had around 100 others; at this time of year, the normal is thousands of people. With all the need for social distancing, this is the best time to travel I’ve ever witnessed. Why be home when you can see the best of the world and have it to yourself?
We started in Istanbul, staying at the Four Seasons on the Bosporus. Beautiful hotel with a great waterfront location. Five-star all the way. With the new app the brand provides, you can access any service of the hotel in a chat from in or outside of the hotel, allowing you to distance from staff as much or as little as you wish.
From there, we flew off to Kayseri with our driver and guide, bringing us to the Cappadocia region. Again, all of the major sites were nearly empty. (Approximately 100 or less in each place.) We stayed at the Museum hotel for the cave experience. Truly something everyone should try once. Dining here is another level for breakfast but especially for dinner. While dining in Turkey is a highlight, the restaurant here is the best we had.
After Cappadocia, we flew off to Izmir. The sites of the House of the Virgin Mary (which was totally private), Ephesus (there were very few people) and Pergamon (totally private, again, at almost all parts) were at the lowest crowd levels ever. Other than the high heat of summer, we will never get an opportunity to enjoy these places without all of the people probably ever again.
Our hotel in Izmir was the Swissotel. Modern, remodeled, and it had our second-favorite restaurant: Aquarium. Again, all safety precautions are taken on site. I was very impressed with this very well-located hotel.
On the weekend, we were driven to Alacati about one hour from Izmir. It’s a party town that I would compare to the Hamptons or Buzios. While touristy, it has some great beaches nearby, with lots of dining options and a huge party scene. Right now, we didn’t partake, but when it’s safe enough to, this is a great place to end a trip and just have fun. While Bodrum is the common place, Alacati lets you experience Turkey as only the locals do.
We stayed at the Alavya. Five-star boutique, which is part of Design Hotels. Cool, modern, luxurious, and sophisticated are the key words I would use to describe it. Fun but totally high class. Service here is another level. You will feel like family in just a day. From staff spending their day to show you the city or beach in an electric Jaguar to a follow-up within seconds (even finding you in the restaurant) to take care of any issues, this hotel really shines.
The only downsides I found traveling now is some airlines cut back dramatically even when fares were not lowered and flights were full. Turkish business class has been diminished to a low fare airline economy class in terms of service and amenities. Nothing is left but the seat itself. We had flown both domestically and internationally to our next destination, only to find the staff apologizing for having nothing to give any longer. No amenities, bedding, water is now only in a small coach cup… not even a bottle is provided. Food on a six-hour flight is a box, which is such a shift from the onboard chef of before. Our key takeaway from this is to find those carriers who take safety seriously and don’t cut costs. In the airports, air conditioning has also been cut way back. Expect hot terminals in Turkey right now.
One great thing in the new Istanbul airport is an onsite COVID-19 testing center. Within three to five hours, you can have an ISO-certified PCR test result. When you are traveling to a country with a test requirement, you can have it easily within the time required. We were flying to Kenya next, and while they require 72 hours prior, we had it in eight hours prior.
While to many, taking that first step to travel outside of the country can come with major anxiety. Once they get on the first flight and arrive to the first destination, many will be so happy they chose to go. Since starting to travel again in June, we have been on ten flights and in three countries. Vacationing feels fairly normal… just with safety measures in place!
But that major anxiety in traveling is understandable! When booking a trip with me, or any of my friends at TravelStore, your safety is paramount. And your safety will still be paramount whenever you decide to travel again.