My husband and I just returned from this familiarization trip to Turkey and we can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed it. We’d visited Istanbul briefly during a pre-cruise stop in 2011, when we’d only had 3 hours to pay short visits to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. That whirlwind tour whetted our appetites and we knew we wanted to return to experience more of that vibrant city. We discovered the Ya’lla Tours opportunity on a Sunday in mid-December. I immediately sent an email to the Ya’lla information email address to check availability, assuming that I wouldn’t receive a response until the next business day. To my surprise, I received a response from Ronen Paldi within the hour (I had no idea that he was the company owner), explaining that there was space available and that confirmation would be dependent on the submission of certain documents. I submitted the requisite documents later that afternoon and we received confirmation within 24 hours. I was immediately impressed by the quick response.
I could use so many superlatives to describe the trip – awesome, incredible, wonderful, marvelous, and memorable – but the word that came to mind most often was WOW and that was from the first day to the last. We were “wowed” by:
I’ll admit that I’m a luxury travel sort of gal, so I was especially pleased with the quality and location of each of the hotels. I was impressed from the evening that we checked into the Marmara, to the morning we checked out of the Hilton.
The rooms were spacious and well equipped. The views of the Bosporus and Aegean Sea made each sunrise and sunset very special. The inability to adjust the temperature in most of the rooms below 75 degrees was a bit of a challenge, but we managed to offset that by opening the window to let in the cool sea air.
The least impressive of the 4 hotels was the Charisma. It was a bit “long in the tooth” – its simple décor, and plentiful (but mediocre) food gave it the ambiance of a college dormitory. But that was offset by our breathtaking view of the Aegean Sea…another WOW.
The opportunities to do site reviews of other hotels gave us good options for making recommendations to our clients. I especially enjoyed the old world charm of the Para Palace.
Turkish cuisine is world-renowned so we expected it to be very good. But it surpassed every expectation that we had. From fine dining establishments to small countryside eateries all were exquisite. Each dish featured the freshest ingredients. Many were organic and some even locally sourced. Everything was prepared to perfection.
Even those who had dietary restrictions were accommodated. For instance, we do not eat red meat but that did not create a problem. Every meal offered a delicious choice of fish or chicken. The servings were plentiful and often artfully presented. Most of the dinners included wine and beer. All of the hotels offered plentiful breakfast buffets with fresh fruit and even eggs cooked to order.
The meal of all meals was our final dinner at the Ciragan Palace, where the menu replicated what sultans dined on. It was simply exquisite. Even the china was a work
of art. Each course was presented beautifully and described in detail. We literally dined like royalty.
Our guide Ozgur Erdogan (Fred) was simply the best. From the time he met us at the airport on Saturday February 25th to the time he dropped us off on Sunday March 5th he led us, lectured us and took great care of our “flock.” He shared a wealth of information and always kept it interesting. He worked seamlessly with our bus driver to transport us to our destinations on time, even in bumper-to-bumper traffic. He handled our entrance tickets and even arranged group airport check-in when necessary. He handled unexpected events and endless requests for restroom breaks with patience and a smile. What a guy!
Many thanks to our guest blogger Adrienne Lee! Adrienne and Robert Lee traveled on our travel agent fam trip February/March 2017. Click to read Part 2 of Adrienne’s post.