Hagia Sophia Mosque at sunrise – The adventure began in Istanbul with a visit to Hagia Sophia Mosque. Constructed in 532 AD, it was one of the world’s largest and most magnificent cathedrals before the Ottomans converted it to a mosque in 1453. Alumni and friends marveled at this historical treasure while receiving a historical and architectural lesson about the structural fortitude of this architectural wonder. The day was topped off with an Ottoman dinner, priming us for the next day’s visit to Topkapi Palace.
Alumni & Friends pause for an Ottoman history lecture at Topkapi Palace – One has to get ahead of the crowds to fully take in Topkapi Palace in peace. This palace served as residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans. Led by guide and native Mert Taner, our group strutted in the footsteps of sultans, wandered the courtyards and quarters of thousands of palace residents and browsed the sensational treasures of Topkapi palace, We emerged from the morning in Topkapi to an astounding sea of visitors waiting anxiously to enter, grateful for our savvy head start.
Jean Abbott ‘72 shows the beautiful tile artistry of Topkapi Palace – Escorting us through the Harem quarters, Mert sat us down to tell fascinating tales of the people who once contributed to a critical component of palace life in more ways than one. Managed by the black eunuchs, The Fountain Hall was the main entrance to the Harem. Afterwards, we were set loose in the Grand Bazaar to try our hand at negotiations for silk and cashmere goods, beaded jewelry, and Inkat fabrics to name a few. An exquisite Ottoman Palace cooking demonstration and dining experience enhanced the evening.
A morning history journey on the Bosphorus – Fishing and mussel boats mingle with huge oil tankers along the Bosphorus Strait, a lively waterway between East and West where Turkey stands as the only country in the world situated on two continents.
A celebrity dining experience with traditional Kurdish chef Musa Dağdeviren – Alumni and friends enjoyed a variety of meze, ciçek dolması (stuffed squash blossom), fresh dolma, Lahmacun (Turkish pizza) and an array of handmade fruit desserts and homemade ice cream dusted with pistachio. What an honor to have a surprise opportunity to meet chef Musa himself!
Vibrant olives and pickled products of daily Turkish cuisine – Meze for Breakfast, lunch and dinner! An abundance of fresh, organic fruits, vegetables and spices lend way for delicious and invigorating daily dining in Turkey. An hour and a half plane ride to Kayseri, followed by a bus ride to Cappadocia brought us to our incredible and charming cave hotel.
A home-cooked village meal in Cappadocia.
Lentil soup, homemade flat bread with butter and grapeseed molasses, ciçek dolması, pickled vegetables, fresh chopped salad with lemon and pomegranate molasses dressing. The woman who runs the restaurant is married to a cave carver, who was responsible for carving the incredible Cappadocia cave hotel where our group stayed.
Göreme Open Air Museum – After an orientation of the quaint and comfortable town where many university students flock to study viticulture, aviation and archeology, we bussed to Göreme Open Air Musem. The Punahou Alumni Travel group explored the insides of this important Byzantine monastic settlement of multiple churches, a nunnery, and wineries carved out of the mountainside.
Multiple balloons – Alumni and friends soared peacefully in the wind currents over fields, cave-decorated mountains, and geological wonder fairy chimneys millions of years in the making. Indeed a highlight of the trip! Being met on the ground with a champagne toast was a surprising frill to the experience.
Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride over Cappadocia
Lunch with an inspirational treasure
Alumni and friends took in an authentic home-cooked meal with a local villager who opened her home and shared about her life through an intimate Q&A session. Fahriye is the second of a four-generation farming household in Cappadocia, weaving her own traditional Turkish carpets, jewelry, and booties, while her main source of income comes from growing and selling vegetables.
Kaymakli Ancient Subterranean Cities – The Kaymakli ancient subterranenan cities are carved entirely into the rock landscape and down six stories by early Christians who fled from persecution by hiding and living in secret. The Punahou Alumni Travel group crouched, crawled and walked through the vast corridors of this underground world using our imaginations to fill in the details for how these civilizations once flourished here.
Guray Muze Cave Pottery Museum
A rich history of centuries of the traditional craft of pottery prompted the establishment of the Guray Maze Cave Pottery Museum. The Antique Hall collections of dishware, storage vessels, oil lamps, tools, smoke pipes, dating back 2000 - 1200 BC are juxtaposed with the Modern Works Hall filled with world-renowned contemporary and traditional ceramic art works. The Punahou Alumni Travel group watched a live pottery demonstration using a traditional kickwheel, where Melinda Inn had her first taste of making a ceramic piece!
Cooking demonstration at Old Greek House – What a delicious feast for the eyes as alumni and friends watched a cooking demonstration in the working kitchen of the Old Greek House, the oldest restaurant in Mustafapaşa. After a little lunch and shopping before saying good-bye to lovely Cappadocia, we hopped on a plane to Izmir to stay on the Agean Sea coast in the charming modern city of Kusadasi.
Ephesus and the Terrace Houses – Another sunrise bus ride took us to start the day ahead of crowds at Ephesus and the Terrace Houses. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Ephesus was an ancient port city and once considered the most important Greek city and the most important trading center in the Mediterranean region. The Punahou Alumni Travel group marveled at the Greek architecture and sculptures while tracing the steps of Julius Caesar, Saint Paul, Antony and Cleopatra through this well-preserved ruins.
Aphrodisias amphitheater – Listening intently to our tour guide, Mert Tanner, in the ancient amphitheater in Aphrodisias, small ancient Greek Hellenistic city. UNESCO World Heritage Site. Best preserved archaeological site in Turkey.
Aphrodisias – The temple of Aphrodite dates from the 3rd century BC and the city was built one century later. We were the only tour group visiting this idyllic site that day. Such a treasure and such historic significance.
Delicious Turkish style lunch served family style to our alumni such a rustic and charming setting.
Bodrum yacht departure – The bustling seaside town of Bodrum was the departing point for the daylong sail on the Aegean Sea. Crystal clear blue waters mirrored the azure sky.
Bodrum Yacht Cove – After a homemade lunch of fresh seafood and Mediterranean salads and a relaxing day on the Aegean Sea, fellow alumni ham it up as we make our way back to shore.
Buff n blue at Pamukkale – It was if it had all been planned, the buff n’ blue hot air balloon descended into the viewing area we had just arrived at in Pamukkale. Welcome Punahou Alumni!
Dinner on terrace – Bodrum – Nothing more breathtaking than the view from the hilltop terrace of our Bodrum boutique hotel, El Vino.
Etrim – The village of Etrim Halicilik shared their aloha with our alumni as they told of their family history and culture of Turkish rugmaking, double knot and flat weave, kilims. Whether wool on cotton or pure silk the craftsmanship was impeccable, stunning, and purely breathtaking.
Etrim – group with carpets: Decisions, decisions – how can you just pick out one carpet. Well many of our alumni took home more than one special piece.
Etrim family home – Passed down from generation to generation, the traditions and cultures of this village are still strong to this day.
Etrim Lunch – The village of Etrim taught us how to prepare a few of their traditional Turkish foods and then prepared the rest of the meal for us to indulge in.
Etrim – Turkish carpets: What a fabulous and breathtaking selection of Turkish carpets to choose from. What seems like a long lost craft is this village and many surrounding villages main livelihood.
Etrim – A fond farewell was said, after sharing a day with the villagers from Etrim.
Hierapolis - Alumni from the class of 2007 – 1969 pose at the ruins of Hierapolis, UNESCO World Heritage Site, adjacent to modern Pamukkale
Spice Market – Returning to Istanbul, stopping at famed Egyptian spice market, our alumni went crazy for nuts, teas, spices and sweets.
Turkish delight – Notable Turkish sweets. An extensive assortment of Turkish Delight varying in flavors from pomegranate to pistachio.
Arrive in Istanbul, one of the world’s most fascinating cities. Formerly known as Byzantium and as Constantinople, it has been the capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, and is the only city in the world situated on two continents. Here, East meets West.
Visit glorious Hagia Sophia, one of the most extraordinary buildings in the history of architecture. Constructed in 532 AD, for 1,000 years it remained the world’s largest and most magnificent cathedral before the Ottomans converted it to a mosque in 1453. See the Blue Mosque exterior (interior is under restoration), nicknames so for its interior covered with 20,000 brilliant, shimmering handpainted blue Iznik tiles. At the Islamic Arts Museum, see the examples of impressive Turkish decorative arts including illuminated manuscripts, […]
Explore splendid Topkapı Palace, imperial residence of the sultan, his court, and harem, as well as the seat of government from which the Ottoman Turks ruled most of Europe and the Middle East. At the exquisite Underground Basilica Cistern learn about the city’s sixth-century sophisticated ancient water system in this beautiful and unusual space filled with recycled ancient marble columns. Tour the Backstreets of the Grand Bazaar seeing the local – but no less crowded – side of this bustling […]
Board a privately chartered boat for a cruise fully narrated by Mert, along opulent 19th century Ottoman palaces, waterside mansions built by Ottoman aristocrats and foreign ambassadors, and the mighty 15th century fortress Rumeli Hisari. Watch how one man fishing boats share this busy waterway with giant shipping tankers. Afternoon flight to Turkey’s interior, Cappadocia where we will marvel at unusual and impressive geological landscapes.
After a cave breakfast room reminiscent of the Flintstones, visit Goreme Open Air Museum an UNESCO World Heritage Site containing 10th to 13th century Christian cave churches carved into the natural rock landscape. See exceptional, vibrant frescoes in a cave church where the columns and domes have been carved from the rock within the the cave. Enjoy Turkish hospitality and a home cooked lunch in the home of a village family, of enjoying the company of up to 4 generations […]
Start our day at the bustling weekly village market, observing local villagers buying and selling produce, homemade cheeses, all types of groceries and home goods. Tour amazing Kaymakli Underground City, entirely carved into the rock landscape and down 6 stories by early Christians who fled from persecution by hiding and living in secret, sophisticatedly engineered subterranean cities for months at a time. In the afternoon, enjoy more fairly chimney views, and attend an optional Whirling Dervish ceremony. Enjoy a tasty […]
Morning walk along colorful and ornate doors of village homes, perhaps see villagers at work and hopefully encounter a village woman with her own handicrafts to sell from her home. Village ladies show us how to make an amazing comfort food clay pot casserole, before we enjoy it for lunch. Visit a pottery workshop before our afternoon flight to Izmir from which we have a 1 hour drive to Kusadasi.
Allow yourself to be impressed on a detailed tour of the sprawling ancient city of Ephesus, one of the most powerful Greco-Roman cities of the ancient world, and today one of the world’s best preserved archeological sites. Walk the Sacred Way, a paved and colonnaded marble street, tracing the steps of Julius Caesar, Saint Paul, Antony and Cleopatra. The Library of Celsus rivals any structure in the Roman Forum and the amphitheater dwarfs that of Pompeii. Our visit includes the […]
Experience a traditional Turkish breakfast feast at a tranquil organic village farm before we drive to Aphrodisias, one of the largest, best preserved archeological sites in Turkey and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Named in honor of Aphrodite, goddess of love, this city was a center for sculpture, arts, literature, and religion. Many of this city’s monuments are still standing, including the 30,000 seat stadium. Elaborate sculptural details we see date back to the 1st and 2nd century AD. Continue […]
Today we head to to the travertine terraces of Pamukkale, health spa of the ancient world. Dip your toes in reputed healing mineral waters while exploring the terraced snow-white travertine pools, and view the theatre of the ancient city of Hieropolis, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mert leads active participants on a hike up hill to a restored ancient theatre. Fast forward 2,000 years – Experience Turkish fast food in a truly local environment. Lunch in a nearby big city shopping […]
Visit a very traditional village of stone houses, garden patches and a commitment to keeping alive village life in our globalized world through the dying art of village carpet weaving and farming. Village Cooking Demo & Lunch. Afternoon and evening free to explore the town and enjoy dinner on your own.
Morning tour of St. Peter’s Castle built by Crusaders now housing a fantastic underwater archeology museum. Explore ancient shipwreck discoveries. Then we’ll take a vacation from our vacation. Spend the day relaxing aboard a gulet, or Turkish wooden yacht sailing along the coast, swimming in the Aegean Sea, and enjoying lunch. Optional seafood dinner will be arranged according to the day’s catch and will include local delicacies.
Morning flight back to Istanbul, and cross the Golden Horn to Beyoglu district in “new” Istanbul. New, as in much newer than the ancient historic peninsula where our journey began, yet today it has it’s own historic charms. Walking tour including lunch of street food tastings along boutique and eatery lined, pedestrian-packed Istiklal Street, considered the heartbeat of the city. Ride the city’s highly efficient Metro to explore one of countless shiny skyscrapers in Istanbul where Turkey’s educated, western minded […]
Visit Chora Church filled with glittering Byzantine mosaics, considered by some experts to be the world’s finest examples of Christian mosaics, and Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul’s grandest. You’ll gain appreciation for the design and engineering genius of imperial architect Sinan, and begin to understand why he is often compared to Michelangelo. Walk through busy backstreets to the famed Egyptian Spice Market. Shop for spices, nuts, other Turkish foods, and last minute gifts. We’re doing this at the end of our trip […]
Mert will join us in our panoramic rooftop breakfast room before we say our good-byes as our tour concludes after breakfast. Transfer to airport for your departure flight.
Contemporary Turkish Dinner at one of Istanbul’s most celebrated restaurants, a destination for visiting international chefs.
Cooking Demonstration of Ottoman Palace Cuisine
Grand Bazaar Shopping – I’ll introduce you to vetted, reputable shopkeepers I have befriended, for exotic treasures – Fine Scarves, Needlelace Necklaces, Inlaid Wood & Mother of Pearl Marquetry, Silver Jewelry, Hand-loomed Ikat Fabrics, and more!
Privately Chartered Cruise of the Bosphorus Strait along Ottoman Palaces & Mansions, crossing the Bosphorus Strait from Europe to Asia for Food Market Visit & Lunch.
Istanbul Street Food Walking Tour
Home Cooked Lunch Visit with a Cappadocia Village Family
Seafood Dinners of the Day’s Local Catch – Watch local fishermen from a dockside restaurant
Breakfast Feast at an Organic Village Farm
Authentic Carpet Weaving Village Visit & Lunch – Meet 3 generations of villagers committed to maintaining traditional village lifestyle by weaving and farming.
Village Cooking Demonstrations
Nature Walk – Get Up Close Amongst the Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia
Optional Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride
Optional Turkish Bath
Optional Whirling Dervish Ceremony
Historical & Cultural Visits
Blue Mosque * Hagia Sophia * Topkapi Palace * Underground Basilica Cistern * Grand Bazaar * Chora Church * Cappadocia Fairy Chimneys of Pasabag Valley * Goreme Open Air Museum, UNESCO World Heritage Site * Kaymakli Underground City * Historic Greek Village Walk * Roman City of Ephesus, UNESCO World Heritage Site * Ephesus Terrace Homes * Ancient City of Aphrodisias, UNESCO World Heritage Site * Pamukkale Travertine Terraces, UNESCO World Heritage Site * Bodrum Underwater Archeoloy Museum * Full Day Aegean Sea Yacht Trip * Suleymaniye Mosque * Egyptian Spice Market * Village Markets * And More!
Travel with Mei-mei Means…
Eat Wonderful, Varied Meals Like A Local – NOT With Tourists!
Top Tier Historical & Cultural Turkish Guide
Experience Off The Beaten Path Hidden Gems Other Group Travelers Don’t See or Do
Explore Villages and Meet Local Villagers
Make The Most of Your Time – Travel By Airplane instead of 8-10 hour bus days
Comfortable Hotels With Local Character, Excellent Location, Special Features & Service – You will never need to take a taxi or navigate public transportation to explore during free time, nor drag your suitcase down the street or up stairs
Optional Meals Arranged for Most Free Time Meals, for your convenience and peace of mind