Planning Turkey & Greece

August 16, 2015

Finally, a unique trip. Though I’ve done quite a bit of traveling the last two years, many of my destinations were repeat trips or places that didn’t really challenge me, like Paris, London, and Prague. Stepping out of the arrival doors of Beijing airport in 2002 was such a rush; despite being accompanied by my parents and brother, it was my first glimpse of Asia and felt like I was in another world… albeit, a heavily polluted one.

“Istanbul” by Moyan Brenn

But Istanbul? There are so many unknowns. I’m not buying into the hype of American news agencies delivering messages of fear from the border near Syria. I know there’s a risk, even in the metropolitan areas, but I’ll have a pretty good guide who I trust for most of those days. Finally, another adventure worthy of the name Once A Traveler!

So, what to do, where to go, what to eat?

Courtesy of The Flight Deal, I was able to book a great rate from Chicago to Sofia, Bulgaria. Although I’m not exactly pressed for time, I need my schedule flexible for two reasons: one, my travel companion won’t know her schedule until the end of August, and I’ll be shifting things around in the eventuality she can’t meet me when I first arrive; two, I chose Sofia because it offers cheap access to Turkey and Greece by train or bus.

How can I keep this flexibility? I’m using a lot of my rewards redemptions on hotels: Hilton HHonors free weekend nights in Istanbul, IHG points for Chicago, Marriott rewards for Sofia, and possibly cashing in my Hyatt free night, assuming it renews soon. Even though I have these confirmed, I can change them without incurring any fees up until the day before arrival. Sweet as.

The only thing that is absolutely on my must-do-or-die list for this trip is to go hot air ballooning in Capadoccia, Turkey. And eat vegetables for breakfast. And gorge on Turkish delight over afternoon tea served in glass mugs. And get one of the famous sakal tıraşı shaves… ok, it’s a long list.

“Balloons” by oarranzli

Greece may be off the itinerary depending on my lady’s schedule, but if I’m able to swing down to Thessaloniki before Istanbul, I will. There’s always the possibility of going directly from Cappadocia to one of the Greek isles and making my way back slowly to Sofia.

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