“Is this how you talk to your husband at home?”
“If here no be flight I for beat you well well” (If this was not a flight I would have beaten you)
“Nigerians are always arguing over something on the plane”- I said to myself as I walked down the aisle. A man and lady were having a hilarious argument over sitting; the window/aisle argument. I was entertained for a good 10 minutes and even whipped out my phone to record their silliness. Understanding airplane signs cannot possibly be this difficult or can it?
I was flying to Izmir, Turkey from Lagos, Nigeria via Istanbul and this argument was the most “eventful” thing that happened on my flight. Pamukkale was my final destination where, I’ll attend a 4 day Medical Tourism conference in company of a Medical Tourism Practitioner, Dr. Dayo Sobamowo. The flight to Turkey was at night and the moment I fastened my seat belt, I crashed the entire 6+ hours. Tossing and turning on my make shift bed, I woke up to the pilot announcing our decent to Istanbul.
Yay! Istanbul…1 flight closer to my final destination. As I walked into Ataturk Istanbul Airport, I received the shock of my life! I almost had a panic attack and I do not have ochlophobia. I remember reading an article with the headline “7 MILLION TOURIST VISIT ISTANBUL IN 2017”. 2% of them where at the airport that day, no lie. I shared a clip on Instagram and my friend asked if it was hajj :)!
After spending 2 hours on at the “other countries” queue, I finally got to border control. At 8.00am, the official looked very exhausted. He looked at me, looked at my passport, repeated this 2 times and stamped me in. No questions asked, no dry jokes cracked, no funny comments.
I got to the boarding gate of my connecting flight to Izmir hoping I’ll see Dr. Dayo there. We had missed each other amidst the mammoth crowd. He was nowhere to be found and I thought to myself “he’s probably still looking around shops or having breakfast somewhere”. I was the last person to board the flight, trying to wait out for him. He wasn’t on the flight and I began to panic. I checked my gate and boarding pass one last time to be sure I was in the right place. Then it hit me. With 51 daily flights to Izmir from Istanbul, his connecting flight was probably different.
Back at the airport in Izmir, I was “declared” missing. “The missing girl” would be my name throughout the conference. Dr. Dayo landed Izmir one hour ahead of me and began to panic too. He thought I got lost at the airport. Yup, 30-year-old me. But really, I don’t blame him for thinking that way. Even a seasoned traveler can get caught up at Istanbul airport. It’s quite a hectic place.
Nomad Tip: if you are transiting through Istanbul get to your gate as fast as you can even if you have the longest lay over. Trust me, you can spend over two hours just on the “other countries” line!
At the exit in Izmir, my face lit up when I saw the “2nd International Thermal Healthcare Travel Summit” sign. Dr. Dayo was sat on one of the chairs and we laughed about the whole episode. I thought something had happened to him and he thought the same about me. We then realized they put us on two separate flights. As I sat with him, A Turkish man (one of the guides from the part Thermal Tourism Team) approached us and said “Is this the missing girl? Thank God we found her!” It was hilarious. Throughout the trip, every time the guide saw me he’ll say “Oh heyy! its the missing girl”.
BUS RIDE FROM IZMIR TO DENIZLI
And so “the missing girl” and 20 others embarked on their 3 hour journey from Izmir to Denizli. Driving through the highway, I marveled at how unique and distinct every province in Turkey was. In 2012, I visited Istanbul and Izmir was/is nothing like Istanbul. It felt like I was in another country. Though, I did not get the opportunity to explore, our guide told us a bit about Izmir. It’s the third most populous city in Turkey. It’s home to the famous Temple of Artemis, the ancient city of Ephesus and the gorgeous beach town of Cesme.
After about 2 hours into the drive, we stopped at a corner shop in the Aydin province to get lunch. I was advised to taste Ayran, Turkish yogurt, and was told it’s the best yogurt ever. I did try it and let’s just say I’m never trying it again. My idea of yogurt is a very thick substance with a tangy taste. This felt like I was drinking milky water with salt and a ting of lemon.
THE THERMAL RESORT
Richmond Pamukkale Thermal Resort was our home for the next four days. As we alighted from the bus, I was in awe of the simplicity of this place. After dropping my bags, I went around the hotel to check out its facilities. It had an outdoor pool, a nice play area for kids, dining area, a spa and a thermal pool. The thermal pool became my favorite part of the resort. I had never seen or been in a thermal pool before so I went crazy. Every night, right before bed, I’ll soak myself in the pool for 20 minutes. This routine knocked me out every time and for the first time in two years, I got perfect sleep.
THE 4 DAY CONFERENCE
Though, I blogged details of the conference here, I’ll share specific aspects I loved below:
It did not feel like a conference: I’ve attended a couple of conferences in Nigeria and this was extremely different. When you think of conferences, you think extreme seriousness and no time to play games. I was a bit worried that I’ll feel out-of-place and get lost in Medical jargon’s. This was far from the case. The actual lectures only lasted a day and half, every other thing was tours, tours and more tours! The first day of the conference was strictly for exploring the city. It was a good balance. Yes they want medical tourist, but they also want the medical tourists to enjoy the natural wonders, beaches and museums their country has to offer. Rehabilitation after care. Good strategy Turkey, good strategy!
Good representation from all over the world: I was amazed to see people from Kyrgyzstan (Truth be told, I cannot even pronounce that country properly). The representation was quite amazing and they hosted 300 people from over 50 countries. That’s representation from more than 25% of the world.
Partnerships and collaborations make the world go round: Oh yes! The world is such a global village and these days you really can’t afford to do things on your own. Turkey with all these thermal deposits saw the importance of collaborating with professionals from other countries. They sure did the right thing.
Structure in business is extremely important: This was a take home for me and something I promised to adopt for my business. Their structure was great and they had every aspect on lock down. Their guides were working round the clock to ensure everyone had a seamless experience. They hosted so many people but they managed the crowd perfectly!
Not just Doctors do medical tourism: This one surprised the heck out of me and I met so many people in the Medical tourism business who were not doctors. Amin, my new Iranian bestie, is from an engineering background but he practices Medical tourism in Tehran. Truth is, you should have a doctor on your team to be able to read the patient’s medical records. This is necessary for recommend to the right healthcare facility abroad. However, all you need is keen interest, make the right connections and attend conferences such as this!
NAVIGATING MY WAY THROUGH TURKEY
The conference was over and I planned to see two other cities, Cappadocia and Istanbul, before heading back home. Cappadocia for the hot air balloon ride and Istanbul to shop for my daughter. Because of the conference I attended in Pamukkale, my route was really hectic! I’ll tell you how my journey was and share tips on how to make yours more seamless. Here’s what a summary itinerary looked like:
- Day 1-4: Attend Medical Tourism conference in Pammukale
- 4-6: Travel to Cappadocia from Pammukale for Hot Air Balloon ride
- 6-7: Travel to Istanbul from Cappadocia + shop in Istanbul
- 7: Head back to Lagos
Pammukale – Cappadocia.
After the conference, I took a three-hour taxi from Pamukkale to Izmir airport. There is an airport in Denizli (the province where Pamukkale is) however, all the flights from Denizli to Cappadocia required a stop over at Istanbul. I wanted to land in the place of my dreams as quickly as possible and did not want a stop over. I purchased a ticket on SunExpress which took me directly from Izmir to Kayeseri (this is the closest airport to Cappadocia). It was a quick 1 hour 35 minutes flight.
I landed at 9.35pm but did not get to my cave hotel till midnight! There was a misunderstanding and the hotel booked an airport shuttle instead of a cab and we all know how shuttles are. It was comfortable but we were over 20 people going to different hotels in Cappadocia. Talk about frustrating and I had to wake up at five in the morning for my balloon ride!
Cappadocia – Istanbul.
This was a better journey. It took me one hour to get from my hotel to the Kayeseri airport (in a cab this time) and another 1+ hours to fly to Istanbul. I flew Onur Air. I arrived Istanbul at 8.50am and by 10.00am I was already on the streets shopping, lol. My hotel choice was perfect. I stayed right in the heart of the old city and I was walking distance from the grand bazaar, spice bazaar, tons of shops and restaurants. The hotel had the perfect view of the Bosporus from its rooftop.
Istanbul – Lagos.
My ride to the airport took 40 minutes from the hotel. It was pretty smooth and I got there in good time. I had altered some aspects of my ticket and encountered some issues at the airport. Thankfully, I got to the plane right before take off!
TICKING FOUR ITEMS OFF MY BUCKET LIST
For over four years, I had dreamt of swimming in the famous milky white pools at Pamukkale. Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia was all but a dream until this trip. At some point, especially in Cappadocia, I thought I was on another planet. That place is so unreal it dis not even feel or look like earth. I still look at my photos and videos in awe. It was magnificent! So the four items I ticked off my bucket list were:
Swimming in the famous Pamukkale thermal pools
Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia
NAVIGATING YOUR WAY THROUGH TURKEY FROM NIGERIA (SHARING TIPS FROM MY EXPERIENCE)
I’ll conclude this post with showing you how to navigate your way through Turkey, learning from my experience. My journey was pretty hectic. The reason for my trip was the conference and everything else was secondary. I had to attend the conference first. It took quite a lot of convincing to alter my ticket and when it was done there was no going back. So, if I was not attending a conference and wanted to explore these three cities, here’s what I would have done:
Flight route: Lagos – Istanbul- Kayeseri- Izmir- Istanbul- Lagos
Cappadocia would have been my first stop and I will take one of the local flight options from Istanbul – Kayeseri. There are over 13+ flights per day and it will be great to take advantage of your early landing in Istanbul from Lagos. By getting to Cappadocia in good time, you can rest up and explore the city on the same day. Cappadocia is quite small and you’ll get to cover a lot in one day.
Right after Cappadocia, I’ll head to Izmir and either stay in Izmir town or Kusadasi and do a day trip to Pamukkale. Not because I did not like Pamukkale, but because these cities are closer to the Izmir airport and I’ll get to explore more places by staying there. In Izmir, I’ll add a trip ancient city of Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis. I’ll also add a trip to the Izmir wild life park and visit the Bazaar which according to Lonely Planet “it’s one of Turkey’s most fascinating bazaars”.
Then my final stop will be Istanbul where I’ll spend time more time exploring not shopping. I’ll take a drive from Europe to Asia 🙂
My Pamukkale leg was paid for by the conference. However, I’ll still recommend the Richmond Thermal Hotel if you are staying in Pamukkale. A cheaper accommodation option is White heaven hotel and of course there are Airbnb’s or couch surfing (if you are brave). Accommodation in Pamukkale can go as high as $250 per night and as low as $40 per night.
For accommodation in Capaddocia, I’ll advice you stay in Cave Hotel’s rather than regular hotels to get the full on Cappadocia experience. My room in Cappadocia was said to have been 2,000 years old! I think this was a bit of an exaggeration. I just kept wondering if one of St. Paul’s followers or St. Paul himself slept in this room! Cave hotels are relatively affordable and mine, Kale Konak, cost 130 euros per night. However, I did not spend a dime and I’ll tell you all about how I got this freebie later. It had the perfect view and the owner, Abdullah, takes customer service to a whole different level. I would not change my accommodation in Cappadocia for anything.
Same as the one in Istanbul. The Alpek Hotel. The location was perfect. 3 minutes away from the Bosporus and the Eminuno tram station, directly opposite shops, restaurants and bars. The only down side to this hotel was the size of the rooms. I felt like I was in London. It was such a mouse-hole. However, everything in the hotel was so advanced and sophisticated. It gave me a breakfast-at-Tiffany’s meets royalty kind of vibe. It was such a lush space which cost $55 per night!
Food in Turkey is cheap so do not waste your time and energy eating at hotels, well except you have free breakfast. The food at Richmond Thermal Hotel was really bad. I loved the food in Kale Konak and I think it’s because it’s a small cave hotel. They don’t have to cook for a lot of people. The most expensive meal I bought cost me 39TL ($12). Also get ready for FEASTS not meals. Check out what standard meals in Turkey looks like. If you are a foodie, you’ll be in heaven.
Tours and timing
There’s so much to see in each of these cities and Tripadvisor is a great resource for tours. For off the beaten path type of adventures, try to have conversations with locals. This might be extremely difficult, Turkey is not an English-speaking country. But this is why you have google translate yes? Yes! So download the app and put it to use. I was lucky, I found English-speaking locals in all the cities I visited. Shout out to Meltem and Semir in Pamukkale, Abdullah and Halis in Cappadocia and Tiger in Istanbul! All thanks to them, I had the best time and my entire stay was seamless.
For a seven-day Itinerary, I’ll advise spending at least 2 nights in every city (although Istanbul requires at least 3). My timing was definitely off and in Istanbul, I was torn between exploring and shopping for my daughter, lol. You all know what I chose. If you have more time, do extend your stay in Turkey for a couple of days and explore more cities!
If Turkey was not on your list, now is the time to bump it up! Nigerian travelers (especially regular visitors to the UK or the US) can get their visas online following the steps here. There are 81 provinces in Turkey and every one of them has something different and unique to offer. I have my eye on Mugla, Ankara, Antlaya and Canakkale next!
Been to Turkey? Please share your experience with the nomads. Thinking of visiting Turkey and is lost on how to go about it? Shoot us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.