I've split this review up between Istanbul and the rest of Turkey, because I booked the 10 Days Glories of Turkey tour with COS which included both segments. I booked this trip almost one year in advance as a solo traveller. I chose City of Sultans based on its consistently good feedback and ratings.
In terms of booking the trip, COS was very good at getting back to me on a few changes I wanted to make regarding accommodations on the trip. I was under the impression that COS would run the entire tour. That was not the case but more about that later.
I arrived in Istanbul in the late afternoon. The airport is a bit chaotic and I totally forgot to buy my visa before getting in line for security/immigration. The visa section is to the right and immigration is to the left. Getting your visa is pretty simple. Give them money and they give you a visa. Then get in the other line, which can be extremely long, and make your way to the front. The border police look a your passport and after that, you can go and get your suitcase.
Once I went through the exit gate, a greeter from COS was waiting for me. A van picked me up from the arrivals area and then dropped me off near the hotel. All went well. The hotel, Q-Inn was nice and the staff were very friendly. I got a call in the evening from COS as I had a tour of Istanbul booked the next day.
After a good night's sleep and some breakfast, our tour guide, Eren B., met us (me and another couple) at the hotel. We toured the main sites in the old part of Istanbul, namely the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque and the Hippodromme. We went to a fantastic restaurant for lunch. Eren was a great tour guide and very personable. No wonder everybody writes such good things about him. He is really a delight, very knowledgeable about all things Istanbul and there is no waiting in long lines if Eren is your guide.
Our afternoon was spent visiting the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar. We also visited a carpet store and some special shops in the market that sell wonderful scarves and turkish delight. All and all, it was a great day and a great introduction to Istanbul.
We were dropped off at the hotel and I packed up for the next part of my trip across Turkey. The next morning, the same young man who met me at the airport when I arrived, accompanied me to the airport for the next leg of my trip. He got me checked in for my flight and I was off to Ankara. So far so good.
In Ankara, I was met at the airport by a tour guide from a company called Parasol Tours/Holidays. COS advised me only a few days before my departure that there weren't any other people taking the tour I had booked, but they would do a private tour if I wished. Alternatively, I could go with another tour group, however, at no time did COS mention that I would be joining a different tour company for this segment. Having said that, I thought overall Parasol provided a good tour. The guide and bus driver were fabulous and all the stops for lunch were great. With this adhoc arrangement, however, I did not stay in the same hotels as the rest of the tour group which was disappointing. As well, there were more than 30 people on the trip, larger than I would have preferred. The itinerary was pretty much the same as that outlined on the COS site for the first half of the trip but second half was slightly different from the original itinerary.
I returned to Istanbul a day early so that I could spend some time on my own exploring the city, ok really,shopping and going to a turkish bath. That was lots of fun and the old part of Istanbul is an easy walk and a great place to window shop.
I spent the last day in Istanbul doing a tour of the Bophorus which was also a provided by an alternate tour company. All and all, it was also fine and the restaurant choice was also very good.
The transfer back to the airport for my flight home was punctual and my check-in went almost without a hitch. Yes I was over on my baggage allowance.
Overall, I think COS did a good job in coodinating the trip. Airport transfers, meet and greets, hotels, airline tickets, etc. were all well coordinated and reliable. I do feel however, that more transparency is needed when tours are subcontracted to other companies. Turkey is a great country to visit with wonderful historic sites and great cuisine. Despite the above snag, I had a good time and have lots of great memories.
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