There’s no such thing as a free lunch: a week in Turkey

W????????e got an offer way back for what was claimed to be a £799 holiday for £149. We got it from one of the supermarkets we go to, the one we patronise when we only want to buy food and drink and not electricals and clothing and which does super dry aged beef, so we reckoned that if its name was on the offer it couldn’t be to bad. However when we booked we got stung with a ‘seasonal supplement’ which bumped the cost up to £219. Still a good deal.

Interestingly when I look back at the first flier that sucked us in the travel company (RSD Travel) was not identified except in the small print. Strange.

Anyway we paid for the tour, bought our visas online and got an excellent valet parking deal at Gatwick and earlier this month we were away: 6 days in Turkey flying into Antalya and on the road to Cappadocia.

It all started smoothly enough, in fact the holiday ran smoothly from start to finish, and we were sat on the bus getting our first briefing from the tour guide. He told us in no uncertain terms that what had been declared in the travel information as ‘optional extra tour packages’ were not really optional but strongly recommended. The two packages amounted to £195 per person and covered meals, events and admission charges (including places where there were no such charges) at a discount to the regular price of £275. After some grumbling most of us accepted but there remained 6 refuseniks. Total cost now £414. Still a good deal but less so.

It was then that we realised who was behind the tour, what the business model was and why we were getting such a deal. One of our number suggested that RSD stands for Really Strict Discipline and that the way the tour was managed reflected the country of origin of the tour company. I don’t want to name names but it did win the World Cup (and deservingly so). This meant a very fixed itinerary and no accommodation of the needs of a particular tour group or of individual travellers. RSD doesn’t actually run tours in Turkey but sub contracts to a local company, NBK Turistik, which then focuses on minimising its costs so that it can make enough profit on the deal. Hence the hard sell of the optional extras and the suspected policy of no air-con on the bus until the passengers are boarded and ready to go. And finally this was of course an exercise in selling otherwise unused capacity hence the low sticker price.

So there was a bit of a feeling that we’d been conned and a general frustration that we had to do as we were told. And given who we were, a bunch of middle class, rather senior, leisure and food loving Brits, it’s rather surprising that RSD treated with us in the way which it did. If it was hoping to build a reputation which would have resulted in us returning to them or recommending them to others my guess is they’d be seriously disappointed. And with hindsight should the supermarket have linked its brand with the deal?

But: it was a great holiday made so by the engagement between the travellers and by the fundamentally excellent offering of Cappadocia. Here’s a quick summary:

  • the Cappadocia landscape: it’s awesome, both the towers and the dramatic outcrops of rock.
  • the balloon trips which you can do to watch the sunrise: really dramatic and worth getting up before 0500.
  • Antalya: reminiscent of Barcelona and worth visiting in its own right
  • Mevlana: an wonderful example of a tolerant and inclusive attitude to other faiths
  • the leather factory (really) and its fashion show: Juni bought a super stylish coat for a very decent price
  • Turkish pastries: especially the breakfast offering

A general point about Turkish food and drink: perfectly good and acceptable. Superb raw materials so the salads are excellent but there’s little value added when they start to cook it. Efes beer is a good German style beer and the wines are OK to drink in situ. However to escape the wall-to-wall buffets a group of us did tunnel under the razor wire and headed into Goreme for dinner at Manzara one night.

And thoughts about Turkey: it works. The roads are in good nick, the toilets are clean and the weather is extraordinarily good.

So: there’s no such thing as a free lunch so be careful when offers seem to be too good to be true. But the frustrations notwithstanding this deal was good for us and value for the money which we ended up spending. Cappadocia is a UNESCO world heritage site and very much worth visiting.

Click here for a photo album on Flickr




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