West meets East – My top picks for Turkey!
If you have been following any travel groups on instagram or pinterest recently, you most probably came across some blow-mind photos of either the amazing hot air balloon rides of Cappadocia or the white terrace pools off the cliff of Pamukkale. If you have not come across these mesmerizing sites, don’t fear but just note that Cappadocia and Pamukkale are ranked as some of the top travel destinations for 2015 and I strongly recommend for you to include them in your next travel itinerary. Despite the short time I had spent in Turkey this summer, a mere 5 days (way too short, I know!), it was worth the non stop pace and adventure. I am very much interested in going back and seeing the rest of what this incredible country has to offer. I can’t lie that it was a bit worrying to visit Turkey this summer, being situated so close to a country undergoing an intense civil war. However given the size and safety mechanisms put in place near tourist zones, I felt comfortable to explore a country that was on my wish list for way too long. My slight anxious feeling was also “xanax-ed” after I had decided to organize my visits to the destinations outside of Istanbul, through a certified tour company called “One Nation Travel Agency”; plus this was the cheapest option.
Turkey is considered to be a nation of the Asian continent, as 97% of its territory is found in West Asia and the Middle East. However once you step foot in Istanbul, you get quite the taste of the European side as it was was in the lands of Christendom. Turkey was founded in 1923 from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire and it offers more than your typical landscape from dome-and-minaret filled skyline of Istanbul to Roman ruins; from heavily indented Aeagan coastline with sunny beaches to cold and snowy mountains of the East; there is something for everyone —whether they be traveling on an extreme budget (like myself) or traveling by a multi-million yacht. This blog piece highlights the three main areas I had visited on my trip and my recommendations on sites to explore, foods to try and activities to engage in:
Where to start? History, Art, Culture and Food are a few of the unique features that draw travel seekers to the heart and soul of Turkey. I had visited Turkey this past summer, in the month of July or the time of Ramadan. For those of you who are not familiar with the tradition of Ramadam – it is a month long time of fasting, prayer and celebration during which Muslims abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. It is a great time of year to visit the city, especially in their warm summers, as once the sun sets, the historic Sultanahmet square becomes the city’s feasting center; you are surrounded by the inviting spiritual atmosphere where busy with families and groups of friends bringing out their best delicacies and talk until all hours of the night.
Given the short time of 36 hours in the city, I unfortunately only had the opportunity to stay in and visit one district of the city – Sultanahmet. It is the most touristy district but it is the prime area to revisit and appreciate the historically great Ottoman and byzantine empires. My quick but effective process to seeing Sultanahmet in less 35 hours was:
- Book a place through Airbnb in Sultanahmet – my apartment was just what I needed-safe, clean and decent view of the infamous Bosphorus – thanks to Saban Olcer, Ekim Apart. Transportation to and from the airport was also arranged a small extra cost through Saban.
- First night – book a restaurant for dinner at Seven Hills restaurant to get the best view of the mosques and Bosphorus
- Wake up early and visit the Grand Bazaar
- Grab some breakfast at any one of the local cafes – don’t forget to try the infamous Turkish coffee
- Roam through the hall ways of one of the most popular souks – you can buy all sorts of local goodies from jewels to lamps to spices to turkish delight sweets to turkish baths towels (these are a must have and are the best and most fashionable beach towels)
- Once you find a treat that you can’t tear away from – buy it! Put on your poker face and start bargaining – you can even try walking a few steps away and you will hear that price drop in half like there is no tomorrow!
- Take a stroll down the main avenue of and stop off in the main Sultanahmetsquare and explore the two mosques that perfectly combine significant artefacts of two of the world’s biggest religions
- The majestic Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmed mosque of 1616 portrays the brilliance of Sinan, the most respected architect of the Ottoman period (note: a scarf is needed to enter mosque however covered garments are provided at the entrance
- Architectural byzantine beauty of the one and only Hagia Sophia – previously a church, mosque and now museum
- Get some lunch at Giritili restaurant – we were the only ones in the restaurant but it is a cute gem tucked away behind the mosques, with a fixed course of yummy seafood.
- Book a Hamman with Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam a few days in advance to make sure you can walk right in when you are ready to get that undeniably relaxing experience! This hamman is absolutely gorgeous; it is a bit on the pricey side but it is totally worth it!
- Book a cruise on the Bosphorus – I did not get a chance to take a cruise on the Bosphorus but I will save that for my next trip!
Unfortunately I had gotten food poisoning from dinner at a restaurant on my last night in the city so I can only recommend to not eat at the turkart terrace restaurant – great view but bad lamb kebab. This also did not make waking up at 4am for a morning flight any easier, especially for my boyfriend Phillip whom was quite sick in the apartment, on the drive to the airport, at the airport, on the plane and on the bus ride and at the new hotel lol. Thank you for that unique adventure turkart terrace restaurant! We started off our adventures to the inland of turkey on a rough foot but I am glad the food poisoning had only lasted one full day.
Our amazing three day with One Nation Travel started with a pick up at our airbnb place at 4am and transfer to Sabiha Gökçen domestic airport to check-in to our domestic flight to Kayseri. We were picked up at the Kayseri airport and transferred to our chic Flintstone Cave Hotel in Cappadocia. Cappadocia is an area in central highlands best known for its unique moon-like landscape (the “fairy chimneys”), underground cities, cave churches and houses carved in the rocks. We began our first day with a walking tour through the valleys of Cappadocia; I thought I was doing fine as I had not felt in the same state as Phillip. However within one hour of dredging through the insanely warm desert of the valley, I began to feel — not so great – I was transferred immediately back to the hotel where I had spent the rest of my day and night! Good thing that by 5am the following day, I was up and ready for my hot air balloon ride. It was AMAZING! The view is of course unreal and the sunrise makes the experience even more breath-taking. We booked the Hot Air Balloon ride through One Nation Travel as an extra cost to the tour but please do book it or you will miss out! During the visit of Cappadocia, you will also be taken on mini tours to give you a sense of local carpet and onyx factories/ enticing you to buy some local treasures – only buy what you truly want but these mini tours are a great way to understand the process in making these handmade products.
Pamukkale – “the Cotton Castle”
We took an overnight bus to Pamukkale which was I thought was quite comfortable- but perhaps just a tad bit smellier than I would have anticipated. If you a lady travelling by yourself – be aware that you might have to move seats if a local man has bought the seat next to you. Its custom for single men to not sit next to a single woman on public transportation. Its accepted as common practice however I do hope one day, these customs can be adjusted to suit the modern day traveler. We arrived at the Denizli main bus station and was transferred to Koray Hotel to freshen up. We got a guided tour of the Pamukkale and Hierapolis area- we checked out the Red Spring Waters of Karahayit and then visited the ancient city of Hierapolis – wonders included the Roman Baths, Byzantium Gate, Apollon Temple, Theater and Antique Pool. You have the option to swim in the famous Cleopatra Pamukkale Antique Pools, however I recommend just renting a locker in the Pools area and walking down with your swimwear to the true wonder – the White terrace shallow pools filled with thermal waters along the cliff of Pamukkale. The terraces are made of travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by water with a very high mineral content from the hot springs.
- e-visas: check online if you require one for entry into Turkey. Trinidad and Tobago is no longer on the list YAY!
- Exchange money at the Grand Bazaar for some better rates
- What to buy in Turkey? Favorites include Leather clothing, Carpets, Silk and Turkish delight and Turkish coffee
- What to eat in Turkey? Beef is the most important meat (lamb is also common), eggplant (aubergine), onion, lentil, bean, tomato, garlic, and cucumber are the primary vegetables. Some Turkish desserts include baklava and Turkish Delight. And of course drink Turkish coffee.
- Fun fact: Istanbul is not the country’s capital – it is actually Ankara.
- Turkish Airlines – recommend to enter and leave turkey
Turkey has a historically rich timeline and has way too many wonders to capture all in one trip. If I do get a chance to visit again in the near future, I will check out more of Istanbul, Ephesus and the beautiful towns along the Aeagan coastline such as Marmaris, Oludeniz and Antalya. Turkey is known as the territory where East meets West however I somehow got my Westerner self to go visit a more Eastern place that I shall never forget. Start planning and do not hesitate to contact me if you need any more advice on this incredible nation!