Travel Diary: Turkey from October 18, 2014 to October 30, 2014
Only 12 days in Turkey…ambitious plan for the huge country that bridges Europe and Asia. Fortunately, Turkey is quite easy to get to from Toronto, with daily flights from both Air Canada and Turkish Airlines. Flights typically get into Istanbul in the late afternoon, just in time to catch the sunset while walking along the piers on the Bosphorus. Maegan and I stayed our first two nights in the “new” city to experience the hustle and bustle of the one the biggest cities on earth.
What a whirlwind of historic sights and sounds in the old, historical centre of Istanbul. Our guide met us early at the hotel to take us to an early visit at the Blue Mosque. Getting here before the crowds is vital. It’s not the biggest mosque in Istanbul, but it is certainly one of the most beautiful. Everything in the old city is very close together, so a quick walk brings us to Topkapi Palace, the seat of the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years. Last stop: The Grand Bazaar, it has to be seen to be believed!
After arriving at the old Roman Hippodrome, a quick walk directly opposite the Blue Mosque leads you to the Hagia Sofia, one of the world’s oldest churches, now a mueseum. Last stop is the Basilica Cistern, a massive underground resevoir that could sustain old Constantinople for a few days on its own. The Dolmabahce Palace is one of the most extravagant homes in Europe, think crystal and bear skin rugs everywhere! After that, if you have the chance, take a cruise on the Bosphorus, it’s very cool!
If you are as into food as we are, taking a cooking class in a foreign country is a unique way to experience culture in an authentic way! Our chef/instructor took us shopping for all the ingredients at a local market, explained the histories behind the foods, and then we learned how to make some great food! I highly recommend it! We moved hotels for our second two nights in Istanbul to experience the old city, and I think it’s a great thing to do, if you have the time. The “old” and “new” city are so different!
We didn’t have much time in Turkey, so we decided to fly to Cappadocia instead of driving. Our guide picked us up nice and early to head to the airport to fly to Kayseri. There, we grabbed our transfer with our guide to the hotel, stopping along the way to witness some of the “Fairy Chimneys” of Cappadocia. When you realize that the formations aren’t rock, but volanic ash, they take on a whole new beauty. Some of the most unique and stunning landscapes we had ever seen were in store for us in the next few days.
Cave hotel: that is all that really needs to be said about the Argos in Cappadocia…a cave in your hotel room. Do not go to Cappadocia without staying at least one night in a hote that offers a cave room. The experience of waking up in a cave while the morning call to prayer reverberates between the hills is a unique and beautiful experience. Unfortunatley, the wind defeated our hot air ballon plans, but ducking into an underground city, with its twists and turns dozens of metres below ground is a different kind of special.
After an amazing Turkish wine tasting the night before, the start today is much slower. However, once we did get going, our guide Ozjan insisted that he needed to add a stop to our itinerary: the Zelve Valley Ruins. Arm twisted, we arrived at Zelve and immediately appologized for any doubt. A community to caves, occupied up until the 1950s, Zelve provides one of the best looks at monastic life in Cappadocia. Last stop for us is for some ceramic shopping at Chez Galip, home of glow-in-the-dark pottery made by a true grandmaster.
Time to leave our new favourite place as we’re headed for the sea! A quick flight through Istanbul lands us in Izmir on the road to Kusadasi and the ancient city of Ephesus, one of the most well known attractions in Turkey. But that’s tomorrow, today was all about travelling and then relaxing on the coast of the Aegean sea, a great change of pace after being on our feet for most of the last 6 days.
Maegan isn’t as enthralled with ruins as I am, probably because I imagine that I’m starring in my own remake of Gladiator whenever I see an ancient Roman city. Ephesus is one of the best preserved Roman sites outside of Italy and the crowds certainly show it, it’s packed full right at 9AM. Bring your own shade (hat, sunglasses, anything really) because there are just to the left of zero trees here and no refuge from the sun! Be sure to pose for the traditional tourist photo in front of the Celsus Library, best guide ever at our side!
Last stop on our Turkish odyssey, Bodrum. Finally time for some “vacation”, and if I’m honest, I couldn’t have pictured it better in my mind. Barbaros Bay is gorgeous and with us visiting right at the end of the season, it felt as though we had the place to ourselves!
Ok, so I spoke too soon with the whole vacation thing, I can’t help myself. Bodrum used to be called Halicarnassus and was a huge Greek trading city before it was burned down by its own citizens before the arrival of Alexander the Great. A half-day tour to Bodrum castle is the only stop for the day before heading back to our “private” hotel for some R&R. Today we bid goodbye to Ozjan, he was amazing, the best guide ever. Not enough can be said about how amazing he made our trip!
Early morning transfer to our connecting flight home. If you’re able to find a way into the Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge in Istanbul, it might just be one of the best airport lounges out there! More food and drinks than you know what to do with, everything to make a 10 hour flight smooth!
What an amazing trip! Maegan and I both agree that we would come back in a heartbeat. It’s almost like three trips in one, with Istanbul, the Cappadocia region, and the Aegean Sea area being so different, both culturally with their foods and customs and with the history. You are truly never bored in Turkey, no matter where you are. Amazing food is behind every food stall at the market, great wine at the resturants and very welcoming people. I have to make special mention to our guide Ozjan who was, quite simply, everything you could have hoped for and so much more. Turkey had been on my list for awhile and it remains on my list as I know I’ll be back!
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