Turkish Delight: Days 10-12

Travel

I’m currently on board my flight back to Houston using Turkish Airline’s fabulous complementary wifi – seriously, their on-board service is phenomenal even though they are always late departing.

Wednesday was our first full day back in Istanbul and we decided to split up as a group for the morning and meet up at the Hagia Sophia in the afternoon. Two guys went to the Archeology Museum and then to drop off the rental van.

Side note on the van: despite the GPS leading us astray a few times, we enjoyed having it. At first, we named her Roxilana, after a former Turkish empress. But halfway through our trip I changed the voice to an Australian male and we dubbed him “Huge Ackman” (a play on Hugh Jackman), who was very good to us. We named the van Mustafa, in honor of all the great Mustafa’s we met along the way.

Anyway, I digress. Me and two of the guys chose to spend our morning causally exploring the city. We walked around, did some shopping, and got a recommendation for a cafe for lunch. We had lunch in a cool terrace cafe in the university area. It was fun because there were a lot of students smoking hookah and hanging out. And the view was gorgeous – as always.

After lunch we made our way back to the Hagia Sophia, where we met up with the rest of our group and entered the ancient church turned mosque. It was vast and beautiful and intricate and we spent over two hours observing every nook and cranny.

Afterwards, we headed to the spice market and then had dinner at the fish market off the Bosphorus. The fish was beings caught and cooked from a boat that had a hug grill on it. So, as it rocked back and forth on the waves, the fisherman/cooks would just hand people fish sandwiches. It was yummy. And very interesting to watch.

That night was our “late night” and we wanted to get a feel for the night life in the city. So we walked from Old Town to Uptown and basically went bar hopping. Despite my lack of bar hopping experience, I had a lot of fun. I don’t drink, but my friends do, and it was fun to just enjoy the night with them. I also found a bookstore (after looking for one all day) and bought myself a copy of Orwell’s “1984” in Turkish – it’s my favorite book.

Throughout the night we went from one terrace cafe to the next. At one we met a great server names Yunis (Turkish for dolphin) and he talked to us about how he studied tourism and hospitality at university. We learned about his passion for restaurants and his family of 6 brothers. He then gave us some recommendation for the night.

We spent most of the night moving up a Main Street of fancy shops and döner cafés and high-end bars. We ducked into a “jazz” bar and listened to a Turkish band cover American music. It was pretty good! Then we moseyed to Taksim square and got some more street food to fuel us for our like 3-mile walk back home. We ended the night around 2am and passed out in our hostel.

The next morning we let ourselves sleep in a bit, then we did any shopping that we might have missed before. We had lunch at a tiny corner place that Anthony Bourdain gave race reviews and we were not disappointed. Then, we went back to a cool boutique of local designers that we had passed the night before. The boys got t-shirts and I got a magnet or two with their locally-design logo for Istanbul on it: “They call it chaos. We call it home.” I’ll include photos of it once I get stronger wifi.

We ended our night by taking a ferry cruise up and down the Bosphorus River. We started at sunset and got to watch as the sky changed from blue to pink to black and the city lit up in technicolor lights.

On the way home we grabbed our last cup of Salep (a warm, sweet milk conception sprinkled with cinnamon) from a cart peddler. Finally, we made our way to our hostel and had dinner on the rooftop restaurant where we reflected on the past 10-days. It was fun because we met a few hostel patrons who were just arriving and we got to share our wealth of knowledge – and minute understanding of the Turkish language. And then, we went asleep.

Two of our group members left the hostel at 5:00am to catch their flight back to Ohio. The rest of us woke around 8:00am, had breakfast, packed up, and took one last stroll to the park outside Topkapi Palace. Then we got our backpacks and took the Metro to the airport.

This trip has been amazing. And it has reminded me how much I love traveling and exploring new places and experiencing new cultures. Turkey is an amazing country with beautiful topography, delicious food, and probably the nicest people I have ever had the chance to interact with.

When I first planned this trip many people were dumbfounded. “Why would you want to go to Turkey?” They would ask. But now I know the real question is “why haven’t you been to Turkey yet?”

I plan on posting a top ten list of things to do or things I noticed or something along that lines. But for now I leave you with this: Turkey is the most enchanting place I’ve ever visited. And you should visit as soon as possible.

Turkish Delight: Days 7-8

Travel

Yesterday morning we awoke in Antalya and quickly looked at some ruins that were a few minutes walk from our hotel. We ended up taking longer than scheduled, which is typical for us it seems, so we didn’t leave till around 11am. Then it was on the road for seven and a half hours to Göreme in the Cappadocia region.

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At first, I though the drive would be awful and long, but it ended up being one of my favorite days. During the drive I was able to process everything we have done so far and really appreciate it all. Plus, the scenery seemed to change every half hour, from beaches to snowy mountains (it actually started to snow) to rolling hills to flat plains.

We arrived in Göreme around 7:00pm and we checked into the Guven Cave Hotel, one of the many hotels in the town that are built into the surrounding cave walls. It’s pretty cozy. After getting some tips from Mustafa, the hotel manager, we grabbed a bite to eat and hit the hay to prepare for the next morning.

This morning we ate our traditional Turkish breakfasts, which all of our hostels have provided and consists of bread, yoghurt, fruit, fresh cheeses, homemade jams, local honey, tea, and coffee (if I haven’t explained that already). Then we drove a few miles out of town to a place called Love Valley and did some morning hiking. Göreme is known for “fairy chimneys”, which are funky looking rock formations, and for the plentiful painted cave dwellings. We climbed all over the ash-drenched hills, crawling into thousands-year old cave homes and sliding down hillsides. It was really awesome to shimmy into an abandoned room dug inside of a giant rock. But, my favorite part was when I got to visit with some local sheep and found my new best friend.

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After grabbing a quick doner for lunch, we walked a few miles to the top of Rose Valley, and begun our 4 hour hike where we ducked into cave houses and crawled through rock tunnels and heaved and lifted and tugged ourselves through narrow passes and ancient doorways and prickly bushes. It was lots of fun and adventurous and all the things. We ended our hike with a great view of the sunset, which is said to be the prettiest in all of Turkey.

For dinner, Mustafa recommended a restaurant owned by his friend and we took him up on the offer to make us a reservation. We were picked up by the owner himself and driven to the location — because they said it was hard to find. The restraint was called Nostalji and it was delightful. We all opted for the set menu, which was five courses including classic Turkish dips and fresh bread, a creamy soup, salad, Turkish beans, kafta (meatballs), and, of course, baklava. Epic.

Now, I’m relaxing back in my cave. Tomorrow we spend the morning in Göreme and then drive back to Istanbul where our journey will end. I can’t believe this trip is almost over! It has truly been amazing!

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Turkish Delight: Days 5-6

Travel

Where to begin? The days seem to just melt together.

Yesterday we awoke in Selçuk and had a lovely breakfast provided by Momma Homeros. Then we made our way to the Ephesus ruins and parked our van at the bottom. We were about to start the hike from the bottom of the ruins to the top when a man told us he’d give us a ride to the top so we could explore the ruins top to bottom provided we let him take us to the government run rug weaving school. Naturally, we took him up on the offer.

I was pretty suspicious about the whole thing, but we did it and I’m glad we did. It added about twenty minutes to our adventure, but we got to see how Turkish rugs are made and all the work that goes into it. Afterwards, we got a ride to the top of Ephesus and began our journey through the ancient city. Although Pergamum was a city on a hill, Ephesus was a city in a valley and a harbor at that, though the water no longer reaches the area. The ruins are pretty well preserved and renovated and we got to crawl all over them. The library was awesome and the public latrine was my favorite, it was paid for a by Christian lady way way back in the day when Christianity became acceptable.

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We ended up spending much more time at the ruins than we thought, so we had to adjust some of our plans, which really just meant that when we got to Fethiye that night, we wouldn’t have time to explore. We got to Fethiye, a coastal city, super late and we weren’t sure if any restaurants would be open, but we found a swanky place where I had fresh Lagos (a fish) from the town. Yummy! Then we all passed out.

Today was devoted to driving to Antalya and stopping at various places on the way. The first of which was the city of Pitara and the ruins there. It was at Pitara that I got to dip my feet into the Mediterranean Sea for the first time. We were exploring the ruins when we noticed there was a little path to the beach. We followed it and got to enjoy miles of empty beach on an incredibly pleasant day. It was beautiful.

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Then we hit the road and headed toward Antalya. On the way we pulled over to hop onto a gorgeous beach that was reached by a long staircase built into the cliff side below the highway.

Next we hoofed it to Mount Olympus so we could hike part of it. But our timing was off and we kind of got lost. We ended up making it to the city of Olympos, but not the mountain itself. However, that allowed us to hike to a secluded beach and climb an ancient cliffside castle with Mount Olympus in the background, which was more than good enough for us.

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The day ended by arriving in Antalya and getting lost, because Antalya is HUGE. We finally found our hostel in “old town” and had an incredibly hard time maneuvering our hefty van through the tiny, old-town streets. The hostel is definitely worth the stress of getting to it because it’s a boutique hotel with hostel prices due to us traveling in off-off season — a perk I’m thoroughly enjoying throughout the country. Then we found some dinner. I got a veggie dish with stuffed eggplant, rice, salad, potatoes, and more. And more baklava, too…

And now, I rest. We’ve done and seen so much, but my lack of sleep and rest makes it hard for me to take it all in. So tonight I will recharge. And we’re back on the road tomorrow. This time, to the Cappadocia region, a little town called Goreme.

Turkish Delight: Day 4

Travel

This post should really be called “Day 3.5-4”, because at the end of day three we picked up a rental and drove overnight to Bergama. But it wasn’t that easy. First, two of our group members went to get the rental van from the airport while the rest of us roamed around Istanbul. Except the rental van pickup was a minor fiasco which led them to be three hours late for our meet-up time, and half an hour late for our dinner reservations with Snigdha and her sister. They appeared at the restaurant when we had begun to formulate emergency location plans. Needless to say, I was relieved to know they were ok — and had a van.

After dinner, we packed up the van and headed out of the city toward our first destination: Bergama, home of ancient Pergumum. But it turns out the GPS we rented for the van wanted to take us down back roads and country roads. (It also resulted in me peeing on the side of the road behind a truck.) After almost seven hours of winding down gravel roads overlooking cliffs and not ever really knowing if we were on track, we arrived at Bergama. It was 7:00 in the morning.

None of us slept more than an hour during our ride from hell, but we managed to get a second wind in time to explore the city. Bergama is the home to The Red Basilica, one of the places John said counted it one of the seven churches of the apocalypse and would be the thrown of The Devil. We didn’t get to go inside because it was being renovated, so we’ll see how that works out for mankind.

Then we walked around some ruins that were laying about, and I peed inside the remains of an old roman house. Seeing a trend here? Finally, we trekked up to the reason we came — to see the ruins of Pergamum. We started the hour walk to the top of the mountain, but before we got halfway a security van pulled up and asked if we needed a lift. So we hopped in the van and jetted our way to the top. We spent about two hours at Pergamum and actually got to walk in and around and on top of the ruins, including a 10,000 person amphitheater. Epic.

Then there was lunch, three of the boys experienced a Turkish bath, and we hopped back in the van to head to Selçuk, or modern day Ephesus. And it is there that I write this, cozy in our amazing hostel, Homeros Pension, after having a home-cooked meal by Momma Homeros and getting the chance to relax after 36 hours of venturing.

Let’s do it all again tomorrow!

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Turkish Delight: Day 3

Travel

Today was a full day in Istanbul. We woke up at 8:30 and got our complimentary Turkish breakfast which consisted of bread, jam, cheese, cucumbers, tomato, a hard boiled egg, and olives. With coffee and tea of course.

Next we checked out of the hostel, but put our luggage in the luggage locker. Then it was off to see The Basilica Cistern, which is an underground water reservoir that was sealed for a long time, but was discovered in recent history. We ran into my friend Snigdha and her sister in the cistern which was awesome.

The Grand Bizarre was next on our venture and it was huge! So many things to buy — and the prices showed they were used to dumb tourists. We will go back there when we come back to Istanbul at the end of our trip for sure.

Then we went to the Süleymaniye Mosque and walked around. On the grounds of the mosque we got the most amazing view of the city overlooking the Bosphorus river. For lunch, we grabbed a doner (or sandwich) from a street vender. The dollar goes pretty far here so lunch was about $4.50 for a sandwich and yogurt drink.

We then walked to the grave of the mosque’s architect and found an amazing little cafe with a terrace and another wonderful view of the city. I had some ginger tea there which was very very bitter, but good in its own way.

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Turkish Delight: Day 2

Travel

We’ll, I’m in Turkey!

The flight in was pretty nice. Turkish Airline doesn’t play games with service. Upon departure, we received Turkish delight, warm scented hand towels, slippers, and a goodie bag of travel necessities. I watched two movies and slept for about 4 hours, which is nice considering I have insomnia and the plane was kind of noisy.

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We arrived in Istanbul at 5 Turkish time and quickly made it through customs — because there was no customs, which was strange, but we didn’t argue. Then we hailed a cab and took it to our hostel in a part of the city called Sultanahmet, where we met with the two other members of our group. When we walked up to the hostel, the call for prayers echoed through the city and I knew I had officially arrived in a magical place.

After we settled in, we decided to venture off to explore the city. By now, night had settled in, but the city was still teaming with wonder. We were pleased to discover that our hostel is blocks away from Haggia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. Though late, we were able to go inside the latter and see the amazing architecture (and I was able to get familiar with my head scarf).

Then we made our way to a cozy family-run cafe where I had some Pide (it’s like a pita bread pizza), hot team and fresh baklava — which is the best baklava. And now the rest of my group is hanging out at the bar on the roof of our hostel, while I settle in and process the day.

Tomorrow is another adventure!

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Turkish Delight: Day 1

Travel

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Tonight I leave for Turkey. I booked this trip last May in a spontaneous moment of wanderlust with three guys from my church small group. What began on a lark, has turned into two-week adventure in a country I had never dreamed of visiting.

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Over the next 11 days, I will post updates on our whereabouts, activities, experiences – and of course – the amazing amounts of food we’ll ingest.

Below is an overview of where we will be and when. There’s WiFi in all of our hostels, so I hope to post as much as possible (plus I need to keep up with my 365-Sentence Story project). Feel free to follow along as I explore one of the most breath-taking and unique places in the world.

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