It's been a couple of weeks since I came back from what was, I think, my longest holiday since before the pandemic. Work has been busy, but also the very thought of creating this post has slightly overwhelmed me as I simply don't know where to begin. Turkey, it transpires, is an incredible place full of beauty, good food and welcoming people. Rebekah, my travel companion and I stayed in not one, not two, but three parts of this gorgeous country. All three places were completely different from one another, and I still can't really believe that they were connected politically and geographically. I'm going to do my best to break down the time I spent in each area, and try to get across the feeling that was prevalent throughout my trip to one of the most amazing countries I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Istanbul
We stayed in Istanbul for around five days. It isn't the capital of Turkey, but perhaps Turkey's most famous city. It's also the most populous city in Europe. Is it European, though? Well, it straddles both Europe and Asia, so you will often hear people talk about visiting the 'European side' or the 'Asian side'. Most of the popular tourist destinations sit on the European side, and if I had more time, I would have definitely ventured further out and sought out some hidden gems. It's the kind of place you could spend three days in or thirteen. We visited Turkey during the month of Ramadan, but this didn't affect our trip much. Because there are so many tourists all year round, all of the shops and restaurants remain open during Ramadan. A lot of places will have iftar specials, and if you're lucky, you could find yourself invited to an evening family meal. We stayed in the Karaköy area, one of Istanbul's most iconic neighbourhoods. It has been a port since the Byzantine era and was a major commercial hub in the 19th century. It's still bustling today, though mostly due to the array of shops, restaurants, bars and cafés (you've got to get yourself to one of the many counter-service dessert places, where baklava and tea are in abundance. It's safe to say I ate my bodyweight in baklava whilst out in Turkey.)
What we saw in Istanbul:
- The Grand Bazaar (an absolute must. Think you don't need to buy anything? Think again. An absolute haven for lovers of fake designer goods. Rebekah was in her element.)
- The Egyptian Spice Bazaar (a smaller version of the Grand Bazaar. Don't bother eating or drinking anything beforehand, because you will be hounded by smiling men forcing you to chug down hot mouthfuls of sweet tea and nibble on baklava until your mouth tastes like cotton.) - Süleymaniye Mosque (fun fact: mosque in Turkish is 'camii'. Useful to know as you will see a lot of camiis everywhere.)
- Atatürk Bridge - Galata Tower (the whole Galata area is fantastic for bars, restaurants, cafés and quirky shops. If you meander through Galata all the way to Taksim Square, you'll have plenty of shopping and eating opportunities.) - Dolmabahçe Palace (the last few Ottoman rulers lived in this palace. Truly, I have never seen such a stunning building. The rooms are exquisite, and there was one in particular that actually took my breath away. Rebekah and I had to stop and stare for several minutes because we couldn't believe it was real. No photos allowed inside, but we obviously weren't taking no for an answer, ha. It's also lovely to walk around the exterior of the palace as it's right on the water. Simply incredible.)
- Boat tour of the Bosphorus (You can do this very cheaply. Simply walk around the Atatürk Bridge area and you can grab a ticket for like, a coupe of quid. Great thing to do after having walked around for hours. Also great for seeing all of the bridges and nice buildings on the shore.) - The Blue Mosque (ahh, the Blue Mosque. It's been under construction for a while apparently, so wasn't as impressive as we expected it to be. One of those things you've simple gotta do though because it is the Blue Mosque.) - Hagia Sophia (now this was much more impressive than the Blue Mosque. Simply incredible inside. Only thing I didn't like was the amount of tourists. Definitely spoiled the atmosphere, but what can you do? I'm sure other people were looking at me and rolling their eyes. In actual fact, that's a daily occurrence... ANYWAY, if you have time and can stand being around 1000 people, I would either get a tour or read up on the artwork inside, as it's incredibly intricate and symbolic. It's interesting because it has been a site of both Christian and Muslim worship. See if you can spot any Jesus figures with their faces scribbled out.)
- Balat (Balat is a neighbourhood full of cobbled streets and colourful houses. It's turned into a bit of a hipster area, so great for Instagrammers who want a picture with rainbow steps. We had lunch here and looked around some of the shops. Really nice vibes. Just a bit of a hassle to get to as it's outside of the city centre. It was nice, however, to experience local culture and be the only non-Turkish people about. You need that reality check daily, I think, because a lot of the time you're in a bubble with other tourists and doing things that native people wouldn't do. Just my opinion.)
- Bayezid II Mosque (just a beautiful mosque that we stumbled upon. To be honest, most of the mosques are stunning and you could easily spend days just perusing religious buildings in Istanbul. Makes a bit of a change from musty-smelling English churches.)
There were places I wish I'd had the time to see. One place I'd love to visit is Topkapı Palace. It exhibits the imperial collections of the Ottoman Empire, including books, manuscripts and probably a whole heap of precious jewellery. I would have loved to have seen other religious buildings such as churches and synagogues, like St. Antoine Church, the largest and most prominent Catholic church in the city. A whirling dervish show would have been amazing, too. But hey - it just means I'll have to come back some time! Cappadocia From Istanbul, we took our first flight to Kayseri, which is smack bang in the middle of Turkey. Flying is probably the easiest way to get across the country - it's cheap, quick and easy. To get to the notorious Cappadocia region, Kayseri or Nevşehir are the closest airports. Coming from a bustling city, it was slightly disconcerting to be driven through semi-arid emptiness, with just a few villages making their appearance every so often! Cappadocia's landscape formed as a result of volcanic explosions way back when; consequently the rock formations are highly unusual and almost extra-terrestrial. It's no wonder the first Star Wars movie was almost filmed here! We stayed in Göreme, in a small cave Airbnb. It was ridiculously cheap, and we could walk everywhere in the town. Most people come to Cappadocia for the hot air balloons. It's a pretty majestic sight - supposedly. We didn't really see any because: a) you have to wake up at sunrise to see them in all their glory. This makes me think about the fact that there are girls on Instagram with full faces of make-up, surrounded by plates of Turkish food, ogling at the sky. Yes, these pictures would have been taken at 5am. b) in April, you're lucky if the balloons operate three times a week. They are highly dependent on the weather conditions, so it's best to go in the summertime when there isn't much chance of wind or rain. Either way, we weren't planning on riding in a hot air balloon as we didn't have that hundred euros to spare(!) However, there were plenty of other things to do. We went horse-riding at sunset, smoked a lot of shisha, visited the Göreme Open-Air Museum, went on two day tours and to a hammam. The day tours I would highly, HIGHLY recommend. There are a lot of valleys and caves to see, and for this you need a vehicle. It makes a lot of sense to see as many of these places as you can in one day. It makes for a stunning trip, let me tell you. The tours are colour coded, so you can choose the tour you like depending on what sort of things you're interested in. Some of the highlights were the Derinkuyu Underground City, Ihlara Valley and Uçhisar Castle. It wasn't exactly the most relaxing time, as we were cramming in a lot, but it was certainly worth it. We actually ended up staying for an extra day because of a flight cancellation, so we did have some time to chill and drink copious amounts of Turkish tea.
I know it sounds cheesy, but I will always remember Cappadocia. I have never seen anywhere quite like it. It made me feel like I was coming back to the Earth's roots, to somewhere so ancient that it seems almost perverse that there are people driving around in cars amid the ethereal rock formations. Having said that, the people who live there really honour their home and are obviously so proud of their culture that it is near-impossible not to fall in love with the place. Also, the pistachio coffee is BANGING.
Bodrum Last but not least: Bodrum. This was a bit of a rogue séjour. Bodrum does not really come alive until the summer, when the beach clubs are open and popping, there are boat tours operating everyday and tourists flood the place like wrinkled turtles ready to lay their eggs. The very fact that it was April meant that it was so nice and void of Brits, yet there were enough people in Bodrum town centre to make us feel like we hadn't made a bad decision. The highlight of our trip was probably staying at the Ramada Resort. When you start off in a cave and end up in a five-star hotel with buffet breakfast, it really does feel like you have come up in the world, even if just for three days. We had fantastic views over the bay, and the weather was actually beautiful, though windy. Our time spent in Bodrum was very relaxed. We ate, drank a little bit, went to the beach, explored the town of Gümüşlük in the west, hung out in Bodrum centre, and of course, made use of the hotel's spa facilities.
It must be so exciting to be in Bodrum during the summer. If I ever need a girls holiday, I'll be returning. If you're thinking of travelling to Turkey, don't hesitate. There are so many places to visit, sights to see and foods to consume. It's a place you can keep coming back to, a place you will never get bored of. The pandemic had me longing for an amazing trip, and Turkey did not disappoint. I'll leave you with a hilarious list of comments we received from well-meaning Turkish men in the bazaars... 'Finally, you're here. I've been holding my breath since nine this morning.' 'I can give you dinner with this man and your friend.' 'I'll buy you a beach house.' 'Where is your bodyguard?' 'Are you a model?' 'You can have my son for free.' 'Don't leave, you're breaking my heart.' 'Very gorgeous smiles!' 'I'll give you half price because of your hair.' 'I can take you on a date and I have someone for your friend, too - he's very handsome.' 'You are the Mona Lisa.' 'Where are you from? London? No, not London - heaven.' 'No, you can't get the bill, I don't want you to leave.' 'Oh my god, I've waited for you.' 'No boyfriend? I can be your boyfriend.'