So back in January I took an awesome vacation to Turkey. For posterity’s sake I wanted to put up a very belated post and pictures here. It was wonderful to meet up with my best friend from college Michelle, and her coworker in Chicago Danish. We had quite an adventure as a motley traveling crew (we decided that instead of the “three Musketeers” we would be the “one Musketeer and two cynical companions” :D). There were a lot of great memories and inside jokes made on this memorable trip!
Turkey is a particularly popular destination spot from Kazakhstan, since there are many cheap, direct flights. For me it was a joy seeing a country that has had so much influence on Kazakhstan, and yet is very different. With an incredible diversity of landscape, Turkey boasts beautiful Ottoman-empire architecture, crazy volcanic land formations, white calcium hot springs, and more Greek ruins than in Greece! Here are some highlighted musts for anyone planning their own vacation there:
We started our journey in Istanbul, one of my favorite cities I’ve been to yet. As soon as you step foot onto the overland airport tram, every single corner seems bursting with the grandeur of hundreds of intricately designed mosques. Each one I saw seemed more magnificent and breathtaking than the next. Here is a collection:
One could spend several days wandering around Istanbul’s bazaars alone. Grand Bazaar, the most famous, sells beautiful pottery, textiles, orbed lamps, hookahs, trinkets, teas, clothing and more. Every booth is a tantalizing burst of color – just make sure you are ready to fight for a good price. Being a savvy bargainer trained in the expert markets of Beijing (and also knowing how to count in Turkish, as it’s pretty much the same in Kazakh), I managed to save my lovely companions a couple hundred dollars in inflated prices. 😛
Istanbul: Istiklal Caddesi
Everyone’s favorite hang-out in the city, Istiklal Caddesi is a massive pedestrian-only street filled with lovely shops, eateries and little hang-outs. You can wind your way into a maze of tavern alleys and enjoy a dizzying array of tapas with fresh seafood. My favorite were the fresh mussels stuffed with rice and herbs and served with a wedge of lemon, all for about 50 cents at little booths throughout the area.
Topkapi Palace and Dolmabance Palace are two must-sees in the city. Filled with jewels, gifts, relics and other luxurious trinkets of the past, the opulence of both palaces is really jaw-dropping. See the harems, treasuries and living quarters of the kings.
Istanbul: City Wall
One thing that not all the tourists catch made for one of my most memorable moments in Turkey. My friend Winn (who was studying in Almaty and luckily happened to be passing through Istanbul at the same time!) and I took a bus out to the city wall and climbed up the steep stairs to the top. As soon as we got up and saw the river stretching out with Europe on one side and Asia on the other, we suddenly heard the simultaneous eruption of all the calls to prayer from every mosque in the city. They floated towards us from every corner, each one slightly different, with their eerie but yet calming tones. It was a symphony that can’t really be done justice with words.
Dining in Turkey is definitely a delight. First, the street food: fresh squeezed juices, doner-kebap stands (with their rotating columns of meat, sliced off and put with fresh vegetables into a flour wrap), little sesame-covered circular pretzels, stuffed mussels, and best of all, the fresh fish sandwiches along the river. I recognized the word “Balyk” (also “fish” in Kazakh), they take the freshest catches of the day and fry them up boneless with salt and lemon before putting a few pieces in a roll of bread with onions and lettuce. Simple, heavenly, and only four lira!
We took an inexpensive discount flight (SunExpress or Pegasus) to Izmir to check out the best-preserved ruins in Turkey at Ephesus. At St. John’s it was still sunny and lovely out, but by the time we hit the Ephesus main complex it had started showering. As a result, we were the only people there in the entire place – just the three of us and giant marble walkways, a gorgeously preserved Greek library, and a outdoor colloseum with pristine acoustics. It was so nice traveling during off-season!
We then went to see one of Turkey’s UNESCO World Heritage sites: the calcium deposits of Pamukkale hot springs. By rule you have to tour the springs barefoot, and in January the calcium was icy cold. The combination of that and the piping hot water made for a very unforgettable experience. The calcium deposits were damaged by tourism in the past, but UNESCO and Turkey have done a great job of rehabilitating this natural wonder. Definitely worth a visit!
A must-see area in central Turkey, Cappadocia is full of some of the strangest natural landscapes I have ever seen. Soft volcanic rock eroded to result in bizarre, alien-like formations, and also allowed persecuted Christians to carve cave-like houses, churches and monasteries into the mountains. Taking a bike ride along the endless sunset sky surrounded by Goreme’s famous “fairy chimneys” was definitely another one of the most memorable moments of the trip – though warning for the weak, it was a grueling and hilly ride! 🙂
For other visitors to Turkey, I definitely recommend the website Turkey Travel Planner: http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/. It helped me with everything from itinerary planning for the amount of time we had, to exact print-out instructions of how to get to the old city center of Istanbul from the airport by tram. A great site!