Turkey was a relatively late addition to the itinerary, but Lily and I both indepently desired to go and since there was a cheap flight from Istanbul to Budapest, we decided to go. First, of course I did lots of research to make sure it was safe. Plenty of people were surprised/worried that we wanted to travel there. The vast majority of sources said that Turkey itself was quite safe. I also talked to recent travellers who said it seemed very safe. So we applied for our Visas and booked the flight!
Continuing our tradition of arriving in the worst spot of the city, wondering why we decided to travel there, and then finding the appropriate bit of the city and loving it, we somehow stumbled into some dodgy mechanical district (after taking an hour and fifteen minute bus!) I thought there was something odd about it and Lily remarked, "It makes me nervous that I haven't seen any women on this street." Oh, that would be it. No one paid us much attention though and we found our way to our hostel and the less dodgy bit of Istanbul! Our hostel was right by the Galata Tower, so we could easily find our way home.
One of the first things on our agenda was to try Turkish tea and coffee. The tea is served all day long in these adorable little glasses. The Turks are just as tea obsessed as the Brits.
Turkish coffee was interesting because the grounds are still in the coffee. No one could tell me conclusively whether you were supposed to drink them or not!
In Istanbul, we visited the touristy sites, because how can you pass up places like the Hagia Sophia!?
Or the Blue Mosque? (or the city's other mosques)
Or Basilica Cistern?
To thoroughly complete a day of being a proper tourist, we went to the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is made up of tons of little shops with vendors that try to get you to visit their shops and charge an overpriced amount. From that you're expected to haggle to lower the price. It is a fun atmosphere for a bit, but no longer than just a bit! As I walked by a stand selling jeans for toddlers, the vendor called out to me, "Here Madame, for your baby!" We found that amusing.
There were lots of Turkish Delight stands, which made me think of Narnia, even more so when I noticed that the store across the way was named Aslan!
The next day, we took a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. Yes, Istanbul is the world's only city to be on both Europe and Asia! Istanbul is often labeled "East meets West" for good reason. There were bits of the city that felt very modern (American and European coffee and clothing chains, iPhones, and most everyone wearing western clothes) but also bits that felt more Third World (rubbish piled in the street, burning rubbish on the street, and small children begging for money). Also interesting is that electricity in a different part of the city is shut off one night each week to conserve energy. No electricity also means no Wi Fi. It was alright though, everyone in the hostel waited out the night in the garden until we were tired enough to sleep.
As I have said in previous posts, Lily and I are both idealistic, crazy travellers. We heard about Cappadocia, but discovered that it was a ten hour bus ride from Istanbul. Because we're idealistic, it didn't take us long to go from "too bad it's a ten hour bus ride, that's too far" to "it's only a ten hour bus ride!? Let's do it!" So we left Istanbul at 9 PM, arrived in Cappadocia in the morning, took the ten hour night bus back to Istanbul, and went straight to the airport to get to Athens... just in case you didn't think we were insane before!
The bus ride there was really nice. They served us coffee, tea, and water multiple times and even ice cream early in the journey. What was not so nice, however, was that the air conditioner was broken at first and the heater was stuck on. Turkey was already exceptionally warm, but this was like a sauna, worse than hot yoga. I couldn't even wear my eye mask to sleep because it was too warm. Perhaps the French guy sitting next to me summed it up best when he remarked to me when we were both awake between bouts of fitful sleep, "It is so bloody hot in this country!" Luckily, they fixed the air conditioner at our first stop.
Around 5:30 AM the bus made another stop and, this same French guy woke me up saying, "Good morning, we are at the salt lake. This a very beautiful place to be and here is a very special nesting ground for flamingos!" Getting woken up by a Frenchman excited about flamingo nesting grounds while on a night bus in the middle of Turkey was one of the most peculiar moments of my life. I sleepily stumbled after him and his German travelling companion (both are freelance environmentalists and it's pretty easy to make friends when you're stuck beside people for ten hours at a time so it's not that strange in retrospect) sure that I had heard wrong. But, no, there really were flamingo nesting beds and a salt lake (which I was informed supplies 80% of Turkey's salt). The duo was quirky and fun to travel with: the German girl kept informing me of the temperature in Celcius while the French guy kept informing me of how many kilometers we were from Cappadocia. I decided not to tell them that those numbers were meaningless to me. I still can't grasp the metric system!
Around this time, I decided to check my location of the world map. Turkey borders countries like Syria, Iraq, and Iran and at this point I was the deepest into the Middle East, I've ever been.
Turkey itself seemed quite safe. The Turkish people were welcoming and helpful and always asked we were from. Sometimes people would start speaking to me in French or German initially, but most everyone spoke English. This was the first place where no locals mistook me for a local, though one drunk American thought I was Turkish when her equally drunk friend stumbled into me and apologized. She said, "You need to learn Turkish, she probably doesn't speak English!" We were amused, but it was dark so they couldn't really see what I looked like.
One of the days, we were walking around with a German friend that we made. There were armed guards (as in holding a massive gun) around some of the sights (there is this in Italy too so it's not that odd), but we were all a bit jumpy in Turkey. We saw the armed guards and promptly turned around to find another entrance to the palace. Earlier, we saw people preparing for a marathon at a nearby park. Then, the start gun went off. It took a few moments to realize that it was only the start gun for the marathon! Then, we got to the other entrance, saw there were armed guards there too, and proceeded to the entrance. One guard was muttering something, so we all froze and our German friend asked what we did wrong. The guards were amused and said nothing, to which our German friend replied that they looked scary holding a missile-sized gun, which they also thought was funny. They seemed far less scary after that!
The elections in Turkey are coming up and we were near a political event one day so we decided to leave before it started, "just in case." All throughout Istanbul, cars with one of the candidates on the side drive by blaring Turkish music. I guess that is their way of campaigning?
Cappadocia is an ancient city, full of history. Parts of it are even mentioned in the Old Testament. We took a tour of the many ancient buildings carved out of the cliff, which included some of the world's first Christian churches, nearly 2000 years old. Some of the carved spaces were used as homes and some today have been converted to hotels. Everyone asked us where we were staying and we always replied, "night bus." Next time, perhaps I'll try a cave hotel.
We also saw more Roman ruins because there are Roman ruins everywhere. I think I'll be surprised when I return to the US and don't see Roman ruins everywhere.
To complete the trip, we visited a 3000 year old Hittite underground city. The city was used and expanded for centuries. At war times, the entire city would retreat underground and use it for months on end.
One day was not enough in Cappadocia. I need to return! It was worth spending twenty hours roundtrip on bus though!
Some places just have a magical quality about them and Turkey was definitely one of them! "Teşekkür ederim" was the only word I learned in Turkish, which means, "thank you." Thank you, Turkey for an amazing trip!
Hi, I’m Crystal! Just like you, I love to travel. You’ll get all the best tips and insights from my experiences as a former ice-skating coach in Iceland and former study abroad student. Of the 24 countries I have visited, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis has been the strangest land yet. Type 1 has not slowed down my travels and you'll learn how to take type 1 with you on the road! You can connect with me further on Instagram @CrystalChilcott, or send me ideas of where I should travel next via email: firstname.lastname@example.orgHappy Travels, Crystal
What am I up to today? Check out my Instagram feed below to find out!