I wrote this a very long time ago, so it’s both sad and ironic reading it over after hearing about recent events in Turkey. I’d still go, but of course the unfortunate reality is that everyone needs to be extra careful travelling anywhere in the world these days.
I had my reservations about travelling in Turkey, mostly due to things that other people had told me about safety/comfort. To be honest, I never once felt uncomfortable or unsafe in Turkey, which brings me to an important point – my trip was what I made of it. I always exercised caution, but if I’d heeded the advice of other travellers or family and friends I would never have seen Turkey for fear of…idunno, everything.
I started in Fethiye with a small ferry cruise around the mediterranean coves. The weather was beautiful, Bob Marley was blasting on the top deck, and we passed the afternoon by jumping off the boat and lounging in the crystal clear water. Everything felt right! The pictures do not do this place justice, there were a few spots that were just amazing, but I was too busy relaxing and floating to take pictures!
En route to Kusadasi, we stopped at the cotton castles of Pamukkale – and it’s every bit as beautiful as it appears in photos. Approaching Pamukkale, it looks almost like the top half a snowcapped mountain, but in the middle of blazing heat. It’s actually levels upon levels of natural calcium rock pools with mineral rich water. Some are open to the public, the nicer ones are ‘off limits’. This was easily one of my favourite places in Turkey. Ok, there’s not a whole lot to do and it’s flooded with tourists. But it was still a bit of a wow moment.
From Kusadasi, we visited a store that sells traditional Turkish rugs. No doubt it was a sales pitch, but still impressive. By the end, I was convinced that any one of those magic carpets could take me around the world.
We also visited the ancient site of Ephesus. During my entire trip, I saw a sh*tload of Roman and Greek ruins. I have to say, this was one of the best preserved and most impressive sites I’ve seen. It was originally built as a Greek city, but eventually was taken over by the Roman Republic. The site is famed for the Temple of Artemis that used to exist here, and is perhaps most recognisable by the remains of the Library of Celsus, the most prominent structure in the city.
Fun fact: it is widely believed that the brand Nike got its tick logo from this stone carving of the goddess Nike in Ephesus.
Kusadasi itself is a rather beautiful, relaxed town, with plenty of restaurants and bars open for chilling right on the coast.
Between Kusadasi and Canakkale, we visited Pergamon and Troy. Pergamon is another ancient Greek city in Turkey and is home to an incredible amphitheatre. The cable car ride to the top is fun!
Troy was one of the places I was most excited to visit. I’ve taken a few classics classes and I’ve had a read the Odyssey and the Iliad by Homer, so I have a bit of background about what happened is supposed to have happened there. It was epic, in every sense of the word. Many agree that it is slightly underwhelming to see just how small the site is, but it’s the history and mythology that makes it meaningful nonetheless. There’s a huge wooden horse at Troy, then there’s also the horse from the movie in Cannakale!
From Canakkale to Istanbul, we made a short, early morning trip to Gallipoli, seeing the sunrise from the ferry on our way. As an important part of Australian and WWI history, Gallipoli, and the tragedy that took place there, is a topic I’ve learned about a lot throughout school. Admittedly, being a first generation Australian, it’s something that I’ve appreciated without ever fully understanding. It was only once I visited the site that I was able to grasp the magnitude of what had taken place where I was standing. In particular, something that stuck with me was the tour guide’s reference to Gallipoli as the ‘world’s largest cemetery’. Between seeing the graves of people my age or younger, and sitting on the beach in silence watching the waves come in, it was an important reminder of the tragedies of conflict in an eerily calm place.
On to Istanbul, the only city in the world to lie in two continents. Istanbul – separated by the glorious Bosphorus, has its Western side in Europe and its Eastern side in Asia. Here’s a nice view from high up!
I spent 3 days delighting in Turkish cuisine (get it? haha) and complaining to myself about the heat. One of the first sights I visited was the big bazaar, a huge sprawling market place packed with souvenirs and Turkish handicrafts.
This place is flooded with tourists and, consequently, is home to some of the craftiest rip-off artists in the world. Whilst shopping for some Turkish towels I came up with my 3 step bargain plan.
I thought to buy a couple of small towels for my brother and sister for their new houses and went into a towel shop not too far from the entrance to the market. I asked the price, and the guy said 50 Lira for two small towels, which is about $25 AUD. In the spirit of bargaining I offered back 25 Lira, and he literally told me to keep walking. I ventured deep into the labyrinthine market, became more tired and fed up, and eventually found a slightly quieter shop with a wide selection of the same towels as the other guy, and more. I found a couple of towels in colours that I liked, they came in cotton and linen. Cotton were going 2 for 20 Lira, the linen 2 for 35. Of course I preferred the design on the linen ones, so I offered 20 for them instead. I never even got into a price war, I just said that’s all I’ve got. The guy said no, but his tone was not completely dismissive. After a while of softly insisting that I prefer the linen ones, the guy gave them to me for the 20 Lira, which I had rolled up in my pocket. I made it a point to stroll past the first shop on my way out, with my bag of new purchases swinging in my hand and a spring in my step.
I was pleased with the deal and my bargaining steps happened quite by accident, but I was determined to remember what it was that may have led this guy to help me out.
- Try to look a little bit poor – I’m not sure why tourists insist on wearing their biggest brands all over themselves, it’s not gonna help them get bargains. I carry nothing more than a small satchel bag when I’m out and about and wear mostly t-shirts and jeans or shorts, all of which were looking quite worn out by this point in my trip. I also looked quite tired because of the heat, and all this combined seemed to have created an appearance that supported my claim to have no more than 20 Lira on me at the time.
- Carry money in your pocket – so nobody has the chance to see your wallet or how much is in there. Scrunch it up a bit too. Something about reaching deep into a pocket to pull out a pitiful, scrunched up note really tugs at the heartstrings of unscrupulous shopkeepers.
- Look longingly and the item you want and don’t budge – at the point when my guy decided to give me the deal I wasn’t saying anything. He just saw me looking at the linen towels and caved. In the moment, all I was thinking was how much I prefer them over the cotton ones, but I was there for a few minutes.
Afterwards, I spent most of my time at Taksim square which was close to where I was staying, and went back to the historic centre to visit the Blue Mosque and have a brief look at the outside of the Hagia Sophia museum. Note: Taksim square is a trendy shopper’s paradise, it’s not great for sight seeing but it’s a very cool place to hang out and do some people watching. Below is a picture of one of the streets there, not even the main street! The main street has a tram line on it, and is actually pretty cool to look at, especially in winter. I was silly enough not to take a photo there.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque – commonly known as the Blue Mosque, is located in the historic centre and is a total jaw dropper. It’s got 5 main domes, 8 secondary domes, 6 minarets and is covered in beautiful (mostly blue) tiles inside and out. It was originally built, at the order of Sultan Ahmed I (who is buried there), as a reassertion of the power of the Ottoman empire, after a devastating loss at war with Persia, and it continues as a Mosque today. For me, it was a little too crowded. I associate places of worship with serenity, so the 40 minute queue and the rush of tourists was just a little too much. Nevertheless, it is breathtakingly beautiful and highly recommend seeing it in the low season.
On to the food. So here is a separate section for all the things I ate! If I’d had more time and less activities going on, I would have tried so many more things!
This is typically aimed at tourists – the stretchy, gooey Turkish ice cream that the vendors love to do tricks with. It’s quite rich and creamy, and really does the trick in the summer heat.
Turkish apple tea for days!
Standard cheap kebab in Turkish bread, costing the equivalent of $2.50 aud. The view comes free :)
The thickest, creamiest, richest most delicious yoghurt I’ve ever eaten in my life. EVER. With local honey and cracked poppy husks for crunch. If you turn this plate upside down, the yoghurt will stay on it, that’s how thick it is. Fun fact: ‘yoghurt’ is the only Turkish word that has been adopted worldwide.
Efes, the local beer of choice in Turkey.
Takeaway doner kebab.
Baklava. I don’t normally eat it because I find it too sweet, but in Turkey it’s a different story. Lovely flaky pastry, crunchy nuts and not over-sweetened.
Dolma (dolmades in Greek), vine leaves stuffed with rice. Another favourite!
Flame grilled minced lamb kebab stuffed with cheese and pistachios. Oh. My. God.
Gozleme, a flatbread fold-over sandwich with spinach and feta.
Flame grilled chicken wings, same restaurant as the lamb.
I’m certainly not done with Turkey. I’m absolutely dying to go back to do the hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, something I missed this time around!