Turkey: Where West meets East
On my first trip ever, to Europe, I borrowed over 15 books to plan out the different countries I wanted to see. I thoroughly researched cities, itineraries and packing lists. I had a lot of trepidation about the safety of each country, the reception I would get and dealing with something so foreign to me. I was over-prepared with a list of emergency numbers and documentation. I meticulously planned the contents of my bag. And once I arrived in a new country, I ran around and jam-packed as many sites as possible.
Now that I have a lot more travel experience down my belt, I find that I am much more relaxed about travelling. I now plan less, worry less and have slowed down. So it seems fitting that as I embarked on my 30th birthday that I would travel in a completely different way than I had before. I went to Turkey for simply 10 days – my shortest trip ever – with minimal planning…and with a suitcase!
Istanbul is where East meets West and this unique characteristic is reflected in the architecture, culture and people. Istanbul is a burgeoning tourist spot – it was recently listed on the New York Times destinations of 2013 – but it doesn’t feel touristy at all. We first stayed in Taksim, located in the new city, which had a large pedestrian strip. The lanes were teeming with people but they were mostly locals, not tourists. The city has 13.9 million people and it felt like most were out on a late Sunday evening. We visited most of the major sites. Tokpaki palace had a lot of nice decos and facades but there was no formal tour, which allowed a more leisurely place but resulted in a lot of the history and significance being lost on us.
The Grand Bazaar wasn’t nearly as grand as the name suggests. There is certainly a wide myriad of products, but most were of inferior quality.
We decided to do a short trip to Cappadoccia, famous for its interesting rock formations (mostly called fairy chimneys), the result of numerous volcanic eruptions combined with rain, wind and snow.
Hot Air ballooning was the highlight of the trip. While the rock formations were interesting (at times I felt like I was walking through the set of Fraggle Rock), the initial awe and bewilderment faded after walking amongst the rocks for a few hours. The hot air balloon allowed us to get a bird eye’s view of the volcanoes, at sunrise with wonderful hues of purple, orange and red.
Cappadoccia has a lot of history. It is an important spot for Christianity and contains many underground cities where people hided out before Christianity become widely adopted and acceptable. We did a tour of an underground city and saw old churches built into caves.
Back to Istanbul
After Cappadoccia, we headed back to Istanbul for our remaining two days. We did less sightseeing and did more sitting and people watching. We did go to the famous Blue Mosque which had a beautifully ornate interior.
My only complaint about Turkey is the food. Another friend really loved the food there but if you are not a big fan of cumin, allspice, meat and/or oil, then it might not be your cup of tea. The tomatoes and cucumbers were the most delicious I’ve had, however, and I enjoyed eating the Turkish breakfasts which included those veggies, along with tasty, fresh bread and fruit.
I would recommend going to Istanbul in a heartbeat. The city is beautiful, authentic and unique. If you want to go somewhere cosmopolitan, less touristy, authentic and somewhat exotic with great cafes for people-watching, Istanbul place is the place to be.