February 2013, my sister Camile and her husband, Kwabena met me in Turkey. Turkey is a 1.5 hour flight from Georgia. I had been wanting to go to Turkey for a while because it had been recommended by several people. Because Georgia is so close to Turkey, most Peace Corps volunteers go there for vacation. I also was very much in need of a change in scenery so Turkey couldn’t have come at a better time. We spent about 6 days total in Turkey. We split our time between Istanbul, Kayseri, and Izmir.
Istanbul is a great city. The people are very friendly and the food is amazing. It’s also very easy to find your way around due to great public transportation options. Istanbul was very different from what I had expected. Even though Turkey is a Muslim country, I did not see many women covered up. Most women were dressed like everybody else. I was only reminded that I was in a Muslim country when i heard the prayer calls and due to the sheer number of mosques. Many people speak English so there isn’t much of a language barrier.
It was originally built as a cathedral but it is now a museum. It has also been used as a mosque in the past. Hagia Sophia actually means holy wisdom. To say it is beautiful is an understatement. The dome is absolutely remarkable. As soon as you enter, you’re amazed by all of the natural light that comes from the countless windows at the top of the monument. Another thing that you can’t help but notice are the number of arches. Even though the Hagia Sophia is many centuries old, its beauty has not yet begun to fade.
The Gran Bazaar
Shopping on steroids is the best way to describe the Gran Bazaar. It’s a bit overwhelming because there are countless numbers of shops to browse. You could definitely get lost due to its sheer size. It’s quite possible to spend an entire day perusing the countless stalls. It’s probably safe to say that you can buy almost anything in the bazaar. There are stalls that sell everything from jewelry to spices to rugs. Prices are geared towards tourists so it might not be the most reasonable place to shop but most shopkeepers will negotiate a better price. Make sure to never accept the first offer, good haggling goes a long way.
The Blue Mosque
It has been given the name the blue mosque due to the blue tiles that adorn its interior. It is absolutely breathtaking. The size is also something that you can’t help but notice. Inside the mosque flash photography is not allowed. There is also a room that is designated for prayer that is still in use. You can’t help but marvel at the ceramic tiles that are everywhere. Each tile is intricately designed with different patterns. Some patterns are of flowers and others are of Arabic writings. There is also a large courtyard on the grounds of the mosque.To enter the mosques, women do need to cover their head and they can’t have bare arms. Everyone must remove their shoes.
This used to be the royal residence of the Ottoman Sultans for nearly 400 years. Parts of the palace are closed to the public.The palace is rich with historical and cultural artifacts like art and furniture. The architecture is what immediately gets your attention. It also has a really great view of the Bosphorus strait and the city. It is a very popular attraction so it’s possible that you will have to wait before being allowed to tour the palace.
There are endless things to do in Taksim square. There are loads of restaurants, stores, cafes, bars, etc. There are also many hotels in and around Taksim. This is where you will find many tourists as well as locals. Camile and I browsed the stores and I found clothing to be reasonably priced. I even found a Krispy Kreme which I was extremely excited about because I couldn’t remember when was the last time I had a glazed donut. This is also the part of Istanbul where you will find most nightclubs. One night some friends and I went out in Taksim to Riddim nightclub which was really fun. The DJ was amazing. I had a great time. The music was mostly hip hop and R&B.
If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, you should take a ferry to Prince’s Island. It is comprised of cobblestone roads and cars are not allowed. The “taxi” is a horse and buggy. There are a few quaint shops and restaurants. Prince’s Island is very popular in the summer where people come to enjoy their summer homes and take advantage of the beaches. In February, there weren’t very many people which was just fine.
The Kayseri airport is closest to Cappadocia. You can also take the bus from Istanbul but it takes about 12 hours. The flight from Istanbul was about 1.5 hours so clearly flying was our best option due to the limited time we had allocated for Cappodocia.
Chimney fairies is what comes to mind when I think about Cappadocia. Chimney fairies are rock formations that were created from volcanic eruptions. The Cappodocians chiseled homes in the soft rock. Now many of the chimney fairies are used for boutique hotels.
We also visited Kaymakli which is an underground city. It can be a bit of chore climbing down because the space itself is rather tight and compact but it’s totally worth it. There are actually 8 floors below but 4 of them are open to the public. Hot air balloon tours are also offered in the area.
Goreme Open Air Museum
You can’t help but notice the rock-cut churches because they’re in the center of the region. Inside the churches, you see the beautiful frescoes (wall paintings) which have been remarkably preserved. Most of the churches are from the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries.
Avanos is known as the center of pottery. Pottery made in Avanos is extremely unique because of the kick-wheel technique that is used. We also were able to try and make something but it was definitely harder than it looked.
After a short 1.5 hour flight from Kayseri, we arrived in Izmir. If you have more time, buses are also an option.
Ephesus is an ancient city that was once the most important commercial center. It has ties to ancient Greece and the Roman empire. The book of Ephesians in the bible comes from Ephesus. It is also one of the seven churches of Asia referenced in the book of Revelation. Unfortunately on the day we went, it rained terribly so we weren’t able to spend as much time exploring as we had planned. It was still really cool to see the remains of such an ancient civilization.
Temple of Artemis
It was built in dedication to the queen of Artemis and is one of the seven ancient wanders of the world. Today there only remains one column.House of the Virgin Mary
People from all over the world make the pilgrimage to the house that the Virgin Mary is believed to have lived. It has been visited by several popes throughout history.
Overall, I fell in love with Turkey. There is not one negative thing that comes to mind when I think about Turkey. If you’re thinking about planning a trip to Turkey, I would recommend that you visit a few cities (i.e Ephesus and Cappadocia,etc) in addition to Istanbul.