This is a small Turkey travel guide for everyone visiting this magical destination. This country of tulips and the sultans will make you want to come back again and again! In Turkey you will find a marvel of incalculable cultural and historical value. From Mount Nemrut in the vicinity of Malatya you can see wonderful views of Anatolia and Kurdistan, as well as enjoy its famous stone statues. There is also Mount Ararat further east. It is the highest peak in Turkey with more than 5,000 meters and this is where it is said that Noah's Ark was discovered.
We landed at night and as soon as we got off the plane, we began to see that the Turkish winters are really cold. We wanted to do everything without losing a minute, to try to reach the last public transports that go towards the center. We did not consider choosing another option, like taking a taxi or spending the night at the airport.
The customs procedures were fast. We removed the backpacks, and changed some money to move. We looked for the station inside the big airport, and when we finally reached the metro, we relaxed. Test passed! One hour and two transports later, we arrived at Sultanahmet.
Usually, we try to travel with a reserved hotel for the 1st day of the trip. More than anything because after many hours of flight, it leaves us more relaxed knowing that we have a place to sleep on arrival, without worrying about haggling or going here and there to compare prices. Even more if we arrive at night to a totally new city. This time, we did not have anything.
Only a vague idea of the area where we wanted to stay. It was so late that there was practically no movement in the streets. At that time we still did not know that we will be observing the city in these conditions that is so desolate. The silence and quietness could only occur only at these late hours of the night.
We started walking, with a guide in hand, towards the area of the hostels. We were wrong a couple of times on the way, and there was no one to ask if we were going in the right direction. Added to it the darkness did not allow us to read the name of the streets on our tiny map. So we practically ended up with the head tucked inside the guide. Until at a certain moment, we looked up to see if we were on track.
And there it was. The crush. I saw her, she saw me. There she was, illuminated and lonely, in front of us. Dazzling as it was 400 years ago. So beautiful that I almost felt like crying. We could not think of anything other than contemplating it. In that moment, I think that the Blue Mosque was the most beautiful and perfect we had seen in a long time. We were silent, partly because of the emotion, and partly because the fatigue and the cold did not allow us to say a word.
When we managed to look away from her, Santa Sofia appeared before us, just in front, as if they were watching each other with suspicion, in a competition of egos and vanities. But perhaps because the Blue Mosque was the first one with which we crossed glances, it became our favorite. Even if Hagia Sophia was there, at a step, trying to conquer us. With us there was no case. Love at first sight is like that.
Every time we plan a new destination, I think what it will be like. We imagine ourselves walking through its streets, observing its people, photographing everything. The most interesting part begins when we arrive at the desired place, and we can place a real image, generally quite different from what we had in mind. Neither better nor worse. Different. In those moments, our brain automatically deletes the idealized image (or not) that we had incorporated, to start archiving the true image, also subjective.
After all, there are so many different Buenos Aires, Montevideo or Istanbul, as people who know her. So one day we reset the preconceptions and we face a more western Kuala Lumpur, a less chaotic Bangkok, a more touristy Luang Prabang, a Koh Lipe not so paradisiacal, or a Havana much more beautiful than any modern city can reach. The feeling could be compared to reading a book, and a time later, watching the movie based on it.
Everything we put together in our minds, the faces of the protagonists, the stages, the voices, everything, absolutely everything, is transformed into five minutes, even if the story is the same.
We never imagined Istanbul. We dreamed about hundreds of places, but Istanbul was not among them. If a few months ago I had been told that in the summer we were going to be putting together our backpack to travel to Turkey, I would not have believed it. Maybe that's exactly what made this city (and the country) surpass any expectations. It was all so fast, so improvised, that I did not even have time.
When I wanted to start imagining it, it was already late and we were seeing each other face to face with this city that dazzled us with every step with its beauty. They say that sometimes what we plan least is what best comes out. Perhaps the fact that it was not a destiny thought, helped so that it became a dreamed place to our eyes. Who knows!
When I went through it, the first thing that struck me is that it is much more western than I imagined . Everything could indicate that we are in the downtown area of any other city in the old continent. Its cobbled streets, the architectural style of its houses (many converted nowadays in restaurants and hotels), the way of dressing its people, the means of transport.
And when we are convinced that this city is so beautifully European, there are the calls to prayer from the minarets of the mosques, which come to ruffle our skin by overlapping from different angles of the city. It remind us that Istanbul is also beautifully Asian. A city, two continents. Before the trip I read that Istanbul is the most European city in Asia, and the most Asian in Europe. Will there be a site described in a more cosmopolitan way?
There is no doubt that a city with 13 million inhabitants should be large, but Istanbul seems much more so for the amount of attractions it has to enjoy. It takes several days to acclimate to the rhythm of the city and see at least the places considered essential in the travel guides. We were only here 3 nights because we had a limited time in Turkey and there were other places we wanted to visit. But we would have stayed longer because we loved the city, in addition to the occasional things that we wanted to see.
That is why we can assure you that there is no way to consciously and productively visit the most important places in Istanbul in a couple of days. Unless we only see Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and little else, without dedicating ourselves to strolling, or discovering mosques or less crowded corners. Anyway, everything is said, there are people who visit it in 2 or 3 days and feel that it is enough, and that more time there would not be worth it. That is never our case (we always want to stay longer), But punctually in Istanbul, time flies by (even more so in winter, as the days are very short).
This city impacts you at every step, for asleep or with jet lag you are. Wandering around its corners are much more Europeans than one might imagine, it is hard to realize that one is walking through ancient Constantinople. Yes, Constantinople! So many times we hear it in school history classes, which does not seem real. This city was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey. When it was founded back in 600 BC it was called Byzantium, a name that lasted until 330 AD.
Then it was Constantinople, until 1453, time of which we left as a legacy some churches, palaces, cisterns and the famous Hagia Sophia. Then came the period of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire, which came to encompass the Middle East, North Africa and much of Eastern Europe. In those days of splendor, they say that through the streets of Istanbul you could hear Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Russian, Arabic, Romanian, French, and English.
The official name of Istanbul was imposed in 1930. Eventually it was declining, until in the 90's it began to resurface, until it became what it is today. For that reason, it is hard to imagine the centuries of history that these streets lived.
Orienting ourselves in the city, in a first glance of the map, and to those who come from cities hundred percent in the form of a grid, seems a bit complicated. However, by walking a bit and incorporating some quick reference sites, we will see that the reading is simpler than it seems.
Istanbul is crossed by the Bosphorus Strait, which not only links the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, but also is responsible for separating Europe from Asia. A city in the middle of two continents is not usual. In fact, there are only three bicontinental cities between Europe and Asia. Atyrau in Kazakhstan, Orenburg in Russia, and of course, Istanbul in Turkey. In turn, on the European side the city is again divided into two by the Golden Horn. It basically separates the old town, where the Sultanahmet neighborhood and the bazaar area are located, from the most modern part.
The main tourist attractions, such as Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, are located in Sultanahmet. It is very close to the bazaar area, where the crowds fill the streets, walking from here to there, buying and selling. From here we walk to the Golden Horn, where the famous Galata Bridge is located, with fishermen at all hours, an even greater crowd, hundreds of seagulls fluttering in search of food. Here we see one of the best views of the city, especially at sunset.
Crossing the bridge we reach the most modern area, Beyoğlu, where the Galata Tower and the Istiklal pedestrian street stand. We walk to the well-known and bland Taksim Square.
As if all this were not enough, being a city surrounded by water that joins two continents, there are ferries that cross the Bosphorus Strait all the time joining both banks. Traveling to the Asian side, that is more local, is another interesting visit.
Leaving aside all the attractions that Istanbul has to offer, there is something that is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable. Walking through its streets and getting lost among its bazaars is an experience for the senses. The view has to be attentive to everything, not to overlook any detail. But if there is a sense that is the protagonist in this city and should stay wide awake is the sense of smell. Istanbul is an incredible mix of aromas.
The environment that surrounds us would not be the same if not for the special character that gives the smell of roasted chestnuts, spices, or even coffee, if we passed the corner of the Egyptian Bazaar. We could feel satisfied and believe that with these two "open" senses we already have more than enough. Well, no. Istanbul would not be the same without the shouts of street vendors trying to get someone to buy their simit (bread roll with sesame), corn or chestnuts.
Or without the calls to prayer that are heard from every corner of the city and that melt in one. Or without the flavor of the typical döner kebabs that they sell in the street stalls. Or without the soft texture of the carpets that our bare feet feel when entering the mosques. It is as if all our senses should be placed in ON mode, to perceive in the best possible way each space and each moment in this historic and beautiful city. It without doubt would not be the same without those small details.
There is a mosque more impressive at each step, some so majestic and others so beautifully simple (and simply beautiful), new aromas to perceive, magical corners and filled with centuries of history to discover. Is three days is a lot? How can three days be sufficient when a life would not reach to discover Istanbul thoroughly?
How can we summarize in three short days a city that took centuries to forge? How to understand in this lapse 1000 years of history? There is no way. Any time is short in Istanbul. Let's look at the glass half full. We will always have an excellent excuse to return.
It's time to get up early and a long road to head to Cappadocia. And so, after visiting Istanbul, with 10 hours of night bus, we reached the charming village of Goreme, in Cappadocia. A trip that I recommend to photographers, geologists, and travelers. If you are looking for nightclubs and trendy places you have missed your destination.
We go towards the city of Ankara. To leave Istanbul there are two bridges that go to the Asian side. It takes less than 5 hours to Ankara and most of the journey is by highway. We make a small stop in the great salt lake of Golu. The salt lake of Tuz Golu was perhaps the biggest surprise. I had never heard of it.
I did not even believe that there was such a thing in Turkey. Imagine then my expression transfixed when I found myself in front of a stretch of white that goes beyond the horizon and seems to know no end. It is more salty than the Dead Sea. This lake allows you to walk peacefully on the surface. If it were not for the mild temperatures, we would seem to have ended up in a boundless land in Iceland.
Day 5, 6 and 7
Who has not heard of a fairytale land in the middle of Turkey. That place is the Cappadocia, where one of the most spectacular landscapes of the planet is hidden and where thousands of people live in incredible caves. This place is ideal to get lost and enjoy everything that surrounds us in a relaxed way. Goreme is a valley that hides an endless number of churches and houses excavated in the rock, being a true open-air museum.
Unique tufa formations, have been shaped by weathering over millions of years. They are friable to the point that they allowed the man to derive dwellings inside giving life to rock settlements. At Göreme we really get the feeling of being on another planet, and what excites us the most is the chance to be able to live it! These rock formations, in fact, are still used today and house residences, restaurants, shops and so on.
Staying at the Inn in Göreme was a fabulous experience. Sleeping in fairy chimneys, in addition to being very typical and charming, has a comfort not just: within them the temperature remains constant, and the thermal excursions of the desert climate are not even felt!
They say that living in Cappadocia in a hot air balloon at dawn is an experience that deserves the trip. This I can confirm. A compromise could be to enjoy it at least from below, getting up at 4 in the morning to capture the hot air balloons that rise in flight, drawing a unique scenario. The canyon of the Ihlara valley is another wonder of nature, but that has thrilled me less. The landscape is radically different from the rest of Cappadocia, but it is undoubtedly a pleasant excursion to do. The rift is several km long and we walk through a path that runs along pigeon houses and rock churches on one side, and a relaxing stream on the other.
Since Cappadocia is the object of repeated invasions, since the time of the Hittites the inhabitants began to build underground shelters, later used by the Christians. They were self-sufficient cities in all respects, and, for many months a year, up to 20,000 people lived there! An example? Derinkuyu: in the bowels of the earth. City dating back to at least 2000 BC, but discovered less than 50 years ago!
The city is spread over 85 meters deep with 12 underground floors (8 open to the public, 4 reserved for archaeological and anthropological research). The tunnels in some places are so narrow that you have to walk down, but they come out in relatively spacious areas. At regular intervals there are ample ventilation chimneys that allow an excellent air exchange. These chimneys were the focal point of the system. It was a collective communication route, as well as goods entry and exit channels, were reported outside only as wells, connected directly to the groundwater that flowed under it.
At Selime the Byzantine monks obtained and frescoed incredible rock churches, and they say that George Lucas set the Star Wars (Planet Tatooine) there. It seems to be just a rumor to attract tourists, as the Skywalker home set should be in Tunisia, but Selime really makes the idea and there is no need for this input to visit a place that takes your breath away like this.
The town of Uçhisar is identifiable with its castello. It is a wonderful troglodyte fortress carved into the rock, which represents the highest point of Cappadocia.
Well yes, I think that Turkish cuisine is one of my favorites. Strong pieces experimented here, were the pottery kebab with meat cooked in an earthenware pot, broken at the time of serving. I like the börek, rolls of a particular puff pastry stuffed to taste. For this last specialty we came back for two nights in a row in the restaurant.
Göreme and the other places mentioned above, are clearly touristy. But in any case far from mass tourism and speculation you can enjoy undisturbed a real landscape with tears in your eyes.
From here I get to Mount Nemrut, which stood on the cover of my Routard guide and which seemed to be one of the most beautiful sites in the whole of Turkey. The only way to get there was with an organized tour. So I slipped into the office of one of the countless agencies lined up along the main road of Goreme (all proposed similar excursions) and contracted an acceptable price (about 150 euros, including two nights and meals).
I did halfway with their tour and after Mount Nemrut, I have had to be in Urfa. The group was small and even if it was heterogeneous we immediately got along. And the two very capable guides. That's why I'm not against organized travel, especially small laps within a trip.
Nemrut Dağı in Turkish is pronounced Nemrut Daah. This is why I prefer to call it Mount Nemrut, which is what it means. The quickest way for those arriving from Istanbul is in the areo (up to Adiyaman, from where you can find buses to the site). But I, coming along the winding and dusty streets of Anatolia, suffering the heat and the uncomfortable seats, felt of having earned this goal to the end. I felt it mine.
To go to Nemrut dagi, we stop at Kahta, a city of little interest but large tourist hotels, for what I saw. To go up to the mountain we start at night, to get to dawn at the top. After leaving the minibus, we walk up a rocky path up to about 2,150 meters of the summit. And so our journey was like that. It was very cold and above us there was a huge amount of stars.
When the sun rose, it lit up a valley of reddish rocks and a long golden strip. It was the Euphrates River, which flowed beneath us. Think of the history, the millennia of which this river had been silent witness and what he would have seen along its course, when it would arrive in Iraq (where at the time there was a terrible war), it made me feel the grain of sand of a huge hourglass. It made my head spin. Or, perhaps, it was only the emptiness below me that gave me vertigo.
The light, like every day for more than two thousand years, slowly illuminated the summit, revealing the enormous stone heads of the Greek gods who were scanning the horizon. Because the mountain is a great funerary monument erected by Antiochus I, Hellenistic king of the first century BC. He had himself buried in a huge mound on top of the mountain, being sculpted sitting among the gods of Olympus while looking east and west, the path of the sun.
Time has reduced the ambitions of Antiochus and the sculpted bodies, rediscovered only in the 800 after centuries of incomprehensible oblivion. Now they are without heads, resting, almost mockingly, tens of meters lower. But it is precisely this disordered and ruined aspect that makes this place so enigmatic and powerful.
With these images in my eyes, which I already knew would never leave me again, I turned my gaze to that flaming dawn, trying to imagine what awaited me in the east.
We return to the road to travel the 500 kilometers that separates the Cappadocia from the theater of Aspendos. As the route is very long, it is best to get up early and make a stop along the way in one of the old stops along the Silk Road. This theater of Greco-Roman origin is considered one of the best preserved on the planet.
Among the few places in the world where "good weather" is still a guarantee, born exclusively to satisfy the needs of the most pretentious tourist, among the most famous and wonderful seaside resorts of the Mediterranean, Kemer surprises me and excites me, offering me a lot of more than the classic holiday I was prepared for.
The sea is definitely one of the strong points, of a color ranging from celestial, to emerald green, to deep blue, clean and untouched, together with its equipped or wild beaches, made of pebbles and sand.
History and culture await us in the immediate vicinity, because in addition to excelling for truly cutting-edge tourism infrastructures, Kemer has also been able to preserve a great part of its glorious past, such as the Roman theater of Aspendos, the baths and the remains of the agora of Perge, the walls, the cistern for water collection and the necropolis of Termessos.
The port of Antalya is a crossroads of romantic caiques, typical Turkish boats originally used for fishing and transport, which will lead you to full sail to discover a sea and coastal views almost invisible or inaccessible from the mainland, also for a pleasant navigation of one day only!
I decide to rent a car and venture into the mountains of the hinterland where it is impossible not to meet some hospitable and kind turkish "granny", dressed in their traditional clothes, proud to offer you tastings of local cuisine. The desserts dipped in the honey are a pleasure for the palate, while the raki, brandy flavored with aniseed, is a real delight for the spirit!
A half day of shopping is a must for looking for necklaces in silver and semi-precious stones, local ceramics, a crochet shawl, as much as it is priceless one hour of relaxation in the hammam to give me a relaxing and regenerating massage. Night falls at Kemer and everything is transformed, sparkling with lights and colors, vibrant with sounds and songs, immersed in the exciting and engaging whirl of dancing until the first light of dawn.
I return to the hotel, in the air still the sweet smell of fruit and lemon balm coming out of the hookahs. And it's day again and again an intense and exciting day awaits me in this amazing Turkish seaside resort!
If the car has not finished until the hat, two hours from the theater of Aspendos is the famous Mount Olympus and its famous fumaroles, which we go to see them at night. There are numerous hotels in the area so it was the perfect culmination to a very long day.
From Mount Olympus we have less than two hours to visit these tombs dug into the rock, the tombs of Fethiye. They are located very close to Roman ruins very well preserved in the town of Myra, with a theater worthy of admiration and little visited. And as the day goes by ruins, we end up in the Greco-Roman ruins of Patara,very close to the sea and only an hour and a quarter from Myra.
We get back early because we need three and a half hours to reach Pamukkale and its incredible calcium formations. As the Greeks saw that their waters had therapeutic properties they built here the city of Hierapolis. The theater is quite well preserved. And then the white show par excellence. Pamukkale, in Turkish means cotton castle. It is natural site characterized by gigantic calcareous pools placed side by side. It is one of the most beautiful landscapes that I have ever seen, so beautiful that I struggled to leave. Do you know when you cannot help but look back at what you are leaving? Here, it went exactly like that.
From Pamukkale we go one hour and a half to the fascinating Greek city of Aphrodisias. Everything is in an excellent state of preservation and the circus where races were held is almost intact, without forgetting the odeon and its great theater. After the visit we can go to Priene where we spend the night after traveling less than two and a half hours.
At the top of the mountain and after making a small hiking trail are the ruins of Pirene, which have the theater with the best views of all Turkey. We visited the ruins we went to Ephesus, an hour away. It is perhaps the most visited Greek city in Turkey, due to its excellent state of preservation and because numerous cruise ships stop at the port. As Ephesus is very large, the ideal is to spend the rest of the day on the beach and visit it the next day. An interesting beach is that of Mocamp.
We get up early to see the city with tranquility and especially the great Ephesus library. It is very big, but the cruises make their streets stuffed with tourists from 11 in the morning. Ephesus is perhaps the jewel in the crown of Turkey and why many Greeks pull their hair not to be currently in their territory.
A little over two hours separates Ephesus from Pergamum. This last one was one of the most important cities of the Greek world but now part of the city is in Germany! The museum of Pergamum lodges the famous Altar of Zeus, eagerly requested by the Turkish government without answer on the part of the Germans. Even so there are many things that were not taken and we visit as the temple of Trajan. We then set sail for Istanbul and stop to sleep halfway.
Once back in Istanbul, this great trip ended knowing that we have traveled the best places in the country.
And to finish
Maybe you think the trip was a beating, but nothing could be further from reality. Being able to see such a number of monuments, two more or less per day, meant that traveling in Turkey in two weeks was like 3 weeks, but it is certainly not done for all kinds of people, especially if you are looking for a very relaxed trip. A circuit of the Cappadocia state circuit can be an interesting option if you want to have everything to your needs and in a more relaxed way.
My trip to Turkey was a puzzle of emotions. Every time I immerse myself in the photos I cannot understand how one country can contain so many extreme different beauties from each other. Yet, among many landscape diversities, my trip to Turkey has been characterized by a beautiful constant: white. Excluding Istanbul with its color vortex, all the stages of my tour have filled my eyes with candor. That pleasant candor that, even in rather crowded places, manages to convey serenity.