My first impression of Istanbul was: “damn, this place is massive!” The city stretches over 30km and is loaded with buildings and people (13.5 million!). After crashing near
the airport (I will spare you the story of the taxi driver who got lost for 1 hour at 3am), I took Istanbul’s well-planned tram system all the way to the Sultanahmed Area (historical center), where my hostel was located. Among my dorm roommates was an older ex-Olympic Turkish athlete named Nur who was full of local info on what to do in this country, which was great because I planned nothing!
For the first few days, I walked around Istanbul and eventually rolled into the famous Topkapi Palace which was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-
year reign. The palace and grounds are enormous…at it’s peak, it housed about 4,000 people complete with a Harem section and it overlooks the Golden Horn (name of the estuary/harbor down below).
I also sampled Istanbul’s famous nightlife and food by hitting up some bars on Taksim Square with some Aussie and French friends from the hostel. Since it was Ramadan, thousands of people were out and about late into the evening. Music was pouring out of the bars, often overtop one another. Chaos!
Ramadan happens every 9thFull Moon of the year, so it was Ramadan month while I was there. Devout Muslims fast from sun up to sun down (nothing allowed in their mouths…no water, no food, no gum, nothing!). This tradition is exercised to remind them of their devotion to Allah. Not an easy feat as the weather was sticky hot during the day.
The Mosques were full of praying Muslims. Frequent cat calls echoed from mosque to mosque signaling the public that it was time for prayer. Much to my dismay, women are not permitted to pray with the men. Instead, they have special sections, usually in the back as far from the front as possible. When are these women going to rise up?!!!!!!
After 3 days, it was time to escape the vibrant city of Istanbul and head inland. I took an overnight bus to the bizarre landscaped area of Turkey called Cappadocia, home of the famous fairy chimney rock formations. The rock is soft volcanic stone that wind and rain have sculpted into fantastic clusters of multicolored spires and pinnacles.
This type of stone makes it easy to carve out caves and underground tunnels, which are at every turn. I kept looking for Fred and Wilma but no luck!
There are many things to do and see in Cappadocia but the highlight is the hot air balloon ride over the canyon, another first for me. I was flabbergasted at how many balloons were being set up at the launching point. A quick count…80 hot-air balloons! With 16 people in each carriage at 120-euro per head, it’s a pretty good industry.
We blasted off from earth at about 5:30am (sunrise) and we hovered over the fairy chimneys for a bit before ascending up into the sky. Looking down on all the hot-air balloons was mind-boggling. After awhile I forgot the purpose was to look at the rocks, not the other balloons.
I cannot figure out which photos depict the experience the most so I’ll post a few more than normal:
From Cappacocia, I took another long bus ride to Olympus, situated along the Aegean Sea. After a few days chilling on the beach and tearfully parting ways with my broken flip
flops that had been with me since day one (I have attachment
issues), I booked a 3-day “Blue Cruise” on what’s called a “gullet”, an old wooden boat. The Blue Cruise zips around various stopping points along the Aegean Sea, such as Kas, a few beaches, and ultimately ends up in Fethiye. It was super relaxing…something about having deep blue water available for submersion at any time of day felt liberating. There were 12 other shipmates from Australia, Spain, Italy, and Portugal and we all got along splendidly.
Oh, and the salt content enabled one to float without effort! Not quite the Dead Sea, but close. I could start on my back and eventually my legs and arms would sink but my big fat hollow head remained buoyed above water, just high enough for me to breathe naturally. With a small floatation device, one could relax for hours. It was definitely clean living as the crew made 3 meals for you and the best part…we all slept on the deck under the stars! Truly amazing. If you go to Turkey, book a Blue Cruise!
From Fethiye, I set off in the morning to the antique city of Ephesus to see the old Greek and Roman ruins. Ephesus is an archaeologist’s utopia, highlighted by a massive Greek Theater and a restoration project where they are piecing back together the living
quarters of some of the more dignified people of that time…think of a puzzle with 168,000 pieces.
Back in Istanbul, I spent a day on a water (Bosphorus) before heading off to the airport to catch a flight to London to meet up with my Volunteer Uganda brothers and sisters.
Turkey is an amazing country with great history from the Ottoman Empire, more Greek and Roman archaeological sites than Greece and Italy, diverse landscapes, a vibrant city, tranquil beaches, great food, rich culture, and very gracious, hard-working, and hospitable people.
No more Turkey Talk…just time to simply say, “thank you, Turkey!”