Friday, September 9, 2011

t u r k e y { c a p p a d o c i a }

Turkey is a huge country with a population of over 70 million people. Although Istanbul is its capital, there really is so much more to visit outside of this city. There is Ephesus and Selcuk if you are into the beach and the ancient Roman ruins. There is Olympus if you enjoy lush greenery and natural sight seeing. Many people though, choose to go to Cappadocia during their visit to this country. The terrain in this region is very, very different to the sights you would see anywhere else really. You’ll see in the photos below but to give you an overview, most people who come to Cappadocia will do so because they want to see the area on a hot air balloon or to simply go hiking. Hot air ballooning in this area is very popular because of it’s wide terrain and its unique landscape. Though expensive, I can tell you that it is well worth it but I will get back to that in a second :)

To get from Istanbul to Cappadocia, most people will choose to either fly or bus. I chose to bus for a few reasons: 1) it was cost efficient at only about 20 Euro’s and 2) it was an overnight bus which meant that I did not have to book any accommodation for that night of traveling. What I didn’t like about this trek was this: 1) it was a 12 hour trip on a bus with smelly people with excessive B.O. and 2) the bus was not air conditioned and the air flow was really bad. Naturally, negative points 1 and 2 together was a very bad combination and this made for a very long and tiring trip. Though I might have saved 80-100 Euros, I had barely any sleep by the time I reached Goreme, Cappadocia. I was not a happy camper but anyway, it was my vacation so no point in complaining! The one consolation is the fact that I got to see one of most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen while on the bus. To give you an idea of what it looked like, it was dark all around except in the horizon where all you could see was mountains, all layered due to their distances away from one another. There was nothing else around us but flat land and endless highway but it was in that horizon that you could see vivid shades of navy blue, purple and even closer to the horizon still, bright orange and reds. I really wanted to get off the bus and take a picture but unfortunately you can't do that! This is why road trips are the best because you can do that whenever you want! Anyway, enough side tracking. The point is, if any of you are considering going to Cappadocia via Istanbul, consider the flight – you will be much more comfortable.

Now, onto the visit: I spent a total of 2 nights and 3 days in Goreme. Cappadocia itself is a huge region, much bigger than I originally thought. Those who visit will likely stay in the Goreme town though. First impressions were that this town was a bit of a ghost town. I don’t mean that in a bad way but coming from Istanbul where there is all this bustlin’ activity, Goreme contrasts greatly. There are a number of restaurants with local Turkish cuisine but don’t expect any bars – there aren’t any.

Hiking - This is a place you go if you enjoy out door activities. I met two girls from New York (Lindsay and Alexandra) and we went out for a hike in the red valley. It was a 5 hour hike in the scorching sun but it was loads of fun and the views made it worthwhile. Between the ghetto speak, the freshly squeezed orange juice, the random fruit picking and the cart wheels, I think we all had a good time! Team KAL made it through alive and well :) In all honesty, it was great meeting you two! We’ll have to meet up again in NYC next time ;)

There are a number of other hikes that you can do while you are here as well so if you like this kind of stuff, make sure you have your hiking boots and sunscreen!


Hot Air Balloon - Like I said before, the main attraction to Cappadocia is the hot air balloon ride. You can book this practically anywhere but expect to pay anywhere around 120-150 Euros per person. The tour group will pick you up from your hotel/hostel at 5am in the morning and you will likely take flight at around 6am. Depending on the time of year that you go, this could be during sunrise or just after it has already come over the horizon. Nevertheless, you are in for some breathtaking views! I was never one to think that I would be interested in hot air balloons at all but I was so glad that I did this one. The flight was smooth and lasted over an hour – though, the pilot gave us a few frights as we almost hit a bridge and a Cliffside :p (I hope she did this on purpose?). Anyway, after an hour and about 100 clicks on the camera later, we were on the ground. It was spectacular and I would recommend anyone do the same. Just remember to wake up on time! I was woken up by mad pounding on my door because I turned off the alarm and went straight back to sleep! D:

Tour - Another popular thing to do around here is to go on an organized tour. I'm not usually a tour type of person because I like to walk around and explore on my own but in an area that is just so big and with the attractions so far apart, it is one of the more efficient ways of seeing the attractions in one go. The most popular tours are the red and green tours. Both are apparently good options but I had to go for the green one for the fact that they took you away from the town of Goreme and into the canyons and an underground city. It was neat to see I guess but after a whole day on this tour, I was itching to walk off on my own. I did meet some cool peeps on this trip as well though, including these two Aussies who wore their hats in the scorching heat all day!

Sunset Point - One other thing you can do while in Goreme is to go up to Sunset point. It is a small climb up to the tip of this mountain but it is situated right in the center of the town and provides a nice view of the sunset. If you get up here during the call of prayer, it gives that much more impact to you being there. It really makes you realize that you are away from the western world.

My two nights were spent in the Guven Cave Hotel (or hostel). It was cheap and comfortable enough. The most important bit was the roof top terrace with the view of the sunset!

Cappadocia was a very worth while side trip - particularly when you have as much as a week in Turkey. The scene might differ from Istanbul in that it is much, much quieter, but for me, it was a good getaway. The added bonus of being able to hike, enjoy the sun, and see the sunrise on a hot air balloon and it is a no brainer to me that anyone who goes to Turkey should come here.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

t u r k e y { i s t a n b u l }

First off, I'm going to apologize in advance for my photo heavy posts to come! It was a 2 week holiday and I had nothing better to do than eat and snap away so be prepared haha :) Read on with caution...

My longest vacation plan of the year started off as a bit of a mystery. But after meeting people along my travels throughout Europe and through my friends in London, I knew that Turkey had to be one of the places that I spent a good amount of time. With that in mind, I booked a 2 week holiday where I would start off in Turkey and then finish it off in Scotland. With Turkey, I didn't quite know what to expect to be honest with you! I had always envisioned great food and a welcoming culture. A day into my trip, I knew that my expectations were not far from the truth.

The first stop along the way into Turkey was Istanbul. The most well known out of the cities in Turkey, I knew that I would have a good time here. The only thing was, I didn't know how good I time it would be. A city that was hustling and bustling, it differed from London in the sense that it really had an identity. The culture was obvious here... Islam was the culture that dominated this country that housed over 70 million people. It also helped that I came into the country during Ramadan - a period in which those people who practiced Islam would fast for an entire month. They were only allowed to break the fast after the sun set and then it would start up again at the break of dawn.

 I was initially concerned that there might be some complications to traveling into a Muslim country during this religious month but those fears were soon quelled when I learned that a huge amount of locals did not practice this religious fast. We could eat and drink in public without any concerns and that proved to be true! In fact, I am so glad that it was Ramadan when I came here because you could really see and be a part of an interesting part of their culture. Words cannot describe how cool it was to be by the mosque at sunset and to see all the families come together with plates of food in hand as they picnicked in celebration of the day. Seeing people come together like that, you realize that you just don't see that very often where I come from. In hindsight, I would highly recommend that anyone come to Turkey during this month of fasting.

Ok, back to the overview of Istanbul. I finally got into the city at around 2pm in the afternoon but along the way to the hostel, I couldn't help but notice how modern this city was. The airport was down right fancy! It was modern (clean cut lines with lots of windows and polished metal) and it was spacious and well organized. The buildings along the way to the hostel were also of similar look as well. It wasn't until I got into the Sultanahmet area that you saw some of the older buildings but even then it was a mixture of the old and the new. Hopefully the street scenes below will help to illustrate the older side of Istanbul where I stayed primarily. 

Istanbul was beyond awesome and it far exceeded my expectations. Aside from being the one place that has both a European and Asian side (literally, the Bosphorus River separated the area into a portion that belongs to Europe and the other that belongs to Asia!), it was incredible in so many other aspects. I will be back here but what made this visit so good was the people that I had met. Alexandra, Mena, Mattias, Justin and I wandered the city together and had a blast doing it. We might have been from Canada, America, Australia, and Germany but we met randomly in Turkey! This is one of the reasons that I love traveling so much.


There were a total of 3 mosques that I visited during my time in Istanbul. Probably the most famous, the Blue Mosque was the first one that I visited. It really is something to stand next to it in wonder at how large and mythical this place is. Maybe it is just me but there is this mystique about the Muslim religion and how there are so many followers who strongly believe in its lessons and this thought definitely made the visit even more special. Arabic artwork is truly something to behold in person. It is so different from what we are used to in North America and Western Europe. There are just so many different colors, patterns, and designs that are distinctive to the Muslim culture in general. I have never seen anything like it. The scale of the mosque from the outside was grand but it was even more amazing inside. The paintings were fading and you could see it's imperfections - but like anything else to me, perfection is just not that appealing. It gave the mosque such character and feeling of history seeing how the paintings were faded on the edges and that there were markings on the walls and ceilings.

The other aspect of the Muslim religion that I got to experience was the call to prayer. This happened 5 times every day (sunrise, sunset, and three other times during the day depending on the position of the sun). Now I have heard this in movies before and I had heard about it more than a few times in reading... but until you have heard it in person, next to a mosque or on a mountain top, overlooking the sunset, you just don't know. All you are left to do is to listen and relish that moment. No matter what I write, I won't be able to appropriately describe the feeling of listening to this call. It truly is a magical sound that represents the religion so perfectly (at least from an outsider's point of view). I uploaded a video of this sound below.

Note to all that visit the mosques in Europe or any other place for that matter however: the guideline is to always have your shoulders and legs covered up. A long dress that covers the knees is generally good enough for a girl trying to get in - though, you will also be required to wear a scarf around your head as well. Guys need only wear a tshirt and pants (they let me in wearing shorts but you can't always count on that).


There are a few markets within Istanbul that are well worth seeing if only to get a glimpse of the culture and the upbeat tempo of the bazaar. The Grand Bazaar really is grandiose - note that you will get lost but that's alright! I spent about 2 hours just wandering around aimlessly and to me, that's the best way of seeing a place you are traveling to anyway! They sold everything from lamps to Turkish delights to rugs and jewelry. If you are looking for something to buy, you'll likely find it here. The shop keepers can be pushy in trying to get you into the store so that you will be pressured to buy right on the spot. You'll have to build up some level of "rudeness" in order to push them away - don't feel bad about it either, a simple "no" followed up by walking away is a perfectly appropriate response since it saves their time in trying to coerce you as well.


The spice bazaar was a really neat experience. I'm a huge foodie so I enjoy anything tasty and this place was perfectly suited to that habit. The smell of the many different types of spices there was almost intoxicating. They had everything from indian saffron to meatball spices to traditional Turkish mixes. The other aspect about this spice market was that they also sold many traditional Turkish treats as well. This includes Turkish delights in the form of honey and pistachio, cocunut-honey-pistachio and many others. The owners of the store are glad for you to try them out as they are very generous with the tasters. I might not have the biggest sweet tooth but I really enjoyed these treats. Being a bit of a food lover, I enjoyed this market the most of all.

Yes, I am immature but seriously this is a great endorsement of the product? lol
There were also other markets on the street as well that sold clothing, guns, etc, etc. I could go on and on but I will let the pictures give you an idea of what it looked like. 


I'm sure most of you have had some form of Turkish food before. Kebabs and donairs are Turkish in nature and something that you could get in abundance on the street. I'm a huge fan of street food as it gives you an idea of what the locals eat and a better idea of how this food is a part of their culture. I had a ton of this as well as kebab plates which were cooked in a pot. A very meaty diet, Turkish food mainly specializes in lamb and chicken. Luckily, those two happen to be some of my favorite meats so I couldn't complain :) Although, I did get sick off of something I ate on my final night here in Istanbul… not sure what it was but anyway, it’s bound to happen when you travel around so much I guess! 

The turkish coffee is very interesting as well. It comes in a small cup not unlike Italian Espresso but it tastes nothing like it. I am a black coffee man and I like (love) my Italian espresso on the go but this coffee was BITTER. It also has this heavy grit at the bottom of the cup which you are not supposed to drink... If I am to speak honestly, I would say that I did not enjoy Turkish coffee... it just wasn't my cup of brew.

The ice cream that was served on the streets was an interesting experience to say the least. It was chewy and gum like in its elasticity. Yet, the taste was pretty much the same as the ice cream you have on a regular basis. The entertaining bit was trying to get the ice cream from the vender. They play with you until you've given up. In the process, you get made a fool in front of the entire crowd on the street but hey, it was fun :D I am going to work on uploading a video of this taking place with Mattias. It was hilarious, believe me. 


I chose to stay in the Metropolis Hostel right in the Sultanahmet area. It gets some fairly high ratings on Hostelworld and for good reason! Although I stayed in a 8 bedroom dorm, the people I met there is what made this the trip that it was. The bathroom situation was a bit peculiar with 1 bathroom between about 16-20 people but for some reason there were no issues around this at all. They had a great roof top terrace which overlooked the water and it was a perfect spot to chill out and relax before heading out for the night. We spent most evenings on this rooftop, drinking beer and chatting away. Highly recommended! Although... be weary of the food that is served... I got food poisoning on the last night I was here...


Overall, Istanbul was a complete blast. There is just so much to see and do. Anyone looking to come to Turkey will in all likelihood come through this City. The only thing you need to make sure of is that you are open minded and that you give yourself at least 3 full days for exploring and maybe an extra day to relax.