Our love affair with Turkey goes back a long long way. A fleeting visit to Istanbul during a cruise left us besotted – it is a place like no other. It’s exotic, friendly, accepting, and exciting all at once. Its alleys are chock-a-block with vendors trying to sell their wares, bakers carrying their stash on their heads, little children playing games, hookah bars, and colourful restaurants.
Getting to Turkey
Istanbul is really well connected with all major cities of the world and it’s easy to get there from UK or India. Since 2013, it’s possible to apply for a Turkey Visa online if you fulfil certain conditions. British passport holders can easily apply for an e-visa (and are granted a 3 month multiple entry visa to Turkey) whereas Indian passport holders who have a valid Schengen visa or a UK/USA/Ireland visa / residence permit can easily apply for the electronic visa for Turkey. We have heard that applying for an e-visa is cheaper than getting visa on arrival in Turkey.
Istanbul’s landmarks are extraordinary and it is easy to spend an entire day examining the dome of Hagia Sofia, the treaures of The Tokapi Palace or the minarets of Sultanahmet (The Blue Mosque). But to us, the highlight of a visit to Istanbul lies in its unique brand of chaos. It reminded us of Morocco. Sheesha bars and make-shift stalls try to elbow each other out of the way and shops hobnob with restaurants. The city emanates a unique energy that is tough to put into words.
We highly recommend taking an aimless walk in the city once you have ticked its major landmarks off your ‘to-do’ list. Get lost in one of the 61 alleys of the massive Grand Bazaar and feast your eyes on everything from spices to jewellery. Once you have managed to work up an appetite take the Metro to the lesser known areas of town and feast on shawarmas, kebabs, and Turkish tea. A number of small restaurants and takeaways offer a variety of wraps, pita sandwiches, and kebabs. Turkish kebabs taste like no other – the smoky minced meat simply melts in the mouth. An inexpensive, yet indulgent treat for the taste buds.
If you happen to be in Istanbul during summer months, then try to escape to Belgrade Forest for a picnic! If you’re a keen photographer, don’t forget to head down to Balat, the traditional Jewish quarter of Istanbul. Here colourful houses and quaint streets make for perfect photographs. It is ideal for a slow morning out in the city. Another offbeat neighbourhood that is full of character is Yeldeğirmeni. Here you will see some gorgeous street art and murals. If you enjoy new experiences in the cities you visit, we would also highly recommend visiting a hammam in Istanbul. There are several hammams to choose from but irrespective of the one you pick, you will leave feeling thoroughly cleansed.
What after Istanbul?
Istanbul is great for a couple of days, but if you want to get away from the chaos of Istanbul after a few days, Izmir is the perfect place for you. A popular port city, it has some great beaches, but our favourite thing to do is to walk along the Kordon, Izmir’s palm-lined waterfront promenade. We even got lucky and caught a spectacular air show while we were at the Kordon.
As with Istanbul, Izmir’s Konak Square (the central square), Kadifekale (an old castle), and Alsancak (area lined with cafes) seem to be most popular with tourists. But we really enjoyed walking in the city’s smaller streets, rummaging wares at unknown markets, and talking to locals at little known restaurants. Locals are friendly, warm, and extremely welcoming. They showed us the correct way of smoking a hukka one moment and invited us to their house for a meal the next.
A couple of other places we would highly recommend in Turkey are Cappadocia and Pamukale. Over the past few years, these gems have gotten incredibly popular but let me tell you, they are well worth the hype. You must have seen tons of photos of hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia and it is dreamy. But here’s the thing – these rides are dependent on the weather and they are frequently cancelled. So make sure that you plan your itinerary in such a way that you are in Cappadocia at least for 2-3 nights. This gives you a better chance of hopping on that hot-air balloon flight, which truly is a memorable experience.
Pamukkale also provides a stunning opportunity to take in the wonders of Turkey. It is almost 10 hours away from Cappadocia and there are several convenient bus connections available. However once you make it there, don’t rush to the springs on the same day! In fact relax and explore your surroundings that day. On the next, try to get up early if you would like to escape the crowds and photograph the surreal terraced springs.
The crowds have also ensured that hotels in both Cappadocia and Pamukkale have become incredibly expensive, especially during peak season. However you can find some really affordable AirBnB apartments in the area. If you’re on a budget, just book an apartment and visit some of the scenic coffee shops and hookah bars to get stunning views of Cappadocia and the countryside around Pamukkale
On our next trip to Turkey, we’d love to drive along the Aegean Coast. It’s ideal for a road trip. Vid recently chanced on some cheap flights to Bodrum, so that’s definitely the next on our wishlist. He can’t wait to get an evening shot of the Bodrum castle and we’d love to spend our days on the Bardakci cove – we’re thinking windmills, monuments, beaches, and sailing in the Aegean Sea – aaah Turkey, why doth you do this to us?!
Have you been to Turkey? What’s your favourite part of the country?