Posted tagged ‘Istanbul’

Turkey Pics

December 2, 2008

Small sample of pics from my trip to Turkey in October, 2008.



Between the hair and scruff, this dude is the mold of the young Turk.


Sunset in Istanbul, from the top of the Galata Tower.

Cappadochia Mountains                                                               A Valley in Goreme, Cappadochia.  Called “mushroom shaped” by the conservative locals.  Called “cock valley” by the not so conservative tourists.

turkish viagra                                          These were all over Istanbul..I gotta go buy me some apricots…

turkish kids                                              Street scene from Balat in Old Istanbul.

ortakoy mosque                                                                                    The overlooked and beautiful Ortakoy Mosque.

aya sophia                                            Cats are everywhere in Istanbul…this  one is appreciating the Hagia Sophia.

basilica cistern                                             View from inside Basilica Cistern.

166-1                                           View of Goreme Village in Cappadochia.  The pillars are made out of compressed and eroded volcanic ashe.

dscf0486-1                                        Vendor selling dolls in the village of Derinkuyu, Cappadochia.

dscf0877                                                               Not sure if this in Ephesus, or in NYC’s Chinatown.  Hard to tell.

Two Weeks in Turkey — Thoughts and Tips

December 1, 2008

blue mosque.jpeg
I actually got back from Turkey a month ago, but better late than never i guess.  It took me a while to get my pics up…more on that later… and then i got busy and started planning my next trip.  But below is a summary of the trips, highlighting the ups and down, my honest impressions, and traveling tips for those as absent minded as I tend to be while traveling…enjoy
My 2 week adventure in Turkey, as I expected and hoped, turned out great.  I was traveling with my best buddy Haricot, and after i picked her up from work so we could take public transit to the airport, the trip took a sudden and amazingly early downfall.  The cheap-ass luggage I bought already started fucking up on me.  I was walking down the street and suddenly realized that there is no way it should be this hard to wheel my bag along with me, as I did not pack that much stuff.  A quick glance around was all I needed to see the back wheels of my suitcase sticking out horizontally from the sides, nearly flattened and barely turning and I walked.  Amazing how just two days before when I bought this new luggage set I thought I had found the best deal ever (“Wow, a 10 piece set for $19.99, and it comes with a coupon for a 6 pc. Chicken Nuggets at MickeyD’s?? Sold!”).  I suddenly got dramatic and imagined myself carrying my suitcase on my back all around Istanbul…but Haricot assured me that she saw the wheel turning a bit and I’d be fine for the trip. Wheeling it everywhere for two weeks wasnt easy, but luckily it held up.  Lesson #1 — buy reliable luggage…the peace of mind is worth it alone.
Haricot was able to sleep the entire trip as I jealously stared and contemplated sticking things in her ears and nose to bother her and make her stay awake with me. We stopped first in Madrid, where we are held up for 5 hours after extensive delays.  We sneak our way to the front of the boisterous Spanish check in crowd, and land in Istanbul a  few hours later, at around midnight.  Lesson #2 — In airports, nice guys finish last.
We take a taxi to the house of our host, an American living in Istanbul whom i met online and was willing to let us sleep at her place for a few nights (every budget traveler should do this, great way to save).  She wasn’t there the first night tho; her brother, who recently moved in with her, was there to greet us.  Won’t get into the nitty-gritty details, but walking around that first night with him kind of made us consider sleeping on the street that night, or if it got too cold, whoring ourselves in return for a place to stay.  Luckily our host arrived the next morning, and she was a cool chick and helped make our stay in Istanbul a cozy one. 
The mosques were beautiful, though after a while you feel like youve seen them all.  Can go on and on about sites to see, but some of my best memories came just from walking around and soaking it all in.  Istiklal Caddesi is the Broadway of Istanbul, and the nightlife is PUMPIN.  It’s packed until pretty late Wednesday-Sunday, mostly with 20-somethings in small groups, looking for a place to eat, smoke shisha, and/or get wasted.  Plenty of options there for all three. I thought people there were pretty good looking, and while the females were varied, most the guys usually seemed to come from the same mold, at least with regard to style and fashion [see Turkey pics above].  This of course is when youre out on the night scene; take a walk through Kumkapi, Balat, Fener, and the rest of old Istanbul during the day and you’ll see the colorful clothing hanging from laundry lines tied across narrow cobblestone streets, boys playing soccer barefoot in alley ways and jumping out of windows of seemingly barren buildings, girls in colorful flower-laden dresses, whispering and laughing, women conversing from their respective stoops as they sew or shell nuts or trim vegetables, hear and smell the crackling of fresh fish on the giant street-side oil vats, and you certainly wont hear any English — not even the “Yes, please!” that is a constant in the touristy areas, where vendors try to convince tourists to visit their stalls.  But anywhere in Turkey, if you have a guide and have two functioning hands with which to gesture and point, youll be fine.   I learned about 10 words in Turkish: yes, no, bus station, train, and various types of food.  And I did just fine.
Cappadochia, the central region of the country, was an unforgettable place in large part because of the other-wordly landscape.  It is a land of compressed volcanic ash shaped into towers and pillars that fill the innumerable valleys cut into the a sprawling mountain range.  We rented motorcycles and biked from village to village, which was truly the best way to experience the region.  We sampled [devoured] all types of ethnic food the region had to offer, and fell in love with it…you didnt think fresh bread could taste that good, but it does there.  We saw traditional dances (in the few touristy places) and listened to old men making their instruments cry to the tune of Turkish folk songs.  We crawled through underground caves, explored tombs carved into mountains, hiked steep paths, picked and ate fresh wild produce along the way (including amazingly sweet tomatoes and cucumbers, disgusting apple-like things that tasted like cement powder, atrocious berries that made your mouth feel like it was being glued shut, and raw pistachios). Clean air, bright skies, quiet nights, friendly people, plenty of cheap hostels full of care-free young travelers to explore with.  Cappadochia is a must if you have the time.
Went to Ephesus also, near the Aegean coast and the most famous spot in Turkey to see the old Roman ruins.  The ruins are amazing but more sparse than I imagined.  Nice little side trip if you have the time.
Other random notes on Turkish-isms:
Random people will always ask you where your from if you speak another language.  If you’re from an Arabic country, they might not be so happy about it either (i gather this is because they want to distance themselves from the “arabic=religious extremist” stereotype as much as possible).  Avoid political conversations with people you don’t know!  Most Turks I spoke with had trouble acknowledging recent political history (see Greece; Armenia).
The food is pretty good but not spicy like I thought it would be…next time I go, Im bringing my own hotsauce.  The world-famous doner kebaps Turkey is famous for?  You can get much better ones from NYC street vendors.  Trust me.  Baked goods (anything bread-y) are great in Turkey.  Nevisade street + surrounding area in the Beyoglu section of Istanbul is restaurant/pub heaven.
Get an akbil pass (Turkish version of a metro card) for ultimate transport convenience on Istanbul’s extensive and really reliable transit system. Walking is great, but wear comfy shoes — hills galore.
Turkish delight (lokum) is….delightful.  Love the stuff.  If you go, bring me back some please…esp. the honey/pistachio ones (fistikli in Turkish).
Intercity travel — shop around the bus station and go to each office to find the best price for intercity travel. Be sure to get an official printed ticket and not some dude’s chicken scratch writing on a post-it note.  Make sure the name of your destination is printed on the ticket, and be sure to ask whether or not you have to change buses at any point — bus companies will go to great lengths to confuse and cheat weary travelers at intercity stops.
During long inter-city bus rides, the buses will stop at rest stops every few hours, cuz there are no bathrooms on board.  GO TO THE BATHROOM. Even if you dont think you have to.  Just do it.  And be sure to bring change, as every public bathroom charges a small fee (rarely more than a lira).  It helps to have a little pillow to sleep with on the sometimes cramped buses also… like one stolen from an airline perhaps…especially from Iberia Airlines if you want to pay them back for the 5 hour instruction-less delay they made you endure!  Just a hypothetical tho…
“Every price can be bargained down — except for movie tickets.”  A turklish saying, according to my Turkish homie.  Totally true from my experience.  Don’t be afraid to walk away — either youll get a cheaper price or youll find it for less somewhere else.
Pics soon!

Turkish Sidebar

April 1, 2008

Forgot to mention a few relevant notes about the trip to Turkey:

What freaking continent is this country a part of?  The guide says that Turkey is part of both Europe and Asia, a division marked by the Bosphorous Strait.  That leaves the vast majority of the country in Asia, including the capital.  But Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, lies at the crux of this division. Turkey is listed as a European nation almost everywhere on the web, and has a recent political history of making a concerted effort to make it into the European fraternity.  I’d like some answers.

Travellers all over love to debate as to which guide books are the best, and everyone gives me a different answer.  Lonely Planet is incredibly detailed and informative, though for many that is one of its drawbacks – it takes forever to map out an itinerary.  It also lacks in pictures…but I felt it was the best bet for me because since I am planning this trip so far in advance, I want to know aLL the background info and make informed decisions.  Frommer’s and Michelin are also popular choices and have easy to understand maps.  I’m tired of people rolling their eyes when I tell them which one I have…there needs to be some general consensus, or Oprah’s book club should nominate one or something..though I’m sure all you worldly blog readers have an opinion to share (at least I hope you do).


(sidebar to this sidebar: reading these travel guides makes anyone who likes to write think about how cool it would be to work for these companies that pay you to write about your experiences… check out this great blog for tips on how to separate your travel blog from the crowd.)

I was thinking of hopping on a boat to Greece from Turkey, but now I’m thinking that if the Greek people find out I’m coming from Turkey they might drop a roofie in my ouzo and throw me off Mt. Olympus.  Should I be concerned about this? C’mon guys, I know you’ve hated each other for decades, but can you finally put this little feud behind you..for my sake?  Whaddya say..can we hug it out?

Too many sidebars to list…with all the planning I’m putting into this, by the time I finally go on this vacation, I’m really gonna need it.

My Turkish Adventure – Prologue

April 1, 2008


I haven’t gone yet.  Notice how ‘yet’ is in bold?  I am trying to emphasize that while I havent gone yet, I will go in a little while.  By a little while I mean about 6 months. The busy season for Turkish travel dies down in early October, which is important cuz I wanna bump elbows with TURKS, not American tourists passing by Istanbul during their 10 Cities in 10 Days trip. I’ll be in Turkey for about 12 days, followed or preceded by a yet TBD side trip.  Going to Turkey has been my dream vacation since travelling became a huge priority for me after I graduated from college.  I can’t think of another country that boasts as concentrated and massive a medley of intact ancient and modern historical sites and ruins, or one with as much evidence of cultural diffusion.  Turkey – its sites, architecture, food, language, clothing, and the very faces of its people – is all tangible history, a story waiting to be told, one so vast and voluminous that almost everyone can trace the influence of it somewhere down their own ancestral line. 

Though this is the prologue to my trip, my adventure began as soon as I bought my guidebook and started planning my trip.  I was considering, for the first time ever, taking an extended guided tour around the country, but decided against it and am happy I did.  I like the liberty of deciding what to do and where to go without having to worry about missing a bus every day…and who knows, maybe Ill  meet a cutie who’ll convince me to stay in a particular city a little longer…a man can wish, cant he? 

turkey-hedo.jpg How is there not a Hedo Turkoglu museum in Turkey? This guy is their best athlete aNd has ‘Turk’ in his last name. 

Just flipping through the guidebook, looking at pictures, and reading reviews has gotten me so excited to go, but also has been a distraction.  My task now is not to plan every detail, but to understand the highlights of the various cities and plan a basic roadmap so that I can estimate how long I should plan my trip there, as well as figuring out how to include my excursion-on-the-side to a nearby country, so that I can buy my ticket while the prices are low.  This part is so Goddamn hard cuz every city looks amazing and I cant live there cuz I wouldnt have a visa or a job or friends or knowledge of Turkish which by the way in english transliteration is so completely not phonetic I might get my ass kicked by a huge Turkish oil wrestler for mangling their language.

turkey-map.jpg  I’ve narrowed down where I want to visit.  I can definitely pull it off in one trip…I just wouldnt have a job to come back to.

It’s impossible to see everything in such a short time, but I want a good mix of modern and ancient, city and countryside, mosques and mountains…ok I want it all, sue me.  Or better yet, educate me, cuz I really need to pick the brain of someone who’s been there and can offer me advice other than where to get a good doner kepab; I’m going to Turkey, not Mamoun’s.