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.