After what seemed like the longest day of travel we finally arrived in Istanbul as the sun was setting over the stunning mosques and majestic skyline. Tired eyes and 20kgs of luggage strapped to our backs we were ready for the unknown and what Turkey had to offer.
First impressions? Well that depends on your motion sickness levels and tolerance to fast and the furious style driving of a cabbie chatting on his phone and tooting at the ladies walking the street. We arrived at our Cheers Hostel near the Blue Mosque in Old Town Istanbul before getting completely ripped off on our first dinner with an outrageously priced seafood platter at Fish Home Ahhir Kapl in Sultanahmet. (I don’t even want to think about how much it cost but believe me when I say ripped off) At least it came with free apple tea, homemade sweet baklava and some Turkish bread and oil. The restaurant had great reviews and was in the top 3 for Istanbul on trip advisor (side note; my god they are all about the trip advisor over here – begging you to rate them after each mouthful of pide goodness). We had high hopes but personally wouldn’t go back. Coming from Western Australia…. I’ve had better seafood platters.
We did the touristy things, the Bosphoros boat cruise, the Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, Mosques, Topiaki palace and the many museums and galleries. All were pretty great – worthy of the exy entrance fees? Not always but we hiked our butts all over town until we were exhausted. Note: make sure you wear your sneakers. Thongs will give you blisters in a matter of steps and trust me, jeans and sneakers are practically encouraged here.
Blue mosque – free entry which is handy for the budget travellers (#joblessloserlife) but beyond that it is absolutely stunning and still used as a mosque today. Well, 5 times a day for that matter. The incredible high decorative blue ceiling and ornate columns make the Blue Mosque a World architectural icon. Make sure you have a scarf that you can wrap around your shoulders and head and both men and women need their knees covered too.
Spice Market – the grand bazaar is crazy and something on the to-see list if you are keen for a D&G fakey or bargain but I would recommend the neighbouring Spice Market tenfold. I didn’t actually buy any ‘spices’ as such but the dried fruit and walls and walls of roasted nuts in all sorts of flavours; smoked honey almonds, sticky sesame cashews, turmeric spiced peanuts … you name it they had it, oh and the roasted chickpeas are a cheapie to stock up on too. Perfect for day time snacks and roadies.
360 Roof Top Terrace – This cocktail bar/café has a great 360 degrees (who would have thought?) view of the city and is well worth seeking out. The bar is quite hard to find but google it or ask a local when you are in the area. It is just down from Taksim Square. Order one of their many exotic cocktails and enjoy the view day or night. Note; killer ‘pano’ opportunity.
Street food is where it is at in Istanbul; you cannot go past the Simit (the baby of the pretzel and bagel) add one of these to your eat list for only 1 Turkish Lira. For the gluten intolerant they have fresh corn on the cobs, roasted chestnuts and orange juice by the gallon up for offer on almost every corner.
Balik Ekmek meaning ‘fish bread’ – is the freshest, well fish and bread around. Local fishing boats pull up to the west of the Galata Bridge in the neighbourhood of Eminonu and fry up mackerel on the boat before tossing it into a soft bread roll followed by some lettuce and a not so necessary pile of raw onion. No greasy sauces or deep fried crap in sight just fresh grilled fish worth every bit of the 6-8 Lira. Line up under the marque, any of them will do, grab it to go off the yelling man, sit on one of the small stools and wash it down with the local lemon drink or the weird red slushy liquid on offer.
The city of human size ant hills with little windows and openings Cappadoccia is just magical. We had a flying visit of 48 hours but managed to fit absolutely everything in. We hired ATV bikes for a sunset tour, explored the valleys on foot and also scooters, hiked up to get some great views and the best of all floated over the valley of fairy chimneys at first breach of sunlight in a hot air balloon. All of the accommodation is built into the caves and somewhat underground. Our private room at the Nomad Cave Hostel was exactly that… a private cave with no openings except the door. At least it was nice and cool (and slightly damp feeling kind of like a cellar) inside as opposed to the scorching summer heat outside. This place is an absolute Turkey must see and easily accessible by an overnight bus from Antalya or Istanbul or a short flight if you are willing to splurge.
Hot Air ballooning; this seems to be the ‘thing’ to do in Cappadoccia and is absolutely worth every dollar. 140 Euro when booked through Turkiye Balloons, I couldn’t recommend this new company enough. The flight was safe and professional and we got a free breakfast before the flight and champagne and certificate after. We were in flight for a whole hour and took off from a different location to the other hundred odd balloons and therefore got to see the rest take flight which was what made it so special. Hot tip; hang back when they are loading the balloon so that you are the last in your basket and therefore on the edge for the best view.
Fat Boys restaurant – on the main strip the owner is half Australian with an Aussie wife who whips up some aussie meat pies, vegemite on toast and other aussie classics. I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes when the owner said he was from Canberra and ran the local kebab shop in Lyneham. This place is well worth a visit for any Aussie in town, so settle in on the bean bags and make sure you order the vegemite on Turkish bread for entrée and the meatballs or Fat Boys special for dinner.
COAST OF TURKEY – SAILING OLYMPOS TO FETHIYE
Sailing the coastline of South Turkey was probably the highlight of our whole 16 days in Turkey. We booked with V-go tours, an alliance company with BusAbout, for a 4 day Traditional Turkish Gulet cruise from Olympos to Fethiye. 16 people aboard, a friendly crew, 3 meals a day of the most gorgeously fresh and tasty local Turkish food (hats off to our Chef) and hours of floating on a pool noodle in the Adriatic Sea with giant sea turtles. Have I sold it?
Hours spent drinking red wine with your new friends on board and then slowly drifting off to sleep under the stars on the front of the boat on large mattresses. Just like an 8 year old slumber party but make sure you rug up because it can get quite cold and I think we may have got a bit sick.
TO SEE – walk up the St Nicholas Island ruins to the lighthouse for the sunset. Worth the random unofficial 8 lira entrance fee (I swear that man was just there to make a buck) and nice to get off the boat and stretch the legs too. Crack open a beer or cider and walk the 15 minutes to the top. Careful on the way down – in thongs things got a little bit slippery.
TO EAT – everything! Boiled eggs for breakfast, fresh cakes and coffee for morning tea, stuffed tomatoes and rice for lunch and whole fish and bulgur for dinner, there wasn’t a single thing that didn’t tickle our fancy. It may have been our first country (and only country) so far but Turkey has been the best food we have had so far too. What isn’t there to like about Turkish bread, boiled eggs, hummus and stuffed Mediterranean vegetables? YUM
We stayed a small 5km hop from Bodrum main town in a little beach town called Gumbet. It didn’t take long to realise that we were staying in the, how to I put this, “Ghetto” of Bodrum nicknamed Scum-bet. English and Irish tourists EVERYWHERE and for once it was a rarity to see an Aussie. There was so many pommies walking the streets that even the locals had adopted a British twang. Scumbet is full of neon lights, night clubs that rave into the early hours of the morning and people quite similar to that off Jersey shore and Geordie shore. Range Rover Central and hectically tanned people with their shirts off, Scum-bet is worth the visit but probably stay in the main area of Bodrum if neon lights ain’t your thang.
TO SEE: Bodrum Peninsular – There is far more to Bodrum than the main centre. Hot tip; hire a car and escape for the day along the winding roads and coastlines on the western peninsular. Stop for a picnic lunch or fresh seafood in Gundagon or Gumsuluk and perve on some famous rich people in Golturkbuku. This is where the James Bond looking yachts are at.
TO EAT: Konya Urgurlu, Gumbet
Hands down our favourite meal in Turkey so far was in the ol’ faithful Scumbet. Once again trip advisor recommended this time it did not fail. Cheap and traditional we even went back 2 nights later. The owner will recommend the ‘special mixed platter’ for you and most likely won’t take no for an answer. The first time we knocked him back because of our previous platter experiences and we simply weren’t that hungry. Rookie – we got the second rate attention for the rest of the night. Not making the same mistake we got his ever so special platter the next time and it was DELISH. Personally not THAT great value for money but a nice was to taste the best of Turkey’s traditional cuisine. Oh and don’t forget to rate him on trip advisor but I am sure he will remind you once, twice even thrice.
So if you didn’t catch my vibe, Turkey was amazing. Highly recommended by most travelers and for good reason.
With love from Turkey
Ps. Make sure you also get a Turkish Bath. Scrubbed head to toe, ears and nostrils too, you will never have felt cleaner. I don’t know about you but it’s been a while since I had a proper ‘mum style’ scrub in the tub. Baths should cost anywhere from 35-50 Lira. And when in doubt order a meze plate. That way you get to taste the best of each restaurant in bite sized portions… and who doesn’t love dip?