4 o’ clock in the morning, and we were at the check in counter, dealing with an extremely grumpy member of the Turkish Airlines ground staff. He was having a rather early and busy morning I suppose. I smiled at him meekly, and was glad to grab our boarding passes as he casually rapped them on the counter. I wonder what he would look like with a smile on his face, but then he had no business smiling at such an inappropriately early hour, it wasn’t he who had a vacation to look forward to!
Well, our vacation was just beginning and I couldn’t help but smile (even while I took short snoozes in the waiting lounge, I could feel every muscle on my face twitch into a smile.) The on-flight staff was much more welcoming and soon we were up above the clouds, feasting on a turkish breakfast. My husband and I thus embarked upon yet another memorable adventure to the historically rich and charming Republic of Turkey.
I had come up with a seven days itinerary after some intense three-month long research, and I can swear by the obsessive wanderlust-ful travel bug within me, that it was flawless. 🙂
After a four hours long flight from Dubai International airport we landed in the European side of Istanbul at the Ataturk airport. Since our first destination was Cappadocia, we proceeded to the domestic airport just across the road to catch our connecting flight. Another hour and a half or so, and we landed in a quaint little airport surrounded by low, rugged hills. We were at the at the Nevsehir airport where our hotel shuttle was waiting for us and we were greeted by warm welcoming smiles. Once in Cappadocia, there is no way you can miss staying in a cave hotel. Goreme (the heart of the town) is infested with numerous charming cave hotels and you’ll be spoilt for choice. We stayed at the Grand Cave Suites and loved their hospitality. From a never-ending supply of apple tea and a home like ambience, it was a perfect pick. We had half a day to explore our surroundings; so we set out on foot, roaming the steep, narrow, cobbled streets. We hit the Goreme market where you will find all the famous turkish souvenirs and interesting turkish cafe at every corner. The day ended with some mind numbing local Efes beer and a comforting clay pot kebab meal.
The day started with a breakfast of fresh fruits, variety of cheese, turkish bread with condiments and eggs, spinach pie and turkish tea. About 9:00 am, with stuffed bellies,we were ready to be picked up for our first guided tour. Most hotels in Cappadocia have tie ups with various travel agencies and offer different tours and activities which can be booked upon reaching the hotel or in advance too. The most popular tours are the Green tour and the Red tour priced around 35 to 40 Euros per person. We were picked up by Flintstones travel agency in a sixteen seater van for the Green tour. The itinerary of the tour covered the top sites of Cappadocia. Our first quick stop was at the Goreme Panorama with a breathtaking view of the rock formations.We then headed to the Ilhara valley – the longest and deepest canyon in Cappadocia, where we hiked for 3 kilometres alongside the river. Lunch was served at the end of the hike. We had two quick stops post lunch, the Nar lake – a serene water body with pristine beauty, and Selime famously called the Star Wars movie place.
Our next intriguing destination was the Derinkuyu underground city, the deepest underground city going down about 55 feet and 8 levels underground! The tour came to an end with some insights about turkish jewellery, especially the turkish turquoise and silver and then some snap shots at the Pigeon valley. We were dropped back to our hotel post which we hiked up to the sunset point nearby in Goreme. We watched the sun go down and the fairy city full of curious caves lit up with an enchanting twinkle of lights.
The alarm went off at 3:30 am and for the first time in my life I was excited to wake up before dawn breaks. We were off for a hot air balloon flight, an experience you cannot miss if you visit Cappadocia. It is worth all the money and lost sleep. It is advisable to book the Balloon flight in advance to get a reservation with the top companies. I would recommend to get a booking with one of the top companies even though there prices are slightly higher, as their equipment is well maintained and they carry fewer people than the standard flights. We flew with Butterfly Balloons and loved it, and of course we landed without a scratch 🙂 Post landing we had a sweet landing ceremony with champagne, cake and fresh fruit.
By 7:30 am we were dropped back to the hotel, right in time for breakfast and then we headed out for the Red Tour. The red tour covers some more fascinating sites around town. The Goreme open air museum, Uchisar Castle, Imagination valley, Love valley, Pasabagi, Urgup, and a unique turkish pottery experience at Avanos. The panaromic view of the fairy chimneys and the incrdible rock formations was a mind-boggling experience. The tour ended some wine tasting and wine shopping at the Turasan in Urgup. Towards the end of the day Amar and I stopped by the nearby Hamam to experience the turkish bath. O Boy! it was some experience for me. Apart from being relaxing it somehow was curiously liberating. You need to go and experience it to know what I mean. 🙂
We left early for the airport and caught a flight back to Istanbul. By 11:00 am we were in Istanbul sitting in the airport shuttle bus till Taksim Square. We were booked in a neat Hotel named Duo Galata situated in Beyoglu, and the airport shuttle seemed the cheapest and quite a convenient mode of transport as compared to the taxi. We chose to stay in Beyoglu because of its proximity to the tram stations and of course more the much talked about night life. We had some scrumptious Italian lunch at a local cafe down the street below our hotel and then set off towards Sultanahmet. The tram is the most convenient mode of transport within the city for which we bought the Istanbulkart card at the kiosk outside the tram station. We bought just one card between the two of us and kept swiping it twice wherever we went. The Istanbulkart is used from trams, metro, buses and even the ferry and can be topped up from any of the stations. We hopped off from the tram and made our way to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. In the evening walked around Sultanahmet and Fatih in search for the cosiest place to eat.
We climbed up the Galata Tower for a 360 degree panoramic view of the beautiful city and then left to make it on time to the Topkapi Palace. There is just so much history to absorb there that we spent most of the day loitering around the palace. We lunched by the Bosphorous at the Konyali Cafe within the palace. Next int the itinerary was the famous Grand Bazaar, we walked and shopped till we dropped. Some juicy turkish baklava got us back to our feet and then we headed back to Beyoglu for the rest of the night. As we strolled in the streets past midnight, we enjoyed the bustling crowd and street music. Pubs and bars blared with music and the ice cream vendors rang the bells and called out to the customers. We had some lovely wine at 360 ( a hip bar in the area) and then walked backed to the hotel, licking the huge scoop of ice cream in our hands.
It had been great so far, but a trip to turkey isn’t complete till you cross the waters of the Bosphorous. We started our cruise from the Golden horn at the Eminonu station. We bought the tickets directly from the counter in the morning and opted for the 2 hour cruise. We sailed around the city till we touched the Sea of Marmara. As our boat anchored back at the station we headed on to the Spice market just across the street. With my first step in the narrow, bustling alley, I was bombarded with bold smells and colours. Spices, tea and sweets and a lot of friendly turkish salesmen, made me want to linger around for as long as I could. With bag full of baklava, spices and a variety of tea we took the tram back to Beyoglu and shopped for souvenirs till the last shop closed down ( which is usually past midnight).
It was our last day in the charming city of Istanbul, so we wanted to mostly relax and take in the beauty and history. We had breakfast by the Galata tower where I wrote out postcards for friends and family. Soon we were walking towards Istiklal Cadessi to ride back in time in the vintage red tram. The tram cut through the crowd and dropped us at the Taksim Square. As we slowly walked back breathing in the smells and sounds of the market area, we stopped by at St. Anthony Church. After a hearty lunch and guzzling down a few Efes beers, it was time to pack our bags and head to the airport.
It was hard to say goodbye to the beautiful weather, the beautiful people and the beautiful city, but all good things come to an end. Turkey is a traveller’s paradise overflowing with culture, history, architecture, quaint markets, piquant food, and soothing wine.
Watch video snippets of our trip to Turkey on Youtube or Vimeo, follow any of the links below:
Some tips if you too are planning a trip to Turkey:
- In the summer months you will definitely need lots of sun block lotion and a hat.
- You can carry Euros and exchange for Turkish Liras at the local reputed money changers as many places accept Euros as well, using your ATM card to withdraw cash as and when you need also falls economical.
- If you love wine then do not forget to pick up a few bottles from the vineyards in Cappadocia, the wine is cheap and delicious.
- Do not forget to pet the adorable cats of Turkey.
- If you are from India you can forge many new friendships just by humming a few Bollywood tunes 🙂