Wednesday, March 13, 2013


So it’s been awhile! After my last post, we went on a absolutely spontaneous week long dream vacation! The afternoon of Valentine’s day I got a Gchat message from the husband asking if I was up for visiting Turkey? My reaction was something like “What the?! You better not be joking with me!!!” Before I knew it I was off getting my passport renewed and 3 days later sitting in Istanbul!!!


View of Blue Mosque from the inside courtyard

We visited Istanbul, Antalya and Pamukkale (Hieropolis). Along the way we also drove through parts of Taksim and Denizli. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about my trip. The people I encountered were some of the kindest I have ever met. The food was lovely, we had 7 days of eating kebabs, with only 1 experience that did not taste amazing. As far as travel around the country goes, I quite enjoyed the ease of the metro which traveled around most of Istanbul and allowed us as tourist to easily move through the city without much knowledge of the language/area. We took a bus to the airport for our flight to Antalya, we mistakenly booked the flight out of Sabiha Gökçen airport which is in a far part of Istanbul so our ride on the Havatas bus to the airport was longer than our flight itself!

Suggestion: Get a week long or full day pass for the metro so you can easily hop on or off while sightseeing in Istanbul. And when booking local flights to other regions within the country, make sure to book to/from Ataturk airport because the amount you pay in taxis/bus fare to get to the farther airport will end up costing the same.

Roman Columns in Hieropolis
We flew into Antalya on a 1 hour flight and rented a car to drive 3 hours to Pamukkale. Renting a car was a great decision in Antalya since it is not as walkable as Istanbul. The only advice about renting a car I have is: Get a GPS! We used a map thinking we could figure it out relatively easily. But with no knowledge of the Turkish language and the fact that Turkey doesn’t seem to be big on the use of street signs  as commonly as in the US, we wish we hadn’t chose to be explorers!  It was a fun exploration nonetheless.

Reasons why Turkey is an Ideal vacation spot:

It’s SO romantic! Maybe it’s all the historical architecture around you in Istanbul, or the adorable cobblestone roads and buildings reminiscent of Italy/Greece in Antalya, but everywhere we went we saw people of all ages cuddling up in corners or walking hand in hand with infectious smiles and a twinkle in their eye. Honestly, just the sight of the sun glistening down on the deep cyan Mediterranean sea was enough to set the mood! It’s the perfect place for honeymooning!

In Istanbul, you have thousands of years of history all in a 5 minute radius of each other. We saw the Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Bascilia Cistern all in 1 day, and we still had time leftover to make a quick trip on the metro down to the Grand Bazaar!

Fresco of Jesus inside Hagia Sophia from the Roman/Byzantine Era
If finding amazing knock offs is your thing, then you have to hit the Grand Bazaar! It’s like going to China Town but no shady back doors or rooms, it’s all right in front of you! Tory Burch, Hermes, Chanel, Celine, LV. Basically, you name it and they had it. And best part was the quality. Everything was all 100% genuine leather, some of the best imitation boot and bags I’ve ever seen. But apart from replicas there is SO much more. Ornate lamps, luxurious hand-woven rugs and tons of small trinket, it’s like candy for the eyes! Expect to spend an entire day shopping and exploring the markets (both Spice and Grand Markets can be done in 1 day) because they are enormous and you can easily get lost in the maze of streets and pathways. Suggestion: Brush up on your bargaining skills and pack an empty duffle bag to bring back tons of goodies!

Assortment of Herbal Teas inside the Spice Bazaar

It’s relatively cheap. We went during off season, towards the end of February. Round trip tickets for 2 adults 1 child came to US$1,200, that’s cheaper than a trip we made out to California! Both of us being nerdy accountants meant we kept a tab on costs. Due to the currency conversion rate hotel stay is cheaper too. You can stay in affordable hostel type hotels for as low as $30/night in Istanbul, we paid $70 at a classy place in Antalya but found the cheaper one just as clean/safe/friendly. Since you’re eating out a lot, food cost does add up. The main thing we noticed was if we ate at Burger King/McDonald’s the prices were about the same, but local food vendors or even nice restaurants were still cheaper than dining out in the US. Adding up museum admissions, meals, lodging, metro fees (we used it more as we had a toddler, young singles can easily walk and save on that expense), shopping (depending on how much/little you buy in souvenirs) a 7 day trip for two + child is easily doable within US$2-3K. That is a steal for a honeymoon trip or a trip to any European country where you get to do sightseeing, relaxing, tons of eating and a good amount of shopping.

Lastly, If you’re Muslim and keep to eating only zabihah halal meats, then obviously dining out in Turkey is a nice change with not having to worry about limiting your choices to seafood only! And if you have not been properly introduced to an Iskender kabab, there is no better place :)

Natural hot springs in Pamukkale, used by ancient roman societies as luxurious baths

Amphitheater in Hieropolis

In deciding how to spend your time in Turkey, I would say 3 days are sufficient for enjoying Istanbul and leaving you with ample time to check out other cities which are definitely worth seeing. Places like Bursa, Cappadocia, Pamukkale and Antalya to name a few, are all full of beautiful landscapes and most of them are ancient Roman or Ottoman historical locations. Local flights aren’t very expensive or even a short ferry trip to do a one day excursion in Bursa is a great idea.
I now believe Italy and Greece, while still beautiful, are totally over hyped. Turkey really is the ideal tourist spot due to: the close proximity of all the historic sites in Istanbul, ancient cities like Pamukkale give view to amphitheaters, columns, hot springs, and ancient Roman lifestyle and you can soak in Mediterranean sunshine in Antalya. Also, since it’s not on the Euro currency it’s relatively cheaper than most other countries in Europe.

The main impression I took away from my trip was that Turkey contained the essential theme I wish to see in other countries (especially Muslim countries) of modesty while remaining moderate yet modern. My husband jokingly remarked that perhaps it’s the ‘Sufi vibes’ of this region that allows everyone to be so tolerate. I think he was on to something. We saw all types of people; Muslims/Non-Muslims who smoke, who drank, who dressed immodestly and they were living peacefully right alongside Muslims who donned hijabs and those who prayed in the mosques. We even saw a hijab clad female smoking a cigarette with no ‘haram police’ on her tail! Now that was a surprise!

Also, you hear of Europe being unsafe or of American tourist being treated poorly in some parts of the world, yet we were treated with so much warmth and kindness! Literally throughout the hustle and bustle of the Grand bazaar I found not a single crabby shopkeeper in a bad mood, they all greeted us with bright smiles. Even when my 2 year old would drop items off their shelves they did not show irritation. A few gave him toys, even when we were not buying anything from their shop. In fact, I was convinced that either my child was the cutest creature on the planet or Turkish people were severely deprived of toddlers, because we had SO many people like physically stop the stroller to reach down and kiss or play with him. Even the residents were so patient and helpful towards tourists, it was a rare sight to see after being used to the behavior found in the New York metropolitan area. Despite all the different types of people around, everyone was respectful of the religious sites, and you can sense a strong value of culture among the people. Turkey had the fashion sense and stunning sights of Europe with taste of Asian flavors and hospitality.


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