August 19, 2014

Travel Tuesday: Turkey


To say “thank you” in Turkish, you say, “teşekkür ederim,” or as I was taught “tea, sugar and dream.” Those three words strung together and pronounced quickly are a close example of how the Turkish give thanks, and also an adequate representation of a trip to Turkey. In this beautiful and unique country you can’t help but sit down and enjoy tea with the locals, you will be drawn to the sugars and spices, and some of the scenery looks as though it is straight out of a dream.

I traveled to Turkey during my Semester at Sea excursion, where I explored Istanbul and Cappadocia – two of many amazing cities in the country. It is hard to put in to words the eye opening experience I had in Turkey. Going into the trip I had no idea what to expect or look out for, and I can certainly say it took my breath away. I highly recommend stopping here if ever given the chance. The culture, the people, the sights and the experience are truly amazing.

Istanbul:


1. Grand Bazzar and Spice Bazzar: Over 4,000 shops ranging from apparel, souvenirs, handmade gifts, spices, tea, etc. I had to dedicate an entire day to just browsing through these markets. The locals love to pull you into their shops and get you to buy some of their goods. Take a minute to speak with them and hear their story – they love to share their culture over a cup of tea. (I recommend apple tea!)

2. Blue Mosque: A historic mosque, known for the blue tiles in the interior. It was really neat to go inside and see the locals spend time in prayer and worship. Non-worshippers (i.e. tourists) can experience the site as long as they are dressed appropriately, which means shoulders and knees covered and headscarves for the ladies. However – it is closed specifically for worshipers for a half hour during the five daily prayers.

3. Hagia Sofia: Ataturk made The Hagia Sofia into a museum purposely, so that anyone could come and experience it. It’s also not a mosque, but a combination of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish religions – no specific wardrobe required.

4. Basilica Cistern: This is like an underground water chamber that would historically hold the water for the aqueducts. While there, make sure to toss a few coins in and made a wish at the Medusa heads. Also – keep a look out to take an awkward Ottoman Turk Royal Family photo, hilarious.

5. Sufi Dervish ceremony “whirling dervishes”: This is a religious ceremony where these men come out and literally spin around for about an hour. The significance is that the dervishes are entering into an almost trance-like state where they are receiving the gifts from God with one hand and giving them to the earth and the people with the other.

6. Club 360: A rooftop nightclub on Taxim Street. The views are breathtaking, the drinks and food are delicious, and there will probably be some sort of entertainer. The entire club is glass and gives an actual 360 degree view of the city.

7. Hookah: You have to try it! There are many places along Taxim Street. It is a neat way to immerse yourself in the culture of Turkey and many times you can strike up conversation with locals who frequent the bars.

8. Bosporus Straight Cruise: A half-day trip along the Bosporus Straight. This is a neat way to see some of the waterfront, which has amazing realestate. You end up on the other side and will step of the boat into Asia. Worth the trip and great seafood!

Cappadocia:

1. Kismet Cave Hotel: An actual cave hotel. Such a cool (literally) way to experience how people used to live in Cappadocia. No worries, there are actual beds!

2. Uranos & Sarikaya: A delicious cave restaurant where you can indulge in several different traditional courses. We enjoyed kabobs (not like on a stick but they make them in this really cool pot that they crack open to serve to you), soup, salad, and baklava.

3. Horseback ride through Rose Valley: Do this at sunset. The views are phenomenal.

4. Sunrise Hot Air Balloon: This was one of my favorite adventures of the trip. We were able to see some of the most breathtaking views. Literally hundreds of hot air balloons were all rising out of the valley together as the sun rose over the cliffs, creating the most picturesque scene I’ve ever experienced. We traveled in the air for a while, and our pilot tricked us a few times and brought our balloon down awfully close to the cliffs. We came in for a rather bumpy landing and toasted champagne to our newly acquired flight skills.

5. Historical Underground City: Here generations of groups lived and hid from their enemies. It was amazing to see how these people had created a fully functional city completely hidden from the outside world.

Final Must-Do = Turkish Bath: 

What an experience! The hammams can be found throughout Turkey. As you walk in they separate you by gender and lead you down to this changing room where you strip down and wear only the provided towel and flip-flops. Next you’re lead by a Turkish lady that barely speaks English to a room where you get a paste-like mask applied to your face. You are then taken to a boiling steam room to sweat out all of your toxins. After a bit of time the ladies return and instruct you to shower off the mask and come into the main room. In there is the huge marble slab that everyone lies down on. (The final fight scene from Taken 2 is filmed in one). Then in come these very burly Turkish ladies in only their bra and underwear. They scrub you down and lather you up with tons of soap, all the while singing and dancing around. It was awesome! Then they rinse you all off and lead you to a room for a massage-wonderful!

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