Turkish Delights

A dip in one of the Pamukkale pools

Turkey is one of the places in the world that I always wanted to visit. It is a land of breathtaking landscapes, natural beauty, and rich in culture and history. It is a destination full of colours, scents and tastes. It showcases grandeur mosques, magnificent fairy chimneys’ rock formations and natural water pool terraces.

Despite of my friends’ constant reminders that it is not advisable for a woman to travel alone in a country like Turkey, I still took this opportunity to visit. Showing my determination, I only finalized my travel arrangements a day before my actual trip with the help of Tempo Holidays. For this trip, I pre-arranged all my airport transfers and hotels to minimize unfortunate annoyances. This gave me the courage to pack and take on another adventure.
Hotel Evsen was my hub in Istanbul.  The hotel was located in the prime spot nearby Sultanahmet, which is a short walking distance to a number of the major tourist attractions of the city. The Hotel Manager and the friendly front desk staff personally welcomed me. Melis, one of the staff, assisted my check in process with a welcome treat composed of cold cherry juice and some Turkish cookies.  Rooms at Hotel Evsen were slightly small, but clean and comfortable.

A week or so is an ideal length of time to explore Istanbul. But on this trip, I didn’t have that much time and had to prioritise what to see in Istanbul and other parts of the country.  I made a list of what to do and see in Istanbul. My first list was a stroll to the historical region of Sultanahmet.

I had my first Turkish cuisine on Tuesday, 26 May.  After a quick sight and dealing with the hustle and bustle of the vibrant historical town, I had a quick bite at the Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi (Historical Sultan Meatballs) for a taste of their famous ‘Selim Usta’ dish, (meatballs with mixed salad).  It was a simple meal but tastefully good and light in the pocket.

On Wednesday, 26 May, after a nice breakfast at the hotel, I visited Topkapi Palace, Aside for the treasured relics, the palace also houses exquisite and precious gem collections, which were believed to be worn by the sultans.  It was a crazy day, as there were school kids doing an excursion and joining the queue of tourist to visit the Palace.

After the Palace visit, I went back to the hotel to pack, ready to get out of Istanbul. When I checked out, Melis handed me an origami bird, which she made herself. What a lovely gift.  By mid afternoon I arrived at Kayseri Airport and was transferred to a 3-star Cappadocia Palace Hotel in the area of Urgup in the region of Coppadocia.

The Hotel Manager met me to relay me good news. They have moved me to their new hotel, the MDC Hotel – Michelle Discovery Caves. He told me that it was my lucky day as MDC Hotel is their new 5-star hotel.  The hotel was absolutely stunning, located in a historical site, which used to be a textile factory.  The moment I walked into the reception desk, the friendly and welcoming Hotel Manager, Murat, welcomed me with a glass of wine.  He must have thought I needed it!  Within 10 minutes I was in the comfort of my gorgeous room equipped with a Jacuzzi and all amenities of a luxurious lodging.  The most exciting part was I got to have a nice bath after months of traveling. Aside from the rooms carved out of a rock believed to be over 200 years old, different traditional features, like the old winery and the stables, authenticate each room.  However, the winning feature of the hotel is their friendly staff, that provides remarkably friendly services, e.g. spend time to sit and chat with you and share a cup of traditional Turkish tea or a glass of wine.  Murat’s dedication to his job shined through at all times. It came out naturally.  For more information about the hotel, go to www.mdchotelurgup.com.

There is no point of visiting Cappodocia and missing the hot air balloon flight over the amazing and peculiar fairy chimneys rock formations and the valleys of the region.  On Friday 27 May, I started my day at 4 am to marvel the breathtaking landscapes and the valleys of the Cappodocia region via the traditional Champagne Hot Air Balloon flight.  The morning started with a slight breakfast, a briefing/orientation about the activity and eventually an opportunity to watch air balloons getting ready to take off.  The experience was magical as we let the world below drift away in exhilaration of the Friday morning-fresh country air.

After a nice breakfast at hotel, I explored the valleys in the traditional guided tour where I had the opportunity to witness the dramatic landscapes of the fairy chimneys throughout the region. The tour included a lunch and visits to the Pottery and Carpet Factory.

On Sunday, 28 May, I took a flight to Denizili via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines to visit Pamukkale. From Denizili Airport to Pamukkale, the most economical way is through a combined regular bus service (a 50 minute travel) and mini van transfer (a 10-minute travel). The total transport support costs 22TL. Thanks to Murat of MDC who arranged the transfers for me by contacting his local contact. From the regular bus services, I was dropped off in one of the stops for a transfer service via a mini van to take me to Traverten Hotel. Traverten Hotel is a two-star hotel, centrally located, with friendly and helpful staff.

I only had one full day spared to do the tour of Pamukkale. To make life easier and efficient, I decided to book a guided tour. The day-tour included a visit to the main attractions of this region and the natural thermal travertine pool terraces, which according to my guide was formed from a catastrophic earthquake. Swimming and bathing in the pool terraces, and ducking under one of the mini waterfalls are some of the unique experiences that are available to your enjoyment.  By merely walking around the pool terraces in bare foot was already a heavenly experience. It is without doubt that the natural thermal pools are trademarks of Turkish tourism.  Another sight worth visiting are the ruins of the ancient quarter of Hierapolis, conveniently located on the hillside of the thermal pools.

By midday 30 May, I flew back to Istanbul.  It was great to be back at Evsen Hotel. And being around with familiar faces, like Melis, who spent time with me to explore Istanbul at nighttime was very comforting.  It’s always an amazing and a less hassle experience when you are in the company of others.

On the first night, Melis got me to experience catching the local and tunnel trams.  Our first stop was the Galata Tower, one of the oldest towers of the world where you can enjoy a great view of Istanbul from a 360º angle.  Food was our next stop at the Hamdi Restaurant, which offers a panoramic view of the port and followed by a taste of ‘Mado’ sticky ice cream.

The highlight of the night was a visit to Kadinlar Kahuesi, a women’s café in the modern town of Taksim, a great spot for nightlife lovers.  Here you find an array of ladies’ cafes tucked along the side streets. The place is frequented mainly by women and known for its traditional Turkish coffee cup and fortune telling.  Remziye read my fortune in Turkish. She scribbled notes, numbers etc in her own language after which Melis translated them for me.  We shared giggles and laughter as Melis relayed to me the information.  I guess I left with no choice but to wait for my predicted fortune, which was promising.  We ended the night foot tour by walking along the vibrant French Street.

Tuesday, 31 May, was my last full day in the historical city of Istanbul.  I spent the day by visiting a lot of interesting places. These included a visit to Aya Sofya (St Sophia), the Basilica Cistern, and an afternoon tour to Bosphorus  via boat to cruise between the 2 continents, Europe and Asia. The half-day tour via Cable Car & Bosphorus on Boat costs EUR35. This  included a cable car ride from Pierre Loti Hill, which offers a spectacular view of Golden Horn and the city.

The magnificent Aya Sofya is considered to be the oldest standing church in Istanbul and frequented by thousands of international visitors each year.  The domes in the interior main area were the most impressive. The lines of beautifully built columns added interests. The Basilica Cistern or also known as the ‘Sunken Palace’ was out of this world, located beneath the city of Istanbul. It can be a little spooky inside but worth a visit.

By 6 pm, I met up with Melis for a snap visit to the labyrinth paths, which leads to thousands of shops in the Grand Bazaar (Covered Market). Here, you will find almost everything.  My favorite, however, was the visit to the colorful and vibrant Spice Bazaar(Egyptian Market) where I got to taste some local traditional ‘lokum’ – Turkish delights.

After a traditional ‘meze’ dinner, my last night was culminated with a visit to the Eminönü ferry dock, just close by from my hotel. We sat at one of the Boat Restaurants where you can buy some grilled fish sandwich.  Melis and I had a traditional Turkish ‘cay’ (tea) on one of their traditional miniature plastic tables and chairs whilst watching the world goes by.  It was a busy night: vendors setting up their merchandises on the walkway and under the bridge others were rushing home to catch their ferry and the rest were enjoying the night stroll.

From experience it is safe to travel solo in Turkey but like in any other places, you must always take extra precautions combined with a good common sense. It is common to be hassled by store vendors. ‘Hajir Tesekkürler’ is the magic word, which literally means no thank you, though not commonly used among the Turks.  To Melis,  I want to say my heartfelt ‘Tesekkürler’ for the crash Turkish language course. But most of all for sharing your time with me to experience what locals do.

Off to one of the 7 New Wonders of the World, my pride and joy and the true reason why I decided to visit part of this

The next article is all about my 9 hours and 30 minutes exploration of Petra.

© 2012 by Michelle Riel, retains sole copyright to her contributions to all the contents of this site.world.

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