Being in Istanbul first gave me the chance to start my Turkish experience like every other country over the last six months: solo. It allowed me to visit some must-see sites in and around Sultanahmet, Istanbul at my pace…on my schedule. Just the way I like it. That said, I was really looking forward to the upcoming adventure. I welcomed the change of pace.
Together, with my friend Alex, who I’d met in Warsaw less than a month earlier, we’d formed the beginnings of a master plan for our road trip around Turkey. There were a few places that were a must-see on the list of destinations: Cappadocia, Pamukkale, the coast. Other than that, we had no idea what would happen, where we’d go on our road trip or how long we’d stay there…like I said, the beginnings of a plan. In other words we’d be going on some ‘Unmapped Travels’, and figuring it out along the way.
For me, it was an epic journey. Not only for the experiences we had, the people met along the way (local and traveler alike), and things we were able to see but also for the friendship that can only grow out of a 10 day road trip in a small hatchback. Ten days I will not soon forget.
Here’s a little breakdown of my Turkish road trip:
- Picked up rental car
- After crossing the Sea of Marmara via ferry, we drove to Selcuk, Turkey (on the west coast)
- Went straight to the beach and swam in the Aegean Sea (the clearest water I had ever been in)
- Visited Ephesus (ancient Greek and Roman ruins) and the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World)
- Went for a quick dip in the Aegean Sea
- Drove to Pamukkale, Turkey
- Visited the hot springs and travertine pools
- Visited Hieropolis (ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine ruins)
- Drove to Fethiye, Turkey (on the west coast)
- Went to a secluded beach, twice
- Drove to Oludeniz (a small town next to Fethiye) to take a boat tour of the bay (including Butterfly Valley Beach, a few islands full of ancient ruins, and a natural cold spring pool that leaks into the cove)
- Drove to Kas, Turkey (on the south coast)
- Went to the Kas’ weekly bazaar (much more interesting than the seemingly made-for-tourists Grand Bazaar or Spice Market in Istanbul)
- Went to Kaputas Beach (the new clearest water I’ve ever been in)
- Drove to Olympos, Turkey (on the south coast)
- Drove to Antalya, Turkey (on the south coast) to pick up another traveler, Kristen, who would join us for the rest of the road trip
- Drove to Goreme, Turkey (Cappadocia region, central Turkey)
- Took bus tour of southern and western Cappadocia region (including Derinkuyu Underground City, Ilhara Valley, and Selime)
- Hiked through Red and Rose Valleys and explored some fairy chimneys along the way
- Watched sunset over Cappadocia from Sunset Hill
- Took sunrise hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia region
- Drove to Safranbolu, Turkey
- Walked around the Old City (UNESCO City)
- Again, walked around UNESCO City
- Drove to Istanbul, Turkey
- Dropped off rental car
Other than that, there are a few funny stories and interesting experiences (both on the road trip and in Istanbul) that are worth noting:
- After over five months on the road (and drinking tap water every day) I finally drank some ‘bad’ water. It came from one of the (supposedly) safe underground springs in the mountains between Pamukkale and Fethiye. Luckily the giardia, or whatever bug I got, wasn’t too bad and only lasted about two days.
- While leaving Goreme for our several hour drive to Safranbolu our GPS directed me to turn into several fields, and finally after ‘recalculating’ took us on a trip over several miles of gravel and dirt roads before landing us back on a highway. Along the way we nearly got attacked by a sheep dog, chickens, and a flock of geese, and drove through a herd of cattle. Also, we learned that there ARE turkeys in Turkey. Who knew?
- All told we drove just over 2900 kilometers (1800 miles) while spending about $300 USD on diesel for the Lancia Ypsilon rental car. Luckily we averaged well over 45 miles per gallon for the trip because Turkey, as we found out a couple of days before picking up the car, is the highest priced country in the world for fuel.
- Without a doubt the best experience I had while in Istanbul was going to a hammam (Turkish bath). We got a tip from a couple of Belgians about a hammam a little out-of-the-way in a completely ‘locals only’ neighborhood. It was an authentic hammam experience, just what we wanted. The men working spoke zero English but intrepid travelers wandering in is nothing new to them. Alex and I both ordered the full service hammam which includes a long steam in the ancient marble saunas followed by a harsh scrubbing with a kind of loofah, taking away layers and layers of dead skin. Following that is a wash down with soapy water and a very rough massage, all by some old Turkish men (women for the female customers). After all that we sat back in the sauna for more sweating. Then, to cool down, they wrapped us in several dry towels and gave us the local specialty, apple tea. It’s an amazing cultural experience and as a bonus, I felt completely relaxed and rejuvenated when it was all done. The best 90 minutes of my time in Istanbul!
- I thought the Turkish food was excellent everywhere. The Meat House, just two minutes walk from the park in between the Blue Mosque and Ayasofya Mosque, was easily the best place I ate while in Turkey. Recommended by a friend of mine, we ate there the night Alex arrived in Istanbul and again before we left for our road trip. Most places have pretty reasonable prices for a meal in this area, and The Meat House was even lower. Also it had great Turkish cuisine and a large selection of it. But perhaps the best thing about this typical Turkish restaurant is the way the staff treats its customers. Most (and when I say most, I mean 99% of all businesses, not just restaurants, in Sultanahmet) restaurants are very aggressive in trying to get potential customers to come to spend money. They sometimes start talking to you from down the street as you approach and don’t easily take no for an answer. It’s just the opposite here and the reason we kept coming back after the road trip.
That’s it. An amazing experience from start to finish. Eighteen days of food and culture. Natural and man-made sites that are among the most interesting I’ve visited in Europe.
Thank you Turkey, I will be back!