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ONE WEEK IN TURKEY
A year ago, Turkey was hardly on my mind and I had not really considered visiting. I had no particular reasons for that – I simply didn’t know much about it and I had not bothered researching about its attractions.
Except for a picture I discovered on Pinterest and I became obsessed with: Pamukkale natural pools. I HAD to go there one day!
Then a tour operator, Ada Vegas Travel, contacted me to see if we could collaborate together and after months of talking, I got very curious and decided to accept their offer to finally visit Turkey!
This might sound convenient, but for those who know my work ethic, I am usually very reluctant when it comes to accepting trips from companies (and I turned down more offers than you can imagine). If I say yes, there must be a good reason behind it.
In the end, I’m SO glad that I’ve chosen to work with them! Murat and Yuskel were amazing, knowledgeable and most importantly I could see the love they have for their country.
So I went – and fell in love with it. Of all the amazing trips I took last June, Turkey has been the absolute highlight! I felt like a princess coming out of a fairy tale 🙂
TRAVEL TIP: DOWNLOAD THE FREE APP “UNLOCK TURKEY”!
I loved it and I’m sure you will too!
If you are heading to Turkey, take 5 minutes and download this App, it’s super useful, free and will give you tons of info to find your way around the country!
What I loved the most about it was the currency conversion, obviously the free Wifi and the ATM locations, but there is so much more to it. It’s basically a pocket guide to Turkey!
Within the application, you can access information that you may need during your Turkey trip and local recommendations that you can’t find anywhere else.The app lists the touristic sites and places worth seeing based on your location, provides directions for getting there and helps you determine a personalized route and lists.
Moreover, when you download the app, you immediately get 300 minutes of free Wi-Fi. And you get 100 minutes more every time you withdraw cash from Garanti ATMs. Brilliant!!
Additionally, when you need cash, you can find the nearest Garanti ATM based on your location. Furthermore, you can take advantage of exclusive campaigns and opportunities, get information about local events and find useful tools such as currency converter.
Scroll To see How Unlock Turkey Looks Like!
Eventually, in the course of the last 8 months, I have visited Turkey twice. I have recently returned from my second visit to Istanbul and, needless to say, I found the city as splendid as I remembered it. During my first time in Istanbul, I stayed in Sultanhamet and revisiting it, the area was as vibrant and as full of life and colors as always, reminding me of all the reasons why I had fallen in love with it in June.
However, Istanbul is just one of the places I explored during my first trip to Turkey. There are many things and places I loved in Turkey, and each of them is special to me for a different reason. But some are simply unforgettable and deserved to be mentioned.
So here they are, the fairy tale places everyone need to visit when in Turkey!
TOP 8 THINGS I LOVED ABOUT TURKEY
These suggestions are based on my personal experience during my week in Turkey, but they are truly unmissable for everyone!
– And the Ephesus Ruins-
I started my tour of Turkey in Kusadasi, a lovely resort town on the Aegean coast where I arrived after flying into Izmir.
I enjoyed walking around Kusadasi, which actually proved to be very pretty. I particularly liked strolling along the waterfront, as well as getting lost in the maze of little alleys at the back, browsing through small shops selling all sorts of souvenirs, sipping a cold drink to escape the heat, and exchanging a few words with the locals.
Kusadasi is an excellent starting point for further exploration of the surrounding area. It actually is a popular cruise port, as the range of activities on offer and the day tours available is incredible.
AMAZING SUNSETS IN KUSADASI
-One of the many reasons I loved it!-
-Get into the time machine!-
The most popular attraction near Kusadasi is the archeological site of Ephesus. It’s easy to understand the big hype about it.
This site is simply spectacular, and I felt like I was walking through history when I roamed around. Built on the 10th century BC, Ephesus flourished under the Roman Empire, who got control of it in 129 BC.
The main feature of Ephesus is the Temple of Artemis. Although nowadays only the fundaments, the columns and fragments of the sculptures remain, when I saw it, I had no trouble understanding why this is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Its magnificence and importance were such that it was a famous site already in the Renaissance period.
One thing I really enjoyed in Ephesus is that there are cats all over the site. It’s no secret that I love cats, and thus seeing them there, completely at ease in the ruins and among the tourists, made me like it even more.
THE VIRGIN MARY HOUSE
-A religious sanctuary –
Not far from Ephesus, on Mt. Koressos there is the Catholic and Muslim shrine of the House of the Virgin Mary. This was discovered in the 19th century, and although the Catholic Church never confirmed or denied its authenticity, it is still a place of pilgrimage for many.
Catholics believe this is the place where the Virgin Mary was taken by St. John and where she lived until her Assumption.
I am not really a religious kind of person, but as most Italians I was raised Catholic and thus I found it very interesting and in a way touching to learn a little piece of religious history.
The place is very quiet and even if you are not religious, just like me, I still reccommend a visit for its peaceful vibe, check out the wall full of white piece of paper with lovely messages and dedicated places where people light a candle and pray surrounded by nature.
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT KUSADASI TOURS?
Check out Ada Vegas Travel Tours official website. And see the daily tours for the Kusadasi area.I really recommend them, love the way they organize the tour and most importantly…they are super friendly and knowledgeable!
-A dreamy place you CAN’T miss!-
About 3 hours drive from Kusadasi, Pamukkale is a spectacular site. No, wait… it’s more than spectacular, it definitely has the so called “WOW FACTOR”.
After years drooling over the pictures online I was finally there and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw the pools. Yes, they are THAT beautiful. No disappointment here!
Its name in Turkish means “cotton castle” and as soon as I got my first glimpse of it I understood why.
Everything is white, a series of natural pools created by the erosion of the travertine rocks with clear, warm, and turquoise waters where you can sit, relax and cover yourself with mud (Don’t forget your towel and a bathing suit).
TIPS FOR A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE IN PAMUKKALE
-And extra Info about this paradise!-
Pamukkale is so unique that, together with Hierapolis, an ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city that was built on top of it, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Although I am not a morning person, I am glad I went to Pamukkale really early: it surely is worth a very early wake up call. I left my hotel at 4:00 am, when it was still dark outside.
I got to enjoy a beautiful sunrise on the way, and arrived there when the site was still completely empty, and saying that the atmosphere was surreal is an understatement!
I had the site all to myself for a few hours, and enjoyed walking around, dipping my feet in the warm waters, and just staring at such beauty.
ACCOMMODATION: FIND DEALS FOR THE BEST HOTELS IN TURKEY
I would gladly go again just to put on my bikini and enjoy those marvelous pools!As you can see from the pictures here, no mud bath for me…
I was so mesmerized by the whole site that I had to take pictures (and videos), so with my backpack and all, I had to be super careful. My advice is, if you have a GoPro, just take that with you or get a waterproof camera and a towel. Nothing more.
I left again at about 11:00, right after the tour groups from Kusadasi had begun to arrive. Having an entire site to myself was really special, and I do recommend making the extra effort to travel in the early hours for that.
Do you want to visit Pamukkale from Kusadasi (just like I did?), check out this page to book it directly online. Do I need to tell you that it’s totally worth it? No, I don’t think it’s necessary! Definitely one of the best places I’ve ever seen during my trips 🙂
-Let the fairy tale begin!-
I wasn’t sure what to expect about Cappadocia. I saw so many pictures of it that, almost as with my Pamukkale experience, I was a bit worried that the reality could be a bit disappointing.
HOW WRONG I WAS!
After visiting, the only word I have to describe it is…pure magic! All the time I have spent there, I felt like being in a fairy tale.
From Goreme Open Air Museum (never a name felt more appropriate) to the monks valley, from Esentepe village to Avanos, it is easy to see why a lot of people consider this one of the places they have to visit at least once in their lifetime (and I’m now obviously one of them!).
Goreme Open Air Museum is another of Turkey’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is a monastic complex where churches are carved in the rock and the frescoes retain their beautiful colors.
There even are refectories with tables and chairs that are also carved in the rock. I surely had never imagined anything like this could possibly exist!
I remember sitting on the rocks and just admiring that view…. mesmerizing to say the least! It’s so damn difficult to express with the right adjectives the wonders I’ve seen in Turkey.
Cappadocia is famous for its houses and hotels carved in the rock. In fact, my hotel room was like that. The famous “Cave Hotels”
I found it so amusing, so unique and weird that the minute I walked in my room I could not stop jumping up and down from the happiness of being there.
Imagine a room with a fireplace, walls made of stones with candles inside, typical Turkish carpets and so many sofas that I had to try them all, just like a kid would do.
If you go to Cappadocia it’s mandatory for you to stay in a “cave Hotel”, and possibly act like a kid. All part of the fairy tale package!
I also enjoyed chilling out of my room on the sofa, taking in the view, and walking around the village just to get a nice feel of it. Little did I know then that the best was yet to come!
The surprises and wow’s in Cappadocia really never end (that’s why I didn’t want to leave!)
BELOW ARE A FEW MARVELOUS THINGS I SAW:
Not to be missed!
HOT AIR BALLOON AT SUNRISE!!
Indeed, the most spectacular thing I did while in Turkey (and perhaps in my life!) was going on a hot air balloon ride.
GROEME OPEN AIR MUSEUM
The Göreme Open-Air Museum is an essential stop on any Cappadocian itinerary and deserves a two-hour visit (at least!)
INFO ABOUT CAPPADOCIA TOURSInterested in a tour in the beautiful Cappadocia?! (you’d better be!) 🙂 check this tour out! It’s a 3 day trip from Antalya but there are also other options available. Enjoy the fairy tale!!!
-A city like no other!-
I usually don’t like big cities and whenever I travel I try to get out of them as soon as possible. Istanbul is definitely THE exception!
I enjoyed it so much that I actually went back for a second visit. In fact, I think one is hardly ever done exploring Istanbul, as there are just too many things to see.
What impressed me the most about Istanbul is that it is an incredible mixture of cultures, all living together in harmony.
After all, it is the only city in the world spread across two continents. Walking in the streets, I could spot men and women wearing the latest fashion items, and others strolling about in more traditional clothes, veiled.
Such peaceful heterogeneity impressed me.
In a time when many countries are building walls to stop migrants and refugees from entering, and when some members of the EU are suspending the Schengen agreement, Istanbul is the physical proof that different cultures can happily coexist; it is a symbol of a bridge that shortens the physical and emotional gap between peoples.
Aside from the emotional aspects, Istanbul is simply a gorgeous city where I truly enjoyed getting lost.
Later I explored its landmarks, such as Hagia Sophia, a former Christian basilica, later on a mosque and nowadays a museum; and the stunning Blue Mosque.
I spent hours in the maze of the covered bazaar, using my haggling skills to buy some of the beautiful ceramics, and sitting in one of the many cafés to enjoy a strong Turkish coffee accompanied by baklava, a filo pastry sweet packed with honey, butter and various kinds of nuts.
I smelled the fragrances of the Egyptian Spice Market, shop after shop of fantastic tea infusions, herbs, dried fruits.
At sunset time, I climbed up the Galata Tower, from where I admired an impressive view of the city. And then I joined the thousands of people who strolled along Istikal Caddesi for a night walk, till I got to Taksim square, nowadays a meeting center and the site of many protests against the government.
One of the most fun things I did in Istanbul was taking a cruise on the Bosphorus. Lots of travelers overlook this as they consider it too touristy, but I have to say I really enjoyed it! (Quite windy so grab a wind breaker with you!).
The cruise lasts about one hour, during which one can enjoy the views of all the bridges, the coffee shops and restaurants along the Bosphorus, and of quite a few of Istanbul landmarks. My recommendation is to actually do the cruise in the late afternoon, so as to enjoy the beautiful sunset light.
I also definitely enjoyed the nightlife in Istanbul! I would say it is thriving. Restaurants are packed; bars, coffee shops, and clubs invite customers to walk in, relax and have a chat.
Music is blasting till the early morning hours. People are busy and know how to have a good time in Istanbul! I certainly did 🙂
THE FLAG AT THE GRAN BAZAAR
Take your time, at least a whole afternoon to visit the Gran Bazaar, even I, not a huge fan of shopping was swept away by all the colorful merchandise!
TYPICAL TURKISH LAMPS
I discovered that I have an obsession for colorful lamps, I think I took something like 500 pictures of them, all different colors and shapes! I wanted to buy a few but I didn’t have enough space in my suitcase. Next time!
ADDITIONAL INFO - ISTANBUL TOURSIf your time in Istanbul is limited, I recommend booking a tour like this one (but there are also other options available!), so that you don’t have to organize everything by yourself, possibly missing out on the top spots of this amazing city!
How can one not love Turkish people? Both times I have visited Turkey I found them to be incredibly kind, friendly and generous.
They were as curious about me as I was about them, always ready for a chat and always available to share information, point me to the right direction, and have a fierce yet friendly haggling session in a shop.
Not to mention that one of my dearest friend, is actually a Turkish girl, Behye! I met her years ago in London and she’s super sweet and can’t wait to see her again!
I have one word for Turkish food: mouthwatering! There is no such thing as starving there, as the food is delicious.
Turkish food is mostly a continuation of Ottoman cuisine, and many of the dishes found here are similar to those that can be found in other countries that were under Ottoman rule, such as Egypt, Greece, the Balkans and even Israel.
Turkish breakfast is very rich, and completely different from the one I may have in Italy. It includes hard boiled eggs, olives, tomatoes and cucumber salad, a mild cheese, sucuk (which is a kind of sausage) and bread.
It was enough to fill me up until dinner time, except I wouldn’t skip lunch because the food was just too delicious and tempting.
Fresh seafood and fish is easily available, especially on the coast. It is usually cooked in very simple ways – for example, grilled – and as such retains all of its flavor and nutritional value. I love fish, so when I visited Kusadasi I feasted on it!
When in Turkey, one simply can’t miss kebabs. I had to “oblige,” so I tried both the doner and the shish (I think the shish is simpler and tastier – just my humble opinion).
At the cost of sounding like a crazy cat lady, one of the things I love the most about Turkey is that there are lots of cats.
Pretty much wherever I walked, I could see a cat resting in the sun, peacefully. Hagia Sophia in Istanbul has a colony of cats that live on the site – one of them is actually a celebrity.
Many shops have pillows on their windows, where cats sleep and admire the view and pose for photos. Ephesus was packed with kitties too.
One of the funniest memories I have of Istanbul is giving water to a kitty. I noticed he had been trying to drink from a bottle, and as he didn’t manage I poured some for him.
When he was done drinking, he jumped on my lap to be petted. I suppose it was his way of thanking me and saying we could be friends. So sweet!!
Turkey has gone through some significant changes in the last few decades. At a time when many countries in the European Union have been experiencing a credit crunch, Turkey’s economic growth has been impressive.
This growth is visible everywhere. But there’s more than that.
I found Turkey to be culturally very vibrant. This is a country where people participate in the daily political life expressing their views.
A country where they protest for their rights, where they welcome positive change and progress and where they are not afraid of confrontation.
After having visited twice, I can wholeheartedly recommend a trip to Turkey. There is something in it for just any kind of traveler: archeological sites, culture and history galore; beautiful cities; incredible landscapes and nature to inspire some great adventures; beautiful beaches; and delicious food.
In fact, I would actually like to visit again (and I probably will very soon!)
Yep, Turkey really has it all and I left a piece of my heart in that beautiful country! I was so happy to see Yuksel from Ada Vegas Travel again in London at the WTM, we took some time to remember our fun times together with the promise that we will see each other once again!
On the left -and on my left- is Yuksel! Such a fun, lovely guy, and our guide for most of the week! (Plus a few other shots from my incredible time in Turkey…memory lane mode on! )
HAVE YOU BEEN TO TURKEY? DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL PLACE I DIDN’T COVER IN HERE OR WANT TO SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE? LEAVE A COMMENT!