My wife and I had a blast visiting nine countries in Asia over the past two months. Now, it’s time for us to turn our attention West to explore Europe. It was only fitting that we made Turkey the transition point of our travels from Asia to Europe, as this country actually represents both continents within its borders.
Per usual, in this post I am going to share some pretty pictures and descriptions about our journey here. But in case you can’t make it all the way through, here is the tl;dr (too long, didn’t read):
Turkey is the best country we’ve visited so far.
I’m surprised myself to be making this statement. Before arriving to Turkey, I didn’t know what to expect largely due to the fact that I was relying on my wife, who is awesome at travel research, and I am lazy. But when we got here, holy smokes. This place has everything that the traveler could want: great food, crazy awesome sites, nice people, easy transportation, relative affordability, exotic look and feel.
Turkey is the whole package. If you need an awesome trip, spend at least two weeks here. Pick up the Rick Steves guidebook on Turkey and get lost in this place. You will walk away feeling completely whole by the experience.
Now, let’s get on to the pretty pictures and descriptions. Here are some highlights from our seventeen days of Turkish delight:
Turkish breakfast = out of control awesome.
Imagine waking up early in the morning and walking over to picturesque European café, where you are seated at a lovely table by the street. You and your friends are sipping on some black tea while a waiter fills every square inch of your dining table with small dishes of fruits, veggies, fresh bread, jams, butters, clotted cream, honey, cheese, and more. For the next hour, you stuff yourselves silly with deliciousness.
Turkish breakfast is like an orgy of sweet and savory tapas. It’s one of the more incredible meal experiences I’ve had, with an endless amount of flavors to sample.
The best Turkish breakfast we had was in Istanbul at a café called Van Kahvalti Evi. Make sure you get the biggest and most expensive breakfast set on the menu ($10 USD per person) and come hungry. You can thank me later by writing about your experience in the comments below.
I can’t say enough great things about Istanbul. This is definitely a developed world city with all the modern infrastructure and conveniences you will find in any other great city. But within Istanbul are also incredible ancient buildings, bazaars, and restaurants that have endured for over a millennium.
At least five days are needed to explore this fine town. You will have your fill of amazing buildings to tour, like the Hagia Sophia pictured above. There are also plenty of neighborhoods on the European side and the Asian side (Istanbul is actually broken up by two continents) that will keep you busy.
Try to find a place near Galata Tower when you visit. We found this area to be a great launching point for our daily activities.
If you ever want to experience an alien world on Earth, come to Cappadocia. It’s the coolest place we visited in all of Turkey.
The landscape is just straight up weird (in a good way), featuring canyons of chalky cones and phalluses. This place is famous for featuring many homes and buildings that are carved right into these strange-looking hills. The hikes here are really fun, where you can walk through valleys of abandoned ancient cave homes and churches. Most of these places can be explored unsupervised.
The one thing that you must do while in Cappadocia is take a sunrise balloon ride.
I was skeptical myself about doing this. It seemed really touristy and it was super expensive (150 euros per person!). But the moment we launched, I realized that my wife and I had invested in one of the best travel moments of our lives. The views are spectacular, and you get to fly through some canyons, vineyards, and valleys that are difficult to access on foot. There is also something so magical about seeing hundreds of balloons launch simultaneously at sunrise in this valley. It’s breathtaking.
If you want to go for a balloon ride, try to go with the company we went with: Butterfly Balloons. Be sure to sign up for a primary date and a backup date for the very next day. The wind conditions have to be perfect to fly and balloons rides get canceled about 50% of the time. On the first morning we attempted to go, we woke our asses up at 4 am only to find the trip canceled when we arrived at the tour office. We woke up again at 4 am the next day, but this time we were rewarded for our efforts.
This Cappadocia balloon ride was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had.
If you want to experience an even more alien-like world in Turkey, go to Pamukkale. I can almost guarantee you will never see a stranger geography.
When visiting Pamukkale, you need to first visit the Hieropolis museum, which is a massive and very well preserved ancient city. Frolic in the ruins for a few hours, and then walk down to the main event, which are the travertine pools.
Pamukkale has a unique water source that is full of carbonate minerals that build up on the hills over time. The hills form aqua blue freshwater pools, known as the travertine pools. When visiting this park, you can swim in these pools. It’s really bizarre; when you step into the pools the ground will feel gooey, like wet chalk. It’s sort of gross actually, but definitely worth experiencing.
Lots of tourists here, but still lovely to visit.
New experiences with old friends
Turkey was made even more fun by the fact that we were able to spend two and a half weeks with our old college buddies (and engaged couple), Fiona Baumer and Keh-Li Sheng. New experiences are great, but new experiences surrounded by the people you love are even better.
Thanks Fiona and Keh-Li for making Turkey a blast!
Time to keep moving West. Next destination: Romania