LONG POST ALERT !
Bright city lights , roads bustling with people, a slight nip in the air and moderate traffic jams – Istanbul seemed like just any other city at first, but little did we know what this city had in store for us. After a quick stop at our hotel ,we set off on foot to explore the former capital of Turkey. Our first stop was – Hafiz Mustafa, touted to be the makers of the best ‘baklava’!Spoilt with a variety of choices, we decided to try chocolate , pistachio and double walnut to begin with. They were all delicious and had us coming back for another round in just 10 minutes!
Having satisfied our sweet tooth , we walked around the city near the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar area before we retired to bed!
The next morning , we set off early on a walking tour starting with the Topkapi palace – home to the rulers of the Ottoman Empire.
All Turkish monuments boast off intricate designs, symmetry and the usage of the colour blue!
The palace is opulent and a lot of it has been restored or is under the process of restoration. The 3 stand out points of this palace-
- the collection of clocks/ watches used during the Ottoman period
- the museum of swords and daggers. Some of the daggers here were as tall as 6 feet and embellished with the most precious stones
- the outstanding view of the golden horn (a 6 km inlet of water that separated the Old city from the new city of Istanbul)from one side and the view of the Bosphorous strait from the other side.
After a memorable tour through the palace we visited the Hagia Sophia Museum. Thanks to our guide and prior bookings, we were able to bypass the otherwise looonnnngggg line!Hagia Sophia is soaked in history and dates back to the 5th century when it was first built to be a church. The highest point of the dome is 37 meters high and keeps tourists wondering as to how such a structure could have been built back then without any machines or equipment.
The church was destroyed twice due to invasions. The most beautiful chandelier of the time and for many generations to come still hangs off the Hagia Sophia’s ceiling.
After it was conquered for the third time by the Ottoman Empire, it was converted into a mosque. When Turkey was announced a Republic, the then Turkish president – Ataturk had it converted into a museum. The interiors have pictures depicting scenes from Christianity as well as inscriptions from Islam.
Bang opposite the Hagia Sophia is the breathtaking Blue Mosque- the pride of Turkey. About 8 months ago , my birthday cake had a picture of the blue mosque ( a place that was on my bucket list) and here I was standing right in front of it! Happiness on my face and a silent prayer in my mind , I covered my head with a scarf and walked into the magnificent structure.
Contrary to what one may think, the Blue mosque is a very pale blue on the outside. The symmetry, the geometry, the colours, the patterns will take your breath away.
The intricate designs , predominantly in blue on the inside is the reason for it’s name!The mosque is open to public after the afternoon prayers each day.Currently, a large part of the central dome is covered for restoration. Nevertheless, the interiors are still stunning.
Even the windows have unique stain glass paintings on them. The exterior structure is inspired from the Hagia Sophia, it has a central dome and is surrounded by several semi circular domes.
Soaked in history and head richer with knowledge ,we still had to balance it out for the youngest member of my travel team and the not-so-history-interested member of my team. We decided to take a quick cruise along the Bosporous strait – a narrow strip of water that divides Europe and Asia. The cruise was relaxing and the view of the monuments from the cruise liner was just as good.
We nibbled into our chestnuts and corns as we walked back to the hotel post our cruise. By the way, Istanbul is best experienced on foot!
‘The land of beautiful horses ‘ – Cappadocia was our next stop. The natural caves that have formed as a result of volcanic eruptions, erosions and changing weather conditions is the USP of this rustic town. The hotel we stayed at had converted the naturally occurring caves into rooms but had still maintained its authencity to give a feel of the olden times.
Contrary to popular belief that hot air balloon is the only thing to do here ,we managed to do a variety of activities during our stay. Quad biking is one such unique adventure which allowed us to enjoy the terrain here. It looked really simple when it was demonstrated, but my husband experienced the difficulty level when we found ourselves in the midst of bushes several times! After a few unplanned meetings with the trees, he got a hang of it and then it was a breeze, almost!
We followed our little adventure with a walk to the downtown area where we tried a few pastries, lots of dry fruits, flavoured peanuts and then returned back.
The next morning we were greeted by our cheerful guide- Ingi. In 20 minutes we were at Imagination valley – a place true to its name. A lot of naturally occurring formations seemed to symbolise different things to different eyes. Get your creative juices flowing here, a must visit for children.The view of the valley is good and definitely one of the best places to click loads of photos.
The town of Cappadocia is famous for its ‘Fairy chimneys’. These are again naturally formed structures as a result of volcanic eruptions. In ancient times , people lived in the caves and these formations acted like chimneys. However, since the origin of these were mysterious they were named as ‘ fairy chimneys’. There are three different shapes of chimneys – conical, mushroom and cap out of which the mushroom shaped ones are the most popular. A visit to the valley that houses the mushroom shaped chimneys is a must. This valley also looks like an inspiration to the movie -Smurffs because of its striking resemblance. The black tops are basalt deposits and the neck and body are made of limestone and sandstone. Children will enjoy walking in and out of these little caves.
Cappadocia is the name of an area that encompasses major towns such as Urgup, Goreme and Avanos. Avanos is the handicraft centre of the region and is Famous for its pottery made of both red clay and white clay. The biggest river of Turkey, the Red river runs through the region. Owing to the abundance of iron oxide deposits near the mouth of the river the soil there is red and hence the clay derived from it has the same deep colour. The artisans skilfully displayed the way a pot is made and allowed us the opportunity to try our hand and leg at making a pot. Here the potter’s wheel is driven manually using the legs as oppose to the hands.
After picking up a few pieces of art , we called it a day and returned to our cave hotel. The next day we had a few hours to spare before our flight to Kusadasi. Not willing to waste even a single minute, we decided to get an ariel view of the Cappadocia region – paragliding it was. The junior and the adventure lover enjoyed their 20 minutes in air before we took off to Kusadasi!
One of the popular beach destinations on the west coast of Turkey, along the Aegean Sea is the populous town of Kusadasi. It acts as a pit stop for those travelling to Pammukale and the historic town of Ephesus.
Ephesus needs a separate blog of its own but for now I am going to keep it short , ok I will try to! Turkey has been through its share of invasions from the Greek, Roman and Egyptian empires before the Ottoman Empire established itself. Ephesus houses the ruins of the great Roman empire although only 20 percent of it has been excavated and an even slimmer percentage has been restored.
Ephesus was significant as a port of trade and one of the most important financial centres during the Roman period. Among all the ruins that have been restored, two of them deserve a special mention – the theatre and the library.
The library was one of the largest in its times housing almost 14000 rows of books. The restoration has been done beautifully keeping in mind the available archaeological evidences!
The temple of Artemis – believed to be the goddess of fertility has been reduced to ruins. At one point, It was given the status of the seven ancient wonders of the world along with the Pyramids and Hanging gardens of Babylon, but sadly only 1 pillar remains of the majestic 126 pillared marble Temple. The rest of the pillars were apparently stolen to build the castle of the king of the Selchuk region.
Soaked to the marrow with history , it was time for a change of terrain. We drove uphill to the picturesque , cosy village of Sirince. Surreal is the word. Little shops serving Turkish ice creams, pomegranate juice, fresh figs, wines , Turkish coffee and Turkish tea embellished the narrow cobbled roads on either side. An uphill mini trek to the highest point is worth the view! After a typical Turkish dinner that included falafel , Greek salad, vegetable stew and sticky rice we called it a night!
Pammukale – a quick google search about this place will tell you that it is a UNESCO heritage site located close to the ancient roman spa city Of Hierapolis. This apart beautiful images of white terraces with blue water are sure to pop up. They look amazing. At the actual site, it looks far more unreal and no picture does more justice than the naked eye. Stretching for a length of close to 3 kilometres, mineral rich water flows through the natural white travertine terraces making it a sight to behold. The thermal pools formed at each of these terraces is a unique experience for all tourists visiting this place. Not only does the warm water feel good , the knee deep thermal pools are extremely photogenic too!
A few 100 meters from the travertine terraces is the famous Cleopatra pool. Historians believe that the ambitious Egyptian empress visited the area to enjoy the thermal pool. Ruins of the city of Hierapolis can still be found at the bottom of the pool. A dip in the pool is a must especially if you are visiting during the colder months
After a one of its kind day, we returned back to Kusadasi but not without a shopping stop at an organic bamboo and cotton store. The region of Denizli is a fertile one and is especially famous for its cotton. The famous Turkish towels can be picked up from here at good rates!
Head filled with memories and facts, I couldn’t wait to get started on my blog. What are airport lounges for – good food , free wifi and some quiet writing time!
I hope you enjoyed this blog as much as I loved penning it down!