Turkey, the country which occupies a radically distinctive geographic position, lying partly in Asia and partly in Europe. To begin with, the beautiful country has quite a bit to offer in terms of history, culture, architecture and hospitality. Turkey is packed with cultural heritage. Hence, the culture is a fascinating blend of both Eastern and Western. This gives it a modern, yet historic allure. Now I definitely know why it is known as one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world.
Coming back to my trip, it was a cold dark Sunday morning when I and my husband being jet lagged landed at Istanbul, being newbie to the place we decided to take a cab (which often charges a little too much) from Istanbul Ataturk airport to our hotel which was quite far from there which made us realise it was a wise decision to take a taxi with all the heavy luggage.
Some cities have been highly raved by people and clearly they’ve lived up to their hype. Istanbul is one of them. The city has perhaps the most famous and beautiful site in the world. I found it quite a tied up place but mesmerising. The gorgeous city connecting both Europe and Asia, although it’s said to be over-commercialised by many. We had a great experience to start our ten-day trip from this city. We decided to explore the city by walking on the clean streets of Istanbul which was the best decision because this way we got to know about the culture and people more. The people are friendly, you can safely walk everywhere and the metro system is easily accessible. We began with a visit to a small mausoleum then proceeded to the Blue or Sultanahmet Mosque, which is the most prominent sight and one of the most prominent landmarks in Istanbul, with its distinctive six minarets.
The Topkapi Palace is also one of the most talked-about attractions in Sultanahmet, Istanbul. Let me start with a brief history of this palace. In 1478 Mehmet, the Conqueror constructed Topkapi Palace to be used as the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire and the residence of the Sultans for 380 years. Over the centuries, the palace undertook renovations after the devastating effects of earthquakes. In 1924 at the end of the Ottoman Empire, the Topkapi Palace became a Museum. In 1985 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you only have a few days to spend in Istanbul, Topkapi Palace should be your priority. You can easily spend half a day exploring the grounds and rooms. Topkapi is an empty, magnificent shell of a palace. There is nothing to steal, or ruin, so they let you have free run of the place. But its park-like layout and architecture, and the jewel collection, still make it the most popular tourist spot in Turkey. I read on other blogs and travel guides that suggested skipping Topkapi Palace because it can get busy and take awhile to explore. I have to disagree, it was one of the highlights of my trip and definitely worth visiting. It’s the largest and oldest palace in the world to survive to our day, this reason alone is why you should visit Topkapi Palace.
The glorious and stunning Hagia Sophia of Istanbul is no less. The former church, mosque and now official museum has a saintly ambiance combined with Byzantine and Islamic architecture. Sitting in the old city part of Istanbul called Sultan Ahmet, it joins other nearby landmarks belonging to the UNESCO World heritage list for Turkey. We were blown away by the grandeur and complexity of the magnificent architecture.
Arriving in Taksim Square we were confronted with a confusion of traffic and people but got our bearings from map and walked down the hill, through steep streets and pedestrian-only stairways. Got the metro which was bustling with people and there we grabbed quick lunch at a cute little roadside cafe. Before leaving Istanbul we took a cruise ride to princess island. The 1 hour ride to the island itself was a scenic view with the waves hitting the cruise. Princess Island is a combination of nice islands off the Asian coast of Istanbul in the Sea of Marmara. Passenger ferries operate to the four of these islands from different parts of the city. There you have to walk or rent a bicycle or horse-drawn carriage (tanga in Urdu and Fayton in Turkish).
After spending two nights in the city, we left for Izmir the other morning. Located in the West of Turkey on the Aegean coast, Izmir has hosted ancient Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and now modern Turkey in more than 4000 years of its human history, all of which has made it the amazingly diverse destination we see today. Just a one hour flight from Istanbul followed a quick bus ride and we arrived at a cute and cozy apartment at Beryakli that we booked on Airbnb. This was another great experience. Gul, an art student, the owner of the house and our host was a very sweet and hospitable lady who made us feel like home. We threw our bags into the room and got straight back out for a tour of the historical city. We began the walk downhill through the winding city streets and into the bustling fresh food and fish market. One of the things I love about turkey is that you can always count on things being slightly differently done from the rest. The next morning, we stepped out to visit the most adventurous wildlife park of Izmir on a rainy day. It still thrills me while thinking! We made our way to Izmir central bus station and from there caught a bus to Karsiyaka, then hopped onto the 777 bus to Sasali.
Zoo animals are a great way to get behind the lens of a camera and practice your photography skills while traveling. The Zoo and Wildlife Park has over 1200 wild and tame animals including mammals, birds, reptiles and endangered species such as the Asian elephant. To be able to watch these animals as they went about their daily life was absolutely amazing. As soon as we entered the zoo, we were given a detailed map and then we started exploring and observing a wide range of zoo animals that include but are not limited to…
Birds of prey and birds from the forests of Africa, Giraffes, zebras, hippopotamus and ostriches, Camels, red deer, gazelle and elephants, Bears, wolfs, hyena, monkeys, tigers and lions. The tropical centre which features crocodiles, insects and snakes.
The animals had large enclosures and during midday weather, tended to gather under trees that were far off in the distance. If you decide to head to Izmir zoo to practice your photography skills, make sure you have a good zoom lens.
After such an intense evening it was time for some Turkish coffee in a cafe within the premises of the park to revitalise and recharge before heading back to our apartment for the night, with quick stop at one of the most picturesque sites, the Izmir clock tower. With a Turkish breakfast at the outdoor cafe overlooking the surrounding hills, our two-day trip to Izmir came to an end and we made our way to the bus station to take a bus for Antalya. I had never traveled to Turkey before and didn’t know a lot about the Antalya region and it came across as the perfect destination for an adventure. This city is for anyone who is obsessed with beach views. One of my favourite things to do in Antalya is to grab a cup of coffee and take in the stunning beach view that Antalya has to offer. Especially when the sun starts to set and it glimmers across the sea. It’s truly striking to experience. Do as the locals do and grab a cup of Turkish tea or coffee, relax a bit and take in the stunning Antalya landscape. If you’re seeking a beach, Konyaalt? is the place to be. Here we saw a number of cafes that line the strip and locate a chill local vibe. Perfect spot to soak in some sun and waves while grabbing tea or coffee and watching the sunset. Travelling through bus in Antalya is another good experience. At times you won’t find any bus timetable information at any of the bus stops and it gets very difficult to get help from the driver. But it can be an adventure in itself and sometimes i have to admit we had no idea where exactly we were going but it all seemed to work in the end. Some routes only went one way on a loop so finding the bus back can be tricky. One issue that we faced is that the bus drivers did not accept money any longer and we had to buy a top-up card which is not really suitable for a short trip. If you’re hungry and in the Konyaalt? area, make sure to check out McDonald’s facing the beach and giving you some amazing views. One thing to try whilst in Turkey is to grab the local street food. This is one thing I couldn’t have enough of and almost had it every single day.
We finally arrived in Konya, the last city to visit before heading back to Pakistan. Upon arriving, we were picked by our sweetest host, Ismail Kayaci (who was a business administrator, settled in Konya) from bus station. He drove us to his beautiful apartment where we were welcomed by his humble and very cordial family.
It was a crisp cold evening we didn’t want to miss so we headed out to explore the spiritual city. Many people visit Konya but I’m spellbound by the tomb of whirling dervish and the city’s brilliant architecture. It is the heart of Turkey. A city of a million souls, Turkey’s most culturally conservative city, Konya at first seems to be a place of ostentatiously observed pieties and forbidden beers, but exposing Konya is easy and a calm place for aged people. Here, at the heart of old city, in his tomb of turquoise tiles is Jalaluddin Rumi. One of the world’s most read poets. Today, Rumi’s tomb is Turkey’s second most visited tourist attraction after the Topkapi palace in Istanbul. Rumi was a mystic, a Sufi saint who loved all religions and whose own religion was love. His followers lose themselves in trance and dance, sometimes spinning like hours. The whirling dervishes are now the symbol of Turkey’s tourism campaigns. For the real thing, go to Konya and you go to the soul of Turkey. At the junction of the old city is the Alaaddin mosque, the city’s vantage point. The boulevard radiating from here brings you to Rumi’s tomb. Today, Konya is in thrall to mevlanamania. The spirituality in the air is perhaps due to the city being the final resting place of Rumi, undoubtedly the most renowned and quoted scholar in the world. Mevlana is one of the Rumi’s names and we saw every other building, restaurant even tram stations named after his honour. The ten-day trip to the most beautiful country finally came to an end and before heading back we made sure to stuff ourselves with some delicious Turkish cuisine at a local restaurant, Torku Dogrudan, where we had doner kebab and treated our taste-buds.
I’m sure you must have heard the phrase “East meets West” because it has been used for many places. In my opinion, Turkey fits this description more than any other place. It has so many magical spots the world probably doesn’t know about. It’s beauty is otherworldly and will make you fall hopelessly in love.
To sum up, Turkey has my heart. And I will definitely be heading back.