This blog is intended to speak more of the stories, experiences and learnings I treasure from our Turkey trip, with tips and reminders in between.
Without going into the details of the cost and fees as those are already discussed in my previous blog, here’s our 6 day itinerary in the land where Asia meets Europe.
DAY 1: ISTANBUL
1. From Istanbul Sabiha Airport to Sultanahmet area and the “Cruise along the Bosphorus River”
We highly suggest commuting from Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen airport going to Sultanahmet, or the area that houses most of the historical sights of Istanbul and also the most vibrant part of the capital.
While you may think that the transfers of “airport bus – ferry – tram – walk to the hotel” would be very inconvenient (the same sentiment I had but Jayvee insisted otherwise), the brighter side are:
(1) you will reduce an hour of travel by avoiding the traffic, which is not a problem when you ride the ferry;
(2) it’s cheaper, of course; and
(3) you get to cross (cruise) the Bosphorus river (for only 45php!) and marvel over the historical landmarks from a distance.
2. Exploring the city streets on foot and by tram
Istanbul, which was previously named as “Byzantium” when it was still a colony of Greece and later became “Constantinople” under the Ottoman Empire, is a peninsula declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Even if you will get lost in exploring the city, you will surely end up finding a tourist spot, an exquisite street, or any interesting activities by the locals.
Do not miss to experience riding their trams! Particularly the historic tram in Istiklal Avenue.
3. Relish some authentic Turkish Kebab and the sweet Baklava
No caption needed, right?
Wherever we go, we were always offered with this kind of tea, even in markets. The merchants would always insist that we drink and finish their teas even if we say that we’re not buying. Their expressions look terrifying whenever I refuse or do not consume it entirely. Obviously, refusing is rude for them.
4. Grand Bazaar
Deemed as one of the oldest and largest markets in the world, and was regarded as the number 1 most-visited tourist attractions in 2014, Grand Bazaar is also rich in social, political, and economic history of Istanbul.
There you can find anything under the sun. Keep in mind, however, to bargain!!!!! From personal experience, I was able to haggle up to 30% discount.
BUT! You will realize when you go to other parts of Turkey that prices in Istanbul are actually expensive!!! The ref magnets, for example, cost 3 for 10 Lira. But when you reach Cappadocia, you can find 3 for 5 Lira only!
5. Basilica Cistern
Located under the Old City, the cistern used to provide a water filtration system for the Palace of Constantinople.
Also a must-see in the cistern are the two eerie inverted Medusa heads used as bases of the pillars. It was featured in Dan Brown’s Inferno book and was also used as a location in one of the James Bond films.
6. Hagia Sofia
Regarded as a historical architectural masterpiece that dates back to 1400 years, Hagia Sophia had been a house of worship of different major religions in the world. It had been a Christian cathedral, a Greek Orthodox Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church, and an Imperial Mosque.
It is the sanctuary of the coveted Byzantine art mosaics with images of Christ, Mary, John the Baptist, Emperors Justinian and Constantine, among others.
What amazes me most about Hagia Sophia is that it shelters a column from the Temple of Artemis!!! Temple of Artemis is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World!
7. Blue Mosque
Hand-painted blue and white tiles adorn the mosque’s interior walls, and at night the mosque is bathed in blue as lights frame the mosque’s five main domes, six minarets and eight secondary domes.
Blue Mosque is just across Hagia Sophia. Make sure to cover up when visiting, although conservative garments and shawls are provided for free at the entrance. No fee is needed to get inside but donation boxes lay at the entrance and exits.
We were able to visit the places above and do the recommended activities between lunch time to around 9pm. We flew the next morning to Izmir.
DAY 2: SELCUK
1. Sultanahmet to Istanbul Sabiha Gocken Airport
We took an hour flight from Istanbul to Izmir the next morning. At 4 am, we rode a cab from our hotel in Sultanahmet going to Taksim Square where the Shuttle bus (Havatas) to Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen airport awaits.
2. Izmir Airport to Selcuk
Just across Izmir airport is the train station going to Selcuk, the town which houses one of the world’s marvelous ancient sites, Ephesus.
It takes an hour of travel. Note, however, that you have to make train transfers in between. And, be keen on the timetable of trains. Otherwise, you will have to wait an hour or so waiting for the next train, just like what we did.
Ephesus is not only an important archaeological site of the Greco-Roman world but is also a destination for Christian pilgrimages. It lies in the town which was once a home of the Virgin Mary, the Apostles John and Paul, Cleopatra, Mark Anthony, among many others.
It is like a village of ancient structures, each possessing historical significance. The most interesting ruins, for me, are the following:
The Odeon Theatre lies near the entrance of the upper gate or where Ephesus tours usually begin. It was used for two purposes: for Senate meetings and as Concert Hall for performances.
Trajan’s fountain -This fountain is considered to be one of the three most magnificent fountains of Ephesus. It had two ornamental pools, one in the front and one at the rear. The recently renovated fountain no longer holds any of these. They have all been relocated to the Hall of Fountain Findings in the Archaeological Museum of Ephesus.
Curetes street – This street took its name from the priests who were called as Curetes later. Their names were written in Prytaneion.
Marble road –The construction of the marble road dates to the 1st century A.D, and it was rebuilt in the 5th century during the reign of Nero.
This is the Library of Celsus. It is, for me, the most impressive ruins. It is built in honour of the Roman Senator known as Celsus. The four colossal marble statues at the facade portrays Wisdom, Intelligence, Knowledge, and Virtue.
The Great Theatre is the largest theatre in the world of Greco-Roman. What struck me most about it is that it was the theatre referred in Acts 19: 23-41 where a mass riot in Ephesus by Silversmiths took place against St. Paul for his preaching against the believers of Artemis. The riot prompted Paul to leave. He ended up leaving a letter, which the bible refers to as “Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.”
4. House of Mary
After checking in at our hotel, our hotel front desk agent booked us a cab. The cab driver then offered a package of driving us to the House of Mary and then to Ephesus. For the cost, see my previous blog. You may also opt to rent a car or a motorbike; supposedly our top options if Jayvee didn’t left his driver’s license in the Philippines.
The Virgin Mary is believed to have lived in this stone house until her ‘assumption.’ It was discovered when a bedridden nun from Germany, who had never been to Turkey, recounted her detailed visions of Mary’s house and its surroundings.
A number of Popes visited the house and it remains to be filled with pilgrims over the years.
5. Temple of Artemis
Listed as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, what is left now of the grandiose Temple of Artemis is a lone single pillar.
It was this very temple which was threatened by Paul’s preachings.
6. Basilica of St. John
While we stayed literally just across the Basilica and Ayasuluk Castle, we were never able to enter either because we visited them too early or too late for its opening hours.
Where the Basilica of St. John stands is believed to be the burial place of the Apostle. He stayed in Ephesus in the remaining years of his life.
7. Ayasuluk Castle
The castle was built for a ruling Ottoman family.
DAY 3: PAMUKKALE
1. Selcuk – Denizli – Pamukkale
We left Selcuk early morning and had to catch the first schedule of train to Denizli. We traveled for 3 hours and reached Denizli by lunch. Just across the train station is the city’s bus terminal. From there we rode a mini bus to Pamukkale for around 30 minutes.
2. Pamukkale Travertines
Pamukkale literally means “Cotton Castle” in Turkish. The cotton white terraces of travertines were built over the ages from limestone deposited by the abounding hot springs in the area.
(Pamukkale hacks alert!) Our experience tells us that the most strategic entrance of this picturesque natural wonder is the lower gate. If you opt to ride the tourist buses, you will most likely enter the upper gate. With that, you will miss the lovely pond beside the lower gate. Most importantly, you will unlikely discover the crowdless part of the travertines which graces just few meters from the lower gate. See photo below for reference.
The crowd gets ridiculously cramped as you walk upwards, as the photo below shows. Eeeek.
BRING BAON if you intend to spend the day in the travertines and in Hierapolis. The stores’ price inside are very expensive! A woman next to me in the cashier even exclaimed ‘absurd,’ referring to the amount she paid.
The chips, corn stuff, sundae, lemonade, and water we bought already equalled to the amount of our dinner meal in Istanbul! So please don’t make the same mistake that we did.
3. Cleopatra’s Ancient Pool
Just few meters above the travertines is the enchanting mineral-rich Ancient Pool where Cleopatra once swam. The antique columns submerged in it plus the visible air bubbles ascending to the water surface complete its mystic beauty.
The Hierapolis – Travertines entrance fee exclude the Ancient Pool. Although you may enter the area for free, swimming fee must be paid if you want to indulge the waters.
Pamukkale – Hierapolis is a Unesco World Heritage site.
Hierapolis is an ancient Greek-Roman city, known for its impeccable water system technology. The well-preserved ruins lie just behind the Ancient Pool.
We left Hierapolis around 5pm and went back to Denizli to catch our sleeper bus to Göreme, Cappadocia, our ultimate bucket list destination in this country.Not only is Cappadocia known for its one of a kind cave houses and hot air balloons but is also known as one of the first places to embrace Christianity.
DAY 4: GÖREME, CAPPADOCIA
We arrived in Göreme at around 8am. Although too early for our check-in time at our dreamy accommodation, the Local Cave House, nevertheless, warmly welcomed us for an early check-in. The hotel itself is also part of our bucket list!
Göreme is the central town of Cappadocia. Not only that most of the hotels, restaurants, and tours offices sprawl in it but it is also a walking distance to the Open Air Museum, some popular cave spots and the best viewpoint for sunset and hot air balloon viewing.1. Göreme Open Air MuseumWe visited the museum past 5pm. As oppose to many blog rants about the crowd and the long queues, there were maybe just 3 other tourists roaming when we got there. Probably because it was only less than two hours before closing time.
Walking distance from the central Göreme, the UNESCO World Heritage museum encloses the earliest Christian churches in history. These churches were established in different caves, which until now house wall paintings (frescoes) depicting scenes from the bible and images of Christ.
Cappadocia became a refuge of Christians who were persecuted for their faith. The place was mentioned in the Bible twice, in Acts 2:6-11 and in 1 Peter 1:1-2.Amusingly, you can also find graves in the cave.
DAY 5: CAPPADOCIA
Happy birthday, Jayvee!!!
Is it weird that I’m so happy for him that he’s spending his birthday in Cappadocia and kick it off with a hot air balloon ride??? Is there any better way to top that off?! Haha!1. Hot Air Balloon RideWe were fetched by our shuttle for the Hot Air Balloon ride at 4:30am. Although it was already summer, it was still chilly so make sure to bring jackets for the ride!
It was still dark when we arrived at the location, which was just 10 minutes away from our hotel. In no time, we were overwhelmed to see tons of hot air balloons surrounding us. One by one, the balloons started flying. It was such a sight to behold that even as I write about it, I still get teary-eyed out of its surreality. IT. WAS. AMAZING. CAPTIVATING. GLORIOUS.
There were 18 of us in the balloon including the two pilots. We shared the same with Chinese and Australians. The old Australian guy exclaimed while we were all enthralled with the view, “This is the best thing that has happened to me.”
Same, mate, same….
2. Watch Hunting at Swords Valley
A funny accident happened during our hot air balloon ride. My watch fell from hundreds of meters above the ground. I instinctively took a photo of the location while Jayvee pinned the same in his offline map.
So after breakfast, we headed to our “watch hunt” under the scorching heat of the sun. With my phone’s music on, we tracked the vast Red Valley, which is arrayed with cave structures, on foot. Our adventure went on for two hours until we finally found my precious watch. Haha! It was one of my best memories in this trip! We did not only skipped the paid tours to the valley (because we had no choice but to walk!), but we were even able to invade random cave of our choice!
3. Chilling by the PoolAfter the strenuous watch hunt, I went for swimming in our hotel to get rid of all the dust. Haha! We just spent the whole afternoon chilling by the pool. ^_^
4. Sunset ViewpointJust right above our hotel is the Sunset Viewpoint. Not only is it best for sunset viewing but it also offers a great location where you can literally sit back and relax and witness the colors of the town change from day to night.
It is also where we spent the next morning for watching hot air balloons hovering above us.
5. Birthday DinnerWe were already craving for Asian (haha) food for days already. So his birthday request was only to eat in a Chinese restaurant or similar to that. Haha. And then we found this Korean Restaurant with a sweet view of the town.
Happy birthday, bebe!
DAY 6: CAPPADOCIA
1. Uchisar CastleOur only plan for the day was to visit the Uchisar Castle and spend the rest of the day doing…nothing. Haha. So before lunch time, we headed to Uchisar, which is a 5-minute bus ride from Goreme.
The castle once served as a watchtower of the town against enemies. It lies at the highest point of Cappadocia region, overlooking Goreme and Nevsehir.
We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling by our hotel pool until our shuttle to the airport fetched us.We are now headed to Tblisi, Georgia!!!