Ah, the final leg of our holiday.
Istanbul was made our last stop in anticipation of the shopping that could be done there — we had a meagre 15kg baggage allowance on the earlier domestic flights, you see. But in the end we surprised ourselves by not buying much at all. This, in spite of the legendary Grand Bazaar that houses more than 4,000 shops!
Firstly, the cost of things weren’t that much different from Singapore, making for an expensive shopping spree. Secondly, there wasn’t actually much to buy, unless you’re talking carpets and souvenirs for everyone and their mom.
I only bought a few pieces of clothing, some jewelry, natural handmade soaps, fridge magnets, a pretty iznik tile notebook — and of course Turkish delights and baklava! The sweets were quite heavy but they unfortunately had to be painfully hand-carried to ensure the boxes didn’t get smashed. My 30kg international flight baggage allowance was sadly and grossly underutilised!
While Istanbul wasn’t quite the shopping haven for me, it was still a tremendous delight. Whilst popular attractions like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace and the Basilica Cistern were marvellous, surprisingly I found even greater enjoyment doing the simplest of things — walking. Strolling the streets of Istanbul, taking in its sights, sounds and smells.
It didn’t start out this way though. One of the first things Faz did upon reaching our hotel in Istanbul…..was to watch Scam City Istanbul! On one hand, it’s good to be aware of the different scams operating there (some examples: carpet scams, shoeshine scams, nightclub scams), but the downside was that it made us feel MEGA PARANOID.
We felt like mice stepping out of the comforts of our sewer for the first time to explore the big city, hoping not to get squashed. It didn’t help that we arrived back in Istanbul on a Sunday — it was so crowded! We got stopped every few metres by peddlers peddling Istanbul guide books, maps, toys and imitation perfumes. We were on real high alert.
It took me a trip to the Grand Bazaar the next day to snap out of it. I had been really looking forward to visiting one of the oldest covered markets in history, but when we reached it, I wasn’t strolling through it leisurely taking in the details of the market like I had imagined. Faz was pulling on my hand and we were walking fast, trying not to look interested so that shopkeepers wouldn’t approach us (therefore reducing our chances of getting scammed?). It was ridiculous because I was interested, and we didn’t stop to enter any shop for at least the first 10 minutes!
Of course you still have to be on guard — someone actually attempted to pick Faz’s pocket while we were in a crowded tram! But lucky for us he was one lousy ass pickpocket because Faz actually felt his hand! Without looking at the guy, Faz immediately turned his body away, putting the guy’s hand in a knot — and he had no choice but to wriggle it miserably out of the pocket. Fotunately there was nothing in there in the first place. Faz didn’t confront him, well, because 1) he didn’t actually get away with anything and 2) he wanted to avoid the possibility of an altercation.
Anyway my point is just do your best to be aware of your belongings and surroundings, avoid dodgy people, avoid following people to places and you’ll be fine, InsyaAllah. No need to be excessively paranoid like we were!
I enjoyed Istanbul SO, SO much after I got over Scam City Istanbul.
I loved people-watching. People from all walks of life seemed to converge there, and it was a challenge to tell the different nationalities apart. Some ladies would have fair skin and light hair, and just when I thought they were Caucasian, they’d start conversing in Turkish. Or just when I thought they were Turkish, they started speaking in some other language.
We found the Turks to be so strikingly beautiful that Faz and I felt like ugly ducklings there. We’d be so sillily over the moon when shopkeepers ask, “Are you Turkish? You look Turkish” although we knew it was probably a ploy to get us to buy from them — we read about this tactic of theirs online. The women, whether in hijab or not, were so fashionable and elegant!
One of our simple indulgences in Istanbul was having balik ekmek on the pier next to the Galata Bridge at Eminonu. Balik ekmek means fish sandwich, and really that was all it was: a simple grilled fish sandwich. But believe me, as simple as it was, it tasted SO good! I think it’s worthy to note that I’m not even a big fish-eater, but we came to eat here twice while we were in Istanbul.
The sandwiches were only available in the evenings — I assume they spend their mornings fishing. Eating here felt somewhat like an authentic Turkish experience because even the locals and their families patronised these stalls. I loved the ambience. It was quite laidback despite the hustle and bustle of the harbour because you get to just sit there, enjoy your sandwich and watch the world go by — with the sound of the water and the sight of flying seagulls against the monumental old city as the backdrop to boot.
I also loved taking a walk down Istiklal Avenue, a pedestrian street in Taksim — the heart of modern Istanbul. It was there that we finally saw some familiar brands like Starbucks, H&M, Topshop and Adidas — we didn’t see any of these in the old city. There were bookstores, cafes, restaurants and pubs with live music there as well.
As evening came, Istiklal became more alive, with some pretty talented buskers performing their music. I’d describe Istiklal as sort of a cool place where people would gather to wind down after work. The buildings were old and weathered European-style buildings, but the shops were trendy and the place was bustling. It was a rather nice contrast.
It was quite easy to get around in Istanbul, as long as you don’t take a cab — you could either get ripped off or the traffic could kill you. We had printed the rail network map beforehand, and all we did when we got there was to purchase an Istanbulkart (our EZlink equivalent) from a newsstand, usually nearby the station. An Istanbulkart can be used by multiple people as long as you have enough value in it. It’s all pretty straightforward. If not, there’s always the station officer, or the tourism police you can approach for help.
We also found out that the Turks (or maybe just this one Turk) have a mean sense of humour.
Faz and I we were in a park having a lovely time people-watching and munching on our stall-bought corn when a homeless-looking man with a dirty brown bucket and a sinister smile approached us — obviously up to no good. Faz had seen him first. He nudged me urgently and got up to flee — but I, unfortunately, didn’t react fast enough and was by then in direct line of fire.
I could only helplessly imagine what was in that dirty bucket. Pee? Faeces? Filthy drain water? Man, the smell was surely going to be excruciating! The scene that unfolded next seemed to begin playing in slow-mo. The man stopped a few steps away from me and raised the bucket. As he tipped it and gave it a strong jerk to send its contents flying towards me, I shielded my head with my arms — it was the only defence I had left.
A couple of seconds passed, and then in the distance — laughter. I opened my eyes only to see the man looking at me wide-eyed, slightly curling his lips to form a rather psychotic smile, and passers-by laughing at us — HARD. Apparently there was nothing in the bucket and it was all a prank! Without time to waste the man then proceeded to terrorise other people in the park, and looking at their reactions, they couldn’t have been worse than mine!
We turned around to check for cameras in case it was some kind of a gag show, but there were none to be seen. Only an insane homeless man with a bucket and a mean sense of humour — which to be fair, made Faz and I laugh like crazies too. We got punk’d in Istanbul!
The Blue Mosque
All in all an awesome 4 days in Istanbul and 10 days in Turkey! Planning the trip definitely wasn’t easy because of the logistics of travelling on our own in a big and unfamiliar country. Also there were so many things to see and do, which made it all the more difficult to choose! We wanted to maximise our time there so we decided the best option was to take domestic flights to the different areas in Turkey. We didn’t want to waste time getting lost, so we had our hotels arrange our airport transfers. With the exception of Istanbul which was easy to navigate, we had booked day tours in Cappadocia and Oludeniz, so we were still going to places and doing things we wanted without worrying about how to get there.
Best of all, Faz enjoyed the itinerary I had planned! Granted, he is an easygoing person by nature, but the worrywart that I am couldn’t help but be a little worried that he would find things like museums and stuff boring. But he didn’t, so it was a relief!
I think planning trips on our own is definitely the way to go for us because I like to be in total control of the choice of hotel, food, pace, places to go and things to do. But I think I do want to experience a tour at least once….just to see what it’s like. Hmm, what would be a good country to follow a tour?
It’s only been 3 months since my Turkey trip, but believe me when I say it feels like 6 months — at least. I’ve been so exhausted planning a work event, and now that it’s finally over I say I deserve a quick getaway.
Maybe I’ll try a do-nothing getaway this time. 4D3N in Krabi, perhaps?
We spent the next 3 nights in Oludeniz, a beautiful pebble beach in the southwest of Turkey flanked by the Babadag mountains — and is one of the most popular paragliding spots in the world.
Paragliding in Oludeniz
Ever since I saw a photo of a paraglider flying above Oludeniz, my heart was set that that was exactly what I was going to do if I ever made it to Turkey. Well, I made it there, so I went! It was breathtaking. It was the closest I’ll ever feel to being a bird flying — at 6,000 feet, no less!
The scariest moment for me was being up on the mountain seeing other people before me run off the edge of the cliff. That was the moment I started asking myself: SERIOUSLY, ARE YOU REALLY DOING THIS?! I said a little prayer to ask that I reach the ground again safely in one piece and before I knew it I, too, was running off the cliff. It was surreal being so high up with my feet simply dangling in the air but the initial shock quickly passed as I became fixated on how beautiful everything was from up above.
Midway during the flight, my pilot asked if I wanted to do some acrobatics. My inner adrenaline junkie told him yes but I almost wished I hadn’t because we did some spins which made me feel so dizzy I felt like throwing up. I was so relieved when our little performance was over! Nevertheless, it was quite the experience!
Having said all that, my experience was actually tarnished a little by my pilot. I don’t know if he’s just naturally unpleasant or if he got up on the wrong side of the bed that day but he was barking at people from the time we met at their office, and was also on occasion rude to me. I was upset but didn’t want to kick up a fuss (which might result in me not being able to paraglide altogether) so I pushed it aside at the time. But thinking about it now makes me feel quite peeved. I mean, we spent thousands to holiday in Turkey and do all these activities — why does he feel that it’s ok to let people down?!
Faz on the other hand had such an awesome pilot from the same company and enjoyed his paragliding experience to bits. Glad that at least one of us enjoyed the experience thoroughly!
Upon landing (and landing was a bit rough — it had quite an impact on my ankles), we were brought back to the office to have a look at the photo and video footage our pilots had taken, and basically got ripped off paying for them, even after playing the honeymoon card (technically there was some truth to that — it was our second honeymoon). I wish we would’ve bargained some more but we had a boat waiting to take us island hopping. We ended up paying something like SGD60+ per CD when I think we could’ve gotten them at perhaps the ranges of SGD40+. But we did feel better about it later on after coming back from Turkey because we discovered that the footage Faz had taken on our own GoPro was overexposed. Damn, I knew we should’ve gotten that LCD BacPac!
Well, better to have expensive footage than none at all….right? =/
Oludeniz boat trip
Our boat was a double-decker with water slides which by default sounds fun — if you can swim. Here’s a “fun” fact about me: I can’t. So there was no way I was going to slide into OPEN FREAKING SEA! The boat took us to about 6 different spots/islands and we’d spend about 30mins to an hour at each spot. In between, we spent most of our time on the lower deck because we didn’t want to fight the sunbathers for space, and plus I wasn’t looking to get a tan. Closing in on 30 real soon, I’m so not looking to speed up the ageing process! All in all it was a relaxing trip, despite the harsh sun. The waters were so unbelievably blue!
Back at the Oludeniz beach after the boat trip, we contemplated whether to walk or take the public bus back to our hotel. I suggested walking so that we could see more of Oludeniz, and insisted with 200% confidence that it wouldn’t be that long of a walk. It turned out that my memory of how long the journey from our hotel to the beach took when the paragliding company fetched us that morning was MAJORLY skewed.
We ended up walking for a little over an hour — and before you exclaim “Yek eleh one hour jer”, let me add that it was over an hour of PURE UPHILL CLIMBING. Everytime Faz would ask in frustration “Bila nak sampai ni?!“, I’d say “Lagi sikit jer” but that always wasn’t the case. You should have seen him sulking and trudging along angrily. Man, he was pissed.
I thought I’d try to be positive by asking him to treat it as training for Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka — to which he responded: “Screw Adam’s Peak!“. That didn’t work, so I tried another method — to motivate him by bruising his ego a little, telling him not to be weak. That actually went down worse.
I started to feel bad, and was hoping we could hail a cab or take a bus from the next bus stop but there were none in sight! In fact the next bus stop turned out to be the one near our hotel!
It was no easy feat, I’ll admit. I felt bad for “forcing” him into walking, but secretly I was kinda pleased that we got a good workout after all that bread we had in Cappadocia.
Day trip to Pamukkale + Hierapolis
On another day, we signed up for day trip out to Pamukkale, a place with beautiful white terraced travertine hot springs. We almost didn’t make it there because we didn’t know how to fit it into our itinerary, but I’m glad we managed to. Pamukkale is a natural phenomenon — a mountain of white amidst the greens and browns. The white looks like snow from afar, only it isn’t. They’re actually terraces formed by calcium carbonate mineral deposits left by flowing hot spring water over the years.
The day trip to Pamukkale was packaged together with a visit to an ancient Greek city called “Hierapolis”. We didn’t know much about Hierapolis, where it was exactly and quite honestly we didn’t even know if we were going to appreciate the ruins, but the trip gave us a chance to find out.
It turned out Pamukkale was within walking distance of Hierapolis (it did actually seem like Pamukkale was within Hierapolis but I’m not sure if it would be accurate to say so), and a ticket gives you access to both attractions. The ruins in Hierapolis were alright, though I would think Ephesus would’ve been a better choice (more impressive) if you had time to visit just one site. But Ephesus was out of the way for us.
All in all I enjoyed the activities we did and the gorgeous views of Oludeniz but truth be told I had mixed feelings about the vibe it exuded. For some reason Oludeniz is very popular with British tourists and over the years I suppose the place had been moulded to cater to them, making the place less Turkish in its ways and more of a British tourist trap. I had read about this Little Britain in Oludeniz prior, but still decided to go mainly for the activities which led us out of town most of the time anyway, so luckily there was no love lost.
However, Oludeniz was the only place in Turkey that we went in which we felt some uncertainty about the “halalness” of our food. Generally all meat in Turkey is halal because majority of the Turkish are muslims, despite it being a secular state. But walking in Hisaronu town we saw a lot of pork in the menus — nevermind that the other meat sold were halal. We had to recce Hisaronu town quite a bit before we found a restaurant that didn’t serve pork.
Alcohol is a separate matter. Muslims in Turkey (not all, but more so in Istanbul and along the Aegean Coast) seem to prescribe to a different belief about alcohol. Some believe it’s permissible, some believe it’s permissible as long as you don’t get drunk, and some just don’t care. In fact, almost all the restaurants we went to in Turkey sold alcohol. We’d still patronise them, but avoided those selling pork and alcohol because that proved to be a bit too much for our sensibilities.
Anyway, since we’d seen so much pork in Hisaronu, we felt doubtful if our hotel food was halal. So Faz went to ask the nearest staff he could find, which happened to be the bartenders, and they were offended! Genuine or feigned, I don’t know but they were like: What do you mean halal? Of course the food is halal! We’re Muslims! And then they happily started singing “Thola’al badru alaina min thaaniyyatil wada’….”
The juxtaposition of the scene was hilarious. I hope they weren’t high.
Of course, no trip to Turkey would be complete without visiting the legendary Istanbul — and that’s what I’ll be writing about in my next post!
So Faz and I returned home safely (albeit a couple kgs heavier) from Turkey last month, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT THERE! Our 10-day trip was quite the adventure — I think I had way more fun in these 10 days than I’ve had in years put together!
I’d always wanted to visit Turkey for some reason. I wanted so much for Turkey to be THE honeymoon destination that even though we opted for Sri Lanka instead due to some circumstances, I regarded the latter as sort of a pre-honeymoon. I realised later what a silly concept that was because it didn’t quite work that way. One, because Sri Lanka was just as awesome. Two, the feeling you get going for a vacation as freshly minted husband and wife as compared to going 6 months later is just going to be different — period. So I suppose I’ll consider Turkey our second honeymoon!
Some of the trip’s highlights were staying in a cave hotel and riding in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, paragliding and island-hopping in Oludeniz, and soaking up city life in Istanbul where the population is a whopping 14 million!
Because I don’t subscribe to “saving the best for last” when it comes to my holidays, Goreme in Cappadocia was made our first stop. And indeed it became my favourite part of the trip. It took us 4 airports to get there, but the gruelling journey was well worth it. It almost felt like I was on another planet because our time there was filled with nothing but unique experiences, which apart from staying in a cave and hot air ballooning included marvelling at the unusual volcanic rock formations (known as fairy chimneys) unique to Cappadocia, trekking into picturesque valleys and exploring an ancient underground city — things that don’t exist in the part of the world we come from.
The temperature during the day in Goreme was in the low 20’s deg C. I personally consider that to be cold, but with the sun out, it was quite alright — perfect for being out and about. It only felt cold when the wind blew, which was kind of a strange experience for someone who’s never been to a cold place before. Nights on the other hand, were freezing. Temperatures went below 10 deg C. Our cave room didn’t really make for a warm respite, but at least there was no wind in there and that’s probably already half the battle won.
The air was also especially dry throughout our stay in Goreme. The walls of my nose got so dry that part of it cracked and bled. Fortunately it was just a mild discomfort that didn’t get in the way of things.
And so that concludes our out-of-this-world experience in Cappadocia!
Next I’ll be writing about our time in Oludeniz! :)