Turkish Delights: The Best (and Worst) of Turkey

We recently had a friend ask us, “If I wanted to go somewhere exotic, but, you know, without cows roaming the streets and stuff, where should I go?”

The answer we gave her was Turkey.  With its mosques, ancient history, and fairy tale landscapes, it’s a more adventurous destination than Western Europe but easier to navigate than Asia.  It’s been the linchpin between Europe and Asia for centuries and Turkey even today is the buffer between the West and the Middle East.

Ephesus, Turkey

We devoted seven weeks to Turkey, the most time we’ve spent in any one country on this trip, and we still missed more than half of it.  There were many reasons to linger, many things to love.

  • Istanbul — Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities.  Beautiful, historic, intriguing, it’s one of our favorites.
Aya Sofya - Istanbul, Turkey
The Aya Sofya — church turned mosque turned museum

 

  • The food is GREAT — Simple, delicious preparations of vegetables and grilled meats, with wonderful sweets to end the meal.  You can read all about Turkish cuisine here.

Konya, Turkey

  • Gotta love the lira — Compared to Western Europe, it’s relatively affordable.  We were able to get by on less than $100 a day!  Check out our budget here.
Kekova Boat Trip - Kaş, Turkey
Spend all day cruising the turquoise coast for $25!

 

  • Good infrastructure (mostly) — It’s easy to get around Turkey.  Nice intercity buses (with tea and ice cream service!) and good metro and ferry systems in Istanbul. We didn’t need to take a taxi once in 7 weeks.  The train system — shutdown nationwide for a massive overhaul — was non-existent.
Ferry to Kadikoy - Istanbul, Turkey
Ferries in Istanbul

 

  • The people are incredibly friendly! — Time and time again, the people in Turkey went out of their way to help us, welcome us, and make us feel at home in their country.  When we asked an elderly man for directions in Istanbul, he personally guided us half an hour to our destination.  When Jordan ran down to the corner store one night, the owner insisted he sit down and share their Ramadan evening meal.  Our guesthouse owner in Patara showered us with fresh fruit from his garden.  When we were slogging out a long, hot walk to the beach one day, a family pulled over and beckoned us to hop in.  We received more free glasses of tea, sweets, and snacks than we can count.
Ayvalik, Turkey
The Ayvalik teahouse that safeguarded our camera

 

  • It felt safe. — Ok, so our camera got stolen, but that could happen anywhere and it was partly our fault for not being careful enough.  For the most part, walking around Istanbul at night, hiking in Cappadocia, etc., we always felt very safe.

But since nobody likes all good news …

There are two main downsides to Turkey in our estimation.  We have to mention:

Their obstructionist, terrible police force. 

When our camera was stolen in Istanbul, we went to the local police station to file a police report for our insurance.  To cut a long story short, they refused, gave excuses, and basically did everything in their power to be not merely useless, but obstructionist. Finally, through the kindness of a stranger, we got our report on our third try, but not without much anger and frustration.

Gezi Park - Istanbu, Turkey

More than that, seeing the riot police with their shields and gas masks became a common occurrence on our after-dinner strolls in response to the ongoing protests.  Once we had to run into an alley to avoid their water cannon and twice we walked into the remains of tear gas they’d unleashed down the street.  What a contrast when we got to Budapest and saw their local PD putting on a puppet show about bicycle safety for kids.

Alcohol is very expensive.

Turkey being a mostly Muslim country, there are some serious sin taxes on alcoholic drinks.  If you enjoy some wine with dinner, or an afternoon beer, either carry a heavy wallet or develop a taste for tea.

Galata Bridge at Sunset- Istanbu, Turkey

Have we convinced you to skip western Europe and head to Turkey on your next vacation? Let’s assume you’ll likely avoid run-ins with the Turkish police and can forego some happy hours.  Here’s how we would spend two weeks in Turkey:

 Jordan and Skyler’s Itinerary for Two Weeks in Turkey

Days 1-5: Istanbul.  You can see “The Big 3” sights in one day, but make time for the more under the radar pleasures of this amazing city.  

Fly to Izmir at the end of Day 5, sleep in Izmir / Selcuk.

Day 6: Step back in time at Ephesus.

Days 7-10: Sunbathe on the Mediterranean coast (sailing in a gulet or hanging out in one city, like Kas)

Days 11-13: Hiking, wine tasting, and cave dwelling in Cappadocia.

Day 14: Fly to Istanbul for your flight home.

If you have more time, you could tool around the Aegean coast or perhaps head into Eastern Turkey (and take us with you!).

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