Guys, I’m serious. If Turkey wasn’t on your travel list, put it on…ASAP. When you do, move it to somewhere near the top, maybe even the number one spot. I’ll tell you why.
Whatever you’re into, Turkey has it. Adventure, food, bustling cities, laid back paradises and most importantly people that will restore your faith in humanity. Honestly, the Turkish people totally changed my attitude on how to treat people, especially complete strangers.
I literally booked a one way flight from London to Istanbul with no other plans or information of where to go and what to do. My brother would leave from London home to Toronto, and I would head east on my own, not knowing where I will stay or who I will meet. Getting off the airport train in Istanbul was a little overwhelming. I was a tad anxious, but walked as if I came every week for business, or I was secretly part Turkish, projecting the “I got this…” swagger. Istanbul is such a crazy and fast-paced city that you kind of get lost in the masses but no one notices anyway.
Enter first faith restoring Turkish man.
I found the bus to the area where my hostel was located, but didn’t know the stop. I get on and the driver was speaking quickly and I didn’t have the foggiest what he was saying.
“Did you buy a ticket?”
The man sitting behind the driver must have known by the blank look on my face that I wasn’t from around these parts. I held out ten lira ($2 CAD) and driver pointed out the door. You can’t pay cash on the transit system, you have to buy from a kiosk or attendant before boarding. The kind Turkish man stood up and swiped his transit pass, I tried to offer him the ten lira, but he declined. Silly man, the fare was two lira, he could have made some cash off me.
This man asked for the address I was looking for and told me to get off a few stops before the last to avoid a longer than needed walk. I was hesitant because the directions I was emailed was from the last stop, and getting off at an unfamiliar stop would probably result in a back alley shanking. “I show you” he said to me, getting off and signalling me to follow him. At this point I am thinking he just lured me into a trap pointing down a dark alley and saying “one hundred meters, you see it.”
For some reason I trusted him. I walked for a minute and the dark alley turned to a lively outdoor restaurant and cafe zone with music and what seemed to be a street party for the national Turkish football team. The mood changed instantly when they went down one goal, luckily for me I found my accommodations just in time before any riots broke out.
This warm and helpful nature would be the start of a series of inexplicable kindness throughout my adventures in Turkey. I would spend a few days exploring Istanbul, walking through the old city, markets, bazaars and the many, MANY (and beautiful) mosques. On my birthday I chatted with a barber across the street from the hostel, in conversation I mentioned it was my birthday, he immediately went to the store and bought two beers for us to enjoy in celebration.
I would leave Istanbul and opt for a cheap flight instead of the over-night bus to Cappadocia on the advice of a fellow traveller at the hostel. Arriving at yet another airport with no clue how to get the bus to Goreme, a town in the region of Cappadocia about an hour from the Kayseri airport, I was given several more batches of the Turkish helping hands. Without any Turkish language on my side, and nearly no English on the other, I was literally escorted over the coarse of 2 hours to the bus that would take me to Goreme. A stranger at the local bus stop knew I was looking to go to Goreme, he then told the bus driver, who eventually stopped the bus and walked me to another local bus, and told the driver of that bus where I was going.
“Friends?” The new driver asked me pointing at the previous driver and myself. I nodded and smirked with a “yes”.
“Good, we friends now!” He pointed to the seat closest to him and I sat obediently awaiting for his instructions. An hour would pass and he would look at me in the mirror and point to a large building as he stopped the bus. It was the bus terminal where I would find the final bus to my destination. I would rave about my experience to fellow travelers at the hostel and still to this day. Thank the lord for these men, if it were not for them I may have missed a lot.
A sunrise balloon flight with 100+ balloons all taking off at the same time and a Turkish night with stellar food and dance accompanied by two fellow Torontonian girls that I met at the hostel, who were sweet as a plate of candied yams with extra syrup. One of the days I hiked the Pigeon Valley on my own on a sunny and relatively hot day. While walking on a path that seemed to be desolate, a farmer pulled up beside me with his horse and cart.
“Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”…no…
“Où allez-vous?”…Cavusin (a small town about 3km away)
He signals to hop in the cart, and I accept. Turkish helping hand #…6? This was the best picture I could snap with one hand while holding on during this bumpy and swift shuttle service. He would leave me in Cuvusin and say “Goodbye, photo-man!” as he clopped off into the distance.
When in Turkey, stop in Goreme for the fairy chimneys and incredible scenery. It’s a sleepy town but with so much to do, a few days will hardly be enough for such a small area. The guys at Guven cave hotel, Moustafa and Isa, are the most helpful and accommodating people ever. Did I mention that I slept in a cave? Hears a taste of the landscape.
I would head to Olympos for so much needed coastal relaxation, and also to sleep in a tree house…kinda. It was a house on stilts that sat among the trees, not IN a tree. Bayrams tree houses is a killer spot. Lounge out on cushions listening to good music and a beer and you’re only a 10 minute walk to the beach. I would meet up with the lovely ladies from Toronto here, take a trip to the Chimera flames that burn non stop in the mountains through a natural underground source, and partake in some sea-kayaking.
I would also wake up here in the middle of the night with what I suspect was food poisoning from street food in Istanbul, just barley making it out of my hut before chucking all over the forest. Still woozy, I would head to Fetiye for scuba diving which didn’t work out due to garbage weather and meet a pharmacist who insisted on giving me medicine for my sickness, without paying him. I of course would return and pay him in addition to a box of sweets for his kind gesture. Thanks to him I was able to hike the Butterfly Valley, a nerve-racking descent that killed two hikers earlier in the year. So worth it, the end result shows.
Am I right? After Fetiye it would be off to Bodrum for a few days in a comfy hotel to plan the next leg and once again get trumped on scuba diving. I did cross paths with a carpet sales man trying his best sales tactics…
Turkish Carpet Salesman: “My friend where are you from?”
TCS: ” So beautiful! I have beautiful carpets for your house too!”
PB: “Sorry man, I don’t have a house.” (chuckle)
TCS: “What do you mean?”
PB: “I sold my house, I don’t have one…”
TCS: “But where will you go when you get back to Canada?”
PB: “I don’t know, but if I worried about that then I would have never left, never been in this new place, and never would have met you. Right?”
TCS: smile creeps across his face “…yes, you are right!”
If it’s not the unlimited activities, vast and varying landscapes, food, culture and the fact that everything is so cheap (seriously, I found it hard to spend $50CAD a day for my accommodations, food and transportation) go for the warm, friendly, inviting, accommodating and hospitable people that occupy this beautiful country. As much as I can tell you, you have to see it for yourself, so move Turkey to the top of your travel list.
More photos here!