Turkey is a place I’ve always wanted to travel to, but somewhere I only thought I would see in pictures. Suddenly, I was studying abroad and seeking a place to travel to for my month alone and abroad. After staying in Barcelona for a few days with two girls from my program, I was on my own. As a true procrastinator, I cemented my travel plans a few days before I was to leave the homestay. I found a trip to Morocco and then Turkey that had the perfect duration and start-up dates. It just all fell into place.
Morocco had been great, but hot and a real culture shock. I hopped on a flight from Marrakech to Istanbul to begin my Turkish travels. The first four days, I was in Istanbul by myself before I met up with the other members of the tour group.
Those days on my own were magical. I had been on a schedule the whole trip and now I was able to do things at my pace. You see a lot when you are on a schedule, but you have time to really take it all in when you wander with no destination.
In Istanbul, there are restaurants serving the same Turkish dishes at every corner. The owners will try to entice tourists. The restaurants are gimmick-y but the food is good. Turkey is an unexpected cheese-lovers paradise. My first day was sealed with the discovery of Turkish cheese rolls. Cheese rolls are feta cheese wrapped in a fried, flaky roll with tzatziki dipping sauce. I fell in love. Along with that dish, I had a salad with feta.
I talked with the workers in the restaurant and made some friends. They knew it was my first day in Turkey so they brought out Turkish Lavash (bubble bread) and Turkish apple tea free of cost. The one man asked me if I knew this Turkish guy living in Pennsylvania. I laughed and said it was a bigger state than people believe.
After I got some food in me, I was off to convert some money and pick up some toiletries. My luggage was lost on the flight from Morocco to Turkey. I made a Canadian friend because both of our bags got lost. When we were filling out forms and I asked her what brand my luggage was (although she wouldn’t know) but she knew the brand because it is the most popular one. We had a good laugh about it.
When the guy who worked at the airport said he would deliver my lost luggage for free and I said “for free” in disbelief. I couldn’t imagine they would charge me when they were responsible for losing my luggage. I said goodbye to my new Canadian friend after bonding over our lost luggage for an hour.
I had arranged to be picked up at the airports I arrived in by a driver. This was another way of ensuring that I was safe and didn’t have to worry about hailing a cab and haggling after a long flight. My drivers were hired to make sure they picked me up and got me to my hotel safe. It gave me peace of mind.
The driver who picked me up in Turkey was my age and gorgeous. He waited an hour for me to finish up the lost luggage paperwork. I was taken aback by his blue eyes, tan skin, and black quaffed hair. We flirted a bit and he told me about the scams and the hidden treasures of Istanbul. He walked me into the hotel to make sure the hotel saved my reservation.
Turkish men are attractive. Almost every man I saw in Istanbul was tall, dark, and young. I was not complaining.
As for my luggage, that was lost for four days but I could care less. Things gained in Turkey trumped things lost. I had 1 lost bag in an airport for 4 days. It took 1 threat of an imaginary lawyer made 26 lost bags from the flight magically appear. When you know an airport found your luggage but is just dragging their feet to get it to you, just mention that you are about to get a lawyer involved (even if you don’t have one). I finally had my luggage the last day before I changed hotels.
Walking the streets of Istanbul felt safe. I did not have to cover up; Turkey is very secular although most of the country is Muslim. There was no street harassment at all. I even face street harassment walking around my darkened college campus. The only thing to be wary of is the Turkish mafia trying to sell you front of the line passes to landmarks. I was wise about their scheming from the get-go. I just ignored them until they left and waited patiently in the long lines. If you were to go with them, they would try to convince you to buy an ‘authentic’ Turkish rugs from their cousin’s store and would not let you leave until you did so. Not exactly the most dangerous mafia, but still shady.
I visited the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque in the same day, but made sure to schedule it perfectly so that as one tour was ending, another one began. You have to pay around 20 Turkish lira to get into the Hagia Sofia. There is a lot to see so it is worth it. Entrance into the Blue Mosque is free. Women will need to cover their hair, shoulders, and down to their knees. Scarfs are free to borrow if you need it. Men will have to cover down to their knees. You will also be given a bag to put your shoes in. Not a lot of time needs to be spent in the Blue Mosque because some of it is roped off and still used as a functional mosque. Both places are beautiful and worth the long wait in line.
If you want to do a Bosphorus boat tour, go directly to the building that sells the tickets. Do not buy off of the Turkish mafia. I did not participate in one, because you have to devote the whole day to it. I was too busy aimlessly wandering this beautiful city and treating myself to best food I’ve had on my whole trip.
There are so many stray cats in Istanbul. I took pictures of almost every one I saw. I am a self-described cat lady so this was my paradise.
After the four days were up, I met my five person tour group that I was to spend the next two weeks with. We called ourselves “Olive the Magic” and ventured to Gallipoli, Çanakkale, Ilios (Troy), Ayvalik, Şirince, Selçuk, Ephesus, and Pamukkale.
Visiting Gallipoli was quite eye-opening. In the US, we rarely hear about battles that our troops were not directly involved in. It was interesting to get the perspective of the Australian couple on our tour that grew up hearing about the battle in history classes.
Ilios (Troy), the city on top of 20 cities, was an educational visit. Ayvalik was my favorite Turkish town that I visited. It is a former Greek coastal city that still has its small town charm.
There our tour guide read my fortune in the coffee grinds of authentically made Turkish coffee. She said I used to have a lot of worries in my life, but recently those worries have disappeared. I’m starting over and the past doesn’t affect me anymore she added. She told me that I will have multiple loves soon. She could see hearts in the coffee grinds. The tour guide also added that I’m happy and will travel again very soon. The fortune still holds very true a few months later.
At one point we took ferry across the Aegean Sea to get to the next town. A few women on the boat took pictures with us. We thought it was funny. Our tour guide explained that Turkish people rarely travel outside of the country so it is rare that they see foreigners.
During the tour, we took a private boat out into the Aegean Sea. Swimming in the Aegean Sea was relaxing and wonderful.
Pamukkale was a unique place. I was disappointed to hear that the UNESCO status of Pamukkale may be taken away because Turkey allows visitors to swim in the pools. The oils, perfumes, and lotions that are on people’s skin are harmful to the structure of the salt pools.
Our Turkish tour ended where it begun, in Istanbul. My final night was spent getting an authentic Turkish bath. The Turkish baths are separated by gender. You go into the main sauna room shirtless. Then a worker scrubs the dead skin off of you, suds your head and body, pours warm water all over you, and scrubs your scalp. Once that process is over, you lie down and sweat for as long as you’d like. It was a very relaxing experience.
As I was leaving the country reluctantly I was stopped by airport security. My laptop was examined, but not for the reason I originally believed. The airport security just stopped the conveyor belt to admire my unique laptop case. They poked it and laughed.
Turkey was my favorite country to visit out of the 10 I’ve been to so far. It was unexpectedly beautiful and safe. The people were kind and good looking. The food was so delicious, it almost brings a tear to my eye that Turkish food is no longer a constant in my life.