Girls like to have fun!!
20 months passed since my last trip & my travel bug gave me itchy feet. Browsing travel destinations, I was fascinated reading about Turkey & it definitely came on my bucket list. Am sure the universe conspired for this trip, I got 3 of my close friends also with the same destination in mind & mystically we all were in sync within 2 weeks & had our travel plans booked.
We got our flights tickets, accommodation booked & while the VISA was in process, we did complete reiki of the places to be visited & made a comprehensive TO-DO list for 10 days in Turkey. We were 4 girls travelling to a country which otherwise doesn’t enjoy a very safe status, courtesy media blowing facts out of proportion, thus had to be armed with enough info about Antalya-Cappadocia-Istanbul. Sometimes wishes to a wishing star do come true & we were on our maiden all girls trip.
Tip 1: Turkey unlike any other European destination is a huge country, thus it is advisable to book flights for travelling in the country to save time & energy.
We headed directly to Turkey’s resort destination Antalya via Istanbul, popularly known as the Turquoise Coast for it’s Mediterranean beaches. Antalya has an European flavor because of it’s beaches & pretty cafés in the Old Town. We checked into our hotel Grida City & after a quick nap, we walked down straight to Konyaalti Beach nearby. Unlike any other sand beaches I visited before, this was full of rocks & pebbles, adding to this on either sides were snowcapped Tauras mountains & cliffs offering a city view above them. We also witnessed a beach wedding & didn’t miss out getting clicked with the bride, before walking back & grabbing some drinks at the restaurants on the beach. The beach chairs with towels can be accessed on payment, but few hotels have it complimentary for their guests. We befriended an Indian guy travelling solo on his first abroad trip ever staying at one of these hotels, who was more than pleased to get us access to the beach luxuries & also offer us fine drinks.
The next day we headed to my favourite part of Antalya, a day long visit to Old Town- Kaleici, surrounding the Roman Harbour, with several buildings from Ottoman & Roman times, restored into boutique hotels, restaurants, hostels & houses. We entered the old town from the famous Hadrian’s Gate & lost ourselves in narrow lanes of beautiful Kaleici, where each door was a craft in itself, blooming flower pots adorned every wall & pretty café décor added vibrant flavor to each of these lanes. We did try out famous Turkish tea served in their exquisite crockery, shopped at their souvenir stalls & also picked up spices from the shops offering wide range of spices including few erotic ones. We further strolled down to the sea front at Old City Marina offering a spectacular view with various boats lined on the deck, tiny stairs from the boutique hotels leading directly to the blue waters giving ultimate de-stress goals. We walked out of this beautiful maze & toured around Tekeli Mehmet Paşa Mosque, Clock Tower & various fashion brand stores adorning the street. We headed back to our hotel by evening, after quickly grabbing, the must to eat Shawarma at the restaurants, on Ataturk Street with trams running on each direction for a tour of historical places.
Tip 2: The boutique hotels in Kaleici aren’t expensive & best to stay to enjoy the local culture. Also if you don’t want to walk the entire route, there is always tram available to take you through the main spots, but it doesn’t go down to the old town.
The day long walk did take a toll on us once we were back to our hotels, thus we went for an extremely rejuvenating Turkish hamam nearby, before calling it a day. The next day we headed to Duden Waterfalls which is a perfect picnic spot & also good location to unwind yourself with a boat ride under the falls. We purposely kept this day light on travel & preferred chilling at Konyaalti beach before heading to Cappadocia next morning.
Tip 3: The local photographers will click you without your knowledge & try to sell your photos beautifully framed in glass, make sure to bargain if you are keen to buy these.
We had seen various pictures of hot air balloons on these mushroom valleys as must do for top travel destinations & thus our excitement knew no bounds while we landed on the small airstrip of Kayseri Airport. It was nearly 1 & half hours drive to the Altinoz hotel in Neveshir & straight after check in, we went to the concierge desk to book for Hot Air Balloon ride for next early morning. The neighborhood was rather quiet & slept early, we spent the evening strolling down the streets while praying for perfect weather the next morning to experience the flawless take off.
Tip 4: Hot Air Balloon ride is must if you visiting Cappadocia, book it directly from your hotel or local tour operators to save in a lot of money (Costs around INR 8000-10000k if you book from hotel directly.) Also the weather has to be perfect for the ride, there are several days when the tour is cancelled due to bad weather, thus keep few days as back up incase you don’t make it on the first day.
The cab was there to pick us up around 3:30am in the morning & drove 4 of us to the takeoff location while constantly checking the weather on his app. Driving in pitch dark, with two unknown men, through desolated roads, was the only scary moment of our trip. We were among the firsts to reach the location, with quick snack spread out for us between numerous colorful balloons ready to take off with burners beneath. The orange beam of light started engulfing us as we soared up to witness the magical sun rise from behind the rocks. Flying above the rocks early morning with colorful balloons floating around was surreal. We hit back the ground after more than an hour & were awarded certificates with some champagne to celebrate our fantastic flight.
The desperate need to complete our sleep made us snuggle into the bed for a quick nap, before we left for Avanos Hatirasi- city centre at noon, where we grabbed some quick lunch strolling down the banks of the river & enjoying our leisure time with a gondola ride. The next we headed to the famous pottery workshop to witness designers articulately painting exquisite pieces of art & obviously couldn’t hold ourselves from buying few less expensive pieces. Cappadocia unlike any other city has very beautiful setup cut out from rocks, it doesn’t have many concrete architecture, instead has hundreds of spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms, emerging from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. People of this unique village have carved out houses, churches and monasteries from these soft rocks of volcanic deposits.
The next morning we went on a tour of this UNESCO Heritage site, visting Kaymakli underground city, mushroom valley, fairy chimneys, urgup & after an eagle eye view of Goreme town nestled between spectacular colored valleys, we actually spent our evening at this remarkable little town. This place had a typical Arabian nights charm, with carpets all over, doors & walls embellished with ceramic art, blue eyes available in all forms & sizes, beautiful ladies donning typical Turkish dance attire shaking their flexible bellies to the feet tapping music. We shopped for few souvenirs before having our dinner at one of the incredible cave hotels & finally grabbing some ice cream served by popular vendors in their unique spoof style.
Tip 5: Staying at Cave hotel in Cappadocia is a must & an experience in itself, these hotels are generally full & thus you need to book much in advance.
We finally flew down to the big city- Istanbul next morning, an amazing concoction of European & Asian culture. We stayed at Mercure Bomonti near Taksim Square ie modern Istanbul. More than the luxuries of the hotel we were swooning over extremely cute staff who left no stone unturned in making our stay special. We had already planned to let our hair down indulging in nightlong revelry at the popular avenue Istiklal Street. This is a popular upmarket street with an array of high fashion labels which transforms into one of the hippest party places as the night grows longer.
Tip 6: Istikal street is the place for all parties at night, but make sure you are extremely careful. Only visit the pubs on the main street & don’t dare to go to the bars in the dingy lanes, no matter how captivating it seems. There are various pub guys offering best deals on drinks & snacks right on the street, please do bargain, making sure to pay when u order rather than holding up the bill till the end.
We were pub hopping till wee hours of morning & spent some time catching up on our deprived sleep before leaving for touring the city. It completely transformed us into the medieval era offering a spectacular skyline of the Old city. We went around long queues to visit Hagia Sophia, Topkapi palace, Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Ortakoy Mosque before going on a shopping spree at Grand Bazaar & Spice Bazaar. The old town offers best cuisines from around the globe & we finally enjoyed a sumptuous Indian lunch. Our one stop destination for all nights was Istikal Street & thus another night of beer-swilling revelry.
Tip 7: Grand Bazaar is much hyped shopping destination, there are much more economical stuff of same quality & variety available on streets outside.
One of course can’t miss out on a Bosphorus Cruise in Istanbul, so the next day we went out to explore the natural, narrow strait separating European Turkey from Asian Turkey. The chilling winds almost froze us & we had no option but to move from the upper deck to the below enclosed section. There were several ships sailing on the waters & the panoramic view was as real as the breathtaking pictures we had seen online before. We then headed to some shopping at Istikal Street & wrapped up the evening early before hitting our beds.
Tip 8: Book your cruise tickets on the spot, advance booking is much more expensive. Make sure to carry few woolens, even if it’s May.
The next day at the airport, we met the same Indian guy, who had accompanied us at Konyaalti beach sharing his scary encounter at Istikal Street. He had apparently went on a daring spree to explore the pubs located in the dingy lanes offering better deals on drinks along with some exotic experience with Turkish girls but in vain. After gulping down few drinks, the local guys with baseball bats & knuckles held him up in a corner room to rob him & threatened him with dire consequences if he tried to escape. Handing over whatever cash he had, he begged for his release to these guys with menacing looks who kept searching him all over for over an hour. The horrifying experience finally came to an abrupt end, when they discussed something in their local language & asked him to just run out as fast as he could. Puffing & panting he ran for his life & was at the airport next morning frantically narrating us his escapade.
Wearing our eye masks, reclining our seats, we smirked at each other thanking our stars while praying for a safe flight back home.