Being frozen in Turkey

The further east I headed, the harsher the circumstances became. The climate changed significantly from being quite comfortable and sunny to extremely cold (-5 during the day). Therefore, ‘warm became the new sexy’. The best investment of this trip was a pair of super warm and comfortable (yet not really sexy boots). I once saw and advertisement saying that being cold is a choice. So my daily outfit contains almost everything I have in my backpack. But who cares, deodorant is the new way of doing laundry ;).

Yet, the cold isn’t that bad. I kind of like the extra dimension it gives to my trip. I’m seeing spectacular winter wonderlands and when you want to warm up with a cay (tea), people will always invite you to come and sit next to the wood fire.

Winter wonderland in Kayseri

These cold conditions also resulted in quite funny situations. Because what do you do if you’re couchsurfing and you both can’t sleep because it’s extremely cold? Yup, you share all the blankets you have and sleep as closely together as comfortable. Even though you just met the person. It’s a super fast way of becoming friends ;). Haha travelling makes a person very flexible.

It sounds weird, but after having done this for 2 weeks, I was exhausted of all the fun, short nights and social interactions. So I booked a hostel in Cappadocia. And for the first time during my trip I felt lonely! So after sleeping 11 hours a night and enjoying a warm room (and an outdoor shower while it’s freezing outside), I quickly looked for another couchsurfer… and the fun continued.

My blogs have always been very positive, not because I don’t want to show the negative side, but just because I like it so much here. Yet not everything’s always great of course. For instance, I spend Christmas day in the bus to Ankara. Not really great, though I have to admit that I’d almost forgotten it was Christmas, because it’s not celebrated here. But knowing that all your friends and family are together at home made me feel like I was missing out. Yet I still don’t regret my trip, and so a simple consequence was that I wouldn’t be at home during Christmas or New Year.

I saw a spectacular sunset from the bus though

As always, the highlights of your trip are not necessarily the most spectacular things you’ve seen. In Turkey, my absolute nr 1 is all the people I’ve met and new friends I made here. So if I can give you one advice: say ‘yes’ whenever people invite you for something (ok, sometimes you still need to use common sense). Some people plan everything on their trip, I’m awfully bad at planning ahead. To the extend that for this trip I didn’t even have a lonely planet (the bible for every backpacker). I’d watched ‘3 op reis’, a Dutch travel programme with a few short videos on Turkey and checked visa regulations, some travel blogs and the dress code for Iran. That was about all my preparations for this trip. But for Turkey this lack of preparation worked out pretty well, I would even recommend not planning too much and just see what happens. Be open for new adventures, because Turkey is an excellent place for it.

My nr 2 favorite moment was actually a very normal moment. I was walking to Ephesus, a UNESCO historical site. It was in the morning, the air was still foggy, yet the sun was breaking through and the smell of woodfires was still in the air after a cold night. This was such a peaceful and happy moment. Life slows down when you’re travelling and during this walk I remembered how blessed I am that I’m able to make trips like these. I know, I’ve made many trips and do super exciting things, but sometimes just the small and normal things are the most enjoyable.

Same for this morning, I was in Ankara in the Kocatepe mosque, a massive mosque (seriously, enormous. There’s even a shopping mall and parking lot beneath the mosque).

Kocatepe Camii Ankara

I was here during the prayer times (usually they ask tourists to leave, but somehow they didn’t). I just sat down for a while, while people around me were praying. There was so much peace here and it was beautiful and special to see the ceremony.

 

Prayers at the women’s section of the mosque

 

Another thing I would really recommend is the whirling dervishes in Konya. Konya isn’t a touristic place and everyone adviced me to skip it (actually same for Ankara, but don’t listen to them, because both Konya and Ankara are worth the visit). The only reason why I initially came to Konya was to break my 14 hour busride from Fethiye to Cappadocia. Which is probably why I liked Konya so much, because I wasn’t expecting anything. But instead of staying for 1 night, I stayed 3! Partly because of a great couchsurfer where I felt completely at home and because I needed a break in my travels. But also, the dervishes’ ceremony had something mystical. I could look to it for 1,5 hours and was still intrigued. Note: the whirling dervishes’ show is only on Saturdays at 19.00h.

 

Whirling dervishes in Konya

 

My trip in Turkey has come to an end and I’m feeling a bit confused about it. On the one hand I’m really excited (and slightly scared) about going to Iran. On the other hand, I enjoyed Turkey so much more than I thought I would. It’s sad to leave a country where you enjoyed every single minute you had. I’m quite sure I’ll come back to Turkey.
Ok, I’m heading to Iran! See you soon and don’t freak out when you don’t hear from me; facebook and some other apps are blocked.

Ps. For some people my way of travelling is already far out of their comfort zone, but I’m looking for ways to spice up (spicify) my trips. Anyone aware of travel competitions or any new challenges?

 

Cappadocia! Where you shower in outdoor showers and wear every single piece of clothing you have in your backpack

 

Turkey: the country where ‘sharing is caring’ is taken to a whole new level. 

It’s 7am right now and I’m sitting at a busstation waiting for my bus. This is the first moment in weeks that I’m alone and I’m trying to get grip on the rollercoaster I’ve been into from the moment I arrived. Turkey has amazed me more than any country I’ve been to so far.

For me, the one thing that makes a trip valuable is the people you meet. Travelling is amazing, but after spending a few months on the road, you start realising that every mosque is just a mosque and every historical building is similar in a way. So for me, travelling stays exciting because everything you see and do gets coloured by the people you meet on the way.

View over the bay in Fethiye. 

Most travel guides advice you to get in contact with ‘the locals’ (I really don’t like this term, since it draws such a clear distinction between ‘them’ and you). But sometimes it’s difficult to get in contact with the local population, either because you’re travelling as a tourist and stay in your hotel, or because the local population is more distant. Well, nothing is easier than becoming friends with the Turks.

I still can’t really get my head around how these things have happened so far. Because of the low season, most hostels are empty, so I prefer couchsurfing to have some company. The only time I therefore spent alone is the time on the bus. But once I arrive at the busstation, the next host is waiting for me already, which leads to new amazing adventures.

For example, I went paragliding, just because I love adventures. Just before we ran off the mountain, me and my pilot had a chat and I told him I was looking for a ride to the next city (because buses are constantly delayed, I decided to give alternative means of transportation a go again. Though I wouldn’t recommend hitchhiking alone here). And within 5 minutes it was all arranged: I had a super fast ride that saved me 2,5 hours in buses, I met with a great guy who even invited me to stay at his house and took me paragliding again the next day! How often did you experience that people offer free paragliding trips?

 I know that everyone’s thinking right now: ‘yeah sure, it’s pretty easy to stay at a guy’s house’. And that’s true, it is. But it’s not with bad intentions that people invite you. At least, not from what I’ve experienced.

Last night, a friend of mine described 3 characteristics of Turks: they all have a beard, they all smoke and they all think they can do anything. I agree that they’re all hairy and smoke way too much, but I would never use these characteristics to describe Turkish people. To me, they are extremely friendly, open and will do anything they can to help you out.


What’s better than drinking Turkish coffee with your new friends?
Hospitality here doesn’t just end by offering a bed or a ride. It means that whenever you’re someone’s guest, they’ll take care of you as if you’re a queen or a long lost daughter. I’ve met people who gave me a spare blackberry they had, who told me I could use their mini cooper for the day (I love mini coopers, but I was too scared to crash this one), and who paid everything for me during my stay. And no matter how hard you insist, they won’t let you pay.


Touring with the mini cooper!




It seems that every time I had a perfect adventure, I walk into someone who has been able to topple this experience. All these new friendships and amazing experiences only leave me with an extremely rich and blessed feeling. There’s only one week left in Turkey and I’m really looking forward to what’s going to happen.

Btw, couchsurfing in Turkey works like crazy. I usually post a public trip to see who has a spare couch. But in Bursa I received 50 invitations in only a few days! After this, I started posting my trips for a few hours and take them offline again, because the amount of responses is overwhelming. I have to admit though that this doesn’t work this crazy for men. But again, I’ve only had a million positive experiences so far.

I don’t like posting pictures of other people’s faces, so you’ll need to wait for that ;).


I can’t even count the amazing sunsets I’ve seen. 

 

Istanbul’s must sees and dos

I don’t have many rules in life, but there’s one rule that I generally follow; you don’t go to the same country twice. Never ever. Until I’d been to Istanbul and realised that if 1 city is so amazing, the rest of the country must be worth visiting as well. And so I broke my rules and found myself in Istanbul again, only 6 weeks after my first visit.

It’s hard to describe why I like Istanbul so much. Instead I’ll just give you the highlights, so you can visit Istanbul yourself! Forgive me, it became quite a technical blog. The next blog will be full of exciting travelling stories again.
There are 2 airport, Atatürk and Sabiha Gökçen. Most low budget airlines fly to Sabiha, but this is still pretty far from the centre. I had my amazing friend living just around the corner, so that was perfect, but if you arrive late at night, find an airbnb and go the the centre the next morning.
So, first of all, stay in Sultanahmet, the old city centre. I can recommend Mavi’s guesthouse, where you can sleep for a few euros on the rooftop and see the Aya Sofya from your bed (already mentioned in an earlier blog).

What to do in a city that has as many inhabitants as the entire Netherlands?

In Sultanahmet: visit the Aya Sofya, which is a super impressive mosque. Walk into the Blue Mosque and check it out, although the Süleymaniye mosque is more impressive and less touristy.

 Then go to the Basilica cistern and Topkapi Palace (please eat before you go in, I almost died in there because the complex is so large and food incredibly expensive).


Ok, time for some souvenir-shopping! On my first trip to Istanbul I found so many good things that my backpack became way too heavy. The guidebooks recommend the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. I would say, go there, take some pictures, feel the vibe, but buy your souvenirs in the area between the two markets. This won’t just save you lots of money, it’s also more fun. There’s a tiny book-market next to the Grand Bazaar which is worth walking through (though not mentioned in the Lonely Planet, so just ask for it). Near the aquaduct is a local market, go there and you’ll be invited for maaaany teas and way too much food which you’ll all get for almost nothing. And no other tourist will be there, since (again) Lonely Planet doesn’t mention this place.

You can combine the bazaars with the Süleymaniye mosque. Then have a meal at the bean restaurants behind the mosque, which used to be the ‘addicts-street’ but is transformed to a street with amazing food.
Take a boattrip on the Bosphorus, and who knows, you might even see a submarine or Russian military vessels.


Time for a change of scenery: cross the bridge, visit the Galata tower and as you make your way up to Taksim square, zigzag through the streets in this neighbourhood. Full of artshops and small cute coffee places.

If you still have energy and time, go to Ortaköy, which is a bit further north, but easily reachable by ferry. You can visit the Dolmabahçe palace (closed when I was there), drink coffees at the boulevard, eat kumpir (stffed baked potato. But be careful, it feels like a bomb on your stomach), stroll through Yildiz park and take the picture everyone takes here…


These places should keep you busy for at least 5 days. If you have spare time, visit the museum for Turkish and Islamic Arts and the Archeology Museum.

One last thing that I strangely really enjoyed: the crazy public transport. Like I said, I stayed at a friend’s place pretty far from the touristic attractions and Istanbul is massive. Every day I tried different routes to beat my record. This included ferries, buses (incredibly slow), metros (awesome) and mini buses (they don’t have a maximum passenger number. When you think it’s full, there are at least 15 extra people that will fit in. Very safe, because a pickpocketer won’t even be able to raise his arm). Even though I usually had no clue where I was, I always got home, because Turkish people are amazing. The strategy I always use when travelling; make sure that the person next to you knows where you’re going to and they’ll make sure you’ll get there. I once asked in a bus where I had to get off; 6 women around me started discussing it and eventually one decided that it was too difficult: they got their car and dropped me off at home! (Yes, I know, never get in a car with strangers). So I would say, use public transport and dare to leave the touristy areas. No one speaks English, but you’ll always get home somehow.
All in all, Istanbul has something magical. I’ve spent 7 days there now in total and wouldn’t mind to hang around there more.

Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions or remarks. LThere are still so many more places that I couldn’t mention.