For centuries, Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, remained as the centre of the world. The city which lies on two continents – Asia and Europe, has been of great significance. It flourished as a centre for trade and the gateway between Asia and Europe. Of course, I have read and known about this city for a long time. The history buff in me intuitively added Turkey to my travel list a long time ago. Naturally, I included Turkey as a stop on my backpacking trip across Middle East and Europe.
My goal was to reach Istanbul from Amman, Jordan. My parents were going to join me in Istanbul, and I had nearly 2 days to leave Amman and meet them. While searching for my options, the cheapest route happened to be via Ankara. I chose despite the longer travel time to have a chance to get a glimpse of the capital and also take the high-speed train. I arrived at the Ankara Esenboğa International Airport early in the evening. It is possible to get an e-Visa for Turkey, which is what I did. There was no line at the immigration, and I was able to exit the airport very quickly.
Out of the airport, I easily located the public bus stop and got on the bus – 442, to the city. In about an hour I reached my stop and after a 10-minute walk, I reached my hostel. Ankara seemed like just any other major capital city to me. The busy and bustling roads always keep my spirits up. Despite the fact that I had only a few hours at the hostel, I made some great friends. I found a convenience store close to the hostel to grab some snacks.
High Speed Train to Istanbul
Early next morning, after breakfast and confirming the direction from the front desk, I started walking to the Ankara Train Station (Ankara Garı). Early mornings in large cities, give me a chance to observe the daily busy routine of people. Ankara was no different. Through parks, busy markets and pedestrian bridges, I reached the station in half hour. Ankara station is a beautiful modern building.
Despite the offbeat façade and empty roads, everything inside is clearly marked. It didn’t take me a lot of time to get to the right platform, get my ticket examined, bag scanned and reach my seat. I pre-booked a seat on the high-speed train from Ankara Gar to Pendik. The train took me through beautiful vistas before reaching Pendik in about 4 hours. Pendik is 25km to the south of Istanbul. Since March 2019, the train has been extended to run another 20km to Söğütlüçeşme, in central Istanbul.
Getting off at Pendik, I was a bit tired to figure out the public transport to Istanbul and opted to take an Uber. Ubers in Turkey had been targeted by the local taxis, but I did not have any issues getting one or reaching my destination. After nearly two hours, and through the Eurasia Tunnel I crossed from Asia into Europe to reach my hotel. As soon as I checked in, I went out to get a very late lunch and also pick up water and snacks. Shortly later, my parents joined me. Since we were staying very close to the Sultanahmet Square (Sultanahmet Meydanı), we took a late evening walk to gasp and awe at the two magnificent structures facing each other.
The next morning, after an early breakfast, we headed straight to see the epitome of Byzantine architecture – Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sofia). After which, we went to Basilica Cistern, the underground water receptacle which is right across the street from Hagia Sophia. After lunch, we waited for the namaz to end to visit Sultan Ahmet (Sultan Ahmet Camii) or the Blue Mosque. In the evening, we walked on the banks of Bosporus till we could see the Bosporus Bridge. On the way back, we took a tram to come back to the Sultanahmet Square and capture photos of Hagia Sophia illuminated
The following day was spent exploring the Topkapı Palace and shopping for souvenirs at Arasta Bazaar. Later in the evening, we headed to the airport to get on a flight to Kayseri. After a short flight, we got on a shuttle to head to our hotel in Goreme (Göreme). Since we reached the hotel quite late, it was difficult to see the beautiful landscape of Cappadocia (Kapadokya).
The next morning, we woke up early to see the hot air balloons rise along with the sun. The stunning sight lasted through our breakfast. The area of Cappadocia also houses the underground cities Kaymakli (Kaymaklı) and Derinkuyu, which were built in 7th and 8th century CE. We chose to visit the underground city of Kaymakli. Like always, I talked my parents into taking the public bus instead of a guided tour. The biggest benefit doing that was we would reach the city at a non-peak time and have ample time to explore leisurely. The good ventilation and marked arrows made the exploration comfortable. After a couple of hours underground, we backtracked our way to Goreme.
After lunch and resting for a bit, we headed to the Goreme open air museum. I must note here, that the city of Goreme itself feels like an open museum. We stopped by the post office which was very close to our hotel before walking down to the museum. The monasteries and churches in the site are surreal. I recommend carrying water and going here early or late in the evening to avoid the midday sun. The accessories sold at the museum shops in Turkey are way too captivating to ignore! The cute town of Goreme will always remain in my heart.
Early next morning, we reached Kayseri airport to board our flights to Izmir (İzmir). From Izmir, we got on a taxi to the resort town of Kusadasi (Kuşadası). Interestingly, in the lobby of our hotel, we met a backpacking duo that we talked to in Capadoccia. After checking in and having lunch, we headed out. This port town had a beautiful promenade. We couldn’t resist but walk to pigeon island or Güvercinada and visit the castle. Being on the west coast, we could see a beautiful sunset. Along with our two new friends, we booked a taxi to visit Ephesus the next day.
The ancient Greek city of Ephesus was first inhabited in the 10th century BCE and has intrigued me for a long time. The city once housed the ancient world wonder – the Temple of Artemis, which today is in complete ruins. The Library of Celsus, built in 1st century CE is now the most prominent structure inside this old city. The city also houses a theatre with a seating capacity of 25,000, considered the most in the ancient world. Walking through the old roads of Ephesus teleported me back in time. Completing the visit to Ephesus also ended my time in Turkey. Being a port city, we decided to take a ferry to a Greek island the next morning.
No trip to Turkey can be complete without eating delicious food, especially sweets! Naturally, I had some of the best baklavas in Turkey. Turkish ice cream is also something worth having; more so, after exploring ruins in the hot sun. Gozleme, a flatbread with fillings worked well as a quick snack. The streets were always filled with all sorts of food. Chestnuts and corn were my favourite snack in the Sultanahmet Square. The food in Turkey, I felt was the amalgamation of the eastern and western cuisines.
Language was not a problem in the tourists spots as almost everyone spoke English. The only Turkish I knew were hello and thank you! People were all very friendly and helpful. Some even wanted to have a long conversation about India and Indian arts. Turkey is a beautiful country with beautiful sites and even more beautiful culture. A country that makes you not want to leave her.
Visited: Sept 2018