Travel Writer Hannah Lay shares her favourite places to spend a wintery weekend in EuropeWritten by Hannah Lay on 15th February 2019
Two Weeks In: Turkey
Travel writer Jacky Sy shares his experiences after spending two weeks in Turkey
I spent two weeks with my best friends in Turkey after graduation. We travelled around the three major tourist cities: Istanbul, Izmir and Cappadocia. Here are some of my best moments of the trip, giving an insight into the real Turkey.
Turkey’s location as the bridge between Europe and Asia has been a battleground over the centuries. There are two sites showcasing this history – the first being Hagia Sophia. This was originally built in 360 AD and served as a Christian church for thousands of years, until the invasion of Sultan Mehmed in 1453 which turned it into a mosque. This stands directly opposite the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque which was built in 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. They are regarded as the indication of the ever-lasting physical and ideological warfare.
Lonely Planet describes Cappadocia as ‘if plucked from a whimsical fairytale and set down upon the stark Anatolian plains.’ If you are a history or geography lover, then I would highly recommend taking a local tour of the area. There are four tours in total, of which I joined the Green one. Cappadocia was where the Christians avoided persecution by the Roman Empire. They utilized the soft stone and sought shelters underground. The tour gives an insight into their daily life living underground. Furthermore, you will have the chance to observe the cone-shaped rocks by going through the Ihlara Valley, Selime Monastery, and Fairy Chimneys. The legendary Star Wars once considered this Göreme area as the basis of one of the scenes.
If you are an adventure lover, the hot air balloon experience is something you should not miss, either as an observer or a participant. I advise you to stay in Cappadocia at least two to three days. Staying for this amount of time you will inevitably gain the experience of living in a real cave hotel – I had one of the greatest Turkish breakfasts in Cappadocia – and you will also witness the stunning spectacle of the hot air balloons under the sunrise. The sky becomes decorated with a hundred colours, however to fully experience it at sunrise there is one condition: wake up at 3am and occupy a comfortable position on the mountain.
It is well known that architecture is deeply rooted with Turkish history and religion. However, for those of us that are not interested so much in the history of Turkey, here are a few cultural and living aspects to discover.
Pamukkale, literally ‘Castle of Cotton’ in Turkish, is a unique experience and something not to be missed. Although it is a three hour bus journey from Kusadasi to Pamukkale, it still attracts over two million tourists annually. This UNESCO World Heritage site was shaped by calcium-rich springs over millions of years. The spectacular stone-white limestone makes you fall in love at first sight. We were lucky enough to have a sunny day, enjoying these outdoor pools in great weather and at a reasonable price. Make sure you bring your swimwear and sun cream, alongside a bag as wearing shoes or sandals is prohibited to prevent staining the delicate calcite deposits.
“Turkey is actually a relatively safe, tourist-friendly country
If an outdoor activity is not your cup of tea, why not enjoy the Turkish bath? It was inspired by the traditional bathing habits of the Ancient Romans. Instead of steaming, the Ottoman Empire put more attention on the process of cleansing and relaxation. There are a wide range of services available when visiting a Turkish bath; we tried something called the ‘Istanbul Dream’. After a 15-to-20-minute sauna, a member of staff brought us to the central room and started our massage. The cleansing room was completely covered in marble, featuring a big dome and several basins. The most magical moment was when the member of staff used a huge bubble of soap to cover our body before the tip-to-toe massage. The Turkish public bath has long served as a social pastime, regardless of gender or class.
The actual bath element is only half of the service. Each customer is then assigned to a cubicle where you can choose to take a nap after the relaxing bath or enjoy Turkish delight and a cup of Turkish tea with your friends. Remember when Edmund Pevensie sold his family and soul to the White Witch for just a box of Turkish delight, in ‘the Chronicles of Narnia?’ The appeal of Turkish delight does not need to be further explained. It is a Turkish tradition to start the daily or after-dinner conversation with Turkish delight and Turkish tea. Turkish delight is still common in Turkey and is readily available from corner shops.
If the architecture and culture is the vein of a country, then humanity is the blood activating the whole region. One may forget the taste of Turkish cuisine, but the service is unforgettable.
Airbnb is largely available in Turkey. Of course, the service and quality depend heavily on how much you are willing to spend on accommodation. But frankly speaking, the living environment is comfortable within a reasonably attractive price. One of the best Airbnbs is located in Izmir. The owner Tess kept everything clean and tidy and the service was thoughtful, from cleaning clothes to helping plan our trips. On the last day, we were offered a big bowl of fresh fruit and fizzy drinks as a goodbye gift. We left the Airbnb early in the morning, but she insisted on saying goodbye to us and even arranged her relative to send us to the airport for free. We were unbelievably touched at this as we had to be at the airport at 5am, but this was not a considered a concern.
We were slightly concerned with the thought of travelling to Turkey as a red outbound travel alert – the second highest level – was highlighted by the Security Bureau before our departure. They advise Hong Kong Residents to adjust travel plans and avoid non-essential travel to Turkey. Not to mention the media covered countless stories about how dangerous Turkey is! However, Turkey is actually a relatively safe, tourist-friendly country. Of course, it is always worth considering the risk and checking the specific areas you are travelling to before going.