The fascinating Ottoman country has unforgettable sights, satiating food and a captivating culture. When Ramya Kancharla and her husband had the chance to visit Turkey, they didn’t hesitate one bit. Here’s their story.
Turkey, precariously balanced between Europe and Asia, is a unique blend of culture and cuisine. This mesmerising land is the confluence of the East and the West, both of which have bequeathed unto Turkey elements of their rich histories and legacies, making it an unforgettable land.
My husband Prashanth and I spent two incredible weeks there. Our introduction to the country was its capital, Istanbul. In the mind of a history buff like me, Istanbul conjures up images of crowded bazaars, spice markets and grand mosques. It is all that and much more. Now called the “world’s hippest city”, Istanbul in its modern avatar is also home to exciting bars, restaurants, art galleries, fashion and design spaces.
During our five days in Istanbul, we stayed in a quaint guesthouse that literally leans on the walls of the Topkapi Palace, an opulent complex that was the home of the Ottoman sultans for many years. Visitors can tour the palace complex at their own pace. It took us well over half a day to cover the palace, but we were rewarded with a glimpse into how Ottoman royalty lived.
My favourite monument in the city was the perfectly proportioned Sultanahmet Camii, or Blue Mosque. Its name is a reference to the turquoise tiles that decorate its interiors to stunning effect. Prashanth’s favourite was the breathtaking Hagia Sophia, an extraordinary monument that was both a church and a mosque at different times in Turkey’s volatile history. Its current role is that of a museum, effectively representing the country’s secular spirit.
Over those few days, we tried to explore and experience as many of Istanbul’s attractions as possible. We haggled for tea and spices at the Grand Bazaar, appreciated the magic of the Basilica Cistern, gaped at the extravagant interiors of the fairytale Dolmabahce Palace, and admired the understated beauty of the Suleymaniye Mosque. In the evenings, we often found ourselves at the energetic Istiklal Caddesi, a lively pedestrian street perfect for people-watching. We would head for Galata Bridge to pick up fish sandwiches and fresh orange juice from street vendors, hunting then for a spot from which we could get the best sunset view. Our favourites were Galata Konak Café near Galata Tower and the roadside tea cafés in the Salacak neighbourhood on the Asian side.
Istanbul sunsets are truly spectacular. As the sun slowly sets, the sky puts on a show of brilliant orange and blue, providing a dramatic background to the imposing skyline of mosques, minarets and palaces. As the evening eventually turns inky, the lights come on across the monuments, often accompanied by the azan (call to prayer), breathing a magical quality into the city. As the place where Asia and Europe meet, a boat ride is all it takes to cross continents. We took many such rides on the mighty Bosphorus, trying to catch glimpses of the enigmatic city in its many moods: at dawn, at dusk, in the glittering darkness.
After the sensory delights of Istanbul, we were off to Cappadocia for some otherworldly beauty. This land of fairy chimneys is the result of years of natural changes to the landscape. It’s so surreal that you’ll think you’ve landed on the moon! We were staying in a cosy hotel in a cave, with rooms built right into stone cliffs. It really added to the feeling of being in another world.
We started our first day there with a hot-air balloon ride at sunrise. It was a cloudy morning, so we ended up waiting in suspense before we were allowed to take off. During the hour-long ride, we soared above a stunning, alien landscape, catching glimpses of the sun rising through the heavy clouds. It’s one of my most cherished memories from the trip. We spent the afternoon trekking through the lovely Ihlara Valley and were rewarded with a sumptuous lunch.
The rest of our time in Cappadocia was spent exploring the countryside. We visited the fascinating underground city of Derinkuyu, wandered around the Goreme Open-Air Museum, and stopped at the many viewpoints to determine which offered the most stunning vista. We ended our stay with a Turkish Night, a fun-filled evening in a cave setting accompanied by a medley of cultural performances, good food and drink.
After the intensity the first week, we were in need of some rest and relaxation. We headed to Fethiye, a laidback town on Turkey’s dazzling Mediterranean coast. Fethiye is usually filled with tourists in the summer, but we landed in the off-season with the place pretty much to ourselves. Despite concerns about the weather, the days were bathed in warm sunshine, and the evenings brought about a light nip.
We rented a two-wheeler in town and spent four glorious days exploring Fethiye and its surrounding areas. We spent a day at Oludeniz, a sheltered lagoon backing into an enormous cliff. This is often considered one of Europe’s best beaches. We lazed around on the beach, swam in the emerald waters, went paragliding to incredible views, and ended the day with a boat ride that took us out to sea for a perfect sunset.
An atmospheric morning was spent wandering around Kayaköy – an eerie ghost town evacuated almost overnight – trying to imagine how the town must have looked with its inhabitants still there. During the Fethiye evenings, we tried out the exciting restaurants at Fethiye Harbour or Calis Beach, watching the sun set while relaxing over good food and wine.
After four idyllic days on the coast, we were rejuvenated and ready to take on more of Turkey’s seemingly endless wonders. Our last stop was Ephesus, “the best preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterranean”. With its wonderfully preserved architecture, the ancient city takes visitors back in time. I recommend renting the audio guide, carrying water and allocating a good part of a day for this visit.
We used the small town of Selcuk as our base for the visit to Ephesus. It was also convenient for other day trips around the Aegean coast. We visited Kusadasi, a glittering city by the sea, for a taste of its famed café culture. Another day saw us in Sirence, a charming village nestled high among the hills, with its narrow cobblestone streets and whitewashed stone houses on both sides. Out of these homes peer old women in traditional costumes, urging you to buy local wines and other organic products, rewarding your hopeless bargaining skills with toothless grins.
Our two weeks in Turkey gave us tastes of the country’s rich history and fascinating culture, views of stunning landscapes and natural beauty, and memories of delicious cuisine and warm hospitality. We were left reeling from sensory overload and, ironically enough, craving for more. We knew we would be back to relive these memories, and to make new ones. Visit Turkey. Trust me; it will be the trip of a lifetime. – Ramya