For my most recent escapades across the Aegean Sea, while the Greek Islands were what I was looking forward to the most, Turkey was the place that really surprised me. Istanbul quickly climbed my list of favorite destinations and now holds a solid place as one of the top 3 cities I’ve ever been to. I wish we had allocated much more than two days to see everything as we severely underestimated its sheer size and all it had to offer.
Going in with the impression that the Turks were pushy, aggressive and rude to women (all things I’d heard from fellow travelers), our experience was quite the contrary. Much like France, where the men get a bad wrap, I found the Turkish hospitality to be pleasant, accommodating and the very definition of service.
While I rarely like to repeat locales, Turkey is definitely somewhere that deserves another look (especially for the amazing cave hotels and air balloon rides in Cappadocia!). Here are just a few of the reasons the country is so great (not even including that their National Sport is Oil Wrestling. Seriously, Google It.).
- A City By The Sea
Unlike Athens, which is a dirty, polluted commuter hub, Turkey’s central city is amazing. The European San Francisco if you will, Istanbul is divided into neighborhoods surrounding the Bosphorus strait on one side and the Black Sea on the other, which makes the division between the old section of town and the modern world very apparent, along with a clear separation where the country straddles Europe and Asia (Be sure to take the ferry to Chinatown!). Almost everywhere you go you can smell the sea and walk with the breeze in your hair.
- Way More Ruins, and Way Less Trashed
If you think only Greece is famous for the Parthenon and the Acropolis (that were sadly both littered with cigarette butts), think again. Kusadasi, a Turkish port town, is actually home to Ephesus, the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean and some of the best-preserved ruins in the world. Estimated to have only excavated about 15%, one of the must-sees is the Temple of Artemis, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World.
- Mediterranean Cuisine…Elevated
I couldn’t have been more excited to devour Greek food from its place of origin, and believe me, the fresh feta tomato salads, spanakopita, and baklava were everything I’d hoped they’d be and more. Until I got to Turkey that is. Using same Mediterranean flavors as a base, Turkish cuisine packs even more of a punch, with a strong emphasis on saffron, paprika and cumin from the plentiful spice markets sprinkled throughout the country. One standout dish was the Testi kebab, a Turkish stir-fry cooked in a clay pot, set ablaze and cracked open in front of you with a flourish. How Turkish cuisine has managed to stay under the radar is beyond me because it’s insanely creative and satiable.
- Even More Shopping and Way Cheaper
While Greece offered plenty of souvenir and shopping opportunities, unlike the Euro, the Turkish Lira’s exchange rate swings heavily in our favor. Second to none is the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt like I was going to faint shopping it was so claustrophobic, but the experience was memorable and one for the books.
- Interesting Spa Treatments
Plenty’s been written about Turkish bathhouses, and truthfully, the experience is hit or miss depending how high end you’re willing to go. Since we settled for the only one that was open at 11 pm, it’s no surprise our experience was a little strange. Presumably run by the Russian mob, these women were no joke, singing us Russian lullabies, while stripping and scrubbing us raw. More hilarious than relaxing, it’s all for the story.