*Forgive me for not taking many photos of the food we ate. The food was so delicious and was more prepared to consume it than to take a photo of it. – Cover photo by my friend and travel partner for this trip – Amanda
I am always down to try local cuisine wherever I go. For Turkey in particular, I did a bit of research myself but also had some amazing people give me recommendations whether it be the type of food I should try or places I should eat and what to order. I have compiled all the suggestions below in this post because Turkish food is amazing and we didn’t get the chance to try it all. (Thanks Kat, Regine – and her friend Serdar & Amanda’s friend)
Iskender kebab – this is thinly sliced beef with yogurt and tomato sauce over bread.
Kumpir – the ULTIMATE stuffed baked potato, it’s massive and they put everything on it, SO GOOD.
Börek – made of thin sheets of dough, filled with cheese, minced meat and/or vegetables, wrapped and baked or cooked. Su boreğı is the best (filled w/ cheese)
Manti – this is basically like mini meat raviolis in a yogurt sauce, go to a place that just makes this, they’ll do it right.
Lahmacun – like a flatbread w/ minced meat, you put some salad and balsamic & lemon on there and holy shit it’s the best.
Patlican salatasi – if you like eggplant, the best salad w/garlic & olive oil
Dolmas, especially the biber ones. – stuffed grape leaves, or biber is stuffed peppers, so good.
If you see a hosta piknik, you must get a tavuk döner – most tender chicken shawarma thing you’ll EVER have.
İmam bayıldı – again if you’re on the eggplant train, this is the best stuffed eggplant you’ll ever have.
Kofte – meatballs
Turkish Delight – Lokum – Usually a mixture of chopped dates, pistachios, walnuts or hazelnuts mixed with an abundance of flavours that add to it such as pomegranate for example.
Ayran – Salted yogurt drink
Atom – Yogurt & Orange – available at Kizilkayalar
Camlica – Lemon flavoured drink – Their version of 7UP.
Raki – Anise flavoured strong beverage
Location: Kadikoy – Ciya Restaurant
Hunkar begendi with taskebabi
Location: Eminonu– Hamdi Restaurant
1 Findik lahmacun
Location: Sultanahmet – Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi
Menu:1.5 portion sultanahmet koftesi
Location: Karakoy – Gulluoglu baklavacisi
Karisik baklava (desert) – BEST PLACE FOR BAKLAVA
Location: Taksim – Kizilkayalar (Cheap)
Location: Istikal Rd – Koska Shop
Best Turkish Delight in Istanbul – Coconut covered nutty white ones & the red pomegranate ones are the best
Location: Beyoglu – Antiochia Concept Restaurant
A hidden gem serving really good Turkish / Mediterranean food with a great atmosphere
Location: Beyoglu – Durumzade
It is an Anthony Bourdain pick from his show “No Reservations”. Highly recommended amongst people living in Turkey. Great spot for breakfast or Fish!
Location: Kadikoy – Iskenderogullari
1.5 portion Iskender Kebap
Location Takisim – Sampiyon Kokorec (Cheap)
Yarim ekmek arasi kokorec (check what it is first maybe you may not have stomach for this)
When you are crossing the Bosporus, get one simit (Turkish bagel) before the ferry go back of the ships when you are crossing the Bosporus and feed seagulls.
Check out my Amazon page for gear that I personally use and products similar to those I pack on my travels (many of which are listed below).
As a photographer, my priorities for travelling always have been photography first. I used the PRVKE bag by WANDRD as my personal camera bag. My trusty Yellow North Face Basecamp Duffel was my main luggage.
My philosophy when travelling is purchase only as much as you can carry back.
Marked in BOLD are clothing or items that weren’t needed or I didn’t use.
Wearing onto Plane
PRVKE – Carry-On
50mm – DIDN’T USE
batteries – 3
GoPro/Apeman – DIDN’T USE
Mogics – power bar
USB charging cable
Samsung T5 SSD external + cable
Card reader + cable
Macbook Book Air
Eyedrops – Rohto 40
Selfie stick + phone attachment- DIDN’T USE
umbrella- DIDN’T USE
strap for cellphone case
case for glasses
foldable waterbottle – Only used after entering airport in Toronto – Turkey drinking water is not drinkable
collapsible straw – DIDN’T USE
Toilet paper – grab from 1st hotel – DIDN’T USE
Passport Money – TRY,Euro,Pound,USD,CAD Wallet – Didn’t use USD or Pounds
We met up with the rest of the group at 730AM at a nearby hotel. From Kusadasi, we drove 3 hours to Pamukkale. We drove through a few towns such as Nazili where the average age of life expectancy is 88 years old with oldest being 100. There are no fumes and mountains all around with sustenance being natural nuts. Pamukkale translated in Turkish means Cotton Castle.
When we arrived at the ancient city of Hierapolis, Guray walked us through to show us the theatre, Hades Gate and eventually brought us to Cleopatra’s Ancient Pools. The government protects Cleopatra’s bath. The entry fee to enter the baths are 50TL with a 10TL for lockers and do not include towels. Cleopatra’s bath. The natural waters come from Cleopatra’s bath (36°C) filled with mineral-rich thermal waters that flow down into the white calcium carbonate travertine terraces.
Guray gave us 1.5 hours to roam the terraces. Depending on the week, they choose which portion of the travertine terraces the water will flow to. There are no shoes allowed. The ground is full of so much textures and can be abrasive to walk on at certain points. Be aware that there are patches that are slippery! It was absolutely a perfect day with temperatures reaching 16°C and we finally could soak in some sun. The actual terraces are filled with mineral riched waters but also freezing cold. There is a hot stream of water that flows down which is flowing with the same water coming from the thermal pools of Cleopatra’s Pool.
Our plan was to walk down as far as we could then take photos as we went back up. We decided half way through to not walk all the way down because we would lose the effect of the terraces and it was just so beautiful in every direction so we didn’t need to go further. The sun was out shiny so at certain points we didn’t know if are photos were over exposed or not.
We took our time on these terraces but the path back to the buses is something you should try to take a moment to see. The view from above is different and you can see it all. We went directly to lunch and afterwards like all the other tours, we stopped by a jewelry store.
We got transported to the tour office and since we had time, we went nearby to have a coffee and tea break with Danee and Paolo. The ride to Denizli airport seemed so long but we all fell asleep. Into the airport we went and we all took time apart to just disconnect and connect to social media. A 45-minute flight later and back in Istanbul. Our tour company had arranged rides back to our hotels and it just so happened Danee and Paolo were riding with us back to Sultanahmet/Ortakoy area. Allegra their daughter has a lot of emotion and doesn’t like to say goodbye. We said our goodbyes and our hearts broke when she said “ I don’t want my friends to leave” and tears came rolling down her cheeks. She blew us a kiss and off they went.
Prior this trip, I applied for this travel experiment called Yuujou. It started as an idea to see if we would be able to travel the world from Berlin to Tokyo in 100 days but only travelling through friends of friends. A week before this Turkey trip, I was the first to make it to the Top 10 out of 30,000 applicants in 167 countries (which is still wild to me). Since then, I have many people within the Yuujou community that have been following me on social media. While I am travelling, I tend to post daily on social media (since all the information is fresh – helps me keep organized). I had chatted with another person who lives in Turkey but in another town too far away from Istanbul or the other towns we visited. I did get a message from another Yuujou applicant name Jidechukwu (Jide) and he wanted to meet up if we had time. I had messaged him and originally planned to meet up Friday but we had time Thursday night so we arranged to meet when we arrived back to Istanbul.
Now, back to the night we returned to Istanbul from Pamukkale. We met with Jide for a late dinner. We had taken the tram to the Taksim Square area for a late dinner but by the time we had made it to that area, the restaurant decided to close early so on the metro we went. We arrived at Pehlivan, which was a 24/7 restaurant. You can pick what items you want and just ring it up. They had employees who even carried our food upstairs for us. Jide is originally from Ebu, Nigeria and was a Computer Engineer. He moved to Istanbul about 2 years ago and now is working in the Immigration protocols industry. We ended up talking until 230AM about a whole bunch of things including yoga, football and the correct pronunciation of hippopotamus. It’s a strange but wonderful connection that Yuujou has been able to do and the actual journey for Yuujou hadn’t even begun yet. The Yuujou adventure will take place starting March 31st – with a 2 week workshop in Berlin and the official start date will be April 11th, 2019 – July 20th, 2019. Two teams of 3 will split up (one goes East and the other West) starting in Berlin in hopes of meeting the other team in Tokyo in 100 days. Watch the adventure as it unfolds! YUUJOU
We booked a hot air balloon ride with Royal Balloon for the 16th however I got an email telling me that the Turkish Aviation had cancelled our original date for our morning flight due to potential bad weather. We rescheduled for the 17th with 18th as a backup date. We booked via Tripadvisor and booked the Queen flight (1 hour + champagne and breakfast). Turns out we hopped on a King Flight (1.5 hours) I guess it was because our original day got cancelled so they rescheduled. Normally, Royal can fit 16 people but for more comfort, they put 12 people.
We got picked up at 610AM from our hotel and brought to Royal’s headquarters for buffet style breakfast. After breakfast, we were split into our designated vans for the flight. The van is following a truck that holds our air balloon and we drive about 10 minutes to open fields. You look out the window where it is still somewhat pitch black but see these huge mounds that look like they are part of the facade to only realize that they are balloons that are slowly being filled with air and getting ready for the gas and flames. The set up of the balloon is quite quick. We all hopped in and off we went.
Our pilot was Geert who was originally from Belgium and has been flying for over 22 years. He told us that the only real control he has is turning with the balloon but in terms of speed, he just needs to find the wind pockets by going up or down in the sky. I have to say the beginning with the hazy skies before the sun rises was the best part. He was telling us that today was the first day in a week that they have been able to fly balloons so lucky us! The sky is de-saturated hues of pink to blue. Gloves and feet warmers are something you want to consider having but other than that, it was absolutely amazing. Remember to listen to the instructions of your pilot as there have been casualties in the past. If it is a windy day, for landing, you need to crouch in the basket and hold on tight to the blue ropes. It wasn’t windy today and so we braced for the landing standing.
To end off our wonderful experience, we cracked open a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries before getting dropped off back at our hotels. The whole experience finished by 830-9AM.
We also booked the Red tour for 30 euros – 930AM-430PM – includes lunch, english speaking tour guide, hotel pick-up/drop-off. We got back to our hotel in time to go back to our room to charge our phones a bit and warm our feet.
Our tour was booked with Woop Woop Travel and our guide for the day was Mustafa. We also made friends with Miguel from Guadalajara, Mexico who is a lawyer (sometimes a teacher as well) and She from Osaka, Japan.
Uçhisar Castle – Loads of interesting areas in this place. There are 2 “hills” that over a nice view from the middle. You can climb up and down the hills to the rock formations however the castle is quite far of a walk to get to from the main parking lot. This natural castle was used as a defence mechanism to prevent any attacks from the enemy. Since its location was central, it was used as a control centre for the trade way like the silk road during the Persian overtaken period. In Ottoman time, the castle was the location for protection and maintenance.
The Fairy Chimney homes haven’t been inhabited since 1980’s as the roofs started eroding and falling apart causing harm. The government then started a exchange program with residents to sell them their fairy chimney homes in return for money and land to build a new home.
Fairy Chimneys were formed from the volcanic eruptions millions of years ago that have erupted throwing huge mounds of ash all around and they are formed by different rock sediments and also covered by a layer of basalt.
Göreme Open Air Museum – Too many tourists here. Like too many. There are 2 churches in this museum and both you cannot take photos or video in. There are many nooks and crannies in this place that you can climb and walk to but considering all that we saw the previous day, this place wasn’t anything too special.
Love Valley – Fairy Chimneys – All along the parking lot and cliff of the Love Valley viewing area, there are tons of structures – “hot air balloons”, swings, carriages etc that you can sit on and pose with that overlook the valley with penis shaped rock formations below. You can swing out towards the valley which makes for a cool photo spot.
Pottery Demonstration – Really cool to see the artist’s studio space and seeing the inner workings of how the whole process comes together. We saw artists drawing and painting so intricately. After they demonstrate how they traditionally create pottery using their pottery wheel. We then went through their 2 rooms of pottery you can purchase before leaving.
Paşabağ – Best location of the day – go left and there will be a sign on the rock saying danger or do not enter – Go enter but please be careful as you have to walk up quite angled to get to the top. It sort’ve looks like The Wave in Arizona only half of the wave and white. Here you will see mushroom shaped rock formations.
Devrent Imagination Valley – We were only there for a short period to take photos but you can see shapes in the rock formations such as a camel, a penguin to the left of it, to a hand further left.
Ürgüp Three Graces (Beauties) – This is the 3 rock formations that are similar to the Three Sisters in Blue Mountain, Australia but the story goes: According to legends, the King had only 1 heir to his throne and it was his daughter. The daughter was madly in love with a shepherd and her father disapproved and wanted her to marry a man of authority. She decided to escape and secretly marry the shepherd and gave birth to a baby. She thought the king would forgive them thanks to their child and went back to the palace. Little did she know the King showed no mercy as he saw this as a sign of betrayal and sent his whole army to kill this family. The princess was running away from those soldiers and she prayed to the God “Please, my God, make us either a stone or a bird”. The God accepted the prayers and they were converted to stone.
We decided to have an easy night and walked out to Baskent Doner. I grabbed the mix kebap for 20TL ($5CAD). We hung out in the room and just recharged our phones, journaled and whatnot.
I discovered a great flight deal that had multiple countries in which you could pick to travel to for only $390CAD roundtrip.
I originally wanted to go to Kazakhstan but no one wanted to go with me. The only person who was interested and had time to go was my friend Amanda but she said “Why don’t we go to Turkey instead” and that was it. We booked for 10 days.
We booked this flight deal back in Oct/Nov 2018 and by mid-November, the itinerary was set and pretty much everything was booked and confirmed. To make the most of the short timing we had, we booked a few tours so we could cover 4 cities.
I made a very ambitious itinerary but I have to say that we did almost everything and then some. The only thing we missed was visiting Suleymaniye Mosque and we went quickly past the Hippodrome of Constantinople. Also, we were expecting the weather to rain the whole way through but it was perfect and only rained the day we left and then snowed the day after.
Before I get to my itinerary (at the bottom if you scroll) here are some helpful information and brief facts of Turkey.
As a Canadian, we required a Visa to enter Turkey. You can purchase your Turkey Visa online – $61.50USD – Official website for Visa
Communication / Data
If you don’t have to purchase a sim card right away, purchase outside of the airport as the price is steep. Remember to have your passport with you. We got in really late so Vodafone was the only place open and the cheapest price was 280TL ($70.50CAD) for 100 minutes calling, 100 SMS & 7GB Data. We purchased 1 sim card and hot spotted. We did get a free battery charger but it wasn’t compatible with my Google Pixel 3. BRING A BATTERY CHARGER IF YOU ARE USING YOUR PHONE FOR NAVIGATION.
The outlet is the regular European 2 circle prong.
$1CAD = 4TL (as of Feb 2019)
-The currency for Turkey is Turkish Lira – TL – ₺. Many places also accept Euro – € or credit card.
-For 10 days, I exchanged $300CAD worth of Lira ₺ in Toronto. I went to Roscoe Trading, as the rates are similar to the XE.com rates. I also pre-booked all my flights and hotels prior to the trip.
Book in Advanced
-Pre-book your Hot Air Balloon if you are planning on doing it in Cappadocia.
-Tours – The easiest way for us to add Ephesus and Pamukkale was to book a tour that would pick up and drop us off at our hotel in Istanbul (45 min flights to Izmir and back from Denizli)
It is not safe to drink the tap water in Turkey. Safe for cleaning purposes.
Unlike North America, you will need to purchase water or drinks as they will not be provided at meals. One tip is to visit a store or places such as the Grand Bazaar and store owners will offer you some tea or apple tea.
-If you are entering any metro system, malls, museums, and Bazaars etc – there are security checkpoints. You must go through a metal detector and also have your bags scanned. There are also armed police officers at many of these places.
-At Airports, you must pass through security and screening before you can even get into the airport then must do another check before you can get to the gates.
Cabs – ALWAYS ASK PRICE BEFORE YOU HOP IN.
Apps – Uber is technically ILLEGAL in Turkey however, you can still use it (there are few drivers) BUT Turkey/Istanbul does have their own version called BiTaksi where you can request a yellow or blue taxi and the prices are consistent.
Public Transit – The Istanbulkart is also a very reliable transportation with a card costing 6TL ($1.50CAD) – Bus, Metro, Tram and ferry. You can reload at multiple places besides the metro stations. When you take multiple trips at once, the fare is discounted. Unlike what Toronto has with the metro card, you can tap multiple times right after each other to use the card for multiple people if need be.
NOTE: The Metro (train system) hours are 6AM-Midnight.
If you are sure that you will visit more than 5 museums included in the pass, it makes sense to buy the Museum Pass Istanbul. For us, we booked other tours which included many of the attraction entry fees.
Try to learn a few words here and there. Knowing numbers helps in less touristy areas. For the most part, majority of people can speak English but there are cases where they don’t so try your best to learn.
Hello – Merhaba! (Mare-ha-ba)
Goodbye – Hoşçakal (Hosh-cha-kal)
Goodbye – Güle güle! (guu-leh guu-leh)
How much does it cost? – Ne Kadar? (Nay Kad-ar)
Thank you – Teşekkür ederim (Te-Sh-qu-err ed-err-im)
Yes – Evet (Ev-et)
No – Hayir (Hi-ear)
Ç – sounds like ch as in “chipper”
0 – sıfır
1 – bir
2 – iki
3 – üç
4 – dört
5 – beş
6 – altı
7 – yedi
8 – sekiz
9 – dokuz
10 – on (11 – on bir)
20 – yirmi (21 – yirmi bir)
30 – otuz (31 – otuz bir)
40 – kırk (41 – kırk bir)
50 – elli (51- elli bir)
60 – altmış (61 – altmış bir)
70 – yetmiş (71 – yetmiş bir)
80 – seksen (81 – seksen bir)
90 – doksan (91 – doksan bir)
100 – yüz (200 – iki yüz)
I travelled through February, which is considered down season. The weather varies but the temperature ranged from 15°C to a low of -2°C depending on where you are in Turkey. We found that in Cappadocia, the weather ranged from -4°C to 6°C. In Istanbul, we had a low of 2°C to a high of 11°C. In Ephesus and Pamukkale, we had a low of 3°C to a high of 16°C. Each place, it started off cold in the morning but all warmed up during the day. This time of year calls for more rain and a little but of snow so be prepared!
If you like the service provided, 10TL is suffice. Remember if you are doing a tour, to tip the driver and guide. For the most part, you don’t need to tip.
-Almost everyone smokes. Unlike Canada, you will see some people smoking indoors at certain restaurants and cafe/bars.
-Cappadocia in particular smells like fumes (from all the tour vans, buses) and also smoke from wood fires and people smoking.
-The road rules are for the most part just a opinion and aren’t always followed so be careful! People J-walk all the time.
-There are loads of Mainland China tourists everywhere. I guess China is so close and cheap to fly so they are plenty. Or there are many European travellers. We only heard a handful of Americans around. Turkey went through some economical turmoil in recent years so they are rebuilding.
-The Turkish people in general, have such strong facial features. They are also a mix of ethnicities originating from the invasion of Ghengis Khan so many Turks are of Mongolian descent so they also have a unique look. Many have very symmetrical faces and strong facial features such as cheekbones and jawlines.
-Streets in Istanbul are mainly cobblestone especially not main Street. The streets in Sultanahmet are all narrow and not built for normal 2 lane driving. The streets are also slanted similar to San Francisco. It may seem like they are 1 way streets but they aren’t. There is no true order to the chaos but no one yells and they help each other out to get through. On the main streets, the trams run super close to the sidewalks but had little barrier/cones. I love when streets split into 3 and have the homes that also are shaped to it.
-Turkey is a country that is located in the crossroads of Europe and Asia – The Silk Road and because of that, it was sought after land.
-Turkey is known to produce potatoes and pumpkin seeds.
-Turkish food is deliciously scrumptious. They are most famous for their kebabs and seafood. But you can’t forget about their coffee or tea or desserts such as baklava.
-Did you know Turkish people are descendants of Ghengis Khan and are part Mongolian. Ghengis Khan’s sons invaded many places and one of the places was Turkey when it was known as Anatolia.
-Turkey has been invaded 3 times in less than 1000 years and had to rebuild over and over. They conquered East to West originally but then were conquered themselves. The Persian invaded and brought camels with them then left and one of the persons in higher power left the empire to the Romans after his death. And of course the Mongrels followed them and conquered them.
-The Persians claim that the land Turkey resides was their ancestral land such as Troy, Ephesus etc.
-In 1923 President Mustafa declared this land to be the Republic of Turkey.
-There was a population exchange that was proposed by the Greek that sent Turkish Muslims to Turkey and Orthodox Christians to Greece and Armenia – forced relocation.
-The turkish people are very patriotic respectful and are against disrespecting anything with the Turkey flag on it – thus you will never see a coin with the flag on the ground ever. President Mustafa once had a meeting/presentation with a general from Greece who before stepping on stage, wiped his feet on the Turkey flag. In retaliation, the soldiers of President Mustafa laid Greece, Italy, France flags on the floor for him to wipe his feet on before going on stage but Mustafa yelled at them to pick those flags off the ground to show respect.
-Carpets are very important in Turkish culture. Seen as religious symbols, they are used in mosques. Each person has a carpet and when they passed away, that carpet is donated to the mosque.
Now, onto the itinerary. This was my original itinerary with some places doubled in case we needed another day as an option.