To start off this trip, we had to fly to Toronto to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Seattle before we made our way to Anchorage. I guess there are more direct flights out of Seattle to Anchorage, Alaska. We arrived around 1030PM where Kenny and Ryan were waiting for us. We walked out to arrivals and found a SUV that had the We the North flag hanging from it (Raptors won the Championship in Game 7!).
We went to the hostel – Arctic Adventure Hostel – to drop off our things and headed to Walmart (open 24hr) to stock up on sustenance for the next few days before finding a late night place to eat and have a drink. We ended up at 49th State Brewing Co. 49th State Brewing sits on a corner of a sloped street that also has 2 levels of outdoor patio with heaters and a beautiful uninterrupted view of the waters. We got a table with a live fire going to keep us warm but also in visible sight of the beautiful sun “setting”. Since Kenny and Ryan had arrived earlier, Merle and myself ate while we all drank some local beer and cheers to arriving to Alaska, the start of our adventure and Kenny reaching his 50th state.
I ordered the Baked Alaska Ale and the Elk Crossing 10” pizza (Elk Meatballs) – roughly $24USD (after tax & tip). We left the bar around 130AM and the sun was pleasantly still up as we drove home. Surprisingly, many people were still out and about. Summer is similar to Iceland where the sun rises at 430AM and “sets” (really just sits on the horizon) at 1130PM.
Since we were all coming from different parts of North America, we decided to sleep in a bit and start our day later. I routinely keep waking up for 7/8AM Toronto time so even though we went to bed around 230AM Alaskan time, I still awoke at 4AM. We ended up leaving around 930-10AM. First stop, Kaladi Brothers – We got reindeer breakfast burritos and they got cold brew coffee. According to many blogs I read, the highway going to Seward is the #1 scenic highway in USA. It definitely had some beautiful spots but I wouldn’t quite say it was the best I’ve seen in my travels. It was a pleasant drive nonetheless.
One of Kenny’s friends mentioned detouring to a small town called Whittier. Whittier has the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America. This tunnel lets to a small inlet town of Prince William Sound. This tunnel is a one-way tunnel that is shared by both cars and trains. It costs $13USD to go through and there are scheduled release times to allow traffic to go through smoothly. There are also restrooms available as you wait for your number to get the go ahead to go through.
One the other side in is Prince William Sound, a small inlet. There are a few waterfalls and also a bunker that use to hold many things. It was an interesting experience but if you have little time, I would suggest skipping it.
After this detour, we finally made it back on the road and enroute to Seward – Kenai Fjords National Park to do the Harding Icefield Trail. Parking is free and the visitor centre was open and restrooms available. The map shows you the trails you can take and also helpful tips if you were to interact with wildlife such as bears or moose. BUG SPRAY IS KEY!
We started our hike of the Harding Icefield Trail at the Exit Glacier. If you want to complete the entire trail to the top, it will be roughly a 6-8 hour hike. We arrived around 3-330PM and decided to hike to Marmot Meadows viewpoint. Reading all the comments of this hike, it was highly recommended to get hiking poles. The 3 of them had hiking poles but I decided to opt out of them. There are parts where it gets a little steep but for the most part, I was ok without them. I have to note as well that I guess I am slightly more athletic than the average person so if in doubt, get poles if you worry. Marmot Meadows viewpoint was a stunner. You get a good look at the glacier and the valley. The next point after Marmot Meadows, we attempted to goto since it would only be about an hour and we had made good time however, it got to the point where the trail was just covered in snow and me without poles, wasn’t the safest of options. Ryan and Kenny continued up while Merle and myself wait at Marmot Meadows for them. The hike down was rather quick (at least for me). I do recommend trying to go further if you can, the view just 10 minutes past Marmot Meadows I think has a better view than what you see at the Marmot Meadows lookout.
By the time we made it to the bottom, we did the smaller viewpoint loop to the bottom of the glacier.
We left the park and decided to look for dinner in town before driving back to Anchorage. We found a cool little place called Thorn’s Showcase Lounge. We all ordered a cup of seafood or clam chowder and shared some halibut butts (bites) and 2lb steamer clams in garlic butter. Delicious!
The good thing about this time of year is that the sun was still up and bright as we drove back and by the time we arrive back around 1230AM, they sun was right on the horizon and calming.
*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
Our final full day in Istanbul. Woke up, tried to see if we could watch the sunrise from our rooftop – it was cloudy. We had breakfast before walking back over to Arasta Bazaar to revisit Jennifer’s Hamam to purchase a towel for a friend.
We then went to Topkapi Palace Museum – 60TL – $14.82CAD. Topkapi Palace use to served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman Sultans. Topkapi means Cannon Gate. Over the years, Topkapi was left behind by the Ottoman sultans and moved to Dolmabahçe Palace as the sultans of that period liked being on the Bosphorus side. The Harem is apparently a not to miss but we didn’t purchase the additional ticket to see it. My favourite part of this palace was the Third Courtyard – The Audience Chamber. The different types of marble pattern and colours made this place super special and hands down my favourite. ALSO NOTE – there are many rooms where photography is NOT ALLOWED. I believe Dolmabahçe Palace is also a place with many rooms where photography is not allowed.
Amanda had heard of a particular leather goods store that she wanted to take a look at for a potential leather jacket purchase. We arrived at the mall to find out that the store no longer existed. From that location, we decided to walk 30 minutes to our next destination – Balat / Fener Neighbourhood. Didn’t realize that the walk would be on an incline. It was still fun and interesting to walk to this destination. Balat was traditionally the Jewish part of Istanbul on the western bank of the Golden Horn. The Fener neighbourhood beside was traditionally of Greek inhabitants.
We had lunch at Cooklife Balat which is inspired by Kinfolk and has their own magazine – Cooklife. I ordered the Acai bowl and a Pimento Ginger beer (40TL). The cafe is super cute and relaxed feel. The Balat & Fener neighbourhood is full of history and falls under the UNESCO heritage sites. The homes are still quite colourful and distressed looking with the slanted streets of cobblestone adding so much character. Nowadays, you can find a resurgence of young people opening cafes in this area.
After taking a bunch of photos and just wandering the streets, we took the bus back towards the Grand Bazaar with a slight detour courtesy of the bus we took. We ended up across the bridge to Karakoy but then hopped on the tram with the last bit of money we had on our Istanbulkart’s.
We ended up back at the Grand Bazaar to get our last minute souvenirs. Amanda got a leather jacket from Tyfoon at Best, a scarf and finally we grabbed some loose tea (Natural apple, pomegranate and ottoman teas) before walking home. The store owners constantly are trying to convince you to come into their store. They always ask “where are you from”. Today was slightly different in terms of where we were from. I got American – Hawaiian and even Cherokee.
We did a quick look through at the grocery store to pick up a few snacks and then stopped by a restaurant on the way back to our hotel for dinner. We had only 40TL left so we ordered our dinner based on the price and left with no more lira. We ate kofte (meatballs), chicken doner & pilav.
We spent the rest of the night relaxing and slowly packing.
Our airport van transfer came to pick us up at 230AM – 6 euros. If we were to order a taxi, it would cost relatively the same amount in Lira. Our flight was at 655AM and we had tons of time to check in.
Our flight was pretty smooth to Kyiv, Ukraine. 1 hour time difference. 3 hours stopover then a 10 hour flight back to Toronto. It was a little rough but not too bad.
Our whole trip however, the timing was absolutely perfect as there was no rainfall during our trip (which we prepared for). The weather was pretty good all around and even got up to 16C in Pamukkale. The day we left was the only day it rained. When we landed in Toronto, we had heard from our new friend Danee that it had snowed in Istanbul.
Amanda and myself realized that we spent at most 15 minutes apart each day – when we were in the washroom (but proximity wise, we were always in the distance of hotspot). We created our own “spaces” by being beside each other but doing our own thing whether it was on our own phones and chatting with others. We didn’t murder each other. I guess we have compatible personalities and can consider each other good friends.
I have to say that 9-10 days was definitely not long enough to take in all that Turkey has to offer so I guess I will be back one day. The land of beautiful people with amazing symmetrical facial structures and the land of amazing food.
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 had booked a 2-day tour of Ephesus and Pamukkale with Road Runner Travel. They picked us up at our hotel at 5AM to drop us off at the Ataturk Airport to catch our flight to Izmir. A short 45 minute flight with Turkish Airlines with a meal included!
When we arrived, we had a driver waiting for us with my name on a piece of paper. We also had a family of 3 from Argentina and a family of 3 from Philippines joins us. The driver dropped us off at the tour office and we moved to another van to take us around for the next 2 days. For the day, we also had an Indian couple who live in Washington DC and a pair from Korea.
We became good friends with the young Filipino couple and their daughter. They have lived in China for a year and moved to Istanbul 6 month’s prior. Danee is originally from Saudi Arabia (speaks Arabic, Tagalog, Turkish and English). She is currently volunteering to work with Syrian refugees – more specifically working with women coming from abusive environments. Her husband Paolo is also originally from Philippines. He is a Journalist and a director and moved from China to Turkey for his work that is written and produced in English. Their daughter Allegra is 2 years old and has her lovely stuffed Ikea dog name Zaza.
Fact – There are tons of Tangerine trees around but people don’t really eat it off the tree as they are too bitter. The use the tangerines to make it into juice and marmalade.
Our tour guide was Guray. Our first stop was House of the Virgin Mary – The House of the Virgin Mary is a Catholic and Muslim shrine located on Mt. Koressos in the vicinity of Ephesus, 7 kilometres from Selçuk in Turkey.
We continued to the Ancient Greek city of Asia Minor known as Ephesus (Efes). The city still features a 25,000 seat amphitheatre, the Celsius Library (my absolute favourite spot. You can pay an extra fee to see the Terraced Houses. You can also see one of the world’s oldest advertisments. The carving features an image of a cross, a woman, a heart, a foot, a money purse, and a library, plus a hole dug into the rock.
One interpretation of the carvings is as follows: up at the crossroads, on the left, you’ll find women whose love can be purchased. But please, only stop in if your foot is at least this big, young men, and you have enough coins to fill this hole. Otherwise, we kindly direct you to the library on the right. At least they suggested a more enriching experience for those who were too young to enter the brothel. Ephesus use to be a port town however the port has dried up and now only has a small pond.
One of our guides was asking if Amanda and I were best friends and we both looked at each other and hesitated and said acquaintances. But considering the furthest we’ve been apart is Hotspot distance for the entirety of this trip I would have to say we’re pretty good friends now. But not best friends.
We stopped for lunch at a buffet then onto a Leather goods factory. They had an elaborate setup with a fashion show. We walked through but the salesman where surrounding you anytime you touched a jacket or item and would follow you everywhere. Turkey is known for their leather goods and the products seemed nice but the minimum for a jacket at this place was $250USD.
After the leather factory, we had the option of going to a carpet factory or stop for figs and nuts – the figs and nuts were also a store where we could buy souvenirs. We took a break at St John’s church but hung out in the park with some ancient ruins that was littered with garbage in the aquaduct.
Back into the van and to a mosque we went to learn a little more about the culture.
Our final stop for the Ephesus tour was to the UNESCO site – Temple of Artemis. There is only 1 column left standing. The land is swamp land and so they laid layers of coal on the bottom as their foundation to help with the shifting and moisture. They built the roof out of wood and as a donation to the gods, the people would give olive oil which was stored in the building. One day, the temple caught on fire and it was the perfect storm.
Afterwards we drove to Kuşadası (beach town) where we would stay the night. We stayed at the Istankoy Hotel. Glorious 15°C along the coast with such a lovely view and even lovelier people. We sat on the rocks to soak in some sun when a mother and her 3 children sitting beside us offered us sunflower seeds. When we left the rocks and started walking to the fish market, we bumped into the family again. The mother asked me if I was from Kazakhstan but with a language barrier I was able to tell her I was Canadian and the rest of the conversation was just interpreted in smiles and hand signals. We walked into the Kusadasi Bazaar and that is where you will find some decent knock offs of designer goods. We ate some half bread chicken doner for dinner. We had enough time to walk back to the pier to watch the sunset with beautiful hues in the sky along with a partial red moon that was so large. And finished the night off with some Dondurma (5TL).
Woke up around 730AM and had breakfast at the hotel before we began our day. I also realized the hamam scrub took away at least 2 shades of colour for me. I haven’t been this pale in a very long time. This would be the first full day in Istanbul. I had planned this trip so we had 2 half days and 2 full days to roam about Istanbul. And let me tell you, this day was super active.
We walked to Arasta Bazaar where we purchased some locally weaven, organic, ethically made Turkish towels and blankets from Jennifer’s Hamam. Jennifer Gaudet is originally from Canada. @jennifershamam. Haci was very knowledgeable and helped us out. He also gave us a tip for the best baklava in town (which we visited later that day).
Our next stop was the Sultan Ahmed Mosque aka the Blue Mosque (certain parts under restoration – many locations we went were also under restoration). You need to take off your shoes to enter the mosque and you can also rent a headpiece for females for free to visit. It is free to visit.
Hagia Sophia was next on our itinerary where we bumped into our new friend Shu who we met in Cappadocia in line. The ticket fee was 60TL – $14.98CAD. It was so beautiful and you just have to keep looking up. The light coming through seemed magical. Hagia Sophia was a former Greek Orthodox Christian cathedral which later became an Ottoman imperial mosque and is now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi).
Just 500M away from Hagia Sophia underground is the Basilica Cistern aka Yerebatan Sarayi (meaning Sunken Palace). The Basilica Cistern was the major water reservoir of Constantinople. Later on was the water storage for the Ottoman period for Topkapi. It cost 20TL entry fee (Also note that this entry fee would not be covered by the Museumcard if you purchased it). It is the size of a cathedral and has 12 rows of 28 columns to support it. There are two massive medusa heads in the far corner of the cistern. The statues showcase the head of Medusa on its side and upside which is said to have removed her powers.
Back onto the tram we went to continue across the bridge to the Karaköy area. First stop – Rainbow Stairs – They weren’t quite as vibrant of colours as I had thought they would be. From there, we walked to Taksim Square where a festival was happening. There were stalls of homemade crafts and literature. We purchased some handmade jewellery. For lunch, we stopped by Kizilkayalar for a hamburger and atom (milk with honey and carrots) – 2 burgers and 2 atoms for only 30TL – $$7.49CAD. Cheap but good and fast eats.
Just outside of Kizilkayalar, you can see the famous tram come through on the infamous Istikal Rd. We walked the street that was packed with people going both directions and stopped for Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir (Turkish delight) and Mandabatmaz (Turkish coffee) – this shop is in a small alley and you can either sit inside or outside the café. I don’t usually drink coffee and the last time I had one was in a jungle in Lao, where we picked up coffee from a lady on the side of the road and was brewed on a open fire where we drank it beside a waterfall and the treehouses we slept in the night before. This coffee was different – it tasted a little more burnt and the grounds sit at the bottom of the cup. There isn’t an aftertaste to it and it is also served with a cup of water after to cleanse the palate. The coffee is brewed on a open flame in their small copper cezve and served in a little espresso cup – 7TL a cup.
At the end of Istikal Rd, it led to Galata Tower. Entry fee is 35TL – $8.74CAD. We went up as the sun was slowly setting. Such a nice 360 view of the city where you can look onto the Sultanahmet side and even over to the Asian side. The balcony isn’t that large so it does get crowded to move around and people move slowly through.
We took Haci’s advice and went to Karaköy Güllüoğlu – delicious and WORTH the visit. We ordered the Şöbiyet with Pistachio (with milk filling) and a normal square baklava. Haci’s number 1 tip when eating baklava – Turn the baklava upside before you put it in your mouth – that way, when you eat it, the top doesn’t stick to the roof of your mouth and makes the experience so much better.
We stopped on the Galata bridge to watch the sunset while fisherman fish off the side of the bridge. When we crossed over the bridge, we went into the Eminönü area to grab some coffee from Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi (famous Turkish coffee) and Kurukahveci Nuri Toplar (Woodfire roasted coffee). Timing was perfect as we made it just in time before both stores closed within 30 minutes. Since we were already in this area by the water with the full moon in force, we had dinner at Hamdi Restaurant before walking back to our hotel. We ordered the Findik Lahmacun 5TL (Turkish pizza), Urfa Lahmacun 20TL (Turkish Pizza), Fistikli Kebap (kebab with pistachio – 50% veal, 50% lamb meat) 54TL & Ayran (diluted salted yoghurt drink) 7.50TL.
We decided that it was a nice night to walk back to our hotel. It took about 30 minutes but we got to see more of the city that way. Many of the stores were closing or closed so it was a very peaceful walk.
We woke up early to go to Sunset Views Lookout point to watch the hot air balloons from the ground (there is another lookout point) since we were in the air the previous day. It was such a rush and only 13 minute walk to get to this lookout point from our hotel. It was -4°C and we didn’t bring gloves with us. It was well worth getting up to watch the sunrise and seeing the hazy hues of blue and pink come up again. Such a different yet exciting feeling to see the hot air balloons rise as the sun rises. Would highly suggest bringing gloves and hand/feet warmers if you are going around this time of year.
We made it back to our hotel to have breakfast before walking over to Galerie Ikman to get some last minute shots. Said our final goodbyes to Suleyman and hopped on a shuttle van (6 euros each) to head back to Kayseri airport to head back to Istanbul. Made a super cute little baby friend on the plane ride. We took Turkish Airlines back to Istanbul – smooth and fast flight.
When we finally arrived, we walked over to the Metro and purchased our Istanbulkart – It is 6TL and can purchased from one particular machine then there is another machine where you can fill up your credits. Remember to leave the card in the slot as you place money into the machine to update the credits. Tap and go. We took the M1 line all the way to the second last stop before going above ground and walked over to take the tram the rest of the way.
We booked Rumours Inn for the rest of the week in Istanbul. Super cute hipster looking hotel with breakfast. Our room was 301 and there are no elevators here but spiral stairs. The room itself is cute and we have a balcony that is actually indoors. There also is a rooftop terrace that has some amazing views looking out to the water. Our landmark to know we needed to turn onto the main street to get to this hotel was a Chinese restaurant with red lanterns.
We got into the hotel and immediately changed as the temperature in Cappadocia were ranging from -4°C to 5°C but in Istanbul, we arrived to 9°C weather. A light sweater was enough. Our first stop for the day in Istanbul was the Grand Bazaar (13 minute walk from our hotel). It is a very large establishment with many stalls full of everything and anything. As you walk through, all the store owners are calling out to you to visit their store. They saw myself and Amanda and kept asking us to come into their stores or calling out “Ni Hao! We actually had a few of these salesman ask us if we were Americans which was much closer than them assuming we were from China but of course the question – but where are you really from comes up.
We found the famous Salt Bae’s restaurant in the Grand Bazaar. At the Bazaar, I purchased a few bracelets – 5 for 20TL. Amanda purchased a scarf and we both picked up some Turkish delight from Ramazan Canbaz in the Grand Bazaar. I grabbed some pistachio and pomegranate as well as double pistachio Turkish delight – 59TL.
We continued through the Grand Bazaar for a bit as it closed at 6PM. We walked the main street and both Amanda and myself noticed a pastry store that we both recognized. It was Cigdem Patisserie and they are known for their baklava. We ordered a piece of baklava (we thought it said 70TL but It was 1TL) and a strawberry tart (14TL). I have to say the baklava was hands down so much better than the tart. It was chewy, crispy, crunchy and perfect balance of sweetness and ingredients.
We also had a hamam spa (Turkish Spa) on our minds and decided to walk back down the street a bit to Cemberlitas Hamami. This building was established in 1584. During my planning stages, I was recommended Aya Sofya Hamam but Cemberlitas is a little less touristy and less frills but also one that more locals go to. We paid 38 euros – 220TL for the bubble scrub package and it was well worth it. It is separated by male and female. We got a package at the beginning with a mesh bag that included black underwear and a scrub towel/glove. When we got into the change room, we first went to the lockers that looked like the safety deposit boxes at banks where 2 keys are needed to store our valuables. We then got that key and were told to go upstairs and use the locker and change room up there to change into the black underwear and put on the towel they gave us.
Remember to grab slippers as well. We then went back to the main floor with the first lockers and were led into another room with double doors and finally the chamber where there was a giant slab of marble and baths around. We were told to lay out for a good 10 minutes or so before they would come around and work on you. The ladies that work on you come in bra and panties as well and they seriously rub you down in all crevices. They have a huge basin where they use this linen cloth bag to create bubbles and throw that on you. They take that glove that you were given to work on you and basically scrub away all the dead skin. The lady working on me was humming the whole time and it was very calming. When she was rubbing down my arms, all you could see were those large layers of skin coming off similar to when you get sunburnt and start peeling. Yikes. The lady scrubs down your front half then tells you to flip over and then sit up. After they scrub you down, they take you to the sink area and wash your hair and wash you down. Last step, they tell you to lie down on the marble slab and just relax and you can stay however long you want. When you’re ready to leave, rinse off with cooler water. We felt like fresh babies.
After the Hamam, we decided to walk around a bit and ended up walking around the Sultanahmet Square area. We finished the night eating dinner at Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta and ate koftecisi (meatballs) 22TL, lamb kebap 34TL and (piyaz) bean salad 7TL.
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.
In Transit days – Toronto – Kyiv, Ukraine – Istanbul, Turkey.
We started with a 9-hour flight with Ukraine Airlines from Toronto to Kyiv, Ukraine as our 3-hour stopover before making it to Istanbul, Turkey. We didn’t realize there was no entertainment unit or plugs available so that was a bummer. We were talking to each other about what seat preference we like and I said aisle and she said window – we got neither. The plane was an older model but it was 2 seats, 4 seats, 2 seats layout.
It was a long flight (9-10 hours) but at least we had a 3-hour layover in Kyiv, Ukraine. We did however find the mobile plug charging station and setup camp with my Mogics power bar and from there, we made friends sharing outlets. Lukas (from Mississauga) & Glenn (from Bradford) became our instant friends. And it turned out they were seated right behind us for our flight to Istanbul. Our flight to Istanbul got delayed about 30 minutes. Super foggy in Kyiv.
We arrived at 1130PM and our plan was to purchase a sim card at the airport because we wouldn’t have enough time to purchase one before we had to get back to the airport the following morning. The only place open at that time was Vodafone and we ended up purchasing 1 sim card that had 100 minutes, 100 SMS and 7GB data for 280TL ($70.50CAD) which was more expensive than we thought it would be. This was the cheapest option and all the other phone places were closed. We purchased one and would hotspot it. The only thing is we purchased it so late and we wanted to go to our hostel but activation took over an hour and half. We walked around and walked to the metro to see if we could purchase and Istanbulkart but also learned the metro closes at midnight. We finally caved and got into a cab where they guy wanted to charge us 40TL ($10CAD) but we talked him down to 30TL to later realize the ride should have cost around 19-25TL.
We stayed at Han Hostel North for the night. A very simple yet secure hostel about a 10 minute drive from the airport. We had a flight the following day around 115PM so we didn’t bother going further than we needed to for the one night.
We went to bed around 130AM and I thought I would sleep through the night but I was wide awake by 4AM and tried to sleep a bit longer. Woke up, showered, had breakfast at the hotel – continental breakfast – lots of cheeses, meats and dried fruit. We walked around a bit and stopped by Reisoğlu Börek and picked up something that resembled cheese and lasagna like sheets of pasta for 7TL. The person serving us didn’t speak English so they kept saying yedi which means 8. We should really know the numbers for pricing.
We walked back to the hostel to eat it and then walked around the hostel during the day to see what it offers. There is laundry, a fitness area and balconies on all floors. We took some photos on the 4th floor then packed up and called for a cab using the Bitaksi App. We made it to the airport where we had to line up to even get through the entrance where we had to go through security and then walk through again to domestic where we went through security 1-2 more times before making it to our gate. The line to even get into the airport entrance was out the door.
We flew with Turkish Airlines and the flight just felt so much better than it was with Ukraine Airlines. The flight lasted about 1.5 hours and we also got a meal on it. We arrived at Kayseri Airport where we had already arranged for a picked up by our airport transfer van that took us another hour to get to Göreme. We stayed at Heybe Hotel. It is not a cave hotel but it is still a wonderful hotel on the main street and because it was down season, we were able to reserve a suite room for only $70CAD/night. We really enjoyed having that extra space which technically could accommodate a third person. We spent majority of our time in the living room area as our hangout spot.
When we arrived, we met with Omer at the front desk and booked our Green Tour for 35 euro and Red Tour for 30 euro as well as booked our return airport transfer. . Our airport shuttles were booked paying in euros. 6 euros each way per person.
We put down our things and walked around. We didn’t get far when a gentleman named Ikrim stopped us on the street and asked us to come see his new store – Kervan Carpet which we agreed to see. He had just moved a few stores down and wanted to show us his work. You will notice that people will be inviting you into see their stores and they will offer free tea and whatnot. You are not obligated to purchase anything.
We continued walking around and ended up at Galerie Ikman – a Carpet shop that is a very famous spot for people to take their instagram photos with all the rugs. PLEASE PLEASE BE RESPECTFUL. This is a working establishment and you must pay to take photos inside (or purchase something). If you are alone and ask one of the staff to take your photos, please make sure you tip them – it is not their jobs to take your photos.
*Quick photo tip – If you come when the sun goes down, the no-roof carpet room will be all green coloured due to their lights and not optimal.
We ended up meeting Sergio who is 5th generation and his father Süleyman who introduced us to the rich history of carpets and the many techniques. Each carpet has a story behind it. The people who are looming or weaving the carpets put their emotions/feelings and all that energy into each carpet, which can take a short period of time to 5-6 months to make one carpet. In the end, Amanda ended up purchasing a lovely carpet. Since we went in down season, they lower their prices so they are still able to sell carpets to make ends meet and cover the electricity bill and employee wages.
Sergio had told us that the cafe beside called Pasha’s Cafe has a live band Friday-Sunday and we should check it out so we had dinner there. We got the Pasha’s Kebap – fries with beef, peppers and sour cream with some salad on the side (60TL) and some local wine (25TL). And I have to say; the staff there and the live band were all beautiful to look at. Turkish people just have amazing facial structures and very symmetrical. The food was good. The music was good with performers using electric drums, keyboard, violin and another instrument that looks like a zither.
It was this night that we realized that everywhere we went in Cappadocia and especially in this restaurant, all our clothing smelled like smoke and fumes.