Monday, August 25, 2014

Turkey

Istanbul was my biggest crush after Berlin and the more Turkey I discovered, more I feel in love with it. Its heartwarming people, unimaginably delicious food, rich historical and cultural heritage with ancient sights and beautiful landscape. Yes, Turkey is definitely a keeper. So far I've been there a couple of times but will definitely return for more. Though eager to discover new places there, I don't think I will ever be able to resist revisiting some of my favorite places.

Istanbul

Around 14 million people live in this metropolis that is spread over two continents, but you'd rarely notice the crowd. It's vibrant, warm and welcoming. Its always busy Galata bridge became city landmark and regardless time of the day or year, you'll always find it full if merchants and fishermen. And what I especially like about Istanbul is that it's full of cats.

Istanbul

View of Istanbul
View from nearby hill with cable car

A cat


If you're in for a unique experience you might want to visit one of traditional turkish baths or hammas - but be prepared to be thoroughly scrubbed and washed (they call this massage). There are many tourist hammas in Istanbul but I've avoided them altogether and looked for one of more traditional local ones. They're usually nicer and more intimate. Otherwise, visiting Istanbul's markets is a must, even though you'll find much better deals outside the official bazaar.

Bazaar in Istanbul
Bazaar

One thing I love about Istanbul is it's abundant culture. From Istanbul Modern to underground Basilica cistern from 3rd century and ruins of the city wall, every stone in Istanbul is a part of history, waiting to be discovered.

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

When it comes to food, Turkey and Asia are for me still the kings of eating. Every vegetable there tastes better and I can't get enough of turkish meze (mostly vegetarian & fish appetizers) pida's (turkish pizza), hummus (chickpea dip), merçimek (lentil soup), ekmek (delicious fish sandwich that is the best under Galata bridge) and menemem (omlet). And not to forget famous turkish deserts in Hafiz Mustafa. And after all the eating, there is turkish coffee and tea.
Sweets at Hafiz Mustafa
Hafiz Mustafa


Turkish Coffee


Though food is really delicious almost everywhere you go, vegetarians might be surprised to find out that chicken isn't considered to be meat. So if you don't eat fish, then stick to more tourist restaurants, pida places and meze. We even found vegetarian version of their famous manti (traditional turkish pasta with meat, yoghurt and tomato sauce) but don't count on this on less tourist places. But if you eat fish (and meat), then Istanbul is a food paradise.

When in Istanbul do take advantage of boats and new metro that takes you to the Asian side. It is admittedly much less exciting than European one, but still well worth visiting.

View from the Asian side
View from the Asian side

Bursa

Bursa is former capital of Ottoman state, mostly famous for its silk market and thermal baths but it's also not far from a skying resort, so it's perfect spot for winter holidays.  Bursa is also a home of Iskender kebap. I've had only vegetarian version, but judging by the sounds of my meat-loving friends, it's quite an experience. Mere thought of juicy grilled vegetables (and some prime pieces of animal if you're not veggie), covering puffy yummy bread and topped by spicy pepper and sour cream, poured over with hot melted butter make my mouth water.

Bursa's covered silk market Koza Han is worth visiting even if you don't intend to buy anything.  It's an old building with over 4000 shops that sell everything from silk scarfs to curtains. But truth to be told once you enter the building it's hard not to buy anything. Colorful scarfs are very reasonably priced and friendly shop-keepers will invite you for tea and chat with you without being intrusive. And if you're lucky, they'll show you the silk test.

Koza Han - the silk market

Cafe at the silk market
Cafe at Koza Han


I haven't had a chance to try out one of their many ancient thermal baths yet, but a lot of hotels in Bursa have their own thermal pools with sauna and other spa facilities. If you want to avoid crowded periods then avoid going there over weekends, because it's a popular retreat for many Turkish families.





Datça

I found out about this town in an airplane magazine and for some reason it stuck to my mind. It's also a name of my favorite Berlin brunch place, so we gave it a go and weren't disappointed. It is a slightly remote but completely worth visiting. Not very big on cultural sights, Datça is very charming and perfect to to relax by the sea, discover many beautiful beaches around the town and enjoy delicious food in local restaurants.

Datça coast - Muğla, Turkey
Datça coast - Muğla, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still uncorrupted by big hotel complexes, Datça mostly lives on family tourism, crafts and fishing. The first evening there we've met Özgül, who convinced us to dine in his restaurant. He assured us he makes the best octopus salad we've ever eaten but we haven't thought much of it until we tried it. He wasn't exaggerating and we've ordered seconds.

Not far from the existing town is old Datça, the original village that is now transformed into a cute arts and crafts market where local women sell different products.


Have you been to Turkey? What are your favorite places?