The view from the top.

Southern Sailing off Turkey’s Turquoise Coast

I miss the sunshine.
I miss Turkey’s sunshine.

It’s a dreary and rainy autumn day in northern Japan. Rain, snow, and even hail has fallen intermittently all day, and the chilly wind and clouds, cinereous and heavy with rain, have only reinforced the fact that winter is coming. And as much as I love the grey, cold weather – perfect for readings piles of books, drinking endless mugs of coffee, and burrowing under my cozy kotatsu – I can’t help but dream of the sunny days and blue waters I saw in Turkey this summer.

The Turquoise Coast
The Turquoise Coast

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A Stunner of a Sunset at Pamukkale

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I have seen beautiful places in the world…and then I have seen Pamukkale. I separate those two because Pamukkale, with its stark white travertines and milky blue water, needs to be put in a category all its own. It’s downright otherworldly, one of those places whose beauty is so off-the-wall and unexpected that you think Mother Nature must have been a little tipsy when she dreamed it up.

The travertines of Pamukkale
The travertines of Pamukkale

Make no mistake about it; Pamukkale was a place that had been on my bucket list since the day I put it down on paper, and it was one of the things that put Turkey above a few other places for my summer vacation destination of choice. Even though a few months have passed, the views I took in there remain unbelievably beautiful in my mind, undimmed and undiluted.

Calcium carbonate deposits have covered the hillside.
Calcium carbonate deposits have covered the hillside.

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The remnants of Troy

A Trip to Troy

Turkey is so old it’s intimidating. In America, we get excited if something is more than a hundred years old, since we’re fairly new to the whole “independent nation” game, at least relatively speaking. In the United Kingdom or Japan, it takes something being a few centuries old to become impressive. But in Turkey? If it’s not a thousand years old, it’s basically not considered old. (Case in point: the New Mosque in Istanbul? Four hundred years old.)

Lines of ruins at the entrance to Troy
Lines of ruins at the entrance to Troy

There are ruins everywhere you look in Turkey, and I do mean that literally. And they’re often presented without fanfare; they’re just another part of everyday Turkey. One of my favorite restaurants in Sultanahment has remnants of five-hundred-year-old structures in its basement. In Pamukkale, you can swim over columns and flagstones that are over two thousand years old. In Selçuk, you can see the last remaining column of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and yet it just stands, without any sort of fence or sign or hullaballoo, in a field. Even when they’re crumbling and decrepit, ruins are as much a part of Turkey as kebabs and the Blue Mosque.

Ruins, ruins everywhere.
Ruins, ruins everywhere.

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The Spice Market lives up to its name.

Breakfast at Istanbul’s Spice Market

If the Grand Bazaar is Istanbul’s haven for shoppers, then the Spice Market is for the foodies. Also called the Egyptian Bazaar (or Mısır Çarşısı in Turkish), it’s the second largest covered market in Istanbul, second only to the Grand Bazaar. Where the Grand Bazaar is filled with stall after stall of jewelry, clothes, carpets, and other myriad souvenirs, the Spice Market – as you might guess from its name – is all about food. While a few shops sell small souvenirs, they’re far outnumbered by their neighbors that purvey all manner of dried fruits, nuts, teas, sweets, and every sort of spice you could wish for.

Dried eggplants, tomatoes, and okra outside the Spice Market.
Dried eggplants, tomatoes, and okra outside the Spice Market.

The Spice Market is located in the Eminönü neighborhood in the Fatih district, only a stone’s throw from the Galata Bridge and directly behind the New Mosque. (Which, incidentally, is four hundred years old. Only in Istanbul would that be considered ‘new.’) Compared to the Grand Bazaar’s maze of corridors, its hundred or so stalls are a dream to navigate.

The New Mosque outside of the Spice Market.
The New Mosque outside of the Spice Market. 

As you walk down the center arcade, vendors plying Turkish delight will offer you tiny cubes of the gummy, pistachio- and hazelnut-laden stuff in flavors as varied as pomegranate, cinnamon, rosewater, mint, or orange. Other sellers will beckon you into their shops to marvel at the dozens of teas that perfume the air. Powdery piles of red pepper, mint, saffron, and sumac tickle your nose with their pungent aromas.

Dried dates, mangos, pineapples, tomatoes, apricots, and figs are only a few of the snacks available at the Spice Market.
Dried dates, mangos, pineapples, tomatoes, apricots, and figs are only a few of the snacks available at the Spice Market.

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Dinner at Istanbul’s Mikla (Or, “Sometimes Blowing Your Budget Is Worth It”)

The view from the terrace of Mikla in Beyoglu
The view from the terrace of Mikla in Beyoglu

Some of the best meals I’ve had on the road have been dirt-cheap. A bowl of fresh bhelpuri, bursting with pomegranate seeds and topped with a handful of fresh coriander, on the streets of New Delhi? Fifty cents. A plate of spicy fried rice heaped with loads of fresh vegetables and a fried egg in Indonesia? A dollar fifty. A dozen piping hot buffalo momos in Nepal? That set me back an entire five bucks. Even in Denmark, one of the most expensive countries in the world, a massive (and I do mean massive…it was about the size of my head) slab of apple strudel only cost me about three dollars. In so many cases, I’ve paid for meals abroad by rummaging through the change pocket of my wallet…

…but every once in a while, a splurge is in order. Sometimes a girl needs to feel fancy. That’s what led me to Mikla, the fine dining restaurant located on the top two floors of the swanky Marmara Pera Hotel, on my second-to-last night in Istanbul. Continue reading

The ruins of Yoros Castle

A Boat Trip up the Bosphorus

Are you sure this wasn't on Game of Thrones?
Are you sure this wasn’t on Game of Thrones?

If you like your personal space, peak travel season is not for you. That’s definitely the case for Istanbul at the height of summer. The line to get into the Blue Mosque is almost always ungodly long, the Grand Bazaar is crowded with people looking for an amazing steal, and even Gülhane Park’s shady grass is strewn with loungers seeking to beat the heat. Cities are packed with people; it’s – duh – what makes them cities. And sometimes an escape to a quieter place, even for just a few hours, is in order.

In Istanbul, there’s the perfect alternative to the sun-baked asphalt and sweaty throngs: hop aboard one of the Şehir Hatları boats at the Eminönü docks near the Galata Bridge in the mid-morning and sail an hour or two up the Bosphorus River to Anadolu Kavağı, an itty-bitty little town that sits at the mouth of the Black Sea.

The steep bluffs surrounding Anadolu Kavağı
The steep bluffs surrounding Anadolu Kavağı

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The number one thing I wanted from the Grand Bazaar: a good quality mosaic lamp. (And I ended up with two.)

Shopping Nirvana at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

If you’re recovering from a shopping addiction, Istanbul – particularly the older, tourist-packed areas like Sultanahmet and Eminönü – is probably not the place for you. From every shop window, golden and silver jewelry winks, rich carpets beg to be touched, and vibrant piles of spices and teas tickle your nose with their pungent scents. I’d love to meet the person who makes it out of Istanbul without having lightened their wallet at least a little bit; they’d have to have a miserly will as unyielding as the strongest iron.

One of the main corridors of the bazaar.
One of the main corridors of the bazaar.

Of all the places to spend your lira in Istanbul, the most famous is probably the Grand Bazaar, a covered market that collects some four thousand stalls that peddle everything from jewelry to lamps to knock-off designer clothing to belly dancing outfits. Ceramics, embroidery, spices, Turkish delight, carpets…they’re all in the Kapalıçarşı (in Turkish, “covered market). Continue reading

Permanent Resident of Dromomania Central

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