TURKEY

Turkey is such a magical country but I have recently discovered that it is not for everyone. I met girls who found it very difficult to enjoy the culture and people, in particular the Turkish men. I’m not saying to avoid going all together and I am not suggesting that you jump headfirst into a dangerous place, but I will tell you about my fabulous experience that unfortunately others weren’t lucky enough to have. I have found in countries like Turkey (it can happen anywhere in the world) that the men see young female tourists as ‘meat’ and will constantly yell crude comments in your direction or try to draw you in. If you’re like me, you can completely ignore the comments or play along by answering just as crude back. Please don’t let the men and their views taint the beauty of Turkey, because if you can ignore it you will have such a brilliant time.

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I only spent time in the European part of Turkey and began in the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, which is filled with bright colours and tourists, fabulous monks and markets. I found the locals incredibly talkative and friendly, and even though I was receiving snide comments as I walked through the streets I smiled and kept walking.

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In Istanbul I recommend staying at Cheers hostel, a great hostel with a fantastic welcoming atmosphere. The lounge is always buzzing and the bartender serves up a mean mojito and delicious Turkish tea. Another major plus is the very scrumptious breakfast buffet! Cheers Hostel is the perfect place to come home to and relax after a busy day exploring the city because it’s filled with solo travellers playing board games and singing songs on the terrace into the late evening. A bed in one of their dorm rooms will cost you $AUD24-$31 (€17-€22) during the peak season. This hostel is one of the highest rated hostels in Istanbul, so I really hope it’s available during your stay!

If you are in a small group of two or three and want something a little more homey and private, you should look into staying at Mamara Guesthouse. For a triple bedroom with both ensuite and air conditioning it will cost $AUD43 (€30) per person per night. Istanbul is a great city for treating yourself when it comes to accommodation because you will spend your days coming home with countless shopping bags, and having the space to spread out is handy for us girls. Elif and her lovely family will go out of their way to make sure you have a brilliant time in Istanbul, offering you countless tips as well as delicious homemade jams by Elif’s mother, Mrs Ayse, with the free buffet breakfast on their gorgeous rooftop terrace.

Both locations are very different but both have fantastic owners and a friendly environment. They’re located on opposite sides of Istanbul but still within walking distance to the markets, main shopping strips, mosques and tram stops. I loved both hostels during my stay (I began and ended my trip in Istanbul) and I honestly can’t decided between the two.

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Make sure you try an authentic Turkish coffee: it’s prepared slightly differently to Bosnian coffee but I still found it absolutely delicious. Visit the many mosques of Istanbul, including the famous Blue Mosque. See a performance of the Dervishes Ceremony; they do it four times a week and sing in prayer while the men dance and twirl around the room. However, please note that you are required to cover your knees and shoulders in religious places, so it is advised to carry a thin scarf at all times or purchase some cheap clothing with coverage. While it isn’t necessary, some female tourists feel more comfortable wearing slightly more conservative clothing in Turkey, but if you are comfortable, try to visit any religious places on the one day and simply wear a respectful outfit on that day.

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The Turkish delight!! Back home I was never a fan – because in Australia I had only tried one type – but in Turkey the diversity of Turkish delight is limitless. You will be amazed when you discover how many different types of Turkish delights there are and each is delicious in its own right. All the men selling them in stores speak perfect English and are lovely characters. Even if you do not want to purchase, just stop to have a chat with them, it will make your day! They’re so lovely and will basically put on a show when you’re trying to decide on which flavours to sample.

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The best part of Istanbul is the one and only Grand Bazaar! Dedicate an entire day to explore over four thousand shops and stalls within this market. It’s so overwhelming and it’s easy to get lost, but enjoy strolling along the winding paths. We were given some good advice on how to handle the craziness: the best thing to do is to spend a few hours looking at what you want and bartering a little bit then to go away from the markets, think hard about what you actually liked and the places with the best price before returning to purchase.

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Having a Turkish Bath experience is another must in Istanbul. You must find a good one, one which will actually be a fantastic experience and not some creepy bathhouse. I don’t know the exact name of the one we went to, but if you’re staying at Mamara Guesthouse you will find all the correct information. Elif will tell you about the best known house in Istanbul and will happily book a spot for you. Spend time in the sauna before a lovely Turkish woman wearing a teeny tiny bikini will exfoliate your skin until you’re clean and soft. They will use large foamy bubbles to clean every inch of you until you’re practically sparkling from head to toe while rinsing you off and washing your hair. It’s an invigorating experience and you will come out feeling brand new!

Lastly, check out the food stalls all around Istanbul, selling food such as grilled corn, homemade ice cream, pretzals, Turkish delight and hard candy lolly pops. The street performers and locals are so friendly and hilarious that it’s worth just taking a stroll through the main squares to soak up the atmosphere.

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I had an interest in checking out places like Troy and Gallipoli but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. I booked a tour with the RSL Tour Company, which ran for three days and started and ended in Istanbul. The tours range from around $AUD200-$300 (€140-€210) but include accommodation, breakfasts and all transport. For me, this was the best way to see these places, as we met great people and got a huge taste of history with our fantastic tour guide, Hassan. On our first day we drove to Canakkale which is incredibly small but with a buzzing nightlife along the waterfront. On the tour you spend the night there, which gave us time to find little markets in the main square with gorgeous handmade pieces and enjoy fresh seafood by the water’s edge.

During the day we began with a tour of the Gallipoli battlefields, which, while confronting, was extremely interesting and educational. This included Brighton Beach and the Beach Cemetery as well as Anzac Cove, Anzac Commemorative Site, Lone Pine Australian Memorial and Johnston’s Jolly. If you happen to be in Turkey over Anzac day it would perhaps be just that little bit more special, but was so incredible to be there and pay our respects.

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It was all about Troy on the second day and we had the chance to check out the Trojan horse they used in the movie Troy. Hassan told us all about the Trojan wars, took us to the Gate of Troy and showed us the city walls – the oldest ruins of Troy. We saw both the east and south gates of Troy and stood in the Odeon (music theatre) and learned about the Temple of Athena.

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After lunch, we went to Pergamon and even though it was 45 degrees and there was hardly any shade, it was such an amazing journey. At Pergamon, the ruins of a hospital and health centre are the perfect setting to learn about ancient medical practice.

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If you want a night out in Turkey, wait for the tour to stop over in Kusadasi, an unknown party town. We stayed right on the beach and watched the sun set over the beautiful water, eating mussels we bought on the side of the road and bringing our own beers down to the rocks on the sand. Make friends with the locals and even though their English isn’t superb they are very friendly and will happily take you out for the evening.

The final day of the tour was spent in Ephesus and Selcuk and began at the house of Virgin Mary. Wash yourself with the holy water and bring along something to leave on the incredible wall filled with peoples prayers, hopes and dreams.

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Seeing the ruins of Ephesus is hot and exhausting – make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes, a large hat and plenty of water. The ruins are white which reflects the sun and limits shade under the ruins. You will pass through the Magnesia Gate and explore the Roman provincial capital. Our guide told us about the preserved Temple of Hadrian, the Trajan Fountain, the Odeon Theatre and the Celsus Library. After lunch we headed to Selcuk and explored the Museum of Pottery and the Museum of Ephesus.

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Instead of going back to Istanbul at the end of the tour, we took a bus from Selcuk to Pamukkale. I can only offer advice from Pamukkale in 2012, but unfortunately a lot has changed since and the rules and restrictions for tourists have grown, so ensure that you are aware of what you can do before going. Pamukkale is an absolute dream and the name translates to ‘cotton castle’. The white hot springs and travertines – terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water – are breathtaking to look at but also incredibly fun to swim and float in. Give yourself a body mud mask as you hop from one pool to another. As mentioned above, since being there the restrictions were introduced because it is extremely dangerous and slippery. According to some friends only a small selection of the pools are available to the public and tourists no longer have the freedom to explore the entire area. Despite this, the pools are undeniably beautiful and still warrant the journey.

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Many tourists stay in the main town and take the 30 minute bus ride to the cliffs for a day trip, but we stayed directly at the bottom of the cliffs in the village surrounded by locals. There are two small hotels to stay at, both of which are very close to the travertines. The families that own the hotels are at constant war with one another, so if you’re staying at one don’t even mention the other.

Artemis Yoruk Hotel is located in the heart of Pamukkale, just up the road from the bus stop that connects all transport. The hotel has a large private outdoor swimming pool – amazing for those stinking hot afternoons – friendly, English speaking staff and spacious rooms. They have dorm rooms sleeping up to five people for $AUD17 (€12) a night as well as private rooms for around $AUD30 (€21).

Allgau Hotel is also located right in the centre of the Pamukkale village. It’s a lot smaller than Artemis Yoruk, but has a beautiful garden with a small pool and lounge chairs. The bright pink, purple or yellow walls and frilly bedding in the rooms is a sight to see – it’s tacky but amazing. You will pay between $AUD12-14 (€8-€10) for a double or triple room per person.

It really doesn’t matter which hotel you stay at, as both are spacious and have all the facilities you need for your short stay in Pamukkale. They’re both close to the quiet main strip, which is filled with fantastic cafés and bars. We made friends with some of the locals and were extremely lucky to befriend a lovely couple and their family, the wife being from Melbourne! They took us out at night to their local bars and drove us through the small streets on their tractor. They invited us back to their home to meet the extended family, who sipped on authentic Turkish tea and spoke in broken English. We were fortunate enough to be invited along to a farm about 45 minutes from the city, up on the mountains, and spent the day eating fresh fish and playing among the tree houses and waterfalls.

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If you have the chance, head to the beautiful small town Olympos: it is approximately three hours from Pamukkale. I think we were very unlucky and got taken on a bus scavenger hunt, but four buses and six hours later we had finally arrived. I recommend staying at Bayrams Treehouse Hostel for a zen travelling experience and the chance to literally sleep in a treehouse. Spend your mornings and late nights lying on large pillows or hammocks while sipping on strong cocktails in the shade and take advantage of the included breakfast and dinner buffets. If the treehouse experience isn’t for you, you can also stay in one of their many bungalows. A night at Bayrams Treehouse Hostel will cost you around $AUD21-$45 (€15-€32) depending on what type of room you stay in.

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The beach is beautiful; the black stones are hot and the water is crystal clear and very salty. Olympos is the place to relax with a cocktail in one hand and an ice cream in the other while roasting under the scorching Turkish sun. All the hostels lined on the main strip in Olympos are a very short walk from this spectacular beach.

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The only other place I wish I had gone to but couldn’t due to timing was Cappadocia. If you’ve seen those fantastic photos of all the hot air balloons soaring over the huge mountains, that’s the incredible highlight of Cappadocia. I’m still devastated I didn’t go, especially given all the wonderful things I have heard about it over the past couple of years, so if you have the chance/money/time, please enjoy it for me!

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Getting to and from Turkey can be simple but also a little difficult depending on where you’re coming from. The easiest way to arrive into Turkey is finding a cheap flight with Turkish Airlines or Lufthansa Airlines to Istanbul. Cheap flights can be found when booking in advance and I do recommend flying because it is the most direct route. Many of the hostels in Istanbul will also offer airport pick up for a reasonable price.

You can also take the trip by sea from Greece and Italy, which is very common during summer but less so in spring and autumn, when ferries leave maybe once a week. Ferry services operate between Italian and Greek ports and several Turkish ports, but not to Istanbul. So if you’re keen to work your way around Turkey this may be ideal, keep in mind that these ferries can often be expensive and you may as well find a cheap flight from Athens or Rome directly to Istanbul if you’re coming from these two countries.

It is also possible to enter Turkey by land and you’ll be spoilt for choice since Turkey has land borders with eight countries. Be warned though: sometimes getting across the border can be long and tedious, especially if you’re arriving via train or bus. Sofia, Bulgaria to Istanbul: €17, nine hours with Öz Batu bus company. Skopje, Macedonia to Istanbul: €32, fourteen hours with Öz Batu bus company. Bucharest, Romania to Istanbul: €35, eight hours with Özlem bus company. There are direct bus services from countries like Germany, Italy, Austria and Greece, but they are incredibly long and sometimes can be more expensive than a cheap flight.

When travelling inside Turkey, the buses are extremely luxurious and fantastic! Bus travel is the cheapest, easiest and most popular way to travel in Turkey. There are many different bus services but they are all modern and clean with air conditioning, entertainment, leather seats, a steward offering you free drinks and snacks and most will have free WiFi (the larger buses).

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Turkey is unreal and every place I went to I discovered the rich history and beauty of this ancient land. It is one of the few places I wish to revisit to complete my experience. Don’t be afraid to head there on your own despite what you may hear about it. Please don’t let other people’s comments ruin the fantastic experience you can have in this brilliant country. The people are lovely, the shopping beats all competition and the weather and nightlife will make your trip worthwhile and make you want to come back again and again.

by Chanel Sudarski