Turkey: Istanbul & Beyond

Bustling markets, ancient ruins, beautiful cities and mouth watering food: Topdeck Travel’s operations assistant Courtney experiences everything Turkey has to offer.

by Courtney Smith

Jump! At the Acropolis in Pergamon

Jump! At the Acropolis in Pergamon

As I prepared for my trip to Turkey I lost count of the friends and co-workers who raved about how much they loved Istanbul. I heard the culture and history was incredible, the people were friendly and the food was cheap and delicious. So naturally I stepped out of Ataturk Airport with some pretty high expectations! And yet, as my taxi cruised past the sparkling ocean and gardens overflowing with colourful tulips on that warm sunny April evening, my first moments in Istanbul still managed to blow me away.

I was lucky enough to spend six nights in Istanbul; three with my awesome Topdeck group and a further three of post-accommodation. This might seem like a lot of time, but there is just so much to see and do in this amazing city.

We gazed in awe at the stunning interior of the Blue Mosque, wandered the ancient architectural wonder turned museum Hagia Sophia, admired the picturesque gardens and bejewelled treasures of Topaki Palace, and ventured underground into the eerily beautiful ancient cistern.

Library of Celcus, Ephesus

Ancient Greek ruins at Ephesus

We cruised down the Bosphorus Strait with Europe on our left and Asia on our right as waiters tempted us with delicious Turkish beer (“EFES? EFES!”).

We enjoyed a three-course Turkish feast and laughed as a belly-dancer got quite intimate with a fellow passenger, sampled shisha and watched our trip leader blow perfect smoke rings. Believe it or not this was all in the first 24 hours!

And there’s plenty to see in Turkey besides its magnificent capital.

The next day found us wandering the markets of Bursa which seemed to sell a bizarre combination of silk, fresh fruit, live birds, and children’s formalwear.

We ducked into a tiny kebab store, which was clearly not used to tourists, where our friendly waiter Yusef pulled up a chair and attempted to hold a lively conversation with us despite our total lack of a common language.

We got a delicious meal and a lot of laughs out of that encounter and Yusef got a photo with the ladies of the group which was going straight onto his Facebook (the one English word he knew).

Kebab shop in Bursa & the friendly waiter Yusef

Kebab shop in Bursa & the friendly waiter Yusef

Turkey is also scattered with incredible ancient Greek and Roman ruins. We took a trip from the seaside town of Kusadasi to visit Ephesus where we marvelled at the Library of Celcus and saw perhaps the world’s first advertisement for a brothel carved into stone.

If you get bored of standing and smiling in front of ruins do what some members of my group did and try planking on a column at Pergamon’s Acropolis. The ancient Greeks might turn in their graves, but it made for a pretty hilarious photo.

Back in Istanbul I was glad I’d booked those extra nights. A big sleep-in was in order followed by a chance to explore the city at a more leisurely pace.

After unwinding from a full-on eight days with a traditional Turkish bath, we made our way to the Spice Bazaar and peeked through fences at the James Bond film set.

Exploring the massive Grand Bazaar

Exploring the massive Grand Bazaar

We spent a day strolling through the Grand Bazaar being tempted into stores by complimentary apple tea and arguing down prices on mosaic lamps and harem pants with a winning smile.

And the food…I could have happily lived off those mouth-watering 5 lira kebabs (roughly £1.80) for another few months and the freshly made sweet, sticky baklava was absolute heaven.

I’m not joking when I say I dreamed I was back a few nights ago, enjoying the sunshine as I searched for my favourite falafel and kebab restaurant – I have never woken up more disappointed or hungry.

Visit Turkey on one of Topdeck Travel’s many trips including hostel, hotel and in depth options. Courtney travelled to Turkey on Topdeck Travel’s ANZAC 8 Day Sortie.

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