Turkey. Who knew?

SkylineTurkey is a most incredible place. Who knew? It’s a pretty rad combination of sensory overload, crystal clear seas, wild adventures, and beautiful nature. Walking down any street in Istanbul will bring many vendors and restaurateurs to your side attempting to lure you into their shops. 5 times a day speakers blast calls to worship from the tops of masques and everything is for sale. A cab ride anywhere in the city is super cheap, but a most thrilling ride or you can walk down twisty alleyways full of clubs with Turkish rock bands blasting into the night.

BoatsOver the past couple of months I’ve been to Istanbul, Kusadasi, Marmaris, and Bodrum, all of which are a little different. On first arrival in Istanbul everything seemed quite exotic, especially having just come from Italy. Instead of seeing familiar looking church steeples and western style architecture the harbor is lined with the elaborate domes and pointed minarets of the city’s many masques. On the first night, as I stood on the open deck taking in a view of the city, each masque started their final call to prayer for the day. Strange singing was coming from all different directions in the still night air and blending together to make a very eerie and rather beautiful sound.Masque

Istanbul is well known for shopping, especially at the Grand Bazaar. This sprawling maze of indoor shops and cafes has been around for a long time. (If I were more historically minded I might remember exactly how many. Turns out I’m not really a ‘details’ guy.) Here you can find anything you might every need, and a lot of things you definitely don’t need but will buy anyway because they are so cheap. It’s very crowded and I kept expecting a motorcycle chase to come tearing through like in the beginning of Skyfall.Grand Bazar entrance

Inside Grand Bazar

In the unlikely event that you can’t find what you’re looking for in the Grand Bazaar, there are many other shopping options in the city.

Istanbul spice market 2

Markets are highly specialized, selling only wheels or lengths of chain or scarves. Most places only carry one type of good but there are hundreds of shops throughout the city. Entire city blocks are dedicated to selling only one type of item. For example one might pass through the underwear district en route to the bridal district or the pants street. Haggling is done by all and after a while it doesn’t seem surprising to see a heated argument taking place with one party wagging a fish in the air excitedly. There is an area of stores selling musical equipment of exceptional quality. Many of the world’s finest cymbals come from Turkey, though the major factories lie outside of Istanbul. There are entire showrooms filled will all sorts of cymbals where you can go and bash yourself silly. There are also many guitar stores selling really high-end axes.

On a trip to the spice market we were directed inside and given little pinches of spices to try. Eating raw spice is really intense but not nearly as intense as the smell of all the scents mixing together in the open air market.

Istanbul Spice market

istanbul kitchen store

The city’s masques are a huge attraction and offer a chance to see some really ancient and exotic stuff. The Hagia Sophia masque and the Blue Masque are two of the grandest and sit opposite of each other. The Hagia Sophia, which is no longer in use is the largest house of worship in the entire world.

Hagia Sophia

This masque was originally built as a Christian church but was later converted for Muslim worship. When the change happened all of the Christian images were painted over as Islam does not allow for any depictions or images of God. However many of these have been restored making an interesting blend of the two religions which often view each other as being so separate.

Hagia Sophia inside christian images

Also when the church was converted the floors had to be adjusted a little bit to face Mecca. Because of this, the altar areas are not exactly square with the walls of the building.

Hagia Sophia inside 1

Hagia Sophia inside 2

Hagia Sophia inside 3

When looking out from the Hagia Sophia masque, you can see the other enormous house of worship in the area, the Blue Masque.

Hagia Sophia looking out at blue masque

This masque now services everyone who would have gone to Hagia Sophia as well before it was deemed unnecessary.

Blue Masque

At night it looks a bit like Disney Land.

Blue Masque at nightOne of my favorite spots in Istanbul is called Ali Baba’s. (this information is useless because everything in Istanbul is called Ali Baba’s) It’s a rather large café on the waterfront where you can go for tea and shisha and to hang out or play backgammon.

Ali Baba

Everywhere you look in this place there are huge mounds of snacks and other delicious things.

Ali Baba snacks

ali baba bananas

The traditional Turkish tea, which is everywhere. Cafés will even send out staff with trays of tea to the businesses in the area.

Ali baba teaAnd of course, no hang in Turkey is complete without fast paced games of backgammon.

Ali baba backgammon

One day in Bodrum, a group of us chartered a large boat for the day, packed it full of booze, and set out for an adventure.

Bodrum Boat trip

The boat took us to a cove where the water was super clear and blue. It was a great place for swimming and climbing on rocks.

Rock swim

Our last great adventure in Turkey took place in Marmaris. On the last day we were there, we rented motorbikes at dusk. Then, as the sunset, we took off out of the city on the highway. We drove in the darkness for 30 or 40 minutes until we came to a turnoff for some tiny mountain road. Sensing an adventure, we took off up the road. It was super steep and curvy and as we went up and up it got very cold. At the top everything was very quiet and peaceful. The moon was bright and we could see pretty well without the headlights. The views down toward Marmaris were incredible and in the moonlight we could see the other mountains in the area shrouded in mist. As we zoomed back down the mountain, warm breezes came up from the valleys and were welcomed on cold fingers desperately clutching at hand brakes.

I don’t think I’ve ever known any Americans who have been to Turkey, or at least not any of my generation. I would highly recommend going there. The people are very friendly, if a bit over eager, the climate is warm and sunny, and there are tons of exciting things to do. I will definitely be going back in the future.

Muslim santa claus

I thought this guy was pretty hilarious. I think he’s some kind of Muslim Santa Claus.