This past weekend, I took a trip with 8 of my friends to the Cappadocia region in central Turkey, known for its incredible landscapes and national park. We ended up flying through Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to Kayseri, roundtrip, for around 100 USD – the flight was only an hour and a half, so we left Thursday evening and were all settled in our cave hostel by midnight (we stayed in the Nomad Cave Hotel – I highly recommend it for anyone traveling on a budget!)

The Nomad Cave Hotel

The Nomad Cave Hotel

On Friday, we decided to rent ATV’s and tour the national park in Göreme. The park itself is huge, and I believe the loop of trails that passes through the major valleys and lookout points is nearly 90 km long. We ended up putting 2 people on each ATV for 40 TL per person (just over 20 USD), which included a 4 hour guided tour and fuel. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’m so glad we got to see the region this way. I have never been in such open space before in my life. The landscape is full of interesting rock formations and cave dwellings. The area was first settled during the Roman Period during a time when Christianity was the dominant religion. The only place I could think to compare Cappadocia’s landscape to would be the American southwest, or the moon.

IMG_3956IMG_4049IMG_3977IMG_4086After our ATV tour and lunch, we decided to wander to some caves we could see off the side of the road. We ended up hiking around the caves and climbing the rocks around the valley until the sun set. We found a cave that must have been a church at one point, because it had the same architectural style and some sort of depictions of Mary and Jesus. This was a great part of our trip – just hiking and enjoying the landscape. We were the only people in the valley so it felt very secluded.


That night, we went for dinner and drinks at a local bar called Fat Boys – it’s really the only bar in Göreme, but it was a nice place for tourists and we had a good time.

On Saturday, we went to the Göreme Open Air Museum. This museum is definitely worth a visit as it was once a settlement and has a lot of cave churches that you can walk inside, but we stayed for less than a half hour and felt that we saw enough. We ended up going back to the valley we had been to the day before and doing some more hiking, again staying to watch the sun set.


It was a great way to wrap up a one-of-a-kind weekend.

Just a couple tips for anyone planning to travel to Cappadocia, specifically Göreme: going during the offseason (before mid-April or May) is smart. We were essentially the only ones staying in our hostel, so it was quite private and a good deal for students traveling on a budget. Also, we felt that shop keepers were more likely to let us bargain with them to get a better price since we were some of the only tourists there. I would highly recommend the ATV tour to anyone traveling to Göreme! It was the best way to visit all the major sites – we would drive through the trails, and then stop to take pictures and hike into some of the caves. For less than 25 USD, the 4 hour tour was completely worth it. As far as the time we spent there, I feel that 2 full days was perfect. One could easily spread out activities over 3 or 4 days, but as students on a budget with classes during the week, it worked out perfectly to just spend 2 busy and exciting days in Cappadocia.


Topkapı Sarayı

Last week I made the trip to Topkapı Palace in the old city and put my müze card to good use. I did this trip on my own; it was especially nice to just wander around the grounds at my own pace and take in the beautiful architecture. A bit of history: the palace was built in 1459, and housed the Ottoman sultans for about 400 years until Dolmabahçe Palace was built (I have yet to visit that one).

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In a last minute decision, I decided to join a group of my exchange student friends on a trip to Bursa, another city in Turkey. To those who are reading, prepare yourselves for a somewhat long post! We had a great couple of days and I have a lot of photos and stories to share.

Screen shot 2013-03-09 at 10.02.53 PMTo get to Bursa, we took a one and a half hour ferry ride from Istanbul (Kabataş, specifically) across the Sea of Marmara to the coastal city of Mudanya, and then took a bus to the central part of Bursa. Both journeys were great. It was so nice to see mountains and farmland; a pleasant change from Istanbul.

When we got to Bursa, we saw some major sights: the Green tomb, the Green Mosque, the Ulu Camii (Great Mosque), and the covered bazaar. We met a man from Bursa who owns a ceramics shop and also owns a company that was working on renovating the tiles in both the Green Tomb and the Green Mosque. He basically gave us an itinerary for the day of things we should do while in Bursa, which was so helpful and kind of him. We ended up following it almost exactly, and he helped us get a hotel for only 25 TL a person, which was great since there ended up being 14 of us. We also visited the Bursa museum, which was quite small and only 1.5 TL to get into. All the displays and write ups were in Turkish, but it was kind of fun to just walk through.

View of Bursa...a cloudy day, but the rain held off

View of Bursa…a cloudy day, but the rain held off


The Green Tomb, mausoleum of the fifth Ottoman sultan

Dome detail in the Green Mosque

Dome detail in the Green Mosque

After walking around the city center, we went to a Turkish bath, called a hamam. This particular hamam is quite well known in Bursa and was built in 1522. There were separate buildings for men and women, so my friends and I split up to go our separate ways. I decided on the basic bath and a massage, which came to 33 TL – not bad compared to prices in Istanbul, let alone massages in the U.S. I really had no idea what to expect of this experience, so it was totally new. There’s a steam room with small wash tubs and showers where women bathe themselves, and can then choose to get a massage or go in a steam pool. It was definitely a local joint and we seemed to be the only tourists there, but after a bit of awkwardness it turned out to be a very nice, relaxing experience – definitely something I would do again.

In the evening, we checked into our hotel and then we were brought to a tiny cafe where some men and women were playing Turkish folk music. There were 17 of us students in this little room, plus about 10 locals. The music was great, and it was one of those moments that just filled me with joy. I truly felt welcomed here.


Then it was time for dinner…iskender kebap, which is a specialty in Bursa. It was so good. To quote a friend about an hour after dinner: “I keep burping up iskender…but it still tastes good”


After dinner, we were brought to a Sufi lodge in Bursa to watch the whirling dervishes. Sufism is a branch of Islam, and the whirling dervishes practice a form of moving meditation in their dance. I had studied whirling dervishes last year in a college course, and while I had hoped I could attend a performance in Istanbul at some point, I never thought I would actually get to see this in a real Sufi lodge. It was an awe-inspiring performance to say the least. Men were able to sit on the sides of the floor where the dervishes danced, while women had to sit on an upstairs platform – but it ended up better this way, because we had a great view and I got some photos at a great angle.


The next day, on a recommendation from our friend, we took a bus out of the city to attempt to find Cumalıkızık, a small Ottoman-style village outside of Bursa that is over 700 years old. We were told we could get a great breakfast there. The bus dropped us off and we ended up walking about 30 minutes through a very rural area. I was a bit skeptical at first, but we made it and I’m so glad we kept walking. The village was beautiful, and it sat right at the base of Mount Uludağ which was covered in snow and clouds. The houses from the original Ottoman era still remain, and I believe there was a big restoration project about 10 years ago. It is definitely a very traditional village, and while it does get tourists, it seems to have remained authentic. We got a delicious breakfast with eggs, olives, cucumbers and tomatoes, sarma (grape leaves) stuffed with rice and mint, butter, jam, and of course plenty of bread and tea. Photos do not do it justice; I think it might be the best meal I’ve ever eaten. IMG_3811IMG_3840IMG_3818IMG_3848


After some more wandering, we made our way back to the city center, and made it back to the ferry just in time – I was literally the last person they let on.

The past two days were the best so far during my time here in Turkey. I do love living in Istanbul, but it was great to get out of the city and experience a new one, as well as some of rural Turkey. We are so lucky to have experienced some really authentic aspects of Turkish culture. This has made me want to travel around Turkey even more, and now I’m thinking about where to go next. In other travel news, I booked my trip for spring break – Dublin to visit a friend who’s studying there, and probably Edinburgh, too!

Rumelihisarı and the Hagia Sophia

The weather in Istanbul was beautiful this weekend, so I took advantage and did some exploring. On Friday, a couple friends and I took a walk down to the Bosphorus where we just sat by the water, and then to Rumelihisarı, a fortress that’s visible from my campus.

Something kind of funny (and scary) was the lack of railings here. In the US, there are railings everywhere to prevent people from falling. Some of these fortress walls were probably 20 feet or more above the ground, and the stairs were very steep, but no railings to be found. I’m glad that the fortress is preserved as is, but it did make for a kind of scary experience since I’m a little scared of heights.

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On Saturday, I finally got my museum pass and went to the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia was originally an Orthodox church completed in 537, and then turned into a mosque in 1453. Now it’s a museum open to the public. The architecture and design inside and out were breathtaking. To be inside this structure and realize that millions of Christians and Muslims have come here to worship over the course of more than a thousand years was quite the experience. It’s so nice that both the Islamic and Christian art and mosaics are visible.


Being silly

Being silly