My trip was a week-long affair that started in Izmir, one of the principal mercantile cities of the Mediterranean Sea. An hour’s flight from Istanbul, Izmir is on the must-visit list for history enthusiasts and those that study archeology. I stayed at the Crowne Plaza hotel with breathtaking views of the bay that are dotted with casual eateries. Given my single-day itinerary, the focus was on spending time at the ancient city of Ephesus, an hour’s drive from Izmir.
The history of the Ephesus is quite elaborate and serious efforts are being made to excavate the almost five thousand year old site. Currently, excavations that have been going on for over a hundred years are believed to have unearthed only about ten percent of the site. Some of the most important sites around the Ephesus are the temple of Artemis, Basilica of St. John, the Ephesus Museum, perhaps the most famous; house of Virgin Mary, among many more. The Virgin Mary is believed to have lived her last years of her life here and the first church dedicated to her is here as well. A day spent here can be physically exhausting, also, given the hot weather conditions. Always be prepared with water and a hat and have enough sunscreen lathered on. The site itself is large in area and parts of it require a short trek. Best to have a guide with you as otherwise you’ll completely miss out on the significance of the ruins. Plenty of stalls sell old coins that have apparently been unearthed at the site but don’t fall for that.
The long day concluded at a stunning little boutique hotel called Gullu Konaklari in Sirince. The walk to this hotel is through a tiny market that sells curios and wines. The highlight however here and all over Turkey actually, are the stalls selling handmade ice-cream. More than the ice-creams themselves, it is the seller that is the biggest attraction. They create a little show comprising of songs, illusionary tricks and a strong wit. Overall, very humorous and extremely entertaining, these sellers look happy and spread pure joy. Once at the hotel, we settled for a lovely meal with some great wine amidst a stunning view of the adjoining hills.
The next morning we set out for Istanbul, which immediately became one of my top five favourite cities in the world, from my limited travels so far. Once known as Constantinople, Istanbul is often mistaken as the country’s capital. With the narrow Bosphorus strait between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, Istanbul bridges Asia and Europe and is the cultural and financial hub. I stayed at the Grand Tarabya, located in Europe, from where I could clearly see Asia across the Bosphorus, that swiftly sang below. The Bosphorus is a beautiful and serene blue with mostly residents dotted on the Asian shore and palaces dotted on the European shore. Day one was spent on a fantastic yacht down the strait with a few pit-stops on either side. There are plenty of ferries/ yacht trips available complete with meals on some at varying price ranges. I highly recommend spending half a day one of these to extract one of the most exotic experiences of this city. At the end of the yacht we went straight to the Grand Bazaar which is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. One can easily spend an entire day here and still not be able to cover it completely. With good bargaining skills you can find some pretty great deals on almost any imaginable fashion item. The spices, dates and mouth-fresheners are very popular. Ended the first day with a cup of Turkish coffee, which is extremely strong and thick, not for the faint hearted.
The next day we set out to see some more popular attractions like the Topkapi Palace and its museum that boasts of an impressive collection of arms & weapons, Chinese, Japanese & European porcelain, imperial jewels; some of which are believed to be cursed, holy relics, sultan carpets, kaftans, sacred carvings and so much more. This was followed by a visit to Hagia Sophia which was first a Christian patriarchal basilica, later an imperial mosque and now a museum. We then made a stop for a very leisurely lunch and then a visit to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more famously known as the Blue Mosque. The more popular name has been derived from the blue tiles adorning the walls inside. Visitors, especially women are not allowed to wear shorts and sleeveless clothes so dress appropriately. One must also cover their heads and remove their shoes before entering. The day concluded with a visit to the Spice Bazaar for Turkish delights, souvenirs, dry fruits and of course, spices. The second-last day was reserved for some shopping at Taksim Square that has some fantastic stores selling really good clothes and shoes. An exhausting six-hour shopping ritual concluded with a visit to the hotel’s Hamaam. Hamaams are luxury baths and are extremely famous in Turkey. Mind you, the scrubbing from one of these may make you feel sore for a bit but the luxury is most worth indulging yourself in.
Our last day was spent loafing around taking long walks along the Bosphorus and tucking in local street food. The city also has a thriving night-life and there was no way we were going to miss that. A fabulous breakfast by the marina the next morning was the last stop before the seven-hour Turkish Airlines flight back.
Despite having spent a couple of days in Istanbul, I found it difficult to cover some more famous places of historic significance. For that, and just to spend time lounging along the favourite Bosphorus, I will visit again. This time to cover Cappadocia, famous for its cave hotels, hot-air balloons and so much more. Stay tuned for that!