Turkey 40: Wrap Up from Istanbul

What a difference 40 days makes.

When D and I first got here, Taksim square was a source of protests, Gezi Park was cordoned off by police tape and people were handing out “Occupy Gezi” buttons along Istiklal Caddesi.  You walk through the area now and you can barely tell that anything has happened, aside from a slightly obvious increased police presence and plaques commemorating people who died in the protests. 

Our first few days in Istanbul were before the official start of the tourist season, a tourist season that saw fewer people as a result of the protests.  Our second stop in the city was smack in the middle of a Ramadan weekend, with parks and streets packed with people breaking their fast.  This morning, the Hippodrome was filled with tourists, but there was nary a local in sight and pretty much every shop outside of Sultanahmet was shut down. 

Not only were we here during an interesting time from a religious perspective, but we were here at an interesting time in history, where the Muslim’s world most secular and most stable country saw protests and a degree of domestic insecurity that was just enough to scare away foreigners, but not enough to cause a complete collapse.  Compromises were made, but the government was put on notice.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens from here on out.

Today was a day about reflection, even as I took in new sights like the Valens Aqueduct, the Fatih Mosque, and several other smaller but equally historic mosques, including one which would have been the mosque built for Suleyman if it’s architect, Sinan, hadn’t figured out how to make a bigger down.  I wandered down Istiklal Caddesi, where it was business as usual in spite of Ramadan, and along several other streets which were shuttered and abandoned.  Istanbul truly is a Five-Day City, and I know that if I stayed here for a few more days,  I would still be finding things to do.  I never made it to the Prince’s Islands, nor did I get to explore the Asian side of Istanbul. 

Amazing, intense city.

Turkey is a wonderful place and it deserves it’s spot on the Top Ten Tourist Destination List.  There’s history at every turn and something for everybody to do.  With that in mind, here are some of the highlights. 

Top City: Istanbul
This one is obvious.  You can’t beat the culture, the sights, the food, everything.  The city is an assault on all the senses in the best way possible.  Yeah, it’s geared to the tourists and you’re going to be offered a Bosporus cruise or five, but you just can’t beat it.

Get in, Get out: Trabzon
Aside from the Ayasofya Museum, you’re going to use Trabzon to see the Sumela Monastery.  Then, you should go.  It’s not a horrible city, but the best stuff is outside of it.  Even Ankara was more interesting, and it literally only had three things to do.

Best Ancient Ruins: Bergama
Ephesus is going to get all the press, but I’m giving it to Bergama because it’s visually as amazing as Ephesus, but the crowds are way smaller.  The hilltop setting is a visual unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

“Worst” Ruins: Troy
This one is kind of a given.  Everybody says there’s nothing there, and if you go in expecting that, then you won’t be disappointed.  I would have regretted not going, even though I wasn’t that impressed.

Most Striking Visual: Ani
The breadth of the site does give you the impression that one hundred thousand people could have lived there, but the few surviving structures set amongst the fields of flowing grass paint a truly magical scene.

Best Hotel: Artemis Hotel, Selcuk
The rooms were comfortable, the common areas were beautiful, but this one is all about the people.  The guys (and gal) running this place know their stuff and will go out of their way to make sure you have the best time in Selcuk possible.

Best Food: Adana Kebap
You can’t go wrong with this.  Spicy meat, always infused with whatever the local spices are (it tastes different depending on where you are).  Good stuff.

Best Beach: Patara
Given.  It’s sand, so your feet don’t hurt, and the ruins nearby are pretty awesome as well.  Plus, even with day-trippers, it never feels crowded. 

Best Memory: Sunrise over Mt. Nemrut or Hot air balloon over Cappadocia.
Couldn’t pick just one here.  Both were equally magical.

I’m going to miss the hell out of Turkey.  I feel privileged to have spent so much time here, to have shared that time with somebody as amazing as Daina, and to have experienced the amazing hospitality of the Turks.  This place is absolutely amazing.

Tomorrow, I’m taking a shuttle to Ataturk airport at an ungodly hour.  Then, four days in Italy.  It’s going to be a different type of trip, to be sure.

Bye, Turkey!  Keep being amazing!

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