Written by: Jessica Lusignan, an active woman who constantly tries to outdo herself and to learn from previous experiences.
Last November, my partner and I flew off to Turkey. We really fell in love right away with the country. I would even say that it’s our favorite travel destination so far.
I want to share with you the most memorable moments of my trip. Not only activities to do, but also cultural experiences that are worth trying. Enjoy!
1. GETTING TO KNOW THE LOCALS
Turks are worth getting to know. They are happy, passionate people with a knack for storytelling. They won me over with their people skills, their warm welcome and, much to my surprise, their open-mindedness. I was worried that they would be judgmental about religious beliefs. However, I was surprised to see that most women do not wear a veil. Therefore, I never felt out of place or judged. On the contrary, I felt that I was respected and understood.
When I travel, I love taking time to observe then ask questions about different habits and customs. I always received answers to my questions. Turks are so proud of their culture that they were happy to share their way of life and to highlight their country.
2. TAKING A MOMENT DURING THE CALL TO PRAYER
As in most Arab countries, you can hear the call to prayer five times a day. For followers, the words have a lot of meaning. I was rather moved by the melody of the songs.
I can’t deny I was very emotional when I heard my first call to prayer. Even without sharing their beliefs, I made the most of those little moments—a much-needed time to recharge my batteries. It was a short break in my day that made me appreciate even more what was going on around me and be grateful of where I was, in that specific moment.
I hope your experience with the call to prayer will be as positive as mine.
3. VISITING THE SPICE MARKET AND THE GRAND BAZAAR
Even though these two places are quite touristy, they are worth seeing. Turkey is the country of textiles, spices, and pottery. That’s what you will find the most. When we visited the Grand Bazaar, I was surprised by the number of stalls. The space is really maximized to its fullest—so much that you could get lost if you’re not careful. It’s hard to resist buying a ton of souvenirs.
We had a hunch that might happen, so we brought two spare backpacks with us to make it easier to carry all our purchases: spice kits, towels, handmade shoes, soaps, plates, tea, cushion cases, vacuum-packed desserts, tablecloths and more!
Believe me, I still feel like I’m in Turkey when I make myself a cup of tea or when I cook with my spices. I like how my souvenirs really bring me back there.
4. TASTING THE MANY FLAVORS OF ISTANBUL
You don’t have to go very far to taste all the flavors of the Land of Spices. The public squares are filled with stalls, shops, and restaurants. Even though breakfast was included with our hostels, we preferred to walk a few minutes and eat out with the locals. We found each time new dishes to taste and share. Unsurprisingly, the food was always seasoned skillfully and packed with flavors.
We particularly like the following dishes:
- Testi kebab: Meat, rice, vegetables and spices heated in a clay pot;
- Lokum: Famous Turkish dessert with abundant flavor;
- Icli kofte: Meatballs covered with a spicy dough;
- Kofte: Well-known meatballs that you can find in most restaurants;
- Pide: Long and narrow pizza for which you can pick your toppings;
- Borek: Flaky rolls filled with herb-flavored cheese, cabbage and/or meat.
5. SHOPPING AND HAGGLING FOR A CARPET
What a nice cultural experience! It’s THE main reason why we went to Turkey. You might find it funny, but when we bought our plane tickets, we were in the middle of having our house built. Not only did we desperately need a vacation, but we were already dreaming of a big and beautiful carpet that would add a touch of warmth to our decor. With their excellent reputation, Turkish carpets immediately came to mind.
In Turkey, you can find a carpet store everywhere you look, or almost. It’s phenomenal to see how much the carpet industry has developed over there. Salesmen were even coming to see us in the street. They were polite, warm and welcoming, and always willing to meet our every wish. We would sit down with them and speak about the different types of carpets available (different weaving techniques, materials, quality, etc.). I would compare it to an oral presentation that they have been preparing for the last 25 years.
Each member of the team has a role to play.
- The one who sits with us to talk about the products;
- The one who rolls out the carpets throughout the presentation;
- The one who points out the details and lets us touch the carpet;
- The one who piles up the carpets to make room for the ones to follow;
- The one who rolls up the carpets once the presentation is over.
Even though they all have a different task, they all have something in common: they want to offer us the best experience possible.
So that’s how we ended up sitting with a cup of tea, chatting and negotiating for 3 hours. Yes, you read correctly, 3 hours!!! It might seem like a long time, but honestly, time flew by without us noticing.
We appreciated the experience so much in Istanbul that we went back to buy a second (much smaller) carpet in Göreme, to decorate our bathroom.
6. WEARING A VEIL TO VISIT THE BLUE MOSQUE
If you are a woman, in order to visit the biggest and most beautiful mosque of Istanbul, you must wear a veil.
I was really looking forward to it—to be able to experience other religious customs. That’s the beauty of traveling. I love trying things that I wouldn’t try here in Quebec. Things that break from the daily routine and that allow me to discover cultural situations other than my own.
When I visited the mosque, I came prepared and brought a scarf with me. However, they lend some for free to all women. What I didn’t know was that I also had to wear a long skirt. Therefore, I borrowed one there.
The Blue Mosque is a historic site that is worth seeing, as much for its importance in the eyes of the locals as for its decor. If you like artworks, you are in for a treat. Every inch of the building is meticulously detailed and is absolutely stunning.
7. GOING ON AN ATV TOUR IN THE ROSE VALLEY OF CAPPADOCIA
If like us you’re a fan of adventures, I have a great suggestion for a wonderful afternoon. We had so much fun on our ride in the canyon. Our guide quickly noticed we weren’t afraid of a little danger or speed, so he took us along a path that matched our enthusiasm. However, you can get from A to B without driving like a maniac.
In addition to the ride itself, the tour offers breathtaking views. There are many lookouts where you can stop and enjoy a spectacular view of the valley. One of them even has swings that give the impression that you are swinging over the chasm.
We returned from our activity covered in sand and our hearts filled with joy.
8. SLEEPING IN A CAVE
We are used to staying in very minimalist youth hostels. However, the wonderful region of Cappadocia is everything but ordinary. The region is full of what they call fairy chimneys. They are actually naturally formed columns of rock that the people there incorporate into their buildings. Therefore, the room where we slept was an incredible cave at a very low price. It was cozy and relaxing. We had a window that looked out towards the village. I took pleasure in leaving it open ajar so I could hear the first call to prayer of the morning. I absolutely loved it.
The bathroom was in another little cave. We had to bend over to access it, which was not always practical when we got up during the night but was quite charming during the day!
It is definitely the most original bedroom I have ever slept in.
9. MAKING YOUR OWN POTTERY IN AVANOS
There’s nothing better than trying things firsthand, and we visited the perfect spot for that. The adorable woman who owns the pottery place we went to was extremely passionate and welcoming. During our visit, we were told about the history of pottery making and watched a vase-making demonstration by a man who has been in the business for more than 30 years.
We were able to try making our own bowls, following the ancestral techniques. The result was rather a disaster, but the experience was very enjoyable. After all the fun and games, we visited the pottery shop that was divided into two sections. The first floor, that is open to the public, is filled with all sorts of dishes. I thought I had seen a lot, but in fact, it was nothing compared with what came next. When they saw we wanted to buy many items, they offered to show us the basement.
Only one word can describe it: wow.
That’s where they kept their most beautiful pieces. Some of them took almost a year to make. It was mind-blowing to see what could be found down there. The prices were quite high, but understandable given the amount of work that went into each piece. We ended up leaving with 2 plates, a mug, and a traditional wine carafe. We were completely blown away by our visit of the pottery shop. We loved seeing the local artisans at work and I discovered a new form of art that I now greatly admire.
10. GOING ON A HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE
If you are in Cappadocia, it must be because you want to go on a hot air balloon ride. It was the main reason we went there. I was really looking forward to that moment.
We woke up at about 5 a.m. to head directly to the Rose Valley. It was so dark we could barely see what was going on around us … until the sun came up. All you need is a little ray of sunshine and then hop—you see balloons starting to pop up around you. I could see about a dozen other balloons while ours was being prepared. It was only when we started going up that I realized the beauty of what was in front of me. I could see more than a hundred hot air balloons. It was absolutely breathtaking. I had never seen anything that beautiful before. The canyon, the fairy chimneys, the sunrise, the balloons… It was simply perfect.
To this day, it is my best travel experience.
I sincerely hope these 10 suggestions make you want to add Turkey to your list of future travel destinations.