I’ve always dreamed of exploring Turkey. My fascination began in High School when I learned about the Byzantine capital of Constantinople (now called Istanbul) through the ancient empire building of Alexander the Great. (I was struggling to find the words to share our trip to Turkey, so I thought I’d begin with my impressions of Cappadocia and Istanbul.)
We began our trip in Goreme (after landing in Istanbul for the night and then catching an internal flight – I’ll write a full itinerary in a subsequent post) the tourist capital of Cappadocia.
Minutes after we landed in Kayseri Airport and hopped in a private transfer, the landscape became wild. We drove past a nearby mountain range tipped with snow, which shortly gave way to an undulating landscape of shifting sands, rocky outcrops and weather-worn buildings. This is when my heart leapt, after all those years – we were really, finally, here.
Goreme itself is a tumbling juxtaposition of ancient stony fairy chimneys eroded by wind and water, and buildings draped with modern signs for local hot air balloon companies catering to curious tourists. Nearby are preserved homes, churches and monasteries carved into the soft rock – Christian sanctuaries containing many examples of Byzantine art.
How is this possible? Well, after the eruption of Mount Erciyes about 2.6 million years ago, ash and lava formed soft rocks in the Cappadocia Region, covering a region of about 20,000 square kilometres. In the 4th century, small anchorite communities started to form in the region, acting on the instruction of Saint Basil of Caesarea, and they began to carve cells in the soft rock.
We spent very little time in the town itself, preferring to admire the views from our hill crest hugging hotel, or exploring the nearby natural wonders with local guides.
Winding lanes that make no sense whatsoever to our addled senses were rolled through with ease with locals. From 5am when the white vans quietly start to make their pickups for the hot air balloons, to twilight when the dusk fell and local cats and dogs began to play in the subdued streets, we were fascinated by the rhythm of this city.
Obviously, we also were taken to a couple of carpet and pottery factories, where we (bemusedly) sipped mint tea and Turkish coffee, whilst the finely crafted wares were laid out in front of us.
After a few days we hopped back to Kayseri, watching that same intriguing landscape from the car window, before boarding our return flight to Istanbul.
Straddling two continents across the Bosphorus Strait, Asia to the East and Europe to the West, Istanbul got my blood racing from the moment we landed. With a total population of around 15 million residents in its metropolitan area, Istanbul is one of the world’s most populous cities, ranking as the world’s fourth largest city proper and the largest European city.
I couldn’t work out the rhythm – there seems to be a beat to this city that was unfamiliar to my Westernised soul – and I just wondered at how everything just seemed to work out right. From our tour bus stopping basically in the middle of a motorway to collect tourists from a random concrete island, to getting quite lost in the 20 exit Grand Bazaar (pretty sure that’s a rite of passage here) it was something else.
Something exhilarating – I can only begin to wonder at what Istanbul was before modernity crept in…
From the scale of the Hagia Sophia, and chats with our quite politically progressive tour guide, to the peaceful cruise we did along the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul felt so ‘other’ to me. Just how the ancient Byzantium capital should feel. (Fun fact: Constantinople was the Byzantine capital for over 16 centuries – the city held the strategic position between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. It was also on the historic Silk Road. It controlled rail networks to Europe and the Middle East and was the only sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean for many years.)
It was intense, curious, delicious, welcoming and just the right amount of crazy.
Oh, and cats even waited patiently at tram stops.
I can’t sum Cappadocia and Istanbul up in just a few words, so I’m not even going to try. But it was an absolute heady rush, and I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again – in fact, I was eyeing up some of the surrounding regions even before we’d left. Astonishingly, Turkey neighbours 7 other nations, Greece and Bulgaria to its northwest; Georgia to its northeast; Armenia, the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan and Iran to the east; and Iraq and Syria to the south.
Have you been to Istanbul?
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