I recently had the opportunity to travel to the amazing country of Türkiye (previously spelled Turkey) with Intrepid Travel. Ever since becoming certified as an Active and Adventure Specialist, I had wanted to experience a trip with Intrepid, so I was excited when I was invited on this adventure. While I went with a group of travel advisors, our itinerary was very similar to one that is available to regular travelers.
I had so many amazing experiences while I was in Türkiye. Some of them were included as part of my Intrepid tour, and others were optional experiences that I added on. It’s hard to believe Intrepid Travel fit them all into one week! Here are the highlights:
We were given the opportunity to tour several mosques during our trip. Türkiye is 99% Muslim, so there are mosques everywhere. Everyone had to remove their shoes before entering. Women were encouraged to wear a head covering while inside. I had packed a pashmina shawl for this purpose. I was surprised to learn that hoodies and beanies are also accepted forms of head coverings.
Two of the mosques we visited have been recognized by UNESCO. I think my favorite was the Hagia Sophia Mosque. Its history is fascinating; it was a Greek Orthodox church from 360 AD until the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 when it became a mosque. It was converted into a museum in 1935 and then back into a mosque in 2020. There are Christian paintings in some places, which are covered by drapes.
We saw the Blue Mosque (officially known at the Sultan Ahmed Mosque) from the outside; the inside was under renovation, so we didn’t go inside.
But we did tour the very impressive and beautiful Süleymaniye Mosque. Until 2019, it was the largest mosque in Istanbul.
With over 4,000 shops, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets. It was constructed during the 15th century and attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. It is definitely a must-see while in Istanbul.
Turkish Street Food
I enjoy seeing how street food varies from one destination to the next. Turkish street food did not disappoint. There were many fresh juice vendors and lots of carts selling roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob.
I was also introduced to Simit, which can be described as a Turkish bagel. It is covered with sesame seeds. Yum!
Did you know that Türkiye has the highest per capita tea consumption in the world? I love tea, so I was excited to try some in Türkiye. The Turkish word for tea is çay, which is pronounced chai. It tastes like regular black tea though, not the spiced chai lattes that can be found in the US. Turkish tea is served in small, clear glasses that are shaped like tulips and held by the rim.
In one of the restaurants where we ate breakfast, I learned that the tea is brewed extra strong and then diluted to one’s preference. One of the waiters informed me of this when I poured myself a full cup of the extra-strong tea. LOL. He took it from me and showed me the correct way to do it.
Tea is offered to guests as part of Turkish hospitality. Some stores even offered me a cup of tea while I was shopping. 😊
While black tea was the most common, there were several times that I was offered apple tea. And I saw many other different types of herbal tea in shops.
Similar to Spanish tapas, meze is a selection of small dishes that are served as appetizers. Many of the meze that we were served were vegetarian, which made me happy since I am a plant-based eater. Most of the time, several were ordered for the entire table. It was fun being able to sample a bunch of different meze.
Turkish Bath – Hammam
I love trying new experiences when I travel. While I have been to spas before, I had never experienced a Turkish Bath, also known as a hammam, and didn’t quite know what to expect. I went with a few other female travel advisors, and we experienced our hammam at the same time. Fortunately, we went to a bathhouse that welcomes foreigners. Each of us had our own female attendant. After undressing and changing into an undergarment, we wrapped ourselves in a Turkish towel and were guided into a steam room. After about 20 minutes, came the next step. I had opted for an optional mud bath, so I was coated in mud and allowed to rest for several minutes. After that came the bath. My attendant said that I just needed to lie there like a baby, so that’s what I did. After a vigorous scrub came a bubble massage. Afterward, she rinsed me by pouring bowls of water over me. Finally, I was wrapped up in my towel again and allowed to rest while sipping tea and eating some Turkish Delight candy. This isn’t my photo, but it’s a good representation of what I experienced.
We had time to visit only a few of the many museums across Türkiye. My favorite was the Ephesus Museum in the town of Selçuk, which is located just a mile from the ancient city of Ephesus. Ephesus was once home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Ephesus Museum has many artifacts inside. The highlights, in my opinion, are the two statues of Artemis that date back to the 1st and 2nd centuries. I was amazed at how intact they are.
Greek and Roman Ruins
I was very impressed with the ruins I saw in Türkiye, starting with a Roman aqueduct that we drove under in Istanbul.
Next we saw what remains of the Temple of Artemis. Quite honestly, there isn’t much left, but because it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, I am still glad we got to see it.
The part that I found the most fascinating, however, was the Terrace Houses. We saw rooms with mosaic floors and beautiful frescoed walls. I felt like these made it easier to picture real people living there.
Hierapolis was also quite interesting. Its Necropolis, an ancient graveyard, contained more than 1,200 tombs.
The theatre in Hierapolis was well-preserved and BIG. It was built in 200 BC and could seat 20,000 people.
Christian Interest sites
While Türkiye is mostly Muslim now, it has many historic sites that are of interest to Christians that date back to the first century. The Apostle John and the Virgin Mary lived in Ephesus for a while. We saw the tomb of St. John inside the ruins of a basilica.
The apostle Paul also visited Ephesus and addressed Christians there in the theater.
The Apostle Philip was martyred on a hill overlooking Hierapolis. In the 5th century, a church (martyrium) was built on the site. I climbed the hill to see the ruins of the martyrium.
In Cappadocia, we saw 4th-century monasteries and chapels that were carved into rock formations. I have never seen anything else like it.
Inside, the walls and domed ceilings of the chapels were decorated with fresco paintings.
In later periods, Christians resisted Arab invasions by hiding in underground cities. The one we visited had eight levels, all underground. All of these rock carvings have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Turkish pancakes – Gözleme
I love learning about and tasting traditional foods when I travel. We ate in a restaurant that specialized in Gözleme, a savory stuffed flatbread or pancake that I think resembles a quesadilla. Not only did we get to eat them, but we were also welcome to visit the kitchen and watch them prepare and cook them.
Turkish carpet making
Another demonstration that I thoroughly enjoyed was watching Turkish women make hand-knotted carpets. After we watched, we got to try to do it ourselves.
We learned how this traditional craft is being passed down to younger generations. We also got to see how they dye the wool and silk that is used to make the rugs. It was really interesting!
A great itinerary has a variety of different activities. One evening we got to sample local Turkish wines. There were a few that I really liked, but I was traveling light on this trip and didn’t have the room to bring any home.
Pamukkale is a natural formation of travertine terrace pools created by thermal spring water rich in calcium carbonate. The name Pamukkale means “cotton castle” in Turkish. It is located next to Hierapolis and together they were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And what is really cool, is that you can take off your shoes and socks and walk on the formations (well, one section of the formations).
A caravanserai is basically an ancient version of a motel. Really. Travelers and merchants needed a secure place to sleep and store their goods. Seljuk and Ottoman rulers built caravanserais to protect merchants and encourage trade. I got to see two caravanserais, including the Sultanhani, which was built in the 13th century and is well preserved.
Turkish folk music and dancing
One evening our group went to a restaurant that featured a traditional dinner accompanied by Turkish folk music and traditional dancing, including belly dancing. This was a fun way to learn about the traditions of Türkiye.
Landscape of Cappadocia
Cappadocia is known for the formations they call Fairy Chimneys. That’s another term for hoodoos, which you probably saw if you’ve visited Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. In Cappadocia, many of the hoodoos have dwellings carved into the side of them, which makes the region look very different from a US National Park.
We went on a couple of hikes in order to see the Fairy Chimneys up close.
We had the opportunity to watch a ceremony conducted by the Mevlevi Order, more commonly known as the Whirling Dervishes. It was a religious ceremony, not a performance. They gave us each a brochure so that we could read along and understand what the different part of the ceremony signified. There was a lot of whirling. After the ceremony concluded, they whirled some more so that we could take photos and videos (which were not permitted during the actual ceremony). It was fascinating!
A homecooked dinner in a Turkish home
My favorite dinner during the entire trip was when we visited a woman named Nuray in her home and she cooked dinner for us.
The soup she made was so good, that I had to find out what it was called so I could try to make it myself. It is called Ezogelin soup and I did find a recipe. My version wasn’t nearly as good as what Nuray made though.
Sightseeing cruise on the Bosphorus
The Bosphorus Strait is a very significant waterway. It is part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. It also divides the city of Istanbul into two sections. On our last afternoon in Türkiye, we went on a sightseeing cruise on the Bosphorus. It was fun and a great way to see some of the sights of the city.
The Spice Bazaar is where you want to go to buy spices in Istanbul. Its hallways are beautifully painted, so even if you aren’t interested in purchasing spices, you should still check it out. I had a shopping list of spices I wanted to bring home with me and I was able to find everything on my list. In addition to spices, there were lots of herbal tea blends that smelled amazing.
Views from the Galata Tower
Galata Tower is an old watchtower that was built in the 14th century, when it was the tallest building in Istanbul.
The nine-story tower is an excellent place to get a bird’s-eye view of the city. It is also a museum, but the views are the main reason to visit, in my opinion.
This lively pedestrian avenue is a popular destination for both locals and visitors to Istanbul. It stretches nearly a mile and is home to restaurants, shops, cafes, pubs, galleries, cinemas, theaters, and more. A cute, nostalgic tram runs down the street.
Are you ready to go to Türkiye?
As I mentioned above, Intrepid Travel fit all of this into one week! I had a great time and look forward to more more trips with Intrepid in the future.
Are you interested in going on a trip with Intrepid Travel? I would love to help. Sometimes Intrepid offers promotions through travel advisors that aren’t offered to the general public. That is just one of the many reasons you should consider using a Travel Advisor. Contact me when you’re ready to get started.