Istanbul

Stumbling through Istanbul, Pammukale, & Bodrum Turkey, & accidentally Kos, Greece.

All trips somewhere new should be considered an ‘experience’. However, it’s the best word I can come up with to describe my recent trip to Istanbul, Bodrum, & Pamukkale Turkey and then to Kos, Greece. 
 
A lot of firsts were experienced in those 11 days.

-My first time in the Middle East.
-My first time being told I was the only American our hotel bartender had ever served.
-My first time I’ve visited a Muslim country.
-My first time in a Mosque.
-My first experience standing in the ruins of an ancient Roman city.
-My first time in the Aegean sea.
-My first time in a country where my fellow traveler and I didn’t understand a word of the language.
-my first time in the cockpit of another airline’s flight.


There are plenty more, but they aren’t as much fun without a story behind them. This will be a long post, so I’ll break it down by ‘experience’ in case you’d rather skip around.

 First up, how an American decided to go to a country bordering Syria & Iraq with ISIS knocking at the border. My friends mother in Poland, my parents, and anyone who really knows what’s going on in the world asked or wondered this question.  Welllll, my friend Kate and I had decided to go on a trip & picked out the dates.  It happened to be around my birthday and a Canadian friend we had met in Cartagena, Colombia wished me happy birthday.  This led to a reunion discussion and turns out, he and his partner were going to be in Istanbul on the exact dates we had picked, and Turkey was one of the 3 places we had narrowed the budget trip options down to.  I then reached out to a fellow flight attendant whose boyfriend is from Istanbul, and it turns out they were going on those exact dates too.  That, and the fact that I don’t know many people who have been there, sealed the deal. In our defence, Istanbul is a huge modern city on the exact opposite end of the country from the borders where majority of the violence is.  Not saying I never considered it could be a bad idea, but bad things can happen to you anywhere.

First up, a story probably only my flight attendant friends will appreciate. We flew from DFW- BOS and took Lufthansa to Frankfurt, Germany then to Istanbul. While in Boston we had to switch terminals and had changed out of our uniforms on the flight in.  To clear TSA faster we just ran to the restroom and threw on our uniforms…. no panty hose, hair all over bc we had just woken up, and basically looking like a hot mess with our mismatching bags.  We get to TSA, and low and behold a beautiful Asian airline crew of 10+ full of perfectly matching uniforms, hair, shoes, bags, etc are in front of us, and then a perfectly put together Lufthansa crew of 10+ walks up behind us.  It was the crew for our flight, and to say we were judged is an understatement.  Flight crews just loooove to compare uniforms, and obviously flight attendants take pride in their appearance when walking through the airport (it’s the only glamorous thing left about the job).  The pilots kept wanting to chat, but we were mortified!  Thank goodness we brought them chocolates.


Istanbul.

-A story showing how quickly we learned about what I’ll call ‘Turkish hospitality’. We arrive to Istanbul and are just weird from the jetlag.  We get our visa, clear customs, & get a cab to the hotel all very easily.  I had an address and name of our hotel, which apparently didn’t mean much to the cab driver.  He dropped us at a street blocked to traffic and pointed in a direction and told us 2 minutes.  Um ok. So we walk, hauling our luggage behind us, fully covered and hot in our clothes because that’s what we thought we were supposed to do in a Muslim country.  It took about this long into the trip for us to realize by the stares that we are in fact, ‘exotic’ here. We walked for 5 minutes and still had no idea where we were going.  So, we stopped and asked 2 guys.  They didn’t know. However, they went into a restaurant and asked to try and help us.  When they didn’t work, they went and asked and asked until finally a cab driver knew where we should go. Didn’t didn’t speak English but were not giving up until they had helped us out. Try that in NYC and see how many people give you the finger. We wheeled our luggage up a hill to a hotel we never would have found and slept.  We woke for dinner and then went back to sleep. Oops.

Turkish bath experience #1.


-We woke up early at our cute little BnB, Collage Pera Hotel, and tried the authentic Turkish breakfast.  Difference cheeses, meats, cucumbers, olives, boiled eggs, bread, jams, yogurts, & strong coffee.  The coffee part being my favorite part of Turkish breakfast.  Then we headed out to Istiklal St, which is the crazy busy (mostly pedestrian) main street of Istanbul.  We roamed around for a bit on our way to find a turkish bath that I had found online.  Well then we saw a sign for one from 1481. Well that’s impressive and older than the one we were headed to, so we followed having nooooo idea what to expect.  What walked down a few streets to the Hammam entrance. We opened the door to a greeting from 5-6 hairy old men in towels in a large room. Having no idea what a Hamam should be like, we stood there like statues until a worker came and asked what we would like.  We asked for a price menu before exchanging a ‘lets get out of here’ look, and basically ran from the overweight hairy men sitting in the expansive ‘lobby’ area enjoying their tea with towels on.  THAT is when we saw the little bitty sign for Hammam Women on the side of the building with an arrow pointing down the street.  We checked it out, but were still really weirded out by all of it and left.

The Grand Bazaar & Galata Tower


-Thank goodness we had a local with us is all I have to say. Our sweet friend Judy and her boyfriend Kadir were visiting his family and came to meet up for the afternoon to partake in touristy things.  The current Galata Tower is a medieval stone tower built in 1348 and replacing a tower build long before to keep watch over the Bosphorus river. We enjoyed ahhhhmazing 360 views of Istanbul and a good lunch at the top of the tower.



Next came the Grand Bazaar. We must have walked through hundreds of booths along the road before we even entered the Grand Bazaar. Because I was clueless & interested, here are some facts for you.  The Grand Bazaar has been around since 1455.  It covers 61 streets and has more than 3,000 shops! I was surprised to find that locals really do come and shop at the Bazaar.  We found out that rent for a store in the Bazaar per month is $45-50,000.  With the number of people walking around inside, I can believe that they still make a nice profit.  It really is a lot of the same type of stores.  Spices, teas, jewelry, scarfs, turkish towels, turkish delights, light fixtures, carpets, and soap/bath products made up majority.  The Turkish love to negotiate.  It’s said you should never pay more than 50% of the start asking price for anything in Turkey. Kate and I negotiated everything from cab rides, to dinner prices while there. I’m sure we were ripped off plenty of times, but it was actually quite enjoyable.  The Bazaar was crazy & beautiful at the same time, truly truly something you have to see the believe.

 



  That night we got dressed up and met our friends Judy and Kadir at a very nice restaurant on the river, The Market at Bosphorus. Kadir’s brother, cousin, and friend joined us for the evening.  Actually his cousin was kind enough to take charge of ordering dinner and spoiled us rotten with dish after dish of amazing Turkish food. I cant really say I’ve had ‘turkish’ food before, but for the meal we had dish after dish of juicy meat. Sausage plates, the kebabs were amazing, & lamb was delicious.  Next we went to Sunset lounge which overlooks the Bosphorus River and Asia from an amazing viewpoint.  Wine, fruit, and turkish coffee rounded out a great evening with even better company.  Great ‘Turkish hospitality’ strikes again.

 



Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, & Turkish carpet salesmen.
 
 
At Hagia Sophia I felt lucky to just be there. It’s probably the oldest place I’ve ever stepped foot in. It’s a place that has withstood so many changes, and the architecture seemed so advanced for the time it was constructed.  So that the importance of this building is understood, here’s a brief history lesson. In 330 Constantinpolis (current Istanbul) was named the capital of the Roman Empire.  The 1st church to stand where the current museum stands was built in 365, it was burnt to the ground twice before in 532 the current Hagia Sophia began construction. It only took 5 years to build the largest cathedral in the world at the time (it kept that title for a little over 1000 years) with its famous dome. In 1453 under the new Ottoman Empire, it was converted into a mosque. The current building shows remains of both religions and it’s a fascinating contrast. The upper corners below the dome have had part of the layers of plaster removed to reveal angels, and other Christian based symbols. But, the plaster covering these symbols and all the mosaics hasn’t been completely removed and also shows Islamic symbols from when the walls were covered and the cathedral converted to a mosque.  The detail is insane. Marble floors, marble doors, chandeliers, gold mosaics, a giant marble jar dating back to 3-2 century BC, and my favorite… the beautiful current doors used are from 2nd century BC.  These items are still holding up and functioning for over 2000 years! This cathedral turned mosque & now museum (in the 1930s) is still standing after hosting popes, emperors, sultans, and millions and millions of people for nearly 1500 years. And I got to stand inside it and take it all in. I’m admittedly a dork when it comes to ruins, ancient civilizations, and cultures…. but helllllo, how can you enter a place like this and not be in awe.
 

 

 

 
The Blue Mosque and majority of the other mosques in the city were built in similar architectural styles as Hagia Sophia. The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia actually are very very close to each other.  The Mosque is open to the public during non-prayer times and even offers proper attire. It’s not cute, but on an 80 degree day when we were walking miles and miles we were very thankful to know we didn’t need to be fully covered and have a head scarf. The fact that so many people were hearded in and out took away from it, but the design and detail once inside was very grand. It was a good experience, I appreciated Hagia Sophia more personally tho.
 

 

 
Turkish Salesmen.
 
Good grief, we were bombarded by every store door step, every man hanging around the museum and mosque, and well pretty much anytime we were in public. We may have been ‘exotic’, but we weren’t special. Every tourist was treated this way. ‘Miss… miss. Excuse me miss… where are you from miss? Would you like some apple tea miss? Come inside let me show you blah blah blah. Everyone’s first question was, ‘where are you from?’ It was interesting to walk away and hear their guesses.
One particular store had 2 younger men standing outside eating vanilla wafers. They offered us a cookie. Apparently that’s the way to win Kate and I over, because next thing I know we were invited in for apple tea, and we’re sitting on a couch surrounded by carpets chatting away with these 2 guys. 
 
 This certainly wasn’t the only time I noticed the entrepreneurial spirit in Istanbul, but the owner built his company from nothing… he started working as a dish washer at a restaurant at 14, worked his way up and saved money, and then opened his store. He spends part of his year in NYC, & he and his partner travel the world visiting their customers. It was noted that men in Turkey seem to have great work ethic, and start working at a young age.
 
 
After taking the long way home and getting lost in the city (partially on purpose) we met up with our Canadian friends and went to dinner and a couple of drinks. I usually think it’s better to be too dressy rather than not enough, but were WAYYY too dressed up walking around Istiklal St and Taksim Square. Being exotic turned into quite a conundrum. Our friends nearly got into a fight trying to ward off boys trying to sell us roses. We had dinner, and went to a patio for beers after. It was a Tuesday night and Istanbul was bummmmping at midnight-1am when we took our grandma buts to bed. Whoever says NYC never sleeps has never been to Istanbul.
 
Bodrum, Turkey
 
I had the hardest time picking which town we would stay inon the Turkish Riviera because they all offer such different options. But, we stayed right across the street from the marina & Bodrum castle which was nice. The hotel we stayed at, not so much. We woke up our first full day in Bodrum and headed to a tour agency (that became a big part of our time there), & were boarded aboard a traditional Turkish Gullet by 11. We sunned ourselves at the front of the boat as we went to 5 stops along the Bodrum peninsula. Beautiful clear water at every one of them. The last stop was actually a thermal pool and cave with mud to do a mud mask. It was guaranteed to make you appear 15 years younger. The word on the street is that Cleopatra stayed on that peninsula when hiding out for a number of years, and the mud & thermal water from that very cave was one of her beauty secrets. I’m not sure if it was the mud or that story (+ wine), but myself and Kate were convinced our skin felt much smoother.  It was an awesome day on the boat & we were sleeping like babies by 9pm.

 

 

 

yes that’s an ice cream boat. We also road a banana boat that drove by to offer their service.
 
 
Pamukkale & Hierapolis
 
Next up on the UNESCO list for the trip, the landscape wonder in Pamukkale, and the ancient ruins of Hierapolis. This was a 3 hr drive inland, but totally worth it!  When you arrive you enter through the still standing ‘gate to the city’ archway and walk along the main street where you can still see where the walls to the shops would have stood. The largest of the baths, supposedly built for Cleopatras use, is a very large pool of the thermal water surrounded by ruins (& gift shops and restrooms, wamp wamp.). We opted out of that swim as it was very crowded and we already had perfect skin from Cleopatras mud mask, duh. Walking to the edge of Pamukkale we were originally disappointed with the amount of terraces not filled with the blue water, as not all of them are at all times. But, we were on the side that humans are allowed to walk through. Once you walk around the corner and it’ll knock your socks off. These pools have been created by the mineral rich thermal water flowing down the mountainside. The water is high in calcium carbonate and creates the travertine terraces. It was 90 degrees on a mountain and it looked like you were standing in a snow covered fantasy land. It was so out of place with the surrounding landscape and so vast it just didn’t seem real.
 

 

 

 

 
These thermal springs have been used as a healing spa since the 2nd century BC! Ultimately, this is what led the area to be settled as the city of Hierapolis. It was thought that the mineral waters healed disease, and people came from all over to be healed. There is a cemetery up the mountain that is over a mile long with over 1,200 tombs. I wouldn’t put my money on the healing waters. It was also known as a holy city, & actually the name translates to just that. The apostles Paul and Phillip built a church here, and Phillip lived the rest of his life in Hierapolis.
 
The theater we hiked up was built in 129 AD and could fit 15,000 people. They have proof that it even had a system to pump in and drain water for an aquamarine style show! Around that time Hierapolis became one of the most prominent cities in the Roman Empire and had 100,000 inhabitants. An earthquake in the 700s AD caused the theater to collapse, and the abandonment of the city. In the early 2000s reconstruction of the building began. While we were there I read that they are able to use 90% of original stone for the reconstruction. The view from the top was well worth the hike up from the terraces.  We ran out of time, but the site also has ruins of Apollo’s temple and the church. On the way back we stopped by a leather warehouse where they actually performed a fashion show. We were exhausted tho, and not buying any leather goods. It was a loooong day, which would explain why we never woke up from a nap to go out that night.
 
 
Turkish Hammam # 2 & The Polish Ladies
 
The next day, we went to a Turkish Hammam in the town next to Bodrum. We booked through our tour company this time, and it was free since we booked 2 other tours with them. Considering our last experience & not knowing what to expect, we brought our bathing suits. These 2 middle aged polish women who entered the sauna after us…. did not. One enters in a white bra and granny panties, the other in an all black silky number. Sweat + white or silk = things I didn’t want to see. Kate, being from Poland, chatted with them for a while, &  established that they were very sweet ladies. They were on their 2nd Hammam bath, and obviously just not modest. Power to you for not having a care ladies, power to you! The humorous part came when you enter the room for the ‘washing’. You are scrubbed down by a man, then rinsed, then you get on a large circular marble stone for a soap massage. The 2 polish ladies were up first and giggle at each other (and us) as the young muscular men walk in to give them their bath and rub down. Lucky them… I got my scrub down by the hairiest man I saw the entire time we were in Turkey (except for the Hammam incident in Istanbul). The entire thing was very relaxing and I would have gone back every single day if I could have made time. We finished, and had a glass of wine on the rooftop overlooking the sea, and then a face mask. It was a great day before our built up night out on the town.
 
We got ready…  like had our bath, actually took special time, did full make up, busted out the tight dresses, and got READY for the club. Halikanas is the largest open air night club in Europe, and we were meeting our tour guide friends and going. They invited us to come back to the store to partake in the after hours alcohol consumption that happens every weekend they said.  After they finally recognize us upon walking up, they run to the restaurant to get ice to pour us a cocktail. Next they ran to across the street to buy us grapes and nuts to snack on (Turkish hospitality again). We settled in and took turns playing music on youtube before heading to THE CLUB.
 
 It’s expensive to get into Halikanas, like 60 euros. Our new friends had local hook ups or something, but apparently you have to have a white card with money loaded to buy drinks and enter. We didn’t know that and got lost from our tour guide friends. But of course, we made friends inside and ended up walking out at the same time as them… the club itself was a little bit of a disappointment, but something you should do while in town. It’s massive, with a stage and Roman style columns around the dance floor. They have shows & dancers that come on stage every hour or so as well. But as we are leaving, we get stopped and asked about our cards. The conversation went back and forth until they decided we were celebrities and let us go. I still don’t understand, but language barriers can work out in your advantage sometimes.
 
KOS, GREECE
 
This is when the trip starts getting tricky for us. By tricky I mean we got lazy and quit paying attention to the details. We pretty much booked everything (including hotels) as we went, and apparently we were really tired booking basically everything for Greece.
 
We woke up on like 3 hours of sleep to catch our ferry that I had booked online. It said it departed front the Castle port. The castle was like a half a mile away, perfect. We take off wheeling our luggage up sidewalks and down cobblestone roads (with my front bag snapped to my large luggage falling off every 20 ft). Arriving 20 min early and impressed with ourselves I start asking the 2 different ferry offices where we board or who I show our confirmation to. No, I was told, we were at the wrong place. Soooo, I go next door and ask because there’s obviously a ferry parked at the marina. No, we needed the cruise port. Can I walk to the cruise port? No. It’s 15 min away. Can I make it there in time? I don’t know.
 
I walk outside and informed Kate the news. Totally sleep deprived and a little hungover, we spent 2 min staring at each other not having a clue if we stay and pay for this ferry which was leaving in 30 min or try and make it to the one we purchased. Then one of the ferry office men walks up. He said the magic words that, ‘we could make it’, and waves at an old man sitting at a cafe enjoying his coffee with 3 other older men. This guy negotiates a fare and quickly loads our stuff into his balling Mercedes limo van, I mean obviously fit for us celebrities. Back to reality- we hauled down that cobblestone castle street and were on 2 wheels for the 5 min ride to the port. We make it with 5 min to spare and run to the counter as the driver unloads our stuff. I show my confirmation email only to hear, ‘no its gone’. I assumed there was confusion, but no… it actually left early for once she says. Our balling Mercedes limo van was leaving having completed his job, so in that moment Kate took off running for him. He stops, repacks our luggage, and takes off for the port we had just freakin left from and truly saved the day by calling ahead to tell them we were buying 2 tickets (they were only 18 euros each). We stop, run in and pay, run through customs and immigration, I have to stop like 5 times to rebuckle my stupid front luggage, and run to MAKE THE FERRY. (Turkish hospitality).
 
Within an hr we arrive in Kos Greece at another castle/fortress. We roll our luggage around more cobblestone sidewalks, mine increasingly annoying as I have to keep it from falling off and rolling into the sea here as my snap comes apart every 20 cobblestone steps, and finally figure out how to exchange $ before getting a taxi.  We make it to the hotel in a little town called Tigaki Beach. We booked it because it has the prettiest beach on the island, and that’s what we wanted at the time. For future travelers, just stay in Kos Town. I can’t remember the lady who I’m assuming owns or runs the hotel’s name, but she thought we were the biggest airheads of all time by the end of the trip. I had breezed through the booking and not noticed I only selected 1 adult. ‘Girls, girls’… she would say in her Greek accent. She offered us a deal to give us a room with 2 twin beds instead of 1, and gave us a good scolding for making the mistake. We were too young for that town by about 30 years, but we enjoyed just relaxing.  Me more so than Kate as she got sick from the tsziki at our first Greek dinner. I drank beer on the beach while she focused to keep water down.

 

 
 Going back to Bodrum, we were catching the public bus to make our evening ferry and made another mistake in front of our Greek grandmother. As 2 flight attendants we never actually check out of hotels. So, we rationed out the last of our Greek money and planned to rent bikes that morning before packing and showering for the lonnnng journey home. We went to the lobby to ask about the bus details. When we get to the counter I realize there is such thing as ‘check out’ & it was in like 45 min. Obviously that wasn’t happening, so we asked out sweet grandmother if there was any chance we could stay til 2. The ‘tskkk’ and ‘giiiiirls, giiiirls’ reply was shaming, as was her inquiry about our age, & reminder of how lucky we are it’s not busy season. But, I think she liked us deep down and let us stay.
 
Next up…. we catch the bus no problem, get to Kos and kill an hr eating ice cream & exploring Hippocrates square. We walk around a fortress to the ferry port (yes my luggage problem still exists and is increasingly annoying) to check in to find out we were 2 1/2 hrs early. Just totally screwed up reading the return time somehow. All i could hear was ‘giiiirls giiirls’ by our greek grandmother. Kate was over it and just wanted to sit in the cool and read, and I thought she might need a little break from me by that point so I took off exploring. I enjoyed myself walking around the fortress built in the 1500s and reading up on Hippocrates who was from the island. I also was taken off guard as I rounded a street to find a long line of tents full of Syrian refuges.  It was awakening to see them all along the marina in Bodrum, in Kos, as well as chatting with the local Greeks about their feelings regarding the situation.  I wont get into all of that.
 
I won’t bore you with all the details on how we got home, but we took an airline we had recently added a nonrev agreement with out of Bodrum to Amsterdam. They were very nice and the pilots even offered to let us sit in the cockpit. We don’t do that in the US, even if you work for that airline, so our faces were showing confused and shocked. But they offered again, and I’ll be dang if I’m going to let that opportunity go. We chatted with the 2 men from Holland and had a grand ol time in the Boeing cockpit in our normal clothes and company IDs. We had one more hotel errrr set back in Amsterdam before heading to the states 11 hours later, but that finally ended our blonde moments (except for the fact that we went to the wrong gate and almost checked in for the flight to Nigeria).
 
 
I think every new trip I go on is the best one to date lol, but I learned a lot on this one. Getting out and exploring a country very different from my own is probably the only way I would have taken the time to research Islamic religion and to understand the Middle East & Turkey a little better. I read as much as I can about the Syrian refuge crisis now after witnessing them first hand. Ancient Roman history has always been an interest, & now it’s something I’m more educated on. These are the kind of trips I wish more people would go on. Cruises are great, & the Caribbean is beautiful, but I learned SO much about myself and other cultures by taking a trip out of the ordinary (and spent under $1000 total for those who think it’s not feasible). I think the best way to learn is to experience, and the more I travel the more I understand how culturally lacking Americans are as a whole. This joke comes to mind, ‘what do you call someone who speaks 2 languages?’ ‘Bilingual’. ‘What do you call someone who speaks 3 languages?’ ‘Trilingual.’ ‘Well what do you call someone who only speaks 1 language?’ ‘An American.’  Don’t get me wrong, I still think I live in the best country out there. But, my point is…
 
Get out and see the world people, it will change you for the better.
 
 

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