My last stop in Turkey, Antalya, is a popular local vacation destination along the country's southern coast. I knew next to nothing about the city prior to my arrival, but Antalya came highly recommended by my fellow travelers and all it took was Google image search to sell me on this idyllic paradise. The pictures reminded me of the ever-intoxicating Croatian coastline, but I assumed the pictures online were either heavily photoshopped or taken at the most beautiful time of the year. It is the middle of December and so far Konya (my previous city) was depressingly rainy, Göreme was insanely cold, and Istanbul was both! I spent hours trying to lower my expectations of Antalya, but much to my surprise it is a spectacular city with easily the best weather I’ve experienced in so far in Turkey!
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Since the beginning of my trip, whenever I mention plans to visit Turkey every traveler's immediate response is, "You have to visit Cappadocia!" Oddly enough, many people recommended Cappadocia to me even ahead of Istanbul, but I figured they couldn’t all be wrong - there obviously must be something special about this region of Turkey. I honestly didn’t have even the slightest idea of what I would find, but looking back I’m thrilled I visited. I’ve seen numerous exotic locations so far on my travels, but none compares to the incredibly unique landscape of Cappadocia.
Over the last three weeks in Istanbul I've become quite familiar with the city and it's slowly beginning to feel like "home." After weeks of exploring, I know where to get a good meal in town, where the best bars are in the area, how to bargain a bit (even though I'm still comically inept at it), and even how to navigate the Grand Bazaar without getting lost. I've wandered across the city numerous times, walking over 10 miles on most days, yet there are still parts of this great city I've yet to explore. There’s just too much to do and not nearly enough time to do it, but thankfully I had some help courtesy of a local friend.
Five and a half months of continuous travel takes its toll on any backpacker. While I’ve slowed down my travel schedule to make my lifestyle more sustainable, eventually the constant moving was bound to catch up with me. Many people back home think it’s absurd I need a "vacation from my vacation,” but the reality of the matter is that long-term travel is far more tiring than you'd expect. While travel is absolutely thrilling, it boils down to a lot of logistics planning. Since no two days are ever the same, I am forced to constantly pay attention to my surroundings, figure out solutions to a variety of novel issues on a daily basis, and adjust my short term plans based on a never-ending array of unexpected changes. Thankfully, my three weeks in Istanbul was a return to a “normal” life that I’d long since forgotten and gave me the chance to explore the city at my leisure.
Today marks the third week I've been in Istanbul and I still haven’t seen everything I wanted. The city is massive, full of excellent food to sample, incredible sights to visit, and stellar nightlife to keep you entertained for months on end. While I still have much to see, I hit the ground running and, as promised, here is the rest of my story from my very first full day in Istanbul. Starting from where I left off in my last post, my compatriots, Alex and Zoheb, and I had just finished our prayer in the Sultan Ahmed Mosque were off to continue our exploration of Istanbul.
The city of Istanbul is many things, but boring is not one of them. After two and a half weeks of living in the city, there are still areas I have yet to explore even though I spend my days walking around town for miles at a time. Of all the wondrous things I experienced during my visit, nothing was quite as unique as the view from across the Galata Bridge in the middle of town.
My arrival into Istanbul from Plovdiv showed me just how far I've come with regard to traveling; things that terrified me early on in my trip simply rolled off my shoulders. Every time I arrive into a new country there is a flurry of activity, strange new customs, and numerous unknowns that I have to problem solve around until I finally arrive at my next hostel. Ironically, what I am beginning to understand about traveling is that the more issues and unknowns I face, the more entertaining traveling is for me. I know this strategy tends to backfire on me from time to time, but even then at least I have a story.
Today I sit overlooking the Bosphorus Strait from a rooftop patio in Istanbul. I arrived over three weeks ago and this is literally the fifth day of sunshine I’ve encountered. The preceding days were cloudy, rainy, and cold with only a handful of moments where the sun managed to break through the thick blanket of ominous clouds. The weather isn't quite what I was hoping for, but then again, it is the beginning of December. All things considered, I can't really complain since I’m sitting outside in shorts, flip-flops, and t-shirt. As surprising as the weather may be, today marks a far more important milestone - the sixth month anniversary of my departure from the US.