Turkey is a country that has been on our bucket list for quite some time, so we were absolutely ecstatic when we finally pulled the trigger and booked the trip! If Turkey is not a place that has been on your bucket list, well, you should definitely consider adding it! Turkey is such an amazing place, it is said that it needs two continents just to contain its greatness. We chose to split our time between Cappadocia and Istanbul. Read on to discover how we spent our time in both those places.
Day 1: Cappadocia Day 1
We arrived to our hotel, Grand Cave Suites, around midnight on day one and had only a few hours to sleep before our first activity of the trip. We woke up a couple hours before sunrise to get picked up by a shuttle bus to go up in a hot air balloon. Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia is extremely iconic. Every morning hundreds of hot air balloons take to the sky to glide over Cappadocia’s moon-like landscape. The sheer number of balloons in the sky is a spectacle in of itself. This activity was one of the top reasons for our trip to Turkey, which is why we were extremely disappointed when all the shuttle busses were told to turn around and that the aviation authority cancelled all balloon flights for the day due to high winds. We returned to our hotel disappointed and exhausted. We spoke with our hotel desk who rescheduled our balloon flight for the following day. With that all said, we decided to get a couple more hours of sleep before starting our day as most of the sites were still not open yet.
We woke up again around 8am and walked to the Goreme Open Air Museum. On our way, we walked through Goreme town where we were greeted by our new companion for the day in the form of a stray dog. Our new friend followed us all the way to the museum and even accompanied us through it. There are quite a few stray dogs and cats in Turkey and it seems that they are more like community pets than abandoned strays. You will see many of the locals feeding and taking care of the cats and dogs that live on the streets .. ‘it takes a village’, they say. One lady even had cat food in her purse.
Besides the balloons, the Goreme Open Air Museum is one of the more popular things to do in Cappadocia. This museum is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and should be an essential addition to your Cappadocia itinerary. This amazing place boasts ornate rock formations from the Byzantine era said to be a monastery that housed 20 monks as well as a pilgrimage site in the 17th century. Among the rock formations, you can see churches, chapels and various monasteries. It’s about a 1km walk from the Goreme City Centre. The entrance fee is 100 Turkish Lira per person, children under 8 are free.
After the museum, we returned to town. By now the shops were all mostly open. We were actually on a mission that day to purchase a new Turkish Rug for our dining room. Turkish rugs are an extremely popular souvenir item in Turkey. These rugs can be very expensive however, and can be as high as tens of thousands of dollars. For us, we had a set price in mind that we wanted to spend and were not willing to spend much more on it. Rugs can be purchased in Istanbul, as well as, mostly everywhere in Turkey. We found the prices to be better in Cappadocia overall than Istanbul for most things – and bargaining is allowed; in fact, it is almost encouraged!
In Cappadocia, there are a handful of carpet vendors to choose from, the most famous being Ikram’s Carpets. This place is so popular that it has become instagram famous. We just had to come and see this place for ourselves! We were amazed at the sheer number of carpets that they had here, how colorful it was and we agree that the way they are laid out in their open courtyard was like art.
Ikram’s was actually our second stop in our carpet shopping quest. Our first stop was a place called Seven Brothers. We found a rug we liked and bargained the owner down from over 4,000 dollars to 800, including shipping. We really liked this deal but we wanted to see a few more shops before we settled. So we went to Ikram’s next, and found a carpet we liked. Again, we had to bargain pretty hard for it and were able to get them down to about 900 dollars. The next couple of shops either did not have anything we liked, or refused to come down in price enough. Eventually we went back to Seven Brothers and bought the first rug we found at the price we agreed to earlier in the day. The carpet was shipped to our house and arrived to New York on our first day home from our trip. All in all, the process was smooth and easy and Etan (center, in pink) was amazing to work with and very honest. (We found Turks in general, to be pretty honest people!)
After shopping till we dropped, for rugs, we stopped at a local cafe for lunch. One of the staple things to eat in Turkey is a dessert called ‘Turkish Delight’, which is pictured 2nd here. This has a chewy consistency and comes in various flavors and colors. It is sold pretty much everywhere & we bought some to bring home. Most vendors will cut you a piece right in the shop and let you try it. Fresh squeezed juices are also very popular as well.
After lunch we went back to our hotel to rest a bit more. When we got back we were informed by hotel reception that our balloon trip was cancelled for the next day as well and rescheduled for our last day in Cappadocia. We checked the weather forecast for our third day and it looked worse than the first two. We were slowly coming to grips with the reality that we would most likely not get to ride a hot air balloon in Cappadocia. Balloons will not fly in more than 6/7 mph winds, due to the danger that is caused for the landing of the balloon. In fact, our best chance to ride the balloon would have been this day when the winds were just at 7mph.
Late in the afternoon, we decided to head up to Sunset Point to spend a couple of hours before watching the sunset. The views there were amazing. During our time there, being in Cappadocia for not even 24 hours we came to the realization that because the weather did not look good for the next 2 days and looked better toward the end of the trip, that we’d make last minute adjustment to our itinerary and leave Cappadocia that night and go to Istanbul, then come back again at the end to hopefully get on the balloon.
Before leaving, we had a quick dinner at Kebapzade and then headed to the airport for Istanbul. With a reservation and a balloon ride booked again for the back-end of the trip, we were excited to see what awaited us next!
Throughout the trip, we kept our eye on the forecast and there is a site that lists if the balloons will fly each day. The site is here: https://shmkapadokya.kapadokya.edu.tr/ It quickly became our daily obsession. Did we end up flying in the balloon? Keep reading to find out!
Day 2: Istanbul European Side
We arrived in Istanbul after midnight and took an Uber to our hotel, Angel’s Home, in Sultanahmet. We were lucky to have found such a great place, having booked it on such short notice. After waking up, we started our very busy day of walking throughout the European side of Istanbul.
Stop 1: Hagia Sophia
Probably the most famous site in all of Turkey, this mosque was converted from an Eastern Orthodox Church to the mosque you see today, in 1453. However in 1935, it was established as a museum, a role it served for 85 years, until 2020 when it was annulled and re-established as a mosque. It is free to enter, but you must take your shoes off at the entrance. The architecture here both inside and out were equally as astounding and we enjoyed our time here.
Stop 2: Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is a similarly-domed shaped mosque to the Hagia Sophia but it is more of a blue color, hence its name. While also beautiful, it was under construction when we came, so we were not able to see the mosque in its finished form. As you can see below, the ceiling is surrounded by scaffolding as well as is the spire on the back right. Still, despite the construction, it was amazing to see.
Stop 3: Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is probably the most famous stop for shopping, outside of Istiklal Street. Here are rows of vendor after vendor, selling everything you could possibly imagine … tea, Turkish delight, clothing, coffee, artwork and even rugs. Haggling is the name of the game and there are many deals you can find among all the treasures.
Stop 4: Spice Bazaar
Similar to the Grand Bazaar, this is also a market lined with vendor after vendor but most of the vendors here sell spices, tea and coffee as opposed to the more widened variety of the Grand Bazaar. We enjoyed walking around both places. The energy is intense and the colors and smells are savory. There are also shops outside lining it, as well as the inside part. Outside we found things like meat, cheese and fish.
Stop 5: Galata Bridge
The Galata Bridge is a bridge that connects 2 different parts of the European side. This is also where you can catch the ferries to the Asian part. There are many ferries running throughout the day. Under the bridge are many restaurants but we found if you continue past the bridge to the left, are even better, more local/less touristy places that serve amazing fish sandwiches. We were so blown away by how good these sandwiches were and they were so fresh … you can even see people fishing right from the bridge!
Stop 6: Galata Tower
Galata Tower is pretty much just an observatory but at the top you can get an awesome 360-degree view of Istanbul. These pictures don’t really do the city any justice … ;). It was so cool to see Istanbul from way up high and get some awesome pictures for our blog.
Stop 7: Hammam
We had planned to do a hammam at some point in the trip but we were thinking to do it in Cappadocia. However, we stumbled across this place and it turned out they had availability for us right away so we decided to do it. The prices were amazing and they offered complimentary tea! They had various services ranging from a simple scrub, to more complex ones with massages etc. We just got the basic package but it didn’t disappoint. The first step was laying on a gigantic hot stone for 20 minutes. Here everyone is together – but after 20 minutes, you get taken to another room (or @ least females do, anyhow) for your bath. We enjoyed it and since Sam and I were separate for our baths, it was nice to re-convene afterward for some hot tea. The hammam provides everything you need … sandals, towels and a robe. We literally just walked in off the street with only street clothes and felt the experience was perfect. Can’t beat the prices either!
Stop 8: Istiklal Street
Istiklal Street is one of the major shopping streets on the European side. Differing from the Grand Bazaar, these are just stores instead of vendors. It can be compared to 5th Avenue in New York City or Stroget in Copenhagen. There is even a cool tram that runs through the city. Sam ended up buying a really nice bathrobe at a great price. We would say it is a mix of high-end but also moderately priced boutiques as well. Istiklal street also boasts some cafes as well as a handful of street vendors selling snacks like borek or roasted nuts.
Stop 9: Back to Hotel area for Dinner
After a full day, we got dinner across the street from our hotel. We had heard about a dish called Iskender that we wanted to try. It was delicious lamb with tomato sauce on the top and served with yogurt.
We enjoyed our first day in Istabul touring around the European side.
Day 3: Istanbul Asian Side
Stop 1: Eminonu Ferry Terminal
To get the ferry to the Asian side, there are a few options. You can go from Eminonu to either Kadikoy or Uskandar. We went to Kadikoy. You could alternatively just do a Bosphorus cruise which does a whole loop in the Bosphorus showing you all the sites from the water. We enjoy exploring on our own so we just took the local ferry across.
Before getting the tickets, we stopped to get some breakfast, consisting of simit and coffee & tea. Simit is a very popular breakfast food sold all over the city, it is sort of combination of a pretzel and a bagel. One of the most famous simit spots is called Simit Sarayi.
After breakfast, we purchased our ferry tickets. We found it complicated to use the machines because it would not accept a foreign credit card as also did not give any change, but we found a manned booth so we ended up just buying the tickets directly from the people at the booth.
The ride took about 20 minutes.
Stop 2: Tuesday Market
Upon disembarking @ Kadikoy, our first stop was going to be the Tuesday Market, Sali Pazari. To our surprise, when we simply put in Sali Pazari in the Google Maps, it brought us to a similarly named place that was NOT the actual place we were looking for … so if you see the small fruit market below with the green awning, you are in the wrong place.
Luckily a nice man working here knew where we actually wanted to go and entered the right place into the GPS for us. To get to the right place, you need to type in Tahiri Sali Pazari … it is about a 35 minute walk from the Kadikoy Ferry Terminal.
When we got to the market, we were so blown away at the the size and crowds of people. Buying things here was a little more frustrating than on the European side because most vendors did NOT speak English and a lot of them did not take credit card either. The array of things being sold here is massive. The items sold here were less touristy souvenirs and more household items like clothes (normal as well as fake designer), food, kitchenware, etc. We are also unsure if it is only open on Tuesdays or everyday, but we did come on a Tuesday so we can vouch it is definitely open then.
Stop 3: Bahariye Street
Bahariye Street is very similar to Ishtiklal Street on the European side. This is the main shopping street on the Asian side. We were also able to catch the tram here to our next destination, Moda.
Stop 4: Moda Pier
Getting off the tram, brought us to the Moda area of the city. The tram stop is actually called Moda. It was a quicker ride than we thought it would be; in hindsight we probably could have walked, but it was cool to have been able to ride the tram. At Moda, there is a pier called Moda Pier. We had gone there for a particular restaurant (the white one below with the orange roof, called Moda Iskalesi), but to our disappointment it was closed. There were a few other restaurants there but nothing really seemed so appealing so we walked around a little more at the pier, took some pictures and then left to go get lunch elsewhere.
Stop 5: Back to Bahariye
As we headed back toward Bahariye Street on the tram, when we got into the main drag we walked around to try and find food. We found sort of a hole in the wall place that had amazing food! We ordered the below white bean stew and Manti. It was so delicious! We are actually glad we ate here and not back @ Moda Pier. While the food @ Moda Pier was probably tasty as well, the food there was more the style food we are used to @ home. The place we ended up finding was more for Turkish people … since we were in Turkey, we wanted the real deal food, the food geared to locals.
Stop 6: Fish Market
On our way heading back toward the ferry, we found another fish market here as well. Like on the European side, everything was so abundant and fresh.
Stop 7: Back to European Side
After our day on the Asian side, we headed back on the ferry to the European side. While we enjoyed our time on the Asian side, 2 things we realized were 1) the Asian side gets much busier at night than it does during the day. Not that this is a bad thing, but as we were leaving there were so many more crowds than there were when we got there. 2) As compared with the European side, a much smaller percentage of people spoke English – not even just at the market, but also at restaurants and places in general.
Back on European soil, our first stop was wanting to get some ice cream. We had heard getting ice cream in Istanbul was quite the experience so we happily partook. The ice cream server was dressed up in a colorful vest and fez and the shtick here is that the vendors play tricks on you with the ice cream before they give it to you. The ice cream in Turkey is made of something called mastic that gives it a more stretchy, chewy appearance that allows the vendors to do what they do. It was really neat and funny to watch the experience and we enjoyed the ice cream as well.
Stop 8: Back to Hotel Area for dinner
Later on after digesting our ice cream, we found a fish place for dinner that we wanted to try. Life is short, eat dessert first, right? 🙂
The fish here was fresh from the sea, and we got to choose our own. We chose a perfectly sized Sea Breem. The fish was served sliced open, and grilled mezgoof style with rice and veggies.
Balloon Update: Balloons did not fly
Day 4-6: Jordan
We spent the next 3 days in Jordan, read our Jordan blog on how we spent them. But before we left Istanbul we headed to the roof of our hotel to get some last glimpses of the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.
Day 7: Cappadocia Day 2
Last two days we were in Jordan the balloons actually flew which left us feeling hopeful because the wind was actually forecasted to be lighter on our first day back in Cappadocia.
After arriving In Cappadocia late the evening before, we went to bed with our fingers crossed for the balloons.
Waking up at 4:45 am we were picked up by the balloon company (Discovery Balloons). Again we were all driven to the company’s office awaiting word from the Aviation Authority. After a few minutes of waiting, our driver started driving us towards the balloon take off point. Could this really be it? Are we going to fly today? The answer … Yes, Yes Yes. All of our upending and last minute changes to our itinerary paid off. We flew in our balloon and it was everything we imagined it would be!
Back at our hotel we got some much needed rest before waking up for lunch at Dibek. At Dibek we had traditional Anatolian dishes. The seating here was also very traditional as we say on the floor to eat. The food was fantastic. Unfortunately Dibek was out of tea and so after lunch we went to a local cafe and got tea as well as some shisha.
After lunch, we stopped at a travel agency and booked an ATV tour to the 3 most popular valleys in Cappadocia, as well as an antigen test and airport shuttle for the next day’s flight home.
Our ATV tour was fun. We originally wanted to hike all of these valleys, but by now with all the walking/hiking we did in Istanbul and Petra, we just did not have the energy, not to mentioned Sams ankle was still not fully back to 100%, so we thought an ATV tour to them would be a great way to see the sites without taxing our legs even more.
The ATV tour brought us to Love Valley first, followed by Rose Valley, and finally Red Valley for sunset. The whole tour lasted 2 hours and cost us 400 TL (Turkish Lira) total for the two of us
After the ATV tour we stopped for Dinner at Anatolia Kitchen. Here we enjoyed Falafel and a cheesy dish called Ottoman Stew.
Day 8: Cappadocia Day 3
We woke up early in the morning to catch a glimpse of the balloons from our balcony.
We spent the rest of our last day getting Covid tested, eating food, relaxing at cafes, and souvenir shopping, and of course packing for our return home. The Covid testing was pretty easy, a doctor came to our hotel room, did the test right there and we had results to our email within 2 hours. If anyone has apprehension about the testing process, we felt this was a good way to go but IST airport also has an on-site 24/7 Covid testing facility.
The souvenirs we bought that day were a Turkish coffee cup set, a Cappadocia inspired picture frame, as well as an evil eye all for 200 TL.
For lunch we ate lentil soup and Sak Tava (aka sizzling beef).
For dinner we enjoyed Pide (aka Turkish Pizza)
Our trips to Turkey was quite the adventure. One thing we learned on this trip is that it pays to be flexible and willing to take risks outside of your comfort zone. Had we not been flexible or willing to change the trip around, we would have missed out on the balloons. What would you have done? We hope you all can learn something from our blog and use it for your trip to Turkey.
There is of course much more to Turkey than just Istanbul and Cappadocia and we definitely want to come back. Have you been to other parts of Turkey? We would love to hear about it. Thanks for reading, and as always Saif Travels.
Stay safe & keep traveling!