Alex Court recounts the exotic attractions of Istanbul and north-west Turkey
Turkey begs to be travelled. Cheap, comfortable, regular and reliable coach connections, breathtaking cityscapes and some incredible Islamic monuments can be seen on the same trip as raucous partying and sun soaking.
Istanbul is a wonderful introduction to Turkey and with many of the comforting conveniences you would find at home, you’ll be confused as to why Turkish moves to join the EU meet such lukewarm reception. The famous Blue Mosque, controversial with its six slender minarets and no entry fee, stands opposite the awesome Hagia Sofia at the entrance to the Sultanhamet area. Even though it is a bit of a tourist bubble, you can stay in a pansiyon (hostel) dorm for €7!
Ferries across the Bosporus give a glimpse of Istanbul’s massive size. Stretching from Europe to Asia, this city needs a lifetime to explore. The bazaars are breathtaking – you’ll find anything the human mind desires, and more, and the salesmen are less pushy than expected. The atmosphere is of lively business, rather than trick the traveller. Banter and bartering are a must, and a whole day should be dedicated.
There is also Topkapi Palace with its Harem, beautiful dome ceilings and gardens. While entry is almost €10, you’d be mad to miss this beautiful monument to gluttony, and a glimpse of Ottoman history.
Before Istanbul’s insides swallow you up, ferry across to Bandirma (€14). It’s 90 minutes (and spiritually a million miles) from the sprawling city. The more local atmosphere is comfy, and buses from the Ottogar (bus station) will whisk you away on your journey to wherever. History buffs will head straight for Gallipoli and the Dardanelle Straits, right next to the ancient city of Troy, while the thirsty group of partyers will head to Bodrum to enjoy cheap beer and nagiles (waterpipes) and love the pirate ship rave.
A recommended refuelling stop is Ayvalik, a true town where horse drawn carriages would be hired to tourists if they weren’t busy transporting watermelon! Boats will bring you out into the Aegean’s clear water for a day of swimming and sun for €5.50 with a sardine lunch included.
Another must is Selcuk and surrounding Ephesus. With its 25,000 seat, third century BC theatre, you find yourself revelling in the sense of history, imagining the lives of those long-gone souls. Selcuk has resisted becoming a touristic town where nothing is affordable or authentic, and is perfect to cool off in after a serious sightseeing day.
Whether you crave to paraglide in Uludeniz (well worth the €55) or grieve at the grave of the Suffi mystic Mevlana Rumi (where you can also see a hair from the Prophet Muhammad’s beard), Turkey will not disappoint. A beautiful country populated with beautiful friendly people, you’ll never run out of things to do or places to go.