While in Turkey, I fell in love with the country. Find out why.
Coming back home from Turkey was like a slap in the face, leaving me with terrible nostalgia for the food, the culture, and the vibrance of the country. We would spend our nights in local restaurants, soaking in the sounds of live music and the smells of fresh, Turkish food and spices. Our days were filled with walking, walking, and more walking, but more importantly, seeing and feeling the energy of this bustling, expanding city that’s bursting at the seams. Turkey is where the orient meets the west, and here is where you can find an atmosphere so fascinating that will compel you to explore it forever.
1) The Food
Turkey’s food scene is definitely one-of-a-kind, and with the blend of cultures in the country comes a delicious and fragrant mixture of influences. Between the Arab-influenced döner kebab to Turkish originals like çig köfte, the food in this place is to die for. The best thing about Turkish food is that it includes a variety of spices, from cumin to saffron, and these flavors are truly captured by the rich cuisine that the country has to offer. The coffee and tea here are also one-of-a-kind, and can be found on every street corner and in every food shop.
When you’re there, you can take a Turkish food cooking class to learn more about how the dishes are made, or simply eat at the huge selection of locally-owned restaurants and pubs. These places are open until late and are used as instruments for socializing and meeting new people. Plus, you can also order some nargile, or shisha, on the side once you’re done with your meal.
2) The Landscapes
Get out of Istanbul and sweeping landscapes full of strange rock formations and world-renowned will greet you. This year, we visited Cappadocia, the beautiful, eroded towers scattered throughout the towns and incredible plateaus of the land. Other amazing places to visit include Pamukkale, where the gorgeous, white mineral deposits are located, or one of the country’s 33 official natural parks. I’ll let the photos do the talking here.
3) The History
When someone talks about an “old” building here in Texas, they usually mean around 150 years old. In Turkey, when someone says the same thing, they could easily mean that the building is 1500 years old or more. Turkey has a regal and fascinating history through many civilizations, and the things that you read in your high school world history textbook truly come alive here in what formerly was known as Constantinople. When you think about the generations of humankind that have set foot on the streets of Istanbul, it’s impossible not to get curious or excited about the deep and tumultuous social and religious history here. It’s also present in the architecture – from ancient mosques to sultan’s palaces to cave dwellings, it seems that there’s no corner in this country that doesn’t have an incredible story behind it.
4) The Variety
One minute you’re walking in the same courtyard as the sultans, the next, you’re sleeping in a cave. Turkey can give you that variety of experiences, and all within the same day. While there, I listened to live music while eating dinner at an open-air restaurant. Earlier that day, I tiptoed quickly through the Blue Mosque while people were getting ready for afternoon prayer after sitting on the top level of the sea ferry as it crossed from the Asian side to the European. I laughed as I tried to converse with a local shopkeeper. Hand signals, it seems, go a long way.
Needless to say, my visit provided me with a breadth of experiences that I will never forget. When you can travel through two continents and an innumerable number of cultural influences per day, you know you’re in no other place than Turkey.
5) The Religious Influence
Coming from the United States, I had never been to a place with such a strong Muslim influence, and hearing the calls to prayer from the minarets of the mosques was extremely fascinating to me. I think it’s a lot more beautiful than church bells. Visiting many mosques in Turkey gave me the opportunity to learn more about Islam, both through experience and through my curiosity-fueled Internet searches.
I’d had the opportunity to learn a little bit about Taoism in Hong Kong, when I visited the Man Mo Temple, and of course visited a ton of churches in Europe, like the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic. My love for learning about religions was definitely reignited when I came to Turkey, and it was fairly easy for me to learn more about Islam because it was so present the entire time I was there. I’ll never forget the feeling of waking up to the beautiful sounds calling people to morning prayer, or the amazing satisfaction of learning more about one of the world’s most practiced religions.
6) The Language
Turkish language is beautiful and is one of the only languages that is phonetically exact to spelling. What does that mean? Well, I’ll be honest – it was actually pretty difficult to communicate with people outside of the regular tourism sphere. But what did that mean for me? It meant that I had to learn a little bit of Turkish, an experience I think is essential to really immersing yourself in a place.
While learning new languages is definitely a challenge, I found this to be one of the most interesting things about Turkey. The Turkish language is very fluid, difficult to understand but with very obvious Romance and Western influences. For example, “vegetarian” in Turkish is “vejetaryen,” an obvious influence on one end or the other. (Don’t ask me why I know this – I’m not a vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination.)
7) The Music and Art
Everywhere we went, there seemed to be live music. The streets, the cafes, the restaurants…everywhere had beautiful, traditional Turkish music to enjoy. I got so used to hearing live guitarists and violinists serenading us with their gorgeous covers as we munched on kebabs and tossed salads at night, or slow ballads while we sipped on hot tea on the streets. Music makes a place come alive, and I quite frankly wanted to download every song I heard to my music library and listen to it as I drifted into a travel-infused slumber.
The artisan work is no different. From oriental rugs to gorgeous glass lamps to exotic jewelry and more, this place had everything you could imagine buying when visiting a bazaar or a shop. But more amazingly, the mosaic artwork seen all over the city, in homes and on walls, formed a unique visual art scene for the entire city.
8) The Affordability
We bought our direct flight plane tickets from Houston, Texas to Istanbul for $550 on Turkish Airlines. FIVE HUNDRED FIFTY DOLLARS! That’s as much as it costs me to go back to my mom’s house in Ohio from here. With flight deals like that available year-round, you really have no excuse not to go. Flights within the country (Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines are two favorites of tourists) are as low as $35 per person and will take you to the country’s most amazing spectacles. We used these flights to get from Istanbul to Cappadocia (Nevsehir) and it cost about $90 for two people.
On top of that, Turkey itself isn’t too expensive. You can get most meals for under $12 and as low as $1 for some solid street food. Buying souvenirs and even shopping for clothes in the country is affordable even for a broke college student like me. If you’re on a budget, Turkey is a great place to visit because there are a ton of free things to do (even visiting the renowned Blue Mosque is free!) and amazing places to walk around.
9) The People
Every Turkish person I met, whether they could speak English or not, was very kind and willing to help. Most Turkish people know very (VERY) basic English and can tell you where the nearest restroom is, or where to find the ferry, or how much something costs. And they’ll always do it with a smile on their face. By the end of our trip, I had learned enough Turkish to greet people and ask if they spoke English, and if they did we always had wonderful conversations about anything and everything. Although there was the occasional instance of pushy shopkeepers or not taking “no” for an answer, most of the people we met were genuinely just trying to be nice and strike up a conversation. I can’t wait to go back when my Turkish is a little bit more intact!
10) The Energy
One thing that draws me to my favorite places in the world is their unspoken energy. Istanbul is a growing city with an even more quickly growing influence in the world. Although the trams and metros can get crowded at times, it’s easy to get around on the public transit, even from the airport.
Likewise, Turkey is one of the most visited countries in the world and even more people come each year to enjoy its gems, history, and culture. It’s no surprise that the mixture of tourists and locals, as well as the deeply-ingrained mixture of cultures, that gives Turkey such a unique energy and livelihood. The streets are crowded until late at night and most restaurants have no set-in-stone closing time. Turkey is a proud country that offers virtually everything, and because of its diversity and deep history, its strong cultural energy can’t be rivaled.
Turkey Travel Resources
Hostelworld (In addition to hostels, this also has a lot of great boutique and affordable hotels as well.)