Go Turkey: Kusadasi & Pamukkale

The history of Turkey makes a very interesting reading. In ancient times Hittites were the original inhabitants of the Turkish region, but after their fall the Persians took hold of the region. Alexander the Great led the Greeks in conquering the country in the 3rd Century BC, but after a few centuries, the Greeks lost control to the Roman Empire. Soon the Eastern part of the Roman Empire established its own independence and was known as the Byzantine Empire.

Also read: The City of Istanbul


The ruins of Ephesus and Hieropolis bear testimony to the changes during these periods, and no trip to Turkey is complete without visiting these two locations. We flew down from Istanbul to Izmir, a city in Western Turkey, and then drove down to the seaside town of Kusadasi, which is the gateway to the old city of Ephesus.

The tourist town of Kusadasi is located on the Aegean Sea, which separates Turkey from Greece. The small town has a population of only about a lakh. The harbor is known for luxury cruise liners coming in from Greece bringing in tourists from across the world, who are mostly headed for Ephesus an hour’s drive away.

We reached Kusadasi in the afternoon. The Marina Hotel where we checked in was close to the seashore, and from our rooms, we could get a clear view of the blue sea and many boats of different shapes and sizes there. Multiple cruise liners were seen at a distance. In the evening we visited the seafront, a buzzing space with many tourists and dozens of restaurants lined up on the coast. We again tried some Turkish Ice Cream here. The dinner at the hotel had a nice spread, extensive mezze dishes, different varieties of olives, and the Turkish dolma were some of the highlights.

The next morning we moved out early. Our destination today was Ephesus. After a touristy visit to a leather factory, we headed to the House of The Virgin Mary located on top of a small hill. Mother Mary used to live here towards the end of her life after she was brought there by Saint John who was designated by Jesus to take care of His Mother. The place was thronging with tourists mainly visiting the chapel and the wishing wall, where people can write their wishes on a piece of paper and leave the strip here.

The ruins of Ephesus were a few kilometres away. The city, popular during the Greek and Roman rules was built during the 10th Century BC and was destroyed by the Goths in the 3rd century AD. The main places to visit in the huge area were the Gate of Augustus, Amphitheater, Temple of Hadran, and the Library of Celsus. As the guide was explaining the rich history of the place, one feels transported to a different civilization itself. I did not have much idea about Greco-Roman history, but still had one of the best days of the trip.

The following day, we left Kusadasi for the quaint town of Pamukkale. The trip to Pamukkale involves a road trip of a couple of hours. Many tourists do this location through a day trip, but we decided to stay in the village for a day before proceeding to Antalya.

Pamukkale is known for its hot springs and travertine terraces formed out of carbonate mineral deposits from the hot spring water. As you travel, you come across areas with huge white deposits, just next to the springs. The name “Pamukkale” comes from “cotton castle”, stemming from the fact that the white deposits resemble cotton. The water from the hot thermal springs supposedly has healing power which leads to many people taking baths in the water bodies which get created from the water from the springs. 

It is the healing powers of the water here that led to the setting up of the city of Hieropolis around the 7th century BC as a healing centre.  It was initially a Jewish settlement that later became part of the Roman Empire. The city was destroyed due to an earthquake later, but from the ruins, one can get a very good idea about the civilization at that time. We looked at the remains of the streets and the gates, an amphitheater that remained quite intact, as well as a necropolis with graves and tombs. A thermal pool where Queen Cleopatra used to take bath during her visits here is aptly named Cleopatra’s pool. Many tourists take bath here. And finally, there is a museum, with artifacts and statues that had broken off from the structures.

We enjoyed our bath in the hot spring as well as went around the ruins on a conducted tour in a buggy. The Hieropolis is one location that narrates the history of the land, and again it is important to take a guide along with you.

Late afternoon, we checked into our hotel at Pamukkale. The novelty of many hotels here is that the bathrooms attached to your room have a connection to deliver thermal spring water so that you can enjoy a thermal bath privately. Our hotel also had a swimming pool with this water.

The town of Pamukkale is quaint and enjoyable. There is a hot spring bang in the middle of the town. We walked through the local market, stopped by at a local café for sandwiches and coffee, and checked out some goodies at a local grocer. This was the part of the trip where we could get a feel of the local life.

We had a long trip ahead to the coastal city of Antalya the following day. We left Pamukkale the next morning with happy memories and wished we could have a longer stay here. 

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Go Turkey: The City of Istanbul

When I was a small child, I first heard of Istanbul through a popular Manna De song in Bengali that talks about a chef named Bhajohori Manna, who learned to ply his trade in Istanbul, Japan, and Kabul. From that time, I believed that food in Istanbul must be something extraordinary. So many years later, on my maiden trip to Turkey in October 2022, this was one of the things on the top of my mind.

Also Read: Kusadasi & Pamukkale

Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey, it is the largest city. It is possibly the only city in this world, with one half in Europe and the other in Asia, separated by the Bosphorus Straits, which runs across the city.

Our travel team consisted of seven people, me and my brother’s family along with his friend's. The Indigo flight from New Delhi was uneventful and brought us to Istanbul around late morning. From the traveler bus which transported us to our hotel Hilton Garden Inn Green Horn, the large city looked very much like any other cosmopolitan city in the Middle East that I have visited like Dubai or Muscat. Nice roads, many mosques, and abundant street food stalls. One thing I noticed is that even if Turkiye is an Islamic country, very few women here cover their heads. 

Next: Kusadasi & Pamukkale

Hilton Garden is located in an area called Sutluce in European Istanbul. The hotel room gives a nice view of the Bosphorus Straits where you can see many small boats plying. We were famished, as the Indigo flight offered very few good choices of food, and immediately took to the streets, looking for some local food.  A restaurant named Cinaralti Et Ve Ukyuluk caught our attention. It was a completely Turkish local restaurant. As per our discussions with the waiter we ordered some Hummus with bread, followed by Adana Kabab (something I had heard of from India), and Urfa Kabab

The Adana Kabab is named such because it is a specialty of Adana, a city in Southern Turkey. A plate of thick seekh kababs were accompanied by rotis, bulgar (a rice-like dish of cracked wheat grain), and salad. Urfa Kabab is similar to Adana, but with very few spices. We loved both the dishes and ended our meal with some hot Turkish tea

Late afternoon, our travel agent sent a bus for the first sightseeing visit to the city, the Dinner Cruise on the Bosphorus. On our way, we weaved through the crazy traffic of Istanbul, traveling through the Taksim Tunnel and picking up more tourists from Taksim (the city center) and finally reaching the Bosphorus near the Galata Bridge (which separates European and Asian Istanbul). The two-hour cruise was fun, one could stand on the deck and look at the nighttime Istanbul, with many people thronging the shores, as well as minars, mosques, and palaces on the side of the straits. The multi-course dinner was nice, especially the multi-dish mezze and the kababs. Some music and dance followed on the cruise ending with the famed Belly Dance of Istanbul. We were dropped back at our hotel at around midnight. 

The second day started early, just after breakfast we moved to the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in the Sultan Ahmet square area. The area is possibly the most crowded and touristy area in the city with attractions like Sophiya Mosque, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar located close to each other. 

Originally built in the 6th century as a Christian cathedral, the Sophia mosque has had many metamorphoses. The church was there for thousand years, after which it was converted into a mosque by Ottoman Turks which took over Constantinople (the old name for Istanbul).  While the architecture remained, many Christian mosaics and statues were removed. In 1931, when Turkiye became a secular republic, the mosque was turned into a museum, and again in 2018, it was changed into a mosque under the current President Erdogan.

The mosque visit took us close to three hours. The interiors are just outstanding with intricate Christian and Islamic elements, and it is a pity that some parts of the mosque were burnt during the many transitions. The monuments located in the Hippodrome of Constantinople area are rich in histories like the Obelisk of Theodosius and Serpent Column. 

The Blue Mosque, just across from Hagiya Sophia is closed for renovation for a long time, and we could only manage a view from outside. A quick lunch at a restaurant nearby and the theatrics of a Turkish Ice Cream vendor in the streets were the other attractions on that day before we headed to the Grand Bazaar. 

The Grand Bazaar one of the largest in the world has more than 4000 shops. We visited some of the places selling Turkish goodies like Turkish Delight and Baklavas, as well as mementos like Evil Eye key chains, shot glasses, and fridge magnets. The clothes, jewellery, gold, and chandelier shops were some that caught my eye. For an Indian, Turkey is not a very expensive place, especially in the current scenario where the Turkish Lira has dropped from Rs 8 to Rs 4.4 in one calendar year. 

Our dinner that night was light, as we had to retire early. Our flight to Izmir was a late-night one. A small place next to the hotel had some lovely and soft Izgara Kofte (grilled lamb patties) as well as some nice Turkish coffee.  We left Istanbul for the next leg of our trip, but our experiences did not end here.

After, a terrific trip to Kusadasi, Antalya, and Cappadocia, we were back for our final hurrah at Istanbul again. Time was short as we landed at Sabiha Gokchen in the late afternoon, the old airport of Istanbul. Our flight to India was scheduled for the next day, so we wished to see some of the other important places in the city. This time the focus was on nightlife. 

Our first visit was to a neighbourhood called Balat, which was traditionally the area where Jews lived in the city. The houses and stairs there were painted in multiple bright colours, and there were many buzzing street cafes. We even visited a small room where an auction was taking place. However, one should visit this place in daylight.

Our next stop was the famed Galata Towers, a huge watchtower built in the twelfth century. In the evening, the tower was brightly lit, and the place was abuzz with hundreds of people dancing to a live musical performance taking place just next to the tower which was draped with the Turkish flag. It was really great soaking into that ambiance and enjoying the time there. We moved from there to Taksim Square, the modern downtown area, and took a stroll down the buzzing Istiklal Street. Istiklal means independence in Turkish. The street is pedestrian-only, with shops lined up on both sides. We went into a large Baklava store and tasted the Baklava there, and then listened to some performances by local bands on the street corners. The whole atmosphere was totally celebratory, and you can’t but feel happy in those surroundings.

Our disappointment during the Istanbul trip was not being able to visit Topkapi Palace. While we tried on the last day, we had to abandon the same due to huge queues. We had no time left as our flight back was on the same afternoon. Possibly the only regret while visiting this interesting city.

One note of caution about Istanbul. Like many other cities, the Taxi Drivers here are not very reliable and can ask for exorbitant prices. Buy the travel pass which gives you access to trams, buses, and metro to have a seamless visit. Also, while coming into the country, do not convert your dollars into Lira at the airport. Go to an area called Eyup Sultan, where you get very good Forex rates. The difference can be as much as 10%.

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