Bodrum, Turkey

  • Visited August 2018

After my adventures in Istanbul and Göreme I fancied exploring some of Turkey’s beautiful coast. Based on a recommendation from my Istanbul hostel, I chose Bodrum and ended up staying in Bodrum City by chance – I found a hotel I liked the look of on Booking.com and was able to book it last minute. When I arrived, I discovered that many British people prefer to stay in the all-inclusive resorts in the Gumbet area of Bodrum and the lively ‘bar street’ is infamous. A family I met on a boat trip told me they go to Bodrum every year but have never ventured the short drive to Bodrum City and in their hotel the prices are all in British pounds which they thought was a bonus – but I just needed a basic place to stay for a few days of R&R close to the beach and I was pleased I chose Bodrum City.

To be honest, Bodrum City appears very similar to other popular coastal towns I’ve visited but it was ideal for what I was looking for and I had a lovely time. I had been looking forward to visiting the castle and Museum of Underwater Archeology but unfortunately they are closed for renovations at this time. That disappointment aside, I found the people to be very welcoming here and there are some great restaurants – the two stand outs for me were Dukkan and La Pasion.  Dukkan comes up as the top choice for seafood restaurants on Trip Advisor and they were fully booked for the evening when I arrived. However, the owner is such a kind guy, as I was alone, he decided to create an extra table for me as he didn’t want me to be disappointed. The restaurant itself is very rustic and they pride themselves on offering fresh fish daily; the owner actually visits each table to show off the fresh catch of the day and let diners choose which fish they want, then he weighs it to give you a price, bringing it back to you to confirm. I had a very tasty grilled sea bass that cost me 44 lira (around 5 pounds with the current favourable exchange rate). I was really touched by the hospitality of the staff. My second recommendation is for La Pasion, a  Spanish tapas bar and restaurant. This is the place to come if you want a stunning treat meal. The service is exceptional and the food is phenomenal. I thoroughly enjoyed my free shot of sangria, glasses of rose wine, selection of hot and cold tapas, chocolate lava cake and Baileys on ice. The place was absolutely packed out but even though I hadn’t booked, I got lucky again and they found a space for me. It was appreciated!

My other highlight was a day on the water with Ozzlife Boat. After reading great reviews online, I contacted Ozz at 11 pm at night via email asking if he could fit me on the boat in two days time. He got back to me immediately explaining that he had a private tour booked on the day I requested and asked if I would like to join the trip going out in the morning instead. I jumped at the chance and Ozz himself came to collect me from my hotel on his motorbike. This is typical for him – he goes above and beyond to ensure the guests on his boat have an amazing time. For around 25 British pounds, I was collected and returned to my hotel (25 mins drive from where the boat leaves in Bitez), had a sun lounger on the boat, visited 5 stops with some lovely swimming spots, and received lunch, snacks and drinks, including all-you-can drink alcohol such as wine and beer. Ozz and the boys did a fab job of looking after everyone on the boat and an enjoyable day was had by all, with new friends made by the end of the day. If you are interested in booking an Ozzlife boat trip, further details can be found here: http://ozzlifeboat.weebly.com/about-us.html

I would be happy to return to Bodrum in the future and I hear Kaş (pronounced cash) and Fethiye are also lovely coastel towns so I would like to visit them also. My time in Turkey is now drawing to a close but I have really enjoyed my time in this country and would encourage others to visit.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Göreme (Cappadocia), Turkey

  • Visited August 2018

I’m sure we have all seen pictures of hot air balloons flying over Cappadocia during sunrise but the reality surpasses expectations. Watching over 100 balloons inflate and gracefully lift off as the sun rises is truly spectacular and a moment to be added to every traveller’s bucket list.

The nearest airport to Göreme, a small town in Cappadocia and the perfect place to base yourself for balloon watching, is Kayseri and there are regular flights from Istanbul (plus overnight buses for those on a tight budget). It’s about an hour’s shuttle ride (25 lira) into town which I booked through my hostel. Göreme is a lovely town full of cave hotels, restaurants with terrace views and souvenir shops. Many people go there for a night or two just to see the balloons but I stayed for four nights as I wanted to chill out and see everything there is to see and I loved my experience of this town. Compared to the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, Göreme has a very relaxed vibe and has accommodation to suit every budget. Horse drawn carriages parade the main street on an evening and a horse ride at sunset run by several companies is also a popular activity in the area. Sunset Point offers magnificent views of the town particularly at sunset and sunrise and is a great place to see the balloons.

On day one, I walked from the town centre to Göreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO Heritage site. Tickets are 30 lira and you have to pay an extra 10 lira to see the Dark Church which is inside the museum (you pay the extra money at the entrance of the church). Definitely pay the extra, the Dark Church has beautiful frescos inside, some of the best preserved frescos in the region. The museum site is easy to get around so I wouldn’t bother with the audio guide. There are explanations in English next to all key sights. Remember to keep hold of your ticket as it will also gain you entrance to Tokali Church, just a short walk from the main entrance to the museum.

On day two I did the popular Green Tour which takes you to sights further away from the town centre. This costs around 35 euros, depending who you book with – lunch was included but drinks were extra. Sights on this tour include: Göreme Panorama, Narligol Lake, Selime Monastery, Star Wars set, Ala Church and Derinkuyu underground city. Along the way you stop for Turkish coffee and at the end of the tour there is the obligatory visit to a food market (to let you taste and therefore try to persuade you to buy Turkish delight etc) and Onyx store. I’m not a fan of these ‘hard-sell’ activities but the rest of the tour was enjoyable.

Day three involved a walk to Ulchisar to see the castle and on day four, I got up at 4.30 am to see the balloons rise from Sunset Point – breathtaking!

There are many restaurants in the town providing average to great food but by far the best food I had during my stay was at Mozaik Restaurant. The service is excellent and the food absolutely delicious. Manti, a version of ravioli, is a signature dish of Cappadocia and the beef manti at Mozaik is amazing. 

A note about the balloons: Travellers primarily come to Cappadocia to ride the hot air balloons, however, be aware that the balloons are not allowed to fly when there are high winds. I was supposed to take a hot air balloon flight for 115 euros (price varies depending on the company you are booked with) and despite staying for four nights, I didn’t get to do this. On the first morning I was there I was picked up at 4.15 am, taken to the balloon site – and then driven back again when the decision was made not to allow balloons to fly. The next two mornings, the balloons were cancelled again. I was supposed to do it on the fourth morning but three days of no balloons meant many of the tour companies were overbooked and the company I had booked with cancelled my booking. There have been balloon accidents in this region in the past so it’s a good thing that safety is now taken very seriously and there are regulations in place that dictate when balloons can fly, how close they can fly to each other etc. The best time of year to visit for flights is July and August but my experience proves that nothing is guaranteed so just keep that in mind if you are planning to visit just for a balloon ride.  

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Istanbul, Turkey

  • Visited August 2018

Istanbul is a vibrant city full of colour and life. This is a city I have wanted to visit for years but had put off visiting as I’d been warned that it may not be completely safe for solo female travellers but some lovely travellers I met recently in Georgia convinced me to go – I’m so glad I did! What a city! So much to do and there are beautiful sights to be found everywhere. At no point did I feel unsafe, however, solo females do attract attention. I found that many men would try to chat to me as I walked by, they were not rude, just over-friendly, but it can get a bit wearying after a while. Tip: wear headphones, even if you don’t want to listen to music, and they will pretty much leave you alone.  Doing this made my experience more relaxing. Another tip is to avoid using taxis if you can – they are notorious here for trying to rip off tourists and this did happen to a few of the friends I met during my stay.

Istanbul is huge but the tram and metro are really easy to use and you will find people in blue ‘Ask Me’ t-shirts dotted around tourist areas ready to help with buying travel cards or give directions. The city itself can be overwhelming as there is so much to do but for a first visit, I would recommend staying in the Sultanahmet area and allocating enough time to see the sights in that area. I invested in a Museum Pass for 125 Lira (which I bought at the Hagia Sophia ticket office) and this card gives you entry into Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Harem plus several other places such as Hagia Irene. Even if you don’t manage to visit all of the venues on the list, buying the Museum Pass will save you queuing to buy tickets at all of the included venues.

On day one I did the Hagia Sophia first. I went in around 10.30 am and the queue wasn’t so bad but by the time I came out a few hours later, the queue was massive. Always a good idea to visit the main sights before the group/cruise ship tours arrive. I absolutely loved the Hagia Sophia and 20 Lira for the audio-guide was worth it if you want to learn more about its history etc (you will have to give them some form of ID to rent the guide). At the moment there is some scaffolding down one side of the interior but it still has the wow factor. Then I headed across to the nearby Basilica Cistern which is 20 Lira a ticket and is definitely worth a look. Afterwards, I walked down to the Galata Bridge, crossing the Bosporus to explore the Galata Tower, Beyoğlu area and took a walk up İstiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s famous shopping street full of high street brands and historic passages. In the early evening I visited the Blue Mosque. It is free to visit but you have to visit outside of prayer times. Whilst the exterior is stunning, I was underwhelmed by the interior, perhaps because it is such a popular venue and quite noisy when I visited. You will have to dress appropriately to go inside but long skirts to cover shorts and scarves to cover the hair of female visitors are available for free.

I saved the Topkapi Palace and Harem for my second day and I recommend doing Hagia Sophia and Topkapi on separate days as both sites can take a few hours to cover properly. Again, entry was quiet at 10.30 am (but the site became extremely busy later in the day). The audio guide for both the Palace and Harem is 30 Lira. I was advised to visit the Harem first. Parts of the Harem and Palace are currently closed off for restoration but there is still plenty to see. The most popular section of the Palace is the Chamber of Sacred Relics, attracting long queues but worth any wait – this Chamber contains Prophet Mohammad’s footprint, hairs from his beard, a box containing a tooth and his swords and visitors are required to dress appropriately to enter.  After the Palace, I walked to the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. Only closed on Sundays, the Bazaar attracts up to 400,000 visitors daily. Go prepared to haggle and drink tea with shopkeepers keen to persuade you to make a purchase. If the Grand Bazaar is too much for you, you could visit the much smaller and more relaxed Arasta Bazaar, a short walk from the Blue Mosque.

Art buffs can indulge in their passion at Istanbul Modern.

Some restaurant recommendations for you: Babylonia Garden & Terrace Restaurant in Sultanahmet (a short walk from Topkapi) – great service, good food and a relaxed vibe – I enjoyed a breakfast and dinner here and left very happy both times. Galata Kahvesi in a shaded alley in Beyoğlu is a fab spot for lunch. Günay Restaurant in the shadow of the Galata Tower is always super busy but the service and food were both excellent. 

For those of you looking for a decent hair salon to get your hair done whilst in Istanbul I can really recommend Hair Mafia. I’m really particular about who does my hair colour so I get really nervous about going to new hairdressers. However, after neglecting my hair for three months I had to bite the bullet. A bit of research led me to Hair Mafia and I had a great experience with them.

If you are considering a visit to Istanbul, I would give yourself a minimum of three days to cover the main tourist sites and to get a feel for the Europe and Asia sides of Istanbul. I thoroughly enjoyed my three days and as I only really scratched the surface of everything Istanbul has to offer, I have no doubt that one day I’ll go back.

Selection of pictures from my stay: