We are constantly searching for the best deals and new destinations. One day, Lora got a “newsflash” email from Travelzoo that advertised a roundtrip ticket from NYC to Istanbul, Turkey for around $400, including taxes. Lora had always been curious about Turkey. During her time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkmenistan, several of her friends travelled to Turkey and everyone spoke highly of the country and its’ people. Although Tom was unable to join her, the deal was too good to pass. With excited anticipation, Lora set off on a quick 5-day solo trip to the city where east meets west.
Istanbul truly is a city that delights the senses. The city is visually stunning. It’s incredible to walk amidst modern developments dotted between ancient buildings. Scents from food stalls and carts make your mouth water in anticipation. Istanbul is an international city and it was exciting to hear different languages being spoken. Modern and traditional, Istanbul seamlessly blends it all and is truly a wonderful multicultural melting pot.
Like Rome, Istanbul is known as the City of Seven Hills. Be sure to bring great walking shoes as it is an ideal city to explore on foot. The hilly streets make for a great way to work off all of the delicious food and sweets. One of the best ways to spend a day is to wander the bazaars. A highlight was sipping on Turkish coffee in the Grand Bazaar. Also, make friends with a stall owner in the Spice Bazaar. You’ll get to sample different teas, sweets (including Turkish Delight), dried fruits, nuts, and spices. Street carts featuring roasted chestnuts and sweet corn on the cob are deliciously smoky and sweet. A favorite meal was the Turkish Meze (appetizer) plate with a side of bread. Each restaurant has its’ own version, but it typically consists of: hummus, baba ganoush, and other various side salads, vegetables, and meat. It’s fun to try different foods and, as a single traveler, this was a great way to sample a variety of dishes.
A visit to Istanbul is not complete without visiting the city’s iconic landmarks. The Hagia Sofia is truly spectacular. The enormity and beauty can only truly be experienced in person. Movies do not do it justice. The Blue Mosque and Suleymaniye Mosque are also incredibly grand and beautiful places of worship. Topkapi Palace is truly amazing. There are so many things to explore that a visit warrants at least a half-day to wander the grounds. The Basilica Cistern is a beautiful underground retreat from the Istanbul heat and difficult to imagine it was constructed nearly 1500 years ago. Galata Tower offers incredible views from the observation deck. Nearby, experience the modern shopping, dining, and nightlife area of Beyoglu. Down the hill from Beyoglu, you will find the breathtaking Dolmabahce Palace. Just a warning, the tour is very restrictive, but the palace’s beauty and history makes it worthwhile. Try to take a river cruise and view Istanbul from the water. You will sail under the famous Bosphorus Bridge, which connects the Asia continent to Europe.
Given the short trip to Istanbul, the only day tour that was squeezed in was to Cappadocia. This was always high on my list of places to visit and knew it was worth the time and money. Since this is an 18-hour tour requiring a roundtrip air flight from Istanbul, I purchased the package at home through Viator. The tour was very well organized and is highly recommended. One of the best things about travelling alone and joining a tour is meeting new friends. I met a great group of young adults from South Korea, a couple from Italy, and another solo traveler from Australia. The infamous volcanic rock landscapes exceeded expectations. The highlight was seeing remains of churches carved out from the rocks. Although it was a full day, there was time to veer away from the group and enjoy time to freely explore while not in the confines of a tour.
The short trip to Istanbul and Cappadocia was full of wondrous sights and sounds, and delicious food and drink. However, I do have one tip for solo women travelers: stay on the main streets, especially at night and/or take public transportation. I’ve travelled many times on my own, but Istanbul was the first place that felt a little uncomfortable for me. The men are very forward and a bit relentless. I would easily go again on my own, but be sure to do what always should be done anywhere in the world, keep your eyes and ears open.