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Türkiye: Istanbul and Capadocia

A week between Istanbul and Cappadocia: magnificent places to visit at least once in your life.

Our tour is 4 and a half days in Cappadocia and 3 in Istanbul. Since there were no direct flights, we visited the ancient Constantinople!


Istanbul

Sultanahmet, Blu Mosque, Aya Sofya, Basilica Cistern, TopKapi, Grand Bazaar, Sahaflar Carsisi Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Soliman Mosque, Bridge and Tower of Galata, Istiklal Caddesi

Istanbul is a magical city. Each street tells stories of different cultures intertwined over the centuries.

Let’s start with the historical part of the Sultanahmet: the hippodrome in front of the Blue Mosque that today appears as a large square adorned with an ancient obelisk. The Blue Mosque owes its name to the tiles and the blue walls that decorate it, unfortunately the renovations are underway and you can hardly see anything inside. Opposite is the mosque of Aya Sofya with its gigantic candelabra and its dark medallions written in gold; having been a basilica you can still notice several Christian elements in this unique commistura. Outside the tombs of princes and sultans. Once it was possible to go upstairs to see the candelabra from above and you had to observe more silence, this time it was invaded by tourists. Both the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya are free, you have to take off your shoes inside and women have to put on the veil (which you can buy for 0.50€ in Aya Sofya) or a hood. Within all mosques there are areas with the Koran and booklets that explain Islam in all languages, a way to encourage everyone to learn more about religion.

To truly enjoy a mosque we suggest the Suleiman Mosque, with a view of the Bosphorus and the gaudy tombs of Suleiman the Magnificent, the one who brings the Ottoman Empire to its maximum splendor.

In front of Aya Sofya there is the famous Basilica Cisterna also closed for works; while behind Aya Sofya, there is the street Soğuk Çeşme Sk. with houses with wooden facades typical of old Istanbul.


A few steps away is the entrance of the Topkapi, the Royal Palace where you can admire the colorful rooms of the harem (the private area reserved for the family, managed by the head of the eunuchs and the first wife), the cloisters overlooking the Bosphorus, the Council Hall, where the Sultan received guests, kitchens and much more. You have to consider at least 2 hours to see well all the rooms of the Royal Palace and 30 minutes to get tickets at the checkout; useful audio guides.

Below the Topkapi there is the Gülhane Park full of colorful tulips (symbol of Istanbul) and parakeets. Going out we walk towards the lively streets around the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar, it is a huge neighborhood of small shops where the streets are divided by types of goods (there is the street of coffee, dried fruit, cloth, gold, etc.). we wanted to buy everything! Magic is the Sahaflar Carsisi, the square of the books where you can admire miniatures and ancient books.


Continue on to Galata Bridge, where you can stop to eat or enjoy the sunset while admiring the mosques and the city. On the other side of the city you climb towards the Galata Tower, built by the Genoese, with its vibrant neighborhood with retro and alternative style. Here there is also the Tunnel stop, the second oldest underground line in the world built in 1875 after the English one. In a few minutes walk you get to Istiklal Caddesi (Avenue Independence) that pulsates with energy day and night between restaurants and shops open late into the night. It is the real center of Istanbul and you can walk to Taksim Square. You can not leave Istanbul without going to a Hammam and try a real Turkish bath.


Capadocia - day 1

Pigeon Valley, Uçhisar

We start our tour in Cappadocia, landing in the small airport of Nevşehir which is about 40 minutes drive from Göreme. It is a large room, we wait for the suitcases and in the meantime we sign the documents for our rental car: this time we will drive a spacious Peugeot Partner.

It’s about 3pm and the sun is still high, so we decide to quickly leave our bags at the hotel and go to Uçhisar, which is located above Göreme just 10 minutes by car. We set up on google maps Pigeon Valley and we arrive at the parking lot from which the path starts on foot and where you can see the pigeons to which tourists give food. Pigeons - or rather doves - were Christian symbols and animals useful in everyday life: they carried messages and provided natural fertilizer for agriculture. The first part of the walk in the Pigeon Valley is studded with dovecotes carved into the rocks at high altitudes, then opens into a striking landscape that follows a large canyon. In total the walk is 5 km and it is recommended to go downhill from Uçhisar to Göreme. We walk for an hour, then we go back to the village and go to see the sunset from the Castle of Uçhisar, which being one of the highest points offers a magnificent view. The castle costs a few euros and is not included in the pass, but worth the view. Around the castle there are beautiful cafes with views and shops where to buy souvenirs (among the best in price and quality). With the sunset Uçhisar lights up and becomes beautiful, an illuminated crib, which can be admired even from the center of Göreme.


Cappadocia - day 2

1 hour Hotballon fligth on Love e Long Valley

Cappadocia - day 2

Göreme Open Air Museum, Fairy Chimneys, Zelve, Devrent-Imagination Valley

We start with the Göreme Open Air Museum, which can be reached on foot from the city in 20 minutes or by car (parking 1€). The museum was an important monastic center from the fourth to the thirteenth century, abandoned and rediscovered in the twentieth century by a French priest. Opened to the public in the 60s, it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and is home to some of the most important Byzantine rock churches in the world. We recommend to rely on official guides who wait for tourists just past the entrance, we were chosen by Mr Yunus Kervan (20€ after all the contacts), very nice, with an excellent English and also available for other tours outside Göreme. Having a guide is really useful because it helps to understand the monastic life of the time, the use of different environments and frescoes. Inside the same museum complex, there are the Dark Church and the Tokali Church (Buckle). To see the entire Göreme Open Air Museum calmly takes about 1.5/2 hours.


We continue and after a few kilometers we arrive at the Fairy Chimneys, rock formations of tuff up to 40 meters high created by the eruption of the volcanoes Hasan Dağı and the Erciyes Dağı. They were the refuge of the first Christian hermits and then of entire populations. Curious is the road that is inside and we imagine when years ago you could pass with the bike near these fairy chimneys. Here the route is short and in an hour you make the tour.


We continue for another 5 minutes by car until Zelve, the third of our open-air museums and the one that most enchants us for the colors and the atmosphere that is perceived (and perhaps also for the presence of a few tourists). Zelve was also initially a monastic place, but here the population continued to live until 1952. The village was organized on two small valleys with churches, mosques, stables, houses, warehouses and grain mills, cellars, square and streams. Following the path you can enjoy different views and enter the different environments. Here we suggest to consider 2 hours.


We end our day watching the sunset from the Devrent Valley or even called the valley of imagination because you can have fun giving shape to the rocks, like that of the famous camel.


Cappadocia - day 3

Ihlara Valley, Belisirma, Selime

We dedicate the day to what is called the Green Tour. We leave Göreme to reach the Ihlara Valley at 80 km; the journey takes an hour and allows you to admire the snowy peaks of Mount Hasan. The Ihlara Valley is a magnificent canyon where you can walk down, enjoy the mild climate and admire the ancient churches built by the monks in the rock. The trail runs in 3 sections: from the village of Ihlara to the tourist entrance (3km), from the tourist entrance in Belisirma (about 4km) and then up to Selime (7km but it is not well signposted, we tried to make a bit and we got lost). We left the car at the tourist entrance (the one indicated by Google maps) and went down the steep stairs. The path is very nice, alongside the river and the rocky walls where the rocks are dug. The place is magnificent and worth taking the time to enjoy it calmly (with guided tours unfortunately you have only an hour). Halfway down the path there is a bar on the water where you can stop and rest on the way or return. Also there are two beautiful houses with animals and wooden men where you can sleep.


Arrived at the exit of Belisirma we discovered the magnificent restaurants on the river that make Belisirma a unique place. We ate an exquisite grilled fish from Aslan.


We take the car and go to Selime, the place that inspired the location of Star Wars Episode I when Anakin wins the race. In Selime the imposing rocks are mixed with modern inhabited houses, it is a very particular place to visit that exudes mystery.


Cappadocia - day 4

Underground cities of Derinkuyu e Kaymakli, Soganly, Keşlik

On the fourth day, a very strong warm wind raised rocks and sand everywhere; fortunately the forecast had helped us to be prepared. Perfect situation to visit the underground cities: the first Derinkuyu. This is the largest of the underground cities, could hold up to 20,000 people and stretched on multiple levels reaching 85 meters deep. Inside one of the official guides with only 10 € explains the history, life, kitchens, rooms, stables, ventilation system and protective doors that allowed to isolate and block the tunnels. The city was used to escape persecution until the 20th century and then abandoned when in 1923 Turkey expelled the Greeks from the nation. It was rediscovered in 1963 by a resident and opened shortly afterwards to the public. Derinkuyu is also connected by a 10 km tunnel to the other underground city Kaymakli.


Kaymakli is more touristy, some parts of the rocks have been renovated and there are colored lights that illuminate the environments. Compared to Derinkuyu the tunnels are narrower and go deeper, the feeling is to make a slide. We suggest to see both Kaymakli and Derinkuyu to have two points of view, it takes about 1 hour for each and you need a sweater because it is cold below.


At 5pm we are back at the hotel and we can go to see the Dervishes dance (about 20€ per person). Their rotating dance is hypnotic and follows a ritual in which the dervish embraces "Communion with Allah".



Cappadocia - day 5 (last)

Last walk in the valleys around Göreme, souvenirs and enjoy a coffee with a view of the castle of Uçhisar.


To eat

Food to try: Cay (thè), apple thè, Pide, Salep, Ayran, Testi Kebap, Turkish ravioli.


Must places:

Istanbul book bazaar, Zelve Open Air Museum, Ihlara Valley and eat on the river


Route map:


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