I was told I would love Turkey and I really, really did. I'm already planning my next trip.
Istanbul was amazing. I saw the major attractions - Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya, Basilica Cistern, Suleymaniye Mosque - as well as two museums I probably would not have visited if I hadn't wanted to get the most out of my Istanbul museum card.* The Great Place Mosaic Museum and the Archeology Museum were wonderful and I am now obsessed with mosaics (and the wooden houses on Buyukada Island and other areas of Istanbul).
In addition to the tourist attractions, Istanbul is a really fun city to explore. There are great neighborhoods full of shops and cafes and public transportation is easy and inexpensive. My cousin Rachel gave me a tour of the Grand Bazaar and helped me buy a couple of things.** I could have spent a week just walking around.
On top of all that there is the food. My cousins took me to a meyhane (Turkish tavern) for a delicious dinner and I tried raki, similar to ouzo but much more refreshing, melon with white cheese, mezes, and perfectly grilled fish. The food is freshly prepared and inexpensive and I tried pretty much everything that didn't have red meat or pork. Stay tuned for a separate blog post devoted to food.
After a week in Istanbul, I flew to Cappadocia and spent almost four days exploring. Cappadocia has beautiful landscapes, underground cities, rock-cut churches, and pigeon houses. I went on a balloon ride (without pharmaceutical assistance!), hiked, ate, shopped, enjoyed a traditional Turkish bath, and hung out at my fantastic cave hotel.
** I am so bad at bargaining that my picture is posted all over India with the caption "Charge her as much as you want, she'll pay."
Things I Learned
• The number one attraction in Istanbul is my cousin Baby Esther. Thanks to Esther and her parents for hosting me and putting up with me.
• The correct way to drink raki - fill your raki glass half way with raki. Add cold water and an ice cube. Enjoy!
• Pigeon droppings make excellent fertilizer.
• In almost every country I've visited kindergarten students are called zeros, i.e., "What grade do you teach? " "I teach the zeros."