Turkey: Kaş

This is part 4 of a 5-part series about my recent trip to Turkey. (Previously: the food of TurkeyIstanbul, and Ephesus/Pamukkale.)

Getting to Kaş was not easy.Three stifling bus rides and nearly 12 hours after we left Pamukkale, we found ourselves on the Turquoise Coast, in the quiet former fishing village of Kaş. But boy, was the view worth it. 


I never would've put this part of Turkey on my itinerary, but I had friends rave about spending time there, and seeing my friend Camilla's pictures and account helped sealed the deal. And arriving there? Well, it felt like we'd won the lottery. We got in very late at night, and woke up the next morning, walked out of our hotel, and discovered that just about every corner had a view like this: 

I've never been to coastal Italy or Greece, but I imagine the backdrops there aren't unlike the ones in Kaş: whitewashed buildings, cobalt blue waters, cobbled streets, and flowers so saturated they look like they've been put through a camera filter. 

There's plenty to do in Kaş — kayak to the nearby sunken city of Kekova, explore the Blue Cave on the Greek island of Kastellorizo — but we mostly lazed around after being so tired from our intra-country travels. That's OK — it just gives us more of an excuse to come back.

We slept in every day, meandered downstairs, and enjoyed a long breakfast every day, surrounded by striped grey tabby cats who wanted a bit of our breakfast spread. And with egg yolks as vibrant and orange as the ones there, who could blame them?


It was incredibly hot. We drank lots of rosé while soaking in the waterfront breeze, and ate lots of simple meals, like balik ekmek (fish sandwiches) with cold bottles of Efes...

While drinking rosé near the water, we met a lovely woman named Fulya, who had gave up a fast-paced corporate life in Istanbul a few years before in favor of a slower, more peaceful life in Kaş. selling jewelry on the street in front of the restaurant. We talked about lots of things, including the state of the country today — and how the subject of whether Turkey belongs to Europe or Asia remains a heavily-debated topic, even among friends. 

Camilla had recommended a restaurant that wound up being one of our favorites for dinner; we went there multiple times for the gracious service, raucous atmosphere, and consistently good food. After dinner, the same restaurant would fry up lokma, deep-fried balls of dough soaked in sugar water, so that when you bit into them, warm, honey-like syrup would come rushing out. Divine. 

I have so many great pictures from Kaş, I decided to put them all in a gallery. Check out the rest of 'em below. 

Turkey: Ephesus and Pamukkale

This is part 3 of a 5-part series about my recent trip to Turkey. (Previously: the food of Turkey and Istanbul.)

Even though our trip was really just beginning, it was tough to leave Istanbul after only two and a half days. But on Saturday afternoon, we took a car back to Atatürk airport so we could fly to Izmir and then visit one of Turkey’s most popular attractions: Ephesus, an ancient Greek city on the western coast of Turkey.

But before that, we had to fly in. Because Ephesus is an ancient city, there aren’t any hotels nearby; we’d arranged to stay in the closest town nearby, Selçuk. Night had fallen by the time we’d arrived in Izmir, and trains and buses had already stopped running. Knowing this, I’d arranged a pickup from the airport from our hotel.

The hourlong flight was uneventful but unpleasant. It was hot and stuffy, and the plane went in circles for at least half an hour without updating us as to when we would land.  It was less uneventful for Andy, who, unfortunately, had eaten something earlier that day that didn’t sit well with him. He had the middle seat, and urgently scooted past me in the aisle to run to the airline bathroom.

Despite the small size of the airport, plenty of confusion ensued when we arrived. I didn’t see a driver waiting for us at arrivals. Someone claiming to be from the hotel approached me, but he was holding up a sign with a different person’s name on it. After 30 minutes of confusion that involved talking to different people at the airport, calling the hotel, and fending off the guy who insisted he was our driver, we found our actual driver. He’d been outside waiting for us the entire time.

I expected him to lead us to a small bus or a black car, but our driver led us to the door of an beat-up old silver-colored economy car. Another guy was seated in the front passenger’s seat. Our driver mentioned he was picking up another woman at the other terminal; he explained that the guy seated next to us in the front (I'll call him guy #2) would be driving us to a nearby gas station to wait while he picked up the other lady. Then our driver left to find her. We headed to the nearby gas station, where we parked at the side of the lot (we weren’t getting gas, after all), and guy #2 went inside to use the bathroom. This was the gas station:


In case you can’t read the blurry font, the name of the gas station is Po. As in: the hood. All I could think of at the time was this: po me.

Guy #2 didn’t come back from the bathroom. We waited...and waited...and waited. We started to get worried. Andy pulled up his phone and opened the Google Translate app. We memorized how to say this:


Meanwhile, Andy's stomach was still turning (and you can guess what he was threatening as an explosive weapon should we find ourselves in a dangerous situation).

Guy #2 finally showed up after 30 minutes, and we went back to pick up his friend before heading to the hotel. The four of us drove through the area, which had zero development or no lighting whatsoever, in complete silence, for what felt like an eternity. When we finally arrived at the hotel 45 minutes later, I'd never been so thankful to have arrived anywhere. I watched Andy gave the driver a generous tip out of the corner of my eye, and when I asked him about it later, he admitted he'd never been more relieved to be alive. 

It was a good thing we had our gratitude, because it tempered our disappointment when we settled upstairs into what was the sketchiest, most depressing hotel room I'd ever seen. I have no idea how I managed to overlook all the shortcomings of this place when I'd booked it. But it was rated #1 on TripAdvisor! Famous last words. 

The most frightening hotel room looks worse at night. Not pictured: the 1980s TV bolted to the wall. Definitely pictured: the world's most disgusting hotel shower. 

The most frightening hotel room looks worse at night. Not pictured: the 1980s TV bolted to the wall. Definitely pictured: the world's most disgusting hotel shower. 

Despite all our setbacks (Andy spent most of the next day holed up in the scary small bathroom with more stomach issues), we finally were able to make it to the ancient Greek city of Ephesus. It was an important center of early Christianity: St. Paul preached there, St. John supposedly lived there, and the Virgin Mary is even said to have died there. Here, a view from the top of the Odeon, which seated 1200, and was used for meetings of the senate as well as concerts: 


We waited until every last drop of light was gone before leaving the ancient city, and we were the last ones there. Wandering the ruins of around a 2500-year-old city at dusk was like being in the twilight zone!

Before heading to our next stop, Pamukkale, we stopped into Şirince, a nearby village referred to as "the Tuscany of Turkey" because of its verdant rolling hills and local wine production, and enjoyed lunch with a view followed by window shopping.

Some delicious things we got to try while in the area: 


I stumbled upon a sautéed green I'd never tried at heard of. The owner of the restaurant told me the Turks call it sirken, and that it's related to spinach. I later found out its scientific name is Chenopodium album, that it closely resembles lamb's quarters, and that it's also known as goosefoot, fat hen, Good King Henry, and pigweed, because pigs love to eat it.

Flaky flatbread filled with ground beef, spices, and onions that reminded me of Chinese-style pancakes. 

Zucchini and tomato stew.

From Selçuk, we took a coach bus to Pamukkale, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Turkey's largest tourist attractions. It translates to "cotton castle," and is a natural site featuring hot springs and glistening-white terraces made of carbonite minerals. I first heard of Pamukkale when scrolling through this listicle, and it truly looked so unreal I had to check it out while I was in the same country, even if it meant taking a three-hour bus out of my way. 

Sadly, we didn't realize that Pamukkale now only remains a shadow of what it once was. "You didn't know? It doesn't look anything like the postcards anymore," one local told us. The morning we showed up, it was packed with busloads of Chinese and Russian tourists, and most of the natural pools no longer had water in them. There were a few manmade pools, which were the only ones now open to visitors for bathing, since apparently a constant flow of water causes the terraces to turn brown. The experience was a definite letdown.

Still, the natural formations were truly unique: 


One silver lining: we met a really great couple, Larissa and Antônio, from Rio de Janeiro. We swapped tips on travel within Turkey, and they shared great stories about their travels through Portugal, Italy, the States, and throughout Brazil. 


The four of us shared some serious laughs watching middle-aged Russian women attempt to shoot glamour shots of themselves with Pamukkale in the background. Every single woman, regardless of her age, seemed dead set on taking her own suggestive self-portrait. It was hilarious!

After that, it was off to what might've been my favorite spot in Turkey: Kaş. 

Turkey: Istanbul

This is part 2 of a 5-part series about my recent trip to Turkey. (Brush up on the food of Turkey here.)

Istanbul, it turns out, is the perfect place to begin an exploration of Turkey. The massive city (population: over 13 million) is the only major metropolis to straddle two continents, Europe and Asia. It's a mashup of mosques and UNESCO World Heritage sites as well as frenzied commerce and bustling nightlife, proving that traditional and modern don't have to be mutually exclusive. How, I'm still asking myself, does it manage to be both ancient and avant-garde? Western yet also Eastern? I don't have a clue, but somehow it all just works. 


Look at a map of Istanbul, and you'll see that the city has three distinct geographical parts: the old city, the new part of town, and what's known as Asian Istanbul. We stayed in the old area of town, near most of the city's historic sites, like the Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, the Blue Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern, so it was the first area we ventured out to explore. 


The Hagia Sophia: what was built as The Great Church of Constantinople in 537, then later converted into an mosque by the Ottomans in 1453. It became a museum in 1935.


The Basilica Cistern, a underground water reservoir that dates back to the sixth century and is made out of recycled Roman columns. 


While full of historical significance, all of the aforementioned destinations reminded me of why I hated going to popular visitor's sites. They were filled with tourists who didn't think twice about cutting lines or shoving their way past the crowd to get a better view of something. I preferred meandering past Istanbul University in the area near the Grand Bazaar (above) observing people on their way to work, and stopping into local bakeries, shops, and bodegas to check out what was on offer.  The old district was very conservative: people didn't seem welcome to photographs, and many women wore headscarves and even burkas. (One woman I encountered wore an Afghan burka, which not only covered her face but also her eyes.) 


People picking up breakfast sandwiches on the way to work in the Fatih district. (This shot was taken just seconds before the crotchety cart owner snarled at me for taking a picture of him.)

Bread is considered holy in these parts; if you can't finish your piece, you put it on the wall — hence all these pieces of half-eaten bread lying around.


The world-famous Grand Bazaar was disappointing — a maze-like shopping mall filled only with tourists getting suckered into not-so-great deals. The same applied to the Spice Bazaar, which was filled with stale-looking herbs and spices and pretty much just more tourists. But it was still easy on the eyes.

In the neighborhood of Sultanahmet, solid, well-priced food is hard to come by, but we found a few spots that we returned to over and over again. One of them was a meatball shop that we must've visited at least four times. Another was a bakery off the tramway that made excellent simit, a sesame seed-topped circular bread that's dipped in molasses before it's baked for a hint of sweetness. Think of a skinnier, crustier, slightly sweeter bagel. Both fueled us for long days spent admiring Byzantine frescoes and traversing cobblestone streets in the old city.



We didn't spend as much time in Istanbul's new town, which lies just past the inlet of water known as the Golden Horn. Although there are plenty of ways to get there, we walked across the Galata Bridge, which was a beautiful way to see the area before we'd even set foot on it. Isn't that view of Galata Tower awesome? 

We turned around and had an equally gorgeous vantage point of the old part of town, with its stately mosques. 

The waters were choppy, but that didn't stop seagulls from swooping down for fish (or amateur fishermen from trying to catch some dinner). 

After that, we waited in a crazy queue to get up to Galata Tower. The 365-degree amazing views almost made it worth the 45-minute wait ... although if I were to do it again, I'd take my 45 minutes back, skip the line, and head up to the café for some coffee (and a no-wait view) instead. 

Andy's one insistence was that we go to Shake Shack while we were in Istanbul. I wasn't going to deny him that. Even in the land of In-N-Out, I crave Shake Shack; it's so much better. (Go figure why there are not one but FIVE Shake Shacks in Istanbul, and zero in the state of California. Life's not fair!) We headed to the New District's Tünel neighborhood to fill up on ShackBurgers. Danny Meyer is a genius: Everything, from the ShackBurger down to the service and the decor, was exactly the same as what you find in New York. They did have fun specials unique to each location, though, like a "Tünel Concrete" — a blizzard-like dessert of frozen chocolate custard blended with fresh pistachio, marshmallow sauce, and cookie pieces. 


We walked off our dinner by window-shopping up and down the district's most famous street, Istikal Avenue, an Istanbullian's version of Times Square. Normally I hate this sort of thing, but our first night out in Turkey, and I was entranced by everything. The smell of greasy döner rotating on a hot spit. The feeling of being run past by someone in the crowd. The sound of the street trolley inching by; the sign of glowing boomerangs being thrown into the air. 

When the clock struck 10:08, mosques all over the city broadcast the last call to prayer of the evening, a deep, melodic musical phrase that was sung with such soul and emotion that it gave me chills. I looked around me, at the teenage girls in platform heels and crop tops, too busy joking with one another to pay attention, and drank in the foreignness of it all. It was intoxicating.



I wouldn't have loved Istanbul nearly as much if it weren't for my trek to the Asian side. And with our limited days in Istanbul, I almost didn't go in favor of a cruise along the Bosphorus instead. But I'd downloaded food and travel writer Katie Parla's exceptional Istanbul app, and a bunch of her favorite food spots turned out to be in Göztepe or Kadiköy, in Asian Istanbul. So we took a quick, 20-minute ferry to Kadiköy to check out her recommendations. 


Our first stop was Halil Lahmacun, an institution known for serving some of the best lahmacun in the city. The usta ("master") tending the brick oven was kind enough to let me hang around and take pictures. With the amount of labor that goes into making these thin flatbreads, it's hard to believe one will only set you back 3 Turkish lira (about $1.40). 

The lahmacun came with a plate of parsley and lemon on the side, and diners scatter the parsley across the top of the flatbread, finishing with a generous squeeze of lemon juice on top. We saw two young women at the table next to us sprinkling sumac and dried red pepper all over their lahmacun, and we followed suit. "The sumac is our salt, and the dried chili is our pepper," she explained to us. Then the whole thing gets rolled up like a cigar and eaten. The light yet nourishing meal wound up being one of my favorites from the entire trip. 


After lunch, we were off to Şerkeci Cafer Erol for a sweet snack. This long-established confectionery (established in 1807, it's almost as old as the United States!) is known for its kaymakli lokum (Turkish delight filled with clotted buffalo cream), which Parla described as "one of the greatest achievements of human civilization." So you can only imagine how crushed I was to be told they were out for the day. But I did stock up on their akide (hard candy), in flavors that were new to me, like mastic and hazelnut, as well as candied baby eggplants, sugared pumpkin, and hazelnut Turkish delight. 


And after that (no rest for the weary!), it was time for some pickles. Down the street, at Özcan Turşuları, there every fresh vegetable you could think of in brine. The item to order here was a glass of turşu suyu, or pickle juice. It was delicious, but nothing like what I'd imagined: a giant beer stein full of pickled green beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, peppers, cucumber, and more, then topped off to the brim with a red-hued pickle juice. I couldn't imagine a better way to spend less than one US dollar. 

After lunch, dessert, and pickles, we wandered the market, nothing that ingredients we consider to be rare or fleeting or highly seasonal in the United States, like purslane, sea beans, and cranberries, were abundant and reasonably priced. 

There are cats roaming all over the streets of Turkey, but we came upon an especially fat one that I found adorable. I quickly realized why he was so fat when a market vendor tossed him a live fish. He devoured it with chutzpah. 


I stocked up on Turkish towels at a nearby housewares store, and picked up some dried apricots and spices nearby. We stopped into the famous Çiya Sofrası, which turned out to be, really, just OK. By then, the market was packed with locals, stopping in to pick up food on their way home from work. It was time to leave. I had never been sadder to go.