Rub a Dub Dub

Next day, it was more time for walking. Many people suggest that we visit the Grand Bazaar. Took us some time to actually find the place because we didn’t bother to take out the maps while we were walking.

When we got there, we were not so impressed because it was ringing with tourist trap!! Honestly, it reminded me of every other bazaar I’ve seen. Lots of counterfeit items, souvenirs, items with Turkey all over it. Name it and you’ll probably find it there. It’s a great place for souvenirs and stuff to bring home but sorry friends, I didn’t get to buy much or anything for that matter. I did find a few fake chanel bags and thought about getting one. It was nice getting lost in the huge maze because every aisle looked the same. Best part, we walked out and ended up on a different side street where the locals shopped. Everything was much cheaper, but still nothing for me. We kept walking and walking for a good 3o minutes on their streets which was similar to Old Delhi but not as chaotic. There were no signs so we had no idea where we were going but somehow we ended up inside another bazaar but this time, it’s the spice bazaar. First, I thought wow after wandering through so many side streets, how did we end up where we started. Again, tourist trap. It’s nice to see how they lined up all the spices but I’m curious to know what if somewhere were to sneeze, what would happen with the spices? Would it get blown away or would all the germs stay on the spices. Either way, the thought deterred me from buying any of it.

One place that wasnt stressed in the many guides was the Basilica Cistern. It was a very simple tourist site but I really liked it. The place was an underground site with many tall columns filled with 2 feet of water. I believe it may be called the underground palace. It’s amazing how they came up with it or built it. Kevin says its a failed subway station, ha. I’d recommend people to explore it since its right next to the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque.

Think we’re quite done with the site seeing at this point…

Next stop, the Turkish bath (hamami). Kevin has been dreading this because the idea of having a guy scrub him made him squeal. Ok let me explain, it’s a pretty simple process, you select a package (DIY, assistance, or assistance/massage). We bought the middle package because for $10 more, some one would be scrubbing the crap off me. Male and female had their separate sections so that made things easy. So, they provide a locker, towel, a scrubbing cloth, and bikini bottom. After you get changed, a big lady walks you into the bath house and asks you to take off the towel and lie on the center piece of marble for 20 minutes. This reminded me of hot yoga, my body was naturally sweating without moving around much. I couldn’t help but to look around because this isn’t something that I was used to. Most of the people were a bit older so they were comfortable with their bodies. Maybe I’m just self conscious. I remember going to Spa Castle with Amy and she asked to bath in the naked area. I definitely turned her down a few times and then finally caved in. Anyway, 20 minutes later, the lady that walked me in there, came in and poured a bucket of water on me. Let the scrubbing begin!! It was a nice bubble bath because the lady was great with scrubbing. I saw the black dirt come off my skin. This is exactly what I needed after walking so much. Met up with Kevin afterwards to see what he thought and he absolutely hated it! Poor guy said it was an awful experience because the guy rushed it and kept insisting for a tip. At least one of the two enjoyed the experience. I thought it was definitely worth it. Probably wouldn’t need to shower for the next couple of days! Just kidding.

Hostel experience in Sultanahmet

Kevin has never stayed at a hostel before and wanted to give him the fun experience. Booked two nights at a hostel and two nights at a high end hotel. I do miss the communal feeling but I also enjoy the taste of nice hotel. Of course the two key factors to picking a hostel is cleanliness and location. Wouldn’t you agree? The hostel should be spotless especially the bathrooms and the location should be within walking distance to all the sites! Cheers Hostel had both – check! They provided free breakfast but there really wasn’t much because it was just olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, eggs, and yogurt plus we never made it in time for the food because we woke up too late.

The most popular location to stay is in old town aka Sultanahmet. C’mon when I first saw this word, I was like how on earth do I pronounce this? After being here for so many hours, I realized that it’s actually “Sultan Ahmet.” what a total blonde moment.

We arrived in Istanbul thinking theres much to do but we pretty much hit up all the touristy sites in a matter of a day or so. The sites are truly not to be missed because it offers many historical and cultural aspects. From the hostel, we could see the Blue Mosque which is pretty symbolic to Istanbul and the reason that it’s named the Blue Mosque is because the tiles inside are blue. The Turkish flag is red but everything else in Turkey is blue (ie, the evil eye). After visiting so many mosques, I have come to a realization that many mosques are similar in nature. Before our the next destination, we ventured to the next sites, my coworker recommended a Turkish meatball shop which is out of this world!! It’s so friggin delicious and wish I could bring some home for everyone to try. The meat seriously melts in your mouth because it’s so tender. It’s my favorite meal so far.

After wandering around for a bit, the bospherous cruise seemed to be the best option because it would be relaxing to see Istanbul through another means of transportation. Turkey is divided between Europe and Asia. If you ask the Turks wheres Turkey, they will tell you it’s in Europe but if you ask Europeans where’s Turkey, they will say it’s in Asia. Talk about having an identity crisis! Of course I passed out on the cruise so I missed a good chunk of it.

By the time we reached the hostel after the cruise, it was dinner time. I prefer asking a locals what they enjoy eating because often tour groups and guide books suggest restaurants that are popular among tourists. Then I proceeded to ask the guy at the front desk and he suggested one restaurant by the bospherous river with a view. Ok, took his recommendation and asked how to get there and then he said how did you get on the cruise? We walked but we boarded from a different location. He was pissed because we didn’t get on the cruise from where he told us to because he ran out of time talking to me earlier but whatever. He was getting a bit fresh with me because he went on about saying what’s the point of making a recommendation if people don’t listen to what he’s saying. Last time I checked, he wasn’t the boss of me. I can take your suggestion but it’ll also help if he recommend more than ONE spot. We ended up walking there and the food was extremely fresh with a nice view.

After dinner, hookah was the best option so we found a cafe and chatted there. It was a nice way to end the night.

Kapadokya!

ourlIt’s been a whirlwind of events at Kapadokya. It’s a small touristy town filled with chimneys, rock formations, and odd shaped valleys that were created by a volcanic eruption from many centuries ago. The place is truly unique and it did wow me because no place really comes close in terms of its landscape.

Of course with so many cave dwellings and rock sculptures, we had to stay in a “cave hotel.” Perhaps it was a very touristy thing to do but it was a lot of fun getting to know the owners and the hotel itself. The city was a bit cooler than I expected because of the valley but the rocks used to build the hotel isolated the air very well. I was very impressed by the warmth of the room without any heat needed.

We arrived at a very late hour because the flight was delayed (story of my life) so by the time we checked in, it was about 1am. The owner mentioned that I was scheduled to be picked up for the hot air ballon ride at 4:50am. Good thing I was a bit jetlagged and got some shut eye before we landed. The couple hours of sleep were golden.

At 5am, we left for our flight! The balloon was beyond my expectations. It was absolutlely enormous is size. The staff loaded us on to the basket within moments while the pilot was firing into the balloon for some wind and air. The one hour ride was so amazing and was completely blown away by the scenic view. We saw the entire city in a bird eye’s view. Words simply can’t describe how stunning the ride was. Strangely, I was not bothered by the height even though I’m extremely afraid of heights.

By 8am, we were back in the hotel. Instead of figuring things out ourselves, we decided to join a tour – green tour. It’ll be quick and simple. The tour started at 9:30 and we came back at 6pm. We stopped at 4 different locations – …. And I slept between each destination. By the time we got back, I was so exhausted from jumping locations. All I could think about was a good meal. Within a few meters of the hotel, there was a pretty well known restaurant known as “Top Cave Restaurant” so we went there. The decor was lovely because it looks similar to the cave hotel and it was family owned. The food was really good but we were so sleepy half way through the meal. We had baklava, lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper and cheese.

Next morning, we had breakfast on their roofdeck. Food was simple and delicious. There wasn’t much that I wanted to do so we went to the Open Air Museum. It was quite boring to say the least probably because we saw so many cave dwellings the day before so it was anything but impressive but it was nice to be outdoors with the sunshine. After the museum, we took some silly photos with the Ottoman costumes. Then we had ice cream from the local vendor. He had a slight demonstration.

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel and waited around for the 8am overnight bus to Istanbul. The bus ride is supposed to take 11 hours and I was hoping for huge comfortable seats but it was a regular coach bus. Slept through most of the ride but it was not too comfortable. Refrained from taking in any liquids because the size of my bladder is super tiny and finding a bathroom wouldve been a pain.

The ladies here are extremely conservative. Mostly everyone have their heads covered. This is very similar to the ladies in other Muslim countries. The long capris and tshirts make look completely underdressed for the occasion. The good part is that the dudes werent gawking at me like raw meat. What a relief!! Maybe I can pull off a tank top one of these days.

Finally we reached Istanbul and waited an hour for the mini shuttle bus to Sultanahmet. Good thing it’s only 8am so we’re in no rush to get anywhere since the hostel probably wont check us in…

Stay tuned to see and smell what Istanbul has to offer!

the cave hotels

Faulty operations! Third time’s the charm.

The day is finally here!! I’ve been excited about traveling to Turkey since the crazy backpacking trip in 2008. I always thought I’d need 2-3 weeks to explore but since I cant hold it any longer, I’m taking the one week.

Here goes our story:

Shortly after dinner say 730pm, Kevin and I jumped into the car and started driving to JFK for the 935 flight to Frankfurt. Mom asked if we printed boarding passes and said no because we needed to check in our bags anyway. When we arrived at terminal, I kept running around like a crazy kid looking for Singapore airlines’ check-in window. Then we asked a few to agents to see where they were and it turns out the check-in was closed…my reaction was wtf it’s only 830pm. Checked the board and it said the flight is departing at 835. My next reaction was oh fantastic where was my notification?! Then we hear final boarding call for our flight. Great……no boarding passes mean no going through security

So what did I do? Took out the iPhone, panicked for a bit, and called everywhere. First called my dad to ask him to pop a U-ey then spoke with Continental to see how we could connect to the next flight. At one point i even told Kevin that we wont make the cruise! Ha, he called me a drama queen. Next best option was to fly out the next day at Newark. Phew relieved! Treated ourselves to see a movie – the dictator.

The next day, Derrick drove us to Newark airport. Learned our lesson and arrived 3hours early! I was excited to be holding boarding passes. After a couple hours of walking around aimlessly, we preceded to board a giant aircraft holding 250 passengers. Then half an hour after later, the captain says on the PA, “ladies and gents, due to technical issues, we will not be able to take off in 30mins or 3 hours. It will take some time to fix this problem” we took our time getting off the plane thinking we’d get back on in a few hours. After we got off, We proceeded to ask an agent to see what’s going on and she said the flight is cancelled. Another wtf moment…it was already 6pm and our options were extremely limited considering the time of year, time of day, all those business/first class folks, number of passengers, and my urgency to be in Turkey!! Nothing was in our favor. Oh yeah, kevin’s phone died a few hours so we didn’t have 2 phones with Internet!! Wahhhhh I wanna go on vacation already.

Due to the lack of communication from the airline, no one knew what was going on, where to go, and the only thing we saw were huge lines. Oh, I’ve done this before. CALL CONTINENTAL ASAP!! After spending 2 hours on the phone, waiting 4 hours in lime for who knows what, feeling completely hopeless, draining the battery on my phone, I was able to convince the agent to put us on the 11:55pm flight from JFK. You should’ve seen me – had the phone in one ear while asking the staff questions on the other end and finding ways to get out ASAP with Kevin’s phone. I was so drained from figuring out the logistics. At that point it was 9:45pm and again I felt like I was playing with fire because the distance from Newark to JFK isn’t exactly close but it sure is worth trying! Lufthansa offered to pay for the cab. We ran to the taxi and asked the driver to fly us JFk and one other driver said no, that’s not possible. Told him we should try anyway!! Ahhhhh

Just to rewind, Kevin’s phone started to work around 8pm but it was still low on battery. He was super helpful in the process because he had me handle the entire situation (not being sarcastic here lol). While I was in line, he picked up our luggage, bought dinner, and roamed around for solutions. This is why I will always need a travel partner in crime. The process would’ve been 100x worse had I been alone.

Back to the ride, cab driver was nuts! He drove like there’s no tomorrow. We were asked to buckle down and then the next thing we knew, he was serving in and out of lanes. What an amazing driver because we got to JFK in40mins. Yessssssss! Woot. Tipped the driver $20 for all his hard work. Im finally on the plane.

Lessons learned:
-always print out your boarding pass/check flight status regardless of whether you checked baggages or not
-arrive early (I usually like getting there right on time but I see why it’s worth it)
-keep your smart phone closer to you than your passport and make sure its fully charged
-download a few handy apps to manage your travel needs (I relied heavily on Tripit, Kayak, and a few airplane sites)
-remain calm

Stay tuned for the upcoming adventures…oh did i mention that we missed our domestic connection and it’s been rebooked twice?