Archive for the ‘Turkey’ Category

One year ago today, we boarded a plane and set off to make our dream of traveling around the world a reality. We are happy to report that we are still alive and well. Today we are wondering, how did this year go by so quickly?! But in all reality, when we revisit the past year in detail, we realize just how much we have experienced.

Our ‘Year in Review’ includes two photos from every country we have visited in the past year. One selected by Mike and one selected by Amy.  This was an insanely difficult task, since we have over 12,000 photos now! Some photos are memories of a favorite place we visited, while others symbolize our mindset at that point in time, and a few are just pictures that we really love. We hope you enjoy and thanks for reading our ramblings for the past year; there is still more to come!


Mike's Photo - Spain

Mike’s Pick – La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

This place is unlike any other church in the world. Our visit to el Templo de la Sagrada Familia took place on the first full day of our journey and really started things off with a bang! I can’t wait to return to Barcelona to see it again when construction is completed after 2026.

Amy's Pick - The Alhambra - Granada, Spain

Amy’s Pick – La Alhambra – Granada, Spain

When we stepped off the train in Granada, we were shocked with an unexpected bitter cold. Despite the below freezing temperatures we had an incredible day exploring La Alhambra, one of the most stunning palaces I have ever visited.


Mike's Pick - Porto, Portugal

Mike’s Pick – Port Wine Boats on the Douro River – Oporto, Portugal

We try not to talk about work too much on our trip, but when you work in hospitality and tourism, a RTW trip is filled with very relevant learning opportunities. I have an all new appreciation for port wine after visiting several cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Amy's Pick - Lagos, Portugal

Amy’s Pick – Lagos, Portugal

Lagos was the first of many improvised stops of our trip. To be honest we had never heard of it before, but it was along our bus route from Spain to Lisboa, so we stopped through for a few days. I will always remember Lagos with special sentiment because in my mind it symbolizes spontaneity.


Mike's Pick - Our Riad - Marrakech, Morocco

Mike’s Pick – Our Riad – Marrakech, Morocco

Sipping mint tea in the refuge of our riad was one of the most relaxing experiences of our trip. I loved starting and ending our days sitting right here!

Amy's Pick - Colorful Tiles - Marrakech, Morocco

Amy’s Pick – Bahia Palace – Marrakech, Morocco

The colorful and intricate tiles in Morocco are unbelievably eye-catching. I would love to use tiles like these to decorate our house someday.


Mike's Pick - Mike & Nils - Osted, Denmark

Mike’s Pick – Mike & Nils – Osted, Denmark

Nils (Amy’s host dad from her study abroad experience in 2006) was about as excited for our trip as we were. He and I took many trips “around the world” using these fun shot glasses printed with a world maps.

Amy's Pick - Candles - Osted, Denmark

Amy’s Pick – Candles – Osted, Denmark

These candles represent Danish hygge to me; it is a difficult word to translate into English, but generally embodies spending quality time with family & friends while being cozy, content and relaxed. There was plenty of hygge to go around during our visit with my host family.

Czech Republic

Mike's Pick - Hockey Game - České Budějovice, Czech Republic

Mike’s Pick – Hockey Game – České Budějovice, Czech Republic

During our time in České Budějovice, I had a high fever and terrible case of the flu. I spent three whole days  in bed and even considered going to the hospital, but still but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a Czech hockey play-off game.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Amy’s Pick – View from Castle – Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Český Krumlov is one of those magical places that makes you feel like you’re living in a fairytale. I love this photo because it captures the European-style architecture and lazy river that winds through the town.


Mike's Pick - Naschmark - Vienna, Austria

Mike’s Pick – Naschmarkt – Vienna, Austria

A major theme of our blog over the past year has been food. In Vienna, the Naschmarkt is one of the best places to take a stroll, grab a bite, have a beer, and see some really great artisan food and crafts.  We were in Vienna for less than 48 hours, but made two trips to the Naschmarkt during our time there.

Amy's Pick - Coin exchange at hostel - Vienna, Austria

Amy’s Pick – Coin exchange at hostel – Vienna, Austria

We only spent two days in Austria, using Vienna as a stopover for a train connection, however we found this clever coin exchange at our hostel. This photo reminds me of a game we play – whenever we leave a country, we try to use up all of the bills and coins that we have on hand, whether it be buying a piece of candy at a shop or giving it to a fellow traveler.


Mike's Pick - Széchenyi Fürdő - Budapest, Hungary

Mike’s Pick – Széchenyi Fürdő – Budapest, Hungary

Whenever I arrive in a new city and hear about hot springs, thermal baths, or the like I get really excited. Who doesn’t like a nice soak? After a few months of backpacking under our belts, a day relaxing in these amazing public baths was just what the doctor ordered.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Budapest, Hungary

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is one of my favorite European cities. I love how the river splits it into the Buda side and the Pest side. This day we walked almost 14 miles, exploring both sides of the city and growing our appreciation for how massive, yet accessible, it is.


Mike's Pick - Old Town - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Mike’s Pick – Old Town – Dubrovnik, Croatia

After the Bed Bug fiasco was behind us, we really enjoyed the gorgeous walled city of Dubrovnik. I felt like I had been transported back in time.

Amy's Pick - Hvar Island, Croatia

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Hvar Island, Croatia

This is my favorite self-photo of our entire trip. Somehow it captured Mike at the split second he was sneezing!


Mike's Pick - Stari Most - Mostar, Bosnia

Mike’s Pick – Stari Most – Mostar, Bosnia

When most people think of Bosnia, they think of the war. Few realize what an beautiful place it really is. The iconic bridge of Mostar was destroyed by bombs, but it has since been rebuilt and serves as a symbol of a country trying to heal.

Amy's Pick - War Tunnel Tour - Sarajevo, Bosnia

Amy’s Pick – War Tunnel Tour – Sarajevo, Bosnia

The Bosnian War is the first war I remember as a child, so visiting Sarajevo was very emotional. We took a tour with this man who lived through the war, and it was one of the most inspirational and educational things I did in the past year of traveling.


Mike's Pick - Cave Church - Cappadocia, Turkey

Mike’s Pick – Cave Church – Cappadocia, Turkey

Our first day of exploring in Cappadocia included the Göreme Open Air Museum and its ancient churches and dwellings. Built by early Christians fleeing persecution, it is arguably the “birthplace” of the entire religion. Visiting was a very spiritual experience for me.

Amy's Pick - Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

Amy’s Pick – Blue Mosque – Istanbul, Turkey

The mosques of Istanbul are a sight to behold. Spending a few weeks in Istanbul taught me so much about Islam. Visiting Istanbul helped me to understand that it is possible for traditionalists, modernists, and everyone in between to coexist without surrendering their cultural identity.


Mike's Pick - Food Stand - Shanghai, China

Mike’s Pick – Food Stand – Shanghai, China

For me, one of the coolest parts of traveling is snacking my way through a city. We ate these rice dumplings almost every morning in Shanghai. Some cities in the US have food carts/trucks, but nothing quite compares to the street food scene in Asia. Forget what the State Department tells you; my advice, when you travel abroad EAT STREET FOOD!!!

Amy's Pick - Rice Terraces - Dazhai, China

Amy’s Pick – Rice Terraces – Dazhai, China

In the midst of China’s traffic jams, overpopulation, pollution, and noise, the rice terraces of Dazhai were the perfect escape for a few days of peace. I love this picture because we spent nearly an hour getting this shot with both of us in the air.

Hong Kong

Mike's Pick - View from Victoria Peak - Hong Kong

Mike’s Pick – View from Victoria Peak – Hong Kong

It may seem like a concrete jungle, but Hong Kong actually has some really great hikes, beaches, and islands. I really enjoyed our hike around Victoria Peak which ended with this panoramic view of the city.

Amy's Pick - Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong

Amy’s Pick – Cheung Chau Island – Hong Kong

The stark contrast between landscapes in Hong Kong surprised me: a mega city that also has remote wilderness islands. We spent the day at the beach and hiking the perimeter of Cheung Chau island.

South Korea

Mike's Pick - Haeundae Sand Festival - Busan, South Korea

Mike’s Pick – Haeundae Sand Festival – Busan, South Korea

There aren’t a lot of beaches in Colorado; so it’s not big surprise that I had never seen sand art like this before. These artists are ridiculously good.

Amy's Pick - Sushi Dinner - Busan, South Korea

Amy’s Pick – Sushi Dinner – Busan, South Korea

We had a hard time fitting this sushi dinner into one photograph! It included everything from raw sea squirt to mud eel. Even though we shared no common language with the couple sitting next to us, they walked us through each dish and how to eat it properly.


Mike's Pick - Restaurant - Tokyo, Japan

Mike’s Pick – Restaurant – Tokyo, Japan

When we sat down and ordered, we had no idea what we were about to eat. We just got what everyone else was having. I like this picture because it reminds me of how the cooks complimented us on our chopstick skills and Japanese table manners.

Amy's Pick - Fushimi Inari Shrine - Kyoto, Japan

Amy’s Pick – Fushimi Inari Shrine – Kyoto, Japan

I love this photo because of the sheer color!


Mike's Pick - Bowl of Phở - Hanoi, Vietnam

Mike’s Pick – Bowl of Phở – Hanoi, Vietnam

Phở. #enoughsaid

Amy's Pick - Madonna Rock Dive Site - Nha Trang, Vietnam

Amy’s Pick – Madonna Rock Dive Site – Nha Trang, Vietnam

SCUBA diving is one of the coolest things I have ever learned to do. This was our very first day of diving – we didn’t have the hang of buoyancy yet, so the fact that our dive master captured this photo was something of a miracle.


Mike's Pick - Banteay Srei Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Mike’s Pick – Banteay Srei Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

What can I say about Angkor Wat? This place is just sooooo cool. Cambodia may not have delicious food like Vietnam or dreamy beaches like Thailand, but Angkor Wat is more than a good enough reason to visit.

Amy's Pick - Ta Prohm Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Amy’s Pick – Ta Prohm Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I love this picture because it allows you to actually see the thousands of years of history that has taken place at Angkor Wat. The sheer size of this tree’s roots growing into the temple walls helps you to appreciate its place in the past and present.


Mike's Pick - Elephant Reserve - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Mike’s Pick – Elephant Reserve – Chiang Mai, Thailand

We spent a lot of quality time with animals in Thailand: riding on elephants – cuddling with tigers – fending off monkeys.

Amy's Pick - Pad Thai - Bangkok, Thailand

Amy’s Pick – Pad Thai – Bangkok, Thailand

Pad Thai with tofu is my absolute favorite Thai dish and I miss eating it every day for breakfast! Surprisingly, considering all of the times we ate it, I can’t believe this is the only photo we took.


Mike's Pick - Mekong River - Vientiane, Laos

Mike’s Pick – Mekong River – Vientiane, Laos

This amazing sunset over the Mekong in Vientiane was one of my favorite from the entire year. You wouldn’t know it from this picture, but it seemed like the entire city came out to the river that evening to watch the sun slowly disappear.

Amy's Pick - Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane - Laos

Amy’s Pick – Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane – Laos

After the most horrifying bus ride ever from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, we decided to fly back to Vientiane instead of enduring another death-trap bus. This was the most beautiful flight of my entire life – the mud brown Mekong twisting through deep green jungle.


Mike's Pick - View of Downtown - Singapore

Mike’s Pick – View of Downtown – Singapore

It may be a small country, but I was really impressed by Singapore’s modern architecture.

Amy's Pick - The Helix Bridge - Singapore

Amy’s Pick – The Helix Bridge – Singapore

The truth is that Mike stole the photo I wanted to choose for Singapore, so I picked this one instead. This photo is of the ground of a DNA helix-shaped bridge in Singapore. My nerdy science-loving side really loved this bridge:-) The A and the T represent the nucleotides adenine and thymine.


Mike's Pick - Salang - Tioman Island, Malaysia

Mike’s Pick – Salang – Tioman Island, Malaysia

SCUBA diving and beach-time pretty much sum up our month in Malaysia. 15 tanks each in less than 30 days. In retrospect, I think we should have stayed longer.

Amy's Pick - Long Beach - Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Amy’s Pick – Long Beach – Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

This is a place where two days turned into four, and four into six, and six days into two weeks. I loved living on the beach, relaxing, diving and having a blank mind.


Mike's Pick - Gnaraloo Station - Gnaraloo, Australia

Mike’s Pick – Gnaraloo Station – Gnaraloo, Australia

If you’ve been reading our blog since the beginning, then you may recognize our friends here.  It was our first time in Australia, but they really made us feel at home.  Juan wasn’t very pleased with the fishing that week, but the Coral Trout I caught is enough to keep me enthusiastic about giving it another go.

Amy's Pick - Fishing - Gnaraloo, Australia

Amy’s Pick – Fishing – Gnaraloo Reef, Australia

A memory of the first fish I ever caught in the open water!

New Zealand

Mike's Pick - Kaikoura, New Zealand

Mike’s Pick – Kaikoura, New Zealand

We almost left Kaikoiura the day before this picture was taken. I am glad that we decided to stay another night, because we would have missed out on a great hike and some unforgettable views.

Amy's Pick - Lake Wakatipu - Queenstown, New Zealand

Amy’s Pick – Lake Wakatipu – Queenstown, New Zealand

This is only one of the hundreds of beautiful scenic photos from our month in New Zealand. This road into Queenstown from the south is one of the most spectacular drives I have ever taken.


Mike's Pick - Laguna Tebenquiche - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Mike’s Pick – Laguna Tebenquiche – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

The water in this lake was so salty that it felt thick when I walked through it. The natural wonders of San Pedro de Atacama left me in awe day after day.

Amy's Pick - Pan de Azucar National Park - Chile

Amy’s Pick – Pan de Azucar National Park – Chile

After a week of camping at Pan de Azucar, one of the most tranquilo and beautiful places that I saw in Chile, we hitchhiked back into town to catch our bus. Our ride was from a local fisherman, and I had the luck of riding in the back of his truck along with his day’s catch. During that ride I remember thinking to myself “now this is traveling!”


Mike's Pick - Christmas Parrillada - Escobar, Argentina

Mike’s Pick – Christmas Asado – Escobar, Argentina

I’m really going to miss this. But I always have Tio Francis in Denver, so I guess I’ll survive 🙂

Amy's Pick - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Amy’s Pick – Iguazu Falls – Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

During our second day visiting Iguazu Falls, we were graced with perfectly blue skies and a rainbow across the falls!


Mike's Pick - Practice for Carnival - Montevideo, Uruguay

Mike’s Pick – Practice for Carnaval – Montevideo, Uruguay

Hopefully this was just a small taste of things to come during Carnaval in Cartagena.

Amy's Pick - The Hand Sculpture - Punta del Este, Uruguay

Amy’s Pick – The Hand Sculpture – Punta del Este, Uruguay

This sculpture is just plain fun. It makes you feel like there is a giant living underneath the sand, waiting to grab you off your towel while you’re sunbathing.


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For the second post of our Istanbul Photo Series, we are highlighting the mosques of the city. Although Turkey is secular by law, the presence of Islam is clear. The skyline is filled with domes and minarets of the numerous mosques, and the calls to prayer can be heard in all corners of the city. Yet, at the same time, locals are very much embracing Western culture, European fashion and a hopping nightlife. It is a city with many dualities. In some countries, mosques cannot be visited by non-Muslims; however, in Istanbul, mosques are a top tourist destination.   (NOTE: there are many photos in this post, therefore it may take some time to load)


We arrived in Istanbul just as a fair was being set up in front of the famous Blue Mosque. Turkey’s strong sense of national pride can be seen by the flags hanging from windows, poles and bridges all over the city.

The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art was one of our favorite stops in Istanbul. The exhibits were magnificent, and the view of the Blue Mosque was icing on the cake.

The inside of the Blue Mosque is jaw-dropping. The mosque gets its name from the haze of blue light that emanates from the painted blue tiles which touch nearly every surface in the building.

As one of the city’s main attractions, the Blue Mosque remains lit-up throughout the night, making it an awe-inspiring structure 24 hours a day.

The construction of the Blue Mosque was inspired by Istanbul’s main attraction, the Hagia Sophia. The Sultan Ahmed built the mosque just a few hundred meters away to try and trump the magnificence of the Hagia Sophia. The result was two unbelievable places of worship in the same block. This photo of the Blue Mosque was taken from the second floor of the Hagia Sophia.


The Hagia Sophia is one of the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World, and now we know why. It is hard to believe that this magnificent structure was constructed between 532-537 A.D.

As you enter the Hagia, symbols of the various religions that it has served can be seen. First constructed as a Cathedral, it was later converted to a mosque, and today is a museum.

The sheer size of the Hagia is impressive. The central dome is supported by 40 ribs, each of which has a window at its base allowing natural light to flood inside.

The juxtaposition of Christianity and Islam can be seen by the tile mosaic of the Virgin Mary with Jesus in the background of the Minbar.


We found visiting the Little Hagia Sophia much more enjoyable than its well-known counterpart simply due to the lack of crowds. It is named as such because it is thought to have served as a model for the Hagia Sophia.

Behind the Minbar, you can see the apse of the former church that this mosque used to be, the Church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus.

The restoration and maintenance in the Little Hagia can be seen in this ornate painting in the central dome.


Only in Istanbul would the “new” mosque refer to a mosque built over 400 years ago.


This is the ablution area where Muslims wash their hands, feet, face and forearms before entering the mosque to pray.

The sunny day on which we visited Süleymaniye made for a vibrant contrast between the blue sky and stone white minarets.

Many of the historic sites we visited had been restored using preservation techniques. In this mosque, however, the interior was scrapped away and completely redone. Controversy aside, it gave us a feel of what the mosque may have looked like when it was initially constructed.

The Süleymaniye Mosque sits atop a hill that provides beautiful views of the city, Golden Horn and Bosphorus River. This photo was taken from the Galata Bridge, where fishermen line up to catch fish each day.

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If you’re hungry, eat before reading this post. We spent more than a week in Istanbul and are confident in saying that it is one of our favorite cities in the world. There are so many things about Istanbul that we want to share; so many that writing about all of them could take weeks. That being said, we’ve decided to create a photo series dedicated to this spectacular place. For our first installment, FOOD!   (NOTE: there are many photos in this post, therefore it may take some time to load)

ÇAYTurks drink a lot tea which they call çay (pronounced chai)

“çay, çay, çay, çay” are words you will hear all over Istanbul. Locals sip Turkish tea all day long; always served very hot with 2 sugar cubes.

We stopped at a tea house in Gülhane Park which overlooks the Bosphorous River. Çay is traditionally served from two kettles, one with concentrated tea and the other with hot water.

STREET FOOD – The best restaurants in the world don’t have websites

“Fish Bread” served with lettuce, onion, lemon juice and salt. The best lunch in town for 5TL ($3 USD).

These tasty fish sandwiches are prepared on boats floating near the Galata Bridge. The fish is grilled, deboned, placed in the bread, and handed to the cashier onshore.

Once seated with fish bread, you’ll find vendors walking around offering up a variety of extras to complete your meal. These dough balls are fried, drenched in honey, and sprinkled with ground pistachios.

Mr. Foko set up his kebab stand near our hostel in Sultanahmet everyday around 6pm. He grilled up spicy chicken, meatballs or lamb and served them in bread or wraps for only 5TL. It is the best and most affordable food in this expensive area of town.

Grilled corn vendors are posted on most streets and squares in Istanbul. The ears come hot (if you insist on one fresh out of the boiling water) and heavily salted.

Mike ordering up an ear of corn outside of Topkapı Palace.

RESTAURANTS – Great local eateries off the beaten path

We vote this the most fun bread served at a restaurant. It comes straight out of the oven to your table, puffed up with air and sprinkled with tiny sesame seeds.

Each dish of hummus we had in Turkey was very unique; ranging from creamy to grainy and with a variety of spices. This photo is of one of favorites and was served with the puffy bread pictured above.

Our waiter handed Amy this knife and said “kill him.” It was a very confusing interaction. Turns out this is the traditional (or perhaps invented for tourists) way to open up Turkish pottery kebabs. Enclosed clay pots are filled with meat, vegetables and bulgur, covered with dough and put into a fire. Once ready, tapping a few times with a sword opens them right up.

Once opened, the bubbling goodness is revealed. But, watch out for chips of clay!

Possibly our favorite Turkish appetizer, çiğ köfte, is made from bulgur, tomato and dried pepper. The dish originally contained ground beef as well, but nowadays is purely vegetarian. Served with lettuce and lemon, it is a great way to start a meal.

During our second visit to Istanbul, we found a fantastic local restaurant called Hayri Usta. We tried a variety of wraps over our four meals there, and the Adana Durum pictured above was our favorite. The frothy drink is called ayran, which is yogurt water (sounds gross, but is delicious) – a must have with any Turkish meal!

DESSERT – Turkish sweets are normally taken as an afternoon pick-me-up, rather than following a meal

Beautiful and delicious pistachio pastries

Last but not least, the famous Turkish Delights. There are countless flavors of these delightful delicacies to be found all over the city with the greatest selection at the city Spice Market.

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Pamukkale literally means “cotton castle” in Turkish. Take a look at this picture and you’ll see why.

These naturally formed travertines are the result of thousands of years’ worth of calcium deposits left behind from mineral water running down the hillside. Once upon a time, Pamukkale may have been considered one of the most magical places on earth. For centuries, local Turks, and eventually tourists too, flocked here to bathe in these incredible pools filled with steaming hot water from the earth below.

How we envisioned Pamukkale….we were wrong. Image: trkaplicas.blogspot.com

Sadly, but not surprisingly, this cotton castle has been nearly loved to death. The overuse and poor preservation of the pools nearly led to their complete destruction. In the last decade, great efforts have been made to restore the travertines to their original state, but it will take many years for the constructive power of nature to complete the work.

Travertines in the early morning light

If it weren’t for the dawn arrival of our overnight bus from Cappadocia, we may have been greatly disappointed. All of the travel agencies around Turkey show you pictures of the “old” Pamukkale and conveniently forget to mention that all but a few pools are now closed for restoration. Luckily for us, we were granted entrance to the park at quarter ‘til 7 before most of the staff had even arrived. We were the first visitors in the gate and had the place completely to ourselves, except for a few stray dogs that followed in our footsteps. We began to explore some fantastic pools as we climbed our way up the travertines.

Our canine friends

Then, when we had nearly reached the top, we heard someone honking a horn and blowing a whistle.  We looked up to see a very displeased security guard waiving us off the hill. Turns out that the area we were climbing in was off limits. They normally have a guard stationed at the bottom instructing you not to climb, but we had arrived so early that he hadn’t reached his post yet. Whoops!

Mike on a quest to find the hottest pool.

Almost to the top, just before we got busted.

After making our way back to the bottom, we followed a narrow path along some man-made pools. The view of the mountains across the valley was spectacular, but the pools themselves were frankly nothing special. At the end of the trail, however, we ran into another spectacular sight: the ruins of ancient Hierapolis. During Roman times, people found the hot springs of Pamukkale to be so fantastic that it inspired the settlement of Hierapolis, which sits just above the travertine pools where the water springs to the surface.

Smoking hot travertines

We spent the remainder of our day hiking around and exploring the ruins of what must have been an enormous and wondrous city. The remnants of Hierapolis spread across a great deal of land and contained some very well restored buildings and monuments. Some of our favorite ruins are pictured below. Pamukkale is best known for the travertines, but for us Hierapolis was the highlight.

The Martyrium of St. Philip

The Theater

Main road leading into Hierapolis

All in all, our morning of accidental trespassing and archeological exploration was a great time. While we would not recommend going out of your way to visit Pamukkale (that is, until the restoration work is complete), if you happen to be traveling between Cappadocia and Ephesus, it is certainly worth stopping for half of a day.

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From the early days of planning our RTW trip, we knew that we wanted to visit Istanbul, however we didn’t know much about other destinations in Turkey. After reading an article in the New York Times, we became very interested in a region called Cappadocia.

Spring blooms in Cappadocia

While we were able to find tons of info on organized tours of Cappadocia, there was not much out there for the independent traveler. What we could find about exploring on your own suggested that the only feasible option was to rent a car. Tours are not our style, and renting a car was out of our budget; what were we to do? We caught a break when Amy’s mom sent us a link to a fantastic blog named Captivating Cappadocia. We contacted the author, and he kindly provided useful suggestions about a car-less approach to Cappadocia. Thanks Duke! Based on his advice, we decided to stay in Göreme, which proved the perfect home base for exploring the region.

Since we found it a bit difficult to plan our trip within a short time frame and on a budget, we have outlined our 4-day itinerary below so that other backpackers may use it as a reference. Keep in mind that this is one of a million different possibilities, and nearly everything can be planned after you arrive, so don’t worry!

Taking in the spectacular view from the Göreme Panorama

Before You Leave

Lodging: Do some research online before you leave and narrow it down to 2-3 places that fit your needs. Then negotiate via email for the best deal. We found that many hotels are willing to lower their rates in exchange for cash payment or multiple night stays. Also, we suggest staying in a “cave hotel” because it is fun and unique to Cappadocia; although more expensive than a hostel, it is still doable on a budget.

Our cave room!

Bus ticket: While a bus is not the fastest method of transportation, overnight buses are the most affordable way to get from Istanbul to Cappadocia. A ticket runs about 50-60TL and may be purchased from almost every travel agency in Istanbul. You should try to reserve a few days in advance as buses often fill up.

Day 1

Most overnight buses arrive in Göreme between 7:00-10:00am. Go drop off your stuff, grab a quick breakfast, and head straight to the Göreme Open Air Museum. It’s a short 1km walk from the town center and will quickly have you enchanted by the ancient cave dwellings and well-preserved rock churches.

The Göreme Open Air Museum is an ancient Christian city that consists of multiple churches, chapels and cave dwellings.

Amazingly well-preserved frescos in the Elmalı (Apple) Church

The Chapel of St. Barbara – a columned rock church

After exploring the museum, head back into town for lunch (there are tons of delicious and affordable places to choose from). Then, hike north to Çavusin. Here you will find dwellings that have been carved into the cliffs which are open to explore on your own for free.

We could have spent all afternoon exploring the caves of Çavusin.

On your way back to Göreme, detour off of the main road through Love Valley. The rock formations in this valley were some of our absolute favorites!

Pyramid-shaped fairy chimneys in Love Valley

“Fill-in-the-blank”-shaped fairy chimneys in Love Valley

As you come to the end of the Love Valley, you will arrive at the Göreme Panorama where you can catch great 360 views of the surrounding area.

Göreme Panorama – we cannot imagine what people back in the day thought when they first arrived to this incredible place.

Finish your day of hiking with a short trek back to Göreme through the fairy chimneys which sit just below the panorama.

Mike exploring one of the many fairy chimneys near Göreme

Based on this itinerary, we estimate that your legs will do about 13km of walking. So wear good shoes, and bring plenty of water. If that distance seems a bit too intense, there are plenty of bicycles, ATVs and motorbikes for rent in the area.

Day 2

Eat a big breakfast and pack some snacks before setting off on another day of hiking. This time in the Rose and Red valleys, which sit to the north-east of Göreme. Here you will find spectacularly colored rocks, high cliffs walls, and of course, more dwellings and churches carved into the tufta stone.

Pigeon coops carved into the rock cliffs of the Rose Valley

If the snacks you brought along aren’t enough, you will undoubtedly stumble upon some small outdoor cafes set up along the trail by entrepreneurial Turks.

Beautiful place for a cafe, huh?

After hiking, return to Göreme for a late lunch; then, rest with a nap in your cave hotel. When you feel rejuvenated, head to the mini-market and grab some beer or wine to enjoy while scoping the view from Sunset Hill. This viewpoint is located just a few minutes from the center of town and offers fantastic views of Göreme and the nearby valleys.

Day 3

Spend your morning exploring one of the many underground cities of Cappadocia. We suggest the town of Kaymaklı. To get there, take the bus to Nevşehir, which departs every half hour from the Göreme bus station. After arriving in Nevşehir, hop on a dolmus (mini-bus) direct to Kaymaklı. There are tour guides available, but we suggest just reading about the city before you visit and navigating the tunnels on your own. You’ll be able to explore at your own pace this way. Don’t worry, you won’t get lost and stuck inside like the Turkish guides may claim after you decline their services.

Mike ducking through a tiny passageway.

Bring a headlamp and/or flashlight with you – it will allow you to navigate through the ultra-secret parts of the underground city!

Those with claustrophobia or breathing conditions should be advised that the underground city contains many small passage ways and is quite dusty.

Visiting Kaymaklı should only take a half-day. After lunch you have more time for…you guessed it, more hiking! The Pigeon valley hike is about 4km and runs between Göreme and the nearby town of Uçhisar. It is a great way to spend the afternoon after being confined to the small spaces of the underground city.

The mushroom top cliffs of the Pigeon Valley

Day 4

After three days of hiking, we felt deserving of some relaxation. Sleep in and have a late breakfast. Most hotels will allow you to store your luggage while you enjoy your last day in Göreme. We suggest spending some time at a tea house and chatting with the owner or planning your next travel move, and then ending your visit with one final hike through the Zemi Valley.

More interestingly shaped fairy chimneys

Taking one last hike in Cappadocia through the Zemi Valley

If you are too beat to even think about hiking, there is a Hamam (Turkish bath) located right by the bus station where you can enjoy a spa day before taking another night bus out of Göreme.

This 4-day budget itinerary is definitely centered on hiking the valleys because we love hiking, hiking is free, and hiking is the best way to appreciate the natural beauty of Cappadocia. However, if your budget is a bit more flexible, the same basic plan could be modified to include an all-day tour (90-140TL) and/or hot-air balloon ride (300-450TL). Both activities come highly recommended by many people in the area. The good news is that pretty much whatever you do in Cappadocia, you are sure to have a good time.

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