When your heart is broken and you can’t figure out what’s next – you should book a trip to Turkey.
On the morning of my flight to Turkey I woke up feeling like I couldn’t go through with the trip. I had separated from my partner of 10 years just a few months earlier. A family member had passed away the week before. Work, which had been filled with excitement, growth and opportunity, felt like it was changing. Canceling my flight to Istanbul seemed like a good idea. Tears were close as I waited in the rain and got into the back of an Uber to Toronto’s airport. After boarding was complete, I questioned why I had even gotten on the plane.
When we touched down, the usual anticipation of being in a new place never came. I had arrived, and I felt broken and incapable of picking up the pieces. It took 24 hours, a few Turkish meals, and meeting the first of many welcoming locals before I started to feel okay. By the time my sister arrived to meet me in Istanbul the next day, I began to feel excited. And by the end of my Turkey Encompassed trip, I’d become convinced that Turkey is the best destination for the broken-hearted.
There is nothing quite like a Turkish sunset when you’re single to remind you that life is beautiful, regardless of your Facebook relationship status.
Turkey is sure not short on magnificent displays by the sun. My sunset highlights? In Istanbul, crossing the Galata Bridge – fishermen lined up, ferries crossing back and forth, the sky lit up pastel pink, and cats rubbing up against your ankles. And, of course, at a rooftop patio with a glass of wine, followed the next night at the highest edge of an ancient theatre in Kaş.
The best sunset of all those I captured was when walking the cottony pools at Pammukale. Steam was rising from the natural hot springs. Families were sitting taking it all in, soaking their feet. Paragliders were drifting over the ancient ruins and down the limestone formations. In October when I was there, sunset is early in the day. This works really well to have candlelit group dinners on outdoor patios and still be in bed before midnight.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you they love Turkish coffee. They can’t possibly have taste buds. What is wonderful in Turkey is black tea, or in Turkish – çay.
Çay is wonderful. Iconic glass cups in the shape of an hourglass are served to you handle-less and piping hot. The cup of çay sits on a tiny white saucer with blue or red designs. I mostly ignored the sugar, but there are always two cubes individually wrapped in paper if that is more to your taste.
Regardless, çay goes with everything. Sip it slowly on a lazy Istanbul morning while kittens run around your table. Drink çay following lunch. Use çay to warm you up on a cold Beypazzari afternoon as you wait for your hotel key. Following dinner, two cups of çay are appropriate. While the rain falls heavily in Antalya, drink çay. Add another two or three cups over a late night game of Backgammon.
Çay is made in a double boiler, where you take 1/3 condensed black tea, and then you add 2/3 hot water to make it drinkable.
You’re not a crazy cat lady if the cats come to you, right? Turkey, but especially Istanbul and Selçuk, have more outdoor cats roaming the city streets than what I have seen in any other country to date.
From a cardboard box of tiny kittens that curiously ventured out to climb over me while I was drinking çay, to an old tom cat with battle scars protecting his corner of the street – there are cats everywhere. They seemingly belong to no-one but also everyone at the same time. To feed them, bowls of water and food can be seen outside – everywhere from wine bars to the broken columns of Ephesus.
It is particularly delightful to sit down outside to a delicious plate of deep fried anchovies, and throw the tails to the cats waiting expectantly around your feet.
If you’ve heard of the famous Turkish baths and felt uneasy over the idea of a stranger scrubbing and massaging you down as you’re naked in a room full of other naked strangers – fair enough, but don’t be. One of my favourite experiences in Turkey was visiting the Kiliç Ali Pasa Hamami. The cost is around 200 Turkish Lyra and the day here is split: women in the morning with female attendants, men in the evening with male attendants.
Your experience starts in a peaceful, open room. Built in 1580, the ceiling is a giant dome, and the dusty pink stones have held it up for centuries. This main foyer is lined on three sides with white lounges and green pillows. First, you sip sorbet before being led to change into a towel and sandals, removing all your clothing except your underwear. Lead by an attendant, you enter their huge sauna, a domed room lined with heated grey marble. They start you off with a healthy dousing of hot water head to toe, and then you lie down on a heated marble hexagon big enough to fit at least 10 people. Your left to sweat for 20 minutes or so, staring up at the white domed ceiling.
Your attendant eventually comes back, and leads you into an alcove surrounding the hexagon. There’s more hot water, and this time, soap. She scrubs you head to toe with a glove rough enough to peel the dead layers of skin off. Then she uses a thin cloth case that’s been soaked in soapy water, fills it with air, and squeezes it quickly above you to cover you in layers of warm, soft, delightful foam. This is followed by a back and shoulder massage and yet more bubbles. She shampoos your hair and rinses you off completely. Finally, she leads you out of the sauna, into a much colder side room and wraps you up in a series of Turkish bath towels.
The bath is over (sadly you’re only supposed to have one every 3-4 weeks). Time to drink some çay.
I’m not usually one to get excited at visiting “the most photographed site” in a country. This always means elbowing your way through hundreds of tourists to get a photo. Maybe for a few minutes you’ll get an uninterrupted view of the jaw-dropping place you’re all here to see.
But when it comes to Pammukale, arrive with a plan and you’ll be fine. My advice is to go late in the day, a few hours before sunset. When you arrive, there will still be the typical 50 passenger coach buses lining the parking lot, and thousands of people wandering around. With thousands of selfie sticks. You’ve been warned. The Cleopatra Pools are worth the second ticket purchase and this is the best place to start. Give yourself at least an hour here. There are lockers for a small fee and change rooms to put on your swimsuit (don’t forget to bring your own towel).
The water is heated naturally from the never-ending thermal springs of mineral-rich water that continuously flow out of the pool and down the hill to create the massive white limestone formations you can see photos. Natural minerals in the water cause bubbles to form on your skin, which you can shake off every few minutes and watch float to the surface. Really, it’s like you’re swimming in a giant glass of San Pellegrino. Since it requires some foresight into bringing bathers and towels, the pool was virtually empty when I was there.
Once you dry off and change, head down the cottony white formations. By now it’s twilight, and the rocks are lighting up in a warm golden glow, eventually turning pink and back to white once the sun has completely set.
In my case our Local Leader, Süleyman, called our driver and he met us at the bottom of the hill so we didn’t need to hike back up to the parking lot. Believe the hype about Pammukale. It’s the best.
Turkish “pancakes” or “gözleme” as they’re known locally, makes for the most delightful lunch. And it’s carb-heavy enough to keep you full until dinner.
It starts with balls of floured dough, rolled out onto a large round surface until paper thin. Next, you can choose a variety of ingredients – cheese, spinach or Swiss chard, maybe onions, and if you’re lucky, a bit of mince meat.
The round dough and ingredients are folded over each other until the giant circular dough becomes a manageable rectangle the size of a plate. Typically basted in oil or butter, the gözleme is slapped onto a metal dome over a wood fire. It is fried and flipped until the dough has cooked, and finally removed from the heat once the cheese has melted completely.
Gözleme is served cut into manageable pieces, and ideally eaten with your fingers. I love it with a healthy sprinkle of dried red chilis and an ice-cold Efes beer.
When your heart is broken, you should fill your body with carbs. Duh.
The Mediterranean Sea
There are few things on Earth that can be classified as more relaxing than a day on the Mediterranean Sea.
I adore feeling weightless, floating in the salt water. My ears are submerged, blocking out almost everything except the sound of the waves echoing as they lap against my body. My toes are pointed, my arms wide open, and my face toward the sun.
In Kaş, I spent my 9-5 on a small boat, hosted by the loveliest duo. They piloted the ship for our Intrepid group of nine and cooked up one of the most beautiful lunches of the tour with an electric burner and a charcoal BBQ.
There are frequent swim stops around the islands and the salt water is healing. ‘Postcard perfect’ and ‘crystal clear’ don’t even do this area justice.
Some stops even have Roman ruins when you get to the beach. Others have castles – you can hike to the top and get dondurma (ice cream) at the end.
If you’re not already convinced, the water is the temperature of a warm bath. You will cruise past cities sunk in earthquakes and there is wine on the boat. So do yourself a favour and spend at least one day on the Mediterranean.
You know those photos of hundreds of hot air balloons, majestically floating over sunrise-lit rock formations? Yeah, that’s Cappadocia. Or Kapadokya as it’s spelled locally.
Cappadocia refers to a region in Central Anatolia. On my trip we stayed in the town of Gorëme, which is a delightful little place.
There is no reason you shouldn’t add on this bucket list adventure and life highlight unless you are terrified of heights. Yes, I’m talking about a hot air balloon ride here. You wake up at the pleasant hour of 3am in order to arrive on-site before sunrise. It’s so cold you can see your breath in the air but there is plenty of çay to warm you up while you wait at the central office.
We were up to join hundreds of people by 4am, drifting up to see the sky go from dark to light over the unique landscape that is Cappadocia.
This was my first time in a hot air balloon, and as someone who loves flying I quite literally have no words to adequately describe this experience. Do it for the ‘gram. Or to feel in awe of the earth. You choose.
In good company
Finally, there’s a lot to be said about the people you travel with and the people you meet while traveling.
There were other Canadians. Ones who live less then 60kms away from me, ones I’d never have met otherwise. Then there were the incredible women from New Zealand who have traveled the world and have fascinating stories. I loved hearing about their Māori cultural traditions.
There are lessons to be learned from everyone as you come together from all over the world to participate in this two-week shared experience.
I don’t think it’s a secret that Intrepid hires incredible local guides. Süleyman is one of the best local leaders I’ve ever had. His knowledge of the history and culture of Turkey blew all of us away. He was generous, kind and completely dedicated to ensuring we all had the very best and most memorable holiday.
The people you meet are also good reminders that you might be single now, but you are never really alone. Traveling with others and with a local guide means you’ll be immersed into the culture and will be led through the county in a way that’ll change the way you see the world.
You will leave as friends.
So let’s end on this note. Turkey Encompassed is just wonderful. You should probably go.
For more incredible trips in Turkey, check out Intrepid’s range of small group adventures there.
(All images c/o the very talented Chloe O’Brien.)