“From a very young age, I suspected there was more to my world than I could see…” -Orhan Pamuk
On my third full day in Istanbul, I decided to go see the Palaces. There are two main palaces in the city: Topkapı and Dolmabahçe.
Now, I had changed hostels the day before. It wasn’t because I disliked my first hostel, I actually found the place to be rather comfortable and quiet but because Turkey was my last stop I wanted to be sure to meet other travelers before heading home and my first hostel was just a little too quiet. The second hostel I stayed in was so bustling it took a miracle to get any work in inch-wise yet I managed to catch a break and was able to get directions from the front desk receptionist.
He checked to make sure the Topkapı Palace would be open and suggested I go see Dolmabahçe first since it would probably take the least amount of time to see and it closed earlier than Topkapı. Both Palaces were on opposite sides of the city (or what felt like opposite sides of the city because Istanbul is HUGE). All packed up and ready to roll, I headed out to start my day.
Dolmabahçe palace was beautiful. In a world surrounded by cascading buildings stacked one on top of the other, the palace feels like a European delicacy. For the small fee of 35 tons of gold (5 million Ottoman gold pounds), the palace was built in 1843 through the orders of the 31st Sultan of the Empire
It was built to resemble the great palaces of Europe. It was home to 6 Sultans and became the primary presidential residence of the first president of the Turkish Republic in 1924 to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. This is how the palace got it’s nickname of the “Palace of the Republic”.
Unfortunately, like all the best places I went to view, no photos are allowed.
So here are some from online:
Per Islamic custom, women and men were never gathered together in social settings. The prestigious women of the monarchy were allowed to view the party from a private space. The architecture used here was rather impressive, which is why I need to note it. They take you to view the hall the women would stand (these women included wives of the Sultan and the Sultan’s mother), through a screen the party could be easily viewed. Yet, from below in the main hall, only shadows could be seen of the people behind the screen. This is due to the parallel window of the same shape and size on the opposite side of the hallway allowing outside light in the corridor.
Equally impressive, the palace has over 14 tons of gold used to decorate the ceilings in gold leaves.You also get to wear cute little shoe covers made of plastic bags while inside that make a fantastic crunching noise with every step you take on your tour.
Later that day, I made my way over to the Topkapı palace, where I was stopped by some guards who informed me the palace was closed that day. Apparently, Tuesdays in Turkey for museums are like Mondays for restaurants in America, and it happened to be Tuesday.
Disappointed, I needed to figure out a game plan. So I did what I do best: wandered.
I wandered back to the Bosporus and ended up getting on a ferry. Destination: Asia.
Pro tip: Only buy your ferry coins at the ferry dock where the ferry takes off. If you don’t do this, you may be stuck with a coin that won’t work for the ferry you want to ride. I learned this the hard way. (P.S. Turkey uses a coin system for it’s public transportation system instead of a paper system like most others. Subway and Trams use a red plastic coin, ferries use an aluminum-kind of coin. There are also re-loadable scanning cards you can purchase, but I never figured out where the heck that purchase took place).
After reaching the much less thrilling Asian side of Istanbul, I took a rest and ate a nice hearty meal of chicken shawarma, chocolate cake, and tea.
It was at this restaurant I decided to take a chance and email I couple of places I had researched the day before. I had been encouraged by a couple of people at the hostels to go out of Istanbul and go see either Cappadocia or Pamukkale. I would have loved to see both – but they are both equally 8 hours from Istanbul and 8 hours from one another, so a day trip was not exactly feasible.
I decided to take a chance and go with Pamukkale. I looked up traveling to and from there and found a tourist group that would pick you up from your hotel, take you to the airport, fly you from Istanbul to Pamukkale (or really, the airport that’s closest to Pamukkale in Denizli Çardak), then drive me to Pamukkale where I’d have a guided tour, meals, free time, and then be given a ride back to the airport, a flight back to Istanbul, and a ride back to my hostel all in one day!
The cost? Roughly $200. I decided to take a chance and email two companies about the possibility of taking this adventure the next day.
And guess what? I got a yes.
Because of the last minute request, the cost went up by about $50 but I didn’t care, I booked it within the hour.
So I hoped on the ferry back to the European side, watched the prettiest sunset, climbed to the top of Galata tower (built in 1348), and then went out to eat with some of my hostel roommates.
Here’s where my decisions begin to become questionable.
It was still fairly early, so I decided to call upon my new friend I met the night before for a drink (So, the friend of the friend of the guy I met in Vienna – Got it? Good.). I then preceded to stay out until 3 in the morning.
Oh, here’s what I didn’t tell you: I had a 6 am flight to Pamukkale. And my driver was picking me up at about 3:45 am for some awful reason. Oh, and I hadn’t packed. Oh, and by the time I got back to the hostel, I didn’t even have time to shower or brush my teeth. I basically threw my contact solution, glasses, a jacket, my phone charger and camera, in a bag and was whisked away to the airport.
Pamukkale (Cotton Palace)
After going through the quickest security I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering, I grab some treats then took a nap because I had arrived there so early for my flight (Don’t worry, I set an alarm!). I was honestly in a droggy state all the way from Istanbul to Pamukale, getting sleep on and off between transports.
I apparently was the only one taking this adventure on a Wednesday in March. I got my own private van, and breakfast. I was giddy at the idea of the possibility of a private guided tour since I seemed to be the only outsider in the whole city. But alas, there were about 6 of us in the tour group. Two of which were this darling Australian couple that I hit it off with almost immediately.
As part of the tour, we went to Karahayıt, a neighboring town with an iron mineral water fountain (which gives the stones it flows on a nice red rust color), the ancient city of Hierapolis as well as the Pamukkale Naturel Lake and Park.
So why Pamukkale? Well, for starters, this:
I know it’s misleading, but that’s not snow. It’s a mountainside that’s white due to the mineral water that flows on it. The water is filled with calcium and when it’s drying it turns into tavertine, giving off that great white color.
It’s like something you’d find on another planet.
Like most days, it was foggy and overcast so much of the surrounding mountains were covered in a haze but that didn’t take away from the magnificence of the spring.
Pamukkale began as the city of Hierapolis. The natural minerals found in the area are abundant (clearly) and ancient peoples recognized this. The city started as a spa town and was overtaken by the Romans in 133 BC. It flourished under Roman rule. A great canal system was built in order to transfer thermal water from the city to surrounding areas – even areas up to 70 km (43 miles) away!
People would have to go straight to the bathhouse located in the center of the city, as soon as they arrived. This was due to the belief people needed to be clean in the city that was considered sacred. Ancient Greco-Roman Hierapolis was a mecca for the ill. They would come to bath in the therapeutic thermal waters hoping their ailments would be healed.
The theater that still stands is still used for performances drawing thousands of people. Yet, excavation and restoration is still going on.
Suffering from destruction of multiple earthquakes and erosion, the ruins of Hierapolis were buried for some time. There were even hotels built upon it’s ruins catering to the tourism industry up until the 1960’s when they were demolished in order to preserve the travertine.
While eating breakfast earlier that day, one of men at the restaurant shared a book with me about the history of Pamukkale. It read, “In spite of the doubtful merits of present-day developments, and in spite of all the ugly building construction that has taken place, the seething crowds, the noise and pollution, one can still confidently assert that Pamukkale has lost nothing of its former attractions.” Whoever wrote that was mighty bitter about the tourist industry.
My guide told me during the summer last season there were over 10,000 people that visited Pamukkale and it’s pools in one day. When I was there, I don’t believe there were more than 20 people wandering in the pools. It was wonderfully quiet in my wonderland.
I was fed a late lunch with my group, and then we were taken to a tourism office where I waited to be taken back to the airport.
I was offered more tea, per Turkish tradition.