When you are tired of all the most popular destinations in Europe, Turkey is just the place to discover original and memorable things to do and places to visit, far away from the madding crowd. This is a place where free spirits with a suitcase full of dreams can experience unique and unforgettable moments on a Spartan budget. When adventurous voyagers are looking to discover the quirky side of this fabulous land, the quieter months of September and October, when most cheap holidays to Turkey are available, are just perfect for their travels.
A different look at Istanbul
Just like Paris isn’t exactly the real France, Istanbul shouldn’t be taken at face value as quintessentially Turkish. It’s been around for the past 3,000 years, and it has seen its fair share of dividing and conquering, rebuilding and renewals. The result is a mish-mash of elegant Byzantine and Roman relics that soar into a dreamlike apricot skyline, ruled by the imposing domes of the Mosques. Across the city, the Bosphorus River is an unruly beast that sweeps out into the Black Sea and seems to have a life of its own. For millennia, this has been the focal point of the city for locals, with trading, recreation and daily life all trundling past on its banks and along its waters.
To make your Istanbul experience more exciting and meaningful, I recommend reading The Museum of Innocence before your departure. I read that after my last visit to Istanbul, and it made me regret the book hadn´t been out before. It will help you understand the city, its past, its culture and its people, much more profoundly.
Kakava: Rite of Passage
The Kakava festival takes place during the third weekend of May, and, while it may be already gone for this year, it’s still worth remembering when Spring comes around. The festival takes place in the city of Edirne, and it has been a legacy of the Romani people for centuries. During Kakava, the town comes alive to the sound of traditional music, dancing and an enormous bonfire that announces the arrival of summertime.
When the flames get to a certain height, young people are encouraged to jump over the fire. This is a tradition that’s believed to bring whoever crosses the fire, a blessing of good luck and fortune for the year to come, and it is also a perfect experience for devil-may-care young travellers who want to singe the hairs on their legs. Just make sure you go easy on the wine beforehand.
As day turns into night, the procession goes on: young women in ornate wedding gowns dance towards the Tunca river, with a joyous procession of musicians behind them. As the sun rises into a fairy-tale dawn, the girls splash into the water, in a ritual that symbolizes the hope and good fortune that shall come with the brighter seasons ahead.
Cappadocia: The Hidden City
Cappadocia looks as though it was created by a giant ancient artisan who tooled the volcanic rock into a holey Swiss cheese. Gigantic ‘fairy chimney’ structures are plonked onto an alien surface like Mars. Below ground, an ancient city is carved into the earth. This was the home of the ancient Hittite people 2,000 years ago, and of Christians escaping Roman marauders later on.
There is simply too much to see in Cappadocia in terms of History, Archaeology and Geology, and you shall never tire of this fantasy-land. For the most-fairy-tale-like experience of all, you can even stay at one of the houses built from the fairy chimneys.
To get a glimpse of the wonders awaiting, check out this beautiful Capadoccia slideshow.
Kars and Ani
Anyone interested in literature will jump at the opportunity to see Kars, the place that inspired Nobel-award-winning Orhan Pamuk when creating the city of Kar in his novel SNOW. The province of Kars as been in the hands of the Russians, the Ottomans and many other Empires throughout history, but one of the most fascinating and unusual sights around is Ani, the ruins of an Armenian city that was once the seat of a vast Armenian Empire. A few days in the Russia-reminiscent Kars with a day trip to Ani will make for a very different and enriching experience of Turkey, and its complex history.
It´s easy to go to Turkey for Ephesus and Pamukkale and the Bazaars of Istanbul and the delicious food on the Bosphorus` waterfront, but there is so much more to discover. Turkey is a vast country, with a rich history that has left marks of different eras and cultures all over the land. Adding one of this quirkier and more exciting experiences to your trip can make all the difference. The best season for this kind of trips is just beginning, so, pack your bags and happy travels!