The frenetic congestion of Istanbul stands in stark contrast to the serene natural beauty of the Turquoise Coast in southern Turkey. Invited by a friend I met on the Camino in Spain, we set off to hike 50km of a 500km trail called the Lycian Way. The trail winds along the coast, allowing access to blue waters and breathtaking vistas.
Having experienced both the congested streets of Istanbul and tiny rural villages of the Lycian Way, I headed by bus to Bulgaria to explore the ancient cities of Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo, but that's another story...
Istanbul spans the divide between Europe and Asia. A bustling city of over 14 million, it overwhelms the senses with a cacophony of sounds, smells and sights. Colorful and exotic, I set off to explore that which the twisting streets could reveal.
Five times a day, the city echoes with the call to prayer, trumpeted from the minarets dotting the skyline. The mosques are open to anyone, requiring only proper attire for entry - no shoes, covering your knees and shoulders, and a head covering for women. The detailed tile work of the Blue Mosque was extraordinary and inspiring.
A mix of camping and staying in small villages, the journey also affords the opportunity to interact with locals selling meals and a place to stay. A traditional meal of cucumbers, tomatoes, a dish made with okra, white cheese, rice, yogurt and a crepe-like bread is often the available fare. They also build sleeping platforms where you can spend the night under much-needed, but often inadequate, mosquito netting. Friendly and hospitable, the Turks are excellent hosts always wanting to share a bit of their culture and learn about where you are from.
On the second morning of our hike, we awoke to a dog hanging out in our camp. He insisted on joining us on the trail. An Australian Shepard, he had one blue eye and one brown eye. He had a collar, but no owner was around. We tried to dissuade him, but he was set on following us for the 17km we walked that day. He even joined us for a nap we took in the mid afternoon. I misheard Tina say "olive" in her German accent, so Olaf was his name. He had a bad habit of chasing goats, and eventually we parted company when we got to the village at the end of the day.
In addition to the numerous mosques, the city also offers ruins dating back to the Byzantine Empire. Built in the 6th century with the labor of over 7,000 slaves, the Basilica Cistern is a subterranean structure capable of storing over 100,000 tons of water. The roof is supported by 336 marble columns, and a visit provides a welcome reprieve from the intense heat of the day.
The streets of Istanbul are alive with vendors selling roasted chestnuts, colorful graffiti, musicians, the smell of burning shisha, and a seemingly endless stream of humanity shopping and eating. At night, the streets remained packed, even at 3 in the morning. Red lanterns are lit along the powerful Bosphorus river, carrying wishes into the night sky.
On the fourth day, we arrived at the end of our hike. It was extremely hot and we were excited to get into the waters of Patara beach. It stretches nearly 18km and is a nesting site for sea turtles. The hike was a difficult one - lots of loose rock and steep descents. The sun was unrelenting, but we were rewarded with sweeping views of the coast, access to authentic villages dotting the hillside, and refreshing blue waters.