Turkey’s Riviera and the City of Bodrum

Bodrum Fortress and Harbor - Turkey

As the tepid water runs across my extended fingers in the bathroom in my small Pensiyon in Bodrum I find it a fitting parallel.  The shower head is in need of a soak with most of its nozzels obscured by calcium deposits. The water itself is slowly warming to the touch, though I can’t truly tell if it is just my flesh adjusting to the luke-warm water, or if hot water has finally made its way up to the third floor of the building and to my room.

Masts in Bodrum Harbor - Turkey

The room itself is unremarkable.  Despite a higher than normal number of errant black hairs on the sheets, it is clean enough.  After a sniff to confirm that the sheets are, in fact, freshly washed (they are), I settle in.  It’s nothing special – but then again, it’s a Pensiyon in a beach town.  That’s what you would expect. At 40 Turkish Lira a night, the private room with a small Queen sized bed is a decent alternative to the local hostel, which boasted one of the lowest ratings I’ve ever seen on HostelWorld and HostelBookers.  The bed is comfortable enough, though too short for me to sleep in it normally. Luckily, I’m not sharing the bed with anyone which allows me to sleep sprawled diagonally across it.

Turkish Butcher - Bodrum, Turkey

My room seems the perfect parallel for my time in Bodrum.  I go through phases where my opinion of the city is stone cold, then others where it warms slightly, and then the occasional moment, albeit brief and fleeting, where I am hot for the city and feel tempted to advocate it and the surrounding area.  It’s not really Bodrum’s fault.  As with oh-so-many relationships it’s more that we’re just not an ideal match and that my timing is off – in this case by a matter of a few days.

The Shipwreck - Bodrum, Turkey

This city and those on the rest of the peninsula are resort cities.  They consist of overpriced restaurants  gimmicky nick nack shops, sprawling harbors full of gorgeous yachts, specially designed tourist boats, and a smattering of local fishermen’s multi-colored one-man boats.  It has a smattering of pebble beaches that ring crystal clear water that is so inviting it’s easy to forget that summer hasn’t quite yet arrived. Unfortunately, this time of year the beaches are littered with old construction materials, debris, and unattractive flotsam.

Colorful Fishing Nets - Bodrum, Turkey

The challenge is, I don’t like resort cities.  I’m not an all inclusive resort type of guy.  I also don’t like gravel beaches. I grew up on the golden sand beaches of northern Mexico and am perpetually spoiled.  I go stir crazy if i’m supposed to just sit by the pool (or seaside), drink, eat, and do nothing.  I’m a history and stimulation junky.  I need old streets to explore, pristine natural beauty, and rich culture that smacks of authenticity – not postcard-poised tomfoolery.   As a result, all of Bodrum’s greatest assets are things that I’m disinterested in and apathetic about.

Boat Sailing Sea of Flowers - Bodrum, Turkey

When deciding to head to Bodrum, I failed to realize just how new the whole area is.  It’s a resort peninsula and it is fairly obvious that most of the construction has occurred in the last 30 years.  Even today there is heavy construction to be seen everywhere.  The hills are blighted by massive white and beige scars where new developments are being dynamited into the side of the hills.   The architecture that has been used and marks the area reflects modern Turkish design which revolves around ugly squares and rectangles.  It’s an odd mash up between old soviet architecture, the nightmarish cement architectural movements in the 60s and 70s and an almost Asian influence.   On the upside, the use of whitewash on almost all the buildings does help offset their lack of character. Yet, this is far from unusual.  It’s the same in heavy resort areas all around the Mediterranean and reminds me of parts of the Costa Del Sol in Spain. It’s also perfectly in line with what a lot of people want and are drawn to.  There’s a reason Bodrum is a huge tourist destination and for what it is, it really does have a lot going for it.

Sailing at Dusk

If you peruse a history book, you’ll find that Bodrum has a rich history spanning back thousands of years.  The city sprawls around the base of an impressive, and extremely attractive crusader castle which is highly unusual and the city’s defining landmark.  The streets in the city center are white marble and boast a fair amount of greenery.  They’re not unattractive, and have a clean feel to them.  There are even a few winding alleys and old side streets that cut between them and which tease of the historic city that Bodrum is built upon.  Yet, unlike Antalya which still boasts a fairly robust old city, Bodrum’s is more or less non-existent. Its main attractions can be seen in a matter of hours, and despite boasting the ruins of one of the ancient 7 wonders of the world, all that is left is a smattering of column chunks…most of the ruin was carted off by archaeologists and by the Crusaders who built the Castle.  Bodrum knows what it is, and seems to have committed to that identity fully focusing on the water and all that is connected to it.  There are a line of old windmills that overlook the city – the type of thing that the Greeks have leveraged to great success and which could be a not-insignificant tourist attraction.  Yet, only one of them is restored, and even that is in dilapidated shape.  The rest are more ruin than windmill and in such a sad state that they’re barely worth the visit, let alone a photograph.

Castle Peacock - Bodrum Castle, Turkey

And yet, I came to Bodrum largely for the sun and it has delivered. The moments I’ve enjoyed most here have been, perhaps unsurprisingly, when the sun was out.  The sunsets are beautiful, the food is delicious, and the water…well, the water is its own attraction, even if it is still too cold to swim.  I’ve entertained myself by day wandering the city, eating, and then relished the late-afternoons which I’ve spent at small beach-front cafes enjoying a beer, smoking my pipe, watching people, and the gradual shifting shades of Aegean sunsets watched against the backdrop of castles and sailboats.  It is a fantastic way to recover and recharge after Denmark’s long and dark winter. Forcing myself to slow down and to just relax also has its benefits.  It may bore me slightly, but it is no doubt good for me.  I can feel myself finally catching up on sleep, and that my mind is sorting through and planning things that have been pushed to the side as more pressing needs draw my attentions.  I’ve even managed to finish the latest Game of Thrones book and to do some recreational reading.

Bodrum Windmills - Turkey

At night the city’s fish market turns into an intertwined and charming combination of fresh fish stalls and chaotically organized restaurant tables overflowing with Turks, Russians and Germans.  The official tourist season started April 1st – the day after I departed – which meant that all of the secondary attractions (the hamams, some restaurants,  the ferry to Rhodes, etc.) were all shut down.  The city’s nightlife was also much less than I imagine it might be during high season.  Despite how quiet the town was, I did manage a day-trip to the nearby Island of Kos which was charming, if equally sleepy. At some point I’ll have to re-visit Bodrum during high season and with friends or a romantic partner in tow.  I suspect that if I do, I’ll enjoy the city in a whole new way.  So, Bodrum – I bid you farewell … until next time.

Istanbul’s Wonderful Outdoor Markets – A Photo Essay

Outdoor Market in the Snow

Outdoor markets are fantastic.  Eclectic mixtures of goods. Vibrant colors. Strange plants and creatures on sale. The chaotic roar and hubbub of people hustling to and fro seeking goods and services.  I find the whole experience intoxicating.  So, you can no doubt imagine how excited I was to have arrived in Istanbul – a city known for its wonderful markets and home to the Grand Bazaar.

Market Snowball Fight

Unfortunately, the weather was brutal.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I arrived in the midst of the worst winter storm Istanbul (and the region) had seen in more than 25 years. The entire city was covered in snow and a lump quickly grew in my throat.  With poor weather conditions, what would I find?  Would the shop keepers close up their outdoor stands?  Would the city come to a standstill?  I needn’t have worried.   The store keepers braved the cold weather, and even paused to have some fun with it.  The entire city devolved into one massive snowball fight.

Market Snowball Fight

Some were more obvious than others opting for conventional snowballs.  While other shop keepers presented the guise of stoic calm, eyeing passerby’s casually, all the while evaluating how antic-friendly they were.  Then, with a perfectly timed but ever so subtle poke of a broom they would empty an avalanche of snow from their shop’s awning onto a passerby.   The look of smug gleeful-happiness as a snowballer scored a successful throw quickly turned to alarm, and then ever so briefly frozen terror as waves of damp snow left them covered from head to toe in fresh, damn, wet snow.  That brief look of terror never lasted long, as everyone nearby burst into laughter and the unlucky victim leapt into a comical dance trying to empty the snow from their shirt.

Fish Market in Istanbul

While the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market are the two most popular outdoor markets for tourists, the city is awash in streets dedicated to various types of goods.  These streets and semi-permanent outdoor markets offer everything from rugs and pipes to antiques fresh fruit and fish.  As a periodic fisherman and someone who had the childhood dream of being a marine biologist I always find fish markets to be one of my favorite type of outdoor market.

Fish Market in Istanbul

As I explored Istanbul my favorite market district was located on the Asian side of Istanbul in the Kadikoy district.  While it lacked the age of the Grand Bazaar and uniform structure, I found it to be a much more authentic marketplace with vendors selling real goods, at real prices to real Turks.

Fish Market in Istanbul

The fish stalls were particularly impressive boasting a wide assortment of fresh caught fish creatively displayed. In many instances the fishmongers had taken extra time to flare out the fish’s gills exposing them like a red neckerchief. While somewhat morbid when written here, the visual effect when viewing the stands in person was quite impressive.

Eels in Istanbul

Just how fresh were the fish? I think this goose-bump instilling photo of these slimy eels gives it away.   Perhaps it is their snake like appearance, but I’ve always had a hard time with eels.  I don’t mind eating them when cleaned and cooked, but seeing them alive in the wild, dead on a vendor’s stall, or even smoked or cooked whole sends a shiver down my spine.

Fish Market in Istanbul

Unfortunately, the hostel I was staying at didn’t boast a kitchen so purchasing fresh fish for dinner was off the menu.  Given the opportunity during my next visit, it’s definitely something I hope to remedy.  As I find myself sitting here writing this post, and looking back over my photos I can’t help but find my mouth watering.

Spices in Istanbul

The markets also boast wonderful herb stands wish shop-fronts overflowing with massive bags of fresh herbs and spices.   I often found myself pausing in front of these stores as much to enjoy the rich scents that surround them as to peruse their wares.

Outdoor Market in Istanbul

Fans of Mediterranean food won’t be disappointed, you’ll find stands overflowing with large tubs of different flavored grape leaves, dolmas, just bout every type of pickled vegetable you can imagine and other similar foods.

Olive Market in Istanbul

Then there are the olives stands which boast a veritable rainbow of different colored olives. After the fish stands, these are probably my favorites. Presentation is a key point of pride among many of the street vendors and it really shows in the care and thought that goes into many of the stands. It has always amazed me, especially when one considers that they set up and break down the displays every morning and evening.

Food Stand in Istanbul

While most of the stands in the area were dedicated to selling raw food and basic ingredients, there were a few that offered pre-made treats. These included things like Dolma and pickles, but also often included one of Istanbul’s local delicacies – fresh mussels stuffed with flavored rice and some of the other regional treats which were delicious, but I dare not even begin to speculate on.

While I’ll only mention them briefly in this post, two other must visit destinations are the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market (see footage from both in the video above).  The Grand Bazaar is a warren of small covered streets (more than 60) that boasts some 3,000 shops and dates back to the mid 1400s.  While the Grand Bazaar is heavily touristy, it is still possible to find some great antique shops and a fun venue for a bit of shopping.  In response to heavy demand and traffic the Bazaar has slowly taken over the surrounding area where you’ll find slightly more affordable shops, small eateries, and wonderful chai tea houses.   These market streets stretch down and toward the old Spice Market and the market sprawl which has sprung up surrounding the Yeni Mosque.   While significantly smaller than the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market (also called the Egyptian Bazaar) is a long L shaped building which dates back to the mid 1600s.  It serves as home to a number of traditional spice vendors with multi-colored spice displays, as well as a number of dessert and lamp stands.  You’ll find that the Spice Market is fun to walk through, but tends to be extremely pricey and feels somewhat touristy.

Carpet Market

Istanbul is an incredible market city, overflowing with vendors and a wonderful mixture of goods. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find a street market in Istanbul with vendors eager to share their wares with you. Make sure to set aside at least a day or two to explore the city’s wonderful markets and as you do so, make sure to venture beyond the main markets and into the city’s more authentic districts.

Enjoy your visit! Amazing scents, sights, and sounds await!

Three Fantastic Places To Eat in Istanbul


Istanbul is a vibrant city full of surprises. One of those surprises is the food. With a decent exchange rate for most North Americans and Europeans it is possible to eat like a king in Turkey on a relatively reasonable budget. As a budget traveler visiting from Denmark where food is ridiculously expensive I decided to splurge a bit. Luckily for me, I was able to connect with a good friend who had already scouted out the city. He introduced me to three restauraunts which were absolutely delightful!  Prices for these meals averaged between 20 Turkish lira ($11 USD) and 30 Turkish lira ($17 USD) with a drink. While far more expensive than the 3 lira ($1.70 USD) kebabs which were available, for what we got, the price was a bargain compared to other European destinations.

Ciya - Great Eats

Ciya Restaurant – Asian Side

Pronounced Chia, this delightful restaurant is located on the Asian side of Istanbul about five minutes from the main ferry dock.  A series of several restaurants, Ciya‘s claim to fame is its amazing regional delicacies from throughout Turkey.  Concerned that traditional foods were being lost, or were unavailable outside their native region, the founder of the restaurant set out to catalog and share Turkey’s rich (and incredibly diverse) culinary palate with Istanbul’s natives and visitors alike.  The relatively small restaurant’s walls are decorated with articles from many of the world’s top food columns offering high praise for the freshness, variety and flair of the Turkish food the restaurant offers.

Turkish Cuisine - Istanbul

Despite displaying food in a semi-buffet style format it is all extremely fresh and cooked on the spot in an open kitchen located right as you enter the eating area. Situated across from the stoves and a wide variety of warm foods the staff has set up a cold food buffet with a wonderful mixture of fresh greens and rich Turkish deserts.

Turkish Cuisine - Istanbul

In addition to being fresh, all of the food is awash in color and well presented. Eager to dive in we cast off our jackets, scarves, gloves, hats, and gear (It had been snowing all day) and started to make the difficult decisions about what to eat. The way this restaurant works is based on weight. You pick what you want to sample from the wide variety of choices available, and then a waiter or waitress will weigh it before delivering it to your table.

Turkish Cuisine - Istanbul

As our selections arrived at our table Galen and I quickly realized we had run out of room. The only solution? To dive in and start eating! Despite the time of year (February) ingredients were fresh, the veggies were crisp, and each dish offered distinct flavor and a wide variety of tastes from the sharp sweet-tartness of pomegranate seeds mixed with green olives to the smoother taste of stuffed eggplant. The restaurant boasted a great mixture of local business people and tourists which maintained its relaxed and enjoyable ambiance.

Turkish Cuisine - Istanbul

We rounded out our meal with a complimentary spiced tea with crushed almonds.  It had a rich sweet flavor and absolutely intoxicating aroma. Drinking it was a little bit of a challenge as is usually the case when drinking something with a bit of a crunch – but it served as the perfect preparation before we suited back up and dove into the arms of the waiting snow flurries.

Turkish Cuisine - Istanbul

Istanbul Culinary Institute

Located just around the corner from Galata Tower, Istanbul’s Culinary Institute is an absolute delight.  With a very clean/modern design and layout it has a fun but quirky ambiance.  We ducked in for dinner and despite my initial apprehension over what I expected to be expensive food and tiny portions, I was pleasantly surprised.  Be forewarned that the restaurant has limited seating so grabbing a table in high season may be difficult. While the individual plates were reasonably priced, the wine tended to be expensive by city standards.  They also offered a set menu which looked fantastic, but was also more on par with the pricing you would expect in this style and genre of restaurant.

Turkish Cuisine - Istanbul

Did I mention that the decorations were entertaining?  Perhaps I should have said slightly disturbing.  While we got a good laugh and solid head tilt out of the artwork on the walls, it may be a bit over the top for some diners.  Especially those who lean towards a vegan disposition. As an interesting side note, all of the diners in the restaurant appeared to be American.  I heard the gentlemen at the table next to us (what appeared to be a group of American politicos from Washington DC) declare that he had been told the trip to Istanbul was worth it for the food at the Institute alone.  High praise indeed!

Turkish Cuisine - Istanbul

I honestly don’t recall what exactly I ordered.   If memory serves, it was a mixed stew that combined lamb and chicken.This is what arrived and I can tell you that it was delicious, if not earth shattering.  The broth was delicious, the potatoes wonderful, the onions sweet as candy.  The chicken was tender and flavorful, however the lamb was nowhere to be found.  Given it was one of the specials they were offering that evening I’m unsure if it just didn’t make it onto the plate or I misunderstood and the offering was lamb OR chicken stew. Regardless, I obviously was happy enough with what arrived that I couldn’t be bothered to seek clarification.

Turkish Cuisine - Istanbul

This was one of the evening’s other specials.  It was an interesting mixture of tortilla, fresh fruit and meats. The combination was the type you would never expect to work well when read aloud on paper, but which makes for a delicious combination in practice.  As an interesting and random side note – I tried putting a banana in a stew once (similarly inspired), unfortunately that didn’t turn out anywhere near as well as the succulent treat the Culinary Institute prepared for us. Perhaps that’s why I’m a travel blogger and not a world class chef.   But to get back on topic – portions are as shown in the pictures so plan accordingly.  For those looking for a fun and tasty evening on the town – definitely consider Istanbul’s Culinary Institute as an option.  That said, I don’t think I’d fly all the way from D.C. just to try it out – the hole in the walls around Istanbul have much more enticing culinary surprises for those with the time and energy to ferret them out.

Turkish Cuisine - Istanbul

Ficcin – Istiklal Avenue

Located on one of the many side streets that splinters off of Istiklal Avenue, Ficcin is an interesting restaurant that occupies a series of small store spaces along the street. Waiters duck in and out moving from one restaurant location to another.  As you can see in the photo below the small location we were in only had room for three tables and a small bar.  The kitchen was located just around the corner. This added quirk definitely ads to Ficcin’s charm.  As far as I can tell there’s no real difference from room (location?) to room, so find one that has a free table and have at it!

Turkish Cuisine - Istanbul

The food was largely traditional Istanbul cuisine. The menu was in Turkish so deciphering just what exactly was offered was a bit of a challenge, but there seemed to be a wide assortment of options conveniently priced so that you could easily combine several  into a meal that perfectly suited your mood.

Turkish Cuisine - Istanbul

One of the things I absolutely love about Mediterranean countries is their usage of rice.  While plain rice with a touch of salt and butter is great, mixed rice or flavored rice served as a stuffing is something I can eat until I lapse into a food coma.  I opted for a mixture of stuffed vegetables, though which vegetables I ended up with I’m not exactly sure.  I believe one was a tomato, two were eggplant, and as for the third? No idea.  They were delicious and every bite was loaded with flavor.  The biggest problem I ran into was forcing myself to take small bites.

Turkish Cuisine - Istanbul

For a bit of added substance I accompanied my stuffed surprises with a bowl of beans and lamb.  Apparently beans are one of the things that Istanbul is famous for.  As a result, you’ll find varied been dishes on many of the menus around the city.  It is even possible to find restaurants that specialize specifically in bean dishes.  A bit unusual as a flagship food, but after sampling a variety of different bean plates, one I’ll happily look forward to on my next visit.  This particular dish had a slight kick to it which spiced up the flavor of the beans and highlighted the lamb chunks which were tender and melted apart at the light touch of my fork.

Istanbul is a wonderful culinary city with a wide variety of ethnic foods and flavors.  The prices are reasonable, the food is almost always brilliantly presented and awash in flavor. It is also an extremely lactose-intolerant friendly city.  So, if like me, you have trouble with moderate-high levels of dairy don’t fret!  You’ll find lots to eat!  I hope you enjoy your visit, and that this post has ignited your curiosity – or dare I say hunger – for Turkish cuisine.

Have a favorite place or dish you discovered during a visit to Istanbul?  I’d love to hear about it!