On Tour: Turkey & Athens, Greece

Earlier this year, I said the travel blogs would be coming back with a bang this year and as promised, here’s another travel blog. I’m really making up for lost time here since I haven’t been able to travel much, if at all in the last two years. As always in my On Tour series, I’ll be chronicling my trip and sharing pictures of things I saw and things I ate. Since I’m a vegan and a classic rock fan, my travel blog posts are something that you might enjoy if you’re a vegetarian/vegan or love buying vinyl and vintage clothing like I do! Without further ado, let’s talk about the trip!

Why travel to Turkey and Greece?

I went with my parents and my brother because they planned a big Mediterranean trip to celebrate my brother’s graduation from university. Congratulations to him! Since I couldn’t join them for the whole trip, I decided to join them in the countries I wanted to visit most, both new ones for me, Turkey and Greece. In 2020, right as the world was starting to lock down, my parents travelled all over Europe and they went to Athens and loved it so much they wanted to come back, so it wasn’t their first time there, but it was for me! My brother had a Turkish friend in secondary school and he was fascinated with the country because of him.

My parents are very fast paced travellers and they want to see it all as quickly as possible and pack as much into their trip as they humanly can, which makes for some positives and negatives. The positive is seeing lots of things and really maximising your trip, but the negative is it’s exhausting packing, repacking, and hopping on planes, trains, and automobiles. There’s not much downtime and I couldn’t even update social media as much as I’d like to share what I’m doing on my trip. Normally, I post things on Instagram a lot, but this time I couldn’t because I was so tired at the end of each day and running on little sleep. It was like Birthright all over again. Still, I had a lot of fun!

Days 1-3: Antalya

Antalya is a city of about 1 million people on the southwest coast of Anatolia, on the Turkish Riviera. It’s a popular holiday destination. It’s very busy at night and a big change of pace for me since where I live, everything’s dead by 6 or 7 PM. There are many cafes with outdoor seating and lots of restaurants, mostly Turkish or Middle Eastern food, so not the most variety. Hope you like kebabs, pide, gozleme, kofte, dolma, baklavas, lentil soup, and simit. Don’t forget to have tea and coffee here. Keep in mind that it’s different from tea and coffee back home – stronger and smaller portion, and you can’t get takeaway. Below, you can find some of the meals I ate while in Antalya:

And if you’re a vegan or even just a vegetarian, good luck! Meat is a huge staple in the cuisine so you might find that vegetarian food isn’t as filling, because it’s often the same dish but with no meat. I found that the food was a bit same-y, so if you’re going outside of Istanbul, you’re not going to find as much variety, and even in Istanbul, I wouldn’t say it’s the most vegan friendly place I’ve been to. Just being honest. Now, vegan and vegetarian readers, what Turkey lacks as far as food options, it more than makes up for it in scenery and who can forget the many cats you’ll see all over the place? If you’re a cat person like me, you’re going to love this!

Most of what we did here was organised tours, so the first one was a waterfall and city tour with lunch. We saw a couple of waterfalls, which were beautiful and at one of them we walked around a park and saw some dogs. Of course, because my dad, brother, and I love dogs, we pet some of the dogs. Then we went to another waterfall, which was in this park and we walked around there and even walked into a cave behind the waterfall. There was also a part of the park with bats, but you couldn’t go inside, understandably. Still would have been cool to see bats because they’re one of my favourite animals. After that, we had lunch at a kebab place and the tour was very accommodating to vegans and I had a vegan pide and some salad. This was definitely one of the better meals I had in Turkey. The original plan for this tour was to take us to the cable car that goes up the mountain, but because of the wind, we couldn’t do that so we went on a boat ride, which I thought was quite nice and I think you get a lot better pictures and from more vantage points than a cable car.

There’s also a lot of history in Antalya. Right across from where we were staying was Hadrian’s Gate, an arch built during the Roman Empire, so long ago! The city was walled and this was one of the entrance gates. It was only rediscovered in 1817! There were some bronze letters found near the gate, but these have all gone to different museums, so you can’t see them in their original place (one of those arguments for why museums ought to return artefacts to the original countries, but that’s a topic for another time). To me, an American (who has lived most of their adult life outside of America), it still blows my mind seeing things this historic, especially juxtaposed with newer buildings.

The next day, my brother and I went on a whitewater rafting/ziplining/ATV trip, while my parents went on a Jeep Safari. The difference between the two trips as far as organisation was night and day and the first time I really noticed that language barrier is a real issue when travelling around Turkey. Not complaining, as I went to a country where I don’t speak the language, so it’s to be expected that not everyone will speak English. As I’ve said before in my Israel and Eastern Europe travel blogs, the experience gives some perspective because it puts me in the shoes of non-English speakers who visit America, like my Venezuelan family. Luckily for my Venezuelan family, we can help them! I hope one day to travel to Japan, it’s one of my biggest dreams, but I’d make sure I go with a tour group for sure for all the practical things (like food, I can’t risk getting sick by eating animal products since I’ve gone so long without eating them). Anyway, because the tour had people from all over the world (Turkey’s quite a popular holiday destination especially for Russians since it’s one of the few countries in Europe they can go to visa free), there wasn’t really much speaking at all because there’d be a lot of languages to cover and instructions needed to be given over and over again. Still though, I wish there was better communication so we could find out what was going on. The drive to the river was quite long and we got to see some fancy resorts and even Turkey’s version of Six Flags, The Land of Legends. We stopped at a rest stop with a cafe along the way, but there was no communication that this was only a rest stop, so some people ordered teas and coffees (and in Turkey takeaway coffee and tea isn’t really a thing) and even food in some cases, but after 10 minutes they were told to get back in the van. Very confusing. When we finally got to the river for white water rafting, there was a long wait in the heat and there was confusion about who would be in what group and how the excursion would work and hardly any communication at all. Even the communication about the cost of the excursion wasn’t clear and there was conflicting information and the place tried to charge us more for certain things. When we finally go our equipment and drove to the river, we were waiting for a bit and then unexpectedly they queued us up in front of the river and we were told to basically jump into the freezing water like a conga line. As soon as I fell into the water, I was in shock because the water was so cold but the weather was really hot. I could barely move and I was panicking, even though I’m a decent enough swimmer. Thank goodness we had lifejackets on! Then we walked to another part of the river, where we got on the raft and started paddling down the river. Once we got in the raft, the water wasn’t so bad and the paddling wasn’t so strenuous. Not the tour’s fault, but for some odd reason my eyes were constantly watering and I was squinting pretty much the entire trip, so it put a bit of a damper on what’s supposed to be a fun outing. As part of the tour, we had some lunch and to be quite honest, vegetarians would be left hungry. The vegetarian/vegan option was cold spaghetti and whatever salad was there. If you eat meat, you were fine, but the vegetarian option was kind of a joke, to be honest.

The last day in Antalya we were on our own and we walked around the marina in Antalya. It’s beautiful! Lots of little shops and restaurants near the water and of course cats too!

Days 4-5: No Cap(padocia)

Cappadocia is another popular destination to travel to in Turkey, located in central Anatolia. It’s really a unique landscape, but I’d say there are some similarities between it and the Badlands in South Dakota and Joshua Tree National Park in California. If you’re going to Turkey, you gotta go to Cappadocia. Great photoshoot location. Beautiful scenery. Lots of unique experiences like staying in cave hotels. And don’t miss the hot air balloon ride! Here’s hoping that when you visit the weather is cooperative and you can view the rock formations from the air and see the most beautiful sunrise you’ll ever see!

We flew from Antalya to Cappadocia (Kayseri, an industrial city in central Anatolia) via Istanbul. The Istanbul airport is one of the most beautiful, modern airports I’ve ever been to (imo only Singapore beats it) and boasts a five star rating from Skytrax. There is public transport from Kayseri to Göreme, where we were staying, but because we arrived so late at night, we got a shared bus transfer, but on the way back to the airport we took a public bus to the bus station and then a taxi to the airport.

Since Cappadocia is known for cave hotels and they’re not an experience you can find everywhere, my family decided to book a cave hotel room. Some cave hotels can be very luxurious, but we picked one that was more budget friendly, but it’s still a very cool experience. This hotel included breakfast, which was nice, but once again, if you’re vegan, not much choice – just some fruit and that’s about it. There’s a nice view from the terrace where breakfast is served. Vegetarians would do fine with the breakfast, since there’s eggs and bread. With a cave hotel room, you might worry that it would get cold, but actually it was very warm. All the beds were single beds in our room, so that’s something to think about if you’re a couple travelling (I’d think there are rooms with queen or double beds though). The only issue we had with the room is that the shower didn’t get warm, but we were in a pretty remote area so can’t expect much. The internet was a bit spotty, but again, explained by the location and with how packed the days were with activities, I didn’t have much time to think about the internet. When I wasn’t going out and about, I was resting.

Since we arrived late and had very little time, we pretty much did everything all in one day and I was exhausted, but because the scenery was so beautiful, it was all worth it, even though in the moment I was in so much pain and I was exhausted (does not help that I wasn’t eating properly).

As for food, we went to two difference places for dinner, both were quite pricey. One I liked a lot, while the other was just average. The average one was Keyif, which had a decent number of vegan and vegetarian options clearly marked on the menu. I went for the samosa as the main course which was okay at best. The roasted red pepper dip was the best dish, but it was quite a small portion. The stuffed grape leaves were standard, no better than the ones we had at more budget friendly restaurants. The view was nice, but the food wasn’t worth the price in my opinion. Basically one of those places where you’re paying for the ambiance. The other one, Sisters’ Plant Based (in fact, the first/only vegan restaurant in the region), was suggested by one of our tour guides, Ozlem, a German-Turkish journalist turned tour guide, who made many great suggestions of places to eat.

I also had a simit that was really good and a vegan kebab from a family owned restaurant in a shopping centre.

Days 6-10: Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

With Istanbul being such a large city, 16 million people and spanning two continents, my parents wanted to spend a bit more time here, and to be honest, you could spend a few weeks here because it’s really a huge city with so much to explore and get to know. We spoke to some people who spent a lot of time travelling in Istanbul and they all really liked the city. It’s quite the experience, but warning: it is so lively, it makes New York look tame. I’d describe it as twice as crazy as Times Square, but the whole city pretty much is like that (or at least everywhere we went).

My former roommate who is from Istanbul said be prepared for crazy traffic and crowds, and that was really an understatement. Let’s just say this: Istanbul is sensory overload central! Beautiful city, but if you’re looking for a calm relaxing holiday, not a match! Still, it’s quite the experience. And my favourite part? The cats! I thought Tel Aviv had a lot of cats… Turkey as a whole has Israel beat there!

Also the best kitty of all… A Bowie lookalike! I have had a hunch my cat Bowie is part Turkish Van for a while. I had a feeling I was going to find a doppelganger in her ancestral homeland. Long lost cousins? Saw her when I was on a Segway tour and I was screaming OMG it’s a Bowie lookalike!

Bowie on the left and her Turkish cousin on the right

Just a couple of tips before you travel there: language barrier will be an issue even though it’s a cosmopolitan city and make sure you have enough cash because so many places are cash only and if you want to take public transport, as modern as the city is, surprisingly you can’t use a credit/debit card to buy public transport tickets or an Istanbulkart, and you can’t use a contactless credit/debit card to get on public transport (like you can in London or New York – to be fair though this is pretty new technology). So I can’t say it’s the most tourist friendly public transport and I found this quite surprising considering so many places are going cashless because of the pandemic. Do find a way to make public transport work, because this is not a walkable city and taxis often will rip tourists off by charging more after the fact, taking the long way around, you know the drill – and there’s not much you can do about it.

Much of what we did was touristy stuff included in the Istanbul Tourist Pass, which nothing wrong with that, but it’s a limited view of the city (although I have to say those palaces and mosques are beautiful and full of history, and something you must see here), but with the language barrier and my anxiety being worse when dealing with that, I stuck with doing the same things as my parents. You could easily spend weeks here and not run out of things to do. Definitely a place that if you’re like me, you’re going to want to spend a longer time in and see things at a leisurely, not rushed pace. Here’s a tip: going inside any of the mosques is free, there is no admission charge – with the tourist pass, you’re really just paying for the tour guide who will talk about the history. Also The Blue Mosque is under renovations and while you can go inside, there’s a lot of scaffolding in there and you can’t see its beauty. Important to keep in mind that these buildings are old and they need to be preserved and upkeep is necessary.

The first day of sightseeing, we walked to Galata Tower – took an obligatory tourist picture, then walked down Istanbul’s equivalent of Oxford Street or the Champs Élysées – İstiklal Avenue (there’s a retro looking tram that goes down this street but I don’t see the point when you could see it by foot), then to Taksim Square, and then to Galataport – a beautiful, modern area near the Bosphorus. Of course I had to stop and take pictures with all the cats. For lunch, I had pizza at this vegan restaurant called Vegan Food Cartel.

Wasn’t my favourite vegan pizza ever (Purezza really set the bar high), but it was good. As far as other vegan meals, I struggled a bit. Vegan food was an afterthought on the dinner cruise. As for street food, you could have corn or simits, but even that gets old and you need protein! Can’t be living off carbs. There are fruit stands, but they’re way overpriced especially in tourist areas. Most of the vegan options were really just falafel, and I wouldn’t say it was the best I’ve had (travelling to Israel set the bar really high, and falafel is from the Levant), but it was the best thing to eat to keep me going. There were a couple good falafel places we went to in Istanbul. One was completely vegetarian – Yalla Falafel, and the other had plenty of vegan options, Tahin.

The next two days, we went to all the touristy places you must visit: Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Dolmabahçe Palace. We also went to a folk dance show, on a Bosphorus cruise, a Segway tour that went totally different than expected but was still fun, a cable car ride, and we went to Miniaturk – a park that has mini models of Turkish landmarks. For the most part these tours were good, but there was one real letdown on the last day. Most of the tour guides were wonderful, spoke good English, and were very knowledgeable, but the one for the cable car ride and Miniaturk had no idea what he was doing, couldn’t speak English so he couldn’t communicate about what was going on or give us any historical information. It seemed like he was usually a driver, but was replacing a tour guide and was clearly not prepared or qualified to give a tour in English and at one point he was lost – poorly organised. The disappointing part of the Segway tour is that we couldn’t ride the Segways around the Sultanahmet area and so we had to go to a nearby park and ride them, obviously not the tour guide’s fault but disappointing. The Segway tour guide was otherwise awesome! Very patient in teaching people how to use the Segway.

As for vintage shops and vinyl, you can find those not far from Galata Tower. Didn’t buy anything because the last thing I need is more stuff to move since we’re moving soon. But I did take some pictures:

Days 11-12: Athens

Greece is a country I’ve always known I wanted to visit and I was so happy to get to see Athens, even if it was only for a couple of days. Since I didn’t have a lot of time, I did the touristy things like go to the archeological sites, but I had a lot of fun. It’s always such a surreal feeling walking around the places you read about in history class. Like whoa, I’m really here! I’m going to places I dreamed of going to as a kid. That’s what living really is. Below, you’ll find some photos I took at the archeological sites. There’s a combo ticket and you can visit each site once for €30 in a five day period, but if you’re in a hurry like me, you can see all the sites in a day or two. Even if you only go to three or four of the sites, the ticket pays for itself and many of these are within walking distance of each other. Keep in mind, if you’re in Greece during the warmer months, it’s going to be blazing hot and sunny, so bring sunscreen and reapply it throughout the day, bring a hat or headscarf to cover your head, sunglasses to protect your eyes, and bottles of water so you don’t get dehydrated (bottled water is quite cheap at shops anyway and there are some refill stations at some of the sites).

I also went to some record shops too and I found that in Athens there was much more of a love for classic rock. Plenty of record stores and I’ll share some photos I took in them below:

As for vegan food, it was so much easier to find it in Athens and I personally liked the food more in Athens than in the other places I visited, and there was more English spoken. I liked all the meals I had at the vegan restaurants I visited. At Veganaki I had a pasticcio and some vegan feta – it was good, pricier than other places but good. I went to The Vegan Vandal with my parents. My dad and I had the pulled jackfruit burger and some chips. The portions were a large enough size. My mum had a veggie burger. For dessert, we had a brownie and ice cream. Neither of my parents are vegetarians, but they still loved the food.

I went to Vegan Beat Athens twice, very reasonably priced and I had a gyro with, and the second time I had a Greek salad – so full that I didn’t finish it. I love the vegan feta substitute used here. Feta is the cheese I missed the most and I’m so happy that vegan places in Athens have a decent substitute that doesn’t taste too oily like most vegan cheeses I find at the grocery store.

The highlight was a dessert place my brother had been raving about the whole entire trip, Lukumades. At first I was like come on, how good can it be? But my brother said we had to go and he said even though he wasn’t feeling 100% because he had a stomach bug, it was worth going – a trip to Athens isn’t complete without this amazing stuffed doughnut hole dessert. I’m not the biggest doughnut person – I can’t even eat a whole doughnut by myself without feeling gross. If you’re a vegan, don’t worry because Lukumades has you covered – there’s a chocolate-filled vegan option and it’s served with vegan chocolate ice cream with cherries in it. It’s to die for!

Also, what better way to end the trip than to watch the sunset on Areopagus Hill? Get there early because it’s a popular place to watch the sunset!

Apologies for the late travel blog post! Shouldn’t be long until the next one! 🙂

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