See our most recent update about COVID-19 Learn More
Staff Travels | Turkey
All Articles

Staff Travels | Turkey

To be quite honest, Turkey was not on my travel bucket list. If you asked me where I wanted to go next, I would say India, Colombia, Bora Bora, the grocery store—pretty much anywhere else besides Turkey. So when Ben Welbourn, one of the program managers in the Dominican Republic, told me he was going to Turkey with his girlfriend, Abby, I was only mildly interested. It was only when he came back from his trip with incredible pictures and awesome stories did Turkey cement itself on my travel wish list. Without further ado, this is Turkey:

The Library of Celcus in Ephesus.

What made you want to go to Turkey? Abby and I initially decided on Turkey because we went on Google Flights and it was the cheapest international flight we could find. Boston to Istanbul direct doesn’t hurt either. We also discovered that Turkey had been high on both our travel lists for quite some time. As an added bonus, we were able to meet up with one of my students from the Dominican Republic who lives in Istanbul!

What were your first impressions? Turkey is one of the friendliest countries I’ve ever been to. The roads are better than ours in the U.S., the cities are clean, and it’s very easy to get around. Everything is so old! Like, thousands of years old, old. I was immediately aware that given its geographical position, Turkey is made up of many different cultures. It’s quite the melting pot.

In a village outside of Cappadocia.

At what point did you feel like a complete foreigner? I love getting lost, so Turkey was great. We rented a car in Istanbul, and as we pulled into a new city most evenings, it usually took us at least an hour to get our bearings. We were especially lost in Denizli and Antalya. I could tell that people on the streets wanted to help, but the language barrier was pretty huge. I now have an intimate knowledge of many streets in these cities, since we had to drive down them multiple times just to find our apartment, hotel, or hostel for the night.

On the flip side, we were given an expert tour by a Rustic Pathways student (shout out to Ezgi) and her friend in Istanbul. They were phenomenal! They guided us through museums and palaces, and took us out to the best dinner!

I’d go back tomorrow just to have another plate of turkish meatballs, a glass of pomegranate juice or ayran. Oh man, Abby and I both got sick from eating too many pomegranates in the car—totally worth it.

You won’t find it in the guidebook, but you absolutely have to go to this no-name restaurant in the tiny town of Mordogan way out on a peninsula. The building is on a dock out over the Aegean Sea. Nobody spoke English, so the cook took us inside to pick out our fish. Best. Fish. Ever.

Did you meet any locals? Who made this trip for you? Aside from meeting up with our Rustic Pathways alum, we also used AirBnB. It’s a great way to meet local people. In many cases, they’ll take you into their home, introduce you to family and friends, and give you a much more authentic experience. We stayed with a mechanical engineer/artist named Ozdemir. He was wonderful.

I don’t speak a word of Turkish but I did master the basics: hello, thank you, toilet, and exit (they said it a million times during the safety message on the plane).

What was the best experience during your travels? Hands down, the best part of our trip was hot air ballooning in Cappadocia. We woke up at 4:15 three mornings in a row before the weather cooperated enough for us to take off. Our pilot was really skilled, and was able to drop us 1,000 feet—right up to the side of a cave dwelling on the side of a cliff—then pick up 1,000 feet again. Definitely one of the coolest sunrises I’ve ever seen.

Cappadocia, Turkey

What did you learn on this trip? I learned the true meaning of history. We in Boston like to think we have history—the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere, the USS Constitution—the list goes on. But a lot of the stuff we saw in Turkey was a full 2,000 years older than that!

Abby swimming in history in Pamukkale.

Did you have any #sorustic moments? This trip was full of #sorustic moments. Abby and I almost ran out of gas, pulled up to a gas station late at night, and the pump attendant offered us tea without speaking a single word of English. In Avanos, we were wandering back streets on a very rainy day, when a potter invited us in and gave us an impromptu lesson on the manual pottery wheel.

Ben exploring the hot springs covered in calcium deposits in Pamukkale.

10 years from now, what will you tell people about this trip? Turkey is the friendliest! Istanbul is huge and diverse, as is the rest of the country—coast, mountains, plains. We also ate baklava every day of the trip.

Cappadocia, Turkey

Who else is sold on Turkey? Anyone have travel tips for this beautiful country? Let us know and post your tips and insider information in the comments below. Happy travels!

About the Author

Kelly Moynihan

Peru Country Director

More than a decade of program leader experience, fluency in Spanish, and commitment to community service make Kelly a natural fit to direct our Peru operations. Previously, Kelly worked in Costa Rica with indigenous communities and turtle conservation efforts after joining Rustic in 2008. Originally from New Jersey, Kelly earned a degree in journalism from American University in Washington, D.C.