As I’ve mentioned before, we had planned to use couchsurfing.com throughout our trip to Turkey in order to save money and more importantly in order to make new friends and learn about things from a local’s perspective. For two months prior to our departure, I was searching for hosts, emailing requests, and planning our trip around those who were able to host us. While we were excited about the places we would see, we were equally excited about the people we were going to meet. Since we’ve both hosted a lot of people, we had an expectation that those who agreed to host us would honor their commitments since we had planned our travel and time around them, but upon arriving in Istanbul, I found that one of our first hosts (whom we had planned to stay with in Istanbul’s Princes Islands had had to cancel due to illness), our itinerary was essentially this:
1) Day 1 – Hotel Ayasofya
2) Day 2, 3, 4- Couchsurf in Kadikoy
3) Day 5,6,7 – CS on Princes Islands
4) Day 8,9 CS in Bursa
5) Day 10 CS in Izmir
6) Day 11, 12, 13 – Hotels in Mediterrainian
7) Day 14 – Night bus to Cappodocia
8) Day 15, 16 – CS in Goreme
9) Day 17 – Nightbus to Istanbul
10) Day 18 – CS in Istanbul (different hosts)
11) Day 19 – Hotel Ayasofya
So, based on people agreeing to host us, we planned to spend only 5 nights in hotels and splurged to get the suite for our last night in Istanbul. Our first hosts, Alp and Serap were the only one’s that actually came through though so we ended up booking an additional nine nights of hotel accommodations and didn’t know it would happen until we arrived. Not ideal.
Hosts canceled due to illness, pregnancy, unexpected travel, and having just forgotten that they had agreed to host us. While we were sad to have to stay in hotels, mostly we were sad not to be able to experience Turkish life and make new Turkish freinds.
All of that will help explain why one of the highlights of our time in Turkey was getting the chance to become friends with Alp and Serap who were our first and only hosts in Turkey. Reading about the two of them was like reading a better written profile of ourselves and Alp was thorough in his communication as well as being funny. He suggested that we spend the day sightseeing on our own in Sultanahmet and then catch the 5:30 ferry to Kadikoy on the Asian side of the Bosporus to meet them. I called him as the ferry left and he and his wife Serap were already waiting for us.
They are an interesting and lovely couple. Alp almost didn’t let me pay for the taxi to their flat but when I said that I wouldn’t be able to sleep if he didn’t let me, he relented. During the three days we spent with them they provided us with suggestions, helpful advice, and showed us some places we wouldn’t have otherwise seen. One of them was the busy mezos bar area where we had dinner that night. After explaining three must-eat Turkish meals, Alp let us choose which sounded the most appealing to us. They were Turkish raviolli, Pide (Turkish Pizza), or Hamsi and Mezos which are Black Sea anchovies and tapas, Turkish style.
We chose the hamsi and mezos since it sounded like the most unique experience. Serap then told us that she had been hoping we would choose that one. Alp, like me is a freelance writer and Serap is a food engineer.
Alp has written a lot of the Couchsurfing guide to Istanbul and we found ourselves in excellent hands during our time with them. For dinner we had the fried anchovies, a variety of eggplant, a delicious salad, and I drank one of the local favorite beers, Efes. It turns out that in Turkey, I’m not alone in being a Muslim who likes to sometimes quaff a beer or two whereas in Morocco only the scum imbibe.
Hanane of course didn’t have any alcohol and put about six sugars in her Turkish tea to make it drinkable for her. Dinner was about 120 lira for the four of us. It included an amazing variety and amount of food. It was the most expensive dinner of our trip but well worth it.
After dinner we had a wonderful walk through Kadikoy and Hanane was barely able to restrain herself from spending all the money I’d given her for souvenirs and shopping but our ‘You have to carry your own bag’ rule kept her consumer impulses in check.
Returning to Alp and Serap’s apartment, Alp made us delicious Turkish coffee and then we all went to bed. They provided us with a room of our own and were the epitome of Turkish hospitality.
In the morning, we went back to Sultanahmet to see several sights they had recommended we not miss (The archeological museum and the Basillica Cistern) while they went to the Turkish Modern Art Museum. In the evening they took us to outlet malls because I had asked where I might be able to buy a cheap digital camera since mine was broken and Hanane’s isn’t of the best quality, but since I knew we had the extra expense of accommodation, I didn’t find one that was in our price range.
The next day,Alp took us for an abbreviated version of one of his favorite Kadikoy walks since we wanted to take a boat tour up the Bosporus and in the evening Hanane made a Moroccan meal for us all in their kitchen. Serap was astounded by Hanane’s kitchen skills and said that she might ask for her to come train some professional chefs at the institute where she works. It was a beautiful meal with great wine and gorgeous conversations. One of the highlights of our trip to Turkey for sure.
In the morning, Alp got us pointed in the right direction so we could catch the early ferry to Bursa. I’d decided that since our second hosts in Istanbul had cancelled, it would be better to start seeing more of Turkey sooner rather than later. I was also anxious to get to Manisa.
So, you might start to see that this trip was more than just a holiday, it was a mission to see if we would be able to make the jump from Morocco to Turkey. I’ll give you more on that later. We kept in touch with Alp and Serap throughout our trip and once again, through couchsurfing, we have made friends that will last a lifetime.