Ladies and gentlemen, it's time for the second installment of the Golden Hedgehog Awards for Lodging, wherein we recognize the finest and most spectacularly wonderful places we stayed on our round-the-world trip! In our last episode, we covered:
- #11 – Posh luxury in Vang Vieng, Laos
- #10 – A good "home base" in Siem Reap, Cambodia
- #9 – Turning 30 in Arequipa, Peru
- #8 – Getting engaged in Fethiye, Turkey
- #7 – A hidden garden in Vilcabamba, Ecuador
In this installment, we'll be covering award-winners #6 through #4. If you didn't read our ground rules in Part 1 of this series, you might want to take a quick moment to acquaint yourself with them now.
When we recorded our pantheon of cities, a list of our very favorite cities in the world, Istanbul came in at a solid #2, second only to Buenos Aires. (It should be noted, though, that Mexico City has recently been making an earnest effort to push its way into the #1 spot.)
During our first few homeless hours there, though, things didn't feel quite so rosy. It was only when we found the marvelous Türkmen Hotel that everything seemed to fall into place. We were going through a bit of a money crunch at the time: Europe had turned out to be rather more expensive than we'd expected, and so we'd thrown our lot in with Turkey. Instead of spending a couple of months in Italy, Greece, the Greek Islands, and Turkey, we were now planning on spending the entire time in Turkey (with just a couple of days in Athens at the end) before leaving for Southeast Asia.
For 48 YTL – about $35 USD at the time – the Turkmen came in right on budget, reassuring us we'd be able to follow that plan. And we got an absolutely lovely hotel room (complete with a TV and mini-fridge) to boot! But there are two main reasons the Turkmen is placed so high on this list: the location and the view.
The location just couldn't be any more choice. It's down a quiet little sidestreet, just a short walk to pretty much everything. Take a right out the front door, and a couple of blocks later you'll find yourself at the Hippodrome. We were there during
Ramazan, when everyone was fasting during the day; in the evening the Hippodrome would transform into an amazing outdoor feast, just covered in foodstalls and tables and chairs.
Just past the Hippodrome is the stunning Blue Mosque, and just past that is the amazing Aya Sofia, and just past that is mighty Topkapı Palace. Want to grab some food along Divan Yolu, or do a bit of haggling at the Grand Bazaar? You're only a short walk away!
For two hedgehogs that love walking to places instead of taking public transport or (worse!) a taxi, that location just couldn't be beat.
The other thing that made this room so highly-rated is the view we had from our balcony. We looked out over the spectacular Sea of Marmara. To our left lay Asia, to our right lay Europe, and directly in front of us stood the breathtaking Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Camii Mosque. We'd sit out on our balcony and have little picnic dinners, waiting to hear the call to prayer.
There are over 2,500 mosques in Istanbul, and five time a day the city echoes with the heavenly sounds of thousands of simultaneous calls to prayer. It is one of our favorite memories from our trip. In the video below, you can make out at least seven different calls to prayer within earshot of our balcony, as well as a few raucous seagulls adding their voices to the choir...
We spent somewhere in the neighborhood of six weeks in our beloved Bangkok, most of it at our home-away-from-home, Mango Lagoon Place. Located on Soi Rambutri, this nice little place offers pretty much everything you'd expect from a western chain hotel at a mere ฿700/night (about $18 when we were there).
Ok, now many of our fellow travelers are yelling at us. You paid what?! In Bangkok? Didn't you know you could get a room in Chinatown for a dollar a night? And why a soulless western hotel when you could have stayed someplace more social like a hostel, where you could have made a few friends along the way?
Ok, now, settle down. We know full-well that this one is probably going to be our most controversial entry on this list.
Yes, there were about a million places in Bangkok that would have been a heck of a lot cheaper. And there were a million more places that had a lot more personality and character.
But this place was in perfect location, and it was nice and quiet. And I can't tell you how important that quiet part was. It was in Bangkok that we got so temporarily burned-out that we thought of scrapping the rest of our trip and heading home early. It was in Bangkok that we filed our taxes, that we applied for our Burmese visas, that we did a million of the little "admin tasks" that you need to do from time to time when you're traveling. So we wanted a place to stay that was clean, bright, friendly, easy, and quiet, so we could focus on all that other stuff. (And oh yeah, on exploring this amazing city, too!)
From five floors up, you're able to escape a bit of the craziness that is Bangkok. Mango Lagoon Place is located conveniently in the heart of the world's biggest backpacker ghetto, where you have easy access to everything you need and are near to many of the city's sights. But it doesn't feel like it. The mayhem of Khao San Road itself is only a five minute walk away, but it's politely hidden behind the tranquility of Wat Chana Songkhram.
And it's quiet. I can't stress enough how important that is. Let's take a little walk down Rambutri, the road that runs along the front of the hotel, to get a quick taste for why. Remember, this is just Rambutri – Khao San Road is about a million times crazier:
We've slept in some incredibly comfortable beds over the course of our travels. Heck, we had a feather mattress at one point. But when we made ourselves a list of the most comfortable beds we've ever had, our beloved Göreme Walnut House came in at number one with a bullet.
And it's not just the bed that makes this place so special, not by a long shot. The Walnut House (35YTL/night, about $26 USD when we were there) has just everything going for it. The rooms have beautiful arched stone ceilings, a touch of traditional Turkish architecture in your bedroom. Then you wake up and make your way down to the lovely lobby where the affable proprietor Ali is making you a traditional Turkish breakfast (including two kinds of homemade cheeses and homemade jam). Ali is everything that is wonderful about Turkey: he's welcoming and warm, quick to smile, and has a knack for making you feel completely at home. At one point during our 17-day stay in Göreme, he drove us (for free) out to a gorgeous vista and showed us where to head so that we could hike back home. Another time, he had his mother make us dinner (again, free of charge). And, as we've mentioned here before, when he discovered that I'd ripped my beloved Iguazú sweatshirt, he had his mother sew it for me (you guessed it, free of charge). He actually sent us a holiday card a couple of years ago. Ali alone is reason to stay at the Walnut House.
But there's also the matter of where it's located...
No, I'm not talking about the fact that it's virtually right across the street from the tiny otogar (bus terminal), although that is convenient when you've just arrived in town after a 20-hour bus ride. Or the fact that it is just surrounded by dozens of fantastic restaurants, including the Denny Cafe, where the two of us learned to play backgammon. No, what I'm talking about is Göreme itself.
The town of Göreme (that's pronounced ger-EM-eh, with a hard G, if you were wondering) is in the center of the region known as Cappadocia, which these two hedgehogs feel is just the most amazing place in the world. Pick any direction you want, any direction, and go for a little walk. And prepare to have your mind blown.
We took nearly 1,500 photos there, and I'd post them all here if there weren't too many photos in this post already. To get a feel for how magical Cappadocia is, take a peek at these posts we made when we were there:
In the meantime, I'll leave you with this video of your hedgehogs exploring one of the thousands of "fairy chimneys" in the area...
Ok, well that's it for this installment of the Golden Hedgehog Awards. Next time we'll cover award-winners #3 and #2, which are located on opposite sides of the world, and were visited at opposite ends of our trip. Happy travels!