Over a month later we are back in Istanbul except this time we arent sweltering in the middle of a heat wave, in fact it is pouring with rain!
What a busy month it has been. After our stay in Cappodocia we looked at our options for the remaining time in Turkey. We had to be back in Istanbul for the 6th of September for the long awaited U2 concert.
This left us with enough time to see a few more places but not quite long enough to get far east and back for the concert without some serious overnight buses or internal flights. We weren't too keen on either so decided to rent a car and take off on a ten day road trip back to Istanbul.
We didn't have much to go on, just a one page map that showed the entire country. You can imagine the level of detail on that!
To make life easier we hired a satnav for 50tl and headed off down the road. Within 200metres of the guesthouse, the insane satnav began telling us to take turns off perfectly straight roads and cross bridges over rivers that didn't exist. It
Dinner is served
Kaymakamlar Muze Evi
was obvious that it was a dud, especially when the hire car guy didn't look the least bit surprised when we returned it half and hour later and asked for a refund.
For hours we drove through a barren landscape, every now and again passing a tractor, herd of goats or women-free village. Eventually we arrived in the tiny village of Boğazkale.
Hmm, Boğazkale - not much to say about it except there's not a huge amount there. After booking into a completely deserted guesthouse we drove down into the village to find some lunch. All we found was a hotel, a few general stores and rows and rows of old guys sitting in the shade. It was like a scene from a movie. As soon as we drove in, every eye turned on us and continued to watch our every move as searched for something to eat. Eventually we found a hotel that was serving lunch and when we were finished, the old guys were still sitting there, watching and waiting.
In the afternoon, we visited the ruins of Hattusa which is the sole reason that anyone would make the effort to visit the town. Hattusa
was the capital of the Hittite Empire in the late Bronze Age so what is left is incredibly old. Since 1986 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage site. Unfortunately not a whole lot of the ancient city remains so you need a really strong interest in ruins and a good imagination to really appreciate the place. In tempertures of 30 degree and upwards, I have to admit that we had neither.
The next day we checked out of our deserted guesthouse and headed inland to the little town of Amasya. I entered with pretty low expectations and was happy to find a town with a bit of charm. Amasya is set in a valley with a river dividing the old town and the new town. Without doubt, the old town is much prettier as it has restored Ottoman houses overhanging the river. The cliffs above the old town have old tombs carved into them. The Ottoman houses are a big attraction as Turkey is a wasteland in terms of domestic archecticture. These houses have survived and are being restored as hotels and restuarants. We booked into a very authentic Ottoman hotel and managed to get a huge room
overhanging the river. It had the characteristic Ottoman bathrooms, where the shower and toilets are hidden inside cupboards!
Since it was Ramadam, the streets were filled with old guys sitting in the shade with their prayer beads, waiting for the fast to end. Walking along the river, we decided to eat ice creams. We found a sign for ice creams and pointed to the ones we wanted. Removing the goodies from the freezer took the efforts of two people, two padlocks and heavy chains. I still don't know why those ice creams were under such heavy protection but we decided to eat them out of view from the old guys, it must be horrible having people eat in front of you during the fast!
What I liked most about Amasya, was the way that everyone comes out at night to walk along the river front. Hundreds of people of all ages. Usually a town packed with groups of wandering teenage boys would cause tension but once again, we felt so incredibly safe here in Turkey. There was no animositry or aggro between any groups of teenagers and parents had no worries about letting their toddlers wander amounsgt huge
crowds of people. We sat there watching the crowds and wondering why everyone was so well behaved. I'm sure you wouldn't catch too many guys in their late teens or early twenties sitting with their parents eating an ice cream in the middle of town where we come from!
And then it hit me. Absoultely no one was drinking alcohol. Bottled water, ice cream, coke, fanta and Cappy juice yes but alcohol was nowhere to be seen. Five years ago, the thought of being the only westerners in the middle of a turkish speaking Muslim town at night would have seemed foolish at least. What rubbish we are lead to believe, we have never felt safer than here in Turkey and previously Jordan too.
Our next day of driving took us up to the Black Sea coast. After hours of driving we ended up in the coastal town of Sinop. Thanks to a slight technical nagigation error (reading the Lonely Planet map upside down) we had a very frustrating hour trying to find the guesthouses. We ended up on completely the wrong side of the pennisular. At one stage we went down a skinny one way street and
found ourselves stuck in a the busiest local market. For awhile we sat there wondering how on earth we were going to get out again, while scores of locals surrounded us with their baskets of fruit, bread and fish. It's funny looking back on it now, but at the time we were in a bit of a panic. By the time we found a budget hotel we were ridicioulsy hot, pretty fed up and starving.
From an international tourist point of view, Sinop really offers little apart from some old city walls, fishing boats and lots of fish resturants. Unfortunately the harbour is absoultely filthy. For fifteen minutes we sat at the waterfront and watched huge jellyfish try to navigate their way through waters filled with plastic bottles, cans, ciggerette packets and food packaging. It was pretty depressing!
It is certainly a busy place with domestic tourists though, which means that English isn't very widely spoken. Ordering food was difficult but luckily we found a place where they had a few pictures to guide us - Chris ended up with one of the best meals in ages while I was just happy that they understood my 'no baaa,
The ruins of Hattusa
Just managing to walk up the steps of the old wall.
no brook brook, no moo moo, okay?' and served me a cheese and tomato pide.
The next day promised to have some fantastic scenery on the coast road between Sinop and the town of Amasra. Lonely Planet compared it to the West Coast of the South Island. It certainly was an amazing drive with plenty of views out to sea. Our max speed over the eight hour drive was 60km an hour. There wasn't much traffic so why so slow? Amougst the hazards:
1. Road works
3. Hairpin corners
4. Sucidal chickens
5. Sucidal cows
6. Sucidal cats
7. Sucidal dogs
8. Old woman carrying sacks
9. Old men sitting on the side of the road
Our stop over for two nights this time was the coastal town of Amasra. Much more scenic than Sinop and really friendly too. We spent our time playing with the kittens, wandering the quiet little markets, pointing out what food we wanted (not much English spoken here either) and sheltering from the most impressive thunder and lightening storms! The first night we noticed amazing lightening out to sea so we walked about a kilometre out to sea along a breakwater.
It was totally unlit but there seemed to be lots of couples sitting out there in the dark and a few groups of teenage boys sitting around so we felt completely safe. At the end of the breakwater we sat in the dark and watched the lightning as it lit up the sky way out at sea. It was such a spooky experience, seening nothing but darkeness in between lightning bolts and hearing the distant roll of thunder and sound of waves breaking just below us.
As we slept that night, the storm rolled into land and hit with amazing force. It was unreal, I was squealing like a baby but Chris loved it.
Our final stop before Istanbul was the popular town of Sanfranbolu. What a lovely place! The old town is a World Heritage Site due to it's Ottoman houses. If you want to see Ottoman houses, then this is the place to come to. We stayed in a fantastic Ottoman room that was huge and spent our time just wandering the village and taking in the sites. As far as towns that we visited on our road trip go, Sanfranbolu was the best.
caves 7km outside of Sanfranbolu also have to be the best value attraction we have ever been to. While they aren't the most impressive caves you'll ever see, you can't complain when the entry fee is only 2tl. In my opinion, they need to increase it!
The only disappointment of the road trip and the Black Sea coast in general was the amount of rubbish. It is absoultely depressing to see such lovely natural areas covered in litter. The roadside, the beaches and even the rivers flowing into the sea have been trashed along this part of the coast. There appears to be no environmental awearness at all. Massive industy right on the beach and ever increasing road works colouring the water. Factories draining waste into rivers while people fish in the harbours. Despite what Lonely Planet says, I wouldn't never consider swimming at any of the beaches along this strech.
Everything is thrown out the car window, I saw children dropping their ice cream wrappers on the ground and not even considering that it should go in the bin. Everywhere, the remains of family picnics, soft drink bottles and plastic, plastic, plastic. Poor Turkey, one can only
hope that this changes in the future. For the moment, the environment is obviously pretty far down the list of concerns for people here.
After spending one more night on the outskirts of Istanbul, we were up nice and early to avoid the traffic for our drive into Istanbul. We had the most basic of maps, Chris was driving a left hand drive on the other side of the road but he kept his cool and drove like a pro! The map wasn't much of a help at all actually. We just followed the Bosphorous towards the Bosphorous bridge and then managed to find signs to Saltanamet. Once we pulled into our guesthouse that we stayed in over a month earlier, we both signed with relief. We were back!
Istanbul was just as interesting on our second visit. This time we wandered deeper into the local markets and watched the street vendors sell umbrellas to the tourists. Ironically, the same guys were all selling ice water last time we saw them.
For a few tense hours, the U2 concert looked to be a total wash out. About an hour before Snow Patrol were due to take the
stage, the sky grew darker and darker and eventually opened in some of the heaviest rain I have seen since the day we left London! We were pretty devestated, but not half as devestated as those in the general section who had no choice but to stand in the downpour or give up their spot! I felt truly sorry for them, most of the people didn't have umbrellas and there wasn't really anywhere to shelter until the rain finally subsided. Thankfully our section was undercover and we passed the time hanging out with a nice couple from South Africa.
Once the rain stopped, the stage was dried and Snow Patrol finally took the stage with 'Open your eyes' and continued to with about six of their most well known songs. They were brilliant!
U2 of course were amazing. Bono and the boys have so much energy on stage, completely over the top and so full of ego but fantastic to watch. The played a really long set. The beautiful 'With or without you' sent shivers down the spine.
A fantastic end to a great five weeks in probably the friendlist country we have ever visited. Thanks for
the memories, Turkey.
Next stop, Russia!
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