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Published: November 12th 2014
Where to start, at the beginning is always a good place, don't you think?
We didn't really know what to expect in Turkey, our only reason for going there really was that we had seen different photos that various friends had taken over the years, and everyone had told us that it was a place that we really should visit, so off we went.
Our flight to Istanbul left from Stansted, and during check in we were asked " do you have your Turkish Visa"? OMG, I thought, my biggest fear was about to come true. We were not going to be allowed to fly. I always hold my breath until we have the boarding passes in our hands at check in, as I have a fear that one day we will we boldly turn up at some random airport only to be told that we require a visa that we don't have. I knew that I had checked and double checked that Visas where issued upon entering Turkey for Aussies, so very gingerly said no! Oh, she said, "lucky you are going today and not next week, because things are changing and after next week you are required
to have a visa before departure" lucky indeed. Lesson: continue to check and double check.
So after a quick overnight flight, we arrived in Istanbul very early on a very dark Sunday morning, and, after we produced our 100 euros for two visas we were stamped into Turkey. As part of the old checking process, I knew that there are always coaches waiting for all flights to take people into the town, and sure enough just outside the doors a bus was waiting for us. After $10.00 and about 90mins, with the sun now shining, we were put down at a ferry wharf for the short ferry ride into Istanbul. Again the ferry was waiting and after only about 5 minutes we were on our way again. I know that I have said this before, but we in Perth really could learn a thing or two about how public transport could work.
Sunday morning in Istanbul is relatively quite even though they have a population of 22 million, maybe it has something to do with the religious beliefs of the population, but never the less it makes it a lot easier to navigate our way around with not
so many people about. After a few wrong turns we did eventually arrive at our Hotel in what seemed like a very old part of town. Of course being so early we couldn't check in, but after a coffee, we decided to hit the town to look for some breakfast. The coffee shops and cafes were just opening and the food looked really good. Something we can now testify to after a month spent wandering and eating ourselves around Turkey.
Istanbul is a fascinating city where east meets west, and we spent many hours wandering it's bazaars and old streets. The Grand Bazaar is in the heart of the old town and is huge and filled with the most beautifully coloured ceramics, among other things, and it seems every shop keeper is happy to offer you a cup of tea while you decide on a price for their wares.
Our favorite bazaar through was the spice bazaar, with all the colourful spices displayed next to the Turkey Delight as well as nuts, honey and of course lots and lots of dried fruit. One afternoon when I couldn't resist any longer, I asked a shopkeeper for some delight, thinking that
I probably should stick with what I know, I asked he for some of the pink/red delight, but he very politely told me "that's only for old ladies, you should have this one" well what a compliment. The delight that we ended up was out of this world and was a mixture of pistachio nuts and was very nice indeed.
One afternoon we took a ferry ride down the Bosphorus river towards the Black Sea. As you make your way along the river the Asian shore is on one side and the European the other, It was a really nice trip with lots to see on both sides. Although many of the sites, shops and bars are on the European side, most of the people live on the Asian side because it is cheaper.
Another day we visited the much photographed Blue Mosque, I thought the exterior was beautiful with its six minarets, and the inside is huge and covered with tens of thousands of blue tiles. I am probably speaking out of turn but, I didn't really think it was any more beautiful than the other mosques that we have visited in other parts of the world,
Our pick of sites in Istanbul would have to be the Basilica Cistern, an amazing underground water storage unit that was originally built by the Romans in 532AD. Designed to provide water to the Grand Palace it could store up to 80,000 cu meters of water which was delivered from a reservoir 20km away. Over the years after the Romans left the city, the cistern was forgotten about, and wasn't found again until about 1500AD when a guy studying the city was told by some locals that they could get water by lowering buckets below their basement floors, and on a good day even catch fish! Unfortunately over the years the cistern was also used as a rubbish dump, and even a place to disposal of the dead. It was eventually cleaned up in the 1980's, and truly is something else. There are still lots and lots of fish in it, and it would seem over the years they have had plenty to eat!
Another day while there we happened to end up in the middle of a protest, we think now that it was the Turkey Kurds having their say on the problems in Syria.
Everything was very calm, but the riot police weren't taking any chances and there were about 100 of them, all with rifles following the protesters. We did ask a few shopkeepers nearby what it was all about but they said it was nothing! It was only a few days after that that Turkey was being pressured by the UN to allow the Kurds access to help flight in Syria.
From Istanbul it was time to jump back on the ferry and then bus and head back for the Airport - this time we were heading for Cappadocia and its 'Fairy Chimneys'. We tossed up between a flight or bus ride there, but really for a few extra dollars and the difference of sixteen hours, the flight won hands down.
Wow what a place Cappadocia is, we have never seen anything like it anywhere else in the world. A landscape created by volcanic ash, and rain. People have for a long time used the soft stone to seek shelter underground and the countryside is scattered with structures which looks like they could have been used on the Flintstones film set.
We stayed in the town of Goreme which
is a honey coloured village surrounded but the most amazing landscape. We visited the open air museum there, a large area of different caves which have been used for different proposes over the years. There are churches, chapels and monasteries, all carved out of the rocks. The area was a refuge for Christians as far back as the 4th century.
Lots of hotels are now also built into the caves, and the town of Goreme is really very beautiful. Famous for it's hot air balloon flights, we were all geared up to go, but unfortunately the wind came up, and that put an end to any flight that we may of taken. Maybe next time.
The food is also a very good reason to visit Goreme, and seeing that we missed out on our flight, we headed off for a cooking class (inside a locals house, and yep, inside a cave!) instead. I would like to say that we now know how to make authentic Turkish lentil soup, diamonus ( stuffed vine leaves) stuffed eggplant and a very sweet dessert that I can't remember the name of. We shared our morning learning to cook, with a very nice lady,
Clair who was on holidays from her Air Hostessing job in the middle east, and our teacher who spoke very little English, but managed to show us how to produce a fabulous Turkish meal, which we enjoyed for lunch.
After Goreme, we headed back to Istanbul just for a overnight stay. We were experts on the old bus/ ferry route by now, and even had others asking us the way! We had chosen to stay in another hotel for our second visit, and although this one was in a much nicer part of town, it really was no bigger. It seems that with so many people in the city, it's occupants have gotten used to sleeping in broom closets - almost.
Our host this time around was a guy who insisted that everything we asked him, needed a reply of " No problem", this could be from asking for directions, to how to turn the hot water on! As it turned out we were not alone in this hotel and for about two hours around midnight, we had to listen to a father yelling to his new born to be quite. We could hear the poor mother was
fanatically trying to keep the baby quite, that was when I had had enough. I told the father in a very nice manner, that I definitely didn't have any problem with a crying baby, but what I do have, is a problem with some over-sized man yelling at it to be quite. He very quickly shut up, and much to his surprise I think, so did the baby and we all enjoyed a nights sleep. The next morning ' no problem man' appeared, and asked us - you guessed it "no problem"? haha.
From Istanbul we took the bus to Eceabat, a very small waterside town close to Gallipoli. The trip down was lovely, through the Sunflower fields. The flowers had just finished, but it was easy to imagine what they would look like in full bloom. The Turks use a huge amount of sunflower oil in their cooking, and it shows in the fields and fields of flowers that they grow. We also experienced our first taste of the buses 'host with the most'. Every coach has not only a driver, but a young guy who comes along for the ride to serve drinks and nibbles, a novel
idea. Just after you set off along he comes serving tea and coffee also juice with your choice of biscuits or cake. After about an hour or so along he comes again, this time offering ice cold water, nice....Mr Trolly Dolly!
Eceabet is a really nice little town, and is located on the west coast of the Dardanelles strait. The strait paid a huge part in the Turks defense during the First World War. It is the strait that needed to be penetrated to stop supplies reaching the Ottomans. This, like the Battle of Gallipoli was not a successful one and as we all know many many men on both sides of the fence died.
We spent a day visiting Gallipoli, with both a Kiwi couple and another Aussie, who like us found it to be very sad, but we are both also very glad that we have now been there. I for one learnt an awful lot that I was unaware of about that dreadful time in our history, RIP.
After a few days in Eceabet and enjoying some yummy seafood, it was time to head back to the bus, this time for the small town
of Bergama, a dusty old market town which has an amazing collection of Roman ruins. The town itself is quite nice, with what seems to be the normal array of coffee/tea spots that always seem full with men, both old and young passing the time of day. There must be an awful lot of things to discuss, because most of them seem to be there most of the day, slipping on their tea, smoking very smelling cigarettes or playing Dominoes. We joined them one afternoon, and I must say the people watching was great.
Bergama has been around since Trojan times and it's heyday was around the time of Alexander the Great. The Acropolis in Bergama is reached by cable-car, and the view from the top is amazing. The Acropolis dates back to before Christ and is in reasonably good condition. It is much larger than I thought and we filled a few hours there. There's also a very impressive 10,000 seat theater built into the hillside, as well as a well preserved aqueduct.
While in Bergama is was the Muslin Festival of Hari Raya Haji, a time when people wear new clothes and exchange gifts, also a
time where animals are slaughtered and the meat given to the poor. One afternoon we saw lots and lots of sheep being lead through the town and tried to the various lamp posts. These poor animals seemed to know what was coming, and the next day Dean said that the streets were being washed down after the process. Thank goodness I hadn't been there earlier.
Back on the bus - this time heading for Selcuk, another town just a few ks away from some amazing roman ruins - the ancient town of Ephesus. In Selcuk we stayed at a hotel run by a Aussie/Turk who was born in Melbourne but returned to Turkey with his parents some years back. The hotel was a great mix of both Aussie and Turkish fare. There you could have a typically Turkish breakfast of egg, bread, honey, olives, yoghurt and of course feta cheese, or if you wanted, Vegemite on toast, how nice. There was a great pool area where he had BBQ's once a week, and the place seems a real magnet for Aussies.
The walk up to Ephesus was really nice around the hills and past many olive and orange
trees, and the ruins of Ephesus are something else. The area is huge and it took us about four hours to walk through it. Unfortunately on the day we were, there so were about 3000 other people who were off a cruise ship, so it was a bit of a push and shove, but amazing still the same.
After almost 150 years of excavation there is still 85% of it still to be unearthed, and the city of Ephesus can be traced back to around 600BC . We learnt also that, not only is the Virgin Mary buried near there, but also Cleopatra's sister- the things you learn on a sunny day in Turkey!
After Ephesus and all that old stuff, we thought it time we headed for the coast, so Bodrum was our next stop. Bodrum is right on the Aegean sea and again it is a very beautiful place, and has over one million tourist visit every year. Another reason we choose to visit in the off season.
The main drag is very elegant and runs along the harbours edge, it is lined with lovely cafes and some very nice shops. The harbour is filled
to the brim with some very big and expensive looking wood-hulled yachts, which people sit on at night and drink what looks like very nice champagne, and smile at passers by, nice.
We stayed at another really nice hotel in Bodrum and the owners were extremely nice people, even doing our washing, as well as loaning us their scooter for a day out. It took us some time to realise that the whole road system is one way, and also took us some more time to get off the never ending circle, but eventually we drove along the coast and found a really lovely beach to have a swim, and enjoyed lunch. The water was beautiful, so clear.
Another day we went on a day trip on a large wooden boat stopping off at various islands for a swim - very nice. The water was again amazingly clear and quite warm with lots and lots of fish about. The whole day cost $35.00 for us both including lunch, again the advantages of travelling in the off season.
After Bodram came Fethiye, yet another town on the coast, this one was filled with Brits enjoying the sunshine. A
place where it is easier to find a English newspaper than a Turkish one. We stayed at a small place just out of the main town which looked out at Red Island which was featured in the latest James Bond Movie.
As it was getting to the end of the season in Turkey, we sometimes found that there were certain things that we couldn't have on the menus, but not the Sunday roast lunch in Fethiye. We were told by several people that during the " high season' if you are not seated in some of the restaurants around town by 2pm on a Sunday, you could not enjoy a roast as they would be all sold out! ...... can you believe that. We do like to eat the local food while travelling , but it had been a very long time since we had had a roast meal, and it was very nice!
After Fethiye it was time to jump back on the bus- this time for Marmaris. Yet another harbour side town, this one where we were to catch the ferry to Rhodes Island, Greece. There wasn't a great deal to see there, but we did
enjoy the beach side restaurants, and it gave us some time to catch up on bookings etc for the next leg of our journey.
We did however meet a very interesting Muslin guy who was running a travel agency along the sea front, and one day we had a very long chat to him about lot of things including how it is totally ridiculous to even contemplate the Big Bang Theory.
We really enjoyed our time in Turkey, another country of incredible contrasts, from the beautiful beaches along the Aegean Sea, to the amazing ancient ruins, the wonderful food, and the very special place called Gallipoli, it really is an interesting place to visit, rich in culture and history!
The journey continues.........
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