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Ten Days In Turkey

TURKEY | Sunday, 15 November 2015 | Views [749] | Comments [1]

Ask any Kiwi traveller what to see in Turkey and their lists will generally be almost identical: Istanbul, Cappadocia, Pamukkale and Gallipoli. Before leaving the UK Tamara popped over to Gallipoli for Anzac day 2002. On that visit she embarked on a whistle stop tour of all of the above locations which, while amazing, left room for much greater exploration. On the other hand I had not taken that opportunity so was keen to pop "next door" crossing from Greece to Turkey to make use of a ten day gap between our explorations of Central and Northern Greece and so it was that we boarded a flight to Cappadocia with the aim of working our way back to Istanbul and on to Thessaloniki to meet my cousin.

The flight was delayed at every opportunity and we arrived late at night at Kayseri Airport to experience every traveller's dread. An empty baggage belt long after everyone else had collected their baggage! Recognising a potentially much worse situation which could arise Tamara went through customs anyway to make sure the hotel shuttle kept waiting and didn't leave us in the lurch, meanwhile I continued the hunt, eventually finding the lost two huddled forlornly together on a belt in a different terminal entirely! It was a good job that Tamara went ahead as the irritated driver was very keen to get going and certainly would not have waited which would have left us with a very awkward and costly solution.

Shoestring Cave Hotel 

Shoestring Cave Hotel

Presumably to make up for lost time the driver quickly accelerated to 140km/h in the 50km/h street and kept up the madcap pace for the next hour before delivering us (thankfully safely) to our hotel. Shoestring Cave Hotel is a fascinating place to stay in a place full of fascination. The rooms are hollowed out from the soft limestone to maintain a tradition in the Cappadocia region which goes back to just after the time of Christ. Over the next couple of days we were able to explore the region on our own and also as a part of an organised tour which took us on a walk through a gorge littered with cave churches and onwards to see underground monasteries and indeed cities extending seven levels below ground complete with water supply and ventilation systems and equipped with wine presses, baptismal pools, olive oil storage and all other support systems required for city life. Neccessity is the mother of invention and persecution of the earliest Christians was the driver in this case.

Our budget is sufficient for most things but coud not stretch to a couple of balloon flights and so we took the poor man's alternative; to wake before dawn and hike up to a spur overlooking Goreme ironically named sunset point. From here we were able to observe the other-worldly experience of hundreds of hot air balloons in the valley below and in the neighbouring valleys. One by one they would flare up with a distant roar, illuminating the whole balloon and the scurrying insect people attending to it before once more slipping into darkness to be suceeded by its neighbour. Before too long one began to rise into the night followed by another and another until the whole dawn sky was filled with winking and roaring balloons which did not rise very much above our vantage point in the hour that they were aloft. All in all we were pleased with our experience and glad of the pre-dawn start.

Up, Up And Away 

Up, Up And Away

On our last day in Goreme we treated ourselves to a traditional Turkish Hammam (steam bath). As is the custom we were seperated into male and female quarters and, keen to immerse ourselves in the culture, stripped naked with a towel strategically placed to spare any blushes. It was not long before the towels were distant memories. Tamara was lying discretely on her front when she was asked to turn over. As she awkwardly reversed her position holding the towel in place the bath attendant broke the ice with a well placed, hearty slap on the backside and whipped the towel away at which all the Turkish bathers burst into laughter with Tamara joining in. A Turkish bath begins with a sauna to get the sweat running followed by a rinse off. Next up came a good, all over body scrub which removed unbelievable amounts of grime. Our glowing bodies were then treated to a bubble massage covered from head to toe in fine bubbles while our muscles were eased into line. (Mine eased not so subtly by a very strong tubby masseur for whom "no pain, no gain" is a mantra for life whereas Tamara's was "just divine"!). To finish off was a jacuzzi and then a more serious theaputic massage. As we compared notes at the end it was clear that we had not been cleaner or more relaxed for a very long time.

What? You surely didn't expect a photo of us relaxing in the hammam did you?

Relaxing In The Hammam

So it was that we boarded the overnight bus to Pamukkale for the first of two consecutive overnighters. Pamukkale is one of the places that I have wanted to see from the moment I heard of it. It is a series of silica terraces and dishes that cascade down a mountainside (in the same way that the "Pink and White Terraces" in Taupo NZ did until the recent volcanic euption in the 19th century). In reality the experience did not quite live up to expectation. In many cases the water had been diverted from running over the terraces and was instead channeled into the town to feed water parks and swimming pools. Where the terraces still received the water they glistened in the sunlight and the pale blue water pools were beautiful. Where the water was removed the pools had quickly become dry dirty beds around which the silica was starting to degrade. Just enough has been left to allow the required touristy photos but overall it was underwhelming.

At the top of the terraces are the remains of a Roman city containing many tombs including that of the apostle Phillip. A church remains from the early centuries AD and a nearly complete amphitheatre still stands proudly after all these years. The stage has been rebuilt and it is still used for special performances. I personally love the ability to walk around IN ancient buildings and we were able to do so with this theatre. We had dinner that evening in a nearly deserted restaurant which was being run almost entirely by a couple of kids aged around 9 and 11. In Turkey it is relatively common to have children working but this is the only case where they seemed to be running the whole show.



Our overnight bus arrived in Canakkale in perfect time to walk stright onto the ferry across to the Gallipoli peninsular. We checked straight into our hotel and very soon drove with a guide across the peninsular to Anzac Cove where we were to snorkel over a wrecked ship. The wind had really got up so we had some doubts as to the sense of plunging into the water but, once in the wind seemed to ease off and it was not long until we found the wreck and had a wee dive down. Back on the shore we decided to go treasure hunting and I was very fortunate to come across a metal button which later investigation has revealed to be a military button fabricated in 1906. Very cool! The next day we joined an official tour of the peninsular which highlighted the terrain that was fought over and also highlighted the stupidity of war as a solution.

The tour dropped us back into Istanbul and we arrived after midnight at our Air BnB accommodation. Our host Salih was new to the tourism business and had omitted to say which doorbell to ring in his apartment building. Neither did he think to write his name on one of the multiple bell pushes. Standing outside with an air of desparation we saw one man come out briefly onto his balcony. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" we thought and so we called out his name and struck lucky first time as he responded positively.

It can be a strange thing living in another's house and Salih had not really learned the art of hosting as he just hid himself away in his room and let us have the run of the house. Eventually we realised that we were not going to get the fully authentic Istanbul accommodation experience that we were hoping for and so relaxed and enjoyed our stay for what it was.

Interior Of The Blue Mosque 

Blue Mosque

Istanbul is a literal treasure trove. We took the tram into the city on each of the days we were there and explored buildings which are far better described elsewhere than in this humble journal. The Blue Mosque - stunning in its interior. Agia Sofia immediately adjacent - originally a church, later a mosque, now a museum - beautiful in all its forms. The Topkapi Palace - extensive and beautifully preserved; this is a place that I would be happy to live if I were a Sultan! The Islamic art with complex geometry and intricate detail is something that I really love. It is the work of true craftsmen and has the ability to leave one breathless!

One place that I was really keen to visit was the Basillica Cistern. This is an underground water cistern that is incredibly large with a roof supported with hundreds of stone columns supporting brick vaulting. The attention to detail for a place destined to be hidden from the ordinary man is amazing. It has recently been refurbished and each column is discretely uplit with a dim light, haunting music plays and you are able to follow a walkway above the water exploring the many different column capitals including a couple carved as the Medusa's head from Greek folklore.

Basillica Cistern 

Basillica Cistern

Our time in Turkey has come to an end and we took a further long bus ride across the Greek border to Thessaloniki where our journey will continue.

'Til next time!

Tags: cappadocia, caves, gallipoli, istanbul, palaces, pamukkale, turkey




Turkey sounds fantastic and I love the look of Shoestring Cave Hotel and of course the poor tired pussycat.

  Frances Feb 22, 2016 8:16 AM



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