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Turkey through the eyes of the 18 year old, NZ version of Karl Pilkington: Istanbul and Cappadocia

TURKEY | Friday, 2 December 2011 | Views [1816]

And so I arrived in Istanbul, ready for three and a half weeks of backpacking with my 18 year old brother who - to put it gently - is a travel novice. He had arrived the day before me and in that 24 hour stretch had managed to get himself trapped in a carpet store for an hour, unable to escape the forceful owner. Rather than walking out, he decided to haggle for the fun of it, which ended in the owner screaming at him to "GET OUT!" after Jackson laughingly told him he'd just be playing around when the owner agreed to his low price. Two days later, walking the streets of Sultanahmet, we had to make a run for it when Jackson spotted the carpet man.

During our three nights in Istanbul, we did all the normal touristy things:

- the Blue Mosque at night (nothing like sitting there in wonderment at the achievements of humanity, only to have your companion say "That bird just shat on the mosque. That's not very respectful. He must not be Muslim.")

- the Aga Sofia (generally held to be one of the most magnificent buildings in the world, which Jackson felt "could do with a bit of tidying up".)

-the 5 hour ferry crossing of the Bophorus from Europe to Asia (Jackson's favourite moment was feeding the street cats bread during our stop for lunch)

Freezing our butts on on the ferry ride

-the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar, both incredible for the colors, noise and sheer size

My favourite touristy to do in Istanbul was the Basicila Cistern, an underground testament to good engineering. It's eerily lit and beautiful in a strange, aqueduct kind of way. It was peaceful and a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Sultanahmet, the main touristy area in Istanbul. While in the Cistern, we took the time to take this highly sophisticated and not touristy in any way whatsoever photo;

We enjoyed several sheesha sessions during those first few days in Turkey and were dismayed to later discover that one hour of sheesha is equivalent to smoking 200 cigarettes - although it explained why both of us were having more issues than usual walking up hills. While enjoying our time in Istanbul, I begun constructing prospective routes for our trip, quickly turning to despair when I realised just how big Turkey was and how much we would have to miss out on. Never to fear, Jackson the Travel Guru with sage and wise advice: "It's fine, just go to that one with the shorter bus journey. They're all the same anyway."

The quotable moments continued with my suggestion of a Kurdish family homestay (sadly cut out due to expense), which was met with;

"Yeah that would be dece. I wonder if they have free internet?"

Followed shortly by;

"Are there any McDonalds in Kurdishland? I need free wifi man."

In fact, the first few days in Turkey were an endless joy of provoking Jackson with talk of overnight buses, longdrops and no alcohol and hearing what New Zealand's answer to Karl Pilkington had to say about it. His realisation that backpacking isn't one endless string of boutique hotels and fine dining were a joy to behold. This realisation started when I informed him our next destination involved a 14 hour overnight bus.

Merhaba Cappadocia!

After an extremely long process involving bulky backpacks in rush hour crushed metros, train connections and the largest bus complex I've ever seen, we hopped on said overnight bus to Goreme, Cappadocia. Upon reflection, it was probably the lowest point of our Turkey travels. Not having considered the reprecussions of travelling with a 6'3, 120 kg rugby prop who has no concept of personal space, it was a long, sleepless night. Unused to the regular routine that would become crisscrossing Turkey via overnight bus, neither of us ate or drank enough and as a result our first day in Goreme, after arriving at 6am, was spent bickering, losing the ability to read simple maps and losing all desire to be in Turkey. Midway through the day, when the simple concept of eating and drinking occured to us, we suddenly realised Goreme is essentially a 2 street town and that apparently normal blood sugar levels can change your perspective on life. Rather than forking out heaps for the famous cave hotel rooms, we checked into a cheap as chips hostel and were very lucky - the 15 bed dorm we were in had a little room for 2 hollowed up above the bunks and as it was low season, we were offered the space. It was almost like having our own room (save for a squeaky door and the comings and goings of 13 other people getting up at 5am for hot air balloon rides and sunrise horse treks)

Cappadocia is famous for its odd, rather phallic rocks and the unique landscape of houses carved out of rock. It is one of the most popular places in the world to take a hot air balloon ride. I'd decided months before leaving New Zealand I was going to do this, knowing it would be amazing. Even though I'd budgeted for it, it was still hard to hand over such a large amount of cash over, especially when the reality of returning to New Zealand and unemployment was starting to sink in. Nevertheless, the cash was prised from my hand. You will all be happy to hear that at 10pm the night before our 5.30am lift off, I managed to drop my camera, breaking it beyond repair. After frantically rushing around the hordes of souvenir shops, I managed to purchase two disposable cameras. Thus, this once in a lifetime and eye wateringly expensive experience of floating 2000m above sea level was captured via a whirring plastic camera, with Jackson chortling each time I snapped a photo.

Despite the camera malfunction, it was an amazing experience that I loved and much to my father's dismay, want to repeat. And I'm happy to report the disposable camera photos turned out better than I expected! We also went horseback riding up around rock caves. Those of you who have been faithfully reading this blog will recall my mishap with a horse in Easter Island, when a galloping horse chucked me off. I vowed not to get on a horse again for a very long time, but only two and a half months later was eating my words. I enjoyed it much more than I had expected whilst Jackson, the one who had endlessly whinged about wanting to do a horsetrek, ended up on a horse half his size and spent the entirety of our 2.5 hour trek trailing behind by miles, fruitlessly kicking his poor pony's sides.

The poor pony and his oversized rider

When not spending way out of our budget for fancy ways of getting around, we hiked around the area and visited the underground city of Kaymakli, which is 6 levels udnerground. Pretty amazing but also claustrophobic and after living in Christchurch for the last year, wary of what would if an earthquake struck (Turkey is very earthquake active.Just before we left, a huge earthquake hit Van in Southeastern Turkey, where we had originally planned to finish. I'm very very thankful we changed our plans.)

While Cappadocia is a beautiful place and we did some amazing things, after a week of the touristy enclaves of Istanbul and Goreme we were both starting to feel like walking wallets and getting a bad vibe from all the touts. Rather than spending more time in Cappadocia, we decided to get out and go somewhere less overrun with tourists. Before we left, we had our first real encounter with Turkish hospitality that really cheered us. During my frantic search for a disposable cameras, every shopkeeper I'd gone to had shrugged and just tried to get me to buy some of their merchandise. Only one shopkeeper had shown any interest in helping, directing me to a place down the road. Wanting to thank him for taking the time to help, we went back to buy something and ended up having an hours long chat over tea in his backroom, discussing politics, Turkish culture and life.

Suleyman made both of us realise the Turkish friendliness we'd heard so much about but hadn't felt yet actually existed. He let us store our backpacks for free and at the end of the day we exchanged emails and got presents. Jackson was gifted a glittery orange scarf which he said would be kept for the sentimental value rather than style and which now has place of pride on his backpack. Jackson's backpack is here and it's queer.

Tags: aga sofia, blue mosque, cappadocia, goreme, horse riding, istanbul, jackson, kaymakli, turkey, turkish tea



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