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Travels in Turkey (a.k.a the chicken place)
Pros: amazing country, with the most friendly, hospitable people and lovely scenery
Cons: none

Istanbul, Turkey

Thursday, Jun 02, 2005 06:53

Hello everyone,

I know I have been very quiet with the diary the last month but I was very busy on the road and decided to write all abut Turkey in one entry!

I have had three weeks in Turkey and I can honestly say it just wasn't enough! What an amazing country, with the most friendly, hospitable people and lovely scenery. We covered a lot in the three weeks and there were places I just wished I could have stayed longer in, but there will be a next time, and I know where to return.

I did another GAP/Intrepid trip and was glad I did, once again met an amazing group of people of various ages but all good people to travel with. The group was 10 Aussies and 1 Kiwi with one Canadian. Good because it meant the sense of humour was all quite similar. Kate was out tour leader, a Kiwi, and a really great person to lead and travel with. She was very calm and confident, and a new friend. Actually, I came out with a whole lot of new friends which is always nice.

The first day was in Istanbul, which is just one of the most amazing cities EVER! it has such a great vibe and all this interesting and incredible history. Many great civilisations called this city their capital at one stage or the other...Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. History is everywhere, as are mosques. As soon as you can see a skyline from anywhere you see many domes and minarets. Five times a day you hear the call to prayer drifting over the city...it is a very relaxing and uplifting sound, the call is basically sung in Arabic so it sounds beautiful.

One the first day I wandered around Sultanahmet district which is the old part of the city on the European side. I went to Topkapi Palace which was the Sultan's palace and now a museum. Very interesting, but my favourite place was the thiird coutryard which has many ornate and beautiful buildings and rooms, and a lovely room which had the golden thrown of the Sultan and sacred relics from Mohammed. The Koran was read live in this room, again, almost sung instead of reading. Hats off to the load American guy who decided to talk to his wife across the room by shouting over it (I have to say, this was one cuntry where I have seen the most 'bad tourists' ever...not all from the US either). Just as I was leaving the grounds of the palace this Turkish guy starts talking to me...be warned, around the tourist places, these guys are never chatting to you innocently...they are the dreaded 'Carpet Salesman'. Unfortunately they are smooth and truthfully and in the words of my fellow Aussie girl on the tour Kelly 'hot'. The line 'I am not trying to hustle you' was used by this guy on me, but of course he was. Anyway, of course I end up in a carpet shop looking at carpets and turning down a date. The carpets are amazing and really lovely but the price will make you choke (over $1000 AUS but most are worth much much more). Anyway the salesmen are everywhere and I think with single girls from the west the trick is to sell a carpet and get you into bed...tough life for those boys I am sure! The only thing to do is not let them talk to you longer than 30 seconds, and some get a bit uppity when you just keep walking but unless you want a carpet, you have to get away when you can!

That night I met the group, embarrasingly I ended up running a little late and making my entrance in a fluster...not for the last time either (my sense of time has just gone this last year, especially since I lost my watch...). We all went out for our first dinner and drinks and it was god fun. The next day we all went for a walking tour with Kate around old Istanbul and went to the Blue Mosque, which could be seen along with Hagia Sophia from the restaurant of our hotel...just amazing. I honestly think the Blue Mosque is the most beautiful building I have ever been in. Words couldn't begin to describe the vast space, the prayer mats all arranged towards Mecca and the decoration inside. More than that it is the serene atmosphere of the place.

From there we saw the Hippodrome and the obelisk from Eqypt and then the Pudding Shop which was used in the film Midnight Express....we then had a drink in a lovely tea garden, where I had my new favourite Apple Tea. From there we visited The Grand Bazaar...which is a shoppers paradise...it has over 5000 stalls and has been used for well over 1000 years. So many things on sale, so little space to carry them!! I did buy a kaftan though. After some lunch at a place in Sultanahmet (where we became hits of the waiters there) Kelly and I visited Hagia Sophia, build in the Byzantine era and used as a church and then converted into a Mosque. It is a huge building, opposite Blue Mosque, and filled with history of two Empires. It is now a Museum, not used by either religon.

That nigth we boarded a night train and headed to Ankara. My first night train in like 9 years, and it was funny. There were four of us per cabin, and there was a lot of giggling and chaos involved in getting our beds sorted out. Kelly and I ended up in such a bad fit of the giggles that even after the lights were out and we were lying in our beds we couldn't look at each other because it would set us both off again. In the morning we had slept pretty well, although there will always be the mystery of how my bra, which started the night on top of my bed ended up under Arzu's pillow by the next morning...poor Arzu woke up perplexed as to who's bra it was, at least she didn't wake up with it on her head! Arzu is such a gorgeous girl, and we were lucky to have her on our trip because she is Turkish Austrlian, and speaks Turkish which was a help many a time.
We didn't spend long in Ankara, getting on a bus to take us to Goreme...although for a while it looked like it wouldn't happen, literally half a meter out of the bus station, the bus and a car collided and the bus driver ended up getting arrested we think! We all got moved onto another bus.

Buses in Turkey are great and we had a very good trip. There is a tradition of serving tea and coffee on board and also the host comes around with lemon cologne which is poured onto your hands. So we were quite relaxed when we reached Goreme, in an area known as Capadoccia. This place is out of this world, in fact it was used I believe for one of the Star Wars movies or so the rumour goes...you can believe it though, this is an alien landscape. Houses are carved into the hills and the strange structures carved by nature into the land...hell, look at the photos! Goreme was a cool little town, we stayed in a hotel which had 'Cave like rooms' or as the sign said 'Ceve like rooms' - spelling of signs was often funny and menus even more so, anyone for 'Crap Salad'?

The days were spent exploring the area and doing some hiking. That night we went to a Turkish dance show, which was alittle tacky but interesting and fun none the less (does all you can drink give you a clue?). The traditional dancing was impressive though and we got to see Whirling Dervishes too...(a meditative dance, where the men twirl around and around...and don't get dizzy). At one stage everyone was up dancing too...outside even and around a bonfire. By the end of the night it was a disco, and we danced until they threw us out! One hilarious moment was the belly dancer, who came down from the roof in a pod to the 'Final Countdown' (did I mention it was TACKY!) Lucky Anthony from our group was picked to dance with her, along with about 10 other guys, but Anthony put on the best show...mind you, the sight of all those men with there shirts of and not a bit of muscle in sight was very disturbing. Anthony being the shy retiring type tried to take his pants off too...eek!

From Goremem we travelled to a smaller town nearby for our homestay where we got to spend the night with a family. It was fun, in a non touristy town, very conservative although everyone in the group was well prepared for this trip and dressed accordingly the whole time. Unlike others from all countries we saw who Caz aptly described as 'having their heads up their arse'...of course, when in a Muslim country where no one wears shorts and singlets, why not offend everyone and wear them? this seemed to be the mantra of many tourist...I don't know that ignorance quite covers it. I personally think covering up is a sign of respect and to not is disrespectful..and dumb. The homestay was fascinating, to see how people live, the division of labour between men and women and many of the cultural dos and don'ts. It was difficult because when we ate the daughter and mother couldn't eat with us, but the son and father could. it was a good experience though and I am thoroughly addicted to eating on cushions on the floor!

From the homestay we moved west to Malatya, famous for apricots...which is a lot of what Turkey is famous for. For the first week we loved apricots, dried, fresh and sundried but seriously after that week, we were over them! There wasn't much in Malatya, it was a stop over on our way to Nemrut Dagi, but the local people in this city were so friendly and excited to see us. Many Turkish people seem amused that we come all the way from Australia and New Zealand to visit their country, but delighted to. You walk down the street and have people come and shake your hand and say hello. You feel a bit like a celebrity. In Malatya we met Kemal, a local celebrity and volunteer guide...what to say about Kemal...hmmm, he is original and unique even in Turkey...wild hair, bad come over and terrible jokes. He kept us amused and came with us to Nemrut Dagi.

The drive to Nemrut Dagi was long and windy through beautiful scenery, and the trip was made all the more interesting for me because I took a travel sickness tablet and they tend to make you a little bit of a space cadet. Nemrut Dagi is a remote mountain in the east and not easy to get to. There is just one reason people visit and that is to see the remains of the ancient temple of Antiochus. The only things left from the temple are massive stone heads from the gods that sat on the surrounds of the temple and a large manmade pile of stones which form the top of the mountain. It is believed Antiochus is buried here, but never found. it is a spectacular site for watching the sunset and the sunrise and we did both, while really freezing our buts off! But it was spectacular and really begs the question of why Antiochus went to so much trouble to build this site when it is so barren, so cold and so far from anything else? It remains a mystery...

The trouble with Nemrut Dagi was that visiting it meant that there are several days of travel either side which are long and arduous, even with great buses. The day of the sunrise at Nemrut Dagi, we were up at 4.00am to make the climb to the temple. Then we trekked downhill until we got a small bus for a couple of hours. This then dropped us off at the next bus stop and we caught a large bus for many hours. Finally a dolmus (local bus) for another hour or so and 15 hours later, we were in Selyfke, near the sea. The town itself wasn't much, but it was nice to be off the bus, and there was a great castle overlooking the town which was from Roman and Byzantine times, and probably used during the Crusades too. We had the place to ourselves, just Kelly, Arzu, Anthony, Anne and myself and we got to wander right through and around. In any other country this would have been fenced off, some bits were probably dangerous but some common sense helps keep you out of trouble. I actually quite like the fact that not everything is a museum!

When we were walking down the hill from the castle, we walked by a school and the kids spotted us before we got there and a group ran outside and then wanted to practice their English on us....once again, you feel like a celebrity...it is a little weird but the kids are so enthusiastic it gives you a buzz. In the afternoon Mel, Kelly and I went to the local museum...they seemed surprised we were there, they even turned the lights on for us. It was little but had some lovely jewellery and coins. The funniest thing happened on the way back, we were waiting to cross a road and there were traffic signals...the guys in the front car were too busy staring at us they didn't notice the lights had turned green...so we ended up pointing up at the light, and finally they worked it out...they started laughing, as did the guys in the cars behind, and we did too....the looks on their faces said 'sprung'! That night the whole group went out for a cool dinner with a crazy guy serving us and one of the spookiest photographs of we had ever seen watching over us. We didn't want to be too rude and laugh, we figured the guy in the photo was probably someones grandfather...

The next day, another long long bus ride to Antalya, it was a hard day...after surviving so many long trips in South America, I seem to have reached my limit of long bus days. This one had a twist though...the host on the bus got himself into a bit of trouble. All day he kept coming to the back of the bus and flirting with me, and being a bit of an idiot, he was cute, but he was an idiot. What I didn't know though was that he was going to the front of the bus and saying a lot of things about me in Turkish to other men on the bus...not exactly sweet things either...Luckily, Arzu was sitting close to him, and she heard what he said because she speaks Turkish. She was livid by the time we reached Antalya and then told me, and we confronted him in front of his boss...the guy tried to deny it, but we think he probably got into a bit of trouble. He really was an idiot, apparently he threw bags of rubbish from the bus onto the road as we went along and I didn't see anyone else do that.

Antalya is a great town, very old, and has a Roman Harbour and great old town. The museum there is great too, and has some amazing Roman era Sarcophagi and sculptures. The Roman Harbour is still used today and there are lots of places to eat overlooking it on the cliffs above. We had a great hotel with friendly hosts. Kelly and I decided to go to the 'beach' in the afternoon, and ended up having to laugh at the experience. It was good, but different! Lets just say, the 'beach' was a walk down the cliffs onto a pontoon, complete with Astroturf, and banana lounges, and umbrellas. You pay three dollars for a spot, and umbrella and cushion. To get into the water, you climb down a ladder to enter the grotto. Crazy. But the water was welcome and my first real swim in the Med! That night Arzu, Kelly and I decided we needed to dance, and tried to find a good disco...a tough call, but we had a dance anyway in a place that had only us and two gay guys dancing. At least we weren't hasselled.

We left Antalya all too quickly but where we arrived was for me even better...Kas, my favourite place in the whole trip. It is a little town on the water, full of artistis and jewellery and it just had a nice feel to it. I went mad and bought a lot of jewellery! We had a mad dinner overlooking the harbour that night in preparation for a big day the next day...a full day of sea kayaking for some, and lazing on the boat for others. I did the sea kayaking, I love the active days, especially after being on so many buses. It was a solid day, with beautiful sunshine, amazing water and lots of fun. The wind whipped up in the afternoon on the way back which made it interesting trying to get back, lots of waves to ride. We went a long way, and got to see how far when at our lunch stop we got to climb a hill and see the Roman Castle. i was with Kelly, and we would have been so much faster if we didn't spend most of the time in fits of laughter...mostly caused by the fact I had the pedals for steering and that was a bit of a mistake. You can't laugh and steer at once, and there were a lot of rocks in some places...at least we kept the others amused. Dan said that being behind us was hilarious just to see the rudder moving constantly from left to right. Funnily enough, it broke...I swear, it wasn't me!!!

We kayaked over a sunken Roman city, which was cool, and we had a chance to swim to along the way. The colour of the water is so beautiful...I can see why rich people buy yachts and sail around these parts...I kept hoping to meet someone who had one! The idea is great, the reality for one who gets seasick, not so good.

Although we had such a big day we were feeling pretty energised and up for a big night. We went looking in the shops, had a cheap dinner and then Kelly and I ended up having a dring and a Nagili pipe...you know the big water pipes. They have flavoured tobacco in them and you don't inhale. It isn't anything like the taste of cigarette smoke and we had a strawberry flavoured one. It was kinda silly, we were in this bar, sitting on cushions at the front with European tourists finding us amusing. We ended up bumping into more of the group and sharing a couple of pipes and some wine between us. Then we went dancing and went to a bar called Queen Bar which we had been warned was a gay bar, but locals claimed no...we met Arzu and Caz there and for a while had the place to ourselves and then it got really busy, with both gay and straight customers. lots of fun and Arzu met a guy there (our waiter) who we all agreed was seriously 'hot'! Anyway, it ended up being a bit of a crazy night of dancing with Kelly and I coming home at some ridiculous hour to pack for an early start in the
morning. Sleep is overrated right?!

From Kas we went to the next sea town of Fethiye which is on a harbour and has an interesting old town. We got there in the morning which was great and so had an afternoon to be free...we decided to catch a dolmus to SaKlient Gorge, which is quite an attraction in these parts for Turks too. It was a good hour on the bus and we had a great driver who really looked after us. Along the way, we picked up his wife who was a lot younger than him and so pretty, we all figured they were recently married, because they had they totally in love look, it was really sweet. When we arrived at the Gorge we had lunch in this buffet restaurant which had little jetties over the river, so we ate on cushions over the river, it was pretty relaxing. I was 'in charge' of this trip...honorary tour leader (because you know it has run through my mind more than once to look into this as a job...) The main attraction of Saklient Gorge is to walk through it, through water that is just above freezing because direct sunlight doesn't ever make it into the narrow gorge. We had to hire jelly shoes and then entered the park...my main concern given I was in charge was the posibility of someone breaking something (OK, I know, the only real risk was me breaking something...well, something else...) Luckily for us the water level wasn't too high, sometimes it can be waist deep, there are nothing but rocks in the river bed and the current is very strong. The Gorge was stunning and the walk a lot of fun. The guys, Dan and Anthony played a fairly wicked practical joke on me regarding the depth of the water (yes I actually believed Dan was standing in deep deep water and not actually kneeling in it...duoh!)

the next day was something we had all looked forward to on the trip, the chance to go to Oludeniz beach, a perfect half moon beach, white sand, blud water and the lovely lagoon. Of course, being the adventureous types, we decided against the soft option of catching the bus, we drove to an abandoned Greek village first and then hiked for 2 1/2 hours...god it was hot, and at one stage Oludeniz was alluding us (look, one person laughed when I said it...!) and eventually after loosing the path for the third time we made our own and found a private beach to spend the afternoon at, no sand, but lounges and beer and the dulcet sounds of whinging Poms...but once you switched off to that, it was fantastic and so relaxing. Kelly and I had an adventure getting home after the others had left by finding out all the buses from our beach had gone...luckily a hotel bus was kind enough to give us a lift to the dolums station and then we were fine. That night we ate fish and chips cooked on a boat, eating them on the little boat in the harbour which was fun.

From Fethiye we went to Pammukale, somewhere I had seen for many years in photographs and had wanted to visit. Pammukale is the white travatine terraces that are pretty famous, but over the years have been destroyed due to people bathing in them. When we arrived in Pammukale it was really hot weather, but our hotel was pretty cool...actually called Melrose Place because it was built around a pool. We decided on the bus over we should adopt a Melrose Place character...I bet you can't guess who I got? Anyway, Kate had warned us that Pammukale was memorable not just for the terraces, but the people who visited them, and she was not wrong. Unfortunately the terraces do not look so great now and while there are no longer pools for people to bath in, you can still walk up them along a path. There is just one guy who is supposed to keep check on what people are doing and that is no easy job, because basically there are about 1000 people on there at any one time. Let me clarify that, nearly 1000 scantily clad Russians on there at any one time...scantily clad no matter what their size too. Believe me, I have seen enough human flesh in that one afternoon to last a lifetime. It also strengthened my theory on speedo wearers...i.e the smaller the speedo the larger the stomach overhanging the speedo. Us girls were thoroughly repulsed. The guys scored a little better, some of the bikini wearers had bodies that were designed for them...but still, we all found
the displays over the top and pretty offensive. Pammukale itself is still quite conservative but you had girls walking back to buses, in heels and
g-strings....Not only that, but there were a heap of people posing as thought they were doing modelling shoots, except they weren't...it is just apparently
the thing to do. We all decided that these antics were the thing we would remember most about Pammukale. The thing is, unless this site is closed to all
people very soon, there will be nothing left within a couple of years anyway.

Another early start and we were on our way to the town of Selcuk, mainly to see the old Grrek/Roman city of Ephesus which is a large archaeological site and has a massive theatre. We ended up going to Ephesus in the afternoon and had a very interesting guide called Juan who had a great knowledge of the site. The city was amazing, the second best one I have seen after Pompeii. After severall really hot weather days, it was fantastic that the temperature was cooler because it was overcast...otherwise we wouldn't have enjoyed the tour which was quite long. that night we went up the road to a hotel and had a dinner for 10 Lira, which is about $10 AUS and it was really brillant. The hotel is run by a couple of guys who are characters, one who is very keen on Nagili pipers, so once again we indulged. This one was so strong though, and not as nice! But I got to wear a silly costume.

The next day was a free day, but we arranged a trip to go to a greek village for lunch and fruit wine tasting (the wine was awful but the town sweet and I bought a great dress!). In the morning Caz and I went to explore the town and got caught talking to a carpet salesman, who offered Caz 5 camels to marry me. Caz argued I was worth at least a 1000! He argued 5 camels was a good price....hmmmm. I wasn't tempted. We also visited Mary's House, which is the site believed to be the last residence of the Virgin Mary and where she died. There is a lot of evidence to support this, and John the Baptist lived in the area for a while too (he was responsible for looking after Mary once Jesus had died). The house has gone, but on the remains a chapel was built. The surrounding area is lovely and serene, and there is a section where people tie bits of string and fabric and make a wish...which I did too.

That evening I had a really great experience, while shopping! Kelly and I had ventured into town, got completely wet in the rain and sought refuge in a bar with a beer. On the way back to the hotel, we went down a different street and met Julia who had a jewellery story and promised us she didn't have a cousin who sold carpets (this joke is much funnier after being in Turkey for a while). We had such a brilliant time, because the stuff she sold was lovely, but Julia was just an amazing and incredible person. Full of life and compassion (she was looking after a 4 year old Japanese boy who had been dumped for the week by his mother). We ended up in the store over an hour, talking and drinking coffee and her husband then read our coffee (Turkish coffee is like mud at the end, and you tip your cup over onto the saucer and after a bit your fortune can be read). For both Kelly and I, it was an interesting experience, and I apparently had a very big fish...the biggest he had ever seen, which means I am a very lucky person (but you know, after the life I have had so far, I could have already told him that!!)

Our next day was another big travel day to Cannakale our point for seeing Gallipoli, a place I have wanted to visit for some time, although not really sure why. Cannakale itself isn't much, but at Anzac House you can watch the Gallipoli movie and have a hot Milo (we did both). The next day we visited Troy in the morning, the city of legend and myth which is actually 9 different cities built over the ages on the one spot. It was a cool site, although the wooden horse there was really tacky and when you think about the whole idea of the people being fooled by the wooden horse you have to wonder! The who afternoon was over at the Gallipoli pennisula, a very moving tour. We visited Anzac Cove, and all the major battle sites, Lone Pine and many Turkish sites. The cemeteries are very emotional, expecially to see the ages of those who died, and how many. the Turkish one didn't have anyone older than 24 in it. To see the place that has become legend in Australia is hard to describe...it is a beautiful place, lovely beaches, lots of trees and birds singing. It is quiet and serene, such a contrast to 90 years ago. The trenches still survive, they are haunting. There are places where a thin road now divides the ANZAC and Turkish trenches, these soldiers could stand up and they would have seen each others faces. Apparently they would throw notes and presents to each other, which makes it seem even sadder because there seemed to never be any anger between the two groups who were told to kill each other. Even today, the Turkish people hold the ANZACs as heroes like their own soldiers. Another thing you realise about Gallipoli is that it was a Turkish victory, and so there are thousands of Turks who make their own pilgrimage to this place. I am glad I went, although it makes the whole idea of war seem even stupider and more criminal when you see just how small the area of land they were fighting for really is, and how many people lost their life on it.

After a really early morning start, we were on a bus the next day back to Istanbul, with all of us in a bit of shock that the 22 days had gone by so quickly and the next day would be many peoples last. We reached Istanbul at lunchtime and then headed out for last minute shopping. We had some games for our goodbyes and a cool dinner and night at a bar where we played a quiz on our trip. It was a fun night, but the next day was goodbye to most people and that is the bit that is always hard. Kelly and I had one more day together and we went to the Grand Bazaar again for shopping and a last lunch. Then the next morning it was my turn for goodbye as I hopped on a plane back to London. I loved Turkey, it was more than I expected it to be and I had only ever heard people rave about it. I wish I had more time there but I guarantee I will be back there sooner rather than later. It was a brilliant time, and most of that comes down to the fantastic people I travelled with, 12 strangers who are now friends...which is what makes these trips so worthwhile.