A Travellerspoint blog

Turkey

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

From Castles to Battlefields

sunny 40 °C

Kizkalesi was the first stop on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey for us. It was only going to be a one nighter, a stopover plus it had a floating castle about 500m off the coast which read really nicely in the Lonely Planet bible. To understand Kizkalesi you may need to refer back to the section on Budva (remember 80’s Gold Coast?) and you’ll get a fair idea of what it was like. The big difference though were the muslim women wearing swimming suits that looked like raincoats, full length, head covering, ugly patterned swimsuits. Mind you, the people were, once again, super duper friendly and couldn’t do enough for us. However after feeling the need to wear gloves when touching anything we were happy to leave the next morning.

After Kizkalesi it was on to Antalya, one of the biggest cities on the coast, where we had booked a room in the old town for three nights. With the coastline being what it was we made sure our hotel had a pool. A gorgeous little boutique hotel that saw a lot of us over the three days because lo and behold Sultan’s Revenge struck again (known as bali belly in other regions). Adam was the lucky victim this time and was laid up for a day getting familiar with the bathroom. We blame it not on a particular dish but on a nut vendor who offered us samples from his bare hands (I know, I know how stupid were we)and then proceeded to become slightly miffed when we didn’t want to buy the $20 worth of nuts he shovelled (again with bare hands) into brown paper bags. He was not going to let us walk away empty handed but relented when Adam requested that he ‘don’t touch’ him. He’d be happy to know we were both a bit delicate for almost a week. Adam fared worse than me because after working around snotty, sneezy kids (not you girls) my immune system can handle pretty much anything.

Anyway it gave us plenty of time to lounge by the pool while the overzealous cleaning lady basically rearranged our belongings to the way it suited her, right down to stacking our books and throwing our dirty clothes back into our suitcase. We did discuss giving her a stern talking to about touching our stuff but one look at her face sent us scurrying so we were all talk and no action on that front.

We decided to can the rest of the coastline and head inland to Pamukkale. This town is known as the ‘Cotton Castle’. For centuries volcanic activity has forced water full of calcium caltrate to flow out of the earth and as it has flowed down the hillside it has hardened. The hillside looks like it is covered in snow or ice but it is actually caltrate with naturally forming thermal springs all up the side of the hill. You can walk up them, bare feet only, and dip in the pools all the way up to the top. The water trickles over the hardened caltrate the whole way down and is something unlike anything we have seen before. It is a truly remarkable sight and yet probably only covers an area of about 5km2. At the top of the hill are the ruins of Hierapolis, a retreat built by the Romans, which took advantage of the so-called health benefits. One thing that did pique our interest though is the way Eastern European women feel the need to pose for photos. Compared to them our photos are tame and prudish. These women drape themselves over rocks, ruins, pools in provocative positions and often become the main feature of the photo rather than the scenery they are posing in. It is truly bizarre, some of the poses, unmentionables, have us shaking our head or laughing or both. Think Ralph models and you’ll be halfway there.
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From Pamukkale it was off to Izmir and we had scored a five star hotel, the Swissotel Grand Efes, no breakfast included though. On the way to Izmir we stopped off at Ephesus, one of the best preserved Roman cities in the Roman Empire, we were a bit ho hum about looking at more ruins but knew it was a must see and we are glad we did. It covered an enormous area and had amphitheatres and the old latrines (that’s toilets for the uneducated). They sat pretty close in those toilets. It is amazing that even with their lack of technology and industry they were still able to build things that can withstand ‘life’ for 5000 years. Their ‘technology’ and ‘industry’ could possibly be better than our modern version. The heat was stifling and the paths were crowded but it was definitely worth the effort to see.
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We arrived at Izmir hankering for the three nights of luxury we were about to enjoy; not much to report really except we spent a lot of time by their gorgeous pool. The hotel had a great feature in the rooms though, scales. Don’t scoff, these scales made you skinnier each time you stepped on them. I truly believe that I was getting skinnier every time I stepped on but Adam was cynical and so the hotel earned the name ‘Anorexia Hotel’. Izmir has a great promenade and we prowled along up to the bazaar area to look again at stall after stall of quality Turkish merchandise a.k.a junk.

Another location on the list was the ruins of the city of Troy. It was 9km off the main road towards Canakkale and knowing the legend we decided to stop in. There is hardly anything left just the bases off some marble columns. We were through in about 20 minutes and were not very impressed by the ruins. Ephesus gave a much better indication of ancient life. If you are wondering about the Trojan horse, well they have a very poor imitation of it in the main entry area. It looks like it has been constructed of fence palings and is only about 15metres high.
Our last and possibly our most important stop was Canakkale, which was the town we were based in to go to Gallipoli. Once again construction in the streets, not just one but all, hindered our search for our hotel but we finally found the Grand Anzac Hotel. We immediately booked a tour for the next day as this was not something we wanted to do ourselves; we were going to trust the experts.

TJ was our tour guide and we were on a bus with a small group of Aussies and Kiwis (about 15 of us). TJ is Turkish but is married to an Aussie girl who lives in Corowa (near Albury-Wodonga) and he is officially an Australian citizen who is the only person to take his citizenship pledge in Gallipoli. He has a passion for the region and really knows his stuff. He was fascinating to listen to and gave a great background to each sight as we pulled up. Perhaps the most poignant places were Anzac Cove and the Lone Pine Cemetery. Anzac Cove has suffered from erosion and now only has about six metres of sand left. To see the harsh landscape that the Anzacs had to scramble up and over really hit home about how terrifying this must have been for them. We visited the graves and were able to sign the visitors book at Lone Pine. Being there also highlighted how far the Anzacs were from achieving their goal and how they really were fighting an unwinnable battle. TJ had some great anecdotes from the time and he had everyone in the group hypnotized with his storytelling. It is difficult to really explain Gallipoli only to say that it made us proud to be Australian and to hear the stories of these brave soldiers. It is a pilgrimage every Aussie should make.
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Another great thing about the day was being around other Aussies, and really understanding again how laid back we truly are. We didn’t have people pushing in front of us to take photos or be first on or off the bus. By the end of the day we were sitting with some of the guys from Curl Curl who are three weeks into their five month trip and so we were all swapping stories. It was fun.

So now it is time to leave. Turkey has been an enormous culture shock for us in many ways and even though we are ready to leave and head to our next country, Bulgaria, it has been a great three weeks full of friendly people and amazing sights, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Posted by Ange and Adam 13:04 Archived in Turkey Tagged beach town izmir castle old antalya anzac gallipoli pamukkale çanakkale calcite Comments (1)

Up Up and Away

sunny 33 °C

Leaving Istanbul was a lot easier than predicted and before we knew it we were on the motorway. Although we did have to reverse out of a toll gate because we didn’t have the swipe card, duh, which some sympathetic soul ended up giving us just to get us out of his way. We were headed for the town of Safranbolu. Guess what it is famous for? If you guessed Saffron you would be right and ‘bolu’ means many, so many saffron. Safranbolu is another UNESCO listed location because it still has its original village of ottoman houses. This was the reason we were going, to look at old houses. Anyway we arrived at our accommodation, Guney Konak, a family run B & B type thing in, yeah you guessed it, an ottoman house. The mother couldn’t speak any English and Dad wasn’t much better so the fourteen year old son, who learns English in school, became our go to man.
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We headed down the hill to the original village and bought some saffron body spray and had a tour through an original ottoman, nothing too exciting but a really pretty and relaxing place to visit. When we arrived back at Guney Konak (good name isn’t it) the family was sitting out the side eating fresh picked cherries off their own tree and beckoned quite enthusiastically for us to join them, so we did. Unfortunately they couldn’t speak English and we obviously don’t speak Turkish, although we are learning a little every day, so it became slightly awkward, just a lot of smiling and nodding and pointing, especially at the cherries. Suddenly out of the door came Mammamatelli (or something like that, we ended up calling him Big Mama) a Turkish optometrist from Ankara who lives at Guney Konak during the week for his one year secondment to Safranbolu. He translated for us and was full of information about Turkey, including what are those crumbed ball things we see people eating? Anyway he offered to buy us some of the best ice-cream in town so off we went. Turkish ice-cream is completely different to any ice-cream we have eaten, it is chewy.

One night in Safranbolu was all we had scheduled and then it was two nights in Amasya, about a six hour drive away. Amasya is famous for its apples AND tombs built into the rock cliffs overlooking the city. The tombs were built by the Pontic Kings and were built in the 4th Century BC. The Kings wanted people to be able to worship them after they had died, how lovely. Anyway they are located in the rock face of the mountains and are pretty amazing. To think that this was done so long ago and they are still intact boggles the mind. At night they are lit up and look quite spectacular.
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We had organised two nights in Amasya so that we would be available to watch Game Three of the 2011 State of Origin. Unfortunately due to technical hitches we couldn’t watch it but Boon was kind enough to message us through score updates. Needless to say there was one happy and one not so happy camper by the end of the game. Go You Mighty Maroons!!! One thing we have noticed about Turkey is how incredibly friendly everyone is. It would be fair to say it is the friendliest place we have been so far. In Amasya, we were walking along the river and saw a statue of a (questionable) kangaroo so Adam wanted some silly photos. Next minute a young girl (20ish) comes along and drags us back to her stall to give us some tea. Then she proceeds to grab the camera and make us pose in a million different spots to snap some piccies of us. After that she runs across the street to the bakery and buys us a bread muffin thing that was super tasty. We tried to offer her money for it but she wouldn’t accept it. Then later in the day we stopped at another street vendor, selling nuts, for some footy snacks. We bought 3 lira worth of peanuts (aus$1.80) and then before we knew it we were sitting on stools drinking more tea and using lots of hand gestures to communicate with our new friend Mehmet.

The next town on the itinerary was Goreme (Gu rem mee) in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. This region is a result of ancient volcanic activity and then subsequent erosion wearing away parts of the rock to create a landscape seen nowhere else. The erosion has caused the rocks to create shapes known as ‘fairy chimneys’. If you haven’t heard of it please look it up on the net, it is truly remarkable. The locals have set up house in these ‘cave houses’ where the rocks have been carved out and made into dwellings. Our hotel was in one of these and although quiet dark was great fun. To see everything here requires a bit of driving as most of the sights are reasonably spread out. There is the open air museum which is the location of ten churches carved out of the rocks by Byzantine Monks. There are frescos on these walls older than our country dating from the 5th Century. It really is a hard place to describe but amongst the dust and the dirt is this overwhelming sense of just how amazing the planet and Mother Nature is. Unfortunately, the way the Turks treat their environment, come 20-50 years I doubt it will still look the way it does.

Hot air ballooning was another hot ticket item and boy were we excited. A 4am rise was in order before a luscious breakfast and then jamming 17 people in a wicker basket. It was fantastic. Hot air ballooning is big business in Cappadocia and there were no less than fifty balloons in the air. They do this every day of the year. It is a magical experience; floating about 2500 feet in the air with the only noise the gas burners helping us to rise even higher. Then the slow descent among the valleys and the treetops, to see this amazing landscape from such a vantage point gave us a whole new appreciation for its beauty and the absolute uniqueness of it.
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Another item on our agenda was Kaymakli where there is an underground city started by the Hittites in 5th Century AD. Holey Moley! Now when you think of an underground city you probably think of skinny tunnels and tiny alcoves, well this was nothing like that. Seven storeys underground started by the Hittites and then continued by the Christians when they were hiding from the Arabs. Think of a tree trunk and then all these stairs, tunnels, rooms, chambers all running off it like branches. They had ventilation systems, kitchens and even places to tether their animals. It was set up so they could live down there for months at a time and even had defensive measures set up such as rolling stones to block off doorways. We splurged for a tour guide, Mustafa a little old Turkish man, for this one and were very glad we did. Adam actually admitted to a bit of a man crush after we got back to the car.
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The days were scorching hot and the whole muslim consideration to dress went out the window, comfort overruled religion. No god would want anyone to be that uncomfortable. However what is interesting is even in 40 degree heat you still have the muslim women in their jeans ,long shirts and then their trench coats over the top, and of course the headpiece. Another sad thing we have noticed is their total lack of care for their environment. Not a second thought is given to throwing things out of car windows, dropping cigarette butts as they walk along or in one case tossing an empty water bottle into a river. This final case has an interesting story to it though.

We headed, on Mustafa’s recommendation, to the Ilhara Valley and Selime (apparently Star Wars was filmed there) to look at the cave formations and the lush river and valley in this desert environment. Selime was great, climbing rocks to look through two storey century old cathedrals, we felt like big kids. When we arrived at Ilhara we had to descend about 100 steps down to the valley, along with every man and his rug. You can walk alongside the small river (stream?) as a bit of a nature walk. We had been walking no longer than ten minutes when we spotted a young girl (muslim) toss her empty water bottle into the river after walking five metres past a bin. Well we were all over her like a rash. After watching for weeks the Turks treat their whole environment like a garbage tip we snapped. (Most of you will find this next bit extremely out of character for both of us being the calm, placid, reserved people we are)

Calling out to her in our angriest voices ‘Hey, There’s a bin right there!!!’ ‘Unbelievable you people!’ came out of our mouths and then Adam’s gem was ‘It’s not even my country and I treat it better than you’ while shaking his head. So angry were we, we didn’t even care we were getting stared out (and possibly targeted?). She cowered in between her friends and hopefully will think twice before doing it again. That is what we see every hour of the day, absolute carelessness and disregard for their own space. They are simply totally ignorant and uneducated to the detrimental effect they are having, not to mention the aesthetics. Heading to the coast we can only hope that more care will be shown there and there will be no repeats of Montenegro.

We are into the second half of our six month adventure and will soon be traipsing the Gallipoli Peninsula, can’t wait.
PS The Baklava is really good!!

Posted by Ange and Adam 10:27 Archived in Turkey Tagged caves cappadocia tombs air goreme safranbolu amasya "hot ballooning" Comments (0)

Istanbul

A Turkish Delight

sunny 30 °C

Istanbul, formerly Byzantium and Constantinople, has a population of approximately 14 million people. That was about to increase by two. After seeing our life flash before our lives driving in the traffic, we arrived in Sultanahmet, the old town of Istanbul and our home for the next five nights. We checked into our hotel and proceeded to guess our way into the heart of the action. The first thing, after getting a map, was to get a feed. We had been in the car for about four hours and needed some sustenance. In Turkey, you have three choices, lamb, chicken or meat. In some cases you can get all three at once. You have to give them credit though, they know how to cook it.

There are a million things to see and do in Istanbul and luckily enough they are all close enough to see them all pretty easily. We spent our first day just doing reconnaissance and getting hassled by very eager carpet salesman. To make sure we fit everything in we set ourselves up a system, yes it sounds boring but when you have to compete with 14 million others, it is essential. We cruised around being conscious that now we were in a muslim country with 98% of the country following Islam. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a mosque. We decided our first full day we would hit the Grand Bazaar so that way if we wanted to go back we would have plenty of time.

The Grand Bazaar is just that – Grand. Four thousand shops in a labyrinth selling everything from gold to textiles to carpets to silver to junk. The Grand Bazaar was built by the Sultan Mehmet for somewhere for merchants to trade around 1461. We had no idea how long it would take us to navigate the bazaar and in the end we were there for approximately four hours. Taking our time meandering through the lanes we were reminded of Bali with the way they offer up their goods. The difference between the Turks and the Balinese is the wit. The Turks are great with the one-liners to entice you to buy, amongst our favourites were: Spend some money on your honey, Buy something for your mother-in-law, Are you mad at me? No, Then why not buy?, Can I sell you two carpets? No, how about just one? We didn’t buy much as we don’t really have the room, however we did find ourselves dragged into a carpet store and given a lesson on the difference between kilims and carpets. Much to the salesman’s disappointment no amount of teaching was going to get us to buy even though they really are very beautiful.

The Turks love their tea and now we do too. They drink the stuff non stop and we know why, it is delicious. It is served in dainty little glass cups with cubes of sugar. Nobody drinks coffee, although we did try some. The Turkish coffee is similar to the Bosnian, great until you get to the sludge at the bottom. We went a bit crazy buying some sweets, Baklava and Lokum (Turkish Delight) were the obvious choices and you certainly have no trouble finding them. Shop after shop sell all varieties by the kilo and the displays are enough to make your eyes water. Will power is the order of the day.

Another of the must dos in Turkey is the Blue Mosque. It was built by Sultan Ahmet in the 17th Century (around 1610) and is truly magnificent. Being a typical sultan, Ahmet wanted something to rival Aya Sofya (more on that later) and so built a mosque with six minarets which was apparently more than the mosque at mecca. This annoyed the Islam boss guys in Mecca and so Ahmet commissioned and paid for Mecca to have another minaret built to placate them. (Minarets are the towers). It has an enormous courtyard with a central ablution area for the men to wash their feet, the women have to wash theirs out in the back corner. Tourists are not allowed to enter at prayer time, of which they have (officially) five a day. When you do go in women have to cover up and so wearing an attractive ensemble of crushed blue fabric that they gave us, in we went. Inside is breathtaking, with pillars five metres in diameter and a central dome 43m in height. Only men are allowed in the open prayer area and women who come in to pray have to stay up the back in closed off areas. Are we seeing a pattern here? It is known as the Blue Mosque because of the tens of thousands of tiles inside that give it its blue hue.
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Opposite the Blue Mosque is the Aya Sofya built in 537AD by Emperor Justinian and his apparently precocious wife Theodora. It is classed as one of the Ancient Wonders of the World and is a massive tourist attraction. Its history is fascinating. It was built as a Christian church by the Romans because Istanbul (at that time Constantinople) was part of the Roman Empire. There are gold mosaics of Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist and Archangel Gabriel all over the ceilings and walls. However after the Ottomans gained control of Istanbul in the 15th Century Sultan Mehmet turned it into a mosque. Now it has massive circular disks with the names of the Sultan, Mohammed the Prophet and others in Arabic across the ceiling in the main worshipping centre. It is a real mix of Christianity and Islam and has been a museum since 1935. One of the funniest things in it is a mosaic in the Upper Gallery of Empress Zoe and her husband, however because she had three husbands she just had the mosaic changed each time to match the new husband. Clever girl!
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Topkapi Palace is the third enormous structure in the same area. Built by Sultan Mehmet, the man obviously had size issues, it has four courtyards and the best bit…..a harem. We went for a tour through the harem and got to see where they had their little parties and where the favourites lived. Some of the other tourists had personal guides, so if you loitered around near the English speaking ones you got a little bit of extra info for free. Bargain!!

Having an authentic Turkish Bath was also something we were not leaving Istanbul without doing. We went to the original 300 year old bath (1741) that has been used in Hollywood movies. Men and women are separate but basically the same thing happens except the level of nudity. For those of you who have had a Turkish bath, feel free to skip the next bit, for those that haven’t read on. You walk into a central area with two levels of change rooms and your ‘attendant’ gives you a towel to wrap around you. Then you are led into the Wash room where everything is marble. The room is octagonal shaped with a massive marble slap sitting conspicuously in the centre and small sinks and bench seating (all marble remember) around the outside. You are left there to steam for 10-15minutes and then your attendant comes in and leads you to the marble slab and whips your towel off you and places it on the marble slab. That first moment of total nudity (for women, men always had their jewels covered) is difficult to say the least. It’s been a long time since I’ve been totally naked in a room full of strangers….well maybe not that long (um joke). They then proceed to soap you up and well…wash you. Then they lead you back over to the side and rinse you off and then back over to the slab (naked remember) to oil and massage you and then back to the side again and wash your hair. By the end everyone’s naked and you realise it is no big deal but it is still slightly confronting. The men were done slightly differently but Adam’s guy Ali reminded him of the prison warden in Midnight Express. We were both really glad we go it ‘done’.

Other activities were a ferry ride on the Bosphorous River over to Asia. Two continents in one day was pretty exciting in theory but there was not much happening in Asia. We also went to the Spice Markets and had a ‘scent’sational time and headed over to modern Istanbul to the suburb of Beyoglou. If we thought we had seen busy before that was nothing to what we were seeing now. The mall/shopping strip would have been 30m wide and there were people shoulder to shoulder for as far as the eye could see. We couldn’t believe our eyes, the absolute busyness of it all, where were all these people going and where did they come from? Both of us can confidently say we have never seen so many people in one space at one time.
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Istanbul seems to draw tourists from everywhere and whenever someone found out we were from Australia the first thing they said was ‘oi, oi, oi’. They love that chant. There is so much to see and we couldn’t possibly tell everything. The history of Istanbul itself, let alone Turkey, amazes you when you are surrounded by things thousands of years old and the stories behind them. For a muslim country the Turks are fairly relaxed, the Arabic tourists were the ones all kitted out in the full black burqas and we actually saw a couple with even their eyes covered. Weird! Also the age old question (or my question) of do they remove their face things to eat was answered out at dinner one night when it became a mission to watch. Trying not to stare it seems that they don’t remove them they just shove the food in underneath and let me tell you this girl was shoving that food in there like it was her last meal.

Leaving was sad but we have the rest of Turkey to visit and if Istanbul is anything to go by it is going to be fantastic. We cannot say enough how much we loooovvvveeeedd Istanbul and would go back in a heartbeat.

Posted by Ange and Adam 13:35 Archived in Turkey Tagged istanbul Comments (2)

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