If you have ever wanted to visited Morocco (or any other Muslim country) but are not sure if you could handle it, Turkey is a great taster! It was far more relaxed and western than Morocco but still gave you the cultural experience of a Muslim country. With such a rich history (blending of the ancient, Christian and Ottoman worlds) and a strong culture, it is a fascinating country to explore. I found the people to be very welcoming and certainly very tourist friendly. English is widely spoken and the food, ohhhhh the food...
Like Morocco, as a solo female traveller, I felt that it was probably in my best interest to travel in a tour group rather than venturing it alone (in hindsight, it probably would not have been all that bad?!). This time I decided to go with the G Adventures Yolo tour, not for any other particular reason other than the fact that is was firstly cheap, and secondly, fit in with my timeline (which had quickly become quite rigid). Because it was a Yolo tour (budget), the group dynamic was much different than the group that I had in Morocco. This time I was one of the older tourists in the group. At first I had some reservations about this, fearing that some of the younger tourists may be lacking in maturity (and resulting in me feeling more like a mother hen), but this couldn't be further from the case! I am not sure if perhaps I am young at heart, or if they were just incredibly mature, but I really enjoyed all of their company. They were certainly some of the coolest early twenties people that I have ever met (and the late twenties and plus thirties were pretty cool too)!
As G Adentures is a Canadian company, I was expecting to be out numbered as an Aussie, but as I have quickly found, you really can't throw a stone and miss an Aussie while travelling! Not that I am complaining, I love Aussies, but it would just be nice to have a bit more diversity in the group. But despite the group being mainly Aussies, they were the good ones (not the embarrasing ones that give us all a bad rep overseas), and we did have a few tokens to spice things up too.
So here is the run down of our crew...In no particular order -
Sebastian #2 - the first person that I met in the group. A Vancouverite with a very dry sense of humour. I later caught up with him when I went to Vancouver this past July...a great guy!
Sebastian #1 & Ragha - the token Norweigans. Probably two of the most good-looking people on the planet and so lovely. Expert hikers (Ragha bascially does piruettes up the mountain, I am not joking!). Sebastian #1 is an avid fan of Tom Jones (small caveat: when under the influence of copious amounts of Raki).
Maddie & Jade - I loved these ladies! Two very free spirited chicks from Melbourne in their early twenties. Both doing extended trips through Europe this summer (and Maddie until the end of the year). Beautiful souls. And so mature for their age, I loved hanging with these two.
Mary - Everytime I think of Mary, "Oh Mary!" comes to mind. Mary was my roommate and absolutely hysterical. From Perth and was 19. There was definitely a few motherhen moments here (Mary cannot handle her alcohol at all - I'm talking a One Can Sam). But she is a sweetheart and provided countless hours of entertainment as everything seemed to be a small melo-drama (Nicole and I loved it!). She is also a glutton for sorbet when inebriated - kind of random (I cannot tell you the number of times we have searched for sorbet on the way home after a big night! Classic). I'd have her again as my roomie any day.
Nicole - Absolute legend. From Sydney and just finished up an extensive sail through the Greek islands which I was unbelievably envious of. I spent a lot of time with Nicole because she was so easy going and just an all round good girl to hang out with.
Felice & Lauren - Two more from Sydney. Fantastic girls! They were doing extensive travels through Europe also and were my go tos when you wanted to have a few bevvies. They both had great sense of humours and were just all around fun.
Thomas - Top bloke. A Dutch guy living in Belgium and our resident doctor (Lauren was our resident nurse - both worked in the emergency room) and fortunately for our group, we needed them both on several occasions! We were a very illness and accident prone group (fortunately I was not affected!). Thomas had some serious moves on the dancefloor and really liked to party.
Zhanna - Our New Yorker! From Queens...has a fantastic accent and one of the best senses of humour in the group (extremely cynical humour). She kept me in stitches. She was a lot of fun. I subsequently caught up with her in NYC when I was there in August and the barrel of laughs continued.
Ben & Melissa - An American couple who were both teachers/professors that were very interested in history (Ben actually taught it). Really lovely couple and I was so happy to have them in the group as they were great with prompting Ilyus for all kinds of important history related questions. At some points I think they might have known more about the history though...or at least done their research.
Chloe & Virginie - Two French Canadian girls who had just graduated high school and were on a our of Turkey and Greece as birthday/graduation gifts. It took them a while to open up (I didn't know they actually spoke English until a few days in) but once they warmed up to us, they were always down for a party. Lovely girls.
And finally our tour leader, Ilyus - Obviously Turkish. He was a bit of a partier, which was great when you were in the mood. Even though I haven't had extensive experience with tour groups, I stand firm in my opinion that Abdu (guide from Morocco) has ruined me for all tour guides! He was so fabulous and set the bar very high. Let's just say that Ilyus could be hit or miss. But I didn't care, I loved the group and honestly, to me, that is all that matters!
Day One - Istanbul
As I didn't have the best ticket (when you are travelling extensively you have to often travel using the cheapest and least direct means in order to save a few pennies!) and took Tarom airlines. Tarom airlines was actually decent enough though and one of the few airlines that are still serving free food and alcohol! But because it was the cheapest flight, it meant that I had to spend a two hour layover in Bucharest. Normally this wouldn't have been an issue except for the fact that a) the Bucharest airport is extremely dull, and b) because there was a layover, I got stuck in some bad weather in the air so that meant we did a lot of circling and had a very late landing. This also meant that unfortunately I missed the welcome dinner. I was knackered anyway, so quite happy to get back to the hotel, grab some bottled water (here we go again with the bottled water) and catch up on my blog until bedtime.
Day Two - Istanbul
The next morning I met the rest of the tour group in the lobby prior to our initial wander around Istanbul with the guide. Istanbul was not at all what I had expected. What a beautiful city (and an absolutely enormous place)! I really could not get over the size of it! It is far more cosmopolitan and European than I had initially anticipated and certainly far more liberal than I had expected. I didn't see nearly as many women wearing the traditional Muslim dress and it was common place to see non-related men and women in public together (and even a bit of PDA!). Definitely a much different vibe than Morocco!
We started off our morning with Ilyus giving us a tour of Istanbul by foot. We visited the Aya Sofya (in Sutanahmet Park), Topkapi Palace (home of the Ottoman Sultans and their harems), explored the Blue Mosque, wandered through the Ancient Hippodrome and walked through the famous Spice Bazaar. The Spice Bazaar was built in 1660 and is also known as the Egyptian Bazaar as that is where the majority of the spices were imported at that time. Even today, the Spice Bazaar remains to be the centre of Istanbul's spice trade. It is certainly a sensory delight! If you don't mind dodging the crowds...
Following our tour of the market, Ilyus took us to his favourite local kebab shop where we feasted on some delicious kebabs. I went for the lamb (when in Rome), and it was sensational! The seasoning was to die for! (This may or may not also be the location where four of the members of our group potentially contracted food poisoning...but it's up for debate...some say illness). All I can say is that I am grateful for a stomach of steel.
We walked off our lunch by taking a stroll down to the Bosphorous, which is the strait that forms the boundary between the European and Asian part of Turkey (did you know that Turkey is in both Europe and Asia?!). The banks of the Bosphorous are action packed. It's great for people watching and is where the terminal for the local ferries and tour boats are. Touring the strait via boat is a great way to see how spectacular Istanbul is by water. Ben, Melissa, Sebastian #2 & I did a tour of the Bosphorous later that afternoon.
Later that evening, we all boarded our first of two overnight buses. It was 13 hour long and I believe that hellacious would be an adequate word to describe it (but at least there was wifi!). 4 our of our 17 tourees had come down with some kind of "illness", so needless to say, there was quite a lot of vomiting going on! Pretty gross. Being the eternal optimist that I am, at least they were relatively discrete about it.
Day Three - Cappadocia
As you can imagine, I was absolutely exhausted after the bus ride from hell! We had breakfast as soon as we arrived and I tried a "Gozleme" for the first time. A Gozleme is a Turkish pancake with cheese and potato (absolutely divine!). At that moment, I knew that I would not go hungry in this country! Following breakfast, we milled around the lobby until we could check in to our rooms. I then took a solid 3.5 hour nap to make up for a rough sleep on the bus. Later that afternoon, a few of us headed for a traditional Turkish Bath, which was a phenomenal experience (and the perfect way to recover after being cramped in a bus all night!). A Turkish Bath is similar to a Moroccan hamam with some small differences; they use different products and we were laying on marble tiles. All in all, it comprised of lots of scrubbing and was finished off with a lovely olive oil massage. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, a few of us went out for an early meal and then we hit the hay.
Day Four - Cappadocia
This was by far one of my favourite (and the most exciting things) that I did in Turkey, a hot air balloon ride over the Cappadocia valley! Even though I am afraid of heights, I did feel eerily calm in the balloon. I'm not really sure how that happened though, those baskets are only made of wicker! Post the balloon ride, we took a Region Tour by private bus (visiting several notable sites in Cappadocia including the Open Air Museum - medieval painted cave churches that were painted by Orthodox Monks and approximately 1,000 years old). Cappadocia has the most unique terrain that I have ever seen (you will see in pics below). We then had a traditional Turkish lunch with a Turkish family in their home. The food was divine...stuffed eggplant...yum, yum! Post lunch, we waddled over for a carpet demonstartion (the Turks use a double knot system), visited a castle, and saw some traditional Turkish pottery being made (and the world's largest handmade plate in the making!). That evening we had Turkish night, which consisted of more amazing food; a Turkish mezza and lamb while we watched some traditional Turkish dancing and belly dancers!
Day Five - Cappadocia
We had the first half of the day as free time. Mary (my roommate) and I decided to do a bit of shopping in the village and go for some apple tea (so delicious!!! By far my favourite beverage of the trip - to the point where all of the other tourists were teasing me about it...I drank it with everything at any time!) . That afternoon Ilyus took us on a bike ride through the Louaire Valley which was absolutely stunning! Poor Mary came off her bike early on and got pretty scraped up so had to leave the ride early (along with a couple of the other girls). We went to Fat Boys for dinner which was a local restaurant run by a Turkish man and his Australian wife. They even had Vegemite on the menu - winning! I opted for the very Turkish meal of nachos (sometimes you just need a break). That night we took another overnight bus to Antalya. Fortunately no one in our group actually got sick this time, but a Turkish woman at the back of the bus (where we were sitting) was violently vomiting for the entire eight hour journey. It was by far the grossest thing that I have ever encountered. Let's just say not many of us got sleep that night, between all the sound effects and the result of inherited nausea, it made for a long night!
Day Six - Antalya (Cirali)
We arrived in Cirali (on the Mediterranean Coast) feeling a little worse for wear with the lack of sleep. Luckily we had time for a quick nap before we ventured down to the beach. We were pleasantly surprised to find a stunning beach that was outfitted full of loungers and a full service bar. If you bought a beverage, you got a free lounger. It was by far the best 4 Lira that I ever spent! That evening we had a group dinner and then visited the Chimera. Unfortunately we were iladvised by Ilyus that we were able to climb the rocks to see Chimera in our thongs - worst advice ever. Climbing those rocks in the dark with a beer in one hand and a torch, my camera and a 1.5L of water in the other was hard yakka! What was described by Ilyus as an easy 100m climb up some stone steps, really turned out to be about 1km of cliff scaling (well, it felt like that anyway!). Somehow we all made it up relatively unscathed (a few people fell) but it was certainly worth the arduous walk. In hindsight, I really should have rethought how necessary it was for me to take a beer with me.
Day Seven - Kekova
Today was hot, hot (supposed to be 42C). We weren't due to leave until mid morning so Ben, Melissa, Thomas and I decided to go and see the Olympus ruins which were a short walk from our hotel. Very impressive! We then took a three hour bus from Cirali to Kekova where we boarded the Myra 1 for our overnight stay on the water. What an amazing experience! We swam in dolphin caves, with turtles, saw an underwater city, saw a castle on a remote island, and had one of the best meals of the trip (barbecued fish and a mezza). As you can imagine this was quite the rowdy night, which started with a few solid games of Kings Cup (a great way for things to go pear shaped) and ended with swimming under the stars (Efes in hand, of course!). One thing that will never cease to amaze me is the universal language of a drinking game. No matter what country you come from, you will always know the same games (sometimes slightly varying rules of course!). The water in Antalya is so insanely blue and is very salty, which made it very easy to stay buoyant (a good thing when you are inebriated). And I am very pleased to report that Day Seven was the first day that no one was ill on our trip (aside from perhaps some self induced illness, but that didn't happen until the following morning anyway...and looked like was a walk in the park in comparison to the other bouts of sickness!).
Day Eight - Dalyan
Following our night under the stars, we had a traditional Turkish breakfast aboard the Myra 1, and then made our way back to shore and boarded a four hour bus for Dalyan. It was 44C and there was no AC on the bus. Brutal was an understatement (especially when you are feeling a tad seedy)! Once we finally arrived, I retired to the room for a solid session in the AC and a snooze. A few of us went out for dinner that evening and later discovered an amazing mango daiquiri bar! Woohoo! Dalyan is a big time tourist trap so definitely was much more expensive than other locations in Turkey. We didn't stay out too long that evening, our wallets wouldn't allow us.
Day Nine - Dalyan
We started early on our ninth day. Ilyus had organised us a private boat tour of the canals of Dalyan where we can go and see the Carian rock tombs and the remains of the ancient cities of Dalyan and Kaunos. Post viewing the tombs, we visited a Turkish mud bath and then we continued on the boat to a secluded beach that was only accessibly by boat called Izhuzu (rated as one of hte top ten beaches in the world, I am still not convinced why). En route to the beach, we fed the turtles and placed orders for a blue crab lunch. That evening, per the request of Thomas, who is an absolute machine on the dance floor, we went our for dinner at Multi Culti followed by a night of dancing. This ended up being by far one of our biggest nights, with several members of the group (namely Thomas, Sebastian #1, Mary, Chloe, Ragha, Maddie, & Nicole) absolutely dominating the dance floor all night long. As you can imagine, I had a good go too! The Turks were absolutely loving it and trying (quite hard, I might add) to teach us some of their traditional dances. Unfortunately their efforts were at a complete loss for most of us (especially me!). It was an exceptional night and I cringe now thinking about the amoung of raki shots that were consumed (some how most of it ended up being free).
Day Ten - Pamukkale
Yet another long ride on the bus (perils of touring an entire country in two short weeks!), and we finally arrived at our destination in the afternoon. We first visited the famous white cliffs of Pamukkale (there are no words!) and then visited the Hieropolis. We had dinner in the town and had an early night (except a few avid soccer fans who were glued to the World Cup). Most of us had tired dancing shoes.
Bit of education - the white cliffs of Pamukkale are 2,700m long and 160m high, and visible up to 20kms away. They are truly remarkable and you can even swim in the natural hot springs, which are renowned for their healing properties. Of course we took full advantage! There are 17 hot springs and they can vary in temperature anywhere from 35 and 100 degrees. The white cliffs are formed when the calcium carbonate hardens over time (it is as soft as jelly at first). The hot springs have been used since the second century BC.
Day Eleven - Selcuk
Another three or so hour on the bus and we finally arrived at our destination around midday. As we had free time, as a group, we went and saw the St. Jean Bascilica and the Isa Bey mosque. Post our touring stint, we went into the Old Town for a spot of shopping and had dinner on the terrace of our hotel (suitably named Canberra Hotel). We played drinking games until late.
Day Twelve - Selcuk
Ilyus had given us free time in the morning, so a few of us decided to get up early and make good use of it by taking a local "dolmus" bus to a neighbouring town called Sirince to sample some of the local Turkish fruit wines and shop for crafts. Sirince is a gorgeous town that has a strong Greek influence dating back to sometime in the 19th century when freed Greek slaves inhabited it.
Post our wine tasting, the group reconvened and we visited the ancient Roman ruins of the town Ephesus. Ephesus was one of the foremost cities
of its time as was strategically placed on the trade route and is one of the best places in the world to get feeling of what life must have been like during Roman times. It is incredibly well preserved (Roman brothels and all!). Seriously impressive (even moreso if you are a history buff).
We had dinner in the Old Town that evening and kept it relatively low key.
Day Thirteen - Troy/Canakkale
We had a long seven hour bus ride to get to Canakkale with a pitstop in Troy. Troy is renowned by the Iliad, Homer's epic poem. For centuries the Iliad was regarded as a myth until the ruins of Troy were discovered in the mid nineteenth century. The ruins of Troy are not nearly as impressive as Ephesus (mainly due to the fact that they are not as well preserved) but are much, much older (i.e. 3000BC) so in a way, that is impressive in itself!
Post our pitstop in Troy, we ventured to the gorgeous city of Canakkale for our overnight stay. Canakkale is a harbour town, with a busy port and a thriving student population. The waterfront is always bustling and the nightlife is (usually) great. We were smack in the middle of Ramadan so when we decided to go out that evening, there wasn't too much of a scene. I guess after a day of fasting, when the sun goes down, the Muslims must be knackered and have no energy to go out...fair enough! But we had fun anyway...we always do!
Day Fourteen - Gallipoli/Istabnul and goodbye group!
We had a very early start the following morning for our trip to Gallipoli en route to Istanbul. The traffic in Istanbul is horrendous (I am talking standstill traffic. Ilyus told us that there are 6M cars in Istanbul! Insanity). As most of our group was Australian, the stop in Gallipoli was a very important and quite a moving experience (certainly a very important part of our history!). For those of you who are unaware, Gallipoli is a penninsula on the Aegan sea coast of the Turkey. It is the site of the landing of the ANZACS in the Battle of Gallipoli in World War I. Many ANZACS (and allies) and Turks lost their lives here during WWI. There is a commemorative site for both the ANZACS and Turks who fought and lost their lives. Truly remarkable to have a site dedicated to non-Turks on Turkish soil (especially considering we were fighting against the Turks, who were obviously allied with the Germans).
Post paying our respects, we again boarded the bus for a very long journey into Istanbul. The distance was not far, but our pace was severly lacking! That evening, we went out for dinner and drinks as a group but it was relatively tame. Most people had early morning flights.
While I was really sad to leave the crew behind and bid farewell to Turkey, I was beyond excited for Greece and to spend some time with my family! Bring on the ouzo!!!
Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are!
The Aya Sofya.
Inside the Blue Mosque.
Inside the Blue Mosque.
The Blue Mosque.
Inside the Aya Sofya.
Me outside the Blue Mosque (and practically everyone is out in Istanbul!). It's a very busy spot!!!
The Blue Mosque from the Bosphorus
Istanbul from our boat cruise (Blue Mosque in the background...can't miss it!)
Cappadocia. The most bizarre terrain I have ever seen but just stunning.
Our hot air balloon!
Zhanna & Nicole demonstrating our emergency landing position. We all had to practice this before we went up in the air (not really something you want to think about right before you go on a hot air balloon!).
Cappadocia from up the balloon.
Zhanna, Nicole, Mary (my roommate) and I in our quadrant of the balloon.
Snapping pics of the other balloons that were up in the air with us.
Cappadocia from the air.
More balloons (I really did take a million pictures!!)
The hot air ballooning crew and our very talented pilot (he also had quite a quirky sense of humour and kept joking about jumping out with his parachute...)
Upon returning back to land, we toasted with champagne. Not a bad way to start the day!
Cappadocia during the Region Tour.
The Turkish family that cooked for us. The food was exquisite!
More Region Tour.
I love this photo of Chloe! One of our two token French Canadians, this lovely lady was showing us how its done making pottery (rather proving it's actually quite difficult!). It was Chloe's birthday that day, she turned 19! Oh to be 19 again...and who would have ever thought that at 30 I would be partying with a 19 year old for her birthday...
A Turkish dance show.
Belly dancer! I have a great video of this girl...very impressive!
Biking in Cappadocia.
Stunning Antalya (Cirali)...it was absolutely roasting!
The whole gang in the tray on the back of a truck on the way to go and see the Chimera (the naturally flaming rocks).
The flaming rocks! The picture does not do it justice. It is really quite amazing!
Cirali beach...the quiet part!
The Olympus Ruins at Cirali.
Kekova on our overnight - look at that water! Such a royal blue!!! Incredible.
The crew swimming in the dolphin cave. Unfortunately it wasn't the season for it, but this is where the local dolphins come to have their babies.
Felice, Sebastian & Ilyus jumping off the Myra 1! Those crazy kids...
The underwater city in Kekova. This was amazing! Our boat had a couple of glass windows on the bottom and you could see old artifacts (like cups, plates, etc) that would have been used in ancient times under the water. It is illegal to swim there though as there were instances of people stealing some of them.
Love that water!
The boats of Turkey!
Sleeping beauties. We all slept together on the top of the boat.
Mud monsters! The crew at the mud baths.
Carian rock tombs in Dalyan.
Iztuzu beach which is apparently Turkey's most famous beach...very nice!
The blue crab! Delish...
Inhaling my crab!! Yum, yum...
Mary, Chloe, Nicole & Ragha throwing some Turkish dance moves in Dalyan.
I love this photo! Sebastian up on the bar dancing to Sex Bomb with the Turks. This is what about seven raki shots will do to you! Talk about loose...
The amphitheatre at Hierapolis in Pamukkale.
The famous white cliffs at Pamukkale
Me at the white cliffs.
Felice, Lauren and Thomas wine tasting the local Turkish wine in Sirince...delish!
Sirince...gorgeous town! You can certainly see the Greek influence here.
Wandering the streets of Sirince.
The lady at the restaurant we were at for lunch let me take a photo of her making gozleme...my favourite!
Ruins at Ephesus.
This is the ruins of the goddess Nike at Ephesus.
The library at Ephesus...exquisite!
This is gold...
The horse of Troy! Clearly not the original...me saying hi from the upper right window (how's your eyesight?!).
A few of the group posed for the gimmick photos...pretty savage!
Ruins of Troy.
Partying it up in Canakkale. Sebastian #2, Sebastian #1, Ragha & Ben.
Lauren, Felice & Sebastian #2.
Ben, Nicole & I.
Thomas, Ilyus, Jade, Maddie, Melissa, Virginie, Chloe & Mary.
ANZAC Cove. Hauntingly beautiful...
Me at the ANZAC sign...had to be done!
Mary and the Turkish ice cream! I absolutely adored Turkish ice cream. It is delicious! I'm not really sure how to describe it but it is really thick and very creamy. The best part is the ordering process as the Turks love to play with you by teasing you with the ice cream. You try to grab it, but then they take it away. You grab the cone, but then they move it and it turns out there are two cones, so you are left with the empty one. And because it is so thick, they can flip it upside down and it won't spill. I really wish that I had some footage of the guy messing with me when I tried it for the first time...he was ruthless! It was hilarious.
It's Ramadan so everyone is out at night! Amazing...
The Blue Mosque at night..