Everyone always asked us why are you going to Turkey? Our response was always because it’s something different and of course Turkey did not disappoint.
We didn’t read up on Turkey at all so we really didn’t know what to expect when we got there but after travelling to a Muslim country previously, we of course assumed that the ladies would have to be covered up. Imagine our shock when we arrive in Istanbul and there are girls walking around in shorty shorts and singlets. We soon learnt that Turkey isn’t your usual Muslim country and they are very open-minded and contemporary.
For our first night in Istanbul we met our group and had dinner at a local restaurant to get to know one another. We experienced our first Turkish sheesha (waterpipe) here as well and let’s just say it was a little intimidating compared to what we have seen previously and we also got a taste of how crazy the Turkish can be! Istanbul is quite unique as it straddles the Bosphorus Strait and is situated on two continents – Europe and Asia! The top sights to see in Istanbul would have to be both the main mosques, the Sultan Ahmed mosque (aka Blue Mosque) and Aya Sophia, as well as the Hippodrome, Topkapi Palace and I would also recommend a visit to the Grand Bazaar. We didn’t get a chance to go there but if it’s anything like the shops we saw outside of it, it’s definitely worth a stop! At this point I would also like to note that apparently the guys here aren’t that subtle when it comes to women either. Both Renee and I didn’t experience anything bad but we heard that girls were getting their butts grabbed (on multiple occasions) by both old and young men and even one girl said a guy tried to put his hand up her pants. Obviously we aren’t what the Turks like (which is good) but just a word of warning for the ladies travelling to Turkey to be on your guard.
We made our way onto Ankara which is the capital of Turkey (yep, it’s not Istanbul!) and saw the Ataturk Memorial which is dedicated to the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey. We then journeyed to the Cappadocia region which was definitely the highlight of my trip. For our first night we visited a local family for dinner (homecooked Turkish food is to die for FYI) and afterwards we participated in some traditional Turkish dancing with the family and learnt to play the wooden spoons – we are pros now! The next day I was up early to experience my first ever hot air ballooning trip at sunrise!! This is highly, highly, highly recommended by me so if you are ever in the region – DO IT (no pressure of course)! We started the morning being driven to some unknown area where we got a nice light breakfast and watched the balloons being blown up and before we knew it we were up in the air. Now the sunrise is nice and all but what really makes this special is firstly the Cappadocia region itself and secondly seeing all of the other balloons silhouetted against the sunrise. We landed safe and sound on the back of a trailer (which was pretty impressive in itself) and we even got a glass of champagne to celebrate not crashing! If you are planning on doing this, I would recommend doing it during peak time so you don’t miss out on the effect and I would also do some research about the companies and even spend a little bit more money if needed. We spent an extra $20 AUD or so but that was quality safety and pretty much getting us up in the air on time. I’ve heard so many stories about people completely missing the sunrise as they were waiting for the balloons and we even witnessed people not even getting off the ground, not flying high enough and running into trees and rocks so in my opinion it was definitely worth the extra cash.
I was pretty pumped after this amazing experience and our next stop was to explore the Devrent Valley to see the “fairy-chimneys” which are quite unique rock formations that punctuate the landscape. This is definitely worth a stop as well as the Zelve Open Air Museum and honestly the whole Cappadocia region is one of the most fascinating places I’ve seen!
That night, we had another Turkish experience where we indulged in traditional Turkish food, Turkish beverages (vodka and cherry juice and the DANGEROUS Raki) and watched some traditional Turkish dancing. It was also Renee’s 28th birthday at midnight that evening so she was treated to a great birthday present!!! Our awesome tour guide Tarik had done the sneaky and organised a delicious birthday cake for Renee much to her surprise (especially when the host grabbed Renee, picked her up and carried her down the stairs to her birthday cake to blow out the candles in front of a good crowd of about 200 people.) Renee also got some keepsake Cappadocian wine and she was treated to a decent round of beverages – an awesome way to spend your 28th!!
The next morning (with a slight headache in tow), we had the opportunity to visit a pottery gallery and were able to witness the entire pottery process – from the moulding of the clay, to the firing, drawing, painting and glazing of each unique piece. Much to our surprise, a member of the tour was selected to mould their own unique piece of pottery using the traditional non-motorised clay moulding wheel (your leg gets a work out with this!). The person selected was none other than the (slightly hungover) birthday girl herself – Renee! As Renee sat in front of the group it was revealed that she wasn’t the most clay moulding savvy person in the world!! It was a very entertaining moment especially when the slightly uncoordinated Renee (she has allowed me to say this!) got some assistance from the pottery expert in moulding her clay and then all of a sudden – queue in song that played in Ghost during that oh so romantic clay moulding scene – thanks Tarik! A blushing Renee finished her piece following this slight moment of awkwardness and presented her work of art to the group. The group then had the opportunity to view (and purchase of course) all the finished products in the gallery.
Our next stop on this day was Kaymakli where we got to explore the multi-levelled underground city. This was indeed another great stop as a few of us ‘naughty kids’ strayed from the pack and explored the city on our own. There are that many pathways, hidey holes and short cuts to explore that we just went wild and had so much fun! Of course our tour leader for the underground city probably wasn’t that impressed as we didn’t really learn much from it and we kept losing the group but it is definitely worth a visit – perhaps learn a bit about it though.
We slowly made our way to Konya which is the capital of the Anatolian Seljuk Sultanate. This city is a little bit more conservative so for the ladies it was better to cover up. We only spent a night here and didn’t really get to spend much time looking as it was just a halfway mark before we got to Fethiye. The following day we made our way to the Saklikent Gorge which is Turkey’s longest and deepest canyon. This was quite a nice stop as the ‘lounges’ are located right beside the river but they are also in the water so you had to walk through ice cold water to get to them. It is such a relaxing place to be though but make sure you hold on to your shoes and water bottles as everything just gets swept down the river!
We excitedly made our way to Fethiye which is another highlight of our trip. After being told the previous night we were staying in a hotel in Fethiye that was equipped with two pools, a restaurant and bar, a gym, a spa/beauty centre and a mini golf course, we could not believe our luck – we were poor backpackers, this type of stuff should not be happening!!! We started our first full day in Fethiye by jumping off a cliff and paragliding down to the beach. This was such an amazing experience and if you ever wanted to try paragliding this is the place to do it as the views are stunning! From the skies we hit the water and had our own private boat for the full day and once again – amazing! We travelled the beautiful Mediterranean waters of Turkey and at our first stop; the water was an amazing crystal clear aqua colour. Here we got our second adrenaline fix for the day by going on tubes dragged by a speedboat (the next day our arms were so sore from holding on for dear life from these things!). Our next stop was our lunch stop which was prepared by the crew and consisted of beautiful chicken, fish, salads and pasta. We also got a chocolate, banana and honey pancakes from one of the passing boats. These little pancake boats generally have a guy and a little old lady on them and she makes the pancakes fresh right in front of you and they are such a delicious big snack that leave you wanting more – I actually want one right now as I’m typing this! We had such an amazing day on the boat swimming, jumping, eating and sunbaking (We are now officially a very dark brown colour) and it’s something that I would definitely recommend but of course good company always makes a trip better!
We sadly said goodbye to Fethiye and made our way to the Pamukkale region which translates as ‘cotton castles’. These ‘cotton castles’ are formed from the abundant hot springs in the area which have left amazing terraces of white carbonate material. Another must see sight in my books but I will warn you that during summer it does get extremely hot and there is very little shade so I would recommend going in the late, late afternoon or very early morning. We were drenched in sweat after walking around for half an hour (50 degree heat we are talking about!) and after a while we didn’t really care about seeing any of the other sights of the area as we just wanted to find shade and wring out our shirts. Be prepared to see a lot and I mean a lot of girls in bikinis posing and getting their photos taken – a good little spot for the guys but it gets annoying when all you want to do is take a photo of the springs!
Our next stop was Kusadasi which is a beach side city with a lot of nightlife and shops! Kusadasi also hosts some amazing sunsets so grab a cheap kebab and sit by the beach to watch the sun go down. We got to visit the Roman city of Ephesus which is believed to be one of the most beautiful ancient cities of the world and unbelievably they have only uncovered 15% of the city, which is mind blowing to think of how much more is buried! Word of warning though, buy some frozen water before you go in and take a hat or umbrella to keep the sun off you. It can get extremely hot here and there are no places to buy water or go to the toilet once you are inside the gates.
Of course we also had to have at least one great night out in Turkey and tonight was that night. We made our way to the city centre and were taken to a little Irish club for some free shots on entry to get our night started. The one thing that we noticed about Turkish clubs is that they serve you unlimited little bowls of popcorn and when drinking an unlimited amount of alcohol, they really hit the spot! I would definitely recommend going out here but again just be on your guard like everywhere else. We kicked on til the early hours of the morning with our group and proved how crazy those Aussie people are!
The following morning after a feed of the largest Macca’s meals we have ever seen (a large coke was seriously 2 litres!), we continued our journey onto Bergama which is known for its gold, cotton and carpets! Here we took a cable car up to the Acropolis and explored a wealth of ancient ruins which lies at the heart of the Greek and Roman cultural centre of Pergamon. There isn’t as much to see as Ephesus but it’s definitely worth a visit as well – I can hear you all sighing and going “another ancient ruin site” but it’s pretty cool so check it out if you have time or are ever in Turkey! Our long day ended with a visit to historic Troy which is home of the legendarily beautiful Helen (the face that launched a thousand ships). This is the site where the Greeks deployed their genius Trojan Horse tactic which was recounted by the famous poet Virgil. Now for those of you that don’t know the story of Troy – go watch the movie and get some history into you. In all honesty, the site itself isn’t all that impressive but there is a massive wooden horse that you can play in. I would only recommend this site to people that know their history and want to visit Troy just to say they have been there like myself. If you don’t go in (and even if you do) there is another massive wooden horse in the town of Canakkale which is the actual horse that was featured in the movie Troy and is much more impressive than the one in Troy.
For our last full day in Turkey we visited Gallipoli which is quite a special place mainly for Australia, New Zealand and Turkey. It was here on 25th April 1915 that troops from the fledging nations of Australia and New Zealand landed as part of an offensive against the Ottoman Empire during World War 1. It was the first major military action undertaken by both nations and where a combined total of hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives in the battle but the tragic losses served to galvanise a sense of national identity in both countries. We crossed from Canakkale to Gallipoli by ferry and as you cross you can see the Dur Yolcu memorial in the hillside which roughly translates in English to “Stop Wayferer! The soil you tread once witnessed the end of an era”. You can easily spend a whole day here going to the different cemeteries and memorials plus you can see some of the original trenches and it also has some amazing views.
We travelled back to Istanbul feeling a sense of pride after visiting Gallipoli and went out for our last dinner in Turkey which of course included some sheesha and shenanigans. We sadly had to say goodbye to some amazing people we met while in Turkey including our tour guide but alas the Greek Islands await us! Stay posted for our big fat Greek holiday!!