Nine days in Turkey with many cats

The 4Ts – Ten Tips for Turkey Travellers

  • Currency is lira however some places accept euros (at the moment 20 liras is approximately $10AUD)
  • Always keep 1 lira in your pocket for toilet use
  • Pack Imodium – you’re bound (get it) to need it
  • Toilets are not always westernised (I’m talking a lot about toilets aren’t I??)
  • So many cats – expect to have one weave through your legs during your meal
  • Try the Testi Kebap (meat and vegetable dish slow cooked in a sealed clay pot), easily our most favourite dish
  • Istanbul is much more expensive than other areas of Turkey – e.g. testi kebap up to 120 liras in Istanbul in comparison to 60 liras in other parts of Turkey (for 2 people)
  • Gozleme is nicer with yellow cheese than white cheese (feta)
  • Taxis are cheap (about 20 lira for a 40 minute journey – though we had a Turkish guy in the cab with us!)
  • Only drink bottled water
Tasty testi

Tasty testi

Day 1 Flight to Istanbul and meeting our new travel friends!

We don’t do things by halves. The night before our big holiday to Turkey we moved house. But once we were done we were able to start getting excited about our holiday! Our flight to Istanbul departed 6:55am so we were up at 3:30am to get ready and catch our uber. Funnily enough our new housemate Lucie was going to Heathrow too so we all went together!

We spotted the Travel Talk sign upon arrival in Istanbul and after meeting another fellow traveller we were soon on a bus on our way to the hotel. And a very nice hotel it was! We found some food around the corner, filled our bellies and took a nap.

Mustafa, our tour guide, gave us a lecture theatre style presentation on all the places in Turkey we were going to see, the types of food, prices etc. It was hard to keep a room of young people engaged at food (and beer) time especially when Mustafa started talking about the types of food in Turkey. Harry and I had taken many screen shots of google maps on how to get to where my kiwi friends were (that just happened to be in Istanbul at the same time) so we split up from our tour group for our journey to dinner. Fail. Ended up back near where we started, found wifi to apologise to my friends and enjoyed a clay pot dinner with a waiter called Harun Harry. He talked us into dessert and gave us a free turkish coffee as we’d never had one before. Not bad but while it is supposed to be good for digestion, I’m not convinced that it didn’t have something to do with keeping me awake that night! While we were there, a rubbish truck pulled up and a large metal claw came out and clamped onto the top of what appeared to be a normal sized rubbish bin permanently placed on the side of the road. As the claw lifted the rubbish bin out of the ground it was actually very large and therefore mostly stored under the ground! The bin was lifted up over the truck and the bottom of it was opened to release all the rubbish before being placed back ‘into’ the side of the road. Is it sad that this was a jaw dropping experience?!

Day 2 Walking tour with Mustafa and boat party on the Bosphorus!!!

Today we set out for the good old walking tour with our tour guide Mustafa. We were excited to finally see some of Turkey instead of getting ridiculously lost. On the agenda was the blue mosque, Hagia Sophia and the basilica. At the blue mosque, we had to line up to get scarves before entry so I got one for my head and Harry needed one to cover his legs like a skirt! Some of the guys with singlet tops had to wear a scarf to cover up their shoulders too. We got a bag to carry our shoes in as you were not allowed to wear them inside, and entered the very impressive mosque. There were a few people praying though it wasn’t prayer time.

While it was interesting to see the blue mosque, we thought Hagia Sophia was more awe-inspiring with its very engaging history and stories to compliment its beauty.

Hoff to see Hagia Sophia

Hoff to see Hagia Sophia

Points about Hagia Sophia according to Mustafa:

  • the doors came from Noah’s Arc
  • the holes on the ground near the doors were due to the weight of the guards
  • there is a section that they say is ‘the centre of the world’

The Basilica Cistern, about 500 feet from Hagia Sophia was also quite impressive. It is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul. It was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian. It provided a water storage and filtration system underground for several palaces. At the bottom of several of the pillars further in and down some stairs, there were medusa heads displayed at different angles. Pretty cool!

Medusa head in Basilica

Medusa head in Basilica

After our sightseeing was over for the morning, we all split up for lunch. Harry and I weren’t quite hungry yet so did a spot of window shopping until we got distracted by a sign about food and then a man who saw us looking at the sign and convinced us to try his rooftop restaurant. We were ushered into a small and very dodgey looking lift, the kind where we could see the inner workings of it as we went up.

Lunch was… interesting. There was no one else there. We made a choice from the menu and the guy who had limited english who served us seemed disappointed that we didn’t order up big. As for the rooftop, well it was more like an apartment with an outside balcony. Luckily the food was tasty. We both had a kebab, one chicken and one mixed meat. There was salad on the side and when the man came to check on us, Harry had finished the kebab but not the salad. The man said ‘eat the salad, good for your eyes’ and pointed to the carrot. He walked away and came back almost instantly and took it off the plate with his hands that were covered with food stuff from when he made the kebab. Oh dear. I ate all my salad! Every last bit! I was in the good books and we were told it was now our home and we could stay as long as we liked. We thanked them, gave them a tip so we weren’t captured there forever to eat the rest of their produce and happily took the stairs back down to the exit!

On a boat! Note the ABC cap in front

On a boat! Note the ABC cap in front

After a sneaky nap we got ready for the boat party with Harry’s friend who lives in Istanbul. We checked out our own hotel rooftop to redeem our lunch time experience and enjoyed a few cocktails. Harry’s friend arrived at the hotel and it was soon time to catch a taxi to the boat area! Another tip – taxis are pretty cheap. It cost 20 liras to get 40 minutes across town. We saw several Syrian families sitting quietly on the side of the walkways with a box in which you could put money. Very sad to see. They were not causing any trouble.

Once the boat arrived, we purchased our tickets for about 40 lira each and quickly secured a table. There were two levels – one for the DJ and the other for us to dance! The view from the boat was amazing. As it cruised along we got to see some beautiful sights as the sun was going down and more as it got dark and the lights sparkled on the shore. I never realised but Turkey is actually 97% Asia, and 3% Europe. So there we were, cruising along the Bosphorus between Asia and Europe. Pretty cool feeling.

Here kitty kitty

Here kitty kitty

Harry and I had a plan re: alcohol consumption thanks to our 7am departure by bus the next morning. This ofcourse went downhill thanks to the complimentary beer and jagermeister shot that came with the tickets and making friends with the DJs who gave us free drinks for the rest of the evening! This led to me wearing jagermeister antlers and posing with the promo girl, eating two kebabs on the way home, making friends with several cats and falling asleep on the toilet floor in our hotel. I’m too old for this.

Day 3 300km drive in the worst conditions and Gallipoli

I’m talking about my hangover. It was probably very beautiful outside the bus window but I didn’t care. Oh what a night! We never made it to breakfast and I managed to leave my mobile phone including bank card on the bed in the hotel. Being so sick I didn’t realise this until about 2 hours into our bus journey when Harry managed to say that I had some funny photos on my phone. There I was fishing around in my bag and no phone. Lucky I was too sick to panic.

Somehow we pulled ourselves together for the sightseeing and activities for the day. First stop Gallipoli. This place is eery and sad. It’s actually also very beautiful but for some reason I don’t think I could enjoy its entire beauty out of respect for the ANZACs. We visited the Lone Pine memorial which commemorates more than 4,900 Australian and New Zealand servicemen who died in the area. It was when we were standing here that 3 fighter jets flew over us and I had a minor internal panic that something bad might be happening nearby. But no one else seemed worried and said that perhaps they were training. Harry then managed to scare me further by stepping back off the lone pine memorial to take a better photo and underestimating how far down it was, ended up tumbling in slow motion thankfully onto grass and no nearby cliffs! It seemed to go unnoticed, so to make the guy from our tour who fell over in the museum yesterday feel better, I shared this now funny news with a few of our travel group friends.

Lone Pine Memorial

Lone Pine Memorial

After our amazing Gallipoli experience, it was time to catch a ferry over to Troy. But first we found some food in the form of gozleme which was very tasty and fresh! Harry and I were definitely feeling better – having to share the gozleme was tough!

Wikipedia: Gözleme is a savoury traditional Turkish cuisine savoury pastry, made of hand-rolled dough leaves (yufka in Turkish) that is lightly brushed with butter and eggs, filled with various toppings, sealed, and cooked over a griddle called saç.

We made it to the other side, checked in to a very nice hotel, had a spa with our travel buddies and enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner. Tonight instead of joining the party we visited the supermarket across the road and I invested in some new undies instead of having to wash part way through our tour! Definitely worth mentioning!

Day 4 Troy and Asklepion

Trojan horse built in 1973

Trojan horse built in 1973

Four hundred more kilometres travelled today in the bus but it was worth it. Today we visited Troy and its ruins. Twenty liras to get in. Lots of cats to greet us at the entry. The horse there is not the original – it was built in 1973. The ruins are very interesting to see and you can tell which parts of it are newer than the rest. It was built on over time and there are 9 layers or owners according to archaeologists, ranging from 3000 BC to 500 AD. Mustafa told us a story about treasure being found in the ruins and pointed to a triangle shaped rock. From that point on I was looking hard for similar rocks! Though I think it was placed there to symbolise where the treasure was found. I looked anyway just in case!

Back on the bus and soon it was lunch time and the new local cuisine for the day was ‘pide’.

Wikipedia: Pide Turkish flatbread combined with various toppings cooked to form a common Turkish meal.

Between Harry and I we tried a few different pides and the meat tasted a little funny. Our fingers were crossed in the hope of not getting food poisoning. To challenge our stomachs even further, we visited an ancient hospital and drank their ‘sacred water’. The Asklepion is a famed ancient medical centre built in honor of Asklepios, the god of healing. It was also the world’s first psychiatric hospital. We walked along the same tunnel that mental patients walked through and heard ‘God’ saying things like “it will all be okay” though it was actually people saying it through the holes on top of the tunnel. Or so they say. At this same site, there was a carving on one of the statues that looked very familiar. It was the medical snake symbol that is still used today. In ancient times it was believed that when snakes shed their skin they were healing themselves. Strangely enough there were also turtles swimming in a walled enclosure on the site and the water must come from somewhere so hopefully the ‘sacred water’ is not connected!

Sacred water @ Asklepion

Sacred water @ Asklepion

Tonight was also quiet as we enjoyed (exploded?) from another buffet dinner, following some pre-dinner cheese, salami and a beer in the hotel room. Note… do not buy salami from Naples in a convenience store in Kusadasi – it costs 30 lira! We retreated to our room early and saw news about Turkish troops invading Iraq by ground. Turns out there have been a few airstrikes recently so those jets flying over us at Lone Pine may not have been training! Scary thought. Anyway turns out the Kurdish people want to be recognised and claim the south-east part of Turkey and that’s the reason for the fighting. To ensure a sound sleep I checked our travel plans for the rest of the trip to make sure we were going nowhere near this area!

Day 5 Ephesus, turkish delight, more gozleme, apple shisha and Pamukkale! Say that quickly 5 times!

Another 200km in the bus in our very same seats though at least we got to spread out! The bus was large and comfy and we only had 22 people on the tour so almost 2 seats per person! We made it to Ephesus and whilst Troy and Asklepion were impressive in their own right, Ephesus was on another level. It’s an ancient city in Turkey’s Central Aegean region. Its excavated remains reflect centuries of history, from classical Greece to the Roman Empire – when it was the Mediterranean’s main commercial centre. Apparently the Virgin Mary lived here at some point! Also to note, Ephesus and Troy were originally built where they were because there was a natural port. You wouldn’t know it today, as both cities seem quite far inland.

Ephesus library

Ephesus library

There were more cats swanning around and perched on the top of the ruins in very relaxed poses. Of course Harry and I were snapping away to capture the cats in this moment. The ruins were still in good condition and there was even a section where you could see that it had been a public toilet with drainage and round circles carved in the stone side by side. Some of the history we were told included that the slaves were often asked to sit down first to warm it up!

Out of the ruins so far, the roman amphitheatre here was the largest. At full capacity it could hold around 30000 people! Another interesting sight was the stone carving of Nike, the goddess of Victory. This is where the Nike symbol and brand came from! Amazing!

Ampitheatre at Ephesus

Ampitheatre at Ephesus

On our way to lunch, we stopped at a Turkish Delight store. We all ‘sampled’ quite a lot! Not sure how much was actually purchased. But a hot tip given (or sales technique) was it’s not proper turkish delight unless it’s at least around 20 liras.

With a belly full of sweetie goodness, we arrived at lunch where we had more gozleme. It was the first time for some and there was a demonstration at the entrance on how it is made. They had funky cushions on the ground around tables so we formed a few groups and got comfortable. I got talked into trying an apple shisha and between us we all had a few puffs. We had a special mouthpiece for each smoker or couple, and for my first puff I took a deep breath in and a big cloud of white smoke came out! Nailed it. But I coughed after each of the next few puffs until eventually giving up and leaving it to the shisha kings and queens! Our gozleme, drinks and shisha came to 20 liras for both Harry and I. Super cheap!

Pamukkale cotton castle

Pamukkale cotton castle

The next stop for the day was one we were very much looking forward to – Pamukkale. This word means ‘cotton castle’ in Turkish and that’s what it looks like! It was amazing to see and we enjoyed a dip in the thermal springs though there were so many tourists there it was hard to fully relax and enjoy. And one of our travel buddies picked up some mud from the bottom and found a hair in it. Gross. To finish the day we had a dip in the pool at our hotel (bit chilly!) and retired to bed while some of the others had a swim in the man made thermal springs where swimming caps were necessary!

Group shot Pamukkale

Group shot Pamukkale

Day 6 Underground city and getting naked in the turkish baths!

We were up at 6am for our biggest drive yet – 580km. We were on our way to Cappadocia, a 5000 year old underground city.

The trip consisted of plenty of sleeping, reading and card games with our kiwi travel buddies on the bus. One of the other guys on the trip suddenly didn’t feel well and needed an emergency stop as there was no toilet on the bus. Poor guy… non-westernised (squat) toilets and the shits. Not pretty.

In the afternoon, we stopped to explore another underground city that up to 30000 people lived in! It made me feel like I was an ant. So many pathways and amazing how it was constructed to ensure that air could filter in and to the deepest levels of the city. Great way to hide from enemies!

By the time we arrived in Cappadocia we were very ready for a Turkish Hammam! We were split up into guys and girls and made our way to the dressing room. Instructions – everything off, put on the towel and shoes and make your way through! Most of our group kept swimmers on but a few of us embraced the experience! There were quite a few ladies in the Turkish bath room so we ended up going for a swim first in another room. It was just like a normal swimming pool so this made it slightly awkward being completely naked under the towel. I very childishly asked them all to turn around so I could de-towel and jump in! Then even more awkward – when we had to get out via the ladder…

Turns out that when it was time to go into the Turkish Bath, all the ladies getting massaged on the stone bed were naked! So in the end the swimmers came off. I was no longer alone on the naked adventure. Four people got massaged at the same time while the others had to sit and wait on the seating around the edge of the room. The hammam started with a body scrub, then a massage with foam and finished with getting a bucket of water tipped over you. While it was an interesting experience, it’s hard to fully relax when you’re completely naked in front of the person massaging you along with an audience!

It was quite late when we got back to the hotel for yet another buffet dinner. Almost missed out! We selected and hoovered all our favourite choices before going to bed.

Day 7 Hot air ballooning over volcano formations in Cappadocia and skinny dipping at the hotel! 

100 hot air balloons

100 hot air balloons

This day is by far our favourite of the trip. Followed closely by the boat party minus the hangover. We were up at 5am and soon on our way to the Voyager office to pay for our ballooning and soak up some coffee and carbs. It was still dark and we were being driven out to our balloon in the dirt. I’ve never seen so many hot air balloons! They take 100 balloons up every morning with 20 people in each, therefore 2000 people. Before we were even in the balloon, we’d taken a ridiculous amount of snaps of the balloons going up around us.

The sun was almost fully out by the time we climbed into the balloon basket. They took us up high above Cappadocia and even down amongst the formations on the ground. There were some occasions where it felt like we might run into them but ofcourse the guy driving (?) the hot air balloon knew what he was doing and lifted the balloon at just the right time. This was my fourth time in a hot air balloon and this experience was by far the best! So beautiful! Such unique surroundings! A few people came out from their homes and waved at us which was pretty cool! Especially because we were so close to them!

Amongst the volcano formations

Amongst the volcano formations

We all celebrated with a champagne as Voyager handed out certificates to say we had been hot air ballooning in Cappadocia! Back to the hotel for a buffet breakfast. Harry and I attempted a sleep before it was time to meet back at the bus for some sightseeing around Cappadocia. We drove for a while to a town area with the ‘fairy houses’. Never seen anything like them. They seemed a more yellow / orange colour here than the ones we saw when ballooning. This is where we bought our very colourful mosaic lamp and very handy Cappadocia bottle opener / magnet. Harry was also swayed by the icecream man who does tricks during the whole process of adding icecream to the cone and giving it to you! To note – this icecream is sticky, and delicious!

Breathtaking!

Breathtaking!

Another stop in our sightseeing was the carpet store. Perfect if you’re looking to make a magic carpet purchase! They showed us how the carpets were hand made and mostly double stitch in comparison to other places like Morocco. It provides jobs for many locals and the Government funds the materials. They also fund the delivery cost of the carpets worldwide! Those learning the trade generally learn in the store but once they’re ready, they’re given the equipment and materials to work from home. They’re also very good sales people! They did an excellent job of showing us all the different types of carpet and then came and spoke to us individually, got to know us and of course asked if we were interested in buying a carpet but were not pushy at all. Funny in fact! We got offered two houses (probably one of the fairy houses / volcano formations somewhere!) in exchange for buying a carpet! One of the sales guys told me they used to have about 20 bus-loads of people per day visit the store, however now it is around 8 buses. He believes it is because of the trouble happening around Turkey.

This is also our favourite day because we had the tastiest meal  that we had in our whole Turkey trip. Testi pottery kebap for 2 people. It’s basically a beef kebab with vegetables cooked in clay pottery minus the pita bread. They cut the tops off the clay pots with big knifes right in front of us before pouring out the contents into our individual cookers on the table which were provided to keep it warm while we made our way through it! The meat was ‘melt in your mouth’ good and the bread provided on the table was also very delicious and warm! With tasty sauces on the side to dip it into. We were in heaven. Afterwards we visited a pottery workshop to see how these were made along with a bunch of other interesting pottery, particularly the wine jugs!

Always the first to be selected to participate!

Always the first to be selected to participate!

Time for turkish night. Turkish dancing and unlimited alcohol. The night before a 12 hour drive back to Istanbul. It was all very serious at the start of the show as they wore their traditional clothes and did traditional dancing. Lucky I got a few wines in before one of the dancers came and took my hand and led me onto the stage as a volunteer! First one for the night! It was a bit odd though as he was trying to get me to dance so that I would win over the Turkish lady who was wearing a beautiful red jewelled dress with see-through red material across her face and sitting on a chair in the middle of the stage. She shook her finger at me which was a big fat no and I was escorted back to my seat. The night continued on with a belly dancer (who entered from a cage that lowered from the ceiling!), more volunteers from our group up on stage, a conga line outside and around a fire and back inside for some final drinks and silly group photos.

Still standing

Still standing

We were back on the bus which made a sneaky stop at a convenience store on the way home for more alcohol supplies. Harry and I didn’t get any, our hangover from the early part of our trip was still haunting us! A few of us did however start up some skinny dipping in the hotel pool well past the closing time! It wasn’t long before someone who worked at the hotel came to tell us it was ‘clo-sed’ and because it was chilly, he didn’t need to tell us twice! We were out of there and on our way back to our room.

Day 8 The biggest driving day! Final dinner

Needless to say a few hungover people today! Harry and I happily were not one of them. One of the guys even fell down the stairs with his bag! 6am until 6pm bus ride. Nothing too exciting about the journey except the massive salt lake we saw at one of our toilet / snack stops.

Finally back in Istanbul, two other couples from the tour and Harry and I went to find some dinner together nearby to the hotel. It was very much an alcohol free event after last night! But we enjoyed some new interesting food dishes. I had food envy thanks to trying Harry’s steak. Early night.

Day 9 Last day in Turkey

What did we learn about Turkey?

  • Ataturk was the founder and first president of the republic of Turkey and introduced reforms such as the emancipation of women, the abolition of all Islamic institutions and the introduction of Western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet
  • they pray 5 times a day but there is a belief that the religion might die out over time
  • there are now about 18 million people in Istanbul of which approximately 3 million are from Syria
  • It’s 97% Asia! Still don’t believe it!
  • Some of our logos or brands today come from the amazing history found in ruins in Turkey such as Nike and the medical symbol with the snake
Nike

Nike

Today we had breakfast at the hotel with one of the couples from dinner last night, followed by some local sightseeing. After walking around for a while we had worked up enough of an appetite for a gozleme for lunch. Yellow cheese and mushroom – delicious! It was time for our travel buddies to go as they were checking into another hotel and continuing their travel journey. We still had some time before our bus transfer to the airport, so we went for another walk in a different direction (and of course saw lots of cool lunch places) and finally had a corn on the cob. Covered in salt.

So much corn

So much corn

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