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Trip Report Turkey trip report 4 weeks in May 2010

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We have just returned from 4 weeks in Turkey - perhaps the following report will be of help to someone - happy to answer queries or share more experiences... We covered Istanbul, Antalya to Izmir and Cappadocia...

We’ve posted a selection from the over 1000 photos we took on – feel free to have a browse. You’ll have to scroll through the albums we did from India/Nepal and Japan, but perhaps they will be interesting too… go to:

Welcome to Istanbul… after 23 hours flying and waiting in transit (Emirates Brisbane/Singapore/Dubai/Istanbul – a good price and all very comfy but such a long tiring time), we make our way from Attaturk Airport to the old part of the city smoothly and easily (thanks to very clear instructions from Tom Brosnahan on by metro and tram – so pleasant and comfortable - and alight from the tram exactly as the muezzin starts the afternoon call to prayer – many muezzin(s?) actually as all of Sultanahmet broke into holy song – seemed like it was just for us….. what a welcome!

We find the Hali Hotel (65Euros per night - good and comfortable, I really recommend it) nice and close to the tram stop and immediately head for the roof terrace to see the Blue Mosque and Hagya Sofia lighting up for the night – what a view!!

Then we drop into bed and sleep heavily for nearly 9 hours – blissful…

Monday morning up bright and early (Tom likes that) and up to that wonderful terrace for the morning views (slightly hazy) and the fabulous breakfast – yogurt and syrup, fruit and fruit juice, breads and all sorts of toppings, eggs and fetta and olives and tomatoes and cucumber… only limitation is how much you can put away at that time of the morning – all so delicious! I think the Hali Hotel is quite a find!

Then we hit the streets like good tourists and beat the tour groups (we got there before 9.00am) to the Blue Mosque, which is just beautiful – it was very peaceful to pad about on the lush carpet in the stillness. After the mosque and a wander through the Arrasta Bazaar behind it, we just head off downhill with our map … it’s lovely the way you just have to stand looking confused or sit down somewhere and you have at least one (and usually more) friendly person offering assistance – this time a nice young shopkeeper came and studied the map with us and sent us off to the quiet Kucuk (little) Arya Sofia mosque…

Shops full of colourful ceramics and glassware and carpets etc etc line the cobbled lanes of this area and make wandering like this a joy, for those of us who love window shopping… although surprisingly there is little I feel like I just HAVE to take home – I would like a carpet but it is such a minefield of fakes and synthetics and unknown prices… maybe when we return to Istanbul we’ll feel more confident…. Everywhere tempting aromas make us wonder when we can realistically justify another meal after the huge and delicious breakfast… ah well… The eateries right on the main drag of Sultanahmet (eg Baran 2, Can) all seem to offer tasty and reasonable food but you can go further into the side streets for more choices.

When lunch is finally a possibility we jump on a tram (1.5 TL to anywhere in town) and head down to the famous Galata Bridge and the line of great fish restaurants underneath it. Left side seemed better.It’s interesting to sit at a table overlooking the river (decorated with plastic tulips) and watch the fishing lines dropped down from the bridge above… multiple hooks and tiny fish being hauled up constantly – so close to the city too… Only after our great lentil soup and grilled fish lunch (total 13TL) do we wander further along the harbour to check the ferry offices and pass the most beautifully decorated wildly bobbing boats from which flamboyant chefs in colourful Turkish outfits served up 4 TL fish sandwiches and rather strange red cabbage juice to hundreds of locals and a few tourists under canopies – a great little scene…

In the afternoon we wander the crowded tiny streets around the spice bazaar and Serkeci .Silly us – we are looking for a hotel we had booked for our return to Istanbul later but…. can’t remember the name or the address hmmmm …. we stop and discuss with locals who frankly think we are mad but… in the end we find it! Good thing too – it isn’t nearly as good as it looked in the internet and although this Serkeci area is definitely trendy and attractive, we decide to stay at the Hali Hotel again – having checked a few other hotels we see what good value it is!

… ok I can’t keep up a running commentary like this… too much in each day. I’d be writing pages and pages and you would all give up reading. Suffice to say we had a good dinner (at Doy Doy) for about AUD$15 and slept like logs again… I actually regret sleeping through the muezzin call in the early hours – well regret it only a little – it is about 5.00am after all when he does the first call to prayer.

Day 3 we have the morning at the totally amazing Hagia Sophia (just opposite the Blue Mosque). It was originally a Christian Church from 6th century, then turned into a mosque in the 16th… all the gorgeous images of Christ etc were of course covered with plaster and now the restoration is revealing the most exquisite mosaics. It’s such a huge space that even with the constant tour groups it still feels empty…

And then we depart Istanbul and take the tram and train back out to Attaturk airport and board our discount very cheap flight (Atlasjet) to Antalya in the south – land of Lycian ruins and high rises and beaches (they think they are lovely beaches but we Australians know better) and millions of tourists (literally) although fortunately we are early in the season and many hotels, pensions and restaurants are still empty. I hate to think what it will be like here in four weeks!

We are staying in the tiny Tulipan Pension (5 rooms I think) with a gorgeous roof top terrace overlooking the entire bay. It’s comfy and very friendly and the group of Dutch people staying there adopt us which is lovely. We’re in the heart of the old city of Kaleici and the tiny cobble stone streets have few cars and are lined with ancient houses turned into trendy pensions, restaurants and shops and shops and shops… There’s a maze of streets and lanes with an old mosque, roman walls and towers, and lush gardens all around a lovely harbour/marina… we can wander for hours, people are friendly and not too pushy… it’s beautiful (but lots of hills and steps hmmmm)

Two other couples here at the pension are moving on to Cirali tomorrow – as we are – so we’ll be able to share a minibus cheaply – great – although we miss the local bus for now… but also the long walk to the bus station with our bags…

And on we go from Antalya, south-west to the tiny coastal town of Cirali… comfy 90 mins in our little minibus to very what turns out to be a laid back delightful little town near the Olympos ruins… We settle into the Canada Hotel, a rather plush little place with swimming pool and lush gardens under massive overhanging valley rock walls… and off we go to explore the town. The Canada is not right on the beach but they offer bikes and free shuttle service whenever you want so there is no real disadvantage and it offers so much else… a beautiful tropical garden with hammocks and such a kind and friendly host, we are glad we chose it… and the full dinner Sabhan cooks up for us is just amazing (for 20TL per head!)

Cirali is quite an anomaly for Turkey, where the coast tends to be lined with highrise hotels and apartment blocks full of tubby tourists and the beaches are coverd in straight rows of lounges and umbrellas. We could have been in Goa or Sri Lanka or even Indonesia, in fact almost any beachside town on the old hippy trail… funky little restaurants and pensions line a dusty beach side street… even a few shops with tie-dyed clothes hanging between beach towels and general beach tourist paraphernalia… after the hustle and bustle of Antalya people must find this place heaven (people like us anyway). Of course, like those other places there are luxury little places tucked amongst the orange groves – one with lawns and deck chairs down to the beach side and the occasional peacock strutting especially caught my eye. Has to be somewhere for the rich old hippies to stay too… Lots of French and Germans etc but also quite a few Turkish tourists too… only noticeably the Israeli travellers are absent. Is that an official policy I wonder?

We are eating too much! But what to do when the beachside restaurants offer Turkish pancakes called gozleme with almost any choice of filling (from cheese and veg to tahini and honey or chocolate) for $3. We have to start sharing one meal – or when we get back to the colder weather in Cappadocia and Istanbul I simply won’t fit into my jeans.

The beach is that perfect crescent between two fabulous craggy mountains… special because of the ancient Lycian (?) ruins at the south-west end - but covered in stones… beautiful rounded coloured pebbles of varying sizes from pebbles to boulders. There’s a little bit of sand but oh boy we are so spoiled in Australia... amazing to see people spread out their towels and sun themselves on stones!

Next morning we walked along the beach to the start of the ancient Olympos ruins – some as old as 200BC… seemed like miles struggling on the pebbles (they are lovely for a trendy garden but NOT for walking on the beach). The ruins are scattered through a gully around a crystal clear river with frogs calling, turtles wandering and even the occasional pretty bird (no idea what kind). It’s rather lovely to wander along little bush tracks, climbing over piles of rocks that were probably Roman walls and come across a sarcophagus or two, an ancient church or bath house… all rather unkempt with vines growing through them. We felt like explorers… hot and sweaty explorers. And guess who fell over crossing the creek and soaked her only walking shoes? Hmmm most uncomfortable walk back, but the mountain of fresh yogurt with fruit and pomegranate syrup back at our favourite little café took the pain away.

And after scrambling all over the ruins of Olympos in the morning we then decide to climb a mountain in the evening... well ,visiting the Chimaera flames is something you have to do here in Cirali. The story goes that mythological hero (can’t remember his name) mounted Pegasus the winged horse and fought a firebreathing monster here. He poured molten lead ontop of him but some of the flames escape through small holes on the mountain - and have been burning for thousands of years… and it is also said that these were the source of the first Olympic flame (for the first games in Olympos below)… pretty special… So after a huge (rather too huge) and delicious dinner cooked up by Sabhan at our hotel we are driven to the base of the mountain and hike up a steep stony path in the dark. Fireflies dance about us but we also carry trusty little torches (thank goodness), gradually strip off the various warmer layers and finally come to an eery spot where blue and orange flames dance out of crevices in crusty ancient rock… Little groups huddle around each, some just ‘feeling the vibe’, others more pragmatic, heating tea and toasting sausages. Very beautiful and a very strong feeling.

It is sad to leave Cirali next day – I suspect there will not be anywhere else like it along the coast. Everywhere else is much more built up, but Cirali is under protection now and they are stopping any more building. Seems like it is under the control of a couple of families who would like to keep it as it is – for now it is safe.

On the road – on the efficient bus service – 5 hours along the coast to Fethiye – now there’s a contrast to dear Cirali. We are staying near the old town above a marina filled with yachts from all over the world, huge multi-million dollar jobs down to little wooden tubs. And all around this beautiful bay is sprawling tourist town – English pubs and night clubs and hustlers (well the locals think they are hustlers but when you have experienced the hustlers of India and Morocco you know that these people are just pleasant folk who like to talk to you as you pass).

We have a tiny room in the Tan Pension, a rather funky pension (with ‘discussion’ 40TL ie about AUD$30 per night) with a terrace with a view to die for and the sweetest little owner who fusses around us and even gives us all shoulder massages on the last night (good ones too)… no hot water because the solar only works with full sun ,which we haven’t had ,but a quick wash will do until the next place. We did the obligatory 12 Island boat trip (on a Turkish Gullet) around the islands which was a great day out with barbecue lunch (about AUD$22 pp) and lots of swims at little bays. Mucked about trying to decide because of the grey clouds so long that the boat had left but a quick whistle and back she sailed and we jumped on.Home a little rosy from the sun but still with energy to wander the old town, greeting old ladies and children, eating offered loquats and eventually reaching the 2,500 year old rock tombs above the town (2,500 years old!!). Have to walk a bit to justify eating more but this time we hit the market and buy wonderful cheese and olives and a tomato (‘just one’ the man said in disgust, ‘take it for free!’) to go with our wine scrounged from the Emirates flight followed by baklava and halva on the Tan terrace – bliss.

Next day the car arrives! We made our booking through and it all worked like clockwork. So Tom is about to drive on the right side of the road for the first time in 20 years! And a manual to boot… he is of course not nervous but I am…hmmmmmmm. It is a very gutless 1.4 Renault and I am just a little happy that it just wants to tootle along (like me). Going up the mountains is trying but we get there eventually. As petrol is around $4 litre we do a lot of neutral coasting down the other side!

So it’s drive on to Ucagiz (bet you can’t pronounce that!) a perfect little harbour town opposite Kekova island on a peaceful bay with three mouths to the sea - a haven for yachties and travellers and also a functioning village of herb and vegetable growers. (see photos)Oregano and sage grow wild on the rocky hills and are cultivated all around. The air is filled with their aromas as ladies dry mountains of them on hot flat roofs. We settle into the wonderful Onur Pension (a bit of a splurge at 70TL) right on the water edge and enjoy tea on the terrace overlooking yachts and school children and daily life of this wonderful place. Our hosts Onur and Turgay are ever ready to please with whatever we want – food, drinks, boats to the ‘beaches’, tours of the sunken ruins, or just hanging out chatting (a lot of that seems to go on here). People are open and friendly, everyone greets us as we pass. Again I think we could stay a long time in a place like this. It is so beautiful it is impossible to explain – look at the photos…!

We meet up with a truly intrepid couple from USA who are cycling all around Turkey , over mountains– this is actually their 35th country in 12 years… whew… Turgay takes the four of us on a boat tour of the area, unbelievably beautiful bays for swimming in the bright turquoise water, the further, even smaller and possibly even more idyllic village of Simena with a big Crusader castle on top and carved tombs to wander (did I mention that there are also ancient tombs, 2,500 yrs old on the headland at Ucagiz?), then on to the submerged Lycian city where the glass bottom of the boat allows you to view the remnants below – even pots and other artefacts 2,500 years old – all very protected and under the watchful eye of the coast guard…

It’s a beautiful outing and justifies a little lying around on cushions sipping apple tea before evening walks and yet another wonderful dinner. 16 different delicious starters in a buffet for TL10! We even try the costly Turkish wine and find it, if not like a good Australian red, at least surprisingly drinkable.

The temptation to stay on is strong, but there are many more little towns along the coast to visit and we sadly say goodbye next morning to Onur and our lovely little home for 2 days – and to the kilim we nearly bought but decided against in the end – perhaps a little expensive, but also not really the right size, and if we are going to carry something like that a long way, it has to be perfect!

Back along the gorgeous coastline (our American friends said it’s better than Victoria’s Great Ocean Road but… well we’re not sure) with a short stop to look from the outside of the fence at the ruins of Myra (hey it costs $7.50 each to go in and we are seeing lots of ruins) and then on to Kas – your typical mediterranean village clinging to steep rocky hills over an azure harbour. We find a surprisingly reasonable and quite delightful room (AUD$51) right on the water at the Kas Hotel… now, after a lunch of bread and fish and olives and tomatoes with a yogurt drink Ayran we are becoming addicted to, I sit typing here on our tiny balcony (just big enough for two chairs and a small table) right over the water… below on the rocks the hotel has beach lounges and pool steps down into the sea,… it looks inviting… that’s all for now…
My goodness it’s day 11… it’s going so quickly!

Pretty little Kas is quite a surprise. We expected high rise and fat tourists (not us of course – we are chubby travellers) and that is there of course but there is also a charming protected waterfront village, trendy but still very beautiful. We wander down (or actually mostly up) cobbled streets with lovely restaurants and even lovelier shops. And yet there is still nothing I have to have… strange. The jewellery looks like it is mostly from Thailand and Nepal and hugely overpriced. Many of the knick-knacks are from India…hmmmm The only really tempting Turkish items are painted plates and carpets… neither of which I would want to carry from here - oh and some outrageous glass lamps I may try to get back from Istanbul…

A pity to have only one night in our rather gorgeous little hotel but it is onwards to Patara the next day – beachside ruins and sandy beach!! It’s as lovely as everyone says. A tiny little village about 2 kms from a beautiful 18km beach where they ban people from 7.30pm because then it’s for the turtles… nice. The ruins are spread out over the dune country and more are being found all the time – a huge amphitheatre, the first democratic parliament, baths, tombs…. It’s pretty daunting to see fields full of blocks of stone all marked with symbols and numbers ready for the reconstruction work. I have enough trouble with jigsaws when you can hold the pieces between two fingers – these stones are far too big for one man to lift – how do they work out how to put them together???

We are staying here in the lovely Zeybeck 2 Pension on the hill overlooking the town - AUD$30 for a comfy room with a brand new bathroom and a little balcony over the orchard. Above is a great roof terrace for eating and hanging out with the other guests and the friendly helpful owner Sonar. As always a great brekky of bread, cheese, olives, tomato, cucumber, egg, and assorted condiments is included in that price too!

First day we wander the ruins happily and explore the beach. Second day we head to the hills to the famous Saklikent Gorge where we walk kms up the gorge, clambering over limestone rocks while wading through freezing (and sometimes quite deep)rushing water , so beautiful – and exhausting. We had said we were definitely not going to walk up the gorge, but then when we are there… it’s too tempting, and although we don’t make it the whole way (when the strapping German boy in front fell in from a boulder, I decide to call it quits) we feel well satisfied and proud of ourselves. Then it’s on up the mountains to the amazing ruins of Tlos – Greek and Roman with a few Lycian tombs thrown in for good measure. We eat a huge late fish lunch at Yakapark, a water park where the tame trout lie in moats happy to be tickled , and then home to Patara to sleep it all off… travelling is fun!

Next morning (Saturday is it?) we are off on the road again, this time to the riverside town of Dalyan. We try the recommended hotel on the river (Cinar Sahil) and it’s ok at 70TL (except the bathrooms which are unbelievably tiny) but we also try across the road and for about the same quality (bigger bathroom though) we are ably to negotiate down to 50TL and take that. Our balcony looks out on the river straight across to the amazing Lycian tombs carved high in the cliffside.

Dalyan used to be a port but, like many of the coastal areas here, it has silted up and there is a long beautiful river ride down to a sandy (!) beach. In the other direction is a gorgeous boat trip to Koycegiz Lake with foul smelling but therapeutic mud baths to cover yourself in (see photos) and Roman era hot springs and milky jade green water with fresh water turtles and wonderful bird life. We take the trip with Vadat, a lovely old Turkish man (who turns out to be younger than either of us - but then again that doesn’t make him young) and he rushes off to buy fresh fish,salad and wine at the market. We meet up and leave at about 3.00pm, swimming along the way and spending about 90mins in the mud and hot springs. Then we find a lovely spot under the shelter of the mountain in the reeds and he cooks us a luscious meal washed down with Turkish beer and red wine, and the whole trip and meal comes to 80TL which is about $58 – ahhhh it’s a hard life, but someone has to do it. He even did a dance for us – after a few wine and cokes, yuck! (See photos)

Up (not very early) the next morning we head north-west through the awful tourist area of Marmaris… miles of apartments and resort hotels populated with thousands of tourists clustered around what was probably a lovely bay once. But we skirt the horror and head into the Hisoronu Peninsular where winding steep narrow mountain roads take us to little villages and tiny bays. Just beautiful if a little hair-raising or more particularly for me, quite terrifying and nauseating… We picnic beside a little restaurant on a perfect little bay where the friendly manager happily shares his facilities with us. People are so good to us.

It would be easy to stay all afternoon but we still have a long drive to Bafa Lake… and is it worth it! Finally we get out of the mountains and the windy bits and relax on the open highway to make good time to the lake and arrive in beautiful afternoon sunshine. What an amazing scene – totally unexpected! I thought Bafa would be a lake nestled in green forests but the rocky landscape is as if the earth has vomited up huge red boulders, some the size of castles, some strange shaped and balanced precariously, some huge and round and strangely hollow like enormous prehistoric eggs. It reminds me of Morocco near Tafraout… boulders thrown into random piles by some giant hand… wonderful!

We look at a few of what are now rather ‘boutique-priced’ pensions down by the water but $150 is really too much for our budget and we find a lovely family deeper in the village of Kapiriki who have a few rooms they rent out (Pansiyon Yasemin named after the huge jasmine tree(?) in the courtyard). Full board ( dinner, breakfast and room) here is A$50 for the two of us and after a walk to the local Roman ruins with some helpful children, dinner under the bougainvillea and loquat trees in the garden is just delicious. We are in a real village. Cows wander past, donkeys bray from their yards, swallows have nested under the verandah roof and swoop out over us as we eat, storks have nested on a post opposite and the village dogs bark and the roosters crow. All very rustic and attractive this evening, possibly not at 5.00am tomorrow – thank goodness for those ear plugs. We are right under the mosque too so we’ll have the full pleasure of the muezzin’s early call to prayer as well.

Next morning… yes we are awakened very early by the muezzin’s holy words but I am finding it strangely pleasant and actually seek it out. It is quite special to have a spiritual message ring out every few hours (I still can’t work out exactly when to expect it) and it makes me stop and think my own spiritual thoughts. We do go back to sleep easily though and get up to enjoy another fabulous Turkish breakfast before we have a good wander around this beautiful lake meeting donkeys and cows and even some of the village ladies we met yesterday who cadge a lift back to town with us (oh and try to sell us some of their wares before they get out of the car – cute).

But we have to leave too soon and head out on the big highway through the tourist mayhem of Kusadasi but with a surprise stop-off at the beautiful 2,500 year old temple of Artemis at Priene and a picnic lunch there under an olive tree overlooking the vast plain. On to Selcuk, where we stay at the well known and comfortable Urkmez Hotel right in the middle of arcades of resturants and shops and even a few ruins and with a great view of the town castle on the hill.After getting lost trying to find the hotel a kind old guy ran ahead of the car waving and pointing! Selcuk is the closest town to the ruins of Ephesus, and turns out to be a lovely gentle town dotted with ruins, with many restaurants and bars as well as the mandatory gift shops, a great museum and the best baclava and coffee we have had so far… mmmmmmmmmmmm. It bodes well for a great dinner tonight! (oh dear the waist line…)

And a great dinner it is! We find an old original recommended place (established 1954!) and eat the house specialty - liver, tomatoes and onions (apologies to the vegetarians amongst you). With a yogurt and cucumber side dish it is a lovely nourishing strengthening meal – ready for tramping over Ephesus tomorrow…

And so to Ephesus, the jewel in the crown, or so they say. All the books say that you should rush there early in the morning before the tour buses arrive but our friendly and helpful hotel manager advises against it saying everyone says ‘have to get there early’ and so it is packed then. In any case there is a huge thunderstorm at about 9.30am so we are glad to have had a leisurely breakfast and wait it out before heading up the hills to pretty little Sirence. This must have been a gorgeous little town – white washed houses perched on the steep slope – until someone set up a fruit winery there and the tourist buses started to roll in… what a tourist trap now. But we wander the cobble stones, taste the wines (not so good, but we Australians are spoiled), buy a trinket or two and then find a little table in the square to set up our picnic of yogurt and banana and figs and honey – yummmmm.

Reaching Ephesus just after 2.00pm is great! The bus tours are in recess (probably still off having lunch in those huge restaurants that seem to be set up just for them) and we have the lovely streets to ourselves to a great extent. It’s a truly amazing site, and they are doing extensive restoration work that is very impressive, but I have to admit my heart is more inspired by some of the smaller sites like Priene with it’s glorious position (mountain behind and sea in front) and the deserted Patara ruins. Still it’s all quite amazing and we dutifully listen to the descriptions of the various wonderful archeological finds through our headphones. Some parts are really quite awe-inspiring, like the magnificent ‘library’ building and some original terraced houses which have been covered with a glass roof (a huge area) and are still being excavated and restored (the world’s biggest jigsaw!). We learn a lot about the history of these ancient buildings many of them well over 2,000 years old and see the water systems and toilets and under floor heating. St Paul gave a speech against paganism in the huge (24,000 person) theatre here and was booed for three hours! after which he had to leave the city.

Tomorrow it’s off to Cappadocia whoo hoo!

Cappadocia – land of fairy turrets and secret churches and beautiful valleys filled with wildflowers… aaaaahhhhh!

We are staying at Aydinli Cave House Hotel and have the most gorgeous room (have a look at their website – we are in room no 6) with a huge soft bed and warm doona, turkish carpets on the floor, a stone bathroom to rival the trendiest you can imagine and a boy who brings us tea whenever we want it! I never want to leave! Oh and our own balcony on which to sip our tea while we gaze out over the magical town of Goreme. Our host, Cem, is overwhelmingly helpful and has planned out a full itinerary for our days here. We are so glad we decided (after much thought) to hire another car here in Cappadocia. It saves us the rather large transfer fee from Kayseri airport (and back) and we are able to access so many places we certainly would not have seen. I guess we would have taken a tour at least one day but the heart is not warmed by the thought of travelling around in a huge bus and moving through the sites with a group of up to 30 people… instead we are able to visit remote little valleys like the very special Soganli where we can wander in and out of tiny hand hewed cave churches with ancient frescoes almost alone.

Have to admit that at some of the more famous sites (like the underground city at Kaymakli – fits in 3000 people!) we find ourselves a group with a guide who is speaking English and listen in unobtrusively… he he.

Food continues to be an important part of our lives and fortunately Goreme doesn’t disappoint. Some Canadians we met in Selcuk gave us some welcome recommendations and through them we meet Rafit and ate his borek (filled pastries, either deep fried or baked) while he instructs us on all the important places to go and things to do in the area. Such a lovely man – tall with silver hair and reminding me so much of our friend Steven at home I keep wanting to hug him… we have to go back and report on our adventures.

Today (Friday) we do have an adventure… first we go through the Goreme Open Air Museum a wonderful preserved valley full of the famous cave houses and exquisite carved churches with beautiful frescoes - but rather crowded with tour groups. Then we do another drive through another amazing valley and walk through the ‘chimneys’ and churches of the Zelve Valley surrounded much of the time by an effervescent group of young turkish people.

At the end of the Zelve Valley walk (or the beginning) a couple of boys offer camel rides and both of us say at the same time – love the camel’s carpet (ie the carpet people sit on for their ride)…. We nudge each other “ask him how much for the carpet’ and eventually do… it’s all a bit of a surprise to them but eventually the owner draws a price in the sand TL400, we counter, they counter back and eventually we buy it for 250TL! No time for doubts - perhaps it is the bargain of the trip, perhaps not… we would certainly not get one like it in the shops around here for the price and we both really like everything about it, except the smell – it has been on a camel’s back for a long time and is definitely whiffy. Now we have to find a way to package it to take on the plane – I guess we need some hessian and rope. And we are still thinking about a kilim we saw outside the underground city yesterday… hmmmm decisions.

Next day is another beautiful day in Goreme and we decide we have to walk… leave the car at home at our lovely pension and after a huge breakfast head down into town first to see Sulyeman – friend of Mustafa, our pension’s owner, who will definitely give us a good deal on a kilim (or our new best friend will ring him and give him a piece of his mind). We think the kilims will be far to expensive but fortunately Sulyeman has just made a huge sale to some Canadian people and is in an effusive mood… he (or rather his employee) throws kilims all over the floor and we chose from amongst a few we like and then find the price is 2X the 300 TL we want to pay… yes they are better quality than the other one we were looking at in Kaymakli but well, what do we know or even care about quality… finally dear old Sulyeman takes me into the other room and arm on shoulder whispers to me that he has made a good deal with the Canadians and we can have the kilim for 350TL, as a special present for me – what a line!! But it works and we are now the proud owners of a Capadoccian kilim and a filthy camel carpet… hope they work at home.

Now we have to walk some miles… we have sat in the car and eaten too much for days. Our host gives us detailed directions (huh!) and drives us to the starting point for the Rose Valley and Red Valley… telling us (get this) when we come to the big rocks we should turn to the right and this will take us on a beautiful part – you’ve seen the pictures of Cappadocia??? Big Rocks???

Anyway we follow signs for a while through the most amazing landscape – not sure if the name is because of the rosy pink colour of the rocks here or because of the wild roses that grow everywhere. The air is perfumed by these and a rather ordinary looking tree with tiny flowers that smell like… well we are reading Birds without Wings, a book about a Turkish village and one character is a concubine who goes to the hamam and then oils herself with divine perfumes. The smell of these flowers makes me think of her – this is what she should smell like – it is light and deliciously sweet and the air of the valley is full of it, as well as the sound of many, many birds. We walk through damp tunnels right through the larger columns and climb into tiny rooms where people lived hundreds of years ago. The Tibetans would love these places – caves everywhere – hundreds of them. Coming to some particularly big rocks we identify a track off to the right and, being good little trekkers, take it. We wind our way along a creek bed and through someone’s farm but just as we are deciding we are definitely one the wrong path we walk right into a restaurant – right out here in the middle of nowhere. There is food in bowls but no one around, so after a sit under the grape vines, we stagger on up and up and up to the top of the ridge and along a road to find Sunset Point,a tiny tea shop and seller of the best dried fruit we have come across (what a strange place for a dried fruit shop!). The owner kindly rings our pension and our host Cem arrives duly to pick us up – 4 kms off track! Well what kind of an instruction is ‘turn right at the big rocks’? Anyway we miss the dramatic storm which rolls in over the hills and thunders down as we drive home and we sit with tea and laugh about it all at home.

Next morning we have to leave… flight is at 10.30 and it’s a one hour drive to the airport at Kayseri. It’s sad… we have settled in to this lovely place. I understand why there are so many Australians, New Zealanders and Europeans settling there, starting businesses, getting boyfriends (or girlfriends)… Istanbul will be hard. We leave loaded down with presents from the lovely family at the Aydinli Cave Hotel after an early breakfast with special touches like local cherries and strawberries. Ahhhh.

Istanbul…. Whew! It’s all so big and busy and fullon…. We fly into Sabina Gokchen airport which is so far away from Sultanahmet it would be in a different country in Europe. We toss up the easy option, the medium option and the ‘interesting one’ to get in from the airport… a taxi all the way (possibly about $60 +), airport bus to Taxsim (central bus station) and a taxi from there (probably about $45 all up) and… local bus to the ferry (90mins), ferry across the Bosphorus and the tram to our hotel (total 13TL or $10) – guess which way we go? And it is great! What a good way to come into the city. The bus is fine, we listen to our taped book most of the way and get to see another side of Istanbul. The ferry is great!!! Full of local people and they serve tea and toast (with horrible sausage) and I sit opposite an old man who intermittently prays and smiles at me… so sweet. It’s all over so quickly and we are back at home at the Hali hotel with a room facing out right over the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque– wonderful! Aaahhh we settle in, Mehmet brings tea, and we turn on the tele… an old show of Dr Who with David Tennant and Queen Victoria is on and we lie back feeling good.

Then it’s a few days of being tourists, trying to find gorgeous things to buy in the awesome Grand Bazaar(mostly unsuccessfully) and doing a lot of sitting drinking tea and talking with people. Tom bought puzzle rings there over 40 years ago to sell along the hippie trail! We find an old Nargile (waterpipe hubble bubble) tea shop outside and spend a good few hours there, drinking tea only – but enjoying the smell of the apple and cinnamon nargiles others are puffing away on. Old men sit in groups and debate or even sing songs – it’s great! It’s right outside the grand bazaar so we make it a regular rest stop – the tea is very cheap after all.

We eat a great dinner on the roof terrace of a tall building (Storks) over the hustle and bustle next to the bus station and the ferries at Galata bridge and watch the various mosques in the area light up as the sun sets. At the hotel we open our windows before bed and let the meuzzins of Sultanahmet echo through us. It’s a bit like duelling muezzins – the one at Hagia Sofia will start and then the one from the Blue Mosque seems to answer… and it goes on like that for ages. Every time I think they are finished, off one will go again. It’s very moving and wonderful even if I don’t understand what they are saying and probably would not agree with it if I did.

On that note… we visit the wonderful Topkapi museum and of course go into the Hall of the Holy Mantle which houses an actual cloak worn by the Prophet Mohammed. We are not able to see that of course, but we can see some amazing relics – a bowl used by Abraham (!!!) which is 4,000 years old, a turban from Joseph (I think – is it the one with the technicolour dream coat?). That is supposed to be 3,500 years old. I can believe the footprint of Mohammed (goodness knows the Buddhist world is full of those) but a cotton turban… can cotton last that long???

Anyway back to the words. In the Hall of the Holy Mantle a cleric is singing the verses of the Koran all the time – just beautiful… but when we pass him we see that they are running a power point presentation of the words he is singing in English – I want to be positive and I really try. But the part he is reciting when we are there, is very dogmatically against any other religion and talks about how the non-believers will fall into eternal flames etc. It is quite heavy and a bit worrying. We both decide we should try to read more of the Koran - it can’t all be like this.

So, it is all coming to an end and has been just wonderful! Every place we have been, every meal we have eaten (yes every one), every person we have gotten to know, all just wonderful! I am so fortunate. We eat our last meal of bread, cheese, tomatoes, olives and canned fish sitting in the Sultanahmet Park on a bench in the shade next to another shady bench where an old man snores… a letter writer taps away at an old typewriter… a shoe shine man works away at his beautiful brass box… school boys smoke in the corners and the old men sit at low tables drinking tea and chatting… what a great memory to leave with…

We’ve posted a selection from the over 1000 photos we took on – feel free to have a browse. You’ll have to scroll through the albums we did from India/Nepal and Japan, but perhaps they will be interesting too… go to:

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