Turkey, a Saga. Part 2

3 May

A land of fairy chimneys

Why oh why does it have to rain on holidays?! Another morning in Turkey, another really wet wake up call. The rain forced us to get a taxi from our hostel to the train, which would take us straight to the airport for our flight. Walking with large backpacks through a downpour isn’t our idea of a fun way to start the day.

The rain eventually subsided later that day as we arrived in Goreme, located pretty much smack bang in the middle of Turkey in an area known as Cappadocia. The area is famous for its unique landscape of ‘fairy chimneys’, rocks naturally formed by volcanic eruptions and then as a result of erosion. It’s quite a unique sight to see hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of these pointy peaks throughout the area.The town itself could pass for a modern-day ‘Bedrock’ (as in The Flinstones) with its sandy coloured, flat-roofed houses, built against the plateaus and chimneys that dominate in the area. It’s a really pretty town.

That afternoon we had time to visit the Open Air Museum. The site has many churches that were carved into the chimneys, of which visitors can now walk through. The churches are decorated with frescoes – or murals – on the carved walls and alters of the churches. The area was once a very important area for Christians in the history of Turkey about 300 fairy chimney churches in the area of Cappadocia alone.

We also went for a hike up to one of the lookouts overlooking Goreme. There is hiking trails all over the area, but unfortunately we only had time to do this small one. We got lost making our way up, as did a lot of other hikers, so we collaborated forces with an American family and after diverting through a local farm (with a massive dog on a chain which made lots of noise as we trespassed through), we eventually made it to the top. We stayed for the beautiful sunset before it got too cold in the wind to stay on top of the plateau any longer. Besides, our tummies were grumbling and we were keen for an early night in preparation of our very early morning the following day.

Floating like a cloud

The landscape we saw from the ground the day before looks completely different from 5,000m up. We could see just how vast the area is and the valleys of chimneys snaking their way across the landscape become all the more distinct. We were in a hot air balloon and the rays of the morning sun were now bright in the sky – we were lucky to have a clear morning. Apart from the gushing sound of propane being fuelled into the balloon, there was complete stillness. The town wasn’t even awake yet, except for the few hundred individuals that were up before 5am to do exactly as were doing – floating through the air above this incredible landscape. There were several balloons in the sky – about 30 or 40 or even more and each balloon carries up to 24 people – they reminded us of the Chinese lanterns floating up and up at New Year back in London. We were floating for an hour until we landed on top of the same plateau we saw the sun set from the previous day. It was an incredible experience (and we even got Champagne on the ground after the flight).

We were back to our hostel in time for breakfast and another full day tour that started at 9.30am. This was our last day in the area so we had to make the most of the time we had. Our tour took us 200km around trip throughout Cappadocia. We visited Derinkuyu Underground City- one of the biggest in this region. The underground cities were constructed by the Christian communities who lived in the area during invasion of Turkey and so these cities were their refuge and hiding place. Up to eight floors housed up to 20,000 people in this underground city alone and our guide took us to the kitchen and living areas, the stables, the school and even the winery. It reminded us of the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam, although on a much better preserved scale.

Our guide also took us to Ihara Valley – one of the most beautiful areas we’ve ever seen. We hiked 4km through the valley, following a bustling river the whole way. The valley walls are dotted with holes where people once lived. Alongside those holes are pigeon holes – literally – this is where pigeons were given homes and were once kindly cared for by their human neighbours (their droppings were also used to create the frescoes on the church walls). We stopped for lunch at the end of the valley and were then driven to a massive monastery in more fairy chimneys in the area. As we were driving, we passed massive snow-capped mountains, quite amazing to see. Our guide did a tour the week before and it snowed! Needless to say, it was quite cold here!

Bound for Istanbul

Another day, another wet morning, another flight. This time back to Istanbul (we basically followed a triangle shape around the country).

Arriving to Istanbul where it was sunny (hoorrah!), we took a shuttle to the historical area of Sultanhamet, where we were staying for the night. It is a beautiful area and it is more modern than we thought it was going to be (in fact, every place we’ve visited is more modern than we were anticipating it to be). Our hostel is probably one of the best we’ve stayed at. It is so clean and has a roof top terrace where breakfast is served, overlooking the Sea of Marmara over breakfast is one way to cure a hangover (we’ll get to that later).

We arrived to our hostel later in the afternoon and after freshening up, we went for a long walk along the water until it was time to meet Amy, Troy, Jaime and Geri, who were also visiting Gallipoli a couple of days later with us. The sea is a magnificent blue colour – not at all polluted – and it was tempting to go for a dip (if only it wasn’t so cool and windy). We caught up with the others early evening in front of the Blue Mosque (what better meeting point than a massive mosque) and we headed out for some dinner – more yummy Turkish food. We visited a bar afterwards where Matt and I had our first taste of Nargile – water pipe. Yes, its tobacco, but when in Turkey (or any other Arab country for that matter!). Sitting on Turkish mats on the floor, we smoked the sweet tasting tobacco (its flavoured so we tried strawberry and then apple and mint). We also ordered quite a few drinks and were given free shots, hence the hangover I mentioned earlier, but it was a great night and needless to say we had a lot of fun!

The city of Istanbul

Today, we took it slow. A lot of early mornings, busy days and late nights are taking its toll. The wet weather is holding off and the sun is shining so while the others went for their hamam, we strolled around the area, taking in life in Istanbul. We met up with our friends later that day for lunch and a spot of shopping through the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. We would be going to the other major sites – the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofya and Basilica Cistern – the next day with our tour, so we just walked and explored the streets to fill in time. The Grand Bazaar is well, grand, but is quite modern – nothing compared to the rabbit warren of dirt-floor alleys in the markets we experienced in Vietnam. The touts in the bazaar and on the streets throughout Turkey are also not as pushy or persistent to make a sale. With a gentle ‘no thanks’, we were pretty much left alone as they moved on to the next tourist.

As part of the tour we booked for Anzac Day, we made our way with our luggage to the Ibis later that evening. We took a train and then a very long walk to reach our hotel, located close to one of Istanbul’s airports, and so it’s in the middle of nowhere. We had to walk along a very busy highway with no proper pedestrian path to reach the hotel, which we thought was very dangerous! We weren’t too impressed with our tour at this point.

Nevertheless, we made it and met up with Amy, Troy and Jaime to attend our tour meeting before grabbing some dinner. With so many people going to the Anzac Day ceremony at Gallipoli, our tour company had several buses going down to the peninsula and we had found out that Jaime was put on a completely different bus to us. After several attempts to get her changed on to our bus, we admitted defeat and not wanting to spend a fortune on dinner at the hotel, we made the decision to walk down the highway again to grab some dinner at the only food place within walking distance to our hotel – McDonald’s.

The start of our tour the next day took us to the Blue Mosque, which really is called the Sultanhamet Mosque – it is labelled the Blue Mosque for tourists due to its exterior blue colour and blue mosaic tiles on the inside. Its beautiful and is a massive structure with several domes and minarets (tall spires), of which there is six, indicating its size (they can either have one, two, four or six minarets). There are 3,000 mosques in Istanbul alone, compared to around 120 churches.

We also visited the Bascilica Cistern – once an underground water storage area, which has been cleared of the tonnes of mud left after it was abandoned for use so it could be used as a tourist attraction. It’s very beautiful underneath with several column structures and the head of the goddess of Medusa found in two spots – how they got to be here is still unknown. According to Greek Mythology, Medusa could turn anyone to stone, and therefore why the ‘evil eye’ is so popular in Turkey – they are used to protect buildings. Don’t worry, tourists that visit the Bascilica Cistern are protected from Medusa’s petrifying gaze as a result of one of the heads turned up-side-down and the other to its side, thereby negating the power to turn people to stone (true story).

Next was the Hagia Sofya – now a museum, but began its life as a church and was then converted into a mosque. The mish-mash of religions means the inside is donned with Christianity symbols and frescoes – angels, Jesus and the Virgin Mary – together with Islamic symbols – like Allah (the Islamic God). It’s a beautiful structure and from the outside there seems to be a lot of domes and different layers and is equally impressive in terms of its size and marble and decorative grandeur on the inside as the Blue Mosque.

We were then taken to the dock for a chilly cruise down the Bosphorus Strait, which divides the city on to two continents – Europe and Asia. Istanbul is said to be the gateway before Europe and Asia for this reason and was once a major path for trade. The slow rocking of the boat made us sleepy, but it gave us a chance to see more of the city.

We later ditched the tour (we weren’t particularly interested in going to a leather factory and then being shuttled back to the hotel, away from the action of the historic area) and walked up hill to another mosque near the Grand Bazaar. We managed to commandeer Jaime from her tour bus who had also just finished their tour, so we were happy we were altogether again. A bit more shopping and dinner at a “pub” and then the five of us squeezed into a taxi back to the hotel.

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today was meaningful

a collection of thoughts, life lessons, and days full of meaning.

Liv Hambrett

An Australian in Germany

I am the world's oyster

Photography, Aviation, Nature, Culture, Nikon, Canon, Qantas, Airlines, Emirates, Airports, A380, 747

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