Having only visited Istanbul before, I was really keen to get to Turkey and visit the numerous interesting places I have read about over the years, could they all be as spectacular as they sounded? It took me two weeks to find out and yes they certainly were, read on to get a taste of my 2 week odyssey.
Istanbul to Konya
Arriving at SAW, immigration was quick but I had to have my visa printed out. My transfer was waiting but things slowed down after that. SAW is 50kms from the centre of Istanbul and the traffic here is allegedly second only to Moscow, as a result, my transfer took nearly 2 hours! After checking in to the hotel, I met my 11 fellow travellers, ranging in age from 26 to 71. The next morning, we had a quick look at the Blue mosque and then we were away for the 5 hours to Baypazari. This small town is just an hour from Ankara meaning there are a lot of domestic visitors. Early start the next day to get to Göreme by late afternoon. Göreme is tiny, lots of hotels with a nice small-town centre, very easily walkable. Göreme is all about the scenery and the balloon ride and it doesn’t disappoint, see photos! After 2 nights in Göreme, we left for the 3-hour drive to Konya, stopping on the way to visit a winery then a carpet factory. All very nice, my favourite carpet was a mere $26,000USD, they were offering a 40% discount but I still decided against it. On arrival in Konya, we visited the tomb of Rumi, the founder of the Sufi religion and the Whirling Dervishes. Again, this place is just somewhere to break the journey to Antalya which is a 5-hour drive tomorrow. Our tour leader is 26 and from near Göreme, he and his English is excellent and he is our guide for everything, no local guides will be used on the tour, this is apparently the norm in Turkey due to the depth of training required to get your tour guiding licence.
Antalya and Kas
After the delights of Cappadocia, it was on to the Mediterranean coastal towns of Antalya and Kas. Antalya made me feel as if I was on the Amalfi coast – built on the cliff tops with lots of lovely views and beautiful little streets filled with bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. My time was spent exploring the little boutiques and shops, lazing by the pool, then having delicious seafood in the evening. On leaving Antalya we visited the magnificent archaeological museum and then it was on to Kas. Kas is a picture-postcard village again with a little harbour and lovely little bougainvillea lined streets filled with interesting shops selling stunning pottery, lamps and other great souvenirs. The highlight of our time in Kas was the boat trip we did, visiting an old castle, a sunken city, enjoying a fabulous lunch and swimming in the warm Mediterranean waters, a wonderful day. Antalya and Kas are a must on any Turkey itinerary.
Fethiye, Pamukkale and Gallipoli
We continued our drive to Fethiye, staying out a little near Calis beach – again another of those stops that just have to be done to get from A-to-B, the hotel was nice and again had a pool but not much to see or do in the immediate vicinity. A 4-hour drive took us Pamukkale, a balmy 38 C which thankfully cooled down a little by 5 pm when we went to see the Terraces.
We arrived into Pamukkale in the early afternoon, just as the mercury was hitting 40c, so it was decided we would wait until around 5pm to begin our visit. The ancient Roman city of Hierapolis sits atop the terraces so our visit began there. The city dates from around 190 B.C. and the ruins include a very well-preserved theatre, the church of St. Phillip and Cleopatra’s pool. We spent an hour or so exploring the ruins before heading across to see the terraces. Pamukkale translates to “Cotton Castle” in Turkish, and the pools and terraces have been formed by the calcium rich springs seeping slowly down the mountainside, collecting in pools then cascading over the edge in the form of stalactites to form more pools below. The pools have been used for healing purposes since Roman times but today it is the stunning scenery of these cotton castles which attracts people. At the end of our time viewing the terraces we headed back to Cleopatra’s pool to bathe in the crystal-clear waters, so called because Cleopatra was said to have bathed there herself. We finally left the terraces at about 8.30 pm after watching the sunset, a fabulous end to a most amazing visit. Ephesus and Gallipoli Moving back to the coast from Pamukkale our next stop was the ancient city of Ephesus. Famous originally for being next to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and completed in 550 BC, the city was built by the Greeks and flourished even more so when it came under control of the Romans in around 129 BC. The city was one of the seven churches of Asia mentioned in the Book of Revelations and it is said that the Gospel of St. John was written here before his death at the ripe old age of 100. The site boasts some amazing ruins, the most famous of which is the Library of Celsus, along with a theatre capable of holding 25,000 spectators and possibly the best-preserved Roman latrines. The site can get very busy due to the cruise ships visiting the port of Kusadasi which lies just 30 kms away. We were waiting by the gates as they opened at 0830 and by doing this avoided the crowds for most of our visit. The walk along Harbour street is quite spectacular and really gives you a sense of the size and grandeur of the site.
Our final destination in Turkey was Gallipoli and as a scholar of 20th century European history I was really keen to visit this famous peninsula. Our guide was excellent and his telling of the events from a British, Anzac and Turkish perspective made for an incredibly interesting visit. The work of the Commonwealth War graves commission is amazing and all the cemeteries are pristine, the stories of the futile landings and senseless battles was haunting and brought home once more the reasons why we must never forget the sacrifices made at this and many other battlefields. We visited all the major sites, Anzac Cove, Lone Pine, Chunuk Bair and Hill 60. We were the only group at most of these sites and as I have felt before, you are glad you have visited these places but can’t really say you have enjoyed the experience. My photos really don’t do the trip justice, all I can say is that Turkey is a real must-do experience!