The last episode through Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania had their own respective highlights. Buda Castle, Heroes Square, Statue Park, various monasteries and, of course, there was Transylvania. Could that be topped?
Yes, it could. Particularly if you have a seasoned traveller like Dave who has called Turkey his favourite country he has previously visited (quite a big call). So exactly what’s in this post? We have The Grand Bazaar, Phallocentric Rocks, Red Valley Walk, Olympos, Ephesus, Soccer madness and so much more!
And so without further ado..
If you had read the first part of this blog you would already know that this was my second trip to Turkey, 10 years ago I had considered it to be my favourite country to travel around so figured I should head back there. I figured it a nice way to finish up my years adventure as I was heading back to Sydney, poor, homeless and jobless.
I decided on travelling to some of my favourite places in Turkey as well as a trip to Epheseus, which I’d missed last time. Unfortunately unlike last time, I was not going to get a chance to do the 4-day sailing cruise and a visit to Gallipoli would have to be missed, I was running out of time so I let some destinations slip.
Upon arrival in Istanbul firstly I had to check into my hostel which involved a 5-hour wait after a laborious 14-hour bus ride. I needed some sleep so I dozed on the couch till I could check in, please note that checking into hostels at five in the morning does not often end favorably. After checking in and being refreshed from my sleep decided to stay in the historical area of Sultanahmet which is located on the European side of Istanbul, it’s also where most of the attractions are located.
I walked down to the Blue Mosque which was not far from where I was staying. It’s a rather spectacular structure, very large and a dome like tower for the roof. Inside the entire area was covered in Persian rugs, candles were lit about the place and there were hundreds of tourists. I also had to take off my shoes off before entering and women had to be covered up (no short skirts or cut off sleeves). I then looked at the Suleymaniye mosque though refused to pay the 20 Lira charge to enter, 15 dollars Aus, prices are one thing that have changed in Turkey, the prices in Istanbul had skyrocketed from 10 years ago.
I wandered back to the hostel after that, sat on the roof overlooking the city and smoked a shisha pipe, if you don’t know the shisha is a rather large ornamental device for smoking fruity flavored tobacco as opposed to marijuana which it’s predominantly what it’s used for in Australia. I then checked out the mosques again by night and then crashed out as I was wrecked.
This next day firstly involved going down to the Grand Bazaar, the ancient historical marketplace of Istanbul, it was opened in 1461 and has over 1200 shops and covers 60 streets, it’s one of the most wondrous places to shop and much more interesting than Westfields, it’s a great place to bargain and haggle. It has lots of silks, jewelry, silver and gold, shisha pipes, Persian carpets, clothing…. and the list goes on.
I was not particularly interested in purchasing any of that (at the time anyway), my priority was finding some new underwear and a Harry Kewell Galatasaray football shirt.
The football shirt was easy to find and I managed to haggle the vendor down by a third of the advertised cost. Next was the underwear, but this proved a little more difficult. I ended up leaving the Bazaar and going down to where the locals were purchasing goods, I managed to bargain with a Turk who could only speak French (and Turkish probably), down to a satisfactory price, we then had tea to celebrate the deal, quite a strange by nice encounter. As far as the markets are concerned though, it’s definitely somewhere you could spend a lot of time and is one of the best things to do in Istanbul. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the space for some of the more exotic items in the market so I spent a while window shopping.
Afterwards, I checked out the European side of Istanbul, the Bosphorus Ocean, the European side and Asian side of Istanbul are joined by several bridges. There were hundreds of people on the bridge fishing I crossed, from what I could see the water also looked really clear so I suspect the seafood is not so good. Not being a seafood eater though I did not try any and was also not madly keen on the idea of potential food poisoning so close to the end of my trip, I decided not to have any seafood, I had not been ill once since being away.
Soccer is the real futball
After wandering around, I watched the Chelsea vs Hull game, Chelsea got up 2 1 which was excellent and a great. It was a great way to warm-up for the night’s festivities, I was heading out tonight to the real action, Galatasaray were playing and I was very keen to see Harry Kewell (Australian Soccer Player), the reason I bought the football shirt. This trip to the ground firstly involved some complicated negotiating of the local transport system over to the Asian side of Istanbul, I eventually made it to the ground, a few hours before kick-off; it was located in the suburb of Galatasaray, not known for its tourism and regarded as a bit of a rough area. Unfortunately, the ticket office had sold out so I was no going to have to haggle for a ticket and unlike where I was staying, no one in the area seemed to speak any English.
The first scalper I spoke to offered me a ticket for 100 Euro, after negotiating it down to 50, I told him to go away as I thought that to be a ridiculous price, the next scalper was the same and again I refused. I thought all was lost and then finally some luck, the third scalper I got for 50 Lira and I was on my way. Fortunately I met some locals who took me in with them, they spoke some English, they were quite impressed I was at the game by myself.
After standing around for another hour (it takes ages to enter the ground) we were finally in there, a 25000 capacity open air stadium, usually when foreign fans come to the ground they are often greeted with the saying “Welcome to Hell”, luckily this was a local game so there was no welcoming to hell, though as indicated I was by myself and potentially in a precarious position. The atmosphere was one of the best I’d ever experienced, the stadium was full to capacity and there were only about 30 away supporters from what I could tell. During the warm up, the crowd would call out a player who would run to the corner and punch his fist, the crowd chanting that player’s name; I’d never seen that before at any sporting event.
The crowd would also chant in one section of the stand and then be addressed by another section, then another, and then they would all sing in unison, whilst jumping and waving scarves, it was cool. The game itself was very one-sided, Galatasary won it 4 1, the highlight for me though was Harry Kewell, scoring two penalties, the crowd singing out his name to the tune “Daddy Cool”, I swear they had more affection for him than the Australian, my initial feeling of isolation was no longer a concern and it was fantastic to see the local love for an Australian sports star.
Very satisfied, I said goodbye to my Turkish mates, made it back to the hostel and crashed out, the game started at 10pm (due to the heat) so I was very tired by the time I got back.
Out and about
Next it was time to leave Istanbul. This firstly involved sorting out what I was going to do for the rest of my time in Turkey. Turkey is unparalleled (better than Australia) at sorting out travel plans, it takes no effort at all, except working out where to go, and the locals will even help with that. This includes transport, accommodation and tours from when you arrive, pick-ups in each town etc..
After sorting this out, I decided to check out more of the city, firstly the Basilica Cistern, constructed in the 6th century by the Romans, again amazing, Corinthian columns in line with each other, it was around 140m by 70m and the walkways covered the floor which was filled with water and fish swimming about, Cat Fish and Coy from what I could tell. It also is famous for the heads of Medusa, though no one is really sure how they got there. Whilst down there I was thinking this would be a decent venue for a rave.
After that, I decided to check out the National Archaeological museum, it’s truly impressive, it detailed 8000 years of history of the area, there were lots of displays I knew nothing about which surprised me as I am a bit of an ancient history buff. It is also a museum where you can touch a lot of the pieces on display, though I’m not sure that was the wisest of ideas and not something you could ever do at the Louvre. This included what was regarded as the tomb of Alexander the Great though there is some discussion over whether not it’s actually the case. It was truly mind-boggling how much historical pieces the museum contained.
After that, I decided to get some more Premier league games in a local restaurant where Id befriended the staff and afterwards again chilled out at the hostel bar, smoking shisha, eating kebabs and a drinking beers.
Another thing I forgot to mention was the sound of Islamic music coming from all of the mosques on the hour, it added to the experience of sweet-smelling shisha and the amazing views from the hostel rooftop there are over 2000 mosques in Istanbul so they make quite a noise.
The next day I decided to check out the city centre, known as Taksim. It’s located on the Asian side and I figured I could purchase some new clothes up there as what I had been wearing a little thin. I headed up the shopping district, it’s one of the longest malls I’ve ever wandered across; I’d guess it went for 2km’s. I eventually found the bargain basement items I’d been seeking (the Bazaar can be a little to touristy and pricy), after that checked out the Galata Tower. The tower was constructed in 528 AD by the Byzantine Empire; it was originally a lighthouse and is one of the world oldest buildings. The views from it were rather spectacular; I could see right around the city, the population by the way is 15 million, so there is a fair bit to see.
Next I headed to where to a palace and saw some marching guards, and then headed across the Bosphorus by ferry to another section of Istanbul. I walked along the opposing coast to another ferry terminal, took some photos, and then came back to Sultanahmet, an excellent experience, it was all very cheap and the ferry system is quite easy to navigate..
Next I went back to the hostel, packed my gear, said my goodbyes to the hostel and the restaurateurs Id befriended and I was headed off to Goreme Cappadocia on an overnight bus.
Goreme is in the Cappadocia desert of central Turkey, it’s famous for its mushroom like rock formations and the amount of history that surrounds the area.. I was staying in the same hostel I was at 10 years ago and while the owner of the hostel had changed, the place was as friendly as I remembered it. The town itself is not large either, population of around 5000 or so, mostly consisting of rug sellers and cheap jewelry stores..
When I arrived I went straight out onto a tour, I had two tours organised and both were to go for eight hours, so pretty full on days. Id managed a good sleep on the bus ride so wasn’t as exhausted as my trip from Bulgaria to Turkey. The only notable point of the ride was when we pulled into a Service station all the locals there were screaming and shooting automatic rifles in the air. Someone then ran on the bus and people on the bus were screaming, I for some reason did not find this particularly alarming and when the person sat next to me I asked him what was going on to which he replied “he was on his way to join the army and the village was celebrating”. Like I said an ‘uneventful bus ride‘.
Back to the tour, first of all we went on a walk through one of the many mushroom-shaped desert rocks. Apparently they resemble mushrooms; however to me they looked a little more phallic to me. After walking through the valley of Penis like rocks (I mean mushrooms), I had a rather pleasant lunch and then a local town situated in a gorge, of the town looked like a lot of ancient housing was built into the rocks. The place kind of looked like a Star Wars movie set or better still, Bedrock from the Flinstones. I made a few debatable purchases of hippy looking cotton shirts and then we went to a pottery museum to watch a demonstration. The idea behind this is to encourage people to purchase goods, they were never going to have any luck with me, so after the demonstration, I drank some of the free tea and left.
Our third stop was the Outdoor museum which included a series of Christian churches from the 5th century, again built into the rocks. Once this finished up I went back to the hostel, headed out for dinner and then some watched some Premier league football. I went back early and caught up on some well-deserved sleep in the hostel dorm, the dorm was a cold cavern underground, like sleeping in a cave, very refreshing from the desert heat.
Red Valley walk
The second day involved heading out to the Red Valley walk, it was about a 3km trail through the middle of the phallic rocks down a creek with no water, though caves, very picturesque.
When we finished, we were then taken to another town, the town was abandoned in the 1950’s, due to the danger of collapse though this didn’t stop me from walking all through it, the town was built into a large hill. Our group then headed for some more lunch and then it was off to the underground city, constructed by the Hittites around 3000BC, and then renovated by the Persians and Romans thousands of years later.
At one stage the cities capacity was 15000 people, though we could only check out a small section of it. It was quite cramped and cold, possibly the people back then were midgets or hunchbacks, as I was rather sore from being hunched over walking around. It probably would have been a better experience if they didn’t push so many tourists through the city, very interesting though. After the tour finished, I headed up to the top of the hill overlooking Goreme and checked out a stunning sunset, it’s a very weird landscape so the sun cast some very weird shadows..
That evening the Turkish owner gave me a discount ticket on “Turkish Night”, basically a large dinner with all the alcohol you can drink and a variety of Turkish dances to entertain the diners, including the traditional Swirling Dervish, dancers spinning and spinning (not sure how they swirl so much without falling over and being sick) as well as belly dancing.
The hostel owner volunteered me for both crowd demonstration and whilst I fancied myself as a bit of a dancing aficionado, I was hopeless with the dance of the scarves where I had to impress a lady, and my belly dancing was more like belly gut dancing. I managed a few laughs however (I think) and eventually retreated to all I could drink, I had a hilarious time.
Afterwards I went out with the hostel owner to his local bar and proceeded to get more hammered on Turkish Raki , talk about Harry Kewell and woke up the next day with a hell of a hangover. I love Goreme, but it was now off to Olympos, my favourite backpacking place in the world 10 years previous…..
I headed down to Olympos and to be honest, was kind of disappointed, possibly due to my previous experience when it wasn’t as commercial, last time I was here there were hippies dancing around bonfires, smoking weed and swimming in the ocean at night, it appeared the hippies had disappeared, there was no bonfires and you were no longer allowed to swim in the ocean at night, officially anyway. In saying that, it was still pretty good fun, a very chilled out hostel, a lovely beach and the ancient city of Olympos, built in 200 AD (apparently).
The beach was excellent, very warm water and dense with salt so difficult to drown in, also very clear and blue. The ancient city was interesting though the Turks may someday realise someday that allowing backpackers to walk though an ancient site unsupervised or touching museum pieces is can lead to damage and theft. There was also now a beach access charge which was very enterprising of the locals. No one really knows much about the city, but it must be one of the few places in the world where you can access the beach through an ancient city.
My first night involved lots playing Jenga with a Turkish and Spanish couple which I befriend and was a good laugh (I must be getting old, where was the bonfire) and the second reading a book , like I say, it was not what it was 10 years ago.
The following day I left and after a long bus ride during the day I was headed town of Selcuk as I wanted to see the ancient city of Ephesus and the Artemis temple. I checked into the hostel (first one I’ve had where they give each backpacker their own room) and then drank a few with some Kiwis and the hostel owner, the Turkish guy running the place were very friendly.
The next day involved my trip to Ephesus, an ancient city built around the 2nd century BC, it was a major trading port built by the Greeks in the Anatolia region which I’m sure doesn’t intersest anyone. There were a lot of ruins and cobbled streets, it also happened to be the centre of Christianity under emperor Constantine. After that, I checked out the temple of Artemis, one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world, but like a few of the other, the city of Alexandria and the Colossus of Rhodes for instance, it was no longer there, destroyed by the Christians who had decided to base themselves there. It was now basically a hole in the ground with and ancient bath overgrown with trees and Turkish people trying to sell 2 dollar shop type gifts. After leaving there, I checked out the House of Mary, apparently the last place where Mary lived (mother of Jesus) I then took another bus, and was away to Istanbul, it was a few days before flying out to Australia and reality.
I didn’t get up too much in Istanbul, mainly hung around the Grand Bazaar and rented a hotel for a little luxury; I did enjoy my time in Turkey again. Whilst Olympos wasn’t quite what Id remembered, Goreme was as every bit as good and Istanbul had not changed too much, still it’s one of my favourite and one of the most unusual cities I have visited
This also draws my trip to the end of my trip, I was now heading back to Australia and off on another journey of repaying the huge amount of debt I had accumulated whilst being away as well as focusing on getting another job, I was not looking forward to reality hitting me in the face.
The Travel Bug
The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world. We started this series a while back and finished right here in Turkey. We’ll be back with another Travel Bug soon!
He just completed another world trip and is bound to share his tall travel tales shortly.
PC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.
We hope to entertain you through this collection of stories.