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TURKEY

Trip report - From Istanbul to loads of astonishing panoramas: exploring Cappadocia, Pamukkale and the Aegean Coast
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TURKEY: PHOTOS AND TRIP REPORT

Here below some of the most fascinating photos from Turkey and a trip report rich of practical info and suggestions. If you haven't read them yet, check out all travel info and precise itinerary here: www.wildtrips.net/turkey.htm.

Cappadocia
Cappadocia

TURKEY TRIP REPORT

How about beginning summer with a holiday in Turkey? There are worse things in life. To me and my girlfriend it looked like a great idea, so we decided to give it a try. Before leaving we didn't know which part of Turkey would be more fascinating, and indeed we found out that there was plenty of choice.
The flight of the 13th of June 2009 from Genoa to Istanbul (via Rome) landed in perfect time, but without our luggage. A little pissed off, we used train and subway to reach the center of Istanbul, where we had booked our hotel (Sultan's Inn, a short walk from the Blue Mosque). It was a hot afternoon, but once we arrived at the hotel we felt better. The room was quite elegant, more so given the price of 60 euros per night, and a nice terrace on the roof of the hotel allowed admirin a panorama that stretched from the Sea of Marmara to the domes of the Blue Mosque.
Istanbul Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque. Istanbul boasts many worldwide famous monuments. One could spend months admiring them from different angles and discovering interesting and less known sights.
The loss of Our luggage was unfortunate, but it had some positives: we didn't have to waste time changing clothes, for example. So we could get out immediately and we began to explore the charming city. We started from the two most impressive and important buildings, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, who deserve their fame.
Istanbul Hagia Sophia
Istanbul, Hagia Sophia
Then we wandered in the center of Istanbul, following markets and monuments up to the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn (a large inlet of the sea that "stabs" Istanbul). From the bridge, a double row of picturesque fishermen watched hopefully their reeds and the river.
Istanbul
Istanbul
Istanbul
Istanbul
That first dinner introduced us to the sensational experience of the Turkish appetizers, salads and flavoured meat. The good relationship with the turkish food continued the next morning: breakfast on the terrace of our hotel left us very satisfied, both for the landscape and for the yogurt with honey. While on the terrace we were surprised by how many ships sailed across the Sea of Marmara. There was as much traffic as in the city center at rush hour.
That day we attended a boat trip that crossed all The Bosphorus Strait, from Istanbul to the Black Sea. It's a highly recommended navigation especially in a sunny day as bright as the one that we enjoyed, between beautiful landscapes, villas and castles. On the way back, we had time to visit the Galata Tower and enjoy its beautiful views over the city.
Istanbul Galata
Istanbul from Galata Tower
Then we stopped to eat at a table in Nevizade street, which is famous for its food. The restaurant was normal, but the atmosphere was lively even though it was very touristy area.
Istanbul Nevizade
Istanbul, Nevizade Road. Along this lively road restaurants are always full. The man on the right is not Frankenstein.
While walking back to the hotel, a turkish young man who was completely drunk, drugged or simply confused, hugged me while muttering unclear words. He looked angry with me and he would not let me go. Maybe he envied my good fortune as a "westerner" on holiday with its beautiful girlfriend. Clearly, he did not know her :)

I must say that I never felt unsafe in Turkey, and also that situation was more unpleasant than worrysome, and everything was ok when we arrived at the hotel. Incidentally, in the hotel there were our suitcases waiting for us, handed down by Turkish Airlines... it was good to meet them again.
The next day, after another hearty breakfast, we visited the Topkapi Palace, the royal residence full of golden ornaments and magnificence. It was a bit the opposite of a Ikea-furnished studio.
Istanbul Topkapi
Istanbul, Topkapi Palace. Luxury and golds and much more in the old sultan's palace.
We spent most part of the day in the bright former residence of the sultans. Then we visited the huge underground Roman cistern named Cisterna Basilica. It is a vast underground space, supported by columns, which supplied the aqueduct nearly two millennia ago. Even today there is a half a meter of water on the bottom, where many fish live. A strange place, whose visit is recommended.
Istanbul Roman Cistern
Istanbul, Roman Cistern. A mysterious and fascinating underground monument.
We browsed the souk of Istanbul - a quiet place, without the confusion, smells and charm of Asian or African markets.
In the evening, we had a succulent dinner in a greek restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet. We spent 35 euros each, way too much for Istanbul, but it was a very elegant place and we had food and wine enough for three days. Never seen so many starters, all very tasty and original and different. After two hours of delicious food we couldn't swallow anything else, but we still found a little space for some fish and a dessert. Good too, but if I ever get back in that restaurant, I will ask for a discount and will give up everything that is not a starter. I want to live by those appetizers.
On the 16th of June, we had just enough time for a short walk in the neighborhood on the Sea of Marmara to the south of the hotel. It was a less monumental and poorer area, but more representative of the Turkish life. From there we went to the airport and we flew (with the help of a Turkish Airlines plane) to Kayseri, in Cappadocia. At Kayseri we picked up a car rented from Hertz at good price, but with the necessary additional "one way" charge as we would return the car to Dalaman, on the east coast. It was a Fiat Marea, very communist as it always wanted to turn left.
Cappadocia
Cappadocia. If you are looking for weird and stunning natural landscapes, this is your place.
The differece between Istanbul and Cappadocia is rather shocking. No more traffic or urbanization, but a nature devoid of any logic and common sense, with those rocks coming straigh out of a fairy tale. We came upon the charming village of Uchisar and then we got to Goreme, where there was our hotel. These towns built between the fairy chimneys, or inside the fairy chimneys (which is the poetic name of the pinnacles of tufa that make Cappadocia unique in the world), would fascinate and move even the rudest man of the world. Our hotel was a beautiful building between crazy rock formations and we were pleased with that choice.
Cappadocia Goreme
Cappadocia, Goreme. And its culture and history are interesting too.
Cappadocia Goreme
Cappadocia, Goreme
In the evening Goreme was quiet, especially compared to Istanbul, and despite the importance of tourism it retained a more authentic charm than what we had seen in the city center of the capital. Eating out was inexpensive and being happy was even easier.
Through out hotel we booked for the next morning a hot air balloon ride with Goreme Balloons. Of course we refused any other kind of organized tour, but this was not to be missed, despite the price of 130 euros each.
Cappadocia hot-air balloon
Hot-air balloon in Cappadocia. A fascinating way to see the region from the sky.
So, on June the 17th we got up at dawn. A minibus took us to a plain covered with hundreds of balloons. Ours was half swollen and colorful, waiting for us. We mounted in the basket along with a dozen other people, then the pilot (if so is called the balloon driver) hit on the gas of the burner that warmed the air in the balloon and we flew away. Our take-off was slow and we headed towards a tree. Everyone started running after us, probably to collect our dead bodies, but luckily at the last moment the tree bent down and we floated away, free in the sky.
Cappadocia
Cappadocia
Floating in the air, ten or one hundred meters above the ground, driven by the sheer force of wind, is an experience highly recommended to those who don't suffer high anxiety. The wonderful landscape of Cappadocia and the view of dozens of hot air balloons in flight made that panorama even more spectacular.
Cappadocia
Cappadocia
Cappadocia hot-air balloon
Hot-air balloon in Cappadocia
It was interesting, and a little bit concerning, to learn that you cannot control the direction of a hot air balloon: the pilot can only inflate or deflate the balloon and modify accordingly its quote. However, the regular wind of the dawn pushed us, as we expected, over the fairy chimneys, then near Uchisar and over beautiful valleys.
Uchisar, Cappadocia
Uchisar, Cappadocia
Landing was fun. Obviously you can't know where you are going to end up, so depending on the wind the pilot has to chose the appropriate landing field along the route. Meanwhile, he communicates a jeep on the ground follows the balloon in order to collect the passengers at the end of the flight.
During landing the basket jumped and rebounded on the ground several times. We tourists were in the basket as it repeatedly slammed to the ground, not with violence but not even lightly. When the race finally stopped, we all were extremely happy of that incredible experience. A toast, a certificate that soon ended up in the trash, and we were ready for new adventures.
Cappadocia
Cappadocia
In particular, we headed by our communist Fiat to the so-called Open Air Museum of Goreme, a UNESCO heritage site that protects some fairy chimneys that were used in the Middle Age as churches: they are decorated and picturesque. But the beauty of Cappadocia was to wander freely in the nature, trekking in the Rose Valley, where to enjoy the sunset, in the Love Valley(so called because the rock formations look like huge penises), and to visit all the canyons and plains and quaint villages.
Cappadocia, Love Valley
Cappadocia, Love Valley
It was an extraordinary and highly improvised travel itinerary.
We spent two days randomly browsing Cappadocia, and one of them we visited the underground city of Kaymakli, a really amazing place if you are not claustrophobic, the beautiful Ihlara canyon, which is great for hiking, and the nearby village of Selime, with its incredible natural castle.
Cappadocia
Cappadocia
Cappadocia
Selime, Cappadocia
A rental car is obviously recommended in Cappadocia: a guided tour would have put too many constraints on time and space and it would have killed those magnificent feelings of freedom.
When we left Cappadocia we headed west along roads with little traffic and virtually no tourists. We took the first break at the caravanserai of Sulthanani, an impressive building in the middle of nowhere where centuries ago the caravans stopped. We had a good lunch for two euros in a typical tavern and we continued our drive. The landscape was now more flat and monotonous, so we were pleased when we arrived, in the late afternoon, at the beautiful Egirdir Lake. We decided to sleep in the small and nice town of Egirdir after a cheap dinner in which we tasted the local fish.
Egirdir Lake
Egirdir Lake. Along the road from Cappadocia to Pamukkale, you meet this quiet and pleasant place.
The next day, along the way to the Aegean Sea, we stopped at Pamukkale, which is very popular with holidaymakers but still is spectacular thanks to its unique scenario, with waterfalls of white limestone that create a sequence of natural pools on the slope of a steep hill. Nearby, Greek and Roman ruins complete a landscape apparently drawn from the imagination of a fool dreamer. Pamukkale is definetely a destination to be added to your travel itinerary.
Pamukkale
Pamukkale. Greek and Roman ruins, hot springs and a staircase of white natural waterpools.
Then we continued our drive to Fethiye, and we did so by venturing over a mountain pass in the midst of beautiful landscapes made of rocky peaks, forests and Mediterranean scrub. It was almost dark when we came in sight of the sea. We found our hotel and we soon walked into the center of the seaside town.
We had chosen Fethiye because it is more characteristic and less touristy than other close seaside towns. It didn't let us down. There were Europeans and Turks and Americans on vacation, but the atmosphere was very nice and we liked both the open-air restaurants and the lively town center.
We dedicated our first day on the sea to a boat trip among the islands offshore Fethiye: we found clear water and fascinating bays. We got offered a good lunch with surprisingly fresh fish. In the late afternoon, by exploring the town and the hills behind it, we visited some monumental tombs.
Fethiye
Fethiye. Just offshore of this lovely seaside town there is a small archipelago with beautiful beaches.
Fethiye
Fethiye
The next day thanks to formidable Fiat Marea we could visit the coast near Fethiye. We started from Oludeniz Beach - which is beautiful, but too touristy - we continued with a view of the Butterfly Valley, and finally we relaxed on the endless beach of Patara, the last destination of our travel itinerary.
Butterfly Valley
Butterfly Valley
Patara Beach
Patara Beach
Patara Ruins
Patara ruins
Patara ruins and cows
Patara ruins and cows. This herd can grow in a culturally stimulating environment.
With another excellent dinner in Fethiye we spent our last evening in Turkey. The day after we returned the car at Dalaman Airport, we took a flight to Istanbul and from there another flight to Genoa.
Unfortunately our trip ended there, but there are worse things in life: for example, having never left in the first place!
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