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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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