Monday, October 19, 2009


The trip started off just like any other, as we headed out to Luton at the crack of dawn. It was a fairly uneventful flight until we landed at the terminal in Istanbul. As the world was in the grips of swine flu when we found that Turkey was taking no risks. We were all thermally imaged on our way into the airport terminal and Claire registered a temperature which was too high by 0.2 degrees. She had to sit with about 6 other people for 15min and in the hope that she cooled down. Luckily for us she did and by then the visa and immigration queues had gone so we breezed through.

The start of this tour was in Istanbul so we headed straight to the Grand Bazaar and wandered around the maze of streets. It is remarkably clean which was surprising given our previous experiences in Egypt. We saw a lot of interesting things to buy and decided to return on our last day rather then carry everything with us. We met the rest of our group that night and the trip started properly the next morning with a tour of the highlights of the European side of Istanbul.
First stop was the Topkapi Palace where it took us 3 hours to explore. Much of the time was spent listening to our guide who was very informative but whose delivery was very boring. Regardless the palace is pretty impressive and would have been a city within a city during its heyday. The tiles in particular were quite intricate and amazing colours.
The seal of the sultan and some of the decorative tiles.
Next we headed through the Hippodrome which used to be the site for chariot races but now is home to series of monuments donated by a variety of countries. Next to this park is the famed Blue Mosque. It is the only mosque in the world to have 6 minarets and surprisingly we were able to take photos inside. There weren't that many people praying while we were there which we can understand considering the number of tourists wandering through. The blue colour is from the tiles but they weren't as blue as we expected. It is only the drawings or decoration on the tile that is blue rather then the entire tile. While we were there we saw a child of about age 10 dressed in a regal stlye of outfit. Our guide expained that this was the circumcision outfit and the boy is brought to the mosque and 'shown off.
The wash area outside the mosque
Part of the mosque ceiling
Blue mosque at night
After leaving the mosque we headed into the Hagia Sofia which is now a museum but has been both a Christian chuch and mosque. Much of the Christian decoration was removed or covered over during its conversion and now is an interesting mix of both religions.
Considering the heat of the day we were looking forward to our next stop, the Basilica Cistern. This was the original water source for the city in 532AD. These days there is only 1m of water in it and the 336 columns have been floodlit to create quite an interesting atmosphere. There are also heaps of rather large fish swimming around.
Dinner that night was at a traditional restaurant where we tried Gozleme. This was one of our favourite foods of the trip. They are a savoury pancake that can be filled with meat or cheese or spinach. More often eaten as a snack, we chose 4 and made it a meal. In all the places where we saw these being made it was done by an elderly lady. The best part of the meal was the massive hunk of watermelon that we bought on the way back to the hotel.
To start today we drove for around 5hrs to the small town of Eceabat where we started the information overload at an outdoor museum. This museum has a replica of the penninsula showing all the sites of the battles involving the British, French, Australian, New Zealand, and Turkish. It also showed the location of the underwater mines in the channel. Back on the penninsula the first stop was Anzac Cove. It was hard to believe that such a beautiful coastline could be the site of so many lives lost. There are many cemetaries in the area and all the graves and very well looked after. Particular care has been taken, so that even the 3 muslims graves are alligned with Mecca.
The Sphynx - a landmark used by the sailors
Further along the road is Lone Pine with quite an impressive memorial although the only tree here is not a pine! In this area, either side of the road are the trenches that both sides were digging. The Turkish memorial is also very impressive and contains some poetry dedicated to their troops. We learnt that the entire 57th division was lost and they have never named a division '57' again. We finished today at the New Zealand memorial of Chunuk Bair which is located at one of the best viewpoints of the area. After the heat of the day it was really nice to swim in the hotel pool and watch the sun set over dinner at the hotel in Cannakkale.
Lone Pine memorial

We spent 2 nights at this very touristy town. On the drive there we stopped off at Troy and saw the remains of the city portrayed in the movie. The other difference to the movie is that the sea no longer reaches the city walls but has receded a couple of kilometers. There is a 'replica' of the trojan horse and you can climb into it but it is a little squishy. The current one also looks nothing like the one in the movie. Continued on driving to Pergamum which has more ancient remains, the most impressive here being some freestanding marble columns that were at least 10m high. The other main attraction was the amphitheatre. It could hold 10 000 people and was incredibly steep. The heat was getting to us so it was with relief that we jumped back on the bus and made it to the hotel.

Replica of the wooden horse from the movie Troy

Column at Pergamum
Our second day in the Kusadsai area started off again with ancient ruins, this time at Ephesus which dates from 300BC. These ruins are probably the best preserved and it is easy to see the different types of buildings that are there. We started at the Odeon which was used for the upperclass to hold meetings or see shows. The main street is very impressive and lined with chapels, shops, public latrines and an impressive library at the base. The Temple of Hadrian which lines the street has friezes that show the building of the town. Like Pergamum it boasts a massive amphitheatre seating 24 000 people. We have a feeling that it may still be used today.
Looking down the marble street towards the Library
The Hercules gate at the top of the street. If you can touch the sides with simultaneously with flat palms then you are also Hercules.
The Library
Leaving the ancient monuments for awhile we spent the afternoon visiting a leather manufacturer and a turkish delight maker. Lots of nice flavours and if we had been returning to London we would have bought quite a bit. One of the highlights though was the Hammam that we did for the afternoon. Normally this bath-house is only for males only except Fridays but our tour had booked out the place for a couple of hours. The process involves lying on a heated marble slab to warm you up and make your skin smooth, then you get scrubbed by an attendant. The attendants are large Turkish men with had very little command of the English language so conversation was restricted to 'Move', 'Stand', 'Roll', 'Good?', and 'Done'. After the scrub (or pummel as Steve remembers) you move onto the massage bench where you are soaped down with the suds coming from a pillow case. The process finishes with a quick dunk under the cold shower and then a relaxing sit down with some apple tea. We have never felt so clean or so tall as they crack your back, toes, fingers and any other joint they find during the process.
One of the shops outside the Ephesus site
Leather manufacturer
Hand made Turkish Delight
The final stop for Kusadasi was at a carpet weaving co-op. The ladies that make the carpets are from the local villages in the area. The profit from any of the carpets sold goes back to the village. The show room ended up being covered by many layers of carpets as the attendants threw them around. We tried hard to purchase one but they weren't coming down to our price.
This lady was making a silk carpet.

The attendant doing the carpet throw.

Considering the 40 degree heat we did think it was a little crazy to be visiting thermal pools. Since it was so hot we opted not to pay the extra for a dip in the pool instead we headed to the calcium terraces to have a walk around. The terraces work their way down the mountain side and are filled with the thermal water. We weren't allowed to wear shoes on the terraces and surprisingly it wasn't hot to walk on. It was although very bright as everything is white. After leaving we all spent the afternoon sitting and swimming pool side at the hotel. This was also the last night for some of the group as they headed back to Istanbul the next day.


It was quite a long drive from Pamukkale and we had a break in Konya with a visit to the Mevlana Museum. Set in some really pretty gardens this museum is dedicated to the Whirling Dervishes and their teachings. We were able to see them later that day at 'Turkish Night' which also included belly dancing and a mock wedding ceremony.

Whirling Dervish

Part of the 'wedding'
Belly dancer
Our first full day started with a drive through the 'fairy chimneys' to Goreme where did a tour of the former city in the chimneys. It was amazing to see the houses, kitchens, churches that were carved out of the structures. They are surprisingly cool inside as well. The entrance to some the caves was a little tricky at times and Claire was almost pulled off one chimney while helping a very overweight lady up the stairs.
Some of the chimneys that contain caves
Inside one of the cave chapels
Another of our highlights was a visit to a local potter. The guy made a plate out of the white clay for us and then a teapot out of the red. We can't remember what the difference was because they all get painted anyway. His work was very impressive and again we bought a few pieces. There was a Turkish Carpet shop across the road from our lunch stop so we had another go at bargaining and we finally made a deal. Steve even managed to get the carpet to fit into his backpack for the trip back to London and it is now safely in Brisbane, awaiting the perfect coffee table. The afternoon was spent in an underground city of Derinkya. We were able to go 8 levels down and were amazed at where the schools, animal pens, ventilation shafts, living areas and churches that had been created in the previous centuries. What was also amazing is that 8,000 people lived down there during times of war.
View of the chimneys

Inside the underground city, around level 8

Inside the school room
That night we stumbled into a real wedding party that was happening across the road. Claire and Mary were ushered into the married ladies section while Steve and Darryl managed to located the brides father and get an explanation of procedings. It turns out that it was 'womens night' where the bride was getting henna tattooed. There was a stage set up with a group of girls dancing with the bride, although as we found out it is only the single ladies that can dance. The married women all surround the stage and then the men stand behind and choose who their future wife from those dancing. We were made very welcome and even offered food. It turned out that the actual ceremony was the next day at the grooms village. We noticed on our way past the next morning that the entire area was spotless and no evidence that 400 people had been there a few hours earlier!Istanbul

It was a long drive back but we did make a fairly short stop as part of the drive back to Istanbul where we visited the Museum of Anatolian Civilisation in the Turkish capital of Ankara. The building is brand new and has some intesting architectural features.

As we were flying out the following day it was up early to hurry into the Grand Bazaar and snap up the last of our purchases. Claire's shopping spree was restricted after the carpet and pottery purchases, so only bought some small pieces of artwork and naturally some turkish delight. Sadly we had to return to London, but the African adventure wasn't far away.