2.30am alarm to get home from a friend’s place, finish packing and get out the door by 3.30am. The bus was late. By the time I got to the train station I’d missed the train I needed so I had to get an Uber to Heathrow airport to make it in time. This is becoming a habit of cutting it close whenever I fly out of London, that and being hungover for flights. A 6.45am flight, chosen due to being cheaper then a flight at a reasonable hour. Budget Backpacker Life. ‘It’s part of the experience’, I keep reminding myself. Had an almond milk latte whilst waiting or my flight. Coffee fixes everything!
Arrived into Istanbul running on only 3 hours sleep (probably wasn’t clever to go for drinks with a friend and crashing at their’s the night before an early start but oh wells, worth it). I discovered my UK sim doesn’t work in Turkey, so when I get to the hotel I immediately connected to the WiFi to let people know I’d arrived all fine but would have limited connection throughout the trip. I had a nap then went out for a short wander to buy some Turkish delight. Chocolate Turkish delight will always be my favourite. Hadn’t eaten lunch but who needs a proper lunch when there is a Turkish delight store on every corner. Back to the Hotel for another nap before heading to the Travel Talk Tours welcome meeting to meet the tour guide and the rest of the group I’d be spending the next 11 days with. We were informed of where we would be going and what we would be experiencing throughout the tour. We headed out for dinner as a group, which is such a good way to start off the trip and get to know each other.
I enjoyed a delicious vegetarian dish, cocktails, tequila shots and fun with the shisha. We blew smoke bubbles (or atleast attempted to in my case) and we all took turns attempting to blow smoke rings. So difficult but resulted in many laughs. We chatted, got to know people and I could see it may be a small group but a fun group to travel with!
I woke with some regrets for having stayed out late the night before as it was a struggle to get up and I definitely struggled through the day. Filled up on the hotel buffet breakfast (the first of many buffet meals), stashing some fruit to snack on during the day.
We were taken to a Turkish Palace and saw the beautiful interiors. I loved the tiles on the walls and the intricate paintings on the domed ceilings. So much beauty in the tiny details. The palace had many spots where we could take in views over the river, the Golden Horn, named due to turning gold when the sunlight hit it at the right angle. Next was a visit to Aya Sofia, a mosque that used to be a church and even still had christian artwork inside on some walls. Unfortunately parts of the inside of the mosque were covered up and inaccessible due to restorations. Finally got round to try Turkish ice cream, something I didn’t eat last time I was in Istanbul. It was delicious. Made from goats milk, it was gentler on my stomach compared to regular ice-cream and because of being made from goats milk its consistency was different too. Slightly chewy, slightly stretchy. Still delicious. It’s always entertaining watching the Turkish men put on a show when serving up the ice cream. I chose to have chocolate and pistachio. Yum!
A group of us sat outside for lunch, enjoying some nice food and good conversation as we got to know each other some more. unfortunately my vegetarian eggplant dish wasn’t nearly as good as the previous nights. We all got dressed, head to toe, in skirts and head scarfs as we entered into the blue mosque. Shoes off, the carpet was nice and soft underfoot. All I wanted to do was lie down on the carpet and take a nap. Just like with Aya Sofia the Blue Mosque is currently under restoration work, so much of the beautiful interior was covered up. Fortunately for me, I’d been inside the Mosque and had the chance to see how beautiful it really is, when I was in Istanbul two years ago. We were taken up a steep street then down underground into a cistern under the street. The cistern was being used to exhibit art work. Sculptures balance on the water and eerily reflecting light and prints hanging from the ceiling. I think it was an amazing space to exhibit in. I would love to use a space like that for my photography.
After a long walk through a market area, we came out near the Spice Bazaar, which was closed due to the elections going on in Turkey. We crossed the Golden Horn river to the New City. By that point we were informed by our tour guide that we had walked approximately 12kms around Istanbul so far that day. So when we stopped at a cafe that we were told made the best Baklava we all felt we had well and truly earnt the sticky sweet treat!! Chocolate Baklava for me. It was prefect for my sweet tooth. Instead of walking back over the bridge to the Old City, we took a tram back to the hotel. A quick rest before meeting with some of the girls to go for dinner. Ate way to much bread but it tasted so good with a mint tzatziki dip. To balance out all the sweets from the day, I ate a healthy, fresh salad topped with halloumi. Of course I finished the night with more chocolate Turkish delight. Need to get my fill while I can!
An early start to leave Istanbul and make our way towards the sea and Gallipoli. Napped most of the bus ride as I feel forever behind on sleep these days so whenever I get the chance, I sleep. We had a couple of pit stops along the way, which I took advantage of to stretch my legs and stand in the middle of the carpark to soak up some sun. As we got closer to Gallipoli, the tour guide played podcasts with information detailing the events of the ANZACs landing at Gallipoli during World War 1. We stopped and took photos at ANZAC Cove. Just like the last time I was there, 2 years ago, I was reminded of how such a beautiful place was witness to such horror and tragedies. The sky was blue, the sun hot on our skin and the sea was clear. It was such a perfect temperature to swim in too, I just wanted to dive right in and swim. Instead, we continued to visit the various cemeteries and memorials for the Aussies, Kiwis and Turks. Such a stunning area with amazing views, especially as we made our way up to the top of the hill. Coming from London, I found I was struggling a little bit being out in the 30 degree heat but also loving the feeling of the sun on my skin!
The bus drove onto the ferry that took us all over to the Asian continent of Turkey and Canakkale, where we stayed in a luxurious hotel for the night. Views from our rooms of the sea and pool and sunset. Before dinner we all lazed by the pool soaking up some more sun and working on our tans. Dinner was a big buffet and it destroyed me! I happily loaded up my plate with a variety of veg. The dessert station was jaw dropping and I’m actually disappointed in myself that I couldn’t eat the few sweets I did choose let alone all the desserts.
A stop off at the supermarket to stock up on snacks, water (can’t drink the tap water in
Turkey) and booze before heading back to our rooms to fall into a food coma.
We left Canakkale to continue along the coast of Turkey. A stop off to check out the ruins and various layers that make up the ancient cities of Troy. It was overcast but you could already tell it was going to be a hot one! I forgot to start with….the breakfast buffet at the hotel in Canakkale was just as varied and amazing as dinner was the night before. Considering how much I ate the night before I was still able to try a few different things at breakfast. Eyes bigger then my stomach that’s for sure! I stashed some fruit, boiled eggs, dried fruit and Turkish delight in my backpack for the bus day.
A stop at a roadside restaurant for lunch and attempts to connect to wifi were made. Not much luck though. If you want to see ancient ruins, go to Greece, Italy and Turkey. I’ve definitely seen my share of old rocks that used to be buildings way back when, having visited all three countries in my travels. We stopped off to explore the ruins of an ancient hospital. Learning about the ways they used to heal people-tunnel walks whilst being blessed/shouted at, mud baths that now only contain turtles dipping in and out of to gain the healing powers of the mud. We took turns to scramble up the old walls of the hospital ruins to take in just how vast the hospital once was.
Many more naps were had on this bus day. All I do is nap yet I’m still so tired. The hotel was up on a hill in Kusadasi with amazing views of sea and on the other side of the harbour were cliffside houses painted in rainbow colours. Another buffet dinner where I attempted to have some self restraint at the dessert bar am then an amazing sunset over the water. As a group, we walked into town, stopped at an Irish bar, had a free shot then some of us walked back to the hotel along the waters edge. It was so clear and warm. I wish I could have gone for a night swim.
Another early start, the last for a few mornings thankfully. Hidden on the other side of a mountain is the beautiful and (one of the best) well preserved ancient city of Ephesus. It was already getting hot out and most of us were feeling rather tired (and hungover for some). We wandered through the ruins of this ancient city, hearing the stories and learning about the uses of various areas. The city covered quite a vast area and it was fun to imagine what it would have been like back in the day. There was also lots of cats everywhere, lazing in the sun, on the crumbling walls and steps. Oh to be a cat, they live the good life! The front of the library was one of the best preserved ruins, with the front facade pretty much still complete and standing upright. It reached to the sky. From Ephesus we drove (and napped) and made our way towards the coastal resort in Fethiye that we stayed at for the following three nights. This resort was insane. I forgot to mention, on the way to the resort we stopped at a pottery place where we watched and learnt of the pottery pieces made with a special Turkish clay that once fired and completed won’t break. My favourite final pieces were the ones with moonstone as they glowed in the dark. Magical!
Back to the resort… It was all inclusive and I mean everything! All 3 buffet meals every day, drinks (including the alcoholic kind-The resort learnt the hard way never offer free booze to Aussies and Kiwis!), snacks throughout the day, pool activities, night time entertainment, everything! The free alcohol was dangerous that’s for sure. Even more dangerous because it was local spirits and bar tenders free poured.
We arrived an hour before the the pool shut so moved fast to get luggage into the hotel rooms and down to the pool for a swim and cool off before dinner, drinks in hand of course. We swam in the sun, we drank, ate a delicious dinner, drank some more, played drinking games and had a fun night all together as a group.
A Turkish coffee at breakfast was exactly what was needed to get going after last night. The sky was blue, it was already nice and warm. The Turkish coffee, like an espresso but even stronger, was not the nicest thing to drink but it definitely kicked me awake. We got taken to a gorge, Saklikent Gorge, in the mountains about an hour from the resort in Fethiye, to go canyoning. It was so much fun! I chose to do it barefoot, being used to spending my summers down by the river or rock pools at the beach with no shoes on.
At the very start, as we entered into canyon and into the water, there was a waterfall which created rapids in this section of the river, so we had to hold onto a rope to get past. It was crystal clear and freezing cold. Perfect for anyone not quite awake yet. After we passed that point and made our way further through the canyon, the water became warm but murky as it was filled with clay. We took our time, walking through the river, scrambling over rocks and taking it all in. Turkey has many amazing sights and this canyon is definitely one of them.
We made it back to the resort in time for the free buffet lunch, spent a couple of hours relaxing in the sun by the pool and having fun feeling like kids as we slid down the waterslide, over and over (waterslides are for big kids too!).
We spent the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening relaxing at the beach, where the Mediterranean and Agian seas meet. the water was beautifully blue and not even cold to swim in. Whilst some of us lay on the beach and swam in the sea, a bunch of our group went up the mountain overlooking where we were and jumped off. Paragliding! They landed on the beach and joined us in our relaxation.
Eventually we left the beach to go back to the resort for diner and to start drinking again. I discovered my butt and back were sunburnt. Bring on the awkward tan lines. the drinks started and didn’t stop. More drinking games,a dance show, more drinking and games. Next minute the drinks hit me all at once and I die. That damned free pour, makes it so much harder to keep track.
This day ended up being pretty much a write off. A hangover not even a Turkish coffee could fix! I slept all day. Hung out by the pool in the afternoon. Finally ate some food at dinner then got an early night in. Netflix and chill.
Time to leave the amazing all inclusive resort and explore more of Turkey. Another day of driving and napping, slowly starting to feel better. At one of the stops along the way we were recommended to try the variety of chickpeas. But it was the Turkish delight that caught my eye! I got to sample some of the chocolate Turkish delight and ended up buying over 600gm of the sweet marshmallowy goodness to take back to London as it was a third of the price compared to what you’d pay in Istanbul. The Turkish girls serving me were laughing at the amount of chocolate Turkish delight I bought but also totally understood.
Finally we made it to Pamukkale. My first major highlight of this Turkey Adventure. As we entered the National site, we were first shown and told about the old ruins (yes more old ruins) in the area and why the natural mineral terraces were there/how they had formed. It’s calcification from the mineral water running down the side of the mountain. I couldn’t get over the beauty of the terraces. The white of the stone and the blue of the water. The whole formation was an amazing sight. We were given free time to explore. We walked amongst the ruins first, making our way up the hill all the way to an amphitheater with views of the countryside. Took our time walking back down the mountain, hoping in and out of the war, blue mineral water in the terraces, taking photos as we went.
We stayed in a hotel nearby and the spent the late afternoon, as the sun started to dip, poolside, in both the mineral thermal pool (which looked gross but apparently had many benefits) and the refreshing swimming outdoor swimming pool. I finally had an appetite for food again come dinner time.
Another early start for another day on the bus driving through Turkey, this time heading for Cappadocia. Throughout the trip, at the buffet breakfasts, I would take hard boiled eggs, fresh and dried fruit, Turkish delight and dried chickpeas to stash in my day bag to not only have healthy snacks but to also save money when on the road. I noticed others were starting to do the same. I’ve started a trend =p
A long day with lots of little stops along the way. As we neared Cappadocia, in the afternoon, we could see out the windows that the landscape was really starting to change. We stopped off at a panoramic view point to get our first proper glimpse of the fairy chimneys that Cappadocia is known for (also apparently Star Wars was filmed at that location). We took a tour down into one of the many underground cities in the area and learnt about the way people used to use the space down there. Wouldn’t want to be claustrophobic or very tall, as it included a lot of narrow passages and low ceilings which included lots of crouching down to crawl through and to get up and down the stairs (I still managed to hit my head and I’m not exactly known for being tall). I planned to get an early night, while most of the group went for a Turkish Bath (Which I’ve done before the previous time I was in Turkey so didn’t feel the need to do it again), as we had a very early wake up the next day but I don’t think I managed to get to sleep until 11pm or so. I think it was the excitement of what was to come!
Alarm went off at 3am!!!! Why would anyone get up that ridiculously early on a holiday?? Well to go hot air ballooning at sunrise is why.
Got up, dressed up all pretty in a dress, put some make up on for the first time this trip, did my hair nicely, all to that image, doing it for the ‘Gram’. On shuttle buses bay 3.45am, we made it to the hot air balloon offices where we had to wait to hear if we would actually be going up. While we waited we drank shitty coffee to help wake us up. If we get to go up or not is all weather/wind dependent. 50/50 chance and we got so lucky and got given to OK to go up.
We watched the hot air balloons being filled up, they were massive. 20 people to a basket and still plenty of room to move. I climbed in, legs shaking real bad thanks to my fear of heights. As the hot air balloons began to rise, the sky was starting to lighten, the landscape shrinking away below us, it was amazing to look back down upon (all whilst holding hard to the basket). My fear wasn’t help when the pilot said we were going up to a height of 1000mts!! my fright was eventually forgotten, though, as the sun rose over the hills and all the balloons rose up around us. 150 balloons all floating around at first sunlight. We were dipped in and out of a canyon and floated up, down and around for an hour, taking the whole experience in. It is a ride I’ll never forget. Upon landing we were presented with champagne was the sun continued to rise.
Back to the hotel for breakfast, more caffeine and to freshen up before we were taken around Cappadocia for the rest of the day. It was hot, very hot and we were all exhausted but still appreciated the amazing views of the landscape that was all around us. The fairy chimneys, the rocks we climbed up and the valleys we looked down into. We had one more lunch as a whole group before getting up close with more of the unique landscape of the area, and sunburnt at the same time.
A couple of hours to relax and cool off in and around the pool before saying goodbye to over half of our group as they finished the tour and flew back to Istanbul. Us remaining 11 went to a Turkish dance show after dinner where we enjoyed unlimited drinks.
Day 11 & 12:
Up early for one last very long day on the bus. One last buffet breakfast before the long journey back to Istanbul. I stashed lots of cherries and Turkish delight in my backpack. The entire day consisted of napping on the bus, sopping for the toilet and food and to stretch our legs. Over 12 hours later we finally arrived at our hotel in Istanbul. One last dinner with the remaining 9, Turkish goats milk ice cream for dessert and early to bed as I had one more early start on the final day to get to the airport for my flight to Spain.