DAY 160: TURKISH DELIGHTS


Reflections on our time in Turkey 

We had a long and exhausting day today, travelling back to Istanbul. We cut across the centre of Turkey, travelling back across the First Bosphorous Bridge from the Asian side of Istanbul back across to Europe. All together on this trip through Turkey we’ve done over 5,000km – that’s a LOT of travelling in just 16 days! The map below gives an overview of our route.

Our route around Turkey.

As tha map above shows, we barely scraped the surface of everything this country has to offer. There are so many places we would like to go back to (e.g. Safranbolu, Cappadocia), and so many places we did not get time to see this time around that we would love to visit one day (e.g. Lake Van and the Eastern part of the country). There are treks we would love to do (e.g. the Lycian Way, St Paul’s Trail), and so many islands and beaches we would like to enjoy (e.g. the Turquoise Coast, anywhere along the Turkish Riviera). For now, however, the Turkish leg of our adventure is coming to end. We took some time on the bus today to reflect on some of the highlights and most memorable moments we’ve enjoyed over the past 16 days – here’s our pick….

  • Hot air ballooning over the Goreme Valley in Cappadocia has to be the absolute highlight of the trip. The views from the balloon were amazing and the silence up there, hundreds of metres above the Earth, an unexpected joy.
  • Visiting Anzac Cove at Gallipoli was both touching and humbling. That such a beautiful place was the site of such horror and despair made it all the more poignant.
  • Exploring the ruins of Ephesus was great fun – we got to walk on streets paved in marble that were laid more then 25 centuries ago. It made us feel very small and insignificant, in the face of so much history and time past. It also made us wonder whether anything we’re building and creating today will still be around in 2,500 years – will we leave anything of import for the explorers of the future to marvel at? (Our thoughts: doubtful; stuff these days is built to be replaced, not to last).
  • Swimming in the crystal clear waters of the Blue Lagoon in Ölüdeniz was another magic moment for us. It was a tad chilly, but it was also AWESOME! We just love the beach and the sea, and Turkey sure does have some good ones.
  • Istanbul’s old town of Sultanahmet was very cool. Our favourite stops were the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Built across from each other these two spectacular structures are a testament to Turkey’s rich and fascinating history.
  • The food was a major highlight for us. We liked Turkish food before we got here and everything we ate whilst in Turkey just confirmed our sentiments. Kebabs are the best – be they chicken, lamb or beef (by the way, we discovered kebab just means “grilled” in Turkish, and doner means “rotating”). We will have especially find memories of the Cappadocian clay pot kebab we enjoyed in that cave restaurant. The local desserts also deserve a mention – especially genuine Turkish lokum (translation = Turkish Delight). Real Turkish lokum is so much nicer than the fake stuff we get in Aus – it’s sweet but not sickly and comes in hundreds of flavours. There are a whole range of different desserts we got to try too, all of them sweet enough to keep even the most committed sugar addict happy.
  • We also developed a serious liking for Turkish tea or çay. Served black and strong in tiny, fluted glass cups, this became a daily staple for us while we were here. On the days we were seriously fatigued however, Turkish coffee was the beverage of choice. More a medicine than a drink, Turkish coffee provides some serious caffination, though doses greater than 2 cups per day are ill advised. We also quickly learnt to leave the dregs in the cup, lest we develop a “Turkish coffee smile” (i.e. teeth coated in black coffee grits form the bottom of the cup).
  • The landscape. Turkey is a never ending panorama of beaches, fields, hills and mountains. The scenery we saw varied from green and lush along the West coat, to dry and arid in the interior. We also passed huge saline lakes that dry up completely in summer, creating expansive salt flats from which salt is harvested; and vast olive groves and cotton fields where women (and only the women) harvest by hand.
Additionally, here’s a few things we’ve not exactly enjoyed, but will certainly remember about Turkey:
  • Istanbul drivers. Mad, the lot of them!
  • Having your self scrubbed and pummeled and kneaded by a large, muscular stranger. The Turkish hamam experience is certainly memorable!
  • Squat toilets. Public toilets with no loo paper. Need I say more?
  • The pre-dawn call to prayer. Great way to wake up every morning,pity it’s just so early!
  • Tourists. So many tourists! Russians, Germans, British, Chinese, Korean, Japanese – they’re everywhere and they come in their millions! (Note: Yes, we realise the irony here: us, as tourists, complaining about the plethora of other tourists.) We were just blown away by the sheer number of visitors we saw around Turkey. This is one seriously popular mass tourism destination!

We’ve had a great time in Turkey and have met some really interesting people, had some great times and seen some fantastic stuff in our time here. Below (click the thumbnails for larger images) are some of our favourite photos form the last couple of weeks too. Teşekkür ederim Turkey for a great 16 days!

DAY 159: BELLY DANCING & BALLOONING IN CAPPADOCIA


Riding a hot air balloon over the Goreme Valley

We went hot air ballooning this morning over the Goreme Valley here in Cappadocia and it was AWESOME! Sailing through the air with 40 other balloons, we got to see the whole valley from a completely different perspective. As the sun broke through the early morning clouds, the amazing rock formations of Cappadocia were painted yellow, pink and white. It was stunning and well worth the early morning start.

 

Hot air ballooning over Cappadoccia – a stunning way to start the day!

 

 

Our day started at the ungodly hour of 4:30am when our alarm went off. Barely 30 minutes later, bleary eyed and barely cognisant, we shuffled onto the mini-bus that was sent to pick us up form our hotel and take us out to the hot air balloon “lift off zone”. From our perspective the “lift off zone” looked a lot like a large, dusty, deserted field – quite under-whelming really. Within a few minutes, however, we had hot cups of coffee pressed into our hands and hot air balloons (with baskets) were being delivered left, right and centre. As the balloons were inflated the field quickly transformed into a noisey, colourful fairground with hundreds of excited, eager tourists like us milling around, waiting to jump on board. After an incredibly smooth take off we were up and floating above Cappadocia. The views were amazing, and the flotilla of hot air balloons around us just added to the spectacle. It was a wonderful way to start the day and a great way to see a bit more of the Goreme Valley! Here are just a few of our favourite photos from this morning…

 

Taking off in the pre-dawn darkness.

 

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Bleary eyed and barely awake at 5:00am this morning.

 

We had a very smooth take off and were soon high above Cappadocia.

 

We went as high as 800m above the ground and as low as 5m off the ground. Very cool!

 

We could see so much detail from the balloon – it really brought the landscape to life.

  

There were about 40 balloons up in the air this morning – some days they have over 150 up there!

 

Floating over Ugrup, the biggest town in the Goreme Valley and the location of our hotel (its down there somewhere).

 

From the highest point in our journey we could almost see the whole valley.

 

Our landing was as smooth as our take-off and after a quick glass of celebratory champagne we were taken back to our hotel for breakfast and a nap. After resting up we went out for a lunch-time meal and show at a local “cave restaurant”. Carved out of an entire hillside, the restaurant specialised in traditional Cappadocian cuisine. The special of the day was a beef “claypot kebab”, which basically means a stew of beef, aubergines, potatoes, tomatoes, onion and garlic, slow-cooked over 4 hours in an eathern ware pot. It was simply divine. So simple, fresh and delicious that Shane had 3 helpings!

 

The local “cave restaurant” where we had our best Turkish meal EVER!

 

 

After our meal we were treated to a showcase of traditional Turkish music and dancing. The show itself was a little cheesy and touristy, but hey, we’re tourists, so we loved it! There was belly dancing, folk music and an imitation of a Whirling Dervish sema ceremony. A highly entertaining way to spend our last afternoon in Cappadocia. We’re leaving tomorrow and heading back to Istanbul to spend one last night in that crazy city before we fly out on Friday morning. Can’t believe our whirlwind tour of Turkey is almost over already!

 

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Dancers imitating the dance of the Whirling Dervishes. Still cool, even if it was just an imitation!

 

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These guys were doing a very colourful, traditional Turkish version of line dancing.

 

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The costume this dancer wore whilst doing her twirly whirly dance was lovely – her movements made the colours of her skirts flare and spin.

 

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The final act of the night was this awesome belly dancer. Such amazing muscular control!

 

DAY 158: FAIRY CHIMNEYS OF CAPPADOCIA


Scenes from an alien world

Every now and again you find yourself in a place that seems like part of some alien landscape – somewhere not quite Earthly. Cappadocia is just such a place. This strange and spectacular landscape is fascinating and had us entranced today as we toured around the major sites in the region.

 

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The surreal landscape of Cappadocia, Turkey.

 

  

Cappadocia is a land of vast plains, rolling hills, rugged mountains and extinct volcanoes. Today it is famous for its unique landscape of valleys and unusual rock formations, known as “fairy chimneys”. These pillars of rock were formed over the past 9 million years from volcanic debris laid down by 3 large volcanoes located on the edges of this region. The layers of ash, lava and basalt were gradually eroded by wind, rain and snow to create the fairy chimneys and unique rock formations so characteristic of the region.

 

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These rock formations were shaped by 9 million years of volcanic eruptions, rain, snow, ice and wind.

 

 

The harsh Cappadocian climate*, with its sharp changes of temperature, heavy rains and melting snow in the spring, played an important role in the formation of the landscape. Water that found its way into cracks froze in winter and caused fragmentation; the heavy spring rains transformed the smooth surface of the plateau into a complex pattern of gullies; and eroded materials were then removed by rivers and streams, leaving only smooth pillars of soft rock.

*Summer temperatures regularly reach 50C here and in mid-winter it often drops to -30C. It often snows in winter, the air here is incredibly dry and the winds can be very strong. Not an easy climate to live with!


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Smoothed by rain over millennia, the rock formations of Cappadocia are fascinating.


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Shaped by nature over millions of years this has to be one of the most fascinating landscapes on Earth!

 

 

As the rock below the top layer of basalt is extremely soft, it can be easily carved away. The various peoples who have lived in this region over the centuries took advantage of this and made their homes in the rock pillars and under the ground. Today, we saw examples of underground and cave homes, churches and whole cities. It was amazing!

 

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Some of the underground homes and cave dwellings have been converted into hotels.

  

 

The name Cappadocia dates back to Hittite times, when the region was called as katpatukya meaning “Land of the Beautiful Horses”. Since that time the region has seen the rise and fall of many different civilisations and cultures – from the Persians, to the early Christians, Greeks, Romans, and later, the Turks. It is the cave churches left by the early Christian inhabitants of the region that had us most fascinated today. These carved-from-rock chapels date back to the 9th century and contained some amazing, ancient frescos.

 

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This early Christian monastery was carved out in the 9th century,

 

 

Cappadocia also contains several underground cities – initially used by the Hittites to hide form invading Persians, and then by early Christians as hiding places before Christianity became an accepted religion. Today we visited the underground city of Kaymakli, which extends 8 levels below ground and is a warren of small rooms carved out of the rock and tight, steeply sloping tunnels. We took a guided tour down to the 4th level below ground and it was quite claustrophobic down there at times, but fascinating to see how people lived, down there far below the ground. There were living quarters, ventilation chimneys, food storage areas, communal kitchens and well shafts for water, all carved out by hand and interconnected to form a labyrinth of stone.

 

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Enjoying the underground city of Kaymakli.

 

 

One of the most interesting thing about Kaymakli was the vast defence networks of traps laid out across the levels. These traps were very creative, including such devices as large round stones to block doors and holes in the ceiling through which the defenders may drop spears. These defence systems helped protect the inhabitants and ensured the community prospered; at its peak Kaymakli is believed to have been home to over 15,000 people.

 

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Living conditions in Kaymakli were pretty basic. This was once the living quarters for a whole family.

 

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The inhabitants of these underground cities lived to an average of 40 years and suffered numerous illnesses due to the lack of sunshine.

 

 

It was great seeing so much of Cappadocia today and we’re keen to explore more of it tomorrow – starting with an air-borne exploration from a hot air balloon! We’ve booked ourselves on a dawn flight over the Goreme Valley, where most of the fair chimneys, underground cities and cave dwellings/churches are. Will let you know how that went tomorrow…

 

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Loving the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia!

 

 

 

DAY 157: TRAVELLING THE SILK ROAD


Overland through Turkey

We left coastal Turkey behind this morning and headed inland towards Cappadocia. Our travels took us over the Taurus Mountains and then down into the Konya Valley, which sits right in the centre of Turkey. Over the mountains the terrain became quite dry, though no less dramatic. 

 

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Our travels today took us up and over the Taurus Mountains.

 

 

It was a long travel day, with the first leg of the journey from Antalya to Konya taking 5 hours and the second leg, from Konya to Urgup in the Cappadocia region, lasting a little over 4 hours. That’s a long time on a bus! We chose to drive across the country rather than fly, however, because we wanted to see a bit more of the countryside. And we were well rewarded: the scenery was pretty spectacular, with rugged, rocky mountains giving way to vast, expansive plains, which gradually turned into the dry, barren landscape characteristic of Cappadocia.

 

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Rugged mountain scenery gave way to….

 

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…dry, arid plains. Inland Turkey is vastly different in appearance to the coastal areas, as you would expect.

 

 

We broke our journey in Konya, once the capital of the Turkish empire and today the country’s fifth largest city. We had lunch at a great little restaurant that specialised in shish (i.e. grilled meat on skewer). We LOVE Turkish shish and happily dined on tender grilled lamb and salad, enjoying the amazing mountain views.

 

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Lunch with a view – what more could you ask for?!

 

 

After lunch we went to see the Mevlevi Museum and the mausoleum of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi, founder of the Mevlevi Order. More commonly known as Whirling Dervishes, the Sufi Dervishes of the Mevlevi Order are famous for their sema, or spinning meditative trance. We weren’t allowed to take photos within the museum or mausoleum, but it was really interesting learning a bit more about this ancient Islamic sect.

 

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The Mevlevi Museum and the mausoleum of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi in Konya.

 

 

The Mevlevi Order, was founded by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi in Konya in 1273. The precepts of the order, whilst Islamic at their core, espouse peace, simple living, tolerance, equality between the genders and meditation. These would have been quite revolutionary in the 13th century no doubt! The Mevlevi Order became a well-established order within the Ottoman Empire and today the Mevlevi sema ceremony is universally recognised as a unique aspect of Turkish culture.

We learnt today that the sema is a form of meditation whereby the dervishes fall into a trance and become atuned to God. They twirl with right hand up-raised and left hand pointing down to channel the energy from God to the Earth and humanity. The spinning in repetitive circles is a symbolic imitation of planets in the Solar System orbiting the sun, or atoms spinning on their axes. It’s such a wonderful, mystial philosophy that we couldn’t help but be touched.

 

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The whirling the Dervishes do is a meditation, designed to help channel energy from God & the universe to Earth.

 

 

From Konya we got back on the bus and continued on towards Cappadocia. This part of the journey took us along part of the Silk Road, the ancient overland trading route that extended between Far East Asia and Europe. Along the way we stopped for a quick “tea & wee break”, as we’ve come to know them, next to a 12th century caravanserai. Part fort, part inn, part hotel and part camel stable, these large, fortified structures were built by the Turks to protect and shelter the travelling traders and their caravans from marauders like Ali Baba and his 40 thieves. To esnure a safe night’s sleep for all within, the caravanserais were built as fortified structures with high stone walls, no windows and only one entrance.

 

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This 12th century caravanserai is one of the best preserved in Turkey.

 

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The caravanserai had rooms, bathing facilities, stables, food, markets and even an infirmary. Here all the rooms were arranged around a central courtyard, with a small mosque in the centre.

 

 

Whether a caravan of 400 camels or a party of only a few donkeys, all travellers needed a safe place to spend the night. Because of this, caravanserais were built every 30km (1 day’s journey by camel) along the trade routes. The buildings were open to any traveller, and comprised of lodging for people, stables for the animals, fresh water, baths, markets, kitchens, blacksmiths and an infirmary. Services of a caravanserai were free, paid for by foundations and wealthy patrons. We can only imagine how welcome these stops would have been for traders travelling the long, dusty Silk Road route!

 

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The warmth and security of the caravanserai must have been a welcome sight for the travelling traders.

 

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The geometric designs and decorations around the caravanserai we saw today was typical of early Turkish architecture.

 

And now we’re here in our hotel in the small town of Urgup, at the heart of the Cappadocia region and just a short hop away from the magical geological formations of the Goreme Valley. We’re very excited about having the next couple of days to explore Cappadocia as this was one of the natural wonders that drew us to Turkey. Tune in tomorrow for a virtual tour of Cappadocia!

 

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Looking forward to exploring Cappadocia tomorrow!

DAY 156: TURKISH GORGES & WATERFALLS


Gorgeous Turkey

We set out on an expidition to explore Saklikent Gorge today. Situated just 50km from Fethiye, this canyon is 300m deep and about 18km long. It was formed over millions of years by the Saklikent River, as the flowing waters of the river gradually eroded a channel through the surrounding rock. The river is fed by underground springs and meltwater from the surrounding Taurus Mountains; at this time of year its pretty low, but in spring when all the snows are melting, can become a raging torrent. 

 

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The raging waters of the Saklikent River helped create the gorge over millions of years.

 

 

We got to the gorge this morning only to find the place pretty much closed up for the year – that’s definitely one of the downsides of travelling out of peak season! We still got to go into the gorge and walk up the first 2km or so, but the rest of it was closed off for winter and spring. Ah well, what we did get to see was pretty spectacular, with the sheer walls of the canyon rising up sharply beside us and the roaring of the river echoing around us. 

 

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The water than flows through the canyon comes from underground springs, rain and meltwater.

 

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The steep sides of the canyon rose all around us.

  

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In the spring the waters of the river reach way up the canyon walls.

 

 

During the peak summer months they take tourists down the river, through the canyon, in inflatable tubes – it must be a fantastic way to see Saklikent Gorge. No doubt in the heat of a Turkish summer, when temperatures are up around 40C, the canyon makes a welcome, cool place to spend a few hours. Being November it was just damn cold in there, so we quickly made our way back out and continued on our way to Antalya – tonight’s home away from home.


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It was beautiful in the gorge today but pretty damn cold.

 

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In summer this must make a welcome, cool respite from the searing Turkish heat.

 

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Too cold for these turkeys – we’re heading back to the sun!

 

 

Antalya is one of Turkey’s largest cities with a population of over 2 million. It’s the largest centre on the Turkish Riviera and has its own international airport. The city itself is just one resort hotel after another – in the summer this place swells to twice its size as tourists from Russia, Germany and England flock here to have their “week in the sun”. At the moment its blissfully quiet however and we had a great afternoon just strolling around town, enjoying the sunshine and views across the Mediterranean. Our strolling took us all the way to the Düden Waterfall. This is where the Düden River (one of the major rivers in southern Turkey) drops off a rocky cliff directly into the Mediterranean Sea. It’s pretty dramatic and makes for a rather scenic spot to watch the sun set…

 

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Enjoying an afternoon stroll along the cliffs of Antalya, looking out over the Mediterranean.

 

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The rather grand Düden Waterfall, where fresh water from the Düden River spills into the Mediterranean Sea.

 

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Enjoying the sunshine and the sea views.

 

 

We’re only here for one night – this is our last seaside stop before heading inland tomorrow towards Konya and then Capadoccia. Which also means this is our last day of balmy weather – inland Turkey is pretty cold! It will be interesting to see how the roads are further inland too, because up until now they have been amazing. We’ve been driving on smooth, brand new, 4-lane highways that put some of our country roads in Australia to shame. Apparently the current Turkish government, which came into power in 2009, has invested heavily in upgraded much of the local infrastrcuture and improving services out into the rural areas of Turkey. A couple of Turkish people we’ve spoken to have said this government is great in that they have done a lot for the country’s infrastructure, have pushed through some much needed reforms and have very publically put an end to (or at least curtailed) the corruption that was rampant throughout the Turkish government. They have also managed to come to some agreements with the leaders of the Kurdish community here in Turkey (which account for some 25% of the country’s 80 million strong population), bringing a welcomed relief to the years of ongoing separatist fighting.

All sounds very positive, except it seems this government is also very conservative and pro-Islamic. Alongside all the other changes they have made, there have also been some interesting changes made to Turkey’s secular laws. This subtle movement towards a more pro-Islamic and openly Muslim Turkey has some of the people we’ve spoken to concerned. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens to the political situation here in Turkey over the next few years, and what the ramifications of any changes might be for the whole region – especially since Turkey has often been held up as an example of how a mostly Muslim nation (98% of the population here is Muslim) can successfully be democratic, capitalist and have a secular government. From our perspective we’ve certainly appreciated the freedom we have as foriegn tourists visiting Turkey and the openness with which people will discuss their religion, politics and culture. Hopefully this openness and friendliness won’t change, even if the politics do.

 

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Our last seaside sunset for a while – tomorrow we head inland!

DAY 155: TURQUOISE TURKEY


Exploring Turkey’s Turquoise Coast

Continuing on with yesterday’s theme of beach and sunshine, we spent most of today exploring the crystal clear, turqouise blue waters of the Turkish Riviera. This is definitely a highly recommended activity for anyone seeking extreme relaxation.  

 

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We had most of the Turkish Riviera to ourselves today!

 

 

The Turkish Riviera is the stretch of coastline that runs along the South-Western edge of Turkey. It is also known popularly as the Turquoise Coast due to the incredibly blue waters of its many bays and inlets. We’re currently staying in Fethiye, one of the bigger resort towns along the Turquoise Coast, in a small hotel right on the harbour. It was amazing waking up this morning to see the sun glinting off the water and painting the surrounding mountains green and gold.

 

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Fethiye in the early morning is just beautiful.

 

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There are some lovely yachts here in the harbour – many of them can be rented out (with our without a crew) for a day or more to take you island and beach hopping around the Turquoise Coast.

 

 

As nice as the township of Fethiye is, it doesn’t have a beach per se. So we caught a local bus to the nearby village of Ölüdeniz in search of one of Turkey’s most celebrated beaches and lagoons. The so-called “Blue Lagoon” is actually a sheltered bay, situated right at the point where the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas meet. As the name implies, the water there is blue – very, very blue.

 

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Turkey’s Blue Lagoon.

 

 

It was a balmy 27C today so we once again got to go swimming, which was awesome. The water was a little chilly, but so clean – we could see fish swimming all around us. The lagoon is famous for its shades of turquoise and aquamarine, and is frequently rated among the top 5 beaches in the world. It’s also an immensely popular summer vacation spot for Russian, German and British tourists, for obvious reasons…

 

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The lagoon is famous for its shades of turquoise and aquamarine, and is very very clean.

 

 

We wanted to go to Ölüdeniz not just for the magical beach, but also to walk some of the Lycian Way and see the ghost town of Kayaköy. The Lycian Way is a 500km walk that runs all along the Turquoise Coast, stretching from Ölüdeniz to the large resort town of Antalya. The walk takes hikers up through the hills, past numerous Lycian ruins and through a number of small seaside vilages and towns. We don’t have time to do the whole walk this time around, but would love to come back to Turkey some day and spend 10 days doing the entire Lycian Way. For today we had to settled for just doing a couple of hours worth of walking, up from Ölüdeniz to Kayaköy.


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The Lycian Way runs for 500km through those hills.

 

 

Kayaköy is an empty village where Greek speaking Christians lived until 1923. The ghost town consists of hundreds of run-down Greek-style houses. The town used to have a population of about 2,000 but was abandoned after a population exchange agreement* was signed by the Turkish and Greek governments in 1923. 

*The agreement essentially meant that all Muslim, Turkish-speaking peoples in Greece were forcibly relocated to Turkey and visa-versa for Greek-speaking Christians living in Turkey. The population exchange caused a lot of issues for both the Greek and Turkish governments and has a left an unpleasant legacy in both countries.


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The ghost town of Kayaköy.

 

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This was once a thriving community of Greek Orthodox people, but is now just a set of ruins.

 

 

Today Kayaköy village serves as a museum and is a historical monument. Around 500 houses remain as ruins and are under the protection of the Turkish government, including two Greek Orthodox churches. It was quite eerie walking through the ruined town, thinking about the hundreds of families forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods so suddenly.

 

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About 500 families were forcibly relocated to Greece in 1923, which is why the town is abandoned.

 

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Exploring the ruins of Kayaköy.

 

 

From Kayaköy we returned to our hotel here in Fethiye for an afternoon of quiet contemplation. While Shane was busy relaxing I took the opportunity to visit the local hamam of Turkish bath. I’m a bit of a sucker for anything that involves some self-indulgent pampering and/or purported health benefit. If you stick the word “traditional” in front of it, I’m definitely in! That’s how I ended up getting involved in the whole Russian banya experience, the Finnish sauna and yesterday’s Turkish mud bath debacle. Today’s experience takes the cake though – that was one intense “bath”! For obvious reasons there are no photos of my experience, but suffice to say it is not for the aint hearted. In brief, if it’sanything like my experience, a visit to a hamam will involve the following:

  1. You will be invited in and shown a change room where you are given a Turkish wrap to wear. An attendant will then take you to the (often gender-segregated) sauna.
  2. After a good 10-15 minute broil in the dry sauna you will be dosed liberally in cold water by your friendly and rather large attendant. And by “large” I mean both tall and broad, and preferably a bit on the rotund side too. Think Olympic shot putter or weight lifter and you get the idea.
  3. This is then followed for another 10-15 minutes of broiling, this time in a steam room so steamy you can barely see a foot in front of you.
  4. More near-drowning with cold water ensues.
  5. At this stage the attendant leads you to the central marble or granite stage where you lie down and she attacks you with one of the world’s roughest loofahs. Designed to remove a lifetime’s worth of dead skin in one treatment, the scrubbing part of the treatment is vigorous, intimate and horrifying when you see how much dead skin sloughs off.
  6. More cold water is then poured all over you, just to make sure you’re awake.
  7. Back to the stone slab after that for a foam massage. This involves being covered in soapy bubbles and basically having the sh*t scrubbed out of you. No body part is spared it seems – the hair gets a firm wash and even ears get a good clean. The process involves a fair bit of firm massaging as well, just enough to leave you feeling like a piece of over-worked dough.
  8. By this stage you know what to expect next: liberal amounts of cold water, by the bucketful, are applied to your personage. It’s important to time your breathing right so you don’t end up swallowing lung-fulls of this water, by the way. I’m sure people have actually drowned during a hamam treatment.
  9. Vigorous towelling off then ensures you’re dry. 
  10. Finally, you get wrapped in fresh towels and led to a quiet area where hot tea is pushed into your limp hands and you’re left to recline and recover from your ordeal. 
If you’re seriously stupid like me you can add a massage to the end of that whole experience, where the dough-kneading experience is taken to the next level. Let’s just say I never knew my limbs could bend at that angle…. Now that I’ve recovered, I feel amazing. But I don’t think I’ll be rushing back for another one of those again in a hurry. Yikes!
 
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DAY 154: A DAY AT TURTLE BEACH


Seeking loggerhead turtles & fragrant mud baths

After a busy week of exploring the historical sites of Turkey’s West coast we were keen take things a little slower today so we headed down to the small town of Köyceğiz to explore the Daylan River delta and İztuzu Beach – often referred to as “Turtle Beach” due to the population of loggerhead turtles that breed there. The weather here has been magnificent so we even got to go for a swim with the turtles. Very cool!

 

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The crystal clear waters of the Daylan River delta.

 

 

Köyceğiz is a fishing and tourist town built along the Daylan River delta. Judging by all the hotels, restaurants and water taxis in town, Köyceğiz must be bustling during the summer when British, Russian and German tourists descend in their millions to take advantage of Turkey’s beautiful beaches. At this time of year though things were very quiet, with many establishments already shut down for the season. Ah the joys of travelling off-peak! Most visitors, like us, use Köyceğiz as a base for visiting the Köyceğiz-Dalyan Environmental Protection Area (which includes İztuzu Beach), a local mud bath and the tombs of Kaunos.

 

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The Köyceğiz-Dalyan Environmental Protection Area, where loggerhead turtles come to breed.

 

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Turkey has some incredibly diverse landscapes – just yesterday we were in the hot, dry arid zones around Pamukkale and today we were here in this wetland.

 

 

İztuzu Beach is a narrow, 5km stretch of beach which forms a natural barrier between the fresh water delta of the Dalyan River and the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the main breeding grounds for loggerhead sea turtles in the Mediterranean region and has been a protected area since 1988. The turtles lay their eggs here throughout the Northern summer; during these months much of the beach is off-limits to protect the nests and give the hatchlings the best chance of surviving. At this time of year, however, the entire beach is open for professional bums like us to enjoy.

 

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The delta waters were clean and clear – we could see heaps of fish swimming around in the briny waters.

 

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Water taxis are THE way to get around here.

 

 

We caught one of small water taxis from Köyceğiz out through the river delta to the sea shore. Along the way we saw lots of fish and even a few turtles swimming in the delta – the water was so clean and clear that we could see them all from inside the boat. It was so peaceful gliding through the reeds on our little boat, with the sun shining on our faces and a gentle breeze keeping us cool.  

 

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Oh, so that’s why they call it Turtle beach…

 

 

The water taxi dropped us off at İztuzu Beach where we rented a couple of day beds and an umbrella for shade and set up camp for the day. They had a little beach shack there too so we could have lunch and a drink in between dips in the water. A very nice way to spend a few hours….


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Chilling out at Turtle Beach.

 

 

Once we’d soaked up enough rays, we caught another water taxi back to Köyceğiz for the afternoon. I was keen to try one of the local mud baths, but Shane wouldn’t go near the place. Not that I blame him – it stank! The area around Köyceğiz is full of sulphorous thermal hot springs and the mud you slather yourself in is very stinky (think rotten eggs but squishy and muddy). The process basically involved me wading into a warm pool of stinky mud and covering myself in the stuff, then climbing out looking (and smelling) like some kind of swamp monster. After lieing in the sun for half an hour or so, the mud was completely dry and started to itch and sting a bit. At this point the attendants escorted me to the showers where I got to wash all the mud off with sulphorous water. A dip in a hot pool of stinky sulphorous water then completed the ritual. After 15 minutes in the hot sulphorous water I was broiled and had had my fill of the stinky waters. The mud baths are great for your skin and will take 10 years off your appearance apparently. I’m not so sure about that, but it was certainly an invigorating and stinky experience! 


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Stinky, slimy Turkish mud baths. Eeeeeeewwww……



Whilst I was smothering myself in foetid mud, Shane went off to see the tombs of Kaunos. These tombs, carved out of the mountain, date back to 900BC and were the burial sites of Lycian kings. The Lycian* people inhabited this area from the early Bronze Age until the 7th century AD, when Arab raiders swept across the region. They entombed their kings high up in the mountains to ensure they were as close to the heavens as possible. 

*Lycia was an independent kingdom that existed alongside Troy and Pergamon, but later became part of the Roman Empire.


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These tombs are almost 3,000 years old. Carved out of solid rock, they were made by the Lycian people as tombs for their kings.

 

 

All in all not a very exciting day, but a good one. Now we’re back here in our hotel, a little sunburnt but very relaxed and keen to go out on the town to find ourselves some awesome Turkish food for dinner….

 

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Enjoying our first day at the beach since last Christmas in Aus.