Friday, August 25, 2017

Easter 2015: Turkey

Here's where writing three year old blogs gets a bit trickier. My previous entries from Croatia and Romania were manageable as I had made detailed notes at the time, and I could also rely on my photos and videos to fill in the gaps for things I didn't jot down or couldn't remember. But now we have the perfect storm of me being too lazy at the time to document our trip, plus all of my Turkey photos were accidentally deleted last year, meaning I'm really working off scraps here. I did manage to upload most of the nicer ones to Facebook before disaster struck, so at least I have those. I'm just missing the less glamourous pics along the way that would usually piece together the rest of the trip. So, it may not be as detailed as the previous blogs, but at least you'll still get all of the highlights.

On arrival in Istanbul airport, we were surprised to learn we needed a visa. It was fine, you could just get one at the airport, but it never even occurred to us to look it up in advance. We would've never overlooked something like that in Asia. All of this travelling in Europe has made us soft!

Now, I make the distinction here between our travels in Europe and Asia, but in Istanbul, the lines are blurred. Straddling the Bosphorus River, Istanbul (née Constantinople, née Byzantium) is the only city in the world to span two continents, and throughout history has acted as a crossroads between east and west, which is reflected in the culture of this modern yet ancient city. I was hoping to get a photo with one foot in each, but the two land masses are connected by a bridge, and a traffic-only bridge too, so I couldn't even stand in the middle and pretend.

Can I have a continent please, Carol? And another?

Our first day here was quite a dull one weatherwise, so we didn't achieve a whole lot. Our accommodation couldn't have been better located though, right by the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, two of the quintessential cymbals of Istanbul.

Sorry, "symbols" of Istanbul!

Luckily the sun was out in full force the next day, so everything looked a whole lot better and brighter. I know I say it all the time, but I can't emphasise enough the difference a blue sky makes, both to the surroundings and your own mood. We had taken some photos on the first day of the two landmarks but, a) they weren't very impressive under grey skies, and b) they're lost forever now anyway. Our day 2 photo shoot was a lot more successful in every respect, and it just proves what they say in Islam:

If it isn't Sunni, it's Shiite!

We really enjoyed our time in Istanbul, and have only good things to say about the city. One of the standout spots was the Basilica Cistern, which is like an underground temple, originally designed to store fresh water. It's actually quite impressive for what is essentially just a fancy well. With its stone pillars, statues and eerie orange glow, it's well worth a visit, especially if it's a hot day, as it's nice and cool down underground.

We hit up another few nice places including the Galata Tower and the Grand Bazaar, but there are plenty of other nameless spots around the city that I've forgotten (or never knew in the first place). It's just a very nice city that you could spend a solid few days in and never be bored.

The other half of our time in Turkey was spent in the Cappadocia region in the centre of the country which, in terms of natural landscape, is probably one of the most unique and breathtaking areas we've ever been anywhere in the world. I would say it's an otherworldly landscape, but it's more like a place that could exist on Earth, but just like nothing you've ever seen. Like the setting of a fictional story where the surroundings are equally familiar and implausible. 

This fairytale world is enhanced by the appropriately named 'fairy chimneys', which sprout out of the ground like mushrooms, dotted all over the plains and valleys. The rock formations themselves are naturally formed over millions of years, but the human element carved them from phallic outcrops into houses, churches and general places of refuge in the 11th century.

Wait a minute, I recognise that last guy from somewhere...

We were staying in the town of Goreme and it was not only a lovely spot in itself, but the surrounding areas were perfect for both short and long hikes up to small hills and viewpoints of the natural scenery. It was one of those places though that even though it was incredible from ground level, you could only imagine how amazing it would be from the skies. Now if only there were some way we could see it from above...

Simply one of the most spectacular activities we've ever done. Being in a hot air balloon alone was great, but when you combine it with views like this - incredible. We were very lucky actually (like we are quite often) as we only tried to arrange our balloon ride when we were in Goreme, not knowing how popular it was and how quickly places book out. We tried to beg, borrow or steal a place on any flight for the next morning, and it was seriously tough going, but luckily we managed to snag two spots for a sunrise flight! Success! Double success really as it turned out all of the flights for the following morning were ultimately cancelled due to the weather. How heartbreaking would it be to come all the way here and not be able to do something like this!?

And usually we complain about being in places with lots of tourists, crowding up the area and getting in the way of our photos. Not here. Get those balloons up, the more, the better!

On our final day in town, we went on a tour of the surrounding area, one of the highlights being the Derinkuyu Underground City. Carved out of the soft rock, just like the fairy chimneys on the surface, this underground city is an incredible 18 storeys deep and could accommodate 20,000 people! In fact, many of the fairy chimneys as mentioned above were used for just that purpose, chimneys and ventilation shafts for these underground cities, so that attackers wouldn't even know these places existed beneath their feet. Derinkuyu is the world's largest underground city, although as I was researching it now, they seem to have found an even bigger one in the same region, so watch this space!

Other stops on the tour included the Ihlara Valley, Pigeon Valley and the Selime Monastery. I can only remember bits and pieces of these places, but we look like we had fun!

As I mentioned previously, most of the photos from my camera were wiped, but as it happened, at the end of our final day in Goreme, my battery had died, so we had to use Aisling's camera to make our video diary, and that's the only reason why the video survived. So, here it is, featuring me sliding down a cliff:

We were back in Istanbul again briefly before leaving the country, and it was a nice city to come home to, and one that I'd gladly visit again in the future.

In fact, I'd gladly come back to Turkey again. We were only here for a week, but really loved the two places we did visit, and there's a whole host of others to be explored. For the moment, our next trip to be chronicled was our sunny summer in Iceland, so that's where I'll pick things up next time.

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