A Travellerspoint blog

Çanakkale - Pilgrimage to Gallipoli


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Ayşegül and I arrived in Çanakkale (pronounced: Cha-na-ka-leh) after a six hour bus trip from Istanbul ending with a short ferry ride from Eceabat on the Gallipoli Penisula. Çanakkale is a nice little city with a picturesque waterfront and lively atmosphere. It's also probably the best launching pad for day trips to Gallipoli as there really isn't much choice in terms of accomodation on the Gallipoli Peninsula side.

Just after we arrived in Çanakkale, this nice man asked if we could get a picture of us together on my camera, just so he could show his daughter the preview

Anyone who is not familiar with the Gallipoli campaign of WWI, it remains the most significant military campaign for both Australians and New Zealanders. Each year on the 25th of April, both countries commemorate ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) day. It was on this day in 1915 when the allied forces landed on the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula as part of a joint British and French operation to capture the Ottoman capital of Istanbul. The campaign was unsuccessful and boths sides suffered heavy losses. The struggle to defend it sowed the seeds for the Turkish War of Independence which led to the formation of the Turkish Republic under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who was himself a Turkish commander at Gallipoli.

I had been in Turkey on ANZAC day (25th of April), but I was at the other end of the country having just crossed the border from Syria, this combined with the fact you usually need to book accomodation well in advance, I decided to skip trying to get to Gallipoli on ANZAC day itself and instead visit when I could find a place to stay and when it wasn't so crowded with visitors. Actually, having spoken to an Australian girl in Olympos who had been to Gallipoli on ANZAC day, I was very glad I hadn't been there at the time. She told me about gangs of drunken Aussies roaming the streets of Çanakkale making fools of themselves and annoying the locals. She said they were definitely the minority, but the way they acted was undoubtedly tainting the image of Australia and New Zealand in the area.

The main avenue in Çanakkale after some light rain

We got up pretty early and set off on the short ferry back to Eceabat on the Gallipoli Peninsula. From Eceabat we then took a local bus to the Kabatepe Information Centre where there was also a tiny museum. Ayşegül had already visited Gallipoli, including the museum, so I popped in for a quick look around on my own. The one-room museum housed several display cases containing items such as photos, letters and uniforms from both the Allied and Turkish forces dating back to the March 1915 landings during WWI.

Coming in to dock at Eceabat on the Gallipoli Peninsula from Çanakkale

Bullets which hit each other in the air, Kabatepe Museum, Gallipoli Peninsula - gives you an idea of how many bullets were flying around

From the museum we travelled by foot for a few kilometers up the coast until we reached the ANZAC Commemorative Site. The sun was shining and each of the spots we stopped by were virtually empty. Being there, I could imagine what it would be like during ANZAC day with all the large crowds and tour buses driving around so I was really glad to be there on that beautiful day with no one around - I think it was a really nice way to visit Gallipoli.

Walking down a road on the Gallipoli Peninsula

Our walk brought us to several cemetaries along the coast and in each one it was quite easy to spot the NZ soldier graves because someone had placed red poppy flowers against their bases.

Arı Burnu Beach Cemetery, Gallipoli Peninsula

Cemetery near ANZAC landing spot, Gallipoli Peninsula

A NZ Soldier's grave in Arı Burnu Beach Cemetery, Gallipoli Peninsula -

Nice quote by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk located near ANZAC Cove which Ayşegül pointed out to me, Gallipoli Peninsula

If you can't read the quote, it says:


ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli Peninsula

ANZAC Commemorative Site, Gallipoli Peninsula

Unfortunately we didn't get close to visiting all the memorial sites around the Peninsula - not only is it a really big place, but hunger and tired limbs started to set in and we had taken most of the day to walk just a small part along the coast surrounding ANZAC cove.

On our return trip on the ferry we stood out on the corner of one of the decks to watch the scenery and almost immediately we were swarmed by a small group of school girls who'd been out on a school trip. Most of them were shy but a couple of them were a little more cheeky and it didn't take them long to identify me as a foreigner. Their English wasn't so good, so they mainly spoke with Ayşegül, asking her dozens of questions about us, giggling throughout, you know, like young school girls do. It wasn't long before their cameras came out resulting in an extended photo shoot.

Cornered by a group of school girls on the ferry from Gallipoli Peninsula to Çanakkale - the two on my right were the ring leaders

The Dardanelles Strait between the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Çanakkale side was most beautiful at sunset when the sun disappeared behind the hills of the Peninsula.

Çanakkale waterfront at twilight

Me and Ayşegül at the waterfront in Çanakkale

Have I mentioned the food in Turkey is delicious? While we were in Çanakkale, Ayşegül introduced me to Tantuni (finely chopped snippets of beef are stir-fried with water, oil, onions, tomatoes and herbs, then stuffed into a half loaf of bread) and Şalgam (a delicious spicy juice made from black carrot pickles, salted, spiced, and flavoured with aromatic fermented turnips) - my mouth is watering as I write this just thinking about it. For me, Turkish food has raced up in to my top three favourite types of food, right next to Indian and Mexican.

Trojan Horse model statue, Çanakkale - the legendary city of Troy wasn't very far from Çanakkale

Another spot to visit in Çanakkale was the Naval Museum. It consisted mostly of old WWI cannons, sea mines, the shell of an old submarine and a replica of the minelayer Nusrat.

Fort Çimenlik in background at the Naval Museum, Çanakkale

Destroyed submarine, Naval Museum, Çanakkale

It was also in Çanakkale where I was when the Football World Cup started (that's how far behind my blog is!) - I remember my disappointment with Mexico as they could barely manage a 1 - 1 draw against South Africa, on the other hand, I was quite happy the cup hosts didn't loose. Luckily Ayşegül was suffering from Cup fever just as much as I was so I didn't have to go and watch the matches all by myself.

After Çanakkale we made a brief stop in the small beachside town of Ören, a little farther south the coast. It was like a resort town, but more for Turkish people rather than foreign tourists. It was the first, and probably last, time I stayed in a resort-like hotel. It wasn't a particularly flash resort - you could tell it had been around for years due to the 70's retro style decor. The high season was ending so the pool was surrounded by empty sun recliners and the bar next to the pool was almost always deserted. The other guests at the hostel were mostly families with young children. Ören was all about relaxing in the sun and it was just what I needed.

Ören beach from hotel balcony

We only went swimming at the beach once because during the day the seas were quite rough and even though the waves were small the sea was quite murky and turbulent.

Docked boats in Ören

After Ören it was a quick bus ride to Ayvalik which was a good place to catch a ferry to my next destination, Greece. Like Ören, Ayvalik was also a small town, but slightly bigger and with a livelier waterfront. The main seafront was lined with day-trip cruise ships and small cafes. We found a nice little bar called the White Night Cafe right near the water with a big screen tv where we could watch the football world cup. We must have watched about a dozen games in that bar whilst drinking countless cheap beers (cheap in price, not quality).

View from waterfront cafe, Ayvalik

The White Knight Cafe - Our own little Football World Cup viewing venue, Ayvalik

As quaint and beautiful as Ayvalik was, it didn't have many prominent historical sight-seeing locations. The most obvious was a 19th-century church of Ayios Ioannis which was converted into a mosque and is now known as Saatlı Camii (Mosque with a Clock). This church-turned-mosque is quite rare because when churches were converted into mosques, structures like bell or clock towers were usually demolished or replaced by minarets.

Saatlı Camii (Mosque with a Clock), Ayvalik

Horse and cart down narrow street, Ayvalik

Definition of pure ecstasy, Ayvalik

Ayşegül with the night sky in Ayvalik

Ayvalik was to be the last place I would visit in Turkey. Seventy-four days after I'd entered Turkey from Syria, I regretfully said goodbye to Turkey and Ayşegül and left on a ferry to the Greek island of Lesvos - which I'll tell you right now, ended up being a little disappointing for several reasons.

There are too many things about Turkey that I loved to mention (after all, I did stay there for almost three months), but here are some of them:

  • The people - the vast majority were warm and friendly
  • The towns and cities - Istanbul, Olympos, Çanakkale and Selçuk being my favourite
  • The food - I didn't really know what to expect beyond kebabs, but I was pleasantly surprised by it all, particularly the food I had at Saban Pension in Olympos
  • The inter-city bus system - modern, comfortable and reasonably affordable. They are definitely the best way to travel around Turkey
  • The secular society - For a country which is claimed to be 98% muslim (this is highly debatable) the secular roots installed by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk should be a model to other muslim countries, sure it still has some problems with fundamentalism and the current government leans more towards Islamic values, but relatively speaking it is quite liberal (though some might disagree with me)

I can't think of anything bad about the country and I can definitely see myself visiting again - this time taking the time to visit the north and eastern parts of the country which are very different to the west.

Until my next destination... elveda!

Posted by joshuag 04:25 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey anzac gallipoli wwi ören ayvalik Comments (2)

Istanbul - F1 Racing in Europe's Culture Capital


all seasons in one day 25 °C
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Another long blog, but it was an awesome city and had some good times...

I arrived in Istanbul (not Constantinople) on a sunny morning after an overnight bus from Selçuk. The first thing I noticed about the city, was how vast it was. Once the bus had reached the edge of the city, I thought it was just a matter of minutes before we stopped at the otogar (bus station)... but it was about an hour later before we finally arrived at the huge station on the west of the city - though admittedly traffic was bad but we did cover a lot of ground.

Everything I'd heard about it seemed true, that is, it's East meets West and there's lots going on, the architecture, the life and the harbour skyline was turly impressive. It was busy, but it felt safe and generally very clean and modern looking.

I took the subway and a tram from the otogar to Sultanahment, the historical and touristy part of Istanbul where I was staying (in a not-so cheap hostel).

All in all, I spent quite a few days doing the "sight-seeing thing" in old Istanbul (Sultanahmet). One of the first sight-seeing spots I stumbled upon in Istanbul, was the Hippodrome of Constaniople near the Blue Mosque. Once upon a time it was an arena for chariot races and other entertainment, but nowdays it looks like a modest public park containing a few monuments. One of these monuments was the Obelisk of Pharaoh Tuthmose III which was originally located in the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt. I actually remember reading about it when I was at that temple back in February. It was built some 3,500 years ago and in AD 390, Emperor Thedosius stole it and erected it in the center of the Hippodrome. But then this obelisk is only one of the vast number of ancient monuments or statues that have been stolen from Egypt over the centuries. Since the time I was in Instanbul, I've come across several more precious Egyptian artifacts in museums and squares all over Europe - I'd be a little angry if I was Egyptian.

Obelisk of Tuthmose III (foreground) and Column of Constantine (background) in Hippodrome of Constantinople, Istanbul

After the Hippodrome, it was a quick stroll next door to the Blue Mosque, which to my surprise, had no admission fees. It was of course, very crowded - actually since the Blue Mosque is adjacent to Haya Sophia, the entire area in between the two mosques was always buzzing with tourists.

The legendary Blue Mosque

Internal courtyard of the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

I liked the Blue Mosque, the huge internal columns and the stained glass windows were a marvel to look at, but I personally liked Hagia Sophia better. Hagia Sophia wasn't as pretty as the Blue Mosque from the outside (at least during the day it wasn't) but the interior was a little more impressive. This is probably because it was first a cathedral, then later a mosque. So far I've found that mosque's tend to be more of a monolithic rectangles inside with fancy domes and minarets (towers) on the outside, whereas cathedrals are just as fancy outdoors, but the insides are generally more intricate.

The world famous Hagia Sophia, which is directly opposite the Blue Mosque

Inside Hagia Sophia

Main hall and dome ceiling of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Gold Mosaic Panel of Christian figures in Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia at night - which to me looked much better than in daylight

After that I went to the Basilica Cistern only a short distance from Hagia Sophia. It is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns (water resevoirs) that lie beneath Istanbul. It was built in the 6th Century AD during Emperor Justinian's time. It's basically a huge underground chamber measuring approx 138 by 65 meters whose roof is supported by 336 marble columns. Little walkways suspended above about 1 foot of water guide you around some of the marble columns which are lit up by glowing orange lights. The cistern is easily missed because of its relatively hidden entrance and I only went there because another traveller recommended it to me (I'd skimmed over it in my Lonely Planet). I have to admit that it was quite impressive and I enjoyed it more because I didn't know what to expect.

Columns of the Basilica Cistern in Sultanahment, Istanbul

Only a small part of the huge area covered by the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

Upside down Medusa head at base of supporting column at the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

A tram in the suburub of Sultanahmet (Old Istanbul)

A Whirling Dervish in Sultanahmet

Gardens in Topkapı Palace which is next to Haya Sophia

After my main sightseeing was over, it was time for some fun. Basically since the time before I left New Zealand, my hope was that I'd get to go to at least one Formula 1 Grand Prix race somewhere in the world. As it turned out, the race in Istanbul coincided with my journey perfectly.

I was also in luck because the Turkish GP is one of the least attended races of the year and I'd have no trouble getting tickets for it (for most of the other races the tickets are sold out well in advance). I didn't even have to book tickets over the internet, I just turned up at the ticket office at the race track to get mine and it only cost a mere 70 TL (NZ$ 70) for a general admission ticket.

For anyone that doesn't know much about Formula 1 GP racing, each event is held over an entire weekend, Friday to Sunday. On the Friday they do a couple of practice sessions, then on the Saturday they do another practice session followed by a qualifying session. It is at the qualifying session where they determine which place on the starting grid they will start the big race on the Sunday. I decided to skip the Friday practice sessions, but I did go on the Saturday and, of course, the Sunday.

As I was having breakfast at the hostel early on the Saturday morning before heading out to the race track, I happened to meet an Australian guy, Ryan, who was also going to the Grand Prix. We decided to team up and go together which turned out great because I think it turned out to be more fun than going alone, plus the fact that he was even more into Formula 1 than I was. Actually, I'd never met anyone who knew Formula 1 the way he did. He knew details about drivers, teams and past races that probably most of the sport's commentators don't know or can't remember. I mean, he was really a bonafide Formula 1 geek. I say that in the nicest way of course because I'm proud to call myself an F1 geek too.

So we set off on one of the special buses that the city puts on that take spectators to the track from stops in the main suburbs of Istanbul. The track is not really in the city, but more towards the west on the outskirts so the bus took about an hour and a half to get there. As we were walking from the bus to the ticket office, we met and started talking to three Brits, two sisters and their dad, who were huge Formula 1 fans. We all got general admission tickets which technically only allowed us to enter the grassy areas in between the seated grand stands, of which there were several dotted around the track.

Ryan and I sat on one of the grassy hills for the practice session and there we met up with the English family again. This is the first time I ever got to hear an F1 engine live and it didn't disappoint. I knew I was definitely going to need my ear plugs come race day. After the practice session, there was a break for an hour so Ryan and I together with the Brits, decided to head over to the gate of one of the grand stands where they also sold food. I forget how much I paid for a hot dog and a couple of beers, but it was nothing short of extortion at around four times the amount you'd pay in the city! After food, we all decided to try our luck and enter one of the grand stands because security looked pretty sparse and we'd heard they didn't care too much where you sat on the Saturday anyway. It wasn't the main grandstand on the straight where the start-finish line was, but it was a stand on turn 8, which is part of the course where there were a series of really fast corners and there was even a large video screen in front of it (I say large but it was actually quite small and difficult to see). At least we'd know what was going on with the big screen because at the first place we sat, you had no idea what times the drivers were setting around the track, let alone whether someone had an accident or something. Fortunately we got in to the grandstand quite easily and we had a good viewing position for the entire qualifying session.

Michael Schumacher during qualifing, Turkish F1 GP, Istanbul

So Michael Schumacher isn't doing so well this year (the first in his big comeback after three years of retirement) but at least I got to see him racing. Not that he's my favorite driver at all, in fact, he's done some pretty controversial things in his time like allegedly running other drivers off the road and blocking others during qualifying, but at seven times the world champion nobody can deny that he's still a legend of the sport.

After qualifying, it was back on the bus back to Istanbul. Ryan and I hunted for some dinner in Taksim, which is on the northern (European) part of Istanbul and is definitely one of the busiest. After dinner we wandered around the area for a while before heading back to the hostel to have an early night before heading back to the race track early the next morning.

Me and Ryan after dinner in busy Taksim - there's one particular area of Taksim that is just street after street full of bars and restaurants

Ryan and I decided to team up for the trip to the race track once again so after breakfast the next morning we were off! Since we'd been successful in getting in to one of the minor grandstands the previous day, we half joked about trying our luck with the main grandstand in front of the pit-straight. To be honest, I didn't rate our chances very highly, but I happened to be with the perfect person for such a caper. Once we arrived, we scoped out all the entrances to the main grandstand (there were about five different gates leading to different sections) and we saw that each gate had around four or five different officials. They were checking tickets, searching bags and putting arm bands on people's wrists. At this point I lost all hope of sneaking in and started to walk away from the grandstand. But before I'd even taken a step, I turned around and found Ryan was already deep inside the nearest gate area and he was looking at me motioning for me to come over. I walked in straight after him, smiled at one of the girls and stuck my arm out so she could place a band around my wrist, she didn't even batter an eye lid and kindly complied. It turned out we had walked in at the absolute perfect time when three of the officials were distracted as they checked other people's bags and in the confusion combined with our cheeky confidence, the other two officials must have thought our tickets had already been checked and just let us in! We couldn't believe our luck and once we'd climbed up the stairs and entered the grandstand it was high-fives all round. As it happens, we had not only snuck into the main grandstand, it was the Platinum section right in front of the start-finish line and with a perfect view of a huge TV screen. After the race I checked the internet and discovered tickets to this area cost 660 TL (yep, that's NZ$660!) and we got in with our paltry 70 TL general admission passes - needless to say we were chuffed.

Eventually the grandstand filled up considerably and we had to move a couple of times when people turned up to claim their seats, but we still ended up with excellent seats because the grandstand wasn't absolutely full to capacity (probably because it was too expensive for the average Turkish GP fan).

Me (left), Ryan (right) waiting for race to start from Main Grandstand

I don't usually buy souvenirs or merchendise, but this was a special occasion. In the photo above I'm wearing a Sebastian Vettel T-shirt, he's German and is my favourite driver. Ryan, being an Aussie, is of course a fan of Mark Webber so he's got a Webber T-shirt on. As it happens Webber and Vettel are team mates in the Red Bull team. In a way I'm kind of glad there isn't a Kiwi driver in F1 because I get to choose a driver to support based on ability and personality rather than for patriotic reasons.

Race about to start

Video of the actual start of the Turkish F1 GP - You couldn't not wear ear-plugs from the grand stand, you would seriously go deaf after only a couple of laps.

Sebastian Vettel crossing the start line at the Turkish F1 Grand Prix during the race

Unfortunately, the Turkish GP was a disaster for the Red Bull team and Sebastian Vettel in particular because about half way through the race, Vettel tried to pass his own team mate (Webber) and they collided with eachother resulting in a huge accident. Worst of all was that before the crash Webber was running in first place and Vettel was coming second. Unfortunately this resulted in Vettel crashing out of the race completely and Webber got a puncture which eventually saw him finish the race in third place. Ryan and I of course debated who was at fault and although it was disappointing, it didn't bother me too much because I was just glad to be there, especially being lucky enough to be on the main grandstand.

The winners podium after the Turkish Grand Prix - Jensen Button (2nd place), Lewis Hamilton (1st place) and Webber (3rd place)

The hoardes of people streaming out of the Turkish F1 Grand Prix

A couple of days after the race, I arranged to meet up with Ayşegül for a coffee in Taksim. As I mentioned in my Olympos blog, she worked as a marshal at the Grand Prix and we'd kept in contact via email before I got to Istanbul but she'd been too busy before and during the race weekend to catch up. It turns out she was posted at the part of the track where I would have been sitting had we not snuck in to the main grandstand. Even funnier was that during a break before the race she put up a sign with my name on it so I could find her, but of course I wasn't there to see it - though she did get lots of people in the crowd yelling, "I'm Josh! I'm Josh".

Ayşegül and I having Turkish coffee in Taksim

I didn't have any definite plans on where to go after Istanbul and I was enjoying the city so much I decided to stay a while longer. Instead of staying in Sultanahment, I moved to another hostel in Taksim where it wasn't so touristy - still increadibly busy though. I spent my remaining days in Istanbul, hanging out with Ayşegül around Taksim and sheltering from the rain which arrived with a vengeance for a couple of days.

The incredibly busy Istiklal Caddesi in Taksim, Istanbul

Restaurants under Galata Bridge and Yeni (new) Mosque in background - We went to one of the restaurants here where Ayşegül introduced me to balik-ekmek (fish sandwich) which is a traditional Turkish meal

I happened to be in Istanbul while the controversial boarding of the lead boat in the Gaza aid flotilla by Israeli Commandos. This raid resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists. The day it happened I saw lots of young men walking around wearing bandanas and carrying what looked like Palestinian flags, but I didn't know what it was all about. The next evening, Ayşegül and I walked through Taksim Square to find a huge protest group. It wasn't violent or anything and in fact it looked organised with a small stage and microphones. Needless to say, the Turkish government was also not amused by what happened and would have supported the protestors.

Protest rally against Israel at Taksim Square the day after the incident

I really liked Istanbul and I already know I'll be back there one day, but eventually I had to leave the city or I would not get to see other parts of Turkey, in particular Gallipoli, which is as close as it comes to a pilgrimage destination for a Kiwi (which is not saying much). Ayşegül, was on holiday and she herself had been travelling around Turkey so I asked her if she wanted to come with me and show me around the western coast of Turkey. She agreed and early one afternoon we were on a bus on the way to Çanakkale, a decent sized town near the Gallipoli Peninsula ...but that's the subject of another blog.

Stray Cat hostel ...looks like the word got out

Until the next installment...

Posted by joshuag 09:18 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey istanbul constantinople sultanahmet formula_1 f1 taksim turkish_grand_prix turkish_f1 Comments (2)

Ephesus & Saklıkent Gorge - Waist-Deep in More Ruins


sunny 24 °C
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As I eluded to in my last post, I departed Olympos with two Aussies, Scottie and Charlotte, on our way to Ölüdeniz near Fethiye. Our main reason for heading there was because it was a good base to visit the nearby Saklıkent Gorge (or Canyon).

Our first night in Ölüdeniz was very quiet and involved a couple of beers, a game or two of table tennis and our discovery of the most delicious chicken kebabs in Turkey - actually I had got my Turkish words for "chicken" ("tavuk") and "wrap" ("durum") mixed up so, in each of the three occasions we ate there, I confidently offered to order for all of us by saying, "Three chicken tavuk lütfen!". So in effect I was asking for "Three Chicken chickens please!"... The women at the fast food joint were so nice they held back from laughing at us.

Early the next morning we set off on our trip to the canyon 50 km to the east of Ölüdeniz. The canyon is 18 kms long and in parts is 300 meters deep. Only about 4 km of the canyon is accessible by foot and it can only be done during summer. The very beginning of the canyon is narrow and the water is too deep to walk through so the only way in is through a wooden walk way bolted to the side of the cliff.

The path just past the entrance to Saklıkent Gorge

Once past the deep and narrow entrance, the gorge widened a little and we passed a small but violent waterfall that fed water to the last part of the canyon. After this waterfall there wasn't as much water flowing through the main canyon but the water became extremly murky, which is what made walking up the canyon a challenge. Most parts were knee deep but others were just above the waist level and there was no way to tell which parts were which (a walking stick would have been handy).

The shallow part at the beginning of Saklıkent Gorge

Treading carefully in Saklıkent Gorge

Two seconds after I took the above photo, the girl with the yellow top lost her sandal and it floated slowly away from all of us. She pleaded for someone to run after it and stop it but we were all just as far away from it as she was and we didn't know how deep it got so we stood there with the old "don't look at me" looks on our faces. Her boyfriend standing on the bank on the other side didn't seem to try too hard to go after it either. We didn't stick around long enough to see if it was rescued or not. The three of us were all wearing snug wet-socks that we hired to protect our feet so we weren't in danger of loosing ours.

The incredible looking Saklıkent Gorge

One of several precarious looking rocks in Saklıkent Gorge

We were never in much danger of being swept away as the canyon alternated between deep and shallow points every so often, but we were always in danger of getting our cameras wet if we accidentally stepped into a deep spot so it was quite slow going. Most of it was quite easy, but certain areas were quite tricky and they involved climbing over boulders or walking around the edges of the canyon hugging the cliff side where it wasn't so deep.

Eventually, after about 2-3 kms, we reached a waterfall and although we could have continued physically, going underneath it would have resulted in the end of our cameras as well as everything else we were carrying, so at this point we decided to turn back.

The waterfall at the end of our walk through Saklıkent Gorge

Charlotte and Scottie at the waterfall in Saklıkent Gorge

There were local guides walking up and down the canyon helping people navigate their way through tricky areas. Inevitably, one of them tried to guide us without us asking for his help. I was a bit reluctant to accept his help because at that point we were managing quite well and we knew ulitmately it would lead to demands for money. As it turned out, he did turn out to be quite helpful when we reached parts where it got deeper and the current became much stronger. He obviously knew the river bed like the back of his hand because he knew exactly where we needed to step and he didn't even hesitate as he strolled through the area like a cheetah. On our return he also took us over a large boulder which we had previously waded around on our own with the water lapping up to our chests.

On way back through Saklıkent Gorge - We used the guide's knee and hand as steps to get past this large boulder

A few hours after we started, we were back at the entrance to the gorge with a bit of time to spare before the next public minibus departed for Ölüdeniz. Once back in Ölüdeniz, we indulged in another "Chicken chicken", before we embarked on a long walk down the valley to the beach so we could catch the sunset.

View of Ölüdeniz Beach from top of valley - I have to stop doing that pose, it's getting old now

Me, Scottie and Charlotte at Ölüdeniz Beach

The actual town of Ölüdeniz wasn't much to write home about, in fact it didn't feel like we were in Turkey at all. The town is full of British tourists, lots of families and plenty of middle-aged men who paraded around proudly with no shirts on, their pasty white pot bellies hanging over their too-short shorts. Even the Union Jack was flying more prevalently than the Turkish flag throughout the town. All the stores, restaurants, bars and hotels had English signs and the restaurant menus were dominated by items like steak, chips and mushy peas - I guess the locals are willing to put up with this pseudo-invasion in exchange for those precious tourist dollars (or should I say pounds).

A rather contrived action pose during one of our table tennis matches at a bar in Ölüdeniz

Early the next day Scottie and Charlotte sadly returned to London (where they are working) and I jumped on a bus to Selçuk in the Izmir province on the west coast of Turkey.

Even though Selçuk has its fair share of tourists, it doesn't feel like they've overrun the place. The cafes were full of locals (mainly men) playing backgammon and oKey (a traditional Turkish board game) and most of the people out walking around appeared to be Turkish. This was surprising considering that this is the town at the door step to what once was the second largest city in the Roman empire (after Rome).

Fountain and Aquaduct (with stalks nesting on top) in the center of Selçuk

The day I chose to visit Ephesus (also known as Efes) was almost unbareably hot and the crowds were out in droves, but it was still well worth it. The amazing columned facade at the Library of Celsus was easily the most impressive structure. The Great Theatre would have been just as amazing had part of it not been obstructed by the ubiquitous cranes, fences and scaffolding I keep on coming across during my trip. I tell you, with all the scaffolding I've seen ruining the vistas of major tourist attractions, I predict that it should be an excellent time to go backpacking in around 2012.

The Great Theatre in Ephesus - only by the use of a clever angle and on-the-fly cropping was I able to obscure the crane and fencing to one side of it

The amazing Library of Celsus in Ephesus

Curetes street leading to the Library of Celsus from the Upper Agora in Ephesus

Stone relief in Curetes street, Ephesus

Odeion (Small Theatre) taken from Upper Agora, Ephesus

After Ephesus, I visited the Monument of St. John which was on top of a small hill near the site of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, namely, the Temple of Artemis, built circa 550 BC. In fact from the walls around the monument of St. John, you could get a decent view of the remnants of this ancient wonder. Unfortunately, little more than a single column is still standing... I guess that's better than nothing.

If you look hard enough in the center of the photo, you can see the last remaining column of Temple of Artemis (one of original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) - view from Monument of St. John, Selçuk

The Monument of St. John is supposed to be where St. John, Jesus's favourite disciple (or one could say, his main hommie), came on a holiday sometime between 37 and 48 AD (or it was a pilgrimage, it's something like that anyway). It's also the place where he was supposedly buried and also legend has it that when he came here, he was acompanied by the "Virgin" Mary.

Monument (Basilica) of St. John, Selçuk

My reflection (I'm such a poser) in glass barrier of tomb in Monument of St. John, Selçuk

Tomb of St. John, Selçuk

Basilica of St. John, Selçuk

I was leaving Selçuk the next day on a sleeper bus so I had the entire day to continue exploring, but after all the walking I'd been doing on the previous few days, I could only muster the strength to go to visit the Ephesus museum followed by a trip to a shady park were I lay on the grass, relaxing, watching life go by (right next to a big dried dog turd which I didn't notice until I got up and stepped on it).

Various statues in Epheus Museum in Selçuk

Statue of Fertility Goddess Artemis with rows of egg-like breasts in Ephesus Museum, Selçuk

Model of Temple of Artemis (one of original Seven Wonders of the World) in Ephesus Museum

Night time view of Aquaduct in Selçuk as I walked to the otogar (bus station)

While I was travelling around Turkey I had noticed that in most otogars (bus stations) there were what seemed like feverish celebrations with music and dancing. I found out later that they were all send-offs to all the new military recruits (it is compulsory for every male from 18 to 41 to serve up to 15 months in the military). There must have been a whole bunch from Selçuk being conscripted because the day I left it was mayhem at the otogar with lots of Turkish flags, drums, trumpets and singing.

Farewell celebrations to some young military recruits at Selçuk otogar

And so, I myself said farewell to Selçuk also. My next stop would become one of my favourite cities in this little journey of mine.

Posted by joshuag 10:55 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey ephesus selcuk efes saklikent saklikent_gorge artemis st._john saklıkent_canyon temple_of_artemis Comments (0)

Olympos - Tree Houses in the Mediterranean Paradise


sunny 25 °C
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I finally made it to the Mediterranean coast, and what better place to dip my first toe in the water but in Olympos, an ancient city dating back to the 2nd century BC. It was invaded and settled by several groups until the Romans conquered it in 78 BC. This means there are plenty of Roman ruins through out the valley and most of them lie within an open air museum located between the beach and the town of Olympos. Not that Olympos is much of a town, it consists mostly of a single main road running through a steep valley. Along side the road is a small stream which runs completely dry for a large part of the year. On the other side of this road you can find a long row of pensions (guest houses) and a sprinkling of small general stores here and there.

It took three buses to get to Olympos from Cappadocia but it was well worth it. As soon as the last minibus started making its way down the winding road down to the valley of Olympos I knew it was going to be hard to leave this place.

I arrived at Saban Pension where I had booked three nights based on the recommendation of a Dutch guy I met in Göreme. Saban describes itself as a tree house pension catering for people who want to relax amongst the peaceful surroundings. This is in contrast to several other bigger pensions there which attract the "young party people". It was perfect for me because for the first time on my trip I was beginning to feel a little jaded. The tree houses weren't really tree houses, more like cabins on stilts "amongst" the trees, not that this mattered to me because the surroundings were beautiful and I chose to stay on a ground level bungalow with an ensuite thinking I'd move to a tree house on my second or third night.

The pension is owned and run by three siblings, Meral (the sister) and her two brothers Ali and Hussein and they were some of the nicest hosts I'd come across on my trip, especially Meral who looked after me so well during my stay.

Some of the tree houses and bungalows at Saban Pension in Olympos

The view from my bungalow at Saban Pension

It felt like I was at a school camp but without the annoying children, actually for that matter there weren't any annoying adults either. It was the end of the low season so there weren't that many people staying there. The place oozed of relaxation with scattered çadras (raised wooden booths with cushions), picnic tables and hammocks nestled amongst the trees - not to mention that the beach was only a five minute stroll down the road.

Relaxing in a çadra at Saban Pension - My table tennis skills vastly improved by the time I left Olympos, I even got the hang of the Asian style (chopsticks) grip

The stream that runs through Olympos

The river mouth that meets the Mediterranean sea

Part of the beach at Olympos near the river mouth

Looking back inland along the river from one of the hill top Roman forts

View of the bay at Olympos from the Roman fort

There was lots of interesting wildlife in the area, including lots of lizards, frogs, tortuses, sea turtles and almost translucent spiders the size of small rodents, including one that decided my bungalow was a nice warm place to stay one night. Strangely there weren't many birds around which you'd expected in such an isolated forest environment. On most nights for a period of about 15 minutes just after sundown, a swarm of slow flying insects descended on the valley, they didn't bite but they were attracted to sweet smelling objects like drying washing or recently shampooed hair (luckily for me I was quite lazy at doing laundry and shampoo is a foreign concept to me).

Olympos has a fine pebble beach and even though it was extremely fine pebbles, in places near the shore-line they were quite large and it was usually impossible to make a graceful exit from the water. Though it was quite funny to see the tough muscly guys exit the water stumbling and sometimes squealing like little girls. During the week the beach was nice and peaceful, but in the weekends the crowds exploded as it was a very popular holiday destination for Turkish teenagers.

Relaxing at the peaceful beach in Olympos

Some of the Roman ruins at Olympos

One of the best things about Saban pension was the food; I'd go as far to say it was the best food I'd had on my trip so far. Because Olympos is so isolated there are no restaurants therefore dinner was included by most if not all of the pensions in Olympos. Meral was the genius behind the menu and along with her cook and small army of helpers, they prepared a delicious spread each and every night.

Queue for dinner at Saban Pension - the food was absolutely delicious

The after dinner bon fire at Saban Pension

Olympos was also a great place to meet people because instead of the situation you get in a large city where everyone from a hostel goes out all day visiting distant sight-seeing spots, at Olympos there's a campsite atmosphere and aside from going to the beach or wandering around the ancient ruins, a popular activity was to hang out at the pension and relax with a few cold Efes (a popular Turkish beer). Everything about the place was telling me to stay so I kept on extending my stay by an extra night. By the time I'd been there over a week, Meral just told me I was welcome to stay for as long as I liked and for me to just give her notice the night before I was ready to leave.

So many good people came and went while I stayed there, there were virtually no days where I didn't have someone to hang out with and if there weren't any other guests to play with, I just hung out with Meral drinking Turkish coffee.

Paxton (a fellow programmer and all round good guy from Canada), Paul (South Africa), Tianca & Cambi (Aussie twins - could be the other way around) and me after dinner at Saban Pension. Paul, Cambi and Tianca were travelling together - they were the first people I met in Olympos. Paxton stayed there for quite a while too and we hung out for the best part of a week.

Paxton, Paul and Tianca smoking some sheesha in a çadra

One night when Paxton, an Irish guy and I went to a different pension for a change of scenery (the bar had closed at Saban). There we met a bunch of crazy drunken Koreans and a lovely Turkish girl called Ayşegül who was there with two friends from the UK. I found out she was a sports referee who amongst other things, does marshalling for the Turkish Formula 1 Grand Prix. For me it's unusual to meet people who also follow Formula 1, let alone one who is female and never before had I met someone who actually works at the events! Needless to say I bored her with endless questions about her job. At the time I was toying with the idea of going to the Grand Prix in Istanbul so we exchanged contact info so we could perhaps meet at the race.

On my second week there two nice Kiwi girls, Eve and Caroline, turned up at the pension and naturally we ended up hanging out for a few days. They were the first Kiwis I'd actually spent any time with during my trip and it was quite nice to hear the Kiwi accent again after so many months. We formed a nice little group along with another girl, Jesse from the US.

Jessie, Ali (pension co-owner), Eve and Caroline enjoying a few wines after dinner at Saban Pension

A good sight-seeing spot near Olympos is the eternal flames located in the neighbouring village of Çıralı and about 200 meters above sea level. The eternal flames called the Chimaera may be seen issuing from the ground. The fuel source for the flames is natural gas seeping through cracks in the earth. Legend has it that they've been burning constantly for over a thousand years. I must admit it was quite a strange sight to come across after climbing this small mountain in the pitch black darkness. It looked like dozens of large but completely silent campfires in the middle of a rocky outcrop.

One of the Chimaera flames shooting out from the ground

Me (barely visible) standing next to the glow of one of the Chimaera flames

Except for my strolls around the Roman ruins and walking to the beach and back, I wasn't really getting much exercise in Olympos, so when someone suggested going sea kayaking, I happily agreed. So early one morning a group of about ten of us from different pensions set off down the river and out to the Mediterranean sea. We travelled near and around the coast line at a fairly decent pace. The views were spectacular but as one can imagine it was difficult to take photos whilst in a kayak given that everything got absolutely drenched. In fact our cameras were inside a sealed water-proof container and the only time it could safely come out was when we stopped half way through at a deserted bay. By the time we got back we'd been paddling for about three hours and my arms and back definitely felt it.

The sea kayaks on a deserted bay near Olympos

A large blister on my hand from the kayak paddle

Me, Eve, Caroline and Jesse having lunch after our kayaking trip

Caroline, Me (with cheesiest smile) and Eve outside one of the bungalows the night before Eve and Caroline left Olympos

My bung eye - I got something in it at some stage and it blew up like a baloon for about a day, I took this photo as it was getting better

After the Jessie, Eve and Caroline left, three separate couples turned up, Scottie & Charlotte and Rob & Jane from Australia as well as a young couple from England and we hung out during my last week in Olympos

Scottie, Jane, Me (looking even more tanned than after Goa), Rob and Charlotte around bon fire in middle of a "nightclub" open air dance floor (a couple of the pensions in Olympos had nightclubs) - we were the last ones to leave before it closed which is why it looks so empty

Jane, Rob, Scottie and Charlotte looking cold and miserable on Olympos beach during our painful wait for the sunrise after a long night out

On our way back to the pension after sunrise

Me and Meral (pension co-owner) - she looked after me so well during my stay, making me countless Turkish coffees, making me breakfast (even when I had slept in and missed breakfast hours) and on several occasions she cooked my favourite dishes for dinner

By the end of my stay in Olympos - I'd become part of the furniture, it had been over three weeks and I thought perhaps I should move on so that I didn't miss the rest of the summer in Europe. Besides I had plenty of places to still visit in Turkey and Scottie and Charlotte invited me to join them on a day trip to Saklikent Gorge near Fethiye further west along the coast of Turkey.

So I packed my bag and said goodbye to paradise...

Posted by joshuag 02:25 Archived in Turkey Tagged beach mediterranean olympos chamera saban tree-houses Comments (2)

Cappadocia - Fairy Chimneys and the Underground City


all seasons in one day 20 °C
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Now, where was I? Oh yeah, I entered Turkey.

Crossing the border from Syria to Turkey was a similar experience to crossing from Jordan to Syria. I took a service taxi from Aleppo to Antakya, a relatively short 90 km journey. I was in the car with two other passengers, neither of whom spoke English, neither did the dirver for that matter. We sped towards the border crossing at what seemed like 200 kilometers per hour while Middle Eastern style music blared from the car stereo. At least this time I didn't have to change cars or drivers but I did have to "carry" a carton of duty-free cigarettes across the border for the driver, as did all the other passengers - obviously a nice little money making scheme he has going on the side (I did witness the driver purchasing the cigarettes at the duty free store so I was confident I was not smuggling a block of hash instead).

Sign post to Turkey from service taxi

Once again we aquired an extra passenger at the border - this time a friendly Tunisian woman who spoke a little English and a conversation with her helped to keep me distracted as we sped away from the border at ridiculous speeds.

Eventually I was dropped off in a seemingly random parking lot, with no obvious bus station or tourist offices in sight. When I first started my journey back in November 2009, I was quite organised about where I was staying and how I was going to get there. I even made sure I learnt the basics of the language just so I could at least greet people. Now almost seven months later, I found myself in a brand new city in a brand new country and I didn't have a clue about how to even say "hello" in Turkish, let alone where I was going to stay that night. The best part was that I wasn't in the least bit worried about it. One thing I've learnt about traveling is that the harder something is, the more satisfaction you get from it once you've accomplished it.

I started walking around the streets of Antakya in search for either a tourist office or an inviting budget hotel. While I wandered I noticed how different things appeared compared to where I'd just come from. First of all, there were very few women wearing head scarves and even less that wore burkhas. Not only that but women of all ages were showing their arms and shoulders in public and couples walked hand-in-hand down the street. It felt more familiar, yet strange at the same time. All of this from a country whose population is claimed to be 98% muslim - but then again, once you get to know Turkey and a little bit of its history, it's not difficult to see why it's so different to it's fellow Islamic neighbours.

After about an hour of walking around the city with my backpack digging into my shoulders, I spotted a sign in English which pointed towards the tourist office. I was lucky to have spotted the sign because asking people on the street for directions had turned out to be a fruitless exercise since there was a distinct lack of English speakers.

Center of Antakya near the tourist office

The woman at the tourist office gave me a little map of Antakya and she kindly marked where the best budget hotels were in town. She was the first of many truly friendly Turkish people I met during my travels there.

I didn't stay long in Antakya, just long enough to catch my breath and to get accustomed to a new country, new people, new currency and a new language. The only sightseeing I did was a quick visit to the Archeological Museum as well as several strolls around the city.

Mosaics and Statues at the Archeological Museum, Antakya

The impressive Sarcophagus of Antakya in the Archeological Museum

The Orontes River through Antakya

The morning I left Antakya, I was supposed to be taken to the otogar (bus station) by a free shuttle from the travel agent's office where I bought my ticket, but as the clock ticked, I realised someone had missed or forgotten me. The travel agent's office was closed and my only hope was to ask someone at the tourist office across the road how I could get to the otogar by public transport. Instead of showing me, the man working there kindly offered to take me there in his car - what did I tell you about the friendly Turks?

Unfortunately trains in Turkey aren't particularly fast and they don't have an extensive coverage of the country. This wasn't a problem because Turkey has a top class bus network. Numerous competing bus companies offer reasonably priced modern buses which go almost everywhere you'd want to go. They even have attendants on board who offer snacks and beverages during the trip much in the same way you get on a flight, except more basic. So I took a bus to Cappadocia, a region located in the center of Turkey which is famous for its cave houses, underground cities and the martian-like landscapes.

The first place I visited in Cappadocia was Ürgüp, a small city full of boutique hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and honey-coloured stone buildings. The hills surrounding the inner part of the city were dotted with dozens of vacated cave houses carved into the hill sides. I stayed in a small but comfortable hotel in the middle of town run by a sweet old couple. I felt just a tiny bit out of place there because I think the hotel was more often frequented by couples on romantic get-aways. It was here also where I got my first taste of a typical Turkish breakfast and all the generous helpings of white bread that come with it - it tastes good but by the end of my journey through Turkey I'd regained most of the weight I'd lost in Asia and the Middle East (I'd lost around 4 kgs by the way, which is quite a lot for me)

Typical Turkish breakfast - white bread is their staple and it is always provided at breakfast, lunch and dinner

Cave houses in Ürgüp

The weather was quite fickle while I was in Ürgüp and when I woke up one morning to clear blue skies I took advantage and headed for a long trek to one of the surrounding valleys which according to Google Earth had an amazing landscape consisting of strange looking rock formations. It didn't look far on the map, so I headed out of town by foot. To my surprise, after about an hour I hadn't found the valley, but I did come across what I thought was a small nearby town. It wasn't until I spotted a familiar looking hamam (Turkish bath), that I realised I'd walked in one huge circle and I was back exactly where I'd started. I felt rather stupid at the time, but at the same time I was relieved that I didn't have to walk all the way back to Ürgüp... because I was already back in Ürgüp!

A Hamam (Turkish bath) in Ürgüp - It was located only a few steps from my hotel

The next day I made more of an effort to study the map I was carrying and I actually made it to the rock formations.

Rock formations near Ürgüp

Ürgüp was a nice place to stay, but it wasn't really a backpacker type town. In retrospect, I should have gone directly to Göreme, a smaller yet far more impressive town built within a small valley where most of the surrounding hotels and houses are caves carved directly into the hills and limestone rock formations.

Some fairy chimneys in Göreme

Göreme from outlining hills

Whilst having breakfast at the hostel in my first morning in Göreme I met Natalia, a lone traveller from Canada. We decided to join forces for the day which turned out rather well since we both got to do and see more than if we'd gone it alone. I learnt later that we'd both stayed at the same beach huts in Goa, she'd nearly stayed at the same hostel in Delhi (except she got there late and couldn't find it), hated pineapple on pizza, hated heights, spoke fluent Spanish, she was a computer programmer and was also travelling around the world on an extended sabatical, so you could say we had plenty in common. I also thought she bore a striking resemblance to the actress Natascha McElhone... Ok, I know what you're thinking, but she was married. She even showed me a photo of her hubby to which I regretfully reacted by saying, "Him? Really?"

Anyway, our first destination was the underground city of Kaymakli. Apparently there are over one hundred underground settlements in Cappadocia, but only a few are open to visitors. They were built for protection from wild animals, invading armies and the harsh winter conditions. It was truly impressive how deep and intricate the cave systems were devised. They came equiped with bedrooms, kitchens, cribs, toilets, wine houses, food stores and ventilation chimneys. We opted to forego an official tour guide and instead Natalia took on the duties of explaining what each room was used for using the few signposts and a little improvisation. Her stories usually involved dwarves since the height of the ceilings suggested that the inhabitants were either very short or ended up with really bad backs.

Underground City in Cappadocia

Natalia in Underground City in Cappadocia

After the underground city, we took a bus back to Göreme for a quick bite (and camera battery recharge) before heading to the Göreme Open Air Museum about 1 km walk from the edge of town. We had left it quite late but fortunately it was open later than what our guide books suggested and this turned out to be a blessing considering the small tourist crowds. The open air museum consists of a monastic settlement where some 20 monks lived circa the 11th Century AD. Once again, it was a city consisting of caves built into the rock formations. There appeared to be as many churches in the city as there were monks and each church we visited was decorated with impressive medival frescoes.

Some of the caves at the Open Air Museum, Göreme

Medieval frescoes inside a church cave at the Open Air Museum, Göreme

Natalia stepping out of doorway to one of the caves at the Open Air Museum in Göreme - the doorway was high up and only reachable by a skinny stairway so this was a bit of a challenge for us vertigo sufferers

After the museum, we wandered across the road and decided on a small hike along one of the surrounding valleys. The valley ran in the same direction as the road that led towards Göreme so our goal was to find an alternate way back. Unfortunately, after a while of walking, sometimes squeezing past huge boulders and climbing down small overhangs, we got to a drop that was just to big to navigate and we had to turn back.

Valleys near the Open Air Museum, Göreme

Natalia taking photo in valley near the Open Air Museum, Göreme

Natalia squeezing past a rock in valley near the Open Air Museum, Göreme

Curious looking trees beside road between Göreme and the Open Air Museum - one bears clay pots and the other "wish" ribbons

It was dark by the time we arrived back at the hostel and Natalia went for a Hamam (Turkish bath) for a bath and a massage. You had to pre-book the Hamam plus they were quite expensive so I stayed back at the hostel and hung out a Dutch guy called Sebastian who'd hitchhiked to all the way to Cappadocia from the Netherlands. He was quite young and very enthusiastic about life. He'd taken photos of all the people who'd given him rides and it was quite interesting hearing the individual stories behind each one.

Göreme at night

That was it for my Cappadocia experience, the next day I'd be heading to the southern coast of Turkey for my first glimpse of the Mediterranean. It would also become one of the highlights of my trip and the first time I'd chose to stay in one spot for an extended period of time.

Posted by joshuag 09:57 Archived in Turkey Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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