Highlights of Turkey: Gill Stafford Gill is one of our facebook regulars and sent us this amazing day by day blog of the Highlights of Turkey trip she did earlier this year...
Day 1 Superb flight on wide-bodied plane to Istanbul. Some confusion getting through terminal as a “transit” passenger but linked up with several older gentlemen going walking in Cappadocia and we caught our domestic flight to Ankara. Amused at notice requesting passengers do not sit their animals on the toilet! Met Group, Ilhan, tour leader and Kamel, driver at Ankara; surprised there are only six of us, all older (but not old!), 2 couples plus 2 lone travellers. First meeting held in hotel but all too tired to go out for a meal – we were well-fed on both flights!
Day 2 Early start with visit to the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations in Ankara. This was an ideal introduction to the sites we were to visit and put the whole tour in context. Onwards to the amazing landscapes of Cappadocia where, after a visit to the underground city of Kaymaki, we arrived at our cave hotel.
Day 3 A magical day! Began with an early-morning hot air balloon ride over the unique Cappadocian rock formations; not only did the balloon travel horizontally, we brushed the wild flowers and soared up high over the fairy chimneys.
After a simple Turkish breakfast, it was off to Goreme Open Air Museum to explore early Christian churches carved out of the rock followed by a walk through Red Rose Valley. After lunch we toured more outlandish rock formations before climbing high up inside the remains of the 13th century castle in Urgup. Early evening we descended into a deep cave to watch a Whirling Dervish Sema. This solemn religious ceremony incorporates chanting, religious music, prayers and the twirling which the Mevlevi order are famous for.
Our evening meal was taken in yet another cave, where my friends from the airport were also dining – they ceremoniously presented me with a rose – a wonderful end to a truly magical day!
Day 4 En-route to Konya, we visited the well-preserved 13th century caravanserai of Sultanhani, a resting place for travellers on the Silk Road. After a traditional lunch in Konya, we explored the museum, formally the headquarters of the Mevlei order before an unscheduled visit to the large city mosque followed by “special” baklava and ice cream. Still full after our snack(!), we took our evening meal in a simple workman’s café specialising in lamb donor kebab.
Day 5 Our long journey over the Anatolian plateau was full of surprises; fields of storks, opium poppies and a flying display by the Turkish All Stars The latter kept us amused for many miles as the eight fighter planes practised their intricate moves blazing trails of red, white and blue vapour.
We picnicked on a shady riverbank before gazing in wonder at the Roman theatre of Aspendos, still used for productions today and admiring the Roman aqueduct used for supplying fresh drinking water to the ancient city. Tonight’s stop at the Mediterra Art Hotel set down a narrow street in the old city part of Antalya took some finding but our trusty driver did us proud!
Day 6 A lunchtime picnic among the ruins of Phasellis, with time for a swim! Established as a harbour city in around 690 BC, Ilhan gave us a fascinating tour of the ancient streets and ruins. Time to explore Antalya before dinner in a sheltered square.
Day 7 Today we explored the mountain city of Termessos. Set in Gullug Dag National Park, renowned for it’s insect life, lynx and brown bears, it was a steep climb to the ruined theatre atop the mountain. En route to Dalyan, we visited the village of Kayakoyu deserted since the population exchange of Greeks and Turks in the 1920’s. The setting for the book “Birds without Wings” by Louis de Bernieres, it is now a World Heritage Site. Tonight we dined at our hotel overlooking the Lycian rock tombs at Dalyan.
Day 8 Ilhan chartered a riverboat to take us through the reeds to the ancient ruins of Caunos dating back to 4000 BC. Rejoining our boat, we sailed up to the mouth of the river, a breeding beach for loggerhead turtles. After a swim, we rejoined our boat to sail to a newly opened restaurant before returning to Dalyan for an afternoon exploring the weekly market. Dinner in a traditional café was excellent, the proprietor even fetching us home-made houmous from a friend!
Day 9 We meandered along rural roads to Pammukale stopping, en-route at what appeared to be a small roadside café – climbing stairs at the side, we found ourselves in attractive water gardens packed with local Turkish families out for their Sunday lunch. The white travertine terraces of Pammukale can be seen some distance away and these, together with the ancient ruins of Hieropolis, made for an interesting afternoon walk.
Day 10 A fairly long drive today to Selcuk where we will spend two nights. The site of Aphrodiasis proved fascinating, being an important artistic centre and supporting a training school for Carian sculptors. The spacious museum held many examples of statuary by established and trainee sculptors.
Our Selcuk hotel is small and family-run, dinner on the roof terrace restaurant had us all gasping with the views of storks zooming overhead.
Day 11 Our small group of six with our excellent guide seems a luxury when we encounter the huge coach parties visiting Ephesus. Ilhan never hurries us and is an excellent historian only to happy to answer our questions. Early summer’s an ideal time for a poppy lover like myself as there were masses among the ancient ruins.
Lunch today was taken at a Kurdish family café where we watched flat loaves being baked and hot bread just kept coming and coming….an excellent meal, followed by a shopping spree for the three ladies in our group! Tonight we visited another village de-populated when the Greeks returned to their native land. This time, however, Turkish families colonised the steep twisty lanes and today it operates as a craft bazaar with cafes.
Day 12 A long drive broken up with two interesting visits. Up a narrow twisting road to the remains of Pergamum, where parchment was invented. The library here was the second largest of the Roman world. The theatre here was set on a steep hillside and proved quite a frightening descent – thanks for your helping hands, boys!! An imaginative mock-up of the Wooden Horse greeted our arrival at the ancient site of Troy. Comprising of nine ancient cities, each built atop the last, the ruins date back 5,000 years. Not much time to see the town of Cannakale, arriving just in time for dinner at a harbourside fish restaurant and with an early start scheduled the following day
Day 13 Catching the 7 am ferryboat, we crossed the Dardanelle Straits before touring the battle sites of Gallipoli. A long drive to Istanbul was enlivened by a visit to a service –café that had it’s own zoo! Dropping off our cases at our central Istanbul hotel, we said a fond farewell to our excellent driver, Kamel – whom we shall ever remember for making a flapjack into a sandwich filling! Ilhan walked us to the Grand Bazaar arranging to meet us later for dinner. A spontaneous group decision was made to stick together both for safety and to ensure none of us became lost! We ate an excellent traditional dinner down a small side-street that none of us could have found without Ilhan’s help.
Day 14 A leisurely and more varied breakfast today before a foot tour of the famous Istanbul sites. We marvelled at the Blue Mosque (though disapproved of tourists who showed such lack of respect that they refused to cover their heads/shoulders) wandered through Topkapi Palace particularly admiring the highly decorated rooms of the Harem and visited Haghia Sophia, now a museum.
Instead of the scheduled free-time, Ilhan took us on an extra special tour to show us the “backstreets of Istanbul”. We walked what seemed miles, seeing Turkish traditional shopping areas, visiting a genuine spice market, tasting Turkish Delight in an old established emporium before calling in at the Turkish Railway Museum.
We took a ferryboat across the Bosphorus, admired the interior of an Armenian Church, took Turkish tea, coffee and home-made lemonade at a café that only sold these drinks, wandered the streets and returned across the Bosphorus. Squashing into a Taxi-dolmus we admired street performers in Taxsim Square before walking down steep streets towards the Gallata Tower. Our final dinner was taken at a fish restaurant under the Gallata Bridge watching the sunset over the Golden Horn before a final tram ride back to our hotel.
Day 15 A paper bag of Raki (Aniseed) balls as well as a thank-you envelope awaited Ilhan at our final breakfast! Waving us off at the airport, we all agreed that we’d been very lucky to have such a knowledgeable and affable young guide. We’d eaten all our meals together as a group with Ilhan and Kamel, socialised together and stayed as a group until we were dispersed throughout the plane home. I’m sure we’ll keep in touch and have already exchanged messages and photos. I went on holiday alone, but not for long, as one of the group soon pointed out, I was really holidaying with friends!!