Turkey: I...Just Want To Fly
Turkey has been on the top of my must-see list for quite a while. The idea began when I met a group of internationals while working at Six Flags in Chicago who were from Turkey. They told me a few tidbits of information on their fascinating country and I was hooked. Fast forward seven years later and there we sat on a ferry from Rhodes, Greece to Fethiye, Turkey. It's possible I will say this numerous times throughout the blog but Turkey is SO incredibly beautiful, I honestly didn’t realize it was going to affect me the way that it did. In addition to being extremely excited about the country itself, I was also overjoyed that Michael and Taylor were still traveling with us for the next 11 days! Some pieces of information on Turkey before reading forward: Turkey is surrounded by 8 different countries, is slightly larger than the state of Texas, and is a predominantly Muslim country. Now let's get to it!
Our Intro To Turkey: Fethiye
We planned on spending a few solid days along the Mediterranean Coast in the old town of Fethiye, (population 48,000) that’s tucked into the southern reaches of an appealing broad bay. We all gave a sigh of relief as we passed the islands that dotted the Fethiye coastline, glad to see that there were mountains covered in green with friendly beaches to welcome us. Although we were close in kilometers it definitely looked different from Greece. Since we arrived early we had most of the day to explore the city. First on our list was the Tomb of Amyntas which we spotted clinging to the hills from our ferry ride in and was built in 350 BC. Next were the old Roman theater ruins.
The rest of our day was spent touring the town on foot, stopping at a restaurant for lunch, browsing in shops, and speaking with tour vendors to book our boat cruise for the following day. One thing we noticed right away was the incredibly cheap cuisine that we would feast on for the remainder of our time in Turkey: Chicken Doners for 3 Turkish Lira (or $1.50 US). They replaced our gyro fix quick and consisted of chicken (or beef which they called "meat"), lettuce, mayo, onion and tomato. By the end of the day we had all agreed on our boat tour for tomorrow…shuttle to the beach, 6 islands via boat, lunch, swimming, and best of all: a water-slide on the boat! All for the low, low price of $15 US dollars! I actually thought I was ripping them off it was such a good deal.
The Best Day Trip Via Boat Ever
The following day we consumed our Turkish breakfast (cucumber, tomato, hard-boiled egg, cheese, and bread with jam/honey/nutella) and then climbed into our shuttle ready for our boat cruise. A short ride up and over the mountain was Oludeniz Beach, aptly named Turkey’s most beautiful beach. We hiked up a sand dune to get bird's eye views of the beach before hopping on our boat and sunbathing on the soft mats that were laid out for the boat passengers. Our first stop, Butterfly Valley, is a beach with sheer cliffs rising up on either side and is only accessible by boat or if you’re hiking the Lycian Way trail. Sadly, we were too early for the thousands of butterflies that inhabit this spot from June-September. Next, a stop at cold water springs where the water went from ocean cold to freezing as we swam closer to it. Then on to Camel beach where we devoured our lunch. The crew opened the water-slide that twisted through the boat like intestines of the human body and we ran to check it out. It only took one ride and we were all hooked, laughing as it spewed us out in to the ocean. Who would have thought a water-slide on a boat could be that fun!? We made a few more stops and were making our way back to land around 5:30 pm. Definitely a worthwhile trip and the highlight of our time in Fethiye.
Ephesus…The Best Preserved Roman City In The World
Heading 5 hours north to Selcuk via bus was next on the Turkey itinerary. It was here that we discovered the most hospitable hostel called Atilla’s Getaway which would work out to be our base for touring the old Roman City of Ephesus. For only 5 euro we were provided with an authentic Turkish dinner and breakfast cooked by Atilla and his family. The surroundings were so comfortable at Atilla’s that we actually spent the remainder of the day hanging out by the pool reading and talking with other travelers. After dinner the fun continued with a game of pool (called killer pool) that Michael ended up winning (money in the pocket!).
After our day off it was time to get back in to tourist mode again. Our plan was to tour Ephesus in the morning, the best preserved Roman city in the world. Back in its day (1st Century BC) the population was 250,000. It felt as if we were stepping back in to time as we walked along the marble streets with the ruins on each side of us. After visiting Ephesus, we hopped a bus to the nearby town of Sirince. Here we tasted some of the local wines and shopped along the narrow streets.
We departed from Selcuk around 3pm and prepared ourselves for a long day of traveling by bus.
Pamukkale…Snow or Calcium?!
We were about to head 13-14 hours in to the middle of Turkey to a fascinating place called Cappadocia. The guy we bought our bus tickets from assured us we would have time for a detour in Pamukkale (4 hours in to our drive) to see the calcium travertine pools but by the time we arrived we only had 45 minutes. Chip and Michael decided to pay the entrance fee, take off their shoes and run up, down, and around Pamukkale taking pictures for us girls to see. By the time they came back down we had to sprint back to the shuttle which would take us to our overnight bus.
Did We Make It To Cappadocia?!
It was then that we learned there was no 10:30pm bus like our tour-guy promised. Thankfully our ticket read that we were on the 9:30pm bus. But a few minutes after leaving the bus station we stopped for about 30 minutes in a suspicious back alley to apparently fix something on the bus. There were definitely a lot of confusing moments like this that I almost thought we weren’t going to arrive in Cappadocia alive (as a side note, our guidebooks warned tourists about traveling on overnight buses to Cappadocia saying that they’ll drop you off hours away from your destination so I was a little worried). A few stops in the middle of the night for bathroom breaks and all of a sudden the sun was making its way back up. Out of all of Turkey I was most excited about visiting here thanks to a lady we sat next to on our trip to the Cook Islands back in February who said this was her favorite spot in the country. Some quick info about Cappadocia: the region consists of valleys, canyons, hills and unusual rock formations which were created as a result of the eroding rains and winds thousands of years ago. Also unique are the dwellings carved out of the rock and cities dug out into underground, presenting an unearthly appearance.
Chip and I had decided to "splurge" (40 euro/night) and stay in one of the many cave hotels that offer cozy cave rooms. Since we arrived so early (and didn’t sleep so well on the bus) we parted ways from T&M for a few hours to nap. In the afternoon we met up to eat lunch and chose one of the many hot air balloon companies that thrive in Cappa. After reading the reviews and talking to some of the locals we decided to go with Goreme Balloons that would pick us up at 4:45am(!) for our sunrise balloon ride.
Early to bed and early to rise, we were up at 4:30am waiting for our shuttle. I had definitely been waiting for this moment for a long time as it’s rated as one of the most special places in the world to embark on a hot air balloon ride. The pictures will illustrate just how beautiful it was. This is the one time I would agree that the more people (or in this case, balloons) the better. As more balloons began to dot the sky around us the view became even better. It was magical, exhilarating, graceful, and picturesque all at once.
Rose Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey
After our successful landing and champagne toast we were off to explore the many rock valleys that surround Cappadocia. This place was literally an adult playground with millenia-old empty cave houses around every path waiting to be explored. We came across hundreds and went in many of them. Rose Valley was also unique because besides the cave houses there were these mushroom-looking pinnacles, called fairy chimneys, that jutted up from the ground (see pic…I already know what you're going to say). We decided to hike through one more valley that felt similar to the famous slot canyon at Zion National Park in Utah only there were thousands of cave houses to explore.
Our last full day in Cappadocia was another jam packed day filled with a visit to one of the many underground cities in the area, another hike through a valley full of cave churches and houses, the most delicious Turkish lunch, wine tasting in Urgup, and a stop at another site to view more fairy chimneys. I think the highlight of the day was walking through the underground city with our private tour guide (and M&T’s hostel owner). He and the gentlemen who allowed us access gave us the perfect depiction of how life must have been like living underground. Immediately after entering it was dark and cold and we needed flashlights to navigate. We listened as our guide told us stories and climbed our way up and through the underground system. The second Turkish gentlemen (see pic) who accompanied us knew no English but I will never forget how sweet he was. He would tap us on the shoulder as if looking for confirmation that we were having fun, he’d give us huge grins as he led us to another climbing wall, his eyes saying 'isn’t this awesome’, and was genuinely happy to be around. At one point, our guide asked Chip and I to explore another facet of the cave while the others would go a different direction and we’d meet them on the other side. Of course this was planned but the cute Turkish man scared us by sticking his hands through holes in the wall just as we were rounding a corner. Another reason to love Turkey; the people here are funny and kind; a great combo!
We spent our last night in our cave room and departed the next morning to Istanbul, this time choosing airplane as our mode of transportation. Although we were slightly delayed it was definitely more comfortable than a 12 hour bus ride. We chose a hotel located in the most popular meeting place in all of Istanbul called Taksim Square and the first evening we strolled the people-packed streets choosing to munch on some Pizza Hut with McDonald's ice cream for dessert. I know, I know...We went months without it but sometimes you just crave food that reminds you of home!
Our Incredible Time in Istanbul
We had three full days to complete a long list of must-sees in Istanbul. But before I begin I have to mention that it is definitely one of the most beautiful (huge) cities we've been to (13 million people!). We were surprised at how well-kept the city was with little graffiti and trash. Now on to our list...we saw: the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, took a boat cruise, shopped at Taksim Square, walked across the Galatta Bridge, shopped for Turkish rugs, and ate a lot of Turkish food in between.
When In Turkey…You Must Have a Turkish Bath!
But the highlight of our Istanbul experience was to take part in a traditional Turkish bath or hamam. We were greeted by a cheerful and overweight man wearing nothing but a cloth towel like a skirt. Next we changed in to our skivvies and cotton wrap then entered a steamy and humid sauna-looking room with sinks at four corners and a large marble slab positioned in the middle. We were directed to lie on the marble slab and the man left us to 'cook' on the slab for 15 minutes. He came back in later and took us one by one over to the sinks and exfoliated our entire body which included a lot of rough rubbing and a few hearty slaps on the back. Next was the rub down and massage which took place back on the marble slab. As each of us got cleaned up aggressively by the Turkish man (who clearly took pleasure in hurting us) we watched each of our bodies contort as the massage moved from the legs to the back and finished at the neck. It was painful and comical but dang, it felt good.
Overall, I'd have to say Turkey delighted us in many ways. I'm not sure any one of us were expecting to have fallen in love with Turkey like we did. It full-filled everything a great trip and country should encompass including a varied countryside, warm and friendly locals, delicious cuisine, intriguing culture, unique landscapes, fantastic beaches, ease of transportation, explorable ruins, and clean cities. I would without hesitation recommend a visit to Turkey in your life. You will not be disappointed!
It's hard to imagine now is the end of our yearlong journey overseas. Everyday we are so thankful for the experiences we've had and people we've met along the way. It's been an amazing chapter in our lives!!! From here, we'll be heading home to Ohio, Minnesota and Colorado to visit friends and family before settling down in Durango, Colorado. Thanks again for keeping up with us - we love you all!!!