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Turkey 2013 – Trip of a lifetime

Posted on 19/05/2014 by

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In April 2013 ITC Travel Tutor Steve Burke received a long service award of $10,000 to take a trip anywhere in the world. Here he tells us how he spent the holiday of his dreams.

After some thought, I chose Turkey for my destination. Situated between Europe and the East, Turkey has a great deal of historical significance. Historically, it is also the cradle of Christianity, and it afforded my wife and I an opportunity to see some history of our culture.

We booked our trip through World Expeditions, as we wanted something a little different from the standard large group tour. We were to travel for 15 days, mainly in a minibus with a driver and a guide.

My wife and I flew into Istanbul via Tokyo in early October. We arrived at 1800 and were met by our guide and transferred to our accommodation in the old town.

The next morning, we met with the other members of the tour party, a total of eleven, including us.

We walked into the city with our guide and visited Topkapi Palace and the beautiful Blue Mosque. We also had a quick look at both the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar, but more about that later.

That evening we took a flight to Kayseri, Cappadocia in central Turkey, and were transferred to Goreme, where we stayed in the Sultanahmet Palace Cave Hotel – a hotel inside caves. After a quick look around the town, we met over dinner, and decided a balloon trip over Cappadocia was a must do.

At the early morning pre-flight briefing we were given breakfast and transported to the take-off site. There were upwards of eighty balloons flying that morning. We were airborne to see the sunrise over Cappadocia. It was breathtaking. Cappadocia is a huge area that resembles a lunar landscape. It is barren, with a few low lying areas of green.

The flight lasted about one hour. This was the major highlight of our visit. We then transferred back to the hotel for another breakfast!

In Cappadocia we were due to do at least three days walking. Our first walk was along the Pancarlik and Zemi valleys. The Pancarlik valley has spectacular rock formations called Fairy Chimneys. We visited ancient churches at Kepez and Sarica, hewn out of the rock. In the afternoon we walked down the Zemi valley back to Goreme.

The next day, we walked the Red Valley. Many centuries ago, the Christians hid from encroaching Arabs, Persian and Roman invaders by building underground towns, some up to twenty storeys deep. We walked the valley and visited the town of Cavusin, which has been dug into the rock. We then visited a Turkish carpet workshop, and saw the fabulous carpets made there. In fact, a couple of the group bought carpets.

The following day we walked the Uchisar and White Valley. We climbed the Uchisar fortress, the highest point in Goreme, with its panoramic view of the surrounding area. In the valley were several ancient churches with beautiful preserved frescoes. In the afternoon we walked the White Valley, also called “Love Valley.”

The next day we visited the underground city of Derinkuyu. We descended nine floors, each with a huge round stone door that could be rolled into the tunnel, or street, to block entry. It was surprisingly airy, but very dark. In the afternoon we walked the Ihlara Canyon along a pleasant river valley with its many remains of ancient Christian life. We visited the Selime Monastery, one of the largest in the region. Interestingly, all monasteries kept pigeons. They used their droppings as manure, because the land was so barren, and they also used the pigeons for food.

In the morning we visited Sultanhani Caravanserai. Caravanserais were the overnight stopping places for traders using the “Silk Route” between Europe and the East. There was accommodation for the traders and all their animals. This is the largest caravanserai in the country and was another real highlight of the trip.

We hopped back onto the bus for the journey to Antalya, on the Mediterranean coast, across the Taurus Mountains.

After overnighting in Antalya we took off for Kas, along the coast, visiting Phaselis and Demre with the ruins of Myra and its rock tombs and Roman theatre.

At Kas we took a cruise on the Mediterranean, seeing the sunken city off Kekova Island and having a swim off the boat. This was a really lovely day.

From Kas we set off for Fethiye via Patra and Kayakoy, where we had another walk through the forest and a swim in Oludeniz (Blue) Lagoon. Then it was onwards to Fethiye for the night.

After breakfast we went on to Pammukale. Here we visited some fabulous white silica terraces situated on part of the Taurus Mountains. The terraces are formed by lime from thermal waters and are similar to what New Zealand’s White Terraces in Rotorua must have been like; however, at Pammukale, there is no smell of sulphur.

We continued on to Ephesus the following morning. This is the second largest and best-preserved ancient Mediterranean city after Pompeii and the half-day we spent walking around the city was another highlight.

Next day we travelled to the coastal town of Cannakale. On the way we stopped of to visit the ancient site of Troy, which, after Ephesus, was somewhat underwhelming.

On our last full day on tour, we took the ferry across to Gallipoli. Although neither my wife nor I have any connection with Gallipoli, we found it a strongly atmospheric place, and we’re very glad we visited. We went to ANZAC Cove, and Lone Pine. After our visit, we carried on to Istanbul for our last overnight stay.

The tour started and finished in Istanbul, but with very little time spent there, so we stayed on in the city for another five days. We spent the time seeing as much as we could. We went to the Cistern, an ancient underground reservoir, and the Spice Market, and – not to be missed – the Grand Bazaar. My wife likened the crowds to the turnout from Eden Park but carrying on all day. The stallholders are very impressive; they all seem to be able to tout for business in multiple languages, after guessing where you’re from. If English doesn’t work they switch to German, then French then Cantonese! If you are ever in Istanbul, you must visit Grand Bazaar.

We found the local people warm and friendly. In three weeks we had just one poor meal. As the predominant religion is Islam you should check with cafes and restaurants if you want alcohol, as not all sell it, but are quite happy to point you in the right direction. Whilst we were visiting we never had any feeling of danger or tension.

We would certainly go again if we had the chance.

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