Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Turkey

Istanbul

When the riots broke out on Taksim Square, the arrangements for the Istanbul part of visiting Turkey were already made.

During the last week in June I attended a week of classes at the Köç University (Istanbul) with a group of MBA students from the University of Stellenbosch Business School. We learnt about the economics and politics of the mid-east, and promptly arranged a visit to Taksim (where nothing was happening.)

Taksim Square
Police presence in Taksim - the only sign that it was an interesting place.

On Wednesday the University arranged for us for some sightseeing in the old town.

Roofs of the Blue Mosque
The Basillica Cistern - without a tripod :)
Friday evening the university arranged an Arabian farewell party at Arabesque - a great party!

Arabesque

Capadokya

Saturday morning B and I hanged around the old city before flying to Cappadocia in the evening. We stayed in a cave-hostel in Göreme. 

Göreme. People actually live in these ancient structures - and many of them are converted to hostels, so tourists can stay in them too :)

Göreme at night-time
It was summer in Göreme when we were there. Very hot in the afternoons, but very pleasant in the evenings. The town was alive till late every evening.

We rented bicycles (10 TL for 3 hours) and explored a little. 3 hours was not enough; we could easily have cycled and explored all day.

Göreme Singletrack - will have to go back for more of these
We booked the 'Green Tour' (all travel agencies use the exact same codes for similar tours)

Ihlara Valley
Underground City (7 levels with airconditioning, water provision, kitchens, sanitation, an (invisible from the outside) tunnel to see whether it's day or night,  churches, mortuaries (they burried the people once the above-ground danger was gone) and place to keep their animals. People could stay here for up to 2 months at a time.)
An ancient church dug out of the Capadoccian stone 

The hot air balloon flight got cancelled due to too strong winds :(

The Green Tour Guide suggested we took a minibus (Dolmus) up to Uçhisar to explore the natural castle on the hill. The castle itself wasn't very spectacular after the previous day's underground city, but the views on Göreme were excellent. We bought some fresh fruit (grapes, apricots and peaches) at a local market, and hiked down to Göreme via the Pidgeon Valley.

Uçhisar - a natural rock castle on top of a hill.

Fresh Produce Market in Uçhisar

Pidgeon Valley

The hike goes straight through some of the strange rocks
 
Veggie gardens at the bottom of the Pidgeon Valley

Selçuk

We booked the night-bus to Izmer before the Green Tour Guide suggested that Selçuk is a far better place to stay. A dolmus took us from Izmer to Selçuk, and Emre (from the Amazon Antique Hotel where we stayed) fetched us from the Bus station.

We explored St John's Basilica, an ancient mosque, the one remaining column of the temple of Artemis, and spent several pleasant hours at restaurants next to the aqueduct on the town square.

What's left of the Selçuk Cistern

Lunch on Selçuk town square, with the Aqueduct in the background
We booked a tour to Pamukkale and the Hierapolis. a long drive, but an excellent place to spend a hot day.
The Teatro at the Hierapolis

Pamukkale
Emre (from the hostel where we stayed) took us to the top gate of Efes just before the gates opened, so we were among the first people that entered.


Efes Library
We took a dolmus up to Sirinçe where we spent a lazy afternoon before taking the overnight bus back to Istanbul.





Princes Island

The last bit of the busride to Istanbul included crossing an inlet from the Sea of Marmara with a ferry at sunrise :)



Back in Istanbul, we stored the big backpacks and caught a train, tram and finally a ferry to Princes Island.


Then it was time to go back to the airport, spend the last Turkish Lira on turkish delight, and head home.

A highly recommended country, cheap (if you stay out of larney restaurants with expensive-looking tables), and extremely helpful and friendly.

Notes

Transport

Local flights
The local flight from Istanbul to Goreme was 157 TL, the equivalent of around R850. We booked them two days in advance; doubt it would be much cheaper with more advance notice. You need a passport number to book this. Booked on TurkishAirlines.com; use Google's translator. (In comparisson, the overnight bus from Istanbulk to Nevsehir would have been 68 TL, around R374.)
Overnight bus
55 TL for the overnight drive from Goreme to Izmer, and 48 for the overnight drive from Selcuk to Istanbul (which included a ferry-ride over an inlet from the Sea of Marmara :)
The buses are as (un)comfortable as overnight cattle class airplanes. A hostess offers coffee (instant coffee with milk powder and sugar) and munchies. The buses stop every 1 and a half hours for half an hour at huge ultra-cities. Book these tickets online or buy them at the bus stops (easier).
Dolmus (Minibus)
Cheap at 3 TL (R16.50) for the 8km drive from Selcuk to Siringe, and 2.50 TL (13.75) for the 3 km drif from the bottom gate of Efes to the bus station (ottogar) in Selcuk.
Train
Around Istanbul, but not everywhere. 3TL (R16.50) for one hop - any distance.
Tram
Around Istanbul, where the trains don't go, but between Trem and Train the whole of Istanbul is not covered. 3TL (R16.50) for one hop - any distance.
Taxi
By meter, or pre-arranged price if you have good negotiating skills. Very seldom necessary; much more expensicve than the reliable dolmuses, buses, trains and trams.

Food

Turkish coffee: grounded very finely and brewed with no filter, so don't drink the last (sludge) half of a cup. The difficult part is to learn to judge when you must take the last sip.
Tea: black and strong, brewed all day so there's a lot of tannins in it.
Apple tea: not local, but served enthusiastically to foreigners who decline an offer for black tea
Ayran: a drinking yogurt with salt added. Best served ice cold. Yum.
Pide: a flat bread with toppings. Usually no cheese, but there was no extra charge when we requested it added. Excellent to build your own pizza with if you also order a grilled mushroom, which usually comes with lots of cheese.
Mixed Meze: the best value to get out of apetizers. Each restaurant will mix it's own. Accompanied by fresh bread, often still warm out of the oven.
Bread: Simit, a dense bagel with sesame seed, often served as part of breakfast.
Chillies: Roasted, served with almost every meal
Pickles: often with chillies, also served with almost every meal
Beer: Efes, anything from 6 - 15 TL for 1.
Wine: Often produced in the Cappadocia region. Very expensive (anything from 10 - 30 TL per glass)
Breakfast: Bread, white cheese, feta cheese, salami (which looks exactly like the pink poloni we get here in SA), olives, honey, jam, tomato, watermelon, cucumber, yogurt and coffee. 
Fruit: plenty, cheap, fresh and beautiful. Watermelons, melons, apricots, plums, peaches, grapes - everything you would get in season in Cape Town in summer. Yum!
Döner Kebab: Never had one; saw quite a few chicken-versions. 'Kebab' is meat; only the şiş kebab comes on a skewer. Testi kebab is our equivalent of a potjie. My favourite was the adana kebab, a mix of ground lamb and beef wrapped around a wide skewer (think the blade of a sword) and braaied over proper coals (like our braai). You smell it from afar, and it tastes as good as it smells.

Pronounciation

c - sounds like k
ç - sounds like sj
ş - sounds like sh

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