Thought I would write about Turkey before Egypt gets under my skin and I start forgetting the prettiness that filled my world for those 8 days.
Turkey was exactly how it had been described to me, which is the opposite of how you would imagine it if you didn’t know better. It is super relaxed, extremely clean, safe, friendly, organised and inexplicably pretty.
I spent the first 3 days in Sultanahmet, which is the main tourist area of Istanbul. It has all the old terrace-style buildings and cobblestone streets etc – looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale. It was a bustling time to be there as the snow & cruel cold had only been gone a couple of weeks, which meant everyone was out on the streets touching up paint and planting colourful annuals along the footpath in preparation for the high tourist season. I arrived in perfect timing for the beginning of the tulip festival! Tulips are actually native to Turkey and were exported to Holland. It was quite a sight, Tulips, everywhere, across the whole city, in enormous Ottoman-esque ornate colour coded designs. The whole country in fact was blossoming with the beginning of spring – peach, pear, apricot, apple tree in full blooms, sweetly pink and white, figs and pistachio trees laden with the beginning of their crop, wild chamomile on every street edge (it grows like the dandilion) and my personal favourite… wild red poppies, en masse, everywhere.
Istanbul has an incredible vibe and three days was nowhere near adequate. My heart ached leaving and I can’t wait to return. Highlights were the Haiga Sophia (Pink Mosque for Saint Sophia), Topkapi Palace (never been to a real palace before – everything was encrusted with real gold, rubies and emeralds) and eating dinner in the restaurants under the Galata Bridge near the Galata Tower, with fishing lines hanging down from the bridge above, 200 drunk Turks in the bar behind us dancing to a traditional band and having my first true glass of Turkish Raki. I now have a small addiction to both Turkish Coffee (if you want it sweet you have to ask, because it can’t be stirred again once it is poured due to the muddy sediment at the bottom) and Raki, which is basically like Ouzo, only if you ask a Turk they will say Raki is better because they invented it first.
Then I caught a flight to Izmir and a bus to Ephesus, the famous ancient runes of the largest, richest city in the whole of the Roman Empire. When I first arrived, I thought it was awesome to see such old rocks, some with the remnants of ornate carvings, BUT as you progress down the gentle hill, the ever increasing grandeur of the ruins was truly impressive and I enjoyed imagining myself in a past life wandering down the main drag in my toga carrying a pomegranate towards the enormous sandstone and marble library. I overnighted in the quaint nearby Selcuk (Seljuk), ate local wild food and smoked shisha alongside eating baklava on a rooftop.
Bus to Pamakule. Seriously – google image that shit! Huge calcite/calcium deposits on the top of a mountain that make it look like it’s snow capped, with a hot spring! It was an ancient health spa/hospice where people came to be healed or spend their final days in the mineral water pools. The antique pool you swim in still has the genuine ancient ruins in it and is 36 degrees, although it was a bitch getting out! Freezing! Then the staggered ‘terraces’ which you can see in the photos fill up with the warm water too, and you can walk all the way down the terraces back to the town , which I did, shoes off and all. In Australia, there is no way you would be allowed to teeter over the edge of a cliff standing in knee high water then continue to walk along that edge for a kilometre barefooted. But in Turkey… no worries! Love it.
Overnight bus to Cappadocia (Kapadokya which is local spelling and how it is pronounced)– about 8 hours. Once again – google image that shit! You’ll see from the photos, the whole area is like outer space, formed by some crazy volcano action about 60 million years ago. But the Christians used it to hide themselves and their religion by digging a myriad of cave cities in the ‘fairy chimneys.’ Lots of the caves are now heritage listed so local people can’t live in them, but there are so many across such a large area that you will see the occasional one that is being squatted in or being used to store grain etc. The caves in the town areas (Cappadocia is broken up into a few towns) are still used and lots have been turned into restaurants and hotels. So, yes, I stayed in a cave. Literally, a cold stone gave dug into the side of the mountain! I stayed at the Shoestring Pension, which is super homely and if you get the chance to go there, Sulyman will look after you. I spent 3 days there and I now feel like a have some true friends in Turkey. Some caves are simple caves, others are more sophisticated, some are ancient carved churches with painted interiors and there is also an enormous 8 level underground city called Derinkuyu Yeralti Sehri, four of those levels are open to the public. The city was used to hide from enemies etc and it is remarkably sophisticated! Hard to explain without photos, but there are stables, kitchens, ventilation shafts, a graveyard (it still smells), irrigation and defence mechanisms throughout the whole underground city. Sometimes even little me had to bend in half to fit through the hallways and doorways. Highlights of Goreme were horse riding through Rose Valley (Rose because of the colour of the stone mountains), being pummelled by an old Turkish woman at the Bath House (Hamaam) who called me Jee-Jo (a good kind of pummelled) and hot air ballooning over the whole Cappadocia region at sunrise, with a crash landing to finish!
This is my second night in Egypt and I am typing this from the Salon on a cruise ship. Because there are hardly any tourists post-revolution I have been upgraded for free at every turn and the cruise ship I am on is far swankier than what I would ever book for myself. But The Nile and the Egyptian desert still surrounds me so I am happy. Egypt is like nowhere I have ever experienced, in a good way, but I won’t bother reflecting on it too much until more time has passed. As you all will have experienced, it’s a strange feeling, seeing sights you’ve looked at on print for a lifetime, suddenly before your eyes – today’s sunset from the deck of the boat was special, as the Nile here is clean and the air is fresh, and the luscious riverbanks soon give way desert terrain…..with oasis style palm tree everywhere and men in turbans with donkeys and goats…! It’s just like the Wilbur Smith novels…
Photos will be up on facebook.com/pottergeorgia asap
Til next episode, elveda!