An old college friend was planning a trip and asked if anybody wanted to tag along. Having been through several continuous weeks of noises from the upstairs dwelling (school holidays, ya) I thought to myself: “Why not?” It was also a good opportunity to catch up with an old friend.
So we (me + wife + friend) booked a trip to Turkey — a place I never thought I would go. Now that I have returned, I’d say I have no regrets.
Singapore to Istanbul to Cappadocia
We flew direct from Singapore to Istanbul, then caught a domestic flight to Cappadocia immediately after. It was pretty late by the time we arrived so we did some light shopping around the town of Goreme and then retired to bed so we could be up before 5am the next day to catch our hot air balloon flight.
Hot Air Balloon, Rose Valley and Kaymakli Underground City
Pick-up service was at 5am, followed by some paper work and a simple breakfast. The actual balloon flight started around 6am and lasted an hour. We returned to our hotel for the really awesome breakfast spread before joining our day tour to the Rose Valley (no roses in summer, unfortunately) and the Kaymakli Underground City.
Ihlara Valley and Selime Monastery
Day two was a full day (6-7 hour, ~14km) hike with a private tour guide along the Ihlara Valley. A picture speaks a thousand words.
At the end of the hike was the Selime Monastery, where some say it is where some Star Wars scenes were filmed. It certainly resembles Tatooine, but I could not find an exact resemblance after Googling. Maybe I’ll watch all three episodes again and take a screen grab if I see it.
By the end of day two our feet were sore. A Turkish bath and a nice dinner at the hotel fixed everything.
Goreme Open Air Museum and Love Valley
We spent day three touring the Goreme Open Air Museum. I must emphasize that the extra tickets to the Dark Church is definitely worth the money if you are planning to go. Unfortunately, no photo taking was allowed (so they can sell their postcards, etc.)
We also attempted hiking through the Love Valley but it was too hot to continue, so we chilled out at a small hut, bought some drinks, took a couple of photos and returned to the hotel.
Cappadocia to Istanbul to Izmir, drive to Sirince
Day four was spent flying domestic from Cappadocia > Istanbul > Izmir, where we picked up our rental diesel Hyundai Accent from Erboy Car. Fuel is extremely expensive in Turkey (around TL 4.70 or US 2.20 for a litre of diesel) so a fuel economical diesel is a must.
It took me a while to get used to the left-hand-drive traffic. After a stressful drive through extremely narrow streets of a small village Sirince, we arrived at a small terrace house where we spent the night.
Ancient city of Ephesus, Basilica of St. John and House of Virgin Mary
The ancient city of Ephesus was a short 10-15 minute drive away from Sirince. It is a big city so if you are driving you’ll likely have to walk up and then walk the same distance back to your car.
I read about tourist traps offering “free” return bus rides, so we took the advice of the locals (from the village of Sirince) to park the car at the lower (south) gate, catch a horse carriage ride up to the upper (north) gate then walk back down towards our car.
By noon there was quite a crowd and I couldn’t get good pictures despite having my GoPro mounted on a long monopod. We left and drove to two other ancient sites nearby; The Basilica of St. John was nice, but nothing was left of the ruins of The Temple of Artemis except for one rebuilt pillar (I’d suggest not to waste your time).
We also drove up the mountains to the House of Virgin Mary. Unfortunately no photography was allowed and we left empty-handed and started our long journey to Pamukkale where we stopped mid-way for grocery shopping and … McDonalds!
After checking in to the Tripolis Hotel at Pamukkale we couldn’t resist the pool after five days under the hot sun. The view of the Travertines from the pool was amazing.
After a refreshing swim we proceeded to gobble down our complimentary dinner — which not very fantastic but had a fancy belly dance which was somewhat entertaining.
Travertines, Hierapolis and Paragliding
We set off a little later than usual on day six and made our way to the Travertines. We spent maybe an hour soaking in the limestone spring waters before we hiked to the Theater of the Hierapolis. The entire Hierapolis is massive and it was too hot out, so we did not continue.
We did, however, see people paragliding and went hunting for a paragliding company, joined them, and paraglided past the Hierapolis and Travertines.
We probably spent too much time paragliding so we skipped two archeological/ruins and drove straight to Bodrum.
We spent the evening enjoying a nice seafood meal (we haven’t had proper seafood yet) and watched the finals of the World Cup (Germany won) at a bar. Yes. Seafood, beer, world cup in Turkey by the beach. What could be better?
Istanbul, Mosque, Mosque and more Mosques
We took a flight from Bodrum back to Istanbul where we remained for the rest of our stay in Turkey. The first thing we did in the morning was to visit the Blue Mosque.
We also visited the Ayasofya, the Basilica of St. John, then wandered to the Grand Bazaar where our friend found the Suleymaniye mosque, which in my opinion, was a nicer mosque to visit. The Suleymaniye Mosque is not only bigger, it is about 50 years older than the Blue Mosque. What’s interesting is that the Suleymaniye Mosque’s architect Mimar Sinan was the teacher of the Blue Mosque’s architect Sedefkar Mehmed Agha, and because the teacher probably knew better, he designed the mosque with ventilation ducts which prevented the interior walls from turning black from candle smog in the old days before electric bulbs.
We took a tram, then switched to a bus to get to the Chora Museum. Apart from the Dark Church in the Goreme Open Air Museum, this is one of the most beautifully preserved churches we’ve seen.
The last few days were spent — well — shopping! No Singaporean goes overseas without shopping! There are many touristy shopping districts in Old Istanbul (European Continent). The popular ones are the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. I’d recommend not buying anything at the Grand Bazaar, and maybe some spices and coffee grounds from the popular store Mehmet Efendi at the Spice Bazaar. These two tourist districts are filled with unmarked prices and touting shopkeepers. Once you’ve seen those two places and had photos taken, take a tram and head straight across the bridge to New Istanbul. There’s a big shopping district/street starting from Taksim Square headed towards the south(west).
July 7-20, 2014
Caveat: July is probably during the worst time of the year to visit with the combination of hot summer and Ramadan (fasting month for Muslims). If you think hot and long summer days weren’t tiring enough, imagine being constantly awoken at 2am by drums for Muslims to have their pre-dawn meal.