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Mediterranean Turkey: Izmir

Cappadocia, Istanbul and Izmir


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Our shuttle to Kayseri airport was due to leave at 8 am; this was exactly the same time that breakfast was supposed to start. Luckily for us, the lovely owner of Star Cave Hotel kindly got some breakfast for us five minutes early!

The airport shuttle stopped at another hotel to pick up another couple. The journey to the airport was rushed; at one point the driver tried to run a red light but had to brake suddenly when he realised he wouldn't make it through if he carried on. The woman in the other couple started shouting and swearing at the driver, who said he was sorry but was in a big hurry because he was also delivering a passport urgently to someone who had forgotten it. The woman wouldn't let up about it, but by the time we arrived at the airport she had quietened down and even thanked him when she got off.

It was another sunny, clear day and throughout our shuttle journey we got a wonderful view of Mount Erciyes, which is an extinct volcano and the highest mountain in Cappadocia. Its peak looked covered in ice and snow.

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We were met by a 40 minute flight delay, but time passed quickly and then we were in the air, saying goodbye to Cappadocia. Our final destination of the day was Izmir, on the western coast, but we had to go via Istanbul. I was lucky enough to get a window seat, so I took lots of photos.

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The views were amazing, especially of the coastline of the Sea of Marmara as we got closer and closer to Istanbul. At one point before that, when we were still fairly near the centre of the country, I saw something strange - a huge area of whiteness, definitely not a cloud. It was quite far in the distance, but it looked like a massive white hole with water pouring inwards from every side - very surreal. I guessed it was probably a salt lake.

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Our 1hr 20 minute flight to Istanbul was followed by an hour's wait in transit and then another 1hr 20 minute flight to Izmir. Izmir is the 3rd biggest city in Turkey and lies on the coast of the Aegean Sea. It was formerly the fabled Greek city of Smyrna...

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We took a train from the airport to a station just round the corner from our hostel. Our room in this hostel - ('Shantihome') - did not have a lock; apparently it went against the philosophy of the owners to have locks on the doors... Oh well - we were only here for one night, so we just took our valuables out with us when we headed out for dinner and a walk-round.

We were in the leafy neighbourhood of Alcansak, next to the seafront - the sea being the Aegean Sea! Neither Dave nor I had been to this sea before. Izmir is apparently a proudly liberal city for Turkey, and I soon noticed a much higher proportion of women not wearing headscarves than we'd seen in Istanbul and Cappadocia. There appeared to be fewer mosques, too.The atmosphere did seem to have a Mediterranean tinge to it, with the liberality I mentioned before, the lemon tree we could see out of our window, the mussel stalls on the pavements in front of nearly every café and restaurant, and the palm trees.

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After Skopje and Ruse, in Macedonia and Bulgaria, it was lovely to see that Izmir has made a lot of their waterfront. It's beautiful, with a wide stretch of well-kept grass and walkways. There's no beach, but rather a very low brick wall laid with wooden planks for people to sit on. Although I think the tide was in, the sea was too low to be able to touch it when I sat with my legs over the edge.

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After walking around for a while we stopped in a pedestrian street parallel to the seafront for dinner at a café. I had a delicious type of kebab I'd never had before, which I think was local to Izmir; it had tomato sauce, yoghurt, parsley and either beef or lamb as well as flatbread. Dave had a mixed kebab which came with rice, salad and yoghurt. To finish, Dave had Turkish tea and I had my best Turkish coffee yet - all the ones I've had so far have been good, but this was the absolute best so far.

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Posted by 3Traveller 14:55 Archived in Turkey Tagged volcanoes hotel airport cappadocia turkey istanbul izmir hostel dave turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

Lazy day

Göreme


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After a week and a bit of being very busy, we decided to do nothing very much today apart from relaxing in the hotel courtyard and strolling around town. We lay in, had a delicious and very leisurely breakfast, wrote emails and just sat around in the lovely courtyard, surrounded by birdsong and grape vines.

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In the evening we had dinner at an extremely atmospheric restaurant called Dibek, where we ate at an extremely low table whilst lounging on cushions.

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We shared dishes such as cacik, which is a yoghurt and cucumber dish similar to tzaziki and tarator; shepherd's salad; grated beetroot (on the house); and the main dish - a pottery kebab with rice! This is a local speciality of meat chunks and vegetables baked for hours (literally - we had to give at least 6 hours' notice) in a clay pot sealed with bread - in such a way that the lid of the pot has to be smashed to get at the food inside. For dessert we shared a dish called Aside or Asida; a local dish of flour mixed with oil and grape molasses. To top off such a lovely meal, I had a delicious Turkish coffee.

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Posted by 3Traveller 11:39 Archived in Turkey Tagged cappadocia turkey dave turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Göreme Open Air Museum

Cappadocia


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Edit from March 2019: There wasn't enough room in the title, but the UNESCO Site is actually called 'Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia'. The open air museum is only part of it.

After our second breakfast we began our tour of the local area. To do this we joined up with a tour run by a local travel agent and organised for us by our hotel; usually we prefer travelling independently, but decided to give an organised tour a go this time.

We visited two sets of rock formations first- climbed around and admired some 'fairy chimneys' and some shaped like other things- for example a camel, a hand, two whirling dervishes, the Virgin Mary with her arms crossed.

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There were some fantastic views of the Devnent Valley and the wider Cappadocian landscape - all creamy and pinkish stone, olive trees, small fields of pumpkin plants, vineyards... Some of the rock formations had dwellings in them, now empty; two had been churches.

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At the first one I had an accident - I walked into the end of an olive branch, which scratched my forehead quite badly. Not much blood at all though luckily. The scratches stung like mad for a while but don't hurt at all any more. They are however embarrassingly very visible.

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In the nearby town of Ürgüp we were given a tour of a government-run Turkish carpet workshop - it was interesting to see some weavers at work, a man getting silk threads from cocoons of the silkworm and hear a bit about the process of making the rugs.

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It did however end with half an hour of sales techniques being tried on us, which we could have done without. After showing us round, the main guy herded us all into a big showroom, gave us tea, coffee or the local spirit and talked about carpets while other guys showed them to us. Then he gave an order, stepped aside and a crowd of salesmen all came in and nabbed us sitting targets... Cue awkwardness all round. There were some absolutely gorgeous rugs, but quite rightly (given how incredibly long each one takes to be made by hand) they were all extremely expensive, so we didn't get any. I don't think anyone actually bought anything.

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Lunch was very good - a collection of various salads and hot dishes, with some lovely puddings; fruit jellies, syrupy batter balls, fruit and a delicious chocolate blancmange-type thing. The view we got from the terrace outside was fabulous, too. We saw man-made door-shaped holes in cliffs and rock formations in the distance- apparently these were pigeon houses! Like dovecotes I suppose.

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We were also shown round a pottery workshop, saw a pot being thrown and painters painting plates by hand in traditional patterns. This time we weren't given the hard sell, which was good, but we still didn't buy anything because even the smallest thing was too expensive.

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We also saw a historic fortress very dramatically set within one giant rock formation, but people aren't allowed to climb it for safety reasons. So we only looked from afar.

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Last up was the place I most wanted to see; the Göreme Open Air Museum, a collection of rock-hewn churches. It's part of the Göreme Valley, itself part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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I loved the creamy curves of the stone, and the frescoes within.

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One of them, the church of St Barbara, had some very enigmatic, simple red frescoes which looked almost like Aboriginal Australian rock paintings. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures inside.

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I also loved the small but excellent exhibition of photos of Cappadocia taken from hot air balloons, which was in another of the churches.

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I did have another accident here though - this time I stepped into a hole and bashed my shin against the edge of the metal grille. The grille was supposed to cover a whole hole where a grave had once been, but stopped short. This is the chapel where it happened;

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For dinner that evening we went a café recommended in my guidebook; I had a delicious spiral vegetable- stuffed pastry thingy with tomato sauce and yoghurt, and Dave had a tuna salad. I had a chocolate and caramel Turkish ice cream to follow, but Dave didn't have anything.

Posted by 3Traveller 02:16 Archived in Turkey Tagged art cappadocia turkey museum dave fortifications natural_wonder unesco_world_heritage_site turkish_cuisine Comments (1)

Hot air balloon flight

Cappadocia


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Well, what can I say...

The time is now 07:45; we got back from our hot air balloon trip over an hour ago and I still haven't come down from my high yet! It was just unreal... The fulfilment of a lifelong dream... And in one of the most wonderful settings imaginable! Floating over fabulous 'fairy chimney' rock formations, we saw the sunrise, the second-largest mountain in Turkey, vineyards, the Unesco World Heritage Site and an ancient town we'll be seeing from ground level later today, bare hills and enscarpments and last but not least, lots of other balloons. The sight of the sky filled with colourful hot air balloons is something I've always dreamed of seeing.

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The balloon pilots were clearly extremely skilful, able to use the flame and manipulate what wind there was to go within only a few metres of the ground at some points, getting us close up to the World Heritage Site for example, before rising up again. The highest we got was 650 metres (on weekdays they can't go any higher due to aeroplane flight paths; at weekends they can go up to 800 metres).

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Our balloon flight lasted an hour and two minutes (the main pilot told us) and we landed in a harvested cornfield close to Göreme. We were given champagne - it was the first champagne I've ever had that I've actually liked, because I could actually taste the grapes and I couldn't taste the underlying tannins or whatever it is that usually turns me off wine in general. We also got a beautiful flight certificate each.

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Time for our second breakfast now... (our first breakfast was at about 04:30, part of the balloon trip deal). Then on for a day tour of the local surroundings!

Posted by 3Traveller 01:41 Archived in Turkey Tagged cappadocia turkey hot_air_balloons dave Comments (1)

Arrival in Cappadocia

Istanbul and Göreme


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At 03.15 am we got a shuttle to Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Waiting for the shuttle at three am, we were expecting all the streets to be deserted, but to our surprise we saw several men sitting at tables in front of closed restaurants and cafés, chatting with friends. We guessed it might be something to do with Ramadan - I know that they can't eat until sundown, so they need to get all their meals in during the night.

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At the airport there was a beautiful exhibition of travel photography to look at while we waited for our flight, which took off half an hour late at about 07.30.

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An hour and five minutes after that we arrived at Nevşehir Airport, where we were picked up and taken to our amazing hostel/hotel in Göreme.

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Fantastic place, fantastic setting amongst lots of fabulous 'fairy chimney' rock formations. Our hotel is built into one of them! We were welcomed with free tea, coffee and plate of delicious, moist cheese puff things.

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After half an hour or so of sitting in the lovely courtyard, we were allowed to check in early. Our room is amazing! it's cavernous yet comfortable, with stone walls and ceiling, a tiled floor, cupboards cut out of the walls and archway over the head of our bed. There's a terrace above us with a spectacular view...

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We caught up on sleep for several hours, before venturing out to explore. It is so pleasant here! Just round the corner from our hotel was a large area of ground covered in piled-up blocks of white stone - a stonemason had clearly been at work here in the open air, though he wasn't to be seen at that moment.

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Five minutes later, just as we passed a mosque the muezzin began his call to prayer. After a lovely wander round town we had an early dinner at a café - a Turkish savoury pancake and some rice pudding for me, a sandwich for Dave and a chocolate milkshake each.

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Posted by 3Traveller 12:25 Archived in Turkey Tagged art night hotel airport cappadocia turkey istanbul dave turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

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