Sunday, 13 November 2011

Eid Break to Turkey

We've just come back from Turkey.

It was brilliant.

We had a little hotel in the Sultanamet area, Adora Hotel, which was perfect for our needs.  A small breakfast provided each morning, a room with a firm bed, a bathroom, a WiFi, and extremely friendly and helpful staff.

Adora Hotel, Istanbul


Fortunately we were informed before departure that it would be cold in Turkey, so I had packed a couple of pairs of pants and my favourite possum and wool mix jersey.  Living in Saudi such items are not generally required, so they were retrieved from the storage bag shoved up the back of the top cupboard.

Swanning in the Saudi Sunshine can make one forget how cold the cold can be, so I still had to buy a scarf,  another pair of pants because I decided 8 days in my 2 pairs of adidas trackies could become an issue, and a jacket - a lovely Turkish leather one - because it really was cold in Turkey.

It was raining on arrival in Istanbul and continued to drizzle on our first couple of days - not heavy rain, but enough to get you wet if you stood outside for long.  We didn't mind.  It was nice to see rain for a change.  Though for the rest of our trip the sun came out and, so long as we stayed out of the shade, it was possible to get warm enough to remove the possum jumper from beneath the jacket.

Arrangements for this trip were left up to me because Glenn had his hands full with that thing called 'work'.  I did run a couple of ideas and prices past him, but honestly, all I could count on was him being too busy to actually give a toss about anything I showed him, so really, this was my holiday :)

So here is how our Turkey trip panned out.

Scanning Trip Advisor I found a couple of highly recommended Tour Guide operations.  Having used a tour guide at the Vatican, I decided a similar service would be required for all the sights in Istanbul, and though it is possible to find guides on arrival, Glenn had assured me he wanted to relax not be farting around organising stuff, so pre-booking was, I decided, in his best interests. 

Timely replies to e-mails, especially personally written replies not the 'thanks for your enquiry' computer generated speel, always creates a good impression.   So, we booked Turkey Tours by Local Guides for two days and were not disappointed.

Our first tour was of Istanbuls historic sights - a full day but everything listed as 'something to see' was seen and fully explained.  I also have a new appreciation for Turkish tiles and marble.

Tiled tap

Room for lounging

Marble Jar, Hagia Sophia
The next day Abdil, our guide, drove us to Gallipoli and spent time explaining the war effort there.  We knew there had been an enormous loss of life at Gallipoli.  This visit opened up our eyes to the losses on both sides, Allied and Turkish, and to the living conditions and battling that both sides had to endure for eight months.

 Kabatebe Museum

Anzac Cove memorial

The Sphinx...Sari Bair

We did wonder why there now existed such a strong relationship between Turkey and the Anzacs given we were trying to invade their country.  The response, 'it was an honorable fight'. 

It was another full day, and we're glad we went.

On the way back we picked up two young hitch hikers, a young woman from Lithuania and young man from Sweden who asked numerous questions in between regaling us with stories of his travels.  Oh to be young and carefree again - though sleeping in a tent in the cold....hmmmmm....I'm over that thanks.

Happy travels.

I had intended to hire a car and spend a couple of days driving to Selcuk to check out Ephesus and a few coastal places but Glenn was not keen on a drive - he just wanted to relax.  My pleas to please let me get behind the wheel of a car so I could drive (life in Saudi is sending me in to vehicular withdrawal) and he could just chill in the passenger seat were met with a determined steely gaze and set bulldog face - that's his "NO" look.
So into a travel agent I popped one evening to enquire on the price of bus tickets.  Out I came with flight tickets to Izmir and a two day tour of Ephesus and Pamukkale with the promise of door-to-door delivery from our Istanbul hotel and back again.  The only thing we would have to think about is dinner.  Glenn could relax once more, and the hit on his wallet wasn't too bad either.

That tour was seamless. 
Everything happened as stated.
It is astounding how much history is buried beneath Turkish soil. They will be uncovering it for a while yet, me-thinks.
Ephesus Ruins
And there is so much marble. Cunning plans for walking off with some constantly crossing my mind.

Now, this should be in marble :)

Whose that getting in my shot???
Our guide, Mahmet, told us their is a bit of raruraru (angst) between the Tourism Head Honchos and the Archeology Fraternity.  One wants the other to hurry up and get things uncovered and restored for tourism purposes.  The other side wants to do the job slowly and properly.  As a tourist, I'm on the slowly and properly team.  It would be great to be part of an excavation, to actually go through that slow painstaking soil dusting discovery of history.  I'd pay tourist dollars for that!  Maybe that could be a Turkish Tours idea.

Of course no tour of Turkey is complete without a stop off to look at Turkish rugs, a little of video of which I will put on my next blog entry, cos this one is getting a little long.

We were also privvy to a leather jacket fashion show. 


Lovely jackets.  And yes, I bought one.

Glenn kinda wishes we had spent another day around Selcuk and Pamukkale.  Seeing the Turkish countyside and smaller villages gave him a hankering to get out of the city and get to know to people. 

We contemplated our plans for a return visit while bathing in the hot pools at the Hierapolis-Pamukkale Heritage site in our underwear, having left our bathing gear on the bus.  The water at Pamukkale is so clear it is obvious you are in your underwear.  I'm thankful I had thrown a long singlet into my luggage in response to the cold weather warning and was wearing it, as this day I hadn't worn my best knickers!  I didn't care, the water was beautiful.

Swimming over ancient ruins.

On our return to Istanbul we went back to Mesut of U-Can Travel and let him know how happy we were.  I have to say, I am truly impressed with the reliability of Turkish Tourism.

It is easy to forget that Turkey is a Muslim country.  Salah does ring out through the day and tourists are requested to vacate mosques so the locals can pray but, unlike Saudi, Islam is not forced. 

There is also a buzz, a beat, an energy about Turkey, a sense that the people have worked hard, are still working hard, and waited years for results and now they are on the verge of reaping rewards.  Such a feeling of heart and promise is missing in Saudi.  Saudi heart is only allowed to be seen in private and expressed cautiously. 

We had a few free days in Istanbul to womble around on our own, so we caught the ferry to the Asian side one day, which has a slower pace than Istanbul...

Lunch on the Asian side
..and the next day ambled our way back from Taksim Square down lively Istaklal Street with is trams, shoppers and lone pan piper, stopping for lunch under Galata Tower at Kiva with its Mysterious Tastes of Anatolia, which included Lamb Shanks - that was me, I was in.


Lamb Shanks at Kiva

We visited Suleymaniye Hamam twice.  It's a mixed Hamam and the first time I've ever had a Turkish Bath experience.  Loved it.  Lying around on fire heated marble, throwing water over yourself and then getting a massage and scrub - heavenly.  I would have photos, but the steam would've buggered my camera so here's the only shots I have.

Changing rooms

After the event, wrapped in my towels.
Glenn spotted a gift shop on one of our trips to the Hamam so we spent half a day wandering around the back streets of Istanbul looking for it and discovered a street full of craftsmen handmaking their wares.


And every day was a new place to eat.
Oh, the food.

We learnt, very quickly, that back street diners are much cheaper and the food quality is still fantastic.  Sure, the major hotels provide meals with finesse that western palates feel more comfortable consuming, but for local tastes and dishes you can't beat a side street.

Here's a little slide show with photo's from our trip to Turkey for the Eid Break

Turkey, November, 2011 Slideshow: Gaelene’s trip from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Turkey was created by TripAdvisor. See another Turkey slideshow. Take your travel photos and make a slideshow for free.


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