Reflections on Turkey

Lucy . We entered Turkey with high hopes of seeing ancient wonders and tasting mouth watering sweets - we did both and more! . The fairy chimneys looked more like sandstone mountains, to be honest. Some of them were tall and thin, others were fat and short. There were thousands of doors and rooms. The people were fleeing from their enemies, so they carved out houses from the rock. They were all very cool inside. . We had to get up far too early to go on the roof with hot chocolate and cold feet to watch the balloons rising with huge belches of fire to make them rise. It looked beautiful. . Me and Alisha went to a cave, took out the rubbish; tidied it up; decorated it with flowers; and pretended we lived there. I would love to live in a place like that. The underground city was huge: room after room; tunnel after tunnel winding ceaselessly through the mountain. Down, down into the earth. They even had circular stones to close up doors, so the enemy couldn't get in. . At Sagalassos I loved the amphitheater, we walked around the bottom imagining what it would have been like to be a gladiator. Then we climbed to the very top, where the women had to sit far away from the action, and I watched the gladiators fighting in my mind. We went to an island, where we met an old friend of Daddy's, we had breakfast there at his friends. There were olives, tomatoes, cheese, 5 types of jam, eggs, fruit, home made bread, and more - it was a glorious feast! They had an amazing garden with lots of lavender. . We saw Alper again in Istanbul, we stayed in his house. We did lots of dancing with Dina and cooking. . I was sad to leave Turkey but I have lovely memories and I always know there are more adventures ahead of us. . Alisha . Turkey is a diverse country, we only scratched the surface of the place. It has an incredibly diverse history and culture, in places though it is incredibly sad. Gallipoli was a place where tragic things happened and both sides lost thousands.(Though I think that war is pointless why can't they play a game of football even though if they played against Middlesborough they would win anyway) What is also interesting is the contrast between the two sides: on one side (Or hand whichever you prefer) there is this very Muslim, very holy and sacred community where every way you look there is a woman in a headscarf. On the other a widely western culture where you can really feel it's European ties (not so much of a great thing as far as miniskirts are concerned.) Many feel the pull towards Turkey and its split personality. Me included. But one thing for sure, too much sightseeing gives you sore feet. Gilly . As our last country in Asia and our first in Europe, Turkey has given us some wonderful experiences. . The memory of waking up to a hundred hot air balloons flying over the truck in Goreme still sends shivers down my spine, it was so beautiful. Hiking through the valleys amongst the stone pillars and exploring the abandoned cave houses felt like doing the sort of "adventuring" you imagine in your wildest dreams when you are a kid. Visiting the island of Bozcaada, was an unexpected delight. Usually small islands and trucks don't mix but thanks to our friend Alper, not only did we have a great place to park but also a fabulous time and met lots of fascinating people. We all quickly fell in love with the place. In fact on the ferry back to the mainland Lucy asked what the name of the island actually meant, I admitted I had no idea. "I think it must mean island of beauty," she replied. Steve . After four years of travelling I was thinking I might be becoming jaded and that it was hard for a country to impress, so I was surprised at how much I loved Turkey. It was helped by meeting Alper, a former colleague and friend, and him sharing his enthusiasm and wonderful hospitality. . Turkey was a dream to travel in. Great sights, history and culture but also some wonderful places to camp. We are really wanting to make the most of our last times wild camping away from it all and Turkey offered plenty of opportunities to do this. Either in amongst the fairy chimneys of Goreme or overlooking the sparkling Agean Sea in Gallipoli. Bozcaada was a completely unexpected gem and one we would never have known about if Alper had not invited us. It really was the idyllic isle with great food and friendly people to share it with. It was a very special few days. As we crossed back into Europe the pace of life seemed to increase a bit. Istanbul is a dynamic massive city and we really only scratched the surface. Still the sights were fantastic and it was lovely to finish our time there with a wonderful meal at a fantastic restaurant. A fitting end to a wonderful three weeks in Turkey.

Istanbul (not Constantinople)

"Istanbul was Constantinople, Now it is Istanbul, not Constantinople Been a long time gone, Constantinople Now it's a Turkish delight on a moonlit night" . The "They Might Be Giants" song has been going round our heads and out of the children's mouth almost constantly since we left the island of Bozcaada heading for Istanbul. . First though, it was a stop a the beautifully wild but terribly poignant peninsula of Gallopoli. Covered in pine forest with steep cliffs interspersed with shallow turquoise bays, it was were 130,000 young men died in the First World War. The peninsula is dotted with graveyards and memorials to the brave that fought and died there. The Gallipoli Simulation Centre's interactive 3-D historical journey about the campaign was too realistic for the girls but Steve and I found it very informative. Lone Pine Cemetery was powerfully peaceful, surrounded by thousands of Anzac graves, we looked down at the languid azure waters way below. You could still see the trenches nearby, where the opposing forces were just metres away from each other. Anzac Bay was also peaceful now, it was hard to imagine the horrors that unfolded there just over a hundred years ago. We can understand why it has become a place of pilgrimage for people from Australia and New Zealand. There is a lovely quote from Ataturk, the founder of modern day Turkey who was an important commander during the campaign, several years later. His words for peace and reconciliation, were written at Ariburna Sahil Aniti, one of the Turkish memorials: . "To us there is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mahmets...You mothers, who sent away your sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom. Having lost their lives in this land, they have become our sons as well." Gallipoli was also a place for a couple of fabulous wild camps, our first night we found a spot on top of the cliffs surrounded by forest next to the remains of several gun batteries. The smell of pine trees from one side, mingled with the sent of the sea. Steve walked down to W Beach and was amazed to find people swimming amongst the skeletons of the landing vessels of the Gallipoli campaign. The second night we drove down a firebreak in the forest and found a parking spot right on the edge of a cliff with a tiny sandy beach below. Once the few local families had packed up and left and we had put the girls to bed, I couldn't resist going for a relaxing swim as the sun set. It was so nice, that we swapped babysitting duties so Steve could cool off before bed too. We skirted the Sea of Marmara coast as we made our way North-East to the north of Istanbul for more wonderful hospitality from Alper, Steve's friend and former colleague. I am sure when we ask the girls what they remember best about Istanbul it will be hanging out at Alper's house: everyone cooking a different course for supper, eating, relaxing and chatting. When Dina arrived the following day, they loved her as well, as she got them up dancing and swapping recipes. We are all experiencing a period of change, so there were lots of interesting discussions and ideas flying around. However, you can't come to Istanbul and not appreciate its wonderful heritage and history so we dragged ourselves away to the city on both days. The Aya Sofya was built in the 6th Century AD, first a church, then a mosque and now a museum. It's gigantic proportions awed us but we we were touched by the delicate nature of the Byzantine mosaics of Christ and his apostles on its walls. The Blue Mosque gets its unofficial name from the Iznik tiles that adorn its interior. It's one of Istanbul's biggest mosques and one of its busiest. We mistakenly arrived just before prayer time but while we waited for the worshipers, we were invited for a presentation about the mosque and Islam from volunteers in the adjoining Islamic Education Centre. It was fascinating as well as restorative, with air con, drinks and snacks. Later while Steve and I marvelled at the mosque's interior beauty, the girls tried to spot the ostrich shells suspended from the lofty ceiling to deter spiders. The Grand Bazaar is in the heart of the old city and while we didn't want to buy anything it was fascinating to wander its arched walk ways and marvel at the different areas of commerce. The Spice Market held a similar thrall with exotic smells bursting from all of the shops. Each enticing visitors with displays of teas, spices and jewel coloured Turkish delight. Here we couldn't resist the wares on sale as we were tempted in by free chocolates and different flavours of Turkish delight, the pomegranate was a particular favourite. The following day we headed to the Topkapi Palace, the palace of the sultans where we were dazzled by the harem and palaces. It was said the sultan rarely left the palace and whilst it was a beautiful place where his every need and wish was looked after it must have felt a bit like been a prisoner. Still there were superb views over the Bosphorus from the palace walls. On our last evening, we met with Alper and Dina on the banks of the Bosphorus. There is something very magical about crossing the water to a different continent, Asia, by ferry as the sun starts to sink in the sky. It highlights Istanbul's unique position and character. We crossed back to Europe in time to eat at Aheste, one of Alper's favourite restaurants owned by a family friend were we were wowed with a deliciously diverse selection of meze, each small plate holding a different burst of flavour on the palate. The girls were delighted to chat to Alper's friend, who asked them all about our trip. And they were even more delighted, as we were touched, with the pile of profiteroles with 4 candles to celebrate our 4 year anniversary on the road. That night as we arrived home a huge yellow moon hung over the trees. The last line of the first verse of the song "Now it's a Turkish delight on a moonlit night." Seemed to ring particularly true. Istanbul, it was too short - we will be coming back. . With sad hearts, and probably a few extra pounds of weight, we left Istanbul next morning and headed for the border with Greece. We found a quiet spot beside a lake for the night, just a few kilometres from the border.

Idyllic Island Life

As the ferry crossed the short stretch of water between the mainland and Bozcaada, Alper, my former work colleague, said people either love or hate the island. It didn't take long to decide which category we fell into.. What was there not to love; the deep blue of the sea, the lovely little beaches, the vineyards and olive groves dotting the hillsides, the cool breeze while watching the sun set into the ocean. Or was it the lovely fresh sea food, the slow cooked lamb or the locally produced wines. Maybe it was just the pace of life, yes it was busy in parts with tourists enjoying the beauty but it was easy to get away from it all. Maybe it was just the islanders themselves. We met a number of them during our short stay, all wonderfully hospitable, some had been living there for years others returned to the island each year being pulled back by its beauty.  In particular Nejat and Umit who ran the Baghane guesthouse where Alper was staying could not have been more gracious hosts. Each morning we were invited for breakfast. As we traveled through Turkey we had seen Turkish breakfasts advertised and were keen to try one. Here we were spoilt for choice; freshly baked bread, local olives, juicy plump tomatoes and homemade jams together with an assortment of cheeses and local delicacies. All washed down with great conversation and company. We were fuelled for the day. We would never have gone to Bozcaada if it hadn't been for Alper. I had worked with Alper for a number of years in Central and Eastern Europe and he had just retired. He had been visiting Bozcaada for years and had recently bought some land on the island where he had planted olive trees. As he had seen we were passing close by he had invited us to stay. We were a little concerned that the truck might prove too big for the small island but the ferry was a breeze and once we had negotiated the narrow street of the only town on the island we easily navigated the country lanes. And Alper had the perfect place for us to stay, on his land with the tiny olive plantations. It was just perfect. We parked on a ridge with views down to the sea. There was a lovely breeze to cool the hot sun and we had the perfect view of the sun setting into the the blue Aegean Sea. We spent a wonderful few days on the island with Alper, swimming in the clear but cool sea, tasting some of the local wines, meeting many of the locals and enjoying some wonderful Turkish seafood at the local restaurants. It was great to catch up with Alper, to hear what he had been up to and what his plans were now he was "retired". It was a perfect end to a wonderful week in Turkey. The beginning of the week had been quite different and was all about the Romans. We had travelled from Sagalassos to Pamukkale. Pamukkale is famous for its gleaming white calcite travertines over which spill warm mineral waters. The waters have been bathed in for centuries as can be seen from the wonderful ruins of Hierapolis just above the travertines. . It was here that we started our tour wandering around the ruins and the spectacular roman theatre. But it was to the travertines that we gravitated as thousands of people had before and the day we went was no exception. Who could resist paddling or bathing on the waters on the glistening bright white terraces especially as it was baking hot. After enjoying a nice soak, we had a choice to make. Should we head on a short distance to some more Roman ruins or should we head up the hill away from the crowds to a campsite with a swimming pool? The baking sun overhead sealed the decision, it was up to the campsite we headed for a relaxing afternoon by the pool. The next day we headed to one of the largest Roman cities, the fabled city of Ephesus. Ephesus is close to the sea so we looked at camping right on the beach but decided we just couldn't face the crowds so instead camped underneath the castle in the nearby town of Selcuk. From here it was only a short walk to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis. Unfortunately only one of the 127 columns is still standing. It did though wet our appetite for the main show, the ancient Roman city of Ephesus. The ruins here were on a grand scale and certainly were the best Roman ruins I have seen outside of Rome. The Great Theatre once held 25,000 people and you could not fail to be impressed by it. Then there was the Library of Celsius which had been extensively restored and whose facade was just stunning. All along the way there were temples and arches and it was fascinating wandering the marbled streets of an old Roman city. At the end we entered a separate section, the terraced houses where the houses of wealthy families had been preserved and restored. Inside here you could see mosaics on the floors and paintings still on the walls. It was a wonderful insight into ancient Roman life. While we were in Ephesus there was another special event we had to celebrate. Alisha's 12th birthday. It was the 5th Birthday that she has celebrated on the road and we are really proud how she has developed into a delightful young lady. She has celebrated birthdays on this trip in Canada, Bolivia, Botswana, Malaysia and now Turkey. . The campsite where we were staying was an ideal spot for a birthday celebration. It was a cross between a campsite and a farmyard so Alisha shared her birthday with the geese, goats, sheep, chickens and a particularly friendly cat. As is customary, Gilly and Lucy baked a delicious birthday cake. It was then a long drive up the coast to meet Alper for him to take us to the idyllic island just a short ferry crossing across the Aegean. A delightful end to a fantastic week. Perhaps we should just stay!