Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Luxury" on the Midnight Express!

Surely Robyn won't recall that the 1970's movie "Midnight Express" was about a foolish tourist who suffers deprivations and torture at the hands of repulsive guards in a ghoulish Turkish prison.  If she does, then she's probably already feeling very nervous, or conclude that my title of "Luxury" on the midnight express is just another of my pathetic oxymorons.

Speaking of morons, clearly I'm not overburdened when it comes to brains or thoughtfulness and friends regularly remind me of my selfish, unimaginative, unromantic, tight-arse ways, and they're quick to point out that Robyn deserves a more "european experience" and not the usual "3rd world asian cesspit" backpacker type holiday for which I'm renowned.

So my dilemma is how to indulge Robyn with her europe style holiday expectations whilst keeping within my strict asian-centric cheap and cheerful budget criteria. 

Could there be such a compromise!!!
We've already determined that mental capacity is not my strong point but if I cast my mind back 40 years to school geography I recall that the continents of europe and asia are separated by the narrow Bosphorus Strait that cuts through Turkey.

Turkey!.......of course....... I'm a genius.

Leafing through the pages of my trusty 1971 school atlas and utilising other similar technology travel resources, I've managed to prepare a Turkey itinerary that sees us travelling from Istanbul and hitting the highlights in the following regions, including:
  • Pilgrimage to Gallipoli from nearby Canakkale,
  • Splashing around the Aegean coast, exploring Ephesus and the ancient ruins around Selcuk,
  • Partaking in therapeutic hot springs of the amazing travertines at Pamukkale,
  • Trek along the world acclaimed Lycian Way in the vicinity of Kayakoy and Cirali.
  •  Hot air ballooning over the spectacular rocky moonscape countryside of Cappadocia and delve through the regions ancient underground cities,
  • Before returning to truly experience the sights, sounds and flavours of the historic and romantic city of Istanbul.
Turkey map and route

Twenty six hours after leaving home, including a 5 hour stopover in Dubai we eventually arrive into Istanbul.  If there's one piece of Istanbul airport information that I remembered from my research, it was to seek out the obscure visa counter prior to heading for the more conspicuous passport control queue.  Many tired, angry, red-faced passengers obviously missed this important first step and are fuming as they storm back through the long snaking passport queue.

Brisbane to Istanbul via Dubai
Our home for the next few days is the Esans Hotel   centrally located in the middle of Sultanhamet in the old city.  On the shore of the Bosphorus Strait and fantastic views and easy walking to the areas many amazing Mosques.

View from Esans Hotel.
Pleasant stroll with plenty of cafe options along the way
Giving some bait tips to the local fishermen at Galata Bridge
View north up the Bosphorus
Amazing scenery on a Bosphorus cruise
Sunset dining under the Galata Bridge
With rain and cooler weather predicted we choose to pack up a day earlier than anticipated and head south to Canakkale and Gallipoli.


Istanbul traffic is gridlocked this morning so our taxi drops us and we walk the remaining 400 metres to the bus depot, it's raining, we have to negotiate a pot-holed muddy road, it's a multi level bus terminal, hundreds of buses, dozens of ticket counters, no english signs, no one speaks english, I have no Turkish.....what could possibly go wrong....
Despite the odds against us the local people are very friendly and they quickly usher us indoors and help organise tickets.  We're heading for Canakkale, so in my finest nasally australian accent I ask for tickets to Cana-kale.  In response I receive only blank expressions, eventually we work out that I'm really after tickets to Chin-ark-kar-lay.  
$40 and five hours later we arrive in downtown Canakkale (Chin-ark-kar-lay).

Far from being a nondescript town and only servicing the main tourist centres of Gallipoli and Troy, Canakkale is a hip university town and turns out to be a very pleasant little stopover.  We're more than happy with our choice of the Helen Hotel which is centrally located to the town square, numerous good restaurants and popular promenade. 

Canakkale promenade
Important to stay hydrated
Don't feed the animals
The history of Troy is well known and recently revitalised thanks to the Brad Pitt and Eric Bana movie.  Unfortunately neither Hector, Achilles, Paris or Helen were available to show us around the ruins but as it's only 30 kilometres from Canakkale, well worth an afternoons outing.
6000 year old ruins of Troy
Why would I want Helen of Troy when I have Robyn of Albany Creek

The infamous Gallipoli campaign.
Robyn appreciates the ANZAC legend but is unsure of the background behind the Gallipoli campaign so I've attempted to summarise my understanding to her in 100 words or less;

The Gallipoli Peninsula is a finger of land running parallel down the west coast of Turkey.  The Peninsula is separated from the mainland by the Dardanelles, a narrow waterway linking the Mediterranean through the Sea of Marmara up to Constantinople (Istanbul) and through to the Black Sea and Russia.

It's 1915 and Britain and her allies (Australia, New Zealand, Russia, France & others) are in the midst of the Great War against Germany and Turkey (and others).
If Britain and her allies can seize the Gallipoli Peninsula they hope to control the Dardanelles, invade and occupy the Turkish capital Constantinople (Istanbul), open supply routes through to the Russian allies and hopefully bring a quicker end to this terrible war.
Thus the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Dardanelles is of great strategic value to the free world.

The campaign begins with allies including ANZAC's (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.) landings on the narrow peninsula beaches on April 25, 1915 only to be met and massacred by incessant Turkish machine-gun fire coming from the steep, high cliffs above.
Generally regarded as a disaster from the very beginning and mismanaged by governments and senior army leaders, this 9 month murderous blood bath resulted in over 350,000 troops killed or wounded from both sides.

Included amongst the hundreds of thousands of troops fighting to survive at Gallipoli was my grandfather trooper Christie Nielsen.

Trooper Christie Nielsen (circa 1914)
Grandad was a member of the Australian 5th Light Horse Regiment and we are fortunate to have his memoirs with us as we tour the battlefields trying to imagine what it must have been like living through the hell that was the Gallipoli campaign.  Today the setting is beautiful but reading of Pop's daily routines where no one is safe from Turkish snipers, "broomstick" mortar bombs continually raining down, or chatting with your mate one minute then the next your carrying his dead body away is totally incomprehensible.  So young, so much horror.  Grandad survived Gallipoli only to be shot and severely wounded on his 24th birthday in a Sinai battlefield.  After weeks of care at numerous medical stations he was eventually evacuated by hospital ship back to Australia.  Grandad survived the war and his injuries, became a pioneering sugar cane farmer in north queensland, married his beloved Violet and raised 5 children.  As one of his eleven grandchildren I proudly bear his name. 

Grandad's 5th Light Horse regiment came ashore here and defended Brighton Beach for 9 months.
ANZAC Cove, a bomb throw from Brighton Beach

Lone Pine memorial
"Sphinx" in the distance and another battlefield cemetery.
One of the many immaculate ANZAC cemeteries
Only nineteen

As we wander through the many immaculately maintained cemeteries we discover numerous headstones to Pop's fellow 5th Light Horse trooper mates.  Grandad through his memoirs relates a story of he and 2 mates returning to their lines after spending the night out in no-man's land on listening patrol.  Pop stopped to chat in the trenches with another bloke from his home town whilst his 2 patrol mates continued on to lines.  A few minutes later a bomb shell burst not far away.  Shortly thereafter stretcher bearers came hurrying past carrying the bodies of his 2 patrol companions.  Many thoughts run through your mind as you view the headstones of these young boys and men, perhaps trooper Rose was one of the unfortunate diggers in Pop's account.
Former Turkish President and Gallipoli veteran, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk stated it beautifully in his tribute to the Anzacs killed at Gallipoli:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us. Where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours … You mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away the tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace after having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.”

Lest we forget


The turkish bus system is fantastic with great inter-city coaches and smaller mini vans linking towns and villages and we're on the dolmus everyday exploring the region.
Due to the end of the 9 day Bayram holiday period our travel options are very limited and we end up getting the last 2 seats on a midnight bus (no not the midnight express) to Selcuk.
8 hours later after another interesting mega bus terminal interchange complete with associated communication difficulties we arrive at the sleepy little town of Selcuk and an early checkin to Homeros Pension.

Historical Ephesus and the seaside resort town of Kusadasi are the main attractions in this region.
A lesser known but interesting fact is that Selcuk is also home to the annual camel wrestling championships.  Friends of ours will be aware of Robyn's fascination with these unpredictable beasts and as the current Albany Creek camel wrestling champion she's very disappointed she hasn't bought her wrestling lycra as she's quite adept at throwing the odd dromedary.
Sleepy back lane to our "Pension"
Kusadasi resort town on the Aegean

Aegean trend setters sipping short, non-fat, skinny, decaf, no foam, extra hot, a shot of Soy with a squirt of caramel.  Nothing pretentious about us.

Our daily routine is to seek out a panoramic coffee shop enjoy some apple tea and harrass the cheeky touts into some lively banter.  Today we encounter Shaymaz and he informs us he's worked a very busy 7 month tourist season with no days off and 16 hour days.  With the off season only days away he's heading home shortly to his village 1600 kilometres to the east near the Iraq border. 
 Shaymuz spies a couple of likely targets approaching and he springs into a well rehearsed routine.  Greeting the nubile lasses, he introduces himself as Charlie and he invites them to join his small harem of "Charlie's Angels" as he happens to have 2 vacancies.  The more buxom of the american pair happily counter punches firing back that she was once married to a Charlie and reckons all Charlies are sleaze bags.  We quickly applaud Dolly Partons response that leaves Shaymuz/Charlie crestfallen but gracious in defeat.  Another round of apple tea for all and international relationships remain in good order.
Don't say I never take you anywhere nice

A group of Japanese ladies put on an impromptu opera concert whilst touring Ephesus' 24,000 seat, 5000 year old amphitheatre.  A lot of fun and they deserved their standing ovation.

Ephesus library

They sure knew how to arrange a pile of rocks

Another spectacular pile of well asssembled Ephesus rocks

I'm a mine of useless information and Robyn regularly likes to remind me that I'm full of it!  
On average women speak about 25,000 words a day and seated behind us on the 3 hour dolmus bus to Pamukkale is a chinese lady who easily exceeds her allocated quota of words by the 5 kilometre post.  Fortunately for Mrs Chong as soon as her exhausted companion drops off to sleep she can hit speed dial on her phone and continue the frenetic conversation without any possibility of sustaining lockjaw.
Without subjecting me to any additional words my considerate wife gives me a sympathetic head wobble and appropriate grunt to acknowledge my basic neanderthal communication requirements.  She's a keeper that Robyn.

Pamukkale, meaning "cotton castle" is a combination ancient historical site Hierapolis, and the unusual naturally occurring travertines (cascading calcium pools).  Even Mrs Chong stopped to take a breath as this impressive feature materialised on the horizon.

600 metres from the base of this awesome freak of nature is our very comfortable Venus Hotel.
View from the Travertines out surrounding country

Cascading calcium pools

Pamukkale sunset
Next stop Fethiye on the Mediterranean.


Really happy we've chosen to travel by local bus thus far.  Roads are in good condition, drivers are very professional and the dramatically changing scenery is an unexpected bonus.  Departing Pamukkale the mountain range is particularly rugged and we're informed these peaks are snow covered during the winter months.  We pass through pine forests, quaint villages, arid rocky goat country, fertile cultivated farm land and beautiful lush valley's during our 3 hour drive.  The mountains finally plunge to meet the sea and we arrive at the scenic harbour town of Fethiye.  

Fethiye harbour

We're staying a few kilometres out of the harbour town on the Fethiye peninsula in the rural village of Kayakoyu at a lovely little guesthouse the Villa Rhapsody Pension.  
Actually Kayakoyu is a "ghost town" and Robyn's initial impression of the villages remoteness is not all that positive and I'm receiving the look that makes most husbands tremble with fear.

Villa Rhapsody Pension

Fear not, remote as the village is there is much to do, a lovely beach a pleasant walk away and an interesting perspective to a less visited turkish rural region.  I happened upon Kayakoyu for a few reasons; 

  1. As a base to trek a section of The Lycian Way,
  2. we're close enough to go boating on Fethiye harbour without being confined to the tourist centre, and 
  3. From reading the novel "Birds without wings"
The novel follows a few characters through an interesting and rapidly changing period of turkish history including the First world war, Gallipoli, the influence of Mustafa Kermal Ataturk (father of Turkey), and the resulting christian/muslim, social/religous engineering failure resulting from the 1920's Turkey/Greece war.  For over 2000 years the muslims and christians co-existed in this peaceful and happy village, today  Kayakoyu is a "ghost town".

Ghost town at Kayakoyu

Ghost town along a section of the Lycian Way

The trek from Kayakoyu to Oludeniz over the Fethiye peninsula is part of the ancient Lycian Way track.  A half day easy scramble over rocky ridges and through shady pine forests with stunning views to remote emerald coloured Mediterranean coves and bays.  Ending at Oludeniz with a rewarding swim in the blue lagoon.

Typical of the views along the Lycian Way and finishing with a refreshing swim at Oludeniz

Pooling resources with our recently acquired Villa Rhapsody guesthouse friends, we charter a Gulet for a day of boating, swimming, and seafood feasting on tranquil Fethiye harbour.  

Another perfect day on the Mediterranean
As soon as the anchor hits the water, so does Robyn

A day of boating followed by chilli prawns, bbq squid, char grill fish, all for a few turkish lira... ho hum! 


Take our seats aboard the dolmus again and we're on our way to Kas.  Comfortable and uneventful 3 hour trip, except for the unnerving sight of 2 cars which have obviously crashed through safety barriers over the incredibly steep cliffs and are being retrieved by crane 30 metres from the sea below.
If we thought Fethiye was beautiful, Kas leaves us speechless (not hard for the neanderthal) and Robyn believes she has discovered her future retirement village.
Robyn's future retirement village, Kas
Around every coastal headland seems to be another picture postcard village and Kas is no different.  We quickly slip into the slow relaxed pace of this captivating little village with brilliant flowering bougainvillea cascading from terraced gardens, old men sipping tea and playing cards or backgammon in the numerous cafes and fishing boats chugging in and out of the protected harbour.

Quaint flower filled lanes
For the next few days we fill our time exploring Kas' cliff tombs, swimming at Big Pebble Beach, talking in the views to the nearby greek island of Meis, whilst consuming copious quantities of freshly pressed pomegranate juice and gorging on fresh almonds, dried figs and other tasty local produce.

Big Pebble Beach, Kas

Kas harbour

Kas - almost perfect, except it has shops!

Corn flakes or horse food, oh how I dread breakfast at home, perhaps that's why I prefer to sleep in rather than go through the loathing motions of mouthing tasteless cardboard.  
However I've discovered breakfast doesn't have to be boring as the last few weeks I've been leaping out of bed (sort of) in anticipation for the traditional turkish morning meal which includes; roast capsicum, roast eggplant, tomatoes, crunchy cucumber, green olives, black olives, stuffed olives, watermelon, honeydew melon, apricots, sultanas, figs, 5 different cheeses, boiled eggs and heaps of fresh crusty bread.  Every turkish town and hotel we've visited has consistently served up a similar spread and staying at the Sonne Hotel in Kas ensures I continue to wake early with joy to break the fast.


Utilising our preferred mode of transport we move further north up the old Lycian coastline and decend into the secluded village of Cirali.

Cirali beach and major Mediterranean turtle nest ground.

Cirali's 4 kilometre beach is slightly less pebbly than most of the beaches we've encountered and is home to one of the primary turtle nesting grounds on the Mediterraneans coast.

With some assistance from our host Sinan at the Villa Monte Pension we hire a car to travel further afield and we'll continue to do what we do best which includes;
  • exploring the ancient sights of - Olympus and Phaselis,
  • sunset experience at Chimera eternal flames,
  • another cruise on the Med,
  • more Lycian way treks, and
  • of course lots more eating, swimming and lounging.
Chimera's eternal flames

Cirali beach with impressive Mt Tahtali in background
Our gulet viewed from Olympos view point

More stunning coastal scenery

Robyn's final swim in the Mediterranean before heading inland
Enjoying the view from Phaselis' impressive amphitheatre

We have had a 04:30 pickup and arrive at Antayla airport with plenty of time to make our flight to Cappadocia via a transit in Istanbul.
Check-in counters are few and queues are out the door.
We're bounced from counter to counter as staff deal with the customary computer problems.
Boarding time is quickly approaching and the trainee check-in girl continues to thumb her way around the computer keyboard.
First set of boarding passes with incorrect destination I reject.  Second set she destroys before presenting to me.  Whilst I'm busy scrutinising the third set of boarding passes she quickly dispatches our bags with destination tags unknown down the luggage conveyor and firmly stating "goodbye, GOODBYE, GOODBYE".    We're having that sinking feeling that we may have just experienced the last sighting of our luggage, and any possibility of clean underwear for the remainder of our turkey trip. 
Did I mention the joys of air travel!!
Transit through Istanbul progresses smoothly, however on arrival to Cappadocia our fears are confirmed and we're the only two lost soles remaining at the deserted luggage carousel.  And I mean deserted, not an airport assistant in sight.  Robyn begins to windmill her arms followed by star jumps in an attempt to attract attention from staff out on the tarmac.  I'm impressed with her stamina and aerobic demonstration which finally reaps results when a lethargic official plods to our assistance.  Through imitating lifting heavy bags and other creative charades Mr Plod acknowledges our situation and indicates we are stupid australians and should know that when travelling on a domestic flight all transit bags will be collected in the international terminal.  Of course, what was I thinking!  Three hundred metre walk across the tarmac and we're greeted by the most wonderful sight of our battered luggage and relief that we no longer have to ponder life without clean underpants.   Welcome to Cappadocia.

Stunning valley treks

Soft volcanic material and millions of years of erosion results in the fantastic rock formations and fairytale landscape of Cappadocia. Varying in colour and shape, these "fairy chimneys" (as they were called by ancient Turks) are one of natures surprising masterpieces.

Spectacular "fairy chimneys"

Remote villages

These things everywhere you look

Of course the best way to experience this amazing geography is up close and personal by trekking through the valleys or most impressively by hot air balloon.

Early morning preparations

One of 60 balloons in the air this day

How's the serenity!!

At the end of a long ballooning and trekking day Robyn informs me that I would benefit greatly from a turkish massage.  Robyn knows I don't like people touching me, so this is clearly a coded message that translates to "Robyn WANTS a massage but is hesitant about the foreign surrounding, therefore Chris you will also be attending as chaperone and participant".
I've only ever had one massage in my lifetime and frankly I don't get the whole therapeutic, pampering, relaxing thing.  In fact the thought of a big hairy pawed turkish bloke dressed in just a wet towel invading my personal space and exfoliating hidden places leaves me feeling very nervous.

Mehmet seems a nice bloke but I think he senses my apprehension as I continually check over my shoulder as he scrubs, lathers, massages my nakedness and generally makes me feel decidedly uncomfortable ("midnight express" playing on my mind).  He even triggers a few extra pressure points emphasising that he is in total control.  Meanwhile on the adjoining marble slab Robyn seems to be enjoying the whole experience, why wouldn't she, she's married to and accustomed to a hairy, boofheaded bloke pawing all over her.  
I leave with the remnants of my self respect and thankful there are no photos of my turkish Haman experience.

285 year old hamam.


Istanbul, Istanbul, Constantinople, I just love the way it rolls off the tongue and the sound of the city's name certainly takes me back to school history lessons and conjures up visions of millennia of incredible historic characters, conqueror's, traders, costumes, architecture and bazaars all wrapped up into a colourful cultural melting pot (big melting pot with a population of about 15 million).  

We've arrived back in the hip and historical area of Sultanahmet, on this occasion staying at the Osmanhan Hotel.  Speaking of cool and trendy, I've been most impressed by the style and dress sense of the general public throughout the country.  No doubt Robyn will snigger as I comment on fashion as I sit here in my finest rubber thong footwear and "I love Wagga Wagga" T-shirt, but for a population of 90% muslim, most local men over 25 wear suit or sports jackets, smart trousers and step out in well maintained leather shoes.  Women are also generally immaculate in what appears to be latest european fashions with not as much of the traditional Arab garb as I would have expected.  Very cool, très chic even.

Typical hotel style and architecture in old Sultanahamet

Down to our final days in Istanbul and we tick off a few more from the bucket list;

Inside the amazing Hagia Sophia

Blue Mosque sunset

Blue Mosque

Another engineering marvel, Basilica Cistern
Grand Bazaar, shopping heaven.... for some

Colour of the Grand Bazaar
OK... just one more pomegranate juice

Bongin-on the Shisha after a hard day at the bazaar.  Hope my boss Simon doesn't schedule me for drug & alcohol testing on my return to work.  Of course the shisha only contains apple and mint!!

And that's all there is.  A night in Dubai and home to Brisbane.