Turkey Diaries Day 5 and 6

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Apologies for the silence. First, there was no time in Istanbul. Then, I was glued to a fantastic book. And now, I am trying to plod through Boys over Flowers one episode at a time.

(“Plod” because it makes Ekta Kapoor series look like an art movie and at 1 hour, each episode is one hour long with lots and lots of unnecessary flashbacks and songs).

This part of the itinerary was most confusing for me. To go or not to go to Pamukkale? If yes, to visit Ephesus or not. To stay at Izmir or Selcuk or Ephesus or Denizli? To take the flight to Denizli or Izmir? Or an overnight bus from Cappadocia? To stop for a day at Istanbul or continue directly to Pamukkale?

Finally, I decided to skip Ephesus and on a friend’s recommendation only add Pamukkale to the itinerary. We took a flight from Neveshir (near Cappadoccia) to Izmir with a change of planes at Istanbul. From Izmir airport, we took a bus to the bus stand and then a 4 hours journey to Denizli on the bus. Denizli is 20 mins from Pamukkale. It was a 12 hours journey and we spent a whole day in transit. I wasn’t confident about the overnight buses from Cappadoccia though they would have cost far, far lesser.

Pamukkale is known for it’s thermal springs. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is a small mountain with limestone and flowing water giving it a surreal quality. There are pools of water shaped like an infinity pool. When you reach the site, you have to take off your footwear and walk barefeet. When you reach the top, there are ruins of the ancient Roman city Hierapolis.

We spent a few hours at Pamukkale and then headed back to Denizli. While Pamukkale is amazing and a destination like no other, it wasn’t worth one day’s journey and the amount we spent on travelling to and fro. Maybe including Ephesus would have made more sense.

The next day we took a flight back to Istanbul in the morning. And again, the hotel tried to charge a bomb for the cab to the airport. Finally, we googled online and found a shuttle which charges 15% of what the cabbie was demanding. The hotel staff feigned ignorance about the shuttle service when we enquired.

Oh, well.

Coming up – the last leg of the trip in Istanbul.

Turkey Diaries day 3 and 4

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Some destinations are overhyped and overpriced. Cappadocia is not that destination. The main attraction in this area is the hot air balloon ride and as gimmicky as it sounds, the ride was fabulous. The lowest price for a ride is 150 Euros, if you pay in cash. And one ride has 20 people. Cappadocia has the lowest prices for hot air balloon rides in the world and least number of cancellations due to weather conditions. Large areas of flat plains make it easier to land the balloon and the views of the fairy chimneys are very unique.
Due to volcanic eruptions, erosion and extreme weather conditions over centuries, Cappadocia has chimneys, valleys, rocks with honey comb formations and a topography which is unlike anywhere else.

We planned a 2 days stay at Cappadocia. The main town is Goreme but we stayed at Cavusin. It doesn’t matter where you stay because all tours pick up and drop off tourists at the hotel. But staying in Goreme would be most convenient because it has many good restaurants and places to hang out.
We booked our balloon ride for day 1 early morning and took a flight from Istanbul previous evening. We stayed at Jacob’s cave suites which is one of the many hotels with a cave-like room. Though it is 3 km from Goreme, the hotel would call a cab whenever we wanted to go to Goreme and there was a great restaurant at walking distance. Cauvsin is mostly deserted and many houses in the town are abandoned. It was eerie how silent the area is. It took a while to get used to.
We were picked up by Voyager Balloons staff at 5.30 am from the hotel. They took us to their office where we had breakfast and then onward to the site of take off. Watching balloons get filled with gas and take off is an amazing experience itself and watching the sunrise in the clouds is once-in-a-lifetime experience. After 60 mins in the clouds, we landed to champagne and a toast.
Everything else in Cappadocia is a filler after the balloon ride. You can go on one of the tours or hike by yourself in the valleys or just chill in the hotel. After the ride, we headed to Goreme and visited the Open Air Museum but it was a waste of time and money. The museum has 14 churches which were of no interest to me and entry cost a bomb. I will rant separately about the Chinese tourists whose only interest was clicking Instagram worthy pictures to show off.
On day 2, we woke up early to see the balloons crossing our hotel. It is better to stay in Cappadocia for 2 days because if your ride gets cancelled on the first day due to weather conditions, you can reschedule it for the 2nd day. Also, watching the balloons from below is an exciting activity too. There are 2 tours in Cappadocia- red tour and green tour. Each of them roughly costs 30 Euro which is quite steep but entry charges are a bomb and many places are at long distances. If we had tried visiting all these sites ourselves, it would have cost much more. So, either skip sightseeing or join a tour. We visited the underground city, pigeon valley, Ihlara valley and Nar lake.
2 days are more than sufficient in Cappadocia but it is a destination that should be visited in Turkey. You could add a 3rd day if you are interested in hikes through the valleys. There are options of renting a car or scooter, if you have an international driving license. Or renting a bicycle, mountain bikes or ATV bikes to explore the areas. But please avoid the peak periods when Chinese tourists throng this destination.

I am unable to post pics because wordpress is quite a bitch. Maybe I will repost with pics on Medium once am back. Until then, head to my Instagram for pics.


Turkey Diaries day 1 and 2

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An itinerary to Turkey generally has Istanbul and Cappadocia. For longer trips, Antalya, Ankara, Euphesus and Pamukkale can be included. Travelling between these cities isn’t very convenient so it is best to use Istanbul as a transit point.
This is the first time we aren’t staying in an airbnb and have booked hotels. Mainly, because I couldn’t find anything good in Istanbul and Cappadocia only has tourists. I prefer airbnb over hotels because you get a glimpse in the life of a resident, local recommendations and nobody is trying to up sell.
One major issue in Turkey is that some places charge in Euros and others in Turkish Lira. 1 TL is equivalent to Rs 12 so wherever we are paying in Lira, it is most affordable. Euro is the bitch. In most cases, there is a cheaper option to payment in Euro. Example, when we inquired from the hotel about a pickup from the airport they quoted 40 Euros (Rs 3600) but we managed to book an Uber for 60 TL (Rs 720). Or when they recommended a Bosphorus cruise for 40 Euros per person with night show and dinner but we managed to take a cruise for 15 TL per person without the added frills.
Though in some cases there is no option. We paid for the airport pickup in Cappadocia, hot air balloon ride and sightseeing tour in Euros.
Istanbul’s weather is perfect right now. There is a slight chill in the air with a drizzle few times in the day. Mixed with the smells from the carts roasting kestane (chestnuts) and corn and cigarettes smoke, it is the perfect combination. As much as I hate smokers, I love the smell of cigarettes in the winter. It is the only time in the year I wish I was an occasional smoker.
The plan for day 1 was to explore the neighbourhood of Sultanahmet where we stayed. We had a great lunch at a place recommended by Tripadvisor, walked down the numerous lanes and took in the sights and sounds of the Bosphorus. Though the plan was to walk along the water to the European side of the city, we walked onto a boat for a cruise. It was simply amazing. There were seagulls, castles and cafes along the banks, a dolphin splashing around, sunset and the most beautiful colours of the sky.
The next day we explored Spice Bazaar. This covered market has shops selling Turkish delight, baklava, dry fruits, jewellery, spices, lamps etc. The prices are lower outside so this is a good market only for window shopping. Thereafter we headed to the airport for our flight to Neveshir for the trip to Cappadocia.
This time the hotel was kind enough to help us with a cab which charges TL instead of Euros.

Turkey diaries

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3 years back we had taken a Turkish Airlines flight from India to Rome with a change of planes at Istanbul. On the flight they served us a Turkish sweet. I loved it so much we decided our next international trip would be to Turkey. As things panned out, there were bomb blasts in Turkey and it has been in political and economic turmoil ever since.
There is a conservative government at the centre and the number of Western tourists has declined sharply. Even Indians use it as a transit point while travelling to Greece. Travelling for a vacation to Turkey is an anomaly. And I did try building an itinerary which combined Turkey and Greece but 10 days aren’t enough for both. We prefer to explore one country at a time. The trip must have the perfect combination of touristy excursions, enough time to use public transport and getting lost while walking down numerous lanes.
This was a very last minute planned trip even though the destination was decided months back. A month back I suggested we approach a travel agent who can make our bookings. I was lost, confused and procrastinating. But one lonely Friday night, I forced myself to get it done. Viola, the itinerary and bookings were completed in a week. KC’s contribution was making me run around till the last week for the Visa.

So glad my Gemini sign has a Taurus descendant. How would we get anything done otherwise.
As always, a daily blog on the trip will be published so please stick around.