Trip Start Feb 11, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

It was around 6am on a sticky, summer morning when the bed started rocking. Chris, deep in sleep, didn't even stir, but Caroline woke suddenly - assuming at first an early arrival was shuffling into the bunk above her. But when the rhythmic shaking continued, she began to suspect that something a little out-of-the-ordinary was going on.

Later that day news spread that the early morning wake up call had been due to an earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale, just off the coast of the nearby Greek island of Rhodes, where we had been a day earlier. One dead.

And that was our introduction to Turkey.

Merhaba everyone,

Despite our unconventional start to this chapter of our travels, the past three weeks have drifted by in a haze of laziness - cruising the crystal-blue waters of the Mediterranean on a yacht, lounging about in treehouses, wandering though magical landscapes of secret caves and fairy chimneys and feasting on some of the best kebabs this side of, well, anywhere.

Yes, it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.

We left Santorini in the Greek Islands on July 15 on a tiny 19-seater plane, baggage limit: just 12.5kg each.

At last check our trusty packs were weighing in at around 25kg, thus a drastic repack was in order. We piled on layer after layer, earning curious stares from locals who no doubt wondered about the sanity of the Aussie couple who were checking in wearing jackets, beanies and scarves when everyone else was wiping sweat from their brows.

Still, it did the trick and, just a few kilos over, we were off.

At Rhodes, where we were to catch a hydrofoil across the Aegean Sea to Fethiye in Turkey, we were stopped at customs by an officer who insisted Caroline had only a few days left before she needed to leave Europe for good. It took some sweet-talking, but we managed to convince him we wouldn't overstay our welcome.

Turns out there are things called Schengen countries - countries that have some agreement whereby you can pass between them without having to show your passport. Rules say that Australian citizens can stay in Schengen countries for up to 90 days within six months.

We quickly did the math and realised we would be in Schengen countries for 89 days within five-and-a-half months. That, in the fine words of Aerosmith is, livin' on the edge!

The four days we spent in Fethiye were lazy ones, simply because it was too hot to do anything. We sweated and lounged about, in awe there was always a temperature hotter than the hottest temperature we could imagine.

The little we did see of Fethiye was great - a sleepy town that at night came alive with smoky nargile (waterpipe) bars, shops selling fragrant spices and colourful glass lanterns and the aroma of sizzling kebabs, chargrilled eggplant and mouth-watering kofte.

One afternoon we ventured to the local fish market and, as custom has it, we selected a good-looking fillet and took it to one of the nearby restaurants where, for just 5 Turkish Lira (around $4.50), we had the fish cooked and served with a basket of warm bread, a generous salad and a cup of coffee.

And, as we sat in a restaurant one warm night, munching on woodfired pide (Turkish pizza), we couldn't help but notice the culture clash as the call to prayer battled to be heard over the pumping bass emanating from the nightclub across the road.

Our intention was to make our way from Fethiye, east around the south coast of Turkey to Olympos by way of a four-day "Blue Cruise", however, our voyage was unexpectedly cancelled so instead we headed to Olympos by bus where we would stay a while before taking the cruise back to Fethiye.

The brochures for Olympos, known for it's treehouse accommodation, hammocks and comfy cushioned platforms, state things like "Come for a day, stay for a week" and "You'll be so relaxed, you'll forget to breathe". So checking into our air-conditioned bungalow, we expected our pace would slow down somewhat, though exactly how much, we had no idea.

In summary, our six days in Olympos went something like this:

Day one
Found a cushioned platform. Sat and played cards. Drank beer.

Day two
Breakfast. Settled on a cushioned platform. Drank beer and played cards for 12 hours.

Day three
Sat on a cushioned platform. Taught ourselves backgammon. Played cards and drank beer. Had a nap.

Day four
Sat, drank beer, played cards. Walked to the beach and had a swim.

Day five
Chris' birthday. Opened presents, had breakfast, settled on a cushioned platform, drank beer, played cards. Went for a swim but got bitten by fish so we went and sat and drank some more.

Day six
Sat on a cushioned platform. Moved from platform to hammock. Drank beer and played cards. Packed. Early night (it had been a hectic few days).

Seriously, we did nothing, zilch, sweet FA for almost an entire week. And it was wonderful.

The furthest we ventured was to the beach, 1km down a little track through a forest littered with ancient ruins. The water was incredible, freezing on the surface thanks to the run off from a mountain stream but warm as bathwater underneath.

On July 23 we dragged ourselves away from the comfort of the cushions and the lure of lager, and headed to Demre (apparently the birthplace of St Nicholas or "Santa Claus") and boarded our gulet (wooden yacht) where we joined 14 others for a Blue Cruise.

The next four days were spent sailing the aqua-blue waters along the coast of the Mediterranean, snorkeling, swimming, sipping raki and soaking up rays.

Occasionally stopping in at quaint little port towns, like Kas with it's "giant man" lying down across the mountain, and glorious beaches, including the beautiful Butterfly Valley and picture perfect Oludeniz, with it's magnificent Blue Lagoon.

At night we pulled in sheltered harbours, the air so warm we slept on deck. We ate (oh boy did we eat) amazing food, prepared fresh on board by the friendly Turkish crew - stuffed capsicums, eggplant stews, whole baked fish and one night, a BBQ, cooked on deck by the affable Captain Mutlu.

The weather was spectacular, the water warm and, for the most part, calm. There was just one morning, where we pulled up anchor at 5.30am to avoid the rough seas that things got a bit hairy. Sleeping below deck in our private cabin, we awoke not long after we set sail to the yacht heaving and creaking with every wave.

Caroline, suddenly feeling very seasick, made her way up on deck and, with her head over the side, watched the sun rise. Chris managed to hold on a little bit longer, sleeping or a few more hours before he too was forced up into the stark sunshine to get some fresh air.

All too soon, we were sailing into Fethiye harbour, farewelling our new friends and hopping onboard an overnight bus for a 14-hour journey northeast to Goreme in the Cappadocia region.

Cappadocia, which is pretty much smack bang in the centre of Turkey, is a place beyond imagination. Volcanic eruptions millions of year ago left a layer of soft rock covering the earth, which, in time, was eroded by ice, rain and wind.

Mounds of rock remained and in the 10th century, locals living in the area came under siege from enemies, so they began carving out homes, frescoed churches, stables and schools in the mounds and below ground. Eventually entire cities, linked by a series tunnels, were created, like human-size ant farms that held up to 5000 people.

Above ground, windows and doors carved into the rock mounds, today called "fairy chimneys", give the impression that they were once inhabited by creatures from another world, hence their name.

We had three days in Cappadocia, exploring the fairy chimneys and the largest of the underground cities, escaping the overbearing heat by descending down eight levels and wandering through cool chambers and checking out tables, chairs, kitchens, security systems - even wineries - carved completely out of rock.

One day we hired scooters and droved to Fairy Chimney Valley, climbing up ladders made of stone and hoisting ourselves into secret chambers high in the stone mounds, where blackened walls and ceilings revealed where fireplaces for cooking and heating once burned.

It felt completely prehistoric, yet with a practicality that was well ahead of their time and resources.

We also took the scooters out to Uchisar, whose star attraction is a giant castle made out of rock. As we wandered around the base, fences clearly indicating trespassing was not an option, a local café owner approached us and said he'd show us a way up.

Pulling back a bit of the wire fence, he ushered us through and, out for an adventure, we obliged. In hindsight, it probably wasn't the best idea we had, considering how old and rickety the stone castle was, but it was an awesome experience, climbing old ladders and squeezing through tunnels until we arrived, panting at the top.

Returning back to solid ground, we stopped by a little restaurant called Fat Boys run by an Aussie and her Turkish husband, where we'd heard meat pies were on the menu. Having not even caught a snifter of a meat pie since we've been away, it was a wonderful taste of home.

On our last day in Cappadocia, we received word there had been a bombing in Istanbul, our next destination. 17 dead.

Suddenly it hit us that when were back home in Australia, we would hear about things like earthquakes and bombings that would happen in "other" countries, but now we are in those "other" countries. It made us realise how lucky we are to have grown up in such a safe country.

On July 26, we boarded an overnight bus bound for Istanbul, which was to be our final destination in Turkey.

Dumped, bleary-eye and somewhat disoriented, in the middle of the old city of Sultanahmet early the next morning, we managed to find our way to our hostel, where we showered and generally made ourselves passable as human beings again. With much to see, we pushed through our exhaustion and threw ourselves headfirst into sightseeing, first stop the famous Blue Mosque. (Ok, not quite the first stop - we first called into Istanbul's most popular koftecisi for a takeaway pack of their famous kofte, which we sat and ate in Sultanahmet Park overlooking the Mosque).

The Blue Mosque was built (between 1606 and 1616) to rival the Aya Sofya, the great church-cum-mosque across the park - and it's certainly impressive with it's huge pillars, enormous hanging lights and of course, the thousands of blue tiles decorating it's interior that give the Blue Mosque it's name.

Afterwards, abandoning the shawls that we had used to cover our exposed skin, we headed for the nearby Basilica Cistern. Initially put off by the 10 Lira (roughly $9.50) entrance fee, we bit the bullet and forked over the cash - and we were glad we did.

Built by Constantine and enlarged by Justinian, the vast, pillared cistern is 65m wide and 143m long, and once held over 80,000 cubic litres of water for use during dry months as well as times of war. Covered and forgotten about, it was rediscovered in 1545 when a scholar by the name of Petrus Gyllius was told by excited locals that they could magically gather water (and sometimes even fish) from their basements. Curious Petrus did some investigating and came across the cistern, which was opened up and used as a dumping group for rubbish and dead bodies until it was restored to it's former glory.

These days, after descending down a set of stone stairs, you walk into an enormous cavern, lit only by the subtle glow of underwater floodlights at the foot of the pillars. The water is about knee deep and is home to hundreds of giant carp, which swim by like some sort of spooky ghost fish. You can walk around the edges on a raised platform all the way to the other end where two of the 336 pillars in the cistern are noticeably different to the others. At the base of one is Medusa's head, turned on its side, on the base of the other, Medusa's head completely inverted - quite the eerie sight. All the while, sinister music echoes around the dark caverns, perforated by the constant drip, drip, drip of water falling from the arched brick ceiling. We'll be honest and say that there was a moment where we convinced we had been magically transported into a level of Tomb Raider and just around the corner we'd find a set of Uzi clips and a moveable block guarding the entrance to a secret passage containing the eagle crest. Um, yeah....

The next day we checked out the Aya Sofya. Completed in 537 AD as a church, it then become a mosque and then declared a museum in 1935. But while obviously old and grand, it failed to leave a lasting impression, especially after having gazed up at the majestic Sistine Chapel a month earlier. (Though we did have a bit of fun with the Column of Gregory the Miracle Worker - a pillar inside the Aya Sofya that supposedly "weeps". If you put your finger in a hole in the pillar and it comes out wet, then supposedly your ailments are healed. We can't be sure, but we think the only moistness we felt was the sweat of thousands of tourist hands fondling the crevice.)

To be honest, it's taking more and more to impress us these days as we are so fortunate to experience such incredible sights on an almost daily basis. It is both a peril and a prize of travelling the world.

Instead, we headed across the Bosphorus River to the new part of town and walked the entire length of the Istiklal shopping strip from Tunel Square to Taksim Square (roughly 4km). It is the longest mall either of us had ever seen - and unexpectedly modern, with all the major department stores as well as the usual Starbucks and Gloria Jeans every few hundred metres.

Resisting the urge to stuff more into our already bulging backpack, we left empty-handed, calling into the famous Spice Market for some nuts and Turkish Delight (though no Turkish Viagra on offer at every second stall) before heading home.

Our third day in Istanbul was dedicated to making the pilgrimage to the Gallipoli peninsular, scene of the disastrous 1915 Gallipoli Campaign. We left at 6.30am for the six-hour bus ride to Eceabat, where we would transfer to the peninsular.

We visited the Beach Memorial (full of plaques bearing the names of such young soldiers, including that of John Simspon Kirkpatrick of Simpson and his donkey fame), Lone Pine (the Australian memorial) and the North Beach and ANZAC Cove, where the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed on April 25, 1915.

It was a strange feeling, wading through the shallows, looking back at the hills where snipers had taken out our troops, to think this was where everything we had learned about Gallipoli in school had taken place.

We also walked through the trenches of the Allied and the Turkish Forces, literally separated by a road-width. We heard horrific stories of bodies piling up on the front line and touching tales of brief moments of peace between the forced enemies - notes thrown between the trenches, singalongs and prayers.

All that fighting over a little body of water.

Our final full day in Istanbul was spent exploring and haggling at the indoor Grand Bazaar - with more than 4500 shops and stalls selling everything from beautifully decorated nargile to traditional Turkish pottery.

One the way back to the hostel, we ran into Guy and Albena, a New York couple we met on the Blue Cruise, and, just a few minutes later, Renee and Lisa, sisters from Southern America who had also been with us on our four day cruise of the Mediterranean.

Our last hurrah was to be a visit to a hamam - a traditional Turkish bath house. During our travels around the country, we'd heard lots of rumours about what a visit involves, like that we'd have to strip down completely naked and then be scrubbed down by sweaty, burly Turkish men with a loofah made of steel wool until our skin bled. Needless to say we were a bit apprehensive when we signed up for a session on our final night in town.

As we parted ways (men and women bathed separately in the hamam we went to but in some hamams they bathe together), we gave each other a final, nervous look, and headed off into the unknown.

Caroline says:
After leaving the reception area, I walk into the changerooms where a large, sweaty Turkish woman dressed only in her underpants hands me a locker key, some rubber "Croc" style shoes, a disposable loofah and a towel and indicates I should remove my clothes. "Am I supposed to take everything off?", I wonder as I strip down. I don't want to appear the prude, but I don't want to assume I can strut in with all my bits hanging out either. In the end I compromise, top off, bottoms on.

It's then a kindly American lady informs me that everyone on the other side of the big wooden door is dressed in their "best birthday suits". I remove my final piece of modesty, tighten the towel around me and, clutching my loofah I head for the internal chamber where I would discover either a room full of a like minded ladies, or that I had completely misinterpreted the term "birthday suit". They really should hand out an instruction pamphlet at the door. Fortunately, I had assumed correctly and as I open the heavy door into the steam chamber, I come face-to-face with naked women of all shapes and sizes lounging about on a large raised circular marble platform, about the size of a backyard swimming pool.

Most are lying in the middle on their towels, soaking up the heat, while others where spread out around the edges, attended to by large, near-naked women, similar to the one outside in the changeroom, scrubbing soaping and rinsing. Not entirely sure what I should do next, I sit gingerly on the edge of the marble platform, already sweating profusely. I take in my surroundings. Around the outer edges of the platform marble basins with running water are positioned at regular intervals. The marble walls are ornately decorated and the ceiling in a beautifully sculptured with a star and moon theme. Boy, it's hot.

Suddenly a sweaty Turkish woman comes bounding over, her boobs dangling about her knees and rips the towel from my clutches. This is it. Every roll of fat, every dimple of cellulite on display. I am completely exposed, I am completely...comfortable. After the initial horror of being completely naked in a room full of strangers, it's quite a liberating feeling. I'm not the skinniest person in the room, but I'm also not the largest. And, after a few cursory glances from people checking out the new arrival, the other women go back to their sweating and lounging. Meanwhile, my Turkish mistress, grabs my thighs, flips me onto my stomach, rips open the disposable loofah and goes to work. It doesn't hurt a bit, in fact, it feels quite nice. I take a slap on my left butt check a few minutes later to mean I should turn over and I do, staring up at the heavenly ceiling as she scrubs away at my front. She indicates I should sit up and I do, my bare legs dangling over the edge as she begins scrubbing down my arms. I happen to look down and for a moment I think the loofah is leaking back dye all over my arms. I begin to protest and then realise the black is in fact dead skin. Nearly six month of dirt was being scoured away. And here I thought I was developing a nice tan.

She walks to one of the basins on the outer edge, fills a bowl with water, brings it back over and rinses me. I'm already feeling cleaner. I'm back on my stomach again and this time she's got a giant soapy sponge and is covering my entire body until I look like a human fairy floss. She spends a bit of time massaging my back, my legs, my arms, and my hands. Glorious. Then back she goes, over to the basin, collects water, then rinses. With her limited English and my inability to speak any Turkish, I realise she's now wanting me to put on my rubber shoes and walk over to the basin. She sits me down on the warm marble and pours water over my hair, then shampoo. She massages, rinses, and repeats.

I am thoroughly enjoying myself now. Then it's over. Naked and clean, she releases me. Now I am on my own. I collect my dripping towel and find a place on the marble platform among the shiny bottoms and boobs. And we all bask there. Squeaky clean and glistening like freshly laundered seals. I lounge about for nearly an hour, alternating my time on the marble block with showers of cold water from the basins around the edge. I wonder how Chris has fared next door. Was he nervous? Was he scrubbed up by a big sweaty Turkish man? Was he as hungry for a kebab as me? I decided I'd had enough and left the steam chamber, thoroughly refreshed and free from six-months worth of grime.

Chris says:
I was a bit worried that it was going to be very homo-erotic and thankfully, IT WAS! I walked in and there were fat, hairy men everywhere, except for a couple of skinny little Asian dudes. I lay down for a bit on a hot rock, that was pretty nice. Then a fat Turk told me to "GET OVER HERE", so I tucked myself back in and went over there. He scrubbed me down which was pretty nice, and then he covered me in hot water - that was awesome. He told me what the Turkish word for nipple was...can't remember that now. He then asked me for a tip and I said, "I'm not like that mate", but then I realised he was a greedy man who just wanted money. He told me to have a shower and scrub my groin (no need to tell me mate!).

I got out, got dried and then in the foyer, the same guy kept winking at me for a tip. I did the Australian thing and just ignored him.

It was good, definitely worth it!

So, on August 3, cleaner than we had been since we left Australia, we farewelled Istanbul, flying to Dublin via Hungary, immediately swapping shorts and thongs for jeans, scarves and winter jackets and sunscreen for umbrellas.

That chapter up next.

Chris and Caroline

Simon - any thoughts on Olympos? Or maybe, just maybe, Amsterdam? Yeah baby! We arrive on September 10. You know you want to.

Gran: Happy Birthday again - we hope you had a wonderful day.

Expect the unexpected. Far from what we imagined, Turkey has so much to offer, from the crystal blue waters in the south, to the lunar-landscapes of Cappadocia to the bustling modern city of Istanbul. Friendly locals, great weather, reasonable prices and some of the best kebabs in the world - Turkey should be on everyone's "must-visit" list. This is what Morocco should have been like.

A diet that consists solely of kebabs - and the occasional cob of steamed corn from a street stall - covers all five major food groups and thus can be considered a healthy one.

Yes, life can be this easy.

Sailing the crystal-blue waters of the Mediterranean with naught to do but sleep, eat, drink and swim.

Playing draughts - and drinking draught - for a week straight because it was too hot to do anything else in Olympos.

Discovering secret hidey-holes in spectacular fairy chimneys in Cappadocia.

Feeling the cleanest we have ever felt after a thorough scrub down in an Istanbul hamam.

The "Alternative Hygiene" badge: For excellence in creating the illusion of cleanliness. This badge is awarded to those who have demonstrated the ability to go for days without a shower, weeks without washing and several months wearing the same pair of jeans. It also recognises advanced skills in showering in thongs, washing clothes in hostel sinks or commercial sized mayonnaise buckets. Special recognition granted to those who are escorted from supermarkets after testing deodorant - under their arms. A highly developed aptitude for "sniff testing" is essential.

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