Trekking round Turkey

Trip Start Sep 04, 2004
Trip End Jun 30, 2005

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Thursday, November 25, 2004

You may have sensed from our last entry that after our 16th country filled with medieval town squares and stunning Orthodox churches we were getting a bit bored with Eastern Europe.... On this note it was with renewed vigour that we began our Middle Easten leg in Istanbul. Ramadan was coming to an end which meant that fasting Muslims trying to kill us with looks for munching vigorously on kebabs in daylight hours was a thing of the past. Not even the greater resilience of the Turkish hawkers could take the bounce out of our step; having pre-empted the accommodation hawker in the bus station in Istanbul with a simple 'NO' - his retort to our retreating backs... 'I no want to sell you a room. I want to sell you STUFF'. What a country!

This 'bounce' took on a decidedly Middle Eastern shuffle when we met the stunning and costly bureacracy that is the Syrian visa application process. Having secured a second mortgage to cover the costs we made an 'urgent' appointment (we wanted to move on quickly) with Geary, Jim Geary of the Irish consulate to procure the required letter of recommendation from the Irish Government. Jim requested the meeting to (in his words) 'ensure we weren't mad' before he issued the letter. When we eventually found Jim's office he ushered us in like long lost friends and, despite our request for brevity, kept us there for an hour chatting about our trip and providing advice on Middle Eastern travel for those with blonde hair and blue eyes. This advice was issued solely to Combie - presumably this is either standard diplomacy or Middle Eastern protocol.

Jim then sent us away for a couple of hours so he could pen his magnus opus in peace. Two hours, and three sentences per letter, later we had our fawning letter from the consulate which extended 'felicitations, greetings, eternal respect and a humble request for our passage to the Arab Republic of Syria', all for 10 euro. (For free the Americans get a letter which says 'we don't introduce our citizens, but you better let them in and if they get so much as a scratch, we'll hold you personally responsible'). The Irish always are very friendly.

Anyway, back to Jim. Having received our letters we asked for directions to the Syrians. Jim helpfully indicated that even though it was 11am, the Syrians would just have shut up shop for the next four days - thanks Jim! To cut a long story short, it was four days later before we secured our visas (they complimented Jim's prose) and in return our visa fee helped reduce the Syrian national debt by 2%.

The rest of our time in Istanbul was spent touring mosques, souks (shopping arcades) and bath houses but above all else spending 40% of our waking hours haggling over 50p (more bargaining stories are sure to follow in future Middle Eastern entries).

From Istanbul we headed south along the coast to Canakkale to visit the battle fields of Gallipoli and the ancient city of Troy. This experience was complimented with the visual version kindly provided by our hostel of Mel Gibson's "Gallipoli' and Brad Pitt's 'Troy' to get the full story.

Onto Selcuk and the ancient ruins of Ephesus - Greco/Roman ruined cities are fast replacing Medieval town squares as our touristing bread and butter. Just outside Selcuk we resumed our religious focus with a visit to Mary's house (the same Mary of virgin fame). While there, Combie bumped into an English cruise-ship priest who said mass, with Combie performing some stirling altar boy duties. Combie had obviously made quite an impression on the priest as we bumped into him later in the day and he complimented him on speaking great English for a Polish person (we're in bloody Turkey!) before tapping us for an entrance fee for a museum. Not wishing to bring the wrath of God upon us, we handed the cash over. Finally, we visited the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. They must have been pretty stuck for wonders way back then as the only creatures currently enjoying its beauty are a few stray dogs and large puddles full of wild turtles.

Our final destination in Turkey was Cappadocia, with its famed rock formations and cave houses (check out our Flintstone-style cave room above). The area is littered with 5th/6th century rock churches and some great 'Grand Canyon' style hiking opportunities. More importantly, they have a great Turkish bath where one of the locals was so taken by either Combie's or Sarah's presence that he took his towel off and began 'pleasing himself' in the corner - must be some form of Turkish welcome ceremony that the Lonely Planet had left out.

All in all we've loved it. Turkey provided a great intro to the Middle East, but we've really got to move on to Syria now. Otherwise, we'll get stranded here under the weight of our six kebab and rice pudding a day diet.

Speak to you all from Syria.
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