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Our Turkish Odyssey - Part Two

6th March 2023 - Back to Dalaman

After a fantastic time in Devon with my family celebrating the awesome achievement of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, (and a sneaky snowboarding trip to France) it was time to brave the Turkish officials and head back to the boat. As a reminder, we had failed on our first residency permit attempt and had now overstayed our 90 day tourist visa but had another application in which should give us the right to stay until the next interview date. What we didn’t know was whether we were allowed to leave the country during this time and whether they would let us back in. The internet forums had told us not to try but there was no specific rule in place.

So with some trepidation, we flew back to Dalaman and stood nervously in front of the immigration desk again. Miraculously no explanation was needed and we were stamped back in. I swear the amount of energy I waste worrying about things that don’t happen could power a small city.

Our friend Clare had told us about a car hire company at the airport that was significantly cheaper than the ones in Kas so we decided to rent a car for three weeks. We had some big plans now that we were back. We had just over 6 weeks left of our marina contract and we wanted to explore a bit more of the country away from the coast. We made a pitstop on the way back to Marmaris. You guessed it, to the chandleries again. This time staying at the Romance Beach hotel. It was alright, not quite what I imagined though.

We had met some lovely people in Kas, several of whom were expats living there. None more helpful than Mark Spronson, a South African guy who had bought property out on the Kas peninsula and shared a 57ft Hanse monohull with his brother, which was berthed in the marina. He had invited us over for dinner, along with Clare and Zach. Since we had the car all four of us bundled in to make the trip round to his apartment. The driveway to the set of apartments was off the main peninsula road and pointed down the hill at almost a 40 degree angle. Getting down was interesting. Getting back up with all four of us in the car was going to be a miracle but we’d deal with that later. Mark was there to welcome us and his ‘little’ apartment turned out to be a 5 bedroom mansion set over three floors. It was stunning, and had fantastic views across the bay towards the marina. We sat out on the balcony with a few beers to watch the sunset before dinner. Our host had prepared a fantastic curry for us all. It was a great evening.

Mark had told us about a really nice place for breakfast near Kalkan which was about 20mins back along the coast road from Kas. A couple of days later we spotted Mark having a coffee in the local marina bar called Oxygen and joined him. A short while later Paul, another expat living in Kas, with a boat in the marina, stopped for a coffee too and we discussed heading out for breakfast. Paul confirmed that they were open and made the reservation for us, so we jumped in the car and headed off. It’s a good job they were with us as we would have never have found the place. Quite unassuming from the front but the terrace had the most amazing view out across the Kalkan bay. We had a typically Turkish breakfast of cucumber, tomato, cheeses, fried eggs, honey, bread, olives and hummus. And Turkish coffee served in a tiny cup where at least half of it is coffee grinds so you have to leave it for 15mins to settle then stop drinking half way down. Strong and tasty though.

After breakfast the guys took us on a little tour of the surrounding mountains and the villages nestled between them. Previously we had just gone back and forth along the coast road so it was nice to explore the area we had called home for the past few months.    

13th March 2023 - 18th March 2023 - The Road Trip

13th March 2023 - Antalya

We still had the car so it was time to set off again. We wanted to get to Cappadocia, an incredible place in central Türkiye with beautiful natural rock formations, intricate Christian churches carved out of the rock and underground cities. In the town of Goreme, you could be one of a hundred people taking a hot air balloon over the landscape at dawn. If we were to drive directly to Goreme it would have taken over 9hrs so we decided to break up the journey. Our first stop was Antalya again. We loved it so much the first time we decided to head back there for a night, this time in a hotel right in the centre of the old town. A bit interesting to get there with their very narrow roads and one-way systems but we found it in the end. We didn’t do much differently from our time before - negroni on the terrace, a walk down by the old marina, and watching the live music again at Odin’s Bar. I did almost adopt a kitten though. Turkiye somehow makes you into a cat person.

14th March 2023 - Side and Konya

Carl had read about a sculpture park in Antalya where the exhibits were carved solely out of sand. The aptly named Sandland was next on our agenda the following morning. Unfortunately for us there had been torrential downpours the previous few days so the open air exhibits were a bit sad looking. It soon became apparent why the lady only charged us half price. We didn’t spend long there.

Along the coast was a town called Side. The modern part of it seemed to be beach resort after beach resort but the ancient site was spectacular. The place had been occupied since the 7th century BC. Between the 4th and 1st century BC it was occupied by the Greeks and then finally the Romans. Despite the rainy weather the ruins were impressive. As was the circular ancient harbour. Apparently you can bring your boat in there. We only stopped for a walk around and some lunch.

Our second nights stop was the town of Konya further inland. We had left Kas when the temperature was about 16-18degC so we were in shorts and a t-shirt. We had to go up and over a mountain pass to get to Konya and shortly found ourselves in a snow blizzard. Very bizarre.

Like most of the Turkish towns, Konya had ancient beginnings. However now it was quite a conservative, traditional town. It is known for being the final home of Rumi (Mevlana) In 1273, his followers established the Mevlevi Sufi order of Islam. Also known as the Whirling Dervishes. Every Saturday there are performances of the Whirling Dervishes at the Mevlana Cultural Centre in Konya. Unlike the more touristy performances, these tend to be more genuine spiritual sessions which are free to go to. Problem for us was that it was a bloody Tuesday! This does tend to be the story of our sightseeing trips. One day I will tell you about the time we organised our BVI charter trip to be at Trellis bay for the full moon party only to arrive the day after the actual party. Who knew they wouldn’t actually do it on the day of the full moon!

Anyway, we checked into our hotel, a bit basic but ok. We typically go for a wander and find a bar to have a drink before having dinner. After roaming around for a while down darkened streets there did not appear to be a bar anywhere. Lots of places selling apple tea though. We couldn’t really find a restaurant either that wasn’t a coffee shop or kebab house. Believe it or not we actually gave up on the beer, went to a coffee shop and had a milkshake. It was delicious!

After drinking about a pint of milk each we weren’t really that hungry so headed back to the room. There wasn’t much to see in Konya really. It was definitely a shame we weren’t there on a Saturday.

15th - 17th March 2023 - Capadoccia Region

15th March 2023 - Göreme

Our next stop was Göreme. It was to be a three hour drive but the roads were so good and there was hardly any traffic. We don’t mind a good road trip anyway. The Cappadocia region near Göreme holds sedimentary rocks that formed lakes and streams from ancient volcanoes millions of years ago. They have since eroded to produce hundreds of spectacular pillars and, frankly, phallic like forms. You’ll see what I mean when you see the photos. The villagers in the region carved out houses, churches and monasteries from the soft rock. As we dropped down into the Göreme valley these structures came into view. It was a sight unlike any we had seen before. The tarmac road soon became a dirt road which, due to the rain was a bit muddy. We were attempting to navigate to our hotel, the Divan Cave Hotel to be exact. The rooms were carved out of the rock but we slightly better amenities than those in ancient times. The town was on the flat but to get to the hotel we had to climb some steep muddy hills in our little car. The roads got narrower and narrower and some were one-way although it wasn’t entirely clear which ones were which. Luckily, where the hotel was there was a clearing enough to abandon our car out of the way. We trudged through the mud up to the hotel reception to check in. We were met with a very friendly lady who handed us our keys and a map of the town and the local area. We straight away asked about organising a hot air balloon ride. She explained that due to the weather the balloons had not gone up today or were not due tomorrow either. We told her we were there for three days so just put our names down for the first opportunity there was. A sinking feeling started to develop. We had held off on doing the balloon ride in Pammukale as we would be doing one here ... or at least that is what we thought. Anyway, there was plenty to do around the area in the meantime; hikes, museums, and a Whirling Dervish performance. There was even quad biking if we so desired. We were shown to our room and as we opened the door it became apparent that, whilst the room was lovely, it wasn’t in a cave. We had specifically come to this hotel to stay in a cave room. We both decided to go back to reception and ask whether we could have another room that was, well, more cave-y. We felt a little ridiculous but she had a wry smile on her face and we got the impression that we had not been the first people to ask this. It was a fair bit more money but she gave us another key and we were led down to the basement and a small door under the main hotel building. Now that’s what we were talking about! A proper cave room. Well, it did have air con, lighting, a massive bed and another room carved out with a bathroom with a large bath and a huge shower. But still, in a cave!

Once settled we ventured back down into town to have a wander and get some lunch. The town seemed oddly quiet for a major tourist attraction but it was grey and rainy and March. We did find a nice restaurant and we ordered the Testi kebab, a traditional Cappadocian dish. It’s like a chicken or lamb stew, cooked in a sealed clay jug. The clay jug is then brought to your table and the waiter dramatically cuts off the top of the pot and pours out the contents onto your plate. It looked impressive but really it was just a stew. This particular one was lacking in some seasoning but it was warm and welcome on a cloudy day. After a walk around town we headed back to our hotel. It had a roof top bar which would have been a great place to watch the hundreds of hot air balloons at sunrise, float across the landscape…if they were launching that is. After checking back at 5pm we were told that they definitely wouldn’t be flown the following day. We therefore decided to go for a hike.

16th March 2023 - Love Valley, Rose Valley and the Whirling Dervishes

We’d been given our trusty map from the hotel with various walking trails drawn on it. Unfortunately it wasn’t really to scale, or particularly accurate so after several bum steers and walks to the top of the valley rather than the route through it, we finally found a place to park up and walk.

Love Valley was the polite way of saying that every rock formation looked like a giant penis. Complete with bell end. It was indeed a fascinating landscape. Some even had little rooms cut into them, presumably for food storage or shelter. Once in the valley amongst ‘them’ we tried to fly the drone. There seemed to be a geo-fence around the site which did not allow the drone to fly so after a few aerial shots Carl packed it away. For quite a tourist hot spot the area was quite quiet. Until we looked high up on the ridge where the car park was and several bench seats with heart shaped arches over them. Great spot for a photo of the valley. After our jaunt around the nobs we got back in the car and headed off the for the next walk which was called Rose Valley. So named because the rock took on a pinkish colour through the valley. Again, our map was a little lacking in finding the start of the route but we drove to the little town of Çavusin and found a place to leave the car which seemed close to the start. We found a path but we were not sure it was THE path. Still we had a walk nonetheless.

Conscious of the time we got back in the car and headed over to the Göreme Open Air museum. The complex has more than 30 Christian churches and chapels carved out of the rock with some having really well preserved frescoes inside. These dated from the 9th to the 11th century.

We had finally found the tourists but the site was big enough to walk through without too much jostling. Really quite spectacular. It had been quite a long day but we had to be back at the hotel for 6pm as we had arranged to go and see the a Whirling Dervish performance. It wasn’t Konya so we assumed it would be a bit touristy. We were taken by taxi out of Göreme and off on the road to Avanos. It was about a 25mins drive before our driver turned off at a building called Saruhan Caravanserai. This single storey building was built in 1249 with a large impressive entrance through to an open courtyard. We arrived at 6:30pm, was given a brochure explaining the ceremony we were about to witness. We came into the courtyard and took a seat around the edge, unsure of where the performance was actually going to be. There was a tour group that had arrived and their rep was handing out apple tea. I took the time to read the leaflet. There would be seven distinct parts to the ceremony which I won’t go into here but it was made clear that we were not allowed to film or take pictures during it. I started to wonder whether this was going to be as touristy as I thought. At around 6:40pm the doors at the opposite end of the courtyard opened and someone was gesturing for us to go through them. We walked through to what appeared to be a chapel of sorts, dimly lit with a small square at its centre and several rows of tiered chairs placed around it. We grabbed a couple at the front on one side although wondered whether we had made a mistake as everyone else seemed to be sitting on the opposite side. More and more people filed in so eventually it didn’t matter, all the seats were full. Once we were all seated and silence fell the ceremony began. It was quiet, solemn and quite moving. The music, when they started to play, was haunting. Once they started to whirl it was incredibly impressive. The area was fairly small and they spun and spun around each other, never interacting once. Eventually, once the ceremony was over, one of the monks announced that three of the Whirling Dervishes would remain and spin for us so that we could take some videos of the occasion, which we did.

When we got back to the hotel we again asked whether the hot air balloons were to be flown the following day. It was a no again. As the weather looked set to get a bit worse over the following days we became resigned to the fact that we would miss out. Gutted.

17th March 2023 - Kaymakli and Ihlara Valley

Our hotel receptionist had told us of two large underground cities in the area; Derinkuyu, which was the largest, and Kaymakli, which was the deepest. She recommended Kaymakli for a tour. So the next morning we headed off in that direction. Kaymakli was originally carved out of the soft volcanic rock in the 8th and 7th centuries BC but was greatly expanded in the Roman era to protect Christians from Muslim Arab raids in the Arab-Byzantine Wars of 780-1180AD. In fact Kaymakli was connected through a tunnel to Derinkuyu which was nearly 10km away. These underground cities continued to be used by Christians to hide from the Mongolians in the 14th century and then later from the Ottoman rulers in the 20th century.

I very rarely get claustrophobic but the sign at the entrance saying no pregnant people or people with any heart defect can enter, didn’t help. There were little arrows on the walls to help you navigate. Red to go further down, and blue to indicate the route back. We decided against using a guide who wanted another €80 each so I put my faith in the little arrows. As the tunnels went deeper and deeper and the corridors, smaller and smaller, I felt my adrenaline spike. Carl had no such problem and kept jutting off down little tributaries, away from the lighted tunnels and off into the darkness. I don’t know why it got to me. Maybe because the month before Turkey had had a massive earthquake and that was all that was going through my mind, down in those tunnels. Still, in-between the deep breathing and the sweaty palms I did get a chance to marvel at the sheer size of the city.  The carved channels for ventilation and the blackened ceilings indicated where obviously someone had cooked down there without smoking everyone out. There were food storage rooms, chapels, bedrooms, kitchens and meeting areas. From the fairly bland town on the surface you would never even know that all of this was down here. I guess that was the point.

Our very helpful tour guide at the hotel has also told us of a lovely walk through the Ihlara Valley. The start of this walk was remarkably easier to find that then others. There was a carpark and a big sign. However, true to form, there was a complication as there was a valley entrance fee and it had to be in cash and, you guessed it, we didn’t have enough. We were told that there was a cash point not far up the hill so we set off up the road to find it. After quite a bit of walking we looped back and picked up the car to head up to the main road which is where it was. Cash in hand we headed back to the car park. Steps dropped us down onto the canyon floor and then it was just a lovely river walk, with the canyon walls either side. Strewn along the cliffside every 500m or so was a sign pointing up to a chapel that had been carved into the rock. These were relatively new, thought to be carved in the 7th century AD by Byzantine monks. This was a 15km walk from one end to the other with a lovely little cafe half way along. As it was getting late and we weren’t sure how to get back to the car if we did the whole thing. Therefore we stopped for a drink at the cafe and then retraced our steps back to the car. We thoroughly enjoyed the walk. With wobbly legs we got back into the car and headed back to Göreme for a lovely dinner at the Seten Restaurant, a slightly posh one with great views over the town. As it was unlikely we would be doing the hot air balloon (we would have stayed an extra night if it looked likely) we planned our next trip on from Göreme.

18th March 2023 - Erciyes

About an hours drive east from Göreme is the ski resort of Erciyes, just south of Kayseri. We didn’t know too much about the resort but we thought we’d stay a few days and maybe rent some gear to have a go at the slopes. Our French trip to Meribel had been somewhat devoid of snow so we thought we’d try our luck at the Turkish mountains. I found a hotel called X Mountain Lodge which was very reasonable and sounded like the right sort of place as it said it was at the base of the resort. What we didn’t realise is there is a lower resort and a higher one. X Mountain lodge was at the lower end with not much around it. I got back in the car and did a bit more research to find a much larger resort higher up. So we cancelled the room and headed back down to the main road to go a bit further before heading up the mountain. We found the main resort with several hotels, restaurants and the base of several ski lifts. This seemed a bit more like it. We had come from Göreme where it was about 16C and Carl was in shorts and a t-shirt. Now we had about a foot of snow underfoot and he looked a little ridiculous. He donned a fleece and a bobble hat and we set off to find a bar to have a beer and some lunch, get some wifi and find a hotel to stay the night. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite like the European resorts so the cafeteria was a bit basic. We picked up a beer but felt a bit stupid asking if they had wifi. They didn’t. We had seen a Radisson Blu hotel a bit further up the road so figured we would go there for lunch and enquire about a room for a night or two. The hotel was fantastic, set at the base of one of the ski lifts so fairly easy to get around. We had a lovely lunch there overlooking the slopes but when we asked about a room for two nights it was over £340 a night. Tempting though it was to just do it, we decided to stay at a hotel across the road called the Library Hotel. It was about a quarter of the price and included dinner and drinks. Not quite so luxurious but cozy, very friendly staff and just across the road. The hotel also had a ski hire shop so we picked up boots, a board and some clothing. It was all well worn though. The board was way past needing to be waxed, Carl’s boots dug into his ankles and my ski pants were not waterproof at all. Anyway, we were set for the following day on the slopes.

19th March 2023 - POW!

I donned my leaky psychedelic ski outfit, grabbed my plank and my husband and we crossed the road to get our ski passes. This was a novel system in that you pay for a number of gondola or ski lift rides. The resort linked to a few valleys, including the one that we originally had booked to stay in so we opted for 20 rides each. We figured that would be plenty. Turned out it was. The lower valley was closed off and unfortunately Carl had to go and return his boots to try out another pair as he was in agony. Our boards were heavy and took a bit of getting used to but to be fair, there was way more snow on these slopes than we had experienced in the Alps. In fact it had snowed the night before and we had at least a foot of powder which was ace! If only we had had our own gear it would have been perfect. My leaky snow suit ensured that by the end of the day I was soaking wet through and bitterly cold. The final lift up to the top for one last run almost finished me off. Still, it was great to get out on the mountain again and have decent snow. We had thought to have one more morning on the slopes the following day before heading off but we had been all over the resort and unfortunately our gear sort of put us off so we handed it back and checked out of the hotel the following morning.

20th March 2023 - Back to Antalya

After first digging the car out of the snowy car park, I took my turn to drive. I had about six inches of snow still on the bonnet and the roof which occasionally flopped onto the windscreen. Not helpful. As has been mentioned before, our preferred method of car travel is Carl driving and me navigating. That configuration leads to less arguments and less opportunities to get hopelessly lost. However, it was a 7hr drive back to Antalya so sharing the driving was only fair. Apart from ending up on a dirt track between two fields on a farm, the journey back went without a hitch. Well, apart from one hitch. Our Turkish SIM card had run out of data but we had downloaded the map of the area and thought we’d just pick up another one in Antalya when we arrived. Unfortunately that meant that we didn’t get a message from the Library Hotel saying that we had left my small blue bag in the reception. They had sent it about 10 minutes after we left but we of course didn’t get it until that afternoon. Gutted. I liked that bag. I guess it was rather fortunate then that the only thing that was in there was a jumper and a battery charging pack. No wallets, phones or passports.

We had one last night in Antalya at the Kosa Boutique Hotel (we now knew how to get there this time round) and then made our way back to Kas.

21st - 26th March 2023 - Putting the boat back together

We had finally got our sails back, and all our summer enclosures. We had also got the new extensions for the helm seat from Aydin which were ace, so Rockhopper was getting ready for the next season. Putting the mainsail back on went surprisingly well. We also had new chaps made for our dinghy. A cover to go over the tubes to protect them from scratches and the sun. The guys had done an awesome job. It was made to measure. We had identified a load of pinholes all over the tubes which Carl had dutifully patched up as best he could but they were definitely manufacturing defects rather than punctures that we had caused. Luckily for us the vendor and the Highfield dealer agreed and would be shipping us a new one. We asked for the exact same one so surely the chaps would fit the new dinghy when we received it in Malta. Surely.

Some of the friends that we had met in the marina had arrived a month or so before us so their 6 month contracts were coming to an end and they would be leaving the marina soon. So we invited everyone over to Rockhopper for nibbles, takeout pizza and drinks…oh plenty of drinks. We had a full boat with Mark, Clare and Zach, Louise and Ray, Jon and Sharon as well as their fellow A pontoon resident, Gokman, a lovely Turkish lady that Jon had been helping out with boat jobs. We’d had a few of these get togethers onboard, sometimes I’d cook a big pot of chilli, sometimes it was just ‘random drink cabinet’ night where we’d bring along our most obscure drinks that had been lingering in the corner for a while. Luckily for us Louise loved the Lemoncello that we had got in Portugal! This particular get together felt special as it was our last one all together. Our next door neighbours, Ben and Lynnae were still back home in Canada but we would catch up with them before we left. They had secured their spot for a year so would be there to wave us off.

With the boat still safely tucked up in Kas marina, we had one last trip that we wanted to do. Istanbul. This would necessitate a flight. Hopefully no one would bother to scan our passports as it was a domestic flight as we still were waiting for our interview.

27th March 2023 - Istanbul

We still had the car so we drove back to Dalaman airport to hand it back and get our flight. I had always wanted to go to Byzantium, then Constantinople, then New Rome, and now Istanbul. An historic and cultural hub straddling the Bosphorus Strait. It was therefore a great pity that it was cold and peeing it down with rain for a good chunk of the time we were there. Plus we were starting to get a bit travelled out, especially Carl. He didn’t have the same fascination as I did for this city so trudging around the sights in the cold became less appealing as the trip wore on for him. Still, we had three days to explore so, needed to make the most of it. We stayed at the Adamar Hotel Sultanahmet, which was a stones throw from the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The very friendly receptionist offered us a dinner cruise on the Bosphorus so, since time was tight, we arranged the trip for that evening. In hindsight a bit of research might have been a good idea but I’ll get to that later. For now the weather was holding out, it was sunny and we walked down the road to the park, with the Blue Mosque on one side and the Hagia Sophia on the other. Both very impressive sights. Unfortunately the Blue Mosque was closed for refurbishment and had been for quite some time so we wouldn’t be visiting but we made a plan to go to the Hagia Sophia the following day. The Hagia Sophia was once a Christian church (Eastern Orthodox, then Catholic, then back to Eastern Orthodox) built in 537AD, then a mosque and then a museum until 2020. Since 2020, the site became a fully functioning mosque again and have just heard that it is now partially closed off to non-Muslims which is quite sad. Anyway, standing between the two mosques at prayer time was quite a thing. Each verse of the call to prayer was shared between the two sites, like a choral tennis match, back and forth. And in the background the call to prayer from dozens of mosques all over the city.

That evening we were picked up from the hotel to go for our dinner cruise. The minibus took about 45mins to pick up everyone from the surrounding hotels before we headed to the dock. There we were met with chaos, about 6 different cruise boats, all with garish lights. We stuck close to our taxi driver who took us to the boat that was to be ours. The seating was interesting. Large tables of at least 6 so we were lead to the end of one table which had a group of four already on it. Already we could tell that this wasn’t going to be quite what we expected. Cheesy was an understatement. We quickly got the drinks flowing whilst the ‘Master of Ceremonies’ for the evening started the entertainment. He sang a song, then came round with a microphone and asked where everyone was from, and then proceeded to sing a few verses of a song from every country that was represented (we got Hey Jude!).  And I do mean EVERY country. It took ages. As British people we cringed back into our seats and tried not to make eye contact. But again, in true Brit fashion we were polite when he came round. Unlike one Chinese fellow who was on his laptop and shoo’d the guy away when he came by. In fairness it did strike me at the time how many nationalities were represented on that boat. I counted 19 different nationalities. Once the mediocre dinner was over and we’d had the belly dancer and the Whirling Dervishes rotate by, the music started and everyone got up to dance. You can’t tell me some nations will never get on with each other - we saw Israelis, Pakistani and Greeks all together having a whale of a time. We even had a go too. After a while we realised we weren’t actually seeing much of the shoreline so ventured up top to look out. It was bloody freezing and blowing a gale but we stayed up there for as long as possible to catch a view of the Dolmabahçe Palace and the impressive facade of the National Painting Museum. The boat turned around at the Grand Mecidiye Mosque and headed back to port. So, I wouldn’t recommend it if you wanted an authentic experience, or indeed good food and drink but it was nice to be on the water again.

28th March 2023 - The City

The next day we ventured out to go do some sightseeing. The first stop was the Basilica Cistern, a 6th century cistern built under the city with incredible pillars and carvings of Medusa. It was also as a location for the Bond film ‘From Russia with Love’. It was beautifully lit, with the area being used to display sculptures in the water too. We really enjoyed it.