Showing posts with label Turkey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Turkey. Show all posts

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Second stop in Istanbul, Turkey

After exploring Turkey, we came back to Istanbul for a couple days to catch a flight for our next destination. We arrived in Istanbul after our night bus from Izmir. We surprisingly were able to sleep for most of the bus ride. We arrived at the main bus station under pouring rain. There was a little bit of confusion to know if this was the right stop, but we managed to communicate with the bus attendant. He told us to get out and catch a minibus to get to Taksim Square. We hurried toward the minibus, and it was a good timing as it only had two seats left. 

As soon as the bus drove closer to Taksim, we recognized the area from our first stay in Istanbul. We stepped out and walked toward the hostel. It was located on a side street close to Istiklal street, the main pedestrian shopping street. Because it was 7:30 am and raining, the street was empty, with just a few delivery trucks. It made it a lot easier to walk through. We finally found the hostel and rang the bell. The owner showed us our room and we dropped our bags, as quietly as possible as one of the guys in the dorm was still sleeping. We went back out in the rain as we both really needed food. 

We returned to Taksim Square where we had seen a little coffee and pastry restaurant. We enjoyed our breakfast of Americano coffee and chocolate croissants. While eating we looked out the window at all the Turks and tourists running around and breaking their umbrellas. We had though that the umbrellas being sold on the street looked sturdy, but after 15 minutes looking outside and just seeing people with the white transparent umbrellas having trouble, we changed our minds! After our breakfast, we went back to the hostel where we spent time to inventory everything we carry in our backpacks to see if we still needed all of it. Later we went for a walk to see the Citadel and the park surrounding it. We had a nice supper in a restaurant located in the main pedestrian street. Our our way back to the hostel we bought a bottle of wine to enjoy while chatting with our roommates for the night.

The next morning we had a weird experience.  AA suddenly felt ill, runny nose and dry mouth. Our roommate from Dubai was laughing at us a little bit, but soon Seb started to have a runny nose and was coughing as well. Few minutes later, we were all three sneezing, and looking for tissues to blow our noses. There must have been something in the air outside or in the hostel because as soon as we got out, no more runny nose. We checked out and left our bags at the hostel for the day to visit some more sights of Istanbul.

We walked to the Bosphorus, where we sat down and had improvised breakfast sandwiches. We went for a walk in the more touristy quarters surrounding the citadel.  We met many really cute kittens, one must have been just a few weeks old. Small enough to fit in a pocket (which AA considered for a few minutes). There are many stray cats and dogs in Turkey. It is really sad to see them eat garbage and being very skinny.  

We finally made our way to Hagia Sophia Mosque as well as Sultan Ahmed Mosque (known as Blue Mosque). We decided to have a look at the Blue Mosque and followed the crowd. The inside courtyard of the mosque is filled with big interesting information boards. They cover the beliefs of Muslim and the history of the religion. We lined up behind quite a few tourists, but the line was moving fast. Seb had though of carrying his orange Jordanian scarf, so AA was able to cover her head without having to rent a scarf. We took our shoes off and walked in the mosque. The mosque is beautiful, and has amazing mosaic tile work. The area where locals go to pray is through a different entrance. The men and women pray in different areas as well; the men in the larger area in the middle of the mosque and the women towards the back. Many tourists where being really loud and not very respectful of the people praying. We spent some time taking the beauty of the place in before going back out in the city. 

We continued to explore Istanbul for the remaining of the day, before walking back to the hostel to get our bags. We decided to get ourselves some Starbucks coffees so we could enjoy American style coffee and free WiFi. Seb ordered 2 large coffees while AA stayed outside keeping an eye on the bags and the only available table. When we tried to log onto the WiFi, it didn't work so we asked the employees who told us we needed to register with a valid Turkey cell phone number... Which obviously we don't have. And if we did, we probably would not need free WiFi as there is usually a data package with the phones... After drinking our huge coffees, we needed to use the bathroom, only to be told that they were not open right now. This was not the best Starbucks experience and we will probably stick to the very basic little coffee shops next time we are looking for a place to spend time and use WiFi.

After our deceiving Starbucks experience, we walked toward the underground station to get on our way to the airport. We decided to walk instead of getting on for just one stop on a different line. We were walking toward the station when suddenly AA said that maybe we should double check that our flight was really leaving from Istanbul Atatürk Airport. We had been so sure that this was the case that we didn't feel the need to double check again. We were really surprised to see that our flight was actually leaving from Sabiha Gökçen Airport. This airport being at the other end of the city, on the Asian side!  We didn't expect that, so we rushed back to the subway station we were just at, got on for one stop to Taksim and almost ran to get to the bus stop where we first arrived in Istanbul. We were lucky enough to catch the bus who then brought us to the right airport. It is a good thing that we are always on the safe side when planning time to get somewhere, because we arrived just in time for the start of the check-in. It was a very good reminder to always double check the booking confirmation.

There was a pretty big line up at the Air Arabia counter, and things were moving really slowly, but hey, we were at the right airport now! The crowd was also different, because our first flight was to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Most women were wearing their headscarves. We finally checked-in and decided to go through security right away thinking that food could wait. Making sure we were going to catch our plane was the priority. We found our gate and went back to the restaurant area and sat down at a table only to be told they were closing in ten minutes and we couldn't order food. We walked to the second level of fast food restaurant, but they too where already done, because they close at midnight. Apparently 10 minutes before you can't buy anything. We hurried to the sandwich shop we had seen by our gate and surely, it was already closed. So we had to go with the only option left, a really expensive not really tasty dry sandwich and small bottles of water. We ate our lunch and finished jut a few minutes before boarding. The plane took off at 1:10am, almost on time. We had a short one hour and ten minute connection in Sharjah Airport, but we landed almost 30 minutes late. By the time we got off the plane, in the bus and through security, it was already the last call. We hurried to the right gate, and took another bus... who brought us to the same plane we had just left minutes ago. It was quite funny because when we checked-in at the Air Arabia counter in Istanbul, the guy had given us the same seat numbers for both flights so we sat in the exact same spots. This second flight was pretty smooth and we arrived on time in the buzzing city of Kathmandu in Nepal.

Hagia Sofia :


Sultanahmet :



Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Pamukkale, Turkey

After one last day relaxing and reading in Goreme, we grabbed our bags and headed toward the bus station. Our night bus arrived on schedule and was very full. The bus had multiple stops on the way; three times for a 30 minute break, and on a few occasions to pick up and drop off people. It was very hard to sleep as the attendant turned the lights on a few minutes before each stop, and the guy working in the alley was passing by a lot, doing the snack service as well. The bus arrived in Denizli around 6am, and a minibus was parked on the side of the highway to bring us to Pamukkale. We sat in the minibus which drove us to the Metro office. That is when we learned it was a big celebration day in the Arab world, Sacrifice Feast, so the hotels where not opened yet according to the guys working in the bus station. We waited for about an hour, listening to some machine gun being fired. The Asian tourists looked slightly startled by the sound when they got of their minibus. After spending one month in Jordan, where there was a wedding celebration almost every night with machine guns and fireworks, we now consider it a normal sound.

We walked to the hotel, checked-in, showered and went for a tasty and much needed breakfast in a restaurant attached to another hotel. After filling our bellies, we started our climb up the cascades of the Travertines. They are made of multiple pools filled with mineral water coming from a natural source. The water was still fairly warm which was a good thing as we needed to remove our shoes to walk in the cascades. The Travertines made of limestone rock are bright white, and the water a nice shade of turquoise. Pamukkale means "cotton castle" in Turkish, and it is a pretty accurate description. It was funny to us as it looked like snow. It definitely feels different to step on what looks like a snowbank, but is hard as rock and covered with warm running water. Our feet really appreciated the treatment, and our skin was baby soft at the end of the day.

 At the top of the cascades, we visited Hieropolis, an old Roman city. It had a great amphitheater with 12 000 seats. There is also a pool with remains of roman columns in the bottom. We didn't pay the extra money to swim in the pool as it was getting very crowded. After our time in the Travertines and the ruins, we walked back towards the small town to plan our bus to Izmir the following day.

The next morning, we woke up late, enjoyed the well-presented breakfast from the Allgau hotel before packing up and heading out to the bus station. The guy from Metro had told us the day before that there were buses every hour, but when we arrived at 11am, he said the next one was at 3pm. So we decided to try Pamukkale Bus Company instead as they had room to leave right away. We took a Dolmus (shared minibus) from Pamukkale to Denizli to reach the bus. It was even more comfortable than the other company. Slightly more expensive but worth it. We read while listening to some music from the entertainment system for most of the 4 hour ride. 

When we arrived in Izmir, the sky was very dark and it started raining. We tried to find information on how to reach to the city center by bus. The signs were not very obvious but we finally found the bus stop, and the little kiosk where we bought our tickets. The guy didn't speak much English, but enough to tell us the right bus number to take. Seb's GPS app turned out to be very useful again as we could see where to get off and find to our hotel. 

Our stay in Izmir was brief, only two days, as we just needed to shop for good hiking boots for our next adventure. We also started to buy some warmer clothes as we don't have any left after summer in Europe and fall in the Middle East. After our short stay in Izmir, we took another night bus to Istanbul where we spent one night and two days to prepare for our next flight.


Sunday, 13 October 2013

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

After our visit to Kaymakli, we walked part of the Ihlara Valley. We entered the park through entrance 1, payed our 8 Lira fee and started our descent down the stairs to the river. The trail in itself is fairly easy, wide and almost flat. But what makes it challenging and interesting is to visit all the rock carved churches. For each and every one of them we had to climb an impressive fight of stairs, when multiplied by the quantity of churches it amounts to a good workout! We started our walk on the west side of the river, visiting Kokar church and Purenliseki church.

When we arrived at the second entrance, there were many groups starting their hike so we decided to skip the churches in that area and keep them for our way back. We visited St. George church and then decided to turn around as we didn't really feel the need to go to Belisirma village to see mostly restaurants. We made our way back to the second entrance, this time crossing the bridge to visit Serpent church, Dark Castle Church and Egritas Church. 

It was very interesting to see the frescoes that remain in the churches. They also have different styles, some with columns  others simpler rectangles. After our adventures in Ihlara Valley, we got back in the rental car for a short drive to Selime Cathedral. The Cathedral was also built in the rocks and there are many rooms to explore. It looked different than Ihlara churches mainly because  of the size and the rock type.

Kokar Church
Purenliseki Church
St. George Church
Yilanli Church
Dark Castle Church
Egritas Church

Here are a few pictures of Selima Cathedral:


Kaymakli, Turkey

There are 36 underground cities in Cappadocia and today we decided to visit one of them; Kaymakli. Kaymakli is said to be the widest while the other popular one, Derinkuyu, is the deepest. We rented a car from our hotel, it was an older car with a lot of kilometers on it. It looked like it was the owners' brother's car or something like that. We left Goreme around 9 am. We had to fill-up the car as soon as we left and that is when we realized how expensive gas is here; it is one of the most expensive places we have seen so far at almost 5 Lira per liter  We followed the signs to Kaymakli Underground City, only to arrive in front of what looked like a market. There were no indications on where the ticket booth and main entrance were located. We waited a little while watching tour buses coming in, we followed them through the little market and up the street filled with shops to the entrance.

Guides were there, ready to take people on tour and trying to convince us that without a guide we were not going to understand any of it. We politely declined and bought our tickets. The tour is clearly indicated with arrows once you are inside. At the same moment we started our descent, a big group walked by us. During our exploration of Kaymakli, we saw many tour groups. They were all going really fast, just walking by the rooms, not having much time to take good pictures or even try to imagine what was life like for persecuted Christians. We were glad we didn't pay for a guide as they too were rushing their clients through. We spend a good amount of time in almost every rooms, looking at all the nooks and crannies, taking many pictures and even exploring paths that were not lit. Good thing we had brought our head lamp. We really enjoyed our tour but it probably wouldn't be as fun if someone was claustrophobic! We had to walk bent over pretty much the entire tour as the rooms and passages were very small. After over an hour, we came back out and drove to Ihlara village to visit the valley and it's many churches (pictures and story in the next post).