Turkey has always been somewhere I’ve been dying to visit. I did have a bit of trouble making the decision to visit with the current unrest in the country but in the end I decided to just go for it and it ended up being a serious highlight of my trip. I decided to try out a Geckos tour, the younger sibling of Intrepid, my usual tour company of choice. The unique thing about geckos is they’re specifically targeted to a younger audience with an age range of 18-30 something. I couldn’t have picked a better company to travel with and I didn’t once feel that safety was an issue, even when I was in the country when Istanbul airport was bombed. We were nowhere near Istanbul at this point so it really wasn’t an issue. But I did make sure I got in touch with my loved ones right away to ensure them I was ok and completely safe.
The tour started in Istanbul, I’d arrived a day earlier and spent my time exploring this absolutely breathtaking city! From the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya and the incredible underground Basilica Cistern to the colours of the Grand Bazaar and the spice market and finally the delicious flavours of kebabs, Turkish ice cream and baklava. There was even Turkish delight at the breakfast buffet, I was in heaven. All in all it was a refreshing change to the last 3 and half months I’d spent exploring Southern and South East Asia. And really I wasn’t breaking my plan of spending 5 moths in Asia, I’d always thought of Turkey as being European but only 3% of the country is in Europe, the remaining 97% of it is actually in Asia.
The following day I headed out early for a wander to beat the heat and then returned to my room to wait for my roommate to arrive. Brooke is a travel agent based in Melbourne and we quickly bonded over our out of control love for travel! We decided to head out together and tackle the Grand Bazaar again, it is all a little overwhelming when you’re on your own, having someone by your side definitely made it a much more enjoyable experience! We returned to the hotel for our group meeting where we got to meet the rest of our fellow travellers, yay! Well almost all of them, there were a couple of latecomers who missed the meeting, Kim and Tam I’m looking at you when I say this :P. Kim and Tam are from Sydney and had a nightmare of a time getting from the airport to our hotel, it took them over 3 hours and involved bumper to bumper traffic and ferry rides! The rest of the group were there for the meeting, nearly the whole group of us were solo travellers from Aus, there was Brooke, Hamish, Hannah, Shayna, Mariam, Claire, Lily and our lone Canadian Cass. Lily and Cass actually met on a previous tour in Egypt and Lily convinced Cass to join her on the Turkey tour. Our guide Emir calls Istanbul home but he’s originally from Antalya, one of the stops on our tour.
We got off to a flying start on our fist day of the tour and boarded a 4 hour bus ride to the shores of Gallipoli. Gallipoli is of particular importance to the Turkish, Australians and New Zealanders. Its almost surreal thinking that this beautiful location was the setting for a brutal campaign during World War One which saw many Turkish and ANZAC soldiers killed battle. It was a humbling and emotional experience to see the graves of all of those that lost their lives fighting for our country.
From Gallipoli we crossed from Europe to Asia via the Dardanelles to the charming university city of Canakkale. Being a university city meant that there were some decent pubs that were calling our name. We enjoyed dinner on the waterfront together and then half of us headed out and indulged ourselves in some GIANT fishbowl cocktails!
Today we were heading to Ayvalik but first up we made a stop at the ruins of the ancient city of Troy. They really are ruins with only very few structures still be recognisable but it was incredible to see and with images an oiled up, armour clad Brad Pitt dancing through my mind I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There’s also a giant Trojan Horse statue that you can clamber up into, I doubt its an accurate representation of the ACTUAL Trojan Horse used to sneak warriors into Troy but it was still awesome!
From Troy we continued on to the quaint seaside town Ayvalik, one look at this adorable place and you can see why its often compared to the Greek Islands. Cobblestone streets, white washed buildings and an all round laid back vibe made this town one of my favourite places on the trip. On arrival we headed to the harbour and indulged in some Ayvalik toast, a popular sandwich named after the region containing sausage, cheese, tomato and pickle, smothered in sauce and grilled to perfection. I went for the vegetarian version and skipped out on the sausage and it was one of the best toasted sandwiches I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a lot of toasted sandwiches)!
As evening approached we headed out on a sunset cruise to Cunda Island and took a sunset dip in the Aegean sea.
Next stop on my epic Turkish adventure was the ruins of Ephesus and the farming town of Selcuk. It was quite a lengthy drive from Ayvalik but with a few stops and a lunch break it wasn’t too painful. For lunch we stopped at an adorable little restaraunt that served the best Golzeme in all of Turkey. This wasn’t just a claim made by the restaraunt, it was actually true! And it was all thanks to the Golzeme Mumma who whips them up at the ripe old age of 74!
After lunch we headed to our accomodation in Selcuk and waited for it too cool down a bit before making our way to Ephesus. Ephesus is one of the most prominent sites of Ancient Ruins in Turkey, still being excavated to this day this Ancient city is an incredible sight to see!
With a morning to kill in Selcuk Brooke and I headed up to Ayasuluk castle and the ruins that overlooked the town. We spent a few hours exploring this incredible spot and then we headed down for a spot of shopping ( I may have given in to temptation and bought some turkish lamps) before departing for our next destination.. Pamukkale!
Pamukkale was definitely one of the top reasons why I wanted to visit Turkey, after being jealous of way too many peoples photos on Insta I knew it was somewhere I had to see for myself. Pamukkale means “cotton castles” in Turkish and I can’t think of a better way to describe this incredible landscape. The terraces of Pamukkale are made of travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by water from the hot springs. Above the terraces you can swim in the hot springs of Cleopatras pool, this pool is believed to have been a gift from Marc Antony to Cleopatra.
From Pamukkale we headed straight to paradise! Paradise in the form of an incredible place named Butterfly Valley, reached only by boat from the Blue Lagoon of Ölüdeniz, this is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited! It was a little overrun with day trip tourists when we first arrived but since we were camping overnight in the valley we found by the afternoon we had nearly the whole place to ourselves. We wasted away our time sunbaking, swimming, swimming, drinking cocktails and swimming some more! The sunset was spectacular and a night sleeping in a tent was a worthy sacrifice to make for as much time as possible in this paradise. The only problem was the tents appeared to be nearing the end of their time and the one that Brooke and I shared had quite a large hole at the top that let in a whole bunch of mozzies. We awoke to find more mozzies on the inside of our mosquito net than the outside and we had the bites to prove it! I couldnt even be mad though when I was able to wake up and head down for a blissful morning swim before breakfast. We then headed into the valley in search of a waterfall and to hopefully spot a few of these butterflys the valleys named after.
On return to the Blue Lagoon we spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach there and then headed into the town of Fethiye where we were staying for the night. A town infamous for its night life meant that most of us didn’t get back until around 4am in the morning! Go team!
Continuing along the Turquoise Coastline we headed to a town named Kaş for a lunch stop before continuing on to Kekova, where we would be starting a 2 day sailing trip in this beautiful part of the world! Kaş was awesome and I was devestated when we only had a few hours to explore the winding streets of this gorgeous seaside town.
The seaside town of Kekova is where we met with our captain and his wife for our sailing trip and boarded the vessel we would be calling home for the next 2 days. Life on the Mediterranean sea really is tough. We spent about 50% of our time floating and swimming around in the incredibly blue water, 25% of our time eating some of the best food I’d had in all of turkey, cooked on board by our boat mumma, she might be the captains wife but she was definitely in charge of the boat! And finally we spent the other 25% of our time exploring castles, underwater cities and adventuring to view points over the bays we stopped in at. Oh and I almost forgot to mention the magnificent sunsets and sleeping on the top deck of the boat with an almost blinding amount of stars coating the sky above us!
After a blissful couple of days on the high seas we were back on land and on our way to Antalya, Emir’s home town and the place where would sadly say farewell to 3 awesome members of our tour group. Lily, Cass and Shayna were finishing up their Turkish adventure in Antalya and we were joined by 3 new members, Bec from New Zealand and Pim and Chelsea from Perth in Aus. Antalya is a much bigger city than the seaside towns we’d grown accustomed to over the last few days but it was still incredibly beautiful, especially the old town where we were lucky enough to be staying!
Sadly after Antalya we were heading to our last stop in Turkey, sad because my turkey trip was nearly coming to an end but so so so exciting because we were going to Cappadocia!!!
Of course i was most excited about going hot air ballooning over the incredible landscape that is Cappadocia but I was also intrigued about everything else this crazy place had to offer! We visited the ancient underground city of Derinkuyu, the fairy chimneys, a museum of pottery where I started my journey to becoming a pottery master! We hiked through the mountains of Orthahisar and spent the night in a cave hotel! Explored hundred year old carpet stores and took in the magnificent views every opportunity we had.
I should also mention that myself and a few other from the group decided to visit a Turkish bath. We’d heard great things about them and figured when in Turkey, do like the Turks do and visit a Turkish bath. Unfortunately we were incredibly dissappointed in the experience, I think we might have got a bit of a dud, the levels of hygiene were well below standards that I’m used to and I came away feeling like I needed to scrub myself clean even after a body scrub was included as part of the package! But hey it was definitely an unforgettable experience!
AND like I said we went hot air ballooning over this surreal place! And we were very lucky that we actually got to do this because the first day we tried to go it got cancelled due to poor weather conditions, our 4 am wake up call was all for nothing and I was devestated that we didnt get to go! But lucky the wetaher gods were on our side the following morning and we were able to get up in the sky for a sunrise ride and it was absolutely spectacular!! Definitely and experience I will never ever forget!
To top off our Turkish experience and celebrate our last dinner of the tour we headed to traditional dance performance. The ticket that we purhcased included all you can drink alcohol. Let me just say that this is a very dangerous thing when you’re sitting down and having your drinks constantly refilled. It was an awesome night though, a particular highlight was when Kim, Hamish and Pim got up and had a crack at Belly dancing! By the time the night came to an end we’d all had a whole lot of fun and way to many drinks. Lucky we headed back to our accomodation from here because things all went downhill pretty quickly from this point, particularly for me! Thanks for getting me back to my room Kim and Tam!
After too many drinks the night before I was seriously dreading the overnight bus ride we had to take to get back to Istanbul. The hangover wasn’t the only problem, it was also the fact that this marked the end of our tour and meant I’d have to say goodbye to all the awesome people I’d travelled with over the past few weeks! We arrived in Istanbul after about 12 hours on the bus and some of the group had to rush straight off to the airport but I had most of the day to kill before my flight in the evening so I headed down to the Bosporus Straight to check out the city from a different perspective and once again I was blown away by the incredible beauty of Istanbul and Turkey! Turkey is now firmly cemented as one of my top 3 favourite countries in the world, thank you Turkey for the best time ever!!
To get a bit more of a taste of how amazing Turkey really is check out my video from my time there!