The Recollection Diaries: Turkey

My recollection

Strongest memory: We had timed our trip to Istanbul to coincide with my friend Belinda, who was visiting from New York. We had put off booking a Gallipoli tour as we weren’t yet sure whether it was going to be an overnight trip, which was dependent on what Binz and her friend Charlotte decided to. It ended up being that Andy and I were to do a day trip to Gallipoli on our very last day in Istanbul, in Turkey, and in Europe: the following day we would begin the journey back to NZ. The trip to Gallipoli is only about 6 hours (!!!) journey each way. The worst thing about it all was that I woke up with an upset stomach. I had wanted to visit Gallipoli for years, so I wasn’t about to cancel. All day (and it was one of the longest days of my life) I had to battle with cramping stomach pains and bathroom rushes every time we stopped anywhere. The worst thing was, not every place we stopped even had a toilet. Gallipoli was still surreal though, just memorable for more reasons than I would have liked!

Memorable meal: I am so sure that Andy is going to write about the best meal we had, so I will seize the opportunity to write about something completely different. On one of our first nights in the country, we were meandering around Bodrum’s touristy waterfront considering various dinner options. I guess from previous experience (usually a Turkish kebab on the way home from town on Saturday nights) I just had an assumption that even bad Turkish food would still be good. Well, I was wrong! We found a cheap Turkish kebab restaurant and Andy went inside to order while I grabbed us one of the few outdoor tables. Apparently he panicked when they told him they were all out of wraps (my go-to order), so instead he ordered me ‘pudgy bread’ for my kebab. My meal came out and it was a barely visible layer of filling, smeared across two halves of an extremely dense, suitable stale $2.99 baguette. I got irrationally mad and we ended up arguing the whole walk home about ‘pudgy bread’!

Best activity: I can’t go past hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, I just can’t. The grogginess of waking up at 4am, being picked up by a mini van in the dark of the night and being transported to a field in the middle of nowhere with dozens of other stranger sure is a weird start to the day. However the colourful sight of upwards of 50 balloons slowly growing and springing up all around and the roar of fans as hot air is blasted into these enormous tent-like masses is absolutely breathtaking and one can not stay sleepy for long. Rising up in the balloons and gliding across the landscape at the same time the sun is peeking over the horizon invokes feelings of such awe and appreciation for the natural beauty of the world around. Hot air ballooning, albeit extremely expensive and slightly nerve-wracking, is hands down one of the coolest things I have ever done. And to be honest, I didn’t feel unsafe once.

Favourite place: It took me a long time to decide which category Cappadocia would fit under (and it ended up slotting into two), as it honestly could have been my answer for all of them. Cappadocia is like something out of a fairy tale. Basically a desert, with interesting rock formations (including cave hotels, which are an integral part of the Cappadocia experience) and swarms of hot air balloons passing overhead each morning and night. There are loads of hikes around, as well as other small towns to visit. It was everything I want in a holiday destination and I never wanted my fairy tale to end! We splurged on a cave hotel and woke up each morning to a buffet breakfast on the roof top and the roaring sounds of the hot air balloons above. It was hard not to be relaxed here.

Unforgettable sight: The white terraces in Pamukkale are something that I will never forget, mostly because they were so different to what I expected and I became more horrified the more I learnt about them. The terraces are a glorious chalky white colour, formed by the carbonite residue in the thermal water flowing in the area. As the area increased in popularity, local hotels entirely exploited the phenomenon by channeling the water down into their swimming pools, effectively removing large quantities from the terraces themselves. Tourists were under no restraint and quad bikes tearing across, and destroying, the extremely delicate terrain was commonplace. As a result, most of the pools no longer have water in them and much of the area has since been blocked off  to tourists entirely. The Pamukkale terraces became a UNESCO World Heritage site way too late in the game. As a result, visiting the terraces nowadays is a strange experience. When we arrived, it was deserted but for the social media influencers lounging in various pools, each with their personal photographer perfecting the shots we all imagined Pamukkale to be. It was emphasised to us that we should be there at sunrise, in order to beat the crowds.  We had brought our togs, but the water was at the most, waist deep and not particularly inviting. By the time we left, there were hoards of people, all being shepherded through the same designated route, struggling to take pictures that showed it as the magical, untouched wonder it once was.

Andy’s recollection

Strongest Memory: We spent a full two weeks in Turkey, yet the bulk of my most called-upon memories are from just a three day stretch – the time we spent in Cappadocia. This is a region of unique beauty – soft limestone rock, carved uniquely both by the elements and the civilisations that have long inhabited the hills, valleys and tunnels. Our time there was based in the fairytale village of Goreme (at a postcard-worthy cave hotel), and was spent hiking through the valleys and gorges, visiting the nearby towns carved into the earth, and floating up in the clouds in a hot air balloon. The weather was beautiful every day that we were there, right from sunrise to sunset – which, as it happens, were two times of the day that were quite frankly unmissable.

Memorable Meal: Turkey holds the honour of one of the most memorable meals of the entire trip, and on one of the least likely stops. To visit the famous white terraces of Pamukkale, we planned for a single night stopover at the nearest affordable accommodation, which was in the neighbouring city of Denizli. After arriving late in the afternoon (and after a train trip spent on the floor of the 3rd class carriage), we checked into our basic hotel and consulted TripAdvisor for the best cheap eats in town. Not unexpectedly, it was fairly slim pickings, so we chose based on proximity alone. Our choice (the name of which I can’t remember) had a bunch of reviews that all recommended the same single dish – a slow cooked lamb shoulder kebab. We walked in and were immediately guided to a table by wait staff that did not speak english. The language barrier certainly came into play when we discovered that there were apparently no menus. When we tried to enquire, we interpreted through gesture that our order had already been placed for us. As we waited, quite unsure of what we had in store, we were offered some drinks. At this advanced stage of our trip, we would customarily refuse in favour of saving our pennies, but as with the meal it appeared that we again had no choice. We were each given a bottle of clear, sweet soda that was so delicious we didn’t even mind not having chosen it. Five minutes later, the waiter was beckoning Nicole over to examine something in the kitchen. She was shown an entire lamb shoulder, slow roasted to perfection, and prompted to approve it. She gladly did, and shortly afterward the entire shredded shoulder arrived at our table, surrounded by fresh flatbread and sauteed vegetables. It’s size was only exceeded by how delicious it was. After indulging, our refusal of the offer of dessert was once again ignored, and we were presented with a turkish delicacy that we barely had room for. So satisfied were we with the food that we we ended the meal quite prepared to pay whatever price they asked – only to discover that the only item they charged us for was the lamb shoulder, which came in at an incredibly economical price. 10/10 on all fronts.

Best Activity: On our penultimate day on the European continent, we chose the rather severe option of taking a 16-hour day trip from Istanbul to the Gallipoli peninsula to tour the battlefields of the ANZAC soldiers. The pay-off was a day spent in a surprisingly beautiful and idyllic part of the world, hearing from an admirably enthusiastic and encyclopedic local guide who brought passion and nuance in equal measure to his telling of the dramatic military campaign that had taken place on the peninsula. It was exhausting, surely, but nonetheless, I would recommend the tour to any New Zealander for whom the stories of the Anzacs have been a ubiquitous part of growing up.

Favourite Place: Istanbul was easily one of my favourite cities to visit in Europe. It was surprising on several fronts – larger (absolutely giant), more beautiful (the banks of the sparkling Dardanelles were replete with kilometres of spectacular buildings), more convenient (the city’s historic centre was compact and easy to navigate) – and also delivered in the areas more expected of it; namely food, colour, and cultural character. Our five days there went by in a blur, and I’d gladly visit Istanbul again in the not too distant future.

Unforgettable Sight: I had to jockey this one out of its original place in the “Best Activity” category, and it might rightfully deserve to straddle both of these categories. My unforgettable sight for Turkey was the bird’s-eye view of the spectacular rocky landscape of Cappadocia, captured from the basket of a hot air balloon suspended a kilometre off the ground. While there is plenty of magic to be had from simply watching the clouds of balloons from the safety of the ground, there was no way we were going to have ventured to the far-flung interior of Turkey without having gone up in one ourselves. It was breathtaking. We took off at dawn and drifted on the wind for an hour or so across the rocky plains, from heights ranging anywhere from twenty metres to one thousand metres. It was a once in a lifetime flight with views I’ll never forget.

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