As I sit in the common lounge of my hostel in Helsinki, it only takes a short walk outside to find myself a world away from the warmth of Turkey. So, lets hope that for my sake writing this post will, at least for the meantime take me back to a much warmer place.
So, lets start at the beginning, initially Turkey definitely wasn’t high on my radar for potential travel destinations. Sure, like most Australians my age I’d always thought that it would be an amazing experience to make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli and gain a true appreciation for our diggers sacrifice in World War I, but besides that to be blatantly honest I didn’t really know much about the country or what it had to offer. This began to change after meeting two friends from back home who told me about the amazing time they had staying in caves, tree houses and sailing the ocean. Already sounding like a winning combination, the fact that they did it ridiculously cheap further enticed my appetite for a Turkish adventure.
Initially I had planned to head over to Istanbul at the end of my Top Deck tour and commence my first solo voyage overseas, which to be honest did scare me a tad. However, as is always the way when travelling everything changed on the last night of my Top Deck tour when, over a few beers two of my new best mates decided that they would be more than willing to tag along. So, it was settled, Hamish, Matt and Kristofer, otherwise known as the three musketeers would regroup after Oktoberfest and set sail for the land of the Turkish delight.
This agreement didn’t last long as a few days later another fellow Top Decker, for the sake of this post lets call him Tom, decided that he couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to join such an amazing team. Thus we soon became the fantastic four. Now, one thing you should know is that the only restriction on the trip to Turkey was that the boys had already locked in a flight to Spain, thus giving us exactly 11 days to explore 783,562km2.
Chapter 1: Istanbul
To say that our first day, well technically it was night time when we arrived, in Istanbul was a disaster would be a slight understatement. After sitting through the plane ride from Munich we arrived at the second tier airport which meant that it took approximately two hours by bus to reach the main square from which our hostel directions began. By this time we were rather tired and just wanted to reach our hostel and crash. Unfortunately this would not occur for a further three hours. In the meantime we walked around in circles trying to follow shithouse directions, got refused service by about ten non-English speaking cab drivers, walked down some of the dodgiest alleyways I’ve come across and to Hamish’s sheer disgust dodged a number of stray disease carrying cats and dogs. At this point I could tell that the boys were doubting their decision to follow me to what seemed like a third world country and in all honesty I was wondering what I had gotten us in. However like a good sergeant I did my best to show no signs of panic. In the end we did reach our hostel, which was in fairness situated in-between so many back streets that the cab drivers probably didn’t even know where it was. Things didn’t get much better that night/morning when I was woken up to what sounded like the rapture outside our window as the Muslim chanting took place for what seemed like an eternity. It won’t surprise you to hear that despite paying the deposit and pre booking for an extra two nights, our stay in this particular hostel was limited to one night only.
Luckily a new day brought about new hope and this was quickly realised when on our third attempt we finally found a cab driver willing to take us to the old side of town. Here we found the surroundings much more pleasant and after a few enquires found ourselves a reasonably priced hotel room. Here the staff assisted us with booking a Gallipoli tour for the following day and put us in contact with a fast talking Turkish travel agent who would go on to book our seven day extravaganza trip. Things soon got even better, when after a few well-earned afternoon rooftop beers we were joined by our final partner in crime who had just arrived from a five-day bender in the Greek Islands. In true Topdeck style the reunion of the fantastic four was marked by what was initially intended to be a light drinking session with an impending 6am wakeup for the Gallipoli tour bus the following morning. In my mind things were doomed from the moment we discovered the 2.5 litre beer pourer and free sheesha. At some point in the early morning we slowly made our way back to the hotel room and I checked my phone, it was 2am.
Chapter 2: Gallipoli
It was exactly 5:45am when I heard what was close to the most unwelcome wakeup alarm of my trip to date. However, channelling the true Anzac spirit we somehow managed to drag ourselves down two floors of stairs and board the bus. Our state upon boarding was much to the delight and amusement of our fellow travellers who all appeared to be over the age of 65. To be honest I don’t remember much of the morning as I, along with three of the others slept almost the entire four-hour journey to our lunch stop. After lunch we entered the Anzac museum and were treated to a vast collection of memorabilia, ranging from soldiers boots to grenades and much more. From here we moved onto the more historic sites including Anzac Cove, various memorial sites and the trenches where the fighting took place. It was particularly interesting to find that the two enemy trenches were literally situated by a stones throw from each other. The tour ended fittingly with a magnificent view across the vast coastline of the various places that we had visited during the day. Looking back, despite everyone sporting a solid hangover it really was a great experience to understand the history behind the area and pay some respect to the diggers who gave themselves for our country. It goes without saying that, if as an Australian you find yourself in Turkey you must find your way to Gallipoli.
Chapter 3: Istanbul
As I mentioned earlier on our second day in Istanbul we had signed up for a seven-day trip taking us from the north to south of Turkey. This left up with a morning in Istanbul before boarding our first flight to Cappadocia. During this time to my delight we managed to check out the Hagia Sophia which, for those of you who are not familiar is close to if not the most famous mosque on the face of the planet dating back over 500 years. Not surprisingly the interior was really cool, as you can hopefully gather from the photos. This ended our sightseeing time in Istanbul.
Chapter 4: Cappadocia
The first leg of our seven-day journey was the region of Cappadocia, well known for its rock formations, valleys and caves. Yes you heard me correctly, caves and this is exactly what we would be staying in for our only night in the region. However, our arrival would not be before a two-hour shuttle bus ride where on substandard road surfaces our lead foot driver didn’t let the speedometer drop below 130kmph. I think I can speak for the entire group when I say that our eventual arrival at the cave accommodation in the town of Goreme couldn’t have come soon enough. After a short night time stroll around the town for dinner we had become utterly fascinated by the various rock formations. However, this would be nothing compared to what we would see on our tour the following day.
Now lets be honest, anytime you wake up in a cave you automatically know its going to be a good day right? Yes, is the correct answer. Accordingly this was exactly the way our day panned out as we were taken on a tour throughout Cappadocia. This included some spectacular views of rock formations, a walk through an underground city of caves, a walk through Rose Valley and my personal favourite a rock formation of caves that we could climb and explore. Again similar to Gallipoli it was a long day which as you can see from the amount of photos was jam-packed with a lot of amazing experiences. Once back in Gerome we passed the time drinking beers and playing pool until boarding our overnight bus to Olympos.
Chapter 5: Olympos
There are certain situations you find yourself in when you are overseas which you would never experience back home in Australia. The overcrowded shuttle bus from Olympos bus station to our tree house accommodation was definitely one of these situations. Similar to peak hour on the tube we were squished in with no room to move, but unlike the tube there was luggage lying everywhere and no railing to prevent you falling into other people during the trip along the consistently windy road. Still, as usual we made it to our destination safely and I was able to relive another childhood memory of sleeping in a tree house. After settling in we immediately made a unanimous group decision and headed straight to the pebble beach for some much needed exercise with a game of world series beach cricket. Later in the evening we were in for a treat with an amazing buffet dinner consisting of fresh fish, rice filled capsicum and soup which left everyone well and truly satisfied. After such a great amazing the only thing left to do was share a few evening beers before retreating to bed and resting up for what would be a morning of epic proportions.
Now, I can’t speak for everyone in the group but I’m pretty sure that we all awoke at 7am with a spring in our step ready for one of the most important events of the calendar year, the AFL Grand Final. Of course television coverage was never a realistic option when you are in a valley on the south coast of Turkey. So our next best option was to stream the game live over the net. In line was a grand final day party back home we decided that it would be a great idea to each have four players who would become our drinking buddies. By the final siren and announcement of the Norm Smith Medal it was clear that this was perhaps not the brightest idea of the trip. Still with Geelong beating Collingwood the day was off to a scintillating start. This was further evident when we headed down the beach for a lie down and woke up four hours later with minor heatstroke. Still after a refreshing shower we had another amazing dinner, a few more beers, a couple of vodkas, witnessed a random Turkish wedding reception and went to bed.
Chapter 6: Blue Cruise
The following day we jumped on yet another bus and ended up at a regional port ready to board the Yacht which would be our home for next four days and three nights. More importantly, it also gave Matt and I just the excuse that we needed to pull out the sailor hats we had purchased in Venice. Now, each day spent on this yacht pretty much included the following activities, eating, swimming, eating, drinking, eating, card games, drinking and sleeping. Which when your sailing around on crystal clear water with blue skies is not a bad way to spend four days of your life. Without a doubt the highlight of the yacht trip was when under the cover of darkness myself, Tom and two other fellow sailors swam across murky waters with a mission to ‘borrow’ an inflatable dolphin tied to the keel of a nearby tourist vessel. In case your wandering, the mission had to be aborted after we were caught untying the dolphin and angrily ordered off the boat by a livid Turkish skipper. Mooring into our final destination Fethiye and stepping back onto solid land was definitely a relief for some more than others with Matt clearly not qualified to be a crew member on Pirates of the Caribbean anytime soon. With the cruise completed the fantastic four wearily boarded a flight back to Istanbul and shared a final beer before bedtime.
In hindsight eleven days in Turkey could have easily been outstretched to three weeks with the amount things there are to check out. However, given the time restraint I think the entire group was pretty stoked with the amount of stuff that we got to get done. So thanks boys, it was a great trip but I for one will be looking forward to a Carlton Draught instead of an Efes next time the fantastic four are reunited!