We didn’t know an awful lot about Turkey except that it was largely Muslim, and were not sure what to expect. We arrived at around lunchtime (after a surprisingly excellent Turkish Airlines flight – highly recommend flying with them). After checking in to our hotel we set out to check out the sights. Istanbul is a real east meets west country. Like Morocco there is the guy reciting the Koran over loudspeakers every hour or two, and people tend to dress conservatively, but the place is much more clean and less chaotic than Morocco. We found that the street and market vendors weren’t quite so pushy, and everyone was very helpful and polite. Istanbul has several really beautiful mosques, and we were struck by the beauty of the city skyline. The square which is home to the Sultan Ahmed (Blue mosque) and the Sofia Palace is particularly beautiful.
Our first full day in Istanbul we spent checking out the Grand Bazaar, which was huge. We were a little bit disappointed that a lot of the market sold fake designer wares, rather than just local handmade items. I think from that point of view the markets in Marrakech and Fes in Morocco were streets ahead. The streets themselves in Istanbul are a fantastic place to just sit and people watch. Food wise, we seemed to come across restaurant after restaurant with mostly the same kinds of food – donor kebab, and various meats grilled on metal skewers. We were surprised not to see any falafel at all.
The next day, we headed to the port area and caught a ferry up the Bosphorus canal, nearly to the mouth of the black sea. We ended up in a place called Anadolou Kavagi, and climbed the hill to an old ruined castle, where there were beautiful views to the black sea. The ferry trip itself took about 2 hours and was stunning. The city and its surrounds are surprisingly green, and the banks of the Bosphorus are lined with spectacular buildings. We hired an audioguide which told us a bit about the history as we were going. The little town we stopped at is famous for its seafood, so we were treated to a delicious lunch of grilled fish before jumping back on the boat and heading home.
The other highlight of the day was Andrew’s Turkish barber experience. We stopped at a local barber, and he got a complete going over. He was expecting the haircut and cutthroat shave, but the guy wasn’t finished yet. His eyebrows got trimmed, extra hairs on his cheeks were plucked using cotton, the guy got the scissors up his nose to trim the hairs there, and then he pulled out a lighter and singed off a couple of stray hairs on his ears! He looked like a new man afterwards!
The next day was Andrew’s birthday, and it was a long one. We got up at 5.30 and headed on a tram to the airport to pick up a rental car and head towards Gallipoli. The start of the drive was pretty stressful, the Turkish drivers are absolutely crazy – tooting, changing lanes with no warning and even creating new lanes. But we managed to make it out alive and got to Gallipoli about 4 hours later. We had actually done some planning for this day and it paid off – we found the Australian government page on visiting Gallipoli, which comes with a free downloadable audioguide which starts at North Beach, then goes south to Anzac Cove and takes you past several important places. The audio is pretty biased towards Aussies, but it gave us a pretty good idea about what things must have been like for the men. There are still lots of trenches around, and you are struck by the collosal waste of human life which occurred there. The actual area which was occupied by the allies seems so small, but being there you can see why it was so significant. We were pretty shattered by the time we got back to the hotel that night at around 11, I don’t think Andrew’s ever had such a long birthday! The hotel we were staying was really nice and incredibly close to the old town and markets. Although Lisa did manage to find a live scorpion having a dispute with a cockroach in our room when we got home one night! The city has a really good tram system, which seems just as efficient as the London underground but far less complicated! The city has over 14 million people so at times the carriages could be quite jam packed!
Our final day in Turkey was a bit more relaxed. We spent the morning again wandering around the old town, but the highlight was the trip to the Turkish Hammam. These are traditional bathhouses. Traditionally, they are separated into houses for men and women, but we wanted to go together so we went to one that has been adapted for tourists. We arrived, and were told to go and get changed – ladies into a bikini, men naked apart from a cotton towel wrapped around them. We were then led into a really hot steamy room, where we lay on a heated marble slab for half an hour or so.
We were then called away into a separate area for our bath treatment. We had a masseuse each, who scrubbed our skin, then covered us about 2 foot high in bubbles and massaged us. Andrew’s massage was pretty vigorous, he ended up with a couple of bruises on his back the next day! Afterwards, they dry you in a special way, then you go to a slightly cooler area to readjust your temperature before heading home. It was a really relaxing experience, and a totally new thing for us to do.
Turkey is a country we would definitely return to. We hardly feel like we had time to scratch the surface of Istanbul itself, and from our drive to Gallipoli it looks like the countryside could be even better than Istanbul itself. We found the people really friendly and accommodating, and the food pretty good.
We returned to England after another really early start to get to the airport in time. Someone had bought our van on ebay, so we had to get to Exeter to show it to them. It was going to be way more expensive and take way longer to travel to Salisbury and pick the van up via public transport than by renting a car, so we took off from Luton airport on our big journey in a tiny Fiat 500. We picked up the van in Salisbury and drove in convoy to Exeter. By the time we had arrived, we had been travelling for 18 hours and were exhausted. We were absolutely heartbroken when the people came to see the van armed with a damp meter (we didn’t even know these things existed) and told us that the back corner of the van was rotten and they didn’t want it. We must have looked as devastated as we felt because they gave us 50 pounds petrol money (pity money!). We drowned our sorrows in a ready meal from the supermarket and chocolate pudding, too exhausted to even drink the wine we got, and slept in a carpark.
The next couple of days were focused on getting the van sold – we didn’t want it hanging over our heads for the trip to Porto, and didn’t want to have to rely on friends to sell it for us. We decided to relist with a lower price and to be upfront about the damp. Andrew also found specialist motorhome dealers online and emailed them for quotes. Finally our luck changed and one of the dealers came to visit and offered us a pretty good price. He will have to spend a bit of money doing the van up, but he employs a panelbeater and the engine itself is good that we think he’ll get a good price for it in the end. The best part was, he came to us so no more driving around to places only to be disappointed.
With the van stress out of the way, we had a great couple of days in London seeing friends and a little sightseeing, as well as casting our votes for the election back home. Unfortunately looked as though both of our votes were wasted with the Conservatives failing to hit that magic 5%. Next week we are back with Emilia in Portugal for grape harvest, can't wait!