Two weeks in Turkey
“I hope that’s not your boat” Taxi driver, Rhodes.
We were on the Greek Island of Rhodes, about to leave for Marmaris, Turkey. There were two boats in the harbour: a huge, shiny cruise-liner and a rusty, old car-ferry that had clearly seen better days. But as we approached the terminal, I heard a chuckle from the taxi driver upfront. That was indeed our boat. We spent the next two hours sitting cross-legged on the oil-stained floor of the car ferry, a coiled rope and anchor between us. Not quite the trip to Turkey we’d planned.
Our first stopover didn’t improve things. We found Marmaris quite touristy and it had a different vibe about the place that we weren't quite sure of. So the next day we drove straight to Bodrum.
This is where our impression of Turkey turned… for the better. Much better. Bodrum has a bit of a Port Douglas/Gold Coast feel to it - complete with an old town, gorgeous scenery and restaurants or bars right on the beach. We dined on yoghurt-marinated bread with kofte at Salimakis Bay then walked around the castle of St Peter. From there, we ambled through the old town, soaking up a little more of Bodrum’s beauty and charm then headed for Kumbahce Bay where we sat back in recliners on the beach with a beverage or two. This was my favourite thing to do by far and preempted my next favourite thing… dinner with the locals. We’d been told about a hidden strip of market-style restaurants behind the police station. It was absolutely packed. You can choose fresh fish from a trawler and get one of the taverns to cook it – or just eat their meze. We feasted on smoked cheese, calamari, cold fava, pickled veggies and dry white wine before rolling up the hill to our hotel, one of our flashest yet. The Grand Yazici, is a fair hike from the action but the views, hammam and breakfast buffet were worth it.
I also highly recommend a day trip to Gumusluk Mahallesi – it moves at a quieter pace than Bodrum and we loved the restaurants and little shops as well as the walk out to the island.
Next stop was Butterfly Valley. It turned out to be one of the many highlights of our trip. We stayed at Die Wassrmuhle – a former wheat mill that’s now a bed and breakfast/dinner, with stunning views. The area is wonderfully secluded and we loved walking around the cliffs among the poppies, daisies and goat herds then sitting down to enjoy the sunsets each night on the beach below. The food here, was faultless (apart from the house-made white wine!) – fresh eggs straight from the hen for breakky and a swag of German specialties at dinner .
We kept heading south, stopping at Kalkan (loved!) then onto the coast of Kas (not so much). We stayed here though because it was a great base to sail out to Kekova’s famous sunken city and ancient Lycian tombs. The ruins are partly submerged but the water here is crystal clear, so you can see most of the artifacts by peering down into the water, from the boat. Swimming is strictly forbidden to protect the site. The scenery is picture-perfect and you can stop at the island of Kalekoy for lunch with a view.
If it weren’t for Mount Chimaera, I’d say Olympos is not worth visiting. It’s very touristy-backpacker style so we stayed in Chimaera, near the beach, where you can walk to the mountain. At twilight, the burning rocks look like hundreds of little campfires burning across the hillside, where methane and other gases emerge from the rock and burn.
On through to Antalya, we stopped at Kemar – which wasn’t featured in any of our tour guides but probably should be. It’s a gorgeous little harbor town but nothing compared with Antalya – which we absolutely adored. This little gem of a place has it all – an old town and Roman fortress, beaches, a port and on the horizon – snow-capped mountains. We hired our own private gulet in the morning – and were glad we did - the winds crept up in the afternoon.
Istanbul too, was fabulous. From the tulips and Grand Bazaar to the fish sandwiches on the Galatla Bridge, we loved our time here. We stayed at the Lady Diana Hotel, which had views of the blue Mosque and Aya Sofia. The food was great and an absolute must is a river cruise up the Bosphorus, which forms part of the continental border between Europe and Asia.
Top tip: Grab a drink at 360 degree bar and a curry at Dubb-Indian. The pistachio baklava from the spice markets is also impeccable.
I don't think any trip to Turkey would be complete without seeing Gallipoli. And we were here for Anzac Day, something that had been on my bucket-list ever since I had a bucket list (my great grandfather was an ANZAC). We hired a car in Istanbul then drove four hours to the Gallipoli Peninsula. What struck me first, was the beauty of the place - despite the atrocities that went on here, the scenery is beautiful. Then you get to Anzac Cove, the battlefields and Lone Pine where white crosses mark stories of heroism and camaraderie, giving rise to the birth of a nation. We walked 5km from the carpark to the site - our plan was to nab a spot, then get a bit of shut-eye before the service started at dawn. Unfortunately, we were totally unprepared for how cold we'd be - if I did it again, I'd rug up a lot more and sleep in the carpark then walk to the site at 3am. But to be fair, your respect for those diggers deepens even more - the cold was the least of their concerns as they jumped into the freezing water, underneath a relentless shower of bullets from above. The service, the Last Post, the stories... it's an unforgettable mix of tragedy, nationalism and pride that stirs the soul for a long time after you leave.