In August this year we (myself, hubby Nic and two Saffa friends) took to a spur-of-the-moment adventure to the mysterious and magical Turkish lands. We started our adventure in Istanbul, flew to Antalya and road tripped all the way from Antalya to Selçuk (Ephesus). We discovered ancient history, the mountains, the ancients seas, rivers and most of all, we found new friends. Below is a short description of our itinerary:
Day 1 Dubai > Istanbul
I will start by saying that although we met some really nice younger Turkish folk, most of the people (especially the older Turks) are stern and somewhat unapproachable, close to the point of being rude. If you know that before you go, you should have a great time. We realised this, right as we arrived at Ataturk Airport and was rudely “greeted” by a guy at passport control. He stamped an open page on our passports, after we specifically (and very nicely) asked him not to do that, he still went ahead and did it. WELCOME TO TURKEY!
After a bit of a false start we hopped on a bus from the airport to an area called Byoglu, where we would be staying for the rest of our time in Istanbul. Erin (I presume he is the manager) received us at Cozy Flats – our base camp for the next 4 nights and he was extremely friendly and helpful. We also loved our apartment with its kitchen and living room area, where we made breakfast in the mornings and mainly snacked on street food throughout the day. On the first evening we discovered a small, intimate little restaurant called Otto Cihangir, with amazing fusion food and even more amazing Efes beer and viby music. Efes beer, soon became our official drink of the holiday.
Day 2 Around Taxim Area, Istanbul
On Day 2 we got up early and went to the market to buy some supplies for breakfast, for the following couple of days. After breakfast we explored the area around Taxim Square, with it’s eclectic vintage and antique shops and slowly strolled towards the square.
Our main goal for going to the square was to go the kiosk that sells the museum, cellphone and Istanbul cards and on the way we bumped into fellow South African tourists, from the West Coast. Turkey is a very popular destination for South Africans and a lot of the bohemian interior decorating is inspired either by Moroccan or Turkish carpets and furniture in South Africa
ístiklal street or ístiklal Cadesi (the main shopping street in Beyoglu) is a 1,4 km long pedestrian street that sells everything from ice cream to running shoes and it is a hub for street performers and tourists alike. I found the old historical tram that runs all along the street, beautiful and interesting and it really adds to the charm of the area. What also caught my eye were the ice cream vendors.
Turkish ice cream is thick, chewy, elastic and delicious. They use two main ingredients to make their ice cream, to give it this unique texture: a thickening agent called salep and a resin called masep. The ice cream vendors wear regional dress costumes from the Kahramanmaraş area and depending on their mood, they playfully taunt their customers, before they give you your ice cream.
We decided to rest somewhere out of Ístiklal street and found a café that served Efes and thick Turkish coffee. The coffee is strong enough to restart a Bouing 777, so beware. The café had a great vibe and we involuntarily got introduced to various interesting characters, who flocked to our table, to either ask for things, sell us things, pray for us or simply swear at us. I think we drew a bit of attention as this street was out of the touristy hub and more regular, local customers go there, which is what drew us there in the first place.
The longer we stayed however, the friendlier people became and we ended up spending the entire afternoon and evening there. We not only saw the changing of the mood but also saw a drastic change in the weather as a massive storm rushed through the city.
We ordered street food and we got home hungry, happy and soaking wet.
After freshening up we went for an evening stroll, to find seafood and we found a small tucked-away seafood restaurant, that only sell canned fish (not recommendable). Here the boys had their first introduction to Raki and I am sure it was their very last one too.
Day 3 Archeological Sites, Istanbul
The next morning we got up early and the guys made breakfast. We took the metro from Taxim Square to Sultanamed station, that is the closest station to all the most well-known archeological sites in Istanbul. With our museum cards we were fast-tracked past the long que at the Hagia Sophia, our first historical stop.
The Hagia Sophia is a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi). From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when the Latin Empire converted it into a Roman Catholic cathedral. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935 (Wikipedia).
After spending some time inside the Hagia Sophia we walked over to the Blue Mosque which was jam-packed with tourists, so we couldn’t go inside.
We then walked to the Basilica Cistern and while waiting in the que to go in, we ate corn on the cob, that they sell on the side of the road. It is a great substantial, healthy snack that you can have cooked, either steamed or grilled.
The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city, that is formerly known as Constantinople. The cistern, located 500 feet (150 m) southwest of the Hagia Sophia on the historical peninsula of Sarayburnu, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (Wikipedia). Inside are two very interesting Head-of-Medusa column bases of which the origin is unknown and people believe they have magical powers, that makes dreams come true.
We also visited the Unesco Word Heritage site: Topkapi Palace and the incredible Harem considered one of the best examples of Ottoman Period. I have never seen such incredible attention to detail and it was amazing to see the last Sultan Mehmed VI Vahidettin’s private sleeping chambers.
Our last destination for the day was the magnificent Archeological Museum with artifacts that date from the Sumerian era to Egyptian mummies.
We took a (very busy) tram back to the station and among the crazy pushing and squeezing, we saw a beautiful Turkish couple. You could see that they were either newlyweds or that they just met because among noise and confusion, they were completely content with quietly holding each other’s hands.
The light was also really beautiful and I wish I took a portrait of them. In some ways that moment summed up my experience of Istanbul: within the crazy chaos of people, you have these silent and serene spaces that have been loved for hundreds of years. That evening, Nic and I went for a stroll around town and we decided to go back to Otto Cihangir for dinner. A perfect ending, to a magical time we had in Istanbul. I would most definitely visit the city again and explore more of the food and archeological sites.
Day 4 Istanbul > Antalya
Travelling from Cozi apartments to the airport would have been extremely difficult on the metro with all our baggage, so we booked a taxi and managed to squeeze all our luggage in. Taxis are a bit more expensive in Istanbul, compared to Dubai and best to book one through the place that you are staying.
We made the mistake of taking a bottle of wine with us which they confiscated at the airport, but apart from the wine hiccup, the flight to Antalya was quick and painless and took around 1 hour. When we arrived at the airport we forgot that we booked our car for a couple of days later but soon we knew why we made that decision in the first place. Driving in Antalya old town is not advisable and not practical and we actually really didn’t need to drive anywhere from there.
Instead we took a bus (4TLR) to old town, which wasn’t actually old town. Beware of bus drivers who take you for a ride (literally), best to keep Google maps open, so you can actually see where they are supposed to drop you off.
Antalya is located on the Mediterranean Turkish Riviera and in 2013, it became the third most visited city in the world by number of international arrivals, ranking behind Paris and London, respectively (Wikipedia).
After realizing we were nowhere near old town we got a cab to the main entrance of the old city called Hadrian’s Gate. The surroundings are much nicer than the rest of the industrial-looking Antalya, which was quite a relief. Hadrian’s Gate is a well-known archeological site in Antalya and a spot for wedding photographers to capture a romantic moment. We passed the newlyweds and rolled our bags over the pedestrian cobbled streets on our way to our next home: Shiluh Apartments.
The manager does not speak English and they do not have a sign outside the door, so best to also map this one out on Google Maps, before you go. We stayed in 2 separate apartments and they were both beautifully spacious and ideally situated in old town.
Old town is beautiful and it was such a pleasure to have a bit of quiet, after the crazy couple of days in Istanbul. We found a small restaurant called Castle, with a magnificent view over the old harbour of the city, where we had a drink to take in the beauty of the place. On our way back we stopped for mezze and I had the best anchovies, grilled eggplant, salad and grilled calamari that I have ever had – at a restaurant of which I cannot remember the name. Incredible decor and wonderful ambiance, where we ended up listening to local music and stayed up extremely late that evening.
Day 5 – White Water Rafting, Antalya
Blissfully unaware of the day ahead we woke up tired and got ready for a day on the road and on the river for white water rafting. Had it not been for the late shenanigans, I probably would have been more motivated but at that point I really wished our driver never showed up.
Unfortunately none of us knew the ride to the river would take us over 2 and half hours from Antalya over extremely hilly countryside. The driver stopped around half way to buy some supplies so we could at least get some food before our day on the water. We all hoped that he would speed things up a bit, but he kept the speedometer on a whopping speed of 80km/hour for the duration of the trip (killing on a fragile stomach).
When we finally reached Novaraft the team was a bit under the weather, but after the safety demo (of which I was the victim) we all split into groups or into canoes of two and the spirits picked up again. We decided on the rafts for two and I am very happy we made that decision. If we chose the group rafts we would have spent the rest of the day, chanting on a boat with people you don’t know. With the two-seater we could experience a bit more of the timid rapids and row at our own pace without being pushed in the icy water, every five minutes by an attention-seeking idiot. We rowed for about an hour and a half and even though we put on sunscreen we (myself an Mia) got really burnt quite badly.
After the rafting we had a fabulous lunch of fish and fresh salads (at Novaraft) and got given complimentary photos, by the friendly owner of Novaraft. The trip back to Antalya, took about three hours and we where happy when we arrived at the apartment. We ordered street food (döners) and strolled to the harbor and back till after sunset.
I also got to capture a photo of one of the many brides in old town, while she was taking a break with her husband at a restaurant overlooking the sea.
This day was also voting day and even though they were not allowed to sell alcohol we got a small shop or “market” that gave us a couple of beers to take to our apartment. We met up with Mia and Eljay at the small hotel next to our apartment and spoke to the passionate German owner, about the current political situation and voting. We were super tired but super happy that we got to experience a bit of nature and fresh air and even though the ride was tiresome, the experience was incredible.
Day 6 – Antalya Old Town
After the packed schedule yesterday, we decided to chill out for the day so, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we strolled through the town with it’s cobbled streets, markets and café’s and found a pool we lazed around.
Later the evening we took Eljay and Mia to the harbor to show them the views after which we had an early dinner and got a well-deserved rest.
Day 7 – Antalya > Fethiye
We arranged with the rental agency that the car be delivered at our apartment in old town. For a small extra fee it was very convenient, since Nic would have had to go all the way back to the airport to pick up the car. I would, however, recommend a more well-known car-hire establishment than Circular Hire, but the rates were very good. The car we got wasn’t very clean and quite old, but it worked fine and was spacious enough to fit in our entire luggage.
We drove 30 km to the north of Antalya and the beautiful Pisidian city of Termessos (333BC) and some of the best-preserved ruins I have ever seen. It is situated in the Taurus Mountains and it is a hike of 1000 metres from the foothills, so wear proper shoes and take lots of water if you visit the ruins. The ruins were one of the highlights of our entire trip.
From there we stopped at the Karain Caves, which is an active excavation site and a Paleolithic archaeological site at Yağca village 27 km northwest of Antalya city. Theses prehistoric caves are about 80 metres hike up a mountain but well worth seeing. (I would totally recommend not wearing flip-flops on such an excursion)
We stopped at a roadside café for lunch and I had amazing spinach pancakes/lawash. The rest of the crew had a shared lamb dish, which was slow cooked and very tasty with fresh tomato salad and what seemed like cream cheese/laban.
After around 2 and half hours we reached Fethiye city, that is the modern version of the ancient city of Telmessos that used to be the most important city of Lycia. We stayed in New Age Sunset Apartments on the beach and out of the centre town. The unit is located in a complex, where they have around 5 pools and it is really great for families with an outside entertainment area and they have great barbecue facilities. After a rocky start with the manager we decided to have a chilled barbecue and enjoy the pool in front of the apartment.
Day 8 – Fethiye chill day
We had breakfast at the pool and we all chilled for the day either on the beach, at the apartment or in the pool. We went for a late afternoon run, a walk around the harbour and a light meal on the beach.
Day 9 – Fethiye (Ancient sites Xanthos, Saklikent Gorge and Tlos ruins)
After breakfast we drove to Xanthos, which was on the way to the Saklikent Gorge. We arrived at Xanthos in midday and most ruins are really best appreciated late afternoon, when it is not as hot, but we still enjoyed seeing the arena and some of the ancient pillars.
Saklikent Gorge is an amazing 20km long gorge and the second longest gorge in Europe and well worth the 5 TLR entrance fee. Basically, you walk for 4 km through chests-high mud, climb over rocks and jump into pools of water to reach a beautiful (yet small waterfall) at the end of the gorge. It is a challenge but awesome fun. You can have a drink or lunch at one of the beautiful little restaurants suspended over the rushing river, while lounging on the colourful Turkish carpets.
After a bit of a rest and a drink we headed to the 4000 year old ancient Lycian city of Tlos, about 4km northwest of the gorge and definitely a must see if you are in the area. We reached the ruins during sunset and I have to say the light and the setting was perfect. You really get the sense of history and memories of hundreds of years all perched on the ancient mountain and overlooking a valley.
Day 10 – Fethiye > Dalyan
From Fethiye we got a bit lost but drove to the Kayaköy Ghost village, which is around 8km from the city and a preserved museum. At the ending of the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), Kayaköy was already completely abandoned. The persecutions of Livissi inhabitants as well as Greeks of nearby Makri, were part of the wider campaign against all Ottoman Greeks and other Christians of the Empire (Wikipedia). The village has a somber atmosphere but is an amazing museum to visit.
We then visited the Telmessos ruins in Fethiye, which was a bit disappointing because they were badly spray-painted.
After a quick mezze platter, at a brilliant little restaurant with a fabulous view over Fethiye, we took to the road and headed to Dalyan, in the Mugla province.
Dalyan achieved international fame in 1987, when developers wanted to build a luxury hotel on the nearby İztuzu Beach, a breeding ground for the endangered loggerhead sea turtle species. The incident created a major international storm when David Bellamy championed the cause of conservationists such as June Haimoff, Peter Günther, Nergis Yazgan, Lily Venizelos and Keith Corbett. The development project was temporarily stopped after Prince Philip called for a moratorium and in 1988 the beach and its hinterland were declared a protected area, viz. Köyceğiz-Dalyan Special Environmental Protection Area (Wikipedia).
Of all the small towns we managed to see during our trip to the South of Turkey, Dalyan was definitely one of my favourites. The people were friendly and the town is viby and friendly. We stayed in the Berg Hotel on the river overlooking the Kaunos ruins and it was such a relaxing vibe, I didn’t want to leave. The town has a pedestrian-shopping street and it really adds to the atmosphere and holiday atmosphere. We swam in the river, ate a romantic dinner and tried fresh, stuffed mussels on the streets. This place was magical and later that evening I took a couple of long exposure shots of the Kaunos ruins.
Day 11 – Dalyan Itzuzu beach and town
We decided to swim and lounge at the hotel pool for the day and also go to a spa for a traditional hammam experience. I would suggest to do the hammam experience in Istanbul, and not Dalyan as I feel it was over priced and under whelming. A river taxi later picked us up, from the hotel, to go to Itzuzu beach.
Later in the afternoon we went to the protected Itzuzu beach with its beautiful stretch of white sandy beach. We headed back after our swim to visit the town market, while the other two stayed behind to enjoy a bit more of the sun and sand.
From the hotel we walked all along the beautiful river and pedestrian streets and just made the market in time, as they were almost starting to pack up. We bought silver jewellery and I took a couple of portraits of the fruit and veggie sellers. The light was incredible.
Later we met up with Eljay and Mia for a couple of drinks before we indulged in chicken döner kebabs, at a street café.
Day 12 – Dalyan > Selçuk
From Dalyan to Selçuk, it is about a 4-hour drive with scenic views. We stopped to get CD’s so we can listen to music in the car and Nic also got Burgerking. When we arrived in Selçuk, we were a bit disappointed with the town itself, and perhaps a bit spoiled coming from the buzz of the Dalyan atmosphere.
The town of Selçuk is not nearly as vibrant and friendly but we stayed in the amazing Ionia House, with its own swimming pool and fully equipped kitchen and fantastic decor. We had an excellent barbecue that evening and planned our last couple of days.
Day 13 – Selçuk, Ephesus
After a relaxing day at the pool we headed over to Ephesus – possibly the most significant ancient Greek ruins in Turkey. We wanted to go in the late afternoon to miss the crowds and to take engagement photos of Mia and Eljay for their wedding, that will be held in 2015. The reason we chose this place for their engagement photos, is for the history and both Mia and Eljay share a love of historical sites. What better way to shoot it at one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World?!
The ruins are incredible and you need a couple of hours to go through all the sites. The Library of Celsus was most definitely my favourite and a wonderful highlight to end our amazing trip to the South of Turkey.
Thank you to my husband Nic who makes every day a holiday and
thank you to Mia and Eljay Mulder for being such awesome travel buddies.
Some Useless Tips:
- Visit Turkey in the Summer or shoulder seasons.
- If you go to Istanbul get a museum card to skip the ques.
- Stay in self-catering accommodation in the cities.
- Swim, everywhere.
- Eat street food, especially the döner kebabs.
- Eat anchovies.
- Buy silver.
- Wear comfortable shoes, like running shoes when visiting the ruins.
- Drink lots of water.
- Drink Efes.
- Visit the ruins in the late afternoon.
- Go with friends on adventures.
- Be friendly to strangers, but don’t talk to creepy ones.
- Have a old dude feed you stuffed mussels on the street. Trust me, they are awesome.
- Don’t leave your passport, anywhere.
- Take photos and keep a diary.
- Turkey has many adventures, do them all but be sure to plan your time well in advance.