After a mere hour flight from Athens, we arrived in Istanbul, where we met up with Janee. Istanbul airport was very large and modern. It is the largest earthquake safe building in the world.
We arrived too late to fit in any sightseeing that afternoon so we caught a taxi to the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia to admire them from the outside.
It was a lovely temperature and almost time for Muslims to break their fast so the area was bustling.
It wasn’t long before we were distracted by a street vendor selling Dondurma, ice cream made from Wild Orchids.
The ice cream mixture is churned regularly with long-handled paddles. Street vendors often tease the customer by serving the ice cream cone on a stick, then taking away the dondurma with the stick and rotating it around, before finally giving it to the customer.
Despite us not wanting ice cream, Janee, Bec and I each ended up with one.
There was a market celebrating Ramadan in the main square.
We got overexcited when we saw the stalls selling Turkish Delight, dried fruits and sweet pastries.
I’ve liked Baklavas ever since childhood, from growing up in Saudi Arabia so I couldn’t resist having some when Katrina bought a few.
Unfortunately there’s a lot more guilt when I eat them now.
She also let me have a bite of her semolina doughnut which her dad likes to eat
We shared a fermented malt drink called Boza which was supposed to be good for the stomach. It was mixed with lemon and sugar which I found slightly odd tasting.
We stumbled across a shop specialising in Turkish Delight and nougat.
They had a wide range of flavours. None of us walked out of that store without buying some.
We figured we were too easily indulging ourselves so we solved that by going for dinner.
It wasn’t the nicest meal we’ve had. We chose the set menu with either chicken or lamb as the main and a mixture of unusual and unappetising starters.
We woke up early the next morning to fit in our morning exercise (NOT!)
First, we visited Topkapi Palace which was the primary palace and residence for the sultans of the Ottoman empire.
It’s grounds and gardens were beautiful and serene. We felt as though we were walking through university grounds.
A good thing about Jess is she doesn’t feel overawed or intimidated when in a royal establishment.
The Topkapi palace is beautiful and its grounds are extensive but our experience was marred somewhat by the hoards of tourists and tourist groups.
We were not allowed to take photos in many of the rooms but I managed to sneak a couple in just as we entered.
Next, we hired a private guide, skipped the long line and went to see the Haghia Sophia.
Hagia Sophia was built as an Orthodox church before later being converted to a mosque by the Ottoman empire. It is now a museum.
Haghia Sophia is simply stunning. It is one of the greatest examples of Byzantine architecture.
It’s interior is decorated with mosiacs and marbling.
The building is actually the third incarnation of the church as the first two were burnt down by rioters.
When it was converted to a mosque, the mosaics of Saints and Christian symbols were painted over with yellow paint.
What struck me first when I walked into Haghia Sophia was the large open space and low chandeliers, making the interior look bright and warm.
The main hall looked like the setting for a ball from Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella.
Meanwhile the girls posed for the photo of their new TV show. (think OC or Friends)
We had a cheap and yummy lunch before visiting the blue mosque.
The mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior.
The mosque was free to enter and provided blue veils for women to cover their shoulders and wrap around their legs if they were wearing anything shorter than their leg’s mid length.
We ventured to the Grand Bazaar to try and find a bargain.
The bazaar was cleaner and more organised than we expected.
It was also more expensive than we anticipated, so much so that we couldn’t be bothered to haggled.
That evening we went to see a Sufi music ceremony and a whirling dervish show.
I probably should have watched a snippet of the show on YouTube first.
A nice dinner with the girls certainly made up for it.
Our next stop in Turkey was Selcuk, the nearest town to Ephesus, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It is a small and friendly town which has become one of Turkey’s most visited towns due to its proximity to Ephesus.
We stayed at ANZ Guesthouse, run by a Turkish man and his family. He lived in Perth over 18 years ago and worked for Carpet Call (‘Experts in the trade’).
We felt comfortable and at home in the guesthouse which was good as Bec was recovering from a bout of heatstroke.
The guesthouse offered an extensive breakfast and an optional BBQ dinner which we had every night.
Despite the hospitality of our hosts and the neighbourly feel of the town, it was not enough to prevent us from being the target of a scam far too sophisticated for town of 23,000.
We were going to Ephesus so after breakfast on our second day, we headed to an ATM to withdraw some money. The first one that Bec tried was a HSBC one that Katrina had used the day before. A good Samaritan explained to Bec that ATM was out of order and sure enough it was.
Undeterred, we walked towards the next ATM in town. There was a man pulling cash out of the next ATM as we approached. Janee, Jess and I were walking ahead of Bec and Katrina. Katrina hung back and waited for Bec by the ATM. It was at that point that I turned around and saw the same ‘good Samaritan’ coming up right behind Bec.
I turned back as I was curious as to why he was still there. I wasn’t suspicious as he seemed like a respectable citizen of the town, about 60 years of age and well dressed and we had been the recipients of helpful and friendly gestures throughout our travels in Turkey.
Bec moved to insert her bankcard and unbeknownst to the rest of us, the man at the ATM with cash in his hand took her card from her hand and told her she was trying to insert it the wrong way. He walked away after inserting the card into the machine and as he turned away, I walked up to the ATM in clear view of him.
My attention shifted to the older man who was right next to Bec and trying to help her with the machine. He pressed on a few buttons and told her to enter her pin. Upon hearing this, I quickly called out to Bec that she should watch out when entering her pin. What I really should have done was walked around to the other side of her and told the older man to move away. (Katrina was on her right)
Bec covered her hand with her purse and entered her pin, with the man hovering next to her irritatingly. Nothing happened on the machine so he made a show of pressing a few buttons before telling her that the machine was not working and to come back when the bank was open (it was a Saturday) so she could get her card. He walked away and I stepped up to the machine, trying on vain to work out whether any of the Turkish writing could be deciphered.
Bec immediately suspected a scam as she saw the older man ring someone on his mobile as he walked away. The rest of us weren’t suspicious yet as we didn’t know that her card had been physically taken out of her hand by a different guy. I thought it was still in the machine and that the older guy had tricked her when he said the ATM wasn’t working. I didn’t want to leave the machine as she had already entered her pin.
We stood at that ATM for ten minutes, pressing keys and entering different menus before Bec decided to ring her mum to ask her to cancel her card. She did this in the pharmacy next door and we decided to put this mishap to rest and head to Ephesus. As long as the card is cancelled, no mischief can come from it.
We caught a taxi to Ephesus and was stocking up on water when Bec’s mum rang to say that money had been withdrawn from her bank account today. Leaving the girls to explore Ephesus, Bec and I rushed back to the guesthouse where checked her transactions online. Sure enough, $1,000 had been withdrawn from her account in 3 separate transactions today. She rang her bank to report the crime.
The guesthouse owners advised us to tell the police as everyone knows everyone there and the police may be able to catch the culprits. I had my doubts about that but the police report would be good for her bank or travel insurance company.
The owner’s son, Atakan walked us to the local police station and proceeded to tell the officers on duty what had happened. We began to relate the sorry tale to 3 officers but some of it seemed to get lost in translation. Thankfully the owner of the guesthouse appeared and we were able to relay the tale to him so that he could tell it to the officers.
It was during this discussion that Bec and I were able to determine that the first guy stole her card when he pretended to help her put it in the right way. While Bec was initially suspicious when he grabbed her card, because he walked away immediately after that and was so completely different to the older man, she dismissed her suspicions. Also she was on the mend from heatstroke and exhaustion and didn’t have her full wits about her. Having four other girls to travel with tends to give you a false sense of security.
A scam of this kind does not happen in a town this size so our story sent the police off on a flurry of activity. We were escorted into a police van complete with an unofficial translator, to the larger police station 5 minutes away, where they were to take a statement. We had recounted the tale twice at the first station and again to a cop sitting outside the larger station, doing a newspaper crossword puzzle.
Giving our official statement was the fourth time we had to tell it. It was quite humorous to see what big news Bec’s ordeal was and we hoped it meant the police would prioritise it. The actual typing of the statement was agonisingly slow. Two different policemen took turns at typing it. During this time, the other girls had finished at Ephesus and were waiting for us at the smaller station.
The lengthy amount of time spent at the large police station gave the cops at the smaller station time to investigate. They had spoken to the security guard of one of the banks nearest the ATM where the scam occurred and he pulled out some video footage of a guy who matched our description and who acted suspiciously.
We were taken to the bank to view the video and sure enough identified the man who grabbed and stole Bec’s cash. The video showed him using a white slip of paper to cover the card. There was no mistaking him as he was very tall and lanky with a huge nose and prominent crow line. It was very exciting business, being escorted to the centre of town to identify a suspect. The downside was having to go back to the small station to give another statement, by which time we were starving.
Despite it being time consuming we were impressed with how much the police cared and how quickly they reacted. We ended up becoming yahoo messenger buddies with the slightly over friendly policemen. We rejoined the girls for lunch with much to relay. Katrina mentioned that she saw cash in the first guy’s hand when we first reached the ATM yet a shopkeeper mentioned the particular ATM hadn’t worked for awhile. They had targeted us from the first moment they saw us.
Given how long we’ve been travelling for and the places we’ve been to, we’ve been fortunate not to have had any incidents like this before. It’s sad that it happened in such a nice town but it doesn’t mar our view of Selcuk or its residents.
The next morning, Bec and I rose and and breakfast early before catching a local bus to Ephesus. After overcoming heatstroke, exhaustion and a scam, we were finally going to see it
We arrived at 9am, to avoid the crowds and explore Ephesus before the mid-day heat. Ephesus was an ancient Greek city and later a major Roman city. It was famed for the Temple of Artemis, no longer standing, which the ancient Greeks considered one of the seven wonders of the world.
It was an important city for early Christianity and was thought to be the last home of Mary, mother of Jesus. The library of Celsus was particularly well preserved.
It was amazing to see that a structure just under 2000 years old was preserved enough to still have some of the detail of its original inscriptions.
Ephesus was abandoned in the 15th century and its ruins now contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean.
It took us an hour and 15 minutes to explore the site which is about 2 km in length. It was only 10.15 am when we finished but we were both hot from walking around in the sun.
Back at the guesthouse, we said a fond farewell to the owners and their son Atakan, before hopping on the train to Izmir, where we were to spend the next couple of nights.
Izmir is Turkey’s third largest city and doesn’t have as much to offer by way of tourist attractions but it is a major port city. We had dinner on our first evening there in Konak which gave us views of the sea.
We stayed at a very comfortable hotel near the Basmane train station. We were pleased to have an effective air conditioning system, comfortable beds, ensuite bathrooms and TV in the room all for a bargain price of £11 per night per person.
We also had a very cheap and typically Turkish lunch on our first day there. While it was delicious we are starting to get weary of having bread and kebabs all the time.
On our second day we walked to the Agora, an ancient market and forum. It wasn’t impressive especially compared to Ephesus or the Acropolis in Athens.
The Agora was situated next to Izmir’s main bazaar so we headed there for a spot of jewelery shopping. We preferred this bazaar to Istanbul’s one as it was less touristy, cheaper and felt like how a market should be. It was also much larger.
Lunch rolled around and we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat kebabs again so we made a beeline for McDonalds. Even Jess joined in and ordered a grilled chicken burger.
Katrina wasn’t able to get her usual fillet O’ fish so she tried her very first McChicken burger.
Sadly this is where we part ways with Katrina who is flying to Croatia to visit family. Till our next trip Katrina! See you back in Australia.
As for the rest of us, we flew to Kayseri and caught a taxi to Goreme, a town in the Cappadocia region of Turkey.
The town is in the middle of a region best known for its natural rock formations, often called “fairy chimneys”.
The rocks of Cappadocia near Goreme eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms.
They were formed by ancient volcanoes approximately 3 to 9 million years ago.
These volcanic deposits are soft rocks that the people carved out to form houses, churches and monasteries.
The present shapes of the fairy chimneys are made by erosions of rain and wind.
Goreme is a cute, small town with lots of hotels and tour agencies.
Our hotel is called Peri Cave, made out of ancient rock houses. It has rooms built into the caves.
We were relieved to eat dishes other than kebabs for lunch and dinner.
One of the more unusual dishes was the ‘pottery kebabs’ which is meat cooked with sauce in a ceramic pot and then hammered open.
It was nice not to be surrounded by stray cats every time we sat down for a meal. Instead we had your friendly neighbourhood wabbit!
The Cappadocia region is about 1000m above sea level so it wasn’t as hot as we had been experiencing.
Still, we visited the open air museum shortly after breakfast on our second day there to avoid the mid day heat.
The Göreme Open Air Museum is the most visited site of the monastic communities in Cappadocia.
The complex contains more than 30 rock-carved churches and chapels, some of them have superb frescoes inside, dating from the 9th to the 11th centuries.
One of the most popular things to do in Cappadocia is to go on an early morning hot air balloon ride.
Many consider it to be one of the best places in the world for hot air ballooning.
Jess, Bec and I woke up at 4.30am as we were to be picked up at 5am.
An early start but worth it for the sunrise views.
We were in the air for close to an hour.
We floated back to Earth but landed with a jolt.
It wasn’t as smooth a landing as hot air ballooning in Tanzania but it was ALOT cheaper!
After a wonderfully relaxing and lazy last day in Goreme, we flew to Istanbul where we parted ways with Rebecca before moving onto Cairo.
This is our last trip with Rebecca as after this, we go our separate ways. However it doesn’t mean the end as we will all eventually end up on the same side of the world.