Turkey - The Potato Chick

Istanbul, Turkey: Round Two

In a sentence...another two nights here has just reinforced my love for this city.

Food we loved...fish sandwiches next to Galata Bridge.

Istanbul was a great introduction to Turkey and it seemed fitting that we finished here as well. This time round we stayed in Beyoglu, a hipster area close to Galata Tower and Istiklal Avenue. Filled with cute little shops and cafes, it reminded me of Fitzroy.

We crammed a lot into our final moments in Istanbul. We started the day with a trek through the antique district hunting out good coffee. We had mixed results – I enjoyed mine while Nick choked his down. Then we spent a few hours at Istanbul’s contemporary art gallery, Istanbul Modern, which is a fantastic light-filled space right on the water. For lunch we stopped next to Galata Bridge for fish sandwiches – delicious and cheap!

After lunch (and baklava for dessert) we visited the New Mosque which was just gorgeous. For some reason this mosque is not nearly as popular with tourists as the Blue Mosque but it is equally impressive. Unfortunately we couldn’t take any photos as we visited during prayer time. We finished off the day with a cruise down the Bosphorus before meeting up with Rosie for drinks and a fabulous dinner of meze, calamari and raki. As well as her lovely Turkish colleague Charlie, Rosie brought Emma and Cam with her – two fellow GC students who she had run into! The “Geelong factor” haunts us even when we are so far from home.

The next day, after more than a month in this fabulous country, we sadly bid Turkey farewell. Until next time...

Next stop...Belgrade, Serbia.

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Posted 8 September 2014

Gaziantep, Turkey

In a sentence...a different side of Turkey.

Food we loved...katmer –  filo pastry filled with goats cheese, pistachio and sugar and eaten for breakfast.

Perhaps it was the curious stares we received from every small child on the bus that alerted me to the fact that Gaziantep was going to be just a little bit...different.

Gaziantep is a city in Southeast Turkey, about 6 hours by bus from Cappadocia. The 6th biggest city in Turkey, it’s gritty and bustling and certainly couldn’t be described as “pretty”. Barely any English is spoken and there is a greater Muslim presence there, although not to the extent we had expected.

We had put together our Turkish itinerary with the help of Nick’s friend Rosie who runs tours through Turkey. When Rosie used the words “foodie heaven” to describe Gaziantep I was sold. Food plays a very important part in the lives of Gaziantep’s residents and everything we ate there was amazing – the katmer described above (such an indulgent breakfast), delicious dinners of mouth-watering meats and some of the best kebabs and baklava we’ve had during more than a month in Turkey.

Between meals we ventured to Gaziantep’s very impressive mosaic museum. The museum is home to some really large and well preserved mosaics and we were amazed at the scenes which can be depicted with such tiny tiles. Gaziantep also has a fantastic bazaar, although unfortunately most of it was closed as we were there on a Sunday.

After the good food overload I was glad that our final stop in Turkey was another baklava stronghold – Istanbul.

Next... Istanbul, Turkey.

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Posted 4 September 2014

Cappadocia, Turkey

In a sentence...totally magical.

Food we loved...our meal at Topdeck restaurant.

We spent most of our first day in Cappadocia wandering around in a daze. Sure, we were sleep deprived after enduring an overnight bus to get there but it was something more than that...Cappadocia was completely unlike anything else we have ever seen. And even with another 7 months of travelling planned I’m certain we won’t see anything like it again.

The special thing about this area is that it is filled with unusual rock formations. It is completely stunning and feels “other worldly”. Basically, rocks formed in lakes and streams and deposits that erupted from ancient volcanoes approximately 9 to 3 million years ago underlie the region. The rocks eroded into hundreds of pillars and chimney-like forms. People of the villages in the region carved  houses, churches and monasteries from the soft rocks of the volcanic deposits.

We stayed in the tiny town of Goreme in the heart of Cappadocia. Goreme was the perfect place to base ourselves for a few days. We stayed in a fabulous room in a cave and enjoyed some great meals although let’s not mention our foray to the local Korean restaurant (what were we thinking??).

On our first day we visited the fantastic Open Air Museum which is a series of cave churches, some of which have really ornate frescos painted in them. In the late afternoon we set off on a sunset hike through the Rose and Red Valleys where we were rewarded with amazing views and marvelled at the many different colours in the rock – just gorgeous.

But the next morning was what we had really come to Cappadocia for – hot air ballooning. The most expensive activity of our trip so far was absolutely worth every cent (and the 4.30am start). When we got to the launch site we were pretty happy to discover that our company had the prettiest balloons. Once we lifted off we had almost an hour of amazing views of all the valleys below covered with colourful balloons as the sun rose. I’ve tried to come up with a descriptive word other than “spectacular” but I can’t. This was a totally unforgettable experience.

We spent the rest of the day on the Green Tour which visits landmarks in the Southern part of Cappadocia. We visited Selime Monastery, the most intact monastery in the region, Derenkuyu underground city and wandered 3 kilometres through the Ihlara Valley to our lunch venue. The underground city was the best part of the day – seven floors of city ancient under the ground with more floors below that haven’t been excavated. The day concluded with a visit to a local onyx factory (surprise, surprise). Needless to say, no one purchased anything.

The next day we visited the nearby town of Avanos. We wandered around looking at hand made pottery and had a delicious lunch of kebab and lahmacun. The highlight of lunch was the branded car air fresheners we received with our bill – an interesting alternative to after dinner mints!

Our final dinner at Topdeck Restaurant was faultless and topped off our time in Cappadocia – delicious meze to start (including my favourite Saksuka which is eggplant and potato in a tomato sauce), flavoursome chicken and lamb shanks and baklava with ice cream to finish off. We also had the priceless entertainment of eavesdropping as the Turkish wait staff attempted to communicate in English with various Asian customers – cue mass confusion.

All in all, Cappadocia was an unforgettable destination and certainly worth the overnight bus ride.

Next... Gaziantep, Turkey.

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Posted 2 September 2014

Cruise from Fethiye to Olympos, Turkey

In a sentence...a fabulous week of good simple food, gorgeous scenery and great company.

Food we loved...our seafood feast at the Fethiye Fish Market.

We had already had a brilliant time in Turkey but we hadn’t even got to the area that we expected to be the best part – the “Turkish Riviera”. While the lack of luxury yachts makes this nickname a little inaccurate there is no doubt that the coastline is spectacular and we have thoroughly enjoyed our time exploring it.


We only spent one night in Fethiye but that was long enough to get what we had come for – seafood. The fish market is surrounded by restaurants so you can buy whatever you want and then pay one of the restaurants a small fee to cook it for you. After a lap checking out all the fishmongers we picked the guy with the best personality and settled on whole sea bass, fried calamari and prawns with chilli and garlic. I could not wipe the grin off my face as we ate this meal – it was so good.

Apart from the seafood, Fethiye was a lovely seaside town and we were able to work off some of the seafood the next morning with a run along the waterfront before embarking on the cruise.

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We did not experience the best weather when we did Sail Croatia in May. Now that Summer has well and truly arrived we were pretty keen to have a “proper” sailing experience in Turkey where the weather is warm and swim stops are actually used for swimming. After three nights on the “Demre Den” sailing from Fethiye to Olympos I think we achieved that.

While there were some big patches where we sailed a little too long for my liking (and, let’s be honest, the liking of everyone on the boat except Nick), we stopped numerous times each day for swimming and snorkelling. We also visited the cute bougainvillea-filled towns of Kas and Kekova and had a night out at the Smugglers Inn at Smugglers Cove (by “night out” I mean that we left the boat).

Highlights included:

  • the gorgeous Turkish coastline. I’m going to make a big statement here – I think it’s better than both Greece and Croatia’s;
  • cruising past the sunken city – an ancient city that is submerged under the water due to a series of earthquakes;
  • spotting a huge turtle while snorkelling and chasing it under water for about ten minutes;
  • watching in horror one evening as the hotplate from the BBQ fell off the side of the boat and promptly sank;
  • spending time with a great group of people which included an Argentian couple, an Australian mother and daughter, an Australian/Irish couple and an older French couple (as expected, the French guy was a dead-ringer for Gerard Depardieu); and
  • having a beer or two while we watched the sun set each night.

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To even call Olympos a “village” is really pushing it. It is a stretch of guesthouses and restaurants on a dirt road that leads to a beach and some ancient ruins. Nevertheless, it was a great place to unwind for a night or two after our cruise. We swam at the beach, wandered the ruins, caught up with our friends from the cruise to celebrate being back on dry land and visited Chimaera – Olympos’ main claim to fame.

The Chimaera is a cluster of spontaneous flames which blaze from crevices on Mt Olympos. This bizarre natural phenomenon is caused by gas which seeps from the earth and bursts into flame upon contact with the air. The exact composition of the gas is unknown, but it is thought to contain some methane. Although the flames can apparently be extinguished by being covered, they will reignite when uncovered. The Chimaera was a pretty cool spot and we enjoyed toasting marshmallows on the flames.

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Although we only really visited in preparation for catching the bus to Cappadocia the next night, Antalya surprised us by being a really lovely, clean, bustling city. We stayed in the heart of the old town and enjoyed some time at the beach and a visit to the nearby waterfall. In between those activities we drank large amounts of freshly squeezed orange juice and dodged the carpet salesmen who lined the streets.

All too soon our time on the coast was over and we were hopping on an overnight bus to Cappadocia. Hopefully the orange juice and doner kebab we had consumed would sustain us for the entire trip and prevent me from turning into a homicidal maniac...

Next... Cappadocia, Turkey.

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Posted 1 September 2014

Bodrum and Faralya, Turkey

In a sentence...beautiful spots on the Turkish coast.

Food we loved...the home cooked meals at Montenegro Motel.

Warning: Victorians may find the warm-weathered contents of this post distressing.

As wonderful as Selcuk had been, we were in need of some proper beach time and so we headed further down the coast to Bodrum and then Faralya.


Bodrum is a resort town filled with fat sunburnt English tourists and the sort of facilities that they require such as the ability to obtain a full English breakfast at every single restaurant. While that sounds pretty gross the town itself was still quite cute with white buildings and lots of colourful bougainvillea giving it a very “Greek island” feel. We had a lovely few days there hanging out on the beach. We also did a boat trip so that Nick could dive at an airplane wreck.

Highlights from our time in Bodrum include being woken up one morning by an earthquake measuring 4.2 on the Richter scale and eating our first amphora kebab. This is a traditional Ottoman dish that arrives inside a flaming clay pot and the waiter then breaks it open at the table – delicious!


Faralya is a beautiful and tiny village about 5 hours from Bodrum. At the recommendation of our friend Rosie, we stayed at the lovely Montenegro Motel which had spectacular views of Butterfly Valley. As seems to be the norm here in Turkey, delicious home cooked dinners were included.

We only had one full day here which we spent exploring the nearby coastal town of Oludeniz and being horrendously overcharged for (admittedly delicious) Turkish ice cream. The short bus trip from Faralya to Oludeniz had spectacular views over the Blue Lagoon.

We were sorry to leave this beautiful part of Turkey but comforted ourselves with the fact that more beautiful coastline was to come.

Next...Cruise from Fethiye to Olympos, Turkey.

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Posted 26 August 2014

Gallipoli, Troy and Selcuk, Turkey

In a sentence...Turkey just gets better and better.

Food we loved...the home cooked meals at Atilla’s Getaway.

It took five nights but finally I was ready to farewell the stray dogs of Istanbul and to venture further afield on an Australian pilgrimage of sorts to Gallipoli. We also tucked in a visit to Troy before heading to Selcuk for a few nights.


Our Gallipoli tour was excellent. While media coverage at home tends to focus on the disastrous landings, our fabulous guide Bulent also spoke at length about the other battles of the campaign including the Nek, Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair (New Zealand’s equivalent of Lone Pine). He also gave us a Turkish perspective which explained the Turks’ love affair with General Ataturk.

One of the things that struck us most about Gallipoli was what a beautiful place it is. Somehow, it seems wrong that somewhere that has seen so much misery could be anything other than completely awful. However, it is a gorgeous stretch of coastline with lovely views. As I wandered along the graves the other thing I noticed was how young most of the soldiers were – most seemed to be between 19 and 22.

The day we visited was very hot and so we were guzzling water the whole time. We were pretty horrified as Bulent explained that the soldiers generally received less than 500mls of water per day (and sometimes none at all).

Completely by accident, by visiting on August 9th we arrived in Gallipoli at a very special time for Australians. The battle of the Nek took place on August the 7th; and Lone Pine from August 6th to 10th. This meant that we were visiting on the anniversary of a large number of Australian deaths. We left Gallipoli with a much better understanding of the entire campaign and the horrific conditions which our soldiers faced.

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We prepared ourselves for Troy by watching the Hollywood epic of the same name. While I think everyone is fairly familiar with the story of Helen and Paris falling in love and the Greeks hiding inside the Trojan Horse to gain access to the city of Troy, the movie also gives a good picture of the bloodshed that occurred beforehand and the raping and pillaging that went on afterwards - all together a really cheery movie!

My most embarrassing moment of the trip so far occurred when our new dorm mates arrived to greet us at perhaps the saddest moment of the movie. Brad Pitt’s Achilles had just mercilessly slaughtered my favourite character Hector (played by the adorable Eric Bana) when they stuck their heads into our bunk to introduce themselves. As you could imagine, I was a crying mess and made a great first impression.

Despite the embarrassment it was helpful to have watched the movie as it was pretty much assumed knowledge for the tour. The site has 9 layers of ruins as the city was constantly destroyed or abandoned and then later rebuilt. We really enjoyed getting our (Turkish) guide’s perspective on the various men who have led the excavations, one of whom fled the country with a large amount of the treasures he had found! Apologies for the lack of photos but they really can’t do the site justice.

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Selcuk is a cute little town conveniently situated very close to the ancient ruins of Ephesus. We stayed at Atilla’s Getaway, a guesthouse two kilometres out of town which featured a swimming pool fed by a freezing cold natural spring (very handy when it was 40 degrees every day).

I only need two words to describe our time at Atilla’s: utter bliss. It is run by an Aussie Turkish guy and his two brothers. Breakfast and dinner was included, cooked by their Mum. Needless to say, everything we ate there was delicious. Meals were eaten together which was a great opportunity to meet other travellers.

But we didn’t spend the whole time lazing by the pool and eating. We spent a very warm morning hiking to Ephesus and back. A wrong turn meant that the 45 minute walk turned into an hour and a half but we got there eventually. The ruins themselves are very impressive and include a library, a brothel, latrines, two amphitheatres and an avenue of marble. I was relieved to see that the latrines were roped off which prevented Nick from forcing me to sit on one and pose for a photo pretending I was using it.

We also visited the nearby village of Sirince. We ate Turkish ravioli (yes, that’s a real dish) overlooking the valley filled with peach trees and tasted wines made out of random fruits including quince, cherry and strawberry.

After four fabulous nights we sadly accepted that we could not stay at Atilla’s forever and packed our bags for the next adventure (and some beach time).

Next...Bodrum and Faralya, Turkey.

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Posted 24 August 2014

Istanbul, Turkey

In a sentence...the perfect mix of Europe and Asia.

Food we loved...baklava.

After our reintroducing ourselves to kebabs in Budapest we were beyond excited about arriving in a country where it would be perfectly acceptable to eat a kebab every single day.

Istanbul is a fabulous city with a beautiful setting right on the water. It has a definite “Asian” feel to it. Traffic is chaotic and the streets are slightly grotty, when it poured with rain one day it was clear that the drainage on the streets was totally inadequate, there are people everywhere, delicious food can be found very cheaply and of course there is the ever present sound of the call to prayer from nearby mosques.

But my favourite thing of all, the thing that transported me back to Southeast Asia instantly, was the stray dogs and cats. There is very little that brings me more joy than watching dogs hanging out on the streets just being themselves. Unlike in Asia, however, the dogs and cats were beautiful with full tummies and glossy coats. Apparently the people of Istanbul make a real effort to look after the animals and give them food and water. There is also a program where they are desexed and vaccinated before being returned to the streets. The result is a healthy population of dogs and cats that add character to the city.

From our hostel in the old town of Sultanahmet we were able to walk to all of the main sights and we visited the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. Hagia Sophia has an interesting history, having been both a cathedral and a mosque before it became a museum. I loved its shabby chic exterior but was less impressed with the inside. The Blue Mosque was incredible inside -  it took my breath away in a similar fashion to St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. But the Basilica Cistern was our favourite by far – and not just because its underground location made it a lot cooler than outside where it was 40 degrees.  It was dark and slightly eerie and really interesting walking the streets afterwards knowing what lay beneath.

The Grand Bazaar was housed in a beautiful old building and a “must-see” while in Istanbul but the Spice Bazaar had a larger range of spices and food including cheeses, olives, nuts and dried fruit. I tortured myself with thoughts of the spices I wanted to buy but which would no doubt be seized by Customs upon our return to Australia.

We ventured to the “modern” side of Istanbul and strolled down Istiklal Avenue from Taksim Square. Here we found Zara, H&M and Quiksilver alongside little shops selling kebabs, baklava and Turkish delight. We also had a wonderful day exploring Kadikoy on the Asian side of Istanbul. This is something that most people do not have time to do but I would definitely recommend it.

On our final day in Istanbul we knew we could not put off the quintessential Turkish experience any longer – a trip to a bath. With some trepidation we wandered down to Cemberlitas Hamam. What followed was one of the strangest and most luxurious experiences of the trip.

Basically, it works like this –

  • You are separated into male and female areas where most of your clothes are exchanged for a large cloth which you wrap around yourself;
  • You are then ushered into a huge steam room which is completely covered in marble and absolutely beautiful;
  • You relax there for a while;
  • Then a chubby Turkish woman (or in Nick’s case, a chubby and hairy Turkish man) scrubs you, washes you and washes your hair (Nick also got a massage and had all his joints cracked);
  • Once you’re rinsed off you can relax in the steam room for as long as you want.

While it was bizarre having a complete stranger wash you it was also totally indulgent and relaxing, a very unique Turkish experience.

Finally, the most important topic: food. While we had expected to find delicious kebabs (which we did), we had not expected to find so many other amazing Turkish foods. The bread was delicious and more similar to the French baguette than to the “Turkish bread” we eat at home. Turkish meatballs were to die for,  so moist and flavoursome. In Kadikoy we sampled Lahmacun, Turkey’s version of pizza. It’s a very thin crispy  base covered in minced meat flavoured with tomato and garlic. You squeeze lemon juice on it (add parsley if you like) and eat it rolled up like a burrito – delicious! And of course we ate baklava or Turkish delight for dessert every night under the watchful eyes of Istanbul’s adorable stray dog population. As much as I loved them I couldn’t bring myself to share my baklava.

Next...Gallipoli, Troy and Selcuk, Turkey.

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Posted 19 August 2014