A continuation of my TopDeck Turkey diary. If you haven’t read the first post in the series yet go and start here.
I know it isn’t actually Monday 21 September right now but it was when I did this particular day for real, so I just thought I’d mention how cool it was of LincsGeek to let me go away for a week on this little adventure without him. It was our 13th Wedding Anniversary ‘today’, and I want him to know that I made sure everyone on the bus knew and definitely did miss him while I was away! It’s a definite poor show that we still haven’t been out for dinner to celebrate so I shall have to put that right very soon!
New mosque opposite our hotel in Ankara.
I’m not sure I’ll get used to Turkish breakfasts; I’m pretty much left with fruit, bread and honey from the choices available which is all very nice but with the amount of bread being consumed at lunch and dinner I really should hold back a little! Our view was of a new mosque under construction which was an interesting thing to see – they were in the process of placing large sheets of marble cladding on the stone work, and yes, at 7.30am there were workers running the site.
We weren’t hanging around Ankara, which is the official capital city of Turkey and rather more financial and business focussed than Istanbul, but before we left Alex did want to show us some modern Turkish history. We headed to Ataturk’s Mausoleum, a public space in Ankara dedicated to the first President of Turkey and the man who is said to have brought Turkey into the modern day. An absolutely huge building is set on the top of a hill in an enormous mosaic square, surrounded by gardens and statues.
Ataturk’s Mausoleum, Ankara
The Mausoleum regularly hosts foreign dignitaries and today as we listened to Alex tell us what the place was all about, we watched as a group of Korean Generals and associated gentlemen gathered on the steps to have their photo taken before being ushered into the museum. We also watched the changing of the guard, as this is a military controlled area a little like Buckingham Palace (but without the massive fence as it isn’t actually anyone’s home), which was great to see – the Turkish military march in a very different way to UK military personnel, and also get little glass boxes to protect them from the rain which made them look like toy soldiers from a distance.
Some Korean’s have their photo taken.
The onsite museum tells the story of how Turkey gained its independence when the Empire disappeared. It was incredibly interesting and rather humbling to see the story of World War I from the other side… the fact is the Turkish people know very similar scenes that we would recognise, including trenches and beach landings and the like. War does not discriminate.
My TopDeck tour group.
After some good education in Ankara we piled back on the bus and headed deeper into Turkey. Now we had an inevitable part of a group tour I had somewhat been dreading… we were all to play a little getting to know you game! Alex asked each room pairing to come to the front of the bus and introduce each other – think fun facts. This was not my idea of fun but by the time it got to Bridget and myself, who were last to be picked (PE lessons all over again) I had managed to make a mental note of enough things Bridget had told me over the previous two nights to say enough to get the obligatory round of applause. It was ok really, we were a bunch of really interesting people from all kinds of backgrounds and with all kinds of jobs, hopes, travel plans, habits.
We stopped at Tuz Golu – a massive salt lake – which was pretty cool. It was very white, a bit pink perhaps, and went on for miles and miles. Apparently it’s the second largest salt lake in the world, and now I really can’t wait to get to Bonneville next year when we’re on our big North American road trip!
Tuz Golu. Salt Lake.
Underfoot it was a bit like walking on hard sand, quite solid but crunchy when I walked. It was very drying on the skin, sucking the moisture out of my hands and feet – I definitely needed moisturiser when we got on the bus and would recommend keeping shoes on to avoid that problem. Actually I can’t believe they ride motorbikes on this stuff in Utah; it’ll be really interesting to compare lakes!
Apart from wandering around in awe of the place, the main activity at Tuz Golu was photography. With the vast space, white ground and blue sky it was the perfect place to try out shots playing about with perspective as well as some current-instagram-trend jumping shots. We did a lot of jumping, and got a lot of outtakes, but I there were definitely a few gems in amongst the group’s efforts. The one of me makes me cringe somewhat; I lack all grace and elegance (I’d make a rubbish partner on Strictly!) and just seem to be outstretched. Ah well, I was smiling and still smile thinking about my opportunity to visit such a beautiful place, it was rather special.
Kate and Bridget and some jumping.
No grace. No elegance!
After stopping for lunch (more Gozleme, a better example this time I think), Alex invited us to try a couple of traditional Turkish sweet treats. He bought us all some sweets, something quite different different to anything I’ve ever had before – specialist Turkish chocolate called chestnut candies (chestnuts and syrup mashed with chocolate and set into bite sized pieces). Very rich but rather scrummy! Then there was some Turkish cotton candy called Pişmaniye, which was very flaky and sweet and lead to a purchase or two throughout the rest of the week. I can see why the Turkish people don’t really do desert, they are much more interested in sweets like these and Turkish Delight. Good choice.
Underground Cities in Cappadocia
Once in Cappadocia, which is a large area of Turkey shaped by volcanic activity over thousands of years, we visited one of the many ancient underground cities where the Christians used to hide from the Romans before the Roman Empire allowed Christianity (in Pagan times). It was a medium sized one in comparison with others in this area, but still had lots of rooms, including stables, a kitchen with a couple of tandoori ovens to make bread, toilets, lots of small corridors and (naturally) lots of sleeping spaces. Despite knowing about this part of history thanks to stories told to me in Sunday School, it was still hard to comprehend how many people would have hidden, with their animals, down there. They would move down into the underground city when they knew the Romans were coming, abandoning their homes and moving their families and animals out of sight.
Back in the time of the New Testament it is possible that the Apostles had been in this place or somewhere similar around here, as they know Christianity spread quickly in Cappadocia. Archaeologists are finding new examples of hiding places all the time even now, every village seems to have one, and apparently some are being used by home owners on the sly so they don’t have to declare them to the researchers and risk losing their land.
Inside one of the underground cities.
Oh and in this village we saw turkeys in Turkey! Something that made the whole coach murmur! Little things 🙂
Old Turkish house. Straight from the Bible.
After the underground caves we went to a village in Cappadocia area called Goreme. Some of the group were booked in for a traditional Turkish Bath (HXXXX), but not wanting to have my skin peeled I took the opportunity to wander around the town and find a rooftop bar with a view for some Apple Tea. The place is unreal, really. From the bar we could see that the town is made up of some bizarre homes, dug out of rocks left by volcanoes many years ago. The rock houses (the rock formations are termed “Fairy Chimneys”) were interspersed with traditional old style square houses as well as a few modern ones; a real eclectic mix of architecture that didn’t really fit together and simply wouldn’t be allowed in Lincoln!
The view from the bar in Goreme.
It was another of our included meals this evening and Alex took us to a local traditional restaurant for a home-cooked meal typical of this area of Turkey. We took our shoes of and sat on the floor on cushions around a large and low table. We ate bread with salad and humus, rice parcels, soup with pearl barley, an aubergine and minced beef slow cooked kebab, and figs with ice cream to finish. It was a very lovely meal and well worth hunting out a similar traditional restaurant if you’re visiting the area; hearty food and a lovely setting.
Meal out in a traditional home-style restaurant.
After all that I was definitely ready for bed and once we were checked into our rather lovely hotel (with pool this time) in a nearby town I attempted to make the wifi work before getting some sleep. I admit I am a little addicted to social media but more importantly the wifi on this trip (for me and those I was travelling with) was our only way to contact our loved ones back home for free (thanks to huge roaming charges). It felt important I let LincsGeek know I was ok, and it also made me feel better to know I could send him an iMessage or photo or whatever each evening. I learnt from this trip that while it’s so nice to get away from it all and leave our smart phones behind on occasion, when we do our North American Road Trip next summer we are going to need to make sure we find wifi regularly so we can keep in touch for both our own sakes and for those we leave at home who want to know we are okay.
Next instalment coming soon…
Read the full story…
Thank you SO MUCH to TopDeck for inviting me to join them on the tour. TopDeck covered my flights and the tour itself in return for coverage here on Splodz Blogz, and I covered all other expenses (including food, entrance fees and excursions) myself. I definitely recommend this kind of travel to anyone who wants to explore somewhere new without any hassle. Take a look at the TopDeck website for the full range of tours available.