A Travellerspoint blog

Cappadocia

First Two days in a Strange Landscape

sunny 15 °C

We were torn for a while as to where we would spend a lengthier trip outside of the city...we finally decided on the Cappadocia Region. We were extremely happy with our choice but it started off with doubts......

We had to get into the airport for another red eye flight and when we arrived in the early morning it had snowed!!! We had checked the weather and we had not expected this kind of weather...so we were a little worried. Our shuttle bus took us the 30min or so out into the hilly country and into the main city Goreme. This place was tourist central where these crazy rock formations or hoodoos and fairy towers have been over years and years turned into homes and eventually hotels, restaurants and shops! We were dropped off in a quant hostel, partially made in a cave and found we had multiple breakfast options and dug in before getting a needed nap. Once we woke up we spend the afternoon wandering down the roads taking in the weird rocks and slipping around in the snow. We met up with some of the other guests for some dinner down the road..it was evident how few tourists were venturing out with every restaurant open yet barely a seat filled (unfortunately the terrorist attacks were taking a large toll on tourism).
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We knew we wanted to travel a similar route of the tourist buses, stopping at the famous spots in the region. However, we also knew we could do it cheaper if we could rent a car and find a friend! Luckily we had met a really cool new friend the first day. Brian, or Bubba was from the USA and was keen to join our money saving plan (he could also drive stick shift which was a nice bonus). So we found the car rental place, bartered a cheaper price and were on our way! A few smaller volcano's dotted the landscape and we arrived at our first destination in an hour: The underground city of Derinkuyu. Formed by Christian refugees of the warring regions to escape more violence, about 20 thousand people could live long-term in this underground city (more than 1 in the region and interconnected as well!) of 7 levels! The soft volcanic rock was made habitable around the 8th century but only tourist friendly in 1969. We followed some tourist groups for extra info and to decipher the different rooms...such as a classroom, the body pit for the storing the dead, animal shelter, wine making room, and church. There was also a few boulders to cut off the passageways as well as air-shafts and false-passage ways. There were so many passage ways and holes but most rooms were cut off to the public for safety.
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We finally emerged back to the surface and drove to the Ihlara Valley. This valley is usually another popular tourist stop, but we had most of it to ourselves. The valley is carved by a small river and is dotted with dozens of Christian chapels carved into the soft rock. We rambled our way up to a handful and discovered that many of the painted walls of saints were gratified or eyes scratched out...will religions ever get along?
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We eventually looped back and drove to the very end of the valley to the last town where we stopped briefly for a “star wars” pit stop (claimed to have had star wars filmed in the region...TBD)
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and then to a huge abandoned community carved into the mountains where 2,000 people used to live. At its base, remains of the old village and less than a dozen inhabitants. We were the last visitors to scramble through the weaving rooms and explored numerous churches as the sun went down and got a short tour from a custodian who climbed around in his fancy business-buckled shoes.
We thanked him for our extended visit after-hours and drove back in the dark to enjoy an evening with our hostel-mates.
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Our second full day we got up early so we could feast our eyes on the vast horizon of hot-air balloons filling the valleys. It was certainly worth it.

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Afterwards we ventured out to Pigeon Valley. Ariel befriended a loving black and white cat who decided to follow us through the mud and puddles until we found a patch of grass in the valley. We sunned ourselves and enjoyed the weird waves of the rocks and the silence until Kevin cut into the cheese...literally, which ended the peaceful atmosphere as the cat jumped him! Apparently our cat was also a cheese fiend and gobbled up the cheese Kev had cut off. He was so pleased with himself and once we were back on the trail he had had enough of adventure and probably used the rest of his day to sleep off his snack... Meanwhile we continued up and out of the valley and wandered into an adorable restaurant with a view looking back into the valley and discovered a huge volcano, Ercyes which was in direct view!
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We kept going and entered the next town which surrounded another castle/cave community of Uchisor *seen earlier in morning. We explored the parts that weren't ticketed and Ariel tried to befriend more cats. As we got into the town we were drawn to a building filled with beautifully painted pottery. The young man running the store was quick to show uff the vast rooms inside and downstairs. He was the 5th generation of a family of potters and was keen to show Ariel how to use a clay wheel and fed us apple tea. We wished dearly we could find a suitable travel piece of pottery but had to decline...we tried offering him a tip for thanks of his generosity but he happily declined as he was very pleased to host us!
We were ready for dinner and decided upon a restaurant with a view and were entertained by an extremely happy and musical host who fed us delicious plates of meat, bean salads and dips while singing his way up and down the stairs.
Full and ready for our hostel we tried to suss out where a local bus might come but found non so decided we might try to hitch a ride the short drive back. We had nearly given up when a small car with 3 large men inside pulled over. Friendly, but with minimal english they welcomed us as we crammed ourselves inside the car and luckily did not hit a single bump.

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Posted by Kev n' Ariel 23:24 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Istanbul!

Another New World

overcast 12 °C

We arrived into the city very tired and found our hostel on the western side of the city. We crashed in our private room and finally got up when we were ready to eat! We were directed to get food at a very popular/common buffet restaurant nearby. We stuffed ourselves with Turkish food that wasn't labelled but looked delicious..and it was! Except for the random drink we choose which was some sort of cold tea with carrot...too tangy and sour?! Always a good way to start in a new country.
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We had about 1 week in Istanbul and the weather wasn't very warm..mostly overcast with small showers. We still found things to do but it was a little disappointing finding that many activities had expensive tickets. Sadly the free walking tour guides did not pan out as they never showed up at the designated spot...there was a chance they were cancelled due to the recent terrorist attacks. (Sadly as I write this they have only increased as well as coupe as of today)

One of the first things we did was walk around the Hagia Sophia Mosque (too expensive to go inside!) and wandered inside the Topkapi Palace grounds next door (15th Century). We were stunned by the singing erupting from the prayer towers and visited the rooms of dozens of dead sultans and their wives and children.
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We wandered around the Blue Mosque, the New Mosque, and the biggest of all the Suleymaniye Mosque, during the non-prayer hours. We were awed at the elephant pillars and immaculate designs painted or carved into the building. The exterior of all the big mosques were surprisingly similar and doted the river wherever you looked along the Golden Horn.
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Someone recommended a local cheap dish of fish sandwhich (balık-ekmek) along the river. You can easily find the area by the commotion of hungry bodies and seagulls next to elaborately painted boats. The sandwiches (with the local bony fish and some veg) were being made literally off the boats and you could buy a bright pink drink made with carrot, turnip...sour and salty... called şalgam...was slightly better than the carrot drink.
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We were also happy to discover that the Muslim community in Istanbul took care of its local strays..even leaving out food and tagging the dogs and therefore most of these creatures were very friendly! So many fuzzy friends :)
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One day we meandered through the massively popular Grande Bazaar (according to one website, it is the most visited tourist attraction in the world). Huge sections are dedicated to lamps, scarves, jewelry, jeans etc. Was overwhelming even during off season. Sprawling down to the water were more neighbourhoods of clothing shops, the spice market, a pet section and most surprisingly lingerie...especially weird to imagine locals shopping here when woman are still dressed so discretely with head scarves still a very normal day to day piece.
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A few days at our original hostel we moved to a cheaper one close to the Galata Tower. This neighbourhood was very quirky with lots of musical shops, art and food. Kev bought drum sticks and we spent a lot of time exploring and taking photos. We went out one night with some other travellers to a music bar and listened to local acoustic guitar.
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Posted by Kev n' Ariel 22:46 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Essaouira and Beyond

Beach Bums and Flight Bummers

sunny 25 °C

It was about a 4hr bus to the coastal city of Essaouira. It was sunny, peaceful and had a big beach! We quickly found that there were tons of French tourists in the area and shop keepers were much more relaxed than what we were used to which was a huge relief. We found our hostel tucked into the old Medina and our friends had just arrived too (even though they had caught an earlier bus...so it goes).
That evening we wanted to find a good spot for the sunset away from the tourists. So and went the opposite way of the main beach and were told by a surfer to go through “The hole in the wall”. And indeed just outside the Medina was a hole where another small beach spread out and a lovely side view of the city appeared. Unfortunately we did not stay as long as we hoped as a man was huffing glue out of a bag and he was not the best company to have following us. We kept walking around and once we were at the main beach we found one of the few fish stalls/restaurants open (was off season). We loaded up a plate (price weight dependent) of baby lobster, urchin, shrimp and spider crab and they cooked it up for us. Delish!!!
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Next day we woke up with the intention of walking the old defensive walls of the city but they were closed for construction, dang! So we went to the beach. It was really really windy but sunny and we kept walking until we were passed the tourists, passed the camel walks and over the dunes. The other side was much more interesting; there was a collapsed French look-out tower, wild donkeys and an abandoned Moorish palace! Once we were done exploring we got to the next village which had a weird claim to fame: The locals claimed Jimmy Hendrix had stayed there and even written a song about the place (sadly this is not true). The few public houses, a few cafes and a hotel, were named after him and definitely made the place a bit more approachable. Otherwise there were wild livestock eating garbage and a dirt road.
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One our way back we found the one superstore (woah!) in town and Thomas got a grand idea that we would cook a sting ray! He had eaten one before but despite never cooking one was very optimistic. We tried to catch a cab home, sore footed and heavy laden with bags but no taxis would take 4...we joked about how one of the many horse cabbies seemed pretentious but asked for asking sake how much it would cost: dirt cheap thats what! So on we got. (We got stupidly excited by the whole thing too)
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Shortly after, at our hostel, we found our kitchen housed a HUGE tagine and we piled on tons of veg, spices, about about a whole block of butter and our ray. It ended up being one of the best tagines we had eaten! We slept very well this night.

Our last full day was spent mostly on the beach. It was a bit too cold to swim but we spent a long time throwing the frisbee around and befriending children who were eager to ditch their parents to play with us...they were surprisingly good!
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The last morning in town we walked through the local “market” which was also known as the day of the week where people try to sell anything they have on one street. We didn't stay too long, hauling our big bags on our backs. We waited while our bus to Casablanca took its time getting to us and then it was a relatively unexciting 6hr bus ride. We decided to save money and stretch our legs by walking into town and our hostel once we got to the big metropolis. Our flight was the next day so we planned on going to the big Mosque the next day...only 2 mosque where a foreigner/non-muslim could visit in Morocco. We were just about to go to sleep when Kevin re-checked our flight schedule...and our flight wasn't 3pm but 3am!!! ARGGG. We had to pack up immediately and luckily the hotel manager only made us pay 1/2 and called us a late taxi that probably cost us more...we made the flight on time but a little more frazzled than we would have liked. We spent a very long layover in Rome where we found the 2 lounge chairs and didn't budge until our next flight and final destination of Istanbul. It felt too soon to leave Morocco and Africa in general but we had to start making our way a little faster eastward if we wanted our funds to last us until Australia where we had applied for a working/holiday visa.
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Posted by Kev n' Ariel 21:59 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Marrakech Meandering

A big city

sunny 28 °C

We spent the next few days exploring the city and meeting new people at our hostel.
Some of the highlights include:

The old Palace of El Badi. It is now deserted except for the storks who have made nests along the giant walls that gate the old world of pond-side throne rooms and royal gardens. It also housed on of the oldest prayer stairs aka a minbar, in the world and originally built in Granada and miraculously well kept.
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We were also keen to check out the Jardins Majorelle (main gardens) but the website was outdated and upon arrival the entrance tickets had been increased to a point we were not willing to pay. So we kept walking and soon came upon a public park. We read underneath the sparse shade and watched and observed the young people who came to study or spend the day with their amore. We also thew around our frisbee for a while which caused many curious stares.

One of the weirder experiences was when we met a local outside the medina that invited us to have dinner at his roof-top. We obliged, we were more curious than hungry and we ended up on this mans terrace. We passed through his shop on the way...he sold all sorts of trinkets, spices and scarves. We think he got the food from the kitchen downstairs but he was very kind, had a good grasp of english and also brought out huka. He invited us, if we pleased, to come out with him and enjoy a night out with the locals at a local bar. We were already tired so we said we would come the next day. When we arrived we followed him in taxi's a little ways out of town and arrived at a local bar that was quiet small and very smoky. We were the only foreigners and stuck out like fish out of water. No one seemed annoyed we were there thankfully and we enjoyed the many singers some food and drinks. Since one of the girls with us had her birthday that day our friend (who also sang there!) told his friend who sang Happy Birthday to her multiple times, then HE sang to her another few times...the most birthday songs in a row we've ever heard! It was quiet the unique experience.

One day Ariel and Chelsea decided to try out the local woman's hammam. These are ancient public baths, originally a Roman idea where the public could clean themselves, socialize and keep a balance between rich and poor. Now, they are found in only a few countries and in Morocco they are either a touristy spa getaway (sometimes co-ed even) or the local ones where entrance hours are determined by sex. We paid less than half of the spa price to get a glob of olive oil soap, a scrub down and massage. It was slightly weird as we were not able to communicate well with the ladies working there but as we sat in one of the humid rooms we learned as other women were doused and scrubbed. Be wary to not sit downstream! After scrubbing my back I was shown a huge ball of my dead skin balled up. Yum!

Overall we enjoyed trying different versions of tagine, drank lots of orange juice and tried to avoid the crazy vendors and their tricks. Ariel found out that one of the few times you don't try bartering for items is when you buy a book. You look very rude if you try to... She also found the pet part of the market where chameleons and turtles are a common commodity! Sadly not airplane friendly.
One of our new friends bought some sheep's brain sandwich which he shared with us one night...tasted kind of like pate.
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A few days before we left, it was time for Renee and Chelsea to go back to work. We were back to the 2 of us! But soon we had made new friends, Thomas (UK) and Eduardo (Argentina) and we had agreed to meet at the same hostel in Essouiara, our next stop.

Posted by Kev n' Ariel 21:42 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Day 3: Last day amongst the Berbers

Mountains, Mountain goats and Marrakech

sunny 25 °C

Had a nice brekky (fresh juice!) and on the road through more isolated Berber villages and Kasbahs. The most iconic town was Ait Benhaddou. It is made up of 4 kasbahs and was the main city along the caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. Apparently only a few families live in the old city now but there were plenty of shop keepers waiting for tourists to stop to buy a trinket, or shirt, or painting etc.etc... On top the main Kasbah was some great views of the valley and we tried to imagine movies such as Gladiator or GOT overwhelming such a peaceful landscape with its epic crews and cameras.

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Most of the afternoon was spent traversing through the Atlas Mountainside. The roads were mostly well paved but the drivers and cliff sides were crazy! Anas was a great, if not speedy driver, and sometimes passing cars and finding goats crossing the road was a little hectic. On the other side was even steeper and lots of construction was on way to improve the road...many people have perished on the quick switches. A whole bus recently had toppled over! EEP!
Once at the bottom we took a break and a quick dance session ensued with the locals there, so happy to be alive!
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We carried on through more lush valleys and spied a seemingly random soccer pitch at the corner of one valley?! We saw more people selling colourful rocks and tagines on the road side and eventually the traffic started to clog up with wheels and noise as we got closer to Marrakech. We immediately noticed how much more touristy the city was.
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Once in the city centre of Marrakech, we got dropped off as close as possible to our hostel, and thanked Anas for his good driving, his patience trying to answer our questions and letting us plug in our own music (he had a very short play list that included some unsavoury 90's tunes).
Kevin navigated us through the main square, packed with performers and tourists and through the old Medina to our hostel, KifKif. It was a bit worn down, with a strange host of young men running the place but it was dirt cheap, good rooftop views and central!
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We got some lunch nearby and explored some shops and then ventured into the square. It was nuts! Anything apparently is welcomed in the square as a form of entertainment. There were Berber dancers/musicians, storytellers (as far as we could tell), guys with chopsticks so you could stack cigarette boxes, fishing rods to hook pop bottles (we'd seen this weird game in Fes), henna ladies, monkey and snake tamers (the monkeys look especially sad in diapers and sports shirts) and of course the food venders. At least 50 venders during the day are for juices. Orange juice is the typical flavour and we averaged drinking at least 2 a day. So fresh! That night we entered the insane feeding grounds of the food stalls where the sales pitches were the worst EVER. Extremely loud, aggressive and frenzied were the shop keepers to get you in and quick to rip you off with the quickly placed breads and dips. What a hectic world this was!
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Posted by Kev n' Ariel 22:56 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

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