How not to travel through Turkey.

Last year I told myself that I’d stop making bucket lists of where to go and instead, just go with my gut. When I decided to dart off to Europe, the fire in my belly told me that it was time to make that trip to Turkey as it was conveniently situated on the way back to SE Asia as well. In the end, I’m pretty glad I did because by the time I was finished with Italy, I was well and truly ready to set foot a country that was completely foreign and exciting, and Turkey definitely fit the bill.

By the time that I booked the flights to Turkey, my time in Europe was coming to an end and by this time, I’m finding excuses and tactics to extend the trip. Usually I’m thrilled with anticipation to travel to a completely new location, but by now I was burnt out like a marathon runner ‘hitting the wall’. So for the first time for as long as I could remember, I couldn’t muster up enough energy to extend the trip – I was just eager to make it back to Asia by September. This was the start of a series of mistakes and mishaps that plagued my time in Turkey that probably could have been avoided.

Two weeks in Turkey is not enough time.

To be honest, what was I thinking only planning two weeks?! I really let my self-pity stuff this one up. Turkey is an expansive country, nearly double the size of Italy with endless possibilities for things to do. To the north is the Black Sea, ancient ruins and The Mediterranean along the West and Southern coastline and pristine hiking terrain in the Kurdistan region to the east. All of these available options and to think that I could somehow experience the best of it in two weeks was more than optimistic. The bus rides alone would take on average eleven hours to get anywhere, so immediately that’s a day to account for when considering travelling through here.

istanbul istiklal

The crowds along Istiklal are insanely busy. Prepare to walk at a snail’ pace once the sun goes down and the air is cooler.

Account for religious holidays when applying for an Iranian visa

My original plan was to fly into Istanbul and out of Southern coastal town of Antalya to Iran. Obtaining an Iranian Visa isn’t quite the easiest thing to do, nor is it the most difficult. For Australian’s it’s as easy as filling in the paperwork for a Visa on Arrival if the length of stay is less than fifteen days. However, I decided to spend a total of seventeen days there so had to apply for a tourist visa through an Iranian travel agency who would file the paperwork on my behalf. Once approved, it would then be ready for me to pick up at an Iranian embassy of my choice within Turkey. So I chose Istanbul thinking it would be ready by the time I arrived.

istanbul

Exploring the alleyways in Istanbul can bring up many surprises.

Normally it would take up to ten working days, so I allowed myself fifteen days from the day that I applied for it while I was in France. Little did I know that during this period that there would be a string of holidays in Iran, thus adding further delays. Also, mix in the added stress from the travel agency responsible for the visa who would not respond to my emails for a week, thus ensuring that it wasn’t the most pleasant time waiting for a response.

I was hoping this ordeal would be resolved by the time I arrived in Istanbul, but by the time I arrived, there was still no word from my elusive travel agent friend until my third day in Istanbul which was a Friday. I was told that my Visa would be ready by the Monday to be picked up. If I stayed in Istanbul till Monday, I’d have just over a week left in the country which wasn’t near enough time to see half of what I wanted to see. Instead, I decided to travel 12 hours by bus, East to Cappadocia for a few days and then return to pick up the visa.

East or West? 

As mentioned before, Turkey is quite a large country with the majority of Tourist attractions along the Western and southern coastlines. For obvious reasons, it’s advised not to travel to some parts along the east along the Syrian and Iraqi border, however there were areas to the east that appealed to me more. It was more off the beaten track to the point where people would ask why I’d want to go, but based on my experiences and places that I’ve enjoyed the most over the past couple of years, I knew that the mountains were where I should have gone to. Unfortunately with the time restrictions, it proved to be an impossible task and I would go as far east as Cappadocia where the beautiful landscapes that resembled mountains of swiss cheese did nothing but make me regret that decision even further.

cappadocia

Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia.

Istanbul is the only city where you can visit both European and the Asian continents via a short and scenic trip via a ferry across the Bosphorus Strait. Many people just go on the cruise but one thing I am glad that I did was spend half a day on the Asian side. There were rarely any tourists and although the locals looked surprised to see us walking around, they were extremely hospitable as we strolled through the market stalls, trying to communicate in broken english or sign language. In return, the stall owners would shower us with hospitality and fed us figs, peaches and whatever else that they were selling.

cruising the bosphorus istanbul

On the Bosphorus heading to the Asian side.

If you’re going to a site known for mineral pools, make sure there’s water in the pools.

As soon as I knew I wouldn’t be making it out to the east, one place I was excited about was Pamukkale, or as I like to call it, “the place with the name that I can never remember”. I seem to make a habit of unintentionally visiting UNESCO world heritage sites but I guess they’re classified as world heritage for a reason and from my research and the thousands of images on Google Images, Pamukkale was meant to be a photographers paradise.

The area of interest for most tourists in Pamukkale is comprised of natural terraces formed by mineral deposits from underground springs deep underground. Formed over thousands of years, these terraces cascade down the face of the mountain like giant watery steps. From the images online, the mineral rich sky-blue waters contrast beautifully with the pools and the rest of the white mountain face which is caked the with mineral deposits. However, when I arrived, I was gutted see that the majority of the pools were bone dry and that the water runoff was directed to only several main pools towards the entrance and the public baths that have been constructed for the tourists.

pummakale

No water in sight.

Don’t book last-minute during peak season.

Throughout Italy, I had a difficult time securing affordable accommodation last-minute; it just isn’t set up for off the cuff decision-making. So by the time I arrived in Turkey, I was in favour of having the logistics booked in advance so that I didn’t have to worry about anything else.

While I was in Istanbul, I discovered that a friend from Australia who was travelling through Europe and his girlfriend were in town. Their plans were to head to Cappadocia the same time, so we decided to head there together. In line with my newfound approach of preparation and organisation, I asked around on prices for get there as well as where to stay and the main things to do. I got a quote from Chambers of the Boheme Hostel where I was staying for the important items such as: transport, accommodation and for the hot air balloon; the main attraction that is a must. To me, it all sounded reasonable and even a hostel guest who had recently returned from there on the same package had nothing but praise for it.

gerome

Sunset selfie in Cappadocia

baby turtles

Turtle hatchlings early in the morning in Olympos.

 

Based on that glowing testimonial, I was keen to book it but my friend, who had been doing everything on a shoestring wanted to go search around and haggle once we arrived there. Long story short, we turned up to the recommended hotel which was full had to find a more expensive alternative. Also, the deal we got on the hot air balloon was as cheap as the hostel recommendation but instead of sharing with eight people, we were sharing it with twenty others.

I had planned on spending some extra time in Cappadocia to explore the canyons by motorbike or a tour, but the hostel we booked was full for the following day and it seemed like everywhere else was booked as well. Instead of sticking it out, I was fed up with the ongoing searching and keen to pick up my Iranian Visa, I decided to jump on the next bus back to Istanbul. Thinking back, it was probably the worst decision I made and I only have my own self to blame for this cockup. Despite only stayed for one night, Cappadocia was the highlight of Turkey and I took it for granted and didn’t give it the attention it deserved.

Hierapolis sunset

The ruin theatre of Hierapolis in Pamukkale.

In the end, despite the mishaps through visa delays, accommodation nightmares and a less than ideal travel route, I still really enjoyed Turkey. With thousands of years of history and a collision of Eastern and Western cultures and ideals, it made for an interesting and safe country to travel through. The only thing I’d do differently next time is to spend more time there.

Have you been to Turkey? What places did you enjoy the most?

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Comments

How not to travel through Turkey. — 3 Comments

  1. You need to come back. The east is awesome when troubles are not afoot but the Northeast is amazing. Rize, Trabzon, Kackar mountains, Uzungol and places like that

  2. Hi Jimmy,

    Great article.

    But I would like to correct something: there is no Kurdistan region in Turkey.

    Turkey is one complete country east to west and north to south.

    Have a good trip!

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