A Tale Of Two Continents
If you have followed our blog posts to date you will know already that we do crazy travel things. Sometimes these are driven by cost considerations; at other times by committing to different trips at different points in our schedule. The worst was seven flights to get us from London to Yangon at the end of 2016. This time it wasn’t quite so bad with only five flights to get us from Singapore to Turkey. Are we learning?
For the first part of this latest trip, we were headed to a semi-rural location outside of Fethiye to look after a dog called Opus while his owners were away. We had heard that Turkey’s Opal Coast is beautiful but had no appreciation of what we would find as we landed at Dalaman airport and drove along the coastline towards our destination. For the next week, we would enjoy living in an extremely comfortable house up in the hills overlooking the most beautiful scenery. We had everything set up perfectly for a relaxing yet fulfilling trip. Up the road, even walkable with Opus, was a small local town with everything we needed from a choice of multiple restaurants and bars, a bakery, small supermarket, to even a couple of barber shops.
Just one word of advice if, as a man and just as I did, you ever need to get a haircut in Turkey. Don’t be nervous when a big wax candle is lit and then slapped intermittently with the barber’s hand across your cheeks and ears. It’s actually quite an efficient way of burning off any residual hair and not some weird ritual that will leave you going up in flames. What great entertainment at just 10 Turkish Lira (under 3 US Dollars or Euros), lira for a haircut and fire show literally right in front of my eyes.
The amusing ordeal over, only 20 minutes drive down towards the coastline is a pretty much deserted beach called Akmaz. As well as great views it houses a beach restaurant serving the best Turkish breakfast. Our hosts had taken us there on our first morning before they left and subsequently going back there became an almost daily ritual. We had the valid excuse that Opus could exercise by running along the beach, but also we could not resist the feast. It seemed, too, that our small-framed German Shepherd rescue had already seduced the restaurant owners who would bring his morning snack along with our meal. After breakfast, more beach exercise for dog and humans alike. Then in the afternoons so many options: relaxing by the pool, reading, sightseeing (see below), walking in the woods, playing with Opus - life couldn’t have been much better for this relatively short stay one week stay.
There’s plenty in this area to keep a visitor busy and happy. Fethiye itself is a bustling town, with markets, multiple bars and restaurants, a waterfront, and all the other amenities you might expect of a place this size. The views out to the sea here are beautiful, but become magnificent when you head down the coast. Parts of the road are pretty elevated; they look out over a bright blue expanse of water with small islands scattered here and there. At other times you find yourself inland passing through pastures and woodland with green scenery all around you. We really enjoyed driving this route and, after about ninety minutes from Fethiye, we got to Kaş, a town that is over 1,600 years old. The Romans were here, the Greeks too, and now the Turks have reclaimed and enjoy this small and pretty waterfront town. Interestingly, as you look out to sea while sipping on a cocktail, right there in front of you just one mile away is the Greek island of Kastellorizo. Why, you ask yourself? Well, up until the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947, this and many other islands with predominantly Greek populations had been annexed by Italy and then occupied by Allied forces during WW2. After that, Greece managed to get it back despite its proximity to the Turkish mainland. There is so much history and also territorial conquests and change that have taken place in this region over the centuries - too much to even start to explain in this blog.
The Greeks did not have it all their own way though. They were less fortunate at Kayaköy. On another day we visited this deserted ghost village just five miles south of Fethiye on the mainland. It’s just a little eerie and remains almost exactly as it was left when finally abandoned in 1922 by its Greek population. Then there was our trip to Ölüdeniz, a small beach town just 30 minutes from Fethiye to eat, drink and watch more active folks paragliding from up high down onto the golden sands of the crescent shaped beach right in front of our eyes.
We were checking off daily the list of recommended places our homeowners had provided us, and a good selection it was to gain an appreciation of this part of the world. If you want beautiful scenery from snow capped mountains in the background to golden beaches along the coast and bright blue water beyond, this part of Turkey is definitely worth a visit. But after a little over a week that left us wanting to return some day in the future, it was time to head to Europe next, and to that great and grand former capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. We were off to Istanbul to truly sample one city straddling two continents.
If you go to Istanbul you have to visit the Sultan Ahmed Mosque often referred to as the Blue Mosque, built by Ahmed I at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Just avoid prayer times (unless going to pray, of course). Right next door is the beautiful Topkapi Palace and Museum. It was constructed after the fall of Constantinople in the fifteenth century as the main residence of the new rulers, the Ottoman sultans. From there you can walk down to the waterfront and cross the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, then wander along to Taksim Square. It is often thought of by locals as the center of the city, a place for celebration but also where various riots and protests have taken place over the years. Here you will find the Monument of the Republic built to commemorate and symbolize the beginning of the modern Turkish state in 1923.
With magnificent mosques, their minarets pronouncing prayers throughout the day, lining both banks of the Bosphorus, the views of Istanbul from the ferry crossing from Europe to Asia and back again are spectacular. The European side seems more touristy with its famous palaces, mosques and other monuments, not to mention tourists themselves from all parts of the world. The Asian side gives the impression of being younger, more lively, more hip, more local. Next time we visit Istanbul - and we will - we should stay on this side of town and enjoy the local restaurants, bars, cafés and generally buzzing vibe.
Don’t forget to visit a local hammam for another of those seemingly torturous experiences that turn out to be great. With two strong, fat, hairy, toweled Turk men ready to scrub us clean on a marble slab that looked like an executioner’s table, I was lying there wondering which would be preferable: being beaten to death here, or burned alive at the barber shop back on the Opal Coast. As it turned out, I had never felt better when emerging again into the daylight of Asian Istanbul after my first Turkish hammam experience. It was time for a balık ekmek, the local fish sandwich available from any number of street vendors or stalls along either bank of the Bosphorus. Sorry McDonald’s, but it's got your Filet-O-Fish 1,000% beat.
And so came to an end our two weeks in Turkey. From dog sitting Opus the German Shepherd in a beautiful rural hillside location just minutes from the coast with the sun shining all day, to charging around one of the world’s largest and greatest cities with clouds and just a bit of rain, Turkey exceeded all our expectations. It left us yearning for more as got ready to head back to Singapore - via London, of course, just to add more flights - so that we could resume our Southeast Asia tour, the first chapter of which you can read about in our earlier Singapore blog post.
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The Roaming Blog
From Europe to Asia. From cities to villages. From mansions to cottages. Follow us on our journey as we celebrate a new type of travel - House Sitting. Learn how to start you house sitting career, tips for making the most of your travel, and the tricks for being the best house sitter you can be.
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