From coast to Constantinople, via some very old walls

Aya Sopjia

Breath taking Aya Sophia

 

Wine Rides is the perfect way to get away with your partner or a group of friends for a short sharp fun weekend where you get to do something different. However there are times when you need another sort of holiday. The kind we don’t sell; a longer trip. If you want to spend much more money and go where you’ve never been before, you could do worse than Turkey.

Fine Wine in Turkey

Hayley and I have just got back from a trip there. I have written it up so that anyone who may find it helpful can learn from our success and failures.

Neither Hayley nor I had ever been to Turkey and I had wanted to go for several   years. When I was a TV researcher I worked on a series called Atlas 4D for Discovery Channel. I noticed there seemed to be a number of stories that we could film in Turkey. At the time I was too lowly, to go on the shoot and always felt I had missed out. This was my first opportunity to address that.

 

 

There were 3 big things that I wanted to see for myself: Aya Sophia in Istanbul, Çatalhöyük near Konya and Kekova the sunken city.

 

ferry across the Bosphorus

ferry across the Bosphorus

We flew into Antalya where we had booked a car using carhire3000 It is great, and I always use it for car rental abroad.

Our first stay was in Kaş, about a 3 hour drive from Antalya airport. We’d booked an amazing apartment through AirBnB. It was massive, had wonderful views of the bay and was a 10 minute walk from the beach, bars and restaurants. It was the first time we used AirBnB and it definitely won’t be the last. It will now be our first port of call when looking for unique places to stay.

 

 

 

The Sunken City

Kaş is a great place to stay: The restaurants are good, it’s big enough that there’re cheap places to grab a Gozleme for lunch but also bars and good posh places for dinner. Typically we were spending 15 TL-22 on a main for dinner or £5ish, so at the moment Kaş is just the right size, not too big and touristy, and not yet overpriced. A possible explanation for this is that they don’t have a sandy beach, and they are a 3hr drive from any airport.

Kaş was a short 40min drive from Kekova: it is a sunken Lycian city that fell into the see during an earth quake. It is the most likely candidate for the origin of the myth of Atlantis.

We had intended to kayak over the sunken city as we had read that this is the best way to see it. Kayak trips are booked in Kaş with local tour operators.

Sadly I am a bit of a clever clogs and thought we would get a better deal if we drove there and sorted something out locally. This was wrong, very wrong.

As far as we could tell there was no way to organize Kayaking at the dock. We ended up booking a massive boat which I think would have comfortably accommodated 40 people. Luckily, a Turkish couple had a similar idea, and they ended up doing the negotiations. It cost us £80 for our half of the ship, and we had it to the four of us.

With hind sight I think the Kayaking would have been better. There is over a mile of sunken rewins just below the water. Seeing them from a big boat is a bit like taking a helicopter flight over it. You can still see a lot, but you get less of a sense of scale. In fact some of the best things to see were on the shaw not in the water. However reclining on the front of a massive boat did make me briefly feel like a millionaire gangster rapper. So on balance it was a really fun day.

Other highlights for me around Kaş: Petra beach: paying gets you into the nice part of the beach and the Roman rewnes there are impressive and worth a look. Olympus on the drive back to Antalya was also really good.

We were sad to have missed Chimaera, where fire comes out of the rocks. But time was pressing on, and we were there in the middle of the day. I expect it is better to be there at dusk. Oh and Demer, is the real life home of St Nicholas or Santa, so heading there is a fun, and slightly incongruous place.

Çatalhöyük

Standing in the World's First

Standing in the world first civilization

Now this is where it gets a bit mad. I am sure this is where most people would deviate from our itinerary. We essentially drove for 2 days to get to a place called Konya. The reason is that I wanted to go see Çatalhöyük. It is the first urban connobation in the world. It marks the transition from hunter gathering to agricultural societies and it is really, really old. About 8000 years. It has also been argued that it is the center of origin of cattle domestication.

This is the place where humans first harnessed the power of something stronger than themselves. By yoking bulls fields could be ploughed, surplus food could be grown and society as we know it could come into existence.

One of the most amazing moments for me was seeing a salt shaker in the museum. That shaker and the experimental house showed how 8000 years ago people basically solved the majority of the important problems and we still live the way they did back then.

The want-to-be Indiana Jones’s like me will love Çatalhöyük, other people might think it is a bit out of the way and it really depends on whether you like driving? We don’t drive at home so form me driving fast on great roads through country that goes from windy coastal roads, through steep limestone mountains and then across farm land that looks like Texas, was pretty amazing, and a good way to spend a day or two of our holiday.

If you want another reason to go to Konya: It is the home of the Whirling Dervishes. We saw Dervishes, but they weren’t whirling. Apparently that happens on a Friday and there is a big festival in December.

The museum in Konya allowed us to learn about the origins of Sufism. It was striking to me how much more seriously Muslims seem to take these kinds of places. By comparison churches seem to function as pretty things for tourist to look at, and the religiosity has taken a bit of a back seat. In Konya, I was very much aware, that the primary function of these buildings is still religious, and I was slightly taken aback by how many people seemed to be having a very profound religious experience when I was in the Mosque/museum.

Konya is a fascinating place to go to and I was really glad we did it. There are two sides to Turkey: The European secular side and the very devout wonderfully generous and kind Muslim side. Konya is that side of Turkey, and missing it would have been to miss the heart of the country. But two nights there was enough. We stayed in the wonderful, Hitch hotel, with I think every other westerner in town.

The food was interesting, mostly meat and bread and this bitter yogurt drink that all the locals loved. But at the end of the day, there is only so long I need to spend in a dry town with cuisine based on that of central Asian nomadic herdsmen.

 

Istanbul (not Constantinople).

simit seller on Galata Bridge

simit seller on Galata Bridge

 

We dumped the car, and jumped on a bullet train to Istanbul. Once again we used AirBnB to find a pad. This time we opted to stay in a flat with the owner. We thought it was a big and complex city so it would be worth getting the local knowledge.

Istanbul for me felt a lot like being back in London, but trendier, and somehow cooler than London. High lights were: going to Karakoy Gulluoglu for baklava, Taksim Square, and catching a ferry across the Bosphorus and of course the Aya Sofia.

Hayley and I were grateful that we had been in Turkey a couple of weeks before we got to Istanbul. It was interesting to see how “classically Turkish” things like Gozleme ladies where commercialized for Tourists. Old ladies with big bottoms, that sat on dusty floors and made amazing pancakes, suddenly became beautiful young women sat in an opulent Turkish themed cresh making decidedly average Gozleme.

The reason Turkey is amazing is that it sits on the cross roads of the world. It has been touched by every major civilization that has dominated the Mediterranean. But you can’t get away from the fact that a mega city is a mega city and these places tend to be more similar to each other than any big cities are to the countryside that surrounds it.

In big cities, the local culture is a flavor that runs through the place. The great success of metropolis is that ideas flow into them at the speed of light. Many of the things you see in your nearest mega city will have been cloned from another city, or will themselves be cloned by the others in the near future.

None the less, Istanbul formerly Constantinople has been the seat of power for the Eastern Roman Empire, The Byzantine Church and the Ottoman Empire. That amazing rich history can all be seen in the Aya Sophia.

This Mosque was the largest structure in the world for 1000 years. It is the most interesting building I have ever been in. If you don’t pay the extra for the audio tore, when you go in there you are quite mad. In a nut shell it was a cathedral, and rather than having it burnt to the ground, the Muslim conquers of Constantinople, saw its value and turned it into a mosque. As a result the building is sitting on the wrong axis for Mecca, so all the fixtures and fittings are slightly off center. You also get to see Muslim interpretation of imperialism and how a Muslim monarch slotted into the European largely Christian Axis of power.

As you would expect the restaurants jump up in price, but are still cheap for Londoners. Turkish food is amazing. I have come away with a number of new dishes that I will try and replicate at home. In fact another way into the rich history of this country is to have a read about where their dishes came from.

Finally we are not big shoppers, but the romance of Istanbul even managed to get us to part with some cash. There’s the world’s largest covered Bazar, and enough designer shops that stay open late to make parting with cash there fun. In fact when we got back to London the first thing we noticed is that no-one sauntered up to us to sell us something. If you want a master class in salesmanship, head to Istanbul: Every stall holder is a PhD in human psychology.

I got a lot out of this trip. Turkey has a fascinating history beautiful landscape and is populated by wonderful people, so I think it will be very hard for future trip to top.