Istanbul - what a beautiful jungle full of temptations. The city of two continents with a growing population of 14 million souls is still a mystery to me. Having been there before and knowing what to expect, I still got lost in this rich and diverse place. It may be the constant mind stimulation from all the different scents, sights, noise and culture differences flowing in the air, but to me this exotic city represents everything one would want to experience as a traveller.
The Blue Mosque - what a sacred place this is. I never knew that one building could cause so many reflections for my mind. From the minute I entered this stunning Blue Mosque I knew that magic was about to occur… It was as if time was standing still and I was left alone to take it all in. The grandness of this amazing piece of architecture had my eyes wandering to curved ceilings which were covered with thousands of colourful tiles creating a mix of kaleidoscope patterns. The magic continued when I saw the light shining through the glass stained windows. It was an eerie moment but a hopeful sign of life, in a mosque where so many rich cultures are coming together. The dim light setting made it a very intimate experience. A powerful moment in seeing how devoted the Muslims are in their beliefs and customs. It was inspiring to see how the locals just ignored the many curious tourists wanting to take pictures of everything. Their determination in remaining focused to their given task was highly motivating and I could not help but wonder what it would take to be brave enough to fully devote oneself to a religion. The barefoot experience and wearing a hijab (a veil that covers head and chest) was a special moment where I suddenly felt a part of it all. A gesture out of respect to the Muslim culture and customs. I will always be thankful for this experience. It made me reflect on a lot of different aspects of my life and made me realize that despite all our differences we are one with the world and it is our destiny to find the strength to fight for our beliefs and dreams.
What seemed to be impossible at the beginning was made well and truly possible. Ten days, visiting a large part of Turkey was an absolute challenge but we came back with more than just a goal in mind. After our last breakfast in Istanbul we were about to start our roadtrip along the shoreline of the Marmara Sea to Tekirdag on the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) Peninsula. The drive seemed long but suddenly we arrived and were able to catch a quick glimpse of this special place. It was magic because as soon as we stepped out of the car a bright colourful rainbow formed above the valley. It was one of those memorable afternoons that will remain one of the highlights of the trip. It also has a personal meaning to us as our great-grandfather from Australia fought for his life here and by miracle came back alive. Not all had the same faith. It was hard to believe that over 10,000 men died here, as it now seemed to be a peaceful place. The quietness of this previous battlefield valley allowed us to look back on all the lost lives and visualize the horrific tragedy... No time to dwell on the past for too long though. After a good night's sleep, we started the day bright and early and were very much looking forward to our next visit: Troy. People always assume that its only about the Trojan horse which was built for the legendary war. I myself, was surprised to find not only this horse but amazing ruins of city walls, house foundations, a temple and an ancient theatre. All this beauty made me forget that a thunderstorm was only minutes away. And obviously, it was too late not to get caught in the middle of it. However, being wild at heart, that did not stop us from running back into the car and driving to our next location: Pergamon.
Once a great centre of culture, it remains Turkey’s finest archaeological site. We were so fortunate to have Fatih, our personal driver/guide. He knew everything about his country and gave us a very in depth Art/History lesson or else I would not be able to remember any of it, let alone name all the sites. In the Acropolis, above the modern town, are the remains of the celebrated library, a steep and impressive theatre, the temples of Trijan and Dionysus, the monumental altar of Zeus, the sanctuary of Demeter, a gymnasium laid out on the terrace and Agora. You are probably thinking - "no idea what she is talking about"! Too much food for the brain, even for me, but I included some of my favourite pictures! By then, it was about time our brains could have a good nights sleep to digest all the information and impressions from our cultural day. It was only day three but seemed like we had been here for weeks.
A quick stop in Dalyan where the most amazing façades of Lycian rock-cut tombs where to be found above the river’s sheer cliffs. The next place would have to be yet another WOW location. It is known as one of Turkey’s most amazing natural wonders. The “frozen waterfall” of Pamukkale has been an attraction since Roman times (as Hierapolis - the Sacred City, a health spa). The romans really did know how to treasure themselves. Just when you think you know it all about the art of relaxing, you come across the most mind blowing site of them all! The hot springs of Pamukkale were something out of this world. Our challenge of the day was to walk through the steamy wonderland of the travertine and capture it in the process. Being in the middle of Winter one does not look forward to walking barefoot; but as soon as our feet were greeted by the warmth of the hot springs, we got along just fine. It looked like snow but the structure of the mountain was composed of baths of large stone blocks with multiple open and closed areas all linked together. It was the best spa experience one could wish for, especially being as close to nature as it could ever be.
With only one day at each place, we were already on our way to our next stops. An abandoned ruined former Greek village, a local fishermen’s sea village and the picturesque coastline of Fethiye. This city was a little hidden gem with a charm like no other. It was as close as it got to feeling like it was summer when it actually was supposed to be winter. The crystal clear waters were beautifully set against the backdrop of wild mountains and dense forests. A dream come true for nature and sunshine lovers. This day could not have come at a better time. It’s easy to lose track of time when your mind is given so many different insights that it was a perfect afternoon to reflect on our experiences and start taking in all the rich history of Turkey.
After a few hours of relaxing under the sun while sipping fresh pomegranate and orange juice… we were back on the road again. Kas was our next stop. Just when you thought you were leaving heaven, a new form of magic was right in front of you. The best part was that it was a living reality where one was greeted by hammocks which were surrounded by mandarin trees. A peaceful little oasis. To end this dream we woke up and were blown away in a great setting at the foot of a wall of mountains, facing the Mediterranean. It was getting difficult to leave these fantastic settings, and one night was never enough to let it sink into our hearts. Looking back on it now; it still feels unreal.
After yet another long drive in the car, we finally made it to Antalya where we spent the afternoon exploring Kaleici, the old town centre. Nothing inspires me more than getting lost on unknown ground. My highlight must have been strolling though the vibrant narrow, winding streets and coming across picture perfect old wooden houses and secret courtyards; only to end up at a local scenic cafe to enjoy some much needed çai (tea) while watching the sun go down to yet another amazing day. We were reaching the end of our nightly stop-overs and coming to our final destination. As much as I loved seeing all these areas on such a tight schedule, I was really looking forward to actually unpacking for a few days and just being in one place.
Cappadocia was nothing like I thought it would be (and much colder then I expected!) It was so different to the rest of Turkey that it intrigued me beyond my control. It was as if one was going back in time. Three million years ago violent eruptions of Mount Erciyes and Mount Hasan covered the surrounding plateau of Cappadocia with tuff, a soft stone comprised of lava, ash and mud. The wind and rain eroded this brittle rock and created a surrealist landscape of rock cones, capped pinnacles and fretted ravines, in colours that range from warm reds and gold’s to cool greens and greys. Goreme is one of those rare regions in the world where the works of man blend into the natural surroundings. The caved architecture was deeply inspiring and blended in so well that at times it just seemed like one big valley. Cappadocia is a living natural wonder and truly a unique area in the world, loaded with so much raw beauty and history that its easy to get lost in it all. The evil eye tree was such a powerful symbol. For those unfamiliar with the meaning of this object, it is meant to protect you from the evil spirits and negativity around you. I just fell in love with the concept of it all, so much that it inspired me to start my own little collection.
Apart from the amazing scenery, architecture and of course endless photography opportunities there was one particular part I will always look back on being very special. Contrary to what you might have experienced, Turkish cuisine is one of the greatest cuisines in the world. Not spicy, except for the Southern part of the country, which has a strong Middle Eastern influence. We were lucky enough to eat with a local family while trying some of the best traditional Turkish food we have come across. It was such a heart warming experience. Greeted by an incredible variety of starters, to the traditional local pasta and of course the most amazing dessert. A rich food tasting of so many different tastes and flavors filled with laughter where language barriers had no meaning. The simple way in how they delicately prepared each and every meal was truly touching and to see how proud they were of their country and background was a great reminder to never forget one's identity. The varied climate allows for almost everything to be grown within the country and most of the products were freshly grown from the garden and local organic dishes which were as homemade as it gets. The best part of world travel is the people you meet along the way.
It’s the differences which brings us together and lets us learn a little more each day. This trip has definitely been one of the most educational journeys, to new horizons I had not yet uncovered. I feel as if Turkey has taught me so much in terms of just enjoying the simple things we all have around and within us, yet so many forget to use it in this fast paced world. The warmth and genuine friendliness of the people in Turkey will be something I will carry in my heart and try to use as a living example: in showing how important it is to be willing to give a little bit of one’s wisdom to every soul we meet along the way… What better way to end our journey in Turkey than catching a hot air balloon for sunrise.
Cappadocia must be one of the most incredible landscapes I have come across. When we finally decided that it might be worth seeing it from above, I could not wait to sleep a few hours before waking up to one last sunrise in Turkey. Our time in this country could not have had a better finale than this one. It was pitch black when we made our way to our meeting point with Rainbow Balloons. The gas flame was a blessing on this cold winter morning, and with three different layers the temperature didn’t seem to bother me anymore. My mind was elsewhere, and the anticipation of this next adventure was still running through my veins. As we were finally set to go and slowly reaching for the sky, I knew that at this moment this would be the closest to heaven that I would ever be. The landscape was slowly becoming lighter as the sun was rising above the far away mountains; to greet us with yet another magical day on earth. It’s moments like these, which have and will always stay with me. A completely different perspective from the sky, where one has no control of the future, all that mattered was that very moment.
What a wonderful world and with Rainbow Balloons dreams really do come true. My partners in crime (the cameras) obviously had to be a part of the journey and I tried my best to capture this unique experience for all of you to see. If you are heading to Turkey especially Cappadocia, I highly recommend to take part in a hot air balloon ride with Rainbow Balloons. It truly is a life changing experience where you see things with new eyes and once you are back on earth; feel more present and connected to life. If all else fails to tempt you just think of the glass of Turkish Champagne waiting to greet you once your feet are back on the ground… Priceless.