Forget Stay Safe! Live Dangerously!
I am not one to let the grass grow under my feet, especially when it comes to travel so I had started to make plans for my next trip even before I left Chile. I wasn’t about to go home and settle down to knit and crochet while I waited for the pandemic to pass as some of my friends seemed to assume I would. I had given up work early to go off and do adventure travel while I was young enough. I am already knocking on the door of 60 so my Everest climbing days could be numbered! I had big plans that got off to a great start in South America. They were all mapped out until everything came to a grinding halt! It felt like one of those old records that is playing normally but then suddenly gets stuck and comes to a screeching conclusion, thanks to Covid 19.
The budget airlines were starting flights again so I plumped for the most far reaching Easy Jet flight. A three and a half hour flight to another continent with all the exotic pull of a very different culture, long and rich history, membership of the Muslim world and, of course, great weather. I booked the flights to Turkey and persuaded Kathryn to come too for the first month. It was a compromise because we had had plans for me to go on her gap year with her (think the female version of Jack Whitehall and his dad!) but when my return date from South America became uncertain, she booked herself on to an MSc to do Urban Planning at The London School of Economics. She was probably worried I’d be as embarrassing as Jack Whitehall’s dad!
Once back in England, I continued to plan my three month trip to Turkey. I had plenty of time owing to the need to quarantine for fourteen days! Some friends said I may not have followed the rules as I have a track record in that area but after five and a half months travelling, it was good to put my feet up for a while. Plus, I challenge anyone to find any evidence that I didn’t! Owing to a five hour time difference and a 17 hour flight, I was still dozing when I got a call the morning after I arrived home from Lauren, on behalf of the British Government. Haven’t they got better things to do? Wouldn’t the money be better spent on the NHS? She wanted to know if I knew the rules on quarantine. Yes! Did I know the symptoms of Covid? Yes! Did I have any questions? Yes, why am I being monitored by the British Government in this very intrusive way for the first time in my 57 years? She apologised and rang off very quickly.
The Passenger Locator form, much to my surprise, allowed more than one address. I thought about doing a tour during the 14 day quarantine period by adding the address of my cousin in Bexhill-On-Sea, my brother on the Isle of Wight, Andrew in South Wales and our holiday home in East Yorkshire. In the end, I just caught up on all my favourite t.v. shows! Honestly, I did!
As soon as I could escape from U.K. lock down we headed north for a month to our holiday home in Beverley in East Yorkshire. Not many people down south have ever heard of it but it has to be one of the most delightful market towns in the country. It has a stunning minster to rival the great cathedrals of the country. It is a cathedral in all but name because of that stupid rule that you have to be a city to have a cathedral and it doubles up for Westminster Abbey in period dramas such as ‘Young Victoria’. The Westwood is a large area of common land on the edge of the town where the sheep and cattle bring the traffic to a standstill on a regular basis and you can watch horses thundering past at the famous Beverley Race Course for free. In the general area are the Yorkshire Wolds, North York Moors and a spectacular coastline. Driving, cycling and walking my way through the north of England, I reflected on the fact that, however much travelling I do over seas, you can’t beat our green and pleasant land. We were also able to catch up with our many northern friends but it felt strange not being able to hug and kiss them.
I also took a week out of our trip north to go to Lancaster with Helen to drop her belongings at the her new student house in Lancaster where she will soon begin her second year at Lancaster University. She had bagged the best room in the house with an amazing view over historic Lancaster. Not sure where she gets her sharp elbowed genes from?! Another bonus is that Lancaster is only 45 minutes from the Lake District. Besides exploring lakes and towns I managed to get a hike to the top of Loughrigg Peak. As we drove up there with one of Helen’s university friends who is from Liverpool, so pretty close to the Lakes, she said she’d never visited the Lakes before. I was shocked but I’m not sure why because it is comparable to the kids at school who live 35 minutes from London but never go to this great city.
As my Turkey trip approached, I started to get a feeling of deja vu! Would I be able to fly? The Sun Newspaper On Line seemed to have the best coverage of holiday hotspots at risk of being kicked off the ‘Green List’. They had a helpful chart of cases per 100,000. A country had to stay below 20 per 100,000 and Turkey was dangerously close. Now I don’t read The Sun Newspaper normally but, as we all know, these are not normal times. The only time I’ve really come in to contact with this rag in the past is when I have confiscated it on a regular basis from teenage boys and ceremoniously ripped it to shreds before dropping it in to the waste paper basket. They called me a hypocrite because I was the one who encouraged them to read but we all know that they were only interested in the big boobs of Page 3 and that their interest didn’t involve reading!
I started to research travel insurance with the word ‘battle’ in the title. I kid you not! Battleface is a specialist travel insurance for journalists and NGOs etc going to battle zones. How did we come to this? It costs an arm and a leg but after Spain, France, Malta, The Netherlands, you name it, had been taken off the list of countries exempt from the FCO “DO NOT TRAVEL ON PAIN OF DEATH” list, I decided it was worth paying the exorbitant premium. Well it was that or three months in Lichtenstein and I’ve been to Lichtenstein. It’s lovely but you can do it in three days, perhaps even three hours if you get a move on!
I waited with baited breath to see if Turkey was to be taken off the Government’s green list on Thursday at 5pm. Much to my relief, it was not. They’ve all been for a jog round the block in the last week and improved their data! I spent Friday arranging normal insurance not insurance to cover me in the event of nuclear war and booking accommodation and car hire, before my flight on Saturday.
The one (probably only) thing I hate about travel is having to get up early to catch a flight or ferry. We had to get up at 2.45am to catch the 5.55am flight. What sort of an idiot comes up with these schedules? Mind you, with a three hour flight and a two hour time difference, arrival time in to Bodrum was not until midday, at which point, the early start seemed sensible.
At the gate, I realised why The Sun Newspaper had taken such a keen interest in the Covid 19 data for holiday hot spots. The flight was full of Sun Readers. They were even giving away free copies of The Sun! Medallions and false eyelashes were everywhere to be seen. Now I know I sound like a snob but the large family group directly behind us quickly got in to holiday mood. The two women in the row behind who had about 15 young children, including toddlers, between them had 6 gin and tonics each. That’s each, not between them! I can’t even begin to analyse how wrong that is in so many ways. Kathryn heard a member of the cabin crew comment that they were running out of alcohol! Why do they even carry alcohol on an early morning flight? Now I like a gin and tonic (not 6) along with the rest of ‘em but at 6.30 in the evening, not 6.30 in the morning. I rest my case!
The Easy Jet crew were very friendly and smiley when they welcomed us on board. Probably glad to still have a job! The only time they got a bit antsy was when they were trying to follow new guidelines on arrival in Bodrum. Some people just couldn’t get used to the new rules which are that you must remain seated and not get your bag out of the locker or stand in the aisle until they get to your row to exit the aircraft. As if there weren’t enough rules and regulations involved in flying pre-2020 but it is tough on the cabin crew. The other unsettling issue was that the pilot, who gave a full route plan unlike Ryan Air which has given up on that, sounded as if he was about twelve!
As The Sun Readers disembarked and went off to their all inclusives and All Day English Breakfasts, Kathryn and I went on a wild goose chase to track down our hire car. The promised desk was no where to be seen. Eventually, after we’d asked about ten different people, we worked out that we had to walk over to the Domestic Terminal. We then had to go through security again before we could access the desk. The car was a brand new 2020 model and only had about 15 kilometres on the clock because the poor thing has been sat at the airport for most of the its short life. We checked it over and were soon off on the 50 minute scenic drive to the centre of Bodrum.
I found myself making comparisons with my last foreign destination. Like Valparaíso in central Chile, Bodrum has a similar climate and is spread over tinder dry hills that form an amphitheatre plunging down to a narrow coastal strip. I was in Valparaíso during the autumn and winter time and I often wondered what it would be like during the summer. Well now I know. Scorcio!
There are a few subtle differences. The buildings are white rather than the colours of the rainbow and the yappy dogs barking across the hillside have been replaced by the imams’ call to prayer. Like the dogs, there are hundreds of them! We became a bit worried because when we were in Rwanda we were woken at four every morning by the mosque next door to the hotel. It sounded as if he was sat on the end of the bed with his megaphone! I complained to reception and asked if they could get him to turn the volume down but they just shrugged! I love the sound of the call to pray because it reminds you that you are in the land of the Arabian Nights but not at four in the morning. For the love of God!
There’s no need to worry about the weather. It’s very boring. Hot and sunny every day. It is consistently a high of 33 degrees and a low of 19 degrees. What’s not to like?
On our first day we were totally exhausted but hungry so we forced ourselves to walk in to Bodrum. It was very quiet but we found a fish restaurant by the harbour with views over the bay to St Peter’s Castle, a former crusader castle, prison, broom cupboard and now museum. The male waiter who must have been around my age ignored me as if I was invisible and chatted away to Kathryn. Even when he made the joke about us being sisters, having seen the family likeness, he made it to Kathryn who may have taken offence at that particular joke. When I paid the bill (“Yer mate, I’m the one putting food on your table!”), I made the observation to him that it was very quiet for August. “Oh no!” he said, “it’s packed at night.”
When we returned the next evening to test his theory, it was indeed busier but restaurants were only a third full. Mustafa, our waiter, said that most people were Turkish and that there were very few foreign tourists. Having heard so much about staycationers in Britain, it seems that it is the same scenario in Turkey and probably worldwide. He said that they normally have 5 million people in Bodrum in August but this year there are only 1 million.
We headed off to explore the Bodrum Peninsular. Old windmills decorated a ridge near our apartment but as we wound our way over one hill we were confronted with the ugly over development of the all inclusive hotels with banana boats and waterslides galore, beloved by The Sun readers! Now I don’t want you to get the impression that I’m picking on Sun Readers. I hate Daily Mail Readers even more. They’re a right sanctimonious bunch! Some of my best friends are Daily Mail Readers and I have to say that it does test our friendship. Mind you, I do have a dirty secret. I’ve read The Daily Telegraph on a Saturday for most of my adult life. Don’t tell my Guardian reading friends! In my defence, it’s only because it has by far the best travel section. I just ignore most of the crap that the privately educated journalists spout out, especially on education!
Once past the holiday from hell region, we wound our way up a steep sided valley to our first ancient ruins. Now it’s a good job that these were our first because if they had come after the world class Ephesus, further up the coast, we would have been very disappointed but as they didn’t we enjoyed wandering around the streets, past houses and defensive walls. The views were stunning and extensive across the hills and surrounding coast dotted with rocky bays and islands.
It wasn’t always easy to get access to the coastline because of the monstrous holiday hotels but when we found a public beach we went snorkelling over sea grass and it was like an aquarium of Mediterranean fish. They will never be able to compete with their tropical cousins but they put on a pretty good show.
This is not my first visit to Turkey. In the dying days of my twenties I worked on a British Council English Language Camp for Turkish Students. Twelve British Teachers and twelve sixth formers spent the summer on a beach in Antalya and organised activities to help our students improve their English. As I am now hurtling towards my sixties, you can see it was a long time ago but I do wonder where they are now.
One of my favourite activities was a show we put on based on the movie “Grease”. We just parked a car in the middle of the campsite and sang the songs with a bit of acting. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let me play Sandy! I was gutted to be made girl in chorus! It was the same at primary school. I always wanted to play Mary but only ever got to be an angel! I know, type cast!
It was summer school holidays 1992 when I was in Antalya and very hot. Some of the sixth form boys decided to play a joke on my tent mate and I. Before sunrise, they padlocked our tent shut. Now this would have been very uncomfortable as the heat barely dissipated at night and as soon as the sun came up, it was like an oven. The trouble was, I came to just as they whispered the combination to the padlock. I stored this away and went back to sleep for another hour. Once we were ready to get up, we just reached out, pulled the padlock in and entered the combination. Their faces when we strolled in to breakfast were a picture!
I met up with Ruth this summer who I first met on the camp and who has become one of my oldest friends. We’ve met up on a regular basis since the camp and like to reminisce about it. With my imminent return planned we reflected on how Turkey has gone backwards since our time there nearly 30 years ago. With Recep Tayyip Erdogan in power for many years, the country is moving more towards authoritarian principles and the rights or women are being eroded. Or is this the view of the biased west? It has done an excellent job creating a sophisticated town for a million Syrian refugees in the east of the country. It will be interesting to get the views of my homestay hosts.
We enjoyed hospitality with a student for the weekend. I stayed at the country house of one of the students which was delightful. It was very rustic and rural but in a stunning mountainous setting. The family was incredibly hospitable to the point where it became rather embarrassing. When we went for a wander around the shops, anything I even half looked at was bought for me. In the end, I couldn’t look at anything because they wouldn’t take no for an answer! I only stayed for one night but at about five in the morning there was loud shouting in Turkish, which, of course, I couldn’t understand. I sat up in bed feeling very concerned and wondering whether I should go out to see what was happening. It subsided after about five minutes and I went back off to sleep. In the morning, they said someone had been trying to break in to the house!
In view of the fact that I spent a month in Turkey in the past, I thought I would be able to dredge up a few Turkish words and phrases. Just the usual like “Two beers, please” and “Can you direct me to the ladies toilets?” But no! I couldn’t remember a single word. I turned to Duolingo but by the time I took off for Turkey, I had only learnt the words for apple and bread. As I’m in Turkey for three months I don’t think that will sustain me! I decided to get the Turks to teach me but it’s not an easy language. No Latin or Anglo Saxon similarities. After 48 hours, I had just about managed to learn the word for “Thank you”! After a week, I was up to 5 words. Mind you, from the look on some people’s faces and the laughter coming from their mouths, I think my pronunciation still left much to be desired!
The Turks are lovely people. Well most of them! Like everywhere, there’s always the odd one! They go out of their way to make you feel welcome but don’t get me started on Turkish driving! Like all Southern European countries (with the exception of Spain), and the Germans and Belgians, they drive like total idiots most of the time. I did my U.K. test many years ago but I’m still pretty certain it involved the use of the indicator. I can only conclude that this is not the case for the Turkish Driving Test but they certainly get tested on use of the horn the second the lights go to green. Now I go in to neutral and put the hand break on at lights. Good for the environment but it means you can’t do 0-60mph in a second at lights. So why do they have to toot? It leads to some colourful language and hand gestures on my part but it is lost on Turkish drivers because they don’t make any eye contact. If you let them in from a side street they don’t thank you with a smile and a wave as we do. No! They just ignore you and drive straight on! They cut you up, stop in the middle of the road and start backing up, drive over two lanes, jump the lights! The list of complaints is endless. Pedestrians are no better. They wait until the last minute and then just step in front of the car and cross at a 45 degree angle. They don’t go in for by-passes round towns so you have to wind your way through them and endure all of the above on a frequent basis!
Armed with our museum card we were able to enjoy the amazing ancient sites of Turkey. Turkey’s coastline is chock full of echos of the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans. The poster boy of 333 BC, Alexander the Great, spent his holidays here and Jesus’ Bessie mates, John, Paul and (no not the Beatles) Philip all took up residence, as well as Mum, Mary! St John, not only wrote his bits of the bible here but he lived until 100 years old. That must be like living to 150 in today’s money.
All the sites, including the world famous bucket list Ephesus, were blissfully empty. Not a cruise ship or Asian bus tour in sight. I have been travelling since the late sixties and over that period of time, popular spots have become increasingly like tourist Disneyland. Giving up work and not being confined to school holidays when you are cheek by jowl with the whole world these days was supposed to alleviate the problem but all of a sudden, not only is it quiet, it’s positively deserted! Result!
I’m afraid I let the sun get to me after a day at Ephesus. I left Kathryn at the hotel having said that once you’ve seen one pile of rocks, you’ve seen the lot, and headed for some more minor sites nearby. I struggled to find one of them so I asked a man that looked like a Turkish Danny DeVito standing outside a basilica I’d just visited. He told me it was closed so I’d have to return the next day, then proceeded to show me some coins from Roman, Greek, Persian and Byzantine times. He could do me a good price, he said. I asked him if he was allowed to sell these coins which he claimed to have found in the local area. “Oh yes,” he said, “it’s only rare coins that you have to declare.”
I paid £35 for four “genuinely ancient coins”. Yes, I’m sure you can work out what comes next! When I returned to the hotel, Kathryn looked it up on the internet and said it is the biggest scam going. Oh and she called me a total idiot. You can’t take anything older than 100 years out of Turkey (well unless you’re the British Museum!!!) so I’ve either got to endure the fact that I’ve paid £35 for 50p worth of metal or I’m going to get arrested on departure and thrown in a Turkish jail.
The next day, when I returned to the site to finish the bit that was closed, the Turkish Danny DeVito Coin Scammer was sat opposite the entrance, clearly waiting for the stupid English woman who had mug written across her forehead. I parked up and marched across the car park. “I’ve got a bracelet for you!” he declared, digging something that looked bronze with animal heads on either end out it from his moped locker.”
“I know it’s a scam!” I told him, “And I’ll be going to the police.” I didn’t expect to get anywhere but I was determined to vent my anger.
“No, no!” he said. “It’s not!”
“Oh don’t give me that one! I want my money back.”
“Give me my coins back then.”
“With pleasure,” I told him, “when you give me my money back.”
At this point, and much to my surprise, he got out a wodge of cash and gave me my money back in return for the worthless coins.
Feeling jubilant, I went off to explore but then started to worry that he’d given me fake notes in return. I compared them to the notes that I’d got from a cash point and they looked the same and had watermarks but I was still nervous. Luckily, I can report that I paid for a hotel with them a few days later and they didn’t pursue me into the car park, claiming I’d given them forged notes so all’s well that ends well!
Luckily, the fines are high for those caught selling fake coins and I’d taken his photo and recorded him telling me a little biopic of each coin so I had the evidence to get him banged up!
On our journey to our next stop, we diverted by about 30 minutes off the main road to Aphrodisias, a UNESCO world heritage site. We were getting a bit Roman Ruined Out but I am glad we did make the effort. Every site has the ubiquitous theatre, temple, Agora etc but they also have something that makes them stand out from the crowd if you are prepared to look hard enough. Ephesus had terraced houses adorned by beautiful murals, communal loos and a brothel. Aphrodisias had an Olympic sized swimming pool and one of the best preserved stadiums in the ancient world. Kathryn and I had it to ourselves and we did a lap but I don’t think we would have won any medals in forty degrees!
We drove inland for several hours to Pamukkale where we encountered a ski slope! Yes, I know, it’s in the high thirties and has a ski slope. Obviously high thirties and ski slope don’t go together and whilst it does look exactly like a ski slope plonked in the middle of dry, arid Turkey, it is in fact travertine terraces that are formed when water from hot springs loses carbon dioxide, leaving deposits of limestone that build up in steps. Pamukkale means cotton castle. It was much busier than anywhere we had encountered to date with the Turks taking advantage of the opportunity to bathe in the man made pools. Unfortunately, the ancient pools that feature in most photos are now dried up which is disappointing but the patterns on the slope and water that flows over it still make for some very instagramable shots!
You have to take your shoes off to walk on it so we climbed to the top and here we had a break on a bench and watched the police, reluctantly I might add, try to enforce the rule that anyone from the age of two needs to wear a face mask! Trying to get a two year old to wear socks and shoes can be challenging, let alone a face mask!
Above Pamukkale is a Roman Spa town. The Romans really knew how to live life to the full! It had some fascinating ruins, for example, the bathing pool still open to the public with bits of temple littering it; the extensive necropolis (graveyard) and a Byzantine Church dedicated to St Philip high on the hill. As temperatures hit the high thirties we were dripping with sweat as we explored it. Luckily, there were water taps to replenish our water bottles as we went through several litres each.
Our hotel was dirt cheap but had a balcony overlooking Pamukkale, a large swimming pool of which we made full use, and a great Turkish breakfast.
We decided to have dinner on the balcony as it had such a good view. We popped up the road to the “super market” which was like something out of Soviet rationing days. I remember when a friend and I were inter railing in 1982 around the old Soviet Block and every shop we went in to was full of cleaning fluid and nothing else. People did have bread in their shopping bags but you could only get it if you had ration cards. We ended up spending 3 nights on trains with only disgusting biscuits that tasted like dried dirt from the station just to cross the area to get to Hungary (pun intended!) where the situation was not so acute and you could buy food. I seem to remember several of those nights were spent on the floor in the corridor outside a toilet that smelt strongly of urine. The things you do when you’re 19 years old!
Any way, back to Pamukkale supermarkets. We put the next “supermarket” in to the sat nav and spent 25 minutes driving to it only to find we were still in Soviet 1980s. Wooden shelves of not much at all. We didn’t want bread and cheese as that just replicated the breakfasts but beyond that there were few options. We ended up in town on both evenings at the restaurants overlooking the terraces which were cheap and cheerful but did the job.
On our first night in Pamukkale, I went down to reception to see if I could get some ice to keep our water cool over night. I encountered the owner and his wife and mother just outside the restaurant and tried to explain what I wanted. They clearly didn’t understand but got on the phone to their son who spoke English. The phone was passed to me an he relayed my request to him. They beckoned to me to have a seat and gave me Turkish Tea. Just as in England, everything can be solved with a nice cuppa. Five minutes later their son turned up with a jug of ice for me. Now that’s what I call service!
Our journey to iconic Cappadocia involved an eight hour journey. We climbed up over dry and arid mountains and on to the steppe where we encountered one of the few areas of flat land in the country. Turkey has an excellent road network that can rival that of Germany, even though it is twice the size. It is by far superior to the road network of Romania, an E.U. county, which has about two miles of dual carriageway with the rest of the roads looking as if they have been recently ploughed!
We arrived in Konya in the early afternoon. It is a large town that does not generally attract western tourists but it is the home of the famous Whirling Dervishes. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of the real thing but had to make do with plastic models. I had warned Kathryn that it is a very conservative town and that most women would be in head scarves and burkas. This made her worry that we would be out of place. She is well travelled but you know what the snow flake generation are like! Last year, we visited Jordan with her sister, Helen, and we hardly saw any women so it was refreshing to see women out and about in Konya, all be it well covered in these high temperatures, knocking on the door of forty degrees. All the men, of course, were in cool gear, namely flip flops and shorts. As we drove in to the town we encountered a very modern tram system that put Essex, where I live, to shame.
We parked up and had lunch in the car. I was keen not to eat in the car as it’s a hire car and I don’t want to be charged for cleaning but that desire lasted about ten minutes and then every picnic lunch was in the car with the engine running with the air con well and truly on! I would never do this at home but needs must in these temperatures! Sod the crumbs and drink stains! Kathryn’s anxiety about Konya being like a town on Mars was not allayed when a teenager came to the car window to beg for money for food. People here clearly live on the bread line. Lots of older men sell tissues and this reminded me of the plaster sellers of Valparaiso. I think Heather has enough plasters to last for the next ten years! I managed to coax Kathryn out of the car but shortly after another teenage pair tooted us from their moped.
Once we got to the city centre things picked up. The two young parking attendants spoke English and were very helpful. They directed us to the Mevlana Museum, dedicated to the 13th Century founder of the Dervish Sect. The original Dervish lodge contains his tomb and we joined the many people filing past it to pay our respects. We even saw a few women not in head scarves so Kathryn was able to relax!
Next stop was the famous Cappadocia! Eventually, a large and extinct volcano rose up out of the flat landscape but the delights of Göreme remained hidden until just before we came over a ridge with only 10 minutes left on the Sat Nav. The unique landscape was formed about 30 million years ago when volcanoes covered the area with a blanket of easily eroded ash. Hard volcanic rock on top meant it has been eroded in to exotic shapes including fairy chimneys. One of these fairy chimneys would be our home for the next five nights.
A hot air balloon ride has been on my bucket list for years! There were opportunities to do it on our safari honeymoon and Nile cruise but we’d already stretched the budget to its max and, let’s face it, it costs an arm and a leg. Cappadocia is probably the most famous place to do hot air ballooning so it just had to be done even if it required a second mortgage! Mind you, Covid 19 means they have had to get rid of all the bells and whistles like champagne breakfasts and reduced the numbers in each balloon. This has meant a significant reduction in the cost of a balloon ride. Result!
We did our research. Balloon rides had just stated again after lockdown. Normally, 150 balloons fly but currently it is only 35 balloons. If the weather is bad, for example, high winds, then the balloons don’t fly so it is best to book a balloon ride on day one of a visit. We, therefore, got in touch with our hotel to ask for advice. No problem, they said, we have a brother and a cousin who have a Hot Air Balloon Company. Now I’ve heard of my brother and cousin’s restaurant or taxi but when it comes to Hot Air Ballooning, I felt the need to see their permits! Never the less, we booked.
On arrival at our hotel, the pleasant young man who checked us in then informed us that he was also a hot air balloon pilot for the family company that we would be 850 meters off the ground with the next day. He must have seen the look of horror on my face because he quickly added that he would be piloting one of the two balloons but we would be in his cousin’s balloon. When it comes to job titles, I don’t normally put hotel receptionist and hot air balloon pilot on the same badge! The next blow was that we would have to get up at 5am!
There was no need to set an alarm as the local call to prayer woke us at 5am! It was still dark when we arrived at the balloon launch site where five enormous balloons were being filled by huge jets of fire that could have been generated by dragons. Brothers and cousins were everywhere, working hard to get the passengers boarded and balloons off the ground.
Kathryn and I climbed in to our exclusive pocket in the balloon with a French couple, Turkish couple and Turkish mother and daughter who could only just see over the basket! It was not long until we were drifting up in to the air amid a sea of other balloons. It was magical and very relaxing. We drifted over the other worldly dry and arid landscape of Cappadocia, with good views of the cream, pink and ochre coloured valleys that looked as if they are decorated with whipped cream. We could see for miles and had good views of Göreme, the town, and the famous Cappadocia rock structures.
Much to my relief, our pilot cousin had done six month’s training and had to regularly update his training. He had a large certificate saying “Qualified Hot Air Balloon Pilot” on his bedroom wall because, as he himself acknowledged, it requires a similar level of skill and training to that of a light aircraft pilot. I’m no expert but our pilot seemed to be able to manoeuvre our balloon very effectively, moving it to 1,500 feet above sea level and 360 degrees to maximise passenger experience. At one point we descended in to a white valley and got views of our silhouettes on the rocky cliffs. It was, quite simply, amazing!
75 minutes later (although it felt as if it was ten minutes later!) we arrived back safely on to the ground, well back on to a flat bed truck to be precise! Brothers and cousins were waiting to pack the balloon away and I was able to put a big fat tick next to Hot Air Balloon Ride on my bucket list!
Hiking is not easy when the temperatures get up to 44 degrees. Yes, you heard that correctly, as recorded on the car temperature gauge after a five hour hike up the Red and Rose Valleys. The one advantage that makes hiking possible in Cappadocia in the summer, however, is high sided and, therefore, shaded valleys. We stumbled on our first hike in Sword Valley. We found a parking spot and just went for it. It was, quite frankly, out of this world. The valley floor was very narrow and it rose ‘V’ shaped about 40 metres. Where the sun penetrated, it glowed a bright sandy colour and contrasted with darker shades that were in shadow. We only met one other couple who were Swiss. While I chatted to them, Kathryn checked out their gear and practically had an Amazon order in for their Salmon walking shoes before we departed ways.
As we continued on through the enclosed valley we heard animal like whining up ahead. This led to a quick evaluation of dangerous wild animals in the area. Wolves, bears, big cats? We didn’t think so but couldn’t be 100% sure! We turned a corner and found a ladder leading to a lower level. The whiners were right at the bottom of the ladder. Two large dogs. They were probably friendly but this could not be confirmed until we ventured down the ladder. Now my fear of dogs is well known so I assumed Kathryn would do the decent thing and go first but no! She was quite happy for me to go first and be attacked and eaten by the dogs at the bottom of the ladder. I took a deep breath and reasoned that the Swiss couple had not been eaten so all would be well. My heart beat was so loud and racing so much that you could hear it echoing off the sides of the cliffs enclosing me and these dogs because at the bottom there was literally no escape past these potentially vicious, rabid hounds as they completely blocked the funnel like valley.
In reality, they were as soft as a brush and nuzzled against my descending legs in a bid to get a free meal. Not that this didn’t lead to my blood pressure shooting up. I soon realised they were probably friendly but I wasn’t comfortable with having their powerful jaws up close and personal. Dogs, after all, are descendants of wolves and in this primitive landscape, the resemblance was unmistakable. Unfortunately, we had no food to give them. We really wished we’d saved the meat we hadn’t eaten at breakfast as they would have devoured that but we were comforted by the fact that they didn’t look as if they were starving. They’d probably got a meal out of the Swiss couple. They graciously accompanied us to the end of the valley and then back as far as the ladder as dogs and ladders don’t go.
On another day we went hiking in the appropriately named Red and Rose Valleys. About two hours in we encountered two Russian women eating grapes which grow in abundance. I had tried some and they were not quite ripe but almost. When they saw us, they asked where they could get water. Looking at them, we realised they were very dehydrated. Did they have a map, we asked them. No! We got ours out and showed them the route to the road, about 30 minutes further on, where they could head down the steep hill to the Open Air Museum to get water. As we walked off in the other direction, Kathryn and I discussed giving them one of our bottles of water. We had started the walk well hydrated and carried extra water in case of emergency. Kathryn has been a hiking counsellor on an American Summer Camp for the last three years so is experienced in hiking in wilderness situations. She thought we should give them one of our bottles of water and I agreed. We didn’t want to wake up the next day to news reports of two Russian Women being found dead from dehydration after not returning to their hotel. They gratefully accepted. Having done our good deed for the day, however, we spent the next half an hour pontificating on what idiots some people can be. I remember hearing horror stories when we were preparing to travel through the Australian Outback of people that broke down and were then ill prepared for such harsh conditions. It could be weeks before they were found, usually because they had ignored all the basic rules about supplies, maps, staying with your vehicle and letting people know where you are going. We always traveled with a satellite phone and had our car serviced before we departed by Frank at the local garage but one pair, who were running from the law because of credit card fraud, did none of the above and were found dead only weeks before our first trip. I was horrified. Were we being responsible taking our young children in to this hostile environment but colleges who were experienced outback travellers pointed out that they hadn’t followed any of the basic rules.
About an hour after we had donated a bottle of our water to the Russians and turned up another valley, we came round the corner and saw what seemed to be a mirage, “The Red Valley Garden Tea Cafe”, a shady spot with compfy tables and chairs. It had a capacity of about 30 people but I doubt the short round elderly man who literally jumped out of bed to serve us, has seen 30 people since the start of the year. We had freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, bottles of cold mineral water and Turkish Tea amid his vines and fruit trees. When we went to pay, he’d got out large bowls of fruit and nuts to tempt us. We bought a huge bag and he weighed them on old fashioned scales. We paid and gave him a large tip. It was an absolute oasis. It felt as if, if we ventured up there the next day it would have disappeared and be nowhere to be seen!
Our hotel was magical. I had decided to splash out on one of the famous fairly chimney hotels which are typical of the area. One that is like a hobbit house! I say splash out, but a two bedroom apartment with breakfast and stunning views was £35 a night. I am sure it is much more expensive in ‘normal’ times. Ali, the delightful eighteen year old cousin who served our breakfast every morning and who taught me a few new Turkish words (as well as laughing at my pronunciation!) told us that there were only two rooms occupied out of 13 and normally they would be full at this time in this world famous destination. We had breakfast on a terrace with beautiful views of the Göreme fairy chimneys and valleys. Ali showed us pictures of himself doing guided horse riding trips at sun rise and sunset. He said it was his uncle’s hotel. His father is dead. When I said I was sorry to hear that, he said he had been in his eighties when he died. He had a sister who was sixty three. At first I thought that there was something lost in translation but then he explained that his mother, who is younger than his oldest sister, was his father’s second wife.
Not only are there fairy chimney hotels built in to the landscape but whole cities. One open air museum is a religious community of beautifully decorated rock cut churches. Another is a whole town cut in to the cliffs of a large valley. Also in the area are underground cities used for protection during raids. A sign on entry said “Do not enter if you have asthma, high blood pressure, piles....” you name it. I can confidently say I have none of these but I can say that when 85 metres below ground I had claustrophobia and was close to a panic attack!
As I have said, ten out of ten for the roads but don’t get me started on petrol stations! When the petrol light comes on I still have an eighth of a tank and a 90km range. That should be enough to get me to the petrol station but no, not if every one you pull in to only has diesel and you are in a petrol car! When I eventually rolled in to a petrol station that did have petrol, I asked for “full” which the attendants who fill the car for you (you never get your own hands on the pump!) understand. They give you a receipt and you go and pay in the kiosk. On this occasion, I noticed that a “full” tank had only cost me £10. Now petrol is cheap here but not that cheap! Why do I always get the work experience kid? Out I went to explain his mistake. He has sloped off to sit in the shade so I have to hoick him back to the vicinity of my car. He insisted he had filled my tank. I got his nose pressed against my petrol gauge and he shrugged and then Kevin like went and put more petrol in. Yep, on this occasion, he fitted in £20 worth!
On another trip to a petrol station the attendant kindly cleaned my windscreen and as it had been parked under many trees for shade where the birds have a field day, I persuaded him to do the bonnet too and he obliged. Trouble is, he had left the car filling and the next thing I saw was petrol spilling out on to the forecourt. My father and father-in-law would have had kittens at this point and I have to admit, it made me rather uneasy but petrol is cheap and I did get a free car wash!
At one petrol station, I went to pay and the credit card reader priced it in American dollars. I pointed out that as I was in Turkey using a British credit card, there was no way I was paying in American dollars. This is not the first time this stunt had been pulled. The supermarket in Göreme tried it on too! To be fair, the staff were as baffled as me. They tried again and this time, the options expanded to American dollars, Euros and British Pound. Nope, I said, needs to be Turkish Lira! About five people were assisting at this stage. Hardly anyone spoke even a few words of English and I was the local entertainment, drawing bemused crowds. Eventually they used a different credit card reader and hey presto! Turkish Lira. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this practice of credit card companies trying to charge you in a currency that is not the currency of the country you are in, it’s a scam! A way of getting you to pay more. Get a credit card that charges no currency fees and always pay in the local currency. I was caught out once in Spain where they are serial offenders and never again. When I looked at the bill, I’d paid much more in GBP than I would have in Euros.
In defence of petrol stations, they do magnum ice creams and cornettos for 50p!!!!