Goreme, Turkey

Goreme, Turkey
July 25th 2010

Took the overnight bus from Istanbul to Goreme (about 12 hours total including stops). Goreme, which is located in the Cappadocia region, has some really interesting rock formations (nicknamed “Fairy chimneys”) that resulted from volcanic eruptions eons ago. I believe the region was underwater as well then, so that’s how the pointed rock formations resulted (bottom heavy, sharp-ish tops).

I stayed at Yasin’s Backpacker Hostel, in an underground cave room. It got cold and the beds got damp at night but it’s a cave, so there’s nothing we could do about it. The Japanese guy who slept in the bed beside me had the worst snore in recorded history. It’s in the top 3 of worst snorers I’ve encountered in my lifetime. It was impossible to sleep the first night. At one point, I lay awake and mockingly fake-snored as loud as him, hoping he’d hear me. But outside of the damp room, the odd smell of shit near the toilet area (I’m sure the sewage system isn’t the best), the squat toilet, the difficult to use shower system (you had to stand at a certain angle in the corner or risk wetting all your clothes that you hung up on the wall, as the shower head sprayed water all over the place), the hostel was as charming as a cave hostel could be. Breakfast was cooked by Yasin’s mom, so good.

Goreme is a small town of about 2100 people. The place is catered for tourism but it maintained its localness. I particularly enjoyed the little bookstore that sold used English books. I sold some of my books, picked up “Dracula”. I ate claypot beef stew twice that day, each at different locations. Absolutely delicious.

I spent the first day exploring the Goreme Open Air Museum. It’s basically a well-guarded enclosed area of rock formations and caves that people used to live in maybe thousands of years ago.Tourists can walk in/out of these caves and check out old frescos, and rooms which used to be refectories, storage areas, sleeping areas, churches etc. In fact, a lot of people still live in caves like these around the Cappadocia region.

I had originally wanted to spend two nights in Goreme but difficult sleeping conditions, on top of the fact I had troubling thinking of things to do in such a small, remote region of Turkey, I decided to stay only a night instead.

I spent the entire second day on a special tour Yasin put together (in addition to running the hostel for 3 years to date, he’s trying to start his own tour to add to the already available commercial Green/Red tours, which apparently had their flaws so he’s trying to improve upon it). We explored lots of cultural regions of Cappadocia, hiked hills to check out remove cave churches and places, ate fresh apricots straight from the trees growing in the area (they were SO good), drank apple tea with a local man and his wife who took care of certain cave churches, ate an amazing lunch (chicken claypot stew, bread with fresh cheese/honey, fruit), exploring an underground city (which had up to 7 layers and many intricate tunnels connecting them, but we were restricted to only a few), checked out local excavation sites that had Roman ruins, looking out our van window as we drove past amazing Cappadocian landscape, watching a local potter show how us how he works…It was a fantastic day I will never forget.

I left on the overnight bus that night. One more night in Istanbul and I’m going to Cairo.

Goreme, Turkey Pics

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey
July 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 27th

Istanbul is a city everyone should visit at least once in their lives. It is like a beautiful woman who also has a wonderful and interesting personality as well. The beauty of this city (and country) runs deep that only a city with so much history could.

The city is so vast and dense as is the population. I can’t even begin to describe how friendly and hospitable the Turkish people are. Maybe it’s their culture to be that way. I’ve met a number of Turkish people who have asked me where I was from. As there are plenty of Japanese and Korean tourists here (which I’ll write more about later), they always guess if I’m from either. I’ve tested saying “I’m from America” and “I’m from Malaysia” and the latter seems to make them a lot friendlier, as everyone in Turkey seems to be familiar with Malaysia (many Turks I’ve met have been to Malaysia). Plus, Malaysia’s a Muslim country. And it’s not America (not such a good rep in these parts of the world, but the people are open & friendly to Americans nonetheless, although not as much as to non-Americans). I’ve met kids who treated me like a celebrity because to them, meeting an Asian tourist is a treat. I remember when I took a ferry ride up the Bosphorus and ended up in a region near the Black Sea (Anadolufeneri), me and some friends climbed up to this castle up in the hill, and we ran into a group of school kids. They immediately crowded around us and asked us where we were from. So one guy said “Iraq”, another said “Tunisia” and I said “Malaysia” and they were like “WOOOOOOOOOOOOW!!!!” and we felt so special. Another time, I was taking a break in Topkapi Palace under some shade, and some Turkish kids came up to me and asked me if they could take a picture of me with some of their friends. I obliged, and they were so happy about it. My God, this is what it must feel like to be famous!

The food is amazing. I’ve written several times in my blog about the number of doner kebabs I’ve eaten in Europe and I’ve mentioned that I knew I would like Turkish food before I got to Turkey. It’s true, I do love Turkish food. I’ve eaten bureks several times while here (my favorite Turkish food, see picture above), yarims (chopped spicy pork sandwiches), doner kebabs, fish sandwiches (purchased by the ferry docks), beef/chicken clay pot stew (so good), rice with meats (their rice or “pilav” is made in the Middle Eastern way, very delicious), dondurum (Turkish ice cream, I call it bubble-gum ice cream because it’s sticky and they’re made in a special manner), Turkish delight, etc.

The sights are just as amazing. There’s the Big 6: Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, Topkapi, Grand Bazaar, Archaelogy Museum, and the Basilica Sistern. All (with the exception of Archaelogy Museum) were amazing. I made the mistake of paying 10 TL for the Archaelogy Museum and immediately regretted it. Did I mention how sick I am of sculptures? You can read more about the rest on Google or Wikipedia, I won’t describe each one to you except that they are beautiful and very historical. See the pictures for reference though.

I stayed at Hostelon the first few nights in Istanbul. It was great except we didn’t have A/C the first few nights and it was sweltering hot in the rooms. I had so much trouble sleeping. Everyone would be jostling for the single standing fan in the room. I would let everyone have their turn with the fan, fall asleep, then direct the fan to myself. The last night though, Hostelon installed A/C in our room and that night, it was bliss. Hostelon was located down the street from the famous Istiklal Cadesi, and right next to plenty of mom/pop type shops selling food. I would frequent the one next door selling bureks (my daily breakfast is half/half sugar/meat burek with a cup of Turkish çay (tea) with two cubes of sugar). I would also have several meals two doors down, eating rice and chicken kebabs. The owners of those places would sit outside, sitting on the little tables/stools, lounging in the sun, while I eat, and I tried to conversate with them but their English is very limited. I would be a familiar face though and would say hi to them everytime I saw them. Sometimes, there would be young Turkish guys who spoke more English than the old guys, and I would talk to them about the city, and also about the universal go-to topic for everyone outside of America, futbol.

I became friends with two guys in my room in Hostelon, Martin and Seif. Martin was born/raised in Michigan, but has Iraqi parents. He had been studying for 6 months in Spain, then 6 months in Lebanon. He spoke fluent English, Spanish, and Arabic. Seif was a Tunisian guy, spoke basic English, fluent French and Arabic. I spent a day on a ferry with them travelling up and down the Bosphorus Strait. They loved singing Arabic songs and it was very funny to see them both belt out these tunes everywhere they went. Shopping for jeans with them under Istiklal was also amusing.

I’ve been reading up a little bit on the Father of modern day Turkey : Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He was their first president and many venues have been named after him, including the Ataturk International Airport. He was a great military commander and great leader to the country. He adopted 12 daughters, one of whom I discovered was Sabiha Gokçen, who was the first female combat pilot in the world, and whom the 2nd airport in Istanbul is named after.

Oh yeah, the multitudes of Japanese/Korean tourists here…I wondered why there were so many here and from what I’ve Googled and heard from several people, the Koreans and Turks have a special bond between countries because during the Korean War, Turkey sent the most number of troops to help out. I still don’t know why the Japanese come here in droves, I will need to research that further. A theory I’ve read online is that the Japanese and Turkish people originated from the same ancestors.

More random pictures:

Istanbul,Turkey Pics