Once we crossed over the Tigris in to Turkey we were on the final leg home. Though we knew it is a beautiful country Turkey surprised us. We have lived here for four years but, having only seen the Aegean coast, a few towns in the west of the country and Istanbul, we didn’t understand quite how varied the landscape can be.
The mountain snowlines and the level of greenery particularly sat awkwardly with what we thought we knew about Turkey. The people too were different in the east. Turkish hospitality seems to be in even greater abundance nearer to the country’s eastern and southern borders.
Diyabakir has a bit of a reputation in Turkey. The heart of the Kurdish insurgency against the Ankara government, we later met Turks who would fear to travel there. Walking around Diyabakir’s celebrated Roman walls we came away with memories of a curious and inviting people and a fascinating city very worth exploring.
Sticking to the main road through the town, Şanlıurfa at first appears a busy but approachable modern city. But head down the side streets and signs of Urfa’s past quickly start to be revealed. We didn’t spend nearly enough time in our three days here exploring those streets as we should have done instead spending most of our time loafing around the pleasant park.
I’ll let you in to a secret. We weren’t that fussed about Mount Nemrut. In fact I would put it high up on my list of greatest travel disappointments – though that is partly my fault for making assumptions. Whenever I have seen pictures of Nemrut I hadn’t noticed all the photos seem to be of the same few statues and imagined there would be far more to the site than there actually is. On this false assumption we got there far too early for sunset, and unwilling to circle the frozen summit and look at the same view yet again we left feeling a little underwhelmed. That is not to stay that the location and the fallen statuary are not impressive. I would just rather have spent more time and money exploring Urfa or gone to Gaziantep instead.
Our first few days in Cappadocia were spent in the small town of Avanos. There is much to like in this normal, relaxed town that seems to attract older, wealthier and mostly French visitors but it wasn’t until we moved on to Goreme that the iconic Cappadocia that frequently illustrates guidebook covers comes into view. Standing up on the crowded local bus to Goreme I was unable to see out of the low windows so it was only on exiting the bus that I got my first sight of the rock formations that make the area famous.
It is possible to do more than just admire Cappadocia’s craggy beauty. The strange rock can be excavated and lived in as generations of inhabitants of the area once did. The Turkish government, embarrassed at some of its citizens living in caves, evicted many of the residents to modern housing. The empty caves were turned into cave hotels where travellers today spend a comfortable night before exploring the area in the day.
Another disappointment, the Open Air Museum is overly expensive and overrun with coach loads of tour groups. Walking back to Goreme we turned off the road and up into the heights nearby. Though there are no frescoes, the walk, in sight of the tour bus car park, is peaceful, free and stumbling across small rock churches, though very primitive in comparison to the Open Air Museum, feels like a genuine discovery.
I think Olympos may be one of my new favourite places in the world. Which is quite surprising considering that neither of us are particularly beach people. Protected from the sun by a forest canopy we would walk from our relaxed accommodation at Olympos Orange Pension through the ruins of an ancient city to get to the beach. It was a bit of a nuisance to have to pay an unavoidable entrance fee to the ruins every time we wanted to hit the beach but we got around that by walking down the centre of the shallow river that runs to the sea.
The winding coastal road along the cliffs to Kaş is typical of a bus journey to the Mediterranean resorts. Often a magical first glimpse is offered as the bus descends from forested mountains to sea level. The green of the interior slowly changes to sea blue. Kaş is a small town and the playground of both a yachtie crowd and adventure sports enthusiasts. Far quicker than the bus, paragliders descend from the overlooking mountains passing Lycian tombs and the ancient Greek theatre on their way to the ground.
I can’t quite put my finger on why we liked Koycegiz so much. The farming community beside a lake attracts small numbers of tourists compared to the country’s many seaside resorts and the townspeople of Koycegiz go about their daily business striking a balance between maintaining their semi rural lifestyle and the more demanding needs of incoming tourism. This was best reflected in the presence of the cockerel in the garden of Tango Hostel, our accommodation. While he wasn’t about to move on for the tourist and expat incomers he was considerate to crow at a decent hour of the day so as not to wake patrons enjoying a lay in.
It sounds stupid, even selfish, but sometimes we need a holiday from travelling. It can be hard work at times travelling independently. There are lows as well as highs and when you have been moving far and fast it can be wise to take a break. We took our break at a boutique hotel in Selimiye, close to Marmaris. We had considered going on to Bodrum for the last destination of our trip but we know that town well and felt that we wouldn’t be able to top staying in this lovely small hotel as the perfect end to our trip. We boarded a bus and went home.