4 weeks of land travel in Türkiye
Finding the delicate balance between seeing the places that we missed in our time in Türkiye and not exhausting ourselves while Gratitude is moving is tricky. We have been doing this long enough to know that there is a point of diminishing returns when we try (read I try) to cram too much into a trip. This is especially true when we are living out of a suitcase, missing our Pratt and Gratitude, and the trip is 7 weeks long. For many, it will sound like a trip of a lifetime – and for me as well at another point in my life, I too would look at this as a dream vacation. So, as I write this Im keenly aware that this is a life of privilege. But just because our life lessons are learned in the backdrop of exotic and beautiful locations, we are learning them, nonetheless. One of the great things about taking off on a journey of this magnitude is that you can be assured that whatever lessons life had in store for you at home, you are going to get them in spades on this journey.
That said, this winter we chose to take a few trips further afield knowing that the internal Türkiye travel was going to happen while Gratitude was making her way to Southhampton, and we were “killing time” out of the Schengen and EU areas.
First stop, Side. Pronounced See-Day, when I was doing research, this town looked on paper to be the stuff of my dreams. Ancient Roman ruins being preserved under a town of cute shops and restaurants. I would have been terribly disappointed had I traveled from the US for 1 week and we came here. I know I have mentioned before that my experience of a place has as much to do with my own frame of mind as anything else and I usually try to temper my criticism with that piece of self-knowledge. So, Im going to completely disclose that this particular week was really hard on me. Watching our home and kitty leave the dock without us aboard was tough. Packing belongings for a 7-week trip away from our home and kitty was tough. Getting Jack ready to finish up his school year while traveling from town to town was tough. But nothing could have prepared me for the wallop of emotions that I felt as we moved into Holy Week in the Christian calendar in a Muslim country away from all of the homey items that I use to bring these significant holidays to life as we travel around the world. We survived Christmas in Türkiye with little trouble because, even though there was nothing outside of our boat that reminded us of the holiday, everything on board did – and all of our traditions were mostly intact, including watching Christmas mass via Skype. Holy Week was different though because in addition to having none of the outward signs of this sacred week, having no family or friends with whom to celebrate, we weren’t even sure we would find a meal on Easter Sunday prior to sunset given that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was happening simultaneously. Muslims fast all day even forsaking water during Ramadan and many restaurants closed for this reason opening only after sunset. This was clearly not the Easter Sunday to which we are accustomed. And it hit me hard!
So driving en route to Side, uncertain that we would find dinner, we took Jack to the mall to find some new tennis shoes (very little in the way of shopping in Kas, so he needed them), and we ate Easter Sunday brunch at McDonalds. If you know me, you know what a blow this was. For Jack, McDonalds is a huge treat. He has probably eaten there 5 times in his life. For me it was a very low point. Mercifully I had the love and support of a group of friends who lifted me up and a niece who texted and checked on us. Thanks Jen, Tracy, Anne, Janie, and Sarah for your help during a very difficult time. Your friendship and love have been a tremendous gift to us more than you could ever know.
That said, we arrived in Side and I was very underwhelmed. Very. It reminded me of a rundown version of Atlantic City or Vegas. There weren’t casinos but the giant box hotels with over-the-top lights and adornment with cheap t-shirt shops and souvenirs sprinkled along the coast. We stayed in an Airbnb which was too far from the “old town” to be walked easily and the airbnb was also a disappointment. No matter how carefully I choose, there is just something that cannot be conveyed in photos and this place was a disappointment. I didnt take any photos of the unpleasant part but all of the photos here are of the old town.
The Old Town in Side was really wonderful, however. In antiquity, this city occupied most of the land on a small peninsula and while excavations are ongoing, efforts are diligent to maintain and protect the stories which lie beneath. Walking through this town, nearly all of my worries were forgotten. Alec took me for a very long walk, and we meandered through and before long, I was restored to equilibrium, a day after our arrival. Jack who is less enthused, stayed behind to complete his schoolwork, and I had the pleasure of some exercise, fresh air and “old stuff” dating back to before the 7th century BC. Even Alexander the Great occupied Side in 333 BC. From then on, as in much of Türkiye, the past is layered one ruler, or empire upon the next. These remnants of the past are preserved and evident here and a true treasure if you can get past the miles of big box resorts and hotels.
The best part of Türkiye is the people. One day whilst having dinner with Kim and Steve, we overhead some locals chatting in mixed English and Turkish. I asked them if they knew if we would find open restaurants along our land travel path during Ramadan and they helped me to refine our land trip. They didn’t discourage Side, but they added Alanya, and they recommended less time in Konya. They also recommended some hotels along the way. Our next stop, which was not planned at all but Im so glad we heard about it, was Alanya.
Alanya is a resort style town but unlike Side, it maintains the feeling of being a lived in and thriving town for local Turks, not British or German tourists on holiday. I have nothing against the tourist, but when Im a tourist, as we most certainly are, we are here to visit Türkiye, not hotels, restaurants and shops built solely to accommodate the tastes of tourists.
In addition to the local feeling of the town, there are long wide beaches and one purportedly where Cleopatra regularly visited. The Alanya Castle provided a wonderful day of entertainment while the 3 of us climbed all over the Seljuk-era fort. Wanting to see more of the town, we even availed ourselves of the cable car to the top. Remember the guys who we met in Kas who told us about Alanya? They sent text messages and arranged a rendezvous. We would have had dinner together but I know our dinner hour is more like their late lunch hour, but all good, we appreciated the opportunity to meet and visit them and enjoy their lovely city. If we were to be here another winter I would consider this for a winter spot. It had more city amenities than Kas but retained a lot of the charm.
Originally planned for 4 days, our new Türikish friends suggested that 3 hours would be plenty of time to spend here in our next stop, Konya. The midpoint between Alanya and Cappadocia it was a perfect place to stop for refreshment. Due to Ramadan and its reputation as the most conservative city in Türkiye, we expected to find no food whatsoever, but we were pleasantly surprised to find 1 place open and serving in a room upstairs, though most of the restaurants were closed. The primary reason for the stop was to see Rumis grave. A pilgrimage site for Sufis, the remains of Rumi are entombed in a Mausoleum here. We were surprised to see a very busy city and only later realized that Konya is the largest province of Türkiye.
Rumi was a 13th century poet, scholar, mystic, religious leader and philosopher. He practiced Islam but founded the Sufi order and discovered that when one whirls in a circle (Whirling Dirvish) one can be in unison with the earth as it rotates and see the face of God or achieve an enlightened state. Rumi was a revered poet and his work is still being read and translated around the world. His poetry is absolutely beautiful and he talks of love so brilliantly. I don’t ordinarily love poetry, but I could read his work for hours. The meaning doesn’t get lost in the rhythm and it is reasonably easily understood. In terms of the Whirling Dirvish, we watched a religious ceremony of Whirling Dirvish and I found it mesmerizing. The photos below were taken only after the ceremony when they did a few twirls for the benefit of our cameras but watching them perform was extraordinary. The music was enchanting and for the life of me I cannot imagine how they can achieve this without ending up in a heap in the center of the floor, legs and arms akimbo.
Cappadocia had long been on a must see list of Türkish destinations. The hotel recommended by Mustafa turned out to be both good and not so good. Good in that it was by far the nicest and most unique property we have ever stayed in, which is saying something since Im a lover of hotel rooms. Not so good because it was so lovely, none of us wanted to leave. Given that we were all feeling a bit worn out from the previous several weeks, we decided to treat ourselves to another couple of days here. The Kayakapi Premium Cave hotel was rated the 3rd best luxury hotels in the World in 2022 and then rated by Travelers Choice 2022 Best of the Best. All of this is well and good, but for me – the transformed caves, a unique and special aspect of Cappadocia, and preserved history and character were the best part. The luxury and comfort were what put it over the top though. The caves were unmistakable, but the newly tiled floors matched nearly perfectly but were heated. Living in a cave could be dark but they opened the front to bright outdoor light. We had 2-bedroom suites, so Jack was nearby and both sides were equally impressive. The bathrooms were actually full hamams and we loved it so much we are trying to figure out how to work this into a bathroom remodel once we return home. The breakfast buffet was outstanding – the service was impeccable. The pool was heated and gorgeous and the spa made a couples massage for Alec and me very special.
Alec and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary on March 22nd and we opted to make our celebration special on our trip rather than try to find something in Kas. The hot air balloon ride and the amazing hotel in Cappadocia provided the perfect backdrop from which to celebrate.
We booked for a hot air balloon but it got cancelled for wind. Lucky for us, the second day was the charm and we made it up. We also had a very fun ATV trip through the amazing rock formations which make Cappadocia so captivating. And finally we managed to get in a hike.
Leaving Cappadocia we headed to Ankara, the capital city of Türkiye. Running out of time after extending our Cappadocia leg, we opted to take a cultural tour so we could capture most of the highlights. Our guide took us on a 3 hour walking tour of the capital city, including a trip up to the castle, and around the bazaar. No stranger to Gozleme, which we have eaten it nearly every Friday from the time we arrived in Türkiye, I can say with confidence this stop had the best gozleme we have eaten. Rolled out into a paper thin piece of dough similar to filo, the dough is typically filled with cheese and either potatoes or spinach or a mix of meat. The pasty is then cooked on a special dome shaped cooktop until slightly browned on each side and served piping hot. We loved it! All the bazaars have a variety of women cooking gozleme and serving it along with chai and fresh squeezed orange and pomegranate juice. Every Friday Kim and Steve (sailing mimpi) and Alec and I would go to the market or bazaar for our fruit and veggies shopping and a delicious gozleme. But I digress….
Ankara is a typically busy capital city. We only spent a few days here and I was disappointed when we went to the train station that we would miss seeing the mausoleum of Kemal Mustafa Ataturk (Anitkabir). There is no US equivalent national hero to Türkiyes Ataturk. He truly is in a class alone. Born in 1881, he saw the end of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WW1 in 1918, then fought and organized a rebellion which lead to the rise of the first Turkish Republic. Now in its 100th year, the national pride and love of this hero is palpable at every national holiday or gathering. Once a year, the entire country stops what they are doing to pay respect for this fallen hero on the anniversary of his death. Even in my yoga class, when we heard the siren, the teacher stopped for the full 3 minutes as did the traffic on busy motorways, shops and restaurants – everything comes to a halt. But when we arrived at the train station, we discovered that despite hourly service to Istanbul, there were no seats available for the entire day. Leaving for a hotel for the night, I looked out of the window and in the distance, there stood the Anitkabir. Jack opted to stay behind to do some school work and Alec and I took off to see the mausoleum. It was a very fortuitous stop and we enjoyed our day meandering around the lovely grounds and witnessing a few graduations.
The next day we did get a train to Istanbul and we stayed there for our final 2 weeks in Türkiye. The highlight of our time here is the time we spent with Kim and Steve (sailingmimpi) and their daughter, Angela. We took a Segway tour, we toured Galata tower, walked, ate, shopped, ate some more, and just thoroughly enjoyed our time together. The last time we were in Istanbul, we managed to see most of the primary spots such as the Hagia Sofie, the Blue Mosque known locally as the Sultanahmet Mosque, we took a Segway tour and we saw the cisterns. But we didn’t have a chance to see the Whirling Dirvish and we never ate dinner on one of the amazing roof top terraces so common and popular in Istanbul. Well, we have gotten both of these done before leaving and additionally we saw Galata tower, got a ride down the Bosporus, took a ferry for breakfast in Besiktas, and per Jacks request, we went to the newly opened Istanbul Modern Art Museum. But for us the best part was the memorable week with our dear friends.
A few words here and tribute to our dear friends Kim and Steve. We met in the beginning of the summer 2021 in Montenegro and cruised with them in Croatia that year. Our friendship really blossomed over the following winter in Montenegro and we buddy cruised last summer in Greece and Türkiye. Each time we have gone our separate ways, we knew that we would be seeing each other again. Such is the relationship that one develops with a kindred spirit. Living aboard a boat and traveling to different countries can sometimes make one feel unhinged. But the grace and joy of finding 2 souls with whom we share so many values and passions is the rarest of treasures. Having these spirits also contribute as valued sounding boards and parental role models for a growing nearly teenaged young man is even more rare and we are grateful. They say it takes a village to raise a child and finding that village when ones geography is constantly changing makes that rarest of finds even more precious. Kim and Steve, we can’t thank you enough for your friendship, kindness, counsel and love. It is so hard to head off in such different directions but I remain steadfastly committed to maintaining this precious relationship wherever our roads may lead. We love you!
So this is it for Türkiye! It has been a terrific 10 months but it is time to move on! We have 2 weeks of land travel left before we are reunited with our precious Gratitude and Pratt (already they have arrived safely in Southampton, UK thanks to SD Captains – thank you Gentlemen for your hard work). Once we are back on board, we will begin our summer cruise. Hoping for Scotland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Brussels, Netherlands and finally back into St. Katharines at Tower Bridge in London.
5 thoughts on “Türkiye by Land”
Awe…I am 😭 I know how much you will miss Kim and Steve…but I have no doubt your friendship will endure and grow while you head in different directions. They are just lovely people and what a gift they were to you, Alec and Jack over the past 2 years…when Jack looks back I have no doubt he will remember them both in this whirlwind trip you have been on since 2019! Love you all and beautiful history and photos about Turkey! Can’t wait to hear more about Europe! xo
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Yep – cruising without our buddy boat wont be the same! But they are planning to visit us for Christmas in London – We are all looking forward to it! We miss you dear friend. Xo
Loved this post so much. It brought me to teary eyes more than once. Your writing makes me feel like I am there. Not in the way of a tourist….but in the way of a fellow traveler in life. God bless you and your family on the magical journey. I read in “Conversations with God” that God is thrilled and overjoyed to see what we create for ourselves in this life. You are giving Him something to rejoice about!!!I love and miss you. Janie
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Aww. Thanks Janie. Those are the kindest words! And now Im going to buy that book! xo.
There are at least three volumes of conversations with God. I just happened to have purchased the 3rd book, not knowing there were multiple books.Verrrrrrrrrrry interesting. Not for everyone. Azam glanced through it and it is not for him. He prefers to live and draw within the lines. I prefer the opposite, so it is much food for thought for me. I only read it in snippets because it challenges what we have all been taught, for sure.
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