Turkey; mosques, rock formations and some snow…

posted in: Trip reports | 1

Initially I only wanted to visit Istanbul, a city everyone seems to love. Because my schedule of traveling changed I suddenly had 2 more weeks to spend so a bit of skiing and a visit to Cappadocia were soon added to the itinerary. Skiing in the Alps is pretty popular but skiing in Turkey, what is that about?

I arrived in Turkey after having spent seven weeks in the incredible country of India. Well, after emptying my stomach in the middle of an overcrowded street in Amritsar I have to admit my love for India had turned into a love-hate relationship. When I’m not interested in Indian food anymore, it’s definitely time to leave the country. I was therefore happy to board the plane to Istanbul, even though the plane made a little detour over London. Once I arrived in the cultural capital of Turkey, it immediately felt so peaceful even though some 14 million people criss cross this city. The traffic seemed to have some structure and people showed habits I’m familiar with like no spitting, holding a door, talking instead of yelling, no staring, to name a few. I guess after India almost any country would have felt like a quiet paradise…

The first thing I noticed on arrival is that Istanbul has many, many mosques. I expected to visit the famous Blue Mosque but it turned out I could choose from about 5 big mosques in the centre and a dozen more if the smaller ones were included too. They all look very pretty but similar from both the out- and the inside. After visiting the Blue -, the New and the Atik Ali mosque I had seen enough for a while…

some impressive mosques in Istanbul
some impressive mosques in Istanbul

In India the bindings of my AT-setup (Alpine Touring equipment…) broke and I ordered new ones which had to be delivered in Istanbul. I had arranged an address through a friend. I went to the Aspendos jewelry shop to find out the package was not delivered because of required forms by the Turkish customs. Apparently a package with a value of over 75 euros is considered a high-value package. Also the owner of the Aspendos shop was not informed yet about the package so he had not returned the necessary documents to customs. The package was delayed and delayed but finally after visiting the shop multiple times, it arrived. In the meantime I had enough time to explore the city…

The main tourist area is called Sultanahmet. That is where the Blue Mosque, Topkapi palace and Aya Sofia plus hundreds of restaurants and shops are located. When you cross the bridge to the North you arrive at Galata, known for its famous footballclub Galatasaray. When you tell a local you’re Dutch, you end up in an endless conversation about Wesley Sneijder nowadays… Furthermore Galata is known for its tower, an old tram and its nightlife. The views of the old city from the Galata tower are very nice. You can walk around on the outer ring to have a 360 degrees view of this large city with its bridges across the Bosphorus.

the old city as seen from the Galata tower around sunset
the old city as seen from the Galata tower around sunset

Together with Joris, a Belgian guy I met in the Metropolis hostel, I had a glimpse of the nightlife on offer. We walked around the main street and its many little side streets to finally settle down in a crowded street with many bars where its terraces were still well-populated. We ordered each a large beer and to our own surprise we got a 0.7 liter glass of beer; Octoberfest in March in Istanbul? We watched many people passing by while we slowly emptied our glasses. Even though it was not warm to say the least, people in Istanbul tend to eat and drink outside as much as possible, something that would not happen back home. It must has something to do with the Mediterranea and I find it quite pleasant.

Besides the fact pedestrians have nothing to say in local traffic (in high contrast with Dutch traffic) which meant I almost got killed a couple of times by a taxidriver, I found the amount of street cats really surprising. In Asia you will see a lot of dogs in the streets but so many street cats, I had never seen that before. In contrast with the dogs these cats looked really well fed and healthy. As a hugh cat lover it was a nice unforseen circumstance of my visit to Istanbul. When I decided to visit the Asian side of the city I ventured to Fenerbahce park which turned out to be a real hangout for the cats…

cats seem to love Fenerbahce park
cats seem to love Fenerbahce park

Not many tourists visit the Asian side and I could easily see why. There is hardly anything to see. It was nice though to be away from the many tourists on ‘the other side’ and there was some nice food to be had and a visit to the Woodstock bar was worthwhile. However, some of my favourite joints to grab a bite to eat were located nearby the Galata bridge in Europe. Cafe Mese offers some really nice affordable food together with a friendly service. Every meal is accompanied by some nice bread and Turkish tea afterwards is complimentary. The beef tava with some french fries are an excellent choice in case you happen to be around. For a more local experience you can head over to the other side of the bridge to Lokanta Helvetia. For 11 Turkish Lira (4,5 euro) you can pick five local dishes and enjoy your self-composed meal in a relaxed cafeteria-style setting. For dessert I can recommend Cremeria Milano where they offer the best coconut icecream!

Once I got back to the European side I still had to visit the number one attraction of Istanbul: the Aya Sofia. Interesting about this building is that it used to be a cathedral and got converted into a mosque when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople. Nowadays, the former world’s largest cathedral is a museum. Unfortunately there is currently a lot of scaffolding going on but it’s still quite an impressive building.

impressive architecture
impressive architecture

The last thing I had to do before leaving this beautiful city, was to fix my ski’s. After trying multiple screwdrivers in order to remove my old bindings I decided to let a technician have a look. But, is there a ski technician in Istanbul? The ski – / sportshops are located in Galata area and I checked all of them. At the last shop someone recommended Mr. Omar at Salomon Sports. They had just told me they don’t mount bindings at that shop but I went back with a little bit of hope. After crossing many language barriers I decided to come back later with ski’s and bindings. Luckily the bindings were similar to the old ones so no new screwholes were required and Mr. Omar’s assistent started to mount my new bindings. I made sure he used some wood glue (or something similar I hope…) et voila, my new ski’s were ready. I enjoyed some beef nachos to celebrate my new AT setup. In the evening I started my journey towards the mountains, the Taurus (or Ala Daglar) mountains to be more precise.

Because I had spent so much time in Istanbul, I was running out of time to explore the rest of the country. I called Iberia with an attempt to change my flight out of Istanbul to Marrakech. After I had been put on hold for at least 10 minutes the lady on the other side informed me the route Istanbul – Madrid was cancelled. Thanks for not informing me about it! If I hadn’t called those retards I would have showed up at the airport on March 18. But…., it actually worked out in my favour. My initial flight could not be changed according to the ticket and now I got a new flight a week later. The destination was changed to Casablanca instead of Marrakech but what the heck, I had more time to go skiing in Turkey!

Because the bus to Göreme included a pickup from the hostel, which is quite handy with 50 kg of luggage, I decided to take it. Göreme is the main starting point for people visiting Cappadocia but it is also not too far located from my first skiing destination called Çukurbağ. It still meant however I had to take three buses in order to get there. First Göreme to Nevşehir, then Nevşehir to Niğde and finally Niğde to Çukurbağ. Of course buses didn’t connect very well so I had to kill some time at all the bus terminals. Because Galatasaray had beaten Schalke 04 in the Champions League the night before, I had to hear quite a lot of stories about our Dutch midget. I decided to escape from the locals (and their tiring stories about Wesley Sneijder) and enjoyed some Turkish yogurt with bananas from the supermarket. A couple of hours later I arrived at Safak Pension right opposite Mount Emler!

I had two skiing objectives in the Taurus mountains, Mount Emler (3723 m) and Mount Alaca (3588 m). According to the owner of the guesthouse, Hasan Safak, more people were skiing Alaca the next day so I decided to join them. Around 7.30 in the morning I met a group of five Austrians who were going up, it must have been the people Hasan told me about. However, they were ‘only’ going to Mount Körtekli (3249 m) which is around 300 meters lower than Alaca. I followed them uphill till we reached the summit of Körtekli. The snow was old and the temperature was high, typical springskiing. At times I skinned up in my t-shirt…

skinning up Mount Alaca in spring conditions
skinning up Mount Alaca in spring conditions

They could not be persuaded to join me to Alaca peak so I went on a ‘little’ hike solo. After a 30-minute skin I reached the bottom of the peak and I had to put my ski’s on my backpack. Luckily I brought my crampons too, so why not try them out. After a hour or so I was almost on the top but I had no idea how to pass the last 10 to 20 meters, it was a bit steep to climb. I decided, after a long discussion with myself, to ski down from there (yes, very frustrating!) where the snow was surprisingly good. After a long day I reached the valley again. The next day I attempted to climb Mount Emler but extreme wind gusts of around 120 km/h made me turn back home even though I was already halfway up…

The weather forecast was looking pretty bad for the coming days with a lot of precipitation and high winds so I went to Cappadocia. Located in the center of Turkey this area consist of unique and rugged rock formations caused by vulcanic eruptions and the erosion that followed. I stayed in the town I visited earlier named Göreme. It’s a beautiful town known for its cave hotels. I stayed in the Dorm Cave, a hostel with large cave rooms. I guess flights from Asia to Cappadocia are for free because the place is loaded with South Koreans and Japanese and so was my dorm room. There was one non-Asian guy named Rob and together with him I explored the area a bit. We hiked in the Rose Valley and we went to one of the underground cities. These underground cities were mainly used by early Christians as hiding places before Christianity became an accepted religion.

hiking in the Rose Valley
hiking in the Rose Valley

The next day I hiked to Uçhisar’s rock castle which is located around 5 kilometers from Göreme. After crossing multiple valleys I arrived at the castle. On top of the castle the highest viewpoint of the region can be found. I enjoyed the view for a bit before making my way back to town through the Pigeon Valley. The name of this valley refers to the thousands of pigeon houses that have been carved into the soft tufa
since ancient times. Once I got back in town I went to my favourite restaurant, Cappadocian Cuisine, to have the local dish called pottery kebab. In the afternoon I checked out the town of Ürgüp and its fairy chimney rock formations. These formations have a conical shaped body and a boulder on top of it. The cone is constructed from tufa and volcanic ash, while the cap is of hard, more resistant rock. Well, after two days I had seen enough rock formations. Time had come for a second attempt on Mount Emler…

The weather forecast looked promising so I took the three buses again to Çukurbağ. The next day it was game on! Hasan drove me to the starting point on the Sokulupinar plateau at around 2000 meters from where I had to walk to the snowline to put the skins on. The next 5,5 hours would take me to 3723 meters. An easy start followed by a short but steep gully, an endless mellow middle section and some zigzagging brought me to the top of the Celikbuyduran Pass at 3450 meters. Being both excited and exhausted I looked up to see what was still to be done; a doable hike to the peak. Roughly one hour later I reached the summit of Mount Emler and the mission was accomplished!

Reaching the summit of Mount Emler at 3723 meters
Reaching the summit of Mount Emler at 3723 meters

Now the objectives were met, I returned to Istanbul. My trip included a stopover in Ankara. It took me three busrides to reach Turkey’s capital. Rain and wind welcomed me to the city which, probably because of the weather too, was not really inviting. After the skitouring of the past days I was still hungry to say the least so I treated myself to a great dinner with some Fajitas, wow that tasted good! The next day it was time to move on, back to Istanbul to get ready for my next destination: Morocco!

It’s time for the conclusion. In general it’s very easy, I really enjoyed my time in Turkey. Istanbul is a very nice city with some great sights. The people are generally friendly and helpful, food is nice and life is affordable. The countryside, as far as I have seen it, is also very nice but completely different. Life definitely has a slower pace. Whereas the people in Istanbul all speak English very well, this is a rarity in the countryside. The Taurus mountains are spectacular and appear almost out of the blue. They are suddenly there! Finally there is Cappadocia. A remarkable landscape that adds to the enormous variety Turkey has to offer and I haven’t even been to Ephesus, Pammukale or any places near the coast. So I guess it’s pretty obvious, I will probably go back one day to explore other areas of this beautiful country!

Click here to check out more pictures of my trip to Turkey!

  1. Anne lies

    Hoi Paul wat een mooi reisverslag weer.ik had op Google mount emler opgezocht en een videofilmpje gevonden
    Schitterend! Groetjes Anne Lies.

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