38. Athens // Greece

Over the next four days, the world was to open it’s doors to us, revealing an ancient snapshot of human accomplishments that went back to the 5th Century BC. Our time in both Athens and Rome will forever leave us feeling like someone had bent the fabric of time and allowed us to walk straight into when the Persians sacked the Acropolis and when the Gladiators roared within the Colosseum. Ok, that’s probably a little dramatic and would assume someone has solved time travel. But we were certainly awestruck numerous times as standing remnants of these ancient masterpieces towered above us.

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After what was becoming a seamlessly never-ending summer, we were keen to return to some tourist spots and inject our minds with a strong dose of culture. We flew into Athens rather late, with few expectations of the city but a keen appetite to visit the Acropolis. Strangely, Elisha was struggling with a severe headache and was on the verge of vomiting so we made a concerted effort to get to our accommodation as quickly as possible. Lonely planet states on page 513 of the Europe on a Shoestring (8th Edition) under Dangers & Annoyances “Streets surrounding Omonia have become markedly seedier, with an increase in prostitutes and junkies; AVOID THE AREA, ESPECIALLY AT NIGHT!”

On a shoestring budget but desperately needing our own space, I’ll give you one guess where our “hotel” was located. That’s right – in AVOID THE AREA Omonia.

The streets were dark and eerily quiet as we walked with our backpacks from where the bus from the airport had dropped us off in Syntagmos to our hidden hotel. Grafitti was laden everywhere. In fact, it seemed every spare inch of space on any building, poster, pole, transport or living thing was marked with grafitti. And then, on that grafitti, was more grafitti. Words like “seedy” and “needles” began to enter our discussion as we walked rather closely into the abyss. Sirens could be heard somewhere. Was that a glass bottle smashing? “Hey Elisha, remember that time in the backstreets of Kuala Lumpur when we feared for our lives?”

We eventually found our hotel around the corner from a street littered with trash. We checked in, climbed the stairs to our room, turned the lock, engaged the deadlock, shoved a chair under the handle and then turned our bed into a fortress. Thankfully, Elisha did in fact vomit.

Which was fantastic.

For this meant she did not wish to head back out for dinner. Which was fine by me because I didn’t want to open my eyes again until the sun was up. So with howls and screams bellowing at us from the street below, we huddled and shook beneath the bed until, finally, we fell asleep.

Our reasons to fear were confirmed the next morning when, as we exited the building mid-morning, we saw a large armoured police truck parked across the road and an armed policeman standing at the hotel’s entrance. As a result of this “scared-shitlessness” I guess you would call it, we unfortunately don’t have many photos of Athens as we ensured we left the hotel each morning wearing our cheapest shoes and simplest clothes and left our valuables, such as watches, cameras and phones, at home (where they were probably at an even greater risk with the wage-deprived hotel staff.)

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But Athens is an interesting city. We are all aware they were hit hard by their own financial crisis in 2010. I think for those who may have seen the city before this time would tell a very different story to ours. However, it seems because of this recession that the city has blossomed and redifined itself into one that we very quickly fell in love with. If you like Berlin because of its grittiness but underlyingly adorable personality, there’s a good chance Athens will win you over too. Skipping ahead quickly, when we flew to Rome, we read an article which confirmed our suspicions. The recession has lead to incredibly cheap rent in the middle of the city. Jobs just do not exist and there are a lot of people sitting around with nothing to do. So what does this breed? Ingenuity. Small businesses, such as new waves of bars and coffee shops, barbers and app designers, are flourishing. We read that rent can be as little as 250 Euros per month in the city. People, who are so sick of waiting for a job to become available, are tackling the problem first hand and taking the initiative to create their own jobs. It’s really cool. As a result, there are heaps of new and cool things to check out, the city is alive and has an incredible night scene. Throw in numerous specialty coffee brewers and Elisha had me legging it all over the city. When we weren’t being tourists and snapping photos of 2000 year old rocks, we were meticulously comparing Athens with our other favourite cities, such as Berlin, Prague, Budapest and Melbourne.

With all that urban stuff aside, the real reason anyone goes to Athens is to of course visit the Acropolis. I think history books for absolutely any period in time probably confirms that some race or person lived on this very hill. It is shrouded in history. And I won’t go into it here – because this is a blog and not a textbook. But to again be standing on something so significant not just to the Greeks but to all of humanity really was truely amazing. It is also home to the Parthenon, the iconic temple that has been renovated at the very top. Please reader, be very careful when hashtagging this on Instagram. If you do what I did, and mispell it as Panthenon, two things will happen. One – your photo will join a mash collection of photos that comprise both the Parthenon in Athens and the Pantheon in Rome from tourists who don’t know the difference, and Two – some self righteous twat will comment on your photo to correct you. However, because he is also a tourist who doesn’t know the difference, he will say “It’s Partenon. Panthenon is in Rome.” Twat. His name is Bartekwasu if you wish to join me in forever trolling him.

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The other main attraction in Athens is the Acropolis Museum. This is incredible as it is built on top of the archaeological site of Markygianni and the ruins of a part of Roman and early Byzantine Athens. You walk over glass floors where you can see the foundations of the old city directly beneath you and marvel at its layout, design and architecture. Inside the museum itself are over 4,000 items that have been excavated from the Acropolis. Let’s just say lot’s of penises. Or is it penii? Battye, you’d know. Tell me.

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Athens is exhausting. It’s hot and you do an incredible amount of walking. As such, it’s important to mix it up with plenty of refreshments. Elisha took me to a number of different coffee places. As we hadn’t had a great coffee in well over a month, this was almost the highlight of the city. There is also this bakery which does a Greek-style pie and is eaten for breakfast. They are served flat, taste great and I ate two. We visited a few different bars and had one final Mythos before saying farewell to Greece.

 

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Before catching the bus back to the airport, we had to again make the dreaded return to the hotel to collect our bags. Ignoring Lonely Planet’s advise to AVOID THIS AREA, we made one final trek, empty-handed, through the suspicious hords of tramps loitering on the streets just so we could make a return trek, handed with cameras, watches and phones, through the suspicious hords of tramps loitering on the streets.

Athens had one final surprise for us. As we sat in the warm comfort of our bus, the heavens truely opened. I haven’t seen a flash flood like this since I was in Toowoomba the day cars were rolled down the streets in a torrent of muddy flood water. The bus splashed waves of water high over the pavements as we rolled through a foot-deep river or rushing water and we smiled gleefully as we took pictures of people on mopeds and people running beneath umbrella’s as they tried to escape the tsunami created by our bus.

We were excited to be heading to Rome after Athens. Although we assumed it would treat us with another display of ancient wonder, we were mainly keen to get there for more obvious reasons. And that was so we could be staying somewhere that Lonely Planet didn’t have a firm “AVOID THIS AREA” warning for.

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37. Rodos // Greece

Months ago, my sister Jess had mentioned that her and her partner Alex would possibly be spending some time in Alex’s friends family home, and had kindly asked if we wanted to join them. We debated over this for a long time…free accommodation…Greece…Island…Rhodes….Summer…seeing my family….was a hard decision!! So of course we said yes and that’s how we came to be in Rhodes old town in the middle of August. You would think that a simple ferry across from Turkey and visa process would run pretty smoothly and it did, except for the very persistent very Greek authoritative officers who insisted on me unpacking my backpack and rummaging through 3 weeks of dirty clothes in order to make sure I wasn’t carrying anything I wasn’t supposed to. (I have no idea what the baggage x ray machine was for then), but finally we were on our way and back in the EU.

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I had mixed feelings about entering Greece. I’d heard that since the recession it really hadn’t recovered and I half expected to see people squatting in half finished apartments or living on the side of the road. However, as Rhodes is one of the most touristy islands, it seemed they had just jacked the prices up on everything and had recovered quite well. We had 2 nights in the old town to give Jess and Alex a little time to get over their jet lag and settle in by themselves. It was still excruciatingly hot so I had booked another air conditioned room with a swimming pool, so we basically spent the next two days walking around the walled city, eating gyros, drinking mythos and swimming.

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Before we knew it, it was time to leave and catch the bus down to Asklipio, which would be our home town for the next month. Luckily I had been able to view the bus timetables online, and realised that this bus would take us all the way up to the town, which only happened twice a week, score! With neither Jess or I having a phone number or reliable wifi, we had agreed to meet at a town square in the middle of the town. We jumped off the bus at the top of a hill, asked where the square was and were directed to the smallest town square I had ever seen with Jess and Alex sitting under a tree sipping beer. I’d only seen these guys at Christmas for the smallest amount of time in the past 2 and a bit years, so after hugs hello and a quick beer, we headed back to our cottage to continue the celebrations.

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Asklipio is a town of about 500 people 64km’s south of Rhodes and sits upon the top of a hill so about 4km’s to the nearest beach. The cottage that we would call home for the next month was approx 300 years old and consisted of the bedroom which had all our mattresses in it and apparently used to accommodate a family of 8 people. It had a little verandah, in which Clinton and I ended up sleeping on every night under the stars. Downstairs was a kitchen with a fridge and a little gas burner, and then the bathroom, which I could hardly stand up in, and Clinton had to sit on a tiny stool in order to shower.This used to be where the family kept the animals, so in other words, a stable. This had a western toilet built on a slab of cement and a shower. The rest was dirt. It was really basic, but I actually became quite fond of our basic home for the next four weeks.

We very quickly developed a daily routine, which was to stay with us for the rest of the month. Morning would consist of Greek coffee or iced coffee whilst sitting on stairs and reading, or chatting and saying Kalimera (Good Morning) to all the locals that would walk past. Quite often, our neighbour Maria, who was about 80 years old and spoke very little English would come out for a chat and a joke. One particular morning, Alex and I were awake earlier then the others, so were having a chat and a coffee very quietly on the steps. Alex pointed to quite a large bumble bee who seemed to be playing with a chicken bone that we had left out for one of the stray cats. We watched as this bumble bee buzzed and gnawed at this chicken bone.We were both quite amazed, as we did not think that bees ate chicken, but apparently in Greece they do. You can imagine our horror, when eventually the bee picked up the chicken bone and buzzed away with the whole thing in its legs…We were gobsmacked! But I do think that bee would have been hailed a hero in its little bee community…

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Anyway, so each morning we would share breakfast, say hello to the stray cats that we had named, (Big Balls and Aidy were my favourite)  and then either read, watch movies or go to the beach. To get to the beach we would wait on the side of the road and hitch hike down the hill. Interestingly, we never did go without a ride. Everyone in the town was just always so friendly and happy to help us down the hill saving a very long 4k walk in the heat.

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Living in the town for a month was a great experience which I guess a lot of travellers don’t really get to do. We really did get to immerse ourselves in the Greek culture. As the town was on the hill all the houses basically faced each other and the locals stood at their front door and yelled at each other in order to communicate. Although these conversations were obviously in Greek we did kind of understand what was going on through dramatic hand gestures and found these interactions quite humorous. It was almost like this village had never heard of mobile phones or the internet!

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Whilst we were up at the local gyros tavern one night called Sylvia’s, Jess and Alex got talking to a man named Emmanuel who was from Adelaide but had family history and a house within Asklipio. Emmanuel, who was now retired, spent the summers over in the village and was in the process of renovating his holiday house. As it was getting close to the end of the season, and all his friends had gone back to Australia, and so Emmanuel kindly offered to drive us around Rhodes Island to visit some of the other villages and landmarks. So the next morning the four of us climbed into his old beemer and spent the day exploring Rhodes. Emmanuel was one of the nicest people I have ever met travelling. He had travelled with his wife when he was quite young and so understood the backpacker mentality. We had heaps of great conversations over frappes, (that he then kindly purchased) and he then proceeded to drive us around various landmarks on the Island. We got to climb a small hill to a church with great views over the Mediterranean, visited a tiny village which was famous for Suma, a clear liquor made from grapes, similar to Raki and about 50% alcohol. He took us to a place called the seven springs, which was a tranquil, peaceful haven for local Greeks, where we dined on traditional Greek food and cooled down in the running springs. Emmanuel then briefly showed us his fathers village, before stopping at a great little bay for a swim stop and a beer before returning to Asklipio. For the rest of our time in Asklipio, Emmanuel became one of our closest friends, and we would quite often meet up for a beer, or he would invite us to the different beaches with him. Never have I met someone so genuinely friendly, who just really wanted to show us a great time in his ancestors country. Even though we constantly tried to give him money for fuel or the various drinks and lunches he bought us, he wouldn’t have a bar of it, and simply stated that a lot of people had given him a hand when he was a backpacker and he was now in a position to give something back to someone else. Unfortunately, in today’s world its not often that you meet someone so willing and giving of their time, and as much as Emmanuel made our trip in Rhodes, he really restored my faith in humanity.

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This mentality was really reflected in the whole village. Wherever we walked people would yell out “Yassu” (hello) and ask us what we were up to and if we needed anything. Even if the elders could not speak English, they would still try and continue to talk to us in Greek. Our lovely neighbour Maria, would constantly make coffee for us and offer to wash our clothes. She baked us a delicious honey Greek cake one afternoon and bought it over for us to enjoy. Jessica and I got to sit in her kitchen and help her make dolmades with the leaves from the vines on our verandah. When they were ready she gave us the whole batch to eat, not even eating one herself. Words cannot express how delicious these morsels of happiness were. As it was summer there were a few celebratory festivals on in the village and we were always invited and encouraged to participate. One Paniyiri festival was so massive that the locals were still up and dancing at 5am!

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In between all the eating and drinking and reading and relaxing, Jess and I escaped to another part of the island for a day trip to spend some time together. We spent the morning shopping before enjoying the afternoon lying on the beach with a few drinks. As I said previously, I haven’t spent much time with my sister as she has enjoyed 2 years travelling and working in Canada and the Americas, and before this time we lived in separate cities. I found it interesting at how our relationship had evolved over this time, years ago we would have probably been fighting and talking about boys, and today our conversations lean more towards travel, marriage and babies. It was special to have that day together as now we are both travelling through Europe and the UK and it may be a few years again before we are reunited.

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As the summer season ended and the tourists disappeared, Clinton and I were left wondering what to do next. Getting tired from always being on the road, we knew that our travelling days were numbered and it was getting close to being time to pull up shop for awhile. We slowly started to plan the next 6 to 8 weeks of our time which would take us through to the end of October. We enjoyed the empty beaches of Rhodes for a few more days, and then it was time to say goodbye to the fam, pack our bags and head for Athens….the Acropolis Awaited!!

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36. Fethiye // Olympos // Fethiye // Turkey

Keeping with our end of boat trip traditions (of which we had previously done one,) we organised to meet up with Dean & Ruth and Dan & Fi again that night in Fethiye. Fethiye was our final destination for the cruise and we had booked two nights there to recover. It’s predominantly an English tourist spot so it didn’t take long to see menus advertising English breakfasts everywhere. Even though we stayed in a hotel several kilometres out from the main area, it just so happened Dean & Ruth were also staying just around the corner from us. So we shared a cab, went to our respective accommodation and made plans to meet up again that night.

Dan & Fi were in the middle of the town so it made sense for us all to meet up back there, considering that’s where the noteworthy fish market was. After some afternoon bevvies and a few laps in the pool to escape the heat, we met up with Dean & Ruth and headed towards the water taxi where we joined a boat full of English-speaking English and departed for the port. Thirty minutes later, we were back on land and the six of us were seated with an Efes in front of each of us.

The fish market sits in the middle of a circle of restaurants, each with a waiter hawking out the front for business. You can either eat from their menu or, as we all did, pay them 6 Lira each ($3 AUD) for a salad and for them to cook the fish you had personally selected and purchased fresh from the market. Brilliant! I’m sure it’s probably all owned by the one guy or something and the competition is just to make it appear attractive but it was a cool concept regardless. After selecting the freshest ingredients we could find, we were soon ripping into numerous plates of octopus and prawns and picking away at large morsels of snapper. Incredibly delicious. The night progressed exploring some laneways and shopping districts before we next found ourselves sitting in a large Turkish garden bar, at a table with a Scrabble-like board and countless chips with coloured numbers on them. I can’t remember the name of it but Dean and Dan claimed to confidently know how to play. Despite the waiter looking over our shoulder a few times with a confused expression on his face, Dean and Dan explained we were using a mix of Australian and New Zealand rules and thats why it probably didn’t make sense to Turks. Halfway through we abandoned the game, resigning ourselves to the fact we seriously had no idea how to play and were instead playing something that incorporated elements from uno, dominos, scrabble and cheat.

We thought the next day we would get some more time to hang out with Dean & Ruth since they had booked themselves 4 nights in Fethiye. However, as keen divers, they shared our sentiment that Fethiye was nothing more than a beach holiday for bogan English and decided to head back to Kas where they hoped some diving would come to fruition. We said farewell and spent the rest of our time by the pool in a very relaxed sort of position.

Going back almost a week, Olympos had been so relaxing that we decided prior to leaving that we’d book some more time there and head back after the cruise. We were to catch the bus pretty early that morning but were keen to capitalise the fact English breakfasts were everywhere here. Up until then, we had not seen any bacon at all for the simple fact that Turks don’t eat pork for religious purposes. That morning, we hurriedly sat down to an empty cafe and chowed down some bacon and eggs with gleeful smiles before we rushed back to collect our bags and catch the bus.

We’ve already explained Olympos to you in the previous blogs but to reiterate, if you’re ever in the area, it cannot be missed. Despite having already passed through here, we came back for four more nights with the sole purpose of doing absolutely nothing except eating the incredible food and laying in the hammocks. And then, when that came to an end, we stayed for two more. It was pure bliss and suited me just fine.

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One day, however, we did manage to peel ourselves out from the tight mould of our arses that had formed in the lounges and agreed it was time to leave Turkey to head to Rhodes. We found the easiest way for us to get there was to again head back to Fethiye and catch a catamaran to the Greek island. Of course, there was a small temptation to catch the Blue Cruise there again but sensibility took over and we grabbed a bus. We couldn’t stay in Fethiye without eating at the fish market again so we returned to the chaos and did Fethiye Fish Market x2 minus everyone else. Up until this point, we had also forgotten to have a Turkish Shisha.  Something we couldn’t leave Turkey without doing so we found a beanbag and shared one of those to say adios.  Early the next morning, we waddled off the harbour to find our boat, went through passport control said farewell to Turkey and its incredibly diverse land and people, its insanely delicious food and the memories it had given us. I will say I find it ironic that we had to travel by boat instead of car to a place called Rhodes.

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And this will by far be the worst blog I have ever written.

35. Blue Cruise // Turkey

Desperate to relive our amazing week on Sail Croatia, we booked the Blue Cruise. They say this is a must do if visiting Turkey and involves three nights sleeping up on deck under the stars and sailing by the South West beaches. Sleeping, swimming and sailing are three of our favourite S’s. We started off pretty relaxed, resting on our Turkish lounge at Saban Tree Houses until the pick-up bus (just 20 metres down the road) decided to come and collect us so that we didn’t have to strain ourselves too much. A two hour bus ride later, we arrived in Demre, a small town 5 minutes from the port where we could switch with the group before us and who were on their way to Olympos. What do you know? Alex and Sal whom we had met in Cappadocia were getting off that very bus! They gave us a few quick pointers, such as smuggle water on there if you can and to tally one wine on the board whenever you have two. Clearly they were travelling a little tighter than us but shame on me to say it didn’t take long before I too was employing this tactic.

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The Blue Cruise was a lot smaller than our Sail Croatia experience, a lot quieter and a lot more relaxed. The clientele was more level-headed and there to chill and not so much to party. So that worked quite well for us. Apart from the Captain, the chef and his deck hand, we spent the next three nights travelling with our new group of friends. So let’s meet the gang:

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Dean and Ruth are from Darwin and are possibly two of the nicest people we have ever met. Dean seemed to have previously done a H&M shop prior to the trip as well and so it was often difficult to tell us apart in our matching singlets. Their travel route was also not too different from ours and if you go through their photos, they’ll probably look almost identical to ours. You’ll also probably be accused of being a creep if you go through their photos because that’s just weird if you don’t know someone.

Dan and Fiona are two top notch Kiwis and are now living in London. So it’s imperative I speak highly of them here to win brownie points. Like me, Dan gets to experience the joys of working for an insurance company. But unlike me, he gets to use his university qualification as he does so, using his expertise on geography to conduct risk analysis. He also has one of the worst playlists I’ve ever heard and savaged us with this one tranquil (formerly) afternoon on the boat. Fiona is a practicing journalist. As someone who has completed their degree but done nothing with it, I always love meeting people who are actually pursuing the vicious world of media and hearing what life could have been.

We had the luxury of experiencing the trip with three lovable Irish girls who had literally travelled everywhere in the world and could not be understood when they got stuck in their million-words-a-minute leprachaun style conversation amongst themselves. They had crazy names like Collette (not so weird), Breed and Eafer. Except they spelt them in even crazier fashions like Collette (still not so weird) Brid and Aoife. Spin out. They reminded us again of the meaning of the phrase “Good Craic.”

We had a few Turks on there too, which was great. Olly and his mum (whom I’ve unfortunately forgetten the name of) were priceless value. Both live in Istanbul. She works in medicine from memory and was fantastic to discuss Turkish lifestyle with. Olly is the most charming 21 year old you’ve ever met. With a long ponytail and a Justin-Bieber like body, we’d often not be able to un-anchor in the morning until he returned from a 2 hour swim. When someone spotted him on the horizon, we’d patiently wait while he swam with fatigue towards us, often getting off course because he failed to look up, until his flailing arms eventually dragged him back to the boat.

Whereas they both spoke English, the other couple of Turks didn’t. There was a guy (who we got to know as Baba) and his son (who we got to know as the kid who was always saying Baba) who seemed to be on there for a father-son fishing trip. This was always amusing as they’d kind of just throw some hooks and line over the side of the boat with no bait and, surprisingly, never caught anything. I felt a bit sorry for them. To speak Turkish in your own country, to catch a Turkish boat in your own country and then to be ostracised as the odd one out because you speak Turkish just seems fundamentally wrong. But he was good value and seemed particularly excited when I had a Raki with him and he shared a plate of melon with me (as was the custom) on the last evening.

Lastly, we were joined by Celia and her daughter Tabitha. Celia was from Brisbane but owned property out near Dalby and was telling us how after 3 years she had finally won a settlement through the Ombudsman for a claim back during the floods. Tabitha was currently living in Istanbul but had previously lived in Paris and we got to hear of her experiences living in both.

The captain was the only member of the crew who spoke English and there was no hiding the fact he was having a fair crack (different sort of craic) at Collette on the last night after quite a few wines. The chef was a remarkable cook and clearly took a lot of pride with his dishes. He was also a vastly superior fisherman to the other two on board, albeit via questionable methods. His tactic seemed to be to drop a line through a school of fish and then aggressively rip it back up through the water to latch a fish that way. Baba’s son seemed to be particularly enthralled by this though – I guess as a result that his Baba hadn’t caught anything at all up until then.

So it was with these people our trip began. Sometimes on these tours, chefs sell out and serve a poor example of western cuisine to keep people happy. However, these guys were Turkish through and through and served some of the best food we had eaten in the country. Albeit, I will say the Turks love to drown everything in oil which contributes to both the amazing flavour and the “Oh I feel so sick” feelings. After an amazing lunch to begin the tour, we commenced the stitches by going for a swim way to early, and followed this up with a cruise past and OVER a sunken city, known as Kekova. This had once stretched across the mile or two width of the channel but now, all that remained was the jagged remnants on the coastline. We also spotted a few turtles swimming by around these parts (think Crush from Finding Nemo size) but, despite Dean and Dan’s eager swimming, they could not get themselves to catch and ride one.

Another chilled afternoon followed, and then another amazing meal before we pulled up and anchored in a still and quiet harbour. Some genius has set up a bar near here to capitalise on all the boats and so we spent that night dancing in this dusty wooden hut to some of the worst tunes I’ve ever heard. The drinks were beautifully marked up to welcome the dollars in our wallets and it was the DJ who looked as though he was having the most fun. The best part was the water taxi which came to collect us from our boat. As we all piled on, we then drifted off into pitch black waters with no light and no sound, slowly going around from boat to boat to pick up other Bar-goers. The bar was dead quiet as we pulled up and it wasn’t until the moment they realised a taxi had pulled up that all these lights and music suddenly turned on. I suspect the moment we all left at once several hours later that the complete opposite happened. My absolute favourite moment was when Olly was at the bar. There was a South African girl serving drinks that night and as she was grabbing Olly’s, I told him that “Footsak” means “Thank You” in Africance (except that it doesn’t – it means “Eff Off” and is quite offensive) and he should say it to her when she returned. So full of confidence and with these big, brown puppy dog eyes, he looks at her with an infectious smile and says “Footsak” when she hands him his drinks. It was no surprise when she looked at him horridly and he was completely speechless as I watched on and pissed myself laughing. From then on, I called him Footsak.

The allocated rooms below deck were insanely hot and too uncomfortable to sleep in. Although Dean and Ruth tried, the rest of us seeked solace above deck and slept beneath the stars that first night. I know. It sounds a little bit like a giant orgy when I say that but it was nothing of the sort. And apart from Baba snoring all through the night, it wasn’t so bad. That was, until the sun came up in the morning and everyone was trying to find shelter from the heat on limited sleep.

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Our Sultan’s Curse had not yet left us and I don’t think the big oily meals were helping. Whilst Elisha and I generally played tag team with the bathroom so as not to dirty the waters, the rest of the group spent the morning swimming the hangovers off. Elisha failed to mention in the last blog that I had, for the very first time in my life, managed to learn how to float in Olympos! There is so much salt in the Mediteranean that even a hopeless swimmer like me was able to find child-like success in the water. And for hours on end (but probably more likely minutes – afterall I was still an amateur and was probably still sinking a little) I would float around on my back and whisper to myself “How’s the serenity?” Needless to say that in front of all these people I was eager to show off my new talents. So whilst Dan repeatedly did backflips off the side of the boat, I tried my best to ingratiate myself with everyone by floating around in the sea on my back (and sinking just a little.)

Our cruise took us to the town of Kas later that day where we were free to walk around for several hours and explore the township. We’d already stocked up on Shit Stopper tablets but we needed some Panadol and sea sickness pils for the rest of the trip so we mumbled some English to another guy mumbling some English who was able to point us to a pharmacist. Apart from that, we stopped at several bars and cafes so as to destroy as many toilets as we could in Kas. I believe that town has now also become a sunken city. We had a pretty quiet night that night and played some cards before calling it a night.

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I couldn’t help but laugh the next morning when, at breakfast, Elisha came up to me to say “I think I might be getting a little better. Yeah, I’ve only had to go to the bathroom 7 times so far this morning.” Such was the severity of Sultan’s Curse. We were glad we had bought the sea sickness tablets for the next several hours we bounced up and down through rough seas towards Butterfly Valley. You can just imagine how much fun this must have been for Elisha in the cramped confines of a toilet on a violently rocking boat. We were all pretty relieved to finally pull up in the calm waters of Butterfly Valley. Whilst most of us were content to just be sitting on land again, a couple of the group made the treck to the valley. You’ll need to ask them for the photos but, again, that will probably imply you’re a creep for looking at a stranger’s photos. There was still some more rocky waters ahead though and we then set sail for the Blue Lagoon. No. No. This is not the location for the movie of the same name that was released in 1980 with a 14 year old Brooke Shields and of which my parents told me to watch when I asked where babies came from. This was just a lagoon. That was blue. Hence the name – Blue Lagoon. Our boat docked a fair way from the lagoon due to traffic. I was still only just coming to grips with my newly acquired floating skills and so, when the majority of the group left for the mammoth swim and took all the remaining pool noodles, I felt pretty helpless and was abandoned back on deck. Again, you’ll need to do the creep thing and ask them for photos. However, I doubt there’d be too many of them for who would swim with a camera . . . especially when your arms are full with pool noodles.

Our final destination that evening was St Nicholas Island. An old ruined town sat high up on the hill here and we were able to trek up to the top for some amazing views of the area and the sunset. We ran into several Busabout groups up here too which was a nice reminder of just how chilled and relaxed our group was. A bit disgusting to see fellow Australians leave empty beer cans up on a beautiful spot like that. However, when that rowdy lot had moved on (how quickly I change teams) our small group was able to sit peacefully with our beer tins and admire the setting sun that would also act as a timely metaphor for our tour.

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We had one final night on the boat and so Dean and I attempted to teach everyone the card game Arseholes. This was all going well but takes a few hands to get the hang off. After finally getting everyone to understand the rules an hour or two later, we were ready to play properly. And to my utter frustration, that seemed to be when everyone felt it was time to go to bed!!

There was little to be done on the very last day but slowly make our way to Fethiye where we would disembark. However, it would be foolish not to stop one last time for another swim (this time I did snare a pool noodle) and one last helping to the amazing lunches provided by the chef. But with our bellies full and our arms tired from all the glorious swimming in the pristine waters of the Mediterranean Sea, we eventually docked and parted ways with everyone aboard. We hope to keep in touch with those we can – the Irish girls in less than a week and Dan and Fi several weeks after that in the foreseeable future. The one thing for certain is oceans can no longer keep us apart. For I can now float my away around the world . . . provided a pool noodle is nearby.

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34. Antalya // Olympos // Turkey

Jeez…it’s been a while since i’ve written a blog. I’m curently sitting in a train station in Siena, Italy and Turkey seems like ages ago….So I will try my best to recall exactly what we did on the next part of our travels through Turkey.

After our experience of the last night bus, we decided it was no longer an option for us and that we would just take the day bus departing Goreme and arrive in Antalya at night and ready for a sleep. Although the distance is a mere 540 km’s the journey would take in excess of 9 hours because of all the frequent stopping. Anyway, we left the Goreme 40 million degree heat and began our journey to Antalya. The bus pulled up for a 20 minute stop whilst loading new passengers in Konya. Now I had read about Konya in our guide book and I was well aware that this was in fact the most conservative town in Western Turkey. All women were covered up from head to toe, and I had heard from a conversation in Kusadasai that particularly during Ramazan it was impossible to buy a beer here. My dilemma was, that I needed to go to the bathroom as there were no facilities on our bus. This ordinarily wouldn’t be a problem, however as I peeked out my window and then looked back at my singlet and short attire, I realised that I was completely under dressed for such an event. However my bladder was persistant and we still had about 6 hours of our journey left. I looked at Clinton, said “fuck it” and off the bus I went, into the swarming sea of eyes of Konyans. I made a beeline for the WC sign within the train station and got half way down the stairs when an old woman looked me up and down and started yelling at me. I apologised in English which I knew in no way would help the situation and just kept running. Thankfully, there was at least a western toilet! The run back to the bus was much the same, I’ve never felt so many leering eyes on me, however I made it back on the bus unscathed, just in time as the bus pulled away.

We arrived into Antayla late that night, so late that no further mini buses into town were running and we had to catch our first taxi. Our room was in the old centre and luckily I had booked something with a pool, as it was extremely humid. Actually this wasn’t just luck. Since Pamukkale I had decided that a room with a pool and air conditioning was actually essential…call me a flash packer all you want but after 7 months of travel and a month in the middle of summer in Turkey, I think I had earnt a pool!  That night we went for a walk around the old town and was impressed by all the young Turks out. This felt more of an authentic Turkish modern town, with great food around and not the usual tourist traps. Here, the young ones were out late, eating and drinking bottles of raki with their friends, it was a really cool vibe and such a huge contrast to some more touristy areas we had recently been. We sat down to what was one of our favourite meals in all our time in Turkey. Simple Turkish flavours done well, and dirt cheap!!! After a big travel day we called it a night pleasantly surprised by what Antalya had to offer.

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Now….without going into much detail, Clinton had started to feel some stomach pains at some point in our turkish trail. We thought perhaps, him being a ceoliac and all the beer and durum had finally taken it’s toll, as throughout the first night he awoke to excrusiating pain, and vomited…unfortunately, I woke up the same way but not vomiting. It had appeared our excellent meal the night before, had in fact resulted in the dreaded Sultan’s Curse. We had been quite lucky in regards to food, trying anything and everything from on the streets in Malaysia and Vietnam, to eating in dodgy establishments in Turkey and never had a problem. We were generally careful with water, but not overly so, and we’d always been fine. Until now. All I will say is 2 people sharing one toilet whilst both sick is not ideal. We tried a bit more turkish food and it was amazing. Stuffed peppers, beans, eggplants, dips chicken dishes, it was amazing. I loved it. It was the Turkey I was after. Unfortunately though, Sultans Curse struck again and in fact got worse. Our next couple of days were spent in an apartment and eating dry crackers, and it still didn’t improve. We were due to leave Antalya but were scared to spend 5 hours on public transport. So we dosed ourselves up on drugs and made our way to Olympos.

Now I had heard about Olympos from our great friends Jess and Jamie who had been here on their Turkey adventure, and it sounded excellent. Olympos was once an important Lycian city, however in the 70’s it became a “hippie community” whereby travellers would come to hang out in tree houses amongst the ruins of the old city by the beach. It sounded fantastic and an amazing way to spend a few days chilling. We had booked a bungalow in Saban treehouses which were a 5 to 10 minute walk through ruins to a pebble beach. Upon arriving at Olympos, we both immediately wished we had more time here. Set deep withing the bush was an amazing sanctuary of bungalows, and tree houses. In the main eating area were hammocks and turkish lounges, all set up to lounge around throughout the day, escape the heat, sip cool beers, listen to tunes and catch up on blogs. (well that was the intention, but it didnt really seem to happen.) I’d never seen Clinton so happy and relaxed. In fact, it was really hard work to get him off that Turkish lounge. The best part about this place as well, was the food!! Breakfast and Dinner were included in the price of the accomodation and the owner Merryl really cared about what she was feeding her guests. She became a good friend of ours whilst we were there, and would sit on our lounge and chat throughout the day. The subject of food was constantly brought up, and by the end I was able to discuss with her what I wanted on the menu for dinner…It also helped that for once we didnt really have to worry about food, we’d basically just turn up and breakfast and dinner and it would be waiting! What didn’t help is that at this stage, Clinton and I were both still suffering from Sultan’s Curse. So as great as these meals were, we’d both be running to the toilet during and after our meals.

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So anyway, our first day in Olympos we went for a swim at the beach and then laid on a couch all day listening to Tunes. Our second day, we basically did the same thing. Though we met a guy called Kent who was an Australian teacher working in Bangladesh, who sat on the couch with us basically all day exchanging stories. It was mid afternoon when we saw our friend Emma trundle off the bus from Fethiye and had booked herself in at Saban for a relax as well, so she joined us on the couch, and finally a British guy called John who had hitchhiked his way from Georgia also struck up a conversation and spent the rest of the day with us on the couch, and boy did he have some funny stories. We laughed and laughed as he told us about his experience with a Turkish Bath in an Eastern Turkish city. Apparently all had been going well with his salt scrub, despite him being naked and being rubbed down from a big fat guy. This hadn’t worried him at all, until the big fat guy reached and grabbed his penis and proceeded to give it a salt rub as well whilst looking him straight in the eye. Apparently John was outta there as quickly as an Italian man leaves an espresso shop. After dinner, (yes we’d spent the whole day on the couch) and a few drinks, we all decided to head out to one of the various drinking spots along the road. This again had a very chilled out vibe so much so, that Clint and I walked in with our roadie beers. We sat outside sharing a few beers and giving John some advice on how to pull the ladies. We witnessed a couple of Turkish guys playing fooseball who at one point simultaneously took there shirts off as the game got serious. (or perhaps it could have had something to do with the group of ladies that had just walked in.) We stepped inside to watch some spanish dancing, but quickly were overcome with the stench of undeodrised Turkish men and clouds of Cigerette smoke. It was at this time we called it a night and headed back to the air conditioned comfort our a tree bungalow. It had been an excellent and relaxing few days, and tomorrow we were off on another sailing cruise through the Mediterranean Turkish seas!

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33. Pamukkale // Cappadocia // Turkey

To get to Pamukkale, we had to catch a bus from Kusadasi to Denizli and then change to a local Dolmus (mini bus) to take us the remaining 60kms. As we were quickly learning with Turkey, you never needed to plan ahead and we grabbed a bus around 9am from Kusadasi. Five hours later, we were in the Denizli Otogar, roaming its’ basement with our backpacks looking for the correct mini bus to take us to our eventual destination. Some helpful finger pointing later from various bus drivers and we had managed to find the right bus to make our way to Pamukkale, arriving mid-afternoon.

Pumakkale is known for its gleaming white travertines, which are calcite shelves with pools cascading down the plateau edge, and its natural hot springs. In the middle of the hot Denizli region, the travertines stand out like a group of giant polar bears and could easily be confused for snow capped mountains if it weren’t for the 40 degree heat reminding you otherwise.

During the Byzantine era, the ancient city of Heirapolis was built at the top of this attraction and used as a “natural resort” even back then. However, during modern times, hotels were built right on top of these ruins and it wasn’t until the area was deemed a World Heritage Site that this was all demolished and replaced with artificial pools. As such, I’m not sure how legit you can still call it. Regardless, it’s an incredible site to see and makes for some great backdrops for the Big Fat Dirty White Russians who were of course there posing at every angle they could.

As we climbed up from the bottom, I didn’t really know what to expect. To preserve the natural calcification, you are not allowed to wear shoes once you enter. You sort of feel like you might slip over as you step onto the wet rocks but instead your feet seem to grip on with ease, despite an inch of warm water continually cascading across your toes. As I said before, there are heaps of pools set up for the visitors to sit in. They are about two-three feet deep and the floor is covered in calcium-like mud.

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You don’t need much time in Pamukkale and so the next day we arranged for an overnight bus to take us to Cappadocia. Cappadocia is an absolute must if you go to Turkey. The only downside that we and pretty much anyone else we spoke to will say is the bloody 12-14 hour overnight bus you need to catch to get you there. We’ve caught overnight buses before in Vietnam and overnight trains in Poland and everytime we have always said the next morning “Never Again!” But you’ve always got to way up the pros and cons. So foolishly you convince yourself that you are saving a night’s accomodation by making the trip at night and you are bound to get some sleep throughout the night – just take a valium you say. And then, 12 hours later, red and bleary eyed and looking like you’ve just been run over by a stampede of bulls, you emerge from the bus into the next morning’s sunlight and say “Never Again!”

After finding a place that was actually open to grab some much needed breakfast from, we thanked our lucky stars that reception at our accommodation was open and that our room was even ready! Needless to say, our bags had hardly hit the floor before we were both passed out on the bed to catch a couple of hours of shut eye before we began our expedition.

Cappadocia is a very special place. And I don’t know how to describe it. Goreme (a central town in the district where we stayed) stands in the middle of countless surrounding caves where people once lived. As you pull into the town, tiny little fairy chimneys (rock formations in the shape of chimneys) protrude from the ground, but are big enough to live in. They look not too dissimilar to the Smurf Village actually. The landscape feels, at times, a little like the Wild West and across the 200 square kilometres, many former underground cities and churches can be found.

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Although it’s a novelty, the coolest part about Cappadocia is that you can stay in these chimney houses. It really does sound fun to think of yourself as Papa Smurf and enter inside one of these stone huts but, truthfully, once you’re inside, you’re basically just surrounded by stone walls and little ventilation. Which might be ok if you’re visiting in winter (when I think it does surprisingly snow) but not when you’re staying in the middle of summer.

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When we did eventually wake up later that day, we were surprised to see the temperature had only risen about 2 degrees since when we had arrived – so instead of it being 40 billion degrees as it was at 6am, it was now 40 billion and 2 degrees. There’s so much to see and do in the region. You can hire quad bikes and go racing through the dunes, explore underground cities, ride horses like a cowboy, enter ancient tombs and, of course, drink beer. (Don’t worry, we didn’t do too much of the latter.) Still fairly exhausted, we didn’t get up to too much the first day … oh wait, yes we did. We booked tickets for our Hot Air Balloon ride the next morning! But seriously, apart from that we strolled around Goreme a little, pointing out all the phallacentrical chimneys we could and getting a feel for the place. Realising how hot it was going to be in our room, and realising one night just wasn’t going to cut it in this really cool region of the world, we booked another two nights at a place advertising air con and a swimming pool for the next day.

But let’s not mess around. The real excitement for us was the Hot Air Balloon. And, without a doubt, it has been the best thing we have done so far. It was not cheap though and will probably go down as the most expensive hour of my life. Let’s be honest. 240 Euro for a 4.00am alarm clock was essentially what it was. We were told we’d be picked up at 4.15am. At that time of the morning, every minute someone is late is another chance to yell “I could have had one more minutes sleep!” When they did pick us up, we found we were just going around the corner anyway. And that was just to eat breakfast for the next half hour. Who is hungry at 4.30am?? I managed to laugh at that but I think I still would have preferred another half hours sleep and walked myself there when it was in fact time to be driven to the balloons. (It’s also really easy to find reasons to whinge when it’s that early. Trip Advisor has Cappadocia as one of the top 3 places in the world to Hot Air Balloon. And considering it was still cheaper than what you’d pay to do it in Melbourne, where 6 out of 7 times of getting out there it is cancelled due to weather, it was hard to argue the logic that it had to be done. Anyway, a picture tells a thousand words and this was our greatest travelling moment to date:

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For those who have ever been to Dreamworld with me, you’ll know I adamently refuse to go on the Giant Drop due to a fear of heights. And if you ask Elisha, she’ll happily tell you that every one of the 20 passengers and the Pilot were quite aware that I was struggling a bit as we got airborne. There may have been a few mouse-like whimpers from me and yes I was leaning as far as I possibly could away from the edge. I may have also peed myself a little when the bottom of the basket collided with the top of one of the chimneys and the entire cage shuddered as we bounced over it. I’ve never really thought too much about how a Hot Air Balloon lands but it was very different to whatever it was I was thinking. The Pilot really has little control over the balloon. They can take it up and down and that’s it. So to change directions they have to find pockets of air going in the direction they want. When you come down to land, it’s very much like the scene in Twister. There’s a group of four guys in a 4WD with the balloon’s trailer, racing around dirt roads trying to predict where the balloon will come down. The pilot radios them with a rough location. They pull up, jump out and throw some dirt in the air so the pilot can again recalculate his trajectory. He radios again. They race off again and pull up somewhere else. The pilot teaches us all a brace position and then, with our backs to the fast approaching ground, we hit the grass hard, then bounce up, race along for a bit longer, bounce again, slide, bounce, slide, grind. Suddenly, all four of the guys jump on to the sides of the basket to try and catch it, adding much needed weight. We slide for a bit longer, now ripping through the long grass in a vast paddock before, eventually, we come to a stop. Popping some bubbly is customary when landing because, hey, you haven’t died. And, even though it was just sparkling juice (which is probably a good thing at 6am) we all saluted our Pilot for a memorable experience.

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Back at our fairy chimney, the day was still early – so early that our free Turkish breakfast was not even ready yet. We could either go back to bed or wait for an hour and marvel at our medallions (the first I’d received since winning the “Thanks for Participating” award at Junior cricket) until breakfast was served. Always one to admire my accomplishments, we went for the latter.

After breakfast, the day was heating up again to its traditional 40 billion and 2 degrees and so, we checked out and marched our bags across town to Nirvana where air conditioning and one of the comfiest mattresses I’ve laid upon in a long time awaited us. After a quick rest up, we decided to catch some local buses to Derinkuyu’s Underground City. Not the easiest place to get to without a tour bus, but spending easily a third of what we would if we joined a tour, we got ourselves there . . . where literally just one building stood. But that’s right. It was underground. After climbing down a set of stairs, you enter a world that blows your mind. This underground city is the largest excavated in the area but there are heaps around. Even as early as 2009 a guy found another one to the size of 2500 square kilometres below his house. This particular underground city is fascinating as it extends to depths of approximately 60 metres, 5 levels and is large enough to shelter up to 20,000 people (that’s two Dalby’s where I grew up in!) with their livestock and food stores. Believed to be from the 8th Century BC, the city included wine and oil presses, stables, cellars, storage rooms, refectories, chapels and even a cruciform church. It was very difficult to photograph so we largely gave up on that but it was truly a fascinating thing to see.

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The next day was another scorcher and so we elected to spend the majority of the morning beside the pool reading and then, about a minute into doing that, decided to spend the rest of the morning in the pool. We soon got chatting to Emma from Albury and Chris from Canada who were also trying to escape the heat. They’d just arrived from Istanbul. However, their expected 12 hour bus had in fact taken a grueling 18 hours and they’d missed all their previously booked morning tours. I really don’t know what holds these buses up. The distances are only about 600kms but they seem to just stop for no reason, repeatedly. After four hours of getting our skin as shrivelled as we could in the pool, we then joined them for dinner where we also met their two other friends, Alex and Sal, who had been sleeping all afternoon after that horrible bus ride. It was crazy to learn that Alex lived only a few blocks away from us back in South Yarra and was also on his way to London so hopefully, I should have one person to down a London Pride with.

We had one more half day in Goreme after that and so we thought we’d walk up to the nearby open museum. This is sort of like another underground city but, its above ground. So I guess you could say like a normal city. This too was from around the 8th Century BC (I think, or maybe it was 13th Century AD – somewhere inbetween those few years) and comprised of heaps of churches. In fact, Cappadocia is mentioned in the bible in Acts 2:5. During the 4th Century, the Cappadocian Fathers were integral to much of early Christian philosophy and this is evident in some of the paintings in the caves. It was all really cool stuff to see. The caves in the paid-entry museum are quite spectacular but truthfully, you can probably climb up into any cave around the area and it probably used to be someone’s house.

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After three nights, we wanted to make our way back across to the West Coast and decided on Antalya where we had been told a Metropolitan city awaited us. We were now pretty experienced with the skies and how to navigate the winds so we pooled our coins together and bought ourselves our very own hot air balloon, got ourselves into the air with some very deliberate turns of the gas control and pointed ourselves West.

Nah, not really. We caught a bus.

32. Canakkale// Izmir// Kusadasi// Turkey

We arrived in Canakkale after a quite pleasant bus ride from Instanbul, the highlight of which, was when the bus boarded the ferry to take us across to this coastal town. Totally weird!! We were using Canakkale as a base to see Gallipoli and only intented to stay 2 nights, however after the tourist mecca that is Istanbul we really enjoyed the tranquility of Canakkale and ended up staying 3. Canakkale is also used as a base to see the ruins of Troy, and although we didnt make the trek to see these (we were a bit “ruin” fatigued) we did appreciate seeing the huge Troy wooden statue that stood on the boardwalk of the town and had been a gift from the movie. Although Canakkale is not entirely rural (it still sees thousands of tourists each year for Gallipoli and Troy) we really started to see a few glimpses of the Turkey that we expected to see in Istanbul. During one evening stroll we came across a restaurant that only seemed to really sell cay. This restaurant or cay bar, was filled to the brim of men of all ages playing backgammon. This is a game that is prelevant all over Turkey and is a favourite past time, however we had never seen full restaurants dedicated to the “sport”. It was interesting to see a culture that can have so much fun without drinking…perhaps Australia could learn a thing or two.

Another major draw card of Canakkale was the food. After poor versions of chicken durum in Istanbul I finally found an authentic place that had the most tender chicken, spice and herb driven durum I’ve had so far through my travels in Turkey. Best part was, the menu was only in Turkish, and I managed to actually order what I wanted and for the bargain price of 3 Lira. The town also had a bit of a uni vibe to it, and we had been told to go to a bar called the Hangover Bar. Being skeptical as this establishment was serving western food, and a little optomistic as we really wanted a decent burger, we were not disappointed. This place was teeming with young turkish listening to the latest tunes (think top 40 3 years ago) and pretty decent food. The best part though was that the unfiltered beer made an appearance yet again, so we went back to this place each night for some pub grub and a few unfiltered Efes. One thing I will make mention without being too descriptive is this is the time in Turkey where Clinton started to develop sever stomach pains. At this point nothing really happened, and we just gave him panadol, but he was sometimes in a lot of pain.

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From Canakkale we left and arrived by bus in Izmir approx 5 hours later. We had been told by our host in Istanbul that there really wasnt much in Izmir, however we decided to go and find out for ourselves, and I’m so glad that we did. Izmir is the thirld largest city in Turkey with a population of just over 4 million. It sits out on the Western Coast so has a beautiful boardwalk that lines the whole of the city. We stayed in the old town, in a hotel that I was quite nervous about as it had only made the “just passable” rating on bookings.com. however, either our standards have dropped immensely while travelling or this hotel had made some pretty decent changes, because we were pleasantly surprised. The one thing I did notice about our location, is there really were no females about. We would walk out onto the street from our hotel and I would be the only female I could see on a very busy road. So maybe it was a bit unsafe…I had my lovely friendly giant to protect me the whole time anyway 🙂

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As far as sights go, I guess the host in Istanbul was right, there’s really not much to see. However thats not really why Clint and I are travelling anyway, so it didn’t really bother us. What was amazing to see was the Bazaar. Unlike the bazaar in Istanbul that was full of tourists and bad salesman, the Bazaar in Izmir was full of Turks going about their shopping. Sure there were still the fake watches and handbags, but the general feel of the place was much more local. We spent ages walking the streets of the bazaar, being lost, looking at trinkets and drinking cay without being hassled by anyone. We then spent some time walking along the boardwalk and feasting on a breadroll filled with Tomato, white cheese and chilli. Simple Ingredients, fresh produce, great price!!! It was super hot as well, so we stuck our feet in a fountain with a bunch of local children and watched as they splashed about. That night we feasted on a spicy Adana kebap that was simple, but fresh with lots of spice and grilled peppers. A very different Adana kebap to the one drowned in tomato sauce that we had experienced in Istanbul.

Another highlight in Izmir was walking down a random street one afternoon, trying to find our way back to the Bazaar. Having tried Backlava in Istanbul a number of times, I just was not convinced on this honey drowned dessert. However I came across a bakery on this strange street and seeing the Baklava in the window decided to give it another shot. I walked in and tried to communicate to the Turkish lady that I only wanted 1 piece and not 1kg. (Imagine a lot of hand movements) When she finally understood that I indeed only wanted 1 piece (shock) she proceeded to give this to me without accepting money. When she finally accepted the 1 lira I handed her (50 cents Aus) she then proceeded to try and give me 75 Turkish cents back as change. I could not believe the kindness and honesty of this woman. Back in Istanbul I had also tried the Baklava at the Spice Market and even struggled to be able to buy 1 piece as I was always told that it was a 2 piece minimum, and to purchase 2 pieces was 4 – 5 lira. Anyway, after having one bite of that Baklava in Izmir I wish I had bought a kilo as it was so different to any other Baklava I have had. Not overly sweet and full of nuts, this Baklava was fresh and the perfect balance of savoury and sweet. I still have dreams about it. You may ask yourself why had Clinton not tried this beautiful piece of Baklava. Well his stomach pains had turned into a severe case of “Sultan’s Curse, Bali Belly” whatever you would like to call it. We had not experienced any travel sickness in any of the countries that we had visited, and had been careful with water in Turkey so it came as a bit of a surprise. We still really don’t know what it’s from, we are guessing just the difference in spices and the poor quality oil that is used in cooking here. Needless to say wherever we ate, we had to be in a close point of call to a western toilet and alas at the bakery there was none. At this point in Izmir I had no problems at all and so was parading around with what I thought was a stomach made of steel.

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So Izmir is basically our blog full of amazing food experiences. Clinton found a local gozleme shop that blew our socks off. For those of you who don’t know, Gozleme is basically a pancake that has either savoury or a sweet filling inside. Usually these are made by Turkish women who roll the dough out with a thin rolling pin and then fill the pancake with items such as spinach and cheese or potato or nutella and banana. You can experience these at South Melbourne market for about $10 a pop but over here they are much cheaper. We got chatting to the owner at this Gozleme shop who was apparently quite famous in the area for his Gozleme. He had not stuck to tradition and realised that you could basically put anything in a pancake as long as the produce was fresh. Here we tried a savoury gozleme that was filled with lamb, eggplant, mushooms and cheese and an unbelievably good sweet pancake filled with walnuts, figs, nougat and topped with pisatchio’s. Although a little more expensive than the gozleme on the side of the road, I was so impressed firsly by the quality of produce in these gozleme’s and the business plan of this friendly turkish man. He has converted me to gozleme for life

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Our last night in Izmir came quickly and we walked along the boardwalk eating mussels from a side vendor that are cooked and filled with rice, spices and sometimes nuts and currants. They make for a delicious snack, however we have been warned to only eat them in sea side towns, as otherwise the mussels are sometimes collected from the sewers….gross. We watched the sunset over the water and then headed to our local dinner spot and shared an Iskender kebab and Ayran. (Ayran is a salty yoghurt drink that the turks tend to drink with their evening meal, I’m not a fan)

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The next morning we said goodbye to Izmir and its gozleme and headed towards Kusadasi. Our friend Sonia had raved about this place from her travels in Turkey and so we decided to use this town as our base for exploring Ephesus and to chill out a bit. This is where I have a bit of a confession to make. It’s the middle of summer in Turkey and it’s bloody hot. So when looking for accomodation in Kusadasi, I filtered my search by those that had air conditioning, and an outdoor pool. I know, not very backpacky of me but after 6 months on the road surely I deserve a little comfort. Anyway, although a little old, our apartment in Kusadasai certainly delivered. It was right in the middle of the old town and despite being a hotel complex, had more of a relaxed hostel kinda vibe. To get out of the hotel you had to pass through the outside bar, and needless to say sometimes we didnt get further than that bar. What made this place so great for us though was the people. The owner spoke excellent English and over a few efes told us about the Kurdish people in Turkey and a bit about the economic climate over the last 100 years. Known as a bit of a hot spot for the Dutch and the Irish, we spent our days talking to a Dutch couple from Utrecht. Mike was a pro water polo player who was living in Izmir and was training for the next olympics. On a break at the moment, Mike and his girlfriend Catja were working the bar in Kusadasi to earn a bit of extra money as Turkish wages are quite low. And of course there was Edward. A 69 year old Irish man who had lost his wife a few years ago. He was nearing the end of his, had cancer and had retired at the apartment complex. He spent his days smoking and drinking red wine and although endearing, towards the end got a bit repetitive with his interruptions of Trivia from Australia back in the day. Quite intellectual he had a vibrant life publishing two books in his time and lived with one regret, not following a girl to Australia. It served as a timely reminder for us, that you will always regret the things that you did not do.

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In Kusadasi, we basically alternated between Gozleme from next door for 3 Lira and Chicken Durum from the other side of the complex that came with an amazing spicy sauce that inevitably started Sultan’s Curse for me as well. Kusadasi as a town is a big port for package holidayers so has a bazaar filled with all the latest gadgets bags and watches. One day, haggling the price of a watch I got cornered by a man who did not know the meaning of personal space. Lucky my big friendly giant was there to protect me and quite loudly and urgently told the man to let me leave. Needless to say my heart was pumping as I exited the store, and I promised myself never to find myself in that situation again. Things can escalate very quickly.

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So our main reason for being in Kusadasi was to see the ruins at Ephesus. We had debated over whether we should do a tour here, however when enquired with one of the travel agents was not sold on the hour to pick everyone up, two hour lunch, see the ruins type thing. Instead with some travel directions from Erican our hotel manager and armed with some water, we decided to explore these on our own, and are so glad that we did. All we did was catch a local bus to the side of the highway and walked a kilometre to the ruins. Paid our entry ticket and then we were free to walk around and look in our own time. Everything was pretty well signed, and if we got the opportunity we kinda just hung back on an english tour and learnt a little extra. I don’t really know how to put Ephesus into words. Its the biggest collection of ruins that Clint and I have seen in our travels. Its enormous. The town was founded in 10th Century BC and was abandoned in the 15th Century AD. I’ve never seen anything that old before. It is believed the Gospel of John may have been written here. It gives you a great interpretation on what the town would have been like, and they are still excavating more. The sheer size of it is probably what blew me away the most. Standing in the amphitheatre imagining what life would have been like sooo many years ago. Simply Stunning. I don’t know whether it was luck or the fact that we went in the middle of the day (poor planning) but there wasn’t the crowds of people there like I expected. It was also extremely hot with the sun bouncing off all those white stones. After a few hours we had depleted our supply of water and decided to head back to our hotel…even though we’d spent more on an apartment with a pool we both rejoiced that day!!!

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This basically ended our 4 nights in Kusadasai, and I loved every moment of it. Turkey was unravelling its layers to us, there was good food here, the people were friendly, and like we had hoped it was easy to meet fellow travellers. It wasn’t in your face like Vietnam you had to delve a little deeper, and as we delved we liked it a little more each day.