overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Ruins ruins everywhere…!

Written by Alex Towns. Uploaded 26 September 2005.

Turkey, Country 9, Diary entry 1-6th Sep 2005, Total distance in western Turkey: 3122 KM

There is so much to see and do in Istanbul that even a couple of days doesn’t do it justice, however you do run the danger of everything blurring into one. During our day of exploration Martin left us at breakfast whilst we busied ourselves with more internet time over a boiled egg and coffee.

With our affairs in better order we collected our things from our room only to find a wee scorpion running across the camera bag…! I sprang into action with an appropriate weapon and soon the offending creature was being scraped into the bin. As we left the hostel we told the reception what we had found and they didn’t believe us... “A scorpion in Istanbul, are you sure it wasn’t a spider?”

Believe me I know my scorpions after sharing a house with Mr Clark the scorpion hunter when I returned from Oz many years ago. We since found out that scorpions really are very scarce in Istanbul so I can only assume it’d hitched a ride with some backpacker from afar.

Onwards – sightseeing here we come, first stop Aya Sofya (Church of Holy Wisdom) which happened to be the closest to the hostel….

We weren’t really sure what to expect here, as from the outside it didn’t look anyway near as grand as the neighbouring Blue Mosque, but as the saying goes ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ and on this occasion this was certainly true, for inside it is extremely grand indeed and rich with history. First built in AD532 as a church it has been modified and expanded through the ages. After the Turkish conquest it was converted to a mosque when the beautiful mosaics were covered as Islam prohibits images. They were not revealed again until 1930 when Aya Sofya was declared a museum.

Inside the magnificant Aya Sofya

We lost ourselves inside Aya Sofya for a couple of hours then headed back onto the streets for some intensive sightseeing before succumbing to the cries from our stomachs to find a feeding station. With the sun setting we stumbled upon a likely candidate down one of the many small side streets and were served a banquet of various kebabs. Maz who hadn’t been feeling so well since Serbia seemed to have now inherited a tape worm and with the water works switched from flow to full stop we weren’t sure where she was packing it all. Needless to say we made sure she avoided any sharp pointed objects for all our sakes…!!

After the second night in our now scorpion free room we planned to spend the morning in Istanbul to mop up some left over sights before heading to Gallipoli. With the customary boiled egg breakfast inside our first stop was the Iranian embassy to hopefully pick up our visas. For these we had organised all the formalities via Magic Carpet Travel in the UK before leaving to avoid the rumoured 10+ day wait for processing, so we hoped all that remained at the embassy was for the necessary rubber stamping. We weren’t disappointed and soon left the embassy, passport in hand with our Iranian visas - result :o)

Proud of our Iranian Visas

We then strolled towards the aqueduct that fed the old city and after getting a bit lost a number of times eventually found it, but it had been so included in the current road system that it distracted from the sight itself. To avoid a repeat of the outward wander, we jumped on a tram and headed back to Sultanahmet. I was quite interested to see the Basilica Cistern that stored the water for the old city, so Martin returned to the cars whilst we popped down to have a look.


And quite a sight it was too. A vast underground cistern built in the 6th century, covering a total area of 9800 sq m and supported by 336 marble columns each 9m high. I couldn’t help thinking that as a precautionary measure they ought to refill just in case Maz’s dam broke whilst we were in town..!!

The spectacular Basilica Cistern

Back to the cars… after a few days wandering around Istanbul it was good to be on the move again albeit through the mass of slow moving traffic. Even though we were heading towards Gallipoli, we had the bright idea to drive from Europe to Asia across the bridge that joins the two continents. This involved a lot of traffic and navigation without the appropriate maps before doubling back on ourselves and driving back to Europe..!! A last drive along the city walls (again more scenic routes and very small streets) and we were off on the open road again...

The remains of the wall - we couldn't work out which bits were falling down & which were being rebuilt!

The drive from Istanbul to Gallipoli was straight forward enough and we arrived just as the sun was setting. We enquired about the diving which I was particularly keen to try, but they really aren’t geared up for it and unless we stayed until the weekend it was unfortunately no go :o( With a tour of the battlefield booked for a leisurely 12:30 we followed the recommendation of TJ and all tucked into a scrimp, tomato and chilly dish with melted cheese on top – yum. Rest assured Martin isn’t on his own when sampling the local delights and so far I’m wondering if my trousers will need letting out before we reach NZ!

Now to find camp… we keep telling ourselves that we MUST find camp during daylight but have so far only succeeded in doing so a handful of times. As it happened we ended up doing a night time tour of the battlefields in the search for camp, but all tracks led to a military grave yard – a sombre experience. We gave ourselves a bit of distance and stumbled upon an ideal beachfront camp. With the waves lapping and the stars twinkling we said our goodnights.

Our beach front campsite

We have been getting accustomed to being woken by interested locals or cars driving past in a place which seemed otherwise deserted the night before but this morning I was awoken by a different putt putt putt sound? When I finally got round to poking my head out of the tent there was nothing there and the only sound was the waves breaking on the beach. The others were still asleep so I decided to take an early morning stroll along the beach towards the many pill boxes…. From the 2nd WW not ‘Gallipoli’

With the water looking tempting and our 12:30 tour fast approaching we took to our swimmers just as the first morning visitor arrived. He seemed to be particularly amused by our roof tents (which had now been packed away) & I realised that the morning putt putt had in fact been a boat coming in close to shore for a nosey and this was the captain..!

We joined up with the tour and spent the rest of the day visiting the Gallipoli battlefields, war graves and memorials. It was amazing to see just how small an area the whole campaign took place in and just how many lives were lost on both sides. At some points the front line trenches were a mere 8m apart! The accounts of losses and heroism on both sides were incredible.

Looking down at Anzac Cove with the Sphinx on the left. These were the cliffs the Allies advanced up

“I’m not asking you to attack, I’m ordering you to die” (Mustafa Kem’s last words to the 57th regiment before they attacked in waves of 10 until the last man). Scraps of land no bigger than a tennis court where hundreds were killed in one failed advance. Battleship hill, which was literally reshaped by the amount of shells falling on it from the supporting battleships. Shrapnel valley where the Allies managed to store their provisions just out of reach of the Turk guns along from Anzac Cove. The Sphinx so named by the Anzac troops as it resembled the Sphinx in Egypt where they trained for the campaign. Lone Pine cemetery on the ridge where a lone pine tree stood before the fighting. After the hostilities a surviving branch with seeds was found on the ridge and a sapling grown in Canberra Australia and the other replanted on the ridge which now shades the cemetery.

Lone Pine cemetery - one of the many in Gallipoli

After a thought provoking day we returned to Eceabat to get the ferry across to Canakkale and Asia proper after our dress rehearsal in Istanbul. We had worked out that there was much to see in Turkey and time was ticking. With a quick round up of must sees we decided to pinch a day from Syria & Jordan to give ourselves a little breathing space. We headed out of Canakkale after being helped in a butchers by a very kind gentleman who was very keen to practice his English. With more meat than we knew what to do with, top priority was to find a campsite with firewood for a bbq.

It’s amazing where one will call home for a night. Our pre-requisites are simple… shelter from the wind, away from interested visitors, no falling rocks and out of earshot of the dawn call for prayers…. So tonight we made do with a dried up irrigation channel amongst fields of tomatoes and peppers, in the shadow of ancient Troy… ah home sweet home...!

No soon were the tents up, we thought we’d been spotted and prepared for our first visitors, as the blare of distorted Turkish music got closer. As we poked our heads above the irrigation channel, we breathed a sigh of relief as it was just a bus passing on the road about a km away with it’s stereo set to 11. We pitied the poor passengers ears as we settled into bbq steaks cooked over an open fire and pondered whether they’d be likely to open the irrigation channel during the night.

One of the very very old walls

According to Hommer, Paris abducted the beautiful Helen from her husband, Menelaus, King of Sparta and whisked her off to Troy, thus precipitating the Trojan War. When 10 years of carnage failed to end the war, Odysseus came up with the idea of a wooden horse filled with soldiers, against which Cassandra warned the Trojans in vain. It was left outside the west gate for the Trojans to wheel inside the walls resulting in the fall of Troy.

One needs an awful lot of imagination when walking around Troy. There’s no denying that it’s a remarkable archaeological find, but with nine cities one on top of the other and excavations digging down to all, it’s quite hard to tell where one stops and the next starts! Apparently you can see the five oldest walls in the world still standing. Maybe it was too early in the morning for us, but it was more a tick in the box than a real appreciation… but then they do have a rather nice wooden horse for Maz to play on!

Nice horse

Onwards to Ephesus pronounced Efes as in the beer we’d sampled once or twice around the camp fire. Ancient Ephesus was a great trading and religious city, a centre for the cult of Cybele, the Anatolian fertility goddess. When the Romans took over and made this the province of Asia, Ephesus became the provincial capital and it is one of the best places in the world to get a feel for what life was like in Roman times.

This place is certainly impressive and as we arrived later in the afternoon seemed to have missed the masses of coaches that we’d been expecting. We spent nearly 3 hours marvelling at the ruins and the Library of Celcus itself was worth the visit, a spectacular example of the grand Roman architecture with statues and huge marble pillars. We were also pleased to see that the Romans were keen on hygiene when we visited the public lavs, but with Maz’s digestion now thankfully back on track there was no immediate threat to the ancient loos.

The Library of Celcus

Our tour of ruins had only just started with more planned for tomorrow at Afrodisias. We found a convenient quarry just of the main road for camp and set alarms for early to make up some ground. Afrodisias is another set of Roman ruins some say to rival Ephesus. Although not quite yet in a position to give our expert opinion (although the ruin count is increasing by the day), they certainly were worth the detour off the main road.

The highlight was an immense stadium which once hosted chariot races, gladiator and lion fights, although we couldn’t quite see how the front rows didn’t become part of the action especially in the case of hungry lions, as there appeared nothing between them and the days entertainment! There was also a splendid marble odeum where they held council and for each region of the delegates they had their emblem carved in the seating.

Throw another spectator to the Lions

With the morning spent enjoying the ruins we now headed on to our next must see sight, Pamukkale. Now I hadn’t got that far in the book yet & up until now the sign posts to tourist sights had been pretty good. So not seeing a turn off for Pamukkale, we continued along the main road. The GPS was telling us left & I was fairly sure I could actually see it in the distance some 10km away, but where was the road. Once we arrived at the next town I knew we had to try another approach and so pretty much followed the GPS…. Large tarmac road, smaller, track, dirt road, dust road… some friendly village children urged us on and we literally drove through the fields to get there… now that’s off the tourist track..!

Once at Pamukkale it was obvious that there were more ruins of Hierapolis an ancient spa resort and they had been sign posted ages ago – d’oh. What we had come to see was the natural wonder of brilliant white ledges (travertines) with pools that flow down over the plateau edge along about a km of cliff. It definitely sounds spectacular and were it not for the not so natural concrete imitations and the ‘irrigation’ of the travertines it was certainly impressive. Quite by accident we found a more natural section away from the masses and you could then start to appreciate the beauty and splendour of this bizarre natural feature.

The bizarre white formations at Pamukkale

With a sun downer due on the bar, we said farewell to the white cliffs and went in search of an internet café and a bite to eat. The spit roasted chicken, a now familiar feature to the dining table, went down a treat and in our search for internet we passed a pudding shop that sells Baclava. This is a mixture of pastry, honey and pistachios... and more honey! As mere novices we pointed at a tiny cube each and tried to pay. The kind gentleman simply laughed and ushered us away with honey dripping down chins…. We’ve since found out it’s ordered by the kilo… not cube!

With a date set for diving and away from ruins for awhile… next stop the coast….

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Comment from Maxine
"Scorpion"...&..."Sprang into action" - I'm still laughing. Thought these diaries were supposed to be factual not fiction! Hope you enjoy(ed?) the turquoise coast - it's fab. Where are you?

You better have a high tally counter for ruins over the next few countries too...

27 Sep 2005 @ 12:56:42

Comment from Elise
Ejoying 'the facilities' there in the picture?;-)
27 Sep 2005 @ 21:29:29

Comment from Ed Grundy
Fantastic blog from Turkey.

Sorry to hear about Maz's food processing problems. However, from the map it looks like you are going (back) to Hurgarda. Why not try a few days on a liveboard boat? If they still chop the raw chicken and the salad with the same knife like last time then you can be sure to leave the boat and be 'regular'.

Take Care,


28 Sep 2005 @ 19:56:17

Comment from Marion Creagh
Hi to all from Singapore Airport. I have just been using the free service here to up date myself on your travels. Look forward to the next page. Hope you are all well.

Best Fishes

01 Oct 2005 @ 23:03:43