Turkey – Istanbul Old City & Cappadocia

This year is a year of spontaneous travel. I decided on Turkey one month prior cos my Japan trip got cancelled and I decided why not? Even though everyone else around me was rather worried about me going since it is not known to be safe, but hey I made it back alive! It’s actually quite safe to travel in Turkey. It’s not as unsafe as everyone thinks and I met lots of solo travellers as well. So for those who are thinking, just book and go! I used a local tour agency called Toursturkey where you can customise your own itinerary. So I took the 7 Days Istanbul, Cappadocia, Ephesus and Pamukkale tour with another night extension in Istanbul

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Flew by Emirates with transit in Dubai. Definitely prefer the A380 to B777

It was a rather long flight to Istanbul and I was tired by the time I landed. The driver was supposed to collect me at the first gate of arrival, according to instructions. So I thought I was supposed to walk to door 1 and find the driver but after walking for abit I thought it doesn’t look right. I decided to sidetrack and buy a local SIM card (TRY200 for 15GB of data) at one of the Telco shops. Honestly, I thought it was quite expensive but since the other 2 shops were closing (Why did they close so early?! It’s the airport!) and I just want to quickly get the SIM card and find my driver, I didn’t want to think too much. So after like forever, the driver found me (YAY) and I was on the way to hotel!

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And Hello Istanbul!

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Accommodation for the night at Sura Design Hotel which was booked by the agency. Thoughts on the hotel? It feels old. There were cracks in the toilet. Not sure it it’s caused by the earthquake which happened a few days ago before I landed or it has been there all along for aesthetic purposes. And it can get quite noisy at night but cos I was so exhausted I promptly knocked out so the noise didn’t bother me anyway

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Rise & Shine and Breakfast time!

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There were no tags. I didn’t know what I was eating so I picked safe choices. Conclusion: the pastries were good and that’s about it

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Though this is the view you get from the hotel breakfast area and it looks quite nice

Waited at the lobby for one of the agency’s staff to come and collect me before we walked to the meeting point for the Istanbul Old City Tour

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And the first stop – Blue Mosque which was built by Sultan Ahmed to reassert Ottoman power

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Unfortunately much of the interior is under construction so you can’t see much

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Which also left me quite unimpressed to be honest. There was just too much crowd

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Moving on to the Topkapi Palace which houses the 24 Sultans and the exhibition of relics, costumes, swords & stones

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The palace is huge. And it took a great deal of energy to see the different parts of the palace though some parts of it were less than interesting, like I can’t even recall what I had seen. Or maybe the guide wasn’t interesting enough

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The meeting place for the ministers and apparently in those times, the Sultan will secretly stand above them to listen in on their conversations without their knowledge. Now, that’s scary

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Walked past this water fountain that was placed right outside the Sultan’s meeting room. So in the past they used to turn this on so that the guards that were standing outside can only hear the running of the water and not the conversation that was going on in the room

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And this is the room where the Sultan sees the important guests, like literally see and go. You can’t even have a long conversation inside there. Uh okay can

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And this is one of many living rooms of the Sultans

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Like just for the Sultan himself. Other family members have to be invited to the living room

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And this is another living room for the Sultan

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And so is this, with designs inspired from another century

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I got freaked out in the library cos for a moment I thought he was real

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And so is he. They looked real can

I could feel my energy slipping after the walk and we headed to the next destination before lunch – Hagia Sophia

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It was started as a cathedral but converted to a mosque during the Ottoman times by adding up the minarets and mosaics covered by plasters. It was only revealed later on when they converted this to a museum

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And that’s the mosaic of Virgin Mary

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It’s quite beautiful inside though there were some construction works going on

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And soon it’s time for lunch. Lunch was at a local restaurant located at Sura Hotel and you choose from chicken or beef

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Trying the huge Turkish Lavas Puff Bread which wasn’t very nice in my opinion. I think I prefer roti prata

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And this spring roll look-alike thingy which was not too bad

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Chose the chicken kebab which was actually quite decent. Well food was part of the tour package but drinks were on additional charge. So I decided to order an iced coffee cos I was really tired but the server looked damn lost upon hearing my request. Then he went into the kitchen and came back asking if I want it with chocolate or strawberry ice cream and it was my turn to look lost. I just wanted iced coffee you know. Then the rest of the people laughed and said maybe they understand iced latte better. Right

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Continued the tour with Hippodrome which was well, a column

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And ended off at the Grand Bazaar which we had free time on our own. There were 4000 shops in there but basically every other shop was selling the same thing. Someone told me they missed visiting the bazaar cos they overslept and well I told them, you didn’t miss much actually :/

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Really love the colours of these lamps but I really have no use for them at home

Thoughts on the tour? Well, to be honest, I didn’t think the guide was that great. Perhaps you can try using other tours offered elsewhere. I am sure you can find plenty when you google ‘Istanbul Old City Tour’ I probably will not recommend this tour offered by this agency if you ask me. But the only good thing was the tour ends by 3pm so if you want something that ends early, this is one of them

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And so I was picked up from the hotel and sent to SAW airport for my next flight to Kayseri. I love my transfers in Istanbul. The cars are clean and huge and I felt like a VIP. lol. Flew by Anadolu Jet which has a tight 15kg baggage limit (aka no compromise) but the overweight baggage fee was around TRY20 so I decided to just pay for it.

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Kayseri was a really tiny airport. You walked from the plane to the baggage carousel in 5 minutes but the bags took like half an hour to come. And there was this aunty trying to funny walking around the carousel chasing after her own bag she has placed on it. Uh, okay can

It was late at night by the time I reached my hotel cos I was the last passenger to be dropped off. I was half-worried the doors to my hotel will be locked and nobody would be around cos it was close to 12 midnight. Thankfully the super nice driver ensured that I was at the doors of my hotel and the staff waited for me! (although he fell asleep at the chair. lol)

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Rox Cappadocia! Home for the next 2 nights. These pictures were taken the next day in case you are wondering. I booked this accommodation on my own cos I didn’t like the ones the agency had on their list. And I really wanted a place with a nice view of the balloons.

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So that’s the famed rooftop

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And that’s my tiny room with comfy bed

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Coffee machine (like seriously?!). They even gave a bottle of still and sparkling water. I was impressed

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And very clean showers

I promptly knocked out cos pickup for hot air balloons was at 5am the next day. It’s gonna be a long day

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So the next morning we were brought to Urgup Balloons office to await the green light. And wow, there were SO many people

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Hey kitty, you look as sleepy as me

So after forever we were driven to the take-off site. Time-checked: 6.15am. And there were some balloons that were already in the air. The view at that time was perfect mainly cos the sky was in the right colours. You can see the variance of blue with some light streaks

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Like this

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5 minutes later, more balloons took off

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30 minutes later..

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40 minutes later, our balloon finally saw some signs of getting ready

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We finally took off at 7am and as the balloon floated around, we admired the scenery that was infront of us

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The ride lasted about an hour and when we landed, we were welcomed by a mixed champagne drink, light snacks and a medal

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To celebrate we landed safely

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And one item off the bucket list!

Thoughts on the balloon? I felt that the balloon took off too late. At 7am, the sky was too bright and the magic was lost. By the time we were landing, everyone else has landed (like there was not much of a view left) and it had became too sunny. Also perhaps it’s normal for 20 pax to be in a balloon but it was seriously too crowded. Not everyone is small-sized you know and some people have no context of personal space like they need to take photos 1 hour non-stop (I seriously want to roll eyes at the people I was grouped with). I mean, enjoy the view lah! The balloon oscillates you know. If there is an option to choose a basket with lesser people, go with it. To be honest I was impressed with the view but I was less than impressed with the balloon operator. The hot air balloon was arranged by the agency. Perhaps you are better off arranging your own (aka avoid this operator)

Furthermore, I had a pickup at 9am means I have to be ready 10 minutes before and I only reached back the hotel at 8.40am. Means I only had 10 minutes for breakfast and I still need to freshen up. A hungry person is an angry person

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On a happier note, the breakfast surprised me in many ways

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The portion was HUGE

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These smiley pancakes are my favourite!

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Comes with egg and coffee too!

If you know me, you know how much I eat, or how little in fact. I usually have no qualms about not finishing my food but this was seriously too much of a wastage. The boss asked me how was breakfast. I told him it was really great but perhaps you can give me half of everything for the next day. LOL

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I was picked up and dropped off at the agency which was the meeting point for transfers and city tours. The owner of the agency asked me how was the balloon ride and I told him ‘Not too bad’ lol. I think he gave me the ‘Are you kidding face?’ I mean after the experience I went through, you can’t expect me to say ‘Oh wow, that was the best experience I had!’.. right?! Sorry, just being honest here :/

After like 15 minutes, my bus arrived and I was on my way to the Southern Cappadocia tour which had me a little confused cos I was supposed to be on the Northern Cappadocia tour according to my itinerary. I didn’t realise that till I was on the bus and the guide was explaining the sites we were visiting that day and I was like hmm, why does the itinerary sound different? I was fine with the itineraries being switched but as basic communication, shouldn’t the agency inform me or something? Clearly, they lacked communication skills

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First stop had us visiting the Uchisar Castle which is the biggest fairy chimney used as a fortress

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I was quite curious to how these were being formed. We stayed here for about 10 minutes but cos it was too sunny, everyone got back on to the bus to our next stop – the Kaymaklı Underground City which was my favourite sight in Cappadocia. These cave-cities were used by refugees as protection and were 8 levels deep, but only 4 levels were opened to visitors.

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B1 – the stables for animals. Imagine lah okay?

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And graves

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which is next to the church. See the Cross there?

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That’s the winery. The people made their own wine cos wine kept them warm underground. So they crushed the grapes on the right and the liquid will flow to the barrel on the left

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Air ventilation system to keep them alive. I asked the guide if the enemies want to kill them, they just have to destroy the ventilation right? Apparently, the people will cover the top with branches and leaves so it wasn’t found easily

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Living room. Each family has their own living room but they share everything else – the kitchen, storage etc

I thought the Kaymaklı Underground City was quite interesting as I was intrigued by the architecture and how people in those days managed to stay alive

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Next stop – Pigeon Valley. Well, self-explanatory

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Before we were sent off to lunch

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Tomato Soup again

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Grilled Meatballs, which were a little black

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And desserts in the form of loosened rice and shaved coconut which was quite nice actually

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Visited the Red Valley after lunch cos it’s red..

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And walked up to the top for this view under the seriously hot weather

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Which had the whole tour buying iced pomegranate orange juice at TRY2. This lady chose a good location for business

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And last stop was at the Love Valley which had structures resembling giant shaped penis.  Well, okay

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And that marks the end of the tour cos there were some guests that had to catch a flight so our tour has to end by a certain time. I was quite okay with that since that means I can more time to chill in the evening. I really liked the guide we had for the day. She was a lady who really explained all the details to us so that’s why I could still remember bits and pieces of it. And the tour group we had for the day was really fun as well. I guess that’s the silver lining for me being on the wrong tour

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Catching the sunset at my hotel rooftop with a cup noodles in hand. I wished the owner good night at 6.30pm and he was like you going to bed now?? HAHA. I had an early morning!!

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And I woke up at 5am the next morning so that I could catch the sunrise at 6am!

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With this sight!

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10 minutes later..

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That’s a lot of effort okay

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It’s really quite a sight. There were other people who decided to come to the rooftop for a photo even though they were not staying at the hotel. So for those who were thinking of doing the same, well, you can do so in a way I guess

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Breakfast time again! And nope, they did not serve me in half portions

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Chose the egg with tomato and pepper this time round and I really like it!

I rejected the bread basket but accepted the pancakes cos I really like them

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And the owner offered me some Turkish tea while I was waiting for my driver to come pick me up. Honestly, it tasted like chinese tea lor

I asked the owner out of curiosity if any of his guests actually finished the breakfast and he said no. HA. Okay that made me feel less bad

Thoughts on the hotel? I enjoyed my stay at Rox Cappadocia even though it’s located at the quieter Uchisar instead of downtown Goreme. But since I was with a tour, the location did not really matter to me. I was more focused on finding a hotel with a view of the balloons and this place checked the list. It was a comfortable stay with a great breakfast and superb staffs so I do actually recommending staying there. Staying at these cave hotels is fun, but I think 2 nights are enough. HA

And I was picked up at the agency for the Northern Cappadocia tour today with a different guide who was much quieter. I had actually heard reviews about him on the previous day and they all think the lady for the Southern tour is better

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And we started our tour with this. Honestly I don’t know what is this. lol Nothing on the itinerary seems to trigger any recollection. All I could remember was we spent quite some time here and the guide was having his breakfast here

Moving on to Pasabag Valley..

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which had tons of people

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Also known as the valley of the monks. Each chimney is a monastery itself and it was super sunny

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Went on to visit the Imagination Valley cos you can imagine any kind of animals being imprinted on these rocks. So that could be a camel or a snail

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Or a pair of dolphins or fishes

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So yeah it’s all about imagination here

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We went to a pottery workshop

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And tradition has it that if men cannot make pottery, they cannot get married. HEE

And the guide lost 3 guests here. I think his life must have shortened by half. I think the guests went to attend the pottery workshop on their own without informing so he had spent a long time looking for them

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Lunch was at this buffet restaurant, which was really bad

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The Open Air Museum was the last stop, which a was collection of rock-cut churches and wall paintings

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Honestly after awhile, all the churches look similar to me and so are the dining area and kitchen

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But it’s still a UNESCO world heritage site

And that marks the end of the tour. I was collected at the agency again to be sent off to the airport which we had the most uncomfortable journey ever. A bus with air-condition spoilt is never a good one 😦

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Goodbye Cappadocia, you had been fun

Hello Kusadasi, I look forward to what you bring me