Turkey – Ankara, Cappadocia and the Black Sea Coast
After the craziness of Istanbul roads, we welcomed the relative order that seemed to ensue in the Turkish capital of Ankara. Although Istanbul is the culture centre of the country, Ankara is the administrative centre and so the place we needed to go for most of our Central Asian visas. After driving all day, through blazing sun and random snow, we eventually found the Ulasan Hotel where we were allowed to camp (tucked away out the back of course!). It is one of the only places that allows camping and is a good spot overlooking the lake.
It was a bit pricey but we had showers and internet so we unhitched the trailer and settled for the duration. We ended up staying for the whole week, mostly down to visas but also illness by the end of the week (suspected food poisoning). The Hotel can be found here: N 39.75560 E032.80261
We planned to get up early the next morning (Monday) and be at the door of the Kazakh Embassy as soon as it opened. In typical Griff and Lisa style we woke late and didn’t reach the Kazakh Embassy until after 1100, though somehow we still managed to fit in the Tajik and Uzbek Embassies before they closed the application offices for the day. The visa applications were all fairly straightforward although the Uzbek one was a bit long-winded (see below for details). Luckily for us we met Pete and Alice McNeil, also from the UK, in the Uzbek Embassy who were ahead of us in the application game and knew the drill, so thanks guys for pointing us in the right direction!
As we had so much time on our hands in Ankara, we decided to fill our waning social calendar. First things first, we arranged to meet up with Pete and Alice later that evening and go for a few drinks. In our haste to pick a meeting point we failed to notice that we were drinking in the most exclusive part of Ankara, where beers cost the best part of £4 a pint – not exactly what we had gotten used to! The McNeils are on an extended honeymoon, cycling from the UK to (probably) New Zealand, and taking in as many countries as possible on the way. Check out their website for the full story and photos (www.McNeilsonwheels.com).
The next day was Tajik visa collection day. We collected it with no dramas; in fact as an added bonus they upped our duration to 45 days and made it double entry for free! We also bumped in to the McNeils again, and arranged to catch up later in the week. We decided while we were there it was worth navigating through the chaos of the centre itself to visit the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, which boasts an awesome collection of ancient artefacts, gathered from most of the great archaeological sites around Turkey. Most historic places in Turkey now display replica artefacts, with the originals being taken to this museum. Unfortunately there were renovations taking place so half of the museum was closed to the public (story of our trip?), but that was probably a good thing as we had already spent half our day looking at what was on display! They had everything from perfectly preserved Roman jewellery and crowns to ancient rock carvings and statues from Palaeolithic times and the Hittites. The collections were fascinating and made it easier to imagine the old civilisations in their heyday. Walking around trying to find the museum took a while but it was a more pleasant experience than Istanbul. The people in Ankara are genuinely nice, even in the tourist attractions. We felt much less hassled in the street markets, and people didn’t see us as just another walking wallet.
We pottered at the campsite or in the nearby town of Golbasi until Thursday afternoon when we resumed our social life: Hans, Marina and Ron had arrived in their motorhome after a brief detour south to the coast., and we met up with Guliz, who I had met the year before on a course in the UK. She and her friend Erdinc showed us the huge university campus where they are studying and took us for dinner, beer and great conversation. Thanks again Guys!
Friday we got up early (yes, really!) and were at the doors of the Kazakh Embassy before they opened. The Uzbek visa was also done, and we were ready for Central Asia! Pete and Alice were leaving that day to head to Cappadocia so we’d planned on making them lunch as they passed. We also had more coffee and cake to eat with Hans and his family, so we were back at the campsite by midday.
Pete and Alice eventually arrived mid-afternoon, and after lunch and a chat, decided to stay the night too. We stocked up on food and beers, and Griff stoked up the woodburner for a (late) feast of chicken and as-many-vegetables-as-possible casserole. Beers lead to rum (Goodbye Captain Jack!) and we were up until the small hours. Heads were fuzzy the next morning, but Pete still managed to rock up a great breakfast of Irmek (semolina), yoghurt and bananas, while Griff got the coffee grinder out (he’s so pleased he brought that!). Then the McNeils packed up, had lunch (yes they revolve around eating too, though they have a good excuse) and made a move to head south. We planned on doing the same after lunch, but I was feeling a bit out of sorts by this time (nothing to do with alcohol – I didn’t drink any!) so decided to stay another night. Griff planned on servicing the Land Rover while I was to clean up. Instead none of these things happened, as Hans wanted company (Marina and Ron had just flown back to Germany) and we ended up watching a film all afternoon in the motorhome. I was feeling progressively worse throughout the day, suffering stomach cramps, and went to bed early hoping to be OK the next day.
When we awoke the following morning, I felt better. But by the time we’d eaten breakfast and packed up, I had started deteriorating again. With a bag load of dried bread in hand for lunch (thank you Hans, it was all I ate all day!) we made our way to the rock-dwelling region of Cappadocia. By the time we had reached the first cave-dwellings, the sun was setting and I felt awful so we opted for a wild-camp near a local hot spring which was used as a hammam by the locals. We camped up thinking it would be quiet so late on a Sunday night, but at about 2200 the first cars starting pulling up full of locals armed with drinks! Several carloads and a few hours later, the hammam went quiet, which was just as well as that was when the food poisoning materialised in spectacular fashion. I eventually got some sleep and awoke feeling better and ready for a bath, so I took a dip in the hammam while Griff photographed ground squirrels stuffing their little cheeks with nest materials. They made me laugh which hurt my poorly tummy!
Due to the previous night’s events we skipped a tour of the Ihlara Valley formations and rock-churches. I just didn’t have the energy to make the climb back up. Instead we stopped to get our awning welded back on by a friendly guy who charged us less than a cuppa in Ankara and that included free tea! Then we set up camp in a secluded forest where we awoke surrounded by a pack of eight or so dogs. At first we were worried – how would we get out of the tent? Could Griff reach the driver’s seat if they started getting aggressive? Would we be stuck there all day? Of course the dogs were barely interested and they snuffled off looking for some other dogs to bully.
We arrived at the ancient underground city of Derinkuyu expecting it to be rammed full of coach tours but surprisingly there was only one coach there. We joined an English-Australian couple, Brendan and Julia with their two children Rory and Mya for a guided tour of the multi-level complex dating from around the 8th Century BC. The city is roughly 60m deep and was large enough to house over 20,000 people and their livestock, complete with stables, kitchens, wine and oil presses, chapels, wells and ventilation chimneys. In the event of an attack the people living above would find refuge in the city below, using massive stone doors that rolled over tunnel entrances, enabling levels to be closed off separately. Rory even attempted to squeeze past a partially closed door to the unknown tunnel behind, until his imagination got the better of him! We thoroughly enjoyed our poke around after the tour ended, crawling into cramped spaces and walking through tunnels even I had to crouch for!
Next we drove on to the town of Goreme, a tourist hub where cave dwellings are still used by locals and hotels. En-route we encountered a couple on the side of the road with one of their bikes upside down. They had a few punctures and were still several km from Goreme where they were staying. It was not long before it would be getting dark so we put their bikes on the roof of the Landy while they hitched a ride back to town where we could meet them. They introduced themselves as Catalina and Christian, visiting from Germany. Catalina was originally from Columbia, as was Christian if locals asked…Not sure how well he pulled that off though, with his fair hair and skin! They offered to buy us a beer for helping out so we met up with them later that evening for a few. We got on really well with them and enjoyed their company, so much so we met them the following evening for dinner and more beer.
We spent our time in Goreme wandering around the fantastic rock formations that litter the entire area. There were many caves in the cliff sides, some of which were churches. There were also fairy chimneys, some of which were large enough to inhabit, while others had a decidedly (ahem) male form. The latter were particularly evident in ‘Love Valley’, hence the name…
A couple of relaxed days and a gazillion photos later, we paid for our camping with the exchange of our cordless drill and set off to the Black Sea coast. We had to wildcamp by a reservoir on the way, battered by the wind and rain – so much so Griff was worried about rising water levels overnight! The mountain scenery was fantastic on the way, especially the volcanoes that dominated the skyline.
Reaching the coast was a bit of an anti-climax, with a huge motorway completely cutting off any of the towns from the sea. We struggled to find anywhere that looked inviting as a camp, and we were desperate to get in the sea, but it just wasn’t possible to pull over near it. In the end we were kindly allowed to camp beside a kebab house on the side of the road.
The next day we still couldn’t find a camp spot, so we tried our luck asking in one of the little harbours. Success! We were allowed to park up right by the boats and Griff had a flat space to carry out a long-overdue service of the car. It was a lovely spot, and I was even tempted to bathe in the freezing cold sea, had it not been for the abundance of local fishermen. The only downside to the camp was the hundreds of huge millipedes that congregated next to us, unknown to us until one bit me on the back of the leg! That will teach me to pick toilet spots in the dark!
We’d walked a few kilometres into the nearest town for dinner and had the best kebab and rice pudding we’ve tasted in ages. On our way back to the tent we managed to attract a local stray dog that followed us all the way back to our camp, even risking three lanes of traffic to keep up with us! She stayed all night under the car, and we grew quite fond of her with her massive blue eyes, naming her Turkish and we even contemplated taking her with us. But common sense prevailed and we reluctantly left her behind as we headed to the Georgian border.
(Address: Sancak Mah 211 Sok. No3, Cankaya, N39.87226 E032.86352. Embassy is open 1000-1700 BUT Visa application/Collection only on Mon/Wed/Fri)
Requires you to fill the form in online and print if off for them, and fees had to be paid directly into the local bank. Again this wasn’t straightforward as the local bank only accepted payments from Turkish citizens, which we couldn’t pull off. So we had to head into town to find another branch that allowed foreigners to pay. To pay you need to visit the HSBC Bank near the Presidential Palace, not the small one around the corner from the Embassy HSBC Bank is at: N39.88475 E032.85585
$80 for 1 month/Multi-Entry
We applied for all the visas on the Monday. The Tajik visa was ready the next day and the Kazakh visa was ready on the Friday. The Uzbek Embassy told us we might have to wait until the following Monday, which then moved forward to Friday. As it transpired, our Uzbek visa was ready two days later on the Wednesday but preferring to save phone costs they just told Pete and Alice, and we didn’t see our message until late Wednesday. We tried to collect them on Thursday but the applications office is only open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Address: Ferit Recai Etrugrul Caddesi. Oran. (opposite Panora mall on the hill, you will see the grand embassies and their flags) N39.85207 E032.83115. Opening hours: 0900-1700 Mon/Tue/Thu/Fri.
Payment is made to the Ziraat Bank down the road at N39.84751 E032.82871
$54 for 45 days/Double Entry, no GBAO permit issued but you can get this in Dushanbe for $3! See here: GBAO Permit in Dushanbe for $3
Embassy is only open 0900-1200 and can be found here: N39.85149 E032.82650
Payment is made to the Ziraat Bank down the road at N39.84751 E032.82871
$30 for 1 month/Multi Entry