by Brooke Allison, September 2015

Wow where do I start, I absolutely loved Turkey and can’t wait to go back!

Some fun facts; Turkey has over 2000 mosques, 120 churches, 134 volcanoes and 7 countries surrounding it. Only 3% of Turkey is in Europe, the rest in far western Asia. Istanbul is the only city on 2 continents, it has 78 million people living here plus 35 million tourists per year, being the #5 most visited city in the world!

I had 3 nights in Istanbul prior to my Top Deck tour and you really do need at least 3 full days if not more too only just scratch the surface of this amazing city. The main attractions to see are the Blue Mosque (free, but make sure you are dressed very conservatively), Hagia Sophia, Underground Basilica Cistern and Topkapi Palace. Another great way to see Istanbul is by cruising along the Bosphorus Strait (2.5hrs) as it is amazing to see the Old and ‘new’ town from the water & it will take you right up to the Bosphorus Bridge which connects the European and Asian side of Turkey.

Istanbul is a very walkable city and easy to get around on foot. I was staying in the Old Town, a great location only 8-10 min walk along the main road straight down to the Grand Bazaar. From here you can walk over the bridge to the ‘new city’ (which is still very old!) for another amazing view of the city from the Galata Tower. I found all the back streets here amazing to explore as there were small local shops, markets and knick-knacks. All these streets then lead up to ‘Istikal Ave’ which is a pedestrian shopping strip with local clothing stores as well as all the favourites, such as Zara, H & M, Sephora, Top Shop etc. Cafes, restaurants & bars are also along this 1.4Km strip.

So after my busy, funfilled 3 days in Istanbul, I started my Top Deck tour and we began our Turkish adventure!  From Istanbul we passed through Ankara, the capital , and 2nd biggest city in Turkey, visiting the Mausoleum Anitkabir, a memorial (museum) tomb for Mustfa Kemal Ataturk (the leader of the Turkish War of Independence), before reaching the spectacular Cappadocia.

This city is truly remarkable, being a volcanic region with all natural formations & ‘fairy chimney’s’, it has to be seen to be believed. A lot of the hotels and restaurants are built into the Caves, and personally I think it would definitely be worth the money staying in one of the cave hotels just for the experience itself. Cappadocia is where I would recommend trying out a ‘Hamam’ (Traditional Turkish bath) as it’s a lot cheaper than Istanbul.  For about $35AUD you receive a face scrub before you head into the Sauna, followed by a 15-20 minute massage & scrub whilst laying on a warm marble ‘slab’, finishing off with a swim in the pool if you wish.

At 5.30am the next day I was lucky enough to tick another experience off my bucket list, Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia. With up to 2000 people per day spread over 100 balloons, gliding up into the sky to take in the amazing scenery whilst watching the sunrise, it was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. As hot air ballooning is all controlled by the wind, I would recommend at least 2 nights in Cappadocia in case the wind is too strong and the services cancelled on the first day. After leaving Cappadocia, we stopped at a world heritage site, the ‘Goreme Open Museum’ which is made up of 11 museums all built into caves.

Other highlights of the trip was our afternoon stop at the Saklikent Gorge, which is where you can choose to go tubing or enter the National Park for a walk or simply just relax by the river gorge (or pool) for the afternoon.

One of my favourite places was Fethiye (pronounced “Fet-ee-air”).  It was a bustling tourist town on the coast of turkey with a great selection of local restaurants, bars & night markets, being a popular destination for the British. From here we did a full day cruise leaving from Blue Lagoon to explore the bays & islands of Fethiye, with 5 swimming stops. Here is where you get to experience the beautiful “Turkish blue” (turquoise) waters. You can also do (tandem) paragliding here from Baba Mountain (1800m) for 35mins over Blue Lagoon & Fethiye, landing on beach.

3 hours from Fethiye brought us to the famous calcium terraces of Pamukale (pronounced pam-oo-kelly) in town of Denizil. Most of the calcium terraces are about 31degrees in the summer and yes you can “swim” here, it’s about knee deep, a very popular tourist attraction.

From Kussadasi we did a day trip to Ephesus, an ancient city of the 8th century, again another highlight of the trip.  In September it was about 40 degrees so make sure to take an umbrella and/or hat it is VERY hot and you’re here for about 2-2.5 hours!

On route from Kussadasi to Canakkale we stopped at Pergamon & Troy, more amazing ancient cities, before reaching Canakkale.  From here, this is your ‘base’ or starting point to Gallipoli.  Words cannot describe the emotions you experience whilst at Gallipoli, I found this part of my trip truly memorable…