My trip to Northern Cyprus & Turkey
This trip actually started on Friday 18th, when I took the train to London after work to spend the weekend with relatives (partly to sort they’re PC & laptop!!) and to do some shopping (needed a new backpack for all my camera kit – which I got).
The flight to Cyprus (northern, Turkish, part) left from Gatwick at 6.45am on Monday 21st – so last time I slept properly was Saturday night, got up at 8.3 Sunday and didn’t get a proper sleep until Monday night.
Getting to Gatwick was the 1st challenge – arrived at the station just before midnight to find building works going on at the main front entrance, so followed the signs to an alternative entrance that was gated closed. fortunately I was not alone in this predicament and 1 of the other people who also wanted to get into the station tried the gates and 1 wasn’t locked so in we went (turned out that half of the station was closed but the closed section appeared to be the only way in!!).
The next issue was the train to Gatwick – which had absolutely no luggage space whatsoever, I ended up with a table to myself with the bag on 2 of the seats (good thing it was midnight and the train was dead!!!).
Arrived at the airport at just before 1am so had a few hours to kill. Looked around the airport, bought some food and generally just hung around till boarding opened at 4.45am, all passengers on the flight were on the RSD trip to Cyprus & Turkey. Flight took off on time, landed just under 4 hours later in Antalya (where we had a change of flight\cabin crew, refused and took on board the 4 guides who would be showing all us visitors round (while on the tarmac the guides advised us of which coach we would be in once we landed in Cyprus, this being the group we will be in for the remainder of the 1st week), after and hour on the tarmac took off for the 40 minute flight to Ercan airport.
Our guide (Levent, originally from Germany) is a professional landscape photographer as well as a tour guide – seems a nice guy so have really lucked out on that front (hopefully could make the trip more interesting). During the drive to the hotel told us a bit about the history of Cyprus and the reason for the short stop over in Antalya (as Northern Cyprus is not recognised as a separate state which is part of Turkey is not possible to fly direct) and the plan for our coming week (he changes the itinerary to include more if he can).
Arrived at the hotel – no wifi in the rooms only the public areas around reception (so not ideal), but does have a beach so may get a swim in. After getting checked in went for a wander around, the coach passed a war cemetery after turning off the main road, so right at the top of the road down to the hotel. This has a few graves, describes the troubles in Cyprus prior to & immediately after independence from Britain and what the Geek Cypriots did to the Turk Cypriots, has a vehicle “graveyard” (mainly Russian armour [tanks & personnel carries] with a few trucks and British armoured scout cars that are slowly rusting away).
After a decent dinner and 10 hours sleep was ready for the 1st full day of excursions. Today visited St Hilarion Castle, Bellapais Monastery (both now ruins) and Kyrenia (has a castle which was also visited).
St Hilarion is based in the hills above Kyrenia and there is a steep climb to reach the top, the tour only went as far as the midway point (though we were given free time, so those that wanted to could climb the rest of the way – which I did).
Bellapais Monastery is the only gothic church in the Mediterranean and although it is now in ruins part of it was used up until the 1970’s, when the Greek orthodox church’s 2 ministers that were based there were kicked out of the area and sent to the south of the island (along with all other Greek’s – this is now a problem for some house sellers in the north of the island, as the property deeds are still held by the Greeks and if both parts of the island once again became 1 the original owners [or descendants] could return and claim the property. Again free time was given to look around the monastery and village on your own).
Final stop of the days was a visit to Kyrenia’s castle followed by free time to look around the castle and shops in town (if you wanted to do shopping). This castle is in better shape than St Hilarion, has much larger walls and formed part of the sea defence for Kyrenia, which is a coastal town.
Today visited St Barnabas monastery & tomb, Salamis ruins (only part – whole site is approximately 5km square and has only been partially excavated) and, finally, Famagusta where we firstly we had a drive round to see the city wall & forbidden zone before the group were dropped off and were taken to see the cathedral that is now a mosque (only from the outside – had the option to go in but didn’t as is not that interesting according to the guide) then free time to wander round and do your own thing – I walked up to the wall for the views and a short wander round town (met 2 guys, both Scottish – 1 lives in Penicuik and the other now lives in England) before heading back to the bus (thought I might have been last as were meant to be there for 3.45, but I got there bang on time and 1 couple didn’t appear till closer 4 these 2 admitted they thought it was 4 not 3.45 we were meeting) and another couple till nearly 4.15!!!
St Barnabas monastery & tomb – In 477, a monastery, financed by Byzantine Emperor Zeno, was built near the apostle Barnabas’ grave, which is situated on the western end of the Salamis Necropolis and near the Royal Tombs. Two centuries after the Saint Barnabas Monastery was built, it was destroyed during an Arab raid, and only the foundation of the original building still remains. In 1756, the current monastic buildings were constructed. Source exploringcyprus.blogspot.com
Salamis is an ancient Greek city-state on the east coast of Cyprus, at the mouth of the river Pedieos, 6 km north of modern Famagusta. According to tradition, the founder of Salamis was Teucer, son of Telamon, who could not return home after the Trojan war because he had failed to avenge his brother Ajax. Source Wikipedia
The Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque originally known as Saint Nicholas’s Cathedral and later as the Ayasofya (Saint Sophia) Mosque of Magusa, is the largest medieval building in Famagusta, Northern Cyprus. Built between 1298 and c. 1400, it was consecrated as a Catholic cathedral in 1328. The cathedral was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Empire captured Famagusta in 1571 and it remains a mosque to this day. Source Wikipedia
Today was a visit to Nicosia, fly to Antalya and visit a couple of sites. Due to the flight being delayed we did not manage to visit the 2 sites in Antalya we were meant to (flight had come from Brussels so am guessing delay was due to additional security checks).
Nicosia is the last divided capital city in the world since the downfall of the Berlin wall and our visit was mainly in the older area within the city wall. After a short walking tour we were all given free time to do as we liked and there was a way-marked walk (blue line on the road) that took in a decent amount of the area and various sites, including parts of the green line (as the division between the 2 parts of Cyprus is known).
Then after a short break (where I again bumped into the 2 Scottish men I met yesterday) went to the airport for what was supposed to be a 1545 flight to Antalya, this eventually left at 1715 (flight time is about 50 minutes). On arriving at Antalya got through customs and reclaimed my bags (1 couple had they’re bag damaged and another couple, had issues getting through immigration – so this held us up due to the damaged bag having to have a report filed). The coach we have in Antalya is smaller than the previous 1 and holds the exact amount of people in the group (46 not including the guide – he is using the jump seat next to the driver) so do not have 2 seats to myself as before.
Hotel for the 1st night in Antalya is the same hotel I stayed in in December which had issues with loose plug sockets on the wall – fortunately have a different room that does not have this problem!
Quite day in terms of sites visited – only 1 followed by a whirling dervishes show. Today bus took the group up to Pamukkale to see the snow white travertines and heiraplos, a 5-hour drive from Antalya.
When hot mineral waters flow over the tarvertines this causes white calcium carbonate to be created in the form of terraces. This site was nearly lost in the 80’s due to resorts being built at the top and a road being created through the middle of them – this road now forms part of the site that you can walk down and back up on (though only in bare feet to help with preservation).
Another thing that has been done to ensure the future of this site, which is a UNESCO world heritage site) is that 15 of the 16 wells that proved the water have been blocked. This means that there is not as much water as there should be (if any) in the various pools on the site, but is still interesting. At the top of these formations are the remains of roman ruins, during Greek & Roman times the healing powers were know and valued to such an extent that the biggest Roman cemetery is to be found near the site containing nearly 2000 Roman soldiers who were brought to the site after various battles to have their various wounds healed (e.g. spear and sword injury’s).
After a couple of hours on site (I would have liked more time as I missed some of the site due to lack of time) headed to the hotel, nicest so far (though room is quite small and I had to use the coffee table to prevent the window from opening too far by balancing it on the spare bed – air con too noisy to use!!!), and then went out to see a whirling dervishes show (no photography allowed during the show, although I am sure I heard a shutter going off at 1 point!!, afterwards 3 came out to allow photo’s to be taken).
Whirling Dervishes are famous for the practice of whirling as a form of dhikr (remembrance of God). Dervish is a common term for an initiate of the Sufi path; the whirling is part of the formal Sama ceremony and the participants are properly known as semazen-s.
Finished off the day with a visit to the hotel’s thermal pool, a natural spring pool that was about 30 degrees.
No sites visited today – only a visit to a carpet weaving training center (where you also have the option to buy the finished product), very similar to my December trip’s visit but this 1 is much bigger in terms of variety of carpets they have in stock. According to 1 member of the group the guide for this, although of Turkish origin, was raised in the east end of London.
Few photo opportunities’ due to being in a coach (if I had been in a car would have been a lot more scenery photo’s than was able to take). Levent provided information on the 2nd week and excursion’s available. There are 3 of which I am booked on 2 as I have done 1 – need to check with hotel guide about 2 others to see if I can get on them, if not will need to e-mail Noorsan (a guide from last year who gave me her e-mail) and said if I was back in the area to contact her if I wanted to do anything out with the provided trips. Some people not happy to discover that the 2nd week hotel is not near any local amenities and all inclusive is best option (even though the information provided does say that the final week hotel is not near anywhere local amenities).
After our final break the group was given the option of going into Antalya and doing a walking tour of the old town (which would have meant getting to the hotel after 7) or going straight to the hotel – majority wanted to go straight to the hotel so that is what we did (I would have preferred to do the walking tour, but it is being done tomorrow as planned). 1 thing that I thought (hoping) we would not be doing is a visit to the leather & jewelry “workshops” this time round (during my December trip to Turkey these were also visited and were not workshops at all but shops!!!) – planned on not be going in this time but when I advised Levent he said that if anyone declines to take part this counts as a bad mark against the guide!!!!!
Another very nice hotel, which also has a timeshare (is a member of RCI – a timeshare swapping company). My room is bigger this time round – in the previous hotel while nice the room was quite small so not much space to get past my bag to get to the window.
A wasted morning visiting the the jewelry & leather shops (same guides as my previous trip in December – leather shop catwalk show was a bit different, 2 of our party were brought up to model 2 jackets,1 male & 1 female), also the best weather was to be had in the morning. After lunch the afternoon was spent in Antalya with free time to explore the old town and harbor (I only did the harbor as I had visited most of the old town during my last visit to the area), visit to a waterfall that falls into the sea and the Sandland sand sculpture festival, more info here, (started raining just before we arrived and the visit ended in a thunderstorm!!).
Last hotel is a bit different from other hotels I have stayed in – consist of roughly 7 tower blocks, of which only 2 are connected to the reception/dining areas (meant had to get wet getting to the room after checking as the group are in D block). Smaller room than last hotel, but adequate, others not so happy (1 couple, 2 female friends, got a room with a 1 double bed and the hotel was full and no spare beds that could have been used in the room). No Wi-Fi in the rooms (unless you pay but free Wi-Fi in the public areas – this has been a constant problem in most hotels, either no W-Fi at all in the room or have to pay extra but free in public areas (although unreliable – gave up last night trying to check e-mails and update website due to the connection constantly dropping!
Final trip of the day was a gala night – an evening of entertainment consisting of various dances from around Turkey (including a male belly dancer – youngest member of the group, late teens, appeared to not know where too look!!!!). 1 waiter took an interest in my camera so spoke about that for a few minutes (fortunately this happened during the break).
Tomorrow is the start of the extension week – where there is a choice of not leaving the hotel or going on additional trips (at additional cost). Have booked 2 of the 3 available (as I did 1 on my last trip) and have a further 2 I am interested in but need to speak to the hotel rep if it would be possible to do these (depends on amount of people interested – if enough it can go ahead). 1 person in the group not happy about the location of the hotel (is quite a bit out of town) looked at flight’s leaving tomorrow as so annoyed about this and planned to fly home early (none available).
Levent told us on the bus before we left yesterdays hotel that the unusual layout is due to the fact that the hotel was originally built as apartment’s, but for some reason this fell through and the site was made into the hotel instead.
Only thing planned for the group was travelling to the 2nd weeks hotel and on the way stopping to allow people to make payments for the additional week (all inclusive is an extra price). Arrived at the hotel at about 11.30, had a welcome meeting by the hotel rep (there are 2 in this hotel, 1 was off today and the 1 that is on is originally from Nottingham). After the welcome meeting went to reception to book in and then had an hour wait until rooms were available (so had lunch before heading back up to reception to get my key).
The hotel is massive (has several pools, a beach (there is a tunnel running under the dual carriageway to make accessing this as easy as possible), cinema, games area (arcade, bowling etc.), spa & wellness center. So well catered for if you don’t want to leave the hotel) and wi-fi that works throughout the hotel and, so far, appears reliable – unlike the majority of hotels stayed at. My room is at the back of the hotel, but has a very nice view of the mountains (at the moment – there is a large space behind the the hotel, which will no doubt eventually have a hotel built on it!). After finding my room 1st order of business was getting my laundry done, prices to get laundry done by the hotel aren’t too bad (1 t-shirt costs €2, about £1.57) but prefer to do it myself (most of it is know dry after leaving on the balcony most of the afternoon).
Once laundry was done spent most of the rest of the afternoon wandering around the hotel trying to get orientated to where everything is, a map has been provided but only shows the outside areas – not the internal layout). At 4pm the hotel rep was at her desk in reception so booked my final 2 trips I wanted to do. Trips booked are Tuesday – Alanya & castle, Wednesday – Green Canyon, Thursday – Side (pronounced see-da) & Manavgat boat trip & Saturday – Back to nature (a walking trip in the national park). Also have a massage booked for the Saturday – so have quite a busy final week ahead!
Today visited Alyana Castle, Damlatas caves, a boat trip round the peninsula that the castle is built on and finished off with free time in Alayna (mainly for shopping – not much to take photo’s of as quite modern, but wandered down to the beach and took some photo’s of statues\sculptures there – picked up some food, biscuits I had last time in Turkey that liked). During the boat trip had an unexpected surprise – met a couple that I know from Edinburgh, who attend mum’s church and I have walked with!!!!!!!! They may also be on my Thursday trip – so may meet again.
Alyana castle was mostly built in the 13th century under the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm and is accessed by a road that goes through a very narrow tunnel (the bus only just fitted through!!). The castle is built on the ruins of earlier Roman & Byzantine fortification’s and is 250 meters above sea level on a peninsula giving protection on 3 side from the Mediterranean. Our guide told us that when it was used as a fortress prisoners would be given a chance at their freedom, when the dungeon was full, by throwing a rock (3 chances given) into the sea – considering this is situated on a peninsula jutting out into the sea sounds easy, but my guess is the rocks would be pretty big and after being in a dungeon for however long may not have been as easy as it sounds!).
2nd visit was to the Damlatas Caves, which was discovered by accident in 1948 when mining for rocks for the new harbor. This cave is of benefit to asthmatic’s due to it’s air, originally a rumor scientist’s analyzed the air and discovered the air contains more than 10 to 12 times more carbon dioxide than normal and has 95% humidity – doctors apparently give prescription’s to asthmatic patients of 3x 4 hour sessions for 3 weeks to help with asthma.
Last trip of the day was a boat trip around the peninsula, which gave excellent views of the castle from the sea. During the trip 2 of the crew jumped over the side, swam to the cliff face, climbed up the cliff face and jumped back into the sea from quite a height (did this twice from 2 different sides of the peninsula – passing from 1 side to the other through a cave) and the crew also threw bread out to feed the fish – due to how clear the water is managed to get a photo of the fish!!
Nice relaxing trip today – took a coach out the Green Canyon for a boat trip with lunch in a restaurant above the reservoir.
The Green Canyon was formed in 1984 when the Oymapınar Dam was completed which created a reservoir capable of holding 300 million cubic meters of water for a hydro electric plant (although level is lower at the moment as all snow has not yet melted from the top of the Taurus mountains) and is capable of providing electricity for 500,000 homes.
This trip involved picking up other guests from 2 other hotels, coach driver and guide were the same as yesterday. After all those doing this trip the guide gave us a quick talk and advised that as part of the trip the boat would be stopping for 20-30 minutes to allow for sunbathing\swimming and at the end on the way back to the hotel there would be a stop at a textile outlet (clothing discount shop) – 2 facts that were not provided when I booked (subsequently did not have my swimming kit with me, which I would have done if I had known!!!), some guest’s had been told about these (this is quite common according to the guide).
Just before we arrived back at the hotel the guide received a call from the hotel rep at the second hotel were we had dropped off guests to advise a complaint had been made, the nature of the complaint was that we had not been told about the textile outlet (which is fair enough – we hadn’t) and, the best bit, the guests from this hotel had been left behind at the Green Canyon as they walked too slow and the guide hadn’t waited for all guests to get back to the bus after the boat trip!!!! Funnily enough though the coach had been full on the way out (the guide had used the jump seat instead of the 2 seats at the front right (as is the norm) and there was the same number on the way back – also why would the coach go to a hotel where there were no guest\s requiring drop off??? Obviously certain members in that group fancied a free trip and decided to lie about the trip. So guide not too happy about this with good reason.
Trip today was a trip to Side, boat trip down the Manavgat river, mosque visit and a local bazaar (street market were locals go to sell fruit, vegetables & clothing [including counterfeit brand names]). After all those taking part in this trip were on board the guide (same as I have had for both previous trips, Egimem – I have also had the same driver, Mustafa, for both previous trips as well) asked if we would like the day’s itinerary reversed – as this would give some free time in Side (which was not on the itinerary) everyone indicated this was preferable – so that’s what we did. Once again twice bumped into the couple I know from Edinburgh – once at the mosque and the 2nd time at the beach were the boat trip stopped to allow some free time (they were on another boat).
As I have no interest in shopping I opted to stay at the café meeting point and play games on my phone, everyone else went off to wander round and, in some cases to buy things (fruit & clothing mainly – 1 woman managed to get dresses she likes but can’t find in the UK).
The mosque visited is Manavgat mosque, which is the biggest in the Antalya region capable of holding 4000 worshippers at once. Shoes had to be removed before entering and we were advised how to do this (basically shoes don’t touch the wooden platform, feet don’t touch the marble floor). Egimem had given us a brief talk on Islam on the way over and after we had entered a talk on how a mosque is run.
Boat trip down the Manavgat river was not particular interesting, especially compared to Green Canyon yesterday – although some good views of the distant Taurus mountains and plenty of tourist boats moored up and, in some cases, on dry land, for maintenance. The Manavgat River is a green color which is caused by the minerals, in particular aluminum & copper, being washed down stream with the rain water\snow melt from further up.
Side is a ruined town just outside Manavgat which has a Temple to Apollo on the shoreline. Guide walked us down to this, gave a talk on the temple, having given us a brief history of Side itself on the drive over. After this there was free time to explore more of the ruins (most of these are on the opposite side of a shopping area (predominantly for tourists) so you need to run the usual gauntlet of shopkeepers trying to get you into they’re shop!!
Yesterday stayed in the hotel having a chilled day – so nothing more to say about it.
Today was a Back to nature walk in Köprülü (Bridged) Canyon National Park. Though not what I would describe as “Back to nature” – walk was just over 3 miles and involved walking back down the road we had driven up to get to the start, fully tarmaced. Although the trip wasn’t really as described was still an interesting day out with fantastic scenery. On the way stopped a couple of times for photo opportunity’s and on the way home stopped at a traditional Ottoman Brick house.
On the way to the start stopped at another hotel to pick up 2 more people, these 2 weren’t doing the walk but were going white water rafting in the same area (so was easy enough to drop off and pick them up again) and they then rejoined us for the remainder of the day. During summer there are over 50 rafting company’s working on the river running through the canyon. Didn’t have a coach today but a midi-coach, on 1 side there were double seats and on the other single seat (nice enough but no leg room in the single seats – our guide wasn’t returning with us so I managed to get the front seat on the way back to the hotel). We also picked up an official photographer to be with us for the day (at the end of the trip you get the opportunity to buy the photo’s if you want), this photographer is 18 and in last year of school (after he finishes he is going onto further education in photography), I was advised by the guide (Erhan) that the photographer had told him he didn’t want to take my photo as I had such good camera gear!!! Most of the official photographers that are on these tips are using entry level Nikon DSLR camera’s.
Köprülü Canyon National Park is 366km2 (141 sq miles) and was established as a national park in 1972, is 400m (1300ft) deep in places and stretches 14km (8.7 miles). There are 2 Roman bridges Olukköprü (The Eurymedon) Bridge & Bugrum bridge of which Olukköprü bridge is still used by traffic.
The Ottoman brick house shows how people used to live – 3 rooms (all quite small), a combined living room\bedroom, combined kitchen\guest bedroom and a room that the main door opens up on and would have slept the grandparents (so they can keep an eye on coming’ & going’s!). Underneath there is space for animals.
Last thing planned for the day was a massage, had booked for 5pm as was advised by the rep that all excursion finished at 4.30pm – this trip ended at 5.45pm!!! Fortunately there was no-one in after me so was able to get this at 6pm instead. This involved:
- Being led in to the sauna by a member of the spa & wellness team and left for a few minutes to relax.
- Exfoliation scrub (or peeling as it is called in this hotel). 1st warm water was poured all over and then the masseuse rubbed you down with an exfoliation cloth.
- More warm water pored over.
- Sudsy wash.
- Face pack.
- Full body massage
So similar to the 1 I had on my Turkey trip last year, with the only difference being face pack was not at the end and, strangely, my skin didn’t feel any different this time even though last time there was a definite change (skin felt as if it was breathing easier). Was supposed to be 2 hours but was complete after 1hour 45 when I was taken out and advised that I would benefit from a further 3 sessions as there were problems with my back and right shoulder, which I already know about so no plan to go back for the further 3 (which would have been an additional cost).
After dinner normally go back to my room to update diary\blog, sort photo’s and check e-mail’s. Tonight ended up sitting with a group from 1st week’s bus in 1 of the bars, chatting and (some of them – though not me!!) dancing.
Final full day in Turkey, depart the hotel about midnight. So today is all about making sure everything is packed, ready to go and then just relaxing until departure. Normally check out is by 12 lunch time – but the travel company has made a deal with the hotel that we get to keep our rooms until 11.30pm.
So today all I have done is go out to take some photos of the hotel, re-packed my case, read, finished off photo editing and diary and wandered around the hotel a bit.
Due to fact things have been really busy since I got home have not been able to finalize this blog – now I have 5 minutes will put in the final update!!
Security at the airport while no different from previous trip except for being tighter– this time I had to switch on all my camera gear and kindle before getting through security and all passenger’s cabin luggage was checked a 2nd time before boarding, but actual flight home was uneventful and safely arrived back at my aunt’s at just after 8.20am after taking the train from Gatwick to Victoria (actually had luggage space on this train – which was handy as train was busy with commuter’s) and then walking from the station to the flat (about a 40 minute walk). Spent rest of the day relaxing at my aunt’s and did some shopping. Ended up being up for nearly 37 and a half hours as didn’t sleep well on the flight!
Finally arrived home the following day, Tuesday 5th, after spending the night in London – as didn’t want to risk flight being delayed and missing my train if I had traveled on the Monday.