Friday – 27/12/2019 | Cappadocia to Istanbul

When I woke up on Jummah morning, Cappadocia was covered in white. It was a complete winter wonderland. I have never seen such a beautiful sight in my life. I absolutely love the snow.

I was genuinely sad to leave Cappadocia this morning. Our flight was at 10:15am so we had to be ready by 8am. The old lady who runs the hotel was a darling and packed us a breakfast for the road. She waved us off with duas and hugs and melted my heart by calling me “Kızım” which means “my daughter”.

The hotel organised the transfer for us to the hotel, we took a minibus to Kayseri airport and made it just in time for our flight. We flew Turkish Airlines this time, it was a way better experience than Pegasus Airlines. If you fly Turkish Airlines, be sure to have their cheese sandwich. I’m really not a big fan of plane food but I actually enjoyed their hot cheese sandwich, it really went down.

As we grew closer to Istanbul, the sky cleared and we had to say goodbye to the snowfall. We reached Istanbul forty five minutes earlier than our original time. A friend told us to take a bus for our transfer so that’s what we did. The bus worked out really cheap, it was 18 TL per person, stress free and definitely worth it.

We got to Sirkeci and walked about ten minutes to the hotel. My mum and sister weren’t very happy because they wanted to take a taxi but to be fair, I really didn’t see one.

We reached Askoç Hotel. I’m going to be honest, it isn’t the best hotel but the location was perfect, it’s a two minute walk from the Sirkeci tram station. We relaxed in the hotel until asr and then decided to explore Istanbul a little.

Room view

So, it started: our adventures with public transport. Coming from South Africa, where public transport isn’t something we use at all, we found that it is quite possibly the best thing! First world countries are so privileged.

You have to buy a metro card, fill it with money and swipe. A ride costs anything from as little as 1 TL. We took the tram from Sirkeci to Taksim Square. Taksim Square is amazing. It has the best vibe. They still had the Christmas lights up and Happy New Year 2020 decorations, people were taking pictures and it all felt very festive.

After a whole week of not eating Indian food, we went to Delhi Darbaar for supper. It was a 10/10 experience. I wanted to read maghrib, they don’t have salaah facilities but the lady laid out a musallah for me in the office and turned off the tv that was playing music while I prayed. We ordered some paani puri for starters and butter chicken, lamb biryani and chicken tikka masala for mains. We order rice and butter naan with it. Three meals were enough for the five of us and there was even some leftovers. Everything tasted really good and it satisfied our craving for home food.

We spent some time walking around Taksim Square. I still couldn’t believe that I was walking in Taksim Square, I was on cloud nine.

After getting our fill of Taksim Square, we went back to Fatih. We walked around, had Turkish sweetmeats, watched a guy make baklava and had some sahlep before turning in for the night.

Step count: 9 325

Thursday – 26/12/2019 | Cappadocia ~ the land of the horses

Our day started with a traditional Turkish breakfast. Tea, coffee, boiled eggs, cheeses, honey, jam, nuts, tomatoes, cucumber and sigara böreği (a philo savoury with cheese). The hospitality of the hotel was overwhelming, these people went out of their way to make sure we had everything we needed. It was a cloudy and cold day so this breakfast left us feeling warm inside.

After breakfast, we drove to Göreme where we met our tour guide Lutfiye. Göreme is about fifteen minutes away from Ürgüp, it’s a really cute town with little bridges, a canal and lots of cute cafes.

On the way to our first stop, we passed fairy chimneys. There was a volcanic eruption that caused the chimneys to form. There’s a legend that says that they’re called fairy chimneys because when the french came to Cappadocia, they thought no humans were living here but the caves looked like fairies so they thought fairies were living in them.

The first stop with Lutfiye was Love Valley. It’s a beautiful site, the valley is natural, it’s made from volcanic ash.

We then saw Cavusin Castle, it held a church and monasteries used to live in the caves.

Afterwards we went across Asma Köprü. This bridge was designed specifically for pedestrians to cross over the Red River.

Next we went to Gold Loom Carpet. They hand make carpets. It takes two months to make just one square. After showing us how they make the carpets, they showed us how they get the silk for the carpets. It comes straight from the cocoon which is placed into hot water. A kind of small broom is then used to move around all the cocoons and the silk is then pulled out and put onto a big machine. It was a really cool experience to take out the silk from the cocoon. After this, they took us to the showroom where they showed us many, many different carpets.

After this we went to a pottery shop in Avanos. They make the pottery using a 4000 year old system from the Hittites. They explained one of the patterns that was made up of three flowers: a tulip, a carnation and a rose. The tulip symbolises Allah, the carnations symbolises health and the rose symbolises Nabi ﷺ.

Next was imagination valley. It has a lunar landscape. The valley also has many animal shaped rocks, camels, snakes, seals, and dolphins. It looks like a sculpture zoo made by nature. If you let your imagination run free you will find many others.

As we drove to Kaymakli Underground City which is the largest underground city, we saw our first snowfall in Turkey. This was the first time in a really long while that we saw snow, so we were mind blown by it.

The underground city had eight floors but three collapsed. There are more than one hundred tunnels in the city and each one has its own door. People used the city to hide from enemies. They needed five things to survive: air, water, toilets, food and light. They used oil candles for lighting. The first floor was for animals, it also served as an alarm system if intruders tendered. The second floor was used by priests. The tombs of the priests are on this floor because the church is near. The second floor was also for the high class. It was used to store dry food. It’s 12m down. The third floor was the winery. It was for the middle class. The fourth floor was for slaves and immigrants. It’s 20m down. The fifth floor is 75 feet down. There’s a public kitchen there. They only cooked at night so the enemies couldn’t see the smoke.

After we left the underground city, a heavier snowfall started and as we drove the countryside around us turned into a winter wonderland. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

Our last stop was Pigeon Valley, it’s named after the pigeons that live here. In Pigeon Valley, there is a wish tree. Legend has it that if you tie an eye on the tree, your wish will come true.

We then had lunch/supper at Old Cappadocia Cafe & Restaurant. The food was amazing, their pide (Turkish pizza) was the best one I’ve had in Turkey so far.

After our lunch/supper, we went back to the hotel, relaxed for a bit and then went for a quick walk at night. Cappadocia really has a magical vibe to it.

Step count: 9 867

Wednesday – 25/12/2019 | Konya

After a quick breakfast that consisted of coffee, rolls and cheese at our hotel, we left for Konya. The drive from Pamukkale to Konya was five hours.

Usually I’m not a big fan of road trips but I really enjoyed this one. We got to see an entire different side of Turkey from the country side to suburbs to villages to cities. It was amazing.

The reason we went to Konya is because Konya holds a special place in my mum’s heart. We only had one stop in Konya which was the Mevlana Museum. The Mevlana Museum is all about Rumi.

Mevlana Jalaaluddin Rumi, the great mystic scholar is the father of Sufism. Rumi and his disciples spent their lives creating a relationship purely based on love of Allah Ta’alah.

The museum shows relics from as early as the 13th century. Amongst the relics were tasbeehs, Islamic calligraphy, Qur’aans and clothes. It was really fascinating to see how the people in those times lived.

The museum holds the tomb of Rumi and his family. There is also a masjid in the area where we read zohr and asr.

As we were leaving, the athaan went for asr. I could hear the athaan being called out from four different masjids around me. This is not the first time in Turkey that I heard the athaan go off from different masjids at the same time but every time I hear it, my mind is completely blown away by it.

After the museum, we headed to McDonald’s for lunch. We went to the mall for the first time since our trip. McDonald’s Turkey is so so lekker and very cheap (6 nuggets were 5 TL and McFlurry’s were 5 TL also). My siblings ordered the Turkish version of Grand Chicken Spicy, mum and I ordered chicken burgers with ranch dressing which were amazing. They also had this coconut milkshake which was similar to a Piña Colada mocktail.

After lunch, we hit the road. It was a three hour drive to Cappadocia. We were staying at Aja Cappadocia Cave Hotel in Urgup.

Upon arrival we were greeted with utmost hospitality. They gave us Turkish tea and seated us in a lounge while they got our room ready. Aja Cappadocia Cave, like most other hotels in Cappadocia, is run by a family, parents and their two sons.

We then settled in for the night so we would be fresh and ready for our full day tour tomorrow.

Step count: 6 331

Tuesday – 24/12/2019 | Kuşadası & Pamukkale

On Tuesday morning, we had breakfast on the fifth floor of our hotel. We were barely awake but when we saw the view from the restaurant, our minds were blown.

It was beautiful. It looked like a scene out of a movie. It had multi-coloured houses on the one side and the beautiful blue ocean on the other side. Yachts were lined up ready to be taken out for the day and I couldn’t help wishing that I could go out for a ride on one of the yachts. I honestly didn’t want to leave the view. However, all good things must come to an end.

We set out on the road again. The original plan was to spend the day in Kuşadası exploring Ephesus but because it was raining, we decided to skip Ephesus and go to Pamukkale. Kuşadası to Pamukkale is a three hour drive. Time passed faster than I thought it would and before we knew it, we were at Hierapolis.

It looked pretty deserted when we got there and my family gave me looks that said “where did you bring us?” But after a short walk we got to the museum entrance. It’s 72 TL per person for entry into Hierapolis.

As it was cold and rainy, we decided to take the bus up to our first stop, the Antique Pool. The bus ride costs 6 TL per person. As we were getting on the bus, our friends from our Jeddah airport transit (shout-out Naazneen, Ridhwaan and family) were leaving Hierapolis and they said that we have to swim in the Antique Pool (which we weren’t planning on doing).

It was a short ride to the Antique Pool, we passed the Anatolia Cemetery on the way up. The ruins of Hierapolis look mystical, I can’t even imagine how amazing Hierapolis must’ve been in its glory days.

When we reached the Antique Pool, my dad decided that he wanted to swim. Bear in mind, none of us had costumes and it was freezing. We decided to buy costumes from the shop here. They had halaal friendly costumes (burkinis) for females and shorts for males. You had to pay 50 TL per person to swim in the water. The water was 40°C and it felt amazing. The thermal water of the pool can cure cardiovascular diseases (such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, artery disease, venous insufficiency and varicose veins), skin diseases (such as psoriasis, eczema, teenage acne and skin lesion resulted from sugar and immobility) and rheumatic diseases (such as rheumatism, chronic waist and neck pain and fibromyalgia).

After the Antique Pool, we walked to the travertines. The view was breathtaking. Most covered the sky. There was a pool of water at the bottom of it. The travertines are white with pools of clear blue water in it. My sister and I took a quick walk in it but it was really cold at 20°C.

We passed by the museum but didn’t go in because everyone was cold and tired after the swim in the Antique Pool. We took another bus to the theatre, this bus was 8 TL per person.

My favourite part of Hierapolis was this: The Hierapolis Antique City. It is a beautiful theatre. Words can’t describe how majestic this place was, I was blown away by it. It was huge and you could hear your echo when you screamed. I didn’t want to leave but eventually, when the rain drops came, I said goodbye. The theatre was the highlight of Pamukkale for me.

After Pamukkale, we were really hungry so we drove to a mall in Denzili for Burger King. Apparently, Turkey’s Burger King is the best Burger King and even though the burger went down, I don’t think it beats the first time I had Burger King in Makkah.

It was finally time to go to our hotel. We stayed at a South African hotspot, Doğa Thermal Hotel. This hotel offers everything thermal pools, a hamaam and a spa.

My siblings and I decided that we wanted to swim again. We first went in the big pool which was 28°C and then into the thermal pools which were 40°C. Before today, I hadn’t swam in a long time so I forgot how much I loved it. I love the water, the feeling of being free, the feeling of floating on top of the water and the feeling of going under water. The thermal pool was so hot, it calmed me completely and as I stood in the boiling hot water, I felt all my worries float away.

After our swim, it was time for supper and after supper, it was straight to sleep.

Step count: 9 778

Monday – 23/12/2019 | Şanlıurfa to İzmir

This was our last morning in Şanlıurfa so we went back to Balıklıgöl. We were looking for these ladies who wrote your name on a ceramic plate but unfortunately they were closed.

We sat on the edge of the lake watching the fish in the water. My sister left her glasses on her lap so when she moved her legs, they fell into the lake. My brother called one of the people who clean the lake and asked him to fish for it. They spent ten minutes looking for it but to no avail. Luckily, she had contact lenses in the room.

After buying some salep we took a taxi back to the hotel to get ready for our next flight. We then took a bus to the airport as it is 60 TL compared to 150 TL if you take a taxi.

We flew Pegasus for this flight, it was slightly delayed. But it was okay because as soon as we were in the air, the sun began to set and I got to see the sun set amongst the clouds. Sunsets really are my most favourite thing in the whole wide world.

Two hours later, we landed in Izmir. We hired a car for the next few days as we are doing a road trip from İzmir to Cappadocia.

In Turkey, the driver’s seat is on the left hand side and so they drive in the opposite lane compared to us in South Africa. At first, it was very very scary. It was dark and raining, I was navigating and my dad drove. But Alhamdulillah, one hour later, we reached our hotel, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Kuşadası and it was all worth it.

The hotel was stunning. We were greeted with hot cookies and WiFi.

We were really hungry but we didn’t want to go outside to buy food because it was raining so we decided to order room service. It was divine. We order a chicken quesadilla, an Indian sandwich and spaghetti bolognese (the pasta was bland, we added mayo, salt and pepper to it to give it flavour).

After supper, we went to sleep because tomorrow was going to be a long and early day. It was honestly an every day fight to wake up because all my siblings wanted to do was sleep in until late.

Step count: 7 258