An Ottoman odyssey
Hot air ballooning over Cappadocia was a treat / Picture: Kassie Gadeke

When I left to travel for five months with my boyfriend Jason, Turkey was a must-do and we decided to see it on a tour. Geckos Adventures was an obvious option given its "off the beaten track" feel - we went for 15-day Odyssey.

With 11 different overnight stops, the tour headed south from Istanbul by coach, spent two nights on a boat in Ucagiz and travelled to Antalya before going inland to Cappadocia for three nights.

We went for dinner the first night and got off to a flying start with our two-week "family", discussing everything from culture to food, optional activities, and shopping and bartering. A walk past the Blue Mosque followed - fantastic at night.

We spent the first full day exploring Istanbul - the hippodrome and inside the Blue Mosque were included in the tour and we continued exploring and had lunch together as a group.

After leaving Istanbul we travelled each morning, saw sights in the afternoons and stayed in different places most nights, our first stop was in Gallipoli before spending the night in Canakkale.

Looking out at the plain stretch of beach at Anzac Cove it was difficult to put the horrors of the site into perspective. At a time of year when it wasn't busy I felt I could soak in the solemn tone of the place.

A night at quaint seaside town Ayvalik was spent in a comfortable homestay.

The weather was fine during the coach ride to Selcuk the following day, but in the afternoon when we ventured to the Ephesus ruins we were caught in a downpour. It started halfway to the spectacular Library of Celsus - the highlight of the site - but instead of marvelling at the library we had to take cover under it.

That night we dried our shoes with the hairdryer - but also had the best meal of the tour in an old Turkish couple's home.

Next was the place I had been most looking forward to, Pamukkale. I had seen pictures of the white calcium bicarbonate surface and cascading pools, but underestimated the sights at the UNESCO heritage-listed Pamukkale Natural Park, which also has ancient city of ruins Hierapolis and the huge Antique Pool for swimmers.

We watched sunset over the pools and had a quick dip in the natural hot water. It was the most beautiful sunset I've seen on my travels so far, which have included Italy, France and Croatia.

That evening we had an impromptu picnic at the front of the hotel, wrapped in blankets and coats, drinking from plastic cups and eating cheese and fruit from market stalls.

On to the coastal portion of the tour, we headed to Fethiye with a ghastly 6.30am departure and afternoon stop at Oludeniz, a stone beach with glimmering blue waters. Here you can parasail down the mountains on to the beach. With a price tag of more than $100 and limited time I didn't take it up. Once I saw kites flying through the air I wished I had.

We then spent two nights on a boat on the Turquoise Coast and while it was freezing at night, even in late October the days were warm and sunny.

It was a definite highlight, with plenty of opportunities to swim, read and play backgammon between the home-cooked meals supplied by the Turkish couple who operated the boat. Sleeping on the deck with the stars above us was romantic and like nothing else we've done travelling.

In our next stop Antalya, while it wasn't in the official itinerary, three of us went to 700-year-old Turkish bath Balik Pazari Haram. It wasn't a pool but a marble room in which we sat and poured hot water over our bodies, received an exfoliating scrub, firm soap massage and hair wash, and a full body rub with rose oil. We finished with a cup of Turkish tea and thoughts of the following day's 10-hour coach ride to Cappadocia.

The first full day there featured hot-air balloon in the morning - we left the hotel at 5am to fly above the Fairy Chimney monoliths while the sun was rising.

It was beautiful rising into the sky dotted with about 80 coloured balloons and pink skies. Though one of the more cynical tourists in our basket (balloons fit 24) murmured "cash cow", I found flying with other balloons and giving one a "kiss" (when the balloons touch) added to the experience.

Glad to be in one place more than one night, on the last few days in Cappadocia - and of the tour - we walked through the various monoliths, including Goreme National Park, Pigeon Valley, Love Valley and the cave houses.

We visited underground city Derinkuyu with tiny passages leading eight levels underground and went to a Turkish dinner- dance to see belly dancing and traditional Whirling Dervishes.

We tried more Turkish cuisine at a home dinner (kemalpasa cakes sticky with syrup were to die for); a clay pot cracked for you at the table to reveal sizzling meats; and salep, a hot drink that smells like Christmas.

From Cappadocia my partner and I took an overnight bus to Istanbul (included in the tour) while the others went on.

It was great having a local, English-speaking guide in Osman and, while he seemed a bit disengaged at times, his easy-going nature meant we had flexibility while on tour.

We paid €825 ($1070) for Geckos Adventures' Turkish Odyssey, an additional €150 ($194) local payment (made in Euros) and 75 lira ($41) for driver tips. Optionals like the hot-air balloon for €165 ($213) and some entrance fees were additional.

I thought the tour was good value and our money went further in Turkey than in other European countries we had travelled to.

If it wasn't for Geckos we wouldn't have slept on a boat, eaten and stayed in Turkish homes or learnt the tricks of backgammon.

geckosadventures.com.

The West Australian

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