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The UK Lake District

January 29, 2023

When we were telling our friends what our plans were for the Winter the universal response was along the lines of “You’re nuts!”. Well no one has ever accused us of making sensible decisions.

So on returning from the balmy Mediterranean coast of Turkey, we picked up our car and headed North to spend two months in a rental cottage just outside the Lake District in Cumbria. Yes In the middle of Winter.

Winter Walking in the Lakes

On arrival in Tebay – just off the M6 and sitting between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales National Park – we were pleased to see that our two bedroom cottage was in lovely condition and although small, was much bigger than the studio apartments and hotel rooms we have been used to over the last few months. The lounge and kitchen are even separate rooms and there is a bath – Luxury!

We have spent most of our time exploring the Lakes but we haven’t entirely neglected the Yorkshire Dales. One trip was to the Ribblehead Viaduct which is 400m long, 32m high and opened in 1875.

The weather through December was bitterly cold, dropping to as low as -12c and covering the landscape in a cloak of hoar frost, but this came coupled with blue skies and beautiful days. Absolutely perfect for hiking as there was no snow to trudge through.

Ice around a small waterfall on the way up Blencathra

We soon discovered that those sort of temperatures meant that there was a huge amount of ice on the hiking paths, some paths becoming ice rinks.

Frozen Waterfall on the way to Crinkle Crags

A quick trip into the Climber’s Shop in Ambleside and we had purchased some Kahtoola Microspikes which are perfect for hiking in icy conditions. I soon tested them out and they helped me climb up a 45 degree slab of ice on the way to the peak of the Crinkle Crags. I just couldn’t have got to the top without them.

Views from Blencathra

The Lake District is famous with British Hiker’s but we had only ever spent 1 weekend here previously so it was a real journey of exploration for us.

Kirkstone Pass

The lovely thing about the cottage we are renting is that it is possible to hike straight from the door. One way goes straight up onto the Howgills, a series of grassy fells, and the other way, once you are across the M6, is the Eastern edge of the Lake District and you come across a valley known as the Other Borrowdale.

Posing Wild Fell Pony

I’ve hiked across to the Other Borrowdale a few times and the lovely thing about these fells is that you can come across herds of friendly fell ponies – I expect they are after a treat but one even let me pet it. The fell ponies are an endangered species of horse that is native to Cumbria and there are only around 6,500 of them. The fell ponies are great for the environment as their grazing promotes biodiversity by controlling the spread of gorse and trampling areas to allow seeds to have space to germinate.

Rare White Fell Pony

December flew by with lots of hiking, climbing Helvellyn, Blencathra, the Crinkle Crags and ticking off multiple Wainwright’s with each hike.

Summit Plateau of Helvellyn

Perhaps one of the most beautiful places that we have visted in the lakes is called Buttermere. This can be very still and have amazing reflections. It is easy to walk around the whole lake and there are also a number of hikes to up to the fells surrounding the lake.

View of Buttermere
Buttermere Trees

We headed back South for Christmas with family and then it was a fairly miserable 9 hour journey back (should have been 4-5 hours) to the Lake District in terrible weather after Christmas. It felt like everyone was travelling on the same day and that combined with rail strikes and bad weather caused complete gridlock on the motorways.

Scales Tarn below Blencathra (Saddleback)

Winter Time in The Lakes

January 28, 2023

Following beautiful cold but clear days in December, the first couple of weeks of January in the Lake District were absolutely terrible – near constant heavy rain coupled with low cloud and very poor visibility.

Rutter Falls

We pretty much hunkered down with only a couple of damp hikes on the best of the days to break the monotony and some binge watching of series on Netflix. Of course this is the risk you take in the Lakes in Winter.

Castlerigg Stone Circle in the Snow

And then the temperature dropped again and the snow and ice came. This was coupled with much better weather with blue skies and low temperatures. It was nowhere near as cold as before Christmas.

A snowy Buttermere

A fantastic hike in deep snow where I was the only person on the mountain up to Red Pike was the reward for my patience. I didn’t quite make it to the top as the snow kept getting deeper and over knee deep snow on a 45 degree slope was proving heavy going. However, the views back over Buttermere and of Ullswater were worth the effort.

Buttermere

Returning to Buttermere the wind had dropped and the lake was completely still, reflecting the surroundings perfectly. This is my favourite place in the Lakes so far.

Famous Lone Tree at Buttermere

The hike to Red Pike was actually a last minute decision as I wasn’t able to get to the walk I wanted to do at the other end of Buttermere. After so much rain and flooding, the mountain road was completely covered in ice and after several hair-raising attempts at getting up it, I eventually abandoned that idea.

Sour Milk Ghyll, Grasmere

I took the opportunity in the good weather to visit some of the iconic views in the Lake district; hiking up to Rydal Caves, the Sweden Bridge above Ambleside, some waterfalls around Grasmere and the stone circle at Castlerigg near Keswick.

Rydal Cave Selfie

The ice certainly made the roads interesting with the high passes pretty much impassable without chains and while the A roads had been gritted, a lot of the B roads were really sketchy.

Sweden Packbridge in Ambleside

After the snow and ice came the thaw and some pretty dense fog. This led to a very atmospheric hike around the Ingleton Waterfall trail in the Yorkshire Dales. But anywhere with grand landscapes was definitely due to the visibility, which was down to 50m or so.

The Ingleton Waterfall trail is around 8km long and is loop going up one river in a gorge and down another in a gorge. Both flow through the same small town of Ingleton. It is a curated trail and therefore there is a charge for doing the hike but no charge for parking so it actually works out around the same price as most of the parking in the Lakes.

Our time in the Lakes was drawing to a close so there was time for one last hike. A great day, in the now almost completely thawed landscape, climbing Glaramara. I didn’t see a single person on the entire hike and it felt like I had the mountains to myself – one of the benefits of hiking at this time of year.

Glaramara in the background and Bessyboot in the foreground

So 2 months in the UK Lakes District in winter was an equally mixed bag of appalling weather and glorious winter days. When it isn’t raining it feels like the perfect time to be up here. The hills are deserted, there is no problem parking anywhere and winter conditions can make the hills more beautiful than ever. You do have to be careful driving on the B roads when it’s icy and sometimes have to make longer journeys to avoid the high passes but with such an amazing landscape there are still plenty of hikes to choose from. The cold conditions are not so bad if you dress right and hiking keeps you warm anyway.

Icy waterfall in Tebay

When the rain falls (all day), the wind blows and the visibility reduces, it is definitely a less pleasant place to be and outdoor activities are off the agenda unless you are much hardier than me. It is also less easy to do the more touristy things on the rainy days like visiting castles and gardens etc., as many of them are only open from March to October. We did however visit Lowther Castle (open all year) and Brougham Castle (open only at weekends in Winter) and on a particularly bad day when we just had to be indoors, the infamous Keswick Pencil Museum!

Brougham Castle

Lowther Castle (below) was occupied from the middle ages by the Earls of Lonsdale and their families but the family fell on hard times and the castle was closed in 1937. It was used in WW2 by an army tank regiment but the roof was removed in 1957 in order to avoid taxes and it fell into ruin. It is still in the same family however, and a lot of work has been done, and is still on going with the help of the National Trust to restore some of the building and the gardens to their former glory. Definitely worth a visit.

Lowther Castle in the snow

The pencil museum is better than it sounds. Although the only part that really captured (excuse the pun) our attention was the use of the pencil in WW2 to smuggle maps and compasses across enemy lines to aid escape if captured. Charles Fraser Smith, the inspiration for Q in James Bond, asked the pencil company to produce a pencil containing a map and compass for Lancaster Bomber Crews to help them if shot down and it tells the story of how this was secretly created.

Replica of the secret map pencil. Note the map and compass in the front of the case

Overall though, I would recommend spending time up here in the winter if you have time to enjoy the fair weather days when they come. Some days it even looks like summer!

Grasmere Lake

Travelling In Turkey

January 24, 2023

Entry Into Turkey

For UK and EU citizens entry into Turkey is possible on a visa free tourist basis for up to 90 days within any 180 day period. So it couldn’t be easier.

However US citizens are required to get an E-Visa prior to travel.

Driving In Turkey

We decided to hire a car for our month-long trip to the Southwest of Turkey. We wanted to be able to move around easily and not be tied down to tourist trips, particularly as we were outside of the main season. This proved to be a great decision.

We managed to find a car for a full month for £300. That works out at only £10 per day. We ended up driving around 3000km in total so I think we got our money’s worth and we went to lots of places off the beaten track which we just couldn’t have got to otherwise.

Our car was a Fiat Egea (Known as Tipo in the rest of Europe) and it had 68k KM on the clock when we got it. It had a couple of small scrapes but was in good condition and we didn’t have any problems with it.

We used a small car hire firm called Boycar that were based outside the airport. On arrival we had to give them a quick call and 10 minutes later we were picked up and taken to their office. About 10 minutes of paperwork and we were ready to go.

Overall we thought that the standard of driving in Turkey was pretty good although when we mentioned this to the locals they invariably found it hilarious… I guess they maybe haven’t driven through the centre of Lima or a little closer to home, Sicily – experiences not to the forgotten!  Like anywhere there are some aggressive drivers but with some defensive driving and a cool head it was a pretty good place to drive.

Perhaps the only area that took some concentration were the roundabouts. The general rule in turkey is that you give way whilst on the roundabout to traffic entering the roundabout. However, this isn’t always the case and with some you give way to traffic already on the roundabout. You just have to keep an eye on the signs as there is generally clear indication which set of rules apply.

There are quite a lot of police checkpoints where the police cordon off part of the road to pull drivers over. We were waved through all but once and on that occasion as soon as the policeman realised we spoke English and were clearly tourists he waved us on, so we are still not sure what they are actually checking.

We really enjoyed seeing the fake police cars that are pretty common at the side of the road to encourage people to slow down !

Speed Limits are mostly marked with signs at the side of the road however they are rarely obeyed and speeding is common place. The motorway limit is 120km/h (although certain motorways have a 130 or even 140 limit we did not encounter this) and main roads are set at 90km/h. Urban areas have a 50km/h limit.

Where to Stay

As we were travelling in the off-season in Turkey there weren’t a huge amount of people in the hotels and therefore, despite some hotels shutting for the winter, there was a lot of availability.

Our Room in Antalya – there was also a second bedroom with single beds and two balconies !

We had decided to not book any accommodation for our trip but to remain flexible and book 1 or 2 days in advance when we were sure of our plans.

Booking.com is blocked in Turkey and you cannot make local bookings using this website. However you can get around this by using a VPN or there are plenty of other hotel booking sites that do work in Turkey. We found that using google maps to show hotels in an area worked really well and this then gives you the cheapest price for online booking.

Prices for hotels vary considerably and it is possible to pay £100’s per night to stay in very upscale places. However, if like us you are on a tight budget there is plenty of affordable accommodation.

Bar/Restaurant in our Hotel in Side

In general we paid between £18-£25 per night over the course of our trip. Of course this was off-season.  These prices have increased since last year as inflation was running high in Turkey while we were there.  We booked almost all of our nights in advance over the internet however for a few nights we just wandered in off the street and found that it was possible to negotiate a reasonable rate.

A few nights we paid a bit more in the more expensive areas but our most expensive night was £30.

Breakfast in Aksehir

In almost all the hotels the cost included breakfast although the standard of the breakfast was very variable. From big buffet breakfasts with hot and cold options, traditional mezes, through to a plate with hard boiled egg, salad and bread we had a real variety.

Some hotels had swimming pools. Pamukkale Hotel pictured.

Eating in Turkey

To be perfectly honest we had no idea what to expect from Turkish food and we were so happy when we got to Turkey and started dining out.

The prices in Turkish restaurants vary wildly from town to town but in each area most of the restaurants seem to have similar prices (although of course there is some variation).  The most expensive places are unsurprisingly the most touristy and, for us, these were Antalya, Side and Goreme but even in the most touristy places you can still find cheap local eateries.  As always, the general rule of thumb to getting quality food and good value for money is to check out where the locals eat.

Our cheapest meal of the whole trip was around 80TL for two which is about £4 and our most expensive meal was 500TL or around £25.

Efes beers

If you want to drink alcohol this is fairly expensive with a bottle of beer around 80TL (£4) and the price of this doesn’t vary much from place to place. Efes is the most common beer in Turkey and it’s pretty decent, although there are a number of different types (Pilsener, dark, malt and others) so plenty to work through to find your favourite!

Lahmucan

In terms of food, some of the our favourite local dishes included Manti (Turkish pasta), Pide (Turkish Pizza), Lahmucan (Flatbread with Toppings), Tavuk Durum (chicken wrap), Beyti Kebab (meat in pastry) and Adana Kebab (spiced ground beef/lamb skewers).

Restuarant in Selcuk

Internet

Every hotel we stayed in had free WIFI available and almost all of them had good service. The speeds varied from around 10mb – 30mb but everywhere had decent speed.

For those with UK phone contracts it is unlikely that calls and data in Turkey will be included in your package and therefore will be a pricey extra.  To overcome this we bought a local pay as you go Sim card for use while on the go. We particularly relied on mobile data for navigation while driving.

Signing up for a pay as you go Sim is simple.  There are phone shop in all the towns, we visited Vodafone in Antalya and for £25 bought a sim with 20 gb of data and a large amount of calls and texts. This was a 30-day package which suited us perfectly. To recharge the sim with another 20gb of data is only £10. In order to sign up for this you do need to take your passport but it only took about 10 minutes to get set up. 

The mobile phone signal was strong everywhere we went and I think the only place that we suffered a dead spot was deep in a Cappodocian valley.

Museum Pass

Almost all of the ancient sites in Turkey come with an entry charge which can vary from as low as 20 TL (less than £1) up to 200 TL (£10).  Ephesus was the most expensive site we visited and in addition, they charge extra to access the excavated houses (85 TL/ £3.50) and the Ephesus museum (50TL/ £2).

When you are touring around these costs can add up really quickly.  Fortunately, there is a multi-day pass that can be purchased called the Museum Pass. This can be bought at the entry to all of the ancient sites/museums and costs 1000 TL (€50 or £43) and lasts for 15 days. If you are travelling for two weeks and planning on visiting a lot of sites this will definitely be good value.

It is also possible to buy cheaper 7 day passes for the Mediterranean or Aegean regions, a three day pass for Cappadocia or a 5 day Istanbul pass. These all represent worse value than the 15 day pass though.

We definitely visited more sites and museums than we would have if we were paying individually and thought that the Museum Pass represented great value for money.

Coastal Bound

January 10, 2023

The drive back to Antalya from Cappadocia is over 500km so we decided to take a few days to drive back along the coast. Day one of this journey was to get down to the coast which was a drive of just over 300km and a total distance to Antalya of over 700km but we hoped it would be more interesting this way and we would get to see a bit more of the country.

Gumusler Monastery

Our first stop was right at the edge of the Cappadocia region to a little visited monastery called the Gümüşler Monastery. The monastery is hidden behind the rock face of a small cliff, peppered with cave dwellings along its full length. Once through the door you emerge into a square courtyard which is open to the sky and surrounded by carved walls on each side. Behind the walls are rooms and an ornate church.

Church at Gumusler Monastery

The monastery also stretches below ground with a network of buried rooms and even contains a small hole carved between the levels of the courtyard and the deepest room for communication.

Gumusler Monastery

After exploring the caves at Gümüşler we carried on with our trip towards the coast, passing through a green, cold and windy deserted highland plateau, before dropping down to the coast where the temperature rose several degrees.

Highland Road in Turkey

We had decided to spend a couple of nights on our route back in Kizkalesi, a Turkish holiday resort boasting 2 castles, 1 in the bay and one on the headland.  You could probably swim or kayak to the castle in the bay but we didn’t attempt this.  

At this time of year, most of the resorts and hotels in Kizkalesi were closed for the season but we were able to find a few options and although most of the restaurants on the seafront were also closed there were plenty to choose from on the main road through the town.   One of the best (and cheapest) meals of our entire trip was at one of these restaurants.  There was no menu, but a chiller full of marinated meats from which the owner suggested different meals. The Shish Kebab was fantastic.

Kizkalesi Castle

There are a few things to occupy you in Kizkalesi, in particular the caves in the surrounding hillsides, known as The Caves of Heaven and Hell and the Asthma Caves.

Hell Cave

Hell Cave is a deep but fairly open shaft which can’t be accessed but is viewed from a glass bottomed platform above, whereas Heaven Cave is a massive cave in a gorge which has a path that drops down into its depths.  At the mouth of the cave is a ruined church  and below this the path drops down about 500m into the bowels of the earth. At the bottom a rushing noise can be heard from an underground river.

Heaven Cave

Also near to these caves is the Asthma Cave (Astim in Turkish) (which is on the same ticket so make sure you don’t pay twice) where a spiral staircase leads down into a humid and hot cave with a circular path leading through the stalactites and stalagmites. The Asthma cave was the most spectacular of the 3 caves despite it being less of an attraction.

Asthma Cave

What really surprised us about the coast was how good the weather was, we actually spent some time on the beach and had a dip in the sea. A welcome surprise right at the end of November.

Theatre at Elauiusssa Sebaste

Also in Kizkalesi we visited the remains of the small ancient city of Elauiussa Sebaste. Not much has been excavated but there is a theatre and baths where mosaic floor tiles can still been seen in some sections, including images of fish and dolphins.

Mosiac at Elauiussa Sebaste

On leaving Kizkalesi we headed towards Alanya which is a big seaside resort town but on the way we decided to stop at our last ancient city, Anemurium. This is definitely off the beaten track and we were the only people there when we visited.

 Bouleuterion at Anemurium

The city of Anemurium is spread across the hillside and slopes down to the pebbled beach. Anemurium was abandoned in the mid-7th century after the Arab occupation of Cyprus made this stretch of the coast unsafe.

Baths at Anemurium

From here we carried on to Alanya where we had booked a hotel right on the main strip. After driving past first time round on a one way dual carriage way, we had to stop and ask where to park in this very busy town – and the hotel directed us up a narrow dead end road which meant a tricky five point turn to get out.

Alanya Harbour

Having loved pretty much everywhere we had been in Turkey it’s a real shame our last stop was Alanya as this was the place we liked least on our whole trip. It’s a busy tourist resort with all the chains like McDonalds and Dominos and most of the beachfront is inaccessible because of beach clubs blocking the access. They were of course all closed at this time of year but the town was still very busy.  Many people of course would love Alanya for these very reasons, it’s just personal preference.

Red Keep at Alanya with castle in background

Having said this, there is plenty to do around Alanya if a busy town is not your thing. It is well placed to visit the Sapadere Canyon which is a lovely walk up a narrow gorge to a waterfall at the end and the drive there is through some beautiful countryside.

Sapadere Canyon Waterfall
Waterfalls at Sapadere Canyon

On the way back from Sapadere we also stopped off at the Dim Magarasi Cave.  This is a much bigger cave than the Asthma Cave and the walkway through stretches around 500m until it reaches a small lake. The cave has incredible formations and is well worth a visit. Unfortunately it is lit by orange lights which are great for night vision but not so good for photography.

Dim Magarasi Cave

It was sadly our last day in Turkey which meant approximately a 2 hour drive back to Antalya.

Lake in Dim Magarasi Cave

On the way to the airport we stopped off at Manvangat, near Side (where we had been almost a month previously) to see the waterfalls and have some lunch.  The waterfall was beautiful so it was nice to make the stop, however the restaurants and vendors were all closed for the season so lunch would have to wait.

Manvangat Waterfall

We had time to spare on reaching Antalya so we stopped off at Duden Park to see the Lower Duden Falls which flows into the sea. As it was a sunny Sunday afternoon the park was full of families enjoying their day off. We had a lovely lunch at a restaurant in the Park and enjoyed watching one of the waitresses repeatedly trying to chase off three friendly stray dogs to no avail, eventually giving in and taking them a plate of food.  

Lower Duden Falls

After a lazy lunch it was finally time to drop the car at the car hire shop, and head to the airport.

We had been told by the airline in a text message to arrive early for check-in as we should expect extra security checks. This just led to a long queue at check-in, which didn’t open early and meant there was a long queue of very frustrated passengers (2 of which almost came to blows) and no sign of any extra checks.   Ah the joys of low cost international air travel!

Cappadocia

January 3, 2023
Balloons over Goreme

Cappadocia had been at the top of the list of things we were excited about when we planned our trip to Turkey.  Fortunately we were not disappointed as Cappadocia lives up to its billing with a mixture of unreal landscapes, underground cities and ancient cave dwellings that make it a very special destination.

When we woke up on our first morning in Cappadocia we were more than a little surprised to find that it was snowing! Did I mention that the whole area is in the interior of the country and at around an altitude of 1000m. The climate here is completely different to the coast and we were getting both barrels on our first day.

A Carpet shop in the Snow

The good news is that Cappadocia has a number of underground cities to be explored, which was a perfect excursion on a cold, snowy day.

Room in Kaymakli Underground City

These cities are multi-level living spaces which have been carved out of the rock stretching up to 12 levels down. They were built to allow the inhabitants to hide from invading armies, with little clue of their existence from the surface. Around 200 underground cities have been discovered in Cappadocia and it is believed there are more. Many of them are linked together with underground tunnels.

Passage at Kaymakli

The first underground city we visited was Kaymakli, which is very popular and on the coach tour route. Only a small section (just 4 levels) of the city is open to tourists but in actual fact, the city is 40 metres deep on 8 levels. Up to 3000 people would have been able to live here.

Many of the passageways are very low

Construction of this city is believed to have been started by the Phrygians in the 8th century BC.

It was hard work moving around in this city, we had assumed with it being underground that it would be cold and damp but it was in fact very warm despite the weather outside and the air was quite dry and dusty. Moving around was also a challenge in some sections due to the low ceiling height.

The second city we visited was called Derinkuyu, which is about 10km further from Goreme than Kaymakli and as a result was much quieter in terms of the number of tourists. That aside, the city is one of the biggest and stretches to a depth of 85m. It could house 20,000 people along with their livestock over 18 levels.

On the left, a round stone door can be rolled into place to block passageway

There is some debate as to whether these cities were permanently inhabited or only used when the people living above ground were threatened.

Derinkuyu was much cooler than Kaymakli and not quite as dusty (this was probably as there were less tourists) but the corridors were just as small.

Our second day in Cappadocia was completely different with blue skies and sunshine. One of the things that Cappadocia is famous for are the sunrise hot air balloon flights over the landscape, with over 200 taking off each day. They only fly on days with good weather and the government controls the flights not the balloon companies.

We booked a balloon trip on our last morning in Cappadocia but were disappointingly informed in the afternoon of the previous day that the forecast was for wind and the balloons would be grounded. Oh well, it gives us a good reason to come back. The price of the 1 hour balloon flights have been on the increase but we found a reputable company offering a trip for €130 per person.

Despite not being able to take our own flight, we were lucky to see the balloons flying two days in a row, firstly from the roof of our hotel and secondly, once we were more familiar with our surroundings, from an area known as sunset point (having first scraped a thick layer of ice off our rental car).

We had chosen to stay in the town of Goreme in Cappadocia, which is the largest tourist town and is in the perfect place to see the many highlights of this region.

Exterior of Dark Church

Just down the road from the town is the Goreme Open Air Museum. This is an area of cave dwellings and a particularly large number of cave churches.

Church in a Fairy Chimney

The highlight here is the Dark church (or Karanlik Kalise), which is not surprisingly quite dark inside, but has remarkably well preserved frescoes on all the walls. No pictures are allowed in here and there is a guard to enforce this.

Frescoes at Goreme Open Air Museum

These frescoes and the church itself date from around the 11th century AD. It is interesting to note that in nearly all of the frescoes in the rock churches in Cappadocia the eyes of the figures have been scratched out. I was told by a local resident that this was because in the past some locals believed that drinking tea with paint scrapings from the eyes of the frescoes had healing properties.

Aynali Church

Just up the road from the Goreme museum we found a small site with a rock cut monastery (the Aynali Church). There was no one around when we arrived and a gate over the entrance was locked but a guy arrived and let us in for a nominal fee – also handing us a torch.

Very Small Passage at Aynali Monastery

The ground floor was a church but on the upper floor there was a big room with a small passage at one end. The small passage was only big enough to crawl through and led via a 20m long snaking route to a large room with no windows.

Zelve Open Air Museum

We also visited the Zelve Open Air Museum which is a few miles drive from Goreme. It is not as busy as the Goreme museum and is over a bigger area. The Zelve churches are some of the oldest in Cappadocia dating back to the 500s. The dwellings in the Zelve valleys were occupied until the 1950’s when the danger of collapse forced the inhabitants to relocate.

Painted Dovecotes at Zelve Open Air Museum

There are two main valleys to this area both of which are lined with cave dwellings. Again there is an impressive rock cut church but with no photos allowed.

We visited the Zelve museum at the end of the day and ended up having to run around before getting escorted to the exit by a very friendly security guard as they wanted to lock up and go home.

Visible from far and wide in Cappadocia is the Rock Castle of Uchisar. This is a gigantic pillar of rock at the highest point in Cappadocia that has been tunnelled into and used as a fortress. It is possible to climb through a series of internal and external stairs to the top for views across Cappadocia.

Uchisar Castle

One of the highlights of a visit to Cappadoccia is hiking through the valleys of this incredible landscape. It is possible to hike straight from Goreme and to do one valley at a time or link several into longer hikes.

Rose Valley Vista

While in the area we hiked through Pigeon valley, Rose and Red Valley as a circular hike and from Uchisar back to Goreme through White and Love valleys. All told I hiked over 30km in three days fitted in around visiting the sites mentioned above.

View from Dwelling in Rose Valley

Each of the valleys has its own character and is worth visiting to see very different structures and colours in the rock.

Fresco in Rose Valley Church

One of the highlights of Rose valley is a well preserved rock cut church with frescoes. The landscape is littered with cave dwellings and churches. There are over 400 churches that have been recorded and I am sure there are many more undiscovered in the valleys.

Love Valley Fairy Chimneys

Love valley is so named for its remarkably phallic fairy chimneys which are up to 30m high and are formed of eroded volcanic ash know as Tuff. Tuff is what makes up all the fairy chimneys in the Cappadocia region. The Tuff was covered with Basalt which has then eroded away to leave the bizarre landscape we see today. The softness of the Tuff is what makes it so easy to dig the cave dwellings, cities and  churches of the region.

Phallic Chimneys at Love valley

Goreme is a very touristy place and as a result the restaurants can be a bit hit or miss. Prices are high and quality is not necessarily so good. However we can wholly recommend a restaurant called Chef Kebap. We walked past and saw that it was busy with Turkish people. Like most traditional restaurants there was no alcohol licence. They served fantastic meze for free at the start.

Meze at Chef Kebab

We had been wanting to try a local speciality called Testi or Pottery Kebab which is a slow cooked stew (chicken, lamb or beef) that has been cooked in a single use clay pot sealed with a pastry lid for around 3 hours. These can be seen cooking over open fires in front of several of the Goreme restaurants. These were duly delivered in a flaming dish and a wonderful piece of theatre cracking the pot open with a large knife and serving it.

Testi Kebab

Overall we had an amazing time in Cappadocia but, due to the delay in Pamukkale, time was against us and we needed to start heading back towards Antalya for our flight home. I would thoroughly recommend visiting this region to anyone as it is unlike anywhere else we have ever been. The mix of fairy chimneys, amazing landscapes coupled with the history makes it a fabulous destination.

Ephesus and East

December 26, 2022

The main reason for heading West along the coast was to end up at our most Northern Point – Ephesus. This is the most complete classical metropolis in Europe and was a major city with over 250k inhabitants.

But before reaching Ephesus and its adjacent modern city of Selcuk we had a day of driving from Akyaka. We stopped off at two ancient but very different cities on the way though.

Theatre at Miletus

First up was Miletus which was a harbour city until the bay silted up after the 15th century leaving it over 10km inland and it became abandoned. This city is truly ancient and had been inhabited since it was established by the bronze age Minoans. Most of the large buildings of the city however relate to the Roman occupation from around 100 BC onwards. It was almost empty of tourists as it is off the beaten track, at least at this time of year.

Temple at Miletus

Then we headed up the road to Priene, which is situated in the shadow of Mt Mykale on a wooded plateau.

Temple of Athena at Priene
The columns at Priene are massive

The highlight of Priene is the Temple of Athena with its massive columns which was funded by Alexander the Great. The full temple would have been enormous when all the columns were standing.

Theatre at Priene

Selcuk is the adjacent town to Ephesus and feels like a proper Turkish town untarnished by tourism. Most people visit Ephesus on a coach tour and are bussed in from the coast. We ate in some lovely local restaurants and enjoyed trying some different foods here during our two night stay at the grandly named Ephesus Palace Hotel.

Selcuk also holds the Ephesus museum which has lots of the statues and carvings taken from the site. It is also home to a large castle – Ayasoluk Castle.

Ephesus is just outside the town and is one of the most popular tourist sites in Turkey.  In the summer season there are so many tourists that its difficult to actually see the ruins, fortunately in November there were less tourists and we arrived early before many of the tour groups. Despite this it was still the busiest ancient site that we visited in Turkey.

Library at Ephesus

Ephesus was the capital of Roman Asia Minor and the fourth largest Roman city (after Rome, Alexandria and Antioch). It was a major centre of commerce and remained important even as Christianity took hold with St John supposedly settling here with the Virgin Mary after the death of Jesus and writing his gospel here.

Statue in Ephesus Museum

The city began to decline in the 3rd century AD and was sacked by the Germanic goths and this coupled with earthquakes and the silting up of the harbour hastened the collapse of the city.

The highlight of Ephesus is the Library of Celsus which has been extensively rebuilt and was the third largest library in the ancient world.

Inside Walls of the Houses in Ephesus

For me however the most enjoyable part of the city was in a roofed complex which protects 7 well preserved terraced houses which would have been the homes of aristocratic Romans. The mosaics and painted frescoes are astonishing and give great insight into how ancient buildings were actually decorated.

Frescos in the Houses at Ephesus

After leaving Selcuk we drove East with a planned destination of Pamukkale. However, before getting there we stopped at the city of Aphrodisias which was very impressive and beautifully quiet after the crowds of Ephesus.

Tetrapylon at Aphrodisas (entry to Aphrodite’s Temple)

Aphrodisias is just over 100km east of Ephesus and is another large city that had 150,000 inhabitants in the 3rd Century AD. It was abandoned in the 12th century after having become a Christian Byzantine city from the 7th century.

Sebasteion at Aphrodisias

This site is notable for the three-storey high Sebasteion which was decorated with carvings of Greek myths and imperial notables. This has been partially rebuilt but most of the carvings are actually held in the museum. It would have been an incredibly impressive building.

Carvings from Sebasteion at Aphrodisias

In addition there is a large (270m long) stadium which is one of the biggest and best preserved of the classical stadiums which would have been able to seat up to 30,000 spectators.

Stadium at Aphrodisias

We finally made it to Pamukkale to see the famous Travertines planning only a brief 2 night stay. Unfortunately this was extended to 4 nights after we both fell ill with a stomach bug which happened to be while we were staying in one of the worst hotels of our trip, but that’s just travelling for you.

Travertine Terraces with the ancient city of Hierapolis at the top

Pamukkale is famous for the bright white travertine terraces which tower above the town. At the top of the travertines is the Roman city of Hierapolis.

The town is a ramshackle tourist town that has few charms. The Travertines themselves are sold as one of the highlights of Turkey but the photos of bright blue ponds on the gleaming terraces are old and the natural ponds are currently empty and therefore much less striking. The ponds that exist are man made and lack the beauty of the natural ones and the whole area is a bit disappointing particularly as it gets very busy with tourists from bus tours during the day. It is possible to walk down the travertine terraces from Hierapolis, but you have to walk barefoot to protect the terraces which can be uncomfortable and slippery.

The town of Hierapolis was a Roman spa town and is spread out over a wide area. The central area gets busy with tour groups but they don’t seem to visit much of the city which can be wandered around in relative peace.

Drained Travertine Pools

Laodicea is another city only 8km away from Pamukkale which was a situated across two major trade routes so was a bustling commercial city. It has none of the highlights of some of the more famous sites but is notable for having two theatres – one of which has not been excavated and one of which is in the process of being fully restored.

Street at Laodicea

When we finally felt well enough to move on from Pamukkale we set off to travel further North and East to Cappadocia. This was 2 days driving so we decided to break the journey in Aksehir which is a decidedly untouristy agricultural city in the Turkish interior.

Carvings at Aphrodisias

We stayed in perhaps our favourite hotel (Aksehir Butik Hotel) of the whole trip which was an historic building hidden down a side street in the town. The breakfast we got here was all included in the cost of the room and was definitely the best that we had on the whole trip with breads, cheeses, olives, a chorizo/egg mix, and a selection of pastes and jams.

Breakfast in Akeshir

Aksehir is the supposed burial site of Nasrettin Hodja who is a figure from Muslim folklore. He was a philosopher who was a wise witty man and is the centre of many stories designed to teach or provoke thought. In Aksehir there is an urban park devoted the Hodja with statues depicting various famous stories.

Nasrettin Hodja Statue in Akeshir Urban Park

Miracle of the Turban – a Hodja Story


One day a man brought a letter to the Hodja and said:
Hodja Effendi, please read it to me.,
The Hodja saw that it was written in a foreign language and said:
I cannot read that, it isn’t written in Turkish.
The man became angry:
You are a teacher. You should be ashamed of your turban! You cannot read a letter.
The Hodja put the turban on the head of the man and said:
If the miracle is in the turban, take it and read the letter by yourself.

Along the Coast

December 18, 2022

We managed to drag ourselves away from beach life in Çirali and headed west towards the harbour town of Kaş (pronounced Cash).

Theatre at Myra

However on the way we stopped at Myra ,which is a city founded by the Lycians which became Greek and later Roman, where only a small area has been excavated which features the theatre and some rock tombs cut out of the cliff side.

Rock Cut Tombs at Myra

From Myra we carried on to Kaş which is a town built into the hillside around a harbour and is a busy tourist town with lots of trips to surrounding attractions on offer.

Sunrise at Kaş

We wanted to visit Kaş in order to take a kayaking trip to the sunken city of Batik Sehir on Kekova Island. This was a major service centre for pilgrims and Crusaders heading South to the Holy Lands but a number of earthquakes caused the island to drop drowning much of the city.

We met our guide early in the morning in Kaş and he drove us to the village of Üçağız which was the departure point for the Kayaks.  We paddled out of the harbour and across the strait to the island of Kekova where we stopped to stretch our legs and look at some ruins on the northern end of the island.

Back in the kayak we then paddled down the island exploring the sunken ruins, you are not allowed to land in this area and boats aren’t allowed to stop – fortunately kayaks can linger as they want. After this we paddled back across to the mainland and the tiny village of Kalekoy where there are the ruins of an ancient town called Simena and a crusader fortress.

Village of Simena with Crusader Fortress above

This was our lunch stop where we had a lovely meal of BBQ’d fish, explored the fortress and the tombs of the city and went for a swim. It was then a short paddle back to the harbour at Üçağız.

Simena tombs below the crusader fortress

In all we paddled around 8km and it was a fantastic day out.

Views from Crusader Fortress

The next stop on our route up the coast was Patara. This is the site of Turkey’s longest sand beach but also the site of a large ancient city. The only way to access the beach is to pay for access to the ruins.

Endless sandy beach at Patara

This is another Lycian city. The Lycians date back to the 12th century BC but have a history of being conquered by other empires including the Persians and Alexander the Great. They were however granted independence by the Romans in 168 BC. The Lycian League consisted of 23 independent city states but they are often cited as the first democratic union in history and their council chamber, in Patara, is considered the world’s first parliament.

Theatre (Top) and bouleuteiron at Patara

The centre of the ruins are the 5000 seat theatre and the bouleuteiron (or parliament) although the whole site is massive with many ruins covered by the dunes or half hidden in the brush.

We had booked a hotel on booking.com in Gelemiş the nearest modern village to Patara. However on arriving we couldn’t find it and it wasn’t in the location indicated by the app. Their phone number was also disconnected. We asked a number of shop owners in the village if they knew it and nobody did. We could only come to the conclusion that it didn’t exist! Fortunately, booking.com quickly refunded us after failing to contact the hotel and we managed to walk in to a small hotel and get a good rate.

Our next stop up the coast from Patara was Akyaka  but we had a number of stops to make on the way up.

Theatre at Xanthos

First up was Xanthos, another Lycian city, only 8km North of Patara. Xanthos was once the capital of Lycia and its grandest city. Now not much is left other than the theatre and some pillar tombs in an extensive hillside necropolis.

Pillar Tomb at Xanthos

Next hidden in the hills to the East of the main road was the Lycian city of Tlos. This ancient city is unusual in that it continued to be populated right into the 19th century as a result of its very well guarded position on a rocky outcrop.

Aerial view of Tlos

This site is off the beaten track and there was virtually no one around as we explored the ruins including a large stadium, a theatre and some rock cut tombs under the commanding acropolis.

View from the Baths to Acropolis at Tlos

Near to the very touristy area of Oludeniz, all closed at this time of year but clearly a proper package tour destination, is the abandoned Greek town of Kayakoy.

Buildings in Kayakoy

After the Turkish war of independence in 1923 the League of Nations supervised a population exchange with Greek muslims moving to Turkey and Ottoman christians moving to Greece. There were more christians than muslims moving so a number of towns ended up abandoned, including Kayakoy. Now the rooves are all gone and the town is decaying.

Aerial view of Kayakoy

It had been a long day but we finally arrived at the river mouth town of Akyaka. This small town was clearly out of season but had a really relaxed feel and is a holiday destination for well off Turkish tourists and doesn’t really have an international clientele.

River Mouth at Akyaka

Turkey: Summer Revisited

December 11, 2022

We left Chamonix at the end of October and after spending a few days in the cold and what seemed like constantly raining London we headed for warmer climes and hopped on a plane to Antalya in Turkey.

Turkey was a new experience for us having never been here before and we weren’t sure what to expect. We had arranged to be here for a month with the plan to tour the Southwest of the country heading across to Cappadocia and then back along the coast to Antalya.

Roman Harbour in Kaleici

After picking up a hire car (a surprisingly good car for only £300 for the month) from the airport we drove in to the city of Antalya to the hotel we had booked for the first couple of days in the middle of the old town. This was pretty intimidating as the old town, called Kaleici,  has very narrow streets and is a maze of one way roads. We eventually found our hotel car park even though a taxi driver warned us about going down one of the roads but we managed.

Hadrian’s Gate into Kaleici

Antalya is the fifth biggest city in Turkey and sprawls along the Mediterranean coast but the old town, which is based around a small harbour, feels surprisingly calm. It is of course very touristy with lots of bars and restaurants aimed at tourists concentrated in Kaleici. Beyond that the town is not touristy at all and isn’t too bad to drive through.

The theatre at Termessos

On our second day in Antalya we decided to take a trip to Termessos, which is an ancient city that is situated 34km Northwest of Antalya in a high upland valley. It is a 15 minute uphill hike through woods to the start of the city although the ruins of the necropolis (or burial grounds) are around the car park itself. It was inhabited by the Pisidians who fought off Alexander the Great in 333 BC and the Romans allied with them in 70 BC.

Ruins at Te3rmessos

The city is un-reconstructed and ruined buildings are scattered throughout the woods. It really rewards poking about and in scrambling over fallen blocks you will stumble over amazing carvings among the rubble.

Carvings on a Tomb in the Termessos Necropolis

After visiting Termessos we headed to the beach for the afternoon.

Our next stop after Antalya was the touristy town of Side (pronounced C-day) about 75kmto the East. On the way to Side we stopped off at two ancient cities on the way.

Aerial View of Perge

First off we went to Perge which is a Roman city which was at its peak from the 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD. It’s a big city spread out from a central Agora. There is a very big stadium where gladiator events and athletic events took place and a theatre for 15,000 people.

The Stadium and Theatre at Perge

Second was the city of Aspendos which is notable for its reconstructed theatre. It is considered the best preserved theatre from the ancient world. This 15,000 person theatre was built in the 1st century AD and it is still used today. The rest of the city has not been substantially excavated and takes a lot of imagination to envisage the buildings as they must have been.

Theatre at Aspendos

After our stop-offs on the way we arrived at Side and discovered that the old town which is on a peninsula into the sea is off limits to most cars during the day. We were staying in the pedestrianised area so managed to get past the guard post and get to the car park of our hotel.

Sunset from our hotel bar in Side

We were staying in a rustic hotel with small cabins but it was fronted but a swanky modern bar with a great sunset view over the sea.

Theatre and old town in Side

Side is a town that has been built on an ancient city and the town is an active archaeological site with lots of gaps between the buildings which are occupied by ruins.

Aerial view of Side with old an new mixed together

Side is a popular tourist destination with a lot of big hotels outside the old town. This meant lots of Russian tourists. It all felt a bit commercial for us and so it was a big relief when we moved onto our next destination which was the complete opposite.

Archaeological works in Side
Mosaics in Side Town

Leaving Side we drove back past Antalya and down the coast to the small village of Cirali which is on a long wide beach and has a super chilled vibe. We stayed in a small pansiyon a few minutes walk from the beach and from a collection of restaurants in the village.

Cirali Beach

Our favourite restaurant was called Yoruk which introduced us to the delights of Manti – Turkish pasta with a yoghurt sauce and Pide – Turkish pizza – which in this restaurant is around a metre long.

Pide at Yoruk restaurant in Cirali

At one end of the beach is the Lycian city of Olympos and the up the hill side at the other end are the eternal flames of Chimaera.

The Valley where the Lycian City of Olympos is sited

About 1 km down the beach from Cirali is a river mouth and around this is the Lycian city of Olympos which stretches up the river from the sea. Much of the city has been uncovered but there is much more that can be found on exploring the valley through the undergrowth.

Ruins at Olympos

Best visited in the evening is Chimaera or “burning rock” where natural gas emits from the rock and spontaneously lights to create the eternal flames.

One of the eternal flames at Chimaera

About a 20 minute walk from the parking is the main area of flames which can get very busy with tourists hanging out and roasting marshmallows. A further 30 minute climb up the hillside leads to a smaller but much quieter area of flames at the top of the hill.

Upper Flames at Olympos (away from the crowds)

For us a couple of days on the beach in Cirali in the 25c sunshine rounded out the end of our first week in Turkey. We had very much enjoyed the unexpected sunshine in November. Despite chilly evenings the middle of the day between around 10 and 4 was warm and the sea was warm enough to comfortably swim.

Beach at Cirali

Emosson Dam

November 5, 2022

One of the largest hydro-electric projects in the alps, the Emosson Dam, is situated just outside the Chamonix valley in Switzerland. The border between France and Switzerland was actually moved to ensure that the whole project was in one country.

The Dam itself is at 2000m and was built between 1967-1972.  At 180m high it is the third highest dam in Switzerland.  This is a great area for hiking and the dam is easily accessible by road and funicular, although the latter has not been in operation in 2022.

The most popular destination in this area are the fossilised dinosaur footprints  located at 2,400m, although  I must be a bit of a philistine as I found them underwhelming.  

Dinosaur Footprints

Far more interesting for me was the climb up through the Gorges de Veudale, which is the route to the footprints.

The route up to Col de Terrasse (the snowy bit in the middle) – up the gorge.

From the top of the Gorge I took a detour  to the top of the Col de la Terrasse at 2675m. On a clear day this would have   amazing views back  towards the Col du Montet and Col D’Balme in France but unfortunately my luck was out and thick cloud on that side of the mountain meant all I saw was a wall of white.

On the plus side, the upland area around the Col is itself very beautiful  with  views back to the Vieux Emosson or the old Emosson dam. This is a much smaller dam with an upland lake and is the route back from the dinosaur footprints.

Les Pionniers: Ice Hockey

November 5, 2022

Les Pionniers are Chamonix’s professional ice hockey team which compete in France’s top league, Ligue Magnus.

They play at their central Chamonix home  –  Centre Sportif Richard Bozon – which is just off  Place du Mont Blanc and during our time here we have watched a couple of matches despite knowing very little about the game!

Both nights were enormous fun with a real party atmosphere.  The bar is open throughout the game, with music and drumming at critical moments and some slapstick family entertainment between each of the periods.  I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone who is visiting Chamonix whether you follow Ice Hockey or not.

Chamonix have a long history of Ice Hockey and have been league winners on many occasions, however recent years have been more difficult and they have not been champions since they won their 30th crown in 1979.

While we’ve been having great fun watching the matches I doubt the same could be said of the players as the  2022/2023 season hasn’t got off to the best of starts for them.  We hope their luck improves and for anyone travelling to the area who is interested, the calendar of games can be viewed and tickets purchased online at pionniers-chamonix.com.