I honestly had never considered spending months in Turkey, until our plans changed. And Ann spent hours on the internet doing her usual very in-depth research.
It was once she showed me how many amazing things there are in Turkey that I agreed. Sure, I had been there before – on a speed tour for 2 weeks some 15 years ago. But I did not recall it being worth a second look.
Isn’t it just full of tourists on beaches trying to get a tan before returning home? Or maybe a few ruins scattered around the hills from civilizations long forgotten? Seems I was wrong.
Getting To Turkey
Turkey is quite close to Switzerland when you compare it with Australia, but it’s still a bit of a drive. According to Google Maps (which knows everything), it is around 2200km from Zurich to Istanbul. In case you want to pop over for a visit?
We decided to do this stretch as fast as possible as we had done in Greece last year. Connecting with a ferry again from Italy to Greece, and then speeding across Northern Greece in a few days. We booked our ferry late as usual, so had to wait about 5 days to get on board. So, we spent the first days exploring some parts of Italy we had never been to.
We stayed in cool places provided by Agricamper, a system of vineyards, farms, etc that offer land and maybe a toilet or shower. All we had to do was sign up for 1 year for 30 Euros! It‘s a very cool system!
We stayed in a vineyard, a farm, and a few other random places like the car park of a cemetery in a small town. And, we got to see some cities and national parks we had never been to.
Then we caught our favourite ferry across to Greece (that is sarcastic, we don’t enjoy that ferry at all). As soon as we put our tyres on Greek land we headed to the highway and drove as far as we could. We covered Greece in a few days, stopping once at a cool lake that was filled with flamingos. Who knew Greece was somewhere to go flamingo spotting?
Then we hit the Turkish border during one of the busiest shopping weekends you could imagine. It was simple to cross, but it took a while. Every. Single. Person. had something to declare and do the paperwork for. Air fryers. Clothes. Electronics. You name it. They had gone to Greece to buy it! We crept along very slowly until we finally reached the Turkish border control. They were all very friendly and we got chatting a bit. It was our turn to make the others wait 🙂
Finding Our Feet In Turkey
Entering a new country, especially one that is outside of the EU is a bit weird. Especially in a camper. First, you have to get some Lira. Then you have to get a highway sticker at the Post Office (which took us ages and the Turkish people also wanting to get things sorted were so patient with us and friendly). On top of that, you need a SIM card for mobile data to plan everything else (maps, sleeping spots, supermarkets, …) You also need to figure out how to order, pay, park (a big van) in a busy town, find safe spots to sleep and not get ripped off on prices. But the Turkish people are very helpful and Google Translate is just great. We have whole conversations with people via the App and it works really well.
Turkey is undergoing some 50%+ yearly inflation right now, so prices are very changeable. You actually never know what you are going to pay. The prices go up every day, apart from the petrol that is.
Camping opposite Gallipoli
Our first campground was a really nice spot at an old gun emplacement on the tip of the Bosporus Strait right opposite Gallipoli. We could see the huge monument from our car park. It was a popular stop as there were about 5 other campers there, but we had a really quiet night recovering from the border crossing etc.
We went for a walk the next morning to a nearby hill for a better view and to do some exercise and had our first experience with the locals. At first, we thought it was the police stopping us, but after the guy just asked if he could help us with anything, we realized the Turks are super-friendly. Almost all the time.
Another funny story that comes to mind is about 4 hours later when we bought some bread for lunch in a tiny village. By using Google Translate. We pointed and asked what was what, how much it was etc. And we finally pointed to the one we wanted.
“No”. Said the young baker.
He took our phone and typed into Google “Old”. Huh? Oh, wait. The bread is old. He would not sell it to us. Even though he had about 20 of them! Now that is honesty!
We bought a few different rolls and a loaf of bread and had a great lunch outside his bakery shaking our heads at the craziness of it all.
Exploring Çeşme & Ayvalik
Our first real stop on our Turkey trip was the Çeşme peninsula and the historic towns of Çeşme and Ayvalik. We had a few awesome camp spots on beaches alone while we were there. And they are honestly some of the best we have had.
The towns were also great, especially Ayvalik, which is a cute old town that seriously caters to tourists. Winding streets, lots of cafes and restaurants set up for Instagram shots. But it was out of season, so we could just roam and explore without any hassles.
We also stopped at a fantastic breakfast spot while we were there. They serve you endless Turkish breakfast and tea in an epic courtyard setting under trees. We soaked up the atmosphere and ate ourselves silly on the various dips, sauces, bread and mini-pancakes. It was amazing.
The ground was filled with tortoises as well, so you had to be careful where you stepped. One wrong move and it was tortoise for dinner! Oh, and the trees above us were also filled with tiny birds just waiting for crumbs. And for a chance to shit on my head. Which they did during the middle of breakfast! It was funny afterwards.
Pamukkale & The Ruins
After leaving the peninsula, we decided to take the long and winding road to Pamukkale, which many of you might know. It is a huge hill covered with white stone from calcium-rich waters that have been trickling downhill for centuries. There used to be a huge Roman town on top too, which means there are hours worth of ruins to explore as well as a cheesy Roman Bath full of Russian tourists posing for Instagram.
Sorry, I’m off-topic here. We parked our van right below the hill the night before and entered the ruins at 6.30. And it was worth it. There was next to nobody there (yet). And we had the place to ourselves (save about 5 others) for an hour or two. The sun was slowly rising and washing over the white calcium-rich waters. We had our breakfast in total peace and quiet and we could do and go wherever we wanted without seeing anyone.
Sure, the tourists eventually arrived, but we had explored most of it all over 3-4 hours rarely encountering anyone. So, if you ever go, I recommend you do the same!
One of the best decisions we made was to explore the Datça Peninsula, which is just south of Bodrum. Ann had read that there were some amazing walking options – parts of the Carian Trail, a long-distance trail in the area.
Our first stop was a smaller peninsula below it. We aimed for a small shipbuilding town called Bozburun. And it did not disappoint. The bay was a stunning turquoise blue with ships dotted around the harbour. But it was the ships not yet in the water that were the highlight.
Turkey still seems to have some seriously skilled tradesmen in the ship-building industry and in Bozburun, in the back of the town, there were ships stashed in every corner. On stilts, getting ready for summer. They are a very unique shape and are typically called Gulets. Although that word seems to get used all around the Med.
These ships were immaculate and hand-crafted from very high-end materials. Take a look at the pictures and you will see what I mean. We even came across one alone in a small harbour where we thought we might sleep one night. But the young millionaire owner was blasting out dance tracks while he and a buddy worked on preparing it for his family and friends to visit in summer, so we decided to move on. Yes, he lives on the boat and just entertains people all year! Ann tried hard to get invited on board, but it did not work. Maybe the hiking pants, the fleece, the very bad hairdo and the Birkenstocks were not the right dress code to get him convinced.
After waving goodbye to the harbour at Bozburun, we headed to the quieter parts of Datça including some stunning beaches where we could spend days without really being bothered. Sure, the Turks often turn up to the most random of spots for a picnic, a grill, and a hot tea. But they rarely stay for more than an hour, and are always super friendly and don’t stare or bother us apart from maybe saying “hi” and “welcome”.
Some Unwelcome Visitors (On The Way To Dalyan)
Our trip to Dalyan started with a campground so we could wash our clothes and shower for a change. The campsite was very basic, with the women giving Ann commands at the washing machine to save electricity. But eventually, we managed to get two loads done by 9 pm and hang them out to dry.
The wind finally picked up later in the evening and we started to get worried the laundry would fly off onto the ground and we could start all over again the next morning. So, at 2 am Ann got up and rescued it all, quickly throwing the now dry laundry into a big bag. Perfect! Mission Complete!
It was not until the morning that we noticed a few strange insects in the van. And, as I was removing the last few things from the washing line, I found a few more.
Once it got dark that night they all started to come out of the woodwork. Literally. We killed about 15 of them that night and about 3-5 each day for the next week. We continued to find them in random spots and Ann spent every evening in bed watching out for them (she really hates insects!).
We think we have gotten rid of them all after 2 weeks and we believe they were Ear Wigs. Hopefully, they did not manage to breed while they were hiding in the van! Our woodwork was definitely the right environment for them!
Last year we found a wasp that had decided to nest in our wood too, so we already knew how much fun it could be. And we had recently read a story about a family with a mouse problem that took weeks to resolve!
Dalyan is a place that is not so well-known to us, but given the 200+ boats they had moored at the riverside there, I think it is absolutely jammed in summer!
So, why did we head to Dalyan. Well, it is on the way south, and it has a few cool things to see. And lots of touristy tours (hence the boats) that we always ignore. We prefer to do things on our own and hike or walk most of the time.
Opposite town perched high in the rocks are some insanely old tombs from Lycian times. They almost beckon you to visit them from town, so we took a rowboat over with a family (mother and grown daughter) who row people across for about 50 cents each! Why there is no bridge in town, I have no idea.
We walked around on the other side of the town and tried to get closer to the tombs, But, seeing as we are “out of season” it was closed. Anyway, the best view is from a distance and the walk was fun – we bought some orange blossom honey from a lovely old lady who was seemingly just waiting for us on the street.
With not so much to see in town after a quick lunch and wander around we headed to an epic 2-hour drive to our camping spot on a mountain above town. Unfortunately, the road up was way too much for our van (trees were in the way) but that didn’t stop the locals in their beat-up cars doing roads that only 4x4s should do. Most made it up, some stopped halfway and walked. But give it to the Turks, 4x4s are for babies!
Instead of our planned epic spot above town, we ended up settling for a spot at the gate to the Turtle Sanctuary next to two old men who were having tea and food and talking for….hours. They left us alone at 8 pm with the guard (who was very friendly, of course) and we had a very quiet night! (in the most random of spots, again).
Once we awoke, we headed down for breakfast at the beach (which has a HUGE car park for over 1000 people in summer apparently) but we were there with about 10 other people. Then we took a quick free tour of the Turtle Sanctuary where they save endangered Loggerhead Turtles that use that beach during spring and summer.
It is sad to see that for the Turks the environment comes a distant tenth in their list of priorities. There is rubbish everywhere, and we even see people just throwing things from their cars. The turtles suffer as a result of the rubbish, the 200 boats I mentioned and the fishing boats, and some people even trying to harpoon them to death! It is heartbreaking to see …
Their numbers are recovering in recent years the girl told us, and their efforts in the sanctuary really seem to be paying off.
After our quick visit, and a small donation of course, we got moving south again…
More to come soon! We are hopelessly behind with our blog (as usual) but Ann has started to post some stuff on her Instagram account which is a little more up-to-date. Note from Ann: let me just mention that I‘m an absolute beginner and that most of the time I have no clue how to post something or make it even remotely sexy. Anyway, I hope practice will help 🙂 not giving up just yet.