Southeastern Turkey – 21January to 5 February 2023

As usual, I’m writing this post a few days after we were in this region and if some of the names seem familiar, it is because this is the region that was struck by the horrendous earthquake in the early hours of Monday 6 February.  As of now the recovery process is still ongoing but it is being hampered by the weather which turned cold and snowy just before the disaster struck.

The people of this region have been some of the most friendly and hospitable people we have ever met and our thoughts go out to them all.

A food market we wandered into in Tarsus

We left the cold of Cappadocia to head back to the coast at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Our first stop was Tarsus, the birthplace of St Paul, although we have to confess that our primary reason for visiting was the free washing machines at the municipal motorhome aire! With the washing drying we wandered into town and followed a tourist walking route which took us past most of the main historic attractions – well worth a few hours of our day.

The municipal motorhome aire at Tarsus

After Tarsus we drove around lakes close to Yumurtalik but couldn’t find a park up there so we headed to a car park near Yumurtalik Beach. As we were sitting outside the van having a coffee, we were approached by a family who were having a picnic nearby and who asked if they could look inside. No problem, we said, and after all three generations had stuck their heads through the door, we suddenly had an invite back to the grandparent’s house for coffee, so we packed up the van and followed them the 30km or so to Ceyhan. Having settled down for a cup of tea, we were then offered dinner, a shower and a bed for the night! Not wanting to offend anyone, and knowing the Turks are incredibly hospitable, we ate the delicious soup and the kibbeh but very politely turned down the bath and bed.

The family would have been in the region impacted by the earthquake and we just hope Yusuf and the rest of the family are ok.

Fantastic kibbeh

From here we drove further south along the Mediterranean, spending a couple of nights beside the beach at Arsuz, catching up on admin and housework.

The Titus Tunnel

We visited the Titus Tunnel near Samandag, a flood prevention tunnel built by the Romans in the first century and whilst there had a great homemade flatbread stuffed with cheese and spinach – that was worth the entry fee alone!

You won’t get fresher flatbread.

We reached our southernmost point a few kilometres south of here, about 12km north of the Syrian border, when the track became impassable so we turned north again towards Antakya (also known as Hatay).

The most southerly point for us on this tour.

Sadly the city carpark was unable to accommodate us so after a few twists and turns through the busy narrow streets we found a campsite out of town. This meant we missed exploring the town and all that it had to offer.

Esenbahçe Kamp Alani, near Hatay

Our bellies were looking forward to our next stop at Gaziantep, known for its baklava and other foodie treats! The town is in the centre of the pistachio growing region and given our habit of stopping occasionally for coffee, we had to try the local pistachio coffee. Well, what a revelation – we really liked it!

Who knew pistachio coffee was a thing? We both loved it.

We wandered around the old bazaar area where we had all our kitchen knives sharpened in a small workshop and had our first kebab of the day.

The Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum is definitely worth a visit. The mosaics were unearthed at the Roman site of Belkis-Zeugma and moved when the Birecik Dam flooded the area. The size and detail of the mosaics is phenomenal.

The Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum

We had taken a taxi from the campsite with another English couple, Rich and Sarah, aka tracey_van_ness on Instagram, and met up with them again later in the day for an early dinner at Kebap ve Baklava (worth a visit and don’t be put off by the queue as it moves really quickly). We don’t eat out much as a rule as we’re on a budget but we knew we’d blow that in Gaziantep! We had different kebabs so we could share and of course had to finish with a couple of pieces of pistachio baklava.

We were now beginning our journey east and spent a couple of nights near Halfeti on the banks of the Euphrates. The old town of Halfeti (Eski Halfeti) was partially submerged following the construction of the Birecik Dam. It’s now a destination for boat tours to view the Rumkale fortress on the opposite bank and the flooded village of Savas, where the minaret of the submerged mosque stands above the water.

The flooded mosque.

We had hoped to visit the famous statues at Nemrut Dagi but knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t get there and indeed, at a height of 5,500ft we found the snowbound and very much closed approach road.

The end of the road for us.

We spent three nights in Mardin but had only one day when we left the van – can’t be helped travelling in this region during the winter! We did have one glorious day when the sun came out so we could explore the old town and look across the plains to Syria.

Looking out from Mardin towards Syria
Mardin old town

Our final stop of this leg was the Mor Gabriel Monastery where we spent a couple of nights in their very snowy car park! The monastery is the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world having been founded in 397AD and is located near Midyat. Although still home to practising monks and nuns it is possible to take a guided tour of the monastery.

We are there somewhere
Mor Gabriel Monastery
Mor Gabriel Monastery

The snow of the last couple of days was a gentle introduction to what was to come next!

Campsites used:

Tarsus Municipal Campsite, Tarsus: Free, including EHU and limited use of a washing machine. Small individual pitches for 10 vans and any overflow was accommodated in the car park – it’s worth arriving early to secure a pitch. The maximum stay is initially 3 nights and return visits are limited. The washing machine is under lock and key and used under the supervision of the site manager but it’s free so can’t complain! Great restaurant next door and others within short walking distance. The city of Tarsus is about 2km away, a flat, easy walk.

Esenbahçe Kamp Alani, near Hatay: tl150 p/n (£6.50) including EHU. Small, rural, riverside campsite. All grass pitches. All the usual facilities but we only stayed overnight (only because we were on our way to somewhere else) so can’t comment on them.

Gaziantep Karavan Park, Gaziantep: tl150 p/n including EHU. Free use of washing machines and DRYERS – yes, tumble dryers, although it did feel like you had to fight with local caravan owners who had bought their week’s washing from home with them! A fairly new, 24hr guarded, large, tiered site with hard standing pitches next to a lake. Reception building with a communal seating area and terrace. Pitches available for long term rent and lots of caravans seem to be long term. Taxi point just outside the front gate and it cost us tl150 to get to the centre of Gaziantep.

Mardin Karavan Camping, Mardin: tl150 p/n including EHU. A small car park run by a really friendly and helpful family – we drank lots of tea with them! A great location for access to the old town of Mardin and it has all the facilities you need, albeit it’s not a pretty site. Some noise as you are right next to a mosque and the owner’s dog barks at anything and everything passing the front gate day and night.

Other overnight stops:

Buyuk Ataturk Park, Ceyhan: Free overnight spot in the car park. A few cars around in the evening but once they had gone, it was quiet enough.

Arsuz: Free parking on grass close to the beach (no swimming allowed though at this point). Some noise from the construction site behind the parking area but quiet at night. A great place to rest for a couple of days. Short walk into town.

Siverek Picnic Area, Siverek: Free parking overlooking a dammed lake on the Euphrates. Large parking area. Toilets at the entrance. Very quiet night.

Halfeti: Free parking on a track alongside the Euphrates river. They are working on the track so some lorry noise during the day. Short walk to a few shops.

Mor Gabriel Monastery: Free parking in the outer carpark. We arrived during a snow storm and staff from the monastery came out to see if we needed anything. Great views across the countryside.



Polar Steps:

Cappadocia – 11th to 21st January 2023

This small area needs its own post – we spent longer in the Cappadocia region than anywhere else so far on our travels!

The Balloons over Cappadocia

Moving towards the east, we first stopped in the Ihlara Valley and began at the north of the valley at Selime Castle, the largest cave complex in the region. The valley was a favourite retreat of Byzantine monks and many of the buildings carved into the rock are monasteries and churches.

June’s favourite cave at Selime Castle
Selime Castle

We spent a couple of hours here exploring the churches and other buildings before driving a little further south to a small hot spring we had read about. We have visited a few hot springs and this was definitely the hottest but also the smallest! Shame about all the rubbish lying around though.

Nice hot spring. Shame about the rubbish just out of shot.
One of the churches in the Ihlara Valley

We then parked at the visitor centre near the town of Ihlara and from where we took the 350+ steps down to the valley floor to walk along the valley and explore the churches here.  There are a dozen or so churches built into the valley walls and some still have amazing frescoes dating from as early as the 9th century.  The total walk was about 10km.

If timed correctly you can probably explore the whole valley in one day and pay only one fee of tl90 but we took our time so paid for two days.

Love Valley

Goreme is the main town of the Cappadocia’s tourist industry and much of the town is geared towards tourists (several Chinese, Korean and Indian restaurants are just one example of this!). Although we stayed on a campsite for a couple of nights, we much preferred being parked up overlooking the valleys from where we could watch the hot air balloons, one of Cappadocia’s biggest tourist draws, and view the strange rock formations. The balloons only fly when the weather allows and we saw them twice in six days.

Park up above Love Valley

Whilst here we visited the Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site of a Byzantine monastic settlement built into the rock. There seemed to be a few churches closed when we visited but it was still worth going and also buying the extra ticket to visit the Dark Church which has the most breathtaking frescoes. The church gets its name from the lack of windows which has gone a long way to preserve the frescoes and their strong colours.

One of the frescoes. Just stunning

There are some fantastic hikes in Rose Valley and we covered a lot of it, from the peak of Aktepe Hill and down a few hundred metres onto the valley floor.  

The Columned Church (Kolonlu Kilise) is well worth hunting out.

Between Ihlara and Goreme we visited Derinkuyu, one of several underground cities in the area.

One of the tunnels in the underground city.
The round stone to the left would be rolled to close off the tunnel.

If on a quick visit to the area it is possible to cover a lot with the Cappadocia Pass which gives access to seven locations for 400tl (just over £17) and is valid for 72 hours. We decided to take our time and paid for each place we visited (3 out of the 7 but we had to pay twice for Ilhara Valley) which cost us a total of tl480 (around £20.50).

We’re not usually ones for big tourist centres but Cappadocia was a must, although we were grateful that it wasn’t overly busy. Saying that on our last morning we think they hit the maximum permitted number of balloons flying, which is 100, and some of those baskets carry 28 passengers!

About the max of 100 balloons that are allowed to fly at any one time.

It has been quite cold here (we’ve been in thermals for the past two weeks!) so time to head south again for some warmth. 

Campsites used:

Panorama Camping: tl450 (£19.50) per night including EHU. Tiered, hard standing campsite, close to the town. Small pitches but plenty of room out of season – upper terrace has the views and lower terrace the best wifi signal! Swimming pool and washing machine were out of service when we visited. Friendly, helpful owner who is very responsive on WhatsApp.

Other overnight spots:

Ilhara Valley Tourist Facility car park: was free when we visited. There was building work going on close to the main car park so we used the overflow area. There are toilets but they were closed when we visited.

Love Valley viewpoint: no pay point on the track we used. Parking is a free for all along the western ridge overlooking Love Valley and which has great views of the balloons, some of which land in this area. Access is via bumpy tracks which could be muddy if there’s any prolonged period of rain. Restaurants and toilets nearby.

Rose Valley viewpoint: tl50 for a motorhome to access the valley (only pay to enter and not a daily fee). Bumpy mud tracks again off the main access road. Great views of the balloons taking off and plenty of local hiking. Restaurants and toilets nearby.



Polar Steps:

West and Central Anatolia, lakes and caravanserais – 4 to 10 January 2023

We left the coast and headed inland after a disappointing trip to Decathlon in Antalya with our shopping list barely touched – probably not a bad thing!

Sultanhani kervansaray. One of the many we’ve seen.

On the map, along the route we were following, were a number of caravanserais (also kervansaray, han or hanı), basically lodgings built for travellers on the Silk Road and where they could resupply themselves and their animals. The caravanserais were built 30-40km apart which would have equated to about a day’s travel

Obruk Hani with a huge sink hole behind.

The buildings are in various states of repair and some now house museums, shops and cafes. The largest caravanserai in Anatolia is Sultanhani which was built in 1229 and reconstructed after a fire in 1278. The covered lodging area is now a carpet museum (not as boring as it sounds!).

Of course we came we had to visit some ruins; the Roman city of Sagalassos which are found at an altitude of 1500m in the Taurus Mountains. The site is one of the Mediterranean’s largest archaeological projects with lots of ongoing excavations. Something we were not expecting was to be handed the keys to the Neon Library which houses a 4th century mosaic. We thought this was one of the most stunning sites we have visited so far.


The Turkish Lake District is found in the mountains of western Anatolia. We had already visited Lake Salda so this time we stayed on the edge of Lake Egirdir, admiring the sunsets.

A beautiful view from the free park up at Lake Egirdir
Lake Egirdir

We also spent a night close to Lake Tuz, one of the world’s largest salt lakes. It’s often pink but only when it is warm and dry, and is slowly drying up as the water feeding it is diverted for towns or agricultural use.

The Mevlevi worship ceremony of the whirling dervishes.

In between the two lakes we spent a night in Konya. As it was a Saturday this meant we were able to catch the weekly sema, the Mevlevi worship ceremony of the whirling dervishes. You can turn up at the Mevlana Culture Centre about 30 minutes before the show and entry was tl50 (£2.15) each and the ceremony lasts about an hour. If you can time a visit to catch the mesmerising ceremony than we’d highly recommend it.

Mevlana Museum.

The nearby Mevlana and Panoramic Museums are also worth visiting. The former houses the tomb of Celaleddin Rumi, later known as Mevlana and who bought the whirling dervishes to the world. It is an old lodge of the whirling dervishes and one of the biggest pilgrimage centres in Turkey, attracting over 1.5 million visitors a year.

The Panoramic Museum

Campsites used:

Kervansaray Camping, Sultanhani: tl250 p/n including EHU. Small grassy campsite just across the road from Sultanhani Caravanserai. Probably quite cramped in the summer and wifi only really worked in the central building. Washing machine but it was out of order when we visited but the owner took my washing and returned it the following morning (I suspect his wife or mum did it for us!). Very friendly and helpful staff.

Other overnight stops:

Susuz Kervansaray: free parking to the rear of the building. The site is covered in litter and the local children were running around the van but they soon got bored when we ignored them. Bumpy, rock strewn ground but fine for an overnight stay. There was an old toilet block there but there was no water connected.

Egirdir: free parking on the peninsula. We parked on an the site of an old cafe which was flat and quiet. One of the other car parks had a couple of hole in the ground style toilets so we were able to empty the toilet cassette. No other facilities but water is plentiful from roadside public water fountains (we have a filter system on the van so are not unduly worried about where we get water).

Konya: large free car park behind the Panorama Museum and next to the Hilton Hotel. No services and a little noisy – it was Saturday night and locals have a habit of parking next to the van and playing loud music.

Lake Tuz: a track off the main road took us down towards the lake but not too close as the ground became very soft and muddy. Parked next to a farmer’s field so no services but spectacular views!



Polar Steps:

Istanbul 2020

A few photos from the trip

Saturday 15th February

For this trip we were going with Amy and Chloe, something we hadn’t done for a few years.  Had to go during the half term as it was the only time we could all get together.

The day before we left the UK we had a bit of an issue when we found that you could no longer get a tourist visa at the airport.  June had been to Turkey with work several times and had always paid for the visa on arrival.  When checking the cost on the Friday afternoon June found that was no longer the case and you had to get a e-visa.  Thankfully it was a simple online process with immediate delivery of the visa but at $36 each,  slightly more expensive than the previous £10 on arrival!

This was a British Airways holiday and having arrived in Istanbul late afternoon, we had a pre-arranged transfer who took us to the Hotel Byzantium in the old City.  When we got there we were told that due to planned building work going on in the hotel we would have to stay in another hotel next door for one night….  Not a good start but it got better.

We had chosen the Byzantium as it was right in the middle of everything in the Sultanahmet area and surrounded by restaurants and cafes.

The first night, somewhat spoiled for choice, we ate at the Magnaura.  Really nice restaurant.  The girls went back to the hotel while we had a short bimble.

Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque

Sunday 16th February

The next morning we returned to the Byzantium where the staff were very apologetic about our first night and quickly sorted us out with a family 2 room suite. 

Once settled in we headed off to Hagia Sophia.  As we arrived there were quite long queues for tickets.  At that point Omer, ( a local guide, approached us and won us over with his patter and the fact he could by-pass the queues….

Once in Hagia Sophia Omer came into his own.  His ‘bullet point’ guide style was perfect for us as he showed us around the stunning building.

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

It was hard to miss the fact that there was a lot of renovation going on, not just here, but at a lot of the other tourist attractions.  I guess it must be a constant job with buildings as old as these.

Omer left us for 30 minutes to look about for ourselves before we caught up with him again to visit the Basilica Cistern which at 9,800 square metres, is the largest of the cisterns that lie beneath the city.  Originally fed with water from 19 kms away to the north via aqueducts

This setting was used in Dan Brown’s Inferno and other films.  It is a  real must go to place.

Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern

Again this was having work carried out and once completed you will be able to walk on a glass floor looking down on fish in the water below.

Several of the columns in the cistern are recycled and include one carved with the head of Medusa and installed upside down as it was the best fit.  After all when under water the fish won’t mind too much.

Medusa column
Medusa column

After a tasty lunch at the Karadeniz we returned to the hotel for an afternoon kip…..  Well it had been a busy day 🙂

That evening we ate at the Turkuaz gurme Restaura just a few metres from the hotel, again really nice food….  This was going to be the theme of the stay to be honest.

Monday 17th February

At the hotel we had bought a ticket for a IBO boat trip on the Bosphorus, a short cable car ride and coach ride around the old city walls.

We were collected from the hotel at 10.30 and headed off to the moorings and then headed off along the Golden Horn and into the Bosphorus.  The day was beautiful with clear blue skies.  There were no more that 30 of us on the boat,  but we can imagine in full season it would be crowded and you wouldn’t have the space that we did.

We passed many palaces and beautiful buildings as we headed north towards the Black Sea.  After about an hour we moored up at Bebek where we jumped off the boat and grabbed a coffee at the best Starbucks in Istanbul.  Well the view across the Bosphorus was stunning.

The return was along the eastern side of the channel and passing Maiden’s Tower before returning to the starting point.

Once moored we jumped on to the coach and headed off to Pierre Loti  a cafe with a bit of a view across the Golden Horn


View from Pierre Loti Cafe
View from Pierre Loti Cafe

The cable car was a little disappointing but I guess it was never going to compare with those in the Alps.

The coach then took us on a short trip around the City walls where the guide explained that it actually consisted of 3 walls and that is why it was quite a secure city ‘in the day’

City Walls
City Walls

That evening the girls took us out for a meal as a belated Christmas Present.  They had chosen to take us to Sultanahmet Ottoman Fish Terrace House 

Beautiful meal and wonderful location.  Thank you Amy and Chloe.

Tuesday 18th February

Today was a wandering day.

First we headed to the stunning Blue Mosque where like many of the places we visited there was restoration work going on.  It remains a functioning mosque and was built between 1609 and 1616.  It constantly amazes us how these huge building were built without today’s construction equipment.

Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque

Next on the list was the  Galata Bridge.  One of the bridges over the Golden Horn.

On the bridge there are dozens of fishermen catching small to medium size fish that they then sell to commuters on their way home.


After a coffee, of course, we continued over the bridge to the Galata Tower where you can get a great view over the city. This nine story tower is almost 67 metres high and was built in medieval times.

Galata Tower
Galata Tower

From the tower we meandered back to the Galata Bridge where we had fish for lunch.  When I say fish, they brought out a whole Sea Bass weighing 1.4 kilos for us to inspect.  Off it went to the kitchen to be cooked coming back very tasty.

That night we ate at the Babylonia Garden Terrace Restaurant.  Again very good food.

Wednesday the 19th February

Topkapı Palace was the first place on the list today…  This is a large museum and previously the main palace for the Ottoman Sultans.

Topkapı Palace
Topkapı Palace

After dropping into Hafiz Mustafa for coffee and sweets, great recommendation Imran) we headed off to the spice bizarre and what is regarded as one of the first ‘shopping malls’ in the world, the Grand Bizarre.

We could have wandered around here for days on end.  Much like a calmer version of the Souks in Marrakesh it has stalls for everything you could think of.  Amy came away with a silver chain and pendant….  the rest of us came away with wallets intact.

Grand Bazaar
Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar
Grand Bazaar

Thursday the 20th February

Today was going to be a little different.  One of June’s former work colleagues is Turkish and lives in Istanbul and they hadn’t met for over 20 years.

The tube system in the city is clean and, from what we saw, very efficient.  Fortunately we met a German guy, who is now living in Istanbul, who seemed to pick up that we hadn’t a clue where to get the tickets ( apparently the Oyster card from London doesn’t work 🙂 ).  He took pity on us and led us to the platform where we bought 4 tickets and off we headed to Haciosman at the end of the line.

A few minutes later we were picked up by  Ozge and we taken for coffee of course.  It was great to meet her and hear about the real Istanbul life.

Ozge took us to Emek Mantı for lunch which was was great.  We had some great recommendations including, Cig Borek, a deep-fried turnover with a filling of ground or minced meat and onions and Manti, dumplings with spiced ground meat and onion, is one of the all time favourite dishes in Turkey.


After lunch June and the girls headed off to the hotel spa for a bit of pampering – you can’t come to Istanbul and not have some sort of scrub down and massage!

That evening we ate at the Şiva Cafe Restaurant which was almost next to the hotel we were staying at.  The food was really good.  June and I having a kebab that was cooked in a clay type pot which was then set alight before serving…  Lots of show 🙂

Friday the 21st February

This afternoon we would catch the flight home but not before more food and coffee at Hakki Zadc where Bob tried Tavuk Gogsu.  Ozge had recommended this the day before but even for me there is a limit to how much I can eat in one day.

This sweet dish is milk pudding made from shredded chicken.  Yes you read that right shredded chicken.  It is one of the signature dishes of Turkey and sprinkled with cinnamon it is beautiful.  Like a think white blancmange in texture and no chicken taste at all.  However as milk causes Bob to cough it did cause a few irritations for a few days.

It also rained a little today, which was the first we had seen.  We had been very fortunate with the weather with blue skies.

Oh how we laughed
Oh how we laughed

This was a great trip and we would really recommend Istanbul.  The hotel we used was in a perfect location for us and what we did.