We’ve made it to the very tippy top of the Lycian Way in Fethiye. Well, that’s where our bus deposited us after which we then had a 15 minute or so taxi ride back to our accommodation in Ölüdeniz. This popular resort town is positively teeming with Brits, where the “Strip” through the main town displays prices in pounds, shows all the English Premier League football matches and provides full monty English breakfasts, including bacon, at any time of the day.
We’ve swept our way 170 kilometres around the coast to the bohemian town of Kas (pronounced cash). We’re expecting big things from this town of roughly 10,000 (although the wider district is much larger at close to 50,000), with a lot of people saying it’s a much more laid back place than the other seaside resorts along the Turquoise Coast. With sparkling blue waters, loads of cool cafes and plenty of ancient Greek historical sites to check out, first impressions are that this is more our kind of place.
We’ve made it to the exquisite Turquoise Coast, situated in the southwest of Turkey and which also goes by the somewhat unoriginal moniker of the Turkish Riveria. The undisputed beauty of this stretch of water is such that the Roman General Mark Antony is believed to have given this area as his wedding gift to Cleopatra. Measuring more than 1,000 kilometres, the Turquoise Coast is one of Turkey’s most popular tourist spots. It’s easy to see why, with its consistently hot and dry weather, beautiful beaches, warm crystal clear water and fabulous montain scenery. Well, that and the fact that full English breakfasts are available at pretty much every restaurant as well as beer being served at any time of the day. Yep, we’ve made it to one of the favourite haunts of the Brit Flop and Drop crowd.
We’ve decided to stop off for a couple of days in the culturally significant city of Konya, Turkey’s 7th-largest with a population of 2 million. Inhabited since 3,000 BC, Konya is best known for being the final resting place of the Sufi mystic Rumi (Mevlana), whose tomb is now an important pilgrimmage site. With a reputation for being one of the more religiously conservative places in Turkey, it is as a result substantially more difficult to find a decent drink, which, after enduring the six hour bus ride from Goreme, was high up on our agenda of things to do when we arrive!
For most people the highlight of any trip to Goreme will be a ride in a hot air balloon that provides spectacular views of the moon-like landscape from above. However, as good as this might be, it doesn’t provide you with an opportunity to see up close and personal 4th century AD rock-hewn churches and multitudes of magnificient fairy chimneys, hoodoos, cave cells and rock formations. To do that, you need to scope out the many valleys that surround Cappadocia’s most famous town on foot.
Landing in the small town of Goreme in Cappadocia, it seems like we’ve been transported to another world. We opted for the easier route of flying into Nevesehir 35 minutes from Goreme via Istanbul which gave us an opportunity to see some of the natural rock formations that this part of Turkey is famous for, in particular its “fairy chimneys”, on the drive in. With a population of around 2,000, tourists seem to outnumber residents and the town is easily covered in 10 minutes walking from one end to the other which will take you past a plethora of restaurants, guesthouses, tourism offices, supermarkets selling mostly water, beer, chips and cigarettes and carpet shops.
Who would’ve thought that Bulgaria had such beautiful beaches. This Balkan country has 380 kilometres of coastline on the westside of the Black Sea. We’d already seen Black Sea beaches in Batumi, Georgia and came away not that impressed. But, as the old saying goes, “Westside is the Bestside” and in this case it most definitely is true.
it would be fair to say that Bucharest isn’t on too many people’s bucket lists mostly due to it being viewed as a concrete jungle with communist style architecture. Things are slowly on the improve, however, and the revamp of the Old Town is certainly an improvement on what iused to be here as little as five years ago. There are hotels, cafes and pubs all jostling for the tourist dollar, which makes the Old Town district, if not quite packed with people, certainly one with large enough numbers to give the place a buzz. Essentially, it has tarted itself up for partying Europeans which has also resulted in a large number of sex and strip clubs in the same area. Obviously the clientele it is seeking is men looking for cheap booze and eats with some extras thrown in for good measure.
We’ve blasted down the trainway from Brasov to Bucharest, a city first mentioned in 1459 as one of the residences of our old friend Vlad, ruler of Wallachia, who was responsible for growing the city to a decent size when he made it the preferred site of the Wallachian court. And while folk legend has it that a shepherd, Bucur, founded the city, it is more commonly believed that Radu Voda initially established it in the late 13th century AD, making this a relatively new city.
Ringed by the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania is Romania’s 7th largest city Brașov. Boasting a beautiful cobbled old town with colourful barouque buildings and more than one imposing church, the city is more often than not used as a staging post by tourists for an assault on Bran Castle, once home to Vlad the Impaler. However, you’re missing out on this fabulous city if you simply pass through and it is well worth the time spent to explore every inch of a place that teems with medieval wonders.
Oradea has come a long way since it was first inhabited at the end of the Middle Palaeolithic, some time around about 50,000 BC to 35,000 BC. Originally called Nagyvárad when it only consisted of a small 10th century castle, and then the Latin Varadinum from the early 12th century AD, it wasn’t until the 14th century AD that it really flourished. Fast forward to the second half of the 19th century AD and the town had acquired nicknames such as the "Hungarian Compostela", "Paris on the River Pece", "Athens on the Körös", and "the City of Tomorrow". Communist rule might’ve stymied its progress since then, but there’s no denying that this is an up and coming destination full af rich Art Nouveau buildings that rivals anything else going around.
We’re really hitting our Kontiki straps now. Two days in our last city in Hungary, Debrercen, is followed up with three in Orada, our first city in Romania. The rain makes two days in Debrecen, more than enough, whilst the sun, suprerb accommodation and some new found friends make three days in Oradea nowhere near enough.
In what sometimes feels like a previous life, I went running with the bulls in Pamplona during the nine-day festival of Sanfermines some 22 years ago. There’s nothing that beats running 825 metres over slippery cobbles being chased by 15 steers/bulls weighing between 500kg to 700kg. You can hear the heavy footfall of their cloven hooves. You can feel their hot, steamy breath on your neck. You can also smell the the pungent smell of the bullcrap in the air. At least you can with most of my retellings of this story, as when I was running I managed to beat the bulls into the arena easily, by at least a minute, having not seen, heard or smelt anything that resembled a bull. I was looking to rectify that by heading to Eger in Hungary and drinking Egri Bikavér, better known as Bull’s Blood Wine.
We’ve got one last day to make the most of this amazing city and what better place to start than at the Hungarian Parliament Building. The neo-Gothic building is the largest in Hungary and was opened in 1902 after some 100,000 people helped construct it using 40 million bricks, 500,000 precious stones and 40 kilograms of gold.
I’ve got a new favourite city. Or technically three cities as Budapest only came into being in 1873 when three previously separate towns, Buda, Óbuda, and Pest, were officially unified. More often than not, people refer to only two towns merging, as Óbuda simply means old Buda and prior to 1873 people often referred to the area colloquially as Pest-Buda. Three cities or two, it matters not, Budapesht, as us locals call it, it undeniably one of the most attractive cities in the world and sure to enchant anyone who makes their way here.
It’s never a good sign when you arrive at a bus teriminal and you’re the only ones who get off. But that was the case when we arrived in Banska Bystrica, a town located in central Slovakia. I’ll be honest. I’d chosen it as it was sort of half way between Krakow and Budapest, our next stop. When I told Veronica this after getting off the bus, I wish I’d been less honest.