Going walkabout again
Last month on the 19th June, exactly seven years to the day since I moved to Kenya, I set out on another walkabout. Going walkabout again in 2021 was something I had promised myself I would do 7 years ago – as a way to celebrate turning 50. Luckily the timing worked well for my job and, while Covid makes the logistics more challenging, it is still possible as the world opens up more (except Australia!). So, fully vaccinated, I am now on sabbatical until January 2022 when I will return to Kenya and my job.
This is the first time I have been on sabbatical when I will be returning to my city and my job so it was interesting that leaving was more difficult than previous times – acutely aware of all the things I would miss in my six months. Luckily the weather made it easier – Nairobi is currently freezing – and I’ll be following the sun around the globe. And the prospect of spending quality time with friends and family around the world – with a few adventures thrown in – was too tempting to pass up.
Coincidentally my trusty travelling companion Amee – star of many of my previous walkabout travels – headed off on sabbatical just before me….this time with her almost three year old daughter Amani in tow (my goddaughter). After multiple false starts (yes -covid logistical problems), Turkey ended up being our first reunion destination. Turkey had long been on my travel bucket list and tentatively discussed as a joint 50th destination with multiple people (sorry Kermie and Steph!) and it did not disappoint.
Full of history, architecture, fascinating natural scenery, a stunning coastline and more, Turkey more than delivered on its promises – and in a very affordable way. At first, I found it quite disconcerting – a language that didn’t sound like any other and a diverse looking population that I couldn’t place. At times I felt I was in Western Europe, at other times Eastern Europe, at other times the Middle East. Of course, geographically Turkey sits at the cross-roads of multiple regions with Istanbul literally situated on both the European and Asian continents – both sides of the city separated by the Bosphorus Strait.
This was our first stop and we had a wonderful view across the Bosphorus to Asia from our AirBnB. The magnificent architecture of Istanbul is well known and we visited the Hagia Sophia (a beautiful mosque and ex cathedral), the Blue Mosque (unfortunately under repair so we missed the beautiful blue tiling) and Tokapaki Palace as well as strolling the vibrant café culture pedestrian streets. One of the advantages of travelling in Covid times is the lack of tourists and we were able to walk right into attractions that would usually have long waiting lines and be over-run with tourists. This was compounded by a covid curfew imposed on the Turkish people themselves (but not tourists). A controversial but interesting way to keep tourism revenue coming in while restricting movement.
Leaving Amee and Amani to enjoy the Grand Bazaar and other Istanbul sights, I dashed off to the magical fairyland of Cappadocia – home to bizarre rock formations formed by erosion over many thousands of years. The locals have carved cave homes out of the soft rock and a few families still live in them although most have been turned into hotels these days. It was a dream for a connoisseur of unique hotels like myself and my cave hotel room lived up to expectations, although I spent most of my time out on the rooftop terrace admiring the wonderful views and visiting the many frescoed churches and monasteries and underground cities (complete with schools and wineries) that have been carved into the rocks.
Visiting Cappadocia was also about ticking off another bucketlist item – going on a hot air balloon ride. Watching the sunrise while floating serenely through the air over this fantastical scenery was absolutely, indescribably magical….made all the more so by the view of the hundred other balloons in the air. It was utterly enchanting and words cannot do it justice but hopefully the photos give some idea. Another wonderful experience was my cave hammam (Turkish spa) scrub and massage – see the pictures for the beautiful room. Interestingly I met many men here who were in Turkey for hair transplants – apparently Turkey is the place if you are in the market for hair transplants!
Next I rejoined Amee and Amani for a week of chilling on the Turquoise Coast of Turkey – which was very hot and very beautiful. We stayed in the bohemian town of Kas – bustling with Turkish tourists on their summer holiday – taking day trips (road and boat) up and down the coast. But also spent a lot of time lounging by our pool. And sleeping – at least for me. Early nights, late mornings, nanna naps in the day – I couldn’t get enough sleep. I guess an intense work period setting up our Uganda operations for the last four months and then a busy “get ready for going on sabbatical” pre-departure period finally caught up with me. I did manage a day of diving but really didn’t do much apart from that!
We also used this time to try some Turkish delicacies – as vegetarians, the much admired meat based cuisine didn’t always meet our needs – although there was always Middle Eastern mezze to enjoy. I was excited to try Gozleme – a Turkish pancake filled with cheese (and sometimes spinach or herbs) – as this is a favorite of mine from Australia. Stuffed calamari was also a highlight for me and the famous Turkish breakfast – a spread of many different dishes – did not disappoint. Perhaps the most unusual regional specialty we tried was burnt ice-cream – it literally tasted like smoke.
Turkey charmed with the modern (very efficient) and the ancient (outstanding Roman ruins dot the country). Interestingly very few people spoke English – even in tourist areas and even amongst the youth. With a population of 85M, the domestic market is large enough to be self-sustaining which also meant we struggled to know what we were buying while grocery shopping! I look forward to returning one day and visiting other sights (Pamukalle, Gallipoli, Roman ruins and a multi-day boat cruise are high on my list). Until next time Turkey. And Amee and Amani – great to travel with you both again. See you in a few months!
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