I left Georgia and ventured into eastern Turkey, hitchhiking from the border towards Trabzon.
My driver spoke no English, which allowed me to admire the coastline in silence. Tea plantations carpeted the hills, the green swathes ending where the Black Sea crashed onto the rocky shores. Countless mosques lined the highway, their sharp minarets a reminder that the Christian world was gone. In Trabzon I boarded a bus and travelled through the night into the heart of Asia Minor. Dawn brought light to the surrounding plains and revealed Cappadocia’s fairytale landscape.
My accommodation was a cave hotel dug into the hillside. The deep cavern was cool compared with the blazing heat outside. I lounged on the terrace, lazing under grape vines and watching the pink rock chimneys that stretched to the horizon. Their delicate faces were pockmarked with doors and windows, rope ladders and stone stairways. It was hard to believe that this place was real.
I was happy, and so it seems that the universe had to balance itself out. That very afternoon I received damning news from someone I’d been dying to meet since November. Heartbroken, I ventured into the desert, not caring whether I stood in a snakepit. The pastel hues of the rocky landscape had lost their aura as I wandered around, feeling numb.
I was torn from my malaise by a random meeting with a bunch of Chinese travellers. We watched the sunset and they invited me to join them for dinner, a feast of Sichuan hotpot. With our mouths afire from the chillis, we returned to the desert to photograph the night sky. The stars twinkled while scorpions climbed our tripods.
Trying to forget about her, I spent the next week hiking around Cappadocia, mesmerised by the otherworldly landscape. It was a place of evocative sights and sounds: the roar of hot air balloons as they climbed to meet the rising sun, delicate dots hanging against a golden palette. There were pillars of rock shaped like penises; vast canyons of pink and red stone towering like a tidal wave; apricot trees bursting with fruit. Not to be outdone was the human touch, vast cities carved underground, labyrinths running for miles and miles.
I swapped Cappadocia for Istanbul and had a fitting introduction to this grand city. A ferry took me through the Bosphorus, the Sultan’s grand palace dwarfed by the even more impressive mosques that formed the city’s skyline. It took little effort to close my eyes and imagine the imperial splendour of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
After Cappadocia’s serenity, Istanbul was an assault on the senses. Motorbikes tore along the narrow streets, the sizzle of kebabs drowned out by the clang of incoming trams. Incense wafted from carpet stores while Turkish delight glittered in the shop windows. I headed to the Grand Bazaar, passing sweating porters and men crouched on the roadside drinking tea.
Armed soldiers guarded the market’s entrance. I wove through the maze of tightly packed stalls, ornate arches adorning the ceiling while time-worn mosaics were eroded underfoot. Sadly though, there were no mysterious strangers buying exotic items coveted since biblical times. The splendid architecture had to bear witness to tourists haggling over football shirts, tacky trinkets bundled into bags for ungrateful grandchildren.
I returned to my hostel and watched the Bosphorus, the lights of Asia twinkling in the twilight. Behind me the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia vied for attention. The next day I visited both. I paused as I walked inside the Hagia Sophia, feeling the history that threatened to drag down its massive dome. But it couldn’t compete with the Blue Mosque’s beauty, the immaculate mosaics making me literally gasp upon entering.
Ironic that despite these architectural treasures, it was the humble Bosphorus that stole my attention. I was entertained for hours simply watching the fishermen on Galata bridge, the seagulls swooping past the silhouetted mosques. An afternoon faded as divers fished for mussells, hauling massive nets from the turquoise water. On my final day I ferried from the European side of the city to the Asian side, an Istanbul quirk. As the sun set one final time, I was sad to be leaving Turkey. However, exciting times lay ahead.