A road trip to South East Turkey


I returned to Cappadocia after my brief visit to Tilos in Greece and the Gulet Cruise and continued to work at the hotel part-time, but the low season was starting and I was getting itchy feel to see some more of Turkey before winter set in.  I mentioned the idea of doing a 3-day road trip to an Australian friend, Iris, who was also based in Cappadocia for a few months – and she was keen.

Whilst getting to Mt Nemrut was the primary objective, by effectively driving in a circuit, we could throw in some other highlights of South East Turkey as well in the towns of Şanlıurfa, Harran and Gaziantep. There was only one potential problem: the lower leg of our circuit was getting fairly close to the border of Syria, specifically to the border crossing town of Suruc (Turkish side) which was pretty much the entry point for people moving in and out of Kobane, in Syria.  And anyone following the news around the period would be aware of the bombings, etc in Kobane.

Mt Nemrut Driving map

It was a gorgeous drive – beautiful rural scenery with autumn colours, with the occasional siting of snow-tipped mountains.  Unfortunately I was the designated driver on this trip so didn’t get a chance to take too many photos.  We stopped in a small local town for lunch – and spent a whopping $1.50 (local non-tourist price) on a kebab.  I don’t think this town sees many tourists here and certainly no one spoke English.  But it made a nice opportunity to spend some time in a “real” Turkish town.

Beautiful autumn scenery on the drive to Kahta

Beautiful autumn scenery on the drive to Kahta

Arriving in Kahta that night, we discussed our options to visit Mt Nemrut in the morning:  either get up at some ungodly hour to make the 1.5 hour drive there in time for sunrise (which is the thing to do, apparently, for maximising the photo opportunities), or to have a bit of a sleep in, and leave at a more respectable 9 am.  We opted for the sleep in for three reasons:  we’d see more if we drove during day light hours;  we wouldn’t suffer the below zero temps on top of the mountain in the earlier hours, and we’d avoid the bus tour groups that would no doubt show up for the sunrise.

And what a good decision we made.  Once again, the scenery was gorgeous and it would have been a shame to not see it.

Ruins of Arsemia

On the way to Nemrut, we first stopped off at the ruins of Arsemia, the capital of the Commagene Kingdom.

Statue pointing to the remains of the Arsameia fortress

Statue pointing to the remains of the Arsameia fortress

Relief  carved around 50BC depicting a meeting between King Mithradates and Hercules.

Relief carved around 50BC depicting a meeting between King Mithradates and Hercules.

We started climbing down the 158m stairway leading to Arsemia only to find it blocked off about 20m down.

Stone stairway leading 158m down to Arsameia.

Stone stairway leading down to Arsamia.   As you can see, there isn’t much of a staircase.

To be fair, the ruins were interesting to see, but not overly spectacular.  But it was a nice chance to stretch our legs, climb up the hill for a great view.

View from top of hill at Arsemia ruins

View from top of hill at Arsemia ruins

Onward to Nemrut

Iris walking up Mt Nemrut

We were lucky – the staircase is new.  Previously, you had to walk over the stoney uneven ground.

Mt Nemrut is like the Easter Island of Turkey – a famous tumulus (burial mound) of the Commagene royal dynasty, on top of a 2150m mountain, covered in large stone heads.  What makes this interesting is that the tumulus, the mound on top of the mountain is man-made.  Large rocks and boulders were carried up to the top, and crushed by hand into fist-sized stones to create the mound that is seen today.  It is believed that the remains of King Antiochos 1 of Commagene were placed in a chamber carved out of the hilltop rock, and then covered over by the tumulus.

Mt Nemrut

Mt Nemrut

The scattered heads on the tumulus represent various deities – Antiochos, the goddess Kommagene, Zeus-Oromasdes (the Graeco-Persian sky-god and supreme deity, and also the largest-sized statue), Apollo-Mithras and Herakles-Artagnes.

Mt Nemrut

Mt Nemrut

It was around 11 am I think by the time we got up here.  The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful clear sky as you can see from the photos.  But it was bitterly, bitterly cold – especially with the cold winds whipping us from all exposed sides.  After 15 minutes up there I was struggling to use my camera as my fingers wouldn’t work.  I was thankful in the end that we didn’t bother coming up for sunrise – I couldn’t have coped with the cold!

Mt Nemrut

This gives you an idea of the scale of the heads

Stat jumps - to keep warm!

Star jumps on the stone terrace – just trying to keep warm!

We found this place to be spectacularly beautiful – Mt Nemrut rates as one of my favourite places in all of Turkey (that I have seen so far) – but I guess I can attribute that in part to the complete lack of crowds.    It was incredible to have the whole mountain top to ourselves (save for a Turkish group that arrived as we were leaving).

Şanlıurfa and Gobeklitepe

From Nemrut, we continued on our road trip to Şanlıurfa.   One of the supposed highlights in this area was Gobeklitepe – a pre-historic site used for religious purposes, built around 10,000BC.   That’s like 12,000 years ago!    There are supposedly 20 different installations here – but unlucky for us, the entire area has been enclosed (to protect it from weather) which made it hard to really get any true sense of the place.  We followed a path that led us around some of the installations, but overall it was somewhat disappointing.  Oh well!

View from Gobeklitepe

Because the ruins were closed in, it was difficult to get a decent photo.  Instead, I took photos of the views.

We started to notice a different Turkey here.  The south-east region is primarily made up of Kurds, with many Syrian refugees.  They don’t get many tourists through here and it shows.  I have long ago got used to the staring, but what we experienced here was bordering on hilarious.

Iris and I went for dinner in a small Syrian restaurant.  We were taken upstairs (to the “women’s area”, a concept common in Turkish restaurants.  It’s not mandatory to sit there, but is for our ‘comfort’ away from men).  The young guys that worked here obviously haven’t come across too many blondes (me) or redheads (Iris).  We sat on our own upstairs and waited for our dinner.  There was a constant stream of restaurant staff poking their head up the stairs to have a peak at us.  One young chap was braver than the others, and found some jobs that needed doing upstairs – refilling the salt and pepper shakers, toothpicks, napkins, etc on each table.  Each time he came to refill something at our table; he would lean across us and the table to grab the item all the while having a good wide-eyed gawk, especially at young Iris.  He would stand at the end of our table, blatantly staring as he refilled the item.  After the third interruption, I gathered up all the other items and moved them to the closest side of the table, so he wouldn’t have to reach across anymore.   It was all so blatant we just couldn’t help but laugh.


Mud beehive houses of Harran

Mud beehive houses of Harran

The next day we did a side trip to Haran.  This was quite an interesting little town, completely devoid of tourists thanks to the border situation.  Harran is famous for its beehive houses, originating back to 300BC although the ones standing these days are no more than 200 years old.  It seems that the owners now prefer to live in something a bit more modern, and opt for concrete houses whilst the older beehive houses have been turned into storage, stables are tea houses and souvenir shops.


Again, we noticed a difference in the people who appeared to be more Arab than Turkish.

Man in Harran

Man in Harran

Local style transport in Harran

Local style transport in Harran

Also in Harran was the world’s oldest Islamic university.  Not much left of it now although it was undergoing restoration work.

Ruins of the world's oldest Islamic university,

Ruins of the world’s oldest Islamic university,

Gaziantep or not?

We were supposed to also stay in Gaziantep, home of the best baklava in all of Turkey.  Gaziantep is also known as Antep;  Antep fistic are the best pistachio nuts in Turkey, and are used to make the baklava.  Unfortunately, we decided to drive on through back to Cappadocia rather than stop here for the night.  So that means that I will be returning to be bag loads of the pistachio nuts, and to learn more about how they make this famous baklava.

Cheeky vendors

Cheeky vendors

All in all – this little road trip involved huge amounts of driving, but it was one of the most enjoyable excursions that I’ve had in Turkey.  I’d like to go back, and do it more slowly, and take the time to see even more of the sites.

So what next?

OK – so this road trip was back in November, and we’re now at the beginning of March.  Yes, I’m behind in my blog again.

So let’s fast forward to bring you up to date.  I left Turkey in December and headed back to Perth to housesit again for a month for my friends over Christmas.  Alan flew over from NZ to join me, and aside from a few day trips to national parks, it was mostly just a lazy month with not much to write about.

From Australia, we headed to Indonesia “on the way home” to NZ.  We spent just over 3 weeks there before I returned to NZ and Alan carried on to Sumba (Indonesia).

After being away for pretty much a year, I returned to NZ in February.  My time there was a mix of catching up with family, friends and doing more mundane stuff like taxes, doctor/dentist appointments, and repacking for another departure.  I only allowed 3 1/2 weeks back home and am kicking myself for not allowing more time there.  It went all too quickly.

Back to Turkey

This is now old news for most of you I think, but for those that haven’t heard, I will be returning to Turkey.  To Cappadocia, specifically.  Whilst there last year, I was offered an opportunity to manage a new hotel that was being built by the people who owned the other hotel where I helped out.  They were offering me a 3-year deal which involved leasing the hotel, managing daily operations and sharing the profits.  I considered it for several weeks, during which I being approached by other locals about all sorts of other partnership deals related to the hotel industry.  It appears that anyone that can speak English and is considered to be trustworthy is a hot commodity in the hotel trade!  I spent quite a bit of time researching all sorts of opportunities (some of them pretty crazy really) and in the end, I turned them all down due to risks and the amount of investment involved.  The problem was, however, that I couldn’t face returning to NZ to take up my normal type of work again.  So after further negotiation, I have now signed up for a 1-year partnership with the option to continue of for another 3+ years if I want.  I’ll just see how it goes – it may be the adventure of a lifetime, or it may fizzle dramatically.  But I’ll never know unless I give it a go.

And hence, here I am, back in Cappadocia, having arrived yesterday.  I have left the best summer NZ has in many years for the cold and sometimes snowy winter in Cappadocia but am very excited about the prospects of what lay ahead.

The hotel won’t open until 30 April (Allah-willing, working on Turkey time) so that will give me a couple of months to do some more sightseeing in Turkey – all in the name of research for hotel guests, of course!    And in early April, friends from Hungary are coming for a week during which I will be able to play tour guide, and hopefully repay their very kind hospitality while they hosted me for a month in Budapest.

Now that my travels will be slowing down – you can probably expect future posts to be more about the joys and challenges of working in Turkey.  This will require me to have the patience of a saint and to learn the best way to communicate to the men here who aren’t used to working with direct, stroppy, bossy, ex-Project Managing women).  I will also need to focus on developing my Turkish language skills, and really start to understand how things are done in this country.  I suspect it will be challenging – but I’m definitely up for it!


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About BusyLizzy

Normally I live in NZ but having re-discovered the joys of independent travel over the last few years, I decided it was 'now or never' and am taking some time out to see what the world has to offer.
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2 Responses to A road trip to South East Turkey

  1. Angie says:

    Exciting times ahead for you Lisa! What an experience 🙂

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