When we left the parking lot of Sabiha Gokcen Intl. Airport, mind was rather blank, but deep inside I knew it was quietly waiting to pickup the exhilaration. We were expecting the new member of our family on this trip and so, we had more reasons in chosing Turkey, from people to food, from nature to art- the confidence passed on by the last visit definitely did justice.
(We've added a few notes for those who would like to travel when expecting, at the end of this chapter)
Sahana and me had spent a couple of days in Sultanahmet before the drive. The quaint old quarter of the city is the best gateway to get closer to the vibe of Turkey. This time, Istanbul was a bit too packed with tourist groups . Though pre-planned, the drive became a decamping from the ‘processions’ of tourists in the city.
We decided to pick-up the rented car from Sabiha Gokcen Airport (Rent-A-Car) office, as we were to drive towards the east. We had a pre-booking with Budget Rent A Car and got a fair deal.
It is always ideal to check the Rental fares before you land. An unpaid pre-booking is preferred, if permitted. It is safer to use the Full-Cover Insurance to avoid surprises when receiving your final bill. Also, check on the local rules about the seating permitted, child seats etc.
Very soon, we slipped into the 'Istanbul-Ankara Highway' lined with pine trees on both sides. Moving through Industrial Estates, the road then went by the Sea of Marmara giving in the warmth of afternoon sun. Clouds stood over the sea where few cargo ships were seen sailing. As we cruised further, all the hustle and bustle gave way to serene plantations and occasionally, houses too, but the fun was often killed when huge trucks and trailers broke the rules to take up all the 3 lanes of the motorway.
As hunger struck, we found refuge in a wayside station; almost all petrol stations were extravagantly equipped with restaurants, supermarkets, prayer rooms and even boutiques.
The highway ahead was rather lonely. We reached Bolu by the night. Unlike Istanbul, the town of Bolu was more inclined to the 'West-European Lifestyle' – in attire, in architecture and seemingly everything, but for the kebabs.
We started afresh in the morning, detouring the highways to bumpy village roads that lead to Yedigoller. The roads gradually went uphill and took turns.
Stilted Wooden Houses on the hill sides and tractors were giving hint of an agrarian livelihood of the countryside Turkey.
On the meadows were seen flocks of sheep and cows, often looked after by a beautiful old woman. With their headscarf and frock, the women resembled the grandmothers from those illustrated fairy tales. Not to our surprise, they maintained their motherly affection in their gestures as well.
Turkish villagers had always overwhelmed me with warm and generous hospitality. Though we did not understand each other’s languages, we communicated in what could be truly called ‘the language of love’. One of those women we met gifted us with a handful of freshly picked apples.
Further ahead, the pines aside the roads gave way to oaks and other unknown trees. The road took its posture to hairpin bends. The trees started to show off their yellow leaves welcoming the winter. It’s now almost a forest around. We were entering the Yedigoller National Park
Yedigöller translates to 'seven lakes'. The National Park accomodates 7 different lakes namely Buyukgol, Deringol, Seringol, Nazligol, Sazligol, Incegol and Kucukgol. One can drive through or opt to stay in the cottages inside with a pre-booking. There were a few factors which pulled me back from stating in the cottages at Yedigoller, including the terribly disappointing comments regarding the maintenance of the place. I make it a habit to check the most recent reviews of any place of stay despite its collective rating. Situations may change, so it will be worthwhile to check comments on Trip Advisor or Google Listing before you plan. The spot has a restaurant, many cottages and prayer rooms as well.
As we moved again, the bitumen roads changed to cobblestone paths, the canopy covered over us. Times when you appreciate having a moonroof in your car. We slowed down. Window glasses down. We were soulfully breathing in the air of the woods.
We are so ruthless to get even the last bit of greenery wiped off from our surroundings. Fortunately, there are a few of preserved lands remaining in the world. One need to go into the woods once in a while, at least, to realize what an unfortunate life we are living every day.
10 Deg C at the mid of the day was quite exciting for us. The forest paths lead to the iridescently beautiful Lake Incegol blanketed with the fall leaves and mosses. I sat on a big tree root by the stream that flowed out from the lake. Squirrels with fluffy reddish brown tails hopped down and quickly camouflaged into the trees.
Benches were set next to lakes. Lying down on one of them, watching the yellow leaves somersaulting on its fall, the sunrays playing hide and seek off the canopy, I wished if the time had paused or I rather felt it had.
When at such places, time is never enough for us. We set the wheels rolling as we had to cover a long distance before the end of the day. The paths were lonely for a longer distance. It was sheer silence but for the sound of a stream. The road ran through the valley of two mountains along the course of the stream. As the stream grew wide, we were out of the forest boundaries, onto the deserted but beautiful village road.
Yesilada, the village where pear and pomegranate trees fenced the plots, where the courtyards are shaded by grapevines. Driving through, we came across many happy old souls; Men with flat caps gathering in cafes playing board games sipping their Tea, couples celebrating their youth in their 70s doing short walks. We were lucky to have met one such couple, who shared their love through words, gestures and the few pieces of apples they carried to snack on. They talked a lot breaking the barriers of language with all the love coming in.
Later the same day, we were sumptuously and overwhelmingly treated by a restaurant owner who was meeting Indians for the first time in his life. People of the interior Turkey choked us with their hospitality and uncorrupted generosity.
Travel is very much about realizations, how boundaries disappear before humanity.
Though it was dark by then, the drive to Amasra became interesting as it has been ages since we had a one devoid of light pollution . It took us some time to understand the pattern of road signs on that route. We were late to reach Amasra.
The road speed may keep changing if you are not on a motorway. Radars are mostly set near the main junctions, closer to school or Residential Area. It is always advised to follow the road speed escpecially if you are driving a rented car. Agencies usually charge higher than the penalty. You may notice dummies of Police Cars placed at intervals, but please note that one of it can also be the real Police doing a routine check-up.
Amasra wasn’t what was expected from a remote town from the Byzantine period. It should have been a gem off the black sea coast, if not for the very touristy mask it had worn. The shops were stuffed with cheap Chinese craft products which lacked the character of Turkey. Restaurants were notoriously expensive, neither did many of them serve good food. Yet the island looked brilliantly beautiful every dawn and dusk.
For the day we had reserved for Amasra, we decided to drive off to Safranbolu. But it was equally disappointing due to the tourist oriented business set up over a ‘UN Heritage Village’ .The villagers seemed to be so tired of seeing the tourists that no-one bothered to invite us to their courtyards which wasn't our experience of Turkey till then. Too much of 'Tourism' can corrupt the potential of inviting travelers to a place.
We left off to Istanbul well early in the morning. The time for any unpleasant surprises on the road had to be considered. An hour late to return the car may cost another day.
As we crossed the Amasra tunnel across the mountains, fog engulfed us and we had to slow down. On the farmlands aside, were barely seen horses and cows grazing. When the Sun showed up his morning face, dew drops shined over the grasslands.
Nearly an hour of drive and we were at a fork; towards left was the highway and to the right was the coastal road. The day was still young, so we took the right turn. Unlike the highway, the road took interesting turns through smaller towns, sloping up and down and often passing through tunnels. The sky over the black sea was criss-cross lined with contrails- it seemed to be a busy air-route, but still an interesting sight. That was a no-regret detour taken.
The story of travel through the countryside Turkey is far too stuffed with episodes of Hospitality. And the saga just continued..
Our tips on travelling when you are expecting a baby
First and foremost, your Doctor's permission and advices are really important. To avoid disappointment, do a wellness check-up a day or two before your planned trip. Airlines would require Fitness Certificate issued by the Doctor to permit your boarding.
Prepare an itinerary that gives you enough rest and relaxation. On long drives, make sure you make occasional stops.
Healthy and nutritious food is key for the mother and little one. Either carry packaged food or ensure the availability of good food enroute, rather than thriving on fast food options. We never had to worry on this part in Turkey, freshly cooked food and fresh fruit juices were available in plenty everywhere.
Toilets are another crucial requirement for carrying mothers. Make sure you get access to clean and safe ones enroute. This too wasn't a point of worry in our travel- in addition to the paid public toilets, all restaurants, fuel stations and prayer rooms had clean toilets attached to them.
The places you choose to stay is either advised on Ground Floor or otherwise is advised to have elevators. We had to struggle a bit in locating such nice places in Sultanahmet, but if you have time to search, you can find many such.
Photos: Sahana & Shahid