Travels to Turkey

My incredible travels to Turkey in 2007

The next trip…

Posted by Mardee on June 15, 2008

Stayed tuned for my Czech Republic, Germany and Austria trip scheduled for September, 2010.  Follow the new trip at


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Goodbye to Turkey – Day 16

Posted by Mardee on May 20, 2007

Today is the day – I am extremely sad to leave this beautiful country but will be happy to get home again. I checked out and then headed for the airport van with my Aussie friends. We all got to Ataturk Airport around 8:30 am and said our goodbyes. Interestingly, the airport has everyone go through a metal detector and luggage screener as soon as you walk in. Then, after you’ve checked your luggage, you have to go through another one before you reach your gate. At that time, they not only electronically screen everything, they also manually go through everyone’s luggage (women inspect women’s luggage and men inspect the men’s). After that, everyone is given a pat-down search.

The flight was crowded, which surprised me. Two weeks ago, my flight to Istanbul was only half full. One of the flight attendants told me, however, that this is the beginning of “cruise ship season” and every port city in Europe will be like this until October. I think if I ever come back, I’ll push my dates back to April – I could definitely do without the crowds. And I couldn’t believe how much luggage these cruise ship passengers brought – some couples had up to 6 large bags! Ye gods!

Soon my Delta flight was winging its way back to the states and I was on my way home. I will never forget my time here, though, and the wonderful memories I have of this incredible country!

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Shopping in Istanbul – Day 15 at the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market

Posted by Mardee on May 20, 2007

At breakfast on Friday morning, I ran into Katrina and her family, back from their trip around the country. It was good to see them and we spent awhile catching up. They recommended that I visit the Sulemaniye Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii) since I was going to be in that area. While we were talking, a couple eating breakfast overheard us and started asking questions about Turkey and public transport. They had just arrived that morning from Capetown, South Africa. We explained the workings of the buses and how to get around to them, then went our separate ways. Katrina and her husband had already arranged for an airport transfer from the travel agency across the street, so after breakfast, I hurried over there and got a ticket for 8 lira.

You can tell when you’re getting close to the Egyptian Spice Market in Istanbul – the smell of cloves and cumin and cardamom just about knocks you over. Once you enter, the visual effects add to the aromas. Everywhere you look are heaping piles of spices in all colors – golds, browns, reds and greens. Some of the vendors sold teas as well and their lemon and orange fragrances added to the intoxicating scents. You could also buy teapots and glasses, cheeses – even henna for dying your hair or decorating your body. I wandered through the small aisles, drinking in the heady aromas and finally settled down at a stall that seemed to be selling mostly to locals. I picked up some spices and teas to take back with me.

The Egyptian Spice Market

The Sulemaniye Mosque was nearby so I headed there next. The mosque is in a larger walled complex with lots of grass and trees. I stopped off first to visit Sulemaniye’s tomb, which is in a separate room. The tomb is nothing ornate as you can see – all of the tombs I have seen like this have a similar “roof” on top.

Suleyman's Tomb

Once at the mosque, I had to borrow one of the scarves left there for visitors to cover my head. Leaving my shoes also outside, I headed on it, right behind a German guy wearing a skirt. Since both men and women must have their knees and shoulders covered, you must wrap a long skirt around you if you’re wearing shorts. The mosque was beautiful and much less crowded than the Blue Mosque. Visitors had to stay behind the barricades that separate the praying area, but we could still see the large expanse.

Suleyman Mosque praying area

After visiting the mosque, I walked down the hill to the Emininou harbor area and caught the tram back to Sultanachmet. I grabbed a quick lunch at an outside cafe (today was “kofta” – meatballs made of minced lamb). As I walked across the park towards the hotel, I noticed a group of men congregating by a small camii. Just then, the call to prayer came across the loudspeaker. The call to prayer is heard at dawn, at midday, about the middle of the afternoon, just after sunset, and at night fall about two hours after sunset. However, on Friday, the obligatory congregational call to prayer around midday means that Muslims come together to pray. Dozens of men hurried over, removed their shoes and then laid out their prayer rugs to kneel on. While the prayer continued, the men knelt or sat and listened. One family walked over together but the husband left to pray and his wife had to sit on the side with their son. It seemed ironic that this woman who is so overtly religious in her attire is not allowed to pray with the men.

Friday prayer in Istanbul Woman wearing chador with son

I had to go back to the hotel to change my room – actually, to change my hotel. As I mentioned earlier, I had mixed up my dates and the Hanedan did not have a room for me the last night. However, they were nice enough to find me a room at the Hotel Emre, which was about 20 feet down the street. They even carried all my luggage over to the hotel. My new room was smaller but had a TV and 2 twin beds. I left my spice purchases behind and headed out again to the Grand Bazaar.

The Grand Bazaar was fairly easy to get to – it’s right off the Beyazit exit if you take the tram. The bazaar was just as overwhelming today as it was yesterday – vendors were chanting about their “deals” and trying to draw tourists into their shops by asking questions. It’s easy to get lost in here – in fact, it’s part of its charm. I deliberately headed into the maze and didn’t emerge for several hours. By 6 pm, I had bought several charming items and was ready to sit in a cafe and watch the rest of the world shop. After resting over a glass of tea, I headed back to the hotel – I was meeting Robert and his family for dinner.

My friends from Hawaii and the Philippines, Robert, his wife Natalia and her cousin Alicia, were back from Izmir and Cappadocia, so we had arranged to meet that evening. Mindy, Natalia’s sister, didn’t join us but the 4 of us headed for a nearby restaurant. My chicken dish was very good and the wine was the best I’ve had since I got to Turkey. We all discussed our forays into the country and promised to exchange emails and photos after we got back.

Tomorrow – goodbye to Turkey…

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Back “home” again – Day 14 in Istanbul

Posted by Mardee on May 20, 2007

Street in Sultanachmet neighborhoodThe bus arrived in Istanbul around 6 am, shortly after serving everyone a quick breakfast of bread, honey and your choice of tea or coffee. Varan makes two stops in Istanbul so there were two options to choose from with regards to your destination. I had no idea where either of the places were, but luckily, a man sitting in front of me told me that the second destination was on the European side of Istanbul and therefore, closer to Sultanachmet Square (and my hotel).

There were taxis waiting at the bus stop and one was happy to take me to my hotel (although I had to direct him after we got to Sultanachmet, which made me feel pretty cool – like I was a native!). Since it was only 6:30 am, I had to wait to check in, but left my luggage there and was soon wandering through the early morning city. There’s nothing like watching a huge city like Istanbul wake up in the morning (if indeed it ever sleeps). The air was fresh and cool and there were no monstrous tour buses barreling down the street. I stopped for coffee and a pastry at a little cafe and sat and enjoyed the morning. Later, after a brief outing at my favorite internet cafe, the Otantik, which is the only one I’ve found that has an English keyboard, I headed back to the hotel to check in and take a shower.

Aya Sofya at nightThe plan was to just wander and shop the last 2 days. The first place I headed was the Beyoglu district near Taksim Square. This is the heart of the city and the crowds are enormous, but some of the best shopping is around here. I took the tram to the Kabatas stop, then got out and switched to the funicular, which takes you up to Taksim Square (which sits at the top of a very high hill). The funicular was extremely interesting – a huge piece of machinery sits at the top and uses cables to pull the cars up to the top. After I reached the square, I headed down Istiklal Caddesi (Caddesi means “street”), which is the main drag in this area, and wandered into the shops and restaurants that line the street. The main street is a huge bustling affair but it’s easy to head off into the narrow little alleys and side streets that connect to it.

I was getting hungry so I stopped at a small place that was cutting off chunks of juicy lamb for doner kebabs. Two women were in front of me, and I simply pointed to what they were eating and say, “For me, too!” The cook laughed and made me an incredible sandwich with lamb, fresh tomatoes and peppers and a sprinkling of salt and spices tucked inside a dense mound of fresh Turkish pita bread – but like no pita bread I’ve ever had in the states! I was in heaven – and floating even higher when I stopped to get some ice cream for dessert. The blackberry and blueberry combination was the perfect ending. I even got to watch a large truck try to maneuver through a tiny alley and send some scaffolding flying. There were about 8 men on the street all directing this driver and telling him exactly what to do to get out of the mess he was in. It took about 20 minutes and pedestrian traffic was blocked during the whole time.

I finally made it to the bottom of the hill (by the way, I just found out today that Istanbul has 7 hills – just like Cincinnati and Rome) and grabbed a tram. Rather than heading back, I took the tram going in the opposite direction and got off at the Grand Bazaar. I didn’t want to buy anything today, but just get an idea of where things were. However, one step in the bazaar and I realized that it would take months, if not years, to learn where everything is. The streets are fairly well marked but the visual sensation is just plain overwhelming. Gold and silver and rugs and jewelry and ceramics and dishes and food – the saying is that if you can’t find it here, it doesn’t exist. I believe it!

Detail of mosaic in Aya SofyaLeaving the bazaar, I wound my way back to the area behind the Blue Mosque that houses the Arasta Bazaar. This is a smaller area but the salespeople are a little more low-key and the quality of goods a bit higher. One shop held beautiful Iznik tiles and ceramics. Around the 16th century, Iznik was the foremost place for mosaic tiles and ceramics in Turkey, including the most beautiful mosques and Topkapi Palace. The tiles here were reproductions but were still beautiful. I also found a shop that had some beautiful textiles, hundreds of years old. The clerk was extremely enthusiastic and let his dinner grow cold while he unveiled dozens of beautiful wall hangings and garments. He knew there was no hope of me buying them – some costs thousands of dollars – but did it for the sheer love of these pieces. I haven’t had this much fun with textiles since I was working as a costumer!

By this time, my feet were killing me – after the walking I did in Izmir and today, I couldn’t face going too far to eat so I picked a restaurant close to the hotel. I generally tried to avoid this area as the food is geared more towards tourists. While eating my dinner, I met a couple from Canada who were visiting Turkey on their way to Cyprus. The man’s brother had recently retired there from England. We spent about half an hour chatting over wine and dessert then I headed back to my oh-so-comfy bed…

Tomorrow – my last full day in Turkey.

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The city formerly known as Smyrna – Day 13 in Izmir

Posted by Mardee on May 17, 2007

Wednesday morning I got up early and finished up my packing. As I opened the hotel door to go outside, I almost fell over my calico kitty pal, who was evidently waiting for me to feed her breakfast. I’m not sure how it knew I was in that particular room – maybe the aroma of the fish from the night before led it there. At any rate, the two of us headed up for my last breakfast at the Hotel Akay. Unfortunately, there was no meat or fish on the breakfast menu so the cat had to be satisfied with the remains of my hard-boiled egg.

My two acquaintances from San Francisco came up shortly afterwards and we chatted briefly. I gave them my ripped-out pages from Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide for Fethiye and a few other places, since they’d lost a portion of their guidebook. After that, I checked out and made a mad dash for the otogar with my luggage – I was hoping to catch the 9 am minibus to Izmir. 15 minutes later, I was on my way in a very nice minibus – a far cry from the one that brought me to Selcuk. This one was air-conditioned and had single seats with individual vents.

It took about 50 minutes to get to Izmir, and the minibus dropped us all off at the giant otogar on the outskirts of town. This place was huge – about the size of a small airport. The first place I headed was the Varan ticket counter as I wanted to book my bus ticket to Istanbul. The ticket clerk didn’t speak much English and had to enlist the help of some of the other agents to figure out exactly when I wanted to leave. After that was settled, it was determined that they had a couple of seats left on the 11 pm bus, so I paid my 48 lira and got my ticket. The agent then offered to keep my luggage there until the bus left that evening. He told me to be back by 10:20 pm for the minibus to take me to the big bus. Hey, I would have done anything to get rid of that luggage for awhile!

After that, I headed for the entrance to try and find some transport into the city. I checked both Lonely Planet and Rough Guide, and the only bus they agreed on that led to the city center was number 54, which was nowhere to be found. So that left a bunch of different other bus numbers to choose from. Rough Guide said that nos. 601-609 led to the train station, which was near to where I wanted to go. Since I saw one approaching, I jumped on then grabbed my map and tried to get my bearings by figuring out where the bus was going.

Have I mentioned the biggest drawback to European cities? None of them believe in street signs. They all seem to feel that it’s acceptable to have an occasional sign plastered to the side of a building that no one can see – in other words, you’re out of luck. For about 10 minutes I tried in vain to spot a street sign – my next move was to ask the bus driver if he was going to Basmane Station. He shook his head. Ack – now I was panicking slightly! I was afraid that we were heading outside the city and I would be lost in the depths of the hilltop suburbs, never to be seen again. However, my seat companion grabbed my map and assured me that we would be going to the train station. Her confidence assured me, even though I had no frigging idea what she was saying, so I sat back and looked at the scenery.

The city here is very modern – all the old stuff was destroyed in earthquakes so the buildings are fairly new. The houses are interesting – some of them are very nice and sit next to buildings that are one step away from condemnation. I think the standards must be pretty low, though, since even the worst houses obviously have people living in them. Some of the houses are perched on rocky cliffs and look like a good stiff wind would blow them off. We soon were nearing the city and I saw a sign indicating that Basmane Station was to the right. The bus, however, zoomed off to the left, leaving the train station behind. I jumped out of my seat and the woman next to me grabbed my hand, again assuring me (I think) that she would tell me when to get off.

A few stops later she nudged me and I obediently exited, then stood on the sidewalk like a lost soul while I tried to find where I was on my map. I soon determined that I was a very long way from the train station. New rule – never trust a person sitting next to you on a bus. The woman was obviously after my seat and misled me in order to appropriate it at the first opportunity. So now I was in a strange section of town and had no idea how to get back. I thought about grabbing a cab, but I can be somewhat stubborn about transport sometimes. I hate to give in and have someone else find something for me that I should have found for myself.

At any rate, I started walking in the direction of the city center when I saw a subway entrance ahead. Hmmm…. a quick look at the map told me that the subway line went right to where I wanted to go – hooray! 10 minutes later, I blissfully exited at the right stop and heading down to the Agora, the market place of ancient Smyrna (now known as Izmir). Constructed during the rule of Alexander the Great, the Agora is mostly in ruins today but it was still impressive.

Agora in Izmir

After the Agora, I headed for Izmir’s covered bazaar area. It’s somewhat smaller than Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar but still a lot of fun to maneuver. I bought a few scarves and bargained the price down to what I wanted to pay, then stopped for some doner kebab at a little sidewalk stand. Next, I headed up the street to the harbor to see the boats. Along the way, I passed the Varan downtown ticket office on Gazi Osman Pasa Bulgan and inspiration struck (I do have these rare flashes of insight). Maybe I didn’t have to make my way back to the otogar on my own…

Sure enough, the agents inside were more than helpful. After I showed them my ticket, they told me that if I would come back at 10:15 pm, I could pick up a shuttle there that would transport me to the big bus. They even arranged to have my luggage sent over to the big bus so I didn’t have to stop at the otogar ticket office. What a company! They can have my business anytime (well, when I’m in Turkey, that is).

After leaving Varan, I strolled around the city, occasionally stopping in shops that looked interesting. It was a hot day, so I tried to find places that were out of the sun. After a while, I figured I’d head for an internet cafe so I looked for one that was listed in Lonely Planet. It took me awhile to find the right street then I spent about 30 minutes walking up and down looking for the darned place. None of the street venders I asked knew where it was either.

After about an hour of searching, I finally found another one a few blocks away thanks to a young boy. It felt very good to get out of the hot sun so I stayed awhile, posting and surfing. When I was there, I checked CNN and noted that there was a bombing in Izmir on Saturday and a huge rally on Sunday in support of secularism. Izmir is very secular (I had noticed that very few women were covered compared to other Turkish cities) and wants to keep the separation of church and state that is in place now.

Back on the streets, I saw the many street vendors. They are all over Turkey and sell the most wonderful things. You can get anything from a cell phone to a fresh roll straight from the oven. There are also shoe shine men all over the place. Their equipment is made of brass and looks extremely ornate – each shoe shine man has the same identical equipment. You can also find venders (and shops) selling jewelry and pieces containing a blue eye – this is supposed to ward off evil spirits. Every taxi and bus has a blue eye somewhere near the dashboard for good luck, and many shopkeepers give you a small blue eye attached to a safety pin when you buy something from them.

While I’m on the subject of streets, let me mention cars and pedestrians. Although pedestrians technically have the right of way on most streets, you would never know it. Cars honk constantly at pedestrians and seem to consider it a weakness to slow down for one. If you’re on a street and you see a car coming, you’d better book it like crazy for the other side because that car is aiming right for you. Of course, drivers don’t treat other drivers any better – if one car decides to pass another, it starts honking, which means, “Get out of my way because I’m coming through.” And it does – without fail.

After leaving the internet cafe, I wandered back down to the harbor and watched the sun setting over the water. There were lots of people out; many having dinner at the restaurants that abound on the wharf. I was afraid to go too far away since I wanted to make sure I could find the Varan office by 10:15 pm. I stopped for a quick dinner at a small pide restaurant nearby. I’ve mentioned the wonderful pides in Turkey – however, I didn’t mention the wonderful accompaniments. For example, when I ordered my pide in Izmir (minced lamb and cheese), I also got a plate of fresh arugala and tomatoes, and a small salad of greens, cucumbers and tomatoes – all included in the price of 5 lira for the pide (around $3.85). Add another .50 lira for the su (bottled water), and you have a complete filling meal for under $5.

It was soon time to head for the Varan office. I got there a little early and settled down to wait. Promptly at 10:15 pm, the shuttle bus pulled up and took us all to another stop where a massive Varan bus awaited. My luggage was nowhere to be found, however, and I started to panic. None of the bus personnel spoke English, but one of them sensed that I was losing it and grabbed one of the passengers who translated. It turned out that the shuttle from the otogar was on its way with my luggage (and the rest of the passengers).

By 11 pm, the bus was ready to go and I was congratulating myself on picking Varan. This was the top of the line – luxurious padded reclining seats with music and headsets and a pillow! The best thing about this bus is that the trip is non-stop – no pulling into stops at 2 am with the lights blazing away. The attendant came around with tea and juice and announced he would be serving breakfast at 5:30 am. We got underway and I settled back with my pillow and believe it or not, I actually got some sleep! Woohoo – this is the bus for me! It was a bit more expensive but worth every penny!

Varan is also a bit more sophisticated in its seating arrangements – I think I mentioned before (or maybe I didn’t) that men and women who are not related are not allowed to sit next to each other on the bus. This is why they always ask your name when you buy a ticket. If a man has bought a seat, only another man can be seated next to him – and the same goes for women. Varan, however, is an indiscriminate bus company – and in fact, seated me next to a Turkish guy in his 20’s.

Tomorrow – back to Sultanachmet Square in Istanbul.

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Ephesus ruins – Day 12 in Selcuk

Posted by Mardee on May 16, 2007

A new hotel – a new Turkish breakfast. Actually, they’re all pretty much the same. I really love Turkish breakfasts – they are extremely healthy (tomatoes, cucumbers, yogurt, fresh cheese, eggs, olives) and are beautifully presented (the vegetables and fruit are always sliced and arranged so that the colors show to advantage), and the bread is to die for! And I must mention the oranges, which have a deep color and a flavor that literally bursts in your mouth. If only the coffee was a little better, although today’s coffee was pretty good.

The Hotel Akay arranged for a driver to come and take me to Ephesus. I could have walked it – it’s only 3 km – but I wanted to get there as soon as it opened to avoid the tour groups. The hotel clerk – a lovely young woman – also lent me a book on Ephesus to read for background information. The driver let me off near the second ticket office at the Magnesian Gate, which allowed me to walk downhill through all the ruins rather than uphill. I got there around 8:40 am, 10 minutes after it opened, and was amazed at how many people were already there. However, the advantage of being a solo traveler is that you can work with or against the crowd – and I’m a master at slipping around tour groups and getting off on my own.

I could go on and on about Ephesus, but will inject just a few historical bits here. The city originated several hundred years BC and was rebuilt several times. The population was in the range of 400,000 to 500,000 inhabitants in the year 100 AD, making it the largest city in the Roman empire at that time. The city was distinguished for the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the World), for the Library of Celsus, and for its theatre, capable of holding 25,000 spectators. This open-air theatre was used initially for drama, but during later Roman times gladiatorial combats were also held on its stage, with the first archaeological evidence of a gladiator graveyard found in May 2007. The city was relegated to a small village when the harbor filled in with silt from the Kaystros river in the 8th century, and was completely abandoned by the 15th century. Ephesus was an important center for early Christianity and both Paul and the Apostle John spent time writing and preaching there. In addition, a nearby house is believed to have been the last home of Mary.

Historical info aside, the site was just amazing! It is huge with ruins extending as far as the eye can see. The terraced houses take you into the rich families’ homes with unique mosaics and frescos, and the Library of Celsus alone is worth the price of admission. I have GOT to get these photos uploaded! It took me about 3 hours to go through the whole area and I probably would have stayed longer if it wasn’t so hot. The sun really beats down against that white stone (and the people standing on the white stone). After I was finished, I headed out the entrance and saw some ruins with a small sign saying “Tomb of St. Luke.” It was a small forlorn pile of stones surrounded by wildflowers. I don’t think it’s the real grave of St. Luke – I looked it up and he is supposed to be buried in Padua (although he was originally buried at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Istanbul – now the Fatih Cami, which I walked by while I was there). I’ve always like St. Luke, especially after reading The Silver Chalice.

After leaving Ephesus, I had planned to walk back but the heat was getting to me. So when a cab pulled up and asked me if I wanted a ride, I asked, “How much”? He responded, “15 lira but for you, 10!” Wow, what a bargain – 10 lira to drive me 2 miles. I declined and he asked how much I would pay. I held up 3 fingers and we wound up settling on 5 lira. After getting back to the hotel, I jumped online – I was changing my itinerary again. I was enjoying my stay in Selcuk, but after seeing Ephesus, there wasn’t a whole lot to do unless I took more 4-5 hour bus trips to the outlying area. Therefore, I decided to leave a day early and head for Izmir, where I would catch an overnight bus to Istanbul, arriving Thursday morning.

You may recall that I had sworn I would never take a night bus again, but logistically it makes sense. It’s a lot cheaper than flying and is a lot less hassle. Plus this time I was upgrading to the top of the line Varan bus line.

Before heading back out again, I spoke to the hotel clerk. I had been wanting to discuss my room with her as it was lacking in some amenities that were advertised by the hotel, i.e., hair dryer, TV, etc. She told me that there were actually 2 different sections to the hotel – a cheaper no-frills section and a deluxe area. I explained that if I had known I could upgrade for a mere 15 lira I would have done so. I wasn’t trying to get another room since I would be leaving the next day, but she was nice enough to switch me to the deluxe room for the same price as the one I had been in – 35 lira. This new room was wonderful – bigger, nicer and a stone’s throw away from the gorgeous pool.

She told me they would make the switch later that afternoon when I got back, so I headed over to the Ephesus Museum in town. This is where many of the artifacts and sculptures are located that were found at the Ephesus site. I’m glad I waited to see the museum after seeing Ephesus as it meant a lot more. Many of the pieces were huge but some were tiny with great detail. After seeing the Ephesus exhibit, I went over to another section of the museum that was an exhibition on gladiators. The gladiator graves discovered at Ephesus have told scientists a great deal about the lifes (and deaths) of the gladiators from that period. The exhibit showed photographs of the skeletons and how forensic scientists and anthropologists have worked to determine the manner of death, their diet, and many other fascinating facts.

After the exhibit, I stopped by Tugba, which is considered one of the best sources of Turkish delight and tried a couple of samples. I couldn’t decide between the the ones stuffed with pistachio or the fruit-flavored ones, so I bought some of both. The store makes its own Turkish delight and it is delicious! Next I headed back to the hotel and switched my room, which took about 5 minutes. After that I had a quick swim in the pool to cool off. A small group of people on a tour came up as I finished and I had a beer with them. Several of them were from San Francisco and the rest from Australia and New Zealand. After they left, 2 women stopped over who were staying in the room next to me and we talked for awhile. Coincidentally, they were also from San Francisco and were traveling by themselves (although they were taking small tours here and there). As it turned out, they were traveling to Fethiye next and would be staying in the same hotel I stayed in – the Villa Daffodil. They were happy to hear the rave reviews I gave.

After my swim, I went for a 4 km walk along a shaded tree-lined path. It was a popular spot for runners and walkers, and there were many out for an evening stroll. I passed the Temple of Artemus on my walk – it seemed strange to see it just off the side of the road. It’s also a little sad that one of the Seven Wonders of the World is reduced to just a single column in a dirt field. Afterwards, I went back to the hotel for dinner on the roof terrace. I was the only human up there (besides the staff) but a calico cat came and joined me. I’m sure it was my personality that attracted it and not the pieces of fish I threw in its direction. The dinner was wonderful – fish and bulgar and some wonderful mezes (appetizers). Plus I got to see the sun set over the distant mountains as I sipped my wine. All in all, a perfect evening…

My feline friend accompanied me back to my room and seemed somewhat insulted when I refused to let it inside. I tried to watch some TV but all I could find were Turkish channels so I soon gave up and went to bed.

Tomorrow – a day in Izmir, a night on the bus…

Posted in Ephesus, Gladiator Graveyard, Hotel Akay, Selcuk | 4 Comments »

From Fethiye beaches to Selcuk ruins – Day 11 on the road

Posted by Mardee on May 15, 2007

Ayasoluk Hill - St. John the Baptist BasilicaAfter waking up bright and early, I finished my packing and headed for breakfast. The morning was perfect (as usual) and I was a little sad about leaving Fethiye. However, I finished up, grabbed my gear and headed down to the desk to do a quick email check and then check out. The car from the travel agency was supposed to pick me up at 10 but when it hadn’t showed by 10:15 am, I started getting worried since my bus was supposed to leave at 10:30. Just then, Burkhard and Ulle stopped by on their way to the beach and chatted with me until the car came. We each promised the other that if we were ever in the other’s neighborhood, we would look each other up (I’m not sure how correct these pronouns are but hopefully everyone understood what I was trying to say). I could tell they were a little worried about the car not showing up, as was I, but it finally got there a few minutes later. I got in, the driver took off and he zipped around the Fethiye streets like Mario Andretti, pulling into the otogar right on the dot at 10:30.

We were soon on the road to Aydin, where I would then change buses to Selcuk. The first portion of the journey was beautiful – we drove past gorgeous deep blue inlets and bays, and then headed up into the mountains. The rest of the trip was sort of a blur as I was pretty tired and the sun was making me sleepy. We pulled into the bustling Aydin otogar station around 3 pm and I grabbed my luggage and looked for the Selcuk minibus. It was around the corner – unfortunately it wasn’t leaving for another 45 minutes so I took a seat and waited. Eventually it was time to board. By this time, I’d learned one of the first lessons you should know when riding a dolmus – always sit near a window. Turks will rarely open the windows in buses even in 90 degree weather – which is why I sit near the window so that I have control of the air.

This ride was long and excrutiating – it was only about 50 minutes in length but seemed like 5 hours. The bus was cramped, very hot and smelled of male Turkish body odor. In addition, the bus driver felt compelled to honk his horn in greeting at every single passerby and bus. We were listening to honks every 30 seconds or so. To make matters worse, he stuck his head out the window every few feet or so to look for additional people to honk at. I appreciated the fact that he was friendly but by the end of the ride, I was ready to throw something at him, the horn, or the bus – or all three. During the last 20 minutes of the ride, one of the men on board decided he needed to get some groceries. He muttered a few words to the driver, who immediately zipped across to the other side of the highway and pulled into a little grocer. The passenger ran in then came out about 5 minutes later with a bag of bread. Everyone else seemed to take it in stride and I tried to curb my irritation. The bread did smell good – it must have been fresh out of the oven.

Eventually we pulled into Selcuk and I paid my 5 lira. As I retrieved my luggage I was immediately accosted by several men who assured me that their hotels were better than any of the others. I managed to ignore them and found a young man who pointed me in the direction of the Hotel Akay where I had made a reservation the day before. One taxi driver offered to drive me there for 5 lira and as I was debating whether to accept, I noticed a sign that the hotel was only 200 m. away. The hotel is on a quiet street near Ayasoluk Hill, the site of the tomb of St. John the Evangelist and his Basilica. After checking in around 5 pm, I headed up towards Ayasoluk Hill and toured the grounds. St. John died here in 100 AD and the Byzantine emperor Justinian built a huge basilica to honor him. The basilica was destroyed in the 1400’s by Mongols but much of the site has been restored by a religious foundation based in Lima, Ohio.

Sunset from Hotel Akay TerraceAfter that, I headed down and explored the town and had a bite to eat at a small family-owned restaurant named Seckin Cigerci that seemed to be feeding mostly locals (which is always a good sign). My next stop was Tugba, which makes Turkish delight in all flavors. I didn’t buy anything today but did try a couple of samples – one with lemon and one with walnuts. Both were delicious and I can see why Tugba has received national awards for its Turkish delight. I walked around, enjoying the sights. Selcuk is home to a Byzantine aqueduct, which now serves as a nesting place for storks. They return here year after year to lay their eggs in April and May and then stay through September.

Back at the hotel, I went up on the terrace and had a glass of wine – there is nothing like sitting up high watching the stars with a cool breeze and Turkish music playing lightly in the background. Even the occasional cat came up for the atmosphere (I’m sure it had nothing to do with the crumbs that may have fallen from the breakfast tables). Soon it was time for bed.

Tomorrow – Ephesus!

Posted in Ayuasoluk Hill, Basilica of St. John, Cats, Dolmus, Selcuk, St. John the Evangelist, Turkey | 3 Comments »

Boating on the Mediterranean Sea – Day 10 in Fethiye

Posted by Mardee on May 14, 2007

Island off FethiyeBecause of my late night, I slept in a bit on Sunday morning, then headed down after breakfast to wait for the driver. When I’d booked my 12 island cruise the night before, the hotel manager told me a car would pick me up at 10 am. Price for boat cruise, round-trip transport and lunch – 30 lira (around $23). The actual boat was pretty large with two decks. The bottom deck had tables for lunch – the top deck had padded vinyl seats running along the sides and also had about 30 mats for laying out. It wasn’t crowded at all – there were probably 25 people at the most on board.

As we got underway, I began chatting with some of my companions. A mother and daughter who were sitting next to me were from Bristol, England – the daughter had recently built a house here and was talking about how cheap everything was here compared to the UK. Another woman from Liverpool and I were discussing place names and she was raving over the names of U.S. cities like “Cincinnati” and “Minneapolis.” Hmmmm….. I guess I don’t appreciate our names. On the other hand, I like the English names like Blubbermouth and Tissington.

One woman from Europe evidently assumed the boat allowed topless sunbathing and immediately pulled off her bikini top before laying on the mat. The rest of the Europeans took it in stride although no one followed her example. Our first stop was Gocek, a market town about 30 minutes from Fethiye across the water. About half the passengers got off to shop and we would pick them up later in the afternoon. I chose to stay on board.

The rest of the day was heaven – serenity in a tropical paradise! The boat stopped at a number of small islands in the sea. A few had beaches and we got off and strolled on the sand, then waded out to sea. Several islands had no beach and contained only rocky ledges – there we just swam off the boat. The water was glorious – deep blue, cold and clear, but warming up almost instantly once you were immersed. Just about everyone swam and had a wonderful time. One Turkish man who spoke very good English (he proudly informed me that he learned “American” English) told me to watch out for the sea urchins on the rocks underneath the water. Sure enough, I could see the little devils clustered under the water. Those needles would be painful so I made sure to wear my sandals when I was around the rocks.

Lunch was fresh fish (with the head on), green salad and bread. I sat with my Turkish acquaintance and a German couple (well, she’s Dutch but lives in Germany). They were heading to Cappadocia soon so I told them some of the highlights of my stay. After lunch, we lazed around on board for a bit before swimming again – this time on a beach that contained some old Roman ruins. Soon we were headed back to Gocek to pick up the rest of the passengers who informed us that the market there was not worth going to! There was one more swimming stop after that, but most of us were content by this time to just relax on the deck and sleep in the afternoon sun.

After getting back to Fethiye around 6 pm, I walked to a little travel agency near the tourist information center to buy my bus ticket. The prices still continue to amaze me – 17 lira ($13) for a 4.5 hour luxury bus trip (including refreshments) plus a pickup from my hotel. Next I stopped off for a quick cheese and sausage pide then went for my nightly foray to Özsüt (which is a Turkish pastry chain) for a pastry and cappucino. Did I mention coffee in Turkey? Sadly, this country has one drawback – lack of good coffee. Of course, the Turks invented Turkish coffee, which is something special in itself. But sometimes I just want a cup of good strong black coffee – and it’s just about impossible to find here. The closest most places come is Nescafe – and that’s just not close enough. So I’m constantly hunting down coffee shops and Özsüt makes a great cappucino (and wonderful pastries – better than the Bon Bonerie!).

After heading back to the hotel to pack, I ran into Burkhard and Ulle and invited them for a drink on the terrace where we had one last chat. Finally I headed for bed. However, as I got ready I realized that I had a pretty serious sunburn from my 2 days on the beach and the boat. I DID use sunscreen – LOTS of it! This sun is just so bright and hot, though, and my skin so light that it must have been an open invitation. Hopefully it won’t be too bad tomorrow.

And speaking of tomorrow – I leave Fethiye and head to Ephesus…

Mother and daughter from England

Posted in Blue Cruise, Fethiye, Gocek, The Blue Voyage, Turkey | 4 Comments »

A Day at the Beach – Day 9 in Fethiye

Posted by Mardee on May 13, 2007

This morning, the sun was beating a path through my window and the breeze was cool and crisp. I keep waiting for bad weather to appear in Turkey but there has been no sign of anything but perfect weather. After eating breakfast on the terrace (typical Turkish breakfast of cheese, olives, tomatoes, cukes, bread and fruit), I headed down into town to catch the bus for Oludeniz. A day at the beach was today’s plan (or part of it).

Oludeniz beachFirst I had to find the dolmus station – I knew the general area but could not find the actual place. Finally, I stopped a man walking with his son and asked him. He not only told me – he reversed his direction and guided me 3 blocks away to the station, then made sure I could find the right minibus. The Turks are the most agreeable people – I have never had anyone turn me down when I asked for help. Three lira later, I was heading down the road to the beaches at Oludeniz, which is about 15-20 minutes away.

Part of this area is extremely built up – a lot of Germans and Brits are buying up vacation property because the area is relatively inexpensive compared to their own countries. Consequently, the main beach is packed with pale bodies baking in the sun. However, there is an area off to the rıght that is a bit more secluded – a lagoon that is reached by way of a stone pathway through a small park. There is a charge of a couple of lira to get in, so many people don’t bother.

Thıs lagoon was my destination. Once I got there, I found a spot on the beach for my stuff (I decided to forego the vinyl lounge chairs as I didn’t feel like paying 10 lira for the chair and umbrella) and plopped myself down. The lagoon was breathtakingly beautiful – a circle of deep blue water surrounded by a pebbly beach and a mountain backdrop. Most of the bathers in this area were Turks – in fact, I could see only one other body as white as mine.

The water was a bit brisk when I first jumped in, but quickly warmed up and I swam and splashed and had a great time playing in the ocean. I’m not much for laying out in the sun so after about an hour of sun and water, I packed up my gear and headed out. Before I left, I stopped at the free showers and washed the salt off (and all the tiny pebbles from the beach that had gotten inside my suit).

I managed to get a dolmus back to Fethiye fairly quickly – I was hungry but most of the restaurants in the Oludeniz area looked pretty touristy (I’m assuming that a restaurant that advertises “spaghetti” and “american burger” isn’t going to have authentic Turkish cuisine). As I was sitting in the minibus on my way back to Fethiye, a young teenage boy got on and sat down beside me. A few stops later, an elderly man got on the bus. The young teenager immediately got up and offered his seat to the older man. Again, it’s not a sight you would often see in this country.

Fethiye fish marketAfter I got back to town, I had a quick lunch at the fish market. This is a large market where fisherman bring their catch in and sell it. You pick out a fish then take it to one of the nearby restaurants. The restaurant will then cook it for you and serve it, adding bread, salad and a drink – all for about $3. There’s nothing like fresh-caught fish. I must admit that I’m not wild about it being served with the head on, but it’s not that big a deal to cut it off and toss it to one of the nearby cats hovering around.

For my afternoon trek, I headed for another nearby town. The intent was to get to a nearby scenic area that contains a gorge. However, I got on the wrong minibus – then when I realized my error, got off at the wrong stop to go back to Fethiye. I wound up walking about 3 km. trying to find the right stop. I never did find it but I did find a Migros, the Turkish version of Kroger’s, so I decided to stop in and check it out (flexible is my middle name).

At first glance, it appears to be a regular supermarket – many of the brands are different of course, but I saw Lipton, Nescafe and Cascade, along with other familiar faces. Although the store seemed smallish by American standards, it had one aisle devoted to women’s and men’s clothing. I picked up a hat for my boat excursion planned for Sunday for around 2 lira, and a large tote bag for about 10. As I was preparing to leave, I passed by the pastry section – lo and behold, I spotted kunefe! Trying hard to restrain my drooling, I rushed over and bought a square – only 2.5 lira! A yummy treat for after dinner…

I still had the problem of how to figure out how to get back to town. The gods were with me that day, though – as I exited onto the street from the Migros parking lot, a bus pulled up for Fethiye and I jumped on board before it could get away. Unfortunately, although the dolmus was destined for Fethiye, its destination was not the part of town I knew. When I was the only passenger left, the driver made a motion that I should disembark. I frantically looked around for a familiar landmark and spotted nothing. There was no arguing with the driver (difficult to do when you do not share a common language) so I got off and starting walking towards what I thought might be the harbor.

Bougainvillea cascading over a balconyThree blocks later, I was still in unfamiliar territory so I stopped a Turkish woman who steered me in the right direction to my hotel. Once I got there, I unloaded all my beach stuff and headed for the bar. As I sat at the bar with my glass of wine, a man next to me struck up a conversation. Burkhard was from Germany but has lived in Sweden for the last 15 years. I told him about my German ancestry and then relayed the story of “Over-the-Rhine,” the area of Cincinnati that has a connection to Germany. His wife, Ulli, came up shortly and the 3 of us chatted about Germany, the US and politics. They told me that they didn’t blame me for Bush (joke here – no political digs intended).

They invited me to dine with them at the hotel so we headed onto the terrace and had a wonderful meal and conversation. They have been to Turkey many many times and hope to retire here (for part of the year) in a few years. They introduced me to raki (the Turkish alcohol of choice – similar to ouzo but served in a tall glass with water) and Turkish coffee. I had drunk Turkish coffee before and couldn’t get past the first sip – however, I discovered the key is to add az şekerli (a “little sugar”) to the coffee. I never thought I’d be adding sugar to coffee, but in this case, it certainly makes Turkish coffee drinkable.

Burkhard told me stories of Germany when he was young (he apparently is in his early 60’s). His parents emigrated from east Germany after WWII and he was treated as a pariah in the western part of the country. He was forced to attend a refugee school rather than being taught with the other children and his family suffered poverty for many years. His wife is from the Cologne area, which is the other area where they plan to live after retirement. They also told me stories of Sweden and the horrors of the national health system run amuck.

My contribution consisted of stories of the American legal system, which seemed to interest them. They were amused to hear that many divorces take months and even years to settle – evidently in Sweden, the couple gets divorced first and then settles the property and custody issues. All in all, it was a fascinating evening and I enjoyed meeting them very much. We finally finished up around 1 am and all headed off to bed.

Tomorrow – a mini Blue Cruise where I head out for a day of island hopping.

Posted in Fethiye, Oludeniz, Turkey | 3 Comments »

Onward to the Turquoise Riviera – Day 8 in Fethiye

Posted by Mardee on May 12, 2007

At the end of the day on Thursday, I was sitting in the back of a large bus heading to Antalya, which was my first stop. Seated next to me was a Turkish woman with a small baby about 8 months old (who I was drooling over, of course). At the first rest stop, she indicated that she had to run in and proceeded to hand the baby over to me. I had no problem watching him – he was adorable with huge dark brown eyes and a little bowl-shaped haircut – but it kind of threw me that she would entrust her child to a total stranger. Again, it was such a cultural difference.

She evidently thought I did a good job because every stop after that I was in charge of the baby. Neither I nor the baby could sleep so we just made faces at each other and looked out the window. The bus system is very strange in Turkey – there are many overnight buses but at every stop, the driver turns on all the lights. It’s like he’s trying to wake everyone up. They would also decide that 2 am was a good time to pass out tea and coffee – because I’m sure everyone was looking to ingest some caffeine at that time…

FethiyeAt any rate, we finally reached Antalya about 6 am. This was the crucial moment in my decision-making. I had been trying to decide whether to go to the Olympus/Cirali area and stay there a day or two before heading for Fethiye. However, in the end I decided that I didn’t want to be schlepping my luggage more than I had to, so I went ahead and got a ticket to Fethiye (as did the two Korean girls I was riding with) and planned to stay there 3 nights. We found a company selling tickets on a bus that was leaving at 7 am, so we headed back with the driver to put our luggage aboard.

We should have realized right away that this was not the typical luxury bus we had been on – the windshield had several cracks and newspaper lined the aisles. However, we gamely got on and sat down and were soon on our way. The bus was fairly empty at first but as it wound its way through the scenic mountains and valleys, it made periodic stops at small villages. This was obviously not an express bus. The local villagers continued to pile on bringing an array of assorted belongings with them. One man had 2 huge bags of oranges that must have weighed 50 lbs. each. At any minute, I expected to see someone get on with livestock.

Roman ruins on Fethiye hillsideThe empty seat next to me was soon taken by a shriveled old woman wearing the typical cotton scarf, sweater, cardigan and Turkish pants. She told me (via pointing to her teeth) that she was going to the dentist in Fethiye, a distance of some 80 km. away. She grinned at my feeble attempts to speak Turkish and then started rooting around in her purse, a large beat-up red leather bag stamped “Gucci.” Eventually, she pulled out a plastic bag containing a mixture of unknown nuts and golden raisins. She forced open my hand and dumped a pile into it, indicating that I was to eat them.

Ignoring the thoughts of wanton bacteria running amuck, I gamely ate the mixture, which was actually pretty good. We were pals after that and she would occasionally chatter away to me, notwithstanding the fact that I had no idea what she was saying. I just smiled away, which seemed to be enough of a response for her.

Although the local bus was a far cry from the comfortable express I was used to, I wouldn’t have missed this trip for the world. I saw scenes that were priceless – at one stop, a woman pulled a wooden cart laden high with huge bundles tied in cloth. She was followed by a flock of sheep and then a herd of goats. A man, presumably her husband, brought up the rear.

The scenery was as incredible as the picturesque villages – mountains, some snow-capped, loomed all around together with pine trees and the occasional green valleys. Soon, the bus began letting off people so I assumed we were nearing Fethiye. Around 10:30 am, we got off at the small otogar on the outskirts of town, which meant I had 2 things to accomplish. Find a hotel. Figure out how to get there.

They both turned out easier than I thought. My Korean pals went off to a hostel someplace and I tried to find a phone to call one of the places listed in Lonely Planet. The shopkeeper who sells phonecards happened to be out of them, so he indicated that I could just use his phone. I called and made a reservation with the Villa Daffodil, then grabbed a taxi. It was worth the 7 lira not to have to deal with finding the correct dolmus to take into town.

Hotel Villa DaffodilThe taxi drove down a street right along the harbor and let me off at the hotel. This place is beautiful – the hotel terrace directly overlooks the bay and mountains. Palm trees line the street, interspersed with lush colorful bougainvillea and azaleas. I checked in and decided to take a shower, then head into town. It’s a lovely walk from the hotel to town but the town also has a dolmus that does nothing but go back and forth along the harbor. It’s nice to have the option of riding, especially for only 1 lira.

I pretty much took it easy the rest of the day – I wandered around town and stopped at the ruins from ancient Roman times. Unfortunately, it’s not in very good shape and is further marred by the occasional graffiti. After a quick late lunch next to the water, I walked along the harbor and looked at all the beautiful yachts and boats scattered throughout the bay. The town is rather largish but has a wonderful relaxed atmosphere. Everyone is in low gear here and no one rushes to do anything.

The lack of sleep soon got to me and I made my way back to the hotel. However, I noticed some people up on the terrace talking and drinking, so I decided to have a glass of wine before going to bed. By this time, the sun had set and I sat and peacefully sipped my wine while gazing out onto the flickering lights and dark waters below.

Onward to bed – tomorrow, the beach!

Posted in Fethiye, Turkey, Turquoise Riviera, Villa Daffodil | 3 Comments »

Driving through Cappadocia – Day 7

Posted by Mardee on May 11, 2007

Hydar the CamelCheck-out time was 10:30 am so I hurriedly packed up this morning (and found my digital camera battery charger that I thought I forgot to bring – hooray!!!) and made my way up for my last breakfast here. Afterwards, I ran over to one of the local tour agencies and bought a bus ticket for Antalya. From there I will head to the beaches of Olympos and Ciralli tomorrow morning. I was dreading this overnight bus trip, but the only other real solution was to rent a car and that ain’t happening… I still had to figure out what to do with the rest of the day, since my bus didn’t leave till 9 pm.

As I made a quick stop at the ATM for cash, I was greeted by a car pulling up and 5 men getting out – 4 in business suits and one in uniform with a rifle. Evidently they were filling up the ATM. I was a little unsure why it took 4 men in suits to do this (the guy with the gun was understandable) but evidently they have their methods. Right before they were ready to leave, they unlocked the secured waste container that houses ATM receipts and proceeded to dump it all in the public trash can. I think I’ll try to find some other place to pitch my receipts…

Fortress in UchisarBack to the hotel to check out – at that time, Sergio and Altan offered me a deal. Altan would spend the day driving me around the area to some interesting places for 60 lira (about $45). Wow! I jumped at it – a private car and driver for that price for practically the whole day? Incredible! I grabbed my purse, we jumped in the minivan and began the tour.

The first place on the agenda is a castle in Üchisar – this is a huge cave that sits way above the ground and was used as a fortress. The idea was to walk to the top and look at the view. Needless to say, my phobia got in the way and we had to quit halfway up. It was still an impressive view, nonetheless. Altan didn’t really understand – he kept saying, “It is safe!” I didn’t have the Turkish to explain that it’s not a logical reaction or a safety issue.

On our way out, we passed a camel sitting near the exit. There are several camels around – the locals sell photo ops to the tourists. I feel sorry for them – all they do is lay around all day until someone wants to get their picture taken riding a camel. Altan told me that this camel’s name was Hydar and he was 69 years old.

Rose ValleyAfter that excursion, we went on a panoramic driving tour of the area. Our first stop was Rose Valley, so called because the cliffs and caves in the valley and hills are a deep rose color. We parked the van and then walked up to the top of the hills and just stood for awhile, drinking in the scenery. We were the only ones around, although Altan told me that the area gets quite crowded later on. The top of Rose Valley is a popular viewpoint, especially at sunset when the rocks glow red and orange in the warm light and the car park fills with coaches and buses. I’m sure it’s a lovely sight but I would rather have the peace and quiet.

As we left, Altan casually asked me if he could take me to his uncle’s house in Avanos. His mother was there and he wanted me to meet her. Needless to say, I was thrilled – it’s not often that a traveler gets to meet local residents on their own turf. We headed down the road towards a village containing a small “suburb” of pinkish and yellow houses. After pulling up, we were met at the door by Altan’s uncle’s wife, who seemed fairly young. We took off our shoes and proceeded inside.

I was introduced to Altan’s mother and grandmother, who is 96 years old. They were watching television (a Turkish game show featuring lots of swimwear) and finishing up their lunch. They offered me cha and then we all began the process of sizing each other up – I’m sure they were as curious about me as I was about them. His aunt wore contemporary clothing – a knit shirt and slacks. His mother and grandmother, however, were in the same type of “peasant” clothing I’ve been describing before; the loose-divided Turkish trousers, white scarf covering the hair and a wool vest or sweater worn over a blouse.

Children in UrgupAltan’s grandmother called me over and began showing me photos of her when she was a younger. One black-and-white photo from the early 1930’s showed her in an exotic Turkish ethnic dress with gold bangles and chains that was evidently for a special occason. It’s strange to think that she was alive when sultans still ruled Turkey – Ataturk didn’t nationalize the country until around 1928.

When we finally left after about 45 minutes, we kissed cheeks in the Turkish custom and left. It was such a pleasure to meet them and I appreciated their generousity in inviting me in (not that they really had a choice). Both his mother and grandmother looked very weathered – probably from a life spent outside in the hot Turkish sun. I later found out from Altan that his mother is 3 years younger than me – I had assumed she was at least 5 years older.

Underground city in OzkonakWe then did more sightseeing in Urgup, which has some unusual rock formations. I had been considering staying in Urgup rather than Goreme and was happy to conclude that I had made the right decision to go with Goreme. It’s a much smaller and more intimate atmosphere – Urgup was beautiful and interesting, but more spread out and much larger.

The underground city in Ozkonak was the next stop. There are 3 in Cappadocia and all date back to around the 7th century B.C. This one was discovered in 1972 by a farmer who wondered where his excess crop water was disappearing to. He undercovered a hidden room underground. Further excavation revealed as many as 10 underground floors with storage and separate defenses for each floor. Only 4 floors are open to the public, and it was quite an experience going through.

You have to crawl through the tunnels to get to each new floor and only then can you stand upright. Huge stone circles sit at each entrance, which were rolled in place to block an enemy attack. In addition, holes were placed above each entrance – if the enemy came, hot oil was poured through the holes onto the soldiers below. The Phrygians were the first to build them, however the Christians later enlarged the underground city. It was the principal place of hiding for the first Christians who were escaping from the persecution of the Roman empire. Cappadocia was where St Paul established a Christian community and where he also sought refuge. The underground cities in Cappadocia had built-in food storage, kitchens, churches, animal stalls, wineries, ventilation ducts, water wells and a missionary school.

Finally, it was time for a late lunch and we headed back to Avanos to a restaurant Altan knows called the Zelve Restaurant. Everyone there knew him and kept stopping in to check on us and say hello. The restaurant itself was incredible – it was probably the best meal I have had in Turkey since I got here. The lamb kebabs were tender and tasty, as was everything that came with it. And the food kept coming – we got 3 different kinds of bread, each one better than the last, a luscious salad, and a spicy dip made with eggplant and coated with a rich pomegranite sauce.

After we finished and before I could even blink, the dishes disappearance and Turkish coffee and dessert appeared before us. Let me just say one word about this dessert: The. Best. Dessert. Ever. (okay, that was 4 but it deserved them). This is my new favorite dessert – I think it even beats out sticky toffee pudding. It’s called “kunefe” and consists of shredded phyllo dough that is mixed with cheese and honey and then baked in a small round dish. It’s topped with crushed pistachio nuts and (need I say it again?) is incredible! It puts baklava to shame…

Finally, we were heading back to Goreme and the end of my stay in a perfect place. After finishing a few errands, I picked up my luggage from the hotel, said my goodbyes to Sergio and Altan, and made my way to the local square to pick up the bus for Antalya. I spent the time talking to a trio of young people from Singapore who had just graduated with degrees in accounting and were taking a trip before entering the job market.

The bus got there right on time and I threw my luggage underneath and got in. Two Korean girls who were also leaving Goreme were sitting near me so we started talking. They are also college graduations who are treating themselves to a trip abroad before work starts. The lights gradually went out and I settled down for a night of not sleeping… I really envy those people who can sleep anywhere.

Tomorrow – bus experiences and my arrival in Fethiye (yes, I changed my itinerary again!).

Rock formations (and goat) in Urgup

Posted in Turkey | 2 Comments »

The Land of Fairy Chimneys – Day 6 in Cappadocia

Posted by Mardee on May 10, 2007

Before I begin, here is a brief geology lesson on the history of the “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia.

The origins of this unusual region can be traced to the Tertiary period some 50 million years ago, when craters and chimneys dominated the landscape. Since then huge quantities of volcanic material have spewed out of the many volcanoes. Forces of erosion have shaped the incredible and unique Cappadocian tuff-coned landscape. For hundreds of years men have dug into the soft but firm tuff to create dwellings, monasteries, churches and underground cities.

Wednesday morning was bright and sunny and cool (have I mentioned that the weather here has been just about perfect?) so I quickly got ready and made my way up to the terrace for breakfast. Sergio prepared a plate of fresh fruit, tomatoes and cucumbers with some yummy sheep cheese, fresh Turkish bread and honey, olives and some other small fruit that I don’t know the name of (and neither does Sergio or Altan – at least, the English name). I also got an omelette cooked by Chef Sergio, which was tasty although different from the ones I’m used to – there was no filling or cheese inside; just eggs.

My first stop of the morning was the Goreme Open-Air Museum, which is about 2 km. from the hotel. Since it was such a beautiful day, I decided to walk there and enjoy the scenery along the way. The Open-Air Museum, which sits in the middle of the area’s incredible landscaping, holds the region’s best collection of painted cave-churches. Medieval orthodox Christian monks (1000-1200 AD) carved the caves from the soft volcanic stone and decorated them with elaborate Byzantine frescoes. There are approximately 6 churches all together and each one is an incredible visual experience. My favorite was the “Dark Church” (Karanlik Kilise) so called because it has less light than the other churches. Consequently, the frescoes are in much better condition.

After this excursion, I headed back to town for a quick bite to eat and drink and wound up with a plate of borek and a bottle of water. Borek is a phyllo-pastry concoction with various fillings inside. I chose a spinach and cheese filling and it was served with a topping of yogurt and a rich tomato sauce – delicious! After that, I reviewed my 2 guidebooks (now ripped in sections) and determined that there was an interesting village about 6 km. down the road called Cavucin (pronounced “Sha-vu-shin”). It took me over an hour to walk there since I was dawdling as I walked, but the end result was worth it.

The town itself is rather nondescript, but as I walked through the narrow cobbled streets I began to see evidence of a long-ago culture. To my left was an older woman with a young girl sitting on top of a load of straw in a wooden cart that was being led by a donkey. Farther down the road I saw a woman leading a goat down the street. The woman wore a white translucent scarf that was wound around her head and decorated with colored trim. Her blouse was a red print and was topped with a multi-colored vest and the bottoms were Turkish divided pants (salvar). On top of that, she had placed a wide-brimmed hat. I continued to see this same type of costume over and over on the women of this village and throughout the region.

On one corner, two older women were sitting side by side and let me take their photo, giggling madly when I snapped it. When I tried to speak Turkish to them, one of them (she was about 4’10”) reached up and pinched my cheek and laughed at me. They all looked like they had stepped right out of a book of ethnic folk costumes. I continued walking through the town, and gained a companion at one point. A little dog appeared from nowhere and scampered around my feet as I walked, occasionally leaving me to investigate something interesting off to the side.

The villagers used to live in the caves above the town but as erosion began to cause problems, they moved into houses below. I was trying to find a way to get up into the caves but was having a hard time locating a path. Luck was with me, however – a German tour group began winding their way up a path I had missed so I quickly got in line behind them. We all huffed and puffed our way up into the hills. At some point near the top I saw them head off around the corner towards an old church and decided to let them go. At this point, I realized it was me and me alone sitting on top of the world with a view for miles around. All around me were magical fairy chimneys and caves dating back thousands of years, and hills covered with bright yellow wild flowers and poppies. The only sounds I could hear were birds and tiny insects – no planes, trains or roaring cars. The peace and serenity hit me like a ton of bricks and I sat back against the hills and stared around me at this beauty.

Time passed and I continued to sit. I finally decided I had better make my way down as I wanted to take a dolmus (mini-bus) back to town and wasn’t sure how late they ran. I had a brief scare when I deviated from the path a bit and then couldn’t find it, but eventually made my way back down the hillside. As I walked back through the town, I saw several people riding through on wooden carts led by donkeys or horses. In fact, I noticed that most of the houses had a cart sitting in the yard and I could hear the occasional braying of donkeys behind walled yards.

I had to wait a while at the main road for the dolmus to arrive so I entertained myself by watching the children coming home from school. They were all wearing some sort of uniform – white blouses/shirts and grey skirts/pants. Some of the mothers came out to greet their children but most of the children – even the younger ones – headed off in various directions to their home unaccompanied. Very different from most of America.

By that time, I was exhausted so I went back to the hotel and napped for awhile. Shopping was next and I went into town and bargained for a few things, earning myself a couple of glasses of tea while shopping. The shopkeepers here are much different than in Istanbul – much less agressive and much friendlier. Eventually, I headed back to the hotel where I was going to have dinner cooked by Sergio. I had a yummy lentil soup, salad, bread, and lamb cooked with vegetables over rice, and ended with baklava. It was wonderful!

Later came my nightly internet session and then back to the hotel for my last night there. Tomorrow, read about my BEST day ever as I tour Cappadocia with Altan…

Posted in Cappadocia, Cavucin, Fairy Chimneys, Goreme, Turkey | 3 Comments »

Goodbye, Istanbul – Hello, Cappadocia (Day 5 in Turkey)

Posted by Mardee on May 9, 2007

The morning came all to soon and I had a couple of hours to sit and enjoy the scenery whizzing by while the train headed for Ankara. The countryside reminded me somewhat of Spain – the same type of rustic greenery and ochre landscapes with the occasional village plopped down in the middle. No urban sprawl here! The train was over an hour late getting into the Ankara train station, so I decided to forego my plans to hit the Museum of Anatolian Civilization. It about killed me but I wanted to get to the Cappadocia region (pronounced “Kapadokia”) before dark and I know the bus ride would take 4-5 hours.

Speaking of buses, Turkey has the bus system down to a science. Their bus terminals are called “otogars” and are huge – we’re talking airport terminal huge here (okay, maybe small city airport terminal). When I walked into Asti, the Ankara otogar, I couldn’t believe how large it was. There were almost 100 terminals and each had a different company, all going to various places in Turkey. I stopped at the Information desk and asked about buses to Goreme, and they directed me to number 51. The gentleman there gave me a ticket in return for 23 lira (around $17) and told me the next bus was leaving in an hour.

Since I had time to kill I headed for one of the many restaurants and cafes in the terminal and had a glass of tea, which I am fast becoming addicted to. Turkish tea is served in a small hourglass-shaped glass with 2 cubes of sugar and a tiny spoon. It’s a lovely way to drink tea. Most shopkeepers will offer you tea if you’re in their shop for more than 5 minutes even if you don’t buy anything (of course, they’re hoping you will!).

About 15 minutes before the bus was due to leave, I saw the bus pull into slot no. 41 so I made my way over there and boarded. Seats are assigned so I headed for mine and settled in comfortably. As I said, the Turks have this system down pat. As we drove down the road, the attendant (all buses have attendants as well as a driver) came by to spritz everyone with “freshening” cologne. Throughout the drive, he would serve tea or coffee periodically, and also passed out a little snack cake about halfway through the drive. The seats are extremely comfortable – reclining backs, foot rests and a little drop-down tray in front like airplanes have. We stopped about 1 pm for a bathroom/snack break. After that, they showed a movie on the drop-down video screens. The movie (an American movie called “Mr. Bones”) was dubbed in Turkish, but judging from what I saw I don’t think I missed much.

At Nevsehir, we had to change buses – at this point, most of the people on the bus got off for good, and the only ones left were me, an Australian couple and a couple from Quebec. We got on a smaller bus and drove the short distance to Goreme. The first hint you see of the amazing landscape in this region comes about 5 minutes before you get into Goreme. This is when the “fairy chimneys” first appear in view. The bus dropped us off in the middle of town and the five of us headed to the Tourist Info Center to book a hotel. Pashahan HotelThere are tons of places in town so I picked one at random recommended in Lonely Planet called the Pashahan Hotel (it was just included in the new version). What a gem this place was! It had the biggest most spacious room I’ve stayed in, and the price was a mere 30 euros (approximately $42), which included breakfast and free hot drinks thoughout the day. The owner, Sergio, even came to pick me up from the TIC. Best thing of all – the room had a huge bathtub! I love my baths and hate the fact that most hotels in Europe only offer showers, so this was a real treat. The hotel and rooms are decorated with dozens of carpets and Turkish art and gives an overall feeling of elegance.

After checking in, I went out and wandered around for awhile. The town itself is very small and dense so all the shops and restaurants were close together. Everyone was extremely friendly but without the agression I found in Istanbul. I wandered into a couple of spots and then found an English-language used bookstore. The woman, Maggie, is an expatriate from Leedsö England, and has been here around 8-9 years. She recommended a restaurant called the “Local” and suggested I try the Ottoman chicken.

So that was my next stop – since I really hadn’t eaten lunch, dinner was sounding pretty good. I soon found myself sitting on a lovely terrace outside the Local restaurant munching on Ottoman chicken (chicken rolled and baked with cheese), rice and vegetables, a glass of red wine – and the wonderful Turkish bread that I love. The owner came out to chat and said that after he had retired from his business, he came here to run a hotel and restaurant.

After dinner, my feet directed me next door (again, thanks to Maggie’s recommendation) to some wonderful carrot cake made by a woman who just opened a cafe. She is from South Africa and her husband is a Turk and they just moved here from Capetown. Neither she nor her children speak Turkish (although they’re all learning now) but she seems to be taking the move in stride. Her father-in-law became sick, which is why they moved. I love the fact that these people will sit down and talk to their customers and are so friendly – it’s such a change from the somewhat sterile atmosphere of American restaurants.

By this time, I was getting tired and made my way back to the hotel. As I walked in the door, Altan (Sergio’s friend and assistant) asked me if I wanted to join Sergio up on the terrace for a drink. I headed upstairs to the roof. Sergio and another friend (whose name I can’t remember) were sitting at a table and asked me to join them. He poured me a glass of wine and we all started talking. The friend spoke very little English (Turks learn English in school but many of them lose it if they don’t have contact with English speakers) and my Turkish is of course, practically non-existent, but we managed – mostly with Sergio translating. The glass of wine turned into another and another, and before long Sergio, Altan, Sergio’s friend, and me were all drinking and talking the night away. We discussed everything from restaurants in the United States to Turkish politics. In fact, at one point I asked them about the different clothing styles some of the religious women wear, and that embroiled a huge debate between Altan and Sergio, each yelling at the other and gesturing madly to emphasize their point. It was a lot of fun, especially spending time with local people. It doesn’t happen that often for travelers unless you happen to know someone, so I was appreciative of the time I got to spend with them.

Eventually, we broke up the party and headed to bed, which, by the way, was extremely comfortable. Actually, every bed I’ve slept in in Turkey has been very comfy – the pillows are perfect and I love the Turkish duvets. It is similar to an American duvet in that it is a comforter covered by a duvet cover – however, rather than having a large one that overlaps all the sides of the bed, Turkish duvets fit squarely on top of the bed and line up with the edges (I’m not sure if this description makes sense – I’ll get a picture later). Whatever they do, it makes sense because I have loved every bed I’ve been in.

And speaking of bed, I’m going there now. Oh, Sergio kindly lent me his laptop so that I could post this entry tonight. He is such a nice person! Tomorrow will be about one of my favorite days in Turkey so far – the ancient Christian churches of Goreme and my walk to the neighboring village.

Posted in Cappadocia, Fairy Chimneys, Goreme, Lonely Planet, Pashahan Hotel, Trains, Planes and ... Buses, Turkey | Leave a Comment »

Up the Bosphorus on Day 4 in Istanbul

Posted by Mardee on May 8, 2007

Monday morning began with the packing I’d been too tired to do the night before. After getting everything together I headed up for breakfast. Katrina and Tenner were up there and I took a picture of them and Ari on the rooftop. After that, I gave Katrina my business card so she could email me. She looked at it and started laughing – it turns out she’s a lawyer in Australia. She’s a prosecutor for the government and goes after attorneys for ethical/criminal violations. It turns out that they’ll be back in Istanbul around the same time I will so we’ll see each other again.

After that, I checked out and headed down to Emininou pier to buy my ferry ticket for the Bosphorus cruise. This is a city-run ferry that takes a daily run up the Bosphorus, which is the river that runs between the Asian and European sides of Turkey and empties into the Black Sea. It’s only about 12 lira for a 90 minute ride and is a great value. Robert and his family were already in line when I got there and saved me a seat on the upper deck. We were sitting next to an older couple from Sydney, Australia, who were extremely nice and told us about their upcoming trip to Greece. It was a great outing! The day was absoluely beautiful and the sea breezes felt incredible. The coastline was dotted with wealthy suburban homes, the occasional mosque (cami) and a few other historical sites, such as the Dolmabahce Palace. The Asian side is much greener and more residential than the European side but both were extremely interesting to watch.

I left before the last stop (you have the option of getting off at the last stop for 3 hours and eating lunch, then returning by ferry) because I wanted to get my luggage over to the train station since I was leaving later. Therefore, I took a 65 minute bus ride back to the city center – it was a long trek but was a fascinating look at the non-touristed parts of the city. I watched 2 teenage boys exchange greetings by kissing each other on the cheek (which is also common in other countries like Spain and Italy), and had to laugh at the thought of 2 American boys doing that. Three teenage girls sat across from me and were very affectionate with each other – much more so than American girls would have been.

There are other differences in our cultures – for example, you can sit for hours here (and many other places in Europe) in a cafe or restaurant and no one will rush you out the door. No one brings you the check until you ask for it. It’s a much more relaxing way of llife over here.

After the long bus ride, I had to switch to a tram for the last 10 minutes, which took me back to Sultanachmet Square. After grabbing my luggage at the hotel, I headed back to the pier. Along the way, I was hailed by all the carpet and restaurant touts who saw me with luggage and were yelling because I had not been to their shop or restaurant. These guys never forget a face – on my first day there (before I knew better), I answered them back and promised them I’d stop into their shop just so I could get away from them. Unfortunately, they took me at my word and every day they have reminded me of my promise. I started to feel like I was breaking a contract. Sheesh…

After breaking free of my carpet/restaurant buddies, I headed back to Emininou and grabbed a ferry to Haydarpasa train station on the other side of the Bosphorus. It’s amazing how cheap public transportation is here – the ferry ride to the train station only cost me about .75 cents. After arriving in Kadikoy, it was a 5 minute walk to the station although it seemed like longer. The pier was lined with older men sitting there doing nothing and every single one stared at me as I walked by. As I said before, Turkish women don’t generally walk by themselves so I guess they were surprised to see me without someone accompanying me.

Haydarpasa train station is gorgeous – very ornate but in a different style than most Turkish buildings. It was a gift to Sultan Abdulhamid II from his ally Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1906. I found the left luggage locker and stowed my bags with the help of a local who translated the instructions for me. My train didn’t leave for another 5 hours, but I didn’t have much stamina so I opted to find a restaurant close by and eat dinner. It was a good choice – the meal was excellent. Chicken and vegetables and rice served in pita bread. Interestingly, I have not had a bad meal in Turkey since I got here. The rest of the time I read and planned more of my trip.

At 10 pm, I boarded the train and was taken to my very own sleeper compartment – it was so cool! It has a cute little bed with bedding that folds out and a little sink – I felt like I was on the Orient Express in the middle of an Agatha Christie mystery. I stayed up for awhile but the bed was calling my name and I soon went to sleep.

By the way, my apologies for any typos – I don’t have time to go through everything and although I’ve managed to change the Turkish keyboard to English for the web, I can’t figure out how to switch MS Word so I can do a spell check. So please just bear with any mistakes…

Posted in Ankara, Bosphorus cruise, Haydarpasa Train Station, Turkey | Leave a Comment »

Cats and Whirling Dervishes – Day 3 in Istanbul

Posted by Mardee on May 7, 2007

There are cats everywhere – poor, skin-and-bones feral cats who desperately search every day for enough food to keep alive. My heart just aches for them but I’ve been told not to get near them since they will scratch – and are probably sick and insect-ridden. I do leave some food when I get a chance, although they seem to find food in the strangest places. Yesterday I came across a grey and white cat with a huge pigeon stuffed in its mouth who was heading for a bush to finish its feast in private.

My own breakfast on Sunday morning was a little tastier (at least, in my opinion). Same scenic terrace and same buffet spread. This morning I met some additional guests at the Hanedan – Robert, a doctor from Hawaii, his wife, Natalia, and his wife’s sister and cousin, Mindy and Alicia, who live in Manila. They were very pleasant and since Robert and I have many of the same geek traits, we hit it off very well. They invited me to join them that evening for a performance of the whirling dervishes, so we arranged to meet at the event hall around 6:30 pm.

My plans for the day involved seeing Kariye Müzesi (aka Chora Church), which as I mentioned, is an 11th century Byzantine church decorated with beautiful frescoes and mosaics. The church was fairly small but the art inside was exquisite.  But I digress – before getting to the church, I had looked at the map and thought I’d walk it since it didn’t seem too long. Obviously, I need a lesson in cartography because that walk was extremely long. My pedometer logged in almost 5 miles and some was uphill. It was worth it, though, to see some of the fascinating sights along the way. Part of the route took me through the Fatih district, which is a more conservative section of Istanbul. Almost all of the women I saw were covered, and I got more than a few strange looks (Turkish women usually do not walk by themselves).

The shop windows provided a strange contrast, however – there was about 6-7 blocks of shops that had nothing but wedding gowns and prom-type evening dresses. Very sexy, very frou-frou, and very silky-slinky. I can see the wedding gowns but I’m not sure how the evening wear fits in. The shops also contained an assortment of ornate boy’s ceremonial robes in white and gold, with an accompanying scepter and crown. These robes are worn on the day the child is to be circumcised.

Finally, the church appeared and it was every bit as gorgeous as I’ve described above. Afterwards, I headed for Ascitane, a restaurant next door that specializes in cooking recipes preserved from the Ottoman empire. While there, I ran into Robert and his entourage and we chatted about our day so far. They were planning on visiting another church nearby, but I was tired out from the walk and wanted to get back. This was the plan but it didn’t quite work out that way. It started with the city walls…

Part of Istanbul is surrounded by stone walls that date back to the 5th century and that were built by Theodosius, Constantine’s successor. The original wall was flattened by an earthquake in 447, but was hastily rebuilt within 2 months in preparation for an attack. A good portion of these walls are still standing. So I walked along them and marveled at the incredible history I’ve been seeing since I was here. I figured I’d get to the tram stop soon and head back. However, I was so wrapped up in the walls (and the 3 skinny horses that someone had left tethered near the walls) that I missed the street where the tram was. By the time I realized it, I was too tired to go back and just grabbed a taxi.

This was crash and burn time – 3 intense days of sightseeing and jet lag were finally catching up and I had to lay down for about an hour. After that, I made my way out for a quick dinner then walked down to the train station, which houses the exhibition hall where the dervishes would be performing. I actually got there a little early because I had a change in my itinerary – rather a drastic one. Instead of heading down to Izmir and then over to Selcuk and Ephesus, I decided to buy a ticket on the sleeper train to Ankara. Once I get there, I will then bus to Cappadoccia.

My reasons were rational – the thought of spending 7-8 hours on a bus was making my skin crawl. I wanted to be able to sleep in anything resembling a bed – and there’s no way a bus seat fits this description; even a reclining one. So I hot-footed it over to Sirkeci Station and bought a berth on the Monday night sleeper train to Ankara for 75 lira. This way I could have some time to chill in Cappadoccia and not feel like I was rushing to get there. The station I will leave from is actually at the Haydarpasa train station on the Asia side of the city (I’ve been staying on the European side – the only portion of Turkey that is in Europe).

Soon after, I ran into my friends and we all walked in to watch the dervishes. We were warned to be quiet and not to use our flash, as it is considered to be a religious ceremony. Of course, that didn’t stop some idiots from flashing away but at least the majority managed to restrain themselves. Lucky for me, I had taken a photography class a month before and had finally learned to use my camera to get the best effects so I was able to get some great pictures of them whirling without the flash. It is evidently a mystical experience to the dancers – they consider themselves closer to God when they whirl like this. It was pretty amazing and sent goosebumps down my spine.

After the performance, we split up – they went back to the hotel and I headed for my internet cafe (the manager knows me by sight now). Finally made it back around 11 pm and stayed up for awhile reading (which was dumb, since I have to get up early to pack).

Tomorrow – the Bosphorus cruise and onward to Ankara!

Posted in Ankara, Cats, Chora Church, Kariye Church, Turkey, Whirling dervishes | 3 Comments »

The Chador vs. the Scarf

Posted by Mardee on May 7, 2007

When I first started reading about Istanbul, everything I read led me to believe that this cosmopolitan city contained few women who covered up. On the contrary, everywhere I go I see women with their hair covered, or even more. That being said, there seems to be a level of degrees of covering in the city.

The least restrictive and most common is just a simple headscarf – it is a silky scarf, usually with a pattern, that covers all the hair. Most woman wear this with regular clothing – jeans, skirts, etc. The next is a scarf worn with a skirt – the skirts seem to be low calf length, and are worn with a variety of tops.

A more restrictive application is a scarf worn with a long coat over a long dress or skirt. The coats are usually a neutral color – tan and/or beige is the most common color – and are very plain in appearance (but the scarves remain colorful).

Last is the chador – these women wear black, very plain robes that cover the hair and whole body. Unlike other chadors/burqas, they leave most of the face exposed – the fabric is pinned together below the mouth, covering the chin). I haven’t found out the differences in these degrees of clothing styles, but I plan to do some research. I’m also trying to get a picture but I don’t want to sneak one, so I’ll have to ask – and I’m not sure how someone will react.

Posted in Turkey | Leave a Comment »

Day 2 in Istanbul

Posted by Mardee on May 6, 2007

Saturday morning I woke up around 5:30 am. I used the time to keep up with my travel journal until it was time to get ready for breakfast. And what a breakfast! After I trudged up 5 flights to the rooftop terrace, I was greeted with hard-boiled eggs, thick creamy yogurt, a variety of cheeses and olives, fruit, vegetables and wonderful bread. As good as the food was, the view was even better – a rooftop view of the Sea of Marmara. Boats chugged along as I ate, and the occasional seagull would stop in for a visit. Katrina, Tennen and Ari came up shortly after me so we chatted for a bit. We mentioned how few Americans there are over here. There are lots of tourists – I’ve seen Germans, Aussies, Asians, and Brits all over the place. I’m not sure why so few Americans come – it’s such a gorgeous country. We then discussed our plans for the day – they are planning a walk along a historic Roman route described in Lonely Planet. I’m planning a trip to Topkapi Palace.

Before I begin, I have to mention feet – my feet. My feet that keep tripping over everything. There are no pavements over here to speak of. Everything is either brick or tiled or centuries-old cobblestone – and my feet keep finding every nook and cranny there is. This morning I almost killed myself when I tripped while walking down a steep incline. I have GOT to start being more careful!

Moving on…the Imperial Gates at Topkapi Palace opened at 8:50 am. There is a long walk through some beautiful grounds before you reach the ticket booth. This is where the sultans received the hoi polloi – more officious visitors were taken inside. After buying my 10 lira ticket, I headed for the Harem. This requires a separate 10 lira ticket and admittance is regulated so I wanted to make sure I was first in. I had to wait about 45 mintes so I headed for some other areas, including the illustrious Treasury rooms, which house some of the most beautiful and ornate pieces I’ve ever seen (and unfortunately, photos weren’t allowed, even without flash). By the time I was done drooling, it was time for the Harem.

Topkapi PalaceBecause I was in the first group, I had the blissful experience of going through the place virtually on my own (I managed to stay one room ahead of everyone else). The history and visual impact of these rooms is incredible – it is so hard to imagine that a room you are now walking through was once a place where a 16th century sultan’s mother inspected her son’s concubines. It was quiet and peaceful and I regretted leaving it for the ever-increasing crowds of tourists coming into the rest of the palace.

My feet (remember them?) were killing me when I left. I decided to wear a pedometer to log my miles while I was gone. On my first day, I logged in over 26,000 miles – and that did not include the fateful run at the airport. At any rate, I stopped for tea at a small cafe outside the Aya Sofya (aka Hagia Sofia). The tea was bitter and cost twice as much as it did the day before, but at least I coud sit quiety for awhile and relax.

One strange thing I’ve noticed – I’ve been trying to speak Turkish in any situation where my limited vocabulary comes into play. However, when I start speaking Turkish and don’t know the word, for some reasons I lapse into Spanish. Weird – especially since my Spanish isn’t all that hot either.

After tea, I planned on visiting Kariye Müzesi (aka Chora Church). This is considered to be one of the most beautiful examples of a Byzantina church and dates back to the 11th century. However, on my way to catch a bus there, I lost my way and wound up walking up to Taksim Square in another section of town. To get there, I headed over the Galata Bridge, which was interesting in itself. There were several hundred people – mostly men – with fishing poles lined up side-by-side fishing off the side of the bridge. This would be like people fishing over the side of the Big Mac bridge in Cincinnati. I don’t think anyone caught anything but I’m assuming it’s not a total lost cause or they wouldn’t be there.

Fishing off the Galata Bridge After my walk over the bridge, I started going uphill – and uphill. The grade eventually increased to around 40% and was at least a mile or more. By the time I got to Taksim, I was about ready to die. Instead, I kept walking and eventually found a small lunch place where I had sausage pide (this is good stuff – it’s like pizza but better. The dough is in the shape of a flat boat that is then covered with meats and vegetables and sheep cheese and baked in a hot oven. It’s to die for…). After that, I left Taksim – too much traffic and too many people, not to mention the 50+ police I saw in riot gear.

The treck back was downhill all the way, although by this time my feet didn’t care – they were screaming at me. (FYI – on my 2nd day, I logged around 25,000 feet on my pedometer, which is approximately 12 miles. Good feet.). As I neared my hotel, I heard loud music playing and hurried over to see what was up. Standing on a corner were approximately 9-10 men playing various brass and wind instruments along with a couple of drummers. The music was loud and good and infectious – everyone was nodding their heads and clapping along. As the night wore on, I continued to see the band playing around the neighborhood – they were still playing when I went to bed at midnight.  Band playing

Before that happened, however, I headed back out to find an internet cafe then find dinner. The internet came first and I spent about 90 minutes checking email and updating my blog. Next came dinner – I found a place nearby and had some vegetables and meat dish that was supremely tasty, along with a glass of red wine. As I mentioned, the wine is certainly drinkable but it’s very light without much body. After I left the restaurant around 9 pm, I decided to have some dessert and coffee and stopped by a little shop recommended by Lonely Planet. While savoring my sütlaç (baked rice pudding) and cappucino, I met a couple from Richmond, VA, and we started talking. It turned out we had something in common – we have one daughter who graduated from college with a degree in fine arts and specializing in ceramics. Pretty strange – it’s not that usual of a degree. By the time we finished talking, it was close to 11 pm, so I said goodbye and headed out. It was pleasant walking back – the night was cool and half the population was still out enjoying the evening.

Tomorrow – the whirling dervishes and women covering their hair… stay tuned!

Posted in Taksim Square, Topkapi Palace, Turkey | Leave a Comment »

The Flight to Turkey and the First Day in Istanbul

Posted by Mardee on May 5, 2007

My trip started out well – I got to the airport in plenty of time and was even able to grab some lunch beforehand. But it was downhill from then on. First, the flight to New York was over an hour late, which meant that I (and 10 others) had 15 minutes to get from one end of JFK airport to the other in order to catch our flight. Picture (if you will) an overweight middle-aged woman running like hell through the airport with all her bags and finally flinging herself onto the ticket agent with a dying croak – it was not a pretty sight. Nor was it justified since after I boarded, the airplane sat on the runway for 45 minutes.

But I made it and we were in the air bound for Istanbul, so life was good although my sleep was not. I didn’t get a single wink, try as I might (which is par for the course). We reached Turkey right on time, and I was met by a driver from the Hanedan Hotel. He and I and an Aussie family (Tennen, Katrina and their 1 year old, Ari – see photo below), who are also staying there, headed for the Sultanachmet area right after I made a quick stop at an ATM to get some Turkish lira.

The hotel is great – right in the historic district and the staff is incredibly friendly. My room is quite large, especially considering it’s a single, and has a double bed, wardrobe and desk and a spiffy bathroom. Not bad for $40. The bed was looking especially inviting, but I have a theory about jetlag. NEVER give in to it or it will attack with a vengeance. Therefore I do all the jetlag tricks – set my watch ahead, stay active and in sunlight as much as possible and don’t take a nap.

With that in mind, I set out for Sultanachmet Square. On the way, I was waylaid by a nice gentleman who asked me where I was from. Upon hearing I was American, he informed me that I must see the Blue Mosque as it would be closing in 30 minutes for Friday prayers. And when I come out, I MUST stop by his carpet shop… I did head into the Blue Mosque, though, and was immediately struck by how beautiful and serene the building was. The name comes from the blue tiles (over 20,000) that line the inside (its real name is Sultan Achmet Cami). The tiles and the incredible stained-glass windows along with its immense size just stopped me cold.

The Blue Mosque interior

After I left, my new friend joined me, assuring me that there was a great photo op, coincidentally right next to his shop! Declining his offer, I headed for the Hippodrome. The Hippodrome has been around for thousands of years and was the cultural focus of the Byzantine Empire. It is now a long park and all that remains of its glory years are several obelisks and columns, one dating back to the 4th century. At the north end lies a Tourist Information Center (TIC), so I picked up a map of the city and then grabbed a meat sandwich and a piece of baklava from a little shop. The sandwich was good but the baklava even better – it put every piece of baklava I’ve ever eaten in the States to shame.

My next stop was the Basicila Cistern, which was used during the Byzantine era to store water for the Great Palace, but was then forgotten for hundreds of years until it was rediscovered in the 16th century. The Cistern lies underground, which creates a somewhat ghostly atmosphere that is enhanced by the dim lighting. As I walked on the bridges over the water below, I could see pale carp swimming around in the darkness accompanied by a few large goldfish. Over 300 columns protrude from the water, including two that are supported by immense upside-down Medusa heads. It was a welcome reprieve from the sun as the temperature must have dropped a good 15 degrees went I walked in.

Basilica Cistern

After leaving the Cistern, I fended off a few more carpet touts (the stock phrase was “Where are you from?” Do you think they take a class in how to strike up a conversation?) and made my way to the Aya Sofia. Without a doubt, this incredible building is one of the most beautiful places I have been in. The first thing that struck me was the size of the massive dome at the top and the grandeur and size inside. The mosaics inside are quite beautiful but especially so in the galleries upstairs. The color and vibrancy of the mosaics still comes through today, especially the shine and richness of the gold. The building was completed in 537 AD and has managed to stay relatively intact, despite periodic looting by the Crusaders.

By the time I left, I was desperately in need of sustinence so I headed for the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, which has a courtyard cafe. Ten minutes later, I was happily sipping a glass of Turkish cay (tea) in a lovely outdoor garden and wondering how much it would cost to ship one of those huge clay watering jugs to Cincinnati for my own garden. The museum itself was nice and peaceful. It was filled with mosaic pottery and huge carpets hundreds of years old. The palace it is house in was the home of Ibraham Pasa, Grand Vizier to Suleyman the Magnificent. They were the best of friends until Suleyman had Ibraham strangled in 1536. I think they should have tried counseling first…

When I left, my feet just kept on walking with no specific destination. The streets gradually got steeper and narrower and I began to see a more residential neighborhood appear. Children were playing in the streets and every corner contained a small group of men drinking tea and playing backgammon. The area was obviously more conservative than the rest of Istanbul as every woman I saw was wearing a head-scarf, and most were wearing long skirts and coats.

Occasionally I saw a couple or a family together, but for the most part, the sexes were fairly well segregated. A check of the map showed this area as Kadirga, which is part of historic “Old Istanbul.” It is close to the sea and I noticed a lot of fish markets and seafood restaurants. I was tempted to eat but it was only 5 pm – early for Europeans. Many of the buildings were crumbling with age – evidently, Unesco hasn’t devoted as much time here as it has to the Sultanachmet district.

Eventually, I came out onto a street that contained a flurry of shops and restaurants – including a Starbucks. As I was walking past, one of two women sitting at a table in front called out to me. I didn’t recognize her at first, but found out she was a fellow passenger and recognized me. She and her companion invited me to join them for coffee. Both are mythologists and are here for an educational tour. One is from Venice, CA and the other from Salt Lake City – in fact, she lives in the same neigborhood as my youngest brother, Chris. After chatting for a bit, we headed for dinner to a Lonely Planet recommendation, Karadeniz, where I had a mouth-watering lamb shish kebob. It was the best meat I’ve had since leaving Spain last year. The accompanying vegetables, rice and yogurt dip were just as tasty and fresh and even the Turkish wine was pretty good. Not as good as Spanish or Italian but nice and dry, if a tad light in body.

And thus ended my first night in Istanbul – after leaving the restaurant, I groggily made my way back to the hotel and crashed at 8 pm (wine and jet lag are NOT a good combo!).

Posted in Aya Sofia, Basicila Cistern, Blue Mosque, Hanaden Hotel, Hippodrome, Istanbul, jet lag, Karadeniz, Museums, Sultanachmet | 1 Comment »

I’m off!

Posted by Mardee on May 3, 2007

Today is the day – I head for Istanbul at 1:35 pm.  My bags are packed and I am so ready for this vacation!  My first hotel has free internet access so I expect to get a lot in during the first few days.  Woo hoo!

Posted in Turkey | 1 Comment »

The Art of Packing

Posted by Mardee on May 1, 2007

I admit it – I’m a geek when it comes to packing. Every book on packing that has ever been written has passed through my house, and I own nothing larger than a carry-on. I will start packing 3-4 days before and play around with the order until it’s perfect. And I make sure I follow THE LIST. My packing list. The one I labor over and methodically review each day. What can I say ? It’s a sickness…

But I always have the last laugh – you’ll never catch me struggling with huge monster bags while I’m running to catch a train. One quick yank at my backpack and I’m off. The secret is to stick to no more than 3 colors – in my case, all my clothes are in neutral colors like black, tan and grey. That way I can mix and match and create about 6-7 outfits out of 3 sets of clothes.

I also only pack non-cotton wrinkle-free clothing, like the acetate Traveler’s Collection at Chicos. These clothes never wrinkle, they can take you from casual to dressy at the drop of a hat (or scarf), and best of all, they dry in a couple of hours. That’s important to someone (um…me) who washes her clothing in the hotel sink.

Posted in Luggage, Packing, Travel Clothing | 1 Comment »

The New and Improved Turkey Travel Itinerary

Posted by Mardee on April 23, 2007

An itinerary is a work in progress and will continue to be one until the travel becomes history. This is what makes them fun to write – they’re as changeable as the weather and as fickle as my cat, Scarlett. You’re not married to one. You can wish it on someone else. You can even steal someone’s itinerary and adopt it for yourself (which is why my itinerary probably sounds somewhat familiar to Lonely Planet readers).

Therefore, I hereby announce my new and improved itinerary; sans rental car.

Day 1 (Th): Leave Cincinnati for Istanbul
Day 2 (Fr): Arr. Istanbul in the early afternoon. Head to the Hanedan Hotel. Do some sightseeing–possibly the Hippodrome, Hagia Sofia and the Yerebatan Cistern.
Day 3 (Sat): Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque.
Day 4 (Sun): Boat ride up the Bosporus. Wander around. Check out Taksim Square.
Day 5 (Mon): Leave for Izmir (high-speed ferry to Bandirma, then express train to Izmir). Arrive in Izmir around 2:30 pm, then catch a dolmus (minibus) to Selcuk. Find hotel.
Day 6 (Tue): Grab a bus from Selcuk and head for Ephesus. Spend day in Ephesus, then head for Pamukkale.

Okay, stop here. Change of plans. My last version had me renting a car in Selcuk. This was before I found out that some of the roads in Turkey are just the tad steep…and have sheer drop-off cliffs running along them. Did I mention that I am afraid of heights? So, I will NOT be renting a car in Selcuk, but will instead be using public transportation. This is fine – I’ve heard that the buses have attendants who spritz your hands with cologne. Cool.

Day 7-11 (Wed-Sun): I’m not sure if I’ll be in Pamukkale or Fethiye, but the goal is to wind up in Fethiye by Thursday since I want to take a gulet (Blue Voyage) cruise from Fethiye to Olympus. The company I want to go with only leaves on Thursdays and Sundays. The cruise travels across the Mediterranean over the next 4 days, stopping in the Butterfly Valley, St. Nicholas Island, Kalkan (Hidayet Bay), Kas, Aperlai , the sunken city of Kekova, Pirates Cave, Camlik Bay, and a final stop in Harbor Andriake (arriving on Sunday).
Day 11 (Sun): The gulet company arranges a bus to Demre to see St. Nicholas Church and the Rock Tombs. From there, a bus transfers us to the town of Olympos, where I will spend the night.
Day 12 (Mon): Hang out in Olympos in the morning, then head for Cappadocia, land of the fairy chimneys and Goreme.
Day 13-15 (Tues-Th): Travel around the Cappadocia region. On Thursday morning, head for Ankara and visit museums. Take night train to Istanbul. Arrive Friday morning.
Day 16 (Fri): Spend the day shopping in the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market.
Day 17 (Sat): Leave for Cincinnati at 12:35 p.m.

Posted in Blue Cruise, Butterfly Valley, Cappadocia, Fairy Chimneys, Gulek on the Turquoise Riviera, Itineraries, Kas, The Blue Voyage | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Mardee on April 5, 2007

Guidebooks are all-important and so I was happy to hear that the latest Lonely Planet Turkey guidebook will be released on April 18th, just in time for my trip. Since I already have the Rough Guide, I’ll be bringing both along. I haven’t decided yet whether to rip them up and carry them in pieces or keep them intact. The Eyewitness series has an Istanbul guide and I’m seriously thinking about getting that as well. They’re heavy, though – I’m not sure if it’s worth it for the 4-5 days total I’ll be in Istanbul.

Posted in Guidebooks, Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Travel Books, Travel Guides | Leave a Comment »

Mobile Blogging…

Posted by Mardee on March 26, 2007

This is a little off-topic, but WOW! This is so cool – I can post to my blog using my cellphone – how cool is that!!? All I do is text a message to and it automatically posts to my blog. Check it out at Mobile Blogger.

Posted in Mobile Blogging | Leave a Comment »

Hanedan Hotel

Posted by Mardee on March 26, 2007

It’s truly amazing how quickly my hotel nominees responded to my emails asking about availability. Trying to make a decision took the better part of a day–luckily, my day is their night so I didn’t feel too guilty about keeping them hanging. In the end, I went with Hanedan Hotel. Their email was the friendliest and their rates the cheapest – 35 euros a night which includes breakfast, plus they’ll pick me up at the airport for an additional 12 euros, and they give a 10% cash discount. The rooms look pretty nifty and the photo of the terrace where breakfast is served looks incredible!

I’m still waiting to hear when frigging Lonely Planet comes out with their 2007 Turkey guide. According to Amazon, it’s supposed to be in April but there’s no mention of it on the LP website. It will annoy me to no end if it comes out after my trip. The Rough Guide to Turkey is decent but no match for LP. For one thing, it doesn’t give hotel prices. Granted, it does list the websites of the various hotels, but when you’re sitting on a bus bouncing over a dusty countryside frantically searching for a place to stay in the town up ahead, a URL doesn’t do much good. Argghhh…

The first 5-6 days are tentatively set (and of course, all is subject to change) …now onward ho!

Posted in Hanaden Hotel, Istanbul, Lonely Planet, Rough Guide | Leave a Comment »

The Itinerary: Slowly but Surely

Posted by Mardee on March 25, 2007

Today I realized that my trip begins in a little under 6 weeks and I haven’t done any planning at all. So I plopped myself down in front of my bee-yoo-tiful new laptop (Windows Vista has killer graphics!) and planned my little heart out…

May 3, 2007
Day 1 (Th): Leave Cincinnati for Istanbul
Day 2 (Fr): Arr. Istanbul in the early afternoon. Head to either the Hanedan Hotel, Hotel Sebnem, Yunus Emre Hotel, or Hotel Niles. All look nice and very reasonably priced (approximately 35-55/night). Do some sightseeing–possibly the Hippodrome, Hagia Sofia and the Yerebatan Cistern.
Day 3 (Sat): Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque
Day 4 (Sun): Boat ride up the Bosphorus. Wander around.
Day 5 (Mon): Leave for Izmir (high-speed ferry to Bandirma, then express train to Izmir). Arrive in Izmir around 2:30 pm, then catch a dolmus (minibus) to Selcuk.
Day 6 (Tue): Rent a car in Selcuk and head for Ephesus.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten. After Selcuk, I plan to drive up to Cappadocia but want to stop along the way in Fethiye, maybe Kas, maybe… who knows? One of my ventures into a travel board forum got me an invitation to look up someone who lives in Cirali, which is off the Mediterranean coast, so I might stop there. Eventually I’ll wind up in Goreme at some point, and then will start making my way back to Istanbul. I would love to visit Sanli(urfa) and Harran but I’m not sure if I will have the time to make it that far east.

(Click on map to see larger)

Posted in Itineraries | 4 Comments »