Travels to Turkey

My incredible travels to Turkey in 2007

Archive for the ‘Turkey’ Category

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!

Posted in Turkey | 10 Comments »

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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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.

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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!

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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!

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Posted by Mardee on March 16, 2007

I really want to go to Antioch. I began re-reading “The Silver Chalice” by Thomas B. Costain a few days ago, and the book simply reeks with Biblical history. Much of the book takes place in Antioch (now Antakya) and tells of the beauty of the city. Evidently, much of the ancient city is now buried, but it would still be very cool to be in the presence of so much history. And some new “old” mosaics have been uncovered (see below). I’m not religious, but I am fascinated by religious history…okay, any history…so I’m dying to cover as much ground as possible.

The Cave Church of St. Peter is believed to have been dug by the Apostle Peter himself as a place for the early Christian community of Antioch to meet, and thus is reputed to be the first Christian church. At any rate, it is certainly one of the oldest.

Posted in Antioch, Mosaics, Saint Peter, The first Christian Church, Travel, Turkey | 2 Comments »


Posted by Mardee on January 1, 2007

Argghhh….I need to get off my computer. Now that I’ve decided, I’m obsessively searching for any and all Turkey travel references online and adding them to my links. I need to remember I have plenty of time to plan. The most comprehensive site I’ve found so far is the Turkey Travel Planner, which has an interesting 14-day sample itinerary that I plan to look into.

As far as when to go, I’ve decided to shoot for the first two weeks of May. If those don’t work, I might go a week later but I don’t want to run into the summer tourism glut, so I’ll probably hold off till September or October.

Next move – the library. The travel section awaits…

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IN THE BEGINNING: choosing the destination

Posted by Mardee on December 31, 2006

This is the hard part – so many places and so little time. My younger brother generously gave me frequent flyer miles as a graduation gift from law school, and I agonized for weeks, even months, over where to go. I’ve been to most of western Europe, and wanted to go someplace exotic that I hadn’t been before. I narrowed it down to Egypt, New Zealand, Eastern Europe and Turkey.

Safety concerns were an issue as I would be traveling solo, so I reluctantly dropped Egypt from my list. I thought about New Zealand, but since I only had two weeks for traveling, I didn’t want to spend two days getting there and back. That left Eastern Europe and Turkey, and in the end, I decided on Turkey. For one thing, if I picked Eastern Europe I had to make more decisions and pick the countries I wanted to visit. And the more I looked at websites and books on Turkey, the more excited I got about visiting the place.

So Turkey it is…

Posted in Solo Travel, Travel, Turkey | 1 Comment »