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Trip Report Turkey: Ottoman Odyssey . . . aka “It’s just a Jumble of Rocks”

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Travellers: 50s something couple


April 30 – Depart Toronto Turkish Air
May 1 - Arrive Istanbul Ataturk late afternoon
May 2 – Istanbul
May 3 – Istanbul
May 4 – Flight Istanbul (SAW) to Antalya via Pegasus Air – Drive to Ҫirali
May 5 – Ҫirali
May 6 – Ҫirali
May 7 – Flight Antalya to Izmir via Turkish Air – Drive to Selçuk
May 8 – Selçuk
May 9 – Flight Izmir to Kayseri via Pegasus Air – Transfer to Göreme
May 10 – Göreme
May 11 – Göreme
May 12 – Göreme
May 13 – Flight Kayseri to Istanbul SAW via Pegasus Air
May 14 – Istanbul
May 15 – Istanbul
May 16 – Depart Istanbul Ataturk to Toronto via Turkish Air

Prerequisites: We have vices. We smoke & drink & we like to do both from the comfort of a balcony in the evening after dinner. This was a major determining factor in hotel planning. No balcony = no go. Nice bathrooms are a big deal for my wife so I always try to accommodate this as well. My wife also made a major point of wanting to avoid a lot of driving & in particular - twisty mountain roads. Our trip to Sicily two years ago filled her quota adequately . . . We both prefer the older areas of a city versus the new. History & atmosphere win over discoes & vibrant happening scenes with us. Of course, this also means touristy, but we were tourists after all & there is little we could do to hide this fact with attached cameras & a DK in my back pocket.

I started the planning the trip over a year in advance. Fodor’s Turkey Forum was consulted as well as Trip Advisor, Tom Brosnahan’s Turkey Travel Planner & the internet in general. I read Lord Kinross’ The Ottoman Centuries for history & a couple of Orhan Pamuk’s depressing books for ‘feel’. For some of the ancient mood, Gore Vidal’s Creation was my travel book.

An abundance of Star Alliance points allowed for free First Class seating on Turkish Air to the tune of 200,000 points for the trans-Atlantic flights but this required very early booking to get what we wanted. The hotels were booked about six months out & the internal flights about 4 months in advance. Our total for all four internal flights was under $400 CDN. I also had a shortlist of restaurants chosen for every location that I had parsed from Fodor’s Trip Reports & Trip Advisor. And I had pre-arranged two dinners in Istanbul with forum acquaintances.

I pre-booked with Backpacker’s Travel for all of the airport to hotel transfers in Istanbul. See

Yes, I was organized . . .

We used the Fodor’s Turkey Guide, DK’s Top 10 Istanbul & Michelin Turkey Map # 758 as our travelling references. A TomTom GPS provided driving assistance & my Blackberry allowed for low usage ‘on the road’ communication.

A big thank you to various Fodorites for their trip reports must be noted with special thanks to otherchelebi for his ‘on the scene’ posts that helped fill in many of the blanks pre-trip. Stay tuned for more on oc later in this narrative.

Note: I will post picture links to this post as I get them organized.

And so it begins . . .

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    Day 1

    We departed Toronto just before midnight for the direct flight to Istanbul. First Class was very good with great meals, good service & wonderful lay-flat seats. The only way to travel – if you can get it free. We arrived at Ataturk just before 5PM on Sunday & paid our Visa fees, got our luggage & found our private shuttle driver waiting without incident. Well, actually it is a Backpacker’s rep with a bunch of names on a big card. He efficiently directed us to someone else who called our driver who arrived shortly. A simple 10 minute process. 44TL We drove to Sultanamet via the coast road which was jammed with locals barbequing in the park along the Mamara shore. Cars were parked literally everywhere with the late afternoon sun shining on this delightful scene. An abundance of ships of every size bobbed in the sea off shore while the smoke & wonderful smells welcomed us to Istanbul.

    Our chosen hotel – Empress Zoe – is located in Sultanamet down the hill in the southern lee of Ayasofya – at the eastern end of the restaurant row on Akbiyik Cd. This hotel is extremely convenient to tourism central in Sultanamet. The staff proved to be very friendly. We had Room 401 – the Penthouse 220€ (discounted to 198€ for cash) – due to our vices as noted above. Funky is the best description. With four flights of circular stairs to negotiate – one dinky metal spiral & three flights of marble - it was not for the unhealthy. A large room with dual single day beds, a small fridge, table & chairs with a separate master double bed alcove & a marble bath with a mini-hamam style shower. Dark woods & Turkish carpets gave it a well-used cottage feel. A private balcony looks west towards the Blue Mosque with a larger balcony for common use a few steps up with great Mamara & Ayasofya views as an added bonus. An absolutely incredible wisteria - which was in wonderful bloom for both ends of our stay – encircled all of the balconies – in fact most of the exterior of the hotel. Birds & cats liked to use the balconies as well, which made it really homey.

    After mild unpacking, we descended to Akbiyik Cad to find some eats. The first block had numerous options with each restaurant posting their menu on the street & restaurant hawkers out front to entice you in. We chose one that had comfortable seats & propane heaters since the evening chill was setting in. I don’t remember the name but it was OK. I should mention that this street is very busy with traffic as it is a major path for taxis, hotel shuttles & tour buses that use it as a route to Ayasofya. It could never be described as calm & relaxing with pedestrians jostling with all of the aforementioned. A light rain started as our main course – anonymous kebaps – arrived but the awning protected us well. I even slipped on a resto-supplied shawl over my shoulders to ward off the cold. Although this was a mild threat to my Man Card status, I wasn’t proud – just tired. A cat wandered by for a snack & he left happy. We went back to the Zoe & climbed up those four long stair flights to our room. After a nightcap on our patio, we collapsed.

    Day 2

    We had a slow start. I was up to hear the call to prayer. It occurred before 5AM. The first to start was the Blue Mosque. The haunting voice sang out melodically. Then I heard another mosque kick in. Wonderful. And then a really loud – and somewhat less melodic one – started in the mosque a block in front of the Zoe. From our room – let alone from our balcony – is was less than pleasant. Ah, the joys of travel to exotic lands. We had breakfast in Zoe’s second level which houses the breakfast room with doors to the outdoor courtyard. It is nicely treed & is fronted by a 15th century crumbling bath which sits beside the Zoe’s main building. Quite atmospheric actually. Breakfast was hard boiled eggs, misc fruits, yogurt, tomatoes, bread/ toast, misc spreads for same, olives & granola. Basic but typical of what we had for the whole trip in all of the hotels.

    We hit the streets & walked up the hill (make special note of this ‘up’ trend btw) to the Topkapi Palace for about 10AM. This hill road was one of the many parking areas for tour buses. It was busy at this relatively early hour (another trend to note). We entered the grounds & walked up to the ticket kiosk. A 10 minute wait for tickets ensued. As the person in front of me was finishing, a Turkish man jumped in & gave her a credit card. I wanted to tell him off but with only 1 ½ words of Turkish available in my vocabulary, it would have been difficult. She handed it back distastefully with some remark about cash only & she pointedly proceeded with me as he fumbled for cash. Line jumpers were not an uncommon thing I am afraid to say & they weren’t obvious tourists, so accept aggression in lineups. The Topkapi was 20TL per person. Cash. Time for an update to the guide, Fodors.

    Inside the next gate we bee lined for the Harem lineup off to the left & bought more tickets. Another 15TL per person. We viewed the great mosaics of the Harem with minimal crowds but they were all waiting for us outside. Tours & groups were everywhere. Every bench. Every walkway. Every photo opp. The kitchen area was closed for some reason & people were even standing in front of the closed door. We lined up for 20 minutes to see the jewelry & listened to a private guide try to fill the time intelligently to the American couple he had snagged at the gate. His ‘facts’ were skimpy to say the least. I knew more than he did from my Kinross book. Inside the jewelry rooms, pandemonium ensued & the line system broke down completely as people jumped ahead to see the good stuff. We had seen pretty well all the palace had to offer after two hours & we went to get some food on the street. And speaking of the street, the smell was wonderful. Frying kebaps to the right of us, frying kepabs to the left . . . charred corn on the cob, roasted walnuts . . . it sure beats the sewer smells of Rome . . . or NYC . . .

    We passed hoards of groups – school groups & the usual cattle-like flag followers - making their way to the palace as we left. Go early or go late would be my suggestion for this site. You have been warned. Since it was a little cool (high 60s temps) we opted for inside seating at the Fodor’s recommended Tarihi Selim Usta Sultanahmet Koftecisi on Divan Yolu Cad. Fast food quality but yummy & cheap with fast service.
    Next stop: the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Cami). The area of the Hippodrome is all under construction with orange plastic fencing & piles of paving stones everywhere. This made the area between Ayasofya & the Blue Mosque difficult to navigate but we eventually found our way to the mosque entrance. Our route skipped the lovely courtyard but we saw that on our return on the backside of the trip.

    Now folks, if you are only going to visit one mosque, this is the one to see. Entrance is free but as always you must observe the Muslim customs - ladies need headscarves & shoulder covering & no shorts for anybody. You must also remove your shoes but they have plastic bags available. A stunning space. Light & airy & very peaceful with few tourists on this Monday afternoon. By few tourists, I mean that you could actually move around & enjoy it. Truly magnificent. The sun was finally out as we exited & I realized that I had forgotten my clip-on sunglasses which are considered essential daywear since the world is awfully fuzzy without my specs. And I was going to be piloting vehicles later in our trip so a shopping necessity had reared its ugly head. But tomorrow, since we were tired & we had a dinner engagement to prepare for. Naptime.

    I had asked a forum (non-travel) on-line acquaintance to dinner. My treat. Of course, that is not what happened. Since he had guests in town – his mother & some budget travelers from Michigan – he asked us to meet him at the Four Seasons in Sultanament. I am sure glad that we brought some ‘going-out-on-the-town-clothes”. We had an exemplary meal of Southeastern Turkish cuisine which the restaurant had as a special menu. Many tasty mezes & a unique kebap in paper dish which were all very, very yummy. And he wouldn’t let me pay. Next time it’s on me, Evren & Ruki. A very good night to close a great day of touristing.

    The first batch of pictures: I will update this as I continue to edit & upload the pertinent pictures. I used my trusty Lumix DMC-LX2 that I wear on my belt & my wife shoots with her Canon XSi. We shot over 2000 pictures.

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    Day 3

    Our last full day in Istanbul until the backside of our trip. I was up early with the screaming call to prayer. I certainly mean no disrespect to Muslims but louder is not better & the Mosque close to the Zoe was getting on my nerves. We breakfasted & set out for new adventures. Our first stop was the Ayasofya (Haghia Sophia) which had been closed on Monday – the day before. Well, with an early morning lineup of hundreds of people – no exaggeration here either - we decided that we would catch it later before we went home. Honestly, if you know the area, the lineup was as far back as the restaurants to the south. Speaking of this area- which is called Ayasofya Meydani - there is a kiosk-style bank of 4 different ATMs at the back (south end) of this square/parking lot/street between Ayasofya & the parkette. As some ATMs will inexplicably spit out your card & refuse use, having multiple options is not a bad thing. A man near the restaurants there directed us to this one. And guess what? He was a carpet salesman who actually talked us into walking back with him to his shop as he bantered with us. We didn’t buy but he gave it a good shot.

    We wandered across the street & very briefly lined up for the Basilica Cistern. 10TL It was warming up slightly but we certainly didn’t need it for heat relief. This space was interesting if not scintillating. About 20 minutes & we had walked the whole place & taken the requisite pictures of the columns & the Medusa etc.

    We had asked at the hotel about sunglasses & they had given us directions to the Hamidye Cad just off of Ankara Cad as the ‘glasses’ shopping area so we headed down the tramway hill on Alemdar Cad – aiming in that direction. Unbeknownst to us, this is also the easiest walking part of the hill to Sultanamet from the Golden Horn side as you will find out later. As we discovered during our walking through the maze of streets south of the Golden Horn, many goods are clustered in specific areas. For optics (glasses, cameras & accessories) go to the aforementioned Hamidiye Cad. For buttons, clothing rivets, presses etc with some kitchenware in the upper reaches – Fuat Pasa Cad. Stationery, invitations – the upper area of Ankara Cad. A myriad of baby & children’s cloths, general textiles – Sabunco Hani Sokaḡi & Fincancilar Sokaḡi – just up from the Spice Bazaar. Draperies – Atatürk Bulvari. But I am getting ahead of myself once more.

    Along the way we stumbled on the entrance to the Archeological Museum that I had been looking for anyway & we headed up (the ups were starting to get cruel) to see it. 10TL Just inside the lower gate, there was a man with a rooster & two bunny rabbits who will tell your fortune. While we didn’t indulge, we did give him a TL for a picture.

    The museum is spread over three buildings & it was very lightly touristed on a Tuesday morning. Topkapi is closed Tuesday, so that must reduce the tour groups as they head elsewhere since they can’t blur the two together in one morning. The incredible Ishtar Gate tiles from Babylon (575 BC), the astonishingly old Kadesh Treaty (13th century) & the vividly-carved so-called Alexander Sarcophagus (late 4th century) are the highlights but if you are a fan of ancient history, it was all good. The statue of Alexander is one of the classic images of him. Skip the upstairs unless you need more exercise but I really doubt that this is ever an issue in Istanbul. There is a further mishmash of weathered marble stuff in a small parkette in the courtyard which is a very pleasant rest area. Cats were everywhere. One kind lady even brought a bag of food to feed them. The last & probably the least for many is the Tile Pavilion which was nice but the exterior trumped the displays inside.

    With hunger pangs knawing at us we headed over to Hamidiye Cad & had immediate success with the clip-on sunglasses. In one storefront, we had five eyeglass shops that offered several options. Not particularly cheap but we bargained & struck a deal. Success. For lunch, we flopped in the first café in the café zone between the Spice Bazaar (Misir Ҫarşişi) & the Yeni Cami (closest to the Yeni). The food was OK but we had a bit of a dispute about an ordered menu item that came in higher than expected due to a smudged menu price. Smudged on both menus btw, but we paid the extra 8 TL asked & walked away. A few things to note here. All restaurant waiters in Turkey appear to be men. We only saw one exception during our whole trip. On menus, you will see our term ‘shish kebap’ separated as two distinct items. Şiş is like ours & kebap is typically ground meat in various patty forms. One restaurant hawker accosted us & asked: “Who do I look like? George Clooney, he answered himself. And he did somewhat. At least it was a unique come on.

    We wandered the Spice Bazaar & bought some premium saffron & some trinkets. I had promised a full day of shopping on this trip & today was not it, so I dragged my wife away for the trek up to the Süleymaniye Mosque. Did I mention it was up? The streets were an absolute zoo of people. Merchants, hawkers, tourists & customers with their whole extended families thronged the Sabunco Hani Sokaḡi. We finally escaped down a side street & wound our way west & up (still) until we reached the mosque in exhaustion but with the sure knowledge that our hearts were still good at blood pumping. Our legs however, were failing. The mosque was closed for prayer so we had a coffee in the small shopping area beside it to wait. It was pretty incredible of course, but undisputedly Ahmed I did outshine him with the Blue Mosque.

    We trudged up the long hill beside the university to the transit hub in front of the Grand Bazaar on Veniçeriler Cad & tried to decipher the tram machines. A woman behind us insisted that it was an easy walk & we would be foolish to buy tram tickets “for just one stop”. Despite our screaming leg muscles we listened to her & walked back to our hotel. She was wrong. The hotel stairs were starting to be really painful . . .

    And now we were time pressured.

    You see, I had previously communicated with Fodor’s very own otherchelebi & invited him to dinner. He sent a cryptic email arranging a ‘chance’ rendezvous aboard a commuter ferry, but when all was said & done, he invited us to his place for dinner. We arranged for him to pick us up at a corner of Taksim Square at 6PM. We left our hotel in Sultanamet with a little over an hour to spare. The trams were packed with commuters. And I mean packed. So packed that we skipped that option & walked to the Galata Bridge & across it with a bevy of fisherman trying their luck as we hurried past.

    With great luck, I easily found the Tünel which saved our legs from at least one hill. We briskly walked the very busy rush hour version of the pedestrian mall on Istiklal Cad, stopping to buy a gift for our host & to flatten ourselves against the wall as demonstrators noisily marched by – twice - with a squad of riot police in tow on their uphill march to Taksim. We had no idea what inspired the demonstration but the presence of the riot police was a little unnerving. As we finally arrived at the square – late – a light spit started from the darken sky as we waited at the wrong corner for otherchelebi. After several cell phone communications, we finally got the right corner & we gratefully piled into oc’s car.

    The evening was a perfect joy as Ahmet & his wife Eser treated us to a delightful home cooked meal & wonderful conversation. To say that their view of the Bosporus is spectacular is a huge understatement. Their youngest daughter breezed in for a quick hello as well. A great way to cap the first leg of our stay in Istanbul! Thank you Ahmet & Eser!


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    Ian, this is a wonderful trip report. Thanks so much. We hope to go this October or November. I still haven't decided if we want to go on our own or go with a group. I am leading toward alone. I look forward to the rest.

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    Re group tours: As we were exiting the Ephesus museum, I heard a woman say to another one "We have 20 minutes free now". I remember thinking at the time that I had the whole afternoon free . . .


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    Day 4

    This was a transit day. We got up ridiculously early – pre-call to prayer - for a Backpacker’s shuttle to the distant Sabiha Gökçen Airport for an 8AM Pegasus Air flight to Antalya. 110TL for the shuttle. At least there was virtually no traffic for this one hour drive over the bridge & through the seemingly endless sprawl of apartment blocks that crowd the hills on the eastern side. At this airport & elsewhere in Turkey, you must pass through the first security as you enter the terminal. After check-in at the counter (remember to be aggressive in line) you must clear another security station to get to the gate area. They don’t care about shoes or water bottles btw. Food & drink in the terminal was a crazy price but we had coffees & tost (a flattened feta cheese sandwich) anyway. It was a good thing since Pegasus charges you heavily for everything accept a small bunnette. Coffee is 6TL onboard. These flights had animal seating so if you have carry on, get in line as soon as you see it start to form at the gate. When the gate attendant arrives, this usually signals the start. You won’t board for another 10 -15 minutes. And as above, there will be the usual spate of line jumpers. The seat spacing on Pegasus was not generous but sufficient for the average – like AA’s tight seating or Air Transat etc. The ~1 hour flight left & arrived on time without incident. We saw some snowcapped mountains peeking out amongst the clouds.

    Our luggage arrived as well – I had paid 10TL for extra weight when I booked – and we secured a free cart to haul it to the Europcar trailer for our wheels. A manual Renault midsize diesel sedan rented through AutoEurope. The rental guy hurried us away since the supplied parking exit ticket only had 10 minutes. I had to pull over outside the airport to finish programming the GPS. I set it for co-ordinates that I had thoughtfully looked up on Google earth, since street names didn’t appear to work & there were numerous Ҫirali options – none of which appeared to be right. We set out happily around 10AM from Antalya’s airport which is east of the city.

    Of course, we got somewhat lost almost instantly. The TomTom maps for Turkey leave a lot to be desired. Turkish road signage is mediocre at best. Street signs are next to impossible to find or see on the side of buildings. And Turkish drivers are second cousins to Sicilian & southern Italians in their creative approach to driving. They obeyed the traffic lights & they obeyed the – no right turn on red – rule that is law in Turkey. Of course, there appears to be a lot of traffic light cameras in use so that might just have a lot to do with this obedience. Speed limits are ignored but not flaunted, if you know what I mean. Disconcertingly, they always lean on the left side of any lane they are in. In town, on the highway, everywhere. Sometimes I swear that our mirrors almost hit oncoming car’s mirrors but they always seemed to swerve at just the right time. This can be unsettling when you are passing – especially on twisty coast roads. You would be wise to rent a car with a real engine if you intend to drive these very hilly roads.

    As I said, we got lost almost immediately. Due to a confusing road split, I missed a turn & it was game over. Traffic was quite busy & the TomTom decided that we needed a city tour to complement our early morning flight. It calculated that the shortest – not best but shortest – route was to ignore the bypass roads & slice directly through town & then to start mountain climbing in the western suburbs. I knew that I was on the wrong path – but in the right direction – so I stayed with it until the mountain climbing. Then I made some good guesses & we finally got on the divided coast highway heading south just as it was opening up after construction. An easy & very scenic drive, I might add. A couple of tunnels & several stoplights in the bigger towns. The TomTom righted itself & started being accurately until it decided that we needed another detour on the cutoff just before the right cutoff. Some forest track must have been 1/10 of a kilometer shorter. Anyways . . . we finally turned onto the 1 ½ lane paved & twisty Ҫirali road for the last ~10kms. We passed by Canada House .5kms from the bridge that puts you into the hamlet of Ҫirali. This had been our other possible stay option. After a left over the bridge, I followed the road straight rather than catching the right turn that I should have taken, so we did an almost complete circuit of the whole of the greater Ҫirali area. Directions from the scooter rental guy put us on the right track & we pulled into the beach section of the Arcadia Hotel around 2 ½ hours after seizing the wheel in Antalya. After leaving Antalya’s burbs, it was an easy drive that I enjoyed. My wife – as usual – not so much. The Ҫirali road was nail-biting for her. Sicily really did her in.

    With five cabins & the restaurant/main office nestled amongst lemon, orange & apricot tress with a patio that abutted the wide sand & smooth rock beach, it was perfect. Without ant check-in formalities, Nadim hopped on a bicycle & led us to the five newer & more private ‘out’ cabins down a 150m laneway. These were also nestled in lemon & orange trees with its own – but never used – main building.

    Ahhh. Just what we needed after the madness of Istanbul. We were very pleased. We were in the Zambak Cabin - 90€ per night (discounted to 85.50€ for cash). Privacy & peace & tranquility. We quickly unpacked & drove into Ҫirali central for some supplies & lunch. We had a home cooked pizza at the Simge outdoor restaurant. Good food & not pricey but expect laid back service from the owner. Back to the cabin, we both flaked out for an afternoon nap. The clucking of the chickens lulled us to sleep.

    We woke up & wandered down to the beach & Nadim had set tables up on the beach for dining around a fire. We could not resist & we had a wonderful dinner – chicken leg & lamp şiş I think – with the obligatory bottle of Anatolian wine, while watching the night fall on the ocean & the crackling of the fire. The man birds (local Turkish name) calling to each other up & down the beach & the gentle surf added to the scene & helped to block the Russian couple with the firebug son & the quietly whiney daughter, to let the romance shine through. Another good day & a perfect spot.


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    Day 5

    Ҫirali is a small village with a 3.5kms beach surrounded by mountains, about a two hour drive south of Antalya. The beach is sand with some smooth stones getting stonier closer to the water where it is nothing but. So it is not a run merrily into the water type of beach. The area is quite popular in the summer months with the backpacker & hiker crowd due to its very laid back feel & the nature that surrounds it. The flat coastal plain is filled with lemon & orange groves interspersed with family-run pensions in all shapes & varieties. They have banned building with cinder blocks which stops any & all major development. The ruins of Roman Olympos interspersed with some Medieval additions are located at the southern end of the beach straddling a river which runs up the valley. The popular tree house accommodations (cabins on stilts) are found strung up this valley. A second lazy river empties into the sea partway up the beach & most of the beach restaurants are located just north of here. A few other restaurants are dotted around & in the village itself which is a popular gateway to the Lycian Road hikes in the mountains. A ring road encircles the plain with one spur that leads to the parking lot for the Flames of Chimeara hike up the mountain. These flames can be seen from the sea & the north part of the plain on a clear night & have spawned some ancient legends. I did see them from our cabin once I had made the hike & knew where to look. For interest sake, as a young officer, Julius Caesar helped flush out some pirates from the southern part of the beach. I don’t know if this is related to his kidnapping incident.

    The Arcadia Hotel is about 2/3 of the way up the beach heading north & it appears to be the most deluxe accommodation in the area. And for the record, it is not a hotel but a collection of ten cabins split into two areas with a main restaurant building in the older section nearer the beach. It is a five minute walk down a gravel laneway from the new to the old. Chickens & cats & ducks wander around at will & they all like handouts. Not to forget the very vocal roosters. The popular Canada House on the main road is about 1km from the beach on the south side of the second river. A car is the easiest access from Antalya but there are shuttles available for those that don’t want to drive. And the squiggle under the C in Ҫirali means that it is pronounced chir-AL-ee although the Turks seem to slip a slight J sound in with the chir part.

    My wife says I spend too much time writing about driving – which she says is boring stuff – so I will try to be more descriptive about other topics as well. ;)

    I woke up early to the sounds of the call to prayer echoing off the mountains that ring Ҫirali. Magical. This brought the roosters to life & as I sat on our balcony, I fed the chickens that wandered by some small apricots that were on a plate in the room when we checked in. Who knew that chickens liked apricots? They attacked them with relish & neatly ate every bit of fruit without the pit. I picked an orange from the tree in front of our cabin for a pre-breakfast snack. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day with the temps noticeably higher than they had been in Istanbul. Everywhere we went, people were remarking about the cool spring (fall downunder) weather that the entire world seems to be experiencing this year. We eventually walked over to the main building & had a great breakfast buffet that Nadim set up right on our table in the sun on the patio facing the sea & the beach. Very, very nice.

    It seemed to be a great day for a daytrip, so we hopped in the beast & set out for a destination that I had wanted to see: the Lycian ruins of Arycanda (Arykanda). This ancient ruin predates the Roman conquest & climbs up a mountain just off the highway well north of Finike on the southern coast. It was an easy 1 ½ hour drive there, although the road & site didn’t exist on my TomTom, so once again, I worked with co-ordinates.

    Just a quick driving note: Watch the center passing lanes aka ‘suicide’ lanes, which both (or sometimes only one) directions can use in the mountains. I saw several cars passing in these around corners etc when they shouldn’t have been there.

    The cutoff for Arycanda is just to the north of the small village of Catallar. A tight 180 turn & then up a one lane gravel road. The attendant wasn’t in his booth but was sitting under a tree talking with some buddies. He did accept our 5(?)TL however & he tried to sell us the deluxe English book for 25 TL. We said no & only got a small brochure in Turkish which was useless. And he bummed some cigarettes from me. With only two other cars in the parking lot, it certainly was not a busy place. This site is poorly signed with no logical paths to follow that we could find. The lower ruins are very accessible but we got on small paths to the north which started to get nastier & nastier as we scrambled up to see more structures. In hindsight, we should have headed up immediately rather than wandering sideways. The views are stunning everywhere. Huge snow-capped peaks to the east make the site very dramatic.

    It is funny that you can know somebody for decades & still discover something new about them. I didn’t know that my wife can have panic attacks when she thinks that there is a chance of falling from a height. Even if the danger is not huge, she can freeze up. I guess you know what I am leading up to. We were near several villa foundations & we ran across a bit of scree on a slope that we had to cross. No problem for me. But my wife sat down & refused to move. Her panic had set in & there was nothing I could do or say to make her try. And this is where my subtitle was coined. I tried to coax her by saying the amphitheater should be just around the next bend. Her response was: “(Expletive deleted). It’s just a jumble of (expletive deleted) rocks, anyway!” After a tearful interval, we retraced our steps down & called it a quits.

    On the drive back, I detoured slightly to peek at the amphitheater of Limrya. It is in a shabby suburb of Kamluca with a broken road leading through a rundown part of town. I took pictures from the car which was enough.

    After a late lunch we relaxed & then made the drive over to the start of the Fires of Chimeara hike. Yea! More climbing. 3 or 4TL (I think) A lot of the guidebooks suggest that you do this at dusk & take a flashlight. No thanks. It is a forty-five minute slug up rough, uneven slippery stone steps & paths with some nice close drop-offs into the forest valley below. It was a workout & not something I would want to attempt – up or down – in the dark. Couples that we met on the way down appeared to have the same difficulty that we did. I guess we’re not good potential hiking athletes. The fires are numerous methane vents on a seventy-five meter uphill rock face with the ruins of an old church and/or shrine below. Kind of anti-climactic after the climb up, if you want the truth. Some people brought sausages to roast . . . c’mon folks, have some respect. These are the fires of ancient legend. Beacons for mariners. They were thought to be mythical beasts of the forests. Blocks of hewn limestone lay scattered around with Greek inscriptions. Somehow weenies on a stick broke that spell. The walk down was ½ an hour.

    For dinner, we ventured into the village to a restaurant called Oleander. The owner Cemal, greeted us & we sat in their outdoor patio under the trees. We noticed that there were at least twenty local women sitting in several groups. It turns out that it was women’s card night in Ҫirali. At one point several started singing Turkish ballads around the central fire pit which was quite lovely. They got a real kick out of my wife’s applause at the end of a song. The waiter brought over a poppy seed fresh-baked flat bread which was amazing with olive oil. Speaking of bread, the Turks have bread down pat. It was great everywhere we went. They must have learned how to make good loaf bread from the French. And their rising flatbreads are wonderful. A good meal of lamb & chicken şiş or equivalent & a bottle of nice wine - Likya Kizilbel Boḡazkere Cabernet 2008 plus a great conversation with a friend of the owner at the next table, made it a fun evening.

    P.S. The big old dog that wanders around is friendly.


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    Day 6

    This was designated a loaf around day. It started with a brief rain shower at 5:30AM shortly after the call to prayer woke the roosters. The rain blew out quickly & we went over for the ‘usual’ personal breakfast buffet – albeit inside this morning. What a treat. Nadim’s brother is the cook & he will make fried eggs or scrambled etc. A nice touch.

    Olympos, at the south end of the beach was our only destination. We drove to the public parking & started the walk down. Not an easy walk in the stony beach. We had to ford the first river which is just over ankle deep with all smooth rocks. About a kilometer down a path follows the river into the forest. No attendant was on the beach side, so we got free admittance to the site. If you come down from the treehouse cabin side, you will pay. The ruins are spread in the forest on each side of the shallow river. Most people only see the well-travelled north side with several tombs & medieval buildings & a Roman gate. Fording the shallow spring-fed river (cold) you can see the Roman amphitheater & baths along a rough trail in the forest. The whole site is in-situ & has never been excavated which gives in a unique tumbledown effect. This is truly just a jumble of rocks, to quote my wife. By the time we got back to the beach in front of Olympos, it was getting busy with 20s-something day users & I would imagine that it would be packed in the summer. A party boat anchored off-shore & blared music for them. Thankfully, the Arcadia is well removed from this.

    We trudged back up the beach & stopped for lunch at one of the beach restaurants north of the second river. A nice repast of Adana kebap & chicken wings which was actually a whole chunk of chicken with a wing attached. Note: I will do a restaurant summary at the end of this long narrative. The sky darkened with an incoming storm (that never happened) & we headed back to the beach in front of the Arcadia for a rest in the sun. I sampled the Med briefly for a dip, but it was pretty cold.

    While we were sunning, we met Aladdin & his wife Abril who are frequent visitors of the Arcadia. They live in the Black Sea area of Istanbul & were very surprised that we had come all the way from Canada & had found this idyllic spot. They like to think of it as their own private get-away. We talked about the congestion of Istanbul – which they hate – hence their flat being so far north of the city proper.

    Later after dinner – inside at the Arcadia this time due to the weather & drinking the same wine as the night before – we had coffee & chatted some more with them. It is always nice to get a local perspective on vacation destinations. Another good day came to a close.

    The Ҫirali photos:

    The Istanbul photos:


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    Day 7

    We were up with the roosters today as we packed & left peaceful Ҫirali for ~2 hour Antalya airport & an 11:30AM flight to Izmir via Ankara on Anadolujet. The drive went without incident except for a scary driver ahead of us who had a real problem staying in his lane. We followed a ways back for 10kms or so & it was amazing to watch him on the twisty coast road. This time we found the Antalya bypass & drove straight to the airport easily except for a two block jam just shy of the airport turnoff. The flights – each about an hour – were via Anadolujet – Turkish Air’s discount partner. The seats were squishier than Pegasus so it wasn’t a fun-filled time in the air but they did arrive on time, as did our baggage.

    We secured the car rental & bought a toll way card for 17TL to ease the one hour drive to Selçuk. Once again, my pronunciation on this town was wrong: sell-CHOOK appears to be close enough.

    Selçuk, of course, is a small town that is a stone’s throw from the Ephesus site & it boasts a fortress on the hill, the remnants of an aqueduct in the town center, a very old Mosque, & the St. John burial site as well as the small Ephesus museum. The single column left from the Temple of Artemis stands on the edge of town near the turnoff for the lower north Ephesus parking lot. It has several pedestrian-only streets that are full of eateries & small shops. Obviously, the tourism industry is king here with a constant flow of tour buses disgorging the cattle. More on this later. I had originally thought of Sirinçe or Selçuk as a base for numerous days but I am very glad that I manipulated our itinerary differently. In my opinion, it is useful as a gateway to Ephesus & little else.

    We couldn’t locate our hotel – the Ukmez - so I called from a gas station parking lot & Siça came down on a scooter to lead us to a parking lot & to help with our baggage. Parking was in a small free lot around the block which fills up when the locals hit the downtown on the weekends. This is a small family run hotel that was the low point of our stays, despite the friendliness of the staff. The room was very basic & small with little cupboard space & a teeny bath that could use a bit of work. My wife was disappointed but we decided that we could rough it for two days since at 38TL (less 5% for cash) it was also very cheap. As always, you get what you pay for. It did have a balcony which looked over one of the pedestrian streets. Well, pedestrian except for motorbikes, anyway. And no elevator meant more stairs again – this time only two long flights up.

    Dinner was at Ejder Restaurant which aside from Ephesus was the highlight of this town. Hasan (the son) served us both nights & it was very good. His mother & father do the cooking. He welcomed us as family the second night & gave us the rest of a bottle of wine when we only ordered two glasses. Great flatbread (again) with the standard assortment of şiş & kebaps.

    Day 8

    When the early call to prayer rang out, I knew that we had survived the night in our ‘modest’ room. We had a good breakfast in Urkmez’s restaurant which sports a great view of the fortress from the top floor. This would certainly be the hotel’s best feature, although the brother’s that ran the place are very friendly & helpful. We were rushing however, because we (well I actually & she reluctantly agreed) decided to try & get the jump on the legendary hordes of tour groups at Ephesus. We parked in the north (lower) lot for 7.50TL & pulled in beside about half a dozen cars. This was to change . . . It was 9AM as we were passing through the ticky-tacky shops & the turnstiles. 20TL Aside from the staff – the guys that dress up like Romans were just arriving – we had the place to ourselves. If you have been to Ephesus, you know how rare that this event can be. No one. It was amazing. We could even test the acoustics in the amphitheater (pretty good) since we were the only two it in. By the time we got to the library, there were a handful of people milling around. We snapped the obligatory picture in relative peace. We walked right into the terraced houses without a line up & paid the extra 15TL for this interesting part of the site. Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily might have more flamboyant mosaics but the addition of the wall paintings at Ephesus, really enhances the ‘realism’. All was great & the site truly is phenomenal. But . . . by the time we exited the terraced houses, the hordes were starting to descend the hill from the south (upper) entrance. It was a solid mass of tour groups. We were going up & as usual, they refused to give way on their stampede to follow their group leader’s flag who is babbling some bent version of the history of each photo opp. What a scene. What a shame. We hurried to escape.

    But lo & behold, the lower (north) parking lot was now a seething mass of huge tour buses waiting for their cargo at the bottom of the hill. Thankfully, our car was not blocked in & I was able to drive into the part of the maelstrom that was in a circular motion toward the exit. And I am not exaggerating here, folks. I am describing this vehicular choreography quite accurately. I have no idea where a car would park in that madness & I was very, very happy that I had pushed my wife for an early start. And she even agreed that I had been right. European coach (bus) drivers are truly magicians in the way that they can manoeuver those behemoths through impossible places. It was a relief to get to the dirt exit road & speed away back to our hotel area in the comparatively quiet downtown area.

    For the rest of the day, we just wandered around. We went to the Ephesus Museum - which has some incredible pieces - albeit not a lot of them. Some shopping for tiles & trinkets etc in various stores followed. We even let a carpet guy drag us in to pitch his wares. As a whole btw the prices were cheaper in other parts of Turkey, so beware. We walked to the old mosque & saw the last column of The Temple of Artemis is the distance down the hill. An anonymous lunch with a dinner repeat at Ejder. Time to go, we were done.

    The Selçuk photos:

    The Ҫirali photos:

    The Istanbul photos:


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    Day 9

    The next phase of our trip was Cappadocia. (kappa DOE key a) I think most of the Western world has heard about this place with PBS specials & a lot of travel show coverage. Fairy chimney houses. Frescoed churches in caves. And yes, it is all true. During the itinerary shuffle, I extended our stay in Göreme – our chosen destination. I also popped for deluxe accommodations with a suite at the Kelebek Cave Hotel. # 21 Eagle Nest Room. 180TL (less 10% discount for cash).

    But first, we had to get there.

    This was a very early morning. Again. That was the biggest flaw in my itinerary. Too many early mornings. We were up at three. Out of the door at four. Driving into Izmir airport at five. AM. And I couldn’t find the rental car drop-off. There were two earlier signs in English & then nothing. I drove all around. Nothing. I drove into the standard parking lot. Nothing. And the jerks that were manning the booth insisted that I pay 6TL for the minute that I spent in the lot doing a circuit. They told me to turn left at the T. And they laughed as I paid & drove off. The signs were incomprehensible – something about security. Inside I did a quick vehicular about face which finally led me to the lot which I had spied in my rear view mirror. A few signs might be in order.

    But noooo, our stress was not over yet. There was a lot more where that came from. Pegasus had cancelled the flight. And they tried to call me five times. They said. But they didn’t have a number. They said. But how did you call five times without a number? I was peaking by this time & the attendant directed us over to the ticket counter. I’m sorry sir but the only thing we have leaves at 16:40. . . yes, we called you five times . . . but we didn’t have your number . . . but wait . . . maybe . . . yes . . . I will rebook you through Istanbul (SAW) & you can connect to Kayseri & be there by 10AM. I could have kissed her. The check-in girl put all kinds of handwritten baggage tags on our luggage & made us remove something from one of them to our carryon because it was overweight by 1kg. But we were getting there!

    So I called the hotel & rebooked the shuttle pickup for 10AM – only 1 ½ hour later then our original flight. We hustled through security & got to the gate as it was just about to board. Whew. Our connection in Istanbul went smoothly but on arrival in Kayseri, all of the plane’s luggage came through . . . except for ours & the baggage area cleared out. They staff looked at us. We helplessly muttered no bags & pantomimed the international I-don’t-know –but-I-think-I-am-about-to-blow-a-gasket sign. Just as this spectre of this new dread was rising, two attendants came around the corner . . . wheeling . . . YES . . . our bags!

    The shuttle was waiting – with 5 other rather impatient travellers – for the one hour drive to Göreme. Pronounced gerr EM ay but you have to wrap your tongue around the gerr & add a u sound.

    Kayseri sits east of the ‘good’ parts of Cappadocia with snow-capped Mount Erciyes dominating the landscape to the south. Speaking of the landscape, it consists of large green undulating hills with no trees. My suspicion that this green will turn brown as the summer sets in was confirmed by Mustafa – the balloon pilot/tour guide/Greek-Byzantine icon expert/ex-carpet salesman who comes in – nicely too – later in this ever-expanding travelogue. As far as you can see, it looks like a vast steppe & it was easy to envision the Tatar hoards charging over a hill like they did here long in the past. As did the Seljuqs. The Romans. Mithridates. Alexander. Xerses. Darius. We stopped in the largish town of Ürgüp to drop a traveller off in a seemingly newer subdivision of nice-looking flats with hotels mixed in. This was the start of the cave house zone but there was a whole lot of modern building going on to service the burgeoning tourism industry. Fifteen minutes later, we swooped around a downward bend & passed the Göreme Open Air Museum on the left. Now, the strange rock formations were everywhere. Cool!

    Göreme sits in valley surrounded by landscape quite reminiscent of parts of the US southwest with large stratified rock formations dominating the small town to the northeast & east with looming green giants fading in the distance all around. Three large volcanoes covered the area with lava & volcanic ash & the slow erosion of this has created this unique topography. Wind + water + many tens of centuries. The so-called fairy chimneys are everywhere mixed in with low-rise one or two story buildings climbing out of the center. Add in a dose of seriously phallic rock towers & you have something truly bizarre.

    An aside: Speaking of phallic, I was beside a 30s American couple in the Ephesus Museum as their attention hit the small (but big wink wink) phallic statue highlighted in a darkened display case. Like everybody, they smirked & then he raised his camera to take a picture. Don’t do that! You know our daughter will see these pictures! What were you thinking? What’s the matter with you?

    A crossroads marks Göreme central with shops, restaurants & hotels spreading out in four or more directions. Google Earth has conveniently placed a cloud over much of it, so it is hard to get a fix on the size, but it is not big. One of the locals (Mustafa again) told us that it is next to impossible to find decent rental flats in town & with an upcoming baby, he is forced to move to nearby Nevşehir for something larger. But wow! Absolutely stunning & incredible views everywhere. The Kelebek is situated on high in the southwest part of Göreme up a narrow cobbled street. The hotel used to be the owner Ali’s family home & he started out with just three rental rooms without enough cash in his pocket for business cards. And the other hoteliers told him that he was crazy because no one would ever walk up from the town center to stay there. Well, now Ali owns a couple of hotels & restaurants, a travel agency & he is partners with a balloon company etc etc. Another guest remarked that he appears to own half the town. Probably not yet, but give him time.

    We got a particularly warm welcome at the Kelebek. The staff was falling over each other to welcome us with tea or coffee offered immediately as they ushered us into the office for registration & orientation. Certainly a class act. There is one woman who appears to do very little other than walking around smiling & being nice. It didn’t suck – especially after our whirlwind day. Since it was just noon, we folded ourselves into some comfortable chairs in the sunshine on the outdoor patio & ordered some lunch. Our mouths were agape as we looked at the town spreading out in the valley below us. Yeah, four nights of this was definitely what we needed at this point in our Turkish adventure.

    The start of the Göreme pictures:

    Day 9 to be continued . . .


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    Day 9 Continued

    I have nap double underlined in my travel notes. I guess we needed one. I keep quick point form notes as we travel & I try to do updates to it the morning after since I am always up first anyway. It’s a curse. The latest I got up this whole trip was 5:30. After a nice rest we wandered down the hill (Note: the hill) to hunt for supplies. The town is pretty laid back. The vendors don’t bug you at all to come in, despite there being numerous carpet shops, travel agencies & various tourist paraphernalia stores. A lot of scooter & ATV rentals as well. We aimed towards a grocery that is all the way down on the left near the bend that curls towards the Göreme Open Air Museum - which is just 1km out of town. Rumor has it that this grocery has liquor. And yes, the friendly store owner was happy to see us & he had a nice inventory of drinkables. He even had Kleenex which is a rare commodity in many countries. My wife considers it a staple & she is always railing about our hotel’s lack of said essential or the three sheets left in the box. We had a coffee in a café on the road & we quickly decide that there is a surprising amount of noisy traffic making its way through the town – cars, trucks, buses big & small, tractors, parades of ATVs on tour, 4x4s with balloon trailers, horse-drawn carts & men on horseback – at different times to the day. Then it was back up – yes, it always up isn’t it? – to our hotel to relax pre-dinner. The main drag of Göreme is tilted up towards the south where the Kelebek is located. Add in a cobbled twisty incline for the last 300 meters (that starts to rival Kilimanjaro later in the week) & coming home promises to get painful. Oh well, the price of a view.

    And yowsa, the Kelebek has views! We booked one of their presidential suites – in fact the best room in the house – the Eagle Nest (oddly singular) RM 21. It is a large stone room with wonderful wood & stone floors, exposed wood beams, a fireplace sitting area at one end (they leave wood & cardboard every night), a large bathroom with shower enclosure (a double-header too), claw foot tub & the pièce de résistance: a large balcony that perches above the pool with a stunning view of western Göreme - complete with a fine sampling of the area’s visual oddities. Just be aware that this aerie is very exposed to the grounds below, so you might want to perfect your Queen E II wave for the minions around the popular pool sitting areas.

    For dinner, we decided to walk next door to the Seten Restaurant whose brochure ‘mysteriously’ graced the Kelebek’s welcome package. The hotel staffed billed it as a ‘fine dining’ establishment. It certainly had that look & feel with be suited waiters & nicely appointed dining rooms – and prices to match. While quite good overall, I would rate it as quite expensive for the area – more show than go – if you know what I mean. We killed a bottle of Turasan’s exclusive Seneler Öküzgözü 2008. Good night.


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    Day 10

    In Göreme, the call to prayer is particularly haunting, bouncing around the canyons & waking up the dogs who howl along with it. This also seems to signal start time for a beehive of activity in the town. 4x4s start racing round, shuttles creep all over town & you start to hear a humming south from the east. It’s hot air balloon time! We had originally pre-booked a ride with Butterfly Balloons (Mustafa again) for this morning. Because of the harrowingly early previous day, my wife requested a change so we threw caution to the wind & changed it to the morning of Day 11 to give us a chance to sleep in – or barring that, at least not have to leap up & be social too early. My reference to caution is a warning to all potential balloon flyers. Go as early in your stay as possible, because bad weather can roll in – i.e. high winds – that could force the cancellation of flights for a day. More later. And speaking of weather, the days were sunny & warm – not hot though & the nights so far were coolish – jacket weather certainly & let’s turn on the propane heater weather for nighttime patio dining.

    The launch of the balloons is fabulous to watch as the early morning haze surrenders to the sun & the balloons – as many as forty every day – rise gracefully. Quite a few hotel guests appeared on the lawn with their tussled hair & their cameras to take pictures of this incredible sight. So even if you don’t go for a ride – and you really should btw – get up & watch. I bet you that the hotel’s night man will make you instant coffee if you ask nicely.

    Of all of our hotel stays this trip, the Kelebek had the best breakfast spread – although the ‘live’ eggs at the Arcadian deserve a special mention. The breakfast & common areas are shared with – at least – the Canyon View Hotel – another Ali property. While it was never overrun, it did beef up the ‘crowds’ at the 8:15AM breakfast rush hour.

    With the sun promising a nice day, we decided that we needed some exercise. I guess we were just missing the physical benefits of the thousand stair climb we had in Istanbul or our mountain climbing adventures x 2 in Ҫirali, but I latched onto the idea that a valley hike would provide great photo opps as well as a nice workout for the pumper. We queried one of the hotel staff – the ‘money’ girl whose family owns a restaurant that also has a brochure in the package – hmmm – for trail ideas. In hindsight, she might not have been the best person to ask but the jury is still out on that. When all was said & done, we kitted up for an assault on Pigeon Valley.

    The trailhead for Pigeon can be found in Uşhisar, a town up on the heights, southwest of Göreme. We headed to the Göreme center for a bus, picking up a stray dog along the way. After some initial confusion about the location – we asked three different people with three different & indifferent answers – we found the bus stop & we had actually already walked through it twice during our search. 2TL is collected on board per person & twenty minutes later – that includes a ten minute wait for construction - the driver dropped us on the road beside Uşhisar. Following Pigeon & Peegon Valley signs, we headed to the town’s center where you turn left & walk until you reach the Onyx Factory tour bus stop at the end of the road passing the swanky Museum Hotel on the left. Hit the washroom at below the ticky-tacky shop, buy some water & head down into the abyss. My wife got a slow start down the hill – oh, oh – but warmed up as a young couple descended at the same time. Near the beginning, a farmer called out to us as we were about to circumnavigate his small plot & directed us to a cave pathway on the side of the canyon. I thought he was upset with us at first, but he was actually just being helpful – and protecting his meager crop as well.

    The path splits & rejoins as it meanders pleasantly through this treed valley following a less than pristine creek, with fairy chimneys everywhere. The cave houses in Uşhisar’s mount that hovers above also make for some amazing opps. We slugged on & just an inlet road & some waterworks, a deep crevasse split the valley in two. There were multiple path options & we inevitably made the wrong choice. Duplicating our Arcandya failure, we reached a point on a slippery trail where my wife sat down & said: no more. Simultaneously a man ahead started yelling to us from across the yawing chasm. Not safe he appeared to yell. Dangerous. He crossed his arms in a universal don’t go sign. Well, that was enough of this madness I rationally decided. I had no desire to test the capabilities of the Turkish Search & Rescue team & my wife was freaked as it was. We doubled back & made a very tiring trek (or should I say exhausting climb) up the access road which took us through someone’s livestock – two goats & two horse – area in Uşhisar’s shadow. Of course, we were assured later that there is a path that will let you walk all the way to Göreme but we certainly missed it. On the outskirts of Uşhisar, we stopped in a small forgotten café to have a plate of French fries & cold drinks for 15TL. Of course, we still had to get back to Göreme, several kilometers away. The god’s smiled as we reached the highway just as a bus was approaching.

    Back in Göreme central we felt mildly energized & we struck out for the Göreme Open Air Museum 1.2kms away. On foot. The cruelty of this decision was only evident in the last .5kms. Up, of course. Our legs were getting pretty leaden by this point. Intrepid travellers that we are, we paid our 15TL & went in. Well, the tour groups were unfortunately not absent yet since it was only around 3PM. We viewed what we could & also coughed up an extra 8TL to see the main event – the 11th century Karanlık Kilise. Many people don’t see this because of the fee, but it is pretty spectacular with vivid frescoes. The guard insisted on a no-camera rule & pitched his guide services for his days off. Yeah, yeah. The extra 8TL also gains you access to main event # 2 – the Tokalı Kilise – down the road & across from the ticky-tacky stores. Unfortunately this was packed with at least three different groups with guides shining flashlights – no cameras please – on the frescoes as they babbled in at least three different languages. We left & trudged – and I mean trudged – back to the Kelebek & its seemingly Everest –like access road. Since we were both in need of new legs, we ate in the hotel’s restaurant this night & consumed the hotels’ last bottle of Likya Kizilbel Boḡazkere Cabernet 2008. I gave a sample to a group of Aussies who were lusting for it after I snagged the bottle. Early to bed, with a seriously early wakeup call programmed for our balloon ride the next morning.

    The Göreme pictures:


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    Day 11

    We were up early & revved up like a couple of school kids for our balloon ride. As mentioned, we had chosen Butterfly though the hotel - which is connected to Heritage Travel - which is connected to Butterfly. Hey, it’s a small town but it is great to see & to support so many local businesses as opposed to the foreign invaders. We saw a McDonald’s sign in the middle of nowhere on the drive from Kayseri . . .

    Anyways . . . Butterfly aced the balloon ride experience. It was flawless. The pickup, light breakfast, drive, safety briefing, loading, flying, pilot, landing, corny certificates, champagne, delivery. We had a blast. Everyone in our balloon had a blast. Even the two serious older German guys were downright giddy. Mustafa (who would have guessed?) was our pilot. His banter quelled any pre-flight anguish & his comedic routine in-flight really added to the fun. We landed at one hour & twelve minutes in-flight & we travelled 7.2kms. A total & absolute Wow! Highly recommended!

    For the rest of the day, we loitered. We loitered downtown Göreme – mailed postcards, had a forgettable pide for lunch, shopped some ticky-tacky & carpet stores – aaaiiiieee – there I said it. Shopping for Turkish Carpet. Or how to eat up a holiday while watching smooth-talking Turkish salesmen bring out every single piece of carpet that they have in the store. I didn’t know that this was going to be an important component of this trip until it was. Back to the Kelebek, we booked a private tour for the next day & lounged in backpacker’s corner being sociable as the temps started to slip & a cool breeze picked up.

    The clientele at the Kelebek was probably the friendliest crowd that we have ever glanced off of in our travels. We met couples from Brisbane, Palo Alto, New York, Manchester (well near it anyway) & Emy (travelling alone) from NYC. We swapped travel advice & adventures with all. One had had her purse – money + wallet + camera – stolen the week before in Bangkok. Another couple had taken the overnight bus from Istanbul to Kayseri & it didn’t suck. In fact, they were going back that way as well. Others were busy planning the next destination & how to get there. I know that I could never travel that way, but it was fun to give them tips on where we’d been. Good times. The Kelebek is a strange hotel with rooms that range from the shared-bath teeny caves to larger deluxe suites & the guests were just as varied. Despite the range of budgets this encompasses, the service is equal for all & it is excellent. Very refreshing. We old folks get so boring on our own sometimes.

    For dinner, we decided to venture out – as long as we didn’t have to walk anywhere – since our legs were still screaming. This was solved by the other restaurant that had a brochure in the hotel’s package – the one owned by the family of one of Kelebek’s employees. Her brother picks you up & drives you up to the far side of Göreme just under the look out on the hill. I am glad that we didn’t walk. The cooking is done by her mother & aunt. Nostalji Restaurant. You have to pre-order some of the dishes since they take hours to cook. Even though they have two rooms, it was like eating in someone’s cave house. The youngest son – just 19 – is the waiter – cutely awkward. We had pre-ordered beef cooked in a clay pot or testi as it is locally called. Service was a bit rushed with the wine being opened after the salads arrived which was right after we sat down. More people arrived & we paused for a cigarette & photo break. Only one minute later, he chased us outside with oven mitts & the testi for me to smack open with a tin-foiled hammer. We hustled in to eat this delicacy but found it pretty average beef stew. Hmmm. Somewhat disappointing after the buildup. Entertainment was supplied by a loud & obnoxious women who arrived & proceeded to tell anybody within earshot about her, her daughter, her son, their driver, her husband in Ankara, how great this restaurant was . . . not Calgary’s finest product. Another trio arrived & they diverted her attention enough so that we could guzzle our bottle of wine & leave. Food in a jug was around 25TL each with a 70TL bottle of wine. The brother who is building the new fancy digs for the restaurant next door drove us back.

    By this time, the wind had whipped up & our balcony was not a comfortable place. I rigged up a blanket & chair screen that let us sit out – drinkin’ & smokin’ – enjoying the night & the barking dogs. Another great day bit the dust.


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    Day 12

    Additional note from Day 11: Wine was Turasan’s Öküzgözü Bogazkere 2008. Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of the wines from Anatolia & Cappadocia. Restaurant prices varied wildly but good bottles were 40TL to 70TL.

    I hate to admit it, but after three days, the weird rock formations almost get boring. Or at the very least you get so used to them that they are ‘just another rock formation’. After a brief but violent early morning rain storm, the balloons were grounded & no one flew. As I mentioned earlier, fly as soon as you can in case the weather forces a no fly day or two. I went for a wander in the formations that I had been staring at for three days from our balcony. Very, very peaceful place.

    Today we slummed until 11AM when we scheduled to go on a private tour to the underground city of Kaymakli, that we had arranged with Heritage Travel – just a few steps from the Kelebek. 40€ each with a van + driver + English-speaking guide. My wife has a potential claustrophobic thing happening so we decided to go with a guide. We could have gone on our own via bus with one transfer but . . . And besides, we got a free Kayseri airport transfer if we booked balloon + tour with them so it was easy to justify. And you will never guess who the guide was. Yes, you got it . . . Mustafa. He is a very personable jack of all trades & we really enjoyed our time with him. The underground city at Kaymakli was pretty tame after all of the buildup, but we saw it.

    Aaaiiiieee. There is that scream again. And that can only mean more Turkish carpet shopping. Yes, one of Mustafa’s past trades was driving around swaths of the US with his partner Ali & a van full of Turkish carpets. Not the Ali of Kelebek fame, but the one who is still Mustafa’s partner in Sultan Carpets whose business card can be found conveniently in the Kelebek area info desk. And guess what? It is a no-haggle because the-price-is-the-price Turkish carpet store. And Kelebek guests get a 10% discount!

    You can see where this is going, right? Yeah. As it turns out, my wife really, really wanted to come home with some Turkish carpets – kilims, sumaks or whatever – to use as mats in our newly renovated bathroom. I know Turkish carpets are a bit extravagant to use as bath mats but after spending north of 10K already, what is a few hundred more? Well, how about $450 CDN more? Ali was smooth & as honest as a sales guy can ever be – I am one so I know. He had the right size & he had the right color. We didn’t want red, and that ruled out 95% of the carpets on offer. We bought.

    Note: In Turkey you will be besieged by carpet salesmen everywhere you go. You can have a lot of fun trading quips with the sidewalk hawkers, so enjoy the experience. Some carpet stores are non-negotiable with set prices but most are of the let’s-make-a-deal variety. Also be aware that nothing has a price until you like it & then they check with the owner or in a book & give you a number. We had price checked in Istanbul & Selçuk so we knew the ballparks. We didn’t get a bargain but we didn’t get hosed, either. Do some research before you leave home & you can get some nice buys.

    Ali also recommended lunch at the Nazar Börek Café next door. It was the best lunch we had in all of Turkey. Their baked or fried pastries filled with meat were scrumptious. Only six tables so get it to go if they are full. My wife had a baked Nazar sosyete bõreḡi & I had the fried lamb-filled sigara bõreḡi. 17.50TL for both. Yum.

    After some more r & r & chatter with other travellers – it was cool & breezy so we huddled in backpacker’s corner - we went to the Orient Restaurant for dinner. Well, this was the worst meal we had in all of Turkey. This empty restaurant is #7 on TA & listed in all of the guides but it has obviously seen better culinary days. You have been warned.

    And I would be remiss if I didn’t include a comment about our biggest complaint about the Kelebek Cave Hotel. As my wife said, it was obviously designed by a man. Our shower area was floored with large pebbles that were not nice on the feet. What were they thinking? I know. That is not a very big complaint . . .

    Göreme pictures:


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    Day 13

    This was the last leg of our journey. A return to mad Istanbul for three nights after the relative peace & tranquility of Anatolia & Cappadocia. We had a few sites left to see & I had promised some bazaar shopping.

    Without a doubt, Cappadocia – and in particular Göreme – was one of those great destinations for us. The physical beauty of the topography is impossible to describe & photos don’t do it justice. Göreme is in the throes of transforming itself from a lazy backpacker’s secret to a deluxe destination. We loved it. But we would never go back again because that would spoil the magic.

    Our shuttle to Kayseri went without a hitch although a no-show in anonymous Avanos – seemingly a tour bus hotel area – did squeeze the time a bit. But we got through the dual securities & boarding pass line up for our last internal flight to Istanbul (SAW). The last of 6 flights! All were on time & all were very efficient – except for the cancelled flight.

    Once again, the Backpacker’s rep was waiting & guided us easily to our van. The drive in from Sabiha Gökçen (SAW) was not without incident unfortunately. Just after a major traffic crunch for the north bridge exit, we were the first arrivals at a nasty accident. A car had slammed into a frontend loader parked on the side of the highway around a slight bend. Our driver got out & rendered assistance as a crowd gathered as other motorists pulled over. A cop arrived & supplied orange cones. Further along, another traffic crunch occurred just before the bridge. This was obviously a near-permanent fixture with vendors walking between the cars selling water & food. On the bridge our driver commented that there was very little traffic heading east & after a collection of police cars on the side halfway across he said: jumper. We finally got to the Zoe (again & penthouse #401 again) in Sultanamet after a two hour drive. I had booked Empress Zoe at both ends with the thought that if we really hated it, we could find something else for the return portion. It was comfortable (except for the 1001 stairs), friendly & I had learned the neighborhood, so we went back.

    After sleepy Göreme, Istanbul hit me like a bad dream. It was Friday & the Aya area was a mob scene of bodies & buses. The sidewalks of Divan Yolu Cad were teeming. We ducked into some eatery that was just OK but it was really quiet & it had a great view of the Blue Mosque from a rooftop terrace. Major photo opp. Feeling somewhat recharged & facing the inevitable, I directed us to the Grand Bazaar. Just to explain, I am the one that gets us there wherever there might be. I work the maps& remember the routes. I was born reading maps (geographer father) & I learn a city quickly. As for the Bazaar, remove the jewelry stores & the place would be half empty. View it as a carnival with the carnies out to give you thrills & take your cash. All the prices we checked were higher than the spice market which was equal to or higher than the street shops & sidewalk vendors. Bargain & have fun. In pursuit of copperware, we ended up on Cadircilar Cad & eventually in the square between the university & Beyazit Cami with its camera-shy pigeon-feeding ladies. A North American Indian troupe (or reasonable facsimile) was performing a quiet dance performance in one corner, but it sure sounded like Peruvian music to me. One weird & common thing on the street was the spirograph guys. They were everywhere with a table & a chair selling spirographs sets like we had in the 60s. Strange.

    On the way back, we went to the Aya Sofya about a half an hour before it was set to close. A very good move. It was virtually empty. 20TL This building drips history & its bulk dominates Sultanamet. The few Byzantine frescoes & mosaics need no further description by me. The Blue Mosque beats it for beauty & tranquility, but the Aya has the presence.

    Dinner had to be local. Our legs were still painful stumps & the four tier stair marathon at the Zoe wasn’t helping. The Medcezir – across from the Four Seasons - sucked us in with the big sesame bread puffed flatbread that they position on empty outdoor tables as bait. It worked.

    Pretty standard kebap fare – and nothing wrong with that - with a cozy feel & a great staff. A bottle of anonymous 50TL wine was consumed & the bill was 100TL. The bread was simply amazing.

    Day 14

    This day started well, got nasty & then – with effort was salvaged & ended well. Obviously, this requires an explanation. We had the hotel call us a taxi to take us to the Chora Museum which lived up to all expectations. 15TL The mosaics are superb – jumping right out of Byzantium. After a tile purchase by my wife outside the church – some of the cheapest we had seen btw – we made our critical error. A cab was sitting & we took it to get to the drapery shops on Atatürk Bulyari – breaking all the rules. His ‘father’ got in for the ride (or was he the witness?) I didn’t check the size of the ‘extra’ on the meter. I didn’t speak up when we seemed to be going the ‘long‘ way around. And I wasn’t careful with my money when I paid. And he left us nowhere near the destination we had told him. And it cost us. Getting out of the cab, I was ready to kill. I refused to even consider another taxi for the rest of our time in Istanbul. We had been taken & I felt really, really stupid for letting it happen. A lot of should haves/could haves . . .

    We knuckled under & decided that we weren’t going to let this incident blow the day. We were enjoying Istanbul & damn it . . . we were going to keep enjoying Istanbul. But warily. After getting our bearings – thanks to a kindly vendor – we had nothing but kindly responses whenever we asked for directions in Istanbul btw – we aimed for the Grand Bazaar again. I apologize to the vendors along that way that received some of my anger. We tramped a goodly portion of the Bazaar, left on side streets & somehow circled right back in again. We fought our way down Sabunco Hani Sokaḡi & Fincancilar Sokaḡi to the spice bazaar, picking up some curtains for a song along the way. The single benefit from the earlier incident is that it made my wife ruthless during haggling. We walked from many vendors empty-handed but when they said yes, we knew that we had a very decent price. Aside from the curtains – that match the curtains in our Arcadia cabin btw – we were just buying tiles & trinkets for gifts to take back home. We had lunch near the Spice Market again & walked up Ankara Cad & Bab-I Ali Cad which is a particularly steep way to go, I can easily say in hindsight. Loop over to Alemdar Cad if you want to make the climb much easier on your leaden legs.

    We demanded a local restaurant again because we cancelled our Ciya reservations after deciding that transportation to the eastern side & back for dinner just might get really complicated & expensive. I hit the guidebook & spied a listing for Magnaura, just down the road. We sat outside with propane heaters & watched a bus ding said heater with his mirror as the traffic crawled by. I asked the waiter if the marble steak was good & he assured me in that buddy-buddy way that it was. It was. It came rare & sizzling on a hot marble ‘platter’ that lets you do some personal frying at the table. While not the equivalent of a good North American $45 behemoth piece of beef, it was much cheaper & pretty good. And a bottle of Anatolian red went down very smoothly.


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    Day 15

    The last day in Istanbul. The last day in Turkey. The only Top Ten thing that we hadn’t done - and that we also wanted to do – was a Bosporus cruise. I didn’t want to commit to the whole day adventure so we aimed down to the west side of the Galata Bridge for a Turyol cruise. 1 ½ hours. Up to the second bridge & back again. The morning had started foggy with the horns moaning on the Marmara. By the time we got to the docks around 11AM, it was still a little hazy. It was cool & thankfully I didn’t wear shorts. We hustled to the top floor forty-five minutes before cruise time & it was filling fast. 12TL Everybody – mainly Turks btw – wanted the open vista for picture taking. We went briefly over to the Karaköy shore & then across the Bosporus for Üsküdar, the only stop. Then we hugged the eastern shore & crossed at the second bridge & down again on the western. Make Note: The right side(starboard) of the boat/ship was the right side for pictures. It was pretty cool though & I mean that in a temperature sense. I was short-sleeved & shortly after halfway we retreated to inside. The cruise was well worth it. Excellent historical or geographic perspective or just for the fun of a boat ride. Quite the current btw.

    We wandered over to the vicinity of the Archeological Museum buying last day trinkets in misc stores & lunch at Montana’s. With the long wand ice cream vendors as entertainment, we had crêpes – mushroom & chicken – both of which had a strange orange color (marjoram?) but tasted just fine. And cheap at 30TL with cold drinks.

    I wanted to see the Serpent Column from Delphi & my wife wanted to re-view the Blue Mosque so we headed in that direction. Easy success with nice people watching opportunities on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. The Blue Mosque was just as wonderful as we remembered it, except the crowds had multiplied. And the smell. A lot of stinky feet. And some women sneaking in without scarfs. Umm. Ladies . . . this is about respect . . . not about you for once . . . We discovered the Arasta Bazaar & the vendors on the street southwest of it. No hoards. No aggression. My wife bought a few things & we went back to the room to collapse. By this time my legs – and I kid you not – would seize painfully when I stood on them too long. My wife said it only happened when we were shopping. Ha. Ha, ha. Ah well, we were done.

    All that was left was dinner. We slummed & went back to the Medcezir – the one across from the Four Seasons with the bread. Our waiter was from Brooklyn. With a Turkish mother, he came back to see the homeland & stayed. We had the lamb chop kebap – which deserves songs of praise from Aya’s minarets. Yes, it was that good. A bottle of wine - unknown – was consumed & we had a great conversation with two women from Edmonton (well, one is living in Toronto) about other parts of Turkey on their horizon & life in general. I should mention that the Medcezir’s owner Ҫen (just call him John) was quite proud that Jimmy Carter + wife had stopped in for dinner two years ago. He has the pictures inside & out. But please don’t hold that against him & stop in for the lamp chops kebap & some bread. Did I forget to mention the great bread?

    Start of the Istanbul 2 pictures (more to follow)

    Day 16

    Backpacker’s pickup @ 9AM. Turkish Air to YYZ. And just how many passport stamps can they put on? First Class was very, very nice.

    The End

    Postscript Tidbit: Turkey’s traffic lights give a yellow caution for both: Red light warning AND green light warning.

    Restaurant & Hotel & Best of Summation to follow sometime . . .


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    Thank you, thank you for another report that made me feel I was right there. One question: I understand that Goreme was a highlight. Did you see enough of Urgup to weigh in on Urgup vs Goreme?

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    I've enjoyed your report! Thanks for posting. Another fan of Nazar Börek! We went there three times in three days, and I'd probably go back to Goreme just to go there again--well, for that and the great hiking in the area. We also stayed at the Empress Zoe and liked it very much, although we didn't have all the stairs. Are all three cats still there? IIRC, one of them (the orange one?) was quite old.

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    We didn't see enough of it to tell you much. My impression was a bigger town that services larger scale tourism - not a small approachable village like Göreme. Of note, the balloons fly over Göreme . . .


    I posted the menu for you:

    3 that I counted. Although the orange one that visited us on high looked quite young.


    Likewise. Whenever you get to Toronto . . .


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    Thanks for posting the menu! I shouldn't have looked at it before breakfast, though, because now I'm really hungry. It isn't easy to find that sort of thing in the far western Chicago burbs.

    I checked our notes: the three cats were Jasper (the old one), Bobby and Mojo.

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    Hotel Summary

    Empress Zoe – Istanbul: Extremely well located at the end of a restaurant & hotel filled street – minutes from central Sultanamet. Everything is nearby. The hotel is actually 3 houses so room sizes & prices vary. Lots of stairs to upper levels so choose accordingly. Friendly staff. Nice breakfast room & outdoor courtyard with several resident cats. Recommended.

    Arcadia Hotel – Ҫirali: Not really a hotel but 10 cabins split over 2 areas – 5 newer cabins in lemon groves 10 minutes from the beach. 5 older cabins with restaurant fronting on beach. Great staff. Great dining on the beach or in the restaurant. Breakfast served buffet-style to your table. Lots of wildlife underfoot – cats, chickens & ducks. Like staying on a farm on the beach. The beach is sand + smooth stone. Highly recommended.

    Urkmez Hotel – Selçuk: When good enough is good enough, this hotel may be enough for you but not for us. Rough bath but functional. Basic room but functional. No phone. Friendly staff. Good breakfast & rooftop area. Inexpensive & close to everything in Selçuk. Check out the Hotel Bella if you want more.

    Kelebek Cave Hotel – Göreme: One of the better stays we have had anywhere. Friendly staff. Superb views. Wide range of rooms. Ours was a large suite with a balcony. Good breakfast & restaurant. Wifi. Spa. Pool. Sat TV. And did I mention the views? My biggest complaint is the roughness of the pebbles in the big shower. Located on a hill, so there is uphill walking involved. Highly recommended.

    Best Restaurants of Our Trip

    While eating was good in Turkey, there was a sameness to almost every menu. Of course, we were in touristic areas so that might be part of it. And we didn’t stray from Turkish food. They all had kebaps & ʂiʂ. They all had some stews. They all had fresh fish. The lunchier spots usually had pizza & pide (Turkish pizza). Cappadocia added testi which is stewed meat and/or veggies in a small clay pot. Similar entrees averaged from 10TL to 22TL depending upon the location of the restaurant. The busier the locale was, the higher the price.


    Med Cezir - Kebap & Pide Restaurant - Sultanamet – Istanbul: Order the lamp chop kebaps & the bread. Just 3 small chops but they are exquisite. Other dishes are good but not a standout – except the bread. 50TL for 2

    Magnaura Cafe Restaurant – Akiyik Cad, 27 – Sultanamet – Istanbul: Seating outdoors can be noisy with the busy road but it is also good for people watching. However, this is a tourist area so that is what you will see. We had the marble steak – served on hot marble – and it was quite good. This restaurant was busy when all of their neighbors were empty. 80TL for two

    The Turquoise Coast - Ҫirali

    Arcadia Hotel – Ҫirali: Dinner on the beach. With tables set with linen in the sand & a crackling fire, does the food really matter? It was good, though. They have set menu or à la cart. I assume that they will take non-guest diners but check with them before you go. 80TL for 2

    Simge – Ҫirali: A laidback pizzeria in the village. Service takes a while but the pizza was very good. They also have other offerings on the menu.. 40TL for 2

    Oleander – Ҫirali: I liked this for the friendly atmosphere & the great flatbread. This is the place the locals go in town. Standard kebaps & ʂiʂ. The owner has a display of the offerings so you can point & choose. 50TL for 2

    Cappadocia - Göreme

    Nazar Börek Café – The first time you walk by it you will think: Are they crazy? This tiny nondescript café with one outdoor table can’t be the restaurant that is getting all of the raves. Trust me & go in. 25TL for 2

    Seten – I am including this even though we thought that it was overpriced. Just a few doors from the Kelebek, it is billed as fine dining. The service was, but the food – while good – was not. My wife had the Dry Bean with Pastrami which was just a bean soup for 25TL. I had the Seten Style Lamb Kebab for 40TL – which was just lamb & a very few veggies in a big standard pita. 90TL for 2


    When people ask: How was Turkey? I usually say: Great. What else can I say with a word or two? How can you describe The Blue Mosque? Or the absolute crush of crowds near the Bazaars? Or the fairy chimneys in Göreme? Turkey is like Europe Eastern Style. Istanbul has the narrow twisty streets like an Italian city but then there will be an ice cream guy at the end in his getup smacking his ‘scoop’ & doing his routine. And a kebap shop with their wonderful smells. And a carpet shop – always a carpet shop. I have never seen as many healthy street cats as I saw in Turkey. The tourists feed them & the Turks feed them & love them. Istanbul is a big busy city. Jammed with big city traffic, people, noise etc like any other & the beauty & history of its mosques & monuments equals anything in the world. North of the Golden Horn, it is a modern city – albeit with a Turkish twist. South of the Horn is the history, where every street holds the story of the glory of the Byzantine era, the rape of the Crusaders & the rise & fall of the Ottoman Empire. And around every bend is another fabulous view of the sea or the Bosporus. Intertwined with all of this is enough shopping potential to make your head spin. Because truly, Istanbul is one big bazaar.

    We really liked Turkey, but for us, Anatolia & Cappadocia were the special bits. Anatolia with its snow-capped mountains folding down to the sea. Beautiful doesn’t describe it. We saw such a small part of it, but I surely wanted more. And the scenery in Cappadocia is one of the rare unique parts of the earth. It must be seen to be believed.

    So there you have it. As I write this, I am in a Hampton Inn in Boca Raton - which is certainly the antithesis of everything I saw in Turkey. But I have to work so I can return to Turkey some day.


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    It seems you used Backpackers Travel for most of your airport transfers. Were you satisfied with them, their service and were they on time each time you scheduled them? (appears so from your description).


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