Turkey Trip Notes - Amazing! June 2009

Old Jul 21st, 2009, 07:01 PM
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Turkey Trip Notes - Amazing! June 2009

It's long, but with plenty of detail about a 3-week trip in Turkey June 2009. I hope it can help someone who is in the planning stage of taking a trip to this amazing place. Don't hesitate. I loved it there.

TRAVEL LOG: 3 WEEKS IN TURKEY

On June 16, 2009, I headed to Turkey with two friends, K & J. For a variety of reasons, we flew on different airlines and planned to meet up in the Istanbul international terminal. I went on Swiss Air, via Zurich, and had no problems.

Day 1 - ISTANBUL: We arrived to find the Istanbul airport clean and easy to use, although it took an hour to get through the line to buy a visa ($20 US). We met at the Starbuck's at a quiet end of the terminal. Our transfer was waiting and drove us to the AND hotel in Sultanahmet. This was the starting point for a 15-day tour with Intrepid Travel, an Australian travel company. We would join a group of 8 others and a tour leader. Our initial meeting was the next day at 6 p.m., so we had a day to catch up on sleep and acclimate to our surroundings. At this point, it was evening time, so we walked a short bit to the area between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. There is a park between with a large fountain. There were vendors out selling grilled corn on the cob, fresh pre-cut watermelon, and baked bread rounds called simit. Families were everywhere enjoying the lovely night. We noticed a number of boys wearing the satiny white circumcision outfits parading around with their parents, taking great pride in this moment. Too tired to decide on a place to eat (there are many -- with men touting "Lady, eat here!" as you go by), we went back to the hotel and ate on the rooftop terrace where the views far outweighed the food. I had some lentil soup and a bottle of Efes beer. I used my camera to video record the call to prayer around 9 p.m. and got 360 degree views of the Bosphorus, Hagia Sophia, and Blue Mosque at that magical moment when the sun has just set, but the sky is still lit in a dusty blue.

Day 2 ISTANBUL: I slept okay (beds are hard in Turkey -- pillows, too, nearly everywhere we stayed!). We ate breakfast back on the terrace. Most hotels provide sliced tomato, cucumber, feta cheese, olives, bread, and Greek-style yogurt. Coffee is Nescafe instant only, and there is plenty of cay ("chai") or tea. The Turks love their tea! My favorite was the sage tea. After breakfast, we walked across the street to the Bascilia Cistern. This is a large, underground cavern that was built in Justinian's day to store water brought in from an aqueduct outside the city. It is dark and damp and filled with large columns. You walk a dimly-lit path around the area -- the highlight being two huge Medusa heads used to prop up columns. They are massive and very cool looking. Since we got there early, there were few people inside. Later in the day when we passed it again, there were long lines. Next, we headed for the Hagia Sophia. This is a stunning piece of architecture! Now a museum, it was once a basilica before the Ottomans turned it into a mosque. There is a famous mosaic that has been partially recovered of Empress Zoe and Emporer Constantine flanking Mary holding Jesus. They say that the Statue of Liberty could easily fit inside, as could Paris' Notre Dame. Next, we cut through the park to see the Blue Mosque. Go up the steps into the courtyard and continue across (the first entrance is for those using the mosque for prayer). You take off your shoes, and they will provide a head covering if you've forgotten one). Inside it's quite big and well decorated with cushy carpet and the beautiful turquoise tiles they're known for. I was surprised to see so many foreign women with their head uncovered, and commented to my friends that it seemed disrespectful. We always made a effort to throw a scarf in our bag as we left each morning, just in case. We crossed the street outside the mosque where the ancient hippodrome had once been, marked by two large obelisks. On the other side was the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. It is located in the palace of Suleyman the Magnificent's former Grand Vizier (a childhood friend who he ultimately had killed -- lovely stories they have!). We had read in the Time Out guide that there was a nice café there. Not anymore. We backtracked and grabbed some food at a nearby cafeteria-style restaurant -- passable only. We went back to the museum; not crowded at all. It is filled with stone carvings, tile work, and carpets from the 16th and 17th centuries. If you like textiles, this a great spot to visit. We went back to the hotel to take an afternoon siesta, which helped immensely. At 6 p.m., we met up with the group we would be traveling with for the next 2 weeks. All the others were Aussies; we were the only Americans. The age range was wide, from 20 to 65 covering every decade in between. Two women work in Singapore. Many had been traveling already for a few months on their own before starting this Intrepid trip. We walked to the Sofa Café in Sultanahmet and ate dinner together before calling it a night. The restaurant was very good. I had the stuffed eggplant.

Day 3 ISTANBUL: We started together at 8:15 a.m. and took a walk around the city. We walked, following the tram line, from Sultanahmet to Eminonu, which is down by the water. On the way, we stopped at a shop to taste borek, a doughy food filled with cheese or spinach or cinnamon. It is a quick snack sold all over Turkey. Then we headed to one of the oldest sweets stores in Istanbul where they began making Turkish Delight generations ago. I am not a big fan, but tasting this treat seems to be a prerequisite around here. From there, we walked to the Galata Bridge. Our guide pointed out the Spice Market across the street. We walked through a maze of small pedestrian passages selling hardware supplies and found steps leading to the Rustem Pasa mosque -- a hidden gem. It is gorgeous inside and out, with beautiful tiles everywhere and dates to 1561. It was my favorite mosque visit on this trip. From there, we walked up hill to the Suleyman the Magnificent mosque. It is under renovation, so you really can't see anything inside, but the grounds are large and incude the tombs of both Suleyman and his infamous concubine/wife Roxelana. There were many kittens on the grounds - there are cats everywhere in Istanbul. I found many of the adult cats skittish of people, but the kittens are very approachable. (I carried hand sanitizer with me!) We continued our walk going by the university and then through the Grand Bazaar. We did not stop to shop, but I could see immediately why people feel overwhelmed by the experience. The book market part of the Grand Bazaar seemed the most calm and enjoyable.
Our afternoon was free, so my friends and I grabbed a sandwich at a nearby market (cheap and good!). This was also our first taste of sour cherry juice, sold in cans all over Turkey. Delicious! You must try it. We decided to get a taxi and go to the 11th c. Chora Church, about a 20-minute drive across Istanbul. This is a rare site -- a Christian Byzantine church with surviving frescoes and mosaics showing the life of Jesus from birth through crucifixion. It is small and astoundingly beautiful. There is a lovely garden for tea just across the way. We found ourselves squeezing between cruise ship tourists to see the inside. It wasn't too bad, but all the major sites in Istanbul seem to have hoards of these people disembarking. It can be hard to maneuver around when you run into these groups. One of my travel friends was determined to walk the "wall" around Istanbul. The wall (no longer surrounding Istanbul per se) was only a few blocks from the Chora Church. It's a bit of a rough neighborhood. We could not find any steps up to climb the wall that weren't covered in glass or extremely steep. Soon we gave up, walked back, grabbed a taxi and headed back. Friday traffic was very busy, so we had the taxi drop us off back at the Spice Market. We walked through and P bought some tea and spices as gifts. The sellers, as expected, try all kinds of ways to get you to pay attention to their shops. There were plenty of souvenir shops everywhere with the same stuff, even in the Spice Market. We exited on the other end and just started walking in the direction of Sultanahmet.
We walked through narrow streets full of clothing shops, family restaurants, and all shapes and sizes of businesses. Few cars, but many trucks parked in the middle of streets. You have to work your way around all kinds of things. No one bothered us because this is not a tourist area. Soon there were signs showing arrows to the Hagia Sophia, so we knew we were going in the right direction. I should mention here that the people in Turkey are very nice and kind to tourists. Even with the language barrier, we always felt comfortable asking people questions or for help with directions. If one person didn't understand, they would get someone else who might. It is in their nature to help you. After we got back to the hotel, we rested for a while before heading out to the Rumeli Café for dinner. These cafes line the street and it's hard to tell when the tables for one switch to the next. The food was pricey (for us, at least), but good. After dinner, we walked up the Divanyolu Road to the place with the best chocolate baklava in the world! It is called Said. They have a few other locations, too. One piece costs 1 TYR (about 75¢). They will wrap it for you to take back also.

Day 4 - BURSA: On the road today. The group took a ferry across the Sea of Marmara (1.5 hrs) and then 2 bus rides to arrive in Bursa. One of the things I like about Intrepid is that they purposely use public transportation whenever possible in order to fulfill their mission to be "green." In Turkey, this is easy to do. Public transportation is clean and on-time. All our hotels offered water bottle fill up for 50K (about 30¢). Bottled water is plentiful to purchase, but all those plastic bottles clog up the environment. I did not see any attempts to recycle in Turkey, so the refills helped. We checked in to the Arctic Hotel in downtown Bursa and crossed the street for lunch at a kebab place. Bursa is known for its silk -- being a stopping point along the Silk Road long ago. We walked in the markets and bought a few scarves as gifts. We also got delicious cherries, apricots and peaches. At 3 p.m., we got a taxi to take us to a local hamam (bath house). Our guide recommended it as a true cultural experience. It was! We paid for the scrub and massage. After undressing (we left our knickers on), we headed into the steam room with a hot water pool. The entire room was made of marble. While waiting your turn, you sit along the side on a bench, sweating out all those toxins, or taking a dip in the water. When it's your turn, you hand the lady two small tokens and then lay down on a marble slab in the middle of the room. First, you get the loofah scrub. It was vigorous, but not deadly. Next, she soaps you up. It occurred to me that I was like a car going through a drive-through carwash. I got the sense that some women spend all afternoon there. There were about 20 people in the haman, old women and young women. This is not a place for modesty. It just is what it is and nobody really cares. When we were done, we took a taxi back to the hotel and rested until our evening. A few hours later, we walked around the corner where we heard some local musicians perform for us in the basement of a local restaurant. One of these men, Murat, has a relationship with our tour company. He plays a recorder-like instrument called a Ney. These gentlemen jammed for a while, and we enjoyed listening and learning about traditional Turkish music. Afterwards, Murat walked us to his home a few blocks away where his wife cooked us a meal. We met his young sons and talked to him about life in Turkey and his passion for music. After the meal, he took us to the local Sufi cultural center where we for fortunate to observe the dervish Sema ritual as visitors. I stood in a loft-like area above where the men watched and danced below. There were about 40 Muslim women present with their children. The performance lasted about 35 minutes and was truly amazing to watch. This was not a tourist venue, and I was very aware of being grateful for such an experience. We walked home afterwards, hot, tired, and happy travelers!

Day 5 - SELCUK: After breakfast, we caught a local bus from Bursa to the otogar (bus station). Then we transferred to a larger bus for the 6.5 hr. drive. These buses are unbelievable -- very clean and comfortable. Along with the driver, there is a attendant to take care of people (kind of like a flight attendant on an airplane). He brings around water and snacks (free). It is a very different experience than the typical Greyhound bus! We arrived and, after dropping things at the Akay hotel (www.hotelakay.com), we took a dolmus to the hill town called Sirince to taste fruit wines and see their market. Upon returning, took a quick jump in the pool to cool off. After shower and change, we walked to the TAT restaurant where Russell showed us an assortment of mezas in the window. We simply pointed out what we wanted. The food was delicious. One note -- this town is known for the storks that nest here. Everywhere you spot tall columns and places where these birds are raising their young. It was very cool.

Day 6 - SELCUK: We began our day, after breakfast of course, by walking to the remaining column from the temple of Artemis. Yup, there were storks nesting atop it. From there, we headed to the local museum with many architectural artifacts taken from the Ephesus digs over the years. Originally, a lot was taken to the British Museum and another museum in Vienna -- years before people realized the value of what they had. Anyway, there is wonderful statuary, ancient gold jewelry, glass, and many small figures. This gave us some good context since we were headed to the Ephesus site later in the day (known as Efes here). Our guide said that many of the cruise ship groups go in the a.m., so it was better to go later in the day when they had cleared out. We had time to explore now, so K, P, and I went back to the shopping area to look around and find some lunch. We met an interesting woman who owns a rug shop with her husband. She is originally from Belgium, but married a Turkish man and settled here. She makes miniature Persian rugs for high-end dollhouse collectors. I love textiles, and it was great to have her explain many of the nuances of Turkish rugs. We also popped into a store we loved with lots of interesting old jewelry. The owner, with her husband, was so friendly and genuine -- it was a nice change from the assertive tact of many retail owners. I bought a silver ring with Arabic carved into an agate base.
We walked up to Basilica of St. John ruins on a nearby hill. Another Justinian structure from the 6th c. The ruins were beautiful. Down the hill a bit is a local 14th c. mosque called the Isa Bey Mosque. We peeked in to see rows of prayer rugs laid out waiting for the next call to prayer. On the way out, we were met by the owner of the souvenir shop next door -- the Imam from the mosque. He introduced his family members and insisted we take a card with a photo of the mosque on the front and our names, written in Arabic, inside. He put on some CDs of local music, and we were taken. It was mesmerizing -- similar to what we had heard in Bursa. He explained about how his mosque had been devastated by earthquakes in the 19th century. He was so personable. It was fun to talk with him. We grabbed a quick lunch at the hotel and prepped for our trip to Ephesus
-- it was very HOT outside! First we stopped at a local spot where women were making Gozleme -- a sweet or savory snack common in Turkey. A few of us had a chance to make it in the traditional way -- sitting down with a board on your lap and rolling out dough. It was cooked in a wood-burning oven. We all ate and enjoyed the calm moment. Next, we rode in a local dolmus to the Ephesus site where we met our guide, Ali. For 2.5 hours we walked throughout the site, astonished by the good condition of the ruins. The library, in particular, was outstanding as was the amphitheater. I was exhausted from the heat. By the time we returned to the hotel, I was too tired to eat anything. My body just needed sleep.

Day 7 - PAMMUKALE: Time to move on. We were back on a bus system to go to Pammukale -- known for its travertine terraces. We could see them on the side of the mountain as we came closer to it. It reminded me of milk dribbling down. You could not miss it. After we checked into the family-run hotel, and a dip in the pool, we walked a half mile to the bottom of the terraces. Once you arrive on the white calcium deposits, you are required to take off your shoes and walk barefoot. Fortunately, the stone beneath is pretty "grippy" so although it's wet, you get a good foothold as you walk. This was the first time we ran into a "united nations" of tourists. You could here many different languages spoken. For most, the tour buses deposit groups at the top. Speaking of the top, there you find the ruins of Hierapolis. K, P, and I decided to go to the hot springs for a short bit (skip it), and then we walked around the ruins. It was late in the day, so we had it almost to ourselves. This site has a huge necropolis with more than 1,200 tombs. You can walk freely throughout the ruins. We stayed at the top to watch the sunset over the travertines -- an amazing color show reflecting in the pools of water in the terraces. It was magical. We were picked up at the top in the hotel van and returned just in time for a delicious meal prepared for us, al fresco, on the hotel terrace. A beautiful day.

Day 8 - KAYAKOY: We grabbed a dolmus (local van service like a shared taxi) to the otogar for another bus trip. We were headed to Kayakoy, specifically to a hotel at the foot of the abandoned Greek town once called Karmylassos. In 1923, as part of a peace settlement between the Turks and Greeks, had Greeks and Turks in both countries repatriated. The Turkish government sent 1.25 million ethnic Greeks back to Greece, and a much smaller portion of ethnic Turks were resettled in Turkey as part of the political exchange. As such, there were towns left to ruin as residents were sent packing. Among the ruins on a steep hill, you can spot the bright blue paint that once decorated the house interiors. It is rocky, and goats roam freely around the space. A portion of the Lycian Way cuts through the top part of this village. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon, and a few of us decided to walk up to an abandoned church in the village ruins. I was tired and chose to walk back to the hotel with a few others while another small group hiked up to a "prison" building at the top of the village. I can't remember eating dinner, although I'm sure I did -- perhaps at the hotel. The no-brainer food choice was always "season" salad and a toasted cheese sandwich. Early to bed -- the next day we hike the Lycian Way.

Day 9 - KAYAKOY: Today we headed back to the village ruins to catch the Lycian Way trail. The first 20 minutes were pretty treacherous with loose rock and steep inclines. Our tour leader kept in front of us, carrying a large stick to wipe away spider webs that had stretched over our path. Starting today, we had an additional guide-in-training join the group to learn the ropes of this particular trip. He was the "sweeper" for our hike. Once we made it through the village to the top of the hillside, the trail wound through pine forests. I found a porcupine quill! We hiked for about 3.5 hours, coming across the top to see our first view of the beautiful Mediterranean Ocean. What a color blue! Toward the end, one person in the group took a spill and bruised her tailbone badly. This is an area that requires a lot of focus. We continued to the Blue Lagoon area of Olu Deniz where we found a restaurant by the beach that would let us change into swimsuits. The beach was free, but chair and umbrellas cost a small bit. The beach is filled with smooth rocks that are tough on the feet! Still, I had to swim in the Mediterranean. Some of us ventured in the water (it was cold!) and relaxed for a few hours. Then we caught the dolmus to Fethiye, one of three towns that make a small triangle. We ate lunch on the harborside there, and then trekked toward the Lycian tombs that were built into the side of a cliff in town. As we wandered streets trying to find our way, children greeted us with "Hi!" and old gentlemen sitting over backgammon games pointed in a general direction for us. We found the tombs and, pretty exhausted from our morning hike, headed back to the dolmus stop. Generally, the dolmus driver waits until his van fills before going on. Ours starting driving reeeeally slowly with his window down, honking at potential riders as he rolled on down the street. Halfway to the hotel, he had about 7 new riders using this strategy. It was pretty funny. Back in "Kaya", we showered and napped for a few hours. Dinner was at the hotel (nothing special).

Day 10 - BOAT: We took a dolmus to the small harbor town of Kas ("cash") where were supposed to get on our boat. Due to some rough waves, instead the boat waited for us in Ucagiz. We still walked around Kas -- a lovely town with great food and shopping. Our friend who took the spill while hiking went to a local pharmacy (Ecaze) to get some medication for her pain. In Turkey, you just explain what ails you to the pharmacist, and they give you what you need. Our tour leader encouraged her to see a doctor (walk-in) just in case, so our friend did. Turns out that having a doctor visit was requisite for her to file for reimbursement on her travel insurance for medical care. Anyway, after a few hours of shopping, we took another dolmus to Ucagiz where we embarked on our boat trip. Immediately, we were in swimsuits and lounging on the top part of the boat, soaking in the sun and reading or talking or playing cards. We put down anchor in various parts and swam. It was tremendously relaxing. We slept on the deck of the boat, looked at the stars. Some people checked out the small island of Simena and ate delicious ice cream (homemade) there.

Day 11 - UCAGIZ: We disembarked in the late afternoon and checked into our pension. This is a little town! After walking around briefly (and showering, first), I purchased a few bracelets from the local women. They do this beautiful beadwork with crochet stitches to create bracelets and necklaces. Simple and elegant. We ate al frescoe again at a wonderful restaurant right on the water. Great mesas and other yummy dishes. Fresh. Good wine. Life is good.

Day 12 - KONYA: We left the coast today and had a long bus ride to a more central part of Turkey. Sadly, one person in our group had to leave to attend a funeral, so we dropped her off in Antalya to catch a plane. It was 8 hours on a bus -- lots of ipod and book time. Fortunately, the bus seats are comfortable enough to nap in easily. We arrived in Konya around 6: 30 p.m. and took a dolmus to the hotel. Lugging baggage around is not always easy -- packing efficiently for this trip was so important. The location of our hotel was great. The hotel itself -- not so much. It was down a side street, and the interior was dark and dingy. Fortunately, it was a one-night stop and they had free internet for guests (many of our hotels did). We went to dinner and then walked up the main street, Ankara Cadessi. At one end is the Alaeddin Mosque and the Karatay museum (tile museum), and the other end has the Mevlana Museum (dedicated to Sufi mystic Mevlana Rumi). We went to bed pretty tired.

Day 13 - GOREME: After breakfast, we walked the Ankara Caddesi together once more and then headed down a side street to the Kecici felt workshop (www.thefeltmaker.net). Felting has a history here; the iconic dervish hats are made of felt, and this particular workshop provides them for rituals throughout Konya. Sylvia showed us how they make their beautiful designs for wall hanging and other art pieces, explaining each step. We had the next hour free and found ourselves having to choose between one end of Ankara Caddesi and the other. Not enough time to do both. We chose to go to the Karatay Museum. This former Medrassah houses a small, but beautiful collection of tiles. We grabbed some fruit from the street vendors for the bus ride and met back with our group. About 3 hours later, we arrived in Goreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. This was the place, other than Istanbul, that I was most eager to see and experience. The landscape is nearly indescribable (but I will try). There are rocky formations everywhere that range from cone shapes used as houses (long ago, and even now!) and funny "fairy chimney" forms that stand tall and slender with mushroom caps balancing on their tops. It is surreal. People have carved all kinds of living spaces (and even religious ones) in to these rocks. We checked into the Arch Palace Hotel which is in one of these rocks (www.archpalace.com). The town, in general, still lives this way. There seem to be a lot of ex-pats here from various countries as there are many outdoor activities in the area for tourists. The town is walkable in all accounts and easy to get around in. We had enough time after arrival to go to a carpet lecture by a woman named Ruth at Tribal Collections. She did a great job explaining the ins and outs of tribal rugs in the area. We met back at the hotel and traveled by dolmus to the home of a man named Nazim who invites Intrepid groups to his house for dinner. He lives in one of these carved-out homes of rock and has a terrace looking out over a set of ruins no longer inhabited. We sat outside as the sun set and ate wonderful, traditional food and drank local wine. I really enjoyed the moments when I could talk with people who live in these places, meet their families, and feel as though I was invited to learn the culture.

Day 14 - GOREME: This morning, 5 of us had an early call. We were picked up at 4:55 a.m. to go for a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia. We set this up previously with Kapadokya Balloons, one of the oldest and most respected ballooning companies in Goreme. As the sun rose, we drove a few miles outside of the town and watched as the balloon was filled with air. We climbed in and moments later had an awe-inspiring ride. For about an hour we saw the rock formations from above. There were many balloons in the area, probably about 20 in the air at the same time. Our pilot kept us safely out of the mix -- we passed over the Red River. We landed (yes, we tipped -- I was laughing so hard -- I never felt that we were not completely safe) and had some champagne upon landing. It was an experience I will never forget. Back at the hotel by 8 a.m., we joined everybody else and headed out to hike in the valleys around Goreme. Our guide, Osman, was an interesting fellow. As hot as it was outside, he was dressed in blue jeans and stopped to smoke along the way (whenever we stopped to catch our breathe or snap a photo). He was very knowledgeable about the area. We hiked first through Pigeon Valley and then through Love Valley. There are very steep parts that go up and down on the trails, so hiking boots or trail runners are a must! No loose rocks, but a lot of sandy, gravely parts that can be slippery. The scenery was amazing. One of my favorite parts of the trip. We saw a few people along the way (there was a tea house in one part), and I could not imagine knowing where I was going on these trails without a guide. I'm sure your hotel could put you in touch with a guide. Our hike was just a half-day. The afternoon we had free which was tremendously helpful. When I travel with so much to do each day, I need some hours once in a while to take a physical and emotional break. K, P, and I met for lunch and then shopped a bit. P bought a small rug; I bought a grain sack. K found a small shop full of those fantastic beaded, crochet bracelets, etc. She bought a boatload as gifts. The shop owner, along with her sister, make these at home and sell them with the help of her teenage son, Emre. These women are so skilled (and modest) at their handiwork. That evening, some people when on an ATV tour around the area, stopping for wine and cheese along the way. I did not go (it was optional), but those who did said it was a highlight. We met for dinner at a restaurant in Goreme -- a local specialty is a meat stew cooked in a terra cotta pot -- it is sealed for cooking and then broken open for you at your table. Since I am a vegetarian (no red meat), I ate the stuffed mushrooms with garlic. There are many choices in most places we ate, even for vegetarians. This may be a good place to mention that, before traveling to Turkey, we were warned off using their water. I bought a water bottle with a built in filter just in case. I used it to brush my teeth, but drank bottled water (and refills) most of the time. I ate a lot of vegetables that were washed with their water, and I never felt sick at all. I typically don't have a sensitive stomach, but I brought some Cipro just in case. You don't have to worry about ice -- it's rarely served in drinks (or available).

Day 15 - GOREME: This morning, we had time to decide what we wanted to do. P, K & I got a ride from our hotel owner, Mustafa, to the Goreme Open Air Museum. It was only about a mile away. We wanted to get there as it opened, and we did -- but there were big buses with tour groups everywhere already! This was my second brush with a "united nations" moment. There were large groups with guides speaking Japanese, Italian, French, German. We tried to go the opposite route around the grounds than the large groups. The museum is a UNESCO world heritage site (I'm pretty sure), and it features amazing religious and communal spaces that were built into the rocks beginning in the 9th century. Some show early drawing featuring Christian symbols inside while others, done later, have beautiful frescoes of scenes from the Bible. You can visit inside the Apple Church, Dark Church (extra lira, but worth it), Sandals Church, Snake Church, and St. Barbara Church -- all are on the grounds. Down the road a bit is the Buckle Church, not to be missed. Even with crowds, this was an exquisite experience. We walked back down the main road toward town, and stopped at the ceramics shop at the foot of the crossroads. On three levels, down into the basement, you see all types and qualities of Turkish ceramics. Many of the souvenir shop bowls and things are made with lead in the glazes, so if you want to purchase something you will use, be sure to clarify what you are buying. There is a great used book store (in English) toward the end of this street, too. They will make you a delicious carry-out sandwich as well. K & I did this, and bought fresh juice on the street (made to order all over Turkey). We were expected back at the hotel where we met Osman, our guide, again for a 30 minute ride to Derrinkuyu -- an underground city built by the Hitites to avoid raiders, etc. It is one of the biggest of these troglodyte cities around the region. We were there early afternoon, and pretty much had the place to ourselves which was a good thing. Very interesting place, but if you're clautrophoic, forget it! The trip took about 2 hours total, and we were back in Goreme with just enough time to grab our bags and head out of town. We took a private dolmus for a 4 hour ride to the Ankara train station where we got on our overnight train back to Istanbul. I had never ridden in a sleeper car. There were four of us in our berth -- it was a tight squeeze, and I took a Tylenol P.M. to get whatever sleep I could. (I am not much for pharmaceuticals, but it worked.) We celebrated one girl's 23rd birthday in the dining car with baklava, Efes beer and Raki (Turksih liquor).

Day 15 - ISTANBUL: We arrived around 7 a.m. and took the ferry to the European side of Istanbul. Intrepid arranged for a day room at a hotel close to the ferry port. We met for a farewell breakfast, said our goodbyes, and quickly checked out of the hotel. K, P & I planned to stay a few more days, and splurged on a nicer hotel, the Empress Zoe (www.emzoe.com). We were eager to move on to greener pastures. It was still early, but we grabbed a taxi and headed there. Luckily, we were told the previous guests had an early check-out so our room would be ready by 10 a.m. How nice! This gave us a chance to walk down the street to find the A La Turka cooking school (www.cookingalaturka.com). Our Intrepid tour leader had mentioned how she's always wanted to take a class there, and I was very interested. The owner was out of town (she spoke English), but her partner (who spoke Turkish) was there. After a few moments of charades ("Is there a class tonight?" "What is the menu?"), he called the Empress Zoe and asked the reception manager to do some translating. We passed the phone back and forth until we got it sorted out. P & I would come back on Saturday night to cook a fabulous Turkish dinner (more to come later). We return to the hotel and check out the terrace for a cup of tea. Within minutes, our room is ready. We rest briefly, but had promised to meet someone from our Intrepid Group who was staying solo at a nearby hotel for the night before flying back to Sydney. We walk a few blocks, rendezvous, and head to the Mosaic Museum which is accessed through a door in the Arasta Bazaar. It takes a little bit of searching, but is worth finding. This small museum features the Roman mosaics that once filled the Byzantine palaces of the area. We grabbed some lunch at an outdoor café, shopped the Bazaar, and then parted ways. I definitely needed some sleep. Back at the hotel, we took naps and showered. We went back at the Sofa Café (where we ate our first night with our tour group). Then we walked back to our favorite baklava place (Said on Divanyolu Road). After our meal, a walk around Sultanahmet was perfect.

Day 16 - ISTANBUL: Today we were up early and ate breakfast in the garden at the Empress Zoe. Real coffee! I was so excited. I never did try Turkish coffee -- it seemed to be more of an after dinner drink whereas apple tea was offered to us over and over again, especially in stores. Anyway, we walked to the tram stop. You have to buy a jeton in order to ride the tram. We finally found the place to purchase them (1.5 TRY/ride). The tram was clean and cool inside. We rode it to the end of the line, going across the Bosphorus on the Galata Bridge, to the Kabatas stop. From there, we walked a bit north until we came to Dolmabahce Palace. One of the last Ottoman sultans decided to build this palace in 1856 (it took years) to "upgrade" from Topkapi Palace, ultimately hoping to impress Europe with this over the top, Liberace-loving, crystal chandelier-filled house. You cannot take any photos inside, but that was okay with me. It didn't feel very Turkish to me. There is one bedroom where Ataturk died, and the clocks have been stopped at 9:05 a.m. (the time he died) to honor him. You also have to wear these funny plastic shower-cap-like things on your shoes to walk around inside. We ate some lunch at a café just past the gardens (famous for loaded baked potatoes). We walked back to the tram stop where you can catch an underground funicular that brings you up a steep hill to Taksim Square. This is definitely a more modern area of Istanbul. We walked down the pedestrian Istiklal Caddesi which is Beyoglu's main street. It was once filled with embassies (when Istanbul was capital); now they are consulates. There are many, many shops just like the malls here at home. Some of the side streets offer more interesting things to see. There is the fish market, the Pera Museum, and some smaller bazaar-like streets with small shops (e.g. Avrupa Pasaji). At the bottom of the street, we took the tunnel underground which lets you off at the foot of the Galata Bridge. From there, we walked across the bridge (filled with fishermen). We caught the tram back to Sultanahmet and walked back to the hotel. I'm sure we had walked many miles at that point. It was 4 p.m. at this point. We rested back at the hotel, and then ate dinner at a little restaurant across the street from the hotel.

Day 17 - ISTANBUL: Our goal today was to visit Topkapi Palace. We had heard that you could spend many hours there, and it's true! Mehmet II built the palace in the mid-15th c. and the Ottomans ruled from here for centuries. The Harem rooms are amazing with their tilework. We walked in when it opened (not too crowded) and when straight to the Harem area (extra payment). We also found the audio tour to be quite good. We continued to the treasury (gold galore!) and walked throughout the grounds. It was hot and was soon quite crowded. We headed to the Archaeology Museum (on the Topkapi grounds) afterwards and walked around for a while, but were too tired to really concentrate on the pieces there -- it seemed like a good collection -- we were just "museum-ed out". We ate some lunch, did some last minute shopping (kilim pillow cases, a small glass mosaic lamp, a few glass evil eyes, etc.) and went back to the hotel to pack. P & I went to cooking class/dinner at 4:30. Three other people showed up to participate, and we had a great time helping prep and cook our menu together with the chef. The 5 courses (and wine) included zucchini fritters with garlic yogurt sauce, spicy lentil and bulgur soup, lamb stew in tomato sauce with smoky eggplant, and walnut-stuffed sugared figs. At 8 p.m., we headed back to the hotel. My transfer to the airport was scheduled to pick me up at 1 a.m. My flight on Swiss Air departed at 4:25 a.m. I got a couple hours of fitful sleep before my wake-up call. My flights home were easy. I found the area in the Zurich airport that had dayrooms for travelers. The airport is very clean and efficient. I spent $25 US to sleep for 3.5 hours before my flight to Chicago. Since I was by myself, having a secure, clean place to sleep for a few hours was great! It was worth the money. I boarded my flight and made it home 8 hours later.

Last thoughts: Turkey is an amazing place, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to travel outside Istanbul to see more sights and meet more people. Three weeks went by quickly, and we moved around quite a bit, but the pace did not feel rushed because of the relaxed nature of the people there. They are happy to meet tourists who respect their culture and appreciate the differences between people and cultures. I will definitely try to return to Turkey another day. It has a tremendous amount to offer the traveler who enjoys history, good food, and beautiful scenery, and exotic tales.
tchpeace is offline  
Old Jul 21st, 2009, 08:21 PM
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Thank-you!!! Want to go again NOW! Very nice detailed report and man you really moved around Turkey. I was exhausted by the end and wanted a hookam smoke and a glass of apple tea.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2009, 03:16 AM
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Lovely report! As a fellow non-meat eater, I was pleased to
hear you ate well everywhere (and with no stomach upsets).
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Old Jul 22nd, 2009, 03:55 AM
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Thanks for the report! I'm beginning my research so I really appreciate the info.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2009, 09:04 PM
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What a wonderful report-It brought back many wonderful memories of our trip to Turkey Sept 06.Thank you so much-Chris
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Old Jul 23rd, 2009, 12:37 PM
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I appreciate your report. I am also considering a three week trip of roughly 22 days, but I was hoping to cover more areas - east and west (skip any Gulets), but it seems like you took it easier and didn't try to do too much in the Eastern section. Hmmm.. I need to think about it. Thanks for the details
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Old Nov 1st, 2009, 07:18 PM
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Thanks so much for the wonderful report. We are in the early stages of planning for a 2 1/2 week to Turkey at the very end of April 2010, the more we read the more we wish we had at least a month! Hopefully this will be the first of several visits.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2009, 01:15 AM
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Thanks for sharing, tp.

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Old Oct 26th, 2011, 07:53 PM
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I’m resurrecting this old trip report because I want to thank tchpeace for it. I’m in the very, very early stages of planning a 3-4 week trip to Turkey, and found this report very helpful. I greatly appreciated the details, including (among many other things) the warning about hard beds and the recommendation to try sour cherry juice.

If I read correctly, tchpeace took half-day hikes along part of the Lycian Way and also in the Pigeon and Love Valleys. Both sound wonderful, but I’m not sure I can do both. If I have to choose between them, any thoughts?
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