Turkey’s Magical Hideaways
April 11 – May 3, 2008
Everyone asks us: Why are you going to Turkey? Anthony Bourdain, the noted traveling chef’s answer is as good as any: “Don’t tell me what a man says or what a man knows…tell me where he has traveled, for travel brings wisdom”.
From Alexander the Great, to the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, Turkey’s colorful history has left remarkable cultural riches: ancient Greco-Roman ruins, Byzantine churches, Ottoman mosques. Its natural wonders are equally impressive: soaring mountains, fanciful tufa rock formations, and sparkling Mediterranean coves and beaches. This is Asia Minor, where east meets west; where Europe meets Asia…the crossroads of civilization.
From the glittering Turquoise Coast to Istanbul’s legendary Bosporus Strait, Turkey is awash in history: home to 10,000 years of culture, the world’s first city, and sultans who created glorious empires from volcanic soil. From the bazaars, palaces and mosques of exotic Istanbul, to the cave churches of Goreme, and the vast Konya Plateau where Sufi dervishes whirl; we will walk in the footsteps of saints and legionnaire in Ephesus, visit the village where the prophet Abraham lived, descend into elaborate Cappadocian cave cities, and sail for five days aboard a gulet-style yacht to experience the “Blue Voyage”. Everyone we know who has traveled there says this is one of the best of all adventure travel opportunities…so continuing our search for wisdom, we book our trip for Turkey’s Magical Hideaways with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT).
Day 1, Friday, April 11 – Green Bay to New York to Istanbul
The Bay City Taxi picks us up at 4:30 AM and takes us through the empty, rain slicked street to the airport for our 6:00 AM Northwest Airlines’ flight to New York city. OAT had originally booked us to New York on American Airlines but a small schedule change on the Turkish Airline flight to Istanbul caused a change in our itinerary with a 24 hour overnight stay in New York. Unacceptable. OAT refunds the stateside air and Norma gets a cheap Northwest Airlines same-day flight with a 4 ½ hour cushion to make the terminal change. With American grounding 1200 plus flights for safety checks and stranding 100,000 passengers on Thursday and Friday, the luck of the Irish is with us.
We make all connections and are now aboard Turkish Airlines flight # 002 in route to Istanbul, Turkey. We had asked for two side seats on the side but instead we get the middle…all four seats for the two of us. We await the backed up queue on the runway at JFK in a heavy fog, hoping to get on our way. A breeze comes in, the fog dissipates, and off we go. Then the beverage cart comes around. We remember the no alcohol rule on Egypt Air but are pleasantly surprised to see a whole array of beer, wine and spirits…at no charge, of course.
As we fly over the Atlantic, we review a little about the mysterious Turkey we are visiting. Turkey (Turkiye) is physically divided into eight distinct areas: The Aegean, The Mediterranean, West Anatolia, East Anatolia, Cappadocia, Thrace, The Black Sea, and Istanbul. We visit all but Thrace and the Black Sea areas in our travels through Turkey. Its ancient to modern cultures include Hittite, Persian, Lydian, Lycian, Greek or Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and finally the current Turkish Republic. Our travels will see elements of all these cultures.
Our first Turkish meal aboard our flight is excellent, as is the Yakut red wine. Then we take our sleeping pills, put on our eyeshades, put in earplugs, and try to sleep.
Day 2, Saturday, April 12 – Istanbul to Adana
Eight hours later after a restless slumber, we’re awakened for breakfast and prepare to land in Turkey. We arrive in Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport about 10:00 AM, clear customs and head to the domestic terminal for an in-country flight to Adana to start the pre-trip extension. In route, we meet our fellow travelers: Pat & Mary (Minneapolis/St Paul, MN), John & Jan (St Simons Island, GA), Tony & Mary Anne (Mendocino, CA), and Kathy & Joann (Detroit area, MI). We also meet our tour guide who will be with us the entire trip…Oguz Kaya…pronounced OHZ (the g & u are silent)…a 39 year old Turk who speaks very good English, is very knowledgeable, very energetic, and very proud of his country.
We start our pre-trip of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean area with our base in the city of Adana, the fourth largest Turkish city with a population of more than a million people. From here we’ll experience teachings, mysteries, and traditions of biblical proportions…literally. We visit Antioch with roots dating back to the time of Saints Peter and Paul; we travel into Mesopotamia, visit Gaziantep and Mount Nemrut…places steeped in religious history. We tour the ancient city of Harran, the town of Abraham in the Old Testament. We visit the grotto chapel of Saint Peter, and marvel at the intricate designs of the second richest mosaic museum in the world. We see the fusion of Old World beliefs and modern day worship.
By 2:00 PM, we’re settled in the Adana Hilton Hotel…in a beautiful 11th floor room overlooking the Seyhan River and the massive Sabanci Central Mosque. After some time to unpack, we gather for an information meeting with Oguz and a walking tour along the river to the mosque. Sabanci Mosque was completed in 1998 and is Turkey’s largest mosque; rivaling most in the Middle East for shear size. Mosques, the equivalent of churches or synagogues, are everywhere as over 99 percent of Turkey’s population is Muslim. Large or small, all follow a similar plan: a central prayer hall that is carpeted and usually located under a dome, a decorative niche in the wall marking the direction of Mecca called the mihrah, a lofty pulpit to the right of the mihrah called the minbar where the imam (head of the mosque) delivers the Friday sermon, an ablution fountain outside in the courtyard used by worshippers for ritual washing, and at least one balconied tower called a minaret where five times daily, loudspeakers call the faithful to prayer. The architectural style of this mosque follows that of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and features a rare six minarets. Visitors are welcome at any mosques but should avoid visits at prayer times. Shoes are removed or disposable shoe covers worn before entering the prayer hall, and women are expected to cover their heads and shoulders (scarves are provided).
We return to the hotel, crossing a 2nd Century AD, fourteen-arched Roman Stone Bridge, probably the oldest bridge in existence that still carries vehicular traffic. Our welcoming dinner is in the hotel featuring a Turkish buffet with meat kebabs, baked sea bass, stuffed cabbage leaves, anti-pasta bar, salads and dessert. All taste excellent. We’re off to bed early as we attempt to adjust to the time difference (8-hours ahead).
Day 3, Sunday, April 13 – Antioch
After breakfast we head south for Antakya, the ancient city of Antioch. Founded in 300 BC, Antioch is the city where St. Peter, St Paul & St. Barnabas established the first communities of faithful labeled “Christians”. During the whole trip we travel in very new and comfortable mini-buses. All of our drivers are called George for ease in pronunciation and communication. George also insures that the bus has a supply of bottled water for our convenience. In route we pass the large US Air Force Base called Incirlik, heavily used in support of our military activities in Iraq. The landscape is so different than expected…lots of green fields, mountains and water.
One of the perks while traveling with OAT is the “discovery stops” in addition to those in the published itinerary. We get our first at a small village called Paya. The remains of a large Roman fort built of stone in the 1st Century AD guards an important river crossing. Next to it are the remains of a Caravanserai (hostelry), also built of stone, dating back to the 13th-14th Centuries AD. Dotted across Anatolia are many hans (storage depots) and caravanserais built to protect merchants traveling along the caravan routes (Silk Road & Spice Road) that crisscrossed Anatolia. Under the Ottoman Empire, they became part of the state sponsored social welfare system playing a key role in the expansion of the empire. The large complexes consisted of a courtyard surrounded by various amenities including stables, a mosque, a Turkish bath, and accommodations (food & lodging) for up to 2000 travelers and their camels, plus a large covered hall where trade goods could be safely stored and/or bartered. Remains of the hundred or so hans and carvavanserais that once dotted the countryside can still be visited today. Walking through the ruins of this large facility is just awesome…our first taste of Turkey’s incredible history.
We arrive in Antakya in time to catch a church service, ironically in a Methodist church for the Korean community in the city. Much smaller than the nearby mosques, it does demonstrate that other religious worship is tolerated. In fact Islam and its Koran believe in the Old Testament and consider Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed as the four prophets of Allah, with Mohammed being the last and greatest. The old Jewish and early Christianity sites and personages are both respected and reverently visited.
Its lunch time…time for another discovery. South of Antakya lays Harbiye, famed for its forests of cypress and laurel, and its waterfalls and trout streams. There are also several excellent restaurants located there. We enjoy lunch al fresco overlooking a roaring waterfall with many ducks in the falls as well as underfoot. We enjoy what we soon learn is a typical Turkish meal: several cold plates of appetizers called mezes consisting of vegetable dishes (tomatoes & cucumbers to die for), stuffed grape leaves, dough stuffed with meat or cheese, cheeses, olives, and homemade bread. The main course is meat or fish, served in a smaller quantity than in America. Dessert is usually some type of sweet or a pudding. Almost all restaurants, simple or fancy, offer a small glass of black tea to end the meal. Today we have Adana kebabs, the regional variation of spicy grilled beef & lamb. Kebab means grilled, and can be of meat, fish, vegetables or a combination, and not every variety of kebab is on a skewer. Anyway, our meal is delicious, especially with a small bottle of local red wine.
With full bellies, we head for St. Peter’s Grotto but stop in route for quick visit (and potty stop) at the Saran Hotel…a former soap factory now renovated into a Five Star hotel. On a hillside at the edge of town is a series of caves dug into the cliff walls. One is known as St. Peter’s Grotto, said to be the location where St. Peter gathered the first “Christians” in 35-36 AD, and where St. Paul began all three of his major apostolic journeys in 46-60 AD. In 1983, it was proclaimed by the Vatican as a holy place and visited by the Pope on his visit to Turkey. A stone church built during the Crusades covers the cave entrance, and unfortunately, it is currently under renovation so our pilgrimage ends at the gate.
On to the Archaeology Museum that houses one of the most impressive collection of Roman mosaics in the world. Dating from the 1st to the 3rd Centuries AD, they depict mythological scenes and godly figures. We walk about the streets and mingle with the local people before heading back the our hotel in Adana.
Day 4, Monday, April 14 – To Gazientep & Sanliurfa
We depart the Mediterranean Coast area and head inland, into the mountains and the Upper Mesopotamia area of Turkey. The landscape changes from the green fields and forests to rocky tan dry high desert like we find in western New Mexico. And the temperature climbs into the 80s. Our first destination is Gazientep, known for its pistachios, copper crafting, and baklava (the best in Turkey). Gazientep has boomed in recent years to a city of over 1 million, mainly from its proximity to the GAP Project (more on this later) and the large Industrial Free Trade Zone. Turkey is the industrial giant of the Middle East region, exporting everything to the neighboring countries.
We park in the old town in the ruin of a caravanserai and walk to the market. We wind through the narrow passageways packed with items of all shapes and descriptions. All similar items are grouped together so one can wander from the leather area to the copper area to the spice area, etc. Everything a person uses in a home, from food to spices to pots to small appliances to hardware to clothing to kitchen gadgets, etc, etc, can be found here…many made by hand. We purchase a small decorative teapot in the copper market, taste some nuts & candies in the sweets section, and stop at the bakery section where our guide treats us all to baklava, supposed the best in Turkey (good restaurants in Istanbul import baklava from Gazientep). Baklava is specialty sweet, small cubes or rolls made of puff pastry that are coated in syrup or honey and sometimes filled with chopped nuts.
At the far end of the market is a restaurant that specializes in Turkish pizza and kebabs. And its time for lunch. A waiter brings around samples of what’s on today’s menu and Jim & Norma order an Eggplant/Meatball kebab. When it arrives, our waiter Seva demonstrates how to get the eggplant out of the skin, mix in the meat, pepper & spices, put it in the bread, and eat it like a burrito. It tastes delicious. Then it’s our turn to fix the next one…not as easy as it looks. All the customers in the restaurant watch as we proceed. Cameras are clicking away. It turns out to be a good social interaction for us. We have baklava for dessert, of course.
With tummies filled again, we find our bus and continue on to the Euphrates River where we stop at a wild life refuge dedicated to saving the Bald Ibis, a bird that is nearing extinction do to lost of habitat in both Egypt (its southern terminus) and Turkey (its northern). We continue on to Helfite, a town partially submerged by the Ataturk Dam and the GAP Project. We board a small riverboat, The Black Rose, commanded by Captain Nemo, who is dressed like Darren McGavin in “The Love Boat”, and sail along the edge of the submerged town where the top of a minaret, all that remains of the mosque, sticks out of the water. We sail around the strategically located fort of Rumkale, built in 840 BC during the late Hittite period and later occupied and expanded by the Romans. This is also a holy place for Christians as Apostle John worked on his writings here. The cliff face is dotted with caves similar to those at Bandelier National Monument and are said to date to 3000 BC.
After a full day of exploration, we’re back on the bus in route to our hotel in Sanliurfa. But first, the troops are thirsty and need beer, so we stop in a small village and start our search. Oguz, Captain Nemo & Jim set out…the first market has only 2-3 cold ones. The merchant sends us deeper into the village to another market about a quarter mile away. The owner there has more than a case of Efes Beer in a cooler hidden behind the groceries. We get 12 for 2 lira each. Jim is looking to get change for a 50 lira note…no problem…the store manager pulls out a wad of bills. He must be the heffe of the village. We happily drink our beer all the way to Sanliurfa.
Sanliurfa, also called Urfa, is the city of Prophets…Jethro, St. George, Hiob, and most notable Abraham are said to have lived here. We stay in the El-Ruha Hotel, a five year old hotel, built on the ruins of earlier buildings and designed to look like a restored structure. The view out our window is spectacular…a cliff face with the Citadel fort above flying a huge Turkish flag…beneath is the famous pilgrimage site of Abraham’s Pool that is holy to Muslim, Jewish, and Christian alike. Our dinner is also excellent…mezes, another version of kebab, lentil soup, and salad.
Day 5, Tuesday, April 15 – Harran
After breakfast we head south toward Harran (in the Old Testament called Ur). In route, we see results of the GAP Water Project. What was desert land five years ago is now green fields of crops fed by irrigation ditches. Time to explain GAP: officially called the Southeast Anatolian Project, it began in the 1980s to produce hydroelectric power by harnessing the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers with 22 dams and 19 power plants. The project also helped develop Turkey’s poor eastern provinces with irrigation for farming and power for industry. On the negative side, the lakes created by the dams have destroyed ancient cultural treasures (see yesterday’s boat ride) and have displaced local communities.
As we are quite close to the Syrian border, Oguz decides to give us another discovery…a trip to the border village of Akcakale. We stop at the old border crossing that is now deserted. An abandoned railroad track and barbed wire fence delineates where Turkey stops and Syria starts, save a soldier and flag on each side. The Turkish soldier tells us to move on, which we do…, a mile down the line to the new border crossing. Here about fifteen trucks are queued waiting to cross into Syria with their cargoes. While we take our photographs and talk to some of the truckers, Oguz points out the extra large fuel tanks on the trucks. Fuel is cheap in Syria but expensive in Turkey, so the trucks enter Syria with empty tanks and return with full tanks, making a nice profit on the black market. We walk through the broken-down border village in route to our bus. The local women wear a distinctive lavender scarf, very attractive. Oguz finds a shop that sells them, and in a few minutes the village has seven more “native women”.
We are all feeling very safe and secure in Turkey. There are no tourist police following us, and everyone greets us with a smile and a hello. Watching people is also great. This is a very conservative area. And the women here wear head scarves and long brown coats in the 80 degree heat.
In a shaded square sit several distinguished looking men having tea and sharing local gossip. We ask for permission to take photos and they invite us to join them for tea. Stools come from nowhere as does the tea. Oguz interprets for us: we are introduced to the village mayor, the chief of the local prison, the largest landowner in the area, the retired head of the railroad, and the informal head of the Chamber of Commerce. They are all very gracious and interested in who we are, where we are from, our families, etc. Later Oguz explains that each person there is worth millions…some money made above board, lots made under the table. It’s like having tea with Al Capone and his gang. Next to Jim sits Hassem Bey, wearing a distinguished beard and a red head scarf, age 84, retired head of the railroad, 4 wives, 18 children, maybe 100 grandchildren he laughs. He asks me how many wives…I say one and point to Norma. He asks how many children…I say six between us. He jokes that I need more wives and more children. We thank them for their hospitality and say our goodbyes. This chance meeting will turn out to be one of our best memories of our entire trip.
On to Harran, a town that has been continuously inhabited since 5000 BC. According to the Old Testament, the prophet Abraham lived here and met his wife Sarah here. He is respected in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religion, and his presence put the city on the map as a famous ancient biblical town. From a distance, the town looks like one of the Indian Pueblos in New Mexico. Up close reveals the same construction materials…except here the adobe houses have bee-hive shaped tops instead of flat roofs. The town mayor invites us into a house complex that has been turned into a living history museum. After touring the area, he gets our group all dressed up in local costumes for some photo ops among the patio objects. The men look like oil sheiks, the women worthy of the harem…great fun.
Back to Urfa, its lunch on our own, but Oguz takes us to a MADO restaurant, part of an international chain of ice cream and sweets shops where we share Turkish pizza and diet coke with ice cream for dessert. After lunch, we tour the bazaars of Urfa, an Ottoman stone covered structure with shop spaces handed down from father to son for ages. Different from the bazaar in Gazientep, it reveals a slice of local Turkish life that has remained the same for many centuries. We end our trip at a beautifully decorated garden that contains the Pool of Abraham, said to be the site where the prophet’s life was saved from the vengeful Assyrian king Nemrut. Nemrut ordered Abraham burned alive but the flames of the fire turned into carp that jumped into the pool. Today the pool is still filled with carp that are considered holy. There is also a small cave nearby that has been converted into a shrine where Abraham was supposedly born. Pilgrims of all faiths visit this area.
We get about two hours of rest before dinner. Around the corner from our hotel is an upscale restaurant where we dine tonight. Located on the second floor, we dine al fresco on the patio overlooking Abraham’s Pool. Sait Kucht, a Turkish music group is playing Turkish music in the courtyard above. For our mezes we share spiced meatballs, toasted pita bread filled with tomato paste, Turkish salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, olives). The main course is Urfa-style kebab… pastry wrapped meat. As no alcohol is allowed in Urfa in respect for the holiness of the city (except in our rooms), black tea & water are our drinks. The entire meal is excellent.
We try to grasp the history that surrounds us…dining on a terrace overlooking the birthplace of the prophet Abraham… WOW!! Tomorrow is a “serious” hike so get some rest, Oguz tells us. We return to our room and sip some Yakut red wine before turning in for the night.
Day 6, Wednesday, April 16 – Ataturk Dam & Mount Nemrut
We’re up early and out of the hotel. Our “serious” hike today is up Mount Nemrut, but in route we stop at the Ataturk Dam, part of the GAP Project. It was the fourth largest dam in the world when completed in 1990. We stop at a dam overlook for photos and meet a Turkish family who offer to share their breakfast (homemade cheese puff pastries made with very salty cheese). Black tea appears from a nearby stand…photos all around…a nice interaction with the locals.
Lunch is not included today, but as we will be on Mount Nemrut away from all restaurants, Oguz picks up a picnic lunch for us to enjoy before we make the climb. The bus chugs up and up, through small rural villages, up a winding road above the tree line; drifts of snow still remain in shady spots. Finally we reach the gate to the Mount Nemrut Park and on to the trail head. We’re about 7500 feet above sea level…the cold wind blows…we’re glad we brought our warm jackets and wool caps. After our picnic lunch (tomato, cucumber, cheese and meat sandwiches, a diet coke and an apple), we climb up the half mile long east trail gaining 800 feet in elevation and passing small snow fields until we reach the East Terrace.
The huge stone heads on the summit of Mount Nemrut were built by King Antiochus, who ruled between 64-38 BC. To glorify his rule, the king had three enormous terraces (east, west, & north) cut into the mountain top. Colossal statues of him and the major gods of the kingdom were placed on the terraces, and the summit became a sanctuary where the king was worshipped and was later buried. Time and earthquakes have broken the statues but today’s visitors can see the enormous heads (each about 6 feet tall) and parts of the bodies of the statues on the east and west terraces. We walk among the ruins of statues on the east terrace that depict lions, eagles, Hercules, Apollo, Tyche, Zeus and King Antiochus. We pass through what is left of the north terrace and on to the west terrace which is in similar condition as the east one.
After all photos are completed we head down the west trail to our starting point. This is the first trip to Mount Nemrut for Oguz this year so the huge glacier/snow drift that blocks our descent is a surprise to all of us including him Too deep to directly cross, we decide to bypass it by climbing through the rock fields. Its super scary to some of our group, but we all make it without any real problems.
Back in the bus we head down the mountain by a different route as our destination for the night is the Bozdogan Hotel in the back-country town of Adiyaman. To celebrate our mountain climbing success, Tony breaks out a bottle of scotch that is passed around. Scotch & water for all…we’ve got a great group. But in route, Oguz finds a few more discoveries for photo ops: the St. Severius Bridge, a Roman bridge dating to 200 AD; several storks in nests atop electric power poles; a large Roman burial mound dating to 100 BC marked with four eagle-topped columns.
We arrive at the hotel…it’s quite a drop off from previous accommodations, but it’s the best in town. And we’ll be departing very early in the AM for our flight back to Istanbul. The dinner is pretty good (salad & kebab) but this hotel sucks…air conditioning, room safe, hall lights, hair dryer, TV…nothing works…and there’s bird droppings on the curtains. It’s like an old motel in Podunk, Western Oklahoma; but we’re in the equivalent of that in Turkey. Oh well, if we can’t take it, we should stay home…NOT!
Day 7, Thursday, April 17 – To Istanbul
Our pre-trip experience in east central Turkey is finished. It’s time to start the main trip. Already we all feel like seasoned Turkish travelers. We wake up at 4:00 AM, are in the bus at 5:00 AM (breakfast sucked too) for the 120-mile bus trip to the Gazientep Airport. We board the Turkish Airlines plane for a 1½ flight to Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport and land to pleasant weather…sunshine and the upper 60s. Welcome to Istanbul and the start of our main trip.
Istanbul is a sprawling city of 15-17 million people, partly in Europe and partly in Asia, with its geography defined by three famous waterways: The Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus Strait, and the Golden Horn. The Sea of Marmara lies to the south. The Bosphorus Strait divides the European and Asian sections of the city and forms the route from Marmara to the Black Sea. The Golden Horn divides European Istanbul into the modern Beyoglo section to the north and old Stamboul (Eski Istanbul) to the south. The famous Galata Bridge spans the Golden Horn to link the two parts of the city.
Who is this Ataturk for which everything in Turkey is named? Mustafa Kemal, also known as Ataturk, is the George Washington of Turkey…he is the father of the Turkish Republic and Ataturk means “father of the Turks”. The Ottoman Empire that had ruled Turkey since the 1400s had become corrupt and impotent. Demands for democracy were building, and the results of WWI left Turkey an occupied land. Kemal became a national figure for leading Turkey to victory in the 1915-16 Gallipoli campaign against Greece. When the Treaty of Lausanne recognized the Turkish Republic as a democratic nation, Ataturk was elected as its first president. He was greatly influenced by European lifestyles and culture, and was very instrumental in developing Turkey into a modern secular Turkish state. Almost everything we see in Turkey today has its beginning in Ataturk’s social and governmental reforms. Thus the tribute to Ataturk, whose statues and portraits are revered throughout the country.
Although the Turkish Republic dates to 1923, the Turkish flag, a white crescent and white star on a red background, takes its roots 200 years earlier. The story goes that after a big battle, the sultan rested on the battlefield in a sea of blood. The rising crescent moon and the evening star reflected in the red blood, giving the design for the flag of the nation. Huge red Turkish flags fly from mountain tops, fortresses and buildings throughout the land. Every shop and business, large or small, proudly displays the flag.
All men over the age of 20 must serve 15 months of compulsory military service and Turkish society considers this to be a fundamental rite of passage to manhood. For rural youth, the military service may be their first time away from home, so this also serves a social role as a bridge for many to adulthood.
The Army, Ataturk, and the Turkish Flag are three of the fundamental symbols of Turkish identity. Disrespect towards any of these is seen as an insult to the state.
In route to the hotel, one can’t help notice the tulips that are planted everywhere. Oguz tells us that it is the Spring Tulip Festival, a colorful spring celebration of the Tulip. The flower originated in Turkey, not in Holland. The Dutch imported them from Turkey in the late 1800s. More than 3 million tulip bulbs are planted throughout Istanbul in beautiful arrays of color, and all are now in full bloom.
We arrive at our hotel, The Sultan Ahmet, a small distinguished hotel located in old Istanbul on a quiet side street directly behind the Blue Mosque. Our small but comfortably furnished room is located on the 3rd floor. Our twin beds sit under a huge window with views over looking the busy Bosphorus Strait. Our bathroom, made entirely of grey marble contains a traditional Turkish bath (a marble bowl and seats for bathing). The setting could not be better…this is old world Istanbul at its finest. We settle in, unpack, and head for lunch in the hotel’s dining room that also overlooks the Bosphorus. Ships, tour boats and ferries crisscross the busy waterway. At lunch we meet our four new travel mates: Doug & Debbie (Cedar Rapids, IA), and Betty & Anne (New Hartford, CN). We have the afternoon free so Oguz suggests some ways to spend it.
No trip to Istanbul is complete without an hour or two spent in a Turkish bath which will leave the whole body feeling rejuvenated. Turkish baths differ little from Roman baths except there is no plunge pool of cold water at the end. The baths were used by families before private plumbing. As all that has changed, by now they are mainly an attraction for tourists. We decide this is a good time to try out a Turkish bath. Oguz makes the arrangements for six of us.
We arrive at the Cemberlitas Hamam, built by the famous architect Sinan in 1584 AD, and operating ever since. The bath has separate but identical bathing sections for men and women. First is a dressing (or undressing room) where one strips and leaves the personal items before entering the hot room. Muslim men are more modest than women so the men wear a towel…the women go in naked. In the center of the hot room is a large marble heated platform about 20 feet in diameter, and steam enters the room from vent in the walls. You lie down on the heated platform and are allowed to sweat in the steam as long as you like. A bath attendant (Jim’s looked like Attalla, the Hun) then gives an exfoliating body scrub with a coarse, soapy mitt. Suds are everywhere; to be washed away with buckets of hot water pored over you. A deep body massage comes next…it feels so good. Around the room are washing areas where your head and face are washed, followed by more buckets of water, hot to gradually cool, that leaves one fully refreshed. One can return to the hot platform or return to the dressing room to rest. Norma says their experiences were the same. The whole adventure takes around 1½ hours. Jim & Norma join John & Jan for an Efes beer at a sidewalk bar on our way back to the hotel. We discuss our adventure with many giggles but admit we all feel great after our “ordeals”.
The group gathers at 5:00 PM to begin a get acquainted walk through the Sultanahmet area stopping first in the Sultan Ahmet Square. The 360 degree view is overwhelming: a huge fountain surrounded by tulip beds of all colors frames the Blue Mosque in one direction and Hagia Sophia in the other…minarets pierce the sky in all directions. Tourists armed with cameras scurry among the vendors and locals. Taxis (Taksi) dodge a street car that knifes through the hustle and bustle of pedestrians; and large white tour buses queue up near the mosques…all directed by blue clad policemen.
In a small park near the Hippodrome chariot grounds, we enter a small doorway and descend beneath the street noise into the “Sunken Palace”, formerly known as the Basilica Cistern. The Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD built this cavernous space as part of Istanbul’s elaborate water system…it’s a forest of columns and walkways that takes one’s breath away. Again, Oguz times our entrance perfectly, right before the site closes for the day, and we have the place all to ourselves. We walk among the columns, observing fragments of decorative capitals that once crowned columns that were toppled over to be salvaged for their marble. The huge Medusa heads are a highlight: one upside down and one sideways, grinning up to all.
Our next stop is a tour of the Blue Mosque that takes its name from the mainly blue Iznik tile work that decorates its interior walls. The Blue Mosque is one of the most famous religious buildings in the world. Overpowering at any time, it is almost magical when floodlit at night. Sultan Ahmet I built the mosque in the early 1600s AD, and the splendor of its plans provoked great hostility at the time, because a mosque with six minarets was considered a sacrilegious attempt to rival the architecture of Mecca. And fabulous it is.
The bus picks us up and we leave the Sultan Ahmet area of Istanbul for the Bazaar Quarter stopping at the Sulemaniya Mosque which is, unfortunately closed for renovation. This is Istanbul’s most important mosque, and is a tribute to its architect, the great Sinan, and its founder Suleyman the Magnificent. Walking through the grounds in route to our dining spot for the evening, we pass the library that houses 110,000 priceless, hand-written manuscripts. Imaret, the kitchen that once fed the city’s poor, is now the Deruzziiyafe Restaurant where we dine tonight. We’re introduced to some new Turkish dishes, all of them delicious.
On the way back to our hotel, Tony tells us of an English Pub he spotted near our hotel. Jim & Norma decide to join Mary Anne & Tony and check it out before turning in. The interior of The North Shield Pub is right out of England and although the Pub didn’t have Guinness on tap, it did have Guinness in cans and great Irish coffee for Norma. It was a very steep price however, but worth it. Alcohol is a very pricey commodity in Turkey
Day 8, Friday, April 18 – Istanbul
After breakfast at our hotel, we set out on a comprehensive exploration of Istanbul, formerly called Byzantium and later Constantinople. Again, we walk the short distance to the Sultan Ahmet Square and cross to the boulevard that was once the Hippodrome…the Roman stadium first built to seat 20,000 persons, but like Lambeau Field, expanded over the years to seat 100,000…the largest in the world at that time. Used for over 1000 years before it fell into ruin, all that remains is the central line of monuments…a granite obelisk from Egypt dating to 3600 BC, brought to Constantinople in the 6th Century AD; a green serpentine twisted column from Delphi, Greece, dating to 2nd Century BC; and the stub of a limestone column, pedigree unknown.
Our first stop is the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, housed in a former palace, and containing over 40,000 items on display, concentrating on ceramics, carpets and calligraphy. Of special interest are the sultans’ tugra, their personal monograms used in place of a signature, each following the basic style, but each one individually designed. Hugh portraits of sultans and caliphs fill the walls; examples of ceramics from all corners of Turkey fill cabinets, full size dioramas focus on the lifestyles of different Turkish peoples. But the highlight of the museum is the display of Turkish carpets…from Seljuk fragments dating back to the 13th Century AD to the palatial Persian silks, from prayer rugs to massive mosque carpeting that cover the wall from floor to ceiling in the palace great hall.
After a break for coffee and tea, we continue on through a picturesque area of small row houses of traditional Byzantine and Ottoman design (fancy wood with white trim…almost Victorian style), many of which have been converted into expensive bed & breakfast houses. We walk along a stone wall and pass through a gate and the magnificent Topkapi Palace stands before us. Mehmet the Conqueror started building this complex in1459 and it served as the royal palace of the Ottoman sultans until 1853. It is not a single building bur rather a series of pavilions contained in four huge courtyards. Today it is one of the world’s richest museums, with a staggering collection of jewels, arms, porcelain, sculpture, manuscripts, and more. In the treasury, we see the 2nd largest diamond in the world, the famous Topkapi dagger, and a jewel encrusted jug. We also lunch on the terrace overlooking the busy Bosporus Strait.
The highlight of Topkapi is our tour of the Harem. The harem is a large labyrinth of exquisitely decorated rooms where the sultan’s wives and concubines lived, and of course, off limits to all men. At first glance it looks like a great place to live. Apart from the sultan’s mother, the most powerful person in the harem, and the sultan’s daughters, the women of the harem were beautiful slaves, gathered from the far corners of the Ottoman Empire. Each hoped to gain the sultan’s favor, bear a son and become one of his wives. For most this was a pipe dream because at its height, the harem contained 1,000 concubines. The last women eventually left the harem in 1909. Very interesting.
Nothing can prepare one for the Grand Bazaar. This jigsaw puzzle of streets covered by painted vaults is lined with thousands of booth-like shops, grouped by product type, whose wares spill out into the streets, and whose shopkeepers are relentless in their quest for a sale. The sights, color and noise are great. Unfortunately, one cannot shop, for merely a glace at an item will cause shopkeeper chaos trying to close a deal. One cannot look for size or color…the pressure is claustrophobic …been there, done that. Enough of the Grand Bazaar.
We board our bus again and head to the harbor where we board a tour boat for a tour of the Bosphorus Strait; another must do when in Istanbul. It’s relaxing and offers an excellent vantage point to see the city’s famous landmarks. We sip our wine and watch to sky line go by…from the mosques and their minarets to the forts guarding the strait to old Byzantine mansions renovated into modern homes for the rich…we watch as the sun settles in for the night.
We disembark at a fish market in the modern (Beyoglo) section of Istanbul. Its rush hour and we join some of the 17 million people trying to get home from work. Oguz wants us to experience the modern side of Istanbul…we start with a tram ride packed with commuters, move to a funicular that takes us to a subway station where we take the subway to a large shopping mall (Kanyon Mall) in the downtown business district. Filled with upscale shops… GAP, Gucci, Prada, Chanel, etc…obviously not for the common folk. After touring the mall we stop for dinner at SOSA, a Turkish fast food restaurant that is filled with Turkish yuppies, all chatting on their cell phones. We share salad, a grilled salmon, and chocolate cake. It’s 10:30 PM before we get back to the hotel.
Day 9, Saturday, April 19 – Living Istanbul
Today we have the choice of spending a day in Istanbul on our own or taking the optional “Living Istanbul” tour. We take the optional tour. The tour begins with an exploration of Hagia Sophia, the “Church of Divine Wisdom” that was built by Emperor Justinian in 537 AD. Its magnificent dome was once the architectural wonder of the Byzantine world. It was a Christian church for 900 years until the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 when Mehmet the Conqueror claimed it for Islam. In 1934, the leader of the Turkish Republic, Ataturk, proclaimed it a museum.
Walking into the vast nave is overpowering with the high dome reaching to a height of 184 feet. Half of the nave is covered in floor to ceiling scaffolding which has been in place for 30 years as ceiling restoration continues. When Islam took over Hagia in 1453, the elaborate religious Byzantine mosaics that covered most interior surfaces were covered in yellow plaster, as Islam allows no images in mosques. Earlier attempts to restore the mosaics caused irreparable damage to some areas; but newer methods are clearing some beautiful examples of this past art form, especially in the upper galleries. We climb to the gallery via a large stone ramp…why a ramp? The Emperor and his family had a private viewing box for services from the balcony…as the royalty were carried to the upper level (you didn’t expect them to walk) it was easier for the bearers to climb a ramp than steps. The view of the interior from the gallery is even more spectacular. Eight huge wooden plaques, bearing calligraphic inscriptions of Allah, Mohammed, and early caliphs and religious figures, hang at gallery level around the nave. Restored religious mosaics peak out from corners and the ceiling. One could spend days here exploring all the treasures.
But its time to move on…to the Spice Bazaar. Every kind of spice known to mankind can be found in this cavernous, L-shaped stone building. Huge feed sacks filled to the brim with colorful spices line up in rows. It’s a great photo op! Turkish people love spices and buy them a kilo (2.2 lbs) at a time. The Spice Market was built in the early 17th Century, although spices have been a valued part of trading in Turkey since medieval times. Sitting at the crossroads between the Orient and Europe, this spice market, in addition to its hustle & bustle, fills an important role in the history of Turkey and the Spice Road. On a second floor above the busy shops and warehouses of the Spice Market, sits the Rustem Pasa Mosque, built in 1561 AD by the great Architect Sinan, it is best known for the vivid blue Iznik tiles used throughout its interior. We are smitten by the quietness and its beauty. It’s much smaller, but we like it better than the famous Blue Mosque.
Within a stone’s throw of the Spice Bazaar sit a Pasturma Shop that sells wonderful sandwiches (pastrami, cheese cucumber, tomato and spicy sauce on fresh bread) and Turkish Pizza shaped like flattened footballs (containing similar ingredients). We enjoy both for lunch. A concert of the Ottoman Military Band was planned, but as they are out of the country on tour, Oguz substitutes several other events. We drive along a portion of the old city walls of Constantinople; over 10 miles long and built some 1600 years ago. Some sections are restored while others are decayed beyond help. We stop at a memorial Tulip Garden in route to the Pera Museum of Art, a rather new (opened in 2005) cultural adventure, located next to the legendary Pera Palas Hotel. The Pera Palas opened in 1892 to cater to travelers on the famous Orient Express. Many notable characters have passed through its lobby including Agatha Christie who wrote part of her mystery novel “Murder on the Orient Express” here. That sounds familiar as while in Egypt, we stayed at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan where Agatha wrote her novel “Death on the Nile”.
Back in the bus, we head for the Galata Tower…the most recognizable feature on the Golden Horn…built of stone and topped with a conical tower, it stands 196 feet high. It was built in the 6th Century as a watch tower to monitor shipping, it also served as a fire tower and a prison. Now refurbished, one can take an elevator to the 9th floor for a 360 degree view of Istanbul, or dine in the snazzy restaurant sans disco located there.
We walk along the Istiklal Caddesi, the main pedestrian street of the modern Istanbul. It is lined with 19th Century upscale gated apartment blocks and European embassies that are now merely consulates since Ankara became Turkey’s capital in 1923. Hidden from view are quiet churches that served foreign communities in the past, and now jazz bars and hand crafted jewelry shops mingle with street vendors and sidewalk cafes. The street is packed with weekend crowds. We taste fresh mussels and oysters, Turkish style; we nibble on roast lamb from a revolving grill, we sip fresh squeezed orange juice and try freshly roasted chestnuts.
We finally stop at ABBAS Restaurant and dine outside at a sidewalk table with hundreds of Istanbulis passing by. The cold mezes include anchovies, pepper salsa, spinach, eggplant, sour cream with chives, green salad and bread. All meals in Turkey are accompanied by fresh made yogurt spiced with cumin (we’re told it helps settle stomach). Our main course is grilled Sea Bass, and fresh fruit is the dessert. And we share a bottle of Yakut red wine. After a complimentary glass of black tea, we return to our waiting bus. A nose count shows up two short…Doug & Debbie who joined our group yesterday aren’t present. Oguz heads back into the restaurant area to track them down. As we wait, we discuss the Turkish language. It’s based on Finnish and Hungarian. It looks readable but is unpronounceable with many silent letters, and many hooks & accent markings to vary pronunciation. In 15 minutes all three return and we are on our way back to the hotel. Tony joins us for a glass of wine as we pack up and prepare to leave Istanbul in the morning.
Day 10, Sunday, April 20 – To Kayseri & Cappadocia
We’re up at 4:00 AM and depart for Ataturk Airport at 5:00 AM for a 7:30 AM flight to Kayseri in Cappadocia (Kapadokya). As interesting that Istanbul is, we’re happy to leave behind the crush of 17 million people, the noise, the traffic, and the smoking mobs. We arrive in Kayseri (elevation 3,200 feet) at 9:30 AM to bright sunny skies, and immediately notice nearby Mount Erciyes (elevation 12,850 feet) capped in snow. Locals regard this extinct volcano with respect because of its role in shaping the local landscape when it buried an area of 100 square miles in deep volcanic ash millions of years ago. Centuries of wind and rain have worn away the residual, compressed ash called tufa, creating distinctive rock formations and “fairy chimneys”. Over the years early Christians used hand tools to hollow out thousands of the free standing formations and cliff faces into churches and dwellings, especially in area around Goreme, Urgup, and Uchisar, our destination.
We meet our driver George III (all the drivers are called George) and his brand new bus (150 miles on odometer) and head overland for Uchisar, about 2 hours down the road. The terrain rivals driving I-25 from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. The “fairy chimneys” look like the tent rocks by Cochiti Lake, only much larger and more numerous. Most have doorways and windows carved in them indicating past use as dwellings. It is very reminiscent of the cavates of Bandelier National Monument. When we reach Uchisar (elevation 4,200 feet) we go directly to our hotel.
Hotel Ahbab Konegi is a small pension with just enough rooms to house our OAT group. Made of local sandstone, the rustic lodge sits on a cliff overlooking the Uchisar castle rock and its surrounding fairy chimneys. Our room has a balcony that overlooks the outdoor social area of the hotel with a breathtaking view of the best of Kapadokya. We meet Genghis and his wife, the owners of the lodge, who welcome us with a fresh fruit drink and an invite to sit down for lunch. All meals here are prepared from scratch and made of locally grown food. For lunch we enjoy a lentil soup served with fresh bread and tomato/cucumber salad. After lunch we board our bus for a short trip to the famous Goreme “open air museum”.
The Goreme valley holds the largest concentration of rock-cut chapels and monasteries in Kapadokya. Thirty or more churches were cut from the rock in the 9th-10th Centuries; many feature superb Byzantine frescos depicting scenes from the bible, especially Christ and the Apostles. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We wander through the site, poking our heads into the darkened openings of the cave churches and finding beautiful frescos, one more beautiful than the previous. We take many photos to remember these beautiful creations.
In route back to our hotel, we stop at the Chez Galip Pottery Workshop that features terra cotta pottery made in the old Hittite style. The master pottery maker gives us a demonstration creating a teapot in about 10 minutes, then opens up the showroom next door. The wares are beautiful and unique…high quality products.
Back to the hotel, we relax on our balcony with a bottle of Kapadokya red wine Kocabag, very tasty. This area, especially Urgup, has always been known for its farm produce and particularly for its grapes. Urgup labeled wine is refreshing and light. We enjoy it. We had left some clothes for laundering this morning…a knock on the door reveals the finished product…hand washed in a basin, our clothes are immaculate.
We now understand how Genghis makes his money…not on the bed & breakfast, but on tourists. Tour buses park outside his gate and drop off tourists to walk to the nearby sites. On return the tourists stop in the garden bar and sip refreshments before re-boarding their buses. Little effort, great return…no wonder Genghis is always smiling.
The hotel dining room is in the basement, beautifully carved out of the rock. Our hosts go all out for dinner: a lentil/pasta soup, mezes (cold appetizers) of eggplant & tomatoes, zucchini & onions, mushrooms stuffed with cheese, stuffed grape leaves, mixed pickles, frittata with green chilies; and the main course, a meat & bean stew with rice, with fresh fruit for dessert. Quite a feast…then its time for bed. We watch the almost full moon rise over the Castle Rock formation and leave our drapes open so the moonlight can enter our bedroom…beautiful.
Day 11, Monday, April 21 – Hot Air Balloon & Hiking
We are up at 4:30 AM and are picked up at 5:30 AM for our hot air balloon adventure over the fairy chimneys of Kapadokya. Kapadokya Balloons, our group, launches 4 balloons and other companies ~10 more, each carry 18-20 passengers. Our pilot or captain is Mike Green from England…he has worked here for 5 years and has flown in the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta three times. The weather is perfect and our pilot is an expert, taking us up ridges and down valleys…all filled with the tufa chimneys and cave entrances. The sky is filled with colorful balloons. After about an hour, we have a very gentle landing. In fact, Mike actually parks the balloon basket directly on the trailer! We’re treated to a champagne toast for a successful trip and are given certificates as a keepsake. Norma also buys a souvenir cap.
We head back to the hotel for a late breakfast before embarking on the morning hike. Oguz leads us from the hilltop town of Uchisar down through Pigeon Valley to the town of Goreme, about three miles distance. Burbling irrigation channels and carefully tended fields are tucked between the narrow canyon walls. Along the way are beautiful close up views of many t formations…tufa rock cones up to 250 feet tall loom overhead. A scarved woman carrying freshly baked bread nods a greeting as we pass. It’s so similar to hiking in Bandelier and other spots in the Southwest. Cream colored tufa cones are carved with doors leading to interior rooms. A number of people still live in the cave-homes next to their fields, vineyards and apricot orchards. Most cave homes were inhabited until the late 1980s when the government, in an effort to preserve the area, moved many people to better and safer housing. The trail is steep but very interesting. Jim & Norma love it…our best hike of the trip!
We travel back to our hotel for lunch on the veranda: baked stuffed eggplant, bulgur, tomato/cucumber salad, cheese, and fresh bread. After lunch we visit the village of Avanos, known for ceramics and pottery. But we’re here to look around the downtown area, and are pleasantly surprised to find the school children rehearsing for the Children’s Day Parade. The streets are filled with colorful uniformed children all marching to the beat of drums. We wave at the children and take photos. Oguz treats us to ice cream cones from a local stand and we eat them as we cross over a swinging bridge. Back in the bus we drive the back roads, looking at the many variations of the tufa formations. We find a camel rock (like Pojoaque, NM), capped chimneys, red valley formations, and an ancient monastery dug into the cliff-face.
We return to the hotel about 4:25 PM and have free time until dinner. While most of our group rests, we take this opportunity to climb to the top of Uchisar Castle, the 800 foot high massif that we see outside our patio window. We’ve wanted to climb it since we arrived in Uchisar. It’s only about 180 large steps up from the entrance and soon we’re at the huge flag flying from its top. There’s an Israeli couple also on the top. We take their photo and they take ours…some international diplomacy. Then to town to buy a bottle of wine, and we’re sipping Kocabag red wine on our patio by 5:20 PM. We unwind, discussing today and the whole Turkey trip so far. Turkey is not a third world country…it can match any European Mediterranean nation. We agree that this was the best day yet out of the many great days we’ve enjoyed.
Dinner is a selection of local Kapadokyan delicacies too tasty to describe. Plate after plate of appetizers, one better than the previous, are served cold or heated on sizzling clay plates. The main course is grilled meatballs, potatoes, chilies, & tomatoes, served hot in a spicy sauce. We settle down on our patio taking in the views and cool it until bedtime.
Day 12, Tuesday, April 22 – Underground City & Carpets
In route to the underground city of Kaymakli, we stop at an abandoned Greek village where people of Greek religion and heritage were relocated from Turkey to Greece in 1923. At the end of World War I, Turkey was loosely occupied by Britain, France and Italy. The remnants of the Ottoman Empire were having difficulty establishing borders and when Greece occupied Izmir in 1919, the age-old animosity between Greece and Turkey ignited again. Ataturk and the Republic of Turkey prevailed, and the Treaty of Lausanne recognized both the new republic and established the borders. As part of the peace settlement, Greece and Turkey mutually agreed, with international pressure, to exchange their ethnic populations.
The 1923 population exchange is the first large scale population exchange or agreed mutual expulsion in the 20th Century. It involved almost 2 million people; most of them forcibly made refugees and denaturalized citizens from homelands occupied for centuries or millennia. Approximately 1.2 million Turkish citizens of Greek Orthodox faith living in Turkish territory and 600,000 Greek citizens of Muslim faith living in Greek territory were forced to leave their “homelands” for a new uncertain life. From Turkey’s viewpoint, removal of 1.2 million Greeks was a preemptive move to eliminate possible future problems from ethnic minorities. In fact, it all but eliminated the Christian minority in Turkey, leading to today’s 99% Muslim population. From Greece’s standpoint, the relocation is called the “Asia Minor Catastrophe” as people who resided for more than 3,000 years on homelands in Asia Minor were forced to relocate to a land (Greece) that was foreign to them. The empty Greek villages scattered throughout Turkey are testaments to both Turkish ethnic pride and “how not to solve minority problems”. It also gives some understanding to why Turkey and Greece have difficulties accepting each other even today.
Discovered in 1964, Kaymakli is one of the most important underground cities in the region. Excavated to 8-16 levels underground, it is thought to have housed thousands of Christians escaping persecution by the pagan Romans from the 6th to 9th Century. We enter and descend several levels to get the feel of what it was like to live there. The rooms are carved from the soft tufa, like the cavates of Bandelier, only on a much larger scale. In fact, Kapadokya on the whole is like New Mexico.
Our next stop is back in Avanos again, this time to visit a rug-weaving cooperative (and salesroom). We walk through the entire process: from silkworm cultivation to wool & silk fiber processing, dyeing of the fibers, traditional patterns, hand weaving, trimming & edging, etc. Finally a walk through the hall of collector rugs (a 9 x 12 for $25K, a prayer rug for $6K) and on to the salesroom where we are plied with snacks and coffee, tea, or wine as the rugs are laid out before us. Then the salesmen appear, one per couple, to see what we are interested in purchasing. We weren’t interested in buying anything but others did purchase some beautiful one-of-a-kind Turkish carpets, complete with certification and registration.
We enjoy good Turkish pizza for lunch then continue our explorations of the scenic areas around Kaymakli. We visit a town called Cayusin, another abandoned Greek town. The caves date to 6th to 9th Century but were improved by the Greek villagers until they were forced to leave in 1923. On the way back to the hotel we find a modern use for the area’s tufa… deep caves have been carved out of the hillsides for cheap underground storage of lemons and other citrus products grown in the Mediterranean area. Maintaining a steady cool 50 degrees, fruit can be stored for 2-5 months prior to shipment to European countries in the wintertime. We visit a cave where lemons are being processed and visit with the friendly workers. We have one more discovery before we go back to the hotel. An entrepreneur has turned his former cave house into a museum…fully furnished and decorated as it was when lived in. He was forced out of using it as a residence by a government decree for safety reasons, but the cave works nice as a museum (and souvenir shop).
There’s an optional tour tonight of a Whirling Dervish performance, but since we will be visiting the Whirling Dervish monastery and museum tomorrow, we decide to pass. We need some down time, so after a nice shower we relax on the patio with more of that good Kapadokya wine. Our hotel staff is preparing a BBQ dinner tonight and a huge pile of wood is being reduced to charcoal for the cookout. The menu: potato salad, stuffed peppers, cheese stuffed mushrooms, cheese crepes, peppers & onions, BBQ chicken wings and meatballs…all prepared on the grill.
Day 13, Wednesday, April 23 – Konya & Taurus Mountains
Today we leave Kapadokya and travel overland to Konya and Lake Beysehir, with several interesting stops on the way. At the village of Saray, we stop at the well preserved Caravanserai Sultanhani, one of hundreds of hostelries constructed along the Silk Road for shelter and overnight stops by the caravans. But today is also Children’s Day (official title National Sovereignty & Children’s Day), the anniversary of the first national assembly meeting in 1920 when children throughout Turkey commemorate the life of Ataturk…its like the Fourth of July celebrated by children. The square in front of the Caravanserai is packed with children of all ages, decked out in school colors, many proudly waving Turkish flags. Bands are playing, speeches are underway, dignitaries & tourists mingle, buses are herded by police…it’s a cacophony of noise & color. The children swarm around us, waving and shaking hands, and posing for photos.
Jim & Norma have to use a WC and we find one behind the festivities…it costs half a lira to enter, but we have no change. Jim tells the young man he’ll get change and return. The young man shrugs, figuring he’s been taken by the tourists. After the potty break, we buy a diet coke; get change and Jim returns to the WC. The young man is shocked that Jim returned. Jim tells him that Americans are honest and he smiles back in agreement.
We arrive at the ancient city of Konya, known for their pious and strong Islamic ties. It is also the home of the mystical Sufi Islamic order of the Mevlevi, better known as the Whirling Dervishes. Founded in the 1200s, they preach tolerance, forgiveness and enlightenment, and central to their faith is the sema or whirling ceremony that symbolizes the sharing of God’s love among earthly beings. They whirl with extended palms, the right palm up to accept divine energy, allow it to pass through their bodies, and out to the earth through the left palm turned down. For the faithful, the dance is a spiritual ascent to divine love. This monastery/museum complex is a holy site where Turkish visitors far outnumber foreign tourists. Within the monastery are marble tombs of the most revered Dervish abbots including the founder Mevlana Rumi; and an area for the whirling ceremony. The museum contains the monks’ living cells, a kitchen, and a library that contains priceless hand-written and highly decorated copies of the Koran, as well as some of the 300 lyrical poems written by the founder. Across the street is a cemetery filled with decorative tombs of lesser Dervish dignitaries.
We lunch in the picturesque Konak Restaurant in the small village of Silles. The restaurant is filled with antiques and historical memorabilia; and the food is great too. We can’t say enough about Turkish cuisine…it is simple and delicious!
We travel on to Beysehir in Turkey’s Lake District. One of the main reasons for coming here is to see the Esrefoglu Mosque dating to 1297. The wooden interior, with a wooden ceiling supported by 48 wooden columns, and mihrah (prayer niche) decorated with cut tiles, is one of the finest examples of this type of architecture remaining from this period. Oguz knows the imam here and we are invited to witness the “call to prayer” discretely from the balcony. About 50 men, most of them student tourists, are attending the prayer. We are saddened when we see the area of the mosque where the women must pray…in the back corner with all views of the interior blocked by heavy drapes and wood panels. The Islamic excuse is that women would distract the men at prayer, just like women’s need to wear heavy coats and scarves in public…so men aren’t distracted. Looking around, we note that the construction of the wood interior of this mosque is exactly like St. Francis Auditorium in Santa Fe with decorative vigas and latillas.
After prayers, the imam discusses his life and responsibilities at the mosque. Ironically, although Turkey is 99% Moslem, the calls to prayer and the prayers recited are all in Arabic, a language that the Turkish Moslems do not understand. Hence the imam plays an important role…he in fact interprets the religion to his people.
We continue on to the farming village of Akburun, located on the shores of Lake Beysehir, where the robust local people make their living as farmers and herders. We arrive as the cows are coming home for milking. Tonight we share a traditional meal with a local family as they welcome us into their wooden & stone homes for the night. We meet our hosts, Aris Bey, a retired elementary school teacher, and his wife. His son teaches high school, an older daughter lives in Istanbul. The farm has been in the family for 150 years. Elder mom & dad live next door; older brother and family live down the street. To our surprise, each visiting couple gets their own room and we share a bathroom. The home could be in northern New Mexico…stuccoed exterior; adobe plastered walls, vigas & reed latillas for the ceiling, mud roof, and wood floors covered in Turkish carpets. We sleep on the floor on mattresses.
Before dinner we walk about the village. Everyone we meet is busy with typical farm work. Stacks of 10 foot tall reeds dry along the shore. The village children follow us around. We pass the school, supported by the Grand Circle Foundation, and of course the local mosque. Back at our farmhouse, dinner is ready. All ingredients of our meal come from the village…homemade bread, vegetable & lentil soup, tomato & cucumber salad, stuffed grape leaves, homemade yogurt, stuffed bell peppers, green beans, and meatballs in tomato sauce. Black tea is served with dessert…tapioca pudding.
After a Q & A session, each of us gives a gift to our hosts. Jim presents a Wisconsin postcard and a Packers Fan Tours backpack. The backpack immediately lights up the face of the 8 year old grandson who immediately puts it on. Then it’s time for bed. After waiting for our turn in the bathroom, we snuggle under our blankets and fall asleep… and it is a great night’s rest…so peaceful and quiet there.
Day 14, Thursday, April 24 – Aspendos & Antalya
After a nice breakfast (without coffee…tea only) we say goodbyes to our hosts and board our bus. There is an old Turkish custom where the host pours water from a pitcher as guests depart, to wish them a safe journey. As we pull out of the yard, momma & grandma pour water from pitchers…very touching. This family’s hard work for us, inviting us into their homes and lives touch our hearts. We head down the road toward the Mediterranean Sea.
Oguz directs the bus onto a side road where we find a special discovery…a Hittite Spring Festival Water Sanctuary, probably constructed in the 13th century BC, called Eflatumpanari. It’s a small pond fed by a spring that flows through a rock constructed altar/stage that contains several carved figures. It’s out in the middle of an empty field, but within minutes of our arrival, local women with blankets filled with merchandise, hustle out of nowhere to set up shop. It’s a very interesting stop.
We climb over the Taurus Mountains that appear very similar to the Rockies, with some peaks still snow capped. After climbing over a 6,800 foot pass, we stop for lunch in a high mountain valley truck stop called the DAG-TUR gas-market-restaurant. We eat Turkish pizza and rice pudding. Out of the mountains, the terrain changes to a flat agricultural landscape…the highway is lined with palm trees and roadside stands overflowing with bananas, oranges, watermelon and lemons. Our next stop is the town of Aspendos, a Roman site with an impressive amphitheater and aqueduct system. Built in the 2nd Century BC, the theater once held 125,000 people.
Finally we arrive in the coastal town of Antalya about sunset. Our hotel, The Mariner, is located in old town and because of street construction; we walk the last half mile through a park along the Mediterranean Sea to our destination. Our room is on the 3rd floor with a beautiful, panoramic view of the harbor and the sea beyond. We get a quick shower, shave and clean clothes, the go down to dinner. We dine on the outdoor patio and enjoy another great meal before we retire for the night.
Day 15, Friday, April 25 – Antalya
Scheduled for this morning is a walking tour of Antalya, a visit to the Antalya Archaeology Museum, and a visit to the nearby site called Perge. This afternoon is on our own. Jim & Norma need some down time and Jim’s back has been kicking up; so we decide to take the day off and get ready for our gulet trip. After a lazy breakfast and some reshuffling of our bags, we walk around old town, taking photos of the sights…down by the yacht harbor and along the shoreline. We stop at a park bench overlooking the Mediterranean and share some roasted almonds and a glass of wine. We shop in the old town bazaar and meet a leather vendor who travels extensively in the United States selling knockoff purses and shoes. Norma buys some cotton products from another nice vendor and we return to our hotel rested, not worn out, to sit on the patio and enjoy the rest of the day. Dinner is on our own tonight. We decide to try a seafood restaurant that overlooks the harbor. John & Jan are going to the same place so we share a dining table. Another excellent meal: grilled Sea Bass, salad, French fries, garlic bread, tiramisu, and red wine.
Day 16, Saturday, April 26 – Myra & Gulet
We drive along a winding, mountainous coastal road, reminiscent of Highway 101 in California. We’re entering the Lycian area of Turkey and our destination is Myra, famous for several things: ancient exportation of incense to Egypt, a large Roman amphitheater, Lycian house tombs carved into the cliff face, and the nearby home of Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus). We stop at a roadside stand for a potty break and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice before entering Myra. The conspicuous tombs carved into the cliff face are designed like a miniature Petra. We stop for photos then continue to the Roman Theater. Most of the site is unexcavated and still rests under the local farmers’ fields and greenhouses. I guess the site’s artifacts are safe under the ground. The theater is impressive, still very much intact with marble seats and carved mask friezes located about the stage area.
Our next stop is the Church of Saint Nicholas. St. Nicholas was the 4th Century AD bishop of the area and was known as a protector of children, adorning them with gifts at every opportunity. He is the model for Santa Claus or Father Christmas. Legend says he is buried here although the sarcophagus in the church is empty. He is honored by many, but this is a special pilgrimage spot for Italians and Russians. It’s ironic to see a statue of America’s Santa Claus with a sign written in Russian welcoming you to a Turkish shrine.
Continuing on, we reach the harbor of Ucaguz. We board a boat called ATES-2 and have lunch on board as we cruise past the Lycian city of Aperlae, probably sunk from earthquake activity about 1800 years ago. We cross the bay and land at the village of Kale. On the hill above sits a castle, built ~1440 AD, that contains a tiny theater cut out of the rock. We hike through the village and up to the castle courtyard. Having hiked that far, we decide the climb to the top and the view of the surrounding islands from the top is outstanding...
Its late afternoon when we arrive in the port of Fethiye to board our gulet (pronounced Goo let). A gulet is a traditional Turkish style yacht, about 80 feet long with a 20 foot beam, constructed mostly of teak and oak, and powered by motor and sails. Our gulet, the Sadri Usta I, has cabins for 16 persons. Our cabin is #1, at the bow. It’s about the size of the small Admiral Suite on the Mandalay with a nice size bathroom. The boat is only about 5 years old and is built more for show than go. None the less, we’ll have a great “Blue Voyage” on the Mediterranean. We get comfortable in our surroundings and enjoy a nice dinner out on the rear deck before turning in for the night.
Day 17, Sunday, April 27 – Kayakoy & Gemile Island
We were to start our cruise along the coast to our first destination…the Greek ghost town of Kayakoy…but because the wind is up, we instead travel there by bus. About 3000-4000 Anatolian Greeks once occupied this city living in about 500 houses. During the 1920s, the entire population was relocated to Greece in the aftermath of the Turkish war of independence. It’s an eerie and moving place, a tragic reminder of how politics can affect human lives. We walk among the ruins of homes once painted bright blue and decorated with flowers. Now, only a stray cow from the nearby village lives among the broken buildings of the once vibrant town. The ruined Orthodox Church is undergoing restoration and is becoming a focus of movements for peace and international reconciliation. The town inspired the novel “Birds Without Wings” which focuses on the relocation problem. We stop at a restaurant/bar for a drink before hiking down a rocky path to a cove at Soguk Su, where we board our gulet which has sailed to meet us.
After lunch on board, we sail to the nearby island of Gemiler, also called St. Nicholas Island, for the ruins of the Byzantine monastery where St. Nicholas lived for some time. Constructed in the 5th Century of native stone, the buildings include 4 churches and many vaulted tombs. We go ashore and climb the rugged trail up through the ruins to the top of the island and back to the boat. Beautiful spring flowers peak out between the rocks, our gulet floats seemingly in air on the turquoise sea. It’s a nice afternoon hike.
Back on board, it’s time for tea, served with cookies and Turkish Delight candies. We hoist the anchor to cruise for about 2 hours to a protected cove in Gocek Bay where we stay for the night. In route, it starts to rain and turn cold. Like a Windjammer trip, Jim & Norma seek out the cabin for a nap as we rock along the Turquoise Coast. Although our dinner is set for the top deck, the wind and rain force us into the saloon to finish the meal. None the less, the meal is excellent. Oguz puts on a DVD about Ataturk, the George Washington of Turkey, as we enjoy our dessert. After, we turn in early as the weather remains foul.
Day 18, Monday, April 28 – Gocek Bay
Today, we’ll stay in Gocek Bay, a large protected and popular harbor with many isolated inlets. Many famous people, including Bill Gates and Ted Kennedy, have sailed their yachts and anchored in this area. After breakfast, we take the dingy ashore and hike across the peninsula to another protected cove. The weather has cleared and the hike is nature at its best… beautiful pine trees, spring flowers, some birds, and some goats. Meanwhile, our gulet has sailed around the point and is waiting for us in the cove where several yachts filled with Turkish students are celebrating spring break.
After lunch on board, we motor to the town of Gocek, the St Barts of the Turkish Coast. Although the vacation season hasn’t started, the harbor is already filled with expensive yachts. This is a shopping day ashore, and most of our group eagerly board the dingy and head on in. It’s tea time when the people return on board. After, we motor to another secluded cove where we anchor for the night. Our crew grills Breen fish, served with pureed potatoes, broccoli, salad, calamari, green beans and baked red beans, all flavored to perfection.
Day 19, Tuesday, April 29 – Lydea & Sheepherder’s Shack
After coffee and breakfast, we cruise to a spectacular cove that shelters the sunken baths of Cleopatra, built for her by Marc Anthony. Legend says that Anthony gave Cleopatra the entire Turquoise Coast as a wedding gift… definitely a gift fit for a queen. There’s not much to see as much of the site is underwater.
Today’s hike, said to be the trip’s most challenging, is a three hour hike through forests of pine, meadows of flowers and scrub, and spectacular views of the turquoise waters and nearby islands. We climb up and over the hill and through a valley, hearing the goat bells ringing and catching glimpses of the goat herd through the thick brush. Then we see the simple farm of the owner of the goats. The satellite dish contrasts sharply with the ramshackle home. The family invites us in to relax in the shaded veranda and the wife brings out a large tray of freshly baked bread served with honey, olives and olive oil. Thyme tea follows. She then shows us some handmade wares…carved wooden forks & spoons, small fabric purses, and decorated goat bells. We repay their hospitality and purchase some of her wares.
We continue on…nearby is a little known Greco-Roman site called Lydea, mostly in ruins but still interesting. A large cistern is still used as a water source for the farm, and several mausoleums and a fort are visible. We continue down the hill to “Friendship Cove”, a popular yacht anchorage in the summer, where our gulet awaits us.
After a great lunch of stuffed eggplant, Jim & Norma decide to try the waters of the Mediterranean. We know the water is cold, but it would be wrong to come to Turkey and the Turquoise Coast without swimming in the Med. None of our fellow passengers decide to join us. We dive from the ladder…first Jim, then Norma… our legs instantly numb from the cold water… it’s a photo op …we paddle around…then both get out to warm in the sun. Anne wants photos of us together, so we jump back in. It doesn’t feel as cold the second time. Cold but refreshing dip…been there…done that!
A cold front is passing through and the winds pick up. As gulet-style yachts are round-bottomed and not conducive to rough seas, the captain decides to stay overnight in this protected cove. He’ll cruise to our next destination early in the morning when seas are calm.
Day 20, Wednesday, April 30 – Daylan River & Lycian Ruins
We’re awakened at 5:30 AM by the sound of the engine starting. It’s too noisy to go back to sleep so we dress and go topside. The coffee is almost ready, and soon we’re on the top deck, coffee mugs in hand, watching the rising sun as we cruise along the Turquoise Coast. We arrive at Ekincik Cove as the breakfast bell rings. After breakfast, we board a small riverboat for a trip to Iztuzu Beach and up the Daylan River. As we cross the bay, a pair of dolphins flash by…hoping there is a school of them, we all grab our cameras, but alas, no more dolphins appear.
Turtle Beach, which partially bars the mouth of the Dalyan River, has for centuries been a refuge and breeding spot for the endangered loggerhead turtles, and is a protected area. The turtle nesting area is also a popular tourist beach that is already populated by swimsuit clad tourists. A quick count reveals about 250 thatched beach umbrellas with wooden recliners spread out along the beach. Although signs say that no one is allowed on the beach between 8:00 PM – 6:00 AM, it’s difficult to see how the turtles can survive with all of the human activity (is this Turkey’s equivalent to the Galapagos?).
We continue up the Daylan River, named for daylans, the fishing weirs that have supported the locals for centuries. We wind through a maze of small channels lined with bamboo and cattails. We search the wetlands for birds but see few. In fact, little wildlife remains throughout Asia Minor as the human population had depleted most of these resources many generations ago. The lack of birds and wildlife throughout Turkey is the one disappointment of the trip. Our advance up the river is blocked by wooden fish weirs, so we leave our boat and hike up the hill to the Lycian ruins at Caunus…it’s a beautiful site where we climb about the temples, baths, and an ancient theater. Dated from the 6th Century BC, Alexander the Great passed through here, and the Greeks and Romans later added the theater and other buildings. Now Turkish archaeologists and volunteer prisoners are restoring and stabilizing much of the site.
We reboard our boat and continue on to the town of Daylan. Along the way we pass Lycian rock tombs hugging the cliff face. The tombs are very similar to the tombs at Petra…did the Lycians copy from Petra, or did Petra copy from the Lycians. The river bank in town is lined with boats, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Obviously, in another month this place will be packed with tourists. We stop at a sidewalk café for lunch: grilled fish, salad, baked potato, red wine. We walk around a bit, visit a local school, and then we return to our riverboat. After a short ride, we depart the boat and board a van that returns us to where our gulet is anchored.
We cruise for about an hour to a safe anchorage only a short distance from our port of debarkation, Marmaris, where we will leave the gulet in the AM. The farewell dinner is festive and the food is great. The captain and two-man crew join us at the dining table. Jim gives the captain a small Packers pennant for his ship. We return to our cabin to pack our bags.
Day 21, Thursday, May 1 – Marmaris to Kusadasi
In the morning we enjoy our last breakfast on board and cruise for a half-hour to the harbor at Marmaris. We say our farewells to the gulet crew and board our minibus for the long ride to Selcuk, stopping for lunch along the way. Selcuk is a village near Ephesus that is sometimes bypassed, but deserving of a stop. The town is dominated by a huge 6th Century AD Byzantine citadel with fifteen well-preserved towers. But the main attraction here is beneath the citadel …the ruins of the Basilica of St. John.
At the foot of the hill sits the Basilica of St. John, built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century on the sight of an earlier shrine. The basilica is believed to contain the tomb of St. John the Evangelist, who spent his later years at Ephesus during the 1st Century AD (John lived to the age of 100 and wrote his gospels at Ephesus). Of special interest are many of the columns that were recycled from the huge Temple of Artemis whose ruins are located nearby (more on this later). Restoration of the basilica is underway, underwritten by the Grand Circle Foundation (GCF), to bring back some of the basilica’s former glory. Grand Circle Travel and Overseas Adventure Travel Companies donate $10.00 of every person’s trip to the GCF to aid schools, medical facilities and/or archaeological sites in all countries where they travel. We’ve seen the results of GCF’s work in other countries we’ve visited, and it’s a pleasure to wander through this site and see the results of our contributions to the Grand Circle Foundation here as well.
High on a hill overlooking the ruins of Ephesus is another discovery…the House of the Virgin Mary. According to the bible, as Jesus was dying on the cross, he asked St. John to look after his mother Mary. John brought Mary with him to Ephesus in 37 AD, and she spent the last years of her life here, supposedly in a modest stone house. Now a shrine, the house is revered by both Christians and Muslims, and pilgrims of both faiths visit the shrine. We too, visit it as part of our discovery of Turkey.
Before heading to our hotel, we stop at another carpet shop as John & Jan are still looking for the right carpet. There at the carpet shop we meet a nice Turkish archaeologist who is coming to Wisconsin next summer to work on the military ruins (Civil War) at Fort McCoy (it’s a small world).
We reach our destination…the Hotel Kismet in Kusadasi. Kusadasi is a frequent port of call for luxury cruise liners and a huge harbor for yachts…one of the most popular on the Aegean Coast. Hotel Kismet (one of the 1000 places to visit before you die) sits out on a point with views in every direction. The lobby walls are lined with photos of famous guests…a quick glance shows Lech Wallensa, Jimmy Carter, The King of Spain, and many movie stars, business leaders and super rich. No one asks to add our photos to the walls…ha ha. The view of the harbor is spectacular…white high-rise apartments surround a crescent shaped harbor filled with yachts. A Holland American cruise ship sits across the way. Cats (Turkey has a million of them) roam the beautiful gardens. We sit on our patio, enjoying the view and a glass of wine. We watch a land tortoise slowly cross the lawn, climb over a low brick wall and settle into its nest under the bush next to our patio Dinner is extravagant with many mezes to choose from, and roast beef the main course. A dessert bar filled with everything sweet rounds out the meal. Then its time for bed. We have slept in nine different beds in our Turkey travels and we both agree that Turkey has the worse pillows and mattresses we have ever slept on…even our camping gear is more comfortable
Day 22, Friday, May 2 – Kusadasi & Ephesus
This is our final day of adventure in Turkey as we will head for the airport early tomorrow for our flight back home. We’ve saved the best for last…Ephesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We sit on our patio, sipping coffee in the early morning solitude. The harbor and streets are quiet. It’s difficult to believe that Istanbul, only a few hundred miles north, underwent major rioting yesterday with police using tear gas and water cannons to quiet the crowds. This is the annual May Day labor union rally that sometimes gets out of hand. The papers and TV are filled with charges that the city leaders overreacted and police used excessive force, and that many innocent people were injured. Fortunately, we will fly from Izmir to Istanbul Airport and directly out, with no return into the city.
We stand at the entrance to Ephesus…one of the greatest ancient cities in the western world. A Greek city was built here along the shoreline around 1000 BC, but silt and ground subsidence have waterlogged what remains of the city. The ruins we see today were founded about 400 BC by Alexander the Great’s successor, Lysinachus. It was the Romans who brought Ephesus into becoming the most powerful port on Aegean, and most of the surviving structures we see now are from that period. Although the city declined as a commercial power, it played an important role in the growth and spread of early Christianity. Two great Councils of the early Christian church were held here in 431 & 449 AD outlining the direction the church would take.
We walk down the remarkably well-preserved and wide marbled streets, flanked by columns and temples. There’s just too much of this great city to highlight (see our photos), but the Gate of Hercules, the Temple of Hadrian, the Colonnaded Street, the Theater, the Brothel, the Baths, and best of all, the Library of Celsus, definitely stand out as special. We spend about three hours in Ephesus and our senses are overloaded. And we note that already the streets of Ephesus are filled with hoards of tourists…imagine what it will be like in 2-3 more weeks.
We chill out and enjoy lunch in downtown Selcuk at a fast food kebab joint frequented by students and workers, then walk to the Ephesus Archaeology Museum where many artifacts of both Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis are found. Considered as one of Turkey’s best museums, the frescoes and marble and bronze statues are beautifully displayed. The exhibits include gold, gems and jewelry, and numerous artifacts that were rescued from the ruins of the temple and the surrounding Greek city. The strange sculpture of Artemis, with her chest strangely covered with rolls of eggs indicating fertility, was rescued from the temple and is on display.
We walk several blocks to the site of the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). Only one column remains standing amidst the rubble…one of the hundreds that once supported the temple built like the Parthenon in Greece, only 4-5 times larger. Most of the marble was recycled to build other later buildings in the Ephesus complex. Ironically storks have now built their nest on the column top so life goes on here. As we are leaving, we see two men pouring some liquid over their heads. Oguz tells us they are training for the traditional Grease Wrestling Championship as part of National Sports Day coming in June. Grease wrestling is a popular event in which the contenders, clothed in leather breeches and bodies smeared in olive oil, complete in a series of wrestling tournaments.
We return to the Kismet Hotel in time to relax some before we gather for Oguz’s trip out-briefing. Oguz goes over his notes of where we’ve been and what we‘ve seen in the past 22 days…reviewing it all at once is mind-boggling. The farewell dinner is very elegant…no buffet, but a sit-down, served meal complete with wine and fancy dessert. We say our farewells to Oguz and give him our tips as tomorrow will be a very hectic day.
Day 23, Saturday, May 3 – Travel to Home
Wakeup call at 2:30 AM…breakfast at 3:00AM (no coffee!!!)…board the bus at 3:30 AM for a 2 hour trip to Izmir Airport. The airport is filled with Turkish soldiers (in civilian clothes) as part of a massive reassignment; hence the lines
for ticketing, baggage checks, and security are long and slow. Also there are no places to sit. Jim & Norma wander to the far corners of the airport and discover a Starbucks Coffee Shop ready to open for the day. Our coffee mugs filled with lattes, we’re ready to board the 7:00 AM flight to Istanbul. The flight is only 50 minutes in the air but time enough for the flight attendants to serve a breakfast snack to a fully booked plane (American Airlines, take note). At 10:00 AM we are aboard the Turkish Airlines flight to New York’s JFK Airport. We arrive at 12:30 PM, NY time, and clear customs without a hitch. We’re on board the Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit at 4:30 PM, and by the time we walk from arriving gate to departing gate, we’re boarding the final leg of our trip to Green Bay, WI. We arrive as the sun is setting…very fitting. Bay City cab drops us off at our front door at 9:00 PM. We’ve been up and out of a bed for 27 straight hours…from a resort on the Mediterranean coast in Turkey to our bedroom in Green Bay. END OF TRIP
Writing these notes and processing our photos gives one a chance to reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve experienced. Travel, ultimately, is an investment in memory. The experience is always enjoyable, but it is the memories that keep us going back for more. Some of our memories of this trip: the balloon ride over Kapadokya, the Turkish Bath in Istanbul, the Home Stay visit, the Hikes throughout the country, the Visit to the Syrian Border, the hospitality of the shepherd’s family, Ephesus, and the simple but great Food. And of course, our traveling companions and the outstanding guide who led us to all of our experiences and memories. What’s next? We get out our Overseas Adventure Travel catalog and start planning for next year.