Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012 Trip #8 - Cappadocia, Turkey

When Paul read to me from the guided horse tour brochure that Cappadocia meant "Land of the Beautiful Horses," I called BS on it. I mean, that had to be a marketing gimmick if I ever heard one, right?

I stand corrected - a few tour guides later and for correctly answering the question of 'what does Cappadocia mean' to win an onyx egg, I have been humbled.

This last weekend, Paul, his parents and I ventured to the land of the beautiful horses.

We stayed in Göreme which is a great starting out point to get around the region. I thought 2.5 days would be enough for exploring, but as our last day wound down, I found myself wishing for more time to explore even more.

 Our "cave" hotel. It really was built into a cave, but most of the times the rooms are built outside of the cave with only certain parts of the hotel inside

 View of the fairy chimneys from our room

 The best way I found to see the most of the city, and perhaps the most frightening, is a hot air balloon ride. If you are not scared of heights, no fears. Even if you are scared of heights (like me), have no fears! I felt fine (almost) the whole time and we had smooth sailing.  We did the one hour tour and floated along some of the valleys, although I wish we could have seen even more.

After a nap, because waking up at 4:30 am is always too early, we set out to explore more of the city. We strolled through Göreme up to the Göreme Open Air Museum. The museum is full of caves that were used a churches, kitchens, living areas and more during the Byzantine period. It is different from many churches you see with frescoes painted on plaster put up on the rocks and the earlier period paintings are sometimes just rudimentary red paintings.
Göreme Open Air Musem
Fresco inside the open air museum

On day 2, we decided to venture outside of Göreme and visited some areas to the south of the city.

First were the Underground Cities of Derinkuyu - the deepest underground city. We went down 8 stories, but there were even more which have since collapsed or are a part of the 90% of the city that aren't available to the public.  Personally, I don't know if I could live in a cave at all, much less for 3 months, so props to them.

People were tiny. Or Paul is large.

This tunnel was something like 4 km long and linked up to another underground city

Next, we trekked through the Ihlara Gorge and visited St. Daniel's Church there. When I say trekk, I mean we really hiked through by the river for 3-4 KM.

According to our guide, this is the second largest canyon after the Grand Canyon. According to our research, the Grand Canyon is the second largest canyon and this one does not rank. So, always trust your tour guide.

View from the inside of the St. Daniel's valley located in the gorge

Finally, we ended up at Selime Monastery. According to the guide, the producers of Star Wars wanted to film here, but weren't allowed. I have to say this is my favorite stop of the trip. We were given free reign (or as much as you can have in 25 minutes) to wander around the caves, climb up to rooms that are less frequented and snap away to my hearts desire.

Walking up to Selime Monastery

Church inside the Selime Monastery

On our last day, I wanted to explore the famous Love Valley with the famous fairy chimneys. We started up the steep hike over the hill to get down into the valley and received a ride on the back of the truck of some friendly locals.  After depositing us near a path, we thought we were lucky and happily trotted down the trail. Who knows how many wrong turns, streams, ropes and 2 hours later, we finally came out near where we were supposed to hike. While we missed the magnificent Love Valley, we certainly got our exercise in for the day and still enjoyed some majestic landscape.

 View from the top of the valley

Pretty view of the valley looking up - all those pushes were scratchy.

 Quick History:
- Cappadocia is actually a region, not a city, in central Turkey. It is famous for its unusual rock formations that were created in the region which was triangled between 3 volcanoes and eroded over time to form what they are today.
- It is thought that the earliest settlers founded what is now Kayseri around 2000 BC.
- The region has had quite a few changes in control - first the Hittites, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, and finally the Ottomans.
- There is a lot of Christian history in the area - first during the Roman period with Christians hiding from persecution in the caves, then during the Byzantine period. There are churches everywhere as evidence of this.

What to See:
- Hot Air Balloon Ride: hands down the best part of the trip. It can be pricey, but it is worth it to have a reputable operator. Usually your hotel can arrange this for you.
Göreme Open Air Museum: a short walk from the town of Göreme, this is a must see. The Apple Church, Buckle Church and Dark church were some of the best preserved churches. The extra entry for the Dark Church is worth it (no pictures though).
- Zemi (Love) Valley: walk through the fairy chimneys (this is what we tried to do but missed)
- Underground Cities: there are several different underground cities, but these are difficult to reach with public transportation, so look into a tour or car rental options.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Turkey Bucket List

I have never kept a real bucket list. I think I have a place in my brain where I make notes of things I would like to do and places I would like to go. I also think this is the same places where I keep information like why did I just get up off the couch and walk into the bedroom?

So, if you get my point, I never really remember all of it. So, I have decided to make a formal, printed online bucket list for Turkey and then try to get as much done as I can. And yes, I'm putting things on here I have already done to make my list look like I have accomplished something. Let's be honest, we all do that sometimes, right?


Visit Aya Sofia

Visit the Blue Mosque

Visit Topkapi

Visit Dolmabahce Palace and check out the aviary

Visit Chora Church

Visit Suleymaniye Mosque

Climb the City Walls

Take a Bosphorus Boat Cruise

Haggle at the Grand Bazaar for a rug

Visit the Basilica Cisterns

Buy some spices from the Spice Market

 Go to a meyhane

Check out the views from the top of the Galata Tower

Take a ride from Europe to Asia
Ride a bike on one of the Princes Islands
Smoke nargile
Take a Bosphorus Boat Cruise at night
Hang among the 'glamorous' at Suada (that little island owned by Galatasaray)
Brave up and try a hamam
See the Whirling Dervishes
Roam the ruins of Rumeli Fortress
Take a trip to Asia to check out Beyberli Palace

Other parts of Turkey:
Revitalise in the springs at Pamukkale

Play among the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia

Ignore my fear of heights and take a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia

Tour the Gallipoli Battle Grounds

Search for Brad Pitt in the ancient ruins of Troy

Relax on a boat in Bodrum

Wander the ancient ruins of Ephesus

Sate my curiosity of why men wrestling in oil is a spectacle in Edirne
Catch the sun rising over Mt. Neirut
Trekk to Trabzone and the nearby monestary
Imagine we live in old Ottoman times in Safranbolu
Soak up the sun in Oludeniz and Fetiye
Take a drive along the Lycian Way
See the dervishes in Konya

I will try to keep this as an ongoing list - adding pictures when I've knocked one off the list or found something else fabulous to add.

Other expats of and/or visitors to Turkey - what are some of your must not miss sites I should add to my list?

Monday, June 18, 2012

2012 Trip #7 - Bodrum, Turkey

Remember that time when I kept hoping it would stop being cold and start warming up? Let me go back to that time and recall my wish. It has finally warmed up here in Istanbul - everyday last week was reminiscent of Texas, but without the luxury of central A.C. everywhere. And, with everyone cranking up their A.C.'s, we've lost power in our neighborhood a few times.

We decided that this was the perfect weekend to escape the heat and head towards the water in Bodrum. The city is a lot like the smaller cities we have visited in Greece - lots of tourists, foreigners and beautiful water. 

Unlike our usual activity filled getaways, we were relaxed vacationers. The weekend consisted of basically lounging around by the water, whether it was on a boat, by the pool, or the deck. We hired a boat to go out to other bays, we snorkeled, had lunch and drinks on the boat, sunbathed and then did some more snorkeling, then more sunbathing. You don't even need to paddle here, you are so buoyant in the water you can just lay back and float by. 

We did take one night to go into the city for dinner and drinks. The city itself is charming too - lots of places to stroll with a view of the water, some interesting little shops and restaurants. Other than that, my experience with the city itself was limited. I didn't even try to get myself out to the castle! Another time, another trip.

 The "beach" - like most other places in the Mediterranean, it isn't very sandy beaches, but the water is beautiful

 Our ride for the day

Soaking up some sun on the boat

 Ships in the Bodrum harbor

 Shopping in Bodrum - the canopy of vines overhead makes it feel like its indoors almost

Quick History
- Bodrum used to be called Halicarnassus of Caria in ancient times. The city housed the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World.
- The Father of History, Herodotus, was from Halicarnassus.
- The first castle in the town is thought to have been built in 1100 BC, although St Peter's Castle was built upon its remains.

What to see - well, like I said, we saw nothing. BUT these are suggestions from others with us who had visited before.

- St Peter's Castle
- Museum of Underwater Archeology
- The water: rent a boat, jet ski, paddle boat, or simply float in the water.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


The first time I went to Ortaköy was before we even moved to Istanbul. I tagged along with Paul on a 48 hour visit in order to confirm that I could indeed live in Turkey. While we were here, we got in a Bosphorus boat cruise and made a pit stop in Ortaköy. We were greeted by the hustle and bustle of Istanbul on tiny streets packed with restaurants, jewellers/artists selling their goods and people taking it all in.

  Back alley in Ortaköy with restaurants and bars along it

Since then I have been hooked and it is a favorite place to take visitors when they come into town. On the weekends, they have some great street vendors selling art, jewelry, books and more, in addition to the usual stores there.

Ortaköy also is a great place to have a meal and enjoy  the views. Whether you sit down at Mado or the House Cafe, or grab a kumpir to go and sit by the water, you won't be disappointed by the atmosphere. There's even a guy selling mussels if you want something "fresh" and slimy (I may be biased as a non-seafood eater, but there's something fishy about this).

 Kumpirs! Basically a baked potato + salad bar

 For those who are brave and have strong stomachs

But, like I said, the best part of it is the view. Right up on the Bosphorus and right under the Bosphorus bridge, you get a fantastic view of the ships, water, bridge, birds and everything else that makes the Bosphorus so unique.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

2012 Trip #6 - Pamukkale, Turkey

We have another set of visitors this week - my parents! I have to say I have been amazed and grateful at the number of people who have taken the time to come visit us here in Turkey. I enjoy getting to be a tour guide to my new city and a lot of times, other places around Turkey.

My parents decided they wanted to take a quick excursion out of Istanbul with us and I decided it was about time that we got to visit Pamukkale. I had never heard of it before we decided to move to Turkey, but as soon as I saw the pictures, I knew I had to visit.

I feel like every trip has some kind of disaster to report. The airlines lost your luggage, you were delayed 3 hours, you couldn't find that hamburger that you desperately wanted at 10 am. This trip, however, went off without a hitch. We showed up at the airport, found the bus, which dropped us off in Denizli at the sketchy mini-bus, which dropped us directly off at the hotel. The hotel staff were wonderful, helpful and made a delicious kofte. We took the shuttle to the site, we walked around, we walked home and caught our flight back. Biggest disaster? A little sunburn.  I hope this is not a sign from the travel gods that my next trip will be a disaster.

We were only in Pamukkale one night/day which was enough to see everything in the grounds, although you may want more time if you are checking out some of the other ruins outside of the city.

The whole area you want to see is found in one park. We started off at the South Entrance and walked up to the Hierapolis first. 

 Theater of Hierapolis - it seats 12,000 people and the stage is still well preserved today. According to signs around the theater, they also built in some type of pool to allow for aquatic performances.

Martyrion of Saint Philip -  this is the place that the Apostle Philip was killed and his tomb was located here.

Frontinus Street - the street was 14 meters wide and the main artery of the city

 On your way back down you get your first close up glimpse of some of the travertines.

Next we decided to cool off from our walk in the hot morning with a quick dip in the Antique Pool. Not only was the water a wonderful, tepid 36 degrees Celsius, but you are swimming among marble columns and ruins, and the water is supposed to have healing powers. Perhaps it was the part of the water that had something to do with radioactive material? (Yes, they actually put this tidbit in the brochure).

 Warning! Apparently when people put bathing suits on, they like to pose. 
A Lot. We saw all kinds of fantastic posing, including this guy here.

Finally, we made our way back to the North exit by walking down the travertines. I don't think any words are needed to describe them and even the pictures don't do them justice!

 Courtesy of my dad and his 5 am jet lag trip to the travertines

 Courtesy of my dad and his 5 am jet lag trip to the travertines

Okay, well if all the cool kids are doing it.... Pose session!

Quick History
- Pamukkale translates to Cotton Castle in Turkish.
- In the 2nd century B.C., the kings of Pergamon established the thermal spa of Hierapolis.
- Philip the Apostle  was crucified here by Domitian around 87.
- The thermal pools are a lovely 35 degrees Celsius and are thought to have healing powers.
- The travertines are formed when calcium carbonate is deposited (after some technical scientific stuff happens) and it hardens into the travertine.
- Significant damage was done to the site due to tourism; once the site was made a World Heritage Site in 1988, many measures were put in place to help preserve the travertines for future generations

What to see
- Hierapolis: top sites are the Theater, St Philip Martyrion (this one is the furthest away but worth the hike; you may even have it all to yourself), and Frontinus Gate. If you get to the site early enough, you should be able to get a map with your ticket.
- Antique Pool: this costs an extra 30 TL to swim in the pool. If you just want to get a few snapshots of the pool itself and keep yourself dry, you can come in, sit, and have a drink or two.
- Travertines: the park is open 24 hours a day; the best time to get there though is early morning. You can get the sun coming up over the terraces before the light starts blinding you with its reflection and get the terraces much more to yourself than later in the day. You do have to walk without shoes on the travertines to help preserve them, but you have lots of opportunities to stop and wade in the pools on the way down. If you have sensitive feet, bring some extra socks to slip on for the walk.