Sunday, July 29, 2012

A City Escape - Belgrade Forest

Just a 25 minute drive from our apartment is an oasis away from the crowded, noisy, busy streets of Istanbul.

This weekend, we took Belle for some running and playing in Belgrade Forest. This wasn't Belle's first visit - our fantastic dog trainer who watches Belle when we are out of town has taken her a few times. But I had never been and was curious to check it out and most importantly get Belle some quality off the leash time.

Driving up, you first pass through some of the cities old aqueducts from the 16th century. It still amazes me that these are regular sites which cars pass through every day, just a normal part of life.

Once we got there, we drove on the road all the way through the forest. People have pulled off to the official stops, enjoying picnics, hanging out in hammocks, grilling and enjoying time with family. People stopped just off the road and wandered to hike a bit through the forest. People were selling watermelons, vegetables and toys on the side of the road. Quite a bit of activity.

Yet, after a 2 minute walk past the picnic tables and gathered family crowds, we had the forest all to ourselves.

Belle had a ball. She'd run ahead several feet, sniff out plants and smells, trying to find a bite to eat. Just when we would think she might run off, she would stop, turn around and look at us, as if to say "Come on guys, you're slowing me down here!" We never did find the lake we were looking for, but Belle (and us) still enjoyed all the sights and smells of the forest, although maybe not the mosquitoes that come out in the summer.

I'm not sure what all there is to see here - there is a 6km trail that runs around the forest and passes by the lake where Belle usually gets to swim. There is also a beautiful arboretum with manicured lawns and lakes. We still don't know if we found the "right" place to walk around the forest, but enjoyed a couple of hours of quiet nonetheless before returning to our bustling neighborhood in urban Istanbul.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Paragliding in Ölüdeniz

When we were talking about our trip to Ölüdeniz, everyone decided they were in for paragliding.  At first, I decided I wouldn't do it. I mean, as the saying goes, if all your friends jump off a cliff, are you going to jump too?

Family and friends know I am terrified of heights. Also extreme, dangerous activities, but mostly heights. When we were in Switzerland, Paul wanted to go canyoning. I vetoed and instead we went biking through the Alps (just regular old bikes, no fancy, speed increasing motors for us).

Then I thought about it some more. Read up on it online and researched the sport. I was wavering, thinking maybe, just maybe I could jump off the cliff.

Finally, Paul made a bet with me - he said he didn't think I would do it. The wager? House cleaning. You can see he was pretty positive that I would NOT jump off a cliff, or as he says it was reverse psychology at work.

And like my usual self, I had to prove him wrong.

We had a reservation to jump on our last afternoon in Ölüdeniz. After our morning trip to Fethiye, we headed back for our paragliding appointment. On the drive up to the mountain, I was anxious. The ground looked so far! The fall off the edge of the road seemed precipitous, ignoring the fact it wasn't a cliff!

Then, after a few tears and watching some others go off first, the fear vanished. I was strapped in to my guide, who was strapped into our parachute. He told me to run and I did. Straight off the edge of a cliff.

What we hoped wasn't our last picture together

Yes, you literally run off the edge. Luckily, air picks you up
before you actually reach the edge, so there's no drop

Once you are up in the air, it seems like nothing. So we're 2,000 meters off the ground? No biggie. My guide put some music on mostly to entertain himself, but it also helped me to continue to feel at ease. I could literally sit back and enjoy the views.

Burak and I enjoying the ride

Hey Paul! Right before they started
doing acrobatics. I wasn't quite
that brave, yet

It is worth it alone for the views - the beaches are gorgeous from the ground, but from above you can really see the blue of the water, the contrast of the mountains and beaches. Depending on the wind and weather, you can be up in the air for hours if you find the right thermals (pockets of hot air).

Belcekiz Beach

Blue Lagoon
Then, just like that, we were losing altitude and flying over the city for our landing. The time literally flew by and I was wishing for just a little more time up in the air above paradise.

We're alive!

Monday, July 23, 2012

2012 Trip #10 - Ölüdeniz, Turkey

This vacation paradise was actually brought to me by my dad. When we decided to move to Turkey, we gave him a book about Turkey so that he could read up on it and plan out a visit to come see us. One of the photos in the book was from Ölüdeniz and he insisted that we/he had to visit.

Unfortunately, he didn't get to make a stop there on their visit (although we did visit the beautiful pools at Pamukkale), but Paul and I were excited to go this past weekend so he could live vicariously through us and because I always love going to the beach.

The area is known for it's beautiful beaches and picturesque landscape. You have the blue beaches surrounded by the majestic mountains, giving you the best of both worlds to enjoy.  We didn't waste much time getting to the beach and went straight away to the water after we arrived at the hotel.  Ölüdeniz translates to "Dead Sea" and you can understand why as soon as you hit the water. It is so salty that you simply float - no need to paddle.

Our first true day, we didn't break a stride and continued with our explorations of the beaches surrounding Ölüdeniz. We checked out Camel's Beach, the nearby Springs (which contrary to our boat guides joke are NOT hot), St. Nick's Island and the famous Blue Lagoon.  The water is clear blue, and great for swimming, even if the beaches are a bit rocky for my taste. My favorite had to be St. Nick's island. Here you can see the remains of the monestary which was the original resting place of St. Nicholas (or who we now know as Santa Clause) - from where our boat anchored, we swam 5 minutes and were able to stand in the ruins of what was once the monastery and see old stones underwater as well.

The shoreline of St. Nicholas' island. You can see some of
monastery ruins on the hillside.

A view of the water and a couple of the "humps" that give
Camel beach it's name

One of the things that I had seen in books and been very interested in viewing was the Lycian tombs. After viewing the tomb at the British Museum in London, I was even more anxious to view them in their natural habitat. Luckily, in Fethiye, a neighboring town to Ölüdeniz, is the start of the Lycian Way. This was my chance to see these famous tombs! I was going to see them, gosh darn it, even if it meant waking up early which was not my vacation preference.

The first stop on our drive towards Fethiye was at Kayaköy, which I had not heard of before our drive. This town, established by Greek Christians in the 18th century, was abandoned at the start of the 20th century. It's eerie compared to ruins like Troy and Ephesus, because with houses scattered all over the hillside, it's almost as if the entire city is intact (with the exception of the roofs). 

The ghost houses at Kayaköy
After our pit stop in Kayaköy , we made it to the Amynthas Rock Tombs on the outskirts of Fethiye. This particular tomb dates back to the 4th century B.C and was made for Amynthas, son of Hemmapias. While there isn't much to see inside, its worth the 5 TL entrance fee to go into the "park" and climb up the steps to the tomb. Here is the only place you can get an idea of the true size of this memorial. 

Amynthas Rock Tombs - this was
definitely a photo op, not because
I needed to catch my breath...

Quick History:
- This area was originally part of the area controlled by Lycians in the 1200-500 BC period.  Lycia's regions are now modern day Antalya and Mugla in Southern Turkey on the Aegean coast.
- Later, Lycia was incorporated as a province into the Roman Empire. After that, it fell under Byzantine rule and down the line to modern day Turkey.
-Oludeniz is one of the most photographed beaches in the Mediterranean.
- Babadağ Mountain, which offers a great take off point for the many paragliders, was called Mount Cragus in ancient times.

What to See:
- The Rock Tombs in Fethiye. If you have more time, check out the larger tombs in Dalyan.
- Views from Above: this area is one of the most popular for paragliding and for good reason. Make sure you find a reputable company which a good safety record.
- Blue Lagoon: this famous beach is great for swimming and people watching. It's a short walk away from the main part of the city.
- Butterfly Valley: this is another famous beach, but a little bit more difficult to get to. You can either take a somewhat gruelling trek (from what I've heard) or reach it via boat.

Getting Around:
- If you fly into the Ölüdeniz/Fethiye area, you will be coming through the Dalaman Airport. It is about a 45 minute drive to Fethiye and 1 hr 15 minute drive to Ölüdeniz. You can take the city bus into Fethiye from here and then another bus into Ölüdeniz, or most hotels can set-up a private transfer for you in advance.
- To get between Ölüdeniz and Fethiye, there is a dolmus that comes every 10-30 minutes for 4TL. This drops you off at the city bus terminal.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chora Church (Kariye Muzesi)

I have always said that Chora Church is one of the most under visited tourist sites in Istanbul. When I asked a native Istanbullu (or is it Istanbullian? Istanbulite?) what I must see in Istanbul and she responded Kariye Museum, I knew I had to be right.

Chora Church is one of my absolute favorite spots to visit, but because its a bit off the beaten path of Sultanahmet, people don't venture out that far.

So what is it that makes Chora Church so special? People flock to Aya Sofia and love the tiled mosaics there but don't even realize that Chora Church is full of similar mosaics that are much better preserved. Because Chora Church's mosaics weren't worked on until the 1950's, they are in great condition compared to Aya Sofia, as if the plaster preserved them in time. Of course they aren't perfect, the building was built in the 11th century and the mosaics added in the 14th century.

Even if you aren't a bible buff (which I make no claims to be - all explanations are thanks to my wonderful and worn Rick Steve's book left by my friend), you can still enjoy the church. Don't forget to take your sunglasses off your head as you will spend most of the time staring up at the ceilings. When you come out at the end with your neck a bit sore, you can use that as your excuse to visit a hamam for a nice massage.

The Resurrection - here Jesus descends into hell and is
saving Adam and Eve from their coffins.
Journey of the Magi and presentation of the gifts to Herord

View of the exterior Narthex - in the front
right hand corner you can see the miracle
of Jesus turning water to wine

In the top is the temptation of Christ (devil represented by
the dark angel)

The nativity scene

The Massacre of the innocents is illustrated - when Herod
ordered the murder of male children to find baby Jesus

Biblical Genealogy of Christ - here Christ is surrounded
by figures from the old testament like Adam and Noah
So if it's so hard to get to, how do you get there?
  1. Take a taxi - as always, be careful in Sultanahmet to make sure you don't get a gypsy cab. It should have a meter which starts off at 2.70 TL.
  2. Take the tram - from Sultanahmet, take the tram to Topaki stop (not to be confused with the stop where Topkapi palace is located. This stop is further down). Here transfer to the rail and ride to Edirnekapi stop. Once you get off, turn to face the city walls and walk towards them across the traffic. Take a left past the bus stop on Viz Sokak and then right on Kariye Camii Sokak.
  3. Take the bus - from Taksim, take the #87 bus to the Edirnekapi stop. Here, facing the city wall, the church is in your right. Follow the same instructions as above.
Unless you are like me and a little prone to getting lost, it really isn't too hard to find. While you're in the area, wander the city walls for great views of the city too.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Kirkpinar Oil Wresting Festival

Back before we even moved to Turkey, I had read about the oil wresting festivals and decided I wanted to go.

Not because I wanted to see men rubbed down in oil. Not because I wanted to go to Edirne (although that desire changed after moving to Istanbul). Not even because I like wrestling.

The fun in it to me was the absurdity of it.  Men wrestling in olive oil. So weird.

This weekend was my chance to go. It was the 651st Annual Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival, meaning that they have been doing this continuously since 1361. Paul's aunts and cousin were in town and it was the perfect chance to show them something unique to Turkey. We rented the car, bought the tickets, re-bought the tickets once we lost them and finally made it into the stadium.

It wasn't what I expected, to be honest. I think the excitement for most spectators comes from supporting your city or region's wrestlers, whom you cheer on throughout the day. There were 20 matches going on at a time. Without having a wrestler to support, it was almost sensory overload. There was always a match to watch, always something happening and always a bit of confusion on our end at the rules of it all.

Men waiting to be a part of the competition watching the many
groups currently wrestling. Since we went on Saturday we
missed the championship and presentation of the golden belt
What most struck me though was the history and tradition of the whole spectacle. While nothing is incredibly interesting to a casual observer about the wrestling itself, it is amazing to think that 651 years ago, men were doing almost exactly the same thing. Wrestling each other, lathered up in olive oil and their buffalo leather pants, in the grass, with the band playing in the background and spectators cheering them on.  Today, it still has the feeling of a county fair with local booths set up outside, men hanging out drinking tea and chatting.

Men getting oiled up for the matches.
They use only local olive oil
We were fortunate enough to run into one of the (hundreds) of wrestlers over dinner in Edirne. We got a lot of our questions answered about the rules and background of the festival, which made it even more intriguing. Children start training for this around age 7. If you become good enough, you are sponsored by the city and it basically becomes your job. You train the whole year leading up to this and then it could be over in 5 minutes. Needless to say, emotions run high, and you can see the disappointment in many men who are on the losing side of the match.

After dinner, I had one required stop to make before heading out of Edirne. After visiting a lot of mosques in Istanbul, I have become fascinated with the story of Mimar Sinan. He was one of the most prolific builders under Süleyman the Magnificent and built or supervised the construction of more than 475 buildings. The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne is said to be his masterpiece. All you can do upon entering is stare up - such beatiful domes and so many little nooks and crannies in the ceiling with wonderful paintings.

Curious to check out the wrestling festival? It's an easy and beautiful two hour drive from Istanbul. Find dates and more information here.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

London - Part 2

Our trip to London continued. With only 48 hours in London, we got more done than I thought we would (enough for 2 posts!) Sure, it was summer so we had sunlight in our favor, but we must have been hurrying around the city at super speed to get things in, even though it didn't feel like it. Maybe it was the efficient public transportation or maybe we were feeling energetic, but we made the most of our time in London.  Of course in London, there's always something to see, so we have more on our to-do list for the next trip.

On our second day in the city, we decided to first check out the Tower of London which we had only passed by the day before. Luckily, we got there right as the rain started, so it gave us an excuse to stay inside the tower longer.  You definitely don't need a reason though - there is plenty to keep you busy for at least a half day, probably even the whole day. In 2.5 hours, we got a tour from the Yeomen Warders, who oversee the tower, saw the Crown jewels (including a 300 carat diamond) and visited the armory. After that, we saw the queue for the tower with the exhibition on torture devices and decided to skip the line and make a break for it while it was sunny.

The Bloody Tower. And see, it can be sunny in London!

Supersistion is that the tower will fall if there aren't at least 6 ravens onsite.
So, they cheated a bit and have 8 with their wings clipped.
We saw them enjoying a nice rabbit meal. Better than my fingers.
Our next stop was the British Museum. I love this museum because a) its free (but you should still make a donation) and b) there are so many neat things there! Things that everyone knows about and should take the time to see.

The Great Court

First was the Enlightenment Room, which is like a library of my dreams. They also have a desk here where they bring out certain artifacts during the day which people can look at more closely and even touch! We got to touch an old flint knife, some dolphin teeth that were used for bartering in the S. Pacific and some cloth that was on a mummy! Yes, for real.

The shelves house everything from books to pottery
to before mentioned dolphin teeth.
Next we paid a visit to this guy: the moai of Easter Island. There's somewhere around 900 of these little men out there, including still on Easter Island. They are meant to honor ancestors who were deity.

It's hard to see these guys without thinking
of that Ben Stiller museum movie, right?

From there, we moved down the hallway to the Egyptian artifact and the Rosetta Stone. You know that stone that helped them to decipher hieroglyphics? It was actually found being used as a stone inside a building, where it had been repurposed.

From the picture, it looks like an
ordinary rock in a glass case

Final stop was the Greek artifacts and ruin. It was the perfect way to end for us because there is a lot of things relating to modern day Turkey here, like some figures from what is now Bodrum's wonder of the ancient world (The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus) and the reconstructed Nereid Monument which is in modern day Antalya. It still amazes me the influence and importance Turkey has - yet another reason for everyone to come see the original sites here in Turkey.

This was found in what is now called the
Lycian Way in Turkey

We wrapped up the night at a pub with a bit of football watching (it was the Eurocup finals of course) and then off on our red eye flight back to Istanbul. Which was immediately followed up a nap. Words to the wise: red eye flights that are only 3 hours long only seem like a good idea.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

2012 Trip #9 - London

As you can see from all my trip posts and lack of anything else, it has been a busy month for the Tarts in Turkey. In the last 6 weeks, we have had 3 sets of visitors and 5 different trips. It has kept us busy and the blog a bit lonely of posts.

Last week, I was in London for work.  After the fantastically hot weather in Turkey, I was a very happy girl to have a break from the heat. It also reminded me how nice it is to be able to communicate with someone in their language instead of hand gestures.  That is certainly something you take for granted if you have never lived overseas.

Paul joined me for the weekend - it was his first time to the UK and I was excited to share with him one of my favorite cities in Europe. With this also came a bit of expectation to be the expert. What's a certain building, how do you get here, what should we do today? You want to show someone whats best in the city and gloss over some of the less enjoyable parts.

Paul had one demand for sightseeing - the big hop on hop off tourbuses. While it is easy to get around via tube in London, on a sunny day, this is a fun and easy way to get exactly where you want to go. The weather was in our favor and we got an overview of the famous sites in London: Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, Globe Theatre and more.

Hi - don't mind  us, we're just some friendly tourists!

While we did a lot of hopping on and off that day, we didn't go into too many things.

We saw the tail end of the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. Who knew they had a band? (Don't answer that, I'm pretty sure lots of you out there knew that).

Oh, hey there Queen! She just celebrated 60 years as Queen

The Beefeaters

We checked out my all-time favorite church, Westminster Abbey. It's amazing and creepy to walk around and on top of all those tombs. Plus, I love Poet's Corner with the best writers are lying beneath your feet. Like I said, creepy, but amazing.

No pictures inside, but luckily you can take pictures outside
which was useful during the 30 minute wait to get inside.

We got off at the London Tower for great views of the Tower Bridge and then hopped on a river cruise.

The Tower Bridge NOT the London Bridge.
The London Bridge is a lovely concrete thing down river.

Paul's only other request was to visit Greenwich. As in Greenwich Standard Time. I had never thought of this before, but said hey, that sounds like fun! So we grabbed the river boat for a ride up the Thames to Greenwich. There isn't actually all that much there. Some neighborhoods, a park which will be used for the horse, errr equestrian, events for the Olympics, and the observatory. Here at the observatory is where you can see the Meridian Line, the (imaginary) line that divides the world into the Eastern and Western hemisphere.

Yes, it was as unexciting as it seemed
(sorry Paul)

We took a cruise back to Westminster to enjoy the beautiful views along the Thames and get me a snack so that I could stop being what I have coined as hangry (hungry + angry = hangry) and quit acting like an annoyed diva. Ironically, I did in fact eat a snickers.

London Eye - favorite (unedited) picture of the trip.
It takes 45 minutes to go around and it doesn't actually stop.
Big Ben and Parliament - there are two parts to Parliament:
House of the Lords and House of the Commons.

To end the day, we visited a pub in Notting Hill for a pint of ale for Paul and a pint of cider for me. You gotta love a city where you can get cider on tap.

More to come soon on Day TWO of our London visit.