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Where Europe and Asia Collide

Two weeks in Turkey!


View 11 months around the world on geldere's travel map.

We arrived in Istanbul early in the morning and were scheduled to meet up at the airport with Jeff’s sister, Charis, who was coming to travel with us for two weeks. We waited for her at baggage claim and were totally blown away when we saw not only Charis, but Jeff’s parents as well… It was a total surprise! We were so excited to see family after so many months on the road. They were heading to Rome for vacation (another surprise), but arranged their travel so they could spend a few days with us in Istanbul. After catching up over coffee at the airport, Sandy and Trent headed to their cushy hotel near the airport and the three amigos went into the city to seek out our hostel and rest for a while. We stayed at the Istanbul Hostel, a nice place with a great location near the Blue Mosque. Incidentally, it was also situated right next to the Four Seasons - Jeff is always taunting me :)

Istanbul is huge city with a population of just under 20 million. Its location makes it very unique as it is the only city in the world that straddles two continents, Europe and Asia. The two sides are separated by the Bosphorus which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Because of its location, the city is an interesting mix of European sophistication and Middle Eastern culture. We visited the Blue Mosque, one of Istanbul’s most famous sights, and then got a “hop-on-hop-off” type bus tour of the city to cover more ground. We were amazed to see throngs of people everywhere. Next to India, it was the most concentrated population of people I think I’ve ever seen. After returning from our bus tour, we went to a great coffee shop next to our hostel for some hot chocolate. The restaurant had glass floors in part so that customers could look down on the ruins of an excavated palace below- history everywhere. The next day, we parted ways with Sandy and Trent who headed to Rome while the three of us continued our sightseeing of Istanbul and the rest of Turkey.
IMG_0573.jpgThe famous Blue Mosque at night
IMG_0342.jpg People everywhere- almost everyone on the bridge has a fishing line hanging in the Bosphorus
IMG_0400.jpg The bridge that goes to the Asia side of Istanbul
IMG_0550.jpg Inside Topkapi Palace- there were mosiacs that covered the whole wall
IMG_0520.jpg This is my favorite- See, teenagers are the same no matter where you go in the world :)
IMG_0360.jpg Our coffee shop next to our hostel- we're standing on the glass where you can see the excavations

After taking in the sights of Istanbul for four days (including Topkapi Palace and its famous “harem’s quarters”) and sampling the local food ((baklava, roasted corn, doner (their version of schwerma), kebabs, roasted chestnuts)), we headed out on an overnight bus to visit Cappadocia in central Turkey. The scenery is otherworldly - massive rock formations that over thousands of years have been carved by wind and rain into “fairy chimneys”. George Lucas had supposedly planned to film parts of Star Wars here and you can really see why. We went to an open air museum for a few hours and were surprised to learn that churches, convents and homes have been carved into these massive rock formations for centuries. Some of the rock-cut churches have well preserved murals dating back to the 8th century. We indulged in one of the most touristy activities of our trip so far when we went to "Turkish Night”, an all you can eat Turkish dinner with Dervish dancing, belly dancing, and live music. We went mostly to see the Dervish dancing as it is becoming banned in much of the country. The dance involves spinning in circles with arms open to receive God's beneficence. It is a dance that has obvious religious significance and followers of the Muslim sect want to keep that solidarity by not making it a touristy thing.
IMG_0679.jpgThe small town of Gerome where we stayed
IMG_0642.jpg At the open air museum- supposedly this was a convent that held over 100 nuns in its time
IMG_0628.jpg Inside one of the churches- a lot of the eyes were scratched out by the local inhabitants after the Christians left- they were suspicious of the evil eye
IMG_0685.jpg The scenery was amazing
IMG_0690.jpg On our hike around town
IMG_0654.jpgOne of the Dervishes- I guess that's where the expression "Dance like a Dervish" comes from

After Cappadocia, we continued on public transportation to Konya. It is described as Turkey’s “Detroit” in our guide book, so as you can imagine there is not much to see. It is a major transportation hub, however, and we did visit a museum devoted to and mausoleum for the founder of the Dervish Order.
After the quick layover, we caught an onward bus to Antalya, a sea-side town on the Mediterranean and the gateway to the Turkish Riviera. Unfortunately, the beach weather disappeared a month or two earlier and we were greeted in Antalya by rain. We meandered around town trying to check out the sights while not getting soaked. Since we were running out of time in Turkey and still had several things to see, we rented a car to make getting around easier and to see some things off of the beaten path.
For starters, we drove to Olympus, a summer backpacking mecca, but despite the rain and cooler temperatures, it was still really interesting. We stayed at a hostel that included not only breakfast, but dinner! That was a shocker for us. In the warmer months, backpackers come here to stay in “tree houses” by the sea, but the tree houses are less "Swiss Family Robinson" and more "huts on stilts". The place was chalk full of orange trees and we picked more than a dozen - healthy, tasty and free! Besides the beach, Olympus has two well know sights - the Chimaera and the Olympus ruins. The Chimaera is an eternal flame caused by methane gas leaking out of the Earth in between two very specific kinds of rocks that shift and spark frequently. The flames have been burning for thousands of years and the early inhabitants, not knowing what to make of them, thought they were holy. The Olympus ruins are all that remain from a sea side Roman and pre-Roman town twice sacked by pirates. The ruins are wild and untamed as they are only partially restored and excavated. The forest and beach are slowly reclaiming them. Although not as historically significant or large as other ruins we have seen, they were very impressive given their rough state and the natural surroundings.
IMG_0784.jpg The eternal flame- gotta love International safety standards- where in the US would you be able to stand on fire fueled by methane gas!
IMG_0869.jpg The ruins of Olympus

We then headed inland to Pamukkale. The town is known for calcium carbonate lined pools that cover a hillside and the adjacent Roman ruins (an ancient spa town). The pools were created by hot springs flowing down the hill and over thousands of years forming white pools. It looks like snow (but is hard as rock) and you really feel like you’re at a ski resort. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take a dip anymore, although it looked inviting. We stayed at cute little pension run by what I would describe as “anyone’s Grandparents”. The cute old couple served us apple tea on our arrival - one of my favorite things about Turkey - it was delicious!
IMG_0959.jpg The blinding white hillside of Pamukkale
IMG_0951.jpg The pools of Pamukkale
IMG_1033.jpg Look what we found :)

After our overnight trip to Pamukkale, we headed to the town of Selcuk to see Ephesus, supposedly the best preserved Roman ruins outside of Pompeii. We stopped by the Basilica of St. John (one of Jesus’ Apostles, of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John fame) to see where he is buried and where he supposedly brought the Mother Mary for protection after Jesus' crucifixion. While we were there we spotted the one remaining pillar of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Living up to its hype, Ephesus had some really great Roman ruins. The ruins line a small valley and provide a glimpse of Roman city life 2000 years ago. In its heyday, the city had a population of 200,000. The city has been slowly destroyed over the centuries by several earthquakes but they continue to repair and excavate.
IMG_1081.jpg On the main road at the ruins of Ephesus
IMG_1089.jpg
IMG_1099.jpg What was the old library- it was originally 3 stories high
IMG_1132.jpg The Theatre

While in Selcuk, we also partook in a hamam (Turkish bath). In short, it was an ok, but weird experience. Upon arriving at the hamam, we were told to undress, put on linen towels and enter the steam room. In the steam room, they dumped water on our heads and told us to lie down on a hot stone platform in the center of the room. Charis and I were the only women as most Turkish women go at “women only” times. “How’s it going” I said to the hairy, pot-bellied man next to me as I slid myself onto the marble slab. After a few minutes, we were each scrubbed down by a bath attendant using a rough mitt - he literally scrubbed a layer of skin off of me. After the scrub down, another bath attendant covered us in bubbly soap and gave us each a quick massage. Finally, after being rinsed off with hot water, we were given the option of taking a cold shower, the final step in a Turkish bath. All in all, it was enjoyable, but it would have been more relaxing if Charis and I were not getting our armpits scrubbed by a half naked man in a room full of dudes. Another experience for the books!
We spent our last night prior to returning to Istanbul in Canakkale. We arrived late at night and, besides a quick dinner, did not get to see much. For you movie buffs, the ruins of Troy are nearby and Canakkale proudly displays the wooden horse used in the movie "Troy". The next morning, we took a car ferry across the Dardanelles to the Gallipoli peninsula, the site of a major WWI battle. Both sides incurred huge losses, but for the Allies, the Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand troops) suffered the most. Gallipoli is similar to Normandy in France in that there are numerous graveyards and war memorials spread out along the sea for both sides. It was a peaceful and beautiful spot.
IMG_1191.jpg An Anzac gravesite on the Aegean Sea

After a four hour drive, we were back in Istanbul to meet up for dinner with Jeff’s parents who had just returned from Rome. We all had evening flights the next day, Sandy, Trent and Charis to JFK, and Jeff and I to Bangkok, but we managed to squeeze in one last sight in Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern. A cistern is just a water reservoir, but this one is enormous and surprisingly beautiful. At the airport later in the day, we said our goodbyes and sent the Sirolly clan on their way home while we boarded our flight to Bangkok…hopefully, the city is not completely under water. We’ll write more soon!
IMG_1229.jpg Inside the cistern in Istanbul
IMG_1230.jpgThe whole clan inside the cistern

Posted by geldere 20:55 Archived in Turkey

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