Sunday, October 26, 2014

Memories of Greece and Turkey.

Posing in front of the Parthenon, atop the Acropolis in Athens.

Yasas! Merhaba! Hello! This is the diary of my trip to Greece and Turkey in 2014, my brother's and my annual trip this year.

We had a fantastic time and I was so relieved about that!  Since I was retired, I had time to plan each and every day of this 28 trip!  It was a LOT of research and planning  - I think I set a personal record for how much time and effort it took!  But, I am proud to say that from a logistics perspective, everything went smoothly - our flights arrived on time, our rental cars were waiting for us as promised, our accommodations all worked out - from hotels to guesthouses to apartments.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Day on Büyükada.

On our island *tour bus*.

We arrived in to Büyükada after about a 90 minute boat ride from Kabataş.  I, we, had done exactly zero reading on what there is to do or see here.  Personally, after nearly 4 weeks of pretty much constant sightseeing, I'm happy to spend a day doing nothing but sitting at a cafe and people watching or just sitting on a park bench and watching the world go by.  I would welcome any chance to just decompress a bit.

The Boat Trip to Büyükada.



Today was our last day in Istanbul; we leave for home bright and early tomorrow morning. I cannot believe that it was four weeks ago that we landed in Athens. Time really has flown by and well, that's because we've had a blast!

I had deliberately left this day open on our itinerary. Since we didn't have a chance to visit Dolmabahçe Palace yesterday, I had originally thought we would do it today but unfortunately, it's closed. So, I mentioned a day trip to the Princes Islands - following up on a suggestion by my Turkish friend, Ayşe.  Bro had no objections to taking a trip outside the city so that was how we spent today.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Museum and a Park.


Feeling good! After our very satisfying, finger lickin' good luck of tavuk kanat aka grilled chicken wings, it was time to go back to doing more sightseeing.

We had to head back to Gülhane Park which is where the The Istanbul Archaeology Museums are located. Of course, I told Bro that I knew the way back and I did but we somehow ended up several blocks out of the way - way past Çemberlitaş Hamamı on Divan Yolu Cd. Thankfully, we had plenty of energy to recover from our detour. That and it really was a pleasant day for a stroll in the city.

My Istanbul Food Obsessions. Tavuk Kanat and Lokum.


When in Istanbul, I eat. I have loved Turkish long before I ever set foot in the country, but since my first visit back in 2008, I have grown to appreciate the culinary tastes of this country even more.  With each visit, I bring back a new food obsession with me.  On my first visit it was the ice cream and bilek ekmek.  On my second visit, it was döner kebab and fırın sütlaç. On this visit, it's tavuk kanat aka grilled chicken wings and lokum....but not the cubed stuff sold in boxes targeted at tourists.

A Most Grand Palace. Topkapı Sarayı.


It was more sightseeing today. We started at another of Istanbul's historic gems - Topkapı Sarayı (Palace). We headed back on the tram towards Sultanahmet, getting off at the Gülhane stop. From here, it's barely about a five minute walk, uphill, to the entrance to Gülhane Park. Inside, is a street that leads uphill to Topkapı Palace.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Exploring, Discovering, Enjoying.

The Grand Bazaar.

There's only so much sightseeing that you can do before you reach overload. I've learned that with Bro and I, every other day or so, we need some downtime. That doesn't meant not doing anything. Instead, it may mean that we just wander about town without a specific agenda in mind. Such was the case after visiting the Aya Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Basiica Cistern this morning. Rather than packing in more sightseeing, I left our afternoon open.

A Really Big Underground Pool. Yerebatan Sarayı.


Located stone's throw from both the Aya Sophia and Sultanahmet Cami is another of Istanbul's Historic treasures. Known in Turkish as *Yerebatan Sarayı* which translates as *Sunken Palace*, the Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city and supplied water to its ancient residents. The cistern was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. It gets its name from a large public square, the Stoa Basilica, beneath which it was originally constructed.

The ticket booth is at street level.  We bought two tickets and took the stairs down.  As we descended, the air felt increasingly damp and you could smell the stale water. 

I remember coming here in 2008 and told Bro a bit about it as we stood in line waiting to buy our entry tickets. But I didn't want to give it all away because it's quite something to experience just how massive this cistern is.

A Grand Mosque. Sultanahmet Cami.


Our visit of Istanbul's heritage landmarks started today with Aya Sophia.  From there, I led Bro across the plaza that separates the former church from its true Islamic counterpart - Sultanahmet Cami or as it's more popularly known as, the Blue Mosque.

The One. The Only. Aya Sopia.


I woke up rested and raring to go.  By the time I got out of the shower, Bro was ready to go in. We had a quick breakfast of eggs, bread and jam, yogurt and fruit and tea. It's become our de facto breakfast menu on this trip and even on our previous trip to the Baltics during which we stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Tallinn.

Monday, October 20, 2014

To Water.

View of Yeni Cami and the fish restaurants.

We ended our first full day of sightseeing by spending along the Golden Horn.  After visiting Süleymaniye Cami, we walked back to Yeni Cami.  I wanted to take Bro to the Galata Bridge to see the fishermen who congregate along its sides to cast their lines in to the water below.  It's quite a sight to see.


It's been 6 years since I've been here but I still remembered to take the underpass to cross the street.  It's basically a shopping arcade.

Süleymaniye Cami....Finally!


We finally made it to Süleymaniye Cami. After lunch, we successfully retraced our steps back from Rüstem Paşa Cami. Hard to believe but true!

We entered back through the same arched entryway and this time, instead of going straight towards the cemetery, we turned left and headed towards the visitors entrance.

Rüstem Paşa Cami.

Looking up at the archway above the entry door.

With Süleymaniye Cami closed for lunchtime prayer, we headed to Rüstem Paşa Cami instead. It was back to the chaos of the streets.  So many people out and about shopping, eating....going about their daily business.

Somehow, we had ended up in the backstreets.  As best we could, we were both making mental notes of our surroundings as we would have to retrace our steps to get back to Süleymaniye Cami.

Finding Süleymaniye Cami.


My original itinerary for today had us visiting Süleymaniye Cami as the first thing we would. By noon, we had yet to make it there. I was determined to go as this is one place in Istanbul that I have never been to. So, after we got Yeni Camii, the Plant and Pet Markets, and the Spice Bazaar out of the way, it was time to go to Süleymaniye.

Plants & Spices.



D
id I tell you Bro loves plants? It's undeniable he has a love for all things green, flowering, and fruiting and lucky for him, he has a green thumb to go with it so pretty much anything he plants, grows and flourishes. His latest obsession is with grafting trees and one of his recent favorite trees to graft is the mulberry....which they have plenty of in Turkey.

Yeni Cami (New Mosque).


First morning in Istanbul. I had a great night's sleep. Though our neighborhood is bustling with activity during the day, it's dead quiet at night. I opted to sleep on the living room couch so I could open the window. The temperature during the night was perfect for me.

Yesterday, I had asked Pelin for a recommendation on where to go to have a *real* Turkish breakfast.  So far, Bro has only had tourist meals.  I want him to have a taste of the real thing.  Pelin recommended a place called Van, named after the Kurdish city in Eastern Turkey.  Located just around the corner from the apartment, we had passed by it on our walk yesterday. Turns out it's a very popular place for locals to come for breakfast. Perfect!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Istanbul, Here We Come!


It was another early morning rise today. We left Cappadocia bright and early at 6am to catch our 8am flight from Kayseri to Istanbul. I can't believe our time in Cappadocia is over :-(

Yesterday, we had purchased our tickets for a ride on a shuttle van from Göreme to the airport. Bro and I were at the hotel's front entrance a few minutes before 6am. No one was in the office - too early for Erdoğan. So, I left the room key in the room and pulled the door closed. I left hoping that was the okay thing to do.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Uçhisar & Pigeon Valley.


It was our last afternoon in Cappadocia. We had seen and done a lot in the two plus days we had been here. I had reached the stage where I would have been happy just sitting in a cafe and whiling the rest of our stay here. Understandably, Bro wanted to make the most of his visit as he, like me when I was first here, has no idea if he will ever be back.  So, there was one place left to go - Pigeon Valley.  The name had kept coming up in conversation and even though I knew that by now, seeing Pigeon Valley was not really going to add much to Bro's overall Cappadocia experience.  I had been here before and while it's a nice place, it most certainly pales in comparison to either White or Rose valleys.  But, there was no way that I would dream of stopping Bro from coming here.

Baglidere (White Valley)


The last time I came to the White Valley, I arrived on the back of a flat bed tractor driven by my friend Şahin who lives and works in Göreme. We had come with his cousin, Ersin, to gather firewood.   It was a crisp fall day and most certainly gathering wood gave me a whole different perspective on the place.  Earlier that same week, I had come with the two of them and two other tourists for a hike from Göreme through Pigeon Valley to White Valley.  It was a full day outing which I really enjoyed.  So, this was my third visit to White Valley.

Göreme Open Air Museum.


We saved the best for last! Today, we visited what I would consider as the pièce de résistance of the cultural landmarks in Cappadocia - the Göreme Open Air Museum.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Esentepe Panoramic Viewpoint.

View of Göreme.

Just when I thought our sightseeing day was over, it was not. On the short drive from Uçhisar to Göreme, just on the side of the main road connecting the two villages,  Bro noticed cars parked alongside a row of what appeared to be souvenir shops.  In a split second, he figured the cars were there for a reason and he decided to pull over and find out why.

Day's End at Uçhisar Castle.

Talk about a spectacular view.  Best vantage point in all of Cappadocia!

On our way back to Göreme, we would have to pass through the town of Uçhisar. Since we had time left before day's end, we decided to stop and visit Uçhisar Castle. The castle is on the Red Tour itinerary and we should have covered it yesterday but we ran out of time so seeing it today worked out perfectly.

Derinkuyu.


The next place on our sightseeing itinerary took us underground.  The Green Tour had two underground cities on its itinerary. Since I had already been to Kaymaklı so I wasn't keen to go back. Besides, I had a feeling that all the underground cities are pretty much the same - just vary in size. We had asked Erdoğan for advice on which of the two cities to go to if we could only go to one. His response was that he preferred Kaymaklı but that his wife liked Derinkuyu better.  Hmmm.... I took that to mean that it's a matter of preference.

Selime Monastery.


Selime Monastery was one of those places that I had no expectations going in but left with memories of an amazing place. Wow!

From the entrance to Ilhara Valley, it probably took us about 10 minutes to get to Selime Monastery which is located at the northern tip of the valley.

Ilhara Valley.


Today, we're following the Green Tour which covers the Ihlara Valley, also known as the "Valley of the Sky and at least one of the underground cities - either Kaymaklı ("kai-mahk-luh") or Derinkuyu. Since I've already been to Kaymaklı, we'll be heading to Derinkuyu. On Erdoğan's advice, we'll also be visiting the monastery at Selime.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sunset over the Red Valley.

Panorama Red Valley
Panoramic view of the Red Valley at sunset. Use the scroll bars to pan to see the entire photo.

We arrived at the Red Valley in the very late afternoon.  Bro had read that this is the place to be to see the sun set so that's why we came.  I guess it's a popular place to be as we had to pay an entry fee, all of 2TL!


From the main road, we drove along a narrow ridge to arrive in to a parking lot where there were just a few cars parked.

The Three Sisters.

Three Sisters and their long lost Brother. :-)

The Three Sisters are a famous trio of tufa pinnacles with basalt caps (aka what I call the mushroom shaped fairy chimneys) located in the town of Ürgüp.  Back in 2008, I was told they were called "Father, Mother and Daughter".  I take that to mean that they don't have an official name so call the trio whatever you want.  Today, it's Three Sisters.

Devrent (Imagination) Valley.


By mid afternoon, we had made it to another familiar place - the Devrent Valley which is also known as Imagination Valley. I remember it as the place where the rock formations supposedly look like animals or people.  I have to admit, back then I wasn't good at identifying anything much.  Perhaps it would be better this time around.

Zelve Open Air Museum.


From Paşabağ, we drove about 5 minutes down the road to arrive at the Zelve Open Air Museum. 

The small parking lot was pretty empty.  Barely a handful of cars and two tour buses.

Paşabağ.


It’s amazing to think that located in the heart of the otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia is an area that local residents consider to be even more out of this world. This is Paşabağ ("Pah-shah-bah") which is known in English as the Valley of the Monks. Paşabağ means "Pasha’s Vineyard", a name it received after the Byzantine Greek population left the region which is located in the middle of a vineyard.  This is one of my favorite places in all of Cappadocia!

Çavuşin.



It probably took us less than 10 minutes to drive from the Rose Valley to Çavuşin. ("cha-voo-sheen") We followed a road to the village that felt like we were entering from the back door - driving up a narrow road that eventually dead ended in the heart of the village.  We found a spot to park the car and walked towards where we spotted tourists.  For a stop on the tourist itinerary, Çavuşin was relatively quiet or maybe it's just that we're in low season.  There were just a few tour buses and not as many souvenir shops or vendors doing business as I would have expected.  Not complaining as it meant we could enjoy the place without being submerged in a pool of tourists.

Güllüdere (Rose Valley).


We kick started our day with breakfast in the hotel's restaurant which is located on the terrace on the floor below the one that our room is on. The place doubles as the communal space for hotel guests. Inside, there's a small prep kitchen, a small buffet table, a few tables and chairs for diners, a small couch and a small wood burning stove. We took a table with a view of the town. Pretty spot to sit.

It was a modest meal - bread, cheese, eggs, some cold cuts, tomatoes, cucumbers, tea, coffee, and juice....the usual Turkish tourist hotel breakfast fare.   The man overseeing our meal was the same guy who helped us with our luggage last night.  It's a small hotel.....everyone chips in where they can to get the job done!

Balloons Over Göreme.


I was jolted awake this morning by a loud *whoosh* sound which was followed a short while later by another loud *whoosh*.  Even in my groggy state, I recognized that sound.  It was the *whoosh* created when fire heats the air in a hot air balloon.  I immediately realized that balloons were overhead.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Urfa. Visiting the Birthplace of Abraham.

Rizvaniye Mosque and Halil-ur Rahman Lake also known as Balıklıgöl or Pond of Holy Carp.

We arrived into the town of Şanlıurfa, more commonly known just referred as Urfa very late in the day. We would be spending the night here but we had one more place to visit before heading to the hotel.

The Beehive Homes of Harran.


If anyone had said to me, before today, that there are adobe homes in Turkey, I would not have believed them. When Denis told us we were going to see beehive homes, I had no idea what he was talking about.

Göbekli Tepe.

The archaeological site at Göbekli Tepe.

Ater checking out of the hotel in Adıyaman, we hit the road. We had said goodbye to two of our fellow tour mates who left after our visit to Mount Nemrut. With more seating available, Bro and I moved up to the front of the van courtesy of two women who decided that it was only fair that we move up from the back row.  So considerate of them.  They are three women, all friends, all from California.  Two are married to each other and the third came without her husband who apparently has no interest in coming to places that are below his comfort level - Turkey falls into that category of places.  Any way, all three are very nice and we quickly got to know the two married ones, sitting behind us.  One is a poet and the other is an admistrative who is counting down the days towards her retirement in June 2015.

The Commagene Kingdom. Arsameia, Septimus Severus, and Karakus Tumulus.

At Arsameia.

Mount Nemrut. What an amazing place! How do you top it? You can't really and that's probably one of the reasons why the next three places we went to were such a blur for me. That and I had never heard of any of them and Denis's explanations were, well, okay except that by the time he got to the end of his spiel, I had completely forgotten what he had said. I think my attention span, which has always been short the begin with, is barely there these days. I blame it on old age :-)

Visit to Mount Nemrut.


The chickens weren't up yet. Too early even for the call to prayer to be sound out but Bro and I were wide awake at 3a!

Waiting inside the teashouse.
Before coming to Turkey, I had reached out to the tour company to find out what we needed in terms of warm clothing, for Mount Nemrut. The reply I got back was that a sweatshirt or light jacket should suffice. But my good friend, Ayşe, who is Turkish and who has been to Mount Nemrut, recommended we take warm clothing. We opted to go the layering route instead and I told Bro to put on as many layers as he could. For me, that meant a short sleeve t-shirt underneath a long sleeve t-sheet, underneath my thick denim shirt, underneath my thick fleece jacket and my windbreaker to top it all off. I wore my jeans as they are the thickest weight pants I had with me and I swapped out my sandals for my hiking sandals and socks. If I had any concern that I was overdressed, that was all erased when we saw the others - pretty much everyone else had brought a winter jacket with them.

It took about an hour and a half of driving before we stopped. It was dark and I couldn't make out what the landscape, around us looked like. As I got out of the van, I felt the cold wind blowing on my face. The rest of me though was perfectly warm. Hopefully, I have enough layers on.

Monday, October 13, 2014

On Our Way.

Road trip dondurma break in Kahramanmaraş, the supposed birthplace of the iconic Turkish ice cream.

Today as a very long travel day. We went by taxi from Kuşadası to Izmir, then by plane from Izmir to Kayseri and then lastly, by tourist van from Kayseri to Adıyaman. The day started before the crack of dawn.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Samos.

In Pythagorio.

We're back in Greece, if only for a day.  We arrived into Vathy, Samos, Greece by ferry from Kuşadası, Turkey.

Standing outside the ferry terminal, we had no idea where to go so our day back in Greece started with "where do we go?" and "how do we get there?"

The Journey Back to Greece.

Bye, bye Kuşadası....for now.

Today, we went back to Greece....but only for the day.  When our Greek island hopping plan fell through, both Bro and I were very disappointed as we had both looked forward to spending time wandering through island villages that we had iconic images of stuck in our heads.  Oia was stunning and we wanted to experience more.  So, our consolation was to take a day and go back to one of the Greek islands - in this case, Samos which is located about a 90 minute ferry ride from Kuşadası.  We had bought our tickets night before last and yesterday evening, we checked where the ferry leaves from.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday Market at Selçuk.

Bro in his element and doing what he loves to do.....buying fruit.  The luscious looking figs were calling out to him.

On my 2008 visit to Turkey, my friend Lei and I stayed in Selçuk for two days and two nights. One of those days just so happened to be a Saturday. We didn't know anything about the market in town - we just stumbled upon it, walking around town, after lunch. I remember how amazed I was at the size of the place, how crowded it was, the large variety of things that were for sale - everything from food to clothing to hardware.  I really enjoyed the experience and I wanted to share it with Bro. In planning this trip, I had allotted two and half days to Kusadasi with one of those to be spent at Efes and in Selçuk.  As luck would have it, our visit to Kusadasi also spanned a weekend so I picked Saturday as our day to visit Efes and Selçuk.  It all worked out so perfectly!

Efes. The Grand Terrace Houses.


I visited the Terrace Houses on my 2008 visit but I swear, either I didn't notice a whole lot of things back then or there's more to see now. I'm so glad had the opportunity to revisit the place.  I left with a much richer memory of this most amazing set of ruins.

Efes. Curetes Way.

Walking up Curetes Way.

The Library of Celcus sits at the point where Marble Way ends and Curetes Way end.  It's also at this point that the site continues up hill.  It was hot day today, not humid but just hot.  It was the same when I was here in May 2008.  I was sucking down water to keep hydrated and thankfully, my hat kept my head cool.

Efes. Along Marble Way.

The Library of Celcus in the background.

Today as an activity filled day - we went to see the ruins at Ephesus and then wandered through the weekly market in Selçuk.  We kicked off the day with doing a small round of laundry.  Our balcony was the perfect place to string up my line.  Of course, I had brought along laundry clips as well.....I do come prepared to be clean :-)

By the time we made it down for breakfast, it was obvious we were the last guests to do so.  The plates of food had already been set with food and there were only two plates left in the kitchen.  There were two men sitting at a table but they had already finished eating; they got up and left seconds after we arrived.