Category Archives: Turkey

Konya and Antalya

We left Goreme on June 15th and took a bus to the city of Konya about half way between Goreme and the coastal city of Antalya.  We only stayed in Konya one night mostly because we wanted to break up the long bus ride from Goreme to Antalya.  Konya is best known as the home of the Whirling Dervishes and the site of the tomb of the famous Sufi mystic and poet Jallal Ad-din Rumi, also known as Mevlana.  After we arrived and got to our hotel, we walked to the Rumi tomb and museum as it was closed the next day and we wouldn’t have much time before catching our bus to Antalya anyone.  Both of us are fans of Rumi’s poetry, so it was neat to see the tomb.  It was a beautiful building that is also an Islamic holy place so there were people praying inside and once again Jocelyn had to cover her hair and we had to wear little plastic booties inside.

The next day, we got back on the bus and moved on to the city of Antalya on the Mediterrenan coast.  A word about Turkish buses here, they are really nice.  Not only are the tickets cheap, but they run like clockwork, always on time in our experience, and the service is great.  There is a whole crew on the bus kind of like an airplane.  Sometimes there is two drivers on the longer trips so they can switch off and there is also a steward who comes through with a cart and serves free drinks and snacks a couple of times throughout the trip.  There is also an entertainment system in each seat with TV (in Turkish), movies, and music.  Compared to Greyhound, it is the definition of luxury.

We were in Antalya a total of 4 days.  It is a bustling city of 1 million with an interesting old town, decent beaches, and a beautiful setting on a large bay surrounded by mountains that seem to jut straight up out of the sea.  We stayed in the old town that was a bit touristy, but had some interesting historical sites including Hadrian’s Gate, built by the Roman emporer Hadrian, and the ruins of a mosque that started out as a Roman Basilica.  We spent a lot of time on the beach and swimming in the Mediterrenean and we also visited the Antalya Archaelogical Museum, which has a huge collection of Roman artifacts and statues from the surrounding Roman ruins and archaelogical sites.

We also took one day trip to the city of Demre which has the ruins of the ancient Lycian/Roman city of Myra and the church of St. Nicholas (yes, that St. Nicholas, Santa Claus as we know him). Myra was very interesting as it has a Necropolis (tombs) cut right into the side of the mountains, similar to the churches in Cappadocia.  It also has a very much intact Roman era amphitheatre.  It was fun to climb around on it and picture it full of people 2,000 years ago watching the latest Roman theater performances.  The church of St. Nicholas was also very interesting.  St. Nicholas spent most of his life here as the Bishop and his tomb is in the church.  It is a pilgrimage site for Greek and Russian Orthodox Christians, so there were people there sticking various objects under the tomb to be blessed and praying.  Much of the church is in ruins, but there are some frescoes that are in good shape and the main basilica is also still standing.  It was actually just a nice place to visit and hang out as it provided a cool and shady refuge from the blazing midday sun that we had just been walking in for the previous couple of hours.

We had a good time in Antalya and it was very nice to take it easy for a few days and just hang out on the beach after the break neck pace we had been doing for the previous few weeks.  Pictures below, and stay tuned for the Greek island of Kos and Athens up next.

Cappadocia

We arrived in the Cappadocia region of Turkey on June 11th and were there for a total of three days and four nights. This is one of the most incredible places I have ever seen and any description I can come up with can’t possible do it justice so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.  We were originally going to take a night bus from Istanbul, but decided to fly instead.  The plane tickets were relatively cheap and spending 12 hours on a bus, trying to sleep, etc. didn’t sound like much fun to us.

Cappadocia is a region that contains four main towns; Nevsehir, Urgup, Goreme, and Uchisar.  We decided to stay in the town of Goreme as it is fairly centrally located and is within walking distance of many of the best hiking areas.  We stayed at a place called Yasin’s Place Cave Hostel. One of the things that makes Cappadocia so incredible is that in these towns, people have actually carved caves out of the rock pinnacles and have used them as houses for centuries.  The hostel was one of these with many of the rooms being carved right out of the rock.  Our room was mostly in a building attached to the rock pinnacle many of the other rooms are carved out of, so the only part that was actually in a cave was the bathroom.  It was a really cool place to stay and if you are going to Cappadocia and Goreme, I highly reccommend staying in one of the many cave hotels.  Goreme is very touristy however and it would be easy to get sucked into all of the tours, ATV rentals, balloon rides, etc.  However, in my opinion, the best thing to do here is to hike around in the valleys surrounding Goreme.  Not only do you escape the crowds (the trails were amazingly empty given the number of tourists in the towns), but it is absolutely free.

Our first full day in Cappadocia, we did a hike where we made a big loop around Goreme exploring three of the main valleys surrounding it.  We started out in Pigeon Valley, so named because it contains many pigeon houses that have been carved out of the rock up on the cliffs above the trail.  These houses were used by local people to keep pigeons for three main purposes including collecting the guano to fertilize their gardens, using the pigeons for communication, and using the eggs to make paint for the frescoes in the hundreds of Byzantine era cave churches scattered throughout the area.  Pigeon valley connects Goreme with the town of Uchisar which contains a castle carved into the rock and many cave houses.  From Uchisar we hiked down into Love Valley, so named because of the phallic shaped rock formations it contains (no, I’m not making this up, that’s what the signs said).  From Love Valley we connected up with Rose Valley to return to Goreme.  Rose Valley contains a higher concentration of the Byzantine cave churches than the others and we came across a couple of these our first day.  The first time was exhilarating.  We climbed up into a little door carved into one of the pinnacles and were greeted with what was obviously a tiny church with an altar at the front, a baptismal, benches along the sides and very faded frescoes and Maltese crosses.  It was definitely an indulgence of all of my boyhood Indiana Jones fantasies.  A little more about these cave churches.  There are hundreds of them scattered around Goreme of all various sizes, some in better shape than others.  They are Greek Orthodox churches and were mostly made in the 8-10 centuries during the heyday of the Byzantine Empire.  Some of them have incredibly beautiful frescoes that are still relatively intact owing to being in a cave and not being subjected to sunlight.  It is a really amazing experience to hike through a beatiful place and come across one of these, step inside, and be greeted by 1,000 year old frescoes, just awesome.  Again, my boyhood Indiana Jones fantasies coming alive.  On our way back to Goreme, we were walking along and were enthusistically greeted by one of the farmers who still live and work in all of these valleys.  He showed us his pigeon house carved into the rock high above his garden and then he shared some bread and onions with us and we shared some cookies.  Although we couldn’t talk about much due to the language barrier, he was very nice and seemed genuinely happy to see us and to show us his place, very cool.  After a full 8 hour day of hiking by the time we got back to Goreme, we were beat.  Showers, food, and bed were definitely in order.

Our second day, we decided to take one of the tours.  There are many tour companies in Goreme and they all offer more or less the same tours color coded as red, green, and yellow.  The green tour was the one we took as it went to the places that were not within walking distance of Goreme.  It was well worth the price of $50 each as it was a full day(9:30-6:00), included all entry fees to the various sites, included lunch, and of course the guide.  The first main stop was the Derinkuyu Underground City.  This is a underground complex carved out of the ground between 2000 BC and 300 AD.  It has 8 levels, goes to a depth of 80 meters, and could house about 20,000 people including food stores and livestock.  The city was started by the Hittite people around 2000 BC and was used for military and food storage purposes.  It was later expanded by early Christians to provide refuge in times of danger.  Next was a short hike through the beautiful Ihlara Valley with a visit to one of the churches there followed by lunch.  The last major stop was the Selime Monastery, an early Christian monastery complex carved into the rock including a cathedral, chapels, and kitchens.

Our third and final full day, we started out at the Goreme Open Air Museum.  This is a must see place if you are in Goreme, although it was pretty crowded with tourists as many places directly accessible by car or bus seemed to be.  This is another monastery complex and it contains some very beautiful and well preserved frescoes as well as kitchens and refectories that give you bit of a feel for what it might have been like to actually live in a place like this.  Definitely pay the extra $5 to go into the Dark Church as it contains the best preserved frescoes we saw anywhere.  After that, Jocelyn and I split up for a while and went to do some more hiking around Goreme.  I started out in the Sword Valley right over the hill from the museum.  This was a very narrow slot canyon where you could touch both sides of it in a lot of places.  From there I connected up with Rose Valley again, but this time explored the other side of it.  Here I found a lot of solitude and also some more really cool churches.

Cappadocia is unlike anywhere I have ever seen.  Not only is it full of stunning natural beauty, but the history and artistic beauty of the cave churches is like nothing you’ll see anywhere else.  This was definitely a highlight of this whole trip for me, and I would highly reccomend it to anyone going to Turkey.

Istanbul

We arrived in Istanbul from Casablanca at 12:30 am on June 6th.  We booked a room at the airport hotel since we got in late and the Sabiha Gocken airport that we flew into is quite a ways from the city center.  As luck would have it, they messed up our reservation so we were upgraded for free to a suite.  It was by far the nicest place we’ve ever stayed or probably ever will stay unless something like this happens again.  It was definitely a nice way to start our time in Turkey.  It was just a shame we weren’t there longer to enjoy it more.  After some sleep, we got up and had an awesome breakfast at the hotel and then headed to the shuttle bus to Taksim in the center of Istanbul’s new town.  It was about an hour ride and then another half our or so on public transit to get to our hostel in the Sultanhamet district of the old city.  First impressions of Istanbul were first that it is huge (14 million people), but also very people friendly with great public transportation options (subway, funicular, light rail) and lots of streets that are pedestrian only.  Even though it is so huge it didn’t feel overwhelming upon first arrival.  We had no trouble getting around or finding where we needed to go.  When we got off the light rail we were almost immediately greeted with views of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia and also by the sounds of some kind of international music festival that was happening in the park adjacent to the Hippodrome.  After getting checked in to our hostel, we decided our first thing to do would be going to the Blue Mosque.

The Blue Mosque was the first and only mosque we’ve actually been inside on our trip.  There are many mosques in Morocco of course, but non-muslims are not allowed to go inside any of them.  Going inside the Blue Mosque was a an interesting experience.  The building is huge both inside and out and beautifully decorated inside with blue tiles and mosaics that give it it’s name.  Jocelyn had to cover her hair and shoulders and we both had to take off our shoes upon entering and carry them around with us while we visited.  The entire floor inside is covered with carpet and there were actually people there praying while we were there, which was interesting.  As compared to the cathedrals we’ve been to, it was on as grand a scale as many of them, but felt a bit more comfortable to me, not as cold.  The wall to wall carpeting helped, but it also seemed to be a place were people could just come and hang out.  There was a library in one of the corners with people reading books as well as people praying in the center.  The people praying in the center were all men, with the women’s area being a more private area on the edges with screens.  One interesting thing that I learned is that men and women aren’t necessarily seperated for mysoginistic reasons.  The reason is that Muslim prayer involves a lot of bending over and having men and women doing this together could be distracting for everyone.  Women can pray in peace without worrying about someone staring at their ass while they bend over and men can pray in peace without being distracted by asses to stare at.

Our second day we started out at the Hagia Sofia.  This is an incredible building that has been both an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and a mosque before being converted into the museum it is today.  It was built in 537 AD by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, making it almost 1,500 years old, which blows my mind.  It was converted to a mosque when the Ottomans conquered Istanbul in 1453.  The sheer size, antiquity, and beauty of the place is staggering.  It was definitely one of the highlights of Istanbul for me.  After the Hagia Sofia, we went to the Basilica Cistern, with is a huge underground water storage facility built around the same time as the Hagia Sofia.  It is a really interesting place as it is underground for one, which is always interesting and it is built with recycled Roman columns from all kinds of different eras.  There are even some fish that live in the two feet or so of water that sits at the bottom still.  Finally, in the evening we took the light rail to the new city and Istiklal Avenue.  This is the heart of Istanbul’s nightlife and it was a lively scene indeed.  The street was filled with people and we even saw a wedding procession winding through the crowd playing drums and flutes. We had some dinner on the street Nevizade Sokak, which is a whole street/alleyway filled with restaurants one block off of Istiklal Avenue.  The food was delicious and well priced and I tried the local libation called Raki that is similar to the Greek Uzo and a little like Jagermeister with a really strong flavor of Anise.  They serve it with a bucket of ice that you drop in that turns it a cloudy color and dilutes the drink as the ice melts making it a little more palatable.  After dinner, we sat down at a bar on the street and watched a couple of excellent guitar players/singers do their thing.

Our third day, the biggest thing we did was go to the Topkapi Palace, which was the palace of the Ottoman sultans from 1465 until 1856 when a new, European style palace was built on the banks of the Bosphorus.  It was a really interesting place since each Sultan added to it over 400 years making for an interesting hodge podge of different architectural styles.  The most interesting part in my opinion was the area where they keep some of the Sacred Relics of Islam.  Since the Sultan was also the Caliph (spiritual head of Islam), many of these relics were sent to Istanbul.  They include a piece of the prophet Muhammed’s tooth and lots of hair from his beard, Muhammed’s sword and bow, a signed letter from Muhammed, and keys and gutters from the Kabba in Mecca.  They also claim to have Moses’ staff, king David’s sword, Joseph’s turban, and a pot belonging to Abraham, although the authenticity of these seems a little suspect to me.  When you are in there, there is an Imam reciting verses from the Quran which goes on 24 hours a day and has been going non-stop for 400 years.  We also went to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market.  The Grand Bazaar is a huge covered market that is a little bit like a shopping mall one would find in the US, although with a lot more character owing to it’s age.  It is very touristy however without too many locals aside from the shop keepers.  Around the edges however you can find more locals and we managed to find an area with silversmith shops where we saw some silversmiths at work making hand-casted silver items.

Our final full day in Istanbul we took a ferry up the Bosphorus strait which runs down the middle of Istanbul seperating Europe from Asia and connecting the Black Sea to the mediterranean.  The cruise went all the way up the strait to the mouth of the Black Sea and to a little town called Anadolu Kava??. We went by the new palace built in 1856, the collosal bridges that span the Bosphorus (each one about a mile long), and Ottoman fortresses.  The ferry stopped in Anadolu Kavagi for about three hours.  We hiked up the hill to a castle overlooking the town that had great views of the Black Sea and the Bosphorus with the skyscrapers of Istanbul in the distance. We also had lunch where we tried the local specialty of fired mussels and Sea Bass.

Istanbul is truly an incredible city and definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me.  It is so ancient, yet so modern and vibrant at the same time.  It really is an international city with people from all over the world mingling peacefully together. Everyone we met here was incredibly nice and hospitable and most spoke great English which was nice for us and a testament to the excellent education system they have here.  I highly reccomend going to Istanbul to anyone, there is nowhere quite like it I don’t think, you won’t regret it.  Pictures below.