Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Istanbul is a fascinating city. The architecture, as well as the general atmosphere, reflects a wonderful combination of European sensibility and Middle Eastern flair. They call it the land of 1,000 mosques, and it's true that everywhere you look you see a minaret reaching skyward.

While most cities are best viewed from above, Istanbul is most striking from the shoreline of the Bospherous River or the bridges that span across it. The Bospherous truly is the heart of the city, and not only is it the lifeline for Istanbul, but for several other countries that rely on the Black Sea as the primary link to the rest of the world. It's an intimidating waterway - dark and expansive - but also full of life, with boats of many shapes and sizes dashing through the waves and dolphins playing by the shoreline.
We stayed in Sultanahmet, the oldest part of the city, and so many of Istanbul's most famous landmarks were literally just outside our door. The Aya Sophya, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Pakace were the sights that greeted us each time we came and went.

The Aya Sophya is indeed one of the world's greatest buildings. It has a long history as a church, a mosque, and thanks to one of Ataturk's famous decrees, now a museum. The dome is exquisite, and even though it was partially covered in scaffolding, we were still taken back by its shear size. We were also impressed by the beautiful mosaics and the amazing variety of marble used as decoration- certainly the envy of anyone thinking about remodeling their kitchen.

The Blue Mosque also ranks up there on the the list of beautiful architecture as well. It was built nearby the Aya Sophya and together they serve as magnificent bookends around a lovely park and fountain. The Mosque has 6 minarets and is especially enchanting at night when its curves and the birds circling above are brightly lit. The inside is equally impressive, decorated with thousands of blue tiles and colorful stained glass windows . If you've never been inside a mosque before, they essentially just provide an open space for praying, so its easy to appreciate the simple beauty of the structure without the distractions of furniture or paintings or sculpture. We visited several other mosques in Istanbul as well, many of which were equally, if not more beautiful, including the graceful Suleymanye Cami and the lovely Yeni Cami.

The other major site in Sultanahmet is the Topkapi Palace, the home to centuries of sultans, their families and servants, as well as the center for administering the Ottoman empire.The site took the better part of the day to take in and was a bit overwhelming at times. We visited the courtyards and many different buildings on sight, including the harem (the sultan's private living quarters), libraries, the huge kitchen and the chambers where the imperial counsel met. We also browsed the many exhibits on show, including the collections of Japanese and Chinese porcelain, weapons, and tapestries. The most interesting exhibit had to be the treasury, which housed precious items gifted to the sultans or acquired during the empires many conquests, including an 87 carat diamond and, disturbingly, the hand and skull of St. John the Baptist!

One of the most relaxing parts of our trip was a boat ride along the Bospherous, which gave us a chance to see many palaces and mosques, as well as several yalis. A yali is a wooden home on the river edge that usually served as a summer home for a member of the Ottoman aristocracy. While the fall of the empire left many of these homes in ruin, there are several that have been restored, giving you a sense of Istanbul's glorious past. The boat trip ended with a hike up to a castle that afforded us views of the vast Black Sea.

Of course, no trip to Istanbul would be complete with out a visit to its famous markets. The spice market was a delight for the senses - many colors, smells, and, of course, the sounds of the shops keepers calling out to you to try their Turkish Delight or smell their fruit teas. We visited the Grand Bazaar as well, and although it would have been much more appealing to someone in the market for some jewelry, a leather jacket or a silk rug, it was still interesting to be in a place with so much history behind it.

We spent our evenings in Beyoglu, which required a sunset stroll across the Galata Bridge to reach. Beyoglu is a very vibrant and modern part of the city, which sees a nightly parade of thousands of people heading up the main boulevard, Istikal Cadessi, to Taksim Square. The area is chock full of bars and restaurants of all varieties several blocks deep, so we were really only able to scratch the surface in our short 4 nights in the city. It's a fun place and we'd definitely like to return someday. Actually, we can say that for all of Turkey - its a great place and should definitely be on your list of future destinations!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Crazy Cappadocia

We took an overnight bus trip from Antalya to Goreme, and although we didn't get much sleep due to the frequent stops along the route, our weariness just made our arrival that much more surreal. As we approached Cappadocia, we felt like we had landed on another planet. The many blues and greens of the Mediterranean had been replaced by a lunar landscape of undulating ridge lines overlayed by jutting rock towers. And because we arrived at dawn, the skies were filled with 20 or so hot air balloons floating high above this fascinating blend of different shapes and hues. It really is difficult to describe, so luckily Gil took a lot of excellent pictures!

The area's unique topography owes itself to the eruption of the now extinct volcano of Erciyes Dag (aka Mt. Erciyes) , and thousands of years of water and wind erosion that followed. The volcanic rock is relatively soft, which in addition to making it susceptible to erosion, allowed it to be shaped by humans as well. So, the area is chock full of cave dwellings, rock churches and underground cities. We even stayed in a cave room!

Our cave room was cool and dark, a was perfect for a rest from the relentless mid-day heat and overnight bus ride. In the late afternoon, we headed out to explore one of the many hiking paths that begin near Goreme. We followed the Pigeon Valley to the town of Uchisar, which has a towering rock castle boasting the highest lookout point in the area. The views were spectacular, but we enjoyed climbing around in the cave rooms and tunnels of the surrounding fairy chimneys even more. (A "fairy chimney" is a conical rock formation, usually topped by slab of harder rock that has eroded more slowly than the base.) What I did not enjoy was sliding down the valley walls on my behind when we found ourselves off of the hiking trail trying to make our way back to Goreme...

While people lived in Cappaocia as early as 1800 BC, the Christians left the most lasting marks on the area during the 700 years they inhabited it. On our second day, we visited some of the most impressive remains from this period, a collection of cave churches and dwellings preserved in the Goreme Open Air Museum. Many of the churches have beautiful frescoes made with natural dies, and those that were restricted from daylight still appear vibrant and colorful.

Hiking later that afternoon in the Rose, Red and Swords Valleys, we came across several other churches, but it was the gorgeous setting and our relative isolation from other tourists that left a last impression on us more than their faded frescoes. The Red and Rose Valleys were particularly striking, with the rock formations showcasing a rainbow of warm colors against the vast blue sky (especially from deep within the folds of the valley walls, where we found ourselves after veering from the hiking path - again!).

The following day we headed south to visit Derinkuyu, one of 36 underground cities discovered in the area. The communities were forced into hiding to avoid being ransacked by invaders, with some generations living primarily underground for years at a time! Derinkuyu reached 8 stories deep and we were able to explore a large selection of rooms and tunnels, including stables for animals, a winery and a church. It was amazing to think about what life must have been like for these people in such a dark and claustrophobic environment.
In order to take in a larger area we rented mountain bikes the following day. This allowed us to get out to the Pasabagi area, which has some of the most remarkable fairy chimneys, as well as to explore the towns of Cavusin and Avanos.

Our final day we dragged ourselves out of bed to see the sunrise and hot air balloons from a cliff above Goreme (and then promptly went back to sleep for another couple of hours). In the afternoon we headed to Urgup, to wander the streets of the town and taste some wine at a local Cappadocian winery. Earlier in the week we had heard that people in the region were sometimes forced to move caves as the structures became unstable over time, and in Urgup got a chance to sees first hand how dangerous the eroding rocks can be. Some time earlier, several huge boulders from the town's most famous viewpoint "Wishing Hill" came crashing down the hillside, taking out several stores and forcing one of the main streets in town closed.

After one final sunset and a chat with a photogropher for National Geographic (keep you eye open for a possible upcoming story on Cappadocia), we dashed off to the bus station for another overnight bus - this time to Istanbul...

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Arriving on the bus to Antalya was a bit of a shock to us - we had been in relatively small towns and villages since Athens and before us lay a huge seaside metropolis. We missed our drop off point and suddenly were trudging with our backpacks past towering apartment buildings and over major highways to the tram that we were planning to take into the old town area.

The old town was goregeous - full of beautiful wooden Ottoman houses lovingly restored as pansions and restaurants and pearched high above the sea. The area is surrounded by a relatively intact ancient city wall and there are reminders of its ancient past as a major port everwhere you turn - from Hadrian´s gate to the Roman harbor to the old clock tower. The landscape is sprinkled with landmarks from the Persian conquest as well - mosques wıth soaring minaretes and hamams (Turkish baths) that date back nearly 1,000 years.

The city is fairly liberal, and it is not uncommon to see young people hanging out down by the harbour enjoying a few beers and playing music. Another feature of the city that we enjoyed was its plentiful parks, all of which seem to have sweeping views of the sea and shorline.

We only had one night and a one day in Antalya, but were glad we made it a stop over.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


From Kaş we headed to Çirali, which is the more grown up version of Olympos, the village famous for its tree houses. But, we quickly learned that we are not really grownups yet since we were not willing to fork over the dough needed to stay in any of the nice hotels or bungalows in Çirali, and ended up staying in one the bare bones tree house there anyway.

The beach there is breathtaking - backed by gorgeous green mountains as far as you can see. It was so nice to lay around all day, swimming and just taking it all in. The Chimaera is also near by in the mountains - also known as Burning Rock, it is a cluster of eternal flames that naturally burn from crevices in the rocks. We hiked up there at night, led by a local dog we nicknamed Barky, and sat around camp fire style drinking Raki (the Turkish version of Grapa). The highlight may have been scaring some drunk Germans silly on the way down from the mountain in the pitch dark. Good times.

Kaş and kayakıng

Kaş is a super cool town with lots of great restaurants and bars and a nice selection of cheap pensions. Its a bit surprising since it doesn't have a real beach to speak of, but that may be why it is such a chill place - it definately attracts a hipper and more travel-savvy clientele than some of the other coastal towns.

From Kaş we went on a kayaking trip to Kekova and Kaleköy. Due to the land sinking (or earthquakes, depending on who you ask...), a lot of the ruins of nearby ancient Simena are underwater. It was a neat experience to paddle over them, although you can't see much more than some broken tiles and foundations, so it's not exactly the lost city of Atlantis we were imagining.

We spent the rest of our time in Kaş just wandering around the town, hanging in the square, checking out diving pictures from the area and eating dondarma (the thick and rich Turkish ice cream for which we have developed a serious addiction). We would definitely recommend Kaş as a great place to while away a few days if you are ever in the area.


From Oludinez we stopped for a night in Patara, a sleepy town a couple of kilometers from Turkey's longest sandy beach. The beach was a real treat - powdery white sand and pretty much empty of people, especially if you walk even a short distance from the entrance. The beach is a major nesting area for loggerhead and green turtles and therefore has been completely protected from development. Unfortunately, the day we went it was a bit windy, so not particularly great for laying around. Still, we enjoyed walking along the water and climbing on the cliffs at the south end of the beach. As an added bonus, the route out to the beach was lined with ruins.


From Faralya we had to go back to Fethiye to catch a bus to our next destination, so we decided to stay a night in Oludeniz. The beach is on a peninsula and is absolutely beautiful but the town has been all but taken over by Brits on packaged vacations. Still, it was a fine stop for a night, and we thoroughly enjoyed watching the parasailers circling above at sunset and laughing at the shop owners calling to us with their best British accent.

Faralya - paradise found?

On the good advice of our friends Brad & Christa and Chuck & Jane, we headed from Fethiye to Faralya to stay for a few nights at George House. The trip on the minibus was enough to confirm that we were headed somewhere special - you had to drive along a steep cliff around a mountain and over a chasm overlooking a gorgeous valley and beach far below to reach it. Think route 101 in Northern California on steroids. While the accommodations at George House are nothing spectacular, the setting more than made up for it. As did the yummy vegetarian food and the beautiful pool they recently added by which to enjoy the views!

Faralya was a great base for exploring the surrounding areas. It's on the Lycian Way, Turkey's first hiking trail (it leads all the way from Fethiye to Antalya), so there are fairly well marked paths to heading in either direction. Our first trek (joined by about 50 goats for about a kilometer) was to Kabak, a beautiful and remote valley with a pretty little beach and a new age clientele. We also trekked from Faralya to the Butterfly Valley directly beneath it - a feat that definitely seemed impossible looking down at the shear cliffs. We had heard that "a slip in the wrong place could be fatal" so I had been having nightmares for days, but with proper shoes and some extra care it wasn't too difficult. The valley was absolutely gorgeous - at the base of the gorge was a pretty waterfall, which provided water for the farmland that stretched out to the beach. And yes, there were tons of butterflies! Luckily the valley floor is owned by several families so it has, as of yet, avoided being turned into a soulless resort.

We met lots of people hiking longer stretches of the Lycian Way (thanks for the advice!) and this is something I am already plotting to come back to in the future. Plus, imagining that we might come back someday made it slightly more bearable to head to our next destination....

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Fetiye and Saklikent Gorge

The boat trip ended in Fetiye, and as it was a very nice town, we decided to make it our base for a few days. There were several rock tombs carved by the Lycians into the hills behind the town- something we`d see throughout the region in the days to come. There was also an ancient Roman theater in town, which we saw some local boys making good use of for soccer practice.

From Fetiye, we visited Saklikent Gorge, an 18 km gorge cut into the Akdağlar Mountains that ıs so steep and narrow that the sun doesn`t penetrate in several places. We hiked as far as we could and than got assistance from a very strategically positioned guide who helped us over waterfalls and other precarious parts of the gorge until we reached a larger waterfall about 2 km in. It was a wet and muddy adventure (luckily for us, the mud is collected for use in mud baths...) and we had a great time.

Our final night in Fetiye we went to a restaurant that came up with a great idea, which is now replicated by all it`s neighbors. Since it is nearby the fish market, they let you buy your fresh fish (or shrimp or calamari) directly from the seafood sellers and for 5 YTL, they`ll grill it and provide bread (always...) and a salad. Yum.

Blue Gület Cruise

From Marmaris we headed out on a 3 night boat trip to Fethiye on a wooden yacht called a Gület. It was ultra relaxing (once we finally departed four hours late...) and it was nice to meet and talk with some other people after pretty much spending every hour of the last 3 weeks together!

We cruised around many different islands and bays, swimming and kayaking in the clear blue Mediterranean water, drinking beers, playing cards and otherwise just laying around in the sun. The Turkish government has done a great job of protecting much of the shoreline from development, so there are lots of places you can only reach by boat. I have to admit I was a little depressed on the last day when we saw our first signs of civilization on the shores...


From Selçuk, we headed down to Marmaris, where we would be embarking on a boat trıp. The bus ride was beautiful and ın particular, driving down through the mountains into the seaside town was a breathtaking sight. We only had a night ın Marmaris, and although we had read it was very touristy now, we had a great time. There is a georgeous old part of town to ramble through, with a castle that peers over the harbour. There are also some killer clubs - when we saw the lasers and flames shooting into the air, we knew we had to break the budget and go check out "Bar Street". It was surprisingly busy (everywhere else we`ve been so far has been kind of dead) and although we didn`t dance on the bar like a lot of people there, we did shake our booties for a while.

Selçuk and Ephesus

From Kusadaşi we headed up to Selçuk for a couple of days with the primary objective of seeing Ephesus, one of the most well preserved examples of an ancient city ın the world. Selcuk was a very chill town and we enjoyed wandering around. We got a few blocks off the maın streets and we felt that we were deep into rural Turkey - the women were clearing rocks from theır land to plant crops, cutting wood and building outdoor fıres to cook dinner and poundıng laundry wıht rocks (ıt was a Sunday, so of course all of the men were ın town drinking tea and playing cards). Gil got attacked by a little dog who liked the cuff of hıs pants, whıch then got a goat all rıled up at which point one of the women had to come to our rescue.

Ephesus itself was amazing. We spent the better part of the day exploring the ruins and eaves dropping on tour groups to learn more about the history of the place. We really got a sense for what city life would have been like back then. Essentially, if you were rich, it would have been off the hook - the wealthy living areas were full of ornate mosaics and other beautiful objects and were nicely situated by the bars, hamams (spas) and main shopping areas. If you were a slave, you were stuck warming up the marble toilet seat for some rıch dude. Maybe things have improved a bit?

We also saw the aqueducts throughout town whıch have now become the home of giant storkes and the remains of the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World and way bigger than the Parthenon. Pretty much all that is left of the Temple is one column and a pond full of turtles. Thıs land has changed ownership so many tımes and it ıs interesting to see how various buıldings are reused over and over again - we also visted a mosque in town and there were clearly blocks that were pulled from Artemis.

Selçuk had some other interesting sites as well - like the remains of the huge Church of St. John (where he is buried) and the supposed fınal home of Mary, whom St. John brought to Turkey late in her life. When we were at the Church, a grass fıre broke out rıight outside the ruins and we saw a church group from the States come to the rescue and put it out with branches (after which the fire department showed up with a garden hose....). I am sure the fact that they saved the church ruins from disaster was the highlight of theır trip!