Istanbul

Istanbul

We kept in touch with our new Kiwi friends, Dave and Sue, who we met while hiking in Cappadocia. We knew our travel itineraries would overlap in Istanbul so made loose plans to get together with them while there. While on the bus to Canakkale, and thanks to mobile wifi, our plans gelled to have dinner with them that evening. We were joined by Aussi friends of theirs, Jack and Jenny. We had a blast and what a great way to arrive in a new city!

The Blue Mosque

The spectacular Blue Mosque

I brought binoculars into the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia so I was able to see the beautiful mosaic artwork sitting high above.

Ceiling of the Blue Mosque

Ceiling of the Blue Mosque

Inside Hagia Sophia

Inside the amazing Hagia Sophia

St. John the Baptist looking despondent over dark spots showing up on my camera.

St. John the Baptist looking despondent over the dark spots showing up on my camera.

Cindy and I stayed in the old city exploring so many sights, we didn’t see any other part of Istanbul for the first three days. We heard some people visit Istanbul and never leave the old city at all.

Right up close at the Museum of Mosaics

Right up close at the Museum of Mosaics

Growing up in NYC I used to laugh at the tourists who would stand around looking up at the skyscrapers. I went out for a walk one afternoon and chuckled at myself for doing the same thing. Just standing around taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Istanbul.

On Independence street, Istanbul.

On Istiklal (Independence) Street, Istanbul.

We visited the Museum of Archaeology. My off the cuff conclusion:

16,000 years ago – Ice age begins to end, the Sea of Marmara is fresh water lake and the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles are valleys.
10,000-12,000 years ago – Humankind transitions from hunter-gatherers to agrarian-agricultural society
8000-10,000 years ago – Surplus agricultural production leads to growth of large population centers and the development of first civilization in Mesopotamia including art, culture and religion.
Today – Religious differences in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) lead to sectarian violence and destruction of civilization.

I love mummys!

I love mummys!

We met a couple back in Fethiye while touring some ancient tombs carved into rocks, similar to those we say at Petra. They asked us to take a picture of them and since we forgot our camera they offered to take ours and send it to us. They said they were from Kazakhstan but were living in Istanbul and to get in touch when we got there. We did, and to our surprise Dauren and Ainur showed us Kazak/Turkish hospitality and took us out for a delicious dinner followed by a ride around Istanbul!

Travel is enriching not just from the different things to see and do, but from meeting people you meet along the way who come from far and distant lands and having lived very different lives from us. Dauren and Ainur speak 4 different languages and I learned that Kazak and Turkish are similar in that they come from the same language group (Turkic). Hence, after almost 4 weeks I had only learned a paltry 15-20 Turkish words and occasionally was still stumbling when saying the 6 syllable Turkish “thank you”.

On the Bosphorus

Sailing the Bosphorus

We toured the Bosphorus and Golden Horn of Istanbul like locals. Instead of taking the “Short tour” or “Long tour”, we used our metro tickets to criss cross both using public ferries.

On the Golden Horn

On the Golden Horn

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The road to Istanbul

The road to Istanbul

After three days of buses and sightseeing all we really wanted to do was hang out on a beach for a day. But through some missteps in arranging hotel accommodations (we booked a night in a town with the same name but hundreds of miles away) and following our Lonely Planet guide instead of our instincts, we ended up in a work-a-day seaside town called Avylik (pron. EYE-va-LEEK) where there was no close beach and not a whole lot to do.

Ayvalik

Ayvalik

We ran opposite ends of the spectrum on foods while there. The town is known for their “Tost”, actually a sandwich with toasted bread. We found a little place on a narrow alley in the old part of town called Tost Evi (translation: House of Tost) and had two packed toasted sandwiches (mine was salami, Cindy’s was chicken) a soda and a mineral water for less than $4! That evening, we ate in a touristy restaurant on the water and had a tasty, though modestly portioned meal including a shared stuffed mussels appetizer, a glass of wine and two orders of fried calamari for a whopping $45. (Yes, it’s cheap by US standards, but this is Turkey!)

I don’t know exactly why but I really enjoy getting haircuts when I travel. Perhaps it’s part of the adventure of seeing how things turn out. I got an awesome haircut for less than $8.

For the first time, as we tried to get bus tickets out of Avaylik , we heard the Turks version of “You can’t get there from here”. We were non-plussed being faced with the logistical problem of getting to Canakkale where we planned to tour Gallipoli. We stopped into 4 or 5 bus company offices until we finally got to one that did offer the service, though, at an extremely high price of 30 TL (about $16) each for a 3 hour ride. (For comparison, a 4 hour bus ride from Fethiye to Pamukkale costs 15TL, or $7.75).

The next day the bus road past several seaside towns north of the Bay of Edremit where there were tons of hotels on the water and people frolicking in the deep blue Aegean Sea. Yeah, that was what we wanted, but we were passing them by as we were moving on with reservations ahead.

On the road to Canakkale

On the road to Canakkale

Canakkale and the Gallipoli penisula are on opposite sides of the Dardanelles, a straight which straddles the Europe and Asian continents and serves as gateway to Istanbul. The battle of Gallipoli holds significant importance to people from Australia and New Zealand and as is often viewed as the beginning of their national consciousness’. They were called ANZACs, an acronym for The Australia-New Zealand Army Corps. The campaign is known to the Turks as the Battle of Canakkale.

Trench warfare at Gallipoli, 1915.

Trench warfare at Gallipoli, 1915.

Bucolic pastures on the south side of the peninsula of Gallipoli gave way to high pine mountain forests that sit over the coast. It’s ironic that such a beautiful place could have hosted such violent and deadly action.

My First Hamam (or Turkish Bath)

When Bill suggested trying a Hamam, I quickly agreed. I’m all for trying something new that doesn’t require being on my feet! I was, though, a bit apprehensive about going to a place alone, knowing English wasn’t spoken, so we invited Sue and Dave, the couple we met two weeks ago in Cappadoccia.

We arrive at the Hamam where the guys go one way and Sue and I go the other. A young lady escorts us to a changing room and indicates that we should change into our bathing suits (luckily, I asked our hotel what I should bring before we left, so I was prepared — or so I thought!) Now, as I said, I’ve only known Sue for two weeks, but they put us in the same dressing room so we had no choice but to get undressed together.

After changing, we were led to the sauna (pronounced in broken English as “sue awna”) where we sit for about 15 hot minutes. This being our first experience in a Hamam, we wait for someone to come and get us, but no one comes. Finally, we decide to get up and leave the room. I figured out later that the whole Hamam experience is done on your own time. We could have spent the entire evening in the sauna if we wanted.

A scantily clad (as in bra and panties) young lady was waiting for us. She takes one look at me, points to the top of my tankini and says, “Off”. I look around and see similarly dressed young ladies “working their women” on a marble slate. So, off comes my top and I lay on my stomach. The next thing I feel is a few drops of water on my feet and then, whoosh!, warm water being poured all over my body. Then comes the soap which has a tingling sensation. The soap starts foaming and I open my eyes (big mistake — soap in eyes!) Out comes the loofah. Scrubbing here, scrubbing there. She gives me a wedgie and scrubs my butt! Authoritatively, she says “Over”. So I flip over. Scrubs some more, not missing a spot! Then she has me sit up, raises my arms, and uses the loofah from the tips of my fingers to my waist while I’m trying not to laugh because I’m ticklish.

Next she brings me to another part of the room with warm water flowing into a basin and uses a small bowl to start rinsing me off, pouring water over my head, down my back, under my arms, in between my legs, just about everywhere. She grabs some shampoo and massages my scalp and rinses me again. Then she sends me back to the first spot and after applying more soap, starts giving me a full body massage. She knows what she’s doing, kneading me in all the right places.

Lastly, she leads me to a pool, and in very broken English, she points and says “pool, sauna, shower.” She leaves me there to go and work on her next customer and I start entering the pool. After being pampered with the warm water treatment, the water feels quite chilly and the room is dark so I can’t see the bottom. I’m walking down the ladder, hoping that I can touch the bottom. Luckily, I just make it. I’m in up to my neck and on my tippy toes.

By this time, I’ve lost complete track of time. We’re supposed to meet the guys in 1 1/2 hours, but since neither Sue nor I have a watch on, we don’t know how long we’ve been there.

So after the pool, sauna and shower, we meet up with the guys, served some tea and brought back to our hotel. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and would do it again.

I did, however, come away with something more than just being squeaky clean. Firstly, I like being in a place for women only. I found it rather comforting. Secondly, I saw almost-naked bodies and thought that we come in all shapes and sizes and we’re all beautiful. I look no different than any other woman my age and should feel good about myself. And I do!

Pictures courtesy of Google. I did not have my camera nor were there any men!

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Ephesus, Izmir, Bergama (Pergamon)

Ephesus, Izmir, Bergama (Pergamon)

Every bus has a bursar/steward who collects money from passengers that haven’t paid yet, assists with the luggage and also brings around water (or cola/orange soda drinks) and sometimes snacks, as well. These guys give more service and work harder than your average American airline flight attendent! We caught the bus to Ephesus from Pamukkale the next morning and shared the very back row with the two lovely women from Montreal we’d met on the dolmus the day before and a young local guy. They must have been the last seats sold because those don’t recline. Adding to the lack of comfort was a lack of sufficient air conditioning. The bursar was bringing around lots of drinks and snacks but it was still hard to make up for the sweaty conditions. Fortunately, this was the exception and the only time we rode like that.

Ephesus was once the 2nd city of the Roman Empire and its base in Asia Minor. Ephesus’ earliest inhabitants date back to the 7th millennium BCE and it has traded hands by various conquerors including Alexander the Great, the Persians, the Hittites, the Lydians, and the Romans. Interestingly, there was a significant Jewish population, too.

Menorah inscribed on the steps of the library

Menorah inscribed on the steps of the library

Ephesus draws large numbers of tourists due to its sprawling reconstructed ruins and surrounding religious sites visited by (St.) Paul and (the virgin) Mary who was reputed to have settled there. As our primary interests are historical and cultural we rarely, if ever, visit sites of religious significance.

You can imagine how some adolescents were posing at the Roman latrines.

Seats of marble

Seats of marble! Fancy schmancy but ooh that’s cold

I suppose the Roman toga provided some privacy.

The Ephesus amphitheater could hold about 25,000 people--the largest in Anatolia.

The Ephesus amphitheater could hold about 25,000 people; the largest in Anatolia.

I can’t quite remember when I realized there was a train station in Selcuk (the town where Ephesus is located) and that the train was a viable alternative to taking the bus. When I researched the options, the train not only turned out to be cheaper by almost 50%, but the terminus was right near the hotel we were staying at in Izmir. Trains are always more comfortable than buses so it was a slam-dunk. And a fun ride, to boot!

On the train to Izmir

On the train to Izmir

Izmir (formerly Smyrna) is the third largest city in Turkey and has a reputation for being very vibrant and independent-minded. I’d gotten used to not having to check restaurant bills so carefully and feeling more relaxed about not getting what we call “the tourist shuffle”, but big city rules needed to be applied once again. The cabbie who tried to add a few extra lira to our fare (mentioned in Cindy’s last post) drove us to Kadifekale castle through heaps of chaotic traffic while trying to read an English/Turkish expression guide. The summit was a bit disappointing as the houses blocked a bit of the view and the summit was littered with garbage. However, we did spy a Mount Rushmore-style head of Ataturk carved into a mountain below. Fittingly, there was a new highway under construction right next to it. Turkey is on the move with all kinds of public works projects, civic improvements and signs of growth wherever we went.

Ataturk was truly a remarkable leader

Ataturk was truly a remarkable leader

View of Izmir from Kadifekale

View of Izmir from Kadifekale

We made our way down through the steep, narrow streets of the hill of the same-named Kadifekale slum deciding to take a cab when Cindy’s knee started acting up. We thought it might take some effort to find one but immediately flagged one down who, after driving about 100 feet, told us we’d need to find another cab–or something like that–essentially telling us to get out. Upon exiting the cab, there was a city bus that was stopped at its terminus and starting it’s turn around. The driver beckoned us over for a ride down and when we explained we didn’t have change he motioned “no problem” and gave us a free ride. Wow! Cindy and I wondered if this could ever happen in Boston or NYC. I had just purchased a new backpack that morning and as we left the bus I gave the old one, still in great condition, to the driver. He balked, perhaps a bit embarrassed, but I insisted he take it. This interaction typified the genuine warmth and helpfulness we’ve felt from the Turkish people

Historic Ottoman-style clock tower

Historic Ottoman-style clock tower

We spent two nights in Izmir but were unsuccessful in catching any shows from the Annual International Arts festival. The timing just didn’t work out and we took a taxi to the Otogar (bus terminal) where we got a bus to Bergama.

Bergama was delightful. Perhaps there were no more than 20 other tourists there at the same time as us. It contained a couple of historic sites that were on opposite sides of the town sprawling in either direction. Far less visited than Ephesus, it made exploration much more enjoyable. The first was the acropolis at the north end of town. It sat high on a mountain top and was an extensive and vast site in its own right.

Bergama acropolis

Bergama acropolis

Treasury hall at Bergama

Treasury hall at Bergama

West of Bergama town was Asklepion, center of medicine and healing. No dead or dying need apply because it might tick off the gods!

Stoa at Askceplion; Pergamum in the background

Stoa at Asklepion; Pergamun in the background

Dazzling Pamukkale and Hierapolis

Dazzling Pamukkale and Hierapolis

From Fethiye we headed to Pamukkale. The four-hour bus ride unexpectedly turned into 5 1/2 due to road construction. This was very much the exception as the bus systems in Turkey are extremely good and very efficient. And the drivers are characteristically helpful getting you to the right bus and making the right connections. Getting to Pamukkale was a great example. Despite the delay, a myriad of traffic lights and stops in the industrial city of Denizli, the dolmus was dutifully waiting to take us right to Pamukkale. There were two other passengers, women from Montreal, who said they had only been waiting about 10 minutes for our bus to arrive.

Travertine pools

Natural travertine pools

It's supposed to cure all ya' ills!

It’s supposed to cure all ya’ ills!

Travertine path

Travertine path

Entrance to the Roman baths

Entrance to the Roman baths

Back in the day, Cindy and I used to tour sites early in the morning to beat the crowds. Now we tour late in the day. Aside from beating the heat, certain sites draw hundreds or even thousands of cruise boat tourists as early as 7am. And since we have the luxury of having more time, when we will arrive at a destination, we drop our bags at our hotel and then either hang out and wait, or, depending on the timing go right to the site. We got to our hotel at about 4:30pm and ate an early dinner before walking a few hundred meters to the entrance of Pamukkale. We stayed until sundown at about 8 to see the travertine pools and Greco-Roman-Byzantine-Crusader Hierapolis. As required, we took off our shoes to walk on the travertine. It was not slippery at all and had water running over its surface right where we walked.

Stoa at Hierapolis

Stoa at Hierapolis

The Blue Cruise

The Blue Cruise

To advance our way west by northwest along the Mediterranean coast we took a gulet –a traditional wooden sailing boat– named the Alaturka 2 from Olympos to Fethiye; a standard voyage also known locally as the Blue Cruise. Our mode of transportation went from land or air to ship at sea for 4 days and 3 nights. I didn’t think of it as being on a “cruise” but as soon as I stepped on board it occurred to me that I had, in fact, signed up for my first cruise. And despite some breaks in small walks or stops in small towns, I was bound to life on a boat with limited access to the variety of activities and things taken for granted being on land — I couldn’t just get up and go for a walk — and I would be with the same 16 people for the entire time.

Cindy takes a plunge!

Cindy takes a plunge!

The gulet was 25 meters long and our cabin turned out to be the best available; at the stern, it was a corner cabin and had 2 windows (3 including the one in our private bathroom) which were at right angles to each other giving cross ventilation. An awesome benefit given the usually stuffy nature of boat cabins. And as long as the boat wasn’t moving, the sound of the water lapping at the stern was a constant reminder of the beautiful turquoise Mediterranean sea that surrounded us. The crew consisted of Captain Suleiman, Mourak, the cook and number 2 in command, Only (his nickname, and a great one at that!), the all-round ‘do it all’ crew-member, and Osman, Only’s number 2 man and ship trainee.

Butterfly valley from our gulet, the Alaturka 2

Butterfly valley

There were 16 passengers consisting of 3 Americans, one person each from Argentina, the U.K. and New Zealand, and the remainder were all Aussies. It was a great group of folks and I really enjoyed getting to hear about Australia as it’s a country/continent) I’ve wanted to visit since picking up a National Geographic book about it while in grade school. It just looked so cool and I remember thinking, “I’ve got to go there!” And since we will be traveling there it was great to get some resident advise on what a visit of a few weeks might look like. The group demographics included a family with two young children, three siblings traveling together and one other married couple. The kicker was that we were by far the oldest passengers, probably by at least 10 years; the guesstimated median age was likely around 30 years old. We certainly didn’t feel uncomfortable in the least and we all got along famously, but it was quite unexpected and a bit sobering for Cindy and I to admit to each other we were way on the highest end of the age range.

In the evening, St Nicholas Island (yes, Santa Clause Island!) on the right.

A serene evening at St Nicholas Island (yes, Santa Clause Island!) on the right.

I had heard there would be an opportunity to paraglide along the cruise and I didn’t give it a second thought until Ulundeniz harbor came into view with several paragliders soaring thousands of feet overhead. At 6550 feet, Babadag Mountain makes this one of the world’s best places to paraglide. We continued sailing towards Ulundeniz and as I watched them appear in the sky one after another and land gently on the beach it didn’t take much convincing to break my budget and spend about $90 for the totally gonzo experience of jumping off a cliff for what looked like an easy and gentle ride down.

Paragliders at Ulundeniz Harbor

Paraglider at Ulundeniz Harbor

Eight of us, or fully half of the passengers decided to partake in this opportunity. We were met on the beach by a rep from the gliding company who said they’d completed over 140,000 sorties. We rode up the mountain together but since there were only 6 pilots (who control the glider from behind you on the ride down), the father and son team waited at the top until the rest of us made our way down and two more pilots could be sent back to the top to bring them down. My ears popped 2 or 3 times as we ascended the mountain in a van for what seemed like a long ride. When we got to the top or take off point we were assigned pilots and a take off order very rapidly, I assume to mitigate the chances of anyone chickening out. The flight deck was concrete and curved downward so you couldn’t really see where the edge of it was located.

Me 'n Ebo gettin' ready.

Me ‘n Ebo gettin’ ready.

Just after take off. Ulundeniz straight ahead.....and down.

Just after take off. Ulundeniz straight ahead…..and down.

The sails were un-bagged and as I helped unfold mine I watched the other sails with pilots and passengers in line before me instantly billow up with the cool adiabatic wind that rose from the sea below. Before I took off I saw Tom from our boat already in the sky hundreds of feet from the tarmac and perhaps 50 higher from where I was standing! I expected to have to take a running start but I bearly took a couple of steps and the next thing I knew I felt like I was floating thousands of feet over the mountains and sea. It was hard to get any points of reference as I was so high above the earth and we were moving through space so smoothly. The air rushed by my ears as I tried to keep track of Tom and his orange sail to have some point of reference. In time, the ground grew closer but quite slowly.

The Alaturka 2 waits for us below; second yacht from the right. The Blue Lagoon is at the top of the pic.

The Alaturka 2 waits for us below; second yacht from the right. The Blue Lagoon is at the top of the pic.

The flight lasted about 20 minutes and the landing was as seamless and smooth as the take off. The landing runway was a pedestrian pathway parallel to the beach or on either the grassy area next to it, or the sandy beach on the other side of it. My pilot, Ebo, instructed me to stand up as we landed and the next thing I knew I had gently landed on sand, again taking one or two steps once on the ground. Ebo had been taking photos of me with a camera attached to a telescoping wand which, of course, they tried to sell me once back at the office. But as I noticed my bald spot had gotten bigger it was one hard-sell as I didn’t need to know what I can’t see anyway!

The landing strip ahead is the pedestrian walkway that appears as a continuation of the street.

The landing strip ahead is the pedestrian walkway that appears as a continuation of the street.

This is the only activity I’ve done probably since childhood that did not require signing any indemnity waiver or document. And I found out later that the brochure says, “If you don’t land, you don’t pay”. I wondered if that included refunds if you pay ahead of gliding.

Landing is as easy as it looks.

Landing is as easy as it looks.

The boat was anchored right next to the Blue Lagoon –the same one which served as the locale for the movie starring Brooke Shields– and when we got back, we were witness to people jumping off a 25 foot cliff into the water. Only, our man-friday crew member, feigned fear as he ultimately dove off the cliff. I’d had enough adrenaline rush for the day so I was content to watch.

Cliff diving/jumping by the lagoon.

Cliff diving/jumping by the lagoon.

The only drag about the Blue Cruise — or our room, actually– was that it was situated next to the engine room which was pretty loud. Although the yachts are sailboats, they all motor. The first day, the captain started motoring at 6am and the second day he started up at 5am. After the 5am start, I took my blanket and pillow and stretched myself out on the long seat at the bow. It was windy there of course, so I pulled the blanket over my head and went back to sleep quite soundly as we plowed the Mediterranean, or as it became, the Aegean Sea.

We landed in Fethiye two days ago and tomorrow we leave for Pamukkale, meaning “Cotton Castle” in Turkish.

The Saklikent Gorge

The Saklikent Gorge

The Saklikent Gorge is located about 30 miles from Fethiye, Turkey, taking about 1 1/2 hours by public bus to get there, going around mountains, through small villages and gravel roads. The bus honked its horn while passing through villages to let the locals know it was passing through. No bus stop needed.   It stopped wherever anyone flagged it down.

The gorge itself was amazing.   It’s about 1,000 feet deep and over six miles long, one of the deepest canyons in the world.  The hike started out easily enough on a boardwalk but soon things changed.  We had to cross over cold,  fast running water which required us to hold on to a tethered wire so we wouldn’t get washed downstream. But right after the rushing water coming from the mountain, the water warmed up as it came from a different place, but it didn’t slow down much.

Cold Rushing Water trying to push us downstream

Cold Rushing Water trying to push us downstream

Watch for falling rocks!

Watch for falling rocks!

imageBill was leading the way, sometimes giving me a helping hand when I couldn’t manage climbing to the next level. It was all very exciting. Water shoes were a requirement and I can see why. Walking over all sizes of submerged rocks made it quite difficult going forward. The water was murky and you couldn’t see the bottom. Sometimes the water was up to my ankles and then the next step I would be up to my knees or thighs. The water continued rushing past us. At certain points, the water was rushing so fast that it pulled my legs out from under me and I would  land on my butt, laughing all (or at least most) of the time. In fact, my new water shoes ended up with holes in them by the end of the day.

Sliding down wasn't easy

Sliding down wasn’t easy

We continued going forward, the crowd thinning out as the going got tougher.  I began to wonder if we should turn back as well, but I was having too much fun. At times, you had to find invisible footholds located somewhere under the water.  When we decided we couldn’t go any further because it was too steep, slippery, and no available toeholds, the fun continued, except going back down proved to be more treacherous.  At one point, I couldn’t figure out how to get down to the next level and a guy that was resting at that point advised me to slide in the water down the narrow passageway. It was all fine and dandy until my foot got caught on the side and the next thing I knew I was doing a split with one leg pointing upstream and the other downstream — with the water rushing over me up to my chest.   Somehow I managed to lift my leg over the rock and continue sliding down. At the bottom, I plunged into the water up to my head. That was as deep as it got, luckily.

imageWith all this excitement, it was hard to remember to look up to  enjoy the beauty of the rocks overhead.  The gorge was as wide as 10-15 feet at some points and sometimes so narrow that you could reach both sides with  your outstretched arms.  You could see rocks that had fallen from above and land in the narrow places of the canyon. I had to laugh when I saw people wearing helmets. It wouldn’t have done them much good if a rock had fallen from above. We all would have been crushed to death for sure.  After a few hours, we were returning to Fethiye with our shoes hanging out the window trying to dry them.

We ended the day with a delicious seafood dinner where fishmongers sold their fish in the center stall, cleaned and filleted them and then delivered them to any of the surrounding restaurants where they would prepare them for you.   The meal, consisting of bread, salad, water, soda, french fries, fried calamari, grilled salmon and sautéed shrimp, came to a total of $24. Add an extra $3 for the ice cream dessert.

The video below was taken by someone else. We were correctly advised not to take anything that you didn’t mind getting wet.