More Cappadocia

On our next day, we toured the fairy chimneys, notable for their unique mushroom shape. They are two different types of rocks connected to each other.

Fairy chimney exterior

Fairy chimneys closeup

 

Fairy chimney – moving in?
Fairy chimney
Fairy chimney police station

 

 

 

 

 

The Devrent or Imagination Valley boasts strangely shaped rocks that provoke your mind to see these shapes like animals, people kissing, or other things.

Imagination Valley
Imagination Valley rocks
More unique rocks

 

 

 

 

 

Buildings built into the rocks
Final time in Cappadocia

Time to return to Istanbul for a few days before returning home.

Cappadocia

A short flight from Antalya and we were in Cappadocia. Before we left, I Googled how to pronounce this area. On Wikipedia, they pronounced it capa-DOK-iya but actually, it is capa-DOSH-iya. At least that is what it is called in Turkey.

As I mentioned before, this famous area is not a town. It is a region and you will not find it on any map. It is an area where a number of towns exist, the largest one being Goreme. We drove to all of the towns to experience the rock-cut churches dating from the second half of the 9th century, the Devrent or Imagination Valley with its quirky animal-shaped rocks, Pidgeon Valley, and of course, the Fairy Chimneys.

Map of towns in Cappadocia

Our first stop was to see a typical Turkish home in one of the caves. It isn’t what you would expect, mainly for the male elders of the household. They sit in one of the many rooms, which are all similar. They smoke, drink tea or coffee, and are waited on by the children and females of the family. Whether this is the way it is currently, we didn’t find out.

 

Turkish home in the cave
Same home, different room

We had Turkish baths (no cameras allowed there – too wet) in Goreme and visited the underground cities. Our room in Urgup was quite unique. It was a cave room, of course, and had some unusual features…

 

Cave bathroom
Cave bedroom

 

 

 

 

 

The best part was our hot air balloon ride on our second morning.

Balloon heating up at 5:00 AM
Feeling a little hesitant
So many balloons taking off
Sunrise from the balloon
Balloons at sunrise
Flying over cave homes
Crop field designs from the balloon
Balloon basket landing on the truck bed
Sunrise on the fairy chimneys
Champagne toast awaiting us
Toasting our ride
Hot air balloon virgin no more!

 

The third day, we visited

 

 

 

 

 

Antalya, Perge and Aspendos

We had another three-hour drive to Antalya from Fethiye through the mountains and areas that resemble the area near Taos, with sandy hills dotted with scrub pine. We saw lots of farms but not many animals, like sheep, goats,  or cattle. I guess that this is not the area where they are raised.

Antalya is a coastal town, actually a good size. We only saw apartment buildings, and lots of them. I imagine that there are single family homes somewhere outside of the city, although we didn’t see any. It is very modern, though.

The next day, our first stop was Perge, a very well-known ancient city which came under Roman rule in 133 BC, a little before our time. Their amphitheater held 15,000 people. The columns are of various kinds of marble. They are beautiful on their own. The main street is covered in glass with ruins that have not been excavated. You literally are walking on history.

Entry to Perge
Marble columns
Different marble columns
Ruins in Perge
Ruins under the street
More ruins under the street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From there, we went to Aspendos, built in the 2nd century. Their theater holds 20,000 people and is currently used for concerts, operas, and other events. The banner shows the various cultural events this summer, with chairs still set up for the previous evening’s event.

Aspendos theater events
Aspendos event the night before

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures in Pamukkale, Hieropolis and on to Fethiye

Pamukkale is the location of the hot spring pools called “heaven on earth.” The healing properties of these calcium carbonate springs were a draw for people seeking a cure for their ailments. The terraces are formed by running warm spring water at a temperature of 35C. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a most unique place to visit.

Here are pictures of people on the terraces, where you can wade into the healing water. There also was a swimming pool, to relax and enjoy the warm water. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to take pictures of the pool because the unique aspect of it was that there were ruins in the water! What a shock when you were walking in the water and suddenly there was a part of an ancient column or statue. Hard on the toes, that’s for sure.

Cotton Mountain of Sodium Bicarbonate
Wading in the hot springs

 

 

 

 

 

Hierapolis was next, with the biggest Necropolis in Anatolia, 1200 gravestones. It has the typical theater, the agora, and houses.

Hieropolis Theater
Hieropolis Theater with Mountain View

 

 

 

 

 

The three-hour ride on our comfortable Mercedes van was easy. The road took us through mountainous areas that could have been Colorado. We both marveled at the similarity.

We arrived in Fethiye, a coastal town on the Mediterranean, where beautiful sailboats, yachts, and shuttles were lined up for the next day’s travel. Because our hotel was right at the port, we could see the daytrippers getting off and the crew restocking for the next day’s visitors.

Our boat for four days, the Esenye
Typical cove for swimming and an overnight
Grocery store ship

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim enjoying the clear sky and water

Did I mention that there is a ship that trolls the hundreds of coves and is really a grocery store, with fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and the staples anyone might need?

There also were boats that went around selling ice cream, clothes, and other goodies. Love those Magnum Bars after a wonderful swim.

 

Pictures in Kusadasi and Ephesus

Our next stop was Izmir and on to Kusadasi. This port city is fabulous and the destination for many people who want a seaside escape, especially in the summer. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of apartments, condos, and houses built for those folks. And, they come from all over Europe, not just from Turkey. The hillsides are filled with them.

Our hotel was right on the water. We saw the first cruise ship in two years there. It was a smaller, Russian ship, although we didn’t see the tourists disembark. At the end of the day, the ship said goodbye, and off they went to another stop.

There is an area close to our hotel we were told to check out. It is a plaza filled with tables from a plethora of restaurants, all serving mainly fish. You can go to the restaurant, or the market adjacent to the plaza, pick out the freshly caught fish you want and they cook it right there. You can’t believe the variety. There was a stage set up with a band doing a soundcheck for a later performance. They were amazing, even though they were not performing at that time.

We had our new favorite beer, Efes, and some extra crispy fries to relax before we were ready for dinner.

View from Kusadasi Hotel
First cruise ship in 2 years – Russian
Fish Market

 

 

 

 

 

As I have mentioned before, Ephesus is an ancient city, built during the first century AD and once upon a time hosted 250,000 citizens. With its library, the third-largest in the ancient world, and its Roman theater that was the largest in Asia at the time, it is well preserved and definitely worth a visit.

A frieze depicting the Amazonian women who built Ephesus

Ephesus Library

There were three baths in Ephesus. One was very hot, heated by hot water under the marble. You then moved to a more tepid bath, followed by a cold bath.

Mosaics on the agora or market street
Baths at Ephesus


Details on arches

 

There is evidence that there was a Jewish presence in the ancient world. It is difficult to see but there is a menorah, a seven-armed candelabra carved into the library’s stairs.

Menorah on library steps

Ephesus menorah plaque

The toilets in Ephesus are worth noting. They are unisex, with men and women sitting side by side. The waste goes down into a trench (not easily visible in the bottom left corner) that whisks it away to minimize odor and an unsavory view.

Ephesus Toilets
Ephesus theater information

Pictures in Istanbul

I think I have finally been able to download some of the many pictures I have taken during this trip. Here are the first ones, starting in Istanbul…

When we arrived in the early evening, we were hungry and looked for a place near our hotel to have a bite. The baklava shop around the corner was inviting, having some filo-wrapped meat and cheese treats, as well as ten kinds of baklava.

Baklava shop around the corner with outdoor seating.
Child-sized table and chairs at Baklava Shop
A typical evening in the old town near our hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our tour began with a visit to three of the most famous mosques in Istanbul, all within walking distance of our hotel. They are the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, and the Little Hagia Sophia. The Blue Mosque has been under construction for years now, with an expected completion date of “eventually.”

You can see the scaffolding around one of the six minarets. The Little Hagia Sophia is actually quite beautiful. All mosques have balconies for women, while the men are downstairs praying. However, there are times when women are allowed to pray separately from men.

You can’t escape a visit to the rug dealers. They make them on-site and we saw how the women tie the knots to make the rugs. It is painstaking and a medium-sized rug can take years to complete. Sorry that the videos didn’t download. They ship for free worldwide if you find something you love.

Entry Hall of Hagia Sophia
Interior of Hagia Sophia
Detail of Hagia Sophia sanctuary
Hagia Sophia chandeliers
Hagia Sophia background
The view of the Blue Mosque from the Hagia Sophia
Blue Mosque construction
The blue tiles of the Blue Mosque
Little Hagia Sophia interior
Little Hagia Sophia balcony
Little Hagia Sophia information
Some of the amazing Turkish rugs
More Turkish Rugs

 

 

The Trip Home – Another Adventure

On Tuesday, September 14, our alarms were set for 2:00 AM for a 3:00 AM pickup to the airport. We weighed our luggage carefully and were under weight.  How could that be?? I couldn’t help but think of the shopping I missed out on! Truthfully. we got all that we wanted and really didn’t miss a thing.

Just as we were going to our ride, I checked my email, and surprise our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt was canceled, routing us instead to Chicago Ohare directly from Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. The next flight would be to Houston, then on to Guadalajara.

As I mentioned before, on the United flight going to Turkey from Houston, we had three seats each to stretch out and get some sleep. We had great seats on our return flight on Lufthansa because we picked our seats. With this cancelation, we were at the mercy of the airline and they were merciless!

For 10.5 hours, we sat in middle seats, Jim with two big, brawny guys shoulder to shoulder and me with a Turkish woman on the aisle that absolutely wanted to sleep and didn’t get up to go to the bathroom until about two hours from Chicago. And, she was grumpy, too. If we had enough points, we would have upgraded but neither of us has sufficient points to do this.

I was hoping that the meals on the Turkish flight would be better than the ones on United. Sad to say, no such luck (another reason to upgrade when the opportunity presents itself). Despite the lack of comfort and the inconvenience, it didn’t diminish how much fun we had and our memories of this wonderful trip.

So, to continue our saga of returning home, when we landed in Houston, we only had 45 minutes to retrieve our bags, re-check them, and get on the flight to Guadalajara. Of course, the departing gate was miles from the arriving gate, leaving us one option… Just leave our bags on the carousel when they arrive and hope to get them eventually once home.

Jim sprinted and I followed to the gate, where we managed to board the final flight. It was only a little over two hours, making it a quick trip after so many hours of travel. When we got to the Guadalajara airport to see if our bags had made it, we were not surprised to see that they did not. Fortunately, a lovely man at baggage claim helped us and we filed a missing luggage report. He spoke perfect English and was extremely helpful. We grabbed a taxi and finally made it home around 9:00 PM – about 30 hours of travel from pick up to arriving at our house.

The next morning, around 10:00 AM, our bags were delivered by United. Had we known this was a possibility in the past, we would have “accidentally” left our luggage at many carousels and just waited for delivery directly to our house! If this had happened at the start of the trip, we would have really been in a pickle. At the end of a vacation, no problem…

Wednesday, September 15, we had some errands to run and Jim’s cell phone wasn’t working as it should. A quick stop at Telcel and he found out that his phone had been on roaming while he was tracking where we were on Google Maps in Turkey. This revelation cost him $7,500 pesos (about $375 US) in roaming charges. Then, when he was pulling out of a parking lot, he got a ticket for not putting his seat belt on quickly enough. He paid the ticket the next day to get the discounted rate, half price and avoided the full cost of $45 US.

Even with these nuisances, we were glad to be home, snuggle with Lola, who remembered us after two and a half weeks, and was so happy to see us. Travel can be onerous, frustrating, difficult, and maddening.

I remember the days when we dressed up to go on an airplane, the seats were generous, and the meals, even on short flights, were freshly prepared and delicious. Okay, I am officially old! Still, seeing new places, having new experiences, meeting new people is something that cannot be duplicated by staying home, sitting in front of a TV, or being online. Once everyone is able and ready to travel, we would encourage it as a mind-opening escape that only adds to your appreciation of what you have.

And travel doesn’t have to be going to foreign countries. It can be to destinations in Mexico, the US, or Canada, anywhere where you haven’t been. My next job is to get my photos downloaded. This hasn’t been easy but I will let you know when they are available. Thanks for all your encouraging comments. I feel like you have all been with us…

Overall Impressions of Turkey

Truthfully, it is difficult to find negatives about this trip. The Turkish travel agency (Altinkum) that put the trip together was found on the Tourradar site as one of the ten best trips to Turkey. It was very different from all of our previous tours in that they have individual tours that they string together to make two weeks in the country feel seamless. People can book one or more segments individually, which is why we had different people with us for each segment. It did make the trip more interesting and there were usually only no more than eight or just us traveling together.

Here is my list of awesome plusses (not in any particular order): 1. Traveling by comfortable Mercedes 15 passenger vans or domestic airlines; 2. Toilets with built-in bidets; 3. Turkish ice cream; 4. Knowledgeable English-speaking guides; 5. Responsive contact person at the travel agency; 6. Good food in general; 7. Good hotels; 8. Turkey’s well-maintained roads and updated infrastructure; 9. Very safe; 10. 80% of the population is vaccinated and all were masked inside, with many masked outside as well; 11. Kind Turks wherever we went; 12. Excellent weather and perfect temperatures (fortunately); 13. Most locals spoke some English; 14. Relaxing boat trip with a  helpful crew; 15. PCR test available in our hotel at a reasonable price ($35 US); 16. Everyone was amazingly on time for pick-ups; 17. The hot air balloon experience was better than we expected; 18. The hot air balloon ride was scheduled weeks before, as recommended by the agency, to ensure that there were spots available; 19. The reasonable price included the hotels, in-country transportation, the guides, entry fees, some meals, and in-country airfare (airfare from Mexico to Turkey was additional); 20. Tolerance of every level of religious observance; 21. Incredible ruins; 22. Stunning mosques; 23. Cats everywhere, fed by locals (either a plus or a minus, depending on your love of cats)

Here is the short list of negatives: 1. The boat was older, the cabins stifling, and the bathroom not very good; 2. On the boat, only two people spoke English making it difficult to communicate; 3. Heavy traffic everywhere and crazy drivers; 4. Cats everywhere…  That’s it!

We were surprised that there was little if any poverty visible, no graffiti, no homeless, no junker cars or people begging, Landscaping along the highways was beautiful, Neighborhoods were well-maintained with new construction all around the country. Turkey seems very progressive and is welcoming to all.

Day 15 – Free Day and Last One, in Istanbul

With no tours planned, after breakfast, we opted to visit the Grand Bazaar near our hotel to divest ourselves of the last of our Turkish lira. We could have gone to a museum or two but we both felt that we had exhausted our energy for another museum.

The Grand Bazaar is a monstrous place. We had a quick visit when we first arrived in Istanbul but wandering around, being assaulted by every shop owner to just go in, without any obligation to buy, particularly at the start of our trip, was easy to avoid. This time, we let ourselves be assaulted and if there was something interesting, we went into the shop. Their first question is always, “Where are you from?” The shop owners must say this 1,000 times a day. They all speak some English, as well as Spanish, French, and probably other languages. They will not forfeit an opportunity to get you in their shop.

Everyone wants to sell you a rug, fine jewelry, designer handbags, and leather goods. There is so much duplication of the wares in the shops, you wonder if there are only four or five owners who have dozens of the same shops throughout the Bazaar. If they don’t have your size or color, they send someone out to their “sister” shop and come back within minutes with something they think you will like in your size.

We found a few items that we decided to buy, especially now that we can bring back 50 pounds in our checked bags for the international flights. On the domestic flights we took, we were only allowed 33 pounds in our checked bags and 17 pounds in a carry-on bag. It is amazing how limiting that is.

We wore ourselves out walking the narrow streets, filled with shops selling towels, scarves (mainly for the religious women) but nice enough to wear at home, four-wheeled luggage everywhere at give-away prices (under $30 US for a large piece), and some last-minute spices and Turkish Delight to share with friends at home. Again, sweet isn’t sufficient to describe these nutty treats.

I am catching up on these posts since I have packed my bags. Jim is napping. We will have an early dinner, then crash because our driver is coming to take us to the airport at 3:00 AM for our 6:45 AM flight to Frankfurt, then on to Houston and Guadalajara. We are ready to be home.

I am downloading pictures, and there are lots of them. Google is a pain because it only allows you to download a total of 25 mb at a time. Some of the videos exceed that number. It looks like I will have to research a better way to get all the photos and then just post them separately from what I have written so far.

Okay, enough griping… We went to our favorite restaurant in Istanbul near our hotel. It has some traditional items but also some excellent western dishes. The other day, we shared a chicken Caesar salad and a hamburger. Both were excellent and a nice change from the local fare. Tonight, we shared mushrooms and shrimp in a well-seasoned butter/olive oil sauce and a steak burger. The slices of steak on the homemade bun were tender and the French fries (very common here) were crispy. The lavash bread served with the shrimp was perfect for sopping up the sauce. We had the local beer on draft, EFES, a delicious brew we have had often while in Turkey. The music on their sound system was Besame Mucho and other Spanish favorites. Perhaps this is a sign that we are ready to go home??

Afterward, we strolled just down the street to get a wonderful Turkish ice cream cone. The young man serving us did his fun bit pretending to take the cone away, then giving it back several times. You can’t help but be entertained. The pistachio for me and vanilla for Jim are absolutely the best. We planned pretty well and only have a few lira left. We will use them at the airport or give them as additional tips to the hotel staff.

My next entry will highlight what we loved about the trip and try to find something that we didn’t like… Time for an early bedtime.

 

 

 

Day 14 – Istanbul (without pictures)

Another beautiful day welcomed us this morning. We are staying at the same hotel as when we arrived in Istanbul two weeks ago. However, we are staying in a different room, a larger, nicer room, this time with a view of the Bosphorus River and many fishing boats. It is very charming.

Our first duty was to schedule a COVID test so we can travel through the US to Mexico. We travel from Istanbul, through Frankfurt to Houston, and ultimately to Guadalajara. Proof that we are fully vaccinated is required when traveling throughout Turkey and also to Frankfurt. As many of you know, this is not sufficient when traveling to the US. We need an antigen or PCR test to enter the US.

Our tour contact arranged to have someone come to our hotel and give us the test this afternoon after our morning tour. We only have a couple of things to see this morning. First, we went to the Spice Market, where our guide knows the best places to visit. I found some wonderful typical Turkish options, such as Turkish Delight (delicious treats made with nuts of all types and naturally sweet), natural hand-made soaps, unique teas (energy and relaxation), jasmine tea flowers, and seductive yet subtle perfumes.

We then went to the dock to board a large boat for our cruise down the Bosphorus. The day couldn’t have been better for this. It isn’t hot at all and there are gentle breezes, making the ninety-minute trip very pleasant. There are three bridges that cross the river. Two connect Europe with Europe and one connects Europe with Asia. As I mentioned before, almost all of Turkey is in Asia, not Europe. That was a surprise to me. As we went down the river, we saw mosques, fortresses, and dwellings of all kinds.

It was now time to return to our hotel for our COVID test. The young man who administered the test was very efficient and will send the results to my phone on WhatsApp, as well as an email so the hotel can print it to show at the airport. It should be ready in the early evening today.

Afterward, we walked from our hotel toward some of the most significant and touristy sites, including the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. They are only minutes away. But, lunch beckoned. We found a beautiful restaurant and strayed from Turkish food to a chicken Caesar salad and a delicious hamburger. Okay, call us ugly Americans! We just needed a change of cuisine.

Feeling full from lunch, we decided to relax in the afternoon and then go to Taksim Square. This Sunday night probably was no different than any other night but the traffic to the square was a nightmare. How taxis (taksi in Turkish) maneuver the roads is like Demolition Derby. They weave in and out between cars, vans, and buses with alacrity. It isn’t for the faint-hearted.

We heard that the Square is full of nightlife, restaurants, and interesting sights. It was not exactly as represented. We probably were some of the oldest people there, with an average age of about 30. There were lines at shwarma and ice cream stands. The only restaurants we saw were dessert places, with seating overlooking the square. They had baklava of all types, of course, sweets of every kind, as well as coffee or tea. Why Turkish people aren’t obese is a mystery, because they love their sugar treats. We settled on a cappuccino for me and cafe Americano for Jim, sharing some baklava. It was incredibly sweet, making Jim’s teeth ache. A few bites and we were off to grab a taxi back to our hotel.

Tomorrow is a totally free day, allowing us to visit the last of the sites on our list, without a guide and zillions of people like we witnessed today. We are hoping that a weekday will be quieter.