Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mediterranean Coast of Turkey (& Rhodes)

Amphitheater at Ephesus...seats 25,000. Still used today.
Our next stop was focused on seeing the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (Efes in modern Turkish) which later became a Roman city and the chief port of the Aegean. Ephesus was the site of the Temple of Artemis (completed around 550 BC), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In 268 AD, the Temple was destroyed or damaged in a raid by the Goths. It (and the city) was further damaged by an earthquake in 614 AD. As for the city, over time the harbor became silted up (today the harbor is 3 miles inland) and over time it became the ruins it is today...helped along by locals recycling the construction materials into new homes and public buildings.

Ephesus is important from a Biblical perspective in that Paul wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians there. Additionally the Apostle of John may have been written there.  (It is amazing how much Biblical knowledge we picked up from Muslims on this trip.) 

Folks often stay in Izmir (a favorite with Turks…we don't know just why as we didn't go there) when they visit Ephesus.  We chose to stay in the physically closer Sirince.  (Note that we say "physically closer".  It is a 30 minute car ride up to (and therefore another 30 min ride back from) Sirince.  Sirince was a simple, quaint village until it's fruit wines became known. Now 9-5 bus tours populate the village with its wine shops, markets and various other vendors selling locally made products. Fortunately they also make some pretty decent grape wines as well. Even with the bus loads of visitors that arrive daily, Sirince feels lost in time. The few streets paved with large stones (frequently with a few missing) and it is a short, delightful walk to the fields, olive groves and open areas on the hillsides surrounding the town. And the town itself is very peaceful overnight. 

Photos below: Pat in the fields above Sirince with Greek House in distance  AND paving in Sirince

Other observations/comments re Sirince:
- Shops offer typical souvenirs along with a few with real crafts (mainly jewelry which is fine with Pat). Natural products, (local oils, soaps, …) are promoted.  Juice "bars" offer orange and/or pomegranate juice. And of course there is wine tasting, 
- Sirince was formerly Greek but in population exchange following WWI the Greeks were moved to Greece and Turks now inhabit the town.
- Fortunately we were there in the off season (or at least during the week). The gigantic overflow parking lot was empty & only a few buses in main lot (but to imagine a weekend in the summer…maybe not.)
- We enjoyed a so-called Macaroni & Cheese (really Fettucine with cheese and walnuts).  Great combo. 

- Most meals are served with both potato and rice.
- What's on the menu versus what is available can be significant. The menu selection is varied at noon.  But amounts are planned to cover the daytime visitors. By 2pm the choice is limited.  And by evening even more limited (although there is usually something quite fine left to enjoy.)
- We discovered Turkish Pancakes ("Gözleme"). It's kind of a combo of pizza & crepe. A little more substantial than a crepe. They make a great light meal. 
Cooking Gözleme...we think they bake them briefly first
and warm them over the open fire.
- Speaking of light meals, here is a shot of the typical breakfast spread for 2 persons.

On our day trip to Efes/Ephesus we first visited the house at Meryemana where it is believed that the Virgin Mary lived out her final days. It's quaint and surprisingly peaceful given that thousands of tourists visit each year. 
House of Virgin Mary
This is just a few of the thousands of notes requesting blessings from the Virgin  
Ancient Ephesus stretches for some distance from the governmental area to the commercial area. The Library of Celsus (the front still stands) and the huge amphitheater (seats 25,000…still used today) are impressive. As for the rest they are indeed ruins. 

(Photos below: Close-up of Library of Celsus and view of Library from Government Hill)

Ayasuluk Castle (7C, top left), Basilica of St John (530 AD, below the castle), Column from Temple of Artemis (550 BC, on right))
On to Parmukkale
There are many more ancient sites worth visiting in the area but we moved on. A morning pickup from our hideaway in Sirince brought us down to Selcuk to meet the rest of the group headed to Pamukkale. After a 3 hour drive, we enjoyed lunch (a buffet with what looked like a killer dessert table but it turned out most of the desserts were variants of jello. Disappointing.) and headed to Ancient Hierapolis & Pamukkale with it's hot springs and travertines (terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water). Hierapolis has another impressive amphitheater (from 200BC) but is otherwise still being excavated. 

Pamukkale was the draw. Parts of the site appear as snow covered hillsides. Parts appear as snow covered walls with large icicles hanging down. And the best are the terraced pools where folks used to swim (thereby contributing to the decline of the area). The site is unique in the world (although in Croatia & Slovenia there is similar geology & a baby one in Krka Falls). Near Rotorua NZ they used to have red & white terraces but these were destroyed by quake/volcano in 1896.

Naturally it was hard to live up to the imagined site that for Pat would cover vast acreage. (It actually spans about 4 acres.) Despite the damage of the time (too many visitors enjoying the thermal pools, too much water being diverted to hotels.) the combination of the turquoise pools and their white travertine basins is simply gorgeous.

Actually, ignoring Pat's overactive imagination, in fact, the active/growing pools look to be about 1/10 the amount of living pools in the past. But again, it is so beautiful.  To understand this better, see the photo at: and then imagine it 100 times larger. (OK, so it's not realistic. That's what good imaginations do to you.) Then look at our photos. Still beautiful, but… 

Standing below Pamukkale
One of the Terraces. Think of these as stair stepping down from the top right.
Pool size might be 10 feet wide by 40-80 feet long.

We spent the night at the family run Melrose Hotel. It was comfortable and has a good restaurant. But…the rooms seem to be a choice of those with round beds and satin bed covers and or double rooms with with a queen bed, a day bed and even a futon that could become a single bed. 

And next, on to Kas (pronounced Kash)
A rather long, meandering local bus ride from Denizil (the city closest to Pamukkale) to Fethiye (on the Mediterranean) followed by 60 miles along a winding, cliff side road brought us to Kas, a small town that is busy but not over-crowded (most likely due to the effort required to get there). The town is sandwiched between the Mediterranean and a steep backdrop of mountains. And less than a mile offshore is the Greek Island of Mais (our first glimpse of Greece).

Kas with it's backdrop of mountains
Sunset view from one of our windows (The Greek Island of Mais is on the left)
The warmer weather was very welcome. Yet on our cruise we spied snow on the distant  mountain peaks. 

We cruised along the coast to the sunken city of ancient Kekova (destroyed by earthquake) with several opportunities for swimming in the cool water, and a hike to the Byzantine Castle in Kaleköy with its views of Lycian sarcophagi both on the nearby hillside and in the harbor. (Note: Lycians date back to the Bronze Age. They were rebels, pirates and raiders from the point of view of the Hittite and Egyptian Empires. No one knows the details as they left no written records of themselves.)
View from the Castle (that little round item in the bay on the right is
one of the tombs  (see  photo below)
View of the Castle from the water
Below: Lycian Tombs (per a friend who peeked in, the one in the water appears to be one stone)

We watched hang gliders floating down from the mountains to the harbor in Kas and captured some shots of sunrise and sunset over the harbor and nearby islands (both Turkish and Greek). We browsed shops and patronized restaurants featuring seafood and Turkish cuisine along the shore and streets leading up the hillside. A very pleasant and quiet place to relax and enjoy the scenery. 

We moved on to Fethiye for an intended brief visit before taking the ferry to Rhodes. There was a little hiccup in our plans... The ferry was cancelled due to high seas and we spent an extra night in Fethiye. We had some good seafood and spent a little time shopping and the rest working out alternatives in case the ferry got cancelled again the next day. The fish market in Fethiye is interesting. It is surrounded by little restaurants.  You shop at the market and have the fish delivered to your restaurant of choice to be cooked to your preference.

Rhodes for 1.5 days

We made it to Rhodes but with no time to see more than Rhodes Town. (WE had planned to drive to Lindos for a day, but no longer had the time. Oh well.) The museums and shops of Rhodes Town kept us busy. We walked around the old city and the port. We even spent a little time in the new city. While there are plenty of souvenir shops here, there are also shops with fine crafts and truly appealing goods. And some fine restaurants. We had beautiful weather and the short stop was quite pleasant.  On the way to the airport to fly to Chania on Crete, our B&B hostess commented how much she love Chania and how she wished Rhodes Town had controlled it's development more. We found both places to be lovely but now that we are in Chania, we find it a much better place to live. (More on Crete later.)

Rhodes was occupied by the Knights Hospitalier in 14C. We visited the Palace of the Grand Master with it's grand staircase.)

One of many floor mosaics from the Greek Island of Kos (all on display at the Palace)

Today two columns topped with statues of deer (a stag and a doe) mark the location where the Colossus of Rhodes is thought to have been located.  Elsewhere there are impressive windmills (not operating when we saw them, we really don't know if they are operational.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cappadocia--wonderland of fairy chimneys

Cappadocia has intrigued us for years and we knew we had to visit this place with it's weird landscape (or it's fanciful "fairy houses" if that's what they are…"as folks use to think"). After our extended stay in Istanbul we had an early flight to Kayseri and arrived in Göreme by shuttle in time for a late breakfast / lunch while they finished preparing our "cave" room. 
(They said it was a cave room and it was shaped kind of cave like but it truly did not appear to be dug into a "rock" at all.)
The breakfast spread at Sultan Cave Suites
Cappadocia is pretty much in the center of Turkey and has a history dating back 4000+ years. The landscape looks like something from a wild dream. Rock formations created by 3 volcanos erupting a million or so years ago and the ensuing erosion (glaciers, rain, wind) leaving columns with caps of harder material, and fanciful stone peaks. Over the centuries various groups have carved homes, churches and even monastery towns into the rock.

As the weather had continued to get colder we were thrilled to have the wool gloves that we bought in Istanbul. We even added wool socks purchased in Goreme in preparation for our planned early AM balloon ride. Actually we wore them constantly as it only warmed up again on our day of departure. (The week before we arrived there had been unseasonably warm weather. But we got the unseasonably cold weather. Sigh…)

Our first view of the landscape was at the Goreme Open Air Museum which consists primarily of monasteries including churches, communal dining/study areas and separate sleeping quarters. The buildings are decorated with paintings in Orthodox style (colorful, old, extensively damaged but with some fine work still remaining.). For a great description and photos, see:

Strolling through the market/souvenir stands we picked up a snack, a chip kebab - a potato spiral on a skewer,thicker than normal chips, and quite tasty. 

Bill enjoying his potato kabap

Morning in Goreme means balloon rides over the hills and valleys. We had booked a deluxe flight with a maximum of 12 passengers and with a 90 minute flight (rather than a much larger group and a 45 minute flight). With the strange weather flights had been cancelled during recent days. And while the idea is to go up for sunrise, we had a few delays as they waited and hoped the weather would settle down. We were one of the early balloons to go up; later flights were cancelled that day. In fact we only got a 45 minute flight but we were happy with that. From our perch in the balloon we had spectacular views of valleys, villages and surrounding countryside. We also enjoyed our after flight champagne and snacks. 

After a brief stop at the hotel for breakfast we headed out for a walk on one of the many trails that crisscross the valleys and enjoyed being close up with the dramatic rock formations. The colorful Rose Valley gave us an opportunity to see the geologically different layers in grey, green, yellow, rose & white. 

Layers of color
Note the caps of harder stone left after the erosion

There were also scary steps steps cut into the stone to access the living areas that were typically set up off ground level. 

We enjoyed tea time at the picturesque old Cavusin cave village and then moved on to the Monks Valley (Pasabag), where many mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys surround St. Simeon's monk cell. A 4wd adventure down a winding, steep road brought us to lunch in a restaurant carved into the rock. Continuing the rock house theme to an extreme is the Kaymakli Underground City, where life underground was a reality. The city was excavated and expanded over time as protection from invaders (Romans, Persians and Arabs). Narrow low tunnels connect communal cooking, dining, storage areas and wine making facilities as well as private sleeping quarters. Round stone "doors" provided more protection from the outsiders.
"Pitted stone" in communal kitchen showing the
results of years used to grind spices 
Bill ducking to go through one of
the taller tunnels
Another day we enjoyed the 7 km hike in the Ihlara Valley along the Melendez Stream near Güzelyurt. OK, all that detail doesn't mean much to us either but we included it for future reference.  Basically it was about a 1 hour drive southwest of Göreme. The most difficult part of the hike was the steep steps down to the base. Along the path are Byzantine churches with religious paintings and houses carved into high cliffs. Early settlers used the high valley walls as protection from invaders. 

Pat in Ihlara Canyon
Paintings on Cave Church in Ihlara Canyon
Our small group include the guide and a young couple from Bosnia & Herzegovina. For the first 4km we had the valley to ourselves, A second entrance and facilities for a lunch/tea stop added many more hikers, including a large group from Google. At the 7km point we concluded our hike with a trout lunch near Belisirma village in a cabana over a stream with a table setup in Ottoman style (cushions to sit on, covered in fabric woven in typical Turkish rug designs). 
Preparing for lunch
On the return to Goreme we explored the Selime Monastery and Cathedral, cut into the rock at the end of Ihlara Valley. A short, steep climb took us to the entrance (note the lack of steps or hand rails). The size of the site and rooms was very impressive. While built as a Monastery it was adapted for use as a fortress by the Byzantine and Seljuk armies.
Enroute to the rails
Selime Cave Monastery...each of those arches around the top are
at least 6 feet high. And yes it is all carved out of a large pinnacle.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Istanbul (or is it Constantinople? or maybe Byzantium?)

It's been awhile since our last posting. Partly because we've been struggling to encapsulate Istanbul into a posting but also because we've been busy trying to take advantage of the many opportunities that Turkey has to offer.  

Attempting to provide some context, things that come to mind are:
- It has millenniums of history with three relatively well known names. Founded around 660 BC as Byzantium, it was renamed Constantinople in 330 AD.
- It is a BIG city, about 14 million population.
- It is both very western and very Muslim. BUT again, as in Bosnia & Herzegovina, many Muslims dress in western clothes.
- It spans two continents making it amazingly easy to get photos that also span two continents.

Europe (on left), Asia (on right)
- It spans eras. While surrounded by the ancient buildings of the Sultanahmet, you can't miss the more modern neighborhoods of Galata/Beyoglu across the Golden Horn or Asian Istanbul across the Sea of Marmara
- There is constant boat traffic ferries, freighters, fishing boats and cruse ships on the waterways surrounding the city…the Bosphorous Strait (connecting to the Black Sea), the the 
Sea of Mamara (connecting via the Daranelles to the Agean Sea) and the Golden Horn that separates European Istanbul into two parts.
- Ancient mosques with their minarets dominate the skyline of the Sultanahmet district (the number 1 tourist area. Hagia Sophia from 537 AD has a century on the other two biggies: Blue Mosque (built 1609-16), Süelmaniye (built 1550-57)
A few minarets
Hagia Sophia
Blue Mosque (To distinguish the Hagia Sophia from the Blue Mosque,
study the minarets & the number of domes.)
- It is hilly. We don't know if the hills have names, but we do know there was a lot of up and down in our daily touring.  (Pat decided to make it more challenging by missing that last, shorter step on our apartment staircase thereby spraining her ankle badly on day 2 of 11. It slowed us down but with 11 days, we didn't mind so much.)
- The noted markets (Grand Bazaar & Spice Market) are both touristy but the Spice Market which features spices (duh), foods, herbal products, etc is for locals as well. The streets (make that alleys) between them are markets as well. And in the Asian tradition, there are blocks featuring toys, others featuring kitchen goods or tools or sewing supplies, etc. And then, just go a little further afield and you can find streets with high fashions and world renowned brands.

Spice Bazaar 
Grand Bazaar
- It served as the capital of four empires: the Roman Empire (330–395), the Byzantine Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). (details thanks to wikipedia) We can't explain more here, for instance we hadn't even heard to the Latin Empire until our Guides kept mentioning it.

We launched our stay with a culinary tour that introduced us to Turkish tea, Turkish coffee, & Turkish Delight (candy) along with the best of pide (boat shaped Turkish pizza), simit (Turkish bagels), kebaps (locally spelled with a "p"), local spices, local fish, "deli" foods (dried meats, cheeses, marinated veggies, …). At the market we met the masters who make cooking utensils such as long-handled wooden pide/pizza oven spatulas, hand-cranked coffee grinders, rolling pins, knives and skewers for kebabs. After all that we toured the Spice Market. There were stops along the way to try out our guides favorite stands and cafes.  It turns out that our guide, Tuba Santana met our friend Kirsten West in Copenhagen this summer.  

Baking Pide
Handmade wooden kitchen utensils (& toys/tops)

Köfte (meatballs)
Our touring took us to Hagia Sophia Mosque, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace (extensive grounds, too many separate buildings to count, built 1459-65) in the Sultanahmet area. These are three major attractions within 5 minutes walk of each other. One of our favorites though was the 5th century Underground Cistern built to supply water for the growing city. The roof is supported by 336 pillars, each about 26 feet hight.  This is a peaceful place to visit both because it gets fewer visitors but there is something very meditative about being surrounded by a simple repeating pattern, in this case the columns. Nearby was an updated Roman mile marker and directional sign...
Pillars supporting the top of the underground cistern
Updated sign post
The Grand Bazaar was just a little too much for us. Still it was interesting to explore the winding alleys. Although the Grand Bazaar is officially in Europe it has the Asian organization with areas specializing in related  products. You want jewelry, go to the jewelry area. You want a rug, go to the rug area. Got it? We suspect so.

On the day after Pat sprained her ankle (she was suffering from having spent a little too much time exploring Istanbul), we decided to give the ankle a rest and took the cruise up the Bosphorus. We passed under two bridges that cross between Europe and Asia. We continued to Anadolu Kavagi, a local favorite destination for fish restaurants. Pat loved her deep-fried mussels. After eating we explored the small town and then boarded the ferry for the return trip to Istanbul.  

Fried Mussels 
Meze / Starter / Tapa Selection
We stayed in Istanbul for 11 days and chose a lovely apartment near the Galata Tower (a 6C round structure made of stone and topped with a conical roof. It provides great views of Sultanamet, especially at sunset). The apartment was well-equipped for cooking and we took some advantage of that although we didn't get carried away.  We did enjoy buying wine at the local tasting room. They were very knowledgeable but it was odd because they are only licensed as a tasting room, so if you want to buy a bottle, they need to open it first.
Galata Tower
Our apartment was also near Istiklal Avenue which is a long street with a combination of upscale and international brands combined with some local markets.  There is a cute trolley, reminiscent of the cable cars in San Francisco,  that runs between the Galata area and Taksim Square.  Pat likes the clothes in Mavi, sportswear all made in Turkey. We were also happy to find wool gloves once the weather turned cold.  We didn't need them so much for Istanbul, but we were preparing for an early AM ballon flight in Cappadocia…where the weather had also turned cold…more on that later.

One day we took the ferry across to the Asian side to explore Bagdat Street in Kadikoy. This is also one of those could be anywhere places with boutiques, cafes & restaurants mixed together along 5-6 kilometers of street with spacious sidewalks. This trip entailed our firs Dolmus experience.  A Dolmus is a van seating may 15 people that operates as a shared taxi.  They follow a set route. You can get in or out anywhere along the route. And they run frequently. Very convenient.