Saturday, December 4, 2010

Turkey: Day 10–The Long Journey Home

Ah, after a great visit it was finally time to head home! We had an early flight to Istanbul, so we hopped a cab to the airport and went to check in.

Unfortunately, the Turkish Airlines agents told us that our reservation had been cancelled! They were able to get us on the flight to Istanbul but told us they could not get us on our flight to Chicago. I immediately became nervous, but Jon kept his cool and got all the information he could from the agents. When we got to Istanbul, we hurried to the sales office to see what could be done. To our relief, the salesperson said our reservation was just fine and printed out our ticket numbers, should we run into any more trouble. Soon, we were checked in and resting comfortably in the business class lounge.

Our flight to Chicago left on time, and we settled in for the long 12-hour flight across Europe, the Atlantic, and half of North America. Jon’s friend Doug met us at O’Hare to help pass the long layover at a nearby restaurant.

Soon, we were back up in the air and safely home in Seattle. Nobody enjoys the end of a great vacation, but there will be many future trips to look forward to!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Turkey: Day 9-Horseback Riding and Cave Dwelling

We woke up well rested from our night in the cave and had a great breakfast at the hotel. Afterwards we asked the hotel owner for advice, and she offered to help us arrange transportation for the day's activities. We wanted to visit one of the local underground cities, and she checked to make sure neither of us were claustrophobic. We confirmed that we weren't, and then she confessed to some claustrophobia herself! Kind of strange since she runs a hotel in a cave! Turkey_Cappadocia24_Giramisu

In the meantime, she suggested we ride some of the hotel's horses around the village. Initially, I was a bit nervous about it given the hilly terrain, but Jon was enthusiastic and we decided to go for it.

I am so glad we did! One of the staff helped us on the horses and led us through the little valley and up a steep hill. The horses were gentle, and the view of the surrounding area was gorgeous! Turkey_Cappadocia27_Giramisu Eventually we descended back to the village where we greeted most of the town residents who were hanging out in the town square. No doubt they had a good laugh at us parading by, but they all smiled and waved as we went by.

Next, our driver for the day took us to the underground city. This was a place of refuge from rival military forces for residents, and the collection of tunnels was just amazing. Turkey_Cappadocia29_UndergroundCity Only 4 levels are open to the public, but there are certainly many more judging by the ventilation shaft we passed! We scraped our heads a few times and dodged some tour groups but were ultimately glad to have had the opportunity to see such an interesting settlement.

Our driver then took us back to Urgup and despite his lack of English and our poor Turkish, got us squared away with bus tickets. He was truly quite helpful. We had a nice lunch before the hour-long bus ride back to Kayseri.


There, we grabbed a city bus towards our hotel. I knew we would eventually encounter the tram line into downtown, so we kept our eyes open and hopped off at the tram station. We hopped the tram and got off at the stop for our hotel, as provided by a nice security guard. Then, yet another nice guy on the street took us to a taxi stand. A taxi driver here set us off towards our hotel. As usual, I am deeply indebted to the kind folks we encounter who take the time to help two tourists!

Finally at our hotel, we rested before venturing out for dinner. I was surprised in a city of that size how few English speakers we found, but folks are patient and usually happy to encounter somebody from another country.

Packed and ready for the journey home, we turned in at the Hotel Ibis.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Turkey: Day 8-Up, Up, and Away!

For Jon's birthday, and to continue our theme of trying out a new form of transportation on every trip, we got up early and were ready to go at 5:30am for our hot air balloon trip! The company came and picked us up and shuttled us to the launch site, about 7 miles outside of Urgup. There, we met up with what seemed like all the other tourists in the area who were just as eager as we were to get up in the air.

I was a bit anxious about the trip because of the height, but the large basket on our Turkey_Cappadocia05_HotAirBalloonballoon held about 24 folks, so I was able to stand to the inside. As we enjoyed some tea, we watched as about 25 balloons were unrolled and filled with hot air. We launch just as the sun was rising over the hills giving us a great, clear view of the landscape. Up, up, and away!

Our balloon pilot was British and explained to us how to remain safe on board, and then we were off! This was our first view of the rock formations that Cappadocia is known for, and what an introduction! They were similar to what we'd seen in Bryce Canyon and Zion in Utah but were smoother and fanned out in all directions. Turkey_Cappadocia09_HotAirBalloon Despite the occasional bursts of hot air, it was an extremely peaceful trip across a valley, over a large hill and out over some fields. The ride lasted about 90 minutes, but I think I could have stayed up there for hours.

The landing was a bit rough but safe, and it was followed by a quick glass of champagne. Jon and I had a chance to talk a bit with the pilot who had been flying for 23 years. He also recommended a hot air balloon flight in Kenya should we ever find ourselves there. Possible future trip idea?

Back at our hotel, we enjoyed a nice breakfast and then made our to the bus station where we grabbed a bus to the Goreme open-air museum. Turkey_Cappadocia22_GoremeThis was an ancient monastery and nunnery build directly into the caves of the region and was quite a sight. I was impressed by the extensive networks of buildings that had been created and the ornate decorations in the many churches and chapels there. It was a bit cool but quite pleasant, so we didn't mind waiting a bit for our bus back to Urgup where we collected our bags and took a taxi to our next destination.

Jon had featured the Giramisu Cave Hotel in a slide show a while back, but both of us were blown away by the place. Situated away from all the tourist stops in the region, it was a very peaceful place built right into the caves. Our well-appointed (and huge) room had a nice skylight and a working fireplace. Once settled, we took the opportunity to explore the grounds and the surrounding village of Ayvali.

We had dinner in the gorgeous dining room at the hotel, and the 4-course meal was absolutely excellent! A tour group was also staying at the hotel, but they cleared out early giving us the entire run of the dining room to enjoy our leisurely meal. Later on, we went back to our room and attempted to start a fire in the fireplace. After several attempts with the provided matches, we called the front desk which sent somebody down with a propane tank and torch to really get the blaze going! Why hadn't we thought of that? Exhausted, we bid farewell to a great day and got some rest.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Turkey: Day 7-Planes, Walking, and Automobiles

Most of the day was spent in transit for us: it all started before the sun came up when we set out on foot to the Fethiye bus station. Realizing that no vans would be coming by, we caved and grabbed a taxi to the bus station where we met our shuttle bus to the Dalaman airport. The bus was by no means full, but I was kind of surprised how many people were headed out that early in the morning.

We got to the Dalaman airport, checked in and boarded our hour-long flight back to Istanbul. We had a little time there to cool our heels before we got on our plane to Kayseri. We left a bit late but still got to Kayseri before dark. I had imagined that Kayseri would be a pretty small place, so I was quite shocked when we landed in a city of about 900,000 people! Surrounded by gorgeous mountains, we got off the plane and grabbed a taxi to the bus station. I initially balked at the relatively high taxi fare, but the driver used a meter and had been pretty accurate in his estimate of the cost.

Catching a bus to Urgup was simple, but we had to sit with our bags on the nearly full bus, so it was a bit more cramped than I would have liked. Still, we drove off into the hills as the sun set and our arrival in Urgup was uneventful. We had to do a bit of searching for our hotel, but some helpful locals guided us in the right direction. Our room was nothing special but was comfortable and gave us a place to relax. As was becoming a theme, we turned in early since our 4:30am wake-up time was fast approaching!


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turkey: Day 6-Return to the Blue Lagoon

Another beautiful day found us once again heading back into Fethiye to catch a van to Oludiniz. Now total experts, we knew exactly where to stand to catch our ride. Oludiniz is a beach town that serves as the gateway to the Blue Lagoon: Turkey's gorgeous beach destination. After a quick walk down the beach, we headed off to the Blue Lagoon. It's a short walk to the entrance gate, and then another moderate walk out to the lagoon. Turkey_Oludiniz02

Certainly, the place was beautiful, with the tree-covered hills all around and the bright blue water mirroring the blue sky above, but for me the greatest part was that Jon and I had the entire place to ourselves! The beach is mostly round stones, but still we took off our shoes, rolled up our pants, and waded a bit into the water. What a relaxing day it turned out to be.Turkey_Oludiniz06

We headed back into Oludiniz, but found that since it was the off-season, we would not be able to get a boat out to the Butterfly Valley. We could have hired one, but it seemed like a bit of trouble to arrange, and the butterflies are supposedly at their peak in the summer instead of the winter. None of the tourist-centric town was open, but we were able to find one restaurant where we could grab some Cokes and sit by the water.

Sufficiently relaxed, we grabbed a van back to town, stopped by the bus station to get information on our return to the airport the next morning, and made our way back to the hotel. The skies were a bit cloudy, but it was still warm and pleasant, so we took the opportunity to sit outside and do some reading. We took a walk through the more working class area where folks were working on repairing boats before zipping back into town. We had a very large but fantastic dinner in town and then went to bed early.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Turkey: Day 5-Out of the City, Into the Country

After our great experiences in Istanbul, we were ready to see what other parts of Turkey had to offer. Our flight to Dalaman on the southern coast went smoothly on Turkish Airlines, and soon we were breathing in the warmer, cleaner air and piling on to a shuttle bus to Fethiye.

Fethiye was going to be our "base camp", and it's a very nice seaside town. Tourism appears to be one of (if not the only) industries there, so there are quite a few taxi drivers and tour arrangers who were quite happy we were in town! Turkey_Fethiye01 Winter is definitely the off-season there, although we had quite nice, warm weather during our stay. We stopped in town for some breakfast before trudging out to our hotel. The new bus station in town where we arrived is quite a ways from downtown, and our hotel was on the extreme other end of town. It was certainly a hike! We were also greeted by an unexpected "Hi, how are you guys doing?" from the only other American tourist in Fethiye during the off-season on our journey.
Villa Daffodil is an old property that has been carefully restored and was quite a relaxing place. I suspect there were maybe 2 or 3 other guests while we were in town so it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. After settling in and ditching our luggage, we walked back into town for our only sightseeing event of the day. We had lunch on a rooftop terrace overlooking the water before visiting the local tourism office where the rather unhelpful attendant gave us a map and sent us on our way.

Never wanting to miss out on an opportunity to try out some local transportation, we passed up all the car rental offices and waited with some other village folks who were flagging down dolmuses (vans) on the side of the road. We had some trouble finding one headed our way, so eventually we ended up at the minibus station where we were pointed in the direction of the right van. Soon we were on our way to Kayakoy in the hills above Fethiye.

This was when we first encountered the truly touristy nature of the region. Our van passed through what was essentially a ghost town in the off-season of hotels, restaurants, and shops devoted to the tourist trade. They offered "British food service" and other tourist creature comforts. I'm all for visiting resorts and tourist sites, but I was glad to be seeing this in the off-season where we could avoid most of the crowds.

Soon, we were in Kayakoy. Initially a Greek village, it was abandoned when the Turkish folks settled it in favor of a location at the bottom of the hill where the initial stone village was founded.Turkey_Kayakoy04 There was an eerie sense to the place as we climbed up the steep hillside to admire all the structures. Turkey_Kayakoy07_Church The church was especially interesting since quite a bit of work had gone into its planning and construction.

As night began to fall and we'd explored some more of the ruins, we took a seat by the side of the road to await our van ride back to town. We grabbed a quick dinner when we returned to Fethiye and went back to Villa Daffodil to watch The Amazing Race on the Slingbox before turning in.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Turkey: Day 4–Hopping over to Asia

Today was our last full day in Istanbul, and since we had lined up many activities the first few days, it felt great to have a day where we could explore a bit with no set agenda. Turkey_Istanbul38 Our first order of business was to locate a coffee shop recommended by the staff at the Ritz, but an hour and a half of searching later had left us sans coffee and ready to try something else. So, we grabbed a quick breakfast down by the waterfront before boarding a ferry for the Asian side of Istanbul.

The ferry ride was very pleasant: about 20 minutes over fairly calm water and then we were technically on another continent! Turkey_Istanbul39_TokenMy map did not cover this area, so we set off on foot to navigate to Ciya: a restaurant we had heard good things about. The biggest problem with this plan was that I had left the directions in my bag back at the Ritz. After exploring a big, we ducked into an Internet cafe to get some better directions.

Lunch at Ciya was fantastic and well worth the difficult navigating. They have many different dishes that are being offered on any given day, and you just point to the ones you want to try. We ended choosing way more food than we needed, but it's always nice to give as many things a try as possible. The weather was lovely, so Jon and I took a stroll along the waterfront. Turkey_Istanbul44_Asia Unfortunately, we were witness to an old train station that had caught fire during our walk! It was abandoned, and nobody was hurt, but it was such a beautiful building that it was quite sad to see it being destroyed.

A ferry ride later we were back in Europe checking out the waterfront. We took another walk through the spice market, sampling some cheese and olives before finally settling in to a cafe for some tea. After a while, the power went out (taking with it our Wi-Fi connections), so we went down to the bridge to admire the city at night. Jon grabbed one of the fish sandwiches being sold straight from the fishing boat, and then we grabbed our bags from the Ritz.

Since we had an early flight to catch the next morning, we decided to stay near the airport. So, we grabbed a tram through the old city to an area where you can connect to the subway. There wasn't much planning involved with how one might do this, so it was quite a walk from the tram stop over to the Metro entrance, but we were soon zipping out towards the airport! We got off the stop before the airport terminal which appears to exclusively serve the hotel we were staying in, so it was an easy walk over for some much needed rest.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Turkey: Day 3–Cooking Up a Storm

The main event for the day was our Turkish cooking class, but our first order of business was moving our luggage to our next hotel. Since it was Jon's birthday, we celebrated by staying in the Ritz-Carlton! After that, we took advantage of the city's excellent tram system to head down to the older part of the city. The weather was a bit overcast but certainly nicer than the rain shower we'd experience the previous afternoon, so I enjoyed our walk down the stone streets to Cooking Alaturka.


Our class consisted of 8 people: two of the others there were American, and the rest were from Europe. The teacher was from California, but she has lived in Turkey for 11 years and was quite knowledgeable about the food we would be preparing. Assisting us in the kitchen was a chef (the instructor called him a "kitchen magician") from Southern Turkey who, despite not speaking much English, entertained us all with his dry sense of humor. For example, I was adding some grains to a soup we were making, and he motioned to me as a joke that I should count out 800 grains individually! All of us actively participated in different parts of the preparation, and soon we were ready to eat.

We'd prepared a red lentil soup, an eggplant stuffed with tomatoes and onions, zucchini fritters, vine leaves stuffed with meat and rice, and a semolina-cake dessert. Everything tasted great, although it was quite a large meal.

Full and a bit drowsy, we made our way back to the Ritz and had a little time to relax in the nicely appointed room. Then, we each had a chance to experience a Turkish hamam (bath) offered by the spa at the hotel. It was a very relaxing procedure, but the fact that the practitioner was using a bucket of soapy water and a sponge made me feel a bit like an '84 Buick getting a car wash! Still, it was a great way to enjoy some of our vacation time.

We didn't feel too much like venturing far for dinner, but we did find a nice place to get a pide (pizza) for dinner and enjoy the excitement of the Istikal Caddesi on the weekend.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey: Day 2–Not-So Accidental Tourists

The day started off relatively early as Jon and I, awakened by the 6am call to prayer, enjoyed breakfast at the hotel's top floor restaurant. We finally got our first view of the city in broad daylight and were eager to hit the pavement and start exploring.
In order to get our bearings a bit, we took off on foot. First, we rode the funicular from the top of one of the hills down to the waterfront where we then walked across the city's "new" bridge towards the major tourist attractions. It was still a bit early in the day, so I was free to indulge my tourist impulses to stare wide-eyed at all the amazing architecture and take a few photos of the sprawling city around us. The first stop of the day was the Hagia Sofia: an ancient structure dating back to the Byzantine days and notable for its sheer enormity. Turkey_Istanbul10_HagiaSofiaThe outside is fairly unassuming, but the interior was immense and gorgeous. Some of the ancient artistic works Turkey_Istanbul16_HagiaSofiastill remain intact, but for the most part visitors are required to use their imagination to determine how things looked back in its heyday.

Just across a courtyard was our next stop: the Blue Mosque. Still in use today, it is decorated with many blue tiles which cast a hue over the entire place. The interior is beautiful enough, but the outside is also decorated with 6 minarets which are also quite a sight! Turkey_Istanbul17_BlueMosque We also decided to check out the ancient cisterns situated underground near the Blue Mosque. Initially, we were hesitant to spend the money on yet another site, but we were rewarded by a fantastic, immense trip below the surface. Turkey_Istanbul28_Cistern Our next stop on our crash course in Istanbul's significant sights was Topkapi Palace. Overlooking the water with clear views over to the Asian side of Istanbul, the palace holds many artifacts from ancient times, including ceremonial thrones and jewelry. It is quite a collection!Turkey_Istanbul30_Topkapi

After lunch, we headed over to the Grand Bazaar. It was nothing like I expected: these days it feels similar to a large shopping mall with clear aisles and many types of shops. Neither Jon nor I are big shoppers, so aside from admiring its sheer size (it is all enclosed), we did not spend too much time there. Our next stop was the spice market where many vendors were selling cheese, olives, and meats in addition to giant barrels of spices. It was quite a sight!

We then went back to the hotel for a little rest after a long day of sightseeing. In the evening, we ventured out for dinner at a small place we found on one of the crowded streets nearby. Exhausted but well versed in the major sights of Istanbul, we called it a night!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Turkey: Day 1 - Another Adventure Begins

"What do you think? It's Turkish!" was the quote that was running through my head as we left our house in Seattle for Istanbul. It's from a scene in the movie Amadeus where a woman solicits opinions on her outlandish headdress. I've always thought of this scene as indicating the foreign, exotic nature that folks have about Turkey, and I was eager to experience it for myself.

So, out the door we went and into the 3 inches of snow that had paralyzed the city of Seattle for several days. Jon and I caught a bus to SeaTac and enjoyed Lufthansa's business class lounge before heading down the gate. Our flight to Frankfurt was great, and we took advantage of the excellent business class service. They served lunch, then we went to sleep and woke up in Germany. A few hours later, we were off on our connection to Istanbul.

We arrived right on schedule and, despite the distance from the airport to the city, decided to pay up for a cab to ease our navigation in this new place. The city was gorgeous at night, dramatically covering several hillsides. Our cab sped through town, crossing under an ancient viaduct that the road now threads through. Our hotel for the evening was located right on a main pedestrian street, so it was a little strange for our cab to dodge the passing walkers and drop us off right at the front door! We put down our bags and headed out to explore the city at night.

Not wanting to wander too far on our first night after a long trip, we just walked up to Taksim Square along the busy Istikal Caddesi and soaked in the ambiance. The street was teeming with folks out enjoying the nice evening, so we strolled along with them and had a decent doner kebap at one of the casual places lining the street. After a while, we were both exhausted and decided to call it a night.