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We drove over the Taurus Mountains, which are the same range as the Himalayas and the Alps, dating from the Mesozoic Age. In a short time the climate totally changed from an area for swimming to an area to ski. As we rode, Matin, our excellent SmarTours guide who has a Ph.D. in political science, continued to educate us about Turkey, about today’s culture and customs and about the ancient archeological sites we were about to see.
Once we passed through the mountains heading west, we were traveling along the Aegean Sea with the mountain range running parallel to the coast, Because of the natural harbors and good farmland, Greek people settled here from about the 13th Century B.C. They started city-states, autonomous in internal affairs but related as confederations for military and other collective relations…the first democracies with leaders elected by males who voted. The architecture was copied from the Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations with columns used to support ceilings.
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Our first stop was the unique and beautiful Pamukkale, which reminded us of Yellowstone National Park but even more amazing. The natural hot springs through the centuries have formed enormous “waterfall” formations of calcium carbonate, like many stalactites blending together, only not within a cave. The running water forms pale aqua serene pools which visitors are allowed to walk in barefooted. The pools, which having dried, left large geometric patterns in the snow-white ledges. From the road the whole structure appears to be a massive glacier or waterfall nearly the size of Niagara Falls. This whole area overlooks a lovely town with orange tile roofs and verdant green meadows, backed by tall mountains all around. We were there in early spring amidst a carpet of yellow dandelions, white daisies, red poppies, purple grape hyacinths and pink asters, all surrounding the archeological ruins of travertine and marble, mined locally for millennia. The ruins contain an ancient gym, bathhouse, latrine, agora, and necropolis. The archaeological museum here has many artifacts from the area.
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Hot springs here became the first spa for therapeutic healing, but the hot water made many conditions such as heart trouble worse and many people who came for a cure died here instead. Because the bodies could not be removed, a large necropolis formed here. It is a very important historical cemetery dating from the 3rd Century B.C. to the 3rd Century A.D. The ancient burial rites included parading the body around three times as farewell, transport it to the cemetery in early morning, sing, and then bury the body. Cremation began after the 5th Century A.D. The family placed the person’s belongings with the body. Poor people placed only a cup of wine, a little food, a mirror, and two coins (to pay the boatman to cross the river to eternity). If the family was rich they placed all the possessions of the deceased with his body. The mirror was because after the long sleep of death the awakening person may not remember himself. Mourners returned home for a large meal and then washed the entire house with salt water to keep evil spirits away. On the 9th day of mourning the family shared whatever possessions are left.
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Here at Pamukkale we saw excellent examples of the three kinds of graves which would be purchased before one died: a sarcophagus was a stone box sometimes elaborately carved with scenes of mythology or of the person’s life; a mausoleum was a small marble house for wealthy families, also elaborately carved; a tumulus is a mound shaped grave only for very important and wealthy people. Although the stones here were in remarkable condition and the inscriptions in Greek and Latin were often legible, the necropolis itself was destroyed and the graves tumbled by a huge earthquake in the 3rd Century A.D. and grave robbers plundered the remains.
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Ruins of the holy city of Hieropolis could be seen at the top of the hill above the hot springs. The bath and gymnasium ruins are impressive. In Greek and Roman times boys and girls were educated, and education was compulsory. They learned ancient Greek, writing, calculus, and abacas. After five years in school boys went to the gymnasium for physical fitness, participating with naked and oiled bodies. At 18 they graduated as citizens.
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After leaving Pamukkale we traveled on to the city of Izmir. On September 9,1922, Izmir was freed from Greek occupation. Now it is a center of education with two of the best universities in Turkey. Izmir is a farming center for cotton, chickens, turkeys, olives, and fruit. The city is over 5,000 years old and Christianity came here in the 1st Century AD. Izmir is thought to be the birthplace of the poet Homer.
In Izmir we stayed for two nights at the Kaya Prestige Hotel, located only a few blocks from the bay.

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In all the souvenir shops and bazaars we saw jewelry and home decorations with the blue Evil Eye Protection. For centuries superstitions have kept this shamanistic symbol to protect a person from negative energy emitted from other people, which could cause bad luck, loss, illness, or accidents. Few visitors leave without one of these truly Turkish souvenirs. A small one on a safety pin is a gift many merchants give visitors if they buy anything. Of all the Turkish handmade items rugs and tiles are the best value for the money.
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Turkish hospitality is famous: just knock on a door and you are welcomed and treated royally because of nomadic hospitality when travel was grueling. Even today Turks do not like heavy furniture, a nomadic reflection of times when every possession had to be easy to carry and multi-functional. Rugs served this purpose. They could be used to make tents, to cover the ground, to sit on so that no furniture was required, and for sleeping and keeping warm. Nomads used wool from their flocks. In the Steppes landscape is a bland, sandy color and grass is gray. Eyes craved color, so rug makers used natural vegetable dyes for wool: saffron & tobacco for yellow, roots for red, blue from indigo, etc. Sheep wool was thick, so they had to use double knots to secure it. Thick wool necessitated geometric designs in squares because fewer knots were needed. 4×4 knots per square inch are all that wool on wool Pazarik rugs need, and these go back to the 1st Century B.C.
As we traveled with SmarTours through Konya and Antalya, we saw the vast terraced Steppes, important for growing crops. This is not an earthquake area. When Seljuk Turks came here in the 10th Century and met Greeks, who lived in this area, the rug makers were introduced to cotton, which is grown here. They learned how to mix cotton for warp and weft, so rug makers could fit more knots into the spaces, and rugs with 25 x 25 became the minimum standard for floral designs, as curves were possible with this thinner yarn.
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We stopped at Trahis Caravan Sarai, which Aladin built in 1229. In 1278 it was owned by Seljuk Turks. The entrance is most important with handmade Arabic letters in tiles, sometimes with a tree of life. Ottoman buildings are impressive; Seljuck ones have no dome. Ottomans have a dome and thinner minarets
The nomads who traveled this part of the Silk Road came by camels, which could carry large loads and go for many hours without water. But a camel MUST follow a donkey. Because bandits would rob and kill at night, caravans traveled at sunrise and spent nights in Caravan Sarais, which were very large buildings that would house the animals and the people free for two nights. The Sarai with a green flag had room, but a red flag meant the sarai was full. The Sarai attendants would check caravans in an outdoor section first to be sure they are healthy and they would write down the condition of each animal and traveler, so if bandits attacked a caravan after they left a Sarai, the sultans compensated for the losses. In winter people and animals stay together; in summer camels are outside. Sarai owners burned plants for a better smell indoors. Anyone who wanted private quarters could pay extra. Kitchens were outside to prevent fire. One important aspect of the Sarais was they were built by water, and the Normal Tax went to help pay for the Sarais. Travelers ate in a common area and shared information, talked business, and traded goods tax free. After discovery of sea routes Silk Road lost its trade importance and became great tourist places for cultural exchange.
Konya was the ancient capital city of Seljuk Turks. St. Paul came here on his first missionary journey and ultimately established seven Christian churches. Konya is the most conservative city in Turkey, and many women cover their heads here.
We stopped for lunch at Seydisehir, where the largest sulphur mine and production of aluminum and a large hydroelectricity plant are located. Then we drove over the perfectly beautiful snow covered Taurus Moutains, 6,000 feet high. With the beautiful evergreens it reminded us of the Colorado ski areas. On the lower slopes were olive groves up to 800 years old grow, as do orange, lemon and pomegranate orchards. These mountains appear even taller than they are because they go straight down to Turkey’s Turquoise Mediterranean Coast where it never snows and summers are hot and dry but good for farming strawberries and tomatoes. This is a popular summer resort area, but many accommodations don’t have air conditioning and are built with windows strategically placed to capture the constant breezes.
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At Antalya we checked in at the lovely five-star Dedeman Resort for two nights, and we all got seaview rooms with balconies. This is the best time of year in Antalya. The resort had beautiful tennis courses, a walkway and elevator down the cliff side to the sea, where a diving club and swim platform are located, but it was too chilly to use this time of year. The fabulous buffet dinners and breakfasts included so many different stations laden with scores of choices, hot and cold, that it was impossible to sample everything, but every bite was delicious!
If you intend to have a Turkish Bath in a real Hamam this is the most sanitary and professional place to do so. Those who went to the spa here could have free sauna and steam room or pay and select from the various kinds of massages and treatments. The Hamam is unisex but the bath is given in a private room. The patron decides whether to have a man or woman attendant. In town Hamams are separate for men and women and are always located beside a mosque since cleansing before prayer is required. They were used in ancient times for the builders of the mosque to cleanse before work. It is recommended to sweat in the sauna room only covered with a towel before your massage. The philosophy our guide joked about was, “I don’t know you; you don’t know me; they don’t know us, so enjoy your private bath!” First the attendant uses a kesse cloth to exfoliate your entire body. Next the attendant uses a foam bag to squeeze a soap all over you and then scrubs you with warm water. Next you have the shock of cold water, then more warm water. You can finish in the steam room. The process requires about one hour. We teased the ones who partook of this very Turkish tradition, but they all found the Turkish baths to be a great experience for anyone visiting Turkey.

We took the optional tour to the ancient city of Perge, the largest in Pamphylia, which was at its zenith under Alexander the Great. We toured the second largest stadium (12,000 people) with many arches, identifying it as from the Roman period or Emperor Claudius. Perge had a very large bath complex, and Matin our tour director described in detail all the elements of the various buildings that made up these baths. The city possessed a very long main street that was some 65 feet wide and was once lined with shops and flanked by statues of prominent citizens. The water canal for this city ran down the center of this street, coming from an elaborate fountain at one end of the street. This was all built when the city was enlarged in the 4th Century AD.
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Next we went to Aspendos, founded according to ancient tradition in the 13th Century BC. In the 4th Century BC Alexander the Great took over the city, and then in the 2nd Century AD during the rule of the Roman Emperor Marcos Aurelius the huge theater and aqueducts were built. This Roman theater is one of the best-preserved ancient theaters in the world, seating 20,000 and still used today for concerts and stage productions. Because the Romans had figured out that the curve of an arch can hold up weight safely, they built theaters with an enclosed building behind the stage for the actors’ use, and seating was in semicircular shape. Greeks built amphitheaters in the side of a mountain with only horseshoe seating and had no stage building for these outdoor theaters but enjoyed the scenery of nature behind the stage.
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Since Turks themselves did all of the Perge archaeological digs, the ancient artifacts from Perge are in the Antalya Museum where we went next. Statues, friezes, coins from centuries before Christ are in amazing condition. Matin, our wonderful guide who has a Ph.D. in political science and sociology, explained Greek and Roman mythology pertinent to the statues we saw in nearly perfect condition. He was always generous in sharing his wealth of historical facts also and told us interesting tidbits about many of the cases where the items were displayed in timeline chronology. We learned that Greek statues have expressionless faces, but Roman ones have expressive faces and were commissioned by even average people, so they are plentiful. When Christians defaced them as idols, the noses were cut off so the face was not identifiable. Extended hands and arms were often lost through time or defacement, but those close to body were not destroyed. We were given free time to explore the museum and see Byzantine Persian clothing, weapons, house articles from later history and weapons and coins from all periods. The museum is very well done with signs in English also.
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Until the last day of our two-week tour we were blessed with great weather, pleasant 60 – 70 degrees. Everywhere in Turkey is so clean, no trash except some in little villages, which certain people are paid to collect for recycling. Traffic is orderly in cities. Buildings are modern, and high-rise condos are in Easter egg colors, especially in areas where natural scenery is bland.

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After spending the night in Ankara and visiting the beautiful mausoleum and memorial to Ataturk and a wonderful museum of ancient archeological finds dating from the preliterate or paleolithic periods through the Hittites and up to the Ottoman Empire we traveled on to an area in central Turkey, Cappadocia at 3,000 feet was our next stop. As we traveled from Ankara toward the Cappadocia region, we passed shepherds with large flocks. These are businessmen who collect sheep and goats, marked with colors by individual owners in town, and each day these shepherds take all of the animals to graze and return them in the evening. The Kengal dog with the flock, a breed considered the best sheep dog in the world, wears a collar with sharp sticks projecting out to protect him from wild animals.

We stopped at Aksaray on the edge of Nevshir for lunch at Agacli, one of the top ten roadside cafeterias in Turkey. We had meatloaf and potatoes, rice stuffed chicken, and tomato soup. Food in Turkey is not very spicy but very delicious. Afterwards we went next door to Mado to have ice cream of goat milk, which was delicious.
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Throughout the day we passed in the distance three of the volcanic mountains about 9,000 feet high, whose eruptions spread a layer of volcanic ash over parts of the region forming the plateaus from which wind and rain erosion produced capped columns, pyramids, and conical formations now called fairy chimneys.
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We toured the tunnels and caves of the underground city Kamaylakla, a World Heritage Site, eight stories deep, dug into the layer of volcanic lava where over 2,000 Christians hid for long periods of time over the course more than a century. Their ventilation and communication system was a brilliant innovation. The men could go out at night for food supplies or by day for war, but they left through tunnels, which emerged miles away so the underground city was never discovered. The top level was for their animals. The second level served as school and church. The third level maintained a 65 degree temperature, which is perfect for grain and vegetable storage. The fourth level was for wine making and storage. The lower levels were for sleeping and the bottom level was used as a prison and burial place. We could not imagine 1,000 kids living in these cramped quarters for a year with no TV or toys.

For hundreds of years this area of Cappadocia has been the center of the famous Turkish ceramics and for Turkish hand-knotted rugs. Today 44,000 families in 300 square miles make their living creating rugs and beautiful pottery, and the art forms are taught by parents to their children. This is also a farming region with underground springs and the longest river in Turkey. We could also see the volcanic mountain Argis, which stands over 12,000 feet high and is a popular ski area.
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We went for ceramic-making demonstrations to Avanos Tile Factory. Red clay, typical of ancient Hittite pottery, is from the Halys River (Red River) here, and white clay is from nearby mountains. After watching the craftsmen throw the pottery on both a kick wheel and an electric one, we bought pieces in the vast showroom, which had new pieces and also some valuable collectable pieces.

After leaving the Avanos Tile Factory we went to our hotel, the Peri Tower, a 4-star rambling hotel with the look of a Mexican hacienda, and each room is unique in this strangely designed hotel. Our room was a small twin with a huge, bare balcony. Others had a big room and small balcony. Some of our group got up at 5 A.M. for a thrilling Hot Air Balloon ride over the picturesque and unusual landscape. Our buffet dinner was delicious. Our room was comfortable and clean, though it is showing its age, even though it attempts to be ultra modern.
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We set out the next morning from our hotel around 9 am after those who had gone on the early morning balloon ride had returned. As we drove through the surrounding hills we saw groves of apricot, apple, and almond trees. We stopped first on an overlook that gave us a view of the cave houses carved into these limestone hills where there were family dwellings until the 1950’s. The formations with the cave houses truly had the look of a fairy village. Grape vineyards are also around the area with 7,000 different varieties for dry red and white wines. And a camel to ride!
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In the afternoon our SmarTours coach took us to another Unesco World Heritage Site where the natural formations looked like a village of Fairy (Peri) Chimneys for gnomes. The locals believe that when fairies left here they left their spirits to the pigeons, so they celebrate a Pigeon Festival each May. Pigeon holes in all the natural castles look like mail boxes. People collect dung from these holes and mix it with 6 parts water for fertilizer, which lasts for two years.

We also visited another fascinating place that has been since 1885 a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was an area that was once occupied as an ancient early Christian monastery, dating from the 4th Century. Just as our native American cliff dwellings these early Christians had dug out caves in the volcanic pumice cliffs, creating sanctuaries and living quarters for the monks. Today we can still see many of the churches, used by the community of about 5,000 men and women , which were carved out within the caves, creating the domed shape of Greek Orthodox sanctuaries today, the walls and ceilings also being completely covered in colored frescos illustrating Bible stories to teach illiterate people about Christ. The most beautiful and well preserved frescoes are in the Tokali church from 1000 – 1100 A.D. and is the first church in the shape of a cross in the world. Some of the walls had much earlier rust colored primitive paintings by very early Christians. We were in awe of these beautiful colors and art works, which have survived for centuries. In the 11th Century 365 churches existed here, one for each day of the year. We were able to go into four of the over 200 remaining ones. To preserve the art works that have survived defacing by the Arab invaders, photos inside these cave churches are prohibited. It is amazing how much was preserved. Before 1054 AD and the division of the Christian church into Roman and Greek Orthodox all Christianity many Christian priests were trained here.403268e00
We visited Carpetium Carpet Manufacturing, a rug factory specializing in Hereke rugs, which are modeled after the Persian designs used in the rugs made for the Sultans with a minimum of 88×88 double Gordion knots per square inch. These are considered some the finest rugs in the world and are made of silk or wool. The thickness of the fiber determines the number of knots possible in the space. Some girls work in the factory here, and we were able to watch them select their colors, tie knots, and beat the threads down. Others work in their homes. The value of a rug is determined by the number of knots, and secondly by material and pattern style. We were also shown how silk is produced from the silk worms. We all entered the factory determined not to buy, before viewing the scores of beautiful rugs thrown on the floor in front of us as we ate a pizza lunch and drinks the owner provided. Although no one pressured us, we all were sold on the works of art after learning the way the rugs are made and seeing demonstrations. Nearly everyone on our tour purchased one.
On our way back to the hotel that afternoon we stopped at the town of Goreme where we walked among the giant mushroom rock formations of limestone tent shapes with hard rocks capping them to create really unusual formations for great pictures. At Camel Rock some of the group climbed the mountain, and Bonnie rode a real camel.
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In this region, known as the Konya Basin, we learned that in the 13th Century the Seljuk Turks heard of Rumi, an Arab mystic who started the philosophy of Sufism, which stood against the abuse of Moslem men. He was invited to live in this region where he was accepted, and here he taught and wrote poetry about the mystical love of Allah (God), and the respect and balance of all nature as well as the need for all to be kind to all people. A young boy, Shams, from Baghdad heard about Rumi and came to Konya to meet him and they became very close. Shams wanted to feel the direct love of God so he began the practice of whirling in order to have an out-of-body experience of meeting God.

We had the privilege of going to an ancient and authentic Caravanserai, which was an inn for Bedouins where they and their camels could rest overnight safely when traveling on what was known as the Silk Road. These travelers carried valuable loads and needed this protection where they slept with their camels. It was in this very building that we watched the nightly ritual of the Whirling Dervishes. We arrived at the Caravanserai after dark and were escorted to the central part of the building that had a stage that was encircled on four sides with seating for the audience. We were informed before hand by Matin our guide and tour director that this is a very solemn religious practice, not a show.

Once the audience was seated a small group of musicians came out dressed in long black cloaks and white conical hats. Each instrument stood for some aspect of the universe: the zither, ney, and flute blow the soul breath of God into man; the drum and tambourine give the rhythm of life; the music becomes symbolic of the harmony of the universe. The musicians played for a few minutes before the five practitioners in long black cloaks filed in and took their places. After the head practitioner sang a series of musical chants the other practitioners removed their black cloaks, representing leaving worldly desires behind and whirled in their white robes and conical hats to the accompaniment of the musicians for 25 minutes under the silent direction of one man who remained dressed in a black cloak and moved among the whirling practitioners. The hats represented tombstones and the white robes purity and innocence, flowing out as they whirled. The audience nearly fell into a trance while silently watching.

Most important to the ritual is bodily unfolding, symbolic of rebirth, new beginning. The men hold their right hand open to the sky, left open to earth, taking from God to give to people. Whirling in the direction of Universe means they see God everywhere while stomping a foot to crush earthly desire. After 25 minutes they stop to symbolize death of the body to unite with God. Finally the leader reads verses from the Quran, then prays; then whirlers greet each other before they leave the stage. This Society of Whirlers has continued for 8 centuries since Rumi.

In the 1st Century A.D. St. Paul passed through this area on his first missionary journey that took him on to what is present day Ankara. The name Christians was first used in Antioch, and the members of this forbidden movement escaped to Cappadocia and hid, living in caves which they dug in the lava ash of these volcanic mountains. In the 3rd Century Theodocius declared the Christians could be free of persecution. Finally in 367 A.D. the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
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Our next stop in our SmarTours of Turkey was to be Ankara, the capital of the country. As we drove through the countryside on long coach rides every other day, Matin our tour director and guide lectured all about Turkey. Since he has a Ph.D. in Political Science and Sociology and History, it was a great bonus to learn all about his country. He had a large map of Turkey hanging at the front of the bus so we could orient ourselves as we moved to each new area. His sense of humor was fun, his stories entertaining, and his knowledge amazing. We felt as if we were gaining a college degree as we rode, and it made the long rides pass quickly.

Among many other things we learned as we drove past groves of hazelnut trees in the high plateaus was Turkey grows 65% of the world’s crop of these nuts and is second in apricots and pistachios and table olives, 4th in olive oil, fifth in cotton and seventh in wheat. The government owns all forests and meadowlands. Most farms are small and privately owned. We drove through beautiful snow-capped mountains similar to the Great Smokeys as we traveled from Istanbul to Ankara.
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Fortunately, our excellent driver Arif (who drove us 2,200 miles in all) stopped every hour and a half for a half hour for snacks, visiting, and restrooms (which were always pristine and had western and oriental toilets, toilet paper, and soap and towels because Turks are taught strict hygiene from toddler age.) Our surprise was that lunch time was at places like truck stops, which had excellent, fresh-cooked meals in cafeteria style with chicken, meatballs, and many other main-dish selections, lentil or tomato or yoghurt soups, fresh baked breads, and delicious pastries with honey and pistachios. We all gained weight in the two weeks and no one had stomach problems. The first journey’s stop was at Dorukkaya Restaurant at about 3,000-foot altitude, The fresh cool air and sunshine and a large lake in back surrounded by snow made it a refreshing break.

We drove on through the afternoon to Ankara, the capital and second largest city. In 1923 General Mustafo Kamal, known to the world as Ataturk, moved the capital to this central location and started urbanization in this planned city, which grew from 30,000 to close to five million residents. As the first president of Turkey he was given the title Ataturk (Father of Turkey) by Parliament. To this day he is revered as the beloved genius of the 20th Century who freed the country from the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, who had had absolute tyrannical power for centuries dating back to the time of such sultans as Suleyman the Magnificent, who controlled the whole Middle East and 1/3 of Europe from Gibraltar to Vienna. Ataturk was the leader in the Ottoman Army during the tragic Battle of Galipoli to defend Turkish control of the Dardenelles during World War I, in which a total of 500,000 men were killed.
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Ataturk organized the Independence Movement of Young Turks, which led Parliament and the Sultan and the world to realize this is not a mad man but a true leader. The Peace Agreement to settle Turkey’s borders was signed on Aug.13, 1922. Greek occupying armies left and the Sultan left the country without taking his wealth of rubies, emeralds, and diamonds, saying, “The wealth is not mine, it belongs to the Nation.” Ataturk refused to become Sultan and in 1923 organized Turkey as a Secular Republic, so no theocracy could rise up as in other Middle Eastern countries. Ataturk said education prevents fanatic religion and ignorance from destroying society.

With full equality for men and women, western dress was adopted. With the new Parliament he led in remaking the country, bringing it from the ancient, backwards ways of the Middle East to the modern European ways. He changed the alphabet and literacy grew from 5% to 77% before his death in 1938. He changed the calendar from lunar to solar and the public week day holiday from Friday to Sunday. He opened the first private banks to give loans to individuals to get businesses started. He opened universities across the country, even in the more rural areas.
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In Ankara we first visited Ataturk’s Memorial Mausoleum built in 1953. It overlooks the perfectly laid out capital city with snowy mountains in the background. In the afternoon Matin led us on a very informative tour of the Anatolian Civilization Museum with relics back to Paleolithic and Neolithic times. At the museum Matin pointed out the significant pieces and gave us a running history of mankind. It was almost too much to comprehend with his references to mythology, wars, heroes, rulers, and literally the timeline of pre-literate and literate times.

Among the fascinating pieces were the first letters: clay tablets written in Cuniform which were slipped inside envelopes addressed in Hieroglyphics to someone in Egypt around 2,000 BC. We saw actual pieces from burial sites from centuries before Christ, such as articles from the Midas Tomb, described as the largest burial tomb in Anatolia. There were no replicas here. Turkish archeologists did all the excavations, and all the findings are housed here. In the earlier 19th Century archaeologists from other countries took the antiquities they unearthed back to England, France, and Germany. But now the archeological finds in Turkey stay in Turkey.
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There were four significant dominant cultures of Turkish history: Hittites 2,000 B.C., Greeks 1200 BC, Romans 200 B.C., Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottoman 1200 A.D. Located between two continents of Europe and Asia Minor, Turkey is a bridge close to Africa and the Middle East, and some 2683 ancient cities have been discovered by archaeologists throughout present day Turkey. The area now called Turkey has always been important for the three Abrahamic religions: Jewish (Sardis was here in 2,000 B.C.), Christian (John the Apostle, Paul, and most likely Mary the Mother of Jesus were here); and Islam.
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We spent one night at the lovely Hotel Barcelo Ankara Altenel where we had a delicious buffet dinner and breakfast. As we left this city headed for Cappadocia we learned about Turkey’s government: The law-making body, Parliament, has 550 members and is unicameral, with cities represented according to their population. The Prime Minister is leader of the winning party. Laws must pass the Cabinet, Ministers, and the President, who is elected for seven years. Upon election the President must resign his party so as to be non-partisan and lead fairly for all. Citizens over 18 have the right to vote. Turkey maintains a huge military of over two million, prepared to activate within one hour. The President is head of the Army, and two years’ military service is compulsory for males over 18. Everywhere we saw the Turkish flag, adopted under Ataturk, proudly blowing in breeze with a white crescent moon and star on red bandera. The crescent and star do not stand for Islam in this secular country. Instead the crescent stands for re-birth of the nation, and the star represents progress of modern Turkey as a rising star in the world. The red is for the blood shed for Turkey to maintain its independence.

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Turkey is an exciting exploration of history with museum relics dating back to the Paleolithic period. The landscape varies from farmlands to high mountains, seas, and exotic natural formations found nowhere else on earth. The population is educated and extremely polite, hospitable, and welcoming. Turkish customs stress cleanliness of themselves, their homes, their land, and their thoughts and actions and are reflected throughout the pristine country. Turkey is a great travel value and being a crossroads throughout world history is one of the most fascinating countries in Europe. We chose to journey there with SmarTours, which offered especially good prices and something unique and interesting everyday.

In the two-week tour we traveled 2,200 miles on a comfortable coach, seeing all the highlights of middle and western Turkey. Our guide, Metin Engiz, was personable and humorous as he gave informative lectures about each place before we arrived and more while we were there. Matin, one of the best guides you could ever find anywhere, has a Ph.D. in political science and sociology and a thorough understanding of world history and religion. He conveys his knowledge generously, helping visitors understand the time line of world history in which this land has always played a strategic role, uniquely situated as a bridge from Europe to Asia and to the Middle East and North Africa.
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Sixty-five different civilizations and ethnicities have mixed here and blended their cultures in this melting pot over the thousands of years of the civilizations of mankind. The only country that straddles two continents, the west side brings heritage of Thrace from Europe (which means west). The eastern side of Turkey, known as Asia Minor, was called by the Greeks: Anatolya, land of sunrise. Turkey today is 18% larger than Texas and is the second largest country in Europe, with the smallest and possibly most important sea in world, the Marmara Sea, which offers the only ice-free shipping to the Atlantic for several countries, especially Russia. Marmara Island, in the middle of this small sea, is known for its marble mines.

While in Istanbul we stayed Hotel Germir Palais on the European side. The hotel was located just a block from the modern Taksim Square, a busy center like Broadway. It is well-located and is a lovely 100 yr old residence hotel with small rooms, floral carpet, marble baths, crisp white linens and big Turkish towels, and includes an excellent breakfast. We were thankful for non-smoking hotel rooms and restaurants, a new and welcome concept in Turkey and smartly enforced.
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We loved the special tour of the Boshporus Straits on a boat in beautiful weather. We toured up the coast on the European side and returned on the Asian side; a beautiful afternoon with amazing sights. The first bridge connecting two continents was built in 1910 across the Bosphorus, which means “ford of the calf.” The harbor of Istanbul is called the Golden Horn and this is the main body of water dividing Istanbul. This city is officially among the seven most beautiful in the world and is one of the twenty largest cities in the world with about 13 million residents. With recorded history dating to 6,000 BC, the city has been known through the ages as a crossroads of trade between Europe and Asia. The early settlers of Istanbul were said to be colonist from Megara led by Byzas, and the city became known as Byzantium from this early founder. After Constantine I became sole ruler of the Roman Empire in 324AD he moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Byzantium and later renamed the city Constantinople. By 330AD Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire and Constantinople was dedicated as capital of the Byzantine Empire. However, the heyday for beautiful architecture seen today was under the Roman Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century A.D. He built new city walls, some of which are still standing today. This period of history from the time of Justinian is known today as the Byzantine period.
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In the old part of Istanbul on the European side on a hill facing the Golden Horn of the Bosphorus, we visited the museum Hagia Sophia (which means Holy Wisdom), a beautiful World Heritage Site. The present building was the third building built on the site where the first building was a basilica built in 390AD, but it burned. The church was rebuilt in the second century but was destroyed by an earthquake. In 537 Justinian rebuilt the church as the magnificent structure we see today. It became the center of the Greek Orthodox Church, comparable to The Vatican in Rome, after the Catholic Religion divided. However, the Muslim Arab Ottomon soldiers arrived, and in 1453 Mehmed II captured Constantinople then turned Hagia Sophia into a Mosque. He granted religious tolerance to the conquered Christians and instead of destroying the Christian statues and frescoes in Hagia Sophia, he plastered over them as he turned this masterpiece of architecture into the Mosque. In the 20th Century when Turkey became a secular republic and during the restoration of Hagia Sophia the plaster was removed to reveal the original Christian décor in beautiful condition. Today visitors can see both the Christian and Moslem symbols throughout this huge edifice, which is distinguished by its four minarets.
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Just across the plaza from Hagia Sophia we removed our shoes to enter the Blue Mosque, built in the 17th Century by Sultan Ahmet I. It is called the Blue Mosque because of the fantastic blue tiles that adorn the walls. The inside of this mosque, considered the most beautiful of all mosques in the world, has walls that are covered with exquisite blue tiles, handmade in a way that cannot be duplicated today. This mosque has six minarets representing the six 6 articles of Islamic faith which are: (Moslems must worship only Allah; believe Mohamed is His messenger; must give alms; must pray 5 times a day after cleansing; must journey to Mecca once; must each year observe the 30-day fast called Ramadan) All visitors must dress modestly and remove their shoes; women need to cover their heads only if worshipping.
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We stood in the huge Hippodrome, originally built by the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus in 203AD to hold 100.000 spectators for horse races and games, but later 50,000 people were killed in this place, a tragedy ending its use for these sporting events. In the area which was once the Hippodrome we viewed the Egyptian Obelisk that came from Karnak in Egypt and sent by the Roman governor of Alexandria to Theodosius I in 390AD. Also, in the area of the Hippodrome can be seen the Serpentine Column, which is a huge bronze structure of three entwined serpents, made as a tribute by the Greek cities for the defeat of the Persians and brought from Delphi to Constantinoble by Constantine I in the 4th Century AD.
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We also visited the Topkapi Palace, which stands not far from Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The Otomans built Topkapi Palace in this their capital city and thousands of tulips were planted and are still the symbol of Turkey, costing 6 million lire each year to re-plant! The palace housed 5,000 residents as a city within a city and extends over 170 acres. The Sultans through the centuries held absolute rule, and 21 of the 26 Sultans of the Ottoman Empire lived one after the other in this palace until the 20th Century. We spent hours going through this beautiful and vast palace, which is actually made up of numerous buildings within palace walls.

There are collections of clothing, furniture, art, weapons, and many other articles reminiscent of the power and wealth of these mighty rulers. We found most fascinating two museums there. One holds Holy Relics from Jewish, Christian, and Moslem faiths, such as the sword of Mohamed and the staff of Moses, and the finger of John the Baptist, and many more items. The other museum displays, under heavy security, were the treasures of the Sultans, including a chest overflowing with huge emeralds, a gem-laden gold dagger, many jewels, crowns, gold pieces, and a 86 carat diamond surrounded by other diamonds. Our minds kept telling us these had to be replicas, but they were real! The many walkways, arches, fountains, and rooms of Topkapi Palace invite the imagination to picture the lavishly dressed Emperial families and the humble servants who strolled these grounds for centuries.
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Although hot in summer (and air conditioning is not plentiful) Turkey is beautiful at all seasons with flowering trees, bulbs, and roses everywhere. In spring when we were there wildflowers, pansies and tulips bloomed in profusion. Local residents shop at Istanbul’s Spice Market, a large, clean “mall” of exotic scents and arrays of color with all kinds of spices, fruits, nuts, grains, and handmade items beautifully displayed. We made our selections from the most popular Turkish spices: black pepper, cumin, oregano, mint, paprika, chili, mild red pepper, sour sumak for salads (not poisonous), mixed spice for meatballs. Of course visitors must taste Turkish coffee, apple tea, strong Turkish tea in the little glasses without handles, and various flavors of Turkish delight candies. Here is also where residents buy henna for painting hands and hair in different tones from black to red.
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The much larger Grand Bazaar, occupying a building built between 1455-1461 by Sultan Mehmet the conqueror of Constantinoble, is a warren of 4,000 shops and 14 main numbered gates. We had dreaded the experience because in other countries the vendors mobbed us and followed us until we could not bear the shopping experience, but in Turkey this shopping is delightful and so interesting! It is almost like going to a mall, but the building by dating to the 15th century makes you fell that you are traveling back to an exotic time. Each kiosk is filled with different items, many of which are handmade, and all of which are Turkish in design and construction. Bargaining is expected, and you can walk away and have the price reduced by as much as 50%. This is the ideal place for souvenirs and items you just like. But we were advised that to buy fine jewelry here could be a mistake.
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Be sure to have a meal at one of the excellent fish restaurants on the Bosphorus. And try Efez beer, the Turkish favorite. We enjoyed the gypsy band, which performs in the various restaurants and selects various on-lookers to learn the gypsy dances with them. A lot of fun! We found Istanbul, one of the oldest, most fascinating and beautiful cities in the world, to be near the top of the list of our favorites!

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The region of Cappadocia is currently a popular destination for many people who visit Turkey. There are many reasons for people’s interest in Cappadocia, such as: history, nature, lunar-like landscape. Cappadocia is considered as one of the oldest historical regions of the world and hosts many civilizations, especially as a shelter for early time Christians and Christianity. In reality the history goes way back.

Around a million years ago, the volcanoes , Mt. Erciyes and Mt. Hasan, around the Cappadocia region, erupted, and the lava and ashes of the volcanoes are the reasons for the astonishing, magnificent lunar like landscape and rock formations called “Fairy Chimneys”.

From the beginning of the written history, Cappadocia was ruled by Hittites, Alexander the Great, Romans and Persians. However the significant and remarkable structures were left during the early Christianity period. The landscape of Cappadocia inspired the early Christians, and they built many chapels, churches and monasteries full of ancient painted frescoes. These structures are being visited by many visitors every year.
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The traditional, luxury and unique cave hotels carved into rocks will give you a feeling of a caveman’s life.
The extraordinary landscape and valleys are very good opportunity for those who like walking and trekking, or you can explore these unique lands on a horseback ride.
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Another way to explore Cappadocia is flying with a balloon. While you are soaring between the rock formations and in the deep valleys, you will close your eyes and listen to the sound of silence. You will fly very close by the rocks or pick some apricots from the tops of the trees.

Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia is getting more popular every year due to perfect weather conditions and amazing scenery. Royal Balloon is serving a luxury, royal class balloon flight over the spectacular and breathtaking lunarscape of Cappadocia.
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Experienced, worldwide known Turkish and Australian pilots will be delighted to see you on board and take you for an unforgettable journey.

Cappadocia is almost in the middle of Turkey, 4 hours drive to Ankara, the capital, and just 1 hour 15 min. by flight from Istanbul.

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History-rich Rhodes and the Dodecanese Islands off Turkey’s southeastern coast offer some of the prettiest ports and most charming villages in the South Aegean Sea.

 

If you’d like to become a Rhodes scholar, researching the whitewashed homes and labyrinth alleyways of the largest island in the South Aegean up close and personal, consider a bike-boat tour of the idyllic Dodecanese Islands off the southeastern coast of Turkey. Blessed with a rich history and studded with dozens of Byzantine churches and medieval castles, this necklace of 12 larger and 150 smaller Greek islands boasts some of the prettiest ports and most charming villages in Greece. I had the pleasure of visiting a trio on an eight-day, seven-night “South Greek Aegean by Bike and Boat” adventure in May 2009.
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After flying to Dalaman, Turkey and transferring to the port of Marmaris, I boarded the luxurious Bahriyeli, a three-masted motorized sailing yacht with gleaming woodwork, decks cushioned with lounging mats, and a spacious outdoor dining area. Inside, the comfortable ship sports an elegant salon and full bar on its main level. Downstairs, 12 roomy cabins with ample baths accommodate up to 24 passengers.

For the next week, I shared the 145-foot Bahriyeli with 11 likable cyclists: three retired and near-retired American pairs who convene annually for cycling vacations, a young German couple from Hamburg and three singles from Germany ranging from their mid-20s to 60 and beyond in age. For this trip designed for cyclists in good physical condition, all arrived with a solid base of riding experience, ready to climb the hills our itinerary promised.
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First Stop: Symi

With genial Ali Sonay, a sultan-like Turk with a contagious joie de vivre and a love of bike touring as our capable guide, we set out each day on 21-gear trekking bikes outfitted with comfortable touring saddles and panniers for carrying water, jackets, snacks and souvenirs. While challenging, our daily rides rewarded us with views of idyllic bays rimmed with white sand beaches, tiny Greek towns and ancient monuments offering evidence of turbulent histories marked by successive invasions and dominations. Indeed, if the landmarks we encountered could talk, they would surely have recounted tales of great battles and wars that stretch back thousands of years before the birth of Christ.

In English and German, Ali filled us in on the legends and history of a picturesque archipelago once ruled by Alexander the Great, where the Macedonian, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires collided centuries ago. At our first stop, tiny Symi, we learned about the divers who contributed to the island’s once flourishing sponge trade, at its height in the 14th century when shipping and ship building also were thriving.

After saddling up and checking out how our bikes fit, we headed for Symi town, riding along the turquoise bay by a Byzantine monastery before starting our ascent past tier upon tier of white and pastel-hued Neoclassical houses. At its apex, the paved road affords a breathtaking view of Symi’s stunning harbor below.
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We turned our bikes around here and returned to sea level to refuel with Mythos beer at a taverna set on the ivory sand of the isle named after the nymph Symi, who married Poseidon, god of the sea. That evening, a group of us climbed some 500 steps to the island’s highest point and hand-picked our dinners in a local taverna, pointing to dishes prepared with goat, calamari, octopus and fresh Mediterranean produce.

Challenging Routes

Our first trek was typical, in terms of topography, of what lay ahead. Because sea-level harbors often anchor more interesting scenery above, nearly every ride began with a demanding climb leading to a panorama overlooking red tile roofs and sapphire inlets. Averaging 25 miles (40 kilometers) through hilly to mountainous terrain, most ended with endorphin-inspiring downhills to our floating home moored in the harbor where we would spend the night. Back at the ship, we relaxed, swan, socialized over cocktails and shopped in town for local treasures.
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On this half-board trip, our daily meals included a hearty breakfast and one hot repast prepared by our inspired on-board chef. Enroute, we stopped at local cafés to refuel with salads, grilled fish and other Mediterranean specialties.

Our second ride was challenging, for we climbed the steep road leading to the Stephanos crater on the volcanic island of Nisyros. Situated between Kos and Tilos, the mountainous isle was formed, according to Greek mythology, when Poseidon cut off a part of Kos during a battle between gods and earthly Goliaths and threw it onto the giant Polybotes to stop him from escaping. Pinning Polybotes under its weight, the land mass became Nisyros, according to legend.

Today the conical-shaped island is a peaceful place largely undisturbed by tourists, with white cubic houses draping its dark, volcanic earth. Since Polybotes is still mythically pinned underneath, his sighs and groans explain the steaming sulfur springs of the still active volcano. At the plateau of Lakki, we climbed down steps leading into the island’s crater and walked on its hot, layered surface, feeling like a troop of Neil Armstrongs arriving on the moon.

Two Rhodes Converged

From Nisyros, a six-hour crossing took us to Rhodes, largest of the Dodecanese islands in both size and population, where a medieval Old Town has been declared a World Heritage Site. At the hillside village of Lindos, we explored the birthplace of Chares of Lindos, creator of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. For 56 years, the 107-foot statue straddled Rhodes’ Mandraki Harbor before it snapped at the knees when an earthquake hit in 226 BC.

With its mixture of Gothic, Byzantine and middle Eastern architecture and its elaborate stone carvings framing doorways and windows, Lindos has a well-preserved sense of antiquity. Adding to its charm are ever-present donkey trains ready to carry tourists to the island’s acropolis high above the sea.

From Lindos, we rode south on Rhodes to the cerulean bay of Plimiri, where our ship was moored. Another ride took us through forests and villages, past the party resort of Faliraki to Rhodes City, where we pedaled along medieval walls to Mandraki Harbor to meet the Bahriyeli. Our final ride was up to Rhodes’ acropolis with its ancient columns and sanctuary of Apollo, through remains of the medieval town within the Old City walls. Descending to Mandraki Port, where statues of a male and female deer guard the harbor of the 2,400-year-old island, we concluded our riding adventure.
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Joys of Higher Education

After sailing back to Marmaris, our group decided to celebrate our week together at a local haman—a Turkish bath. At this not-to-miss cleansing and relaxation ritual, we stepped into a dry sauna where we sweated out toxins and reminisced about island pleasures. A wet sauna in a mosaic shrine followed, then an exfoliating scrub and oil massage. After lowering the temp with a cold shower, we amped it up again in a warm Jacuzzi where we relaxed sipping watermelon slushies. A total body massage concluded our ritual. Aaaaaaahhh… higher education never felt so good.

 

Booking

 

The “South Greek Aegean by Bike and Boat” is offered by Inselhüpfen (Island Hopping), a firm based in Kostanz, Germany, that specializes in guided and self-guided tours combining the active pleasures of bicycle touring with the relaxation of luxury yacht cruising. They are represented in North America by BikeToursDirect, a one-stop resource for European bike tours. The Tennessee-based company doesn’t organize its own tours but represents more than 40 Europe-based bike tour companies with 200 excursions throughout Europe.

In general, European companies charge less than their American counterparts. Clients book tours through BikeToursDirect, usually at the same prices the tour operators charge, and the company handles the full booking and payment process while offering extensive planning assistance. 1638 Berkley Circle, Chattanooga, TN 37405; (877) 462-2423, www.biketoursdirect.com.

Inselhüpfen’s eight-day, seven-night guided “South Greek Aegean by Bike and Boat” is offered May–October. Half-board prices begin at €1,290 ($1,944).

 

Getting There
From LAX, Air France, American, British Airways, Delta, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and United offer connecting service (change of plane) to Dalaman and Izmir, Turkey. Alternatively, book a lower cost flight to a hub city in Europe and fly Pegasus or another budget European airline to Dalaman or Izmir.

 

Where to Stay
Dalaman Park Hotel, Kenan Evren Bulvari No 8; +90 252 692 3157 / 58, www.parkhotels.net/dalamanpark. Located just three miles from Dalaman International Airport, this garden-like hotel offers 107 comfortable rooms, an outdoor pool, children’s pool, restaurant and tennis court. Rates from €69/double ($104) include buffet breakfast and Internet access.

Movenpick Hotel Izmir, Curnhurivet Bulvari 35210 Pasaport; +90 232 488 14 14, https://www.moevenpick-hotels.com. Set around a stunning bay 10 miles from Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport, this new hotel offers 185 rooms and suites in the heart of cosmopolitan Izmir. Guests enjoy an indoor swimming pool, steam room, fitness center, breakfast lounge and main restaurant. Rates from €94/double ($142).

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When I was a child I discovered a candy bar called Turkish Delight. It would become my favourite treat for some time to come. Little could I realize then, that so many years later on my first visit to the country after which the bar was named, I would come face to face with these delicious morsels again, albeit in somewhat different form, in every gift shop and bazaar where tourists gather. Nor could I have imagined that my emotions relating to my first experience in travelling around Turkey would be encapsulated in that very name.

To suggest Turkey is a land of contrasts is perhaps the most understated claim one could make about the country. Riding on a ferry over the quiet waters of the Strait of Bosphorus which divides Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, one can almost feel the invisible arm of Europe reach over to shake hands with Asia. For Istanbul is not only a city divided by this body of water, but its Eastern exposure is the gateway to the beginning of Asia, while the opposite shores of the Bosphorus represent the last outreaches of the European continent.

It is more than a symbolic division, as all of Turkey grapples with which side of this divide its future should lay. And while visitors may not immediately grasp the political undertones, old and emerging cultural beliefs are shaping entirely new attitudes that contribute to the fascination that is Turkey today.

Over the past few years Turkey has put considerable effort into trying to persuade the European Union, with its westernized thinking, to allow it to become a full-fledged member. Yet a recent survey, taken before President Obama was elected, revealed that among almost 50 countries questioned, Turkey liked the United States the least of all. It is fiercely proud of its democracy, yet has recently elected a party that some fear could take them closer to fundamental Islam. It is these seeming contradictions one comes across frequently.

2dc312990Woman selling beads near site of underground cave cities

In Istanbul itself, you will rarely find a woman wearing a Burka, or even a shawl, let alone the traditional dress we find featured so often in news stories about the regions nearby. Here you are more likely to find trendy fashions from the hundreds of stores along the major shopping fares with names that match those we are accustomed to at home.

From morning until closing, thousands of people who work in New Istanbul, as it is called, fill Taksim Street, the main pedestrian thoroughfare, shopping or relaxing in the cafes and coffee shops situated along the narrow passages that run into it. Whether here, or Old Istanbul where most of the major tourist attractions are located, it is a city that offers experiences you won’t find elsewhere.

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Street vendor selling roasted chestnuts from hot dog-style cart.

It is a city of vibrant sights, sounds, and smells. One experiences the aroma of roasting chestnuts sold from street carts, the unique blend of spices wafting out of the restaurant kitchens that turn your head, a lineup of locals and tourists alike at food kiosks waiting for their snack or meal of Doner, thinly sliced cuts of meat from pressed beef or chicken chubs, mounted and rotated in front of what looks like a specially constructed heat lamp and then cooked until the juices flow down their sides. Passing by without buying one of this pita wrapped delicacy is almost impossible.

Shopkeepers at the Grand Bazaar, with its 4,000 shops under one roof, compete to tempt you into their place to touch, try or taste until you begin the negotiating process. Everything in the Grand Bazaar is negotiable, from a simple scarf to the most expensive jewelry.

While Istanbul, with its exceptional restaurants, rich history, and vibrant nightlife, may be an ideal place to begin a Turkish story, it truly is only the first chapter. As you move away from its biggest city, the country takes on even broader layers of character.

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The Blue Mosque is an architectural marvel that dominates the Istanbul skyline

A recitation of the major attractions in Turkey can be found in any good travel book. But to walk through them in person is to discover a true peoples’ history. For Turkey’s history is of power and conquest, of subjugation and immense wealth, and of being conquered and finding freedom. Its past contains names people have written books and made movies about, like King Constantine, Cleopatra, Topkapi, Alexander the Great or religious icons like St. Paul and the Virgin Mary. Some even conjecture that Noah’s Ark found its resting place on the high grounds of this land.

The area around Antalya was designated by the government as the official tourist development area. In less than 15 years it has expanded from a quiet coastal region, economically driven by fishing and farming, to a hotel dotted beach front offering over 500,000 rooms. For European vacationers this region is what Mexico is for many of us, the opportunity to stay in a 4 or 5 star all inclusive property at a very reasonable price.

Scattered along this coast, from the city of Kemer, past Antalya, and on to Alanya, there are about 2.5 million permanent residents. In 2008 more than 7 million vacationers visited here to take advantage of what is fast becoming a major world destination. Construction in the area continues unabated, with golf courses and condo developments outpacing those of many of the tourist regions we more commonly visit.

Near this coastline, some of the unique historical ruins in the country have been uncovered and carefully protected for the busloads of nationalities whose digital cameras preserve today’s memories of past civilizations that built empires on the soils of this land.

Residents of Alanya Castle, perched on a mountaintop overlooking Kleopatra Beach and home of the Byzantines for several centuries, poured boiling oil on would-be attackers. Perge, the Roman city that remains as one of the best preserved Roman sites anywhere, felt the footsteps of St. Paul and the great Roman leaders of the time. These are only two of the many must-see excursions found close to the coast within easy driving distance.

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Colorful boats sit in Alanya Harbour

While these sites pay testament to its past empires, its natural history holds equal fascination. Out of the eruption of three volcanoes a million years ago, time has carved lunar and Picasso like designs into the rocks of Cappadocia. Inland from the beach resorts, through Turkey’s most mountainous region awaits an evolutionary marvel that ended up helping early Christians escape Roman persecution.

Getting to Cappadocia by tour bus or car is worth the minor effort it takes. As the elevation increases, shepherds can be seen tending their sheep. Agriculture shifts from fruit and vegetables, to potatoes and sugar beets, then to large wheat growing tracts, similar in size to those in our mid-west.

But the real reward comes as the geographical forms that are Cappadocia start to emerge. Here centuries of rain and harsh weather took nature’s anger and molded it into an artist’s palette of unusual shape and form. And throughout history these forms became more than interesting observatories.

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Snow covered extinct volcano in background which helped create formations of lunar type landscape around Capadoccia.

Skyscraper-like soft limestone rock faces made it easy for early Christians to create caves to hide in as Roman rulers began persecuting them for their beliefs. They dug underground cities down to 80 meters below the surface, housing up to 2000 believers. There are a number of these underground cities in the area, and most can be explored today.

Scattered around Cappadocia are thousands of what seem like sculptured yet unearthly formations. They are in fact lava deposits worn down by time into shapely masterpieces of impressionist art. This should be one of the natural wonders of the world. Hundreds of busloads of tourists weekly would agree, and a visit to Turkey should definitely include at least a day of exploration here.

As I relax on my way home in the comfort of our British Airways Boeing 777, I am tempted to open one of the boxes of Turkish Delight we bought as gifts for friends and relatives. It is a taste that has stuck with me for many years, and I could really appreciate just one of these treats now. But instead I recline my seat as far back as it will go and dream about the possibilities, no, the assurances that I give myself, that we will return again to go further into the antiquities and deeper into the culture that has given us so much satisfaction these past two weeks.

 

If You Go:
Where to Stay: Most hotels where tourists stay are situated in New Istanbul. A number of good ones like the Nippon, Crystal and Point hotels, as well as the better known Hyatt, are located in a cluster near Taksim Square.

 

Where to Shop: If you go nowhere else in Istanbul, a trip to the Grand Bazaar, 4000 stores gathered in one large covered area, as well as the Spice Bazaar, must be visited. Even if you purchase nothing, the experience is well worth it.

 

Where to Eat: In Istanbul there are hundreds of quality Kabob (Kabap) places to dine in, including many of the eateries you will inevitably run into as you shop, but a series of seafood restaurants under the Galata Bridge overlooking the water is an excellent place to spend an evening after a long day. They will parade a wide selection of fish for you to choose from. Many offer free shuttles from most hotels. Your concierge can arrange a reservation and ride for you. One of the highest rated restaurants is the Mikla, on the rooftop of the Marmara Pera Hotel. Be sure to try the lamb.

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Istanbul – the name alone conjures up the most exotic thoughts. The famous Topkapi Dagger that inspired the plot for the movie Topkapi. The fabulous Spice Bazaar filled with cinnamon, saffron and Ceylon tea. The mysterious Orient Express. The beginning of the Silk Road leading across unknown lands all the way to Beijing. The Ottoman Empire. The Blue Mosque, the Aya Sofa and the Grand Bazaar. These are all symbols of Turkey, and I will take you on a photographic journey of this intriguing country. Istanbul is the only city in the world situated on two continents, both Asia and Europe. Let me show you some of the Turkish delights that I discovered during my ten day adventure in this far away place, which may be closer than you think.
Sultan Ahmet Camii, better known as the Blue Mosque, constructed to rival the Aya Sofa. Built a thousand years later, it has six minarets: more than any other mosque outside of Mecca.
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Sofa, known also as the Haghia Sofia and as the Church of Divine Wisdom, is a marvel of construction that dates back to 537 when it was the greatest church in Christendom.
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In great contrast are the old wooden Ottoman buildings, many of which have now been restored and renovated to serve as small boutique hotels. I stayed at one called the Asmali Konak just a few blocks from the Blue Mosque.
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Istanbul is a vibrant, modern city, but not all the old ways are forgotten.
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fishermen on the bridge across the Bosphorus seem prepared to catch some pretty large fish, but most of them were hauling in sardines!
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the bridge you can spend hours wandering through the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. The spices here a bargain, and if you’re a cook you can fill your spice jars for pennies on the dollar. I bought a kilo of Ceylon tea for a friend. You’ll also want to stock up on the wonderful Turkish candy – Turkish Delight.
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sesame rolls are really delicious, but they do make you thirsty. Most of the children here could be children from anywhere. If you saw this little guy in Milwaukee would he stand out in the crowd?
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a Whirling Dervish performance outdoors at the Dervish Café across from the Blue Mosque. But you want to see the real thing. Be sure to visit a sema (a Mevlevi worship ceremony) for the real thing. It is transcendental experience that you won’t want to miss. Check your guidebook (I can recommend Lonely Planet) for an authentic experience.
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Turks seem to have a great penchant for rooftops. Not only private spots like this one, but hotel restaurants as well.
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If this is your image of a warrior Turk you may have been watching too many old movies. More commonly you’ll encounter broad smiles and friendly greetings. This guy had to stand at attention as part of a military band with the sun in his face. Who wouldn’t be scowling?
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of the great views from the Bosphorus boat ride. It’s a great way to get a better perspective of the city. And you’ll cross under the bridge that you can later walk across in order to tell your friends that you walked all the way from Europe to Asia.
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you want proof that this was part of the Roman Empire at one time? Check out the outstanding Roman Aqueduct. It is a striking example of the period.
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in Cappadocia, many Christians who were fleeing the persecution of the Romans discovered these soft tufa rocks and excavated them for their homes. A great place to hide and with built in insulation. Reminiscent of the cave dwellings in the American Southwest.
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Nowadays Cappadocia is better known for its ballooning than for its capacity as a sanctuary. There are, however, hotels that are excavated from the soft stone. This must be the hot air balloon capital of Asia. The flying here is fantastic. I’ve done it in a number of places, but nowhere so fascinating as in Cappadocia.
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the Silk Road through Anatolia you’ll frequently run across these caravanserais, although they’re not all as spectacular as this one. They were built about a day’s camel journey apart and were established to provide food, shelter and a place for trade. The Ak Han dates from about 1250 and the carving on the entrance alone is worth the visit.
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of motherly love. The children that I saw in Turkey appeared to be very well cared for, loved and quite happy. I did see a couple of tired and grumpy ones, too, but they don’t make nearly as nice a photograph.
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like this. The belly dancer was beautiful, but I really enjoyed the Japanese tourists. It seems that they are always willing to participate and have lots of fun doing it. You should have seen the men trying this!
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course, for Roman ruins, the place you have to visit is Ephesus, home of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and where rumor has it that St. John brought Mary after the Crucifixion to live out her life in a small stone house on nearby Mt. Koressos.
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next stop won’t be as difficult as you might guess. If you’re as friendly toward the Turks as they will be toward you, you might just get invited to a delightful home cooked meal. If you get the invitation – don’t turn it down.
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is no better way to wrap up a 10 day or 2 week vacation than to spend the last few days of your holiday on a wooden yacht, or gulet. Not a very appealing name, perhaps, but an adventure that you will always remember. Your Blue Voyage as it is called will take you to some of the bluest, clearest water you can imagine. You’ll anchor off shore from some little island where you can hike in and among the old ruins and then take a swim in the crystal clear water. You may want to snorkel and there are even scuba diving possibilities. I also saw tandem parasailers in the area. I later learned that this is one of the best places in the world for this activity. Or just lie on the deck and soak up some sunshine – it’s your choice. Enjoy. Imagine returning from a vacation rested and relaxed.
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leaving my gulet I spent one more night in Istanbul before flying home. And this was my reward from the rooftop restaurant of the Asmali Konak Hotel.
Keep on Traveling!