Trip to Turkey

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We booked our Turkey tour with OAT, the same outfit as for China the year before. There were only twelve people in our group and we were very pleased with the tour itself, though not happy with the pre-trip home-office support. We flew into New York the day prior to our trans-Atlantic flight. Rebecca has a friend who maintains an apartment in Brooklyn Heights and had made it available to her, so we stayed there. It's an easy walk from the subway so we were able to shuttle from and back to the airport quite easily. During our spare day, we visited other friends of Rebecca's in Brooklyn Heights, a very nice area with views of Manhattan. Next day we flew to Istanbul where our guide met us.

Istanbul is a marvelous place built on 7 hills. It also straddles the Bosphorous, the narrow waterway which is the entrance to the Black Sea and separates Europe from Asia. Istanbul also straddles a narrow river delta called the Golden Horn. These geographic features give it a great setting, and with the 2000 mosques with minaret spires it has wonderfully exotic quality. The people seem friendly and are happy to help communicate and visit despite our total lack of Turkish.

Our hotel was a small, elegant place in the Sultanahmet historical area and directly across from the spectacular Blue Mosque and with a view of the Bosphorous in the back.

Nearby was the Haga Sophia, another beautiful building, originally built as a church in 537 AD, then converted to a mosque when the Ottomans were in power. It's now a museum with both Christian and Moslem artifacts and features, but to me looks very much like a mosque. It's certainly the minarets that make the difference. There is at least one minaret tower on every mosque from which the call to prayer is announced 5 times a day. Although we were told that only 5% of Turks are practicing Moslems, when the call to prayer is heard, all other music or announcements are stopped for a few minutes until the call is done. There seems to be a great respect for Islam and it certainly is an Islamic country, much as the US really is a Christian country despite our ostensible separation of church and state.

Most meals were with the group but many were on our own. In our hotel area there were many small cafes and we found one for lunch in this quiet alley. The food in Turkey was very good and coincided with our dietary preferences. They do great things with eggplant. I had been hankering for baklava but none seem forthcoming in the included meals. So later in the trip we found a dessert bakery and bought some. As a result of some confusion about the price and getting tangled in Kilos, etc, we ended up with enough for the whole group and then some. It was great. It turns out I guess that baklava is more Greek than Turkish.
Our tour provided a cruise on the Bosphorous, and it was a good chance to get a grasp of the geography. The Bosphorous is a busy place with small tankers bringing oil from Black Sea ports. Each ship waits its turn and has a local pilot to navigate the straight. On the first half of the cruise we saw the European side of Istanbul, with lots of minarets, historical buildings, and posh nightclubs looking out on the water. We cruised as far as one of the two long bridges that span the straight. On the return we cruised near the Asian side which was more residential, some elegant homes next to the water, with large yachts moored nearby. There is definitely some wealth there.
We were three nights in Istanbul and I felt that we got a pretty good quick look, at least at the historic, older section. We visited the Topkapi Palace, a large complex of elegant buildings, now mostly museums filled with beautiful stuff from the Ottoman era. We saw the jeweled dagger, the cat-burglar's target in the movie Topkapi.
There was an optional tour one night but we stayed behind to kick around on our own. We did end up at the Galata Tower, across the Golden Horn and with great views of the city. This was one of the places the tour would have taken us; but we enjoyed doing it the hard way and getting lost afterward. It all seemed pretty safe though, and we showed a taxi driver the card from our hotel. He had no idea of where the hotel was and asked the police. We got back eventually.

We flew from Istanbul to Kayseri, in the Cappadocia region in central Turkey. From there we were taken by bus for some hours it seemed and eventually arrived at a parking lot filled with other busses and vendor stalls. We were told we had arrived at our hotel, and I at least wondered if all the travelling was worth it. We were feeling a little grumbly, but when we walked through the hotel gateway, we were greeted with an amazing vista. The hotel courtyard was separated by a wall from the hubbub outside and looked out over a landscape of beautiful rock formations interspersed among small dwellings, ruins, and rustic farms. To one side was the rock tower shown in the pic.

We stayed at this hotel three nights. One of the nights someone put on a rock concert (no pun intended) just under the large tower. During the concert When "call to prayer" came, the music stopped, waited until the call was done, then resumed. At one point the power in the whole area went out, the music died, and our room went totally dark. I rather like it when the lights go out, but they came on again pretty quickly. At one point the amplified music sounded like a rock version of the call to prayer. It surprised me, but I suppose it's not very different from the "Jesus rock" one can hear while cruising across the radio dial in the U.S. We were serenaded by modern Turkish culture until about 10:30 when it was all over.

We did the optional balloon ride, getting up at 4 AM'ish to get up before any winds arise. It was a great experience and we also learned something from our Turkish pilot about the economics of hot air balloons. We were fortunate to have a "sponsored balloon" where the balloon and gondola were paid for entirely by Coca Cola and sporting its logo. Because of this the price was considerably less than the non-sponsored balloons. The flight was great and we stayed up for about an hour it seemed, floating over the fantastic landscape, dipping down into a hotel courtyard, flying between rock formations, etc.

After landing, Rebecca asked in ernest if she could help with stowing the balloon. The crew grabbed her up and plopped her down in the middle of the collapsing ballon. So she was able to help.
The tour took us to various parts of Cappodocia to see undergound towns, churches carved into the rock, and other stuff which all seemed amazing and beautiful, though now quite indistinct in my mind.

This pic shows our tour group, total of 12 plus guide, all nice folks and good travelling companions.

After being in Cappadocia for three nights we drove south. The OAT tours often include a home stay, an overnight with an "authentic" native family. I suppose it's interesting but I confess it's my least favorite part of the trips. At least the home stay in Turkey was not as awkward as the one in China. In China three of us were left off at a house where no one spoke English and we worked pretty hard to communicate and fill in the hours before bedtime. In Turkey the group was split across two large houses owned by the same prosperous farm family, and we all ate together with the guide there to translate. The next day we were on our way south again.

At various points along the way we stopped to look at caravanserai ruins. Caravanserai were the shelters built for silk road travellers by the Ottoman sultans to encourage trade. We were told they were spaced about every 20 kilometers, the distance a camel caravan could go in a day. The shelters provided safety from bandits, as well as food and lodging. They seemed similar in layout, with separate arched spaces so the different travellers could keep their animals and goods separated.

We stopped at Aspendos on the Mediterranean coast and looked at the grand theatre there which dated back to Roman times. It's still a usable amphitheatre with seating for 55,000 and is used for concerts and operas. Our visit coincided with the birthday of one of our companions. From way up in the highest tier Rebecca and I saw her down on the stage and sang "Happy Birthday" to her. Apparently the acoustics were pretty good because she could readily hear us and the group of German tourists who joined in. A presentation of La Traviata was scheduled for the following night and I'd would have loved to have attended, but our little tour group kept on moving toward Antolya.

Inexplicably Rebecca seems to like Harley Davidsons and was charmed by this little fellow.

Antolya was a pretty place and popular resort destination. This narrow street led to our hotel and isolated us nicely from the bustle of the city center. I remain impressed by the tour's choice of small hotels in great locations.

We hiked up a hill to view the "eternal fires of Chimeara". When we arrived at the first set of flames, our guide poured water on them and they went out. Bummer, I thought; not eternal after all; and our guide had to spoil it for everyone for all eternity. I was pleased to see later that the flames had relit, though I'm not sure how. After looking around a bit we could see flames coming out all over the place and it seemed hazardous to the pants legs. Turkey seemed to have a sensible approach to safety, allowing the individual to take some responsibility, unlike in the U.S. where the flames would have been made safe in some way.

At last we came to the town of Cayagzi and our gulet which would be our home for the next 6 nights. I guess gulet is a style of boat particularly Turkish, wooden hulled, two masted motor/sailer, large enough to have multiple staterooms, etc. There were a bunch of gulets in tied up at the dock, but ours looked to be one of the nicer, larger ones. Our group of 12, plus guide and 4 crew members occupied the whole thing. There were 6 staterooms forward, each with its own bathroom.

It was too late to cruise anywhere when we arrived so we stayed overnight in the harbor and started out the next day. Some days we would cruise to a cove, anchor for a swim or a hike and then motor on, moving westward along the Mediterranean coast. On some occasions, the boat would anchor, we'd go ashore in the dingy. The boat would move on and we'd hike to its new location.

This hiking along the coast was one of my favorite parts of the trip. The sea was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and the trails took us past ruins from 2000 years past. You could see where the stones in the trails had been polished over the years by peoples footsteps. Along the way also were herds of goats, tiny farm villages and more ancient ruins.

We took a side trip to the Dalyan River, where the reed scenes in the movie African Queen were filmed. Overlooking the river are temple tombs of the Lycians, a civilization that prevailed in this area before the Romans came. We were now in the Aegean sea, moving northward up the coast.
After our last night on the gulet we cruised into Marmaris, a major resort city with many many gulets docked. Our captain expertly backed our huge boat into the only available slot, let out the anchor, and we disembarked.

The next two nights we spent in Kusadasi, also a major resort area whose main attraction is its proximity to Ephesus. Ephesus is a very large Greek and Roman city which has been in the process of excavation and restoration for the past 110 years. It has wonderful sights, but it also attracts the cruise ships. They disgorge their thousands of sightseers and the resultant mobs are shocking. I was glad to have seen Ephesus, but I was ever so glad to leave.

Our hotel in Kusadasi was in a spectacular location out on the point of a small peninsula. While swimming and sunbathing in the beach area, we saw some odd ripples in the water. The ripples spread out over a band 20 to 30 feet in width. This happened several times, and when the ripples came closer to the shore we could see that thousands of fish about 4 inches long were swimming and jumping as if to escape a predator. We never saw a predator but the bands of ripples moved around in the bay for some time and we were entertained.

On our last day we drive to Ismir (Smyrna) and flew from there to Istanbul, went through agonizing and redundant security checks, then flew to New York, then to San Francisco. It was a very long day, but it was good to get home.

Turkey All Pictures
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