Exploring Egypt, Cyprus, Israel and Turkey
  • Day49

    Selcuk Explorations

    February 26, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ 6 °C

    This morning, we hopped into taxi's to visit the House of the Virgin Mary. According to the Bible and other writings, it was believed that she moved to then Ephesus with St John the apostle. There's an entrance fee and it actually goes to the town of Selcuk, so we made donations and lit candles to help with the upkeep of the site. St John himself is buried in the basilica named after him in today's Selcuk itself.

    From Mary's house, we drove back passing the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, where legend has it that several Christians were trapped in a cave because the ruler wanted to silence them for their religion, but they fell asleep instead and years later when the rock to the cave entrance was removed, they awoke and didn't realize time had passed.

    We got dropped off at St John's Basilica, I didn't realize it was ruins, thinking it was an actual basilica. The locals really loved St John, and it's said that had there not been geographic limitations, the basilica would've been even larger.

    Just steps down the road is the Isa Bey Mosque. There weren't a lot of visitors so we mostly had it to ourselves. Outside an older gentlemen and his son run 2 souvenir stands. The older gentlemen worked for the mosque for many years and told us about its transformations over the years.

    Back in town, we grabbed an early lunch before meeting our group for our afternoon Ephesus tour.
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  • Day48

    Sirince & Selcuk

    February 25, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ 5 °C

    A short drive away is our stop for the next two nights. Getting into the town of Selcuk early, we first headed to the nearby village for Sirince first for a wander and lunch. In the wintertime, it's a bit of a sleepy village though village shops of the local wineries are open for free tastings and some shops of local artists as well.

    The area I think is more known for fruit wines, there's certainly a variety to try. We sampled 2 reds, their version of sangria as well as cinnamon, mulberry, strawberry and peach. The latter two I came across at a very friendly shop on a different street. Sadly the wine only comes in the large bottle and I'm now very limited on space in my backpack to go home. Perhaps another return trip should also be in the works.

    Ended up skipping lunch to wander felt shops, leather shops and simply taking it all in. I think another half hour or full hour would've been nice, but as is with group trips, we always need to take into account what everyone's interests are. I did get to sample Turkish coffee that is brewed by being heated with hot sand though, very different from others. It was really neat to watch it being prepared and then boiling to being poured into a small cup.

    Back in Selcuk, we checked into our rooms, and my roommate and I headed out to explore the town in the short free time we were given. A good idea since we got to see a lot more than our orientation walk later. We even found a shop that sold fried dondurum (fried ice cream) that we would take our group to later. Not sure if we fully sold our guide on it, but it was delicious and something different but local.

    We had dinner at another local restaurant, this time, the recommendation came from our driver and it was a delicious offering of mini shish kebabs on my plate. Yum yum!
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  • Day47

    Hieropolis, Pamukkale & Dervishes

    February 24, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ 5 °C

    Off to the town of Pamukkale today to explore the ancient site of Hieropolis. Thousands of years ago, thousands flocked here for the healing power of the waters in the spa pools of Pamukkale. The calcium carbonate waters flowed in shallow pools, creating white cliffs that hung above the grounds below. Aside from Cappadocia, this was the part of the Turkey tour that I'd looked forward to most, having read about it before it in travel articles online.

    We started at the northern gate where few go, walking through cemeteries outside the city. Not everyone was admitted in, and likely many who were too sick, perished and were buried here. Most visitors start closer to the cliffs and only see a small part of the ruins.

    There's also a beautiful theatre in ruins here that is quite high up, those afraid of heights take heed, but the photos are so worth it.

    The waters in the pools are supposed to be heated to 28C but some of the pools had cool waters, perhaps chilled by the winter air. You need to remove your shoes and socks before walking into the area, and the ground can be either hard for your feet or slippery depending where you were. If you wear shorts or roll up your pants, you can walk through the water. Want to be more submerged? Bring your swim suit, it's not deep enough to swim but you can certainly sit in a pool and just enjoy the scenery.

    I think there's a path you can walk all the below down to the valley below, but I didn't quite have enough time as we were headed to a whirling dervish ceremony right after.

    Some would call it a whirling dervish show, but it really it more of a ceremony of prayer for those Sufi's. Solemn, you sit in silence taking in the various stages of the ceremony. In addition to the whirling, you also hear prayers and see greetings and bows from the Sufi's to Rumi's hat, a symbol for him.

    Our guide arranged with us to speak with the Sufi master after and it was interesting to hear more about the ceremony and how long it takes to master the whirling without being dizzy among other things. People can come here and study anywhere from 3-6 months or even longer. Women are also allowed to whirl, but only in front of other women.
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  • Day46

    Roman Sites and Waterfalls

    February 23, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    Our tour leader helped put together a day tour of the area today as none of us had further plans for Antalya. I think we'd explored most of the old town and the old marina already the previous day. The weather this morning didn't look too promising, but we were hopeful that it would hold up.

    Ascendos was our first stop of the day. It's home to the best preserved Roman theatre in the world, and up until recently, still held local concerts. I can't remember the last time I saw complete arches still at the top behind the audience. Lucky for us, the last remnants of rain gave us the place to ourselves.

    Next a quick stop at 2000 year old aqueducts before lunch in the village, more gozleme, but the fresh orange juice was out of this world good! They grow their own oranges there so it's as fresh can fresh can be. We wanted 2 glasses of juice for lunch instead of lunch itself XD

    The ancient ruins of Perge was next, as we had quite a bit of time to roam the site. It was really informative to have our guide explain the history of the city and the parts that are seemingly common in the Roman plans for a city. The hippodrome, the gates, the agora and so on and so forth. Restoration work is ongoing and you can see new marble installed at the base of some columns. There was also a very cool mosaic.

    Waterfalls - I don't think the site was the one we were thinking of, but it was nice to get out and walk in nature, even with the manmade path. I headed a bit further than the rest of the group to find Lotus Waterfall, but it was a bit of a disappointment. Got back into the van just before the rains came down again.

    We really lucked out with the weather timing today. Dinner on our own again, roommate craved non Turkish food so we headed out to McDonald's where I tried the Kofta Burger, a local design and not one I'd repeat. I thought about having another balik ekmek (fish sandwich) but alas, some other time. Ended the night with a pomegranate cheesecake from Just So Candy. The pomegranate "pudding" bit was a bit weird, but overall it was tasty. So if I don't get cake on my birthday in a few days time, well, I've already had some ;)
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  • Day45

    Beysehir to Antalya

    February 22, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ☀️ 8 °C

    Off to Antalya today! But first, a stop at the wooden mosque (Esrefoglu). The wooden columns are made of cedar and there's a pit in the middle to collect snow in the winter to help dampen the columns in the summer. It's quite beautiful in there and we had the place to ourselves. Originally, our CEO's friend was the imam at the mosque, so we were looking forward to a call to prayer inside to hear he acoustics and learn more about the religion. Alas, he no longer works there though.

    Back on the road, we drove through the stunning Taurus Mountains, their tops still covered by snow. A very beautiful drive that I ended up staying awake for much of it. We stopped by a road side restaurant to try their specialty: bean salad (well, I didn't) but it sounds like it's an acquired taste that most of our group did not end up being fans of.

    After checking into our hotel, we had time to simply wander. That sounds like the main plan for the old city - get lost, it's ok. Roommate and I first sought out a frappuccino at Starbucks before making our way to the Mediterranean coast and back into the old town. Our guide took us on a brief orientation walk that was dampened by rain, and then we walked some more on our own.

    Dinner was seafood, we are on the coast after all! I had tasty shrimp shishkabob while others went with calamari. Headed out to a bar after with a few folks to take in a live Turkish band. Quite fun, we got in just before the rain and out before smokers and big partiers descended.
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  • Day44

    Nightstop in Beysehir

    February 21, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ☀️ 7 °C

    Night stop in Beysehir. Not much to do in this town in the winter, though I'm sure in the summer, it'd be lots of fun to hang out by the lake. A large cloud diminished our chances of a good sunset though so we only took a short walk before grabbing dinner at the hotel restaurant. You can walk around the lake a little bit and cross a small bridge onto a small island.

    I also came across a couple fishing in the lake. They had already caught two fish and were just staring down over the bridge and into the water to see if they could catch a third.
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  • Day44

    Konya, home of Rumi

    February 21, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ☀️ 3 °C

    Back on the road, we stop by a 700 year old caravanserai. This old hotel used to host merchant traders and their horses. Today, it's currently under restoration. We tried to imagine what it must have been like staying here and mused how fun it would be if we could stay at a working caravanserai for the night.

    Moving on to Konya, home of Rumi or Mevlana. We had another chance to try pide before having a few hours to explore the centre of town. I think it would've been nice to stay here overnight, but otherwise we had fun exploring the markets and the museum of Rumi. It's a great spot if you want to buy anything with dervishes, prices are great. We also tried Konya candy, which is like a sweet piece of chalk. It wasn't to our liking though so it was nice of the shopkeeper to give us a sample.

    Konya is a much bigger city than I imagined as we left it. Neighborhoods just stretched out before our eyes. Perhaps my mind was still on the Konya described in "The 40 Rules of Love" that I'd read, about Rumi, Shams and a host of other characters.
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  • Day43

    Really Getting into Cappadocia

    February 20, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ☀️ 0 °C

    Free morning to explore the town of Avanos, we walked around checking out various shops - souvenirs and locals alike. Finding the post office, we walked in for stamps and came out with free postcards too. The government of Turkey really seems to support/subsidize the tourism industry. Just the previous day, we'd heard about the government supporting women in Anatolia province to get trained to weave carpets that visitors end up buying to support their families.

    We met at noon for a quick gozleme lunch, this time the pancake was rolled up and actually was my favorite one as eating it was simple and fast. Our hike started shortly after and would take us through Pigeon Valley, Red Valley and Rose Valley. Red and Rose are named for the color of the rocks. With paths cut by nature, the hike wasn't too challenging save for a slippery slope here and there. Inside the valley, you feel very small though but it was very cool experience to be in.

    Having done the hike, I really felt like a sense that we really explored Cappadocia instead of quickly sticking our heads into various caves. Today, we got time to explore hidden churches like Cross Church which also has cool frescos, and just soak it all in.

    After the hike, we rewarded ourselves with a Turkish Bath in Goreme. The experience was a little different from the one I'd done in Istanbul. This time we started with the sauna before showers (regular showers instead of buckets of water), and a scrub on the octagonal marble slab where the 4 of us girls each had a side. The bubble bath was much nicer and less rushed though as we also got a bit of a massage. The scrub itself felt half hearted though. A brief oil massage concluded our experience. Not sure if I want another Turkish bath on this trip. While not overly expensive, it does add up.

    Dinnerwise, I headed to a restaurant by the square which other folks recommended. We ordered a pide (Turkish pizza) that was in excess of 1 meter and lamb stew. A very delicious dinner and we got to cross another Turkish food off our list.
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  • Day42

    Underground City, Open Air Museum

    February 19, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ☀️ 1 °C

    Rejoining the rest of our tourmates, we set off to explore Derinkuyu, an underground city where early Christians hid from the Romans. The tunnels and rooms are pretty expansive and the site equipped with a water source at the time. We were lucky to get into before other groups so had the place mostly to ourselves.

    Next stop, the Goreme Open Air Museum. We only spent about an hour here but you can easily spend more. The museum is surrounded by carved caves and filled with churches and frescoes. In order to preserve the frescoes, you're limited to 3 minutes in each church and no photography is allowed. We visited a few pretty cool churches including the Apple Church, the Church of No Name and St Barbara's Church. These names usually came about because of the shape of the church. The Sandal Church had feet imprints where Jesus supposedly ascended to heaven, though the geography would be incorrect given the details in the bible.

    Lunchtime! We met a local family who cooked lunch for us. Originally meant to be a dinner, changing it to lunch would allow us more time overall in the area. Our hostess made delicious wedding soup and stuffed eggplants, along with some pastries and dessert.

    Afterwards, we made stops at the viewpoints of Pigeon Valley and Love Valley. Pigeon Valley as you may guess, had lots of pigeons flying through. For 1 lira, you can feed them a cup of seeds. Love Valley had cheesy heart shaped swings you can sit on as you look out at the landscape. Both fun places great for pictures though we didn't get to linger.

    Rounding up the day, we stopped by for some info on Turkish carpets at a local warehouse and a pottery workshop. While the Turkish carpets were gorgeous, they were beyond the scope of the money we wanted to spend, though we understood the authenticity and hard work that go into each one. They're really meant to last. The pottery was interesting as well but we didn't learn as much.

    Not done exploring for the day, my roommate and I checked out our hotel which in itself is like a museum filled with antiques, from potteries. We were disappointed we didn't get to stay in a cave hotel, but our guide explained that each hotel only had 2-3 rooms so wasn't big enough to accommodate our group. G did pick a great alternative in Sofa Hotel though. One of our tourmates' room actually did have a cave shaped ceiling! Very cool all around.

    Dinner was on our own tonight, so after hiking up to sunset point for sunset and cool moonrise, we went two doors down from our hotel to try manti (Turkish ravioli). Not a hit with everyone though as there was a lot of yoghurt on the dish and the meat was bland for some.
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  • Day42

    Packing It In, in Cappadocia

    February 19, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ -1 °C

    A full day of programming today. First up, a not too early hot air balloon ride at sunrise to see the Cappadocia landscape. We went with Voyager Balloons who first brought us to their office for a quick breakfast before dropping us off at the field where the balloons are set up. Unlike our experience in Myanmar, these balloons were almost ready to go when we arrived, which was really great as the weather was very nippy. I wore several layers and had 2 scarves as well as my tuque.

    A smooth takeoff and we were one of the first air borne. Drifting through valleys and over the whimsical landscape was indeed a pleasure and something I'd recommend to everyone. Do try to put the camera down though to simply enjoy. I think I alternated between my gopro and camera a little too much. Didn't take as many pictures as I normally would have but that was due to the gopro and not me just taking it in.
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