Exploring Egypt, Cyprus, Israel and Turkey
  • Day41

    Intro to Cappadocia

    February 18, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ☀️ 9 °C

    We finally made it to Cappadocia this afternoon, making our home base in Avanos which is near Goreme, home of many fairy chimney and cave hotel sites. The scenery here definitely looks unreal and as if we'd been transported to another planet. We made a quick stop at a panoramic viewpoint for a preview of what's to come the next two days.

    For dinner, we headed to Fat Boy's to try the testi kebap, which is pottery kebap. The meat and vegetables are cooked for 8 hours and you need a small hammer to knock the pot open. A neat experience and less showy than the touristy places where we'd seen this dish served in Istanbul.
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  • Day41

    Ankara Pit Stop

    February 18, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ☀️ -2 °C

    Leaving behind chilling Bolu, we made a quick stop into the Turkish capital of Ankara to visit Ataturk's mausoleum. G tours used to run and overnight in Ankara, but apparently that changed with the bombings in 2016.

    Our visit felt quite short to walk down Lions Alley, visit the museum and Ataturk's mausoleum itself. Lions Alley gave us a few nice views over the city. The museum exhibits opposite the mausoleum are skippable, as the main attraction is the museum that surrounds the mausoleum itself.

    We stared in wonder at the war recreations while audio tracks added to our imaginations and then blitzed through the rest of the place. I actually didn't get time to see the mausoleum itself, but did catch part of the changing of the guard.

    After leaving Ankara, we stopped at MODA for Turkish ice cream called Dondurum. It's supposed to be so thick and chewy you needed a knife and fork to eat it. Delicious though not chewy, just very thick and creamy. We would later have more of this ice cream but in the form of a cone.
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  • Day40

    Istanbul Reprised and onto Bolu

    February 17, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ☀️ -1 °C

    Went on an orientation walk this morning with my tour group. We passed many sites I've already been but I still learned new things like short cuts and wandered on new streets. We also visited Suleymaniye Mosque which was on my list to visit when we were to return in 2 weeks. Like those who've been there and the Blue Mosque, I did like this one much better and found it prettier with the tiles outside and the low light fixture inside. We also got a gorgeous view of the other side of the Golden Horn from the gardens.

    Lunch was a quick affair, and we got to try a delicious cag kebab. Normally a dish from Eastern Turkey, the owner had moved to Istanbul where we got to stop by. In this style, thin slices of lamb are skewered and cooked. You then wrap some pita around the meat (still on the skewer) to slide it off. Add some salad if you wish and eat it, all wrapped inside the bread.

    Back at the hotel, we got into our van and started our drive towards Bolu for our night stop en route to Cappadocia. Driving through Istanbul was very cool as we went further north in the city to cross the Bosphorus Bridge. At once I knew I needed to revisit this magical city one day and explore what this part of the city had to offer now that we'd explored the neighborhoods by the Golden Horn.

    As we left urban Istanbul aside, the landscape changed as we climbed in altitude. Mountains, and even snow lined our route to the city of Bolu. There's not much there, but we got to try a style of gozleme native to the region for dinner. You can opt to get it with yogurt and tomato sauce on top of cut gozleme. We also stopped for some famous Bolu chocolate. Other than that, not much to do here, but it the heights of winter, I believe this place turns into a bit of a ski resort.
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  • Day39

    Princes' Islands: Buyukada

    February 16, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ 6 °C

    Headed out to Buyukada Island today, it's part of a group of 9 islands that make up the Princes' Islands.The ferry calls at the 4 biggest. There are no motorized cars on the islands, though I did see a police van and two trucks in my walk.

    I don't suppose there's a lot to do but get away from busy city life. It was pretty quiet, I ended up avoiding the touristy bits by getting straight out and walking through a neighborhood of opulent and decrepit mansions. It was quite neat to see and they seem to have varying designs and belonging to different eras. If you head uphill, the houses do get more modest.

    You'll also see motorized scooters and bikes to help residents and visitors get around. Some people will do carriage rides, but I read that not all the horses are taken care of, so opted out. If you prefer to stick to the touristy bits, veer left when exiting the ferries to access the restaurants along the water and about 2 streets of shops.

    I ended up taking the 3pm ferry back to Sultanahmet and the hotel. A beautiful and relaxing boat ride for this 4th day in beautiful Istanbul. After getting back, I blitzed through the Spice Market nearby and then chilled out a bit before meeting my fellow travellers for the next 2 weeks.
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    Leona Heraty

    Wow! Sounds so thrilling! Have fun and be safe, Rita! Thanks for sharing your travels with us. :-)

  • Day38

    Istanbul: Asia side

    February 15, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ 6 °C

    Hopped a ferry over to the Asian side today, the route: Eminonu to Kadikoy. I'd read about the neighborhood Moda on a blog as was hoping to check it out. In the end, I think I walked the edge of it and spend the majority of my time in Kadikoy. There's a tram just outside the ferry terminal I recommend catching for a quick loop around before wandering the streets to shop and eat.

    It wasn't supposed to rain today but it did, so I ended up ducking into shops here and there, and picking up a few little things. There was lots of snow globes and couples figurines, I'm curious what the story is. Thought about picking one up, but at the same time it would be heavy and bulky.

    Later on, I stumbled across the fish market, vegetables and fruit stands and restaurants. As the hours passed, the streets became livelier. I also found a place that sold kumpir, a massive Turkish baked potato. Probably not the best but it did the job as it ended up being lunch and dinner. I also had lokma for dessert, deep fried though. Cheap and yummy, I walked around the market and two of the fish vendors each took one off my container, which was weird. But since I were taking their photos, I figured it was just part of it.

    To get back to the hotel, I decided to walk to the next metro station and catch the Marmaray metro back as it had a stop at Sirkeci which was closer to the hotel. The trick though was getting to Uskudar for the stop. It would've been a really long walk, hence the metro. The Marmaray was out of service though so I was directed to a shuttle which dropped us free of charge.

    Great views of the Bosphorus looking back at the European side, I even saw the Maiden Tower in the middle of the water. Didn't see much in Uskudar, but that might be me not going far enough. Back to the hotel for an early night as we start our group tour tomorrow
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  • Day37

    Playing Tourist:Galata & special museum

    February 14, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ ⛅ 6 °C

    Wandered back over the Golden Horn again this evening. My plan was to head up Galata Tower for sunset and night lights, then over to the Museum of Innocence which is a museum curated by Orhan Pamuk the author of a book by the same name. The line up was long given it was Valentine's Day so I decided to switch it around.

    The Museum of Innocence isn't too hard to find if you have a map, but there are some hills you'll have to walk up and down. The place isn't big, about 3 floors. It's basically displays of everyday items corresponding to the chapters in the book. I think you do need to either have read the book or get the audio guide. There's a few copies of the book around so that's how I came to the conclusion, though there probably isn't enough time to read and look at the displays. In the end, it was an interesting museum but a little disappointing given the admission price. I guess I was hoping it would be similar to the Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia that I absolutely loved.

    Back to the Galata Tower, the line had shrunken quite a bit and was moving fairly well. Outside the tower, there was a light show projecting hearts onto the wall as it was Valentine's Day. Couples were everywhere and it was a buzzing Thursday night. I made my way up to the tower and walked around outside for a beautiful 360 of Istanbul, do recommend if seeing a panorama and night lights are your thing, but otherwise, you could find a terrace restaurant or other viewpoints as well.

    Walked back over the Galata Bridge in search for dinner. I was hoping to find a balik ekmek or fresh fish sandwich that I'd seen on an episode of Rick Steves. It's basically Turkish fast food that they were off a boat near the Galata Bridge. I didn't find one on my way there, but did when I came back. There are three boats on one end of the bridge. I simple picked the busies place as it was probably good there and the fish wouldn't have been sitting too long. Another yummy meal and called it a night.
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  • Day37

    Playing Tourist:Cistern/Topkapi Palace

    February 14, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ 🌬 6 °C

    A quick stop next at the Basilica Cistern nearby. I know it best from Dan Brown's Inferno, though others will recall it from other movies. Sadly it wasn't quite as beautiful as in the movie (I blame Hollywood!) but it was still cool to see the space and the columns and Medusa heads. There wasn't any water either, but one can imagine it. We also saw the weeping column. It appears wet and was carved differently from the rest, perhaps in dedication to the workers of the cistern.

    On to Topkapi Palace. I recommend spending a few hours here and some prior research of what you really want to see if you're short on time. I ended up getting the audio guide and went everywhere I could, though I'm struggling to remember (writing this a few days later) if I saw the Treasury. I must have, but there were quite a few exhibits where photos weren't allowed. The item to see of note is an 86K diamond they call the spoon diamond, but I either missed it or glazed over it. Oops.

    Otherwise, it's pretty easy to move from courtyard to courtyard and building to building. I visited rooms where the Ottomon empire decisions were made, the various kitchens, the library, the dorm for students, courtyards overlooking the Bosphorus and the harem (extra cost here).
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  • Day37

    Playing Tourist:Blue Mosque/Hagia Sophia

    February 14, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ 🌬 6 °C

    Better weather today, so it was a full day of sightseeing. Bear with the next few footprints as I'll split them up to allow for more photos per location.

    1st up, The Blue Mosque. Very popular among visitors but I was a bit underwhelmed, perhaps due to all the mosques I've seen on this trip. Part of it was under renovation as well so I think we didn't quite the full effect. It is beautifully decorate

    Like the other mosques, we had to cover our hair, though a hoodie will do. If you have absolutely nothing, there are loaner scarves. Shoes-wise, you have to put them in a plastic bag and carry them around since the exit was on the opposite side. A bit of shame with all that plastic =( There must be a better system.

    The Blue Mosque is open 24/7, closed during prayers, so there is definite flexibiilty. It's also free to visit.

    Opposite the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sophia, it's pinkish exterior the opposite the blue. You may want to get an get audio guide, though I wandered around a lot. The current building is actually the 3rd Hagia Sophia on the site. The first was a wooden church, the second was destroyed by an earthquake and this current one was a church, then converted in a mosque and is now a museum.

    The main part of the building is almost jaw dropping beautiful even with part of it covered by scaffolding for renovations/restorations. Go through the lower and upper galleries. Upstairs, you'll find some mosaics of Jesus and Mary. These mosaics were covered up during the Byzantine area and you can still see some of the Byzantine art on the ceilings and some walls.
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  • Day36

    Sightseeing around the Rain

    February 13, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ 🌧 6 °C

    Rain and wind today, but I was lucky the hotel had loaner umbrellas. I decided to head over across the Golden Horn to Aga Hamami for a hamam or Turkish bath. There are some really inexpensive local places to choose from and seem higher end touristy one. After some research, I picked this place, about $40 and did the sauna, had a scrub, bubble wash and an oil massage. The Turkish bath is more about cleansing your body instead of a spa, but they tried to make it a relaxing experience. It wasn't very busy though you do get shuffled from the station to station.

    Stopped by a Starbucks on the busy shopping street after near Taksim Square and then took the metro back to the Grand Bazaar, another covered roof activity =) It's definitely touristy, and you can probably find most of you want to buy in here, even though you shouldn't. I escaped unscathed but it was lots of fun just to wander, see what's offered and do a little research on prices.

    Dinner-wise, I checked out Hanzade Terrace Restaurant. It was early, about 5pm, but I did skip lunch. Not too far a walk from the hotel and had a nice view of the Bosphorus despite the weather. Staff was really nice, and offered free appetizer and dessert. For the main, I order grilled fish and it was absolutely delish. They also gave me an apple tea after dinner, and the owner offered me a second as well, and to sit awhile because of the weather.

    My umbrella kept flipping over from the wind, and it would be a lost cause by the time I went back to hotel. Weather's supposed to get better as the days go by, On my way back, I found the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia for some nice night photos.
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  • Day35

    Merhaba Istanbul

    February 12, 2019 in Turkey ⋅ 🌬 9 °C

    Arrived this afternoon in Istanbul. It's a bit strange with the time zone, it's an hour later than Israel instead of the same time zone ie I landed 150pm Istanbul, but it was 1250pm in Israel...still trying to wrap my head around it.

    Another strange thing, I swear our Turkish Airlines flight was circling above Istanbul, I kept seeing the same inlets and landmarks over and over again, and then it was a long taxi to the gate.

    Got to the hotel easily with my transfer, and had a low key rest of the afternoon. No sightseeing though did wander a bit nearby and found a restaurant my friend had gone to. Tried a gozleme or Turkish pancake there. It was a bit touristy as there was a lady sitting in the front making it.
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