We’ve Finished our RTW, so What Were Our Favorite… Ruined Cities?!

We’ve finished our RTW trip. We get a lot of questions about our favorite things on the trip. We’ve decided to start a new series called “So, What Was Our Favorite…” We visited 29 countries on our RTW: Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

This edition looks at our top 10 favorite ruined ancient cities. These are not in order from best to worst. They are just our top 10 favorite in the order in which we visited them.

Butrint (Albania)

Butrint was the first large ruin we visited in Europe. This archaeological site has a fascinating history: it has been the location of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman settlements. Old structures from all of these are scattered throughout this small park located on a peninsula in a lagoon off the Straits of Corfu.

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Delphi (Greece)

The ancient site of Delphi was a pilgrimage site located in the Peloponnese of Greece. The biggest part of the site is the sanctuary of Apollo, the big destination for those coming to consult the Oracle. Delphi was an active site from at least the 8th century BC up until the 4th century AD (meaning even the Romans kept the site active). Since it was such a popular site, many of the different Greek city states built “treasuries” containing offerings to Apollo to thank the oracle for her advice. The most well-preserved of the treasuries is the Athenian Treasury, built by the Athenians to commemorate their victory at the Battle of Marathon.

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Olympia (Greece)

Olympia was the host site for the ancient Olympic Games from the 8th century BC all the way until the 2nd century AD. These ancient games were not just an athletic competition: they were also a chance for the Greeks to pay tribute to their Gods. Therefore, the site has quite the collection of ruins, both for athletic and sacred events.

Temple of Zeus with fallen columns

Temple of Zeus with fallen columns

Mystras (Greece)

Mystras is the ruins of the medieval fortified Byzantine city located near Sparta. It is considered as one of the last remaining centers of Byzantine culture until the empire fell in the 15th century. It is located on a mountain with the ruins of the castle at the very top, with monasteries, the palace, and residences on the way down. The monasteries were both abandoned and active with some old but well-preserved frescoes that gave a glimpse into the Greek Orthodox culture as it existed during the late Byzantine period.

The ruins of the castle of Mystras

The ruins of the castle of Mystras

Ephesus (Turkey)

Ephesus is on the western coast of Turkey. According to Lonely Planet, it is the most complete classical metropolis in Europe. It started around the tenth century BC and was once part of the Ionian League. It also served as the Roman capital of Asia Minor. Its Temple of Artemis was the biggest on earth and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, all that is left of that Temple is one solitary, lonely, rebuilt column. The rest of the site is quite extensive and includes a large marble-paved sacred way, lined by different structures, such as temples, fountains, public baths and even a public lavatory. The most impressive piece of architecture is the restored facade of the Library of Celsus.

Library of Celsus

Library of Celsus

Tlos (Turkey)

Tlos was one of the most important cities in ancient Lycia. It is a fascinating site because it has been pretty much continually occupied from the time of Lycia all the way up to the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century! It has the distinctive rock tombs of Lycia, as well as an a Roman-era acropolis, theater, stadium, and baths. In addition there are Byzantine church ruins and an Ottoman-era fortress atop the peak. Another thing that makes Tlos impressive is its absolutely awesome setting, situated in the foothills of the Akdağlar mountain range.

Distinctive Lycian rock tombs and sarcophogi

Distinctive Lycian rock tombs and sarcophogi

Bagan (Burma/Myanmar)

The area of Bagan  is a large plain next to the Ayerawaddy River that is covered with over 3000 Buddist temples built from 11th to 13th century.  After years of neglect, many of the temples have been restored and Bagan is one of the highlights of any itinerary in Myanmar. This site was the largest that we had seen thus far on the world trip.

View from Shwesandaw Paya

View from Shwesandaw Paya

Angkor (Cambodia)

This was another site that was extremely large, stretching over some 400 square km. Angkor  contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. The kings who ruled over the empire constructed large numbers of temples in the city as befitting of its status. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations, and many others.

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Sukhothai (Thailand)

The Sukhothai kingdom came into prominence in the mid-13th century AD after the Khmer empire began to decline. It grew into a strong regional power and is known today for the unique artistic style that can be seen in the remaining temples. There are a large number of ruins to be seen which are spread out over a moderately-sized range. We particularly enjoyed Wat Si Chum, which contains an impressive large Buddha that is a great example of the Sukhothai style of art. The location of this image helps amplify its impact: at first you can only see the face, until you slip through a narrow passage and find yourself at the base of the immense seated figure.

Looking up at Buddha

Looking up at Buddha

Ayutthaya (Thailand)

The kingdom of Ayutthaya, located on an island in the middle of a river about 50 miles north of present-day Bangkok, came into prominence a couple of centuries later than Sukhothai. It was the capital of the kingdom of Siam and the major trading port with the outside world. An invading Burmese army destroyed most of the city in 1767, but some restoration has been done. Our favorite part was a unique and curious sight: the head of a Buddha image wrapped up in the roots of a tree. No one is sure how this got here.

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Flashback Friday: European Sunsets

Flashback Friday is a picture series where we “flashback” to some of our memories – from either from our prior travel or from home. We hope you’ll enjoy some of our remembrances! 

We’ve been experiencing some nice sunsets here in Asia, so naturally, we remembered some of our other nice sunsets from the road. During our self-drive safari in Africa, we saw some amazing sunsets almost every night. We shared some of those in a flashback Friday post. We were in Africa for only 6 weeks and came up with 11 photos we just needed to share. We were in Europe for much longer and saw much fewer nice sunsets. However, there were 14 pictures we wanted to show you. Enjoy some awesome sunsets!

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“The greatest sunset in the world” in Zadar, Croatia

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A closer shot of the “greatest sunset in the world” in Zadar, Croatia

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Sunset over the Adriatic from the walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Sunset over a mosque in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina

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Berat, Albania

Pretty sunset

Tirana, Albania

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Delphi, Greece

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Nafplio, Greece

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Fethiye, Turkey

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This one was so good, we had to show you two! Fethiye, Turkey

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Selcuk, Turkey

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Kas, Turkey

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Pamukkale, Turkey

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Antalya, Turkey

How We Returned Home From Istanbul For $352.60

Once we decided to shake up our itinerary and head home for the holidays, we had to figure out how to actually get there. Luckily we hadn’t yet booked any onward flights from Europe, so we switched our focus from finding tickets from Turkey to Asia to finding tickets from Turkey to the U.S.

We had more miles in the American Airlines AAdvantage program, so we were focusing on awards using the Oneworld Alliance. There was nothing direct back to the US, so we started searching what our layover options in Europe would be. The easiest options routed us through London, but these seemed to have higher fees.

We then saw that one place were you could get a direct flight to the US with not too bad fees was from Dublin, Ireland. We were intrigued about the possibility of seeing a little bit of Ireland, so we arranged our flights to have a three-day layover in Dublin.

This meant that we actually booked two different award flights. The first flight used British Airways Avios to get us from Istanbul to Dublin (with a layover in London). These flights cost us a total of $110 in fees.

Enjoying a flavorful beer in the London airport... exciting after a few months of uninspiring brews!

Enjoying a flavorful beer in the London airport… exciting after a few months of uninspiring brews!

Flying British Airways into Dublin

Flying British Airways into Dublin

The second flight was then to get from Dublin to Dallas, with a layover in Philadelphia. We used AAdvantage miles to book this, but it was actually a combination of a US Airways flight from Ireland and then and American Airlines flight from Philadephia. These flights cost us a total of $242.60 in fees.

Enjoying a Yuengling beer and a cheesesteak in the Philly airport. Brought back good memories of the years we lived in Delaware!

Enjoying a Yuengling beer and a cheesesteak in the Philly airport. Brought back good memories of the years we lived in Delaware!

In the end, the fees to fly directly from Istanbul back to Dallas would have been less, but we thought it was worth it to have a chance to spend a few days in a new country!

Budget: Turkey

This is one of our Budget series of posts to give you an idea of how much we spent traveling around the world. Here we will look at Turkey. Check our posts to see what kind of activities we did and where we stayed!

*Note: We are writing this budget post for the time we spent in Turkey after the visit from Della’s family. This budget does not include what we spent with them. Keep in mind, on that note, that it does not include some of the most famous tourist attractions in Turkey.

In Turkey we used the lira. We converted to US dollars using the current conversion rates at the time of our visit. It was approximately 1 lira to 0.44 dollars.

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Total Spent (14 days): $1065.16

Accommodation: $357.50

We stayed in several pensions, one hostel in a dorm, and an airbnb apartment.

Activities: $103.91

This included entrances to a few sites, a couple of museums, and a Turkish hamam.

Alcohol: $31.73

This includes wine and beer purchased mostly at corner markets and grocery stores. Alcohol was relatively expensive in Turkey and not as easy to find as several of the other countries we visited.

Food: $314.96

We did not do a lot of cooking in Turkey except in Istanbul. We normally ate out once to twice a day. Luckily, breakfasts were almost always included with our accommodation.

Miscellaneous: $86.49

This is high for our miscellaneous costs. It included some souvenirs and Christmas gifts. We bought much more than we might have because we knew we were returning to the USA for the holidays so we weren’t as worried about buying things.

Transportation: $129.18

This included many buses and even a plane ticket! It was so nice to be back in a place where transportation was affordable!

Visas: $41.40

Turkey was one of the few countries that required a visa purchased in advance. It was easy though, just an online purchase!

This divides out to $76.08/day which is under our $100/day budget. However, it does not include the bigger tourist site attractions that we did with Della’s family during our first stay in Istanbul.

*We chose not to include the time spent with families in our country budget because it becomes harder to give an accurate version of how much it costs to visit the area. First, we are more than a couple so accommodation prices change a bit. We also end up traveling a bit faster when we are with them so we spend a bit more than we might chose to if we were traveling alone. In addition, our parents sometimes play the “parent card” and cover expenses that we would have paid for ourselves, so it just gets complicated! However, when we update our overall expenses and complete average per day of the whole trip we will include absolutely everything we’ve spent.

Istanbul Part iki (2)

We headed back to Istanbul after our time in Antalya. We were able to get a pretty decent flight on Pegasus Air.

Getting There

Booking our flight was easy, but figuring out how to get to the airport in Antalya was not. It was really a shame because we were pretty sure that we should be able to get there via bus or train from Kalieci. But the more we looked, the more we realized it wasn’t as easy as we might have hoped. It was going to be a long walk to a bus stop that we weren’t sure was there, or a trip all the way back to the the main bus station on the train and then a connection. No matter which way we though about it, it was going to be slightly unsure and take an awful long time. We had told our hostel that we wouldn’t need airport transportation, but in the end, semi-embarrassedly rethought our choice and asked for a ride. It was a little pricier than we would have liked, but it was a straight shot exactly where we needed to go.

Where We Stayed

We found a nice Airbnb apartment in the happening Beyoglu neighborhood of Istanbul. It was quite easy to find because our host (who seemed to run apartments for a living) gave us a helpful PDF of information and maps. The neighborhood we stayed in was slightly dirty and slightly sketchy, but we were very near Istiklal street (think long outdoor mall which was always, and we really mean always, morning, noon, or night, filled with people – tourists and locals alike) which was a huge plus. The apartment itself was quite pleasant though a bit small and dark. It was on an underground level so we didn’t have a great windows. On the bright side, it had an excellent shower!

What We Did

Shop Near Istiklal – We knew that we would be heading home for the holidays, so that meant that we finally had the chance to freely buy souvenirs without worrying about how we were going to carry them around the world with us! We also knew that it might be a great time to find some one of a kind Christmas gifts. We had originally thought we would head back to the Spice Market which we had visited during our first time in Istanbul, but after exploring the markets near Istiklal Street, we found everything we had hoped for at the most convenient prices!

Explore the Huge Media Markt in the Fancy Mall – As we mentioned above, we realized that now would be the time to buy some souvenirs for ourselves. One thing that had caught our eye was a cool double decker tea pot that we had seen used everywhere on the Turquoise Coast. We hadn’t seen if for sale in any of the tourist markets so we started exploring the grocery stores. We found one that seemed both too small and too expensive. Luckily, we remembered that we had seen this giant store called Media Markt in the fancy mall on Istiklal Street. The store took up 3 full levels of this place! We decided to check it out and found the teapot we wanted… on sale! Score!

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Watch a Movie – We were walking down Istiklal Street one evening trying to decide what to do. Suddenly our eyes alighted on the movie theater in the mall. It was showing Alayci Kus (Mockingjay)! Avid readers might remember that Della had been rereading the Hunger Games trilogy for just this reason. We had assumed we’d attempt to see the movie when we got home, but after a quick check, we saw that they were showing it here in Istanbul in English (with Turkish subtitles). It was an opportunity too fun to miss! We quickly bought tickets realizing that the show was starting about 5 min ago! We were stressed realizing that the tickets had assigned seats, and that the previews had likely already started. Luckily, this wasn’t a problem as there turned out to be an usher to take us to our enormous, comfortable, leather seats. We had never been in a movie theater this comfortable. It was fabulous! We settled down to enjoy the movie… Exactly one hour in, and in the middle of a tense action sequence, the screen suddenly went dark. We were expecting the other patrons to yell or throw things at the screen (we wanted to!) but everyone got up quietly, a patron flicked the lights on, and everyone went out to the Burger King to grab some coffee… After a quick double check with Google Translate, we confirmed our now growing suspicion that we were on intermission. The movie flashed back on (again in the middle of the intense battle sequence) about 10 min later. Overall, we loved the experience and really enjoyed the movie too!

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Visit Chora Church – Chora Church is a bit far from the larger sights of Istanbul, but we ended up being able to catch a bus from right outside our airbnb apartment which took us across the Golden Horn and dropped us quite close to this beautiful church. Its real name was Church of the Holy Savior Outside the Walls since its original location was outside of the city walls. The Church is mainly a tourist destination today because of the large number of well-preserved Byzantine mosaics and frescoes from the 14th century. Rick Steves had a walking tour that guided us through the most important of the works. The outer nave contains mosaics depicting events from the life of Jesus, while the inner nave depicts scenes from the life of Mary. The parecclesion, a small chapel on the side that held tombs, contained the frescoes which depict scenes from the afterlife. We were a little bummed that the main chapel was closed for renovation, but it sounded like we did get to see the majority of the interesting pieces of art.

Do Rick Steves’ Walking Tour of Istanbul’s Walls – The Chora Church is located right next to the remains of the Old City walls dating to the reign of the Emperor Theodosius II in the 5th century AD. Rick Steves also had a walk along these walls, so we decided to check it out. The most interesting part was at the very beginning, when we climbed some steep and slippery stairs to the top of the wall. This gave us impressive views in all directions (although they would have been even more impressive if the day wasn’t overcast). We continued the walk along the walls and finished at a Muslim cemetery located just outside one of the gates. The tour would have had us continue on through an interesting neighborhood, but we were wet and cold so instead just caught a bus back to Beyoglu.

Where We Ate

Since we were on Istikal Street on multiple occasions, we took advantage and ate out on the street a couple of times.

The first restaurant, Otantik Anadolu Yemekleri, specialized in authentic Anatolian food. They had a woman who sat in the front window and made fresh gözleme, a “Turkish pancake” made of thin dough filled with something savory. Our favorite dish was a mixed appetizer tray that had two different types of what they called dumplings and a thick wheat porridge.

On our final day we wanted to find something Turkish but also cheap. We found a small cafe on a side street that met these criteria. The most interesting dish was what Della ordered: a “kumpir'” or baked potato. What made this interesting was he toppings they put on it: a huge variety of items including hot dog, peas, olives, onions and different sauces. Dana had actually gotten one of these when she was in town and we thought it was just a fluke, so we were excited to see that we could find one as well!

Small Comforts: A Standing Shower

There are a few small comforts that we run into now and then that really make us feel better while traveling…

We mentioned in a post awhile back about how we find it a little strange that many of the showers in Europe were not what we were used to. The shower heads most often were about chest or waist level. Even if they were above your head, they were clearly meant to be taken down and used in your hand, because they were angled so that they would spray all over the bathroom. We also experienced a lot of showers without shower curtains or showers with no lips to prevent water from getting everywhere. There were also a fair amount of showers where the shower heads were just right over the toilet and you knew that you would just use the whole bathroom as your shower (see example below).

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Notice the shower head just sitting on the wall!

 

This changed when we came back to Istanbul for the second time. In our Airbnb, we had a lovely shower with a stall and a shower head that stood tall above our heads! The water was even warm! It was excellent! (OK… Full disclosure: this was not the ONLY situation where we had a nice shower. But, this one was great AND we hadn’t written about it yet!)

OK, so we didn't get the whole shower in the picture... Oops. But take our word for it that it was good and the shower head was above our heads!

OK, so we didn’t get the whole shower in the picture… Oops. But take our word for it that it was good and the shower head was above our heads!