Patara, Turkey

After Fethiye, we were interested in continuing to explore the Turquoise Coast of Turkey. We hopped on a bus heading to Antalya and asked to be dropped off at the turn off to the ruin/beach of Patara. We understand that during high season there are dolmuşes that run from the intersection in to the town of Gelemiş, as well as the ruins and beach at Patara. But, knowing that it was off season, we contacted our pension, the Eucalyptus Hotel, and organized for them to come pick us up at the intersection.

We really enjoyed the Eucalyptus Hotel, though we were the only guests there. We had a comfortable, pretty large room. The hotel provided breakfast every morning as part of the price. They also cooked dinner to order. The town of Gelemiş would be quite a tourist town during the summer, but in November, it was completely dead. We really felt as if we were the only tourists in the entire town. So we spent most of our time just hanging out by ourselves. The couple that ran the Hotel was very kind and we did get a chance to chat with them a few times when they served us our meals.

We did make good friends with the cat at the hostel. We think they called her “Kedi,” which means kitten in Turkish. She would always join us for meals and follow us back to our room when we headed up.

The main reason for staying in Gelemiş is to visit Patara. Our first full day in town it seemed a little chilly and windy but we decided to head out anyway. Kedi followed along with us. At first we thought it was cute but as we got further and further away we started to get more worried about her ability to find her way back to the Eucalyptus. The wind seemed to get worse as well. After walking for a kilometer, we looked at each other and made the decision that it just wasn’t the right decision to continue on. So we turned around, making sure Kedi followed us back. We spent the rest of the day sheltering from the wind in our room.

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The next day was still windy, although maybe a little less than the previous day. Given how dead the area was, we decided to just push through and visit Patara anyway. We snuck out to make sure that Kedi did not follow us this time!

We explored the ruins of ancient Patara. It was said to be founded by Pataras, the son of Apollo. It was a thriving port town, though the ocean was now quite a distance from the ruins. The city was known in antiquity for its oracle, similar to the one at Delphi in Greece. During its heyday, it was the the leading city of the Lycian League. Apparently, it was also the birthplace of St. Nicholas (of Christmas fame).

We explored the distinctive Lycian sarcophagus tombs, the still standing gate into the city, ruins of baths, theaters, the agora, and even a lighthouse. We also saw the Grove of Leto. Legend states that the god Apollo was born of Leto. Apparently when the pain of birth hit her, she threw her arms around a palm tree and then had Apollo. Some people believe that this palm grove was the very spot where that happened!

 

As we mentioned earlier, it is low season in Turkey so we felt like we were almost the only tourists in the whole site. However, there were several animals running around. We were joined by goats, sheep, and three dogs. Della made the mistake of being friendly with the dogs, and one of them decided to adopt her. We spent the rest of the day in the company of this adorable dog. We felt terrible knowing that maybe he thought he was coming home with us. Long after his dog friends left him, he continued hanging out with us. We didn’t lose him until the end of the day when we headed back to our hotel.

After the ruins, we continued on to probably the biggest pull of the area: the beach. We understand that in the summer, the beach would be packed. But, again, we were almost the only people there. We enjoyed hanging out and reading our books. It was a bit windy and far too cold to want to swim so we just hung out on the sand.

As the afternoon wore on and the wind increased a bit, we headed back towards town with our dog friend trailing behind. We were both sad and relieved when he left us in town.

We ended up staying in Patara for 3 nights. We really enjoyed our hotel and the ruins and beach, but again, we wish we had come when there was a bit more going on!

Fun with Family in Fethiye, Turkey

The last part of our Greece and Turkey trip with Della’s family was spent in the Turkish town of Fethiye, located on the beautiful “Turquoise Coast.” We gave ourselves multiple days in Fethiye to see the city and take some day trips to interesting nearby sites. The list of “Fethiye Must Sees & Dos” from Turkey’s for Life was instrumental in planning our time.

We had a little bit of an interesting time trying to find a place to stay. There were plenty of places listed on a certain apartment rental site, but none of them really stood out. We finally chose one place, but then were confused when we got a message from the host telling us he wasn’t going to accept our request… but instead he wanted to meet us in person to work things out. It seemed pretty shady, but we decided to give it a try. We arranged a rendezvous at a gas station by the bus station… only to discover that there were about five gas stations in the area. Somehow the host was able to find our car just based on a vague description. He took us to a rental apartment in the Çalış Beach area. The apartment itself was very spacious, and felt quite new, so we accepted. It being the offseason, the neighborhood felt pretty dead: empty streets, very few neighbors, closed restaurants, empty swimming pool, etc – but we think that it would have been a pretty prime location in the summer when the beach would be packed.

Our first evening in town, we headed up to check out the Lycian rock tombs just above the city. The Lycians (the same civilization we saw at Tlos) were a civilization that existed concurrently with the ancient Greeks and Romans, and were involved in their affairs occasionally as well. One of the things they are well known for is the practice of burying their important dead in tombs carved out of rock near their cities. They even took the time to carve the rock to make the temple look exactly like it would have if it was made of wood, with “nails” and so on. We were able to drive right up to the base of the tombs above Fethiye. You were supposed to have to pay a small entrance fee, but no one was manning the booth. We then walked up the stairs to the base of the most impressive tomb, the Tomb of King Amyntas. Time and vandals have not been kind to the tomb, but it still was nice to see up close and provided an excellent vantage point over the city.

We spent two more full days in Fethiye with the Della’s family, taking day trips to Kayaköy and Tlos/Saklikent Gorge.

Our location near the beach did allow us to take a walk out to the coast every day near sunset, which was quite glorious to view over the water. Wayne was even brave enough to swim one day! He reported that the water was warm, but the cold wind deterred the rest of us.

Our first night in Çalış Beach we decided to go out to eat for dinner. Since it was the low season, half of the options were closed. We chose an open small cafe that did have a couple of musicians performing. The food was only so-so; Dana was especially disappointed by the overabundance of parsley in many of the dishes (she has the genes that make parsley taste like soap).

Too much parsley

Too much parsley

Therefore, the other two nights we bought groceries and cooked back at the apartment. And by “we,” we mean that Dana and Peggy cooked. They made two very tasty meals! The second one was especially enlivened by the addition of local mushrooms that we bought from a vendor on the side of the road (we think they were saffron milk cap mushrooms). One night we also had the pleasure of celebrating Della’s birthday. With the help of our apartment broker, Wayne and Peggy were able to find a cake and birthday candles!

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and Della’s family had to leave us. They drove the rental car back to Izmir, and we decided to stay in Fethiye and explore the town and the Turquoise Coast for a few more days.

Our Çalış Beach rental apartment dealer offered to find us a nice place for a good rate, but we decided we wanted to stay in the city of Fethiye itself and booked a double room at Yildirim Guest House. The room was nice and we enjoyed the included Turkish breakfast, but were a little bummed to discover that we were the only guest, meaning that we just kept to ourselves the whole time.

Our companion at breakfast was this friendly cat

Our companion at breakfast was this friendly cat

Without the benefits of a rental car, we had to find things in town to do. Our first stop was a quick visit to the Fethiye Archaeological Museum. And by quick, we mean that it only took us 45 minutes to get through. Considering that we have been known to spend four hours at many museums, it shows that there just isn’t that much to see at this small museum. We did enjoy seeing some of the statues recovered from Tlos though.

We also decided to splurge a visit a hamam, a.k.a. a Turkish bath. It was quite the experience. The first step was for the sales manager to convince us to upgrade to all sorts of deluxe treatments (although even he didn’t recommend the diamond package which included having honey and chocolate drizzled on you). Della agreed to get an extra oil massage but Eric stuck with the basic bath. Then the bath process began. We first changed into our bath clothes. Traditionally, one would remain naked under the provided peştamal (bath towel), but we chose to keep our swimsuits on. We then went into the sauna for ten minutes and worked up a nice sweat, then into the very humid steam room for two minutes (Eric could only last one). Then the bath attendants took over. We each got our own personal attendant (since this was a co-ed bath, both attendants were male). They rinsed us off, then laid us down on a marble slab. They used a rough glove called a kese to scrape all of the dead skin off of us; it was amazing (and gross) to see what they pulled off! They then put a huge amount of suds on us and gave us a quick soap massage. The massage was pretty aggressive, and also involved some pretty serious twisting of limbs to get joints to pop. (Although it paled in comparison to what was being done to another customer nearby. He was being bent violently into all sorts of pretzel shapes and screaming in what sounded like agony. The attendants asked us if we would like that treatment and we declined). The attendant then took us back over to a bench and rinsed off the soap, then gave us a nice shampoo and a final cold rinse. We then were wrapped into towels and headed back to the common area to relax. Della then went off and got her full-body massage, which she very much enjoyed.

For our final evening in Fethiye, we decided to hike a small part of what the Turkey’s For Life blog calls the Fethiye Peninsula Trek. This took us by a shipyard where many boats were being worked on and then out onto a point which gave us excellent views over the harbor and water as the sun set. We wished we could have done more, but decided to head back before it got too dark.

This capped off a nice five days in Fethiye. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery and sites, but found ourselves wishing that we had visited when there were a few more people around and more things were open. This would become a common theme as we continued to the east along the Turquoise Coast.

Great Views in Tlos and Silly Signs at Saklikent Gorge, Turkey

One of the days we were staying in Fethiye, Turkey, we took advantage of the fact that we had a rental car and drove to both of the nearby sites of Tlos and Saklikent Gorge.

Tlos

Tlos is slightly off the beaten path, but we had seen that it was an excellent site due to a great site called Turkey’s For Life.

We were lucky enough to still have the rental car, so Tlos was an easy drive from where we were staying in Fethiye.

We had seen several ruins in Greece and Turkey in the last couple of weeks, but Tlos still ranked as one of our top experiences of the month!

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.

The other reason we chose to visit Tlos was that it is in an absolutely awesome setting, situated in the foothills of the Akdağlar mountain range. The views over the Xanthos valley below were breathtaking! And, to make it even more impressive, we were the only visitors at the site that day, so we were able to take it all in without any distractions.

We highly recommend a visit to Tlos!

Saklikent Gorge

Saklikent Gorge was just a bit farther down the road than Tlos, so when we were done exploring the ruins we hopped back in the car and headed there. This site is definitely on the beaten path, but because it was off season, we had it mostly to ourselves.

We were excited to visit because we had heard that it was a slot canyon, similar to one in Zion National Park in the USA. You are supposed to be able to explore up the canyon, even wading through the stream at times.

This is what you do in high season

This is what you do in high season

However, because it was winter, that part of the canyon was closed. We were able to walk a little of the way in and enjoy the rushing water and the scenery.

We also enjoyed some of the signs warning us of the danger in the canyon. We feel a little bad giggling at bad English translations, but it brings some funny pictures to the mind!

There was one other group exploring the canyon. We were only able to communicate at a bare minimum, but we gathered they were from another town along the Turquoise Coast. They were interested in taking some photos with us.

While Saklikent was definitely a pretty place, we wish we could have visited during high season when we could have hiked the canyon, despite knowing that we would have had to fight the crowds.

Crazy Rain in Kayaköy, Turkey

Eric and Della hadn’t known much about Kayaköy, but Wayne had found it on trip advisor. Those of you who know us well know that we have a special place in our hearts for ghost towns, so we knew we had to give it a try!

Kayaköy is an abandoned village near Fethiye, Turkey. The village is actually the remains of a town called Levissi, where a Greek population lived until Greece and Turkey exchanged populations after the Turkish War for Independence. Greek Christians living in Turkey were sent to Greece, and Turkish Muslims living in Greece were sent to Turkey. The village of Levissi was never re-populated and fell into ruins, becoming even more damaged after an earthquake in 1957. Today it is a protected site, and you can walk through the ruins of the town for a small fee.

We chose to head to the ruins even though we knew that there was a chance of rain. This was both awesome and horrible.

Awesome: The rain clouds added a whole new level of creepiness to the abandoned town. As we arrived and headed into town , the rain clouds got bigger and darker. Lightning began to strike in the distance and somehow there was literally continuous thunder. It was actually a truly unique experience!

 

Horrible: After the really cool threatening period, it actually did start to rain. And, when we say rain, we really mean pour. We tried to wait it out, hiding under remnants of walls, and in old doorways. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop and we managed to get ourselves absolutely and completely soaked. This was kinda fun for awhile, until we started to get cold and realized we had to walk all the way back to the car in the downpour, and then drive about 30 to 40 min back to our airbnb.


Overall, we’re sort of glad that we got to visit Kayaköy in this weather because it did make it truly memorable. However, we were bummed that we didn’t get to explore the full extent of the site.

Pamukkale, Turkey

We had been looking forward to visiting Pamukkale for a long time. When you see pictures of this place, you can’t help but plan to go!

Where We Stayed

Lots of places on the coast offer day trips to Pamukkale, but we elected to stay for a night so we wouldn’t be rushed through the site. We stayed at Venus Hotel. We found this hotel very comfortable. Checking out the pictures, you would never guess that this was a relatively budget option. We had two rooms, a double and triple and both had comfy beds, kettles, and pretty nice bathrooms. They also served a delicious buffet breakfast! We kind of wish we had stayed another night!

What We Did

Visit the UNESCO-listed site of Pamukkale – The site consists of two parts: the ancient Hierapolis ruins and the white calcite cliffs, or travertines. You buy one ticket to visit them both. However, if you want to swim in the fancy hot spring-heated pool on the top, it costs extra. The most convenient entrance requires a little drive out of the town of Pamukkale, up 2 km to the top of the cliffs where you enter into the ruins. You can then walk through the ruins and down the cliffs to the entrance at the bottom. Our hotel offered a free lift to the top of the travertines, so we took them up on that!

The Ruins – Hieropolis was a curative center founded around 190 BC. It continued its life under the Romans and then under the Byzantines. Apparently, there were large populations of Jewish and Orthodox Christian communities. The center was abandoned in 1334 after several earthquakes. The ruins are scattered over a large field at the top of the travertines. The contain a large Temple of Apollo where there was another oracle, similar to the one in Delphi. There were an adjoining spring which had some poisonous gases which billowed up from below. Also in the ruins was a Roman theater, Byzantine Church, Hellenistic theater, and a 2nd century Agora. Most noticeable though are the many preserved columns for the healing spring water which flowed throughout the city. The ancient city was quite large and we didn’t feel like we had enough time to do it justice.

The Baths – Wayne had been looking forward to swimming at Pamukkale for a long time. We were a little surprised at the set up of this. We had expected that there would be a pool filled with warm spring water at the top. We knew that the pool apparently had some ancient Roman ruins within it and were expecting that this would mean it had kept some of the ancient character. Unfortunately, in this, we were quite disappointed. Instead, it appears as if there is a large modern spa set in the middle of the ruins. It has very modern facilities, dining, lockers, massages, modern stores, and a manicured pool. There are some roman columns transplanted there, but there is no authentic or ancient feel at all. On top of that, it was quite expensive- an extra 32 lira (~$14) on top of what we had paid for the site already. As we mentioned, we were in a bit of a rush, so only Wayne decided to explore the pool.

The Travertines – The most distinctive part of Pamukkale is the white travertines. Pamukkale actually means Cotton Castle in Turkish, and that is exactly how they look! They look like they are made of ice, but are in face white calcite transported down the mountain by the water. There has been a lot of restoration work on the travertines since they became UNESCO listed and now tourists are only allowed on one portion. We used this portion to walk from the top of the hill down to the bottom. To protect the travertines, you are now required to remove your shoes when walking on them. The water at the top starts out quite warm but cools at it travels down through the pools to the bottom. In the summer, people might choose to actually sit or submerge themselves in the pools, but given that it was winter, the air felt far too cold for this! We did enjoy walking down the amazing landscape and taking pictures which contrasted the white ground and blue water. We also experienced sunset as we walked down, which added a whole host of other colors to the sky!

Where We Ate

We have to admit, we were getting a little tired of normal Turkish fare. So, we were pretty excited when we noticed that Pamukkale the town seemed to cater more to the Asian tourist. We found food from China, Korea, and Japan. We stopped at Kale Restaurant that had some good prices on Korean bibimbap! While only Della ate that, the whole family enjoyed their meal. Eric and Wayne went with a Turkish Combo Plate and enjoyed that quite a bit as well.

The Korean/Japanese/Chinese/Turkish restaurant

The Korean/Japanese/Chinese/Turkish restaurant

The Turkish combo platter is in the foreground. Della is enjoying her Korean bibimbap in the background

The Turkish combo platter is in the foreground. Della is enjoying her Korean bibimbap in the background

Monthly Recap: Month 5

Month 5 has been our slowest moving month yet, with only 2 countries visited. We finished up with Greece and headed into Turkey, saw friends and family from home, and made some big decisions about our future travel plans.

Here are our stats for this month.

Countries visited: 2 (Greece and Turkey)

Beds Slept In: 11

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited: 4 (Sanctuary of Asklepios at EpidaurusAcropolis AthensHistoric Areas of IstanbulHierapolis-Pamukkale) Total on RTW: 34

We traveled by 2 planes this month!

We traveled by 0 trains this month!

We traveled by 7 long distance buses.

We traveled by 3 boats.

We traveled by 1 rental car which took us Izmir to Fethiye.

Top Moments:

~ Our first top moment came at Tlos, an ancient Lycian ruin near Fethiye, Turkey. We had been struggling with generally gloomy weather and experienced a crazy rainstorm just the day before, but the day we visited Tlos was grand. It is low season in Turkey and we were the only people at the entire site. It was a neat hilltop fortress and town that had been inhabited from the 2nd century B.C. by the ancient Lycians, through the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Ottoman Empire up until the 19th century. The ruins are expansive, well preserved, and nestled in a gorgeous mountain paradise. This was made even sweeter as Della’s entire family (sister and parents) were there to share it with us!

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Enjoying the view from the fortress citadel of Tlos

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Lycian rock tombs, Roman walls, and an Ottoman citadel, set on an amazing backdrop – Tlos

 

~ Our second top moment was in Athens. There is something magical about entering the amazing ancient Acropolis through the impressive Propylea, and seeing the Parthenon standing before you in all its (scaffold-ed) glory. We had been spying on the acropolis from different areas of Athens for a week but had stayed away, waiting for Della’s family to join us, so entering it (finally) was pretty awe-inspiring! It is definitely on the beaten path, and it really is disappointing that the Parthenon is so covered with scaffolding (Della’s parents said it had been when they visited 35 years ago as well), but despite that, it was pretty great to see!

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Entering through the Propylea

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Our first glimpse of the famous Parthenon

 

~ We also really enjoyed seeing the glorious Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. It was our first full day in Istanbul, and the family headed straight to the famous church/mosque/museum. It was such an impressive building that was exquisitely decorated on the inside. It also felt massive, definitely awe-inspiring. It was the type of place where you come back with a huge crick in your neck from having spent hours allowing your eyes to explore the giant domes and impressive ceiling artwork.

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IMG_3125 Inside the Hagia Sophia

 

~ We were so fortunate to have another visit from family! This time Della’s sister joined us and brought their parents along for the ride. It was really special for Della to get to celebrate her 31st birthday in Fethiye, Turkey surrounded by family. What a treat!

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The whole family together!

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One of Della’s bday presents- Peanut Butter!

 

Runners up for Top Moments:

~ We spent several days in Nafplio, Greece before heading back to Athens to meet up with Della’s family. We enjoyed all of our time there, visiting nearby sites such as Mycenae and Epidavros. We also did NOT enjoy being left stranded by the Greek bus system KTEL on two different occasions. But, really, one of our favorite things about Nafplio was climbing the Palamidi Fortress. We got a late start on the climb and ended up having to book it up at top speed because it was closing quite soon. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend as much time IN the fortress as we had hoped. However, even after we were kicked out of the fortress, we were still on the top of this mountain, overlooking the beautiful town of Nafplio, with fortress walls surrounding us, witnessing a gorgeous sunset. We sat and relaxed, read our books, and watched the colors change, feeling on top of the world!

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Feeling on top of the world!

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Beautiful Nafplio

 

~ We both read a book last month called The Greek Treasure which was the story of Sophia Schliemann, a Greek girl married to the famous archaeologist Henry Schliemann, who discovered the ruins of ancient Troy. We actually only semi-enjoyed the book, but it did get our imagination running and give us a good background for some of the archaeological sites we would shortly be visiting. The book described how Henry and Sophia Schliemann built an amazing mansion in Athens where they lived and displayed the gold treasure that they found in Troy. The building was an homage to Homer’s stories and everything related to ancient Greece. We were super excited to discover that their mansion has been preserved as a museum. It has a small exhibition about them and their lives and discoveries, but is really dedicated to Numismatics. We visited! We loved seeing the place in our novel brought to life… and learned a whole lot about ancient coins!

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Exhibit sign about Henry and Sophia Schliemann with us reflected

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The mansion, dedicated to everything related to Ancient Greece. Those are quotes from Homer on the walls

 

~ We had a great experience this month when we semi-randomly ran into a friend from back home in Selcuk, Turkey! It was so much fun to stay at the same location and catch up with her! One evening, the entire group headed up to a small “Greek” town called Sirince in the mountains above Selcuk. The town is know for its sweet berry wines. As we explored the semi-dead town that evening, we ran into a local sitting on a bench drinking a bottle of wine. After striking up a conversation, he brought us back to a wine tasting bar where we enjoyed yummy wine and the great company of family and another familiar face from home!

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Chatting with our new friend

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Family and friends together drinking wine!

 

Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

Discarded/Broken:

1. Swiss Army Knife (we’re not entirely sure where we lost this knife…)

Added:

1. New sandals for Della (a birthday present)

2. New pair of smartwool socks for Eric, brought from the US by Della’s family

Packing Update:

Eric was excited to receive a new protective bag for his backpack. Della’s parents brought this bag from home so that Eric could use it to wrap his backpack in while flying. It helps keep all the straps safe! We have continued to use our cold weather gear so are so pleased we brought it all. We still have not used much of our warm weather gear and are tempted to strip it out of the bags… Though we think we will need it in Asia.

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read Crescent Dawn by Clive Cussler, The Golden One by Elizabeth Peters, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire  by Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (OK, so these last three are rereads of stuff she has already read, but she was getting ready for the new Mockingjay movie AND Kindle Unlimited is good…), and City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare.

Eric has read The Bookseller of Kabul by Asme Seierstad, Snuff by Terry Pratchett, White Death by Clive Cussler, Animal Farm by George Orwell, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, and I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes.

Eric and Della have BOTH read nothing this month.

Make sure to catch up on all our monthly recaps: Monthly Recap 1, Monthly Recap 2, Monthly Recap 3, Monthly Recap 4

Selçuk, Turkey (near Ephesus)

After several busy days in Istanbul, we took a short OnurAir flight to İzmir, where we rented a car at the airport. We immediately got on the road and headed the 45 minutes to Selçuk.

Where We Stayed

Attila’s Getaway – This is a beautiful getaway a couple of kilometers beyond the town of Selçuk. It was a very pleasant place to stay, where we able to get a double and triple room. What made it even better was that we met a friend from Denver who was staying there for awhile. It was amazing luck! She contacted us when she saw that we were in Turkey and we had already planned to head to her same location in just a few days. It was a lot of fun hanging out with her and Attila and their dogs around the campfire, roasting smores. Unfortunately, the stay ended a little bit unpleasantly. We had booked our rooms ahead via email through the Getaway’s website. But when it came time to pay, we were charged more than we were expecting and more than it clearly stated on the website. It was frustrating for us to experience this disagreement at the end of a nice stay. We are pleased to see that the rates on the website have since been changed to reflect what you will get charged when you stay there.

What We Did

Ephesus – One of the main draws of the town of Selçuk is its proximity to the ancient city of Ephesus. 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.

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That solitary column out there in the distance is all that remains of one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World

 

There is a decent amount of the rest of the city left though. We got to the ruins by walking – there is a nice path from Attila’s to the upper entrance to the site. From the entrance, we waked down the marble-paved sacred way, stopping to examine ruins of 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. There is also a large theater and agora near what used to be the harbor. (It has since been filled with silt; one of the reasons the city declined).

For a separate admission fee, we chose to visit the recently excavated terrace houses. These well-preserved ruins gave us a glimpse of what the rich citizens lived like during the Roman era. Modern catwalks allowed us visitors to observe the fancy rooms of multiple dwellings, with nice marble, mosaics and frescoes as decoration. Another benefit of visiting the terrace houses is that most tour groups seem to bypass them, so you can enjoy moments of quiet contemplation rather than jostling for pictures. They are definitely worth the extra cost!

Basilica of St. John and Ayasuluk Fortress – The Basilica, built during the reign of Emperor Justinian, was inspired by a local connection to St. John who they say visited Ephesus two different times (the second time he was accompanied by the Virgin Mary). He supposedly wrote his gospel on the hill that basilica ruins are on. There is a tomb which housed St. John’s relics in this spot. (As an aside, some also say Virgin Mary spent the last years of her life near Ephesus. There is a ruined house nearby that is purported to be where she lived, though we did not make it there to visit). You continue through the ruins of the Basilica to head up to Ayasuluk Fortress. The fortress dates from the Byzantine and then Ottoman times. It afforded some nice views of the countryside!

 

Visit Şirince – Şirince is a small town mountain village that used to be populated by Greeks. We were excited because it supposedly would look a little like Berat and Gjirokaster in Albania. Unfortunately, were weren’t able to tell for sure because we visited in the evening after dark. However, it was a great time to sample some of the local wines for which the town is known for. Because we were there off-season, the town was extremely quiet at night. But, as we strolled some of the cobbled streets, we ran into a couple of men sitting on a bench and drinking a bottle of wine. They started a conversation and allowed us to share their wine. Our new friend, Osman, later took us to his favorite wine tasting bar. We enjoyed the free tasting of many unique fruit wines such as blackberry, apple, strawberry, blueberry and more, and then each got a glass. It was a very pleasant evening…

That is, until we left. We all piled back into the car (slightly crowded because our friend from Denver had joined us), and headed back down the steep mountain road. We were all surprised when a woman leapt out in front of the car. We were concerned that she needed help or a ride back down to Selçuk. We opened the window and she immediately just asked where we were from. At this point, after observing her move and smelling her breath, we knew that she was quite drunk. We answered that we were from the USA and she immediately starting screaming obscenities at us and telling us, as Americans, to get the f**k out of Turkey. She hurled her half-eaten bag of Cheetos (???) at us and started pounding on the closed windows. After a short moment of confusion we accelerated away from her. Strangely, she continued to scream at us and even chased after the car for about 150 m. Needless to say, this event disturbed us all greatly. It is the first time in our travels that we have experienced such hostility and we are unsure about her anger. She was clearly drunk but we did feel quite bad about the whole thing. We also ended up cleaning Cheetos out of the car for days…

Where We Ate

Attila’s Getaway provided both breakfast and dinner. They were homecooked, filling, and delicious. We very much enjoyed the food!

One of our great dinners at Attila's

One of our great dinners at Attila’s

Final Thoughts

We enjoyed our time in Selçuk. Ephesus is definitely not be missed and Selçuk is a great base for visiting the ancient city. But it is worth it to stay for a few days so you can get a chance to see some of the other sights nearby. It is a beautiful location.

Istanbul, Turkey

Our second stop on our two week journey with Della’s family was the city of Istanbul.

Getting There

To get to Istanbul from Athens, we took a flight on Pegasus Airlines, one of Turkey’s low-cost airlines. This meant that we didn’t get a free beverage on the flight, so it was basically just like flying on any other airline back in the USA.

The downside of our cheap flight was that it deposited us at the lesser-known airport in Istanbul (Sabiha Gokcen). Since this airport is less popular for international visitors, it isn’t super easy for tourists to get from it to the tourist neighborhoods. We found a few different pieces of advice online and ended up coming up with a plan that worked quite well and gave us a nice first glimpse of the city. From the airport, we first took a Havatas bus to the Kadikoy ferry terminal (still on the Asian side of Istanbul). From Kadikoy, we were able to immediately hop on a ferry to Eminonu, the port of the Golden Horn on the European side. The ferry ride was quick (15 minutes) and gave us nice views of both sides of the Bosphorous Strait. Once at Eminonu, we hopped on the TI tram line and rode three stops to the Sultanhamet stop. From there, we were able to walk to our accommodation. It turned out being a lot cheaper than a taxi, and felt a lot more adventurous!

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Our first glimpses of old Istanbul by ferry

 

Where We Stayed

We chose to stay in the Sultanhamet neighborhood, near all of the major sites. The upside of this neighborhood was the proximity to the major sights in Istanbul, but the downside was that it was harder to find restaurants and other facilities with non-touristic prices.

We booked a nice three-bedroom apartment through Airbnb. It gave us plenty of space to spread out, and even had a small glimpse of the Blue Mosque from one of its balconies.

Our very comfortable AirBnB

Our very comfortable AirBnB

What We Did

Hagia Sophia – This very impressive structure, built in 537 AD, has served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, a mosque and now a museum. It is especially renowned for its massive dome, which was quite a feat for the time it was built. Walking into the nave and looking up at the dome was awe-inspiring. It was fascinating to look around and find the different examples of both Christian and Muslim decorations throughout the interior.

 

Blue Mosque – Across a park from the Hagia Sophia sits the “Blue” Mosque. Its name is actually the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but it is known as the Blue Mosque because of the prominent use of blue in the decorative tile work within the interior. Its construction was completed in 1616, so it is not nearly as old as the Hagia Sophia but still quite impressive. It is still an active mosque, so we had to delay our visit to the interior while we waited for the afternoon prayers to be finished. We also had to remove our shoes and the ladies had to cover their heads.

Basilica Cistern – We (Della and Eric) were excited to visit this underground chamber because it featured prominently in the Dan Brown novel Inferno and in the Clive Cussler book Crescent Dawn which we had just read. This large chamber was built under the reign of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century BC and was used for water storage for the city. The roof of the cistern is held up by a forest of columns, which seem to have been taken from different sources based on the fact that they are different sizes. Two of the columns have the head of Medusa as a base.

The Hippodrome – This large area next to the Blue Mosque was once the Hippodrome, a large stadium used for chariot races during the Byzantine era. Only the shape of the track remains today. There are two large obelisks in the middle of the Hippodrome. One is from Egypt and is in great condition. Another was built in place but looks in much poorer condition because its bronze plating was stolen.

Topkapi Palace – The other big sight in the Sultanhamet area is the Topkapi Palace, which was the home of the Ottoman sultan from 1465 to 1856. The palace has four different courtyards and many exquisitely decorated rooms. We toured through all of the areas open to the public, including the harem which required an extra ticket. We were particularly excited here because it finally happened!! – Someone recognized Eric’s Rice baseball hat. We met a current Rice student (Jones College) who was studying abroad. How fun!

 

The New City – After spending so much of our time in Sultanhamet, we decided to head to a different part of town to check out the modern face of Istanbul. We started at Taksim Square, the site of the recent political demonstrations, and headed down Istiklal Caddesi, a major pedestrian thoroughfare. The number of people going up and down this street was very high. There were many shops and restaurants along the way that were bustling with activity. We also enjoyed seeing the nostalgic tram go back and forth, but didn’t ride it ourselves. We finished our walk at the Tünel, a funicular that is one of the oldest underground rail lines in Europe.

The Grand Bazaar – We walked through the hundreds of shops in this large complex and did a little shopping. Our Rick Steves guide helped us find some hidden corners of the market, including a courtyard where we were able to observe silver craftsmen at work.

Süleymaniye Mosque – We also visited this massive mosque, which was built in 1558. Its architecture is reminiscent of both the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The interior decoration is more reserved than that of the Blue Mosque, favoring pastel colors instead of the blue tiles. We found this mosque to be very peaceful inside and spent some time just sitting and relaxing.

The Spice Market – We shopped this market known for its food products. While the inside of the market was impressive, we were even more impressed by the amount of items being offered on the small streets just outside the market building. It was a very popular place, so the small streets were choked with people. At one intersection it was even a little scary – people were literally crammed together. Luckily we made it out safely.

Istanbul Modern Art Museum – Peggy and Dana took advantage of this museum’s extended hours on Thursdays and visited in the evening. They reported that the art was quite interesting. Definitely a different feel to this art than what we had been seeing in the other museums!

Where We Ate

The area around our apartment didn’t have many inspired choices; most of the restaurants seemed slightly overpriced. We did find one nice place the first night that offered a free appetizer, and gave us a good introduction to Turkish food. We also had an interesting meal near the Hagia Sophia where we ordered by pointing to different trays of food set up in the front. Near Taksim Square, we ate at a place called Taksim Sütiş which had good entrees, but the most impressive part was the wide range of puddings available for dessert. We did also get one of the classic fish sandwiches from one of the restaurants near the Galata Bridge, but we only thought it was ok.

Final Thoughts

We enjoyed our time in Istanbul, and found the architectural sites very interesting. The dreary weather and slightly higher than expected prices put a little bit of a damper on things, but overall it was still a fascinating city!