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

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!