A Travellerspoint blog

A Brief Taste of Eastern Turkey

The Fabulous Kurdish and Armenian Legacy

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Cathedral Church in Ani

Cathedral Church in Ani

This was a bit of a challenge, as I completely ignored my usual rules of writing notes down as soon as possible. A necessary result of my increasingly decrepit memory! So much was packed into this 4 day, 3 night dash through the easternmost parts of Turkey, and nary a word did I type! Let’s see what I can actually remember. Thank goodness for my incessant clicking, it definitely helped me piece together our explorations.

Kars

After a wonderful long weekend in Cappadocia, Christa and I took off for our Eastern Explorations. I have to give a shout-out to Christa here. It was her desire to see Ani that pushed us to fit this in, and I’m so glad we did. Eastern Turkey, at least for the brief visit we had, was just as beautiful as I’d come to expect from the rest of our explorations, but somehow more wild, stark and raw. We were hard-pressed to see any other tourists on our journey, with the exception of a handful at Ani and at the Armenian Cathedral Church in Van. Driving through mostly farmland filled with crops, horses and sheep, back dropped by soaring, snow-covered mountains, with sign posts pointing the way to Georgia and Iran, time seems to have stopped, or at least slowed down here.

Mustard fields, horse and the odd ruin to add interest... fields in Kars

Mustard fields, horse and the odd ruin to add interest... fields in Kars

We arrived into Kars, a small city in the northeast of Turkey that has had many occupations: Seljuks, Karakoyunlus, Byzantines, Georgians, Ottomans, and most recently (and longest) Russians. In antiquity, its roots lie with ancient Rome and Armenia. We were met by the wonderful Celil Ersoğlu, who whisked us off to our hotel and then to tour Ani. We were staying at the very white and imaginatively named Kar’s Otel. Housed in an old Russian building, everything is painted white – floors, walls, ceiling, railings… everything! Was a nice hotel and a good location for our brief stay. After dropping off our bags, it was back to Celil and off to Anі.

Anі

The Cathedral Church

The Cathedral Church

Anі, City of 1001 Churches, was once the capital of the Catholic, medieval Kingdom of Ani and a major stop on the Silk Road. It was an important and advanced city that rivaled the greats of its time: Constantinople, Damascus and Baghdad. Now, it is an eerie, desolate, expanse of green fields, crumbling walls and ruined churches and buildings, uninhabited except for the birds, in particular hundreds of swifts, whose aerial antics provided a nice bit of life to the stark vistas.

Swifts on wing, from the Menüçer Camii Mosque and overlooking the 10th century bridge over the Arkhurian River to Armenia.  Supposedly the first mosque built by the Seljuks here in 1072, the stonework and mix of Armenian and Seljuk architecture made this large stone mosque somehow graceful.  The views were stunning too!

Swifts on wing, from the Menüçer Camii Mosque and overlooking the 10th century bridge over the Arkhurian River to Armenia. Supposedly the first mosque built by the Seljuks here in 1072, the stonework and mix of Armenian and Seljuk architecture made this large stone mosque somehow graceful. The views were stunning too!

Moving from Kars, Ani was established in 961 as the site of the new Armenian capital. It is ideally defended because of the steep valley on one side, and the Akhurian River on the other. Family succession squabbles, left the empire weak and the Byzantine’s took over the city in 1045, and then the Persian Seljuks popped in in 1064. They of course turned all the churches into mosques, until the Christian Kingdom of Georgia came over and turned them back. Then for a short time the Kurdish emirs were in power before finally Georgia started a successful restoration in 1199. Successful that is, until the Mongols arrived in 1239. The city started to decay and then the great earthquake of 1319 finished most of the remaining city off. Tamerlane 1380 completed the devastation and the major powers shifted their capitals elsewhere. A small town continued to exist behind the remaining walls, ruled by the Persian Safavids and then the Ottoman Empire, until 17th century. This once great city, with such a tumultuous history was completely abandoned in the middle of the 18th.

Our refuge! Church of St Gregory the Illuminator, after the big rain.

Our refuge! Church of St Gregory the Illuminator, after the big rain.

On our visit, it was an alternatively cloudy and thundering rain afternoon, with rays of sunshine gradually coming out. This only added to the haunted atmosphere and feeling of the place. It’s hard to describe, but we both felt the melancholy of the site. In later readings I came across an historian’s (Sibt ibn al-Jawzi) accounting of an eye-witness account to the attack in 1064 of the Seljuk Turkish army.

“The army entered the city, massacred its inhabitants, pillaged and burned it, leaving it in ruins and taking prisoner all those who remained alive...The dead bodies were so many that they blocked the streets; one could not go anywhere without stepping over them. And the number of prisoners was not less than 50,000 souls. I was determined to enter city and see the destruction with my own eyes. I tried to find a street in which I would not have to walk over the corpses; but that was impossible.”

Small wonder the city felt haunted!

Church of the Redeemer: This church was purportedly split in two by a lightning strike in 1957!  Made us a little nervous about the thundering we were hearing as we checked it out!  Built in 1034, inscriptions on the outside indicate it was built to house a part of the True Cross, sent from Constantinople.

Church of the Redeemer: This church was purportedly split in two by a lightning strike in 1957! Made us a little nervous about the thundering we were hearing as we checked it out! Built in 1034, inscriptions on the outside indicate it was built to house a part of the True Cross, sent from Constantinople.

Church of St Gregory the Illuminator:  We took refuge down at this church when the rain became torrential, happily briefly. Name for the Armenian Apostle, it was built in 1215 and has incredibly colourful frescoes inside.

Church of St Gregory the Illuminator: We took refuge down at this church when the rain became torrential, happily briefly. Name for the Armenian Apostle, it was built in 1215 and has incredibly colourful frescoes inside.


Beautiful art in the Church of St Gregory the Illuminator

Beautiful art in the Church of St Gregory the Illuminator

Inside the Cathedral Church: Renamed the Fethiye Camii Mosque, it’s the biggest of the buildings.  Filled with filtered light and birds taking a bath in the puddles from the rain, this Cathedral, begun in 987 was once the seat of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchae.  The most important building in Ani, it has flip-flopped between church and mosque over the ruling turmoil of the centuries.

Inside the Cathedral Church: Renamed the Fethiye Camii Mosque, it’s the biggest of the buildings. Filled with filtered light and birds taking a bath in the puddles from the rain, this Cathedral, begun in 987 was once the seat of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchae. The most important building in Ani, it has flip-flopped between church and mosque over the ruling turmoil of the centuries.


Someone like that rain shower! In the Cathedral Church

Someone like that rain shower! In the Cathedral Church

A highlight in Kars had to be the wonderful restaurant Ocakbaşi Restoran. And not for the food alone, which was fabulous – Anteplim pide (a tasty meat stuffing with nuts, cheese and egg, surrounded by a baked sesame bread), and of course their version of Iskendar Kebap – but for the wonderful service of our waiter. An older, dapper gentleman, that performed everything with a deft flourish. Place a fallen napkin back in your lap, oh no! It must be snapped fresh and clean high into the air, before floating it gently down to land perfectly on the lap. Such a fun gentleman he was. At the end of the meal, he rushed downstairs to catch us and freshen our hands with cologne before leaving.

This is a particular Turkish custom that I’ve not found elsewhere. Traditionally you would great your guest with lightly scented cologne to freshen their hands and rid them of any germs and smells from the outside. This would often be followed up by sweet, which is meant to ensure an evening of sweet conversation. The cologne offer is traditional not only for guest visits, but on bus trips and in restaurants.

Largely left off now in many modern establishments, a poor version can be found in the ubiquitous scented moist towlet packages you find everywhere you go, and certainly at every restaurant.

Tandem donkey!

Tandem donkey!

Doğubayazit

One night and packed ½ day in Anі and we were off too soon to Van. Celil helped us navigate the bus-ticket-buying and dropped us at the station. He also set us up to meet the unbelievably lovely Osman Akkuş, his friend in Doğubayazit, where we had a few hours before catching our final bus to Van. But I’m getting ahead of myself, first, the bus trip, which aside from the adventure was stunning!

On the Road

On the Road

Bus travel in Turkey is very affordable, and supposedly very efficient -- beating the train system by a large margin. We were a bit worried, when our bus was an hour late arriving, since we only had 3 hours in Doğubayazit, but not unduly. That is until we left. Now the roads, especially coming from India, are really not bad in Eastern Turkey, but this nice, brand-spanking new Mercedes bus must have been a bit delicate, because our bus driver, I swear, did not see upward of 15km an hour the entire journey! Tractors were passing us on the road!

Finally climbing down from our tortoise-like bus, our last leg to Doğubayazit was in a mini-bus/van. These 15-seater vans are used quite a lot in Turkey, and we had read they often don’t leave for their destination until full. How long would we wait? Happily not too long. Just long enough to fit 17 people into the extremely small 15-seats, plus two pigeons! They also wouldn’t load the luggage until the van was full, so we had some anxious moments wondering if the bags made it onto the vehicle at all. Though speaking not a word of English, or French, the locals on the van were lovely and trying very hard to help us, though they didn’t know what we were worried about. One elderly gentleman took a particular shine to Christa, kindly squeezing her cheek when we left! Happily not THAT cheek!

Fantastically ice-blue lake on the road.

Fantastically ice-blue lake on the road.

We finally reached Doğubayazit, with about 1 hour remaining before our only connecting bus to Van. We had planned to do a tour of the small city with Osman, and were really sad we didn’t have the time. Osman owns a carpet shop – Kurdish Crafts (www.kurdishcrafts.com), not far from the bus station. Which would have been perfect if the bus went to the station. That couldn’t happen, could it? Nope, doors open, bags off, point in a direction, bus leaves. Uh huh? Luckily we were approached relatively quickly by a private taxi, who took us to the worried Osman’s shop, which wasn’t too far off.

What a lovely man! His English was excellent, as was his brother’s and Belgian sister-in-law’s. He had been talking with Celil and was very worried about us. We were sure we had no time for sight-seeing, but he said no problem and drove us up quickly to see the airy and elegant İshak Paşa Palace. Perched high above the city, with Mt. Ararat as a backdrop on one side (in clouds of course), and stark cliffs on the other. This palace, started in 1685 was built by a Kurdish chieftain and incredibly beautiful, not only for the views. I could see myself living there! When I win that elusive lottery of course.

Reception gallery in the palace

Reception gallery in the palace

After a quick run around the palace, we were off for lunch at a nice cafe across from the bus terminal, while Osman ran over to try and get us tickets. Oops, only 1 ticket left! Not to worry he says. He’ll work on it, and if all else fails, he’ll drive us to Van. He was such a gentle man, I wish I could have purchased a carpet from him! After some haggling, he procured us that extra ticket on the bus to Van, a 3-hour trip. The solution? They placed a small plastic stool in the aisle of the bus! Uhhhhh… happily the bus wasn’t full, and seating wasn’t assigned, so we grabbed a couple of regular seats and set off, saying Bye to Osman, and both hoping one day to be back in this area. Doğubayazit was a lovely, friendly, eastern Turkish town that we’d love to explore. If you’re in the area, pop in to see Osman. He’ll take you on a tour of the sights in the area, and absolutely not pressure you to buy a carpet.

Fantastical views from every angle of the palace

Fantastical views from every angle of the palace

About an hour from Van, we stopped in a small village to pick up our other passengers. An elderly man got on with his slightly younger wife and she proceeded to sit on the ‘stool’. Uh oh! Happily for us, as we were about to offer up our seat, a nearby young man did the same. All’s well that ends well!

Van

Finally in Van and checked in to our OK, but grossly overpriced hotel Büyük Asur Oteli. Van is known for the Van Cat, and the Van Breakfast – kahvalti! Funnily enough in Van we had our worst breakfast of the trip (the included breakfast at the hotel) and the best breakfast of the trip – the kahvalti. My advice, skip all included breakfasts here, it’s not worth the free-aspect, and walk over to the nearby Eski Sümerbank Sokak, a street closed to traffic with several, apparently equally good, restaurants. Kahvalti is served daily from 7am till noon and is fab! Typically you will get the local cheese (Beyaz Peynir), olives, kaymak (a divine clotted cream), tomatoes, cukes, Otlu Peynir (a tangy dip of cheese and herbs), of course the local honey, eggs cooked in a copper bowl, sausages, fresh pita and of course coffee or tea. So good!

Van Breakfast!

Van Breakfast!

Time being limited, we hired a tour guide to take us around to the many sights of the region. The area has evidence of human habitation as far back as 5000 BCE, so much to see! The hotel arranged the guide for us, and while good, was expensive, as was everything in this town.

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Cat person that I am, the first stop was to see the famous landrace (local variety of domestic animal occurring naturally) Van cat. The Van cat is an all-white large cat from the region, frequently with odd coloured eyes. The Turkish Van cat we see as a breed, and developed in the UK is not regarded as an authentic Van cat, having colour patterns on the head and tail. These cats have been declining in number, so a (so far ineffective) government breeding program has been created and we visited one of the centres. It was pretty sad actually. Although the cats seemed healthy for the most part, and their area clean, it was devoid of anything to play with, except for 1 lone plastic chair. Poor cats were so bored, they were eager to play with us through the chain fence.

Desperately in need of play :-(

Desperately in need of play :-(

Hoşap Kalesi

Hoşap Kalesi

Hoşap Kalesi

Driving southeast from Van, our next stop was the imposing Kurdish castle, Hoşap Kalesi. A fantastic castle, perched up high, as castles will do. It was built in 1643 by a Kurdish warlord, Mahmudi Süleyman. Was fun to wander the remains of this atmospheric castle but it was the visit to our next stop, the Çavuştepe Fortress and Necropolis that was the most interesting for me.

Climbing up to the top of Hoşap Kalesi

Climbing up to the top of Hoşap Kalesi


Inside the castle keep

Inside the castle keep

Çavuştepe Fortress

Çavuştepe Fortress

Çavuştepe Fortress

Crowning an imposing hill set alone in the middle of the flat fields of the Gürpınar Plain was this former home of kings from the ancient kingdom of Urartu, a prehistoric, iron-age Armenian kingdom. Çavuştepe was the 3rd largest settlement in the kingdom and built between 756-730 BCE by King Sardur II. The massive stones that remain of the walls were quarried many miles away, and fit together perfectly, without the aid of mortar. In fact it was so well built, the 30+ kilometre long, original irrigation canal built in the fields of the valley, continued to supply water to the farmers until a replacement was built only a few years ago.

One of two sections of food storage.  Each section has 100 buried earthenware jars.  Each jar has cuneiform capacity tags and hieroglyphs. Each container had a capacity of about 1 ton of grain, and when excavated some still contained grains dated to 2700 years ago.  After excavation, the vessels were refilled with soil to protect them.

One of two sections of food storage. Each section has 100 buried earthenware jars. Each jar has cuneiform capacity tags and hieroglyphs. Each container had a capacity of about 1 ton of grain, and when excavated some still contained grains dated to 2700 years ago. After excavation, the vessels were refilled with soil to protect them.

In front of the temple was a stone used for ritual sacrifices. On a nearby circular stone, the animals were then butchered for eating, a drainage channel leading down the side of the hill.
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The base of the temple structure.  Highly polished black basalt blocks, with inscribed cuneiform that looks like it was carved yesterday.

The base of the temple structure. Highly polished black basalt blocks, with inscribed cuneiform that looks like it was carved yesterday.



On top of Çavuştepe Fortress

On top of Çavuştepe Fortress

Cathedral Church of the Holy Cross

On Lake Van at Akdamar Island

On Lake Van at Akdamar Island

Next up? Lunch of course. Had an OK, but overpriced lunch at Akdamar Camping & Restaurant. The restaurant is conveniently opposite the ferry terminal on Lake Van to take us to Akdamar Island (Aghtamar in Armenian).

The island has one of the most beautiful churches I’ve seen – the Armenian Cathedral Church, known as the Cathedral Church of the Holy Cross. It was built from 915-921, the outside façade covered in 3-dimensional reliefs of various bible stories. It was an important site for Armenian Catholics, being the seat of their power from 1116-1895 and is the only remaining building from elaborate residence of King Gagik I Artsruni (908-914). Remains of the attached monastery complex also remain.

Relief carvings on the church facade

Relief carvings on the church facade


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In 1951, the Turkish government began demolishing the church! This beautiful monument might very easily not have been there. The chapel beside the church was demolished before Yasar Kemal, a writer, managed to enlist support to halt the demolition. After controversial and massive restoration, the church was opened as a museum in 2007. Critics said the restoration, secularization and renaming was really a Turkishification of an Armenian monument. Any and all of this may be true, but all I know is we loved it! Beautiful church, grounds, elaborate tombstones, almond trees and art.

Almonds, looking almost ripe

Almonds, looking almost ripe


Old Cross graffiti left behind by pilgrims

Old Cross graffiti left behind by pilgrims


Inside the Cathedral Church

Inside the Cathedral Church


Old tombstones haphazardly placed on the grounds, a victim of vandalism

Old tombstones haphazardly placed on the grounds, a victim of vandalism


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Van Castle

Van Castle on the Rock!

Van Castle on the Rock!

Our final stop, and last major hike of the trip was to the Van Castle, on top of the imposing Rock of Van. It had spectacular views, after we’d huffed our way to the top in record time (running to close to closing as it was), of the city and lake. When you’re at the top and looking down into the fields on the southern side, you start to notice the patterns in the grass and soil. This was the foundation ruins of Eski Van, the old city that was mostly leveled in the aftermath of the chaos surrounding WWI, the persecution and slaughter of Turkish Armenians and subsequent invasion by Russia.

Old Van city foundation remains.

Old Van city foundation remains.

Van Castle itself is the largest Urartu, 9th century BCE stone fortification of its kind. It was taken over by the Assyrians in the 7th century BCE and has visible remnants of both civilisations, as well as from the Ottoman empire. Van was also conquered by that boy about town, Alexander the Great. Also here is a tri-lingual inscription by Xerxes the Great, son of Darius, in the 5th century in almost perfect condition that became the Rosetta Stone of old Persian cuneiform.

Sun on its way down over Lake Van and the Turkish Flag

Sun on its way down over Lake Van and the Turkish Flag

It was a good two days exploring briefly this region, but we were both looking forward to returning to Istanbul the next day. Van was the site of a devastating earthquake in 2011 that killed approximately 650 people and destroyed thousands of buildings. We saw quite a few temporary trailer housing sites still in use, when we drove into town that still provide housing for the dispossessed.

Perhaps because of this, we constantly felt that many of the people we encountered were out to take as much money as they could get from you. It was a bit wearing after a while. And such a shock after the other places we’d stopped along the way in Turkey. Van was also far more expensive than Istanbul or Ankara in value for money. Accommodation, food, guides, everything. Not somewhere we wanted to linger, but still happy we visited and saw its beauty.

Our last night we had a fabulous dinner at Tamara Ocakbaşi in the Tamara Hotel. A bit difficult to find in the dark, hallways of the hotel, it was such fun! Each of the tables had their own grill (ocak) and you select your meat, and of course selection of mezes, and grill your meat at the table. Very good! We went up to select our food and meat, helped by two lovely servers, gamely working to translate what it was we’d be eating if we selected each item, that is until… “what’s that?” I ask. Both men look at each other, and there’s an audible delay before one blurts out “eggs” Now, I’ve had eggs a few times in my life, and this did not match up to my expectations. I looked at Christa and we tried to puzzle out what it was. Looked a bit like a large, flat scallop, but more chicken-like in colour. OK, we selected our other food, and then thought, what the heck, let’s have some “eggs”!

Happily grilling away, and enjoying all our food, including the delicate flavoured eggs, whose texture turned out to be somewhere between firm tofu and crème caramel. One of the fellows came over to see how we were enjoying our meal and I had him type in the Turkish equivalent for the “eggs” in my Google Translate to check later at the hotel. Turns out the translation was 'eggs'. OK, finally got an answer from a Turkish friend and ‘eggs’ turns out to be a local delicacy… lambs balls! Oh dear…

Cooking our dinner, complete with 'eggs'

Cooking our dinner, complete with 'eggs'

After a foggy airport delay, we were back to Istanbul for a last few days – chatted about in my first Turkey blog installment. What a wonderful country, full of wonderful people, interesting and stimulating history, well looked after ruins and monuments, and fabulous adventures with food. A pretty-near-perfect mix in my book! Till next time Turkey!

On our way back to Istanbul, the fabulous mountains of Eastern Turkey

On our way back to Istanbul, the fabulous mountains of Eastern Turkey

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 06:58 Archived in Turkey Tagged mosque ruins church forts palaces medieval armenian armenia kurdish iron_age urartu van_cat Comments (2)

Captivating Cappadocia

After a Brief Stop in Ankara... to Eat of Course!

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Spectacular Sunset in Cappadocia!

Spectacular Sunset in Cappadocia!

Ankara

Back from our Aegean Adventure, we had a small 3-day visit in Ankara, primarily a government city – modern and very cosmopolitan. It is also a very hilly city! We had picked up colds so didn’t overly-exert ourselves.

In the Citadel

In the Citadel

On our first day, we went in search of the Angora rabbit yarn, named for this city, only to find it no longer exists here. China and Britain seem to hold the current market so Christa and I were most sad, but we drowned our sorrows with lovely Efes beer and had an amazing dinner of İskender kebab at Uluda Kebapçisi. This dish, named after its creator İskender Efendi, originated in Bursa in the late 1800s and its official name "Kebapçı İskender" is trademarked by the original Bursa family. Made with slices of a sort of döner kebab, placed on cubed white bread or Turkish pita and topped with a spicy tomato sauce… yummy all on its own, but then taken over the top by pouring melted butter all over! Unbelievably good and served with rice and yogurt. We were so lucky to have wonderful friends living here to take advantage of all the local choice food spots.

In the Market

In the Market

On day two we experienced our first Hamam! At the Swissötel in Ankara, the Hamam is a series of sauna, steam rooms and a beautifully tiled circular bathing room. After arriving and changing into our robes (recommended wear is swimsuit bottoms or a spare pair of panties, though can wear a full swimsuit if you are more comfortable with the extra coverage), we were ushered in to the Sauna for some pre-softening, then the steam room for more thorough cooking. Deeming ourselves sufficiently well-done, we made our way to the main bath room. However, when we arrived our attendants seemed to think us to be on the rare side and we were sent back to the steam room for some extra wrinkling. Finally escaping from the steamy heat, we were led back to the octagonal marble bath room. There were individual hosing stations all around the perimeter where we were rinsed off before heading to the large central marble slab for a thorough scrubbing and manhandling (or rather more accurately womanhandling) – I don’t think my skin has been so clean and new since the day I was born! Was a bit horrified to see the growing pile of black, dead skin falling off my body! Though I am reassured by a Turkish friend that this is a normal result, even when you go for the monthly scrub – apparently it’s not recommended to do more frequent visits than that. Your skin needs time to recover!

Finally they were finished trying to remove any more layers and mercifully we were given another rinse off, before lying on the marble alter and having buckets of bubbles poured all over us. The feeling was actually really cool having large mounds of suds slip-sliding down over our newly revealed and overly sensitized skin. A final rinse and we were pronounced clean! Whew! We followed this up by an oil massage and left so silky smooth! Quite the experience! I think I liked it?

Ankara Crow Conversation

Ankara Crow Conversation

Leaving the hotel, we went for a visit to the Anit Kabir monument and tomb of Atatürk, whose name translates to Father of Turks. This monument was beautiful, simple and modern; set high on a hilltop in the centre of the city.

Atatürk is so revered here, even today, it is virtually a criminal offence to disagree with anything he did, or to say anything bad about him. The attached museum was very interesting, if appearing to be overly propagandized. Regardless of your personal opinions of the man, he made modern Turkey what it is today, moving it forward into the modern world at a seemingly impossible rate. During his leadership he created a system of ‘equal’ rights for women; established and created the current Turkish alphabet, replacing the Arabic one; created last names for the populace, of which his was determined by government members; and completely removed religion from government and all other areas of control. Although he operated more as a benevolent (to the Turks) dictator, he set up the democratic succession so successfully that Turkey has remained incredibly stable in an area of religious and political instability. Worryingly though, people are concerned as recent governments are moving away from this secular model.

Changing of the guard at Ataturk's tomb

Changing of the guard at Ataturk's tomb

Dinner was another foodie heaven – Kalbur Balik Restaurant, run by a gentleman affectionately referred to as the Fish Nazi. This small, hard-to-find restaurant apparently has amazing fish main courses, but I don’t think I’d ever know because the mezes are so good, I’d never get to it. We had so many varied and wonderful mezes for dinner that night I can’t remember them all, just know I need to return one day!
Thursday saw us head to the old winding streets of the Citadel (really the only part of Ankara that is older than the 1930s), as well as a quick stop at the mostly-under-construction, but good for what we saw of it, Anatolian Museum of Civilization. Also, you guessed it, another great meal. This time in the Citadel itself, in a beautiful and old house- Zenger Paşa Konaği.

Some shopping in the Citadel, coffee at Divan (Ankara’s oldest Turkish Delight maker), and then back home to pack for our trip the next morning to Cappadocia!

Shooter's equip from days gone by on the Citadel

Shooter's equip from days gone by on the Citadel

Cappadocia – Unlike Anywhere I've Been on this Planet

Beautiful spring flowers following us throughout this trip.  Göreme Open-Air Museum

Beautiful spring flowers following us throughout this trip. Göreme Open-Air Museum

Cappadocia is a short and beautiful 3-hour drive from Ankara, which would mean for me, that like Michele, I’d be going there a lot if I lived in Ankara!

Cappadocia defies description really, and believe me, the photographs do not do it justice. An incredible landscape of Fairy Chimneys, rolling lava hills in in a surprising array of colour and massive boulders. All created by the nearby volcanos that erupted millennia ago. Over the years, the rock that flowed from the volcano and up through underground tunnels have slowly been revealed by erosion of the surrounding soil, creating an unworldly landscape.

The beauty is only made more enchanting by the incredible history of the place. From pre-history to the Hittites of 1800-1200 BCE; followed by the Persians, who gave the area its name – Cappadocia means land of the beautiful horses, a reference to the horse trade that once dominated here; to the Romans, Byzantines and early persecuted-Christians who took refuge in the caves of the area. The area’s unique soft porous rocks provided shelter, rock-cut monasteries and underground cities.

Chimneys, hey! – beautiful horses, and evil-eyes, Oh My!

Chimneys, hey! – beautiful horses, and evil-eyes, Oh My!

Our hotel was a cave hotel, as are many in the area, the Elkep Evi in the town of Ürgüp. It's a small hotel with fantastical rooms and ours was fabulous, sleeping three very comfortably and having a beautiful terrace overlooking the city from which we drank our wine in the evening, picked up from a nearby winery.

View from our hotel balcony!

View from our hotel balcony!

After checking in, and having lunch at the wonderful, but expensive Ziggy’s restaurant, we headed straight to the Open-air Museum in Göreme, dodging like we have through the entire trip, regular but short rain storms. The open-air museum is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the important Byzantine monastic settlements in the area. Wonderful fresco-decorated churches, begun in the 3rd century, but most from 9th to the 11th century, and carved into the rocks. There seemed to have a predominant preoccupation with St George and his dragon slaying adventures here as many of the chapels were named and decorated in his honour. It was a beautiful place to wander through, but unfortunately many areas were closed off for restoration. You can also see dwellings, troglodyte villages and underground cities in the area. What is a troglodyte anyway? Besides a really cool sounding name? Turns out it refers to cave dwellers in antiquity! Huh!!

Entrance to a chapel in the Goreme Open Air Museum

Entrance to a chapel in the Goreme Open Air Museum


Wonderful fresco in a cave chapel

Wonderful fresco in a cave chapel

Saturday morning and it was balloon ride time! Overly expensive, very packaged and touristy, it was still an amazing experience, quite simply for the scenery and ability to get a birds-eye view of the incredible landscape. We were up at 4am, to be picked up and ferried to a very bad buffet breakfast (opt to skip this if you go) and then to the balloon site. There are literally hundreds of balloons taking off in the morning, making an impressive sight all of their own. The balloon pilots expertly drifting down so close to the rocks they brush over bushes as they clear the valleys. Simply indescribable, especially as the rising sun painted the greens, reds and yellows of the landscape!

Predawn light with hundreds of balloons drifting close to the flowing rock

Predawn light with hundreds of balloons drifting close to the flowing rock

In our basket, there was Christa and myself, 2 Aussies and 12 Americans on a Christian Site pilgrimage. They were very nice, but one member, as we silently drifted over the landscape, the only sound being the whistling wind and the periodic balloon's flame-heater, started to exclaim… “Martha, have you ever been somewhere so quiet? I can’t quite believe I’ve ever been somewhere so quiet. It’s really amazing how quiet it is up here. John, have you been somewhere so quiet? Oh my stars, this is the quietest place I’ve ever been. How about you…..” Oh dear…

Beautiful rosy lights start bathing the lighter colours of the valley

Beautiful rosy lights start bathing the lighter colours of the valley

After drifting over a wide variety of landscapes we touched down on a plateau covered in fragrant wild sage, and actually landed precisely in the middle of the flatbed truck meant to carry off the balloon and basket. While they gathered up the silk of the deflated balloon we had what was advertised as ‘champagne’, but was in reality a glass of the ubiquitous, but very nice, sour cherry juice (vişne suyu), topped off with the tiniest of smidgeons of champagne and poured into glasses set up subtly around the very carefully lab led “Tip Box.” Still, nothing could take away from the high of this experience! And it is important to make sure you have a reputable company with well-trained balloon pilots, so don’t be tempted by the cheaper options.

Changing landscape and colours from the balloon

Changing landscape and colours from the balloon

The rest of the weekend was spent exploring some of the areas sites and more famous rock formations.

Popped into Avanos to check out some of the wonderful handmade pottery of the region, decorated in a rainbow of colours and patterns. We watched as one ceramic artist joyfully made a traditionally-styled wine jug for us, demonstrating the various techniques.

Working on pottery in Avanos

Working on pottery in Avanos


Lovely house in Avanos

Lovely house in Avanos

Devrent Valley (Imagination Valley), behind Göreme, is a long valley that doesn’t have any historical caves, churches or monasteries, but instead is a beautiful, fantastical golden red landscape of fairy chimneys and naturally shaped rocks in some very interesting forms. Some are nicely G rated, like the oft-photographed camel rock, while others provide a rather high realism ode to the Shiva Lingam!

Camel Rock and other interesting formations in Devrent Valley

Camel Rock and other interesting formations in Devrent Valley


Fairy Chimneys in Imagination Valley

Fairy Chimneys in Imagination Valley


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Uçhisar Castle (Tiptop Castle) sits atop Uçhisar rock and is the highest point in Cappadocia. An elaborate Roman rock-cut castle, it provides a dramatic backdrop to many sites in the area. Formerly the outer castle defense for Cappadocia, in more peaceful times it functioned basically as an apartment building, till as recently as the 1950s. Running behind the city is a valley filled with chimneys and cave homes and loads of pigeons. Aptly named Pigeon Valley, for the important birds that lived there. Important as message carriers as well as using the shells for the plaster in the buildings.

Pigeon valley and Uchisar Castle

Pigeon valley and Uchisar Castle


House in Pigeon Valley, with small pigeon or dove cotes... not sure how you move the sofa up those stairs?

House in Pigeon Valley, with small pigeon or dove cotes... not sure how you move the sofa up those stairs?


Wonder where Pigeon Valley gets its name?

Wonder where Pigeon Valley gets its name?


Uchisar Castle and the Sultan's Potions sold outside

Uchisar Castle and the Sultan's Potions sold outside

The next morning we were off to see one of the 36 underground cities in Cappadocia. Derinkuyu is the deepest at 11 floors. Only 20% is available to tourists but it gave us a glimpse at what it must have been like when used by the regions inhabitants. It was originally started during the Hittite period (8-7th centuries BCE) and expanded over the centuries to ultimately provide a safe hold for an estimated 20-50,000 people along with their livestock and food supplies. There are over 600 doorways to the city, specialized rooms for stables, churches, oil presses, wineries, all you’d need if you have to evacuate and hide from enemies, which was its primary use. With underground water supplies in addition to the surface supply, it was an effective place of safety for many over the centuries. Massive rolling stone-disc doorways, weighing 200-500 kg with a centre peephole were used to block passage ways.

Rolling stone door... hard to kick that down!

Rolling stone door... hard to kick that down!

Passageways can be very narrow, steep and low so not for those who are claustrophobic, but remarkably constructed and with over 15,000 ventilation systems that work quite well even today. The city was also connected to other underground cities in the area.

Hope it doesn't get much narrower!

Hope it doesn't get much narrower!


Spectacular Sunset in Cap

Spectacular Sunset in Cap

We spent our final Sunday morning with Ruth, a Kiwi ex-pat who has lived in Göreme for 22 years. She owns and runs a carpet shop called Tribal Connections, specializing in the regional Kilim carpets. She gave us a run-down on navigating carpet shopping in Turkey, which was really practical and interesting. She also turned us on to what would be my favourite site amongst so many amazing ones – the Selime Monastery in the Güzelyurt area. This part of Cappadocia was so dramatically off the mass-tour routes that it was almost tourist free! A wonderful peaceful way to end our trip here.

The volcanoes responsible for this captivating landscape

The volcanoes responsible for this captivating landscape

Our first stop was in the cute little town of Güzelyurt (means beautiful land or home), amidst atmospheric rain and no power, which made lunch an adventure! We strolled the picturesque and hilly streets leading to an old church – the Great Church Mosque (Büyük Kilise Camii). Built in 1896 as the church of St. Gregorius over an older original church site from385. It's thought to be the birthplace of the Gregorian chant! Now a mosque, the very nice (and cute!) Imam gave us a quick tour, including a visit to a well purported to contain holy water. And then gifted us with nice pamphlets on Islam. St. Gregory was from this area, hence the predominant churches and chapels named in his honor; however, he wasn’t the only family saint. Four of his brothers were also named as Saints – St. Macrina the Younger, St. Naucratius, St. Peter of Sebaste and St. Basil of Caesarea. Wonder how fun Sunday dinners were at their house?

Lone flower at the Great Church Mosque

Lone flower at the Great Church Mosque


Lovely family portrait in Guzelyurt

Lovely family portrait in Guzelyurt

The town has been here for over 3000 years and little has changed, in fact now it is protected from modern development. New building must use local stone and be appropriate in style for the town. In 1924 one of the mass population exchanges occurred here with the Ottoman Greeks leaving and Muslims moving in.

Taking shelter from the rain

Taking shelter from the rain

Sitting high on the Analipsis Peak above Güzelyurt Lake is the Yüksek (High) Church, the highest church in Cappadocia. Not much seems to be known of the structure or when it was built. A part of the chapel is attributed to the Byzantines, while another area is thought to have housed a Christian monastery. The backdrop of Lake Güzelyurt, snow-capped volcano – Hasan Dağı, caves cut in the surrounding cliffs and picturesque fields of various greens made this spot yet another captivating moment.

Guzelyurt Lake below the Yuksek Monastery

Guzelyurt Lake below the Yuksek Monastery


Looking out from the Yüksek (High) Church

Looking out from the Yüksek (High) Church

Finally, it was off to the Selime Monastery! The Selime Monastery is the largest rock-cut monastery in Cappadocia, built in the 13th century and contains the usual stables, kitchens, monastic cells as well as a full size cathedral. Based on some inscriptions it is assumed that it was built by an aristocratic family and likely the seat of power in the area. Most of the frescos are faded into a faint outline, if evident at all, but this place was wondrous. As awe-inspiring as the Göreme Open Air museum, but with only a handful of people, and no areas roped off. Although by far my favourite Cappadocia site, it’s not for those with a fear of heights. It is a fairly difficult climb in some areas, eroded stairways and sloping rain run-off channels lead you from floor to floor, with no railings or handholds. Wear good shoes with a nice grip!

Looking out from a cave cell in Selime

Looking out from a cave cell in Selime


Turkey2012_05Cappadocia_05_27_0428dk

Turkey2012_05Cappadocia_05_27_0428dk


Selime Monastery

Selime Monastery


Selime Monastery, with puppy standing guard

Selime Monastery, with puppy standing guard

On a side note, though the movie scenes were shot in Tunisia, the scenery for the Sand People in Star Wars was shot here.

More wonderful rock sculptures outside the Selime Monastery

More wonderful rock sculptures outside the Selime Monastery


Donkey!

Donkey!

Like everywhere in Turkey, the stray dogs and cats were standing guard over the monuments. But unlike many other countries I’ve travelled in, these animals are relatively well-fed by the average Joe & Jill. In fact many city governments have standard poliiesy to catch, neuter and release stray animals in Turkey. Tags are placed in the animal's ear to show that they have been fixed. We saw dogs and cats peacefully living, being fed by restaurants and individual people, guards playing string games with resident stray cats and fat puppies freely frolicking among ruins, temples and rock caves. Says a lot for the Turkish Society. To quote Gandhi “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.” As an animal lover, was a nice experience!

Running ahead of storm clouds on the way back to Ankara

Running ahead of storm clouds on the way back to Ankara

Leaving Cappadocia on the drive back to Ankara, a large thunderstorm was following on our heels, sometimes catching up. Luckily we arrived back before the main storm hit, and had a wonderful evening watching the lightening show over the city from Michelle's apartment. Next morning, we were off to Eastern Turkey!

Thunder and lightning over Ankara

Thunder and lightning over Ankara

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 00:07 Archived in Turkey Tagged food landscape caves cappadocia turkey byzantine goreme ankara ataturk derinkuyu selime avanos balloon_ride uchisar troglodyte Comments (1)

Travelling in the Footsteps of Giants! Exploring the Aegean

Following the Coast from Izmir to Selcuk to Ephesus to Pergamum

sunny 25 °C
View Talkin' Turkey, 2012 on LisaOnTheRoad's travel map.

Theatre at Pergamum with Temple of Trajan above it.

Theatre at Pergamum with Temple of Trajan above it.

One of the great crossroads of the ancient world is a broad peninsula that lies between the Black and Mediterranean seas. Called Asia Minor (Lesser Asia) by the Romans and Anatolia by the Greeks, this place was phenomenal for a history-junkie like myself!

We landed in Izmir, a very cosmopolitan city, with a large population of ‘Levantines.’ This term seems to refer to anyone not of Turkish-Muslim heritage. We only had a night here, but stayed at the super luxurious Swissôtell (pronounced Sweeeeese-ôtel), happily at a nicely discounted rate, courtesy of Michelle’s connections. A nice stop before heading on our Aegean adventures.

Rolling Aegean coastline from the car.

Rolling Aegean coastline from the car.

The next morning we were up bright and early for the road trip to Selçuk, gateway to Ephesus! Driving through the rolling hills and fields that were filled with poppies and other spring flowers, I would find myself thinking of what it might have been like when Alexander, Marc Antony, Cleopatra and other amazing historical folk passed through this way. The interior is a high arid plateau, about 3,000 feet (900 meters) in elevation, flanked to the north and south by rugged mountain ranges. Within the plateau a number of ranges enclose broad, flat valleys, where several salty lakes have formed.

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Our Hotel, the Kale Han was lovely, very reasonable and super helpful and the town small, picturesque and surprisingly friendly given the amount of tourists that pass through on their way to the famous sites in the area – over 3 million people were reported to visit the sites of this area in 2012. Gerly, a friend of Michelle’s joined the group and then we were off to explore. Guided by Michelle’s handy GPS system, we drove through farm villages to the historical hotspots: first up – Didyma!

Temple of Apollo in Didyma

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This was the site of the 4th largest temple in the known world – the Temple of Apollo. The earliest temples here were dated to the 8th century BCE, with the final and most important being complete in 331 BCE. (It was, at 124 columns, only 5 columns smaller than the nearby Temple of Artemis, which was one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.) At the site’s natural spring, Leto is said to have given birth to Artemis and Apollo – the mythological twins (didymoi in Greek). The spring is said to have flowed until the temple was betrayed to, and destroyed by, the Persian Darius in 493 BCE. Restoration began in 334 BCE and the spring is said to have started flowing once again after a visit from Alexander the Great. The oracle here was the most important in Asia Minor, consulted by all the greats of the time, including Alexander and Croesus.

Steps from the cella (courtyard) to the sanctuary platform.

Steps from the cella (courtyard) to the sanctuary platform.


Beautiful Bull! and wings of a griffon. Was the former capital of one of two columns.

Beautiful Bull! and wings of a griffon. Was the former capital of one of two columns.

It was fabulous! At first glance, it seemed to be little more than a platform with fallen columns and large chunks of marble strewn about a field, but walking down one of the two tunnels on either side of the front platform, and you are in the massive temple proper, with all four walls still standing. It was incredibly beautiful and easy to imagine what it must have been like when the prophetic oracles were there to give out advice.

Central courtyard (cella) of the Temple of Apollo

Central courtyard (cella) of the Temple of Apollo

Theatre in Miletus

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A short drive on and we arrived at the ancient town of Miletus in the middle of vast fields of cotton. All that’s left of significance here is the Great Theatre, which is fab! You can see it in the distance as you approach and its size and relatively good state of repair let you imagine how great this city once was. Miletus was a major port city from 700 BCE to 700 AD until silt brought the harbour too far from the city. The 15,000-seat theatre, was reconstructed heavily in the 1st century AD and in really good condition. It was also virtually deserted so we were able to clamber about and explore freely.
Corridor to your seating

Corridor to your seating


Thespian Pup

Thespian Pup


From the top of the Miletus theatre

From the top of the Miletus theatre

Priene's City and Temple of Athena

Mount Mykale behind the Temple of Athena's columns

Mount Mykale behind the Temple of Athena's columns


Our final stop for the day was at Priene, and it was also our favourite. High on the forested slope of Mt. Mykale, the ruins of the city leading up to the temple almost completely deserted, with a local goat herder leading his goats home through the ancient streets, filling the air with beautifully resonant goat bells. With its extensive ruins, the 300 BCE city showcased a small 6500-seat theatre, gymnasium, temples, hospital, Byzantine church and stadium. When the city was originally established it was on the sea coast and the temple built on an ocean-side cliff. Today it overlooks a patchwork of farm fields.

Fountain at Priene

Fountain at Priene

The pièce-de-résistance of this lovely ancient city was the Temple of Athena, which was perched on the very edge of the mountain, overlooking the plains below. Alexander the Great actually “cut the ribbon” of this temple, that he funded the construction of, and gave the dedication at its opening. Five of the columns had been reconstructed but the rest were strewn around the temple platform in a beautiful, almost artistically arranged way. We all loved this place and could have spent hours wandering and exploring, but, the sun was going down so we hiked back down to our car and head back to town. This trip was rapidly turning out to be almost as much climbing as Peru and the Incan cities!

Plains laid out below the Temple of Athena

Plains laid out below the Temple of Athena

Dinner was at the fascinating Ejder Restaurant, seated outside under Roman Aqueducts. The area is famous for its çop şiş -- a kabob of small pieces of lamb. The food was really good and the family so engaging, but the really fun thing was seeing the book of notes, signatures and mementos left by past guests. There are several volumes and people leave some really strange stuff, like their hair and belly button lint! We signed in too and taped a Cdn coin, Air Canada napkin and an old, now defunct, Turkish Lira from Christa’s trip in 1990. They proudly showed us the comments from Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter as well.

Fabulous Ephesus!

Downtown Ephesus

Downtown Ephesus

It was Saturday and we were off to Ephesus! This was one of my “must sees” so was looking forward to it with palpable excitement. We met up with our guide and set off to what is described as “the best preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterranean and Europe.” And, it didn’t disappoint, although the crowds seemed overwhelming at times after our quiet explorations of the day before. Still, we were apparently lucky. It wasn’t quite high season yet and our guide told us that there are often 5-6 cruise ships docking each day, sending busloads to the site – that day there were none, so yay for us!

Temple Cat

Temple Cat



Once the Roman capital of Asia, Ephesus (Efes) had a population of over 250,000 and was founded in the 10th century BC by the Ionians. Alexander the Great was there in 356 BC and the Virgin Mary and St. Paul were purported to live here for 3 years. By the 6th century BC, the harbour was so filled with silt, the city began to be forgotten.

From the top of the Odeon looking down the colonaded street to the Temple of Domitian.  This was right next to public bath houses and a main entrance to the city.  New arrivals were expected to clean up before proceeding to the city.

From the top of the Odeon looking down the colonaded street to the Temple of Domitian. This was right next to public bath houses and a main entrance to the city. New arrivals were expected to clean up before proceeding to the city.

Only 20% of the city has been excavated to date, after nearly 150 years of archeological work and still you can get such a good idea of how the city would have been, strolling streets paved with great slabs of marble or more elaborate mosaic sidewalks and lined with the ruins of shops, temples and statues; visiting the terrace housing of the city’s rich and powerful; meandering through the baths and latrines; standing in front of the library’s impressive façade where 12,000 scrolls were once stored, the world’s 3rd largest; climbing up the 5000-seat theatre known as the Odeon, which held municipal meetings; exploring the hospital or Asclepion, complete with the snake ‘pharmacy’ symbols inscribed on stone that we still use today; seeing the clay pipes that supplied fresh water to the city, looking so similar to our own; and joining masses of tourists climbing the Great Theatre, which once held 25,000 people. Although its condition was not as impressive as at Didyma, it was still a sight to see.

Ephesus plumbing, nothing is new!

Ephesus plumbing, nothing is new!


Greek Goddess Nike

Greek Goddess Nike


Looking down the street of Curetes to the Celsus library

Looking down the street of Curetes to the Celsus library


The public toilets.  Patron would send their slaves in ahead to warm the seats!

The public toilets. Patron would send their slaves in ahead to warm the seats!


Checking out the activity on the Mosaic paved sidewalk

Checking out the activity on the Mosaic paved sidewalk


Amazing mosaics inside the Terrace Houses excavation

Amazing mosaics inside the Terrace Houses excavation


How the elite would live, Terrace Houses

How the elite would live, Terrace Houses


Who needs carpets! Terrace Houses

Who needs carpets! Terrace Houses

Love those poppies!

Love those poppies!

After spending hours, exploring and photographing this magnifiscent city, we drove over to the nearby Meryemana (Mary’s house) site, where the Virgin Mary was supposed to live at the end of her life. Considered a sacred sight for this, especially for Catholics, there’s no proof she actually lived in this spot. It’s based on a nun’s vision, and was subsequently authenticated by Pope Paul VI in 1967, however, the oldest evidence of the ruins date back only to the 3rd century AD. Still, nice forest it sits in.

House of the Virgin Mary

House of the Virgin Mary

Temple of Artemis

Melancholy ruins of the Temple of Artemis

Melancholy ruins of the Temple of Artemis

Our last stop for the day was the Temple of Artemis – one of the original 7 Wonders of the Ancient World and where Cleopatra’s half-sister Arsinoe was banished after trying to overthrow her sister’s rule. Public sentiment in Rome at the time saved her life and forced Caesar to send her to this temple sanctuary. She lived here for a few years before Cleopatra was able to persuade Marc Anthony to end her life. She was forcibly removed from the temple in 41 BCE and publicly executed on the temple steps. This violation caused a huge scandal in Rome at the time.

Temple goose

Temple goose

Apart from knowing the history of the site, it was quite sad to see it. Very little remains here – only one of its 127 columns still stands, reconstructed to give you an indication of its once massive size. This temple was a major stop and the largest in the world, beating even the Parthenon in Athens. Where did it all go? This once most important of locations now held a melancholy and wearied air to Christa and myself as we strolled across the grass.

After an exhausting day of sightseeing and ancient wonders it was off for an Efes beer and dinner at Selçuk Köftecisi, touted as one of the best Kofta places in the area to eat at. It was very good, if pricey for this typically cheap fare (think the recommendations are pushing the prices up) but the best was their dessert – The Temple of Artemis. There were only two left, so we quickly grabbed them and shared. Was rather like a really good crème brule flavoured with almonds, vanilla and tahini. Best dessert we had in Turkey.

Ancient City of Permagum

Next day we packed up early and hit the road for the drive to Bergama, a beautiful little town with winding hilly and narrow picturesque streets. There has been a town here since Trojan times and evidence of this is everywhere.

Bergama Fixer-upper!

Bergama Fixer-upper!

We stayed at a marvelous new B&B, the Hotel Hera. Set in an historic building, with massively thick walls and a really good ancient cellar converted into a very decent wine room. Our friendly and super helpful hosts happily showed us around and we picked a wine to enjoy on the terrace overlooking the town – really reasonable prices for the wine here too! In the courtyard, ancient inscribed tablets and pots, found during the restoration of the house are displayed and arranged among pots of flowers.

Lost in thought

Lost in thought

Asklepion

After dropping our bags off, we set of to see the Asklepion ruins. This ancient medical centre is one of the most important hospital sites of the ancient world and the destination of all the who’s who of the time: visitors included Marcus Aurelius, Caracalla and Hadrian. It was originally set-up by a local man, Archias, as a holistic healing centre and more spa-like than hospital, offering mud baths from the sacred pools, music concerts and dream analysis (in the Telephorus) – people believed dreams were the result of a visit from the God Asklepios, and held the key to curing illness. To the western world, however, it really became famous in the 2nd century AD under Galen, a physician to Pergamum’s gladiators, who is recognized as perhaps the greatest early physician. His expertise was based on the research he was able to do from the many victims in the gladiatorial arena and his work was considered the authority for western medicine till as recently as the 16th century.

The chambers in the Temple of Telephorus

The chambers in the Temple of Telephorus


Underground passageway to the hospital temple of Telesphorus

Underground passageway to the hospital temple of Telesphorus


Cool frogs everywhere around the Sacred Well

Cool frogs everywhere around the Sacred Well


Temple Chicks

Temple Chicks

In addition to the ubiquitous theatre, agora, and shop remains, there were sacred wells and a circular Temple of Asklepios, where the dream analysis was conducted. The Sacred Way once led all the way up to the Akropolis of Pergamum, which you could see in the distance.

Asklepion theatre and start of the road to Pergamum

Asklepion theatre and start of the road to Pergamum


Roman Bazaar Street (The Sacred Way), leading from the Asklepion to Pergamum on the hill, you can see the theatre near the top

Roman Bazaar Street (The Sacred Way), leading from the Asklepion to Pergamum on the hill, you can see the theatre near the top

The Akropolis!

Monday came and too quickly our last day in the Aegean region. Early in the morning we set off for the Akropolis. We ended up doing things a little backward, which made for some impressive climbing and sweating! Following the lonely planet’s guidance, we found a small hidden passageway that took us to the incredibly steep, in fact the steepest ever built, theatre.

Starting down the stairs to the theatre

Starting down the stairs to the theatre


.. and in the stairs

.. and in the stairs


Vertigo Inducing Theatre and Bergama below

Vertigo Inducing Theatre and Bergama below

The 10,000-seat theatre was set into the hillside and had an incredible view, but the steepness was surprisingly dizzying. After checking out the upper levels, we clambered on down, sections of which seemed to drop off into nothing. Finally reaching the bottom, taking a quick peak at the adjacent Temple of Dionysus, we set off down the hill on a barely-there path through fields of flowers and grass and fun critters; past temples, city ruins and pillars of old Pergamum town to an excavated house with bizarre but beautiful mosaic carpet of contorted faces. Then…. We climbed back up! So pleased with ourselves, we rewarded ourselves with ice-cream!

Wildlife portion, loads of cool bugs walking down from the theatre

Wildlife portion, loads of cool bugs walking down from the theatre


Hey, cool! Dung beetles! oh, and dung...

Hey, cool! Dung beetles! oh, and dung...


Amazing butterfly that looked kinda like a dragonfly

Amazing butterfly that looked kinda like a dragonfly


Fantasical mosaic carpet in the middle city

Fantasical mosaic carpet in the middle city


Some details...

Some details...


Pergamum cats like pistachio ice-cream too!

Pergamum cats like pistachio ice-cream too!

Most of the Akropolis site is in ruins, but the some areas were very interesting. The Temple of Trajan, built during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian was in pretty impressive shape, and to stand in front of the spot where the library stood, formerly the 2nd largest in the ancient world, was similarly imagination-filled. Especially when you learn that Marc Antony stole all the scrolls as a wedding present for Cleopatra. So romantic!

Temple of Trajan

Temple of Trajan


Trajan Accolytes

Trajan Accolytes


Temple of Trajan

Temple of Trajan


Nice pied bird

Nice pied bird


...more poppies!

...more poppies!

After Pergamum, we popped into the massive and atmospheric === Red Basilica ruins===. Originally a giant temple to Egyptian gods Serapis, Isis and Harpocrates and built in the 2nd century AD, it was a major pagan site, cited by St John the Divine as one of the 7 churches of the Apocalypse. Supposedly the throne of the devil! My kinda church ;-) Christians later built a basilica inside the walls.

Red Basilica

Red Basilica


Inside the Basilica Christians built inside the building

Inside the Basilica Christians built inside the building


At the Red Basilica

At the Red Basilica

We stopped into a cute winding little town called Sirence for lunch. More beautiful rolling hills and cobbled streets, famous for fruit wines, which of course we had to investigate.

Street in Sirence

Street in Sirence

New ideas for planters at our fab restaurant in Sirince

New ideas for planters at our fab restaurant in Sirince

This ancient wonders trip too quickly over, we were on the road back to Izmir and our flight to Ankara. On the road, a dung beetle hitched a ride and was climbing up the back of Gerly’s seat! Quick to the rescue, and wanting something more stable than my phone, I grabbed the ‘kitty’ purse – a ubiquitous flying carpet-styled little purse we used to hold our joint moolah – to lure the beetle onto and then put the industrious bug out the window. Michelle, rather obviously I thought, said, “Don’t throw the purse out the window!” “ Ha Ha” say I, as I roll the window down on the highway to let the creature fly free… along with the purse! Letting out a little shriek, I squeaked “I did it!”

Not sure what the locals thought of a car backing up along the highway and a silly foreigner walked alongside scanning for our purse. Which, when located on the road, was immediately run over by a passing vehicle. Safely back on the road, money safe-n-sound, but zipper and purse pretty banged up, all was good! Except for the drama-filled re-enactments of my ‘friends’ that continued... for the entire trip!

At the back of the old Pergamum city walls, with an incredible view

At the back of the old Pergamum city walls, with an incredible view

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 19:29 Archived in Turkey Tagged history ruins turkey roman greek ephesus temple_of_apollo efes temple_of_artemis trajan bergama priene temple_of_athena miletus pergamum asklepion asia_minor Comments (0)

Talkin' Turkey! Sublime Constantinople!

Eating and exploring and eating and shopping and eating in Istanbul!

rain 17 °C
View Talkin' Turkey, 2012 on LisaOnTheRoad's travel map.

Istanbul reflecting the golden sunset on the Bosphorus

Istanbul reflecting the golden sunset on the Bosphorus



My first visit to wonderful Turkey, provided 3 weeks of unmatched exploring. Travel with Christa is always great. In part because of the compulsive researching we both enjoy doing when we travel, but this trip was made more fantastic by our friend Michelle. Michelle is working for the Canadian Government in Ankara and was an unparalled host, tour guide, driver, travel consultant and friend during our visit!

A few peeps have been complaining that it's been a long time since my last blog ( lisaoindiaiv@travellerspoint.com ), which is actually quite nice because you're not sure if anyone actually reads and/or looks at your entries. I must appologize, but life, starting a company, and travelling have put me far behind on the blogs. Time to play catch up!

I travelled to Istanbul, for 3 weeks in Turkey, on my way back from 2 months in India in May 2012. We spend several days at the beginning and end of the trip exploring Istanbul, so I've combined all Istanbul-travels into this first installment. Let's begin...

Descending into Istanbul

Descending into Istanbul

It was an easy flight to Istanbul and a beautiful sunny day, so the view below was fascinating. As we came in to land, we flew over the gleaming, magical city. It never fails to amaze me when you fly over a place, and it looks just like maps in a book. I know that seems a silly comment, but there you are…. The Sea of Marmora, the Black Sea, the Bosphorus and Golden Horn Harbour all laid out below me. The Sea of Marmora was filled with massive freighters heading to this wonderful place that I’ve read about for so long… Gateway to Asia - Byzantium, Constantinople, Ottoman Empire… so much wondrous history.

I was picked up by a lovely young English student at the airport and whisked through the fantastically clean and orderly streets (especially coming from India), along the Bosphorus to the old city of Sultanahmet where we were staying. Beautiful spring flowers were everywhere and such a bright clear day, which it turns out was not the norm this trip. It was so quiet on this drive that it was hard to believe this is a city of 13 million.

Watermelon season against the old walls of Constantinople

Watermelon season against the old walls of Constantinople



We passed the walls of old Constantinople on the way and my excitement began to rise. We were staying at the modern, but affordable and ideally-located Erboy Hotel. Best thing for me this trip was their willingness to store my huge suitcases (coming from two months in India), while we hit the road, enabling me to dash around the country with my carry-on. Christa had arrived late the previous night from Victoria, so had a quick shower and we were off!

Not just incredible mosaics in the Chora Church, even the marble is cut and selected to form incredible patterns

Not just incredible mosaics in the Chora Church, even the marble is cut and selected to form incredible patterns



We decided to head to the recommended Chora Church, referred to locally as Kariye Kilisesi. The original Church was built outside the then city walls of Constantinople in 5th century, however most of the existing Byzantine building was built at the end of the 11th century. Chora translates to country, the full name of the church meaning the Church of the Holy Saviour in the Country.

Cats galore in this country ~ Guard at the Chora Church entertaining the local colony's kittens!

Cats galore in this country ~ Guard at the Chora Church entertaining the local colony's kittens!



The church was small but beautiful and the mosaic tiles incredible – so intricate and fine the details – and the marble work stunning. To get there, we took the tram to a bus stop by the Grand Bazaar, then hunted around for 10 minutes looking for the spot to buy tickets before hopping onto the bus 90B. We had written down the name of the Church in Turkish to show our bus driver, cleverly thinking he would let us off where we needed to be! Best laid plans… he mumbled something at us, shaking his head in disgust at our lack of understanding, so we just smiled (I might have added a head bobble!) and went to sit down where I whipped out my phone and handy dandy GPS. Really is a godsend this Google Maps! The bus went up hill from the water into increasingly narrow and winding streets, till the bus could literally go no further. At which point, he backed up a side street and told/gestured everyone to get off! Ahhh…. That’s what he was trying to tell us! We hopped off and a pair of lovely local women, kids in tow, seeing our piece of paper, promptly motioned us along and led us the rest of the way. We found this to be the norm in our Turkey travels. You couldn’t look confused for more that few minutes before someone came up to you wanting to help. Lovely people!

One of the domes in the Chora church

One of the domes in the Chora church



Before touring the church, we decided to have lunch at an amazing Ottoman restaurant next-door. Āstāne replicates menus from the Sultans of the past, listing the year the recipe was taken from. We had Gömlek “Fatty Apron” Kebab (1764), which was spiced and minced beef and lamb wrapped in caul fat and baked, it was served with a bulgur pilaf with chestnuts, from 1469; and to finish off, our first Turkish Coffee with Helatiye (1539) a milk pudding served with almonds, pistachios and a jello-like cube-thing in rose water. Hard to describe, but the combination of flavours and spices seemed somehow old. Wonderful and odd at the same time.

One of the fantastical mosaics in the wonderous Chora (Kariye) church

One of the fantastical mosaics in the wonderous Chora (Kariye) church



After wandering in awe through the museum-church, we walked the Walls of Constantinople, following a walking tour from the wonderful Rick Steve’s travel book. Although previous versions existed, what you can see today were built in 408-450 AD and ran 13 miles around the city, making it virtually impenetrable for over 1,000 years. We walked the remains between the Chora Church and the Golden Horn, meeting fascinating locals going about their day. By this time we were draggin our feet and decided to head back to Sultanahmet for dinner. We were looking for a well-known local fish haunt, Balikçi Sabahattin, purportedly one of the best seafood restaurants in the city, and one of the most difficult to find! At the end, we were wandering down a dilapidated alleyway (leading 4 lost Brits who also wanted to eat there), along the train tracks, when finally the sign appeared! Yay!! Luckily it lived up to its rep and the fish was fantastic. I had turbot – a really ugly fish that was new to me.

Sorting wool on the streets of Istanbul

Sorting wool on the streets of Istanbul



Dinner done, it was now 9:30 and we crawled up the last hills for the day to our hotel, lay down and passed out!

The next morning, we were heading to the new city for our Turkish cooking class – Flavours of Turkey with Selene. The class took place in her home, an old apartment house built by her grandfather. There was a couple from New Zealand and another couple from Quebec who joined us making dolmos, tomato salad, flaky pastry “cigars”, artichokes, carrot salad and apricots stuffed with clotted cream (kaymak) and dipped in pistachios and placed on a bed of spun sugar (Pişmaniye), which is made by blending flour and roasted butter into sugar.

One of the many atmospheric side-streets of Istiklal Caddesi

One of the many atmospheric side-streets of Istiklal Caddesi



After yet another overeating venture, we decided to walk the main drag, İstiklâl Caddesi (avenue), starting from Taksim Square, down to the Galata Bridge. The street is mostly empty of cars, which is really nice for walking, except for the “nostalgic tram” which runs the length. All types of Turks are here, western looking, scarf-wearing and burka-robed people, strolling the streets dotted with restaurants, lokum (Turkish Delight) shops, art nouveau facades and designer-label shops. We stopped into Ali Muhittin Haci Bakir, arguably Istanbul’s favourite lokum and family run since 1777. We of course had to taste the delish varieties, including my fav – double roasted pistachio. And then there was the Halva, also wonderful – a tahini sweet made with crushed sesames, flour and sugar. We also popped into Mado Café – a local favourite for Turkish ice-cream made with goat’s milk and wild orchid pollen. It was really good, but has a gluey texture that kind of stretches as you pull up a spoonful. No shortage of food this trip!

The very trendy Istiklal Caddesi (street)

The very trendy Istiklal Caddesi (street)



At the bottom of the hill, we took the Tünel, an old subway train in the world’s second oldest subway station, down to Galata and back Sultanahmet for a quick change before our evening dinner cruise on the Bosphorus.

Istanbul lit up as we depart on our Bospherus cruise

Istanbul lit up as we depart on our Bospherus cruise



Dinner Cruise on the Bosphorus -- Well… what can I say. We went for this because a friend’s recommendation, though sadly we went with our hotel-discounted company instead of the one recommended by said friend! Will know better next time! Was actually pretty funny in the end, but I’d say, don’t go for the Istanbul Dream cruise run by Senkron Travel Agency! They’re discounted for a reason!! We were nicely picked up at our hotel and brought to the boat. We had opted for the alcohol-included menu, so our waitress came over to offer us “fruit juice or pop”. Uhhhh… by the time we had successfully communicated that we wanted alcohol, we were told, red wine, white wine, vodka, or whisky, but whisky would cost extra. Vodka we exclaimed... with?.... 10 minutes later (OK, probably only 2, but seemed like 10), we had managed to get a list of available mixes out of her and settled on Vişne Suyu (the ubiquitous and yummy sour cherry juice), which was rapidly becoming my favourite drink there, so good it was!

Dinner arrived, which was the worst food we had in Turkey, during the entire trip. We finally managed to signal for our waitress to order the second of our “all you can drink” drink, which was some awful red wine, when the cultural program started… a magician! Huh? Not the first thing I think of when I think of the culture of Turkey. Followed by two men dancing around with their shirts over their heads? Oy! The belly dancer portion was OK. At least the men thought so! She started to get people up to dance with her, and approached a young Indian girl, quite obviously there on her honeymoon. With the urging of her groom she reluctantly got up, and proceeded to outshine the belly dancer with some beautiful bhangra dancing. Not to be outdone, the belly dancer upped her game and began to do all kinds of contortions, to the floor and up, across the room, etc. but, the bhangra princess kept up all the way.

Boshorus Bridge, that displays a changing light show at night

Boshorus Bridge, that displays a changing light show at night



By that point, we decided to head up to the deck above, passing by the bar for warming beverages (it was quite cold). We missed out on the marriage celebration show and the disco that happened next, but that was fine by us because, for all of that, you absolutely should do this (tho not with this company) because the views from the boat, as you pass around the Golden Horn and up the Bosphorus at night are breathtaking. Beautiful modern and old buildings illuminated with golden lights, and wonderful light shows from the many bridges spanning the straight make for really a magical experience. And, this particular cruise provided no shortage of funny memories!

Beautifully cobbled Queen Mother's courtyard at Topkapi Palace

Beautifully cobbled Queen Mother's courtyard at Topkapi Palace



The next day, we got up super early, since we were catching the flight to Izmir later that night we had a lot to pack in. First stop was Topkapi Palace and even though we had arrived for opening, the crowds were incredible. We picked up our audio guides and went straight for the harem. The tile work is quite exquisite, and the audio-guide quite good to this point, but not as exciting as I expected from guidebook recommendations. Maybe because I’ve seen so many spectacular buildings in India lately, not sure, but neither one of us was overwhelmed. I think it would be worthwhile to source out a really good guide, who can make the place come alive, because I’m sure there are many fascinating stories of this place.

Intricate tile and glass work in Topkapi

Intricate tile and glass work in Topkapi



The audio guide actually became quite funny as we progressed though. It was almost like they got tired of describing places, as they became increasingly spare and repetitive. Entering a sultan’s private room, it would say “take note of the beautiful blue tiles”. Full stop. Into the circumcision room – this room was used for the Sultan’s son’s circumcision ceremonies and given the titillating name, surely had some stories, but nope… “ you are now in the Circumcision Room, note the beautiful tiles”. Full stop!

Note the beautiful tiles!

Note the beautiful tiles!



The Treasury was my fav part, with fantastic gold and jewels, which were in cases literally in front of your nose, not like in the Tower of London where you are behind a velvet rope, far back from the cases. The work and sparkle were mesmerizing, especially the Spoonmaker's diamond. 86 carats, this diamond was reportedly found by a garbage collector and sold to a spoonmaker for a few spoons. Now that’s an Antiques Roadshow Find!

Before I was told, No Photos! in the treasury

Before I was told, No Photos! in the treasury


Doors in the Harem, plus tiles

Doors in the Harem, plus tiles



After Topkapi, we decided to pop into the Basilica Cistern. I’d been to and loved the Portuguese cistern in Morocco, but was unprepared for the magnificence of this one. It was built in 532 and rediscovered in 1545 by a scholar investigating claims from locals that they could get water by lowering a bucket through a hole in their basement floors, and could even catch fish this way.

The atmospheric Basilica Cistern

The atmospheric Basilica Cistern



The Cistern is 65m wide and 143m long, with 336 columns supporting the roof. Many columns were scavenged from other buildings, including two wonderful columns that are supported by massive Medusa heads. Another column had a beautiful teardrop carved design. Couldn’t help wonder what historic sites they once lived in. Shadowy figures of carp slowly swim by in the shadowy water weakly lit by flickering lights, as drops fall from the ceiling with an eerie echo. Wonderful place!

Head of Medusa used to support a pillar in the cistern

Head of Medusa used to support a pillar in the cistern


The other Medusan head, inexplicably upside down?

The other Medusan head, inexplicably upside down?

Fast forward to our return to the city at the end of the trip

Colourful and seasonal fruits & veggies

Colourful and seasonal fruits & veggies



We were again ensconced in the Erboy, this time Michelle was flying out to join us for our last weekend, but before she arrived, Christa and I went on what was one of our major highlights (of many) on this trip – a culinary tour of the backstreets of Old Istanbul, led by an American expat, Megan, from the company Istanbul Eats. It is one of 4 of their current tours offered, and I have added the other 3 to my ‘bucket list’.

Nuts, Nuts and more Nuts!

Nuts, Nuts and more Nuts!


Dried veggies ready for the off season use

Dried veggies ready for the off season use



Our adventures started with a meet up in the Egyptian Spice Market, one of Istanbul’s oldest markets situated across from Sultanahmet by the Galata Bridge. Built in the 17th century it is so named because it was built with money from Egyptian import duties. It specialized in spices from the Orient and it still offers an authentic bazaar experience. After meeting with Megan and the rest of our group, she led us to the various stalls. One selling just nuts, varieties of pistachios simply labeled with the name of the region they were from. Olives and cheese similarly labelled. Gorgeous fish and an interesting character of a fish monger. Strange facts, like artichokes and peas are sold by the fish monger! They are always sold shelled and trimmed to the hearts, which is done by the same type of knife used to cut fish, hence this odd happenstance. Imminently practical!

In the Egyptian Market, grape leaves and pepper masalas for sale!

In the Egyptian Market, grape leaves and pepper masalas for sale!


Colourful owner of the fish market, seasoning his wares with a soucon of ash!

Colourful owner of the fish market, seasoning his wares with a soucon of ash!



After picking up olives, bread, cheese and of course Simits (wonderful bagel-like bread covered in sesame) we went into the bowels of the market, and set up on a newspaper covered crate, next to the chai and Turk Kahve stall, getting out own coffee and tea. A constant stream of trays of tea and coffee heading out into the market to sell to the various stall vendors. Hard-working bunch! As we tucked into our, first, breakfast of the day, Megan outlined our route, so we could try to pace ourselves for the food. Luckily it would take us through the markets and up into the Fatih neighbourhood, which helped us a bit!

Simits, cheese and olives, Oh My!  Breakfast of champions!

Simits, cheese and olives, Oh My! Breakfast of champions!



After breakfast, we strolled down to see the Kokoreç Kid! There was always a story surrounding the different places we went and here was no different. Kokoreç is a very popular street food all over Turkey. Lamb or mutton intestines wrapped around offal, usually liver, spleen, lung and sweet breads, then skewered and grilled on a charcoal fire, it was then chopped and mixed with herbs and spices, wrapped in warm bread and presented to us! Now I HATE offal, but I found that this was actually good. Quite a surprise. The young man running the stall has apparently put everyone out of business in the area, he is that good. The story goes, that his parents had asked him if he wanted an apprenticeship, or university and he chose apprenticeship, so they set him up with the best Kokoreç Usta (master) in the city. Then, as luck would have it, the master had to flee because of gambling debts, leaving the student the new master of the area. He’s done so well, he drives a Mercedes and is engaged to the daughter of the richest man in Istanbul. And he kinda looks like Max on Dancing with the Stars!

Kokoreç Kid

Kokoreç Kid


All spiced up and final cooking for our Kokoreç

All spiced up and final cooking for our Kokoreç




Next up was a stop for some wonderful lentil soup and then off to meet the Pide Usta. The nearest thing you can relate Pide to in the west would be pizza, but it is so much more than that. To be fully enjoyed, it must be eaten within 15 minutes of leaving the oven, so it isn’t standing up very well to the new influx of Dominoes in Turkey. Here we had the traditional oblong-shaped, open-faced pide and made to order with wonderful seasoned meat, mild cow’s cheese (kaşar) and fresh veggies. Fired in a wood fired oven, drizzled with melted butter and topped with an egg! Heaven!!!

The Pide master's work, almost ready for us to devour

The Pide master's work, almost ready for us to devour



After pide, it was a trip through the Kantarcilar area where sellers have been selling weights and measures since Ottoman times. Rows and rows of wares, pots, coffee pots, trays, weights and measures. And in all of this, Lokum! Turkish delight is made with sugar, water, corn starch and flavouring/nuts. That’s it! I thought for sure it contained some sort of gelatin, but nope. This shop, Altan Şekerleme was mecca for Christa! And no hell for me! A family run, authentic candy store, passed down for four generations, since 1865 and some of the best we had, at ridiculously low prices compared with the more famous cousins in other areas of town.

Old Ottoman family Lokum (turkish delight) store proprietor

Old Ottoman family Lokum (turkish delight) store proprietor



Laden down with boxes of lokum, we were off next to stop in an old caravanserai for a break and a drink. Caravanserai’s were the Motor Inns of old, and dotted the trade routes of old. This run-down courtyard, with peeling doors of the rooms to rent was lovely. Also lovely, the colourful men sitting around smoking and having chai. Best mustache in Turkey!

Upper hall of an old caravanserai (inn)

Upper hall of an old caravanserai (inn)


This mustache would do any Rajput proud!

This mustache would do any Rajput proud!



Up next, a kebab (kebap) seller that we were all sworn to secrecy over. It’s not even in their guidebooks, or web reviews for fear of it becoming overrun. The Usta does not want to expand, makes only one doner kebab per day, and when it’s done, that is that! They sell that, and fresh squeezed orange juice. And oh-my-god! Best, beyond best I’ve ever had. The meat was incredibly interlaced with peppers and spices, shaved off and piled into pita bread, and then devoured. I GPS marked it on my phone. So must never lose my phone! Megan told us, if in doubt, in Turkey you should look for 3 things to determine a restaurant – a small menu, with limited items; plain, undecorated eating area; and a steady stream of locals. This fit the bill!

Best, best, best! I've ever had!

Best, best, best! I've ever had!



Our next experience at Vefa Bozacis was not one I expected to enjoy, but was definitely surprised. Boza is a thick drink made from fermented millet. Kind of like a milkshake and served in a glass, with a spoon, topped with cinnamon and roasted chickpeas (which you had to buy at the chickpea store across the street of course), it was quite wonderful. Another family run place, operating since 1876 and displaying the glass Atatürk drank his boza from when visiting, in a glass case. An ancient drink originating in Mesopotamia 8-0000 years ago, it is extremely healthy with all kinds of purported and wonderful benefits, including lowering blood pressure, stimulating the production of milk in women, and enlarging women's breasts!

Yummy Boza with roasted chickpeas

Yummy Boza with roasted chickpeas



After the breast-enhancing boza experience, we stopped at a çig köfta stall for an experience with “raw meatballs.” A potentially dangerous street food I’m thinking, and Megan said if this particular vendor wasn’t there, we would skip it, but, he was! Quite good, combined with bulgar, tomato and pepper pastes, herbs and spices. Not my most fav though.

Byzantine acquaduct, providing shade for the local mens' clubs!

Byzantine acquaduct, providing shade for the local mens' clubs!



Finally we reached our final meal destination, only it was also the biggest meal thus far! We were all up for it though, cause what a meal. In the Fatih neighbourhood, also known as Little Kurdistan, was Siirt Seref Büryan Kebap Salonu, a restaurant in the shade of a massive Byzantine aqueduct. Here, they specialized in a lamb, slow-cooked over coals and served up on a bed of flat bread. Also here, was a homemade Aryan drink (yoghurt, water and salt mixture, frothed up and served in copper mugs) and a celebratory pastry dish, Perde Pilavi, which is a peppery pilaf rice mixed with chicken, almonds and currents and wrapped in pastry. And that’s not all! We had some fantastic künefe (kind of cheese cake, topped with a nest of golden shredded filo) and the best baklava I’ve had, baked and delivered daily by a local woman.

Buryan Kebap oven, and almost finished lamb!!

Buryan Kebap oven, and almost finished lamb!!


Perde Pilavi with homemade mug of Ayran and salad!

Perde Pilavi with homemade mug of Ayran and salad!


Incredible Kurdish lamb Kabap!

Incredible Kurdish lamb Kabap!



And that was all in one day! We skipped dinner!!

The rest of our time in Istanbul was spent exploring the Grand Bazaar, the oldest indoor mall in the world, winding our way down hallways and corridors. Most of which is pretty much a touristic bunch o’ schlock, but, once again, Rick Steve’s came to our rescue and we did his self-guided walking tour of the Grand Bazaar that took us into the very few remaining authentic areas. Met a wonderful, and proud man, in the old Gold Souk. His stock in trade was to gather all the remnants of gold and silver from the various artisans and smelt it down into something useable. He showed us his forge and was in the middle of melting down some silver. Very hot! Had fun in a 5-generation, family-run Turkish towel (pestemal) store too – Eğin Tekstil. These towels are wonderful, absorbent and light. Perfect summer towels and the type used in the Turkish baths, which we experienced in Ankara!

Almost monumented out, we still packed in a visit to the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) and the Blue Mosque. Unfortunately my photos from this day were corrupted, so must go back! The Hagia Sofia was the most miraculous building to me. More than 1400 years old, it is an architectural giant in the world. Many of the incredible works of original art were destroyed and covered when it was turned into a mosque in the 15th century, but some Byzantine art, mosaics and paintings have been restored. Considered the greatest church on earth for nearly a millennium, it was the largest domed building in Europe until the Renaissance. When you enter the nave and walk toward the centre under the massive dome, your jaw literally drops. It is so fantastic it’s hard to describe adequately. Some idea… Paris’ Notre-Dame would fit within the great dome. The 17th century Blue Mosque, still a practicing mosque, was very lovely as well. Lots and lots of blue tiles! but we should probably have seen it before the Hagia Sophia.

Driving to dinner-very poofy wedding dresses be the rage in Istanbul!

Driving to dinner-very poofy wedding dresses be the rage in Istanbul!



Our final night in Istanbul, and we had a wonderful dinner (I know, shocking!) overlooking the Bosphorus, with friends and fireworks in the background. Very fitting! Istanbul is more than you can imagine. This city has everything you could want, modernity meets legendary history, fantastic food, warm people, and endless alleyways and neighbourhoods to explore. Good thing it’s a nice convenient route to India! Next week, I’ll post on our adventures on the Aegean coast!

Fishing for dinner on the Galata Bridge

Fishing for dinner on the Galata Bridge

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 06:56 Archived in Turkey Tagged food history turkey istanbul constantinople Comments (3)

Magical Mythical Machu Picchu

and this journey ends...


View First Foray into South America on LisaOnTheRoad's travel map.

Low-lying cloud at sunrise

Low-lying cloud at sunrise


Our final stop as a group – the fabled lost city of the Incas – Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu, which is actually pronounced Machu Pictchu, means old mountain in Quechua, the Incan language. This is important to know folks, since our usual pronunciation of Machu Peechu actually means old penis!

Llama grass control at Machu Picchu

Llama grass control at Machu Picchu


After an early morning and long train and bus journey, we finally arrived at this stunning site, which was rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham. Nestled high in a depression between two mountain peaks, and surrounded by imposing and starkly jagged peaks, Machu Picchu is still not visible from below, even though it is the most popular and visited tourist destination in South America. In fact, even after arriving at the main gate, following a narrow, winding road up the peak by bus, you still cannot see the site until you walk on a narrow path, around a large boulder, to finally find it laid out below you.
MachuPicch..07llama.jpg

The train ride was lovely too and surprising. I was not prepared for the barren Andean scrub to slowly give way to a dense cloud forest, as we approached Aguas Calientes, the completely tourist-dominated town in the valley below Machu Picchu. So many orchids and other air-rooted plants were hanging from the massive trees as we wound through the valley following the Urumbamba River, with huge snow-covered Andean peaks providing a backdrop.

MachuPicch..3stones.jpg
This lost city was the only significant site to escape the devastations of the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century and was lost to all but a handful of local farmers in the jungles of the cloud forest till its rediscovery early last century. Experts still argue over the purpose of the site – astronomical scientific site; ceremonial city to the gods; sacred sanctuary for the Incan emperor; or any combination of these, and other ideas. The mystery is compounded because it appears this city was built, lived in and then abandoned all within less than a century – most believe it was built in the mid-1400s. The stonework and architecture is some of the best seen in the Incan and pre-Incan history in Peru, which spanned a 4000-year period.
Incredible stonework - possibly the astronomer's house

Incredible stonework - possibly the astronomer's house

The classic view, from the guardhouse

The classic view, from the guardhouse


The only thing that is certain is that it is incredibly stunning. One of, if not the, most stunningly beautiful places I have ever been. Steep stone terraces and stairs (I believe these stairs were built so steep as a joke to torture future tourists!) seemingly carved out of the cliffside; towering temples, store houses, and terraces; stone aqueduct systems and fountains still running with water; and all surrounded by thickly forested mountains, and drifting clouds and mists.
Machu Picchu looking up to the guardhouse

Machu Picchu looking up to the guardhouse

Sunrise over the peaks

Sunrise over the peaks


The mornings were especially beautiful, before the crowds became too thick. We spoiled ourselves and stayed at the only hotel on top of the mountain, the Sanctuary Lodge. This meant we were able to walk to the site each morning at dawn to watch the sun crest the ridge, seeming to shine a spotlight on the temples and terraces one by one. Climbing to the top of the main site, you are able to see it all laid out below you. The condor city laid out with windows and instruments to track the summer and winter solstices.
Christa reading on our patio at the Sanctuary Lodge

Christa reading on our patio at the Sanctuary Lodge

Inca bridge

Inca bridge


One morning we hiked further along one of the Incan trails to see an old Incan bridge. You can can’t help but wonder how, or who, laid the first supporting stones of the terraces, trails or buildings perched upon impossibly steep and sheer mountain sides. Climbing over the stairs and terraces is a sometimes intimidating, often vertigo inducing exercise. At one point, coming down from the rear of the sundial temple, you are so close to dropping off into nothing, and the staircase so small, that it took a huge amount of effort to take the first step, which was actually onto a relatively wide first stone. Very strange feeling!
Insane stairs leading down the back from the Sun Dial

Insane stairs leading down the back from the Sun Dial

Watching the sun play on the terraces.

Watching the sun play on the terraces.


For all the exploring, climbing and wandering we did here on our three days, some of the best moments were simply picking our way down to a terrace, away from tour groups, and quietly sitting. Watching the changing light, drifting backlit clouds and wonderfully agile swallows swooping past. Sublime!
MachuPicch..ep_1273.jpg

So here I am, in Mexico City visiting with a friend from Delhi, and about to head out for a Mexican dinner… with Margaritas of course! We head back home tomorrow, and as usual, this trip has gone by so fast. I had looked forward to seeing the Galapagos, Amazon and Machu Picchu for so many years; it is a strange feeling to be coming to the end of this journey. It has brought so many new experiences though, and exceeded my expectations, which is no small feat. So am excited to head home and see what happens next!
Sunset in Machu Picchu

Sunset in Machu Picchu

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 16:26 Archived in Peru Tagged peru machu picchu inca incan Comments (1)

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