I arrived in Istanbul and got a tiny double room at an old, atmospheric hotel right near the Blue Mosque. I decided it was too small as my friend, Jeanne, will join me tomorrow. The next morning when I told the front desk clerk I would need to move, he gave me a large two-room suite for the same price!
Jeanne arrived, got settled and we started our sight seeing at the Aya Sophia, one of the main landmarks of Istanbul. It was built in 537 AD and reigned as the greatest church in Christendom until the Ottomans conquered Istanbul in 1453 when they turned it into a mosque. It remained a mosque until Ataturk named it a museum in 1935. Our next stop just nearby was the Basilica Cistern, which was built in 532 to provide a water supply to the city. It is underground, the size of 1½ football fields, and the roof is held up by 336 columns. It still has some water in it and is an eerie place to visit.
We moved on to the Blue Mosque, which was built in 1617—a very beautiful building with its stained glass windows, wonderful lights and blue tiles, a light, airy, huge mosque. The Grand Bazaar was a short walk away, which has over 4000 shops, and goes on and on. It was really chaotic, noisy, and fun to visit. Jeanne bought a few souvenirs. After all that we walked back to our hotel and rested our feet by drinking wine on the hotel terrace, overlooking the Sea of Marmara and glancing over our shoulders at the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sophia. What an exotic and old city!
The next day we arranged airplane tickets to Kapsari in Cappadocia, and for a car rental when we got there, and checked on the ferry schedule to some nearby islands. We went to the Spice Market, which smells wonderful, and bought some spices to take home. Lunch was at the Pandali Restaurant in the Spice Market—we’re really enjoying the food, although I think I’ve never met a cuisine that I didn’t like!
We got a taxi to take us to Cinili Cami, a wonderful tiled mosque with Iznit faience tiles. Then we taxied to Buyuk Camlica, the highest hilltop in Istanbul. Dinner was at the delightful Kanaak Restaurant after which we ferried back to ‘our’ side of Istanbul after dark, with the Aya Sophia, the Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque beautifully lit. Wow!
Another island, the next day, and another ferry—this time to Buyukade, one of the Prince’s Islands, a 1½ hour ride. I had visited this island some years ago, and had seen spit-roasting lambs heads, but didn’t try one. Now we were determined to experience this, but try as we might, even walking all over that island, we found none. Upon asking (acting it out) we still couldn’t find any—a bygone era, I guess, or the wrong time of year. There were lots of demonstrations regarding upcoming elections, which added to the noise and color of the island.
Leaving Istanbul, we flew to Kayseri in Cappadocia in the interior of Turkey. We found our rental car and drove to Mustafapasa, having lunch in our hotel dining room, which was restored from 1892. We’re now gallivanting around Turkey in a little rented Ford Escort –made in Turkey. Of course the manual is written in Turkish, which caused a couple of problems. First, wondering what kind of gas to use—I thought some kind of “supremo” might be right—the nozzle fit into the tank. But then I began seeing a word (long name) listed that I began to suspect might be lead-free. After perusing the manual, I finally found a picture of a gas nozzle and that long name in large letters. Oops! Then another time I thought I should have the oil checked and couldn’t open the hood. Three different service attendants tried to open it without success, so I got out the manual and they finally found the magic answer—the hood opener was under the steering post.
Our next stop was Derinkuyu, an underground city. These 130 cities were built in the 6th and 7th centuries when the Persian and Arabic armies were bent on vanquishing the Christians. 37 of these underground cities have been opened. About 10,000 people lived in Derinkuyu on seven levels, sometimes for months at a time. It was pretty claustrophobic, and one had to be guided so as not to get permanently lost! We returned to Mustafapasa by the little back roads, something one can do when you have your own transportation—so charming and rural.
The Goreme Open Air Museum was a valley with many monasteries and churches cut into the tufa, which is a soft, whitish ‘rock’ left by ancient volcanoes.
Our next stop was the Vally of the Fairy Chimneys, an area often pictured on Turkey travel posters. These are complex formations in the tufa sculpted by wind and water erosion which makes little ‘carved mountains’ which are everywhere. We pushed on to Avanos where we viewed a fountain sculpture and pottery, and asked a man where they sold “donkey saddle” chairs, which we had seen in our hotel. He suggested we go to Urgup, which we did and I bought three of them for my porch! At lunch I ordered ‘pide,’ which is their pizza. I asked for four toppings, which were listed on two different pizzas and so I got two pizzas. Well, they tasted good! Our town, Mustafapasa, gave us opportunities to see and interact with the village people
We got an early start in the morning for Antalya over a good road between two beautiful snow-capped mountain ranges. Exiting one of the small towns we got pulled over and I was issued a speeding ticket. The policeman said I had to pay it within 10 days and it would cost about $28. As we got nearer the coast the road became very winding and so we could only make it to Alanya, a seaside resort, rather than Antalya. The next day we went on to Antalya, and stayed in a pensione in the Old Town, chock full of atmosphere. We finally figured out (with help) how to make the A/C work on our car—you have to press in the knob to engage it! Dinner that night was in a courtyard restaurant full of orange blossoms—oh, the wonderful scent! Jeanne and I had Kavaklideu Cankaya wine which we really enjoyed.
The next day was almost totally taken up with mailing the donkey saddle chairs home. First I got cardboard boxes from a supermarket, then bought paper and tape, as well as some plastic sheeting. We went to the Post Office, but it was the wrong one; but the clerk told me that I would first have to take them to the museum to have them verify that they were not antiques. Next I had to go to a special bank to get a form and pay 5,500,000 lira, then back to the museum for the report. Next we went back to check out of our hotel and then on to the ‘right’ post office—still the ‘wrong’ one; then on to the ‘right’ post office that has ‘customs.’ Customs made out the forms, THEN I could wrap the boxes and pay the postage of $120. What a process—remind me not to buy stuff like this, again!
Our next destination was the Chimera that is a mountain with flames of burning gas. It can be seen 30 miles out in the Mediterranean and has been used as a landmark for centuries. We deliberately hiked up the mountain late in the day, as we wanted to see it at dusk when the flames would really stand out. There were hundreds of little 12-inch flame pockets of burning methane, occurring naturally on this mountain. It was a little tricky getting down in the near-dark, but dramatic and evocative, too.
We drove to another city, Pammukale, to see another dramatic site called the Travertines. These are blinding white calcium deposits from calcium-rich water. They form a series of pools and cascades with shallow water keeping them ‘polished.’ They used to allow tourists to bathe in the pools but no longer, which is good. Our hotel did have a swimming pool with this calcium-rich water in which we swam.
Another site right across the road was the ancient Roman city of Hieropolis, which was a spa in Roman times. The ruins were quite wonderful and fairly well preserved. There were many sarcophagi among the ruins. As we left on the road we saw a lamb roasting on a spit. Since it was lunchtime, we stopped and had some to eat—-yum.
Our next destination was Selchuk, which is near Ephesus. We spent the whole day in Ephesus in beautiful sunny weather. It is quite amazing, having been a thriving city for many centuries from about 600 BC. However, the remains that one see today are mostly Roman-built from the first and second centuries. St. Paul supposedly lived there for three years in about the 60s AD. And St. John supposedly settled here with the Virgin Mary.
Great Theatre, the
We looked in on a wonderful museum with two statues of Artemis—so dramatic with a plethora of breasts; we also looked at St. John’s Basilica and the Isa Bey Camii (1375 mosque). We stopped at the remains of the Artemis Temple—one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World, now mostly a scattering of stones. I found a policeman who said I could pay my speeding ticket at a bank tomorrow. I had been asking all kinds of people but no one seemed to know where to pay it. I had tried several times at banks and post offices. Finally the next day I got it paid, just in time, too.
Jeanne and I went to dinner with Jim and Jerry, a couple that we met in our hotel the night before. We ate at an outdoor restaurant downtown in Selchuk while we observed storks nesting on the old aquaduct posts. Then we four went to a tea restaurant where we drank tea sitting on cushions around low tables. Jeanne was due at the Izmir airport to leave for home late in the evening and Jim and Jerry offered to ride with me since it would be so late at night when I returned to the hotel. How nice.
Jim, Jerry and I plan to travel on together tomorrow to Bodrum, a seaside town.