New Adventures in Turkey!
May 25, 2015
Landing in Istanbul was like the western world greeting me with lovely and oddly familiar sights.
The convenient thing about booking a tour is that you are met at the airport and can relax about how to get to your hotel…My guy was right there but then he suddenly disappeared…As I pondered my options when I didn’t see him after 10 minutes, a totally different man came up and grabbed my luggage. Knowing that Taxis and others are in constant competition, I was a bit concerned…then he smiled and said “Emileeee?”…Seems they had a different driver then my meet person…well I decided to throw caution to the wind and got in…This guy was so nice but did not speak a word of English….Throughout the drive, he would happily point out sites to me…I had no idea what they were but nodded and smiled…
Istanbul certainly has a more familiar driving pattern then Tehran! The streets are wide and for the most part, the drivers seem to stay in lanes. After being a passenger in Iran, I am pretty used to the crazy driving…They use the horn the same way here…just a tap to let the other driver know they are close on a side or the other driver is getting too close…It’s quite a quiet way…We, in the states, have these ridiculously loud horns that we don’t seem to know what to do with them other then lean on them in road rage…The rest of the world seems to be a lot less stressed in cars even as they drive chaotically.
As with Iran, I tried desperately to learn several thousand years of history in a week…I didn’t want to read Turkish history while in Iran since I feared it would be too confusing…There is some overlap…and I am glad I went to Iran first since historically the Persians came across to Turkey as did Alexander the Great did after he sacked Persepolis…For Iran, I read a rather dry but informative book called the History of Iran…and I read Lonely Planets Guide as well as a book called “Understanding Iran”, “Among Iranians” a quick book of more recent history called “A Letter from Iran”
For Turkey, I only read 1 book called “A Guide to Turkey for History Travellers”. It was perfect…Simple and entertaining and short…Turkey has quite a colorful history and because of it’s physical position between 3 continents(Europe, Africa and Asia) with direct passage to all, it made it a hot target for attack throughout the Millenniums.
Just knowing all the intrigue of the Ottoman period of the Sultans made going to all the Palaces, Mosques, Churches etc far more interesting.
The drive from the airport took me past huge modern high rises that would meet Historic building next to a sea of freighters in the shipping channel while the streets were dappled, or rather strewn, with thousands of political flags for Turkey’s upcoming Parliamentary election. Lots of action here.
I scheduled a tour of Turkey with 3 free days in Instanbul(1 on the front end and 2 on the back)…Turns out my Tour is different from the one in Iran…It’s a rather independent one…For example, my tour officially started on Sunday in Istanbul…I was met by a guide at my hotel where we then walked to meet other tourists(4 more)…We spent the day walking the city and seeing the top sites: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Hippodrome, Topkapi Palace, The Obelisk of Theodosius from Egypt, Serpentine Column from the Temple of Delphi and the German Fountain…we were also supposed to got to the Grand Bazaar but it is closed on Sunday so I will hit that on Saturday morning when I return to Istanbul.
The walking tour was great and I was thrilled to be walking so much…Istanbul is definitely a great city for that…and like Barcelona it is chock full of tourists…my first day, I spent getting my bearings and trying to find areas that were less touristy…I ended up walking to some really cool local areas…and as I got more and more lost(my favorite activity while wondering), I would stop and ask directions…even with the language barrier…and Turkish is not an easy language to speak or learn…just Thank you is “te-shek-kwer-e-de-reem”! But people seemed to be more then willing to help…I just pointed to a place on the map and they would point and direct away…since I had no idea what they were saying, I would go in the directions they were pointing and then after walking a bit, I would ask yet another lovely local…and I would continue the process…and Voila, I made it to be chosen destination even if it took me a little of the beaten path!
Back to the tour…so the tour is not with one guide and the same group…I have my own tour and I pick up guides and different(sometimes the same) people along the way…Some days the group is 5 of us…others, like yesterday, we had 11…The guides are in all the local areas…I have to get myself from point a to b…although all the transport and pu’s are arranged…This is a really nice way to tour…It feels less controlled…Don’t get me wrong, they pack the local tours in with tons on stuff but once it is over, you are free to do whatever you want…It can also be confusing like when I flew from Istanbul to Cappodocia…I actually flew into a city 1 ½ away…the flight was at 9:20pm and left 1 ½ hours late and then we had far to travel..I finally arrived at my hotel at 1:30AM but it seemed totally closed…the driver was kind enough to stay with me and call to get the guy to finally open up…he then was confused about my reservation date,because I woke him up, but we finally seemed to work it out….I was able to put my head on my pillow at 2:30am which would have been OK if I had to be ready by 9:30(the usual pu) but I had to be ready by 4:30a for the Sunrise Balloon Ride…and lo and behold for the first time since I have been here, the driver was early and not late! I didn’t even have my contacts in…I stumbled out and into the van, looking like I don’t know what…but you will see by the pictures I did not have much sleep and rolled right out of bed into my baseball cap…I must admit, I missed the Hijab at that moment…That would have covered up my unwashed hair far better then a ponytail and baseball cap!
The balloon ride was spectacular and took all the sleep from my eyes…I ran into some of the same people I traveled with on the flight with…We aren’t on the same tour but here as with many places in the world, as you travel, you just keep running into the same people…it’s quite comforting and fun. There are over 50 balloons that take off at sunrise and that alone is a magnificent site…but add to it the beauty of the valley, hills and fairy chimneys and it makes for a once in a lifetime experience.
As we landed, we had to get in a crouched position, holding onto rope handles…this was even more of an adventure for my knees (-:
They landed us right on the trailer of a truck that was rushing around trying to sync up to us…it really is a fascinating process.
Once completely down, they gave us “survival” certificates and Champagne.
I was taken back to my hotel and had a chance to eat breakfast and pack since I was moving to a new hotel. They didn’t have room at the one I was supposed to go to on the first night so the company kindly booked me at a more upscale one in the deluxe suite…which I had the 1 ½ hours to enjoy.
Our tour of Northern Cappadocia was with 11 people: 2 men from Mexico & Spain..4 young women from Singapore, a couple from Singapore, 2 American College students from Georgia State and me.
We saw Fairy Chimney’s which are naturally created magnificent monuments scattered around the valleys. They were created millions of years ago…and through volcanic eruptions, rain and time have developed into these wonderful shapes that look like chimneys…although most of us see something else! (-;
We ventured into an old Church Cave area where the Christians from the 1st Century came here and worshiped secretly in various cave churches…The monks would use them for solitude as well…there are these fabulous frescoes(no pictures allowed)…Again I ponder the creativity of people a Millennia ago.
When you see pictures of these valleys, you will see these square indentations in the rock, these are Pigeon Houses…Like the Pigeon Towers in Iran, the Turks take care of the pigeons and use the excrement for fertilizer as well as creating paint….my Singapore friends and friends from Bangkok said they also eat them as a delicacy…Seems New York City could make better use of their pigeons if they made an effort…there’s a market out here!!!
On a side note: I forgot to mention that in Istanbul there is this very high end Sheraton Hotel…it used to be the notorious prison shown in the movie “Midnight Express”…It’s quite lovely now…I wonder how many ghosts the tourists see there!!
Back on the Northern tour, We also went to some underground art studios where the family of artists go back 5-6 generations…I love how you can easily escape the heat by going a bit underground…it feels better then any air conditioning too.
I was so spent by the time they dropped me at my new hotel, I was ready to collapse…But as I was doing my nightly plug in of all my camera, computer, Kindle etc…I realized I had left my camera charger and extra battery at the 1st hotel…I actually had to call my tour company in Istanbul to check it out since the lovely young man here speaks little to no English BUT he always greets me with “Hi Emilie!…How are you” So when I answered and his expression went blank…I realized, like me, he memorized the basic greetings…Well his brother spoke a bit more and happily drove me to pick it up after the tour company called him..Like the Iranians, the Turks are amazingly hospitable…
After a full 10 hour sleep, I was ready for the southern tour…We lost the American college students and the 2 men from Mexico and Spain but we picked up my friends from Bangkok on this leg.
All except me were quite tired because the Bangkok girls had just arrived by overnight bus and the rest had been up to do the balloon ride…We started with a great 2 hour hike through the Red valley with wonderful fairy chimneys and hills surrounding us…all trimmed out with beautiful yellow flowers and red poppys…We passed under canopies of wild almond trees that pepper the valley…This area is amzingly fertile and gets quite a bit of rain…Before coming here, I worried that I had chosen 3 trips that were mostly desert…BUT Turkey has been a wonderful respite to the deserty feeling of Iran(although the North of Iran is quite mountainous and fertile)…
Hiking in the valley early in the morning was nice and cool…it did start to warm up…and as we ventured through cave underpasses and down hills, there would be these “rest Stop” areas where one or two people would set up these fresh orange juice stands with canopied places to sit and relax…very luxurious for hiking.
On another side note: This particular tour includes all but my dinner and so far we have eaten beyond my expectation…Huge buffets that serve a multitude of salads and hot meals and wonderful veggie dishes…and don’t get me started on the desserts…dieting seems to be out of my wheel house right now.
After a few other places, we went to a huge underground city that was created 2000 BC by the Hittite…and each group from Persians to Christians have continued the build…These cities were used only as escape cities as enemies approached…We went down 40 meters…and the cities have everything you would need …houses, Chapels, Cemeteries, stables for the animals, kitchens…etc…They are cool in the summer and warm in the winter…They made huge wheeled doors to shut off a tunnel in case an invader tried to come in(a safety hatch of sorts)
I will say that if you are at all claustrophobic, have knee or back problems or are generally uncomfortable in tight spaces this would not be recommended to visit..and we all wondered how tall the people were back then…(-:
Our driver and guide for the North & South tours were spectacular…so much fun and full of surprises…
On my last night in Goerme, I spent wondering the village of cave houses and hotels and restaurants….it’s a lovely town. But now we head off to Konya & Pamukkale, which we have been told will be quite a long drive…But they are breaking it up with visits to places along the way…
Your ever sleep deprived traveling friend