Turkey – history, culture, beautiful country, and lost luggage

He Says: It never fails, there is at least one thing that goes wrong when we travel between countries. At this point we count on it. We assume something aggravating will happen; we accept it ahead of time, and then, when it does happen, the sting isn’t so bad. If part of our travels doesn’t go awry, we get that nagging feeling that something is amiss, like we forgot something and can’t remember what it is. In this case, we remembered everything, but Egypt Air did not. Our bags were left in Cairo during our layover between Mumbai and Istanbul. When we boarded our plane in India we had a slight suspicion that the receptionist wasn’t tagging our bags correctly. She looked a little too confused when she placed them on the conveyor belt, but we read the tags and everything appeared in order. We don’t know for sure if she made the mistake, but when our bags didn’t appear on the carousel we assumed the problem started with her confusion. The chaos and mayhem of India decided to follow us around a little longer. 🙂

Because it was warm when we left India, we were both in clothes just warm enough to keep us comfortable for the plane ride. Given our light apparel, Murphy’s Law correctly predicted that it would thus be well below freezing in Istanbul. Tami’s flip-flops weren’t going to cut it.

So, we spent the next three days going back and forth with the airline (actually, our hotel went back and forth with them because they couldn’t speak English) hoping our luggage would be found and delivered. Everyday they told us the bags were on their way, but every night we were empty handed. On the third day we finally broke down and decided to go on a shopping spree. You can imagine how excited Tami was. Actually, I think she was excited from the moment our bags came up missing. What girl doesn’t love an excuse to replenish her wardrobe? 🙂 I’ll admit that I was a little excited too, though. After traveling for almost eight months, we were both in need of new clothes anyways. We spent the afternoon buying new everything, figuring the airline would reimburse us. Well, once again, Murphy’s Law correctly predicted that our bags would be waiting at our hotel upon our return from our shopping spree. Still a relief though; the backpacks themselves cost enough to make our stomachs drop when we found out they were missing. I think more than the clothes inside, we were happy to have the backpacks.

It was a rough start in a new country but Turkey turned out to be an amazing place we’re sure to return to; every corner was filled with history and culture, the countryside was magnificent, the people were some of the nicest we’ve met (a place where the taxi drivers didn’t try to rip us off), the streets were clean and didn’t wreak of rotten garbage, the public transportation was organized and punctual, and, above all else, there was plenty of hot water. Having been in SE Asia and India for several months, it was a culture-shock to be back in a country somewhat more “westernized”. It was the perfect mix of Asian, Middle Eastern, and European trappings.

Our nice, quiet street in the heart of Istanbul.

We arrived in Istanbul late in the evening with flurries of snow falling, giving the cobblestone alleys around our hotel a romantic atmosphere we immediately fell in love with. It didn’t take long to forget about our lost luggage. Every corner and every alley had a cozy restaurant, hookah bar, or cafe with a greeter standing outside trying to lure us in. One young greeter even gave us the puppy dog eyes; like he’d be swatted with a newspaper if he didn’t convince us to eat at his restaurant. So we definitely ate there. Almost every establishment offered us apple tea as soon as we sat down. Like the masala chai in India, the apple tea was a staple in Turkey.

When we finally got our bags and started wearing the proper cold weather gear, we ventured farther from the hotel to check out all the amazing mosques, markets, and tiny hidden alleys. First stop was the Gulhane Park overlooking the Bosphorus Straight splitting the Asian and European continents. We strolled around for a while then headed to Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, the major tourist stops. The day before, we stopped at another mosque along the waterway, just to see what it was all about. Before entering we had to remove our shoes as a sign of respect, but the truly dedicated would perform their ablutions outside, which seemed absolutely insane considering it was freezing. The inside opened up to a large room and high domed ceiling with ornate writing and painting all over the walls. It was beautiful but a little anticlimactic.

Walking along the Bosphorus Straight.

Our first mosque in Istanbul.

These kestane stands were everywhere but we're not sure why because they weren't good. 😦

Checking out the view from Gulhane Park.

When we got to the Hagia Sophia we considered turning around thinking it would be mostly the same, especially because tickets cost 20 euros per person. After looking at a few brochures and debating what to do, we finally decided to pay the fee thinking “Who knows when we’ll be back here to see it again?” It ended up being one of our favorite places in Istanbul. From the outside it looked huge with the giant dome and four towering minarets but still somewhat unremarkable (most of the mosques looked like that); the inside, however, was absolutely remarkable. TB and I both walked in with jaws dropped and necks cranked backwards.  I wish I had a picture to show you how tall the ceiling was but my camera lens doesn’t have a field of view that wide. We couldn’t help but look straight up and marvel at the chandeliers, paintings, and mosaics. Any more of a description would be totally insufficient so I’ll let the pictures do the work. After Hagia Sophia, the other mosques were somewhat disappointing, including the Blue Mosque – still beautiful (and blue) but unimpressive comparatively.

Very glad we stopped at Hagia Sophia.

Couldn't quite get the full height with my camera.

Cranking our necks back to see the top.

The beautiful lighting.

This is just the main room. Absolutely massive.

One of the many mosaics.

Still cranking our necks back to see the ceiling.

A few times we braved the congested and bustling main markets in Istanbul, the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. Around almost any corner in Istanbul you can find a restaurant or shop window with bins and sacks overflowing with Turkish delights, nuts, spices, and baklava enticing passersby to indulge themselves. The Spice Bazaar was like those shops but on crack. With a single, long passage filled on either side with stalls and kiosks, walking through the Spice Bazaar was more like walking through a gauntlet, but at least this one smelled pleasant. We didn’t buy anything while there, but we did get baklava a few times while in Istanbul. After four or five pieces, we cut ourselves off fearing the sugar and butter oozing out probably wasn’t the best thing for us.

Around almost every corner is a shop that looks something like this.

The inside of the Spice Bazaar.

The Grand Bazaar, like its name implies, was absolutely massive. Walking through it felt more like walking through a labyrinth than the markets we’re used to. With thousands of shops, hundreds of streets, thoroughfares and alleys, all enclosed under one roof, it functions more like a city unto itself. Electronics, clothes, accessories, furniture – pretty much anything you can think of was sold there. After walking around for a while, we finally realized we were totally disoriented and so had to find our way out by following what looked like natural light at the end of each “street”. Once we were outside we realized the bazaar wasn’t confined to the inside, but extended all around it as well, with entire city blocks dedicated to selling a certain type of product; some blocks were for fabrics, some were for wedding dresses, others were for electronics. Eventually, pushing through the crowds and avoiding the salesmen became overwhelming and anxiety-inducing, so that was the one and only time we went anywhere near the Grand Bazaar.

One of many thoroughfares in the Grand Bazaar.

It sucks traveling on a budget. 😦

On our fifth day in Turkey we took an 11-hour bus ride to Goreme, Cappadocia to stay in a cave hotel and tour the crazy rock formations. Most guides will be politically correct and say these formations look like mushrooms, but, to anyone over the age of 12, they more closely resembled hundreds of penises standing out of the ground erect. Nobody said it, but TB and I knew they were thinking it. 🙂 Anyways, it was amazing, beautiful and unique scenery that reminded us a lot of the hoodoos and canyons at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, one of our favorites. We certainly plan to return in the future and stay a bit longer.

Okay maybe they do look a little like mushrooms.

Before we started our world trip we knew there was a real possibility that at some point, one or both of us would get food poisoning. The first time it seemed like a real possibility was in Thailand when one of our hostel roommates spewed in his bed. TB had a few small bouts throughout SE Asia and was bed ridden in Ho Chi Minh, but I was skating by untarnished. After making it through SE Asia and India, I happily assumed that my stomach could handle anything. Once we got to Turkey, I had even stopped thinking of food poisoning  as even a remote possibility. Well, Cappadocia gave me a nice birthday present reminding me I got a little ahead of myself. After our tour around the hundreds of penises, the day of my birthday, we had some pizza for dinner at a restaurant in town. Almost exactly an hour later I started telling TB I wasn’t feeling so hot; I was getting a fever and a cold, achy feeling all over my body. I laid down and curled up in the sheets for a bit hoping my stomach would stop sinking. Holy shit, was I wrong. Ten minutes after lying down I was literally screaming my guts out in the toilet. This continued about every hour or two until six in the morning when we had to wake up for our hot-air balloon ride. Floating a few thousand feet above the ground made my day a very pleasant one. 🙂

She Says:  Yes I admit, I was slightly excited about the thought of having to purchase a whole new wardrobe..UNTIL I found out that they would only reimburse us about 200 Euros.  Are you kidding me!!??  Our backpacks alone cost more than that!!  At that point I had come to terms with still purchasing a new wardrobe and hopefully getting our bags back 🙂  Whatever John, let me tell you all — this boy bought more than I did at the mall.  Yes, fact.

I actually do not think too much bad stuff has happened on our trip.  Yes we have had a few buses break down, had to switch hotels a few times, had a few close calls with flights but all in all I would say we are actually pretty lucky.  I have heard of people being stranded places and missing flights, having stuff stolen to include their passports.  I think we are doing pretty well.  I tell him we have good karma– for the most part.

Istanbul was great!! Arriving in the evening with the snow and winding through the alleyways was a perfect introduction.  Our room was warm, cozy and all we could want!  Since J covered most of our time there I will go ahead and jump to the magical land of Capadoccia.

Cappadoccia was magical!  J nor I had ever seen anything quite like it. Goreme, the city we stayed in, was very quaint.  It seemed the entire town was built in rock.  It was a real life version of The Flinstones.  J and I made sure to capture the entire atmosphere by staying in a cave hotel.  The hotel was nice– just a tad cold.  We arrived bright and early.  Just in time to check in to our hotel, grab some breakfast and join a day tour.  We couldn’t decide at first if we should since we didn’t get much sleep on the bus ride, however, it was such a beautiful morning we have learned you don’t waste good days like this– there may not be a second one.  We were glad we did.  It turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous day.  We toured most of the sites that Capadoccia had to offer.  The only thing we skipped was the underground city.  We figured we could check this off the list on our next visit.  It was J’s birthday the next day and the owner of the hotel found out.  He ended up coming to our room with a gift for John.  He got him a bottle of wine and a homemade doll his mother made.  The doll became Mullah’s girlfriend.  It was love at first sight.  He is happy to have a companion for the remainder of the trip 🙂

Some old cave dwellings. Our hotel didn't look too much different. 🙂

Enjoying the scenery.

The next day we decided to take it easy.  The weather wasn’t great so we were glad we skipped the hot air baloon.  It ended up snowing a couple inches and was really cold!!  We walked around the town and grabbed a hot chocolate at a cafe.  Later was the dinner when J got poisoned.  I felt bad for him…I was just coming off about 9 days of not eating and then this happens to him.  Lucky for him his only lasted a night.

Just a little cold.

The neighborhood cat trying to make my stomach feel better. Didn't work.

The next morning we got up bright and early (5am), so maybe dark and early, for our balloon ride.  The ride was a Valentine’s present to me.  I guess J can be romantic 🙂  I had never done one before so was super excited.  You could not ask for a more perfect place to do one.  Not only was the landscape beautiful and unique, but with the snow fall the day before, the landscape looked even more magical.  We met another couple from the states, Finn and Laura, while waiting for the balloon ride.  They ended up being from Denver, CO.  Small world!!  We were excited to meet some people from the states, but even more excited that they were from where we plan to move.  They ended up being a blast and gave us some good tips for the rest of our travels in Turkey as well as some good areas to look into for our move to Colorado.  Oh, and come to find out Finn’s last name was Boyer!!  Yes a brother from another mother.. 😉

It is hard to describe how incredible the balloon ride was.  I hope some of the pictures might do it some justice.  Thanks J– you are the best one!  After the ride we of course popped some champagne then headed back to the hotel to warm our feet.  We didn’t have much time until check out so we rested a bit, packed, and headed on our way to our next location, Pammukkale.

Excited!

Up and away!

Winter wonderland.

I had seen pictures of Pammukkale a couple of years ago and knew I wanted to go there the first time I visited Turkey.  We had read that you only need a day to see Pammukkale, so planned our visit accordingly.  We would arrive early morning, check out the sites, grab some lunch and then head to our next destination.  Pammukkale is best known for it’s natural  terraced hot springs and pools.  The rock around the pools is so calcified that it looks like snow.  J and I almost believed it was snow since it was sooo cold!  In order to walk up the springs and view the terraces you must take off your shoes.  Which is no big deal when it’s sunny and warm out.  For us, it was cloudy, cold and windy.  John and I almost didn’t make it up.  The first 5 minutes was nothing but pain.  We thought the rock might be warm because of the thermals underneath, but no, this rock was cold and the water was cold too!  It didn’t get warm until half way up.  This is probably the reason most people visit the springs in the summer months.  Oh well, there are ups and downs for both.  The down was the cold but the up was that we were the only people on the terraces. Not another soul around us. I have read that it gets overcrowded in the summer and you have to go super early in the morning if you want to spend some time there.

Beautiful terraces of Pamukkale.

Just a tad cold...

J exploring the terraces

Warming our feet in the hot spring water after our hike up.

There are ruins of an ancient city at the top of the terraces.  What a great place to build a city!  You are up high with views of mountains behind you and views of the countryside below you, and to top it off you have your own personal hot tubs built into your front yard that are natural and cost nothing to heat! Sounds like paradise to me 🙂  Just not today…today the wind was something else and I couldn’t take it anymore.  I walked around for about an hour and had had enough.  I took a cab back down and J stayed to take a couple more pics.  He arrived about 15 mins or so after me.  Brrrr– guess we will come back in a warmer month.

J's signature move in the Pamukkale ruins

Not a bad backdrop.

Walking up the travertines. We might as well have been walking on ice.

Later that night we moved on to Ephesus.  It is an old Greek city on the west coast of Turkey.  We stayed in a town called Kusadasi located on the coast and is a big Cruise ship port during the summer months.  Our room was a bit cold so the man running the hotel brought us an extra heater.  He took great care of us while we were there.  However, the best part of the room was that they played Ellen everyday!!  Maybe they were repeats but I did not care.  I’ve missed so many over the last couple years that it didn’t matter. The next day we spent exploring the town.  We walked by the sea and grabbed a pizza from Domino’s– yes sometimes we are weak and end up giving in to American trappings.

The following day we headed to the ancient city.  It was beautiful.  The nice part was how close everything was.   In Rome it feels like much of it is spread out, so in order to see it all you have to bus to different locations.  Of course this is because Rome was much bigger– but it was nice to have all of it in one place.  The location itself was scenic even without the ruins. It was set in the countryside.  We liken it to wine country U.S.A.   There were still a good bit of ruins left which was surprising.  I think J and I had expected to see less.  It was a lovely walk as some of the roads still had columns.  Things like this makes it easier to imagine what is was like living back in that time.   I am sure each time we visit these places J imagines himself as some warrior fighting in arena.  I, however, imagine myself as a goddess who receives unlimited massages while I am drinking wine and being fed grapes.  🙂  To each their own.

Ephesus!

Columned lined streets

Just a little romantic 😉

The view from our suite in Kusadasi. One of the perks to traveling in the off-season.

Wine country, USA? Could be.

Walking through the ruins in Efes.

She Says: We almost forgot one of the best parts of Turkey!! The Turkish Bath! Our friends we met on the hot air balloon highly recommended the baths to us.  They did so with a disclaimer:  Be prepared for a bit of awkwardness– especially if you aren’t the uninhibited type.  Lucky for J and I we are!!

We weren’t sure which bath to go to (There are many in Istanbul) so we asked our hotel.  They had one they recommended and the price was reasonable so we went for it.  The bath sent a driver to our hotel to pick us up.  He drove us to the bath house which was about a 10 minute drive from the hotel.  Once we arrived we noticed that the bath had been in business since the 1400s!!  Talk about longevity…  The bath house was tucked in a little nook about 20m from the road.  We walked in to a very open and airy room where we saw a couple of people sipping tea.  We payed the money and a male attendant came for J and female one for myself.  The woman led me to a changing room and provided me a sarong to change into.  I asked her if I should be completely naked and she said “yes everything”.  I am sure it was a very American question.  I did as I was told, slipped on some sandals that were in the changing room and met her outside.  She led me into a huge domed room that was completely marble, white marble.  There were numerous faucets surrounding the walls of the room and large marble bench in the middle.  I was led into a very hot sauna where I was told to stay for 10-15 mins. The lady said she would be back to get me.  I was definitely in there longer.  I had to come out for a bit of coolness after about 15 mins in there.  It felt really good to be so hot.  It had been a long time since my body temperature was that warm.  My woman came back and retrieved me.  She was dressed in a black bathing suit.  She asked to to lay on the warm marble bench while she filled up a bucket.  She came back and told me to take off my sarong.  Here I laid completely naked with this Turkish woman standing above me not sure of what to expect.  She poured some of the hot water from the bucket over my body then took a pumice covered glove and began scrubbing my entire body.  It was pretty much sand paper.  It stung a little bit at first due to the abrasiveness of the pumice however once she got going and my body got over the initial shock I quite enjoyed it.  Once I had flipped over and she had finished I was directed to go rinse off at the faucet.  I did so and realized how much dead skin I had on my body.  Holy crap!!  Once I finished my rinse I went back and laid on the bench.  The woman brought out a really soft cloth which she blew in to puff out.  This is what she would use to wash me.  She literally lathered my body up in soap and used this amazingly gentle cloth to wash me.  It was nothing short of heavenly.  It was a nice reprieve from the pumice to be sure.  Once she finished washing me she began her full body massage.  I love massages– my favorite thing next to sex I think, although J would beg to differ stating I ask for massages more frequently 😉  Once the massage ended I was led back to the faucet.  The woman filled the bucket and began rinsing me herself.  Once all the soap had disappeared she then asked if I wanted her to wash my hair.  Umm are you kidding me?? YES PLEASE!  My wife (Amanda) would be soo jealous. After all that I was led into a cool pool that I had all to myself.  The coolness met me with gratitude.  After all that “hot” stuff the freshness of the cool water was just what my body craved.  I lounged and swam around for about 10 minutes then headed into the sauna to dry off a bit.  I headed back to my changing room, got dressed, thanked my bathing woman and headed out to meet J.  He was waiting for me with a hot chai in hand.  He said he enjoyed his experience as well.

It was  a beautiful experience.  This must be how the Emperors lived.  It felt so luxurious.  I had never felt so pampered in my life.  Highly recommend it, however, it’s not for the average prude American.

A little glimpse of what we experienced

The infamous Turkish Doner. Yes, you should be jealous

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