Tag Archives: turkey

Istanbul

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIstanbul is Turkey’s largest city with a population of 18 million people. It’s easy to gauge the sheer size of the city when trying to travel across it in a car. It takes forever to get even just a few blocks.

My hotel was in the old part of the city and this was absolutely the best place to be. It was just 10-15 minutes walk to any one of the important sites.

At first glance of the map, the old town of Istanbul looks very big and has a labyrinth of winding streets, but I actually found was that was very easy to navigate. On my second day in the city I already left my map at the hotel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAByzantine Hippodrome

Back when Istanbul was known as Constantinople, during the Byzantine Period a Hippodrome was created in the centre of the city.

It is a U shape and is essentially a race track for horse and chariot racing. The Hippodrome has two obelisks in the centre line of it, one at each end. One is an Egyptian Obelisk called Obelisk of Thutmose III; the other is the Walled Obelisk built by an Emperor in the 10th century.

Sultanahmet Mosque

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMore commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque due to all the blue tiles used for the interior decoration. It is the only mosque with 6 minarets in Istanbul, and one of only 2 in Turkey. It is a 17th century Ottoman mosque, and is still in use. When visiting you are required to take off your shoes; women are required to wear a head covering and ensure that their shoulder and knees are covered too.

The mosque is simply stunning, there is so much detail in every aspect of the mosque. The ceilings in particular are amazing to see.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia is a grand church that was completed in AD537. In 1453 the Ottomans took over the city, called Constantinople at the time, and converted the church to a mosque. In more recent history, 1935, Atatürk converted it to a museum and it is still undergoing renovation to uncover the original artworks.

 

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Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern was built in the 6th century. It got its name because it was built underneath a basilica. The huge underground chamber is 9,800 m2 and is capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres of water.

History claims that 7000 slaves were used to build this cistern. Hundreds of these slaves died, and in tribute a column was built with teardrops on it.

The Basilica Cistern was one of my favourite places to visit. Under the bustling streets it has a feeling of calm. The water level is quite low but perfectly calm, the water reflecting the light shining on the many columns. It is simply gorgeous to visit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGalata Tower

Galata tower was built in 528 to serve as a lighthouse and was originally constructed of wood. It wasn’t we rebuilt of stone in 1348. It currently houses a restaurant, and a viewing platform that provides stunning views of the city and the Bosphorus.

Beyoğlu

Beyoğlu is essentially the main street, particularly for shopping. It has a really old tram that runs up and down the length of the street up to Taksim Square. Apparently the tram ride is absolutely worth a ride, but I didn’t do it myself.

I spent a leisurely day walking up, and then back down the entire shopping street, enjoying some shopping along the way. Once I got to Taksim Square at the top of the hill I found a nice park to sit and enjoy a cup of tea.

Spice Market

The Spice Market, down towards the river area, was quite disappointing. There were many stores with beautiful displays selling wonderful smelling, colourful spices, natural teas and more types of Turkish delight than you thought existed. But there were just as many souvenir stores as there were tea and spice stores. Also they were stores in a big market hall, where I had anticipated more a market style set up. It is definitely worth a visit, but don’t expect it to be only spices and teas.

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Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is also a huge market hall with stores, only on a massive scale with many different winding paths throughout. I imagine it would be very easy to get lost in the labyrinth of paths.

There were of course a huge number of souvenir stores in the Grand Bazaar, as well as clothing and shoe stores.

One of the items I have seen many times and consider beautiful, though I would never buy any, are the glass mosaic hanging lamps. So many beautiful colours and patterns!

Food and Drink

Turkish tea, black tea and apple tea, is a popular drink. You will see many little cafés around town, you even see groups of policemen taking time out from their duties to sit and enjoy a cuppa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATurkish Coffee is also very popular, but I would have to say that I am not a fan. It is very strong, in a very small cup and basically half of it is coffee grind sludge.

A food that I would highly recommend trying is the Testi Kebab. It’s a meat stew with tomato, capsicum and other bits and pieces. It is slow cooked for a few hours in a ceramic jar. Then when you are ready to eat, the last bit of the cooking is done near your table. A tray of salt is lit and in the flames the jar is rotated until it is ‘just right’. Then they turn it upside down and smash the base off the jar, before pouring the contents into a warmed tray to serve. It was so fun to watch and it was certainly one of the tastiest dishes I ate in my entire visit to Turkey.

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Cooking Class

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did a cooking class in Istanbul, I always find it’s a good way to learn a bit more about the culture of a country. This class was run from the kitchen of the Arena Hotel, we had a hotel office staff member working as a translator and two chefs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATogether we cooked the dishes for one meal (but the quantity for 10 people!). We started with Mercimek Corbasi which is a red lentil soup. The main dish that we made was Karnivak, Aubergines stuffed with a meat and tomato mix. This was served with rice and vermicelli noodles combined (most of the time you are served rice, it contains a second ingredient, like small pasta noodle or another type of grain). The side dish we prepared was Cacik which is a yoghurt, cucumber and mint dip. It was all delicious!!!!

Check out all my Istanbul photos on Flickr.

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Cappadocia

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Cappadocia is not a town, rather a large region somewhere in the middle of Turkey. The region is volcanic, though the last eruption was 5 million years ago. The many eruptions over time deposited layers of ash on the ground, which built up to become mountains. Over time the wind and rain has eroded these layered mountain of ash to create some amazing and interesting rock formations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe one absolute must-do thing in Cappadocia is to go hot air ballooning over the valleys. It is phenomenal! There are two flight times each day. The first time is for sunrise (hotel pickup is at about 4am) and approximately 100 balloons are allowed to fly. The second flight of the day is still ridiculously early, hotel pickup around 5am, and approximately 85 balloons are allowed to fly. We had the second flight of the morning, the air was crisp but clear, and the view of all the balloons in the air as we waited for our balloon to be filled with air, was just breath taking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur pilot Gülsah was one of only five female pilots of over 100 in the region, she took us low into the valleys as well as up to 6000 feet. She navigated us safely around mountains and avoided other balloons. It was so calming to be in the balloon, floating with the wind and taking in some of the most amazing views you could imagine. It’s another of those activities that is just so fantastic it is hard to put into words.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout the region you can find many valleys, mountains, caves and fairy chimneys. Fairy chimneys are mostly found around the town of Göreme. They are typically tall thin rock formations that appear to have a hat on them, kind of mushroom like. In some places the chimneys aren’t singly single formations, but clustered. They say that it was unknown how the chimneys got their ‘hats’ and that it must have been fairy’s that made them, which is how they got the name Fairy Chimneys. The appearance of the hats or mushroom tops of the chimneys is more likely caused by wind erosion. The wind must blow tear through the valleys but only go up to a certain height, which I find odd and a little hard to believe, but it’s otherwise a little hard to imagine hot the chimneys got their tops. No matter what the cause, the fairy chimneys look very cool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn Göreme is also an open air museum which shows many of the cave dwellings and churches. It’s a great spot to visit as you get to look at the constructions of the cave dwellings at close quarters. Get a feel for how they lived and you can even see a lot of original art works.

While the rock formations in Cappadocia are all natural, their conversion to caves is absolutely the result of humans. Some cave dwellings are still privately owned, if they aren’t in a national park people may even still live in them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack in the time of the Hittites, underground cities were created as places to hide from the enemies. Seeking refuge in an underground city was always a temporary option, but in some cases people lived in the cities for up to a year. The cities have many levels and an endless stream of tunnels. I was incredibly impressed to find a winery in one of the cities!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe interrupted all our visits to rock formations with an evening show. We went to see the Whirling Dervishes. The Sufis whirl around in circles as a form of meditation, in which they feel a connection between their god and the earth. as they spin they reach their arms up, the right hand higher than the left and their head tilted to the right. The right hand is their connection to god and their left is their connection to earth. The whirling ceremony is led by a Sheikh and is made up of seven parts, including singing, bowing to each other, four sets of twirling and a reading from the Qu’ran. I found it quite an interesting ceremony to watch. If you come to Turkey, make sure you see a ceremony.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring our time in Cappadocia the weather was a bit up and down, we had some moments of brilliant sunshine and other moments of thunder and hail storms. We still got to see a great deal of the area, including visits to Uchisar Castle, the Rose Valley, Pigeon Valley and the Red Valley. At one point on a rainy afternoon, we also managed to fit in a wine tasting of some local wines. An absolute bonus and high point of our visit to Cappadocia was staying in a cave hotel (MDC Hotel) which was just amazing!

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Everywhere you look in Cappadocia there are amazing things to see. Anyone considering a trip to Turkey must make time to visit!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor all my Cappadocia photos, check out the album on Flickr.

 

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Ephesus and Pamukkale

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATurkey is quite a big country within Europe, with a population close to 80 million. 18 million of whom live in Istanbul, which despite its popularity is not the capital of Turkey. Turkey is quite odd because it spans two different continents. 3% of Turkey is in Europe, a region referred to as Thrace and 97% is in Asia, referred to as Anatolia.

For me personally Turkey had three main destinations I wanted to visit: Istanbul, Pamukkale and Cappadocia. I will talk about Cappadocia and Istanbul in coming posts, but for now I would like to talk about the coastal town Kusadasi and its nearby highlights.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKusadasi

Kusadasi is a major tourist port on the coast of the Aegean Sea. It regularly has multiple cruise ships in port. Because of this the town is incredibly touristy, very expensive and for me, it wasn’t that pleasant a place to be. The major draw card of Kusadasi is its proximity to some other places.

The House of the Virgin Mary

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the 19th century a Roman Catholic nun, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich had visions of the house of the Virgin Mary, describing its location and its appearance. The visions were recorded author Clemens Brentano. Some time later a French priest discovered a house near the Aegean Sea that matched the exact description Mary’s house as recorded by Brentano. Despite the question of authenticity, many people make the pilgrimage to the house. Many people also take the water from the natural springs nearby to use as holy water, with the belief it has some spiritual and healing properties. There is also a wishing wall where people write their wish on a piece of paper and tie it to the wishing wall. It was quite an interesting site to visit, and it certainly has a great deal of history.

Ephesus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear to the House of the Virgin Mary is the ancient city of Ephesus. It was built around 6000BC and experienced many different regimes throughout its existence. When looking at the architecture and construction these regimes are visible. As an example, the red brickwork is from the Byzantine period; marble from the Roman period and grey stone from the Greek period.

I’m not the most knowledgeable on history, but I must say it was a very old site and while I might not have retained must of the history I was provided, I did find it a fascinating place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe city was enormous and very spread out. I think that without deviating much from the main path, it was over a kilometer walking from one end to the other. There were two amphitheaters, the smaller one up the hill and the larger towards the bottom of the site. The larger one was used for bigger events, including gladiator and animal fights. Nearby this amphitheater was the gymnasium, where the gladiators trained in fitness, strength and fighting skills.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABased on the size of the amphitheater, and other factors I’m sure, archeologists have determined that the ancient city had a population of roughly 250,000. Of those 200,000 were locals and 50,000 were slaves. My two favourite structures in the city were the temple of Hadrian and the Library; they are both gorgeous structures and have lots of fine detail in the carvings.

Temple of Artemis

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe goddess Artemis was considered the goddess of fertility in Roman times. A temple was created and dedicated to her, the Temple of Artemis, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

It was originally a grand structure with 127 columns, but now only one remains together with some small parts of the foundations.

Pamukkale

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe name Pamukkale translates to Cotton Castle. The region got this name because of the high volume of calcium carbonate in the water, which has created a white ‘castle’ on the hillside, with hot springs and travertines. The castle used to be pristine white, but due to its popularity many people used to visit, hotels were built on the site, people used to walk on the area and even ride motorbikes over the area. Thankfully UNESCO has since protected it and site access is fairly heavily restricted. If you want to walk down to the travertines and swim in the small pools you must walk barefoot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ancient city of Hierapolis was actually built on the hillside above the castle, and many opt to visit this city as well as the white castle. For me, the only thing that had my attention was the travertines. The white castle covers a large area and is approximately 2,700 metres long, 600 metres wide and 160 metres high. Of this, most of the travertines are dried up, but there is one very small portion that remains. Small, tiered, pristine white terraces containing vivid aqua-blue water that are just stunning to see. Battling the hordes of tourists was worth it to see this amazing natural wonder.

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Check out all my Ephesus and Pamukkale photos on Flickr.

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