Turkish Delight!!!

Trip Start Oct 13, 2004
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Trip End Jun 21, 2005


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Caravanserai Hotel

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Friday, May 20, 2005

May 11th - 20th, 2005

She Said:

Turkey... "What a Delight!!"

I must admit Turkey has never been high on my places to visit for whatever preconceived notions I held and after our experiences in Egypt we were a bit trepidatious about another sojourn into a Muslim country. I have been absolutely blown away by this country on so many fronts - the people are amazing, it is unbelievably clean and there are so many diverse things to see. I am really sad to be leaving....I feel like we just touched the tip of the iceberg on exploring the country and getting to know the people. We have been treated so well here. THX Christian, for talking us into adding this to our itinerary!!!!

So what'd we do....landed in Kusadasi from the Greek Island of Samos. Considering that no one in Greece seems to have any information on getting to Turkey, I was beginning to wonder if there were any boat services to this country. It turns out there's plenty, but just don't ask anyone from Greece to help you....there is NO love lost between these countries and apparently the newfound popularity of Turkey has hurt Greek tourism so everyone in Greece seems to be ensuring they are not contributing to that statistic.

We were immediately struck with the incredible cleanliness everywhere...what a welcome change after months of "litterati" (my new word for the horrendous garbage situation in much of the world). Everyone was bending over backwards to help us and unlike "TippyMe" (our name for Egypt) no one expects a tip, in fact a number of times we were blatantly refused when we offered money for things. What a switch.

We stayed at a wonderful place, Club Caravanserai. It was literally an old Caravanserai which dates back to the old days of the Silk Road, where camel caravans used to conduct trade missions between China and Europe. The Caravanserai was the stopping points erected by the sultan to provide safe lodging and commerce to the travelers. This one had been beautifully restored and again the service here was second to none. When we asked about bus tickets to Cappadocia and found we were too early in the season to have a direct route, the owner sent his man out to get us tickets for all legs and then drove us there in his car to ensure we had no difficulty.

We also attended a Turkish Nite there which included some wonderful food and entertainment for hours....every form of dance from belly dancing to many different traditional Turkish dances.

Close by Kusadasi is Ephesus which is the home some amazing ancient ruins. Outside of Egypt, these are the most well preserved ruins we have seen and it was wonderful to see the different facets of the town including the beautiful old roads including one of marble, the library, homes, toilets & baths (they had plumbing) and most amazing to me - the huge amphitheatre which seated 25,000 for entertainment including gladiator contests.

Our next destination was Cappadocia which I had read a lot about and was my must do for Turkey. However the 12 hours bus ride to get there was a bit daunting. That said by all accounts the bus systems in Turkey were outstanding and tho' a 12 hour overnite bus trip wasn't something I was looking forward to, we bit the bullet and jumped aboard the overnight bus to Cappadocia. Clearly this is the transportation of choice for most travelers and locals alike, it is a very well run system - even downright civilized. They have a steward that brings drinks and a snack. The odd phenomenon is that these buses have no toilets (huh....12 hrs and no loo?!) but they do stage regular 'Pee & Tea' stops, which make it nice to stretch your legs a bit. A further testament to the cleanliness of the culture - the buses are fully hosed down and washed at every stop - you ain't never seen cleaner vehicles!

You meet some interesting people of every type on these trips and we met a real life version of Mike Myers's Wayne from Wayne's World "Duuude, these inflatable pillows are like cheeese, maaan" (does anyone remember this drug-addled duo from the 80's movie?) I was disappointed when they fell asleep as eavesdropping on their colorful discourse was thoroughly amusing!

Cappadocia lived up to it's billing and more! An absolutely mystical world with odd formations (slightly hoodoo-like) they call Fairy Chimneys, created out of eroded volcanic ash. To further add to the charm, caves have been carved into the rock everywhere, creating homes, churches and even full underground cities. It was fascinating and so very interesting to learn about the history and culture of the area. We did a lot of hiking and climbing while exploring this unusual landscape with so many mysteries of yore. The wildflowers were coming out and the cool air made for some beautiful, refreshing springtime treks.

An absolute highlight was our sunrise balloon ride with Kappadocia Balloons ( http://www.kappadociaballons.com). I must admit I was truly questioning my sanity on signing us up for this $800+ extravaganza, as I tried to rouse the troops at 4:30 in the morning. Luckily, no one regretted the lack of sleep by the end!

Lars, one of the owners was a wonderful pilot dropping us down into canyons and up close to caves carved into the fairly chimneys - all the time regaling us with interesting and humorous stories of life and history of the area. He is famous for being able to actually pluck peaches out of the trees from the balloon, but being that it wasn't peach season, he did one better and actually brought the balloon close enough to the ground to allow one of his staff to present Kayla with a bouquet of beautiful wildflowers before swooping back into the sky. Truly magical. Not to leave Tyler out of it, he made the most aerodynamically advanced paper airplanes I have ever seen complete with flaps that rode along the currents with us for ages - he definately went into Tyler's idol book!!

Traveling with children is definitely the great equalizer in meeting new cultures, and most countries loved meeting Kayla and Tyler. However, once again Turkey took this to whole new levels. The Turkish school year was just ending, so we ran into a lot of children on year end field trips - these kids were absolutely fascinated by us. In particular, the busloads from neighboring Turkish countries (Kzakhastan et al) had clearly never had much exposure to westerners and would all want to know our names and where we were from and would we mind if they got their picture with us. At first this seemed very reminiscent of TippyMe-Egypt tactics, where they'd all rush to get their picture taken with you and then demand payment. Upon realizing this was genuine fascination with us we were shocked - "you want your picture with US???" One young girl was particularly taken with Kayla and seemingly dropped out of her group to follow us around eventually presenting Kayla with a special bracelet she had been wearing herself. After an hour or so of this, our moment of celebrity was enough and we escaped the hordes for a quiet hike thru the valley. Imagine, our very own paparazzi :-)

We'd been warned by some people that Istanbul was all about fighting off the touts. We again braced ourselves for the 'unpleasant' side of Turkey...we never experienced it. Sure lots of people selling you their stuff, but I never found it to be in an offensive way. Many times, these people would willingly just help us out with directions or give something free to the children (or us) and always offer a cup of Apple Tea for your time. Even in the Grand Baazar, the GrandDaddy of all shopping extravaganzas (>4000 shops under one roof) we found most people to be great. Of course, you must keep in mind that I LOVE to shop and this is the Mecca of shopping. I was once again able to hone my bartering skills in the acquisition of a new beautiful hand woven carpet, leather, cashmere and sooooo much more. It just seemed so civilized to do it with a cup of tea and so extravagant to buying things for Billions of Lira. Of course, 1,000,000 lira isn't even 1 Cdn dollar but hey, when was the last time you spent a billion of anything :-) Actually, there were obviously getting to be too many zeros in the transactions, so they rationalized the currency where 1 M Old Lira = 1 New Lira, but the old ones won't be phased out for a couple of years. We kept a few million just for keepsakes...how decadent.

The children have even got into the bartering game....when someone tries to sell us something, Tyler will quip in "too much, too much". It's so cute, I'm sure it doesn't hurt my bartering efforts to have him along! The kids even barter among themselves and have created a whole market system often pretending to 'sell' us anything they think might interest us. "Mommy, would you like to buy this apple? Only 20 bucks" We'll have to caution them against these tactics on the playground! :-)

We took in the usual Istanbul tourist affairs and found them all very beautiful with wonderful rich history. I personally just enjoyed the relaxation of taking a boat ride down the Bosphorus and really admiring what a nice city it is from the river. Lots of greenery, beautiful homes and palaces along the river. After some of the rivers we've been on, it was a pleasure to see actual blue water not full garbage and pollution.

I could give you tons of recommendations, but we found the most amazing website that has it all. Tom is a former writer for the Turkey editions of both Lonely Planet & Frommers and we found it very useful. www.Turkeytravelplanner.com Loved his new book, too.

So if you're looking for an inexpensive, interesting, diverse holiday with amazing people....get your butts to Turkey! Tally ho, we're off to London.

Highlights:

1. Balloon Ride over Cappadocia - even ranking as a trip highlight!

2. Hiking the Ilhara Gorge & lunch along the river. Sheer rock walls with the amazing carved homes & cave churches all throughout. In the bottom, the river provides such a lush environ to hike thru the valley - it is totally gorgeous.

3. The underground city of Derinkuyu or Kaymakli(none of us can remeber which one...but it was the largest). Initially built by the Hitites over 3000 years ago and continually expanded over the centuries, these cities are an amazing architectural achievement going 7 stories underground with facilities for entire villages of 1500 to live for 6-8 months at a time. The air shaft also combined as well shaft to a deep underground spring, as well as an 'elevator' shaft for transporting goods between floors - amazing. These people had thought of everything - kitchens, storage, nursery, churches, mill, they even had a winery for what society can exist for any length of time without wine!!! Perhaps even I could have survived in these times :)

4. Shopping - loved the products, the prices and the people. Bought WAAAAY too much, but hey think of how much money I saved :). (The more she buys the more she saves... -Mark) And they do have something for everyone here from beautiful, high quality products to kitschy items like "genuine Turkish Viagra"...funny.

5. The people ... the warmest, friendliest people. The fellow travelers we met here were awesome, too (the most Canadians of any other country we visited). A family from Edmonton was staying at the same place, Kose Pension in Cappadocia...really great people and Kayla loved having a new playmate. Every demographic was represented - young, old, families, backpackers, 5 Stars and everything in between. ..awesome!

Lowlights:
1. Having to leave too soon
2. Visited Topkapi Palace on a national holiday - it was WAY too packed.

He Said:

Highlights:
1. The Turkish People
2. The ancient city of Ephesus
3. The History - Turkey is steeped in history throughout the ages
4. The Biblical History - Turkey was once a hot bed for Christianity
5. Cappadocia - this area's landscape makes it seem like you've landed on an alien planet
6. Balloon Ride over Cappadocia
7. Bosphorus Cruise
8. Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom) the Turks call it "Ayasofya"
9. Running along the Sea Wall in Istanbul
10.Starbucks in Istanbul, just continuing the theme :-)

Lowlights:
1. Extending my Backgammon losing streak to Tyler a.k.a 'The Big Shoootaa', the kid's a hot roller.

2. Having to leave to soon, we definitely have to go back.

Well I must say that Turkey was an amazing and complete surprise!!! After our Egypt experience I must confess to feeling very anxious as we boarded our boat in Samos to make the short 3 or 5 km trip over to Kusadaci, Turkey. After Egypt I had, in my mind, broad brushed all Islamic nations in a very negative tone. As such I was more than a little apprehensive about Turkey.

Upon arriving I soon realized I could not have been more wrong and my anxiety could not have been more unfounded. Turkey and the Turkish people were amazing. The country is rich in history and sights and the people as friendly as any people we have ever encountered. Shannon and I debated back and forth and we finally both concluded that overall the Turkish people were indeed the friendliest people we have encountered in our travels. They unseated the Balinese to win that distinction and let me assure you that is no small feat.

It was also good for me to experience another nation that was predominantly Muslim and to have such a different experience. It helped me realize that Islam is not the problem it is the people behind it that turn, twist and exploit it. And before anyone pounces on me I have realized that Christianity, my faith, has just as much blood on it's hands if not more than any other religion we have encountered on this trip. I mean let's take a look at such shining moments in Christian history like the Crusades or the Inquisition. Hardly models to hold up to show the love and grace of God. What is it about religious leaders who twist God's love and grace to such a point that they believe forced conversion is what God wants for his people. Of all things in our lives should not our relationship with God be a personal choice. Is that not why we were given free will?

It certainly has forced me to pause and take a hard look at my faith, my beliefs and what spirituality means to me. It is also a clear reminder to me why Step 3 in the A.A. Big Book says "Made a decision to turn our will and our life over to the care of God as we understand him". That statement is inclusive and removes the issue of religion, far from the exclusiveness of many of the other religions in the world or, should I say more accurately, man's implementation of them. For me my faith has gotten really simple and really clear, it is about my personal relationship with God, period.

For me, organized religion, and by that I mean the Legalism and Dogma that man has wrapped around his relationship with God, has become dry cracked soil where faith has difficulty taking root vs. the fertile soil it should be. Legalism and Dogma, in my opinion, are the greatest barriers to spiritual growth. God has become lost in all the rules, rituals, fear and judgment that so many of our religious institutions adhere to. What a shame that something so simple, a personal relationship with God, has become so complicated. I used the term religious institutions on purpose because it is an all encompassing statement and does not point the finger at one religion or another. In my experience most, if not all, are guilty at some level of handicapping true spiritual growth in this manner.

I think at the end of the day what matters to God is what is in each of our hearts. And for me all the rules, dogma, fear, judgment and force in the end cannot change what is in my heart. What is in my heart is a matter of personal choice. And isn't that the way it is supposed to be?

Ok, I admit that was a heavy start to Turkey, but then again Turkey was a heavy experience for me. The difference between Turkey and Egypt forced me to take a hard look at my biases, my beliefs and my spirituality. And quite frankly those are never light matters!

So, now on to lighter matters, our 10 wonderful days in Turkey. Upon arrival there was an entry visa fee, all which must be paid in cash and then the normal customs line. Here at customs was the first sign that Turkey was going to be a much different experience than I had feared it would be. There were some fellow Canadians on the boat who arrived in Kusadasi without 1 cent of cash. Now here they were facing arrival and visa fees payable only in cash and you could tell they feared the worst. But alas, nothing to fear here, they let him walk into to town to the nearest ATM to get the cash while his wife waited behind. I can only imagine the trouble this poor couple would have had if they had showed up somewhere else in this predicament but luckily they tried it in Turkey - land of the friendliest people we have met so far.

I think that pretty much sums up our experience with the people in Turkey they are amazingly friendly and they seem to go out of there way to ensure that visitors to their wonderful country have a great time. I could spend this whole post just writing about the great experiences we had with the people of Turkey, but I won't. What I will say is if you get a chance plan a trip to Turkey, you won't regret it!

Besides the people the history and sights are spectacular. We spent our first couple nights at the Hotel Caravanserai which is right across from the Port. Kusadasi provides a great base from which to explore a number of sights, which we in Whirling Dervish fashion packed into a single very action packed day. We got an early start and jumped on one of the mini-buses that run between Kusadasi and Selcuk (prounounced Selchook). Just before you get to Selcuk are the ruins of the city of Ephesus. And in the same area is Mary House, the house where the Virgin Mary reportedly lived out her life after the death of her son.

I think that is one of things that I found so amazing during our time in this part of the world. Between, Egypt, Greece and Turkey the area is ripe with both ancient and religious history. It really helps bring history to life to come and experience these places. I mean this was the city of the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote one of his letters to the Ephesians. I mean logically I knew it existed but now I was walking through what remains of this magnificent ancient city. It was very cool and the ruins are amazing especially for me the Amphitheatre and the fašade of the library.

After Ephesus and Mary's house it was into Selcuk to see the museum (where they have a cool gladiator exhibit) and the church, or at least the remains of the church where the Apostle John's tomb is. After that it was back to Hotel Caravanserai for the Turkish Night which was highly entertaining and well worth it. How's that for a whirlwind day of touring!

After Kusadasi it was time for our first of two adventures on the overnight bus. This leg was a 12 hour journey from Izmir to Goreme. Now I know most people's initial response to the thought of an overnight bus for 12 hours is not "O'Boy, when can I go". I know mine wasn't. But, as it turned out it is not a bad way to travel and the buses in Turkey are amazingly clean and efficient with regular stops along the way. That said, 12 hours on a bus twice in a week was enough to last me for a while. I won't be booking any Greyhound trips to Vancouver or Winnipeg when I get home that's for sure.

This area of Turkey is amazing. I swear you could easily spend a week or 2 just wondering down the various valleys checking out caves houses and the chimney fairies. It was a runner's paradise with endless dirt trails and roads running through out the area. Overall though the two biggest highlights were the Underground City and our balloon ride with Kappadocia Balloons.

Shannon has provided most of the relevant details on the underground city, suffice to say it was every bit as amazing as she describes it. It really boggles your mind as you are wandering from one level to next by bedrooms, cooking areas, etc. just how amazing a feat these underground cities are. And the fact that the air is so fresh, even 4 or 5 stories down is quite the engineering feat when you think about when these cities were created. They definitely get the "Too Cool" award.

The balloon ride while definitely not a budget item was, in my opinion at least, worth every penny we paid. Partly because of the scenery below us, partly because there are no restrictions on how low you can fly and mostly because our Pilot Lars, was extremely capable and as such took full advantage of the first two points. It was unbelievable really the things that we got to see due to his skill. There were many times he'd have us drifting down a canyon or gorge with the wall rapidly approaching and with a few deft maneuvers we glide effortlessly over the wall with seemingly only inches to spare. It was exhilarating!

The kids absolutely loved it and when Lars began constructing paper airplanes to launch from the balloon Tyler could not believe it. That said we were all astounded at the flight of two of the three planes. One went into a death spiral fairly early on but the last one probably stayed airborne for 15 or 20 minutes before gently landing in a farmer's field. It was very cool and Lars is very talented both with paper airplanes and with balloon flight. For me it is a must do if you are visiting, but @ $230 US pp it is not cheap.

Our time in Cappadocia passed too quickly and before we knew it we were staring another overnight bus ride in the face. This time the destination was Istanbul. I must confess to again feeling a bit anxious, we had so far been in relatively small centers and as such I was again bracing myself. And again it was all for naught, Istanbul is a great city, very cosmopolitan, Starbucks is in the house :-), very rich in history and amazingly clean. Turkey as a whole is a very clean country. I don't know if this was always the case but we were blown away at how clean Turkey was and Istanbul in particular was a real surprise. I just expected a city that big would be a lot dirtier.

We found accommodations in Sultanahmet which is old Istanbul. Here we walking distance to pretty much all the main sites the Blue Mosque, Ayasofya, The Grand Bizarre, Taskim and the Bosphorus. I had initially thought that we'd chill out after our all night bus ride but with no rooms available to check into that early we dropped our stuff and headed out. By early afternoon we had the Blue Mosque, Ayasofya and a stop at McDonalds all behind us. For me just wandering around Istanbul was the highlight. It is just alive and rich in history, so much to see and so much to do. The Blue Mosque was very cool, as was Ayasofya (originally a church converted to a mosque), the palace probably was very cool but it was so crowded the day we were there that I just blew it off and Tyler and I headed back to the hotel. It was just no fun to battle the crowds. Again if we had a few more days it would have been nice.

Overall Turkey gets full marks as a place to visit. It really does have it all!

Kid's Said:

Highlights:
Tyler - More backgammon wins (now 'backgamblin' in Tyler-ease), Flying paper airplanes from the balloon
Kayla - Cappadocia Balloon Ride and flying paper airplanes from the balloon, Hiking the Gorge and lunch in Gorge, the Underground city (I'm not afraid of being in deep caves anymore - Yay!), Fairy Chimneys, Club Caravanserai - the Turkish dance nite was great and the rooms were nice, getting a new leather coat, bartering, the Topkapi Palace, Agasofia, Blue Mosque, Ali (the local boy at Kose) was a highlight cuz it was fun to play with another kid and he got into the mud really bad and it was funny, Ashlin (the girl from Edmonton) was definitely a highlight, the Obelisk from Egypt in the Hippodrome, getting a new bracelet from my new friend.

Lowlights:
Tyler - When all the kids were trying to kiss me. (our paparazzi moment)
Kayla - Ali was a lowlight because he sprayed water at us and he put sand in my eyes and mouth.
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