Day 7: Hello! Let me sell you something you don’t need.

Day 7: Istanbul, Turkey

 We had such grand plans for today, let me start by saying that! We were going to hit up the Grand Bazaar followed by a trip to Maidens Tower and over to the Asia side and then end the day at Dolmabace Palace. Let me fully endorse this day plan to anyone else planning a trip to Istanbul. Sadly, having woken up late and then spending a while trying to buy plane tickets to Izmir the next day, this plan was rather out of the question. It was also super cold out and looked like it might rain, ok?

So instead, having finished booking our next day’s plan, we headed to the Grand Bazaar where there is a lot to see and a lot of people trying to sell you “things you don’t need.” Beware! The first time they say this it is very cute and almost endearing. Once you realize that this is the new calling card of market vendors however, the cuteness wears off a bit and you appreciate the sellers that are like, look at my stuff at your own leisure, if you want to buy it or ask a question, cool. If not, that’s ok too. I think we both showed remarkable restraint in our shopping, me buying two lamps from the awesome and cute Haçi and two scarves and Leah roughly the same. We spent probably an hour in the lamp shop and are so grateful for Haçi’s patience and refreshing tea. A new friend is born!

Shopping at the Grand Bazaar done, we had a bit of a wander and some simit and stopped at the yummy soap shop just down the road from Second Home. Was a relaxing day! When we returned, we chatted a bit with Çan and the other hostel peeps before a nap.

 That night, Memo made an awesome supper of salad, Turkish ravioli (yum!), and some yummy little spicy, couscous-ish thingies (will find out name later), all of which were delicious! We continued our evening socializing with some new friends from all around the world including America and Germany. What nicer way to spend an evening than with friends? We were all commenting on how different it is now than it was to travel just a few years previously, withWiFi, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter becoming so prevalent.  Before when you travelled, you maybe gave your email address out but likely never corresponded with the person. Now, it’s possible to easily keep in touch with traveller friends. Incredible. 

We were also able to sample some Turkish alcohol too, called Raki – tastes like licorice, clear in the bottle, and white when added to water. Yum! With that, it was time to head for bed to be ready for our 5am wake up! Luckily our new friends Chloe and Elaine were also getting up to catch the early airport shuttle so it made things much easier.

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Day 8: “Is that the bus station?” “No, it’s a mosque!”

Day 8: Istanbul to Selçuk via Izmir

 Today we caught a flight to Izmir, where we had considered stopping for a few hours to look around but it was really quite rainy so we skipped that entirely and easily caught the train from the airport to Selçuk. The Izmir airport is very nice and they were handing out flowers for International Women’s Day upon arrival. 🙂

The train ride to Selçuk was uneventful other than the fact that they didn’t announce that we were in Selçuk so we had a bit of a kerfuffle getting off with our massive packs in short order. Pretty sure I may had slightly bruised several Turkish people with that mad dash! At that point, going off the website I think, we headed to the bus station to catch our shuttle to Atilla’s Getaway. Little did we know that the 3 girls from India just down the platform from us were going to the same place and we could’ve gotten a ride from the station directly! Anyhow, we snagged directions and went in search of bus station. We thought maybe we were getting close when we saw a large building with a few buses and lots of people outside. However, please refer to the title of this post now…

 

Luckily we did find the bus station, just down from the mosque and soon headed to Atilla’s with the awesome Carlos. That afternoon, we settled in and learned that falling into a deep pool that is drained for winter will leave you with a broken leg with pins and plates. Get well soon, Atilla! 😉

 

We spent the rest of the afternoon taking a hike up the mountain behind the hostel, which gave a beautiful view of Selçuk and then having a delicious supper prepared by Atilla’s mother. We really enjoyed conversing with the 3 Indian girls staying there too. Such funny girls! One of the major reasons I travel – the amazing people that you meet!

Day 6: You look better today/In Turkey, I am beautiful.

Day 6: Istanbul, Turkey

Apparently yesterday I looked tired/not my best/or something, because much like my students in Korea used to do, Memo made the observation aka back-handed compliment this morning of “You look better today”. Haha…why thank you Memo, so very kind. This reminded me of a saying that my well-travelled friend Brian had shown me once, which is ‘in Turkey, I am beautiful’ – Brendan Shanahan. Now, the only Brendan Shanahan I know is a hockey player, so not sure what that is all about, but anyhow, today I look better so, you know, yay.

Today we had a big agenda – Topkapi Sarayi, Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, and Basilica Cistern. Well, would you believe it, we ticked ALL of those off our list by about 2:30PM! They are all located quite close to Second Home, within very easy walking distance so we made a loop of it. In fact, by the cistern, we were getting a little grumpy and done with walking around so we actually skipped it, but it’s the thought that counts, yeah? (Sidenote, we have since been told by more than one person that this is actually really cool and we were so totally wrong for skipping it. Oops.)

To be honest, while Topkapi was cool, and I’d probably do it again, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. You can see the palace as well as some exhibits of old jewels, swords, aigrettes, thrones, etc, but overall I was slightly underwhelmed. There are some great city views from here too however. Beware tho, to go into the Harem, it costs extra.

Next we meandered along and ended up looking at the tombs of Aya Sofya, which are not connected to Aya Sofya, at least for the public. The tombs are free and somewhat interesting. 

Just down from the tombs we stopped in the big open square area where you can see the Blue Mosque, and Aya Sofya together on opposite ends, where we had some cheese toast and a beverage, fresh squeezed pomegranate for me and Turkish coffee for Leah. This was a welcome break! Once refreshed, we headed into Aya Sofya, where a fellow just outside the gate asked us first: “do you want to just see walls and columns or do you want to know things?” We looked at each other and in unison said, “walls and columns!” I think we were headed into info overload!

Aya Sofya was very beautiful, but really, really cold! Marble buildings do not lend themselves to warmth. I lent Leah my gloves to wear around in fact! This building is unique because it has aspects of both Muslim and Christian faiths depicted in the walls. There is some history to this but of course, we were just there for the walls and columns.

Afterwards we headed over to the Blue Mosque, which is impressive in size as well as length of line to get in. They provide scarves and wraps for those who do not fit the dress code and ablution facilities. Without too much delay, we headed in to the mosque, where the small boy rolling without pause, along the floor really stole the show. No joke, this kid rolled from all the way at the front of the mosque to the middle and around to the middle. It would seem he has foregone walking for the foreseeable future. But yes, the ceiling is also beautiful!

Once done, we headed back to the hostel via the Hippodrome. We freshened up then headed out on the tram to the last stop across the river where we caught the funicular up the hill to Taksim Square. At Taksim, we found a Starbucks, where I was most unimpressed to learn that not only do they not have blonde roast, they also do not take gold cards. Come on! You’re killing me here! This trip has really been a coffee detox for me. Maybe that’s why I’ve been having significantly more chocolate…

Istiklal St connects at Taksim Sq so we hooked up with that and perused through the shops. If you follow Istiklal all the way along, you can eventually meet up with Galata Tower, so we did that and meandered down a different street on our way back than the one we had the night before. Hence…we found a cotton towel/soap shop and ended up with purchases and a really neat shop called Dogo, with these amazing patterned shoes, bags, clothes, and accessories. Shopping in hand we stopped for falafel for dinner. 

With that long day behind us, we headed back to plan out our next few days and sleep!

Day 9: Ephesus…Yes!

Ahmet and Ali (driver)

We started our day with a delicious breakfast at Atilla’s, again made by Mum: fresh veggies,  delicious fresh toast,  egg,  cheese,  and tea. We were picked up by Ali our driver and Ahmet our guide as the sun and blue sky were breaking through. Onboard, we met two of our other tour companions,  a mother-daughter pair from Germany. We were waiting for 4 more people coming from the airport so we stopped for some apple tea and simit. Once our other group members arrived, we set out for the House of St. Mary. This is way at the top of a hill with views of Ephesus and the Aegean sea on the way. There are many olive and fruit trees lining the road as well, contributing to the Mediterranean feeling.
Our first stop was the House of St Mary or ‘Meryemana’. The house of St Mary is so called because it is believed that she lived there for a short period of time. This site is small and maybe most interesting and significant if you are religious. Still, it is very peaceful there…marred only by the people trying to sell you stuff at the gate…

There is a wishing wall there, unlike the wishing column in Aya Sofya, that you can tie a scrap of something onto after writing your wish onto it. These scraps are widely varied,  ranging from tissues (my parchment of choice), to what appeared to be wet wipes to someone’s very nice looking scarf! I took a moment and included my wish on the wall,  figuring it can never hurt to make a wish.

With that, we departed for Ephesus, our raison d’être for coming to Selçuk. Upon arriving at the gates, Ahmet lead us through the surprisingly large site, on a roughly 2 hour walk consisting of informative talks interspersed with free time. The ruins are slightly more ruinous than I had expected,  but due to earthquakes, things being carted off to various other sites and museums,  and so forth,  this is unsurprising. The library and big odeon at the end of the visit are the most impressive,  with Elton John and Sting having performed in the Odeon which can seat 25, 000! The toilets were also really interesting to see.

With Ephesus done we headed for lunch at my worst nightmare: the tourist buffet. Granted, it’s included and it’s all you can eat, but we still had to pay for our beverage on top of the meal (what?!), and I just hate those massive halls where the tourists just pile in with no choice.  Ugh. Anyhow,  we had a nice meal and conversation with our group. The other 4 were American, a father/son from Cali and a couple from NYC, all quite well traveled and informative people! I just can’t say enough for the amazing humans I meet while travelling. They are one of the main reasons travel is so rewarding. They were recommending the archeological museum and Dolmabache Palace in Istanbul as being two worthwhile places we did not visit.

With lunch done, we headed to the Temple of Artemis. This site is essentially completely in ruins apart from one tower and the base. Also, mind the poop! There is a LOT scattered around from the various critters that inhabit the site now. Still an interesting place to visit.

From there, we drove over to Isabey Mosque, a 14th century construct with bits of Ephesian pieces included in it, making it a very unique site. On our way here, we could see the Selçuk castle and the St John Basilica both of which looked beautiful but we did not stop at.

Lastly we stopped at a carpet making site,  which has a program teaching girls to make these beautiful pieces of work and receiving a government subsidy to do so. Very cool. It was fascinating to see the carpet making and how intricate and unique it is. Some carpets can take 7 years or more to make! Even the border of the carpet (the fringes) mean something: you can tell the marital status of the maker from it! Each style of pattern and the dyes used are specific to each region of Turkey, further making each carpet unlike any other. I now understand the durability and value of these pieces of art! Learning about that was worth the awkward bit at the end where they were trying to sell us on a carpet!

Once we got back home, I convinced Leah to hike up a wee bit of a mountain to get a great view of the valley. With a bit of convincing, she was game. What resulted was some awesome jump shots. Another delicious dinner by Atilla’s mum at the bottom and conversation with some awesome Irish folks, hi Edie and Andy! , and it was off to bed!

Day 10: Invasion of the Ajummas

Pammukkale: We bid farewell to Atilla’s with another early morning and another yummy breakfast made by his mum. I’d like to think Dusty was even more enthusiastic about us this morning, making leaving more sad!

We hopped on the bus with our new Irish friends, Edie and Andy, and our tour folk, Hakan the driver and Nigar, our guide.  The drive to Pammukkale was most enjoyable,  featuring  blue skies, olive trees,  rolling hills and an old man in rubber boots riding a donkey along the roadside.

Upon arrival to Pamukkale,  we had our lunch,  another tourist buffet. This time there was quite the assortment of desserts, for which I was the appointed guinea pig. We had a time trying to decide about the bright red and blue jello-esque squares set on a thin crust… no dessert ought to be that color. Just no.

From the buffet we then made the obligatory call upon the local craftspeople who have an arrangement with our tour company,  where we learned the basics of how they take semi-precious stones and turn them into things like wine glasses, mortar and pestles and various other objets d’art. As always, I found the demo interesting and luckily,  unlike with the carpets, there was no awkward sitting around or pressures to buy, so soon we were on our merry way.

Arriving at Pamukkale & Hierapolis was spectacular. The white calcium carbonate cliffs with the ruins set behind them are just beautiful.  Nigar gave us a quick low-down on the site,  created by Pergammon, and showed us what some of the buildings would have looked like,  then set us free to explore.  I tried some of the water from Cleopatra’s pool, which is said to have the ability to make you more beautiful. Not sure if it’s true but worth a try!

We wandered about the ruins which are b beautiful much like those at Ephesus but I preferred the wild feeling of those at Hierapolis.  The poppies are in bloom amongst the ruins and it made for quite a beautiful scene. It was actually quite hot out and we shed down to one layer. Lovely!

We began to drift back over to the Pamukkale cliffs where Leah soon found out what happens when you walk somewhere you’re not meant to: you get the whistle!  So yeah, she quickly moved back to the appointed area, fearing further whistle action.

We walked back over to the area you can walk on,  and tried it out. It’s actually quite hard to walk on in many spots and the water in the top pools is a bit cold. There was a large group of ajummas touring the pools at the same time, making me very nostalgic for Korea. One of them I walked up beside was very impressed with my height. She was insisting on taking a picture with me,  which of course I could understand all of,  and I was speaking Korean back to her.  The funny part of it all was that the strange thing to the ajumma was not the fact that this white chick was speaking Korean but that this white chick was so tall! Ah I miss Koreans.

With that, we hopped back on the bus and into town. Our bus for Fethiye didn’t leave for a bit so we did some errands: snacks and the post office! A super nice fellow helped me box up my item as apparently there are not envelopes for sale like in Canada.

Returning back to the travel agency,  we quickly boarded our minibus for the mad dash to the station. No one had told us our bus left from the main bus terminal at 5 and we had to drop off others at the train station on the way!  Luckily we made it and our little minibus,  or dolmus, took off for Fethiye.

The drive through the country was great.  I even saw a horse-drawn wagon!  We had a beautiful sunset and then the ride just started to drag on. We came to realize that perhaps we’d been put on the milk run to Fethiye and our 2 – ish hour ride soon became 4.
Once we got to Fethiye finally,  we’d expected to be able to just “rock on up” as Atilla put it, to V-Go’s but after much confusion and a helter-skelter dolmus ride,  we discovered it was not actually open….
At this point it was like 9:45pm and our kind dolmus driver took pity on us. We drove with him to the end of the line then he sacrificed his break time to drive back sooner,  albeit at like 10km/hr. We saw Fethiye Guesthouse,  which we knew was open,  so got him to stop and we disembarked.  Finally we had a place for the night!