Category Archives: ASIA

Turkey in 2 Weeks – Day 14: Istanbul

The next morning we hopped on a small plane and headed back to Istanbul.  Flights to Istanbul were short and cheap – and I just couldn’t handle another overnight bus!  I was also happy for the extra time in Istanbul as we had a lot of souvenir shopping to do.

We stayed at a different hotel this time, and unfortunately this place was the most disappointing one of the trip.  My review of the Flower Palace Hotel is up on Trip Advisor.  That said, the manager apologized and offered a discount the next time we booked there.

We spent the morning hitting up the markets – the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market.  Shopping was a bit overwhelming at first, just a maze of every kind of item.  But I soon found my groove and got pretty good at haggling, making our way through both markets and ending up with bags filled with souvenirs: tea set, coffee pot, colourful small bowls, table runners, Turkish delights, tea, turmeric, saffron and even a Turkish lamp!  We go ripped off on the saffron – the cheap spice we bought comes from the same plant but isn’t the Iranian saffron which actually cost the same as back home.  The other scam we sort of avoided was with the apple tea.  We had been drinking this apple tea across the country – a gesture of hospitality whenever you enter a store.  This apple tea is pretty much Kool Aid-like sugar water.  We successfully dodged the shopkeepers who tried to push the sugar water tea on us and bought apple tea bags instead.  But when we tried the tea back at home they were pretty tasteless, and I wish I had bought the Turkish tea for everyone instead.

In the afternoon we saw a whirling dervish show – no photos allowed unfortunately.  The show was so beautiful and relaxing, like being in a trance.  I loved the Turkish folk music and the dancers were mesmerizing to watch, swirling endlessly in a circle, their form held so still and meditative.  The dancers are Sufis and they have given up their worldly possessions to act as messengers to connect God with the material world.

Grape leaves at Pasazade, Istanbul, Turkey

Grape leaves at Pasazade, Istanbul, Turkey

We had dinner at a romantic restaurant near our hotel called Pasazade.  We split some fresh grape leaves and I had lamb with smoked eggplant – smoked eggplant really is to die for!

Lamb with smoked eggplant at Pasazade, Istanbul, Turkey

Lamb with smoked eggplant at Pasazade, Istanbul, Turkey

Pasazade, Istanbul, Turkey

Pasazade, Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

We wandered around the old town that evening admiring all the cute streets so full of life and lights.  We ended up in the main square where we picked up some baklava and ate it by the fountain in the park, admiring the Blue Mosque all lit up at night.

"Tower of Baklava" -  Istanbul, Turkey

“Tower of Baklava” – Istanbul, Turkey

Sultanahmet Park, Istanbul, Turkey

Sultanahmet Park, Istanbul, Turkey

I love how there are so many cats in Istanbul that there is a cat house in the park!

Sultanahmet Park, Istanbul, Turkey

Sultanahmet Park, Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

Turkey in 2 Weeks – Day 13: Goreme

The next morning we crawled out of bed at an ungodly hour.  The reason?  Hot air ballooning.  The only reason I would ever wake up at 3:50AM!  Cappadocia is one of the top three places in the world for hot-air ballooning.  Predictable winds and moderate temperatures create favorable flight conditions that allow balloons to fly 300 days a year (compared with where I live, Ontario is lucky to get 20 days a year). We booked our flight with Voyager Balloons for 160 euro and they were excellent.  The flight ran smoothly and we felt safe with our pilot, who was very experienced and hospitable.

"Balloons getting fired up" - Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

“Balloons getting fired up” – Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

"Balloons getting fired up" - Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

“Balloons getting fired up” – Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

The flight was totally worth the early call.  Hot air ballooning over the surreal lunar landscape of Cappadocia was a magical, peaceful experience that I will never forget.  Soaring up over the land with a hundred other balloons as the sun begins to rise is beyond picturesque.  Moments like this make me feel so lucky to be able to go on these amazing adventures with someone I love.

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air ballooning in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

"Descent" - Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

“Descent” – Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

After we landed, we all had a glass of champagne – a French tradition.  A perfect way to end this once in a lifetime experience.

"Celebratory champagne" - Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

“Celebratory champagne” – Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

That afternoon we headed out to the Goreme Open-Air Museum.  More caves!  These caves were once an important Byzantine monastic settlement, then a pilgrimage site from the 17th century on.

Goreme Open-Air Museum, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme Open-Air Museum, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Filled with frescos, churches, chapels and monasteries, most were no-photos-allowed.  The shot below is of the most famous church in the museum: Karanhk Kilise or “Dark Church”.  The church is filled with frescoes and is one of Turkey’s finest surviving churches.  There is another church called the Carikh Kilis “Scandal Church” where we saw the supposed last footprints of Jesus Christ before he ascended to heaven.  I guess that’s pretty impressive!

Goreme Open-Air Museum, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme Open-Air Museum, Karanhk Kilise “Dark Chuch”, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

For our last dinner in Goreme we decided to try a traditional kebap meal: meat and vegetables slow cooked in a terracotta pot, and then broken at the table.  Quite a dramatic entrance for our meal!  We sat on traditional Turkish couches on the floor and drank from clay goblets – such a fun and relaxing dining experience!

"Breaking the pot" - Kebap meal at Dibek restaurant, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

“Breaking the pot” – Kebap meal at Dibek restaurant, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

"Breaking the pot" - Kebap meal at Dibek restaurant, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

“Breaking the pot” – Kebap meal at Dibek restaurant, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

"Breaking the pot" - Kebap meal at Dibek restaurant, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

“Breaking the pot” – Kebap meal at Dibek restaurant, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Beef Kebap, Dibek restaurant, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Beef Kebap, Dibek restaurant, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

The tender meat was full of flavour and the spiced juices enveloped our plate. Another amazing meal!

We said good bye to Goreme, such a unique and fascinating town.

View from Oriental Cave Hotel, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

View from Oriental Cave Hotel, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Turkey in 2 Weeks – Day 12: Göreme

We left Antalya on an overnight bus, bracing ourselves for another long, hot ride.   The bus tried to drop us off before our ticketed destination – a warning I had read about – but luckily there were these two German girls on our bus who wouldn’t have any of it and forced the bus to drive to the proper stop.  Nine hours later, we arrived bright and early in Goreme, a little town in Cappadocia known as the “cave city”.  The town is built in and around high honey coloured rocks and cave formations that make up the Cappadocia landscape.   The lunar topography is right out of a sci-fi movie and is made out of volcanic ash moulded by millenia of rain and flowing rivers.

Goreme. Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme. Cappadocia, Turkey

We stayed in the Oriental Cave hotel (review on Trip Advisor), a spacious, cavernous historical hotel with a lovely rooftop terrace, many oriental rugs and a very cute kitten named Susu.

Oriental Cave Hotel, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Oriental Cave Hotel, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

"Me & Susu" Oriental Cave Hotel, Goreme, Turkey

“Me & Susu” Oriental Cave Hotel, Goreme, Turkey

Selime, Cappadocia, Turkey

Selime, Cappadocia, Turkey

The hotel manager was super nice and arranged a bus tour for us.  For 60TL we booked a full day tour with Insider Tours.  We had such an amazing guide – he was so passionate, knowledgeable and hospitable – and he would address the tour by saying “dear friends” – I’ll always remember him!

Selime, Cappadocia, Turkey

Selime, Cappadocia, Turkey

Our first stop was the cave town of Selime, once used by the Selcuks as a check tower and refuge.  We roamed around and explored the caves and saw how they had carved out various rooms and crevices for cooking, storing food and dining.

Selime, Cappadocia, Turkey

Selime, Cappadocia, Turkey

Most impressive were the domed churches, chapels and basilicas that were carved into the caves complete with columns and painted frescoes.

Selime, Cappadocia, Turkey

Selime, Cappadocia, Turkey

Selime, Cappadocia, Turkey

Selime, Cappadocia, Turkey

Selime, Cappadocia, Turkey

Selime, Cappadocia, Turkey

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

In the afternoon we hiked through the very pretty Ihlara Valley.  Once a retreat for Byzantine monks, we saw how they had carved churches into the cliffs that lined the valley.

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

We rested on some tree stumps by the river and took a break, welcoming the freshly squeezed orange juice to quench our thirst.

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

The hike ended by these little tea huts where we had some delicious lamb stew for lunch.  I love Turkish food so much!  I don’t think I’ve had the same meal twice throughout our entire trip.

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Our last stop of the day was the Underground City, which was SO cool.  There are 7 levels of underground tunnels, but only a few accessible to the public.  The network of tunnels were carved out by the Byzantine Christians during the 6th and 7th centuries.  They acted as a refuge for the Christians from the Persian and Arab armies, and they would live in them for months at a time.  We had fun clamouring through all the winding tunnels, imagining what it must have been like to live down below.

Underground City, Cappadocia, Turkey

Underground City, Cappadocia, Turkey

There was even a graveyard in the Underground City (so creepy!) and I sat in an empty grave for the full experience.  We also passed through a baptism area where you had to circle through a tunnel seven times to cleanse yourself of the seven deadly sins.  I’m all good to go!

Graveyard in the Underground City, Goreme, Cappadocia

Graveyard in the Underground City, Goreme, Cappadocia

Uchisar, Cappadocia, Turkey

Uchisar, Cappadocia, Turkey

We passed through little town of Uchisar where we stopped at a precious rock & jewel factory.  I was more interested in the view then all the expensive stones.

Lamb shank, Koy Evi, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Lamb shank, Koy Evi, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

That evening we had an absolutely amazing dinner – check out this leg of lamb!  The meat just fell off the bone and into my mouth.  I think we’ve consumed an entire lamb on our trip. Our delicious dinner was topped with a gorgeous view of Goreme at night.

Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey