Thursday, November 12, 2009

Savouring our last days in Istanbul

We caught our night bus at 10 PM on Monday and began our journey back to Istanbul. We reached the city just before 7 AM. We woke up briefly during the trip and noticed we were on a ferry (crossing the Sea of Marmara?). Back in Sultanahmet we searched for the hostel that Pascal and Lotus had recommended but being so tired, we didn't look very hard. We checked into the Eurasia Hostel and had a nice long nap instead. We wandered toward the Golden Horn in the afternoon and saw a Dervish whirl while we ate dessert at night.

Back when we were googling the World's Greatest Wonders, we stumbled upon the greatest wonders of the Medieval World... and found the Haghia Sophia to be included on the list! If there's anything to see twice in Istanbul, this would be it. Dan was eager to see it so we checked it out together yesterday. It didn't fail to amaze me the second time around. It's a beautiful building with such a rich history. I included some more pictures from the Upper Gallery.

We spent the rest of our afternoon at the Museum of Science and Technology in Islam. It is located right in Sultanahmet's beautiful park next to the Archeology Museum. Having both studied engineering, we took such pleasure nerding it up among the many exhibits devoted to Physics, Geology, Weaponry, Medicine, etc, and how they evolved in the Arab world. Unfortunately, they were highly technical to the point that for some of the disciplines (like Astronomy) we didn't understand how many of the devices worked and no descriptions were available to us.

We went in search of a new hostel yesterday morning (why not - Sultanahmet is full of them!) and immediately fell in love with Ocean's 7 Guesthouse. Can you believe this bathroom?! It is bigger than an broom closet and the shower is enclosed instead of right over the toilet! The last time I saw an enclosed shower was in Canada! We were dazzled by such luxury and were thrilled when the manager cut us a deal for our last two nights (hurray for travelling during the low season!). We settled in quickly and were pleased to be able to hang up our jackets and put our supply of food (Turkey has some of the best dark chocolate I have ever tasted) on an actual end table instead of on my backpack.

Here's Dan demonstrating how wonderfully lazy our last day in Instanbul has been... we slept in, indulged in some yummy Turkish food (manti and gozlemes), perused the English bookstore (Dan, being the bookworm he is, needed some more reading material), wandered the Grand Bazaar in search of a hookah (I found a beautiful green one with brass accents), and strolled the pedestrian avenue until we found a cozy cafe...

I never drink coffee - unless I am on vacation. The countries I visit always have a great-tasting cup of joe on hand and Turkey is no exception. It's rich, potent and smells divine. For the price of a medium double-double, I got a cup of unfiltered Turkish coffee, a square of dark chocolate, a bottle of water and a small bowl of chocolate-covered coffee beans. Best cafe ever!!!

Tomorrow we catch an early flight home, connecting through Vienna and Toronto.
Goodbye Turkey! Your food is terrific, your people are incredibly charming, and your sights are some of the most beautiful on earth. We will definitely be back one day. We still have so much more to see.

(Kudos to Dan for suggesting one lazy July afternoon: "hey, we should go to Turkey...").

Monday, November 9, 2009

Last day in Selçuk...

Our last day in Selçuk was busy and yet very relaxing at the same time (we are taking the bus to Istanbul tonight).

We visited the Basilica of St John - a sprawling ruin of a once-majestic church built up on a hill overlooking the Temple of Artemis and the Mosque of Isa Bey. The church was referred to as "the Church of the Cross" because it was the most significant cruciform church and it received many pilgrims (visiting St John's tomb).

Afterward, we went to a hamam for the much-hyped Turkish bath experience that everyone insisted we have. It was actually quite nice - we sat in a steam room to sweat for about half an hour before we were scrubbed with loofahs, soaped up, massaged and left to shower. Though the heat was sometimes uncomfortable, we left clean and relaxed and ready for naps (but not before grabbing a delicious lunch at a pide restaurant).

Being in the vicinity of so many barbers enticed Dan to get the male equivalent of a luscious pedicure: a straight-edge shave. For a mere 15 lira he got "the closest, most loving shave of all time", a haircut and a massage. He was especially impressed by the barber's skillful use of an open flame to singe off any hairs he may have missed. I'm sure Dan will be raving about Turkey's finest barber for some time. I posted before and after pictures below.

And he's good!

After a day of relaxation, sleep, and The Blues Brothers, Dan's fever broke and he stopped shivering. He woke up this morning happy and healthy - and now we're off to explore Selçuk before we catch the night bus to Istanbul!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Keeping it low-key in Selçuk

It's already Sunday and I'm feeling a bit sad about my vacation coming to an end (however I feel as though I have been away forever so maybe I'll be happy to be home again). We had a fun night at the ANZ Guest house with the other backpackers - we were really excited to have the opportunity to raid the large collection of pirated VHS tapes and watch English movies which we've grown to miss (we didn't watch any good movies but we still had fun!).

We visited the Ephesus museum today to see the relics from Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis (pictured is an original marble statue from the temple and a model of how the Temple used to look).

Dan is not feeling very well so we are relaxing in town for the rest of the day and planning to visit St John's Basilica and the Byzantine Aquaduct tomorrow. As for the amazing mountain hikes on the Aegean Coast... I think we'll have to come back to Turkey. We are planning to head back to Istanbul on Tuesday and spend the rest of our time there until we fly out.


Enjoy the following pictures of the well-preserved, marble-covered splendors of Ephesus, formely the capital of the Roman Empire in Asia Minor. The impressive city housed 200,000 mostly wealthy inhabitants.

Um... I appreciate your honesty? (Courtesy of a shop outside the gate).

The altar from the massive Church of the Virgin Mary. It is believed that she came to Ephesus with St John after the crucifixion. This church is also the site of the Third Ecumenical Council (in 427 A.D.? I am not sure of the year).

One of the many sarcophagi scattered around the necropolis.

The Stadium (could seat about 25,000 people)

No attraction in Turkey is complete without a big dose of cuteness. A litter of kittens were stalking and pouncing on their mother's tail.

The stunning Celsus Library is the highlight of the ancient city

The Temple of Hadrian - with Medusa frieze.

The marble street leading up to the town hall. The street was lined with a bath house, the public latrines, a brothel (actually it turned out to be a private home), private residences (with mosaic floors), fountains, temples and tombs.

Here we are sitting in a smaller theatre at the top of the hill.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Paragliding in Ölüdeniz and Sightseeing in Selçuk

On Thursday we woke up in Fethiye to a bright, warm, sunshiney day. Conditions were ripe for paragliding in Ölüdeniz, which we thoroughly enjoyed. We had a flight time of about 40 minutes, soaring high over the mountains and over the sea and lagoon which were an unreal shade of baby blue. I had an amazing view of the Turquoise coast and the 12 islands. It was such a hot day that we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the beach until sundown.

Friday morning we caught a bus from Fethiye to Aydin and then took a dolmuş to Selçuk, a nice little town by the South Aegean Sea. The weather here is even warmer than it is on the Med. Selçuk is the perfect base from which to explore the ruins of Ephesus and the town's other attractions. We checked into the charming, comfortable ANZ (Australia New Zealand) Guest house and were reacquainted with other travellers we'd met in Fethiye.

We proceeded to visit one of the Wonders of the Ancient World: the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Not much remains of it, but when it was standing it was a massive temple with 127 columns (only one still stands). It is rumoured that most of the marble was taken to İstanbul to construct the Aya Sofya or it was used to built the structures of Ephesus.

Today we walked the 3 km to Ephesus to see the sprawling ruins from the ancient city. I cannot wait to post the pictures. If you want to see ruins this is the motherlode! We spent hours visiting the city in the hot sun and enjoyed every moment. Photos to come!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The ruins of Fethiye

The morning downpour unfortunately put the kibosh on our paragliding plans so after our Swiss-Aussie buddies left for Ephesus, we continued to explore the town.

Fethiye is a town that was literally built around Lycian ruins. We stumbled upon a Roman theatre, a Crusader fortress up on the hill, the tomb of Amyntas carved into the cliffs, and sarcophagi scattered around the town.

We checked out of the İdeal Pension and went to a much nicer hostel: Yildirim Guesthouse, which we highly recommend. Our host even rescheduled paragliding in Ölüdeniz.

Passing through the market we picked up a big box of Turkish Delight - yummy with coffee. The whole box was 5 lira so we're debating stocking up before we leave today for Selçuk in the afternoon (after paragliding!).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

All along the Turquoise Coast

The bus ride to Fethiye from Olympos was a milk run but we did get a beautiful view of the Turquoise coast as the bus drove through Kumluca, Kas, and Kalkan - all nestled between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea.

We checked into the Ideal Pension in Fethiye and had a night out on the town with Pascal and Lotus. We sampled the delicious local food, tried Raki for the first time (Turkey's version of Ouzo), and smoked the water pipe before turning in for the night.

This morning we met up again and caught a dolmus to Oludeniz, the beautiful lagoon south of Fethiye. It was too cold for a swim but we did bask in the sun with some good food and drink for a few hours before heading back to town in the evening.

We are especially excited to be returning to Oludeniz tomorrow for paragliding (we saw loads of them soaring over the beach today). Should be fun!

Olympos and the Art of Relaxation

Dan and I reached Olympos Friday morning after taking an overnight bus to Antalya, a minibus to the Olympos "bus station" (a restaurant at the side of the road) and a dolmus (shared taxi) down the mountain to our hostel. We hadn't originally planned to come here but changed our minds on the advice of other backpackers. Olympos is definitely my favourite place so far.

We picked Saban Pansion after quickly glancing through the guidebook and agreed that it was the clear favourite. Not only is it inexpensive (and a popular stop for backpackers), it is absolutely gorgeous. Our treehouse sat in an orange orchard, surrounded by mountains, and just a short walk away from the Lycian ruins of Olympos and a pebble beach on the Med.

Olympos is the perfect place to relax and recharge and this is precisely what we did for the next three days. The mornings were bright and sunny, the afternoons sometimes rainy, and the evenings brisk (we spent them around the campfire or the wood stove). We spent a lot of time getting to know our fellow guests, the pansion owners (we concur with the Lonely Planet - Meral is the ultimate hostess), learning new card games, picking oranges and pomegranates from the orchards and eating.

One evening we set out in a minibus to view the Chimera flames - the eternal flames that have been burning for centuries on the slopes of Mount Olympos. The flames are the result of gas seeping from the earth and combusting once it reaches the surface. The legend states that Bellorophon was tasked with killing the Chimera (a fire-breathing beast with a lion's head, goat's torso and serpent's tail), which he did by flying Pegasus and lancing the monster with a spear. The spear turned to molten lead and suffocated the Chimera to death. The flames continue to burn today and are best viewed at night.

The rest of time we relaxed on the beach with Lotus (Australia), Pascal (Switzerland) and Gotz (Germany) playing cards (they taught us "the Zagreb Train Game" and Dan taught them Euchre) and building tiny Inukshuks with pebbles during the day and at night we all gorged on Meral's delicious home cooking together. Her food is so amazing that we wasted no time packing on the extra pounds.

By the end of our stay we were sad to leave but excited to explore some of the other noteworthy coastal towns on the Mediterranean. We promised Meral that we would return and, on Monday morning, we boarded a bus with Lotus and Pascal bound for Fethiye.