Archive for the ‘Turkey’ Category

Today we drove the 26km to Dilek National Park… apparently half the population of Kusadasi did as well. The drive went smoothly (thanks to our handy dandy iPhone navigation) – although there were a couple of interesting moments as the highway comes to a grinding halt at the roundabouts in the middle of a couple of small towns.

Once we got into the park (15 lira for a car) we drove the 11km to the last beach (you can’t drive any farther – apparently there’s a high-security military installation past the last beach) and then started the exasperating process of trying to find a place to park on a single lane road with cars parked on both sides of the road… It was a series of go forward, back up, go forward, try to turn around… With some clown inevitably honking or trying to squeeze past into a spot easily three sizes too small for his BMW… Eventually we just gave up, turned around and went back to the start and walked a little further (maybe 200 meters) to the beach. Once there we found they were out of loungers and umbrellas (not for Marie or Caitlin – they’re sun-worshiping freaks who want to get that cancerous brown glow) so we threw our towels and stuff on the ground in the first available space and jumped into the inviting crystal blue waters… The beach here is a little steeper so the water gets deeper (and colder) faster than at Ladies Beach but it’s crystal clear, warm and super-inviting. Which is why everyone who’s anyone in Kusadasi was also at the beach today (it was a beautiful summer Sunday so a trip to the beach seemed like a great idea for everyone).

We splashed around a bit and relaxed in the water and then piled out onto the warm (actually smoking hot) smooth pebble beach… Marie and Caitlin added to their cancerous bronze glow while I pulled a shirt on and tried to keep the sun from turning me into a smoking husk. We stayed long enough to dry out swimsuits out pretty well then piled back into the car to make the drive back to Kusadasi.

Once we got back, we hung out at one of the restaurants on pub street that had wifi and updated the blog, checked in for our next flights and just hung out for a bit… Marie and Caitlin got bored while I was catching up on the blog posts and left to do some shopping while I stayed behind (it was a chore to sit in the cool shade and drink cold fruit juice while they braved the sun and tacky tourist shops).

The rest of the evening was spent doing a bit of souvenir shopping and then walking the promenade and finally topped off with dinner – at one of the waffle shops where Marie and Caitlin had banana-chocolate and strawberry-chocolate waffles as their last meal in Turkey.

When we got back to the hotel it was time to pack for tomorrow’s flights to Lisbon and turn in… Until the moment Caitlin emerged from the bathroom in her pyjamas and flopped on the bed… A few seconds after sitting on the bed she started to squirm a little and exclaim there was something on her bed that was prickly… That lasted about 3 seconds when she jumped off the bed screaming something had lit her butt on fire and started dancing around on the floor asking Marie to see if something had bit her and made her bleed… At that time a large ant scurried out from the blankets where Caitlin had been sitting…

The next few minutes were a comedy of errors as Caitlin’s dancing around in obvious pain complaining about being stung on her butt, I’m telling Marie to put some Sting Stop on it as soon as she can and Marie is basically taking her time doing her own thing, finishing her packing and generally ignoring Caitlin’s obvious (and growing) distress. Eventually, Marie decided that the half-naked teenager yelling “my butt’s on fire… is it bleeding… oh god I think it’s bleeding” was worthy of pulling her attention away from her pack and she took a look… So now you have to imagine a half-naked teenager standing on a chair showing her butt to her mother while wondering if something stabbed her with a spike coated in battery acid… It was all I could do to keep from laughing myself to death… Eventually Marie dug out the sting stop and slathered some on the quite visible welt left by whatever had bitten or stung her… Around this time, the ant (or so we thought it was) dropped out of some clothes Marie had picked up and she deftly stomped it with her sandaled foot and continued attending to Caitlin – who was still muttering something about her “butt feeling like someone had lit a match under it” and generally continuing to put her years of drama classes and acting experiences to work…

A few minutes later the “insect from hell” as Caitlin had taken to calling it, started moving again on the floor (and yes, Marie had actually stepped on it pretty good and it had promptly stopped moving). We managed to trap it under a glass and started looking on the internet for ants that bite or sting… Imagine our surprise to find out that Caitlin wasn’t bitten or stung by some kind of vicious Turkish ant but had, in fact, been stung by a wingless wasp – variously known as a “cow killer” or “velvet ant” – an insect noted for the potency of its sting (one site described it as having one of the most painful stings in the insect kingdom)… Marie was starting to feel a little bad at this point (now that it was evident that Caitlin had been stung on the butt by a wasp instead of just bitten by an ant) so she walked to the local market to get us all some drinks (especially a cold one in a glass bottle so Caitlin could put it on the quite obvious welt on her butt – a treatment used to good effect by Marie after she had bruised her butt quite spectacularly while horseback riding). Marie returned with a couple of cold drinks (no beer, though, because we discovered the market could not sell beer after 10pm) and eventually all the hullabaloo died down (although Caitlin continued to note that her butt – and her dignity – were sorely wounded)…

It’s really hard to put into words the humour of this particular incident… Caitlin is dancing around the room literally half-naked (having shucked her bottom clothes in fear of there being more than one hell insect) cracking jokes and trying hard not to completely “lose her crap” as she would say and I’m spending most of my time looking the other way trying to preserve her dignity (and trying to figure out whether we’re going to need to call an ambulance for her if it turns out whatever bit her is toxic or requires medical attention) and Marie is just kind of continuing to pack while occasionally checking the welt on her daughter’s butt and making appropriately motherly comments like “wow, I’m really impressed you didn’t cry – wasp stings really hurt…” – all the while Caitlin is continuing to come up with a series of ever more creative rants against the indignity of it all… It was definitely one of the funniest moments of the trip – except for Caitlin of course – apparently these things have a really painful sting and getting stung on the butt is definitely one of the more sensitive body parts I can imagine getting a wasp sting on…

Oh yeah… After identifying the culprit it was dispatched humanely… Turns out those suckers are really quite hard to kill… I have to admit I had never heard of a wingless wasp – apparently there are quite a few different varieties of them… I think this is just more evidence that someone up there either hates people or has a really twisted sense of humour…

Eventually (after thoroughly checking every square millimetre of her bed and clothes) Caitlin crawled into bed and we all called it a night – tomorrow we’re up bright and early to make the drive to Izmir Airport to catch our flights Lisbon! We’ve all really enjoyed Turkey but are looking forward to a change of scenery, a change of food and a change of culture… And Caitlin’s been waiting to go to Lisbon and Madrid since the trip started so is so excited that even a painful wasp sting can’t dampen her excitement for seeing Lisbon tomorrow!

We did take a picture of the offending insect but we didn’t take any other pictures today (left the camera back at the hotel rather than take a chance leaving it in the parked car or on the beach while we were swimming) – you’ll have to imagine the crystal blue waters and the teeming hordes of people…

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Today we got up pretty early for us these days (8am) and after a quick breakfast of yogurt and cereal were on our way to Ephesus by about 9am. We’ve decided to bite the bullet and pay the $9.99 for data each day while we’re driving the car to be able to use the turn-by-turn navigation features of the iPhone’s map app… This decision was made to ensure marital harmony and familial peace as Marie doesn’t do navigation particularly well, and I don’t do “we could go left or we could go right” when we’re in the middle of a 6 lane (meant for 3) roundabout with buses and scooters and farm tractors coming from all directions… Although Apple’s map app had a lot of issues when it first rolled out, it navigated us through the maze of little streets around our guesthouse with no trouble at all… Best $9.99 I’ve ever spent!

When we arrived at the site just before 10am, the parking lot was already full of tour buses and there were people leaving… We queued up to buy our tickets but for some reason it was taking the girl behind the plexiglas forever to sell tickets to the 10 people in front of us so we took our chances with the electronic ticket kiosk across the way… worked like a charm after paying our 90 lira we made our way through the turnstiles (every museum and archaeological site we’ve visited in Turkey has used the same ticket and entry control system… someone made a killing off that contract) and into the site.

Caitlin and Marie made a quick stop at the facilities (there are none in the site proper) and we spent some time playing with the many cats that hung out at the entrance to the site…

We hung a quick right after the entrance and made our way to the Church of Mary (dedicated to the Virgin Mary who supposedly lived out the last years of her life in a house near Ephesus). There’s not much left – just a few foundation walls and bits and pieces of interior walls and the baptism pool (they practiced full immersion adult baptisms back in the day so the baptismal pool is a pretty deep hole in the ground) but it’s enough to get a sense of the size of the place and even in its ruined state it’s quite spectacular. There’s a bunch of other ruins around it and it’s clear there’s a lot of other ruins/buildings/history hidden under the underbrush around the church.

From there we made our way back to the main site and checked out the theatre (one of the most impressive we have seen – I think it’s a little bit smaller than the one at Epidavros in Greece but this one is more integrated into a complex of buildings so it seems more impressive in some way). From there we made our way past the agora and to the Library of Celsus – actually monumental funerary building constructed over a tomb… It’s the most photographed structure in Ephesus and a very visually striking building…

After the Library, we paid an additional 45 lira to enter the “terrace houses” – best $22.50 we’ve spent on an archaeological site since Pompeii… The terrace houses are 6 “townhouse” style dwellings that belonged to some of the rich and famous of Ephesus at various times – although there’s evidence of much older, more basic housing underneath the newer (if by newer you mean only 1800 years old instead of 2500 years old) construction. There’s remnants of wall paintings, furniture, mosaic floors, plumbing, the whole nine yards… And it’s all housed under a weatherproof structure so you’re out of the beating hot sun too… And as an added bonus there’s a nice terrace at the top that offers a unique panoramic view of part of the site… As a history teacher, I found the terrace houses fascinating and Marie and Caitlin really enjoyed them as well – definitely worth paying the extra money to see (an added bonus is that most of the people visiting Ephesus don’t pay to see the terrace houses so we had them almost to our self).

After the Terrace Houses we wandered around the site making our way to the upper gate (one way to the do the site is to take a shuttle to the upper gate and then walk the 2km downhill to the main entrance – in our case we walked 2km up to the gate and then walked 2km back to our entrance – but it worked out because we were able to spend more time exploring one side site each time). The site is massive and there’s a lot of monumental marble columns and other structures (not always put back together all that accurately it appears) – most of it’s pretty much just foundation walls but some of the remaining structures have enough parts remaining that you can get a pretty good idea of what it all looked like…

At the upper gate we grabbed a few cold drinks (at exorbitant inside the site prices but they were really, really cold so it was worth it) and then headed back down to the main entrance making our way past the baths, the house of pleasure (otherwise known as a brothel), the public latrine, and the lower agora. When we returned to the main entrance we took a few minutes to say hi to the many cats and Marie and Caitlin spent a few minutes in near hysterics at the arrival of two (admittedly very cute) puppies who showed up to share the love…

It normally takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to see the site (according to the guide books)… we took just over 4 and aside from it being excruciatingly hot (and pretty crowded at times with the usual tour group hordes), it was one of the best historical sites we’ve visited.

After Ephesus we headed back to the hotel and changed into our swimsuits and headed for Ladies Beach… It’s about a 2.5km walk to the beach from our hotel but it’s worth it. We’d heard that Ladies Beach is kind of a so-so beach but that must be according to the standards of people who are used to sandy beaches and warm water (instead of our beaches which are often sandy but the water is far too cold for swimming most of the year). It was super crowded but we found a spot to dump our towels and headed into the water (which was just right – warm enough you could spend hours in it without getting chilled but cool enough to still be refreshing) and spent about 45 minutes splashing around with half the population of Turkey… When we got out of the water we managed to find an open lounger and paid the 10 lira for it and a big sun umbrella and Marie headed to the promenade behind the beach to get us some drinks… Then it was time for Caitlin to painstakingly build her sand masterpiece – a sand mountain – which Marie callously destroyed – leading to a prolonged series of dunkings, sand throwing, and general water mayhem… When I went out to join them for a leisurely swim (thinking the shenanigans were over) Caitlin engaged in a series of sneak attacks which required her to be dunked repeatedly in the waves… She threw sand in response… Eventually we emerged from the water (after several dunkings and near drownings) and brushed the sand off and made the 1/2 hour walk back to the hotel…

I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post that Marie and Caitlin had navigated the 2+km each way to the beach with only a few barebones directions (turn right at the top of the hill then turn left style). The fact they made it back to the hotel was a minor miracle… although I think high-fiving each other and celebrating as if they’d scored a game winning touch down was a bit over the top but it was impressive nonetheless… Today they successfully navigated us to the beach and back without issue (even finding a cheap doner restaurant for us to stop at for a quick lunch on the way).

After the beach it was shower time (our apologies to the cleanup crew who will be shovelling sand out of the shower for days) and then off to find something to eat. We chose a different place for tonight (mainly because we’re starting to get a bit sick of Turkish food and wanted to try something more international – like spaghetti – although Marie did end up trying the Turkish ravioli – which she declared to be “okay” but not particularly noteworthy).

And that was the end of our second full day in Kusadasi… and it was good.

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I woke up this morning (which was a little surprising considering the number of sleep-inducing drugs Marie plied me with last night) feeling better than I had yesterday and we were able to have a bit of a lazy morning – breakfast (a decent Turkish breakfast buffet), a swim, a short walk into town to look for souvenirs for Caitlin then back to the hotel for a swim in their fantastic (deep, clean and super-refreshing) pool…

After a late lunch of french fries (we didn’t want to spoil our dinner) we took advantage of the hotel’s offer of a ride to the south gate entrance to the travertines and Hierapolis (otherwise we would have had to walk 2.5km in 40° heat…).

Hierapolis is an old Greek spa town built around the travertines and the thermal mineral waters that was later “adopted” by the Romans and was preserved and expanded under their rule. There are a couple of very good ruins – the theatre is very cool, the baths and basilicas are in pretty good shape and the necropolis (cemetery) is very cool with the whole range of funerary structures from sarcophagi to tumulus tombs (mounds) and modern-looking family crypts. The whole site is relatively undeveloped (except for the part near the travertines which is pretty cleaned up) and you’re free to roam pretty much to your heart’s content… The only downside to it is that it’s almost completely treeless for the most part and in 40° weather your desire to roam is pretty minimal… If there really is a ninth level of Hell, it couldn’t be much hotter than Hierapolis on a clear summer day.

Fortunately, Hierapolis is unique among all the ruins we’ve visited… Back in the 60s a few hotels and motels were developed at the top of the travertines and taking advantage of the natural hot springs and thermal mineral waters… UNESCO came in and declared the site a world heritage site but one of the hotel pools – built over an ancient mineral pool – was saved and expanded. There’s a bunch of old Greek and Roman columns toppled into the pool and assorted bits and pieces of old marble at the bottom of the pool… And the water is quite pretty clear and very deep (almost 20′) near the source of the water… And the water is bubbly! Someone described it as being like swimming in champagne… I wouldn’t go that far but it was pretty cool. Although the water is about 36-38° it’s very refreshing to be able to swim for a bit after slogging around the hot and dusty ruins. The only downside was the family – who looked an awful lot like Hollywood’s version of the Russian mafia – who planted themselves at the very source of the pool waters and refused to move… They looked like they’d been there a while before we got in and still hadn’t budged when left more than an hour later… After a good soak, we piled out of the pool and headed for the travertines – the main attraction to this site and the reason for Pamukkale’s existence on the map…

We’d timed our visit for the later afternoon to take advantage of smaller crowds and to be on the travertines around sunset. If you go online, you’ll see picture after picture of sparkling blue pools and brilliant white travertines… It’s sort of like that in reality. Where there’s water flowing over the travertines (created by calcium in the mineral water flowing over the rocks and being left behind), the travertines are quite brilliantly white. The problem is that the hotels I mentioned earlier did a lot of damage and they’re carefully trying to nurse them back to health by channeling water over various parts on various days while at the same time preserving the tourist path and the pools that draw people to the area. Despite the travertines not being in pristine health, it’s a pretty place – it looks a lot like a glacier in the right light but is solid rock…

The sparkling blue pools are there, too… sort of. They’ve created a bunch of shallow pools (I’m not exactly sure when these pools were created – some of them might be quite old) and a walkway to coral the tourists and prevent damage to the travertines (you’re also not allowed to wear shoes – a rule reinforced by a large number of whistle-toting guards). So you start at the top and sort of walk and wade your way from the top to the bottom (about 1km in total)… It’s super crowded and the sparkling blue pools have a bit of a nasty cast by the time thousands of people have walked through them but it’s all pretty cool… I was concentrating on taking pictures and didn’t want to slip and fall into a mineral water pool with my camera gear but Marie and Caitlin took full advantage of every pool – even slathering some of the mud (which is supposedly really good for your skin but sort of stinks like an open sewer according to Caitlin) on themselves…  Caitlin especially appreciated the whistle-happy guard who blew her and Marie off a prime picture spot (while letting a bunch of other people hang out there and take all the pictures they wanted)… I was surprised at some of the creative places Caitlin came up with to stuff the guy’s whistle…

Once we hit the bottom, it was a short walk back to the hotel where we were planning to hop in their pool again only to find out they shut it down during dinner (from 6 to 10:30) – guess they don’t want people frolicking in their bikinis while people are trying to eat… Must be a Turkish thing… For the most part, I think many North Americans would pay extra for dinner where people were frolicking in bikinis… In any case we all grabbed showers (that mineral water left your skin feeling a bit crusty) and then headed down to dinner… It was as good as Caitlin and Marie raved about and by the time we were done with the mains (and the huge plate of watermelon they provided for us at no charge) we were too tired to hit the pool and headed back to the room to pack for tomorrow’s trip to Kusadasi…

In all, this was one of the more relaxing and laid back days of our trip (despite the heat) and we’re going to be sorry to leave the pool tomorrow… Hopefully the beaches at Kusadasi make up for it!

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It seemed like we’d just fallen asleep when the alarm jolted us awake at 3:45am… We quickly brushed our teeth, got dressed in the dark (to disturb Caitlin as little as possible) and then headed out to meet our 4:15am pickup for Turkiye Balloons (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g297983-d3581662-Reviews-Turkey_Hot_Air_Balloons-Goreme_Cappadocia.html#REVIEWS). They’re the number #1 rated activity in Goreme and the #1 rated hot air balloon company so we felt pretty confident accepting the hotel’s recommendation to book with them.

Our driver arrived right at 4:20 – sans van as the road was so blocked with other vehicles that he couldn’t make it up the road – so we hoofed it down the road a little ways and piled into the van for the 5 minute drive to their restaurant/booking office where they provide a buffet breakfast (typical Turkish breakfast fare) while taking care of the administrivia – which basically consists of typing your name, sex and age into their computer – there were no waivers or liability insurance or anything (I can’t imagine the paperwork that would be involved in doing this back in Canada).

Then you’re sorted into vans based on where your hotel is and driven to the launch site. When you arrive, the balloons are attached to the baskets and the ground crew is in the process of inflating the massive balloons with high powered gas fans… When the balloons are partially inflated they fire up (literally) the hot air part of the process and start firing huge jets of propane fuelled flame into the balloons… Once the balloon is upright, they start loading you into the baskets (24 to a basket) and once everyone is ready they release the ground lines and you rise slowly into the air. Just before you cast off, one of the ground crew climbs aboard to tell everyone that the pilot has no control over where the balloon goes and can only control up and down… Marie was not terribly impressed by this piece of news. There’s virtually no sensation of movement when you take off and, when the jets aren’t firing, the whole thing is almost silent… Marie was pretty nervous leading up to the take off but relaxed as soon as we were off the ground and moving as it’s so smooth and they stay pretty close to the ground to start…

Shortly after takeoff, though, we were skimming the ground at a stately pace and edging up the hills leading to the valley and the panoramic views of Cappadocia. It’s pretty magical as you rise slowly above the landscape (which is impressive in its own right) and on one side you’re seeing the sun “rise” against the hills and in front of you there are around 100 balloons of all shapes and sizes and colours spread out across the sky… It’s hard to know what to look at as your eyes are drawn to a particular balloon then to the colour of the sky then you realize you’re hundreds of feet above ground as you’re passing over one of the many valleys. The whole time our pilot, I’m sure, is showing off as he drops us perfectly into one valley after another and then perfectly gauges the ascent so we just skim over the land as we come back up… There were a few times we weren’t quite sure if we were going to clear the land but he gauged it perfectly each time.

The hour passes quickly in a blur of breathtaking vistas and the exhilaration of floating through the air… But then it’s time to get some altitude and the pilot fires up all four of the burners and we start rising fairly rapidly… 500 metres, 600 metres, 700 metres, 800 metres and we’re now above almost all the other balloons and can see the earth curving off in the distant blue haze…

Then you’re descending gently and heading for an open field as the ground crew chases the balloon with the vans and the support vehicles and the balloon pilot is gesturing this way and that predicting where the winds will bring the balloon… Although the pilot’s in perfect control of the balloon, it’s clear from his “yuck yuck yuck” that the wind is taking him someplace other than he’d like to go and at one point we literally skim the top of a tree (we could hear and feel the topmost branches brushing against the bottom of the basket as we passed over). Once past the tree and other obstacles, we all assume the landing position (knee bent, facing away from the direction of travel and braced against the frame of the basket) and touch down with a gentle thud in some farmer’s potato field as the pilot opens the top of the balloon and releases much of the hot air… As the balloon’s momentum threatens to tip the basket, the ground crew is there hanging on and pulling the balloon back down to the ground… There’s a final moment or two of struggle as the balloon tries to get airborne once more but the pull of the land (and a half dozen beefy guys) is too much and everything comes to a stop… The lines and halyards are disconnected and the balloon slowly deflates and lies flat on the ground while the elated passengers climb out and mill around talking excitedly amongst themselves.

The ground crew quickly sets up a table and starts pouring glasses of celebratory champagne (and grape juice for the kids) and they hand out commemorative certificates. Then it’s back in the van and back to the hotel by 7:30… just in time to download the pictures and type up this blog entry while Caitlin sleeps.

If you’re in Cappadocia, don’t even think about whether to do the hot air ballooning or not… Do it. You won’t regret it. It’s super expensive (€130 per person and that’s the discounted cash price) but there’s just no better way to see this amazing landscape and the ballooning experience itself is indescribable…. I don’t know what all the companies are like and with so many balloons up at any one time I’m sure there are some sketchy experiences but we found Turkiye Balloons to be very safe and very professional and our pilot made it all look effortless… Marie was pretty nervous (she didn’t sleep well at all) leading up to the flight but enjoyed it immensely… It’s nothing at all like any other form of flying and it feels incredibly safe…

All in all, it was a great way to start our last day in Goreme and a highlight of the trip… It’s too bad Caitlin wasn’t able to join us but she did enjoy the extra 4 hours of sleep…

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