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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Day 29: Kusadasi

Posted: August 17, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Ugh… I woke up feeling totally crappy (pun intended) again this morning. I tried getting some breakfast down (the guesthouse provides a basic Turkish breakfast of fresh veggies, olives, sausage, bread, cheese and egg) but couldn’t stray far that far from the room… This latest bout of illness (or more accurately a prolonged single bout with some relief along the way) prompted me to finally take the Zithromax (azithromycin) antibiotics we’ve packed on every trip but never had to use… Marie also trekked the 100 metres or so (up a slight hill for part of it) to the nearest market and was able to find a tub of plain yogurt and some plain cereal and some cold water to bring back for me… I scarfed down some of the yogurt with a bit of cereal and drank a bit of water and decided I wasn’t going anywhere for the time being…

So Marie and Caitlin trudged the 2.5km from our hotel to the nearest beach (Ladies Beach) and enjoyed a day of swimming and suntanning while I stayed behind and napped and read a book…

By late afternoon, Marie and Caitlin were back and I was feeling a bit better so we headed out to do a bit of light shopping (most of the stuff for sale here is poor quality tacky tourist stuff or knockoff clothing) and then grabbed a bite to eat at the restaurant we’d eaten at the night before. Then it was back to the hostel and off to bed in hopes of a more productive day tomorrow.

I’m not sure if the antibiotics helped or whether it was just good timing but I was definitely feeling better by the end of the day (not great but better). While it doesn’t seem that the Dukoral prevented us from getting sick this time, it seems to have prevented us from experiencing the worst of the possible symptoms (Marie and I experienced those on a trip to Mexico in the mid-90s) which has been a blessing… I’m not sure if it’s been the food in some of the places (we’re pretty careful for the most part but have eaten some salads in some places and Marie and Caitlin have had a few milkshakes, etc. that were made with ice and I’ve tried to eat some of the local foods at times) or whether it’s a combination of different foods and a lot of interaction with other travellers on trains and planes or whether it’s Turkish men’s predilection for shaking hands with everyone they meet… Whatever the cause, I’m hoping the antibiotics will put an end to the worst of it and I’ll be cutting out a few staples (like Turkish tea) and switching to more generic foods until this passes… mild symptoms or not, enough is enough… Although it is definitely a good way to lose weight…

Marie and Caitlin didn’t want to risk taking their camera to the beach and I wasn’t taking any pictures today so no photos for this blog update… Hopefully we’ll have some amazing ones from tomorrow…

I’m not sure I’d rent a car in Turkey again – the highway driving is perfectly fine but the city/town driving is a nightmare… Despite  this, there’s no doubt that one of the pleasures of having your own transportation is being able to set your own schedule… Today we were able to take our time getting out of the room and didn’t hit the road until just after 11am (check-out time). Our first destination for today was Aphrodisias – an old Greek/Roman town. Google maps had showed a route from the first town along the route that we never did see but fortunately we’d seen signs on our way to Pamukkale a couple days earlier so we knew we’d find the place eventually… We found the turnoff we’d seen earlier without any trouble and after an “interesting” 30 km drive along a narrow two lane highway we pulled into the parking lot for the site.

They have an interesting system here – you can’t actually park at the site, so you have to hop aboard (for 7 lira for the three of us) a little shuttle tram that ferries you across the highway and the short distance to the site… You could probably walk it yourself but why would you want to in this kind of heat??

Once you hop off the shuttle, you walk a short distance to the site entrance, pay your money (15 lira each), pick up a map and audio guide (10 lira) and start exploring. This site is fantastic… easily one of the most interesting Greek/Roman cities we’ve ever visited… The stadium is amazingly intact and the rest of the site is only partially excavated (they were still digging out the main bath complex (it was cool to see their ancient bath house floor was tiled exactly the same as the bathroom in our house) and working on excavating a huge pool in the south Agora) and there’s lots of stuff still buried in the forest (you can see bits and pieces of it sticking up here and there). We also saw some buildings/structures we haven’t seen at other sites before – namely the Bouleuterion (council house) and Sebasteion (dedicated to the Roman emperors who were worshipped as gods in the Greek provinces of the Roman Empire). We wandered around for a couple of hours (one of the nice things about this site is that there are some mature trees that provide some shade to escape the blistering heat).

After wandering through the ruins we also popped into the little on-site museum (included with your entrance fee and air-conditioned) and checked out their collection of statues and other bits and pieces from around the site… Then it was time to pile back into the car and make the 2.5hr drive to Kusadasi…

Once again, the highway portion was fine. The Kusadasi portion was nightmarish. We started off just using a google map route that we’d pulled up on the iPad before left but after a bit it became clear that google maps had no idea where the hotel was so we switched to Apple’s “Maps” app and it quickly got us back on the right (albeit not much less hellacious) path. Even using the navigation feature on my iPhone it was a tortuous series of insanity-provoking roundabouts (whoever designed these clearly hated humanity) with multiple lanes of traffic entering and leaving and criss-crossing from one side to the other… Then it was into a maze of single lane streets and 90° corners and twisting allies… Eventually,  we found ourselves in front of the guest-house/hostel and even lucked out enough to get a parking spot right in front of the entrance to the hostel… It’s a good thing the mirrors on our rental car fold in because the street is so narrow the street side one definitely wouldn’t survive a night if it didn’t.

We dumped our stuff, cleaned up a bit and had showers then headed for a restaurant (Esenday) recommended by our host. Turned out to be a great recommendation – off the tourist path about a block (so mostly locals eating there and much, much lower prices) and fantastic service and good food. Our server even joined in a couple of times with our Rummy game and was very gracious… Definitely got a big tip from Marie… After dinner it was back to the room and to bed after a long day of exploring the ruins and driving…

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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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Today we were up bright and early to catch our 6:10 shuttle to the airport for our flight to Izmir… Unfortunately, the bug Caitlin had hopped back to me and I was feeling pretty crappy (pun intended) and wasn’t moving too quickly this morning… Marie and Caitlin helped pack up the last things and we made it to the shuttle – more or less on time… We picked up one more set of travellers from another hotel and then the driver – apparently cognizant of being a couple minutes behind schedule – floored it and headed for Kayseri airport (about an hour away) at warp speed… Not a good idea in a fully loaded van driving on cobblestone roads and poor quality paved roads… After about 10 minutes at warp factor 9, a loud bang followed by a telltale thumpity-thumpity-thumpity ride signalled a blown out tire… We didn’t mind as our flight didn’t leave until 9:10 but there were some very stressed people on the bus as it dawned on them that they were going to miss their flights… We all piled out of the van (and a few of us pitched in and helped as best we could to speed up the process) and eventually the damaged tire was replaced and we were good to go again… Of course, we were even further behind so the driver cranked it up to warp factor 10 and did a passable impression of a Formula One racer as he darted in and out of traffic, around buses, through red lights, etc.

We arrived at the airport in a literal cloud of dust and squealing tires… Everyone piled out and joined the huge queue of people waiting to get into the airport (remember, here you have to go through security to get into the airport). Our luck held out as they opened up a new screening station right in front of us so we made it in before a lot of other people and headed for the Pegasus check-in counter. At this airport they did the check-in by flight (which made a lot more sense than the gong show we encountered in Istanbul) so we were able to check-in quickly and then headed for a completely deserted waiting lounge on the second floor… Where I promptly stretched out and tried to sleep… The Immodiums I’d popped back at the hotel were doing their job but I was still feeling lousy… Just as I started to drift off, a couple of kids arrived intent on testing the acoustics of the empty room by yelling and screaming at the top of their lungs (I’m not exaggerating here… they literally yelled, shrieked, screamed, etc. with abandon and a complete lack of parent supervision). Luckily Marie and Caitlin returned and prevented me from stuffing the screaming tots in a garbage bin…

We hung out for a bit longer and then it was time to board the plane… Air Canada take note… When a plane has exits at the front and back it’s super fast to load the plane (and unload it) if you use both exits… I know… It seems like a radical idea but it works! The flight was uneventful (save for a bit of confusion we created when we told them we didn’t want the chicken sandwiches we’d ordered… They were the same as the ones on the last flight and some things you can only eat once in a lifetime…). Then it was into Izmir airport to wait for our bags… I think they loaded each bag onto the conveyor one at a time… With a smoke break in between bags… Ours were among the very last bags to show up on the carousel (about an hour after the flight landed)… Then we made the trek to the International Arrivals level to find our car rental agency…

We picked up our car (given that the girl at the counter spoke very little English and we speak no Turkish, I’m not sure if we have insurance but it’s all good)… Only problem… they have no GPSs to rent… No problem… We’ll just use the airport’s free WiFi to google maps a route… No free WiFi… No problem… We’ll just drive around until we find a McDonald’s and use WiFi to get a route to Pamukkale…

Can you believe there’s an airport in the world that doesn’t have a McDonald’s right nearby… After driving white-knuckled for about half an hour (remember, I’m operating on little sleep and feeling crappy still and am now in Turkish traffic) we find ourselves in the middle of nowhere with no WiFi restaurants anywhere around… So we pull out the iPhone, fire up the cellular data and start roaming (at $9.99 per 20MB). We leave the data on long enough to get a route and use the iPhone as a GPS to get us out of Izmir and onto the right road to Pamukkale (about 3 hours away).

Partway along we stop at a Burger King (not by choice…we do our best to stay away from fast food both in Canada and while travelling but we were desperate for WIFI and it was 2 pm and we were getting by on baby cookies since 6:00 am – so a few chicken tenders would tide us over).  The Burger King restaurant itself was kind of cool – the restaurant was built spanning all 6 lanes of a 6 lane divided highway so you’re sitting and eating above the roadway… Definitely never seen that in Canada.

Once we got to Denizili things got a little complicated (helped, no doubt, by me feeling way under the weather by this point) as we missed a couple of turns and had to do some backtracking but eventually we made our way to the hotel where we checked in around 7 pm and I promptly crashed for the night…

Marie and Caitlin went for a swim, had dinner and played some cards (while checking on me occasionally) and then called it a night as well – but not before dosing me up with enough Gravol and Tylenol to possibly cash in on my life insurance.   Hopefully I’m feeling better tomorrow because I’ve been looking forward to Pamukkale for a long time.

After hot-air ballooning, Marie and I headed back to the hotel and let Caitlin (who was still sleeping) know that the balloon hadn’t crashed and that we had survived… I think she mumbled something along the lines of “that’s good” or maybe it was “go away and let me sleep.” In any case, we decided to let her sleep a little longer so Marie went and found a comfy lounge chair in the sun to catch up on her emails while I went to the restaurant and had some tea and worked on the blog and sorted pictures from the trip. Eventually we figured that Caitlin needed food more than sleep so we woke her up and we all headed up for the hotel’s breakfast… Marie and I figured that since we were staying in a cave hotel which is really a hole in the ground, we could act like hobbits and have second breakfast… We were earlier this morning so Efe was there to make some scrambled eggs (as promised) for Caitlin and I tried some Menemen (http://turkishcooking.biz/menemen-classic-turkish-breakfast-dish/) a mixture of tomatoes, peppers, scrambled eggs and spices… It was delicious!

After breakfast, it was time for showers and getting cleaned up and then up and out for our last day of adventures in Cappadocia. First up, we rented a scooter (for me) and a quad (for Caitlin and Marie) and went for a 1 hour tour of some of the valleys around Goreme. It was a ton of fun as we bombed around on some of the backroads around the town and checked out some of the valleys and sights… There wasn’t much of a “tour” but it was a lot of fun driving the bikes and Marie and Caitlin got a kick of the ATV… especially Marie’s tendency to close her eyes whenever they went down a steep hill.

After our motorbike tour,  it was time to grab some lunch. We picked a place where you lounge on little sofas instead of sitting at chairs and a table… It was quite comfy and the food was decent and lounging on the sofas felt quite decadent.The only complaint was the flies… They were brutal and we ended up bailing out sooner than we would have liked because they were driving us crazy (mainly Caitlin who does this whole spastic seizure thing every time a fly touches her).

After lunch, Marie and Caitlin went souvenir shopping while I went to find a traditional barber for my straight-razor shave. What an experience that was… As I walked up to the barbershop, there’s three guys sitting outside on the bench smoking… One of them gets up and seeing the 6 days of growth on my chin makes a shaving motion (or maybe it was a throat-slitting motion… it was hard to tell) and gestures for me to follow him inside… He points to a chair and gestures for me to sit… So I do. As I settle in the chair, a younger guy (an assistant or apprentice perhaps) comes over with a  tin cup with a bar of soap in it and they drape a couple of towels over me covering me from neck to crotch (this concerns me a little… I mean how messy is this going to be?).

Once I’m all covered up, the barber starts the process of lathering me up for the shave… This is apparently an art in itself as he lathers up the brush and covers my face in thick creamy soap at least 5 times… I can’t see anything without my glasses on but by the time he’s done lathering my face, I must look like Santa Claus… Then he pulls out the straight razor and gets down to business… One of the main reasons I’m doing this straight-razor thing is because of a story I teach in my Grade 11 English classes – “Just Lather, That’s All” (some of you might remember it from when you were in high-school). It’s a story about a barber with revolutionary leanings who, while shaving the face of a ruthless counter-revolutionary leader, contemplates slitting the throat of the man while he is helpless in the chair… I’ve never had a straight-razor shave so thought I should experience one to get more out of the story… Let’s just say there were a few moments where I was sitting in the chair, head tilted back, throat exposed thinking of the barber in that story…

There was nothing to worry about… A few deft strokes and the job was done. Then he’s lathering me up and doing it all over again to make sure he got all the whiskers… Then the rest of the experience starts… First he pulls out the scissors and trims my hairline and sideburns and makes sure that everything is neat and tidy. Then he pulls out a plastic tub and carefully pulls the lid off and grabs a paint brush and proceeds to slather the contents all over my face… Then heads out for a smoke… At first I’m thinking this is just something they do to make the tourists look stupid… after all I’m sitting there with what amounts to a face mask on… Until I see another guy (an obvious local) come back inside with his face all painted up as well… After about 15 minutes this stuff has hardened to the consistency of a plaster cast and has burned all the remaining hair (and a goodly portion of skin) off my face… Finally the barber returns and bends me over the little sink in front of the chair and washes it all off… I’m sure this technique is where the CIA got its inspiration for water-boarding… Then he pulls out a roll of thread and puts one end in his teeth and then makes a complicated “cats’ cradle” type string thing with his hands… Which he then scissors back and forth over my nose and cheeks and forehead… The net effect of this threading process is to pull out any small hairs left on my face… It brings tears to my eyes… Then he pulls out a pair of electric clippers and trims my eyebrows, nose hairs, ears and neck… Then it’s a pair of scissors up the nose to get the hairs halfway between my nostrils and my brain… Then he pulls out a long piece of wire with a cotton ball at the end and dips it in the solution they use to sterilize the combs… Apparently that’s so he can then light it on fire and whack it against my ears to get the hairs the clippers couldn’t reach… Gotta say, I wasn’t expecting to have my ears lit on fire today… And yes, yes it does burn a little…

Then it’s time for a massage… Which basically consists of him pinching and twisting and jabbing his fingers into my shoulders, neck and back… It was not relaxing… Nor was the arm massage he gave which consisted of a couple of “rope burns” (you remember those from elementary school… grab a person’s forearm with both hands and then twist your hands in opposite directions…)… After beating the crap out of me for a couple minutes, it was time to slather on a final “cleansing” and “cooling” lotion… Not really… basically he pours about a gallon of what – judging from the way it stung – must have been pure rubbing alcohol on my freshly shaved, clipped, threaded and “massaged” face… To say it stung a little would be an understatement… In all the process took about 40 minutes and left me feeling pretty squared away and tidied up… Although as far as the shave went, I found it was about as smooth as I can get from a shave with one of the fancy 5 blade razors I usually use…

After the shave it was back to the hotel with enough time to change my clothes before my ride arrived to take me for my sunset ATV tour…

At the ATV place, I was given a hair net (to wear under the helmet) and a German soldier style helmet and sent out to pick a quad from a lineup of about 15 bikes… We got about 5 minutes of “this makes you go… this makes you stop…” instructions and were told repeatedly to “keep 5 metres between next rider” and then headed out for our 2.5 hr tour… It was fun. We bombed around on the bikes over a bunch of backroads and through some of the valleys until we ended up at Love Valley for the sunset… The only downside to the whole experience was the dust… It wasn’t bad if you were near the front of the line of quads but at the back it was brutal… Especially when you have people who think it’s fun to zig-zag back and forth creating huge clouds of dust for anyone unfortunate enough to be stuck behind them… And the ride back was even dustier as there must have been 100 quads from various companies gathered at Love Valley to watch the sunset… In all though, it was a good time.

While I was quadding, Marie and Caitlin went horseback riding…

This is Caitlin’s version of what occurred…

I thought horse back riding would be a really good idea. So I went into this imagining a beautiful horse, a beautiful sunset and hopefully a beautiful cowboy that happened to look just like Hugh Jackman’s character from Australia. I also thought that the riding would be easy because I had ridden twice before, albeit this was when I was very young, but I figured it would be just like riding a bike. Well I was partially right about what happened… The horse was definitely beautiful, I read in the Lonely Planet that the owner of the ranch (Dalton Brothers) trained wild horses and there is no question that they are well cared for. The sunset was also absolutely gorgeous. They took us up to the top of a rock castle where there was a nice viewpoint and gave us about thirty minutes to explore. Mom and I were told by one of the guides that there was a rock church just down the hill so we set off to find it trying to follow his mumbled instructions of down there and left…or right. We couldn’t find it and didn’t want to run out of time so we turned back and realized that in five minutes we had gotten lost. Only my mother and I could get lost going back the way we came but somehow we did and spent a couple minutes scratching our heads and looking around but we eventually made it up to the top. The next part was the highlight of the whole trip for me. THERE WERE PUPPIES!!! 1 MONTH OLD PUPPIES!!! They were quite possibly the cutest things alive (with the exception of my dog Ladybug, she’s obviously the cutest thing alive and we miss her and love her) and at 1 month were very content to be picked up and played with. The people that owned them/looked after them/used them as pick up lines on unsuspecting female tourists that just want to play with puppies said they were the only ones left from a litter of seven. Anyways they were cute and provided a nice happy thing for me to think about for the rest of our interesting journey. So now I was right about two things from my little ranch fantasy but on the other two…not so much. The “turkish cowboy” looked nothing like Hugh Jackman and spoke no English. Every time I panicked he would look back and go “ok, no problem” and then resume chain smoking. Now I think I might be being a little unfair because he was actually pretty safety conscious and good with the horses but it would have been nice to have a guide that was able to explain where we were and who could speak/understand a little bit of English in the event of a problem. None of this would have been a problem however, if I had been right about riding horses being like riding a bike. We had explained to the owner of our hotel that we had very little experience and that we hoped that it wouldn’t be a problem. His response was that it should be fine and he would make sure they gave us nice horses…or a donkey… Halfway through the ride, I began to regret not asking for a donkey. When we got to the ranch they put me up on the horse, gave me the reins and said left is left, right is right and pull is stop and then we were off. Now let me get one thing straight, horses are tall and that means when you ride them you are a long ways from the ground and I’m very much afraid of heights. So right now I have no clue how to steer the horse, it feels nothing like I remembered from the safe little trail rides I did when I was eight and I am swaying in a saddle that would never pass Canadian safety standards and we are going up and down steep little trails that if the horse steps wrong it’s going down with me on top. Long story short, I was terrified. At first, I thought I just needed to get used to it but after twenty minutes of the horse going wherever it wanted (it was really hungry and kept wandering off to eat) I was almost ready to get down and walk. However, after the umpteenth time of the horse leaving the trail and me panicking, the guide either got fed up with having to stop or felt really bad for me and got down and attached a rope to the horse that he held for the rest of the ride. This helped a lot; however, I never felt really comfortable until we were back at the ranch two hours later and I was safely on the ground. Now I realize that I’m making this sound a bit like the horse ride from Hell, however, I actually really enjoyed the experience and it was a great way to see Goreme and the fairy chimneys and I would like to try riding again although maybe at home…with a guide that speaks english…and maybe on a pony…or a donkey!

This is Marie’s version of what happened:

So here’s what really happened during Caitlin and Marie’s most excellent horseback riding adventure in Goreme, Turkey. Caitlin and I had been really looking forward to horseback riding long before we left Canada. So the day arrived on the heels of Caitlin recovering from having her first ever bout of traveller’s illness. But the lure of the horses helped her improve. The company we choose, based on the various online reviews, Dalton Brother’s, came and picked us up from our Pensuine, private car nonetheless, just for the two of us. This was a good start considering the very small number of recent reviews that weren’t exactly glowing from previous participants (like the horses threw five riders during one group’s ride, or the trails were too narrow and steep for the horses and riders to handle). Having read those prior to heading out did create a wee pause and question of what we had got ourselves into, however, the staff at the Pensuine had recommended them and they hadn’t steered us wrong yet. 

We arrived at the little ranch just past 4:30 pm after a very short ride. It looked at first like it was just going to be Caitlin and I but then we chatted with a newlywed couple from France who were the only other riders. The guy was clearly nervous. They handed us the same baseball style helmets we used previously that afternoon for ATV’ing and showed us to our new four legged best friends for the next 2+ hours. 

Other than my saddle looking like it came from Toys’r’Us (you know the clear plastic kind that go with the plastic horse!).  It had a cover on it, not entirely sure what it was made of, and no saddle horn to hoist oneself up and down with or to hang on to.   As we started out with me behind the guide and Caitlin behind me, all was going well, until the guide looks back and says, “from Afganistan, no English.” It was going to be an interesting ride…

So I’m happily riding along and I look back to check on Caitlin and ask her how she’s doing. To my utter shock (because she was so pumped and excited to be doing this prior to actually getting on the horse) I see a statue frozen in utter terror, that mostly resembles my daughter, holding the reins of the horse in a death grip, which of course is giving her poor horse whip lash, preventing it from seeing where to step because Caitlin’s grip has the horse’s head looking straight up into the sky. I ask her if she is okay and I receive a very feeble “not sure, it’s kinda high up here”. 

It will help put things into context to know that before we left we asked the owner of the Pensiune to let the driver know we were inexperienced riders.  We chatted for a few minutes with them and the owner jokingly suggested to Caitlin that she ride a donkey. At one point during the actual trail ride I heard Caitlin say “they should have given me a donkey”. 

Very early on into the ride Caitlin’s horse decided she was tired of the view of the sky and decided to take charge and put her head down and forage for food. This caused Caitlin some concern. I asked the guide to stop as Caitlin’s horse was going to show Caitlin who the boss was and start to walk off the trail and up the side of a wee mountain. I tried to motion to the guide that she was nervous and he finally understood and hooked a lead rope to Caitlin’s horse and they walked together in tandem. This helped immensely.

About an hour later we got to the top of a viewpoint, dismounted (my butt was very sore) and Caitlin announced she was walking back.   We milled around the viewpoint for half an hour, played with adorable one month old puppies, took some pics, had a good laugh when Caitlin and I managed to get ourselves a wee bit turned around on a very short trail while looking for an old cave church one of the guides suggested we go see. The path had two directions, once we walked the 20 feet to it from where we left the horses, you then turned left or right. We choose left, didn’t find the church, and then overshot the steps to go back up.  Caitlin said “don’t tell dad!”  Clearly, Caitlin and I have the odd navigational challenge. 

After the puppy therapy Caitlin had found her zen place again and was able to get back on the horse. The ride down was good, Caitlin’s horse seemed to have forgiven her for the previous whiplash and we made it back all in one piece. My “Toys’r’Us” saddle provided me with the most colourful bruise and pretty amazing swelling on my butt, however, it was totally worth 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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