Saturday, October 12, 2013

Turkey - final post - Hot air balloons and Turkish baths

We hopped on an early flight to Kayseri, which is in central Turkey. Our shuttle bus picked us up and an hour and half later we were in Goreme, our faces pressed against the windows of the bus as it careened up twisty streets that wound their way amongst houses and shops carved into these strange, other-worldy rock formations called "fairy chimneys." Cappadocia (pronounced "cappa-doh-kia") has been on my places to visit list since I read a book about The Silk Road and the traveler writer had wondered through the canyons and valleys filled with these rock formations. After googling images, I was sold. "1000 Places to See Before You Die" introduces Cappadocia as "For those who think they've seen everything, think again."


We stayed in a cave hotel that was recommended by our friend Kelly. The proprietor, Hanife, was super friendly and helpful - she gave us restaurant recommendations, hiking options, and vouchers to the Turkish bath (more on that later :) ). We headed out for a walk to the Goreme Open Air Museum. This area is really hilly, so it was actually a pretty good workout walking up to this place. These dwellings housed Christians who were being persecuted in the 800-1100AD timeframe. Paintings are still vivid on the stone walls and the kitchen room walls are stilled stained black with smoke residue.

Goreme Open Air Museum

After the open air museum, we headed to the Turkish bath. We had both done some research and talked with some fellow travelers to make sure we had the etiquette down for the baths and decided we wanted to experience this thing called the hamaam, or Turkish bath. We opted for the standard bath and added on an oil massage.

We headed down the marble steps, rolling our eyes good-naturedly at the Turkish man who tried to convince us to go down the other set of stairs to the men's section. Two women greeted us, gave us a wrap, and ushered us to the changing rooms. Wrap securely in place and our locker keys fastened on our wrists with a rubber bracelet, we were directed to some cushiony chairs, our faces slathered with a seaweed/mud facial and given a glass of tea. We then were taken to the sauna and baked in there for 15 minutes before heading to the showers and rinsing off. The next stop, and the whole point of this, was the bath room. A white and gray marble domed room with a raised circular platform in the center. Three Turkish women stood smiling, ready for their next victims, bathers. I had to point to my shins, which had gotten a bit sunburned at the beach and told the lady "ouch, soft?" She nodded in understanding.

This is pretty much what the bath room looked like

Bath-lady then proceeded to put two scouring mitts on her hands and scrubbed me down. I had read that some folks thought this was a bit uncomfortable, but it felt just like those sugar/salt scrubs that you can get done at spas. I was rinsed off and then drowned in a bunch of soap bubbles as the next step began. This step was pretty awesome because they massage you as they wash, and my poor feet and calves were super tight from all the hiking/walking we had been doing. Another rinse, I was handed my wrap and directed to the showers to shampoo my hair. There was a swimming pool that we were supposed to relax in. It was really cold, so a quick dip was all we did and then it was off to another steam room and then to the oil massage, where Helga the Torturer proceeded to pummel me for ten minutes. And that folks, is the Turkish bath. Although slightly awkward, it was definitely worth the experience and I would do it again :)

We woke up super early the next morning to catch our van to...our hot air balloon ride! This is the must-do activity in Cappadocia - what better way to see the eerie rock formations than from the sunrise!

We pulled up to the launch site and watched as the balloons were filled. I remembered going to the hot air ballon festivals as a kid and seeing this happen, but this time, I got to go up in one! After some brief safety instructions and a practice run at taking our landing positions, we all climbed into the basket (there are no doors, so it's up and over into your little cubby that holds 4 people, 20 people total in the basket). I had been nervous about this ride because I am not a fan of heights, but as soon as the basket lifted off of the ground, I thought "oh, this is going to be so amazing." Balloon flight is so smooth because you are part of the air. The flight was about an hour and was just awesome. It was so peaceful, just drinking in the beauty of the impossible landscape below. So glad I was able to do this!

In our balloon and ready for our flight!

The sun's rays just beginning to touch the canyons

Pillars of stone

So many balloons - this doesn't capture all of the ones in the air


After our balloon ride, we went on a 7km hike with a guide through the Ilhara Gorge, the deepest gorge in Turkey. Both Erin and I thought it was a really pretty hike, but honestly, it really felt like hiking around in northern Arizona, so I think I would pick a different hike next time with more unusual scenery. Still it was a great (long, tiring :) ) day.

Ilhara Gorge

We flew back to Istanbul the next day and did our souvenir shopping in the bazaars - I have some pretty entertaining stories about our shopping experiences, but they are too long to blog, so you will have to ask me in person. :)

Turkey was all I had hoped it would be.  I felt healthy and strong and had so much fun. Thankful to be able to travel, to have Him allow me to recognize that it is because of His grace that I can, and amazed by the wondrous things that He has created.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Turkey - part 2 - Izmir and Ephesus

So as I stated before in my previous post, Izmir was not what we had expected. For one, somehow we had thought there would be beaches (we had planned to have at least one relax-on-the-beach day). Izmir was all browns and grays, dusty and hot and the water was completely surrounded with a dirty gray concrete wall. No beach. And the water looked odd. I don't know how to describe it, but every time I looked out over the water, I felt unsettled. Even this photo weirds me out...

Creepy water

So about 15 minutes after getting to our hotel, we sat on our beds, munching on trail mix and utilizing the free wi-fi to plan a short day trip to to Chios, a Greek island off the coast of Turkey. The coast was about an hour bus ride away, so we made our plans, looked up a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant, and headed out to eat.

Our best seafood meal - seabass stuffed with a Turkish cheese and grilled prawns. After thinking we had annoyed the owner with our attempts at Turkish, he ended up offering us tea on the house, so maybe his annoyed face was really an amused one?

The next morning, we woke up super early, took a taxi to the bus terminal, managed to find a bus heading to Cesme (where we were supposed to catch the ferry to Chios) and off we went.

Unfortunately the bus made more stops than we realized, and soon, we were glancing at the time every 15 seconds, willing the bus to move faster. We reached the town of Cesme, but not the ferry terminal and since we had about 9 minutes until the ferry left, we hopped off, haggled with another taxi, and zoomed away to the ferry terminal. We literally ran up to the terminal as I was pulling up our reservations on the my phone. A guy told us we had to have actual tickets and pointed us to the ticket desk...which was closed.   Turns out, we had needed to be there 20 minutes prior to the ferry leaving, not 5.

The ferry pulling away from the dock without us :(

Bummed, yet still laughing about our whirlwind trek to the ferry terminal, we walked into the town, which was very cute and stereotypically Mediterranean, got some recommendations on local beaches, haggled for some beach towels, grabbed a minibus, and headed to this beach for the day:

Gorgeous weather! The water was a bit chilly for me, so I mostly camped out on my lawn chair for 6 hours and read a really good book :)

Now pros at the bus system, we headed back to Izmir and awoke for an early morning walk to the train station to catch our train to Selchuk (about 1.5 hour away) to meet our tour guide for...Ephesus!

We booked the Ephesus tour through this really great Australian company called No Frills Tours. When we walked into the tour office, Erin recognized one of the couples there as being from her church, and I recognized a couple I had made friends with in the Izmir airport who were from Dallas. So our group of 6 Texans and 2 Australians was pretty chatty and friendly the whole time, which thrilled our tour guide (who was also chatty and friendly) and made for a great day!

The amphitheater in Ephesus

The library in Ephesus

Gateway from the library to the agora (marketplace/meeting place)

Terrace houses that they are still uncovering - mosaics, painting, and 1500 year old indoor plumbing still intact! Only about 3% of Ephesus has been uncovered...can you imagine what the place will look like 50-100 years if the archaeological efforts continued to be funded!?

Ephesus was incredible and was the place I was most looking forward to seeing on this trip. To think I walked along streets that Paul walked on, in the city he taught So thankful and amazed to have seen part of the Bible come to life.