Turkey

The Delectable Food of Turkey

Before traveling to Turkey, I had always heard wonderful things about their cuisine. And now I can personally report that the food was terrific!!

Our very first night in Istanbul we strolled along the waterfront and stopped at a restaurant for dinner. Neither of us was incredibly hungry because, believe it or not, Turkish Airlines fed us really well throughout our flight! But we decided to stop anyway to have a drink and order some light fare. I ordered the stuffed grape leaves (yum!) and Rob ordered a seafood salad and seaweed salad. Between our appetizers and the bread they served us with a delicious olive tapenade, our meal was perfect! (And my introduction to Efes sparked the beginning of our 2 week friendship throughout all of Turkey!)

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After that first night we got our full appetites back and we dove right in to the traditional Turkish dishes. First stop….Kebabs! Kebabs are a staple in Turkey and can be found throughout the country (we ate them in practically every city we visited). Kebabs are made from tasty slices of seasoned meat (usually lamb) that are typically served on plates, skewered, or on sandwiches. They are delicious and affordable. Each kebab plate only cost about $5, maybe less.

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Kebab restaurant in Istanbul

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Kebabs from a restaurant near Ephesus

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Chicken kebabs in Antalya (by far the best we had!)

As delicious as the kebabs were, they weren’t exactly a new culinary experience since you can find them in many other countries. But gözleme was a new dish that I had never tried before, nor heard of. Gözleme is kind of like a Turkish quesadilla. It is made of hand-rolled dough and then filled with various toppings (meat, potatoes, vegetables, cheese, etc.), sealed with another layer of dough and then cooked on a griddle. I tried several varieties and they were all delicious. I had the opportunity to watch a woman preparing gözleme and she was quite a ham! She didn’t speak any English, but she was encouraging me to take her picture, to which I happily obliged.

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Another new dish we both enjoyed was pide. Pide is basically a Turkish pizza. The dough is generally molded into an oval shape and then topped with cheese, meat, and/or vegetables. It was really delicious! (Rob’s version doesn’t look quite as appetizing without the cheese, but he swears it was still good.)

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But my favorite meal every day was breakfast, hands down! Breakfast always consisted of fresh watermelon that I paired with feta cheese (A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! Don’t knock it till you try it), fresh cucumber and tomato wedges, lots of olives, dried apricots and figs, and yogurt. I’m not quite sure how I didn’t manage to get a picture of this wonderful display of tasty goodness, but I am assuming that I was far too anxious to start eating it every morning to worry about taking pictures. Sorry.

And to satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth, Turkey has the most amazing desserts! One of my absolute favorites is Turkish baklava; not Greek baklava or Iraqi baklava or any other country’s version of baklava. It has to be Turkish baklava. If you’ve never had baklava before, it is a sweet pastry made of layers of filo dough, filled with chopped nuts, and sweetened with honey. I have always found Greek baklava to be far too sweet. But Turkish baklava has the perfect nut:honey ratio.

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Oh the glorious baklava!

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Confused Capital?

Ankara is the capital of Turkey and it is the country’s second largest city. But where exactly is Ankara? Europe or Asia?

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Ankara is in Asia. But apparently nobody told that to the committee for the European Museum of the Year Award! Because somehow they selected the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations (in Ankara) as their award winner in 1997. There is probably an awesome museum in Prague [insert any other European city here] that had this prestigious (?) award slip through its hands and had to settle for runner up. Well done committee, well done!

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In addition to visiting the museum above, we also visited Anıtkabir. Anıtkabir is the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as well as a museum dedicated to his achievements. Atatürk was the founder of the Republic of Turkey and he is considered a national hero. The museum was actually quite impressive, especially compared to the “award-winning” museum above. The museum was protected by members of the Turkish Honor Guard representing different branches of their military.

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And if anyone gets out of line, these guys mean business. Check out how they put Rob in a time out!

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Just kidding. Rob was on his best behavior.

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Unfortunately, our time in Ankara was very short and we didn’t really get an opportunity to explore the city. Most of our day was tied up visiting these two museums that were part of our guided tour. Given the opportunity, we would have preferred to roam around Ankara at our leisure and really get a feel for the city, but sadly we were at the will of our tour guide. However, we did get to experience a 5M Migros! What is a Migros, you ask? Migros is a grocery store and they classify the size of the store by the number of M’s in the name. They are all over Turkey and we saw Migros, MMigros, and even MMMigros. But it wasn’t until we got to Ankara that we saw our first MMMMMigros! We checked it out and it was basically a Turkish version of Super WalMart.

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Turkey Doesn’t Lead Animals Astray

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One of the things I loved most about Turkey, was how they treated the animals there. I am an animal lover at heart and not afraid to admit that I like animals more than I like most people (except you…you know who you are!) So I was truly touched when I saw how kind the Turks were to the abundant stray population. I’ve been to some countries where the people can be downright cruel to stray animals, thinking of them merely as pests that should be exterminated. But that was definitely not the case in Turkey!

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Turkey does not have animal shelters like we have in the United States. So in order to help control the stray population, they have a “neuter and release” program. Stray dogs are picked up, given immunizations and then spayed or neutered. Before being released, the dog’s ear is tagged to show the dog has been properly evaluated, treated, and neutered. It seems to be a very effective program because the stray dogs I saw were the happiest strays I have ever seen! They all seemed very well-fed and generally in good health. Most of them were just trying to find their place in the shade and none of them seemed skittish or fearful of people.

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There were also stray cats everywhere around the country. I’m not sure if they have the same “neuter and release” program for cats, but I didn’t see any cats with their ears tagged. However, they were just as happy and go-lucky as the dogs were. Both dogs and cats could be found hanging around shops and even restaurants. But rather than shop owners shooing them away, they all graciously put out food and fresh water. It was incredibly heart-warming to witness such genuine concern for all of these homeless animals.

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Remember: As Bob Barker always said, “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.”

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Turkish Sunsets

Sunset in Istanbul

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Sunset in Çanakkale

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Sunset in Izmir

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Sunset in Antalya

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Something Beautiful Remains by Martha Vashti Pearson

The tide recedes, but leaves behind
Bright seashells on the sand.
The sun goes down but gentle warmth
Still lingers on the land.
The music stops and yet it lingers on
In sweet refrain.
For every joy that passes
Something beautiful remains

*** This post is dedicated to my grandmother, Carmela, for all of the joy and beauty she has brought into this world. Even though the sun has set, it is not gone. ***
10/16/1923 ~ 10/31/2013

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The Medusa Mystery

Since today is Halloween I thought it would be appropriate to post about one of the spookier sites in Turkey. Okay, maybe “spooky” is a bit of an oversell, but it’s the best that I can do.

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The Basilica Cistern is the largest of hundreds of ancient cisterns in Istanbul, with the capacity to store 100,000 tons of water. This cathedral-size cistern was built in the 6th century and is over 100,000 square feet. Visitors can descend underground and explore this amazing ancient architectural achievement.

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The ceiling is supported by 336 marble columns, most of which are of the Corinthian style. Most of these columns appear to have been recycled from the ruins of older buildings.

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However, there are a couple columns that are quite unique. The column in the picture below is engraved with tear-like shapes. The tears are believed to represent the hundreds of slaves that died during the cistern’s construction. Records show there were about 7,000 slaves involved in the construction.

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In one corner of the cistern there are two columns with bases depicting the head of Medusa. One of the heads is upside-down and the other is oriented sideways. The origin of the two heads is unknown and it is a complete mystery why they are oriented in such a peculiar manner. Very Barely spooky.

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Happy Halloween!

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The Cotton Castle

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Pamukkale (pa-mook-ka-lay) means “cotton castle,” but you won’t find any cotton plantations here! The name refers to the color alone as the mountain is covered in white minerals. The area is filled with natural hot springs that deposit calcium carbonate in the water, which later hardens and turns into travertine. The views were amazing and the pictures just don’t do it justice!

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The ancient city of Hierapolis was built atop the “cotton castle” and there are still a few remnants of the ancient ruins.

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People have bathed in the pools of Pamukkale for thousands of years. Tourists are allowed to walk along the travertine terraces and bathe in the hot springs, but shoes may not be worn while walking on the minerals in order to protect the site.

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As tourism began to boom in this area, hotels were built on the “cotton castle.” Roads were built and considerable damage was done to the natural landscape. The area was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988 and the hotels were demolished in order to preserve the site. Artificial pools replaced the hotels and still remain today. Tourists can pay an additional fee to access the artificial pools.

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Jumping into the Fear

As many of you already know, I have a debilitating fear of sharks (and every other unfriendly thing in the water). So as a general rule, I only go into bodies of water when I can see absolutely everything around me. I’m talking about the crystal-clearest of waters. Unfortunately, the Mediterranean Sea didn’t meet my ridiculously strict criteria. Our hotel sat high above a cliff and there were stairs leading down to the water. But there wasn’t an actual beach there where you could slowly inch your way into the water. It was all or nothing. Jump in and chance death (#dramaqueen) or miss out on my first opportunity to swim in the Mediterranean Sea. What is a terrified girl to do?

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Not only was there no way to gradually enter the water, but the water was also pretty choppy, further reducing my ability to see any approaching predators. But I had to buckle down and do this. I had to be able to legitimately say that I swam in the Mediterranean Sea. So I armed Rob with the camera and begged him to take the picture as soon as I got in the water so that I could literally get right back out. But Rob decided this was a good opportunity to torture me a bit, so he pretended the camera was malfunctioning just to keep me in the water longer. This went on for what felt like an eternity to me, but was probably closer to 30 seconds. But I did it, I swam in the Mediterranean Sea! You probably can’t tell from this photo, but behind that forced smile, I was petrified and my heart was pounding out of my chest. As soon as I was certain that Rob had captured the photographic evidence, I was right back on land where humans naturally belong. Phew!

Side note: Rob would have felt eternal guilt had I been attacked by a shark while he was dilly dallying with the camera!

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After surviving what could have been my brush with death, I promptly left the sea and headed for much calmer waters…..that’s right….the hotel pool! Notice the not-so-forced smile below.

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Wait Until Ya See Antalya

See what I did there? Until ya – Antalya

Antalya is a beautiful city on the southwest coast of Turkey. The views of the Mediterranean Sea and the Taurus Mountains made the landscape picture-perfect! We checked into our hotel and we were very pleased with our room’s view overlooking the sea.

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Instead of signing up for an optional tour, Rob and I decided to do our own thing while in Antalya and I am so happy that we did! We spent the whole day exploring Kaleiçi, the oldest part of the city. The name Kaleiçi means “inner fortress” which is a very fitting name since the old city is completely walled and lies along the cliffs of the harbor.

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Inside the city walls are beautiful cobbled streets lined with shops, hotels and restaurants. We enjoyed wandering the winding streets and browsing through the shops as we went. It ended up being a fabulous place to shop. The shop owners were all very friendly and the experience was much calmer and more enjoyable than shopping at the Grand Bazaar.

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The ceramic shops were fabulous! Beautiful colors and intricate designs made these pieces very special. We even happened upon a shop-owner hand-painting a new piece (and she was gracious enough to let me take her picture). We didn’t end up buying any of her pieces though. Instead, we ended up back at the very first ceramic shop we saw and dealt with a very nice shop-owner named Mehmet.

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In addition to the beautiful ceramics, Turkey is famous for its carpets. I think our tour guide mentioned something to this effect, “Turkey is home to 1,000 mosques, and 1,000,000 (wait, or was it 100,000???) carpet shops!” He added that these figures were no longer accurate because Turkey has about 1,700 mosques now, but he probably wasn’t exaggerating about the carpet shop figures. Our good friend Mehmet (from the ceramic shop) told us there were over 30 carpet shops in the small old walled city of Kaleiçi alone. Even though we weren’t in the market to buy a Turkish carpet, somehow we found ourselves in the Kervan carpet shop. The owner offered us tea and then began educating us on the quality of Turkish carpets. The carpets truly were magnificent, but they were very expensive and not within our budget. But Rob was really getting into the idea of buying not just 1, but 3 carpets!!! He had really worked on his bargaining skills since our Grand Bazaar experience, and he had negotiated an amazing deal on 3 carpets. However, despite this amazing deal, we still couldn’t justify spending that kind of money. It was at that point that I started to worry Rob might have been debating trading his lovely wife in exchange for the 3 lovely carpets….

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The ‘Burbs of Ephesus

Earlier today, I posted about “Downtown” Ephesus, but there are actually several more sites of historical significance around Ephesus. I’m referring to these sites as the suburbs of Ephesus.

House of the Virgin Mary

This house was discovered in the 19th century, but the Catholic Church has never proclaimed whether or not they support its authenticity. Regardless of that fact, many Catholics set forth on a pilgrimage to visit the site. Several popes have also visited the house. It is believed that Mary was taken to the house by Saint John and lived there until her Assumption.

Side note: I don’t believe in all of this “virgin” hoo-ha. I’m pretty sure she was getting it on in this tiny house. I know…I’m a heathen.

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Basilica of St. John

The basilica was built in the 6th century in the shape of a cross (cruciform) with six massive domes. The brick foundations and marble walls have been partially reconstructed, but the ruins aren’t quite as grand as the remains elsewhere in the area. However, if they were to fully reconstruct the cathedral to its original form, it would be the 7th largest in the world! Pretty impressive for something that was built in the 6th century.

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Temple of Artemis

Ephesus’s greatest claim to fame was the Temple of Artemis. Although not much remains today, it was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Represented now by just one pillar, it was actually about four times bigger than the Parthenon in Athens. Wow!

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“Downtown” Ephesus

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The ancient city of Ephesus contains one of the largest collections of ancient ruins. Even though only about 15% of the site has been excavated, tourists are able to see the grandeur of this ancient city. Ephesus was a major Roman city second in size (and importance) only to Rome. At its height in the second century, about 300,000 people lived there.

City street

City street

The Library of Celsus is probably the most well-known structure in Ephesus. It was built around 100 AD and then destroyed during an earthquake around 270 AD. The library was not rebuilt after the earthquake, but the front façade was re-erected in 1970. Celsus was the 3rd largest ancient library (after Alexandria and Pergamon) and once held about 12,000 scrolls.

Library of Celsus

Library of Celsus

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The Odeon was a small roofed theater built around 150 AD with seating for about 1,500 people.

Odeon

Odeon

Ephesus’s outdoor theater is believed to be the largest in the ancient world. This three-tiered theater is built into the slope of a hill and offers seating for 25,000 people!

Outdoor Theater

Outdoor Theater

Temple of Hadrian

Temple of Hadrian

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Hadrian's Gate

Hadrian’s Gate

The Temple of Domitian was one of the largest temples in the city.

Temple of Domitian

Temple of Domitian

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Nike

Nike

And just in case you ever wondered what an ancient public latrine looked like…

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