Posts Tagged With: Tourism

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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Categories: Destinations, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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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Categories: Destinations, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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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Categories: Destinations, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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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Categories: Destinations, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Guess What Day It Is!

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Our tour guide told us that Cappadocia means “land of beautiful horses.” Well, I didn’t see any horses during our time in Cappadocia, but I sure did see some camels! These camels were basically just brought in for the tourists as a way to make some money on photo opportunities. So don’t go to Turkey expecting to see lots of camels just roaming around.

Regardless, Happy Hump Day! (you’re welcome Craig!)

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And just in case you live in a bubble (as apparently I sometimes do!), this commercial was the inspiration for today’s post.

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Soaring Over the White Valley

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One of the most amazing highlights of our vacation in Turkey was the hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. Rob and I weren’t hot air balloon virgins as we have flown once before (technically twice, but that’s a whole other story you can read about here). But this experience was nothing like our experience floating above Virginia. Floating above Cappadocia meant amazing views of fairy chimneys as well as one of the volcanoes responsible for the unique landscape.

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But this experience came at a price, and I am not referring to the actual cost of the excursion. I’m talking about the 4:45 AM wake-up and the 5:30 AM pick-up from our hotel! As many of you know, I am NOT a morning person and as I am sure my husband can attest, I am not pleasant to be around at that hour! But this was the experience in Turkey that I was most looking forward to and there was no way I was going to miss it. Our guides from Kapadokya Balloons picked us up from our hotel before sunrise and we headed to the launch site. Once we arrived, the crew already had things set up and we were just about ready to take off. These balloons and baskets were much larger than the ones we flew in before. Our tiny basket in Virginia just held the two of us, plus our pilot. But the baskets they used in Cappadocia were huge and held 20 people, plus the pilot!

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We were up in the air in no time and we soared over the White Valley as the sun rose. The views were just spectacular! Our pilot told us there were about 60 balloons flying that day. With twenty-something balloon companies in the area, all charging about $200+ per person, 20 people per basket, flying 365 days per year (weather permitting), it is quite a lucrative business! It was by far the most expensive of the additional tours we booked, but it was well worth it.

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Our landing was not quite as smooth as our prior ballooning experience. We touched down a tad hard and then the balloon continued to drag us and we all thought the basket was going to roll! But the pilot was amazing and he quickly adjusted to keep the basket upright. The thing to remember about flying in a hot air balloon is the pilot can only control the altitude of the balloon, they have ZERO control of what direction the balloon will fly. That is determined by the wind direction alone. So based on what direction the balloon is flying, the pilot must anticipate what will be the safest landing zone. In our case, we landed in a valley and the balloon caught a gust of wind that started to drag the basket. However, the other balloon in our group landed in an open field where there wasn’t much wind and the pilot was actually able to land the basket precisely on the trailer. Pretty amazing!

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After our landing, the crew quickly packed up the balloon and we celebrated with a champagne toast. Our cocktails were actually champagne mixed with sour cherry juice (quite popular in Turkey). Personally, I would have preferred a mimosa, but the sour cherry juice wasn’t half bad. I’m not sure if this drink has an official name already or not. Any suggestions?

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Categories: Destinations, Turkey | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

The Land of Fairy Chimneys

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Cappadocia is a region in central Turkey known for its unique landscape. In all of my travels, I have never seen anything else quite like it! The landscape is the result of volcanic activity millions of years ago and erosion. Tuff (sometimes called tufa) is a rock made from consolidated volcanic ash and it can be found throughout the Cappadocia region. Tuff is a soft rock making it very susceptible to erosion. Over the course of millions of years the tuff has eroded into spectacular pillars that are commonly referred to as fairy chimneys.

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This soft rock is also very easy to carve. The people of this region put the rock to good use and they carved out houses, churches and monasteries. The winters in this region could be very harsh, but the people learned that when their homes were carved into the rock they were well insulated against the elements and automatically maintained the perfect room temperature.

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The Göreme Open Air Museum is one of the most popular tourist sites in Cappadocia. The complex contains more than 30 churches carved into the rock dating back to the 9th century. Many of the churches had beautiful frescoes painted inside, but there were photography restrictions so I wasn’t able to take pictures of most of them.

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Interesting Fact: The cubby holes in the photo below are not places to store your shoes before entering your rock house. They are actually places for pigeons to roost. Apparently pigeon poop is the best fertilizer (or so I am told) so they intentionally carved out these spaces for the birds so they could collect “their offerings.”

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Categories: Destinations, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

State Department Says What?

While in Izmir, we just happened to stumble upon a protest in progress. The State Department strongly encourages citizens to stay away from such gatherings. In fact, according to their website “U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Turkey should be alert to the potential for violence. We strongly urge U.S. citizens to avoid demonstrations and large gatherings. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.”

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But, our curiosity got the best of us! And it just so happened that the protest was marching in the same direction we were headed. We were still a decent distance ahead of the march, but I was able to rely on my mega-zoom camera to get a glimpse of the action while maintaining a “safe” distance.

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Our tour guide had actually mentioned the protest to us before dropping us off at our hotel (a tidbit of information that I apparently slept through), so Rob did a bit of research before we headed out. According to this article, they were protesting a change to the Turkish Constitution that would lift the ban on turbans at Turkish universities. Ok, so this protest had nothing to do with Syria or the American Government…sounds safe enough to me! Does someone want me to carry a sign or something?

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Disclaimer: This post is not meant to encourage others to defy the State Department. We did so at our own risk. That’s how we roll!

Categories: Destinations, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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