Ephesus, The Blue Cruise, and Cappadocia

Ephesus

At times, we feel like we are chasing the stories of the Bible and the Qu’ran. The regions we have been in over the past month are so rich with history I am beginning to cross my i’s and dot my t’s trying to retrace our steps. Plus, we must have visited over 30 different ruins, churches, mosques, shrines, etc. since we’ve began this trip. Ephesus is the supposed home of the Virgin Mary and it is believed this is where she spent her last days. The apostes Paul and John are also believed to have lived here during the first century and the latter is believed to have written some if not all of his gospel while here. You can read more about the history here.

Ephesus LibraryWalking around the ruins, you try to imagine what it was like in those times. Long robed men and women walking to and fro on the marbled streets. In the early morning they would visit the library, then head to the baths for the daily cleansing. While there, they would discuss politics, philosophy and make business deals. Afterwards, maybe they would visit one of the two giant theaters for a show. Wine was in abundance and the fruits and vegetables that grow in this region have been here for ages. They eat tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives, breads and jams. Apricots and peaches, when in season, are a real crowd pleaser and you cannot have breakfast without a hard boiled egg. In the ruins there is even a brothel, making me think that maybe things haven’t really changed that much.

We stay in Selcuk, the nearest town to the ruins of Ephesus, at Diana Pension. The owner, Mike, cannot use a computer so we offer to help him update his website and get his profile on Hostelworld sorted out to bring in more business. This turns out to be a longer process than we had anticipatedTurkish Brekkie, but in the meantime, we were able relax in the beautiful Atrium and Terrace garden of Diana Pension for a few days and cement a great friendship with Mike and his understudy Shetke, who we call Ronaldo. In the morning, the boys make us breakfast consisting of, you guessed it, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, breads and jam, apricots and of course, a hard boiled egg. Some mornings they make us a Turkish dish called menemen, a spicy frittatta with tomatoes, onions, chilis and some eggs fried in oil. We settle into the lifestyle here quite nicely. After breakfast we do some work on the computer for Mike, checking our progress and making necessary changes. Then, we take the local bus to the nearby beaches and relax for a few hours before returning home. On the walk back to Diana Pension, you cannot help noticing the scores of old men sitting at the sidewalk cafes playing backgammon or rummicube, drinking cay. These old men have apparently earned this right to relax and I would be shocked to see the same man sitting at the same table from as early as 7 a.m. all the way to dusk. This happens nearly every day. A few days pass and then we are off to Fethiye, a small seaside village where the Aegean and Mediterranean Sea’s meet. The next morning we board a 100 foot gulet, an old-fashioned wooden sailboat and set out to sea for a 4-day, 3-night adventure.

Sailing the Med

Our boat is filled with nine others, Oli and Rose from England, Missy and Nina from Canada, Maura and Rory from Moorestown and Yardley, and three Turks, Yasemin, Betu and Huseyin. Somehow, through sheer luck I guess, we all get along really, really well and the group dynamic makes this one of the highlights of our entire trip.

Every hour or so we anchor and jump or dive into the majestic blue waters of the Med. The scenery is Gulet in the Medbreathtaking and small, scattered villages adorn the mountainous coast. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are prepared for us by our crew and we even are served high tea in the mid afternoon. We play cards and tons of backgammon to pass the time and have long talks about religion, politics and our family life, growing closer and closer as each minute passes. Swimming and reading fill our afternoons and I realize we are truly living the champagne lifestyle on our beer budget. Everyone brings their blankets and pillows up from the cabin below to sleep under the stars on the deck. Sunrise wakes us up initially but it’s the heat that gets us out of bed, begging for the next swim stop.

On the night of Turkey’s big futbol match against Germany, we convince the captain and crew to dock and they easily comply. Stopping in Kas, we find a television and gather round to root the team on. Once again, it’s a great match, but unfortunately they came up short in the last minute. We resort to late night card playing and drinking and of course this leads to people jumping in the water, namely Naked Oli. This is our last night on the water and we definitely went out with a bang. The next day we docked and bid farewell to our gulet, Babaveli 4, and hopped our bus to Olympos. Six of us, Oli, Rose, Rory and Maura, stayed together for the overnight ride to Cappadocia.

Cappadocia

Oli and Rose, through some magic trick I assume, already had a hostel booked and they fortunately were okay with the rest of us tagging along. Cappadocia, meaning the “land of beautiful horses” is built into cavesCappadocian Landscape at Sunset of a unique substance called “tuff,” a cross between rock and sand formed from volcanic activity. This, along with other geological events, has created a landscape of phallic spires called “fairy chimneys,” and large valleys including the Turkish grand canyon, the Ilhara Valley. We check into Flinstones Hostel and our room is an underground cave and begin planning our first sightseeing adventure into nature. The hostel manager, Fati, pitches us a tour around Capadoccia for the day and we gladly accept, not really feeling like going on a solo mission after our 14 hour bus ride.

We start at Kaymakli , an ancient underground Christian civilization that tunnels down eight stories deep! During times of persecution or battle, mostly from the Romans, the village would retreat underground and take up shelter for extended periods. Churches, monasteries, stables, full kitchens and even torture areas for their captured enemies make up the twisted maze of tunnels. They even made wine! Apparently, the started by building one cylindrical ventilation shaft several hundred feet down and then built rooms off of that. Given the consistency of the soil, digging wasn’t exactly difficult, but at it’s peak the community had 10,000 inhabitants so you can imagine the scope of the project.

Afterwards we stopped at the Ilhara Valley, an impressive, albeit miniature, Grand Canyon and began a 90 minute hike down into the valley before stopping at a stilted restaurant located on the river for lunch. Finally, we stopped at what was once a “castle made of sand,” a kingdom built into the rocks that towered high over the surrounding villages of Goreme. Hiking to the top, the six of us watched the sun go down before hiking back to Flinstones.

Er, Wot\'s that?The next day we rented motorbikes and explored the area surrounding Goreme. Stopping by the phallic-looking fairy chimneys, we snapped some funny photos and continued our journey to nearby village, Urgup. We found a winery that had been recommended to us and then met up with Maura and Rory for a sunset over the hills accompanied by some awful Turkish wine. This would be our last night in Cappadocia, so we all decided to go to “Turkish Night,” an all you can drink and eat bonanza accompanied with entertainment.

Walking into the hall, we could immediately tell this was a tourist-only destination but after they put two jugs of wine on the table, we stopped caring. The first act was a Whirling Dervish performance and we learned that this is a Muslim religious practice only completed by a small sect, the Mevlevi order. At one time the Dervishes were banned from practicing in this way but religious reforms in the early 20th century reversed that. The dervishes spin counter clockwise with their right arm opened up towards the heavens to symbolize accepting God’s gifts. With their left hand opened down toward the earth, they shower the earth with these gifts. It’s a meditative ceremony, one in which even I was dizzy. Always ones to get our monies worth, the night went long as we watched belly dancers, gypsy dancers and were even asked to do a fullLucky Guys “chachacha-style” line dance. During the gypsy dance, I was asked to do a solo dance to entice the bride-to-be. This reminded me of the Kurdish wedding ceremony we had seen in Istanbul. Needless to say, I wasn’t chosen ūüė¶ Afterwards, Maura and Rory were called up to shake their booties during the belly dancing lessons and wowed the crowd. More dancing ensued and as a group we ended up in a local bar to play pool and dance. It was a great way to wrap up our time together.

The morning after, we found an even better way to wrap up our time by visiting a turkish bath, called a Hamam. Closely related to the ancient Roman style of bathing, the Hamam was a daily ritual in days past. Now it’s more of a tourist stop, but considering the amount of booze we consumed the prior night, it was a necessity. First, you strip down and walk around in your red and white checkered towel. The attendants direct you to the dry sauna where the sweat-a-thon begins. Next, you are directed to take a cool shower and then lie down on the octagonal heated tile bed, large enough to fit 10 adults. After a while, you are called by one of the Hamam attendants to your table where you get a massage. My therapist – if you can even call it that – is a huge, hairy, Mr. Behar look-alike, and he is dressed in the same towel. He instructs me to lie face down on the marble tiled table. Not exactly the most comfortable bed but the massage and bath that ensued is definitely one for the record books. This guy was a giant gilopi moose and he literally beat me down. They use soap as the oil and lather you up, rub it in, and then dump hot water before repeating. Near the end of For the fellas to enjoy...the 20 minute massage, he sat me up, grabbed each side of my head and I thought he was about to kiss me but instead he gave me a football-style headbutt and then cranked my neck from side to side, cracking every bone in the vicinity. Then he gave me a friendly slap on the face and smiled. I was in a state of euphoria as they led me to the cool mineral bath to finish up the treatment. Leaving the Haman, we were directed to the lounge area where they served us Apple tea and each recounted our glorious finale in Cappadocia.

Later that day we boarded our flight back to Istanbul and watched the final EuroCup match where Spain reigned victorious. Erin and I bid farewell to the crew but will see Maura in Germany in late July and changed our itinerary to visit Oli and Rose in London after our trip to the Netherlands! See you guys then! We slept in the airport on the floor and boarded our 5 am flight to Budapest where we will begin our European leg of the tour for the next two-and-a-half months. ūüôā

Turkey for the Traveler- A Sale Rack Find

Turkey is a reduced rack Euro vacation and a forward-thinking Asian retreat. Istanbul, split by the Bosporus Straight, which pushes one half toward Europe and the larger chunk into Asia, is what I would consider the poster city for Turkey. Istanbul seems like any Western city until you dig a bit deeper to find mounds of Turkish delight, discount clothing prices, and enough nargile smoking to scent the whole city of green apple.

¬†A priceworthy¬†deal which¬†boasts Western amenities and establishments, Turkey is every budget traveler’s go-to destination for chiseled scenery,¬†adventure sports, and happenin’ urban areas. I was¬†quite stunned that much of Turkey’s greatness is still a bit of a secret and I had a lot to learn as I started my Turkish adventure, lugging my overstuffed backpack down the San Francisco¬†Union Square¬†copy cat¬†of Taxim in Istanbul.

Above: Taxim in Istanbul is similar to San Francisco’s Union Square, complete with a cable car running down the center.

Hostel found. Four flights of winding stairs climbed. Bags finally dumped off. New map in hand and old map of Jordan tossed out. Ready to explore. What is the first thing discovered? If you know me well you will guess my first destination: the ice cream stand. Dondurma in Turkey is unbelievably sticky from orchid root which they use to thicken the ice cream, making it a bit chewy. In fact, in the nicer cafes they provide you with a fork and knife to cut the block of dessert instead of the typical spoon for scooping. You will notice in this first video that the vendors love to play tricks and in the second one you will see how the ice cream sticks to the vendor’s serving tool as part of his show. Notice the second one takes a bit longer because Jason was keen to the jokes the sellers play on the tourists so he let another girl be suckered.

 Turkish Ice Cream Man 1

Turkish Ice Cream Man 2

After the ever-important ice cream lesson I discovered some amazing facts about the country as a whole. Did you know the meat twirling on a spit that we often credit to Greece (gyros) was invented by a Turkish soldier who cooked a slab of meet on his sword over the fire?¬†Are you aware¬†that the Dutch tulips were a gift from Turkey or that turquoise was first found here and called Turk’s Quartz? It seems the Turkish were not historically given the credit they deserved so I was off to find¬†what¬†other Turkish novelties had been swept under the rug and I was ready to expose them.

Above: Istanbul’s Taxim Square. Notice the tulip statue.

Turkish Novelty 1: Southern Coast Sailing Trip

Above: The Babaveli 4, our sailing ship

The best way to see the beaches between Fethiye and Olympos is by jumping aboard a Turkish gulet, which is a hand-crafted sailing vessel. These trips are complete with accommodation, healthy Turkish meals and plenty of backgammon sets.

This sailing trip did not disappoint any of us, as we chatted, swam and ate our way through four days worth of sunny skies. At night, all 11 of us would sleep on mats on the ship’s deck under the stars and wake up to beautiful sunrises. Hey, when you have nothing but lounging and swimming to do everyday, it is easy to wake up at 5:30 am!

Above: Yasemin, our Turkish girl on board,¬†with our first night’s feast

The sunken city of Kekova, a sleepy fishing village named Kas, Oludeniz or the “Blue Lagoon”¬†and a pirate’s cave near Andriace Harbor were all accents to the lovely scenery of the Mediterranean.¬†During the daylight hours¬†snorkeled¬†in clear waters and dared to jump off a few rock formations to the sounds of other ships egging us on. When the sun went down we played cards and one night we stopped to watch Turkey compete for a final chance at the Euro Cup 2008, but the German tourists at the table in front of us were the only people cheering when the night ended.

Above: Waking up on the deck to the sunrise

 

As if this rocky coast and blue watered slice of heaven could be made any richer, the people aboard our ship were spectacular. A pair of girls from Boston, sisters from Canada, a couple from England and a couple from Turkey rounded out the group well. We also had an excellent captain and gourmet cooks and of course, the professional Turkish photographer, whose pics I have yet to see.

 

Above: Chatting on board with Canadians, Turks, English and Americans.

 Above: A Turkish lady makes and sells crepes to our ship from her boat.

Turkish Novelty 2: A Hamam

Believe it or not, this scrub down is neck and neck with the one your grandma would give you in her laundry room wash sink.

It all starts with a change into a dish towel-like “robe” with which you must wrap yourself. Next comes a mud mask, painted onto your face by one of the hamam workers, typically a shirtless man with a large pot belly who has his dish towel wrapped around his hips. Then it is off to the sauna to sweat out all¬†toxins before rinsing in a cool shower. At this time, you are free to lay on the heated marble slab until your name is called for your bath.

Above: The dish towel covers we used in the hamam. Maura, me, Rose and Rory in the locker room before our first hamam experience.

The bath is performed (and I say performed for a reason here) by another hamam worker who starts by dumping buckets of warm water over you as you lie on a marble slab massage bed. Then, with his rough glove and a bit of water he exfoliates the skin, which feels like a rough back scratch all over. By the time he gets out the soap to lather you up, you can not believe you could get any cleaner. By blowing into a bag of suds, the hamam worker creates huge bubbles that cover the body. Then he starts scrubbing vigorously and does not stop until he has reached from your toes to your ears. This process lasts about ten minutes and is followed with four or five buckets of clean water to rinse. Like a wet noodle, your body is relaxed and flimsy and is then sent off to the cool pool for the final therapeutic stop.

A cup of tea follows up the bath and the body is rejuvenated, feeling squeaky clean.

 

Turkish Novelty 3: The Sweets

Above: Many Turkish windows lure patrons with sweets.

(See the Turkish sweets recipes under the Places tab above.)

Coming from a family of Midwestern bakers, I have to say I have a discerning pallet for sweets. Turkey has passed the taste test when it comes to the baked goods they have perfected.

Seen most commonly is baklava, which is layers of phylo dough, soaked in sweet sauces similar to honey and topped with finely ground pistachios and sweet spices. This treat is stacked so high in some shop windows that when they pour the syrupy sauce over the top of the mound in order to tease passers-by, it takes a few minutes for the thick glaze to run down to the last morsel.

The longer I was around Turkish sweet shops the more I realized that we do not have anything in the States to which I could compare these places. We have bakeries or ice cream stands or cafes, but you just have to see the Turkish sweet shops to get the gist of a real dessert success story.

 

Turkish Novelty 4: Ephesus and Diana Pension

Above: The library of Ephesus

The ruins of Ephesus give a flash back to the time when the Temple of Artemis was its most famous structure and the Gospel of John was being written nearby. Mention is still¬†made of the seven churches of Revelation, since it was addressed to the community in Ephesus. Although the tour of the ancient city’s still standing structures was a sweaty endeavor, it was worth the effort, as seen by the photos.

While visiting these ruins, we disovered some important sites of our own, which also will make our history books. Out of six months of hostel life, we found home: Diana Pension. Its roof top terrace overlooking ancient sites, the shady garden area with a vine roof, and its spotless rooms and private bathrooms were what drew us in for the night. We had planned to stay one night, but the owner Mike and his apprentice Ronoldo are what kept us there for 4 days. Not only did they teach us about Turkish horse races and cuisine, but they treated us as their honored guests, always checking to see if there was anything they could serve us.

Above: Diana Pension’s famous breakfast.

At Diana Pension, the owners will cater to EVERYTHING the traveler needs, from clean laundry and maps to a huge Turkish breakfast and home-made dinner. I would recommend this hostel to anyone who is going to Celçuk or Ephesus.

 

Above: The roof top lounge at Diana Pension overlooks the city center and is an excellent retreat from the heat.

Above: Any fellow travelers should print this and take it to Celçuk or Ephesus in order to find Diana Pension.

Turkish Novelty 5: Cappadocia

Fairy chimneys and tiny dove holes seen most often from colorful hot air balloons help award Cappadocia with its fairy tale status.

Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Cappadocia has millions of hand chiseled homes, churches and buildings where people used their natural surroundings for protection. Erosion and volcanoes can be credited for some of the unique formations in this area. Also impressive were the underground tunnels, where whole villages lived when they were faced with bad weather or enemies. Many early Christians were forced into hiding in Cappadocia from Roman soldiers, who wanted to avoid the spreading of Christianity. As seen in the Goreme Open Air Museum, many caves were used as secret workship centers and gathering spots for groups of Christian people in hiding.

Joining us on this trip were Rose and Olie, our English friends from the sailing trip, and Maura and Rory, the girls from Boston who we also met aboard the boat. The six of us enjoyed a Turkish Dinner Performance with dancers and music on our last night in town and then went to the much needed hamam in the morning before sadly having to part ways after a week of being together.

 Other Turkish Classics

I bumped into numerous other surprises in Turkey, from a Kurdish wedding ceremony, important to the guests for scouting out marriage prospects themselves, to the obsession with betting on horse races, which are watched on television at home in mid day. Strictly of Turkish culture are the old men in groups of 40 or more gather during the day in men-only cafes to sip tea out of clear shot glasses while honing their backgammon skills.

 Above: A Kurdish wedding celebration.

Other absurd observations by my Western eye were the tubs of plain yogurt and salty yogurt drinks taking up half of the dairy section in any given market and the marinated olives ruling the produce aisle.

Winning a game in the Euro 2008 soccer championship got more tv coverage than any world news.

A lemon scented alcohol wash is poured into all of the hands of bus travelers, who spread it over their faces and necks before rubbing it quickly between their hands for cleanliness.

And the list could go on but I have too many people asking when this Turkey blog will finally be published.

These strictly Turkish customs make a trip through this country an enlightening adventure for the observant traveler and a great budget vacation for anyone who loves nature and exploring cultural differences.