Amazing scenery, ancient ruins, crazy rock formations, spectacular cliffs surrounding Mediterranean islands, sacred carp, traditional music and dances, and even some very dear
friends and family from back home! Marhaba and welcome to Turkey! So now I’m going to try and tell you about all that (over 3 weeks worth) in as few words as possible.
1st stop : Urfa. We couch-surfed there with our new friend, Mahmut. He’s in the photos below with us. He showed us around his town, including a night-time cemetery tour, and the very-cool pool and canal complex that houses the sacred carp.
ANDREW SEZ: Urfa is a real holy city to some folks. They say that Abraham was thrown from a mountain above the town, and even better, many claim that Adam(and eve as a result) are from Urfa. The supposed ‘garden of Eden’ is outside of town, and I somewhat regret that we didn’t get a chance to go see it.
More impressive to me were the bakeries that Mahmut introduced us to. Neighborhood bakeries in Urfa will cook your food for you in their super hot big oven, as long as you bring it to them in a pan, and buy bread when you leave. These bakers are the most popular guys in town.
Mahmut came with us to see Harran, the ‘beehive village,’ and also Mt Nemrut. The beehive-houses resemble some we saw in Syria, but in Harran there were more of them, and they were bigger. There’s also ruins of a huge mosque and a castle.
Mt Nemrut has huge statues that used to be set all around a temple. Not much remains of the temple, but the huge statues of Greek deities (now in large pieces, with heads mostly on the ground) are still there. From the top of the mountain, we could see the Euphrates river.
2nd : Cappadocia. This place has pretty mountains, fertile valleys, and huge spiky rock formations poking straight up out of the ground. Something to do with ancient volcanoes… And sometime in the last 2 or 3 thousand years, people dug out houses, graves, heavily-decorated painted churches, and pigeon-houses from the rocks. You can hike all thru the valleys and explore these ‘fairy chimneys’ for days and days. But we only had 2 days ?
We slept at a hostel in a cave-room.
ANDREW SEZ: Don’t forget the underground cities…as if those crazy above ground pointy rock-home structures weren’t strange enough, in the same area, people built entire cities—some of them 10 stories down!—underground. One airshaft for survival, and a giant stone to block in and capture any invaders that tried to come and get them.
3rd stop—Antalya: One night of couchsurfing with Julia and Ali,
and then…Ma Dukes is in the house!!!
JESSICA RETURNZ: We are happy to have given Andrew’s sweet mom Maralyn a good reason to take a much-deserved vacation in such an exotic place, and happy she spent it with us. Near disaster was averted when the airline finally found her missing luggage – only a few hours desperately pretending not to panic! Antalya is charming with its old city walls and bustling sea-port.
4th : Next day – onward to Cirali. This may have been our most beautiful hotel and hotel setting. Our triple-occupancy cottage was nestled among gorgeous tropical plants, just a stone’s throw from the beach. And they whipped up incredible food at their little restaurant.
That night, we biked a short way to Mt Olympus, where the ‘eternal flame’(also known as ‘the chimera’) is still flaming – right out of the top of the mountain! Scientists say the fire has been fueled for thousands of years by natural gas seeping up through cracks in the rock, igniting somehow along the way. I prefer the explanation that there is a chimera-monster down there.
We got a bit lost on the way back, tho, and it was a late nite.
It was pretty hard to tear ourselves away the next morning, but we had a boat to catch!
5th stop : 4-day, 3-night boat cruise! Maralyn booked this one, and she did a great job. We loaded up onto a Turkish wooden sailboat along with 9 other lovely guests, and we all had to RELAX.
Every few hours we would stop, the crew would feed us yummies, and then we’d swim. And then we could read and sleep and lay in the sun. All the way up the coast to Fethiye.
6th : Istanbul.
The Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia (church-come-mosque-come-museum), Hammam, The Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Dervishes (truly bizarre)….
ANDREW SEZ: Istanbul(and Turkey) really lived up to its rep as a bridge between “east’ and ‘west”-ern cultures. Its got some of the most beautiful Mosques and Muslim architecture, side by side with super modern shopping districts, and a more European street culture.
JESSICA RETURNZ: Medical anthropologist and Raki connoisseur Alayne Unterburger also flew in from Tampa to explore Turkey with us! We never would have found the upside-down head of medusa without her.
7th : Bergama. Maralyn left us behind in Istanbul, so we grabbed Alayne and took her down to check out some more of Turkey. Bergama has a great set of Roman ruins on top of a hill, a ruined brick basilica, and lots of local carpets for sale.
Alayne helped us to understand the full meaning of all the little explanatory panels in the museum. It helps to bring a scientist with you!
8th : Izmir. Back to couchsurfing. This is becoming a theme, a good one. We have stayed for free with friendly and knowledgeable local hosts in several countries now, and it is WAY superior to getting a hotel or hostel. The hotel-guy isn’t going to become your new friend, show you around, explain all the confusing local customs and language, and maybe even buy a round of drinks. Our host Galip did all this.
Izmir is a huge city, sprawling for miles along the seaside. We barely scratched the surface of our little area. There was a Bazaar, some museums, and lots of walking.
9th : Selcuk. This is the town nearest to ancient roman Efesus, an ENORMOUS temple dedicated to Artemis-Cybele (the spiced-up western turkey version of the Greek goddess), tons of ancient mosques and churches. Efesus is, to date, my favorite of the ruins we’ve seen. And I’m so glad it came along, cuz I was getting pretty tired of ruins. But this place was outta sight. The 2-story white marble façade in the photos is the old library - majorly reconstructed.
A large section of hillside homes is protected by a modern roof. The walls of these dwellings were conserved by being buried for thousands of years, so you can still see the painted frescos that adorned them. Amazing!
ANDREW SEZ: We also were lucky to be in Selcuk for their annual independence festival. Folk(and pop) music performances, good food from all over Turkey, and lots of craft makers were all in town.
Overall, it was great having my mom and Alayne traveling with us.
Although we’ve been seeing old friends(and making new ones) along the way, this was the first time we had folks living their regular lives back in the states take time out to come join us on a leg of our round the sea adventure. Chok guzel!!….and to everyone else—we invited you..but unfortunately…time..is ..running out…
After all this time in Turkey, and traveling together with Maralyn and Alayne for a couple of weeks, we set off on our own again. Alayne headed to Capadocia, and we made off for Greece. Turkey is an amazing country. Far too big to have seen much in the short time we stayed there. I certainly hope to go back one day – there is so much more to see, and now I have friends there!