|Wednesday, June 6th, day 338 of Lisa and Joel's Excellent Adventure, we arrived in Antakya, Turkey on a bus from Allepo, Syria at 4:00 PM.
Getting across the Syrian/Turkish border was interesting. Turkish customs gave the bus and everything on it (including our bags) a thorough look over. Good thing we didn't have a bunch of hash taped to our bodies under our clothes. (That was a reference to Midnight Express in case you missed it.)
It was a good thing we got US dollars in Syria. Turkish visas were indeed $45.00 US each and there were no ATMs, or anyplace to get a cash advance, to be found. We would have been screwed.
Once in Antakya, abudant ATMs were to be found (Yeah! We have money again!). We got some Turkish Lira (TL) at an outlandish exchange rate of 1,200,000.00 to $1.00 US!
Our room at The Seker Palas Oteli cost 10,000,000.00 TL a night! When was the last time you spent 10 million on a hotel room?
After dumping our stuff in the room we headed to a cyber cafe (Yeah! They have internet in Turkey!). As you know, if you read our Syria journal entry, we are way behind on our internet journal, due to the internet being effectively banned in Syria.
After working on the website we enjoyed a pizza at a local pizza place, while listening to some live Turkish music and then called it a night.
Thursday, June 7th, day 339, we spent part of the day continuing to catch up on the web site and then sent some things home via the Turkish Postal Service. Later, we walked through the National Museum. They have some amazing, ancient mosaics.
Friday, June 8th, day 340 (Can you believe we have been "out" 340 days?), we took a bus west along the coast of the Mediterranean, to Kizkalesi, a town famous for its castle off shore from the beach. Once we arrived we checked into a nice a place right on the water -- The Burg Hotel -- for $14 US dollars a night including breakfast. Yes, they quote the rate in US dollars!
We spent the morning of Saturday, June 9th, day 341, on the beach looking out at a castle that seems to float on the surface of blue waves.
Kizkalesi means Maiden's Castle in Turkish, refering to the amazing castle that rises up out of the bay about 150m from the beach. Facing Maiden's Castle, on the shoreline on the eastern side of the bay, is the ruinous Korkyos Castle. The twin castles, both built by the Byzantines, were linked by a causeway in ancient times. We spent Saturday afternoon climbing around the ruins of Korkyos Castle.
Later, as night fell on day 341 of our wild ride, Maiden's Castle was lit up by flood lights and a bright moon. It was a beautiful sight from the balcony of our hotel room.
Sunday, June 10th, day 342, we hitched a ride about 6km west along the coast with a bus load of Turkish kids. They enjoyed trying out their limited English vocabulary as they giggled and smiled at the "tourists". The bus dropped us off at the turn to Narikuyu (a small fishing village that is suppose to have great seafood resturants). From there we hoofed it about 3km up the mountain road to The Chasm of Heaven and The Pit of Hell.
The Chasm of Heaven is a 250mg long cave accessible by 458 hefty steps (the guidebook says 452, but Joel counted 458) to the cavern's mouth. According to legend, this cave held the gigantic half-human, half-animal monster Typhon as a captive of Zeus. Later good triumped over evil and Zeus kicked his butt!
The branches of the trees along the steps to the cave are covered with cloth and paper strips. These have been left by people who believe this mystical place to have healing powers. The ribbons are left to remind the spirits that they have asked for help.
At the mouth of the cave are the ruins of a 5th century Byzantine Church dedicated to the Virgin. (Sorry Lisa, you can't go in.)
When we were climbing back up the 458 (or 452?) steps a group of Turkish children took an interest in us. "Where are you from? What is your name?". They were very cute and they ended up posing for a picture with Joel.
About 75m above the entrance to the steps of The Chasm of Heaven, is a 128m-deep sinkhole where Zeus is supposed to have imprisioned Titan before he buried him under Mt. Etna in Italy. (Man, Zeus did a lot of butt-kicking!) Local legend holds that this pit is the entrance to the underworld -- The Pit of Hell.
Nearby there is also the remains of a temple dedicated to Zeus which later was turned into a church and another 500m up the mountain is another cave -- this one supposedly has the magical power to cure asthma!
On the way back to Kizkalesi we hitched a ride with some Turkish men, one who, when hearing that we were Americans (we felt it was safe to tell these guys where we were really from), boasted of helping us fight Sadam -- "Boom, Boom!!!"
The rest of the day was spent lounging on the beach and frolicing in the waves -- man, life is tough somedays.
Monday, June 11th, day 343 of this wild ride, we took a bus from Kikalesi to Alanya with the locals (no "whiteys" on board). At the beginning of the bus ride the conductor handed out plastic bags to anyone who needed/wanted them. We thought this was a little strange, but we soon discovered the reason. The twisting, turning road cut right into the cliffs along the Mediterranean seaboard. The up and down, back and forth motion of the bus was too much for many of our fellow passengers. Soon, awful hacking, coughing noises filled the bus as heads sunk into plastic bags. Nasty!!!
It was a long drive (7 hours) with few places to stop, but the sea views and the lush pine forests are extremely beautiful. Once we arrived in Alanya we checked into Hotel Temiz and took a short walk along the seaside before going to bed.
Tuesday, June 12th, day 344, we explored Alanya. Alanya is surrounded by a wide, sandy beach which runs as far as the eye can see in both directions. In the center of the beach a peninsula, lined by limestone cliffs, jets out into the Mediterranean Sea. Atop the cliffs of the peninsula rests our first stop for the day -- The Kale.
The views from The Kale (fortress), which dates from the 13th century, provide a panoramic view of the peninsula, walls, town and great expanses of the coastline, against a backdrop of the Taurus Mountains.
On the way down from The Kale we stopped at The Red Tower (Kizi Kule). This 8-sided, five story tower was constructed in 1226. After a 78 step climb to the top we were rewarded with a fantastic view of the harbor and surrounding town.
After a tough day of exploring, nothing could have been more refreshing than a dip in the beautiful, aqua-blue water of the Mediterranean Sea off of Cleopatra's Beach.
Wednesday, June 13th, day 345, we traveled from Alanya to Oludeniz. First we walked to the dolmus (minibus) stand just behind the bazzar. A 20 min ride to the otogar (bus station) cost 250,000.00 TL each. At the otogar we caught a bus to Antalya. The ride took 3 hours and cost 3,500,000.00 TL each. At the otogar in Antalya we jumped on a bus to Feithye (4 hours -- 5,000,000.00 TL each). We chose to take the yayla (inland) inland route versus the sahil (coastal) route. Going inland shaved three hours off the trip and allowed us a different view of Turkey from the coastal resorts packed with packaged tourist groups. Inland Turkey is more real life -- farmland with fields of golden wheat, small villages moving at a slow pace all their own, lush forests perched on the sides of mountains and hot valleys of stagnant air. We weren't worried about getting lost though. We left a trail of cherry pits out the back window of the bus, the reminants of a delicious kilo of fresh fruit we picked up from a local farmer for only 1,000,000.00 TL.
Once in Fethiye we took a dolmus to Oludeniz for 1,150,000.00 TL each. We got dropped off right by the beach in Oludeniz. We walked about 200m back up the road from the beach and found a nice double room at The Ata Hotel for 20,000,000.00 TL a night. We finished off this day of travel with a refreshing dip in the cool Mediterranean waters, before retiring for the evening.
Thursday, June 14th, day 346, we spent the day lounging at the Blue Lagoon Beach. This beach is a 15 minute walk west of the public beach. Where the public beach is free, the Blue Lagoon Beach will cost you 800,000.00 TL (half price with international student cards). A bed for lounging will run you 1,500,000.00 TL (which is really needed as the beach is made up of small stones) and a umbrella costs the same. It is really worth the extra effort and expense to get to the Blue Lagoon Beach. It is really a beautiful setting -- limestone cliffs, turquoise water, Brooke Shields swimming around (oh, we were thinking of the movie) all made for a special day.
Friday, June 15th, day 347, was another "tough" day on Lisa and Joel's Excellent Adventure. We plopped ourselves down next to the Blue Lagoon and let the day melt away. Later, we went into Fethiye to visit a cybercafe and then returned to Oludeniz and called it a day.
Saturday, June 16th, day 348 of our travels, we took a dolmus from Oludeniz to Fethiye (30 minutes - 1,150,000.00 TL each), then a bus from Fethiye to Aydin (4 hours - 7,500,000.00 TL each) and finally a bus from Aydin to Selcuk (1 hour - 2,000,000.00 TL each). Once we arrived in Selcuk we walked to the Vardar Pension and got a double room with breakfast for 10,000,000.00 TL a night.
Saturday night we walked around the pleasant streets of Selcuk and had Turkish pizza for dinner.
Sunday, June 17th, day 349, we walked about 30 minutes to the site of the ancient ruins of Ephesus. It costs 7,000,000.00 TL each to get in -- (or 3,000,000.00 TL with international student cards -- even if they are fake.)
Ephesus is one of the best preserved classical cities in the world. As we explored the site it was easy to imagine what life was like in Roman times. The Great Theatre was really neat. In its day it could hold 25,000 people! The Library of Celsus was also amazing.
After exploring Ephesus we grabbed a dolmus back to Selcuk (500,000.00 TL each) and headed to the Ephesus Museum. The entry fee of 7,000,000.00 TL each (3,000,000.00 TL with international student cards) is well worth it. It's a great museum.
Sunday night we started 14 hours of straight travel by walking to the otogar. There we bought a bus ticket to Istanbul for 14,000,000.00 TL each. The bus headed north through the night passing through such towns as Izmir, Marisa, Akhiysar, Balikersir, Karacabey, Bursaw and Yalova, to name a few. As the heavy blackness of the night was overwhelmed by the orange glow of a newborn day, the bus drove directly onto a car ferry at Topculars. We glided across the top of blue waters cutting off the 100km land trek around The Bay of Izmit, a western artery of The Sea of Marmara. The ferry landed in Daricia and from there we headed west and entered Istanbul proper.
The bus dropped us off at the massive Uluslararam Istanbul Otogar. From there we took a free dolmus service to an area of Istanbul called Aksaray. In Aksaray we took a crowded metro tram to Sultanahmet. After escaping the tram car we walked by the beautiful Blue Mosque and found the Orient Youth Hostel. A standard double (no attached bath and no breakfast) cost 18,000,000.00 TL a night. That’s a really good price for Istanbul. We were finally able to collapse on our beds at 10:30 AM, exactly 14 hours after we left The Vardar Pension in Selcuk.
Most of Monday, June 18th, day 350, was spent in bed recovering from our night bus experience. When we finally got our lazy asses out of bed it was already late afternoon. We decided to use what was left of day 349 to explore some of Istanbul.
We ended up going across the straight of water called the Golden Horn to a part of Istanbul called Taksim. Taksim is a real hip and trendy place to see and be seen. Bars with live bands, cafes, bookstore-coffee shops, trendy clothing boutiques and lots of trend setting people strutting their stuff. All this dynamic energy is set against a backdrop of Old Ottoman buildings and streets. The montage of color, sound and energy makes for an exciting experience.
Tuesday, June 19th, day 351 of our travels we embarked on some further exploration of Istanbul. Sultanahmet makes a great base for seeing the amazing Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya. We also walked through the Basilica Cistern.
The Basilica Cistern is not a basilica at all, but rather an enormous water storage tank constructed by Emperor Justinian the Great in 532 AD. This massive underground complex is filled with row after row of ornate columns all supporting arched ceilings and appearing to rest on a layer of glass smooth water. The darkness of the place combined with the eery noise created by echoing voices creates a dangerous, surreal effect. When you get to the north-western corner and find two huge carved medusa heads, it feels like you are an adventurer on a dangerous quest rather than a tourist strolling through a common attraction.
Aya Sofya, or the Church of Divine Wisdom, was completed in 532 AD, also by Justinian the Great, and reigned as the greatest church in Christendom until the conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
The Blue Mosque was an attempt by Sultan Ahmet Camii to create a structure that would rival and even surpass the achievement of Justinian – Aya Sofya. The structure that was completed in 1616 comes close, although the architects were less daring than those of more than 1,000 years earlier. Four massive pillars hold up the dome of the Blue Mosque, whereas the builders of Aya Sofya had to hold up their dome without the help of pillar support.
Later in the day we let a few hours melt away in The Grand Bazaar. Maybe it should be called The Grand Bizarre. Dizzy noise and light surround shop after shop selling what seems like every item under the sun.
Wednesday, June 20th, day 352, we started off the day by exploring The Topkopki Palace, which served as the palace of the sultans for 300 years, and its inner Harem, or the private apartments. The entire complex is "an amazing use of space and proportion" (some guy we walked by at the palace actually said that) which creates a feeling of splendor and luxury. It's definitely worth a visit.
Later we did some last minute preparations before leaving Turkey. (Can you believe we are off to Russia tomorrow!) We arranged for a dolmus to take us to the airport (at 3:30 AM -- yuk!), we lightened our load by sending some things home, we confirmed our flight and we bought some US dollars. (We don't want to have a repeat performance of Money Change In Syria! , or do we? It was kind of exciting.)
We finished off our last full day in Turkey by taking a ferry ride around some of the waterways of Istanbul. We also ended up wandering around Taskim again. It was time to reflect on our travels in Turkey.
Turkey is definitely a great place to travel. It's cheap, safe and the people are generally terrific. We found it suprisingly Western and modern. But, if we have one complaint, it is about the price you pay for the convenience that modernity affords. You won't be the only foreign visitors here by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, we've seen more Americans here than just about any place we have been. Hitting Turkey anywhere close to high season and all the hot spots are going to be damn crowded. We guess it comes down to what you are looking for. If you want a partying holiday, then the beaches of Turkey can't be beat. If you want economical and safe travel, Turkey is a great choice. But, if want adventure and a sense that you are doing something that others haven't done, then pass on Turkey. Hard-core travel (like we experienced in say Cambodia or Syria) comes with a price, but by paying that price you get a sense of fulfillment that few others will experience. With that said, we still loved Turkey and we will most likely be back -- it just all comes down to what you are looking for.
Thursday, June 21st, day 353 of our journey, we had to get up (or should we say -- we had the opportunity to get up) to grab a 3:30 AM dolmus to Istanbul International Airport. From there we jumped on a flight heading to Moscow, Russia via a short layover in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Look out Russia, here we come!
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