Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cats, Carpets, Kilims

Our kilim and carpet came in from Turkey early last week, and the boys didn't waste a moment getting familiar with them, especially the kilim, which they have mistaken for a wrestling matte.

I added photos to our shutterfly collection: jandcinturkey.shutterfly.com

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cappadocia Panorama

This is Pidgeon Valley and surrounding areas in Cappadocia.

Ürgüp Panorama

This is the town square of Ürgüp where we stayed while in Cappadocia. It's just a short walk down the hill from Esbelli Evi, and there's a terrific restaurant in this plaza called Şömine (show-meen-eh) where they serve some excellent traditional Turkish dishes.

Uçhisar Castle

This is Uçhisar Castle in Cappadocia, carved out by ancient inhabitants. This place was incredible!

Tulip Festival performance

We had no idea that tulips came from Turkey, not Holland. Fairly recently, Turkey started an annual celebration to show off their beautiful flowers. This band was set up in the Hippodrome and were warming up for the massive festival that was to begin on the weekend.

Mustafapaşa Panorama

This was taken from a hilltop above the city Mustafapaşa in Cappadocia. I believe there's a university here.

Kaymakli Well

This is a well and air ventilation shaft in the underground city. Listen for how long it takes for the stone to fall. Pretty deep! Notice the hand/foot holds carved into the side walls? This place was nothing short of incredible. From fresh air, fresh water, stables, wineries, kitchens, toilets, hidden traps, and so much more, no detail was left out!

Kaymakli Walkthrough

This is Kaymakli, one of the ancient underground cities carved out of the tuff in Cappadocia. In order to capture the best aspect, I had to hold the camera sideways. Sorry.

Galata Tower Panorama 02

A second panorama from Galata Tower.

Galata Tower Panorama 01

From atop the magnificent Galata Tower in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, we took this panorama of the Bosphorous, and the Eminönü district, from where we had just walked.

Call to prayer

We captured this call to prayer from our room at Hotel Ada.

Hotel Ada Panorama

From the rooftop terrace of hotel Ada in Sultanahmet, Istanbul, this panorama is of the Sea of Marmara.

Gypsies in Ephesus

These gals prepare a wickedly tasty "pancake" stuffed with whatever pleases you. Yum!

Esbelli Evi 04

Walkthrough of Esbelli Evi continued, inside the common area. That's the owner, the terrific Suha. Check them out: http://www.esbelli.com/

Esbelli Evi 03

Walkthrough of Esbelli Evi continued, up the stairs to the common area.

Esbelli Evi 02

Walkthrough of Esbelli Evi continued, from our room towards the common areas.

Esbelli Evi 01

Walkthrough of our fabulous cave hotel - or Cave Inn - in Ürgüp, Cappadocia, Esbelli Evi. It was like a little ancient village, albeit one with all modern amenities. This is the garden suite that we were so generously upgraded to as a honeymoon treat.

Ephesus Residences

These are the recently excavated residences of the spectacular ruined city of Ephesus. These housed the upper class of the society, and were complete with indoor plumbing and heated walls and floors. It was quite stunning.

Carpet Kitty

One of the many kitties of Istanbul. This one helps to sell carpets!

Photos from Turkey

I finally got all the photos up online for anyone interested in seeing them. These were not taken with a camera hone, so the quality is much better than what you've been seeing so far on this blog.

Check them out: http://jandcinturkey.shutterfly.com

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Last thoughts on Turkey

As I've written many times already, the people of Turkey are just wonderful. Every person we encountered was very kind, very hospitable, and seemed quite pleasant. We had been warned against driving in Turkey, but our experience was terrific. There are some things to get used to for sure, like drivers straddling or crossing over the lines, but that's easy enough to get used to. Driving across half of the country was a fantastic experience. It seemed like the geology changed every time we went over a hill or around a big corner. There were places we drove through that were nearly identical to the California central valley, and other parts that looked like the Swiss Alps, and yet other parts that were uniquely Turkey.

What we will miss about Turkey:

The people, their kindness, openness, and overall hospitality.

The food, especially the wonderfully delicious, garden-fresh produce, and yummy yogurt!

The rich culture and history.

Cappadocia, Esbelli Evi, the caves, etc.

Efes beer.

Tea, Turkish and apple, and Turkish coffee.


The flora and the fauna.

The ruins, especially Hieropolis.

What we will not miss about Turkey:

Bacon, or at least the lack of bacon, and other pork products.

Smoking, by everyone, everywhere.

The dogs. Most Turks - as I am sure of most Muslims - do not treat dogs very well at all. Heartbreaking.

Carpet sellers.

The pollution - the smog in the air and the trash on the ground (which is really no worse than in America).

The good far outweighs the bad! Turkey is a beautiful country. We can't wait to go back!

Does this count as a travel post?

We're back now, so I'm not sure if this counts as a travel post, but here's the cap off of our trip to Turkey.

We arrived at İbrahim Paşa (pasha), our hotel in the Sultanahmet district in Istanbul only to find that they screwed up our reservation by a day. Lucky us they had a double room open up, because the only other room was a bit small. In a hotel of small rooms, that saying something. But it's a really neat hotel, antique and modern at once, and it has a great rooftop terrace with a spectacular view of the Blue Mosque, and the Sea of Marmara. While nearly every place we've stayed had a very nice breakfast, the service at Ibrahim Pasa was one of the best, but their presentation was certainly tops!

We spent our last day in Istanbul shopping, or pretending to. Neither of us are very good at - nor interested in - haggling, so no doubt that we overpaid for the few things we did end up buying. But rewinding back to Selçuk, we did purchase a Kilim and a beautiful Turkish runner woven in the Aegean region. While we had no intention of buying any carpets at all, we got a real good feeling from the folks in Selçuk, and we spent quite a bit of time negotiating and feel we got a great deal. We also know that they have a terrific reputation, and we are very happy with this purchase.

In our last hours wandering Sultanahmet, the last person we ran into was the first carpet seller we met on our first day in Turkey . He remembered us clearly and invited us to lunch with him. We had already eaten, but we did try some of his food that he offered (damn, was it good!), and we chatted a bit before excusing ourselves. We didn't talk at all about carpets, only about our travels throughout Turkey. We left feeling very good about this guy. No doubt there are plenty of ways to easily get ripped off with buying carpets, but there are also plenty of sellers that can be trusted. If you find yourself in Istanbul wanting to buy a carpet, head over to Bazaar 55 Rug Shop in Sultanahmet just past the Arasta Bazaar. On that same note, avoid at all costs Er-Han, the first shop between the Blue Mosque and Arasta Bazaar! They will rip you off!

Our last dinner in Turkey was at a posh place named Cezayir (Jez-ah-yeer) across the Bosphorous in the Beyoğlu (Bay-oh-loo) district. It was a very interesting blend of very modern and very old interior decor, and the food was excellent. Although, I must admit, in many instances it was hard to completely enjoy our dining experiences because nearly every person in every restaurant chain smoked. There are so many things I will miss about Turkey, but one thing I certainly will not miss is the smoking in restaurants, and everywhere for that matter.

Turkey is a beautiful country with a very rich culture, and the people are hands down the nicest and most hospitable we have ever encountered. We saw quite a lot on our brief visit, but we know we barely scratched the surface on all there is to see. We look forward to going back someday, hopefully soon.

Planes, (no) trains, and automobiles

Picking up where I left off in the last post, we were driving to the Adnan Menderes airport outside of Izmir. We got up quite early, and waved goodbye to the storks in their nest and the chef on the rooftop, and drove off into the sunrise. It was fairly straightforward, until we reached our first airport sign. Nothing about it said Adnan Menderes, Izmir, or anything familiar. The only name next the the Turkish word for airport - Havalimani - was what appeared to be a city name, one that we could not find on the map. We assumed that must be a smaller airport, as there were several airplane icons on this region of the map.

We approached a toll plaza, and did our best to ask the toll taker where the airport was, but he answered our same question differently each time we asked. We figured out the reason for the different responses, but only after each subsequent misstep on our part. He was trying to tell us that the airport was behind us (remember that first sign?) but that we could take the next exit and backtrack. We did neither. Instead, we kept going straight until we realized that there was no way a major airport would be anywhere inside of a big city like Izmir. After turning around and taking that first (backtrack) exit, we started seeing airport signs again. Unfortunately, this backtrack route took us right through big city morning rush hour traffic. But I'm not talking freeway traffic, this was city street traffic. Busy, Turkish city, bumper-to-bumper, rush hour traffic. As hectic and crazy as it was though, I'd take driving in Turkey over driving in the U.S. ANY DAY! While on the one hand it seems frenetic and crazy, the Turks all seem very situationally aware of everything around them. Rules be damned, there were no signs of angry drivers, or fender benders, or anything of the like. That said, I'm sure my hair got a little whiter that morning, if for no other reason than feeling anxious about possibly missing our flight.

We eventually found the airport, but then faced another ordeal trying to find the rental car return lot. Suffice it to say, it was as difficult to find as was the airport, for all the same reasons. Once we finally made it into the terminal, right about boarding time, we found out our flight was delayed forty minutes, or an hour if you're on Turkish time. Minus 1 point for Turkish Air.

The brief flight to Istanbul was good though, and we were even served a meal (very tasty!) on a flight so short that American flights wouldn't have bothered with beverage service. Score 2 points for Turkish Air.

The best part is that our bags were the first on the belt! Score 3 points for Turkish Air.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Diary from the Aegean

We made it to Pammukale Monday evening in time to see a very beautiful sunset, although not quite from the terraces. While scouting for a hotel, we were being scouted by a hotelier. As aggressive as a carpet seller, this guy nearly Shanghai'd us in his efforts to go to his hotel. It paid off though, as the Venus was a charming little pension, and the hosts were just terrific. It was a family owned place with the mother cooking. fabulous food, and the son, Abraham, running the show. Granted, it wasn't even close to Esbelli Evi, but not many places are.

The next morning we explored the famous white terraces surrounded by a gorgeous garden, then strolled through the archeology museum on the site. From there we explored the ruins of the ancient city of Hieropolis, and recreated in our minds what it must be like to have lived in such an amazing place. On the way out we passed by the pool of ruins. It was an amazing thing; a man-made pool fed by a natural warm water mineral spring flowing over remnants and broken columns from the former city. I wish we had our swimsuits.

From there, we drove to our next stop in Selçuk, the site of ancient Ephesus. The place we wanted to stay was full, but the owner helped us find a place for one night and booked a room for us the following night. Our first room at a pension down the street was a half step up from a hostel. We had a tiny room with a rough bed and no heat on a cold night. The blankets were nothing to speak of, but our hosts were very friendly and helpful. The owner of the other hotel was super helpful and was very accommodating, even going so far as to chauffeur us around to some sites. This place is called Hotel Bella and it's one of the best in the guidebooks for a reason. It is very quaint, and the on-site restaurant serves some amazing food.

Ephesus was spectacular as you could imagine, especially the recently excavated residences, but Hieropolis still shines as pride of place as far as ruins go. We broke down and hired a guide, and while it was quite expensive even for Turkey, it was well worth it. We got lucky in that our tour guide was a former history professor and was a fountain of information.

Later in the day we went to see the nomads, and I must mention the incredibly delicious pancakes - or crepes - the gypsy women make. I can't describe how good they are. Bananas and honey. Mmmmm.

Our last night in Selçuk was mellow, spent watching the storks build the pole-top nest from the rooftop terrace of Hotel Bella, enjoying a very nice bottle of Turkish wine, compliments of our hosts for having bought a carpet and a kilin from them (their other business). I also tried rakı (rah-kuh). Our waiter Savaş - the Turkish Robert Deniro - says rakı is for men, Ouzo (Greek version) is for women. I say that rakı with water in it - the Turkish way - is for little girls. Oh yeah, Chelsea kicked your butts, too, so here's your towel to cry on! (inside joke).

We left for Istanbul this morning on a flight from Izmir, but not before a crazy adventure trying to find the airport, and the place to return the car. That story to follow. But for now I am going to focus on our last few hours in this great country.

View from our window

In our final night in Istanbul, we are staying at the hotel İbrahim Paşa (Pasha). This view is of the Blue Mosque in the background, and the palace of İbrahim Paşa - which is now the Turkish-Islamic Museum of art - in the foreground. Paşa's story is a good one if you're into ancient soap opera stuff.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Here's Clarice walking across the travertine terrace at Pammukale. This is the formation created when the mineral rich water loses carbon dioxide and leaves limestone behind. It is quite spectacular, and the massive white limestone terraces are blinding in the bright sun.

Behind this is the ancient ruined city of Hieropolis, which is simply incredible to behold. More on that later.

Monday, April 7, 2008

View from the road

Lake Eğirdir (EHR-deer), just outside Isparta, was very much like Lake Tahoe with turquoise water surrounded by snow capped mountains blanketed by puffy cotton clouds that begin far before the mountains end. Obviously, crap cell phone cameras can't do this site justice, but I suspect no camera can. This site was so breathtakingly beautiful, it hurt to look at it.

Other thoughts on driving through Turkey:
The geography and geology changed drastically over every hill or around every turn.

There were occasional areas that were hard to distinguish from the San Joaquin valley at times.

Driving a car in Turkey is easier than riding a scooter in Bangkok.

Gas is expensive - though still cheaper than SF, and Turkey could well benefit from smog controls (and a strong recycling program).

More to come.

Beyond Cappadocia

I have been worried about jinxing myself by talking about how lucky we've been with the weather, but we really have lucked out. The morning of our second outing started out bleak with rain and cold wind. But by the time we were done with breakfast the skies had cleared, and the weather was great all day until we reached our last site. But this spot was a long hike, and it was the end of the day, well past beer:thirty.

This morning started out even more cold and rainy, which was worrisome since we had decided to drive to our next destination. Hmm... Driving in the rain in Turkey. There are many things I would much rather do for sure. But we did luck out, and the weather cleared. Again.

So indeed, we did rent a car to drive across Turkey. Hat tip to our hosts at Esbelli Evi for pointing us to economyrentalcars.com.tr! As a gold member of Hertz, I was able to secure a deal for a car for a mere 800 Euro. But through economy cars in Turkey, we were able to score a brand new car for a whopping 72 Euro. Note to travelers, avoid the big car chains when in Turkey.

So yeah, I drove across Turkey today and lived to tell about it. We are now in Pammukale at a decent little pension hotel called Venus that we wouldn't have known about were it not for the persistence of someone who really insisted we come check this place out. Good thing we did. The place recommended to us wasn't all that great, and we just finished a great dinner, chatted with some other travelers, and are now enjoying Turkish TV before crashing out.

Details on the drive to follow.

Cappadocia Diary - 2

Getting a little behind here... Our hosts hired us a taxi driver to take us around to all the sites worth seeing in the short time we had, and there was a lot to see. The Cappadocia region is all about caves. The volcanic tuff is fairly easy to carve out, but when exposed to air it becomes very hard. If there was a rock big enough to hold a person, you can bet it was carved out and used. There were some really amazing structures carved into the hills, mountains, and even boulder-size formations. Villages, cities, and even castles, including churches small and massive, and complete monasteries were cut from the rock. Some are still in use, and many entrepreneurs have added on to these to build cave houses and cave hotels.

For me, the most impressive structures were the underground cities. It is really hard to describe just how fascinating and well thought out these things were. It seems there was not a detail overlooked. In all of these places, it didn't take much to imagine myself traveling back in time and seeing events unfold, from the mundane to the important. Being in touch with so much of human history was very humbling, and we barely scratched the surface of all there is to learn here.

It would be easy to spend an entire trip in Cappadocia, and it wouldn't be terrible if all that time were spent staying in Urgup at Esbelli Evi. Great hosts, great accomodations, great food, great everything.

One of the nice surprises of this trip is that the creator of the one and only Turkeytravelplanner.com - a former travel writer for Fodors and Lonely Planet - was staying at our hotel. Since we hadn't planned out the last part of our trip, we were able to go straight to the best resource available to help us figure out how to make the best use of our limited time.
Details on that to follow.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Cappadocia vineyards

Not quite Sonoma or Lodi, but they get the job done. We've had some pretty decent local wine here.


This adorable little fellow at the base of Uchasar castle needed some love, because while cats rule in Turkey, dogs are treated like... well, dogs. Not in that 'man's best friend' way either.

Soğanlı Valley

I can't spell this right with the English alphabet, but this place is pronounced So-ahn-luh, and it is just incredible. The first settlement were in the neo-lithic period and it had been continually inhabited until less than a few hundred ago. While it is fun to imagine the Flintstones kicking it here, there are actually a few churches and a monastery here. This area is actually two valleys, and the settlements on either side feel like a prehistoric Mission District on one side, and the Marina on the other.

Claire on Mars

This area of time-sculpted terrain is called Avanos. Like finding shapes in clouds, there are many recognizable forms to be found in these formations, from a reclining lamb, and a camel, to a woman holding a baby. Of course, you have to be here find the shapes for yourself.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Cappadocia Diary - 1

We arrived in the evening to our hotel, Esbelli Evi in the city of Urgup (YER-gyup). It was dark so it was hard to tell what we were getting into. The place looked very rustic and ancient, perhaps even run down. It is an amazing complex in that it is more or less a mini village of houses and buildings all connected like a labyrinth with many tunnels, stairs, and walkways. But we quickly discovered that it was that and so much more.

It is hard to say how much of this is Old World original and how much has been recently added, but the best way to describe it would be to say that it is like an ancient stone village with all the modern luxuries you could want, from built-in sound systems to wireless broadband internet.

Our hosts are amazing, very warm and friendly, and so very knowledgeable about this region. They are not without a sense of humor either, which we found out after their profuse apologies for only being able to provide us with a small room, when in fact they upgraded is to a massive "honeymoon" suiite that is larger than our apartment in the city. Even the bathroom here is as big as the last room we had in Istanbul.

After settling, we were directed to a cafe down the road, which I must say now - it is a definite must-see! The place is called Ziggy's, and the staff are just as warm and friendly as anyone we've met here, and the food they serve is outstanding!

It was late when we arrived, but they took us in. A guest sitting alone at the prime spot by the fireplace graciously offered his space to us. After we gorged ourselves on the feast we ordered (hey Chris, we had some awesome borega!), we got to know the staff and hear their stories (once again, French came in handy whenever there was a Turkish/English impasse). They were a lot of fun, and very generous. Along with sharing with us shots of some great melon liqueur, they sent us off with a nice gift in honor of our honeymoon. We weren't even working it. Our hotel hosts had put a word out, it seems.

It was a great first night, and our first day here will be loaded by a full slate of hiking and sightseeing, kindly organized by our hoteliers. Details on that to come soon.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Moving on

We are headed to Cappadocia via Onur Air right now. Our short stay in Istanbul was a lot of fun but all too brief.

Diary - day 3

We started the day with another fine breakfast before setting out to the Topkapi Palace and archeological museum. We have lots of decent pics from the camera besides the crap ones taken with this phone. Speaking of crap photos, here are a few taken inside of the Basilica cistern. Sorry for the quality but it was really dark down there. It was super spooky cool, was dank and musty like Pirates of the Caribbean, and very Piranesi-like in its massive scale. So cool!

Before heading to the airport, we wound down with some tasty street food enjoyed in the park (and were joined by a kitty of course).

Diary - day 2

The breakfast at the hotel is brilliant. Yogurt, cereal, eggs, and the best produce I have had in a long time. The tomatoes are incredible! They have some really delicious breads too, but only served Sanka coffee. But finding fresh coffee anywhere else was no problem.

Day 2 was quite an adventure. We started out at the Turkish-Islamic Arts museum, which was fascinating. Then we meandered to the Grand Bazaar. With over 4000 shops packed in a labyrintine maze, we were totally overwhelmed. It was made worse because we really weren't shopping for anything. But there were lots of people who were so the hawkers had plenty of people to bark at. On our way out of there we wound up in an alley that was right out of the markets in the Harry Potter movies. Very cool.

From there we walked across the Bosphorous and up to Galata Tower for a panoramic view of Istanbul, and the Bosphorous. It totally feels like a sister city to San Francisco.

We then set out to find a restaurant recommended to us by a Turkish woman we met on the flight over. The place was Galata Evi and it was an adventure finding it. We walked in circles, up and down hills, and back and forth through alleys with no luck. But we met many locals who were more than eager to help us out. One man even walked us many blocks up a hill to find it. Of course, when we did find it we realized we had already walked past it unnoticed. But once we were there, all our efforts paid off. Our hosts were very friendly and gregarious, and they served us some very delicious food and plenty of conversation about current affairs and Turkish archeological history. This was a fantastic recommendation!

We ended our adventure with a long meandering stroll through the residential area near our hotel. It was very illuminating and educational. It's always great to see how the locals live!

Diary - day 1

The first day, we arrived at 11 in the morning and hit the ground running. We went to the Blue Mosque first and then to Haghia Sofia. On our way out, in spite of our best efforts at being alert, we managed to get suckered in by a rug seller. The experience wasn't bad, as we had our first Turkish coffee (yum!) and a nice chat. Not long after leaving there we were molested by another rug seller who was quite the con. Lucky for us the nice bits found is first. We later discovered through a fellow hotel guest that this last hit uses the same con on everyone, to the letter.

Later the first night we saw the Whirling Dirvishes, who were just amazing. Afterwards we had to dodge all the restaurant barkers while trying to find a place to eat without getting charged the special American prices. I have yet to figure out how to turn off that neon "sucker" sign that floats over my head. We scored when Clarice found a decent chap on the street to help us. He didn't speak English but we were able to communicate with a little French. He kindly walked us several blocks to a local dive off the tourist path where we had some local food and a very interesting wine from Cappadocia.

It was a great first day to be sure.

lucky rabbit?

Supposedly, this rabbit tells fortunes. Actually, it is kind of cool. The old man holds up a tray of neatly arranged folded slips of paper - with fortunes printed on them - and the rabbit picks up yours. What might be considered a fortune was actually kind of creepy so it remains to be seen if we will receive any luck.

Turkish Tails

We had absolutely no idea that there's a cat infestation in Istanbul. Everywhere you turn, you have to dodge a kitty. They do alright though. None look starved and they are very friendly and gregarious, if not a bit dirty. These cats dispell the notion that all cats are fastidious.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

View from our window

Overlooking fairly ancient ruins of an old church with a mosque in the background. The morning call to prayer is quite the wake up call, especially with the mosque so close.

Rooftop view

View from the top of the hotel in Istanbul looking towards the Marmara.

First post

Posting a day late.

Our hotel here in the Sultanahmet district is beautiful and close to everything. We saw a stunning performance by Whirling Dirvishes last night, toured the Haghia Sofia and the Blue Mosque yesterday, and were twice sucked in by very clever - and very nice - rug hawkers.

The food here is incredible, the people very warm and friendly, and we have lucked out with the weather.
Today we practice our haggling skills and the tour the other side of the bay.

More to come.