Tom's Journal of Our May 2013 Trip to Turkey

May 12-13 (Sunday-Monday). All travel. Michele and I picked up Dick and Arnelle Hall (friends from our church) and drove to their friends’ house on 200th St. in Des Moines, WA, near the airport. They are keeping our car for the two weeks. Alki’s (that’s the tour company) van picked us up there at 3:40 pm. We met Sandy and Gail who were also going on the tour. Turns out Sandy grew up in Detroit and is a Tiger fan. We arrived at SeaTac and met the rest of our group of 30, led by Tyson Verse. We had gone to Vietnam with him in November of 2011. We were about 30 minutes late leaving Seattle on KLM, about 7:00pm. It was a 9+ hour flight to Amsterdam. I got a little sleep, not much. There was a long 7-hour layover in Amsterdam. We decided not to go in for the day as some of the group did. We toured the airport, ate lunch, and slept in lounge chairs. The next flight was 3.5 hours to Istanbul. We got in after midnight and got to bed at 2:30 am local time on May 14th at the Avant Garde Hotel. (Don’t book it - it’s not close to anything you want to see.)

May 14 (Tuesday). We took the bus into Istanbul over the bridge on the Bosporus Strait. Our in-country tour guide is Huseyin and our driver is nicknamed Lucky. Both are ardent fans of the Fenebache futbol club. We first toured the former Roman Hippodrome area and then the Blue Mosque also called the Sultanahmet. It has spectacular tile work and domes inside. We took off our shoes and Michele wore a head scarf. Then we went to the almost 1000 years earlier (6th century) Hagia Sophia, the former Christian church built by the emperor Justinian. It was converted to a Mosque after the Muslim conquest in the 15th century, but now it is a museum, and they are restoring the Christian frescos underneath some of the tiling. We ate at a local restaurant in Istanbul, good food and too large portions. Then we were dropped off at the Grand Bazaar. We got Sam and Nathaniel Fenebache soccer shirts. During the Bazaar time we had tea with Bill and Carol Joy of Sacramento at a local street coffee shop. They are going on to Greece for a week after this. We went back to the hotel, rested, ate in the hotel (Turkish pizza and salad and beer), played cards and went to bed at 9:00 pm.

May 15 (Wednesday). We left early for the Gallipoli peninsula, a WWI battle site where the Turks defeated the Allies, including the British Commonwealth navy and ground forces. This battle made Ataturk’s reputation and led to his becoming the founder of modern Turkey. We walked in the Aegean Sea there and toured the memorial grounds and graves. I found the grave of Pvt. T. Johnson from Australia. We crossed on a ferry the Straits of the Dardanelles from Europe into Asia. Turkey bridges both continents. It was a warm sunny day for the 30-minute crossing. Michele tried to engage some Turkish school girls in conversation. They giggled. We checked into our hotel (the Akol) in Canakkele. I changed into shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. We went out with Mark and Lana for a beer and came back for dinner at 7:00. It was a great buffet. Then we went for a walk, saw the giant Trojan horse that was used in the movie “Troy,” rested, watched TV a bit, and went to bed about 10.

May 16 (Thursday). We woke up to the muezzin’s call from the minaret at 5:00 AM and got up at 5:30, showered and packed up. We went to breakfast at 6:45 - a Middle Eastern buffet. We left on the bus at 8:00 and traveled about 20 miles to the archeological site of ancient Troy, discovered by Schliemann in the 19th century. We toured the various levels (including the oldest “Homeric” level, c. 2500 BC), and our guide explained the history and what had happened here. Then we had a long drive toward Pergamon. We had lunch at a Turkish restaurant on the way. They had a small zoo there. We saw an ostrich and a Smurf. Then we toured Pergamum, the throne of Zeus. It was a major mountain fortress. We took a tram up to the top to see the ancient ruins. Our guide explained the history of this strategic fortress overlooking the valley. Anthony and Cleopatra were here. The ruins go back to Greek and Roman times. Then we drove to Kusadasi for the night. We stayed at the Grand Belish Hotel on the Aegean Sea. We walked along the waterfront and in the water. Dinner in the hotel and to bed at 10.

May 17 (Friday). After a good breakfast, we went to tour ancient Ephesus, the most spectacular Roman ruins in in the world. Turkey has more Roman ruins than Italy and more Greek ruins than Greece. Ephesus was amazing. It was like walking in the ancient city itself. We walked on the actual roads Paul walked on and sat in the huge amphitheater where Paul was hauled and for hours people chanted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” There were many original inscriptions on buildings and fall chunks of marble.

We went to a small village and ate at a local restaurant. I had a chicken kebab and Michele ate little pancakes with various fillings. We saw the woman making the pancakes. Then we went to the home of Mary in Ephesus; there is no way of verifying this legend, but it was an ancient Christian site, and there was a baptismal pool that had been excavated nearby. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a carpet factory and saw how genuine Turkish carpets are woven. There were some very beautiful carpets, but they were priced well beyond almost everyone’s budget. We got back to the hotel by 5:30 and walked on the beach after dinner. There was way too much trash. It was nice to have two nights at a hotel.

May 18 (Saturday). Our trip is half over. We had a 3.5 hour ride to Pamukkale to see this World Heritage Site. Spectacular limestone cliffs with hot springs running over them causing many different colors in the pools. We walked in the thermal pools. It felt very hot - it was near 85 degrees.We ate lunch there. In the afternoon we checked into the Lycus Valley Hotel. We changed into our bathing suits and went into the hot thermal pool and the slightly cooler one. Then we swam in the much cooler regular swimming pool. we had a beer with Mark and Lana. Then we took a local bus with Mark and Lana and Dick and Arnelle to the small village near Pamukkale and met and talked with locals and did some looking into the stalls and stores. We took the bus back to the hotel and ate a grand buffet there with live music. A beautiful setting as the sun went down and the stars came out. We slept fairly poorly. There were fire works at midnight because May 19th is a holiday commemorating the greatness of Ataturk, the father of the nation.

May 19 (Sunday). Affeydes sinEES = excuse me. Teshekewr ederim = thank you very much. On our bus ride to Antalya and Perge, we saw field after field of opium poppies. “For medical use only” our guide informed us without cracking a smile. For lunch we stopped at a restaurant specializing in cooking with mushrooms. Here are the people on our trip. We do not know last names of most of the people. They are not on name tags and some people do not want others to know their last names apparently. Dick and Arnelle Hall, Mark and Lana, Mark and Kathryn, Bill and Carol Joy, Bill and Molly Tomita,Gary and his sister Shannon, Sandy and Gail, Kathy from Taiwan, Meena from India, George a professor and Judi, Carolyn a former social worker, Donna, Kris, Lee, Denise, Becky, whose wallet we found and returned earning us each a beer, Jean, Mary, Maxine, older women who were real troopers, Sandee, and us. Tyson was our guide, Huseyin was our Turkish guide, and Lucky was the driver of our top quality bus. At Perge, we saw more amazing Greek and Roman ruins. Part of the acropolis there dates back to 4000 BC. These were the best ruins we’ve seen, except for the untoppable Ephesus. We then went to the high rise, five star Dedeman Hotel in Antalya, It is on the Mediterranean Sea. After dinner, we walked into town found an ATM, shopped at a local market, and then walked down 154 stairs to the dock where we out our feet into the sea. There was no beach. It was very warm overnight.

May 20 (Monday). We left on the bus for Konya in central Anatolia. Our first stop was at Aspendos where there is a theater that has been in continuous use and therefore preserved since several centuries BC. “The wide range of its coinage throughout the ancient world indicates that, in the 5th century BC, Aspendos had become the most important city in Pamphylia . . . . Alexander the Great marched into Aspendos in 333 B.C. after capturing Perge . . . . In 190 BC the city surrendered to the Romans who later pillaged it of its artistic treasures . . . . Aspendos is known for having the best-preserved theatre of antiquity. The theatre provided seating for 7,000 and was built during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD). Ataturk restored this theater in the early 20th century and it is still used for opera and live theater productions. We then drove up into the Taurus mountains and stopped at a local market for lunch in Magarat. We ate outside on picnic tables. I had lamb; Michele ate trout. Some of the group went on a hike to explore the cave delaying our departure. We drove to Konya, a conservative city in central Turkey. We visited the grave of the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi (Mevlana) and the museum of the whirling dervishes, called Mevlana Museum. There is also a box containing hairs from the beard of the prophet Muhammad. we went to our nearby hotel the Rixos, the most modern hotel we stayed at during the trip. From our 18th story room we had wonderful views of the surrounding country side and distant mountains. dinner in the hotel. We slept well.

May 21 (Tuesday). We went back into Konya and visited a former 13th century madrassah Koran school. Ataturk closed these religious schools down almost a century ago now. There was beautiful tile work in the old school and a pleasant garden courtyard. We then drove a while until we came to the Agzikarahan Caravanserai in a town called Sultanhani. The caravanserai was a “truck stop” for carvans on the silk road crossing Turkey to and from the Far East. It was a fortress like building very expansive inside with its own little mosque on stilts. There was the best shop of the trip across the street. We proceeded to lunch at a real truck stop and included Turkish gelato, Mado brand. Some of the rest rooms at various places had pay toilets. You hand the attendant one Turkish lira about $.60. Some are free. We never had a bad restroom the entire trip. They are way cleaner than American restrooms. We headed on to the Cappadocia region of Turkey, where there is another World Heritage site or geological and historical importance. On the way we visited an underground city. It was like the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam. Early Christians built these underground cities in the 3rd century to hide out from the Romans before Christianity was legal. We really enjoyed this day and drove on to the city of Nevshehir, where we are staying two nights. Our mediocre hotel was the Dingler. Hard beds! Good food though. We walked into town and saw what was there. Some of the guys got Turkish haircuts. Slept poorly on hard beds in a hot room.

May 22 (Wednesday). We got up at 5:00 and went to watch the sunrise. Most of our group went even earlier at 4:00 to do the balloon ride over Cappadocia. We were going to, but it cost $240 per person. We saw the balloons rising as the sun was also coming up. Got some pix. A beautiful sight. After breakfast we went to the Goreme area in the Monk’s Valley. It was a setting for one of the Star Wars movies. Something from another world. Limestone pillars with homes carved out inside them, where monks lived and worshiped and studied in the early centuries and the middle ages. The limestone pillars had mushroom-like caps of harder rock. They are called Fairy Chimneys by some, the rude Boys by others, given their phallic shapes. There was even a police station in one of them. The precise location was at Pasabagi. We walked into cave churches with preserved frescos and murals. Dick and I paid an extra 8 lira and toured the Dark Church with the best preserved paintings on the walls. On this trip almost every day has included stops at shops or bazaars where local and imported goods are sold. This was no exception. At two places on the journey there were camel rides offered, although our guide said the camels were brought from other countries. On our way to the next hotel we stopped at a pottery shop for a demonstration of the making of fine art pottery that sold for hundreds and thousands of dollars. We saw them making wine carafes that imitated ancient Hittite wine carafes. Red clay predominates. We crossed the Red River, the longest in Turkey. Back in town I was dropped off to get a Turkish haircut, an amazing process that includes a fire stick to burn off ear hair. Some of the group went to Turkish Night that featured various kinds of folk dancing. We were very tired and the extra cost was higher than we wanted to pay. We slept a little better.

May 23 (Thursday). Only two days left before we leave Turkey. This was a long driving day from Nevshehir to Ankara, the capitol of Turkey. We drove by the Salt Lake and ate lunch along the way at a truck stop place. By mid-afternoon we were in Ankara and visited the Museum of Anatolian Civilization. It contains an amazing array of archeological finds from ancient Hittite times through the medieval period. Quite a nice display of Greek and Roman era artifacts. We came through a military checkpoint and visited the Ataturk Mausoleum. It was massive with a huge courtyard and impressive buildings surrounding it, but inside there was almost nothing to see. On the the ultra-modern Movenpick Hotel in Ankara. We shopped at a five story mall next story and bought some snacks for the evening. After dinner we toured the hotel’s spa area and decided not to change into our suits and use it. We should have in hindsight; it would have been relaxing. Slept fairly well.

May 24 (Friday). It is Jason’s birthday. We have had internet occasionally, and sent him an email happy birthday. He is 43 today. We got up at 5:30, breakfast at 6:30 and on the bus by 7:30 for the long drive to Istanbul. We made two stops, one for lunch, on our way to Istanbul. Typically the bus stops for a break every 1.5-2 hours. We arrived at our destination, the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul after sitting for an hour in a massive traffic jam. The palace was the home of the former Sultans who ruled the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years. We saw lots of jewels, bowls of emeralds and one of the largest diamonds in the world. More traffic and we got dropped off at the Spice Market, where we had hoped to find more gifts to bring home, but failed mostly. Got some Turkish delight. We had a special dinner at a Turkish restaurant. Carol Joy and Bill and Michele and I led the group in “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble” in honor of our tour guide, Huseyin. We also gave him a gift. We got to the Sheraton Istanbul too late to do anything but pack up for tomorrow’s very early departure to the airport and the flights home. Too bad too because it was the nicest hotel room of the trip!

May 25 (Saturday). Amy and Peter’s 17th Anniversary! We got up at 2:30am. Our bus left for the airport at 3:30. We gave a parting gift to our driver, Lucky. Check-in was a hassle with no one knowing quite what to do and some of the automatic check in machines not working, but eventually it all worked out, and we got to our gate with about 30 minutes to spare. We boarded at 5:30 for the 6:00am flight to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam it was a long walk to the next gate, and by the time we got there people were checking in for the 9.5 hour flight to Seattle. It went more quickly than usual, though neither of us got much sleep. We watched a couple of movies on board and they served a couple of meals. I read some and played games on the iPad. We got into Seattle about 11:15 and walked through passport control and customs without a problem. We got our luggage, went to Baggage Claim #1, said goodbye to our group members and Tyson Verse our Alki guide. We gave Tyson a gift too. Everyone gives both guides and the driver a monetary gift. We budgeted about $5 per day for each of them, so our gift was about $50-60 per person. We gave this as a couple, not from each of us. We walked over to Shuttle Express with a group and after a short wait got into our assigned shuttle and got delivered to Dick and Arnelle’s friends’ house in Des Moines. We drove home and almost got rear-ended in downtown Seattle on I-5 when the speeding traffic suddenly slowed and stopped. The guy behind me just missed us, but he got whacked. Felt bad for him. We caught the 3:30 ferry at Mukilteo and got home about 4:45 after dropping off the Halls. We figured we were awake about 28 hours before we got to bed. It has been a great trip. We learned a lot and came to appreciate the country of Turkey that we had not known much about before. Very nice memories.


Harvey L. Lee said…
Tom, your experiences in Kusadasai was very similar to ours, though we did buy a small rug at the school/factory. Susie felt a spiritual presence at Mary's house. I guess I'm too analytical and sceptical. We also toured a Christian church ruin and mosque in the town near Ephesus.

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