The final region we visited in Turkey was called Cappadocia. It is located in the middle of Turkey. Cappadocia is not as fresh and green as the Izmir region. The terrain is sandier like Arizona. Also, the hills are different. Instead of rolling, green hills or snow-capped mountains, the hills consist of rock formations. In some parts these rock formations are jagged and sharp. Water sinks into the rocks and gets eroded by the wind that cuts in where the water sits. Because of this particular landscape, Cappadocia is famous for their caves. We actually got to stay in a cave hotel. It was a once in a lifetime experience. The rooms were built into the hillside. All the walls were cave walls. My door opened up onto a share porch with a few other doors. The view from there overlooked the small town we were staying in. it is not uncommon to see houses, store, or mosques partially built into the rocky landscape as well. As a result, the interior of these places stays relatively cool. Also, Cappadocia is famous for their hot air balloon rides. The only downside is that a person has to wake up very early to ride in the balloons. The wind picks up throughout the day, so an afternoon balloon ride is out of the question.
One of the most interesting things we saw in this particular region was an underground city. It is the largest underground cities in the Cappadocia region. We went about four floors underground, but the city itself extended much deeper than that. They had wineries, stables, cellars, and storage rooms. People wouldn’t necessarily live down there. It was used mostly for storage and protection. If these people were ever under attack, they would take cover in the underground city. This was a very hard place for enemies to attack successfully. However, if a person suffers from claustrophobia, it is recommended that they sit this activity out.
While we were in the Izmir region, we visited a small Greek village called Sirince. This town is the definition of quant. Only about 600 people lived in this village. The houses were all white cement/stucco construction with orange roofs that reminded me of terra cotta pots. The streets were made of stone that was nowhere near uniform. A person must always watch their step while walking on the streets of Sirince. Not only is it easy to trip on the streets, but one must always be vigilant of the steep inclines and declines of the streets as well. Since this city is tucked away in the hills, the streets follow the course of the slope. Along some of the streets were a few vendors selling local made goods and the usual tourist trinkets. This region of Turkey is famous for their fruit wines. People are welcome to sit down for a taste test of the local flavors. We sampled a large fleet of little wine servings. Some of the flavors included strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, peach, apple, blackberry, and a few others. It was an interesting taste but a fun experience. Also, as with all the other Turkish cities, Sirince had plenty of stray dogs and cats to keep a person company.
This small Greek city is also a popular get away location for many famous people. After walking around the city, I can see why. Sirince gives you the feeling that you are a thousand miles away from regular life and all the problems it brings. There is no shore with crashing waves. It just has a certain kind of silence that brings peace to the mind. Modern life is long gone for the time being. There are little bed and breakfasts scattered in the town. We were fortunate enough to be able to peak inside one. My first thought was, this would be an awesome location to spend a honeymoon. If I every get the chance, I would love to go back to this town and just spend a few days there to relax.
Our second town we visited was called Kudasai. It is located on the Southwest corner of Turkey about an hour out of the city of Izmir. This town was quite the change from Istanbul. It is a small coastal city that is very touristic. Many cruise ships will port here for a while. Luckily for us, tourist season hadn’t quite started yet, so the town was rather quite. Our tour guide for this portion of the trip lived in this city. We ran into her each night as we were searching for supper on our own. Kudasai had its own kind of beauty. This town is located right on the Aegean Sea. In fact, that was the view I woke up to each morning in my hotel room. Also, every night we stayed there, we had the pleasure of viewing a gorgeous sunset over the sea. The whole town was built on a hillside. So, in order to walk to the coast from our hotel room, we had to walk up and down one giant slope. The housing consisted mostly of three or four story apartment style buildings. There were not many single-family homes. All the buildings were concrete with an orange roof. Of all the cities we visited, Kudasai had the least stray cats.
The food we had in Kudasai was delicious. Surprisingly, I didn’t see as many seafood restaurants here as I did in Istanbul. Anyway, my favorite dish here was called a pida. It is a Turkish pizza, more or less, made for one. This dish consists of flat, oblong bread topped with meat, cheese, vegetables, and sauce. It was so delicious that I had it two nights in a row! The storeowner at this restaurant was very friendly. I could tell he loved his job. He really went above and beyond to make sure his customers had a pleasant experience while dining. Most people I encountered in Turkey were friendly, but this particular man was the most positive interaction I had with Turkish storeowners.
Wildlife of Turkey:
Turkey is not blessed with the diverse wildlife we have here in the United States. They have smaller animals such as foxes, rabbits, squirrels, birds, etc. but they do not have the larger animals such as bears, deer, etc. The most common animal I saw was a cat. Turkey is known for their large population of stray cats. They were everywhere. As we ate lunch one day in Istanbul, our table was outside on the street. It was interesting to observe the cats on the street and on the roofs that popped in and out occasionally. They all seemed to be very similar in color and fur patterns, which leads me to believe that the cats will typically stick to one neighborhood. Turkish stray cats were much different than American stray cats. Stray cats around America look thin and boney, have eye disease, have matted fur, and can be squeamish. On the other hand, Turkish cats appeared healthy, well feed, and had the appearance of house cats. Their fur was soft and well groomed. Most cats in Turkey are friendly and may even jump in your lap. The place that had the highest concentration of cats was Ephesus. They were everywhere! Since there is no real town near Ephesus, these cats fed on mice, snake, scorpions, or whatever they could get a hold of.
Another prominent animal in Turkey is the pigeon. We learned that pigeons were a vital part of life back in the day, especially in the Cappadocia region. In this region, people would make pigeon holes at the tops of rock formations. The pigeons make their nests in these holes. Long ago, people would collect the pigeon droppings and use it for fertilizer or sometime in their paintings. We had a close encounter with these pigeons. On the last day in Turkey, we stopped at a panoramic viewpoint called Pigeon Valley. A large flock of pigeons would roam around this stop and eat the seed that tourists fed them. It is surprising how loud that flock of pigeons were when they all took flight at the same time. It made my heart jump a few times!
The second, and final, Greek/Roman city we visited was called Ephesus. It was only about an hour drive from our hotel in Kudasai. This site had more complete ruins compared to Hierapolis. When you walk into the site, the first building you come across is a Roman bathhouse. This was not a bathhouse built for luxury. This particular bathhouse was built outside the city to specifically cleanse people as they entered the city. It was a health prevention strategy to keep outside germs and diseases away from the city. Since these types of cities were densely populated back then, diseases spread rapidly and could force the entire population to evacuate. Some of the other buildings included a government meeting theater, various temples including an Egyptian temple, a bathhouse for leisure, homes of the wealth, a library, and a Greek theater. This town was a port city at one time. However, a large earthquake initiated the change in course of a major river. Eventually the shoreline pulled back to where it lies today, which is about eight miles away. There were many visitors due to the port. Since Egyptians visited often, the Greeks decided to build a Egyptian temple to appeal to visitor and bring more visitors to boost the local economy. Archeologists could tell that the remains were from an Egyptian temple because the stone was granite. Greeks mainly used solid marble when building.
The library and the theatre were the main attractions of this site. Both of these buildings were in incredible shape. The library appeared to be two stories by the look of the façade; however, it was only one story. For some reason, they built a false front. The construction of the library was astounding. Everything was perfect and symmetrical. The theater at Ephesus was much larger than the theater at Hierapolis. Since it was still in good shape, Turkey used to allow modern concerts, like Sting, Cher, and many others, to perform there. However, after a few uses, that was deemed unsafe for the site itself and the concert-goers.
Hierapolis and the Cascades
The first Greek/Roman city we visited was called Hierapolis. This city was more of a vacation town back in its time. The city itself dates back to around 200 A.D. The ruins were not as complete as the ruins we saw elsewhere in Turkey, but it was still a fantastic experience. What was left on the site included: a Greek theater, the bases of temples, the market place of the city, and some graves. The rolling hills engulfed the city site. I could tell it started as a Greek city because the architecture flowed into the surrounding landscape. Greeks tended to build in that manner, especially when it came to building semi-circular theatres. The view from while standing on the city ruins was spectacular. Snow capped mountains lined the horizon in the distance. It was a beautiful site to roam around and explore on the bright, sunny day we visited.
Also on site, were the Cascades. On the side of the hill laid an enormous, natural limestone deposit. From a distance, it appeared that a portion of the hill was covered in a large drift of snow. However, it was the pure white limestone. Fresh water flowed down the side of the limestone. It settled in small pools as it trickled down the hillside. The pools were no deeper than about a foot and a half and there were about eight to ten pools staggered. We were allowed to walk through the running water and these pools. The water felt so refreshing on my calves. It was a gorgeous light blue color. The contrast between the deep blue sky, the light blue water, and the pure white limestone rock was beautiful. The bottoms of the pools were covered in wet, fine sand. I think it was sand composed of limestone. It was the softest sand I had every felt. After walking through it, my feet felt like they had just received a pedicure.
Elsewhere in Istanbul…
The Grand Bazaar is a must see tourist attraction in Istanbul. Even if you don’t plan on shopping, everyone must go. It is one of the oldest bazaars in Turkey. There are thousands of shops selling gold jewelry, leather apparel, trinkets, and tourist gadgets. There were many shops that were selling the same product. Most of the time, people are expected to negotiate and haggle for a price on the products. That concept was a little outside my comfort zone, but my professor was very talented in the art of haggling. It was always entertaining to observed. We didn’t spend much time in the Grand Bazaar. It was a little overwhelming. People can easily get lost in there. Later we went to the Egyptian Spice Market. This market was much smaller and more manageable. The most common thing to buy there was loose tea and herbs. If a person purchased tea or herbs, the vendor would vacuum seal the product for travel. Our group cruised through both these places pretty fast.
One of the last toured events we had was a boat tour of the Bosphorus. It is the small body of water between the two sides of Istanbul. It also separates the continents of Europe and Asia. Our tour guide explained to us that any piece of property on the Bosphorus is very expensive. If you want just a small flat in an apartment building, still plan to spend at least one million U.S. dollars. Some of the houses ranged from 800-900 million U.S. dollars. Some of the most expensive property in Istanbul lies on the Bosphorus. We also passed by a current military academy, the old Sultan’s summer “house”, and some of the most expensive hotels in Istanbul. After touring the busy city of Istanbul for two days, this boat tour was a relaxing way to transition to our next tours.
While we were in Istanbul, we visited the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The Blue Mosque is still a functioning mosque today. People will still come there to worship and pray during the calls for prayer. However, Tourists are welcome to stroll through and observe. This particular building looks large from the outside but feels even larger in the inside. Even the pillars were the size of hundred-year-old oak trees, or even bigger. The light fixtures had to be at least 20 feet in diameter. They were also very close to the floor, relative to the height of the building. The detailed mosaics were gorgeous all over the walls and ceilings. The color scheme was a royal blue and red. It was interesting to observe the visitors at the Blue Mosque. Some people, like us, were there for the new experience and because this is a must see when visiting Istanbul. For a few others, this building had a more significant meaning. I could tell that some people felt a real connection while being there.
Later that same day, we visited Hagia Sophia. We talked about this building when I took Architecture History at North Dakota State University. I already had an idea of the long and complicated history of Hagia Sophia, so I was very excited to see this building. Hagia Sophia started out as a Christian place of worship. Once the Ottoman Empire came in and conquered what we call Istanbul today, it was converted to a Mosque for the Islamic faith. More recently, it has been made into a museum to celebrate the history of Hagia Sophia. What was most interesting about the building was how a person can stand there and see elements of Christian architecture and design and Islamic architecture and design. The walls had mosaics of Christian figures from the Christian era and Arabic script from the Islamic era.
Throughout my ten days in Turkey, I had two interesting experiences with Turkish carpets. The first experience was in Istanbul right before we visited the Grand Bazaar. We went to a carpet store to see the process of a sale and get some background information on the trade of carpet making. The building was very upscale. Once we walked in, we were immediately escorted up the elevator to a private show room. After we received our complimentary tea, the main salesman began to tell us the history of Turkish carpets. I felt very out of place in this facility, mostly because everything was way out my price range. As the man was teaching us about the different carpets, two men were whipping carpet out, literally. The colors were so vibrant and the patterns were extremely detailed. There are three different types of Turkish carpets: wool, cotton, and silk. The wool carpets are usually geometric patterns. They are the least expensive and usually start at $700. The cotton carpets have floral designs and start around $1,000. The silk carpets are the most ornate designs. They designs are very intricate and have fine details. Also, the colors shimmer as the light strikes the carpet at different angles. If a person wants to purchase a silk carpet, he or she better have at least $6,000 saved.
The second carpet place we went was a school where girls learned to weave the carpets. We got to see how they retrieved the silk in the past, the looms for weaving, and the traditional double knot Turkish weave. Turkish carpets are relatively more expensive that other handmade carpets because of the double knot technique. It results in a tighter weave and a thicker carpet. We also learned that each geographical region of Turkey had their specific pattern. The girls of each region would memorize this pattern and use it over and over. Now, they will make a variety of patterns to appeal to the market.
As I first stepped out onto the streets of Istanbul I heard blaring car horns and saw impatient drivers. Apparently, road rules are more guidelines rather than actually rules. Tourists are advised not to rent cars because the roads can get pretty intense. If a driver hesitates at a green light for half a second, at least one other driver will lay on their horn. Lane guides seem to be purely optional, especially on turns. Most cars are small to medium size. That makes swerving in an out of lanes much easier. Manual cars are quite popular in order to get higher gas mileage. Gasoline ran anywhere from $10-$12 per gallon. It really puts our “Gas crisis” in the Unite States in perspective. I couldn’t imagine myself driving in Istanbul. I already get stressed in large cities such as Minneapolis or St. Paul in Minnesota. I was enjoying the view from the back of the van much better!
Life in the Big City
On of my favorite thing to do was to just look out the window of the car and observe the city around me. Istanbul has a population of around thirteen million people. Although, I never felt overwhelmed by people. Most of the streets were narrow, usually one or two lanes only. Also, instead of pavement, the streets were made of cobblestone. I’m glad I don’t wear heels very often because that could be kind of dangerous on the uneven sidewalks. When we were driving around, it was entertaining for me to see people on the sidewalks living their everyday routines. Some people were going to the market to get groceries. Others people may have been going to work or picking up their children. I like to imagine what life would be like in the cities I visit. Some day I would like to live in a big city.