Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The modern side of Istanbul

{ November 2009 - Istanbul, Turkey }

We started bright and early on our last day in Istanbul, with a great breakfast with amazing view in our hotel.


After spending all the time we had in Istanbul in the old part of the city, it was time to explore the new and modern Istanbul. We took the tram from our hotel, and then changed to the funicular tram to Taksim Square.


10 November was the day when Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, passed away. We saw a small ceremony commemorating the day.


We walked along Istiklal Caddesi at Beyoglu. It was a large pedestrian only road with shops on both sides. Here, you can find all the modern clothing brand you can find anywhere in Europe or other parts of the world. It was great seeing the modern side of the country after all the days spent admiring and respecting the history. It really showed how much the country has progressed over the years.


We saw Cicek Pasaji (Flower Passage) which used to be a grand shop but is now full of restaurants for tourists…


The Balik Pazar - fish market…


Aslihan Pasaji, a building with many secondhand books.


Along the way we had lots of food such as Su Boregi, a melt-in-the-mouth lasagne-like layered pastry laced with white cheese and parsley…


Profiterole at Inci, an old bakery…


and Midye Dolma (mussels stuffed with rice)


We then walked towards the Galata Tower and the Galata Bridge for some final glimpse of the city before heading to the airport.


It has been an amazing journey around Turkey. It definitely surprised me seeing how liberal and modern the country was, amidst the ruins and long history that dotted the country. All the people we met had been extremely friendly, making us feel at home no matter where we were. If you were to ask me just a year ago if I would go to Turkey, I would have said, “Huh? What’s there to see?”. But now, I would definitely recommend it to everyone with a love of history and culture to experience this wonderful country.

The bazaars in Istanbul and crossing the Galata Bridge

{ November 2009 - Istanbul, Turkey }

After one week traveling all around Turkey, it was time to return to Istanbul. Taking a flight from Cappadocia to Istanbul, we started off exploring the other side of Istanbul in the afternoon. We went to the Grand Bazaar, a large covered area that started as a small bazaar, but today was one of the largest that I have ever seen. There were almost everything that you can think of, and it was just a kaleidoscope of colour inside!

  
 
 

Of course, there were lots of tourists all around.


We also stopped at a book bazaar that mostly sold books for school children and universities students. It was relatively small compared to the Grand Bazaar.


We then walked towards the Suleymaniye Camii (Mosque). Unfortunately, it was closed for construction and restoration, and only a small section was opened for prayers and tourists.


We walked along some back lanes and dark streets towards the Spice Bazaar. It was scary at times, thinking that we were lost, and remembering some guide books saying that Istanbul may not be as safe as expected. However, we reached the bazaar safe and sound. Again, it was filled with colours and great energy from all the people there.


After buying some food and souvenirs for friends and families at home, we walked towards the Galata Bridge. We had Balik Ekmek (Fish Sandwich) cooked in a boat. The sandwich, however, was a let down from the spectacle of cooking and making the sandwich.


Walking across the Galata Bridge, we saw many people fishing on the bridge. Up to today, I am not sure why there were so many people there! Did they fish to bring food home for dinner, or was it to sell in the market? I am not sure. But here’s a photo of people fishing on the Galata Bridge, with the view of Yeni Camii (New Mosque) at the background.


We then took the tram back to Sultanahmet for a final night view of the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya and Hippodrome…


Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Cappadocia from above and underground

{ November 2009 - Cappadocia, Turkey }

We started the day cold and early for a hot-air balloon ride. We were initially reluctant to spend the exorbitant amount of money for the ride. However, we thought it could probably be a once in a lifetime experience as it would be the first time for both of us to be up on a hot-air balloon. After reading many great reviews, I was looking forward to it.

And it was simply breathtaking! Although I do have to admit that it was quite scary whenever I looked down, the view and the sunrise was amazing. The surreal and moon-like landscape that looked weird the day before, was even more interesting from above. We saw the fairy chimneys and the rock-cut houses, the pigeon holes and the vast landscape of Cappadocia. At some point in time, we were more than 1000 metres above ground!



After around an hour, we landed - directly onto the truck to save them from having to pull it back up I assumed - and were presented with champagne and certificates. It was a great start to a beautiful morning in Cappadocia.

We rested and had breakfast back in our bed and breakfast before leaving for another tour around the area. We hiked up for even more amazing views of Rose Valley.


We then went to the nearby Cavusin Village and visited some abandoned houses carved into the rocks.


Next, we went to Kaymakli Underground Town, one of the many underground towns in Cappadocia. It was bigger and more impressive than the tunnels in Cu Chi, Vietnam. They have stables, rooms, kitchens, pantry, wine cellars, chapel and many others. It was carved out of the relatively soft rocks in that area, and was built to shelter the town from invading armies. It was believed that there were many more of these underground cities that has not been explored or even found.

This was a large stone slab that was could be rolled to block the passages.


At night, we took a walk around the town centre of Ürgüp. It was a relatively small town but with many restaurants and shops selling all sorts of Turkish souvenirs. We had dinner at a relatively small and quiet restaurant that serves great guvec – stew baked in claypot.


After a long day spent above Cappadocia on a hot air balloon, hiking up for an amazing view of the landscape and then underground, Cappadocia provided us with an experience not found anywhere else in Turkey.

Fairy chimneys in Cappadocia

{ November 2009 - Cappadocia, Turkey }

We reached Urgup in Cappadocia early in the morning. We waited in the cold for our transfer to the hotel but it never came. Some helpful guys at the bus counter helped us to check our bookings, but we found that there has been some mistakes in the bookings. After an hour or so, we finally ended up in a quaint little bed and breakfast managed by an extremely nice Turkish man. We believed that he converted his home into this bed and breakfast. He offered us some breakfast and allowed us to clean up before getting ready for our trip that morning.

Our initial reactions upon reaching Cappadocia was the vastness and the weirdness of the landscape. While we did expect it and has done enough research and saw many photos, it did not really prepare us for the real thing. Even after a few days when we were about to leave the place, I kept thinking and saying “It’s so weird!”. The so-called fairy chimneys were the result of a volcanic eruption and thousands and thousands of years of wind molding them into the shape we saw today.




While the rocks by themselves were weird enough, the locals cut into the fairy chimneys and lived in them. There were also many cave hotels and bed and breakfast that allow tourists the once in a lifetime opportunity to live in them. The cliffs and fairy chimneys were also cut into small squares, pigeon houses, to collect the birds' droppings to be used for fertiliser.

Goreme Open-Air Museum was a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. It has many churches and chapels carved inside the fairy chimneys, with lots of frescoes. According to our tour guide, many early Christians stayed and hid in the area during the times when Christians were hunt down to prevent them from spreading the religion. Due to the harsh condition of the area, they were not found and Christianity flourished during those times. I would have love to stroll around the museum longer, spending more time around all the amazing carvings and fairy chimneys. However, being in a day tour did not allow us that luxury. So, if you have the chance, do try to visit the museum by yourself and spend more time here.


 


We ended the day with a Whirling Dervishes performance. It was once banned in the country, but has since allowed for tourism purpose. Although it was performed not as part of a religious rite, it was still a captivating ritual.


Old town Keleici and the Antalya Museum

{ November 2009 - Antalya, Turkey }

After spending a day travelling out of Antalya to Myra and around the Mediterranean coast the day before, we had a free day to roam around the beautiful harbour city of Keleici and the surroundings. After a scrumptious breakfast at the hotel, we set off for a walk around the old town.



Keleici was a Roman-Ottoman quarter that has been carefully preserved. From our hotel right in the middle of Keleici, we walked to the old Roman harbour, which was an important harbour during the 2nd century BC. It was now a harbour with yachts, tourists boats and fishermen boats. It was a small and beautiful harbour, and I could imagine how busy it must have been all those years ago.



 

We then explored the old town, passing by many old houses that has since been converted into shops selling all sorts of souvenirs and carpets for tourists.


Kesik Minare, which means cut minaret, was a navigating point in Keleici for us. The minaret was part of a Roman temple, which was eventually converted to a church. On the northern part of Keleici was the Hadrian's Gate. It was built in the honour of the Roman Emperor Hadrian when he visited the city in AD 130.

We expected to spend the whole day exploring Keleici, but soon realized that it was much smaller than we expected. After walking around Antalya for a short while, we decided to visit the Antalya Museum, and boy, it should have been part of our plan! It was definitely a worthwhile experience and I highly recommend it to everyone. It started off being quite boring with tiny trinkets from the stone and iron ages.


But, my oh my, stepping into the halls with statues was breathtaking. The motion detector lightings provided shadows and lightings that made the atmosphere a little bit more mysterious. There were many statues of Greek gods and goddess that were in amazing conditions. The details and the size of some of the statues were simply breathtaking. Most of the statues were found during excavation of Perge.

Speaking of Greek mythology, I still could not get my head around it. Are all the stories just myth and legends, or are there some truth in them? If Homer’s Iliad are just fictions, then why are we now saying that Troy and the Trojan War are real?






After the museum, we walked back to Keleici and took a Turkish bath at a hamam. It was definitely an interesting experience. We were brought into a room with marble slab in the middle and was asked to lie down. The marble was hot! Before long, we were both sweating. And just when I thought I couldn’t take it much longer, we were brought to separate rooms to be scrubbed and washed. The Turkish lady scrubbed me down while I lie in another marble slab in another room. She then washed me with water, washed my hair, and then dry and wrapped me up. After a short break sipping tea and eating fruits, we were given an oil massaged. It was definitely a refreshing shower and massage, getting us all ready for the long bus journey to Cappadocia that evening.

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