Linked by causeway and bridge (and in summer by ferry too) to Ayvalık, Cunda Island was my escape from the political mayhem in the bigger town. Cunda is like a smaller, quieter and prettier version of Ayvalık, its Greek houses either restored and operating as upmarket pansiyons and hotels, or slowly crumbling away and inhabited by cats. Cats...they were everywhere! Climbing on centuries old walls, miaowing in the overgrown ruins of a church, sunbathing on the quayside...or hiding from the smaller but no less evident population of street dogs.
Out of season, you'd expect Ayvalık to be a quiet Aegean fishing town, and perhaps normally it is. But I went during the run up to the elections, and five political parties were holding daily campaign rallies around town, each party with its own van equipped with loudspeakers roaming every lane and bellowing to the good people of Ayvalık about why they should vote for them. Convoys of flag-waving loons sped along the main road every few hours, honking their horns and flashing their lights. Political songs were blasted out in the main square, outside each campaign headquarters, by the quayside, in the cafes, in the bazar...and the noise continued to the wee hours of the morning. In big cities it is easy enough to find respite, but in Ayvalık there was no escape, it was simply too small.
Despite the noise, I found Ayvalık to be an attractive place. A former Greek trading port, there are still many many Greek houses in the backstreets, mainly cobbled lanes on steep hills, and it was fun to wander around, turning corners to find old churches that had been turned into mosques.
Taking advantage of Şırnak's new airport, I took a cheap flight from Ankara and was able to travel overland via Cizre to Iraqi Kurdistan the same day. On my way back, I had several hours to kill before my flight and decided to spend them exploring Cizre. Situated on the banks of the Tigris (Dicle) within spitting distance of Syria and 20km from the Iraqi border, this was somewhere the UK Foreign Office reckoned I should not be, but the city is peaceful and safe enough to visit, although attractions are somewhat thin on the ground. The banks of the river are popular places to drink tea, and the riverside castle is currently undergoing restoration work but you can clamber among the ruins as many locals do. Hidden away in the modern centre, the Kırmızı (Red) Medrese and the Tomb of Noah are two old buildings worth seeking out. Cizre is quite a conservative place compared to Iraqi Kurdistan just over the border, and ıt was obvious that not many tourists spend time in town as I felt I definitely got some strange looks, but it's welcoming and deserves a few hours of your time if you happen to be in this overlooked corner of Turkey
Istanbul...what can I say about Istanbul that hasn't already been said?! All my trips have started and ended in Istanbul, and in 2005 I spent six months living in Rumeli Hisar Üstü attending a Turkish language course. Sultanahmet was my first introduction in 2001, visiting as a tourist and seeing all the usual sights like Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar. Four years later, after lessons in Taksim, I spent my afternoons and evenings discovering other parts of the city on foot...İstiklal Caddesi for breakfast, then the backstreets of Beyoğlu, Çukurcuma, Galata, Cihangir, Asmalımescit. Sometimes I would cross the Galata Bridge to Eminönü and watch the ferries cross the Bosphorus. Other days I would hop on a bus to Balat and Fener, two ramshackle neighbourhoods within the walls of the Old City, or to Eyüp and its mosques and cemeteries. Or I might walk home via the coast road, passing commercial Beşiktaş, arty Ortaköy, the picturesque waterside mansions of Arnavutköy and the trendy upmarket village of Bebek. Later, my focus has turned to the Asian side, conservative Üsküdar and lively Kadıköy (probably my favourite neighbourhood at the moment). Now that one of my friends has moved to Beykoz, at the northern end of the Bosphorus, I've had the chance to explore some of the small rural villages and the lighthouse at the very top next to the Black Sea.
There's still so much more for me to discover, and each time I revisit the city, I see something new. It will take years, maybe even decades, to truly get to know Istanbul...not sure I ever will know it 100% but it will be fun trying!
My Istanbul page is woefully out of date, and hasn't really been updated since 2005...one day I'll get round to it, so keep checking back.
Two things attracted me to Antakya. The first was the Arabic influence, giving me a chance to speak Arabic with native speakers and also indulge in the food the city is famous for, specifically hummus and kunefe (a very sweet, sticky pastry with cheese and honey and nuts and a big dollop of kaymak cream). The second was the prospect of some warmer weather...while the rest of Turkey hovered around zero, with many areas of the country under snow, Antakya was substantially warmer and sunnier!
With the war raging in Syria just a couple of miles away, Antakya was full of Syrian refugees, and unfortunately many conmen trying to get money from unsuspecting tourists, either pretending to be refugees themselves or claiming to help refugees...one was so persistent, pestering guests in my hotel over breakfast with tales of woe, that it left me feeling a bit bitter. But away from the conmen, Antakya proved to be a beautiful city, its old lanes and houses reminding me of Damascus. Add to that a famous church carved into the rock (unfortunately closed for renovation when I visited) and an amazing collection of mosaics in the archeological museum, Antakya was a highlight of my trip.
Arriving in Adana early morning on the overnight train from Ankara, I was feeling tired and ill, as I'd picked up a nasty cold. It wasn't my intention to stay in the city longer than an hour, just enough time to catch a bus onward to Antakya, but feeling rough, I checked into a hotel to catch up on some sleep. In the afternoon, I explored a little, but Adana is not a great city for sightseeing on foot...the traffic in the centre is manic, and crossing points few and far between. Add to that a terrible map in my guidebook, and Adana had me baffled! Still, there are some sights worth seeking out, like the old stone bridge, the brand new Sabanci Merkez Camii, one of the biggest mosques in the country, and several nice old buildings spread out around the modern centre. Adana is also famous for its kebabs, specifically Adana kebap, a spicy minced lamb meatball served with hot peppers, bread and rice in restaurants all over the city. I liked Adana, although it took a while for its charms to work on me.
An hour from Ankara is the small market town of Beypazarı, spectacularly located between rocky outcrops and full of old Ottoman houses. It's a bit like a small version of Safranbolu without the foreign tourists, but Beypazarı's charms have certainly been discovered by the people of Ankara so there are plenty of hotels in restored old houses and a couple of house museums. The main attraction though is walking through the backstreets.
Ankara often gets terrible write-ups from travellers, and compared to Istanbul it is easy to see why...a sprawling concrete metropolis with few sites of interest, Ankara is somewhere tourists pass through on the way to somewhere else, and only if they have to. "Why do you want to go to Ankara?" was a question my Istanbullu friends asked. Well, despite it being bitterly cold (January is much much harsher here than on the coast, temperatures always below freezing), I enjoyed my two trips to the nation's capital. True, the centre is messy, spread out around Ulus, Sıhhiye and Kızılay with not a lot to see, but hidden away are Roman temples, a castle on a hill with a village-like atmosphere inside, and the vast complex of Anıt Kebir, the final resting site of the nation's founding figure, Atatürk. It's maybe not worth a special trip to Turkey just to visit Ankara, but if you are crossing the country and have to pass through the capital, spend a few days and you may just start to like it.
Aha...Amasra! Because of the hot weather, we were in need of a bit of relaxation by the beach by this point. Amasra didn't disappoint. Despite it being high season, we had no trouble finding a cheap pansiyon within the citadel walls to stay in, overlooking the harbour and cliffs. And also overlooking the only disco in town...from our balcony, we got the first taste of Turkish pop music - Tarkan and Sertab all the time!!!
Although I'd read that the Black Sea is colder than the Mediterranean, I wasn't quite prepared for just how cold that first swim would be...probably explains why not many foreign tourists come to this coast.
Returning to Amasra in winter 12 years later, I found it really hadn"t changed too much, maybe because it's geography doesn't allow for the town to expand any further. This time I was with friends from the town who showed me places I hadn't seen before, and even though it was very cold, I still had a great time. One day I will update my Amasra page, but who knows when...
UNESCO sites in Turkey
Unesco is an organisation that acknowledges sites that contribute to world heritage - particularly if at risk of being destroyed or deteriorating beyond resolve - and looking at ways to protect or assist the country that the site is in to look after it
There are so many wonderful sites on the list - good to get an idea of what is possibly in the area of your destination - some of us like or have an obsession with visiting places on the list so that we can tick them off!
You can become a member or subscribe to the organisations online mailing list for regular newsletters and even receive a map from them showing the sites around the world
UNESCO list for Turkey:
(* means Ive thankfully visited the site!)
Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia*
Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği
Historic Areas of Istanbul*
Hattusha: the Hittite Capital
City of Safranbolu*
Archaeological Site of Troy*
Selimiye Mosque and its Social Complex*
Neolithic Site of Çatalhöyük
Properties submitted on the TENTATIVE LIST (41):
Karain Cave (1994)
Sümela Monastery (The Monastery of Virgin Mary) (2000)
Alahan Monastery (2000)
St. Nicholas Church (2000)
Harran and Sanliurfa (2000)
The Tombstones of Ahlat the Urartian and Ottoman citadel (2000)
The Citadel and the Walls of Diyarbakir (2000)
Seljuk Caravanserais on the route from Denizli to Dogubeyazit (2000)*
Konya-A capital of Seljuk Civilization (2000)
Mardin Cultural Landscape (2000)
Bursa and Cumalikizik Early Ottoman urban and rural settlements (2000)
St.Paul Church, St.Paul's Well and surrounding historic quarters (2000)
Ishak Pasha Palace (2000)
Güllük Dagi-Termessos National Park (2000)
Archaeological Site of Aphrodisias (2009)
Ancient Cities of Lycian Civilization (2009) Patara* (being the capital city), Xanthos*, Pinara, Olympos, Myra* and Tlos.,,the other cities of Lycian League, many of those are well known from the systematic excavations, also form the coins and inscriptions namely Andriake, Sura, Kyaenai, Limyra, Theimmusa, Simena*, Istlada, Trebende, Aperlae.
Archaeological Site of Sagalassos (2009)
Archaeological Site of Perge (2009)
Esrefoglu Mosque (2011)*
The Archaeological Site of Göbeklitepe (2011)
Hatay, St. Pierre Church (2011)
Aizanoi Antique City (2012)
Historic City of Ani (2012)
Archeological Site of Zeugma (2012)
Historic Town of Birgi (2012)
Mausoleum and Sacred area of Hecatomnus (2012)
Medieval City of Beçin (2012)
Historical Monuments of Niğde (2012)
Yesemek Quarry and Sculpture Workshop (2012)
Odunpazari Historical Urban Site (2012)
Mamure Castle (2012)
Haci Bektas Veli Complex (2012)
Archaeological site of Laodikeia (2013)*
Lake Tuz Special Environmental Protection Area (SEPA) (2013)
Trading Posts and Fortifications on Genoese Trade Routes from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea (2013)
The Ancient City of Sardis* and the Lydian Tumuli of Bin Tepe (2013)
* = Unesco sites in Turkey that i thankfully have visited
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
I guess visiting the ancient site of Ephesus is one of the top reasons people want to come to Turkey - its an amazing site (a colleague i worked with in Sydney had told me with great enthusiasm about seeing the 2000 year toilets at Ephesus - even being able to see where the locals peed 2000 years ago lol! - she has always come to mind when i think about my 2 trips to Ephesus since then!)
The first trip was during a trip around Turkey with a Christian focus to see biblical related sites - we had tour guides for most of the sites - including Ephesus which made an excellent difference to hearing more indepth historical and cultural information - which we didnt get when touring around on our own in 2013 relying on my guidebook and whatever information boards were provided...being 2nd time around for me was okay though. Id recommend the DK guidebook for Turkey though as it has an amazing amount of facts included on each historical site, site layouts and maps etc.
I did find and buy a book on the sites around Turkey mentioned in the bible which is a very interesting book looking at the historical perspectives - as for sure Turkey has an amazing number of ancient sites ranging through the significant eras of history.
When we visited Ephesus in July 2013 it was so very hot - we took a trip out into the mountains for a cooler way to spend the hottest part of the day and then arrived at Ephesus at 4pm - it was still very hot - so if here at this time of year make sure you have a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water with you in addition to having drunk a good amount of water in the previous hours of the day before the exertion of getting around Ephesus. With a closing time of 7pm we had 2 and a half hours so enough time to not have to hurry either. There are toilets just inside the ticket entrance at both entrances to the Ephesus site.
Also a warning - there are caleches/horse and buggies at the entrance who were telling tourists that its a 2km walk into the site and that the buggy ride can take you there - they dont - they take you right around to the other entrance which still leaves you with about as much walking unless you just want to see the sites of the one direction back from the other entrance.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
- Museum Visits
If you need a reason to visit Turkey, one word is enough - Capadoccia.
Of course, you will see many other (also very interesting) places, but this area is... unique.
A couple of days is enough, but Goreme, Uchisar, Zelve and Nevsehir are words that you will never forget.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
A bridge between two continents this immense city is a rich combination of cultures and civilizations.
Original and adapted monuments of several epochs and religions are spread all over [http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/9eab8/1c0a38/
]Istanbul, with a special care in everything that borders the narrow sea.
A very beautiful city that I couldn't see deeply in the two days of my first visit but that i saw better this time during a week. Tips will come slowly (I still have dozens to post from somewhere else).Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
Mani/pedicure, Istanbul (Beyoglu)
On our last day in Istanbul (New Town, Beyoglu) with some but not a lot of time to kill before going to the airport, we decided to go and get pampered.
Babyface Beautycenter did exactly that. Brows, manicure and pedicure set each of us 60 lira and 1½ hour back.
Do check out the amount of treatments they offer, it is extensive and I believe fairly priced.
The staff is friendly and skilled which more than make up for the minor language barrier. I highly recommend Ayse, she really knows her trade.
You can pay both cash and card.Related to:
- Women's Travel
The Turkish Bath
This was high on my list of "things to do". There are Turkish baths available pretty much everywhere. I had decided that I wanted an authentic experience, in an older building, and not the bright, shiny modern hotel experience that may have been a bit designed for the tourist trade.
I went to a very old bath house, (Hammam) named, Kalaici Hamam. It was a very, very old building. It looked nothing special from the outside, in fact, it was just a wooden door in a white wall along the street. As I put my head in the door, a man waved me in and guided me into the central reception area, and then to a changing room. The interior of the building was dark and felt "masculine" somehow. I don't mind admitting I was a little nervous, and felt somewhat vulnerable, alone, female and not having a clue what to expect.
Greeted by a seemingly HUGE guy, stripped to the waist and wearing, (what seemed to me) a table cloth as a sarong(!) I was lead to a steam room, wearing only my bikini. He had no english, but with a lot of pointing and patting, communication was easy. After fifteen minutes, he returned and bid me to sit on the marble slab, while he proceeded to pour cold water over my head, and wash my hair with a bar of olive oil soap. I felt like a child being scrubbed in my grandma's kitchen sink!!
I had not been prepared for that. As he rinsed the soap from my hair with jugs of cold water, I was sure I was going to drown!! I could hardly catch my breath. Lead to the central marble alter-like stone, the Navel Stone, I loved the domed ceilings, painted a vivid shade of blue and white with little circular holes up into the blue sky. I was bid to lay face down, soap suds were lathered all over my body. A slap on my rear end, signaled me to flip over, then had the same on my front. Then, what I can only describe like a chamoise, was wiped all over me. I was aghast at the dead, grey skin that was coming off my body.
As slippery as an eel, and feeling as clean and soft as a newborn, I was wrapped in towels and lead to another area where another man of gargantuan porportions, gave my body a massage, which I had agreed to at a small extra charge. Warning, don't expect large fluffy towels as in the hotels. The Turks used,cotton cloths, that felt like, what we in Ireland, would use to dry dishes with. These guys know how to do a proper massage!
They are doing their job. I avoided eye contact at all times. They are not there to flirt with the tourists and hope for a good tip. Firm and professional, it was invigorating rather than relaxing. A wonderful experience.
I was then helped to stand and wrapped once more in these "cloths" and shown to the changing room once more, where I was given an apple tea. When I left the hammam, I felt clean and elated and ready for anything!
A marvellous experience, and one I would recommend.
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