Since I’ve known Jim, he has bugged me about wanting to go to Turkey. He was stationed there during his military service and loved it. My response was always, “No.” But … that was before I saw the Rick Steves travelogue on Turkey. Cappadocia, in particular. Those weird rock formations and the caves within them that people actually lived in until the mid-80s, made me change my mind. I wanted to see it for myself.
I could have knocked him over with a feather when I called him to tell him I would go. Then in mid December, I got an email from Gate 1 Travel about an escorted 10 day trip including airfare, hotels, guide, meals and flights between cities for just slightly over $1000, so we jumped on it. And am I ever glad we did. It really is great being retired and not having to request time off. What a trip!
We were met at Ataturk airport in Istanbul by our guide, Ikut. I think we all liked him immediately. He had a great personality, which is important if you are going to be with someone for 10 days. On the ride to our hotel, he pointed out some of the sights we’d be seeing and best of all, he thanked us for coming to his country. It seems Americans are afraid to travel to Turkey and it has affected their tourism business. But people from the Far East have been picking up the slack.
We had the rest of the day free, so Jim and I went to lunch. We couldn’t figure out their system, didn’t know what we were pointing at to eat and then didn’t know how to go about paying. But we persevered. Eventually, I just took the bull by the horns and gestured that we needed to pay. And managed to get someone to let us!
After that, we held up the line trying to figure out how to buy our transit ticket. We seem to always have this issue. Some kind man … or maybe he was frustrated and in a hurry … did it for us. We boarded the tram and made our way to Dolmabahce Palace. This was built for Sultan Abdulmecid I, between 1843 -1856 during the Ottoman Empire. In today’s dollars, it would cost $1.5 billion. It was really impressive.
As we were almost finished with the tour, I noticed every one had blue booties over their shoes. But not Jim and I. After that, I was worried we were going to get arrested or something for messing up the palace. We managed to get out without incident. Jim and I really need a keeper. I still don’t know where those booties were when we entered. No one else didn’t seem to have a problem finding them. tsk. tsk.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in a place for dinner. What a great time we had with the waiters! The scotch helped, I supposed. They seemed to want to talk to us Americans. The head waiter was a Trump fan! Believe it or not. It didn’t matter to him when we told him we were not. He liked Trump’s stand on immigration. I’m guessing it had something to do with Syria. Good thing he can’t vote for Trump in 2020. He was not supportive of their President (or Dictator since he has been consolidating his power) and his stance of taking society backwards, most notable with regards to women.
The next day bright and early and I do mean bright and early, we began our day of touring the Blue Mosque (it was closed for renovations), Hagia Sofia (just some renovations), the Basilica Cistern (where they stored water), Topkapi Palace, the Hippodrome (where the chariots raced), and ending at the Grand Bazaar. I think we walked just under 1000 miles. Hello … Istanbul!
The Grand Bazaar has 61 covered streets and 4000 shops. Yikes! Jim and I made our way quickly on the main street from Gate 1 to Gate 7 and went on a quest to find a place to have lunch. We found a place to have beers. I should have gone to the bathroom before leaving the place because when we got to the meeting point outside the bazaar, I knew I needed to go. And I didn’t have that much time. Oye! Back into that maze of a bazaar. Desperately trying to find a bathroom and trying to remember all the twists and turns I was taking, I finally saw a WC sign. But, then it didn’t guide me much past that point. Mindful of time ticking by, I walked up to two men and asked for the restroom. Restaurant? No restroom. Restaurant? Bathroom? Heads shaking. WC? More heads shaking. Finally, I did what any language deficient person would do … I squatted. “Ah, pss, pss.” Laughing at me, as well. Who cares? I got my point across. I headed off where they sent me, but where the heck was the bathroom? Stopping by a woman sitting on a step, she directed me one door down. Luckily she spoke English. Then I needed a 1 Lira coin. Found it. Waiting in line, a woman attempted to get in front of me. Didn’t happen! Exiting the bathroom, I used every bit of brain power and navigational skills to get myself back to the main street and on my way out. Don’t panic, Irene. Stay calm. Finally, I saw Gate 7. Rushing out, there was the entire group waiting for me. I was late. Sorry. I never asked him, but I would guess that Ikut thought I was lost for good in the maze.
Early the next morning, we made our way back to the airport for a flight to Ismir. Here we toured Ephesus, Hierapolis, and Pamukkale. What history in this country!
Ephesus was built in the 10th century B.C. The Temple of Artemis, built around 550 B.C. was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia mentioned in the Book of Revelation. It’s believed that the Gospel of John may have been written here. We visited what is assumed to be the house of the Virgin Mary, where she lived out her last years.
To top off our visit there, Jim and I each rode a camel. Now, camels aren’t indigenous to Turkey. But, this was obviously a tourist attraction and we succumbed.
Hieropolis was an ancient city next to the hot springs in what is now called Pamukkale. These hot springs have been used since the second century B.C. Can you believe the history of Turkey? Wow!
These hot springs flow out and form calcium pools down the side of the hill. At one time, hotels were located at the top, but interfered with the flow of the water and created issues with the calcium, so the hotels were forced to move down into the town. It’s now a protected area with just a portion where the public is able to walk and dip toes into the water. Step onto an area you shouldn’t and you’re likely to get whistles blowing at you.
Our next big adventure and the whole reason I said I would go to Turkey … Cappadocia! We elected to take the balloon ride, so we had to get up at 4:30 a.m. Yeah, I surprised myself with this. We rode the shuttle to the offices of the balloon company, ate a very nice breakfast, and waited for the go ahead. It was all dependent on the wind. The previous three days, they were not able to go up. As our guide, Ikut, said, “If the wind is too strong, we will end up in Syria!” Yay! The wind cooperated and off we went to board the baskets of the balloons. Being afraid of heights, I wasn’t sure how I would do. What I discovered was that the scariest part was climbing the ladder to get in and out of the basket. I hate ladders. What a wonderful experience. I video taped a good bit of it, but when I went back and reviewed, I found I didn’t understand recording and pausing. As a result, I have a lot of my underarm, where I had tucked my iPad, and the inside of the basket. Duh! Electronics!
We got to attend a ceremony of Whirling Dervishes. I was not aware that this was an actual way of worship for those who follow the Sufi order, a mystical branch of Islam which was founded by Rumi in the 13th century. They dress in white and whirl with one hand raised up reaching for the divine and the other down to the earth. As they whirl, they get into a trance where they aim to give up their ego and try to reach the source of perfection. It was beautiful to watch. We were instructed that this was a worship service and we were not to clap, talk or take pictures. It was not to be viewed as a performance. Once they were done, we were told we could take a few pictures, so we did.
The next day, we flew back to Istanbul for our last remaining days. We took a boat tour of the Bosphorous River where we viewed both the Europe side of Istanbul and the Asian side. Istanbul is the only city in two continents. After a visit to the Spice market, Jim and I wandered around the streets and found ourselves in very crowded shopping areas. Were they part of the Grand Bazaar? We didn’t know but it was most interesting.
That night we had our final dinner where Jim was presented a cake to celebrate his birthday, complete with song.
It was with regret the next morning to leave this great country. We had a wonderful time. I encourage everyone to put Turkey on their bucket list. You won’t regret it. No, we never felt unsafe. We weren’t concerned about terrorists. They genuinely gave us the impression that they were glad we came.
Ikut, our guide, paying homage to his new American friend, Jim. Those two got along too well. Birds of a feather, I think.