Welcome to the second installment of our Turkish adventure! We pick up the action in Olympos, a village on the Mediterranean coast. And by village, I really mean a cluster of hostels and tourist-priced convenience stores, where no real Turkish people live at all anymore.
Lovely surroundings, though.
Olympos has some picturesque Roman ruins between the hostelly part of town and the ocean, so you can get your cultural sightseeing in while you make your way down to the beach.
November is a bit late in the season for visiting the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. The downside is that the water is a bit cold (still beautifully clear, though, and we still went in!) and there aren't as many activities (like sea kayaking and diving) available as there would be in summer. The upside is that there weren't a lot of tourists around, so we had the beautiful beach nearly to ourselves...
...and there was no one around from the fancy lodge to stop me from lounging in one of their...what would you call this? A beach bed?
The combination of mountain formations and beach at Olympos are fun.
Look, there's even wildlife in the estuary by the ruins! Hello, froggy.
After a couple of days of blissfully doing just about nothing in Olympos, we headed a couple of hours northeast to Antalya, the big city and tourist holiday center on the Mediterranean where we had an afternoon to kill while waiting for our overnight bus to Istanbul.
Antalya's otogar, or bus station, is about 6 kilometers from the main part of town. Guess who decided to walk? It wasn't such an exciting walk, but we did get to see some Florida-esque multicolored apartment buildings en route to town center.
My aching legs and I nearly wept for joy when we finally spotted this clock tower, which marks the center of town.
It was really cloudy for our afternoon in Antalya, but the sea was still a beautiful shade of blue. We can only imagine how pretty it must look in the sunshine!
While hanging out at the mall that night (do we know how to kill time, or what?), Andy and I stumbled across the coolest aquarium EVER. When you spit out your toothpaste every morning, you can aim at your fish!
After another daytime stopover in Bursa, where we apparently only took food pictures, Thanksgiving Day saw us back in Istanbul, where we needed to pick up our India visas at 5 PM.
During the day, we wandered north through the New City and past the 19th-century Dolmabahçe Palace. Many tourist attractions in Istanbul are closed on random days, and Thursday is apparently the day for Dolmabahçe! Ah, well. The outer gates were still pretty to look at (and free).
We ended up in the neighborhood of Ortaköy, which is supposed to have a church, mosque, and synagogue side by side. I found a synagogue, but maybe it wasn't the right one, since there was no church or mosque in sight.
Walking along the edge of the Bosphorus, we spotted a whole bunch of jellyfish jellying about. Props to Andy for catching one on camera--the current was not so slow!
While I rested at an Internet cafe in Ortaköy, Andy went off on a personal quest: To walk between Europe and Asia via the Bosphorus Bridge (below). After he had to jump over a small fence or two, though, Andy began to suspect that pedestrians might not be allowed on this bridge. His suspicions were, unfortunately, confirmed when a policeman hijacked a passing motorbike to chase him down and turn him around. Andy was disappointed that he was not allowed to walk between two continents, but happy not to have been arrested.
Other than picking up our Indian visas that evening (give thanks to India!), how did we celebrate Thanksgiving? By jumping on another overnight bus, of course! The next morning we were in Cappadocia, which sounds like it should be in Italy but is actually in the center of Turkey. Known for its fantastical landscapes made naturally out of eroded volcanic tuff (and for the structures humans have carved out of the rock as well), it was probably our favorite destination in Turkey.
The fun began when we checked into the Emre Cave Hostel (highly recommended) in Göreme village and got our cave room. Yup, we stayed in a cave! Almost all of the hotels and hostels in the area have rooms hollowed out of the rock, and it's not just a touristy thing--many locals still make their homes in caves, too.
I'm not joking! Here is a local lady we caught the next morning out sweeping the stoop of her cave.
Welcome to the fairy-tale landscape of Göreme.
On our first day in town, we took a walk through the "Love Valley" to see some of the crazy shapes nature has made out of the rock.
On the way, we caught a view of the Uçhisar citadel--a fort carved out of the highest rocky outcropping in the area.
Andy thinks that this plant, which we found in the valley, is a type of mistletoe. Or maybe that's just what he told me...
The next day, we took a bus tour of some of the farther-flung sights in Cappadocia. We began with a terrific panoramic view of Göreme.
In Ilhara Canyon, we visited one of the area's many churches hollowed out of the tuff. These churches were often built when people were in hiding during wartime in the 8th and 9th centuries. Many still have impressive frescoes on their walls and ceilings.
Speaking of hiding from war, Cappadocia is full of "underground cities," where thousands of people stored provisions and could live for months at a time. We visited the largest one, which goes an impressive eight stories under the earth, with air shafts, wells, and the obligatory traps for invaders (holes they could fall into, cracks from which hot oil could be poured down onto them, etc.).
More wildlife! This butterfly posed for me in the canyon near the cave church.
We could see what looked like little doorways and dwellings carved out of the rock high up on the canyon walls. It turns out that these were made not for humans, but for pigeons, whose droppings are so important as fertilizer for local agriculture that people have carved "houses" to attract them to come and poop for centuries.
Cappadocia's cool rock all came from the volcanoes that surround the region. You can see one of the highest ones to the right of this lovely snow-capped range.
Here's a view from the Selime "monastery," an impressive complex that was carved out of the rock by monks in the 13th century. We have many more pictures of its parts, but we won't bore you.
This area, which you can see from the monastery, apparently looks like the backdrop for some scene from one of the Star Wars movies. But some people claim that it really was filmed for Star Wars. I must admit that I haven't seen Star Wars in at least 10 years and don't care enough about it to get to the bottom of this story. Cool rock formations, though.
Lizard in the rocks! I'll let you guess who took this picture.
On our final day in Göreme, we took a hike with our international group of new friends from the hostel, including a Frenchman, a Mexican, and a Chilean. True to a pattern Andy and I have noted many times before, the Latin Americans complimented me lavishly on my broken Spanish and the Frenchman--while generally quite nice for a Frenchman--all but turned up his nose at my French, which is much stronger than my Spanish. Language learners, take note: If you thrive on positive feedback, you may want to study Spanish instead of French!
But, back to Turkey. Our motley crew hiked through the Rose Valley and the Red Valley--don't ask me to remember what the difference was supposed to be. On the way, we saw many fun formations.
Including these "fairy chimneys," so-called by the locals because they look like they might be the chimneys of fairy houses.
You can see the line at which the mineral content of the rock changes, from iron-rich and pink on the bottom to...less iron-rich on top.
Our French friend had been through some of this area before, and guided us to several hidden cave churches. I liked the ceiling of this one.
A hot-air balloon over Cappadocia. If you're ever going to go up in a balloon, this would definitely be a cool place to do so, and the people we talked to who did it almost all had a great time. Just don't land on top of a fairy chimney!
The other incredible thing I did in Göreme was visit a hamam, or traditional Turkish bath. First you sweat for a while in a sauna, then you lie down on a marble slab and let a middle-aged woman in a bikini scrub your naked self from top to bottom with a Brillo-like pad. Then she piles bucket upon bucket full of soap suds on top of you so that you're basically in a bubble bath without the bathtub, then she gives you a massage through the bubbles (ahhhhh), then washes your hair and rinses you off with warm water. Finally, she wraps you up in a towel and leaves you feeling like a big, happy, relaxed, clean baby. Amazing. After this experience, I seriously contemplated ditching the rest of our Turkish itinerary and just going to the hamam every single day.
But alas, there were other destinations to visit. Next up would be Gazi Antep, "the baklava capital of the world," and I think it's only right that I let Andy pick up with that part of the story.