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Sarajevo Bound

After two months in Turkey, it was past time to head north. We were losing the summer and still had more to see. We thought we should head straight to Croatia so we could enjoy the beaches while it was still warm. After a lot of research, we found that the overland options would be expensive and time-consuming… but the flights were pricey too. We started looking at major cities in neighboring countries that had easy ground transportation to the coast. Winner: Sarajevo.

Sarajevo

Since it was a morning flight, we decided to save some money on accommodation and sleep at Ataturk International. The tone was set for the journey when a man, who had been standing too close for most of the tram ride, reached back for a little pinch before rushing out the door at his stop. I had heard from several unaccompanied female travelers of having multiple similar incidents in Istanbul, but I hadn’t had any problems. It’s nice to have a husband who looks intimidating. Unfortunately, Tony’s presence didn’t deter the creep and it happened so fast that he was out of sight before I could shout and shame him. Besides the icky feeling that comes from something like that, I was more upset that after two months of coming to love a place, the actions of some anonymous perv would be my very last memory of Istanbul and Turkey.

At the airport, we used some carabiners to attach our packs to each other, and pushed some plush chairs together at a deserted cafe. I’m pretty sure these chairs are specifically engineered to be usable only for sitting bolt upright. I found an uncomfortable position that allowed me to lay flat, but required my neck to be twisted at a funny angle and my legs to dangle over the side. A few hours of fitful unconsciousness followed. I don’t think we can exactly recommend this cost-saving strategy.

Finally, dawn came and we are able to check into our flight. We have always been able to take our bags with us in the cabin as carryon luggage, but according to the Bosnia & Hercegovina Airlines website, they would be too big. But the woman at the desk didn’t bat an eye and said checking the bags would not be necessary. A bright moment at the end of an otherwise all-around bad night. We trekked to our gate which ended up being somewhere in a nearly deserted section of the terminal. Nearly deserted, except for our fellow passengers whose size and number of carryon items far exceeded our own. Then I grumpily paid $4 for a Lipton teabag and some hot water. We didn’t actually board the plane from our gate; we boarded a shuttle bus which took us to our plane. Our aging, twin propeller engine, rear loading plane. Interesting.

B&H plane

dirty windows

The inside smelled of stale cigarettes and was about as comfortable as an old school bus with half the leg room. The tiny overhead compartments might have served well as glove boxes, but there was no way our packs were going in. We put them on the floor under our feet, which did nothing to enhance the comfort level. But somehow our attitudes changed, despite the tram groping, the airport slumber party, and sketchy plane. We found a cheap flight! To a new country that we didn’t expect to visit! Even through the plane’s dirty windows, Istanbul looked beautiful and mysterious from above in the morning fog. It would be another scorching day there, and we were headed for the Bosnian mountains.

Istanbul

Bosnia

After a few hours, the plane passed the border from Serbia to Bosnia, and a group of ladies behind us began singing. They continued until the city came into view. We landed smoothly. It was a smaller airport than we expected, and there were no other planes in sight. Before the exit hatch was even opened, the B&H maintenance crew drug out a ladder, popped open the engine cover and began pouring in fluids. We googled the airline out of curiosity later, and found that not only was B&H on the verge of financial collapse, but that we had ridden on its one and only plane. Good things to know once you’re safely at your destination!

B&H ground crew

B&H ground crew

We got a cab and headed for the city center. The bullet holes sprayed across almost every building we passed reminded me that I was only a little girl during the years that the video clips of fire and explosions and misery in Sarajevo filled the evening news. I’m sure I never dreamed I’d actually walk down those same streets one day.

-A

bullet holes

Sarajevo

03
Oct 2012
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Bosnia, Turkey

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Istanbul B Side

Here are some pictures we wanted to share that didn’t relate to any particular story.

Galata Bridge
Galata Bridge

Beyoğlu
Beyoğlu

Galata Bridge, New Mosque
Galata Bridge, New Mosque

Tram tokens
Plastic tram tokens

Bosphorus soup
Bosphorus soup

Kadıköy ferry
Kadıköy ferry

Eminönü ferry
Eminönü ferry

Beyoğlu hamam
Beyoğlu hamam

İstiklal side street
İstiklal side street

İstiklal side street
İstiklal side street

Aya Sofya
Aya Sofya

Aya Sofya
Aya Sofya

Spice market
Spice market


Spice market

New Mosque
New Mosque

Graffiti, Karaköy
Graffiti, Karaköy

Kadıköy ferry
Kadıköy ferry

Kadıköy
Kadıköy

Karabatak Karaköy Cafe
Karabatak Karaköy Cafe

Galata
Galata

Thimbles, Grand Bazaar
Thimbles, Grand Bazaar

Port and Haydarpaşa train station
Port and Haydarpaşa train station

Beyoğlu
Beyoğlu

Karaköy
Karaköy

Kadiköy (skyline: Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya)
Kadiköy (skyline: Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya)

02
Oct 2012
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Turkey

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Eating Our Way Through Turkey

So we thought we’d leave all the food for one post. Brace yourselves.

Our first impressions of Turkish cuisine were good. But after several days in country, we felt like we were waiting for something to happen. Waiting to find the perfect dish or the right type of restaurant, or maybe just trying to identify some flavor profiles that made Turkish food Turkish. Maybe we were expecting the food to be spicy or saucy or… something.

Grilled awesomeness

Turns out Turkish food is really simple. Meat. Fresh vegetables. Maybe an egg. Done to perfection and, with a few exceptions, without a lot of sauces or fuss. The meat is always grilled to perfection and if you don’t like eggplant, you probably haven’t had patlıcan that came out of a Turkish kitchen. It’s a fertile country that doesn’t import much food, so eating fresh, seasonal, and local is the default.

Let’s start with breakfast. The standard Turkish breakfast includes bread, hard-cooked eggs, fruit, cheese, olives, garlicky sliced sausage, tomato and cucumber. If you’re lucky, there will also be plain yogurt, honey, nuts, dried fruit, and various sweet and savory pastries. It took a while to get used to vegetables for breakfast, but it definitely helps keep your daily consumption at a healthy level.

Egirdir breakfast

Breakfast at Shoestring

Gözleme – a flaky pastry that’s stuffed with savory things like cheese and spinach, or sweet things like honey and banana or Nutella. Somewhere between a flour tortilla and an egg-heavy French crepe.

Gözleme

Menemen varies from place to place. It’s basically scrambled eggs with onion, peppers and tomatoes, but soupy because the tomatoes usually make up at least half of the contents. It’s served in the little pan it’s cooked in and is filling and delicious.

Menemen

Ok, breakfast is over. How about a mid-morning snack of the most delicious peaches, oranges, lemons, berries, melons you’ve ever had? Practically a religious experience. A glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice costs less than a can of cola. Treat yo’ self.

Fruit at the market

Melon stand

Citrus

If you are hiking in Cappadocia, you might come around a bend and find people selling every kind of dried fruit imaginable.

dried fruit sellers

And now for lunch. Actually, you probably started breakfast late and are still so stuffed that you skip lunch and hold out for dinner. So let’s ease in with some starters.

Lavaş. Comes fresh from the oven all puffed up like a balloon. Crispy on bottom, chewy on top, best with liberal amounts of butter.

Lavaş

Lentil soup. Consistently simple and delicious from coast to coast.

Lentil soup

Lahmacun, a crispy flatbread baked with minced meat. Köfte güveç, meatballs baked in a clay dish.

Lahmacun

Dolma refers to any sort of food-stuffed-in-food. In this case, the dolmas are grape leaves stuffed with ground lamb, rice and tomato sauce.

Dolmas

The inescapable döner kebap. Our favorite places incorporated bell peppers and carrots into the stack.

kebap

As the man expertly slices off the perfectly roasted bits from the rotating meat log, you try to not remember what the raw drippy mess looked like at 8 o’clock in the morning.

raw döner

Pide. It’s translated as “Turkish pizza” on most menus, which is a fair enough comparison, although tomato sauce rarely enters into the equation and cheese is only present half the time. This one has eggs and veggies.

Egg pide

Balık ekmek – freshly caught fish, grilled and served with a bit of salad on a baguette.

balık ekmek

Pilav and grilled köfte… usually called “Turkish meatballs” on the menu, but they’re a lot closer to mini burger patties.

Pilav and köfte

Testi kebap – stew baked in a clay pot.

Testi kebap

What’s available to add some kick to all those dishes? A few options.

First, açili esme. I think it’s fair to call this a sort of pureed salsa, because it’s full of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, onion and herbs. It ranges from totally mild to genuinely hot.

esme

Sumac is always on the table alongside the salt and pepper. It’s the dried fruit of the sumac plant ground into a tangy, salty, slightly bitter spice.

Sumac

What are you washing all this down with?

How about slightly fermented watery yogurt drink? Our introduction to Ayran came from our friend Brooks who needed his fix just before we hiked around the deserted cave city of Zelve. Tony’s first reaction was “I could think of nothing better on a hot Turkish afternoon than this sweaty cup of cottage cheese juice.” But soon enough, addiction set in and we shared one with almost every meal. Because most Turkish food tends to lack sauces, Ayran is a perfect pairing. Most bufes will bring you a a single-serving container with a straw to jam through the foil top. Some classier places have a fountain that constantly keeps it frothy.

Ayran single serve

Ayran

Şalgam – You might have seen this on the menu and tried it out of curiosity. You wouldn’t really like it, but you’d continue to sip away, trying to identify all the strange flavors. Then you’d go to Wikipedia later that day and learn that, “although the Turkish word şalgam literally means “turnip”, şalgam is actually made with the juice of red carrot pickles, salted, spiced, and flavoured with aromatic turnip (çelem) fermented in barrels with the addition of ground bulgur.” You might even buy it again, but would learn your lesson the second time.

Şalgam

Made it through all that? Now on to dessert. The options are many.

We’ve already gone into extensive detail about dondurma ice cream.

dondurma

Antep fıstıklı– pistachios everywhere. Back home, these are expensive. Here, they go in almost every dessert.

Pistachio

pistachio pastries

Locum, Turkish Delight. Like our friend Kelley, our knowledge of the stuff began and ended with a certain C. S. Lewis tale. It’s soft and gummy, sometimes a plain sugary gel and other times stuffed with chopped nuts or flavored with rosewater. A dusting of powdered sugar or coconut flakes keep them from sticking together.

Turkish delight

Not done yet. You’ll need a caffeine infusion to stay awake while you digest.

Turkish coffee. Sweet, sludgy, delicious Turkish coffee.

Turkish coffee

And, of course, çay. Strong black tea.

Tea

With as much sugar as you care to add.

Tea closeup

For the the perfect late night snack head for the ıslak vendors at Taksim Square. “Wet burgers” are small and slathered in tomato sauce that soaks both the burger and the white bun. It hangs out in a steamy little sauna box until you order it. They are wonderful, delicious little inventions that are not filling enough to make you regret eating a drippy burger, and cheap enough that you’ll probably grab a second one a couple vendors over once the first one is gone. But judge not, for they’re Anthony Bourdain approved.

ıslak

02
Oct 2012
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Ticket to Paradise – Olympos

Pegasus

Hey, remember Sean and McKinze? We may have mentioned them once in passing. Here are the four of us back in Georgia:

Akhaltsikhe

Well, they were headed back to the States, but first they were traveling around Turkey for a few weeks. We met up with them in Istanbul and they invited us to go with them to Olympos, a.k.a. backpacker’s paradise. We had considered going there ourselves, but decided to skip it and head straight to Istanbul from Eğirdir (but not before a brief stop in Pamukkale).

But we had such a good time with Sean and McKinze in Istanbul, that the day after they left, we booked tickets for Olympos on the wonderfully cheap Pegasus Air and reserved a bungalow at the same pension. But we didn’t tell them, and they just assumed that it wasn’t possible for us to join them. We got there the day before they were scheduled to arrive and used the extra time to listen to the cicadas and teach ourselves how to play backgammon. Then we positioned ourself at a table near reception to casually say hello to them when they arrived on the afternoon dolmuş.

Saban Pension

bungalows

cicada

hangout platforms

Olympos is not a real town. It’s a series of dozens of backpacker pensions — sprawling compounds of wooden bungalows, “tree houses” (sounds better than shacks-on-stilts), hammocks and gazebos — built along a gravel road about an hour south of Antalya. If you walk a little further down the road, it passes through some Roman ruins, and then deposits you on the beach. Since there’s no actual town, all of the pensions include breakfast and all-you-can-eat dinner in the price of accommodation. We had some of the best meals ever there, and dinner itself was a highlight of each day.

dinner

hammock

As usual, our friends had great ideas (and initiative!) to get us off our hammocks and we had some incredible days together.

We went sea kayaking one afternoon and saw a sea turtle on the way to the cove, and then snorkeled off the beach before returning. The water in this part of the Mediterranean is really warm and clean. The area we were in isn’t really known for underwater beauty, in fact, it probably looks pretty barren compared to tropical reefs, but it was still so much fun diving after the little fish and looking for shrimp and barnacles on the rocks. Is there a more fun and relaxing way to enjoy the outdoors than snorkeling? I submit that there is not.

As a life-long Midwesterner who hadn’t done much traveling before, Olympos was the very first time that I swam in salt water (not counting wading in the Black Sea). I thought the vastness of the sea would be terrifying, but I was completely at ease floating in the crystal clear waters, letting the little fish nibble my feet, and gazing at the bottom far below.

The night after we kayaked, I didn’t sleep well because it felt like I had micro-shattered every millimeter of bone in my arms. But the pain was gone by morning and we embarked on what the four of us called “The Pleasure Cruise.” For a stunningly cheap price, we spent a whole day on a boat that took us out to an uninhabited island. A big local family had reserved the rest of the spots and took control of the sound system, which cranked out Turkish party music all day. (Go load that link on another tab if you want a soundtrack to the rest of this blog post.) The ladies would spontaneously break out into dance circles.

anchored for a swim

the island

Fishing for lunch

perfect blue water

rocky island

swimming

The captain would take the boat from beach to beach, drop anchor, and we would all jump off the boat and swim until it was time to move along to the next place. We had freshly caught fish for lunch, and tea and watermelon in the afternoon, all included in the price. We saw dolphins and another sea turtle. The Pleasure Cruise was a difficult ordeal, but we drew from an inner strength and managed to soldier on.

lunch

hole in the island

Alicia

Sean and McK

Destination Unknown

On our final day, we rented some cushy beach chairs and paid way too much money for a waiter to bring us Diet Coke. It was a little bit of a sad day, because we were about to part ways and we didn’t know when we’d be together again.
-A

beach day

01
Oct 2012
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Istanbul is Best with Friends

Sean and McKinze (of “Sean and McKinze” fame… we’ve mentioned them about eighty times so far in our Georgia posts) had finished up their Peace Corps service and were on their way to make their new home in Portland, Oregon… via Turkey, New York City and Iowa. We planned to meet up with them again in Istanbul for a few days.

We cruised the Bosphorus and shared a sugar wafer the size of a manhole cover from a snack seller.

Bosphorous photo

Eminönü

Us - Bosphorus

We laughed at funny English phrases on peoples’ clothing.

Shoes and Corsets

We ate impossibly cheap balık ekmek (literally, “fish bread”) on the Galata Bridge.

balik ekmek

We visited the carpets and manuscripts and carvings at the mysteriously un-airconditioned Museum of Islamic and Turkish Art.

Mosque door

We found a great view of the Blue Mosque, which came with expensive drinks.

Blue Mosque

Turkish coffee

We shared baklava.

baklava

We walked up and down the hills of Galata…

Galata

…and the side streets of Istiklal…

Istiklal

…and caught our breath in mosques…

Sulimaniye Mosque

…and ignored the touts at the Grand Bazaar…

Grand Bazaar

…and wandered all the places in between.

Side street

We also enjoyed an long and incredibly relaxing Turkish bath – ladies and gentlemen separately and photography not allowed. Just imagine steamy, centuries-old rooms, with only a few shafts of light filtering in through small circular openings in the ceiling; hot marble slabs; mounds of bubbles; and unlimited bowls of hot and cold water to pour over your head. It was one of those rare places where the official advertising photos matched real life– as long as you swapped out the supermodels in tiny towels for large, topless bath attendants.

Sean and McKinze are great travel partners. They’re flexible and laid back, but also goal oriented planners. Whatever they suggested, we said “yes,” and we were always glad we did.

-A

30
Sep 2012
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Sakartvelo World Domination

International Folk Dance Competition

One night, we were wandering around Sultanahmet after dinner with Micah and Steph, some of our favorite fellow travelers we’ve met so far. (Go visit their blog, especially if you love great photography.) Some music caught our ear and we followed it to a stage where there was some sort of folk dance event.

We began to casually watch for a few minutes, and intended to start walking again, when a girl with silver medallions in her hair caught my eye. And then a boy with a black, shaggy headdress darted through the crowd. I managed to surpress a shriek of excitement, but still got a little bouncy and clap-happy. Micah and Steph were probably a little alarmed at my sudden enthusiasm. (If you know me well, you know that I don’t get genuinely giddy over very many things. Except maybe small, cuddly animals. And free food. And making Excel spreadsheets.)

Only a few weeks earlier, we were treated to a fantastic evening of Georgian folk dance in Akhaltsikhe. Could it be?? A whole troupe of Kartvelians in Istanbul? And we just happened to run into them??

Ukraine

I waited impatiently for the Ukranians and Romanians and Hungarians and other groups to complete their routines. They were all good, and entertaining even to those who might be less than enthusiastic about dance. Most teams were made up of adults or older teens. When the Georgians finally took the stage for the last performance for the evening, it was obvious that they were much younger than the other represented countries.

Georgian dance troupe

Since I don’t have much experience describing dance, here is what EasternArtists.com says about Georgian folk dancing:

“Georgian dance is generally characterized by the graceful floating gait of the female dancers. With bodies erect and leaning very slightly forward, the women create lovely formations and turns in an appearance that has been said to form the illusion of ice skating along the floor. The hand, arm and head movements are flowing and gentle while traveling in this quick floating manner.

The most characteristic element of the male Georgian dance is the acrobatic, or gymnastic movements including knee spins, aerial cartwheels, splits and kicks and many other such feats. But the most amazing to most viewers is the fast and varied manner of dancing on the knuckles of the toes. The dancers wear soft soled boots and often jump continually on the toe knuckle, with the body straight and strong, the arms in a very heroic posture, the men often shout or proudly stare as they do this spectacular feat.”

We weren’t surprised when the little soldiers and fair maidens floated and twirled and leaped and kicked with more skill, precision, vigor and heart than their predecessors. The crowd yelled and clapped more loudly for the Georgians than they had for anyone else, and you could see on the dancers’ faces that they were so happy and proud in that moment.

Dancers

The crowd started to filter away, and I noticed the white and red Georgian flag heading up the sidewalk, with the dancers all in a row behind it. I thought they were probably headed back to their hotel and was still so excited to have made another Georgia memory (in Istanbul!) that I decided it wouldn’t be too creepy to follow them. Our hostel was in the same direction, and we were headed that way, anyway.

Following the group

When we caught up to the group, I said hello to one of the girls. I told her how much I enjoyed their performance and asked if they were from Georgia. (Not the most brilliant of questions, but I was having a fangirl moment.) She said, yes, they were from Batumi, and that they had made the finals. Tomorrow night, they would dance again at the same stage. I promised that I would be there to see it.

Then I noticed that one of the chaperones kept glancing at us nervously. Walking a large group of children through a major world city late at night was probably not her idea of a good time, and me following them with a deranged smile wasn’t helping. Tony was very relieved when I agreed to turn around.

Gogo

The following evening, we returned to the park and the place was packed. Our Georgian team took the stage and repeated their great performance, and the crowd seemed to respond even more loudly. A man standing in the middle of the seating area kept standing up and waving the white flag with red crosses. The people behind him weren’t happy and eventually convinced him to at least sit down. But his flag kept waving.

Drummers

We stayed to see the results of the competition, and it was difficult to know what was going on since the emcee was speaking only in Turkish. Suddenly, I realized that there were a lot more Georgian children at the wings. It was another Georgian dance team. TWO teams had made it into the finals; one from Batumi and one from Tbilisi.

Final dance

The second team also brought the house down, and a section of the crowd was cheering, “SA-KART-VE-LO! SA-KART-VE-LO!” The man with the flag went nuts along with them.

Suspense

The emcee called the eight finalist teams to the stage. Some sort of local celebrity and a beauty queen joined him and they began handing out the awards. It was really apparent how young the Georgian teams were when they were standing with the other countries. In a fairytale moment, the two teams were awarded first and second place, and they all looked ready to burst with joy. I couldn’t help but be proud of them, too.

-A

Victory!

30
Sep 2012
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Istanbul: Pattern, Texture, Color

Karabatak Karaköy Cafe
Karabatak Karaköy Cafe

Cream rug
Antique rug, Türk-Islam Eserleri Müzesi

Wood panel
Minbar detail, Türk-Islam Eserleri Müzesi

Cream rug
Antique rug, Türk-Islam Eserleri Müzesi

Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque

Navy rug pattern
Antique rug, Türk-Islam Eserleri Müzesi

Tiny tiles on building exterior
Tiny tiles on building exterior, Galata

Wood panel with rose detail
Minbar detail, Türk-Islam Eserleri Müzesi

Süleymaniye Mosque
Süleymaniye Mosque

Blue Mosque perimeter ceiling
Perimeter ceiling, Blue Mosque

Old tile on Haydarpaşa ferry terminal
Haydarpaşa ferry terminal

Hagia Sofia/Aya Sofya
Aya Sofya

27
Sep 2012
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Hoşgeldin, Ramazan

Turkish food

One night in Istanbul, we sat down to eat dinner. The tables were half full. We had a few questions for our waiter, and he responded in an extremely agitated manner, nearly shouting his suggestions at us. I was a little dismayed at this and forgot what I had originally wanted. I pointed to the words yoğurtlu kebab on the menu, even though I didn’t know what it was.

A large family arrived and the waiter, now in a frenzy, barked orders at the bus boy to push some tables together. More people arrived and the place was quickly full. The waiter continued to rush around, gesture wildly and alarm the other diners. Totally. Out. Of. His. Mind. We thought it was probably a bad decision to eat here and wondered if it was too late to bail.

Then I noticed that the big family had all been served their food, but were just sitting there staring at it. The flat screen t.v. on the wall (an unfortunate “necessity” in all but the swankiest of places) was displaying a countdown, and the children fidgeted as the numbers ticked away.

Then we remembered that Ramazan had begun the night before. (Ramadan is called Ramazan in Turkish and a few other languages.) We had gazed at the Blue Mosque’s special kandil lights that welcomed the season of Ramazan, sampled impossibly sweet pastries at a special artisans’ exhibition, and watched the crowds of families socializing at Sultanahmet Square.

Blue Mosque from the rooftop

Artisans' Market

Tulumba

Handmade kettle

Sugar coma

Mesir

The waiter’s behavior made total sense now. We imagined how calm we’d be if we hadn’t had even a drop of water since sunrise but still had to suffer the July heat, go to work, smell the food being prepared, and serve guests at one of the busiest times of the year.

The minaret across the street blared the sunset prayer, the countdown on the t.v. hit zero, and the family drew their hands down across their faces and began to enjoy their iftar. Our food arrived and the yoğurtlu kebap, a dish of grilled flat bread and chicken smothered in creamy yogurt and savory tomato sauce, became one of my favorite Turkish dishes. The waiter disappeared for a while, and when he returned, he was composed and smiling.

yoğurtlu kebap

-A

27
Sep 2012
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The Cats of Istanbul

You may have heard that Istanbul is home to a cat or three. Most of the cats that crossed our path through Turkey looked very… unfortunate.

Icky Kitty, Goreme

But the ones in Istanbul seem pretty healthy and manage to navigate the rooftops, alleys and crowded streets in their own self-assured way.

Tiger kitten
They’re skilled beggars at restaurants, and the waiters only half-heartedly shoo them away.

French fry feast

Aya Sofia nap kitty
1,500-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site? Ideal nap spot.

Hostel cat

Mustachio Kitty
Alicia could hardly contain her excitement at discovering this little mustachioed friend outside of a Galata antique shop.

Inkstanbul kitty
One of Danny Garcia’s menagerie at Inkstanbul.

Cat house near Galata
Street cat comfort station, Galata.

Taksim kitten
Kitten near Taksim Square.

Orange tabby in Kadikoy
Kadıköy

Cat in window
Kadıköy

27
Sep 2012
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Truth In Travel Photography: Sometimes They’re Vacuuming the Mosque

Sometimes They're Vacuuming the Mosque

(Click to view larger)

Every now and then, we’ll post a single photo on this theme.

First up: Süleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul. 500 years old. Over 11,000 square feet of carpeting. All of which needs to be vacuumed. A lot.

22
Sep 2012
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A Day at Pamukkale

Sun beating down on the travertines

The crowds

We knew in advance that it was going to be packed and blazing hot. We knew that the actual travertines were now off-limits to protect them from millions of dirty footsteps. We knew that they places you can actually wade through were made from the springs being re-routed to concrete structures, which will look like their naturally-formed calcite counterparts in time, but are glaringly artificial for now.

Tony walking up the travertines

Alicia walking up the travertines

Smart tourists with umbrellas

We knew that while swimming around and banging our shins on the sunken ruins of the ancient Temple of Apollo at the top, we’d be surrounded by a restaurant that pumps out dance beats and charges the equivalent of $3.50 for a can of Coke.

Tony floating in Cleopatra's pool

Cleopatra's pool

No swimming allowed

Tony in a pool

Tony laying in the water trench

But since we knew all these things, we set our expectations low and went in cheerfully, fully expecting to open our wallets and swelter as we climbed the hill with a horde of overworked Speedos to collectively worship at the Church of Mass Tourism. It was everything we expected to be… and we’re really glad we went. A Turkish man asked to take a picture with Tony, and then insisted on taking our photo while I wore his cowboy hat. It was a great day of people watching and splashing around one of the more unique places on the planet.

-A

Us

Pamukkale sunset

(Now take a few moments to walk down the travertines…)

22
Sep 2012
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Turkish Ice Cream – Dondurma

Fact – Turks love ice cream. Every McDonalds and Burger King that I saw in Turkey had dedicated little walk-up windows where the only thing you could order was soft serve ice cream. But really, I have no idea how fast food soft serve made its way into the country that invented dondurma.

Waffle cone maker in Egirdir

Our first experience with dondurma was at Lake Eğirdir. One night after dinner, we happened to walk by a guy on the sidewalk who was spooning batter into a waffle iron set up on a small folding table. This hipster was actually hand-rolling ice cream cones. So I was already sold on the cone before we even knew about the wonderful thing that is Turkish ice cream.

Dondurma boy in Antalya

So let me tell you about the wonderful thing that is Turkish Ice Cream. It’s made with goat milk, orchid flour, and mastic, which makes it thick and chewy. Sometimes it’s so thick that they just go ahead and eat it with a fork and knife. It’s usually seen on the streets being sold by a guy wearing a little vest and cap ensemble. The scoop is on the end of a long metal pole used to churn it like butter and pull it like taffy. Tourists will hear them hitting the little bells over-head and be enticed by the display, then get punked for a good five minutes while the guy in the vest serves them a cone on the end of the stick, then flips it upside down or pulls the ice cream back leaving an empty cone in your hand. Its fun for little kids. Big kids like Alicia sometimes just want their ice cream and refuse to play along.

Waffle cone maker in Eğirdir

But in Eğirdir there were no theatrics to delay your ice cream acquisition. Just two brothers, one sitting under a bug zapper and making cones on the sidewalk and the other in the shack with a scoop in his hand. Two lira for two scoops and a free dip in the chocolate sauce.

Dondruma

-Tony

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Sagalossos

Precarious

The ruins of Sagalossos rest high on Akdağ (“white mountain”) in the Taurus mountain range. At one point in its history, it was sacked by Alexander the Great. Like a lot of ancient places in Turkey, people decided to stop living here after one too many earthquakes. The site only began to be excavated in 1990 and as more sections are uncovered, it is expected to be larger than Ephesus.

One day, during our leisurely two weeks in Egirdir, we decided to visit it.

Sagalossos

Turkish and Belgian archaeologists work here during the summer months. We came across two different groups of them, and they happily showed us the nails and bits of glass they were scraping from the soil, and told us what they were learning about the particular site they were working on. We thought they might be annoyed to stop and speak with us, but they were excited to have visitors who bothered to leave the path and come say hello to them. They also reminded us to watch out for snakes and scorpions.

Belgian archaeologist

artifact log sheets

Turkish archaeologists

Bits of pottery

The site is so full of artifacts and still has so much left to be discovered that it’s nearly impossible to walk across the ground without crunching bits of centuries-old pottery. Some of the ruins have been re-assembled, but most of the carved stones lay in orderly rows in the grass, like a giant’s puzzle pieces, waiting for the day when they will rise again.

The ampitheater

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Sagalossos vista

Rubble

the ampitheater

Alicia and Eilidh

Overlooking the main part of the city

lizard

lion

puzzle pieces

The statues are reproductions

Fountain

We spent that whole day with the McLellands, a lovely couple from Glasgow who have already done the whole world travel thing and gave us lots of good tips for Asia and Oceania. We had lunch with them and another fellow traveler who knew a lot about Turkey told us all of his adventures working in the tropical fruit industry. He taught us some interesting things, including a useful bit of body language from that part of the world: the up-nod + tongue click combo. It means “no” and explained a confusing encounter we had with a local the previous week.

(Click here to see a panoramic of the Sagalossos theater.)

Glaswegians

rebuilt ruin

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Settling Down at Lake Eğirdir

It was decision time. Where do we go next? Tony had a design job to work on and we needed a while to just catch our breath and live someplace without worrying about what we “ought” to be doing or seeing.

Flowers

We examined our last several weeks of travel and realized a few things. First, we’re really happy when we’re in proximity to large bodies of water, like when we were in the Black Sea coast cities of Batumi and Trabzon. Second, the blazing Turkish summer is so much easier to bear when the air is dry like in Cappadocia. Third, we really enjoyed being in places where you can walk down the street in peace without being seen as a big walking dollar (or lira) sign, like we could everywhere in Georgia.

Google Maps - Lake Egirdir

Google Maps - Lake Egirdir

So we checked a map and looked for a big lake in the mountains, and then picked a small town on one of those lakes. Lake Eğirdir, here we come. The dreaded night bus wasn’t too bad since we reached our destination by 2 a.m. and Ibrahim, our pension owner, met us at the bus stop. It’s always interesting coming into a place in the dark and waking up to a whole new world. From the first peek out the window in the morning, we knew: great decision.

Lake Eğirdir

We explained to Ibrahim that we’d like to stay a while, and told him what our budget was. Ibrahim and his family own Charly’s Pension, but they also own a few other guest houses next to it, and only a few days before had purchased a worn-out pension on the same street. He said we were welcome to stay in a private room for the price we wanted, as long as we didn’t mind that the building had seen better days (renovations hadn’t begun yet).

Ibrahim's pension empire

Our front door security system

The front door opened by pulling on a string attached to a bit of wood, and if the string broke, you could always just reach through the broken glass and open the latch from inside. We thought this was excellent. For one thing, it was a great sign that neighborhood crime was pretty nonexistent. For another, it meant we were far, far away from the slick and soulless tourism machine. (I’m sure if you were to go there today, there would be a proper latch!)

We stood on the white tiled roof and agreed that this was surely the best view in town. Even the hotel halfway up the mountain didn’t have a 360 degree view like this. We shook hands, and Ibrahim had someone put a table and chairs and a wardrobe in our room. It felt so good to unpack.

clothesline

minaret

Sunset on Lake Eğirdir

We spent the next two weeks having long breakfasts at Charly’s, swimming in the lake and watching its colors change with the passing clouds, wandering through the streets and markets, reading books, gorging ourself on impossibly delicious fruit, and just generally having time to sit and be.

We had “our” restaurants, particularly the cheap one over the otogar and the almost-as-cheap one across from the Atatürk statue (every town in Turkey has one). We had “our” ice cream guys and “our” grocery store and “our” family of red-necked grebes that we watched dive for little silver fish. We made sun tea on the roof and took entirely too many photos of flowers and sunsets.

Laundry drying

Charly's Pension terrace

market produce

Mulberries

Multi-colored lake

Neighborhood kids

Old Greek building

Turkish boys swimming

Sun tea

Spiky plants

Eğirdir at night

Eating olives

This summer, Eğirdir was beseiged by an insurgency of midges that came in greater numbers than usual and stayed for far longer than expected. They didn’t bite, but they did make walking outside at dusk interesting.

Midges swarm a street light

One night, we had a campfire on the beach with fellow travelers Naomi and Patrick from Brighton and Robert from Hamburg (hello there, if you’re reading!). Another day, we went to explore the ruined city of Sagalossos. But other than that, our days were satisfyingly ordinary.

We could have done a lot of other things in Eğirdir. We could have filled every day with something fun and exciting. We could have gone windsurfing or sailing or canoeing or mountain biking or fishing. We could have even hiked in the footsteps of an apostle on the St. Paul Trail. But we didn’t. And it was great.

-A

Lake shore

The castle

On the castle

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A Few More Photos from Cappadocia

A rug emporium in Göreme
A rug emporium in Göreme

Icky Kitty
Icky Kitty

Neighborhood hens
Neighborhood hens

Firkatan Kilisesi
Firkatan Kilisesi


Firkatan Kilisesi (chapel)

Tony in the dovecote
Firkatan Kilisesi (dovecote)

Firkatan Kilisesi (tunnel)

Exploring Rose Valley
Exploring Rose Valley

Rose Valley trail
Rose Valley trail

Another chapel
Another chapel

Inside the chapel
Inside

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Aug 2012
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Hasan’s Tea Garden

-or-

The Day We Went For a Long Hike, Met Some Narcoleptic Turtles,
and Hitched a Ride Back to Town With the Turkish Air Force.

Pigeon Valley

On our second-to-last day in Cappadocia, we decided to hike from Göreme (the town our hostel was in) to Uçhisar via Pigeon Valley. Things started off rough. We lingered too long over breakfast and didn’t get started until just before noon. There was no breeze, the sun was hotter than ever, and despite the fact that we were in one of the most beautiful places on earth, we were both a little grumpy.

Turtle housing crisis

Pigeon Valley

Pigeon Valley

A tiny stream

Eventually, the discovery of a little stream, some shade, and the stillness of the valley softened us. Pigeon Valley is a beautiful place.

Tony

Pigeon Valley

A little meadow

Pigeon Valley

Tony hikes in Pigeon Valley

About three-quarters of the way to Uçhisar, we saw a cardboard sign that read Hasan Tea Garden. Now, the last thing you want towards the end of a long and sweaty hike is a hot glass of tea. But when you are on said long and sweaty hike and a shack with benches and cushions and a man with a teapot appears out of nowhere, you stop.

We were still out of breath from the last pitch and Hasan intercepted us before we sat down. His face was expressionless. “You have reservation?” We stared at him blankly for a moment, and then his eyes crinkled and the three of us laughed together. He served us tea and little cookies and a dish of peanuts. The sparrows fearlessly begged for some treats, so we crumbled some of the nuts and tossed them at our feet.

Hasan

Tea time

sparrows

When we finished our tea, Hasan asked us if we had seen any turtles. We said that we saw a turtle shell earlier in the day, but no live turtles. “I have turtle. She sleeping.” He motioned for us to follow him. He brought us to a tree that had a ladder leading up to a platform with a pink blanket on top. “Turtle sleeping. You look.”

Uh huh.

He herded a thoroughly skeptical Tony towards the ladder, and as soon as he started up the rungs, Hasan turned to me and pointed excitedly at my camera. I waited for Tony to gingerly lift up the corner of the blanket.

The turtles

Hilarious

Hasan was very pleased with himself. He generously sent us back on the trail with one of his turtle’s “babies.”

A present from Hasan

Uçhisar

The landscape smoothed out into soft pink ripples as we approached the top of the valley. We finally reached Uçhisar. We stood in the sun at the main road and realized we hadn’t checked the bus schedule. Not a big problem. Since we had just hiked uphill the entire way to Uçhisar, the road back to Göreme would be an easy descent.

We hadn’t gotten very far when we saw a blue van pull off at a scenic overlook, and some men in blue camouflage and berets got out to take photos of the valley and of each other. We said hello and exchanged the usual friendly “where are you from”s and continued on our way. A few minutes later, the van pulled up alongside us, the side door slid open, and the man in the front passenger seat offered us a ride.

The one who spoke the best English told us they were members of the Turkish Air Force on their way to report for duty. This was three days after Syria shot down one of Turkey’s fighter planes. We weren’t sure if it was related to that or not, but we didn’t bring it up. And we didn’t take any photos. They laughed and joked to each other the whole way and dropped us off a few blocks from our hostel. We wished them good luck, headed back to our cave bunks, and spent the rest of the afternoon in the swimming pool.

-A

Shoestring Cave Pension

Shoestring Cave Pension

Shoestring Cave Pension

(Here’s a panoramic of Pigeon Valley.)

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Hiking with Brooks in Zelve

We had been looking forward to going to Cappadocia since before we even sold our house. We saw a photo and, in our best Liz Lemon impersonations said, “I want to go to there.” So we did. After a few days orienting ourselves in Trabzon, we took a night bus to Göreme, in the very center of Turkey. (The night bus itself is another story for another time.)

Göreme

Nazar boncuğu (amulet to protect against the

Besides the epic hot air balloon ride at dawn, we also were able to get our Indiana Jones on. We hiked through dusty canyons and scorched ridge lines and felt our skin cringe and shrivel under the relentless sun. We climbed up and into and through only a few dozen of what must be thousands and thousands of cave homes and churches carved into the soft and strangely eroded volcanic rock. It was exhausting and exhilarating and we always stumbled back to our hostel completely filthy.

An olive bush above Rose Valley

Hands

A ruined church

Wildflowers near Goreme

Wildflowers near Goreme

Tony and Brooks meet

On one of our hikes near Rose Valley, I had wandered off to stare at some wildflowers, as I am wont to do, and when I returned to the spot where I left Tony, he had already made friends with Brooks From Atlanta. We took each others’ photos and exchanged email addresses and went our separate ways. Later that evening, Brooks saw us having dinner in town and we made plans to meet up the following day and hike through the abandoned cave city of Zelve.

Zelve was inhabited by Muslims and Christians (mostly simultaneously) for over 1,500 years before the citizens were evacuated from their increasingly unstable cave homes in the 1950s. Today you can hike through the three valleys on the nice government-installed footpath, or you can be a little more intrepid and blaze your own trail.

Brooks and Tony starting our hike in the abandoned cave city of Zelve.

Starred Agama lizard.  (I think.)

The little holes across the valley on the right are dove cotes.

Other than the sunbathing lizards and the flocks of swallows and martins zipping through the air like mini fighter jets, we mostly had the whole place to ourselves.

Zelve

Brooks

The ladder cut into the rock has worn away to almost nothing.

More dove cotes.  We read that the entrances were decorated to attract the doves.

Inside a dwelling

Climbing up

The red shorts are the source of his power

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-WWKBMT93YZc/T-NwV8g_ixI/AAAAAAAAJLQ/1L-WjjjgBy8/s800/IMG_5953.JPG

Spider friend

A tree grows from the ceiling

See the light at the end of the tunnel?  You don't want to know how they got up there.

Tony and Brooks find another ladder to climb

We're the best three friends that anybody can have…

Ladder

As you are reading this, Brooks From Atlanta is now Brooks From New York City, since he just moved there to go to law school. It’s so great when we cross paths with people who can share our adventures with us for a day or two. Those are the best days of all.

-A

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Cappadocia from Above

4:30 am – Wake up in our cave-dorm to be shuttled away by Ürgup Balloons

6:30 am – Jump into a basket that is just about to win against gravity.

Firing up

Balloon crew hanging on until the crucial moment

Liftoff

Sun rise

Long shadows

Mt. Erciyes

Far off in the distance, over 100 kilometers away, stands the extinct volcano, Mount Erciyes. Legendary site of St. George’s dragon slaying, and source of the geologic material that has eroded into the Cappadocian wonderland. You can just baaarely see it here.

Do look down

Beneath our feet

Sun flare

Dusty road

Volanic tuff, eroded

Eroded rock formations

Above a valley

Cave dwelling

Rose colored ripples

Silhouettes

Sun rise

Tony and Alicia

(Here’s the video.)

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Aug 2012
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Easing into Turkey in Trabzon

Boztepe, Trabzon

As soon as we crossed into Turkey, we got into a cab bound for the Hopa otogar. The driver raced along the Black Sea coast, blasting the frantic Middle Eastern flavored exuberance that is Turkish pop music. At the otogar, a bus company employee took our money and stood in the blazing sun in between the four-lane highway to flag down our otobüs. Four hours later, we arrived in Trabzon.

View from Otel Evim, Trabzon

View of Trabzon from Boztepe

View of Trabzon and the Black Sea from Boztepe

I think we were in mourning for a while when we left Georgia behind. It’s not that we didn’t like Turkey. In fact, there was a lot to like about Trabzon. Our hotel room was nicer, the streets were cleaner, the waiters were actually attentive, and although it was a bit jarring and otherworldly at first, we grew to love the muezzin’s calls to prayer from the minaret across the square. We bought a new camera and tried not to think about how much more it was costing us to buy here, compared to what the sticker price is in the States.

Boztepe, Trabzon

Boztepe, Trabzon

Like many cities, Trabzon is gritty and rough and shiny and cosmopolitan all at once. After a while we decided we felt like we had oriented ourselves to the new culture and new language enough to hit the road again. Next stop, Cappadocia. We had been looking forward to this for a long time.

Git-Git Chicken in Trabzon

A street in the main shopping district near Ataturk Meydan, Trabzon

A side street near the main shopping district near Ataturk Meydan, Trabzon

09
Aug 2012
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