Kate and Greg See Turkey as Tourists

This is not a bike trip. Kate and I decided to go to Turkey because I wanted to see some of the antiquities and Kate wanted to go for a balloon ride in Cappadocia, and see the calcite falls of Pamukkale. We took this trip in late March of 2015 (March 19th to April 3rd), so we were out of peak tourist season. It was still pretty crowded, but we had no real trouble finding hotel rooms.

Map of Western Turkey
Map of Turkey with where we went. The green "houses" were where we stayed.

We flew Air Canada to Istanbul. This was not as bad a trip as I feared (with my low opinion of Air Canada). The hops were Vancouver to Toronto, and then Toronto to Istanbul. There is no avoiding the fact that there is a lot of air-time involved, but in our case, minimal waiting between flights.

Our luggage
Because we normally bike, we are used to travelling light. This is all our luggage for two weeks in Turkey. It is small enough to carry on to any flight.

Flying East we arrive the morning of the day after we left, which is convenient for checking in, but plays heck with jet-lag. Our mission for the first day in Istanbul was to check in and stay awake.

Top deck of the hotel
This is Kate on the top deck of the hotel, where we would have breakfast if the weather was good. It overlooks the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. When we arrived (March 20th) the weather was cool and raining in Istanbul -- much like Vancouver, as we went East and South the weather was better and we saw a lot of sun and only occasional rain.


Istanbul has a lot of tourist attractions that are on the "must see" list. We were within a 10-15 minute walk to Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque). It was also a reasonable walk to Çemberlitaş Square:-

Çemberlitaş Square. This nondescript old column was put up by Constantine I when he moved the capital of the Roman Empire to "Nova Roma" (later Constantinople). It was in the centre of the ancient forum.

Istanbul Crows
We couldn't help noticing that the crows in Istanbul -- and they are crows -- are two-tone, not normal black.

Hagia Sophia. This is probably the most important tourist building in Istanbul, and the one you have to visit. Seeing the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque on the same day is interesting. They are about the same size (the Hagia Sophia a bit larger, I think) but the Blue Mosque was built over 1000 years later. The Hagia Sophia was build in 537 by Justinian, and the Blue Mosque in 1616 by Ahmet I.

Hagia Sophia from the outside
The Hagia Sophia doesn't look like much from the outside.

Looking up at the dome
Looking up at the dome. You can see that they had scaffolding up for maintenance. It's a very old building.

From the gallery
A look across from the gallery, to show the size.

This is one of the fine mosaics that have been uncovered. The Ottomans plastered over the mosaics to make this a mosque, and they are being slowly uncovered now that it is a museum.

After the Hagia Sofia we went to the cistern. This was just the water reservoir for the ancient city, important at the time because Constantinople didn't have any natural water resources, so this was important in withstanding sieges. However, its' primary attraction now is just that it is old.

After the cistern, we went to the Hippodrome, the ancient chariot racing course. This is just an open plaza in modern Istanbul, adjacent to where the Imperial Palace was, now the Blue Mosque. It was here that Justinian executed 30,000 rioters after the Nike riots. This was the social centre of Constantinople. There are still some trophies that were erected along the spine of the course.

This is the trophy that is interesting. The Byzantines took this bronze of intertwined snakes from Delphi (The heads have been cut off because of Islamic distaste for iconography). It is supposedly made from some of the armour of the Persians defeated at Platea in 479 BC. You can see that it is clearly Persian bronze.

The Blue Mosque. Next the Sultanahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque). It looks pretty much like the Hagia Sophia from the outside.

The Blue Mosque
While the Blue Mosque looks a lot like Hagia Sophia from the outside. It still has its' courtyard, though. It has six minarets. The story is that this was initially forbiden by Islam because that was the same number of minarets as the great mosque in Mecca. So Sultan Ahmet simply built another minaret on the mosque in Mecca.

The dome of the Blue Mosque
This is looking up at the dome of the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque is a much brighter space than Hagia Sophia; with the huge quantities of blue Iznik tile giving it the name. It seems smaller, but very airy.

the Blue Mosque
The interior is much simpler than Hagia Sophia as well. The dome rests on four huge pillars of massive girth, making it look less complex.

Kate and scarf
This is Kate in her scarf. This is a functioning Mosque, so you had to take off your shoes and women had to wear protective headgear.

The next day we spent going through the Topkapı palace (now a museum). The terminal 'i' (as in the movie Topkapi) is actually a different letter. It is the Turkish "dotless i", which is pronounced "uh"; the name of the palace sounds like "topkapuh". But only the Turks call it that.

Topkapı Palace. The Topkapı is big. It takes a day to go through it and really, that doesn't do it justice. However, we saw the high points in a bit over half a day. They don't allow pictures in most of it, so you will have to take our word for it. We saw the jewels, the centrepiece of which is, of course, the Topkapı dagger with three large uncut emeralds in its' handle. I can't tell emeralds from green glass, so they just looked like they would mess up your grip.

They had some arms and armour that was moderately interesting, but we came away tired. So that was when we went into the Istanbul Archeology Museum. This was really interesting, but it was also really big -- even with large section closed for seismic work -- and by this time (it was late afternoon) we didn't get a chance to fully appreciate it. If I was doing it again, I would go there first.

The Sultans Family Room
This is the Sultan's Formal Living Room. It is a fine room, but it is not clear what it was for.

Tiles on a pavilion
This is an example of the fine tiles that marked the Ottomans. Islam forbids representation of people or animals, so the decorative arts rely heavily on the sort of designs you can get on tiles.

The Golden Horn
This is a view from the Topkapı palace over the Golden Horn, the highly protected harbour of ancient Constantinople.

Ceramic Brick Lion
This is a lion from Nineveh or Assur that is in the Archeological Museum.

Cappadocia The next day we flew to Ankara. We had heard good things about Turkish Airlines, so we took the tram back to Ataturk Airport and boarded a plane to Ankara. The flight was about an hour and the flight was fine. Ankara airport is a ways out of town, but the bus took us close to where our hotel was (the GPS on my phone did the rest). The Anatolian Archeological Museum, which is a good museum in Ankara for the Turkish hinterland, was about 500m away, although it didn't seem like anyone in the hotel even knew of its' existence.

The next day we caught a taxi to the "otogar" (the bus station) and hopped on a bus to Göreme. The buses in Turkey have a reputation for being good, and this is what we found. It was very comfortable, they served snacks and coffee or tea (çay), and there was a rest stop after an hour. The bus trip also finished at the centre of Göreme, about 300m from our hotel.

Our hotel
This is a picture of the hotel we stayed in in Göreme.

Our Room
This is our room. The back wall and the bathroom were hewn out of the rock.

To see the area we signed up for a potted tour the first day, and we scheduled a balloon ride for the second day.

Since this is Cappadocia, a lot of what we were seeing was habitations carved out of the rock. We saw a monastery, hiked a gorge, and saw an underground city, while our guide gave us a version of the history of the sites.

Kate in a rock carved church
This is Kate in the upper level of a chapel carved out of the rock at the Monastery we visited. They admitted that they didn't even know the name of the place, since it had evidently been abandoned sometime in the middle ages as the Turks came through.

This is a view over Göreme, from an escarpment just above it.

The next morning, at some ungodly hour, we were picked up at our hotel by the balloon company. The idea is to get up just at dawn, as this is when the winds are the least, and so the balloons don't go as far, and thus pickup is easier.

Ready for takeoff
This is us getting ready for takeoff. We paid for the uncrowded basket.

This is what the takeoff area looked like as we took off. I think that there were close to a hundred balloons in the air that morning, and I doubt we used even half of Göreme's capacity.

Balloons in flight
The balloons were very colourful. Our balloon took a lower path, so you could see the ground better. The interesting thing was the landing. Once the pilot had made contact with the ground crew, he managed to maneuver the balloon down so that it landed (with the help of the ground crew yarding on some lines) right on the trailer! I'm convinced that they had practiced this.

Kate, Rabbit and Pilot
This is Kate and the Pilot with Rabbit and champagne (Kate got mine). The basket in the back is just where he landed it, on the trailer.

We flew back to Istanbul from Keyseri, which is the nearest airport to Göreme. It is not too near, as we had a pretty long dolmuş ride to get there (a dolmuş is a small privately owned bus that covers local routes and are quite cheap). This time we flew Pegasus airways, also well recommended, but it flew to Sabiha Gökcen airport, about 30km outside Istanbul, a long bus ride, and then a tram to our hotel.

In general air travel can be recommended in Turkey, but, like many places, getting to and from some of the airports can take more time and effort than the flight itself.

Since we were now back in Istanbul, we had to finish up seeing the city. We had to go to the Grand Bazaar, and we did, but it is a huge, institutionalized tourist trap. Everywhere we went people were offering to sell us carpets, although the carpets you get in Turkey will be more expensive than here and a lower grade. It mysifies me why anyone would buy a carpet there, I assume they haven't seen carpets from other places.

The Grand Bazaar
This is a picture in the Grand Bazaar. Just a huge tourist trap.

We exited the Grand Bazaar and headed North to the Rustem Pasha Mosque. This is supposed to be a pretty Mosque but on a smaller scale than the Blue Mosque. It is. Same architecture, same Iznik tiles, and smaller. You quickly discover that all the mosques in Turkey seem to be standardized on the Blue Mosque, with the round domes (although generally only one minaret) and probably blue Iznik tiles inside. This is different from mosques you see elsewhere, as in Spain for instance. Talking to one person, he said that the muezzin's call from the minarets are all electronically broadcast from Istanbul now, and just relayed to speakers in the minarets. They are all still in Arabic, as it is evidently frowned upon to translate the Koran, or the call to prayer.

We ended up on the Galata bridge and had a fish sandwich, which is a unique meal, although with my destroyed taste buds, white fish is practically tasteless.

Harbour Cleanup
This is a boat we watched from the Galata Bridge. It cleans up litter and debris from the harbour. Garbage collection as a tourist attraction.


Now we headed off on the next stage of the trip. We wanted to go down the Ionian coast and see Troy, Ephesus, and Pamukkale. This started off with a long bus ride to Çanukkale on the South side of the Dardenelles. The bus goes through Galipoli, but we didn't stop.

We got to our hotel in Çanukkale and checked in. The hotel was right beside the ferry landing and our bus had been too late to get on the ferry, so all the passengers disembarked and ran for the ferry as foot passengers. They said someone would meet us at the far side. However when we got to the far side we were within a few hundred metres of our hotel. It didn't seem like a good idea to get driven 11km out of town to the otogar and then take a taxi back.

The next day we caught the dolmuş to Troy. We didn't go on a tour, but just took the bus there and went in alone. Troy is a haunting place. There is no way to tell what it looked like, but you can see that it was strategically important. It is on an escarpment guarding what was once a protected bay at the South end of the Dardanelles (the ancient Hellespont). The bay has filled in and is now farmland, but the Stategic location isn't lost.

Troy's Horse
This famous horse is so forehead-smacking bad that you can't even get offended. Looking at it, I think even the Trojans would have been suspicious.

The walls of Illium
These are Homer's "Topless towers of Illium", although this may not be what Homer had in mind. It is the Eastern Gate of Homer's Illium (I think).


We got back to our hotel, checked out and found the otogar (they had moved it). We then hopped the bus to Selçuk, the city beside ancient Ephesus. We had to go to Izmir and catch another dolmuş to Selçuk, so we arrived at our hotel quite late.

The theatre at Ephesus
The ruins of Ephesus are a quick dolmuş ride from Selçuk. This is the theatre, and it is huge. You have to remember that once Ephesus was the Roman capital of the province of Asia Minor and the main Roman Arsenal for the East.

The Library of Celsus
These are the remains of the Library of Celsus, one of the buildings that they have managed to put back together. Ephesus has not been really excavated. It clearly was a very large city spread far back from the shore, but they really have only excavated two or three main streets and part of the forum.

Inside the Library of Celsus
This is Kate inside the Library of Celsus. Returning her scrolls very late.

View down the Street of the Curates
This is the view down the 'Street of the Curates' to the Library of Celsus.

We didn't bother to go to Mary's house. It was evidently discovered by a Priest after a vision from a Nun. So... a work of fiction, and not a particularly interesting one.


To get to Pamukkale from Selçuk, we hopped the train. There is a comfortable train to Denizli and from there you take the dolmuş to Pamukkale, about an hour. Our hotel was just across from the entrance to Pamukkale, so it was convenient.

Pamukkale is a startling white calcite falls from an escarpment. It has become so popular that people are restricted to walking a 'road' up to the top, and you have to go barefoot because the calcite is fragile. Nonetheless, it is easy to see the place and it is remarkable.

Kate and Pamukkale
This is Kate standing in front of Pamukkale. You can see the road and the people on it that you go up to get to the top. Kate was told that the calcite is laid down at about 3cm per year, which is surprisingly fast.

Kate and Rabbit
This is Kate and her mascot Rabbit on the way up. You can see the Calcite here.

Some Pools
Some of the pools visible on the way up. They were low on water from the springs when we were there and had to redirect the water to where they needed it most.

At the top of Pamukkale are the ruins of the ancient Greek and Roman city of Heiropolis. Mostly unexcavated, but it must have been quite a place at one time.

One of the streets of Heiropolis
Heiropolis is not just under dirt and rubble, but under calcified dirt and rubble. It is no wonder that most of it has not been excavated.

Red flowers and ruins of Heiropolis
When we were there, the fields that were once Heiropolis were full of red flowers.

The start of the calcite on the road
As we are leaving, you can see how they simply stop the calcite on the road by a cross-ditch.

After Pamukkale, it was a long dolmuş ride to Denizli airport, flight to Istanbul, one last day in Istanbul, and then a long flight home.