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Published: October 6th 2014
Finally, after 4 years we were going back to Turkey!! I don't know how I can describe why I love this country so much, I just do. We left Samos and took the 1.5 hr ferry to Kuşadası, Turkey. We were greeted at the port by Anne-Maree. Anne-Maree used to work in the same department as me, and after an Intrepid trip (like me) she decided to go back and teach English. She then worked as a hotel manager for a few years in Pammukale (we also visted in our last trip) and now in Kuşadası, working in tourism. So we set up base in her gorgeous apartment overlooking the town and the port. After beers on the balcony, we went to dinner and met the charming Fadl (spelling?) at her favourite restaurant. The next day we pottered around town, had lunch, took a lesuirly stroll by the beachfront and discussed our plans for the next few days. We decided to go to Selçuk the next day, which was only half an hour away by dolmuş (which is basically a public minivan).
So the next day we set off for Selçuk. Selçuk is a lovely small town near the ancient
site of Ephesus. We then went to a nearby villiage of Şirince which is an old Greek villiage, now somewhat a tourist hub filled with street markets and little old ladies crocheting. We had a lovely afternoon eating, drinking coffed on the terrace and shopping. Back in Selçuk, we had a walk around, drank some Efes and played Jenga, and later that evening had dinner at a touristy but nice restaurant. The next day we set out for Ephesus and hired a guide there. My third time and Bill's second time there, it just gets more impressive each time. Ephesus was rebuilt at least 3 times, an ancient Greek city built in 10 century BC, and flourished under the Roman Republic in 129 BC. The extensive Roman ruins, and relatively intact buildings including the magnificent Celcus library, puts the Roman forum in Rome to shame (we weren't impressed by the Forum in Rome can you tell? Then again we have seen a lot of ancient Roman ruins in the Middle East to compare it to!) Ephesus's gradure and apprearance is it's major drawcard. Now, its overrun by cats! Posing for pictures, these furry felines have won the hearts of many
tourists! Really glad we went back to Ephesus. Back in town, we wanted to go to the castle, however you had to buy a tickets to the church of St John (which we had done previously) and it appeared the castle wasn't open anyway so we didn't go. So we looked at some shops, I bought a ring, we had a beer, and back to Kuşadası we went.
That night the 3 of us went out to a very touristy restaurant to see bellydancing. It was ok I suppose, tourists loved it of course. Later, Anne-Maree took us to a local music bar called 'Türkü Evi'. A live band performed a style of Turkish music which I can only explain as the blues. Melancholy, whimsical, love lost type of music that you don't have to understand the language to know what they are singing about. Anne-Maree tells us often you will see a lone man there with a bottle of Rakı (aniseed spirit) drinking his sorrows away, obviously lost the love of his life, listening to this melancholy music. We spent af least 2 hours at the bar, and could have spent more if it wasn't for the smoking.
The next day, Bill and I pottered around town, and later that afternoon I went to the city beach myself for a walk around. It was a chill-out, shopping day. Later that night, after dinner, Bill and I went back to the Türkü bar to soak up more Türkü music. Perfect way to end our trip in Kuşadası - the melancholy music suited my mood in leaving that town.
The next day the 3 of us set off early to Izmir, and flew to Istanbul. Ah Istanbul, this historical city straddling east and west, sitting on two continents Asia and Europe. I love this city and it felt so good being back! Anne-Maree's company organised an airport pick-up for us, so as we got near our hotel we said our goodbye's in the car. Our newly renovated hotel was spacious and a great way to end an amazing holiday. We evidently took the rain from Kuşadası with us (it always rains when we go to Istanbul). We had lunch, and were surprised to find the side streets in Sirkeci, usually dotted by cafe's where there were cushions, and we used to sit in them and drink Efes
and smoke Nargile (shisha). Now it's just all restaurants. We had lunch at one of these restaurants in Sirkeci, and Anne-Maree told us the guy bought the whole street and owns all the restaurants. The guy used to be a restaurant tout, now a restauranter owning a whole street of restaurants in one of the most lucrituve areas of Istanbul - and he still does his own touting!!
The next day, the rain set in. With the rain comes tourists, who are looking for things to do indoors. The line into the Blue Mosque was huge, struck that off the list. The same was for Aya Sofya, Basilica Cistern and we didn't want to go to the Topkapı palace again in the rain. We went for a walk through the Arista (Artisan) Bazaar, and then set off to the Istiklal Cadessi, a huge walking avenue filled with shops. We went across the Galata bridge and took the tram up the 130 year old Tünel to reach the Istiklal. The Tünel is the tunnel a fenicular trams goes up from Karaköy to Beyoğlu, and the easiest way to reack the Istiklal Cadessi. We had a nice afternoon walking and shopping,
we even saw a protest (still haven't worked out what it was about) and lots of police on guard with their plastic shields! After that we went to the Aya Sofya, once orthodox church then a mosque, now a museum, it is a stunning building due to its archtecture and now the uncovering of byzantine mosaics, which was covered up when it was converted into a mosque. As we went in at 6pm, we were rushed around a bit as they were closing at 7.
That evening we went to a Turkish night show. I had bought a bellydance costume from an American dancer living in Istanbul, and as I was picking it up from her during my stay in Istanbul, she asked if we would like to come to their show. We got picked up at the hotel, and sat with a nice American couple to watch the show. Bad food, ho-hum wine but a good show. 3 good bellydancers, and I think what made it good was that the technique itself was more Egyptian not Turkish, and I enjoyed it much more than the other Turkish night shows I had been to. Athena, the girl who invited
us, was just fabulous. Another girl had a bewitched thing going on with her nose! A slightly older dancer, but very elegant. The last dancer did Roman 9/8 and that was cool. There wadn't much traditional Turkish dancing though, but the quality was there. After the dancing, a singer came out and sang songs from around the world for her audience. Waltzing Matilda (cringe!!) New York, New York, an Italian song, Sidi Mansour and Ya Moustafa for the Arabic audience (oh yea, I know thise songs!) and a Persian song for a Persian couple....and the woman was the most drop dead stunning woman I have ever seen! All in all, a great night. Athena gave me my costume, and we arranged to meet on the Istiklal the next day to go to the Sim costume shop for adjustments.
The next day we made it to the Topkapı p
alace. Once home to the Ottoman sultans, this palace is now an exquisite museum showcasing poreclain, jewels, Ottoman attrire, religious relics in including hairs of the Prophet Mohammed's (p.b.u.h) beard. The palace grounds itself is very decedent. If one goes, you must go to the Harem - home
of the concubines, slave girls, the Valide Sultan and eunichs. I love the harem because of it's little cobblestone streets and the blue iznik tile decorations of tbe buildings. 4 hours later, we still hadn't seen the treasury, however we both had been there before (me twice) and the lines were huge! It was time for me to make my way to the Istiklal to meet Athena!
We met at Starbucks and went accross the way to Sim's shop. We were met by Ismail, the happy man behind Sim and one of the girls who does the sewing. All those blingy costumes, my head was going in a spin! First things first, adjust my red costume I bought off Athena. When we got that out of the way I tried on I don't know how many costumes and got Athena to take photos! I finally set my heart on one olive green costume with a peacock skirt and a nude blingy skirt underneath. All in all a great afternoon. Ismail spoke limited English, but with Athena's turkish, we got my alterations arrangec and I was to come back the next day. That evening, Bill and I spent a lovely evening walking in Sultanahmet taking photos of the Blue mosque and Aya Sofya, and a nice dinner.
The next day, we were out early and went to the Basilica Cistern. Built to house the city's water, the emperor Justinian built this huge underground cistern in the 6th century. The cistern has roman colums and 2 Medusa heads (one on it's side, one upside down) . To imagine, an underground cistern with Roman columns and Medusa heads! And now there are flocks of tourists visiting basically, an ancient water cistetn. What would people have thought days gone by? After that it was to the Blue mosque. As always, this impressive building with ornate blue iznik tiles, massive domes and beautiful lighting (though the wiring from the ceiling does detract a bit from getting good photographs). I feel so serene and spiritual in a mosque, even though I am not Muslim, it just feels so serene and I can gaze up in awe of the beauty and architecture. Of course the throngs of tourists does impact a bit on that serene feeling! After that we walked to the Grand Bazzar, the oldest and biggest covered market in the world. With a number of little streets with a myriad of shops, it is a shoppers paradise. Bill bough me a lovely hand of Fatima pendant, and we were in search of a particular bed cover we had seen in Kuşadası. After much searching (and much shopping) we found it. Laden down with shopping, we dropped our stuff back to the hotel, had lunch and I was then trudging back up the Istiklal to get my new costume! First though I went to the Galata Mawlawi museum, which I had been wanting to go to in years. Once lodgings for the Sufi 'whirling' dervishes originally built in 1491, it is now a museum now guarded by dozens of cute cats (again, posers). The lodgings were closed in 1925 due to a new law being passed, ordering the closure of Dervish lodges. The museum itself was very informative, explaining sufi mysticism in Islam, and the history of the Dervishes. There is a hall where weekly Dervish ceremonies are still held in Sundays (we just missed out in seeing it due to our lack of research). There are numerous tourist whirling Dervish shows of course, however I get the feeling that the one at the museum would have more of a tag of authenticity, due to the fact it is held in former lodgings. After that, I went back to Sim to pick up my new costume, and Ismail was very nice and did more alterations to the accessories for my red costume.
When we got back to the hotel, I had missed messages from Claire, who was on our Intrepid trip. She was in Istanbul, trying to arrange dinner. We finally got in contact,arranging to meet at, I thought, a pub off the Istiklal. Off we went again! On the way, at the tram station, small group of tourists asked if I speak English (oh yea, looking like a local!) then asked how to get to the Grand Bazaar. I told them to catch a train to Beyazit, and then I realised they were Thai, so I asked them (in thai) are you Thai? They were shocked, and asked how I knew so I spoke my limited Thai, telling them my mum is Thai and I can speak a little bit. They were so happy, so was I! For one, I've been to Istanbul so much I can give decent directions around the old town, and two my Thai wasn't half bad! So we went to the pub I thought Claire was at (thanks for nothing google), she wasn't there, and as we were in Fish street, we had dinner st a nice restaurant, I finally got my fish, and there was live music. Unfortunately everyone was smoking like chimmneys, so that sort of ruined the mood. We could tell it was a local place, with the musicians bringing the house down with their music and local Turks having fun singing, clapping and dancing. We finally worked out Claire was in a pub by the same name near the Galata tower, but by the time we got there they weren't there.
The next day, I got up early and went to the Çemberlitaş hammam. Built in 1584 by great architect Mimar Sinan, I love this hammam and go there every trip. I had the usual scrub treatment, plus the best oil massage I've ever had! I always end up going (not by choice) on the day I'm travelling, so there wasn't enough time to laze around for another hour or so! Got back to the hotel, packed and checked out and had lunch in Sultanahmet. I got in contact with Claire and she met us to have beers (and I had a nargile!) We caught up on travel stories and reminiced the Balkan Adventure. It was good to catch up again. We then booked a transfer to the airport, and went for one last quick trip to the Yeni mosque. Yeni, meaning new in Turkish, is given to this mosque even though it was built in 1665, is a relatively new building in this old historical town! Inside there was a religious recital, and the man singing verses from the Koran had just a magical voice. I seem to recall last time in the Yeni mosque there was a recital as well. The Yeni mosque is smaller than the Blue mosque, so more intimate, but similar in grandure. After that, we picked up our bags and went to get our transfer. The guy who took us to the pick up point got the location wrong, so by the time he found the right place, the van was already late waiting for us, so he sped to the airport!
Now I don't lose my cool very often, but airports make me lose it. People were pushing in the line to go through security screening, and I just lost it with a very rude man who pushed in. And then if it wasn't enough, he was banging into Bill with his trolley, when it was clear he couldn't move as sercurity roped off the line so aircrew could pass. Airport queues fire me up! Still that didn't detract me - I had a wonderful time in Turkey, so grateful to come back after 4 years Turkey, and explore new places ( Kuşadası) and come back to familiar places. After an expensive beer, we were off. I felt a little emotional leaving, the holiday is over, and Turkey holds a special place for me, even after 5 trips to this wonderful country, and I know I will be back!
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