Krystal eventually did make it to Istanbul, albeit just by the skin of her teeth and much later than expected. She was fortunate to have been on one of only a few flights that were allowed out of London that day. Flying to Istanbul from Athens might have been a breeze for me, but I have a feeling things will get much more difficult as I make my way back to Madrid, which is my last stop after Turkey and before I head home.
We’ve been on the move so much that I’ve hardly had time to journal. So, I am going to cheat and do what I did for the Peloponnese…sum it all up by city and/or site:
Istanbul: Unlike the mosques in Morocco, we were able to go inside the Blue Mosque. There is a visitors’ entrance at which you remove your shoes and don the proper attire (should you happen to be bare-armed or bare-kneed, that is). The inside of the mosque is covered in blue Iznik tiles, which is why it earned the name ‘The Blue Mosque.’ We also went into the Hagia Sofia, which was built in 697 AD and is a beautiful example of Byzantine architecture. It was originally built as a Christian church, was later converted to a mosque, and is now simply a museum. This colorful religious past can be seen as Christian and Muslim iconography are juxtaposed. We finished up Istanbul with a visit to the Topkapi palace (the ‘Versailles of Turkey’), the underground cistern, and a ferry ride up the Bosphorous.
Gallipoli: Gallipoli is the site of the Gallipoli/ANZAC campaign, one of the bloodiest battles in WWI in which over 500,000 Turkish, British, Australian, and New Zealand forces lost their lives. The site has become a memorial with several cemeteries for the fallen spread out over a large area that surrounds what is now called ANZAC cove. Despite this tragic past, the setting is both beautiful and peaceful.
Troy and Pergamum: We had a full day exploring both Troy and Pergamum. The Troy site covers a large area that is still being excavated. It was ‘discovered’ by a German amateur archaeologist (but expert treasure hunter) named Heinrich Schliemann in the early 1900s. This particular site was actually one of several in Turkey that were believed to be candidates for the legendary city of Troy. However, excavations, geographic location, and the discovery of what is believed to be Priam’s jewelry helped to satisfy skeptics that this site is, indeed, the city that Homer made famous in The Iliad. Quite frankly, it’s difficult to get a feel for what the ancient city may have looked like so long ago from what has been unearthed, but you can get a sense of the city’s substantial walls, which according to Homer, helped to fend off the Greeks for 10 long years.
Pergamum, which is Turkey’s ‘Acropolis,’ is another important archaeological site located outside the city of Kusadasi. Having recently been to the Acropolis, however, I can say it isn’t quite as breathtaking. I guess that’s what I get for coming here from Greece : )
Kusadasi: Kusadasi is a resort town with large hotels, beaches, and a bustling nightlife. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve had good hotels with pools, beachfront, or both—so relaxing in the water after a long day of sightseeing is something we can look forward to. While in Kusadasi, we went to a hookah bar. Although I’m very much against smoking tobacco—even tobacco vapor—I decided to try a puff of the apple-flavored tobacco. You know how it goes: ‘when in Rome…’ You know, it wasn’t half bad.
Ephesus and Pamukkale: Ephesus is a beautiful archaeological ruin that dates as far back as 1000 BC. It is probably most known to Biblical scholars as the city where St. John and the Virgin Mary spent the remainders of their lives. In fact, it is believed that the foundations of Mary’s house still remain in a site that has become a shrine for both Christians and Muslims.
Pamukkale was our next destination with a few notable sites: Hieropolis and the Calcium Terraces. Hieropolis is the site of the largest ancient cemetery in Turkey with over 1200 tombs. Not far from Hieropolis are the Calcium Terraces, a magical-looking place where calcium-rich mineral waters cascaded down the hillside, then cooled—leaving travertines that look like a mountain of ice. The area has been known for millennia for its thermal waters, which are believed to have therapeutic properties.
Konya: The city of Konya is best known as the home and burial place of Mevlana Jelalludin Rumi, the 13th century poet and founder of the Mevlevi dervish sect of Islam (also known as ‘the whirling dervishes’). Rumi is revered as one of Islam’s greatest mystics and there is a museum here created from the original dervish lodge where Rumi is buried. The dervishes are known for their ecstatic dance, which is believed to induce a state that brings the dancer closer to God. I was a little disappointed that the dervish lodge and Mevlana museum had been made a kitschy tourist attraction, but as a fan of Rumi’s writings, it was a highlight for me and something I would not have dreamed of missing.
Cappadocia: Cappadocia is a wondrous place known for its unusual rock formations and cliff-side caves. The rock formations were formed when ash from a volcanic eruption cooled and hardened, creating a rock called ‘tuffs.’ This rock was soft and easily eroded from the elements, creating the unique rock formations that you see today. It is because the rock is so soft that people were able to dig cave dwellings into the rock face. These caves are still inhabited by villagers who either purchased the rights to the cave or inherited it from a previous generation. Can you imagine the real estate listing for something like that?
We’ve seen and done a lot while in Turkey. Although I enjoyed all of it, the pace was much too fast for me. As a result, I think this is a country to which I will have to return in the future when I have more time to savor it.