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Come along with me as I attempt to navigate my way through a new country, school system, and life for a year!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Turkey for Christmas!

Since I was going to be away from home and family this Christmas, I decided to make the best of the situation by going somewhere I had wanted to visit for a long time:  Turkey.  I've been especially interested in Istanbul, as it's a city where so many different cultures merge; in fact, the city itself is the only city to be partly in Europe and partly in Asia.  I intended to travel alone and made some tentative plans for my trip, but had been so busy I didn't really have time to think about it too much.  Then I got a message from my friend, Catherine (who I went to Bath and Stonehenge with, if you've been following this blog) telling me that her plans to go to Eritrea for Christmas had fallen through and asking if she might join me traveling to Turkey.  Catherine is very adventurous and is a fun person to traipse around with, so it was a pleasure to have a travel buddy.  We met up in Istanbul on the first day of the Christmas break, then the following day visited some of the most well-known sights of the city, most of which are very close together in the old city, known as Sultanahmet.   We began at the ruins of the Hippodrome, where crowds of 100,000 cheering fans would gather to watch the chariot races when Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire in A.D. 324.  In those days, fans would choose their favorite chariot based on the political party that sponsored it, and 8 chariots, each pulled by 4 horses, would tear around the track.  I just kept thinking of the races in Ben Hur.   Now the area is a park with 3 obelisks remaining from its glory days.  Next we headed to the 400 year old Blue Mosque.  I think this was the first time I've ever been in a mosque, and that in itself was quite interesting.  The population of Turkey, although a secular country, is 99 % Muslim and I picked up a pamphlet at the mosque to learn more about Islam.  When the current pope visited here he remarked,"May all believers identify themselves with the one God and bear witness to true brotherhood," which I think is a good start to building an understanding between 2 religions that at times have found themselves at odds.  

Courtyard of the Blue Mosque

Interior of the Blue Mosque

Topkapi Palace was also on the agenda for our first day.  It was the palace of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years.  Photos were not allowed inside the palace rooms, but it was interesting to see the exhibits.  My favorite was the staff of Moses.  I'm not really sure how they know this stick was the one Moses used to part the Red Sea, but hey, Wikipedia agrees that Topkapi Palace is where this relic is displayed, and who am I to argue with Wiki! Other relics include the footprint of Mohammad, his bowl, and hairs of his beard.

It was only a short walk to our next stop, Hagia Sophia.  This amazing building served as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral from 360-1453, then a mosque until 1931 when it became a museum.
Hagia Sophia

Famous for its massive dome, Hagia Sophia is the epitome of
Byzantine architecture. 

It was the world's largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years. 

Beautiful murals were covered when Hagia Sophia was a mosque but are being uncovered.

We spent the evening surrounded by the wonderful fragrances of the Spice Market, where I tasted Turkish Delight and purchased some spices to liven up my cooking back in the UK.  

Oh my, if I'm going to sum up my trip to Turkey in one blog, I need to start leaving out some of the details or none of you will stay with me to the end!  Well, the next day we headed off to the Gallipoli Penninsula where we stopped to see the some of the monuments at ANZAC cove. 

Next stop:  Troy.  From the ferry we could see the Trojan horse from the Brad Pitt movie, Troy,  that was given to the city, despite the fact that the movie was not filmed here.  Rather than stay in the modern city, we headed to the ruins of ancient Troy.  The lost city of Homer's Iliad was discovered in 1863 and excavations have revealed nine ancient cities built one on top of the other dating back to 3000 B.C.
Can you see the Trojan Horse greeting us as we
arrived on the ferry?

Layers of Ancient Troy

To get to our next stop on the  tour of the ancient world we took gondolas way up into the mountains to find Pergamon, famous in antiquity for it's library.  This library was a rival to the great library in Alexandria, so the Egyptians cut off the supply of papyrus used to make books in hopes that scholars would not leave Egypt to study here instead.   This led the to the invention of parchment made of calfskin.  The library held 200,000 volumes, which Mark Anthony gave to Cleopatra as a wedding present.  Pergamon also was known for it's awesome hillside amphitheater, one of the steepest in the ancient world.  
At the Temple of Trajan
The Amphitheater at Pergamon

I think my very favorite part of my trip to Turkey was visiting Ephesus.  I grew up reading Paul's letter to the Ephesians so it was really amazing to visit this place.  

Mosaic floors
I can hardly believe I am here!
Lovely view of Ephesus

I just had to take this photo of the Roman toilets!

Catherine and me at the Roman Library of Celsus

Odeon Theater that the UK theater chain is named after

Snake symbol showing that this was a medical facility

I love folk art, so I was really excited to see how Turkish rugs and pottery are made.  

After the demonstration, I even got a chance to throw a pot myself!

Another interesting place we visited was Pamukkle, known locally as the Cotton Castles.  This area was formed when warm calcium-rich mineral water cascaded over the cliff edge forming travertine pools.  It looks like a snow scene, but the water is nice and warm.  
Calcium Formations

Come on in, the water is warm!
Now, normally I would NEVER post a photo of me in a
swimming suit, but I'll probably never swim among
Roman ruins again, so here it goes!

There has been a thermal spa here since the early 2nd century when this was known as the ancient city of Hierapolis.   The theater was  built in 129 when Emperor Hadrian visited the city.   

The theater at Hierapolis
Many reliefs and statues, depicting mythological figures, have been excavated from the site.
They are amazingly well preserved!

Continuing onward, we made a brief pause at an caravan stop on the silk road.   This was a safe place for merchants to rest and  stable their camels and other animals.   We couldn't stay long because we had to get up early in the morning for a big adventure!
Sultanhani Caravanserai

When I was first asked if I would like to go hot air ballooning I declined, as I get queasy just riding on rides at Disneyland, but then I thought of the advice I was given at our Fulbright training, that this should be our year of "yes" so I decided to go for it.  We had to get up at 5:00 in the morning so we could be in the air in time to see the sunrise over Cappadocia.
It was interesting to see the balloons being filled with hot air.

Amazing views of Cappadocia

The ride was so smooth, I wasn't queasy at all!

These formations are called "Fairy Chimneys".  It was believed
that fairies lived underground, so these had to be their chimneys.

After toasting to our safe landing, we went off to see what really was below the surface of Cappadocia.   We learned that it wasn't really fairies after all, but humans that lived under the ground.  Early inhabitants of Cappadocia opened the cavities in the rocks to escape animals and hard winter weather.  They enlarged the caves and connected them with tunnels, creating underground cities.  Later these cities were used by Christians escaping persecution from Roman soldiers.
There are lots of windows between the rooms....

...and the rooms are quite spacious.

If early Cappadocians were no taller
than I am, walking through the underground
city tunnels isn't much of a problem.
Back on the surface, we explored more of Cappadocia on foot.  

This is a view of Pigeon Valley.  Thousands of pigeon holes have been
dug into the hillside as pigeons have been used as food in
the region for centuries and their droppings are used for fertilizer.
On the left is a tree covered with "evil eyes" which are prevalent
all over Turkey to ward off evil.  
Goereme Open Air Museum is filled with rock-cut churches from the  10th,
11th and 12th centuries.
The frescoes in the churches retain much of their color.
The best ones were in a church where we were not allowed to photograph.
Is this a home for Hobbits?  No, this is Zelve, home to Christians during the Persian and Arab invasions.  
Cappadocia's first seminaries to train priests were located here. 
Cute Camel Rider

Alright, this has been a very long blog, so I'm going to reward you for sticking with me this far by stopping here, despite the fact that I took 1072 photos on my trip to Turkey.  If I had told you that at the beginning, I know you would have run away in fear.  I thought a nice place to end would be with the whirling dervishes.  Dervishes are Sufi ascetics who have taken a vow of poverty.  Their whirling represents the mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to "Perfect".  Turning towards the truth, the dervish grows through love, deserts his ego, finds truth, and arrives at "Perfect" ablet to love and be of service to the whole of creation.  Rumi, the founder of the whirling dervishes, wrote of them;

Water that's poured inside will sink the boat
While water underneath keeps it afloat.
Driving wealth from his heart to keep it pure
King Solomon preferred the title 'Poor':
That sealed jar in the stormy sea out there
Floats on the waves because it's full of air,
When you've the air of dervishood inside
You'll float above the world and there abide...
Still Shot of Whirling Dervishes

I guess the Grateful Dead had it right: 
"When in doubt, twirl."


  1. Another wonderful blog Cindy with overly nice words about me! I had a wonderful time and thank you for being amazing and giving me the opportunity to come with. One thing, I don't think you've mentioned enough is that Turkey is a secular country. Maybe you could have mentioned it another 700 times?! Xx

  2. Wow, what an incredible journey! I'm looking forward to hearing more about it this weekend!

  3. I love these pictures!! They tell of your travels so vividly ... Love to see more!!!


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