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Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

I can’t believe it’s been 9 – 10 months since I’ve posted in this blog.  One thing that I’ve learned about myself over the past year is that I’m not a very disciplined blog writer.

Despite not much happening on the blog, I have been doing a fair bit of travelling for work since my post in January.  I’ll give you the abbreviated run-down.

Ukraine

This was my second trip to Ukraine within the past couple of years.  The difference between my 1st and 2nd trip was  – actually, there wasn’t much of a difference.  Lots of snow, lots of vodka, and lots of fur (one day I counted 97 people wearing full-on fur coats).   Despite the not-so-great food, Ukraine is still home to one of my all time favorite restaurants appropriately titled ‘The Ukrainian Restaurant’.  It’s like Christmas threw up in a hunting lodge.

Inside the Ukrainian Restaurant

Cold Day in Kiev

I still need to write about my visit to Chernobyl, but that deserves a post of it’s own.

 Turkey

I had not been to Turkey since Kelly and I were there backpacking in 2010 and the second time just reinforced how much I love this country, particularly Istanbul.  Much like my work trip to Thailand, I got to see a different side to the city – the 5-star hotel and fine dining side.  The food, people, and sights were incredible and my coworker and I were seriously considering just not coming home.

Not only did I make several new friends this trip, I got to meet up with an old one as well. Kelly and I met Rahim during our first week in Turkey and ate several fine meals and had many drinks at his fabulous restaurant, Adonin, near the Blue Mosque.  Due to the power of Facebook, I managed to stay in touch with him over the past couple of years and my coworker and I were able to pay Rahim a visit and again have a late night of dinner, drinks, and ‘dancing’.

Brazil

I’ve been fortunate enough to go to Brazil twice in the last few months for work.  I had never been before and was thrilled to be able to go (and to not have to foot the bill for the $180 visa).

I visited several cities while I was there – Sao Paulo, Curitiba, and Porto Allegre – but my favorite was Rio de Janiero.  Despite the fact that it was winter there and the weather didn’t cooperate as often as I would have liked, I did manage to have a couple of sunny warm days and was able to hit up Sugarloaf and the Christo statue and walk along the amazing beaches.  I must say that Rio is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.  It’s this enormous metropolis with millions of people right smack in the middle of the jungle…and on a beach.  This place is going to be absolutely NUTS during the World Cup and the Olympics.

Impanema Beach

View from Sugarloaf Mountain

Christ the Redeemer Statue

View from the Christo statue

Other than the incredibly friendly (and beautiful) people that I met, my other favorite thing about Brazil was the food.  By far my favorite South American cuisine that I’ve experienced thus far and I packed on 10 pounds between the 2 trips to prove it.  Here’s why:

Pao de Queijo – balls of fried cheese bread that is sold on practically every street corner.  Enough said.

Acai – A tasty berry blended with banana and ice , served with granola and more fruit on top.  A light, and ‘healthy’ treat that turns your lips and tongue purple as if you’ve just downed a bottle of red wine.  WORTH IT.

Acai!!!

Feijouda – A traditional Brazilian meal that consists of sausage and other pig parts cooked in black beans, served with rice, collard greens, more black beans, yucca fries, grainy stuff, and orange slices.  A nap is necessary.

Traditional Brazilian Dish

Italian Food – People always rave about the Italian food in Argentina, but I have to tell you that they are WRONG and Brazil puts Argentina TO SHAME in the Italian food department.  Also, I don’t get good Italian in Austin so I went a little OVERBOARD on it here.

Churrascaria – A mind-blowing amount of different meat on sticks served with salad, rice, fries, yucca, beans, fried cheese, onion rings, and sushi, YOU FUCKING NAME IT THEY HAVE IT.  Food Coma City.

Coxina – basically a fried chicken donut.  Yuuuuuuuuum.

Caipiroska – My cocktail of choice.  Vodka, Ice, Sugar, and muddled lime (or whatever fruit your heart desires).

My New Favorite Cocktail

I didn’t even mention the sushi.

 

All in all, a good year of travelling – can’t wait to see what adventures (and obviously meals) I’ll get up to in 2013!

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Turkey Wrap Up

Turkey truly exceeded our expectations and turned out to be one of our favorite countries that we’ve visited so far. Most people back home are surprised by this and ask us what was so great about Turkey…well, here’s what: 

The Landscape 

With beautiful beaches along the Mediterranean coastline, emerald green hills, and poppy-strewn fields, and the magical scenery and rock formations of Cappadocia, what’s not to love?

The People

Turkey is a secular, democratic county where 95% of the population is Muslim; as a result Kelly and I did not interact with a ton of women while here. In many of the small town local cafe’s, it was rare to see two Turkish women leisurely having coffee…clientele mainly consists of groups of men drinking tea and playing backgammon.

Speaking of Turkish men – they are SMOKIN’ hot, especially if you like the tall, dark, and handsome type. They are also very passionate and flirtatiously aggressive…and man, did they love Kelly! We had to quit walking down one particular street in Istanbul because practically every man we passed would profess his love to Kelly and ask her on a date. Seth and I ended up dubbing her the ‘TP’ (Turkish Princess).

Basically, everyone that we met was extremely friendly, kind, hospitable, and helpful.

The Costs

Kelly and I found the costs to be pretty reasonable, especially when compared to other places in Europe. It was about $13 – $15 for a dorm bed at a hostel and a typical meal would run $5 – $10.

The Food

Surprisingly, we were not all that impressed with the kebabs here…the ones back home are much better in our opinion (or maybe just what we are used to). We did enjoy the amazingly fresh seafood here though.

Some of the other local dishes we loved were kofte (minced lamb meatballs with herbs), manti (small meat raviolis served with yogurt and chili oil), and menemen (a breakfast dish, much like migas without the tortilla chips).

The Booze

Efes beer was definitely our favorite. Raki is the local liquor of choice, which Seth drank too much of at Turkish night and basically blacked out, if that tells you anything.

Random Thoughts

-Although annoying to some tourists, Kelly, Seth and I loved hearing the call to prayer drift through whatever city or town we were in (it plays five times a day from the local mosque). There’s something really exotic about it that you don’t experience in other European countries.

-The sheesha pipe is super popular here. Even if you aren’t a smoker and you visit Turkey, be sure and try one…the flavored tobacco is super mild and smooth. Plus, you can pretend you’re the caterpillar from Alice and Wonderland and who doesn’t like to do that?

Sheesha Pipe

-Don’t talk smack on Ataturk (the founder of the Turkish Republic), or his awesome eyebrows. The locals don’t like it.

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To wrap up our time in Turkey, Kelly and I spent some time being lazy in the resort town of Bodrum with our friends Doug and Luke before heading back to Istanbul for another couple of days. There was still one cultural activity here that we had yet to experience – the Turkish Bath. 

A Turkish bath is a spa-like treatment that basically involves sitting in a steamy marble-floored room, sluicing warm water over yourself out of a basin with a plastic bowl, and then laying on a marble table where a large hairy Turkish man (or woman) scrubs you down, massages you for a bit, washes your hair and sends you off to sweat it out in a steam room. Our hostel made an appointment for Kelly and me at a female bath house (men and women typically bathe separately at different facilities) and our taxi driver dropped us off in front of an unassuming building where an authoritative looking Turkish woman was waiting for us outside. 

Most people receive their bath nude; however, we had heard from fellow travellers that it is perfectly acceptable to wear your bathing suit or underwear if you are a little modest. Kelly and I were planning on sporting our bikinis until the Turkish woman led us into a lounge and commanded us to ‘take off EVERYTHING’ as she showed us our respective dressing rooms. It seemed wrong not to listen to her, so take off everything we did. 

We were then shown into a cavernous marble room with a low marble table located in the center. The walls were lined with water basins and Kelly and I took a seat to our assigned spot and began to pour warm water over ourselves. Several other women were already in the room awaiting their baths. I’ve always been a little modest, so while we were a little uncomfortable sitting naked in a room with several strangers for a couple of hours, we had to laugh it off. ‘When in Rome’, right? 

The bath itself was awesome. The Turkish woman (now in her bra and underwear) motioned me over to the marble table and instructed me to lay .on my stomach. First, she forcefully scrubbed me down with a loofa…I could literally see the dead skin coming off, which was pretty disgusting. When she was ready for me to flip over, she indicated this by giving me a hard slap on the bum. After a rinse off, she soaped me up and scrubbed me all over – even getting between my toes and behind my ears – and gave me a leg and back massage along the way. All the while, I slipped and slid over the marble table as the Turkish woman pushed and pulled my limbs in order to get to those hard to reach areas. Finally, I was taken to one of the basins where she washed my hair and give me an incredible head rub. 

After Kelly and I had each had our turn, we were shown into a small steam room, which we didn’t spend much time in. ‘It’s like a sauna’ in those things. We left the bath house with our skin feeling as soft as silk and our bodies completely rid of the backpacker dirt we had accumulated over the past year. We headed back to the hostel to get a good night’s sleep. The following morning, Kelly and I would be splitting up for a couple of weeks on separate adventures…

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Ruins and More Ruins

Kelly and I said good-bye to Seth and spent a few more days in Olympus checking out the local ruins, lying on black pebble beach, drinking copious amounts of Efes, and hanging out with new friends. We eventually managed to peel ourselves from the treehouse hammocks and made our way to the small village of Pamukkale. 

Pamukkale, meaning ‘cotton castle’ in Turkish, is famous for the ancient ruins of Heirapolis, its hot springs and travertines – terraces made of carbonate mineral deposits left by the flowing spring water. The travertine pools hold hot spring water, which people had been bathing in for thousands of years for their medicinal qualities until it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Apparently, some jerks built a hotel above the travertines, and all of the construction and foot traffic did significant damage to the terraces. In 1988, the hotel was torn down, the road was removed and now no swimming is allowed except in the fake, man-made pools. 

Kelly and I were also disappointed to find out that in order to help rejuvenate the carbon deposits, the water had been drained out of most of the natural pools…the visuals weren’t quite what we were expecting. Nonetheless, we had a great day wandering amongst the beautiful white terraces and checking out the ruins of Heirapolis. 

White Terraces

Some of the natural pools have a little water in them

Ruins of Heirapolis

The Theater at Hierapolis

Our next stop was the town of Selcuk, the main purpose here being to see the ruins of Ephesus. Ephesus was an ancient Greek city, which later developed into the second largest city of the Roman Empire. The ruins were very impressive and we spent an extremely hot morning meandering through the old theatres, temples, and roadways, which were packed full of awesome looking tourists. 

How incredible is this guy???

Library of Celsus at Ephesus

The Theater

That afternoon and the next day were spent lounging at the pool of our fantastic hostel. The owner, Atilla, kept us stuffed with homemade Turkish cuisine cooked by his own mother and spent the evenings entertaining us at the hostel bar serving us too many drinks, playing old 8o’s and 90’s tunes, and giving us wigs to wear. Don’t ask. 

Since there wasn’t much else in town to see, Kelly and I hopped a bus over to the resort town of Bodrum to meet up with a couple of friends we met in Olympus.

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After a great time in Istanbul, Kim, Seth and I took a 12 hour bus ride to Cappadocia, a region of central Anatolia characterized by rose colored mountains, caves, underground cities, and giant rock ‘fairy chimneys’, which were formed by the erosion of volcanic peaks. To be honest, no one can deny what the fairy chimneys actually look like.  I know we are probably too old to be cracking jokes of this sort, but we couldn’t help ourselves.  Seth didn’t help the situation either.  Childish joking aside, this was definitely one of the most unique and beautiful places we have seen on the trip so far.  We spent the next 3 days in the town of Goreme checking out the surrounding areas.      
 

Seth, me, and fairy chimneys!

 
We arrived super early in the morning and took a short walk to our hostel, Star Cave.  It was so nice! Definitley more like a hotel than a hostel.  And we got to sleep in a freakin’ cave!  Ramazan, the owner and a true caveman (really…he was born in a cave!), made us feel right at home.  After enjoying the best breakfast spread of the trip, we took a nice long nap to catch up on sleep. 
That evening Ramazan took us up to an amazing view point of Goreme. We took some photos and then headed back to the hostel to meet up with some friends we met in Istanbul and on the bus for dinner.  Ramazan recommended a very authentic and affordable place that included a traditional Turkish band that played right next to our table.  The chef even came out and passed out belly dancing belts and finger symbols and danced with us all night! Of course I took full advantage and got out there and shook my stuff.  Afterwards, we headed back to Star Cave for some cold beers and a sheesha pipe (remember, it’s just flavored tabacco). 

Us at the Goreme viewpoint

Me belly dancing!

 
The next couple days we were good little tourists and hopped on a bus to see some sights.  We saw tons of rock carved churches and caves that housed many of the first Christians that had to escape from the persecution of the Roman Empire in the second century B.C.  They also built many underground cities to hide from their enemies for up to 3 months at a time!  There are so many in Turkey, no one actually knows how many there are.  We took a tour of Derinkuyu, the largest underground city that has been discovered.  It had 8 floors and 85 meters deep that includes chapels, kitches, bathrooms, wine presses and cellars, stables and even schools.  This city could hold up to 50,000 people! It was so interesting to see how intelligently they constructed each floor for certain purposes and why.  We also went to the Goreme Open Air Museum.  We toured many of the monasteries and churches there as well.  On our way, we stopped at Pigeon Valley for some wonderful views.

Inside one of the cave churches

Caves!

 

Beautiful

The next stop was a tour and demonstration at a ceremic plate and pottery factory.  They showed us how many of the items are still made by the original method of foot pedelling.  Then they chose a person from the audience to do a demonstration as well.  Of course, guess who they picked?  Before I made a cute little bowl, they had me make one of the phallic shaped rocks.  I’m sure you can imagine the motions I had to go through to make this.  Needless to say, Kim, Seth, I and the rest of the crowd were crying with laughter!  It was embarrassing and hilarious all at the same time.  Our final activity on the tour was a 2-3 hour hike through a valley surrounded by caves and a beautiful river.
 
Ramazan also talked us into going to Turkish Night.  It was about $15 for all you can eat and drink along with a show of all the typical Turkish dances.  We all really wanted to see authentic twirling Dervishes and belly dancing…however, I’m pretty sure it was the “all you can drink” that convinc.ed us.  We had such a good time!  Ramazan got Seth a little tipsy by constantly toasting him with Roki shots (the local Turkish liquor).  Little did he know, Ramazan was pouring water into his own glass since he was our driver and all!  And since we seemed to have such luck, Seth also got chosen out of the crowd to join the lovely bellydancer on the dance floor.  Once again, we were crying laughing as Seth created his own dance moves to show up the bellydancer.
 
Another common activity in Cappadocia is hot air ballooning.  We would have loved to do this, however, it was about $100 a person and we just couldn’t afford it.  We’ll have to do that next time.  Our last day in Cappadocia, we rented mountain bikes and rode over to Rose Valley to explore.  All was going well until 45 minutes into the ride, Kim got a flat tire.  We ended up having to walk the bikes back to a closer village to get the flat replaced.  We had a nice lunch and decided that we would go ahead and head back.  We would be catching an overnight bus down south to the coast for our Blue Cruise! 

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A Few Days in Istanbul

Kim and I absolutely loved Nepal.  However, we were both looking forward to heading into the westernized world once again. After a full 24 hours of travel and a bump up to first class on one of our flights (yeah!), we landed in Istanbul, Turkey.  We checked in to our hostel in Sultanahmet, the heart of historic Istanbul.  We had a few days to kill before Seth, one of my oldest friends, would join us for 2 weeks of fun!  We knew he would want to see a lot of the tourist attractions as well, so we spent our first couple of days running errands (shipping things home, haircuts, etc.), relaxing on our hostel´s rooftop terrace admiring the coast, and enjoying ice cold Efes, Turkey´s best beer.

We also made a lot of new Australian and Kiwi friends since they were all in town for Anzac Day.  This is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand on April 25th every year to honor members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli in Turkey during WWI.  I think we were the only people at the hostel that were not from OZ or New Zealand!  When all them left for Gallipoli, we made friends with some locals that we spent an evening with drinking red wine, dancing and smoking sheesha (flavored tabacco) in their restaruant after hours.  What a great night!

 
 When Seth arrived a few days later, we only had a couple days to see the sites in Istanbul before we moved on.  We went ahead and booked all of our activities for his entire time in Turkey so we could relax and not have to do too much planning. First stop was The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque).  It was built by Sultan Ahmet in 17th century and was supposed to be bigger, better and more beautiful than Hagai Sofia (Ayasofya), the ´greatest church in Christendom´, across the plaza built in 537 A.D. This is actually a working mosque so it is closed to visitors for 30 minutes, 5 times a day for Muslim prayer.  It get´s its name from the blue tiles that are inside, mostly on the upper level.  Even though the exterior was in my opinion, much prettier than Ayasofya, the interior of Ayasofya was breathtaking and more beautiful.  Both buildings are must sees, just be ready for the crowds.  Afterwards, we headed over to the harbor for a fresh fish sandwich and mussels and a long walk along the coast. That night, we hung out with all the Aussies and Kiwis that had returned from Gallipoli.  The strip of bars and clubs behind our hostel were filled with people enjoying themselves after such an emotional experience.   
The Blue Mosque

 

Dome inside the mosque

 

Seth and Me

 
 
 

The Aya Sofia

Inside the Aya Sofia

 

 

For Seth´s final day in Istanbul, we headed to the Grand Bazaar for some shopping.  What an amazing place!! They have everything Turkish you could ever imagine.  From tea and backgammon sets, to belly dancing costumes, jewelry, clothes, pashminas, sheesha pipes, to sultan hats.  We had so much fun wandering around for hours in the maze of shops with men shouting funny lines to get you to stop and look.  You could literally spend days in there and not see everything.  We also visited the underground Basilica Cistern.  It was built in the 6th century and later enlarged to provide water filtration for the surrounding buildings in Sultanahmet. 

 
 
 

The Cistern

That night, Seth and I went with some friends from the hostel to Taksim, a area where locals and tourists go out for a good time.  There are tons of bars, clubs, live music, and dancing for any taste.  Unfortunately it was Monday, so the scene was pretty low-key.  Even though we were told it was best to go on weekends, we had to check it out.  We still made a great night out of it!! If any of you know Seth….he IS the party where ever we go.

Istanbul is an incredible city. So alive and friendly! Luckily, Kim and I would be back in about a month but now on to Cappadocia!!

 

Our new Turkish friends

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