Ephesus, Pamukkale, Antalya, Cappadocia, and Gobekli Tepe
June 22, 2023
We were up at 3:15 to get to the airport for our in-and-out to Gobekli tepe near Sanliurfa.
Gobekli tepe is currently the oldest known neolithic settlement with permanent monumental architecture at 12,000 years old. Take how old Stonehenge is and double it. Eli was the one who really wanted to check it out, but Stephen, having appreciated Stonehenge more than he thought, agreed.
It's in a fairly remote part of the country near the Syrian border, and unfortunately was impacted somewhat by the earthquake (although the structures at the site seem not to have been damaged). We figured since we didn't know what infrastructure would be available, we'd just do a back and forth the same day. There were some other things to see in Sanliurfa town, including a well regarded museum with a lot of materials from the dig at Gobekli tepe. We left Istanbul on a 6:30 am flight and would return that same day at 8:15 pm.
We arrived at the airport in Sanliurfa without incident and decided that, instead of finding a taxi to drive us around, we'd rent a car (for about $40 for the day). We were annoyed, though, that the car didn't have a full tank of gas (and reeked of cigarette smoke). Stephen then made a booboo with the liter to galon conversion and basically asked the guy to fill up the tank when all we needed was about 10 liters. It's about a 40 minute drive from the airport to Sanliurfa and another 25 minutes to Gobekli tepe. We arrived about 9:30 am.
There is a small museum on site that talks about human development during the neolithic period (not as extensive as the one at Stonehenge) and then you take a minivan up to the site (about 750m). The site is about the same size as Stonehenge but organized differently with a few different circles. The monoliths are about half the size of the ones at Stonehenge, but still have reliefs visible on them. It's fun to imagine what humans did during the time they stayed here. It's hypothesized that, similar to Stonehenge, this was a gathering point for different groups who occupied the region, given its similar orientation toward the solstices. In all, we stayed for about 1.5 hours and then headed back toward Sanliurfa.
Having just come from Africa, we've really appreciated being able to contemplate the continuity of humans across time and also recognizing how short our relative time on the planet has been.
Back in Sanliurfa now, we arrived at the Archeology museum, but apparently it's been closed for the last 3 months (nothing was noted about it on Google Maps or the museum website). We were disappointed because the collection is supposed to be outstanding. Since we couldn't do that, there wasn't much of a reason to stay until 8:15. We figured we'd check out some of the other things to see here and then see if we could get on an earlier flight.
Sanliurfa is a pilgrimage site as it houses the cave that Abraham was supposed to have been born in. Since Islam is an Abrahamic religion, they built a mosque complex around the cave. It's actually quite beautiful with gardens and water surrounding the complex (water features prominently in the cave story). It was quite crowded and busy with families visiting and lots of teens and 20somethings taking Instagram photos.
There are also a set of Roman era catacombs that you can visit; we stopped in briefly to take photos of some of the tombs.
For lunch we stopped at Altintabak Firinli for a traditional (and cheap) Turkish lunch and then tried calling Turkish Airlines to see about changing our flight while we sat at the table. The first person we spoke to wasn't very helpful so we figured we'd try again later.
We walked around town a bit and then figured we should call again. We tried to step out of the sun under an overhang of a storefront and Eli called. While he was explaining what we wanted to do to the phone agent (which was taking at this point almost 20 minutes) a couple of street kids came up asking for money and kept pestering us after we said no. A woman from the storefront came and shooed them away and invited us in to sit and have tea.
It ended up that the storefront is actually a hotel. The couple who own the hotel were so gracious and kind, and allowed us to stay in the lobby and finish our phone call while sipping on the tea they brought. The hotel is called Balikligol, Mustafa is the owner, so if you're in Sanliurfa and need a place to stay, you can't find a more hospitable host and convenient location. After about 45 minutes total we had our flight changed to the 4:15 so we had to leave immediately to head to the airport. We said goodbye to Mustafa and his wife and headed off.
We arrived back in Istanbul and checked right in to the Yotel Hotel which is inside the terminal. They have a landslide entrance and an airside hotel for those who are transiting internationally. We had dropped our bags at the hotel when we arrived for our morning flight so we didn't have to deal with them when in Gobekli tepe. The room is small, but you can't get any more convenient than right inside the terminal. We went to the landside food court to eat a quick snack before hitting the sack for our flight out again tomorrow.
The cave of Abraham
The Howard Johnsons of Turkey (not really)
The owners of the Hotel Balikligol were so kind to us.
June 23, 2023
The gate to the Underworld
Pluto, the guardian of the Underworld
June 24, 2023
This was a latrine at the church. Notice the guy sitting down in the accompanying photo
June 25, 2023
Our hotel serves breakfast from 8-10, but given how hot it's been, we wanted to try and get out a bit earlier than that so we're not under the afternoon sun while touring ruins. The obliged and we had the car packed with our bags and able to start at the Basilica of St. John by 8:30. It was built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian over what was believed to have been the tomb of John the apostle. Supposedly, after Jesus' crucifixion, John took Mary with him to safety in Ephesus and she lived there until her death. There wasn't much to see at the church, it was fairly ruined and not very restored, but it was interesting to note that the shape of the building was cruciform. It's interesting to see the development of church architecture and how it changed from traditional Roman temples, even though they were being built by Roman imperialists. Again we had unanswered questions about form and function and how they related in these buildings.
From there we drove about 15 minutes to the north gate of Ephesus. If you go to the upper gate, it's all downhill, but you need take a taxi back to the north gate and take you back to your car. We just walked up and down the hill both ways... we got different views that way. The real stars here are the Library of Celsus and the Terrace Houses. You need to pay extra to see the Terrace Houses, but you CANNOT come to Ephesus and not see them (they were included in our museum pass). The facade of the library was the most detailed we've seen (even more detailed than the best buildings at Jerash in Jordan). The Terrace Houses had the best intact mosaics and frescoes that we've seen anywhere, and it was great to see what these houses might have looked like and how people would have lived. The Theater is the other standout... one of the largest we've seen. The rest of the sites, though, were mostly a bunch of rubble. We took a quick walk down the path the see the Church of Mary (again, mostly rubble), which was built in the 5th century. It had some connection as a host location to early ecumenical councils where theological orthodoxy were decided upon.
In total we took about 2 hours at Ephesus and then decided to drive up the coast to our hotel at the Izmir airport. We'll be heading on an early flight tomorrow to the south coast, and so figured it would be better to stay here.
The bird must not mind getting woken up at 5:30 am for the call to prayer
June 26, 27, and 28, 2023
We're in the Antalya region of Turkey for these days. We're mostly here to see sites of the Lycean civilization, which was contemporary to classical Greece. Lycea was organized as a set of independent but organized city-states (much like classical Greece). At the crossroads of trade, post 5th century BC, it was generally controlled by other powers, including Greece, the Babylonians, and Rome, but it maintained a language and particular architectural style while being influence by others. The most prominent of these are the carved tombs from the 5th century BC (both carved into rockface and freestanding). Think Petra, but different.
We flew into Antalya airport and it took forever to get our luggage. They started unloading it onto a dirty belt (there was poop on it.. we kid you not), and then they thought better of it and switched belts. Then we had a problem with the rental car, and Stephen lost his cool a bit (to say the least). First they weren't there to pick us up (the agency was offsite), and then the credit card we used to book the reservation wouldn't go through for the deposit with the machine that they had (they require that they be on the same card). The guy at the desk wasn't helpful and kept repeating what the problem was without offering any solutions. We ended up having him take us back to the airport and we rented from another agency (the card worked fine there, but it was more expensive for the 3 days).
We're staying in Kas, which is a town right on the coast about 3 hours from Antalya and half way between a lot of the sites we want to see. It's a cool port town basically for vacationers, with tons of restaurants, a few small beaches, and lots of hotels. It sits dramatically between the water and these impossibly high and steep mountains in the background... it's quite picturesque. We're at the Linda Beach hotel, which, for $80 a night includes breakfast, parking (absolutely necessary), and a sea view from the pool and breakfast area (but not from our room). We booked through hotels.com, and got 7 percent back when we used the Capital One portal through our Venture X card.
Over our 3 days, we went to a variety of Lycean sites, but there were many more that we didn't see. Our favorites were Myra and Pinara. Myra was great because it's not too far off the main highway, so it's very easy access. They have a Greek theater and the rock tombs, but you can't climb up to the rock tombs or go in them, but we got good photos. Pinara was great because it's a lot less traveled (we basically had the place to ourselves while we were there), it's very forested (so more shade than other places), and you can climb right up to the tombs and go in them (but you really are climbing over rocks to access them). While there weren't many ruins at Mount Chimera, the burning vents were really cool (the Lyceans thought they were gateways to the underworld). Xanthos, while an important and large city in the Lycean union, didn't really have a lot that had been restored, other than some walls, the theater, and some examples of pedestal tombs. Andriake has a museum with the ruins. The museum didn't have much in its collection and there weren't many restored ruins to see, but was helpful in explaining the Lyceans and a bit of the timelines and history of the area. Tlos and Patara are two others that are recommended to see, but that we didn't make it to.
The other big draw of the area besides the beaches and the Lycean ruins is Saklikent Gorge. We went on the day we visited Pinara and Xanthos. The gorge is fed by melting snow; some of it comes down the mountain in underground tunnels and bubbles up to feed the gorge (which makes the water super-cold). You walk in on a wooden path for about 500 meters, but then you cross the water through a small set of falls coming from the spring water (which numbs your feet instantly) and an area of the gorge where water comes up to about your knees (if you're as tall as we are). From there the water isn't very deep (maybe 3-4 inches during summer and therefore a bit warmer than at the falls). You need flip-flops as the bed is pretty pebbly, and you walk through the water admiring the vistas of the gorge. It was very crowded, though, and some Turks were smoking while walking, which totally ruined being in nature. The views are nice, but they get repetitive. We walked for about 30 minutes in, and then decided to turn around and head back. Typically you walk about an hour in and an hour out, apparently.
Our last night, we stayed in Antalya close to the airport. There is a waterfall here that empties right into the Mediterranean. Very cool.
Yes, that's poop (and a fly) on the baggage claim belt
This is a tomb in Kas town (in a parking lot)
We've discovered the .gif making feature in iPhoto
June 29, 2023
Another early morning flight and another problem at the rental car agency when we landed in Kayseri, the gateway to Cappadocia, (their computer systems weren't functioning right). We got the car and drove an hour to Goreme, which is the main tourist hub for the region. Most of what we'll want to see is within a half hour's drive of Goreme. Many of the other towns in the area have neat geological features also, but Goreme has the most tourist infrastructure (restaurants and such) so we're staying here. There are lots of cute cave hotels, but we decided on a regular hotel, Yusuf Bey House, with a nice view from the terrace as we'd stayed in a cave when we went to the Loire Valley. As always, we use hotels.com to book and get 7% back from having the Capital One Venture X card. The town is outlined by these cave hotels that all end in dramatic peaks the shape of the Coneheads from SNL.
Our room was ready, so we dropped our bags, first had a doner sandwich at a stand, and then headed to the Goreme Open Air Museum. It's a series of cave buildings dating from the 11th century just outside of town. Many of the buildings were monasteries or churches. Some had primitive frescoes, other ones were quite ornate, but you're not supposed to take pictures inside. We did manage to snap a few surreptitious photos, though.
For dinner, we headed to Goreme Restaurant (very inventive title), which was highly rated on Google. It was surprisingly empty, but the food was pretty good for about$40 meal. The area is known for meat stews cooked in a clay pot with a table presentation. We did one of those and then a couple of hot and cold mezes.
June 30, 2023
The big day we've been waiting for... Our balloon ride. We ended up pre-booking about 2 months ago via Viator as we didn't want to chance getting here and not having it be our first day. The weather can be a challenge sometimes, and we wanted to make sure we had other options for days if we couldn't go up on day one. We ended up paying about $500 for the two of us, which we knew was more expensive, but we thought it was better this way. Our hotelier said, though, he could book us this day as well for about $180 per person. There were enough balloons out there that you can probably still book at the last minute without much of a problem.
We got picked up at 4:20 and shepherded out to the field where all the balloons stage. We sat and waited in the van for about 20 minutes, and we were a bit concerned as most all the other balloons filled and lifted off. Finally ours started to get ready. We just missed the sun peeking over the horizon, though, as we lifted off. We were a bit annoyed at first and wondering why we were starting so late compared to the other balloons, but after we went up, it made sense. Many balloons just floated up and out; ours hovered over the fields of rock formations moving closer and farther away. A couple of times we were worried we would hit something, but our pilot knew exactly how to make it all work. In total we were up for an hour. Our pilot stuck the landing right onto the trailer... actually incredible. That was very different from when we ballooned in Colorado a bunch of years ago; we dragged along the ground and bumped a few times, hitting a bush on our landing.
We were back at our hotel by 7am, took a quick nap, and then had breakfast. Since we basically had the whole day ahead of us, we decided to go for a hike along the Rose and Red Valleys, which had been the recommended hike in our Lonely Planet guide. We looked it up on AllTrails, and it said it was about 2 hours and rated it "moderate." It started out very easy, and most of it was fairly gentle elevation changes, but there were a few sections that were quite steep (up and down) with very narrow paths. One section we had to climb a ladder. The trail was not very well marked either; we were glad we had our AllTrails map to follow, even if it wasn't quite right either. We got a little lost a couple of times, and it was way longer than 2 hours. About a third of the way from the end, Stephen twisted his knee, and would get sharp jolts of pain on the downhill elements. He's self-diagnosed himself with a meniscus tear, so he'll have to get that checked out when we get back to Florida in a few days and see if that's actually what it is.
The hike covered a lot of the same ground we flew over with the balloon, but it's amazing how being at hiking level changes your perspective, and it all looked new and interesting again. There were a number of cave churches on this route as well. The columned church is a must see.
For dinner, we went to a cave restaurant, Topdeck Cave, which was also a highly rated restaurant on Google. Their menu is very limited, though, with just a few items in each category. The food was good, though, and comparable in price and quality to where we had gone the night before. The environment, though, was much more intimate.
July 1 and 2, 2023
After taking a day off for Stephen to rest his knee, we headed to dinner at Seten restaurant. It boasts great views, but the mezes and main course were just okay. Our dessert, though, the Tahini souffle, was amazing! It was worth a just so-so meal to have that dessert.
Stephen seemed to be doing better after the day of rest as long as he doesn't exert any twisting motion on his knee. We headed to see the underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuru. These cities, housing upward of 20,000 people at one time, were constructed in the 8th century as safe havens for the Byzantine Christians against the incoming Arab invaders. They had ingenious ways of providing exhaust and fresh air, they had full functioning wine presses, kitchens, churches... the whole thing.
Kaymakli is the less visited site, but also not quite as big, so we figured we'd start there. There are points when you walk through tunnels where you have to crouch about as low as we did when we went into Kufu's pyramid. Stephen's knee mostly held out, but it was sore after passing up and down through the levels of the city. Since Derinkuru was mostly going to be the same kind of thing and even more crowded, we decided to instead take a drive and take in some vistas from the car.