Places I’ve Lived #20 – Manisa, Turkey

Throne of PelopsWe went to Manisa on our honeymoon and since I’d blogged my way out of a pretty good job in Fez, I turned it into a job interview with a school there. I’d been emailing the director and he had said to come anytime and he would show us around. So we did.

The bus ride there from Istanbul was long and beautiful. We passed mountains and streams and finally came to a city with a large mountain behind it. It felt good to me. I called the director and he gave us directions.

We got to the school and met with the director. Manisa is primarily a business city and so it doesn’t have all the cheap or luxurious options for travelers that other cities in Turkey have. Otel Emirhan was fine and offered us a/c, television, breakfast, wi-fi, hot water showers, and a decent bed in a clean room. Once we had settled in a bit, we went to a great little cafe where we met with a second director from a different school.

I  had the interviews, but we both ended up getting jobs at the school with the second director! We moved to Manisa, Turkey!

There were plenty of shops, movie theaters (that even sometimes have films in English), big green parks, a beautiful old mosque, and a lively souk filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, and more. Manisa is also home to the famous “Tarzan of Manisa”

It’s  in the mountains, has plenty of hiking nearby, wild horses, it’s a 30-minute bus ride from the beach city of Izmir, and in ancient times Manisa was where Turkish Sultan’s used to undergo their Sultan Training. Furthermore, Manisa was named one of the best cities to do business in for all of Europe. So,it all seemed pretty great to us.

We went back to Morocco for two weeks and then I returned to Manisa. I was there for almost two months before my wife came to join me. The school was good. I loved my students and I got along well with all the other teachers and the directors. They helped me get a residence permit, a bank account, and to get all the things I needed. When my wife arrived, things got more complicated. Since she was Moroccan, it was more difficult to get her a residence permit. She felt like the school was cheating her. Our relationship with the directors and some of the other teachers took an adversarial turn.

She had to make a visa run to renew her visa so I booked her a flight to Morocco. Then we found out she was pregnant. She wanted to take two weeks to a month back in Morocco but was needed in classes. I was suddenly feeling like papa bear and things turned ugly when they wouldn’t agree to let her have the time off. I felt like it was important – it was Christmas and she was pregnant – she needed to be with her mom. They threatened to fire her. I gave them an ultimatum that if she couldn’t have the time off, they would have to fire me too. So they did.

She flew home and I started looking for a new job and a new place to live since I’d been renting our apartment from the school. I loved Manisa but figured I would have more luck and a better life in nearby Izmir.

Manisa, Turkey – Ancient Tantalus and Magnesia

The ancient name of Manisa was Magnesia, the name comes from the magnets which come from Sypil mountain, also known in ancient times as Tantalus. The entire mountain is, in fact, one huge magnet. Stories of magnetic gold being found here, and stories of the Olympian Gods struggling with humans also come from this amazing mountain.

Cities here date back as far as 5000 BC and some researchers have postulated that it was a highly advanced city on Sypil that was swallowed into a great lake during a large earthquake. The great lake no longer exists, except as a minor body of water, but geologic evidence shows that there was one, it did exist, and there is some evidence to show that this was actually the site of a civilization of which we know very little. What was the name of this city?
Atlantis. And of course, with stories growing and changing it is more than likely that from a relatively advanced civilization being destroyed in a large lake that the story could grow to a continent sinking into a sea. Not unlikely at all.

Atlantis in Turkey
Tantalus was named after the first King of this region. Tantalus, the son of Zeus. Keep in mind that Homer came from the nearby city of Izmir and he is the first one to write of ‘magnets’ in historical records.
It should also be mentioned that many of the sages of ancient Ionia said that the word magnet actually meant spirit. And the name Sipylos comes from greek and means ‘Gate of the Gods’.

Tantulaus in Manisa
 

Places I’ve Lived #21 – Izmir, Turkey

In a way, I feel like I’m cheating when I say I lived in Izmir, Turkey. The main reason is that in the criteria I set out in the beginning of this process of documenting where I lived specified that I needed to be working and paying rent in a place to have it listed – technically, I wasn’t working while I lived in Izmir – I was looking for work and learning how to make a living from a travel blog (this one, actually).  But there is no time for that sort of waffling.

Izmir was wonderful and difficult at the same time. I moved into an apartment with two Turkish heavy metal-heads. My wife was pregnant and back in Morocco and I was suddenly living a bit of a rock star lifestyle – going to shows, hanging out with friends in Izmir, and (really) looking for work during the day. I LOVED living in Izmir. It was this bizarre couple of months when the universe gave me a chance to breathe – my wife was safe and happy with her mother, I was unemployed but had a little bit of money coming in and was surrounded by friends, and I was in one of the most exciting places on the planet. Izmir is cool.

Izmir has great food, great events, and great sport. The Gozetepe football team is one of the best in the world. I’m not going to write too much because I was only there for three months…my job hunt came up with many promises but few offers. Turkish schools in Izmir typically made this offer – “We are going to give you the best offer ever” – when I expressed interest they would say “The best offer ever comes after completing two years of the worst offer ever…really”. I didn’t accept any.

Eventually, after a lot of fun and a lot of searching – my friend Gaye offered me a job working at her hotel in Istanbul. I packed up and headed up there. After all, I had a wife and a baby on the way – I couldn’t afford to just hang around Izmir like a millionaire playboy…

Izmir, Turkey

Izmir has a population of around 3 million making it the second largest city on the Aegean besides Athens and the third largest city in Turkey. In ancient times it was known as Smyrna. Izmir has 8500 years of history in the same location and when you walk around this city, you can feel it.

Izmir is an amazing city filled with progressively minded and forward thinking people. It is the gateway to the Aegean with ferries running to many Greek and Turkish Islands.

Alexander the Great, the Selcuks, the Ottomans, the Romans – they all had their day in Izmir. And I had mine too.

 

 

Niobe: Manisa’s Lady of Sorrow

Near the foot of Sypil Mountin in Manisa, Turkey sits a stone ediface that has been written about for ages and which has inspired some of the world’s greatest art and music.

Just a short walk from the Manisa city center in the Karakoy part of the city is the natural stone monument variously known as Niobe Rock or The Crying Rock. This simple outcropping has inspired literature, music, and painting through the ages. For those interested in historical tourism, Ancient Greek tourism, or cultural tourism – the Niobe rock is something that should be seen, touched, and meditated upon.

The rock itself resembles the head of a wavy haired crying woman complete with eye sockets which have been carved by the natural processes of erosion.

First written about by Homer, the story of this tragic lady has it’s roots in the ancient Greek Mythology of the region. Niobe, the daughter of the great king, Tantolos (Tantalus) was a proud woman who had seven beautiful sons and seven beautiful daughters. In a moment of ill conceived conceit, she bragged of her fortune to the goddess mother of Artemis and Apollo, Leto (Not to be confused with Judge Lance Ito).

Soon after, in a terror of motherly rage, Apollo and Artemis were dispatched to kill all the children of Niobe with poisoned arrows. They succeeded in their task and Niobe was destroyed with sorrow and remorse, she sat on the slopes of Sypil Moutain surrounded by the corpses of her children and cried until the Gods took mercy and turned her to stone. The water which still seeps from her eyes is the tears she still sheds.

Pausanius wrote “I saw the rock known as Niobe when I went to Sipylos Mountain. This rock resembles neither woman nor rock when looked at from near, but when it is looked at from far, a person dreams that it is a crying woman with bended head.”

Homer wrote in the Iliad “Today on Sipylos Rockies over desolate summits, along with the banks of the Akheloos River where there are beds of elves. Just there Niobe has become a stone on the orders of the Gods and she digests her sorrows still, deep in her heart.”

Sophocles wrote of her, Shakespeare mentions her in Hamlet’s Soliloquy “like Niobe, all tears” and she was the inspiration for renaissance painters, classical composers, and even today continues to inspire and bring forth music and art which is tinged with sadness.

5 Extraordinary Souvenirs to Take Home from Turkey

5 Extraordinary Souvenirs to Take Home from Turkey

Turkish CarpetTurkey is one of those destinations that will affect you for the rest of your life. The aesthetics of design, the tastes, the smells – you will never forget a trip to Turkey. Still, it’s nice to have a special souvenir to remember your journey. Here are five extraordinary souvenirs to take home from Turkey with you.

A Carpet or Kilim

There’s a reason Turkish carpets are famous. They are beautiful. Buying a carpet can be one of the most rewarding experiences you have in Turkey. Or, it can be where you get ripped off. Do your homework, only buy from reputable carpet dealers, and make sure you aren’t paying big money for a mass produced Chinese rug.

Iznik Pottery

The delicate blue pottery from Iznik, on the other side of the Marmara Sea from Istanbul is famous the world over. The beautiful fblue and white patterns and fine character of the pottery will serve as a lifelong reminder of the beauty of Turkish design.  Just make sure you pack it carefully!

Turkish Delight

While you can’t take a kebab home, there is a treat you can bring back that will last a little better. Turkish delight is the famous Turkish taffy that comes in flavors from rose to pecan. While it is doubtful that you will keep this souvenir very long once you are home, it will certainly be worth carrying. We won’t blame you if you don’t want to share it.

Turkish Shadow Puppets

The city of Bursa is famous for a shadow play about two funny characters. Karagoz puppet shows were very popular during the Ottoman times and the puppets, made from camel leather and then hand dyed are a gorgeous souvenir. You can find a Karagoz puppet theatre in Bursa – after the show see if you can find your favorite characters.

Turkish Evil Eye Protection

No Souvenir is Turkey is more famous than the famous blue and white glass eyes. You can find them in a multitude of shapes and sizes but if you look really deep in the bowels of the Grand Bazaar you can find particularly fine examples from Ottoman times. The talismans are meant to protect you from envy of others, but if you find one beautiful enough, it might do just the oppossite, so you might want to buy two of them!

 

Topkapi Palace and General Thoughts on Tourism

When I go to new places, I like to see the things that one should see in those places. Or at least, I have liked that. I don’t know that I do anymore.

Last time I was in Istanbul, I felt like I should see Topkapi palace. Upon visiting, I found hordes of tourists lining up to see relics and jewels. I found an admittedly gorgeous place filled with people that I didn’t want to be around. I hated it!

While I’m sure I would have enjoyed wandering around the palace if it was deserted or having a private tour with a guide, I didn’t enjoy the pressing crowds around the Topkapi dagger or the huge cues at the harem or the fact that to get a picture without someone’s head in it was a matter of divine intervention. In fact, I just put my camera away and wandered around. That’s why there are no pictures in this post.

Admittedly, I was a tourist just like every other tourist there that day and what in fact were we? We were commoners crowding to see the trappings of the sultans. We were all trying to feel, or see, or experience something and for what purpose? To show the people back home pictures of it? To blog about it? To see what it was like to be Ottoman?

Here is how I feel about historic and beautiful things. You need to spend time with exquisite things to truly appreciate them. Like a beautiful woman or an extraordinary wine, you aren’t going to get the most out of them if you are in a crowd or in a hurry. I would have liked to spend an hour contemplating the sword of the Prophet Mohammad (or a year) but I was rushed through by the crowd around me. Same goes for the staff of Moses and the many other religious artifacts displayed in Topkapi palace.

As for the bejeweled dagger and the 3rd biggest diamond in the world…I’ve got no use for those unless I can put them in my pocket and walk out the door with them. I’m much more interested in the cushions and textiles, the architectural features, and the subtleties. I’ve no desire to gulp down a fine wine and my trip to Topkapi made me realize that I’ve no desire to gulp down a place or a work of art either. When you go to a fine restaurant, you don’t get rushed out by the wait staff – that happens in 3rd rate places that want to produce as much food as possible instead of producing the best food possible.

Tourism has become like that. Get in and then get out so the next person can get their ticket or the next tour can come through. I like to take my time with things and my advice to you is that if you want to enjoy Topkapi Palace, arrange a private tour, or get a coffee table book and go through it slowly with a fine glass of wine in your hand.

Sunday Hiking in Bozdag, Turkey

I feel very fortunate to have found and joined the Manisa Tennis and Mountain Club. This club meets every Sunday for adventures in Manisa. Many of the members are mountaineers and this Sunday I joined them for my first mountaineering adventure in Manisa!
Every day I’m in Turkey, I find that this country and these people suit me more and more. Turkey is an incredibly beautiful country and the people are warm, friendly, and have a hearty zest for life that really suits my nature.
hiking in Manisa
Of course, part of what led me to living in Manisa was that the city’s mascot is ‘Tarzan’ and finding the Manisa Mountain and Tennis Club was a great thing for me. This Sunday, since Hanane felt a little under the weather, I went to join them for a hike, not really knowing what to expect. I wasn’t too prepared for a big adventure, just a pack with water and a few pieces of fruit. I thought it would be a hike of a few hours on nearby Sypil, boy was I wrong!
hiking in Turkey
They had a bus waiting and we drove about two hours to the mountain town of Bozdag. On the way we passed the ruins of Sardis which is where money was first invented, one could say that it is the place where the root of all evil emerged into the world, but the ruins looked quite serene from the bus. Our first stop was a little mountain bazaar where we had tea and breakfast. In addition to the resident mountaineer, Fuat, two other members spoke great English and befriended me. When I went to pay for my breakfast (tea and a sort of burrito made of spinach and cheese) I found that the president of the club had already paid for mine! It was just the first of many acts of generosity and kindness I experienced through the day.
mountain town Turkey
After this we went to Bozdag where we split into two groups, those who wanted to explore the town and those who wanted to climb to the 2600 meter summit. I joined the climbers.
Turkey hikes
There were about ten of us climbing and perhaps 20 who stayed to enjoy the town. The hike was a beautiful 15 km stroll with a little bit of scrambling, but no technical climbing. On the way we found wild apricots, juniper, and plenty of chestnuts scattered on the ground.
At the top, I was surprised to find that we had climbed to the peak of a ski mountain from the back side. The chair lift wasn’t running though, so we had to hike back down which was, of course, not a problem for any of us.
lunch on Bozgar
At the summit the other climbers shared a delicious meal of bread, cheese, cookies, tea, fruit, dolmoths, and other Turkish goodies with me. One new friend told me that in Turkey the rule is that if you see food, you eat and if you get punched, then you run! I really love the way Turkish people share food. If you are going to eat, you share what you have. My orange and pear didn’t go very far, but were appreciated none the less.
I love hiking in Turkey
Along the way we met other hikers and there was always a true sense of warmth and as we hiked, it made me feel good to hear the hearty laughter of my companions. I’ve been starting to think that Turkey is perhaps the most civilized nation on the planet. The hospitality and caring people show for one another is reflected well in the sharing of tea and the good natured companionship one finds here.
Old man in Bozgar
After the hike we sat and enjoyed tea before climbing back on the bus and coming back to Manisa. It was a wonderful Sunday and I’m so happy to be back among people who love the outdoors and appreciate nature and culture for the wonders they are.

Ancient Travelers – Footprints from 25,000 BC

Travelers have been coming to Manisa, Turkey for a long time. Ancient Greek, Roman, and Lydian travelers voyaged through the area and in some cases set up homes.

The oldest evidence of such ancient vagabonds are the fossilized footprints from 28,000 years ago from the nearby Sindel village. The footprints were preserved by ancient volcanic tuff which filled the original tracks with basalt cinder and thus preserved them until the present day. One can only wonder about the person who made the tracks, no doubt as they high tailed it to someplace further from the volcano!
ancient traveler footprints
The later civilizations which inhabited the area included the Yortan-Bostanci culture, the Hittites, and the Yortan culture- each of which exhibited a degree of nomadic traits while having semi-permanent sedentary villages. While the traces of the ancient vagabond footprints (they’ve discovered about 50 of them!) don’t reveal much, there has been a lot of significant finds about the other culture with Bostanci burials, vessel tombs of the Yortans, and a magnificent Idol workshop which dates to the neolithic age.

The ancient Niobe statue which I discussed last week and the stone statues in the mountains which I will discuss in upcoming Manisa Monday features are undetermined in age or influence, though since Niobe is a natural feature, we are more concerned with the stories about her.

What is it about the geography, geology, and natural life around Manisa that has drawn so many for so long? In part, it is the interruption of the sea by the mountains, the Mediterranean climate, and the fertile soil which supports wild pears, junipers, and many varieties of apples, cherries, and vegetables.

Goreme to Ankara to Istanbul

Since we tried booking at the last minute,  we were unable to get a bus from Cappadocia direct to Istanbul when we needed one. We’d been given advice that wasn’t really great, he was right that there are a lot of buses, but there were apparently more people than seats. So, my advice is to book your direct overnight bus tickets in advance.

As it was, we took a bus to Ankara for 25 lira. I figured we had three options 1) stay the night in Anakara 2) catch a sleeper car on the train or 3) catch a different bus to Istanbul.

So, we woke up and lounged around our super high end cave for a while enjoying all the amenities before going to the bus station and catching our bus to Ankara. It was about 5 hours to Ankara and the bus stopped at one fairly expensive tourist shop/roadside restaurant along the way. At the stop, I started talking with a man near us named Ramazan. Ramazan is the comptroller for a Turkish Bank and is fortunate to be able to travel all over Turkey for business. He was a very friendly, good natured guy who was excited to get back home and see his pregnant wife in Ankara.

I asked him what he thought the best option was for us out of the three above. He said we should definitely get the train but if the train was full, he knew of a fairly cheap hotel near the train station. I asked him how to get to the train station and he said that since it was on his way home, we could share his cab and that he would help us to book our tickets. Another very nice man offering to help us on the bus in Turkey!

From the Otogar in Ankara which was truly massive with hundreds of buses going to all points in Turkey, we followed Ramazan and got into a cab which took us to the modern and architecturally interesting train station. It was situated near a giant amusement park that made me remember going to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm when I was a kid.
Ankara Dolmus, Ankara bus station, Ramazan
The sleeper cars were full on the train. So were the regular seats. So were the first class seats. Apparently since Ramadan was coming up, lots of people were on holiday and heading to Istanbul. Ramazan told us to follow him and he would lead us to the hotel. He was apologetic and told us that if his wife weren’t pregnant, he would let us stay with him. He couldn’t find the hotel he thought he remembered though and so he started to make calls as we took a long walk around the amusement park.

The truth is that every hotel in Ankara was beyond our budget. Since it’s not a tourist place, the hotels are priced around business and politics and thus are priced high since the people in both fields usually have someone else footing the bill.

Ramazan walked us back to the Dolmus station and showed us which Dolmus to take back to the Otogar. That was what we saw in Ankara.

The Otogar, the train station, an amusement park, and a Dolmus station. With only that to judge by, I have to say that I think Ankara must be a beautiful city and I look forward to seeing more of it. I also felt that in that time I made a good friend in Ramazan. I hope we get the chance to spend more time together in the future.

At the Otogar, we found that nearly every bus was full but finally we managed to catch a bus with Metro Bus Lines, the only catch was that we had to wait five hours during which we ate, drank tea and orange juice, and browsed the many book vendors in the Ankara Otogar.

When the time arrived, the Metro bus was very nice and got us all the way to the ferry on the Asian side of Istanbul by about 8 am. It was 35 lira each from Ankara to Istanbul.

Fethiye – Tourist Trap?

Fetiye Harbor, Mediteranean Port, Turkey
This may come as a shock, but Fethiye was a disappointment to us. Our friend Darren had told us before we left Morocco that the one place we didn’t want to miss was Fethiye so despite having quite a few other recommendations from other friends, we decided we wouldn’t miss Fethiye. I’m not convinced that it was a terrible place, in fact, it seemed like a very nice place- I just think that maybe having great expectations and coming from our great time in Koycegiz sort of meant Fethiye was destined to be disappointing.
Turkey, Fethiye Monument
The mini-bus from Koycegiz to Fethiye was only 10 lira each. The bus from the otogar to the town was free and in a strange fit of being prepared I booked our tickets to Goreme for two days later and our 12 Islands cruise for the next day while we were at the bus station. This is very untypical behavior for me and I don’t recommend you do the same thing as it limits your options to be booked ahead.
Looking in the LP, it looked like everything was a bit more expensive in Fethiye and so we opted to go with the cheapest hostel that was rated as decent. The Ideal Pension.

DON’T DON’T DON’T GO TO THE IDEAL PENSION. Lonely Planet is way outdated on this one. Don’t go there.

I used to manage hostels in Hawaii and I’ve stayed in hundreds and as soon as I walked in this place, I was sure that it was a sleezy dump. First impression was that it was dirty, unkempt, and that we would be likely to get our bags stolen or catch bedbugs there. Still, I went up to the desk because I wanted to at least see a room.
The guy at the desk had this intensely negative energy that was like hot grease poured on water. I later found out from other travelers that he was the owner and that there have been some major drug problems and sexual harassment at the Ideal Pension.

I asked him about a double and he told me 60 lira, shared bath, and no a/c! I looked around the dump and decided I would rather take my chances elsewhere. “You won’t find anything better for that price!” he yelled after me as I walked out. Thankfully, Hanane decided to just trust me on this one as I couldn’t really explain why we were leaving right then. I just wanted out of that place. I didn’t want to spend time explaining.

We walked less than a hundred meters and found Yildirim Pension. The owner, Omar agreed to give us a big double room with a/c, private bath, and tv for 60 lira per night. The furniture and bedding were pretty worn, the bed wasn’t very comfortable, the water didn’t get very hot, and the curtains didn’t quite stretch enough to cover the street facing window but Omar seemed a pretty nice guy and told us that he made a great free breakfast. I figured it was probably about as good as it would get in an overpriced tourist trap town.

Yildirim Pension is at 1 Kragozler Mah.Fevzi
Cakmak Cadassi Number 37
Fethiye – just around the corner from the dumpy Ideal Pension

Omar arranged for our transport to the 12 Island Cruise the next day and for the free shuttle to pick us up to go to the Otogar the day following. He told me that a big scam at the bus station was to sell the cheap cruise for the expensive cruise price. He called the tour company and told me that he had fixed things so that we were on the better boat now but we would have been on the worse boat. I’m not so sure his calls did any good.
Fetiye, Turkey, Boat Cruises
We walked through Fethiye and it was hot! the weather was scorching and as we walked along the docks, I saw literally hundreds of tour boats competing for business. If I had been more patient, I’m certain I could have gotten us on an ultimately much better cruise for the same or less money (30 lira each plus ‘expenses’).
Fetiye, Harbor, Boarwalk, cruises
We found a great little restaurant off the tourist path called Efe where we a delicious dinner of pide (Turkish pizza), salad, and chicken wings for about 23 lira. The owner reminded me of Lee Marvin with his American accent and constant cigarette smoking. Nice guy, delicious food, reasonable prices.
Lee Marvin, Fethiye, Turkey

Mud Baths and The Best Boat Tour on Lake Koycegiz

As I said before, the breakfast at Fulya Pension was great. We were also able to get discounted tickets to take a boat tour.

The guidebook said the tour was 25 lira, I’d heard that the other Tango Pension (the backpacker place) sold them for 20 lira, but at Fulya Pension they were just 15 lira each.

This was both of our favorite day in Turkey. It was also one of the cheapest.
carved rock tombs Turkey
Turkish Boat tours
We got on the boat at 9:00 and the boat took off at 9:15 am. We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but sometimes that’s the best way to go. We were the only foreigners on the boat. Koycegiz is a holiday spot for Turkish people. Within a very short time we had made friends with a bunch of the people on the boat. They had all brought picnic baskets, coolers, games, books, and other things. We had brought just our camera and towels since lunch was included in the price of the trip.
Turkey, Koycegiz Lake
Lucky for us we were sitting near a retired forester and his family. He shared passion fruit, apples, and figs with us.

Turkish passion fruit
Turkish lilikoi!


All from his property in the hills of Koycegiz. His son and daughter in law both spoke English and we became fast friends with them. They live in Istanbul and were visiting to spend time with his dad.
travel in turkey, turkey trips
As the boats chugged along we chatted and I marveled at my first sighting of Lycian tombs carved into the rock faces above. The tombs look like ancient greek cities but they are carved directly into the sides of mountains. Stunning and powerful. The lake is filled with reed beds and the mountains make a jaw dropping backdrop.
Lycean graves on the shore of Koycegiz Lake
I spotted a big sea turtle as the boat went by but Hanane didn’t believe me. Later we found out that Koycegiz is a place where sea turtles come to lay their eggs so I felt justified, though her doubt had made me wonder if I was seeing things that weren’t there.
As we came closer to Dalyan, I was relieved that we hadn’t chosen to stay there. There were literally hundreds of tour boats along the shores of Dalyan and plenty of pasty, chubby tourists queuing up to get in them. Meanwhile we were chatting with our new Turkish friends. I was relieved the boats didn’t stop in Dalyan.

lake tour, Koycegiz, Dalyan, Sea turtles
The view isn’t always what you would expect on the Med, but check out that Muslim swim suit


Our first stop was at a beach on the Med. The admission was 2.5 lira each but it was worth it. The sand was very hot and so we ran across it to the cool waves and looked out at the many islands in front of us. A natural channel connects the lake to the sea and at this point it was only a 50 meter wide strip of sand that separated them from each other. The beach was filled with chubby Europeans on holiday from Britain and Germany, but overall we enjoyed the time there.
boat tour, koycegiz lake
We returned to the boat for lunch and it was delicious. They barbecued fish on board and served them with salad and watermelon. After lunch we expected to go to the mud baths, but it turns out we had more time at the beach, so this time we jumped in the brackish water on the side we were on and swam with the other folks from the boat. Hanane amazed me by jumping in the water from the side of the boat despite not being able to swim very well. I pulled her up and over to shore because she was panicking a little because she hadn’t expected to go so deep.
Finally, we left and went to the mud baths. They were a very reasonable 4 lira each for the mud baths and the thermal mineral baths both.
Koycegiz mudbaths
I don’t recommend dunking your whole head under the mud since I got plenty of it in my eyes, ears, and nose. Instead it is better to just rub the mud on your face. It was fairly surreal to climb out and look at all the other mud covered people drying in the sun. Like being on another planet. The mud is slightly radioactive and contains many minerals which are supposed to be very good for your skin and health.
After the mud dried, a shower and a swim removed it. Then it was time to sit in the mineral baths. Also very nice. Our only complaint for the day was that we would have preferred to spend more time at this spot and a little less at the beach, but perhaps that’s only us. We were at the mud baths about an hour. a very fun hour.
Turkish music, dancing in Turkey
When the hour was up we got back on board the boat and went back to Koycegiz. On the way back the guys on the boat pumped up the Turkish music and everyone danced! We were both exhausted and fell asleep without having any dinner. It was a great day. We met friends, had a wonderful day, and didn’t spend very much. Does it get much better?

new friends along the road
I swear, he didn’t steal my mustache! One thing I love about Turkey is I can let my mustache freak flag fly…and it’s normal!

I swear my mustache is safe and sound with my cousin Lou. I might take the chance to grow a big Turkish mustache while I’m here though.

Koycegiz – Our Favorite Place in Turkey

The mini bus to Koycegiz was 30 lira each and took about five hours. It was definitely the worst transport value we found since it cost more to sit in a less comfortable mini bus for less time than it had to sit in a big luxurious bus for more time. I didn’t really understand it, but that was just the way it was.
As I said before, Hanane had heard about the mud baths at Koycegiz and this had become the number one thing she wanted to do in Turkey. The mud baths are on the shores of Lake Koycegiz and there are a number of ways to get to them. Most people choose to go to Dalyan which is closer to the beautiful Mediterranean beaches and slightly more developed in it’s tourist infrastructure.
lake filled iwth fish, koycegiez

Don’t worry, this was catch and release! My wife has quick hands- don’t mess with her!

We had a few people recommend it to us, but something told me to go to the town of Koycegiz instead. Some people we met didn’t understand why we would want to go there at all, but most hadn’t even heard of it although that was possibly because I kept calling it KOY-SEE-GEEZ but the name is closer to KOY-SHEEZ.
Alison had told us there were two pensions there. One for backpackers and one for families. I wanted the one for families since I sort of hate being around backpackers. That might surprise you but the truth is I’m not a backpacker. I have a shoulder bag. I don’t travel to get drunk with other foreigners. I don’t travel to meet other travelers, though sometimes this is a nice thing. I don’t travel to get laid by easy English girls in foreign lands, though that used to be a benefit I enjoyed. I travel because I like to see new places and the people who live in them. I like to see what life is like in the places I go. I already know what life is like in backpacker hostels.

Fulya Pension

We chose to stay at the Fulya Pension and I recommend it in the highest possible way. For 40 lira we had an air conditioned room with a balcony, plenty of hot water, a big comfortable bed, tv, free bike use, help arranging a boat tour, delicious breakfasts, and plenty of privacy.
fulya pension, kocegiez lake, turkey
We wanted to swim and so we dropped our bags in our room, changed into our swim suits and took a couple of bikes to go find a great place to swim. Lake Koycegiz is incredibly gorgeous. The water is rich with minerals and so has a pale turquoise color that reminds me of glacial lakes in Alaska. As we biked around, I though to myself, “This is the real Turkey” because we passed kids on bikes, old guys coming down to the lake shore after work for a swim, friends sitting in the shady grass along the shore, and guys drinking beer on park benches (though these didn’t look like the bums in Union Square of Seattle.)
Koycegiz Lake, Koycegiz Town
We rode past a kids carnival and a public swimming beach and down a dirt road surrounded by high cattails. I showed Hanane how to pull up the roots and eat them raw and they were as delicious as I remembered. We found our spot. We waded out through a little bit of mud to where the shores of the lake dropped off incredibly steeply. The water was very warm. Hanane was a little shy in her new bikini ( I heart Muslim Bikini Girls!!!!) so you won’t get to see any pictures of her but we had a wonderful time swimming there and only left when we looked up and saw a couple of strange folks sitting on the shore just staring at us non-stop. For a long time. It was disconcerting and so we went back to shore where I took a picture of the lookers and waved before we left. Now we can all look at them. Hanane says I’m an awful revenger. It’s true.
Lake Kocegiez Rednecks
That evening we went into the town and found the opening ceremonies of a film festival with live music and plenty of booths and craft stalls. This wasn’t set up for tourists, it was for the locals. We had a fairly nice dinner of schnitzel and kifta for ten lira, we noticed a lot of German food in Koycegiz. We wandered down the shoreline in this beautiful town for strolling and came across a Turkish wedding. We joined the merry makers for a while but then we left because it was time for bed because the next day we were taking a boat tour and going to the Koycegiz mud baths.

From Yenikapi to Yalova to Bursa by Ferry and Bus

We woke up early and Alp helped us to get to Bostanci where we caught the ferry to Yenikapi. Bostanci is the big ferry port on the Marmara Sea which has all the ferries out to the Prince’s Islands.

We hope to make it out to the Prince’s Islands someday on another trip. As it was we said our goodbyes to Alp and used the time before our ferry to Yenikapi on the European side to try to figure out how we were going to get to our next stop, Bursa.

Bursa was the first capital city of the Byzantines and is filled with historic buildings and sites. It sits on the slopes of a huge mountain called Mt. Uludag and has famous thermal baths, but none of that is the real reason we were going there.
ferry to Yalova from Yanikapi, Bursa
We were going to Bursa because it was on the road to Manisa (much more on Manisa later) and we had found a couchsurfing host in Bursa before we left Morocco, but as you probably already know, our couchsurfing in Bursa didn’t happen, for which I wasn’t entirely disappointed because sometimes it’s nice to get a hotel room and have the freedom to come and go as you see fit. In particular this is true after staying with hosts for a few days. The reverse is also true, it’s nice to have your own house to yourself after hosting for a few days too.
Yenikapi Ferry Terminal, Istanbul, Turkey
So, in any event. We found ourselves at Bostanci with an hour before our ferry to Yenicapi and so we thumbed through the lonely planet and tried to figure out the best way to get to Bursa, what we would do when we got there, and of course, we watched the other people in the ferry terminal as they read newspapers, kissed in public (which was particularly shocking to Hanane since that is another thing you can be arrested for in Morocco), and wore fashions that were sometimes amusing and sometimes painful.

It looked like the best bet was to go to Yanikapi, catch the ferry to Yalova, and then take a bus to Bursa. That was what the LP said, but when I looked at the ferry schedule, I saw a ferry that went straight from Bostanci to Bursa. Looking at the map, I didn’t really see how that was possible since Bursa seems to be landlocked, but I thought it was worth a try. Our other option , since by this time I’d found out that we didn’t have a couch there anyway, was to take a ferry to Bandirma and skip Bursa all together.
Yanikapi, Yalova, Ferry, Bursa, Istanbul
Since I was thinking that, I should say that Bursa had started to look like a place to eat an Iskendar Kebap and see more old buildings. That being said, I really have to admit that I’ve lost my excitement for seeing old things unless they have some special significance to me like having been in a book I read, in a movie I’ve seen, or even in a game I’ve played. I’d rather sit and drink a pint in a place where Steinbeck used to hang out than to look at some 2000 year old building where Blahblah the Great who I never heard of changed the style of dress for the Ottomans. Of course, maybe it’s just a phase I’m going through…

The nature in around Bursa sounded great but I was starting to be in a bit of a destination instead of the journey mode and so decided that we would only stay one day so that we could get to my destination before the weekend came.

In any event, we got to Yanikapi and the direct ferry to Bursa was already gone so I wasn’t able to find out if it was a land ferry or how that worked. I asked a Turkish friend later and they said that it takes you to a spot where you can catch the Bursa Metro. I like to think of the land ferry though.
We also got there a few minutes too late to go to Bostanci. We were just in time for the Yalova ferry but it was full, so we had to cool our heels for 2 ½ hours while we waited for the next one.

I know, we could have done some great exploring, had a nice meal, sat in a park or done lots of great things, but instead we pulled out my netbook and watched a film in the ferry terminal. The trip from Bostanci was 6 lira each, from Yanikapi to Yalova was 28 each, and from Yalova to Bursa Ottogar we would need a bus for 9 lira each, and finally another bus from the Ottogar to the city center for 2 lira each. So 45 Lira each to get from Istanbul to Bursa.

The ferry had assigned seats and some of the most expensive food of any transport I’ve been on. A slice of pizza, a coke, a coffee, and a sandwich cost us 18 lira. It was far less food than a meal would have been. The views from the ferry of the Prince’s Islands and the Marmara Sea were pleasant if not spectacular.

I expected to find the hassles and touts at the ferry port like we would find in Morocco, but Turkey was one of the most hassle free places I’ve ever visited. No one approached us at all. I found the bus to the Bursa Ottogar and we ended up sitting surrounded by an Algerian family who Hanane eavesdropped on to find out if they knew a good hotel. Since they didn’t seem to be saying we decided to pick the cheapest place recommended by Lonely Planet.
bus station Bursa, Bursa tourism, tours in Bursa
We arrived at the Ottogar and I found us a bus to Central Bursa, we asked three young girls carrying their English lesson books if they could tell us which stop to get off at so we could find the Hotel Gunes, but they didn’t know so they asked a guy wearing a cheap suit who was sitting nearby if he knew. He told us to just follow him when he got off the bus. It seemed like a bad idea to follow a guy in a cheap suit off a bus in a strange city, but we did anyway.turkish guy in a bad suit

The Hippodrome of Istanbul

Traveling sometimes brings images up that I don’t remember i real life. Images of exotic places, ancient times, and Ben Hur. The Hippodrome is one of those tourist locations.

The Hotel Ayasofya is located near all of the wonders and sites of Sultanahmet in Istanbul. Our walk took place just after the wonderful breakfast of cheese, plump dried figs, cereal, juice, toast, yogurt, and Turkish tea that the hotel serves for its guests.
tours in Istanbul, Tours in Turkey, Obelisk in Hippodrome
Since I knew we would be Couchsurfing (although I thought we would be with more than just one host), I bought a TURKCELL Sim card for 40 Lira which gave me a local number and 20 Lira worth of phone time. I have multiple pay as you go SIMs for the countries I visit because I’ve realized that temporary SIMS with prepaid amounts end up costing me less than cell phone contracts. The Turkcell Sim can be bought at any of thousands of phone shops throughout Turkey and can also be recharged just about everywhere you see a Turkcell logo. With light use, my credit lasted me throughout our trip and left me with about 3 Lira of call time when we left.
Istanbul sight seeing, Istanbul tours, Istanbul Hippodrome
From the hotel, we walked up the hill, past the ancient city walls and to the Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque. I have to be honest here and say that while I kept hearing people mention the Hippodrome, I expected it to be a building and it wasn’t until later when we bought a guidebook that I realized the lovely park we walked through to get to our first sights was one of the great sites of Sultanahmet. We wanted to get some lunch so we found a kebap restaurant that smelled good, looked good, wasn’t aggressive in getting us to come in, and had modest prices. I can tell you, it’s not an easy thing to find in Sultanahmet. We had two kebaps and a couple of drinks for 20 lira which is a little expensive in most of Turkey, but not bad in such a touristic place. It was while we were sitting there that I realized what the Hippodrome actually was.
Istanbul sightseeing tours, Hippodrome
What I saw as a nice rectangular park with some old monuments in it was actually a Byzantine race track which used to have two levels of seats on the outside and where chariot races used to excite the crowds for more than 1200 years. The chariot teams were really political parties called ‘Greens’ and ‘Blues’ and so it was part politics and part sport for the Byzantine Emperors and chariot fans.

It was here that the janissary guards of Sultan Mahmet II were slaughtered thus freeing his mother to rule through him. Since it was a place of such great interest, the many monuments placed here by the Emperors of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires are astounding in their age and beauty. The Crusaders stole most of them in 1204 but left the heaviest one’s for future generations to see.

The first we looked at which Hanane immediately declared another fake was the Obelisk of Theodosious which was carved in Egypt in the 1500’s BC and brought by the Emperor Theodosius to Istanbul in AD 390. Hanane just couldn’t believe that something so well preserved could be more than 3500 years old.

Further on is a brass spral column stolen from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi where it was erected in 478 BC. It was brought to Istanbul by Constantine the Great in AD 330.
tours of old Istanbul, Constantinople, Istanbul, Serpentine Column
Another big rough stone obelisk looked worn enough for Hanane to acknowledge it might be real, mainly because the Crusaders had stolen all the brass covering from it. I never figured out if Hanane was only joking with me or if she really doubted the ages of these things, but either way, we both enjoyed looking at them and trying to figure out how old they might be.
Istanbul, Constantine Column, Hippodrome, Turkey Tours
There’s no charge to wander around the Hippodrome and the park is a great place to people watch. In a short time we saw people from all over the world there. Since it is such a busy place, the Asian tourists we saw and heard probably didn’t realize that it was the sound of their language which caused Hanane to go into giggling fits. That’s going to be difficult when we travel to Asia someday.

Touring Ancient Troy and Bloodsoaked Gallipoli in Turkey

Gallipoli Tour
Most visitors to Turkey have already heard of Ancient Troy and the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Both the scenes of epic battles and massive bloodshed. Both also made into films of the same name.
For most visitors from Australia and New Zealand, a visit to the Gallipoli Battlefields is an integral part of their trip to Turkey. Gallipoli was the first battle site for the ANZACs (troops from Australia and New Zealand) and it scarred the national memory. It was also the place were Mustapha Kamal Ataturk (the father of Turkey) rose to notice. And despite the fact that they were enemies, it is the place where a long and respectful friendship between Aussie, Kiwis, and Turks was born.
While it is possible to tour Gallipoli and Troy on your own, you will get much more from it if you are with an experienced guide.
A visit to this beautiful and moving Peninsula can be easily arranged, either in a day or combined with a visit to the ancient city of Troy. A private tour with your own vehicle, English speaking driver and specialist guide is another option for those who want a more personal experience.

GALLIPOLI DAY TOURS
If you opt for the regular tour from Istanbul you will depart from your hotel in Istanbul at 6.30 am and returns approx 10.30 pm
Included in the tour are transport, lunch and guided tour of the Kabatepe Museum and all the memorial sites including Anzac Cove, Ariburnu Cemetary, Lone Pine, Johnstons Jolly, the Nek
Turkish Cemetary and Chunuk Bair Memorial.
This tour is 100 Euros per person.

Private Tours of Gallipoli from Istanbul
You will depart your hotel in Istanbul at 7.30 am and return at approximately 9.00 pm. Included are a private vehicle with English speaking driver, a highly experienced guide, packet breakfast, and lunch on arrival.
The tour covers all of the Australian and New Zealand memorial sites but also gives guests the opportunity to visit the Turkish Memorial Cemetary at Cape Hellas.
The cost for a private tour is usually about twice the price of the standard group tour so count on about 200 Euro per person, though there are discounts for three or more.

Day Trips to Troy
Tours of TroyA regular tour from Istanbul goes from about 6.30 am from your Istanbul hotel and returns around 12:00 midnight. Included are pickup from hotel, transport, lunch in Ecebat, crossing the Dardenelles and a fully guided Tour of Troy before returning to Cannakkale and then back to Istanbul.
Cost is about 110 Euros for this trip.

GALLIPOLI AND TROY – OVERNIGHT
To really experience the places, it’s recommended that you go for at least one night, though some schedules won’t allow for that. By going overnight you can have the fully guided tours of Gallipoli and Troy plus spend time in Ecebat. Transport is included in this package as well as one night’s hotel in Canakkale. All fees, tolls, etc are included as well as lunch on the first day.
Prices vary depending on level of hotel, tour options etc.

Travelling in Turkey – More Greek and Roman Ruins than Italy and Greece!

Again, not a lot of time to write, but we are having a wonderful time in Turkey. From cruising the Bosporus to marveling at the Iskander Kebap in Bursa, this trip has been filed with adventures stretching across the Black Sea, the Marmara Sea, and soon the Aegean Sea, and of course a bit of the Mediterranean Sea too.

I’ll be writing about all of our adventures when I have some time to put things together and pick the best photos. In the meantime, here is a small piece I’ve put together on this amazing land we are trekking across by ferry, bus, taxi, and more.

turkey is surrounded by 4 seas
Turkey is surrounded by seas and littered with ancient civilizations.

As a guy who loves the ocean, I can hardly imagine a place that offers more variety than Turkey. While very different from places like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Hawaii; Turkey is filled with more Greek and Roman ruins than Greece and Italy and is surrounded by four seas and several straits.

The Black Sea which the Turkish people call Karadeniz borders the northern part of Turkey. It’s an inland sea that takes up more than 420,000 kilometers. Geologists say it was formed when Asia crashed into Europe and opened up the Bosporus Strait and flooded an inland plain. It is about 2200 feet deep in places and is warm in the summer and extremely cold during the winter. It is fed by many rivers and empties into the Bosporus. While no one seems to be certain why it is called the Black Sea some say it is because of the dangers that exist in it and others that it is because of the deep dark waters. It is the youngest sea on earth and is kept saline through inflows from the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus.

Sea of Marmara, Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Mediterreanean Sea
There\’s no shortage of beaches in Turkey

The Sea of Marmara which Turkish people call Denizi is a small inland sea connected to the Black Sea by the Bosphorus Strait. The Marmara Sea’s name comes from the Greek work for marble (marmar) and is about 11,000 square kilometers. It is relatively small being only 280 by 80 kilometers at its widest points. It is filled with many islands. To the south the Dardanelles Strait connects the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean Sea.

Sea of Marmara, Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Mediterreanean Sea
There is plenty to do in the seas of Turkey.

Turkish people call it Ege Denizi, but in English it is known as the Aegean Sea. Legend says that it was named for a famous drowning but whether that was Queen Aegea of the Amazon or Aegeus, the father of Thesius isn’t totally clear. It’s waters however, are very clear and while it is only 214,000 square kilometers and often included as a part of the Mediterainean, it has over 3000 islands within it including Crete, Rhodes, Lesbos. It sits between Turkey and Greece. It’s shores were home to Trojans, Mycenaean, Persians, Minoans, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans, and many others. You can’t take a step without stepping on ancient stories and history.

Sea of Marmara, Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Mediterreanean Sea
It really is as gorgeous as you can imagine in Turkey

And finally, there is the mighty Mediterranean Sea. Bridging the continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe and the many countries that exist on it’s shores. It fills the area between The straits of Gibraltar in the West which lead to the Atlantic Ocean and the Suez Canal in the East which connect it to the Red Sea. The Turkish name for the Med is Akdeniz which means White Sea. Mediterranean actually comes closer to meaning Middle Earth in Latin. That explains all the hobbits. Despite the Latin origins of the name, the Romans called it Mare Nostrum- Our Sea.
The Mediterranean is nearly 2.5 million square kilometers. Just about everyone you read about in ancient history class lived on its shores. Phoenicians, Egyptians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Lycians, Arabs, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans, and all those Europeans during the Renaissance. That’s because it has a massive 46,000 kilometer long coastline that is shared by Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, Albania, Greece,Turkey, Syria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Tunis, Algeria, and Morocco.

The Basilica of St. John at Selcuk – Revelations and the Anti Christ

St John Basilica, Sacred tours, Turkey, Selcuk, Ephesus
I had no idea that I would be visiting the place where the idea of the Anti-Christ was born or the book of Revelation was composed, but there I was clowning around in the baptismal pool of the church that was built on the grave of St. John, apostle of Christ and author of Revelations.

It was an impressive ruin. If it were still standing it would still be the 7th largest Christian church in the world, but it’s not standing. It’s crumbling. Amazingly as we walked through, I saw something blue on the ground and reached down to see what it was and realized I was walking over an unprotected fresco that no one had bothered to uncover. It wasn’t a recognizable scene, but I spent the next few minutes uncovering it so that others might notice it and maybe someone would even put some sort of barrier around it.
Christian tradition says John lived to an old age and to have died a natural death at Ephesus about A. D. 100. He was the last survivor of the apostolic group. The Gospel was probably written later than the three Synoptic Gospels, about A. D. 85-90.
Basilica of St. John, Selcuk
Apparently after Christ was crucified, John and Jesus’s mom came along and settled in this area. John preached and wrote. John was the best writer of the ancient world. Just look at the way he uses words. Here are some of my favorite bits attributed to him:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1
John answered them, “I baptize in water, but among you stands one whom you don’t know
John 1:26
baptized at Basilica of St. John
Jesus, having found a young donkey, sat on it
John 12:14
I will write upon him my new name.
Revelation, 3. 12
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death.
Revelation, 6. 8
Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
Revelation, 13. 18
Basilica of St. John, turkey, Christian Holy Sites
And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
Revelation, 17. 5
And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.
Revelation, 18. 21

For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
Revelation, 22. 15

Good stuff. The Basilica was built by the Emperor Justinian in the 4th century AD on the spot where John was said to have been buried. Not far away in the hills is the house of the Virgin Mary. We didn’t make it there this time, nor did we make it to the cave of the seven sleepers which is supposed to be a place where seven young men fell asleep for a few centuries and woke preaching about God.

John was the first science fiction writer. It was he who put those crazy ideas about Jesus being the son of God into all those crazy Christian heads and he also provided the creepy lyrics for that great Iron Maiden song, The Number of the Beast.

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