Pergamum in Turkey

Temple of Trajan, Pergamum, Turkey

Temple of Trajan, Pergamum, Turkey

Pergamum is an ancient Greco-Roman city in western Turkey, about 15 miles from the Aegean coast, 60 miles from Izmir, the closest airport, 110 miles from Ephesus, and about 320 miles from Istanbul. The modern town on the site is Bergama.

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The Underground Cities of Cappadocia

Derinkuyu underground city, Cappadocia, Turkey

Derinkuyu underground city, Cappadocia, Turkey

There are 40 some underground cities in the Nesehir and Kayseri provinces of Cappadocia in central Turkey. Some estimates put the number into the hundreds, while others count around 40. My guess is the discrepancy lies in how one defines “city.”
For our purposes, and those of the average tourist, 40 is more than enough. Most are not open to the public anyway, so we’ll focus on two that are: Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.

Extending down 200 feet with 8 levels, Derinkuyu is the deeper of the two cities but Kaymakli has more sprawl. They are connected to each other by tunnels, as are many of the other underground cities.

The cities possibly originated in Hittite times, around 1200 BCE, but were certainly, significantly expanded over the centuries, especially during Roman persecution of Christians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries and again in the 7th century, with the Arab invasions. Really, this part of the world was a superhighway for invaders, and the inhabitants had reason to hide on a regular basis. They got very good at it.

The underground cities were set up to shelter as many as 20,000 for long-term living and include sleeping quarters, kitchens, storehouses, churches, stables and even a winery. Ventilation shafts doubled as wells. Passageways allowed single file movement only, so intruders could be easily picked off one at a time. Giant boulders served as rolling doors that could only be removed from the inside. The doors had small holes in the center, just the size and height to spear the unwelcome in the gut, or thereabouts. For quick and easy access, most above-ground homes had openings to the underground right inside or very near the houses.

For most visitors, it’s enough to see one of the two cities. Each takes about an hour to tour. There’s very little signage, so a guide is highly recommended. Passageways are narrow but allow people of average height to get through with minimal stooping. Lighting is good, but if you’re claustrophobic, you might want to stick to the plentiful and thoroughly satisfying above-ground attractions of Cappadocia.

To get to Cappadocia, there are daily flights from Istanbul to Kayseri, in the heart of the region. Ankara is about a 3-hour drive. Istanbul is about a 10-hour drive. The more comprehensive tours of the western half of Turkey will do a semi-circle from Ankara, through Cappadocia, down to the coast and on to Istanbul.

See my last post Cappadocia Above and Below for descriptions of other things to see in Cappadocia.

Click to see our tours that include underground visits in Cappadocia.

Cappadocia Above and Below

Cappadocia is a region in central Turkey known for surreal sights, rich history and laid-back hospitality. Heavy volcanic activity followed by millions of years of erosion of the soft volcanic ash deposits and the harder layers of basaltic lava which covered them left over a hundred square miles of constantly surprising landscapes, sometimes comical, sometimes stunningly beautiful, often just plain weird.

Historical records tell us the Hittites lived in the area around 3,000 years ago, but it was certainly inhabited long before that. Early Christians settled there in the fourth century, perhaps earlier, because of the remoteness from the Roman centers along the coast. Three major figures in Christian history, the Cappadocian Fathers – St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Gregory of Nazianus – came from Cappadocia and were involved in the establishment of monasteries there. Scores of rock-cut, frescoed, Byzantine churches, chapels and monasteries are tucked into the crazy landscape like precious jewels.

Apple Church, Goreme, Cappadocia

Apple Church, Goreme, Cappadocia

Buckle Church, Goreme, Cappadocia

Buckle Church, Goreme, Cappadocia

St. Barbara Church, Goreme, Cappadocia

St. Barbara Church, Goreme, Cappadocia

Cappadocia contains many different areas of fantastical rock formations, rock-cut and cave dwellings and churches, underground cities and magnificent scenery. Two days is enough time to see the highlights but you could easily spend a week or more, especially if you want to hike or cycle and explore a bit off the beaten path. Here below is a brief overview of the main attractions:

The Goreme Open Air Museum is #1 for quantity and quality of churches in combination with scenic wonders. If you’re short on time, go here first.

About 4 miles to the southwest is the highest point in Cappadocia, the Uchisar Citadel, which is fun to explore, and the Pigeon Valley between Goreme and Uchisar is a beautiful, moderate hike.

About 3.5 miles north of Goreme is Avanos, a pretty town on the Kızılırmak River.
Go there to buy the local pottery, which has been the town’s main industry for thousands of years.

Head east about 3 miles off the road to Avanos to find the Zelve Open Air Museum. Zelve consists of three adjoining valleys, where you’ll find cone formations and fairy chimneys, similar to Goreme, but nowhere near as many churches. Zelve gets far fewer tourists and what it lacks in frescos it makes up for in tranquility and open space.
Very good trails and signage run through the valleys. When you’re exploring Zelve, think about the people who lived in the rock-cut dwellings right up until 1952.

The underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu are about 18 and 24 miles southwest of Goreme, respectively. I’ll write more about these in my next post.

The Ihlara Valley is a beautiful valley with rock-cut churches and monasteries but none as dramatic or well-preserved as those of Goreme. However, the scenery alone is worth a visit. It’s about 75 miles southwest of Goreme.

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia

Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia

On the way to Ihlara, stop at the carefully preserved Ottoman Greek town of Guzelyurt. Cappadocia was historically inhabited by Christian Greeks until a population exchange after World War I moved Greek-speaking inhabitants to Greece and Muslims living in Greece to Turkey. Guzelyurt also has a small underground city.

To get to Cappadocia, there are daily flights from Istanbul to Kayseri, in the heart of the region. Ankara is about a 3-hour drive. Istanbul is about a 10-hour drive. The more comprehensive tours of the western half of Turkey will do a semi-circle from Ankara, through Cappadocia, down to the coast and on to Istanbul.

For Cappadocia accommodations, Goreme, Urgup, Uchisar and Avanos are most central. Goreme has the most tourist facilities but we prefer the slightly removed towns of Urgup and Uchisar, which are quieter and tend toward higher quality services.

Click to see our Turkey tours that include Cappadocia.

NAME THAT CITY

This city literally bridges Europe and Asia, East and West. It’s known for its dramatic setting, spilling down rolling hills to water’s edge, the skyline punctuated with monumental Byzantine and Ottoman buildings. In amongst the hills and monuments, in everyday lanes of shops and homes, the people of this city dwell peacefully alongside many thousands of stray cats. The cats of any given neighborhood are loved and cared for collectively. Walking the streets, you’ll see plenty of cats, as well as water and food dishes and baskets and boxes made cozy with blankets. Cats wander freely in and out of businesses and residences, curl up on benches, snooze in shop windows, and approach passersby for pats and scratches. An old story tells that a cat saved the Prophet Muhammad from a snake, so cat fancy has deep roots in this Muslim city.

These cats are becoming famous far beyond their city. They have had their own Facebook page for years and now there is a beautiful documentary about the cats, the people who care for them and the stunning city they share.

 

Can you name that city? 
See below for answers.

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Street Food in Turkey – Kumpir

my homemade kumpir, topped with bulgar pilaf, pickled, spicy green beans, olives, roasted red and yellow peppers, tabbouleh salad, and tahini drizzle

my homemade kumpir, topped with bulgar pilaf, pickled, spicy green beans, olives, roasted red and yellow peppers, tabbouleh salad, and tahini drizzle

One of Turkey’s favorite street foods is kumpir, what we in the U.S. would call a loaded baked potato, dressed up a la carte, with a kaleidoscope of toppings selected according to the taste, adventuresome nature, aesthetic and upper arm strength of the imminent consumer. The combinations are endless. Some common toppings are corn, peas, hot peppers, sweet peppers, chopped greens, pickled vegetables, kisir (bulgar salad, aka Turkish tabbouleh), chopped hotdogs, mushrooms, olives, chick peas, carrots, yogurt, mayonnaise, ketchup… really, anything goes. At a typical kumpir stand, baked potatoes are split in the middle and the steaming, fluffy innards are roughly mashed with a dollop each of butter and Kaşar cheese. Then they’re yours to top with the flavors, colors and textures of your choosing. Kumpir stands are found all over Istanbul, and around the country, but the Bosphorus-front Ortaköy neighborhood in Istanbul is practically synonymous with kumpir.

Kumpir with a view in Ortakoy

Kumpir with a view in Ortakoy

 

TURKISH EXTRAVAGANZA – 9 Days of WOW! Part 1

Adrienne and Robert Lee at Aphrodisias, March 2017

Adrienne and Robert Lee at Aphrodisias, March 2017

My husband and I just returned from this familiarization trip to Turkey and we can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed it. We’d visited Istanbul briefly during a pre-cruise stop in 2011, when we’d only had 3 hours to pay short visits to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. That whirlwind tour whetted our appetites and we knew we wanted to return to experience more of that vibrant city. We discovered the Ya’lla Tours opportunity on a Sunday in mid-December. I immediately sent an email to the Ya’lla information email address to check availability, assuming that I wouldn’t receive a response until the next business day. To my surprise, I received a response from Ronen Paldi within the hour (I had no idea that he was the company owner), explaining that there was space available and that confirmation would be dependent on the submission of certain documents. I submitted the requisite documents later that afternoon and we received confirmation within 24 hours. I was immediately impressed by the quick response.

I could use so many superlatives to describe the trip – awesome, incredible, wonderful, marvelous, and memorable – but the word that came to mind most often was WOW and that was from the first day to the last. We were “wowed” by:

HOTELS

I’ll admit that I’m a luxury travel sort of gal, so I was especially pleased with the quality and location of each of the hotels. I was impressed from the evening that we checked into the Marmara, to the morning we checked out of the Hilton.
The rooms were spacious and well equipped. The views of the Bosporus and Aegean Sea made each sunrise and sunset very special. The inability to adjust the temperature in most of the rooms below 75 degrees was a bit of a challenge, but we managed to offset that by opening the window to let in the cool sea air.
The least impressive of the 4 hotels was the Charisma. It was a bit “long in the tooth” – its simple décor, and plentiful (but mediocre) food gave it the ambiance of a college dormitory. But that was offset by our breathtaking view of the Aegean Sea…another WOW.

The opportunities to do site reviews of other hotels gave us good options for making recommendations to our clients. I especially enjoyed the old world charm of the Para Palace.

FOOD

Turkish cuisine is world-renowned so we expected it to be very good. But it surpassed every expectation that we had. From fine dining establishments to small countryside eateries all were exquisite. Each dish featured the freshest ingredients. Many were organic and some even locally sourced. Everything was prepared to perfection.
Even those who had dietary restrictions were accommodated. For instance, we do not eat red meat but that did not create a problem. Every meal offered a delicious choice of fish or chicken. The servings were plentiful and often artfully presented. Most of the dinners included wine and beer. All of the hotels offered plentiful breakfast buffets with fresh fruit and even eggs cooked to order.

The meal of all meals was our final dinner at the Ciragan Palace, where the menu replicated what sultans dined on. It was simply exquisite. Even the china was a work
of art. Each course was presented beautifully and described in detail. We literally dined like royalty.

OUR GUIDE

Our guide Ozgur Erdogan (Fred) was simply the best. From the time he met us at the airport on Saturday February 25th to the time he dropped us off on Sunday March 5th he led us, lectured us and took great care of our “flock.” He shared a wealth of information and always kept it interesting. He worked seamlessly with our bus driver to transport us to our destinations on time, even in bumper-to-bumper traffic. He handled our entrance tickets and even arranged group airport check-in when necessary. He handled unexpected events and endless requests for restroom breaks with patience and a smile. What a guy!

Many thanks to our guest blogger Adrienne Lee! Adrienne and Robert Lee traveled on our travel agent fam trip February/March 2017. Click to read Part 2 of Adrienne’s post.