Istanbul, Turkey

10-12 April, 2011 (Day 13-15).
If you want to avoid crowds then Aizanoi is a place to visit but now for a change of pace – from rural Turkey to the city – Istanbul! Our ride into Istanbul was the first time we had any rain on this trip and it was a wet and cool ride for the last 2 hours before we arrived. Even though we had planned to arrive on a Sunday evening the traffic was crazy – if you’ve ever driven in Naples then just add some steep hills and cobblestones to the experience. We finally navigated our way to our hotel and were able to (precariously) find a parking spot for the bike on the steep hill outside the hotel.

We had a nice little hotel within a few minutes walk from the Blue Mosque and it had a wonderful rooftop breakfast area with a good view of Istanbul harbor. The rain from the previous evening had moved on so we more dry weather to stroll around Istanbul and Spring was in the air with tulips in bloom.

First stop for us was the Blue Mosque. Capturing the beautiful details inside is difficult for us amateur photographers so you’ll just have to go see it for yourself.

Our other objective was the Grand Bazaar.

You can buy almost anything in the Grand Bazaar but I’m sure tourists can get a better deal on most things elsewhere.

Cats

Spices

Fishing from Galata Bridge

Turkey or Bust, 10 Apr 11 (Day 12)

Well. it’s now three years later and I’m going to try to finish this blog of our 2011 trip to Turkey before we start our upcoming trip from Germany to Thailand.

Based on the limited research I was able to do prior to the trip I knew there was some ruins near Cavdarhisar but had no idea what exactly we were going to see.  We are sure glad we stopped as the ruins date back to 3000 B.C..  After checking out of the hotel we rode about a mile or so down the road, across the Roman Bridge and arrived at the part of Aizanoi with the Temple of Zeus. Aizanoi is located in Cavdarhisar town, some 50 kilometers from the western province of Kutahya.
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It was Sunday morning about 0930 and we were the only ones there – it’s the exact opposite of Pamakkale – no vendors, nor hawkers, no big tour buses (although a few minibuses of tourists showed up as we were leaving).  The fellow selling the entrance ticket and the security guard were a little surprised to see folks arriving on our own steam (unattached to a tour group). The city is home to the temple built for Zeus which is the best-preserved temple in all of Anatolia.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Archaeologists hope to find new early Roman-era artifacts around the temple of Zeus. Aizanoi, dating back to 3000 B.C., experienced its golden age in the second and third centuries A.D. and became the center of episcopacy in the Byzantine era. There is also a 20,000-seat theater and a 13,500-seat stadium adjacent to the large theater.
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There are ruins scattered everywhere around the nearby village and some of the structures form part of the walls in the local houses.
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Turkey or Bust, 9 Apr 11 (Day 11)

There’s a mosque around every corner in Turkey.  Riding along we could always see one in every small town and sometimes more than one.  Of course this means that one always has a good chance to be in earshot of  the five daily calls to prayer via the loudspeakers mounted high on the spires and strategically pointed in four directions.  We were not exempt to the call to prayer and our wakeup call came around 0500 with the first prayer call.  I wondered why the daily times varied and learned that the prayers are based on the sun’s position (which changes daily and is location dependent).  The basic premise is that there will always be a continuous call for prayer all round the world.

Typical Mosque

We checked out of the hotel and left our riding gear and bike at the hotel so we could comfortably hike around the area. The town itself is fairly small but nevertheless, it’s a big tourist attraction complete with all the folks trying to make a quick buck off visitors with guide books, post cards and camel pictures.

Pamukkale's "General Store" complete with some small computer/electronic items.

For a fee you can get your picture with/on the camel

The "backup" camel we found tied up down a back road. They swap out the camels every other day.

I failed to mention this in Greece that solar water heating was used everywhere we traveled in Greece and Turkey with roof-top contraptions such as the one below.

Solar heating! I can see Aisling and Aron building one of these now - all they need is sun!

Those that get some of  the tourism income have a comfortable living – those that don’t live in houses similar to the one below.

Pamakkale, Turkey

Having strolled around the town it was off to the slopes and the main attraction!  One can easily spend a whole day in Pamukkale as it’s a 2-for-1 attraction.  The main attraction (for me) was the Pamukkale calcium deposits that make the hillsides look like a snow area complete with hot springs.

No shoes are allowed – barefoot only on the calcium surfaces so we had to remove our shoes on the benches provided.  I thought it would be slippery but it wasn’t as long as you walked carefully.  Some of it was a little rough but your feet would get used to it after a while.

No shoes allowed on the calcium slopes!

"Mommy's flip flop fall in water" (inside joke)

Pictures don’t do this place justice – kind of like the Grand Canyon – so beautiful but very hard to describe.  For me, it was one of the highlights of the trip.

Ger making her way up the slopes!

No Skiing here!

The water was crystal clear with a unique blue tint.

John with his temporary Capri Pants!

In addition to the geological uniqueness, the ancient city of  Hierapolis-Pamukkale is adjacent to the travertine slopes.

Hieropolis

A stroll through the ruins provides many opportunities to observe the wildlife and flowers.

Poppies and wildflowers everywhere at the site

Hieropolis

Hieropolis ruins

One of the artifacts in the Hieropolis Museum

One of the many artifacts on display in the Hieropolis Museum Grounds

The amphitheater is well preserved and, as you can see, they are still doing some excavations/restorations.

Hieropolis Theater

Ger catching a few rays on the way back down the slopes - I got a little too much sun on my face!

We could have easily spent a whole day here butas lunchtime approached it was time to return to the hotel, saddle up and head North towards our next destination!

Goodbye Pamukkale - till next time!

Shortly after lunch we headed off for our next destination –  Cavdarhisar and the ancient ruins of Aizanoi conveniently approximately half-way to Istanbul (our follow-on destination).  Today also started what was to be several days of WIND – Ger was not a happy camper on the back and kept beating on me to SLOW DOWN!

Enroute we almost got stuck on a dirt road while trying to turn around but between the two of us we were able to manouver the beast back onto solid ground.

Almost needed help to get out of here!

Shortly after we stopped for a late lunch at a rural bus station that had a small mom-and-pop (well actually, mom, daughter and grandma) shop with a small grill.  We didn’t speak Turkish and they didn’t speak English so I haven’t a clue what meat was cooking on the grill but it looked good so we gave it a whirl and it sure hit the spot – along with some Chi Tea of course!

"Mom" cooking up a storm!

Grandma making the Chai Tea

Ger enjoying her potluck meal and Chai Tea

Shortly before we reached our destination for the night we passed through the town of Gediz and the local market was still in full swing – we couldn’t pass it up.  We may as well have arrived in town in a flying saucer as we were a real novelty with our packed bike and motorcycle gear.  All the kids wanted to say “Hello” and take a look at the bike.  I’m not surprised because for the over 600 miles that we have ridden in Turkey I only saw a handful of foreign-registered cars (only from Romania and Bulgaria) and no other touring motorcycles! Imagine what we looked like rolling into this small town?

I found a place to safely park and while Ger explored the market I took a Chai Tea break and babysat the bike while doing “show-and-tell” with the local youth.

Anyone want to buy a horse?

This Vendor wanted Ger to take his picture - free advertising! Please support him if you are ever at the Gediz market!

Market, Gediz Turkey

Market, Gediz Turkey

The only hotel I could identify in Cavdarhisar was a 4-star so we decided to splurge the $80 and stay there (had no other choice!).  I felt kind of silly allowing the bellhop to help me carry in our tank bag and waterproof duffelbag- a first for him I bet!

Arriving up to the 4-star hotel in style!

Even though the hotel had a restaurant and bar we decided to walk around the area and found a nice little cafe to sample the local cuisine prior to getting a good night’s sleep.  Tomorrow, the ruins of  Aizanoi and then on to Istanbul!

Turkey or Bust, 8 Apr 11 (Day 10)

We arrived in the Port of Chios (Greek Island) approx 8 hours after leaving Athens around 0330.  Since our next ferry to Turkey was not scheduled until 0830 we had to kill some time at one of the all-night bar/cafes. Chios was a small island town but was an extremely busy place even in the middle of the night with ferries arriving and departing at all hours.  We met a husband/wife couple touring around from England (he was originally from Turkey) and they were heading to his parents for their final week of travel so were able to pass some time exchanging travel stories.

After being successfully stamped out of Greece we boarded the small ferry to the port of Cesme (just west of Izmir) – the ferry was so small that it fit one truck and our bike – there may have been enough room for another bike or two but that’s it!  The ferry crossing was only 45 minutes but the crew lashed the bike to the deck as if we were embarking on a winter crossing of the Atlantic – I guess rough seas are common around these parts!

Our trusty steed securely strapped down!

The truck was a fish delivery truck and we struck up a conversation with the driver (İlhan) who gave us all kinds of good tips on Turkey.  He was a “regular” – delivers the fish from Turkey  to Athens via the Turkey-Greece land bridge (due to the unreliability of the ferry system) and then returns empty via the ferries.  Since he was a frequent traveler he seemed to be on a first name basis with the border and customs officials and he offered to help us through the border processing.

Ger and Ilhan

Finally, Turkey!!

Arriving on Turkish soil!

Ilhan even treated us to our first Turkish Chai Tea (I’m a convert!!) from the custom workers’ tea room and provided us some toll money to get us going.

Chai Tea - Goooood!

Heading out of Cesme we expereinced our first encounter with the Turkish Police.  As they overtook us (thankfully I was at/under the speed limit)  they gave us a friendly toot of their horn – a nice welcome to Turkey!  So far, I like these Turkish people!!

During a rest break we had our first meal in Turkey – Tost (cheese toast) and more Chai Tea of course!

Our first meal in Turkey!

As we were tired from the nearly 24-hour journey involving two ferry crossings we decided to bypass one of the top tourist sights (Ephesus or Efes) but safety came first and I didn’t want to end up a statistic; no worries as we were to tour other ancient cities during our stay in Turkey.  So, we decided to press on to our next destination – Pamukkale!

Pamukkale was a little  hard to find as the Garmin maps we used only had some of the major roads.  In any event we arrived a little tired late afternoon and settled into our small family-run hotel (which also offered dinner which we availed of).

The "snow" view from our hotel

We relaxed, went for a little orientation walk and had an early night.

Ger waiting for a home cooked Turkish dinner!

Turkey or Bust, 7 Apr 11 (Day 9)

Today was a transit day and fairly uneventful.  Remember the quote “no plan ever survived contact with the enemy?”  Well, in this case the enemy turned out to be the weather.  While the weather was ideal on our ride to the Port of Piraeus to catch the ferry for the Greek island of Chios it was not so ideal on the high seas.  The heavy winds from the previous night had delayed the incoming ferry resulting in its cancellation.   Luckily for us there was another ferry option later that night – unfortunately for us it wouldn’t arrive in Chios until very early the next morning.  As a result, we had some about 7 extra hours of quality time in the Port’s Passenger Terminal to relax and catch up on planning the rest of the trip.

After figuring out how to return our first ferry tickets for a refund we were able to purchase (cash or debit card only) new ferry tickets from the another company.

Watching the antics of loading the ferry was amusement in itself but they loaded us quickly (another plus for two wheels!).

Waiting to board the ferry in Athens

We had some interesting fellow passengers as well – not sure what nationality they were or where they were headed but they availed of any available floor space on the ferry to bed down for the night.

Nomads?

After an early dinner on the ferry we watched the sun set and said Goodbye to Greece (for now).

Sunset on the Aegean Sea

Turkey or Bust, 6 April 11 (Day 8)

Hello Athens!  We rode the very efficient hour-long coastal tram into Athens  (1.40 Euro per person each way) and enjoyed many coastal and urban sights enroute.

The coastal tram dropped us off at Syntagma Square in the center of Athens – nearby the guards at the Parliament Building had just completed their shift change which provided an opportunity for Ger to size them up!

Ger and Parliament Guard

The Guard's famous 'tsarouchi' shoes complete with black "pom poms."

As we strolled through Athens it was apparent that we were “off season” and business was slow as all the restaurant owners wanted us to eat at their establishment.  First stop was the Monastiraki Flea Market – many shops selling a huge variety of goods ranging from vintage furniture, vinyl long-play records, secondhand clothes, bizarre earrings and hand-made rugs to sandals, antiques, books and musical instruments. This is where traveling by motorcycle becomes a huge advantage!  If we had been traveling by car then we may have returned with all kinds of furniture (and other stuff we don’t need) strapped to the roof of the car!

Lot's of junk (I mean treasures) at the Monastiraki Flea Market

Hmmm - I wonder will that fit in our panniers?

Having successfully navigated the flea market without busting our luggage capacity limit we headed for the Ancient Agora – an open “place of assembly” in ancient Greece that served as a marketplace where merchants kept stalls or shops to sell their goods.

Ancient Agora

Looming on the hill over the Agora was the main attraction – The Acropolis.  It looks smaller from the surrounding grounds but is actually quite large close up!

Acropolis

Last stop was the less than two-year old Acropolis Museum which houses items found on the slopes of the Acropolis, as well as objects that Athenians used in everyday life from all historic periods.  A unique feature of the museum is the ongoing archaeological excavation which visitors can view through the occasionally transparent floor!

Acropolis Museum Excavations

Acropolis Museum Excavations

Before we headed back to the hotel we strolled some of the streets in Athens –   Did I mention that dogs and cats are everywhere?  I don’t know what they eat but they are all zonked out napping!

Enroute back to the hotel we made a pit stop at the beach so Ger could add to her collection of sea glass and dip her foot into the cold Aegean Sea!

Turkey or Bust (Day 7, Tuesday, 5 Apr 11)

We headed to the Delphi Archeological site after breakfast and were able to get there before the many (has to be much worse in Summer) bus groups arrived – lots of students traveling from France, Italy and England.  The location was supposedly determined by Zeus who had released two eagles to fly from opposite sides of the earth and they met exactly over Delphi’s location.  As such Delphi was deemed to be the center of the earth.  At first impressions, I was a little disappointed with Delphi after seeing Ostia Antica (on the coast outside of Rome) but Ger reminded me that this was created many years before the Roman settlements.

Ger looking over the center of the Earth

One of the well-preserved buildings

Late morning we headed back to the hotel, checked out, packed the bike and headed off to Athens.  The ride to Athens was not without the required coffee break along the way.

Relieving the stress from riding pillion

On the way into Athens we stopped by the Port of Piraeus to get our ferry tickets for Thursday so this was our first taste of Athens traffic (and this is only the suburbs!).  Apparently, half the population of Greece live in Athens which explains the traffic.  As long as you keep in a straight line, don’t make any sudden moves and have eyes in the side and back of your head then driving here is OK.  The other motorbikes and scooters weave in and out of traffic as if it’s some sort of choreographed dance.  I have to assume that their riding skills are much better than mine and they will avoid contact with me!
We chose to stay at a hotel in the Athens suburb of Glyfada to stay away fro the traffic, have a safe place to park the bike and access to the coastal tram into the center of Athens.  The hotel we chose could not have been better – we had a ground floor room where we were able to park the bike on a walkway next to our room’s patio inside the hotel grounds which made for easy off-loading and loading.  In addition, when I asked where we could find a laundromat the person at reception said we could use their washing machine – perfect – I love it when a plan comes together!  We had to air dry everything on a line in the room) (made from the parachute cord we had brought) but since we were there two nights it was no problem and everything dried fine.  After doing laundry we strolled down to the Mediterranean for a walk on the beach and the surrounding area to see all the Greek yuppies at play.

The Aegean Sea!

Sunset on the Aegean Sea

Tomorrow – into Athens and the Acropolis!