Archive for May, 2012

Return to Istanbul, Day 3

May 9, 2012

Our last day in Istanbul and we had a full day planned.  First stop was the Hagia Sophia which we didn’t quite match up to our expectations though it had a nice Islamic art exhibit.

Our next stop was the Basilica Cistern which was, unfortunately, too dark for my camera to take good photos of.  Then we had a ferry to catch–I had read that it was advisable to get there 30-45 minutes before departure time to get a good seat but with all the sightseeing we squeezed in beforehand, we got there less then 30 minutes beforehand and found ourselves without seats.  It was a crowded boat but not unpleasant ride which was definitely brightened when we saw dolphins.

We got off the ferry in Sariyer and enjoyed the walk over to the Sadberk Hanim Museum.

After the museum, we hopped on a bus to go to Emirgan, had lunch at a popular restaurant near Emirgan Park, and then walked over to Sakip Sabanci Museum.

Sakip Sanbanci Museum

Views from the museum

We caught another bus headed for Taksim.  We enjoyed the views of the Bosphorus from the bus but the bus filled up quickly and the road filled with traffic so by the time the bus came to a standstill at an intersection, Adam was ready to disembark so we got off in what turned out to be Ortakoy and walked south towards Dolmabahce Palace.  I started to tire so we hopped in a cab and headed over to a mall located near the restaurant we would be having dinner in.  After browsing the shops, we headed over to the restaurant. We started out with a few mezes including this tasty one.


I had pre-ordered their famous chicken baked in salt and we weren’t disappointed both by the dish’s presentation and the dish itself.

Our dinner encased in a salt dome which is on fire

Our waiter takes a mallet to the salt dome

At last, dinner is served

After dinner, we picked up a bottle of wine from a nearby supermarket and headed back to our hotel.  It was our last night in Istanbul and I was sad to leave Turkey and the lovely city by the sea but, hopefully, more travels are in our future.


Return to Istanbul, Day 2

May 9, 2012

The sound of roosters outside our hotel woke me up early, definitely earlier than I would have liked given the fact that I had a hangover from the night before.  After some water and crackers, I was gradually able to pull myself out of bed and we headed out, albeit a little later than I would have liked.  We decided to save Hagia Sophia for another day when we saw the huge line to get in and walked south through to the Blue Mosque which, thankfully, was less crowded.

After the mosque, we went to Arasta Bazaar which featured stores with an array of Turkish ceramics, rugs, pillows, and other goods.  Our next stop was the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum which turned out to be our favorite museum of the trip thanks to its collection of collection of Islamic art and antiquities.  As we left the museum, Adam suggested we check out the cafe which turned out to be one of the nicest cafes I’ve been to.  The tastefully appointed cafe roasts and grinds their coffee beans.  I snapped photos of the cafe as we waited for our coffee.

Finally, our coffee arrived.

Well caffeinated, we walked through the southern portion of Sultanahamet, which was lovely and considerably less crowded then the northern portions of the neighborhood.  We stopped off at a cute bakery and a really nice housewares shop.

Gradually, we made our way to Little Hagia Sophia.

We browsed the wares at a nearby market, had lunch, and stopped off at a cistern.

Then we hopped in a taxi and headed over to Chora Church which had some lovely frescoes.

After the church, we took a taxi to Beyoglu where we walked around for a while, checking out some of its antique shops before we landed at our dinner destination.  Datli Maya definitely had an ambiance you don’t find in New York City, though the owner mentioned they plan on opening an outpost in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Dessert in hand, we headed back to our hotel.


Return to Istanbul, Day 1

May 9, 2012

Before catching our ride to the airport, we were able to catch the hot air balloons again

After landing at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, we took a taxi to our hotel, checked in, and then set off for Karakoy.  We had lunch at a popular restaurant known for its mucver, or zucchini fritters.

Lokanta Maya

After lunch, we went to Istanbul Modern.  On our way out, I snapped this photo

Then it was off to Dolmabahce Palace, which was very impressive but, unfortunately, didn’t allow photos inside the palace so I took these photos outside the palace.

Then it was off to Beyoglu, where we stopped off at this exhibition space.  It was hard deciding which restaurants to go to in Istanbul but I settled on this place because of the positive reviews it received.  Unfortunately, the food was lackluster–the much lauded mezes were disappointing and the fish in one of the entrees we ordered overcooked.  I did like this photo I took from the restaurant though.

Afterwards, we met up with a couple that we had met in Cappadocia.  Since it had started raining by the time we met up, we went to a nearby cafe/bar.  The place was largely empty for the first few hours we were there but, around 11:00, the guys working there started removing the tables and chairs and we watched the place transform from cafe/bar to dance club.  We stayed to enjoy the dance club portion of the evening but, after a little too much wine and some dancing, parted ways back to our hotels.



Cappadocia, Day 3

May 9, 2012

We had a hike of Rose Valley booked with a private guide and we set off in the morning while it was still nice and cool.  We passed by the home of a local family who still tended to their fields using a horse and plow and did some beekeeping in one of the caves.

The hike through Rose Valley was probably my favorite experience in Goreme thanks to its impressive landscapes, hidden churches, and our guide, Jules, who had lived in Turkey for nearly five years and had a lot of insight and stories to share.

Jules had mentioned that the pigeons in Cappadocia do somersaults while they’re flying, noting that this was unique to the area and it was unknown why they engaged in this behavior.  After we returned from the hike, I went for a walk that she recommended and looked for somersaulting pigeons.  I stopped at several locations, focusing on any flying pigeons–something I never do in New York.  Alas, none of them somersaulted but I speculated that perhaps they do this because they’re living the good life in Cappadocia.  The locals have historically built dove-cotes for pigeons, even through the present day, and pigeons are viewed as sacred in the Muslim religion so they are neither hunted nor eaten.  Given the shelters they’re provided and the fact that their valued in the area, I guessed they might be among the happiest pigeons on earth.

Cappadocia, Day 2

May 8, 2012

After waking up early, I realized that it would probably be a good opportunity to catch the hot air balloons Cappadocia is famous for, since they typically launch early.  I walked over to our hotel terrace area in time to catch the sun rise and some of the hot air balloons.

At the recommendation of the aforementioned hotel proprietor, we reserved spots for a group tour and were picked up in front of our hotel.  Our first stop was Mustafapasa, a former Greek village.

Our next stop was a cave church in Soganli Valley.

Keslik Monastery

Keslik Monastery

We then stopped off at a late Roman/early Byzantine excavation site and then went on a short hike of Soganli Valley.

Man playing instrument in Soganli Valley

Soganli Valley

During lunch, we exchanged travel stories with the rest of the group and had an opportunity to buy Turkish dolls being sold by local women.

Then it was onto our final destination, Derinkuyu Underground City.  Unfortunately, the lighting was too poor for my camera to take good photos but the history of the place was interesting and I had to respect those who had spent months at a time living underground–after only 30 minutes in there, my stomach was hurting from the cold and damp.

It was our wedding anniversary and we had dinner at our hotel restaurant after previously made plans fell through.  Fortunately, the restaurant was one of the nicest in town and we both liked the soup I ordered, a Turkish wedding soup, and Adam loved his appetizer, Turkish salami broiled with tomatoes, and I finally got to try manti.

Manti at Seten Restaurant

We were originally going to eat elsewhere the following night, but after enjoying the food at Seten, we decided we would make a repeat visit the next night!

Cappadocia, Day 1

May 8, 2012

After catching our early morning flight to Selcuk, we were picked up at the airport and driven over to our hotel.  As we pulled into Goreme, we peered out at the cone shaped formations dotting the landscape around us.

As we checked into our hotel I asked about Zelve Open Air Museum, and the proprietor dismissed our idea of going there that day, noting that it was not possible to do everything in three days.  Fortunately, he underestimated us.  We first walked over to Goreme Open Air Museum and stopped off to take pictures of this evil eye tree

Goreme Open Air Museum was filled with tourists and tour groups filled many of the small cave dwellings, making them inaccessible.  The highlight was the Dark Church which was filled with impressive frescoes but was also off limits to cameras so, unfortunately, I have no photos to share.  After Goreme Open Air Museum, we took a taxi over to Zelve Open Air Museum which was notably free of visitors and more impressive then Goreme Open Air Museum, we thought.

Zelve Open Air Museum millstone

I had noticed another tourist attraction on our ride over and our driver had indicated it was less than a mile away so we decided to walk over.  Much of the walk was unshaded and the sun strong so the walk seemed a little longer than it perhaps was.  We made it to our destination though and it was worth the trek.


We walked over to a cafe across the street afterwards to see if someone could call a taxi for us and the person we spoke to explained he would charge less than a taxi driver so we agreed to have him drive us back to Goreme.  I gave him the name of a restaurant to drop us off at and he ended up bringing us to a restaurant owned by one of his friends instead.  We took a nap back at our hotel and then set out again in search of Sunset Point which we managed to find before the sun set.

We had dinner at rooftop terrace restaurant, enjoying the views and our first night in Goreme.


May 6, 2012

The highlight of breakfast at our hotel was a cheese salad paired with simit, or the Turkish bagel.  Wanting to beat the crowds, we hopped in a taxi and headed over to Ephesus, our reason for coming to the area.  Our early arrival was rewarded with the ability to enjoy many of the ruins alone or just a handful of people.

Ephesus Terrace Houses

Ephesus Terrace Houses

After Ephesus, we went to Ephesus Museum–it was only 11:00 by the time we finished with the museum and we were at a loss as to how we would spend the rest of our day.  We had an early morning flight out of Izmir the next day and Adam suggested we just leave Selcuk to go to Izmir.  At first, I resisted the idea since it would involve having to leave our hotel early, finding a hotel in Izmir, and cancelling out transfer to Izmir Airport but then I came around and we managed to pack and do the first two things in twenty minutes and made it to the train station to catch the 11:30 train to Izmir.  The train ride took about an hour and a half–we checked into our hotel, and had lunch at a nearby lokantasi.  We then walked over to Konak Square.

I couldn’t help but notice how fanciful this chandelier at a mosque in Konak Square was

Building at Konak Square

We then walked over to Asansor which was a long but not unpleasant walk, rode the elevator to the top and enjoyed the views.

We caught a taxi back to our hotel, rested for a bit, and then made our way over to Izmir’s waterfront for a stroll and dinner at one of the many restaurants that line the waterfront.  After leaving the restaurant, we were fortunate enough to come across what I believe was an event celebrating Children’s Day.

We made our way back to our hotel and I had to give Adam props for recommending we leave Selcuk early for Izmir.

Selcuk, Day 1

May 6, 2012

It was time to leave Istanbul and explore a  little more of Turkey.  We boarded a flight for Izmir and then caught our transfer to Selcuk.  The flight was a pleasantly painless one–only an hour and they even served food (I’m guessing Turkish expectations of flight service are different from those in the U.S., where you can fly from one end of the country to the other and only receive a package of peanuts).  After we checked into our hotel, we walked over to our lunch destination.  As indicated in all the Trip Advisor reviews, the owner of the restaurant, Mehmet, was very friendly and the food good.  The gozleme were very fresh and reminded me a little of Chinese pancakes with cheese.

We walked behind the restaurant to check out the residential neighborhood a little when I heard bill clapping, looked up, and saw a stork.

We walked up a hill and checked out the exterior of Basilica of St. John as well as the local mosque.  We walked around Selcuk for a bit but there wasn’t much else to see so we took a nap in our hotel room and then headed back out for dinner.  The food at the restaurant we ate at was so-so but the views were nice and I especially enjoyed seeing the pair of storks at a nest that could viewed from the restaurant.

When we returned to our hotel, the proprietors were excitedly watching an important soccer match and we went outside after the game ended, roused by honking horns and other forms of celebrating the game’s outcome.  “If you take back anything from Turkey,” one of the guys at our hotel said, “take back the knowledge that Turkish people love soccer!”

Istanbul, Day 2

May 6, 2012

Our second day in Istanbul started out as a rainy one.  We walked over to Gulhane Park and, despite our early start, found that the crowds had already descended upon Topkapi Palace.  The rooms that featured the palace collections were filled with tourists so we could only get glimpses of the palace treasures, including a very noteworthy diamond.  Fortunately, other areas of the palace were less crowded and we were able to enjoy the decor and tiles of the palace interiors and the harem.

After the palace, we went to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum and then went for a stroll through Gulhane Park which was lined with colorful tulips.

We stopped off for lunch at an esnaf lokantasi (a Turkish restaurant serving inexpensive, home-style food) and stopped off at the New Mosque.

We walked through the Spice Bazaar which was crowded but colorful.

We then stopped off at the Rustem Pasha Mosque.

After our tour through Eminonu, we made our way north via a series of trams and funiculars to two shopping malls in Levent.  It was the first time I think I’ve had to go through security to go to a mall.  After browsing the malls, we made our way back to Beyoglu.  Unfortunately, two of the restaurants I had wanted to try required reservations so we ended up eating at another lokantasi, though this one was very good.  This eatery really did seem like an extension of someone’s kitchen–the food was homey and very good and, judging from the fact that we were surrounded by locals, I think it’s safe to assume that other people appreciated this aspect of the restaurant.

Istanbul, Day 1

May 6, 2012

After landing at Ataturk Airport and retrieving our luggage, Adam and I followed the signs to the Metro and hopped on board.  We had to transfer at some point and I was surprised to see so many people on the tram around noon on a Friday.  As the tram became increasingly crowded, I realized that perhaps taking public transportation from the airport might not have been such a good idea after all but riding public transportation and getting your first glimpse of Istanbul from the tram isn’t such a bad introduction to the city.

We checked into our hotel, made our way north to the docks at Eminonu, and boarded a ferry for Kadikoy.

As we rode the ferry, we reminisced about other locations where we’d taken boat rides (Tigre Delta outside of Buenos Aires, River Seine in Paris, the water taxi from the airport in Venice, etc).  After we landed in Kadikoy, we set off to find our lunch destination.  The restaurant was situated within a popular market area and it took us some effort to find but the effort was completely worth it.  The salads and cold mezzes, which are self-serve, are divine.  The herbs in the salads were rich and complex and the greens in the salads were likely native to Turkey.  The stuffed grape leaves and peppers were the best I’d ever had.  It was our first meal in Turkey and probably our best.

Bulgur pilaf- little did I know that I wouldn’t find pilaf so good again in Turkey

After lunch, we walked around Kadikoy–the area by the ferry terminal in particular had a lot of people but as we walked further out, the sidewalks became less populated.  As we walked by a cafe, I couldn’t help but notice this kitty through the window.

We walked through an area with numerous bakeries and poked inside to check out their pastries

By the time we made our way back towards the market area, I was pretty tired–I had been waking up early during the week leading up to our trip and hadn’t been able to sleep on our red-eye flight.  We plundered on and Adam found our way back to the food market area where we had eaten lunch so we could take some photos.

We boarded the ferry and made our way back to Eminonu.  Most of the restaurants I wanted to try were in Beyoglu but getting there by foot from Eminonu requires crossing the Galata Bridge and then walking up a long flight of stairs past Galata Tower.  After we had done this, we found ourselves on Istiklal Caddesi, a street closed to vehicular traffic which forms the spine of Beyoglu and is probably one of the most popular pedestrian thoroughfares in Istanbul.  We had dinner at the restaurant housed within Istanbul Culinary Institute, toasted to Adam’s birthday, and then made our way back down through Beyoglu, across the bridge and back to our hotel.  Because of early check-in, we were placed in a room on the first floor which was an earshot away from the hotel’s noisy restaurant.  Between the restaurant noise and the street noise, it was not a very restive night.