14 05 2011

An awesome trip into central Turkey rounded off my travels in Europe, and I guess more appropriately, began the one in Asia. Sacrificing two nights of sleep in a hostel across the alley from a Turkish dance club, for a bumpy ride in a stuffy bus, seemed to pay off after visiting this remarkable place.

We arrived around 8:30AM and roamed the city for an hour or so before our tour began. Following a solid description of the area’s rich history, we went to explore the regions largest underground city – supposedly able to house up to 20,000 people for a couple of years at a time.

Ihlara Valley was our next stop. We hiked down to the bottom and followed the river for about 5km before veering off to view frescos inside rock-carved churches. The valley led to a small village, where we stopped to have lunch before heading back to learn more of the history surrounding the region.

Rock formations caused from volcanic explosions and extreme temperature fluctuations

Part of the underground city

View from outside

Part of the hike

We grabbed some Gözleme (think Turkish quesadillas) and baklava in an awesome family cafe before braving our ridiculous 12-hour journey back to civilization. The rest of the day was spent playing chess at a hookah bar down the alley from our hostel and going to the airport. First flight went well and I am currently chilling in Dubai for 9 hours – Sweet!


Istanbul = Sweet

11 05 2011

I woke up yesterday in the heart of Istanbul, right off İstiklal Avenue in the Beyoğlu district. We had a small breakfast at the hostel and then went to explore. Our first stop was the Spice Bazaar – the olfactory experience was nothing short of incredible. Everything from fresh meats and fish to olives, cheese, teas, countless unknowns and of course spices filled the huts.

İstiklal Avenue at night

After managing to make our way through the crowded streets, we continued to roam south until we hit the Grand Bazaar. Once inside, we stopped for a cup of turkish coffee. It was the caffeine kick I think we both needed to get the day moving. We spent probably the better part of an hour browsing the bazaar, looking at fancy stained-glass lamps, rugs, scarves, bowls, t-shirts, watches and other forms of jewelry, narghiles, and any other random items you could wear or put in your home. When we finally managed to escape the labyrinth, we grabbed some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor and walked towards the Blue Mosque.

Me leaving the Blue Mosque

We arrived just in time for no outside visitation, due to prayer. The loud-speaker on the outside of the Mosque blared the Call to Prayer, a cool thing to have happen outside this monumental structure. We chilled on a bench talking for about thirty minutes until we were allowed inside. It was quite impressive. Basically next door to it is the incredible Hagia Sofia.

Just before entering I went to use the bathroom and almost bumped into a giant. I took a double glance and realized who it was – none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That’s right, one of the best basketball players of all time there at the Hagia Sofia. It wasn’t long before the masses gathered.

One of the greatest basketball players of all time in Instanbul


Scott and I spend the better part of two hours roaming through the massive building, brushing up on our history and being amazed by the sheer magnitude of everything inside. This was one of those moments that I wished I had paid more attention in my history classes.

We strolled back to the Ave while eating way too many olives and decided to stop and try a traditional narghile, or water pipe. Apple was the flavor of choice, which we coupled with some turkish tea to end the afternoon. Then, realizing that we needed to figure out what to do with our next few days, we made plans with the hostel to talk with some of their friends about day trips.

The day ended at an upscale Turkish restaurant without English menus or waiters (great experience), a few beers and a noisy hostel room.

The next morning we visited the Basilica Cistern, the largest one under Istanbul. It was built under the rule of the Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century AD. Two Medusa heads were found at the base of a few columns, and it is still uncertain to why they are upside down and sideways, but probably just for accurate support. The tour itself wasn’t too spectacular, but the site itself was still impressive.

Cool view from inside

Sideways Medusa head...

We strolled along the Bosphorus Straight until arriving back near the Beyoğlu area and stopped in a local restaurant for some Manti (recommended by our friends at the hostel). Manti is a type of dumpling or ravioli filled with spiced meats, such as beef or lamb, and topped with garlic and yogurt – delicious!

Looks like we will be heading into central Turkey for a day. Supposedly a lot of history and beautiful views. We are taking a ten-hour night bus to get there, spending all day absorbing as much as possible, then doing the same to get back to Istanbul. Wish me luck!