Thursday 19 May 2016

A Delightful Turkish Tea !!!

Istanbul and Hagia Sofia was on our scanner for a long time and this year we decided… let it be Turkey.

12th Apr 2016, Kochi - Istanbul:
Early morning 0430 hours was our flight from Kochi to Istanbul via Abu Dhabi. Transit time at Abu Dhabi was less than an hour and the result was that we managed to catch our flight to Istanbul but our Baggage could not. We arrived at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul by 1230 Hours local time. Airline ground staff said our Checked in Bags will be delivered to our hotel the next day.From Ataturk Airport we caught the Metro to Zeytinburnu station and Changed to Tram going to Kabatas, got off at Sultanahmet. 

Arrival Hall of Istanbul Ataturk Airport.

Travel Tips for Istanbul:
If you are going to use Metro and Tram service in Istanbul then buy Istanbulkart card which will make travel really cheaper than buying ticket each time. Best example will be to travel from Ataturk Airport to Sultanahmet. We should have paid TL 4/person for Metro and then again TL 4/person for the tram. As we had used Istanbulkart Metro charge was TL 2.65/person and subsequent tram was TL 1.30 (only for the first user and the second user on the same card will be charged TL 2.65). So the total fare was TL 3.95/person instead of TL 8/person. Hope this makes it clear. Istanbulkart can be bought at the airport, there are lot of shops to sell them. We are grateful to our good friends who helped us with all the guidance for travel. See the word of thanks at the end of this blog.
Istanbul Tram at Sultanahmet.

As our hotel was very close we just walked from Sultanahmet tram station.Thus we reached the heart of the famous, historical Old city of Constantinople…….called Istanbul today. Evening we went out to see the beautiful Blue Mosque and walked through Hippodrome. 

Tulip Carpet at Sultanahmet, Istanbul.
Olivia with Tulip man and Lady!

It was Tulip time in Istanbul. I am seeing Tulip Garden after long time, last I had seen was in Keukenhof, Holland. If you are visiting Istanbul in April then you can see Tulips.

Blue Mosque with 6 Minarets.

Olivia inside Blue Mosque.


Constantinople Ahoy:
Constantinople (city of Constantine ), is  the only city in the world  which is spread across two continents, was the capital of the Eastern Roman empire, when Constantine the Great divided the empire between his sons. With the demise of Western Roman empire, Constantinople gained its importance, coupled with strategic location it became the largest city in the world. 
Ottoman Turks Conquered the city under Sultan Mehmet II and the name of the city was then changed to Islambol (city of Islam) and then to Istanbul. Both names, Constantinople & Istanbul continued to be used till early 20th Century, when Ottoman rule was removed and Turkey became secular republic; Istanbul became the official name.

13th Apr 2016, Istanbul:
Today was our first day of sightseeing. We went to the Great palace mosaic museum and bought Museum Pass for TL 85/person. This pass will cover most museums / monuments except like Basilica Cistern & Dolmabahce palace. Still Museum pass is a good saving, but the main advantage is that, at monuments you don’t have to stand in a queue for tickets. Great palace museum is the best place to buy Museum Pass as this place has the least queue. Remember to carry your passport. Museum pass is valid for 5 days, so you can cover the monuments in 5 days but only one entry per monument is allowed. So you can’t comeback for a second entry.

Hagia Sofia.......
Historic monument of Constantinople.

After Great Palace Mosaic Museum, our next destination was the famous Hagia (Aya) Sofia Church.

Hagia Sofia.Vibrating with history.
If anyone gives me an option to choose only one attraction to see in Istanbul, then I would opt for the Great Hagia Sofia, which has seen all the history of the city. It is one of the greatest buildings in human history. This Church Hagia Sofia (Eternal Wisdom) was the largest church in the world for nearly 1000 years. Build in 537 AD by Emperor Justinian, it was once the center of Byzantine Christian faith and was with beautiful Mosaic pictures.  In 1453, it was converted into a mosque by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, the Fatih (conqueror), when Constantinople was conquered. Minarets were added and mosaic pictures were all plastered. It remained Mosque till 1935 when Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, who was the first president, declared it as a Museum when Turkey became secular republic.
Declaration of converting Hagia Sofia into Museum.
See the signature of Mustafa K Ataturk. 

There are a lot to see in Hagia Sofia, and all of it is fascinating and vibrating with history. This is a kind of place where even the floors, doors and walls have stories to tell. Yes, standing in the center of this church, looking up at the massive dome and thinking of the number of emperors and sultans who had passed through here. In my ears, I can still hear the screams of 1453.... the amount of heads fallen and bloodstreams there... Hagia Sofia attracts largest number of visitors than any other monuments/museums in Turkey and our visit to Hagia Sofia was one of the highlights of our time in Istanbul. Unforgettable !!!!

Inside Hagia Sofia.

Mosaic picture of Seraph at corners of the dome. 

Mosaic Picture showing Emperor Constantine (right)
handing over city of Constantinople & Emperor Justinian (left)
 handing over Hagia Sofia to Jesus, who is sitting on Mary's lap .

Next visit was Basilica Cistern. It was an underground water reservoir build by Emperor Justinian in 532 AD to provide water to the Great Palace. It has underground water duct which brings water from sources close to Black sea coast around 20 Kms. Its Arches are beautiful and can store upto 85,000 litres of water.

Mesuda head at the bottom of
one of the pillars of Basilica Cistern

We continued our walk through Hippodrome. This is where Byzantine emperors conducted chariot races.

We walked further down the hill to Little Aya Sofia, built by Emperor Justinan prior to the construction of Aya Sofa. Similarity in construction can be seen but smaller compared to Aya Sofia hence the name Little Aya Sofia. This was also converted into a Mosque and still been used as a mosque. So mosaic pictures are all plastered.
Little Aya Sofia

Interior of Little Aya Sofia.
Mosaic Pictures on the wall are under those white plaster.

White plastered dome, covering those mosaic pictures.

After Little Aya Sofia we walked back to our hotel.

14th Apr 2016, Istanbul:
Today we went to Topkapi Palace of Otoman Sultans.Located at European side of Istanbul overlooking Bosphorus strait and the shore on Asian side. It’s not a planned palace, structures were added by each Sultan. So it looks like a jack of constructions and looks more of an oriental style. In 1843, Sultan decided to have a well designed western looking palace and thus began the construction of Dolmabahce Palace. We thought of visiting this palace on our return to Istanbul. Harem, women’s quarter of Topkapi palace is a must see. If you are visiting Topkapi Palace then buy Harem Ticket also. If you have Museum Pass then Harem is part of your pass.

Entrance gate of Topkapi Palace

A view of Asian side from Topkapi Palace.

Flower bed in the palace ground.

Sultan's Court Room.

Harem, an outside view.

In the same compound is Aya Irene,church of St. Irene. It was included in Museum Pass.
Hagia Irene

After Topkapi Palace we went to Istanbul Archaeological museum and Museum of Science in Islam.

15th  Apr 2016, Istanbul:
Today after breakfast we caught Tram to see the Chora Church and Fethiye Museum. It’s a bit far away from Sultanahmet area of  Istanbul. Easiest and cheapest way to go to Chora Church from Sultanahmet area is to catch tram to Topkapi Station ( it is the name of a station, don’t get confused with the palace having the same name)  then change tram to Edrinekapi.   It takes about 10 minutes walk from Edrinekapi Tram station to Chora Church and further 15 minutes to Fethiye Museum. 

Both churches turned to mosques and later to museums. The beauty lies on it’s beautiful Mosaic pictures, specially of the Chora Church. I would strongly recommend everyone visiting Istanbul to visit at least Chora Church.
Inside Chora Church.

Beautiful Mosaic painting inside, really beautiful.

Another Mosaic Picture of Chora Church.

Fethiye Museum (Pammakaristos Church)

16th  Apr 2016, Istanbul:
Today after breakfast, we checked out, left our baggage in the hotel and walked to Grand Bazaar. It was the largest and the oldest covered market in the world.

Inside Grand Bazaar.

After Grand Bazaar we made our way to Suleymaniye Mosque, which was build in 15th Century by the famous architect Mimar Sinan during the reign of Sultan Suleyman I. He had used the architecture style of Hagia Sofia.

Suleymaniye Mosque.

Night we left Istanbul by Kamil Koc Bus for Selcuk. It is the base town of the famous old city of Ephesus.

Kamil Koc.

Remember Istanbul Otogar (Bus station) is mammoth, much bigger than Airport. Chances of locating your bus company there is extremely difficult, more so with language difficulty. So if you are using any bus service out of Istanbul then most bus companies are having their pickup service from different points in city, use the one closer to your hotel; these pick up bus will drop you exactly from where your bus will be leaving in Istanbul Otogar. We used the pickup service of Kamil Koc.

17th Apr 2016, Selcuk:
Bus ride was excellent specially because Turkish roads are in top most condition. It was like a flight ride, attendant serving snacks and juices in between.We reached  Selcuk by 0800Hrs and walked to our hotel, which was close to Basilica of St. John and Ayasuluk Fort.

Oranges along the streets of Selcuk!

Storks nest, view from our room. On background Ayasuluk fort.

First visit was to Ephesus Museum. In  my opinion visit to Museum is essential prior to your visit to Ephesus, the World Heritage Site so that we get a comprehensive view of what we are visiting.

Pillars of Roman Aquaduct, which brings water to the fort.
You can see the nests of Storks on top.

Remains of the Roman Temple of Artemis.

Evening had a Good dinner.

18th  Apr 2016, Selcuk/ Ephesus:
Today our visit was to Ephesus Archaeological site. Ephesus was the capital of Asian Provinces of Ancient Roman Empire which was once the largest seaport. Base of Greek language and culture. This is where, Apostle John came with Mary, mother of Jesus and settled down. On the hill just outside of Ephesus town, now Fort Ayasuluk is located, is where John wrote the fourth Gospel in The Bible. Ephesus is the town frequented by St. Paul to preach Christianity. Also Ephesus is one among the seven churches named in the book of Revelation, the end time prophetic book of Bible. Incidentally all 7 Churches mentioned in Revelation are in Turkey now!!

Street from Upper Ephesus.
Pillars are remains of Building existed then.
After breakfast minibus from our hotel dropped us off  at the upper gate of Ancient city of Ephesus. Dating from 200 BC onwards till 700AD, saw the growth and decline of this famous city. Decline was due to the siltation of the river mouth led to the closure of the port, when Selcuk Turks conquered this area, it was a mere village.The area is about 4 kms to walk, starting from Upper Ephesus along Curetes way to Lower Ephesus. I am posting some photos below, hope this will be better than writing about the city.
Famous Celsus Library of Ephesus.

 I am standing in front of the Gate of Curetes street.

Curetes Street. Just imagine the buildings on both sides of the street.

Public Latrine of Ephesus!!

Its me !! Not trying out the latrine!!!!

Market of Ephesus.

Grand Theater of Ephesus. 

Harbour Street (Arcadiana).
 This street was leading to the seaport of Ephesus.
Building along the street were warehouses and shops.
This was Ephesus most lavish thoroughfare, illuminated at night
with 50 streetlights on its colonnades. Now sea is no where near.
Silting of the river caused the natural death of the port and of  the city.

19th Apr 2016, Selcuk:
Today we went to see St. John’s Basilica. It is believed that St. John wrote the Gospel on the hill of Ayasulk and that he was buried on the hill. Ayasuluk hill is located just outside the ancient city of Ephesus. There was a monument erected where John was buried. Later Emperor Justinian built a Basilica there, which in its original form might have been really big.

Model of St. John's Basilica.

Next to the Basilica is Ayasuluk fort. Vantage location of the fort is amazing in military strategy.

Ayasuluk Fort.

20th Apr 2016 Antalya:
Toady morning we departed from Selcuk for Antalya. This time we used the bus service of Pamukkale and it was also as good as Kamil Koc with excellent seats and attendant serving snacks, tea, juices etc. By 1830Hrs we reached Antalya Otogar (Bus station). Pamukkale had a drop off service to the old city “Kaleici” where our hotel was located.
Pamukkale Bus at Selcuk Otogar (Bus station).

21st & 22nd Apr 2016, Antalya:
Heritage Tram of Antalya.
It was walking tour of old city. Starting from Hadrian Gate, the gate built to welcome Caesar Hadrian to Antalya, we proceeded along the heritage walk route given in the guide book. On the second day we went to marina for exploration.

A street of outside walled city. Heritage tram runs thro' these tracks.

Hadrian Gate.
Built to welcome Caesar Hadrian to Antalya. 

Heritage Building inside Kaleici (Walled city of Antalya)

A street in Kaleici, Antalya.

23rd Apr 2016, Antalya:
Today we checked out and caught the night bus to Goreme, the base for our Cappadocian cave visit. This time we used the Metro Bus Company, seats were more spacious than the other two bus companies but the service and entertainment channels was not as good as the other bus companies which we had used.

24th Apr 2016, Goreme (Cappadocia):
Today morning we arrived at Goreme by 0700 Hours. We took the day easy, did some local walk and relaxed as we had to get ready for the expeditions to be undertaken tomorrow. Cappadocia is famous for cave dwelling including cave houses, cave churches, underground cities etc. We too opted for a Cave hotel, like a fairy tale stay.
The name Goreme means invisible village, as it is a valley surrounded completely by hills and was difficult to locate by an outsider in olden days. Similarly Cappadocia means the land of beautiful horses. Olden days horses from Cappadocia were supposed to be very good.

Our cave room.

25th Apr 2016, Goreme:
Today we were to visit Goreme Open Air Museum an UNESCO World Heritage site with a series of cave houses and churches with equally good paintings. It was a complete city in mountain caves with churches and chapels. Just note that it is one of well preserved cave church in Goreme open air museum "Karanlik Killise" (Dark Church) is having beautiful paintings, the darkness (or less light) inside the church caused the painting to be well preserved.It is having separate entry fee, in my opinion its worth paying that fee and visiting Karanlik Killise.

Goreme Open Air Museum is a must see if you ever visit Turkey.

One of the Cave Dwellings of Goreme Open Air Museum.

Kitchen of cave house.

Painting of the Cave Church of Karanlik Killise.

Inside view in one of the Cave Churches.

View of Goreme Cave dwelling at Open Air Museum.

26th Apr 2016, Goreme:
Today we thought of going for Green tour but as the weather was bad and raining, we decided to shift the tour for the next day. Afternoon rain stopped but it was still cold, so we decided to go for trekking on hills. We trekked to sunset point and another view point. Both gives you a very Good view of Goreme village.

Goreme from sunset point.

27th Apr 2016, Goreme:
Today was sunny and so we went for Green tour. In Cappadocia, the sites are divided into two sets of tours, first one is called the Red Tour, which includes Goreme Open Air Museum and few other sites. Green Tour includes the Derinkuyu Underground City, Ihlara Valley hike, Canyon visit, Selime Monastery (situated on steep cliff side which was used by Christian Monks to meditate for almost 1000 years) It is very difficult to do this tour on your own for the advertised price; the guide alone would cost more than the whole tour. Prices for both tours are same with all across tour companies in Goreme. When we visited , Red Tour was TL 100/person and Green Tour TL 120/person.The tourist saves money: a real win-win. We decided to do Red Tour on our own and Green Tour with the group.

MY EXPERIENCE of Green Tour:

The 16 seat van picked us up from our hotel around 0930 hrs. We went around Goreme stopping at a few hotels to pick up other guests. Finally the tour guide hopped on, and we set off close to 10am. Our group consisted of 15 people from different Nationalities and 15 were a good number so that we did not have to strain to hear our guide. At the same time we had the opportunity to meet a few new people from all over the world, all the way from Colombia to New Zealand.

Our first stop was at Goreme Panorama, the view is breath taking making it clear why Goreme is unique in every sense.

Panorama View

Later we made our way to Derinkuyu to see the Underground City. Our guide took time to explain some of the history of Cappadocia, asked everyone their names and country, and prepared us for what to expect at Derinkuyu.

When we reached the area our guide started with the ventilation shaft above the ground which looks like a well, so that any outsider can’t even imagine that a big city exists below their feet. Then our guide took us into the climate controlled underground tunnels. Even during peak of winter or summer its pleasant inside. Only 25% of the Underground city is open to the public and excavations are ongoing. We went 8 stories underground which included a winery, a baptism area, meeting rooms, church, well for water, grave, kitchen and so on…Historians guess that up to 2000 people could have lived in the city at one time. It is said that these underground city helped to save the people from enemies. City dates back thousands of years. After that we freely followed the flat, winding path along the river surrounded by towering cliffs with caves and echoing 1500 years of secrets. 3-4 kilometer later we stopped at a riverside restaurant for lunch and later proceeded to see Selime Monastery.

Inside Underground city.

Another view at 7th floor below ground.

Covered tunnel shaft for providing ventilation.

 We had a few minutes to look around the city before returning to sunlight and then we were off for a 30 minute ride to Ihlara Valley. The valley is 14 km long, and we were dropped off at about 3 km point. After descending a couple of hundred stairs to the canyon floor, our guide showed us the Agacalti cave church dating to the 4th century with paintings from the 10th century.

View of the Canyon from top.

Stairs to the bottom of the Canyon.

River at the bottom of the Canyon.
We walked for about 3Km along the river. Beautiful.

At a restaurant on the river bank
for lunch after trekking for 3Km.

Back in the van and 25 minutes later we arrived at the base of a pockmarked cliff towering over an old Greek Village and some freaky cone - shaped rocks. Little could we have suspected what awaited us. We ascended the steep lower section of the mount past the first couple of fairy chimney formations then our guide gave us the general layout of the monastry before letting us loose for an hour to explore. The monastry dates from the 8th-10th centuries and across the valley, the opposite cliff housed a female ( nun ) monastry.

Selime Monastery
In front of Selime Monastery

Taking "Rest" in the narrow walkway
to the Monastery.

After descending back to the parking lot we began the hour long drive to Pigeon Valley during which everyone enjoyed a nap. We were given 10 minutes to take pictures of the valley and Uchisar rock tower/castle, feed the pigeons, to look at the evil eye tree, and then comes the integral part of any tour in the world ... stopping at souvenir shops!!! 

Pigeon Valley

Down the hill, and we were back in Goreme dropped off at each hotel. In short, I am happy to recommend this Green Tour to people who are visiting Cappadocia.

In my opinion most of the Red Tour like Goreme Open Air Museum etc...can be done by self- planning.

28th Apr 2016, Goreme:  

It is our departure day to go back to Istanbul. Caught the evening Metro Bus to Istanbul.

29th Apr 2016, Istanbul:

Today morning we reached back Istanbul. On our second visit we decided to stay at Taksim area of Istanbul. We had left this area to explore during our second visit. 

Taksim Square is situated in the European side of Istanbul, famed for its restaurants, shops, and hotels. The word Taksim means " division " or " distribution " . The Taksim square was originally the point where the main water lines from the north of Istanbul were collected and branched off to other parts of the city. The square takes its name from the Ottoman era stone reservoir which is located in this area. 

Taksim is a main transportation  hub and a popular destination for both tourists and the native population of Istanbul. Istiklal Caddessi , a long pedestrian shopping street, ends at this square, and a nostalgic tram runs from the square along the avenue, ending near the “Tunel” which is the world's second-oldest subway line after London's Underground . As our hotel was in this street it was very easy for us to enjoy the square.
Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque & Bosphorus strait.
A view from Taksim hill.

Taksim square.

Nostalgic tram from Taksim square to Tunel along Istiklal Street. 

Inside the nostalgic tram.

141 year old Nostalgic Funicular tram
from Tunel to Yasinda at Beyoglu. 

30th Apr – 02nd May 2016, Istanbul: 

As it was our second visit to Istanbul, we had to cover the rest of the sights we had left out. So we went to explore the second and modern European style Dolmabahce Palace built by the Ottoman Emperor Abdulmecid I between 1843 and 1856 at a time when life for the average person in Istanbul and the rest of Ottoman Empire was not easy or comforting.

Sultan shifted his residence from Topkapi Palace to here. The construction of this palace was the beginning of the collapse of Ottoman empire. To fund the construction, Ottoman empire increased the taxes, took loan from other countries and even started printing money. It is said that Dolmabache Palace was finally completed with 285 rooms, 44 halls, 68 toilets and 6 Turkish baths (hamam) and tons of gold were used to decorate ceilings. It was the home to six sultans from 1856 to 1922. The palace primarily acted as the central administration HQ for the Ottoman Empire as well as the Sultans' families, concubines and helpers. With the end of the empire and the rise of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the palace was passed over to the new country. The 'father' of the Republic, Mustafa Ataturk, used it as his summer house during his tenure and died there on Nov 10th 1938. 

Clock Tower of Dolmabache Palace.

Entry Gate of Dolmabache Palace.

Western Gate of Palace.
Royal boat Jetty at Bophorus strait.
Asian shore of Istanbul on other side of water 



Inside Dolmabache Palace.

Remember, if you are in Istanbul on 10th Nov, then the palace visit is free of charge!!!.    .

Other places visited was Galata Tower, Galata Bridge, Spice (Egyptian) Bazar etc…

Galata Tower

At the base of Galata bridge.

03rd May 2016, Istanbul – Kochi:
It was time to say bye to Istanbul and to Turkey. We departed by 1420hrs. Reach Kochi via Abu Dhabi by 0315Hrs on 04th May morning. Thus ending a 3 weeks long fruitful tour of Turkey.

Food court of Istanbul Atatturk Airport Departure Hall.

Olivia having lunch at Primeclass Lounge of Ataturk Airport.

Tips for Shopping  at Istanbul:

Shopping is something that I love; that too souvenirs. So I kept our last day for shopping. After doing on ground research during my first visit at Istanbul, I had found out few areas very good for shopping. So if anyone interested in shopping at Istanbul then the most reliable location for shopping is not Grand Bazaar!!! All these famous historical Bazaars including Grand and Spice Bazaars are good for visiting, indeed you must visit them for an experience.

So if you wish to go on for shopping, then take a tram to Eminonu tram station, head towards spice (Egyptian) bazaar, leave entire Spice Bazaar on your left and walk along the narrow street bordering spice bazaar. The street will turn left along the bazaar and then take the first right street, Sabuncuhani Sokak. Along this street and all the bye-lanes upto Vasif Cinar Cadedesi (another good road for shopping) will give you the best shopping location for souvenirs, fabrics or anything you name it.

Tips for Money matters Istanbul:

1. There are two money changers close to the junction where Sabuncuhani Sokak intersects with Vasif Cinar Cadedesi which offer the best exchange rate I had seen in Istanbul. Try to avoid changing money at Sultanahment; Taksim area is ok.  

2. Do not change money at Banks, they will give you the worst exchange rate in Turkey.

3. It might be better, as in our case, to take Euro from ATM and exchange into Turkish Lira with money changers; rather than taking Turkish Lira directly from ATM. Most ATMs in Turkey have the option to select Euro or Turkish Lira as currency option.

4. Most hotels in Turkey offer a minimum of 10% additional discount on room tariff, if you pay in cash on arrival. 

Food we tried out in Turkey:

Tureky cuisine is mainly non-veg specially meat. Following are a few of the food items we loved in Turkey and recommend to my readers.

Beyti Kebab

Adana Kebab

Turkish Tea. Served after every meal.

Chicken Sis.

Chicken Manti.

Pottery Kebab. Specialty of Cappadocia. A must try.

Inside the Pot of "Pottery Kebab".
Floating Stalls near Eminonu side of Galata Bridge,Istanbul
selling Balik Ekmek.

Balik Ekmek (Fish & Bread sandwich)

A word of thanks from our Heart:

1. Even before we started our journey, there were a lot of cautious words surrounding us regarding the situations in Turkey, specially in Istanbul. Some were even asking us to cancel the trips, so we decided to Pray about it and our dear Lord told us to go ahead with the journey as He will be our protector. Thus began our “Delightful Turkish Tea”.It was planned, prepared and perfectly executed by Him, whose Hebrew name is “Yeshuva”……and in Hebrew word for “safety” is also “Yeshuva”. He was indeed our Guardian and Protector through out our Turkish Trip. We, as a family, would like to thank Lord Jesus for such a wonderful, enjoyable and a safe trip.

2. We heartfully thank two lovely couples too, who provided us with lots of information about Istanbul in particular and about Turkey in general. First couple was from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and the second was an English couple living in Fethiye Turkey.

1 comment:

  1. Great trip report, with excellent photos. Thank you!