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TURKEY TREASURES    October 2012

As I travel from the airport to the hotel, one thought is in my mind . . . the size of Istanbul! In every direction there are dome-topped mosques with their sky-piercing minarets; layer upon layer of homes cover the hills; the sidewalks are crowded with pedestrians and street vendors; the roads stream with traffic.But then, what would you expect of a megacity with a population of over 13 million?
Istanbul spans both Asia and Europe, each side accessible by bridges or ferries over the Bosphorus Strait.
I visit the well-known sites: The Blue Mosque with its incredible blue mosaic tiles, Topkapi Palace, home to many of the early Ottoman Sultans, Hagia Sophia.
At the Grand Bazaar, in one of its many 'streets' I sit with a cup of apple tea and just enjoy watching the hustle and bustle.
At the nearby Spice Market I purchase some saffron.

That night we have dinner at a roof top restaurant above stores which sell carpets, leather goods and pottery. Our dinner conversation is interrupted by the very loud evening call to prayer from two nearby mosques. We return to our hotel via the very crowded tram followed by a bit of a walk past many energetic street vendors selling knock-offs. Funny how fast they can disappear when a police car comes along.
On our first day on the tour bus, we experience a fan belt problem. Stranded for an hour in a tiny town, we investigate an outdoor park which is filled with exercise equipment. We in North America could follow that example!

Following the repair, we carry on past Gallipoli, site of a major battle between the Ottoman forces and the Anzac (Australian and New Zealand) forces during the First World War.
Arriving in Canakkale, we relax with a beer at an outside café followed by a stroll past the main square where we find the Trojan horse used by Brad Pitt in the movie Troy.

My room has a wonderful view of the Dardenelles. We head off the next morning after a hearty buffet breakfast which includes tahini, pomegranate syrup, yogurt, pastries and delicious strong coffee.
We visit the 4000 year old excavation site of the city of Troy. Many of the antiquities are now housed in the Pushkin Museum in Russia.
After a Turkish pizza lunch, we arrive in Pergamon, the site of Asklepios, an ancient Roman spa, hippodrome and amphitheatre from the third century. This is the long colonnade near the entrance.

Far ahead of their time, they used music therapies, dream interpretation, hypnosis and spa treatments to cure the mentally ill here.

At the entrance, I came upon a dog and cat snuggled together in sleep.

People could learn from this example.

The scenery along the Aegean Sea is spectacular! Blue sky, blue sea and rolling hills dotted with sheep and shepherds.
We stop at the peaceful house where the Virgin Mary was said to have spent her final years and then on to Ephesus, a huge city from antiquity. This is without a doubt the most spectacular ancient ruin I've ever seen! You can see the ruts left by the chariots in the marble, and the two storey library is awesome! Amazing acoustics!

While we sat up in the stone seats in the amphitheatre (below right), one of the tourists sang 'It's Summertime" from Porgy and Bess.

After driving through more beautiful scenery, we arrive at Izmir, the port city used by the Greek Island cruise ships. A late supper of fragrant, delicious lamb shish kebob on the shore of the Aegean, a stroll around the boulevards of Izmir, and it's time for bed.
The next day we visit a totally exceptional spot. The hot springs and calcium pools of Pamukkale are a soothing and refreshing way to spend a couple of hours. We swim in a warm pool filled with chunks of marble columns, blocks, and cornices. A few more hours on the bus and we reach Antalya on the Turkish Riviera.

Our hotel in Antalya is in a wonderful location. My balcony opens up to the sound of the waves of the Mediterranean. After a wonderful breakfast, I enjoy a swim in the Mediterranean. Then it's a stroll through the old town, stopping at little stores to examine Turkish products.

Lunch on a cliff overlooking the sea is followed by a stroll through the winding cobble streets to the harbour.

A tram ride home is followed by another swim in the now much choppier waters of the Mediterranean.

This is one city I will visit again.

Today is another totally unique destination - Cappadocia, an area of natural wonders including Fairy Chimney rock formations, homes cut into the rock, and underground cities used by early Christians to escape Roman persecution.

The next morning I am up before dawn to participate in a hot air balloon ride, gliding silently and motionlessly over these formations. It is almost spiritual.

This is followed by a tour of the area, visiting the underground cities and hiking through the tunnels and rooms of the ancient homes.

The roads into Ankara, Turkey's second largest city, run through mountains, with switchbacks reminiscent of Switzerland. Ankara, like most capital cities, has embassies, monuments, museums and modern malls.

We visit the mausoleum of Ataturk, the liberal-thinking father of modern Turkey, and we visit a museum with artifacts dating back to 8000 years BC.

In Ankara we hit a traffic snarl, resulting in our bus having to back down a narrow, winding, cobbled road. Tour bus drivers, in my experience, are the most amazing drivers in the world.

Our last day is a return to Istanbul to do all the last minute things I forgot to do at the beginning. After a final dinner party which included much dancing and eating, we retired to our rooms to gather together our luggage and prepare for our journey home.

This was a wonderful trip to a spectacular destination.
Five star accommodations; knowledgeable guides; comprehensive well-planned itineraries--all at a budget price!

TIPS for this type of trip:

1. In countries where English is not as common as you might need, always carry a business card from your hotel. If you need to get home, just show the card to the cab driver.

2. Travel lightly. When packing for a tour or an extended-stay trip, take only TWO of everything (except undergarments). Make sure everything mixes and matches. Be sure the clothes can be washed out by hand, will dry overnight and will dry wrinkle free.