A Travellerspoint blog

Pamukkale, Hierapolis, and Aphrodisias


View Turkey and Georgia 2023 on Bob Brink's travel map.

May 1

I finally had a good sleep and was feeling a bit better. Before breakfast I walked outside the hotel to take a quick look at the great Pamukkale, the cotton castle.

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The breakfast buffet was bad, even worse than what I had eaten at the Turkoman in Istanbul. There was no cereal, yoghurt, or fruit. I poured the dark liquid. It was silly to think that it might be coffee. I went back and was given some Nescafe. There was a sign that I could get an omelette, but it would cost extra. The dining room did have a great view.

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The driver had said that he would pick me up at 10 am. Even though I knew that the itinerary said 9:00 am, psychologically it had helped me to believe that I would have an extra hour in the morning. Perhaps it helped me sleep. I was still drinking my Nescafe when the driver came in. I reminded him that he had said 10:00. There was no rush. I managed to get to the van by 9:30. One good thing about a private tour is that there is no one to get mad at you (or you them).

I met my guide Ismail at the van and loved him from the start. I thought my Istanbul guide Figen had talked fast. Ismail had a gear above hers. He started his explanations with, “You will ask me”, and then posed a hypothetical question before giving the explanation. I never had a chance to ask anything. I just tried to keep up.

The plan for the day was first a visit to the sites in the Pamukkale area before stopping at the ancient city of Aphrodisia. Then I was to be dropped at the Kuyucak train station in order to catch the 5:30 train to Selçuk.

I thought we might start the tour by walking up the hill, but instead we drove past it and around to other side. Ismael suggested, and I agreed, that I would be a lot more interested in Hierapolis than the Pamukkale travertine terraces. We decided to spend almost the entire time at the ruins of the ancient city and just briefly pass by the other sites, both of which could have involved me getting wet, perhaps just my feet at the mineral pools or all of me at the swimming pool. I planned to stay dry.

People had lived in this area since the Iron Age. It was known for its hot springs. Thousands of visitors came to Hierapolis for a cure. The mineral springs were thought able to treat a multitude of afflictions.

Then there was a darker side to the city. Deadly gases came out of the rocks. Priests used their knowledge of the gases to make the people believe that they had great holy powers. They would toss unfortunate birds and small animals into the spring where they would die, but the priests could avoid the gases. This association with the underworld continued under the Greek and Roman periods that followed.

After its Greek period, the city came under Roman control in 133 BC. An earthquake in 60 AD destroyed the city which was then rebuilt in the Roman style which is what remains at the site. The theatre was built in 129 AD. During this time there were many building projects in Hierapolis-baths, a gymnasium, temples, fountains, and the main street. It became a prominent city of over 100,000.

Hierapolis became a Christian centre during the 4th century, and the city prospered under Byzantine rule. But in the 7th century the town was hit with the two destructive forces of the time, invasion (the Persian army on this occasion) and another earthquake. Then yet another earthquake destroyed the remains in 1354.

It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

We entered through the South Gate and walked towards the Theatre.

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Ismail suggested what I might say when I stood at the top of the Theatre.

“Wow!” I repeated it, "Wow".

It was one of the amazing, magical moments of my tour, of all my travels, looking at the magnificent structure with the full scope of the ancient city and mountains as a backdrop.

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Just below the theatre is Plutonian Devil’s Gate where the priests did their thing with their gases. I looked through my photos for one that showed the hole where the gases escaped but seemed to have missed it. I will have to get it on my next visit.

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There is evidence that Philip the Apostle is buried at Hierapolis. His tomb is up the hill. I asked if we were going up there, but Ismail suggested that it would take too long, and he had to get me to my train on time.

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We next walked past the Temple Nymphaeum which had a pool to provide drinking water to the residents. It is next to the Temple of Apollo for which there is not as much left, some steps and columns.

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The three attractions-Hierapolis, the Pamukkale terraces, and the Antique Pool are right next to each other. So, when Ismail needed a quick break to relieve himself, we took a quick walk past the pool, to the top of the terraces before coming back down to finish our Hierapolis tour. I mention this because I have learned two very important things about Turks, one being their unbounded love of tea. I watched them relax in their tea shops or what I loved the most, the delivery of the trays of tea to the shops. I became worried about Ismail since he needed to stop at every facility he passed, and urgently so. I thought that he might have a health problem, but he assured me it was due to the amount of tea that he drank. I will discuss a more serious Turkish vice in my next post.

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It was a beautiful day. I was quite comfortable wearing my short shelves and mentioned that this was the first time in seven months that sunlight had shown on my arms. Ismail told me that the weather in the summer months was brutal, that it could get up into the mid-40’s (about 110 degrees for you Americans). At that time the guides carry umbrellas to get some respite from the sun. He said that it is still quite busy.

We walked down to the Frontinus Gate at the north end of the city and then on to the necropolis, the burial ground which was outside of the city gates. There was a variety of tombs of both upper class and commoners, including some from Roman times. People came to Hierapolis for medical treatment, and when the magical waters failed to save them (imagine that), were buried in the city. We passed by the Basilica Baths. The structure was built as a Roman bath and was later converted to a church.

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The old latrines were popular for photographs.

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We walked down the road. I took these looking back towards the gate, a much better direction for photography.

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We finished our Hierapolis tour at the Archaeology Museum which occupies an old Roman bathhouse. The best sculptures excavated from the site are stored there.

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We then did second visits (last time was our quick detour for Ismail) to the pool and terraces.

The Antique Pool (or Cleopatra’s Pool as it is often called) is a holdover from the days when Pamukkale was visited only for the springs, not the archeological wonders. The pool is fed by the springs, making the water quite warm. I had no plans to jump in. But I did buy a latte. Ismail came looking for me. He was a bit worried about our timing, again telling me that he was responsible for getting me to my train on time. I dutifully carried my coffee with me as we walked.

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The terraces of Pamukkale were formed by the water from the hot springs. It is saturated with calcium carbonate which crystallizes into travertine. Ismail said that it used to be a lot more spectacular when there was a large amount of water flowing, but now there were only small pools. There were several tourists walking there. The rest was dry. Hang gliders flew overhead, each occupied by a pilot and an adventurous tourist. I was not tempted.

I have read that many visitors spend all their time on the terraces and pool and do not visit the ruins. I obviously think that is totally backward. The ruins were fantastic. The terraces were interesting, certainly worth a visit. Of course a hang gliding adventure would top it all off, just not for me.

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We then headed off to Aphrodisias, another ancient city. This was suggested as an add on to the big attraction of Pamukkale as a well-preserved archaeological site but far enough away that it does not attract large numbers of tourists. For me it meant that I would have an 1.5 hours ride and then catch the same train, just a bit further down the tracks.

The first thing you see is a garden of sarcophagi (or stone coffins if you prefer).

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We then passed the Aphrodisias Museum but decided to stop at the end of my visit.

Just past the museum we came to a wall of masks which were originally placed about the Ionic colonnades of the city and depict a variety of subjects-everything from athletes to characters from ancient drama.

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Archeological discoveries show that Aphrodisias was inhabited from around 5000 BC. It was a major centre of goddess worship. There are remnants of a temple that date back to the 6th century BC. Unlike Hierapolis (and Ephesus, the city I would see the next day) Aphrodisias was never large, kept to an area of a square kilometre and a population of less than 15,000.

The city was known for its exquisite monuments and sculptures which have been found in other places such as Italy, Greece, and Portugal. A quarry with top quality marble was close to the city. Much of the city and its monuments were built in the 1st to the 3rd century AD, a prosperous time for Aphrodisias. It later became a centre of early Christianity during which time it was called Stauropolis. The city was struck by a major earthquake in the 7th century. I have read conflicting descriptions of its demise, whether it was the natural disaster or the changing political situation in Turkey, but its glory days were over. It was eventually abandoned. Later the city of Caria grew on the site.

It is short walk from the wall of masks to The Tetrapylon, which designated the separation between the secular and sacred parts of Aphrodisias. I was just captivated. It is a beautiful structure. It was helpful that there were only a handful of other tourists.

The structure was built around the year 200 AD. Most of the marble was still in good condition which helped when it was reassembled in 1991.

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Our next stop was the Temple of Aphrodite and Church, a venerated place for a millennium. A temple had existed on the site since the 6th century BC for a pagan goddess. Later the goddess became associated with the Greek Aphrodite. The temple was constructed around the 1st century BC and became a place of pilgrimage from what is present day Turkey and Greece. Aphrodite was worshiped for some time after Christianity came to the region, but eventually the temple was converted to basilica the Cathedral of St. Michael and was in use until 1200 AD when the Seljuk’s conquered the region.

Then we went into a small theatre which was used for political meetings, a bit of democracy if you consider rich people with Rome connections discussing the affairs of a city to be democratic. Many of the statues Aphrodisias depict these politicians.

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We walked on to the Stadium which was built in the first century AD. It held 30,000 spectators, for the city of only 15,000 people, who watched the various Greek athletic events such as running, long jumping, wrestling, discus, and javelin. With the Roman influence there was sometimes gladiators and animals. The stadium is huge, at 270 metres in length and is considered the best-preserved Greek stadium.

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My tour continued on past the Hadrianic Baths, built for a visit by the Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century before walking a path above the Place of the Palms, which was home to a 170 metre long pool.

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I finished the outdoor part of my Aphrodisias at the theatre, which was used for dramatic entertainment, people’s assemblies, and ultimately for gladiatorial and animal shows. It is also in impressive condition.

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It is remarkable that this town of some 15,000 people had a stadium, theatre, and a giant pool.

The last part of my time at Aphrodisias was spent in the museum where the best sculptures are housed.

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Then it was time for me to go to the train station. My new friends insisted on buying me a tea while I waited and taking a selfie with me. I really enjoyed having them as my driver and guide.

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It was a small station and had one train a day in each direction. I did not have to ask if I was in the right place. I knew there was a train coming. I would get on it.

It was only me and a couple of ladies waiting. A woman and her mother arrived. The woman nodded to the seat next to me. The older woman did not want to stop. I have a policy, formed a long time ago on buses in Hong Kong, if someone does not want to sit next to me, I will not get up and give them the seat. They can stand or in this case, keep on walking. Eventually the younger woman came back and sat next to me.

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The train arrived on time, at 5:30 pm. It was almost full. There was a man sitting in the aisle seat next to my requested window seat. He moved to the window. I tried asking him to move back to the aisle, but he did not understand. A woman joined in. Of course the conversation was the two of them in Turkish and me in English. I gave up and sat in the aisle seat. After about an hour the man got up to use the toilet. I took my window seat.

Two guys walked up and down the car selling pretzels, water, and the yoghurt drink that I did not enjoy at the Istanbul station. The train was busy, basically a commuter train with people getting on and off at all the stations. Once again, I was the only non-Turkish person in my car.

We arrived in Selçuk just before 8:00 pm.

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As I walked up the road to my hotel I heard, “Which hotel?” I looked around and saw a man sitting on a chair in a little park. I told him. He pointed up the road and told me to turn left. (Google Maps had indicated the same thing.). But he added the information that someone would be up there to give me more directions. I did as instructed and soon there was another man who asked me, “Which hotel?” I was impressed.

I checked in and did a quick WhatsApp with Po. I used Google Maps to identify a hotel restaurant down the street where I ordered the chicken kebab, but could only eat about half, and struggled to even do that. I was not going to gain any weight on my starvation diet.

I managed to get lost in the dark streets on my way back to the hotel. I walked right past it, but some guys pointed me in the right direction.

In my last post I wrote about how much fun I had just being on the trains, that I try to remember to appreciate the journey. At the end of this particular day, I could look back on another great journey-the small train station, the ride to Selçuk, and the best part, having the two men point out my hotel. Yes, that was great.

But seeing the ruins at the two ancient cities was really special. It does not matter how one gets there-by train, group tour, or private car; they are must-see places if you visit Turkey. I had told people that I would see some amazing things on my trip. That was true on this day. The moments when I stood at the top of the theatre in Hierapolis and in front of The Tetrapylon in Aphrodisias were magical.

Posted by Bob Brink 23:59 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey pamukkale hierapolis Comments (2)

Pamukkale Express

Appreciate the Wonder of It, It is All About the Journey


View Turkey and Georgia 2023 on Bob Brink's travel map.

April 30

As I anticipated, I did not get much sleep. I was not feeling great. Jet lag likely played a part, and I never sleep well the night before an early departure.

I had to be ready for my ride at 5:30 am. I had two trains to catch. The first one was the high-speed train that runs between Istanbul and the capital Ankara. I was taking the 7:10 am train as far as Eskisehir where I would transfer to the Pamukkale Express (not as fancy or fast) which runs to Denizli, close to Pamukkale where I would spend the night.

The train to Ankara departs from the Sogutlucesme train station on the Asian side of Istanbul. I was originally supposed to be picked up at 6:15 am, but that had been moved to 5:30 am, due to planned road closures for a waterfront marathon.

I had asked for a wake-up call at 5:00 am in case I somehow managed to fall asleep and miss my alarm. I never heard anything from the front desk, but I was awake and packed by 5:10. I decided to just go down to the lobby, thinking that my ride might come early. I was also hoping that I could eat the boxed breakfast that the hotel was supposed to provide.

I found the desk clerk sound asleep, stretched out on the couch in the lobby. I said good morning a few times, the last when I was standing next to him. It was obvious that I would have to shake him if I wanted him awake. I debated if I did.

Did I really care about the boxed breakfast? Perhaps it was already prepared, but since the regular breakfasts were so bad, I had doubts that a boxed version was going to be any good. The unlocked front door, with the clerk sound asleep, might have given me some concern, but I was leaving the hotel. I let him sleep.

The driver arrived at 5:25. I was a little nervous when he tried to take what was the shortest route through the Eurasia Tunnel, a direct run across to the Asian side. We drove up to a roadblock, confirming that the coastal road was now reserved for the runners. He did not seem concerned as he turned around and drove us the other direction, across the Galata Bridge and then across another bridge to the Asian side. I followed along with Google Maps. We did a big loop rather than a straight line. But since it was early on a Sunday morning, traffic was light. I still ended up at the station an hour before departure.

I bought a bun, a water, and what I thought was yoghurt at a stand outside the station. The yoghurt turned out to be a popular Turkish milk drink. It was very sour. I never bought another one.

The Turkish train stations have security, although not nearly as onerous as airport security, and in some instances, seemingly just ignored. I put my suitcase on the conveyor and my pocket contents in the tray next to the x-ray entrance and quickly passed through.

Amber had told me that I could print my train tickets or just show my phone. I forgot to print mine, so knew that I would be showing my phone throughout the trip. I showed my electronic ticket to the security man and was sent into the waiting room.

I had been expecting a nice station for the fancy high-speed train, maybe something between a train station and an air line terminal. I found out later that it was a temporary station. I was concerned about the lack of boards to show departures. There were no English announcements. It made me a bit nervous, but I am not shy about asking for help. I found a man who spoke English. He assured me I was in the right place.

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I found a seat in the corner and put my bottle of water on the rickety table. It was open and fell over, splashing some on the guy sitting on the other side. He was clearly not impressed and moved away.

One train left. I expected that. My helper had told me that he was taking the train before mine. A young man sat down next to me. I guessed he might be a university student. He was busy texting. I waited until he paused and asked him if he was taking the train to Ankara. He was.

Between my inquiries and the spilled water, I was an impressive world traveller. No one could have guessed that I was just an old guy from Newfoundland.

About 40 minutes before our departure time, they announced something and started checking tickets. I assumed it was for my train. I joined the line, showed my electronic ticket, and followed everyone to the platform.

It was easy to find my assigned car and seat. I did not have to ask anyone. It was a nice modern train. I was in business class. There were three seats across, divided with one and then two on the other side.
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I was assigned to a single seat, which was good except that it was on the north side of the train, the wrong side of the train for water views. I looked at farms and cities.
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After an hour they gave us tea and a box that contained juice, water, a cheese sandwich and some cake.

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The train did not operate at high speed for most of my time on board. I think that generally happens later in the run. It took three hours to reach Eskisehir. There had been English announcements for the stations up until that point, but it was obviously a big station and time for my train to arrive there and for me to get out, so I did. I showed my ticket to a train official. He confirmed that I was in the right place and pointed across to the other track. There was my Pamukkale Express.

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I walked down the stairs. This looked like a train station.

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I bought a soft pretzel. The man asked where I was from. When I said Canada, he said Toronto. I tried to explain Newfoundland.

I walked up to the platform to check out my train.

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My two trains were definitely from different generations.
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My assigned seat was not great. It was a single seat beside a window, but I only got about half a window. There were power outlets, but not for my row. I eventually moved as people left and then had to move back when people came aboard and claimed their seats. I also moved back and forth to take some photos and videos.
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I checked out the facilities. There were only Asian style toilets so I decided that I had to restrict myself to that which I could do standing up.

There were no announcements for stations. The many passengers getting on or off at every station gave the train a local service feel. I did not see anyone who looked like a tourist.

This was an eight-hour trip on a basic train. The scenery was not exceptional. But I was having a great time. I was on the move. More than that, I was travelling by train. The more I take trains, the more I appreciate how much I love them. They are so different from cars and buses and of course way different than planes.

But what I found the most enjoyable was that I seemed to be the only non-Turkish person in my car, maybe on the entire train. During my travels I remind myself to appreciate the wonder of it, the journey. I think about a young boy growing up in Western Pennsylvania. He never saw the ocean or another country until his twenties, but he is now travelling to far distant lands. In this case that guy was rolling along, all by himself, on a train in the middle of Turkey.

The last stop was Denizli. I was met at the station and driven to my hotel in Pamukkale. My driver told me he would pick me up at 10 am the next morning. My itinerary said 9 am, but since I was so tired, I was happy to think that I would have an extra hour in the morning.

My hotel was right across from the famous cotton castle, Pamukkale in Turkish, for which the town is named. I would visit it the next day. A busy road separated the hotel from the castle. It had the feel of a motel on a North American commercial strip, where you pull in from the highway, check into your motel, and enjoy a chain restaurant meal next door.
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The desk clerk was not especially welcoming. I was given help to carry my bag (it is small and rolls) to my room which was a bit silly since it was only steps from the reception. A slight push would have sent it to my door. The young man put down my bag and gave me the look that indicated that he expected something. I hesitated but it seemed like he was not going to do anything until I paid something. I gave him my loose change. Only then did he explain about the lights and air conditioner. I had not been impressed with the desk clerk and was especially not impressed with this guy.

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It was after 8:30, and the outside highway was not inviting in the coming darkness, so I decided to eat in the hotel restaurant. I ordered meatballs but could only eat about half of them. I was not sure if it was totally my health, they were not very good. I retreated to my room, downloaded my photos (not many for the day on the train) and got ready for bed, hoping that I might get some sleep.

Posted by Bob Brink 18:09 Archived in Turkey Tagged trains turkey istanbul pamukkale Comments (2)

Istanbul Tour Day 2


View Turkey and Georgia 2023 on Bob Brink's travel map.

April 29

Was it the late tea and baklava? An advance worry about my early start on Sunday? Or maybe it was jet lag and the first symptoms of a cold that I came down with over the next days. For whatever reason, I did not sleep well.

Figen came by to take me on the second day of my tour. We did the short walk to Sultanahmet Square, intending to visit the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia was built in 537 AD as an Orthodox Church which it remained until the Ottomans conquered Istanbul in 1453 and converted it to a mosque. In 1935 it was converted to a museum, and many of the original Christian features were restored. It became the biggest tourist attraction in the city. I walked past it 2019, but the huge crowds scared me away.

Figen told me that the building that I did not enter 2019 had changed. In 2020 the government decreed that it should be turned back into a mosque, and much of what made it beautiful had been closed or covered up. The Christian murals are no longer visible, and the upstairs are blocked.

The crowds remain. Since it is now a mosque, there was no admission fee. That also meant that my museum pass and guide did not get me to the front of the queue. The line did not seem too bad when we first saw it, but we had to keep walking and walking to join it and found the end at the far side of the square. It looked like it would take at least an hour, probably much longer, to get inside. It was my decision as to whether we should get in line. I told Figen that we should keep on walking. She suggested that we could try again at the end of the day.

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We took a tram across the Galata Bridge, over the Golden Horn (the estuary that separates the historic area of Istanbul from the rest of the European side of the city) to the Beyoğlu area. We disembarked and took some steps down to the funicular, which had sounded interesting, but was not. It is not like other ones where you climb up the side of a steep hill (I would do one later in Georgia.). It was all indoors.

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We exited at Taxsim Square. The area is the centre of modern Istanbul. Our first stop was at the Republic Monument which was installed in 1928 and commemorates the fifth anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic. The square has been a venue for political protests over the years but was quiet on a Saturday morning.

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From there we walked through the Cité de Péra building which was built in 1876 to rival the finest buildings in Paris. The ground floor passage, the Flower Passage, was once full of flower shops, which are long gone, along with the fancy stores. It is now full of restaurants and a market.

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Then we visited the Church of St. Anthony of Padua, the largest Catholic Church in Istanbul. The current church was built in 1912 to replace the original church built in 1725. Pope John XXIII preached at the church for ten years while he was the Vatican’s ambassador to Turkey. There is a statue of the pope in front of the church.

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It was a short walk to the Galata Tower.

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Figen confirmed that my museum card was good to enter the tower. It was built in 1348, but unlike many of the old structures that I have visited, this one has an elevator for going up, so I did not have a big climb. Walking down at the end of the visit was easy since there are modern stairs for that. It is an interesting place to visit, mostly for the view, although the skies were not clear. You can see the famous mosques, but I was fascinated with watching the boat traffic.

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I requested a latte break, which we took at the café next to the terminal for the ferry to take us across to the Asian side of Istanbul. On my previous visit I took a Bosporus Cruise. A ferry ride is an inexpensive way to get out on the busy waterway. The ferries transport more than a quarter million people a day on 22 different lines.

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My itinerary had me visiting some neighbourhoods on the Asian side. Figen suggested that we should visit the Balat area on the European side. She said that I would find the other area more interesting, and that there was not much to see on the Asian side. I agreed but did not understand that she meant that we were only going to step off our first ferry and immediately line up for the ferry that would take us back to the European side. I only spent ten minutes in Asia that day.

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Figen suggested Balat for its history and its picturesque cobblestone streets, a great area for me to take photographs. It was once home to a large Jewish population, and at one time had 18 synagogues, although only three remain.

Our first stop was the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church, which is made from prefabricated cast iron elements. The church was built at the end of the 19th century during a time when many prefabricated iron churches were being built and sent around the world. The British sent them to their colonies. Famous French engineer Gustave Eiffel designed churches that were sent as far as the Philippines and Peru. The parts of this church were produced in Vienna and weighed 500 tons. It is one of the three remaining prefabricated cast iron churches in the world.

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Figen was right. Balat is an interesting area for photographers, but my quick tour felt a bit rushed. I would have had a great time wandering on my own for most of a day. It is the great dilemma, choosing between seeing more things or spending quality time in fewer places.

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Our final stop was the Gül Mosque, or Gül Camii in Turkish which translates to Rose Mosque, which was built in the 10th or 11th centuries as a Byzantine Church. It was named after a martyr, Saint Theodosia. The story is that on May 28, 1453, Emperor Constantine XI prayed at the church, which was decorated with roses for the coming feast day of Saint Theodosia of Constantinople, before leaving for his fatal battle against the Ottomans when they succeeded in finally capturing Constantinople.

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Figen suggested a lunch of appetisers. She ordered a lot, mostly fish, and many of them cold. I was not that thrilled with some of them but was also experiencing a loss of appetite.

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We boarded a crowded bus, but after a few stops were able to get seats. Our bus route took us across one bridge and back across the Galata Bridge. We got out at the end of the bridge and then had to pass through an underground walkway to the other side of the highway. It was simply crazy. It took us several minutes to get through.

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Our next destination was the Spice Market. The best-known market in Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar with over 4,000 shops selling virtually everything including jewelry, clothing, and furniture. The Spice Market, or as it is translated, the Egyptian Bazaar, is a much smaller market nearby that sells mostly edible items, including of course, spices. It was quite crowded, although not as overwhelming as the walkway. A vendor was kind enough to ask if I wanted to go into his shop to take photographs, which I appreciated. I sometimes am a bit self conscious snapping photos in enclosed spaces.

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The Turkish presidential elections were scheduled for May 14. There were large posters everywhere, and trucks with loudspeakers drove up and the down the streets of all the cities that I visited. There was a political rally in the plaza outside the entrance of the market which was for the current President. It was not impressive. I did not know if that reflected his standing with the residents of Istanbul, but my informal polls had him losing (A spoiler alert, he won a narrow victory in a runoff vote.)
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We took a tram back to Sultanahmet. Figen asked if I wanted to try Hagia Sophia again, which I did not, and said goodbye to her at the Turkoman. The hotel clerk gave me the message about my early pickup the next morning. He mentioned the box breakfast that they were going to prepare for me. I asked him for a wake-up call.

After a short rest I went back out to check out the line at the Hagia Sophia. It was still long.

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Figen had mentioned a Thai Restaurant near the hotel which sounded good, but I passed a hotel with a sign for their roof top terrace. Noting the camera around my neck, the man called out that it would be great for photographers. I glanced at the menu and decided to try their sea bass. When I got to the top I was asked if I wanted the Spanish or English menu. I asked for a French one. I took many photos, including the sunset. The sea bass was fine, although I could not really enjoy my meal. I just had no appetite. It had started at lunch and would plague me for a few days.

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I decided that my tour of Istanbul was over. Rather than wandering around Sultanahmet, I walked straight back to my hotel. I had enjoyed my two days in Istanbul, but I was tired and sure that I was coming down with something. I kept saying to myself, “Please make this a mild cold and nothing worse.” My mind kept going to the worse.

The crowds that day had been a bit overwhelming. I was ready to leave Istanbul, to be on the move again. In spite of my not feeling great, I was still excited to be taking two trains the next day.

I needed to be at the door at 5:30 am, so packed my bag so that I just needed to walk out the next morning, turned out the light, and hoped for some sleep.

Posted by Bob Brink 14:13 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey istanbul Comments (2)

Istanbul Tour Day 1


View Turkey and Georgia 2023 on Bob Brink's travel map.

April 28

As I expected, I was woken by the 5 am call to prayer. But I was pleased that I had slept to that point.

I walked up the top floor of the Turkoman for my breakfast. All my hotel stays included breakfast, and based on my 2019 stopover in Istanbul, I was thinking that I would eat well. The traditional Turkish breakfast includes a lot of things that I have a hard time enjoying early in the morning, such as olives and salty cheeses. I think they are fine paired with a beer or a glass of wine, but not so great with morning coffee. But on that earlier visit I was also given a choice of eggs, lots of fruit, yoghurt, and an unending supply of lattes. I was disappointed. There were no cooked eggs and only a sad selection of fruit. But they did have a coffee maker and lots of yoghurt. I did not realize how lucky I was for those.

And the Turkoman had a terrace with a great view.

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My arrangements with Amber included guides for many of my stops, including my two days in Istanbul. I walked to the lobby and found Figen was already waiting for me.

Turkoman was walking distance of many of the major tourist attractions. I had seen and done a few of them on my previous visit- the Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, and the Bosphorus Cruise-so had specially asked for the things that I had missed. My official itinerary for that day had me seeing the Hippodrome, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Basilica Cistern.

We walked around the corner to the Hippodrome, or Sultanahmet Square as it called officially. It was much cooler that I thought it would be, and I noticed that most people were wearing coats. I was only wearing my sweatshirt and had foolishly not packed my coat into my backpack. I mentioned this to Figen, and we decided that I should walk back and get it. I put it in my pack where it stayed the rest of the day as the weather turned out to be perfect.

Figen started talking and never seemed to stop. She, like all my guides, really tried to give me the history for everything that I was seeing. I tried hard to listen, but it was overwhelming at times. I knew that I would forget most of it, but it did help me to appreciate the various sites. I tried to pause with my photography and just reflect about everything that had happened a thousand or more years ago on the places where I was now standing.

You need some imagination to appreciate the Hippodrome. The word comes from the Greek word hippos, which means horse, not the mean African animal that I wrote about during my trip to Namibia. Hippodromes were for horse and chariot racing. During the time of Constantine the Great, in 4th century AD, the hippodrome was a huge stadium that held 100,000 spectators.

The Hippodrome is now an open square, but there are a few remaining monuments from its glory days.

The Serpent Column is the remaining base of a sculpture that was cast to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians during the Persian Wars in the 5th century BC. Constantine had it moved from Delphi.

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Another emperor, Theodosius the Great, in 390 AD, had an obelisk moved from Egypt (not an easy undertaking) and assembled it inside the racing track. It had originally been erected in Luxor during the reign of Thutmose III in about 1490 BC. In the 10th century the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus built an obelisk at the other end of the Hippodrome. It is known as the Walled Obelisk.

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The German Fountain is located at the northern entrance to the Hippodrome. It was constructed by the German government to commemorate the visit of the German Emperor in 1898. It is a bit anticlimactic considering the history of the other things in the square.

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For some tragic history of the area, there is the story of the Nika riots of 532 AD when there was a revolt against the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The emperor was apparently ready to flee the city, but his wife convinced him to stay. The hippodrome was full of angry spectators. They were thinking more about their desire to replace the emperor than the results of the races. Justinian sent an emissary with gold, but that was followed by the Imperial troops who slaughtered more than 30,000 people. They were buried where they were killed, leaving them underneath us as we walked.

We passed the Blue Mosque.

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We then walked to the Topkapi Palace. There were lots of tourists. Figen told me that some venues allow guides and their clients to go to the front of the line. But with the backup at security, it still took us about 20 minutes to get in.

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Figen then went to buy me a Turkish Museum Pass. My tour package had included admission to museums throughout the country. Anyone visiting Turkey should consider a pass, since it is cost effective, but also because it saves time as holders can bypass the ticket booths and go straight into the various sites.

The palace served as the residence of the sultans and the administration centre of the Ottoman Empire from the 1460’s until 1856. Various sultans added to the complex over the centuries. Visitors walk through various gates and courtyards.
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I found the palace quite interesting and beautiful, but I was certainly not overwhelmed. Perhaps it was due to some travel fatigue after my long flights to get to Istanbul, but I also felt that I might see a lot more amazing things in the coming days. (Spoiler alert - I did.)

Figen asked if I wanted a meal or just snacks. I did not suspect what the ramifications of saying a good meal would entail. She took me to a really great restaurant. We had some wonderful appetizers, and I went with a dish cooked in a melon. The flavours of everything in the melon just left my mouth tingling as the flavours just seemed to explode in my mouth. I had some great meals during my time; this was one of the best. Then I got the bill. It was definitely the most expensive meal that I had on my trip. I learned that first day that things in Turkey, especially Istanbul, reflected their out-of-control inflation rate of over 100%.

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Figen received a call during lunch regarding a health issue for her mother. She asked if we could do a short day and then extend the tour on Saturday. Of course, I agreed.

I had asked her to help me buy a Sim card. In my London post I had mentioned my lack of overseas data with my Canadian cellular plan. I needed a Turkish card if I was going to have communication on my train rides and during my long days of touring.

Figen took me to a shop where a man took my phone and replaced my card with a Vodaphone card and handed me back my old card, carefully taped into the packaging from the new card. I would need that when I got back to Canada. He rebooted my phone and made sure that it worked.

I did not know exactly what I was buying. He asked for cash, which took most of my Turkish money from my airport exchange. I think I paid about $30 Canadian. My phone worked great. I was able to connect throughout most of the country, including most of the time on my train rides, even though I went through some sparsely populated areas. I never ran out of data. I kept getting messages in Turkish, most of them appeared to be spam, others from Vodaphone. I just deleted all of them. I never checked if I could call anyone. I used it for data only and communicated with WhatsApp.

From there we walked a short distance to the Basilica Cistern. There was a huge line. Figen told me that they had done some renovations so that many locals were interested in seeing the cistern, adding to the normal crowds of tourists. Because I was with a guide and had the museum pass, we were able to walk right in, past the big line. We walked down stairs into the cool dark interior.

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The cistern was built during the time of Justinian I in 532 to supply water to the Great Palace. Water was brought from a forest 19 kilometres from the city via aqueducts. It is a huge structure supported by marble columns, which were taken from various structures. There are a couple of Medusa heads used as bases such as this one, installed upside down.

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In order to use up some of my now free time, Figen took me to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum which was not part of my original itinerary. I really loved it there. It was not busy. I especially loved the Roman sculptures which were especially interesting for me since I was soon going to be visiting three different ancient Roman sites.

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There was a café next door with seating in a little garden full of marble. I guess the pieces are just extra things from the museum. Of course, I bought a latte.

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Afterwards I wandered into Gülhane Park. It is the oldest public park in Istanbul. It was quite busy on this nice spring day.
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From there I walked back to my hotel. I was grateful for Google Maps even though my hotel was only ten minutes away. A big annoyance was being stopped several times by carpet salesmen. They are persistent in trying to get tourists into their salesrooms. Last time I went along with a couple of them. This time I just waved them away.

Back at my room I looked through some photographs and checked in with Po at home. After a brief rest I wandered back out towards Sultanahmet Square. I stopped to take a few photographs at the Blue Mosque. I walked into the courtyard, thinking that if the line was not too long that I would go inside, but decided it was not worth the wait.

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I took a couple of photographs of the Hagia Sophia and walked through the Arasta Bazaar.

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I thought the labels on the spices at one store were interesting, with options for weight loss, stomach or sexual issues, or just something to make a nice salad.

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I wanted to walk to the water, the Sea of Marmara. There is a big highway that blocks the area from the water. I almost turned around as I was not keen on crossing the traffic, but watched some people and did something I often had to do on this trip, cross with the locals, stand next to them and walk when they do.

Once across, I found some men fishing. The sun was setting.
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On my way back I found an actual cross walk with a pedestrian signal. It was much easier. I crossed all by myself like a big boy.

I walked back up to Sultanahmet Square and took some photographs with the mosques lit up.

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I did not want a meal after my big lunch but did stop at an outdoor café for tea and a baclava. I later wondered if it had been a mistake.

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After I returned to my hotel, I received an email from Amber telling me that my 6:15 am transfer on Sunday was now at 5:30. They were concerned about a marathon being run along the coast road that would be preceded by road closures. I was asked to confirm receipt of the message which I did, “I regretfully confirm that I have received the message and note the very early departure time.”

But that was a day away. I still had some time to enjoy Istanbul.

Posted by Bob Brink 22:15 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey istanbul Comments (0)

Arrival in Istanbul

Let The Adventure Begin


View Turkey and Georgia 2023 on Bob Brink's travel map.

April 27

I had a great sleep and woke up to my alarm, which did not happen often on my trip. I decided to go the airport and get my breakfast there, rather than eating at my hotel. It was a quick walk to the station where I waited one minute for a train, which happened to be one that travelled via Terminal 4. I was at Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3 in 40 minutes. I learned that it would have been faster to wait for a train that was going to Terminal 5, since my train looped around and then spent five minutes sitting at Terminal 4. But that is for a future trip. Those few minutes really did not matter on this trip.

I did my Heathrow hike to Terminal 2 departures. I actually enjoy the walks through airports as I pull and push my little bag along, especially when the automated walkways are not blocked by groups just standing. The walkways are too slow for standing but are great for walking fast. I try not to get too annoyed by the standing folks. I am always in a good mood at this point as I am on the move, even though I know that I will soon encounter the horrible part of security, boarding, and being crammed into a tight space on the plane for several hours.

I had already checked in using the Turkish Airlines app. But I was unsure about whether I should check my bag or not, thinking a lot about Heathrow security. I finally used an electronic kiosk and checked my bag. A few minutes later I breezed through security in five minutes, so it would not have mattered. But I was now free to walk without the bag which turned out to be a good thing, since I was going to be doing a lot of walking.

I had allowed for all possible delays with subway and security, so I was already quite early for my flight. Now the board showed that my flight was delayed by more than an hour. After enjoying my breakfast latte along with a croissant and a banana, I started hiking around the departure hall.

There are two gate areas in Terminal 2, A and B. Everyone starts in the A section. Signs warn that it takes 15 minutes to walk to the B section. The boards often do not show the gates until close to boarding time, at which point you really need to get walking if your plane is assigned to a B gate.

I decided to walk to B since it gave me a destination rather than aimlessly wandering in the A area. I had earlier passed a Chinese Restaurant which offered Dim Sum. I thought about going in, but really wanted my usual latte and croissant. During my walk I decided to reward myself with some dumplings when I got back.

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I sent a photo to Po. Her comments were “funny looking dim sum”. They are not traditionally multi-coloured. They tasted okay.

After finishing my dumplings, I checked the board which now said to go immediately to our gate, which was down the long corridor to the B area. Was the plane going to leave earlier than expected? I did my second hike to the B gates.

It was a bit of a false alarm as boarding did not start for 30 minutes. I think they wanted to get people started on their long walks.

Once on board, I was quite pleased to have a little girl with her father in front of me. I figured that the girl would not recline her seat. But they soon switched so that they could be with the mother. A guy settled in and immediately reclined all the way.

There is much debate about airplane etiquette and reclining seats. I do not recline my seat unless the person if front of me reclines to the maximum. But with the seat in front all the way back, I had to recline. Then the man sat up. I immediately brought my seat up. There was a man in the middle seat beside me and miraculously no one took the aisle seat. The man had seen me going up and down, so he moved to the aisle and motioned for me to move to the middle. I was quite grateful. I had seen him facetiming with his young daughter. He was on his way to Pakistan for work.

With the middle seat available, it turned out to be a reasonably pleasant flight of about four hours. We arrived only an hour late.

We disembarked via stairs and were given a bus ride to the terminal. It is a huge airport, but with the bus we had a relatively short walk to immigration. I had purchased my visa online and was quickly through to baggage where my little bag arrived after a couple of minutes. Amber had arranged a ride to my hotel. I was told to walk out and find a sign. I did not see it, but a man asked my name and found me on his list. He then told a group of us to follow a young man who led us downstairs to many waiting cars.

I was quickly assigned to a car and climbed into the front seat. The first part of the drive is a new highway. The driver offered me Wi-Fi from his phone. I accepted so that I could message Po that I had arrived. Po replied with a video of Zoe.

My notification sound is Zoe howling (I refer to it as singing). The driver looked over, so I had to show him Zoe. We were talking via Google translate with each of us typing into our phones. This was all happening as we were rolling along the highway. At least traffic was light at that point.

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We passed over the Galata Bridge and down into Sultanahmet. I knew I had arrived.

I checked into the Turkoman Hotel. It was basic. The clerk looked at his phone, or talked on it, the entire time I was checking in. There was a lot of noise from the street. Soon after I heard the call to prayer. I expected that since there are lots of mosques in the area. I had woken to the calls on the first morning of my last visit but then managed to sleep through it on the following days.
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I went for a walk. I knew my way around which was both good and bad. It is more exciting to be seeing new things, but Sultanahmet is both beautiful and exotic. I took a video of the fountain with Hagia Sophia in the background.

I would normally have eaten something local, but a pizza sign pulled me in. I knew I had plenty of time to eat more traditional fare over the next two weeks.

I walked for a few minutes but was quite tired, so I returned to my spartan room. I needed to get some sleep so that I could do my first guided tour in the morning. I did a quick chat with Po and went to bed, hoping for sleep and that the next thing I would hear would be the morning call to prayer.

Posted by Bob Brink 22:56 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey istanbul Comments (1)

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