A Travellerspoint blog

Crossing the Tauras Mountains and Arriving in Cirali

Our first glimpse of the Mediterranean

Mahmet, our driver from Goreme,is a big burly man. He quietly offered the possibililty of driving us to the coast, when we went in to his travel agency to try to arrange air transportation. We looked at buses, flights and finally settled on accepting his offer. Mahmet is larger than life, with a huge love and understanding of his country, he chatted non stop on the long journey, sharing personal stories as well as historical and political perspectives of Turkey. We learned a lot from him, and the miles slipped away painlessly.

It was a really good decision to have driven from Goreme, we drove over the Taurus mountains, yes there was a bit of snow at the top of the range.


We drove along the old silk road, which is part of an historic old network of trade roads. The road was used to transport goods from the East to the West, and maybe vice versa?. Of course it is a paved highway now. Still it felt interesting to be driving on such a historic path. We stopped at an old Caravanseray, which has been turned into a museum.

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In this one there was an open courtyard and then an interior covered portion. Mahmet explained this type of caravanseray could be used in the winter and summer. The silk highways were known to be perilous to tradespeople, and many robberies occured. These walled buildings made the journeys safer. As we left the caravansary we saw hand made rugs lying on the road for the cars to run over, surprised, we asked Mahmet what the rugs were doing there. He explained that the people laid them out on the road for cars to run over as this softened the wool and made them more pleasant to walk on.


Mahmet drove us through the city of Konya - the home of the Whirling Dervishes and Rumi's tomb. There were huge crowds here as it was a weekend and many Turkish families were travelling. We decided to press on but Mahmet did do a city driving tour for us.

He bypassed the large and bustling city of Antalya as we had asked and drove us to Cirali, a friendly little village right next to the old old village of Olympos. After stopping for a cup of tea, he left us by the pool of the Canada Hotel.


I guess it's called the Canada Hotel because Carrie is from Calgary. Her Turkish husband Saban and Carrie own the place. The Canada Hotel is set in the semi tropics, there are hedgehogs in the garden and palm trees and other tropical plants. There are bicycles free for the taking, and the area is flat and there are few vehicles so it is ideally suited to bikes.

Cirali is an ideal swimming beach, pleasant temperature, gradual slope, and no currents or tidal forces to drag us in or out.

Just down the beach are the Lycian ruins of Olympos. They are picturesquely located on either side of a beautiful river which leads out to the sea. We were early in our ruin viewing and so were overwhelmed with the leafy jungle silence covering the centuries old buildings. It seems the way of life has been consistant over the years. Each ruin we have visited has baths, for communal washing, an area for shopping, a church or religious building, and an amphitheater for entertainment - all of these can be found in the modern cities of today.

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Even the details of the Roman gate still remain.

Today's Olympus itself is a one street village, with pensions and restaurants. We stopped for an orange juice, and headed back.


The Chimaera is a bit of a mystery. Imagine this. We got a ride to a trail head just outside of Cirili just after sunset. We started up a steepish trail in the dark for about one kilometer, the trail was very uneven and we had flashlights. There were many people on the trail despite the darkness and the quality of the trail; we could hear many different European and Russian tongues. After a while, we started seeing fires in the distance. Eventually we made it up to the fires. Apparently, rumour has it that the first olympic torches were lit from these flames. They have been burning unaided for centuries, and people told us that you can extinguish them temporarily with water, but they start burning again in just a few minutes.

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Saban went out of his way to be helpful to us. He had several staff people, and all of them were so friendly and helpful too. One person that stands out was another man called Mahmet. We never saw him without a huge smile on his face, as our days progressed we started to learn about him. Like many people in the tourist trade, he comes from a different part of Turkey to work from April to November and then goes back home again. Brad and Mahmet had some extremely entertaining, competitive games of ping pong. Mahmet sheepishly confessed to being a city ping pong champion after he won! We have heard that some people leave their wives and children to work 14 to 17 hour days and occasionally, at the end of the season, if the profits are not good, the servers have to go home empty handed! This will not be the case for Mahmet and the other staff at the Canada Hotel. It struck us as a well run operation.


As we left Cirali for Kas, we hugged everyone goodbye. This is how Turkey is, so friendly and kind.


Posted by hbwatson 11:38 Comments (0)

A Walk In the Turkish Woods

In Search Of A Hidden Gem

Waking up one morning after a long travel day, Sue and I really wanted to find a fun hiking opportunity. It looked to be another wonderfully hot and sunny day unfolding before us and so we set out to unearth a quiet yet rigourous hike to explore; following which we thought we would go to another of Turkey's amazing beaches.

Over breakfast, we spoke with our hosts and soon realized that a hike to an ancient and long since abandoned (yes, more ruins) monastery would be the thing to do. Once again, armed with Tillys and Tevas, we set out on our way. Hoping to have a "sabour"hike, we walked slowly along the narrow paved road towards the trail head. We stopped at every opportunity to smile at everyone we met and to say gunaydin (good morning). As we have found throughout all of Turkey, virtually everyone returned the greeting with the warmest of smiles and a wave. Starting to feel now just like some of the locals, Tillys and Teva's notwithstanding, we confidently strode on.

We came across a lady who had just finished setting up her road side stand and the wares looking so interesting. We asked if we could take her picture along with a picture of her beautifully set up stand and she smiled and nodded. We tried to explain that we really liked what she was presenting..hoping that she understood...we took our picture, exchanged the warmest of smiles and moved on.


Stepping up the pace now, we rounded a corner and had to come to a full stop as a sheperd along with a huge flock of sheep completely blocked the road. We stood on one side of the road as the sheep hurried towards us nimbly directed by the whistling and when necessary, stone throwing shepherd. Sensing our unease he chased the sheep to the other side of the road, bid us a warm gunaydin and moved his flock on.

Soon, we found the trail head and as the day started to warm considerably, we started our ascent. We watched closely for trail markers as other tourists had told us that the monastery was quite hard to find. The trail got steeper and steeper and the day got warmer and warmer. We were sweating profusely but felt confident that those evening strolls along kits beach would provide ample prep for anything that Turkey could offer us. Geez though, it was getting warm. Sue seemed to have a lot of strength and I must admit to struggling a bit in the heat. Still, we were very excited about discovering the monastery and the hike up through the pine forest was simply gorgeous.

Finally, we came to decision point, a fork in the path. The trail seemed to head to the left but logic suggested that we should take the right fork. We decided to follow the trail head and after hiking another 200 metres or so came across a small ruined building that we assumed had to be the old monastery. Feeling a fairly significant level of " ruins let down", we moved towards the cliff edge to enjoy the wonderful view down to the ocean. We had had a wonderful hike, the view from up here was staggeringly beautiful...life was good.


Then I moved even closer to the cliff edge and nervously peered over. Looking first left, then ahead, and finally through some trees to my right, way down below us, I saw what I thought was a wall. Our eyes by now were getting quite accustomed to seeing ruins whether it be walls, churches houses etc. I knew immediately that I had spotted something! Now quite excited, I called Sue over and after changing positions to better our vantage point ...there it was! The ancient monastery unfolded before us.


Feeling now that Christopher Columbus has nothing on me, we quickly retraced our steps back to the fork in the road. Then I spotted a tiny trail head that Sue suspected could only lead to the beach several hundred feet below. Trusting now my well honed explorers instincts, I took a moment to get mentally in touch with my Lewis and Clark forefathers. Sue decided to let me go ahead so I started down the steep trail that reminded me of trying to go down the grouse grind on my butt. After 200 or so metres, I hollered up to Sue for her to join me. When she arrived at the monastery, we both went silent for about 20 minutes. It seemed to be the most gentle of retreats with a closeness to nature's beautfy that is difficult to describe. Suffice to say that we were once again humbled by Turkey's amazing history and it's wonderful beauty.


After 30 minutes or so, we reluctantly started our way back up first to the fork, then down the the long hike back to the road. Feeling quite drained, we stopped at a road side stand and watched as a man squeezed several large oranges into juice glasses for us. The juice was wonderful and with re-newed energy, we returned to our hotel where I immediately jumped into the pool.

Another amazing Turkish Experience.


Posted by hbwatson 00:16 Comments (0)

A Little History Lesson

Hang in There

Prior to coming to Turkey I had the pleasure of reading the book "Birds Without Wings" by Louis de Bernieres. Loosely based on historical facts, this booked helped me to understand the relationship between the Greeks and the Turks - although even after being here, I'm still not sure that I have it all straight. Louis's novel took place in Eskibahce, a disguised name for Kaya Koyu, the largest medieval ghost town in Asia Minor.

For hundreds of years prior to world war one, both Greek(Christian) and Turkish (Muslim) people lived together in communities very happily. Sharing in the births of their children and the deaths of their parents; celebrating special occassions with each other,even some of the religious ones. After the Greco-Turkish war there was a population exchange - the Greeks families were sent back to Greece and the Turkish families living in Greece were sent back to Turkey. Keep in mind, most of these people had never stepped foot outside of their villages. The Greek people who were sent back to Greece did not know how to speak Greek and vice versa. Needless to say, when they arrived in their imposed countries, it was not easy for them to integrate - they were truely in a foreign land.

As we drove along a very steep and windy road, through a pine forest (kind of felt like being in the interior of B.C.) and descended into the valley below, there was Kaya Koyu sitting proudly on the hill. Over 600 abandonded buildings are on this historical site. I couldn't believe that we were really here!


It was a warm sunny day as we headed off to tour this historical site. The first building we explored was one of the churches. There were still mosaics on the floor with the alter area mostly intact. But the most surprising was what we found out back....the bones of many of the Greek families bones had been left behind in a special room.

We continued up the steep hill passing by many houses along the way. The characters from the novel were coming to life before my eyes. At the very top was another small chapel with views looking down to the ocean.

As we carried along a herd of goats rambled through the town, there is always one who has a bell around it's neck. They always seem to know where they are going. (Couldn't find a picture of the goats, so you will have to settle for a picture of me instead!)


We continued along the upper road, passing house after house. Sue and Wayne spent some time talking with a couple who had toured the town the previous day. The tour was done by the grandson of one of the men who had actually lived in this village. It would have been wonderful to hear some of those stories. Instead, we let our imaginations take over. We did read that when the Greek people left this village, they left behind their personal possessions and even their homes in the care of their Turkish neighbours-positive that they would be back again one day soon. Unfortunately, this never did happen.

We headed back to our pensiyon for the night - Villa Rhapsody and our hosts Atilla and Jeanne. They are the most welcoming hosts and Jeanne prepares incredible meals,including afternoon tea and cake poolside. It is a small property (16 rooms)set amongst a beautiful garden, surrounded by farmers fields with goats, sheep and an occassional donkey.
Atilla is larger than life, full of stories, travel advice and an impish grin! He lovingly calls his Villa his "prison without bars" as he works 16 hour days, 7 days a week. If this is prison, then sign me up!

We met such lovely people here - Kelly and Mark from Cresent Beach (Kelly works with a friend of mine that I went to school with and graduated nursing with, Fiona) and John and Beth from Manchester who we shared many stories and laughs with. They have been coming to Turkey for many years and have recently bought some land here.

The next day we hiked up to the monestary (we never found it, but Sue and Wayne did), then headed to one of Turkey's most featured beaches, Olundeniz beach. We spent a couple of hours here sunbathing and swimming in the Mediterranean. We watched as the parasailers descended from one of the high surrounding peaks, landing on the beach below. The water is crystal clear. Spectacular!

It was hard to leave this beautiful part of rural Turkey, but we knew there were more adventures ahead for us. Turkey continues to amaze us in so many ways.


Posted by hbwatson 12:15 Comments (0)

Up, Up, and Away...

Floating above a Fairytale Landscape

sunny 14 °C

With excitement and a little anxiety we looked forward to our hot air balloon ride. After doing a couple of hours of research the day before on what balloon company to go with, we were confident with our choice. With a dozen companies to choose from it was a task to separate the promotion from the facts. Some companies advertise on their website as having brand new equipment but through traveller reviews these same companies we discovered had less experienced pilots. All a little intimidating considering we will be floating to heights of 1500 feet and the only thing keeping us in the air is some hot air and a wicker basket. Yikes!! come on Brad, buck up this is going to be a once in a lifetime experience!

A mini van from the Butterfly balloon company picked the four of us up at 5 am from our hotel. Wayne informs us he has not slept at all. His mind was working overtime thinking about the what ifs. We hear for the first time that he has a slight fear of heights and is mildly claustrophobic. Great Wayne, not a frigging good combination when 12 people will be in a small confined space for over an hour, at dizzing heights and the basket edge comes up only to your waist with no seatbelt included. I'm thinking will he cause panic amongst all the other passengers and bring all of us down in a firey crash. Wayne's nervousness makes Heather a little more edgy. Heather faced her fear of heights last year in Kauai when she soared in a 2 seater powered hang glider. Wow, what are we getting into this morning. Is this a bucket list item that will be a trip of a lifetime or a damn foolish choice that we will regret as soon as we climb in that oversized wicker basket.

We were dropped off for a light breakfast at the Butterfly Balloons head office, before being shuttled to the balloon launch site. It was then that we realized the scope of this thrill ride operation. About another 100 people had been collected from hotels and deposited here by shuttle vans. We were one of about 12 companies, each sending up multiple ballooons assuming weather conditions are right. Hot air balloons are launched first thing in the morning when the wind is calm and everyone can watch the sunrise. Perhaps 30 to 40 balloons would be floating at the same time as our balloon. You could feel the reserved excitement of the participants. Next we were assigned our pilot. We were hoping for an experienced one that could speak some english and a smaller group. Some balloons would take up 20 at a time but we lucked out and got assigned to a pilot and ballloon that took only 12. We would meet our pilot, Mehmet at the launch site.

After a 15 minute drive we arrived at the luanch site. We were awed by the size of the balloons as the grounds people hurried to get the 5 massive balloons filled with hot air.

We met our pilot Mehmet, and he informed us in broken English that weather conditions were perfect.

That made us all feel a tad better. Then it was count down to launch time. Mehmet called our group over and told us to climb into the basket. Two grounds people helped us sramble over the edge of the basket; 3 people in 4 separate sections. The fifth spot was for the 5 large propane tanks. Our eyes darted everywhere taking in the beehive of activity. We looked off into the horizon and saw that some of the other balloon companies had already taken off;I was hoping we would be the first of our 5 balloons to launch. Then we were stunned to see Mehmet throw the largest propane tank out of the basket to the ground crew. What the hell----I think we may need that if the other 4 tanks run out! I was so naive. I looked around and saw other propane tanks being thrown overboard. This left a whole in the centre of the basket, room for our pilot. That was a good thing!

Heather and I held hands in anticipation as the basket shifted below our feet. Mehmet turned on all 4 burners to full blast for about 5 seconds. When we looked up, a flame some 20 feet high burst upwards into the centre of the balloon. We could feel the intense heat on our faces. Then it happened - lift off!

The ground was quickly moving away from us. There was silence in the basket as we all were amazed that we were airborne. Then Mehmet said, "We are in trouble" as he pointed to a place about 50 metres from the balloon. We were only about 150 feet off the ground. He said in broken english, "Iceberg straight ahead, Titanic". Sure enough, there was a 300 foot rock pinnacle and we were headed straight for it.

Then he started laughing and all of our tension was released. He gave a couple of quick blasts of the burners and we sailed so close to the rock, it felt like we could reach out and touch it. Mehmet was showing off his skills as a pilot. This helped my confidence surge upwards.

The sun started to rise over the horizon, the land below took on an orange glow. A peaceful, tranquil feeling came over me. This seemed surreal! I looked around and there was a grin of satisfaction on the passengers faces,---we were flying, floating like a bird. Now we were upt o 500 feet on the altimeter. And the scenery below was breathtaking. Everywhere I looked there were canyons and the famous the fairy tale chimneys.
Fairy chimneys are what the Cappadoccia area are famous for. Imagine conical shaped rock formations about 20 meters high with doors and windows in them. Yes these also double as ancient cave houses, as old as time. Some people still live in them.

Our balloon changed altitude and direction with ease. Mehmet our pilot took us up to 1500 feet and as low as 20 feet where it felt like we would touch the canyon floor and walls. I looked across the horizon and could see over 40 balloons in flight, all brightly colored with their logos prominently displayed.


Our hour was drawing to a close and we could see that we were approaching our landing area. The trucks and trailers were driving quickly, trying to anticipate where we would be landing. Soon the ground grew hopped out of the truck and were racing towards our balloon. Mehmet told us to all get into the landing position - squatting and holding on to the rope handles in the basket. We barely needed to brace ourselves at all as Mehmet did such a gentle touch down. The crew grabbed the ropes and steadied us. The truck and trailer pulled up beside our basket and Mehmet slowly raised us up and on to the trailer - what skill.

We celebrated our journey with a champagne toast and were given a certificate to commemorate the flight. This is something I will never forget. Another amazing adventure that hopefully others will have the opportunity to experience.



Posted by hbwatson 12:54 Comments (1)

On a More Serious Note

Mosques of Istanbul

The two great mosques of Sultanahmet - the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia - were both very impressive. We have chosen to focus on two much smaller mosques which we found to be especially meaningful to us. Many of the mosques were once churches and were converted and added to over tme.

The first discovery was made by Sue and Wayne. It is the Chora Church in Western Istanbul. It was on Sue's "must see list" and she was not disappointed. They took a ferry to a little visited part of Istanbul to see this church. They walked up hill for one kilometer, but it was worth every step. Built in the late 11th century, and added on to over the years, this church has the most amazing mosaics and frescoes. The mosiacs date back to the 14th century and were funded by a poet by the name of Theodore Metochites. The mosaic below shows Theodore offering the church to Christ.
It is an exquisitely beautiful church. Because it is on a smaller scale, it feels more intimate and spirituality is more easily accessed. The ceiling shot below, gives a sense of the fine mosiacs. It's hard to believe that this church was once converted to a mosque - today it is a museum.
One of the mosaics that was especially touching was the one of Jesus holding a baby which is a representation of Mary's soul.

Now, fast forward and imagine yourself in an open air, crowded market street on the shore of the Bosphorus. The market products were all local domestic goods such as: brooms, handmade wooden spoons and other cleaning supplies.

What we are trying to say is that this was not a very touristy area; rather it was a place where the local Turkish people did their shopping. The street was crowded and narrow and bustling with activity. We were in search of the Rustem Pasa mosque but were distracted by all of the activity around us and could not quite figure how a mosque could be found in this setting. Then Brad spotted an old wall, with a small doorway and worn stone stairs. Could this be the place?

We decided to give it a try and low and behold it opened into a beautiful, quiet, intimate courtyard - peace found amongst the bustling city below us.

We drank in the atmosphere, slowly making our way to the entrance. A lovely man stood at the door way and told we were welcome to come in to the mosque, but we only had 5 minutes as the prayer service was about to start. So we donned our scarves, removed our shoes and entered through the side door.

The first thing we noticed was the Imam sitting at the front, singing in a very beautiful baritone voice. Look close, he's hard to see in this photo but we couldn't use a flash.

Other mosques we had been in were silent. Sue describes a feeling of being "hugged" by this mosque. It is small and decorated in the most exquisite Iznik tiles, most dating back hundreds of years to the Ottoman times. We stayed the full alotted time and left feeling blessed that we had this opportunity.

Others had arrived and were not allowed to enter - we felt so fortunate that our timing had been so perfect. We could have easily walked right past that little doorway on the crowded street and missed this experience all together. Good work Detective Brad!

Sue and Heather

Posted by hbwatson 08:30 Comments (0)

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