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Everything but Istanbul : A Turkish Adventure

Everything but Istanbul : A Turkish Adventure

From the earliest history of mankind and the birth of Christianity to the culture wars of Kurdish nationalism and massive infrastructure projects, this daring exploration gets more and more off the beaten path until the road literally runs out.

SaraJoy Pond

Channel: SaraJoy PondPublished on Oct 21, 2017

Everything but Istanbul : A Turkish Adventure - Map

Pamukkale (pah-moo-KAH-lay)

It may look like something out of a fantasy novel, but the surreal beauty of this mountainside of terraced travertine pools is 100% natural. The hot springs here have been a favorite destination since before the Roman Empire, and the mineral-rich waters and mud in the pools--ranging in temperature from 'super-charged hot tub' to 'refreshing backyard pool' are truly an experience. Note: this is by far the most "touristy" destination in this adventure, but it's well worth it. Go early in the morning to have some time before the hoards descend ;)

Fethiye (FET-yay)

Fethiye is the first in a string of sleepy towns right on the coast of the lapis lazuli waters of the Mediterranean. In each town, you have only to walk down to the beach (after breakfast on the balcony of your guesthouse, of course) and pay for a day trip on any of the several boats lying at anchor there. You'll spend the day sailing around to the tiny islands, ruins, waterfalls, swimming and snorkeling spots surrounding the town, with a traditional lunch included in your fare (note: keep an eye out for the crepe-like treats locals sell out of skiffs that meet the boat during the day--they are to die for!) Returning to "port" in the late afternoon, you'll catch a bus (usually more like a minivan) to the next town over--usually less than an hour's drive. Then watch the sunset from the balcony of your guesthouse, wander the town to find some dinner, and start the whole marvelous process over again the next day. Think of it as the "Turkish Riviera" version of bar hopping :)

Demre/Myra (DEM-ruh) (MEE-ruh)

If you make one detour inland during your slow sail down the Lycian Way, let it be Myra. The towering ruins of “rock tombs”, built into the side of a limestone cliff, are almost reminiscent of a gorgeously-carved Art-deco apartment façade. Add to that the classic Roman amphitheater, vaulted ceilings and arches you’d swear belong in a Gothic cathedral, and the sunlight glinting off an ocean of glass greenhouses in the valley below, plus Santa Claus’s tomb (don’t tell the kiddos) and Demre is perhaps one of the most eclectically fascinating towns in Turkey.

Kaş (kahsh)

Tucked away in its protective cove, Kas has been a ship-building town for centuries. And many of the craftsmen you’ll encounter as you wander the streets down by the wharf still use the same materials and techniques as their great-great-great-great grandfathers.

Cappadocia (cap-uh-DOH-kya)

The marvels of Cappadocia climb hundreds of feet into the air and extend even further beneath the ground. You can crawl through the underground cities—yes, they are literally cities--built by early Christians fleeing persecution in the first century AD, explore monasteries cut into the sides of cliffs and filled with nearly perfectly preserved frescoes a millennia old, and stay in a hotel carved from the soft ‘tufa’ inside one of the towering ‘fairy chimneys.’ Due to its unique (to put it mildly) topography, the ridges and valleys around Goreme have also become a popular site for movie producers, video game designers, and other artists. Note: because most of Cappadocia falls within a National Park, guided tour packages are the only legal way to explore many of the sites.

Antalya (ahn-TALL-yuh)

Antalya is a modern city; one of the richest, cleanest, and safest in Turkey. But beyond the breathtaking resort hotels and gleaming office towers lies a city full of simple pleasures, and simply lovely people. Because one cannot eat great food nonstop for a week (though believe me, you’ll be tempted) visiting a few of the dozens of gorgeous waterfalls within and around the city provides an enjoyable alternative. One of the most striking things about visiting spots popular with locals, but virtually unknown to tourists, is seeing how carefully Turkey preserves its wild and beautiful spaces—even those that don’t rewrite history.

Mount Nemrut (NEM-root)

Who can resist a royal court of decapitated gods and goddesses with 10-foot heads presiding over the world from the top of a 7,000 ft mountain tomb? The hike up will likely be hotter and drier than most walks you’ve taken, but pretty much any truck that passes on the road will give you a lift if there’s room. Archaeologists and other scholars from all over the world come in and out of the research station about halfway up Nemrut on a fairly regular basis, so you never know who you’ll meet if you just stick out your thumb.

Urfa (OOR-fuh)

Urfa isn’t your typical “college town.” But the city has been at the heart of higher education for empires from the Sumerians and Hittites to the Byzantines and Arabs. Muslims, Jews and Christians alike believe Urfa to have been the hometown of Abraham, and the magnificent “Abraham’s Fountain” in the center of the city is still home to renowned Arab scholars and teachers. Urfa is a quiet city, clean and lovely. You’ll spend an enjoyable evening strolling—with many of the city’s families—through the huge park at the center of town. These picnic dinners, games and walks are one of the few times you’ll see men, women, and children together in public around Eastern Turkey.

Göbekli Tepe (go-BEK-lee TEP-ay)

On an isolated hill outside the city of Urfa, archaeologists made a truly monumental discovery. The ruins of Gobekli Tepe—a ring of 20-foot pillars, each weighing as much as 20 tons and constructed between 8,000 and 10,000 BCE—are by far the world’s oldest megalithic structures. (For reference, Stonehenge only dates back to the 2nd or 3rd millennia BCE.) These ritual sites have forced scholars to reconsider pre-historic man; what he believed, how he lived, and why he chose to band together with others (long before such behavior was previously believed to occur) to create such a wonder.

Hasankeyf (huh-SAWN-kayf)

Hasankeyf is beautiful. An entire city built atop and into the sides of a 100-ft cliff. You’ll see nearly vertical ‘stairways’ of ledges cut into the stone walls between cave homes (while climbing much newer, less precarious versions yourself.) You can look down over the monstrous wall that’s protected the city since the Bronze Age, and wander winding canyons that have been the home of shepherd families since long before that. But it’s the impending completion of the Ilisu Dam, which will completely flood the town, burying all but the very top of its towering minaret, that makes Hasankeyf such a treasure. The majority of residents have already been moved across the Euphrates to a newly-constructed city in anticipation of the dam’s completion. But some, especially those whose families have lived in the canyon caves for literally centuries, have said they won’t be leaving, no matter the consequences. It’s possible that by the time you visit, you’ll be watching the sun set over a massive lake instead of the crumbling walls and towering canyons of an ancient city.

Van (wan)

Speaking of lakes… The lake at Van is one of the loveliest in Turkey. There aren’t many attractions in Van, per se. But walking along one of the oldest defensive walls in existence one minute and having coffee in a crisp and trendy bar, surrounded by 20-somethings going to college online and working remotely for some of the biggest companies in the world the next, is an experience in and of itself.

Mount Ararat (ahr-uh-RAWT)

Towering more than 16,000 ft above sea level, you’ll get stunning views of this massive dormant volcano (and its smaller sister—just 12,000 ft ;) for hours before you arrive in the gritty, vibrant city of Dogubayazit at its base. From there, you can easily hitch a ride out to where the road ends and start hiking. Obviously, intensive training and careful packing will be required if you plan to summit; and a local guide (a selection of whom you’ll encounter in a “base camp” of sorts about halfway up) is recommended for traversing the ice fields that never melt on the upper reaches of the peak. But the view from the top—literally at the convergence of four countries; Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran—is hard to beat. You don’t have to summit, however, to experience some of the wonder of Ararat. The light at sunrise and sunset, the flash storms that roll through nearly every afternoon, the tundra plants and flowers, and the nomadic shepherd families who make their homes on the slopes during the Summer months combine to make this mystical mountain both peaceful and fiercely beautiful.

SaraJoy Pond

Channel: SaraJoy PondPublished on Oct 21, 2017

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