Goodbye Turkey, Hello Greece!

Initially the plan for our “Greece and Turkey” trip was to split our time evenly between the two countries. After spending a couple weeks busing around Turkey the goal was to spend a couple weeks island hopping around Greece. Then we looked up ferry prices to the various islands. Wow-za! Greece is not an expensive country to visit, but the ferries between the islands cost more than our daily budget. At 30-60 euro EACH WAY (in high season, which is when we were visiting), we just couldn’t justify blowing our budget to get to different islands within the same country. Maybe options coming from Athens are more affordable, but coming from Turkey your options are pretty limited and are not very budget friendly.

The luxurious Greek Islands

The luxurious Greek Islands

So we switched gears a bit and decided to focus on one or two islands and travel the much cheaper and easily accessible Turkish coast instead. After a lot of research and adjusted expectations we settled on one island, Rhodes. Why Rhodes? Honestly, location. It is one of the easiest Greek islands to get to from Turkey and it is large enough that five days there didn’t feel excessive. There are beaches and good restaurants and wine and history.

Welcome to Greece!

Welcome to Greece!

We had hoped to take a ferry from Fethiye to the island but for a reason still unbeknownst to us all the ferries from the Turkish city to the Greek island were cancelled the week we were in the area, so we ended up having to backtrack a bit up the coast to Marmaris, spend an unplanned extra night in Turkey and get on an afternoon ferry the next day. We were joined by dozens of day-trippers who had taken the morning ferry over from Rhodes to spend one day in Turkey (because you can absorb SO MUCH CULTURE by shopping in a tourist market for a few hours).

Most of our five days on Rhodes were spent exploring the island by car, but we did spend our first night walking around very cute, but VERY touristy Rhodes Town. The medieval city is the oldest inhabited in all of Europe and despite being stuffed with shops and restaurants catering to the literal boatloads of tourists packing the streets there is a certain charm to the cobbled streets and centuries old architecture.

Rhodes Town

Rhodes Town

Rhodes Town

Rhodes Town

Hello fellow tourists!!

Hello fellow tourists!!

We attempted to get away from the crowds and were rewarded with some romantic exploration of tourist free side streets.

Also Rhodes Town

Also Rhodes Town

Staying inside the medieval walls in Rhodes Town is pretty expensive (although we found a pretty okay deal for our one night there, only 40 euro), so we had booked an Airbnb in a town called Faliraki, which is one of the main party places on the island. Being the old married couple we are, we had no intention of parting and had chosen this spot solely based on the $28/ night room I had found. Plus there is a beach in Falaraki, which should be a given in picking a place to stay while on a Greek Island.

Our first full day on Rhodes was spent doing a whole lot of nothing at the beach in Falaraki. Some sun, some lunch, some swimming, some more sun, some reading, some dinner, some sleep. A vacation from vacation.

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Ephesus

I love history. I love it so much that I chose to get my BA in the subject. I am the dork that binge watches The Ultimate Guide to the Presidents on Netflix. Six hours in one exhilarating afternoon. When I got a Kindle and gave away most of my books, 90% of the survivors are non-fiction historical anthologies or biographies. I love the drama and the personalities and way one decision can have a ripple effect that changes the whole outcome of the world. For me learning about history is like watching a reality show. Except that is it is, you know, reality.

My love of history is one reason why I like to travel so much. I love hearing about events that shaped the world from different perspectives. Any historian will tell you that history is not just a list of static facts, although history classes often present it that way. American perspective on World War II is obviously very different that Japanese perspective. I’m sure Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell would not agree on how exactly the founding of the Church of England came about (nah man, it was MY idea!).

All that being said, I have to admit that ancient history just doesn’t do much for me. And I am not really sure why. According to Wikipedia History of the World (which I am sure is SO accurate) my historical interest falls into what they are calling “modern history”, meaning history that happened after the middle ages. Basically 1500 to present day. With the notable exception of The Mongol Empire (Genghis Khan was a BADASS), history that occurred before the invention of the movable printing press just isn’t my jam.

But if you are in Sorrento, Italy, less than an hour away from Pompeii, do you skip it? Obviously not. If you are in Guatemala and you have access to the ruins at Tikal do you opt to pass on by in search of more “modern” runis? Haha, nope. So when our path in Turkey took us near the Greek ruins at Ephesus we had to take the opportunity to wander around the ancient city and take in a history that I am not very familiar with.

Terrible picture of Library at Ephesus

Library at Ephesus

Ephesus was once located along the Aegean Sea and was a very important port city for the various empires which controlled it during its long history (including Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires). Famous for the Temple of Artemis (which is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) and an extremely complete and awe-inspiring library (well the façade of the building anyway), the ruins are a huge draw for tourists in this part of Turkey.

Terrace Houses

Terrace Houses

Ephesus is also important in the history of Christianity. Paul the Apostle lived there and wrote Corinthians in the city that was, at that time, a center of culture in the empire. There is even a legend that claims that Mary (Jesus’ mother herself) retired here with Saint John and there are tombs near Ephesus that bear their names.

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The harbor at Ephesus filled with silt so now the ruins sit inland a bit (8 kilometers). Many visitors come to the ruins via the cruise ship port at Kusadasi or from the larger town (with an airport) of Izmir. We chose to stay in Selcuk, the town closest to the ruins, which is surprisingly not touristy. We did get an audio guide for the site, which we usually do at ruins since the buildings are incomplete and it is often difficult to know what exactly you are looking at as you walk around. The Library of Celcus and the Terrace Houses (which you pay for separately) were the highlights of the visit. The gobs of other tourists was the lowlight.

Crowded Ephesus

Crowded Ephesus

So did visiting these ancient ruins wake up a passion for ancient Greek history? Nah. Ephesus is pretty cool, and I am really glad when went, but a few hours was plenty for us. Honestly, my favorite part of our day was returning to Selcuk and finding a local market winding through the cobbled side streets. We bought a huge sack of cherries, a few peaches, olives, and some fresh undies. I have only three lines written in my journal about Ephesus and seven lines written about shopping and wandering around the Selcuk market. Priorities.

Pamukkale: Beautiful or Bust?

Have you ever seen a picture of somewhere amazing looking and thought to yourself, “I bet tourists have ruined that by now”?

Are you for real?

Are you for real?

Unfortunately that is part of the reality of this super connected world we live in. Pristine beaches and far-flung temples that were untouched 50 years ago are rapidly becoming more and more accessible to hordes of travelers with unprecedented access to the world around them. It’s awesome and disheartening at the same time that there are so few places untouched by DSLR toting tourists wanting to experience different cultures and histories. Popular places are often popular because they are great. That is how they became so popular. But sometimes that popularity can ruin what made a place so special and unique in the first place.

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Pamukkale was a destination that looked too cool to still exist as seen in pictures on Pinterest. No way the beautiful white pools are really that color. No way you can soak in peace and solitude.

 

Pamukkale is a natural site in Turkey where mineral hot springs have flowed over the centuries, leaving behind carbonates and creating a super white, cotton ball looking hillside with natural pools. Visitors cannot actually swim in the naturally occurring pools, but you can sit in manmade versions with naturally occurring carbonate mud and mineral water. On top of the hillside is an ancient city called Hierapolis, and visitors can visit the ruins of the Byzantine City. There is one entrance fee for the pools and another for a mineral pool in the city of Hierapolis where you can swim amongst ancient columns.

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When we are faced with situations where we are unsure about whether or not to visit “can’t miss” places we always turn to one of our favorite travel friends, TripAdvisor. Like most popular places, TripAdvior had very mixed reviews on Pamukkale. “Awesome” some people claimed, “overrated” just as many reported.

So what did we think?

We honestly loved it.

We took an overnight bus from Goreme to the sizable town of Denizli, where we were allowed to check in super early in the morning (thank you Yildirim Hotel). After dropping our bags in our room we headed right back to the bus station (which was literally across the street from our hotel) and we able to get to Pamukkale early in the day. BEST DECISION WE MADE. When we arrived the beautiful white travertine’s looked like this:

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Empty.

 

This of course did not last long, but by the time the tourist buses began to pull up we were sitting comfortably in the Hierapolis pool. The entrance fee to this pool is pretty steep, but how often do you get to swim in a pool with ancient Roman columns while surrounded but huge Russians with their beautiful skinny wives and rambunctious kids? The water in the pool at Hierapolis is crystal clear and warm.

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Technically you are only supposed to stay in the pool for two hours, but I’m pretty sure we stayed a lot longer than that. I’m not sure how they would check something like that…

Maybe too long?

Maybe too long?

After our long soak in the Hierapolis pool we decided to go back down to the natural pools to people watch and soak a bit longer. We tried to sneak photos of the women we saw posing for ridiculous Facebook profile picture shots, but our creepin’ skills were not quite up to snuff.

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Creepy photo #1

Creepy photo #2

Creepy photo #2

Before heading out I made sure to give myself a nice relaxing mud bath, which the kids hanging out in our pool thought was pretty hilarious.

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TripAdvisor warns of a high entrance fee, tons of tourists, hard, slightly painful rock, which you must traverse barefoot, and an unnatural feeling that accompanies the manmade pools where you are actually allowed to swim. This is all true. But Pamukkale is beautiful and unique and like nowhere else we have ever been. And we loved it.

Yeah, We Don’t DO Hiking

We don’t hike. We like to walk, we like to explore, we love to camp. But hiking? Nope. Basically never. We both grew up in families where the outdoor lifestyle is highly valued, and while some of those values stuck (like camping and visiting National Parks), neither of us appear to have inherited the hiking gene. One or two miles is fine, but I could probably count on one hand the amount of times in my adult life where I walked farther than that with the sole purpose of going on a hike (versus for sightseeing purposes).

Many of our favorite destinations would have been made even more amazing if we had any desire what-so-ever to pull on some hiking boots (which neither of us have owned since we were kids) and hit the trails. Nine weeks in Central America and how many volcanoes did we climb? That’s right, zero. Long weekend in Yellowstone? One hike in four days. The number one thing to do in our college town is to hike “the Flatirons”. I lived less than an hour from the trailhead for 22 years, but have I been to the top? Nope. Never even thought about it.

Here is a picture of a volcano we never even considered hiking,

Here is a picture of a volcano we never even considered hiking,

So, based on our history we were unsure about how to tackle the amazing landscape of Cappadocia. Do we rent a car? A motorcycle? A guide? Or do we suck it up, save tons of money, and really experience our surroundings by taking, yep, you guessed it, a hike?

Guess what? We hiked!

WOO HOO! Hiking!!

WOO HOO! Hiking!!

The owner of our hotel offered to drive us to the nearby town of Cavusin to start on a loop that would take us through the Rose Valley and Red Valley and then back down to Goreme. We were told that this loop was about ten miles, so after our hot air balloon adventure we took a nap, loaded up our bags with water, and prepared for the longest hike we had taken a couple years.

Cavasuin

Cavusin

Cavusin itself looked like a really fun town to explore, but we were burning daylight so we headed out of town and down into the Rose Valley.

Goodbye Cavasun

Goodbye Cavusin!

Our hike was INTENSE. We had a hand drawn map from our hotel that was basically useless so we spent the whole day guessing which way we were supposed to go. I’m pretty sure we ended up taking the most difficult path through the valleys, but it made the experience even more adventurous.

Part of the trail?

Part of the trail?

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Random staircase.

Random staircase.

See that rope? We had to climb that to get out of the valley.

See that rope? We had to climb that to get out of the valley.

So are we converted? Are long mountain treks in our future? Um…. No. Probably not. But we did have a really great day hiking the Rose and Red Valley’s and maybe we will not be so quick to dismiss hiking opportunities in the future.

Balloon-iversary

June 24th, 2013: We get married in Estes Park, CO

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June 24th, 2014: We eat a delicious French dinner in Fes, Morocco and a few days later celebrate our first wedding anniversary on a tour to the Sahara, where we rode camels and slept in a Bedouin tent in the middle of nowhere.

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June 24th, 2015: I lose my iPhone, Logan ruins an electronic rental car leaving us stranded on a beach in Greece and we get into a huge fight (ahh, marriage). But I haven’t gotten to that lovely story yet. Lucky for us we had already “celebrated” our second wedding anniversary with a magical morning hot air ballooning over Cappadocia.

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We knew that this was high on our priority list if we made it to Turkey and in order to save money for this expensive, but totally worth it, excursion we skipped Valentine’s Day and didn’t get anniversary presents for each other.

 

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There are tons of operators in Goreme running hot air balloon trips and choosing one is an intimidating task, so I didn’t. What I did instead was wait until we got there to ask around and luckily for me I didn’t need to look and further than the front desk at our hotel. Our wonderful host (who had booked us our tour the day before) called around to the places she recommends and got us onto a tour with Turkiye Balloons.

Side note: if you ever go to Cappadocia you really should book ahead. We got really lucky there was any space left.

The shuttle showed up at 3:20 am (joy!) and took us the Turkiye office/building/not sure what to call it, where we and the other 100 or so ballooners that morning ate an uncomfortably early breakfast and sucked down some caffeine. After an hour or so we were instructed to get onto our designated buses (denoted by the color sticker you were given when the van driver picked you up). I don’t know if we paid more or just got lucky, but we ended up in easily the smallest group, with only like 12 other people (compared to other balloons with 20 people).

After a short drive to our launch spot right outside of Goreme we got to watch the balloon get filled with hot air.

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Once the balloon was ready to go we climbed into the basket and the pilot and the balloon helper people got everything in position for take off.

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We were in the air for a little over an hour and it was spectacular. We saw the sunrise.

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Floated through valleys.

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And admired the landscape (and other balloons) that surrounded us.

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Our pilot landed our balloon back onto the truck smoothly and with amazing precision.DSCN7577

Back on the ground we were treated to a glass of champagne and a memento of the experience.

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Hot air ballooning was honestly just as magical as we hoped it would be and we are so lucky and thankful we got to celebrate two years of marriage in such a unique and special way.

Green Line Tour Cappadocia

Normally we do not take tours while we are traveling (unless they are free!) but in Cappadocia it felt like the most time effective way to see as much as possible without having to hike miles and miles in the hot Turkish sun. We decided on the Green line tour (as opposed to the red and blue line tours, all of which you can Google yourselves to find out more about). Why the colored names? I have no idea, but every tour operator in town calls them the same thing and follow basically the same route, so we just went with the one our hotel recommended (they even called and booked it for us!). The tour leaves pretty early in the morning, but it lasted all day, making us feel better about the high price tag.

Tour Day!

Tour Day!

We were picked up by a shiny black mini bus (the nicest one that had driven past our hotel all morning, I may add), and were whisked away from Goreme.

Our first stop was Pigeon Valley, so named due to the rocks with perfect bird sized roosts where pigeons love to live. Despite having a less than inspiring name, the valley was very beautiful and had a great view of Goreme.

Pigeon Valley

Pigeon Valley

Stop number two (and the main reason we chose this tour) was the underground city of Derinkuyu. According to Wikipedia approximately 20,000 people, plus their livestock and food stores, could fit in this multi-leveled city, which is completely underground. Why would 20,000 people willingly live underground alongside goats? Well, during the Byzantine era the caves and tunnels were fully formed to use as a mass scale hiding spot for the Christians of the region who were being persecuted by the Muslim Arabs. The people of this region did not always live underground, just in times when refuge needed to be taken.

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Logan and I both love being underground and this was such a unique subterranean experience. Next time we are in Cappadocia (spoiler alert, we loved it a lot and we want to go back someday) I want to rent a car so that we can do some independent exploration of other underground cities in the area.

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After winding our way through the amazing passageways underneath the rocks it was time to explore Selime Monastery, which was carved into the rocks above ground level.

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Our full morning of touring ended with an okay lunch (provided on the tour) at a super touristy restaurant that clearly catered to organized tours like the one we were on. Now really our scene, but what can you do? (Umm…. Other than chose to explore independently, which we will be doing next time around.)

On the way back to the bus after lunch I ended up having a whole conversation in Spanish with a couple from Argentina about the drug war at the Mexican-American border. That’s right, a whole conversation IN SPANISH! I am not sure why I was so confident in speaking all of the sudden, but it was awesome. I was proud (clearly, since this whole paragraph has literally nothing to do with our tour).

Back to the point, we headed to Ihlara Gorge after lunch for a lovely walk next to a babbling brook at the bottom of cliffs. The gorge looked absolutely nothing like anywhere else we visited in Cappadocia.

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The final stop of the day was an onyx factory for the prearranged shopping stop that all tours make so that they can get visitors to buy souvenirs from places that will pay them commission for anything purchased. We saw a demonstration (sales pitch) and then were taken to a show room full of expensive jewelry. After making a few purchases (kidding, we drank our free tea and went outside to wait) it was time to go back to Goreme for dinner and an early bedtime (in preparation for our adventure the next morning!!).

Why Hello there Cappadocia!

Up until Turkey we were able to avoid overnight trains and buses (almost) completely, which was a very intentional. We are basically old curmudgeons when it comes to sleep, and when our 8 hours gets messed up we are NOT happy campers. I am that neighbor that knocks on your door at 11 pm reminding you that “some people have to work in the morning!”(even if all I am going to do the next day is watch Mad Men). That didn’t always go so well during college, seeing as we attended one of the top party schools in the country…

GO BUFFS!

GO BUFFS!

But sometimes situations arise where not getting enough sleep is the price you pay for awesome experiences, like opening all your wedding presents/cards the night of your wedding after everyone goes home. It was worth it that night and our night bus, both to and from, Goreme was worth some lost sleep as well.

Goreme is one of the most popular towns to stay in while visiting the region of Turkey known as Cappadocia, which is known for its other-worldly geology. It is so insanely beautiful. Our bus pulled in around noon, and despite our less than rested bodies needing a nap, we were raring to get going with our Cappadocia exploration.

Hello Goreme!

Hello Goreme!

Our finances did not allow for us to stay in an actual cave room, but our stone room in the family owned Taskonak Hotel was a great alternative. If we ever go back though, we are springing for a cave room. Google it. It’s super cool. Taskonak Hotel is owned by a super nice Australian woman and her Turkish husband who she met when traveling through Goreme! How cool is that?

Taskonak Hotel

Taskonak Hotel

Our lovely host recommended that we start our time in Goreme with a walk up to the town overlook and then down Love Valley, home of the um… interestingly shaped rock formations, called fairy chimneys. We had quite a bit of fun taking less than appropriate pictures (which I am not going to post, since our parents and grandparents read this).

Fairy Chimmneys

Fairy Chimneys

Valley of Love

Valley of Love

The hike took around two hours and landed us at the Goreme Open Air Museum where visitors can explore stone churches carved into the rocks and catch a glimpse into how the Christians who fled to Cappadocia to escape persecution lived (more about that later).

I don’t seem to have any pictures of the Open Air Museum…

Back in town we ate a completely delicious dinner of chicken with eggplant and manti (Turkish ravioli) at a restaurant called Fat Boys (soooo Turkish sounding, no?) that was owned by the same couple that owned the hotel we were staying at. And then we crashed. At like 9 pm. We feel so old sometimes…

Yummy Turkish Raviolli

Yummy Turkish Raviolli