Friday, December 20, 2013

Road Trippin' - Turkey Edition

We were planning on traveling overland from Budapest through Vienna, Croatia, Bosnia, and Bulgaria before arriving for a week in Istanbul. Then we put out a call to friends for suggestions, which came back overwhelmingly in favor of more time and more Turkey. Then we found a sweet flight from Vienna to Izmir 2 days later and thought, let's throw out our whole plan and go to Turkey!  We had a great 24 hours in Vienna and then it was off to Izmir. 

Breakfast on the terrace
We landed in Izmir and drove one hour south to Selcuk, the nearest town to the ruins of Ephesus. We found a little inn, Hotel Rilican, overlooking the valley and castle. We enjoyed the next two evenings with the innkeeper, Iksan, and his family, eating and drinking wonderful Turkish food on an outdoor terrace overlooking the beautiful view. 

Our first full day in Turkey, we went to see Ephesus, an ancient city filled with history. St. Paul traveled through Ephesus several times in his life, and the Virgin Mary and St Luke may or may not be buried there. On the way, we learned a bit of history listening to a Rick Steve's podcast in the car, and got a Rick Steve's audio podcast guide for the site itself. The area was amazing, and very much gave the feeling of stepping back in time (there is an additional option to see some terrace houses which are being restored currently, and they were fabulous...see them!)! The mosaic floors in every room were just like we would use area rugs today...beautiful colors and detail.

The next morning we got up early and drove 4 hours east to Pamukkale and the ancient ruins of Hieropolis. As you drive into the town of Pamukkale  (which we're pretty sure only exists to service the tourists), the hillside looks like a man-made ski hill in the middle of summer in the desert. In fact, the area has hot springs with high mineral concentrations, which leave calcium deposit terraces called travertines. And it's essentially a grown-up, natural water park! You leave your shoes behind and walk up the calcium deposits as warm water cascades down your feet, stopping along the way for a dip in the pools, some quite warm, some refreshingly cool. At the top, we popped our sandals back on and explored the ancient city of Hieropolis. It was such a delight after a month in the very cold to go for a long walk through ancient ruins in my bikini!

We spent the night in the village at a near-empty little hotel and hit the road early the next morning. Our destination was Oludeniz, a little town billed as a lovely watering hole along the turquoise waters of the blue lagoon. It disappointed, but the drive there didn't!

We failed to procure a paper map, and our iPad swallowed the directions after we left the wifi area, so we followed the signs to Fethiye (the biggest town north of Oludeniz). The Turkish road signs led us differently than google maps and we are so glad we followed! We drove over a beautiful series of mountains, through little villages, complete with Turkish men and women tending their family fields. Each house had peppers growing in front and strings of the peppers drying off the eaves. At lunchtime, we stopped in a small town called Cameli and found ourselves a feast at a local place called Yayla Restoran. 

They welcomed us in with open arms to a buffet of bubbling pots, where a delightfully fat Turkish man acted out the dishes for us (my favorite was arm flapping to show the chicken dishes). We picked several few plates, feasted, had some post-lunch tea, paid our 18TL ($9) bill and we were on our way. So far, this was Cory's meal highlight of Turkey.


Back in the car, we drove the final hour or so to Oludeniz. Remember that quaint town we were expecting? What we found was a British version of spring break Cancun, off season. Block after block sold fish and chips, advertised in pounds sterling. And when we tried to order Turkish tea, they only had English  breakfast. And when we arrived to our hotel, which we had reserved online, it was closed. Empty. For the season. After a bit of scrambling, we found a cheaper, better place around the corner, just behind the Churchill Bar (seriously...we're not sure where all the Brits came from!). We had a nice hike, saw the disappointingly not-turquoise blue lagoon and continued north.
Sunset at Oludeniz
When we rented a car, my picture was to get out and really see the countryside and be able to stop along the way. On our way north from the disappointment that was Oludeniz, my picture was made complete! Cory pulled over at a fruit stand (knowing I'd been craving one) and I got out to investigate. I asked the owner how much for a pomegranate juice and he responded 3 lira. $1.50 seemed a bit steep for a juice on the side of the road in turkey, but as I'm not really in the business of negotiating 50 cents out of a Turkish farmer and his wife, I agreed. All the sudden, he pulled up two chairs into the shade for us, cracked open a pomegranate and a tangerine for us to eat while his wife made the juice. A couple of sips of homemade pomegranate molasses and it was time for her fabulous fresh juice. As we made our way back to the car, he came running after us with a big glass of his apple tea (to make us strong, as he motioned) and handshakes and hugs. Best 3 lira ever spent!


We arrived a couple of hours later in Bodrum, a larger tourist town on the water, with a castle right on the central pier. We were worried about another touristy harbor town, but we loved Bodrum! It reminded me of what I imagine a Greek island to be like, with white buildings and cobbled streets coming down the hill right to the water, with a harbor full of gorgeous wood hulled boats, and tons of bouganvilla. Heaven! We found a super budget, yet delightful hotel (Sevin Pension, for $16 per night, including breakfast and free parking!) and spent the next day meandering about town. 

View from Bodrum Castle
Temple of Apollo at Didim
Bodrum is known for a few things. First, in ancient years it was known as Halicanarsus, and was home to Heroditus, the "father of history." Second, in about 350 BC the king of the area, King Mausolus had a tomb built for his impending death, the Tomb of Mausolus. You may recognize that as one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, or as the derivation for the term Mausoleum. Neat, huh? Third, there is the Castle of Bodrum, on the pier in the center of the harbor. It now houses a really great underwater archaeology museum, but was once the conquering of Alexander the Great.

We started north on our last day on the west coast, with several hours until our flight from Izmir. We stopped in Didim to see the Temple of Apollo, and it was amazing! First of all, google maps led us to the town of Didim down the most swoopy, twisty two lane road, through fields of fluffy cotton, past tractors pulling carts of locals from town to town. Didim itself is not particularly charming, but when you get to the temple on the way out of the town, it is amazing. With incredibly tall columns, where just the foot of the column is chest height, you very much get a humbled feeling, like you're trespassing in a home of the gods. You can only imagine what it felt like go be there when the temple was standing! And at a super bargain price of 5TL each, it was easily the biggest bang for our ruin buck so far.

Priene Temple of Athena
We had heard before this trip that turkey is covered with isolated ruins, out in the countryside, but we hadn't really seen that yet. As we drove north to Izmir, we got it. North of Didim, we continued on the smallest roads we could find and before long showed up at Miletus. We didn't go in, but took some photos from outside before continuing on. We drove across a flat plain of farmland (which we later found out used to be the Aegean Sea!) and came to Priene, a former ancient city on top of a hill, built for Athena. It was good that we had seen (and been guided through) Ephesus first because we understood much more of what we were seeing: a smaller city, but with all the same, temple, agora, etc.).

Back to the road it was time to blast to Izmir, meet our rental car guy at the gas station (a little worrisome, but worked out in the end!), and make our flight to Kayseri, to begin our Cappadocian adventure!

For more pictures of our Aegean adventures, check out our Flickr page!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Vienna in 24 hours!

We went to Vienna partly because it had always been in our plans, and partly because we found a cheap flight to Turkey from there. We arrived on the train from Budapest at 2pm and needed to leave for the airport at 2pm the next day. In our 24 hours in Vienna, we saw much much more than our 9 days in Budapest!

Wienerschintzel at Flugmuller
Going in on such short time constraints, we made a list of why we wanted to go to Vienna and, oddly enough, those reasons all revolved around food. Specifically, foods with “Vienna” in the name: Wienerschnitzel, Viennese Coffee, Viennese Chocolate, Wieners... We had our work cut out for us!

We started with lunch at Flugmuller, a spot that’s been serving up huge schnitzels since 1906. As we were now in a Euro country (not such a good exchange rate for us!), we shared one (gigantic!) wienerschnitzel, one side of salad and a small carafe of white wine for $44 (!!). But it was delicious!

Next up, Viennese hot chocolate, Viennese coffee and apfelstrudel at Cafe Sacher, started by the inventor of the Sacher Torte. Sitting in a cosy window of the cafe sipping the most delicious hot chocolate as the sun went down and the lights came on over the opera house was a lovely way to spend one of our 24 hours. We were planning on going to the Opera, but when we got there, it turned out it was the same opera we saw 2 nights earlier in Budapest!

We meandered a bit more and found ourselves at the Crown Jewels, at the Treasury in the Hofburg Palace. It was a lovely (though pricey!) exhibit, with highlights including Napoleon’s baby's basinette, an 8 foot unicorn horn, a chunk of the cross Jesus was crucified on (nail hole and all), John the Baptist’s tooth, a piece of the Last Supper tablecloth, a shred of Jesus' loincloth, and a piece of wood from his manger. Quite the Christian artifacts!

CW fm left: Napoleon's baby's basinette, a piece of the True Cross, John the Baptist's tooth in a fancy gold box, a super sparkly sceptre, and Austria's crown.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the palace grounds and parks, marveling at how grand Vienna is. You can absolutely see that this city was the center of a major empire.


That evening, while walking across Stephansplatz, we heard music and saw people going into the St Stephens Cathedral. We enjoyed some time in the back of the beautiful cathedral during the evening mass. Amazing how much we prefer to see churches when they are in use, with music, life and purpose.

Before heading to the airport the next day, we shared a lunch of wieners and little sandwiches with mini beer (another Viennese specialty!). What an incredible and memorable Viennese day!

Tips for your 24 hour trip to Vienna:
- If you are truly in town for exactly 24 hours, you can save a ton of money on a 24 hour transit pass. It will save your walking legs and we were able to get to the airport on just a 2 euro supplement to our passes.
- Being Sunday, many shops and museums were closed. If you can avoid being there on a Sunday, do so!

More photos of our day in Vienna:


Vienna, a set on Flickr.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Relaxing Week in Budapest

We arrived in Budapest for 9 days of touristing, and in the end, we did a lot of relaxing! We rented a great little apartment in Pest (until arriving, we had no idea that the city is made up of Buda on the west side of the river and Pest on the east side) near the Margit Bridge and nested a bit. 

Here's a sampling of our favorite sights and activities in Budapest:

- Szechenyi Baths: Spending a few hours at the thermal baths is a delightful tradition in Budapest, enjoyed by a wide variety of locals (and as tourists we were quite welcome, though a bit 
confused at first!). Although there are lots of bath complexes to choose from, we went to one of the oldest (built in 1913) and most fun (they had a whirly gig pool that was a giggly delight!). 

House of Terror: A moving and interesting museum about the Nazi and Communist occupations in Budapest. Part conceptual art museum, part educational history museum, and part memorial to those who were killed, the museum was just great. The educational part was a bit thorough (imagine a double sided, small print page of info for each room of the 3 story museum, to be read in a standing only room with loud music and strobe lights). But there's a tank in the atrium, a really cool exhibit on show trials and a 3 minute elevator ride in which you watch a video about their torture practices.
The view from the cheap seats :)

- Opera: After our fabulous experience at the Opera in Prague, we decided to go again in Budapest, and saw "Der Rosenkavalier" in the beautiful opera house. They sell super budget friendly tickets in the nosebleeds (I had to sit on Cory's lap to see the whole stage) but for $5 US you get the whole opera experience! The music was beautiful and the opera house was lovely. The only catch is that the opera was in German and the super titles were in Hungarian. So, we read the synopsis ahead of time and treated the experience like the old days when they didn't have super titles. Lovely!

- Margit IslandA beautiful island in the middle of the Danube River that's a runner's (and players) paradise. There's a squishy jogging path that circles the island, several sports and aquatic centers, and the ruins of an ancient cathedral, which you can climb on!

An autumn run on Margit Island
- Sunday Market at SzimplaThis is a really local farmers market in an old building and courtyard that's a bar come night time. Bustling with cheeses, breads, yogurts, pickled vegetable stalls and meats, there's also a stall that makes a big soup or stew at the back to feed those on a super budget (payment is on a donation basis). The bar is open for coffee, lattes and stronger drinks, and its just a really great weekly market!

Szimpla Market
Total Costs for 8 days in Budapest: $899.00 US ($112.49 per day)
Housing (cute apartment on AirBnB): $46 per night
Transit (mostly tram rides...very easy system!): $6 per day
Food (some casual easting out, mostly drinking and dinners at home): $35 per day
Other (museum tickets): $24 per day

More pictures of our week in Budapest:

Budapest, a set on Flickr.