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Emma & Maneesh on the Big OE

Turkey - Our Trip to the Old World

TURKEY | Wednesday, 18 May 2011 | Views [554]

Looking out from a view point that we found.

Looking out from a view point that we found.

Monday 9th May

It was an early start. The previous night we had flown from Dublin to London Luton, and arrived at the hotel at about 11:30pm. We’d gone straight to bed, but got up a few hours later (3.30am) to get back to the airport. We took a taxi to the airport and checked in. After breakfast at the airport our plane left on time at 6:30am on a clear London day. We had a brilliant view of London flying out which was nice. It was a 3 1/2 hour flight to Istanbul. Over Austria and Switzerland the skies were clear and we had a great view of the stunning snowy alps below.

We touched down in Istanbul at 12:15pm (GMT + 2hrs), and after no problems getting through immigration we went to collect the rental car. It was a small Hyandai Getz, but it was all we needed. So it was back to driving on the right hand side of the road again. We were only 45km from our hotel. The first 30km into Istanbul went well, then we hit the traffic and the crazy Istanbul drivers. It was certainly an introduction to Turkish drivers. Intersections and lane changes were like playing chicken, but you had to keep moving forward, otherwise you would be waiting all day to be ‘let in’. And the traffic lights: as soon as they turn orange (they turn orange again after red and before green) the cars behind you are on the horn telling you to go.

The only wrong turn we really made was sitting in a 20 minute queue for what we thought was our right-turn lane, but turned out to be the queue for a carpark, so after a bit of good Istanbul footpath driving, we got back on track. We eventually made it to our hotel at about 3pm. Em went in to check us in, only to be told there was a problem and that they had made a mistake. Em asked what the mistake was and she was told "the mistake was that we forgot to stop selling your room". They had a 'friend' with a nearby hotel so after going up to check that out we moved our car and checked us in to the new hotel. Once we dropped our bags off to our room we went up to the roof top to check out the view, which was quite brilliant. In one direction, we had the Blue Mosque, and in the other was the sparkling Sea of Mamara with 40 or 50 container ships anchored. It was a sunny afternoon, but a little windy, so still a little chilly, maybe 15°c.

Our first stop was for drinking water which was easily found (the tap water in Turkey isn’t very safe) then we needed to get lunch. After walking for about 20 or 30 minutes we found a nice area near where we were staying and came across a Turkish Bath (Hamam). We were taken in and shown around which was fantastic. They also recommended a local place for us to eat and it was great. Em and Mum got a stuffed egg plant and I had a Shwarma Kebab which was very tasty. From here we took a rather indirect path to the Grand Bazaar (our map wasn’t great). It was suprisingly quiet there which was nice. We spent a good 2 hours there wandering around and looking at the myriad of stalls (there are over 4000 stalls in the Grand Bazaar). It was a bit different from 2 years ago, the stall owners seemed much less pushy to make a sale which was good, maybe we were just better at handling them this time. It was starting to get quite chilly, as the sun was behind clouds and the wind was getting up so we walked back to our hotel. We got back at close to 8pm. Mum had a shower and was not hungry so stayed at the hotel while Em and I went up the road for some dinner. We had a very tasty dinner. Em watched a guy make the fresh flat round breads in the fire which was cool. Afterwards we went back to our hotel and got some apple tea and baklava, which we took up to our room for dessert. After having showers it was bedtime, and very much welcomed given it was 10pm and we had had a long, busy day, but a great start to our Turkey adventures.

Tuesday 10th

We slept in until 8am then after showers went and had breakfast. It was a normal, yummy Turkish breakfast, with cucumber, tomato, cold meat, boiled eggs, bread, olives, jams and soft cheese as well as Turkish Tea (which is slightly bitter, and served without milk in small, curvy glasses, with sugar cubes on the side). We got out of the hotel at about 9am and went to the Blue Mosque. It was another cloudy day, and there was a cool wind again. On our way to the Blue Mosque, which was only about 5 minutes walk away, we walked through the Hippodrome where the Romans used to hold chariot races. In the middle of the Hippodrome is the Serpent Column which was originally built the Greek Victory in the Battle of Plataea in 479BC. It was relocated to Constantinople in 324AD. The other feature of the Hippodrome is the Obelisk of Thutmose III. It was originally erected in Luxor during the reign of Thutmosis III in about 1490BC. In 357 Constantius II had it cut into 3 pieces and bought to Constantinople. Only the top third is there today, with no heads.

From here we went into the Blue Mosque and spent about 20 minutes inside looking around. Again we noticed that is was not as busy as the last time we were there. Our plan was to head to the Hagia (Haya) Sofia which is opposite the Blue Mosque but the line was extremely long, so we went to see the Cistern Basilica, which was built in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. It was a water filtration system for that area of Constatinople and was used until modern times. It is about 10,000 sqm, and is capable of holding 80 000 cubic metres of water. It was quite a spectacle with all of the columns and the water.

From here we headed to the Spice Bazaar. Along the way I got a lamb shish kebab which was very tasty and only TL4.50, compared to 10 or 12TL in other places. Then we decided to stop into a couple of banks to see if we could change some of our notes. We had some money left over from our last trip but the TL20 note had changed. Each bank kept on directing us to another, until eventually one of them told us we needed to go to the Central Bank, and we managed to get some rough directions for that. So we kept on heading to the Spice Bazaar. Along the way we all got a kebab for lunch which was very tasty, before we browsed through the Spice Bazaar. We spent about an hour wandering around there (and tasting yummy lokum / Turkish delight) before heading across a bridge which was lined with mostly men fishing for these small herring sized fish. They were having a good day too by the looks of it with most of them pulling them up. Once we got to the other side I went into a couple more banks before eventually getting to the Central Bank. After getting through tight security I was finally able to swap the old notes for new ones. From here we slowly walked back to the Hagia Sofia. We were getting much better at finding our way around this time and it did not take us long. When we got there we all decided we would not actually go in. Instead we thought we would go and sit down somewhere and have a cup of tea. On our way we got stopped for a chat by a salesman, and we ended up going into his carpet shop. We sat down and had tea while we were shown carpet after carpet after carpet. He also told us about his life. He was a Kurdish man, and had 2 wives, (he says Turkish law permits 4 wives). Between them he had 7 children. He was one of 22 children, and his father had four wives! Eventually he made a small sale, we bought a bed throw. From here we walked back to our hotel and relaxed. At about 6pm Em and Mum went back to the Turkish Bath we had found yesterday and had one there. A Turkish bath consists of sitting in a very warm communal marble-lined room, and rinsing yourself with hot water for about half an hour, until you are nice and sweaty and clean. Then the Hamam lady tells you to get onto a big warm marble slab in the middle of the room. She gives you a serious scrub with a very scratchy mit, which exfoliates your skin. You then rinse for a while longer. The next step is to get back on the slab, where the Hamam lady covers you in fluffy soap suds, and gives you a lovely massage with them. Finally you sit back down, wash your hair, and get yourself all rinsed off. Lots of fun, very relaxing, and squeaky clean results!

I relaxed in the hotel and then went to a nearby Bazaar for a wander around. The girls got back at about 7:30pm after an excellent Turkish Bath which they thoroughly enjoyed. We went for dinner, and ended up eating in a tiny shish kebab shop. They did not do 'eat in' but had 3 small stools so we sat there and we ate our kebabs which was nice. I ended up having 3! From there we went across the road to a 'bakery' and got some Turkish treats and a cup of tea for dessert. The sweets were delicious – we chose a variety of baklava and lokum (Turkish delight). I also had a chocolate mousse type thing whcih was very nice. We got back to our hotel at about 9:30pm and went up to the roof top before getting to bed. Again it was a great view of the Blue Mosque, this time all lit up, with the twinkling lights of the ships out on the Sea of Mamara.

Wednesday 11th

We were up at 5:30am and we were driving away from our hotel at 6:30am. We had an early start because we had a 762km drive ahead of us and we wanted to avoid the horrific Istanbul peak-hour traffic. Our plan worked well and we made good progress. It was a very big day of driving. We stopped at about 9am for breakfast which was not too exciting. We had a fuel stop later in the morning which was a little depressing. Fuel in Turkey is about TL4.20/Ltr (which is about $4NZ/ltr!). By about 2pm we were searching for somewhere to stop for lunch/ The first place we stopped at was on the shores of Lake Tuz which is a salt lake. For most of the year the lake is only about 0.4m deep. It has a salinity of 32.9%. The Dead Sea is 33.7% salinity. Unfortunately we did not eat at that place because if was very expensive and we did not go to touch the lake either. We continued on to a small town Sarayhan, and had a nice lunch here. We all had a lamb shish kebab. From here although the roads were wide, the surface was terrible and the driving was all about avoiding the pot holes. We made steady progress and got to Urgup, Cappadoccia just before 6pm. After getting directions from a local to our hotel we managed to find it, and check in. It was the Urgup Inn Cave Hotel. Cappadoccia is a famous area where people made caves in the sides of hills and used them as houses. Our hotel rooms were cave rooms. It was a cool experience, although I am sure you would not want to have claustrophobia as there we no windows in our room. There was one window in Mum's room. Once checked in we walked the few blocks into the small town centre, to meet with the owner of the hotel (Omer) who was very nice and helpful. He just wanted to point out a few things, and tell us about the area, which was good. From here we scrambled up the large hill in the town which had hundred of cave houses within it, and there were still a couple of houses in use (it was odd to see a cave dwelling with a satellite TV dish!). It was very cool to be able to wander around the houses and inside so freely. They are very impressive, amazing to see so many in such close proximity. We spent almost an hour up there (the only people up there, just on sunset) before going for dinner back in the town. It was a fantastic dinner. We had Turkish Ravioli, Sac Tava et, and Sofra. It was excellent, our best meal in Turkey ever! After dinner we poked around the shops, and found an amazing antique shop. It was jam-packed full with lots of different guns, bowls, pots, pestle and mortars, roman hair pins and hundreds of other things – the floor to ceiling shelves were groaning. It was fascinating to look around. From there we went to a carpet shop and spent a little time looking at carpets. The owner was very friendly and it was nice drinking tea and chatting to him. From here it was time to head to back to the hotel. We were in bed by about 11pm.

Thursday 12th

We had a great sleep although our heater was on in our room and it got really hot. Mum slept well also but woke up at 6am and could not get back to sleep. Today was our first really nice sunny, hot day and it was lovely. We had breakfast at 8am, and although it was cool we were able to eat outisde. Again it was a traditional Turkish breakfast. We were deciding whether we would do a tour or do the journey today ourselves. We decided a tour would be easier, and we were picked up at 9:30am by the tour company. It was nice and small with a total of 8 of us on our tour, from America, Costa Rica, and Dubai - a good mix of people. Our first stop was Mustafapasa, a small village about 10km from Urgup. This is an old Greek town and the houses are Greek style. Turkey has had a very turbulent history until recent years. In 1923 Greece and Turkey swapped citizens, so 1.5 millions Greeks living in Turkey were swapped for 1 million Turks living in Greece. This town was mainly inhabited by Greeks prior to the population swap.

From here we went to the Fairy Chimneys. These a very impressive: massive 'Staligmite' type structures where people used to carve out the inside and live in there. These and the cave houses are the main attraction of this area of Turkey and were one of the big reasons why we came to Cappadoccia so it was great to see them. The Fairy chimneys form naturally from erosion. A large part of the structure if formed from consolidated volcanic ash. On top is a big chunk of basalt which is more resistant to erosion. So over thousands of years the ground around this part if eroded and a fairy chimney is left.
From here we drove to Kaymakli, and underground city, one of the largest in the Cappadocia area. It was home to 5000 people! The underground cities were built in the 4th century and used by early Christians as hiding places before they became an accepted religion. It was amazing to go inside. We went as low as the 4th floor, but there are actually 12 floors. There is just a maze of tunnels connecting rooms, and there was plenty of space with most rooms being as big as a room in a normal house. The tunnels were a little tight in places though, but not too bad (Em found it a bit daunting in places). It was fascinating to see.

Next was a quick stop at a look out of Pigeon Valley. The people used to make homes in the sides of the cliffs for Pigeons to live in, so they could collect the pigeon droppings and use this as fertiliser for their crops. Our tour guide kept on saying "And now you will see a real pigeon", which was not really a novelty for us! After lunch we went to Rose Valley and walked several kilometres through this very pretty area, which was a lovely change of pace from the bus, seeing more cave houses and pigeon houses. Half way along, in true Turkish fashion, there was a stall selling tea and other drinks. At the end of the walk we came out at Cavusin Old Town which was a mixture of cave houses and Greek Style Houses. It looked so impressive. Then we were on the bus and went around the corner, and looking back at the hill the village is on, you would not know it is there. We did an Onyx factory tour which was a standard part of the tour and not very interesting but did not take long. Our tour finished at 5:30pm and we were dropped right back at our hotel which was great. It was a fantastic day, so amazing to see the cave city and Fairy Chimneys. After a cup of tea we walked into town. The evening cooled down a lot, so we were dashing from shop to shop. After some more shop browsing we went for dinner. We decided to try somewhere new and that was a mistake. It was a tasty dinner but not as good as the previous night. Still we tried some new dishes including a green bean dish which was nice, and the eggplant salad was also tasty. From there we went to a shop filled with drie fruit and nuts. It was impressive and we were offered lots of samples. We bought a few snacks there for the drive the next day, then went back to the Antique shop we were in yesterday and I bought a very heavy, bronze pestle and mortar which I was very happy about. We bought a couple of other knick knacks as well. It was about 10pm by the time we got back to our hotel, and we went straight to bed.

Friday 13th

We were up at 6:40am to get ready and pack our things up again. We ate breakfast at 7:30am on the dot and left Urgup at 8:15am. We had another long day of driving ahead, 645km to Pamukkale. Soon after we left Urgup we saw about 15 rainbow coloured hot air balloons up in the sky. Cappadoccia is one place that is supposed to be spectacular from a hot air balloon. After about an hour of driving Mum looked for her phone, and thought she had left it at the hotel. We rang the hotel and asked them to look. They said if they found it they would courier it on, so we continued to drive. Thankfully it was later discovered in one of her bags! Apart from a fuel stop, we drove until about 2pm. This drive was more enjoyable. The roads were quite good, and we were much more rural than our drive from Istanbul to Urgup. We were getting hungry so decided to stop in at a very small town called Cay (Pronounched Chai which is also the Turkish word for tea).

After we had parked up we walked towards the main part of town to try and find somewhere to eat. Friday is the day of worship. A lot of men were sitting outside sipping tea and chatting. We had a lot of people staring at us – this place was not used to tourists! One man was standing at a cart on the side of the road and spoke to us, gesturing, and Em picked up on one word, 'Borek'. This is a type of stuffed pastry, and surely enough on his cart under the covers were home-made Borek, still-warm, 3 different types. We decided we would get a spinach & cheese one, and a potato one each. That was 6 borek and it cost 3TL! I had one more, a lentil one as well, but that filled us up. The men became interested in us, and fetched us crates to sit on, and a glass of tea each and we sat there on the street eating our Borek while they watched. It was great. One man (a local school teacher) spoke a small amount of English, and we managed a conversation with a lot of charades. They were all very friendly, it was a lovely experience. Once we were nicely full, we said our goodbyes and thankyous, and we were back on the road. The rest of the trip was quite hilly, and we went through some good rain, but by the time we arrived in Pamukkale at 5:30pm it was just a little cloudy.

After checking in we went out and about for a nosey around the town. It is just a small town, and soon after our wanderings Mum spotted a camel and she HAD to have a ride. She and Em had a 20m (and TL20!) ride on the camel, much to my amusement. The camel’s attendant manhandled Em up into the saddle despite her protestations. After that excitement, we continued looking for a restaruant to eat at and browsing through the shops. We found two potential eateries, and decided to go with one that is listed in the Lonely Planet. From our Europe trip we found they were usually good recommendations, but this one was a bit disappointing. After dinner we headed back to the hotel for an early night.

Saturday 14th

We were up just before 7am and at breakfast for the start of it at 7:30am. It was a great breakfast, very good size, with the usual ingredients – egg, feta, olives, tomato, cucumber, bread and jams. We left the hotel at 8:15am as we wanted to get up to the white travertine terraces nice and early. Pamukkale means “Cotton Castle”, and refers to the curved, ‘fluffy’ looking white terraces cascading down the hillside. We were at the entrance 8:30am and there were a suprisingly large number of people already there. Still we had a nice walk up. The travertine terraces form from Calcium Carbonate that is dissolved within the water. Initially it is jelly like, but hardens over time. Travertine is a form of limestone, and this process is not too different to the formation of stalagmites and stalactites. It is now a UNESCO World Hertitage site, but prior to this there was a road up the terraces and 5 hotels. They have done large amounts of work at directing water flow so the terraces are being regenerated and look spectacular.

When you get to them you have to take off your shoes and walk on them in your bare feet. During our walk up we followed another small group of people (who went the wrong way) and got off the track, which was not at all marked. Still this made for great photos which was good, before one of the security guards blew his whistle at us. This meant we were 'out of bounds'. We heard the whistle many times during the day, but this was the only time it was directed at us! It was quite hilarious watching the guards blow their little whistles and gesticulate madly to try and control the crowds.

When we got nearer to the top, we started to get into warm water pools which was nice. There were already a large number of tourists there. Still we got some nice photos, then moved off the terraces to have a look around the ruins at the top of the hill. Heirapolis was a Greco-Roman city, founded in the 2nd century BC – placed here for it’s fantastic location on a hilltop, with the hot springs being used as an ancient health-spa. The ruins have been largely damaged by significant earthquakes over the centuries and buried by limestone dust and general plant growth, but are slowly being excavated. We spent aboou 4 hours exploring the ruins. There is a huge necropolis (cemetery – necro=dead, polis=city) there with thousands of sarcophagi. Another highlight of the ruins is the theatre which has been largely restored with more of the detailed relief sculptures decorating the stage being restored currently. Seeing the water supply which ran overground throughout the city was another highlight, this is something that was not so evident in other ruins we had previously been to. Along the way we even spotted a tortoise in the long grass!

There is also a museum with a few of more precious and delicate items found, so we went in for a look. It took us just under an hour to see the exhibits: pottery, glass vases, jewellery, coins, sarcophagi and sculptures. By the time we were done there it was 2:30pm and time to head back down into the town of Pamukkale – we were very hungry for some lunch! When we were leaving a thunder storm threatened but went around us, but it made for some spectacular viewing as it moved out over the plain in the distance. After a few more photos we came down the hill and went to Yoruk Sofrasi Restaraunt. This was one of the possible restaraunts for dinner last night, so we thought we should try it out. We made the right choice, it was brilliant. They did not have a menu, they made only two things: Gozleme, which is a 'Turkish Pancake' and Shish (meat skewers grilled over charcoal). We each ordered Gozleme with different fillings, which included any combination of crumbly local cheese, meat, spinach, egg, and potato. We sat on the comfy cushions on the ground surrounding very low tables, and we even had to take off our shoes. It was great. The owners (an older Turkish couple) were so lovely. We watched the wife roll the Gozleme which was very impressive. She ended up with a circle with a diameter of about 50cm, only as thick as about 4 sheets of paper, and then filled them and folded it in half, before cooking them on a large domed cast iron hot plate. They were delicious. After this we had a Turkish coffee, which is another experience in itself. Their 23 year old son was there who spoke some English, so that meant we were able to chat to them a while, which was nice. After the lovely lunch we walked around the shops, then went back to the hotel and tried a couple of the Turkish beers while we relaxed for an hour or so. When dinner time came, we did not hesitate in going back to the same place. Mum and Em ordered Gozleme again, and I got a lamb shish. Em even helped make her own dinner. She is pretty good with a rolling pin but found rolling out the Gozleme quite difficult – she made some holes in it, but it turned out okay. After dinner we had tea and sat and chatted with the family. Their daughter came by as well with her husband and their new 3 month old son Mehmet (a happy, handsome little guy). The grandmother had sewn a sort of swinging crib for him, which was strung between two poles like a hammock. They draped blankets like a tent over him from another string. It was a great little cosy set-up, in a lovely warm spot near the pot-belly stove. This visit was the closest we got to a 'family' experience in Turkey, and I imagine it would not be uncommon for family life to revolve around the restauraunt or business that they have. Before we left they invited us back for tea in the morning which was very nice of them. By the time we left it was after 10pm so we went back to the hotel and went to bed.

Sunday 15th

After having our breakfast at 8:30am outside in the morning sun, which was a novelty, we went back to the Yoruk Sofrasi Restaraunt to drink tea with the family. Their son was not there but we were still able to chat a small amount. They made us two gozleme for us to eat as well, but we were so full from breakfast. They put it in a paper packet for us to take with us. After saying our goodbyes we left and drove to Karahayit to go to the Red Springs. Well we did not see the sign posts, so stopped in at the town itself and had a look around the shops. It was not too busy, and was aimed more at local shoppers than tourists, which was nice. We ended up staying there until mid-day before getting on the road to complete the 245km to Selcuk (sell-chook), our final destination. It was a slow, hot, trip, but we only stopped for petrol and to buy some strawberries from a stall. The last part was a toll road so we swiped our card as we went through the start barrier to show where we had entered the toll way. At the other end where we had to pay, a loud alarm went off as we approached, then I tried to pay, but there was not enough credit on the toll card. So I had to reverse out of the toll lane, and Em went and topped up our card at a little office nearby. Thankfully there was no one behind us so getting out of the lane was easy. While we waited for Em to top up the card we watched about 10 other cars do the same thing! So we not just stupid tourists. After that we had a smooth run to Selcuk. When we arrived we could not get the address for the B&B in our GPS, so stopped in town and asked for directions. Again it was Em that went out. She asked a couple of guys, they were unsure so they got someone else. In the end there were about 5 guys there to help. This is very Turkish. If you ask them something and they do not know, they will take you to someone or get someone to help you. They are generally very hospitable, friendly, helpful people and this is something that makes Turkey so special.

We made our way to Kiwi Pension, our B&B, and arrived at 4:30pm. It was quite a let-down of a place, but it was only for sleeping in, after all! After checking in we drove a short way to visit Sirince (Sharinjay). This is another Turkish town that used to have Greeks living in it, but in the 1923 exchange, Turks were brought back from Greece and started living there instead. It used to be a town of 5000 people, but now only 500 people live there. The town now survives on tourism alone, and it must get thousands of tourists every year. The road up to Sirince is one of the dodgiest we encountered in Turkey: extremely narrow and the Turks do not drive with caution. Nevertheless we made it up there safely, about 10km up into the hills from Selcuk. We were looking in the second or third stall there and started chatting to a guy called Mustafa. After having a cup of tea with him he offered to show us around. He was born there and still lives there, so he was a great tour guide and we went into parts where the locals live, not just where the shops are with was nice. It is a beautiful little village, full of cobbled streets and whitewashed houses, nestled in a large valley. We had a lovely couple of hours up there including exploring some of the stalls. Sirince is famous for its fruit wines, and Em purchased a blackberry wine to try. We were in the village until about 7pm then came back down into Selcuk. The drive back down was much easier as we did not really meet anyone coming up the hill.

Once we dropped off the car at our hotel, we walked into town to find some dinner. It was a warmer evening and we had a delicious dinner outside. During dinner again we saw another common sight in Turkey: street cats. We must have seen about 10, but they look quite well kept, no too feral. We saw one of the waiters give them a bit of food, it looked like they dine in style! We had a lovely dinner and ate too much as per normal, but it was too nice not to. Tonight we sampled (among other things) zucchini fritters, eggplant moussaka, and a really tasty local natural yoghurt mixed with mint and garlic. By the time we were finished it was after 10pm so we headed back to the hotel and went to bed.

Monday the 16th

We were up early. Our hotel breakfast started at 7:30am, but we left at 7:20am to go to Ephesus. We got there and were the first ones there which was great. We were hoping that the gates would open early, but unfortunately they did not, so we just stood in the sun for the half hour until the gates opened at 8am, so we could be first inside. We remembered how jam-packed the ruins were the last time we visited, and we wanted to have it to ourselves for a while! It was a beautifully sunny morning and it did not take too long to really warm up.

From 8am we had about half an hour of the Ephesus ruins to ourselves with about 10 other people, it was amazing. Ephesus was originally a Greek city, but later became a major Roman city – the capital of Roman Asia. During the 1st Century BC Ephesus had a population making it the 2nd largest city in the world, only to Rome. It was so rich, it had marble streets, all the buildings had marble facades, they had street lighting, and houses had flushing toilets, and hot and cold running water. Ephesus had a large sea-port / harbour, but this silted up from the river over a number of years, and the importance declined (the sea is now 30km from Ephesus!). The site that we explored today is only about 15% of the total city of Ephesus, it would be amazing to go back in 50 or 100 years to see what other gems are unearthed.

The half hour of quietness was brilliant and we used it to take some great photos and look at the ruins of the Library of Celsus, originally built in 125AD. Today's facade that is there has been reconstructed out of the original pieces. Come 8:30am, the tour buses and tour groups started pouring in. It was quite impressive to see, by 9am there must have been over 1000 people there with plenty more tours arriving.

We had a great morning wandering around the ruins. Mum was hugely impressed, and we were blown away even second time around. Wandering along the mable-paved roads next to structures that are 2000 years old, mind blowing really. We even spotted ourselves another tortoise in the long grass, just like at Heiropolis. A strange thing happened while we were looking around the ruins as well: we bumped into Bulent, our wondrful tour guide from when we were in Turkey in 2009. He was taking a tour around (unsurprisingly), so we had a quick chat to him and got his phone number.

At about 11am it was getting really hot. We had just about finished the ruins, and decided to go into an extra viewing area, the terraced houses, which was currently being excavated. They are completely covered now by a protective structure. Inside they were impressive. These are the houses of the rich and the important people of the city. The houses were enormous. Large parts of beautiful mosaic floors were still intact. Currently the archaeologists are piecing together coloured marble facades from the interior walls which were damaged during a number of earthquakes. We watched the men there matching together the marble pieces, over 100 000 pieces of it! The worlds largest and trickiest jigsaw. Inside the houses they even had things like dumb waiters, where the kitchen staff could lower the food down to the waiters, and underfloor heating! Hugely impressive to see. Although they were not complete structures, large parts are still intact. In places, houses were buried in between 5 and 10 metres of earth. We spent about an hour and a half wandering through these beautiful ancient homes, before heading back out into the sun and finishing off the ruins. It was midday by this stage and we were very hungry (after sacrificing breakfast in the name of good touristing), so we headed back to the car. A lot of double parking was happening, but thankfully there was a small gap we could squeeze through, so we made it back to the hotel. We dropped off the car, then wandered to a nearby restaraunt which had a good few locals eating at it and we decided to eat there. It was delicious, meatballs baked on fresh tomato and onion in clay bowls, with very fresh bread and yoghurt. Very tasty and very much welcomed into our hungry tummies.
After lunch we had a little walk around the town, before heading back to the car and driving to a ceramic factory. There we watched a young man throw a small vase on a potting wheel, and saw the painters hand painting the dishes, and then like any factory in Turkey, we were ushered into the shop. We spent quite a while there, browsing the brightly painted bowls and plates, and bought a few small things for home. From here we went to see the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. Unfortunately now all that stands is a column that he been reconstructed from left over pieces, sitting in the middle of a bog – not particularly exciting.

From there we moved on to a carpet making centre nearby, where we saw young women making the rugs by hand. Every single piece of wool or silk on the rug is hand knotted. It is amazing to see, and we all enjoyed watching them work. We also saw a demonstration of silk being spun from silkworm cocoons, which bobbed around in a tub of hot water. Each cocoon has a strand of silk about 1 kilometre long! Then of course we went into the show room to be shown rugs. It was an impressive display of rugs (lead by a main salesman with about 4 or 5 helpers, who laid out and rolled up rugs with impressive speed), but we were only there for about 40 minutes before saying we were not going to buy anything.

Once we got back to the hotel we dropped off our ceramics, then drove to Kusadasi as we had arranged with Bulent to meet him for dinner. We had a lovely evening catching up with him and we were reminded about how knowlegable he was and how lucky we were to have him as a guide when we were last in Turkey. We were trying to track him down for our trip this time, but had no luck, so it was great to catch up with him through serendipity!

We got back to the hotel at about midnight and were very happy to get to bed.

Tuesday 17th

We were in no hurry today so had a bit of a sleep in. After having our breakfast we went out to enjoy our last day in the lovely Turkish sun. The owner of the hotel kindly recommended a trip for us, however it was not the success we had planned for. We drove for an hour to a town and then we were supposed to take a mountain pass to a small town. However it was getting near lunch time so we went found a nice local eatery for lunch. After managing to ask to locals there how to get to where we wanted to we were told in no uncertain terms (i.e. gestures like cutting off your head, as they didn’t speak English) that we should not drive that road, it is far too dangerous. So that was the end of that plan. We decided to head back to Selcuk, where we had come from! We went back to the hotel to do a couple of things, and were told by the man there that the way we went was the wrong way, it was only 20km away and the opposite way to where we went! Very frustrating.

So we headed into the town there and had a look around the shops that we had not walked around. It was a quiet afternoon, but nice to be out in the sun and warmth. At about 5pm we got on the road to head to Izmir airport. After dropping off the car we checked in our bags, 2 more extra bags compared with what we bought to Turkey.

It was the end of a fantastic holiday. Very busy, and all 3 of us were tired, but loved it all. The food was great (as you can tell this was quite a big focus of our trip). The Turks are such friendly, hospitable people, and so helpful. It was so nice to travel with Mum as well, and hopefully prepare her for the rest of her Europe travels, as well as show her some of our favourite places in Turkey which was great.

We flew out at 10pm Turkish time and got into London Gatwick just after midnight. Em spent some of the flight showing Mum the London tube (underground rail) map to prepare her for her London adventures starting tomorrow. I spent the flight sleeping and missed out on some action. A man tried to or started to try to smoke a cigarette. Em said after the cabin crew realised they gave him two options, either to provide them with all of his details, or to have the police meet him at the airport. He opted for the former, so the rest of the flight was fairly event free.

Wednesday 18th

It was another early start at our hotel at London Gatwick and all 3 of us caught the shuttle bus to the airport at 7:45am. After Em and I checked in our bags we went with Mum to show her where she could get her train ticket for the train into London and where the platforms were. Unfortunately we could not wait any longer, so left her there and went through security. We flew out at 10am and landed in Dublin at 11:15am. We got a text from Mum saying she had successfully caught the train and then used the tube to get to Pram's house without incident which was great news. For those of you who have used the underground I am sure you can recall how daunting the tube can be the first time you use it, so we were very happy to hear that she had made it.

Back in Dublin, we were back to a cloudy day and only about 14°c. The only excitement really was the the Queen was visiting Ireland – the first time a British Monarch has visited the Republic of Ireland in 100 years. We drove back to Limerick - back into the real world and back into work.

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