Friday, June 21, 2013

Turkey - who knew it was in the bible!?!

Usually I plan my own travel, do research, set the itinerary and make the bookings. For Turkey, I did not have the time to do that so instead I found a US lady who's been living in Istanbul and has her own travel agency. Through email and some wire transfers she got me a plan and arrangements made. However since I didn't do the work, I didn't have an appreciation for what was on the schedule. It was not a bus tour, but a collection of different standard day tours with some free time in Istanbul at the end. Other than my lack of knowledge on the historical significance, it worked really great! If you're headed to Turkey, feel free to reach out to Rina ( 

My first trip out from Istanbul was to Selcuk (pronounced sell-chuck) and a couple American girls from my flight bummed a ride with me and my pre-booked driver. It worked out well because one talked to the driver the whole time (I generally don't like small talk with drivers) and it was a huge mini bus that would have been rather empty without their company. 

From Selcuk, I did a day tour to Ephesus the next day. It was only once I was on the bus with the tour guide and he mentioned something about the book of Ephesians that I realized we were going to the city of the Ephesians, Ephesus. Duh me!?!

It was a city of ruins. It was on the water and a harbor city. But now due to different plans by Mother Nature, the water is a long way off (3 miles or kilometers). The most amazing sight was the facade of the library. It is something like 75-80% original pieces rather than being restored. Pretty amazing. 

We also visited Mary's House which is where it is believed she lived after Jesus's death and was brought here by John I think. As I entered, a group of tourists from somewhere (not sure where) were singing a hymn of some sort. It was very moving. 

I met an American who has been transplanted to Australia for the last five years and her Australian friend on the tour. We did dinner that night and were also signed up for the tour to Pamukale the next day. Pamukale was a historic site of city ruins as well, but they have some mineral springs there which makes it more of an attraction. There is calcium in the water that turns the rocks it flows down into these white snow covered looking hills. The hills have also formed into different levels of pools. It was really fun although it was a quick visit. I didn't get much more of the history that sunk in :). 

Pics from the tours:

Statue of Mary 

Mary's small home 

Wall of prayers (although I heard someone call the wishes, but I left a prayer)

In high tourist season, this road down to the library is packed with people. Good timing for me. Ruins are often hard to appreciate in pictures. This is the walk through town. 

Our guide explaining how a wheel symbol that we saw in lots of the marble was a way Christians could subtly add their mark but not get into trouble. The Greek letters representing different things are all captured in the wheel. 

Can't remember now what this was, but was one of the ones more in tact. 

View from atop the theatre. The road you see in the distance was the harbor road that ended at the water, which now ends at land. 

Closer pic of the library


They didn't use marble here, so the ruins were more sparse. 

Water starts here

Great views of he country side. I was told Turkey is pretty self sufficient when it comes to agriculture. We saw orchards next to corn fields next to cotton fields :). 

The pools were pretty cool looking and the water temp quite refreshing without being freezing. 

There is one spot where tourists can walk down through the pools. I had to exit the gate at the end of this to go catch the bus, so I had to take all my belongings on the way. 

What the town looked like way back when. 

Moosejaw is where I got my big green backpack (70L) for this month long trip. 

The walk down. Wish I would have stayed a night here and been able to spend more time. It was a 3 hour drive from Selcuk. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013


It's 3am now. I fell asleep at 6:30 last night :). Not horrible jet lag, but should be able to sort it out over the weekend and be good by Monday. So....back to my trip. I think I'm at around June 3rd on my trip timeline. Apologies, but there's lots to talk about with Turkey. I'll start with Istanbul.

My flight left Nairobi at 3:45am. It was a long, long wait in the airport and I was tired by the time we boarded. I slept almost right away and almost the whole way. I received lots of comments to stay safe in Turkey and wasn't sure what to expect when landing. I arrived around 10am with a transfer waiting to take me to my hotel.

My first impression was how nice it looked as we drove in along the coast and there was a park between the road and water and lots of people enjoying the day. Then as we neared the city we went through some old city walls that are still standing in many parts. You get the feeling of quite a bit of history. 

The roads were tricky to maneuver a big passenger van through (narrow, hilly, not well labeled) but my drivers were always experienced and we had no issues. I stayed in Sultanahmet which is the historic touristy area and a river away from Taksim Square where all the nonsense was going on. What is really nice is that it is all very walkable but if it's a little too far, they have a great tram system (i.e. cable cars). The shop guys are pushy but in a muted way. Everyone asked you to have tea, apple tea specifically. They could chat your ear off forever! Then you sorta felt bad if you didn't buy anything. So it was more of a guilt trip than the hard sell. I told one guy I only wanted postcards, so he gave me them for free. Having the excuse of "meeting friends" and being late for that was a big help in getting out of those discussions easily :). 

Turkey's population primarily practices Islam. However, Istanbul's history includes lots of fighting and conquering and power changes. In fact, because it is located across three different after access points (Black Sea, a river I can't remember and the Mediterranean Sea), it was easier to attack. For this reason some smart guy finally moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara to be able to better protect the capital. However, Istanbul remains a huge city and important port. It has 15 million people and all the problems that come with cities so big. 

I digress. My earlier point was that now Istanbul's skyline is dotted with mosques, many old and very beautiful mosques. However, some were previously churches! At one point Turkey (or maybe Istanbul) was largely Christian. The most famous is Hagia Sofia which was a great church/cathedral remade into a mosque later. They plastered over Christian mosaics which have now been uncovered and somewhat saved. A great example of the mosaics is in the Chora Church which I visited on my last day. The Blue Mosque is another beautiful sight (it is just a mosque). 

Sorry for the long post, but lots of history in Istanbul that is now woven into a huge, modern city. I really loved Istanbul and it has got to be one of my top five cities now! Some pics....

Blue Mosque (built around 1610):
From inside the courtyard

Beautiful designs inside with a lot of blue (hence "blue" mosque) - Islam does not allow use of people, animals, etc in their designs. Thus, there's lots of flowers and geometric designs. Specifically in Turkey the tulip represents God (Allah) and you will see tulips everywhere in Turkey. 

The stained glass was beautiful as well. Tons of natural light.

Hagia Sofia:
It was partially under construction so I didn't get great pics of the outside. It was neat to see the mix of Islam and Christian presence inside. 
The uncovered angel above and the large round Arabic sign referring to Allah.

You can see a few of the archways uncovered to see Christian mosaics and some still intact that were for the mosque. 

One of the partial mosaics uncovered. 

A close up to see the tiles used. Very intricate work. 

One on the treasured mosaics from Chora Church:

Fishing on one of the bridges in Istanbul (New Mosque in the background):

Asia across the way (yes, Turkey and Istanbul span two continents) with Hagia Sofia to the right (look for spires):

Sections of the old city wall:

Ceiling mosaics from Chora Church:

Basilica Cistern that held water - details in the sign below :)

I wandered the streets of Istanbul one day and found a glass blowing studio. I bought a fun vase and talked to the artist himself. Very nice and fun guy. 
(The dark spots on us are shadows from the sun coming in the front window.)

Monday, June 17, 2013


I've been distracted by the beauty and peace of the Maldives. Maybe my flights home will get me updated with my blogging :)

From the pool

Sunset before dinner

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


After Lake Nakuru, we went back to Nairobi to have lunch at the home stay where I spent my first two nights in Kenya. The food throughout the trip was really good and I've probably eaten more vegetables than during the rest of my life :). 

After lunch we headed to Amboseli national park, just me and the driver/guide in our big van. Since it was just me, I got upgraded to a lodge so the cook didn't need to come along. The safari lodge was again tents but these were nice tents. I had a double bed, porch with chairs, table, sink, shower and toilet. Electricity was available 5:30-8am and 6-10:30pm. There was a pool, although it was freezing cold :). The food was not quite as good as Elijah's (cook). One night I decided to forgo dinner and they came around to check that I was okay and didn't I want to eat. It was very nice. 

Amboseli is different in that has lots and lots of elephants. And big ones too! The ground is much drier except for a swath through the middle fed by underground springs/runoff from Mt Kilimanjaro (a volcano that my crazy friends Stephanie and Cindy climbed a couple years ago). 

In fact, the land previously was more of a lush forest but the water levels changed way back when and it changed the vegetation and animals in it. Not really any rhinos here. We saw lots of elephants, playing, eating and bathing. We saw some female lions from a distance. Some hyena, vultures, and hippos from the distance that actually got out of the water! There was an eagle eating another bird. And one of my favorite highlights the last morning before we left we saw two cheetah! I didn't think I'd get to see these cats. 

Amboseli had a very bad drought in 2008 and 80% of the animal population was wiped out. It is slowly starting to grow again. 

We watched as some elephants and hippos almost had it out. The elephants wanted in the water that the hippos already claimed. We watched it all through binoculars. Thankfully my guide had some I could borrow. It was neat just to be an observer. 

Here are some pics of the animals:
Elephant crossing

A lone hyena, we did see two the day before and it looked like they were carrying pups in their mouth but you could only see them with the binoculars 

The two cheetahs walking toward the trees....if you can find them :)

Lots of ostrich running around

Crown cranes flying in

A look at Amboseli from a hill in the middle

You can see the green change to brown. There are two hippos out in the middle and some elephants wading through the swamp/bog.

An eagle with lunch

An elephant with Mt Kilimanjaro as a backdrop

Lazy baboon 

Lake Nakuru

We left Maasai Mara to go to Lake Nakuru. Very different landscape with hills, cliffs, large source of water, lots of trees and green. Here there were many more water buffalo. It is known for pink flamingos, but it was a bit flooded so the normal feeding grounds for flamingos was disturbed. We saw a few but most had relocated to another lake while this one was flooded. 

Also because of the flooding, we were not able to camp and got rooms at a lodge. Nothing special but good enough. Actually the Czechs found either a really big spider or lots of little ones under the mattress of one of their beds. They came to dinner all excited and going on about "spider-man" (with an accent sounding like speeder-man). They asked if mine was okay. I hate spiders and was nervous to even check. I did though and didn't see anything. I slept in my sleeping bag though and enjoyed any ignorance I might have had regarding the spider population :). 

We did a drive the afternoon we arrived and rhinos were the new item we saw. The next morning was the best (animals seem to move the most in the morning). On the drive down from our lodge there were four lion cubs and two lioness. Pops came along later but the cubs were the highlight to watch play around. Like you're in your own national geographic show :). 

We got some close giraffe shots and more rhinos. We went up to a cliff for breakfast and could look out over the whole lake. It was pretty cool and we pretty much had it to ourselves. Not too many other safari vans around. 

Some picture highlights:
The cubs


Some rhinos who almost got into a tiff with a water buffalo, but the buffalo backed down

Giraffe (in case you were wondering)

My bed, hopefully free of spider-men

Funny water buffalo who just stood in that position as we drove by

Good morning from Lake Nakuru