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UNESCO World Heritage Site: Göreme Open Air Museum

Cappadocia


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Edit from March 2019: There wasn't enough room in the title, but the UNESCO Site is actually called 'Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia'. The open air museum is only part of it.

After our second breakfast we began our tour of the local area. To do this we joined up with a tour run by a local travel agent and organised for us by our hotel; usually we prefer travelling independently, but decided to give an organised tour a go this time.

We visited two sets of rock formations first- climbed around and admired some 'fairy chimneys' and some shaped like other things- for example a camel, a hand, two whirling dervishes, the Virgin Mary with her arms crossed.

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There were some fantastic views of the Devnent Valley and the wider Cappadocian landscape - all creamy and pinkish stone, olive trees, small fields of pumpkin plants, vineyards... Some of the rock formations had dwellings in them, now empty; two had been churches.

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At the first one I had an accident - I walked into the end of an olive branch, which scratched my forehead quite badly. Not much blood at all though luckily. The scratches stung like mad for a while but don't hurt at all any more. They are however embarrassingly very visible.

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In the nearby town of Ürgüp we were given a tour of a government-run Turkish carpet workshop - it was interesting to see some weavers at work, a man getting silk threads from cocoons of the silkworm and hear a bit about the process of making the rugs.

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It did however end with half an hour of sales techniques being tried on us, which we could have done without. After showing us round, the main guy herded us all into a big showroom, gave us tea, coffee or the local spirit and talked about carpets while other guys showed them to us. Then he gave an order, stepped aside and a crowd of salesmen all came in and nabbed us sitting targets... Cue awkwardness all round. There were some absolutely gorgeous rugs, but quite rightly (given how incredibly long each one takes to be made by hand) they were all extremely expensive, so we didn't get any. I don't think anyone actually bought anything.

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Lunch was very good - a collection of various salads and hot dishes, with some lovely puddings; fruit jellies, syrupy batter balls, fruit and a delicious chocolate blancmange-type thing. The view we got from the terrace outside was fabulous, too. We saw man-made door-shaped holes in cliffs and rock formations in the distance- apparently these were pigeon houses! Like dovecotes I suppose.

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We were also shown round a pottery workshop, saw a pot being thrown and painters painting plates by hand in traditional patterns. This time we weren't given the hard sell, which was good, but we still didn't buy anything because even the smallest thing was too expensive.

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We also saw a historic fortress very dramatically set within one giant rock formation, but people aren't allowed to climb it for safety reasons. So we only looked from afar.

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Last up was the place I most wanted to see; the Göreme Open Air Museum, a collection of rock-hewn churches. It's part of the Göreme Valley, itself part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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I loved the creamy curves of the stone, and the frescoes within.

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One of them, the church of St Barbara, had some very enigmatic, simple red frescoes which looked almost like Aboriginal Australian rock paintings. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures inside.

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I also loved the small but excellent exhibition of photos of Cappadocia taken from hot air balloons, which was in another of the churches.

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I did have another accident here though - this time I stepped into a hole and bashed my shin against the edge of the metal grille. The grille was supposed to cover a whole hole where a grave had once been, but stopped short. This is the chapel where it happened;

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For dinner that evening we went a café recommended in my guidebook; I had a delicious spiral vegetable- stuffed pastry thingy with tomato sauce and yoghurt, and Dave had a tuna salad. I had a chocolate and caramel Turkish ice cream to follow, but Dave didn't have anything.

Posted by 3Traveller 02:16 Archived in Turkey Tagged art cappadocia turkey museum dave fortifications natural_wonder unesco_world_heritage_site turkish_cuisine Comments (1)

Arrival in Cappadocia

Istanbul and Göreme


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At 03.15 am we got a shuttle to Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Waiting for the shuttle at three am, we were expecting all the streets to be deserted, but to our surprise we saw several men sitting at tables in front of closed restaurants and cafés, chatting with friends. We guessed it might be something to do with Ramadan - I know that they can't eat until sundown, so they need to get all their meals in during the night.

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At the airport there was a beautiful exhibition of travel photography to look at while we waited for our flight, which took off half an hour late at about 07.30.

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An hour and five minutes after that we arrived at Nevşehir Airport, where we were picked up and taken to our amazing hostel/hotel in Göreme.

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Fantastic place, fantastic setting amongst lots of fabulous 'fairy chimney' rock formations. Our hotel is built into one of them! We were welcomed with free tea, coffee and plate of delicious, moist cheese puff things.

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After half an hour or so of sitting in the lovely courtyard, we were allowed to check in early. Our room is amazing! it's cavernous yet comfortable, with stone walls and ceiling, a tiled floor, cupboards cut out of the walls and archway over the head of our bed. There's a terrace above us with a spectacular view...

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We caught up on sleep for several hours, before venturing out to explore. It is so pleasant here! Just round the corner from our hotel was a large area of ground covered in piled-up blocks of white stone - a stonemason had clearly been at work here in the open air, though he wasn't to be seen at that moment.

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Five minutes later, just as we passed a mosque the muezzin began his call to prayer. After a lovely wander round town we had an early dinner at a café - a Turkish savoury pancake and some rice pudding for me, a sandwich for Dave and a chocolate milkshake each.

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Posted by 3Traveller 12:25 Archived in Turkey Tagged art night hotel airport cappadocia turkey istanbul dave turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

Modern Istanbul

Istanbul


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On Sunday we had a relaxed morning and didn't leave the hostel until early lunchtime. Our destination was the area of Beyoglu, the heart of modern Istanbul. We had spent 95% of our time until then in Sultanahmet, the historic area, so we wanted to see what the modern centre was like. Taksim Square, in the centre, is on a large hill, so we took the funicular railway up there from the tram station. We'd just taken the tram across Galata Bridge from Sultanahmet.

The funicular turned out to be underground, unfortunately, so we didn't get any amazing views on the way up. However Istikal Caddesi, the main pedestrian street, leads down the hill from the square, so we got some good views from there.

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Although part of modern Istanbul, Beyoglu still has some historic buildings. As soon as we'd crossed the square we found a small art gallery which turned out to be in the former cistern building used for Beyoglu's water storage in the 18th and 19th centuries when the population of Istanbul spread. The artwork there was of a good standard, all modern paintings with price tags; each section was dedicated to a different artist and in a couple of them the artists were actually there, working on paintings. It was interesting to look round.

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After that we wandered down Istikal Caddesi, taking everything in. Although filled with international shopping chains, it also has Turkish Delight and baklava shops, 'vitamin bars' (juice bars where the fruits are piled up at the front), cafés with Turkish ice cream stands at the front, shops with foil-wrapped slabs of chocolate piled up against the windows, and some other miscellaneous shops.

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We went into a sweet shop after I noticed a sign saying Marron Glace- I knew these aren't common in the UK so I bought some, and then we noticed the baklava counter so Dave bought us one piece each of chocolate baklava and walnut baklava, both of which were delicious.

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There was an antique book and map shop which we enjoyed browsing; we had a late lunch at café, where we both tried things we hadn't had before- I had a lovely springy textured wrap filled with spiced (not the hot kind) lamb, tomato and onion, and Dave had a similar thing but in a sandwich and with beef instead of lamb; we visited the Catholic church of St Anthony, where I lit a candle and we admired photos of papal visits over the last century.

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We ate lunch upstairs in the café, so we had a good view of the street outside. While we were there, we heard lots of loud chanting begin, and van loads of armed police with riot shields arrived and stood to one side. Part of a demonstration was going on just round the corner. Later on it passed us- very loud, but seemingly not dangerous.

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I also visited a dervish lodge, now a museum, where these followers of the Sufism sect of Islam lived until it was outlawed by the Turkish government in the 1920s. Dave didn't fancy it so looked round the attached historic graveyard while waiting for me. It was interesting to read the given information, see the artifacts from their daily lives (which included musical instruments, turbans, cooking utensils, coffee-making and serving utensils and walking sticks the dervishes used to lean on and sleep as they couldn't lie down on beds) and see the arena where they whirled during the ceremony that required it. They had a map of where else in the world these dervish lodges were; I saw the one in Plovdiv, now a restaurant, where Mum and I had dinner once in May.

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My wrap had been smaller than expected, so to keep myself going after I left the museum I got myself a chicken kebab from a cafe - it was very tasty and the bread had a texture very similar to a ciabatta. Then we walked past the historic Galata Tower and down to sea level. We got ourselves two different types of syrupy batter things from a street seller before we reached the tram station.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:20 Archived in Turkey Tagged art turkey museum istanbul dave procession turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

The Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern & more

Istanbul


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After breakfast we set off to another must-visit destination, a famous site I was really keen to visit; the Blue Mosque.

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There are two entrances to the main building; one for Muslims who come to pray (it's a working mosque) and one for tourists. It's free entry to all. Our queue was quite long, but moved at quite a decent pace, so we didn't have to wait for that long. Our wait was enlivened by a tour group behind us being given a talk in Spanish by their leader - he spoke very quickly and his Spanish sounded quite different to Ecuadorian Spanish, but I made out something about Ramadan, no drinking and no smoking.

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All women who didn't have something to use as a headscarf were given one to put on; men wearing shorts were also given one, to wrap around themselves like skirts. Dave didn't have to because he was wearing trousers. Before we stepped over the main threshold everybody had to take off their shoes and put them in a clear plastic bag.

The interior was just as large, airy, beautiful and elegant as I'd always imagined. It was full of blue-patterned Iznik tiles which gives the mosque its name to Westerners (out of interest, to locals it's known only as Sultanahmet Mosque). We admired the place for ages before eventually leaving.

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I gave back my headscarf, we put our shoes back on and we went into the courtyard adjoining the main building. This was also beautiful and we took a few more photos.

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From the Blue Mosque we headed over to the Basilica Cistern nearby. We were extremely hot by now, but the Basilica Cistern cooled us down. This huge column-supported underground cistern, used to hold 80,000 cubic metres of water for the imperial palace and other local residents, was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565). It has been renovated on more than one occasion since then, and is no longer used as a cistern, but still holds a foot or two of water, enough to support lots of fish.

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The only light in there came from lights shining onto the bases and tops of the columns, so the atmosphere was ever so slightly eerie, even with the high volume of visitors walking around on the wooden pathways raised above the water. I enjoyed watching the fish. In some parts of the water, people had thrown coins. Right at the back of the cistern there were two sculpted heads of Medusa; each one was at the base of a column. One was set sideways, the other upside down! Apparently nobody is entirely sure why they were placed there.

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After we left the cistern we went into a shop where we bought postcards, a book about Istanbul and a fridge magnet, and Dave picked up a free book of cartoons by a Turkish cartoonist.

After this we went back to our hostel to shower, have cold drinks and rest for a while. We went via Sultanahmet Park.

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When we stirred again, it was to the Great Palace Mosaic Museum down the road. This was relatively small, but excellent, with a great long floor mosaic taking the centre stage. The palace has now gone apart from this mosaic and several smaller ones arranged on the walls around it. The mosaics were magnificent, with pictures of animals, trees and human figure.

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When we left the museum we came out into the Arasta Bazaar. This bazaar is different to others in that it's hassle-free and lots of the goods have fixed prices. I saw some very intricately painted beautiful unframed pictures on special paper, including one of two world maps, but it was extremely expensive so I didn't get it. We wandered up and down the rest of the bazaar, which was small, but didn't buy anything.

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After another short rest at the hostel we went out for dinner at one of the two cafe-restaurants attached to the Arasta Bazaar. We shared bread and hummous and each had a different type of kebab; to go with them I had a lemonade with honey and Dave had some mint tea and a glass of lemonade & banana juice. For dessert I tried Turkish rice pudding, which was cold and had been made with ground rice instead of grains - it was delicious! Dave had baklava, which he also found delicious. We each had a Turkish coffee afterwards; it came with two mini chunks of Turkish Delight.

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As dinner drew on, we noticed the waiters setting out cling filmed plates of food on the other tables. These tables started filling up with locals; we asked our waiter what the event was and he said that it was for the breaking of the day's fast for Ramadan. The food I saw on their tables was flatbreads and bowls of salad.

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Posted by 3Traveller 06:56 Archived in Turkey Tagged art mosque market turkey museum istanbul spanish bazaar dave roman_remains unesco_world_heritage_site turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia)

Istanbul


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Happy birthday, Dave! An exotic birthday two years in a row now - last year in the Ecuadorian Andes, this year in the historic heart of Istanbul...

The Hagia Sophia, or the Aya Sofya as it's known here, was the first place we went to after breakfast. At 9.30, the place was already really busy, but despite the multitude of selfie sticks (the first time I'd really seen them being used), it didn't take anything away from the magnificence of the place! Neither did the scaffolding on one wall of the interior.

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We both found the mixture of Christianity and Islam within the Hagia Sophia an interesting combination. It was set up like a mosque, but also had remnants of decorations it had when it was still a church, before its conversion into a mosque. There was a fresco of the Virgin Mary & Child above where I guessed the main altar used to be, and on the first floor (where there were viewing galleries) there were very intricate and colourful mosaic frescoes of Jesus and the saints.

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We also really liked other objects of interest sprinkled around; these included a huge marble jar which was used for storing water and sherbet, graffiti left by the Viking soldiers in the Imperial Guard in Constantinople and a huge stone bowl with a stone snake wrapped round it.

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Once we'd left the main building, we came out into the courtyard, where there was a small stone building which is now the manager's office but used to be a religious elementary school, and another small historic building which is now an office.

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We then walked round the corner to the Hagia Sophia's Tombs of the Sultans. At least five Sultans are buried here, along with their families. We had to remove our shoes before entry to each tomb.

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The decoration inside each one was very ornate, with colourful patterned tiles on the walls and interior of the dome. The coffins were all covered in green felt.

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After leaving the Hagia Sophia I took a couple of photos, we bought a drink each and sat on a wall to one side.

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A man came up and started chatting - his ulterior motive became obvious very quickly, however, when he claimed that Topkapi Palace (which we were in clear sight of) had a wait of an hour and a half to get into and what we really should do instead was let him guide us round the corner to the Basilica Cistern and then his carpet shop... Luckily we realised he was talking through his hat about Topkapi Palace, and in any case had no desire to be guided by him or to see his shop, so we refused his advances.

To be continued...

Posted by 3Traveller 11:02 Archived in Turkey Tagged art turkey museum istanbul dave hagia_sophia unesco_world_heritage_site Comments (0)

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