Antalya: Ancient Florida in the Taurus Mountains

Turkish city number four is Antalya, my husband Jerry’s favorite. I have to admit, I love it, too. We are booked in a funky little hotel (Mediterra Art Hotel) in the old city of Kaleici.

Our hotel garden, perfect for group gatherings (when it’s not raining).

This old city, known as the castle town, sits on a Mediterranean harbor surrounded by the Taurus Mountains. It doesn’t get prettier than this, let me tell you. I think this is my sixth trip to this area, and I absolutely love it.

Hadrian’s Gate, the entrance to the old town.

When we arrived it was threatening rain, so we were treated to a fabulous dinner of sea bass (or other items for the few who didn’t want fish) at the Varyant, a gorgeous seaside restaurant. We were joined by the owner of Sojourn Travel Turkey, Chris Vannoy, along with Elif (our tour coordinator) and Jonathan, a photographer who would be shadowing us for a promotional video they’re producing.

I’m posing between Chris Vannoy, the owner of Sojourn Travel, and Elif, our tour organizer. Elif and I have communicated daily for many weeks (months?), so it was fun to finally meet her.

After dinner our guide Yunus (“dolphin” in Turkish) brought us through the Antalya Museum on a trek through time from 4000 BC to the Byzantine Era.

Our guide Yunus explains the history of the area.

Yunus guided us through room after room of incredible statuary, most from the nearby ruins of Perge. He finally led us through an amazing collection of marble sarcophagi, ancient carved tombs. One thing I found amusing was a sarcophagus of a woman who decided not to include her husband in her crypt. The face of the woman was carved on the sarcophagus, but her husband’s face was never carved because she decided she didn’t want to deal with him in the afterlife. Gotta love it.

The sarcophagus of a woman who’d had enough of her old man. I guess he had to buy himself another grave.

On our first day we were treated to a beautiful two-hour drive west along the Mediterranean (which was fine, as we were pretty bushed). We visited Myra (in Demre) to tour St. Nicholas Church. Remember him? Santa Claus? I’ll bet you didn’t know he lived in Turkey (which at the time was Asia Minor or something like that). It’s an ancient cathedral with stunning mosaics and an empty crypt. Apparently St. Nicholas’ remains are now scattered across the globe, mostly in Italy. Go figure.

One of the floor mosaics in St. Nicholas Church, circa 520 AD

One thing we’ve learned about the frescoes in these old churches is that people believed in the healing powers of the body parts in the paintings, and they would chip off part of an eye or a hand (or whatever related to their ailments), and they’d mix them with water and drink them. I imagine if there was any good to come of that, it was the power of their own faith. You’d think the plaster and paint would do them no good. It also meant that much of the frescoes have disappeared. So sad!


We met this simitçi vendor outside the church. A simit is a bagel-shaped crusty bread coated with sesame seeds.

Our next stop was a Mediterranean boat cruise. HEAVEN! We started at the port in Kekova, and the weather was perfect. Our captain was our guide’s friend, and we were tickled to find a cooler complete with every beverage one might desire, even rakı. We motored to a beach with an ancient ruin, and many of us indulged in a Mediterranean swim.

Jini paddles around near our boat.

Before long Yunus called us back to the boat for a lunch of five delectable salads and freshly grilled sea bass. The Turks usually serve the whole fish—head, tail and all, and we’re getting quite adept at weeding out the bones. The fish was delicious—moist and light.

Sea bass fresh off the grill. YUM!

My favorite part of the meal was a warm salad of diced potatoes and eggplant with garlic and tomato sauce. I think it’s about the spices though, I’ll have to work on duplicating it.

Lunch on the boat–unsurpassed!

We were supposed to stop at Mount Olympus for the Chimera (flames coming out of the rock), but we opted to head back home instead. We’re always a little overwhelmed by how much is on our agenda, so next time I’ll back it off a bit. More time in each city with less touring and more free time. Live and learn! I’ve loved doing this trip with Sojourn, and we’re all learning.

I’d arranged to meet my good friend Aşkin that evening, and Susie joined us for rakı and mezes on the harbor at the Castle Cafe—a great spot without many tourists. In fact, most of the people we saw that evening were Turks.

A dear friend from yesteryear, Aşkin is a ship designer in Antalya and treated Susie and me to a delicious meal of mezes with rakı.

Kaleici, the old town, is a fascinating old place, and on Saturday night the streets were filled with tables of young Turks out for the evening. Busy, busy, so we were happy to have found a quieter venue. It was fun to see Aşkin, who I met through his English teacher while I taught at Koç. He and his friend Söner toured my friend Teri and me around the hot spots of Istanbul with the intent of improving their English. Both of them became good friends, and we ended up introducing them to Istanbul’s historical sites. A fair trade.

On Sunday (after two VERY noisy nights, sleepless for some),we drove up to Termessos, one of my favorite ruins in Turkey.

Sally perches above the arena, which is mostly still intact in spite of many earthquakes over the centuries.

It’s situated high on a mountain and was inaccessible to Alexander the Great when he tried to invade it in the 4th century BC. Instead of worrying about defending themselves, the inhabitants were able to focus on their culture, which included theater and sophisticated water and sewer systems.

Rubble is strewn everywhere at Termessos.

Archeologists haven’t done any excavations up there, so the grounds are filled with vegetation and trees, and many of the walls are still standing. Sadly, many have been toppled by earthquakes, so the area is basically a rubble of columns, huge building blocks, and statuary. It’s phenomenal. Yunus, who has an archeology degree, told us it’s his favorite site.

Jane scrambles along the rubble.

Chris Vannoy models being a dead guy in a sarcophagus.

I pose in a niche once occupied by a far more beautiful sculpture.

Our wonderful chauffeur Orhan drove us back to the old city, where we were treated to a lunch overlooking the ancient harbor. It was all about the view, let me tell you.

Jini poses at lunch overlooking Antalya’s old harbor.

After that Yunus walked us through the Kaleici, where we stumbled on a cat house area overseen by a lazy dog. He even has a tag that says “MANAGER.”

The local cat house. As I’ve said before, strays are well cared for in Turkey.

We finally landed back at the Castle Cafe for rest, adult beverages, and a stunning view of the harbor. We were nearly finished when huge plops of rain invaded our space. We hurried under some trees and I started gathering everyone’s payments when I learned that Chris was treating us. Such a deal! More kudos for Sojourn Travel.

Doin’ our thing back at the hotel. (Tom waxes prophetic.)

After wandering on our own through town, we gathered back in the hotel courtyard for snacks, wine and rakı to chat and share our experiences. Sadly, we NEVER got enough time in these fascinating cities. I’m thankful, though, for a connected and fun group of traveling compatriots.

On to Istanbul!

Kapadokya is Cappadocia

Want to know how kind the Turks are? This street sign is clear evidence:

Protect those precious beasts!

DİKKAT YAVAŞ means “ATTENTION. GO SLOWLY.”Sweet, huh? Most of the dogs and cats in Turkey run free, and people feed them everywhere. You’ll never see a starving animal in Turkey. That’s kindness.

Our third Turkish city was Göreme, my favorite of Cappadocia’s cities. I have to admit, though, it’s changed. The sleepy little town I visited twelve years ago is now a thriving metropolis, but I still love it. We stayed in the Kelebek Cave Hotel, and most of us had luxurious rooms. So different from the backpacker’s paradise it was fifteen years ago. Everyone raved about their accommodations (sitting rooms and huge bathrooms), and a few of us entertained resident cats as well. (Don’t leave your windows open.)

Our little living room in the Kelebek, complete with two wing-back chairs and a fireplace.

We were awakened at 6 AM by the whoosh-whoosh of balloons skimming over the hotel—150 of them. Our guide explained that so many balloons every day have a huge impact on the environment and have driven off many animals and raptors. He said he hasn’t seen an eagle in years.

Jini toasts the ballooners with a morning cup of java. Filtered at the Kelebek!

Breakfast at the Kelebek is phenomenal—a vast array of olives (my favorite), vegetables, fruits, eggs, cheeses meats, breads and custom-made eggs and omelets. Fresh-squeezed orange juice puts it over the top. It was also our first hotel with actual filtered coffee rather than Nescafe instant. Woo-woo!

Breakfast here is beyond belief. You have no idea!

The first day was a whirlwind. Our guide Mehmet brought us up to Uç Hısarı to visit the cave home of Ismael, a sweet man who looked 80. I guessed (I thought Kindly) that he was 75, and he finally said he was 61. Evidence that Turks age faster. Tougher life?


Talk about compound nouns!

Ismael was a warm and willing host.

At any rate, we all enjoyed sipping tea and touring his family’s home for centuries. It’s now part of a national park reserve, so he has to pay rent to use it as a business. He spent nearly an hour with us, and our guide treated us to tea during his 45-minute lecture on the history of the area. Fascinating, but by the time he finished, we were frozen.

Ismael’s family home was festooned with carpets, kilims and all sorts of charming antiques.

Mehmet understood and took us to a quiet little cave hotel for Turkish coffee, cake, and treats. It was wonderful to see that there are still some serene spots in Cappadocia. With clean toilets, no less.

Türkçe kahvesi, orta, lütfen.

We went from there to the Open Air Museum, a series of ancient cave churches dating back to 1000 AD. Our guide Mehmet had book-size photos of the frescoes inside the churches, which helped us understand what we were seeing. The last time I was there we could take photos, but now it’s forbidden.

Our guide Mehmet prepared us for each of the churches we entered.

We got a big charge out of Asian tourists who love to pose dramatically in front of every site. The Chinese are a generation of singletons, and it shows.

My friend Susie ended up getting a camel ride, though she’s not just sure how. It was a highlight for all of us, though, and we thanked her for a good laugh.

I was a little late arriving on the scene, just in time to see Susie get lots of hugs after they finally wrestled her camel back down and pulled her off.

All camels are not beautiful.

We all went from there to the Dibek Restaurant, a lovely little spot in Göreme that’s one of my favorites. We were joined by Chris Vannoy, the owner of our tour company, and together we enjoyed a lunch of all the local dishes, served family style: mezes, çoban salata (shepherd’s salad), fasuliye (beans with lamb), mantı (tiny Turkish ravioli in a spiced yogurt sauce), and the crowning glory, testi Kebab (a hot meat dish cooked with vegetables in a pottery container that’s cracked open to serve). Every meal here is finished with either Turkish coffee or tea. Sigh.

Jane and Jane contemplate the historical offerings of the Dibek Lokanta.

We opted out of another tour in favor of a visit to a scenic overlook and then a Turkish winery. I must admit, I was once very critical of Turkish wine, but they’re doing MUCH better—as can be attested to by most of us in the group. With these fabulous lunches, we often end up finishing our day by gathering for snacks and wine (as well as the occasional rakı—the local anise liquor).

And a good time was had by all at the Kocabağ Winery.

The next morning we were up early and it was nice enough to eat breakfast on the outdoor terrace. Sally, Tom, Rondi, Jane and Jane all finagled balloon ride that morning and returned at 7:30, breathless with excitement. Ballooning in Cappadocia is impressive, at the least.

Mehmet and Erdal (our bus driver) picked us up at 8:45 for a visit to an underground city. Apparently there was an ant-colony-like city carved beneath every city in the area, and entire communities would move underground when attackers came, from the Romans to the Hittites to the Mongols. They’d push mammoth wheel-shaped stones over the entrance and sometimes stay underground for months at a time. There were stables, storage rooms, kitchens, and sleeping rooms, usually at least eight levels deep. Amazing. Most of us started the tour, but some of us fled to the surface when we reached down to the second level. Four of our ten finished the tour.

This is as far as I got before claustrophobia hit–level two. Those Cappadocians were brave folks.

Next we drove an hour to the Ihlara Valley for a 3-mile hike along a river. The valley was home for a huge settlement of Christians many centuries ago, and there are about sixteen cave churches along the way. We weren’t so thrilled about the 400 stairs down into the valley (Turkey’s Grand Canyon), but we were entranced with the lovely river walk. We went into three of the churches, which were very much like the ones we’d seen at the Open Air Museum the previous day. Here we could take photos.

The paintings in these churches were quite stunning–hundreds of years old.


Turkish graffiti: Ayşe, Sahin, Selman, Erdal…  Shame on them.

We were served a delicious lunch in outdoor tables along the river. Sojourn Travel included lunches every day on our tour, and their choices have been fabulous. This meal included bread and mezes, lentil soup, a fresh lettuce and vegetable salad, and our choice of fresh trout, köfte (meatballs), chicken shish-ka-bob, or güveç—lamb, beef, or vegetarian. (Güveç is one of my favorite dishes, a baked open casserole of meat and vegetables, often with cheese melted on top.)

Who doesn’t want to eat fresh fish beside a gurgling stream?

We were supposed to tour another cave monastery, but everyone cried “Uncle!” Everyone but Jini, that is. She’s game for anything that requires exercise, but we were toured out. We headed back to the hotel for naps (or hikes), and some of us opted for the Turkish bath. The women’s treatment ($30) included a face mask, a 15-minute sauna, a scrub and soap massage on a heated marble slab, then a shower, a screeching dip in a cool pool (closes the pores?), and finally a glass of apple tea while we relaxed and chatted on lounge chairs. Heaven!

Me, Jini, Jane and Rondi–ready for the Turkish Hamam treatments.

Mercimek (lentil soup), Ayran (a yogurt drink) and pide (mini-pizzas) finished off our evening. Well—except for our wine gathering in the courtyard. Short but sweet.

Oh, how I love the mercimek in Turkey. Lentil soup.

Farewell, Mehmet and your beautiful community!

One final example of Turkish kindness–gendarmes pushing a woman’s car that had stalled on a hill.


From Selçuk to Şirince (Sel-CHOOK to Sheer IN jay)

Çok mutluyuz. We are very happy about our three days in Selçuk, Turkey.

Our lovely room at the Bella (note the towel elephant on the bed.

We were welcomed to the Bella Hotel by Nazmi and Erdal, who remembered us from visits years ago (four of us have been there before). The rooms are sweet, decorated with carved walnut furniture, but the crowning glory is the third floor lounge replete with Turkish cushions and pillows. It overlooks the ruins of St. John’s Church and the Ayasuluk Citadel, a castle-looking fortress.

The comfortable seating on the third floor even had a fireplace, which Nazmi fired up daily for us.

Our upstairs lounge looked out on a stork nest across the street. The huge nest was like a haystack, shared by many smaller birds nesting in the mass of sticks. You can see bird nests hidden beneath Papa Mama?). Mangy in any case.

Mama and Papa Stork took turns minding the nest just across the street from our own aerie.

Because of the April 23rd Children’s Day holiday, most public buildings were festooned with huge flags and pictures of Ataturk, the founder of Turkey. This area of the country is very liberal, supporting secular government over the now-ruling AK Party, which promotes an Islamic government. I expect big changes ahead, as secular mayors have been elected in Ankara and Izmir, and many of us hope that this is a precursor to a broader shift in government. We will see.

The fortress, like every other public building, was festooned with flags (Ataturk in the middle) for the Children’s Day holiday (bayram).

Our first trip was to the House of the Virgin Mary on Easter morning. I used to think it was bunk, but I’ve come to believe that she did, indeed live there. Apparently she fled Jerusalem to save herself and was taken by boat to Ephesus, far away from Roman soldiers. John lived in Ephesus, and he had promised Jesus to protect her. He arranged for the building of a sweet little three-room stone house in an idyllic setting on top of a mountain near Ephesus. There’s some proof that she lived there, and visiting it is a moving experience. Apparently she lived 11 years beyond the death of Jesus, so she would have lived 64 years. She was betrothed at 12, and Jesus lived to 41.

The entrance to the Virgin Mary’s house, one at a time.

Our next stop was Ephesus, one of the world’s finest Roman ruins. You may know that Ephesus is the city criticized by Paul in the book of Ephesians for the people’s decadent lifestyle. It’s a stunning place even now, and we were fortunate to get there before the Easter crowds. Our guide, Rabia, was not only knowledgeable but took wonderful care of us.

Our brilliant guide, Rabia, shares more information than we can begin to absorb.

This was once a port city on the Aegean, but the waterway has been silted in over the years, with the sea receding a full 5 kilometers. Eventually the entire city was abandoned. The upper part of Ephesus was a ruling class area, a center for government and municipal control. They had sophisticated sewer systems, beautiful homes, and stunning marble structures. Little remains, of course, but archeologists are gradually rebuilding some of the structures and columns.

Many of Ephesus’ old columns have been repositioned, but many others were taken away and reused elsewhere in churches, temples, and even mosques.
The famous Ephesus library reconstruction was on our left as we descended into the main part of the city.

After Ephesus we were treated to a lunch of mezes and grilled meat before heading up to St. John’s Church, right across the street from our hotel. Gorgeous. 

Loved this column at St. John’s Church, carved with a Menorah on the bottom, the Maltese cross in the middle, and the Christian cross at the top.

That afternoon our host, Nazmi Bey, treated us to a carpet show followed by a feast of mezes and his homemade wine. We were pleased that his wine was actually quite good—unlike many homemade wines. I think the Turks are getting better at winemaking. It was never their forte (my uneducated opinion, of course).

Nazmi explains the history and symbolism of his carpets.
Big decisions!

The next day we drove up to the picturesque village of Şirince, one of my favorite spots in Turkey. It was once a Greek village, and because it’s very much out of the way, it hasn’t been too commercialized.

Hiking in Şirince just makes me happy!
A local trekking home with his day’s shopping.
The owner of the Nişanyan Hotel in Şirince built a huge tower to protest the government. He also built himself a copy of a Lycian tomb and was imprisoned for his rebellion. (But–he escaped!)

You can still stroll by chickens, goats, and horses as you meander along the stone-paved streets, and women sell hand-made wares, spices and foods along the street. Sadly, many of the homes have been made into hotels and b&b’s, but I guess the world just can’t resist the charm of this lovely village.

A sweet doorway in Şirince.

In Şirince we were treated to a meal of gözleme, which is a thin flatbread cooked like a quesadilla with potatoes, spinach, cheese and meat inside. Yum!

This woman is making gözleme for a local restaurant.
Gozleme. YUM!

Tuesday was Children’s Day in Turkey, a huge holiday for everyone. After breakfast on the terrace we were all free to visit the local shops, the archeological museum, and a tile-painting business down the road. A good time was had by all.

On to Cappadocia…


Street market bargains: briefs for less than a dollar, and boxers, three for $1.75. Eat your heart out.

Istanbul—yet again!

Here I am, back in my Home Away From Home, eager to share it with nine friends. More had planned to come, but a few had to cancel. Maybe next time…

At the last minute we were rerouted to the New Istanbul Airport, reputed to be the largest in the world.

Istanbul airport
The New Istanbul Airport

Shiny doesn’t even begin to say how stunning it was, but this new airport is a full 50 kilometers (30 miles) away from the city center, which made it a LONG drive to our hotel, particularly during rush hour (which it was). I think it took us an hour and a half. Everyone was impressed, though, with our charming little hotel, the Kybele. It’s right in Sultanahmet, the historical part of the city. I’ve always been in love with this hotel’s countless hanging lanterns and antiques, even in the basement breakfast room. 

The Kybele lobby ceiling–magic!
The Kybele breakfast room

On the first evening four of us walked around the block to the Mozaik Restaurant, where Sally ordered a testi kabob, a hot dish baked in a closed clay pot that’s broken open at the table. The waiter brought it to our table in a flaming tray, and he handed Jini a knife to help him pound on the pot until the top exploded off. Jini’s comment was, “You can sure tell this isn’t Germany!” She’d just spent three weeks in Germany, and apparently she found the Turks a bit more enthusiastic and engaging than the Germans.

Jini assists in opening the testi kepab pot.


Breakfast the next morning was heavenly (except for the Nescafe coffee from a machine). I had all the olives I could eat (20?), along with tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, dried apricots, juice, yogurt, cereal, bread, and menemen (scrambled eggs mixed with tomatoes, onions and peppers). Most everyone slept well—everyone except Tony and me. Three hours after a long overseas flight. Sigh… 

The breakfast spread at the Kybele–more in the next room.

Our tour guide, Gökçen, was incredible. She was patient with us and very kind, bringing snacks  and cookies to share with us every day. She carried a little child’s umbrella for us to follow, with some unidentifiable critter on it. Part elephant, part cat, and who-knows-what-else. The best part, though, is that she’s an historian—a genius.

Gökçen with her yellow umbrella, guiding us through Topkapi.

Our first visit was to the Hippodrome, which the Byzantine emperors established as an arena for chariot races and other events. It features a monument from a German kaiser as well as two obelisks, one taken from Luxor, Egypt in AD 390. I’ll never understand how they transported a 30-foot marble obelisk, but somehow they managed it.

The inside of the German Monument on the Hippodrome. Note the green crest of Prussia and the blue sultan’s Tuğra (signature) in the gold mosaic dome.

Our next stop was the Blue Mosque, which is under renovation. Actually, everything we saw was under renovation, which makes me both glad and sad. Glad that they’re keeping these things up, and sad that we couldn’t see them in their full glory. Oh, well…

The ceiling domes of the Blue Mosque
Female guards are a new addition to the Blue Mosque, something I was pleased to see.


The mosque features beautiful stained glass windows, over 200 of them.

Our final stop for the morning (an overfull one, I must say), was the Haghia Sophia, also under renovation. It’s one of the seven wonders of the world, and understandably. The first church there was built there in 360 AD, but it was destroyed by fire. The existing structure was completed in 537 AD under the direction of Emperor Justinian. On the second floor we saw Nordic runes, the signatures of Vikings that had visited the church long enough to leave their graffiti in its marble railings. When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, its stunning gold mosaics were plastered over and the building was converted to a mosque. Then in 1937 Ataturk converted the building to a museum, ordering that the mosaics be uncovered. 

I continue to be overwhelmed at the majesty of this incredible edifice.


Little about the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia in Turkish) is more moving than the mosaic of Christ, who watches you as you progress through the upper gallery.

On our second day we toured Topkapi, the Ottoman palace from the 1450’s until  1853 . It’s a resplendent edifice, and there were no holds barred in its construction. We were awed time and time again by the ornate rooms we saw, decorated with tiles from Nicea (Iznık), abalone, marble, and finely-crafted woods. Its 174 acres are beautifully tended with stunning trees and flowers. Amazing!

One can enjoy the view over the Golden Horn from this lovely terrace.


This fellow was so lifelike that it took me a while to realize he was only a statue.



These eves far surpass those on my house!


The only problem with the palace was the throngs of tourists–OMG! By the time we left, we had to push our way out the gate, single file. There were hundreds of students piling into the entrance. We were more than glad to be leaving, believe me!

Imagine pushing your way through this mob to escape the palace. Unreal!

Gökçen had arranged a fabulous lunch for us in the Yildizlar Restaurant on the lower level of the Galata bridge. Talk about LUNCH! We had delicious mezes, a delectable fresh sea bass, and a dessert of fresh fruit. Heaven! Our grilled sea bass was light and moist—even the skin was delicious. 

My friend Tony was well into his meal before I even got started. That thing around my neck is a radio receiver for listening to our guide—an amazing invention.

We also watched the burning and opening of a salt-baked fish for another group—amazing. The waiter brought it out flaming, then tamped out the fire with a rubber hammer. After that he used a knife and the rubber hammer to break open the salt crust, then pried it open to reveal the fish, which he then divided and served. My goodness! 


The waiter taps at the salt crust to reveal the cooked fish…


Then as he lifts the crust to reveal the cooked fish, steam escapes…


And finally the delicacy is served to the waiting plates of eager customers.


After lunch we boarded a ferry for a Bosphorus tour, thankful to rest our weary feet as we marveled at the sights along this waterway that connects the Mediterranean, Aegean and Marmara Seas with the Black Sea.

This picturesque military academy sits on the Asian side, just across from Robert College, where I taught between 2007 and 2011.


We finally headed back to the hotel, though a few hearty souls took a side trip to the Spice Bazaar. I was done, done, done. We enjoyed a delicious dinner in the hotel dining room after an hour or two of cocktails in the lobby. And then—to our rooms. Ah, sleep!