Here are some shots of Hierapolis and Istanbul:
Check in soon for the last post of the summer…
Here are some shots of Hierapolis and Istanbul:
Check in soon for the last post of the summer…
Our last day in Istanbul was pretty relaxed and pleasant. We packed in the morning before heading out to the Chora Church. It was the last museum on our pass, so we figured it was worth a look, even though it was out of the Old City center (“chora” literally means “country” because the church was outside the original walls of Constantinople). It has the best surviving Byzantine mosaics, and is a really good example of what the Aya Sophia should look like with it’s original decorations. The mosaics are absolutely stunning, though when we got there we encountered yet another “Close for Restoration” sign – the inner part of the church was closed, but luckily most of the best-preserved mosaics were in the outer halls. We hurt our necks craning up at the Virgin Mary and Jesus, and also got to see some beautiful frescoes as well. It was a lovely little church, and I’m glad we made the trek out to see it.
After the Chora, we had lunch at Asitane, a restaurant that specializes in Ottoman period food. They even included dates next to the menu items, indicating the earliest known reference to the dish. It was a really neat experience, and the food was amazing. I had fish stuffed with walnuts and spices, and Chris had spiced ground meat in a hollowed out melon that was then baked. Both dishes were really interesting and also delicious!
After lunch, we headed back to our hotel to wait for our shuttle to the airport. Now, it’s off to Dublin for the night then back to the States! I’ll be posting a bunch of pictures when I get home, as well as one last post about general impressions of our trip, so keep an eye out for that! See you Stateside!
So, after a long day of numerous disappointments yesterday, we did end up having a really lovely dinner at Pasazade, which had been highly recommended both on TripAdvisor and in our guide book. I had a sort of beef stew with vegetables over an eggplant puree that was absolutely delicious, and Chris had a lamb stew with various fruits in it that was also tremendous. As always, we found ourselves rejuvenated by food, and returned to our hotel in good spirits.
Today was good as well. This morning, we went first to the Aya Sophia (or Hagia Sophia) which was spectacular. We’d gotten there early, almost right after it opened, so it felt as if we had the place to ourselves. It was really incredible to see such an astonishing building with such an amazing history – first constructed as a church, then turned into a mosque, and now a museum. It’s a pity that the original Christian decorations don’t really survived – there are some mosaics here and there – but it was also neat to see a different phase of the building’s history. We also got to see the tombs of several sultans, accessed by a different entrance, which were beautifully decorated in the Islamic style – lots of colored tiles and pointed arches.
I should also note that there was a family of four kittens living in the corner of the Aya Sophia and Chris and I did spend quite a long time gleefully watching them try to climb a metal barrier post. It was the most adorable thing in the entire world.
After the Aya Sophia, we walked across the park to the Blue Mosque. Because it is still a functioning mosque, we had to wear long pants and shirts with sleeves, and I had to have a scarf to cover my head. Needless to say, we were incredibly uncomfortable due to the heat, but once we got inside, it was definitely worth it. I’ve heard people say that if the Aya Sophia is Istanbul’s Notre Dame, the Blue Mosque is Sainte Chappelle. I definitely agree with that – the Blue Mosque is smaller, but absolutely stunning because of it’s amazing interior decoration. Thousands and thousands of tiles, mostly blue, decorate every surface and the architecture of the building itself is quite beautiful. I’ll be sure to post some pictures soon!
After the Blue Mosque, we had lunch at a little pide (Turkish pizza) place. It was nice to sit and get out of the heat for a bit, especially since we then spent the afternoon wandering around Topkapi Palace. It was really cool to see the palace where sultans had lived, but whenever I visit places like that, I always find myself thinking about the ridiculousness of their wealth over other people’s. It was no different here, wandering from one lavishly decorated court to another, especially when we walked through the treasury where a lot of the court jewels – including the 5th largest diamond in the world – were on display. There was a nice view of the Bosphorus, though, so that helped alleviate my 99% frustration. 😉
At the end of our visit it began to seriously thunderstorm, with rain just pouring down out of the sky. We hid in the Hagia Irene for a bit, which was really spooky. There were only lights at the tops of a few of the columns and no natural light coming in through the windows due to the storm and the church itself is completely bare of any decoration, leaving the walls and ceiling totally bare. It was certainly a fitting place to wait out a thunderstorm.
As the rain let up a bit, we walked back to our hotel, getting soaked in the processed. The rain hadn’t really let up by dinner time, so we found an uninspiring kebab place nearby. A rather dismal end to a day that had started off so well!
Today has been interesting. I mentioned yesterday that the strain of our two months of travel has started to show through, and I think that today it peeked out a little more. It can’t be helped – both of us want very badly to go home, but had made the decision to travel after the ASCSA program long ago. We’re trying to make the most of it, keep each other’s spirits up, but, after 8 weeks, it’s a difficult thing to do when all you can think about is your own bed and shower. So, when we got to the archaeological museum this morning and found that half of it was closed due to restoration, grumpiness ensued and was only strengthened as we walked through the parts of the museum that were open – again, signs detailing the who/what/where/when/how/why of each artifact were sadly lacking or absent altogether. The part of the museum showcasing Turkish/Islamic tiles and ceramics was lovely, though, and that carried us through a very pleasant lunch. the grump monster struck again, however, as we headed to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art only to find that it was closed for renovations. This was one of the museums we had really been looking forward to (and was included on our museum pass, bought this morning), so the disappointment was keen. We walked over instead to the Grand Palace Mosaic Museum, which was small but neat. After that, we found a nice shady cafe for a drink and a rest, before heading back to the hotel for some air-conditioning.
I like Istanbul so far, but I think I would have liked it more if I were not ending two months of travel here. Chris and I are both so tired, but there is a strong sense of obligation to go see and do everything, and any kind of setback is felt ten-fold. Tomorrow should be better (Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque!) but if not, we’ll be home in three days. Here’s to a nice dinner tonight and some good sight-seeing tomorrow!
(8-5-14; written en route to Istanbul, not posted because of late arrival at hotel)
Today was absolutely incredible, which is good, because yesterday we were both starting to feel the strain of two months abroad. I didn’t post yesterday because all we did was travel – after a leisurely morning at our lovely boutique hotel in Selcuk, we caught the bus from Selcuk to Denizli, then a minibus from Denizli to Pamukkale. After a bit of confusion with the driver of the minibus, we got off in the correct location and successfully made it to our hotel. After dinner, we assuaged our homesickness by watching Jurassic Park II (no shame!).
This morning, we packed our bags and left them in the “lobby” of our hotel (clean but Spartan rooms, incredibly cheap) since we technically had to check out by 11:00 am. Then we headed to the site.
Now, the cool thing about Pamukkale is not just the ancient site of Hierapolis. Oh sure, Roman ruins are pretty bad-ass, but what makes this site stick out are the travertine cliffs. From somewhere in the nearby mountain, calcium-rich water pours out and flows down, depositing the mineral as it goes, leaving behind these gorgeous, unearthly, cotton-y looking formations. Pools of water also form, and it was because of the supposed curative effects of the water that the ancients built a city here in the first place. So, in order to access the site, one must walk up these travertine cliffs and wade through pools of knee-deep, calcium-filled water. Pretty cool!
Our walk up was beautiful, if a bit treacherous – you have to walk up barefoot to protect the cliffs, and its not always the most pleasant on your feet in places. Once we made it to the top, we sat in the shade for a bit before heading out into the site.
Hierapolis as an archaeological site is not the most organized I’ve ever been to. There aren’t any maps in English given to you at the ticket kiosk (or available at all), and the signs throughout the site are few and far between. The site itself is also not that impressive – there just isn’t much on the ground any more. The city, however, was huge, and covered a fair amount of the hilltop. While the only major structure remaining is the theater, there are stones scattered everywhere throughout the site, sometimes you can see a wall, other times there will be a column or door jamb sticking up out of the ground. What about this site could possible make our day absolutely incredible?
The answer is two-fold: bush-whacking and lack of tourists. The lack of tourists part is pretty self-explanatory: Pamukkale is fairly off the beaten tourist trail, and those who do trek out here usually mainly come for the travertines and have only remote interest in the site (i.e. they go see the theater then they leave). As for bush-whacking, we learned at the American School that no part of a site is restricted to you if there’s no guard or barrier to stop you. So, when we saw what looked like tombs way up the hill while we were exploring the theater, we decided to go check it out. (The theater, by the way, is pretty spectacular and should not be overlooked. But…Roman tombs…)
So, because there was no guard or barrier telling us not to, we trekked up the hill. There was a nice path up to the Martyrium of St. Philip but from there, it was nothing but thistles and goat trails. So, like little goats, we hiked further up the hill until we came upon two clusters of tombs. There was nothing in them, of course, but it was still absolutely amazing to see them in situ. A few had inscriptions, and we could tell that some had been reused by Christians later on. The view was also spectacular – we could see the entire site and down the travertines as well. We could also see that the entire hillside was basically covered in tombs or sarcophagi, and that there were other little goat trails leading down to the side of the site we hadn’t seen yet. So of course, we followed another little trail down the hillside, past more and more tombs, to the agora and baths.
Having this kind of freedom at sites, especially since there were no other tourists around, is really rare, so it was especially exciting to be able to get up and personal with the tombs as we passed them, trying to read the inscriptions or identify cut marks. After we’d walked around the rest of the site (the actual necropolis on the main road leading into/out of town extended for another half mile. guess those curative waters aren’t so helpful after all), we headed back to the little cafe where we chugged some water and shared a sandwich. We poked around the small museum for a bit then rambled over some stone piles that we’d missed earlier (“nymphaeum” and “temple of Apollo”). We then headed to the Antique Pool, which I had been looking forward to. For a ridiculous fee, you are allowed to swim in a pool made by the Romans with remains of columns and what-not in it. I was ridiculously excited, but when we went to check it out, we discovered that it was basically a huge tourist trap – the pool looked like it had been made recently and had the columns dumped artfully into it. Not worth 32 lira! Disappointed, but still satisfied with our day, we headed back down the cliffs to prepare for the next leg of our journey. Next up, Istanbul!
Some snaps of Ephesus and Selcuk:
Well, compared to our time in Bodrum, Selcuk has been extraordinarily lovely. We arrived in Selcuk yesterday around 7:00 pm. It’s a small town, and mainly exists to cater to tourists going to nearby Ephesus. Our hotel, the Urkmez Hotel, was small, but clean and with a very friendly staff who carried our very heavy bags up the multiple flights of stairs to our room. We dropped our bags, turned the AC on, then left to go get dinner (Eski Ev, a nice little spot). When we returned from dinner, we found our room as hot as before, with the AC off. We thought it strange, of course, but maybe someone from the hotel had come in an turned it off? We shrugged and turned it back on, only to have no cool air whatsoever come out, as well as the entire thing turning off 15 minutes later. Confused, we turned it back on to see if it would happen again, which it did, on top of the fact that there wasn’t actually any cool air coming out. So, after several attempts at explaining the problem to the 15 year old working reception, the owner came in, couldn’t fix it, and promised to move us to his “boutique” hotel across town the next night at the same rate.
Needless to say, our night was hot and stuffy, but we got up the next morning excited to go to Ephesus. I was a bit worried that my enthusiasm for ancient sites had been totally burned away by the American School, but I was delighted to feel that old excitement as soon as we stepped on site (just fyi: you have to get either a taxi or a bus to the site – we took a taxi to the upper gate). We wandered around the site for a good three and a half hours, and were blown away by the state of preservation of the Terrace Houses, Roman houses of the elite with elaborate mosaics and wall paintings, many of which can still be seen. It was an extra 15 lira, but absolutely hands-down worth it. I’ve never seen Roman houses like this, even in Pompeii. You get a real sense of what living in the space would have been like, since you can see the paintings on the walls and the mosaics on the floors, instead of behind glass at a museum. The rest of the site was equally impressive, especially the very famous Library of Celsus. Since we had gotten there at 9:00 am, by the time we were ready to leave around 12:30, the site was packed with tourists and the heat was sweltering.
After we returned to Selcuk, we decided to move to the “boutique” hotel, Ephesus Suites, which is really beautiful and definitely something we could not afford on our own (also, the AC works!). The owner of both hotels was incredible accommodating, so if you’re even in Selcuk, I definitely recommend either one of there establishments.
After a nice lunch, we discovered that the Ephesus museum was closed for renovation, which was disappointing, so instead we walked over to the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Not much is left there now, just a single column cobbled together from various column drums, some foundations, and a lot of turtles in pools of standing water. After that, we hiked up the hill to the Byzantine/Ottoman fortress, through the Basilica of St. John. Despite the heat, it was a fun, beautiful walk and we got to see the church inside the fortress where apparently St. John wrote his Gospel. Pretty cool stuff!
I’m about to get into bed now, but I promise I’ll post some pictures tomorrow. We won’t be doing much tomorrow, just traveling to Pammukale, where more ruins await! Good night!