It was hard to get a handle on Dubai in 3 days. It's a very traditional, conservative, Muslim place and yet, it's also cosmopolitan, multicultural and thriving on Western-style consumerism. Geographically-speaking, it was hard to get around because of how massive and spread out the city is. We would look on the map and think it feasible to walk somewhere, but it was usually twice as far as expected. Even though we were in a huge city, we felt like characters slogging through a desert searching for an oasis. Part of that slog was the heat, which felt pretty good after a chilly week in Turkey. Despite temps in the 90's, it was Dubai's coolest season.
The area we stayed in, which is probably representative of most of Dubai, was one of the most diverse places I've ever been. There was every different kind of language and ethnicity present. Most of Dubai's residents are South Asian, Southeast Asian, or from other Arab countries. A very, very small percentage of Dubai is native Emirati. Despite hosting generations of immigrants, the Emratis protect their citizenship very closely making it very hard to become a citizen, even for children born in Dubai. Much of the reason for the diversity has to do with labor needs to build up such an impressive city in such a short time and it cannot go unsaid that Dubai is known to have a terrible human rights and environmental record as a result. To me, this is Dubai's present: A huge international city, with an infamous reputation that doesn't represent the multicultural feel of it at all.
In central Turkey, at least a 10 hour bus ride from anything else in the country is one of the weirdest landscapes you will ever see. It looks like melting frosting and the home of Marvin the Martian at the same time. Even the name, Cappadoccia, evokes mystery and intrigue. More crazy then the landscape itself, is that over the centuries, people carved homes and churches into the soft rock. The miles of jutting rock lent itself to concealing early monasteries of Christians hiding out from persecution. A result of eroded volcanic rock, the valleys and fairy chimneys (as the odd formations are called) often reminded us of mini-Grand Canyons because of the layers of orange and red. If that doesn't grab your interest, consider that the locals call one particular valley, Love Valley, for what will be obvious in the pictures.
One of the biggest reasons Cappadoccia is such a tourist Mecca, however, is because of its famed hot air balloons. Cappadocia is such a well-known hot air balloon location partly because getting high up is a great way to see the unique landscape, but also because the sheer number of balloons in the air at sunrise provides an awe-inspiring spectacle in itself. A bucket list item for me, it was quite the dramatic endeavor, requiring you waking up at 4 am and head out to go to the launch site and wait to find out if the conditions are good enough for a launch. Our first day, they were not, so we had to start the 4 am ritual over again the next day. The hot air balloon was definitely a highlight of our trip. Cappadoccia is unmissable in my book, as it makes Turkey unique. Words don't do it justice and neither do photos but here is our meager attempt (click the photos to get an enlarged gallery)
One of my favorite parts of traveling in Turkey was the food. More than any country we have been to so far, I never got tired of it and we were there for over two weeks. It is always fresh, mostly healthy, incredibly vegetarian friendly and cheap! There is plenty of variety but we also came back to the same things over and over. Here are a few of our faves:
Kebab: Jed had kebab at least once a day for two weeks. Seriously. That may sound monotonous but when you can get chicken, lamb, or a meat combo and eat it shish style, doner, in a sandwich, as part of a platter, on a stick, etc...there are oh so many combos. It was consistently good all over Turkey. No matter what form.
Pottery Kebab: really nothing like the kebab above. This seemed to be a regional dish of Cappadoccia and on our cold nights there, it was perfect. It's similar to a Moroccan tagine, in that it is cooked in a clay pot. In my case, it was assorted vegetables with a tomato sauce stewed to perfection. When the dish is served, they bring it out sealed and have to crack the pottery open by knocking the side with a knife. It's always fragrant and piping hot.
Pide: much like pizza, it's a thin dough in the shape of a sailboat and topped with cheese and a chosen topping, usually mushroom but whatever you choose (me, spinach or eggplant). Perfect lunch and super cheap.
Fresh Pomegranate Juice: pomegranates were in season and every single store and cart were selling pomegranate juice. It's incredibly tart, like pure cranberry juice, but very refreshing on a warm afternoon or after dinner. Also available, freshly squeezed orange juice, or the best: a mix of the two!
Breakfast: Breakfast food is my favorite whether it's English, continental, diner, southern or brunch. When I was in India, I was obsessed with Indian breakfast foods, many of which I had never had and were quite different than the normal assortment of curry and tandoori. Similarly, Turkey has a simple, delicious, savory standard breakfast that really exemplifies Turkish food overall. Bonus: breakfast is almost always included in even the most basic establishment or hostel. Basics of a Turkish breakfast include fresh tomato wedges, cucumber slices, assorted fresh cheeses, olives off the tree that taste like the best EVOO, some bread, jam, eggs and yogurt.
In addition to these favorites of ours, Turkey has great pickles, bread, nuts, tea, and of course Turkish Delights. The sticky nougat candy was not my favorite, but I did discover a pastry filled with pistachios and syrup that was a meal. Besides all these, Turkish coffee, always served elegantly in decorated brassware, and sweetened to your choosing, was a perfect afternoon break.
Summary, get yourself to the nearest Turkish food restaurant. For those of you in Chicago, I know there are a few!
I don't think Jed ever thought he would be able to say that another man scrubbed him vigorously and then soaped him in sheets of bubbles, but now he can! This is one of the ultimate cultural experiences while in Turkey: the Turkish Hammam (bath) and I will take the blame.
In the name of cultural discovery, amusement, and relaxation, I convinced Jed we should go to a hammam. Hamam has been around since the Greeks and Romans, however the Turkish bath style is still popular and many of the old baths, set in beautiful buildings, are still in use around Istanbul. Different from the public baths we visited in Budapest, the Istanbul-style hammam involves time in a hot chamber, a scrub, a wash, and a cool down. Many hammams have become more spa-like, offering various deluxe treatments. This was not one of those hammams.
We first entered the heating room. The interior felt like a step back in time (it was the private bath of the sultan after all), with a huge marble slab in the middle heated to a very high temp. As with any sauna, it's at first a little difficult to breathe and the slab was almost too hot to sit on. As time passes you get accustomed to the heat and the sweat. Man, did we sweat. Jed swore he had never been that sweaty to in his life. We were the only ones for nearly all of our sweating time.
Eventually, two men entered and brought us to the next stage. We each had our own attendant. Sitting next to a large marble sink, first we we were doused several times with not hot, not cold water then the attendant took each body part in hand, and in a highly rhythmic and ritualized way, scrubbed us with a rough sponge to remove all the dead skin that had also been loosened during the sauna portion. We were each led to a marble table, instructed to lay face down. As we heard the sink filling up with suds, I was nervous. As I was face down I'm not entirely sure how it happened, but soon I was covered head to toe in the thickest blanket of suds possible. (see stock photo)
The descriptions of the massage part I read were described as "perfunctory" so I thought it might be a quick shoulder rub and that's it. Oh, no. Starting with the back, working down to the legs and feet, this was the fastest, deepest of tissues massage I've probably ever had. I don't mind a hard massage but this was fast and furious. Is this how the Sultan's liked it? I have no idea. I would be lying if I said I wasn't in some pain at certain points. As he went for my feet, I immediately tried to look for Jed, who does not like his feet touched in any way. Just as I did I heard his masseuse make a strange sound, something like, "eeeeeeeooooowwweeewww!" Basically he had registered Jeds discomfort. He would make this noise many more times before the end. I was caught between stifling laughter, sympathy for Jed, my own pain like when he twisted my arm round my back to dig into my scapula, and trying to relax and enjoy the experience. I think the whole massage/wash part lasted 15 min but it felt much longer.
Next was the rinse off, one final splash of shockingly cold water and we off to the cooling room. But not before another man dried us off and wrapped us in fresh towels like a baby out of the bath.
At this point, we were glad it was over, a little light headed from the heat of the sauna and dying to discuss it with each other. I was praying that Jed wasn't furious at me for making him go through with it.. The cooling room is another architecturally beautiful room with couches to lounge. We sipped fresh pomegranate juice, a Turkish tradition, as our bodies returned to normal temperature, and I decided I liked the whole experience and would do it again. At least it was a good activity to do before catching an overnight bus to central Turkey. I think I slept pretty well that night.
After 3 months in central and eastern Europe, Turkey was going to be a change of pace. So we decided to spend a few weeks exploring this country that is split both culturally and geographically between Europe and Asia. We stayed in six different cities/town during our visit.
Not the capital of Turkey (that's Ankara) but certainly the cultural hub and most well-known city in Turkey. Istanbul was the perfect transition between Europe and Asia as it really is a mix of east and west culture and development (and is literally split between the two continents). It has the western and modern feel to it with its major pedestrian shopping streets lined with chain stores, fancy hotels and numerous bars promoting alcohol. In other respects, it feels very much like a massive, crowded developing nation with muslim and eastern influence. A good example in my mind is the Blue Mosque, a beautiful, large mosque from the 17th century (middle eastern influence) that has a multicolored, dancing fountain in the courtyard in front of it that looks straight out of Vegas (western).
Ephesus is one of the best preserved Roman cities on remaining in the modern worlds. It ranks right up there behind Pompeii and Rome as the best Roman sight I have been to. It was surprising to me to find such an established Roman city in Turkey, but I forgot how far the Roman empire spread (Istanbul was the capital of the eastern part of the late Roman empire, then known as Constantinople). Ephesus take about a day to walk through and you see the remains of old houses, shops and meeting places. The best preserved, and most impressive, sites are the very large amphitheater and the facade of the old library, which are extremely well preserved. While it is definitely a city of ruins today, you still get a feel for how expansive and impressive Roman culture and technology was. It is also said that the virgin Mary actually fled to Ephesus and you can view her old home here.
Pamukkale is a unique natural phenomenon unlike anywhere I have seen in the world. Water from a number of hot springs flows down the mountains. It is rich in calcium carbonate and is deposited onto the rocks, eventually hardening into travertine. What results are white-coded mountains that look like snow covered glaciers, but are no such thing. Your brain is tricked when you step barefoot onto the white rocks (as required) and it is not freezing cold. There are also little pools filled with the mineral rich white water. You can also swim in one of the hot springs, as people have been doing for thousands of years...the main one used to be the favorite hang out of Cleopatra.
Fethiye and Kas
Fethiye and Kas were the beautiful beach portions of our trip. Fethiye, though beautiful, was a little bit of a cheesy beach town, reminiscent of Panama City or the like. We were randomly there during the Turkish air show though and got to see some cool acrobatics of the Turkish military fighter planes.
Kas was even prettier and reminiscent of some of our favorite places in Croatia. The coastline was spectacular with views of the islands and mountains in the distance. Because of a mutual Facebook friend we were able to hook up with new traveler friends, also traveling for a year! They were dog sitting (for 7 dogs!) at a beautiful house with a large balcony and pool overlooking the ocean. They invited us to stay at the house and we had an amazing time enjoying the view and swapping travel tales. Definitely check out their blog for their great travel stories http://www.detourswelcome.com. Thanks so much Ana and Nic!
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the buses in Turkey. The train system in the country sucks, so everyone takes buses to travel, which can sometimes be long journeys of 12+ hours. But the buses are nice....damn nice. I mean, super comfy seats that fully recline, personal on-demand video screens and beverage and food service nice. It was a very pleasant surprise in a country that sometimes still seems like it is quite developing, but definitely not on the transportation front.
Check back soon for a write up of the city in Turkey with the most unique landscape, Cappadocia (plus some posts about Turkish Food and a weird Turkish cultural experience!
This is Caitlin and Jed's blog about our adventures.
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