Sultanahmet at dusk    

Ephesus library

Ephesus' gorgeous library

Istanbul's Basilica Cistern

Istanbul's Basilica Cistern

Zelve Valley cave homes

Cave homes in Zelve Valley

Kaymakli beds

"Beds" at underground city
of Kaymakli

Passabog at Cappadocia

Passabog at Cappadocia

Goreme church paintings

Goreme church paintings

Buying carpets in Istanbul

Istanbul – buying carpets

Overlooking the Aegean Sea

Overlooking the Aegean Sea
at Kusadaci

May 20 to June 4, 2011

We returned from a wonderful trip to Turkey in early June and will head back with another group in late September. We visited Istanbul, Cappadocia, Ephesus, and the Turquoise Coast, all spectacularly beautiful and fascinating parts of this lovely and welcoming country.

In Istanbul, we stayed in Sultanahmet, the oldest part of Istanbul, within walking distance of some of the city's wonders, including the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia church, Topkapi Palace, and Grand Bazaar. There is also the excellent Museum of Islamic Art in the neighborhood, Roman ruins up the main tram line, the Spice Market a short walk down the hill, countless (and very good) local restaurants and stunning views of the Golden Horn, Bosporus and Sea of Marmara. While Istanbul has many beautiful hotels and neighborhoods, this is our preferred location since it is the sightseeing and walking heart of the city.

One night, three of us decided to try a hammam, a Turkish bath. After stripping, we donned tiny black panties (new) and were guided to a huge, warm, humid marble cavern where we were instructed to lie on a large hot circle of marble. Occasionally, an enormous woman, naked except for her own black panties, would douse us with warm water. After relaxing for about 30 minutes, these same huge women arranged us near the flowing water, soaped and scrubbed us thoroughly, then moved us to stools near spigots where they scrubbed our hair to full squeakiness. This was followed by a lovely soak in a warm pool and, at extra cost, a hot oil massage that we all thought was divine.

Cappadocia is a mix of moonscape and farmed fields. We went to see the moonscape—canyons and valleys full of strange limestone features that look like giant mushrooms and cones. The area is filled with cave homes, cave cities, churches and underground cities, all carved into the limestone. The wildflowers were spectacular in late May, with beautiful yellow wild roses filling the valley floors, purples and reds in profusion. We stayed at the Argos Hotel, a cave hotel in the small town of Uchisar, that overlooks a valley of fantastic limestone shapes.

We hiked up the valley of Zelve, peering into cave homes, churches and flour mills. The area was occupied until the early 1950's, when an earthquake destroyed many of the caves. Nearby is Goreme, a valley full of gorgeously painted cave churches. We enjoyed an early morning balloon ride over the landscape, joined by dozens of other colorful balloons that filled the sky. Our hike down the nearby Rose Valley was one of the highlights.

Next was Ephesus, a large Roman city heavily visited by cruise ships because of its magnificence. One of the great sights at Ephesus is a newly-opened area of villas, still being excavated and restored, with beautiful paintings on the walls, mosaic floors and lots of marble. We toured these villas admiringly with the expert help of our guide, Hasan, who was with us throughout the trip (and will lead us again in October). It is a rough walk over cobblestones to see the many architectural treasures of Ephesus, but a visitor can enjoy the feel of a bustling Roman city filled with homes, temples and public buildings.

Before returning to Istanbul for 2 days, most of us took a cruise on the Turquoise Coast of Turkey (see below for why we didn't all get to do that lovely cruise). One couple, unenthused about sailing, took a side trip for 3 days to the beautiful Bodrum Peninsula. The sailing group hiked to Lycean and Roman ruins, relaxed and snoozed or read on the huge cushions spread out on the gulet (yacht), visited an abandoned Greek city emptied during the "population exchange" of 1923 (when Greeks in Turkey were moved to Greece and Turks in Greece were removed to Turkey), traipsed through small coastal villages and sailed the clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.

Our trip was marred, unfortunately, when one of our group fell at Ephesus and broke her wrist badly. The emergency response by the Turkish medical service was prompt and good. Before we knew what was happening, she had X-rays of her wrist and stitches in the gash on her forehead—provided by a "tourist" doctor (a medical specialty in Turkey, he told us), whom we named Dr. Blue Eyes because he was so proud of his bright blue orbs.

She, her husband, and I spent 3 days in Izmir (while the rest of the group, accompanied by Don, cruised the Turquoise Coast), so she could have surgery to stabilize her broken wrist before returning to the U.S. All the care was in a private hospital, which was fine, but not fully up to our medical standards. Nonetheless, the Turkish doctors were careful, spoke pretty good English and enabled her to have a safe trip home.

We learned some interesting things. When she asked for a nurse to help her with a shower, the nurse dried her off with paper towels (there were no other towels)—leading us to realize that a patient's family provides the amenities even in private Turkish hospitals. While the hospital provided all her food (and usually an extra tray or two for her husband and me), they did not provide what we consider basics—water, cups, straws, gown (other than a paper surgical gown), and so on. Because her travel insurance paid every penny of her expenses, including the ambulance rides, the private docs have an incentive to do everything they can think of that can be billed to the insurance company. So, as we were about to leave for the airport, in a car I'd booked through the hotel, Dr. Blue Eyes called to say he had an ambulance to take us to the airport. We respectfully rejected that idea, to his great disappointment, I'm sure. After another surgery in Denver, she is healing well.

While we were in Istanbul, we had several very interesting meetings which may interest you. These included Ernst & Young partners, a senior executive of Pfizer Turkey and the senior Commercial Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul. If you would like to read what we learned about Turkey's politics, economy and social and business environment, please click here.

We introduced our companions to a Turkish rug dealer at the Grand Bazaar, whom we met a decade ago through a Boeing executive who has run Boeing Turkey for a dozen years and is a very knowledgeable collector of Turkish carpets. After an excellent tutorial on Turkish carpets, we all found ourselves also being enthusiastic—and much better-informed—customers as well.

We look forward to our visit this fall to this beautiful and fascinating country.

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