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Monday, December 28, 2009

Traveling Turkey - From Kusadasi to Selçuk(Ephesus) to Istanbul


10/01/2009 - We caught an early ferry from Vathy to Kusadasi.  Getting off the ferry the ferry collected some kind of entrance tax that was $10 Euros, which seemed kind of sketchy but, every one else was paying it so we weren't sure if it was legitimate or not.  We then entered the Turkish customs and they charged us another $20 Euros to get a visa for the country.  Apparently you need a visa if you are from the US but they freely issue them at the border.  We then walked out of the port only to be bombarded by people asking what they could do for us, if we had a place to stay, and offering tours to Ephesus.  One guy that spoke really good English and pointed us in the right direction kept talking to us and followed us for a while.  He seemed a little sketchy at first with is snake skin cowboy boots, button down shirt, and multiple piercings.  Come to find out he lived in Australia for a while and had traveled quite a bit.  He offered to get us to Selçuk, leave our things in his shop, take us to Ephesus and then pick us up after a couple of hours at Ephesus and take us back to his shop.  All this for about the same price as a bus and all he wanted was us to buy something at his shop.  After we talked to him we felt that he was fairly trustworthy and decided to go with it because it would save us alot of hassle.  So we waited about 10 minutes and he had a car out front for us with a driver named Ali Baba.  We jumped in with Ali Baba and were off to Selçuk.  While driving the 45 minutes we were able talk to Ali Baba about the country and he was a hard working man that was very sincere with good intentions.

We arrrived at Ali Baba's shop where were offered water and were able to use the decent bathroom of his restaurant next door.  We then left our backpacks in his store and were off to the ruins at Ephesus.  When we arrived Ali Baba dropped us off and even offered to let us borrow a tour guide book on the ruins.  Going through the ruins from one side to the next takes about 2-3 hours.  Although if you really want to see every little detail you could spend probably a full day here. There are 2 entrances to Ephesus but most people opt to start at the higher elevation end and then walk down because it is an easier walk.  At the bottom you can catch a bus back up the other side or just back to Selçuk. Selçuk is very close to the ruins and only about a 5 minute drive.  The ruins themselves are pretty amazing and there are several theatres and buildings as you wonder down the trail.  There are also an abundance of places where stones are just laying all over and they have Greek writing on them or ornate carved pictures.   The stone work is amazing and the ruins are really impressive.
When we were done walking though the ruins and looked for out driver Ali Baba and he was no where to be found, so after waiting a few minutes we went over to one of the other drivers and asked if they knew Ali Baba and they said that Ali Baba had talked to them and that we were supposed to get a ride with him. We jumped in the van with several other passangers and they took us into town and back to Ali Baba's shop. We then hung out for a bit in the shop and one of the members from our group purchased a rug from Ali Baba. We then headed to the town to get some food and check train/bus schedules so that we could get to Izmir for our 9:30pm flight. There is a train from Selçuk to Izmir that will actually take you right to the Izmir Airport terminals but, since the times didn't work for us we decided to just catch a minibus up which leave every hour and would drop us off on the freeway by the Izmir Airport. From where they dropped us off to the terminals was about a 10 minute walk. We decided to fly to Istanbul since the just over 1 hour flight with a local airline was cheaper than an 8 hour bus ride. If you are traveling within Turkey check out Izair. We got our tickets for about $28.

10/02/2009 and 10/03/2009 - We arrived in Istanbul fairly late and caught a Taxi to our Hostel called The Southern Cross Hostel that we had previously booked. The reason we chose it was because it's location in Sultanahmet.  Sultanahmet is very close to all of the main attractions in Istanbul.  We arrived late to the street our Hostel was on and found that the street had a very active night life of restaurants and small shops.  It was fairly active with people but very quiet and a good atmosphere.  The street our hostel was on was called Akbiyik Street and was just a short walk to the Blue Mosque(Sultan Ahmet Camii) and the Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya).  I have seen the Hagia Sophia spelled multiple ways including Hagia Sophia, Aya Sofya, and Aya Sofia.  I will call it the Hagia Sofia since there is a Wikipedia page on it spelled that way. :)

The next day we got up early to go and check out some of the sites.  We basically looked at a book that had the top 10 things to see in Istanbul and tried to hit them all.  We walked up from the hotel and ended up in the middle of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia.  We then made our way around to the entrance of the Blue Mosque.  There was a little bit of a line to get into the Blue Mosque, so we decided to check out The Hippodrome, which is a massive amphitheater built in Byzantine times.  In the middle of the Hippodrome we checked out the Egyptian Obelisk, a column that was brought to Constantinople (now Istanbul) from Egypt during the Roman era, in 390 A.D.  When we were done there we headed back over to the entrance of the Blue Mosque to pleasantly find that the line was gone and we were able to go right in.  You are required to take off your shoes when you go in and I think if you had shorts they had to be past your knees but, I don't recall any other restrictions. The inside of the Blue Mosque was very impressive and from what we could find out the architect was commissioned to make a Mosque bigger than the Hagia Sofia and when it came down to it he wasn't able to achieve making it bigger, so it is now better know for it's symetry.
After the making our way though the Blue Mosque we headed over to the Hagia Sofia.  The Hagia Sofia was constructed as a Eastern Orthodox Church and was the largest cathederal for over 1,000 years. When Constantinople(Istanbul) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 it was converted into a Mosque.  In 1935 it was converted to a Muesum as it currently functions today.  It is a very impressive building and it is definitely worth taking some time to wander around and check out the architecture and view some of the beautiful mosaics.

From the Hagia Sofia we grabbed some of the local food and headed over to the Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsisi).  After weaving through some streets and asking a few people here and there we were able to find our way over to the Grand Bazaar.  I was actually really suprised at how nice the Grand Bazaar really was.  I was expecting a normal small tent style bazaar, only to find that the structure where the Grand Bazaar was located was actually really nice and it was definitely catered towards tourists.  The Grand Bazaar is huge and takes quite a while to get through if you want to see everything, although I found that after going down a couple of aisles they all seem to be similar and your will start to see shops that seem to be duplicates of stores that you have already seen.  After the Bazaar we headed towards the Egyptian Spice Bazaar but were side tracked by a Bosphorus Cruise.  We wanted to try and hit this around sunset and we were passing by it around 6pm and were able to just jump on one as it was leaving.  It was nice to just sit down and take in some scenery.  We actually saw the Dolmabahce Palace(Dolmabahce Sarayi) on the shore and it inspired us to put it on our list of things to see the next day.  There are several Mosques along the river and the view is great.  This body of water also seperates Eastern Europe from Asia.  When we got off the cruise we headed over to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar(Misir Carsisi)  and even though it was closing down we were able to wander through it and see pretty much everything. We then just headed back to the hostel after a eventful day of seeing sites.
The next day we got up and headed to the Yerebatan Sarayi (Underground Cistern).  Known as Yerebatan Sarayi or Sunken Palace, this giant well once held water for the city residents. Today, it is a major tourist attraction, complete with piped-in music and pulsing lights and really has a cool atmosphere. We then made our way over to the Topkapi Palace. Topkapi Palace is an amazing place to see. It is not only immense in size and structure but also full of history. The Topkapi Palace was first constructed in 1459 by Sultan Mehmet II who had conquered Istanbul in 1453. It was the main Palace that was used by the Sultan, his family and thousands of staff. There are many different areas in the complex from courtyards, to meeting rooms, harems and much more. The Palace was fairly popular and crowded, although there is a ton to see within the walls.  Next we caught a subway to a station near the Dolmabahce Palace(Dolmabahce Sarayi). The Dolmabahce Palace was built in the mid 1800s to replace an earlier structure that was made of wood. The new Palace incorporated sixteen separate buildings with stables, a flour mill and a clock tower among them.  We caught a tour through it and it is fairly impressive inside and after the 1hr tour we headed around to catch a tour of the Harems quarters, which was anothe 30min tour and looked alot like the 1st tour.  The gounds are really well kept and are nice to wander around. 

We then just headed back to the Hostel and prepared for our overnight train to Sofia.

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