We had booked a 2-day tour of Ephesus and Pamukkale with Road Runner Travel. They picked us up at our hotel at 5AM to drop us off at the Ataturk Airport to catch our flight to Izmir. A short 45 minute flight with Turkish Airlines with a meal included!
When we arrived, we had a driver waiting for us with my name on a piece of paper. We also had a family of 3 from Argentina and a family of 3 from Philippines joins us. The driver dropped us off at the tour office and we moved to another van to take us around for the next 2 days. For the day, we also had an Indian couple who live in Washington DC and a pair from Korea.
We became good friends with the young Filipino couple and their daughter. They have lived in China for a year and moved to Istanbul 6 month’s prior. Danee is originally from Saudi Arabia (speaks Arabic, Tagalog, Turkish and English). She is currently volunteering to work with Syrian refugees – more specifically working with women coming from abusive environments. Her husband Paolo is also originally from Philippines. He is a Journalist and a director and moved from China to Turkey for his work that is written and produced in English. Their daughter Allegra is 2 years old and has her lovely stuffed Ikea dog name Zaza.
Fact – There are tons of Tangerine trees around but people don’t really eat it off the tree as they are too bitter. The use the tangerines to make it into juice and marmalade.
Our tour guide was Guray. Our first stop was House of the Virgin Mary – The House of the Virgin Mary is a Catholic and Muslim shrine located on Mt. Koressos in the vicinity of Ephesus, 7 kilometres from Selçuk in Turkey.
We continued to the Ancient Greek city of Asia Minor known as Ephesus (Efes). The city still features a 25,000 seat amphitheatre, the Celsius Library (my absolute favourite spot. You can pay an extra fee to see the Terraced Houses. You can also see one of the world’s oldest advertisments. The carving features an image of a cross, a woman, a heart, a foot, a money purse, and a library, plus a hole dug into the rock.
One interpretation of the carvings is as follows: up at the crossroads, on the left, you’ll find women whose love can be purchased. But please, only stop in if your foot is at least this big, young men, and you have enough coins to fill this hole. Otherwise, we kindly direct you to the library on the right. At least they suggested a more enriching experience for those who were too young to enter the brothel. Ephesus use to be a port town however the port has dried up and now only has a small pond.
One of our guides was asking if Amanda and I were best friends and we both looked at each other and hesitated and said acquaintances. But considering the furthest we’ve been apart is Hotspot distance for the entirety of this trip I would have to say we’re pretty good friends now. But not best friends.
We stopped for lunch at a buffet then onto a Leather goods factory. They had an elaborate setup with a fashion show. We walked through but the salesman where surrounding you anytime you touched a jacket or item and would follow you everywhere. Turkey is known for their leather goods and the products seemed nice but the minimum for a jacket at this place was $250USD.
After the leather factory, we had the option of going to a carpet factory or stop for figs and nuts – the figs and nuts were also a store where we could buy souvenirs. We took a break at St John’s church but hung out in the park with some ancient ruins that was littered with garbage in the aquaduct.
Back into the van and to a mosque we went to learn a little more about the culture.
Our final stop for the Ephesus tour was to the UNESCO site – Temple of Artemis. There is only 1 column left standing. The land is swamp land and so they laid layers of coal on the bottom as their foundation to help with the shifting and moisture. They built the roof out of wood and as a donation to the gods, the people would give olive oil which was stored in the building. One day, the temple caught on fire and it was the perfect storm.
Afterwards we drove to Kuşadası (beach town) where we would stay the night. We stayed at the Istankoy Hotel. Glorious 15°C along the coast with such a lovely view and even lovelier people. We sat on the rocks to soak in some sun when a mother and her 3 children sitting beside us offered us sunflower seeds. When we left the rocks and started walking to the fish market, we bumped into the family again. The mother asked me if I was from Kazakhstan but with a language barrier I was able to tell her I was Canadian and the rest of the conversation was just interpreted in smiles and hand signals. We walked into the Kusadasi Bazaar and that is where you will find some decent knock offs of designer goods. We ate some half bread chicken doner for dinner. We had enough time to walk back to the pier to watch the sunset with beautiful hues in the sky along with a partial red moon that was so large. And finished the night off with some Dondurma (5TL).
We booked a hot air balloon ride with Royal Balloon for the 16th however I got an email telling me that the Turkish Aviation had cancelled our original date for our morning flight due to potential bad weather. We rescheduled for the 17th with 18th as a backup date. We booked via Tripadvisor and booked the Queen flight (1 hour + champagne and breakfast). Turns out we hopped on a King Flight (1.5 hours) I guess it was because our original day got cancelled so they rescheduled. Normally, Royal can fit 16 people but for more comfort, they put 12 people.
We got picked up at 610AM from our hotel and brought to Royal’s headquarters for buffet style breakfast. After breakfast, we were split into our designated vans for the flight. The van is following a truck that holds our air balloon and we drive about 10 minutes to open fields. You look out the window where it is still somewhat pitch black but see these huge mounds that look like they are part of the facade to only realize that they are balloons that are slowly being filled with air and getting ready for the gas and flames. The set up of the balloon is quite quick. We all hopped in and off we went.
Our pilot was Geert who was originally from Belgium and has been flying for over 22 years. He told us that the only real control he has is turning with the balloon but in terms of speed, he just needs to find the wind pockets by going up or down in the sky. I have to say the beginning with the hazy skies before the sun rises was the best part. He was telling us that today was the first day in a week that they have been able to fly balloons so lucky us! The sky is de-saturated hues of pink to blue. Gloves and feet warmers are something you want to consider having but other than that, it was absolutely amazing. Remember to listen to the instructions of your pilot as there have been casualties in the past. If it is a windy day, for landing, you need to crouch in the basket and hold on tight to the blue ropes. It wasn’t windy today and so we braced for the landing standing.
To end off our wonderful experience, we cracked open a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries before getting dropped off back at our hotels. The whole experience finished by 830-9AM.
We also booked the Red tour for 30 euros – 930AM-430PM – includes lunch, english speaking tour guide, hotel pick-up/drop-off. We got back to our hotel in time to go back to our room to charge our phones a bit and warm our feet.
Our tour was booked with Woop Woop Travel and our guide for the day was Mustafa. We also made friends with Miguel from Guadalajara, Mexico who is a lawyer (sometimes a teacher as well) and She from Osaka, Japan.
Uçhisar Castle – Loads of interesting areas in this place. There are 2 “hills” that over a nice view from the middle. You can climb up and down the hills to the rock formations however the castle is quite far of a walk to get to from the main parking lot. This natural castle was used as a defence mechanism to prevent any attacks from the enemy. Since its location was central, it was used as a control centre for the trade way like the silk road during the Persian overtaken period. In Ottoman time, the castle was the location for protection and maintenance.
The Fairy Chimney homes haven’t been inhabited since 1980’s as the roofs started eroding and falling apart causing harm. The government then started a exchange program with residents to sell them their fairy chimney homes in return for money and land to build a new home.
Fairy Chimneys were formed from the volcanic eruptions millions of years ago that have erupted throwing huge mounds of ash all around and they are formed by different rock sediments and also covered by a layer of basalt.
Göreme Open Air Museum – Too many tourists here. Like too many. There are 2 churches in this museum and both you cannot take photos or video in. There are many nooks and crannies in this place that you can climb and walk to but considering all that we saw the previous day, this place wasn’t anything too special.
Love Valley – Fairy Chimneys – All along the parking lot and cliff of the Love Valley viewing area, there are tons of structures – “hot air balloons”, swings, carriages etc that you can sit on and pose with that overlook the valley with penis shaped rock formations below. You can swing out towards the valley which makes for a cool photo spot.
Pottery Demonstration – Really cool to see the artist’s studio space and seeing the inner workings of how the whole process comes together. We saw artists drawing and painting so intricately. After they demonstrate how they traditionally create pottery using their pottery wheel. We then went through their 2 rooms of pottery you can purchase before leaving.
Paşabağ – Best location of the day – go left and there will be a sign on the rock saying danger or do not enter – Go enter but please be careful as you have to walk up quite angled to get to the top. It sort’ve looks like The Wave in Arizona only half of the wave and white. Here you will see mushroom shaped rock formations.
Devrent Imagination Valley – We were only there for a short period to take photos but you can see shapes in the rock formations such as a camel, a penguin to the left of it, to a hand further left.
Ürgüp Three Graces (Beauties) – This is the 3 rock formations that are similar to the Three Sisters in Blue Mountain, Australia but the story goes: According to legends, the King had only 1 heir to his throne and it was his daughter. The daughter was madly in love with a shepherd and her father disapproved and wanted her to marry a man of authority. She decided to escape and secretly marry the shepherd and gave birth to a baby. She thought the king would forgive them thanks to their child and went back to the palace. Little did she know the King showed no mercy as he saw this as a sign of betrayal and sent his whole army to kill this family. The princess was running away from those soldiers and she prayed to the God “Please, my God, make us either a stone or a bird”. The God accepted the prayers and they were converted to stone.
We decided to have an easy night and walked out to Baskent Doner. I grabbed the mix kebap for 20TL ($5CAD). We hung out in the room and just recharged our phones, journaled and whatnot.
We had continental breakfast upstairs and it features an outdoor terrace with a lovely view. We aired out our clothes from last night on the balcony but alas, the smell of smoke fumes wouldn’t shake off. The weather was crisp settling around -1°C and maybe went up to 3°C. Having the sun out helped but when you weren’t in the sun, you could sure feel the chill in your bones.
We booked the Green tour for the day with pick up at 930AM. We had Rafiki aka Sunny as our tour guide. We booked with Woop Woop Travel. We paid 35 euros for this full day tour. The tour goes from 930AM-6PM that includes lunch, english speaking tour guide, hotel pick-up/drop-off. On the Green tour we visited:
Göreme Panorama – All the tour vans were here bright and early. The view was very nice as the sun peaked out. There are a few spots that are the best angles for shots including one on an almost round rock. The rock formations were great places to hide. These formations are formed similar to the sediment of the grand canyon and took millions of years to create the rich formations.
Onyx Jewelry Factory – I guess every tour has an obligatory stop at a factory that sells products the country is known for. We are obligated to purchase anything but we did look around. We left the factory and walked across the street to Pigeon Valley.
Pigeon Valley – Pigeons were used as messenger pigeons for the longest time. This valley is especially known to have them as they would fly between certain homes depending on the painted colour outside. Today, you can still see the huge amount of pigeons (and even feed them) but the valley is gorgeous to look upon.
Derikuyu Underground City – We went about 55M deep into the 80M deep tunnels. There are labyrinths of underground tunnels. They also have sliding doors and make the tunnels tight so enemies can only attack one by one if they break in but then they get kebaped. They only lived in the tunnels during dangerous times that could range from 1 week to a month or two. They would send signals to other cities of enemy attacks from the tunnels; they would set fire signals at the top of the castles. There are also no possible earthquakes in Turkey so theses tunnels remain. The tunnels are also quite temperate with a average temperature of 13°C and also was cooler in certain areas so no modern fridge was needed. We were able to go down 7 floors and at certain points, the tunnels were really tight and you had to be in a crouched position to walk through.
Ihlara Valley hike – It is the second largest to the Grand Canyon. It’s the deepest gorge in Turkey.
And last but not least Selime Monastery – It is a rock-cut monastery with the biggest religious buildings in Cappadocia. There are also monk and kitchen sections carved out in this into the rock. It also served as a fortress like structure and also inhabited camels at one point in time.
I have to say my favourite was the Selime Monastery because it was for the most part empty and climbing rock formations are always fun.
We got back to the hotel and just tried to recharge a bit and journal before we went for dinner. We went to One Way Cafe & Restaurant where you have the option to be seated lower to the ground on beanbag chairs and a low table. I ordered the Lamb pottery plate (35TL). It was actually very light and so good. We ordered some ice cream and banana with nutella crepes to end off the night.