All posts filed under “Destinations

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
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Croatia – A Mediterranean Dream

Untouched coastline of crystal clear waters, over ten thousand islands with hidden bays and stunning beaches, a rich cultural & historical heritage with many UNESCO sites to explore, breathtaking landscapes … Croatia is a paradise that will fill your heart.

Croatia benefits from a rich cultural heritage reflected in its many museums, palaces, churches and cities, where even a short walk turns into a magical journey through history. Only a few years ago Croatia was a fairly unknown and distance country, but now it is a place you really must visit. In our opinion some of the most important sites and areas not to be missed are:
Monumental Palace of Diocletian in Split, one of the largest Roman ruins in the world
Basilica of Euphrasius in Poreč, decorated with spectacular mosaics
Cathedral of Saint James in Sibenik, architectural jewel of the Dalmatian Coast
Dubrovnik, the most beautiful Croatian city , a veritable open-air museum
Plitvice Lakes National Park, a natural paradise of unparalleled beauty
Stari Grand Plain on the island of Hvar, best preserved Ancient Greek landscape
Historic town of Trogir, with its irresistible charm of picturesque streets and stone facades
Zagreb, the capital city at the very heart of Europe
Pula, a museum city of the Roman Empire

Dubrovnik-Harbour

A land of a thousand islands and magnificent national parks
In Croatia the colors of the sunny Mediterranean blend harmoniously with the calm and fresh atmosphere of mountains and plains. A country of magnificent natural heritage offering landscapes that are unique in a relatively small area. With eight national parks, four on the mainland (Risnjak, Paklenica, Plitvice Lakes and Northern Velebit) and four in the coastal regions (Kornati, Mljet, Brijuni and waterfalls of Krka), Croatia is a paradise for nature lovers. Its main asset it its diverse coastline, with 1244 islands, only 50 of which are currently inhabited.

Croatia is not just about historical sites & sunbathing, there are many adventures to be had too.
Countless outdoor activities, allowing you to enjoy the magnificent countryside. Strings of islands along the jagged coastline provide a perfect destination for boating, swimming, kayaking & diving. Trekking and climbing in the parks of Risnjak & Paklenica. Windsurfing in Brač, rafting on the Cetina, cycling or lounging around in cafes.

Hvar in Croatia

Then to end each perfect day, once you have had your fill of fresh air and historical sites, enjoy some local cuisine, which has over time been influenced by many great cultures such as the Italians, Turkish & Hungarians plus a few others. Seafood, great wines & cheeses are a must! We will be adding an article dedicated to “what to eat in Croatia” soon.

Sretan put (have a good journey)

Turkish Hamams of Istanbul
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Turkish Bath – relax in the hamams of Istanbul

A Turkish bath is something that everyone should try at least once in their lifetime.

The most impressive examples are found in Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Empire and former capital of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines considered themselves the direct cultural successors to the Roman Empire, where public baths were a staple feature of the community and the Ottomans adopted and continued this practice when they conquered the Byzantines in 1450. The steam bath in Ottoman times had three basic functions: a place for social gathering; ritual cleansing and as an architectural witness to the sultan’s greatness, power and wealth. Particularly during the Ottoman Empire, hamams were a place for socializing. The bath was open from sunrise to sunset and frequented not only for washing but also for use of the barber, exchange of gossip and news, and even business meetings. In the ladies’ section, women could investigate the physical and social qualities of prospective daughters-in-law, enjoy music and entertainment, and indulge in sweets.

Visiting a Turkish Bath

Choices
The “traditional service” is recommended for a true Turkish Bath experience. Lasting around 45 minutes, an attendant will wash, scrub & massage you with suds and a handwoven wash cloth (kese). A cheaper alternative is “self-service” where you bathe yourself or you can go for a more” luxurious option” including an aromatherapy oil massage, facial mask, reflexology etc.

turkish-hamam

Procedure
Most traditional Turkish baths have separate sections for men & women, only the more touristic options will allow mixing so be sure to check beforehand if you wish to enjoy the experience as a mixed gender couple or group. Once you are shown to the locker area you then strip down and cover yourself with a peştimal (a thin cotton towel) before entering into the hararet or hot room. You can wear underwear but be sure to bring a dry set with you for later. Here you have time to relax and begin to sweat while lying on an impressive göbektaşı (raised marble platform in the center above the heating source). The hararet is most often the most beautiful section of a Turkish Bath, covered completely in marble. Once the masseuse/masseur (will always be the same gender as yourself) feels you are ready they will begin to douse you with warm water and lather you with a soapy swab. Once covered in suds you are then massaged and scrubbed. The scrubbing might feel a bit like being sandpapered but leaves your skin glowing and incredibly soft, well worth it! Also don’t be surprised by the amount of “dirt” (dead skin cells) that you will see has being scrubbed off. Showering every day just does not accomplish the same level of rejuvenation & cleanliness. Then follows a thorough rinsing after which you have the choice to either relax a while longer in the hot room or head on into the cooling down section. Here you are handed a new dry peştimal and given time to cool down, take a nap, even have a drink. Then head back to the lockers, dress and prepare to enter once more the outside world.

Istanbul - experience it all

Best Turkish Baths in Istanbul

Cağaloğlu Hamam
Located close to Grand Bazaar, this is the last Turkish bath house that was built in the Ottoman Era. It was constructed in 1741 by two different Ottoman era architects. The beautifully detailed building with high domed ceilings, internal marble fountains, interior garden, and two levels of individual changing chambers are still a great delight. http://www.cagalogluhamami.com.tr/

cagaoglu-hamam

Çemberlitaş Hamam
It is one of the oldest hamams in Istanbul, and the bath section was built in 1584 by the famous Ottoman architect, Sinan. The architecture of Çemberlitaş Hamam attracts not only travelers and locals, but many researchers, photographers, filmmakers and students also study this magnificent structure. A visit to Çemberlitaş hamam can be one of the best Turkish bathing experiences under the huge dome. http://www.cemberlitashamami.com/

Beylerbeyi Hamam
Located right next to Beylerbeyi Mosque and it is an Ottoman style wooden building built in 1778. Camekan, the section for changing clothes, has a wooden ceiling, ılıklık, the transition area from the cooling area to the hot bath room, has a nice marble fountain. The hot room has a small göbektaşı. There are total of thirteen kurnas, fountains, and four halvets, private rooms. Beylerbeyi hamam serves men and women on separate schedules. Ladies can visit in the morning till the early afternoon, and male customers can visit afterwards.

Hagia Sophia – Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamam
This is another magnificent structure built by Sinan, the chief Ottoman architect. Hurrem Sultan, Roxelana, the wife of Suleiman the Magnificent, ordered it to be built in 1556. It was built where the ancient public baths of Zeuxippus (100-200 AD) used to stand, in the middle of Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The last renovation that helped the structure regain its magnificent look started in 2008, took three years and cost 17million Turkish Lira. 1300 square meters of Marmara marble was used to restore the hamam back into its former glory. Although built as a classical Ottoman bath, this particular hamam was constructed in a way that the sections for men and women are on the same axis, as mirror images of each other. This is also one of the fanciest hamams in Istanbul, and they serve customers with 160 gold plated bath bowls along with silk and cotton (%50-50) mixture pestamals. http://www.ayasofyahamami.com/?rel=2

Haseki-Hurrem-Sultan-Hamam

Süleymaniye Hamam
Built as part of the Süleymaniye Kulliye in 1557. A kulliye complex has numerous facilities around a mosque and the Süleymaniye complex includes Süleymaniye Mosque, a medrese, hospital, asylum, infirmary tombs, a hamam, a market and a primary school. Again, this is another work of the Ottoman architect Sinan, and it is one of the most touristy hamams in Istanbul. This part of the old city has been protected by the tourism authority and Süleymaniye Hamam has maintained its originality. Suleiman the Magnificent was the first to bathe here after a special ceremony and prayers. It has a similar plan to Haseki Hurrem Sultan Hamam. http://www.suleymaniyehamami.com.tr/

Istanbul - experience it all

treasury-of-petra-jordan

Jordan – 10 fast facts

The land of Jordan lies along an ancient and well-used trade route. A country filled with ancient monuments, stunning nature reserves and seaside resorts. The most famous is the archaeological site of Petra, the Nabatean capital dating to around 300BCE, set in a narrow valley with tombs, temples and monuments carved into the surrounding pink sandstone cliffs.

Below are a few interesting facts about Jordan that we have put together. Maybe these will help to entice you to visit this wonderful country and its many treasures.

1. The stunning black iris is Jordan’s national flower. It is incredibly rare and grows only in Wadi Rum in spring.

National flower of Jordan the rare Black Iris

National flower of Jordan the rare Black Iris

2. Jordan is one of the most welcoming countries and Jordanians take great pride in their hospitality.

3. It is widely believed that Mount Nebo in Jordan is the burial place of Moses.

4. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the city of Petra, was literally carved into rock over 2000 years ago.

Petra - A must include during any travel package to Jordan

Petra – A must include during any travel package to Jordan

5. John the Baptist is known to have been imprisoned in a palace named Mukawir, which is located just south of Madaba.

6. In ancient times, Jordan used to be a segment of the Fertile Crescent, in an otherwise arid part of the globe.

Dead Sea in Jordan, lowest point on earth.

Dead Sea in Jordan, lowest point on earth.

7. The Dead Sea is 67km long, maximum width of about 18km, and its salinity is about nine times that of the oceans. Its surface is about 418m below sea level, and its shores are the lowest land points on Earth.

 

8. The Baptism site by the Jordan River is one of modern biblical archaeology’s most notable discoveries. It is believed that this area called Wadi Kharar is where John the Baptist resided and was the baptism place of Jesus Christ.

9. The Jordanian capital, Amman, was originally constructed across 7 hills. The city now spans 19 of them.

10. Lawrence of Arabia, this British Army office based himself mainly in Wadi Rum, an area of a spectacular rock and desert formations.

View through a rock arch in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan, Middle East

View through a rock arch in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan, Middle East

nasreddin-hoca
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Tales from Nasreddin Hoca

The Nasreddin stories have touched many cultures around the world, they are told and retold endlessly. But it is inherent in a Nasreddin story that it must be understood at many levels. There is the joke, followed by a moral and usually the little extra which brings the consciousness of the potential mystic a little further on the way to realization.

A popular scholar, Nasreddin Hoca was famously considered the foremost protagonist of comical tales with an emotional content or other important message. Definite facts about his life have become mixed up with fictitious anecdotes because of the peoples’ great affection for him. The anecdotes about him focus particularly on love, satire, praise and gentle mockery. His words are a contradictory combination of the wise, ignorant, cunning, harmonious, insensitive, bashful, surprised, timorous and dashing.
Another important element in Nasreddin Hoca stories is the donkey, a reflection of the feelings of the people. It is impossible to imagine Nasreddin Hoca without his donkey, which is itself a vehicle of satire. The donkey, with its suffering and pain, the blows that are inflicted on it, is the most widespread symbol. No donkeys are to be found in humorous tales from the palaces, such people ride on horses.

Below are just a few examples from around a collection of 90 of his tales:

Taste the same

Some children saw Nasreddin coming from the vineyard with two baskets full of grapes loaded on his donkey. They gathered around him and asked him to give them a taste. Nasreddin picked up a bunch of grapes and gave each child a grape.
“You have so much, but you gave us so little,” the children whined.
“There is no difference whether you have a basketful or a small piece. They all taste the same,” Nasreddin answered, and continued on his way.

Watermelon vs Walnut

One day Nasreddin Hodja was working in his little watermelon patch. When he stopped for a break, he sat under a walnut tree and pondered. `Sublime Allah/God,’ he said, `it’s your business, but why would you grow huge watermelons on weak branches of a vine, and house little walnuts on a strong and mighty tree?’ And as he contemplated such, one walnut fell from the tree right onto his head. `Great Allah/God,’ he said as he massaged his bruised head, `now I understand why you didn’t find the watermelons suitable for the tree. I would have been killed if you had my mind.’

Cauldron

Nasreddin Hodja had borrowed a cauldron from his neighbor. When he didn’t return it for a long time, the neighbor came knocking on the door. `Hodja Effendi, if you are finished with the cauldron could I take it back? The wife needs it today.’ `Ah, of course,’ Hodja said, `just wait here a minute and I’ll fetch it.’ When Hodja came back to the door with the cauldron, the neighbour noticed that there was a small pot in it. `What is this?’ `Well, neighbor, congratulations, your cauldron gave birth to a baby pot.’ said the Hodja. The neighbor, incredulous, yet delighted, thanked the Hodja, took his cauldron and the new little pot, and went home. A few weeks after this incident, one day The Hodja came again, asking to borrow the cauldron. The neighbor didn’t even hesitate and lent Hodja the cauldron with pleasure. However, once more it was taking the Hodja forever to return it back. The neighbor had no choice but to go asking for it again. `Hodja Effendi, are you done with the cauldron?’ `Ahh neighbour, ahh’ bemoaned The Hodja, `I am afraid your cauldron is dead.’ `Hodja Effendi, that’s not possible, a cauldron cannot die!’ exclaimed the disbelieving neighbor. But Nasreddin Hodja had his answer ready. `My dear fellow, you can believe that it can give birth, why can’t you believe that it can also die?’

Delicious Stew

One day Nasreddin Hodja bought 2 kilograms of meat from the neighbourhood butcher. He brought the meat home and asked his wife to cook a real nice stew for dinner. Thus secured the evening meal, he happily headed off to his field to work. Hodja’s wife did cook the stew but about lunch time a few of her friends and relatives came over for a visit. Having nothing else to serve to her guests, she served the stew. They all ate heartily and finished it all. Hodja came home after a long day’s work and asked his wife if the stew was ready. `Ahh, ahh! You have no idea what befell the stew.’ his wife said, `The cat ate it all.’ Nasreddin Hodja, suspicious, looked around and saw the scrawny little cat in one corner, looking as hungry as himself. Hodja grabbed the cat and weighed him on his pair of scales. The poor thing weighed exactly two kilos. `Woman,’ said the Hodja, `if this is the cat, where is the stew? If this is the stew, then where is the cat?’

Bridge over Golden Horn in Istanbul

What Turkey is Like for Travelers Right Now

Article by Wendy Perrin – written 08 October 2015 (read original article)

I’ve been getting this question a lot lately, what with the rise of ISIS and U.S. military action in Syria (Turkey’s neighbor to the southeast). When war is in the news, it can be scary for travelers. It might be easy to imagine that Turkey is a battlefield; we keep hearing about terrorists and an influx of refugees. But the reality for travelers to Turkey’s tourist areas is very different from what’s in the news.

As someone who has been to Turkey four times, including at times when many deemed it unsafe—I traveled the country on assignment for Condé Nast Traveler shortly after 9/11 and again in 2006 when the U.S. was at war with Iraq (in fact, I spent a week in southeastern Turkey within a few miles of the Syrian border)— I am here to tell you that Turkey is one of the safest places I know, filled with hospitable and friendly people.

There are so many countries that are viewed as precarious even though just one small pocket of the country is worrisome. It’s only when you’re on the ground there that you realize the extent to which life is uneventful and peaceful outside that pocket. That’s why the best way to get a sense of what Turkey is like for travelers right now is to talk to travelers who are there or have just come back. So, on your behalf, I’ve reached out to just such travelers. Here’s what they report:

Tom Martin of Minneapolis, Minnesota, had planned his trip to Turkey long before the current situation developed, and he started to have second thoughts over the summer. “As our departure date approached,” he said in an email, “the daily drumbeat of increasingly alarming stories in The New York Times became a matter of considerable concern and anxiety, to the point of causing me to question whether we should cancel the trip. In the end, we did not change our itinerary at all.”

When he landed in Turkey, Mr. Martin saw with his own eyes the difference between what he’d been imagining and what Istanbul is really like. “The impression from the news in the U.S. is of a somewhat exotic, traditional country that is as progressive as a secularized Muslim country can be, but that remains somewhat poor and undeveloped,” Mr. Martin said. “I was, quite frankly, in shock to find a modern, affluent, and incredibly clean cosmopolitan city in Istanbul, efficient, modern airports, and generally friendly, accommodating people who truly were secular and in many areas very wealthy.”

David Hornik of Palo Alto, California, who was traveling with his wife, Pamela, had a similar experience. “There was a massive gulf between our safety concerns heading to Turkey and our experience in the country itself,” Mr. Hornik said. “We felt safer in Turkey than we do in most cities in Europe.”

Davi Weisberg and her husband, Michael Harrington, also had some preconceived notions about their trip. “Before we left, my main fear was that there would be a great deal of hostility toward Americans,” Ms. Weisberg said. “I never felt that! The Turkish people are warm and welcoming—just lovely people.”

Added Mr. Harrington, “We were in Cappadocia when the U.S. bombing of Syria started. That day we toured a number of small towns in the area, and I looked carefully for any negative response from the locals. (I am over six feet and clearly American, so I do stand out in a small village). Everyone was very friendly and welcoming—I did not observe a single negative glance or frown.”

4 Steps to Help You Decide Whether to Go

When weighing the risks vs. the benefits of travel to any destination viewed as uncertain, these steps will help.

1. Put risks in perspective.

Sure, there have been bombings in Istanbul in the past, but there have also been bombings in London, Madrid, Boston, and New York. A terrorist incident can happen anywhere at any time. The risk that any one individual traveler will be harmed in a military action or terrorist incident is statistically tiny. Since 9/11 travelers have increasingly come to realize this—and it’s one reason why tourism to Turkey has not suffered despite last year’s incidents. Tourism is up six percent from last year, according to Başaran Ulusoy, the president of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies, and by the end of this year Turkey expects to host a record 42 million tourists. In fact, Istanbul was named the world’s top destination by TripAdvisor this year, based on millions of travelers’ reviews.

2. Check governments’ travel alerts.

The U.S. State Department currently has no travel alert or travel warning in place for Turkey. Even when there is a State Department travel alert, I like to check other countries’ alerts to get a well-rounded picture—especially alerts from the U.K and Australian governments, which tend not to be as alarmist as the State Department can sometimes be. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s travel advice for Turkey reminds us that 2.5 million British travelers visit Turkey every year and that “most visits are trouble-free.”

3. Look at a map.

The U.K. alert advises “against all travel to the towns of Akḉakale and Ceylanpinar and against all but essential travel to areas within 10km of Turkey’s border with Syria.” That border is more than 800 miles from Istanbul. You’re likely not going to be anywhere near Akḉakale or Ceylanpinar.

6 Smart Precautions To Take When Traveling in Turkey

So you’ve decided to go? Here are smart steps you can take:

  1. Enroll in the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), so the Embassy can send you security updates and help you in an emergency. Further security advice from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, which suggests that travelers “exercise extra caution in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern provinces.”
  2. Choose a hotel that has CNN, BBC, and Al-Jazeera, so you can monitor the news in the mornings and evenings. Also make sure the hotel has reliable Internet access, so you can check local English-language news Web sites.
  3. Avoid public gatherings or demonstrations. Don’t get caught in an angry mob. Avoid neighborhoods where emigrants from Syria live.
  4. Don’t photograph government buildings, military installations, airports, train stations, policemen, guards, or anyone who doesn’t want his/her photo taken.
  5. Carry your hotel’s business card—the one written in Turkish—so you can show it to non-English-speaking locals (such as a taxi driver) and get back to your hotel in an emergency.
  6. Carry a cell phone programmed with emergency numbers (for the police, your hotel, and medical emergencies), as well as a mini-flashlight (in case you’re caught in the dark).
Trans Siberian - Longest train Journey

World’s Longest Train Journey

A train isn’t only a means of transport but also a roving window. Railways connect expanses covering thousands of miles and provide unforgettable adventures and romantic journeys for their passengers. Here are the amazing details of the Trans Siberian Railway, the longest railroad in the world.

A journey on the Trans Siberian is one of the most forbidable trips a tourist can make. Travellers can go through 7 different time zones and all 4 seasons during their historical journey that binds Moscow to Vladicostok. One fourth of the world is traversed during this journey.

The Trans Siberian Railway is the longest and most famous railroad of the world. Its length is exactly 9289km. Before ending at the Sea of Japan, it connects Russian settlements in Europe and the Far East with railroads coming from China and Mongolia.

Two options are available for travellers. One of them is the Trans Siberian route from which the name of the journey is taken. Beginning in Moscow, the train visits many villages and towns, 9 major Russian cities, as well as Lake Baikal. After 7 days, gliding across Siberia and continuing into Asia, the train arrives at Vladivostok, a seaside city on the Sea of Japan.

The route for the 2nd option, which is mistakenly known as Trans Siberian, actually ends in China and operates on the Trans Manchurian route. This journey also departs from Moscow and stretches into the lower part of the continents into China, arriving in Beijing after a journey of almost 8 days.

Normally, journey durations can be estimated with some precision – within minutes in many cases. However the durations of trips on the Trans Siberian or Trans Manchuria routes are expressed with the words “average” or “about”. The reason for this is very clear: as stated at the beginning, these are journeys of immense distances, embracing all 4 seasons. For this reason, some delays are bound to happen due to blizzards or other problems in the region. Nevertheless legendary journeys on these routes are never left unfinished.

What would you see on your route? The short answer is: three countries, three capitals and 8 important cities. Knowing the names of the cities and other famous destinations only increases the excitement of the journey. A longer answer would be: Moscow, Red Square and the Kremlin … The Volga, the longest river in Europe, the Ural Mountains separating Europe and Asia, Lake Baikal, With the deepest and richest water basin, the Irkutsk where the Russian revolitionists were exiled in the 19th century, a city that has been called the Paris of Russia, Russian taigas and Mongolian steppes, the Gobi Desert, the Cengiz Han Monument, the Tonyukuk Monument, inscribed with Turkey’s first known alphabet, Ulan Batur, the Great Wall of China, Beijing and the Forbidden City.

You can take a break at the most important stops by getting of the train. Passengers can even experience for a while in a tent without electricity or running water, drink horse milk and participate in some ceremonies and local customs.

The Trans Siberian Railway symbolizes “a historical journey”. The construction of the railway started in 1891, during the reign of the Czars, and ended in 1916, at the beginning of the rule of the Soviets.
Kaklik Cave Denizli, Pamukkale Private Tours
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Subterranean Pamukkale

Kaklik Cave in the Denizli area is considered parallel to Pamukkale due to its travertine interior, a miracle of nature.

Caves where the first natural shelters of people. Their splendid cavities have always been very interesting and mesmerising to modern man. For hundreds of years people have striven to see and discover and go deeper into these “old houses” that their ancestors once lived in. One of the most magnificent is Kaklik Cave, located in Honas, 30km from Denizli. This natural beauty resembles its above ground kin, Pamukkale. The resemblance is very striking with its ornamented with stalagtites and stalagmites that strongly resemble the above ground travertens of Pamukkale. It is also known as “Little Pamukkale” or “Cave Pamukkale”. Another feature which also draws attention are the termal springs within the cave.

Since many visitors believe that the cave’s clear, colorless and sulfur laden waters cure some skin diseases its is visited by people from abroad as well as residences from the immediate area.  The smell of sulfur might bother you at first but after a few seconds you get used to the smell. Because of the great interest in this healing water a swimming pool, small amphitheatre, areas for viewers and a cafe along with pergolas were built.

One more feature of the cave is the plant life founds on its walls. Normally it would not be possible to see a plant within a cave due to the lack of sunlight however here a bushy moss coat and small leaved ivy like plants grow on the walls moistened by drops of the leaking water and exposed to direct sunlight. These green plants change color accordingly to the angle of the sunlight which emphasizes their incredible beauty and adds to the ambience of the cave.

Kaklik Cave was formed by the collapse of the hollow cell created by centuries of erosion from a large subterranean stream. It has expanded as subterranean waters continue to erode its carbonated and sulfated rocks. Mount Mali, 1277 metres high, and made of marble, stands near the cave entrance. The cave itself is situated beneath a flat plain covered by cotton fields and vineyards.

Kaklik Cave is a natural miracle in every sense. Both the interior and exterior are truly wonderful and awe-inspiring.

Goreme Tours Cappadocia

Discover Cappadocia

Cappadocia is Turkey’s jewel, with its historical monasteries, beautiful valleys and fairy chimneys. Here there are underground cities made from volcanic stone, with labyrinths to explore in an air of mystique and wonder. Churches and monasteries have ancient paintings adorning their walls depicting scenes of early Christianity. Visitors are drawn to the strange landscape and houses that are built into the cliffs here, and they become absorbed by the impressive history and culture of this place. Cappadocia has so much to offer, and this makes it a compelling, surprising destination for tourists from around the globe.

 A World Heritage Site

The Goreme National Park and Rock sites in Cappadocia are a World Heritage site because of the historical significance of the underground settlements and the many examples of art from the Byzantine era to be found here. A fairytale world was created underground in this valley by the chambers and tunnels carved into the rock. Work began in the 4th Century A.D and the inhabitants carved caves, storehouses and places to live underground in the soft volcanic stone that had been formed here after ancient eruptions. Today, visitors come from around the globe to see the wonders of these early settlements situated on the high plateau of Cappadocia in the center of Turkey. There are good public transport links to the region and for visitors who want to do some independent exploring, there are bikes, scooters and cars to rent in Goreme.

Derinkuyu Underground City

Located in the town of Derinkuyu, a 30-minute drive from Goreme, the city has around 600 doors, which are hidden in courtyards, and Derinkuyu is the deepest underground city in Turkey, reaching 85m into the earth. There are many rooms to explore, such as stables, refectories, churches and wineries, and on the lowest floor is a cruciform plan church. Water wells were used to stop the inhabitants being poisoned by raids and there are around 15,000 ventilation ducts spread around the city for fresh air purposes. Stone doors were used to block corridors if an attack took place and were only operable from one side. The Derinkuyu underground city was used to defend its people and was designed so that they could inhabit the rooms buried deep underground for some time.

Fairy Chimneys and Frescoes

The Fairy Chimneys are possibly Cappadocia’s most famous feature, and are situated in Goreme and the villages around it. The volcanic eruptions formed peaks, which the elements sculpted to create cliff faces with curves and surreal fairy chimneys. Beneath the chimneys are the homes that have been carved into the rock and some of these have been turned into boutique fairy chimney hotels. Visitors to the area can marvel at the colorful frescoes created on dry plaster. The Dark Church features angels in multicolor and Jesus’s birth, and the natural low light here allows the frescoes to survive and look as vivid as ever.

Goreme Open Air Museum

This collection of ancient monasteries and churches sits in the center of Cappadocia and can be accessed from Goreme village center very easily. The rock cut churches make an impressive sight with their colorful frescoes. St Barbara Church has a cruciform plan and its dome and walls are adorned with many different motifs, whilst Apple Church features stunning 11th and12th Century frescoes in its cross in square plan. Tokali Church (also known as Buckle Church) can be accessed via the Goreme Open Air Museum and is at a distance of some 50 meters away. There is an Old Church, with a barrel-vaulted design and a New Church with a rectangular shape. The Old Church frescoes date back to the 10th Century and depictscenes from the Bible with colors and detail that draw visitors here every year.

Tips for Visiting Cappadocia

Cappadocia is an unspoilt region where the inhabitants carved their homes into the countryside and complemented what was there in quite a stunning way. Visitors can hike through valleys, fly in hot air balloons over the lunar terrain and admire the ancient art here at their leisure. There is a wealth of adventure activities to enjoy in this summery climate. The pace of life in Cappadocia is slow and relaxed, very unlike the buzz of Istanbul. Tourists using the public transport system should announce Goreme as their destination and there are free shuttle transfers available if you do so. Visitors traveling around Cappadocia may find it difficult to access foreign exchange services to change their money, and may find it useful to do so before they journey to the region, by comparing rates online so that they get the best deal available to them.

Cappadocia is so compelling because of its beautiful countryside, its memorable sunsets and its bazaar markets that date back to Ottoman times. The locals are warm and welcoming and the food is delicious. Cappadocia has a great deal to offer the adventurous visitor.

Many thanks to JULIE LYNDHURST for this great article

Atlas Mountains - Morocco Tours

Mountaineering in Atlas Mountains of Morocco

The Atlas Mountains of Morocco are a popular destination for mountaineers and trekkers, with their enviable position near Marrakech. The highest peak, Mount Toubkal, stands at 4,167 metres tall and there are many other peaks between 3000 and 4000 metres to climb. With striking seasons all year round, this range of peaks is characterised by snow and alpine greenery and there is an abundance of wildlife to see while you are trekking. The Atlas Mountains remain a sought after destination for visitors to the area and trips cater for climbers very well.

About the Mountains

Mount Toubkal was conquered in 1923 by the Marquis de Segonzac, Hubert Dolbeauby and Vincent Berger, although locals had scaled the mountain before this event. The Marquis enjoyed dangerous expeditions and Toubkal earned him respect among the mountaineering community. Soon the range began to appeal to European climbers and geologists and a commercial infrastructure was put into place.

The mountain range features several areas: the Anti, Middle and High Atlas, with the latter being the most popular for climbers.

Where to Start

The Atlas is a premier trekking attraction because of the warm climate and unusual geology and part of its charm is that the activities are very Moroccan in style and not as organised as those to be found in the Alps.

Mount Toubkal is easily reached from the city of Marrakesh and this makes it popular for trekkers, as well as mountaineers. The ‘starting point’ is Imlil, a village at the base of the mountain, which has accommodation for travellers as well as equipment, guides and mules. Mountaineers and trekkers need to make sure they come prepared and know exactly what they will need for their expedition, such as ice axes, boots and crampons, as well as sensible clothes. Mount Toubkal is generally about two and a half days hike from lmlil. Azilal is another suitable base camp for trekkers, and also offers mountain biking and riding in the area. On the north side of the High Atlas, you can marvel at the valley, Ouzoud waterfalls and the lmi-n-lfri bridge. On the south side there are many gorges, such as those of Mgoun, Todra and Dades.

What to See

There are many visual treats for climbers in the area, such as the Berber village of Megdaz and Imilchil for its September wedding festival. There are mosques and kasbahs, showing the rich culture of Morocco, and Berber families offer visitors generous hospitality. The Berbers make ideal guides for mountaineers as they are able to walk quickly along trails and handle the mules with expertise. Their villages populate the mountainsides, with houses called ‘kasbahs’ that are made from mud.

Marrakesh sits below the mountains and is an exotic city, well worth exploring. Here you can see snake charmers and Berber drummers and taste the delicious food of Morocco, from meat and vegetable stews to kebabs and m’choui, which is slow-roasted lamb.

Preparing for your Trip

The Atlas Mountains are a highlight for many people visiting Morocco, but, as with all trekking trips, you should be prepared before you set out. The conditions can change fairly dramatically in the Atlas range and amenities vary considerably depending on the villages en route. Because the Atlas Mountains are not as commercialised as the Alps, a higher degree of preparation will stand you in good stead for your expedition.

Guides are useful for your transportation needs and for food replenishment and Berber guides have the core strength and knowledge to traverse the mountainside with confidence. Guides in the Atlas Mountains are worth their weight in gold.

Water purification tablets should be brought with you, to avoid parasites that inhabit some mountain streams. Remember that out on the trail there are few places to fill up your bottle, apart from the natural sources.

Clothing needs to be considered carefully in Morocco. Whilst you will be hot on the plains, up in the peaks there can be snow in summer. The answer tends to be to wear layers of clothing that are thin and warm. Also remember headgear and sunscreen to accommodate the temperatures and volatile storms that sometimes roll in over the mountains.

Whether you are planning to summit Mount Toubkal or to enjoy a trekking holiday on the trails of the mountain range, the Atlas region of Morocco offers stunning scenery, fascinating geology and a rich culture just waiting to be explored.

Many thanks to JULIE LYNDHURST for this great article

Ephesus Sightseeing Tours with Isa Bey Mosque

Isa Bey Mosque – Selcuk

During a guided tour or shore excursion of Ephesus you have an opportunity to visit one of the oldest mosques of Turkey – ISA BEY MOSQUE, built 1375. Istanbul was not yet conquered and the Ottomans had not yet advanced beyond Söğüt and Bursa either. This 640 year old mosque is located in Selçuk, between the remains of Artemis Temple and the Saint Jean Basilica. As its position reveals, Aydınoğlu Isa Bey wanted to hint that the pagan and Christianity eras ended in these soils with the construction of this mosque.

The Isa Bey Mosque is considered one of the oldest and the most  sophisticated works of the Turkish architectural era. Although columns and marble blocks carried from the antique structures in the vicinity were used, the architecture and ornaments carry the traces of the Seljuks. Indeed, its façade, window edges and rims of both domes are covered with Seljuk tiles. The most striking part is the doors. The mosque has two entrance doors: One looks at the west and the other looks to the east. There is also an epigraph on the west door. As the epigraph is only engraved on the door opening to the west, one asks itself whether Isa Bey thought to “make a show of strength to the other side of the sea.” The answer to this question lies maybe in what is written in the epigraph:“Isa, Aydınoğlu, son of Mehmet, the great Sultan, the owner of the citizens of the nation, Sultan of Islam and Muslim people, the glory of the state, religion and world, ordered the construction of this holy mosque…”

The mosque stood as a symbol of power. However, a new era began not only for the beylik but also for the mosque after Isa Bey joined the Ottomans. Isa Bey Mosque lost its importance in this new era and was completely neglected for some time. Furthermore, it also served as a caravanserai in the 19th century, a new feature far from its quality as a mosque.

From the Beylik era to our times the person who revived the Isa Bey Mosque is surprisingly a “Western”, Niemann who headed the excavation works of the Archaeology Institute of Austria. In 1895, he noticed the mosque during the excavations in Ephesus and implemented some minor restorations works. The full restoration was realized in the Republican era, in 1934, led by the Ministry of National Education.

From Anatolian beyliks to the Ottomans to the Republic, this mosque with a modest outlook is like a silent witness of Anatolian history.