Monday, August 31, 2015

Fethiye: Day Three

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Mike loves to scuba dive.  LOVES it. He started when he was stationed in Hawaii, but I think he got hooked when they were "stuck" in Guam for six weeks. He jumps on any opportunity to do it.  Turkey isn't on any of the Top Ten Diving Locations, but he couldn't pass on an opportunity to dive in the Mediterranean. In Hawaii and Guam, diving is a morning thing.  You leave at 8:00am, do two dives and are back by 1:00pm.  Here in Turkey, you do two dives, but you're gone all day.  It's not ideal because there is a lot of down time on the boat, but you usually have good scenery and as long as you're prepared with a book, it can be a fun day.

There are tons of dive boats lined up along the boardwalk, all advertising dive trips.  We just picked one and went with it.  Most of the boats will allow ride alongs (me!) and have snorkel gear for them to use while the divers are out.  The boat we chose was pretty big and had probably 50 passengers plus maybe 10 crew members. The downstairs of the boat had a few tables in the back, plus a small bar where you could order drinks, but the front was completely dedicated to all of the gear for the divers.  There was a second floor where most people hung out.  They had mats for you to lie on and sunbathe, which was really nice.  Mike and I grabbed a spot in the sun and spent the first hour soaking it all in.

Right before our first stop, Mike said he was feeling a little sea sick and I thought it was funny because I felt fine and I am notorious for being seasick in even the calmest of waters.  They called Mike and the other divers down to start putting on their gear and I stayed up top to keep soaking in the rays.  As soon as Mike left, the seasickness hit me and I made a beeline for the bathroom. After that little fiasco, I felt better and noticed that, throughout the day, I wasn't the only one who made that sprint. Luckily, Mike never felt that bad and we both seemed to recover by the time we made it to the first dive site.

Most of the people on the boat were divers, but there was a decent group of people just along for the ride and for some swimming.  At the first stop, we let the divers jump in before getting in ourselves. This was my first time in the Mediterranean and it is as beautiful to swim in as it is to look at. It's SUPER salty, which makes it easy to swim because you can float without even really trying to keep your head above water.  Not only that, but it's so clear.  You can see your feet, even if the water is up to your shoulders.  Perfect snorkeling/diving water.

While there wasn't a ton to see, it was great to be able to swim and cool off before boarding the boat. After the first dive, they served lunch, which consisted of rice, a chicken patty type thing, salad and water melon.   The afternoon was pretty similar to the morning and we soaked up the day.  Luckily, the sea sickness never came back and we had a successful day diving and swimming.

This boat looks pretty similar to ours, with a deck on the top.

We were pretty tired by the time the boat returned to the dock and the thought of a big dinner and late night was pretty unappealing.  Fethiye has TONS of British tourists and everything there is catered towards British culture, including some of the restaurants.  Another restaurant in the Lonely Planet book that was recommended was Arty's Place, which was a little fish and chips restaurant.  Mike loves fish and chips and I like them, as well, so this was a great, easy, cheap meal.  It lived up to the hype of the review and we left very full and happy. Plus, we got to meet Arty!

We called it a night after some midye dolma and a skype session with my parents.  We were leaving the next morning so we packed up and said goodnight.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fethiye: Day Two

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One of my New Year's Resolutions was to read 15 books this year.  That comes out to be about a book a month with a few extras in there.  Right now, I'm at eleven with four months left in the year, so I'm right on track!!  If you have book recommendations, send them my way because I'm finally almost done with my long list of books I've wanted to read.  When we were in Fethiye, I was reading the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed about a woman who hikes the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT...the west coast equivalent of the Appalachian Trail).  Shoutout to my mom for the recommendation! I wasn't sure if I enjoy reading 300 some pages about hiking, but it was incredible and I was already planning my hike along the PCT when we got back from Turkey.

Luckily, God has a funny sense of humor and snapped me back to reality our first full day in Fethiye.  One of the big things to do in Southwestern Turkey is hike (parts of) the Lycean Way.  Lycea is the area of southwestern Turkey and the Lycians were the highly civilized people that lived there during the Roman Empire.  They left a trail of old roads, mule trails and footpaths that is appealing to lots of hikers.  If you hike the whole trail, it takes about 29 days, but there are lots of smaller hikes that people can do that take a couple of hours, a day or a weekend.

The owner of the hotel we were staying at recommended a short hike that a lot of the guests stay at and would only take a couple of hours and put us at the end of the trail in Oludeniz.  We agreed that this would be the best way to do it and started out.

This is where God's sense of humor comes into play and our amateur hiking status really starts to show.  By the time we got started, it was 11:00.  Starting when we did meant that we'd be hiking during the hottest part of the day.  Good job, Hogans.  Way to plan that one well.

We started out looking at some old churches and schools that were still remaining.

As we were walking around the ruins, we climbed higher and higher getting a better view of the city and southwestern Turkey.

After a little while, we ventured past the ruins onto the actual trail.  I think somewhere along that trail, any suspicion that I was part mountain goat was denied because let me tell you, that trail was tough. You wanna know who must of been part mountain goat though? The Lycians.  If they were able to haul carts and goods along this trail, there is no way they didn't have something extra (read: mountain goat) in them.  Mike and I were both struggling, although Mike's complaints were fewer and much farther between than mine.  

We pushed through with the hopes that the view at the top of the mountain would be worth it.   I have to say, despite all of my complaining and huffing and puffing, that view was pretty incredible and took my breath away (it was already partially gone from the hike, but the view was pretty awesome).

This was the average terrain we hiked along.  It may not look that difficult, but believe you me, the struggle was real.

When we finally made it to the actual top, I made Mike stop for a photo shoot.  This is where he took the opportunity to vocalize a few complaints, but I know he secretly enjoys it.  Plus, I just keep telling myself he'll thank me later.  Yeah, right....

Rocking the Camp Alleghany t-shirt from 2005 

The hike downhill was a little bit easier because it didn't involve climbing up, but the slope down was not small and I may or may not have slipped and slid a few times.  Needless to say, by the time we reached the end, we were glad to see civilization.  We found a beach club that was filled with tons of Brits (Kelly Hogan, were you there?) and we grabbed lunch. Let me tell you, french fries never tasted so good. 

God really has a sense of humor and likes to snap me back into reality when I get a little too ambitious. I enjoy hiking, but maybe I'll reconsider hiking the entire PCT or Appalachian Trail and stick to some moderate day hikes.  I'm glad that we did this hike because the views were incredible and I have a newfound appreciation for the Lycians.  I could barely do the hike with just myself.  If I had a cart or a huge sack of stuff, I would have just died. More power to ya, Lycians!

After we made it back to the hotel, we still had the whole afternoon ahead of us, but the thought of exerting any sort of physical energy was exhausting in itself.  We had also been talking about going to a Hamam, or Turkish Bath ever since we got to Turkey, but hadn't managed to fit it in. 

The Turkish Baths were big in history and there is lots of art depicting people relaxing and socializing in the baths.  It's evolved a little bit, but the full cleanse is still the same. 

sore bodies + turkish bath + massage - physical energy = perfect combination

Our trusty Lonely Planet book recommended this one and described it as not too touristy, but not too authentic (read: you can wear a bathing suit). Mike and I headed on over and spent the next couple of hours in pure bliss.

When we entered, I stayed in my bathing suit, but they had Mike just wrap a towel around himself.  We entered this big sauna room that had smaller rooms off of the side of it.  In the middle was a a large table where two British women were getting their bath.  We were escorted to one of the smaller rooms where we sat in the heat and felt all of the dirt, sweat and toxins melt away.  As the first woman finished, I was escorted to her spot by one of the men performing the bath. I lay down on the table and he poured water and soap all over me.  He put on these oven mitt like things that had scrubbers on them and scrubbed down my entire body.  It was one of the most incredible feelings.  I could feel all of the grit just coming off.  For all of my horse people, it's what I imagine a horse feels like when you use a curry comb.

After the scrub down, he scraped off the dead skin from my feet and massaged my legs.  He even had Mike come over and help massage my back.  They also put olive oil all over you, which is really good for your skin.  Once I was completely done, we went over to a large sink and he poured coldish water on me, which felt really good after being in the sauna.  Meanwhile, Mike had begun his bath.

We decided that we also wanted to get a massage after the traditional bath, so after we left the sauna, we were escorted to massage beds.  It was a worthwhile extension of our experience and we both left feeling like new people.  We  both marveled at how soft our skin was and spent the next few hours just sighing in happiness.

The Turkish Bath was something that I wasn't sure I would want to do, especially if I had to take my bathing suit off (I still don't think I would do it then), but this Turkish Bath was amazing.  They were extremely professional and made us feel comfortable.  I think the key is to find one that isn't too touristy and going to charge you an arm and a leg or deny you of an authentic experience, while finding one that isn't too authentic and makes you strip down or go in a separate room from your spouse/significant other.  After doing it, both Mike and I definitely recommend it and add it to the list of musts on your visit to Turkey.

After the bath, we changed and headed out for dinner.  We went back to the fish market because there was a butcher there that advertised dry aged steak (Mike's absolute favorite). He got the steak while I had lamb. We ran into the owner of the restaurant we ate at the night before and ended up eating there again.  We wanted to try a different restaurant, but he grabbed us before we had a chance to go somewhere else. Mike's steak was pretty good, but I don't think he'd put it in his top ten steaks. I discovered that while I like lamb, it's not my favorite either. Oh well.

We ended the night with some drinks and watching a soccer match before heading home early for bed.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fethiye: Day One

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While you all were reading about our adventures in Istanbul and Cappadocia, we were gallivanting around the southwestern coast. Oh, the joys of being able to schedule posts ahead of time....

We were anxious to christen Anya (our Volkwagen Golf) on the Turkish highways, especially since we don't get to use her that much here in the city.  We also knew that we wanted to explore the southwestern coast of Turkey because there are beautiful beaches that lure in tourists from all over Europe. When we realized we had this week free, we loaded up our girl and hit the road!

Our first stop was Fethiye (pronounced Fet-ee-ya), where we spent three nights.   We got kind of a late start that morning and ended up leaving around 11:00.  This was our first time driving on Turkish highways and we had no idea what to expect.  Boy, oh boy, were were pleasantly surprised. Not only were the highways actual paved, well-maintained highways, the scenery was GORGEOUS!

I'm not talking pretty because there are no buildings around. I'm talking actual mountains and water right next to each other stunning.  If you've ever driven along the west coast of the United States (Mike and I have this debate over whether it's route 1 or route 101), you'll know what I'm talking about.

By the time we actually pulled into Fethiye, I was just so amazed with what I had seen in the past four hours that I couldn't even imagine it getting any better. Wrong.  Fethiye is beautiful.  It's a huge tourist town, which means there are tons of people, but there's a reason so many people flock there.   It's right along the Mediterranean and there are tons of water activities to do.

We arrived around 3:30 and checked into the Ferah Pension, where we'd be staying for the next few days.  It's an interesting little hotel/hostel since there are trees and cats everywhere on the first floor, but our room was nice and the view from the balcony was something special.
Is this real life?

By the time we got settled in our room, we didn't have a ton of time to do anything huge, so we just set out to explore the town. Our hostel was probably a mile out of the main part of the city, but it wasn't too far and it felt good to walk after being in the car. My Fitbit may be broken (a new one is on the way, thanks Fitbit!) but I gotta get in those steps!

It seems like every town we stop in has it's own ancient ruins.

Turkey isn't big on big grassy parks, but there is almost always a city square where people are riding their bike and roller blading.


This boat was very stable and looked like it had been like this for a little while, but definitely caused some alarm to tourists like us!

After exploring the harbor a bit, we were hungry.  Mike is always big on looking up what the top restaurants are in our Lonely Planet book or on Trip Advisor, while I'm content just picking a restaurant that is close and doesn't look too sketchy.  Usually, he wins out by promising me some great meal (he knows the way to my heart is with food) and this time, it was with seafood.  In our Lonely Planet book, they had a restaurant that would cook fresh fish or seafood for you if you bought it at the fish market across the street from them. It sounded like a delicious and fresh meal, so we ventured that way.  What we didn't realize was that there were multiple restaurants like the one recommended.  Each restaurant has their own little stand, so when we walked up to the first stand we saw, it was actually for a different restaurant.  

Mike chose Red Snapper, while I went with shrimp (I'm not a huge fish fan).  The man behind the counter escorted us to our restaurant where we found a table.  Bread and salad come with the meal and we ordered a bottle of wine to enjoy.  I'm pretty sure they thought that the shrimp was an appetizer and the Red Snapper was for us to split because my shrimp came out way before the fish.  I tried to wait, but it was getting cold. I felt bad eating, but it was delicious and Mike was fine eating bread and drinking wine.  Let me tell you, garlic butter shrimp is good! Not healthy, but very very good. Mike even tried my shrimp (which he doesn't like) and admitted that he could probably add shrimp to the list of food he would eat.  VICTORY!  

Mike's fish finally came and he dug right in...kind of.  When I say his fish came, I mean the whole fish came.  Head, eyes, bones and all.  Neither of us really know how to fillet a fillet a fish, so it makes for an interesting meal, but Mike figured it out and got some good fish out of the whole process. 

After dinner, we walked around the harbor a bit more and settled on a place to grab a drink.  I've never given a bad review on TripAdvisor, but after waiting 30 minutes for a drink, I had no other choice.  

Before heading in, we made one more stop.  

Insert back story:  In Izmir, there are tons of guys with carts selling food.  The main foods are sweet corn on the cob, ice cream and mussels.  You could eat your whole meal from carts.  Mike and I haven't tried the corn or the mussels (we've had ice cream a time or two) and were definitely a little hesitant to try the mussels poisoning.  Fethiye had the same stands

After hearing from multiple people that they were cooked and really good, we decided to muster up some courage and try some mussels.  After finally getting our drinks, we walked over to one of the many stands and ordered 5 mussels. The man showed us what to do and we were quickly hooked on this little cultural quirk.  Those little babies were delicious! All you do is squirt some lemons on them, scoop them into your mouth and there ya go! What a great discovery! We had to fight the urge to order about a dozen more before heading home to our hotel.  Don't worry though, that would not be the last time we would eat the midye dolma (mussels).  

Fethiye proved itself on our first day there and we were excited to explore a little more in the next few days.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Cappadocia: Heading Home

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We had such a blast in Cappadocia and both of us have said multiple times that it's a must see when you come to Turkey! It has hiking, guided tours and tons of stuff for almost anyone to do.   Three days was enough time to feel like we really saw the area without running out of things to do.  You could probably spend a week there hiking, but in order to keep things exciting, we limited ourselves to three days, which was perfect.

On Tuesday, when we woke up, we packed our bags and headed upstairs to the terrace for breakfast.  Mike isn't a fan of Turkish breakfast (too many vegetables, not enough meat), but personally, I love it.  It's all fruit, cheese and bread.  YUM! Our friend, front desk guy, brought us our plates and proceeded to bring us platter after platter after platter of food.

Breakfast of (Turkish) champions.

We spent the morning just hanging out and walking around before grabbing an early lunch.  The shuttle came at 12:30 to take us to the airport. We had an hour flight to Istanbul with a three hour layover there before our hour flight to Izmir.  When we arrived in Istanbul, we had the virtual boarding passes for our connection, but it was on a different airline and we ended up having to check in at the desk anyways.  Add in a three hour layover and a half an hour delay and you've got two very tired Hogans ready to be home. 

We didn't end up getting home until 11:00 and we were very happy to walk in our door.  We spent the next two days recovering from multiple days of hiking and non-stop traveling.  It was glorious!

We had so much fun in Istanbul and in Cappadocia.  We definitely have the travel bug and are loving exploring Turkey in all of it's glory.  It's a gorgeous country physically and culturally.  The people here are always so friendly to us and want to hear about America (and they usually tell us how much they love Obama!).  I feel just as safe here as I did in Arlington or Boston.  Before I leave, I just want to share a little story with you of the kindness we see here.

I was walking home from the grocery store and we have to cross a busy street to get to our apartment.  There is a median in the middle of the street.  Standing in the median was a blind man.  As cars were whizzing by, the man began to cross the street. A man on the other side of the street from me saw the man and dodged traffic to grab the blind man before he entered the street.  He stayed with man in the median, talking to him, until traffic stopped for him to cross.  The man helped the blind man cross the street before turning back around and heading back to his store. 

There's a lot of news about violence in Turkey, but there's also a lot of good here. It's a beautiful country, both physically and culturally.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Cappadocia: Day Three

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Mike and I are not big on guided tours. In fact, we usually avoid them so that we can choose how much time we spend in different areas and don't have to worry about the other people in our group. That being said, we're not totally against them, especially when they help you see things or save money.   That's why, when our friend the front desk man suggested and explained the "Green Tour" we agreed to spend all day on this guided tour.  We were able to see four or five sights that were 45 minutes to an hour from the city.  Without the tour, we would have only been able to get to one or two.

The shuttle picked us up and we joined a group of two Italians, a family of four from Indonesia (they had the cutest kids), and six family members (multiple adults and a couple of children) from China.  The first stop on our tour was a look out into the valley.

This guy was chilling and people watching the tourists

After a photo op, we all boarded the shuttle and headed out for the underground city Derinkuyu that everyone raved about. It was about a 45 minute drive out to the entrance to the underground city, which was part of the reason we chose to do the tour.  We would have had to take two buses and travel over an hour to get there.

Before we entered, our tour guide gave us a little bit of history on the underground cities.  After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Greek Orthodox Christians were in danger of persecution.  So, as a form of protection, they created these underground cities.  

Air vent

These cities are incredible! They're legit, even if they were above ground. They had everything from a dining room to a church to a graveyard. 

After the underground city, we boarded the bus again and headed out to a cathedral and monastery.  Our guide got out and started hiking up.  It was pretty steep uphill and our guide was moving fast, but we made it to the top where there was a flat area to stop and entrances to a bunch of different places.  Plus, this view.

Our tour guide explaining what different places were.

Inside these doors were churches

After the climb up and around the cathedral, we boarded the bus again and stopped at a restaurant for lunch, which was included in our tour fare.  The restaurant was clearly solely ion business thanks to these tours.  They knew exactly what to do with us and how the routine should go. I had a vegetarian dish which was actually pretty good and Mike had fish which he said wasn't terrible.

Once lunch was over, we headed out for a hike.  This hike was very easy, especially compared to what we had been doing the past couple of days.  It was on a very well defined path and was only like 5km long.  We also started at the top and climbed down to the bottom where the shuttle bus met us and drove us home, so we had our good friend gravity to our advantage. 

It was a great hike to go on because the scenery was so different from the rest of Cappadocia.  You could tell that we were relatively far away from the other trails and hikes that we had done. 

About halfway through the hike, we arrived at a little cafe which was located at the perfect spot for dipping your feet in the river and grabbing a glass of tea. We were supposed to only stay about 15 minutes, but I think we were there for close to half an hour. We continued on and some of the group (including Mike and I plus the tour guide) forged ahead.  Little did we know, the other half of the group took a wrong turn and we ended up waiting for them for a good 30 minutes once we were done. 

When they finally showed up, we all boarded the bus and headed to one of the popular sight seeing spots, Pigeon Valley.  In Cappadocia, they used to use pigeon poop as fertilizer.  They carved holes in the caves for the pigeons to go to in hopes that they would leave behind some....droppings that could be used for fertilizer.  The tour took us to the perfect spot to see all of these caves and the entire valley.

By this point, Mike and I were pretty much over the tour and ready to go home.  The other people on our tour, though, had different thoughts.  They were enjoying taking pictures and seemed to spend an eternity at each stop along the way.  

Our last two stops were purely sponsored stops.  The first was to a gem and jewelry store and the last was to try Turkish Delight (which is not very good).  We finally returned home around 6:30 and were glad to be done. Overall, it was a great tour and definitely worth our $40 since it included lunch and admission to all of the sights. Unfortunately, we like to move at a faster pace than a lot of people, which added a lot of time.  Oh well. 

When we got home, we were hungry, but were pretty tired of eating traditional Turkish food.  Our good friend TripAdvisor directed us towards an Indian restaurant, Rasoi, which was highly rated.  The ratings didn't lie! I had a delicious butter chicken and Mike had some spicy meat dish.  It was a nice change of pace from Turkish food and we left feeling very satisfied. 

We ended the night with a nice glass of wine before calling it a night.