My Top 5 Highlights of Turkey 2015

I really hope to be back here again someday. There is so much more to see and do. I barely had enough bonding time with Turkey.
Turkish Air
What a nice airlines. We flew economy round-trip and it was as comfortable as a long haul flight could be. The food was Turkish and pretty good for airline food. Alcohol was free of charge and the selection of juices offered where OJ, apple, and cherry (?)—several people around me were ordering cherry– it must be a Turkish thing. The flight was comfortable, with individual entertainment screens in the head rest offering a great variety of movies and TV shows. There was even a channel to watch take-off and landing from camera views on the front and belly of the plane.

Cooking class for one
Before leaving on this trip, I alone from our group had signed up for a cooking class in Bodrum. As I found myself riding in the passenger seat of a car heading 18km outside of the city with a not so talkative stranger– a man named Haluk, I asked if we were picking up any other classmates from hotels. He said I was the only student that day. I have to say I started to feel a little nervous. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies about tourists wandering off the beaten path.  I just held my breath and anxiety inside until he dropped me off at a farmers market to meet up with his mother-in-law Elena. This ended up being the best experience ever! Elena showed me around the market, we bought some fresh produce, and Haluk picked us up and took us to his house in the country to cook. Haluk is an artist and he and his wife live in a sort of rustic, farm, bohemian-style house. I had a great time cooking and visiting with the 2 of them, and later we sat down for a nice home-cooked meal.

Farmers market
Farmers market
Elena and I eating our home-cooked meal
Elena and I eating our home-cooked meal

Ephesus (Kusadasi)
I had heard from other travelers that the ruins of Ephesus were not to be missed. They were right. This place is expansive, and only a small portion of it has been excavated. These ruins are in great shape and the vegetation and geography of the area felt a little like Tuscany.

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Ephesus

 

Terraced Houses, Ephesus
Terraced Houses, Ephesus

Istanbul
I loved this city—I believe I even prefer it over Athens. We were only here for a day, but it has such a vibrant young-people feel to it. Something I had been looking forward to and was a little disappointed by was the Grand Bazaar. I was expecting a more primitive outdoor flea market. From what we saw, it is basically a gigantic mall of shops. I also loved the waterfront–a busy, lively, walkway of couples pushing strollers, people with picnics on the rocks, vendors selling nuts and fruit, men sitting together playing the guitar and singing, and of course lots of cats for me to feed.

Picnic on the rocks
Picnic on the rocks
Vendor selling mussels Istanbul waterfront

Armada Hotel- Istanbul
I love quirky boutique style hotels and this one fit the bill. It sits just 1-block from the waterfront. Inside the lobby there was a turtle pond and fairly loud bird sounds. I’m not sure if the bird sounds are taped or real, but upstairs off the patio there were several cages of boisterous birds—maybe there was a microphone next to them. Anyway it sounded so relaxing and tropical in the lobby. There was a patio bar upstairs with a terrific view of the city mosques. This hotel had the most extravagant breakfast buffet I’d ever seen. In addition to the small area of actual breakfast-type food there was a variety of nuts, spices, cheeses, and a large honeycomb to scoop out. There was an orange juice station where you cut and squeeze your own oranges into a juice glass.

Honeycomb- Armada Hotel
Honeycomb- Armada Hotel

 

Squeeze your own oranges- Armada Hotel
Squeeze your own oranges- Armada Hotel

Highlights of Greece 2015

May 2015 trip to Greece and Turkey. Below are my top 5 personal highlights of Greece. I will follow soon with my list of high points of Turkey.
Food
For some reason food always seems to find its way in my “best of” blogs. I made a list of “must try foods” before leaving on my journey and I wasn’t disappointed: calamari (fresh), real Greek yogurt, baklava, fried sardines, and olives. I even found that I enjoyed eggplant and stuffed grape leaves, items I don’t normally care for.

Fresh Squid (Calamari)
Fresh Squid (Calamari)
Lunch in Santorini
Lunch in Santorini

No ships!

Unbelievable, but yes, there were no other cruise ships in the ports until the last day arriving in Istanbul. Timing and pre-season was on our side. Normally, there could be 3-4 large passenger ships sharing the island ports of calls. Yay for shoulder season! The craziest thing of all was at embarkation. When the 4 of us were dropped off at the Piraeus port terminal, we were greeted at the van by two welcoming Windstar representatives pointing us in the right direction. We were relieved because we thought we were at the wrong place since there was absolutely no crowd of other cars or buses around. Inside the terminal not a single soul besides the people working there! I kept looking around in disbelief that we were the only passengers checking-in to board the ship (or yacht, as they call it).

Santorini
Of all our island visits this one was the most surreal and indescribably beautiful–the color of the water contrasting with the white patchwork of buildings clinging on the hillside, the views from the cliff tops, and the meandering scenic walkways in the town of Oia. We had a private guide who drove us around the island to the quieter, non-touristy spots, like the Profitis Ilias (Prophet Elijah) monastery at 1800 feet above sea level.

Santorini Hillside
Santorini Hillside
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No other ships in port

Stray Cats
I had read before traveling that are lots of stray cats in Greece/Turkey, so I packed kitty treats for my little friends along the way.

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Let sleeping cats lie
Let sleeping cats lie

Swimming-

I can now say that I have swum in the Aegean Sea, well sort of. The water was way too cold, so we floated on blue mats tied to the back of the “yacht”.

Floating in the Aegean Sea
Floating in the Aegean Sea