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.

2015-05-06 02.35.52
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

Italy–Among Beauty and Ruins

Italy…. It exceeded my expectations. Everyone says they love Italy, everyone says they love the food. Well, I am joining in the songs of praise for Italy. I am won over.
DSC_0553

2014-04-23 13.32.16

Rome, and I’m sure it was because of our hotel location, never felt like a lived-in city. I didn’t  see people out walking their dogs, pushing baby strollers, or carrying groceries. Our location was great for walking to most of the main attractions, but I did feel as though we were inside a tourist bubble. Looking around, I only saw other tourists. If I were to spend time in Rome again, I’d like to stay in an area were the locals live and work. Another nice memory of Rome was the abundance of orange trees and the smell of orange blossoms, mmmmm.
The crowds at the Vatican were a nightmare. Although I have to remember, it could have been worse if we hadn’t had a private guide and skip-the-line entrance tickets.

Oddities around Rome
Oddities around Rome

The high point of this trip for me was the 4-days we spent in Siena, rain and all. There was something about the dark skies and thunder as a  backdrop for the medieval architecture, narrow cobble stone streets, and Duomo, that gave the city ambiance.

2014-04-27 13.01.13

Siena
Siena

The best meal of the entire trip for me was the night of our cooking class at Scuola di Cucina in Siena. Pork loin roasted in spices, olive oil, broth, and wine… then quartered potatoes  tossed and roasted in the same pan of pork drippings. Oh….my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Scuola di Cucina, Siena, Italy
Scuola di Cucina, Siena, Italy

One day we took a drive to Montepulciano and walked through some fascinating wine cellars. They were like tunnels and stairs winding through the underground, with room after room of wine barrels. Another day was a trip to the Chianti region to visit Castello Vicchiomaggio Castle and Winery. It was a beautiful drive through the lush green hills with dark rain clouds and slices of blue sky above.
DSC_0583

DSC_0626
Contina de Redi, Montepulciano, Italy

DSC_0617

Montepulciano, Italy
Montepulciano, Italy

 

Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy

After several quiet scenic days of Tuscany we moved on. Coming into Florence after Siena felt like entering a third world country. I was shocked back into city life–crowded, dirty, and loud. To be fair, it was an Italian holiday weekend (Labor Day). For sure the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Flore was impressive along with the statues and ruins. Florence city center is overwhelmingly a shopping area. It’s too bad that the crowds in a shopping frenzy seemed to me to drown out the ancient attractiveness of the city. Compared to our stay in Rome, this was a living city, there were people walking dogs and carrying groceries. Florence felt like a town of young people and artists. It reminded me a lot of Barcelona and the Las Ramblas area.