Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Farewell to Kas, a Mediterranean gem

Having spent about a month in Kas, we'll be saying allaha ismarladik (good-bye from the person who's leaving) to this lovely town on Saturday morning. Kas will be saying gule gule (good-bye from the person who's staying) to us, as it will happily remain where it is. (The earthquake wasn't felt here, thankfully.) We, on the other hand, will head back up to Selcuk for an overnight before going on to Istanbul for one final night in Turkey before we fly on to our next country on this RTW journey, Vietnam.

Kas sunset

I have to take a few moments to describe Kas in a little more detail, having gotten to know it a bit more since my first post on this area. First, at least in October, it's a wonderful mix of locals and tourists, and the locals we've dealt with have all been very friendly (so have the tourists, for that matter). Here are a few highlights:
Hand-decorated Turkish bowls

Shopping. There's lots of nontourist commerce being done (hey, we both got haircuts today--mine was $15 and John's was only $7, and they were pretty decent!), but the tourists wandering the streets are catered to by shops selling the standard Turkish tourist goods: handpainted ceramics, colorful glass lamps, pashminas in all colors, Turkish cotton towels and wraps, leather goods, and of course the ubiquitous carpets.

But there's little hard sell here--shopowners sit comfortably outside their shops, often sipping tea from little glasses, but for the most part they don't try to entice you to enter. If you do want to look at their wares, they're ready to sell, of course, and when you ask how much something is, they'll offer a higher price than the item is worth. It's Turkey, after all, and bargaining seems to be part of the culture. We're not that great at bargaining but usually can get the price down at least a bit. Today, for example, I bought two pashminas that were priced at 35 Turkish lira each (about $17) but got a "special price" for me only, 20 TL (about $11) each. These beautiful silk and cashmere pieces were definitely worth more to me than that, so I think I came out on top of that bargain. Since we're on such a long trip and our bags are carry-on size, we have really limited the shopping. But scarves take up so little room! I see more in my future.
Our home away from home

 Eating. We've cooked at the villa many nights (or should I say John has cooked at the villa)--mostly chicken and lamb, which are readily available at the meat market and are good quality, and pasta, along with lots of great fruit and vegetables from the produce shops and Friday market. But we have loved the small cafes in Kas, our favorite being Cafe Mola for the best fresh, minty lemonade I've ever tasted as well as crepes, omelets, gozleme (kind of like a Turkish quesadilla), and a fantastic chicken sandwich that I can't stop ordering. The owner/cook is a lovely person who always has a warm greeting for us.
Fresh lemonade with mint and ice chips

Pomegranates grow on trees!
We have also enjoyed pide, which some call Turkish pizza. It's a long, thin, oval-shaped pizza with a thin crust and various toppings (veggies, chicken, whatever) and is cooked in an oven just like pizza is. With a side of yoghurt, of course, as well as peppers and tomatoes.
Pide -- a new favorite
Our favorite pide restaurant is called Cinarlar. Other restaurants we've enjoyed are Uzum Kizi and Ratatouille. We plan to try another one on Friday, the night before we leave--there are so good many restaurants in town! We've found Turkish food to be very good on the whole, though sometimes I long for more variety (oh well, Vietnam should take care of that!).
Lamb kebabs, fried bread, and yoghurt--I skipped the bread

Beaches. If you love pebble beaches, you'll love Kas. They actually have two advantages: they help keep the water crystal clear, and many tourists don't like them. Laying on them is like having your own personal hot stone massage. Bring beach shoes.
Kaputas beach--looks like sand but mostly pebbles

One beach we went to, Kaputas, was about a 20-minute drive west of Kas, at the base of a steep gorge. About 200 steps down (and back up), but since I've been in step training, starting with Panarea, it was no problem! There's some sand there but it's all pebbles as you get near (and into) the water. Gorgeous. Tomorrow we're going to try Patara, a long sandy beach reputed to be one of the best in the world, about 20 minutes beyond Kaputas.

The cook prepares the green beans for lunch
The best swimming, not surprisingly, is off the boats that ply the coast. A couple of days ago we went out for a day trip on a wonderful boat that we hooked up with down at the harbor. We left the harbor about 10 a.m. and motored toward Kekova Island, where we had kayaked a couple of weeks ago. It's much easier on a motor boat! There were about 20 of us on the boat, and we each had an individual sunning pad on top of the boat, which we pretty much left only for swimming in the 3 coves we stopped at, eating the very delicious lunch the boat staff served, and walking up to some ancient tombs in a former necropolis on one of the islands we visited. We got back to the harbor at 6 p.m. Bargain price: 50 TL (about $30) each, including lunch. Turkey is really not very expensive, especially compared to Italy.

This 85-year-old woman rowed across the bay to sell us scarves--we bought, of course
Necropolis tombs

Rod, Gillian, and John on our sun pads
Another highlight of our time in Turkey has been meeting other travelers. In fact, that's one of the best things about travel--sometimes you just hit it off with people. Some of our best friends are those we've met on various trips (Indonesia, England, etc.) and formed friendships with that have lasted for years. In Kas we met a great Australian couple, Rod and Gillian, from Adelaide and spent several days hanging out with them. I'm sure we will get in touch with them next time we are in Australia. (Fair warning, Rod and Gill!)

I could go on and on about this great place, but suffice it to say that we loved every day we spent here. And we are very grateful to Cherry and Alan, who made this beautiful stay possible. Tesekkur ederim!

We'll miss the constantly changing cast of cats!
On October 31 we're off to Vietnam, via flooded Bangkok (here's hoping the airport is still open), arriving in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) on the afternoon of November 1 to start our 3 1/2 week sojourn in that country. Next post will probably be from there!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

She says Meis, he says Castellorizo

Across the bay from Kas, about 3.5 kilometers away, is the Greek island of Castellorizo, called Meis if you're Turkish. This ancient island has been in Greek hands for much of its history, but it's also been occupied by the Egyptians, Spanish, French, Italians, and Turks at various times. It has a strategic location just off the Turquoise Coast, so no wonder it's been coveted by so many countries.

We stopped staring at Greece and decided to pay it a visit

We stocked up on raw almonds before we left Kas
For us, it was a beautiful day trip by a fast ferry, a ride of about 25 minutes from Kas, and our first ever visit to Greece. (A trip of another several hours would take us to Rhodes from Castellorizo, but that was not in the cards.) Since Greece is (infamously) part of the European Union and Turkey is not, we had to hand over our passports before boarding the boat, and they were not given back to us until we reboarded the boat for our trip back to Turkey. Seemed a little odd, but apparently that's the accepted procedure so we went along with it. Actually, we had no choice if we wanted to get to Greece for the day!
Proof we were in Greece

Several thousand people lived on the island at some points in its history, but today there are only 300 full-time residents. They travel to Kas on Fridays to shop at the weekly market and then return to their beautiful island. The main occupations appear to be fishing and tourism.

After our boat docked in the sheltered horseshoe harbor on the island we headed left while everybody else went right, into town, so we were virtually alone on a beautiful walk along the coast to another little harbor. We stopped to talk to a distinctively Greek-looking woman who was supervising the remodeling of her family home, the Admiral's House, perched right on the coast below the fort. We chatted for a while (in English) about life on the island and then headed back into the main harbor area for lunch.

Most people live around the main harbor
The houses that line the harbor are painted in pretty pastels, making a gorgeous scene. We found the simple architecture of the homes very attractive-- more so than most of the modern Turkish architecture we've seen.

And I thought there were a lot of cats in Turkey!
Since we were in Greece, if only for a day, we couldn't resist the Greek salad and a giant piece of moussaka for our open-air lunch at a harborside cafe, with half a dozen cats underfoot waiting for scraps. At a nearby cafe we saw the captain our our ferry serving meals--I guess he does double-duty.

The cutest toilet I've seen in a while
By 3:00 we were back on the ferry for our return to Kas. We got our passports back as we boarded, but then had to give them up again when we arrived in Kas. Some guy put all the passports into a valise and carried them off somewhere while we were told to "wait in the park" nearby. Hmmm, what is going on here? An hour later the valise man showed up and gave everybody their passports back. Very strange, but all's well that ends well!

Castellorizo (Meis) harbor

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Side Trip to Side

Having slogged through the 9-hour trip to Cappadocia from Kas, we thought better of repeating the feat on our return to Kas. So we chose to stop overnight in Side, a popular resort on the coast east of Antalya and about 5 hours from Cappadocia. Our route took us back the way we had come--through North Dakota, Kansas, and Utah--and allowed us to figure out what those big pots steaming at the roadside stands actually were: sut misir, steamed sweet corn. Mystery solved!

Marble columns of the Temple of Apollo at Side

We pulled into Side in the late afternoon and turned on the GPS so we could locate our hotel, the Beach House Hotel, which we had reserved the night before. It got great reviews on Trip Advisor and had a superb location right on the water in the old section of town. Our balcony on the second floor had wonderful views of the sea and the pedestrian walkway along it. The rest of the hotel wasn't so great--kind of funky and worn out--but it was cheap ($60) and served a good Turkish breakfast as part of the deal.

Side, it turns out, is one of those coastal Turkish resorts with nice sandy beaches that's thronged by Europeans (mostly British and Germans) on two-week holidays. They come to the town and plop down for the duration. The hotel owner, an Australian ex-pat, seemed to think this produced a less attractive clientele than someplace like Kas, where she said people only spend a few days because Kas's beaches are mostly pebbles--thus their names, Small Pebble Beach and Big Pebble Beach. That's her theory, anyway. And she would be wrong, at least in our case.

Temple at sunset, with frothy bride

We were happy to be in Side overnight because it allowed us to see the photogenic Temple of Apollo at both sunset and sunrise. Well, I saw pictures of it at sunrise, thanks to John. You know where I was.

Temple at sunrise

Serving lamb in Paradise
Dinner was at Paradise, a seaside restaurant (the waiter loved saying "Welcome to Paradise!") where we watched the sun go down as we dined on huge grilled shrimp and a wonderful lamb shoulder that had been roasted with potatoes and vegetables in a delicious sauce for hours--one of the best meals we've had in Turkey.

On our way back to Kas the next morning we detoured just a few kilometers inland to the amazing Aspendos, the best-preserved Roman amphitheater we've ever seen. It was built about A.D. 160 during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (or so the sign said). After hanging around inside the amphitheater we hiked around it and up the hill for a view from above it. Worth the trip!

Aspendos Amphitheater
Amphitheater and the surrounding countryside

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A lot of hot air--ballooning in Cappadocia

So let me tell you a little about our balloon trip over a small portion of beautiful Cappadocia.

Originally we weren't planning to do a balloon ride (yeah, just like we weren't planning to buy a carpet),  mainly because it's expensive--about $175 per person for a one-hour ride. But then we had a little piece of luck, thanks to the bad luck of niece and nephew Ann and Andres. They traveled to Turkey in July and DID want to go up in a balloon, so they forked over the big bucks, got up at 5 in the morning, were transported to the launch site, and were about to clamber into their balloon when someone noticed that Ann was pregnant (6 months). Or so the story goes--did I get it right guys? Turns out you're not allowed to balloon if you're pregnant (and someone notices), so they were unceremoniously dumped from the trip. They had paid in advance, of course, but the company (Urgup Balloons) refused to refund their money. Following increasingly loud and weepy protests from Ann (or was it Andres?), the company relented and not only refunded their money but gave them vouchers for 2 free rides in the future. Which they generously passed on to us, since we were next up for a trip to Turkey. Yay!
Trying to find our balloon--where will it land?

We were not really sure that Urgup Balloons would honor the voucher since it was made out to Ann and Andres, but our hotel took care of that. We explained the situation to Arda at Esbelli Evi and he contacted the company for us. It took 3 days for us to get on a balloon (windy conditions kept most companies from flying), but on our last morning in the area the weather magically cleared and it was up, up, and away.

We were picked up at the hotel by the balloon company van as promised at 6:40 a.m. and driven to the office. This was about an hour later than we had thought it would be, and it turned out that we were going to be on the second flight of the morning--a no-no according to the Lonely Planet (because wind conditions deteriorate later in the morning, making it harder to fly over the most beautiful areas). There were about 30 people milling around near the office, with no information provided on where to go. We headed into the "Breakfast" room and poured ourselves a cup of instant coffee and grabbed a couple of packaged cookies (breakfast?), then went outside to watch the 35-40 balloons peppered across the valley. Beautiful!

According to the company brochure we were supposed to have a "safety briefing" prior to getting into the balloon, but nothing materialized. Instead we 12 "green badge" holders were eventually herded into a van for the short drive to the staging area. It was amazing to see all the balloons up close in various stages of readiness or flight. Hot air balloons are really fun to look at.

The balloon we were supposed to get into soon landed and we exchanged places with the people who had just finished their flight. The staff made sure that the basket was well balanced, and John and I ended up being separated--he was on one end of the basket and I was on the other. Oh well, after almost 2 months together a little separation wasn't too much of a problem.
I THINK this will be fun

We waved goodbye to the people on the ground as our pilot, Derya, turned on the heat jets and sent our balloon slowly up into the sky. We hovered near the ground for a bit (thought we might just land in the vineyard below, abruptly ending the flight) and then got away for our hour-long flight. The sun had risen and the light on the balloons was gorgeous, casting dollops of balloon shadows on the landscape below.

Warmed by the fire
Because the fire was turned on and off fairly frequently to guide the balloon, we ended up being pretty toasty on the flight. The nicest part was that we weren't packed like sardines the way some of the other baskets we saw were. Twelve people was a really nice number for the basket.

We didn't get a great ride over the rock formations owing to the wind direction--we hovered near them and then headed off across the plain toward the town of Avanos. Still, the view was gorgeous, particularly of the many other balloons silently floating nearby.
Not that pretty when flat

After about an hour it became clear that our pilot was looking for a landing area--the chase car and trailer circling below us was the first clue.
Some balloons actually land on the trailer (ours didn't)

As we headed down toward the ground in an empty field, the car followed nearby. Nearing the ground, the pilot yelled out "Landing positions!" (These were the first words she said on the whole flight!). Everybody looked blankly at each other--we hadn't the first clue what the "landing position" was supposed to be (remember, no safety briefing!). The ground came up fast and Derya yelled again, almost angrily, "Landing positions!!!," as we bounced hard on the ground.

The ground crew grabbed on to our trailing rope and there was a brief tug-of-war, balloon vs. handlers. The handlers won, tying the rope to the trailer, as Derya turned off the hot-air jets and the balloon started to deflate. We scrambled out of the basket (which I momentarily thought was going to tip over sideways as we landed), glad to be safely on the ground.
Man vs. balloon

Letting the hot air out
A champagne toast was the official ending to the ride. A fun event, and we're glad we did it. We would even have paid! (But thanks again, Ann and Andres. We really did get a free ride.)
Safely grounded

Thank goodness for the evil eye protecting our balloon
Our pilotopening the champagne

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Road trip! Kas to Cappadocia

We tore ourselves away from the Turquoise Coast to spend a few days in inland Turkey, in the highly touristed Cappidocia area. On our map of Turkey you go about 2 inches along the coast east of Kas, past Antalya, and then head inland 3 or 4 inches. Most people fly from Istanbul to Cappadocia, but since we have a rental car for the whole month of October we decided to drive. Nine hours later, we pulled into Urgup, one of the main towns of the area and our base for the next 3 nights.

Actually we had reserved our hotel in Urgup for 4 nights, arriving on October 10, but in one of those rare but disconcerting mistakes one makes if one travels as much as we do, I had mis-entered the Urgup reservation information into our itinerary software,, as starting on the 11th instead. The night of the 10th, still in Kas, as I was getting everything ready for the next day, I looked again at the email we'd received from the Urgup hotel and saw that we were supposed to be there that night, the 10th. Oops. We dashed off a quick email to the hotel saying that we were "unavoidably delayed" and wouldn't be arriving until the next night, and would of course pay for all 4 nights. The hotel staff wrote back and said they would hold the room for us, and that we would have to pay for only 3 nights. Very generous, I would say!
One of the pretty parts of the drive
The road from Kas to Cappadocia starts with a couple hours' drive along a windy coastal road--think coastal highway in Southern California with no bridges over the canyons--and then heads inland into southern Utah-like high desert, with pine trees and pretty hills. And bananas. (Dozens of roadside stands selling small ripe bananas and other interesting fruit, as well as small stoves warming what we think was big pots of tea. But could have been stew?) Then we hit Kansas  (Konya, the heart of traditional religious Turkey, home of the whirling dervishes, gave me the creeps). Followed by North Dakota--the parts with no redeeming features. Bleak, dusty, windy, flat. Now I know why people fly to Cappadocia.

Our hotel in Urgup, Esbelli Evi, is part cave, part modern addition built in cave style. We splurged and went for the "volcano cave suite"--wouldn't you? It's a rambling affair with an entry room, a gigantic bathroom, a real cave of its own (with a tunnel that supposedly goes for several kms), a bedroom with a vaulted ceiling, and a sitting room that's also real cave. Oh--and modern conveniences like satellite TV and a laptop with wifi in the room. And its own garden patio. Very private, very nice. $215 a night.
Odd shapes abound in Cappadocia
 But you don't go to Cappadocia for the cave hotels alone. The scenery is the draw, and we've spent the 2 1/2 days we've been here hiking among the strange but beautiful natural stone features of the Rose Valley, the Love Valley, the Goreme Outdoor Museum, and other photogenic spots.
Love Valley
Pumpkins waiting for their seeds to be harvested
It's fall in Cappadocia--the leaves are turning yellow and orange and the grapes and pumpkins are being harvested. (The pumpkins don't actually get ripe here, so they're harvested for their seeds.) It's been nice to have our own car--there are tour buses galore in this place, and we can detour off the beaten path to find some special places on our own. There are lots of walking opportunities. It's really a beautiful spot that deserves the attention it gets from the tourist community. (Lots of Japanese tour groups, so you know it's a tourist high spot.)

Even here, though, we got the Secret Carpet Sell. A guy came up to us while we were parked at one of the photo ops and told us about the special event happening at the carpet school in the nearby town--today only! Until 5 p.m.! Mustn't miss! We bought it, hook, line, and sinker, and dashed off to the town to get to the carpet school with minutes to spare. We were sucked into a tour of the place with 50 French tourists, with the commentary entirely in French. Yes, it was a sell-carpets experience. Fortunately, we have already purchased our carpet so we were able to slink out without buying, having significantly improved our French vocabulary.
At the carpet "school"

Tomorrow we get to head up in a hot-air balloon for an aerial tour of the beautiful hills and valleys. Thanks to Ann and Andres for sending us their balloon ride vouchers (we'll see if they work)! Can't think of a better place in the world to experience that adventure. Pick-up by the balloon company at 6:40 a.m. Better be good!