Monday, September 5, 2016

2016 Finger Lakes

Debbie and I traveled along with her sister Kathy and her husband, Mike, over to the Finger Lakes region this past weekend. Everyone had a great time. We ate at historic Belhurst Castle, did some wineries (and sampled a good deal of wine - good thing Mike was DD), toured historic Rose Hill Mansion, and capped it all off with a visit to America's Number One State Park, Letchworth State Park, home of the "Grand Canyon of the East". It truly is a wonderful park; I wouldn't argue with that "best" claim at all. But (once again), do they ever refer to the canyon in Arizona as the "Letchworth of the West?" Before heading home, we ate at historic Glen Iris Inn, which is inside the park.

Debbie and I stayed at an Airbnb Bed and Breakfast in Geneva. It was close to the Holiday Inn that held Kathy and Mike. The B&B was an interesting, nearly new experience for us. We had great breakfasts and greater conversations with our hosts. Fun stuff.

I suppose my favorite winery was probably Wagner. But they were all good. Perhaps a little too good - we didn't even make it all the way around Seneca Lake before we'd had a little too much of a good thing.

All in all, this was a nice little trip.
Mike, Kathy, Debbie and Dan at Letchworth

Friday, May 27, 2016

2016 Croatia, Austria and Slovenia

Our Trafalgar Group Tour

The High Cost of Stupidity

Before we knew it, we were outside the Chicago Airport security area, and therefore unable to make use of our United Club passes that had been generously supplied by Debbie’s dear sister, Kathy Zimcosky. Now we would need to pay for a lunch once we got ourselves back through TSA security at the International Terminal. And we wouldn’t have the creature comforts of the lounge during our five-hour layover. All okay, I said, we’ve survived worse. Besides, how much could lunch cost?

It could cost $44, if you eat at Rick Bayless’ Frontera restaurant. Turned out there were limited choices in the International terminal, although the food really was quite good. But then there’s this: had we reentered through security at Domestic Terminal, used the United Club, then made our way to our gate, we probably would have missed out plane. That particular security line took about an hour on top of the train ride over.

The second High Cost of Stupidity story involves romance, intrigue, genealogical adventure and hundreds of euros. Except for the romance and intrigue. Or anything remotely genealogical. The part about the euros is correct however.

For several months now, Debbie and I have been tracing our family genealogies. According to our information, my mother’s ancestors all came from the adjacent villages of Pobedim and Podolie, Slovakia. The area appears to be less than two hours from Vienna by car, so I hatched an idea to rent a car and go there and investigate cemeteries and churches to search for long lost relatives. Since we’d arrive in the morning of the best day for this, we could rent a car at the airport, drive on over to rural Slovakia, look around some, then return to Vienna in time for the Trafalgar tour group meeting and dinner at five. If we didn’t find any relatives, I thought, at least we would have tried. And walked where they walked, in the villages where they lived. Sounds like a plan, yes?

No. After fifteen minutes of trying to figure out reverse on the standard shift rental car (I am not making this up: you have to hold the shaft in the middle with your fist, and then stroke it up and down), and then two hours of driving through pretty countryside scenery and quaint villages, we stopped and finally determined that we were about as lost as was humanly possible. And when we did finally figure out where we were, we realized that we had made absolutely no progress towards Pobedim and Podolie; we’d only gone generally to the north of Vienna, now even more than two hours away from our destination. Worst of all, we never even made it out of Austria at all.

What went wrong, you ask? We followed the GPS lady’s orders (she had a German accent, you know), and not our Google map directions. An old fashioned paper map would have been best, but ours was not nearly detailed enough to figure out these rural roads and small villages. Where GPS lady thought she was taking us is anyone’s guess. I think we may have gotten there eventually – perhaps in a few more hours. Fortunately, she was able to get us back to the Vienna airport without further mishap after we decided to give up and turn back.

Here’s what else went wrong: cost of rental and taxes (over 90 US dollars, and possibly much more), cost of additional insurance that I thought I’d better take this time (68 euros), cost of petrol, as they call it (66 euros), cost of tolls, permission to go to Slovakia, etc (over 8 euros), cost of a transfer from the airport to the hotel that would have been free if we’d have just followed the script (37 euros), cost of an expensive lunch that would have been cheaper had be been more rested and willing to walk around (30 euros). And so on.

The Rest of the Story: it Gets Better, at Least for Vienna and Bratislava

The Hilton Danube was a sight for sore eyes and comfortable for our tired bodies. We met our Tour Director Jasmina and the rest of the group. After a good night’s sleep we got the morning tour of Vienna.

Not much happening early in the morning. We’d seen a great deal of Vienna during our previous Central Europe travels, so the walking tour wasn’t any big shakes. It didn’t help that it was cool, cloudy and damp. It started to rain just as we went out on our own a bit, so we wound up in a Viennese coffee house with some fellow travelers.

Debbie and Dan in Bratislava
The afternoon in Bratislava was different however. For one thing, we finally did make it to Slovakia(!) For another, Bratislava is a wonderful city. It helped that the sun came out, warming things up for us, just as we arrived. Our local guide was wonderful, and we were able to see the castle (where there were great views of the river and city) and the extensive old town area.

Even though we never made it to the towns of my ancestors, at 45 minutes away, Bratislava is pretty darn close. I kept thinking that these people were my people. In fact, that local guide looked as if she may have come from my mom's side of the family, which she very well may have. I might add that the Slovakian food and the wine were also very good. I would go there again in a heartbeat.

From Vienna we went south for a long ride through the scenic Austrian countryside. How many hilltop castles can there be? After a stop in Graz for lunch and a walk up to the town’s hilltop castle, the mountains got higher and the scenery became even more spectacular. By late in the afternoon, we reached Lake Bled, Slovenia.

Slovenia – Lake Bled and Environs

From our vantage point in the world, it appears that Slovenia is as beautiful a country as any. Alpine mountains (these are, in fact, the Alps), hilltop castles, picture postcard churches, serene lakes and scenic villages are everywhere.
Lake Bled

It wasn’t enough that we were staying at a beautiful lake – Lake Bled - that’s surrounded by mountains. No, not at all. We had to take a side trip to a different lake – Lake Bohinj – that was also scenic, and also surrounded by mountains. It looked pretty much the same – that is, very pretty – but there were a couple differences: Lake Bohinj was higher and colder, and a little larger. More importantly, it was also the starting point for our gondola ride to the top of Mount Vogel.

I am sure it’s wonderful at the top when the mountain isn’t completely engulfed in clouds and snow. As it was, all we could do was stand and shiver until the next gondola came to bring us back down.

Back in Bled, Debbie and I walked around the lake. That was a very nice hike, but I knew the way; I’d run the 6K circuit a couple times in the morning. Oh, and I also climbed – not quite hand over hand, but almost – to the top of the cliff where the lake’s castle is in command.

Speaking of demands, Debbie made one as we got back: that we get some of the famous Park Hotel’s cream cakes. They truly are something to write home about, so that’s why I mention them here. Unfortunately, our Park Hotel had other problems, such as needing renovation so that it no longer looks like something hatched from the Communist era (which it was), as well as awful crowding at the evening buffet – seemed like everyone on the entire planet had their feedbags on and was elbowing their way in. The second night in Bled was extremely much better, with polkas and traditional Slovenian food, and of course wine.
Polkaing in Bled

Overall, Slovenia is a wonderful place. From Lake Bled, we drove through the capital city, Ljubljiana for an enjoyable stop, before traveling on to the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia.

Croatia at Last: Plitvice

Croatia is the main destination for our travels this time around; it’s where most of our time will be spent. Our first stop was the Garden of Eden of Croatia: Plitvice Lakes National Park. Our 4K hike through park revealed dozens of the park’s thousands of waterfalls.

Time to Split

Just a guess here: I may not be the first person to make a joke such as this.

Split is Croatia’s second largest city, and home to Diocletian’s Palace, an ancient palace built by the Roman emperor Diocletian at in the fourth century AD, that today forms about half the old town and city center of Split. It’s still being used as a place to live, shop and dine. We didn’t shop, but we did dine, and also managed to nearly get lost in the palace maze. The best part is that it finally warmed up for us, now that we’re on the Adriatic Coast.

A Hvar Away Island

The ‘H’ is nearly silent, so this joke isn’t as funny as it seems, not that it was funny anyway.

After sitting in the sun on the top deck for 45 minutes, the slow boat (aka ferry) from Split to Hvar Island took another hour and 45 minutes. By this time we were well cooked, and I wasn’t feeling well at all. Hvar looks like the perfect slice of Mediterranean pie, but we’re not ready to enjoy it just yet.

***Rant Interlude – Read at your own Risk***

Don’t get me wrong. I love Europe, and I truly love Europeans, especially my people: those of the central and eastern parts of the continent. Furthermore, I think they are way ahead of us Americans in their tolerance of others and care for the environment. Not to mention food. That said…

1) These people have a lot to learn about plumbing. They can’t seem to make a toilet that you don’t have to scrape the sides off with a brush after use. Or a shower that you can use without getting the entire bathroom soaked with water. Or even a sink that prevents water from splashing all over the place just by turning the faucet on. And don’t even get me started about this here “Ikea Designed” Hotel Amfora in Hvar with the outhouse type toilet seats. Not to mention getting into and out of the seven-foot high bathtub / shower combination…. I could go on and on about plumbing, but that would detract from my next few complaints.
2) We are two people staying in one hotel room. This means we have two suitcases. We need a place to put more than the one they have provided room for. This is not rocket science folks.
3) We absolutely love our tour guide / mom, Jasmina Bajde. She is completely wonderful. But the tour itself seems a little too rushed, and we feel a little too hearded. Yes, of course we understand that this is, indeed, a group bus tour. Maybe if we were both feeling better, or if we didn’t sign up for nearly all of the optional tours…
4) NO COFFEE FOR YOU! We are human beings, and human beings require coffee. Yes, the hotels have it at breakfast, but that’s much too late for some of us. It just isn’t available if you, say for example, want some at four or five in the morning before going out for a run. Nothing: not in the room, the lobby, just outside the hotel. Nada, nothing.

Okay, I feel better now. Did I mention that Hvar is lovely? It is. Both the island and the village with thee same name.

It is the Mediterranean at it’s best: at least as nice as Nice (sorry, had to say that) or any of the Greek islands we’ve seen. Some say the Dalmation coast is the Mediterranean the way it used to be. But not any more; now it’s the Mediterranean as it is today, with crowds and hoopla. Still this Coast of Croatia is truly beautiful. And Hvar is a serene, long, endlessly scenic island smack dab in the middle of it all.

Trafalgar includes a “Be My Guest” experience with each of their tours. Ours was to a partially restored stone village in the hills of Hvar, far from any civilization. I say village, but there’s really only one couple that lives there with no electricity or neighbors of any kind. Jasmina and Trafalgar arranged for them to treat all forty-plus of us to a gourmet meal of veal, lamb or octopus (our choice), cooked under an iron bell. We dined outside with plenty of wine to go along with the good food. And we topped it all off with homemade grappa. Jasmina surprised us with a small birthday surprise for Debbie, and everyone sang.
Be My Guest in Hvar

Overheard conversation:
Trafalgar Guest after one grappa: “Wanna see my hidden treasure?” (‘Hidden Treasures’ are a Trafalgar thing)
Trafalgar Guest after two grappas: “Be my guest!”

Be My Guest in Hvar

The singing continued to the tune of Abba for the hour long bus ride home. We’re all now much better friends than we were just the morning before we arrived.

The next day’s optional wine-tasting (Sights and tastes of Hvar) was not quite so wild and wonderful, but still very nice. Afterward, Debbie and I climbed up to the Hvar Hilltop Fortress, came back down, and ate a late lunch at a great place in the hills of Hvar town.

The three lovely days on Hvar went by much too quickly, but now it was on to Dubrovnik. And what a journey that was. A couple hours drive along the spine and length of Hvar Island, a short(er) ferry trip to the mainland, and then several more hours south along the indescribably spectacular Dalmation Coast. Along the way from Croatia to Croatia, of course we had to go through a couple miles of Bosnia. So naturally we stopped for some cheese and chips. By the time we rolled into the outskirts of Dubrovnik, it was nearly time for our sunset dinner cruise.
Sugaraj - enroute from Hvar to the Mainland


Notice the exclamation mark. It’s just like when we add one to the tail end of Oklahoma! Dubrovnik is a medieval walled city that is with good reason, the number one tourist destination along the Adriatic Sea.

Dubrovnik Sunset

Dubrovnik Moonrise

Our sunset dinner cruise and nighttime walk through the walled city lived up to it’s billing. It was every bit as spectacular, beautiful and fun as we thought it would be.
Dubrovnik by Night

The next day we were able to see the city in the daytime. We finally got a relatively hot day, and that made things a little challenging – especially the walk around the top of the city walls. We made a complete circuit – it took us over an hour – but what sights we saw! We also had some time to relax with friends at a couple cafes.

Dubrovnik Lunch

There were plenty more opportunities to experience the sights, sounds and tastes of Dubrovnik. But it’s time to discuss our side trip to Montenegro.
Dubrovnik from Above


Notice the exclamation point inflation. Well, if you put one on Dubrovnik, you surely have to do it for Montenegro!

Montenegro became an independent (from Serbia) country only ten years and a couple days ago. It was less than an hour to the border, but then the crossing itself took some time (Montenegro is not yet part of the European Union), as did driving all around the fiords, crags and crannies of this beautiful little country.

Kotor in Montenegro
We stopped in Kotor, a walled city at the base of the Bay of Kotor. It’s a spectacular location, and we once again walked the city walls, and all round inside. The surrounding mountains form walls as well. We went on to explore Budvar, another (you guessed it) walled city on the sea.

There was magnificent scenery the entire way through Montenegro, and of course back into Croatia. It’s easy to take it all for granted, as in, “Ho hum, another knock-em dead gorgeous view. What’s for dinner?”

Food for this entire trip, by the way, has been just slightly underwhelming. In both Croatia and Montenegro, I had expected nothing but the freshest fish and other seafood. I did get some, including the previously mentioned octopus under the bell, but some of the other food just wasn’t all that great. The wines have been interesting, however, and I do mean that a good way.

I don’t know why this took so long, but it only now became clear that the name for the country of Croatia, in Croation, is Hrvatska. I didn’t know that! But the connection between the name Horvath, meaning, ‘Croatian’, or ‘From Croatia’, now makes a lot more sense.


There was another long day of travel from the southern Dalmation coastal area up to Zagreb. Zagreb is the capital, cultural center, and largest city of Croatia. It was originally made up of two medieval walled towns: an upper and lower one.


We took several walks around town, and although tired from all the accumulated travel, enjoyed it all immensely. Zagreb is a great city.

Earlier, I accused the food of being underwhelming, That was before the last two dinners. The final group Farewell Dinner in Zagreb was especially memorable. Also memorable, now that we were saying our goodbyes, was our outstanding guide Jasmina, and all our fellow travelers. As always with these group tours, traveling companions make for the best of (new) friends.

Our Wonderful Group Early on - We're all Best Friends now

Finally, it was time to return to the States. Been a wonderful trip, but as always, we’re ready to go home. But don't go away just yet.

For a link to all my photos, click here.

For a link to my running blog post for the trip, click here.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

2015 Turkey

Kusadasi Evening


Our first and last homes away from home for this Cosmos tour of Turkey would be the big, busy, burgeoning, boisterous city of Istanbul. The Grand Halic Hotel is part of the Halic Hotels chain, and like so many other places we've stayed during Cosmos tours, it seems clean, but old and dated and definitely short of what we're 
used to otherwise. One wonders how much less grand the other Halic hotels are.

No Longer in Kansas

We're staying on the European side. Istanbul actually spans two continents, and many of the historical sites, such as Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, are far away, but also on the European side. But for this time through, we would only have time to take a long walk here from the hotel. We'll see 
those other sites later on.
Istiklal Avenue

The very busy pedestrian shopping street of Istiklal Caddesi was not too hard to find, although Lady Adventurer was in a near panic of becoming lost or not making it back in time for the meet and greet cocktail party back at the hotel. Great for people watching, this long shopping street ended at the historical Taksim Square. Becoming more adventurous in our old age, we actually sampled some street food. It was not bad.

Istiklal Avenue
Taksim Square

We are the only North Americans at the meet and greet. But not everyone was present. Will this trend continue?


In 1915, exactly 100 years ago, one of the largest campaigns of World War I, and one of the most momentous in human history, took place in the Gallipoli peninsula of Turkey. British, French, Indian, Australian and New Zealand troops landed to try to obtain control of Istanbul and the area waterways, but they were met by Turkish forces led by Mustafa Kemal, afterwards known as Ataturk. The Turks unexpectedly won the 9-month battle, repelling the Allies, but over 500,000 men on both sides lost their lives in the bloody fighting. After the Great War, Ataturk led the war to win independence from Greece, He later became president and introduced major reforms to remove the last of the Ottomans, introduce a secular democracy, and form modern Turkey.
On the beach at Gallipoli

It gives me goosebumps to experience, almost relive a place where great historical events have transpired. Izzet, our guide placed Gallipoli in the context of the more extended history in the region, linking it to other battles from the Peloponnesian War, conquests of Alexander the Great, and of course the Trojan War. This, of course, adds to the goosebumps. The Australians who were with us were clearly moved by the experience. So many of their countrymen are buried here that Gallipoli is a kind of pilgrimage for them.

From Istanbul, we traveled along the Sea of Marmara on the European side, to get to Gallipoli. After stopping at several points - the scale of the battle was huge - we cross the Dardenelles (straits) by ferry and arrive at Cannakale.

In the hills above the Gallipoli Peninsula
The entire area has great scenic serene beauty, and would be worth the trip even without the history.

Crossing the Dardenelles
It turns out that we're not the only Americans; there are two from Denver as well as a couple of Canadians. Overall, it's a great mix of people: there are the usual fun-loving Aussies, some Malaysians, Filipinos, Brits, one Irishwoman and one Kiwi (New Zealander). We're getting to know, and like, most everyone. It's a great thing to be get to know fellow travelers. We all recognize that we're in this adventure, this learning, together, and we all make sure to accommodate one another.
Sunset at Cannakale


The Horse and us
3,300 years ago, a prince brought a woman from modern day Greece to modern day Turkey. She happened to be married to someone else, and she also happened to be the most beautiful woman in the world (until now that we have the Lady Adventurer around), so a thousand ships were launched to attack the city of Troy and begin a war that lasted ten years. The greatest warrior of all time wasn't able to conquer the city (he wound up with an arrow in the heel), but the wiliest one...

The war only ended when the Greeks pulled the old Trojan Horse trick to prove forever that one should never trust Greeks bearing gifts. It was a war that was committed to writing five-hundred years later by Homer, and it became one of mankind's earliest and most epic stories of any kind.

Beware of Ohioans bearing gifts

Today, Troy is a very confusing archaeological site. The confusion is due to the fact that there were actually nine cities of Troy, each built upon and around the others. The Troy of Iliad fame was number seven; the previous six were all much older. The later ones saw the conquest of Alexander the Great and lasted until Roman times. Lady Adventurer and I had no idea how one can determine one stack of rocks from another, so it's good that some people have. Some walls still stand, and there is one road leading through a gate that was once thought to be the path of the Trojan Horse, until it was later determined that that road is from Troy VI and not Troy VII.
Walking between Troy VI and Troy VIII

Road that once led through the Gate of Troy. Legend (but not reality)
has it that the Horse was pulled through said Gate

Nice vistas from the ruins of Troy

It's all pretty amazing and overwhelming. More so because the area is still undergoing further excavation. Who knows where it will all end?
On top of Troy IX, looking down at the others

Along the way after Troy, we make a brief stop in the city of Izmur, formerly Smyrna, birthplace of Homer and a now a large, modern city. Then we head over to nearby Kusadasi for a two-night stay.

Our tour guide, Izzet Conk, is also acting as the local expert at all of our sightseeing stops. He's soft spoken, but very interesting and knowledgeable. 
Sunset from our hotel in Kusadasi, near Ephesus


The largest and best preserved Roman city isn't in Rome, or even Italy; it's in Turkey, and it's called Ephesus. The size and scale of this once 500,000 resident city is fascinating. Not yet fully excavated, what is there makes up a complete city. There are excellent roads, public toilets, a brothel, an odeon (indoor theater), a large outdoor theater, a huge agora (shopping area) and of course the famous library.
Ephesus, with the Library in the background

After our tour of this great city that lasted 1,000 years, we go to the chapel that was believed to be the place the Virgin Mary spent her last years, and then visit ruins of the Temple of Artemis. This is one of the wonders of the ancient world, and although there isn't a whole lot left standing, it was once pretty awesome. But so is everything else, even now.

Whilst staying in nearby Kusadasi, I go for a couple easy seaside runs. One of them is with Ian, a Kiwi who runs races all around the world.


Dedicated to the god, Aphrodite (and not necessarily aphrodisiacs), this archaeological site actually rivals Ephasus in size, scope, historical importance and level of preservation. It's just far enough away from the beaten path to keep most tourists clear of it. We are able to observe many of the same kinds of antiquity that we did in Ephasus. That is, more piles of rocks. Not that I'm complaining. I love this stuff. There's a museum here with gobs of statues and friezes that's really neat as well. The only thing is that I'm a bit disappointed in the statue of Aphrodite herself. It's not quite like the famous Venus one; here, she's got clothes on.
Temple of Aphrodite

Aphrodite with Clothes


More rocks, but this time with a twist: besides the important archaeological site (yes, another one), this one is also an interesting geological location as well. There are hot springs in the area, forming calcified layers and even cliffs that are pure white. It looks like snow. 
Babushkas soaking their feet in the water at Hieropolis

It seems the Romans came here for the same reason people do today: for the hot mineral spring water.And now the Roman baths have become Turkish baths. 

Lady Adventurer and I make the long walk along the top of the calcified cliff to the opposite end of the site, which is the location of the necropolis. Along the way we see the hot springs on one side, and the Roman ruins on the other. We have to hurry to get back to the bus on time.

The views from the top of these calcified limestone cliffs are outstanding, in spite of the air pollution. There's a fairly thick haze just about everywhere, and the air smells of smoke, especially coal smoke. It's all unfortunate, especially since there does seem to be an effort to use renewable fuel: there are wind turbines everywhere, and nearly every home has a solar hot water apparatus on the roof.

Later on, I am able to swim in a thermal swimming pool located in the basement of our Thermal Center Spa hotel. It's as big as any indoor pool, but the spring is fed into it from one end (the very hot side), and the water is a dark reddish brown.
Hieropolis the following morning

We're seeing more uniformity amongst the hotels than we're used to from Cosmos trips. All the plumbing seems about the same (barely adequate), the rooms are clean but small, and the food is basic (and not as good as one would hope, especially the lack of fresh fruit in the morning). Moreover, they all have wifi that just barely works, and the beds are hard, but okay. To sum up: we're doing okay, but things could also be a little more luxurious. And although we can get coffee with breakfast, would it kill them to allow us to have it in our rooms or earlier in some way?


No, it's not Konya West; we traveled east to get here. Konya is a religious city, and it's home to the Whirling Dervishes. And to put a point on that, we visit the Whirling Dervish Museum. During the early evening walk home, and even back inside the hotel, the air pollution becomes unbearable. It's as if we're right next to a smoker, or else a coal-burning power plant.

We are getting to know some of our traveling companions even better. Some Aussies wound up with a honeymoon suite here, and invited us to have drinks with them as well as to see the round bed, jaccuzzi, etc... We have a bunch of laughs.


Now this place is truly different. Fairy chimneys, mushroom caps, phallic rocks, alien landscapes, and that's just for starters. All in all, 'otherworldly' is the best way to describe this large area in central Turkey. We spend two days here, and need at least that much time to see a decent amount of it. We experience the various different geographical parts of this strange place, and see early Christian villages and churches, some of them entirely inside the man made caves built into the rock cliffs. We also get to see some Turkish folklore dancing, including a voluptuous (aren't they all?) belly dancer.
Fairy Chimneys

Incidentally, some of the cave villages involve tight squeezes through the passageways. Lady Adventurer, a little apprehensive going in, does just fine. She says that she is surprising herself.
Cave Dweller

And then there is the balloon ride. This is an experience to remember! Twenty of us (now all close friends) squeezed into the small basket, as the operator/pilot asks if it is our first balloon trip. As most of us say 'yes', he says, 'me too'. It is serene, quiet (when the flame wasn't blowing), scary (but only when the balloon is up between 500 and 1,000 meters), but mostly it is unbelievably and indescribably beautiful. The sunrise is beautiful, as are the dozens of other balloons in the air. The scenery is actually much more spectacular when we're lower, and it's good that we spend most of the time well under 500m. When we come down directly into the trailer, we're all disappointed that the hour went by so quickly.

Balloon Ride at Sunrise
Just after sunrise we could really enjoy the balloon colors as well as the landscape


This is Turkey's busy capital of about 4.5 million people, all of whom seem to be driving in the couple blocks surrounding our (quite nice) Radisson Hotel. We visit the Museum of Anatolian Civilization. It has won some awards for its great displays of Turkey's antiquities. Lady Adventurer and I are extremely impressed. Also impressive is Antikabar (Ataturk Mausoleum), but in a totally different way. It's big and in your face. But good ole' atta-boy Turk is worth celebrating - he's the George Washington (and also Jefferson and Lincoln) of this country.


En route from Ankara to Bursa, we stop at King Midas' tomb in Gorion. King Midas was a historical figure who ruled here around 800 BC. Whether he was truly successful in turning everything he touched to gold isn't quite so well established.

Bursa was a capital of Turkey during the Ottoman Empire. We stop by the green mosque, the covered bazaar and the silk market.


We're back, but the tour is not over... 

Istanbul is wildly exotic and frantically alive. It's 15 million people, crowded as they are, make the place buzz with activity; there's always something going on. And I'm loving every minute of it.

Blue Mosque
We tour the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern - a huge body of water supported by pillars and a ceiling underneath the city. Medusa heads hold up a couple of the pillars. We then walk around the Hippodrome, used by Romans for their chariot races, now right in the middle of everything.
Cruising the Bosphorus

And we take in a cruise of the Bosphorus. This body of water connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, and it passes through the thick of Istanbul. Boats of all shapes and sizes go any which way, and palaces new and ancient line the shores. It's as stunning as it gets, and this proves to be another major highlight of the trip.

The east meets west aspects of Istanbul come alive at our folklore sing and belly dancing dinner and entertainment show. Besides the countries represented by our small group (U.K, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Canada and the U.S.), there were folks from Argentina, Japan, Azerbaijan and Iran in the small nightclub. The entertainer tried to sing a song for each country! And of course Debbie and I are on stage at different times, singing along as well.

We see the famous Hagia Sophia, the ancient and huge Christian Church, turned Mosque, turned museum. And we see the more famous Topkapi Palace where, with the Harem and the lavish palace, it's good to be the Sultan.
Tile in Topkapi Palace

Hagia Sophia

Lady Adventurer and I venture to the top of Galata tower to see the sunset, and then have some fun with the rest of the gang, saying goodbye to all our new friends.

Sunset over Istanbul from Galata Tower

Galata tower at night

There is certainly much more to Turkey than we ever could have expected, even after reading tour books, doing web searches and reviewing the Cosmos tour information. Our trip to Greece has always been the standard by which we measure all of our coach tours, and this Turkey tour stacks up quite well indeed.

For our entire trip, the weather was wonderful. The food, not quite so much. I completely cracked Lady Adventurer up one night as we were heading to the typical buffet dinner and I asked, 'I wonder what type of slop it will be this time?' Nothing was all that awful, but also not always outstanding,

Turkey held their national election the day we arrived, and the results were not encouraging for those who want to keep the country secular and to maintain the separation of mosque and state. In fact, it's possible that this may be one of the final Cosmos tours, at least for a while. We're all concerned, although we had no inkling of any unrest or any personal threats for our entire trip. We can only hope for the best for this great country.

As always with these types of trips, the true highlights are meeting and interacting with the local people and especially moving through time and space with a great bunch of fellow travelers of varied backgrounds.

The Turkish people could be frustratingly inefficient at times. Traffic laws, especially right-of-way ones, are a mere suggestion. And Debbie and I were extremely frustrated when our return flights were delayed, causing a missed connection - almost no one at the airport was able to help, or even comprehend the problem. In spite of all this I must say that everyone we met was outgoing and friendly, helpful and gracious. We never felt threatened in any way. Izzet was the best of the best. What a great tour director he was.

I've already noted how our travelling companions were from all over the world; about as diverse as a group can get. And we all got along swimmingly well. I think that to a person, we all thoroughly enjoyed one another's company, and will now consider ourselves all lifelong friends.

Our Gang

On the whole, this trip is better than we imagined, maybe better than we could have imagined.

Here is a link to our photos, all 400+ of them. And here's a link to my running blog post about my running in Turkey.