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2.23.2016

Travel Tuesday: Turkey by Plane, Bus, Boat, and Taxi

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before our 12 hour flight from Houston to Istanbul

I wanted to title this post “Turkey by Plane, Train, and Automobile,” but we didn’t actually take any trains during our recent trip. Since we did use a few different types of transportation to get around, I thought I would share my thoughts on each.



Eyes less bright, and tails less bushy after our overnight flight

Taxi
Although I didn’t personally experience any shadiness with taxi drivers in Turkey, when planning for our trip I read that some cab drivers in Istanbul try and take advantage of tourists. See this article for some advice, but I heard that it is advisable to ask a taxi driver in advance about how much it will be to get from your point A to point B so you can hold them accountable. Making sure the meter is running is also generally a good tip with cab drivers abroad. I learned this lesson the hard way in Bangkok years ago, and now know to do my research in advance and be on guard for potential swindling when in taxis in other countries.  Once burned, twice shy.

Bus
Although there are flights between major cities in Turkey, we opted to try overnight buses during a few legs of our journey. This allowed for us to save the cost of a hotel night (not a bad deal since the overnight buses run between 70-100 TL each, much less than the cost of a hotel), and it allowed us to maximize our time in the cities without taking time out for airport travel. We did two overnight buses: one from Istanbul to Marmaris, and one from Fethiye to Goreme. We took Metro Turizm for both, and had a great experience both times. The buses were clean and comfortable, the staff friendly, AND there was Wi-Fi and TV. Not too shabby!  Since we did the journeys at night, we didn’t get to see much of the countryside, though we were amused that at one point our bus drove onto a ferry while we crossed a waterway. It was unexpected, but a fun piece of the overall adventure. A few things to note about the bus journeys: First, you can’t book them online in advance from outside of Turkey. You could if you were in Turkey, or you can buy at the station. Second, the staff on the buses didn’t speak English, which was fine, but it meant we had to remain aware to understand how long our pit stops would be, and where we needed to get off. Overall, I recommend the overnight bus option for those who are trying to save some money and also maximize time at their destinations.
 
After two fun days in Istanbul, we were pretty tired by the time we caught our bus
 
The hubs couldn't wait to get on the bus before passing out, and took a snooze right in the bus lobby
 
Overnight bus selfie!
 
We were surprised when our bus pulled onto a ferry boat to cross a waterway!
 
The ferry ride in the middle of the overnight bus ride was a fun diversion
 
Thankfully, restroom stops were frequent on the long bus ride
 
Gas station snacks are a fun way to see some of the local flavors of familiar brands.  Who would have thought we would have found Tex-Mex across the world?
 
The overnight bus ride not only got us from point A to point B, but it also saved us the cost of a night in a hotel!  We were able to sleep rather comfortably on the bus.

Ferry
The only time we took a ferry was to get back to Turkey from Rhodes on our return from Mediterranean Delights Fitness Voyage. Though this advice would be applicable to anyone trying to get between coastal Turkey and the Greek islands. We took our ferry from Rodos to Fethiye. Now, I had heard this in advance, but for some reason still figured it would work out OK for us: ferries in Greece are notoriously late and you are at their mercy. Despite taking off on time from Rodos, our ferry took 1.5 hours longer to get to Fethiye than it was supposed to, which caused us to miss our bus to Goreme (luckily Metro Turizm was helpful in getting us onto another bus). The lateness of the ferry was quite stressful. However, it doesn’t look like you have much of a choice when trying to get between Turkey and the Greek islands. Flights were incredibly expensive, and the itineraries would have been long (since many layover in Athens). My advice here is to be flexible, and don’t plan anything too close to your supposed ferry arrival time.

Plane
The only plane we took during our trip (not counting our flight to and from Turkey) was between the Cappadocia region (Kayseri) and Istanbul. The price on Onur Air was great, and we were able to land at IST (Ataturk airport) in Istanbul in plenty of time for our Turkish Air flight from Ataturk back to the US that same day. It appeared that the cost of flights between Istanbul and Dalaman were great too if you wanted to fly (as opposed to taking the overnight bus) between Istanbul and the coast, but the flight times weren’t conducive to our travel schedules during this trip.


Waiting at the airport
 
If you have any questions about the methods of transportation we used to get around Turkey, comment below, or hit up @fabeverydayblog on social media. For more information and reviews from our trip to Turkey, check out these other blog posts: MDFV, Istanbul Street Food, 2 Days in Istanbul, Cappadocia

2.20.2016

The Zach Serves Up More Family Theatre Magic with James and the Giant Peach


We had a fun family date night last night!  We went to see the opening of James and the Giant Peach at Zach Theatre in Austin (part of their Theatre for Families series).  After the great time we had at Zach's Winnie the Pooh performance in the Fall (see the blog post here), the boys could not wait for another chance to experience the theatre magic.  They were positively antsy all week in anticipation, theorizing on how the production crew would create a giant peach, how it would fly, etc.  It warmed my heart to see how the last theatre experience stuck with them as they wondrously fantasized about what James and the Giant Peach would be like.
 
The Roald Dahl classic brought to life with song and dance for the stage

Directed and choreographed by Abe Reybold, this musical adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic is a fun update that captures the magical spirit of the book.  I was immediately impressed with the makeup and costumes, which were done in a steampunk style.  The steampunk theme continued with some of the elements of the set design, which had a vintage industrial feel.  This was a fun take to bringing the book to life along with song and dance. 
 
Spiker and Sponge (played by Amber Quick and Kim Stacy) provided comedy throughout the performance
 
As for the performance, the kids in the audience (mine included) were in awe the entire time.  My boys had smiles spread across their faces throughout, and laughed out loud at the antics of Spiker and Sponge (played by Amber Quick and Kim Stacy), who brought a level of comedy to the show that even the adults in the audience could appreciate.  The beautiful singing voices of Sara Burke as Lahdalord (who we saw as Piglet in Winnie the Pooh) and Jessica O'Brien as Lady Bug demonstrated the level of talent that Zach is able to pull for their productions.  My favorite part of the show was the song by the loveable Earthworm (portrayed by Gustavo Gomez), which had the entire audience (children and adults alike) laughing with joy.
 
Just like when we saw Winnie the Pooh, Zach made the effort to make the entire theatre experience engaging for the children.  There were pipe cleaners and small puppet crafts for the kids to make, activities on the child-geared playbill, and photo stand-in boards in the lobby.  Even more exciting than that, however, was the opportunity for the kids to meet the cast after the show.  My two little fanboys were awestruck when interacting with the friendly actors and actresses... I practically had to pull them away from Diego Rodriguez (who played James) when it was time to go home!
 
James and the Giant Peach plays at Zach Theatre now through April 10th, and you can get your tickets here.  If you are looking for something fun to do with the family in Austin, this show is something that the whole family will enjoy!  We will be watching the Theatre for Families calendar to see what kind of magic the Zach will bring us next!
 
Other parents will understand the struggle of trying to get your kids to stay still for a picture! They couldn't contain their excitement during intermission for me to get them to pose!

My youngest theatre lover playing with his pipe cleaner lady bug during intermission

2.16.2016

Travel Tuesday: An Enchanting Visit to Other-Worldly Cappadocia, Turkey


I have to start by saying that this post is way overdue.  We have so many beautiful photos from Cappadocia that narrowing them down for the blog seemed overwhelming!  After months of procrastination, I finally have my act together, and am ready to share more from our trip to this other-worldly region of Turkey.

After our visit to Istanbul and the fabulous week with MDFV, we spent a few days in Cappadocia.  Our home base was Goreme, which was accessible to many of the wonders the region had to offer.  

Hotel
We stayed at the Divan Cave House hotel in Goreme.  Staying in a cave hotel is pretty much the thing to do in this area.  It was an unforgettable experience!  We decided on Divan Cave House through a combination of their great TripAdvisor reviews and their great price.  They did not disappoint.  Both before and during the trip, their customer service and communication proved to be exceptional.  They helped book our tours, and were also very helpful when we needed to change some of our tour plans at the last minute.  They also have transportation at-the-ready if you don't feel like walking up or down the hill to the center of town (which is really close, it's just downhill).

The view from Divan Cave House hotel included other cliff and cave dwellings, in addition to the ethereal "fairy chimneys" for which the region is famous

Another view from Divan Cave House
 
An upper-deck balcony at the hotel where guests can enjoy their breakfast and a view of Goreme

The entrance to our cave room at Divan Cave House

The room was cozy, with natural stone walls

Nooks for storage and display were carved into the walls of our cave room
 
 
The large breakfast spread at Divan Cave House

Food
Just like in Istanbul (see my post on Istanbul street food for reference), the food in this region was flavorful and hearty, but with some great regional distinctions.  Since our hotel was quite close to the main part of town, we tried a few nearby restaurants, and enjoyed trying what the region had to offer. 

One of our favorite Turkish entrees was kofte (meatballs seasoned with Turkish meat seasoning and spices)

Dondurma, Turkish ice cream, is as delicious to eat as it is entertaining to watch being served

Dondurma

Ayran is a traditional yogurt drink

Stews are very prevalent in this region. You will often find them with aubergine (eggplant for the Americans) and squash, which grow well in Anatolia. 

We were told that we had to try pastirma (Turkish pastrami) when in Cappadocia.  Here we had it with hummus.  The menu had it listed as "hot buttered hummus with bacon."  Yes, please.

Lavash bread served hot and puffy

We feasted on kebab served with delicious Anatolian beans and olives

What to do
Due to some transportation mishaps (more on that in next week's Travel Tuesday post), we had to cancel our Red/North Tour on our first day.  Our hotel guided us on some of the highlights that we could do ourselves without a tour.  They recommended that we not miss the Goreme Open Air Museum or Uchisar Castle, so we made our way to both. 

Goreme Open Air Museum
I agree that this is a must-see in Cappadocia.  This easily-accessible open air museum allowed self-guided exploration of dwellings and ancient churches built right into the unique surrounding rock formations. 

The Goreme Open Air Museum

More of the Goreme Open Air Museum

Another view of the Open Air Museum


Some of the frescoes inside one of the churches

One of the more remarkably well-preserved frescoes that we saw in Cappadocia

Posing for a photo at one of the ancient dining tables inside a cave building at the Open Air Museum

Some crouching and crawling was required

Another lovely exterior view of the Goreme Open Air Museum

Spooky!  Some ancient skeletons in some of the tombs within the museum

A view of some different artwork in the museum. The space was in use for centuries, and different artistic styles from the periods were represented throughout.

Window holes carved into the natural rock formations

Uchisar Castle
Atop the highest point in Cappadocia sits Uchisar, which is a 5km bus or cab ride uphill from Goreme city center.  From here you not only see more of the unique architectural structures of the region, but also a panoramic view. 

Uchisar Castle overlooks Cappadocia

The view of Cappadocia from Uchisar

Uchisar Castle


 
The unique and picturesque terrain can be seen from Uchisar's panoramic view


Green/South Tour
Thankfully we were still able to make our Green Tour the next day.  This was a really convenient way to see even more of the region, since most of these stops were not close to our hotel.  The tour (which our hotel booked for us, but can also be coordinated online or in Goreme from a number of tour companies) included transportation, lunch, and site entrance fees.  Stops for the Green Tour included Goreme Panorama, Derinkuyu Underground City, Selime Monastery, Ihlara Valley, Pigeon Valley, and an Onyx Factory.

Admiring the panoramic view in my comfy new harem pants (aka "most comfortable pants ever")

The surreal view of Cappadocia

The pink and taupe sand and rock were beautiful to see

Green trees lined the valleys

Fairy chimneys are pre-historic lava rock formations that have been sculpted by wind and rain over the millennia

The husband posing with the evil eye tree that overlooks the valley

The Derinkuyu underground city represents a very fascinating time in Turkey's history

One of the large, rolling stone doors (Indiana Jones, anyone?) in Derinkuyu that would block off access to the tunnels in case of invasion

Descending down into the city's lower levels.  The city was about five stories deep and could hold thousands of people, livestock and provisions.

A ventilation shaft in Derinkuyu

One of the grave sites in the underground city

Looking up one of the ventilation shafts towards the sunlight stories above

Selime is a monastery built into rock.  It is the biggest of its kind in Cappadocia.

 

You have to be creative to get around certain parts of Selime

The combination of the natural rock and the man-made carvings were a sight to behold


Over the centuries the space was used as a church, hotel, and museum

Some of the intricate decorative carvings inside Selime Monastery

Carvings and artwork inside Selime

Posing in a window towards the top of Selime Monastery in Cappadocia
 
The view from the window towards the top of Selime

Part of the monastery from a high vantage point
 

Descending back down Selime

Around Selime Monastery in Cappadocia

Some more traditional stone dwellings near Selime

For a moment you'd think you landed on an inhabited foreign planet!

 
The Ihlara Valley, which houses the Peristrema Monastery, is a beautiful hike
 
 
After a hike and ascending a staircase, you enter rock dwellings carved into the side of the cliff
 

Brilliantly-colored frescoes line the walls of the old churches in Ihlara Valley

Frescoes in Ihlara

A frescoe in Cappadocia's Ihlara Valley depicting St. George and the serpent


Ihlara Valley

 
The beautiful Pigeon Valley in Cappadocia
 

Pigeon Valley


They take you to an onyx factory at the end of the tour.  It was fascinating to see how it was carved, and to learn about the different types and colors of onyx.  Not surprisingly, they don't let you leave without going through the showroom.  I fell in love with this dark blue sparkly piece, and my sweet hubby got it for me!

Whirling Dervish Ceremony
We went to a Whirling Dervish ceremony, which was also coordinated for us by our hotel.  I am so glad we did this; it was one of my favorite experiences in Turkey.  The best way to describe witnessing this performance meditation is "enchanting."  I especially appreciated it after reading a bit about it's meaning and origins (here is a great resource).  The ceremony (Sema) takes the participant through a spiritual journey in several stages set to music where they revolve (or whirl) with incredible balance for long periods of time.  If you have an opportunity to witness this yourself, you definitely should.

The beginning of the Whirling Dervish ceremony

Music is a key part of the Sema ceremony

The Whirling Dervish ceremony getting started



A delicious cup of hot apple tea was offered to us after the ceremony

Sunrise Balloon Ride
Just like staying in a cave hotel, it seems almost obligatory to take a sunrise hot air balloon ride when visiting Cappadocia.  There are many options for balloon tour companies, so we deferred to the friendly staff at our hotel to help us decide on a tour that was right for us.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that it was sunny and beautiful on every other day of the two weeks we were in Turkey, we had rain and lightning the morning of our scheduled balloon ride.  The ride was canceled, so we were unable to do it after all.  I guess we will just have to go back someday!

Waiting for our early morning balloon tour pick-up... the fact that I needed an umbrella did not bode well for our chances of taking a hot air balloon flight

Our pouty faces after we learned that our hot air balloon ride was canceled.  I guess we will just have to come back!

Now you can see why it took me so long to narrow this down.  I hope you've enjoyed the photos, and if you have the chance, I hope you get to see this amazing place for yourself.