A Travellerspoint blog

AMMAN & WADI RUM, JORDAN

Amman, the capital city of Jordan, and the beautiful orange desert of Wadi Rum.

sunny 25 °C

When I announced to my friends & family that I had booked a trip to the Middle East they freaked out! I cant even count how many emails & facebook msgs I received from people telling me I'm crazy to go (cuz I was going solo, just me & my blonde hair), and "Don't you know its not safe?!" This all coming from people who have never actually been there, and most of whom aren't travelers at all. They just see 'scary' things happening in the Middle East, and then assume the WHOLE Middle East is the same - a scary war zone. Well, I'm here to tell you guys that its not true. Unfortunately the news/media wants us to believe one thing, but in reality its another. Also, It may seem like I book my trips on a whim, but I plan each one out for at least a year, reading blogs and msging the bloggers personally with questions, plus reading guide books, etc. If someone who has been there and had first hand experience traveling within a country I plan to visit tells me its not safe, I will listen ... but people who don't ever travel or leave their couch ... not so much. I also keep an eye on the news as well ... but just because something is happening in Syria doesn't mean it affects Jordan in anyway. Google Jordan. Right now. Do it. Nothing bad comes up about this country. Ever.

But since this was my first time to the Middle East, and even though I knew enough not to believe all the crap exaggerated in the news, I still decided to do a 6 day tour of the country with Geckos Tours for only $525 tax inc. Cant go wrong with that price! All my accommodation was inc, as was all breakfasts, transportation, and admission to the sights. The only extras were the other meals and a few optional activities. Joining a tour gave my mother a bit of peace of mind, knowing that I wouldn't be on my own. And if by chance something does happen, the tour is rerouted to avoid the 'danger zone'.

Jordan was the 3rd country of my 5 country / 5 week trip. I flew to Amman, Jordan from Istanbul, Turkey. I read a ton of travel blogs regarding Jordan ... and all said the same thing - that Jordan was safe and super friendly! And they were right, I had nothing to worry about at all!

I arrived in Amman one day prior to my tour beginning. Right off the bat I noticed how friendly the people were ... the customs official was laughing & joking with me! That definitely never happens in other countries, lol! People in the airport were all friendly & helpful leading me to where I could find a taxi. Driving to my hotel, I noticed the city is modern, clean, and people actually drive between the lines!
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The next morning I wandered around Amman, solo. If you had told me yesterday, or any other day of my life, that on this day I would wander around a Middle Eastern city alone, and end up befriending a local Jordanian man and hanging out for hours, I would've laughed at you! But that's exactly what happened today!

My new friend Muhammad
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I was walking around taking a few photos and trying to find my way to the Roman Amphitheatre. A local man noticed me wandering and waved. I waved back, and then decided to approach him and ask him directions to the amphitheatre. He didn't speak much English, and I only know 3 words in Arabic, and so instead of him just pointing randomly, he actually led me all the way there! A 20min walk through the streets, side-streets, up & down flights of stairs, and bazaars of Amman to get there. Through his bad English and my charades, I discovered that he was actually an of-duty police officer, had been married for 4yrs, and had 2 kids and his name was Muhammad. When we arrived at the amphitheatre he climbed to the very top with me. We sat up there taking in the view over the city.
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Then we climbed down, and 2 Palestinian men on vacation in Amman wanted to take a photo with me (as I was the only blonde woman for miles), lol! They spoke great English and we joked around for a bit, and they translated a few things to my new friend. Then he led me all the way back to my hotel! We had spent about 3hrs hanging out at this point. I was thinking to myself how much I should tip him, when he shook my hand and said "Thank you for coming to Jordan, I hope you enjoy your trip", and walked away. That would not have happened in any other country - people want tips for everything! But not in Jordan. Here, the people are truly grateful that you have traveled to their country :) Everywhere I went people where saying "Welcome", rather than "Hello".

As for safety ... well obviously I felt safe otherwise I wouldn't have gone off with Muhammad. Jordan just has some unfortunate neighbors that make it into the news far too often, such as Israel, Syria, Egypt & Saudi Arabia. But none of what is happening in those other countries has leaked into Jordan at all. Had I known it was going to be like this, I wouldn't have bothered signing up for the tour, I would have traveled here solo like I do most other countries. Actually, I did know it was going to be like this, tons of travel blogs told me so ... but I just couldn't believe that a country could be so friendly, and that a country in the Middle East could be so safe. But I'm telling you it is, so if you've dreamt of coming here, don't hesitate any more! Its one of my favorite countries for sure :)

Ok, so now for the tour. Since I was traveling solo, I was paired up with another solo woman. Had there been no other solo women, I would've had a room to myself at no extra cost. You can pay extra to guarantee a private room, but it nearly doubles the cost of the trip. I ended up being paired up with a woman from South Africa (my favorite accent). We got along great, she is just like me - would rather stay up til 1am talking about traveling, rather than partying all night.

One day 1 of the tour we had a quick tour of Amman, with a stop at the amphitheatre (but not enough time to climb to the top and actually enjoy it, so I'm glad I came here the day before with Muhammad), and King Abulla I Mosque (which is across the street from a Coptic Christian church). Our guide, Suhaib, said Jordan is a peaceful country because it tolerates/accepts all religions (evidence of this was clear with the mosque & church being across the street from eachother) unlike a lot of neighboring countries who constantly have Holy wars due to everyone thinking their religion is superior to the next person's.

It took 4hrs to drive from Amman to Aqaba on the Red Sea. We traveled in an 18 seat bus, but there were only 9 of us, so everyone got their own row :) The first 2hrs of scenery were ... well ... nothing. Quite literally. I live in Saskatchewan, and I thought this was the most boring, flat place on earth. But at least we have trees. For 2hrs I didn't see anything. No trees, not even weeds. Just dirt. We did however get to see a man and his herd of camels crossing the street!
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Look at the baby camel! I didnt know camels could be that color!
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At the halfway point we stopped for lunch. The second half of the drive was a lot most scenic as we entered the beautiful mountains. They glowed orange in the sunlight, and changed to red, pink and purple as the sun slowly set. We had a quick stop at a lookout point, and then quickly got back on the bus again to try to make it to Aqaba in time for the sunset.

My Geckos Tours group, minus the guide (he was taking the photo). I would like to point out that of the 9 people in the group, 5 were solo travelers, plus 2 couples. My friends/family think I'm such a weirdo traveling this world alone, but in reality solo traveling is more common that people think. Solo travelers out-numbered the couples on this trip :) (singles on the left, couples on the right)
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But sadly we missed it by about 5min! The sun sets at 430pm here in November!!
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The next morning was an optional snorkel/dive tour in the Red Sea. I had a migraine so I passed. I wont write about Aqaba as I didn't actually get to experience it :( After everyone returned from the Red Sea, and ate lunch, then we hit the road in our bus and headed to the orange desert of Wadi Rum! Admission to the national park, and a 4x4 ride into the dunes was all included in the tour price. The vehicles were actually just old pickup trucks with benches in the back and old blankets for roofs, lol! We were split into 2 groups and put on 2 4x4s. Suhaib tied my sarong on my head like a traditional Jordanian headdress, and away we went!
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I LOVE deserts! I have seen many, but they are always awesome no matter how many times you see them! And Wadi RUm is fabulous cuz it has mountains too! We stopped at the 7 Pillars of Wisdom for a photo op.
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Next stop was a sand dune, where we were given time to all climb to the top for awesome views!
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Look at the top right of this photo - you can see tiny people on top of the dune.
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I love the orange sand!
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Views from the top.
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We arrived at a Bedouin camp where we had the option of taking a camel ride (this was one of those things that costs extra). We all said no - I think we'd all done it before elsewhere. I know I had. Another great thing about Jordan is that the locals dont hassle you to buy stuff. They ask you once if you would like a camel ride, you politely decline, the end. Now if this was Mexico ...
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Near the camp there were 2100yr old rock carvings! Cute little camels :)
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Next up was another Bedouin camp where we were served some yummy tea! Sage, cardamom, and cinnamon, delicious :)
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And lastly, we stopped at a cliff to climb to the top to watch the sunset :)
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My roommate Leonara enjoying the sunset.
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It was a long ways down! Everyone else climbed up & down the cliff no problem. I on the other hand have fractured both of my ankles in the past, so they are now weak and roll easily. I thought for sure I was going to sprain an ankle ... But I made it!
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Thats it for the fabulous Wadi Rum! I hope I have inspired you to travel to the Middle East! I absolutely enjoyed my time in Jordan, and not once felt unsafe. Even with my blonde hair uncovered. Jordan is more modern than you think. In the big cities a lot of women dress just like Western women - jeans & tshirts, heads uncovered. Its not until you get out into the country-side where woman are a bit more conservative. But not once was I harassed for what I was wearing. I was only smiled at and welcomed to Jordan dozens of times :)

Next up is PETRA - my whole reason for visiting Jordan :)

Posted by ChantelleS 16:56 Archived in Jordan Tagged cliffs desert sand rock dune jordan wadi rum bedouin Comments (0)

EPHESUS & KUSADASI, TURKEY

The Greco-Roman ruins of Ephesus, and the Mediterranean beachfront city of Kusadasi.

sunny 21 °C

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From Pamukkale my original plan was to go to Fethiye, but Fethiye's forecast was rain for the next 5 days :( So I headed to Kusadasi instead. Minibuses headed there take 3hrs, and cost 35L ($17CAD). It Dropped me off across the street from my hotel, Hotel Sozer, which was located right across the street from the Mediterranean! It wasn't super fancy, but had free breakfast & free wifi, and a rooftop terrace with a pool overlooking the sea, and there was a beach 2min walk away. Only $35CAD ... not bad at all for all that! Above is a photo of the boardwalk that extends for a long ways in both directions. Its lined with restaurants, bars, and shopping.
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Kusadasi is Turkey's biggest/busiest cruise ship port. One day there were 4 ships in port!
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Watching the ships come & go
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A stray dog came and befriended me at the beach. He laid beside me the whole time. He even fell asleep with his head on my sarong that I was using as a beach blanket :)
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If you head east along the boardwalk you will eventually come to the causeway out to Pigeon Island and its fortress.
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Of course it was closed for restoration when I was there, but its free to walk around the outside.
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There were a lot of locals fishing from the causeway.
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From Kusadasi, the ruins of Ephesus are only 19km away. Dolmuses (mini van taxis) are $4CAD each way. They drop you off on the highway, and then its a 3km walk to the lower gate entrance. Admission is 30L ($15CAD).
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The main thing everyone comes to see is the library (featured above), and I am one of those people, lol!! And it did not disappoint! The details were incredible!!
This is the main 'path' leading up to the Library of Celsus.
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View of the library from the other side.
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The 3 level amphitheatre which can hold 25,000 people. Each range of seating is pitched more steeply than the one below, thereby improving the view & acoustics for the spectators in the upper seats.
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If you keep wandering you will happen upon these ancient toilets! Taking a poo was a public event back then! I was told that entertainers would come in and put on a show while you poop with your friends!! Can you imagine, lol!!
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Water used to run underneath to wash away all the 'deposits'.
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Itty bitty mosaic tiles
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Kitty sunning herself on the mosaic tiles that were roped off for humans. Sneaky kitty.
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Do these cats even realize they live in an ancient city?!
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Sarcophagi
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Well, thats it for the Kusadasi/Ephesus area. I headed back to Istanbul after a few days here. I flew from Izmir (nearest city with an airport, 1hr from Kusdasi) to Istanbul for only $55CAD, which was only $10CAD more than the 10hr night bus option.

Next up ... Jordan!!!

Posted by ChantelleS 11:48 Archived in Turkey Tagged ruins turkey roman asia ephesus kusadasi Comments (0)

PAMUKKALE & HIERAPOLIS, TURKEY

White terraced pools of hot blue water & the Roman ruins of Hierapolis

sunny 23 °C

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I took a 10hr night bus to Pamukkale from Goreme for $28CAD. During the last hour the bus stopped, woke everyone up, and switched from the bus to several vans. Not sure why as no one spoke English. But the vans dropped everyone off at a hotel in Pamukkale where we were all allowed to store our backpacks for free. Breakfast was also being served here for 10L ($5CAD). From this hotel its a short walk to the entrance of the travertine terraces.
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Admission is 25L ($12.50CAD). You must remove your shoes and climb the terraces barefoot. (This is to protect the terraces and keep them clean - you are allowed to climb in socks). If you try to sneak in with your shoes on a security guard will furiously blow his whistle at you. If you don't want to climb the terraces, there is another entrance up the hill that enters through the Hierapolis ruins with lookout points over the terraces. But I chose to climb.
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Pamukkale's terraces are made of travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by water from the hot springs.
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It looks like snow & ice, but actually is a hotspring. However, the water at the bottom is cold, but the higher you climb the warmer the water gets. At the top the water is hot!
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A lot of the terraces were empty - no water. None of the guards spoke English, so I'm not 100% sure why. But from what I gather, certain pools are full at different times of the year. So no matter what time of year you go, some will be full, and some will be empty.
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View over the town and the pond at the bottom of the hill.
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Tourists soaking their feet in the hot water.
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Your admission ticket also includes entry to the Roman ruins of Hierapolis located at the top of the travertine terraces. There is also a swimming pool with fallen Roman columns, but this costs an extra 20L ($10CAD). Just swim in the terraces ... its the same hot water and its already included with the admission.
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How is this arch even staying up?!
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The main draw here is the amphitheatre, which holds up to 12,000 spectators. Follow the path up the hill to get to it.
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This is the amphitheatre from the outside ... not nearly as impressive as the inside.
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The Northern Roman Gate
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I found this massive snail (slug?) amongst the ruins. Does he even realized where he lives?!
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The grounds were pretty too!
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At the bottom of the travertine terraces is a pond full of various hungry ducks, and its lined with restaurants.
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Posted by ChantelleS 12:05 Archived in Turkey Tagged ruins europe asia pamukkale amphitheatre hierapolis Comments (0)

CAPPADOCIA, TURKEY

Hot air ballooning, Goreme Open Air Museum, Love Valley, Uchisar Castle, Urgrup ... and I stayed in a cave hotel!!

sunny 20 °C

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Cappadocia ... WOW! Its as awesome as I was hoping it would be! From hot air ballooning over the valley of hoodoos, to cave dwellings and underground cities ... such a unique place to explore!

I arrived in Neveshir in the Cappadocia region of Turkey via a 12hr night bus from Istanbul. The bus was $33CAD, did not have a toilet, and only stopped twice. So if you are like me and have a small bladder ... don't drink too much of anything or you'll never make it, lol! I arrived in Neveshir around 7:30am, and then had to wait about 30min for the free shuttle to Goreme.

I really wanted to stay in a cave hotel, but expected them to be expensive. But I found a great deal on Expedia the night before for Castle Cave House ... only $36 to sleep in a cave converted to a hotel!
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It was very basic (there were definitely fancier ones once I walked around town, but this one was in my budget)
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Communal living room area
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The bathroom was great - hot shower with lots of pressure, and there was even a heater in the bathroom! I was here in Late October so evenings were chilly.
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View from my bedroom window
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View from the rooftop terrace
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After checking in I walked around the town a bit. I came across this fancy cave hotel - I'm assuming it was way out of my budget, lol!
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Turkish flag
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Souvenirs for sale
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I tried some Turkish Delight, which was quite pricey. 4 little pieces for $2CAD. None were good enough to buy more. Its just basically flavored jelly candy. Two of them I couldn't figure out the flavor, another was green with a hazelnut on top but tasted like banana, and the other was rose water. That shouldn't even be allowed to be a flavor, bleh.
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When I returned from my walk, the owner of my hotel asked if he could take me sightseeing on his scooter. He said I could pay him whatever I felt was fair. I ended up giving him 100L ($50CAD).I probably could have given less, but on my walk I had noticed tour agencies offering bus tours for that price. Except bus tours only go to a few places, and he took me to all the places I wanted to see! A full day of sightseeing, crossing everything off my list, staying at each place as long as I wanted rather than being stuck on a tour's itinerary, was worth $50 to me.
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Our first stop was Goreme Open Air Museum. Admission was 20L ($10CAD). In all honesty, this place is a tad overrated and over priced. A lot of the cave dwellings were blocked off by chains or ropes, and the ones you were allowed into you could not take photos in. For $0 you can pull over on the side of the road at any other cave dwelling and climb all over it, taking as many photos as you want.
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I was able to sneak a few photos inside one of the dwellings before being yelled at by a guard. A lot of the dwellings were ancient churches.
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A tunnel I had to crouch down to get through
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After about 30min here I asked my new friend to take me to more cave dwellings that I could climb on and explore better. So he took me to Urgrup ... which is free! Perfect price for me :)
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Nearby were a few restaurants, ice cream stand, souvenir stands, a camel waiting to have his photo taken with tourists, and a cute little puppy :)
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In the same area there is a hill to climb for great views over the area!
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View over Urgrup
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The next stop was Love Valley ... or "The Valley of Giant Penises" as I call it, LOL! Its definitely obvious how this place got its name!!
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Look for our little scooter ... the hoodoos/fairy chimneys/giant penises are massive!
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Then we headed over to Uchisar Castle. Ah-MAY-zing!! Its the biggest cave dwelling of them all! A whole city carved into it! Now there's a staircase built on one side so you can climb to the top for great views. Admission is 6L ($3CAD).
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360 degree views!
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People really still live in cave houses! Just like the Flintstones :)
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Just outside of the castle a little market was set up selling all kinds of stuff. They let me sample stuff before buying it :)
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Turkish delight
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My new friend also helped me book a hot air balloon ride for the next morning. It cost $190USD. Pickup & dropoff were included, as was a small breakfast.
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Pickup was at 5am, while it was still dark. We were brought to the tour company's office where a small breakfast was served (just biscuits & coffee/tea). Then we were rounded up and driven out to where the balloons were being inflated. It was neat seeing 100s of balloons being illuminated in the dark as they were all being inflated!
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My one complaint is that there were way too many people in the basket ... 28! The tall people (myself included) were stuck in the back, and the short people got to stand in front. So in order to see over the basket's edge I had to fight my way to the front each time :( Below: I'm the one in the toque.
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Once we were all crammed inside and everyone had a photo op, it was lift off time! This was my first ever hot air balloon ride so I had no idea what to expect. It was a completely calm & smooth ride. I really couldn't feel anything at all! It was just like we were floating :)
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Bumping balloons
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The view over Goreme. We were 800m high!
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The flight is timed perfectly with the sunrise. There is a 2nd flight that takes off after sunset which is cheaper, but I recommend splurging on the sunset!
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I forgot to time how long it was, but if felt like an hour or so. We landed in Love Valley amongst all the giant penises, lol!
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The hotel owner let me stay until 9pm before checking out at no extra charge! Probably cuz I over paid for the scooter tour. He also then scooted me to the otogar (bus station) for yet another night bus. This time I was headed to Pamukkale!

Posted by ChantelleS 12:10 Archived in Turkey Tagged caves cappadocia balloon turkey air hot europe asia fairy chimney Comments (0)

ISTANBUL, TURKEY

From the Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia, to the bustling bazaars & souks, to the underground world of the Basilica Cistern ... Istanbul has it all!

sunny 20 °C

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Istanbul ... my favorite city! And I don't say that lightly ... I have been to many countries, even more cities, and all continents but one ... so when I say Istanbul is my favorite city, I truly mean it! And I don't even like cities! I grew up in a small town of about 1500 people; the nearest city was only 150,000 (now grown to 250,000). So skyscrapers, metro systems, and millions of people are all intimidating to me. My city has exactly 0 skyscrapers and no metro system. And when you are at a crosswalk waiting to cross the street, more times than not, you will be the only person at the crosswalk ... on both sides, lol! For real!

Back to Istanbul ... I arrived late at night and took a taxi to my hotel, Askin Hotel Boutique. It was literally 1/2 block from the Blue Mosque (which is why I chose it)!! The photo above is the view from the rooftop terrace! In one direction I could see the Blue Mosque, in the other I could see the Bosphorus River. I had 2 days in Istanbul; my first day in Turkey, and my last day. The first day I had about 1hr of cloudiness before it started raining and didn't stop. But thankfully my last day was perfectly sunny :) So this post will be filled with photos from both days ... some will be sunny, some will not, lol! Thankfully Istanbul is a great city to be in on a rainy day, as it has tons of indoor things to do/see.

First up, the Blue Mosque :) It was WAY bigger than I ever imagined it to be!! MASSIVE! It is absolutely gorgeous ... and free to go inside ;) All ladies have to cover their heads (scarves are provided if you don't have one), everyone (even men) have to have their legs covered, and everyone has to remove their shoes.
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It has 6 minarets (towers) each 210ft tall, and has the biggest courtyard of all the Ottoman mosques. Inside there were aerial photos of what the mosque looks like at full capacity ... below is a photo of that photo.
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The outer dome is 141ft tall, and the inner dome is 77ft tall.
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The inside was amazing! Way fancier than any cathedral I've visited that's for sure! Four baobab-sized pillars held up the domed ceiling, and every inch was covered in mosaic tiles!
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Across the street / other side of the fountain, is the Hagia Sofia mosque.
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On the other side of the Hagia Sofia, is the Topkapi Palace, which I never did make it to :( All 3 are pretty much in a row.

By now it was pouring rain, so I ran over to the underground Basilica Cistern (across the street in the other direction from the Hagia Sofia). So many great things to see all close together!
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Admission is 20 Turkish Lira ($10CAD). This incredible underground 'basilica' was built in 532. It is 65m wide, 143m long, and its arched roof is held up by 336 pillars arranged in 12 rows. It used to hold the city's water, up to 80,000 cubic meters, and was pumped through nearly 20km of aquaducts!
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Now there is only about 1.5ft of water in it, and there are fat fish living in it! Its quite an eerie feeling down there in the dark, hearing the ceiling drip with water, the echoes, the fat creepy fish ... but well worth a visit! I have never seen anything like it anywhere else!

If you are looking for street food, it will be everywhere! Be sure to try the fresh squeezed orange juice :)
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Next up was a visit to the Grand Bazaar. Its completely covered, so its great on a rainy day. You can find absolutely everything under the sun for sale here! From carpets to gold jewelry, from slippers to handpainted dishes, from belly dancing costumes to perfumes! My favorite were the lantern/lamp shops! Lanterns were hanging & lit from every wall, plus the ceiling, and some were standing on the floor. So colorful, like Christmas :)
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Carpets for sale around every corner!
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Beautiful hand painted dishes.
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Perfumes
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Turkish Delight of every flavor imaginable, plus some things that I had no idea what they were.
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All kinds of souvenirs!
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Like I said at the beginning, My last day in Turkey was a sunny, clear day in Istanbul, so the sunset on my last day was perfect :) If your hotel is located anywhere in the vicinity of the Blue Mosque, and has a rooftop terrace, be sure to go up top to watch the sunset! You wont be disappointed!
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As the sun was setting, the call to prayer began. The muezzins of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia take turns, each saying a line, back and forth. I'm not muslim, but I was completely moved & overwhelmed by this! Add in the setting sun silhouetting the Blue Mosque's minarets ... I love Istanbul :D There are still so many things I would like to see/do in Istanbul, like take a ferry down the Bosphorus River, visit the Rumeli Hisari fort, go inside the Topkapi Palace & Hagia Sofia, walk on the city walls, watch a twirling dervish show, etc. I truly hope I will be back one day!
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Posted by ChantelleS 12:33 Archived in Turkey Tagged mosque basilica turkey muslim europe asia cistern souk bazzar Comments (0)

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