Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Travel to Turkey - TÜRKIYE ODYSSEY . . . A Glimpse of the Land of Emperors, Sultans and one idyllic mountain-top inn

It was a dark and stormy night ... Just kidding!!!! It was a sun-shiny day in Dubai as we boarded our flydubai flight to Istanbul. We are holding true to our promise to travel the surrounding region while living in Dubai. Roger's long standing appreciation of The Crusades and the rise of the Ottoman Empire sends us on a 10-day trek through Tűrkiye.  
Katie & Roger with the Blue Mosque at sunset
Our trip begins in a charming, actually drop dead, breath-taking, boutique inn located above a small village in the mountains along the Aegean coast. 

For four days we explore the ancient sites in and around Ephesus. And while the sites are astounding, we often wish we booked a day to just stay and enjoy this little jewel of a hotel perched on the side of a hill.

From there we travel to the alpha city, Istanbul, whose grandeur and sheer size completely takes us by surprise. This is a city of never-ending grand palaces, eerie underground cisterns, luxurious harems, jaw-dropping churches and mosques and ancient history on every corner. Our only regret is we leave before even making a dent in visiting all its wonders. Just means we have a great excuse to return! 
Mosaic in Istanbul's Chora Church of the
Virgin Mary's presentation to Joseph 
To really appreciate what we see, is it important to have at least a basic understanding of the long and conflicted history of ancient Tűrkiye, also known as Anatolia

It is a history of the most powerful rulers of the ancient world which reflects the city's significance as a transcontinental country bridging Asia and Europe.

Our odyssey follows in the steps of a parade of conquerors. Anatolia’s first known inhabitants lived in caves in 23,000 BC.  In 14th century BC it was ruled by the Bronze Age Hittites. Next came the Mithridates, the Mysians, Alexander the Great even the Celts.  In 250 BC we see the rise of the Kingdom of Pergamum; in 129 BC, Tűrkiye is the Roman Province of Asia ('Asia Minor') with its capital at Ephesus.

St. Paul the Apostle traveled here preaching to Christian and Jewish communities in the first century AD. In 330 AD Roman Emperor Constantine the Great dedicated Constantinople (present day Istanbulas the 'New Rome.”

Hagia Sophia

Justinian, regarded as the greatest Byzantine emperor who reigned from 527-565 AD, builds the Hagia Sophia, the largest and most splendid church in the world. By 1071-1243 AD the empire of Seljuk Sultanate of Rum rules Anatolia. During the 1000s-1200s AD, Crusader armies fought their way across this ancient country.   

Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk)
In 1288, the great Ottoman Empire is established by Osman, a warrior chieftain. In 1423, Sultan Mehment II 'the Conqueror' captures Constantinople and during the reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in 1520-1566 the great age of the Ottoman Empire occurs. The 1876-1909 reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II is the last of the powerful sultans. 

By 1923 Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) is successful in abolishing the last vestiges of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic is established with Atatürk as its first president.

Whew!! One of the greatest challenges I face during this trip is keeping the dates and characters of Turkish history straight! I am very thankful to have “all knowing” Roger is at my side to help me as we plunge into this rich and fascinating history.  

Our driver "Ati"
With fond memories of last year's trip through Jordan, we again opt for a personal guide. We believe this is the only way to truly enjoy countries where we don't speak the language. 

Guides familiar with the area lend such a personal touch to an otherwise one dimensional experience. I personally appreciate being relieved of the pressure of being the navigator. We never get lost on this trip.

We land at Istanbul’s Sabiha Airport, easily obtain our visa and are soon on a short flight to Izmir, Tűrkiye’s third largest city -- the jumping off point of our odyssey. Atilla, (yes, as in The Hun) nickname Ati, is our charming and extremely adept driver, who quickly loads our luggage and speeds us off to our accommodations in the remote rural village of Şirince.  


At the suggestion of our Istanbul friend, Rukiye Devres Unver, we book into the enchanting Nişanyan House.  At first a bit daunting for me as the rustic terrain makes it a challenge to walk, nonetheless I am able to convince a deeply concerned Roger to stay.  

Our host Sevan Nişanyan, a writer of Armenian descent, created this quiet and private inn on the side of a mountain overlooking pastoral Şirince. The setting offers the feeling of a “traditional Aegean village.” 

Our rustic cottage #5 “Dalmalti, The Hideaway,” is just otherworldly. I feel like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz or maybe Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole. This is like a place you read about in fairy tales. More to come on this heavenly place.

For the next four days, our lovely guide, Canan takes us through the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Supposedly founded by the Amazons, and once the capital of Asia, it is regarded as the ‘best-preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Travertine ledges of Pamukkale
We also visit The House of the Virgin Mary believed to be the home of the Virgin Mary during her last years and today a sacred pilgrimage site for Christians and Muslims; Pergamum the site of the Asclepion, ancient Rome’s heralded medical centre, and the Acropolis; and the matchless splendor of Pamukkale the site of ancient Roman spa-city of Hierapolis with its eerie necropolis (cemetery) and moon-scape looking  travertine ledges created by underground mineral hot springs that form green aqua pools accented by the white sodium salts.

“Because of the long list of rulers with different religious beliefs Tűrkiye has had over the ages, there is a tradition of religious tolerance.” Cana explains. “In Tűrkiye we have Christian, Muslims and other religions peacefully living together leaving each to their own religious practices.”

To demonstrate this she shows us a unique sight in Şelcuk, where the remains of the pagan Temple of Artemis -- the great mother goddess of eastern religions -- is neighbor to Isa Bey Mosque, a Christian church and an Ottoman castle.  

We sadly leave the idyllic Nisanyan House for a quick flight to the alpha city -- Istanbul. I can feel

Roger’s pulse quickening, not for me this time, but for Istanbul who holds so much history and treasure in her bosom.  Am I jealous? Not for a moment!  I love Roger’s intense fascination with this celebrated city of 13.26 million inhabitants.

The Alpha City of Istanbul . . . to be continued on Thursday . . .

Postscripts . . .
A cottage at the Nişanyan House
Thank you Susie and Rukiye  . . . Following the footsteps of good friends is always a great way to plan a trip. 

Thanks to the sage advice of Susie Black, Mount Dora, Florida, USA and Rukiye Devres Unver, Istanbul, Tűrkiye, our odyssey was fantastic. 

Susie introduced us to Rukiye who coached us on what to see and do in her native Tűrkiye. Best advice received was to stay at the Nişanyan House in Şirince. This was only topped by the delightful meal we shared in her home with Selma her amazing daughter and Gully her wonderful mother.


  1. A lovely read about of my favorite destinations, Turkey. We haven't been to this area in all the times we have visited Turkey; but now we will definitely make a stop I am eagerly looking forward to Part II.

  2. Sadly I "only" saw Istanbul, but it was fabulous and I would give anything to be able to return and explore the country. Can't wait for the next part.

  3. Hey Katie,
    It sounds fabulous! We've sailed the waters of the Aegean but have never been to Turkey. It's on the list and now I want to go even more!
    Can't wait for part II!
    Anne :)

  4. Wonderful Katie! That city is just magical, I'm so glad I visited and I hope to go there again soon. Love the photos, too.

  5. Really Nice post Katie:)
    I traveled across Turkey in a car twice, first as an 11 year old and later as an adult. The first time my parents drove us from East Europe to Iraq (!) Later, my husband and I took our four children on an insane trek from Qatar to Croatia in a Honda minivan.Loved the towns of Bodrum, Antalya,Antakya then on to Izmir,Istanbul etc. plus the haunting hills and caves of Cappadocia.
    Never had the time to enjoy this rich culture the way you did though. Thank you for sharing because I learned a whole lot more about the historical facts here than I did while there...I always find your posts full of lovely information that might escape someone else's eye.
    I definitely need to go again...Oh and the music is incredible don't you think?
    Looking forward to hear more of your Turkey Adventure!

  6. Your descriptions are lovely and I only wish I could go on all you adventures.I have only been to Istanbul, but it is PHENOMENAL!

  7. WOW, a phenomenal read and you painted such a lovely picture. I would never have thought to visit this part of the world and your adventure certainly has me considering new possibilities.

  8. Hi Katie
    Its always fun reading your posts.Glad to know that u enjoyed ur trip to turkey immensely.It brought back memories of our trip to Istanbul last year.Eagerly looking forward to visit this historical place again.BTW saw ur pic and comments in'Friday'about ur experience as a volunteer in 'adopt-a-camp'.Keep up the good work.
    Say hi to Angela.
    Shruti(Quba class)

  9. On our bucket list! Great read Katie!!