Other People’s Holidays

We’ve covered some ground since leaving Selçuk and have thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the culture, oceans, and food along the stunning Aegean and Mediterranean coasts of Southwest Turkey.

Rare tree shade made the nice swimming at Hastane Beach in Datça even better

The uncertainties of transport, food , and some customs has been more than offset by the friendly and helpful locals. And we’ve stuck to our slow travel ways and navigated by minibus, ferries, and the comfy longer distance coaches that connect all Turkish cities.

Waiting to get our luggage tags in Antalya; just have your seat number and destination ready for the bus attendant
Blending in for sure in Antalya…the major bus stations are lively and well equipped with shops and snacks

One thing we’ve discovered in our travels are the different experiences that you have in a tourist destination that is popular mostly with local versus foreign tourists. Places that are predominately filled with foreign tourists obviously feel less authentic, but also can comfort you with more familiar foods and languages.

Glad to see bike parking for our rentals bikes at the big supermarket (MMM Migros) in Fethiye

But in the extreme, the experience can be virtually cut off from local customs and people, instead replaced with recreated versions of travelers home cultures. (Full English Breakfasts, Schnitzels, and Guinness anyone?). On the other hand, you have a much better chance of meeting other travelers to share a drink, meal, or good chat with. When you’re on long term travels, this can be a nice respite:

We immediately bonded with like minded travelers, Ute and Klaus from Germany and shared two nice evenings with them. Score one for tourist towns!
Buying tram tickets in Antalya with Klaus…a local contactless transit card is key when you arrive in a new region and then you can easily jump on any form of transit that passes by!

In cities, you can get out of the tourist zones by just heading to other neighborhoods. In San Francisco, this would mean heading out of the Wharf and Union Square to the Mission, NOPA, or Inner Sunset.

Bikes are a great way to get away from the tourist areas, even if it’s only got one speed!

However, in smaller places, there is often little escape. Some of the coastal areas of Western Turkey are heavily impacted by foreign tourists seeking sun and swim holidays, with the priorities to relax, and eat and drink comfortably. I get it, as sometimes that’s all we want to do too.

For some reason we chose to avoid this charter boat in Antalya!

That said, we generally cherish the smaller cities and towns that are off the tourist track completely or more locally touristed. But if you don’t speak the language, getting way off the tourist track takes an adventurous spirit, and can be tiring in the long run. A happy medium is to visit places that are full of local tourists, such as Datça. More on Datça shortly.

Shady picnic spot while hiking in the countryside around Datça

We spent 6 days at the end of Ramadan and the Eid Al Fitr holiday in a great apartment in Bodrum. Transport during this big Holiday can be difficult, so we decided to ride out the celebratory heart of it with the local masses who flee Istanbul and other inland areas to head to the coast.

Bodrum does have some foreign tourists too, but the Turkish tourists dominate, so we did feel like foreigners who dropped onto Cape Cod for July 4th weekend. Bodrum has two big bays separated by a rocky peninsula topped by an ancient castle and a fantastic underwater archeology museum.

View from the Bodrum Castle and Underwater Archeological Museum
Reconstruction of the Uluburun shipwreck, ca. 14th c BCE. This amazing find changed the views on how extensive nautical trade networks were in the Bronze Age.

The West Bay is a glitzy promenade lined with cafes, restaurants, and dozens (hundreds?) of large, bulky boats called “gulets”, which are made locally in Turkish boatyards. The East Bay has a more chill beach vibe, and a good public beach at the far end, where we swam at least once a day.

Self guided hike via taxi and mini bus from Bodrum that took in some of the Bodrum Leleg Yolu, a long distance trail that connects the Peninsula with the famous Lycian Way

As we also discovered on a hike in the surrounding hills, there is a ferry dock with daily boats south to Datça… I looked up the intriguing geographic position of Datça and we had found our next move, especially as we could walk to the ferry.

Our comfy neighborhood apartment in Bodrum

Datça is near the end of an amazing peninsula that juts out into Aegean and is surrounded by dramatic hills, ocean coves, small villages, as well as signature nut tree and olive orchards. We spent the very end of the Eid Al Fitr week holiday period in Datça, and loved sharing the holiday spirit and great restaurants in the downtown area.

Locals only off the beach in Datça

The locals were very friendly, and we did not hear another English voice for 3 days. It’s also very light on car traffic and just has a great cozy feel on the small grid of downtown streets, many car free. As we liked to say when we are in such places, we’re experiencing someone else’s holiday, and it feels that Datça is still a little bit off the radar.

Sunday is a big local activity day in Datça, like this group bike ride…if we only had our bikes!

We headed out of Datça by minibus (via Marmaris) down the coast to Fethiye, a beautiful small coastal city, surrounded by steep hills and (still!) snow capped mountains from every vantage. Lots of ancient Lycian ruins in the area, not to mention beaches and turquoise tinged waters. It’s got a big broad waterfront connected by a lovely 5km promenade, but definitely not as cozy as Datça.

The Lycian era tombs above Fethiye
Appreciating the scale of the tombs
Kaya Village is now a ghost town after the 6,000 Greeks had to leave in 1923

Sadly, we realized that our days in Turkey were actually running out, so choose to head directly to Antayla via an inland coach bus (4 hrs) versus continuing along the Mediterranean which would involve 10 hours of sinuous mini bus hops, and leave little time left for other experiences. A friend had told us we could easily spend two months in Turkey and he was spot on, and we definitely plan to return sometime.

Smokers getting last puffs before boarding. Turkey has way too high a smoking rate and consequently, constant second hand smoke is one of the few downsides to travel here.

Antalya is a large coastal city with a nice old town perched above cliffs of an ancient Roman harbor. We enjoyed a few days there, but wanted to head inland to explore a few more less visited spots, so choose to break up a 7-hour bus trip to Konya with a two night stop at Lake Egidir.

Old Greek houses are in various states of disrepair or restoration in Lake Egidir

It’s a huge inland lake, but fairly shallow, and like many areas in Anatolia, a history formed by the Greek exedous/partition following the Greco-Turkish war in 1923. (Officially it was called a “population exchange ”) Somehow it all now feels a bit spooky, and it all has an air of being neither here or there. But since there are only a few places catering to foreign travelers in town, we did find a vibrant scene at our Pension; reminiscent of Pre-COVID times!

Great chatting with Chris and Hillary from Washington State at Lake Egidir. They are touring Turkey by bike for two months. Very impressive for their first extended bike tour!

We are now in Konya, a more conservative large city, where a smaller number of of “western” tourists visit, as it is a major pilgrimage center for Muslims.

Cheryl peruses the options at the main food market hall in Konya.

We wanted to spend some time in somewhere quite different than many of the more liberal coastal areas we’ve been enjoying. So we’re spending two nights here in advance of a 13-hour night train back to Izmir. There a few long distance night trains in Turkey, but make sure you book a week or more in advance to get one of the limited 2-person sleepers, especially as they are very reasonably priced ($30 for 2). We’ll let you know how it goes, but as Cheryl knows, I really love night trains -:)

Free friendly beach dogs were always available in Bodrum

As much as we are still enjoying new experiences in Turkey, we are both getting excited about getting back on the bikes next week and more long distance bike rambles in Northern Europe. We want to cycle the Baltic coast Eurovelo route, but with issues in the region now, it adds some logistical challenges getting past Kaliningrad, as well as questions of the appropriateness of traveling through Poland and other areas dealing with the stresses of refuges and possible energy shortages.

A romantic sunset with my favorite traveler at Fulya Pension, Lake Egidir

Stay tuned and peace to all.

We came, we saw, we ate.

We weren’t expecting Turkish food to be so varied, and so good. Neither of us have much experience with Turkish food, it’s not something we have a lot of in San Francisco- or at least not that we know of or frequent. We knew it would be good, healthy, and fresh – or so we’d heard, but our expectations were absolutely exceeded. Some of you will love this post loaded with photos of food. Others may roll your eyes and imagine us doing the thing where no one can touch the food until someone properly snaps a cell phone photo. Yes. We did that. A lot.

Our first mezze plate in Istanbul. And our first meal of three at this restaurant, The New Hatay, where we also made new friends- hi Sue and Peter!
Our first documented restaurant cat. It started to feel as if you were never further than 2 meters from a cat in Istanbul, which I was fine with. Feeding the cats with tidbits from your meal was quite usual.

We don’t have photos of every meal, or every restaurant cat (or dog). And I can’t tell you what each dish was, but overall the food was fantastic. Were there awkward moments when we stumbled through a menu with no English translation with the help of Google translate – yes, many! Did we have waiters bring us English language menus that seemed to have no relation to the Turkish menu? Yes. There was some pointing at other table’s food. We muddled through and enjoyed a lot of good meals.

That chef’s special salad in front of me at the Daphne restaurant in Istanbul was a non translated item on the menu. Always a fun choice! It was perfect.

Most of the restaurant dining we did was outside, or by large open windows, but always, always, in the shade. It wasn’t too hot anywhere yet, but I am notoriously sun adverse.

No, that carton of popcorn was not our dinner, the glass of wine and giant beer were followed by hamburgers which I failed to document. This was in the Beşiktaş neighborhood of Istanbul which was noisy and crowded and so much fun.
Oh look! Here we are back at the New Hatay Restaurant for lunch. Why so many visits? It was on a lovely quiet side street, the staff were so friendly and helpful, and the food was good. Pide, which is described as Turkish pizza.

Our one complaint about Turkish dining is the cigarette smokers. Before we pick a table we carefully judge the prevailing wind direction and eyeball the other diners – who’s got cigarette packs on the table, who’s almost done eating and therefore likely to light up? We come from San Francisco which has some of the strictest rules in the world – no smoking at outside tables, no smoking near doors or windows – and it’s lovely to be able to live your life rarely inhaling secondhand smoke. In Turkey you are closer to a smoker than a cat at all times and you will usually be inhaling someone’s smoke. If no one is smoking near you right now, just wait a few minutes. Someone will light up.

Snack break in Izmir on our walk to the shopping mall. Fuse Ice Tea and pastries. In the shade.
Lunch at the mall! That’s Iskender Kebap, döner and tomato sauce on a bed of bread or potatoes. After it comes to your table a lady comes by with a huge pot of clarified butter and pours it on until you say stop.
Kebap in Selçuk.
Cat coveting kebap in Selçuk.
Two fantastic salads, lentil soup, yogurt with dill, cucumber, and garlic oil. Selçuk.
Still in Selçuk, chicken shish kebab for me, I think Rich had beef and mushrooms. The wait was long (we were warned) but the food was delicious.

We rented an apartment in Bodrum and cooked for ourselves for five nights, so no food photos from that town. We also had an apartment in Datça, with minimal cooking facilities though, so we had breakfast and lunch in, and dinner out.

Datça cafeteria style lunch on our first day there. It can be a bit intimidating when you have very little idea of what anything is, but one of the young servers walked us through the line of food. Zucchini fritters and Aubergine casserole, lentil soup, yogurt with dill and garlic oil, rice pilaf and something else yummy. More Fuse Ice Tea.
A small restaurant in Datça that serves only one thing, meatballs, or köfte. Easy ordering, they have one type each day. Two please.
Please please please, says the dog who woke up just as we were served.
One of the most delicious mezze courses. From the right, yogurt with spicy oil, celery heart with strawberries and I think pomegranate syrup, beets with mint and mulberries, red peppers in oil and other delicious things, and I cannot remember what the last dish was. The restaurant made five different mezze each day and you got what they had. All fantastic.
Rich stunned by size of the fresh hot lavash in Fethyie.
Restaurant cat stunned that I shared almost half of one chicken shish with them. Friends for life.
Simit elevenses in Fethiye mid bike ride. A simit is the circular bread which you could be forgiven for thinking is a bagel. Similar, and chewy delicious.

One thing we fantasized about during the long months of stay at home pandemic were hotel breakfasts. Remember that one, we’d say, in Kuala Lumpur? Or that one in Sweden with the fish? We like our breakfasts. A hotel breakfast buffet done well is a travel memory created.

This hotel in Antalya created breakfast memories, for sure.
The second morning we knew to go for a walk first and arrive very hungry.

Turkish breakfasts are huge. Loads of greens and veggies and olives, breads and cheeses, fruit, eggs in spicy tomato sauce. Dried fruit, nuts, yogurt, and as many cups of çay (black tea) as you can handle. And coffee of course, Turkish coffee.

Dinner at the pension at Lake Eğirdir. They would have three options on offer, all cooked fresh on site. With a fantastic view over the lake. Kofte for me and chicken for Rich. And again fantastic mezze. I am on the hunt for a cookbook of Turkish mezze written in English.
Hey, how about a dish that was developed to use up dry stale bread and leftovers bits of butchered animals? Another restaurant that does one thing only. Two please.
Tirit, broken open to reveal the yogurt and bread under the meat. Delicious. This was in Konya, a more traditional city. Oh, that little dish of peppers? Spicy. Very spicy.
Into every trip some comfort food must come. Pancakes in Izmir at a woman owned cafe whose owner also walked me over to her hairdresser for a haircut.

I hope this trip down food memory lane was as fun for you to browse as it was for us to eat. Any restaurant choosing squabbles we may have had are forgotten. Any long treks up and down streets considering and rejecting places to eat only helped sharpen our appetites. To all the restaurant cats I didn’t manage to share meals with, I’m sorry. I did my best.

Me? I got very few tidbits.
The happy well fed travelers on our last full day in Turkey. Overlooking the harbor of Izmir and thinking about lunch.

Ancient sites and a cozy neighborhood.

Like many tourists/travelers, we really enjoy visiting places that are not so clearly tourist attractions. Selçuk is one of those, the town nearest to Ephesus, a 10th century BC settlement. What, you ask? Ephesus is obviously a big attraction, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, with impressive ruins and ongoing archeological work. How is that not a tourist place? All right, it is. But these days many of the visitors seem to arrive for the day, bused in off a cruise ship.

Once again we timed our visit to have some alone time in the ruins.

The town of Selçuk is charming. Some of the cruise ship buses do stop at the Archeological Museum in town, where you can view the most impressive treasures uncovered at Ephesus, but the town itself is a lovely, relaxed, and friendly place and once again we felt like the only non Turkish tourists in town.

Rich at the upper gate of Ephesus. See, this look says – no one else here yet.
Looking up the main road of Ephesus. I am always fascinated by the paving stones. Some of these bore the initials of the workers who laid them in place.
Rich walking down the main road of Ephesus. The harbor used to be very close, but as it silted up the town struggled and eventually failed.
Quickly waylaid by a friendly Turkish cat.
The Library of Celsus, the most recognizable and amazing structure of the site.

The trick to having this site to ourselves was actually setting an alarm clock (something we rarely do these days), arranging for a quick 7:30 am breakfast at our hotel, and being in a pre arranged taxi at 8:00. The taxi dropped us at the upper gate, and with our tickets already bought at the museum the day before, the Selçuk Pass, good at four sites and well worth the price, we waltzed right in to an empty experience. Empty for about an hour, then a few others started to arrive.

The terrace houses. We were equally impressed with the amazingly engineered shelter over the houses.
Plexiglass walkways and a roof to keep the rain and sun off the terrace houses. I’m sure the grad students who are painstakingly piecing together walls and floors appreciate it too.
The amphitheater. Capable of holding 21,000 spectators.
Amphitheater greeter kitty.
Green hills and blooming poppies made for a lovely and slightly heart wrenching view. How terrible it must have been to give up this city.

About two 1/2 hours later as we headed to the lower gate to walk the 3 km back into town, the cruise ship buses had started to arrive. Perfect timing.

Happy travelers in Ephesus.
The travel planner enjoys his well executed plan.

Selçuk has a neighborhood charm we hadn’t experienced yet in Turkey, having only been to big cities before this stop. After returning from an outing earlier than expected, our innkeeper was out running an errand and not there to let us in. Seeing our plight, a neighbor quickly walked over with the innkeepers number already dialed on his cell phone to help us out.

One of the 15 cats adopted and cared for by our hotel host, this one blind, greeting a neighbor.

We slept through it our first night, but on our second we heard the drummer who walks the town beating their drum to wake residents for their “sahur” meal, the first meal of the day eaten before observing the fast of Ramadan. And that night we saw dozens of tables set up in the street so neighbors could share iftar, the meal that breaks the fast.

Storks nesting on the ruins of the aqueduct in Selçuk.

The white storks are referred to as pilgrim birds in Turkey, and one man told us you can set your calendar for the date of their return in March each year. The 15th, he claimed. Always the 15th.

You see the big stork nest cages around town, giving the pilgrim birds a spot to build a nest which can weigh up to 250 kilos/500 pounds.
The top of this mosque will do for these stork parents.
Şirince is known as the ‘Greek village’ about 8 kms from Selçuk.

Our host dropped us off for a lovely walk around Şirince. Although its main street is mostly catering to day trippers, once you walk above town it’s rural rhythms quickly reveal themselves and a frequently running mini bus took us back to town.

Getting the goats home in the afternoon.

On our last morning with one final site on our Selçuk museum pass, and an 11:45 am bus to catch, we walked up above our hotel to the Castle and the Basilica of St. John – a 6th century site which is the believed burial location of John the Apostle. Once again arriving early we had the site to ourselves – well, us and quite a few cats enjoying their breakfast, provided by one of the groundskeepers.

A very common sight, communal cat breakfast.
The model of the Basilica gives you detail of what you’re seeing.
The size of the Basilica, and the amount of carved marble, is amazing.
Heading to the castle, past what we called grad student alley. Piecing together even some of these fragments would take an entire career.
One town, four amazing attractions.
From castle hill looking towards Ephesus.
Off to catch that bus. Quick detour through the Saturday market.
Bus snacks being acquired.

We considered staying longer in Selçuk, but the coast and swimming beckoned. After some holiday traffic induced bus stress, and some luck with a bus connection, we made it to Bodrum to enjoy the holiday ending Ramadan, the three-day Ramadan Bayram, also known as Eid al-Fitr. More on Bodrum in our next post.

The happy travelers looking forward to more of what Turkey has to offer.

Caution, Turbulence Ahead!

As we enter our second week in Turkey, we have finally adjusted to the time zone, food, and some of the customs of Turkish life; even the complex and nuanced lives of the ubiquitous street cats.

Istanbul’s fantastic car-lite tram streets

Meanwhile the world changes faster everyday. Just as it seems we were looking the worst of the pandemic in the rear view mirror, here comes Putin’s invasion! And now a geopolitical, migration and energy crisis is gripping Europe and rippling through the world. The future is always uncertain, but it feels especially daunting heading into the summer of 2022.

Tram operator‘s view – slightly clearer than the outlook for 2022!

The truth about extended travels is that it is hard sometimes, a fact that travel bloggers and instagramers don’t always highlight between the pretty pictures. For us, returning to the US for a month was a mixed blessing. It was so nice to see friends and family, but at the same time, it brought a bit of angst, especially to me, as I have to fight my strong urge to settle down again. I believe nesting is a basic human instinct, especially as you age…. Luckily, Cheryl is more happy go lucky and able to take the long view better than me, which is one of the reasons our life together works so well -:)

It was invigorating to ride with my friends again in SF

San Francisco was at its finest in April, and after our travels, the fruits of vast prosperity, including high quality food, water, parks, and services really stood out in my mind. Not to mention the spectacular scenery, good weather, and tolerant attitudes. It really is hard to beat. But the very purpose of our extended travels is to break us out of our comfort zone, so we pressed on to Istanbul for the next leg of our adventure. San Francisco, we always miss you:

Dinner with some lovely new friends in Istanbul…your world does get bigger with travel.

We have flown coach the past two transatlantic legs (via TAP), but we managed to use miles for two non-stop business class tickets on Turkish Airways for the 13 hour SFO to Istanbul journey; a worthy investment for the comfort of this 6’-5” carcass. It’s also nice to fly the flagship carrier of any country you are visiting as a bit of the cultural experience can start earlier (even if that culture includes talking loudly while everyone else is trying to sleep-;).

Spring at the Blue Mosque

The service and comfort on the flight was great; but regardless, the 10 hour time shift was pretty harsh! We had forgotten the luxury of the previous 7 months of travel in just a few European time zones, and never trotting around a busy foreign city half zombie like…most of you know the feeling.

Trying new foods to kick the jet lag!

Luckily, a friend and infrastructure colleague in the Bay Area connected us with a local American who has taught and is an administrator at Bachesir Univeristy (BAU) for over 20 years, and is married locally with a child. He gave us a fantastic tour of some of the less touristed neighborhoods, including his home in Kadiköy, a more livable and somewhat hipster neighborhood on the Asian side of the Bosporus. There is no better way to stay awake then to have an energetic local share his local knowledge and insight over 5 miles up and down the hills. Thanks Sean!

Preparing the Kokoreç – lamb intestine wrap. Seasoned offal. 😋

We also landed in Istanbul at the height of Ramadan, which meant locals were out by the thousands (tens of thousands) visiting the city’s beautiful sights and passing the daily fast with family and feasts after sunset. Major holidays are always a mixed blessing when traveling. They can mean that lodging and (especially) transport can be at its limits, but you also get the joy and insight of seeing unique traditions unfold.

All things pickled in Kadaköy

We stayed in the heart of tourist Istanbul of Sultanahmet. Although convenient to the big sites, touts and overpriced restaurants abounded, and it often felt like we were not getting the Istanbul experience we craved. However, it also turned out to be a major destination for local tourists to see the tulips in Gulane Park, or, for the more devout to visit The Hagia Sofia or Blue Mosque.

The Hagia Sofia just before Iftar, the breaking of the fast at sundown during Ramadan

Our hotel also suffered from online ratings bloat, as was ranked near #1 on most booking sites. Just as a “top pick” rating in Lonely Planet used to inflate prices, the hotel did not suit our independent travelers nature. Some people love being doted on night and day, with freebies and gifts, but as long term travelers, we definitely stray towards independence and found it all a bit tedious. And poor Cheryl had to listen to my jet-lagged rants on all the poor design elements and annoyances of the hotel!

The best thing about our hotel in Istanbul was the terrace

If you are staying more than a day or two in Istanbul, then I recommend staying across the Golden Horn in Karaköy or Beşiktaş, or even on the Asian side as the Marmaray raíl can get you to the key sites in 10-15 minutes (or scenic ferries). This is where we will stay when we go back, and I think we will go back. So much still to see.

The lively streets of Beşiktaş

Istanbul is truly unique, and a teeming blend of cultures set on an ancient backdrop. The city is fast paced and hectic, but we enjoyed just diving into the stream of humanity and going with the flow.

Tulip Mania in Istanbul

The public transit is also pretty good, but was very crowded, especially the very useful T1 tram line. Make sure to buy an Istanbul transit card at a major metro or Marmaray rail terminal first and charge it with 50 or 100 Lira. Recharging is easier than buying a card.

Good signage on the Marmaray Rail system opened in 2012
Apparently it took the locals awhile to stop holding their breath under the 8-mile Bosporus Tunnel, since it was built so fast!

We had to ask for help using the quirky machines that sell the plastic cards and often seem to be out of service. But there are always genuinely helpful people all around in Turkey. Just ask. Even if they speak no English, they will still go out of their way to try to help. By the way, you can use one card for multiple people, by tagging them through the turnstiles first. There are turnstiles for the trams as well, as they used a platform pay zone system. Amazingly, we saw no fare dodging anywhere, even when it would be easy at low boarding tram stops.

The Grand Bazaar…go for the building and experience, but not necessarily the quality of the goods.

The trams are also nice new Bombardier built rolling stock, and everything is clean and safe, as is most of the City. The new Marmaray Rail system is an extensive system that runs deep under the Bosporus, and is a crucial link for the mega region of 22 million. The new airport lacks rail service and is way out there, so we took a taxi for about $20 and an hour ride, although there are bus options. Apparently rail is planned, although given Turkey’s financial crisis, it may be an unlikely priority give the distance and cost.

Cheryl on the T2 on the outskirts of Izmir
High Density and Green housing on Izmir’s T2 Tram Line

So after 5 nights in Istanbul, we had to figure out our next move: East towards Ankara and Cappadocia, or down the Aegean coat. As often happens in just in time travels, the transport situation pushed us towards a decision.

Boarding the Ferry in Yenikapi, Istanbul

Turkey has been building a backbone high speed rail network, and it is quite successful, but unfortunately so reasonably priced ($3.50 for 4 1/2 hour trip!) and in demand, that all the trains to Ankara and the east were booked out for 2-3 weeks! Doh!

Boarding the once daily Eylul Express in Bandirma

We thought about flying to Cappadocia, but didn’t want to burn the carbon for our convenience, nor face another hour plus trip back out to the airport in traffic. However, a fast ferry to Bandirma and convenient train connection to Izmir still had tickets. So the lesscarmorelife choice was clear. The slow way to Izmir!

An intermediate stop on the Eylul Express
Basmane Station – Izmir after a scenic and comfortable journey

Izmir is a cosmopolitan city on the Aegean that is the heart of liberal and secular Turkey. We really enjoyed our three days there, and did what we love to do in cities…walked though neighborhoods, wandering and exploring, all served by great tram and ferry links.

Public displays of affection are no problem in liberal Izmir

And again our next move was influenced by transport during the end of Ramadan, and a bit of fate pushing back. Our hotel was walking distance to and from the Basmane train station, and trains continued south, so this was the logical choice; however, we did consider the holiday crowds and thought that renting a car in (as was recommended by many) Izmir could make sense, especially as our flight out of Turkey is from Izmir in 3 weeks.

My lovely travel companion in the sunset light of Izmir

Luckily, the Budget site in Europe would not take our credit cards on booking. (also a problem on the Turkish rail site, so we have had to book at stations). So no car for now and we were off to Selçuk by train for a few days.

Cats and their best friend, the fish monger in Karşıyaka
Great lunch at the mall, our ultimate destination after a 6 mile walk through Karşıyaka-Izmir

One of our mantras is that we see what we see, and don’t fret about what we don’t see. You may see more renting a car or flying, but will you experience more?

First global sighting of a tandem bike share – super cool Izmir!

And Selçuk was a lovely big town of about 30 thousand, where we stayed in a very homey and neighborhood located guest house. Selçuk is one of the gateways to Esephus, but as most people visit by cruise ship shore excursion from Kundasi, Selçuk is more of a travelers town, with a very local and relaxed vibe. More on our visit to follow in the next post.

The Happy Travelers in Selçuk

So we are now in Bodrum, a big coastal city that heaves with summer visitors and is quite busy during the Ramadan holiday, but most locals think the weather and water is a bit too cool to swim yet, the beaches are just nicely populated. Sweet. We have a comfortable apartment for 5 days, and are mixing swimming and sightseeing with laundry, sewing, cooking, and blogging -:)

Istanbul. Have we landed in a huge cat Café?

Kitty takes advantage of a micro mobility device to take a bath.

We were ready for the cats of Istanbul, having watched the fantastic documentary from 2016, Kedi, about the cats and the peoples relationship to the many, many, many cats.

Treat for me?

Did that stop me from being bowled over with enthusiasm for each and every cat I saw? No. I’m sure Rich got tired of hearing me announce ‘kitty’ every time I spied a cat. But he is a good sport. Even when I assured him that the cats won’t jump up on the chairs at the restaurant – right before a cat did just that to get access to his lap.

Rich is allergic to cats. Therefore cats love him and seek him out.
Not all cats wanted our attention, many looked like they had places to be, as they trotted along the sidewalks.
Or rested in a slightly out of the way place.
Or did whatever the cats were doing up there. Cat stuff?
The first of many cat photos I took. I got used to this look of mild interest. Many shied away from a petting, but not all.

It warms my heart to see how so many people care for the cats, and stop to give a scratch behind the ears if possible, and how many little cat houses and cat food dot the urban landscape.

At the old train station, now a subway stop since high speed rail has come to town.
Surveying the station.
Museum cat accepts a pet. The blue mosque in the background.

It wasn’t just cats that caught our attention over our five days in Istanbul. The tulip festival was also a delight to see.

Gülhane Park was a riot of tulips.
Sunday was the day to be out enjoying the sunshine and photographing the flowers.
What a lovely way to bring joy to the city.
The Happy Travelers, jet lag almost gone.

There is much more to see and do in Istanbul than we managed to squeeze in, so I hope we’ll be back again sometime. The ten hour time change was tough – we hadn’t had a shift like that in quite a while and we both felt it pretty acutely. We were lucky to have a friend of a friend to meet up with, and made new friends thanks to a charming kitty at a charming restaurant. Hopefully Rich will time to write more about Istanbul, there were a lot things to appreciate from an urbanist transportation point of view.

The Las Vegas I didn’t know.

It had been decades since we’ve visited Las Vegas. How long? Well, casinos were still using coins the last time we visited. And if the fact that the slot machines now print out paper receipts is news to you too – welcome to my shocked world.

The fountains at the Bellagio. Reliable free fun.

We went to Vegas to visit with family who had a trip already planned. That’ll be fun we thought, to be there with people who know Vegas. And was it! I came away with so many insights about this desert vacation mecca. And, a renewed belief that you cannot judge a place you don’t know.

Escalator to heaven?

First realization: It’s a fairly egalitarian vacation destination. You can go high spending, fancy, big gambling budget, top dollar shows, or, as we saw many folks doing, lower budget,weekday, bring food to your room and walk around enjoying the sights. And, according to the gaming reports issued, fewer people are gambling. And more are bringing children with them. As we all know, a child with access to a swimming pool on vacation is a happy child.

Fremont Street Experience. A bit about the “showgirls” in pink feathers and the ones in yellow in the previous photo: you pay them to take a photo with you. Like the cartoon characters and super heros in Times Square, NYC. I am neutral on this – there were quite a few men in cowboy hats or bow ties with bare chests also available for photos – equal opportunity exploitation? If it is exploitation.

Another shock, the walking experience along the strip is actually not bad. Of course it wasn’t hot yet, but the sidewalks are fine, there are pedestrian overpasses with escalators and stairs, and although the urbanist in me screams ‘change the light timing to reflect the real world person through put’ (many more humans on foot crossing the street than people in cars, yet the light is held green for the space hogging cars). There are very few places to stop, sit, and observe life which are not part of a paid experience, but there is quite a bit of outdoor plaza life. And for many, this may be the best walkable, social, planned urban area they get to enjoy.

The spring decorations at the Bellagio. Instagram heaven.
Neon Cowgirl Vegas Vickie.

Although I’m a white woman with no experience of what travel is like for people of color, to me, Vegas seemed like a good place to travel for anyone. The diversity of people, and shared sense of fun, of vacation enjoyment, was really very uplifting. Yes, it’s all wrapped around a gambling culture that wants to separate you from your money, but all seemed to be very welcome. The hospitality felt the same no matter who you were. And the people watching is fantastic. Folks are having fun and looking amazing while they do.

Family time!
The men in blue.

If you find travel interesting, you can find anyplace interesting. This trip was a good reminder to put aside preconceived notions and simply look around and enjoy. There really is no where like Las Vegas.

Rich with a Chihuly backdrop.
The happy travelers.

The best part of Vegas was our time with family, the best part of San Francisco was time with friends. And now we are off to our next adventure, Turkey. We fly to Istanbul tomorrow.

Not skipping stones.

Happy feet in sandals in Venice. Carnival meant confetti everywhere on the large paving stones.

Most folks don’t think much about the asphalt of the streets and concrete of the sidewalks until it’s not asphalt and concrete, but huge blocks or small chunks of stone. When you look down and see the streets and sidewalks paved with stone, large or small pieces, you picture the process of putting the stones down in the streets. In Italy I was fascinated with the choice of paving materials. Who wouldn’t be? My fascination started in Venice and didn’t stop.

Confetti canal side in Venice.

It wasn’t until we left Venice that I read about the use of lighter colored stones on the edge of the canals and bottoms of steps to alert pedestrians that they are about to step into a canal or tumble off stairs. When I went back to look through my photos, sure enough, there they were. Safety stones.

The edge of the lagoon is obvious in broad daylight, but imagine a dark cloudy night before electric lights. You’d be glad for that strip of white stones.
The black paving stones of Naples. And some well worn hiking boots.

Dark Vesuvian lava blocks pave the older streets of Naples. I assumed the surface was natural, but apparently on some stretches, especially the stairways, the dings and impressions come from hammers and chisels to create a less slippery surface when wet.

Naples paving stones in the rain. They look slick, but the dangerous surfaces were the metal utility/manhole covers.

How could anyone fail to notice the cobblestoned streets of Pompeii and Herculaneum? However, it would be easy to miss the small white stones placed in the joints as cats eyes, or reflectors.

Small, not so noticeable white stones, but helpful on a dark Herculaneum night.
A giant stone jigsaw puzzle leading out of the amphitheater in Pompeii.

After the dark paving stones of Naples the streets of Bari old town were a surprise. Of course people used the local stone, the ‘chianche’ ( the big paving stones) in Bari are mostly white or cream, with black pavers used, apparently, to help merchants unfamiliar with the old town find their way out.

Bari ‘chianche’. And a wet boot.
The light color of the stones in Bari makes a wet night time stroll quite atmospheric.
The stones are a lovely backdrop for the green plants of a resident gardener in Bari. I always appreciate intrepid urban gardeners.
The warm glow of decorative lighting makes Bari magical at night.
The town of Conversano pavers were light colored as well, and a bit slippery when wet. This night time photo was taken as I carefully picked my way along on boots that had the tread worn off from miles and miles of use.
Luminaria, which we saw being created in town, look beautiful against the creamy stone of Conversano.
This kitty knows the stones are very flattering to their coloring, and that Rich is always good for a scritch.

We knew that metal utility covers were slippery, but I hadn’t appreciated how tricky they might be to integrate into paving stones until the town of Alberobello. While most visitors look up at the Trulli, make sure to also look down and admire the paving stones.

The metal utility cover on the left must have taken some time. The stone faced cover, upper right, blends quite well.
Another utility cover, this one set cross wise against the flow of pavers. Oh, and some lovely Trulli.

Rome. Rome. Rome. Where the stones you tread were trodden by Julius Caesar, and marched upon by Roman warriors and enslaved people who were the capital of the empire. Our time traveling in the UK, Morocco, and Italy gave us a good look at the extent of the Roman Empire, but I hadn’t visited Rome before.

The road from the forum to the Colosseum. We arrived early to admire the mostly empty paving stones.
In the Forum. Rich added for scale. Huge pavers.

Apparently, the small cobblestones of Rome’s roads, “sampietrini”, which means “little St. Peters,” are being replaced with asphalt on the main, busy roads. It will make for a quieter and smoother surface for bikes, scooters and trucks. But, the promise from at least one mayor is to move the paving stones to smaller more pedestrian scale streets. It would be fascinating to see the cost benefit analysis of stone versus asphalt. Wear and tear. Re-paving costs. Environmental considerations. Is my inner bureaucrat showing?

A lovely small street in Trastavere. Cobbles intact. They certainly win the charm competition.
The Appian Way. A road built to march armies and supply wagons. Those large stones were the surface, they were laid atop an under layer of gravel, smaller stones and mortar. The surface was smooth, but now it’s a better idea to go around these bits on your bike.

We’re in San Francisco now, catching up with friends and sharing our travel tales. Traveling the world is amazing, but being somewhere familiar, and where we have wonderful friends is rejuvenating.

The Happy Travelers admiring a modern road surface, red bus only lanes on Van Ness Ave in San Francisco.

From Bari to the Bay…

We get a lot of questions about long-term travel and what is it like when you return after 7 months abroad. First off, it’s wonderful to see friends and family again. Nothing beats it.

When will the Coliseum be so empty again? A unique time to travel.

But now that we’ve been back in the US a little over a week, I can tell you that it IS a bit of culture shock. We have experienced so much together, and adjusted to a life where people and places are constantly unfamiliar. Our first reaction when landing in Chicago was how clean everything looked. As much as we loved Rome and live in awe in the layers of history, there is little arguing that it is a pretty untidy city. Dirty, some might say. It’s hard to get 2,500 years of urban stains off things, right? America is actually pretty tidy, or at least we hide our trash well.

Gritty and organic Rome, some wouldn’t want it any other way.

The second thing we noticed immediately is the change in scale and space. Ah yes, precious elbow room, as almost everything in the U.S. is upsized. It felt nice to stroll the endless connected Chicago sidewalks, with plenty of room to pass, and streets wide enough to turn a stagecoach.

The venerable Pasticceria Boccione in Rome, which features 300-yr old recipes for wood-fired Pizza Ebraica and other Kosher treats. Luckily, Cheryl was already inside!

And after arriving in Colorado this week, we can’t help but be awestruck by the vastness in which many of us live, especially in the American West. There is really nothing in Europe that even comes close, and I think this is why Europeans (and Americans of course) especially love to travel to this area, and always insist on going to Vegas. They are unique, vast, and truly American. And they do define who we are, as most Americans are more comfortable in a Costco than a compact urban Bodega.

Yup, lots of space here in Western Colorado.

Finally, I realized that the past 7 months has changed us and our outlook. Cliches about travel aside, we absorbed more European (and Moroccan) culture and, as with all good travels, take the positive aspects with us. For me, I have learned to truly enjoy slow coffee and the plaza cafe culture. The impact on your psyche from the wet and dark Northern European winter. (Gimme sun!)

Our wonderful Italian hosts in Conversano: embracing the joy of a long family lunch

And the pure and simple pleasure of a 3-hour Italian dinner with new friends. You need to have a general humility when you approach foreign cultures as an outsider. Embrace the new, and adjust your expectations. And maybe now I’m a bit more patient….maybe.

New family friends in Italy after a typical Italian breakfast of a Cornetto and caffe.

Travel is also always unique because it happens in the context of the time. We experienced the end of one COVID wave and rode out the first surge of Omicron. The pandemic has mostly been a shared global experience that immediately connects you. The recent drama and tragic unfolding of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is of global concern, but also a way to immediately connect with other travelers or locals.

City hall rally in support of Ukraine, Bari, Italy

So first a few logistics updates on how we got here? From Bari in Puglia, we caught one of two daily intercity trains to Rome. (They actually start further south in Lecce). We opted for the morning train, as the late afternoon train arrived Rome at 9pm, and we always find arriving a foreign city is especially disorienting after dark. We stayed in the Travestere neighborhood of Rome, which is an excellent alternative to the more touristed and hectic side of the Tiber river.

Elevenses in the UK or just a late breakfast cycling break off the Appian Way – Ciccolado caldo and a Sfogliatella

It was also easy to catch the bus or tram to the airport trains at the Roma Travesterre train station. The train connection to Rome Fucinolo airport is excellent and nice new trains leave every 15-20 minutes.

Catching the airport train….still traveling light after all the pizza and pasta!

For our air travel, we again flew TAP Airways from Rome To Chicago via Lisbon. TAP is a member of Star Alliance, and has nice new A330s on most of their long haul services. Very comfortable seats in a 2-4-2 layout in economy. I also highly recommend getting the Plus fare, as for just a bit more money, you get seats in the ExtraEconomy section, two checked bags, and priority check-in. Worth it if you’re tall, and as we noted, our section was less crowded that standard economy. The other big upside of TAP is that they sell one-way fares à la carte, so no penalty versus outrageous one-way fares still charged by the bigger legacy airlines such as Lufthansa and United.

Sparkling new airport trains to Roma Fiumicino. Luggage racks, digital displays, and USB power sockets….check!

The downside of TAP is the Lisbon airport itself….it can get very crowded, and the gate/plane connections are often via shuttle buses from the tarmac, as were both our arrival and departures this trip. But they do pass the savings in to you! They also allow free stopovers in Lisbon or Porto, which is great, and a way to break up the LIS airport experience.

Sticking to our preferred travel modes to O’Hare – CTA bus to the Blue Line El…a bargain in Airport transfers at $2.50, and easy with contactless payment

We arrived to Chicago pretty late, so stayed at a convenient Airpot hotel before visiting family near the Airport, and then two Metra trains to connect with other great friends, who generously hosted us for 4 nights. As a bonus, it was St Patrick’s Day and the Chicago river had a visible green tinge. Americans love to celebrate our immigrant culture, which is still a huge differentiator from many countries in the world. The brave and bold immigrants who continually arrive in the United States are a strength that should not be underestimated.

Exploring the fantastic elevated 606 trail in North Chicago is even better with good friends!

Another wonder of America is the food, as we quickly checked off 3 major food cravings; a great Mexican platter, Thai/Lao delight, and a heaping bowl of ramen. Oh, soooo good! The food in Italy is amazing, but these American taste buds miss the foods of the world.

A Classic Roman lunch in Travestere: Tonnarelli Cace e Pepe, Trippa alla Romana, and Cicoria Strascinata in Padella.

So as we head back to California this week, we are filled with the anticipation of the familiar world of the San Francisco Bay Area, but also both feel a bit of apprehension. We are different people than the working, locally engaged homeowners of a year ago. We have embraced the vagabond life, worked hard to get to this place of freedom, and both know know that we still have a lot of the world and new passions to explore.

Getting our America on in Devil’s Canyon, CO

We will settle down again some day, and when we do, will invite everyone we have met to join us…but not quite yet.

Where to next Cheryl?

Happy Traveling!

Nasoni di Roma

The noses of Rome? They are everywhere. Approximately 2,500 -2,800 big noses. Water fountains to you and me. The nose refers to the metal spout, which sticks off the fountain like a … nose. In place since the 1870s they are a little Easter egg hunt as you walk the city.

Nasone (plural nasoni) in front of a flower vendor.

If you come from California, a state usually struggling with and talking about drought, the sight of constantly running water fountains is a bit shocking.

The nasone down the street from where we stayed.

It may seem wasteful to us, but the company in charge of supplying water to Rome says the constantly running fountains only account for a small percentage of water loss, 1% or so, compared to the loss from old and leaky pipes. It is the same tasty drinking water as that supplied to homes.

A nasone in the forum with Arch of Titus in the background.

Some fountains have glamorous backgrounds.

Beautiful fountain across the street from the Alter of the Fatherland.
Another nasone near the Arch of Titus in the forum.

Other nasoni have more utilitarian surroundings.

Representative of a typical street scene.

The metal spout has a small hole at the top of the arch. If you put your finger over the bottom spout water will arc up from the hole to create an easier to drink from fountain. We didn’t know this until later, so we either filled our water bag or slurped the old fashioned way.

Rich filling our water bag while listening to an audio tour of the forum.
Slurping. Again with a dramatic background.
Piazza della Rotunda nasone, that’s the Pantheon in the background.

It wasn’t hot while we were in Rome, but I imagine these fountains are even more appreciated in the heat of summer. It’s nice as a tourist not to have to worry about finding water. And, no need to carry a full water bottle, which keeps your day pack lighter.

Unassuming but so useful.
Is my back to an amazing Roman ruin while I snap pics of a fountain? Yes.
My favorite fountain. With my favorite travel guy.
This stunner is in the Travestere neighborhood. The two side spouts weren’t running, but the theme is fantastic.

We’re back in the US now for a visit to friends and family. Our five days in Rome were not enough to see all the sights, but we did visit many of them, in between fountain spotting.

The happy travelers in the colosseum.

Truly charming Alberobello. Trulli.

The Bella Vista of the trulli. Trulli is the plural of trullo. Helpful?

This fantastic UNESCO world heritage site is firmly on the tourist track of the Puglia region, for good reason. The stone buildings are amazing and adorable. Even more adorable with a dusting of snow.

One of the narrow streets of town.
Close up of a dry stacked roof.

Why, you ask, are these squat little buildings called trullo built this way? Two main reasons, per Wikipedia – abundant building material in the form of limestone boulders collected from fields, originally. And, the Count of Conversano who gave permission for the first “town” here, was avoiding taxes which would have been due to the Spanish viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples. Apparently, no mortar – no taxes.

There are many trulli you can stay in. Maybe not ideally suited to tall modern men, but fascinating.

Like many UNESCO sites Alberobello was both saved and destroyed by its designation in 1996. The buildings, saved. The probably once characterful town, now firmly on the tourist track, another tick on the travel itinerary – gone. Destroyed is a strong word, but we do find the friendliness of locals is an inverse curve to the number of tourists. Other than the charming little streets of trulli walking in town is not so charming, with impatient drivers and narrow if any sidewalks. So what does the savvy visitor do? Head out of town on a country side walk.

Just chilling with a trullo. And a massive old olive tree.
The 50th trullo is just as fascinating as the 1st.
The olive trees will also stop you in your tracks for a closer look.
Trulli lane. There are enough stones around here to build houses and walls.

We quickly left town behind and the countryside felt very rural. It sounded rural too. The barking dogs had us both grab a couple of small stones for our pockets as dog bite deterrents, but we didn’t need them. All dogs were safely contained. And once we left the outskirts of town there were few people and fewer dogs. Off season this area was quiet, in season the vacation dwellings probably have a lot of life. Vaccination note: since we love to ramble on back roads on foot and on bike, we got vaccinated for rabies – which means if we get bitten by a dog we need only one fairly available shot instead of the full and less available course of shots. On our hike out of Sorrento Rich did indeed get nipped by a little terror of a terrier, but it didn’t break the skin. We’re glad we got those vaccinations.

A garden trullo, maybe a storage shed, with Rich added for scale.
There were trullo in need of attention.
There were trulli which were truly scrumptious.
And there were trulli looking for new owners. Anyone?
This became a perfect walk. Sunshine, snow on the ground, and eye catching scenery
Muddy lanes and olive groves.
Giving the Swiss firewood stackers a run for their money, firewood in the shape of a trullo.
Getting to Alberobello is a lovely train ride, the train is going the perfect speed for sightseeing.
Puglia regional train and a happy traveler.
Two happy travelers. We spent one night in Alberobello, then back to Bari for a night, and on to Rome.

As our trip back to the US gets closer we’re both getting very excited to see family and friends. See you all soon.