Saturday, June 26, 2010

Heaven on Earth - Santorini

It's amazing how your body just knows when you are in paradise. All stress and worries evaporate when you are here in the Greek Isles. Sara truly believes this place is heaven on earth and plans to retire here. It is here, last October to be exact, that Sara resolved to make changes in her life: change careers and travel the world. Come here if you want to get your priorities in order!

We are staying on the lovely island of Santorini and in the village of Oia. The restaurants are amazing and you can't beat the sunset views. We found a building we want to renovate and turn into a premier boutique hotel. We think it's a genius idea...anyone want to invest?

Our lazy days have been spent sleeping in, lounging by the pool, driving around the island to different beaches, and eating yummy food. A few days of pure relaxation is exactly what we needed.

Live at the Acropolis - Athens

Once again Sara was relieved that the history books weren't lying - the Acropolis does exist. The Acropolis is about the only thing Athens has to offer. Oh, i guess the greek salads are news worthy too.

Road trip to Ephesus

When we landed in Izmir we decided we should rent a car to drive to Ephesus. It took us about ten tries to find a place that had an automatic car but in the end we succeeded. Yes, we are lame Americans that can't really drive stick... but seriously, why hasn't the world caught onto how amazing automatic cars are??? Sara took on the role as driver and John as navigator.

We spent the night in a pleasant beach town named Kusadasi. We didn't do much except eat, watch the World Cup, and sleep. We needed to rest up for our big day at Ephesus.

The next morning we got up early and headed to Ephesus. Our early departure paid off because we beat most of the tourist buses up there. We spent a few hours wandering through the ruins. We learned a few things along the way: Supposedly the Apostle John settled here with Mother Mary after Christ's death. We saw the stadium where the Apostle Paul preached against paganism to the people - his message wasn't received so well. Also, Cleopatra visited the city quite a few times because her sister lived there. It's pretty incredible to be walking down the same road these amazing historical figures once walked.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Full of hot air - Cappadocia Day 3

We woke up at 4:45am so Sara could fulfill another life long dream - riding in a hot air balloon. John wasn't thrilled with the idea of getting up so early or riding high above the ground in a balloon, but in the end he had a good time. Cappadocia is famous for their hot air balloon rides since the conditions are almost always perfect in the morning. So famous that there were approximately 55 other balloons in the sky with us.

There were twelve others in our balloon with us (three to a compartment). We sailed at varying heights across the Cappadocian valley for about an hour. The air was crisp and the views were breathtaking. We were shocked at how quiet and smooth the ride was. It was very relaxing and peaceful - including the landing. The pilots have been flying for years and can land the balloons right on the trailer bed. Pretty incredible! Oh, and the ride ended with a champagne toast. That's a bit early to start drinking don't you think?

Turkish Nights - Cappadocia Day 2

Our second day in Cappadocia was spent on the Green Tour. We visited the Goreme Panorama, toured the underground city of Derinkuyu, hiked through the Ihlara Valley, climbed to the Selime monastery, toured an onyx factory, and watched the pigeons fly at Pigeon Valley. It was one jammed packed day.

Goreme Panorama is a place to gaze at the beautiful city of Goreme and take in the beauty of the fairy chimneys.

There are many underground cities in the area and we went to the largest one - Derinkuyu was estimated to house 10,000 Byzantine Christians. The people would hide in these underground cities when enemies were approaching. Sometimes they would be underground for months. Not only would humans be hiding underground but they brought their animals with them too. Imagine how stinky and gross it would have been. They had kitchens, stables, living quarters, cemetaries, meeting rooms, churches, baptismal fonts, etc. It took them hundreds of years to build but when all was said and done these underground cities were amazing and genius creations.

We loved our 3.5km hike through the Ihlara Valley. We hiked down hundreds of steps until we reached the valley floor. We then walked along the river exploring several rock-cut churches along the way. The path was nice and shady so we didn't sweat to death under the hot sun. Our hike ended at a little village alongside the water. We ate a yummy lunch and then boarded the bus to continue our tour.

Our next stop was the Selime Monastery. We hiked up the hill to the monastery and then explored more rock-cut churches. Once again the views were incredible.

No tour is complete without being taken to a "demonstration" and then ushered into a showroom to buy outrageously priced goods. Well, that's what happened at the onyx factory. As soon as they brought out the apple tea we took that as our clue to leave. We are proud to say that nothing was purchased.

Our last stop on the tour was to Pigeon Valley. Here we saw a bunch of pigeons flying to their homes on the outside of the fairy chimneys. Please note, pigeons are not considered "rats with wings" here in Cappadocia. Unlike in NYC, Pigeons have a purpose. They were very important to the people back in the day. They would use them to carry messages, eat them, and use their droppings to create paint for their frescoes.

John really wanted to see the whirling dervishes so we booked tickets to "Turkish Nights". The travel agent promised us that it wasn't touristy and that we would see the whirling dervishes, folk dancers, and belly dancers while eating a yummy dinner. Well, let's just say the dancing part was true but everything else was a lie. It was the most touristy thing we have ever been to. The scene was like going to a Turkish wedding in someone's basement. It was filled with tour buses full of cruise ship tourists (you know the ones I'm talking about). The decor was cheesy and cheap and the food wasn't any better. At one point we were all in a conga line dancing around the floor and ended up outside around a bonfire. The belly dancer descended from the ceiling in a crappy cage and then proceeded to teach a bunch of middle aged men how to belly dance. Sara would like to block the whole night from her memory.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Land of Fairy Chimneys - Cappadocia Day 1

It was love at first sight when we arrived in Cappadocia. Cappadocia is the land of fairy chimneys, rock-cut churches, cave homes, underground cities, and hot air ballon rides. We enjoyed our two nights in the small town of Goreme where we stayed at a cave hotel. Thats right, a cave. The room was a cool sanctuary during the heat of the day and a cozy room at night. In summary, the views were amazing, the food was delicious, and the people were delightful!

We explored the Goreme Open Air Museum our first day. This is a hillside full of rock-cut churches and monasteries. Inside the caves were beautiful frescoes depicting scenes from Christ's life and various bible stories (e.g., Daniel in the lions den). One interesting fact, when the Ottomans took over Cappadocia, they scratched out all of the people's eyes in the frescos because they were "evil eyes". Kind of strange that we were grateful they didn't destroy the entire painting.

For dinner we ate at Dibek, a wonderful restaurant inside a 475-year old building. We had to place our order three hours in advance so they could slow cook our chicken dish in sealed clay pots in a special oven in the stone floor. The food didn't disappoint and was well worth the wait. While we were waiting, we stumbled upon a children's folk dance competition taking place in the middle of the town square. It was no "So You Think You Can Dance" but it was still fun seeing the lavish costumes and traditional Turkish dances.