Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mediterranean Madness Part VIII Terrific Turkey

Terrific Turkey

Our stop in Turkey was an excellent surprise.  Like most other barbarians, I expected Turkey to be the least likable of our stops.  How could I, who have personally been engaged in the War on Terror, possibly feel both comfortable and welcome in a Muslim culture?  Well, let me be the first to admit, I was wrong about Turkey.  But, let me do it casually, and I'll ease that part into the review.
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View from our balcony at breakfast.  We were greeted by dancers on the dock!

When we arrived, the sky was still dark, even though Turkey is an hour ahead of the rest of Europe (except for Greece), as one would expect, being that is in Asia, after all.  When the sun came up, we were on our balcony having our room service breakfast, and I was stunned that Turkey didn't look like the Middle East.  Of course, Turkey actually straddles both continents, and has a thriving European influence.  Three percent of Turkey is in Europe, and that is part where Istanbul serves as the gateway to Asia.  The rest of the country is a different continent.  Turkey is heavily influenced by the Greeks, and vice versa, as Greece was a part of the Turkish Empire for so many years.  I'll speak more about this in the following paragraphs.  Turkey had a king back before WWII who was determined that his country would be a progressive state, and not become consumed with dogmatic Islamic ideology.  He determined that the women were free to dress as they wish, and to be educated should they choose to do so.  They are an overtly Muslim culture, but they in no way suppress other religions.  In fact, a sizable population of Christians (both Catholic and Protestant) exists in Turkey without consequence.  I never once felt discriminated against and I felt welcome in every instance and with every encounter.  I found the Turkish people to be warm and engaging, and their hospitality was unparalleled in any country we visited.
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We wanted to take Bahar home with us!
Our guide's name was Bahar, and she was loved from the first moment we met her.  She was very casual and relaxed, and her demeanor told us immediately that she was very comfortable with her job and that we were going to have a great day.  A small, pretty woman; she had a way about her that made us smile and caused us to be cheerful.  She didn't take herself too seriously, and was able to laugh at her own innocent mistakes.  For instance, when she was trying to connect with our driver, she called him from her cell phone and when the call connected, she discovered that he was standing immediately behind her, not more than four feet away.  She laughed and commented that she was glad she didn't say anything mean about him.  Yes, it was going to be a good day, indeed.

As soon as we got started, Bahar reviewed our plans for the day, and then made a suggestion.  Remember, anytime your experienced guide makes a suggestion, just go with it.  They know what they're doing and if you trust them, they will take great care of you.  Trust your guide!  It's a good rule to follow.  Bahar suggest that we modify our day slightly.  We were planning to visit Mary's (the mother of Jesus), house, which was on our way to Ephesus, and then tour Ephesus, and then tour a bit of Kusadasi for a few hours, and then the carpet factory.  I will address the carpet factory more in the next few paragraphs.  So, whatever you think about the factory, keep an open mind until you hear me out.  Bahar suggested that, unless we had a deep religious yearning to visit Mary's house, we skip it and tour a small, traditional Turkish village in the mountains instead.  She reasoned that, "After a while, old buildings are just more of the same.  It's all Greek and Roman, and it's all the same.  Old and interesting, but still the same as all the other old and interesting buildings.  Mary probably actually lived in that place, but the house has been rebuilt and the original is buried beneath the home that exists today.  So, if you'd rather experience Turkish living, I suggest we skip Mary's house and tour Sirince."  She didn't pressure us one bit to do one or the other.  She made the suggestion and let us do as we wished.  Since our rule is "trust the guide," we told her to skip Mary's house and head for the hills.  That turned out to be the best decision of the entire trip.  Our other family member's tours went to Mary's house, and they all said they wished they could have gone with us to the village.
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By skipping Mary's house we got to Ephesus waaaay ahead of the other barbarians.  We were not crowded at all for another hour!  We are standing in front of the library at the center of town. Next to the library are the arches that take you to the agora, which would be similar to a market place.

But first, we were to tour Ephesus.  Like most Americans, I really had no idea what to expect.  My only knowledge of Ephesus was based on Biblical studies, and most of that was limited to theology and not tradition or culture.  Well, let me tell you, Ephesus is one of the most extraordinary archaeological sites you could possibly visit.  First, the city is very well preserved, as it wasn't really "discovered" again until the late 1800's.  There are several reasons Ephesus is so preserved.  First, the sea began to retreat as river sediments filled the bay, forcing the residents to relocate closer to the water.  And, I seem to remember that a large portion of Ephesus was buried by an earthquake/landslide and was never thought of again until a very serious effort was made to unearth the city in the 1960's by the Austrian government.  Because of that, most of the marble, statues, mosaics and general wealth of the city remain for you to appreciate.  Ephesus is a city you can actually enter and walk through her streets and explore her buildings without the encroachment of the modern developments that grew up around the ruins in Rome.

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Men's toilets
It takes little effort to imagine daily life in Ephesus, as you are completely within the city, and the city extends as far as you can see.  There are no signs that tell you to keep off the ruins.  In fact, you actually interact with almost everything.  You climb the stairs, sit on the collapsed columns, and walk through the actual doorways.  It is even easier to imagine life in Ephesus if you hire a guide, such as Bahar, who walked with us through the city.  Do this, as it is worth the money.  Your guide will explain the intricate details which will make the city come alive to you.  For example, we found the public toilets that the men used.  See how the seats are so close together?  That is because the toilets were business meeting places, and a lot of socialization occurred there as well.  So, a man would send his slave to the toilet to warm it up, and then he would go and sit for his participation in the event.  But the part that was most amusing to me was the way Bahar explained the delicate nature of the toilets.  She said, "Sometimes sitting on a toilet can be a little noisy.  So, they had something to fix that.  Can you guess what it was?"  Well, we guess baffling, a fountain, deeper holes, but we were wrong on each guess.  She smiled and told us that musicians stood here and played while the men sat, and the music was loud enough so no one would be embarrassed by any noises that might occur.  And then we discovered that the women were not allowed to use these seats.  Bahar pointed to the edge of town.  "We had to go out there somewhere."  For some reason I find it interesting that we have a complete role reversal.  Today the women use the restroom as a social spot, while men prefer the tree behind the cars.
048042And I bring you back to Ephesus.  So, Bahar did everything she could to help us close our eyes and envision what the city was like before it was destroyed.  The streets were paved with marble, and they were wide streets, almost like a courtyard themselves.  Columns ran the length of the streets, and each column had a statue of an important person.  The arches usually came in pairs, and they were reserved for gods and emperors.  The deeper you go into the city, the more preservation occurred, so you can stand back and look down the main streets and see how incredible Ephesus had once been.  There are estimates that several hundred thousand people made it their home, and it was an important shipping center for Roman commerce.  People from Europe and Asia would meet at Ephesus, so you can envision why Paul and John chose Ephesus as a place to plant a Christian church.   

As we walked past the partially restored library, and stood in front of the sizable amphitheater, we looked down the street that went to the harbor.  These streets were illuminated at night, which helped prevent muggings, but it also made them very special.  I can see on a moon lit night how the torches reflected off the marble pavement and columns, and how the sea below would have glistened softly in the distance.  And then Bahar told us to imagine seeing Antony and Cleopatra walking up from the harbor and holding hands as then entered the city.  At that moment, Ephesus became alive to me.  We were walking on the exact marble streets where the Caesars walked, and the gladiators marched on their way to the amphitheater to battle, men like Pliney and Josephus were probably here, working on recording their observations, which were probably kept in the large library in the center of the town.
Remains of the Christian church
A Jewish menorah was carved into the marble on the steps to the library, and not far from that you could see an archway that lead to a temple for some god.   The Christian church was closer to the harbor and would have been in a very busy part of town.
Where Paul preached!
Bahar took us to the amphitheater where Paul and John preached, which landed them in jail, eventually leading to John's exile in the Greek isles just off coast of the sea.  When I stood on the same stage as Paul and John when they preached against the false god Diana (AKA Artemis), which enraged the local venders, who were silver and gold smiths.  Their lively hoods depended on selling reproductions of those Greek and Roman gods, which the people would take to the Temple Artemis, and Paul's message was very threatening to them.  He must have made an incredible argument for Christ, for those businessmen to so enraged that it ultimately led to Paul fleeing the city after living there three years and eventually lead to John's exile.  John also lived in Ephesus for several years and finished the Book of John in Ephesus.  And it happened right here on this very spot where my feet stood.  Things happened here.  History was made, and you can stand in those very places and appreciate all that it represents to you.
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A group of actors demonstrating a gladiator fight.  This is the harbor road where anyone arriving by ship would enter Ephesus.  Close your eyes and watch Antony and Cleopatra walking down that very road....
Another part of Ephesus that we so loved were the terrace houses, which is still an active archeological site.  The houses had been buried, probably by an earthquake and landslide, and were left alone until the excavations began in the 1960s.  The plastered and marbled walls were still standing, with the frescos preserved with their bold paints depicting incredible stories.  The floors in the houses of the rich were tiled with mosaics that told stories that were rich with meaning.  The furnishing of the homes were often still intact, and those homes are open for you to explore.  A catwalk was built above the houses so you can walk around and see what was happening in each of these homes.  The people who lived here were extravagantly richly, and they left behind their signature to demonstrate just how incredible man can be.

Following is a sampling of the rooms and their decorations.  The archeologists are trying to reconstruct the marble displays on the wall in the first shot.  The second is a temple inside a home.  The third is our future archaeologist admiring the reconstruction process.  The rest are our pitiful attempts at capturing the mosaic tile work found in the homes.  Some of the mosaics were on the floor, some on the walls, but all were magnificent.  The mosaics on the floor looked like carpet!
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I'll share a side story about our day in Ephesus.  At the port, before we joined with Bahar for the day, the kids noticed several cats roaming the streets.  They were very friendly, but my kids are banned from petting unknown animals.  Once in Ephesus, the kids focused on the cats once again.  Soon, we started counting them.  By the time we concluded our tour at the bathroom on the way out of the ancient city, we counted 37 different cats, but by the time we left Turkey, the count was 42.  
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This is the last cat we saw at Ephesus.

I was not prepared for what we would find in Ephesus, and all of us so enjoyed and appreciated our tour.  Perhaps it was Bahar who made it special, but we connected with Ephesus in a real way, and it became one of our favorite stops for the entire cruise.

By this point, Bahar had connected with our family and we had developed a great rapport with her.  She was laughing and telling us funny stories from the days when she worked as a photographer on the Disney cruise lines.  She reaffirmed to us that our decision to visit the village of Sirince rather than see Mary's house was a good decision.  By the time we loaded into the van to leave, large hoards of barbarians were arriving via bus tours, but our early morning private tour was a very peaceful time.  Skipping Mary's house launched us forward into Ephesus quicker than the hoards.
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We drove up the hills over Ephesus for about 15 minutes and had a commanding view of the ruins, Kusadasi, and the sea (of which we never took a picture).  We arrived at the village and we knew immediately that we had made the right choice.  This small village was peaceful and simple, and it was not catering to tourists, even though a few barbarians meandered about.  Bahar stopped the driver on the edge of town and we got out of the van in front of some fruit stands.  She bought us a sack of freshly picked tangerines and we walked the market, which was actually a local fruit, vegetable, meat, and clothing market, and snacked on those wonderful tangerines.  And then she found a vender selling figs that were as large as tennis balls and she bought us a bag of those to snack on while we walked.  It was incredible.  And we were sticky.  So, she took us to a fountain where we washed our hands.
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Those tangerines and figs were incredible! 

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Sirince was a wonderful village to visit.  What a great day!

A celebrity of sorts lives in this village.  His name is Demetrius and he was the artist who designed all the jewelry worn by the actors in the movie Troy, starring Brad Pitt.  He was a jolly man and very welcoming, and he enjoyed Bahar fussing over his status.  He even gave Caitie a set of imitation zultanite ear rings, just because he liked her.  His nephew ran the jewelry store where he worked and when he saw that we were with Bahar, he showed us his selection of zultanite jewelry.  
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Demetrius and his jewelry shop

Let me back up just a bit and explain zultanite, which is a gem that is only mined in Turkey.  On the hardness scale, it is a 9.7 or something like that, (diamonds being 10) and it is valuable and rare.  The stone has an incredible property that makes it change colors depending on lighting and temperature.  We were very interested in buying zultanite when in Turkey, but every internet article I read warned me not to buy it from any local stores.  Scores of tourists were buying fake gems that looked real.  But, once you see the real thing, there is no way to be fooled by the fake.   We wanted some, but we were afraid to buy it.  But, Demetrius' nephew showed us his dealer certificate and showed us that he sells directly to the cruise ships themselves.  And his prices reflected small village life rather than touristy manhandling. 
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Looks like the negotiations are almost complete.

He handed us two rather large 3 carat zultanite rings and told us to go walk around outside and watch it change colors.  So, we did.  We walked out into the sunlight and over to the shade trees, and then back around by the fruit stand, and then back to the store.  In that short tour, the stone went from emerald green to turquoise, to violet, and then to hot pink.  We tried to return them to him and he said for us to take them to the carpet store next door and check out the lighting in there.  He met us on the other side of the wall and demonstrated how incredible that gemstone is.

I thought about buying some loose stones to use for trade once the zombie apocalypse starts, but Sarah had a better idea.  She bought a solitaire ring, matching earring studs, and a necklace stud as well.  We had such a phenomenal price from that store that I almost started to worry that he was selling hot merchandise.  We were simply fortunate enough to have Bahar with us, who was a friend to everyone in the village.  Everywhere we went with her, we were welcomed, and it was clear that she spent large amounts of her time amongst these people.
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Random shots of the market area

The village streets were very similar to the style of narrow streets common to medieval European construction, but these people used tents and stands more than quaint shops.  None of the venders chased us down the street and badgered us into buying something.  We were largely ignored except for a polite greeting.  If we entered a shop, the vender would pay full attention to us, but if we walked past, they didn't press us to come back.  We had a wonderful time walking in those streets and getting a feel for what a true Turkish experience would be.
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I don't remember what the bee hive looking thing is, but we were impressed enough to take a photo. And another shot of the countryside.

From there it was lunch time, even though we'd eaten many tangerines and figs, and we were cautiously optimistic about the meal we would receive.  Bahar chatted with us on the way down the mountain and explained to us how the traditions of the Turkish people had not changed much since their early days.  For instance, the girls were expected to make a rug/carpet as part of her dowry, and the boys were to make clay pots as part of his gift to his bride on their wedding day.  Bahar laughed and told us her rug already had three holes in it, so she had to buy a new one!  The rugs the girls made were supposed to remain in her family for the following generations.  Rug making was a significant part of their culture.  It was more than a business.  It was an identity.  And for them, it was an honor for you to tour their rug factory so they can demonstrate a very important aspect of their cultural identity.  We were honored that they wanted to share that with us, even though we were very clear upfront that we were not in a position to buy any rugs from them.
All that remains of the former wonder of the ancient world, Temple of Artemis
On our way to our lunch, the driver paused briefly on the road and we glanced at a column standing off in the near distance and Bahar told us that was the site of the Temple of Artemis, also known as the Temple of Diana, which was once one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  The temple was first destroyed by a flood in the 7th century BC, and was rebuilt on three separate occasions.  And now only one column remains. 
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The meals were prepared on the grill, and our table was under a covered pavilion near the grill.

Bahar then took us to small family cafe where we would eat lunch.  It was a traditional style of grill and it served only one type of food, grilled beef and lamb meatballs, and grilled chicken.  And it was good.  We started off with appetizers that were traditional offerings.  Yogurt and cucumbers, carrot salad, yogurt and peppers, and things like that.  They were all tasty, but we were not pressured to eat anything we didn't want.  And there was nothing scary that would not be edible.  Sarah and I had a local beer, Efes, and it was good pale ale, and the kids had cokes, Seth drinking a Fanta and Caitie having Lipton Tea. 
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Seth freaks out with potato salad. Whatever he just ate didn't go down...

Seth is our picky eater, and he promised to try most of the dishes, and he did.  But he didn't care for most of the appetizers.  The one with peppers made him gag and he ran to the grass and spit it out.  Bahar felt bad for encouraging him to try it, but he needs a good push every once in a while.  The meat was very tasty and the quality of the food was top notch.  We were all relieved that our meal was not a disaster.  We listened to Bahar telling funny stories about life in Turkey and encounters with other tourists.  We had a great and relaxing meal. 
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This meal was delicious! And Bahar ate with us, hence the extra plate.

Once the meal was over, we paid for our drinks and were offered a chance to tour the carpet factory.  It was optional, and we could freely decline.  But, we were there, and the tour was still young, so we decided to see it.  They showed us how the silk is collected from the worms, and I had no idea such a process existed.  And it is the same method used for centuries.  They showed us how the silk is processed into threads and strings for use in the carpets, and how the Turkish women still use those fabrics to weave a carpet, which take about 8 months to produce.  Caitie even got the chance to try her hand at weaving.  From that point, our guide asked us if we would care to see any of their products.  We had the choice of declining or viewing.  At first we declined, but Bahar explained that we should see the presentation because they would serve us hot Turkish apple tea and that lively and rich Turkish coffee, and they would even throw in some Raki for good measure.  Raki is the traditional liqueur that is flavored like licorice, and is really good when mixed with the coffee.  The coffee alone is a force to be contended with, and it was impressive.  While we sipped our beverages, they demonstrated the different types of carpets between the wool and silk, and they different designs and motifs.  At the end of the presentation, we were offered a chance to bargain with them for a rug, but we declined.  We could have walked out with a very nice rug for less than 1,000 dollars if we were in the market for one, and it would have been a great deal.
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The cocoons were the silk is extracted. Caitie tries her had at weaving. Don't hold your breath, she never got the hang of it.
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One of dozens of rugs they demonstrated for us. You definitely didn't want that coffee to be any bigger. HOLY COW! Strong coffee!
With that over, Bahar asked if there was anything else we wanted to do or see.  Of course, we had no idea, so she suggested that we could tour the leather factory outlet, where they would give us a tour and a no pressure demonstration of their products.  She said it would be fun, and asked who wants to have some fun.  Well, who doesn't want to have fun, right?  Let's roll!

The leather sold at this company is incredible.  It is durable and very thin.  In fact, an entire leather jacket is rolled up into a bag that is the size of a small umbrella case, and the leather is wrinkle free.  But the leather is not free.  It was pricey.  Some of the pieces were marked for several thousand Euros, but the factory discount is 50% off, plus whatever else you negotiate down.  You could buy some incredibly high quality and very fashionable coats for a few hundred dollars if you wished.  I regretted not buying one of the leather belts I found.  I really wanted it, but for some reason I just didn't do it.  Next time!
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We were treated to a show complete with runway models...

We arrived at the leather shop and we went in to a small theater, which was actually a model runway, where the lights dimmed and the music started.  Suddenly, the walkway was alive with gorgeous women and a few young men strutting up and down demonstrating their incredible leather products.  They were putting on a full show, and there were only the five of us to witness it.

And then it happened.

Bahar was watching us with a clever smile and she glanced at me like the cat that ate the canary.  The next thing I know, the taller of the Barbie doll models grabbed me by the hand and pulled me onto the stage, and drug both me and Seth behind the curtain.  They outfitted us into some rather amazing leather gear and then we were marched out on the runway and strutting our stuff.  The Barbie doll then grabbed Caitie by the hand and pulled her backstage, where she went through the same transformation.  The kids were having a blast, and it was fun to watch them enjoying being part of the program.  I was indifferent, but in order to preserve my man card, I had to feign offense.  Truth be told, I once applied for a job as a model back when I was 50 pounds lighter, and I would have been hired had Sarah and I not had an emergency medical problem that caused me to miss my final interview.  I never rescheduled and that was that.  And you could care less about the paragraph I just wrote, right?  ANYWAY, the kids and I spent several minutes modeling the leather products and walking the runway.  It was fun, but I'll never admit to it.
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Sorry these shots are blurry. Sarah was laughing too hard to take good, clear photos.
Then we were given more hot apple tea, which is wonderful, by the way, and allowed to shop for as long as we wished.  The manager was a very agreeable man and he insisted that we were his guests, and that we could stay as long as we liked, and there was no obligation or expectation of our buying anything from him.  We spent just less than an hour while the girls tried on several outfits, including Bahar, who was having fun shopping with Caitie, showing her the latest fashions in Turkey and Europe.  I thought Bahar would buy a coat she liked, but she finally set it back on the rack with a sigh.  She said she bought a similar jacket 8 years ago and it is still in wonderful condition.  When we return to Turkey, we will return to this shop and buy some cool products, and even a rug at the factory.  We just didn't budget for it on this trip.

Sadly, that concluded our tour of Turkey, except for the last details of the day.  She had promised to take us to the best Turkish delight in Kusadasi.  And it was in a shop just a hundred yards from the port.  Was it good?  Oh my lands, was it good!  The man behind the counter was so accommodating and he gave us a sample of anything we wanted to try.  Seth's favorite was the rose flavor.  Caitie's was the blackberry.  Sarah and I had trouble landing on a favorite.  Maybe the apple, maybe the lemon.  No, the tangerine.  Well, in the end, it didn't matter.  We bought some of each flavor and it was very affordable.  In fact, I'm snacking on a piece of the rose flavor right now, and it might be the best.  The shop was a fun place to stop.  We bought a bottle of Turkish wine, some Raki, some of the apple tea, and the candy.  What a great store!  And the workers were so grateful for our business.  By the way, there is no issue with buying Turkish delight and bringing it home through customs.
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Oh my, this was good stuff! Just don't make the same mistake we did. If you get either banana or mint flavors, segregate them. Or your apple delights will taste like bananas.

Sadly, this did end our day with Bahar.  The kids were sad because they enjoyed her so much, and we immediately identified her as our favorite guide of the entire cruise.  I promise you this, when we go back to Turkey, we will request Bahar.  You should, too.  As we said good bye to her, I wanted to give her a gift along with her tip.  I always travel with complimentary copies of my books, and I wanted to give her one as a thank you for giving us such a wonderful day.  When I handed her the book she was excited and demanded an autograph.  When the store workers saw the event, they immediately pressed in around us, which drew in the people on the street.  Before I knew it, I was conducting a book signing in the presence of at least 20 people, maybe 30.  And they all assumed I was a celebrity, which Bahar shouted to her friend across the room.  I dearly wished I had more copies to give away.  It does an author's heart good to be clamored over like that!  We then returned to our ship very sad that our tour in Kusadasi was finished.

Some final notes about our Turkey tour.  You have a driver as well as the guide. We asked Bahar if we should tip him at the end of the tour and she said he would surely appreciate it. I couldn't get Bahar to tell me what an acceptable tip would be, so we gave him 15 Euros. I don't know if that was good or bad, but he was grateful.  ALSO, concerning Turkish coffee...well.  I like coffee.  I was in the Army, and I know what motor oil coffee generally tastes like.  This Turkish coffee was in my blood stream for 7 or 8 days!  It was thick and rich, and it had a wonderful flavor, but it would float a horse shoe.  It came in a one ounce espresso cup, and the bottom third of the cup was coffee residue that was too thick to drink.  And talk about a buzz!  Yee haw!  I liked it.  Sarah preferred the apple tea.

Next: Athens

Turkey will always be a fond memory. I'm SOOO glad we visited Kusadasi. 

Part I Getting there

Part II Barcelona

Part III Barcelona Continued

Part IV France

Part V Livorno, Pisa, and Florence, Italy

Part VI Rome

Part VII Sea Day

Part VIII Turkey

Part IX Athens 

Part X Santorini 

Part XI Sea Day 

Part XII Italy: Positano, Sorento, Amalfi Coast, and Pompeii 

Part XIII Sea Day

Part XIV Back to Barcelona

Part XV The Journey Home and Final Thoughts

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