Tag Archives: Rick Steves

Head in the Clouds

headerThe land of beautiful horses

When my new friend asked me what my plans were for our October school break, I replied, “I’d like to go to Cappedocia, Turkey.” She looked at me and said, “I’ve always wanted to go there. Let’s just do it!” So we did! – along with several other friends from my school.

In the days prior to departure, I read as much as I could on the odd geographical formations called fairy chimneys. As our tour guide explained, three nearby volcanic mountains erupted over time, centuries ago. Each “spewed” different kinds of lava containing different kinds of minerals. Earthquakes happened. There was ice, next a flood and this area was covered in water. Then rivers and tide pools formed. When all the water went away, a bizarre landscape was left. There are a variety of these odd phallic, stone towers, but many of them are made from minerals that are soft on the inside and hard on the outside. Thousands of years ago, communities were formed as people scraped out the inside of these caves to live in.

There are thousands of these caves dotting the mountainous landscape and inside some of them are marvelous Christian frescoes that are centuries old!! It’s hard to imagine how these people had thriving neighborhoods on the face of a mountain, but they did. They didn’t have the advantage of helpful wood and steel staircases up the mountain.

After arriving and finding our cave hotel, we rested a bit before going to a performance called Turkish Nights! Food and drink was provided, as well as a live band. We watched all kinds of traditional Turkish dances performed in stunning, traditional costumes. I’m guessing because our group was all women we got a lot of attention from the wait staff. Two members of our group were selected to participate in a few of the evening’s performances! Afterwards we went back to the hotel to sleep in our cave.

The next morning our group booked a private shuttle van with a driver and tour guide. We spent the next nine hours (!) exploring the Cappedocia region. We parked at beautiful lookout spots that allowed us to step onto the edge of panoramic views that looked a bit like the Grand Canyon, with the added delight of fairy chimneys. We went on a tour of a fascinating onyx factory and learned about this unique, transparent stone, as well as learning the meaning of Cappadocia: land of beautiful horses. We had a lovely lunch next to a bucolic creek, saw the geographical area that was the inspiration behind some of the Star Wars scenes, climbed up rocky paths and peered into caves that ignite imaginations. We also went to Derinkuyu, an enormous underground city.

The following day was a holy day for Muslims. It is called Kurban Bayram. This is the day of sacrifice and all over the world, Muslims will sacrifice a sheep or a goat and share the meat with people in need. Although this holiday has special significance to them, I had to be careful as we walked past little stone homes in quaint, rocky villages, not to see the remains of the slaughter. After a long day of traveling and exploring, we ate dinner and went to bed promptly because the following morning we had to be up at 5:00 am to catch our shuttle to Butterfly Balloons!

There are hundreds of hot air balloon companies in this area, but my favorite travel guru, Rick Steves, used this company last year when he toured this area so this was the company I wanted to use. Everyone here in Turkey knows that you simply MUST go up in a hot air balloon if you find yourself in this part of Turkey. I was a bit frightened to think about it, but because of the insistence of everyone who’d been here I decided that I would do it. Once we arrived at the take off point, next to the gigantic canyon, it was dark but we could begin to see the silhouettes of balloons starting to fill up. After shooting some pictures and wiping the sleep out of our eyes, we were loaded in the basket and off we went. It was not what I had imagined. This balloon ride was the most peaceful, slow and relaxing ride I have ever been on. It was breathtakingly beautiful! Our basket was large, holding about 16 people. Our pilot, Mustafa, has been written up in Trip Advisor as simply one of the BEST pilots, and he proved to be very cautious and experienced. He was able to maneuver the gigantic balloon down into the cavern right next to the chimneys and rock formations. He was also proud to tell us that we were the highest balloon in the sky at 6300 meters! As we peered over the edge, we could see colorful dots beneath us. These dots were the TOP of other balloons.

We stayed up in the sky for over an hour, Mustafa gently guiding our balloon to all different parts of the canyon. What an amazing experience! It is customary to be served champagne upon landing, but Butterfly Balloons had more planned. I still don’t know how they knew this, no one took any credit, but as a complete surprise to me, they knew it was my birthday on that day and I was presented a beautiful chocolate cake, and flowers, to be shared by everyone in our basket! One man on the ground crew threw me across his shoulders like a sack of potatoes and then all the ground crew gathered around while he tossed me into the deflated balloon for pictures. It was amazing; a birthday like no other.

When we arrived back at the hotel, it was just 9:00 a.m. so we ate a quick breakfast and then went back to bed for a few hours. When we got up for the second time, all us girls decided to go to a Turkish Bath (hamam). I hadn’t yet been to a Turkish bath, although they are very popular here in Istanbul. Baths have been a part of this culture for centuries and many hamams are very old. We enjoyed a sauna, a swim in a mineral pool, and then a scrub down. It was quite an experience and we were left invigorated afterward. After lunch and a little shopping, we relaxed until the evening. Several of us went to a Sufi worship center and watched a Whirling Dervish ceremony.

whirlderPrior to arrival we read about the symbolism of the performance. On the website called The Whirling Dervishes of Rumi we learned about the dress, the hand movements and the sounds played by the musicians. I really loved watching this trancelike, harmonious, worshipful dance. The Mevlevi Sufi order was founded to follow the teachings of Rumi, one of the great spiritual masters, and poets, of the 13th century. If you are interested in learning more, I’ve just finished reading a novel by Elif Shafak called, The Forty Rules of Love, and through this story, Rumi’s biographical story is told. It is fascinating and I highly recommend it. The colors, sounds and textures of Cappedocia are totally worth exploring if you find yourself in this part of the world.

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Traveling with two men

I met the first one in 2006; the second in 2010.

I love them both, but for different reasons and I can’t get enough of either of them. I’m not sure if they personally know each other or not, but I’m fairly sure they’ve heard of one another. They live fairly close to one another; one in the Seattle area and one in Portland. They each have influenced me in countless ways and I talk about them frequently to my friends and family. They have shown me how to be brave and have given me a community of like-minded thinkers. Although I’ve often taken them to bed with me, I’ve never met either of them in person. I don’t quite remember how Rick and I were introduced, but I met Chris online.

Quite surprised, in 2006 I won a free trip to Paris and London (more on this later). I found Rick and he taught me the basics of international travel through his book Europe Through the Back Door. This was my first trip to Europe and Rick’s sound advice curtailed so many of my fears and allowed me to believe in myself that I could actually get around in Europe with no knowledge of another language. With Rick’s help, I fell so helplessly in love with those two cities that the following year I packed up my (then) teenage daughter and we went back to Europe for three weeks exploring France, Italy and Austria. I planned the entire trip on my own setting up, in advance, everything from hotels and inns, to train and vaporetto travel. I also purchased museum tickets and maps in advance and learned about the time zone changes. I learned how to read military time and how to understand currency. I actually felt confident when I got off the plane at Charles de Gaulle and had to find my way to the 7eme, or 7th arrondissement, where the Grand Hotel Leveque  was located, a hotel that Rick had suggested. Since then, Rick’s many books and DVD’s have become my close friends. I subscribe to his newsletter and I “like” him on facebook. I so highly regard him that I got goosebumps when I walked into his retail store in Edmonds last spring.

Since my first trip to Europe in 2006, I’ve been back three more times. This, mind you, is on a teacher’s salary. I’m certainly not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but with Chris’ help and sage advice, I’ve learned how to gain airline miles through travel hacking, as he calls it. In the summer of 2011, I spent 5 weeks overseas, flying back and forth between England and Turkey, and I didn’t have to pay for my airline costs at all. Chris is a writer, an encourager and a motivator. He lavishly extends all his knowledge to his online community and even finds time to write me personal emails when I have a question about something. Chris writes on how to change the world by achieving significant, personal goals while helping others out at the same time. This, of course, fits my goal of teaching art in an international school perfectly. The material available on his website is vast, ranging from published books, personal manifestos, email updates and articles on an array of subjects. In July 2012 he is hosting his second World Domination Summit in Portland. His followers, or “small army” as he calls us, snatched up all one thousand online tickets in something like 15 minutes! Insane!

And I am one of the lucky ticket holders.

I invite you to meet these two inspirational men. They have helped me maneuver through all there is to know about traveling internationally. I will be publishing personal summaries of my experiences and knowledge on this blog, but I know what I know because of these two generous men.

Who are your travel mentors? Do they blog or write books? We all want to know! Please comment.

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