Posts From Category: Travel

Cappadocia in Two Days

I know the fact that my website has become a platform full of travel posts, and I decided to give a break right after I share this two day trip I made a while ago to Cappadocia; probably the hottest of the tourist spots in Turkey. This will be a full 2-day itinerary to all you can do in this UNESCO World Heritage site that’ll take you to another level of falling in love with various landscapes, as well as Turkey. Before I start, I would like to state that I ended up here thanks to a foreign friend visiting. All the trip was actually planned on a very short notice -even though I knew she was coming long before- and I believe the details I’ll be sharing in a while will help a lot to whomever is thinking of seeing this world of wonders in a parallel situation.

What will you read?

+ History of Cappadocia
+ Hot Air Balloon Experience w Rainbow Balloons
+ Accommodation
+ Food
+ Uçhisar
+ Love Valley
+ Paşabağ Fairy Chimneys
+ Devrent Valley
+ Three Beautifuls
+ Turkish Night
+ Derinkuyu Underground City
+ Selime Monastery
+ Ihlara Valley
+ Pigeon Valley

Cappadocia Balloons and Fairy Chimneys
A brief history of Cappadocia…

The history of Cappadocia dates back to 6th century BC, and the timeline that reaches today includes Hittites, Persians, Roman and Byzantine Empires, and finally Turkish starting with the Battle of Manzikert in 1071; the date when Turks started to rise in Anatolia. The place was formed by the volcanic activities happening in the mounts of Erciyes, Hasan, and Melendiz surrounding the area. Some say, the name Cappadocia is derived from Haspaduya, the ancient Persian word, meaning “Land of Beautiful Horses”, but some of the sources claim that it comes from “Ketpatukh” meaning the country people of Khepat.

Cappadocia, Balloons, Us
How to reach Cappadocia?

A huge part of Cappadocia is located in Nevşehir city in central Anatolia; in other words, the center of Turkey. In fact, the area is scattered around the cities of Kayseri, Aksaray, Kırşehir, and Niğde as well. The easiest way is landing in Kayseri Erkilet Airport in Kayseri city, and then taking a shuttle bus or a rental car from there. Reaching the accommodation locations of Ürgüp, Göreme, and Avanos takes about an hour after that. There is also another airport, which is named after Cappadocia, but that isn’t operative year round. The shuttle buses are pretty cheap, but I would definitely recommend you to get your own ride to have more flexibility, thinking that your time will be limited.

Cappadocia Map
What to do and see?

Ok, this is a pretty long story actually, which I’ll explain in plain details in a while. To give you a basic picture though, the most important two attractions you should do are the hot balloons, and seeing the fairy chimneys around. To accomplish both in the rightest way, I would strongly suggest to talk to your hotel and ask for daily Cappadocia tours, and agencies for hot balloons. There are three major routes for Cappadocia separated into groups as green, red, and blue, all of which are day trips each. For the hot balloons, you book with the agency a couple of days in advance, and they come get you very early in the morning from whichever hotel you are staying at – around like 5am- and according to the wind forecast, they decide whether to take off or not. Now I’ll explain all the crucial details that you’ll have to know along my experiences with Woop Woop Travel for Cappadocia city tour, and Rainbow Balloons for the hot balloon…

Cappadocia Attractions Collage

Day 0

So my friends were coming via Greece, and I was coming from Istanbul. I landed in Kayseri Airport late in the evening, got the car below from Garenta, and started waiting for them. I don’t have any connection to Garenta whatsoever, but they are probably the most convenient and cheap rental company that we have in Turkey. My friends arrived around midnight and our an hour trip to Çavuşin/Avanos was on…

Rental Renault Megane from Garenta
Our hotel: Jacob’s Cave Suites

Normally, most of the tourists stay in Göreme, the heart of Cappadocia to have a genuine experience of the cave hotels and stuff. Even though they have great views, especially in the morning when the balloons are all up, those hotels are fully booked year round, and it’s very hard to find any available rooms if you aren’t booking far in advance. We chose a cave hotel at a place called Çavuşin, a bit out of the city center, which was still just perfect. It’s actually a small family business run by a very sweet lady called Müyesser, who helped us big time to have a great experience in Cappadocia. Their lobby is just like a combination of the living room and kitchen of your house. Amazing Turkish breakfast, coffee, tea, cookies, and Turkish style cake all day long, makes everything just awesome. Müyesser arranged our 2-day city tour with Woop Woop Travel as well as Turkish Night, which I will get into the details of in a while…

Jacob's Cave Suites

Day 1

First atttempt of the balloon…

There are several balloon companies operating in Cappadocia, and you do an advance booking by calling them, or mailing them. They send you a mail order form to lock the expenses, but you aren’t charged anything until the time you take the ride, because when the wind isn’t in the right condition, the Turkish Association of Aviation doesn’t let these companies operate. Even though I knew that it’d be around 2am when we make it to the hotel, I decided to book the balloon ride for the same morning so that we have two chances. Who would know that it would work the other way around… When making the reservation for the balloons, companies ask for the hotel you’ll be staying at, and the night before, they tell you what time their bus will be picking you up. The news might even be direct cancellation if the weather forecast is very negative. We were picked up around 5:30am by Rainbow Balloons and made our way to the open land, where the balloon was supposed to take off. Waiting for about half an hour over there didn’t help us take the ride though. Wind was pretty strong, and as it wasn’t safe, we had no chance but going back to our hotel to nap a little, and then have breakfast.

Me filling up a glass with Turkish Tea.

After having done with our super tasty breakfast in Jacob’s Cave Suites, it was time to leave for the tour of Northern Cappadocia, which they call the RED TOUR. The tour bus of Woop Woop Travel took us from our hotel around 8am, and we picked up several people from the hotels around and stopped at the tour office two pay up. It was around 35 euros at the time. This tour included Uçhisar Panorama, Göreme Open Air Museum, Love Valley View Point, Paşabağ Fairy Chimney Formations, and Devrent Valley. So let’s move on with the details…

Breakfast at Jacob's Cave Suites
Uçhisar Panorama

Uçhisar is the highest point of Cappadocia and the castle named after this place is a unique one with many cave rooms and stairs connecting to each other like a maze. The panorama tour doesn’t include going up there, as most of these rooms aren’t open to tourists. We just stopped somewhere close-by, listened to the history from our tour guide, who explained everything about the history of Cappadocia into all of the details. To be honest, some of the info he was giving out was a bit too much, so we decided to take a look around, have a couple of funny pictures as you can see below and moved on with the next stop.

Uchisar Panorama
Göreme Open Air Museum

This place is called an open air museum, and it has been listed on UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1984, but most of its historical beauties are located inside the churches located next to each other. Visitors aren’t allowed to take pictures inside, not to harm the paintings and frescoes dating back to 10th-12th centuries. You can see all the details of the life at those times from the first hand by looking at these pictures. These pictures mainly tell stories from Byzantine Empire times as they are named after the stories that the frescoes are telling. For instance, there is one called Snake Church, and inside, the Killing of the Snake by St. George and St. Theodore is depicted. The museum is located at 1.5km distance from Göreme.

Göreme Open Air Museum From the Bottom
Göreme Open Air Museum from the Top
Göreme Open Air Museum from the Top w Me
Love Valley Viewpoint

Love Valley is where you get to see many fairy chimneys located next to each other, with a 4900m long land full of chimneys. Even though people come from Göreme and hike around for hours and enjoy the different landscapes formed millions of years ago, what we did at this part of the trip was just to overlook at the valley for about half an hour. I researched a bit to find out why this is called Love Valley, but there is no real evidence to that. Some say that the reason is it makes you fall in love with the beauty of the views as well as the beauty of these fairy chimneys. If you have time, you can roam around the vineyards and fruit trees located around these chimneys about 2 hours to have the greatest experience of all.

Love Valley Viewpoint

Our stop right after an open buffet lunch was traditional handicrafts of Avanos, which was actually a contribution to Turkish Economy stop. We learned how rugs were handcrafted, how it can take years to make some of the rugs, and how the ingredients were naturally made. None of us were keen to buy rugs even though they were all beautiful, so we just enjoyed the history of rug making while drinking the super tasty apple tea that we were treated.

Apple Tea and Turkish Carpets
Paşabağ Fairy Chimneys

This might be one of the most picturesque spots of all trip along with the balloons. Located on the road to Zelve that comes from Avanos via Göreme, Paşabağ lets you wander through narrow and steep ways of some distinct volcanic formations. The name means The Vineyard of Pacha(General in Military), and it is also called the Monks Valley. This name was derived from the vineyard by the road, and the tuff stones standing apart. A chapel dedicated to St. Simeon and hermit’s shelter was built in one of the chimneys with three heads. One of the most iconic spots is a fairy chimney that looks like a horse. You can go inside if you are a bit fit and climb the little cave on the second floor, then have an amazing picture taken by someone standing outside. This was also the place that we saw some couples having wedding pictures.

Me in Pasabag
Horse-like Chimney
Hilly Pasabag
Devrent Valley

Close to Paşabağ, there is the valley called Devrent, where you let the chimneys widen your world of imagination. Animal-like shapes, Virgin Mary holding Jesus Christ, lunar landscapes, moonscapes and the lot. This stop of the trip was actually very short, and it was all about taking pictures.

Devrent Valley
Three Beautifuls

I believe this wasn’t on the itinerary but the tour wanted to do us a favor. Close to Devrent, there are three special chimneys stated next to each other, and their shapes are assumed as father, mother, and the child. Standing apart from all the other chimneys around, the Three Beautifuls has many tales. One of them tells that once upon a time a beautiful daughter of a king fell in love with a shepherd. They couldn’t convince the king to accept the situation so they run away, then eventually had a kid. After a while, they decided that the king would forgive them when seeing his grandson. Though at the entrance of the castle, the king ordered his men to kill the family. The daughter begged God to save them from getting killed by his father’s men and they were eventually turned into stones; the chimney in front is the shepherd, the one in between is the kid, and behind them is the daughter of the king.

Three Beautifuls

The RED TOUR was over with this last trip and we went back to the hotel to rest for a while, then head to Turkish Night in Göreme.

Turkish Night in Evranos Restaurant…

So this Turkish Night concept is actually made for foreigners to have a better understanding of Turkish traditions from all around the country. The restaurant is inside a cave, and there are  little rooms where the guests have an elevated view of the circular dance floor surrounded by these rooms. While having your dinner and drinking, you can enjoy the show of belly dance, Turkish folk dances, groom and family asking the girls family for the marriage, henna night and various related shows. The shows start around 8pm and takes about 2.5 hours. The drinks are inclusive to the price of around 20 euros.

Evranos Outside
Folk Dances at Turkish Night
Final of the show with Turkish Flag

Day 2

Second Balloon Attempt

We finally had the chance to get on the balloons on day 2. The story until getting into the balloon basket was all the same, so I’m skipping that. Only thing I’d like to mention is the take off place was different, because locations are selected daily according to wind directions.

Balloon getting inflated

Even though the history of ballooning dates back to 1783, France, it wasn’t before 1990 that the hot air balloons started to operate in Cappadocia skies. A British lady called Kaili Kidner, and her husband Lars Eric More were the first people to fly a balloon over Cappadocia and they started the very first balloon company called Kapadokya Balloons in 1991. There were many other balloons next to ours waiting to be pumped up to fly over the fairy chimneys. Our balloon had around 15 people on it, and we were standing in cubicles of four people. The pilot stands in the middle, firing up and changing direction using the ropes according to his view and the radio; receiving direcitons from the ground. The ride takes about an hour, and although it was a bit chilly as we were there on October, the staggering views without a second of hesitation made it totally negligible. We couldn’t stop taking millions of pictures while up on the skies as high as 1000m. In the middle of the tour, the pilot even placed the basket on the cap of a chimney to have a look around. If you ever visit Turkey, I can clearly say that this is one hell of an experience that you will never ever forget.

Balloon From the Corner

After an hour of ride, we landed on a pick up truck, and then treated with glasses of alcohol free champagne as our balloon ride certificates were presented. It was time to go back to our hotel to enjoy the breakfast, and then move on to with the GREEN TOUR.

All the balloons on air
Göreme Panorama

The first part of the GREEN TOUR was almost identical to Love Valley viewpoint part of the RED TOUR. We overlooked at Göreme instead of Love Valley, which had chimneys as well. If you put the pictures side by side, it’s very hard to differentiate what the difference is to be honest. Only thing I could say that there was a little hill that you could climb on in Göreme Panaroma to have a cooler picture then the one you can have at Love Valley overview.

Göreme Panorama
Derinkuyu Underground City

Cappadocia has 36 different underground cities connecting to each other. This might have been the most interesting part of all the trip, as it is also the biggest underground cities among all 36. Thought to be built around 7-8th centuries BC, Derinkuyu is an underground city with a depth of 200m that includes stables, wine cellars, storage rooms, refectories, chapels and so on. It’s a comprehensive city built under the ground, no shoot. The complex was found by accident in 1963, when a resident realized a secret room behind the wall of his house, and by 1967, it was open to tourists. According to official statements, it can accommodate 20.000 people, but the gateways and rooms are super tiny that you can’t help thinking the Phrygian people who made all this were actually hobbits, and that number doesn’t mean much. Historical records say that it was used intensively by Byzantines during the war between Muslim Arabs, in centuries of 7th-11th, till the battle of Manzikert I presume. The city has 20 floors under the ground, though, only 8 floors are open to visitors. Anyway, it’s truly a must see in Cappadocia.

Derinkuyu Underground City
Derinkuyu Underground City
Selime Monastery

Closer to Aksaray city and at the end of Ihlara Valley(next stop), Selime Monastery is one of the biggest religious buildings in Cappadocia with a rock-cut cathedral size church. To reach the top section that has a staggering fortress-like structure, and the rooms, first you need to pass a tunnel-like corridor, which was part of the caravan path for camels. After that, there is a protective waiting section for them. It was thought to be built for people to pray while the camels were resting at this part. The monastery requires steep climbs and going through very narrow passageways, but it’s definitely worth it.

Selime Monastery Cave
Artist in Selime Monastery
Pit Stop
Out of Monastery Look
Ihlara Valley

After a traditional sort of lunch with kebabs, we headed to Ihlara Valley. The 100m deep, 45km long valley was formed by Melendiz River riding across, and has four different entrances. Although there is an entrance close to Selime Monastery, we entered from the one nearby Ihlara Village to walk down 300 steps, and have a better understanding of the landscapes and the depth. During our 3.5km hike, we saw several rock cut churches with many sorts of frescoes, listened to the beauty of rushing Melendiz River, took pictures on huge stones, chilled on top of wooden logs drinking Turkish Tea…

Ihlara Valley Stairs
Top of the Rock
Pigeon Valley

The last stop of the GREEN TOUR was Pigeon Valley. This could have been a hiking trip as well, but as the time was very limited, we only had time to look over the valley with hundreds of pigeon houses. The reason why so many pigeon houses were carved on the rocks of the valley was that pigeons were used as a source of food and fertilizer. The advent of chemical fertilizers have reduced the use of pigeon dung, but there is still some locals using them stating that the dung, I mean pigeon poop, makes food tastier. How yummy, isn’t it!

Pigeon Valley

Actually before we made it to the last stop of Pigeon Valley, we had the stopover of Contribution to Turkish Economy Part 2. Below are the videos of ceramics and clay artistry, that also have hundreds of years of history dating prior to Ottoman Era.

Dinner at Seyyah Han

So we were done with the tour around 5pm, and after getting off all the dust with quick showers at our hotel, we went to a restaurant close by recommended by the hotel owner Müyesser. The restaurant Seyyah Han was nested in a cave by a huge rock formation lit up from the bottom. The two floor restaurant has an open terrace upstairs for a wider view, and a cafe downstairs to enjoy the Turkish Coffee after dinner. They said the specialty is Lamb Neck cooked on wood fire so we didn’t resist. Traditional serving, wood burning stove nearby to heat the room, and super tasty local wine made everything just amazing.

Seyyah Han Restaurant/Cafe

So after having our Turkish Coffees along with Turkish Delights, our super intensive Cappadocia trip was finally over.

Hope you liked the post. For all your questions and whatnot, you can either e-mail me over bt@berkaytekin.com, or contact me through my social media accounts.

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Till next!

The Lapland Tour

Yesss! Now is finally the time to talk about my Lapland trip from the New Year’s Eve, bound for 2018. Before I move on with the details though, I would like to introduce the ingredients first, which I hopefully will make a habit out of by adding to all my posts. Not to forget, this post can also be used as a 3-day itinerary for a basic Lapland trip.

What will your read?

+ Flight experience from Istanbul to Rovaniemi w Freebird Airlines
+ Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi
+ Tornio
+ Snowmobile Safari
+ Santa’s Summer House/Seaside Office
+ Husky Tour
+ Hunting the Northern Lights at Night around Tornio
+ New Year’s Eve in two different countries – Finland, Sweden.

Day 1
Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi

I had been thinking of seeing the Northern Lights for a long time. To be honest, it wasn’t like I was super duper excited to see what it was all about, but it felt that it would be a cool experience in any case. To fulfill my dreams of a cool new year’s eve, it appeared that the only flight directly from Istanbul to Finnish Lapland, where you have higher chances of seeing the lights as well, belonged to a charter company called Freebird Airlines. They were only accepting people from certain tours to hop on though, so I got my tickets from Pronto Tour in Istanbul.

Our flight was at 10:15 in the morning, and frankly, from the time I stepped into Istanbul Ataturk Airport till I got out in Rovaniemi/Finland, everything went super smooth. On the way there, we also figured out that the crew of the flight -including the pilots- were supposed to spend all the time with us, and then fly back together as well. The plane was an Airbus A320, and it was like a very regular one without flight entertainment and whatnot. The food wasn’t the greatest as well, of course, but it was decent.

Time was around 2pm when we had cleared the customs, and started waiting inside the bus that would take us to Santa Claus Village, where we would cross the Arctic Circle line, get our certificates, and head to see the Real Santa. Santa Village has souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes(one of which is all made of ice), Santa’s House, Santa’s Post Office and so on. To tell you the truth, our tour guide wasn’t super helpful, so we had to figure it out all from what we had known in advance. The only downside to that was the time we had was very limited, and we didn’t know what was the best option to make the most out of it. Before coming there, I knew that I was supposed cross the Arctic Circle line, send postcards to some of my friends, and then have a picture with Santa Claus.

Passing the Arctic Circle and sending post cards(fifteen of them) took half an hour in total but the decision of having a picture with Santa appeared to be a real disaster. It isn’t just like you go and have a picture with him. Firstly, you have to get a paper from the guy standing right in front of the souvenir shop inside the two-storey house. I thought, ok that’s smart, this can’t take so long. It did, indeed. You are supposed to go through a queue of, say 300m. The passage way going up to Santa is pretty maze-like; there are pictures and fancy old-skool gadgets and whatnot around, so that you don’t know how long it will take, and keep getting excited. It took us around an hour to have a couple of pictures. Santa’s fellow asked where we were from and eventually they both started speaking Turkish. Yeah, of course this wasn’t so impressive. Having the picture takes around 2-3min each, and then there are the cashiers to pay up €40 for a usb with all the photos, or €30 for each of the prints. It’s a rip off of course, but we bought them anyway.

There are several other things that are pretty exciting around; a gorgeous snowman, a huge temperature gauge, the ice bar/restaurant if you have time. Last of all, the Arctic Circle line certificate, which shows that you crossed it. This crossing thing is just symbolic. They don’t come check whether you crossed it or not. The line is over there and you get your certificate either from the tour guide, or the information desk.

It was around 5:30pm when we left Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi for the night in Tornio; a small city to the south. Before we reached there though, tour guides informed us that we will need to do a stopover in Kemi, another city close to Tornio. That was to get our skiwear, which we were supposed to suit for the attractions of the day after.

We reached Tornio around 9pm, dropped our stuff and got out. Almost all the places were closing down, so frankly the best we could find was a Turkish Pizzeria called Utopia. Even they were closing down, and we took our pizzas to be eaten on a trash container. What an experience it was!

Anyway, it was a friday night, going to sleep, even though after pizza wasn’t the smartest choice. Actually it would be. We ended up going to a nightclub that was anything but nightclub nearby our hotel. It’s called Paradise. Loved the level of irony. This isn’t the first time that a nightclub name grabbed me from the scruff of the neck though. When I was studying in China, I visited a city called Chongqing, and as I was in my early 20’s, I headed to a nightclub, which I thought would be decent. The name was V.V.S.I., and I really wondered what it meant. I shouldn’t have. It all stood for “Very Very Slightly Included”; the peak of Google Translate, or Baidu, I presume.

Day 2

Kemi trip for the Snowmobile Safari was to start off at noon, so we wanted to check the city out in the morning. Tornio has only one single, “lively” road, and that leads to a shopping mall called Rajalla(On the Border) Pa Gransen. The shopping mall is right on the border of Sweden; by the river that separates two countries. On the river side, it has a huge area, and every year on the New Year’s Eve, people of Sweden and Finland get together over there to kick the celebrations off. The nicest thing about this ritual is that there is an hour time difference between Tornio and Swedish city Haparanda(opposite side of the river), so you can enjoy a double country celebration, even though the celebrations on the Swedish side is a bit lame. After hanging out around to check out the shopping mall for a while, we crossed the bridge to see Haparanda. It’s very interesting that in a couple of steps you change country, currency, and the time zone. Profile of the people you see in Sweden is pretty much different as well.

We reached Kemi in the afternoon and got on our snowmobiles to do the safari and then see the Seaside Office of Santa Claus. The interesting thing about the safari isn’t the snowmobile itself actually. You can’t just get on the thing and ride through the Baltic Sea, enjoying a total freedom. All the bikes need to follow the guide in front, and you just do a short tour of an hour or two on the frozen sea. We stopped several times to make sure that everybody was following. It was very nice, but not super exciting, to be honest. After the safari, we ended up drinking marshmallow hot chocolate at the Seaside Office of Santa Claus for a short while. There are desserts and stuff to enjoy as well. Daylight is pretty short, as you can guess, so we headed back to Tornio to have dinner somewhere, and go hunt the Northern Lights; aka Aurora Borealis as we were supposed to.

To explain it briefly, the Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis occur as a result of collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. These collisions can clearly be seen from the poles of both hemispheres, and the most popular locations on earth are Canada, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. There is the geomagnetic index called Kp index to see whether you can see the auroras from where you are or not. It’s pretty much like weather forecast, and to see the thing the scale of 0-9 kp index need to show above Kp5 for a clear observation. The darker the area around you, the higher chances of catching the lights, so we went further up north out of the city to see it. Unfortunately though, the Kp index was around 2 when we were there, so only my photo camera could catch it. We waited around a couple of hours after midnight, had some blueberry tea, had pictures taken with a statue which I have no idea what it was, then went back to Tornio to have a couple of drinks in a pub, then pass out.

Day 3

So this was the big day for the double major New Year’s Eve. We headed out around 10am to do a Husky Tour in Kemi. As you can see on the picture and the video supposedly below, There are four huskies that are pulling a sled. They separated us into groups of two to take turns on enjoying the ride sitting on the sled; unlucky of the turn was supposed to push the sled to help the dogs. It was an hour attraction, was fun.

Why Husky?

The answer to that questions dates back to 3000 years ago. A nomadic tribe called Chukchi people, from Siberia, were looking for the ideal sled dog, that wouldn’t disappoint them in cold winter conditions. Their endurance, high tolerance to cold, being able to survive long winter conditions, made huskies the best fit. Moreover, their overcoat helps them stay insulated, as they run miles and miles without any food.

After this, we went to have food somewhere close by, where they offered deer meat, which apparently I wasn’t fund of. It wasn’t a very fancy place, neither the food was very good, but it was decent to be honest. Having done with taming our stomachs, we headed to ride the second sled, and this time we could all sit, as it was pulled by reindeers, much slower. This might have been the most pointless thing I ever did. Took like 5 to 10 minutes, under super dark circumstances.

We were back in Tornio in the evening. Some decided to give another shot for the Northern Lights hunt. I decided not to mess the New Year’s Eve, stayed in, took a couple of hours nap. Around 10pm, time was for the dinner at a place called Mustaparran Paamaja. This place is like the only good choice you have if you are spending the New Year’s Eve in Tornio. Food and the restaurant itself were both decent. Having finished two bottles of white wine, we found ourselves on the celebration area behind the shopping mall. Finnish side of the celebrations were fancy with bright fireworks, concert and whatnot. Swedish side, which I walked right after wasn’t that good to be honest. I didn’t know where the celebrations on that side was actually taking place, so wandered around like 40 minutes in Haparanda. At the end, some guy coming from the opposite side of the road yelled “Hey bro, where is the party!” seemingly he had wandered around for long, couldn’t find any partying sort of attraction. Having heard that, I gave up on searching and went back to the area around the river to see people rolling on the snow and the weak fireworks of Haparanda.

Having celebrated 2018 twice, the trip was pretty much over. The next day we just wandered around the city of Tornio again till noon, then took the bus back to Rovaniemi, to take the plane from where it was parked. Overall, it was a very interesting New Year’s Eve, even though it could have been better.

Hope you liked all of what I wrote. For all your questions and whatnot, you can either e-mail me over bt@berkaytekin.com, or use the + button right at the top left to contact me through my social media accounts.

Till next post!

The Big Italy Tour

Hello everyone again. It has been half a year since the last time I posted stuff. I’m super busy ever since, but finally I could make some time to talk about what my Italy tour of 7 days at the end of last summer. Starting from Rome, I went to Pompei, Napoli, Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano, Siena, Venice, Bled and Ljubljana (Slovenia), Milan, and finally Como. I’ll try to give out as much details as I can about all the spots and their historical significances.

Day 1
Rome

We left Istanbul Ataturk Airport around 8am in the morning and landed in Rome around 10am. Before checking in to our rooms, first stop was the city center, the place where the iconic Colosseum was located. Also known as the world’s largest open air museum, Rome injects its history of 3000 years on every single step you take. Having an urban population of 2.9 million; there are 280 fountains, 900 churches and one of the first shopping malls of the world, which was built by Emperor Trajan in 107 BC. For us Turkish, there is one real significance though. Rome is the capital of Roman Empire, which reached a complete end when Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II (aka Fatih) conquered Constantinople in 1453, defeating Constantine; the emperor of its eastern extension Byzantine. Constantinople, eventually took the name Istanbul, and it is the largest city in Turkey. In 1870, when Italy was united under one single nation the city takes the title of Capital from Florence as well.

Colosseum

Even though why it was made is still unclear, Colosseum was constructed by Flavius Emperor Vespasian for three probable reasons; elevating popularity of the member of Flavius Empire, holding different entertainment related events, and showing high-tech engineering skills of Romans. Contrarily, it was mainly used to have Gladiator fights, animal hunt and whatnot; killing more than half a million human, and over a million animals since it was built. Having more 80 different gates, Colosseum can accommodate 50k spectators. West Gate is called the Death Gate as fighters who lost their lives were brought out from this exit. Keeping in the mind that there wasn’t much to see inside. The queue at the gate was so long that we didn’t have time to wait and go inside; roamed half an hour around, took a couple of pictures and left.

Trevi Fountain

As one of the most popular iconic spots in Rome, as well as of Italy, Trevi Fountain was our second stop after Colosseum. It’s name is derived from Trevi, which originally means “Three Ways”, and if we dig deeper into it’s history we find out that it comes from the goddess Trivia, who was controlling the three ways that was connected to the fountain. The total money thrown into fountain is €3000 on daily average.

Altar of The Fatherland

Close to Trevi Fountain, Altar of the Fatherland, which is the other tourist attraction with the so-called Venice Square, is a gigantic building of ancient Roman rule, built in memory of the first Italian ruler Victor Emmanuel II. It’s so big that it’s almost impossible to photograph the whole thing standing right in front of it. I could only have picture taken from the roundabout pretty far away from it.

Pantheon

Meaning “honor all Gods” in Greek, was initially built as a temple for all gods, and later was converted to a church. Although the age is unknown, it has one of the biggest domes ever, with 43.3m diameter. The dome helps the front garden receive sunlight during around the times of equinox. Thanks to its slopped design, rain water coming inside can easily leave the building.

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps are just a couple of minutes walking distance from Pantheon. The total number of steps are exactly 135, but due to elevated drainage system, most perceive it as 136. Designed by an Italian architect, sponsored by a French diplomat, the steps, as well as the square interestingly took their name from the Spanish Consulate in front of. The first McDonald’s in Italy was opened here.

In year 2007, a drunk man tried to drive his Toyota down the steps, but thankfully he was unsuccessful in damaging the 200 year old heritage, except for couple of cosmetic damages.

What did we eat in Rome?

It was 3pm when we finished roaming around Rome. Considering we didn’t have time to eat for long hours around Trevi Fountain, I wanted to go for a quick Ice Cream instead and went into Blue Ice to get one with some Nutella on top. I think Nutella itself explains how delicious it was. In the evening out guide was Foursquare, and we ended up in a restaurant called Da Francesco. I had a four cheese pizza and it was literally delicious. Frankly at first I thought that it was too thin and it wouldn’t satisfy me in any sense, which appeared in a sense very much true. Not that it was very thin but also very tasty, I finished a Margherita pizza by myself just a couple of hours later. Although, the restaurant is pretty small and cosy, and when you look from outside, it’s easy to say that it’s sort of mediocre, but it was packed with people. We were lucky enough to get a table quickly as there were just two of us.

Day 2
POMPEI

On the second day, we left Rome very early in the morning to reach Pompei, which is located 250km to the south. The historical site of Pompei is actually connected to Napoli in terms of municipality and it took its final shape in AD 79, when Mount Vesuvius had a huge eruption and killed 13% of the whole population, leaving a large proportion of the city underground. Pompei was actually a resort town, and it was preferred by Italian elites to spend their summer vacations. Even Emperor Nero is said to have a villa over here. Knowing that city was almost vanished at the time of the eruption, the villas of the city are named after the motives carved and painted on the walls of the houses. Close to the area of villas, there is a brothel, and funnily its direction is shown with a penis symbol on the pavement.

NAPOLI

Right after Pompei, we had a quick lunch in one of the restaurants around; it wasn’t super fancy or tasty in any sense so I’m skipping that part. The tastiest bit was actually in Napoli but I’ll get back to that after talking about the city itself first. Napoli means “New City” in Greek, and it has the third largest population after Milan and Rome. Italians’ saying of “Die after you see Napoli” isn’t so baseless, as the city is considered as UNESCO World Heritage site. The actual reason why they put it that way is because the city is so beautiful that there is nothing else left to see that can top it.

Did you know?

One interesting thing about Napoli is that the world famous Margherita Pizza took it’s name when Queen Margherita Teresa Giovanni visited the city in 1889. It is designed to take Italian Flag colors; basil representing green, tomato representing red, and cheese representing white. The very first pizza restaurant in the world was opened in 1830 in Napoli as well.

To be honest, we didn’t get to eat a pizza in Napoli as we just had two hours, and had to leave back to Rome, but I think we ate something more valuable than that. At the entrance of Umberto I Gallery, there is a little dessert store called Sfogliatella Mary. Sfogliatella is a very tasty Italian dessert that can take you to a whole new level of deliciousness with a single bite, especially when taken from Sfogliatella Mary. There is also another famous dessert, which is called Baba that you can buy with injected liquor, but frankly that’s nowhere near Sfogliatella. If you end up visiting Napoli, better don’t miss the chance of eating one of the tastiest desserts ever.

What did we eat at the second night in Rome?

We were supposed to spend the night at Rome, so we headed back around 6pm from Napoli. Taking ice-creams and desserts of the daytime into consideration, we only had space for drinks. So we found a place called Bar Del Fico, pretty close to Da Francesco of previous night. It’s a small, cosy place which has a large front area connected to the pedestrian walks of Rome. The menu was pretty limited, but I had some sort of pasta and Moscow Mule; they were more than decent.

Day 3
Florence

On Day 3, we left our hotel early in the morning to reach Florence, the city of arts. According to UNESCO, nearly a third of world’s art pieces reside here. Actually you can feel that wherever you turn your head to. To give an idea on the intensity though; a disorder called Stendhal Syndrome (aka Florence Syndrome) has become a phenomenon after the French author Henri Stendhal visited the Basilica of Santa Croce to see the frescoes (wall paintings) and the tombs of some of the best Renaissance figures, in 1817. He described his experience as life draining, followed by a fear of falling. The cause of the disorder is simply being exposed to something of great personal significance, particularly viewing art. Even though whether it really exists is a debate, it is said that the effects of the disorder on some sufferers can go as far as needing to take anti-depressants.

Pıazza del Duomo – Basılıca of Saınt Mary of the Flower

The moment you take a step into the main square of Florence, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower welcomes you with its gorgeousness. During the time it was built, it had the title of being the biggest cathedral in the world. Now though, it is the third after St. Peter in Vatican, and Duomo di Milano in Milan. Designed by architect Arnolfo Di Cambio im 1296, the cathedral got full grade from the artists of that time, including Michelangelo.

Pıazza della Sıgnorıa

One of the sweet spots for people of Florence as well as tourists is called Signoria Square that took its name from the huge castle-like building called Signoria Palace. Today this building is a town hall, which has several statues in front that take your attention at the first sight. There are eight of them in total from various world-wide known artists in the history. The David from Michelangelo is also there, but it’s just a replica; the real one resides in the gallery Accademia dell’Arte del Disegno, aka Academy of Design Arts. Besides, there is The Rape of Sabine Women, which reflects the myth that is about mass kidnapping of women by Italian men. That might be the most eye-catching sculpture at the spot, to be honest. While roaming in the evening around Florence, I saw a huge replica displayed at some store, which also had an eye catching €200.000 price tag.

Ponte Vecchıo

Iconic spots in Venice never end, but Ponte Vecchio would definitely top the list if I had to do a ranking among them. Built in 13th century, it was the only bridge connecting two sides of Arno River, and it is the only bridge that survived when Germans bombarding the city in World War I. When you walk on, you can see goldsmiths on both sides of the bridge, as well as two large observation terraces. The best time you can see the bridge from outside is at sunset, from Ponte alle Grazie, which is another bridge a couple of blocks away.

What did we eat in Florence?

For lunch, we went to some place called Trattoria Zaza to have some steaks. It was very satisfactory to be honest. Tuscany area is known for its delicious meat anyway, so frankly it wasn’t a big surprise that the steaks were this good.

Ice cream! After having the steaks we went to a historical ice cream shop called Venchi, and as you can guess, the first bite was sort of stepping into heaven, especially after that steak we had.

In the evening, we wandered around Florence, checking Foursquare and Yelp consistently, but to be honest, the options that came up weren’t super exciting. We went to check out a couple of them but weren’t interested to stay in. Finally we found a place called Rivalta by Arno River, which was a combination of bar and restaurant. Was it amazing? No I can’t say that but the food we selected among their limited menu was decent. Drinks were very good to be honest, enough alcohol involved, a large variety of choice. We found out that the food we call “hamur” or “pişi” cooked by our grannies was served in Italy under the name “Coccoli” in an Italian way; machine made like round shape, and a cool strainer like plate.

Day 4
Pısa

Popular with the tourists getting into various shapes in front of its leaning tower(that includes me), Pisa is actually a city. Next to the leaning tower, there is the baptistery and of course next to it, a cathedral. After a short bus trip from Florence in the morning, we reached the famous Miracoli Square, where you face these three gorgeous buildings. The name actually comes from the Greek word for ”swamp”, so by the time you hear about it, you start to get an idea on why the famous tower is leaning.

Pisa Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa; aka Pisa Bell Tower

Although the real architect is unknown, the tower is said to be designed by two architects; Bonanno Pisano and Gherardo din Gherardo. Calculations of the time it was built didn’t involve a thorough assessment of the land, and even though they decided to make the upper levels narrower -as the tower was leaning- they couldn’t prevent this huge building from leaning 1 to 2mm every year. Many architects made countless calculations to stop the leaning for year but they weren’t pretty successful, and that’s why right tip of the top is 5 meters further than the bottom of the same side. In 2008 though, they finally found the solution to stop the leaning, and the tower hopefully, is stabilized forever.

San Gımıgnano

After getting into various shapes in front of the leaning tower, our next stop was San Gimignano, which was located in between Florence and Siena cities. As a UNESCO world heritage site, it carries remains of Gothic and Romanesque architecture. 72 towers were built due to Aristocratic families trying to show their wealth, though, only 14 could survive the wars. No matter barbaric raids, the city didn’t lose a bit from its gorgeousness; the beauty almost rules the area from the hill it is located. The genuine historic feeling you get from the very first stop you take in can’t be described with words, got to live it.

A couple of “tasties” from San Gimignano

Riccapizza: There is a cosy, little pizzeria on the right while walking up the hill from the main gate side. Long queues in front as pizzas are considerably tasty. Choose your taste of two slices pizza and soft drink, and bon appetit.

Dondoli: Another spot with a long queue in front. Although you have to wait 15min to get the first bite of the ice cream; it’s well worth it. Offering countless tastes of ice cream, it is no surprise that the chief cook Sergio is among the referees of World Ice Cream Championship.

Sıena

Siena was the stop after Dondoli’s tasty ice cream. Added to UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1995, accomodates 53.000 citizens in its 17 different districts. Among the districts, there is a huge competition and every year on July 2 and August 16 city square Piazza Del Campo hosts horse race called Palio. Pre-requisites for being a member of a certain district involves being born in that district our having some sort of blood tie or good relations with someone from there. The competition is so fierce that at least one of the married couples need to go back to family house/district and stay there on the race day. Besides, the race isn’t all about winning; it is to block the rival winning as well. Though, only 10 of the 17 districts race for the title, and each and every district have a certain rival that is defined. Winner has its flag hanged out of balconies for weeks.

I wasn’t there for the race, but the stories we heard were very much interesting. The second highest bell tower in Italy also resides here.  It is small but a very interesting place with its discrete historical texture, as well as various shops targeting different scales of economic status.

So this day of Pisa, San Gimignano, and Siena was finally over. Late in the evening, we reached our hotel in Venice, but I was so tired that I literally fell on the bed after a couple of drinks.

Day 5
Venice

Venice, as one of the most beautiful cities on earth, was of course one of the most important as well as beautiful spots of the whole trip as well. Composed of 117 islands on a lagoon with houses built on wooden blocks, it wouldn’t be unfair to say it’s one of a kind. As our hotel was outside the mainland of Venice, we reached the shore by boat, from the side that has the statue of Victor Emmanuel II, pretty much the same one that we saw in front of Altar of the Fatherland in Venice Square, Rome. After passing two bridges to left from where we landed, we reached San Marco and San Todaro Columns, which are the gates to the center of Venice; Piazza San Marco, or San Marco Square as in English.

San Marco and San Todaro Columns

Entering the city from the seaside, two gorgeous columns welcome you. Named as San Marco and San Todaro columns, these are said to be sent by Emperor Constantine of Byzantine Empire, for the help they received from Venetians during the war they had with Phoenicians in 12th century. So the columns are actually sent from Constantinople, which today, is the largest city of Turkey, Istanbul. Lacking the equipment needed to bring the columns to the land, Venetians capsize one of the ships that were bringing the three columns initially gifted to them. Having successfully brought the other two on land, Venetians lose their interest in the columns as these are thought to have lost their charm as one were missing. Also the only technology they were lacking wasn’t about bringing the columns to the shore. Engineering skills needed to erect the columns wasn’t there as well. After years of debates and trials, an architect called Nicolo Barattieri was able to erect these columns in return for holding gambling games in between the columns. Although his business was a big hit, it came to an end as the government was unhappy about what was going on, and decided to do the executions of the time between the columns, and hang the bodies there for a certain amount of time.

The Winged Lion

Symbol of the city. Wherever you go in Venice, you can see figures of the Winged Lion, which became the symbol when in AD 828, Venetian traders brought the corpse of Evangelist St. Mark back to Venice. The actual reason for winged lion to become the symbol for St. Mark is that lion, as an animal, is very strong, brave, and shrewd.

After all these brief but interesting information about the trip, I would like to continue with the rest of it. We entered the main square passing by the church to the right of the columns and consequently entered the narrow street of Venice. The apartments don’t even have names. We heard that mailmen having a lot of trouble finding who to hand in the documents they are supposed to. We roamed around for a while, ate nice Italian sandwiches on the way and then hopped on one of the gondolas as another symbol of the city. The place where gondolas leave is 100m to the left of the square when you have the church St. Mark at your back. The interesting design, which is led by large portion at the back of the gondola isn’t just a coincidence; it is to balance the boat when gondolier hops on. The S like front represents the Big Channel, and figure on top represents a duke hat. Years of men hegemony in gondoling didn’t stop Giorgio Boscolo, the very first female gondolier ever in Venice, from passing the hard tests. A new era started for gondoling with her feminine touch in year 2010.

Caffe Florıan

The first Cafe in history, which dates back to 1720 is called Caffe Florian and you can find it right at the square. When the weather is nice, there is non-stop live music going on that takes you to 18th century with the sounds of those years. You can enjoy the music with a great coffee accompanied by a delicious dessert, while watching people roaming around the square. A quick notice; this joy comes with a €6 per person music fee added to the bill.

Murano

After Venice main island, we took a boat to another little island called Murano, 1.5km away from Venice City. The island is famous for its glassware, and after a short show of how they make all the art made of glass, you reach the shop of all the products. Contribution to Italian economy sort of stuff as you can guess; in any tour you have such thing anyway, so in Italy this was it. To be honest, this sort of stuff don’t attract me too much, so I’m just posting some picture and moving on.

Burano

Photography lovers, Instagrammers, selfie addicts buckle up… This is just the right place for y’all. Accommodating houses of various neon colors, the little island Burano is actually a Fisherman’s village… You easily get that influence when you see the little boats parked by the narrow canals in front of the colorful houses. The main reason why these houses are so colorful is that when the storm hits the area, it makes things much easier for the fisherman when trying to see their houses from the sea, or even from the land; the storm hits pretty bad. When I was walking around, it was cloudy and there was just light showers. After I finished walking around, thunderstorms cut in and I found myself in a restaurant called Galuppi, which was ran by an Asian lady. Can’t recommend it but under that rain, I had no option. At least by the time I sat there, I knew why fishermen needed the houses to be colored this catchy. After having sort of a lunch there, it was pretty obvious that the rain wasn’t gonna reach an end, so  we all had to run to our boat, and in that 5 minutes we were literally soaked; I mean like if I swam with clothes on. Was truly an interesting experience, I have to say.

Day 6
Bonus: Slovenia

After spending the night close to Venice -not truly Venice to be honest- we were back on the roads in the morning. A day trip to Slovenia to score one more country, as well as putting a Slavic flavor on top of the cake seemed like a fair deal. Even though we couldn’t spend much time, it was nice to see both Lake Bled and the city Bled settled around it. Of course, Ljubljana too. Not to forget, we stopped at a small cafeteria called Dawit right before reaching the border. Having a coffee with their amazing desserts that early in the morning was just the perfect combination to start the day.

Bled

With no doubt, Bled is the most attractive spot of all Slovenia. It is also the place where this little country that has a very short coast has its only island located. The island can only be reached on small boats called Pletna that have traditional looks with stripes. I think the meaning of these boats for Slovenians is the same as Istanbul Islands’ boats for Istanbul citizens. Better check those out if you haven’t been to Istanbul yet.

The island has a famous church on top. To reach it though, one needs to walk up 99 steep steps. Some say, to guarantee a happy marriage, groom is supposed to carry his bride all the way up these steps. After walking for half an hour around the lake, we reached the main square. One of the funny facts about my “Big Italy Tour” was Bled of Slovenia taking the top of the list of all the places I have visited during the trip. Bled Castle, not to forget, is also another worthy spots of the area, but we decided to spend the time eating in a restaurant called Restavracija Panorama, which as you can guess is just by the lake and you have a very nice view while having your food. To be honest, considering it was right at the entrance of the lake, I thought it would be a tourist rip off. Apparently it wasn’t. The food was very tasty and fairly priced. Having finished our lunch by the nice and calming view of the lake we headed to Ljubljana. Hoping to see Bled on a sunnier day though.

Ljubljana

We could only spent two hours in Bled to be honest. What caught my attention the most, frankly, was the beauty of the girls. They were all blonde, white skined, colored eyes and whatnot. Pure Slav beauties to cut the long story short. Prešeren Square is the center of downtown, as it is the place where all music, sports, politics events are held. You can see Ljubljana Castle up on the hill when you walk across a short bridge nearby. As for many of the countries you can have all the city below if you have the stamina and time to walk up there. We decided to have beers at a pub called Slovenska Hisa located by the river passing from the city center, and went back to our hotel in Venice.

Day 7
Mılan

So very early next morning, for the last bit, we headed to Milan. Reached the city center around noon. Again as a ritual, we didn’t have much time to hang around. In a couple of hours that we had, we hanged around the gothic church called Duomo di Milano; the one you can see in each and every album of Milan pictures. Of course, like in all the Italian cities, the square is also named after the church. This place, to be honest, is like a meeting spot for all the tourists from around the Italy. The time you reach the church, there is a huge Victor Emmanuel II statue. When you leave it to your back, there is a shopping arcade named after him as well. The dome inside the arcade, with the combination of glass and iron structure, looks identical to the one we saw in Pantheon. Known as the first shopping mall in history, the arcade also accommodates the very first seven star hotel called Town House.

There are a bunch of shops inside including ice-cream, pizzeria, goldsmiths and whatnot. If you exit the place from the opposite side of Duomo, a Leonardo Da Vinci monument welcomes you. The idea of this monument dates back to 19th century, and realization of it is thanks to the result of an art contest. Not to forget, Victor Emmanuel II street is the one that connects the main roads to Duomo Square, and to the parallel, Monte Napoleone is the street where the stores for luxury brands such as Moncler, Armani, LV and so on reside. Also many luxurious cafes are also located around this area.

What did we eat and drink in Milan?

When we were free in the daytime, we ate at a place called Bar Madonnina, which was a decent cafe/restaurant located on Victor Emmanuel II street. Other than that, we had ice-cream at Vanilla Gelati, which was just a result of a long queue in front of the shop. It was above decent, and I can definitely recommend.

At night, we had drinks nearby Duomo, where Aperol and Martini were located. Now you might be wondering whether these were alcohol names or not… Well yes, they are, but they are also bars located in 100m distance from each other. They only serve the drinks of the brand that align with the name of the bar. At least they don’t serve the drinks of the rival brand across the street. Aperol closes down at 11pm, whereas Martini closes down at 2am. Frankly these places are well below the line, and the music is nothing better than Despacito level. I can’t recommend, and worse than that, I can’t tell you what is better than this, as I didn’t have tim to go deep into its nightlife.

Como

Late in the afternoon, we headed to Como; an upper tier city by the Swiss border. After an hour of ride, we reached a very small, but cozy city that has a lake with the same name. Behind the lake, there is a long street as the hottest spot of the city, where you can find bunch of restaurants, shops, and all that. Actually there are a couple of streets to the parallel with the same concept. They are like the start line of Como trip, as they are located by the valley among the hills surrounding lake Como. The city starts here. This main street and Como lake is connected to each other by the narrow way that connects Como to Milano. So after roaming around the shops and cafes, we reached our boat waiting to take us around Lake Como, which is the deepest lake of Europe with 425m depth.

Located in the valley surrounded by the hills of Como, the lake is also surrounded by the villas situated one after another on different parts of the slopes. Actually this is the place where villa culture first emerged. It is so famous that it’s hard to make sole relation to Italian high society; rich people from around the world mostly have villas here. George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Antonio Banderas, David Beckham, Catherine Zeta Jones all have villas here. It’s not only home to the stars of Hollywood, but also their movies. Casino Royale, Ocean’s 12, Star Wars II are just a few of the popular movies that had scenes filmed in Como.

After our short tour on the lake, we went back to the southern tip. Gotta talk about the funicular going up one of the hills taking our attention on the way back as well though. Opened in 1894, this means of transportation taking people from the tip of the lake all the way to the top is very much attractive even when seen from the lake. The steep ride used to be fired up with the steam, which changed to electricity in year 1911, and operating using electricity power since then.

What did we eat in Como, what did we drink?

Had exactly 45min in Como to spend after the boat trip. We found a very cosy place, called Panino Buono, and it was as cosy as Como I would say. Located on the road that follows the main road along the lake. Ordered drinks and a nice plate of deli stuff that could accompany red wine just perfectly. It was also one of the greatest ends to the trip I could think of; a beautiful city, fair alcohol, tasty food, and an amazing sunset. The waiter appeared to be Turkish as well, which made it like a golden shot. The young guy called Şevket was born in Como, and he had been living over there for sometime. He was a very warm guy and gave his best to treat us as good as he possibly could. Anyway, after all this greatness, the trip was finally over. I think I couldn’t have made more out of the limited time.

Hope you liked all of what I wrote. For all your questions and whatnot, you can either e-mail me over bt@berkaytekin.com, or use the + button right at the top left to contact me through my social media accounts.

Till next post, ciao!

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