Category Archives: Travel

Turkey – May 2015


We spent  2 weeks in Turkey from May 3 – 16. The first week was all spent seeing Istanbul. We had done some research and knew some of what we wanted to see and Pat was able to book our hotel right in the middle of the Sirkeci District where we could walk to all the major attractions in about 15 minutes. And on two of the days we had booked Istanbul tours through Mediterra and these helped us cover a lot of ground.

The second week was a tour, with Mediterra Tours, of some of the main sites of across west and southwest Turkey including the capital city Ankara, the Cappadocia region, Pamukkale, Hieropolis and Ephesus with lots of other sights along the way.

I’m trying to review our trip in two parts, the first covering our week in Istanbul by subject. So I’ll try to relate our experiences on Eating, Culture, Street Life, The Grand Bazaar, etc.

Then I’ll cover our second week, the Mediterra Turkish countryside tour by date.


The Metadata – Overall Observations

Turkey is safe, safe,safe.  Safe as Ottawa. I don’t think the Turkish Tourism folks understand they have a real problem. Hyperbolic media reporting has created a personal safety fear that I believe is curtailing North American tourist traffic to Turkey. Our 24 hour news is constantly showing us pictures of North Africa and the Middle East in flames ….. and guess where Turkey is located on the world map? The world is a big place and there are many great travel choices … and a surprising number of our friends urged us not to go to Turkey right now! But happily, we found that Turkey was perfectly safe, without exception, wherever we went.

The Turkish people are great! They are friendly, hard working and naturally seem to be open to interaction with tourists/strangers. I was greatly impressed by the innate qualities of the Turks we dealt with. Pat and I think the 1923 revolution that formed Turkey out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire had a great effect in forming the persona of the Turkish people. They’ve been taught a pride in their country from childhood; that their grandparents had to fight for their freedom (close in history – bad times a very recent memory)  and they don’t take what they’ve got for granted .

Turkey is a fully developed country. We were shocked at the modern Turkey we experienced versus our expectations. The roads and infrastructure are just as good, maybe better, than what we have here in Canada. Everyone has a mobile device, WIFI coverage seems ubiquitous and the whole place seems orderly and well run. We booked a tour on the last week because we were uncertain we could drive ourselves around as we’ve done everywhere else in Europe. Ha! … the Turkish roads and signage were excellent; better than what I’ve driven through in many areas of Ireland and France. I’d avoid the cities where the traffic is a pure mob scene … I’ve driven in Paris at rush hour and can do it … but why stress yourself? But we definitely could have rented a car and driven ourselves with Brunhilda (our GPS) piloting the way. No regrets though; the Mediterra tour got us to many more places than we could have done by ourselves in the same timeframe.

Lifestyles are changing dramatically in Turkey. I talked to all sorts of Turkish folks including our various tour guides, waiters, hotel clerks, convenience store owners and people sitting beside me on park benches. Some of the points they all seemed to agree on:

  • Turkey will not be joining the EU any time soon. They said that although their elites and political leaders continued to promote it, the ordinary Turk thinks it will be very bad financially for them. They saw the EU as a sinking ship and why would they want to join that?
  • Young people are leaving the rural landscape in droves for work in the cities. There are lots of jobs in the cities. They may not be high paying jobs but they are attached to the modern urban lifestyle that young people want. One comment from a restaurant manager was interesting; he said that the young Turk wants an office job these days. They are not as happy to work in the Service industry like he does … they want office jobs and careers.
  • The Islamic/Eastern view of the world is much different than our Western view. When discussing Turkey’s potential membership in the EU one of our guides brought up the Crusades as an example of the way the Christian/Western societies have brutalized and subjugated the Muslim world throughout history. The cultural and belief gaps between ourselves in the Western World and the Restof World are vast and will not be bridged soon. Everything that exposes us to them, and vice versa, will advance the understanding and acceptance that will close the gap … but I can’t see this situation changing soon. Will it take 100 years to make real progress?


Turkey is a stunningly beautiful country. We hot-air ballooned above the hills of Cappadoccia, rode across endless fertile plains on the way to Konya and saw snow capped mountains rise as we neared Pamukkale. Everywhere we were surrounded by a handsome countryside that was green and clean. The only problem was too many fantastic picture opportunities!

The antiquities are amazing. You’re walking through 10,000 years of history every day as you tour Turkey. We had done some research (Wikkipedia, Lonely Planet, etc.) and that really paid off. I’d printed and brought quite a bit of the material and we reviewed it before we got to each site of the day so we were able to understand and appreciate much more with the context provided by the advance reading.

More thoughts as they are formed…….



Traveling in a temporal void

We took off on May 3 at about 3 pm from Montreal – flew to Toronto – took off on Turkish Airways at 10:45 pm, then landed at 3:15 pm (local time – they are 7 hours ahead of Toronto) on May 4 in Constantinople ….. got to our hotel about 5 pm and sat down to a nice meal at a street side table at 8 pm.

And the flight here was remarkably easy.


It was a 9 hour flight…….but to me it seemed only about 2 hours.

Credit goes to my brother David who has been doing a fair amount of world travel recently. He told me “I can turn a coach seating flight into first class for only $1.20”.  He had gotten hold of some powerful sleeping pills left over from someone’s long ago prescription; he takes one as soon as the flight begins and says 6 to 8 hours just disappears ….. you wouldn’t know if your were in coach or first class.

It works! Someone in the family had some old pills called Oxazepam. I googled them and they are supposedly for “anxiety” but I was told they were originally prescribed as sleeping pills and would totally knock you out.

I was planning for a full coma experience so I put in ear plugs and wore a sleeping mask then took the pill soon after take off, we were barely over Kingston.

It was like falling down a well ……. that tiny pill creates a 6 to 8 hour temporal void in your life. When I recovered consciousness we were over Germany with only about 2 hours of flight time left.

Evidently there was a full dinner meal served, with all the attendant noise and hostesses bustling up and down the aisle beside me shortly after take off but I was perfectly senseless through all of it. There was no debilitating whoosiness or gross after effects. Amazing …..  I’ll definitely be using this trick again for future long distance flights.


Traveling on May 3 – Leaving Ottawa and Arriving in Istanbul


I wonder if someone is going to write a book titled “The Unconscious Tourist” or perhaps “The Full Coma Traveler? They might spell out all the tricks and tips for the best drug shortened journey experience.

Usually our goals for Day 1 are just to navigate the airports and transfers successfully. There’s always some built up pre-flight anxiety/uncertainty and so you’re happy when you can just work through the travel agenda according to your expectations.

We flew out of Montreal at about 3 pm so it was easy to have Brunhilda guide us to the PET Airport. Pat and I have always agreed that the road signage in Quebec is awful. Just so frustrating. And there is one spot on the trip to PET Airport where you have to depend on Brunhilda. As you loop back over the main highway there is no signage at all to distinguish the route to the airport vs entry to a service road. Quebec’s road signage is so bad.

There’s always a discount coupon online for Park and Fly and Pat found it and printed it so we’d save $50 on 2 weeks of parking. I could have had Valet P&F for the same price but no way; I do not trust I’d get my car delivered to me in a timely manner when I return at midnight and am tired and want to go right now. And I might feel I need to tip the valet? I’d much rather park it myself and count on the always circling minibuses to get me to and fro efficiently. Worked great.

We traveled on points and Turkish Airlines did a fine job. They also didn’t charge us the rip off taxes that Air Canada does.

The flight to Turkey looked like this:


The Grand Bazaar


“Excuse me pretty lady …. I need your money”.  That was the opening line of one of the vendors. When you go into the bazaar you have to be ready to deal with the vendors who see everyone as a walking wallet that they can entice in whatever way works. With the right attitude its no big deal and can actually be a bit of fun.

I have no sense at all if its a good idea to buy things there or not. I had no idea what things were really worth and could have been fooled with knock offs or poor quality. So that along with the fact that we didn’t have any sort of “want list” constrained our buying. But Pat knows more and likes fabrics; she saw some pestemal towels and pillow cases with eastern designs she liked and bought them.

Its a surprise to find there are hills and valleys inside the building. I guess these just reflect the landscape the bazaar was built on starting in 1455.

Its like a mini Las Vegas inside and it must use a huge amount of electric power.

The place is really clean and neatly kept…….but its hard to find a garbage can?

Most of the vendors spoke reasonable English so it was easy to get around and enjoy yourself.

Here’s the link to the pics with comments:

And here’s a couple of movies I uploaded to YouTube, GrandBazaar1 and GrandBazaar2 . They’re about  2 minutes each:




Dining in Istanbul


There are thousands of restaurants in Istanbul, many of them are squirreled away on little side streets that are closed to auto traffic and the tables are right out under the open sky. Very nice. We had looked over the restaurant recommendations on TripAdvisor and as we walked around town we frequently would stop to review the menu outside restaurants. Any approach keys the restaurant manager into action trying everything he can to get you to sit down and eat right away. The omnipresent phrase was “if you don’t like the food then you don’t pay”. Hmmm, I wonder how that would turn out?

Every menu we saw had pictures of the dishes accompanying the descriptions. Smart for tourists. Unfortunately all the menus were virtually the same … there was very little variety … you had to eat Turkish whether you wanted to or not. We remarked to ourselves that there is probably a great opportunity for some restaurants offering different cuisines like Italian, Indian or Asian. I would have loved a big Indian curry feast.

Never drink the tap water. We got this same advice from every hotel manager we talked to. The water might be potable … or maybe not; who wants to take that chance when bottled water is available everywhere? The hygiene standards we saw in every place with food looked really good. We were never nervous about eating the food there.

The food is much less spicy than I expected and hoped for. With all the piles of spices you see in every market I was thinking we get some wonderfully spiced meals … some new taste sensations. In fact the food was pretty bland … good and wholesome … we just didn’t experience anything with zip or unique flavors.

The tea is warm apple cider; served in the tall, thin shot glasses with a cube of sugar on the side. And they drink a lot of it.

They served beer and wine at every tourist restaurant. One bit of disappointment was the price gouging applied to their wine lists. I would have been happy to try some of the vaunted Turkish wines but the restaurant pricing was ridiculous. I wonder if they know how much more business and profits they’d make if they backed down the price curve some ways to increase demand. Pat and I agreed that if we were the restaurateur we’d try some pricing experiments to find the best volume/profit zone.  I can buy the Turkish wines here in Ontario for a small fraction of what they wanted at the table. Their pricing is hurting their business.

Here’s the pics related to dining in Istanbul with comments:

And here’s two movies. Note – knowing that most folks in today’s hyper-connected world have some degree of ADHD syndrome I keep all my videos to less than 150 seconds.





The Street Life


There are 15 million people in Istanbul; 20% of the entire Turkish population of 77 million. And they all seemed to be on the streets around the Grand Bazaar when we were there. The locals shop the streets around the Bazaar more than inside where I guess prices are higher? Its great to walk along and see the life of the city, feel the pulse, and hear the calls to prayer wailing from several mosques simultaneously. You know you’re in a strange new place.

The Turkish people are generally more fit than North Americans. Perhaps they haven’t yet been convinced to adopt our edible poison dietary habits of eating mostly carbs and sugar. I asked many cultural questions … both a waiter and hotel clerk both told me they go the gym regularly so exercise and fitness may be valued.

Their streets are relatively clean for a city with extremely high foot traffic. Men with homemade brooms – tied bundles of twigs – were out sweeping the streets and gutters in the core areas of town early every day.  We also saw recycling garbage men sorting the material out of the street cans into recycling piles of paper, plastic and metal. They had these HUGE bag like things – 2 meters or more on all 3 sides – attached to their dolly. They would sort out their target material, paper for example, and pack it into their bag and leave the rest … and then leap up onto the dolly handles to get the leverage to tip the weight forward and start pulling the dolly to the next can. I suspect jobs and work structures are heavily influenced by the availability of cheap labor in Turkey. This garbage recycling system only works with cheap labor. And we saw men carrying loads – acting as human mules – rather than using a truck. We never saw our hotels using disposable plates or utensils – its cheaper to hire labor to wash up.

Turkey seems to be undergoing a massive modernization program everywhere. There is construction underway everywhere. Its not noisy or intrusive … you just notice the hoarding walls and the scaffolding that’s up around many buildings as you walk the streets. They are doing a good job of renovating and saving their meaningful old structures in town. New buildings seem to be built to fit in. There are no sky scrapers or tall structures out of place with the architecture of the old city. I suspect they want to achieve what Paris has, that is, a living, working museum of a city. Good for them! It will really pay off in tourist draw.

As everywhere, there are beggars on the streets. I asked our hotel manager about it and he grew really agitated as he told me his opinion. “There are 2 million Syrians now living in Turkey and they are all just lazy!” he said. He said there are lots of jobs available – maybe not high paying – but lots of jobs, and these folks would rather beg on the street. He urged me not to give them any money. I have no idea what the truth is … but I listened to his opinion. Pat noticed they use their children as bait and its crazy but they have their 4 – 6 year old kids wandering around in dense traffic begging at car windows. It just looks so dangerous?

We saw dogs roaming around and thought they might be feral at first? But closer inspection shows they all have ear tags … so someone must own them. Their life spans must be limited; we saw them wandering across roads in front of high speed traffic. Our bus driver managed to dodge them all but I’m sure he didn’t want the hassle of a canine carcass wedged into the front bumper and all that blood flying up all over the windshield … it upsets the tourists and is hard to clean after it dries.

You have to be aware of your situation on the streets. The sidewalks can be narrow and the traffic passes right beside you. The trams are quite unnerving at first. They pass just inches from you at the edge of the sidewalk. You cannot afford to step off the sidewalk anywhere without first scanning for traffic danger. Complicating the situation is the way cars are parked – everywhere and anywhere and layers deep. You have wind your way through the gangs of parked cars then judge the traffic and boldly step out to cross … hoping the local drivers will let you live (even though they can see you’re an Infidel).  It was fine but takes a bit to get the rhythm.

Here’s the pics with comments:

Here’s a one minute movie showing how close the tram rides to pedestrians on the sidewalk:



Cruising the Bosphorus


We arranged this through Mediterra Tours and we found them to be a terrific organization to deal with … we would recommend them. We dealt with Mr. Celal Akgul    Email:  [email protected]

Here’s the pics with the comments:



The Blue Mosque


Everyone going to Istanbul has to see the Blue Mosque. Here’s the pics with commentary:



Holy Wisdom Mosque aka  The Hagia Sophia



From the start of construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. After Constantinople fell on May 29, 1453 it was converted to a mosque by Sultan Mehmed II. It was opened as a museum on February 1, 1935.

Famous for its massive dome and considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture it changed the history of architecture. It remained the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520.

Here’s my pics and commentary:



The Basilica Cistern


This huge, incredibly beautiful structure was lost in time. Locals actually “forgot” that it existed. Rediscoverd in the 1500’s by a visiting Frenchman this has become one of the top tourist attractions in Istanbul. And when you visit – you’ll know why. No pics can really capture the immensity … but here’s mine with commentary.



Touring Gear



Pat carried our Pacsafe safety bag and I carried the Deuter RaceX backpack. We were trying to travel as lightly as possible and this combo worked great for us. Pat likes to have our valuables protected and the Pacsafe bag does that. The strap and body of the bag are slash resistant and it takes a very deliberate effort to get into … impossible to pick pocket. The RaceX pack is only 1 lb 5 oz and just holds 12 liters … we’re forced to carry no more than what we really need. And I figured out how to attach carabiners onto the pack in a way that lets them clip onto the cap retainer strap of the water bottles so they’re safely leashed to the pack and won’t be lost … or maybe those smart designers planned it that way.

The tripod is a ZipShot and was great to have. Small, short when folded, weighs nothing and unfolds its tent pole legs in 2 seconds. I also figured out its perfect as a selfie stick … I was very pleased with the pic perspective it give you as an SS. Just enough remove for my lens that the whole scene behind Pat and I is now available with us just nicely positioned in front, but not blocking.

I bought a pair of convertible pants at the Price Club for $20 and they were great! The many cargo pockets were velcroed and provided some security for my pocket items like my camera. Better yet – one of the pockets was zippered and that’s where I always kept my wallet. I would be wearing proper long pants for visits to the mosques and later, when it got warm, I zipped the legs off and I was in shorts – brilliant technology!



The Turkish Bath and Massage



We’ve always heard that the Turkish Bath and massage is supposed to be sort of special so we went to get the works. The pics with the story about it are here:



The Galata Tower


We decided to try using the tram to get to the Galata Tower which was a kilometer or so away across the Golden Horn. So we talked to the hotel desk and they told us how to use the system. We bought our passes OK and got on fine – then we sort of got a bit lost because we didn’t really understand the transfer system – but its a simple system and we figured it out soon enough.

We’re at 170 feet here and the views of the city are fantastic. Worth the climb up the hill to the Tower and then the climb up the stairs. ..  but really, If we’re so lazy we can’t climb some hills and stairs to see the sights then we’re really done for.

Here’s the pics and commentary:



Rustempasa Camii – aka – Little Blue Mosque



This mosque was arguably a better tourist experience than the much larger and more famous “Blue Mosque”. A much smaller mosque, it is beautifully decorated with the same sort of blue tiles but everything seems more accessible. The walls, arched support columns and ceiling domes are all close enough that you can more easily see and appreciate the architecture and the artistry of the finishes.

I asked our guide “Why is the Blue Mosque blue? Why are all the mosques we’re seeing in Turkey predominately decorated with blue?” He said that before Islam was introduced the Turks worshiped a Sky God, and blue, the color of the sky, was the color of their divinity. When they were converted to Islam they retained their preference for blue as a remnant of their original belief in the Sky God. I looked it up and maybe its true? Wikkipedia says:   The chief deity was Tengri, a sky god, worshipped by the upper classes of early Turkic society until Manichaeism was introduced as the official religion of the Uyghur Empire in 763.    … Its a good story anyway …

Here’s the pics with commentary:



Topkapi Palace


The Asian concept of a palace was a complex of many separate buildings.  The Topkapi Palace, the various Ottoman sultan’s palace for 400 years (about 1450 to 1850), consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people and covered a large area with a long shoreline. It contained mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint.

There’s a great Wikkipedia write up … but here’s my pics and comments:



The Archaeology Museum in Istanbul


Overwhelming … here’s the pics and comments:

This is the end of the Istanbul section. Countryside travel with Mediterra Tours is next.



May 10 – Flight to Ankara, capital city of Turkey and visit to the Anatolian Museum



The Anatolian Museum in Ankara has an overwhelming amount of materials. Some are from the late Neolithic period which they calibrate as 5,000 to 10,000 BC. And the stuff seems so advanced in terms of its beauty and artistic expression. Makes you think we haven’t advanced much in that area … their artists were as good as ours today.

Here’s the pics and comments:


May 10 – Mustafa Kemal Museum


Following the defeat of Germany in WW1 the Ottoman Empire was in the process of being carved up by the winners as a war prize.  Kemal, as a very successful military leader, stood forward and led the Turkish National Movement in their War of Independence. Having established a provisional government in Ankara, he defeated the forces sent by the Allies. His military campaigns led to total victory in the Turkish War of Independence.

In the 15 years starting from the birth of Turkey in 1923 until his death in 1938 Mustafa Kemal Atatürk embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms, seeking to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern and secular nation-state. Under his leadership, thousands of new schools were built, primary education was made free and compulsory, and women were given equal civil and political rights. He dragged Turkey into the modern world.

There are no other 20th century leaders I can think of that did so much to create and lead a nation into the modern era. Here’s my pics and comments:

And here’s a short movie that helps show the huge size of this museum:



May 10 – The Salt Lake Experience


On the way from Ankara to Cappadoccia we stopped at a inland salt lake to wade for a bit.

My pics and comments:



May 11 – Ballooning over Cappadocia


We had originally said no to this when planning our trip in 2014 before Pat’s knife accident. The price was $250 each and at the time that just seemed too much. But this year the price was 150 Euros each and we said yes … and we’re glad we did.

What a great experience! Very hard to capture with still pics alone so I’ve got pics and two movies; the first movie shows the balloon team getting ready for flight in the predawn darkness and the second shows us flying over Cappadocia.


May 11 – Fairy Castles and Hidden Churches


Devrent valley, also known as Imagination valley or the Pink valley, is famous for its red colour lunar landscape with the best-formed and most thickly clustered different rock formations. The valley looks like a lunar landscape and has never been inhabited. You go there to see the rock formations … its a bit like the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

My pics and comments are here:


May 11 – Monk’s Valley


The site is called Monks Valley. The name was derived from some cones carved in tufta stones which stand apart. Currently, there is a vineyard and a number of Tufta cones standing right next to the road.

This place was the cradle of the early Christian church. Without the protection that the caves offered to Christians who were escaping the persecution of the pagans it is uncertain if Christianity would have survived.

My pics and comments are here:



May 12 – Caravanserai on the Silk Road


The sultans of the 12th century wanted encourage traders to stay in their domain as they traveled back and forth along the Silk Road from Persia to Istanbul … so they built overnight accommodations for them. The traders could stay, free of charge, for up to three days. These caravanserai were built 9 hours walk apart so that the traders would be able to make their Silk Road journey knowing they had safe accommodations each night.

This fortified structure was built in 1229 along the portion of the trade route leading from Konya to Aksaray and continuing into Persia. After it was partially destroyed by a fire, it was restored and extended in 1278. This monumental caravanserai is the largest in Turkey. It is one of the best examples of Anatolian Seljuk architecture. My pics and a movie I think you’ll appreciate:




May 12 – Mevlana Museum – Home of the Whirling Dervishes


The Mevleni order is a muslim sect that was founded in the early 1200’s by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a Persian Sufimystic also known as Mevlâna or Rumi. They are also known as the Whirling Dervishes due to their famous practice of whirling as a form of dhikr (remembrance of God). Dervish is a common term for an initiate of the Sufi path; the whirling is part of the formal Sama ceremony.

The purpose of the whirling dance action is described as: turning towards the truth, the follower grows through love, deserts his ego, finds the truth, and arrives at the “Perfect”. He then returns from this spiritual journey as a man who has reached maturity and a greater perfection, able to love and to be of service to the whole of creation.

I was interested to note that the tenets of the Mevleni order seem more open, forgiving, inclusive and accepting of other religions than the more conservative muslim sects we hear more about. My pics and commentary:



May 13 – Pamukkale – means Cotton Castle in Turkish


The city contains hot springs and travertines, terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water. The ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis was built on top of the white “castle” of the mineral flow.  The white crust covers a huge area that can be seen from 20 Km away. This area has drawn people to bathe in its pools for thousands of years.

My pics and movie:



May 13 – Hierapolis


Its ruins are adjacent to modern Pamukkale in Turkey and currently comprise an archaeological museum designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hierapolis was founded as a thermal spa early in the 2nd century BC and became a healing centre where doctors used the thermal springs as a treatment for their patients.

My pics and comments:



May 13 – Aphrodisias


Aphrodisias was a small ancient Greek city in western Anatolia, Turkey. It is located near the modern village of Geyre. Aphrodisias was named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, who had here her unique cult image, the Aphrodite of Aphrodisias.

The location of quarries that produced highly desirable stone were extremely important in the ancient world. Because white and blue grey Carian marble was extensively quarried from adjacent slopes in the Hellenistic and Roman periods Aphrodisias became an important place and many sculptures moved there to be close to their raw material.  Some became famous in the Roman world.

My pics:



May 14 – Ephesus


Ephesus was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia. It was built in the 10th century BC by Attic and Ionian Greek colonists. During the Classical Greek era it was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League. The city flourished after it came under the control of the Roman Republic in 129 BC. According to estimates Ephesus had a population of 33,600 to 56,000 people in the Roman period, making it the third largest city of Roman Asia Minor. The city was famed for the Temple of Artemis (completed around 550 BC), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia that are cited in the Book of Revelation. The Gospel of John may have been written here. The city was the site of several 5th century Christian Councils. It is also the site of a large gladiators’ graveyard.

What most tourist recognize is the Library of Celsus, seen here behind Pat and I. Its an ancient Roman structure built in honour of the Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus and completed in 135 AD. The library was built to store 12,000 scrolls and to serve as a mausoleum for Celsus, who is buried in a crypt beneath the library.

The interior of the library was destroyed, supposedly by an earthquake in 262 A.D. and the façade by another earthquake in the tenth or eleventh century A.D. It lay in ruins for centuries, until the façade was re-erected by archaeologists between 1970 and 1978.

My pics:



May 14 – House of Mary (near Ephesus)


The House of the Virgin Mary  is a Catholic and Muslim shrine located on Mt. Koressos in the vicinity of Ephesus. The house was discovered in the 19th century by following the descriptions in the reported visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich , a Roman Catholic nun and visionary. The Catholic Church has never pronounced in favour or against the authenticity of the house, but there has been a steady flow of pilgrimage since its discovery.

My pics and comments:


May 15 – Rugs and  May 16 – Flying Home

We went to a rug place that spins its own silk and has weavers on the floor making rugs. It was really interesting to see how the whole process works. The movies explain a lot.


OK our 2015 Turkey trip is over and now we’re planning the next one.

Gulf Shores – March 22 to 28 on our Mississippi Delta Tour

A week on the beach.



My first email:

As Brunhillda informed us we were nearing our condo location we had decided to load up on groceries to start our week. The USA seems to me to be over retailed to begin with and in tourist locations like this it is so easy to find any store you want it took less than a minute to see a grocery store and pull in to shop.

It was a moment of self discovery…… the checkout girl asked “do you have your Winn Dixie card?” and I felt a flush of pride as Pat said “Yes!”. We’ve discovered that we’re Winn Dixie shoppers. We’re not interested in those modern, new fangled stores like Publix or Rouse….we’re more comfortable with the faded glory type of atmosphere you find in the Winn Dixie or the Piggly Wiggly. Yes, this is senior living; we’re now in full circling the drain mode. Or, as Tynan said, ‘you guys are on a glide path – its just how high you can stay for how long’. Fine ……. so long as we still have access to the cockpit.
Food is about the same cost here. Booze is much cheaper! I’m finding Keystone beer is available most everywhere here and I’m blaming Bob for getting me hooked on the brand.
The condo is fine; typical 2nd floor shoebox arrangement. I like the second floor so you can use the stairs – so much better to be able to avoid the elevator hassles. Its the first floor in reality because everything here is built with an open first floor to avoid damage from the frequent storm surge flooding. The beach sand is the finest talcum powder white. We’ve had a bunch of 80 F days so plenty of time for lounging at the beach or more often on our veranda which faces South but has enough shade spots to work all day.
We brought our bikes…….really worth the small effort as you discover so much more about your location. Another reason to drive an SUV; the bikes go inside easily and are out of the weather and more theft controlled still leaving lots of room for any amount of luggage. I find bikes create an important part of that ‘free range’ senior living experience. Lots of trails around here that are amazingly well set up and maintained. The paths have to be paved or made with compacted crush…you can’t bike on the sand soil here, it is way too soft. The locals have preserved a section of the original “bush” and it is interesting. It ranges from open wiregrass Savannah to glades of live oaks with full Spanish moss coverage.
Good jogging area. Flat can be a bit boring but the wind off the ocean can really create a different sort of challenge. I like the idea of being at sea level where the oxygen level is the highest possible. As a senior jogger I need maximum oxygen! And you should see Pat fly on her bike…..I clocked her at > 30 KPH yesterday on a biking path…..while she laughed gaily at her appalling speeding in a posted 10 MPH limit area.
Don and Pat
The 2nd email:
There is an older community in Gulf Shores called Gulf Highlands. Beautiful. We biked through the area and stopped and talked to a lady who was cleaning up her lawn. She’s retiring to live there full time later this year. Her description of life there was really attractive. Its just a minute from the beach but the area is so quiet and serene. A semi tropical climate and you can see from the pic with Pat on her bike that the trees and landscaping is wonderful. I asked her about the heat in the summer and she commented that she liked the heat and if you slowed down a bit it was fine.

A bunch of houses have access to canals that allow you to have a boat with access to the ocean. Evidently the fishing is fantastic…..more on that.
We continued to the local Gulf State Park and went out on the pier there. Wow. It is a HUGE structure and the view from there is brilliant. There is a huge fishing community that works off the pier regularly. I talked to couple of guys and they told me about the Sheephead and Pompano that they were angling for. I saw several men cleaning their catches. These are big fish.
One of the guys told me that earlier this week a woman who was only 100 lbs hooked a big Kingfish and fought it for a long while before landing it …. it was a 25 pounder over 3 feet long.
Another guy was from Kitchener and comes down every year to stay for several months. He had his grandson with him and they looked like they were having a great time.
Most of the hard core fisherman had these carts you can see in the pic with a complete set up of tackle and bait and all the stuff they need. They pull the cart back to their car/truck in the parking lot and it makes the whole thing easy-peasy.
The bird looks like some kind of Egret. It was on the dock and was hanging out near the fish cleaning station where I guess folks would toss it some of the fish cleanings from time to time.
The water was 68F . I had thought about swimming in the ocean earlier in the week and it is just TOO COLD for an old man. I have been planning to try some kite boarding this summer and that cold water spurred me on the buy a full wetsuit which I’ll pick up on Ogdensburg on the way home tomorrow to take advantage of the $800 of tax free import for being out of Canada for more than a week. I also went to a Cabela’s and found a set of neoprene waders (like your duck hunting waders Steven) that I’ll use for the salmon fishing in April in Bowmanville. They were in their Clearout section upstairs and were a good deal.
The driving home experience has been no big drama. We’re taking 3 days…….no hurry. Once in a while we got off the super highways and ducked into some of the small towns on the original trail. Interesting but we didn’t spend enough time to see too much. Some big old houses that indicated past wealth but it appears, for the most part, that those days are past. People are trying to keep them up but they are slowly fading………and some are looking really bad. Now nothing but poor rooming houses.
I talked to another traveler heading to Canada in the parking lot last night and he says they made the mistake of trying to go through Atlanta…..which we had decided to deliberately avoid, going by way of Birmingham instead … and I’m glad we did. He hit a 4 hr traffic jam due to construction. Brutal.
We should be back tomorrow by 5 pm?
And the final email:
Easy trip.

Started to see snow in the forest in Pennsylvania. I’m sure the altitude had an affect; its colder up there.
In NY state just north of Binghamton we started to see clusters of deer feeding in the grasslands verging the highway. And lots of deer bodies beside the road obviously hit by cars and trucks. There were a lot of bodies. I can’t imagine the amount of car damage that must have been wrought.
As we came around one corner we saw a cop just putting his shotgun back into the trunk of his car and the dead deer he had just “put down” was over on the edge of the fast lane where we were driving.
There were so many deer feeding beside the highway… just looked very abnormal. Perhaps the cold winter and late spring has driven them to the highway verge because that’s where they can get at the grass most easily? Whatever the reason it was creating a dangerous driving situation……..I’m sure the ones that were hit had just bolted onto the road……the drivers would have very little time to react and on those mountain roads there are no safe shoulders, just huge rock walls and steep drop offs, so it would be crazy to try to make any move to dodge. You could only hold the wheel steady and try not to get knocked off the road after the impact. Anyway, it looked like dangerous.
Update: Cary tells me it was a Great Blue Heron.
The beach pic is just meant to be artsy.
I did a calibration of the trip data from Gulf Shores back to Northern Secret and included it for your amusement. My mileage is not as good as I hoped…..but the gas only cost $167 US for the whole 1,500 mile return trip. 23 hours driving……OK. But for a few hours more we could have been on Marco Island or there abouts?  We loved touring the Mississippi Delta on this trip….many more are planned ….. just calibrating for future possibilities.
Love Don and Pat
And here’s the pics:

The Swamp Tour – March 20, 2015 on the Mississippi Delta Tour

This tour was a good 2 hours of new experience.


In my original email I wrote:

Driving out of Nawlins with Brunhillda leading the way was pretty easy. The highways around the city can be really busy. On the way into town I told Pat that the routes we were on felt a lot like the 401 at rush hour, only with 4 lanes each way instead of 8 or more.

The speed limit on most of the highways we’ve been using is 70 MPH and traffic in the left lane seems to run between 75 and 80. Nothing crazy but you certainly have to get along with the flow or you’ll get run over.
Gas prices here are such a pleasure for SUV owners. Best I’ve seen is $2.07; best I’ve filled at was $2.09. Usual range is $2.15 to $2.30 or so. At $2.20 with an FX of 1.2 that is 70 cents CDN per liter. Sure, I only get 22 MPG on the highway……but when I’m filling the tank for ~ $60 CDN I sort of don’t care so much any more.
As we drove to the Swamp Tour, which was on the way to our condo here in Gulf Shores, we heard a fairly large “bang” on the windshield and yup……the big ugly truck carrying the dumpster container in front of us had thrown a rock and put a crack in the windshield. Its a Loonie sized circle that fortunately it is well to the left of the driver’s prime view at about 9 on the clock. I called a glass chip repair service here in Gulf Shores and they came to our condo and filled it with resin in the parking lot in about 15 minutes for $50. I’m pleased with the result. It barely shows now and does not bother the driver at all. Its a 10 year old vehicle and I don’t want to put more money into it……but it’s in great shape….everything works properly, even the AC.
Pat wanted to get us to the 11:30 boat and Brunhillda was showing our ETA as 11:28…… I stepped on it and we picked up a couple of minutes on the ETA and pulled into the parking lot with about 4 minutes to spare……hopped onto the boat and away we went.
There were houses along the river. Some are working fishermen’s homes. The pic of one shows a girl dangling her feet to the water……is that safe in a gator area like this? I don’t know…..but there she was; perhaps a sort of Darwinian filter on risk taking?
We saw one smallish gator….the surprise was the feral hogs. The tour guide said they first saw 3 two years ago and now they count 27. We saw a ton of piglets ….. so they do breed fast. He says they’ll bring in a hunter and shoot some to control the population at some point……..but right now I suspect they’re a good tourist attraction for their swamp trips.
It was a 2 hour cruise and well worth $18 each. A great way to enjoy beautiful day.
Then we drove on 3 hours to Gulf Shores.
Don and Pat
The pics are here:

New Orleans (aka Nawlins) – March 20, 2015 on our Mississippi Delta Tour

New Orleans was good for us.


In my 3 original emails I wrote:

Part 1:

There’s a lot to say about New Orleans and I’ll have to send out at least a couple of emails on the subject…….but here’s a video that I uploaded to YouTube that will give you an idea of what the “Bourbon Street” experience is like. You are surrounded and suffused by a powerful living vibe. You’re in a constant state of sensory overload as there is so much going on all six directions and your eyes, ears, nose and skin can’t catch it all fast enough. Takes a bit to start filtering out the bland and focusing on the most interesting stuff.

This video was made later in the day…about 6 pm as there was enough light for me to shoot and the street had begun to fill for a fun Friday night. You could actually feel the anticipation and excitement in the air… was a bit of a rush……the crowd was all full of good humored people just looking to have some fun.
You just can’t capture the New Orleans night life in still pics……..and this video is a poor armature attempt…….but I hope it works for you.
At the end, as Pat walks past me and into the bar, look at what the guy on the right side of the scene is doing with the “creature”. People just want to have fun!
I did follow Pat into the bar………..more later.
And the Part Deux email:
Its a big city and varies widely from place to place like any other.

Early in the day we tried to drive into one of the more notable cemeteries and found we just couldn’t find a way in. Very strange… entry point? We’ve been using our GPS (aka Brunhillda) and she has been fabulous at getting us around….but seemed to be failing us here.
Side comment: I’m in love with Brunhillda…and so is Pat. We both agree that our GPS enhances the driving holiday experience in so many ways. She completely relieves all the stress of finding your destination………she tells you exactly what to do and you just drive. All of those moments where the driver is over-anxiously asking the co-pilot Left or right honey? Here comes the split….I gotta know RIGHT NOW……left or right?!?  And the equally stressed out co-pilot is wrangling with several maps..often upside down….and can’t even decide what their own left and right is anymore. All that screaming and crying and the near death experiences of impending car crashes are gone…..replaced with the perfectly formed, calm and authoritative voice of Brunhillda saying “in 800 meters stay left”.  Ahhh, what a pleasure!  I’m OK with driving in challenging city conditions and the brutal highway traffic jams that surround cities……….like most men I just need a good woman telling me what to do. I’m in love with Brunhillda!
Anyway…..we couldn’t get into the cemetery, and it didn’t look that interesting from the outside anyway so we diverted into a nearby section of rich homes. Some were very impressive…..southern architecture and the fabulous landscaping that is only possible in these tropical climates. We really only had 1.5 days in New Orleans so we had to choose where we’d spend our time so we went back to our hotel and walked to the French Quarter. Its only about 10 minutes from our hotel which was well situated between the business district and the French Quarter with the Bourbon Street entertainment area.
Tons to see and so you sort of map out a route and wander it. The goddess of good weather (Pat) has been holding up her end as usual…….it’s been just about perfect for us. We got a ~30 minute deluge while walking – see pic – and it was easy to stay under a covered section of the sidewalk and wait for it to pass.
At lunch we found a place where we got an outside table on the 2nd floor balcony – pic included – where we could eat and see the world go by……..Perfect!
More wandering after lunch where we saw both Royal Street and Bourbon Street. Royal is the place for whitebread tourists with great antique shops and high end hotels and expensive restaurants……..all swimming in that New Orleans risque persona…….. so it is the Gomorah side. While Bourbon is obviously the more of the Sodom choice…….all the really interesting stuff is there. The usual rules are relaxed here and from what I saw at night the city police seem to just be trying to keep it from exploding into full fledged rioting. They show their presence and even have mounted (horse) police out to quell any “crowd control” problems if they do arise. When they ride right beside you (I mean the horse is brushing against you) in a thick crowd you instantly know how intimidating a 1,400 pound horse can be… just know you do NOT want that animal knocking you down or stepping on you.  All the usual North American restrictions on perversion and gross activities are ignored here…….these “choices” are actually celebrated on Bourbon. In truth I think its obvious that the city wants to keep the Bourbon Street experience just what it is…….the touring draw is incredible. Its tame stuff but I included a pic of the Bad Boys bar where I think you can find anything you might want.
I suspect that a bunch of people come to New Orleans to satisfy their “appetites” because like Vegas…..What happens on Bourbon Street stays on Bourbon Street.
We went back to our hotel shortly after lunch for our Senior Living after lunch nap….to recharge our batteries for the evening’s action…….holy cow we might be out till 10 pm!
Love Don and Pat
PS…..we’re in our condo in Gulf Shores, Alabama and we have a great internet connection here which makes this a lot easier. More later……
And finally the Street Music email:
We got back into touring the Royal and Bourbon street areas later in the afternoon. The sun was going down at about 4:30 which lends that golden sort of colored light to everything.
We found a bunch of street music was going on. I filmed a bit of a 5 piece group playing “Everyone wants to be a cat”. I apologize for the shaky camera work. I haven’t done much video before and I’m just learning.
Take note of the footwear and socks on the players…….casual and fun? The Rasta guy is holding a yellow-green drink that is called a “grenade” and is sold in a couple of places here. It rained hard for 30 minutes earlier in the day….a good thing …. I think that helped clean the streets…..the explosive result of too many grenades had been splashed out here and there and the place needed to be hosed down.
Folks were putting money into the Tip Pail with amazing speed. I can’t guess how much they were making but it seemed considerable…..the pail was 1/3 full when I looked in.
Two girls, Tanya and Dorise, were playing in another street and they were also quite talented. I searched and quickly found this video of them and it’s interesting to see they have their own website and a ton of people have posted videos of them…….one link provided here because I didn’t really get any good video of them myself.
It was fun and some of the street music is really quite good.
Don and Pat
Another email about the evening “party” experience:
As the sun went down the street action rose. It was Friday night, 80 F and we’re in the middle of March break…..a perfect time to be in Nawlins.
Its hard to describe, but at about 7 pm the streets suddenly were closed to cars and sort of magically, in what seemed like about 15 minutes, they were flooded with hoards of people all looking to have some good natured fun. It was like some sort of spontaneous event they way these people just appeared out of nowhere. One moment there were small groups of people watching the street music……and then suddenly the streets were completely full from side to side. And everyone was drinking.
The street people were outrageous. I know this sounds bad but it was sort of like being at a zoo where you see weird animals that you don’t want to get too close to …… but you want to see them live. The “horny” girl in the pic with the pasties was one of the tamer semi-nude performers. One girl who was about 25 years old was wandering the streets with a hand made sign that said “Tips 4 Pics”. She was wearing only a pair of women’s underwear. Nothing else. The underwear was not really clean and it was light colored and pretty revealing. She had painted out her nipples into black stars – it looked like she had done it with a Sharpie? She was a bit on the flat side and not really an attractive girl ………and most damning, her sign indicated that she had poor cursive skills. Just another Nawlins street person trying to make a few bucks.
We wandered the streets – in and out of bars (pic included). We avoided the “Hand Grenade” drinks….I’d seen the potential of an explosive voiding event… was splashed on the street in a bunch of places. The bar music was great. The beer may have been helping ……… but Pat and I really enjoyed it. We saw a bunch of different performers and styles…..most were definitely affecting a southern jazzy touch to their core style.
Finally we found a restaurant where we wanted to eat…..and we snagged the best table in the house. We were literally on the edge of the street. We had great food and we could see the tourists and the freakazoids rolling right past and close enough to touch. Yeah, a couple of kids leaned across the planter right over our table space and tried to hit me up for money but it just added to the fun of having dinner right in the street flow. Its worth noting that some of the other tourists were really freaky looking. I know there is a wide range to human body shapes and sizes but OMG!
By the time we got home we felt like we’d had a real Nawlins experience.
We drove out of town the early the next morning to get to the swamp tour in time for the 11:30 boat…….more on that later.
Don and Pat

The 3 Plantations – March 18, 2015 on our Mississippi Delta Tour

These plantations are right out of the movies. Its the Live Oak trees….


In my original email I wrote:

We visited three and stayed overnight at one……the Oak Alley Plantation… a cottage they had on site. Very nice.

The Rosedown Plantation is owned and run by the State of Lousiana and it has the best tour of the bunch. We didn’t bother with the house tour at Oak Alley as we’d already seen so much in previous house tours and this one looked too crowded to be much fun. The St. Joseph Plantation tour was interesting because it is a working plantation that makes most of its money from sugar cane.
There are mosquitoes here. That wasn’t something we expected. And in our tours the docent explained how the original inhabitants had to use netting on their beds at night or the mozzies would practically carry you away.
Lots of sea food in the area……80F with mixed cloud and sun……We’re lovin’ it.
Now in New Orleans and will be doing a walking tour of the French Quarter today.
Don and Pat.
Here’s the link to pics on all 3 Plantations with comments:

Graceland – March 14, 2015 on our Mississippi Delta Tour

Graceland – a critical social icon for aging Boomer – Geezers:


In my original email I wrote:

Both Pat and I agree that the tour of Graceland was very well done. We were able to take plenty of time and there was a good amount to see. The IPAD tour aids were pretty good. Its a well run operation and must be immensely profitable.

Lots of young people there. We wondered if anyone would want to go to Graceland in another 25 years and we were wrong…………there were lots of young Elvis fans. We met a young lad (16?) touring Graceland with his parents in the pink Cadillac last night and were surprised at his interest.
I couldn’t find an Elvis bobble head anywhere……..I’m heartbroken……..but still looking.
Drove on down to Clarksdale, Mississippi. Travelled part of the way on the old highway 61 – The Blues Highway – and the poverty in some of the small towns was shocking. Lula is the town that money forgot. OMG…….what a disaster. There’s something about “southern poverty” that is really stark. The many groups of broken down shacks surrounded by piles of garbage are really sad.
While in Tulia we drove around and found our way to see the actual Mississippi River for the first time…….its a lot of water and its really flowing strongly…..maybe because of the spring runoff?
Will go out to a number of Blues bars tonight. Drove around to find them first and they look so run down….they test credibility as real going businesses. I guess we’ll find out tonight.
Don and Pat
PS:  I was partial to the Elvis outfit on the left. It has a cape………. since
Elvis I haven’t seen anyone other than Batman wearing a cape with that sort of confidence. Love the belts too. Overall, his outfits were just outrageous when you look at them today; but they worked for him.
Here’s the link to the pics:

Cotton Pickin’ Mississippi – March 15, 2015 on our Mississippi Delta Tour

Staying in the shack, named Sunflower, was great. Seeking something more than the Best Western experience.


In my original email I wrote:

OK – we stayed overnight in a shack in the cotton fields. It was wonderful; I’m bored of Best Westerns and Hampton Inns. This was much more authentic….but still far from a real shack….these are fully set up for tourists. Some guy got a good idea and his business seems to be advancing strongly. They have > 500 reviews on Trip Advisor now.

As the Senior Living Delta Poverty Tour 2015 progressed we drove through miles and miles of industrial agriculture areas. These farms are so big that all you see is endless fields of brown earth. These areas are so huge that the tractors must go for a 1/2 mile or more before they turn around to plow the next set of furrows. And it seems to me that as a result of the rise industrial agriculture these areas have been emptied of almost all people. There are only a few small towns from time to time and they are mostly a collection of abandoned homes, businesses and churches. The jobs are all gone and the people have left; the few houses that remain are in bad shape…….what remains is just poverty.
On to Vicksburg tonight where we’ll do the Civil War stuff.
Love Don and Pat
Here’s the link to the pics:


Clarkstown – crossroads of the Blues – March 14, 2015 on our Mississippi Delta Tour

Clarkstown is at the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49. Self promoted as the true home of the Blues.


In my original email I wrote:

After an appropriate period of pre-drinking that local bourbon we drove to one of the local bars with a name that brings to mind a funny story.

There’s a cottage behind Red Secret on a steep cliff that is maybe 20 meters high. 25 years ago a guy in the clothes manufacturing business from Toronto bought the property and blasted out a foundation for his cottage. Then they used high pressure hoses to “clean” the cliff area; washing everything down into the lake. Actually they destroyed all the small trees and grasses that were growing all over the cliff……the ones that create that Muskoka look ……… so that in the end the property was ugly and brutally denuded. These folks had the gall to name their property “Fawn Ridge” and Steven gets the credit for quipping that it looks more like “Ground Zero”. That name stuck and its irony still makes me laugh every time I pass the property.
So after all that…… the bar is called Ground Zero.
It was half full of suburban looking white folks by 7:30 when we got there. The catfish was great. The Blues band began to play about 9:00 and the bar was mostly full of prosperous looking white boomers with a few young folks sprinkled around ……. and the band was led by a young kid of 16 who has a big following in the Delta.
He’s certainly talented……but Pat and I agree that his music is sort of like one long guitar solo. If he lives for 10 more years he will have had time to grow his range but he’s just so huge (> 400 lbs. ?) that I don’t know if he’ll live that long.
We went to another bar – the Red Dog – and it was interesting – such a hole. Somehow deep poverty seems to be part of the the whole persona of the Delta region? Seems like everyone here accepts it and “it is what it is”.
We’re staying here in Clarksdale in a shack out on the cotton fields tonight.
Don and Pat
Here’s the link to the pics:

Mammoth Caves – March 13, 2015 on our Mississippi Delta Tour

It was dark down there.


Here’s what I wrote in my original email:

Worth seeing. Met our expectations.

Raining fairly seriously as we drove to the Visitors Center so it was a good day to be underground.
The cave tour was well done. It was about 90 minutes underground and we saw both dry cave and wet cave where the flow stone creates those weird formations.
About 60 in our tour so not too crowded. Only disappointment was when the guide turned out the lights and asked all to be perfectly quiet with the expectation that the light and sound deprivation in that environment can produce an interesting mental experience. Too many teenagers who weren’t willing to play along squashed that potential…….oh well.
Drove to Memphis after the cave. 4.5 hours and as we closed on Memphis the rain became ridiculous…….like driving in a car wash. High speed wipers were not enough……but we arrived fine. Like driving my Pilot when conditions are not great. 4 wheel drive creates (false) sense of confidence. And I just put on all new brakes and full tune up for this trip.
Pics turned out OK. Had to push ISO to 3200 to get shutter speed down to where I could hold it without too much camera shake showing in the pics. But note how grainy the images are at ISO 3200. Interesting trade off scenario. Ty could do a lot better with his new camera with the huge sensor and fast lens. But at least I got some useable images.
Love Don and Pat
PS – We’re staying just 100 meters down the street from Graceland and we can feel the vibes. We’re getting picked up by a pink limo taking us to a fancy BBQ place in about an hour. Is that an oxymoron……….fancy BBQ place?
Anyway we’ll be visiting with Elvis tomorrow and I’m expecting a semi-religious experience. We’ll be preparing our souls by feasting on ribs and then testing the bourbon we bought later tonight.
Here’s the link to the pics. I wrote explanatory comments on most: