Bodrum, Turkey

Bodrum. The castle splits the bay in two.

Bodrum. The Crusaders’ castle splits the bay in two.

We’ve spent the last couple weeks down in the SW corner of Turkey in a place called Bodrum. Bodrum was previously known as the ancient Greek city of Halicarnassus. Like much of the Aegean and Mediterranean Turkish coast, the area has a long history. Recorded settlements at this location date back 3000 years with signs of people living more simply before then.  Roman and Medieval ruins are visible around town. They are built on top of and out of Hellinistic ruins. For example, when King Mausolus died his sister/wife built a tremendous burial monument to him here. It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and known as the Mausoleum (the source of the word we know today). After an earthquake damaged it centuries later, Crusaders used the stones to build a medieval fortress that today houses a superb museum.

What is left of the Mausoleum today. The large rock in the center was installed as a plug to Mausolus's tomb, which was deep under the monument.

What is left of the Mausoleum today. The large rock in the center was installed as a plug to Mausolus’s tomb, which was deep under the monument.

Modern day Bodrum has been a tourist destination for decades. The protected harbor has hundreds of yachts, many the traditional gulet. The hills are covered with sugar-cube white houses and olive trees. In the summer this place is packed. The Bodrum Peninsula extends to the west with a handful of smaller towns, beaches, bays, and hills. Now is decidedly the off-season and many things are closed up. The restaurants that stay open struggle to keep their best staff on payroll through the winter and offer some excellent lunch deals. We’ve spent our days exploring town and the peninsula. It must be a very different place in the summer with exponentially more people.

Bodrum harbor

Bodrum harbor

Our biggest struggle here has been traffic. Our guide books discouraged us from driving in Turkey, explaining that it has a very high accident rate. Walking around town often feels dangerous. Clearly, we are westerners who are used to a different set of rules. I am outraged every time that a car or truck parks on the sidewalk, pushing pedestrians out into busy streets. Scooters drive on the road, on the sidewalk, in the alleys, and everywhere else. At times it feels like they have agreed to pass pedestrians with no more than five inches of clearance. Personal safety seems to not be a priority, which makes our favorite pastime, walking, a lot less pleasant. On the flip side, there is an excellent minibus system. We can get to anywhere on the peninsula for about $2. The minibuses run on a schedule, are clean and organized, and go every 15-45 minutes from early in the morning to past our bedtime.

Bodrum Castle.

Bodrum Castle.

There are a handful of things that make Turkey unique from our recent travels:

-Olives, honey, and tea are ubiquitous. Even the little minimart will have multiple types of honey and tea leaves in bags bigger than a loaf of bread.

-Stray cats and dogs run the streets. It seems that many people are willing to feed them as few are scrawny. Large water and food bowls are not uncommon. Other than wanting a scratch or accepting food, they are generally not too interested in people.

-The body language for yes and no is different: a nod down means ‘yes,’ a nod up means ’no,’ and shaking your head means ‘I don’t understand.’ Fortunately for us, they are pretty used to foreigners but we’ve had some hilarious misunderstandings at the market as we attempt to specify how many kilos of mandarins or dried figs we want.

Citrus season! You can buy a 2 pounds of these guys for less than a dollar!

Citrus season! You can buy a 2 pounds of these guys for less than a dollar!

-99.9% of the country is Muslim. The call to prayer echoes off the hillsides five times a day. Men are seen socializing in public more often than women are.

-Mandarins are in peak season and we’ve taken to eating them by the kilo as they are so delicious and really cheap. Many of the landscaping trees in town are citrus so it is not uncommon to see a passerby picking what they can reach.

-Public nationalism is strong. Large flags and images of Ataturk (the father of Turkey) hang everywhere. Historical plaques paint a rosy picture of Turkish strength. It is illegal to speak poorly of the Turkish government.

One of the busy waterfront cafes in Bodrum.

One of the busy waterfront cafes in Bodrum.

-The cafe scene here is even stronger than in Paris or Split. Each town has a cafe that is municipally owned where coffee and tea are very cheap and nearly every table is full all day long. Many have piles of board games for customers to use. Hordes of men wile away the afternoon with backgammon.

Stay tuned for the next post with some specific places and excursions. In the meantime, you can check out more pictures of Bodrum here and look at our map to see where Bodrum is.

Our apartment in Bodrum is on the middle floor.

Our apartment in Bodrum is on the middle floor.

Us gringos laughed at the idea of a "Second best hotel." Turns out seçkin in Turkish means "outstanding."

Us gringos laughed at the idea of a “Second best hotel.” Turns out seçkin in Turkish means “outstanding.”

We were surprised how few old architecturally significant buildings there are in Bodrum, given the long history. It turns out earthquakes have demolished the city several times and unnoticeable small ones occur almost every day.

We were surprised how few old architecturally significant buildings there are in Bodrum, given the long history. It turns out earthquakes have demolished the city several times and unnoticeable small ones occur almost every day.

One of the original gates into Halicarnassus. When Alexander the Great attacked in 334 BC, a fierce battle ensued here. Note Megan standing in the entrance.

One of the original gates into Halicarnassus. When Alexander the Great attacked in 334 BC, a fierce battle ensued here. Note Megan standing in the entrance.

A Sunday afternoon soccer match between the local amateur team and a neighboring community. The stands were full and police lined up (in the far left) in case things got too exciting.

A Sunday afternoon soccer match between the local amateur team and a neighboring community. The stands were full and police lined up (in the far left) in case things got too exciting.

Castle built by the Crusaders in the 1400s out of stones from the Mausoleum.

Castle built by the Crusaders in the 1400s out of stones from the Mausoleum.

The Knights of St. John built the castle in Bodrum using stones from the then1700-year-old Mausoleum.

The Knights of St. John built the castle in Bodrum using stones from the then1700-year-old Mausoleum.

Inside the castle, Crusaders carved on the walls. The upper carving showing a crest is dated 1492..

Inside the castle, Crusaders carved on the walls. The upper carving showing a crest is dated 1492..

The Bodrum castle has many knights' crests. You can see over 20 of them on this tower wall.

The Bodrum castle has many knights’ crests. You can see over 20 of them on this tower wall.

A ship wrecked in the 14th century BC leaving amphora and ingots of copper and tin. It took 22,000 dives over 11 years to excavate the site, recreated here in the superb Museum of Underwater Archaeology.

A ship wrecked in the 14th century BC leaving amphora and ingots of copper and tin. It took 22,000 dives over 11 years to excavate the site, recreated here in the superb Museum of Underwater Archaeology.

An ancient altar.

An ancient altar.

Olives are in season and heavy on the trees.

Olives are in season and heavy on the trees.

One of the rare stormy days we've had in Bodrum.

One of the rare stormy days we’ve had in Bodrum.

A scale model of what the Mausoleum probably looked like when it was built around 350BC. A wheel from the chariot on the roof was found; its diameter is over 6 feet.

A scale model of what the Mausoleum probably looked like when it was built around 350BC. A wheel from the chariot on the roof was found; its diameter is over 6 feet.

A carving from the Mausoleum shows Greeks fighting the Amazons.

A carving from the Mausoleum shows Greeks fighting the Amazons.

Burials tombs, like this one, existed in Bodrum before the Mausoleum was built.

Burials tombs, like this one, existed in Bodrum before the Mausoleum was built.

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Istanbul

It was grey and rainy every day while we were in Istanbul.

It was grey and rainy every day while we were in Istanbul.

On our way to Bodrum, Turkey we had to pass through Istanbul and spent just a couple days exploring this metropolis. It was rainy and cool for our visit so we didn’t stray as far or long as we would have liked to, leaving many sights for our next visit. Without a good map or guide book and a total lack of Turkish, we wandered around, stumbling into a number of sights by happenstance.

The place we were staying had a terrace. Istanbul today has 17 million inhabitants!

The place we were staying had a terrace. Istanbul today has 17 million inhabitants, up from half a million 30 years ago.

We stayed on the Asian side of Istanbul in a neighborhood called Kadıköy. It was perfect for us. About two blocks away was a network of pedestrian streets that led to an active food market, a lively restaurant scene, and many shops. The first night we set out to explore and came across multiple buskers playing traditional music with groups of passers-by spontaneously stopping to dance for a song. The ferry terminal, less than a kilometer away, allowed us to travel easily to other parts of the city.

The Istanbul Spice Market is full of beautiful colorful displays and smells.

The Istanbul Spice Bazaar is full of beautiful colorful displays and smells.

The first day we visited the Spice Bazaar by chance as it was right where the ferry dropped us. It has about a hundred booths with beautiful displays of spices, teas, and Turkish delight. We accepted samples and ended up talking with a young Syrian women who had been in Turkey and Istanbul only one month.

Inside the Grand Bazaar.

Inside the Grand Bazaar.

Another day we set out to find the Grand Bazaar and practically circumnavigated it before a man pointed us down the narrowest of passages between buildings. It broke into a courtyard with restaurants and shops tucked in with what looked like Roman or Greek ruins. From there, we descended stairs and dropped into the Grand Bazaar. Thankfully, finding our way out and back home turned out to be easier than finding our way in.

Enormous Turkish flags are common. This one flies over mansions on the banks of the Bosphorus.

Enormous Turkish flags are common. This one flies over mansions on the banks of the Bosphorus.

The last day we took a ferry tour from Istanbul up the Bosphorus to where it meets the Black Sea. En route, we passed palaces and mansions and summer homes of many rich and famous Turks. There were hundreds of other boats on the water: primarily ferries, freighters, and working fishing boats. We slid under two enormous bridges and saw a third being constructed. Large flocks of sea gulls swarmed the fishing boats. Rain showers obscured the far bank at times. The ferry wait staff kept the hot tea coming.

Inside the Blue Mosque.

Inside the Blue Mosque.

Despite the weather, we enjoyed our few quick days in Istanbul. Thousands of years of history have left beautiful monuments. The ferry system was frequent, easy to use, and inexpensive. A surprising number of streets were closed to automobile traffic making walking more pleasant. The call to prayer frequently reverberated across the city from multiple mosques all at once. Turks are very friendly. Even the aggressive sales people are friendly. One declared to Jim “I will help you spend your money!”

The Basilica Cistern was built by the Romans in the 6th century. It is capable of holding 2.8 million cubic feet of water when full.

The Basilica Cistern was built by the Romans in the 6th century. It is capable of holding 2.8 million cubic feet of water when full.

An example of the depth of history of Istanbul are the vast Roman underground cisterns. They were constructed around 500AD to bring clean drinking water to the city. After a few centuries, they were forgotten. A scholar rediscovered them in 1500AD when he was told by some local residents that they could drop a bucket through a hole in their cellar and pull it up with clean water and occasionally fish. A few cisterns are open today for visitors to walk through. They are beautiful spaces with forests of columns. The present-day water level is maintained at a fraction of what it was when used as a water supply for the city, allowing tourists and archaeologists to explore these enormous underground chambers.

Hagia Sophia at night in the rain.

Hagia Sophia at night in the rain.

You can see more pictures from our Istanbul adventures here. You can also check out where Istanbul is on our map here.

It seemed that around every corner we found another gorgeous mosque with a lovely courtyard and hundreds of artistic details.

It seemed that around every corner we found another gorgeous mosque with a lovely courtyard and hundreds of artistic details.

Within the Basilica Cistern fish glide, attracted to the lights.

Within the Basilica Cistern fish glide, attracted to the lights.

This upside-down Medusa head is in Basilica Cistern. No one knows why it is there or why it is upside-down.

This upside-down Medusa head is in Basilica Cistern. No one knows why it is there or why it is upside-down.

This entrance to the Grand Bazaar has shops built amidst what look like Roman or Greek ruins. Bonus points if you can find the cat in this picture.

This entrance to the Grand Bazaar has shops built amidst what look like Roman or Greek ruins. Bonus points if you can find the cat in this picture.

Istanbul isn't all old stuff. There are many modern buildings and new bridges.

Istanbul isn’t all old stuff. There are many modern buildings and new bridges.

The Mosaic Museum shows pieces of a 1500-year old mosaic from an enormous palace courtyard.

The Mosaic Museum shows pieces of a 1500-year old mosaic from an enormous palace courtyard.

Beautiful columns and detailing are common sights. Here they are in Little Hagia Sophia, built about 520.

Beautiful columns and detailing are common sights. Here they are in Little Hagia Sophia, built about 520.

Fishing boats and seagulls in the Bosphorus.

Fishing boats and seagulls in the Bosphorus.

This obelisk was brought to Istanbul from Egypt in 390, when the obelisk was already 1900 years old.

This obelisk was brought to Istanbul from Egypt in 390, when the obelisk was already 1900 years old.

Jim overlooking where the Bosphorus joins the Black Sea. Towers for a new bridge are under construction with three full-sized cranes working each one. A group of stray dogs joined us on this hike, coming all the way to the top of the hill to scratch their fleas.

Jim overlooking where the Bosphorus joins the Black Sea. Towers for a new bridge are under construction with three full-sized cranes working each one. A group of stray dogs joined us on this hike, coming all the way to the top of the hill to scratch their fleas.

In this village at the north end of the Bosphorus boat garages allow fisherman to park in their house.

In this village at the north end of the Bosphorus boat garages allow fisherman to park in their house.