Archive for October, 2011

October 30, 2011

Cape Crusaders

by Johnny

We’re in Africa! I can’t believe it. Truth be told, South Africa wasn’t on our original itinerary. It was definitely a place we always wanted to visit one day, but it was just so far away from anywhere else we were traveling to on this trip. I suppose it’s far away from anything else, period. I figured it would be a hectic, expensive detour to get down there and wrote it off for another time. But then once we started telling people about our trip a month or so before we took off, anyone who had been there said emphatically, “You HAVE to go to South Africa.” OK then. We did some more research (errr, re-watched Brad Womack’s second go-round on The Bachelor), found some surprisingly cheap flights in and out of the country and decided to take the plunge.

We flew from Istanbul to Cape Town (never thought I’d say that in my life) and made it to Poplar Tree Lodge in the suburb of Hout Bay, our base to explore Cape Town and the surrounding region for the next week. Apologies if it sounds like we keep plugging our accommodation, but we’ve been having great luck lately…especially with this one. The setting is stunning, the garden is beautiful and full of life, and the owners are super friendly. Vivienne made Anna a beaded necklace so that she would always remember her time in South Africa, and Marshall makes fun artwork out of driftwood and plastic bottle tops he finds on the beach. It definitely has a homey feel to it, and we love coming back here for some wine on the deck after a day out.

View from the deck at Poplar Tree Lodge
Mountains behind Poplar Tree Lodge Our Hout Bay digs
Marshall’s creations…The Herd Dusk on the deck

I most definitely needed some practice driving on the left side of the road, so rather than venturing into the traffic-filled city on our first day we set out to explore the Cape Peninsula. We headed towards the towns on False Bay on the eastern side of the peninsula, stopping first to see the colorful bathing house at the beach in St. James. According to our coffee barista, we were now crossing the “lentil curtain” that separates cosmopolitan, ritzy Cape Town from Bohemian, hippie Cape Town. Good to know. We wanted to stop in Kalk Bay to check out some of its boutique shops and galleries, but some road construction made this new-to-the-left-side driver panic and we drove right through. Oops. We continued on through the scenic Fish Hoek Bay and Simon’s Town until we reached Boulders Beach, famous for being home to a colony of 3,000 African penguins. Neither of us could say we’d seen a penguin in the wild before, so this was pretty cool. I dare you not to smile watching them walk around.

Colored bathing houses at St. James St. James
Presumably talking about fish and fantasy football
Boulders Beach…not just a clever name Standing guard
Awwwwww

We continued south into the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Wow! I expected the Cape Peninsula to be beautiful, but not this beautiful. Wildflowers, deserted white sand beaches, windswept coastlines, red and green mountains sloping into a tropical sea…it’s incredible. We stopped at the Cape of Good Hope, the southwestern most point of all of Africa, and at Cape Point to see its famous lighthouse. As if we needed to be reminded we were in Africa, we saw some wild ostriches and baboons as we were leaving the park.  There must have been 20 baboons, including a handful of babies.  I wanted to get some better pictures, but one of the big ones stared directly into my eyes and my soul so I sped away. We made our way back to our apartment in Hout Bay slowly but surely along the Atlantic side of the peninsula. The last few kilometers of this drive are known as Chapman’s Peak Drive, and it makes driving along the coast in Big Sur seem like a walk in the park. We would stop every couple of minutes for some pictures and for me to change my pants.

Flora in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve
2016 Olympic hopeful at Buffels Bay
Cape of Good Hope A little windy out on the Cape of Good Hope
Cape Point lighthouse View from Cape Point
Wild ostriches…are we in Jurassic Park? Baboon crossing
Chapman’s Peak Drive View towards Hout Bay from Chapman’s Peak

We’re pumped to finally have our own wheels, and for the next month we’ll be making our way from Cape Town in the west to Kruger National Park in the east, with pit stops along the Winelands, the Garden Route, the Wild Coast and the Drakensberg mountains. If the rest of our time in South Africa is anything like our first day, we’re in for an amazing month. However, we’re also in for a very eye-opening experience. South Africa has one of the largest gaps between rich and poor out of any country in the world, and it’s evident immediately. In our 30-minute drive to our apartment from the airport, we saw enormous mansions and wine estates but also several townships where the poverty stricken masses live in a sprawl of tin shacks. Anna and I read up on the history of South Africa and especially the apartheid era before coming, and it’s definitely heartbreaking. It should be an interesting month, that’s for sure.

October 29, 2011

Turkish Delight

by Johnny

To be honest, Anna and I had some initial reservations about traveling to Turkey.  As our guide at Ephesus nicely put it, “Turkey is in an interesting neighborhood.”  Now that our time in Turkey has ended, we can’t say enough good things about the country.  We’re so, so glad we decided to travel there.  It definitely “wowed” me more than any other country on our trip so far.  In just a little over a week we saw ancient history in Ephesus, a one-of-a-kind landscape in Cappadocia and a world-class city in Istanbul…and we barely scratched the surface of all Turkey has to offer.  And don’t even get me started on the food.  But what we will remember most about our time in Turkey is the people and the millions of laughs we shared.  Our guidebook says, “All the peoples of Turkey tend to be family-focused, easy going, hospitable, gregarious and welcoming of visitors.”  This, times a million.  I’ve never met a group of friendlier, more helpful people in my life.  Whenever we were lost looking at our map, somebody would ask us if we needed help finding someplace (and usually walk us halfway there).  I can’t tell you how many times we were stopped on the street with, “Hi.  Where are you from?  How are you liking Turkey so far?  Can I offer you some tea?”  And no, it’s not just merchants trying to give you the runaround.  When I was finding an ATM alone one early morning in Selçuk, and old man approached me and told me I should wear some extra layers because it was going to get cold that day.  These are just some small examples of things that would happen everyday.

It’s funny, we wanted to visit Turkey on this trip because it was one of the countries we weren’t sure if we would make a return trip to later in our lives.  However, since we’ve been gone, we keep saying, “Let’s do this next time we go to Turkey.  Let’s stay here next time we go to Turkey.”  Most definitely a special place.

October 28, 2011

Two Continents; One Great City

by Johnny

Have you recovered yet from that atom bomb of knowledge Anna dropped on your dome in the last post?  Good.  We arrived to Istanbul on an overnight bus from Göreme, and with only four nights left before the Europe leg of our travels came to an end, we decided to spoil ourselves a little bit.  We upgraded our room at our B&B to one with a terrace view of the Blue Mosque and the Sea of Marmara, we saw nearly every site we wanted, we bought a couple souvenirs, and we ate baklava after every meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner).

We based ourselves in the area of Istanbul known as Sultanahmet, which is within easy walking distance of the city’s “big three” tourist sights:  Aya Sofya, Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque.  I could write pages on the amazing history of these buildings, but I’ll just tell you a couple things we liked about each of them.  In the Aya Sofya, we loved the enormous domed ceiling and beautiful mosaics.  We liked nearly everything about Topkapi Palace (except the crowds), but we were especially amazed by the Harem, where the sultan and the rest of the imperial family lived.  It was a maze of decadently decorated rooms and tiled courtyards.  Topkapi Palace also had some of the best views in Istanbul looking out towards the Bosphorus strait, which separates the European and Asian continents.  The Blue Mosque is beautiful in its simplicity…and you get to take your shoes off when you go inside.

View of the Blue Mosque from our terrace
 
Sunset on our terrace Enjoying a couple Efes on our terrace
Our B&B, Ahmet Efendi Evi, at night
Aya Sofya
Inside Aya Sofya
Domed ceiling of Aya Sofya Baby Jesus being presented with Aya Sofia and Istanbul
Inside the Harem at Topkapi Palace Fireplace in the Harem
Mother of Pearl furniture in the Harem Thumbs down on the circumcision room
Courtyard of Topkapi Palace View of the Bosphorus from Topkapi Palace
The Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
Gotta go barefoot in the Blue Mosque Washing off those feet outside the Blue Mosque
A little post-Blue Mosque çay

One of the highlights of our time in Istanbul was a night out with some local lads.  Our friend (and future Thailand travel companion) Hillary introduced us via email to her good friend Fer, who is back in his home city of Istanbul after living in Los Angeles for seven years (four of them at USC).  We met Fer for lunch and made plans to meet at “The Studio” later that night.  Uh-oh.  Was this Istanbul’s hottest nightclub?  Anna and I were a little worried because we left our clubbing outfits at home…in 2002.  We showered up, motivated ourselves and headed back out to meet Fer.  He met us at a street corner, walked us down a dark alley and…wow…awesome!  “The Studio” was an actual music recording studio.  It turns out that Fer is a ripping drummer and plays in the band for a singer that just won a best new artist award in Turkey.  For the next few hours, Anna and I and a few others watched Fer and his buddies have an all out jam session.  We even got to see the world premier of their new music video that’s scheduled to air on MTV in Turkey soon.  Afterwards we all headed out to a group of bars that were overflowing with young Turks and good music.  Anna and I were pretty proud of ourselves that we made it until 3:30am before having to call it quits.  It was a great night…all of Fer’s friends, like all Turkish people, were super friendly and welcoming, and it was a side of Istanbul we would not have seen otherwise.  We made plans to meet up for a traditional Turkish Sunday brunch the next day, but unfortunately I left my Zack Morris-sized travel phone in our room and we couldn’t connect.  Next time.  Thanks for everything, Fer!

Can Bonomo on the ukelele Johnny and Fer

I had to mentally prepare myself for a visit to the Grand Bazaar.  I was picturing being shouted at and grabbed by millions of merchants trying to sell me fake carpets and knock-off watches.  I thought, “Let’s get in, take some pictures and get out.”  Turns out, the Grand Bazaar was actually pretty awesome.  It’s a labyrinth of unique walkways with over 2,000 tiny boutiques and workshops selling everything you can think of, but it wasn’t as chaotic as I thought.  In addition to the shops, there are tea houses, cafes and even a mosque, all covered in a beautiful building.  Anna loved it and could have gone back every day.  However, one thing’s for sure, I am terrible at the art of bargaining.  Anna bought some bracelets and got the guy down from TL40 to TL25.  Nice!  I saw a cool shirt I liked that was priced at TL25, so I asked the guy if he could do it for TL20.  I ended up giving him TL50 and my pants, and Anna and I now have to name our first son Mehmet.  We also visited the Spice Bazaar, a marketplace that sells all sorts of spices, dried fruits, nuts, Turkish Delight and other goodies.  Sensory overload.

Lanterns in the Grand Bazaar Jewelry in the Grand Bazaar
Trinkets in the Grand Bazaar Carpets in the Grand Bazaar
Spice Bazaar Spice Bazaar
Spice Bazaar Outside the Spice Bazaar

With visits to the main tourist sights and markets checked off our list, we explored as many of Istanbul’s different neighborhoods as we could, by both land and sea.  One day we took the public ferry to Kadiköy, which is on the Asian side of Istanbul.  It had a happening food market, and we sampled some awesome mezes at Ciya Sofrasi, one of Istanbul’s best rated restaurants.  We also explored the Beyoglu neighborhood a couple different times, and each time it was absolutely packed.  The main street, Istiklal Caddesi, was a sea of people every time we saw it.  Come to think of it, nearly every area of the city we went was packed with locals…Istanbul is crazy!  Anyways, Beyoglu was the seedy part of town back in the ‘90s but is now home to hip new boutique stores, galleries and restaurants.  Another day we took a cruise of the Bosphorus and got to see all the different sights and neighborhoods that dot the coast.  The Istanbul skyline from the water, especially when Aya Sofia, Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque are all visible at the same time, is pretty amazing.  Istanbul is such a big, historic, vibrant place with tons to see and do, and we could have easily spent a few more days there.

The Basilica Cistern stored water for the palace Upside down Medusa head at Basilica Cistern
View of Topkapi Palace from the ferry
Kiz Kulesi island and tower from our cruise Scenes from the Bosphorus cruise
Cruising the Bosphorus Istanbul’s skyline from the Bosphorus
Bustling street in Kadiköy Traditional Turkish coffee in Kadiköy
Sea of people on Istiklal Caddesi
View of the Galata Tower at night We had wine near the Galata Tower at sunset
Walking across the Galata Bridge at night

Oh yea, and we (meaning me) ate a ton.  I couldn’t get enough of the food in Turkey.  Anna already mentioned our recent addiction to çay, and I loved me some Turkish coffee as well (Warning: When tasting Turkish coffee for the first time, you may want to wear a diaper). The spices, the veggies (eggplant!), the mezes, the bread…we loved it all.  Check out some pics, including an epic fried dough ball sequence, below.

“Spoon salad” with walnuts, tomatoes and pomegranate All kebab all the time
Fish sandwiches grilled up right on the boat Fish sandwiches are an Istanbul institution
Fried dough ball in honey… …made by happy dudes…
…look and taste delicious… …and make Johnny a happy dude, too
Döner kebab Best. Baklava. Ever.
October 25, 2011

Drip Castles and Fairy Chimneys

by Anna

Cappadocia, “Land of the Beautiful Horses,” is unlike any place I’ve ever seen. Johnny and I were constantly in jaw-drop positions as we explored this other-wordly landscape, rich and unique both in its history and geology. Cappadocia’s terrain resulted from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Over time, the lava was eroded by weather, exposing the soft tuff left beneath the harder rocks above, thus leaving behind the phallic looking formations, dubbed “fairy chimneys” that stud the area. Also left behind were the amazing valleys and drip castle-esque rock formations that served as cave dwellings for prehistoric settlers, Byzantines, Christians, and so on as one civilization built upon the work of its predecessor through the ages.

We based ourselves in the cool little village of Göreme, which is a scenic delight in itself with cave houses dotting the rocks and lively shops and restaurants nestled along a tree-lined canal. Göreme also topped the charts with the friendliest, warmest people ever. We were already impressed by how nice and helpful Osman and his nephew were in Selçuk, and our amazing host, Mustafa, at the Arch Palace Hotel picked up right where they left off. He went out of his way to make sure we had dinner plans, rides to and from wherever we needed to go, maps of the valleys, etc. During breakfast each morning as we admired the view from the rooftop, Mustafa would move from table to table talking with all his guests and making sure everyone was happy. Every other person in Göreme was the exact same way, always making us feel welcome. By the time we left, we felt like we had friends all over the village, many of whom thought Johnny looked either like Jesus or Jake Gyllenhaal. It was a toss up.

Cave houses just off the main road in Göreme
A delicious Börek meat filled pastry at Nazar Börek Cafe Nazar Börek Cafe in Göreme
Along the canal in Göreme

As soon as we arrived in Göreme, we bundled up since it was pretty frigid, and walked a small distance out of town to the Open Air Museum. This was our first opportunity to explore the cave dwellings and churches that date back to the Byzantine period and to take in the amazing landscape around us. We particularly enjoyed visiting the Karanlik Kilise, or “Dark Church,” which had the most beautifully preserved frescoes due to the lack of light over the centuries.

The view from our walk to the Göreme Open Air Museum, a Unesco World Heritage Site
 
Just passing a camel along the way…no big deal Rocks speckled with cave houses
Other-worldly
Doorway to a cave house Cave paintings
Karanlik Kilise Beautifully preserved cave frescoes
Inside the Open Air Museum

That night after enjoying the sunset from the roof terrace of our hotel, we sampled our first Testi kebap. Testi kebap, you say? At first glance this might sound like a dish involving the unmentionables of some animal, but quite to the contrary. It is actually a delicious mix of meat and vegetables cooked in a sealed clay pot over an open fire. The best part, besides being crock-pot style, melt-in-your-mouth delicious, is that you get to break open your clay pot with a hammer at the table (pretty sure I ate a few pieces of clay, but it was worth it!).

Up on the roof…
Easy does it Bam! steaming goodness is revealed
Yum

The next day we again put on our warmest layers and took a short bus ride to another Open Air Museum in Zelve. The three valleys which make up the museum blew us away with their colorfully streaked rock walls, crazy rock formations and multitude of cave dwellings and pigeon houses dating back to the 9th century and lived in up until 1952 when they were deemed too dangerous for villagers. Unlike the Göreme Open Air Museum, we were two of only a handful of people there, so it felt like we had these amazing canyons to ourselves.

From Zelve we veered along dirt paths past grapevines and sheep till we found Paşabağı, well known for its stunning array of fairy chimneys, some of which contained former monk cave dwellings and chapels. Our walk then took us to a small village called Çavuşin. We stopped at “Ayse & Mustafa’s Place” in the old part of the village for some çay (by this point I was developing a mild addiction to Turkish tea) and lunch. Çavuşin had an incredible, massive rock face filled with abandoned cave houses, and we got amazing views after scaling up the side of it.

It was just us and the sheep Autumn colors in the valley
The fairy chimneys also kind of look like mushrooms
More fairy chimneys
Cay in traditional tulip glasses Refueling at Ayse & Mustafa’s Place
Çavuşin cave houses
Climbing the rock face in Çavuşin…”Where’s Johnny?”

Next we headed to what would be the highlight of the day; the Red and Rose Valleys. We had heard that you sort of just “find your way” through these valleys, as they are not really marked, and the trails veer off in all directions. The lack of detailed maps or trail markers and the lack of people definitely made for a surreal adventure exploring these pink and rusty-hued valleys. Every twist and turn took us to an even more spectacular view than the last with shapes and colors that we had never seen before. And just when we felt like we were the only people walking through what felt like another planet, we’d stumble upon cave houses carved high in the rocks, a random tea shack or old man gathering pomegranates and pumpkins. Pomegranate trees, by the way, were everywhere, and on our way out of the Red Valley, we stopped at a small tea stand and had a fresh squeezed cup of pomegranate juice. When we finally cut through the hills on our way back to Göreme, in awe of the natural wonders we had seen that day, the call to prayer echoed across the valley from the spires of the mosques, reminding us how very far away from home we were.

That night we perused the small colorful shops in Göreme (and really started thinking about buying one of those magical Turkish carpets!) and unwound/dethawed at the cozy Red Red Wine Bar.

Carpets for days in Göreme
Bright hand-painted ceramics More carpets
Red Red Wine Bar Red Red Wine Bar
Nighttime in Göreme

The next morning we awoke to sunshine and hot air balloons floating through the blue skies. We decided for our last day to join a small tour, called the “Green Tour” in order to see more of the region. After checking out a panoramic point of Göreme, our first stop took us to the Derinkuyu Underground City. The deepest of 36 underground cities discovered in Cappadocia, it was first built by the Phrygians in the 8th to 7th centuries BC and was expanded upon and served as a hideout for Christians in the 6th and 7th centuries. We were able to visit 8 of the 16 floors deep beneath the earth. When we arrived down the extremely narrow and low passageway to the 8th floor, we were 85 meters below the surface (approximately an entire football field length beneath the ground!). I think Johnny turned a little green at a couple points when we had to literally bend over and almost crawl to get through the narrow tunnels, but it was well worth it. The intricacy of the city with stables, homes, churches, wells, baptism pools, air shafts and classrooms was amazing, and it was crazy to imagine 10,000 people living for months at a time in this way in order to evade enemies.

Hot air balloon rides are a hot ticket in Cappadocia
The passageways got even more narrow and low than this…not a happy place for claustrophobics!
Johnny’s so excited to be eight levels below the earth Deep and narrow stairwells
One tunnel went a distance of 15km, connecting to yet another underground city

Glad to have avoided any cave-ins, we emerged back into daylight and headed for Ihlara Valley, the 2nd largest canyon after the Grand Canyon (fun fact). We took a 4km walk through the valley in the Melendiz river canyon which was full of fall colors, more cave dwellings and churches, and some of the most enormous ducks I’ve ever seen – I think they might have been duck-geese hybrids.

Ihlara Valley Agacalti (under the tree) church in Ihlara
The colors were beautiful in the Melendiz river canyon
Cappadocia was also the land of cute puppies Cave dwellings along the walls of the canyon

After lunch in Belisirma, we drove to Yaprakhisar, an area which is well known for its landscape looking like the backdrop of Star Wars. We climbed around and explored the largest monastery (Selime) in the area which was really impressive both in size and intricate details within the rock caves.

Yaprakhisar
Inside the church at Selime Inside the church at Selime
Star Wars landscape Yaprakhisar

After one final panoramic look out point of Pigeon Valley, we got back to Göreme around 5:30pm, grabbed our luggage and headed to the very cool Safak Cafe that we had found the day before for some last minute wine and meze before boarding our overnight bus to Istanbul!

Erciyes Dagi volcano
Pigeon Valley (pigeons were considered sacred, and their droppings were used as manure)
We were sad to say goodbye to our main man Mustafa We loved the Arch Palace Hotel
October 23, 2011

Time For A Kebab

by Johnny

Do you know how hard it is for a meat-eating male to travel in Europe for nearly five months without eating a kebab?  It’s extremely hard.  They’re on nearly every street corner, tempting you with cheap awesomeness.  Did I give into this temptation?  No way.  I ignored these delicious hunks of meat on a stick with unrivaled willpower, determined to experience my first kebab in the world’s kebab mecca, Istanbul.

On one of our travel days a little while ago, Anna and I were watching the Istanbul episode of “Anthony Bordain: No Reservations.”  He raved about this hole in the wall kebab place that made both of us drool on our computer, and I thought, “Yes…this is where I will have my kebab!”  With some flimsy directions, we headed down a couple side streets, up a couple alleys, and finally made it to Durumzade.  Let me just say, it was worth the wait.  We ordered a spicy lamb durum (Turkish kebab wrap), which is the specialty of the house, and watched the grill master work his magic.  The best part was that he would periodically smother the cooking meat with the bread, soaking up all the juice and spices.  He wrapped the meat up burrito style with some tomatoes, onions and more spices and delivered it to our table.  I tore into this thing like a five year-old into his first present on Christmas morning.  It, like nearly every single thing we’ve eaten in Turkey, did not disappoint.

How can a place with smiley faces for U’s be bad? Choice of meats on skewers in the window
Cooking up our lamb on the grill All the fixin’s
One happy camper…who looks a little pooped from staying out ’til 4:00am the night before
October 19, 2011

Ephesus

by Johnny

After over a month traveling throughout the amazing country of Italy, it was time for the Sherwood World Tour to move on. Next stop…Turkey! Our jolly B&B owner Osman picked us up at the Izmir airport in the freezing cold and drove us to the town of Selçuk, our base for exploring the ruins of Ephesus and surrounding sites. On the way to his comfy, family-run B&B, Nazar Hotel, Osman mentioned that his friend ran daily tours of Ephesus if we were interested. We haven’t been on many “tours,” but with only one full day to see the region (and because we didn’t want to get lost in the freezing cold), we figured it would be the best way to see everything. We’re definitely glad we did the tour as it provided us with a ton of insight not found in our guidebooks.

The view from breakfast at Nazar Hotel
View from our room We ate a delicious dinner in the freezing cold at Hotel Nazar
My new Turkish friends Osman and his nephew

Our first stop was Meryemana (Mary’s House), where, as the story goes, the Virgin Mary lived her final years after she came to Ephesus with Saint John in the year 37 AD. Over 1,800 years later, a German nun named Catherine Emmerich had visions of Mary’s face in a grilled cheese sandwich she was eating. No, not really. But she did claim to have visions of Mary living in Ephesus, even though she had never visited the place or even left Germany. Using the descriptions of her visions as a guide, clergy from nearby Izmir discovered the foundations of an old house on a hillside near Ephesus. Whoa! Though the ruins have been dated to the 6th century AD, they are said to “contain some earlier elements, possibly from the 1st century.” Well, that was good enough for Pope Paul VI to unofficially claim its authenticity on a visit in 1967, making it a place of pilgrimage. Whether you believe the Virgin Mary lived there or not, it’s definitely an interesting place to check out.

Virgin Mary’s pad…allegedly
People lighting candles at Mary’s house Prayers written on tissues at Mary’s house

The next stop on our tour was Ephesus, said to be the best-preserved ruins in the Mediterranean, if not all of Europe. According to the legend, Androclus from Ionia, under constant attack from invaders, sought the advice of the oracle of Delphi for a new place to settle his people. The oracle told him to look for three things: the fish, the fire and the boar. When Androclus and his people arrived on the shores of present-day Turkey from Greece in the 10th century BC, they cooked some freshly caught fish, which started a large fire and scared a wild boar out of the bushes. Androclus hunted down the boar and founded Ephesus in the exact place he killed it.

In the centuries that followed, Ephesus grew to become Rome’s capital in Asia Minor with a population near 250,000. Today, only 18% of the former city has been excavated, but it’s still enough to get your imagination running wild about how impressive a city it must have been back in the day. The city even had full running water (hot and cold) and sewage systems, and some statues clearly depict a round earth indicating that the Romans knew the world was round before that belief was lost during the Dark Ages. It was at Ephesus that we were definitely glad we had a guide. She told us the history of and meaning behind each set of ruins, which would have otherwise looked like a bunch of old stones to Anna and me. Some highlights were the Varius Baths (where visitors were required to clean themselves upon entry) the Trajan Fountain, the Temple of Hadrian, the men’s latrines (where many wealthy men had membership), the Curetus Way (the Fifth Avenue of Ephesus), and the Great Theater. Of course, the head honcho of all the Ephesus ruins is the Library of Celsus. In its day, it held 12,000 scrolls, making it the third largest library in the ancient world.

Curetes Way…the Fifth Avenue of Ephesus
Ancient pharmacy snake symbol at Ephesus Lots of happy cats at Ephesus
Corinthian and Ionic columns Pomegranates in bloom next to the ruins
The men’s latrines were the place to be
Trajan Fountain Temple of Hadrian
Mosaic floors of the terraced houses Where the old shops lined Curetes Way
Library of Celsus
Library of Celsus
Library of Celsus Library of Celsus
Library of Celsus
Johnny and Anna…oh, and Library of Celsus
Harbour Street The Great Theatre
Shredding leg guitar solo at the Great Theatre

After our tour of Ephesus it was time for some grub. We sampled some Turkish delights, çay (tea), dried fruits and nuts from the region before heading to an all-you-can-eat restaurant featuring local fare. After filling our bellies we visited the Ephesus Museum, which contains some artifacts (coins, jewelry, scales) uncovered during excavation. Then we made our way to the Temple of Artemis, one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. When settling at Ephesus, Androclus and his people peacefully integrated with the Leleggian tribes already there, even incorporating some of the Leleggian beliefs into their own (take notes, Christopher Columbus). At the center of these beliefs and religious practices were goddesses of fertility, which evolved into the Artemis of Ephesus. Her devotees built her the largest temple in the world…larger than the Parthenon in Athens. Sadly, only one of the original 127 columns from the temple is still standing, and it’s topped by a silly looking stork’s nest, but we still got a good idea of what it could have looked like in its heyday.

A plethora of Turkish goodies
All that’s left of the Temple of Artemis…one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

We wrapped up our tour with a visit to a local hand-made Turkish carpet shop, where we learned all about the carpet making process.  It’s intense!  We saw how they extract silk from silkworm cocoons using traditional methods.  Then we learned about the various knots that are used to weave carpets, and how the Turkish double knot makes Turkish carpets unique.  Watching the girls weave intricate patterns into these carpets one knot at a time was something to see.  The girls can only work for two hours a day because the process is so physically exhausting, and sometimes it takes up to two years for them to complete a single rug.

Removing the silk cocoons from the hot water Silk cocoons
Carpet weaving This girl was recreating the Last Supper in a carpet
I still don’t know how they make patterns this cool
Carpets to the ceiling Genuine fake watches!

Although we’ve only been in Turkey for a couple of days, one thing’s for sure…we’re not in Western Europe anymore. The food, the language, the people, the landscape, the buildings, the music…it’s so different from anything we’ve seen on this trip so far. While I’ve absolutely loved every place we’ve been, this is the first time on our trip it feels like we are in a faraway, exotic land. It’s almost like our vacation has ended and our adventure has begun, and we can’t wait to see what else Turkey (and soon South Africa and Southeast Asia!) has to offer.

October 16, 2011

Thanks Mom And Dad!

by Johnny

Thanks for the most amazing two weeks!  We love you and miss you lots!

October 15, 2011

Como

by Anna
The end to another beautiful day on Lake Como

Our final stop on the Sherwood Family Italy Tour was gorgeous Lake Como. Linda found us a cozy apartment through the Albergo Milano in the small town of Varenna. Varenna could not have been more charming with its colorful waterfront buildings sprinkled with elegant villas and a tiny waterfront full of the fattest, healthiest and best looking ducks we had ever seen! Our stay in Varenna was immediately kicked off with a late afternoon aperitivo at the Hotel du Lac. Upon arriving, we had intended to take a longer stroll to explore the town, but the blackboard in front of Hotel du Lac boasting fresh white peach Bellinis on its perfect lake front deck was too much for us to resist.

Varenna
On the deck of Hotel du Lac We couldn’t resist the Bellinis!
Leaves around the lake were showing signs of autumn Views from our daily stroll along the lake
Lake Como

After our Bellini pit stop and some more strolling through the town, we got ready to head to dinner at the Ristorante La Vista at the Albergo Milano. We were treated to the most beautiful sunset over the lake from our table on the restaurant’s amazing terrace, and figured the view would be the best part of the night, but it got even better with a delicious meal and the “hotel cat,” Sashimi, who curled up in Linda’s lap during the meal.

It doesn’t get much better than this
Sunset over Varenna Sunset over the lake
The view just kept getting better
Luckily there was a gelato store at the end of our street!

The next day we hopped on the ferry for a quick ride over to Bellagio, “the pearl of Lake Como.” I had great memories from a trip that I took to Bellagio in college and was so excited to make a return visit! Bellagio is pretty in every way…its steep narrow streets, panoramic views of the lake and perfectly landscaped trees and flowers. After spending the morning admiring the beautiful gardens of Villa Melzi, we had yet another delicious meal at Trattoria San Giacomo on one of Bellagio’s picturesque streets and topped it off with local microbrews and white wines at Aperitivo et Al.

Riding the ferry to Bellagio
Villa Melzi
The gardens of Villa Melzi Villa Melzi’s “front patio” is not too shabby
Monument of Dante and Beatrice by Giambattista Comolli in the gardens
Tree and flower-lined path in Bellagio View from our lunch spot in Bellagio
Big Jay and Johnny were happy to find a good Italian microbrew

We decided that for our final night with Jay and Linda in Lake Como, we should return to our two favorite spots – the terrace at Hotel du Lac and the Ristorante La Vista. The views and food just couldn’t be beat!

A final round of aperitivos at Hotel du Lac (we grew to be very fond of bright orange Aperol Spritzs!)
The stunning view from Ristorante La Vista was a perfect backdrop for our final evening with Linda and Jay

The next day we sadly saw Jay and Linda off at the train station. We could not have asked for a more wonderful two weeks with them, and we are so grateful that they were able to join us on part of our adventure!!

We spent the remainder of the day and the following day catching up on emails and the blog and researching the upcoming parts of our trip. We also completed the “golden triangle” on Lake Como and took the ferry to the town of Mennagio for lunch. On our way back from lunch, we were almost to our hotel when we heard “Johnny!” from across the street. Believe it or not, Johnny’s friends from San Francisco, Dennis and Robyn, were waving across at us…of all places to run into friends from home! Dennis and Robin now live in London and were on a weekend getaway with their Aussie friends, Linda and Philippe. They invited us to join them for dinner, so a few hours later we were all sitting together swapping travel stories (I think Dennis and Robyn have been EVERYWHERE, so we got some great travel tips for Turkey and South Africa) and having an awesome time! What a great way to spend our last night in Italy!!

Dinner with Dennis, Robyn, Linda and Philippe So lucky to run into friends on our travels!

**The reason why we are cracking up in the group photo is because the cutest, oldest and smallest Italian man was taking our photo. It took a few attempts to show him how to use Johnny’s high tech camera, and when he finally got the button, with flash, pushed, the camera went on automatic timer mode, so he just held the camera for 15 seconds while the camera beeped and finally took the picture. It was pretty funny…he must have thought we were crazy!

So it is time to say ‘Arrivederci’ to Italy, as we make our way east to Turkey tomorrow! Our next update will be from Ephesus!

October 15, 2011

Venezia, Ti Amo

by Johnny

I’ve been struggling with how to communicate the wonder that is Venice through a blog post. Somehow my usual “amazing,” “beautiful,” “incredible,” and “awesome” adjectives wouldn’t seem to do the place justice. Then my mom nailed it…Venice is enchanting.

We rented an apartment (Ca’ Venexiana) surrounded on two sides by canals…like the coolest corner lot you can imagine…in Venice’s lesser-traveled Dorsoduro district, a quiet area of the city we came to love. It wasn’t uncommon to be enjoying a glass of wine in the kitchen while a gondolier rode right past the window. A truly magical spot. We spent most our days wandering aimlessly throughout the city, both on foot and by vaporetto, Venice’s water bus system. With our 24-hour vaporetto passes, we were able to cruise down the Grand Canal, hop off to explore whenever we wanted, and then hop back on for more cruising. If you’re ever in Venice, I highly recommend buying a vaporetto pass for the duration of your stay…it’s a perfect way to see the city.

Venice is, well, enchanting. Every twist and turn through its labyrinth of canals offers such unique beauty. Half of the time we felt like we were transported to the 14th century. The other half of the time we felt like extras in a James Bond movie. Venice also has its own unmistakable architecture, Venetian Gothic, characterized by Gothic lancet arches combined with Moorish and Byzantine influences.  Most definitely a city like no other.

The outdoor patio at our apartment
Where’s Waldo? (Hint: hanging out of our apartment)
Typical alley in Dorsoduro Venetian Gothic
Wandering around the canals Tiny bridges everywhere
Big Jay and Linda on Ponte dell’Accademia
Big Jay and Linda Johnny and Anna
Ponte dell’Accademia Piazza San Marco and Doge’s Palace from the vaporetto
Riding the vaporetto Riding the vaporetto
You serious, Clark?
Walking home along the Zattere
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie…
Riding the vaporetto at night Wandering the chilly streets at night

When we weren’t purposefully getting lost all over Venice and spending time in favorite piazzas, Piazza San Stefano, Campo Santa Margherita and Piazza San Barnaba, we caught some of the city’s premier sites.  We spent a lot of time in Piazza San Marco, toured Saint Mark’s Basilica and rode to the top of Saint Mark’s Campanile.  The Sherwoods love food, so it’s no surprise that one of our favorite places to visit was the Rialto market, where locals have been coming to buy their fish and produce since 1097.  That’s a long time.  We also stumbled into some delicious and noteworthy restaurants for dinner, Osteria 1518 and Ristoteca Oniga.  Side note…check out the place my brother will be spending  the next three months training as a chef.  Villa Crespi, ooh la la.

Another highlight was taking the vaporetto to the island of Murano, famous for its glass making.  In the late 1200s, all glass making in Venice was moved to the island of Murano due to risk of fires from the furnaces.  Glass makers on the island who tried to leave were viewed as traitors and were assassinated to protect the secrets of their craft.  Needless to say, glass making on Murano is serious business.

Doge’s Palace Saint Mark’s Basilica
Pigeon feeding in Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco At the top of Saint Mark’s Campanile
View of Doge’s Palace from Saint Mark’s Campanile
Inside Saint Mark’s Basilica
Doge’s Palace and Saint Mark’s Basilica Piazza San Marco at night
Ponte di Rialto from the vaporetto
Grand Canal from the Ponte di Rialto Ponte di Rialto
Rialto produce market
Rialto fish market Rialto fish market
Murano has its own beautiful canals

Anna and I have been in Western Europe for over four months now, and I’m embarrassed to say that occasionally the “wow” factor of being here wears off.  This old church looks a little like that other old church, this piazza like another piazza, this old building like that old building.  But then comes a city like Venice that totally sweeps you off your feet.  We’ll definitely be making a return trip one day.

Cheers Venice!
October 14, 2011

Man Oh Manarola!

by Johnny

As most of you probably know, Cinque Terre is a series of five villages located in the Italian Riviera. Anna and I both have amazing memories of Cinque Terre from previous, separate trips, so needless to say we were thrilled to go back with my parents for a couple of days. While Cinque Terre is no longer “off the beaten path” and the tourists now far outnumber the fishermen, it’s still so beautiful that you have to pinch yourself every few minutes to make sure you’re not dreaming.

Manarola Manarola
Ciao Mamma e Papa!

We based ourselves in the picturesque town of Manarola. I’ve probably used the word “picturesque” in every one of my blog posts, but this time I really mean it. After checking into our small hotel, we set out to walk the trail between Manarola and Riomaggiore, otherwise known as Via dell’Amore or “Lovers’ Lane.” Just like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, walkers fasten locks and tag the walls wherever they can along the path to mark their love for each other. We didn’t partake in this tradition as we were lock-less and Sharpee-less, but we did continue the new Sherwood tradition of afternoon wine and bruschetta, this time at a wine bar perched over the sea at Riomaggiore. There was an unusually large swell in the water that sent waves crashing hard into the rocks, providing an amazing backdrop. That night we were treated to an incredible sunset before a mouth-watering meal at Trattoria dal Billy. Knowing that we had some serious hiking to do the next day, we carbo-loaded with some lobster and shrimp pasta, lemon and white chocolate cake and local Limoncino.

Our wine bar in Riomaggiore
Some wine… …and bruschetta
Some other lovers already tagged the wall for us Locks of love
Pre-dinner sunset
Lobster pasta at Trattoria dal Billy
Walking down to Trattoria dal Billy Real men drink Limoncino

After a quick breakfast on day two, we headed out to explore each of the five towns. We couldn’t hike between Manarola and Corniglia because of some recent landslides, so we took the train between the two towns and then hiked from Corniglia to Vernazza. The scenery could not have been more beautiful and the weather could not have been more perfect. Still nursing some sore buns from our bike ride in Lucca, we took our sweet time on the trail. We had a great lunch at Gambero Rosso in Vernazza’s Piazza Marconi down by the sea (one of Anna’s happy places) before taking the train to Monterosso. After exploring that town (read: eating gelato on the beach) we made our way back towards Manarola for one final walk down Via dell’Amore. Another perfect sunset led to another great meal, and before we knew it our time in Cinque Terre had come to an end.

Hiking to Vernazza View from the hike
Hiking into Vernazza Check out the olive trees down by the water
Vernazza’s Piazza Marconi
More Vernazza Lunch time in Vernazza
Vernazza

Check out all our Cinque Terre pics here.