After three true road trips abroad all in the last 12 months (Languedoc/Provence/San Sebastian, Tuscany, and The Cotswolds/Wales), we pivoted to slightly more typical travel logistics over this past Labor Day and headed to a couple of locations in Turkey, and then back to Greece to explore another of the Cyclades islands there.
We flew into Istanbul, and spent 3 days there, then flew south to the town of Göreme, in Turkey’s Cappadocia region, and finally from there (through an overnight in Athens), to the Greek island of Paros.
After landing in Istanbul, we headed immediately to the venerable Hagia Sofia, built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in the 6th century:
Hagia Sophia began as a grand church, replacing a previous model constructed in the 4th century. Then as a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century, then a museum under Atatürk in the early 20th century, then BACK to a mosque in 2020 as Turkey has begun deviating from its secular modern roots to an increasingly Islamic society. With the latest change back to a mosque, we weren’t able to go to the second level to see the Viking runes graffiti left by members of the Varangian Guard sometime between the 10th and 11th centuries. Serious bummer, man. But on the bright side the place is freaking HUGE both inside and out, and the bolt-ons by different sultans over the centuries, including massive buttresses to prevent a repeat of collapses during earthquakes were clearly apparent.
Hagia Sofia interior:
Just across a plaza from Hagia Sofia lies the Blue Mosque, an Ottoman-era imperial mosque constructed between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. Sporting five main domes and eight secondary domes, it’s the only mosque in Istanbul with six minarets.
The subterranean basilica cistern in the heart of Istanbul’s old town:
Built in the 530s by Justinian as a major municipal water supply for Constantinople, this multi-acre complex used to be filled up to 7 meters deep with fresh water supplied by the city’s aqueduct. Pillars and other materials from across the empire, including two Gorgon heads, were looted from pagan temples and repurposed to construct the enormous cistern. Abandoned and forgotten in the subsequent centuries. Rediscovered only in the 18th century, the place is architecturally, functionally, and atmospherically astounding. Plus, good to get underground and out of the heat!
Topkapi Palace, seat of power for the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 18th centuries:
A little Turkish music our last night in Istanbul in an entirely different cistern across town, converted to a restaurant:
The absolute highlight of the trip was Cappadocia, in the middle of Turkey. We based ourselves in the town of Göreme and then drove all over the place to check out sights in the region’s lunar landscape of eroded volcanic tuff.
A dawn balloon ride on our first morning:
Really cool stuff all over the region, including two monastery cave complexes right down the road from Göreme. The first was a Byzantine monastic community in the Zelve valley, which thrived between the 9th to 13th centuries. The valley’s troglodyte houses were occupied until 1952, when villagers were relocated due to safety concerns.
We found the complex nearest to Göreme to be even more compelling, though. Founded in the 4th century on the instruction of Saint Basil of Caesarea, this complex of monasteries, nunneries, churches, and chapels existed for a thousand years.
The abundance of cave churches in the complex intrigued us the most:
Two distinct styles of decoration are immediately evident in the cave churches: “During the iconoclastic period (725–842) the decoration of the many sanctuaries in the region was held to a minimum, usually symbols such as the depiction of the Christian cross.”
After this period, new churches were dug into the rocks, and they were richly decorated with colourful frescoes.” Super cool to actually walk into a space and see untouched art from the 8th century just sitting there in the open.
The mountain castle of Uçhisar, dominating the skyline north of Göreme in Cappadocia.
Originally occupied by the Hittites, the structure was once home to 1000 people throughout its labyrinth of cave warrens and later served as cloisters during the Byzantine era.
Descending into the ancient multi-level underground city of Derinkuyu, which is large enough to have sheltered as many as 20,000 people together with their livestock and food stores. The city began in the 8th to 7th centuries BC, and continually expanded. Fully formed between 780–1180 AD, Derinkuyu was occupied for protection from Muslim Arabs during the Arab–Byzantine wars.
Capadoccia’s characteristic fairy chimneys:
A little balloon action from outside the basket this time at sunrise in town.
Even our pool was Capadoccia cool:
Last evening in Göreme:
From Cappadocia in Turkey, we headed to the island of Paros, in Greece’s Cyclades archipelago. We previously visited two nearby Cyclades islands – Santorini and Mykonos. We thoroughly enjoyed both, but wanted an island with a slower pace this time. Paros delivered.
Our base camp of Naousa in Paros – a really compelling combo of working fishing port and the island’s densest cluster of restaurants. As far was we could discern, every one of them had octopus on the menu.
The Monastery of St. John’s of Deti:
Paros’ main port town of Parikia:
At the top of the town, a 13th-century Frankish Crusader castle established as part of the short-lived Duchy of the Aegean Sea and built from materials taken from ancient sites that existed nearby, including the temple of goddess Athena, the protector of the ancient town of Paros:
At the outskirts of town lay the Ekatontapyliani church complex dating from the 6th century:
A short ferry ride delivered us to Paros’ Mini Me neighbor: the island of Antiparos:
Morning hike to the Akrotiri Korakas lighthouse at the northwestern tip of Paros:
We found ourselves hanging out on multiple days at the low-key Ampelas Beach on the east side of the island, across from Naxos:
After seven sunset cocktails and evenings in Naousa, we’ll definitely be back here.
Last night in Paros. . .