Departure for Istanbul, Turkey via your local airport
Arrival in Istanbul and dinner at local restaurant
Istanbul – visits to:
Hippodrome – thought to have once held up to 100 000 people. The site is now an elongated public garden. A column on the spot where the Tourist Bureau is now located once was topped by 4 bronze horses which were pillaged during the Fourth Crusade and taken to St. Mark’s in Venice. There remain: the Egyptian Obelisk (built in 1500 BC and brought to the city by Constantine), the Serpentine Column (believed to date from 479 BC and shipped from Delphi) and the domed fountain which commemorates the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II to Istanbul in 1898. The Hippodrome was the scene of one of the bloodiest events in Istanbul’s history – a brawl between rival chariot-racing teams led to the massacre of 30 000 people in 532 AD.
The Blue Mosque - taking its name from the blue Iznik tiles used in the interior, the Blue Mosque is one of the world’s most famous religious building. Built between 1609 and 1616 by Mehmet Aga, the imperial architect, the plans provoked controversy at the same as some believed that a mosque with 6 minarets was a sacrilegious attempt to rival the architecture of Mecca itself. Note: the Iznik tiles, the 17th Century white marble minbar (pulpit), the inside of the dome.
Saint Sophia (Haghia Sophia) - one of the world’s greatest feats of architecture, Haghia Sophia dates from AD 537. The calligraphic roundels were added in the 19th Century. Note: the spaciousness of the nave, the dome at 56 m. (184 ft), the mosaics (especially Christ flanked by the Emperor Constantine IX and his wife Zoe, and the Virgin holding Christ flanked by Emperor Johan II Comnenus and Empress Irene).
Topkapi Palace – for 400 years the Ottoman sultans ruled their empire from this vast palace. Its fine art collections, opulent rooms and leafy courtyards are among the highlights of a visit to Istanbul. Built between 1459 and 1465 by Mehmet II shortly after his conquest of Constantinople as his principal residence. Initially, the palace served as well as the seat of government.
Dinner at an Istanbul night spot
Visit to the Spice Bazaar -
A cruise along the Bosphorus to Black Sea
Visit to Suleymaniye Mosque – Istanbul’s most important mosque, built in 1550 – 1557 according to the plans of the great Turkish architect, Sinan. Note: sense of space and the soaring dome of the interior, Suleyman’s tomb adjacent to the mosque, wonderful views across the Golden Horn
Visit to the Grand Bazaar
Departure by air for Kayseri
Visit to Selcuk Agzikarahan Caravansary and natural citadel of Uchisar (described by Lonely Planet as a gem of a village, Uchisar is dominated by its castle and is seen against the backdrop of snow-capped, volcanic Mt. Erciyes) (Uchisar Castle is a “tall volcanic rock outcrop riddled with tunnels and windows that provides panoramic views of the Cappadocian valleys and countryside”).
Dinner and overnight in Urgup (“the centre of town retains lots of honey-coloured stone buildings and old houses left over from the days when it still had a large Greek population”
Cappadocia – (the region’s most characteristic feature are its conical rock outcrops, called fairy chimneys. Carved into the rock are hidden chapels adorned with exquisite frescoes – ample proof of the strength of the Christian faith that was established here by the 4th century AD.
Visit to valley of Goreme (holds the greatest concentration of rock-cut chapels and monasteries in Cappadocia). A UNESCO world heritage site. Of note: Karanlik Church (frescoes); Elmali Church (frescoes); Kislar Monastery (a hollowed-out formation where monks lived and worked)
Visit to Zelve (a secluded monastic retreat, dotted with rooms and caves)
Visit to the underground cities of Derinkuyu, Ortahisar and Avanos (Derinkuyu – the biggest, most popular and best lit of the 36 underground cities in the region – thought to have been home to about 20 000 people. Ortahisar – called “a gem waiting to be discovered” by Lonely Planet. A quaint farming village, stores citrus fruit in its caves. Avanos – famous for its pottery)
Return to Urgup for dinner and overnight
Departure by bus for Pamukkale
Visit to petrified calcium cliffs (the white travertine terraces which have long been one of the most photographed sights of Turkey)
You will have time to spend in thermal pools of the hotel, at the Spa Center or the Turkish Bath
Dinner and overnight in Pamukkale
Pamukkale to Kusadasi
Visit the ancient city of Hierapolis. (of note: Arch of Domitian, theatre, Martyrium of St. Philip, and necropolis)
Swim in the thermal-spring pools of Hierapolis and drive to Aphrodisias. Visit of the Greco-Roman settlement there. (of note: Temple of Aphrodite, Tetrapylon, stadium and theatre)
Continue to Kusadasi for dinner and overnight.
Kusadasi – Ephesus
Visit the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (Basilica of St. John, Isa Bey Mosque, Temple of Artemis, the Library of Celsus, Temple of Hadrian Theater, Odeon, Museum of Seljuk, House of the Virgin Mary)
Izmir to Plovdiv (Bulgaria) –
return by air to Istanbul, transfer to train station by bus then night train (sleepers provided) to Plovdiv leaving at 22:00
Arrival at Plovdiv at about 9:30
Rest for those who want and an optional wine tasting tour to famous Hindlian House of those who would like this (cost: 3 types of wine: 8 euros; 5 types of wine : 12 euros)
Afternoon: visit of the Plovdiv Old Town (of note: wood-shuttered homes, cobble-stone lanes, Theatre of Ancient Philippopolis, Church of St Constantine & Elena (4th Century AD), Ruins of Eumolpias, Church of Sveta Bogoroditsa)
Day trip out of Plovdiv:
Bachkovo Monastery (27 k south of Plovdiv) – Bulgaria’s 2nd biggest monastery – founded in 1083 and restored in the 17th Century (of note: Archangel Church – 12th Century and 17th Century Church of the Assumption of Our Lady)
Smolyan (set in a valley surrounded by the Rodopi mountains) – (of note: Historical Museum )
Shiroka Laka museum village (“pretty little stream-side town of Roman bridges and 19th-century whitewashed villas”)
Plovdiv to Sophia by bus
Stop on way at the Rila Monastery (UNESCO site) - Bulgaria’s most famous monastery, first built in 927 and restored in 1469. (of note: 300 monk cells, Nativity Church containing 1200 magnificent murals, 23m stone Hrelyu Tower, Ethnographic Museum)
Sofia city tour (of note: Alaksander Nevski Church, Bulgarian National Assembly, Sveta Sophia Church, Sveta Nedelya Cathedral)
Boyana Church - UNESCO site – built between the 11th and 19th centuries, the church features some 90 medieval frescoes, most dating from 1259.
Hiking in Vitosha mountains (for those who wish)
Sophia – Early morning departure for Canada!