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Day 1: Arrive in Istanbul
Arrive in Istanbul and transfer to our hotel. Our adventure begins in Istanbul, the great city that links Europe to Asia across the Bosphorus. Istanbul was once the capital of the "civilized" world in the early days of Christendom and continues to be the heart of Turkey today. Tonight we meet as a group for dinner and orientation. Overnight in Istanbul.
Day 2: Istanbul Sightseeing
This morning, we start with a visit to the Blue Mosque and the Hippodrome and then explore this symbolic city of eastern culture on foot. We visit the Yerebatan Cistern (an underground cistern) and continue to the Topkapi Palace, the residence of Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years. Our next sight of interest is the Hagia Sofia, one of the most magnificent museums in the world. In the afternoon we explore the Grand Bazaar. Overnight in Istanbul.
Day 3: Fly to Adiyaman, Sunset at the Giant Stone Heads of Mt. Nemrut
We fly to Adiyaman and continue on to Kahta, the most convenient place to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mt. Nemrut. After lunch we drive up to the start of our hike on Mt Nemrut (approx 1 hour - steep uphill on rocky terrain.) Standing at 2,134 (7,001 ft), Mt Nemrut is believed to be the burial site of King Antiochus I, in 62 BC. The mysterious and impressive giant stone heads are not easy to reach, but the rewards are great. These stone heads represent the gods of Zeus, Apollo, Hercules, the goddess Kommagene, and King Antioch, who placed himself in such elite company. A lion and eagle flank these heads. As the sun sets, we bid farewell to the ancient gods who have crowned Mt. Nemrut for over two thousand years.
Day 4: Arsemia, Roman Bridge & Kommagene Tomb
In the morning we depart for Arsemia which was the summer capital of the Kommagene Kingdom built by King Antiochus. Enroute, we make stops at a Roman bridge and a Kommagene tomb, located in the spectacular countryside surrounding Mt. Nemrut. We return to Kahta for lunch at a local restaurant by the Ataturk Dam.
Day 5: To Urfa, Birth Place of Abraham
After breakfast, we depart for Urfa, the birth place of Abraham. Enroute we will have the opportunity to view Gobekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill) perhaps the oldest known human made religious structure likely 12,000 years old. Urfa is an important pilgrimage site for Jews, Christians and Muslims. We will visit the cave where Abraham was born as well as spend some time at the hilltop ruins, mosque, and surrounding park with its holy lake. Because the site attracts people from all over the world, one can enjoy some delicious Turkish tea by the lakeside and relax just people watching.
Day 6: To Mardin
After breakfast, we depart for Mardin, an ancient town perched on a hilltop crowned with the ruins of an old castle, looking down to the Mesopotamian plains, south towards Syria. Mardin has been occupied by Syrian Christians, Arabs, Seljuk, Turks, Kurd's, Mongols and Persians. Mardin is one of the most charming cities in Turkey with its stunning architecture and fascinating history. The population of the city consists of Orthodox Christian Assyrians, Muslim & Christian Arabs, Yezidis the Devil Worshippers and Turks.
Day 7: To Diyarbakir via Midyat and Hasankeyf
Our first stop is Midyat, a well-preserved historical town with impressive Syriac Architecture. We continue onto Hasankeyf with its impressive landscape and thousands of cave dwellings towering over the Tigris River. Hasankeyf origins date back 10,000 years. Romans, Mongols, Arabs and Ottomans have all left their mark on this fascinating ancient site, with its thousands of caves and man-made dwellings.
Day 8: Diyarbakir
Today we visit several impressive sites all located within the city fortifications. The fortress overlooking the Tigris river, the Mosque, Roman Sundial, a 3rd century Assyrian Cathedral and the meandering alleyways give this city superb ambience. As with almost any city or town in Turkey, the bazaar is always a great place to explore or even practice your bargaining skills on the eclectic offerings one can find. The main square is a wonderful place to sip Turkish tea while engaging in interesting conversation or simply people watch. Visit The Grand Mosque.
Day 9: To Van via Bitlis and Ahlat
We depart Diyarbakir and head to Van, located on the historic and fabled banks of scenic Lake Van. We travel via Bitlis and Ahlat where we will visit the Conic Tombs of the Seljuk-Turkish period. After Ahlat, enjoy a scenic drive along the Southern shores of Lake Van, which is the biggest lake in Turkey. The city of Van was the capital city of Urartu between the 9th and 7th century BC and the local Armenian Kingdom in the 11th century A.D..
Day 10: Van - Fortresses, Castles and Akhtamar Island
This morning we visit the superb remains of the Urartian fortress at Cavustepe . The fortress walls at Cavustepe are the best preserved Urartian remains anywhere. They create a great atmosphere as we explore both the upper and lower fortress. After our visit, we are off to the Tusba Castle and Akhtamar Island on which an 11th century Armenian Monastery is situated. Afternoon at leisure in Van to explore the local market. Dinner and overnight in Van.
Day 11: To Dogubayazit
Enjoy a day of real adventure. Drive to Dogubayazit via the Caldiran plain and the Tendurek Mountains which are more than 3500 meters high. While driving along the mountain, a thrilling landscape will ensure spectacular views. We descend the mountain enjoying impressive views of the Sacred Mount Ararat. Today, many people believe that the remains of Noah's Ark are on the side of this revered mountain. We arrive in Dogubayazit, a border town near Iran located at the base of famed Mount Ararat. Late afternoon, visit the Ishak Pasha Castle which was the residence of the Ottoman Governor of the East Territories. Dinner and overnight in Dogubayazit.
Day 12: To Kars
Drive to Kars along the western slopes of Mount Ararat. Pass through the Igdir Plain which has a Mediterranean climate at an altitude of 2000 meters, producing sub-tropical fruits. We have an afternoon arrival at Kars, the north-easternmost city of Turkey, bordering Armenia by the Aras River. Visit the Kars Castle.
Day 13: Erzurum
Erzurum, situated at the foot of Mount Palandoken, is a very popular skiing resort in Turkey. It is famous for Turkish-Islamic monuments as well as legendary patriots who resisted against the Russian invasion during the First World War. We visit the sights of Erzurum including the Castle, Cifte Minareli Medrese and old Ottoman Houses. Dinner and overnight in Erzurum.
Day 14: To Hopa Along the Black Sea Coast
The drive today will take us through some of the most spectacular mountainous scenery to be found in Turkey. Stops and sights enroute include Tortum Falls, Yusufeli, Coruh River Valley a Georgian Church and the hillside city of Artvin.
Day 15: Ayder/Trabzon
This morning we depart Hopa enroute to Ayder. This small village nestled in a traditional valley, surrounded by beautiful mountains is the perfect place to relax. We have some shopping and walking opportunities available during our time. After lunch we drive to Rize which is the tea capital of Turkey for an afternoon tea break. Evening at leisure.
Day 16: Sumela Monestary, Fly to Istanbul
Early in the morning, we drive roughly 30 miles outside of Trabzon to the Sumela Monastery. We hike up to the Monastery which stands at the foot of a steep cliff facing the Altindere Valley. This impressive Monastery which is known by the locals as the "Virgin Mary" has gone through many changes over the years and still a wonderful place to visit. Afternoon lunch back in Trabzon, evening flight to Istanbul.
Day 17: Istanbul/Bosphorus Cruise
Morning at leisure in Istanbul. After lunch we board our chartered boat and enjoy a leisurely cruise along the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.
Day 18: Farewell Istanbul
Transfer to Istanbul airport for departing flights homeward.
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