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Treasures of the Aegean: Greek Island Cruise, Athens & Istanbul 2014

Pre-trip: Ankara & Cappadocia, Turkey

Delve deeply into Turkey's ancient civilizations as you journey from the otherworldly landscapes of Cappadocia to Ankara—legendary birthplace of King Midas and summer retreat of Roman emperors. Learn about the powerful Hittite civilization during a visit to their ancient capital, explore the subterranean cave cities of Cappadocia and ancient rock churches of Göreme, and much more.

It's Included:
Airfare from Istanbul to Nevsehir
Accommodations: for 3 nights in Nevsehir at the Superior First-Class Doubletree Hotel Avanos or similar and 2 nights in Ankara at the Moderate-Deluxe Ankara Hilton SA Hotel or similar
12 meals: 5 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 5 dinners
5 included tours: Goreme, Kaymakli, Yazilikaya Pantheon, Hattusas, Ankara
Exclusive services of a resident Grand Circle Program Director
All transfers
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    You depart from the U.S. for Ankara.

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    You arrive in Ankara, where a Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport for your transfer to our hotel. You are welcome to join a walking tour to help get your bearings in your new surroundings. This evening, meet your fellow travelers over a Welcome Dinner at the hotel.

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    Enjoy a half-day city tour of Turkey’s modern capital this morning. Ankara is a very old city, founded in 2000 BC, and there are several Roman ruins scattered throughout the metropolis. Archaeologists have also found artifacts that date to pre-Roman periods. But you’ll find that much of Ankara’s character is sophisticated and modern, from the educational institutions to the art galleries, from the music to the architecture. There are three symphony orchestras and five theaters, offering classic performances of ballet, opera, modern dance, and drama. On many levels, Ankara has become the cultural and political center of Turkey.

    In the oldest part of Ankara, you’ll venture to Ankara Castle, high on a hill overlooking the city. Little remains of the original complex, built by the Galatians, but much of the architecture from its Roman, Byzantine, and Selcuk eras may still be admired. Tour the old town just inside the castle walls, an area where the traditional housing was concentrated during the 16th century for protection within the fortifications. Other highlights of the castle district include the Roman theater, the Temple of Augustus, the Roman Bath, and the Column of Julian.

    To prepare for your discoveries in Cappadocia, you’ll then visit the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, the finest Hittite museum in the country. It details the many cultures that have inhabited this region, starting as far back as the Paleolithic Age. The museum houses a priceless collection of artifacts from Neolithic, Hatti, Hittite, Phrygian, Persian, Galatian, and Roman times. The two buildings themselves, a caravansary (an overnight site for caravans) and a bedesten (covered bazaar), are Ottoman structures that date to the 15th century. Vendors abound in this area, adding to the local color with their fragrant spices, dried fruits, and traditional Turkish handcrafts for sale.

    After lunch on your own, you have the afternoon free to explore the city center. Though Ankara’s origins are from ancient times, most of the city is modern and well planned. You can stroll its wide boulevards, take a quiet walk in a groomed park, or browse its elegant boutiques.

    Rejoin the rest of your group this evening for an included dinner at our hotel.

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    Today, depart for Cappadocia. Stop en route to delve into a civilization that rivaled Egypt’s during the second millennium BC. Begin your explorations with a drive of two to three hours to the ancient site of Hattusas, capital of the great Hittite Kingdom—a powerful empire of the Ancient Near East that ruled from about 1600 to 1200 BC. Located high on a rocky summit, Hattusas offers a wealth of archaeological treasures that have been recovered from this former center of the kingdom, including records offering extensive details concerning political and religious aspects of the culture.

    Afterwards, stop at Bogazkoy, a local village built on the ruins of the ancient Hittite capital, where you’ll discover what it’s like to live in the shadow of history. Then, enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.

    Next, ride to Yazilikaya, a sacred Hittite sanctuary of two chambers enclosed by natural rock formations. Hewn out of the rock are depictions of deities and a stone relief of King Tudhaliya IV that stands twelve feet high. Archaeologists estimate that the Hittites used this locale as a revered shrine as early as 1250 BC.

    Conclude your tour with a walk through an open-air cultural center featuring representations of the Hittite pantheon. The Hittite people revered nearly 1,000 gods and goddesses. There was great diversity in the characters of these deities, with the major spiritual beings—such as Teshub, the Thunderstorm God, and Hepatu, the Goddess of the Sun—depicted more frequently in sacred sites throughout the region.

    Arrive at your hotel in ancient Cappadocia by early evening and enjoy an included dinner there.

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    Early risers can join an optional hot-air balloon ride over Cappadocia’s tufa formations, soaring over its amber terrain and fairytale chimneys in the quiet, rosy light of dawn.

    Then, you'll begin to see the legendary fantastical landscapes and “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia as you journey to the famous Goreme Open-Air Museum.

    The predominant earth surface of Cappadocia is a white volcanic rock called tufa. Centuries of rain and wind have shaped the soft tufa into rhythmic flow patterns and tall cones and columns. Although the dust from tufa looks like sand, the area is not like a desert but is actually highly fertile, and people have inhabited the region since ancient times. Early Christians often burrowed into tufa rock to create hidden sanctuaries and escape persecution. It is said that the area has more than 600 Christian churches carved into the rock, some dating to the third century AD. At the Goreme Open-Air Museum, you'll see some of these ancient churches and chapels noted for their colorful frescoes.

    You’ll also visit the cave workshop of a local potter for a look at The Art of Pottery in Asia Minor. After a break for lunch on your own, continue on to witness the surreal rock formations known as “Fairy Chimneys” in the Pasabag Valley.

    This evening, enjoy dinner together at your hotel.

    Later, you are invited to join our optional Turkish Delight outing to attend a live performance of belly dancing accompanied by local music.

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    If you choose, enjoy a more intimate perspective of this remarkable countryside during an exhilarating morning hike.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, head to the underground city of Kaymakli. During the Hittite era in the second century AD, as successive armies swept across Asia Minor, Kaymakli was built as a uniquely defensible community, approximately eight stories underground. Entering a cave, you'll reach a surprisingly sophisticated city of streets, living spaces, and plazas that still contain remnants of everyday life—from storage jars to wine presses. You can explore some of the hundreds of rooms, wandering the many narrow, sloping passageways between kitchens with enameled food storage areas, water cisterns, stables, living spaces—all well-ventilated by air shafts. At one time, several thousand people lived here.

    Tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel.

    Afterward, you can choose an optional tour to witness the "Ritual of Sema." The Semazens, the so-called Whirling Dervishes, believe that the fundamental state of our existence is to revolve. From the smallest cell to the planets and the farthest stars, everything revolves. Thus, the ones who whirl participate consciously in the shared revolution of all existence. The Semazen (with their camel's-felt hats representing tombstones and wide white skirts symbolizing shrouds) stand with their arms crossed, ready to begin their turn. As they whirl, their motions represent a spiritual journey. Revel in this spinning kaleidoscope of tradition and color as you observe their ritual. Cap your experience with a taste of sweet Turkish sherbet.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight to Istanbul, where you will join the rest of your group and begin your Treasures of the Aegean: Greek Island Cruise, Athens & Istanbul Small Ship Cruise Tour.