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Treasures of the Aegean: Greek Island Cruise, Athens & Istanbul 2015

Post-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: 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, Pasabag Valley, Kaymakli, Hattusas, Ankara
Exclusive services of a Grand Circle Program Director
All transfers
Now included for 2015
Gratuities for local guides and motorcoach drivers on your extension and all optional tours
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    After your Treasures of the Aegean: Greek Island Cruise, Athens & Istanbul tour, enjoy breakfast, then transfer to the Istanbul airport for your flight to Nevsehir, bound for Cappadocia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of the Anatolian Plateau.

    You'll begin to see Cappadocia's legendary fantastical landscapes and "fairy chimneys" as you ride to the famous Goreme Open-Air Museum, pausing en route for lunch on your own.

    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, we'll see some of these ancient churches and chapels noted for their colorful frescoes.

    You'll also learn firsthand about the art of pottery in Asia Minor when you visit the cave workshop of a local potter for a special demonstration.

    Afterward, head to your hotel and enjoy an included dinner together with your group.

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

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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 fairy-tale chimneys in the quiet, rosy light of dawn.

    Then, you might elect to get a more intimate perspective of this remarkable countryside during an exhilarating morning hike. Or spend the morning at leisure.

    After lunch on your own, ride into the Pasabag Valley to witness the surreal rock formations known as "Fairy Chimneys." Literally "Pacha's Vineyard," Pasabag Valley is also known as Monk's Valley, as Simeon monks once went into hiding here. Marvel at the mushroom-like columns of stone with conical lids that seem to spring up from the valley floor.

    This evening, enjoy an included dinner at your hotel.

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    Get a more intimate perspective of this remarkable countryside during an exhilarating morning hike. Afterward, enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.

    Then, travel 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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    Today, embark on your journey to Ankara. En route, you'll stop to delve into a civilization that rivaled Egypt's during the second millennium BC. First, you'll visit 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.

    Begin 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.

    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.

    Following an included lunch at a local restaurant, you'll explore 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.

    From here, continue on to Ankara, arriving by early evening and enjoying 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. You'll 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.

    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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    • Meals included:

    After an early breakfast, transfer to the airport for your return flight to the U.S.