Devorah Lev-Tov

Writing ⋅ Editing ⋅ Consulting

Devorah Lev-Tov is a writer and editor with 12 years' experience. She writes about food, travel, luxury, and lifestyle for multiple publications including The New York Times, Saveur, Travel + Leisure, and National Geographic. An ex-pat from the publishing world, she is also an illustrated nonfiction book editor, with expertise in developmental editing and cookbook/recipe editing. In addition, she has several years' experience in event marketing and nonprofit copywriting. She's eaten her way through Central and South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Oceania, and much of the United States.

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Turkey: The White Wonderland of Pamukkale

When we decided to go to Ephesus, we had another day in the area to explore. Most of the surrounding area is full of ancient ruins (Didyma, Miletus, Priene, etc.), but after Ephesus we were a bit "ruined" out. There are some beaches in the area but it wasn't quite hot enough for that. Last time I was Turkey I saw the natural wonder of Cappadocia, so I thought it would be fun if there was another place like that we could visit. As I began to expand my search of the area, I discovered Pamukkale. While not super close--it was about a 3 hour drive--it seemed like it could be pretty amazing. We did read some mixed reviews noting that it was not the natural wonder it used to be after having become a larger tourist attraction, but our hosts told us that they had guests who had gone recently and loved it, saying it was in better shape because there had been a lot of rain recently. We decided a nice drive along the Turkish countryside would be nice anyway, and decided to go for it.

First off, the drive was lovely. There is some farmland, some more desert-like area, and lots of cute roadside diners (if they have diners in Turkey) and stands selling produce and olives. My favorite was the homemade brined olives packaged in water bottles. They also sold raw olives, not something you can really find in the U.S.! Naturally, we stopped for a snack (gözleme) and I bought a few fresh figs as well.

After the long drive, when you finally see the hulk of Pamukkale in front of you it is somewhat shocking: it looks like a snow-covered slope, about the size of an intermediate ski trail. But then you see incredibly clear-blue water trickling down it into a gorgeous lake. Pamukkale, which means "cotton castle" in Turkish.

It is made up of travertines, which are created from mineral-rich hot springs bubbling all around and depositing calcium carbonate, which starts as a soft jelly but eventually hardens. Luckily, they have begun making people remove their shoes to protect the travertines now so they are in much better shape than they used to be. I was afraid the travertines would be pointy or scratch to walk on but they actually feel quite smooth, but not slippery. And the beautiful clear water that is flowing everywhere is nice and warm.

We were lucky that we started our walk from the bottom. Above Pamukkale are the ancient ruins of Greco-Roman Hierapolis, and many tour buses begin their tours there at the top, allowing the tourists a few minutes to dip their feet in at the top of Pamukkale. So, it was relatively quiet and serene for most of our walk up the hill and we only had to push through some crowds at the very top.

At the top, we wandered around Hierapolis briefly, and then went to find it's famous Cleopatra's Pool, a pool built on hot springs, complete with ancient columns strewn about on the bottom. The pool is a lovely 36-57 °C, and although it was crowded it was still relaxing. We walked back down Pamukkale as the sun started to set.

 

On our drive home we stopped for another snack and came across actual cotton fields at sunset. Perfect end to a perfect day.

Turkey: Ephesus

After three wonderful days in Istanbul we hopped on a short flight to Izmir, 564 kilometers south of Istanbul. We took an early morning flight so we could have still spend a full day at Ephesus. We rented a car and after getting lost trying to find the airport exit and subsequently trying to get on a toll road without the proper card, we made our way to Ephesus, about an hour fro Izmir. Ephesus was a major capital city and part of the Ionian League in the classical Greek era and was also a major city in Roman times. It has ruins dating back thousands of years. It used to be home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, but it was destroyed in the year 401 CE. Okay, enough history. We were thrilled to be there in the fall when there are supposedly less crowds and the heat is a little more merciful. It was still quite hot, and there was still a lot of tour groups there, but it was manageable. We did get frustrated with the many tour groups--there seemed to be very few lone explorers like ourselves--but something I read in our guidebook helped me not get too bothered: although the crowds can be annoying, it only makes the experience more lifelike because in ancient times it was home to over 250,000 inhabitants. We opted not to get the audio guide after our disappointing experience at Topkapi Palace and simply used our guidebook and read a lot of signs. The massively imposing and beautiful façade of the Library of Celsus at the end of a long road did not disappoint, and there are also several interesting remains of temples. The large odeon theater was impressive as well. A highlight was the Terrace Houses, which many people opt out of because they cost extra money. Because of this we were rewarded with some peace and quiet (there were only about four other people there), and it's covered by a roof so we were able to cool off. Not to mention, the remains there are fascinating. You can see actual homes, resplendent with marble walls and intricate mosaics.

The worst part about Ephesus is the tacky market right outside it. This is tourism at its worst and it pained me to see people shelling out money for ugly scarves probably made in China and fake watches. Ephesus is a popular stop on the cruise circuit and I guess that's what happens? It reaffirmed my desire to never go on a cruise.

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Turkey: Topkapi Palace and the Yerbatan Cistern

Istanbul is full of grand sites, palaces among them. Last time I was here I visited the Dolmabahce Palace, which was magnificent. This time we decided to go to Topkapi Palace, the seat of many a sultan before Atatürk came to power and pulled Turkey into modern democracy.  Topkapi differs from Dolmabahce in that is more museum like. Dolmabahce preserved most of it's grand, lavish rooms as they were and consequently you feel like you are walking through one of the grandest homes you have ever seen. Topkapi is more of a royal court, with everything spread out. Most furniture and objects have been removed or placed in glass cases. it is a huge, sprawling complex with dozens, possibly hundreds, of buildings and courtyards. It takes hours to explore and see everything and we spent a large chunk of one day roaming around. We got an audio guide which proved to be mostly disappointing, but we were able to make our way around. I especially enjoyed how intricate the underside of awnings were, and the lovely arches. It certainly gives you a good taste for Ottoman architecture.

There are several rooms dedicated as "treasuries" with many glass cases filled with jewels, artifacts, and the like, one of which contains an 86-carat pear-shaped diamond. I couldn't get a picture of that, but I did get one of 50ish-carat diamond set in a gold neckpiece. Not bad.

There also many beautifully tiled rooms, and many with gorgeous stained-glass windows, much of which are in the harem, a separate part of the palace (that you also had to pay an extra fee for entry). Many of the domed ceilings are covered in intricate tiles and there is also exquisite mother-of-pearl inlay work on cabinets and drawers. The attention to detail in these walls, shelves, ceilings, and windows is breathtaking.

 

Some of the best views of the Bosphorous, Golden Horn, and the city can be seen from various spots around the campus.

There is also a large religious section of the palace and you can learn a lot about Islam if you read all the (sometimes lengthy) signs. They have a large collection of hair and teeth that supposedly belonged to the prophet Mohammad (people kept these in special lockets for good luck), as well as sacred swords and pieces of the Kaaba in Mecca. The Ottoman Empire was in charge of Islam for many years and gained the right to have old or ruined pieces of the Kaaba and it's surroundings sent to Topkapi when parts were repaired or renovated. They also had on display what they claimed to be the staff of Moses and a bowl of Abraham's but I'm not so sure about that...The most fascinating object for me was a mother-of-pearl miniature replica of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

We also visited the Yerbatan (Basilica) Cistern, a wonderful and fascinating place to see. I was happy to return here, and this time with a better camera. It's the largest of many cisterns that lie under the city of Istanbul and it was built in the sixth century to provide water to the Great Constantine Palace and continued to provide water all the way through to the Ottoman conquest in 1453 to Topkapi Palace. It's spooky and beautiful at the same time, with grand rows of columns growing out of the water, which is filled with fish. In the northwest corner are two infamous Medusa heads at the base of two columns. No one really knows what they mean and why they were built, but the are fascinating nonetheless.

 

Turkey: The Bosphorous and Its Environs

One of the greatest things about Istanbul is the Bosphorous River that runs through it, dividing the European and Asian sides and leading out to the Black Sea on one end and the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara on the other. It's a beautiful body of water and provides a great place to take boat rides!

I'd already gone on a Bosphorous cruise the last time I was here, but I was excited to go again. A highlight is stopping for the famous yogurt made in Kanlica, on the Asian side.

And this time, we stayed on the boat almost until the last stop, right at the entrance to the Black Sea. On the way, we passed beautiful sites, like the Dolmabahce Palace and the Rumeli Hisari fortress, as well as chamring neighborhoods like Ortakoy and Bebek.

There are many opportunities to disembark the ship but we ended up being thrilled we stayed on until the neighborhood of Rumeli Kavağı, a small fishing area right near the Black Sea that felt very far away from the hustle and bustle of downtown and the old city.

From Rumeli Kavağı , we took a Dolmus (shuttle bus) to nearby Sariyer, another, larger fishing area. It has less charm than Rumeli Kavağı, but we were able to sit outside on the water and drink some of Turkey's famous apple tea at a café, and have a deliciously fresh seafood lunch. We also happened upon the fish market and an impromptu outdoor prayer service.

My lunch was battered and fried sardines. Yum!

Turkey: Magnificent Mosques of Istanbul

Istanbul is definitely one of my favorite cities in the world. It's beautiful, with so many ancient structures from the Ottoman period juxtaposed against super modern and sleek new buildings. It's also surrounded by water, which in my book is what any good city should be. There are lots of people, but not too many that it overwhelms you, and most of them are helpful and friendly. Before we embarked on our journey some of our family members were wary about us going to Turkey, especially from Israel, due to the conflict they've had with Israel lately. But as we suspected, the average Turk has no such prejudices, and Manor even ended up entering the country on his Israeli passport because the visa was free, unlike the American on which was $20. One of the most remarkable highlights about Istanbul are it's many beautiful and elaborate mosques. There are of course two very famous ones that sit across from each other in Sultanhamet, Istanbul's old quarter: the Aya Sofya (ask Hagia Sofia) and the Blue Mosque. I've been to both before, but they were no less majestic this time around. The Aya Sofya was especially different because last time I was there they were doing renovations so there was a lot of scaffolding up. The building also has a fascinating history, originally being dedicated as a church in 360 CE, and then turned into a mosque in 1453. In 1935 it was secularized and turned into a museum by Ataturk, the man generally credited with secularizing Turkey and bringing it into the modern world. While it has many of the markings and installments of a mosque, beautiful Christian mosaics have also been uncovered. You can easily spend a couple hours exploring the gigantic building and we did just that.

The Blue Mosque is quite different, in that it is still a functioning mosque that people actually pray in. You can't walk wherever you want (i.e. into the prayer section, which is most of the room), but you can still get a good sense of the beauty and majesty of the building. It was extremely crowded the day we went, which was a bit frustrating, but we managed to carve out our own little spot.

We also visited the New Mosque (or Yeni Camii, in Turkish), which is not that new, but being built in 1597 is comparatively so. It is in a different part of the city, perched above the Galata Bridge and the Golden Horn (the part of the Bosphorous River that divides the city and forms a strait leading to the Sea of Marmara). Also a functioning mosque, it was full of people praying.

There are many more mosques in Istanbul, and we awoke each morning to the muezzin's call to prayer, often coming from multiple places at once. As a Jew and an American, being in an Islamic country, albeit a more secular one, allows a new understanding for the religion and its people. There are obviously many prejudices about Muslims, and while there are many in Israel we were mostly shielded from them. Being in Turkey allowed me to be more immersed in the culture and appreciate it as a valid culture and religion.

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Israel: The Dead Sea

During the holiday of Sukkot, which is 7 days long in Israel, schools are still on vacation and many offices are closed fully or partially. It's a popular time for many people and families to take a tiyul, or trip, often to the north or south. My sister decided to take off a few days from work and the four of us rented a car and headed down south, to the Dead Sea. Manor and I both hadn't been there in many years so it was a real treat.

It's very beautiful there, and aside from taking a dip in the mud and water of the Dead Sea, there are also several hikes in the area. Lucky for us, Dudu is a certified guide and knows a ton about hundreds of hikes throughout the country. He also knew about a semi-secret beach on the Dead Sea, away from the main "Mineral Beach," which is usually packed.

We weren't completely alone, but there were very few others with us, some of whom felt isolated enough to be nude. Seeing the cliffs of Jordan on the other side of the sea is pretty majestic, and we went close to sunset so the rocks got nice and pink.

The water was, of course, very salty. It's pretty fun to float in, but it does get burn-y pretty quickly. Putting the mud on was really fun, and it does feel super smooth. And when we washed it off our skin did feel really soft.

Adina and Dudu also picked a great place for us to stay the night, Metzoke Dragot, which is perched on a high cliff, overlooking the Dead Sea.

Aside from regular rooms, they also have large family tents, that actually looked like large sukkahs, in keeping with the theme. They came equipped with mattresses so we brought sleeping bags and were good to go. However, we still woke up with the sunrise, which happened to be beautiful.

After sunrise we went back to sleep for  a few hours, but while we were snoring Adina woke up and got to see a bunch of ibex (type of wild mountain goat common to the Middle East) right by our tent! Luckily, she took pictures.

We finally made it out to Wadi Amog for a 2-3 hour hike. It was definitely hot, but Dudu chose this hike because it has some shady spots, in the form of large cliffs overhead. That was certainly appreciated! There is also some fun climbing and great views at the end.

Israel: Yemin Moshe

One of the prettiest neighborhoods in Jeruslam is called Yemin Moshe. It also happens to be the one of the oldest: it was the first neighborhood established outside the Old City walls, back in 1830. It's charecterized by it's iconic windmill and views of the Old City. Now it's full of wealthy people who have beautiful homes and gorgeous gardens. We took a walk there and came away with some beautiful pictures. Enjoy! [slideshow]

Israel: Sukkot and Jerusalem's Old City

After a week of staying somewhere different almost every night, we finally landed at my sister Adina and her husband Dudu's cute apartment in Jerusalem, in the Katamon neighborhood. They moved here back in May and seem to be enjoying their first real home (outside of Africa!) together. While we were there it was the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles), where families build and decorate small huts (sukkahs) and eat all their meals in them. These huts symbolize the huts the Jews lived in when they wandered in the desert after leaving Egypt until they got to Israel. Adina and Dudu had a great little sukkah that we enjoyed eating and spending time in. Dudu loves to cook and he's very good at it. He made amazing challah bread and lots of yummy "salatim" (Israeli salads) for the holiday.

Aside from lots of eating, we did find time to explore the city. I've always loved the Old City; it seems there's always a lot going on and something new to discover. We went to the Kotel (Wailing Wall) and walked through the Arab market. We also did the Ramparts Walk, which allows you to walk along the city's walls. It was great to see the city from that vantage point and fascinating to know you're walking along some pretty old stones!

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Israel: Seeing and Eating New Things

First off, sorry it's taken so long to post! Today is the first day we've had Internet on our trip so far, which is pretty surprising because we're not in a third world country yet! But we have been staying somewhat off the beaten path until now. Manor and I have both lived in and visited Israel many times, and we both have lots of family here. Lately, when we come to visit, it's all about running around to see friends and family--which is wonderful, but also exhausting, and leaves little time for personal time. This trip, we knew we would have a lot of people to see, but we managed to carve out a couple days to ourselves soon after our arrival in Tel Aviv--that is of course after seeing my brother-in-law (David) and two friends in Tel Aviv on the day of our arrival. David took us to Chumus Gan Eiden for lunch, at the corner of Allenby and HaNasi in Tel Aviv. Their specialty is what they call Darfur Hummus or Darfur Foul, basically Sudanese style hummus (chickpea spread) or Foul (fava bean spread) with lots of yummy toppings. There are many Sudanese (and other African) refugees in Israel and their cuisine is starting to infiltrate the country.

Darfur Foul comes with lots of Foul, topped with chopped hard-boiled eggs, chopped tomatoes and whole chickpeas.

The next day, Manor and I rented a car and drove up north, to the very top of Israel, right by the border with Syria and Lebanon. We went to the small town of Majdal Shams, which is populated mostly by Druze people. The Druzes are actually Syrian Arabs who remained in their village after the 1967 war and so now are part of Israel. There are four Druze villages in northern Israel and Majdal Shams is the largest. The people were given the option to become Israeli citizens, but many refused because they did not want to have to serve in the Israeli army, which has a mandatory military draft. However, if they leave Israel, for example to visit relatives in Syria, they are not allowed to come back. The exception is if they go to study in university in Syria. The 2004 film The Syrian Bride addressed these issues by telling the story of Druze brides from Israel who marry Syrians and have to leave their families in Israel forever. Near Majdal Shams is a place called the Shouting Hill, where family members from each side of the border would meet and yell across to each other. Before the Internet was popular this was their only means of keeping in touch.

I was very curious to see the village and it's inhabitants and was wondering if they would seem unhappy or lonely, but the town is vibrant and beautiful, with amazing views of Mt. Hermon (the tallest mountain range in Israel) and the mountains of Syria.

People were friendly and happy and the town was bustling, with narrow winding streets alongs the hills and mountains.

We stayed in a "tzimmer," a popular phenomenon in Israel--basically a bed and breakfast. There are thousands of them throughout the country and they present a nice, romantic getaway. It seems a requirement to have a jacuzzi and a lavish breakfast. You can find many of them listed at www.zimmer.co.il. We stayed at a very charming tzimmer called Nofesh Barama, overlooking a cliff with a view of Syria. The hostess, Jamila, was very friendly and welcoming, and the three rooms were all clean and cozy.

In the morning we were served a traditional Druze breakfast, which was massive and delicious. It was similar to Israeli breakfast, with the main difference being the Druze bread. It's a very large, very thin flatbread that can be folded and ripped to use in the many dips.

The main Druze dip is labne, one of my favorite dishes. It's a creamy, yogurt-based dip that has been thickened and comes covered with olive oil and za'atar, a popular middle eastern spice mixture. We were also served hummus, a salty feta-type cheese, goat cheese in olive oil, some of the best butter I've ever had, orange marmalade, sliced tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and two other kinds of pita. Suffice to say, it was way more food than any two people could eat, but we tried our best.

The next day we ventured out to see what the Golan (what upper Israel is called) had to offer. We drove to Nimrod's Fortress, the largest fortress in Israel, which dates back to the 13th century. It was built by Muslims during a few different time periods and the remains are mostly intact. It's on a high mountain and the view to the valleys below is quite beautiful.

It was starting to get rather hot, so we got back in the car and drove a few kilometers down the hill to the Banias, a lush green area with springs and waterfalls. It's amazing how many different types of landscapes you can see in Israel in very short distances. We did a nice hour-long walk down to the falls and were rewarded with beautiful scenery along the way.

Manor and I were both shocked that we saw, ate, and experienced new cultures and environs that we hadn't experienced before in Israel, a country we have both spent so much time in. It continues to amaze me how such a tiny country can contain so much!

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