GoAhead Tours seems to be of the mind that we want to see as much as possible of Turkey, even if a lot of it is at 55mph! We knew that when we signed up for the tour, we knew it was ambitious, however tonight at 6 when we arrived in Cannakkale in the dark after being on the bus all day it seemed like a much less acceptable way of traveling. Ah well. It’s a tour, and I am at the stage in life where I don’t want to be schlepping my luggage around train stations with languages I can’t read sending me off to somewhere weird.
We left Istanbul this morning at 730, after an early wakeup call and bags out the door by 630. The ride out of town was lovely actually, watching all the traffic coming in from the Asia side of the city made us all very happy we were traveling east instead of west. Just a short distance out of town, we took a ferry to cross Sea of Marmara to the town of Yalova. Nice little stop at a very modern grocery store with real flush toilets, and then on to the mountain town of Bursa.
We all climbed back into the bus for the 4.5 hour drive to Cannakkale on the Aegean coast. The drive was boring for a time, but as the countryside opened up it was really lovely, much like northern California coastal landscape with rolling hills of very deep very dark soils and many assorted agricultural fields that were mostly harvested and barren. Views of the Dardanelles opened up to the north, the straits between the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara, and the place where history has been made over and over throughout civilization. Tomorrow we will get more history lessons as we visit Troy.
Today however, Suleyman was focused on giving us a good picture of Islam as he knows it, and Islam as it is practiced in Turkey. Most Turkish people are Sunni’s, meaning that they do not have a hierarchy or a clergy. He explained the 5 pillars of Islam, and that all it takes to become a Muslim is to say basically ‘There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet’. Although he explained that the translation is somewhat distorted and said that the Arabic words mean more closely, “There is no deity but God and Muhammad is his messenger”. He tried to answer questions, but became a bit uncomfortable when I asked where the word “infidel” came from. Suleyman has explained to us how many Muslims pray 5 times a day, and that there are very specific, ritualized ablutions required before prayer, with the men all washing properly at the open faucets lining the exterior of the mosques. The women perform their ablutions in private however. He also said that he only prays once a day, and that many Muslims are reformed in this way, and don’t practice so intensely, yet still consider themselves devout.
Also, we have a large group of Methodist church members traveling together, and they are mumbling, “When are we going to get to some of the Christian history”. Tomorrow, I said, tomorrow. On this next day we will be seeing many of the Christian sites talked about in this part of Turkey, including the final resting place of the Blessed Virgin. It is really interesting having tour guides with different perspectives. In Malta, a Catholic country, we learned a lot about Catholic Christian history, in Thailand, we learned a lot about Buddhism, and here we have a chance to learn about Islam from a person who practices Islam in a sectarian country, without the scary connotations that we have in the US at the moment regarding Islam. It’s one of the great things about traveling, I think. That and the food. Ha!