Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Friday, December 5, 2008

Day 15 Returning Home

Time is really a weird concept when you are flying around the world. While in Turkey, I could keep track of what time it was at home so I didn’t call the kids at 2am, and what time it was where I was. But at the moment I am flying in an airplane that is traveling west at something like half the speed of the planet and time makes no sense whatsoever. I just know that it is passing. We are over Greenland, and the sky is dark except for a thin red line on the southern horizon outside my window. According to Mo’s watch, it is 10:00 AM in San Francisco, and we will land there at 5:00PM this afternoon. We left Frankfurt at 4 in the afternoon, same day, and yet time is passing. I am not sure why it is night here, because it isn’t even nighttime here according to the time zone we are supposedly in, but I guess we are so far north that at this time of year it is always night anyway. It’s all crazy.

At 4am this morning, Istanbul was vibrant with street life. We rode the bus through the city to the airport amazed at all the activities going on there. People coming out of bars, standing on corners, buying cigarettes and groceries, doing the Turkish man thing of standing around shooting the breeze. Except it was 4am. Amazing.

I fell in love with Germany today, somewhere between Switzerland and Munich. The Alps were covered with snow and the plains around Munich are like something in a fairy tale. The fields are still green, and a magical patchwork of angles of varying shades of green, with patches of dark forest, dotted with perfect little villages of white with red roofs. The roads looked nearly empty, with traffic moving along the major highways smoothly. The sunlight was coming over the magnificent snow covered mountains to the south and angled across the green fields and forests in a way that made me think of what life must be like in a small German village, and suddenly I wanted very badly to experience Germany.

The airport at Munich was clean and full of bustling activity, with great shops and clothes and wonderful smelling food. It made me laugh at how I felt about Germany at the beginning of this trip and it made Mo happy that I decided I really liked Germany after all. She has many happy memories of traveling in this country. I hope I get to do that someday. Guess it’s a good thing that I am learning to drink beer.

Now the red line changed to a deep deep blue, and in a matter of moments back to the faintest hint of orange again. Maybe we are going towards some kind of daylight?

The trip is very nearly over, the final travels are ending, and the integration of all I learned and experienced is waiting in the wings. I am sure that more will come to me, the deeper part of Turkey as a cradle of civilization in the world, and the blessing of traveling to a place never thought of much and learning about it in a way you can never do without being there. This fluorescent thin blue line on the dark horizon is a great symbol of the end of this trip. Too bad I can’t take a picture of it. I guess it’s another one of those experiences that can’t be caught and just has to be felt.

Later at home:
I am discovering some of the things that I appreciate much more after traveling in a foreign country! toilet paper, light bulbs that are actually bright enough to see, electricity that works steadily all the time, lots of clean clothes to choose from, good brewed coffee, not Turkish and not NesCafe! and the ability to buy aspirin or cough drops at the grocery store without having to find a pharmacy!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Day 14 returning to Istanbul

Some of the people on the tour decided to do the ballooning over Cappadocia thing this morning, so when I looked out the window and saw sunny if frosty skies I was glad for them. I couldn’t see the worth of 30 minutes in a very cold balloon over that brown landscape for 150 USD so decided that having a relaxing morning was the best plan. Especially since this day included our afternoon flight to Istanbul.

We left the hotel at 9:30 and Mo and I opted out of an underground city tour and instead sat by a warm fire and drank Turkish tea, and then did a little bit of last day shopping in a small village. Lunch was back in the town at a different restaurant, and turned out to be the best yet. Finally, after 2 weeks in Turkey, I found the manti Jeanne told me about. Perfect little pasta dumplings with some meat filling swimming in a tangy yogurt tomato sauce, with big puffy breads. Yum.

After lunch we took our time driving to the airport in Kayseri, and saw how dismal this central part of Turkey can be. Once you leave the chimneys and mountain views, things get very polluted, gray and old looking. The air was dark with coal smoke and haze and there was a lot of garbage around and very tattered looking apartments. This part of Turkey looked more like what I imagine this part of the world to look like, unlike the Turkey we have seen up until now.

The flight to Istanbul on the Turkish Airlines was smooth and lovely, with a gorgeous sunset. As I watched the Black Sea and the lights of Istanbul appear in the dark I realized how truly lucky I was to have been in this country. Later, after landing at the clean, efficient Attaturk airport, we loaded back into a different bus with a different driver and headed for the Lion Hotel in the Taksim Square section of town.

I realized also just how much I loved Istanbul. In the dark, all the mosques were lit and shining against the sky, of course you could see the Blue Mosque and the Suleyman Mosque, but there are so many others. The city is beautiful and rich and full of antiquities and energy. The water of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn reflected all the lights as we wound through the hills to get to our hotel. Istanbul is such a wonderful city, I could spend time there just exploring it’s rich history and culture and hidden streets. There was so much there that we didn’t see in our short visit, but on the way through the city for the last time, I really wished for more.

Our room at the Lion this time was higher and more open, and I decided that indeed it wasn’t the worst hotel on the trip. We had a view of the city lights this time, and in our short sleep time before the 3am wakeup call we were serenaded through the open window by the busy night street life going on below us.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Day 13 Cappadocia and the Goreme Open Air Museum

Today was the first day since I have been in this country that I didn't see it as similar to somewhere else I have been back in the US. Today, Turkey was only Turkey, Turkiye' as it is called here. Today we woke to fog in Urgup, in the central part of the Cappadocia region, but by the time we began our explorations, the fog began to lift. This place is surreal, like no other. I know I am behind, it is midnight right now after a day that started at 6am, and no, I haven't had time to keep up with the stories. But I do have the photos, and the stories will have to fill in later. For now, just check out this magical landscape and these amazing chapels in the carved out caves of Cappadocia.
Ten million years ago, volcanic eruptions from Mt. Erciyes and Mt. Hasan blanketed this limestone plateau in central Turkey with ash and lava. When they mixed with water, the result was a mud-like substance that slowly hardened into a soft rock called tufa or here in the west we call it tuff.

Centuries of erosion from rain, wind, and flooding from the Kizilirmak River shaped this tufa into a striking, surreal moonscape of cone-shaped pinnacles and towers, all in a variety of lovely hues. One of the region's most unusual geological features, the peribacalari (fairy chimneys), formed when boulders of hard basalt trapped on the surface shielded the soft underlying tufa from erosion.

The holy grottoes of Cappadocia once housed the largest community of Christian monks in Asia Minor. From here missionaries spread the Christian faith as far as Ethiopia. Some 300 beautifully frescoed churches and dwellings for 30,000 people were carved from the soft volcanic pinnacles between the 4th and 14th centuries. I was awestruck by the maze of cones, windows, and chimneys built directly into the malleable rock. Beneath these fanciful shapes lie even more wonders—underground chambers, even entire villages, some 14 stories deep!

Residents fashioned bedrooms, churches, and storerooms from the rock, connecting it all with an elaborate labyrinth of passageways. We saw a host of churches carved more than 1,300 years ago, still boasting lovely frescoes. Some of the houses remain occupied today, and some of the ancient storehouses still provide shelter for grapes harvested from local vineyards.
Waking up in the Perissia Hotel was a delight, even though the morning was foggy. This was my favorite hotel, even though it wasn’t as new or as fancy as the suite we had it Antalya, it was charming and roomy, with pale lemon colored walls with rose accents, lots of windows with dark mahogany woodwork, and antique porcelain fixtures. We could see the dry brown landscape of Cappadocia through the fog, but had no real clue as to the wonders that awaited us on this day.

I have seen photos of this place, read a lot about it, looked at websites describing it, but again there is nothing that can really begin to describe what it feels like to be in a world of houses carved out of rock. It’s like some kind of fairy land, or something you might have dreamed once. It is the reason why travel can never be replaced by writing or talking or looking at the pictures. You just have to be there.

We explored the Pigeon Valley, and took photos of some of the amazing shapes formed by the erosion of the volcanic tuff with the volcano that made all this ash looming above the landscape. As the fog cleared we made several stops at viewpoints a long the way for short hikes and more photos, and for some of us, more jewelry shopping. Then on to Goreme’, the outdoor museum of churches and chapels that were carved into the stone. The caves have existed for a few thousand years, but in the time between the 6th and 13th century they were used as chapels for the early Christian church. The paintings from the earlier periods are primitive, mainly done in a terra cotta red, but as the caves became more sophisticated, the art developed as well, and the Byzantine and Iconoclastic frescoes painted in the interiors of these caves was incredible.

I have said this before, but again I am discovering why I am not a professional travel writer. I am completely out of adjectives. This trip has drained my skills completely dry. I walk around trying to remember to keep my jaw from dropping all the time, and just am at a loss for words. Cappadocia has to be experienced. Nothing else will do.

We had a decent supper in the hotel before going out in the evening to a remote location where a large restaurant was carved into the rock, mainly for the tourist busses I am sure, but it was still fun. The folklore show was interesting, but because there were so many visitors from so many countries there weren't any kind of announcements about where the different dances were from, which was a bit disappointing. The men were the stars of the show in this case, with some amazing feats of dancing, including that Russian looking thing where they kick their feet out from a sitting position. I still don’t know for sure if that is really a Turkish thing or a Russion thing. The women were demure and certainly outdone my the men in these traditional dances, but they did perform one tribal belly dance that was fun because I knew all the moves from my belly dancing days. Later in the evening we had a cabaret style Egyptian belly dancer who was really quite good, with some top notch shimmies and belly rolls. She wore very high heels though, which was also a bit strange, but I guess it’s to please the men.

We ended this long day winding in the very dark landscape in a very big bus with a bunch of tired people back to the hotel via some weird short cut. Getting in after midnight made us really glad that the next day was going to be a late one.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Day 12 Antalya to Urgup over the Taurus Mountains again

Our day began with the call to prayer in the dark over Antalya. It was to be an early day since we were traveling a long distance over the Taurus Mountains to the Cappadocia Region. For a long time after we left the city, I had great knitting time, with long wide 4 lane highways going through a rich agricultural landscape that looked a lot like Southern California, wide valley surrounded by mountains and bordered by the sea. I am beginning to think of my knitting project as my “turkey sweater” and I’m becoming very fond of it as I knit along the roads watching the scenery. It really does make the miles flow along when things are less than exciting.

Crossing the Taurus Mountains was gorgeous, and we were especially lucky since Suleyman told us that often on this tour the mountains have snow and sometimes the bus has to chain up. Not a fun thought, and today as we drove through brilliant sunlight I was especially appreciative.

Note to self: always always always bring the extra long lasting batteries from the US for the camera, the ones I pay 10 bucks for 4 usually last at least a few days in my camera. I ran out, and sure enough, the 5 Lira batteries that said they were extra long lasting digital batteries blew out after a couple of photos. Not a good thing. I did know better, but didn’t plan properly. I think I have spent a large part of my petty cash on batteries now!

We drove over the pass at more than 6000 feet elevation and headed down toward the city of Konya and the Konya Plain. Our one stop for this long travel day was the museum in Konya where the famous Sufi mystic, originator, and poet Mavlana Rumi is entombed. As we rode along in the bus, Suleyman treated us to folk stories of Hoagi, a mythical character somewhat like Coyote, and the story of Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes. My friend Shera loved Rumi, and when I first met her, she introduced me to some of the Sufi mystical concepts, but I somehow never quite put it all together, Islam, Sufism, Rumi, and the Dervishes. Now with Suleyman’s help it is all coming together. In fact tonight, a bit later, we will be going to see the whirling ritual, something that means a lot more to me after hearing Suleyman’s explanation of the whole thing.

Mevlana Rumi was a Turk born in Afghanistan in the early 13th century. The poetry of Rumi is considered to be the second most important piece of literature in the Islamic world next to the Koran.

In this mystical tradition, they believe that all humans are created by god and we each keep a piece of God within us, but we have been separated from this godlike nature by living in the world. Sound familiar? The spiritual goal is that one should try to get rid of all distractions and be reunited with God. Interesting tidbit, in Islam there are 90 different adjectives for Allah, God, and looking at something beautiful is a way to appreciate God.

There is a flute made of reeds called the Ney that the Dervishes use in their rituals. According to tradition Reed says “Once I was growing in the marsh. I was alive I was connected with my roots to the earth, but someone came and cut me off so I was separated the way the human beings got separated from the One. This is the reason I am mourning, why my sound is so sad.”

The whirling dervish order is one of hundreds of different orders within Islam. In Islam there a many paths to find the truth, and one has the choice to follow any of the many different paths and still be a good Muslim. Mavlana Rumi was a mystic and a teacher and was the first one who whirled.

The white costume represents the shroud and the tall red fez represents the tombstone, one hand open to the skies and the other hand down, receiving from god, and giving to others. To the question “why do you whirl?” The answer is that many religions have a method to get rid of all distractions, a form of centering or meditation and prayer. The Dervishes know that everything whirls, the world spins, the microcosmos spins, electrons whirl, water whirls in the sink. To them, whirling is being in harmony with the world.

There is no translation in English for the word Dervish, although “monk” is similar, but dervishes can marry and lead normal lives. The closest translation for the Tekke is monestary. Once admitted to the tekke, the task for the initiate was to try to learn the secret. The elders ask tricky questions in order to find out if you have light within you or not. Some people have the light and others don’t. In the first couple of years you are treated very badly, if you make it you move to the second step. You learn the Koran, then the different philosophical approaches to the Koran. Finally, if you have the light and are worthy, you attain the 7th step where you then learn the truth, the secret.

Usually this secret isn’t divulged but Suleyman says he has a Dervish friend who told him that the Secret was to say, “I am God”.

After Attaturk formed the secular state in 1923, all the Tekke’s were outlawed, even the whirling dervishes. Now they are here in the name of cultural associations, and supposedly they are no longer a religious sect or order because of the secular requirements for Turkey. Today we saw the tomb of Mavlana, a holy place that is now just a museum, with many manuscripts and also Mohammed’s beard in a box. Ha.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Day 11 Phaselis, Aspendos, and Perga

When we first arrived last night at the Khan Hotel in Antalya, our initial thought was to skip all extra trips and spend time right in town, exploring the city and hanging out in our wonderful suite with the view. But we also wanted to actually see the place, Perga, where the amazing sculptures came from, so we signed up for the extra afternoon tour of Aspendos and Perga.
The morning was gorgeous, clear and beautiful with sunlight on the Bey Mountains (part of the Taurus Range) to the west and we knew it would be a great day to be traveling along the Mediterranean. After our standard breakfast of olives, bread, cheese, yogurt and honey for me and hard boiled egg and cereal for Mo, we boarded the bus for the drive west along the coast. Antalya is interesting in that it really is a fairly new city in spite of the ancient history of the Old Town portion and the innumerable ruins from the Hellenistic and Roman periods that surround the city in both directions. Most of the buildings in the major part of town however, are dated from the 50’s when western tourists discovered the magnificent climate, beautiful seas and beaches, and mountains. It makes for a rather boring city with canyons of cement cubes and streets without much character, especially compared to the creative chaos of Istanbul.
As we drove west along the beaches the mountains loomed up larger than life, with huge cliffs dropping right to the Mediterranean.
Approaching our first ruin of the day, the ancient Lycian town of Phaselis, we drove through thick forests of red pine with wide vistas of the sea and mountains, and open roads with no traffic, which was especially nice since they came close to the HWY 1 roads along the Big Sur coast of California.
Phaselis was established by the Greeks from the island of Rhodes as early as the 7th century, fell to the Persians and then later to Alexander the Great after he defeated the Persions. The city was in Egyptian hands for a short time, but after 160 BCE it became part of the Lycian culture that was actually under Roman rule. Because of its 3 beautiful harbors, rich timber resources, and fresh water sources it was a target for pirates repeatedly throughout its history, with losses during the Byzantine period and then as late as the 11th century when it ceased to be an important port and eventually vanished entirely.

The ruins themselves are not especially exciting, a great remnant of a Roman aqueduct, some large baths, and a truly beautiful theater are the standouts, but the setting is probably the most beautiful in all of Turkey. The harbors are especially gorgeous, with crystal water, sandy and rocky beaches surrounded by forests and Mt Olympus, one of 22 such named mountains in Greece and Turkey, rising to more than 7,000 feet above the sea.

Our visit was leisurely, with time to put our feet in the Mediterranean, hike up to the top of the theater, and take lots of photos of the amazing mountains and lovely forest. It was warm and sunny, and one of only two capri days for Mo and I on our trip. Interesting tidbit regarding the decline of the city had to do with the fresh water marshes that still exist nearby. Malaria was one of the scourges of this lovely climate by the sea with plenty of fresh water, so between pirates and illness it faded away into history.

Winding our way back along the coast and to Antalya, we were conflicted in our choice to go on the afternoon tour and at the last moment I very nearly jumped the bus in order to have time to explore the bustling city and wander the streets in freedom. Glad we didn’t do that, however, because our visit to the Roman theater at Aspendos was one of the highlights of Antalya. Aspendos was the eastern most city of the kingdom of Pergamon, the culture responsible for the gorgeous city on top the hill near Kusadasi that we saw on Day 6. This Roman amphitheater was built in AD 162 and is the most beautifully preserved Roman theater in the world. I climbed to the top of the theater, walking the gallery, and imagined the beautiful façade that once held many of the sculptures that we saw yesterday in the museum. Some people from the group sang for us to demonstrate the amazing acoustics, although I really wished my daughter Melody could have been the one singing there for me. I also took photos of the backstage area and how it looked to walk backstage onto the main stage with that huge arena in front of you. The Helenistic period was dominate by theater, comedies and tragedies, and it wasn’t until the Romans that these theaters became a venue for beast fights and gladiators. There were remnants of the fences that separated spectators from the animals, and the gaping hole where the lions emerged was impressive. We both really loved this theater and were glad we didn’t miss it.
The trip to Perga very late in the day was somewhat of an anticlimax, with ruins not as impressive as Ephesus, or as well preserved. There are ongoing archaeological digs that were interesting, and there is still so much to be explored. After seeing all the artifacts from this place in the museum, and looking at all the mounds surrounding the area, it is great imagining what waits to be found here.
We returned home after dark, somewhat sad that we had no time to explore the city of Antalya much, but still managed a walk through the pedestrian mall down to the sea wall and the bazaar that bordered the old city and the sea. It was pretty quiet, with many of the summer tourist restaurants closed and dark, but still lots of younger people walking about and again the standard groups of young Turkish men hanging around smoking and talking. There really weren’t many women about, but the presence of some young couples walking the promenade and the general respectful nature of the Turkish men gave us a reasonable sense of safety even in the dark evening. Still, I didn’t carry a handbag, used a clip to hook my wallet inside my pocket, and kept my hand on it the entire time. Although Suleyman warned us about the few people who might be less than honest, we never had any problems the entire time we were in the country, for which I am grateful. There was nothing of the pushing and shoving and invasion of personal space that Mo experienced in Morocco which I had expected might be a problem. The men in Turkey that we encountered were invariably charming, and entertaining, but the women were guarded and not the least bit inclined to be taken in by western tourists. Much like cats, the boys are all friendly and outgoing and the girls hang back and look at you with caution. I found this very different from Thailand where the women are incredibly sweet and kind and treated us with great friendliness.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Day 10 Traveling through the mountains to Antalya

I did some research before we left for this trip, so I did know that parts of Turkey were mountainous. Nothing quite prepared me for what we saw today, and from what our guide says, this is only the beginnning. We left Pamukkale in more dreary weather, with snow capping the peaks surrounding the Meander Valley. Our climb from very nearly sea level to more than 5000 feet elevation as we wound up and down the mountains was dramatic, and unexpected, to say the least. I spent most of the morning with my mouth hanging open. There was so much to see, and again, the downside of traveling by bus is very evident in my photos full of reflections of the window glass. Tour bus drivers aren't too keen on stopping for photo ops, but the mountains were so dramatic I had to take photos anyway. I apologize for the quality, but still wanted to share the magnificent views of the Taurus Mountains.
The shifting geology kept me enthralled and glued to the window. We climbing from my California looking landscape, right up into a wild volcanic lanscape that rivaled anything in Oregon, and crossed incredibly flat and fertile valleys filled with deep dark alluvial soils. All the crops have been harvested by now, but the richness of the land is evident everywhere. The volcanics shifted abruptly to limestone and marble, with huge marble quarries along the foothills. Some areas had solid limestone rock outcrop surfaces that were probably 90 percent rock and maybe 10 percent soil.

We stopped for tea and bathrooms at a Urok shop where the women were still wearing traditional Urok pantaloons and selling pomegranate and orange juice fresh squeezed. Once we dropped down from the mountains, and began the approach to Antalya, another sub range of the Taurus mountains loomed to the west. These mountains, rising directly from the Mediterranean, are so dramatic that they look like something made up and painted against the horizon. The city of Antalya is one of the most ancient in the world, and the ruins and archeaological finds are everywhere.

We stopped at a huge mall for lunch and another break where everything was as cosmopolitan as anything in the west, and people were shopping and spending as if there wasn't a recession in sight. The mall had a huge food court with Turkish food and all the American versions of fast food as well. Leaving the mall was a challenge since our bus was so huge and once more there wasn't enough room with all the traffic coming and going. For a bit, we thought it was going to come to a real fight between our bus driver and another man who refused to move his car, but it all ended well with our great big bus once more negotiating impossible turns and narrow spaces.
The visit to the archeological museum was breathtaking. Truly so. Most of the sculptures there were from the ancient city of Perga, another ruin we will be visiting tomorrow, but seeing them here was wonderful because they were presented so beautifully, and were all in a place where you could actually appreciate their magnificence. I am in awe of the wonder of sculpture, this kind of sculpture, in stone, chipping away. It amazes me.

After the museum visit, we again negotiated some very narrow streets in order to walk through Hadrian's Gate, into the Old City of Antalya on the old harbor. Our timing was perfect, will have to be sure to mention that in the comments, since we arrived at the edge of the old city just in time to see the sun setting over the sea with the sillouhettes of the mountains against the sky.

The day ended with a delight of an incredible room at the Khan Hotel, our best yet. Here we have a very large suite, with windows on three sides and views of the city and the sea, and the mosque just below us. Evening prayers were called while I watched the setting crescent moon over the minaret studded by a very huge Venus and another star that is very close to Venus. It took my breath away.

This day has opened up even more of the magnificence of this country to me and I am truly glad that I am here to experience it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

My Turkish bath

One of the things I promised myself was a true Turkish bath. What better place to have this treat than near Heiropolis, the place where people have treated themselves to spas for a very long time. I read about the Turkish baths online at home, so had a general idea what to expect, but it still was an experience I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

Here at the hotel, they have big fat Turkish terry bathrobes for everyone, and people just walk around in these robes, padding through the lobby and halls on the way to the spa. The spa is filled with cute little Turkish guys very skilled at selling you all the treatments, but I still managed to stay within my budget with a bath and Auyervedic massage.

I walk in, feeling a bit awkward in my robe, but my cute little Turkish guy leads me to a dressing room and then on to another room where a very tiny girl leads me to the bath. She will be my massage therapist as well, so she is my guide through the process. The bath itself is made of marble, with a huge marble slab in the middle of the room and deep marble basins with old copper pipes along the sides. It is quite dark and very steamy in the room, and very warm. She gestures to me to remove my robe and has me lie on the slab. I am the only one in the room besides her, so it is little less uncomfortable lying out there on a marble slab face up in my birthday suit. Hmm.

Next thing I know, she is running the faucets and filling two large metal bowls with very hot water and pouring them on my body rhythmically in pairs, arms, legs, sides, back, pouring over and over. The sheer volume of water and the height from which she pours is an experience in itself. Then she begins to scrub with a small loofa, until I have no skin left. I think, gee maybe enough in that spot, and just when I think I might have to say something she moves to another spot. Then more water, huge volumes of water again. Silence. Steam. Then she is back doing something strange with a Turkish towel and bubbles. I am on my stomach by this time so I can’t actually see what she is doing, but suddenly I am enveloped in thick, foamy, whip cream textured bubbles. She turns me over and covers me in more foam, soapy foam, again from the towel where she makes the bubbles somehow. The foamy bubbles as they hang over me from the towel are a huge clump about 1 foot in diameter and 2 feet high. They are warm as they fall on my body. Then she rubs in all the foam and in the dim light I look down at my foam covered body and the foam covered slab and laugh to think this is the best bubble bath I ever had! She then drops bubbles in my hair and washes my hair. Finally more water, many bowlfuls of water to get all that foam from my body and I am cleaner than I think I have ever been.

Wouldn’t have missed this experience for anything! The massage was wonderful, with hot oils and chakra balancing, gentle massage just firm enough to heal, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t felt before. Huge clumps of bubbles falling from the sky on my body is definitely something I haven’t felt before. Great end to a relaxing day in Pamukkale.!

Eating and politics in Turkey

One of the interesting parts of this tour is our guide Suleyman. He is Turkish, and we found out yesterday, part Kurd, and Muslim. We get a view of his country from the inside. His knowledge of the history and politics of Turkey is truly impressive, and yet in no way is he any kind of intellectual. He’s really down to earth, and often very funny, with a dry wit that makes us laugh a lot. He also demands respect, standing at the front of the bus talking about one thing or another, if someone is chatting away he will clear his throat, look incredibly displeased, and say, “Excuse me, excuse me!!” before he will continue his stories.

One of his stories is regarding Turkey and the European Union. Its one thing to read in the guidebook and quite another to hear his version. Turkey has been in conversation with the EU for several years, with many people thinking that it would be a great thing to be part of the EU. However, it seems that the population of Turkey is about 75 million, and unlike many other European countries, Turkey still has a positive population growth. And of course, Turkey is 95 percent Islamic. This seems to make a lot of Europeans very uncomfortable, since Turkey would become the largest country in the EU in population, and would make the EU dominantly Islamic. Suleyman thought this was somewhat insulting, and said basically he didn’t want to be part of anything that didn’t want him for stupid reasons, aka “I don’t want to go to a party where I am not invited”. So the jury is still out on Turkey becoming part of the EU, but Suleyman thinks its not likely to happen in the next 10 years at least.

Another of Suleyman’s political discussion has to do with the Turks and the Kurds. He insists that Kurds are not a particular ethnic group, they are simply people who live in a particular part of the geography of Turkey, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East. He says most Turks are Kurdish in some way or another, since people from the Kurdish part of Turkey have migrated to other parts of Turkey, especially Istanbul. He said his grandmother was Kurdish. Then he discussed the fundamentalist terrorist group in Eastern Turkey who is attempted to create a Kurdish state, and he dismissed this with a harrumph, and then under his breath in a very rapid comment mentioned that Turkey, with the support of the US, recently bombed some Kurdish outposts in western Iraq. He then changed the subject.

Television. All the big hotels boast cable TV. We think that is great, because it will give us a bit of something in English to help keep track of the world. Cable TV consists of the BBC, and sometimes the international version of CNN, and so far there has been very little news of anything at all except the terrorist attack in Mumbai, so we check in occasionally to get some news from the US. Here we have the BBC and 2 other channels in Turkish. Haven’t watched them much, although we aren’t in our room much either. I’m glad for the internet, since its great to be able to have a note from my kids to keep me connected and a bit grounded.

Food. I need to try to talk about the food. We have been eating fairly traditional Turkish food at the large buffets that are offered at our hotels for the evening meal most of the time. Of course, some versions are better than others and last night’s meal was really impressive. It is very nearly impossible to remember everything, but I am going to try to at least describe what it’s like to be eating here.

One thing that is a big part of Turkish meals are the cold salads, what Suleyman calls the “beginnings”. These often seem to be my favorite choices for the meals anyway, and the one thing always present is eggplant. The eggplant is thinly sliced lengthwise and grilled so it looks like a roasted pepper and served with cool tangy yogurt. There are long huge green beans seasoned with lots of olive oil. A fava bean salad with some onions and olive oil. A tomato salad that looks a bit like pica de gallo without the cilantro, lots of chopped tomatoes, some cucumbers, onions, and lots of broad leaf parsley. Dolmas. The dolmas last night were made of seasoned rice rolled into a softened cabbage leaf. The main seasoning in the rice is lemon and I think cumin, but I couldn’t identify it, even though it was really good. Then some kind of deep fried cauliflower, but not crisp, soft and lumpy, also served with yogurt. Shredded carrots and shredded beats drenched in vinegar, many kinds of olives and triangular cuts of goat cheese, some with red pepper, some with dill, others with more olive oil. Piles of diced very dark green lettuce and spinach that is really good. Huge red radish slices as big as a baseball if it were sliced, covered with chopped dark parsley. Cold boiled potatoes with mild seasonings that need a lot of salt to be good. Some kind of potato salad that has yogurt as the dressing with little cubes of potatoes, carrots, and peas.

Many kinds of bread, most of it fairly soft and not crusty, even though it looks as though it should be. The butter is usually not very good, so we use more dark green olive oil for the bread. Then the main dishes at the buffet are usually several kinds of stews, with lamb and beef and chicken and unidentifiable vegetables, often eggplant and mushrooms which I love and are the two things Mo doesn’t. Almost always are the meatballs, maybe beef, maybe lamb, and also in a tomato and eggplant stew. There is usually some kind of rice pilaf, quite dull without much flavor. Turkish flatbread, something like Indian nan, or a flour tortilla, filled with goat cheese and spinach and roasted on a hot pan like a quesadilla. In the midst of all this complicated food is a large pan of “chips”, great fat French fries that are light as a feather and perfectly cooked inside and crusty outside.

Desserts are all sorts of things with honey in common. Little cakes and madelines, soaked in honey, something like a pistachio baklava, but not as crusty, soaked in honey, little chocolate cakes, that aren’t sweet and stick to the roof of your mouth like peanut butter. Beautiful little lemon cakes that look wonderful and taste a bit like glue. Tangerines that are tart and fresh from the local trees. Once I had a pistachio vanilla custard that was to die for and a chocolate pudding that was equally wonderful. The big thing here is called “Turkish Delight” and is in all the stores. It is the present that you take when you go visiting, and Suleyman insists that whomever has the front seat in the bus is required to bring a box of pistachio Turkish delight. Now I know where Washington State’s applets and cotlets came from. They are nothing more than Turkish Delight Wenatchee style.

I am sure that the buffets are not the best to be found in Turkey, but no matter where we go this seems to be the style of food that we find. Even when we stop at “real” Turkish restaurants they have this buffet style of eating. The first day in Istanbul, when we ate at the Pudding Café, I think I had the best food I have had so far.

Day 9 Pamukkale and Heiropolis and the Spa

Relaxing in Pamukkale with an afternoon appointment for a Turkish Bath and an Auruvedic Massage. Yes!

The travertine pools at Pamukkale have been a site for healing for a few thousand years or so. The geology of travertine wasn't something I fully understood, so I had to go look it up.

Travertine is a kind of limestone deposited by springs. Groundwater traveling through limestone beds dissolves calcium carbonate, an environmentally sensitive process that depends on a delicate balance between temperature, water chemistry and carbon dioxide levels in the air. As the mineral-saturated water encounters surface conditions, this dissolved matter precipitates in thin layers of calcite or aragonite, two crystallographically different forms of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). With time, the minerals build up into deposits of travertine. It is an odd geological resource that can be harvested and renewed.

The region around Rome produces large travertine deposits that have been exploited for thousands of years. The stone is generally solid but has pore spaces and fossils that give the stone character. The name travertine comes from the ancient deposits on the Tibur River, hence lapis tiburtino.

Today we are at the Lycos River Hotel in Pamukkale. It’s the first fairly quiet day we have had since we left on this tour. Pamukkale is in a very rural part of Turkey near the city of Denizli, but the hotels are not even in Pamukkale. The hotels are associated with the springs and there are many here, of varying qualities and amenities, and all a mile or so from the village where most businesses are closed since the normal travel season ended back in October. I can see why as I viewed the snow on the mountains around the Meander River Valley were we are traveling. As has been the case all along on the trip, our hotel is adequate but certainly not luxurious. This morning was a bit dicey when I couldn’t get any hot water for about half an hour. Funny, since there are hot springs all around with water at 117 degrees F. Finally managed a lukewarm shower and out in a cold foggy morning for our visit to the famous travertine pools and hot springs, and the ruins of the city of Heiropolis.

In Hellenistic times, between 200 and 300 BCE or so, the thermal springs at Heiropolis made the city a popular spa area. Later on the Romans developed the city even more into a spa retreat, with huge baths and pools, libraries, and temples. There is a pool there now that is littered with marble columns where you can swim and dive, but on this day it was too cold to think of such a thing. The ruins are extensive here as well, and the artist rendition of what the city looked like in Roman times is amazing. The city is perched above the travertine terraces shaped like a semicircle, with another huge stadium on the hill, and a Necropolis outside the city that has the highest number of existing sarcophagus from ancient Anatolia. It has been quite a revelation to be in Turkey seeing so many ruins of ancient cities of Greek and Roman culture. Another interesting cultural note is that Suleyman insists that we refer specifically to Hellenistic culture aka 300 BCE, rather than “greek” culture. I think the Turks and the Greeks are not so friendly. Some of Suleyman’s wisecracking little remarks have been directed towards Greeks.

The skies were very gray and boring, and the wind was cold and the rain started while we were walking the ruins, so the photos are a bit dull. But even the dull skies couldn’t really detract from the physical geologic wonder of the travertines. Although I did buy postcards that show how gorgeous they are in the brilliant sunlight, all white against brilliant blue skies. No blue skies today, however, so we were glad to return to the hotel and our room, turn up the heat and do a bit a relaxing for a change. Tomorrow is another long day of travel back south to the Mediterranean coast and Antalya.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Day 8 Miletus and Didyma

For some reason this day slipped by without leaving a lasting impression. Another day of ruins and blue skies and riding in the bus. The morning started again with bags outside the door at 630, breakfast at 7, on the bus by 8 and off we go again. This group is much too large, actually, with 43 people traveling together. It’s interesting to watch the interactions and the patience shortening, including mine. I’m still not impressed with this tour company, although Suleyman our guide is pretty impressive.

First thing on the road and we stopped at a leather factory. Once more an opportunity for the tour company to get their cut off what the tourists are willing to buy. Again, though, the show was fun, with all of us lined up along the runway while they played very loud rock music and flashed the lights and the models so we felt like we were at a real fashion show. The leather was beautiful as well, great craftsmanship, and of course, very expensive. Most touchable was the “silk” leather, as thin as a shirt, soft and buttery, and still strong and guaranteed waterproof. Several people bought nice coats and jackets, but in spite of how delightful it felt to try on the silk leather coat, I didn’t succumb to 700 American dollars for a jacket. Give me a break! It is fun watching the group buy things though, and everyone cheers when we get back in the bus and show our “stuff”.

We rode along the coast to the Hellenistic ruin at Melitus, most interesting for the view of the valley that was a bay at the time the city was built, but has since silted in to become a fertile agricultural landscape, much like the valley around Troy. The theater was again Hellenistic in style, built into the natural contours of the landscape.

We then traveled to Didyma, a small village, noticing how simple and small most of the houses in Turkish villages are. Right in the village, behind a fence, is what is left of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma. Standing outside looking in doesn’t quite prepare you for how it feels inside this temple. The columns are huge, and the artwork is dramatic, including a gorgeous sculpture of the face of the Medussa that is beautiful. This temple was used to honor the god of prophecy and oracles and is thought to have been associated with the temple at Delphi, with priestesses dreaming and prophesying. After the prophesies, they would be written down and the books were stored here as well. The temple is constructed entirely of marble quarried from the nearby Lake Bafa area. The temple was built in the 7th century BC, and was one of the leading oracle shrines in the world. The temple was destroyed by the Pesians in the mid 6th century BC but was restored by Alexander the Great in 350 BC. With the coming if Christianity, the temple was converted to a church and was destroyed in 1493 by an earthquake. It is interesting that in Turkey, much of the history of these ruins and cities includes some kind of a statement, “destroyed by an earthquake in etc”.

As I have been traveling through this country I have been feeling often as though I was back in California. Today, searching the internet, I found that the San Andreas and the Anatolian fault are so similar that the USGS is studying the Anatolian Fault and sharing information hoping to understand both faults. Here in Turkey we have traveled through serpentines and metamorphic and metavolcanic rocks that are the identical twins of what I am working with in the foothill metamorphic belt back home in Sonora. Even the accreted terranes are every bit as complex as anything I am dealing with at home in my current soil survey. An accreted terrane is basically a little continent traveling and slamming up against another continent, and terranes are the main building blocks along the foothills of California and right here where I am in Turkey. It’s fascinating and fun for me, especially.

We had lunch at a small restaurant with another buffet and a Turkish "Efes" beer, (very good!) and more driving up the Meander River Valley to arrive at the Lycos River Hotel in Pamukkale after dark once more. I hate arriving anywhere after dark, with stacks of luggage and people milling about. Ugh. Did I mention the patience thing?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Day 7 Ephesus and Turkish Carpets
Every year when we gather for
Thanksgiving, I ask my family to go through the ritual of saying what we are most thankful for that has passed in the previous year. I am sitting at the moment in a generic looking lobby of a resort hotel in Kusadasi, Turkey, thinking of my daughter in Klamath with the turkey in the oven and safe in a warm house. I am thankful that my family, each of them, has a safe warm home to live in, and good food to eat, and that I have a family. Truly thankful.
I am much less tired this evening than I was when we arrived here in Kusadasi. It’s nice to spend more than one night in a row in a place. Today Mo and I decided to skip out on one of the optional tours and just walk around town and check things out on our own. Nice. Kusadasi is a very popular beach resort town during the summertime, but at this time of year, things have quieted down a bit and it’s really quite lovely.
After breakfast today we all loaded up for the trip to Ephesus. In addition to the ruins, we saw the final home of Mary, Mother of Jesus, at least according to local legend and tradition. This is supposedly the place the John the Disciple brought the mother of Jesus to keep her safe and cared for until she died peacefully many years later. True or not, the shrine was lovely, beautiful and peaceful. Again, it was perched on top of the highest mountain around, with amazing views of the countryside and the distant Aegean Sea. From the road the ruins of Ephesus are visible, as a city much larger than what has been excavated so far.
I had no idea what to expect from Ephesus. I knew it was a cultural center during Hellenistic times, that it mentioned in the bible, that Paul wrote letters to the Ephesians, which I read several times as a teenager, but to be in the city of Ephesus was a surprise. At first, it was a bit of a disappointment. It would take a lot to outdo the magnificence of those huge white columns we saw yesterday at Pergamon, and from the upper road, Ephesus isn’t very impressive. But as we continued to walk the old roads, deeper and deeper into the city, it was more and more obvious what a large, impressive, and civilized city this once was. We saw the baths, the latrines were good for a laugh, with our tour guide demonstrating how they were used as gathering places for the men. The library at Ephesus is truly impressive, magnificent, although much smaller than the one at Pergamon, where there were 200,000 volumes. Here at Ephesus, there were merely 20,000 books, but the edifice is incredibly beautiful. It amazed me to see how the archaeologists manage to piece the puzzle together as they reconstruct this city from the rubble and tumbled pieces of marble and stone.

The theater at Ephesus seated 22,000 people, and was built again in the Hellenistic style that fits the contours of the landscape. For my daughter, Melody, and for her friends in the theater, I took pictures of the backstage area at the theater in Ephesus, the place where there were only comedies and tragedies. Only later with the Romans were the lions and the gladiators brought in. The Greeks were so civilized. The pillars supporting the stage were still there, but after the Romans came, the lower seats were converted to a wall so that the wild animals wouldn’t harm the people in the stadium. You could see the doors where the lions entered the arena. It was interesting seeing the evolution of this magnificent city from a place of learning and culture to a place of Roman sports and indulgence. Ephesus was a surprising wonder.
After our tour of the ruined city, we went to a carpet dealer. I know it might be fun to sit in a little shop in Istanbul and buy a carpet, but I’m still not so sophisticated that I didn’t appreciate a little help. Of course the tour company gets a cut of whatever we buy, it’s like that no matter where we travel, but it still was a lot of fun and a great show. They had carpet weavers making several different kinds of carpets and explained the details of those differences, including the number of knots, the fibers and dyes used, and where the different styles originate. Then while we had a great lunch of Turkish pizza, cheese rolls and beer, we were wooed with a display of Turkish carpets that took my breath away. The emcee started simply, with a discussion of the simplest killims, and went on to talk about silk carpets that have hundreds of knots per inch and the skill needed to make these kinds of carpets. Then the show began. Men came out in groups with carpets, throwing them out on the floor with a flourish, one after the other, more and more, all on top of each other. The colors were thrilling, and then he said, take of your shoes and walk on them, so of course, sensory me again, was walking barefoot over thick silk carpets that went for 32,000 US dollars. What fun! I came on this trip, knowing down inside me somewhere that I would buy a carpet, and sure enough the silk ones caught my heart. Also they caught my breath when the one I truly loved was priced at 4400 US. Maybe not. So then the tiniest one, a lovely piece of silk artistry that I could hang on the wall, maybe a foot by two feet, was 1100 US. Maybe not. Ahh well, they were lovely to look at and wonderful to feel beneath my feet. And yes, I did buy a carpet, a keepsake for a lifetime from this delightful country. Only my carpet is wool on wool with only a couple hundred knots per inch, but it isn’t even dyed, it is made from the natural colored wools of the sheep. I am tickled. Included in the price is the customs, the taxes, the shipping, and in a couple of months my carpet will be delivered to my door fedex. Another nice thing about settling for the tourist carpet thing. It was surprising to see how many people in our group bought carpets, some more than one, and my fellow soil scientist bought one that was 10x12 for their lovely hardwood floors back in North Dakota. Glad I don’t have to pay that bill!!

After the carpet venture, we sipped on Turkish coffee and waited for our van. The van driver’s name was Abdul, and he turned out to be our very own scenery man, a much better trip than the bus to the “village” would have been. He took the 6 of us around the hills to high points over the sea and we got some gorgeous photos of the Aegean we wouldn’t have seen any other way. Home to our hotel, we unloaded our bags, and headed back out to walk the promenade, find a supermarket and a pharmacy, and enjoy the feel of the city, and the gorgeous views along the beach. It was a wonderful way to end the day, with the long walk, and back to the hotel room for a rest before dinner.
This hotel room is way too big, with two rooms, a suite actually, a huge hall, and still you can’t get two people in the bathroom at once. Very funny. But we have big windows that we can open, fresh air, and a view of the sea from the balcony if not from the room itself. Tomorrow we continue on to Pamukkale, although what else is on the menu is completely gone from my memory. Guess we will just get up, put the bags outside the door, and see what the day has to offer.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Day 6 Troy and Pergamon

This morning started with the call to prayer once again, only this time it was still dark and there was no wind to interfere with the haunting sounds. I recorded it again, and then we managed to get our tired bodies rolling around in time to have the bags out the door by 6:30. Our stay on this one short night was in the Hotel Akol. I read several reviews and expected things to be dicey, but the beds were comfortable, the bath was clean, and there was even a door that we could open to smell the fresh air of the Dardanelles, even in the dark, you can tell you are near the sea.

We went down for another typical Turkish buffet breakfast of cheeses, breads, hard boiled eggs, and yogurt with many kinds of honeyed fruits. The coffee always is good and strong without being bitter, but I have yet to actually drink the official Turkish coffee, according to Suleyman, it’s ground to a very fine silky powder, boiled slowly in a Turkish copper pot and sipped carefully so you don’t stir up the sludge in the bottom of the cup. I’ll have to find some soon.

The first leg of the day was a short bus ride to Troy, Truja it is called here in Turkey. Suleyman is again very good at telling us the history and myths of the area where we are traveling. I have my trusty guidebook, "Eyewitness Guide to Turkey", but I still enjoy his stories and his perspective. Traveling with 43 people is interesting, some quite nice, others a true pain in the neck, but so far we have managed to keep to ourselves most of the time, with nice pleasantries but nothing too memorable, good or bad.

Troy has been inhabited for several thousand years, for many reasons, no doubt, but probably most importantly for its strategic location on the Dardanelles, guarding this gateway into the inner reaches of Asia Minor, and the Black Sea. What was most interesting was the fact that Homer’s Troy was the 6th level of 9 different levels of civilization that have existed there. When the site was first discovered in the late 19th century, there were no protections in place and much of the wonders were looted, moved, sold, and lost, with some of the finest treasures lost to Germany, then to Russia during WWII. We walked around the ruins, listening to the history and the stories, and I looked out across the beautiful agrarian landscape thinking of what it must have been like to live here. Suleyman discussed the theory again that the cultures of this land existed for millennia without actually having any sign of war, with trade and communications between various people going on for a long time peacefully. But people were beginning to discover power, and war actually became a real concept right here in Troy, and even though much of Homer’s story might be mythological, the strategic location of Troy is undisputed.

As Mo and I left, she said that it wasn’t very impressive, and didn’t feel anywhere near as magical as the temples in Malta felt. I suggested that might be due to the “energy” of the place, the fact that Malta was probably a sacred retreat for spiritual uplifting purposes, and Troy was a city most often functioning as a defense against aggression and war. Maybe, maybe not, but while it was fascinating, it didn’t particularly move either of us.

Back into the bus again for a long drive across the countryside of Turkey, which is amazingly beautiful. We drove up through the mountains, past Mt Ida, mentioned in the Illiad and in the Bible, and winding narrow very high roads gave us our first view of the Aegean Sea. The fall colors have started to turn, and especially in the mountains there are oaks and what looks a bit like birch or aspen that are golden and yellow. The highway dropped down along the coast, through myriad small coastal towns that looked a bit drab until we started getting into areas that still had a bit of Greek influence from the time prior to 1923. It seems that there was some sort of trade made when Attaturk created the present country of Turkey, and a million and a half people had to be relocated as a result. Greek Orthodox people living in Turkey were relocated to Greece, and Islamic Turkish people living in Greece were uprooted and forcibly moved to this part of Turkey.

We had lunch in a hotel restaurant that can handle 43 people and continued on to our afternoon visit to Pergamon. I need the time to sit with a thesaurus so I can come up with words other than wondrous, gorgeous, magical, lovely, fascinating, dramatic, magnificent. These words don’t begin to do justice to what it feels like to climb up the narrow winding road to this temple remains overlooking Bergamon and the Aegean Sea. The history of this place is complex, with mythology and actualities mixed together into a plethora of images, but the hard reality of huge marble columns and quarried andesite walls is right there to feel and to see. The wind was blowing hard, with clouds coming from the west, but giving us breaks in the light that made it all the more delightful. Pergamon had one of the greatest libraries of all civilization, second only to Alexandria, and eventually all the books were moved to Alexandria. Pergamon was also the place where books were actually invented. Until this time, writing was on papyrus, but here they discovered how to use parchment. Since parchment was heavier and couldn’t be rolled, they had to cut it into squares and lay the squares on top of one another. Books. Here. In Pergamon. This was a place of worship and of culture, with a magnificent amphitheater built in the Hellenistic style that used the actual relief of the landscape as part of the structure. It was more than incredible. I need to work on my writing skills for this trip, I am sure, but these words will have to do for now. Thank goodness for photos.

We are on the bus again, and it is dark, after a lovely sunset over the Isle of Lesbos, which is visible here along the coast. Our destination is Kusadasi, where we will actually get to stay for two nights in a row. Ahhh. Dinner will again be some kind of buffet, but if we don’t get there till 830 or so, I guess we will be eating European style at some ungodly hour. Mo is doing better today, with her cold beginning to recede. Hopefully by tomorrow she will be back up to par all the way, and knock on wood, hopefully her cold will remain hers. No sharing needed!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Day 5 Traveling to Bursa

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.

The town of Bursa is really a very large industrial city famous for its textile manufacturing, but the part we were to see was on the mountain at the base of Uludag National Park, where we could see snow and the ski lifts. We visited the Green Mosque, named for it’s green tiles (aka the Blue Mosque and it’s blue tiles), then had lunch at a nice little restaurant with a view of the city. View of the city also means view of the air pollution, the price paid for all that textile work, I guess. Suleyman told us this restaurant had the very best most classic special kabob of all, and so once more I tried it, and once more the sheepy taste got to me and I couldn’t eat it. Now I think I like lamb, but maybe I need something done to it, like bbq, or that great morrocan honey coating I ate with the lamb I had back in Spokane one time. Memories of those Morrocan lamb kabobs are what I thought I was going to find here in turkey, but not so far.

After lunch, the part of Bursa we visited was charming, and quaint, with old and not so old men playing some kind of gambling game on the side streets and a very sweet, very little old lady collecting money for her little packets of tissues. I had an ulterior motive when I pulled out some Lira, she was just so cute and I wanted her photo. She smiled with me and then insisted on a cheek kiss, both sides, and one of our tour buddies, Gong, who used to be from China and now lives in Austin, took my photo with her. Gong is great, and has a killer camera with a lens that needs a man his size to carry. He introduces himself as “gong, you know, like the gong show”. He’s very nice. The scary part of all this, is that when you look at the photo, we match, the little old lady from Turkey has the same chin and nose that I do. She could have been my ancestor from somewhere, except for the fact that she was literally half my size. Still, it makes for a delightfully fun photo at least.
We then shopped at the Silk Market, since silks have been produced here for centuries and the shop was accessible at least. I found a great pillow cover in silk with images of Turkish horses and sultans that I love. However the big tourist bus got into a pickle trying to turn around on the streets, so we all gawked, while the locals looked entertained, and finally our tour driver Zach managed to get the monster turned around. Talk about being a tourist! Geez.

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!

We landed this evening in the dark in Cannakkale, close to Troy, with the smell of the sea and the sound of the call to prayer echoing all around the hills. Mo is fighting a nasty cold, and we were glad when dinner at the hotel had come and gone so we could go back to our room and rest for the next day of wild GoAhead style travel. I think after tomorrow, though, we will have a couple of days in one place to regroup a bit and relax. Suleyman warned us in the beginning that this was a teaching trip, not a relaxing trip. He meant it. Best part for me is plenty of knitting time on the big bus that manages a fairly smooth ride even on these narrow country roads. My sweater is coming along and who knows, I might get close to finishing it before this trip is over.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Day 4 or second day in Istanbul

I started this morning very early, waking in the dark at 430 am or so. Decided to quietly take a bath instead of lying restlessly in my bed. The bathtub here is small and narrow, but deep, and has a curved bottom that makes standing in the shower rather interesting. The water feels great, but in a bath I could see the brownish tinge that I had read about in some hotels in Turkey. Somehow, with the heat and the bubbles it didn’t bother me a bit. Mo woke a bit later and we went down to our buffet breakfast of yogurt, honey, muesli, for me and hard boiled eggs and corn flakes for Mo.
The group was going on the Bosphorus Straits today, a cruise between Europe and Asia, but we decided it would be a great day to be on our own exploring. After the bus delivery to the Grand Bazaar we had the rest of the day to ourselves. The Grand Bazaar itself it huge, with more than 4000 shops and stalls filled with “stuff”. Lots of stuff. More stuff. Especially jewelry, Turkish ceramics, and pashminas of every possible color and fabric. To think I bought so many in Thailand thinking I had something unique. I must say, though, the pashmina is a fabulous piece of clothing, warmth for cool breezes, a head cover for mosques, a blanket for a picnic, and just generally pretty. Lots of pashminas here in Turkey, as elsewhere.
After wandering for a time down the labyrinthine covered walkways we found a nice little coffee stall and sat for a cappuccino. Our host was young and charming and delightful, and his helper not quite so charming, but the Turkish men are so friendly and talkative, pushy, trying to charm you in to their “family” shop just around the corner, asking always where you are from, and in general being very sweet and cute. They aren’t touchy or pinchy or lewd in any way, which is nice, but after awhile it does get a bit tiresome being followed along all the streets by dark good looking young men trying to get you to go to their shops and buy something. Our cappuccino host, for 13Lira, made a lovely cup of java, and told us how difficult things are in Turkey right now because tourism has effectively died since the economic crash.

You would never know it to look at the streets though. They are filled to brimming with people walking and shopping. We wandered out the main gate of the grand bazaar looking for the Spice Market. The grand bazaar is the oldest shopping center in the world, but has become just a huge tourist attraction, and our guide said that the Turkish people never shop there. The Spice Market, however, is in the same section of the city, but much smaller and much more delightful, with amazing pyramids of saffron and spices of all kinds, Turkish Delight, a sticky sweet Turkish candy thing, and of course more pashminas and ceramics. We managed to get out of both markets with nothing more than a glass of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice. Very red, and surprisingly, very sour.
After a time, I decided that I needed a bathroom, which here is usually referred to as a WC, or water closet. In most of the city, the toilets are the squatting kind and cost a Lira or so to use. We saw no sign of anything at all so in desperation I asked a nice looking gentleman for a water closet, bathroom, banos? He nodded and smiled and then said, “wait here” while he ran down the street to get a taxi. Mo and I said, Do you think he is trying to get a taxi? And sure enough he was. I said no no, and then smiled and made a little short street squat to try to indicate what I wanted. To much good humored laughter, another nice man pointed us to a square with a WC.

Wandering through the market and the streets around the market, we found another square near the New Mosque, sat and watched the people and the cats for awhile, and then found our way to the tram station for the adventure of finding our way back to Taksim. The tram itself was visible, in the middle of a very busy street. We couldn’t figure out how to actually get to the station, so had to run across the street and climb a wall and go over a fence to get where we needed to be. Once there, of course no one spoke much English, so we pointed and managed to get a token, get on the tram, ride very quickly to the Funiculare (another tram going up the hill to Taksim) and emerged from the tunel’ into Taksim Square. This time it was good Mo was paying attention because I was so completely turned around who knows where I would have ended up.

Home to the hotel to rest a bit, write a bit, upload our photos and post to the blog from the lobby where we have wireless access, and then back to Taksim Square and the pedestrian mall. This evening, there were even more people than last evening, and again, everyone was walking very fast in both directions and most everyone was talking on a cell phone. It’s hard to figure out where everyone is going, except it must be the social thing to do in the evening. Thinking about the lifestyle here, with people in very small apartments with a view like our hotel room, and no outside, I can see why a walk on the mall in the evening could be a bright spot in a working day. We walked along once more, watching all the food preparation and choosing one that looked great for dinner. We had the meat thing called “kebab”, differing from “shish” kebab, with rice and tomatoes and chips (fries), and I made the mistake of asking for yogurt. In this place however, the delightful yogurt was strong as a fresh billy goat, and the kebab seemed like a very old sheep rather than lamb. Mo liked this much better than I did, but it wasn’t exactly a memorable meal. We continued our walk, looking for a bakery, where I found a box of mixed baklava for 15 Lira, about 10 dollars at the current exchange rate. I love the pistachio baklava.

Home fairly early, but a cold chill is in the air and it’s nice to be back in our room with full tummies and tired bodies. I’ll upload today’s photos and find my bed early this evening so that we are ready to get the suitcases in the hall by 630 am and our bus trip to Bursa and Cannakale tomorrow. Onward!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Day 3 or First Day in Istanbul

The Blue Mosque

It’s amazing what sleep will do for you! The room is tiny the beds very narrow, firm (another word for hard), and low to the ground. But the water is hot, and not brown as I had read in some of the reviews, and we both slept really well until about 2am. I guess that was around 4 or so in the afternoon back home so maybe to be expected. There is even a window that opens and we listened to hard rain and thunder, expecting the day to come to be challenging. Imagine our surprise when we woke again to brilliant cool sunshine!

Breakfast in the hotel is a buffet, an interesting one, if not exactly superb, but there were good breads, goat cheeses, many kinds of yogurt and muesli, apricots and olives, and the coffee was strong but not thick and bitter as traditional Turkish coffee is rumored. As we dressed for a cool and possibly rainy day in Istanbul, I felt my spirits rising with the sun.

The bus is big and comfortable with huge windows and open space, so even though I am the seasick/carsick prone one, it didn’t bother me in the least. We began our morning with a trip back through the “new” part of Istanbul, Taksim Square, the location of our hotel, to the “old” part of the city, across the Golden Horn, a brackish water inlet estuary, and to the ancient portion of the city called “sultanamnet” which contains some of the city’s most significant monuments. We first stopped at the Hippodrome, where a gigantic stadium once stood at the heart of the city. Istanbul means nothing in Turkish, and the story is that it was once called only “the city” However the turks couldn’t speak the greek words meaning the city, “is stan” and it morphed into Istanbul, really meaning nothing at all. It was really the only city in the beginning. Most cities in the Byzantine era were smallish and in this city in the 3rd century the population was already a million. So people from the entire known world considered this place “the city”. The Hippodrome was the center of this culture, and we saw the Egyptian Obelisk brought in from the Luxor tomb in Egypt and the Serpentine Column brought in from Delphi in Greece, dating from 479 BC. It’s amazing to see that this obelisk has stood for more than two millennia, even with Turkey being right in the midst of 3 tectonic plates that generate huge earthquakes.

We walked from the Hippodrome to our first piece of magnificence, the Blue Mosque. The history of this building in incredible as well, and the name is simply taken from all the blue tiles from Iznik that decorate the interior. Suleyman, our guide, gave us some fascinating background on Islam, and mosques as houses of prayer only. A Muslim doesn’t belong to a particular congregation, he simply goes to a mosque to pray with like minded people at the proper times. The mosque was commissioned by a Sultan during the time when the Ottoman empire was declining, and there was controversy then about the 6 minarets which were said to be a sacrilegious attempt to mimic Mecca. It was huge, and gorgeous, and incredible, no matter. A bit overwhelming.

We then walked across the square to the Hagia Sophia, a much older building, once a Christian church when it was built in the 6th century. At the time, there was nothing in the world of its stature, and it was a place where people came from all over the world to worship. Later it was converted by the Ottoman sultans to a mosque, and much of the Byzantine art mosaics that depicted people, saints, Mother Mary and such, were covered up because images of people are not allowed in Islam. In the 19th century it was restored and some of the mosaics are now visible. It is a place of great wonder, and I overheard one gentleman whispering to his wife, “This has been on my list since college!” I also remember reading much about this particular place in art history classes as an example of Byzantine art, and one of the beginning places of art and culture in the world. Another amazing experience.

For me, though, sensory person that I am, the highlight of the day came as we were leaving Hagia Sophia at prayer time, and the Muzzein call to prayer echoed throughout the squares across the city. It was a moment in time, of really feeling the essence of a place, and knowing that you are in a spot that isn’t on the list of everyday. I am in Istanbul. Istanbul.

We had lunch at a great little place called the Pudding Shop, which as a cafeteria style eatery filled with amazing looking food. I had cheese stuffed zuchinni, a stuffed pepper of some kind with delightful sauces. There was a photo of Bill Clinton on the door, and the owner standing there was very proud that Clinton had been there not just once, but twice. We walked along the streets after lunch, smelling the great smoky smell of roasted chestnuts coming from the street carts, and watching all the people. The place is filled with people and full of life and energy, even though it’s Sunday and some things aren’t open.

The last stop for the day was the Topkapi Palace, palace of the Sultans, on one of the 7 hills of Istanbul, Seraglio Point, where the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosphorus straits come together. In Byzantine times, monasteries and public buildings were on this site, and later it became the residence of Sultans for more than 400 years. It is now a rambling museum, filled with glittering collections of the royal treasury including an 84 carat diamond, a collection of sultan’s robes and other treasures. The views of the Bosphorus from the terrace were wonderful, and we looked across from Europe to Asia just across the water. The Straights of Bosphorus are the narrow channel between two continents. Once we leave Istanbul, our travels will be in Asia until we return at the end of the trip to this amazing city that sits in two continents.

Mo and I decided to skip the organized “Istanbul by Night” dinner and dancing and do our own thing instead. After resting for just a bit in our room, we dressed again in something a bit warmer and headed for Taksim Square, and the “pedestrian mall”, the hub of activity in this part of the city. The square is huge, and marked by a MacDonalds and Burger King, but once you are walking down the street, everything changes. We decided to follow our guide’s advice and had dinner at a nice restaurant called “Haci –Baba”, where we had lamb shish and meatballs from the grill and kabob menu. It was refined and delicious, but after we left there we walked down the streets with the throngs of people and saw food that was beyond anything I ever imagined. Especially fun is the way that they have all the cooks making the food in the windows of the restaurants, smiling and laughing with you, and smells wafting out the open fronts of the shops. I read somewhere today that there are only three unique kinds of cuisine in the world, French, Chinese, and Turkish! I am going to have to explore that whole concept a bit further, but for today I just thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful food and incredible atmosphere of this very energetic, cosmopolitan, ancient and fascinating city.

I told Mo today, a couple of times, I do really love this place, it’s incredible. I felt a moment of wonder as we crossed back over the Golden Horn with the mosques and minarets silhouetted against the skies and thought how incredibly lucky we are to have a chance for this kind of experience. It’s like pinching myself, reminding myself, I am in Istanbul. Istanbul!