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.