I always try to take pictures of local signs; they leave me wondering if there isn’t someone there whose first language is English. Just as well; they’re more fun this way.
Located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Turkey is bordered by eight countries as well as the Black Sea, the Aegean, the Mediterranean, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosphorus and Dardenelles Straits. We were able to stay far, far away from Iran, Iraq and Syria. Istanbul itself sits in both Europe and Asia, the only capital in the world to span two continents. Most of the country is in Asia. It’s a mix of ancient and modern, which I think leads to both acceptance of other cultures and beliefs as well as clashes between the two. Its history goes way back, to the Neolithic age, and includes all those cultures we read about but didn’t really learn in history — Hittites, Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire, Romans, Assyrians, Lydians, Lycians, Persians, Arabs. Then there’s Alexander the Great, Constantin, Suleiman the Magnificent (isn’t that Octomom’s last name?), to say nothing of mythological figures too numerous to remember. Although it’s about 98 percent Muslim, Turkey is a secular nation. The prime minister is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and novelist Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. He has sold 11 million books in 60 languages. I’ve put him on my reading list because I haven’t read anything he wrote.
Clothing — The divide between Islam and the west, old and modern, is prominent in the women’s clothing. It ranges from complete coverage with black abbayah and niqab, covering the face and leaving only the eyes exposed; to women who cover their heads with scarves and their bodies with long overcoats (they must have been roasting in the warm weather); to very western-looking women, wearing the same kinds of clothes we wear. In the mosque where we stumbled into a service, the women were confined to the rear, behind a screen, while the men could circulate freely throughout the giant building.
Food — Heavy on veggies. Breakfast invariably consists of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, feta cheese and black olives, accompanied by chai, apple tea or Turkish coffee, which leaves a thick sludge in the cup. They eat lots of lamb, okra, eggplant, hummus, dried apricots and tons of yogurt. Lots of hazelnuts, particularly in sweets that are beautifully displayed in the shops. Dinner often is preceded by a mezze plate — a selection of dips with wonderful fresh flatbread. Ladies sitting on the ground roll out dough for a flat bread that they stuff with cheese and herbs. Raki, similar to ouzo, is the drink of choice. Firewater! I love that Konya is a deeply religious, dry city, but has the highest raki consumption in the country.
In Fethiye, we ate at a fish market where we bought prawns and took them to a restaurant in the market where they cook whatever you buy. Eight men at an adjoining table ordered a “lagos,” a giant fish that arrived encased in burning clay. I mean it was in flames and was so dramatic it was being filmed by local TV. The waiter eventually broke the clay with a hammer and chisel and the fish fed the crowd.
Ataturk’s words — In 1934, long after the 1915 battle at Gallipoli, Ataturk wrote the following words, inscribed on a memorial at Anzac Cove: “Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. . . You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours. . . You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace after having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.”
The day of the battle, Ataturk exhorted his troops: “Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die. In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place.”
He was the founder of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, and its first president.
Journalists in jail — Turkey, not China, not Iran, has the most journalists currently residing in the slam, most for criticizing Prime Minister Erdoğan. Number is in dispute — could be 94, could be 104. If you’re interested, you can read Dexter Filkins’ report in the New Yorker.
Celebrity sightings — Greek Orthodox “pope” (at roadside eatery) and Turkish energy minister (at Rumi’s). The pope is in exile and lives in Turkey.
Man with a monocle — On the plane from Amsterdam to Istanbul and then at the Hippodrome. The monocle had a thin gold chain leading to his breast pocket.
Smoking — They all smoke. For Californians, it’s very disconcerting in a restaurant.
Circumcision — TMI. Considered a rite of passage, little boys have a big celebration after the deed is done. They wear white suits, complete with a little cap. We only saw the suits in store windows and never actually witnessed a newly cut boy.
Hagia (pronounced aya) Sofia v. the Blue Mosque — I don’t know why the Blue Mosque is the more famous of the two, unless it’s because of sheer size and better condition. An art instructor who gave a lecture at the library prior to our departure described the Blue Mosque as “clunkier,” explaining that she preferred Hagia Sofia (below). We did too. From 360 until 1453, it served primarily as a Greek Orthodox cathedral and featured spectacular mosaic art throughout. It was converted to a mosque in 1453 and remained so until 1931 when it was secularized and turned into a museum. The Muslims plastered over the mosaics, painting pretty designs but covering the far more beautiful mosaic art.
Hagia Sofia was the biggest cathedral in the world for 1,000 years and was considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. Much of the plaster has been removed as part of the mosaic restoration. The museum also features enormous leather medallions (maybe 6 feet in diameter) with Arabic calligraphy, huge columns with lacy designs at the top, a spectacular dome, a massive chandelier, pulpit, two enormous marble urns, and, oh my, the mosaics!
On the other hand . . . Factoids about the even bigger Blue Mosque (right): It was built in seven years, has 20,000 tiles made in Iznik and featuring more than 50 tulip designs, 260 windows, four enormous pillars called elephant legs that hold the place up, and an absolutely spectacular dome, 75 feet across and 141 feet high, along with eight other smaller domes. Most of the interior is roped off so spectators are allowed only on the periphery. Outside are six minarets. Mighty impressive.
Head bumps — Instead of kissing both cheeks, some men bump the sides of their foreheads (right to right, then left to left) as a form of greeting
Electronics — In addition to digital cameras, computers, Ipads, phones and Kindles, we had to bring chargers for all of the above. Really heavy and somehow it seems we should be able to get through a couple of weeks unwired. I also didn’t need my hairdryer, rubber flip-flops, a fleece I never wore, umbrella, and various medicines, although I would have needed them if they’d been at home.
Censorship — We were unable to read news stories online about Obama’s support for same sex marriage. Access was denied because of “bad words.” We tried the NY Times, Huffpost and the White House site without any luck.
Vocab — Try as we might, only Karen was able to master some Turkish words, although we all knew how to say “merhaba” (hello), “Nasilsin?” (How are you?) and “Gunaydin (good morning) by the end of the trip. Others:
- Iyiyim — I am fine
- N nasilsin — And you?
- Tesekkurler or Saol — Thank you
- Iyi gunler — Have a nice day
- Iyi Aksamlar — Good evening
- Kaq lira? — How much is it?
- Tuvalet — WC
- Hosaakal — good-bye (said by those who are leaving)
- Gule gule — good-bye (said by those who are staying)
- baybay — bye iyi — good, fine
- Gorusuruz — See you
- Numbers — one (bir), two (iki), three (uq), four (dort), five (bes)
- Sizi Seveyorum — I love you all
Wedding dresses — Blocks of shops in Istanbul featuring yards of froth. Apparently they don’t always wear white, since the dresses are many hued. And for the devout, there are white head coverings that mimic scarves, like the bride at left.
Wake-up — With the imam and the roosters. 4:30 a.m. Every day.
Animals — Feral cats everywhere and plenty of mangy-looking dogs. Sure-footed goats on the islands in the Mediterranean. And many herds of sheep wandering around.
Rumi, aka Mevlana — When he was 25, Mevlana took the place of his scholarly, well-traveled father, came to Anatolya and taught in Konya. But he met and hung out with a ragged dervish called “Shams,” who sounds suspicious to me and eventually was murdered. Mevlana wrote 25,600 poems, collected in six volumes. He and his father are entombed in the Konya monastery, where many beautiful manuscripts are on display and various sultans are buried, with turbans on top of their tombs. Our group included Kevlana (Kevin) and Nevlana (Neville).
Speeding — The police stopped our bus and had a printout of the speed we traveled throughout the trip. If the printout shows you exceed the speed limit, you get a ticket. Commercial vehicles are tracked, private cars are not. Fortunately, Mehmet was a good driver. No ticket.
Words to remember — Baris has a charming accent. Some of his pronunciations (which we loved and don’t want him to change): a’-ven-gers, ac-ces-sor’-y; mau-so’-le-um; ter-ra’-cot-ta; Ni-a-gar’-a.
More on Cappodocia — It means “land of beautiful horses.” Dotted with thousands of “fairy chimneys,” the landscape was formed over millions of years by tufa, a soft volcanic rock. The chimneys are hundreds of feet tall and look like giant phallic symbols, although some are more triangular and look like Ku Klux Klan sheets. Early residents carved out stables, then churches and finally homes for themselves, all to hide from Arab warriors in the 7th Century. An open air museum today offers entry to several well-preserved churches, all with the expected dome, all painted with brightly colored and well-preserved frescoes. The area is a central region, not a city, in Anatolia.
A word, or two, about the balloon ride — We floated 3,000 feet above Cappadocia in a basket that held 11. Larger baskets hold 28; the volume of the balloon dictates the size of the basket. Our balloon was 80 feet high and held 240,000 something (maybe cubic feet?) of air. One hundred sixty balloons are licensed in Cappadocia and 120 went up the day we did. With incredible precision, our pilot landed on the flatbed truck (!!!) so it didn’t have to be moved by the four-man crew. After landing, the crew festooned the basket with flowers and the Turkish flag, set up a little table and we celebrated with champagne and cherry juice and cakes. We each received a “diploma” — both my name and Pat’s were misspelled, but who’s counting? We’re supposed to friend Kapadokya Balloons on Facebook; too bad I don’t subscribe (or belong or whatever you do with Facebook, other than invest).
Customs — Respect elders: give up your seat on the bus, kiss their right hand, don’t interrupt while they’re speaking, address them as brother or uncle or baba (father). Don’t sit cross-legged; it’s disrespectful. No swearing.
Little bits of info — Women do most of the work but aren’t seen much. They’re confined to the balcony or the rear of the mosque. Men sit around playing backgammon. The Great Wall was built not to keep the Turks out but to preserve the Chinese world. Gypsies live in tent camps adjacent to the roads. The first beauty contest was in Troy. Tuz (Salt) Lake produces 3,000 tons of salt per year, 60 percent of Turkey’s salt.
A little selection from hundreds of pix taken and apologies for the layout; I’m having trouble with WordPress:
Hopped a ferry lately to cross the Dardanelles? We did! A short ride on a perfect day took us from Canakkule to Gallipoli, site of one of WWI’s most famous battles, won by the Turks, lost by the British, French, Australians, New Zealanders and Indians. The Gallipoli peninsula is now dotted with 59 cemeteries, 30 devoted to Commonwealth soldiers, mostly Australians and New Zealanders, one French and and 28 Turkish cemeteries. The day was somber and not a few tears were shed. Consider, for example, the words on the headstone of one JJR Carroll, who died at 25: “My Jim gave his life for freedom, loved & remembered by his dad.” Anzac Day is a national holiday every April 25 in Australia, commemorating the thousands of mostly young men who stormed the beaches on the Aegean side of Gallipoli as part of a losing campaign in 1915 to open the Dardenelles. Ataturk made his stand, complete with a bullet smashing into a pocket watch that saved his life, and his legend was born. One million people visit Gallipoli annually, usually in April and May, to honor the dead. The peninsula is breathtakingly beautiful, with the Dardenelles on one side and the Aegean on the other. Although I haven’t been to Normandy, I imagine the sites are emotional kin.
The previous day we visited Troy, land of Homer, the Illiad, Helen, Agamemnon and Paris. A gigantic replica of the Trojan horse sits at the entry of the oldest ruins in Turkey, built 3,500 years ago. The place generally has fallen into disrepair, even though only 8 percent of the old city has been excavated. It is nine levels deep, most levels having been destroyed by earthquakes and then replaced with a new level above. Hans Schliemann, who did the early excavations, helped himself to some of the booty and took it to Germany, although some artifacts currently are in Russian hands.
The highlight of the trip may well have been that evening, when Baris invited us to his home for dinner. We met his wife, Sirvan, a beautiful young woman, his sister, Nimet, and his parents, mom Melahat and dad Halit. Both Sirvan and Nimet are kindergarten teachers. Melahat fixed an absolutely wonderful dinner of manti, a ravioli-like pasta served with a lemony yogurt sauce, and icli koffle, stuffed meatball filled with meat, herbs and spices, a little like falafel. Baris and Sirvan live in a four-room high rise apartment that was furnished with white leather living room furniture and was quite lovely. He seemed very proud to show off his digs and we were really honored to be invited. Conversation consisted of lots of mimickry and arm gestures, helped along with Baris’ translation.
Headed for an 11-1/2 hour flight from Istanbul to JFK, and then home. I have to go through customs at JFK on a very tight schedule. Fingers crossed.
Ephesus is one of those places that’s right up there with the terra cotta warriors or the Great Wall or the pyramids — you just can’t believe people actually built such a place and that it survives, at least partially intact. It’s enormous size is mind-boggling, but the mosaics, statuary, reliefs and wall paintings are beyond impressive. An example of Roman architecture, Ephesus is one of the best-preserved cities in the eastern Mediterranean. It was founded in the 11th century BC, was once home to 350,000 people, and included a library (gorgeous), baths, basilica, legislative chambers, marble-paved roads, temples to Artemis and then Diana, a latrine and a house of ill repute. Interested patrons could avail themselves of the offerings at the “house of pleasure” by sneaking there through an underground tunnel from the library. The whole place is being restored and we went into a structure that protects “terraced houses” where young women were painstakingly cleaning the previously hidden paintings. We walked along glass walkways that protect mosaics underneath. Definitely a highlight. We later visited a museum in Selcuk (sell-chuck) that houses all kinds of statues, friezes, tombs, etc. from the ancient city.
But that was just the end of the day. Earlier, we drove through a village where wine or soda bottles sat on the roofs of houses, a signal that an eligible bride lives there. An interested marriage partner has only to throw rocks at the bottles to express his interest and evidently win her hand. She apparently has no choice in the matter. We also hit a leather factory, where several travelers became seriously separated from their wallets but walked away with beautiful lambskin jackets or purses.
Yesterday, we went to Pamukkale, a name I’d heard but didn’t associate with anything. It means “cotton castle” because hot water, filled with calcium carbonate, flows down the hills into pools and eventually forms snow white deposits that at some point turn into marble. Supposedly the water has healing properties for circulation and digestive systems. The place was mobbed but most interesting were the two newly married brides and grooms. The dresses were like cotton candy too, and the couples sashayed all over, posing for pictures.
Every place we go, of course, is surrounded by vendors selling everything from “pomegrenade” juice to harem pants and belly dancer costumes to rugs to scarves to really ugly little statues of whatever ruin they’re next to. And evil eyes; they’re everywhere. We’ve all come to enjoy little flat pancakes stuffed with spinach and cheese for lunch. Lots of vegetables, olives and yogurt.
This was our first stop. The colors are real. Words cannot describe.
After that, we headed for remote Xanthos, a relatively tourist-free Lycian ruin, complete with not one but two basilicas, lots of fallen columns and another amphitheater. Then on to an unbelievable ghost town called Kayakoy, where we put in our lunch order with a woman and her husband who live here. We have a choice of plain “pizza,” cheese filling, cheese and herbs or potatoes. She rolls out the dough and makes the little pizzas in a wood-burning oven. They hit the spot and unlike many other meals, were small and just enough. Up the hill is an unbelievable ghost town, once inhabited by about 3,500 Greeks who were “repatriated” to the homeland by Ataturk in 1923 in exchange for Turks living in Greece. The colony was built in the 17th century but was instantly abandoned when the Greeks left. The homes, subsequently destroyed by earthquakes, consist of destroyed stone walls with remnants of windows and fireplaces; there are hundreds of them climbing up the hill.
We later hit some Lycian ruins up a hill before arriving for the night at Fethiye, another beautiful port city, but much bigger than little Kars.
Finally — the Mediterranean, and it was well worth the wait. Think of postcards of little villages climbing up the hills along the coast, whitewashed houses covered in bougainvillea, balconies streaming with flowers (and sometimes laundry), all looking out at a very deep blue sea. That’s what it’s like!
First stop, Phaselis, an ancient ruin on three adjoining bays. There are markets, a theater, various designs on columns and, most importantly, baths for sailors who would have been at sea for six months or so. A thorough soaping was welcome. We were entranced by Russian girls posing provocatively for pictures, although I don’t know who for. A ride along the coast here is somewhat like driving on Highway 1, although there are no waves and the water is deep blue except next to the rocks, where it’s turquoise. A five-hour drive takes us through a charming little village called Fenike and past literally thousands of greenhouses, where the locals grow veggies, particularly tomatoes. They eat tomatoes with every meal.
Final destination is Kas (pronounced Karsh), a seaside resort community that is bursting at the seams during the summer with foreign tourists. Looking across the water, maybe a few hundred yards, is the Greek island of Meis. We just wandered, without a map, down a cobble-stoned street towards the water; the village is so small that you can’t get lost. It’s the beginning of high season, and the hundreds of shops and restaurants await unwary tourists looking for non-existent bargains. Everything from leather to lamps to Turkish towels to colorful porcelain can be had. About a dozen little kids are riding bikes, trikes and scooters at the town square and more are playing at a nearby child care center. The weather yesterday was absolutely perfect.
Uh oh — we wake up to a downpour this morning. I mean, it is pouring. Nonetheless, we board our bus and head for Kekova, another little coastal town where we climb aboard a boat for a day-long cruise. The weather miraculously clears; we relax; some people swim; some nap and we enjoy a wonderful meal. But the weather doesn’t hold; as we dock for a hike to Simena castle, a violent squall soaks everything. It doesn’t last long and the sun reappears. It was a beautiful, quiet, restful day. I never thought I’d spend time on a boat on the Mediterranean; what a memorable experience.
Because Konya is where the Sufi order was born, we wander across the street from the hotel to visit founder Rumi’s mausoleum/mosque/monastery. We can barely get through the portal, however, due to the arrival of Taner Vildiz, Turkey’s energy minister, who was visiting the museum. It was at least as if Obama had put in an appearance with security and media scrambling. Anyway, once that was out of the way, we went into the mausoleum, built around 13th century, and it really was breathtaking, with gorgeous Arabic designs over the dual tomb of Rumi and his father, tombs of a bunch of other sultans, ancient manuscripts (Rumi wrote 26,500 poems in six volumes) with lots of gold leaf and many rooms for his dervish deputies. They had to do a lot — like sit on a pillow for three solid days — to achieve whirling status. Just as interesting were the hundreds of people, mostly women, who were visiting. Besides putting plastic over their shoes, they all drank holy water from a fountain and many washed their hands at one of the golden faucets. The wonderful trio at the far right were relaxing.
The five-hour drive to the coastal city of Antalya was like driving to Tahoe; lots of forests and tons of snow! It poured rain for almost the entire trip and was quite cold. We stopped at the Aspendos archeological site (below left), home of a well-preserved amphitheater that put the Roman coliseum to shame. It held 20,000 spectators and today, two gladiators wandered around, looking for photo ops.
Then on to an ancient Roman acqueduct (left), also very beautiful. The landscape here is very different from Cappadocia, because it’s modern and developed in order to accommodate literally millions of tourists who visit every year. Banks and American corporate logos everywhere. Crop cultivation is very orderly, compared to the relatively pathetic “orchards” and “vineyards” in Cappadocia. The sun shines here 300 days a year, today being an exception. It’s similar to California, with orange and pomegranate orchards, geraniums, roses, poppies, oleanders, olive and eucalyptus trees, and grapes, corn and beans growing everywhere. We’re on the Mediterranean, but have caught only a glimpse of water.
I believe I left off with the balloon ride, but that was just the beginning. That day included a visit to a carpet factory, where we all felt the young women weavers, hired apparently because they are destitute, were working considerably harder than necessary. The carpets, however, were gorgeous. We got a really long rug lesson — basically their value is determined by the number of knots per inch, the intricacy of the design and the number of hours spent to create a rug. The weavers sat cross-legged on low cushions, backs bent, and surely on their way to carpal tunnel syndrome. No one buys. We also visited a pottery factory, run by a much more appealing person, a member of the sixth generation of his family who have run the operation since it started in the early 1800s. They had works by both “masters” and “students,” some of red clay, some from white clay, all exquisitely painted and quite beautiful. I sprung for a Christmas tree ornament. Pat and Kevin tried their hand at throwing pots; both had best hold on to their day jobs.
We’ve also gone on three “hikes,” really just long walks, but they’ve been a nice distraction. Baris warmed us up with calisthenics at the Love Valley, and we also hit the Red Valley and the Ilhara Valley. The Love and Red valleys were very similar to one another and to the American southwest, with fairy chimneys throughout as well as rooms carved into the cliffs. Cave churches featuring ancient frescoes abound. The Ilhara Valley was a little like a nice stroll along the Merced River in Yosemite, more wooded than the others but still lots of cave rooms. In addition, we saw a version of fairy chimneys that look like Ku Klux Klan sheets — high, pointy cones that are just a different geological formation.
We passed on a Turkish bath, although most in the group did partake. I can fulfill my promise of no pix of anyone because I wasn’t there. We did enjoy a Turkish dinner that featured whirling dervishes and other folk dancers and ended up basically like what I imagine passes as a club.
All of this, by the way, was in Cappadocia, where we stayed for three nights. Today we set out for Konya, a deeply religious city and the home of Sufiism (think whirling dervishes). Alcohol is banned here, but Konya has the highest consumption of raki of any city in Turkey. We’re at the very turquoise Hotel Rumi, named after Melvana Celaleddin Rumi, founder of the Sufi order.
We stopped on the way at Sultan Han, the biggest kervansary (caravansary to us) in the Anatolian Selcuk Empire. Basically stops on the Silk Road, kervansaries were built about 40 km apart, because that’s how far a camel can walk in one day. This one is the best-preserved, has open air and enclosed parts and a mosque in the middle. It offered protection for travelers as well as anything they needed — a barber, a vet, a doctor, etc.
I keep forgetting to say we’re awakened at 4:30 every morning by an imam singing the call to prayer. Enough, already. Breakfast is usually fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, yogurt, feta, maybe some eggs, fresh bread, lots of honey and dried apricots. The Turks eat lots of veggies, lamb, eggplant, bulgar, beans. The food’s been delish.
We took a 90-minute ride, with 11 others, in a balloon piloted by Graham, a British ex-pat who’s been flying balloons for 26 years. He spends seven months here, three and a half months in Burma and the rest of the time makes his home in Fort Collins, Colo. The ride floated over the “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia, as well as valleys where crops are grown, and was nothing short of the trip of a lifetime.