Tombs, Tablets and Turkish Delights

Trip Start Sep 07, 2006
Trip End Sep 17, 2006

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Monday, September 11, 2006

As is the norm when travelling with Dad, I was awakened from my morning coma by the sound of banknotes (mine, heh heh) rustling by my ear and fatherly advice to "be careful when I go out walking". I took this to mean that I should use said banknotes to purchase sunscreen from L'Oreal or some other equally expensive brand, before I expose my precious face to the Turkish sun. Just to warn you, today I visited a tomb, an ancient ruin, a museum and the treadmill, so if you're not a necrophiliac/historically inclined/a gym member, you should probably stop. Oh, but I'm sure you want to hear about my breakfast first!!

Now this breakfast, although potentially plaque-forming in the wrong hands, had plenty of delicious healthy options. In other words, very mediterranean. The first thing I noticed was a tray of cheeses seperate from the other cheeses and labeled "high-fat goat's cheese", whether intended to warn or proudly proclaim, i do not know. The second thing I noticed was plenty of bacon and pork despite this being a predominantly Muslim country. The third thing was that the honey was still in its comb, on a wooden rack (see pic). This is so cool because the last time I ate honeycomb was 20 years ago when someone brought some from Australia. (Now IMHO, at an age when you are able to truthfully say that the last time you did something was 20 years ago, its very important that your sunscreen cost at least RM100 and was born in a lab in either Japan or Paris.)

More specific to Turkey were the Simit (see pic), which looks and tastes like a 2-day old Aunty Annie's pretzel (its hard) without the sour cream & onion dust. In fact, I had to dip it in Nutella to get myself sufficiently excited. A gooey thing which I hazarded to be butterscotch turned out to be fruit syrup (pekmez). All in all, 3.75/5.

First stop: MKA's Mausoleum
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (= "Father of Turkey") is a larger-than-life presence, deeply embedded in the Turkish psyche, so much so that he is a cult figure with statues everywhere etc. The mausoleum complex (no, the body is not on display, cheh) consists of a pointlessly long walkway leading to a vast square, all built from marble.

Now, I was quite worried to learn that Turkey had been a really happening place since 3000 B.C. (that's 5000 years ago). Die-lah like that. If the Maori only landed in virgin New Zealand 700 years ago (1300 A.D.), (at a time when Parameswara had probably already established a 5-Star harem in Malacca), and already my precarious grip on NZ history is limited to vulgar possum jokes and my oft-repeated "yeah...did you know all Polynesians are like, the same?", then I was never going to remember anything about Turkey's roots. But its really quite simple. Greeks, Romans, then Muslims. Greeks, Romans, Muslims, thats the only mantra you need to know. Everything else is not important, unless your mother and aunts happen to be Bible freaks who greet the news that you are visiting Turkey with urgent cries of "Oh, you MUST visit Kayseri!! Thats where the HITTITES settled!!". Kayseri?, I thought, isn't that some sort of Indian dessert...?

Climbing towards Ankara Citadel
Feeling guilty about the Nutella, I decided to walk through the street bazaars leading up to the 3000 year old ruins of the Citadel. I am ashamed to say that I was so unsure of myself as to not enter a single shop, until, emboldened by the universally-recognizable baying of homo Americans emanating from the shadows of a kilim (carpet) shop, I entered that shop. The first thing I saw was a huge glass eyeball. "Whats this for?" I asked the proprietor, who, like most Turkish shopowners, spoke not a word of English. The American woman regarded me with a mixture of pity and amusement. "Thats the Evil Eye," she added confidently, "they're EVERYWHERE". Duh, Miss Cornell University (I was wearing my college visor), did you just step off the plane, or what?

By the time I reached the Citadel, the locals had convinced me that I was Japanese. The view from the top was wonderful, including a view of an old castle tower from which the Turkish Flag furled and unfurled in the breeze. Going back down, I got lost in a maze of alleyways where women doing laundry and impish children stared at this oriental apparition, who in turn regarded their colourful eyes, brown skin and exotic features with awe. Continuing my descent, I came across an important-looking building from which tourists seemed to be exiting and entering. Stepping closer, I realized that it was the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations which had "won the European Museum of the Year Award, in part because of its excellent collection of Hittite artefacts". With a sinking feeling, I realized there was no escape. My mother and aunts would have given their livers and kidneys to enter this place.

Museum of Anatolian Civilizations
Everything in here was really, really old. It was so old that the curators were name-dropping the likes of Moses and Midas and Solomon when describing the artefacts. It was so old that the shopping lists were on cuneiform tablets (this is something I have always wanted to see). Now, unlike some family members whose staircase is decorated with antique "charcoal-type" irons (and in a house with 4 teenagers, it's a wonder someone has yet to have an accident), I find it hard to appreciate old stuff. But this was different. Some kid not so different from myself had played with that very clay bull, thousands of years ago! Nefertari, the wife of the Pharoah Ramses II, had written that cuneiform letter to some other faraway tai-tai!! Were they exchanging recipes? Bitching about Slave So-and-So who could never follow instructions? Comparing their hubbies' bedroom skills? I doubt that much has changed in 3000 years!!

After visiting a huge mausoleum, climbing a hill and mentally taxing myself at the museum, it seemed only natural that I should end the evening with a 1-hour treadmill run, the details of which I will spare myself from typing out, save to say that I spent the first 10 minutes of that run listening to the endless drone of the names of all 3000 victims of 9-11 being read out on CNN because I didn't think to change the channel. Oh, if they were to read out the names of all the civilian victims of the Afghanistan air raids, Iraqi and Lebanon bombings, it would take days.

Dinner was actually a formal reception in the hotel, for the conference delegates. As is usually the case in hotels, simple hearty local food normally served in generous portions had been mutated to resemble miniscule hors d'ouvres, so as to not insult the genteel aesthetic. My father and several other similarly more practically-inclined walking stomachs glanced at the thimble-sized objects with disdain and proceeded to lift the lids of the steel containers holding the main dishes. They were immediately and loudly reprimanded by the waiters, because this apparently went against the proper Order of the Universe. Aiya, what to do?

Anyway, following a worrying recent personal trend of mine at buffets, my dinner ended up consisting of 60% desserts. Tonight, this was probably due to the fact that there were 2 types of crème brulee, which I initially thought was badly done and lumpy, but it turned out this is because it wasn't crème brulee but Turkish rice-and-milk pudding. So I had 4 of those, 1 of each type when I thought it was crème brulee, and 1 of each, after I'd realized they were Turkish, thus necessitating a different approach. Not to mention the real crème brulee, of which I had 2, and the baklava (very high standard). And, of course, many, many Turkish Delights. Sweeeeeet!
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