Merhaba den turkiye

Trip Start Apr 30, 2008
Trip End Apr 17, 2009

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Monday, September 22, 2008

We arrived in Istanbul on an overnight flight from Joburg via Athens. Ray prefers to nap after an all nighter while Candy likes to plan our time right away.  This seems like a win-win situation for Ray.

Candy's quick research was particularly helpful this time because we found out that we needed to leave Istanbul earlier than we would have planned due to the holidays following the end of Ramadan. Apparantly, lots of people leave Istanbul to visit their families at this time, so all the buses would have been full for an extended time if we stayed more than a few days.

Therefore, we squeezed everything we wanted to see and do in Istanbul into a shorter timeframe than anticipated.  We first visited Aghia Sophia. This church was the biggest building in the world for over 1,000 years. The architects didn't know if the relatively unsupported dome would work when they built it (it sort of did--after the first one collapsed in an earthquake, they removed a few windows and it worked pretty well the last 1,400 years!) The church amazingly took only 6 years to build!

We usually spend a lot of time walking around the cities we visit. In Instanbul we walked across the Golden Horn (an estuary/harbour flowing into the Bosphorous). Along the bridge, hundreds of fisherman lined the sides. They placed their catch (pretty small fish) in 5 gallon buckets that were originally used for yogurt (that tastes just like the leban made by Candy's family)! We took one of the many ferries used by commuters to cross the Bosphorous--the narrow channel connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara (and eventually the Mediterranean Sea). If we weren't so tired that first day, we could have started the day in Africa, landed in Europe, and sailed to Asia all in 24 hours!

Our favorite part of Istanbul was the nightly festival around the Blue Mosque. Observant Muslims fast during daylight (no water either) during Ramadan. At night during Ramadan, the festival around the Blue Mosque was like a small state fair. We tried freshly spun taffy on a stick, turkish tea served in tulip shaped glasses, turkish coffee, apple tea (like the powdered hot cider we have in the US, but surprisingly loved by westerners in Turkey), roasted chestnuts, and many other amazing things. Candy loved the Turkish ice cream (like frozen marshmallow fluff--very chewy). Candy tried Boza (fermented millet but with no alcohol). Ray regrettably didn't get to have the video camera on for Candy's first (and last) sip. The vendors say it's called Turkish viagra, which may explain the plummeting birth rate in Turkey. Ray loved the Nargile (the Turkish name for the waterpipe known as a hookah in Arab countries). The tobacco was flavored with apple and looked like a homemade cranberry relish you might see at Thanksgiving. Ray wanted to send a Nargile home, but we're having trouble finding people who are willing to receive our packages after the coca tea from Peru.

On our last day in Istanbul, we visited Topkapi Palace. However, it was so crowded, we really didn't enjoy it that much. We then took a night bus to a region called Cappadocia--the land of beautiful horses. The Istanbul bus station is the most sprawling and chaotic we've seen. Then getting out of a metro area of 18 million across 1 of 2 bridges across the Bosphorous took the better part of 3 hours.

A night bus during Ramadan is an interesting experience. The bus attendant constantly circles with beverages so that people can rehydrate. The bus also stopped several times for meals (including at 4 and 5:30 AM for carbo loading). Equally disturbing to our sleep was the giant illuminated head that appeared on the horizon as we approached the capital city of Ankara. We later learned that this was the Ataturk mausoleum. Statues and photos of the founder of modern Turkey are as prevalent as coffee houses in Seattle. (Once we even had a photo of Ataturk looking over our bed in our hotel room.)

Cappadocia, even though we never saw a horse, was amazing. The soft volcanic soil has eroded into mushroom-cap shaped pillars and ridges. It looks out of this world (or at least smurf-like). People have carved cave homes out of the 'rock'. We stayed in a small cave (with wi-fi access) during our time in the small town of Goreme. We went on day hikes with other couples from Canada and Australia. Along the valleys we found semi-wild orchards of apple, quince, pears, pomegranates and grapes to snack on. We also took an organized tour to visit underground cities (8 stories below ground) and a river valley with churches carved into the sides of cliffs. In the evening we leared to play backgammon. All over Turkey you see men drinking tea and banging away at backgammon. Now when we inquire about hotels, we not only ask if the price includes a turkish breakfast (tomatoes, cucumber, olives, feta, bread, jam, and tea); we also ask if they have a backgammon set we can use!  
In Goreme, we also learned quite a lot about local products from our visit to carpet and precious stone stores. Watching the entire process of making a carpet (beginning with silk worm coccoons) was very interesting for both of us. We nearly bought a carpet and will definitely do so once we return to the states. At the onyx musuem we learned that the semi-precious stone turquoise means "Turkish rock." In addition to learning some trivia, Ray's knowledge of trivia won us an onyx "egg" that we watched being carved with a stone-lathe.

We were in Goreme as Ramadan ended. We could clearly see the mood change among the people. We could also find better food as we could judge by observing where the locals were eating. The days following Ramadan are a major holiday. We took a night bus to the Mediterranean Sea town of Olympos. This relatively new destination is known for its tree house accomodations. Due to the holiday, it was hard to find a place in a tree or on the beach. With a bit of luck and lugging of our packs, we were able to find a nice tree in which to spend our anniversary. (Ray gave Candy the priceless gift of a lifetime of getting to choose which color she wished to be when we play backgammon. Candy has not completed Ray's annual performance review--we aren't just behind on blogging. Once it is completed, Ray hopes for an equally light anniversary gift to haul around for the next six months of our travel.) 

On our way around the coast, we discovered one benefit of our clockwise journey around Turkey--we were on the inside lane for the winding, mountainous, coastal roads.  On each jog inland we observed hundreds of greenhouses housing tomatoes and cucumbers. To see valleys with a geographic area the size of St. Paul all filled with hothouses was unbelievable. 

After jumping through several coastal towns we settled in Fethiye for what turned out to be a ten day break from our travels. Fethiye is a harbour town filled with wooden yachts called gulets and shipyards that build them (there are lots of modern yachts and sailboats as well.). After the post Ramadan holiday and in the low season, we often found ourselves as the only guests in the hotels. One benefit of this was that we often shared dinner with the family running our hotel. We learned how to make lots of good vegetarian dishes. The learning was fun as we didn't speak a common language. Ray cooked Fajitas for them--but with yogurt instead of the unavailable sour cream.

During the day we visited outdoor markets and a really nice beach with a lagoon a few miles away. Nearby that particular beach is a British holiday enclave. We had heard about places like this before where the food, the beer, the sports on tv, and the currency used are British. Other travellers from outside the UK seem to loath these places. We probably wouldn't want to stay there, but it was interesting to see. Demand for sunscreen by Brits was suffiiciently high that when Candy asked the price, she initially thought they were telling her the SPF was 15 (pounds) or 30 (dollars).

On another day we took a local bus to the Saklikent gorge. The river has carved a very narrow gorge. When we visited, the water level was sufficiently low that we were able to walk upstream after crossing a brisk waist-high stream emerging from under one side of the gorge. The sheer walls along the gorge were amazing. The stream bed itself was incredibly beautiful, as well. Imagine a lovely, boulder filled trout stream where all the stones are marble polished over the years by rushing water. While the marble made the stream quite slippery, the color of the water over the whitish stones was striking.

Local transportation in Turkey is generally quite good. As an initial matter, the transport people deserve kudos for truth-in-labelling. You see, the mini-taxis are referred to as Dolmuses. As some of readers know, dolmuses or dolmates are names for vegetables or grape leaves stuffed with rice. On our ride back from the gorge, we ended up on a dolmus (stuffed with people) that traveled at about 20kmh through small villages all the way back to Fethiye. We got to see incredible harvest scenes such as farmers with piles of eggplants the size of what a gravel truck would drop.

The adventure highlight of our time in Fethiye was a very long hike we took across the mountains. About 7 miles from the city is a Greek village that has been empty since Greece and Turkey exchanged each others populations in 1923. The stone houses and the cathedral in this ghost town were amazing to wander through. We met a couple from New Zealand on our way to the village. We teamed up with them to find the sometime elusive trail through the mountains. All four of us found ourselves thinking of what it must have been like for all of these people to leave their homes. As people whose ancenstors all made a decision to leave their homes (likely to never see them again) to immigrate to places like America or New Zealand, Ray wondered if it was easier or harder when everyone had to leave at once. After visiting the Greek village we hiked another 7 miles to the British enclave we mentioned above to catch yet another Dolmus back. On that part of the hike we had wonderful views of the Mediteranean. The color of the sea and the sky were exactly the same and it was impossible to distinguish the horizon. Ray understood for the first time how pilots flying without instruments can mistakingly crash into water.

When we finally repacked our bags, we headed inland to Pammukale. Many of the tourist brochures for Turkey highlight these cascading limestone pools filled with natural hot springs. Above the pools are the ruins of the ancient city of Hieropolis.

Fortunately, we visited Hieropolis prior to going to see the more massive (and more restored) ruins of Ephesus. Our base for exploring Ephesus (and the nearby ruins of the Temple of Artemis and other sites) was the city of Selcuk. Selcuk has a tourist infrastructure without being too touristy. We really enjoyed strolling through the huge Saturday market. We also found a shop with with amazing toasted cheese sandwiches (the cheese "squeaks" against your teeth like our cheese curds)!

We ended our time in Turkey by taking a bus to Turkey's second largest city, Izmir (formerly Smyrna), and onto Turkey's westernmost point, Cesme. In Cesme our primary mission was getting across 9 miles of water to the Greek island of Chios. Due to an unanticipated (from our point) yet frequent strike by Greek customs workers, we needed to stay an extra day. Given all the amazing new foods we came to enjoy in Turkey (from freshly squeezed pomegranate juice to fresh sesame seed pretzels to baked potato bars with interesting toppings), we didn't mind one last chance to enjoy Turkish pizza (this time Ray went wild and tried one topped with Tahini and sugar).

Towards the end of our time in Turkey we started to get used to early morning wake-ups with the first call to prayer from one (or more) of the nearby mosques. When the city or neighborhood has multiple mosques, it's not uncommon for them to choose different times for each of the five announcements over the loudspeakers. In larger places, the speaker's chant can be lovely to listen to. In smaller places, the calls are sometimes recordings (with the tones and beeps like an intercom system in one of our grocery stores). Our favorite was the call that Candy heard that sounded just like a gopher hockey cheer (sadly, Ray slept through that one).

We really enjoyed our time in Turkey. It's certainly not an undiscovered place; but there are many valid reasons why. Tune in soon to hear about our brief trip to Greece.

Candy and Ray
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