Merhaba den turkiye
Trip Start Apr 30, 2008
30Trip End Apr 17, 2009
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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.
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.)
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.
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.
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