Neutered and Kneecapped in Turkey!

Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
Trip End Aug 31, 2009

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Flag of Turkey  , Izmir,
Friday, October 10, 2008

I've been neutered!!!  I've been kneecapped!!!!  My volcano of erupting literary lava has been unceremoniously corked!!!...I had planned to start this blog with a charming little yarn about Michael, French toast, motion sickness and a hungry dog, but Tracy, the "Queen of Literary Censorship", vetoed it!  Apparently, while the children and I may find it funny, others would just find it "distasteful".   All I can say is that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter", and I vow to fight on to get my chronicles told.

Okay, now that I have that rant out of the way, we can move on to the country at hand...Turkey, a virtual treasure trove of sights, sounds, smells and tastes (and we've only been here 7 days)! 

We arrived in Bodrum in the southwest corner of Turkey after a 50 minute ferry ride from the Greek island of Kos.  Our first Turkish encounter was an unpleasant one at the visa counter..."Ah, Canadians, $70 please...each...expensive for Canadians, no?"   No kidding!  In looking at the list, visas for Canadians cost more than twice as much as any other country...and New Zealanders get in free!  After selling one of our kids to pay for the visas, the 4 of us ambled over to immigration..."Canadians...very expensive, no?"  "So I have heard", was my less than enthusiastic response, as I watched the cruise boat herds  get channeled through immigration, free of charge, with their "day tripper" visa exception.

To be fair, the immigration guys were very pleasant, and they were just enforcing their government's rules.   We knew beforehand about the expensive visas.  Apparently, the Canadian government voted a few years ago (in one of their more timely moves) to recognize the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as genocide by the then Ottoman Empire.  Turkey strongly disputes this claim, and coincidentally(?) the price of visas increased dramatically.  It was interesting that within 5 minutes of arriving here, we saw a Turkish government poster decrying the various groups and governments "who are propagating the lies of a Turkish slaughter of Armenians".  Obviously it's a very touchy subject.  Given that we still have another two weeks in Turkey, and given the country's less than glorious history on free speech, (and especially given that I have seen the disturbing Turkish prison movie Midnight Express), I'll stay silent on my opinion on the Armenian issue

And for those of you "darksiders" who wonder why we just didn't stretch the truth and say that we were "day tripping" to avoid the high visa fees, that would have just been wrong!...never mind the fact that we had to forfeit our passports as we boarded the ferry in Greece, before we could even attempt such a nefarious activity.

Okay, enough about politics, here are our first impressions of Turkey:

    Turkish hospitality is exceptional...lots of offers for tea (including tasty apple tea for the children).  I fear however, that Sarah grows weary of having her cheeks pinched;

    The hostels are pleasant and clean, with delicious full breakfasts included;

    Our first stop, Bodrum, has a wonderful Museum of Underwater Archeology.  The artifacts were scattered throughout the 15th century Castle of St. Peter, which itself overlooks the sparkling blue Aegean Sea.  It is very well done, and was awarded Europe's Top Museum award in 1997.  I thought Turkey was located in Asia??...the learning just keeps on coming.

    I really like the Turkish flag despite the legend that it represents  a reflection of the crescent moon and a star in a pool of blood of Turkish warriors;

    Negotiating has not been too painful.  The vendors we have talked to, including the carpet salesmen (whose name was "Ali Baba" kidding!!) use a relatively soft sales approach.  Even the guy selling fake watches had a sign over his store proclaiming "Genuine Fake Watches"...who says there's no honesty in advertising!;

    The baklava here is delicious, dare I say even better than what we had in Greece...we were told that baklava was actually invented in Turkey, not Greece...I'll stick with that version lest I appear on a government poster as an evil propagator of lies;

    Cola Turka isn't nearly as tasty as the Inca Cola we had in Peru;

    The Turkish language is another difficult one to learn; never mind the added pressure of having to avoid the word "um" to fill a gap in a sentence.  Our phrasebook warns against this habit, as "um" in Turkish sounds the same as a vulgar word for vagina...once again the truth is funnier than anything I could make up.
Our travel in Turkey provides a good example of the flexibility provided by "backpacker" travel.  The tentative plan was to arrive via ferry in Bodrum, immediately take a bus to Selcuk for one night, and then work our way across the southern coast of Turkey (avoiding the large city of Istanbul).  As I write this, we are on a bus headed north to Istanbul, with a stop in Canakkale.  And this is after a one night stay in Bodrum, and a full five nights in Selcuk.  So much for advance planning, but with nothing booked, anything is possible...and as long as we make it to the Egyptian city of Hurghada by November 14 for our next flight, all is well!

The main reason for the stop in Selcuk was to visit the ruins at Ephesus, the best preserved classical city in the Eastern Mediterranean.  This is a standard cruise ship stop so it was crowded with mature folk, but it was still an amazing site.  Given the extent of the ruins it is very easy to imagine the chariots rolling along the streets 2,000 years ago.  Ephesus also makes the bible somehow seem more "real", and the light bulb came on with respect to the bible's references to "Paul's letter to the Ephesians". 

I was pleased to see that our daughters were inspired by Ephesus when I heard them animatedly talking about the marble statues surrounding them...that is, until I listened a little more closely and discovered  they were really talking about the existence of mermaids in their fantasy "marble world".   At least the worlds that Tracy, Michael and I were imagining had been real!

Our Selcuk visit stretched from 1 day to 5 days for a variety of reasons:

    Abdullah and his hostel, the Boomerang Guest House.  It was a very comfortable place to stay and included great breakfast choices and wireless internet access that had a strong signal in our room (once Abdullah's dad and I got the modem's power cord fixed up, that is)...even strong enough to make those $0.01 a minute Yahoo Voice phone calls to Canada;

    The Basilica of Saint John:  St. John is believed to have written his gospel in Selcuk, and the huge Basilica of Saint John was erected over his tomb;

    Visiting the house that the Virgin Mary is said to have lived in during her last years of life.  As I mentioned, the bible comes alive when you actually see these places.  To read about the facts that support the belief that Mary came to Ephesus around 40 AD with St. John and lived in this stone house is quite thought provoking.  Almost as thought-provoking as my bible study breakfasts back home (except there was no yummy bacon there).

    We took a day trip to see the weird, but wonderful, blinding white landscape of Pamukkale.  This is a hill/cliff of bright white shelves, ledges, pools and stalactites that are all made from calcium carbonate.  Warm mineral spring water falls over the cliff edge, and as the water cools it deposits its white calcium.  The kids particularly liked this place as it was "just like a glacier except not cold or slippery"...they spent hours playing in the natural pools (while I went blind without sunglasses).  Above Pamukkale were the ruins of Hierapolis, a city built by the Romans to take advantage of the natural warm water spa;

Staying in Selcuk for five days also allowed us to get a better appreciation of how business is conducted in Turkey.  When you are in one location for a number of days you start to notice the more subtle, but effective, ways that your tourist dollars can be extracted:

    We were "sold" from one bus company to another.  For our aforementioned trip to Pamukkale we (of course) did some comparison shopping.  After some negotiating we agreed to go with Company A.   The price was the same as Company B and they were not leaving Pamukkale until 5:00pm which would give us extra time at the site.  So much for our negotiations.  Apparently, neither company sold enough tickets to fill 50% of their respective buses so we were literally sold from Company A to Company B.  Not a big we leave the site at 4:30 and lose 30 minutes of visiting time.  But when the bus driver dropped us off and said "We leave at 4:00!  Don't be late!", that kind of ticked us off;

    As part of our hostel stay, we received free transportation to the ruins of Ephesus.  The man who drove us there was none other than Ali Baba, the owner of the carpet shop next door to the hostel.  I guess it's easy for the hostel to offer up free rides when you have carpet salesmen eager to do the driving so they can start a relationship with a prospective customer.  He was a very nice man, and of course we felt obligated to go into his shop upon our return from Ephesus; 

    Laura, at one restaurant, decided to order the Turkish pizza, which was clearly marked on the menu.  So, illustrating the Turkish version of outsourcing, we watched as the pizza was delivered to our restaurant from a Turkish pizza shop down the road;

    And, my personal the middle of our 7 hour bus ride from Selcuk to the Gallipoli Peninsula, the Turkish speaking bus "attendant" handed me his cell phone.  After I stared at it dumbly for a few seconds he motioned for me to talk into it ("Oh, that's how cell phones work").  Abdullah (the owner of the hostel we had just left) had found out from his friend at the bus station what bus we had taken.  Then he called his friend Hussein, who runs a hostel in Gallipoli.  Hussein had somehow tracked down the cell phone number of the attendant on our bus (another friend perhaps?), so he could offer us a four bed room and free breakfast if we stayed with him.  He also arranged to meet us when our bus arrived.  Mindboggling, but it worked, and we ended up staying at his place;

We decided that none of the above activities offended us...people are just trying to make a living.  It all seemed to make sense and in the end we were very happy with what we received.

To end this blog we have a few noteworthy items:

    When we were touring the Museum of Underwater Archeology in the castle, a wedding was also taking place.  Had I not been wearing my ACDC Back in Black t-shirt we might have tried to sneak in.   What was weird about the wedding (besides seeing Bruno, the Turkish GQ Man there) was that all the women, without exception, arrived wearing flip flops;

    We saw hundreds of stray dogs in Peru and hundreds of stray cats in Selcuk, there seem to be hundreds of kittens, but very few adult cats.  Hmmm;

    There is an ongoing raging debate within our family about whether the Turkish delight store is better than the baklava store.  Educational moment:  the chewy, fruit-flavoured, icing sugar coated candy known as Turkish delight was invented in 1777 (as an alternative to hard candy) and was originally named the "comfortable morsel".  As part of our "homeschooling history class" we feel that we must visit the original Turkish delight store in Istanbul which is still operated by the descendants of this most esteemed inventor;

    Speaking of homeschooling, we were told by one man that the castle in Selcuk was Byzantine, Ottoman and Christian...can you spot the lesson in that sentence?

    And still speaking of homeschooling, I think we need to beef up the "You and Your Body" courses.  At dinner, Michael announced, immediately after ordering the hefty Gladiator Mixed Grill Platter, that he wasn't sure if he was hungry.  Sensing my annoyance, he quickly explained that sometimes he "doesn't know if he is hungry or full...after all they are both stomach feelings"...Arghh!;

    One of the kids' favourite ruins was the Temple of Artemis, even though only one pillar of it remains...they enjoyed it because there were so many scattered blocks around the site that it was like a giant playground.  90 minutes well spent.

    After singing the praises of Apple Tea, we laughed at ourselves when we read in our guide book that "the wholly chemical tea is just for tourists....locals wouldn't be seen dead drinking the stuff";

    There seems to be an inordinate amount of the mysterious, but tasty "minced meat" dishes...oh,oh, surely not the missing cats?!?.

As you can probably tell, we are thoroughly enjoying Turkey.  As I finish writing this, Michael is telling us the story of Troy, which is our next stop.  Then some WW1 history lessons are in order as we tour the Gallipoli Peninsula.  After that, we head to Istanbul where our two goals are 1. To discover whether we are in Europe or in Asia; and 2. To avoid eating whatever domestic animal seems to missing there.

Bon Appetit! (or should I say, "Iyi afiyet!")

P.S... if you have any thoughts on censorship feel free to send us an e-mail with the subject, "Tracy, Let Kevin's Creative Juices Flow Freely!!!"
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