Turkey: The land of mysteries and contrasts

Trip Start Mar 17, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

We missed you guys. Sorry it has taken us this long to update our blog. We have been in Turkey for over two months now and we are still on the go. There is just to much to see, too much to discover. The more we travel, the more mysterious it gets. In my own country, I feel like an explorer.
Turkey is the land where the West and the Middle East and the Mediterranean cultures meet. It is a land of contrasts: Although it is predominantly Muslim, it hosts some of the oldest churches in the world as well as home of Mary and Saint Nicholas. It has more Roman ruins than Greece. This is the land of the crusades, the land of the silk roads and empires. The land of the oldest settlements and countless wars. On the beaches you can spot topless sunbathers right next to women in burkas. I lived here for 26 years of my life and I now realize that I never even scratched the surface of understanding my home country.
If you ever get bored all you have to do is to get on the bus and go to the next city. It feels like you have traveled between continents, or better yet, traveled in time.
It's not only the places, it's the people too. Take Remzi Amca, for example. We met him briefly as we were looking at the beautiful handmade knives at his shop window. We asked him if there was a good restaurant in the neighborhood. He sent us to the kebab restaurant across the street. The food was heavenly and after an hour we had half of the menu in our stomachs. When we asked for the bill, we were told that it was taken care of.
"There must be a mistake," I said, "we don't know a single person in Trabzon."
"Well, you must know him" the waiter said, pointing at Remzi Amca's knife store across the street.
The feast was not quite over yet. When we went to his shop to say thank you, Remzi Amca served us tea and Turkish coffee. As we were sipping on our drinks, he took out his kemence and saz (traditional Turkish instruments) and gave us a wonderful concert. Hearing the music coming from the store, his friends stopped by and sang us songs. When it was time to go, Remzi Amca closed shop to give us a ride to the bus station.
Or, take Ahmet Amca. A 65-year-old Turkish tourer with a rusty bike whom we met in Uzungol, Northern Turkey. As panniers, he had strapped a duffel bag on his rear rack. His mat was a piece of foam wrapped around the frame, his sleeping bag was a thin cotton sheet. He seemed confused when we asked him if he had a stove. "A stove?" he said, "Why would I need a stove when there is wood and rocks?". We thought about our expensive, top-of-the line panniers, tent, sleeping bags, stove and other gadgets and could not help laughing. Probably what we had spent on our gear was more than what he made in a year, but we could not stop Ahmet Amca from paying for our breakfast.
We also had a small family gathering in Turkey. Bryan's parents came to Istanbul and they met my dad for the first time. We sealed the family ties with some good ole' raki (Turkish uzo)! After spending a week in Istanbul, they took a tour to Cappadocia, Pamukkale and Ephesus, three of the most significant places in Turkey. Before they went back to The States, we spent a couple of days at our summer house by the Aegean Sea, swimming and fishing. Good times...
Bryan and I packed our backpacks and went to the heavenly Kackar Mountains in Northern Turkey. I had never been but the place is Switzerland minus the crowds, plus pure highland culture. We camped by the Kackar Peak (3950 meters) and ours was the only tent for the next four days. We had not packed a stove (Ahmet Amca style) and we ate cheese and salami sandwiches for breakfast lunch and dinner for four days in a row! When we got to a highland village, there was a festival. Bryan learned the local dance (horon) so well that at the end of the night, he was the hero of the village. Everyone wanted to hug "The American" and we could have stayed in the village for the rest of our lives if we had accepted everyone's offer to spend a night at their home.
I then took a trip to Hasankeyf, one of the oldest settlements in the world which is about to drown under water if the dam project is not stopped. It is the most magical place I have ever seen in my life. Time stopped in Hasankeyf several centuries ago. The canyon walls have made it a naturally protected base for colonies throughout the history and people have carved their homes and shops inside the canyon. It is just mind blowing that our desperate, growing need for electricity and our addiction to consumption is so big that we are ready and willing to sacrifice an ancient city for it. For more info, or to support the cause, check out http://www.hasankeyfgirisimi.com/en/index.htm
In Istanbul, we also met Jason, a Brit who has been circumnavigating the world with muscle power for 13 years. On land, he rides his bike and he crosses the oceans with a paddleboat! It was incredible to have the opportunity to meet such a unique person. He brought his other cycling friends over and we had a dinner that looked like a UN gathering - Turks, Brits, Indians, Americans, Brasilians... All of us cycling around the world. Their cycling speed and the distance that they cover made us look like sixth graders.
From here, we will fly to either Thailand or China, not sure yet.
Lots of love from the land of mysteries,
Gizem and Bryan
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janji on

Oh! my country!
Thank you guys for the overview of all the places you have been to. I really want to go to Hasankeyf and also back to Karadeniz. I have been to Uzungol and could imagine you there. I have been all the way to Artvin and have experienced that amazing hospitality of the Anatolian people.
Have fun in your next destination and keep us in the loop. I have forwarded your blog to my boyfriend to increase his interest in Turkey and to introduce you guys to him. He loved it! :)

meric on

What a Wonderful Bag of Memories!
Great job Gizem and Bryan. I enjoyed reading your blog immensely and I don't know if I am impartial enough, but the Turkey blog seems to be the most interesting one indeed! I wanted to be everywhere you went and maybe one day my little AYlin (who took her first step last night and popped out her 6th tooth the same night) and I will follow your footsteps...I can't wait to meet this horon loving Bryan (who should definitely show us his talents) and hug you again my dear Gizem, in Istanbul. I will be back on the week of the 10th! Meric

jukebox on

Gizem & Bryan,

I (Elif) was looking forward to reading what you'd say about Turkey.. because it's my country and because I haven't explored it as much as I should have.. and it's great that you meet the real Turkish people who probably won't eat the only loaf of bread they have but let you eat it.. just like the amcas you've met!

we were in Canada in July. We visited the east coast, newfoundland, nova scotia, montreal, toronto, ottowa, etc. It was great to see the whales and icebergs! and we also met very generous people especially in the north who talked to us in every opportunity and helped us if they could. I told Alex that there must be some Turkish blood in those people! ;-) it was impressive :)

enjoy the rest of the trip! and hope to meet you somewhere in the globe! :)

kisses from Elif & Alex

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