Ramazan Ends

Trip Start Sep 12, 2005
Trip End Dec 12, 2005

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Friday, November 4, 2005

The day we left was the first day of Biram and Ali had his treats out all ready for the children who would be visiting in the afternoon. We said our farewells, exchanged addresses and promised to write.

Our bus was scheduled to depart at 8 am. At the bus stop we met some other travellers who were heading south and on the Syria: Urs who lived near Zurich and had been on our bus tour of Cappadocia and Phyllis and Marty, an retired American couple now living just outside Toronto (near Guelph).

Urs is an auditor who spends seven months working and five months of the year touring the world. He has a brother who is a bookkeeper and also travels. They take turns being at home with their mother who is not well.

Phyllis and Marty had Canadian flags plastered all over their luggage, just like so many Canadians (even though technically they were Americans). They had been in this part of the world a few times and even though they must have been in their 70s were still travelling the world! The carried a lot of dried food to snack on when they travelled and had their own martini-making supplies!

They were grateful re: the Canadian health care system. Marty had had six operations over the past few years and it cost them nothing; in the US, Phyllis said that they would have been left destitute. Their daughter had danced with the National Ballet of Canada.

It was a bit of a marathon trip to Antakya (there were two bus changes); the place that sold us our tickets in Goreme was less than on the up and up - they charged us more than the going rate and failed to indicate that we would have a three hour layover in Adana. (The bus we took from Nevsehir to Adana was also the grubbiest one we've taken.) Urs, Martin and I took the opportunity in Adana to try and walk into town; however, we discovered that there were two otogars on our map and, although we thought we were at the closer one, we were actually at the further one 6 km out! So we ended up walking back to the bus station stopping to have a drink and chat with several rather inebriated men celebrating Biram. (There were lots of wine and beer bottles laying about.) It was a hoot. One of the men was Kurdish and had spent a few years in Switzerland so struck up a conversation with Urs. The other men teased the Kurd mercilessly. Kurds are the largest minority in Turkey and although their teasing was good-natured, very real tensions do exist between the Turks and those of Kurdish ancestry.

Just before we boarded our bus for Antakya, a diminutive man with rather glassy eyes and a grin plastered on his face (obviously celebrating Biram a little much, too) saw Martin and started to rant, "Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Mafia, bam, bam, bam!" Then he went on and on about "Schleven" (some soccer star we think) and "Barcelona", exclaiming, "goal, goal, goal". He kissed Martin's hand and held it to his forehead and also kissed both of Martin's cheeks. He thought Martin was some soccer star from Barcelona. Needless to say, Martin, who hates being the centre of attention, was thoroughly embarrassed. When the bus arrived Martin couldn't wait to get on the bus! As we headed towards it, Martin's No 1 fan waved and gave us the thumbs up sign, smiling widely. It was hilarious!

Following Ramazan is a three-day celebration for Biram. We saw families out and about, all dressed in their best clothes. Many had boxes of candy tucked under their arms and all had smiles on their faces. The relief that Ramazan was finally over and that life would return to normal was palpable. On the last leg of our bus trip we sat across the aisle from a family who was returning home after a day of celebrating the holiday. The man was wearing a suit; the girls, about eight and ten, had hennaed hands (and about the biggest brown eyes I've ever seen). They sat on their parents' laps. (We've seen this quite a bit - this way they only have to pay for seats for the adults and if the bus isn't crowded the kids get free seats.) The mother and father were quite relieved when the people in front of them got off and the girls could move forward. We smiled at each other, laughed at the girls' antics, ate candy and shared in their celebrations. The older girl got sick just before the family disembarked, probably from indulging in too many sweets.

Because Ramazan is over, there's no longer any holding back on what they provide on buses. Along with water, tea/coffee and soft drinks, the bus attendant distributed chocolate cakes as well as special candies for Biram. A telecast of the Biram celebration in Istanbul was shown on the buses' TV; there were singers performing - and the Whirling Dervishes!

About three-quarters of the way through the trip, the bus was letting passengers off when the bus driver pulled forward and a woman getting out fell. There was a bit of a delay while she was helped up on her feet and they were trying to ascertain whether or not she was hurt. We're not sure how it all ended up, but eventually the bus moved on.

Although we had started out early hoping to get to Antakya before dark, our bus didn't pull into the Antakya bus station until after 7 pm. We pulled out our guidebook and set out in search of a hotel. Both of us are a little fussier re: accommodation than we used to be; we looked at rooms at three different hotels before we found an acceptable place to stay. (Sometimes places listed in the budget section are OK, but sometimes we opt for the mid-range ones instead - they're still not very expensive.) Our basic criteria includes a clean room (particularly the bathroom), comfortable bed (no lumps or springs sticking up), nothing too dark or dingy, not smelly (a particular concern for me!) and preferably a room with our own washroom facilities (with a shower that's partitioned off well enough so you don't get the whole room wet when you use it.) Basically, if neither of us would take a shower in the bathroom, we cross the hotel off our list. In this case, after trying two of the budget options, we decided to stay at a hotel in the mid-range category.

It was a rainy day we spent in Antakya. It poured all morning, so we decided to delay going out until the afternoon. I took advantage of having access to free Internet and spent the morning working on my travelogue. (You've heard of golf widows - Martin's a travelogue widower!) While I wrote our stories and downloaded photos, Martin read and futilely tried to find a TV channel other than BBC World. Six hundred and some channels and only one in English!

Until 1931, Antakya or Hatay as it is also called (population 140,000) was largely Arabic speaking and the Arabic culture predominated. Many people here still speak Arabic and the food is somewhat different from other parts of Turkey. You can find hummus here (chick pea dip eaten with flatbread) and the cuisine tends to be fairly spicy. Meals are often accompanied by a plate of whole chili peppers and sprigs of flat-leafed parsley as well as some sort of fresh herb that tasted like horseradish. (I found the brain salad a little off-putting, however.) Martin has been eating large lunches and suppers because he enjoys the food so much. I've been teasing him he's going to get fat (yeah - fat chance!), but, as he pointed out, he's also not snacking as much in the evening as he usually does.

It was still drizzling when we ventured out of our hotel, so we had umbrellas in hand. Our brollies have been put to fairly frequent use on this trip. We didn't even pull them out of our backpacks on our tour of SE Asia/the south Pacific! I noticed quite a few umbrella vendors, so it much rain a fair bit here! (Note to self: Marble is extremely slippery when wet!) Despite the weather, the streets were teeming with people on holiday. Several people stopped wanting to speak English with us and we turned many heads as we walked along. We were obviously a curiosity here.

It is said that a visit to the Antakya Archaeology Museum to see the mosaics alone is worth the trip to Turkey. I was skeptical but the mosaics (dating from the 2nd to 5th centuries AD) were truly amazing! As someone who works with floors on a daily basis, Martin was enthralled because he understood the amount of work that would go into a mosaic floor. Firstly, you have to find all the colours of stone that you would require, then cut the stone into 1 to 3 cm squares (some were even smaller!), then design your mosaic and put it together. Some of these mosaics were as large as 30' x 30' and incredibly intricate!

There were also other interesting artifacts in the museum: coins, jewellry and pottery. I find that the whole field of archeology boggles my mind; perhaps I just don't have the head for such detail - and this is such ancient stuff! Really, these artifacts represent the very beginnings of human civilization as we currently know it. (Antakya's other claim to fame is the world's first cathedral, though we didn't travel the 3 km to see it.)

Following our visit to the museum we walked through the old quarter just as the sun was setting. Many of the shops were closing, but people were still milling around looking at housewares, bedding, clothing, jewellry and shoes. Some stores were festooned with special lights for Biram. Even though it was a holiday, we managed to accomplish everything we set out to do. The post office was open (a surprise!) and we mailed the postcards we had written before we left the country. I found a small bottle of raki for a person I work with who collects airplane bottle-sized hooch. (I previously had been unsuccessful in my quest.) We also purchased tickets for our bus trip to Syria. (We ran into the couple from Canada in the museum and they'd been turned away at the entrance to the otogar and told that they couldn't buy tickets until tomorrow. We pursued the matter further and had no problem. That's another motto of travelling: "Persistance Pays". It does pay to be persistent, as long as you're not so persistent as to be a pain in the butt. That is, unless you've been ripped off badly, of course. Then I think you have every right to raise a ruckus.)

Our last night in Antakya we went for supper at a restaurant where there were lots of families out for the evening. It was hot, crowded and noisy with all the little ones running around. A number of kids were particularly interested in the large aquarium near our table. I noted a distinct difference between how the boys interacted with the fish by pounding on the glass as compared to the girls who just gazed at the pretty fish from afar. An interesting study in gender differences.

Before going for supper we stopped by Phyllis and Marty's hotel to let them know we had been successful in getting bus tickets to Aleppo. They were greatly relieved and promptly headed out to buy theirs.

We've enjoyed our travels in Turkey very much. The people, the food, the sights: it's all been great! Turkey is a large country and you could easily spend three months here. We'd love to come back and explore the eastern part sometime when it's not so cold. It's more off the beaten track and is supposed to be very interesting. We do plan to come back someday.
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