Turkish Delights

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Hotel Benli

Flag of Turkey  ,
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Entering Turkey, my eyes were fully open for new sights, my ears to new sounds, my nose to new smells, my mouth to new tastes, and my other sense to quickly learn the ins-and-outs.

The ins-and-outs came first as I jumped onto a dolmus (the new word for the minivan, leaving the old word marshrutka behind) heading into the blizzard along the Black Sea Coast, waves whipping. One of the guys on the dolmus was telling me to pay twenty dollars, which seemed very high. I knew prices in Turkey would be higher, but not that high for a three-hour trip, so I didn't pay until paying the driver directly. It was fifteen dollars.

Elsewhere, later, the bus stations would be similar. If you are organizing your own transportation by bus or dolmus, the key is only buying a ticket from the counter and not having anyone in the bus station who says "where are you going" follow you to the counter: they're commission hawks. Other people are friendly and helpful, so trust your good intuition when you ask: is this man friend or foe? You have one second to decide.

Trabzon is a mid-sized but important port bustling with prosperity, so I went to a restaurant and ordered some local Black Sea fish stew, with potatoes and vegetables. Nearby, I sampled some Turkish Delights, called lokum, which I first remember from reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a child. The subtle flavor of rosewater makes the treat what it is. The churmeh was also a good treat: a necklace of walnuts dipped into thick spongy syrup, carefully hung and aged. Restaurants, bakeries, and shops everywhere were selling breads of all kinds, baklava, pide, lahmacun, doner kebab, and more.

After dinner or in the internet cafe or on buses, you are served amber colored tea in delicately curving small glasses placed on saucers. Three small lumps of sugar are next to the glass, with a small spoon to stir. In the streets, men with trays carry tea all over town to people in their shops, the top covered to keep them warm during the journey.

Many of these dishes were found in Central Asia, but in Turkey, they seem to reach the apex of perfection. No matter how you look at it, the Turkish Central Asian states look west towards Turkey for their food and entertainment, it seems (except maybe Xinjiang which is isolated in China but is still full of Turkish Uighurs), all of whom made their way at one time or another from the northern steppes in present day Siberia.

The smell of baking breads fills the air, but what is also new is the Turkish style of giving you a dab of lemon oil to freshen your hands and face as a cologne, when you leave a restaurant or are on a bus.

Next to my hotel room was the Iskender Pasha Mosque, also filling the air, but with the muezzin's voice for the call for prayers. On the streets was another language--Turkish--with a new alphabet and new pronunciations. The computer keyboards are even different, so I had to learn about ten changes, with keys re-arranged slightly and a few new ones:

(look at the dot or no dot).

Distinctive Turkish music, with underpinnings of Arabia, Central Asia, and the Middle East, played in restaurants, on televisions, in internet cafes, and on buses.

Some of the sights would have to wait. I tried to visit Sumela Monastery, a Byzantine cliff hanger high in the mountains, but--alas--three feet of snow covered the sheer stairs, so it was closed. But, still, in town was a gem, the Aya Sofya, a thirteenth-century church, converted for a while into a mosque and now a museum. The church overlooked the white-capped Black Sea as bone-chilling half snow-half rain fell sideways in the wind. Inside, however, was the gem: frescoes covering the walls with ancient art in Byzantine Biblical style: The Ascention, Gospels with Ceraphim and Cherubim, the Feeding of 5,000, the Marriage of Cana, Christ Teaching in Temple, Healing a Blind Man at Pool of Siloam, The Virgin Mary and Christ. Many of these scenes were still in excellent condition. In the belltower were more frescoes, currently under study.

Walking around town with the weather and bustling locals, I passed by the old city walls, old mosques, a hammam (Turkish bath), antique bazaar buildings. Still, most buildings in Trabzon were newer and concrete, full of brand name stores with glitzy Euro ads, apartment buildings overlooking the port ships, a couple Natasha brothels, and tea stalls. People were dressed warmly for the weather, some with Muslim veils or prayer beads, others with the latest fashions.

Everywhere along the streets was the Turkish flag, letting you know that you were in the land of the red flag with the crescent moon and star, symbols of the Ottoman Empire when they conqered Constantinople and named it Istanbul, forever reshaping the lands around the the Seven Seas.

Welcome to Turkey!
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