Chapter 5: Mosques and Monasteries

Trip Start May 10, 2006
Trip End Dec 17, 2006

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

I find there is a downside to having been to a lot of places - it takes much more to impress me. Most museums are rather ordinary, cities don't seem unique, landscapes often remind me of other places, a beach is a beach, churches all begin too look the same, etc. The cities around Turkey tend to consist of square/rectangular concrete blocks. Very drab, very unattractive. The mosques seem to be the only thing with any kind of architectural style. When I first arrived in Turkey and went out to lunch in Selçuk, I was struck with the thought that this could be any number of places I've been in my travels - a pedestrian street with various shops, and cafes with outdoor seating. But every now and then I come across places that truly are one of a kind...

I traveled north from the Mediterranean coast to Egirdir, arriving in the afternoon. The road winds down out of the hills so that you get a view of the lake and town. The lake is a beautiful shade of blue-green. The town stretches out on a peninsula into the lake with causeways connecting to small islands (so that it looks like one peninsula). I already had a brochure for the hostel I was planning to stay at, and soon after I got off the bus the owner of the hostel passed by on his bike and asked where I was staying (it's rather easy to spot I'm a foreigner, especially when my backpack is on). He called over to the hostel and had one of the people working there come down and meet me. I got checked into the dorm and wandered out the causeway to Yesilada island for a look 'round and some lunch. There really wasn't much of anything out there. Checked out a bit more of the town then back to the hostel. Tim & Piper arrived. I had met them briefly in Köycegiz. They're biking around Turkey and part of Europe so it took them much more effort to reach Egirdir than it did me. I tried to find somewhere in town to watch World Cup, but there didn't appear to be a single bar and I saw no restaurant showing it either (this town may be more traditionly Muslim than others I've been to...or fewer Western tourists), so I went back to watch it on the hostel's 13" tv with bad reception. After the game I had dinner with Tim and Piper. The bugs were starting to swarm as the sun went down. A tractor came by with a contraption blowing out smoke to kill or make the bugs go away. There seemed to be more bugs after that so we went inside to eat. More World Cup after dinner.
In the morning I went hiking up to the village of Akpinar. My book says to expect "warm hospitality". People stared at me, that was about it. There were great views of the lake and Egirdir below.

Got myself a haircut for about $4 and was quite lazy the rest of the afternoon. I was going to visit the hamam (Turkish massage/bath) but I couldn't even motivate myself to do that. Those lazy days in Olympos have had an affect on me. Later had dinner and sat around the bus station waiting for my overnight bus to Cappadocia.

Of course I didn't sleep much on the overnight bus (I never do), but this was compounded by the bus stopping nearly every hour for a break ranging from 20-60 minutes. By the time I got off the bus, I figured there was about 5 hours of driving and 3 hours of breaks. Geesh. Another bad thing about riding the buses in Turkey, is not many of the Turkish use deodorant. Yes, it smells...bad. I always hope I won't be next to one of the guys that smells really bad. As the bus headed into the Cappadocia region the sun was just beginning to rise behind the peak of Mt Hasan. I could kind of make out the landscape in the dawn light and knew this was like nowhere I'd been before. Cone-like rocks with houses carved into them, pointy rocks with what appears to be another rock resting precariously on top, tall towers with all kinds of windows carved out, impossible to decribe and do it justice. It was especially beautiful at sunrise. Here's the sciencey explanation for the landscape - volcanic eruptions left tufta and that was covered by layers of basalt. The tufta erodes easier than the basalt so that's why there appears to be a rock resting on top of a point. The tufta is also much easier to carve so people built their dwellings inside the rock. It actually stays cool in the summer heat and relatively warm during the winter cold.

Anyway, I was fairly certain we were at Göreme as the bus continued along and I'm thinking "maybe that wasn't it?" but then I saw the 'now leaving Goreme sign' so had to signal the bus attendant to let me out...a few km outside of town. So I trudged along the highway at 5am to town and the hostel. At least someone working there was awake to give me a room so I was able to crash right away. The hostel has a common area surrounded by the cool rock formations wíth rooms carved right into the rocks. It was nice and cool in my room all the time. After catching up on some sleep, I had breakfast then went out to explore. Headed to the "Open Air Museum" first, which is several monasteries carved into some of the rocks. Several had frescoes still remaining after centuries. Most were just one or two rooms to explore, nothing huge. After the museum, I explored the Rose Valley and some of the dwellings built into the rocks there. Those were just as impressive as the Open Air Museum (and free!), plus a couple had frescoes. It was a cool area to hike around but I was getting tired and in need of water that wasn't warm so headed back to town. Took another nap (I love naptime). I hiked up the hill behind town for views of the valley just before sunset.

Nice views of Mt Hasan. While looking around for somewhere to eat, I ran into Sue and her kids again, so I sat and had dinner with them. They did a two day trip out to Mt Nemrut where there are some cool stone heads (but it's like an 11 hour bus ride each way). After dinner I watched World Cup.
In the morning I went on a tour that would take me around the area. Our first stop was one of hundreds of underground cities in the area. Christians built these underground cities to escape persecution. Plus the cities stay cool in summer and relatively warm in winter. We went down a few floors and toured the underground city. I think many of us were thinking it would be cool to explore it on our own (w/o having to follow a guide). The tour van continued on towards Ilhara dropping me off at the intersection for Güzelyurt on the way. I was told it would be a 3-4km hike to town, but it was actually 6 km (4 miles). After a long hike in the afternoon heat, I got checked-in at a pension run by a family (man, woman, kid and grandma). They were friendly and looked after me. I went to Güzelyurt because my book described it as having "pristine hikes, unparalleled hospitality, and fresh sights" and "on the edge of a rolling, green valley". Makes it sound really nice, eh? On the hike in I was wondering where this green was 'cuz the area is actually very dry and rocky. Not what I expected. Güzelyurt has more underground cities that you're free to explore - I looked around a little but without a torch or someone with me, I was reluctant to go in very far. I hiked through Monastery Valley seeing even more places carved into the stone. Quite frankly, most all of them look the same inside so if you've seen one, there's not much point seeing more. It continued on and did eventually come to a green valley. I followed a dried up (sometimes a trickle) stream up a ways until the trail seemed to loopback on itself. Went back the way I came and to the lake below town. On the way to the lake there was a house with livestock and they had turkeys! Turkeys in Turkey!

I was soooooo excited. I'm surprised I didn't wet myself. There must be something wrong with me that I get more excited seeing a turkey than very old monasteries carved into cliffs. Walked back to the pension for dinner with the Turkish family. After dinner, the dad played a guitar-like instrument and the others hung around outside with me. I went into town to one of the men-only cafes to watch World Cup. (I'm not sure if the cafes are really "men-only", but I never see women in them. It's usually old guys sitting around playing rummi and backgammon.) My stomach was starting to feel a bit dodgy and I left the cafe and went back to the pension. Stomach definately not doing so well. I should've expected something by the way the wrinkley, short grandma cackled maniacally after handing me my dinner plate. She stared at me throughout dinner making the 'slash across the throat' gesture with her finger and smiling. When I finished, she brought out a boiling, green, oozy drink with 'mr yuck' stickers all over the glass and said, "drink!" Of course I couldn't say no to such hospitality and drank the stuff. Still, I'm not sure if it was the dinner that did me in or the yoghurt drink I had that afternoon...
In the morning my stomach still wasn't doing so well. I took a walk out to the lake and just rested back at the pension before catching a minibus back to the highway. I was glad when the tour van picked me up as a couple others had passed by. It would suck to be stuck out there. This vanload lacked the pretty Chilean girls but did have quite a variety of nationalities. The tour continued on to the Ilhara Valley where we hiked for an hour through pretty scenery and along a river.

We had lunch at a place right next to the river, and I was just hoping lunch would stay in me. After lunch, we went to another monastery built into a tall cliff. This one was kind of neat in that there were several paths and rooms that kept going further up the cliff. Had a stop at an old trader's caravan building that was in the middle of nowhere. Not much to see there besides the building. Long drive back to Goreme where we went to a pottery workshop. It was more of one of those tourist stops where they try to sell you stuff so I just went outside and sat on the bench as I wasn't feeling so great (sick stomach + fever). We also got to see the fairy chimneys just outside of town. Those are the rock formations that come to a point and have what looks like another rock balanced on top. Back to Shoestring Pension where I rested for a while. I didn't feel well enough to eat dinner so just watched 1/2 of the World Cup game and went to bed.
Feeling rather lousy still. I spent most the day resting in bed (people must have thought I was hungover). I stopped by a pharmacy to get Ciprofloxacin, but the pharmacist wanted me to go to the doctor (it's only my second day with upset stomach, I ain't going to the doctor!) or to buy about 4 different medicines that would cost about $40. No thanks. I ran into Peter and Katy (from Slovenia) who were on the tour with me the first day. They were just sitting around the park wasting time. We hung out for a bit then watched some World Cup before they had to catch their overnight bus. I had some dinner and later went out to a bar to watch World Cup. I had a shot of vodka to see if that would kill the germs in my stomach - actually did help for a little while and got me through the game. The germs are strong though and survived.

In the morning I left Goreme and it's beautiful landscape heading north towards the Black Sea. (The typical backpacker tourist trail goes straight back to Istanbul so I was trying to stray from that a little.) I took a bus to Nevsehir, and from there to Ankara (the capital of Turkey). Immediately on another bus to Bartin near the sea. I had my immodium to get me through the bus rides. This was a fairly long bus ride so I had plenty of time to space out. Sometimes when staring out the window I'll see landscapes that remind me of other places - this one had the wheat fields and brown mountains that reminded me of Eastern Washington, and later areas that looked like the Willamette Valley and edge of the Cascades. As I was reading my book about life in China, I'd stop for a minute and think I was in China. I occasionally have these moments of "where am I again?" The daydream for the afternoon's bus journey was that I owned an exclusive beach resort in Baja Mexico that catered to the rich and famous (that way I could charge them extravagant amounts of money and they wouldn't think nothin' of it). I couldn't decide if it would be bungalows or more of a standard fancy hotel, so I figured maybe a mix of both. Then it progressed to me marrying Natalie Portman and I'd have enough money to fly all my friends from around the world to the resort for the wedding. I think it would be a three day affair - first day people arrive and there are some games available (golf, watersports) before an informal evening of dinner and party; second day would be dress up for outdoor wedding by the sea and all the usual hubbub; third day would be another informal gathering and just casual hanging out (that way I have time to see everybody). Actually, just a three day party with all my friends sounds pretty good and we can skip the wedding (if you ever meet Natalie Portman, don't tell her I said that). Now I just need to figure out how to get instantly wealthy so I can open up this beach resort in Baja... Daydream over, I made it to Bartin and caught a minivan to Amasra on the Black Sea. My book describes it as a "quiet beach getaway" was overrun with Turkish tourists. I had a bit of a hard time finding an available hotel/pension. It was quite humid there so feeling kind of sweaty and gross. My stomach was still just doing ok so I had a light dinner and watched the sunset. I checked out what was going on around town and it looked like some of the bars/clubs had live Turkish [pop] music. I watched some World Cup at a man-cafe.
Just wasted time around town by hanging out at the beach and wandering. I went to a pharmacy here and got my Cipro. Within a half hour my stomach felt much better. More time reading, sitting by the beach and using i-net. In the evening I caught a bus to Bartin and from there to Istanbul.

"Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night...
...So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?"

Because Mehmet II (aka, Mehmet the Conqueror), leader of the Ottomans, defeated the Byzantines and renamed the city Istanbul. You can do that sort of thing when you take over a city. I'm going to take over Beaverton and rename it "Spankyland". Maybe build a theme park too. Ooooh, yes, you just wait.
Istanbul, like the rest of Turkey, is split between Europe and Asia. Being at this crossroads has made it a strategic location for centuries, and for centuries it's been fought over. Istanbul has a lot of diversity due to all the various empires that have once ruled it. Most all the touristy stuff is on the European side of the city. I arrived by bus in the morning and caught the metro plus tram to the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul. I got to walk past the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia enroute to my hostel. They're purty.

The hostel didn't have beds available yet so I had time to wander around the area. I went inside the Blue Mosque - it was ok. More impressive from the outside. Found the Grand Bazaar and walked all over getting lost. It's really big, but I was a bit disappointed with it. It's all enclosed with a bunch of little shops so it reminded me more of a tourist shopping mall than a market or "bazaar".

Nearly everything they were selling was meant for tourists (carpets, shirts, souvenirs). It really wasn't that crazy and the shopkeepers hardly bothered me at all (though they usually target couples or women). I wanted makeshift stalls and booths with exotic smells and merchandise, throngs of people, shopkeepers yelling...general chaos. Oh well. I got out and followed the sun to find my way back. Took the tram out to the Taksim area and walked around there. Its main thing was a pedestrian street with standard shops (I just wanted to get around and see some other neighborhoods). Back to Sultanahmet and a cinema to see X-Men 3. I'd been wanting to see that for a while, though I was disappointed with the story as it had a lot of potential and they seemed to waste it. Had a nap at the hostel and watched the Aussies in the World Cup (dumb guy slidetackled in the penalty box with only like 30 seconds to go...what a dolt). Sitting outside I saw Mark (from Selcuk and Koycegiz) and a bit later Tim and Piper. Had dinner and watched more World Cup.
In the morning I went to Aya Sofia. It was originally a church which was later converted into a mosque. During the conversion, all the murals and such were plastered over. Most have been uncovered and restored (it's now a museum). Aya Sofia has a huge dome and the church/mosque feels immense when you're inside. I took a boat ride along the Bosphorus out to Kadikoy on the Asian side of Istanbul. I wandered it's pedestrian streets - one was neat with cafes and ivy overhanging. Naptime! Visited the Underground Cistern - kind of cool but a bit pricey for what you get. Made another trip out to the Grand Bazaar and looked 'round. I bargained with a guy for a Turkey futbol jersey but he wanted an outrageous 90 lira to start with (~ $60). I told him 20 lira and he asked if I was normal. I said, "no." ;) He went down to 40 lira but that's still way too much. In the evening I watched World Cup in backpacker-land. Ran into Ivan (from Olympos) too. He still wasn't wearing deodorant so didn't smell pleasant.
I had planned on going to the Topkapi Palace first thing in the morning, but after seeing about 20 tourist buses out front, I thought I ought to wait. Instead I spent the next couple hours trying to find an envelope for mailing a book and a post office. (I had been looking for an envelope unsuccessfully in the last few cities I've been in.) I was wandering along and saw what looked like a paper store. Guys at the fotokopi store next door asked if I needed help and I explained what I was looking for. We went into the paper store and the lady didn't speak English, but asked if I spoke French so I proceeded to try and tell her I wanted an envelope for mailing this book in French. I think it was probably more my hand gestures and the word 'envelope' that did it than my French speaking skills. Got exactly what I was looking for then the guy said he'd show me where the PTT was just 20m down the street. He ended up taking me towards the Grand Bazaar (which was nearby) 'cuz there's a PTT in there. We had acquired another friend along the way and I had explained to both of them that I never buy anything and have no interest in carpets, leather jackets, etc. but they seemed very keen and hanging around with me anyways. I was too suspicious of their motives so ditched them in the Grand Bazaar. Got myself back by Blue Mosque and asked a couple people where the PTT is - no matter where I was I seemed to get the answer "200m on the left". Finally, a guy pointed to the building and said it's in the basement. Nice that there's absolutely no PTT sign outside or on the building to let you know. Got the book mailed back home, went for a rest and then to Topkapi Palace. The palace has some cool buildings and rooms. Most of the rooms have been converted into museums showing pieces. There were some incredible jewels (mine!) and a neat weapons room. I took a wander through the park and to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. This was a bit more like what I wanted from the Grand Bazaar though on a much smaller scale. Saw the same Turkey futbol jersey so thought I'd ask the guy how much - 10 lira. Uhhh, you've already halved the price I was thinking to offer so I'm too dumbfounded to haggle. OK, I'll take it! In the evening I went back out to the bus station and would be on an overnight bus to Burgas, Bulgaria (supposedly 10 hours).

I spent nearly a month in Turkey and only saw bits of the western half. Obviously, I missed seeing a lot. Met lots of great people, had some good times and saw some extraordinary places. The people of Turkey are one of the highlights - friendly, helpful, and honest (though most foreign women hate Turkish men by the time they leave). Istanbul gave me little bit of a bad impression myself there at the end, but I'll just try to remember the people from the rest of Turkey. Definitely a place worth seeing and coming back to.
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