Turkey – 2012

Istanbul

What a great trip it has been so far here in Instanbul. After the long flights from the West Coast to NYC then IST, I paid $20 for my visa at the airport, cleared customs, and found my pre-arranged driver waiting for me on the Arrivals Hall. He was a young guy with a big smile who walked me out to the parking garage so he could get his taxi van. On the way into the city, I chatted briefly with him while noticing the beautiful displays of tulips all alongside the roadways into town. In fact, I was quite impressed with how modern and Western the city seemed. The roads were clean and mostly orderly, the cars modern (and of course micro), not much honking. After about 30 minutes, we were at my hotel which seemed to be on the edge of the old Sultanhamet part of the city, and near some railroad tracks. The driver pulled my backpack out of the van and shepherded me into the small hotel. After tipping him, he was on his way.

I checked in and another man took me to my 1st floor (2nd floor in American parlance) room. It is very tiny with two single beds, a wee desk, wardrobe, flat screen tv, and a minuscule bathroom. I was to have a roommate on this group tour I’m on, so I was curious to see how we’d navigate this small room. After getting settled in, I thought about resting some, but then I decided to just get out and see the city. It was just after 12 pm.

I loaded up my day bag with my two cameras (the newish Canon S100 and my lovely Panasonic G3 micro 4:3), my portable first aide kit, an umbrella, my Lonely Planet, and my Istanbul map. The weather was quite pleasant…about low 60s and cloudy. I decided to walk down towards the Galata Bridge which crosses the Golden Horn. Friends have told me to go down there for fish sandwiches…and I was hungry, so it made sense. I walked down the narrow cobblestone streets leading from my hotel along the train tracks towards the Istanbul train station. It didn’t seem like a big inter city train station as in Europe, rather a suburban rail line station. Also, I noticed the pretty frequent tram cars plying the very thin and twisting streets. Soon, I found the bridge and walked around it to find some touristy fish restaurants…not quite what I was looking for. I crossed under the bridge and saw masses of people congregating around these fishing boats bobbing quite hecticly on the docks. This is where I needed to go. I rummaged around this area getting my feel for what the people were eating…everyone seemed to have these grilled fish sandwiches, so I went to a busy boat and ordered one and sat down at a tiny stool and table to add a dash of salt and some lemon juice from a bottle on the the sandwich. By then, huge (and I mean huge) gusts of wind had come up off the water. Paper, cigarette butts, empty pop cans, and lots of dust were flying everywhere. The awnings of these boats, under which people were eating, we’re flailing dramatically. I honestly thought that these awnings were going to come apart and start smacking people. I braced myself during a couple gusts closing my eyes and shielding my head with my hands in case the awnings did come apart. Thankfully nothing happened beyond getting a bunch of dust in my eyes.

Istanbul_boats

Boats near the Galata Bridge selling Balık ekmek!

After scarfing down the delicious cheap (5 lira) sandwich, the wind died down quite a but, so I got a small can of Coke and watched the lunchtime crowd scurry along the waterfront. Ferry boats came and went unloading and picking up hurried commuters. This was prime people watching territory. The Turkish people are an incredibly beautiful people. Some Turks are dark skinned and black headed, others are blind, some look as if they could easily be Iowa farm boys or German soccer players. Quite often I saw women in veils, some simple head coverings while others are cloaked head to toe in heavy black attire. At 1:11 promptly I heard the call to prayer at various mosques within earshot. One was right across the busy waterfront road. The call to prayer is a haunting sound to me. The muzelins seem to want to outdo each other by wailing their pleas for worshippers to pray. I noticed that no one around me started praying or rushing off to the mosques to pray.

After lunch and people watching, I meandered what turns out to be the Spice Bazaar. This is a rabbit’s warren of tiny alleys, nooks, and crannies stuffed full of spice shops, truckloads of figs and dried fruit, Turkish delight candy (which I tasted and loved), and a coffee shop with a very long queue outside the door. The shop didn’t sell already-made coffee like Starbucks, rather it sold packaged Turkish coffee. I made a mental note to go back there after my tour.

Istanbul Spice Market.

Istanbul Spice Market.

Istanbul Spice Market.

Istanbul Spice Market.

After wandering the Spice Bazaar, I walked towards the Aya Safya area around Sultanhamet part of town…not too far away. There, I was chased by a well dressed man wanting to take me to his carpet shop. I ignored him and proceeded to the Blue Mosque. This mosque is quite huge (I believe it was the biggest in Ottoman Empire). It also has six minarets, whereas most mosques I’ve seen have four. I walked around outside and took some pictures before headed to the visitor entrance. There, I took off my shoes and put them in a little plastic bag to carry around (much more convenient and safer than in India where you pay to have them watched over by attendants). I stepped into the mosque and my breath was literally taken away. Inside are tens of thousands of blue tiles placed all about the interior of the dome and along the walls. Enough light shined inside through the Venetian windows to make this a truly outstanding beautiful place. The throngs of tourists talked in hushed tones and walked quietly along the thickly carpeted floors. It was quite mesmerizing. I was happily surprised to be able to take pictures from inside the mosque…as every single other person was doing. On this trip, for the first time, I’ve noticed more and more people using their phones to take pictures instead of a dedicated camera. I even saw a handful of people use their iPad to take pictures! I wonder in a few years will people even carry around dedicated cameras? Will camera phones get to that point? (my answer is a strong…”probably”).

Blue Mosque - Istanbul.

Blue Mosque – Istanbul.

Blue Mosque - Istanbul.

Blue Mosque – Istanbul.

After being wowed in the mosque, I walked along the very very very touristy Divan Yolu Cad street full of restaurants and trinket shops towards the Grand Bazaar. I popped I side the huge. Jostling bazaar, but wasn’t interested in shopping. I made a beeline out of there and back to the touristy street. I pulled out the Lonely Planet for a suggestion to visit next and settled in the Basilica Cistern. It was quite near y, so I went to it and traversed down the slippery dark steps into this ancient cistern built by the Byzantines in the 340s AD (yes, 340s!). You gotta hand it to those east Romans…this public works project to store water for the city was quite beautiful with hundreds of columns supporting the underground cistern and even had some art in the form of an upside down and sideways bust of Medusa’s head underneath two of the pillars. Some pillars had Corinthian and others had Iconic capitals. Quite beautiful place. And the fact that I can traipse around in a 1,600 year old facility!

From the Cistern, I strolled back to the hotel for a bit of relaxing. After an hour or so, I set back out to the Beyoglu neighborhood across the other side of the Golden Horn for some dinner and maybe a trip to a hamam (Turkish bath). I asked the hotel front desk to call a taxi to take me there since it was quite a distance to walk. The man said it was far better to take the tram at this hour (about 7 pm) due to the traffic. He showed me which routes to take. So I set out. It was cloudy by now and a bit chilly, so I ran back upstairs to grab my rain jacket. The nearest tram stop is 5 mins walk away. I couldn’t figure out how to get entry to the platform. A turnstile had a coin slot without pricing or English language text, so I dropped in a 1-lira coin. The machine spotted it out. I tried another…same thing. I looked around trying to see a ticket machine, but nothing seemed obvious. I noticed the train station across the street, so I went inside and saw a couple kiosks with pictures of trains on them. Perfect, I thought! I bought a few tiny metal tokens. With them, I went back to the tram platform turnstyle and confidently inserted a token into the slot. The machine spotted it out. Another token..same thing. I tried a different machine, same thing. Soon, an attendant came to me and I showed him my little token. “Wrong token”, he said. “Ahh, ahh!”, I replied, “where can I buy?”, I asked in slow, syllablized traveller’s English. The man pointed to a bank of kiosks just near the platform across the tram tracks. “OK! Thank you”. At the kiosk I studied the instructions for a while (to make sure I wasn’t buying more suburban rail tokens) and a businessman up to me and asked me if I knew how to work the machine. O told him that I didn’t want to buy more of these and showed him my little metal tokens and I pointed back to the tram. He said this was the machine for the tram token and showed me his. I thanked him and bought a few tokens. Three blue plastic tokens were dispensed to the tray making a plasticky sound as they hit. Now, I finally successfully paid my fare and hopped onto a packed rush hour tram. We snakes through the old city and across that Galata Bridge. We went past the cruise ship terminal and I rode all the way to the terminus at the Kabatas platform. There, I transferred to the metro for a short climb up a steep hill to Taksim Square. This particular metro line is just a fenicular up the hill. It was so steep that even the subway cars have a out four or five different levels (about one or two steps separating the levels) per car.

Riding the Istanbul street car.

Riding the Istanbul street car.

The subway got quite packed and eventually the doors closed and we were on our way up the hill. It reminded me of a mountainous gondola car due to the angle we were climbing. Very interesting. After just over a minute, we were at the station where I got out and noticed the rain pouring down as I ascended from the subway station. Thankfully I had brought my rain jacket. Within minutes I was drenched. Yet I quickly found the pedestrian-only thoroughfare Istiklai Cad which was packed with locals hurriedly walking in this downpour. Along this street were upscale shops and a handful of restaurants. I was quite hungry, but was a bit picky about finding a place. Finally, I settled on a lovely little place called Lades where I was one of a few customers. I had a bowl of creamy vegetable soup, salad, and a delicious lamb kabop with cheesy mashed potatoes and rice. I devoured the meal as I watched people rushing by outside in the rain. Quite a splendid place. Afterwards, I wandered around and found a hamam, where I went in and had a pleasant relaxing time in the baths. Next time, I’ll go to one when I’m not so tired, so I may enjoy it more.

It was time for me to head back to the hotel, so I reversed my subway and tram commute and walked back in the rain to the hotel. I was back and in bed by 11 pm. Quite a long and wonderful day. I crashed and didnt wake up until about 9 this morning.

I dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. While trying to figure out where breakfast was, I started talking to a woman who was asking the front desk where breakfast was. It turns out it was up in the top floor. She asked if I was on the Intrepid tour, and I said yes. Her name is Melissa and she’s from San Francisco. Apparently, she recognized me from the flight the day before. We went up the two-person sized elevator and grazed the buffet line. It was full of delicious food such as pastries, olives, tomatoes, yogurts, bread, jam, fruit. At the table, we sat and talked for over an hour. So far, at least one of the others on the tour are going to be fun.

After breakfast, I showered and set out for the day. I walked up to the Topkapi Palace which was the home to the Sultans during the Ottoman days. There were huge crowds all around this museum. Still, I had a great time learning about the Sultans and the Ottoman life. I saw beautiful artifacts including an Order of the Garter from King Edward III era and a sword which belonged to the Prophet Mohammed himself. The highlight of the museum was the Haram, or private quarters, of the Sultan family, concubines, and royal eunuchs.

After a few hours at the Palace, I had a pretzel/sesame like bread from a street vendor. As I stood in the square between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Safya a friendly man started talking to me. I knew he wanted to sell me carpets, so I brushed him aside and went the Aya Safya. This was originally a cathedral built Justinian in the 300s AD when Constantinople was the seat of the Byzantian empire after the Romans fell. After Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in the 1300s, the cathedral was turned into a mosque. Then, Ataturk turned it into a museum after the founding of modern Turkey. I walked into the building honestly not knowing what to expect. So, when I walked in, I was stupified by the sheer beauty of this place. It was a classic huge domed cathedral yet huge medallions with massive Islamic script hung from the ceilings. I strolled and was just amazed by this place. Towards the rear, I looked up and saw ancient paintings of Mary, Jesus, and Archangel Gabriel. Quite a place, indeed.

Inside one of the most beautiful buildings in the world - the Hagia Sophia - Istanbul.

Inside one of the most beautiful buildings in the world – the Hagia Sophia – Istanbul.

After the Aya Safya, I ought a Snickers bar and a diet Coke from a sidewalk vendor and walked back to the hotel. The tour had an orientation meeting at 6. There, I met all the other folks on the tour, and the guide. The guide is a young Turk with Kurdish roots. The rest of the group is a mix of Australian, European, and Americans. I am the only single male (lucky me as I have the room to myself!). The age range seems to be 30-60. It should be a good group. After the orientation, 9 of us (out of 12) went with the guide to dinner. I sat next to a Frsnch woman who has lived in Edinburgh for 9 years. I talked about the upcoming French presidential election for a out 15 minutes. I also talked with the guide briefly about Turkish politics and the EU and the AK ruling party. This promises to be wonderful time to meet and learn from others and to experience this tremendous Turkish culture.

OK, I’ve written enough. I should head back to bed. After sleeping for a solid 4 hours, I got up at 3 am. The hotel has WiFi, so I can post to my blog from my iPad in bed. It’s now 4:30am, and I should try to catch some more Zzzzzs before my day sets out at 8am with our first walking tour.

To Bursa

It’s Saturday morning and the group is headed out on a ferry boat to Bursa. Today is a partial travel (via boat and bus) and touring day. Yesterday was fun. I started out with breakfast at the hotel terrace with others in the group. The breakfasts have been pretty good and filling…toast, jams, fruits, honey, olives, ham, cheese,hard boiled egg, and scrambled egg and ham mix yesterday. The day would be a half day in a walking tour with the guide and then an afternoon to ourselves. We met after breakfast at 8 to start walking. We headed to the Aya Safya area just up from the hotel. The guide Eunice (not sure of spelling) talked to us about the Ottoman days and the sultans while we stood outside the Aya Safya. It was quite a rough time to be alive…especially if you were a brother of the sultan since you would spend your time in a dungeon or brutally murdered. It was a sort of survival of the fittest. When a sultan would die then the brothers or heirs would be hell bent on fighting to see who would take over. Whoever won would kill or imprison his brothers.

We then walked to the Blue Mosque where Eunice explained a bit about Islam. One of the “goals” of the trip for me is to try and understand Islam a bit more. Visiting these mosques and seeing worshippers pray, hearing the call to prayer 5 times a day are helping. When we went inside the Blue Mosque (now my second on this trip), I picked up a couple brochures. One of them explained Islam at a high level, the other explained Jesus’ role in Islam. Some quotes from the Koran were given. It’s interesting to see how fundamentalists interpret these passages in such contorted ways (as do fundamentalist Christians interpret the Bible).

From the Blue Mosue, we walked along the Hippodrome and learned about the Roman era chariot races and Gladiator games which would be held there to please the citizens. Next was the Great Bazaar. We pretty much breezed through there as the goal wasn’t to do shopping while in the tour, rather we could do it on our own afterwards. When we emerged from the Bazaar, we walked through a quaint book market where we stopped and talked about Turkish authors, poets, and publishers. I wrote down a couple tips from the guide and others about notable Turkish fiction books. We then went to a tea shop near the Istanbul University where we sat and had tea or Turkish coffee. I had a decent apple tea for 1.5 lira. After tea and talking amongst the group, we visited a couple more smaller, yet still wonderful, mosques and then walked back to the Spice Bazaar area where we were free for the day.

It was a convenient time for lunch, so I went with a few of the ladies to the bread fish boats for a cheap lunch. I then broke off from the group and traipsed through the bazaar for some fresh and dried fruit for today’s journeys. I then went into a couple stalls and bought some soap. At another, I picked up a gray Istanbul t-shirt. I then walked alongback throu the Great Bazaar and towards the Archaeological Museum. Yet along the way, I stopped at a shop with a loom in the window. A friendly young handsome Turk greeted me and showed me some beautiful scarves. After looking at them and trying on various ones, I ended up buying a couple and he threw in a good luck Evil Eye charm and a small towel. I finally went to the Archaeological Museum. By then, I was getting pretty beat from walking all day long. I kinda stumbled through the museum looking at the scores of sarcophagi, pottery, tiles, statues, and other artifacts from all throughut Turkey’s history. Being at a literal crossroads between Asia and Europe and along the Silk Route, this country really does have a fascinating and very long history.

After the museum, I went back to the hotel for an hour or so of rest. The guide would take those of us that wanted to go to dinner at a local place near y the hotel, so I tagged along. We walked to a very simple self serve style place run by utmost friendly folks. I had a delicious cheese, veggie, and chicken casserole like dish, bean soup, and rice custard. I orded a beer, but it turned out to be a somewhat religious place, which I totally respected and drank a 33 cl can of Pepsi.

After dinner, a few of us and the guide went to the Taksin Square are for a beer (2 for me). This area is definitely the hotspot at nighttime with thousands upon thousands of people just walking up and down the pedestrian street and eating at the many many restaurants or drinking at the pubs. Such a wonderful nightlife. After we had some Efes Pilsen at an outdoor terrace pub, we took the funicular and the tram back to the hotel where I laid out my clothes for today and packed the rest. My alarm was set for 05:45(!!) for showering and meeting the gang at breakfast at 6:30. I scarfed down some olives, cheese, ham, toast, jam, and coffee.

After the quickish breakfast, we met in the lobby for a van to take us to the ferry terminal where we waited for 20 minutes or so to board the high sped ferry over to Asia. And that is where I am now. Today should be fun and another adventure!

Bursa

After sailing for two hours on the catamaran from Istanbul, we landed at Mudanya across the Sea of Marmara. There, we waited in a steady rainfall and high winds for about an hour and a half for a city bus to pick us up and take us to central city Bursa. It wasn’t too bad of a wait…the company was fun and we talked a bit with some locals who were also waiting together with us.

At last the bus came, and we boarded. The ride into town was about 40 minutes or so. We got off the bus right in the heart of downtown literally one block from the hotel. We walked with our backpacks in the rain to the hotel where we gladly checked im. After dropping our bags in our rooms (my top floor single room has a nice balcony and views of the surrounding mountains and a huge mosque), we walked another block or two to a lovely restaurant were we sat down and ordered Iskender kabop…lamb slices on top of bread chunks covered in a tomato sort of sauce with yogurt on the side. Very yummy! After we ate, we walked in the rain down along the main drag of town and stopped underneath a huge statue of Mustafa Attaturk. It seems many Turkish cities have their town squares dedicated to this founder of modern day Turkey.

View of the Great Mosque of Bursa from my hotel room.

View of the Great Mosque of Bursa from my hotel room.

From here, people were free to choose their afternoon. I decided to visit the city museum right near the Ataturk statue. The museum was quite nice for a historical and cultural museum about a city. The displays were in Turkish only, yet they had a very helpful (if not overly long) audio guide for many of the displays. I learned quite a bit about this part of Turkey from the Ottoman empire to Ataturk and beyond. There is a large auto industry here as Renault and Fiat cars are made here. There is also a tradition of shadow puppets. After the museum, I walked through the very busy bazaar. This city’s bazaar was quite unlike Istanbul’s in that this one was pretty much entirely packed with locals, whereas in Istanbul it was primarily tourists. I didn’t feel like buying anything, so. Kinda breezed through the crowds noticing the much larger percentage of women wearing headscarves. This must be a more conservative part of Turkey than Itanbul. From the bazaar, I walked to the Ulu Camii mosque, which is conveniently right across the street from the hotel. Outside the main entrance, I sat on the marble to take off my shoes and put them in the little plastic baggies to carry with me into the mosque. Inside, I noticed more people praying than the other mosques I’ve seen (also there were fewer tourists in this one). I whiled some time here and observed the bearded men praying along the walls under huge wooden and sometimes fabric Arabic calligraphy paintings. Along the back of the mosque separated from the men were the local women praying. I spent about a half hour watching people praying and meditating before headed out and going back to the hotel where I did a bit of laundry in the bathroom sink and rested a bit.

At 6 pm, I met the rest of the group in the hotel lobby. A local man came to the hotel to walk us through the city several blocks to his apartment. There, we went upstairs, took our shoes off before his wife greeted us. We were led into their living room where their main dining table and a folding table were set up with plates, cups, and flatware. A yoghurt and lettuce salad and great big slices of bread were waiting in bowls. The man greeted us into his house and, now that I think about it never introduced us to his veil-covered wife who barely left the kitchen after we came into the house. I sat at the folding card table with the two older couples in the group and we talked about travel in Vietnam, India, and even WWII. The man of the house served us a delicious lentil creamy soup, followed by a meat dish (I forget what all was it). The food was quite delicious. I kept eating bread since it was so good. It seems I am becoming the jokester, funny guy of the group…even strangers are getting a kick out of me.

After dinner, we walked to a nearby tea house. We walked in and sat in the rear of the tiny shop where men were playing Turkish music on various kinds of instruments similar to guitars and bongo drums. Various people were singing. An old man got up to dance motioning for others to join. I finished my tea, put my glass down, and got up to dance with the old an. The crowd howled in laughter cheering me on. A couple others joined me dancing. I went to the tea wallah (that’s what I’m calling the people walking around selling tea, since I don’t know what they’re called in Turkish) and ordered another tea. Before I really finished it, it was time to go. It was getting late for the men performing at the tea house, so we went back to the hotel for a chance to use the toilet before our real evening entertainment at the local Dervish lodge. I took a couple of the ladies from the group up to my room, since they wanted to see the views from my balcony. I did have a tremendous view of the big mosque and surrounding mountains. After pictures and the loo, we re-joined the main group downstairs and another guy joined us. I thought he was another backpacker tourist since he was a pretty muscular fit blondish hair college-aged guy who old have been from New Jersey. It turns out his name is Adam (as introduced by our guide) and he would walk with us up to the dervish lodge. I couldn’t believe he was a Turk. Along the way, I learned that he wanted to be an imam and that he only speaks Turkish and Arabic. When I think of an imam, an image of him is the last thing I’d think of. After a nice uphill walk to the lodge, we entered the gates into a really crowded yard with all kinds of Turks drinking tea and just being very cheerful on this Saturday night. By now, the weather was quite pleasant at 9:30 at night. We made our way through the crowded yard and took our shoes off at the door of the lodge. It was a very old wooden building. We went inside and sat in a type of waiting room just to the right. The room had built in benches along the walls where we sat and listened to our guide explain the concept of the dervishes and this sect of Islam. A couple Turks were there listening along with us. After about 40 minutes or so, the women were led away to the main room of the lodge where the whirling dervishes perform. They had to sit upstairs overlooking the main “dance floor” area. After the women had seated, the enwere asked to enter the main room. We all sat alongside the walls on the floor. I noticed only one other small group of international tourists and that was a group of 4 Asians. Yet the place was still packed quite literally to the rafters with local worshippers.

Whirling dervishes of Bursa.

Whirling dervishes of Bursa.

On the main carpeted dance floor area were 6 men in ages from about 10 to maybe 35 twirling around in long white tunics and tall felt hats. Their heads cocked to the right just a bit. Their right arms raised with their palm facing up and their left arm down with the palm facing down. They consistently spun around on their fee, so much and so quickly that the white tunics spread out into huge cones. Another man of maybe mid 20s age was dressed in red and was in the center of the others as they rotated around him. He was whirling, too. Tis was similar to the man in red representing the sun and the others representing the planets rotating and spinning around the sun. A band performed traditional, almost Medieval, music and others sang very powerful songs. Soon an old man in a black tunic and longish white beard and very tall green felt “hat” replaced the young man in the red as the center. He slowly started twirling yet he held his tunic so it didn’t flay open like the others. The red tunic man joined the white tunics and they all rotated and whirled around the old man (the Chief of the lodge). This dancing and music and singing went on for about half an hour or maybe just over. It was incredibly powerful to see these men and boys dancing as if in a trance or some state of meditation. The music was wonderful. When the music finished, all the dancers stopped and knelt on the floor. Another man in a smaller green hat started praying in Arabic while almost the entire crowd joined him. At the end, everyone silently left. I gotta say, it was a very wonderful experience to be able to witness this truly spiritual dance. It is quite touching. Our group rejoined in the little waiting room area before we went outside and talked about our shared experience as we walked back down the hills to the hotel.

Back in the room, I organized my backpack and did some reading and posting of pictures on the hotel’s very weak Internet WiFi ( or “wifey” as our guide calls it) connection. I was asleep around 12:30am.

This morning, I was awoken promptly at 5:10 am by the muzeline (?..is that what you call the man who does the call to prayer?) calling for prayer from the mosque right across the street. This guy got on and started wailing away. He would stop and then wait about 15 seconds then go at it again. I have no idea what he is singing or saying as he wails, yet it seems like he’s lonely and he’s pleaing with people to join up at the mosque for prayer. He went on for about 5 or 6 minutes then quit. I got another could hours of sleep after that.

After breakfast and cleaning up, I joined the group in the lobby at 8:45 a,. We walked a couple blocks to catch a city bus that took us to a modern clean efficient intercity bus station out in the suburbs. We squeezed ourselves off the bus and into the station and shortly to the platform where we would catch the bus to Selcuk. We had Bout 25 minutes before the bus arrived so some of us used the toilet and/or got some tea. I did both. I’m getting quite used to (and indeed, enjoy) the Turkish tea served in a tiny glass cup which sits on a small plate with two tiny sugar cubes on the plate. I’ve been plopping in one sugar cube. The tea is scalding hot, so I let it cool off a bit before drinking it. Quite a nice treat.

The bus arrived on schedule. It’s a nice modern Mercedes Benz coach with tv monitors in each seat back and nice chairs. A server is on board to bring around drinks and snacks. Quite a pleasant way of travel.

We have about 6.5 hours of scheduled bus time today, so now that I’m caught up writing on my iPad (which I can conveniently post online once I’m in a “wifey” zone), I’ll sit back, relax, maybe do some reading and watch the Turkish world go by outside my window.

Selcuk to Ephesus

The bus ride from the big city of Bursa to the much smaller tourist city of Selcuk was very pleasant yesterday. Altogether, it was just over 6 hours, including a few bathroom and smoke breaks. The route was quite nice. Turkey, or at least this west central part we traversed was much much more verdant than I expected. In fact, we passed a few olive oil farms and grape vineyards. After driving over a fairly decent sized mountain pass, we could see the Aegean Sea and the port city of Izmir. From there, it was less than an hour to Selcuk where we would spend a few days..and from where I am now writing this update on my iPad in an outdoor table at a lovely little bar quaffing an Efes Pilsen.

As soon as we got off the bus at the little station in Selcuk, I knew this would be a great little town to visit. In the air was the smell of lilac, on trees growing all over the cute downtown were orange trees full of oranges, along the little main street was the ruins of a Roman aqueduct. The group walked the one block to our hotel…a lovely place called Dream’s Guest House…which I highly recommend. Our guide selected the rooms for each of us..I got a nice single room with a shared balcony overlooking a lovely street. After dropping my bags off, the group all met up for an orientation walk around the town.

We walked through the lovely little central part of the town where several shops were selling the usual tourists trinkets. I also noticed every shop had a Turkish flag hanging from the awnings or doors. Our guide told us that tomorrow was a national holiday … Children’s Day. We came onto the ruins of a Roman aqueduct. I’ve seen a couple of these before in Europe and they never fail to impress me. The Romans engineers were so clever to come up with ways to divert water from the mountains and then to construct the aqueducts with enough slope over many miles to deliver this water to the cities. On top of that, the construction was so grand that some are still standing today!

Ancient Roman Aqueduct in Selcuk.

Ancient Roman Aqueduct in Selcuk.

After the aqueducts, we walked up a hill outside of town where the guide pointed out some sites to explore tomorrow including the remains of the Temple of Artemis, St. John’s Basilica, and an old mosque. On the way back into town, we walked through the central market area and stopped at a lovely restaurant for dinner. The well dressed old man who ran the place came out and moved some tables close together to accommodate our group. He was quite jovial and read through the entire menu very quickly while pointing to the corresponding food item sitting in a display case. After the 20th or so item, we all started laughing as it was impossible to keep following him. Our guide was quite anxious as there was a huge soccer game being played between two of the big Istanbul teams, Galata Seray (sp?) and the other name I don’t recall. Yunus (our guide’s name) kept running towards a nearby bar to hear the score whenever we could hear yelling. Several bars were in the area and all of them had the big game on TV. All through the town, you could hear yelling and screaming whenever one of the teams scored (or missed a score).

For dinner, I ordered a plate of mixed grilled meat kebabs. For appetizer, I had a delicious plate of hummus which I shared with others…and I ate some of the food the others ordered. Every thing was very delicious. I downed the food with Efes beer and finished off with a Turkish coffee and baklava for dessert.

After the big soccer game ended (Yunus’ team lost), men and boys walked through the streets singing and chanting their team songs. The fans of the winning team got in their cars and dove through town honking their horns and brandishing their scarves outside the windows. Others had drums banging as they marched. It was quite a great site to see and hear.

We paid our bill and then walked the few blocks back to the hotel where I sat outside my shared balcony with a few of the ladies in the group for some beers and talking. All in all, a fun evening.

Having a nightcap with fellow travelers.

Having a nightcap with fellow travelers.

The next morning (Monday 23-April), we had the whole day in Selcuk area, so I didn’t need to set the alarm. Still, I got up at about 8 and then went downstairs for breakfast. This little pensione, which was more like a nice little hostel than a hotel, had a little spread of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, cheese, varieties of olives, hard boiled eggs, and bread, butter, and jam. I devoured just a bit of everything. I’m kinda getting used to the idea of having olives, cucumbers, and tomatoes for breakfast. After eating, I went back to my room to get ready for the day. We had free time until noon, when we would all re-group back at the lobby for lunch and our trip to Ephesus.

I set out first by myself to the Ephesus Museum. This was a fantastic museum with artifacts found in Ephesus itself. There were also quite a few statues of various sizes, including some that were 3 or 4 times the size of the person they were representing. After the museum, I meandered up the Ayasuluk hill to the St. John’s Basilica. This was a 6th century church built by Justinian to honor the Disciple John’s two visits to Ephesus (about 37 AD with the Virgin Mary on tow, and again in 95 where he wrote his Gospel at the end of his very long life). The Basilica has been virtually destroyed by earthquakes over the centuries, so what I saw, albeit very impressive, has all been restored. There is also a tomb there which purports to be that of St. John, himself (I wonder what Rome thinks about this?).

After I paid homage to the basilica and to St. John, I walked down the other side of the hill to Isa Bey Camii mosque. This nice little mosque was built in 1375 and one of its minarets has been destroyed (I’m guessing in an earthquake). For the first time, I didn’t encounter anyone else in a mosque, not even locals praying. That was a nice touch. I cleared my throat and heard my voice echo through the domed building. An electronic reader board hung from the front door with the times of the 5 daily prayers posted (as if you wouldn’t hear the imam doing his wailing call).

With the big sites finished, I walked up and over Ayasuluk Hill, again, and back down to central Selcuk. I milled about a couple shops and found the owner if the little restaurant from the night before. He and I chatted for a bit. He wanted to know where my harem was (besides Yunus, there are only 3 men on the trip, and the other two are married). I laughed and told him that they abandoned me. Soon, I walked and found myself in the middle of a little children’s parade. They were dressed in their various school uniforms. Some of them were banging drums and tooting old beat up trumpets. Their parents marched proudly alongside. I stood amongst them and took some pictures as the little kids would wave their hands and say “Hello, hello!” to me. After getting disoriented a bit, I ran into Willie and Sheila from the tour and we walked back to the hotel. A parking lot had been roped off for the Children’s Day festivities with a man dressed in what looked like a Santa Claus outfit. I approached him, grabbed my belly, and shouted “Ho, Ho, Ho”. He laughed and said “Not Ho, Ho, Ho” and then went on to explain he was Nasrettin Hoca, a sort of jovial teacher (Hoca being “teacher”). He was a younger man who spoke great English. We chatted a bit. I asked him how he was enjoying being in a hot suit with a big white beard. He laughed and said it was OK. He then offered me a stick swirled in this sweet jelly like stuff which turned into a lollipop. With the lollipop in hand, I said my good byes and thank yous and walked to the hotel to meet the others.

Lunch was at a little place near the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. Old women were sitting on the floor next to an open flame oven making gozlemeler, which is a kind of flatbread sorta like naan or pancake or quesadilla. We entered the restaurant, ook our shoes off and sat on the floor around a low table and ordered our lunch from a couple servers. I had a plate of mixed gozlemeler and a fresh squeezed juice. The food w shortly served in heaping piles on the plates. The group shared each others food. It was very very delicious food! I basically inhaled mine, and helped others eat their large plates, too.

With our bellies full, we boarded our little bus and drove a few minutes to Ephesus, the ancient city. I’d long heard about this place, one of the best Roman ruins in Europe. We got off the little bus and entered through the upper Magnesia Gate and gradually made our way down the city. During its heyday 2000 years ago, the city had 250,000 residents! Incredible to think about living here then. We entered the Odeon, or small theatre, and took pictures imagining what it would be like to hear a performance here on a lovely summer evening. The sun was out in full force, and I was thankful for my wonderful Tilley hat to shade my face and head. There aren’t many shady places at the site now, so keeping the sun off is a big task. There were quite a few tourists. I didn’t hear too much American English being spoken, but I did hear the usual languages of the world powers, including particularly Chinese. Yunus would stop from time to time and give us a brief explanation about some highlights. Most impressive was the Celsus Library. It is quite easily to imagine what it would have been like back in the day with its tens of thousands of scrolls tucked away in nooks and crannies. The last major site in this city we saws as the big theatre. This theatre could hold 25,000 people! Standing in the center of the “stage”, I could tell the tremendous acoustics of the place.

The main amphitheater in Ephesus.

The main amphitheater in Ephesus.

Ephesus.

Ephesus.

A main thoroughfare in Ephesus.

A main thoroughfare in Ephesus.

The Library of Ephesus.

The Library of Ephesus.

After about 3 or so hours there, we left and boarded the mini bus back to the hotel. We had about 2.5 hours of free time before dinner, so I recharged one of my camera batteries and grabbed my iPad to head to the town center for a beer at one of the numerous outdoor cafes/bars. I started writing and people watching. Two beers later, I paid my tab and went to the hotel to meet the others. We were going to a BBQ at another inn owned by the people who run the hotel we were staying. A van and an open air Jeep pulled up. I hopped in the back if the Jeep with three others in our group as did a young guy who worked for the hotel. We sped through town and hill a winding hill to the Villa. When we got out, we could see a truly stunning, sweeping view of Selcuk. We could even see a glimpse of the Aegean Sea in the distance. What a wonderful place. A Pekingese dog and her cute little puppy greeted us, together with one of the owners of the property. Wine was served and the grill was fired up. I talked at length to one of the Aussie men from our group – Michael. He served in the army during the Veitnam War, albeit he was posted in Malaysia. He told some war stories as we watched the sunset over the city. I mingled amongst the grup until we took to our tables. We sat at a long picnic table with dishes and flatware set out. It was like a picture from one of those foodie magazines where a big table is set in the middle of a grape vineyard or by the sea. Ours was on this wonderful patio of the villa overlooking an ancient city. I ordered fish (as did many others) and it came out whole, on the plate, grilled. I peele the skin off and pulled out the bone to savor the deliciousness of this freshly caught, grilled fish! We also had salad and lots of wonderful Turkish bread. Numerous glasses of wine were drunk and we all laughed and laughed and had a fantastic night. After eating, we gathered around a fire pit and danced for a while before doing a round of musical chairs for those that wanted to play. I was the first person to not find a seat when the music stopped, so I joined the others who weren’t dancing to laugh along and cheer those who were still in it. In the end, Michelle, one of the Aussie women, won.

With the fun night finishes, we piled back into the Jeep and the van and headed back down the hill to the city where we all got a good nights sleep.

This mornng (April 24), I got up at 7:30 to shower and organize my backpack for departure. We would leave the hotel at 08:50 to walk a few blocks to the train station. I went downstairs and had some breakfast and caught up with some of the others who were already there. I had some laundry done by the hotel, yet when my clothes came back, three pair of socks and one of underwear wee missing. It turns out one of the couples had some laundry done, too, and the hotel put my socks/underwear with their clothes.

We all left the hotel at 08:50 to walk to the train station. Departure was 09:27, so we had about 20 minutes after we got to the cute little train station to get some snacks. I got a couple squeeze boxes of juice (one cherry and another peach), a small can of Pringles, and a little package of cookies. I figured that would keep me “nourished” during the three hour journey.

The train pulled into the station right on time and we all clamored aboard with scores of locals. I found a backwards-facing seat in the very rear of the train and have sat here quietly writing this post. We are due to arrive at Denizli in about 30 minutes where we will take a city bus to Pamukkale.

My utterly wonderful Turkish journey continues!

Pamukkale, Kayakoy, and Kas

Yesterday (Tues 24-Apr), I got up at 07:30 in order to get ready and head to the Dreams Oasis hotel lobby in Selcuk for an 08:50 departure. It wasn’t too bad of sleep except for the fact that I was a bit hung over from the drinking and dancing at the awesome BBQ the night before.

The group all met to walk the short distance to the train station. We would catch the 09:27 train to Denizli which is the commercial city (famous for making towels for the world) nearest Pamukkale. As soon as the train pulled into the station, everyone clamored aboard the already packed cars. I managed to maneuver my way to the last car chugging my backpack along with me. There, I sat next to an old Turk who offered me the seat next to me. I thanked him and sat down and pulled out my iPad to write yesterday’s post. I’m convinced that my new iPad is the perfect travel companion. I can obviously use it for emailing and web surfing when in a “wifey” zone which most hotels seem to have (albeit often weak signals). Yet for the first time I’m also using the iPad for writing my journal using the QuickOffice apps (similar to MS Word, yet for the iPad). I’m also using it to review, edit, and post photos to Facebook. The wonderful new iPhoto app works well for looking at my photos which I load onto the iPad direct from the memory cards. I can even do some fairly serious editing (though I haven’t so far due to lack of time mostly) and posting online (i.e. to Facebook or Flickr) from within the app. I’ve also been reading a book (“Bird Without Wings” which was recommended by the guide, so I bought it online in Istanbul) fom the native iBooks app. To save space in my backpack, I cut back on my electronics gear and heavy items, so the Kindle and paper books were out, only the paper Lonely Planet made the cut. This iPad is really the perfect traveling companion. If only it came with a matte screen and Kindke-sized battery life. In fact, the 10-12 hours of battery life right now works well for my long bus and train journeys since I can recharge over night.

Train to Denizli arrives.

Train to Denizli arrives.

Anyway, we got to Denizli at 12:26 pm and promptly loaded into a van which drove us the 10 km or so up the Pamukkale. Besides the travertines and neighboring Hierapolis ruins, there would be nothing in Pamukkale. We had about 3 hours to lunch and relax at the hotel, so I organized my backpack a bit and took a nap on the bed. The room was nice and simple. My door opened onto the pool, as did several others. It was a very nice place to relax. At 4 we regrouped in the lobby and walked down the little main street lined with tours restaurants and shops. The entrance to the travertines wasn’t too far away. The travertines are huge terraces of white calcium that have trickled out of the earth for eons. I’d seen similar formations in Yellowstone National Park, and was amazed that people were allowed to walk on them. You’d never be able to do this in Yellowstone. At the entrance, people must remove their shoes…I’m not sure if it’s because of potential damage to the travertines or to be safer (since walking on them is very challenging due to the sheer slipperiness). I removed my shoes with the group, and many other tourists and began walking up. Quite a few people were headed down since it was late in the afternoon. As we headed up, I heard a lot of Russian (maybe Ukrainian) being spoken. This area seems to be popular with the Russians…many of whom were illegally swimming in the pools.

Illegally swimming in the calcite of Pamukkale.

Illegally swimming in the calcite of Pamukkale.

At Pamukkale.

At Pamukkale.

At Pamukkale.

At Pamukkale.

At Pamukkale.

At Pamukkale.

We slipped and climbed our way to the top, helping each other in various difficult sections. Once at the top, we had some free time to wander around the ancient ruins of Hierapolis, which was a fine old Roman city with a truly outstanding theatre. After tromping around the grounds and necropolis with a couple others, we all met back up at the theatre at 7. There, we would crack open a couple bottles of fruit wine we had collectively bought in Sirince (near Selcuk) and watch the sunset. I tried to envision what it would be like to climb up the hill to see a gladiator competition about 2000 years ago and sit in the exact same seat which I was sitting in. The scene behind the theatre was outstanding..the travertines glowing in the sunset, snow capped mountains beyond. Such a great scene.

Ancient Roman amphitheater at Hierapolis.

Ancient Roman amphitheater at Hierapolis.

Sunset cocktails with the group at the ancient Hierapolis theatre.

Sunset cocktails with the group at the ancient Hierapolis theatre.

After the sun had sat, we finished our little soirée and went back to Pamukkale village for a gander at the handful of tours restaurarnts. We settled on Mehmet’s Place, a little restaurant of looking the travertines. Quit a stunning view! Mehmet, himself, greeted us at the door and walked us through what amounted to his living room as young kids watched tv and played games on the floor. I had a delicious mixed meat grill (something I’m really enjoying here) with a couple bottles of Efes beer. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel where I crashed for th night as we had an earlyish morning (again) the nest day.

From Pamukkale, we took a public intercity bus down to Fetiyeh which was the sort of gateway town to the Turkish Riviera (or Turquoise Coast). Here, we got onto a little dolmus type of van/bus that takes people between smaller towns. We got off at our pensione in Karakoy. This pension was a small farm with chickens, goats, roosters, cows, cats, and dogs. The owner came out and greeted us, a very large bearded man who clearly enjoys the good pastoral life of fine drink and good food. The owner also serves as butcher and grill master!

We got our rooms and had a bit of free time. I did laundry and got some photos organized. At 4 pm, we all met and went on a little hike up to the abandoned village of Katakoy. This used to be a pretty decent sized little town until the Turkish civil war concluded and Greeks had to leave Turkey and Turks had to leave Greece. There were far more Greeks in Turkey than the other way around, so when this town’s Greek residents were forced to move, there weren’t many Turks left to fend for it. So, it dwindled in size until the mid 1950s when earthquakes forced the entire abandonment of the town. Today, the buildings are still standing. It’s an open air museum, more or less. It is a very powerful moving experience to think about what it would have been like to be forcibly removed from your land that your family may have owned or farmed for hundreds of years.

Ghost town of Kayaköy, Turkey.

Ghost town of Kayaköy, Turkey.

Ghost town of Kayaköy, Turkey.

Ghost town of Kayaköy, Turkey.

Once we got a good feel of Karakoy, we walked back to the pensione/farm for our BBQ. The owner/butcher was preparing lamb chops for all of us as we came back to the farm. I dropped off my bags in the room and rejoined the others for pre dinner beers and Revellery. Dinner was soon served and a few of us split a bottle of wine. The food was absolutely delicious…grilled lamb chops, Turkish bread, rice, and lettuce salad. Te conversation around the communal dinner table was great, too. I’m getting a kick out of hanging out with my group. Everyone seems to spend their time talking to others and not in little cliques. After dinner, the big table was cleared and we danced to music streamed over the farm’s computer. The group would type in songs and stream over YouTube. We sang and danced. I searched for and played “American Pie” and sang it loudly to the version I used to sing in college with fraternity brothers at O’Malley’s pub in Champaign, IL. Some of the group laughed and joined in with me until the very end…quite a fun time! Eventually, the beer and wine got the best out of some of us, so a night was called and we crashed in our beds.

The butcher/guesthouse owner at our pensione at Kayaköy.

The butcher/guesthouse owner at our pensione at Kayaköy.

I was awoken the next day at 5:08 AM by the imam wailing his morning call to prayer, which then conveniently awoke the roosters. They cock-a-doodle-dooed until 6 or so when I went back to sleep for an hour until my alarm went off. I stumbled out of bed, showered and met the others for breakfast. That day, we were going to hike a part of the Lycian Way from the farm, through the ghost village, up and over the mountains which separated the farm from the Mediterranean, and then down to the ocean and to beach resort area of Oludeniz. The hike was great, not too demanding, yet it had its moments. We encountered some new wildlife that I’ve never seen on a hike before in my life – tortoises! After about 3 hours of hiking,we came upon the ultra touristy beach town of Oludeniz. Some of us had lunch, others went paragliding (much to the chagrin of our guide Yunus who strongly suggested not to), and others went to the beach. I went with a few others to the beach and we each rented a lounge chair and umbrella. I spent about 2 hours there before packing up and taking a dolmus bus back to the farm with one of the women in my group, Silvie. I didn’t go in the water as it was quite cold and I didn’t have trunks. So, I sat in my lounge and read and slept under the umbrella. I had sweat quite enough by the time I got back. The weather was actually quite spectacular, probably low 80s and 100% blue skies. The sea was ultra turquoise in color, so beautiful. Honestly, when I had images of Turkey in mind before this trip, I did not think about Riviera style beach resorts.

Back at the farm, I showered and joined the others in the group to hear all the takes of the day. We laughed and had some Efes beers and/or wine before dinner. That night’s dinner was mixed grilled meat…and it was also so very very delicious! I had it with a couple full glasses of a Turkish red wine (I can’t recall the name). Since we had an early day the next day (which, incidentally, is today, Friday 27-Apr, as I write this), it was a quiet night after dinner and we all god some good sleep.

This morning, I got up with the imam wailing, again, at exactly 5:07 am, yet had a hard time falling back to sleep. Finally, my alarm went off and I showered and packed my bag for the day. After breakfast, we all piled into a dolmus which took us to the Fetiyeh bus station. There, we transferred to a larger public inter-city bus for the shortish 2 1/2 hour drive along the Mediterranean coast over to Kas where I am now. This little seaside town is much cleaner and a bit upscale compared to Fetiyeh. I live it here. A quaint central city has scores of lovely shops with all manner of Turkiah products. Also, an ancient Greek theatre in very good condition sits on a hill above town, and ancient Lycian sarcophagi litter the hills which rise up of the sea just behind the town. When we checked into the hotel, the group had a little orientation walk with our guide, Yunus. I got a good feel for the town, so I kinda went off on my own to at lunch and explore the sarcophagi and the old old old Greek theatre (which really is in amazing condition). After some shopping, I went back to the splendid little hotel perched on the hills above the town for showeering and finishing this long overdue post. I think I’ve been writing this on my iPad in bits and pieces over the past few days. Anyway, it’s about 6:30 pm, so I’m going to meet the group for some wine and on the hotels rooftop terrace overlooking the gorgeous Mediterranean sea and a curious little Greek island just a few km off shore.

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