Tuesday, June 1, 2010
My Turkey travels
Traveling in Turkey. How can I even begin to write a blog post about all my adventures there. I saw and did so much, it seems. Here are some of the highlights:
My friend Pat and I flew from Simferopol to Istanbul, only about an hour and a half flight. Stayed at a hostel in the heart of old Istanbul and spent the rest of that day and the next seeing the sights—all within walking distance: The magnificent mosques of Ayasofya and Sultanahmet, the Sultan’s palace, the underwater cistern, the Grand Bazaar. Istanbul is a huge city—12 million people—divided by the Bosphorous strait into the Asian side and the European side. It is a truly historic city where the civilizations of these two continents met and mingled for centuries. The part I was in was clogged with tourists from all over the world, especially western Europe and America. I loved just walking around, taking in the people, the numerous shops with men in front trying to entice you in to see their carpets, the wonderful smells from the carts selling roasted corn and chestnuts, the beautiful flowers blooming everywhere.
Not wanting to just see Istanbul, Pat and I had planned in advance with the help of my friend Elizabeth who lived in Istanbul for three years, a sort of tour around Turkey, traveling mostly via the budget airlines located within Turkey which are great deals--$30-50 one-way. So after Istanbul, we flew to Cappadocia, located in the middle of the country. Cappadocia is an area encompassing several villages where cave dwellings and churches have been excavated by ancient peoples out of the peculiar rock formations. Even today, people continue to build houses into the caves and rock, and, indeed, our hotel was one of the famous “cave hotels” with many of the rooms located in small caves. Sounds rustic, but it was the nicest place we stayed the whole trip and was filled with English speaking tourists from America and all over Europe. We spent a couple of days hiking and exploring the area--going to the outdoor “museum” of ancient cave churches; an underground city of five levels where people hid from invaders; a pottery factory; a hike on a trail through a canyon where people had carved pigeon houses to collect their droppings to fertilize their vineyards, a practice only abandoned recently in favor of chemical fertilizers. One evening we want to a “whirling dervish ceremony.” The whirling dervishes are a Sufi sect founded by Rumi, the famous Sufi poet. Put on for the tourists, of course, it still was a solemn and moving ceremony where the performers (monks) go into a trance and whirl around and around for close to an hour, circling with the energy of the universe.
I could have stayed much longer in Cappadocia, hiking the many canyons, but after two days, we were off to see the wondrous ruins of Ephesus. Another short flight got us to the cit y of Izmir, where we were picked up by a very charming young Turkish man (who later we found out worked at a carpet shop and spent the next couple of days trying to get us to buy a carpet) and taken to our pension in a small Greek/Turk village up in the mountains. We were told that it would be a nice quiet place to stay, but it turned out to be overrun with tour buses during the day. But at night it did live up to its reputation, and it was great fun to wander the steep narrow side streets and eat at our favorite café where I found my only Russian speaker on the trip—a woman from Georgia who was the cook. She made a delicious stew with thistle root and lamb, called “sevket-I bostan.” Spent a day exploring the amazing 2000-year-old Greek and Roman ruins of the city of Ephesus, the largest excavated ruins in the world, and then spent the remaining day hiking up into the hills above the village through vineyards and olive groves until we came to the tall pine trees at the top with views out to the Mediterranean.
That night we took an overnight bus—a common way to travel in Turkey, the buses are very luxurious—to our next destination, the 500 km Lycian Way trail through the mountains along the coast of the Mediterranean in southern Turkey. The overnight bus was not exactly that, because in the middle of it we had a 3-hour layover in a bus station, where Pat and I constructed a deck of cards and played gin rummy to pass the time. We arrived at our destination at 5am, waited for an hour or so and then took a small bus on a winding cliff road with 1500 meter drop offs to the sea (I closed my eyes at some point) to our final destination, a very small village on the cliffs high above the sea. We had originally thought we would hike the trail and stay in villages along the way and had brought backpacks for that purpose. But as the time drew closer, the thought of carrying the weight of the backpacks was less and less appealing, and on the advice of an outdoor travel service, we ended up staying three nights at a beautiful little place (where breakfast and dinner were included in the very cheap price) and did day hikes from there. A good choice, I think, as our hikes brought us through the beautiful mountain meadows with sheer rock faces towering above us, and down to just wondrous Mediterranean beaches. I remember so well swimming in the Mediterranean when I was 19 while hitchhiking around Europe—the crystal clear turquoise water, the gentle waves, the lovely white sand. And my memories rang true—at least where we ended up. The first day we spent mostly at the beach, an hour hike down from the road, and encountered just a few other folks, particularly 3 older people from Sweden who were great fun to talk to. And I wore a bikini! I had picked one up at the Peace Corps office that a 62-year-old volunteer I knew had left there. But when I tried it on at home, I thought, no way, I will never wear this. But packing for the trip it seemed much easier to throw in than my tank suit, so there I was on the beach, in a bikini. And like all the other women around here, not caring what my body looked like. That was the best part, that and the fact it was kind of like swimming in the nude which I do love to do.
So after a few idyllic days hiking and swimming on the coast, we took a plane back to Istanbul for one more day of touring before heading back to our homes in Crimea and America. We spent our remaining day taking a boat up the Bosphorus to the farthest end where it opens up to the Black Sea. The ruins of an ancient fort are perched on a hill high above the sea, and the views are spectacular. There are also many ruins along the way, ancient mansions lining the waterway, small villages, freighters and pleasure boats plying the waters. It was a good way to spend our last day. The next morning Pat left early for the airport to catch her flight back to America, and I wondered around Istanbul shopping a bit and stumbling across a rally about Palestine. Finally I made my way out to the airport and back to Simferopol. Serdar called the minute I landed and said he and his father wanted to come pick me up at the airport, that they had missed me, and wanted me to come right away to their house. And I had missed them too. What a wonderful welcome home.
One of the things I learned about myself on this trip is that what I still love most is travel that allows me to be, if not in wilderness, at least in the countryside. I am less interested in the sights of the cities, as fascinating as I do find them. When I think of coming back to Turkey, I think of going again to the Lycian Way, or to the mountains in the east that I have heard much about. I do hope to return to Turkey as it is not too far away (though no one seemed to know where Crimea was—I kept saying “It’s just across the Black Sea!”), and it is a wonderful place to travel—much better than Ukraine, I am sorry to say. There are many modern conveniences, the people are very friendly, in at least the tourist locations some people speak English, it is easy to get around and not too expensive. And so beautiful and rich in ancient history.
I came back to much going on here at home, so on to writing some more blogs and getting caught up.