Turkey Turkey was the next destination on my list of places and I was looking forward to seeing the interesting geological formations as well as the historical and religious sites that I have read about and seen in photographs over the years. I had a couple choices on getting to Turkey and one was by train from Iran. Unfortunately, the weekly train from Tehran to Istanbul, called the Trans-Asia Express, takes a long time. The train is actually two connecting trains, an Iranian train from Tehran to Lake Van in Turkey, then you have to take a ferry across the lake, and transfer to a Turkish train to continue to Istanbul. The trip takes 3 days in total and I did not want to take away from time spent sightseeing. Besides, the flight from Tehran to Istanbul was only twenty-something dollars and I would be there in a few hours. Currently to travel to Turkey all you need is a passport and you can purchase a 90-day tourist at the point of entry into the country for $20 USD cash. If coming in by airport, be sure to purchase your visa prior to getting in line for the customs/immigrations otherwise you will have to wait through the same line twice. I saw a few people get up to the customs/immigration window only to have to go to the adjacent visa booth and purchase their visa and get back in the customs/immigration line all over again. Turkey is located in southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia (the portion of Turkey west of the Bosporus is geographically part of Europe). Its total land area is slightly larger than the state of Texas. It is bounded on the north by Bulgaria, and the Black Sea, north-northeast by Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, to the east by Iran, to the south by Iraq, Syria, and the Mediterranean Sea, and to the west by Greece and the Aegean Sea. 1 - Istanbul My flight arrived in the early morning into Istanbul and I had not made any plans on where to stay so I decided to take a taxi to a hotel that sounded interesting from my guidebook. It was formerly a grand hotel with chandeliers and high ceilings. It has been in service since 1881. The guy at the front desk asked if I had reservations and told me that he had a small quiet room upstairs for tonight and if I wanted to switch the following day to a larger room that I could. He was right, it was a tiny room but all I was going to be doing in my room was sleeping and taking a shower so it worked out perfectly. I had a choice of staying in a touristy part of Istanbul (neighborhood known as Sultanahmet) or the nightlife area (neighborhood known as Taksim) and I chose the latter. The tourist area has all the sites but is relatively dead at night, not much street life and I like to wander the streets day and night. If staying in the Taksim area you have to choose your hotel carefully because it can be in a very noisy area due to all the bars and restaurants. Most places in Taksim get going after midnight so if you choose
poorly you might be up all night. My hotel was located on the edge of this area however it did not face the noisy side. The city of Istanbul is straddling the continents of Asia and Europe and is much larger than I had imagined. It is a Muslim country but has a diverse population made up of many religions. I noticed that the people of Turkey have their own unique look and I cannot say that they look like Europeans or their neighbors, the Iranians or Syrians. You do see a blending of races and more blue-eyed people. The women dress ranges from western wear to the full chador and head scarf. The men wear regular western wear clothes. There is little logic to how Istanbul is all laid out. In looking at a map it is obvious that no grand master plan was considered when laying out the streets. The topography doesn't help either, since the city covers several hills split between three landmasses, two on the European side of the Bosporus divided by the Golden Horn and one on the Asian side. There's no downtown or any other convenient way to figure out the layout of the city. It's just a matter of making sure you know which district you need to get to. Street patterns are irregular, with the name of the street keeps changing several times as it goes along. It seems that the city planners were also against the idea of straight lines and right angles. Then to make it harder, all the maps use different spellings for the same street names so after a while you just have to assume that since it is close to the spelling then is has to be the street you are looking for but good luck finding the street name listed anywhere along the way. Sometimes I would find the street name listed on the corner of the building at the second story level. Several times I was extremely frustrated trying to find something and if I asked people, they never seemed to understand what I was trying to say. Also, the maps do not show every street so forget about counting streets that you have to cross before you get to the one you are looking for because some alleyways are shown on the maps while some streets are missing. My first day in Istanbul I spent walking around from Taksim Square where they have a McDonalds and a Burger King adjacent to a park. Starting at Taksim Square which is on top of the hill you can start walking down the hill on Istiklal Caddesi. Istiklal Caddesi is a pedestrian street that has a red trolley line running down the center of it. The only traffic that is allowed on the street are emergency vehicles and police cars. There are several areas along the way where cars are allowed to cross across it and you need to be careful because the pedestrian does not have the right away in Turkey. This is the first place where I actually felt that I might get hit by a car while crossing the street. Several times I felt the car brush against my legs while crossing streets. No one seems to pay attention to stop lights or pedestrian crossings. Even when you have the green pedestrian signal be watchful of the cars. Also, they have an eight-sided red sign with the letters “DUR” printed on it. All I could assume it means is “CONTINUE” because no one stops at them. Throughout my travels in Turkey I heard other tourist commenting about the same thing. OK, back to Taksim. Taksim gets packed with people walking up and down the street, window shopping, gazing at the various restaurants, and gazing down the side streets with the blaring music. A single side street off Istiklal Caddesi can be crammed with so many cafes, dive bars, folk music joints, techno clubs and beer
joints that it can be very chaotic. Each one is blaring its own sound directed out to the street. So, if you sit out on the sidewalk cafĂŠ seating area you might get a full mixture of sound and not the one you intended on hearing. All the same it was interesting to sit at various side street spots just to people watch. Smoking must be a prerequisite for males in Turkey because they all smoke. I do not think I saw one single male, young or old that did not smoke. I also noticed many more women smoking as well. Smoking is allowed in all restaurants (including McDonalds), stores, and most public buildings. I will have to consider giving up secondhand smoking when I return to the States. The food was good in that it is a mixture of things I had in Iran as well as Mediterranean influences such as Greek and Italian. The main staple though seems to be the kebab (dĂśner). At one place I ordered a chicken kebab and it appears that they basically just chopped up a leg and thigh with the bones included. I tried to eat it but it was basically just too difficult because every bite was full of shards of bones, sort of like eating fish that is full of bones. They had the same great yogurt and yogurt type drink that I found in Iran. The yogurt drink is called Ayran and some places served it freshly made and would put a pitcher of it on the table. Another thing that I was addicted to was the ice cream. Along the streets they have guys kneading three flavors of ice cream, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. They use a long heavy metal rod with a flattened end to it and they work the ice cream down in a cold, deep metal container. There is no air in the ice cream so it is very dense and if served to you on a plate it is very difficult to eat. When I ordered it in a restaurant they serve it to me with a fork and knife. I found it easier to cut large chunks off the take the large chunk on the fork and bite pieces of it off that way. It does not appear to melt either. While in Istanbul I always stopped by one stand and the guy remembered me and would prepare my order before I even had a chance to ask for it. Also, the baklava was very good in Turkey. It was different than in other places, gooier with fewer nuts if any at all. The breakfasts were pretty much the same as in Iran. Maybe an omelet, hard boiled egg, flat bread, tomatoes, cucumber, yogurt, salty feta-like cheese, juice, coffee or tea. Pepsi seems to have the upper hand in Turkey as well. Although I have to say that the Pepsi tastes different on this whole trip than it does in the States. I would have a hard time telling it apart from Coca-Cola. Bottled water is served everywhere but the tap water is also fine to drink. Turkey has there own brand of beer called Efes. They also make a water-clear alcoholic drink called raki which is anise-based and personally I think tastes awful. Sort of reminds me of Greek ouzo. Tipping at meals is expected and ten per cent is generally sufficient. In high end places, tipping is expected in addition to the added service charges, so basically they put the tip on the bill and then they expect a tip on top of that. Turkey is not as expensive as Europe but it is not a cheap place either. It used to be known as an inexpensive place to travel but as they work their way to become part of the European Union they have had to stabilize their currency. On January 1, 2005 six zeroes were dropped from the Turkish Lira. One million Turkish Lira is now equal to 1 New Turkish Lira (TRY). The exchange rate for $1 USD was equal to 1.65 TRY.
While flying over from Iran I was surprised to see how much snow was present on the mountainous countryside. When I got into Istanbul I was actually a bit chilled walking around in a short-sleeved shirt. Throughout my time in Turkey I experienced the very cold to the very hot. Up in the mountains there was snow on the ground and along the Mediterranean coast it was balmy warm and hot a couple hours inland. I think that May is probably the best time to visit Turkey. It is spring time and the wild flowers are blooming all over the country. You see fields of red poppies, yellow mustard, blue, and white. The shot below is from a field next to the gas station out in the middle of nowhere.
The main touristy area of Istanbul is on the European side of the city. Here you find the famous mosques, palaces, museums and lots of hotels all centered in the area referred to as the Sultanahmet. Along side of these sights you have cafes and restaurants that charge more than in other parts of Istanbul. You also have all the touts that first befriend you by saying things like “you walk like a Turk, are you Turkish?” or “halo, are you German?” I found another country where everyone thought I was German. The conversation ALWAYS goes the route of “I have a shop just around the corner, just come and take a look, it is free to look”. I always tried to be polite and after a while it became a nuisance. I tried the speaking Spanish trick but they could answer back in Spanish as well. I got stuck a few times for about 1 hour each time and I would tell them all up front, “I am not buying anything, I am not carrying any more weight than I have now, and I am not shipping anything back”. That did not seem to dissuade them any but in the end they begrudgingly gave up and let me go. It was much worse in Page 4
Istanbul and along the coast of Turkey where the tourist ships dock. 1 - Istanbul
7 - Ephesus
8 - Pamukkale 6 - Kuşadası
2 - Göreme 3 – Mt. Nemrut 4 - Sanliurfa
5 - Harran
Now, on to why I came to Istanbul. I started my visit by going to the Basilica Cistern. The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that are located beneath the city of Istanbul. The Basilica Cistern was built in the 6th century and is located near the Hagia Sophia. This cistern provided water for the palace and other buildings on the hill. I thought, yeah, I have seen cisterns before but I was very impressed by the design and size of this one. This cistern measures 470 feet by 210 feet, holds upto 2,800,000 cubic feet of water, and covers an area of approximately 105,000 square feet. The cistern is supported by 336 marble columns, each about 30 feet high. The columns are arranged in 12 rows with each row made up of 28 columns all spaced about 16 feet apart.
The bases of two of the columns have the carved head of a Medusa on them. They are located in the northwest corner of the cistern and the origin of the two heads is unknown.
The cistern walls are 13 feet thick and are made of a firebrick coated with a special mortar for waterproofing. The cistern's water was provided by aqueducts from the Belgrade Woods located about 12 miles north. After leaving the cistern I crossed the street and went to the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia was formerly a basilica, which later became a mosque, and now is a museum. It is famous for its massive dome and it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the Seville Cathedral was built in 1520. The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 A.D. by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, and is the third church to be built on that site because the two previous churches were destroyed by riots.
In 1453, Istanbul (known at that time as Constantinople) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and Sultan Mehmed II ordered that the Hagia Sophia be converted to the Ayasofya Mosque (notice the similarity of the words Hagia Sophia and Ayasofya â€“ that is what I encountered when trying to match street names on maps to actual street names on buildings or guide books). The bells, altar, and iconostasis, were removed, and many of the mosaics were plastered over. Over the course of time Islamic features such as the mihrab, the minbar, and the four minarets were added. In 1935 it was converted from a functioning mosque into a museum. The carpets were removed and the marble floor decorations were brought to light for the first time in hundreds of years.
Also, the white plaster that covered the mosaics was carefully removed by restorers. Due to its long history as both a church and a mosque, it became a challenge on what to save during the restoration process. As the Christian mosaics were being uncovered, important, historical Islamic art had to be removed. The restorers have attempted to maintain a balance between both the Christian and Islamic cultures throughout the process.
Again, the sheer size of the Hagia Sophia is what amazed me especially when you consider when it was constructed. Just a few more boring facts... The largest columns are about 65 feet tall and slightly less than 5 feet in diameter. They are made out of granite with the largest weighing over 70 tons. The central dome has a diameter of 102 feet 6 inches and a height from the floor of 182 feet 5 inches. Just up the street is the Sultanahmet Camii (the Blue Mosque). The Blue Mosque is a 17th century mosque and is famous for its beautiful blue tile work on the walls. The mosque is surrounded by six minarets which make it different from other mosques which normally have one, two or four minarets. The mosque I visited in Cairo was patterned off of this mosque and I could see the similarities within the interior space. I have to say that although the exterior is beautiful with all the domes and the six minarets I am a bit jaded about the interior after seeing the architecture of the mosques in Iran with their intricate attention to artistic details.
Adjacent to the Blue Mosque you will find the Hippodrome Square. The Hippodrome Square contains the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpentine Column, and the Colossus. The Egyptian Obelisk is 195 feet high and weighs 800 tons. Really not much to see there. Next on the list was the Topkapi Palace. Topkapi Palace was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans (Kings), from 1465 to 1853. I went to the palace on the weekend and the place was packed. I would recommend going during the weekdays in order to avoid the crowds. They have a separate area within the palace called The Harem and it costs extra to get in and see the rooms and layout. The museum also houses the Imperial Treasury. The Imperial Treasury is a collection of works of art, jewelry, heirlooms, and money belonging to the Ottoman dynasty. The most famous of the jewels is the Spoonmaker's Diamond, a teardrop shaped 86 carat diamond (worlds 5th largest diamond) set in silver and surrounded with 49 diamonds. Supposedly this diamond was found in a rubbish dump and bought by a street peddler for three spoons. Among the exhibits are two large golden candleholders, each weighing 106 pounds and mounted with 6,666 cut diamonds. Another famous jeweled object in the collection is the Topkapi Dagger. The gold hilt contains three huge emeralds, topped with a gold watch with an emerald lid. The gold sheath of the dagger is covered with diamonds. The dagger was made famous in the movie Topkapi as the object of the robbery. It took a long time to view all the exhibits due to the crowds. Even though the palace complex is large I did not find the Topkapi Palace or The Harem that spectacular. The palace did contain some beautiful rooms and very detailed ceilings but overall I was not all that impressed with the place. I may be doing the place an injustice because I was probably having an off day and I have seen so many palaces in my journeys so far.
Istanbul is also famous for its grand covered bazaar. All the guidebooks say that the covered bazaar is one of the must-sees of Istanbul; however you should be ready to be hassled by all the shop keepers. The covered bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world with 22 gates with more than 4,000 shops on 64 streets. It is like a maze and looks very complicated but it is easy to make your way around in it and if you get lost you can always get help getting out. The covered bazaar was first built in 1464 and it has had several restorations over the years due to fires and earthquakes. You can find all kind of things for sale in the bazaar from carpets to leather coats and gold to counterfeit t-shirts. The covered bazaar is considered to be one of the most important gold markets in the world. I have already visited so many bazaars over the past few weeks with far less hassles that I could barely stand a few minutes within this one. 2 - Gรถreme After a few days in Istanbul it was time to head east to see the area referred to as Cappadocia. I thought that Cappadocia was an actual city rather than an extensive district with various cites. I caught an early flight out of Istanbul to Kayseri. Kayseri is located in the central portion of the country. The city is located adjacent to an extinct volcano that was covered with snow.
I had prearranged a tour of the area and had a driver waiting for me as I exited the airport. After he gathered up a few other passengers we headed to Göreme, a small town located in the heart of the natural wonders known as the fairy chimneys. The driver dropped off a few people along the way and then entered into Göreme where he turned to me and asked if I was ready. I wondered “ready for what” but answered “yes”. We left the town and headed out on a road through some interesting rock formations. After a little bit we reached a point where he pointed to a group of people walking down a ravine and said, “you join them”. I asked him what I was joining and he responded “tour”. I walked down to the group and the guide seemed to know that I was coming. He could see that I was cold and gave me his sweater. He took us through a very unusual landscape. The Cappadocia region was formed by sedimentary rock deposits from ancient volcanoes that erupted in the area from 3 to 9 million years ago. The rock structures are made up of highly eroded sediments that have eroded into pillars-like forms. The harder top surface has not eroded away as quickly as a softer material beneath.
The volcanic deposits are made up of relatively soft rocks that the people in the area carved into villages. They carved out houses, churches, and monasteries. First people to settle in Gรถreme were the Christians during the Roman period. There is an area referred to as the Gรถreme Open Air Museum and it is an area that is famous for having more than 30 rock-carved churches and chapels containing some very colorful frescoes. The whole area dates from the 9th to the 11th centuries.
When we finished the dayâ€™s tours I headed back to my cave hotel.
I was surprised to see how much of the area is actually made up of these carved out pinnacles. It seemed that every pinnacle had some sort of room or house carved into it. Some of the places were carved out for pigeons to roost. You could see some places were the doorways and windows were filled in with stone leaving rows of small openings. These opening were to encourage the roosting of pigeons. The inhabitants collected the pigeon droppings for use as fertilizer in their farming.
Between the pinnacles the current inhabitants have small farms with all kinds of vegetables growing as well as fruit trees that included apricot, apple orchards and grape vines. The grapes vines are not grown up on stalks but instead the vines radiate from the ground and the leaf structure is kept low to help keep the soil from drying out. Also, during the winter the low growing vine stalks are covered with soil to protect them from freezing. Several grape vineyard areas were still covered with soil as it was still relatively cool out. The apricot and apple trees were all in bloom at this time. Several of the locals asked me if I had tried the local wine so I made it a point to find it one nightâ€Ś it was not that great but I did not let on that I did not care for it. While on the tour I met up with three older New Zealand women who where out to have fun. We ended up having a great time together. I donâ€™t know if I have laughed as much with anyone else on this trip. It turned out that they were staying at the same cave hotel and they talked me into going to a special Turkish show for the evening. It was a bit pricy (40 Euros) and included a five course meal that started at 9 pm. At midnight we were all tired and ready to go even though we had not received all of all five courses. What made it even harder was the show was performed in an underground cave and the seats that we were sitting on were highly padded and heated. Here I was sitting in the dark, eating a large sampling of various things including their local wines, while watching a performance to music, seated on warm seatsâ€Ś well I started fading fast around 11:30 pm after only having 3 hours sleep the night before. The ethnic dancing was interesting to watch but I found the whirling dervishes to be the most interesting. The room was completely dark and they used a black light to illuminate their white Page 23
robes. Three men with white robes started to swirl to the music and the started twirling faster and faster while tilting their heads back and with the black lighting it all looked very surreal. As the time neared midnight we decided to skip the last course and call it a night. I went back to my cave and went right to bed.
3 - Mount Nemrut The next morning at 8:30 I left by minibus to Mount Nemrut. Mount Nemrut is a 7,001 foot high mountain in southeastern Turkey and is famous for statue heads that are scattered about on the ground. It took all day to get to a small town (Kahta) located near Mount Nemrut. Along the way we stopped at a caravanserai that is being restored and an ice cream cafĂŠ for some of the hard ice cream I mentioned earlier. After checking into the hotel we all gathered for dinner and then off to bed because we had to be leave by 3:00 am to hike up Mount Nemrut to witness the morning sunrise on the statue heads. The guide was concerned that all I had was my fleece jacket and I would be cold. He then told me that there still is snow on the mountain. I was having flashbacks to Mount Sinai and the long dark hike up and the howling cold winds at the top. At least we had some sleep before climbing this mountain. It turned out that this mountain was completely different than Mount Sinai in that we drove up the mountain a majority of the way and the hike up was relative quick and easy in comparison. The winds were not bad but it was cold. The minibus stopped at a shelter for the usual tea stop and a cigarette. Four Turkish women in our group got out of the minibus and one said that she could not go to the top because of her asthma and she was having a hard time breathing. After announcing this she pulled out an inhaler for a squirt then lit up her cigarette. We all looked at her and thought, not asthmaâ€Ś
During the 8-hour bus ride I had hooked up with an Italian named Dario. He was a world traveler who started off his early twenties by making his way around the world in 2 years doing odd jobs along the way and sleeping in parks when he had no funds. He was very interesting to talk to and had several great stories about all his adventures. He and I decided not to wait on the guide so we hiked up the mountain early in order to get some nice shots of the sunrise and the statue heads.
In 62 BC, King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene built a tomb and placed huge statues (26 - 30 feet high) of himself, two lions, two eagles and various Greek, Armenian and Persian gods, such as Hercules, Zeus, Oromasdes (a Persian god), Tyche, and Apollo on two terraces. One terrace faced east and the other faced west. There was a large patch of slippery ice and snow between the two terraces. At one time the seated statues (with heads) were inscribed with the names of the god on them. Now the heads of the statues are now scattered across the eastern and western terraces. The pattern of damage to the heads indicates that they were deliberately damaged. The statues have not been restored to their original positions; however the heads have all been placed upright in front of the bases of where they once sat. The site also contains stone slabs with bas-relief figures that are thought to have once formed a large frieze. In 1987, Mount Nemrut was made a World heritage site by UNESCO.
After Mount Nemrut we stopped off and hiked the ruins of Arsemia then to the Roman bridge of Cendere.
4 - Sanliurfa After breakfast at the hotel we headed south towards Sanliurfa. Along the way they stopped at Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates River which according to our guide is supposed to be the largest dam in the Middle East. I could swear that in Egypt they told me that the Aswan Dam was the largest dam in the Middle East. Both Abraham and Moses (Musa) lived in Sanliurfa during the same time period. Moses was a shepherd in the Sanliurfa area before returning to Egypt. Early Christians were permitted to worship freely in Sanliurfa and the first churches were constructed openly. As I observed throughout my travels, the first houses of worship were usually Pagan temples which were later converted to synagogues or churches, then the synagogues or churches were later converted to mosques. Prior to arriving in Sanliurfa our guide kept telling us to stick together because we are going to an area of Turkey that is not regularly visited by foreigners and that the people will not be used to seeing us and he could not guarantee our safety. He did not want us wandering around on our own. We arrived in Sanliurfa to see the Prophet Abrahamâ€™s (Ibrahimâ€™s) Pool of Sacred Fish. According to both the Bible and Koran (Quran) Sanliurfa is the birthplace of Abraham before he journeyed to Palestine. The local
legend states that King Nimrod had Abraham launched from a catapult from the city's citadel into a pile of burning wood. God turned the fire to water and the burning wood to fish. Today you can visit the mosque next to Abraham's cave and the Pool of Sacred Fish (carp). There are vendors selling pellets of fish food and the fish congregate wherever they see people looking at them hoping to be fed. I took a couple videos of the way the carp were madly scrambling to get the pellet fish food, as if they are starving.
We were feeding the fish and chatting amongst ourselves when out guide went a little weird on us. Our guide was in his mid-twenties, a recent university graduate with a nice big smile. He seemed very friendly and even gave a few of the passenger’s nicknames to make things a bit more personal. One guy in our group was an older retiree from San Diego and our guide referred to him as “Father”. He was the only other person I met from the US while I was in Turkey. The other people in our tour group were a mixture of people from England, Canada, Italy, China, and Turkey. Our tour guide proceeded to lectured us on if we had followed him we would have heard the story of Abraham and the fish the first time and that we needed to stay with him. Then he launched into the story but before he finished he went off on a tangent about how “we” are not all that different. He started referring to the Koran and Bible and that many of the same people are mentioned in each holy book (Abraham – Ibrahim, Moses – Musa, Mary – Maria, etc.) then he started saying that we are all the same, same origins and that we should be getting along better and not fighting. Then he started talking about 9-11 and said
that the whole thing was made up by the US to go after Muslims around the world. Just think about it, the best pilots in the world come from the US and they are all trained there so the US government planned on flying the planes into the buildings and it was not anyone else. I was looking at him and the others wondering what is happening here. No one said a word and when he was finished and we all walked away in sort of disbelief. I heard a couple people say that he was way out-of-line with his comments and what was Father thinking at this time. I was more shocked because he was a young, university educated guy and believes this is how things happened. How many others think the same way? The guide then told us that we could visit the bazaar. I wondered about the guides previous comments about the people not being used to us and not to wander on our own. Also I felt a bit strange because a few of us had taken the legs off our my pants (convertible pants) prior to our arrival into town because it was very hot on the minibus (no air conditioning). While feeding the fish I noticed the looks I was getting from some of the passersby and wondered if I should just stay outside of the bazaar after the strange lecture. However, once I immersed myself into the bazaar I found the people to be very friendly and welcoming. In fact, several people came up to me and asked where I was from and also asked to have their picture taken. This always led to others wanting their pictures taken too. A couple people came back to me and handed me email addresses and I knew that they wanted me to send them their photographs. It was a very nice experience and without the hassles of people trying to push things on me. I got a kick out of one young guy trying to sell some items made in China to the Chinese couple. They were confused by one young girl who kept saying Jackie Chan to the guy and he was telling her that was not his name. Then he asked me why she kept saying that? I told him that she is most likely referring to him being Asian and that he is probably the only Asian she has seen in person. His comment back to me was â€œbut he is so oldâ€?. The central portion of the bazaar was an open area for the locals to congregate, play games, and have tea. Again the people were very friendly and waved me over to take a look at what they were playing and to ask if I wanted to share some tea. Mind you that when I say ask, it is all in lots of sign language with very little common words spoken. They also wanted to pose for photographs and a good laugh. A cute kid was wandering through the crowd selling bread from a tray that he had balanced on the top of his head. I do not know how he managed to make his way around everyone and not dump the bread everywhere.
I had a great time in the bazaar and wondered if the guide was way off the mark with his comments about the locals not being used to foreigners. 5 - Harran Afterwards we headed further south to the town of Harran near the Syrian border. Harran is known for its beehive-like buildings. The area also contains the site referred to as the Temple of Sin (known as the worldâ€™s first university). At one time it was famous throughout the ancient world for its star readers and savants. The site itself was fenced off and there was not much to see. As usual, I took some photographs then we walked into the village of Harran for more tea and cigarettes. I instead decided to wander the village and take pictures of all the various styles of beehive structures.
While wandering around the town I ran across some kids that had a plastic play camera and we played a game of taking each others photographs. I later ran into the same kids down one of the town streets and they were selling pamphlet books on the area for practically nothing. I bought one from each then later gave them the books back to resell because I did not really want to carry them around with me for the rest of the trip. We drove back north to Sanliurfa to our hotel and received our assigned rooms. I was very impressed with the hotel and room. It felt like I was staying in a five star place. Dario’s room was adjacent to mine and he had a corner room with a view out over the city. I realized that we did not know the particulars about when and where to eat dinner so I ran down to the lobby to see if our guide was still around. He was and he seemed upset talking with the reception people. I let him have his space and after a bit I looked around and he was gone. I then spotted him having a cigarette off in the corner of the adjacent room so I went over and asked him when and where we were supposed to have dinner. He looked at me and said “I have bigger problems than you, please allow me some time”. I glanced at the driver and he motioned to me by pointing up. I tried the charades and got nowhere. Then the guide told me that he did not have a room, that the travel agency did not book him a room. I felt bad about the whole thing and left without finding out anything about the dinner. I told Dario what had happened and he suggested that we share a room since each room has two beds and give one ours to the guide. I agreed and Dario went downstairs to tell the guide the plan. A few minutes later Dario shows up mad. It turns out that the guide has a room but has to share it with the driver and did not want to do that. We all met up again later that night for dinner and had a feast provided to us in several courses and I was able to get a pitcher of freshly made Ayran. The next morning we headed back to Göreme. On the way we stopped off at Birecik which is famous for the Bold Ibis birds. We visited a breeding farm set up by the government but the numbers of birds are very low so they will most likely be extinct in a few years. The birds are referred to as the Bold Ibis due to their featherless heads and necks. The birds migrate to Ethiopia and Madagascar in the winter and return to this area around mid-February. They nest in rocky cliffs in this area and mate here then leave in mid-July.
On the ride back to Göreme the guide must have realized that his actions were going to affect his tip and started acting like we are all the best of friends and that we have all had a wonderful time. The Brits were biting at the bit to tell the tour agency about the lecture we received at Sanliurfa and a few other things that happened along the way. “Father” had to leave the group prior to going to Harran and did not give the guide a tip for his services. I asked around and several people said that they were going to give the driver something but not give anything to the guide. On the way back I found out that the guide and driver plan to share everything to the dismay of the group. A side note about the minibus ride. I was putting the final parts to the Iran story together and had the Iran guidebook out and I think that everyone on the bus including the guide borrowed it at some point and I was asked a million questions about Iran. A few times I thought my Iran guidebook was gone forever but somehow it always ended up back on my bus seat. Several people also borrowed my netbook to view some of the photographs of Iran that I was using to insert into the story. I returned to my cave in Göreme and tried to confirm my plans for a balloon ride the next morning. The guy at the reception cave kept telling me he would let me know. Finally I went over to the tour agency and they told me to be ready at 5:45 am. I ran into the Brits while in town and we ended up sharing laughs and several appetizers for dinner and when I returned back to my cave the guy at the reception told me that he received word that I should be ready to go at 6:00 am. I set my alarm for a few minutes to 5:00. Page 37
The alarm went off way too early and I got up and found that there was hot water so I took a shower. No sooner had I put my shirt on that I heard a knock at the door. I thought, oh, it must be the hotel making sure I am awake. I open the door and it is the company gathering the people for the balloon ride and it was about 5:10 am. I grabbed my camera and fleece top and ran out the door. I thoroughly enjoyed the balloon ride. We did not exactly see sunrise but the views of the fairy chimneys from above and the other balloons floating above the horizon was beautiful and peaceful. We drifted over the landscape for about 1:15 hours and then landed in a field a long ways from where we started.
The van that had picked us up in the morning was waiting for us adjacent to the field and after we received our balloon flight certificate and champagne toast we headed back to GĂśreme. I decided on doing a tour of the underground cities and an area about 1 hours drive away that was supposed to have some beautiful river carved scenery with lunch along a river. Our first stop was overlooking a gorge with hundreds of fairy chimneys and I was taking a couple photographs when all of a sudden I was grabbed by someone yelling and I was being pushed towards the edge of the gorge. It was Darioâ€Ś scared the crap out of me! It turns out he opted for the same tour and he was seated at the back of the minibus so we hooked up again for the day. The next stop was to the underground cities. Whole cities were dug out underground to hide out from the various invading armies that came through the area over the years. We descended through a series of tunnels to stables, kitchens, storage rooms, living areas, bedrooms, and water wells. At one point we were about 225 feet below the ground surface. Later our guide took us down a ravine along a river and we hiked for over an hour until we got to a place for along and in the river for lunch.
From there we went to an abandoned city and were given time to wander all over the former city.
That evening I ran into Dario one more time as I passed the bus station. He was headed off to Istanbul for one day of sightseeing before he had to go back to Italy. Within the year he plans on moving to the Patagonia region of Argentina with his Argentinean girlfriend but says he still longs for the freedom of traveling around the world. 6 - Izmir / Kuşadası After Göreme I flew west to the Mediterranean coast to stay in the city of Kuşadası by way of Izmir. Kuşadası is a cruise ship port south of Izmir and I planned to use it as my base for a few sight in that area. I had a nice hotel on the edge of the old town bazaar with a great view of the bay. I spent the first afternoon wandering around the bazaar and market place. I felt like I was back in Istanbul with the way everyone accosted me trying to get me to come into their store to buy something. 7 - Ephesus Ephesus was an ancient Greek city near the present day city of Selçuk on the west coast of Turkey. The city was famous for the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (completed around 550 BC). The temple was destroyed and the remains were used for constructing other buildings. Don’t come hoping to see the remains of the Temple of Artemis because all that is remains is one column with a stork nesting on the top of it.
Ephesus was important as a commercial center but declined when the harbor slowly silted up by the Cayster River, earthquakes, and the cities own sewage discharge. Ephesus was eventually completely abandoned in the 15th century. The present day coast is now around about 5 miles west of the ruins of Ephesus. The site is large and only an estimated 15% has been excavated. The ruins that are visible give some idea of the city's original grandeur. The theater is huge with an estimated 44,000 seating capacity. An interesting temple at Ephesus is the Temple of Hadrian.
The one at Ephesus has been reconstructed and plaster casts have been used at the site while the original pieces are kept in the museum at Selรงuk. One of the sites that most people associate with Ephesus is the Library of Celsus.
The libraryâ€™s facade has been reconstructed and was originally built around 125 AD. Another interesting site is the male latrine with all the seating arranged along the outer walls. It is said that the rich patrons would have their slave go and sit on the marble to not only save the spot but to warm it up as well.
The Ephesus site was fairly crowded probably due to it being a weekend. I enjoyed it and found it interesting but was not wowed by it. It might be a result of just plain touring overload. I have seen so much so far on my trip and I am also a bit worn out by all the traveling and go, go, go each day. I feel like I could use a break of just doing nothing for a few days. Ephesus was an important center for early Christianity around 50 AD. The house of the Virgin Mary, about 4 miles from SelĂ§uk, is believed to have been the last home of Mary, mother of Jesus. She came to Ephesus with Saint John to survive the Roman persecutions. The house was destroyed by several earthquakes and was not discovered until 1951. A German nun saw its location in visions and described the location and the views from the house. The area was located and they found the remains of a house that dates from that time period. It is now a recognized shrine by the Vatican. Now the House of Virgin Mary serves as a small church and many Christians as well as Muslims come there to visit it as a pilgrimage site. Mass is held there every Sunday.
8 - Pamukkale Next on my list of places to go and things to see, Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish, is a natural site in south-western Turkey. Pamukkale is located in Turkey's River Menderes valley, which my guide states is where the name meandering comes from because the river meanders around the long valley. The ancient Greek city of Hierapolis was built on top of the white “cotton castle”. The city was destroyed by a couple earthquakes and what remains today is from the Roman era. To the north of the main ruins of Hierapolis is the north necropolis (graveyard). It contains more than 1,200 tombs of various types, including tumuli, sarcophagi and house-shaped tombs from the Hellenistic, Roman and early Christian periods. Some of the tombs even have Jewish inscriptions. The very wealthy built large tombs in this area. We approached Pamukkale through the north necropolis.
A large theater is also located in Hierapolis and it was closed for restoration. We were able to access it from above and look down at the stage area. I did not have my telephoto zoom lens with me but I could see that it was beautifully decorated with basreliefs all around the stage. The theater was constructed around 200 BC and could hold 20,000 people with reserved seating for distinguished spectators in the front row. Supposedly Cleopatra visited Hierapolis and bathed in the sacred thermal pools. The white deposits below Hierapolis are about 8,800 feet long by about 520 feet high and the deposits can be seen from across the valley as you approach the site. Frequent earthquakes in the valley gave rise to the hot springs. The water from one of these springs contained a high mineral content, in particular chalk. The water also contains some radioactive materials. The effect of the high mineral content has left thick white layers of limestone and travertine cascading down the mountain side giving the effect of a frozen waterfall. One of the formations found here are shallow circular terrace pools stair-stepping down the slope. The edges of the pools are connected by stalactites to the next pool below thereby connecting each of the terraces.
Each evening when I returned to Kuşadası I was warmly greeted by the hotel owner. He would bellow out my name as I approached the hotel. In fact, on my arrival, as I walked up to the desk I heard a voice state “welcome Mark, I will be with you in just a minute”. A minute later a guy referred to in my guidebook as Mister Happy came out of a back room. I am not sure how he saw me coming and how he knew for sure that it was me checking in because I had made advanced reservations almost a week prior. He was constantly looking out after my wellbeing and provided me with special herbal teas at the end of the long days to re-energize me and then another special drink at the end of the evening to help with sleeping. He was great on advice on where to go in the city and what to avoid. He was also just starting up a restaurant on the rooftop of his hotel so I decided to eat there a couple of nights. I think the staff went overboard with the amount of food they served trying to ensure that the guests were more than satisfied. Everything prepared on the grill and in their kitchen was delicious. I left the hotel early in the morning to catch a flight back to Istanbul to wrap up my Turkish adventures. I feel bad that I have not written more about particular observations I made while touring around the country but I have run out of time and maybe a little energy. Turkey was a very easy country to get around in (great highway system) and I had no real language issues. The food was great, the people were hospitable, and the geological formations as well as the historical and religious sites were amazing. I wished I could have spent a little more time in each of the places to take in the atmosphere and not have to rush off to see another tourist destination. Turkey is another country that I would definitely not hesitate to recommend visiting with friends and families. Now off to the next destination!
Published on Jul 6, 2009