Turkey Unplugged – Day Ten

I spent my last day in Turkey (04 Nov 2013) in Taksim Gezi Park writing in my journal, and observing the comings and goings of the people who live in Istanbul.  I used those last few hours to sum up my experience of Turkey.  I wrote, “I noticed that the hotels in Turkey don’t have those signs telling you how much you will have to pay if you steal the towels etc.  I don’t know if it is because Turkish people wouldn’t dream of stealing, or if it is because the hotels haven’t caught on to this not so subtle way of  warning would be thieves.”

A list of hotels in Taksim, Istanbul
A list of hotels in Taksim, Istanbul
Fountain in Taksim Gezi Park
Fountain in Taksim Gezi Park

“The weather has been amazing!  I am wearing a hoodie over a T-shirt, and I am sitting in the shade; I am not cold.  Here in Istanbul, people are wearing jackets but not winter coats.  Yesterday, in the mountains, I saw people wearing full-length, down-filled coats.”

highlands-of-turkey

“Most of the people in the park are men; in fact, most of the people on the street are men.  Old men sit at makeshift sidewalk cafe’s smoking, drinking coffee or çay, and talking or playing backgammon. Where are the women?  According to Edward, the Irishman in Kusadasi, the women are working.  I saw women picking cotton and women working as cashiers in both of the supermarkets I patronized, but not very many women seem to work in the hospitality industry, chambermaids notwithstanding.  The waiters and bartenders in most of the places where I ate and drank were men.  The sales people in the Grand Bazaar, in the leather shop, in the carpet shop, and in the spice market were men.”

“In spite of there being poor refugees from neighbouring countries such as Syria, no-one has begged money from me.  A lady with a cart just removed recyclables from the trash bin.”

The final entry in my journal was a list of ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ points about the Turkey Unplugged Tour.  On the plus side was Huseyin with on-hand information about absolutely everything, pre-arranged tickets and no queuing at all of the sites, and moderate to good hotels in good locations.  On the minus side was early morning wake up calls, brisk walks through most of the sites, and no time spent where ‘real’ people live.  Who should take this tour?  First timers to Turkey regardless of age, and singles, couples, and friends.  Who should not take this tour?  People who are uncomfortable with strangers and people who hate waking up in the morning.

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Turkey Unplugged – Day Nine

Amazingly, the morning after our farewell party, I was not paralytic.  Trish commented that if she had drunk as much raki as I had, she would be “laid out”.  The bus seemed empty without Claudia and Telli.  I wrote in my journal, “Sun. 3 Nov 2013 – We are on the bus for the long drive back to Istanbul.  Because we are such a small group (started with nine passengers) our bus is really just a van with 12 passenger seats, so the ride is a bit bumpy making writing difficult. I just saw an eagle. It was brown with white wing tips. :-)”

We drove for a few hours to Ankara, the capital city of Turkey.  Ankara is a modern city chosen to be the new republic’s capital due to its central location.  It had no prior allegiances which made it perfect for a new beginning.  Here rests Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first president of Turkey.  It was here at Ataturk’s mausoleum that I learned about the surname law.  Back on the bus, after watching the changing of the guard, I asked Huseyin about this law.  He explained that during the Ottoman Empire the law was sharia so people did not have surnames.  When Turkey became a republic, one of the biggest changes was to make the government secular and to insist that people have surnames.  Ataturk means ‘father of Turkey’.

I forgot to write about a story I read about Ataturk, on a plaque at ANZAC bay.  In those days, before he was the father of the republic, he was in the Turkish army; a general, I think.  He was hit by shrapnel while in Gallipoli.  He did not report the incident because he feared his troops would become disheartened.  It turned out that the shrapnel hit his pocket watch, which he was carrying in his left hand, breast pocket, over his heart.

As day nine drew to a close, we witnessed part of what modern day Istanbul experiences regularly.  The traffic leading into the city was slow as more and more people were returning after the weekend.  On the right-hand side of the road, a large group of men was racing along on foot.  Two cars behind us, a huge Turkish flag was lowered from an overhead bridge, cutting off three of the four lanes.  When we asked Huseyin what they were protesting, he told us he didn’t know.  It was the first time in nine days that he had not known the answer to a question.

The last hotel on the tour, the Titanic City ranked #238 of 1,110 hotels on Trip Advisor, was the best.  Although it is not as convenient to the old city as the Kent, it is a couple of blocks away from Taksim Square which made the news a few months before I arrived in Turkey and was where I spent Day 10.

Turkey Unplugged – Day Eight

Saturday, 2 November 2013 – The couple that was on their honeymoon had left us, so now our small group was only seven people and for about half of them, Cappadocia was the reason they chose the Turkey Unplugged tour. The other-worldly landscape is seen in the early morning light from a huge basket dangling beneath an equally huge, brightly coloured, hot air balloon. The baskets are jam-packed with tourists from all over the world. The large group sharing with us was from Malaysia.    Kapadokya Kaya Balloons (our video)

ready-for-take-off

Having had a breathtaking overview of Cappadocia from the air, we spent the rest of the day visiting the ‘crown jewel’ of Turkey at subterranean and ground level.   I am not a coward but narrow staircases without handrails, leading down into tiny, rock chambers, was more than I could handle.  So I sat in the sun with a cup of coffee and waited for the rest of the group to come back up. I wrote in my journal, “This city was started by the Hittites hiding from the Barbarians.  Later, it was expanded by the early Christians hiding from the Romans, and later still, the Byzantines hiding from the Arabs.”

The so-called ‘fairy chimneys’, a natural phenomenon that is similar to the Hoodoos in the Badlands of southern Alberta, Canada,  are approximately 20 metres tall.  Into these towers, fashioned by Mother Nature, human beings have carved churches and chapels which are among the oldest in the world.

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Claudia is a teacher and she had to be back at school on Monday morning and Telli had opted to fly back to Istanbul rather than endure the long drive back, so Saturday evening was our last night together as a group, so of course, we had to party!  The On the Go brochure mildly describes this awesome evening at the Yasar Baba Restaurant as “a traditional folklore show”, but it is the most fun, dancing, drinking, and laughing, that you can pack into one evening.  One of the things that I found surprising was the number of Turks in attendance.  This party isn’t just for tourists!

Our guide, Huseyin, warned us in advance that we were not to take photographs, applaud, or catcall and whistle during the ‘Whirling Dervish’ performance which was the first act of the evening.  This is partly because it is a religious ceremony, even if it is being performed by professional dancers rather than Sufi priests, but also because it is a solemn event being conducted in dim lighting; flashes and loud noises would distract the performers.  The rest of the evening we were free to hoot and holler, take photos and videos, and even participate.

We continued the party in the lobby bar of our hotel, The Peri Towers.  To their credit, they did not try to subdue our exuberant farewell fun, and our bartender worked overtime to make sure that everyone had the best possible end of the tour event.

Turkey Unplugged – Day Seven

Friday, 1 November 2013 – En route to Cappadocia we visited Mevlana Museum in Konya.  According to Lonely Planet, “the main reason to come to Konya is to visit the Mevlâna Museum, the former lodge of the whirling dervishes”.  Followers of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, known simply as Rumi in English, formed the Mevlevi order after his death. Devotees believe that music and dancing help them to focus on the divine.

Although the mausoleum was beautiful, the most interesting part for me were the classrooms.  Small rooms, each with one door, one window, and one fireplace, were used by one teacher and one student, at a time.

turkey-green-dome-mevlana-museum

Further along the road, we stopped in Sultanhani to see a caravanserai. Caravans would travel the Silk Road, a part of which cut through Turkey.  It was not safe to travel at night, so high-walled fortresses were built so that caravans could come inside.  Half of the caravanserai was open courtyard for summer and half was covered over for winter.  The high, vaulted ceilings in this section were black from centuries of cooking fires.  Huseyin told us that each caravanserai was a one-day ride by camel from the next.

We reached the Hotel Peri Tower (ranked #1 of 12 hotels in Nevsehir on Trip Advisor) in time for dinner.  “Peri” is the Turkish spelling of ‘fairy’ and is an apt name for this whimsical hotel which mimics the rock formations known as “fairy chimneys”.  We had an early night due to the fact that we had a pre-dawn appointment with a hot air balloon.