Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Turkish Odyssey - Day 8

After yesterdays long bus journey, todays short jaunt across a plateau was welcomed. We visit a silk road hotel of long ago. It is a short stop. Not terribly much to see. 3 evil eyes later we board the bus. Lunch, same as it ever was. Passing from the plateau we enter the Cappadocia region. Craggy hills dot the landscape. Houses are cut into the rock. Hillsides look like pictures of the south-western US deserts. We stop at a weaving center. Ladies sit on small cushions weaving all around the room. Silk worms are converted from cacoon to thread and what seems like 1000 rugs are unfurlled around the room. Wool on wool, wool on cotton, silk on silk. The just keep coming. 

Reki is provided, an awful liquorice flavored grape based liquor.  Wonderful if the taste appeals to you, but I am not appealed. Becky and I fall in love with a 4x7 rug from a region in Western Turkey. Light blue turquoise boarder with 3 crosses in the middle. The issue comes in the price. $1,100 down from the original quoted price of $1,500. We likely could have driven it lower, but not low enough. We must part with it, but a smaller rug from the same region comes out. I am a bad negotiator and tip my hand in the wrong way saying $400 max. The quote $750. Drop to $500, then $450, and finally if we take it home with us...$400. Deal. It is a beautiful rug. Handcrafted and lovely. Not the rug, but a lovely substitute that we will love. I feel in my heart that we did well, but my gut nags me with some tiny bits of doubt. If income were disposable I would perhaps feel better, but AAAS has fallen through. No sense in wondering and fretting over what I could have and should have done differently, but I find it hard not to think about it. The more I reflect, the position would have taken me in a direction I have increasingly felt wrong for me. This door has closed. I accept it and will move forward as must be done. 
We visit some pillars of stone that are 10 thousand years old, a winery with staff who are not interested in sales and check into a very strange hotel. Peri Tower is made to look and feel like you are in a cliff. It does have a fireplace, which is fun to sit by as I write this. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Turkish Odyssey - Day 7

As eventful as the last two days have been, 7 hours on the bus a lackluster lunch and a mausoleum dedicated to a 13th century Islamic Dervish prophet hardly bears recording. We shopped at a Turkish version of Super-WalMart and stocked up on a few things in Koyna. A conservative town in central Turkey. Even the landscape is repetitive and sleep inducing. Otel Özkaymak is comfortable enough.

Farm Pictures

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Turkish Odyssey - Day 6

We have gone off the map so to speak. I am no longer sure what comes next. Ephesus was the place I most wanted to see, and now we enter the central part of the country and the unknown. A word about the Turkish countryside. Small town, overcrowded with marketplaces and shops punctuate a largely agrarian landscape. Ramshackle houses, herd of sheep and goats tended by shepherds, half built concrete shells, tractors and gas stations dot the landscape at regular intervals. As I write this and reflect, it reminds me of West Virginia of Morgantown, of places near the farm. The ingenuity of the farmer is not exclusively an American trait. It is on full displace in the Turks we pass. No mega-agro-complex here. At least, I see no sigh of them. They grow what grows best in that area. While I am sure they use chemicals as well, the farming appears closer to show it should be done. That is to say, it looks that way from the bus window at 90km/hr, for what thats worth.

Day 6. We must sadly depart our very nice hotel. A further disappointment comes when we find our bus seats with leg room that is 3 sizes too small. Torture chairs is perhaps too hard a description, but not far off from the pain this arrangement causes in foot knee and back. Mercifully it is a short bus day with many breaks. The first comes 20 minutes in at Pöpülar Leather.

We are subjected to an unfortunately awkward fashion show of 2013-2014 "looks." The Turkish models were too stern and very clearly part-time. One man had a scar across the back and top of his head, leaving me wondering during the whole show, where that had come from. Post show we are herded into a show room with very expensive leather coats and goods. The experience is unseemly and I desire to leave immediately upon entry. The tour groups must recoup some cost by taking a fee for dropping us there, no other reason to do this. Makes senses that our trip is cheap, if we stop at places like this. Crammed back into our sardine tin we depart for Pamukkale and Hierapolis.
[We also are told at this point that Levent may be leaving us that evening to return home to his wife who has been injured in an automobile accident. She is OK but is in the hospital, and Levent is clearly feeling the effect of not being able to go to her, which is understandable.]

I had no expectation of the place, and no idea it was home to thermal calcium carbonate waters and deposits that cover several cliff sides. The Romans built baths and a city on top of the waters as part of a large clinic area. People would come to soak in the waters to be healed. The pure snowy whiteness of the cliffs is amazing. You can still walk and swim in the pools and also swim in an "ancient pool." The introduction to the place is mercifully short and we are given several hours to explore the site and eat. We love this site and immediately hike to the highest point of it. Out efforts are rewarded with the Martyrium of St. Phillip and his tomb. At least we hunted for the tomb, but without the correct staff height we looked in the wrong place and found no informative signage. [Just discovered that we did actually see it. It was in a small church below the Martyrium] As the hill was such a distance from the more "touristic" parts of the site, we are nearly alone on the peak. A polish woman that scaled hills like a mountain goat was the only other. The view of the valley below was stunning. You could see why the spot was picked even without the white cliffs.
Tombs were all around us. The necropolis there was over 8000 strong. A fine final resting place, but in the silence of the hill, it was creepy and slightly unsettling to be among the mausoleums and graves. The hike down from our small modest peak was a pleasant one, apart from an odd rustling in the brush that took us off our game. I pictured a cougar leaping forth, but nothing materialized.

The remainder was spent watching Germans take the waters and exploring the white cliffs. A fact of life is that food must be had. Unfortunately, food consisted of questionable frozen pizza with "sausage."  It was cooked in an oven, cut, and then microwaved. I think we are quite sure the pizza is fully dead. We shall not speak of what passed for a meal again, may it rest in peace amongst the necropolis.

Levent gives us a bit more information on the way out and we arrive at Pam Thermal hotel for the night. The hotel has a pool fed by cloudy thermal waters as from Pamukkale. Questionable. We take a pass. The waters can even be pumped into your tub from a special gold faucet at certain hours of the day. Helps with arthritis we are told. Pam is kind enough to host a belly dancer in a dark club with loud music. The dancer was in her prime 15 years ago. We postulate she is hired to appeal to middle age men who attend with their wives to ogle her. So long as the wife is there, it is ok...right? The scene is unseemly. Body glitter, gyrations, rolls in places that make one wonder how abs like that can co-exist. Terribly awkward. We beat a hasty retreat when she starts pulling men from the crowd. We find out later that Everett was selected to selected to tickle a German mans stomach, and tweak his nipples. Very glad to have left that.

Thankfully the damp feel of our room has passed and sleep comes easily. I dream of washing clothes in an outdoor machine full of plant mater which is used in lieu of soap to clean the clothes, and having to air dry the laundry.

A Turkish Odyssey - Day 5

Ephesus! Grand Damé of them all. 

Breakfast as good as supper, but 15 minuets extra sleep resulted in a mad dash through our meal. 

Climbing a massive hill we find the church built over the foundation where Mary spent her last days with St. John. The house dates to the 1st century, and the church to the 3rd. Leah spoke of places where the distance between earth and God shrinks, this place felt like one of those spots. It was a shame that many in our group did not seem to respect the holiness of the place. It was a small simple structure, but it served its purpose. Descending, we can see Ephesus for the first time. It was a grand city. The 3rd largest in the ancient world behind Rome and Constantinople. We enter by Roman baths where all must bath on entrance to the city. An agora stretches around us, marble lined colonnaded streets and several theaters at both the upper and lower gates. You begin to get some sense of how big the place is, but only just. 

Levent provided a wealth of amazing facts [he specializes on the history of Ephesus]. They used copper lined pipes, distributed water and sewage, and washed the street and marble with urine purchased from public toilets to keep the surfaces clean. A house of pleasure sits behind the highlight of the entire site, the library of Celsius, "no relation to the temperature scale." We have 40 minutes to explore but could easily spend 4 hours. A photo date on steroids. There is so much to see. Hercules, the Dr., the prostitution time at all to see the terrace houses and they must be skipped. Having never experienced such things, I have begun to run out of words to set down the emotion and feelings such places conjure up. Awe is a small word, but it comes close to how one feels there. A constant state of awe. 
We wrap up our tour, but are reluctant to leave. My attention captured I don't want to board the bus, but we must. Our journeys take us next to the Basilica of Saint John. Prior to departure, Becky wonders how many men went to "study at the library, but visited the house of pleasure." On the way to the Basilica we are forced to fit the bus into an alley blocked by a government car in a no parking zone. We are forced, but don't fit, and the door is scrapped over a curb. Poor Ali the wonder driver. He looked very upset and depressed that it had happened. The door looked better later that day, but unfortunate. Lets hope for nothing worse. The Basilica is a large church that you can actually visualize because a lot is standing. Given 20 minuets, again we feel rushed and see next to nothing of the site. You fail to imprint and fully appreciate what you are seeing at such speeds. Such is the way of this trip, all most things in life are a trade-off. 
Forgot to mention, Mary's place of rest was found by friends of a stigmatic nun who had visions of the place. She was German, never been to Turkey. They went and searched the wrong hillside and she died before they found the foundation. It was on the twin hill to where they had searched. The day ends with great food and fun company who tell of the 85 world trips they have taken. Cheers Hotel KoruMar. Still no word from AAAS. Sleep.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Merry-Go-Round Rabbit

As an intermission to the Turkish trip posts, I present this fine thing. And just think it could be yours!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Turkish Odyssey - Day 4

Day 4 will take us from Çanakkale to Pergamum, home to a Roman health center and a giant hillside theater. The theater and top of the old city are unfortunately closed because the tour buses were causing damage to the ruins. It was all the same because we were taken through a Roman health center. Sick persons were not allowed in and those persons who were shown in were treated to more an ancient world spa than a hospital. A marble slab heated from below was used as a table on which a person would lay. A masseur would then come and "make massage with hot oil" while a physician whispered "you will be well." We are increasingly left with only 15-20 minutes to explore sites on our own. This has started to feel akin to a cruise. A land out for land sharks.

The group tends to lag. Chief among the lagers Wolf Lady and Red Coat. There speed, the result of age, might not be so bad were it not for their propensity to speak loudly among themselves when they do catch up and Levent is speaking. Pergamum aside, we are on the bus. Arriving in Kuşadası around 5:15 for dinner. Hotel KoruMar puts on an elaborate spread. Why have 1 dessert when 50 are presented? Best food and hotel thus far...apart from a leaky toilet and not being able to recall the room number (I visited the room next door, uninvited or intended). We question the punctuality of AAAS and feel dejected that I am likely not a finalist. I try to take heart in the trip to Ephesus in the morning, but it is hollow succor and my shoulder blade has developed a knot that hurts when I breath. Sleep comes slowly and restlessly.

A Turkish Odyssey - Day 3

Day 3 comes at 5am as an Imam cracks the mic and gets to the serious business of intoning. We are to eat, pack, deposit bags outside the door and depart at 8am. Somehow time on the first leg of the bus journey flies by. Levent's anecdotes about Turkey help, but also lull one to sleep. We lunch at a fish market style restaurant next to the ferry dock. The ferry takes us from European Turkey to Asian Turkey. Once in Asia, we visit Troy, which is mostly a non-site. A few walls and a reconstructed house dot the sight. I am again at a loss with just how old these ruins are. From Troy I to Troy XI a thousand years? 500 hundred? Cartoon lengths of time either way.

The age of the place makes it seem fake to craft stories about these places. Archaeologists somehow manage to do it, and Levent is most knowledgeable. Homer most likely stretched the truth in his tale of the place. Levent is suspected of doing this. While in Troy, he spoke of and gestured to what was called an oracle center. Informative signage tells of a religious center. Is that the same? Who really knows, but he could tell us anything and we would take it for truth.
We stay at Hotel Akol in Çanakkale. The Ç is a CH sound. "CH-NAH-K-LAY, this is a hard word to say." Lovely views of the Sea of Marmara from our balcony and of the Trojan horse from the movie Troy. A 2 million dollar investment by the city. Money well spent? The Turks prepare for the 18th of March celebration, which commemorates the victory at Gallipoli in WWI. Turkish pride on display. At dinner we eat with some polite mid-westerners from near Chicago and some pushy folks from Cumberland, but both are nice enough. We are the only 2 people to notice teenage Turks launching mini hot-air balloons that drift off. Candlelight eventually lost to the distant night far above the water. 

A Turkish Odyssey - Day 2

3/16/13 (Recorded on 3/17): 
Day 2 dawns, dark, cold, wet. So much water. Everywhere puddles eat my shoes. Chicken nuggets for breakfast...why not? Here at Hotel Mosaic I think of Hotel Zlaty Andel on that small Czech square. I find myself thinking often of the Czech's here. Same vibe, but the Czech's are a kinder gentler people. Perhaps years of communist rule mellows a country out. Dissertation topic perhaps?

Much to do this day, and buckets of rain with 40ºF temps won't stop our group from standing out and doing them. More hippodrome and more rain. Removing our shoes we enter the Blue Mosque. Over 26,000 blue and red tiles cover the walls and ceiling. For a first visit to a mosque, this is a fairly magnificent specimen.

Being in the mosque without shoes makes me aware that my shoes have already sprung multiple leaks, which will only get worse throughout the day. However, must move forward. Snap a few pictures, and gather outside for a walk to Hagia Sofia. Build in five years, over 500 years ago, it is massive. 37,000 workers were needed to do it. ~160 ft to the top of the dome. Mosaics lost to time mix with Islamic symbols as Rome lost to the Turks and East met West when the Turks captured the city in 1453. Odd to see Jesus and Mary above a Muslim alter, but the respect paid to the mosaics seems unreal in this modern age. Granted they did whitewash many mosaics, but they did not utterly destroy them and left a few intact without the wash. Shoes mostly dry we walk to a lunch spot...not dry anymore. Ditching the lunch group and we are off to Topkapi Palace.

Home of the Ottoman Sultans for generations and generations. Throwing in with the Germans in the late 1800s eventually doomed them, not a conquering army. The harem was an extra fee, but that drives many away leaving it mostly empty. It must have been a crazy place, seen by a select few. Concubines and wives, sons and heirs, the Sultan and his mother lording over it all. This arrangement in power so long, and power = wealth...serious wealth. Bowls of emeralds and rubies, 100lb solid gold candlesticks. Rooms and rooms of space for such opulence. So many tiles, that 30 photos were snapped of them alone. The weapons room was particularly neat, but the treasury ranks above it (harem being tops). I do my best Rick Steeves impersonation reading from his guide book as we go. Two overpriced "apple" teas broke up the day in an effort to warm the heavy coatless and rest our legs. Rick Steeves and Levent both recommend the Pudding Shop, we there we go.

The Pudding Shop so named by hippies who could not recall its real name, serves good food and great tea. Apple tea has fast become a favorite. Skipping dinner, sleep quickly comes to the sound of rain pattering on the window.

A Turkish Odyssey - Travel and Day 1

What follows is a direct transcription of my travel journal.

3/16/13 (Recounting 3/14 & 3/15): 
In the worlds smallest plane, I fail to stand. We are told to expect turbulance. A fifty min. flight. So fast we never climb over 12,000 feet. Eternities move faster than the final approach. Lurch, jolt, bum. A thesaurus is needed to describe the movement of the plane once we dipped into the marshmallow clouds. Never has joy to thump onto the tarmac been so sweet.

Brief layover complete, round 2. 9h35m from fabulous Newark, NJ to the unknown. Istanbula, so the flight attendant calls it in "bad Turkish, phonetically read" a Turkish passenger is overheard to say.  Grand movie selection, but an ill fated trivia game renders our screens incapacitated until we ascend above 10,000 feet. Now safe to use your electronics, thank goodness. Skyfall was worth the wait, screaming infants should have waited a few more months to make the trip, but when travel calls one must go. Cries on cue every 30-45min. If it were my child, 50 shades of red I would turn at keeping an entire section of the plane up. Woody Allen missed the mark in some disconnected sorrowful tale about Rome. Crying infant again, sleep never really comes. Still have to figure out how to sleep on a plane w/o getting that nasty dry throat patch. Give up and watch Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow for the fourth time. Solid, but I am not sure where else you can go with that series Mr. Depp.

Final approach, Mr. Toads Wild Ride Part 2, a foreign city in a foreign land. This place is massive. It must have a gravitational pull. 18million people are here for some reason, and it is not to speak "A polite sounding language." It is to stand in front of a shop drinking apple tea from tiny clear glass cups, delivered on silver platters by men and boys hailing from unknown places. It is to pack on trams, in cars, on sidewalks, and restaurants. The city of Istanbul creaks strains under the weight of its human gravity. It bursts at the seams. Our word, oft repeated as we stumbled jet-lagged and dazed through the throng of humanity and clutter of traffic, was overwhelming.

We made the most of our time. From the airport, which is like an airport anywhere, to the evening meeting and dinner 2 naps were taken and sights were seen. Anymore might have sunk me for the rest of the trip. We are picked up by a company rep at the airport and taken to Hotel mosaic. A bewildering hour walk brings us, 20tl later, to the damp smelling dark cistern. Water was delivered to a space the size of 2 football fields from at least 30km away. The Romans built this, no idea how. Boggles the mind. I keep thinking of the weight of the earth and city above, of earthquakes and crumbling stone, but this place has stood the test of time. Hippodrome, 2 obelisks later (1 Egyptian, 1 Roman), and 1 bronze stick celebrating Roman victory of Persia. My mind fails to think on such scales of time.

Trek back, Grand Bazzar. Bizarre Bazzar. Oppressive heat. Eyes fall on us, pitches, pleas, "hello American...where are you from?" Combined lack of food, sleep, and the heat...I feel dizzy and want to run away from this place never to return. Thankfully we make it back, nap most welcome, and drift to sleep with the haunting intoning of the Koran bellowed from a minaret somewhere in the sprawling city beyond the tightly shut window.

We get oriented, discovering that yes we are the youngest on the trip, apart from a college sophomore from Amherst on the trip with his older Aunt.  Levent is our guide "for next 10 days." Don't drink the tepid water or eat the street food because you don't want the "diarrhea problems." Dinner is most welcome but it is all I can do to not fall asleep in my overcooked dry pot roast. Sleep comes and my clock is reset, jet-lag over...made it.