Turkey October Part 1
Turkey has beautiful scenery, an interesting and ancient history, friendly and charming people, fabulously fresh and interesting food. But, thanks to some terrorist activities and an ill-advised attempted coup there are hardly any tourists.
We spent a couple of days in ever-fascinating Istanbul after meeting up with Lin’s sister Brenda and her husband Anthony. Our little hotel near the Blue Mosque was quiet, disturbed only by a highly amplified call to prayer 5 times a day. We spent a day visiting the amazingly overblown Dolmabahce Palace, built by the Ottoman sultans in the middle of the 19th century beside the Bosporus when they found the ancient Topkapi palace too old fashioned and drafty. The rooms are encrusted with enormous chandeliers, parquet floors and beautiful carpets. Part of the palace, in much more modest style, is given over to the harem where the sultan’s several wives lived with their children and various other cloistered ladies. Of course, all this extravagance was much too late to save the Ottoman empire, which fell apart after the First World War.
A walk through the Egyptian Spice Bazaar led to many encounters with stall holders. “Let me sell you something you don’t need….because I need your money” declared one inventive spice seller. At the gorgeous and impressive Sulemaniye mosque, elegantly dressed Istanbullus were parading with their families and admiring the wonderful views over the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus and the Golden Horn – the waterways that surround and define Istanbul. It is a huge and impressive city, and there was little sign of the recent troubles apart from the striking number of Turkish flags flying from many buildings and even from the minarets of mosques.
Part 2 of our adventure involved an hour-long flight to Cappadocia, an area in central Turkey famed for its extraordinary rock formations, ancient churches carved out of the rocky cliffs, and underground cities. We spent 5 nights in the cute and curious town of Goreme, where many of the buildings, including the hotels, are partly or completely carved into the sides of the strange stone pillars and cliffs throughout the town. Goreme has a wonderful “Open Air Museum” – a deep and steep valley outside the town where churches were carved into the solid rock in the 9th and 10th centuries. The intricately carved and painted stone churches are a wonder to behold – it’s amazing the effort that people will expend in the name of religion.
Days in Cappadocia were warm and dry, the nights cool. It was perfect weather for walking, which we did – at length. There were picturesque paths through the rocky valleys, each view showing cliffs and towers of different colors. Most unusual of all were the “fairy chimneys” – a strange formation with a hard rock protecting the softer rock below, while the area around is eroded leaving a tall cone of stone with a rock on the top.
One day we used the efficient dolmus – shared taxi – system to visit a huge underground city. There are many such underground cities in Cappadocia and they are still being discovered. They date back to ancient prehistoric times and were used by the local population to hide when their town was invaded. The one we visited was 8 floors deep with places for animals, churches, speaking tubes, wells, ovens, wineries, food storage areas, and family homes – everything that 5,000 people needed for 6 months of living underground.
Food in Cappadocia is excellent. Breakfasts consist of fruit, multiple different cheese, juices, jams, olives, salad, bread, omelettes, thick yogurt and fruit. We tried a different restaurant each night. Because of the dearth of tourists the restaurateurs were delighted to get our custom and went to great efforts to provide delicious dinners with soups, salads, appetizers, and main courses all prepared with excellent fresh ingredients. Tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes just seem to taste better than elsewhere.
On Saturday, we flew from Cappadocia to Bodrum in the southwestern corner of Turkey, where we were warmly welcomed on board our beautiful home for the next 2 weeks -- a traditional wooden gulet sailing boat with cabins for 12 people and a crew of 4. Each cabin is fitted in well-varnished wood with a nice double bed, ample storage space and a cute little tiled bathroom with washbasin, toilet and shower. There is only hot water when the engine is running but that is of little importance as the clear blue sea is always available for a swim when we are anchored. The captain is incredibly proud of his boat and when the crew are not rustling up delicious meals, they are cleaning and polishing.
Our first day we spent walking round Bodrum, a small city that has been occupied by every ancient civilization you can think of – Greeks, Persians, Spartans, Romans, Byzantines and Turks – as well as some we have never heard of – Lycians, Carians, etc. All of them left buildings and stonework lying around and the whole area is one huge archaeological site. Bodrum was once Hieropolis and the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the tomb of Mausoleus, now reduced to a pile of rubble, and a few walls and pieces of pillar. The most intriguing sight was an ancient Carian tomb, 2,500 years old, in the back interior wall of the supermarket among the bottles of Coca-Cola and Sprite.
After lunch we set off on our 2 week trip, the boat working its way around the coast, stopping at small bays and inlets, where we can swim in the evenings, and in the day time take strenuous hikes along parts of the Carian Way – a coastal path which gives wonderful views of the deep blue sea, dusky green olive orchards, steep cliffs and dark green forests.
On board are the four of us, our guide – a well educated Englishman who speaks fluent Turkish – plus a friend of his who knows all about the paths and the ruins we encounter and a Turkish/English lady from the tour company. We are amazed at the meals that are produced by the crew in the little ship’s galley. Every meal has 4 or 5 dishes, always including a salad, some thick creamy yogurt and vegetable dish, rice or some other grain, and meat, fish or chicken.
Yesterday’s hike was a steep and strenuous 9 miles through spectacular terrain, but today was more relaxing with a visit to “Cleopatra’s Island”, complete with a beach of golden sand reputedly brought there by Mark Anthony in 50 BC(?) for his lady love. I think we can take a few more days of this lifestyle…warm, dry days under blue skies, peaceful nights, healthy food, interesting sites and sights, Turkish wines and coffee or tea on request….
(It is too tricky to post photos with the flaky WiFi connection we have on the boat, so here is a link to some photos on DropBox – hope out works