October 18, 2007 at 8:51 pm | Posted in Turkey | Leave a comment

Sept 19 – 27

To get to Turkey, we had to take a morning ferry from our last Greek island, Naxos, to Mykonos and spend the day waiting for another ferry which didn’t leave until 11:00 p.m. We had nowhere to keep our luggage for the day so we whiled away the day on the beach with our bags. The ferry from Mykonos took us to the Greek island of Samos close to the Turkish border. The ship was our first brush with a “what did we get ourselves into” moment. When we saw 70 year old ladies sleeping on the floor with sheets brought from home, about 100 army men intensely watching a soccer game at high volume and a snoring man laying in the aisle who wouldn’t budge from where we were supposed to put our feet, we figured our overnight ferry to Samos would just be one of those funny stories. We survived by finding a corner of the boat with few passengers and while the boys were able to zonk, we were tuned in to the snoring behind us while keeping one eye on our bags. We pulled in at 5:00 a.m. and waited in a smoke-filled coffee shop for a few hours until the small boat arrived to take us from Samos, Greece to Kusadasi, Turkey. We chose this route because it got us close to our first destination, Ephesus. We included Turkey on our itinerary because we didn’t think we would make an exclusive there in the future and we wanted to visit Istanbul at the very least. We stayed in Kusadasi at an all-inclusive resort hotel (compliments of a travel agent following a snafu). This was the first time we felt like foreigners in a foreign land. Up until Turkey, everything was very European and familiar. In Turkey we felt, at first, like outsiders. The hotel staff remarked that they had never seen an American at their resort before. This resort was for local vacationers, not typical tourists. After awhile we relaxed and simply observed how people in Turkey relaxed.After recovering from our near sleepless night on the ship, we headed to the town of Selcuk which is even closer to Ephesus. We stayed at Hotel Jimmy’s – another 4-bed, no-frills apartment that we found in our Lonely Planet travel guide. Oliver held hands with one of the staff who met us at the bus station and chatted about something on the walk to the apartment and even though the man couldn’t understand his words, he managed to say that “He has a sweet tongue” referring to Oliver’s high-pitched non-stop diatribe about the waterpark we passed on the way to town. We started off having lunch – food was good, especially the hummus. The boys had peach juice. Peaches seem to be a staple in Turkey. We arranged for a driver to take us to the Temple of Artemis (“Diana”), one of two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World we plan to visit on our trip, and then to Ephesus – an ancient city with many remaining ruins spanning several eras. It was sundown and all the tour groups had since returned to their buses and it was just us and a few other travellers walking down ancient streets and studying walls, arches, facades and arenas from another world. We knew we couldn’t begin to fathom the importance of that place but we were glad to have visited it and the boys understood that populations had built wonderful places that were then taken over and destroyed by others and eventually were abandoned for new places.

We went back to town and after enjoying a turkish dinner beneath a trio of grapefruit, pomegranate and orange trees sitting next to a chair full of newborn kittens, and observing the local Muslims praying low down on their carpets at the neighborhood mosque, went to bed and awoke to the next morning’s call-to-prayer announced over the loudspeakers perched atop the minaret high above the town square. From our balcony, we could see everyone was setting up for the Saturday market. We were told about it but didn’t anticipate the massive effort undertaken not only to set up tables and display wares but also the hanging of the canvas coverings from one building to the next across the streets virtually turning an outdoor market 10 blocks around into an indoor market. Permanent poles exist around the town just for the purpose of hanging the canvas. This was their Walmart. You could buy figs, socks, mops, eggs, pencils, shawls, have your knives sharpened, your shoes shined or buy a new broom made from freshly harvested hay. You could also buy Turkish Delights which we had always wondered about since they were mentioned in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. They are essentially the predecessors to gummy bears – just a bit more rustic.

We had to leave Selcuk as we’d arranged for a flight from nearby Izmir to Istanbul for the rest of our stay in Turkey. We understood that the mini bus would take us near the airport and then we would take a taxi the rest of the way. The bus dropped us, in actuality, on the side of the highway where a man was sitting in an upholstered lounge chair, running the taxi show. We had to run across the highway and jump into a taxi which took us onto the airport road – for a two minute ride. Strange. On the bus ride to the airport, we saw many turkish families picnicking or resting under the largest shade tree around as though it was the only thing to do. If they weren’t sitting under a tree, they were working the land. Enough people spoke English well enough to assist us in our escapades so with their help and our travel guide, we were able to hop on and off mini buses, taxis and airplanes and managed to get where we needed to go and got to experience how the locals move about.

Unfortunately, at the airport, there were lots of tears when the boys had to forfeit their walking sticks since they were not allowed on the plane. Even Mom was sad as they had carried those sticks from Croatia and had received many kind smiles and accolades from locals and travellers alike as though their walking sticks had somehow branded them as bona fide travellers outfitted appropriately for their task. We arrived in Istanbul still wiping our tears over the lost sticks, and used our Blackberry phone to call some places in our book. All were full! So while the boys played with their army men, we made arrangements with a tourist agency in the airport for a place to stay. We are still adjusting to simply arriving in a city with no plans or place to stay when under normal circumstances, you would have made arrangements months ahead to stay in the perfect place and reserve the right tours and restaurants. We just show up. It is becoming less stressful as we go on as long as we keep landing on our feet. After the first night, we moved to a hotel we found in our book that was right behind the famous Blue Mosque and nestled within the local carpet shops and bazaars. It worked out perfectly and we spent 5 days in exciting Istanbul.

It was very festive because it was Ramadan and in the evenings, at sundown, the Muslims would break their day-long fast with a nightly festival with all of the lights, sounds, smells and traditions of the culture. We could not get enough of the celebration and we went every night to watch vendors shout out the different offerings and families migrate around the centuries old former chariot-race track to eat corn on the cob, freshly spun sugar lollipops, kebaps fresh off the spit, coffee brewing on open coals, figs, dates, cotton candy, pomegranate juice, baklava and popcorn. We drank delicious thick warm sallem – a warm milk dusted with nutmeg that supposedly comes from the sap of mountain trees. People everywhere loved our boys and men, women and even children only slightly older than our boys would cross the sidewalk just to tossle their hair and even kiss their cheeks. They were so excited to talk to Americans (we didn’t see any others) and, even though many of them also wanted us to buy their carpets, they were so incredibly nice about it, we didn’t mind being pursued. We became adept at saying no, the nicest way possible and we all learned what to look for in a good carpet. Even the boys learned that you cannot burn a real wool carpet. Everyone was very kind – they seemed to seek us out to help if we looked lost. People all around always walk hand-in-hand and men walk together with their hands on each other’s shoulders. It was a very affectionate city with no crime and nothing to be afraid of.

The mosques were captivating and the call-to-prayer every few hours (it was more frequent at Ramadan) became comforting. The boys bought wooden tops that you spin off a string like a yo-yo and then onto the ground. They played with them everywhere and made lots of friends with children and adults who wanted to demonstrate their own skill with the toy. We spent hours in the Grand Bazaar and sat at outdoor cafes drinking apple tea listening to turkish music while those around us puffed on their nargilla water pipes. Peter helped a man work on some of his English course workbook while the rest of us played Rummy. Our last day was rewarding when we took a walk along the railroad tracks to the “real” Istanbul. Away from the lights and sounds of the festivals and to the delapidated houses that abut the tracks and where seemingly ancient men and women haul heavy loads on their head or sit in doorways selling a basket of fruit. We passed a park where uniformed school children were taking a recess from the nearby school and we spent an hour taking their pictures on the digital camera and then showing them the results which delighted them. The children loved to practice their English with us. The waiter at lunch told us all about the Muslim religion and enthusiastically answered all of our questions. Later we met children who excitedly came out from their tenement to talk with us. The girl was 10 and three brothers with the youngest, Muhammed, 3, wanting to talk to us. It was market day and we admired everything there was to buy and loaded up on food for our overnight train ride to Bucharest, Romania. We would like to come back to Turkey someday.

(click photo for slideshow)


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