ITINERARIES: #1) Istanbul, Cappadocia, Olimpos, Gulet Cruise, Saklikent Gorge
#2) Istanbul, Bursa, Avalik, Pergamum, Ephesus, Priene, Miletus, Didymus, Gumusluk, Gocek, Kalekoy, Termessos, (to Syria, then return to Turkey) Gaziantep, Nemrut Dagi, Malatya, Erzerum, Georgian Valleys, Kars, Ani, Yusufeli, Barhal, Trabzon, Amaysa, Ankara,
WE LOSE LOU
Lou flew to Turkey by himself, while Joan flew to Cambridge, Massachusetts to help our daughter Shanna "survive" a macro-economics final in her Ph.D. program. (Thanks to Mom's home cooking and some funny Jim Carrey videos to ease the stress, she not only survived, she got an A!) But after Lou arrived in Istanbul he didn't write or call for a week. Was he lying beat up in a ditch after a robbery? Did he have amnesia and couldn't remember who he was or who to call? Where WAS he?
If he weren't so darn reliable, Joan and Shanna wouldn't have worried so much. Shanna couldn't study and was about to postpone her econometrics exam, so Joan called the U.S. Embassy in Ankara - which is some 100 miles from Istanbul. She carefully described Lou, thinking they might have found an unidentified dead body. The staff person promised that if he showed up in Ankara, they'd be sure to ask him to phone home!
Finally, Lou called. When Shanna answered the phone and heard her dad's voice, she burst into tears. He was pleased at the nice reception - not understanding how upset he'd made his wife and daughter. It turned out that 1) his back had gone into spasms and he could barely get out of bed, and 2) every time he tried to e-mail, the Turkish "i" on the computer keyboard wouldn't work on our e-mail address. He couldn't figure out why his e-mails wouldn't go through. A week later, Joan and Shanna flew off to join him in Istanbul - relieved that he was still alive. After all this, our travels in the Middle East were anticlimactic!
We knew next to nothing about
Human habitation in Anatolia
The Ottoman Empire lasted until
1923, when the modern
The city straddles the Bosphorus,
the 20-mile long strait between the Black and
We were immediately charmed as we
We visited the huge Topkapi palace and saw its harem quarters. The suspenseful film "Topkapi" - about the attempted robbery of a fabled emerald dagger - was filmed here. One moonlit night we walked through the quiet courtyards of the glowing Blue Mosque. We were properly awed by the beautiful Aya Sofya - once the world's largest Christian Church. (Notre Dame or St. Peter's would fit inside!) Now a museum, the Aya Sofya is undergoing a lengthy restoration. Despite the scaffolding, walking through its glorious interior was an impressive experience.
Shanna joined us for a two-week, whirlwind "mini-tour" through some of the most
visited sites in
After some wrangling, we caught
another bus and then a minibus down to Goreme and the weird landscape of
Some 10 million years ago three volcanoes erupted in the area, spreading a thick layer of volcanic ash that compacted into a soft, porous stone. Erosion wore this layer away over eons of time, carving it into unearthly shapes. Boulders of hard stone were caught above the softer stone and protected it from erosion, resulting in mushroom-capped columns or "fairy chimneys."
The soft stone can easily be cut into cave-dwellings. In fact, entire multi-level underground cities were created as hiding spots from invaders or religious persecutors. Numerous early Christian churches - complete with columns and frescoes - were carved in the soft rocks. We hunched over to visit one underground city that went down eight levels into the cool earth!
We stayed in Goreme, a village beloved of backpackers because (so far) it's without huge hotels and package tour buses. The Kose Pension was a friendly, family-run hotel where home-style dinners served family-style each evening cost less than $5.00. We sat around low tables, talking with fellow travelers from many parts of the globe.
We hiked through the fairy chimneys one day,
carrying only a small
bottle of water for what we thought would be a short walk. Bad idea. It was hot. And we
got lost. Finally, we encountered a mustachioed Turk working in a
vineyard and asked him directions. He tried to explain, gave up and said (in
halting English) that he'd show us the way. More than five hours later - after
non-stop climbing and scrambling over scree-laden trails, through caves,
tunnels and Coptic churches carved in the cliffs - we finished our hike parched and
hungry. We'd explored the Red, Rose and
Another all-night bus dropped us
near the coastal
A 15-minute walk along a shady
trail led to a pebbly beach curving along
the turquoise sea. (Take away the pebbles and substitute white sand, take away
the yachts and substitute the
While at Olimpos, we signed up for a four-day, three-night gulet cruise to Fethiye, a port on the Western Mediterranean. A gulet is a handmade, double-masted, 60-foot wooden yacht. The "Nicola" had six double cabins with private baths and held a total of 12 passengers. There were 11 of us, so Shanna had her own cabin. The cost was about $35 per day per person - including all meals. The three-person crew consisted of two Turks and the Aussie girlfriend of one of them - all in their 20s.
Although the wind came up - causing the boat to pitch and some passengers to turn green and lean over gunnels - we had a great trip. Except for one short period, it was too gusty to hoist the sails, so we motored along the scenic coastline. We stopped along the way to visit small villages, climb up to ancient ruins, snorkel and swim in the clear water, and peer down at sunken cities. (Lou is in the cave, Joan is swimming toward him.)
At night, we dragged our quilts and pillows up to the top deck, to sleep on mattresses under a full moon. Our fellow passengers consisted of six Aussies, one Kiwi (NZ) and a Londoner. (We're on the right front; Shanna is on the left front.) We teased the Kiwi (Merren - center front) mercilessly, as her strong accent sometimes rendered her English unrecognizable to us Americans. She called 6 eggs, for example, "sex iggs."
All kidding aside, Merren's a real adventurer. When she was 19, she and two other young women bought and specially outfitted a huge British army truck and spent a year-and-a-half "over-landing" from the top of Africa to the bottom. The truck had large padlocks on all the doors and could be accessed only from an opening cut in the roof of the cab. It carried several large tanks of diesel and water, a stove and bedding. Beneath a false-floor in the truck bed they hid their stores of wine and champagne. How they survived, we'll never understand. They routinely sped through villages while local police whistled them to stop (probably to collect bribes), but they stopped only when the police had weapons. They were threatened at gunpoint by the military, but feted and charmed by the villagers. The truck broke down; they forged documents using homemade potato "stamps"; they paid bribes. In Zimbabwe, they came to a border where a couple of days before 12 truckers had been murdered and their heads cut off and stuck on stakes! They waited through the night, hidden in a forest in the cab of their truck, and crashed through the border at dawn. Although their truck was undoubtedly coveted by militia and guerrillas alike, they made it through safely. What outrageous courage! Merren now works as an accountant in a construction firm in New Zealand, and remembers her grand tour with wry wonder. She told her story with great enthusiasm and humor, and never for a moment did we feel our (much tamer) travels were being compared to hers. We hope to share our stories in the same spirit.
We finished our gulet cruise in Fethiye, and the next day took a minibus to Saklikent Gorge. This spectacular, narrow cleavage in the earth has a wooden boardwalk suspended over a small river of chalky, turquoise water. After walking this, we climbed down into the river in our waterproof Teva sandals, waded along the stream and clambered over small waterfalls in the narrow canyon for about 3/4 mile. Shanna, who is 5'8", looked tiny next to the gorge walls.
Sometimes the yellowish sides of the canyon were only an arm-span apart, with huge boulders wedged directly overhead. It was shady and refreshing and unlike any place we've ever been. Afterward, we lounged on Turkish sofas on a small wooden platform suspended over the river, and had a simple, but superb trout dinner with cold beer for $3 each. What a wonderful day! That night, we climbed aboard yet another all-night bus. Too tired to stay awake, we slept through most of the 12-hour ride back to Istanbul.
The great Sufi mystic and poet, Celaleddin Rumi (1207-73) sought communion with God through chanting, prayers, music and a whirling dance. Under the Ottoman Emprire, the dervish orders had considerable influence. Because of their ultra-conservative politics, Ataturk saw the whirling dervishes as an obstacle to creating a modern secular democracy in Turkey, and he had the orders abolished. A few groups maintain the dervish traditions as "cultural associations," including a museum in the Tunel area of Istanbul, where we saw the monthly ceremony. The haunting, hour-long musical performance included lutes, mandolins, flutes, zithers and chant. Then fourteen dervishes and a sheikh entered, arms folded under their robes, eyes downcast. To music and chanting, they slowly began their whirling ritual, arms raised - with one hand reaching up to heaven and the other turned down to earth, until they appeared to be in a trace-like state. It was mesmeric and moving.
The night before Shanna flew back to the U.S., she took us out to dinner at Develi - a roof-top restaurant overlooking Istanbul's harbor - for an excellent dinner of mezze (small dishes of appetizers and dips), hot flatbread, shish kebab, pilaf, salad, fresh watermelon and cherries, and a bottle of very good red wine. When the waiter learned we were celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary, he brought a bottle of champagne on the house. Shanna had $70 worth of Turkish money ready to pay the bill, and was astounded when it came: $30 for everything! She left a generous 20% tip, and the grateful waiter sprinkled rose petals over our heads! The next day Shanna flew home and we caught a bus/ferry to Bursa.
A TURKISH HOME
Our Servas host met us at the door of his 150-year-old Ottoman house, which perches on the steep sides of a mountain overlooking the old city of Bursa. We left our shoes inside the door and climbed to his third-floor living space - which tilted and creaked with age. His home was simply furnished, with cracked linoleum and overstuffed furniture similar to that which our grandfathers had in their front parlors. He offered us fresh mulberries and small bottles of mineral water from the Uludag Springs in the nearby hills.
A self-published poet and translator, our host was a slender, warm-hearted man of great enthusiasm and a few eccentricities. When we visited, he was planning - at age 60 - to marry for the first time. (We gave him lots of unsolicited advice about this. However, he'll probably marry anyway.) That evening, we went down the hill to a terrace cafe, where we treated him to dinner. Since he's a vegetarian, dinner consisted of a variety of vegetarian meze - small dishes of hot or cold foods, including eggplant casserole, hummus, stuffed squash, dolmas (stuffed vine leaves), served with olives, bread and delicious blackberry juice. Then we climbed back up the hill for slices of cold watermelon and a long discussion of our Turkish and American lives. He gave us his spartan bedroom with its iron bedstead and whitewashed walls and he slept on the sofa in the living area. During the night, we tiptoed past him to get to the old-fashioned bathroom. It smelled slightly like an old campfire, because an iron woodstove for heating bath water stood next to the toilet with a pan of ashes in front and a basket of small sticks nearby.
He awakened us the next morning at 6:00, after returning from the neighborhood bakery, and served us an ample Turkish breakfast of fresh bread, honey, butter, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, two kinds of feta cheese and tea, plus a bowl of fresh cherries and apricots. Then we were hurried out the door and semi-trotted down the steep cobblestone streets to the Turkish bath. This hammam, Yeni Kaplica, was renovated in 1522 by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent's grand vizier on the site of a much older one built by Justinian. Next to it, there is a separate hammam for women.
Joan's story: Our host made arrangements in Turkish for me to have "the works" (steam bath, sauna, loofah scrub, massage, soaping and shampoo)for the grand total of $7.50. The men went to the "bay hammam" (men's bath) next door, and I went into the less ornate women's bath. I was on my own in a traditional hammam - no English spoken and no tourists. The attendants looked as dazed by my presence as I felt. Around the walls of the outer room were wooden benches, where large, pink-bellied, middle-aged Turkish ladies sat in their underpants chatting and sipping tea. Behind them on pegs hung the voluminous dresses, coats and headscarves which hide most of their bodies out on the streets. I stood there awkwardly, for the first time in my life feeling as skinny as a Barbie doll, until the attendant half-shoved me in the direction of a metal locker and gestured for me to put my clothes in there.
I stripped to my underwear, slipped on the plastic shower shoes provided and meekly followed her to the drab marble steam room. I sat on a warm marble bench next to a faucet pouring steaming hot water into a marble urn. Within seconds, I began to glow, drip, then pour with sweat. It was HOT in there! Eventually, the attendant returned and motioned me to follow her down the hall. She pulled open a door and I entered the sauna. Hot and claustrophobic. Mercifully, she soon returned and took me into a large bathing area. A woman sat on a marble bench in her panties, soaping and rinsing herself. I didn't quite know what to do, and stripped bare. Oops. Took off too much.
(SORRY, NO PHOTO AVAILABLE!!)
I quickly rinsed off and was motioned onto a massage table. Matter-of-factly stripping to her underwear, the heavy-set masseuse poured a bucket of warm water over me and donned a large loofah mitt. She scrubbed. And scrubbed. And scrubbed. I thought she'd gone through all layers of my skin and was nearing my bones by the time she was done. When I sat up and looked at my pink and glowing self, I was mortified to see the many rolls of grayish dead skin that had been scrubbed off. Travel grime. I rinsed off, and climbed back on the table to be vigorously massaged by her soapy hands for about twenty minutes - as deep a massage as I've ever had. It felt great afterward, but I could barely stand the process. Another rinse, then she used a bar of soap to shampoo my hair. Another rinse, then into a large marble tub - where the water was cool and I could float suspended in bliss. All this took nearly two hours. I gave her a dollar tip, received a gap-toothed grin in reply and joined the equally squeaky-clean guys.
Our host then trotted us back up the steep hill. Puff, pant. We had more apricots, cherries and watermelon. Down the hill again at almost a gallop. Puff, puff. Saw two beautiful old mosques, ate lunch, then back up the hill in a hurry. Puff, PANT! Had homemade apple cake and tea with his sister and her husband, grabbed our backpacks and went lickety-split down the hill again to catch the bus to the otogar (bus station.) We waved an affectionate goodbye to our charming host and sat gasping for breath as the bus pulled away. Whew! A couple of days' rest were needed to recover from this super-healthy visit!
Although we don't know much ancient history, we greatly enjoyed prowling around the Greek and Roman ruins along the coast of Turkey. We visited several of the most important sites, including Pergamum, Ephesus, Priene, Miletus, Didymus and Termessos.
Lou's account: The highlight at Pergamum was
walking out of the tunnel at the top row of the vertigo-inducing amphitheater
and perching there for a magical "sound and sheep" show.
Ephesus blew me away. St. Paul once preached here, and later wrote to its citizens his epistle to the Ephesians. The Library of Celsus was the most thrilling ancient structure I've seen. The entry steps led up to two tiers of tall marble columns spanned by heavy, elaborately carved pediments with niches beneath holding robed gods of goodness, knowledge, thought and wisdom. What a great monument to scholarship! I silently thanked the Ionian, Greek and Roman pioneers in logic, literature, astronomy, math, law and art. I also winced at the foul means by which the rulers amassed their resources and forced African slaves to erect this monument.
The Terrace Houses at Ephesus, just above the Library, had been recently opened to the public. This cluster of palatial private homes was occupied between the 3rd century BC and 7th century AD. Their excavation and restoration, underway since the 1950s, continues beneath an enormous steel-structured, tent-like covering. There were no signs posted and no tour groups went in, so we were practically alone with these astonishing ruins. We climbed some wooden stairs past a number of palatial dwellings, and entered several. We wended our way along a maze of hallways to view enormous barrel-vaulted baths, elegant salons with pools surrounded by mosaic tile floors, richly colored frescoes in reds, oranges, yellows and greens depicting nature (birds, fish, flowers), important individuals and myths. We passed by sorted piles of column fragments and stacks of cracked slab tile - pieces of a giant puzzle to be put back together. In the midst of it all, a white-suited, mustachioed archaeologist and his assistant were painstakingly removing a damaged mosaic tile floor. Its many pieces had been glued to cheesecloth and were now carefully being taken up from the undulating clay floor with hammer, chisel and pry-bar. A part of me longed to sit at the rickety wooden table with the archaeologist's plans before me, researching and directing the discovery and restoration!
We were mostly alone or with just a few others at all of Turkey's ancient sites except Ephesus - where we encountered wave after wave of Americans off a massive cruise ship then in port. There were 2,000 of them trooping along in guided groups of 30, with numbered flags above their heads and numbered tags on their shirts. They probably learned (and then forgot) a lot more facts about Ephesus than we did, but we wouldn't have traded places with them. To each his/her own.
The Ephesus Museum in nearby Selcuk was a delight. The highlights for us were the marble statues of Cybele/Artemis, whose rows of egg-like breasts symbolize fertility.
After our morning at Ephesus, we lunched on gozleme at a funky roadside tent. Gozleme is a traditional Turkish pancake. Wheat dough is rolled thin, sprinkled with bits of lamb, onions, peppers, spinach and feta cheese - then folded and fried on an overturned metal "wok" above a wood fire. Two kerchiefed old women prepared our gozleme, laughing at our attempts to say thanks in Turkish. This is tesekkurleradrem - which guides (incorrectly) tell tourists to pronounce as "two-sugars-a-dream".)
On one long day we visited three ancient cities - Priene, Miletus and Didymus. Priene was interesting because the Romans passed it by, so everything we saw was Greek - including the sanctuaries, amphitheater, gymnasium, market, temples and council chambers. At the other sites, however, the Roman ruins are built over and obscure the Greek. Priene is beautifully situated on a breezy pine-forested hill beneath a towering mountain. It overlooks the silted-in Meander River floodplain, which is planted in cotton, tobacco and tangerines. Joan said it reminded her of sitting on the hill above her grandfather's house, looking out over the farmlands of Watsonville, California. We can't remember much Greek mythology, so we wondered about the story behind the Greek god Meander. Did he wander around endlessly? We thought about our own nomadic odyssey of the past two years, and wondered if we ought to adopt him as our "household god". Perhaps we should even be called "Meanderthals!" (Sorry about that.)
On the other side of the Meander plains, we visited Miletus - once a city of 80,000 Romans. One of the interesting things here was the way in which the Romans modified the amphitheater, making it suitable not only for Greek drama but also for man-beast competition. They created cages for the lions beneath the stands and released the animals to armed gladiators before 15,000 blood-thirsty spectators. We'll stick with Oedipus Rex! This bas-relief in the Miletus amphitheatre depicts a gladiator and lion:
At the Didymus temple the two remaining 60-foot columns have not been reconstructed, but have been standing here intact for 2400 years! This is amazing in a part of the world where frequent earthquakes and wars have brought so much devastation to the ancient sites. The columns are comprised of cylindrical sections lifted into place by use of a pulley system. The fluting (full-length vertical grooving) was chiseled by slaves hanging onto ropes from the top after the columns had been erected.
LOU'S "LAW OF TIGHTWAD TRAVEL" GOES AWRY
(Below is Joan's letter to her sister, who occasionally feels envious of our "glamorous" life of travel.)
With regard to envy - it goes both ways. Some days the idea of having - as you do - a beautiful home, close family and community sounds VERY good to me. Yesterday was one of those days.
Lou wanted to visit the ruins of Termessos, above the city of Antalya. Tours to the ruins cost $35 each, and would only allow us to stay there 1.5 hours - not enough time to explore it all. Taxis cost $47 round trip, ditto on the time allowed. For $25, our pension owner was willing to take us and wait for 2.5 hours. Not good enough for romantic/economic Lou (a crazy combination of qualities!) No, he wanted to take public transportation, then hitchhike the rest of the way to the isolated site. So, we walked 15 minutes, waited 20 minutes, caught a bus to the bus station some 5 miles outside of the city, waited 15 minutes, rode in a packed dolmus for 25 minutes. (From the same word as dolma - stuffed grape leaves - a dolmus is a minibus that doesn't leave until it's stuffed with people!) We got out in the middle of NOWHERE and looked around for the mythical people going up the mountainside to the ruins 9 km away. NO ONE IN SIGHT. Just one taxi. But taking a taxi doesn't fit Lou's romantic/economic self-image so he started to walk right past it. (His lower back has been a bit sore lately, but he is in total denial, of course.) I looked at the long, empty road ahead and said (actually, I hissed it through clenched teeth) "We're taking that taxi!" He reluctantly got in and we went up the mountain. Then we had a hot, sweaty climb from the parking lot straight up for 2 km to some great ruins - including a wonderful Roman amphitheatre perched on the side of the mountain. The guard at the bottom was amazed at us, saying that most Americans don't want to climb to the ruins, but just lean out the car window and snap a photo!
After a "lunch" of three small cookies and a piece of candy ("We can get something to eat at the site, Lou had promised." Wrong - for once there were no vendors in sight), we went back to the pension - reversing the route with a taxi and two bus rides. We saved a grand total of about $3, but did have four full hours to explore the ruins. Most importantly, we preserved some of Lou's romantic self-image. Back at our pension, we crashed into a zombie-like sleep for nearly three hours, then got up and walked clear across the city to a PTT (pronounced "puh, teh, teh" in Turkish) to try to make several phone calls. Lou had problems with the system and no one spoke English. He would have stayed there until midnight to get the calls through, but at 9:15 I mildly pointed out that I was STARVING and could we please have some DINNER. I was quite polite about it, but clearly was at the end of my rope. He got the message, and we found a cute little grapevine-draped cafe in a narrow alley, where the tables had real cloths, flowers and soft lighting. We had several dishes of meze (including an excellent eggplant casserole) and some raki (anise-flavored grape brandy.) And so to bed...
Now, be honest. Do you envy THAT day???
IN SELF-DEFENSE (added by Lou): First of all, $3 is $3, right? (Just kidding.) All I can say is that I still believe in "Lou's Law of Tightwad Travel: The less you spend the closer you come to the reason you came." And I take Joan to great lengths to make it work. So go ahead and laugh!
AYVALIK: We were trying to go from Bursa to Ayvacik, but we misunderstood the bus driver, and ended up by mistake in Ayvalik. We liked this seaside village so much we stayed two nights at the Taksiyahis Pansiyon - a great place to meet fellow travelers, either on the vine-covered rooftop terrace or on the flower-filled patio below. This photo is from our "room with a view" of Ayvalik's red-tiled rooftops.
GUMUSLUK: We came to this village on the tip of Bodrum Peninsula planning to spend two nights and extended our stay for "one more night" three times! We slept to the sound of the lapping sea, and awakened to eat delicious fresh peaches on our tiny deck. Umbrella-shaded wooden lounges lined the narrow beachfront where we spent part of each day. We met a young couple from Alaska and ate dinner with them in the patio each night. Each morning we discussed dinner with the pension chef, who cooked whatever seafood we wanted. The dinner bill for two, including a bottle of Turkish wine, was under $20.
GOCEK: Development is prohibited in this seaside village, which retains much of its traditional look. It is frequented by wealthy yachters from around the world, so there are several upscale handicraft and carpet shops here. A 50-meter motor yacht was docked in the harbor. That's right: 165 feet long, by 30 feet wide and 30 feet high! A man, his wife and their child have been endlessly sailing the world with a crew of eleven. It costs $3 million a year just for running expenses. It was weird to find people who live in such a different world from us peasants! Of course, even in our dusty travel clothes, we probably look as wealthy as the yachtsmen to the people who live here. While in Gocek we found a vibrant carpet (the large red and blue medallion one below) with an outrageous opening price. Berber Man Lou stood firm and we bought it at HIS opening offer - a whole lot less. This is the last, last, LAST carpet we'll buy on our travels...we promise! Our "home" - an 8x10-foot storage unit - can't hold any more.
KALEKOY (aka SIMENA): We went to Kalekoy by mistake - again, a good one. We were trying to reach Ucagiz from Kas, via water taxi and hitched a ride on a glass bottom tour boat. The ride cost us $5 each for almost the entire eight-hour $45 tour, but the captain dropped us off at the docks of the wrong town - Kalekoy - which turnout out to be much more delightful than Ucagiz. This is a traditional village terraced up a small hill, with an ancient castle on top waving a Turkish flag: bright red with white crescent moon and star. Tour boats pull in all day long and tourists charge up the hill to see the castle, then down again for a quick seafood lunch - leaving after a couple of hours. The town reverts to its quiet self from 4 p.m. until 10 a.m. the next day. Our pension was at the top left side of the village, well away from the castle stampede. A rocky islet near the pension was a good place from which to swim, in water as warm as that in Hawaii. Here's a pin-up!
The photo below shows the view from our room at the Mehtap Pansiyon; we swam from the left side of the small rocky island; that's part of our pension deck on the right. One morning we arose at six to paddle the pension's double kayak across the channel to the large island in the distance and peer down at a sunken city, destroyed in an earthquake in the third century B.C. It's still possible to see stone foundations, walls and piles of pottery shards along the bank and stairs leading down into the clear water.
From here, we headed south to Syria and Lebanon for two weeks, then returned to Turkey for the month of August. (Note: To travel with us in chronological order, turn now to the SYRIA & LEBANON travelogue - then return to Turkey.
BACK TO TURKEY
We left Syria in a crowded bus, crossed the border into Turkey, spent a few hot and humid days resting up in an air-conditioned hotel in Gaziantep, hiked up to the ruins at Nemrut Dagi for sunset and again for sunrise and headed north to Erzurum - where we were caught up in bureaucratic red tape trying to renew our tourist visas. We finally were issued temporary resident visas and fled to the mountains around Yusufeli and Barhal for some hiking. While trying to write this part of the Turkey travelogue, we had a heated argument regarding our differing perceptions of this month. After a day of "dueling" from back-to-back computers in an Istanbul Internet cafe, we finally decided to write some separate accounts of our experiences. We may be one couple - but we're also two distinct individuals!
There's a wonderful area in northeastern Turkey where the sights are difficult to access by bus, so we rented a car for three days. The route from Erzurum to Yusufeli and from Yusufeli to Kars/Ani was spectacular. The road wound past rushing rivers, harvest scenes, surrealistic hills and tortured rock formations left by cataclysmic upheavals millions of years ago. We turned off from time to time to visit medieval Christian church ruins nestled in gorgeous Georgian valleys. The ancient city of Ani sits high on a golden grassy hill above a river dividing Turkey and Armenia. Most of the ruins in this haunting ghost town date from the 8th century. Because of soldiers in the Armenian watchtowers who might think we were gathering intelligence, we had to take photos surreptitiously.
We clambered over the remains of Christian churches and Islamic mosques, baths and markets with a Turkish family from Istanbul who learned their excellent English during a year spent in the U.S. state of Alabama! We thoroughly enjoyed their company and the ruins before driving back to Erzurum.
AMERICAN WOMAN ATTACKS TURKISH GAS STATION ATTENDANT
LOU'S VERSION: On the way back to Erzurum, Joan drove our exceptionally dirty rental car into a gas station to top-up the benzine before returning it to the agency. After the attendant filled it up, Joan drove over to the car wash where I planned to wash the windshield. The eager-to-serve attendant ran to man his high pressure car-washing hose, turned it on full blast and began to direct it at the car. At the end of the hose was a four-foot pipe/nozzle and the jet of water sprayed out hard for another 20 feet - rather frightening if you aren't in your bathing suit. To avoid the expense of cleaning a rental car, Joan did NOT want the wash job. Her command of the Turkish language was not great to begin with, and under pressure she lost the little she had. Unfortunately her yelling "NO, NO, NO!" in English didn't stop him. Now imagine the attendant as a quarterback ready to make a pass, but holding high this jet-issuing pipe instead of a football. Here comes linebacker Joan, lunging with desperation, arms held high, one hand in the man's face, the other diverting the nozzle. As he staggered back, I narrowly escaped getting the wash job on myself! Embarrassed, Joan quickly sped out of the station spitting gravel behind. When I looked back, the attendant was alternately bending double with laughter and shrugging at his fellow attendants with a hands-to-the-sky "Can you believe tourists?" gesture.
JOAN'S VERSION: I hadn't driven much during the time we'd been traveling, and was nervous about the prospect of driving in Turkey. But Lou's new driver's license didn't arrive until a week after we left the U.S., so he couldn't rent or drive a car because we'd be totally uninsured. I would have to drive. Our guidebook repeatedly stated how dangerous Turkish roads are. The traffic fatality rate in Turkey is either the highest or the second highest in the world. Turks favor the middle of the highway, which usually has no center or side lines. Turkish drivers are 99.9% male, drive fast and often try to pass on blind curves. If they meet an oncoming car on a curve, all three drivers stand on their brakes and trust to Allah! I nervously crept through the Erzurum city traffic and out onto the highway. The first part was fine - we were on little-traveled country roads where the haying was in full progress. It was fairly relaxed travel...
until we left the main road and climbed up to the first Georgian church - four miles of single lane, rutted, winding, blind-curved, dirt road - with sheer drop-offs to the deep valley below. White-knuckle time for the driver! Later in the day, we drove to Yusufeli (20 more miles of the same kind of road), then from Yusufeli another 20 miles up to Barhal. THIS road was unbelievable. Where it was paved, chunks of paving had fallen away along the cliff edges (of course, there were NO railings.) If I'd gotten a tire into one of the gaping holes at the edge of the paving, the car would have plunged over the cliff for a thousand feet or more. I had to drive this road for just under two hours. At Barhal, I balked. Lou had to drive us back down to Yusefeli - insured or not. The next two days were (comparatively) relaxed three or four hour journeys - although the other drivers were still nuts and the roads erratically potholed. However, by the time we neared Erzurum, I was nearing frazzled burn-out. The service station attendant, who wanted to perform an unnecessary service for money, was the LAST STRAW! I was tired of being stared at (we saw no other women driving during these three days) and generally tired of being perceived as a powerless female (I'd been in Islamic countries too long!) What part of NO was this gas station guy unable to understand?! Good thing Lou has a good sense of humor. I went over the top for a few minutes there....
THE UPS AND DOWNS OF MOUNTAIN HIKING
LOU'S STORY (excerpted from his journal):
August 15: A couple of Israeli backpackers told me about a lake high in the Kacker Daglari range above the village of Barhal where we were staying in northeastern Turkey. Joan was willing to hike for three or four hours under the hot Turkish sun, but that was all. The Israelis said Lake Karagol would be easy to find but it would take five hours for the round-trip. Bryan, a young Californian working in Cairo, agreed to accompany me and we set off. After three hours the trail petered out. A nearby farmer explained that there are two Karagols and we were headed for the wrong one. (It turns out that karagol means "dark lake" and there are many lakes in this area by that name.) We had wandered a couple of miles off course. At this point Bryan was exhausted by the heat. He bailed out and back-tracked to Barhal. I followed a new, trail-less course across the foothills beneath the towering peaks - mostly through grassy meadows but occasionally into dark stands of fir. There was water everywhere - crashing down the increasingly steep hills in free-ranging rivulets, streams and irrigation ditches. As I climbed higher, the wildflowers became more plentiful. Their brilliant yellows, vibrant pinks and soft deep blues attracted colorful butterflies, and the wild raspberries dotting the pastures dissolved deliciously on my tongue.
Along the way I passed through several traditional villages and occasionally encountered men and colorfully dressed women in the meadows tending herds of cattle, cutting and hauling grasses and managing the flow of water. "Marhaba," I called, "Nerede Karagol? Kac kilometers?" Curious and friendly, they motioned me onward up the mountain, saying, "Iki (two) kilometers." Whew, almost there, I thought. I walked another two or three kilometers and asked another farmer, "Nerede Karagol? Kac kilometers?" Motioning me farther up the mountain, he replied "Iki kilometers." I stopped and asked this question five times, and was always told I was within two kilometers of Karagol! I never found the lake.
But, after 6-1/2 hours of hard hiking, I found a beautiful spot below a high waterfall where the waters diverged. Here on a tiny island I removed my hiking boots, soaked my feet in the frigid water, wolfed down a handful Turkish-grown hazelnuts and dried apricots, and laid back to gaze at puffy white clouds and listen to water music. Too soon, it was time to start back down the mountain. I decided to follow the stream all the way back to Barhal. What a joy it was hopping the boulders - until I hit a wobbly rock and took a terrific tumble. I wondered later how I could have simultaneously whacked my left shin and right rear rib cage! With apparently nothing broken, I picked myself up and somehow hobbled for 3-1/2 hours down the mountain, arriving at the pension exhausted. Joan was not sympathetic. At my age, she doesn't think I should go on long, strenuous hikes, especially alone. I don't know about "should", but I "had" to do this one. If that lake exists, at some time during the day I must have come within two kilometers of it!
Epilogue (Lou's Journal Entry of August 23)
It is now eight days after my tumble. I am lying in bed with my foot elevated; the ankle is the size of a small melon. We are staying in the Sankta Maria Katolik Kilisesi, a charming hostel run by the Catholic church here in Trabzon - a historic port on the Black Sea and a very interesting city, though I doubt I'll see much of it, except for the hospital we visited yesterday. I'm happy to report that x-rays show an intact though traumatized tibia and only one cracked rib that will heal itself. Getting the X-ray was hilarious. The technician had me strip to the waist, then told me several times (in Turkish) to position my left leg on the table for the tibia x-ray. Of course, I understood none of this for - having stripped to the waist - I was trying to expose my ribs to the camera. Just try sitting on a table beneath the x-ray camera with one leg extended and twisted while placing your ribs over your leg! You wouldn't believe the various positions I got into to try to satisfy that woman!
Afterward (Lou's journal entry of August 31)
Joan has offered several wifely suggestions about what I could learn from this experience. I have exercised my husbandly prerogative and dismissed these out of hand. I have yet to come up with any good lesson on my own. Besides, now I am almost well and I enjoyed the hike immensely - who needs a lake? While I was resting up in Ankara, Joan visited its exceptional national museum of archaeology where she met two young Americans - one of whom tried to " re-direct the built-up fluids" in my ankle. His efforts didn't seem to help much, but we did enjoy their company at dinner that night. The next day, Joan pushed me around the museum in a wheel chair. What fun!
"...April is the cruelest
month..." (T.S. Eliot) Maybe so, but I'd say this August was the most
challenging of our two years on the road so far. Nothing major went wrong. We just
encountered sticky-hot weather, visa problems, repetitive food choices
(will I ever be able to face another lamb shish kebab?), long bus rides, no
English books, magazines or t.v., limited mobility due to accident and illness,
and several hospital visits. Revealing myself (not for the first time) to be
the thornier of the rambling Roses, I'll share some of my perceptions of our
ups and downs. On the plus side, nearly three
weeks after his raspberry-picking hike and tumble, Lou's body began to
heal and he hardly limped at all. I could see the end in sight - maybe just one
more week of carrying BOTH of our backpacks, a total of more than 50 pounds. ( Oops! This was supposed to be the "plus" side. I'll try
again...) I was almost healthy by now, after a
prolonged bout of low-grade diarrhea, which resisted my attempts to dose myself
with potions from our travel medicine kit. The gastroenterologist who treated
me in Ankara tactfully said that I'd been using too low a dose - of the wrong
stuff! Sigh. Many tests and $286 later, I was pronounced fairly healthy.
(Remember, this is still the "plus" side!) To be fair, August did have some
bright spots for me. These include the many new
friends we met along the way, a climb to the hilltop ruins at Nemrut Dagi at
both sunrise and sunset, and a breathtaking three-day drive through the
Georgian Valleys and across to the haunting ruins of Ani on the Armenian
border. We had a refreshing swim in a cold creek in the mountains the day
before Lou fell. I visited (Lou was still resting his ankle) the ruins of
wonderful old Sumela Monastery near the Black Sea. We had a three-day stay in an
old Ottoman house in the charming town of Amaysa. We greatly
enjoyed the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in the capital city of Ankara. It
holds some fascinating works from the earliest known human community, including
many powerful images of the Great Mother widely worshipped in early
We loved Amasya, a beautiful city of 60,000 that meanders along the banks of a river in north-central Turkey. Its main attraction is the large number of old Ottoman houses, whose white plaster walls with dark-stained timbers are somewhat reminiscent of English Tudor architecture. We stayed for three days at Ilk Pansiyon, a tastefully-restored 150-year-old Ottoman house that was once the home of an Armenian priest. Our high-ceilinged room was filled with country-style antiques and peasant embroideries; breakfast was served in the delightful cobblestone courtyard - formerly an outdoor kitchen.
In fact, we liked everything about Amasya except its NOISE!! Beginning on Saturday at 8 am, a "band" ( comprised of a drum and horn - the latter sounding like a bagpipe) blasted through the city every twenty minutes in the back of a pick-up truck. Following the truck was a line of honking cars filled with merrymakers. This lasted all day and into the evening. The band began again at 8 on Sunday morning, playing even more frequently as the day went along. What on earth was going on? We finally found someone with enough English to explain. This was late August. 6-10 year old boys could be circumcised according to Islamic tradition and still have time to heal before school started. Weddings often take place just before or just after harvest time. We were visiting during the one weekend of the year when a great number of both rituals were taking place. The Saturday revelries celebrated weddings - the Sunday merry-making celebrated circumcisions! When the band started up again on Monday morning, we sleepily wondered what else was left to celebrate - menopause?
JOAN'S COMMENTS: Which reminds me - how did a country that began in Neolithic times as a matriarchal society that worshipped the Great Mother of fertility reach the point where most of the women (outside of Istanbul) are covered head-to-toe despite the heat? I've never been a radical feminist, but I'm ready to join the ranks! Three months of travel in the Middle East, and nearly two months in 2000 in Indonesia, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, heightened my awareness of how differently women are treated in Islamic countries than in the West.
Thanks to Ataturk, its heroic founding father, Turkey is more secular and open than the other Islamic countries we've visited. Still, I am continually dismayed by the limited public role of women. For example, when we were in Cappadocia, our daughter Shanna had a case of traveler's tummy, and I went to a pharmacy to get her some medication. The man behind the counter spoke almost no English, but responded to my request by dialing the telephone and handing it to me. "My wife," he explained. Mystified, I took the phone. A woman spoke to me in very good English. She understood the problem and exactly what was needed. "Let me talk to my husband," she said. I hung up, and her husband (who turned out to be only a shop clerk) filled the prescription given by his wife (the trained, licensed pharmacist.) Somewhere, she was sitting in her living room dispensing medications over the telephone, as it was not appropriate for her - a traditional Muslim woman - to be working in the pharmacy!
Travel broadens one, they say. You're supposed to become more open-minded to the world's endless variety of customs and traditions. I'm not so sure. Certainly, I'm more sympathetic to the plight of refugees trapped in genocidal countries. And I'm more understanding of the views of those who don't like America's current foreign policy and lack of a strong environmental stance. And I'm uncomplaining (most of the time) about the less comfortable/convenient aspects of traveling in developing countries. But I think that it is difficult for an educated Western woman to travel through Islamic countries without becoming more and more upset at the imbalance of rights and opportunities between males and females. In these countries I must often remind myself that: "Sailing to the ends of the earth, is in fact traveling in time." (Joseph-Marie Degerando, 1797) The Middle East is a volatile mixture of 7th century religious tradition (orthodox Islam), rampant 19th century environmental pollution (littering is a highly popular, conscious activity), emerging 20th century capitalism and a smattering of 21st century technology. I would be more tranquil about the 7th century traditions if 1) they didn't negatively impact women far more than men, and 2) there weren't such a strong trend toward radical Islamic fundamentalism throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Of course, religious fundamentalism is often not religious at all - many moderate Muslims are vehement about this - but only the guise under which the disaffected try to gain power. (This was written in August 2001, just before the terrorist attacks by radical Islamists on September 11. Also, note that our travelogue section on Afghanistan and the dangers of the Taliban was written in September 2000 - one year before these attacks. See the last part of OLD SILK ROAD Well, I made it through the heat of August without throwing a major fit or wringing my sweet spouse's neck You're not going to feel sorry for me one bit, but it can be difficult to travel with an ever-enthusiastic, ever-optimistic mate. It means that if anyone is going to be realistic about what two retired geezers like us are able to do, it'll probably be me. (Years ago, we went camping in Canada and couldn't find a campsite in any of its beautiful national parks. We ended up on an 8x10 foot plot of gravel in a run-down private campground - up against the wall of a local pizza parlor. You guessed it. Lou's response was typical: "Well, at least they have good pizza!")
LOU (complaining about Joan's digging up history from 20 years ago): I hate these long-term relationships!
DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
GUIDEBOOKS: Turkey; Istanbul to Cairo (both by Lonely Planet)
BACKGROUND READING: The Emergence of Modern Turkey by Bernard Lewis; A Fez of the Heart: Travels around Turkey in Search of a Hat by Jeremy Seal
FILMS: Topkapi; Gallipoli; Yol
ISTANBUL: The Kalkan Hotel was our home base - we returned to it several times as we traveled to and from other parts of the Middle East. It's a somewhat bland business hotel with a very friendly English-speaking staff in the slightly scruffy but safe Laleli area -- a 15-minute walk or 5-minute tram ride from the main tourist sights. The hotel posted a rate of $70 for a double with bath, including a delicious Turkish breakfast ( a buffet of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, watermelon, bread, honey, jam and tea or coffee) in the rooftop restaurant overlooking a mosque. Because we were there during the off-season, Lou negotiated this rate way way down. Hooray for "Berber-Man Lou!" (To understand his nickname, see MOROCCO
Also in Istanbul: Hotel Nomade is more charming and more centrally located than the Kalkan. There's a rooftop bar with a great view of Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque. $60 double with bath and breakfast. Across the street from the very good Rumeli Café.
CAPPADOCIA (Goreme): Kose Pension. Dormitories and also rooms with private baths. Triple: $16. Family-style dinner $4.50.
OLIMPOS: Bayram's Pension. Triple with private bath $20, including 2 family-style meals a day.
FETHIYE: Pension Ideal. Ocean view from terrace. Double with bath, including breakfast $13. Pension is a brief but steep hike up from the port, where the "Nicola" cruise concluded.
AYVALIK: Taksiyarhi Pansiyon. Charming renovated Ottoman house; patio, ocean view. $16 double, bathroom down hall. Excellent breakfast $2.50.
EPHESUS: Lodging is in the nearby town of Selcuk. We stayed in the simple Otel Nazar, $15 double with bath and breakfast. Also, the nearby Otel Kalehan is particularly charming, with good restaurant. $50/double.
GUMULSLUK (Bodrum Peninsula): Arriba Apartotel. Spartan two-bedroom apartment next to ocean sleeps 4 for $250/week in high season (July 1-Sept. 15.) We paid $27.50 a night in mid-June for the front apt. on second floor.
KALEKOY (aka Simena): Mehtap Pansiyon. Idyllic hilltop location with sundecks, view of water. $22/double with bath.
AMASYA: Ilk Pansiyon. Charming restored Ottoman house with courtyard. Spacious, traditionally-furnished double with bath, $34/night. Breakfast for two: $6 extra.
Joan and Lou Rose email@example.com