The Hester’s Trip to Turkey and Munich, October 14 - November 10, 2007
By Susan Parrino Hester
Background: After some thought about what to do in retirement, I settled onto combining my interest in languages with my B.A. in English and my former Peace Corps experience in teaching English as a foreign language. So, immediately after retiring in June, 2006, I enrolled in a Cambridge University 4-week class to learn how to instruct adults in learning to speak English. As part of this class, I had to do practice teaching every other day. Filiz Kaya, from Istanbul, Turkey, was in my Intermediate English class. I noticed on the first day how smart she was and how she loved to participate. She was always questioning and wanting to know more.
Early on, I took Filiz under my wing. She was to be in Denver a total of 5 months and was living alone and was very lonely for her family. Being a Muslim woman in the U.S., she socialized with her fellow students but only on occasion because and she was living alone. She is very outgoing and friendly to all, but she was struggling due to lack of practice with native English speakers. I told her I would “adopt” her and become her American mom. Filiz took this very seriously and started calling me “mummy,” which was an honor. Later I learned that culturally, the Turks “adopt” younger people and tell them to consider them to be a parent or uncle, aunt, etc.
Filiz started coming to our home and attending some family functions, so she got to know my immediate family.
Filiz and Sue having coffee during an English lesson.
One day, as Filiz and I were doing an English lesson in our living room, the mail arrived and there happened to be a travel brochure that we looked at together (I was using it as a teaching device). She focused on the trip to Turkey and said, “This is really cheap. They go everywhere good. You must come to visit!” This planted a very large seed with me and later, Bill.
In November, 2006, Filiz left Denver. She “graduated” from Bridge Linguatec and did well. She practiced her good-bye speech with us the night before. We agreed to keep in touch by e-mail and Skype (a free computer to computer telephone service).
Then in May, 2007, we made a new friend named Majid Asgari through the Institute of International Education. Majid is from Iran and is an English teacher at the university level in his country. He and a group of his colleagues were sponsored by the U.S. Department of State to visit universities here in America and to learn about our country; they visited several major cities, including Washington DC, New York City and Denver. For the Denver visit, the IIE program asked for volunteer families who would be willing to host the Iranians for “home hospitality.” I did my best to prepare a home-cooked dinner similar to something from the Middle East, including chicken shish kebob, rice and salad. We had a very enjoyable evening and Majid offered to help me to learn Turkish in case we decided to visit. We agreed to stay in touch.
Majid, Sue, and Bill in our home.
So, we started seriously thinking about a trip to Turkey. Bill was planning to retire in July and we wanted a nice trip. In terms of timing, we wanted to avoid traveling during Ramadan, so mid-October appeared to be perfect. We first signed up for a tour but cancelled, then “bought” tickets to Istanbul with mileage points for $81 each (and ended up also booking a few nights in Munich on the back end of the trip), so we had tickets but no itinerary. In the meantime, there were some political happenings in Turkey which made us just a bit reluctant to go. Bill and I debated extensively whether we should pre-book a tour. My priorities for this trip were to visit Istanbul, Cappadocia and Ephesus. I also wanted to spend some time on the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Aegean Seas if possible.
Literally 10 days before our departure date, Bill found a fly/drive/hotel package which a Turkish travel agent was able to customize for us. This turned out to be a wonderful option as it allowed us to build our own itinerary and visit the areas we wanted to see. The travel agent made arrangements for our flights, rental car and hotels.
There was still some remaining anxiety about our safety in traveling to Turkey. For the first time in any of our world travels, we registered with the U.S. State Department, so they would know that we were in Turkey and how to contact us; who our contact points were here in the States, etc. By doing this registration, the State Department would send Bill any updates to his hotmail e-mail account should anything start to happen. The State Department posts advisories on their website and there was nothing to be concerned about right before our departure.
The day we arrived, Sunday, October 15, a terrorist group, the PKK - who had been hiding for many years in the northern mountains of Iraq, attacked Turkey in the southwestern corner of their country. Twelve Turkish soldiers died and 8 were taken as hostages. This was very big in the news while we were in Turkey. The Turks were immediately ready to commit air strikes into northern Iraq, but the U.S., the U.N. and Europe all asked for “calm.” While we were there, there were many diplomatic meetings, including a visit by Condoleeza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State. During all of this, we were treated very hospitably and well by the Turkish people. We didn’t feel threatened at all, but just a bit uncomfortable on one occasion.
Here is a map showing our trip.
The following is an account of our trip. Much of the writing was done in e-mails which were sent to my family as we were on the road. I have added some information from my personal daily journal as well as a small amount of information from the 3 tour guide books which we used while we were there (Turkey: Lonely Planet and Fodor’s; Istanbul: Rick Steves).
October 15—e-mail: We’re here!
Just wanted everyone to know we got to our hotel around 2:00 p.m., today, Monday, which would be about 5:00 a.m. your time. Good flights on Lufthansa, everything went without a hitch. For the 10 hour flight to Munich, one could really get spoiled flying business class with all the amenities, including seats that recline, massage and practically turn into a bed. Open bar, of course, and choice of 3 entrees for dinner and 2 for breakfast. Probably slept 3 hours, not enough, but typical for an overseas flight. Woke up listening to Lesson #10 of “Turkish” on my MP-3 player.
Connecting for the flight to Istanbul went fine and once we
landed there, we easily got our visas, went through immigration and customs,
and were picked up by the representative from our tour company. Felt a
bit "buzzy" from lack of sleep and time zones changes not to mention
the huge city we've landed ourselves into. They say there are 15-20
million or so people here; it's enormous. We're right in the tourist
zone, so will mainly walk.
Checked into our hotel, the Blue House (Mavi Ev) and got
about a one hour nap before being awakened by the call to prayer—quite loud!
The famous Blue Mosque is a stone’s throw from our hotel.
October 16--e-mail: Istanbul—first impressions:
This is a city of over 10-15 million, so it's huge. We
are staying in the old city where the historic sites are located and just about
everything is walkable. Nice, comfortable hotel, not fancy, but well
located, very clean and friendly. Great breakfast. The usual buffet
items were supplemented by figs, dried apricots, raisins, olives, goat cheese,
wonderful breads, unsweetened yogurt, and cherries. Very nice!
Per Bill’s GPS, in our hotel, we are 6,148 miles from home.
There is a huge cultural attachment to tea here. It is ubiquitous. Even if you are sitting in a park, there will be a young man selling tea, which he will deliver to you with sugar in a tulip shaped cup. Friendship, meetings, meals, social events, breaks from the normal routine all surround having a cup of tea. We grew to love Turkish tea—it is beautiful, clear, naturally sweet, and served very hot. I drank more tea in 3 weeks than I probably have in my life (well, that might be an exaggeration).
We've had 2 marvelous days here. While the first night
was a bit chilly, the weather both yesterday and today were glorious, kind of
like our Indian summer.
The world famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul, located right next to our hotel.
We visited the Blue Mosque, which is the largest, most imposing structure we've seen. It is a working mosque, so one can only visit when the prayer services are not being held (5 times a day). One must remove one’s shoes before stepping on the carpet before going into any mosques. Non-Islamic women are encouraged but not required to wear a head scarf as a sign of respect, and I was prepared for this, so I did. We have a view of the Mosque from our hotel and of course, we hear the call to prayer 5 times a day, sunrise, noon, mid-afternoon, late afternoon, sundown. Look at the minarets—each one of them has speakers and the sound system blasts the cantor’s call to prayer so that people can hear this from a very wide surrounding area. Since this photo was taken on the roof of our hotel, you can imagine how loud it was. We were happy to have double paned windows which helped a bit.
Right across from it the Blue Mosque is the Aya Sofia, which for 1000 years was the largest Christian church (until St. Peters was built in Rome). In the park between the two structures, we had tea delivered to us en plein aire on a number of occasions.
The Aya Sofia
We are learning a lot of history -- Constantine who declared Christianity as the religion of Rome moved the Roman Empire here and re-named the city Constantinople. Once taken over by the Muslims, Aya Sofia became a mosque, so they covered up all of the Christian mosaics, one of which is depicted below. The inside is quite ornate and beautiful. I must say that the inside of the Aya Sofia was more impressive to me than the Blue Mosque—partly because it’s older and partly because it combines the Christian and Islamic traditions in its architecture and décor.
Now, the Aya Sofia is a museum, so along with the Islamic designs, the Christian mosaics have been uncovered. They are some of the most detailed we've seen. The kings and popes put themselves into the depictions of Christ and Mary. Quite egotistical, they were, but they've left impressive legacies to themselves.
Next on our self guided tour was the Underground Cistern which at one time was used as the water supply to Istanbul.
Interior of the Underground Cistern
At present, one can visit and take in the 300+ Greek and Roman columns holding up the ceiling...they've installed walkways over the water and it's dark with enough lighting to get kind of a spooky feeling! It is 2 football fields in size. One of the James Bond 007 movies was partially filmed in here, “From Russia With Love.” Now they hold concerts and art shows in it as well as it being a tourist attraction.
Later in the day, we met with Filiz and Murat.
Filiz, Sue, Bill, and Murat having dinner in a restaurant in Istanbul.
They took us to a restaurant and treated us to an authentic Turkish dinner at a restaurant called “Emmim,” (means “My Uncle” in the Anatolian language). The food was incredibly good and just kept on coming. After dinner, we ordered Turkish coffee instead of tea. Filiz “read” my coffee grounds and said that we will have a good trip even though we’ve been a bit nervous, maybe about the driving. She also say that Katie will call with good news; Bill and I will be more in love; many people will be jealous of our trip; when we get to the end of the trip, it will be very pleasurable. Is there an owl watching our house—maybe Larry (our neighbor)? We got to our hotel around midnight and of course, poor Filiz and Murat had to drive home and work the next day. We hadn’t met Murat before except over Skype. He is so, so nice and Bill and Murat are bonding. Murat had some good suggestions to Bill for our upcoming driving trip—every country seems to have a “culture” of driving rules which aren’t published anywhere.
Our Bosphorous River day trip ferry boat
Tomorrow we will fly to our next location, Cappadocia, which
should be quite interesting. This will begin our fly/drive adventure in Turkey.
We have been reading a lot in the paper about the PKK attack.
Turkey is threatening to attack them in Iraq and the U.S. is pleading for
calm and diplomacy. Ironic.
From our October 21st, e-mail, “Getting Lost in Turkey”:
“I know we've been out of contact for a few days, but want you to know we are having a fabulous time. We flew from Istanbul to Kayseri and the representative was there with our rental car, a small diesel Kia, with a manual transmission. The drive was interesting. There is a huge snow capped mountain jutting up out of the plains west of Kayseri.
Mount Erciyes near Kayseri.
The more we drove, the more it looked like western Wyoming, especially the rock formations. Our itinerary was to drive to Urgup where we will stay for a few days, in the Cappadocia area, which is stunning. As the authors of our travel books say, one runs out of adjectives to describe it very quickly.
The Cappadocia Valley area southwest of Urgup
The first full day here, we visited the churches and caves in which the early Christians sought refuge from their oppressors in order to hide and pray. Even after Constantine declared Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire and moved the HQ of the religion to Constantinople, the Christians continued to live and thrive here in underground cities, caves and enclaves, including through the Crusades. They used carrier pigeons which flew from one are to another to deliver messages. Many of the cave structures are still in existence, and believe it or not, a few are still inhabited. Cappadocia is mentioned in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.
Many of the hotels all either are built into the caves or have a cave motif.
Our cave room at the Sacred Heart Hotel in Urgup
Speaking of “stunning,” our hotel here is called “Sacred Heart,” and used to be owned by a rich family; this small hotel is in the Conde Naste publication for 2007, indicating it’s one of the most interesting places to stay in the world. The rooms are carved into rock. Our particular room is fabulous. It is huge and decorated with antiques. The lighting is very low. When you walk in, there is a distinct licorice odor. There are many candles scattered about. The bedspread and sheets are bright red; the bathroom has no door but instead has big, heavy red draperies. There is a decanter with cherry liqueur and 2 small Grandma Parrino type glasses. The bathtub is a Jacuzzi big enough for two. The breakfast was fabulously gourmet and beautifully presented. Needless to say, we found this place to be very fun—two nights here and then we have to move.
Houses and churches carved into the volcanic rock in Cappadocia
According to Turkish history, there were approximately 400 churches, chapels and hermitages scattered in amongst the houses covering a wide area. Early on, the caves were used as shelters from invading armies and later for secret Christian worship. It is said that St. Paul considered Goreme (this area) suitable for the training of missionaries.
Unusual rock formations were everywhere. These are called “fairy chimneys.”
We wandered through the unique natural landscapes, including fairy chimneys, rock formations and valleys. Lava covered an area of 20,000 square kilometers an estimated 10,000 years ago. The rock formations were eroded leaving the hard cap rock on tall pillars to form the fairy chimneys. Pottery and cooking utensils from 3500-3000 BC have been discovered in this area.
One of the frescos on the domes of the Elmali (Apple) Church
This is one of the better examples of frescos which we saw in the various churches and chapels that we visited. It was unknown as to the age of this and others which we saw.
After our long day, we stopped for tea and I bought a typical bag from a Turkish woman who was pleased to have her photo taken with me.
Me buying a Turkish bag at a small tea shop.
As you will see, the woman in the photo is wearing a headscarf which is typical, especially in the outlying areas of Turkey. The headscarf is a matter of great discussion and controversy in Turkey in that modern women generally do not wear them, but it is definitely a choice and not a decision controlled by the secular Turkish government. In fact, until recently, women at the universities were not allowed to wear headscarves but a recently passed law changed that…they now may wear them again, but it is totally a matter of choice. It is not uncommon to see two couples together, out for an evening, one wearing a headscarf and one not. And, there are degrees of coverage—some allow some hair to show and others do not. Others put some sort of “form” underneath the scarf to make the coverage more angular. It was rare to see a woman covered from head to toe in black with only their eyes showing, but we did see this once or twice. Generally, women in the cities were not covered, but outside the cities, they wore some sort of headscarf. As Filiz told me, her mother wears a headscarf but her parents left the decision up to Filiz and Filiz chooses not to wear one. As explained before, it is customary to wear a scarf inside a holy place such as a mosque, which all women do, including visitors such as me.
Back to our tour that day was a visit to a pottery factory; one of Turkey’s famous products besides textiles and carpets. Bill even got to participate in a demonstration, fashioning his own item. We didn’t buy or do anything with it, but we did purchase an overpriced (as we found out later) tile there! Oh well, it is part of our décor in the kitchen!
Bill’s hands got a little muddy with clay, but he did quite well, the experts said!
Our guided tour was quite educational and fascinating, but
the second day in the Cappadocia area, we struck out on our own....
Picture of me in a passageway in the Kaymakli underground
On our travels that day, we were on the back roads, using a
variety of different maps. We learned that the best word to know in Turkish,
besides the normal pleasantries, is “nerede,” or “where?” As long as we knew
where we were headed, we could ask “nerede?” and we kept getting lost on the back
roads, but the Turks are so, so helpful and even with the language barrier made
sure they got us back on track. We were driving through an agricultural
area on the way back from Kaymakli and it was harvest time, especially potatoes
and squash. At one point on our way back to Urgup, where we are staying,
a big farm truck going the opposite way, stopped to help us. The whole
family was on the truck and the Dad turned his vehicle around, got out of the
truck, gave us instructions (in Turkish), then he gave us about 3 pounds of
grapes from their harvest. He proceeded on the road, waited for us to
make sure we knew where we were going (we were still dinking with maps, etc.)
and then once he was satisfied we were on the correct track, he turned his
truck around once more, and drove off in the opposite direction with a wave and
a honk!! In another case, a man got in his car and said for us to follow
him - to show us the intersection where we needed to turn. Yet another
time, when we followed a road to nowhere (the map was not correct), several
little boys in the village were delighted to practice their English to help
us. One of them said to Bill, "what is your name?" He was
so proud of himself!
Because the “Sacred House” was only available for 2 nights, we had to move to another hotel, just for our final night in Urgup. The hotel was called Esbelli Ev and it was very nice, cave motif, but certainly not as luxurious as the first place. The owner and staff were very friendly and helpful. In our room was a “coffee table” type of book about Turkey, and there was also a book called “Turkey: Warm Sun, Strong Tea,” by Tom Brosnahan. I started reading this paperback (it was autographed) and found that Tom had been a Peace Corps volunteer in the late 60’s in Turkey, so the book was about his adventures and how his time in Turkey as an English teacher ultimately led him into a career of travel writing. I wrote down all the information about the book, thinking I would buy it as soon as I got home.
The next day at breakfast, there was a couple who was also staying at the hotel, both from the States and, like us, traveling on their own. I overheard them say something about Guatemala, so initiated a discussion. After chatting a while, the husband said, “Guess who is going to be here today? Tom Brosnahan (the author of the aforementioned book!).” I said, gee, too bad, we must leave. Upon check-out, I mentioned to the hotel owner, Suha Ersoz, that I was sorry I was going to miss Tom and that I had started reading his book and that I written down all the information so that I could buy it when I get home. Suha immediately said “Wait.” He went into another room and brought out Tom’s book (autographed by the author) and handed it to me. I was overwhelmed and asked “how much” and he said “nothing, this my gift to you.” I really enjoyed reading this book (as did Bill) while we were in Turkey. Kindness and generosity once again!”
Here is a photo from the deck where we had breakfast in the morning.
Our view from the Esbelli Ev Hotel in Urgup
After our last night in Urgup, breakfasting and taking in the view above, I wrote a quick e-mail to the family:
E-mail: Today, we will, on main roads, drive to Konya where
we will overnight. Our reason for going there is to see the Mevlana
museum which is dedicated to a Turkish philosopher and poet. Then, on
Monday, we will drive to the coast for 3 nights at Antalya. There, we
will stay at a big American Sheraton. I'd rather be in one of the small
Turkish hotels, but, oh well...our next contact will probably be from there.
In Konya, we visited a museum and shrine to Mevlana Rumi who is a very highly respected poet and philosopher from the 1200s. His writings and teachings are so peaceful and thoughtful. I believe the Sufis started from his teachings and I believe that is the group that Renata our cousin is affiliated with.
The Mevlana Museum
Here is one of Mevlana’s writings:
Come, whoever you may be,
Even if you maybe
An infidel, a pagan or a fire-worshipper, come.
Ours is not a brotherhood of despair.
Even if you have broken
Your vows of repentance a hundred times, come.
Mevlana felt Allah everywhere and found that he connected more closely with God by “spinning.” He began the practice of “whirling dervishes” in which men combines singing, chanting and spinning around and around. Bill and I saw a performance of the “Whirling Dervishes” while in Cappadocia. It was hard to imagine that these men wouldn’t fall down. Every once in a while they would stop and stand, and then begin again. One time, I counted to 100 and they kept going and going. Here is a photo of the whirling dervishes.
The Whirling Dervishes—they made me dizzy…
We had a very good conversation about politics with a nice young man at the Mevlana museum who was bright and interesting and of course spoke good English. It started when Bill was taking a picture of the museum and I was just hanging out waiting for him. A Turk, sitting on a chair at the entrance gate as the tourists came through the gate and their tickets were taken, said to me “That will be a great photo.” He asked where I was from, then Bill came over. The conversation went on and on. I was concerned that he might get in trouble (another employee was taking the tickets). In the meantime, a Turkish police officer walked up. I thought “ah oh,” this guy’s in trouble (or we are for expressing our views). As it turned out, he was just interested and wanted to chime in. The Turks are very interested in our views of American politics and like to practice their English. They also wanted to know whether or not we were scared to come to Turkey and why or why not. Evidently there are fewer Americans visiting these days -- which is too bad.
Finally, we went out the gate, said good-bye to our new friends and visited the Mevlana mosque. Entrance is free to all mosques. There was a cute little old man at the front making sure that no shoes entered and that all women’s heads were covered. Bill asked him if it would be OK to take a photo and he said “Evet,” meaning “yes.” Bill took a lot of photos and we hung out inside for quite some time. The little caretaker took a liking to us after Bill showed him a photo that he had taken. Then, the caretaker took us into a back private room with a rug displaying Mecca. This was a very special treat, to be singled out among all the other tourists to see this room. The caretaker also gave me a couple of Islamic prayer beads. What a nice man! We said our good-byes and walked outside, and who was there but…
Our friend from the museum, came strolling by, the one we had talked with for so long. His name was Osmann and he invited us to have “chai,” (tea). Of course, we agreed. What was so hilarious was that Osmann took us to his shop, which turned out to be a rug shop. This guy is a carpet dealer. He was just hanging out at the museum (probably trying to pick up prospective buyers). Once in his shop, I asked Osmann if he was an employee at the museum. He said no, that he just “helps out,” especially if they need an English translator. His English was quite good. Osmann told us a bit about his rugs and the fact that Konya is a big weaving area. We never asked a price, which later we found was the best strategy. Even if you ask, “what does something like this cost,” you have entered into negotiations.
Later when we went to dinner, who did we see but Osmann. He had just closed his shop. To some degree, we felt like we were being stalked, but he was not to be seen when we had finished dining on tandir kabab, and we left early the next day.
Konya is right in the heart of Turkey and is considered to be the nation’s “bread basket,” because it is quite an agricultural area. Tomatoes are very important in Turkish meals and there were miles and miles and acres and acres of tomato plants, largely grown in greenhouses. We would see huge greenhouses, one after another, with small houses in between, presumably where the landowners lived. Their work was literally outside their doors. This area is also considered to be extremely conservative. No alcohol is served in restaurants or available to buy in stores. Murat, Filiz’ husband, was born in Konya, but his family soon moved to Istanbul where he grew up so he gave us a few tips on what to order in restaurants. The food was incredibly good and fresh.
Here is a photo of one of our close encounters:
A typical surprise after coming up over a hilltop at 100 km./hr.
From our e-mail of October 23—“Driving in Turkey”:
“Hello all--we have settled into a very nice Sheraton hotel
here in Antalya--big pool and a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean and the
mountains which jut directly up from the sea to our room. After 2 fairly
intense days of driving and sightseeing, it feels like we just want to
crash! We had our first night here last night and will spend tonight and
tomorrow night before we hit the road again.
Driving in Turkey is quite an experience because...
If you are a passenger especially in a taxi just close your eyes and pray.
Drive faster when the conditions are poor (rain, e.g.,).
From our e-mail of October 24—“On the Road from Konya to Antalya”:
“It was a long day. Our travel agent had suggested a couple of stops and we took his advice and stopped in Side on the coast. There are some 200 AD Roman ruins located there as well as a large Greek style theatre. We arrived and parked, and the ruins were a little bit of a trek. In the meantime, it appeared that it might rain, so we took our rain jackets. We saw the amphitheater, and walked further to the coast to find what else we could see. We started feeling a few drops. By the time we got back to the car, it was pouring rain. We decided to sit in the car for a while. After it seemed to let up a bit, we set off to find Antalya. It was a hairy drive. As mentioned above, drivers tend to speed up rather than slow down in inclement weather in Turkey, so we held our breath, but we made it and it had cleared by the time we got to Antalya. This is a big, big city. The map in our guidebook showed where the Sheraton was, but the map was so small (and because there are no street signs), we didn’t have a clue how to find this place. Finally, after some circular driving, we figured out we had gone too far and turned around, and found the University. A student was standing along side the road and we asked him where to find the Ataturk Park (since we realized the Sheraton was next to it according to the map, so we figured this was a good landmark). He was able to tell us how to get there and of course at that point we were very close.
We checked into the Sheraton, feeling somewhat out of place. At the guard gate, we were told to park. We were still pretty wet from the encounter with the rain in Side, so with luggage in tow, and looking somewhat like drowned rats, we walked into the beautiful lobby of the Sheraton. This hotel could have been in any American city. The nice young man at the reception desk ignored our disheveled appearance. Despite our reluctance to stay here, it was like coming home, but it cost a few bucks (like $10 for a beer!) and has been a nice stay.” Here is a view from our balcony. Look at the mountains to the side—they reminded me of Rio de Janeiro.
The view from our balcony at the Sheraton Hotel.
From our e-mail of October 25—“Dining in Turkey”:
“We ventured out to the old section of town last night via taxi as we didn’t want to drive. We had a fabulous meal at a reasonable price at a very small off the beaten track place called the Sim Restaurant and had a prixe fixe menu. We had trouble finding the restaurant (it’s in the Lonely Planet) and neither the taxi driver nor the Sheraton knew where to find it. We kind of stumbled on it. At any rate, the woman owner treated us so well. We sat outside underneath a grape arbor (with begging cats about and lots of loud and lively political discussion going on inside) and dined on several courses, including calamari (for Bill). We saw the calamari being delivered in a plastic bag. The appetizers, main course and dessert were fabulously presented and prepared. Believe me, this was almost a hole in the wall.
The food here is absolutely unbelievably good partly I think because most of it is locally grown. So much of produce we buy/eat in the U.S. is tasteless these days when because it is being shipped for miles while still green. On the other hand, the area we drove through from Konya to Antalya is full of crops being harvested and/or grown.
The Flag of Turkey
From our e-mail of October 26—“Adding to the Turkish Economy”:
The drive from Antalya to Kalkan yesterday was absolutely
breathtaking, many twists and turns with mountains on our right and gorgeous
vistas of the Mediterranean on our left. Arrived at our hotel the Patrara
Beach Resort around 4:30 in the afternoon. Bill was pooped out so we
chose to stay in for dinner. It was very nice but very expensive.
His fish dish was about $35 dollars, a bit steep, we thought. It was
served with the “head on” which is typical—this would not be my favorite thing!
In all with 2 drinks each, a shared appetizer plate, a main course each, and a
cup of tea, it put us back over 100 bucks. At any rate for our dinner, we
were a captive audience with no other alternatives unless we wanted to drive.
Here is a photo of Bill dipping his toes into the Mediterranean at the Phaselis location:
Bill getting his feet wet in the Med.
I believe I also mentioned that we visited the archeological museum in Antalya which was amazing. It is considered to be the most important archeological museum in Turkey and was walking distance from our hotel. We spent hours there. The representations of Greek gods and goddesses, mostly in perfect condition were unbelievable. Many of the treasures excavated from Perge, a very important Roman site, have been relocated to the museum. The gods shown here were created from 200 BC to 200 AD and are representations from A-Z, Aphrodite to Zeus.
An example of the wonderful rooms full of sculpture in the museum.
From our e-mail of October 28—“A Warren of Tiny Streets”:
“We are in Bodrum, Turkey today, a beautiful port on the Aegean
Sea. The houses are very picturesque, all white washed and start at the
Sea and climb up high to the hills. We found our hotel, the Hotel Su
(which means water), again winding around the warren of tiny, and I mean tiny
streets here. We had no idea how to find this place and did so based on a
combination of instinct and asking. Our little hotel somehow is known by the
locals, and by the time we asked (two different people), we were pretty close.
Note the “evil eye” above the gate. The Turks (and the Sicilians, by the way),
believe that the evil eye can keep you safe and ward off the bad spirits.
These things are everywhere, including hanging above the engine room on the
boat we took up the Bosphorous. Just about every house and every business has
them hanging above their doors and many vehicles have them (no wonder they
drive like they do!).
Entrance to the Su Hotel in Bodrum. Su means “water.”
Last night, after checking in and parking the car a couple of blocks away, we found
a laundry which is doing the work for us today! It's local so won't
charge like the hotels do. I have brought some wash and wear things which
we have washed out in the sink and hung to dry on a couple of occasions.
From e-mail of October 30—“A Little Girl and a Flower”:
“It has been an interesting and educational couple of days!
The Little Girl and My Flower
The Athena temple was indescribable and some say it is as large as the Parthenon Athens. We also stopped at Miletas and saw its Great Theatre, originally a Hellenistic building which could seat 15,000 people, dating from 700 BC to 700 AD.
The Apollo Temple
Ephesus was certainly the crown jewel of the ruins we have visited; maybe we saved the best for last. This is or was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The first information dates back to the year 2000 BC and its existence was mentioned near the temple of Artemis. Certainly, both the Greeks and the Romans were here, and is an entire city with an amphitheatre, houses, baths, meeting spaces and its most famous structure, the remains of a library. This area is full of Christian history too. Saints Paul, Luke and Mary are buried in this area, coming here to spread the Gospel and to escape those who wanted to kill them. Ephesus was abandoned for hundreds of years but was excavated and “discovered” about 100 years ago. Excavation and restoration is on-going and the site attracts thousands of tourists each year.
The Library at Ephesus.
Another view of the library at Ephesus and the surrounding ruins.
We had spent almost the entire day wandering around Ephesus. It was on a scale that I couldn't even fathom; the ruins were spectacular. One highlight was visiting the restored Roman houses where there were frescos and mosaics. The art (besides the beautiful human like sculptures scattered around the site) made their lives seem that much more real to me.
At the end, I was wandering around the shops looking for souvenirs. Bill was “hanging out” and a shopkeeper approached him in English. Bill responded in French and then so did the shopkeeper—they had a little conversation and the shopkeeper suggested that he buy something for his wife (me). It happened that the shopkeeper owned a very high-end jewelry store loaded with gold. I declined buying anything—darn—a missed opportunity. At any rate, Bill finally owned up to being American because the shopkeeper thought we were from France or Canada. A fun experience.
Outside of Ephesus is Mary's church, where it is said that Jesus’ mother spent her last days. The disciples decided that she needed to be protected and hidden. Her “house” is located about 5 kilometers up a hill with Ephesus at its base. We happened to visit while there were no tour buses around, so I had the place to myself. Quite a lovely setting, and we were impressed that it is protected by the Turks. All visitors must go through a Turkish army installation, small but impressive. It’s obvious that they want to protect Christian history for our sake and for theirs.
The house is about 5 kilometers up a windy road with
breathtaking views; the elevation climbed about 2,000 feet in 3 miles.
Our timing happened to be perfect as there were no tour buses in sight, so I
had a few minutes of peace and prayer in the chapel. Then, we left and
Bill was driving down the road to join up with the main highway. About
halfway down, we noticed a man and woman, maybe our age, walking up the road.
The man appeared to be struggling with the strenuous walk. Bill said,
maybe we should turn around and offer to take them the rest of the way & I
agreed, so that's what we did. The couple was really, really
grateful. They were Germans and we had a communication barrier, but Bill
suggested they take a taxi back (sometimes downhills are worse that
uphills!). I guess we did our good deed for the day. Afterward,
Bill & I laughed and wondered which of the 2 had suggested the
hike--whoever it was, wife or husband, must have been in trouble before we came
We visited the Basilica of St. Paul (outside of Ephesus in the town of Selcuk), which is up on a hill. It was built in about 600 A.D., supposedly at the site of St. Paul’s grave, which we saw. Just below the ruins of the church, is the Isa Bey mosque. I overheard a guide say that “Isa Bey” means Jesus Christ, and that this mosque was so named in recognition of the Islamic belief that Jesus was an important prophet. We were at the Basilica when the “call to prayer” came and Bill recorded it on his camera.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
From e-mail of November 1—“Back in Istanbul”:
Hi everyone, just wanted to let you know we arrived back in Istanbul
safely without a hitch. Well, one minor hitch--as we were driving into
the Izmir airport this morning, we were looking for a sign for rental car
return. We stopped at a turnoff to try to get our bearings and I noticed
that the "rental car return sign" with the directional arrow had been
knocked flat onto the ground. Bill got out of the car and propped it up
against another sign so that other tourists would know where to go!
Once back in Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar was high on my list of things to do. I had an idea of the things I wanted to bring back as souvenirs. Here are a few pictures taken inside the bazaar:
Colorful lamps made in Turkey.
Here I am picking out bookmarks which I brought home as
Inside the Grand Bazaar
Our friend Majid had e-mailed that he would come to meet us in Istanbul during the last few days of our trip to Turkey. After meeting up with Majid (on the street near our hotel), we also met with Filiz and Murat as they wanted to hear all about our trip, so we all met one night after dinner and we had coffee and dessert. Majid, Filiz and Murat were able to hear of our Turkish adventures. We had a lot of laughs. Filiz said she had told her work colleagues that “her American family” had set out on this adventure by ourselves through Turkey. She had insisted that we let her know we were “OK” at each stop, so I included her on the family e-mail blogs and text messaged her a couple of times.
The next day, we met a nice Australian couple, Murray and Heather, at breakfast and ended up spending the day with them and our friend Majid. Heather teaches English to foreign college students so we had a lot to talk about.
We went to the Topkapi Palace which was within walking distance of our hotel. It is absolutely huge. We took the “Rick Steves tour” in his guidebook. I ended up being the tour guide for the 5 of us and read to everyone as we went along. We spent several hours there and only scratched the surface. Here are a couple of pictures.
The entrance to the Topkapi Palace.
Bill kept trying to find the harem.
Bill, Sue and Majid waiting for tea to be served.
We have continued to see become friends with Heather and
Murray. She is exactly my age and teaches English to immigrants, so you
can imagine we have a lot in common. She and Majid talked a lot about
possibilities of doing his PhD in English in Australia. We've had some great
discussions about history, politics in our respective countries and the world,
and yes, teaching English. Heather and Murray are newly here in Istanbul
and are going to do some traveling, so of course, we have given them the
benefit of all of our experience and advice.
From e-mail of November 4—“Last full day in Istanbul”:
“First, thanks to you all for the BD wishes. It's hard
to believe I'm 60, but then, I've been thinking of myself as this age for some
time and even have pushed for the senior discount when it's for 60 year olds
for the past few months! Hey, a dollar here and there adds up!
Filiz and Sue.
A fountain at the Dolmace Palace
The sultans lived here and the palace was built to rival
those in Europe.
We finally got to see the harem rooms, but no girls! Here is a beautiful artistic rendition of what one might have looked like:
This is as close as Bill got to seeing a harem girl.
At any rate, my birthday was fabulous…visiting the palace and later Murat took us for a visit to the famous Suleyman Mosque, then going out to dinner and being lavished by Filiz with beautiful gifts and even a surprise birthday cake. What a lovely day and a lovely way to turn 60 years old. I suppose this is a birthday I will never forget.
On November 5th, we left Turkey and flew on to Germany.
From e-mail of November 6—“Munich”:
“Hello from Munich!
From e-mail of November 11—“recap of Munich”:
“We had a wonderful time in Munich. I have to admit that I wasn’t totally enthusiastic about going to Germany. I really had little desire to ever go there, preferring Mediterranean countries instead, where everyone is so friendly and open and welcoming. We found the same in Germany—everyone was great.
Neuswanstein Castle … think Disneyland, Cinderella …
Sue and Bill in Salzburg, Vienna wearing every piece of clothing in our possession.
Gosh it was cold in Munich. We ended up going to a close-by
department store. I bought a hat and gloves and Bill bought a nice pair of
gloves. We were wearing all of our clothes and were still cold. It’s
certainly not a “dry” cold, very damp and it goes right through. It makes us
wonder how those businessmen stay warm, with their early morning beer instead
of a hot coffee. Well, each to his own. At least it was good and cheap
The flight home was good. It was snowing and very cold when we left Munich and it was a balmy 68 degrees F. when we arrived home in Denver.
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