October 1, 2000
Eric and I arrived in Istanbul after a very easy and uncomplicated flight—from Seattle to New York, a one-hour layover, then straight to Istanbul. After visiting Burma so recently, Turkey seems like a very well developed and rich country. Good roads, people look relatively well off, nobody living in little shacks (at least none that I’ve seen). We were able to get money at an ATM right at the back. One dollar is worth about 653,000 liras—in other words, a million lira is about $1.50. Obviously, inflation has been an enormous problem here.
We took a taxi from the airport to an area called Sultanahmet, which contains the old city and a lot of the tourist attractions, such as the Aya Sofia (an old church, converted to a mosque) and Topkapi Palace (the residence of the Ottoman sultans for almost 3 centuries). There’s a high concentration of hotels around here, so we walked around to about 4 or 5, checking them out. The first one, the one our taxi driver stopped at, asked for $97—probably because if figured that if we’d just come from the airport, we didn’t know how much things cost. He went down to $40 after we balked at the price, and then said that’s how things are in Turkey; you have to bargain on the price.
The temperature here is ideal—sunny, dry, maybe in the mid to high 60’s. The air is fairly clean, too, not like Burma. After we’d settled in a quiet hotel (Hotel Şebnem) on a side street, we strolled down to the waterfront. There was a fisherman practically every meter or so along the water, but we didn’t see them catching much. Just once, we saw a fisherman catch something that looked like a very small barracuda. Jellyfish are everywhere in the water. We saw a guy swimming in the water who swam right into one, but then turned around quickly. I wonder if they sting.
There were vendors along the shore as well. As our first purchasing experience, we bought a round pretzel, with sesame seeds instead of salt on it. The vendor was a little girl about 9 years old. I asked how much it was, and actually understood the price (150, i.e. 150 thousand lira), but got confused with the money—there’s so many zeros on it! I gave her a million lira, and was supposed to get 850,000 back, but she only gave me 350,000. We walked away, puzzling over the money. Oh well—I guess you have to get ripped of a little, when you first start dealing with the money and numbers. Now we’re more aware of the pitfalls. We also bought a roasted ear of corn, for 250,000 (just asked and paid) which was definitely way too much, because you could get a roasted fish sandwich for 300,000. Live and learn. Gotta study up on the numbers, though.
There’s supposed to be some excursion boats that go up the Bosphoros, so we looked for those. I asked a parking lot attendant where it was (just pointing to the place in the guidebook where they described the ferry, and saying “Nerede?”). I guess he assumed from my knowing the word for “where” that I spoke Turkish. He pointed, though, and that helped. I only realized later that he’d asked me, in Turkish, if I understood Turkish (Turkce biliyorum?). We eventually found an excursion boat up the Bosphoros for $5 apiece. After we’d gotten on it, they went out to sea a couple meters—and then stopped, and went back to shore to pick up some more tourists. This happened 4 times, and we were getting a little tired of it, when finally we set off. It was a fun little boat ride; we saw the many very fancy hotels and private homes that are along the Bosphoros. At one point there was a very ornate old looking building on the waterfront, and I wanted to know what it was. I assumed that the couple across from us was Turkish—the guy had dark hair, and a big mustache, and she had dark reddish looking hair as well. So I looked up in my phrasebook how to say “What is this”, and said it, pointing to the building. I said “Bu ne” a couple times, with the guy looking at me blankly, and me figuring I had mispronounced the words. Finally he said, “I don’t speak Turkish” in an Australian accent, and we all had a good laugh about it—me trying so hard to say the right thing in Turkish, and him not understanding.
After the boat ride, we walked towards the hotel again. I decided after Burma that a small compass would be a great thing to have, and it’s been handy a couple times so far; we were able to find our way back to the hotel with it without constantly needing to refer to the map. We had our first meal here at a little restaurant on the street. A soup that was supposed to be lentil, but wasn’t (good, though, minty), some salad, some cheese, and grilled meat with yogurt. As we were eating a man came by, with blood pressure cuffs and a stethoscope. I assume he was selling blood pressure readings. Pretty original! Next time we see something like that, I’ll ask how much it is.
After lunch, we walked back to the hotel, played around with the digital camera and downloaded the picture to the laptop (yes, we have a laptop with on this trip), and checked out the pictures. Fun! I almost fell asleep a couple times, but Eric kept me awake. We took another little walk, just to stay awake, until about 8:30, and then went to sleep.
October 2, 2000
Up at 5:30 this morning, before even the call to prayers from the mosque woke us up. It wasn’t a bad night’s sleep, really, since we went to sleep at around 8:30 last night. Breakfast at the hotel was on the rooftop terrace, very nice, with a great view of the Sea of Marmora. It was clear and sunny, a little bit on the brisk side, though. Breakfast was bread, tea, butter, white cheese, something like a light cream cheese (very tasty), honey, sour cherry jam, strawberry jam, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. It was very enjoyable, except for the wasp population. There were open bowls of sugar cubes on all the tables, which were just crawling with wasps. The wasps were then attracted to our food as well, and swarmed. One of them drowned in my tea.
The Topkapi Palace was our destination today. It’s the palace that the sultan and his harem lived in for many hundreds of years, up until the early part of this century. It’s made up of 4 courts, each one becoming successively more private and guarded. It was beautifully clear, and the weather was absolutely perfect. The tourists, early in the morning, weren’t too abundant, although later in the day the tour buses arrived. There were a couple vendors around, selling postcards, and little guidebooks, but in general not too much vendor action. One of the highlights was going through the harem. Luckily we took the advice of the guidebook, and went through almost as soon as we got there (you have to walk through with a guide) because later on it got really crowded.
There was supposed to be a tower at the end of the harem tour that had a really fantastic view, which you could climb up throughout the day (the guidebook said you really had to hassle the guards to be able to do that. An American living and studying in Israel was there, who was trying to convince the guard to let him up. The guard, with some very limited English, was telling him that no, it was only possible at certain times of the day. There was some (limited) back and forth conversation with the guard about where we were from, etc. When Eric and I said we were American, there was a long conversation (on the part of the guard) about the fact that the American Indians that were shot when the country was colonized were actually somehow Turkish. It was a little strange, and the problem was, we only figured out that this was what he was saying when the English-speaking guide came up and translated it for us (we thought before that he was saying something about shooting old people, since he made shooting gestures, and then said “Old Americans”). Pretty strange idea.
We had lunch at a cafeteria, crowded with tourists of all nationalities. People speaking all languages were speaking to the staff in their language, but I think they mostly understood the gestures that went with the words. Great view of the water.
After Topkapi Palace, we were going to walk home, but Eric decided to get a haircut. We went to a place that was relatively fancy, where they were going to charge 10,000,000 lira for a haircut, no shampoo (about $6.50). It ended up being almost twice that, because the hairdresser shampooed his hair, and gave him a massage, even though we said no. It felt a little bit like a scam, because he asked Eric wanted a massage, then just started giving him one even though Eric had said no, then we were sitting there thinking we hadn’t been clear enough, and almost that it would be kind of rude to insist, and that perhaps he wouldn’t charge for it anyway, but he did. Oh well—live and learn. I think the lesson here is to be clear on the price, and don’t be embarrassed to ask questions, and get clarification. We did learn that Eric in Turkish means “plum”. We also learned that haircuts take a really long time here—it was about one and a quarter hour. It’s because the guy was really slow about it—he went over and over the same area with clippers, and then when cutting the top, cut about a quarter inch at a time. I think the highlight of the haircut was when he singed Eric’s check and ear hair with a little cigarette lighter. Very strange. Eric was left with all these hairs in his ears that had nubby little burnt ends on them.
We relaxed in the room for a while (and almost fell asleep), then went out to get some cash at an ATM (best way to get cash here, since you avoid commissions) and get some dinner. I thought that the area we’re staying at is the main tourist area, but the area we walked around was even more touristy. Had dinner at a relatively non-touristy place, which gave me a great chance to practice my Turkish, although service was about as poor as it gets.
On our way home, we asked one of the nut vendors on the street here how much his nuts cost (he had almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, and roasted garbanzo beans). He gave us the tourist prices for sure—“alti milyon”, or about 9 dollars a kilo. As we walked away, he gave us a lower price, but we were just asking to practice anyway.
October 3, 2000
We were used to the idea of wasps buzzing us at breakfast, so it didn’t disturb us anymore. The Aya Sofya mosque (first a Christian church, then a mosque, now converted to a museum) was the first destination of the day. The inside was impressive, very massive, with round placards that had Arabic writing hung all over the place. There were old style Christian crosses carved on the marble walls in many places, but they’d been “dechristianized” by chipping off the cross-stroke, in many different ways. There were many tour groups in the Aya Sofia--French, Spanish, German, and English were some of the languages I heard.
We went next to an internet café, up a very steep and narrow round metal staircase above a souvenir shop. The connection was very, very slow, but we did manage to check mail. After a rest at home, we went to lunch at a nearby restaurant that Eric remembered from last night. It was okay, but we were thinking that the water bottle we were served was probably refilled from tap water. I think it must have been because it didn’t taste like the normal bottled water, and also the waiter went through that little ceremony that’s done when you order wine—he opens the bottle, pours a little bit out, has you try it, etc.
Later we went to the Blue Mosque. A group of French tourists behind us was laughing uproariously at one of their members—a tubby man who had only shorts on, no long pants, was told he needed to wear a round cloth around his waist, and he looked pretty funny. It was completely carpeted inside (we took our shoes off) and Eric and I sat on the carpet for a while, absorbing the atmosphere, and chatting with a very friendly Egyptian man who said he was a tour manager in Holland, booking tours to Egypt.
As we were walking around the park area between the mosques, a Turkish man who was walking with an American guy heard Eric and me talking, and started chatting. The Turkish man said “I’m from South Carolina”. Which later on turned out to be that his wife was from South Carolina. He had a Hilton Head polo shirt on. The American said he was Michigan, and worked for interior designers, buying carpets. The Turkish man said he was a carpet dealer. They asked if we were going to buy carpets; we said we hadn’t really thought about it. The Turkish man was very emphatic, and said that we should really buy one, that we couldn’t go to Istanbul and not buy a carpet. He said to the American that he should sit down and give us some tips on buying a carpet, so we did. The main advice he gave us hinged on the natural wools and dyes being better. I tried to steer the conversation towards his work, and what it involves, but that didn’t work too well. We got away from them (I asked Eric how his back was doing, and he said that it was giving him some problems, even though it was fine) within a few minutes. After we walked away from the, Eric mentioned that he thought there was a scam going on. I didn’t think so at first, but then later on I was remembering various things they’d said, and it started seeming more scam-like. For instance, they asked us after hearing that we were from Seattle if we worked in computers, and offered to help us out if we wanted to buy a carpet. Plus, we read the section in the guidebook that said a very common scenario is for a mixed Turkish/American or Turkish/European couple would try to befriend you and give you advice, and then get you to go to their carpet store, and buy a really overpriced carpet after buying you dinner, etc.
Very close to the mosque is a scenic walk that’s marked in the guidebook—narrow winding roads that go around the old quarter. Bought some apples and mineral water at a little store—it felt like quite a successful transaction, because they didn’t speak any English, and so we had to make ourselves understood in basic (very basic) Turkish. It was just numbers, really, and the word for apples.
One thing that struck me, walking around today, was there’s very few women in any of the restaurants, or in any kind of service capacity at all. There is the one very friendly woman at our hotel, but she’s definitely an exception.
Wednesday, October 4, 2000
This morning the wasps weren’t that bad. There was some of wind, plus we bopped them a few times, and I think that kept them away. That solitary Frenchman who’s been there the last couple days was there again today—I almost feel like asking him to eat with us, since I’m sure he feels a little lonely.
We went first to the Grand Bazaar. It’s a huge old covered bazaar, with most of the stores aimed at tourists. Lots of leather, lots of silver items, gold jewelry, backgammon boards, and plates. There were some antique stores as well, some of them containing interesting antique wristwatches. We stopped once to have tea at a little café, and were charged 250,000 lira for a tea. I realized at the time that we were being overcharged, and later on I asked a merchant how much a tea should cost, and he said 150,000 lira. That reinforced the lesson about always asking the price before buying something. It felt good to sit down, though.
We walked past the bazaar, into an area where there were all kinds of merchants selling things like cell phones, cigarette lighters, and knives. We saw one guy selling pirated software. It’s obviously not prosecuted very heavily, because there was a cop chatting with him at the time. I badly wanted to get a picture of the cop and the guy selling pirated software at the same time, but when I started to take the picture, the cop walked away. The vendor started to protest and close up his shop when I tried to get a better picture of the software, but it seemed like the cop told him not to. The cop seemed kind of amused by it, really.
Very close to the bazaar was the university, which we ran into without really looking for it. We decided to take a look inside just for kicks. As in a lot of larger buildings, they had a little metal detector right inside the doorway. Both of us beeped, but when they saw we were tourists, they just let us through. We walked around a little, and I asked where the toilet was (practicing my Turkish). We ended up walking around the university quite a bit trying to get to the Suleymaniye mosque nearby. We asked a few people, who were all very friendly (and ended up speaking to us in to English after I’d asked where the mosque is in Turkish). We decided to try to see what the cafeteria was like and possibly get some lunch there. One guy that we asked directions of was especially friendly, walked us to the cafeteria, translated with the person behind the counter for us, and chatted with us. We asked him if he’d like to have something with us, but he said he needed to study for an exam (he was a 4th year law student). The cafeteria ended up being a very small cafe type place, where we got some oblong, very skinny grilled cheese sandwiches (very little cheese in evidence). It was fun eating somewhere so out of the way like that.
The Suleymaniye mosque was pretty similar, inside, to the Blue Mosque that we went to yesterday. After we saw it, we went to the tomb of Suleyman the Magnificent, which is just outside. They have a little scam going on there in that there’s a big sign saying “donation” in a few languages, but in fact you have to pay exactly 250,000 lira—it’s not a donation at all.
The compass we brought with is really turning out to be handy. I use it all the time in figuring out which direction is which, and fixing our location on the map much more easily. We walked more or less east to get to the Egyptian Bazaar, which also seemed to be aimed mainly at tourists. There were many stalls selling things like Turkish Delight, pistachios, etc. The prices seemed very high—they would be high even if we were in the US.
While walking to the bazaar, Eric had an unsettling experience. A guy walked up to him and started flapping papers right in front of his chest. I thought at first they were porn magazines, but at second glance they seemed like lingerie advertisements. I think he saw that Eric was wearing a pouch for valuables around his neck, and he was going for it. Creepy. He started really crowding Eric, who stood still and pushed him aside. He took off after that.
Every time I walk by any kind of street vendor now, I ask the how much their goods cost just to practice my numbers. I know the numbers if I see them written in Turkish, like they are in my phrasebook, but they’re spoken very fast, and slurred together, so they’re much harder to understand. We saw a vendor of boiled corn on the street, and asked him the price. After looking us over head to foot, presumably to make sure we were foreigners, he said 500,000 lira, which is twice what the first corn vendor asked us, and that was very overpriced. We started walked away, at which point he said 250,000. We still didn’t buy it, though. We did buy a small package of what we thought were roast garbanzo beans that were clearly marked at 250,000. It turned out that they were actually not garbanzo beans at all, but small hazelnuts.
The idea when we came here was to figure out where we’d want to go next as we went, so since we’re planning on leaving Istanbul tomorrow, it’s high time to decide where to go. After checking out the guidebook and various notes we took, we decided on Bursa, a nearby town that has lots of Roman ruins and places to check out nearby. We’ll probably head down towards the Aegean and then the Mediterranean after that, then work our way up to Cappadocia.
Eric’s doing his laundry by hand in the bathroom sink. Now he knows why I suggested he bring mainly synthetic clothing!
Thursday October 5, 2000
Whew…what a day! We had decided yesterday to leave Istanbul and go to Bursa today. We thought we would just walk over to the ferry terminal, but we got a little bit of a late start, and so decided to take a taxi. As soon as we got in the taxi, I noticed that an LCD in the shape of an hourglass was flashing. I suspected that he had set it to go to the nighttime rate, which is 50% higher, and Eric noticed that the word “gece” was flashing. When we got to the 9:30 ferry to Yalova (barely made it, the traffic was so bad—it may have been faster to walk) we looked up the word, and found that it meant nighttime. I felt silly, having been cheated like that after just the other day reading the section in the guidebook that went over all the taxi scams.
We sat down in the ferry (a fast catamaran) and counted up all the times in the past couple days when we’d felt scammed or overcharged—the trick with the water bottle, the time yesterday when Eric was almost robbed, the carpet scam, all the others, and now the taxi ride. We were feeling that we really needed stay alert here, and question prices all the time, and talked about that a little bit. Then I took a little walk around the cabin, and when I came back, Eric was talking with Zeki. We ended up chatting with him for the whole ferry ride. He told us about a very nice hotel, converted from a train station, in Mudanya, suggesting that we should stay there. He ended up giving us a ride into Bursa, stopping at the restaurant of a friend of his, the Pinar Alabalik. He wanted us to have lunch there, but we ended up just having some tea, olives, butter, tomatoes, cheese, and bread. The butter, cheese, and olives were homemade. We saw the facilities they had for cooking the fish as well (it was mainly a fish restaurant). Then we continued on into Bursa.
Zeki is a salesman for fabric dyes, and goes to Bursa every week, Thursday and Friday, because Bursa is known for it’s textiles. He spoke English fairly well, because he’d spent almost 2 years in the US, in New York and New Jersey. To be honest, we were a little suspicious of his motives in being so friendly to us. After all the experiences we’d had in Istanbul, we felt as though we needed to be pretty alert and suspicious of people. But we found Zeki to be very friendly and gracious. He had experienced a lot of hospitality and friendliness when he was living and working in the US, especially when his son was born there, and we think he wanted to pay back some of that hospitality. We had heard and heard about this kind of hospitality in Turkey, and we’ve met with quite a few friendly people (as well as the scammers) but this was our first experience of it.
In Bursa, we got a drive-around tour—first we went to the cable car station that takes you up Uladag, which is a ski resort area right next to Bursa, but unfortunately the cable car was shut down for the season. Then we started driving up to Uladag. Zeki said that since the cable car was shut down, it would be difficult for us to get there, so he’d like to take us there. We were a little concerned about his appointments for the day, but he said that even though he doesn’t have his own business, he’s in charge of his time, and he wanted to show us around.
We stopped at a roadside vendor, a man and his wife that were selling apples, walnuts, pecans, quince (an apple type fruit, first time I’ve ever tried it). Zeki talked to the man for quite a while. Later on he translated for us—the guy was saying that he wanted us, as foreigners, to have a good impression of Turkey, and to take back good memories, and he wanted to do his part as a Turk. As he cut open a quince for us, I asked Zeki to tell him for us that we’ve never tried it before. His wife gave us a boiled ear of corn to eat as well. And he kept on shelling pecans and walnuts and giving them to us—my hands were full of walnuts, boiled corn, and pieces of quince. When we drove away, he gave us a huge bag of apples, quinces, walnuts, and pecans to take with us, at no charge. We got some good photos of them.
As we were driving further up the mountain, Zeki let Eric drive. It wasn’t such a big deal at that point, because there were very few cars on the road anyway. We stopped along the way at a couple places to drink the spring water (this area is famous for springs) and take some photos of the autumn leaves. Then at the top where all the ski hotels are, we took lots of photos, and walked around a little.
We went down a little bit of a different route, and stopped at a restaurant for lunch at around 3 or so. We all had something called Iskender Kebap, which was like gyro meat with yogurt, plus some salad, and then for desert a very interesting sugar soaked nut pastry. Then Zeki helped us find a hotel. We went to about 3 different ones, checking them out. It was great being with him—he’s a real schmoozer, and talked to everybody at length. We got to go up into this hotel that’s still under renovation, which looked very nice. The top floor suite had a magnificent patio, one side facing out to a huge sycamore tree, and the other side facing the mountain. Very pleasant. The rooms, although they had the latest in motion sensitive light switches, air conditioning, etc, were very small, and very unevenly shaped—you could tell that it was a renovation instead of new construction.
We also looked at a mosque nearby, built in 1360. Zeki looked around for a scarf for me to put on my hair, but didn’t find one, so we just snuck in inconspicuously around the back, and went out really quickly—I guess he didn’t feel too comfortable with my not having a scarf. We walked through the local tourist office as well, and Zeki picked up about a full inch of brochures for us on Turkey.
The hotel we ended up staying at is called the Huzur. It has a marble room in the basement which we could use to “take the waters”, since this is an area of hot springs. We ended up getting a 2 room suite for $42, which was a big reduction from the list price of $135. Zeki played up the Internet aspect of our trip, saying that we would put the hotel on the Internet, that it would be good advertising for them, that normally we do this work for money, but now since we’re on vacation, we don’t take money. There was some confusion about how much we were actually going to pay for the room, because Zeki, when talking to the staff, was saying the price was 42, he was thinking dollars, and they were thinking millions of Turkish lira. But we eventually got the whole thing straightened out—they went down to $50, and then Zeki said he’d pay the difference between that and $42. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, so we just accepted. The hotel is quite nice, TV, refrigerator, fancy bed and furnishings. Quite a step above where we were in Istanbul, although that was certainly okay.
We were still quite full after our late lunch, but Zeki said he’d like to show us around some more, and buy us dinner at the fish restaurant area that we’d passed a couple times. We drove around town a while—into the Kulturpark, which was like a city park/amusement park which charged admission, very empty. We only got out of the car a few times, the rest of the time we were driving down what looked like pedestrian paths and little bridges over ponds (weren’t sure they would hold the weight of the car!). There were young couples in isolated spots all over the park, but overall, very few people, especially considering the streets were so full.
Zeki decided it was a little too early to have dinner, so we went and had some Turkish coffee. He raised his eyes at the price when the bill came—apparently we were charged foreigner prices, even with him along. He read Eric’s fortune after he’d finished drinking the coffee (which was very good, actually). The way to do it is to flip the coffee cup upside down into the plate, wait for the cup to cool, and then look inside the cup. He said that that was an old woman with an umbrella in Eric’s life, who thought badly of him. There was also something about a giraffe…a long neck, getting to the top meant getting lucky? He did say the whole time that this is only for a joke, that it’s forbidden for Muslims to read fortunes. He said he did this in college as well, for his female friends. He would read in their fortune “you will meet a short (Zeki was short) charming man…”. It was pretty funny.
Then we went to dinner. Zeki had been to this particular restaurant quite a few times, and knew the owners well. He played up the Internet angle again, saying that we’d put their place up on our web site, etc. As appetizers we had smoked fish in olive oil, baked shrimp with cheese and tomatoes, and salad with cheese. Since we’d eaten so recently, Eric and I split a fish dish (it was closely related to the black bream but wasn’t in our dictionary).
Zeki told us that when he and his wife returned to Turkey from America, they actually had to pay $50 for a tourist visa for their newborn son. He tried arguing with the guy, because it was his last $50, but still had to pay it. He told us about the various jobs he’d had in the US—washing dished in a restaurant, importing caviar (which seemed to work well at the beginning, but later he lost his shirt), working at a fancy ice cream place.
We had a plate of fruit, and some coffee and mint liqueur, all compliments of the house. Eric actually drank all the mint liqueur—maybe a first? Then we went back to the hotel room, where we showed Zeki the photos from the day on the laptop computer, and also some picture that we’d taken on our first couple days in Istanbul. He was impressed with our setup. After he left, I really started feeling the Turkish coffee. I was very jittery, couldn’t lay still in bed, and was drumming my fingers. I’ve never felt that before from coffee—it must have been quite strong.
Friday, October 6, 2000
We got a little bit of a late start today—had breakfast buffet style in the restaurant, with bread, butter, honey, jam, eggs, tomatoes, cucumber, something that looked like fried mini hot-dog slices, and cornflakes. We planned on taking an easy day today, after the very full day we had yesterday with Zeki.
A dolmuş is a shared taxi that drives along a fixed route—like a bus, except it’s a normal sedan. We paid 250,000 lira apiece to go in a dolmuş down to the Heykel (which means “statue” in Turkish, apparently every city has a statue of Attatürk, the founder of modern Turkey). The bazaar was close by. It was very different from the bazaars that we went to in Istanbul—we saw absolutely no tourist shops, no carpets, plates, nor souvenirs of any kinds. I also noticed after a while that I was seeing no leather shops whatsoever—I guess that shows that most of the leather shops are aimed towards tourists. It was very refreshing.
The main types of shops were shoes, jewelry, and clothing. There were some things you would see in the US as well, such as kids clothing, but also things I’d never seen before, including the scarves that women wear over their heads, the long overcoat/drapes that women wear as well, and also these funny little costumes for boys that make them look like little princes. We think they may be costumes that are worn during the circumcision ceremony. I bought myself a blue and white patterned scarf to use when going into mosques for 1million lira. The price for simit, a ring of bread with sesame seeds was 100,000 here instead of the 150,000 that it was in Istanbul. My German skills came in handy a number of times, in speaking with the man selling scarves (20 years ago he’d spent 4 years in Germany, and his brother was in Austria now), and then speaking with another man, trying to get directions to go to Yeşil Camii (mosque). The man I asked directions of was very gracious, and put his hand over his heart after I thanked him.
At Yeşil’s tomb (the man whom the mosque was named after), very close to the mosque, we sat for a while and drank some Aryan (made of yogurt mixed with water and salt). It doesn’t sound good, but is not bad. One little girl came and asked us how we were, our names, etc. She was part of a whole bunch of little kids who were probably sent here by there teacher to practice their English. Sounds like a great idea to me. They were at a very basic level, and didn’t understand the words, “Are you studying English?” After the girl “talked” to us, a young man in his early 20’s came up and started talking to us as well. His name was Nuri Yildiz, and he was a 5th year student of English at the university. His English was only fair, considering he had been studying for 5 years. One of his courses this year was English Literature, and they were going to be studying Shakespeare. Not a very useful thing to be studying, if you ask me, for someone who’s conversational English still needs lots of work. He said that the university system here is very complex, and not very good. He’d like to study overseas, but it’s very expensive for him. I asked if it was possible to go to Germany and work, but he said that would cost lots of money—about 4,000 dollars that would go to a middleman who would get him into Germany to work illegally. I guess the days of easy work visas for Turks are over now.
I think he may have been quite a serious Muslim, because he said it was difficult for woman at the university. I asked why, and he said they’re not allowed to wear the headscarves that cover their hair at the university. I suppose the government really wants to discourage Islamic fundamentalism.
We went into the mosque (they were praying before, so we couldn’t go in), with me wearing my new scarf. After that we went to take some tea with Ömür Onan, a guy that we’d met right around the mosque, who spoke English very well. He lived in New York City for quite some time, and worked as a restorer and seller of antique carpets. We had tea with him and some of his friends. He and a friend of his were very interested in computers, and we chatted a bit about various programs. Then he showed us the carpets he was having worked on at the time, having the holes rewoven with wool that was exactly matched to the old wool. He said that once he’d fixed a carpet, it was impossible to tell where the repair was. There were actually other people that did the repairs, he was the head of the business. He said that women do the actual weaving, but men do the repair work on the carpets. He also told us that he had about 40 people in the countryside, buying carpets from villagers all over Turkey, and also Iraq and Iran. The people that he buys from usually don’t want money, but take things in trade, such as washing machines, televisions, or warm winter clothing (he had some of the parkas that he trades laying around the room). Either that, or they want gold. I asked if they would prefer American dollars to Turkish lira, but he said they don’t, because they have no way of telling if it’s genuine. He showed us a whole stack of carpets, some of which he said were very old and valuable. He would have liked for us to buy one of him, but wasn’t pushy at all. But he was very impressed with the digital camera, and wanted to trade that for a carpet.
After looking at the carpets and getting bus tickets to the nearby city of Izmir, we went out to eat at a nearby café (shish-kebap rolled up in bread with some cheese. There’s lots of meat and bread in Turkish cuisine). Then at a nearby sweets shop, we bought some rice pudding, another kind of pudding that seemed to have a flour base, and some sugared chestnuts, which are typical of this region. It was all very tasty, but that’s a lot of sweets. Up in the room, there was a lightening storm, that Eric tried for about half an hour to get a picture of on the digital camera. Gotta love that unlimited capacity, with digital film and a laptop!
Saturday, October 07, 2000
At breakfast this morning a kitten managed to make it into the dining room. Took a taxi this morning (6 million or $9) to catch the 9:30 bus to Izmir. We decided on Izmir as our next stop because it seemed like a pretty central place to visit some nearby ruined cities.
The bus station is relatively far away from the center of the city; it took about 20 minutes to get there. The station itself is huge and very modern looking. It looks more like an airport than a bus station. Men at the bus stations who work for the various bus agencies practically fought over one guy, trying to get him to patronize their particular bus agency. I’d read about this in a guidebook. They didn’t bother us, though. As usual for bathrooms here, you pay to enter, even at the bus station. I paid 150,000 lira ($.20) to use it. They had both western and Turkish style toilets, which I actually prefer, since I don’t sit on the western style toilet seats anyway.
During the ride, the bus driver did some maneuvers that would never be attempted in the U.S. One particularly bad one was passing a slower moving truck while driving around a blind corner on a two lane road. The bus was modern, quite comfortable, and had an attendant that went through and gave out little buns, water, coffee, tea, packaged pieces of marble cake, and moist towelettes. Much better service than I remember from Greyhound. All that for only $7.50 per ticket, for a 5 hour ride. The scenery was, in general, not spectacular or all that interesting. I guess I’m comparing it with Burma, where so much was so very different from the US, that everything was fascinating. Turkey is a relatively well-developed country, with good roads, lots of traffic and facilities.
In the bus, I noticed that they seated women only with other women. That’s something that I’d read about in the guidebook as well. There were no foreigners whatsoever on the bus, nor did I see any at the bus station. And in Bursa, we only saw two, a pair of women with backpacks in the main bazaar street, and a French guy at our hotel.
Since there wasn’t much to see from the bus, we asked for a newspaper (all provided gratis by the bus company) and tried to translate a couple articles with the help of a little English/Turkish dictionary that we bought in Istanbul. It’s come in extremely helpful in many situations, plus it’s just fun a lot of times to know what signs and things say. The translation of articles wasn’t too successful, in terms of really figuring out what they were saying. It was fun anyway. Another thing I’d read about was that there were a lot of bare-breasted women in the newspapers, that any excuse would suffice. That was true as well—there was a bare-breasted woman from some fashion show somewhere in the world, and they had her picture plastered on the paper. What a contrast, especially since so many women outside of the main towns wear head scarves and the long overcoats that go to their ankles.
On the way to Izmir, we started talking seriously about renting a car while we’re here. It’s supposed to be very expensive compared to other countries because of vehicle taxes, but we decided to look into it anyway. It would make getting around so much easier, really, because thinking about using Izmir as a base, from the main hotel area, we’d have to take a bus or taxi to the bus station, then get a bus to some of the archeological sites, then do the same in reverse on the way back. Plus, we’d have to do it on their schedule, not on ours. This way, we can check out of a hotel, see things all day, leave our bags in the car, then in the evening get a hotel room.
In Izmir, there’s a free bus from the bus station to the train station, which is very central to the area most of the hotels are in. We took that bus, then walked around the street that has lots of hotels. We looked at one of them, a double for 6 million ($9.00), which wasn’t too impressive. We decided to look on a little bit, especially since there was a hotel nearby that had a good recommendation in the Lonely Planet guidebook. We made our way there (with backpacks and all on the crowded streets—crossing streets is a real challenge!), to Otel Antik Han. The posted price for a double was $70, but they asked for $29, and we settled on $26. It’s a pretty decent place, in a pedestrian area (which means there’s a lot fewer cars, but there definitely are some, you have to still watch out a lot) smack in the middle of the bazaar.
We were about to leave the hotel and go to an area where most of the car rental places are located, but decided to ask at the hotel desk to see if they knew when the places closed. The man (Emre Erişic) at the desk ended up being very helpful, and had worked previously at a car rental place, and recommended them. We ended up reserving a car at Decar, a Turkish car rental agency, through him, for about $37/day, which is a lot more expensive than in the US for a small car, but since the guidebook says that cars cost about $300 to $600 (granted, in high season) it seems fairly reasonable. I’m really excited to have a car, and be able to tour around all the sites without the hassle of where to keep our bags, and catching buses, dolmuşes, and taxis. We should be able to eat healthier, too, because we’ll be able to keep lots of fruits and vegetables in the car, and make our own picnics.
Even though the car rental was all arranged, we wanted to get a decent map, so we went to Avis because according to the guy at our hotel, they had the best maps. It took a while to get there, asking the whole time, and I got tired and hungry, because I hadn’t really had lunch. We stopped at a local restaurant for some kebaps, as usual, then got the map.
On our way back to the hotel, we walked around in the bazaar a little. It was more touristy than the bazaar in Bursa, which had absolutely no tourists at all. There were a couple stores that wanted to sell us carpets and leather jackets. We stopped at a sweet and nut shop, and bought lots of nuts—hazelnuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sugared garbanzo beans. The pumpkin seeds were excellent, the best I’ve every had. The sugared garbanzo beans were not something I would by again. The owner of the shop gave us lots of samples, and spoke English quite well. I asked him where he’d learned, and if he’d been to America, and he said he hadn’t but his brother lived in Arkansas, and he went to the American Cultural Center a lot. As we left, he gave us some samples of Turkish delight. It’s a sweet gelatin-like snack, rolled in either sugar or coconut. I didn’t think it was that great, but Eric liked it.
We use the compass a lot today. It has turned out to be one of the greatest value buys of the entire trip. Also, we have noticed that there are a tremendous number of cell phone users here. More than I would have expected. I think that they may have a more cost effective cell phone system.
Sunday, October 08, 2000
The big day—we got our rental car today. Expensive, but having your own wheels is worth it. We thought at first that we’d be renting a car for only one week, but after experiencing the convenience of having it, I think we probably won’t give it up until we get back to Istanbul, where it would be a huge encumbrance.
We walked over to the rental agency, and went through the paperwork, which took about half an hour. The car is a local model, Fiat Tofia, 4 door, 1.3 liter engine, no airbags, but everything works so far. Eric was definitely feeling the lack of power compared to his car at home, but hey—wheels are what’s important! Getting out of Izmir was a little stressful (I’m the navigator, and the maps that we have aren’t that good) but we managed all right. There was one overturned 18-wheeler that looked as though it’s been on the side of the road for a while, which reminded us (as though we needed reminding!) to be very careful when driving. The statistic I remember is that there are 7000 traffic fatalities a year here. We also saw an articulated bus close to Izmir that was swaying back and forth like mad—I honestly thought that there was a chance the second half of the bus would tip over.
We stopped at one point to just see what a particular crop was, growing along the side of the road—I didn’t recognize it at all. I asked a guy who was walking (“Bu ne?”, or “what is that”), and he said okra—I recognized the Turkish word enough to be able to look it up and confirm it.
We were of two minds as to whether we should go to Bergama today (where the ruins of the ancient city of Pergamum are located). It’s about an hour drive north, and then we’d have to go down the same way. But after reading about it in the tour guide, it seemed worthwhile. A grocery store along the way provided us with tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, grapes, bread, cheese, and water. Not too cheap, either—fruit, at least, was cheaper in Izmir. But both the guy weighing out the produce, plus the woman at the cashier complimented me on my few words of Turkish (the cashier said “Bravo”) so I felt good about that.
In Bergama, one of the first sights was the Red Basilica, a temple built originally for an Egyptian god, which was converted to a Christian basilica and is now a mosque. It started raining while we were there, but it was interesting to walk around, partly because the parts that were standing were so huge and massive—the roof was gone, but about 30 feet of walls were still standing. We picked a pomegranate from a tree next to basilica, but it didn’t taste too good.
The Acropolis (“high city” in Greek) is situated at the top of a hill right next to the modern city of Bergama. I assume that it was situated like that for defensive purposes. The weather started to turn nasty on us when we got there. There was a lighting strike that probably hit a lightening rod nearby, maybe 50 yards away, while there was a large tour group close by. Eric and I were about 40 yards apart; he was further downhill than I was. Then, Eric felt a massive charge build up on his body, which discharged through a specific spot on his left foot. He wasn’t actually hit by the main bolt of lightening, but it was close enough to be very frightening. He told me to start running downhill, and we went to a spot that was a further down the hill. It didn’t really rain much at that point, but later on it poured buckets—we stood amongst the ruins to shelter ourselves.
We filled up a 192 meg card with photos at the acropolis. It was a truly amazing site, by a long shot the most massive complex of ruins that I’ve ever seen. Both Eric and I were fascinated, and excite to discover things around each corner. There was one area where the tour groups congregated, but there was a huge area that no tour groups went into at all, and Eric and I were there alone. The photos should tell the story better than I can. I really enjoyed myself.
At one point a Turkish boy started following us around. We couldn’t figure out his motives—we thought at first that he was telling us that the place would close at 5:30, and was leading us back to the parking lot. Then we thought perhaps he wanted to show us some particular site. Later it became apparent that he wanted to take us down the hill, for whatever reason. He didn’t speak any English whatsoever, except when we started ignoring him, and walking up the hill, he said “money”, and rubbed his fingers together. We actually offered him some small change, for no good reason other than we felt awkward, but he wanted more, and we just walked away. Who knows—maybe it was the beginning of a very poorly run scam. A down note on a wonderful day. We had a lengthy hike up the hill to the parking lot, for which we partly followed the old Roman road. That was really thrilling, to be using a Roman road for practical purposes.
After Bergama, we drove back towards Izmir. We wanted to stop at one of the huge grocery stores on the outskirts of town, so we followed signs. It turned out to be a very large mall, very modern looking. The Turks that were shopping there were very western looking, we didn’t stand out very much. We went into the grocery store there (mobbed with people) but didn’t buy anything because the lines looked very long. Then we went into the food court area (again, just like an American mall) and had some dinner. We walked away, and realized within about 60 seconds that we’d left the small backpack laying under the table. We ran up there, and it was gone. We were a little panicky, but after thinking about it, there were no real valuables in it, just things like our jackets, flashlight, knife, sunglasses, etc. We alerted one of the security guards (there were tons around there), and looked up the word for “green bag” in the dictionary (backpack wasn’t in the dictionary). He walked around a while, then led us to the security station, where there were about 7 security people hanging about. One of them, who looked like the boss, spoke some English. He was going to take our name, and our phone number, but just about then he notified us that the bag had been found! Even though, we were not sure if we had understood him correctly, so we remained skeptical until we actually saw the bag. We thanked them profusely. It was a pretty nerve racking experience, and we were greatly relieved when the bag turned up intact. We continued on our way through Izmir, now driving at night. Several sources have recommended not driving at night, but we were on main roads, and there was very little traffic.
We arrived in Selçuk at about 10 pm, and just stopped at almost the first hotel we saw off the side of the main road. It was the Otel Gümes (I think). Nothing to write home about. Eric got up at 1 AM, and started killing mosquitoes. But it’s good to be able to arrive at a place and find a hotel without a lot of problem.
Monday, October 09, 2000
We drove to Ephesus after breakfast at the cheap, mosquito-infested, hot-waterless hotel. It was raining quite hard when we got there, so we sat in the car for a while, planning where we would go that evening and reading about Ephesus from the Lonely Planet guidebook. When we left the car for the ruins, a man came up to us, being too friendly. We figured immediately that he wanted to sell us something. It turned out that he was selling rides to the upper end of the site, calling the main parking lot we had stopped at the “exit”. We declined.
There were at least 15 buses in the parking lot. Needless to say, the place was jam packed with gawking tourists. We knew to expect this, but the crowds dampened our mood. We hit all the main attractions at Ephesus, but because of the weather, crowds and the fact that this was our second day of ruins, it was not as inspiring as we had hoped. Also, there was a tremendous amount of restoration and fencing that the feeling of exploration that we had at Pergamum was lost. Still we were able to find some locations that other tourists did not go, by crawling through tunnels and such. At one point we followed a road which gave us some good views of the site, but a guard caught us in the distance and escorted us back to the main area.
We left Ephesus early to locate our next destination. We decided to drive to Kuşadasi, a seaside tourist destination, with primarily British and German package tours. We looked at a few hotels in Kuşadasi, and settled on one with a good view of the Aegean from the 5th floor. We had looked at another hotel, and would have stayed there if it weren’t for a couple that rented the last double while we were still deciding on which hotel to take. This turns out to be a good thing, as the bar at the pool was playing very loud music. Sylvia asked when the bar shut down, and the receptionist replied 2am. She did not seem to know much English, but she certainly knew what the word noise meant! Right now, at our hotel about a ¼ mile away, the music from the pool bar can be heard.
It turns out our current hotel does not have hot water. We asked about it at the front desk and have been promised hot water tomorrow morning. Fat chance. Unlike other hotels, they took our money before our stay, not after. As far as I can tell, we are the only occupants in the entire hotel.
After resting up a bit, we left the hotel for the city center and some dinner. There were two cruise ships in the harbor, and their human cargo was roaming the streets. The ships left that evening, and the streets were nearly empty of tourists.
While walking around, Sylvia slipped on marble stairs, wet from the storm. She fell down and slid down several steps, injuring her right palm when she stopped herself. So far it looks like just a nasty bruise. We are keeping ice on it to keep down the swelling. Hopefully it will not be a problem tomorrow. The original plan was to go to a little bit of a fancier restaurant, but we ended up just going to Burger King, and bringing food back to the hotel with us.
We have noticed that the exchange rate between US dollars and Turkish Lira has been changing in the short time we have been here, with the Lira becoming less valuable. It really demonstrates the inflation the Lira experiences.
Tuesday, October 10, 2000
Today was officially our day of rest and relaxation, after two days of exploring ruins. We’d hoped to stay at the hotel Albora, which looked pretty nice upon first view, but one of the absolute necessities of a hotel, hot water, was not in evidence there, even though we were promised it for the next morning. It’s probably why they collected our money in advance, which no other hotel has done.
So, we went hotel hunting again, on this rainy morning. After looking at about 3 places, which all seemed smoky, we found the Hotel Önder, which seems very nice and has a great view. They have lots of guests, too, unlike the ghost hotel from yesterday, where we were only the guests. Most of them are Dutch, going by the books and magazines that are lying around.
We did all our laundry this morning in the hotel sink, and hung it about the room to dry. Then we took a walk around town, getting as far as the hill next to the ghost hotel, and also walking around the castle on Pigeon Island (actually a peninsula). It was a favorite with young Turkish couples, there were about 5 of them sitting in secluded benches around there. Very windy.
We drove around town looking for a decent sized grocery store, but didn’t find one. However, we did find the market, which was huge, and lots of fun to walk around. All kinds of fruits and vegetables, cheeses and eggs, and meats were there. And the prices nicely marked, which I like. Things like grapes, apples, and tomatoes were very reasonably priced. I’ve decided that not having prices marked is a sign of an establishment catering towards tourists, so that they can change the prices depending on what they think they can get.
The Internet café we found on the main drag was a pleasant surprise—the connection speed was much better than the one in Istanbul. Decent prices, too.
We ended up being lazy and just getting dinner at the buffet at our hotel here. It wasn’t bad, but nothing to write home about, not typically Turkish either. Just chicken breasts in sauce, with various salads drowned in mayonnaise.
Wednesday, October 11, 2000
We decided this morning that we wouldn’t stay another night at the Otel Önder, that we’d just head down the coastal road to the ruined cities of Priene, Miletus, and Didyma. I’m looking forward to visiting those, after the tour group madness (and this is the low season!) of Ephesus.
Priene was the first city on our way. I had to ask directions a couple times, because the maps we have (one from Avis, one tourist road map of Turkey, and the little one in the Lonely Planet) seem to disagree a lot, not to mention they’re not very detailed at all. It would be great to have a map at the same level of detail as the Washington State Atlas and Gazetteer, for example. Getting directions from people has been very unproblematic, I just say “excuse me” in Turkish, or hello or something, and then the name of the place, and then “gider me”, which means “is this the way to xxx?” They seem to understand me.
Priene was my favorite of the bunch. It’s situated up on the slopes of Mt. Mykale, with good views of the mountains, and also the valley below. Two thousand years ago, the shoreline was right at the base of the mountain, but now it’s easily about 10 kilometers away. The Menderes River silted up the bay, and destroyed the port. The temple to Athena was very well preserved, as was the theater. Plus, there were pine trees everywhere, scenting the air and making it very cool and comfortable. Lots of old stone roads and houses stretching for about a kilometer. It’s amazing how small those old houses were—most of them maybe about 10 by 12 feet. I assume that they had another story up, probably.
We had lunch at the base of Priene, pulling off into a little road under the shade of a grove of olive trees. There was a guy higher up on the hill there that I thought at first was a shepherd, but after I saw a walkie talkie in his hand, I assumed he was a guard. I looked up the word for guard in our dictionary and asked him if he was a guard—he said yes. Another guard came and sat with him on the wall close to us, and had a smoke while Eric made our lunch. We ran out of the tasty “taze peynir” yesterday, the fresh cheese that’s a little like cream cheese, so the sandwich was just tomato and cucumber. It was still good. We had tried to find that type of cheese at a little town along the way, but there was none. It was a nice little town, though. One guy whom we asked about the cheese used the classic lift of the eyebrows to indicate “no”—something that I read about in the guidebook, but hadn’t seen before.
Miletus was next on the list. The theater there was amazing—very massive, very well preserved, with very impressive entrances, all kinds of tunnels and two levels of covered walkways. It was on an open plain, which two thousand years ago was a peninsula jutting out into the Aegean Sea. Now it’s a bit marshy, and the area floods sometimes. It smelt marshy, too, not like the pleasant pine forests of Priene. Also very impressive there were the Baths of Faustina. The most interesting part of it was a huge area of individual bathing rooms with stone benches.
We found turtles here, too. The first evidence we had of them was a sound as though small branches or grass were being either broken or pulled up. We looked around, thinking we’d see a goat, but saw a turtle. There ended up being lots of them around.
Didyma isn’t a ruined city, but just a temple to Apollo, previously occupied by a very famous oracle. It’s quite impressive, but not as nicely situated as the other two cities. There was a sign there about how long reconstruction and diggings have been going on there—a very long time. Apparently as far back as the late 17th century, there’s been work done on the site, the French being the first.
Driving between the various sites, the main crop on the plains was cotton. There were lots of cotton pickers out in the fields, and we also saw little shantytowns made mainly of plastic, where I assume the pickers lived. Most of them had a big tank truck of water next to them. In the more hilly areas, olive trees grew everywhere, even in the rockiest of soil.
After the tourist crowds of Kuşadasi (not that there were that many, since it’s the low season, but it’s very much set up for tourism), we decided to try for a smaller town tonight. We’re staying now at the Agora Pansiyon in a very small town off the main road called Kapıkırı. It’s also on a lake, and close to a number of ruins. Driving on the small road leading up to it was great, very beautiful with the sun setting over the lake. The room we’re in is rustic, but pretty, with views of the lake, handmade curtains, whitewashed stucco walls, and a tile floor. This village, and this hotel, is what I expected Turkey to be like everywhere. I guess it was that way, maybe about 30 years ago. Right now it seems like there’s been a real boom in tourism. However, who knows how long it may last. There are many building, and sometimes huge complexes of buildings, that look half-built, and unlived in. I wonder how much of it is that the buildings are badly built, and nobody wants to live in them after they saw what happened to that type of building in the last earthquake.
The only other people that we saw here at this pension were 6 Belgiums (3 couples) and their driver. They had rented what looked like a mini tour bus, that probably didn’t seat more than 10, and were touring around like that, with only a driver, no guide. I talked to one of the guys a little bit—he said that one of them made most of the arrangements for hotels and places to stay. They seemed to be having a great time.
Thursday, October 12, 2000
What a night. The beds are fairly comfortable, but there was so much noise from donkeys braying, and after that, at about 5:30 in the morning, a couple roosters started crowing and didn’t stop. I thought I didn’t sleep at all after 5;30, but I know I must have dozed off a couple times, between being woken up by the roosters.
Breakfast (included with the room) was the standard bread, honey and butter (not packaged), olives, white cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers, egg, and very bitter tea.
We had a little bit of a slow morning. Eric was feeling as though he might come down with a cold or something, plus his back was acting up. We took it easy, walked around to the agora (open area) and the temple of Athena just a few hundred feet away from the Agora Pension. We also tried to get to the fortress on the little island on the lake, but we would have had to wade in the muck, so we decided not to.
Until about 2 in the afternoon, we rested up and wrote some postcards. I read some of the books and brochures that they have here, describing the archeology of the area. From that, I got some very skimpy directions on how to get to the monastery of the Seven Brothers, which is a nearby Byzantine monastery. Basically, you start in the town of Golyake, and ask for Yediler (Seven Brothers in Turkish). I wrote it up in my palm pilot, and we drove up, after stocking up with water and some lunch fixings.
At the intersection where you drive up to Golyake, there was a guy who wanted to be our guide to the top. He was an older man, and didn’t speak any English or German at all. He also told us with symbols that we couldn’t park up top, that we needed to walk up. We ignored him, and drove up, although we didn’t get all that far, because there was a group of about 6 guys doing road repair work—spreading concrete on the road, very rough. When we came back down that evening, there were foot and hoof marks all over the freshly spread concrete.
We parked close to a teahouse, and some men sitting in front of it pointed out the way to us (even though we didn’t ask them, I guess it’s obvious what all foreigners here want to see). We walked through the town a little bit, but didn’t find an obvious trail to walk up, and also had a hard time finding people to ask directions from. Maybe they were all out in the fields. Finally we found a guy who was very friendly. He didn’t speak any English or German, but he made a real effort to show us where the trail was. He drew arrows on the ground, and I thought at first he was telling us with the arrow which way to go, instead of pointing. But he led us on a little bit, and then pointed to an arrow that had been spray painted on a rock, where the trail went off into the olive groves. Then the light went on in our heads—he was saying that the way was marked with spray painted arrows on rocks.
We were able to keep the trail (about one hour up) quite easily after that. About halfway up, we met two older Germans who were very friendly. They told us how to get to a mushroom shaped rock, the roof of which was covered with frescos. It certainly wasn’t obvious, as it was a little bit away from the main complex of ruins. They were the only other tourists that we saw during the whole hike. That itself made it a great hike, the fact that there was nobody else around. Plus, the weather was fantastic (blue skies, not too hot), the location was superb, and the ruins, although they weren’t huge, were interesting and fun to climb around, and very well situated. Most of the monastery was built not on solid, flat ground, but onto massive boulders. We had lunch on one of these boulders. I had to leap across a scary chasm to get there (it was easier for Eric, being that he has longer legs), but there was a great view. Eric did a panoramic shot from there, and then made us lunch—the standard loaf of bread with tomatoes and cucumbers, a carrot, and some pistachios. Very basic. We ran out of taze peynir (a soft cheese), so that was it. I was thinking that everything we had for lunch, we could have had 2000 years ago, but the tomatoes at least are from the New World, so we couldn’t have had everything. We heard the call to prayer very well, all the way from the mosque in Kapıkırı, probably around 4 kilometers away.
It was necessary to climb up on boulders quite a bit to get to the ruins. The first ruins that we saw were the cells that the monks lived in. They were fairly well preserved. Very small, with tiny windows—I guess they wanted to stay warm in the winter. Certain areas still had plaster on the brick walls. The frescos that we saw, under the mushroom shaped boulder, were very impressive, except that some blockheads have chipped away at all the faces.
The hike back was very fast. I was a little worried about finding our way back, since the arrows were only painted to indicate the direction on the way towards the ruins, but it wasn’t hard to keep to the trail, and we got back to the car in about half an hour. The guy who wanted to guide us originally, the one who spoke no English or German whatsoever, was out in the street as we were walking through town, and showed us some photos that some people he’s guided must have sent him, of the frescos, and the cave with prehistoric wall paintings, and also the ruins. We indicated by pointing that we’d seen the frescos, but not the cave. I’m very glad we found the frescos.
Back at Kapıkırı, there was actually a full size tour bus on the road, right in front of the pension! I was surprised that they were able to get it up the road, which isn’t all that good. All the older ladies selling lace were out in force, peddling their wares. The tour group seemed mainly German, with some teenagers as well, which surprised me.
We showed the man from the pension, who speaks German and would have guided us this morning, the photos we took of our hike after we loaded them onto the computer. Many of them turned out very well. We told him that we’d put pictures of his pension on the internet, as advertisement for him. Maybe it’ll incline him to be nice with the bill.
At dinner this evening at our pension (meatballs, eggplant, white beans, tomato and cucumber salad) we invited another guest to eat with us. He’s an archeologist from Berlin, Christoph Loehr, who’s here on a 2 month contract, studying the ruins just next to the town. We were eager to ask him the backlog of archeological questions that we had, like about how the building stones were connected (bronze dowels, with molten lead poured in afterwards); when concrete was first used (about 100 AD), what the big kiln type things at Bergama were (the were used to burn marble, to make something like whitewash, to paint on walls). It was great fun talking to him. Apparently it’s really difficult to get work as an archeologist, which I can well imagine. When he goes back to Germany in a couple weeks, he’ll be looking for work again. We showed him our digital camera and computer setup and he was suitably impressed. He said some of his favorite sites were Labranda, and something like Helicarnos—we’ll have to look it up.
Friday, October 13, 2000
Right now Eric is smashing mosquitoes in our room with a pair of his underwear. We’re at a hotel in the town of Gölköy, on the Bodrum Peninsula. It’s a decent enough place, comfortable bed, lots of hot water, nice balcony with a view of the sea. However, it seems that the screen in the bathroom window has a hole in it, and a lot of mosquitoes got in.
At breakfast this morning, in Kapıkırı, we spoke with the other woman who stayed here last night. It turns out that she’s Dutch, and has worked at the Dutch embassy in Ankara for two years. That would explain why she speaks Turkish quite well, which I noticed last night. She works in immigration at the embassy—apparently lots of Turks would like to go to Holland. She’s here on a short holiday, and also found this place via the listing in the Lonely Planet guidebook.
Later on we took a walk to the ruins right on the edge of town. The Belgium guy who told us that it was impossible to find was not right—it actually wasn’t too hard at all, if you give yourself enough time. A Turkish woman came up to us as we were poking about, first trying to sell the services of her husband as a guide to the monastery that we visited yesterday on our own. I looked up the word for “yesterday” in the dictionary, and told her that, which she understood. Then she tried to sell us some lace. I’m not very interested in buying souvenirs in general here anyway, but if there’s one thing that I definitely wouldn’t buy it’s lace. The women in this town sit along the street, knitting lace, and holding it up for you to inspect. I wonder if they have many buyers.
We found the theater, which was very overgrown and not very recognizable anymore. The old city walls were close by, and great to climb around on. One section had steps carved into the stone, leading up to the walls. The walls were visible far off on the ridge tops in the distance. That would have been a fun hike, going up along the city walls. It would probably have been quite difficult, though.
Back at the Agora Pension, we checked out, and were charged 37 million for everything—two nights, breakfasts, dinners, and a cola. I think we were overcharged for the food, because when I first asked how much things were (something you definitely have to do here) I was told 1 million for the köfte, the little meatball dish. He ended up charging 2 million for it. We felt ripped off. I was thinking he would want to make a great impression on us, because we showed him our digital pictures on the laptop, and told him that we’d be putting everything, pictures and trip notes, up on the internet. So much for that theory.
So, the lesson that we’ve learned, over many meals and drinks in restaurants and teahouses, is—you MUST ask the price of things, and preferably write it down somewhere, before you order it. Otherwise, you will most likely be charged double or more what you should be charged. It seems really suspicious and untrustworthy to interrogate people like that about how much things cost, but if you’d feel upset when you’re charged twice what you expect (we do), then you should always, always ask first.
We drove up a random mountain road right before Selimiye, thinking that it would be a fun little detour. It was, but there wasn’t a lot to see there except the ever-present beehives, and olive trees (which have little stone terraces to hold the earth around them, when they’re on steep slopes). We went into Selimiye, hoping to buy some lunch fixings there. I asked at a police station (there was a guard outside) where there was a larger grocery store, and he pointed us to a grocery store up the road a bit. Bread and cheese (soft triangle cheese) they had, but no fruits or vegetables.
Right after Selimiye, on the east side of the road, are the ruins for Euromos. The main attraction is a big temple to Zeus, with lots of standing columns. It appears to not have been completely finished, because some of the columns in the back aren’t fluted. We also found the theater. It has olive trees growing right in and all over it, but you can still distinguish where it was. There was no ticket seller there when we arrived, but one did come later, and charged us 1 million apiece (about $1.50). I’m pretty used to throwing the word million around now very casually. Most people don’t even write the last three zero down, they just put a horizontal line at the end of the number.
We drove into Milas to get some cucumbers and tomatoes for our lunch. There didn’t appear to be a supermarket, at least that we saw, but there was a large market area, where we bought everything we needed. We bought a kilo of cucumbers for 200,000 lira, which Eric paid with a 250,000 lira note. The vendor looked around in his pockets a little for a 50,000 lira coin, but when he couldn’t find it, he just gave us 3 more cucumbers. It’s a little strange getting your change in cucumbers. Another noteworthy thing about the market in Milas is that it had no prices marked, you always had to ask. I thought the norm would be to have the prices marked, since that’s what we saw in Kuşadasi, but it was not the case in Milas.
We ate at a small restaurant in Milas, right next to the market. It was a pleasant meal, not the same old meatballs or kebap. We ordered meat, wrapped in eggplant and tomatoes, plus lamb stew, plus spiced green beans and rice. The food was nicely spiced. Swimming in oil, though. I remember reading a post on the Lonely Planet website that asked people what they thought was so great about Turkish food. He’d been here a couple weeks, and thought things were very heavily meat centered, and not very well spiced. He asked people what kind of things they’d ordered and really liked. Most replies to his question called him a whiner, and said he didn’t know how to appreciate Turkish cuisine, etc., but I’d have to agree with him—at this point, I’d have to say that the food seems a little boring, and could use a lot more spices. I’m also looking forward to cooking in my own kitchen again.
We parked the car on a street close to the market, and when we got back to it, we noticed a ding in the side. It seemed rusty, but we hadn’t noticed it before in the 5 days that we’ve had the car, and it’s a big ding, so we thought that, just to cover ourselves, we should do an accident report with the cops, so that we would be covered under the insurance rental agreement. We found an empty traffic police car, and asked some people close by where the police were. They pointed towards the restaurant we’d just eaten at, and we walked up to the cops, and asked them to fill out a traffic report for us on the ding. They drove up there, but said it was an old ding, and wouldn’t fill out a report for us. Plus, a guy from across the street came up and indicated to us that he’d been there the whole time, and that nobody hit our car, so I guess it was just an old ding that we hadn’t seen.
We then set out for Labranda, a place of pilgrimage, located high in the mountains. The guidebook described a nasty road to the place (perhaps requiring a 4-wheel drive vehicle), but we found it paved the entire way and easily drivable. The site was excavated in the early part of the century by Swedish archeologists. Because of its generally good condition, they did not rebuild any of it. Also, we found ourselves to be the only people visiting the site. This makes for a much more enjoyable experience, and you can imagine you’re the first person that’s ever seen it. Sylvia asked the caretaker how many tourists generally come to the site. Evidently only about 5 per day, perhaps 10 if a minibus comes along. After hopping around ancient columns and huge building bricks, we lounged in a temple for a bit. Upon exiting the temple, we found what appeared to be a dead snake. However, when we got closer, it came to life. Eric snapped some pictures of it in order to identify it later. The caretaker came by then, and we pointed it out to him. He told us it was poisonous, and then proceeded to kill it with a stick and cart it away by the tip of its tail. We’ll have to look it up on the Internet when we get back to see what it was. After that, the caretaker took us up to a very well preserved tomb that contained three sarcophagi for corpses. Next to the tomb was a large rock that had steps carved into it, and fittings which indicated that a house had been built on it at some point in the past. The caretaker pointed out the vegetable gardens he had planted amidst the ruins. Labranda was one of our favorite sites – few tourists, great view and very pleasant surroundings. No wonder our archeologist acquaintance liked it so much.
We decided to drive to Bodrum that evening instead of staying in Milas, and ended up finding a hotel in Gölköy. We thought it would be a quaint fishing village, but the entire Bodrum Peninsula seems to be heavily built up for the summer holiday season. It was very quiet now, being the very end of the season, with all the hotels shutting down, but you could tell that during the high season it’s very busy.
We had been contemplating staying here at the Sahil hotel another night, but it just doesn’t seem that the Bodrum peninsula really has enough to keep us occupied, so we decided to press on. There was only lukewarm water for showers in the morning, too. Breakfast was a little different—toasted bread, and whole wheat bread. There was a funny kind of marmalade, too, which was basically just preserved orange peels. I thought it was okay, Eric couldn’t eat it. The butter had spots of mold on it, though. I wonder how they got that to happen, though—I’ve kept butter, refrigerated, for months, and it doesn’t go bad at all.
We had a nice walk on the beach after breakfast. The water is very clear and beautiful, and wasn’t that cold. The beach was very narrow and rocky, and all of the hotels along the beach (all small) had their own docks. The docks all looked very poorly built. It looks like they just pounded pipes into the ground, and then attached 2 by 4s to them. It made me think of the docks in Lake Washington, which are so well-built and sturdy looking.
After checking out, we did a round-the-peninsula drive of Bodrum Peninsula. What we saw a lot of were vacation homes—hundreds and hundreds of them, in holiday resort villages, all looking very much the same. Many of them were only brick or concrete shells, and didn’t look like they’d ever be finished. I’d really like to know why there’s so much unfinished construction here. We also saw the typical windmills on passes between the mountains—they were all abandoned. I wonder if they pumped up water, or were used for grinding grain? I imagine it was for grinding grain, because they’d have to pump down a long way for water.
We saw lots of cisterns for water storage too, all abandoned. They’re large dome-shaped structures, made out of stone. I don’t know how people got water into the cistern, it wasn’t obvious from looking.
There were quite a few very western-looking grocery stores on the peninsula. We stopped in one of them, and stocked up on drinking water (got huge 5 liter containers very cheap) and other things. It’s so much easier buying things at a store where prices are labeled, and you can just put things in your cart and check out. We’ve been buying lots of pumpkin seeds, very tasty, and also some things that are very much like corn nuts. And pistachios, of course.
We thought that as soon as we left the Bodrum peninsula, we’d have to decide immediately what we wanted to do with the rest of our time here, but looking at the map, we needed to drive on to Muglas anyway, so we postponed the decision making on what we’ll be doing the last week of our vacation until later.
On the way to Muglas, the Stratonikea site is right off the main road. It’s a very interesting site of ruins, because not only are there ancient ruins, but there’s also the ruins of a Turkish village that was abandoned maybe around 75 years ago because of a nearby coal mine. Walking around the Turkish village was eerie. There’s a few old people that appear to live there, still. That must be very strange, living in an abandoned village. One older guy came up to us, and started talking, very friendly, shook our hands, and wanted us to follow him around. I felt a little bad just ignoring him, but we did, because we really did just wanted to walk around on our own, and he didn’t speak any English anyway. His hands were totally black. I thought that perhaps he’d just been doing something with a fire, or an engine, and they were just dirty. Eric thought that maybe he had some disease. He dug out some wet naps and wiped his hands off very carefully.
The guidebook said that the Turkish village was abandoned about 100 years ago, and thus there’s no electricity, etc., in evidence there. However, I did see an abandoned house with old style electrical wiring, so I think it must have been more recent. The mosque was falling apart completely, a lot of the roof coming down. Eric wouldn’t let get very close. There was one other couple there, at the old Roman tomb, who were eating the blackberries right next to the tomb. They were the only other tourists that we saw in that whole area.
The Roman ruins were scattered all around the town. It’s a very strange and interesting place, with the old Roman ruins mixed in with the newer Turkish ruins. Some of the Roman ruins had been excavated, but there was at least one site that looked as though it was at the same elevation as the newer buildings. I don’t know why it didn’t get buried along with the rest of the ruins.
We saw the theater, which looked very unrestored, although lots of the marble pieces had abbreviations painted on them (THR 107, for example). There were great views from there of the theater, then the Turkish village behind it, then the mines which are still operational. We played the game that we’ve been playing when walking around ruins—“only step on old stuff”. You lose if you have to step on dirt. There’s also the “only step on old stuff laying on top of old stuff” variation, which is more challenging. It’s amazing how accustomed you become to walking on ruins that are 2 thousand years old.
As we were walking around some ruins after the theater, a Turkish man came up to us, and indicated that we should buy some tickets. We were a little suspicious, because the guidebook doesn’t say that you need to buy tickets to this site, only that you need to pay admission to the museum. We paid anyway (1 million each), feeling that might be a scam. That feeling became stronger later on, when Eric tried to take a picture of the guy. He ducked away, and wouldn’t let us take a picture of him. If it were a legitimate charge, why would that be a problem? Then again, it would be a very low-yield scam, considering how few people go to the site anyway, and that he only got 2 million out of us.
Leaving the site, we drove right next to bauxite mines. It smelt terrible. We decided to stay the night in the provincial capital of Mugla, about 22 kilometers away from Stratonikea. There were about 8 marble factories on the way here.
It was getting dark as we came in, about 7 PM. I can really see why it’s recommended that you don’t drive at night here—lots of cars don’t have their lights on, or have only one light on. We stopped in town, and asked a group of guys how to get to the hotel that we’d picked out of the guidebook. He tried to explain it to us, but it involved a lot of turns. So, he indicated that we should open up the back door, and he’d hop in and show us. We did, and he showed us where it was. It was very close, but we would have had to ask a lot of people to find it. It felt a little funny, just letting a guy into the car like that, but he was very friendly.
The hotel was nothing special, and smelt a little smoky, but we didn’t want to have to find another place at that time of night, and it would only be for one night anyway, so we decided to take it. Dinner was pide, the Turkish flat bread with toppings on it—kind of like pizza. It was the first time we’d tried it, and it was very good. It appears that the government regulates the prices of the pide—there was an official looking sign on the wall, listing prices, which he pointed at when we asked the prices. The floors of the pide restaurant were marble, as were the floors of another place where we bought some pastry (sugar syrup soaked, as usual). We also had some ice cream. As we waited for the ice cream guy to show up, two Turkish teenage girls started talking to us in broken English. They were very friendly. We ended up buying them ice cream, and sitting and talking to them for a while. They were Havva Koca (she’s the one who spoke some English) and Selcan Makas. Eric realized that he needs to speak very slowly with people who don’t speak English well, because they just don’t understand when he speaks rapidly. They were both studying to be teachers. Havva had taken an exam to study to be a lawyer, but unfortunately didn’t pass it. That’s why she was studying to be a teacher. She asked if we were married, and when we said no, she asked when our wedding was! She also wanted us to come back the next year with our child! Eric got her back by asking if she wanted to go back to her hometown to teach so that she could be with her boyfriend. She turned a bit red and giggled at that.
Sunday, October 15, 2000
Today was a quiet day, mainly involving driving from Mugla to Fethiye. We got a late start, after looking without success for the tourist information office in Mugla. Mugla is a very nice, clean little town, though. The drive was pleasant, but there really wasn’t much to see along the way. We turned off at any sign that looked as though it might indicate something of interest, but didn’t find anything. Once we thought we were driving to a site of ancient ruins, but it ended up being a private campground, closed for the season. We took a break at the town of Göcek, which is a basically a yachting town on the coast. Very pretty setting, and a nice quiet little town (although I’m sure that in high-season it picks up). Prices were outrageously high—we bought some apples there for 700 lira a kilo. Otherwise, we walked around down, looked at the boats, sat in the shade, and rested.
We ended up staying the night (and perhaps we’ll stay more) in Fethiye. I wasn’t looking forward to it, since the guidebook had 2 or 3 warnings about always checking your bill very carefully in restaurants, etc., so I assumed it’s another town set up to scam tourists. Now that we’re here—it is that, but it’s also very beautifully situated, and we have a great, very comfortable hotel room. Eric and I went out for a walk and to eat last night at a restaurant on a pedestrians-only street, and when we checked the bill, sure enough, there was an extra million tacked on, snuck in with the bill for the water. The waiter took it off, but then instead of just dropping a million from the total, he re-added, and “accidentally” added incorrectly. Eric finally got the right price. I didn’t feel bad because they were trying to scam us, just vindicated for being suspicious. He had the adana kebap, which is the spiced kepab, and I had the pide (Turkish style pizza).
Next to us sat next to a charming older English couple, Pat and Charles Newman, who’d been to Turkey 10 times since 1983. We chatted during the entire meal; they were extremely friendly. They’ve been here in town for a 2-week holiday, taking little day trips by bus or dolmuş. During other trips in Turkey, they’ve stayed at other towns, such as Bodrum and Marmaris, which were pleasant at the time, but later became completely set up for the package tour business, and not very interesting. They had built up lots of acquaintances in town, and kept on greeting people that walked by. Very friendly.
Last night they were looking for a concert, and ended up at a wedding, which looked to them like a concert. They stayed there for quite a while, trying to figure out what was going on, until the bride and groom appeared, and it became obvious that it was a wedding, and not a concert.
Monday, October 16, 2000
Today was another slow day. Eric’s cold moved into the stage of nose stuffiness, and Sylvia started coming down with a sore throat and got worse as the day went on. We had the luxury of hot water (not just warm) for showering! This hotel is one of the best we have stayed at. The view, cleanliness, hot water and cost (20,000,000 TL) are a good combination.
We spent the morning writing post cards and determining the schedule for the remainder of our vacation. We decided to drive the car to Antalya and take a flight to Istanbul on Friday evening. Conveniently, there was a Turkish airlines office just down the street, which we went to and found a flight leaving Antalya around 7pm. However, because their computer was down, they were not able to book the flight at that time. Later in the evening, we stopped by, but they had just closed. We’ll get the flight tomorrow morning. We also wrote a few more postcards, and went to the PPT (Turkish post and telephone office) where we bought stamps and mailed the first of the postcards. The stamps cost us 300,000 TL apiece (about 45 cents).
Instead of seeing the more mainstream ruins, we decided to drive into the nearby mountains, hoping to see some ruins there. Unfortunately, we did not find any, but we did enjoy the drive, and the view. On our way up, we stopped under the shade of a tree before a canyon with magnificent views to have lunch—the usual, cucumber, tomato and cheese sandwich. Some of the breadcrumbs dropped from our sandwich were picked up by a number of wandering ants, and we got a kick out of watching chunks of bread crumbs march their way up a dirt mound.
After driving far enough to know that we should have passed any signs for the ruins we were hoping to find, we took a random dirt road to higher ground, got out of the car and walked around for a bit. We walked to the local peak for terrific views of the surrounding landscape. The air was very dry, making our colds all the worse. We walked along what seemed to be a plowed field, but there were no signs of anything having been planed there. It seemed quite odd. Also, the droppings of many goats were all about us. It was nearly impossible to walk without stepping on some. After a while we noticed a herd of goats walk by, shepardless.
After driving back, we went back to the same place we ate yesterday for dinner, even though they overcharged us. Upon receiving the bill, Eric computed the bill and discovered that they overcharged us again! The guidebook was dead on about this town. You really must check the bill, including the addition, before paying.
Tuesday, October 17, 2000
Last night my sore throat was really bad. I woke up many times at night, barely able to swallow. It seems like I have a more debilitating version of the cold than Eric got. We checked out of the hotel, and headed out to Pınara, a set of ruins on the way south that according to the guidebook, are really spectacularly set, with great views of the mountains. We zipped right by the turnoff for Pınara, and ended up asking 4 people for directions. The only reason we needed to ask 4 people was that the first one, a guard with a machine gun at a small military compound at the turnoff to Esen, pointed us in the wrong direction. The next guy, a man with very brown teeth waiting at a bus stop, must have assumed by my being able to ask directions (all that involves is me saying “Excuse me, where is XXXX?”) that I can understand Turkish as well. He spewed out a whole set of directions, none of which Eric or I understood. However, as long as they point in the right direction, everything is fine. We asked a few more people, and then finally got on the turnoff to Pınara. It was a very rough road—I don’t think any tour buses could make it up there. That’s fine with me—the more isolated and deserted a ruined city, and the more opportunities there are to climb all around it, the more I like it.
What a shame that I was feeling so sick with the cold. Pınara was a wonderful site, with so many possibilities for hikes to isolated sections. I was very disappointed to not be feeling up to the hiking, because of my cold. However, I think my adrenalin kicked in because it was such a wonderful place. So, even though I felt sick, we still did quite a lot of walking around on some very hilly territory. I took a pill for the cold, too.
The theater was magnificent. It was very well preserved, and built out of some local rock cut in big chunks and fitted together. It didn’t look like there’d ever been marble covering the seats, like some of the other theaters we’ve seen. Every once in a while two fighter jets would zoom by—must be an air force base near here.
After the theater, we drove up a road that ended up seeming like a forestry road or something. Eventually it became somewhat impassible, so we turned around. Three guys on a motorcycle went up though. From reading the guidebook, I think that perhaps it led up to the very highest and oldest acropolis, on the same hill that is honeycombed with tombs. I would have loved to go up there. I could see spending a couple days in that one site, getting to some of the more isolated tombs. I’m sure there’s nothing left inside them, but still, it would be fascinating.
If we did a trip like this to Turkey again, I would do a lot more upfront research, trying to find more information on isolated sites like these that I like so much. I’d love to find a book entitled something like “The Most-Isolated Old Ruins in Turkey: Complete Details and Location Information”. Now THAT would be a book worth buying. The lonely planet guide is fine, certainly, but it seems to be more oriented towards people wanting beach vacations.
We finally saw some of the Lycian sarcophagi that we missed in Fethiye. We saw quite a few of them, some still relatively intact, and some overturned on the dirt, looking like huge eroded stone boxes. We did a bit of a hike to one of the acropolises. There weren’t many standing ruins, but some of the walls we saw were very interesting. They were not put together as the standard Roman wall was, where each rock is identical in size, but instead were fitted together, each rock individually carved to meet the rock next to it. Putting up a stone wall like that must be lots more work, but perhaps it would last longer.
We saw one other couple that were walking downhill when we were driving up. Other than that, we saw no other tourists at all.
As were driving away from the site, there were 4 Turkish guys there, in front of the ticket booth. They weren’t even talking, just sitting there. We’ve seen that a lot, men just hanging out, sitting together, sometimes talking, sometimes not. Gotta wonder about that.
After Pınara, we decided to drive down to Patara, and spend the night there. We passed quite a few ruins on the way, but it was getting late, and I wasn’t feeling well, so we just drove on. Maybe tomorrow we’ll get to see them. Patara, according to our guidebook, is a real party town. However, we’re so close to the end of the season here that there was almost nothing going on—a lot of empty restaurants, cafés and bars. We checked into the Hotel Beyhan Patara, which is supposed to be the best place in town, but is actually not that great. They’re charging 22 million a night. Last night’s accommodation, at 20 million a night, was much nicer. When we asked the guy at the reception how much it was, he thought about it for a while before answering. We probably could have bargained with him, but I was too tired. Our room is on the 4th floor, overlooking the pool and the ruins. Very nice view. I was so pooped and felt so sick that I just stayed in the room, and let Eric bring up our stuff from the car.
I was hoping we could just take it easy, and stay in the hotel for dinner, but when we checked out the “restaurant” later on that evening, it looked completely deserted, so we drove down to town to look for someplace that showed some sign of life. We ended up having lentil soup (me) and goulash (Eric) at a restaurant in town with lots of very pretty cats. I have to say again—perhaps it’s just because we haven’t been eating at the right kind of place, but I can’t say that the food here has been good at all. The lentil soup was fine, but Eric’s goulash was basically just meat in broth, with no detectable spices. I think the best place we’ve eaten at so far was in Milas. That was very local, not touristy at all, and you pointed out what you wanted. I had a very good eggplant stuffed with kebab there. Otherwise, food has been mediocre. Except for breakfast, that is, which is uniformly good. But of course, you really can’t screw up bread, butter, honey, jam, cheese, tomatoes, and cucumbers anyway.
Wednesday, October 18, 2000
You can definitely tell that this hotel is just about to shut down for the season—the restaurant downstairs, where we go for breakfast, has almost no people in it for breakfast, and many of the chairs and tables that were outside are placed in stacks in the corners. We talked for a while with an English guy at breakfast. He stays here, at this hotel, at least once and sometimes twice a year, always in the low season (May or October). He told us that he used to rent a motorcycle and go around to see the sights, but now he just goes to the beach, and stays there. He’s here alone, and stays for 3 weeks at a time. Seems like a very friendly cheerful guy. He told us all about how the EEC (European Economic Community) has affected things, both in Turkey and in England. Apparently it’s added a huge level of bureaucracy, down to the degree of curvature a banana can have. He was a builder, and gave us some more theories about why there’s so many empty half-completed shells of buildings here. He said they builders didn’t get official permission from whatever government agency needs to give it, so they weren’t allowed to complete it. According to him, this hotel building was only supposed to be 4 stories high, but the owner made it 5 stories high. He was given the choice of spending a year in jail, or paying 10,000 pound fine. He chose the fine, of course.
Eric and I talked about it—we find it a little hard to fathom how all these people can stay here, for 1 to 3 weeks, and just go to the beach or the pool, and lay out in the sun the whole time. I’d get bored out of my skull doing that.
After breakfast I still felt pretty ill—enough to just stay in the room, while Eric went off to see the Patara ruins, and the beach. He reported that they were not spectacular, very swampy, and with flies everywhere. There were just a few structures standing, with rubble and cut-down brush everywhere. The theater (how many have we seen now? At least a dozen?) was being overwhelmed by sand from the beach. The beach was very nice, though. Driving by the ruins, many tourists from the hotels in town were walking to the beach.
We had our standard lunch on the patio of our hotel room, then Eric went swimming in the pool. I just watched—still feeling too sick. Then we decided to see Kayaköy, the village that was abandoned around 1923, when there was an exchange of population between Greek and Turkey. The ethnic Turks in Greece went to Turkey, and the Greeks in Turkey went to Greece. So you’d think that there would be Turks living in this village, but it was pretty much empty. I got an assortment of reasons for this, from the guidebook and from signs in the village. One was that the Turks that came back from Greece didn’t like the style of building in this village. We also heard that not enough Turks came from Greece to fill the village. At first, we wanted to go along the back roads to the town, because according to our map, it would have been a great shortcut. I tried navigating us through the back roads, but failed. We ended up using the same road (400) that we’ve driven a couple times already. I asked directions a couple times, and spoke to one really friendly village boy, and one guy who spoke German quite well.
Kayaköy is a ghost town, empty and deserted. It was in very bad shape, considering it was abandoned not all that long ago—all of the roofs were off, all of the doors and windows gone. I’m sure a lot of it was torn down. The main attractions there were 2 old churches that were in the process of being restored. A woman tried to sell us some lace as we walked around the old church. It’s amazing how much lace there is in this country—whenever women don’t have something to do, I think they make lace. This woman actually knew quite a few words of English. I still didn’t buy any lace though—I can’t think of anything I’d want less. She tried using a guilt trip on us—there’s no jobs here, no water, etc.
On our way back, we stopped of at the same restaurant we’d been at last night, with the friendly owner. I had the same lentil soup, Eric had Adana kebab, very hot.
Thursday, October 19, 2000
Last night I got bitten a lot by mosquitoes, but the bites didn’t itch much at all. Today we left the Hotel Beyhan, and Patara. In hindsight, it would have been better to just base ourselves in Fethiye , and take day trips from there, especially since the hotel was nicer and cheaper. Plus, there were no mosquitoes in Fethiye.
I felt much better today—I felt just a little weak, and I had a serious hacking cough, but that was it. The guide book says that a bus trip from Fethiye to Antalya takes 4 hours, so we wanted to get within close striking distance so we don’t have too far to drive to get to the airport tomorrow. So, today was mainly a day of driving up the coast, stopping at anything that looked interesting, and of course, getting lots of pictures. We stopped first at a gorge that we thought we could climb up. First we had to climb down a long set of stairs down to the beach (which was very nice, although it looked very steep), then we went up what looked like a manmade water runoff channel from the gorge. It turned out that we couldn’t go up very far into the gorge, we would have had to do some serious climbing. On the way back up to the car, I definitely could notice that I’d been sick recently—I felt a out of breath going up the stairs. The stairs themselves had very low rises, which feels a little strange to walk on.
For long stretches on the drive today, the road was extremely windy, and very narrow. It was a little scary to drive on—I told Eric to focus completely on the road, and not let himself get distracted by the scenery. Around Demre, there were ancient ruins right off the road, which might have been part of Myra. We stopped and walked around—lots of tombs laying around the beehives, and a fortification up on a little hill. While we were climbing up around it, two separate small tour buses stopped and disgorged a lot of tourists there.
The main feature that springs out at you in Demre was the number of greenhouses there were. Every stretch of flat land was covered with greenhouses. I took a picture inside one of them—it was incredibly hot. I can’t imagine being inside them, working, with a long skirt and headscarf on.
We stopped in Olimpos to see the ruins. On the road to Olimpos, there was a stretch of inns and pensions which looked like it must have been a real haven for backpacking travelers. We stopped in at one of them, Kadir’s Tree House. There was a huge concentration of backpackers there—we spoke to Kadir, and he said that he had 120. 120! That’s incredible, considering how almost completely empty all the hotels that we’ve stayed at have been. There were a lot of young travelers hanging about in the tree houses, the little cushioned rest areas that he made, etc. He said that the writer for Rough Guide Turkey, a guidebook, was there at the time. Of course, he invited us to stay there, and gave us a ton of brochures and things. It could have been kind of interesting, to hang out at a place like that.
Olimpos itself didn’t seem very interesting at first glance. Our guidebook describes it as a site of incredible beauty, but I was a little disappointed at first, because there were a fair number of tourists there. I’m used to having ruins to myself, damn it! But the site really is beautiful, going back along a gorge to the beach. There was what looked like a drainage system that was really fun to hike around on. Also, some Byzantine looking buildings. The beach was absolutely great, and would have been superb to swim on. It was pebbles, but very fine pebbles, and I actually prefer that to sand, because it doesn’t get everything all sandy. The water was very clear, and there were ruins right along the water. Three tour boats from Kemer were just leaving as we got there, around 4 in the afternoon.
We decided to stop for the night in Kemer, at the Viking Hotel. We looked around a little bit, but the manager offered us a pretty good deal (22 million for bed, dinner, and breakfast). One other place we stopped at had only been open for 3 weeks. The outside looked strange and old, and was painted puke green, but the inside was magnificent and opulent. They would have charged 60 million, or $90 for bed, dinner, and breakfast. It was definitely a 5 star place, though, everything brand-spanking new, the staff all dressed up in uniforms. The only guests I saw there looked as though they were in their 60’s, probably with package tour groups.
Back at the Viking, we had a suite with kitchenette and all. It made a great place to do laundry. As we were unpacking, Eric noticed a big, smelly, wet spot on one of the beds. He investigated. It turns out that I had the cheese that we bought about 5 days ago in my backpack. Yech! My jacket and couple other things in my backpack smelled like bad cheese. We had to wash things out—what a mess! Good thing the makeshift laundry facilities (the kitchen sink) worked well.
We turned up the air conditioning really high after we finished the laundry, which seemed to make it dry much faster. Dinner here was very filling—chicken, rice, beans, lots of mayonnaise-filled salads, and different kinds of deserts. The chef, who dished out the food, was quite pushy in a friendly way, and handed me a crème caramel instead of allowing me to choose what I wanted. It didn’t really bother me, though. Later on, we walked through town to find a phone to call Zeke. We told him that we would give him a call before we got back to Istanbul. The town is a very spread out tourist area—in the guidebook it’s described as a “government planned holding tank for package tourists. We eventually found a phone and talked to Zeke, arranged to give him a call Saturday morning. We also stopped at an internet café for half an hour where we checked mail, and sent a piece of email to Terry Lucas, reminding him to pick us up at the airport in Seattle.
Friday, October 20, 2000
On our way out of Kemer today, we stopped at a Migros, which is the largest grocery chain in Turkey, for some picnic supplies. Eric found some Chokella there, which is a hazelnut/chocolate spread for bread. I don’t think that name would work in the US!
We drove straight towards Antalya, and then headed towards Teremessos, without stopping to see Antalya. Termessos is the site of an ancient city which the Romans never actually conquered, but instead regarded as a friendly city-state, which had permission to make its own laws. It was eminently defensible, very high up in the mountains, with massive walls, both inner and outer. I was wondering where they planted food for themselves—it must have been down in the valley. I was a little disappointed at seeing a large parking lot that had quite a few cars in it. However, the site is spread out over so many kilometers that we didn’t really see that many people, and it certainly never felt crowded. The whole area was heavily forested with deciduous trees, making it feel even more private. The air was very fresh and cool, and downright chilly at times, but the weather was nice and sunny after not-so-promising start today.
The site required a lot of hiking around to see everything. We started out at the gymnasium, and then walked up towards the main city, with temples and theater. The theater had the most magnificent setting imaginable—the backdrop was a huge mountain, but you could also see down to the coast towards the south. Unfortunately I don’t think our photos of the theater turned out very well.
Lots of the city walls were very well preserved, and looked well made. There were these huge deep piles of rubble, though, where you had to hop from one piece of an ancient building to another. Eric found an old carved column that had several reliefs on it, of what looked like shepards, although it’s a little hard to tell.
One thing we’d never seen before at a ruined city is the amazing cistern system they had here. There was one huge cistern with 5 partitions that you could climb into just a little bit, as well as some smaller ones. They could probably withstand a very long siege there.
Our guidebook described an area where there were dozens of sarcophagi, all tumbled about by earthquakes and grave robbers. We hiked up to it, but weren’t as impressed as I’d hoped to be. I thought it would be on a plateau on top of a mountain, but it was on a slope amidst the trees. But overall, the site ended up being one of my favorites, because the ruins were so impressive, and the setting was so dramatic and so beautiful. There were a lot of Germans there, and I asked for directions of them a couple times, because the signs (although the best we’ve seen in Turkey) were still somewhat confusing. Eric felt a little left out, not being able to understand German.
Back at the car park, we found an older German woman, and a Turkish man waiting for the owners of one of the two cars that were left in the parking lot (one of them being ours). They had taken a bus to the base of the road, then gotten a lift with a German couple up to the site. They were hoping to get a lift with the couple down as well, but she had a bad leg which prevented her from walking very quickly, so the couple had already left. They were very happy to see us. We ended up giving them a lift down to the main Antalya bus station, where they should have been able to get a bus into town very easily. The woman spoke English very well, and also said she spoke Greek fluently. She had gotten to know her older Turkish friend 20 years ago when he was a worker in a rubber factory in Germany. Now she’s trying to get him a visa to go back to Germany to visit his son, but it’s already been refused once. She suspected that it was because he’s Kurdish. She was a really big talker.
We had to go straight to the airport, where we thought we’d be able to drop off the car at the Decar airport rental office, and then fly out. We drove around the airport, looking for the rental office, but only saw a Hertz rental office. They called Decar for us, and I talked to them. Apparently they had somebody waiting at the airport for us, who would take the car. We were a little late, and he had already left. We didn’t know anything about that, though, we thought there was an actual Decar office there. I don’t know how they thought we would find the guy from Decar at the airport. They ended up driving somebody out to the airport again, who took the car from us. I hope they don’t charge the credit card any more than they should.
The flight into Istanbul went well, except the landing was about as hard as I’ve ever experienced. We took a taxi to the same hotel we were at before (Hotel Şebenem), and actually paid the day rate for the taxi, even though it was after 10 PM. That was a nice surprise.
Saturday, October 21, 2000
This morning we took a taxi to Taksim Square. We wanted to buy a few souvenirs, and since we’d already been to the Covered Market (and didn’t think it was that great), we decided to go to Istiklal Caddeşi, off Taksim Square. Our guidebook says it’s supposed to be another good shopping area.
The taxi driver that took us there kind of scammed us. We had already arrived at Taksim Square (although we weren’t quite sure at the time) and he said something like “Taksim blah-blah”, making a circular motion with his hand. We thought maybe he was saying “this is Taksim Square”, but basically didn’t understand him, and kind of ignored him. He must have known we didn’t know what he meant. However, after we realized we were driving in a loop around Taksim Square, thus increasing the fare, we figured out he must have been asking us if we wanted to do a tour of Taksim square.
It turned out that Istiklal Caddeşi is definitely a shopping area, but it’s not oriented towards tourists at all. We found one store selling some souvenirs, but that was it. There are some things of historical interest there, as we found out later from reading the guidebook, but we didn’t know that at the time.
The most interesting thing we saw by far took place at Galatasaray Square, about half a kilometer down the street. There was a huge group of about 150 policemen, some of them heavily decked out in riot gear. It reminded me of the WTO riots in Seattle. There were also tons of journalists and cameramen, watching the events. We didn’t learn all that much there, but one journalist told us something like there were prisoners being transferred to a certain prison, which I assume wasn’t very nice, and their families were protesting. We asked some of the plainclothes police with walkie talkie what was going on, and they weren’t very forthcoming at all. Eric asked one of them “Do you speak English?”, and he said “No”. I’ll bet for sure he spoke some English. We asked another plainclothes policeman if it was okay to take pictures, and he said, “Why?” Eric ended up taking lots of pictures anyway, mostly getting the cameramen who were at the forefront of the action. But we did get some great ones. It’ll be good to look that whole situation up on the web. Zeki told us a very different story about what happened—he said that there were some people who had been killed in police custody, and there was a weekly protest there by the families of these people.
Since we didn’t really find many souvenir shops there, we decided to go back to the covered market anyway. It may have been cheesy, but when you’re looking for touristy shops, it’s the place to go. We took a taxi there, and ended up buying a few knick-knacks for people. We were actually thinking of buying a carpet, but it seemed like such a blind buy, that we’d kind of be rushed into, that we decided not to. Maybe next time.
We had lunch at a place that offered the grilled chicken sandwiches. There were 2 older American couples sitting next to us. When we were touring the coast, we met almost no Americans (just the one guy from Michigan) but here just walking around on the street, we’ve met, or heard talking, quite a few.
We used the compass instead of the map to navigate back from the covered market, quite successfully. On the way back, we bought some pastries and sweets to bring as gifts for Zeki’s family, with whom we’re having dinner tonight. We also bought some sets of empty greeting cards with pictures of carpets, or Turkish tile on them. They’ll come in quite handy for birthdays and things.
Zeki came by to pick us up at the hotel around 4:30. We talked about where we went, then we did a tour of various parts of Istanbul. Unfortunately it was raining pretty heavily, so we didn’t get to walk around very much. We went to the marina, and to a very expensive area where the houses cost around 10 million US dollars. That seemed a little hard to believe—the houses were nice enough, but not that nice. Zeki is a huge fan of fish, and took us on a tour of all of his favorite fish restaurant areas. Most of them were on the sea, but since it was raining so heavily (and it was getting dark anyway) we didn’t see much. He went down all these little one-way side streets, and we learned that the concept of “one-way” meaning “one direction only” is pretty much unknown here. It seems like you basically go where you need to, and deal with blocking problems when they arise.
Zeki needed to stop at a grocery store, so we stopped at the Carrefour, which I believe is a French grocery chain. It was a really huge supermarket, more like a superstore, with clothing and appliances as well. And incredibly crowded! Zeki said it was because tomorrow everything will be closed. He’d told us this on the phone before, but we thought he was joking. Apparently, every 5 or 10 years, there’s a census—not a census in which you get mailed a form that you fill out, but a census where you have to stay in your home all day long, under threat of prison. At some point during the day, a census worker will visit you, and ask you questions to fill out their forms, but you still have to stay inside, all day long. He said to be sure and bring our passports with when we walk around tomorrow, just in case the police stop us.
Zeki is really nice, generous guy, and a very smooth talker. His wife wanted him to buy some bread, but all the regular bread was gone already. So, he found a place in line behind a guy with about 20 loaves of the bread, and started chatting with him. He got the guy to give him some of his bread. On the way out of the store, a woman asked him if he knew where the free buses were (apparently this grocery store offers free buses to various areas). He offered her a ride, since she was going to the same neighborhood. She turned him down, though.
We arrived at his place, and met his entire family. He, his wife Jasmine, and his son Pasha are staying with his father and mother-in-law, even though they have their own apartment, because the heat in their apartment isn’t working right now. Also at his father-in-laws apartment was Jasmine’s sister, and her daughter, who was a little shy. Almost everyone spoke German quite well, so my German came in very handy.
Eric felt a little left out.
His father-in-laws family lived in Germany for more than 20 years, working close to Frankfurt. Jasmine was born in Germany, and her older sister moved there at age 10 or so. Their German was perfect, and their father’s German was very good. He had just gotten back today from a very long bus ride from the town in which they have their Black Sea house. They have a large garden there, and grow all kinds of things there. When Zeki’s niece really enjoyed some cherry tomatoes that they got from the market, he saved seeds from them, and planted them successfully in his garden.
The apartment was quite large, with a large living room and 3 good size bedrooms. Zeki, Jasmine and Pasha were in one bedroom, and his father and mother-in-law were in another. The last one was storage, things that Zeki hadn’t moved to their new apartment yet. His entire extended family was very welcoming and friendly. It was really wonderful to be able to spend time with a Turkish family in their home. We looked at pictures of Zeki, Jasmine, and Pasha when they were in New Jersey, and also some pictures of Pasha’s first birthday party, just about a month ago, at their Black Sea house. I thought at first that they just owned one flat of an apartment building, but it turned out that it wasn’t an apartment building, it was all one house and they owned the whole thing. Apparently it’s not uncommon for families here to have summer homes along the Black Sea area.
Eric played backgammon with Zeki’s father in law, and won. Apparently the doubling cube, which is fairly common in the US, is not known in the backgammon that’s played here. The television was a little distracting, but the volume on it got turned down eventually.
Dinner was great. We had a great lentil soup, spiced with mint, rice, mashed potatoes, baked chicken, carrot salad, mixed salad, spinach pastries, green beans from the Black Sea vacation house garden, and home-made yogurt. I sat next to Zeki’s sister-in-law, who was very friendly.
After dinner we took some pictures of the family, and lots of Pasha. We got one of Pasha in Eric’s arms, but that only lasted for a few seconds before Pasha wanted to go back to his dad very badly. Then we looked at those pictures, and also some pictures of places that we’d traveled to in Turkey, on the laptop. We’d brought the laptop with us just for this purpose. Just a few days ago Zeki had gone to an internet café and looked at the www.ericvasilik.com web site. He seemed to really like it. We really wished we’d transferred all the web site pictures over to the laptop—it would have been really great to show them that. It was a little bit tough picking out good pictures to show them of our travels in Turkey. The problem is that we took so many pictures, and haven’t sorted out the good from the bad yet. So, it gets boring for people. I think overall they enjoyed looking at the pictures on the computer, though. We got a few good ones of Pasha as well. We had cake and a very tasty pudding-style cake for desert. The power went out, but the laptop battery lasts about an hour, so we were okay.
Zeki drove us home at about 11:30 at night. We took a quick look at Zeki’s new apartment, which is very close by. It looks very nice, with nice trim, some wood flooring, and good appliances. Too bad it doesn’t have heat, though! He had offered to take us to their Black Sea home Sunday, and then back on Monday, but I think with the census, since everyone needed to stay home, those plans fell through. It wouldn’t have worked for us, either—would have made our last 2 days here too packed and stressful. Zeki is a huge fan of the US, and would really like to move back there. One month after Pasha was born, they went back to Turkey, just because it seemed like it would be too difficult to take care of Pasha without any support from family. But both Jasmine and Zeki told me that they regretted that decision later on. They’d like to move back to the US, but it’s not so easy to arrange the visas. I don’t really understand their visa situation—they have a B1/B2 visa, which is supposedly good for 10 years, but I don’t know if that type of visa allows you to work.
We asked Zeki some more about the unfinished buildings that are everywhere. He said that people don’t trust the government or banks because of corruption. So, they put their money into these real estate trusts to keep up with the terrible inflation. These real estate trusts build the complexes over a very long period of time. Sometimes they go belly up, or abscond with people’s money. I can’t imagine that they’re really good investments, because there seems to be a real oversupply of buildings in Turkey.
Sunday, October 22, 2000
The day of the census, and our last full day in Turkey. We were actually part of the census—the guy from the reception desk apologized, but said that he had to ask us some questions. Strange that they would ask them of tourists.
Later on we walked around town. Empty, rainy, and gloomy! The only places that had any life at all were the tourist streets like Yeniceriler Caddesi, and even those were almost dead. After we walked past the part of the street that had the more touristy shops, everything was closed. The McDonalds on that street was completely packed, though, with people that looked like they were going to stay there for a while. All the McDonalds we’ve been to here have a separate little cash register, and sometimes even a sales window to the outside, specifically for ice cream. We bought some Turkish Delight for Eric to bring back to Crossgain, and looked at a kitten shut up in the display window of a carpet store. It was the second time I’d seen that, but only then did I clue in to the fact that the kittens are put there to attract tourists to the window, at which point somebody from the store will start chatting with them, starting with information about the kitten, and then working their way to asking the tourists to step in and have some tea, and look at carpets.
We also went into the Four Seasons Hotel, which is very close to ours. I think our guidebook said it was about $250 a night minimum. Very nice inside, everything just so. There were employes walking around, fluffing pillows in the common lounge area. One thing I really noticed is that the marble in the Four Seasons, unlike all the other marble I’ve walked on in Turkey, has been treated to be less slippery. I guess an international company like that thinks about liability.
Back at the hotel, the guy at the reception desk called our room, and asked if we’d like to be interviewed on Turkish TV! We said sure, went down, and met the reporter and cameraman from Flash TV. I was surprised that the reporter didn’t speak any English, but the cameraman spoke some. They asked us what we did today, what we thought of the census, etc. It was a lot of fun. The reporter asked the guy at the reception desk to translate, because she didn’t speak English. He was VERY reluctant, and tried to get someone from another hotel nearby to translate instead, but ended up doing it. We watched the Flash TV show that evening, which was exclusively about the census. They showed empty streets, various high-level polititians being interviewed, and then they showed one German tourist being interviewed. We were extremely disappointed, because we were thinking that if we weren’t shown immediately after the German tourist, they’d probably cut us out. We continued to watch anyway (taking pictures with the digital camera of the screen to record everything), and finally we showed up. Of course, we didn’t understand anything they said, but we did hear Eric’s and my voice on Turkish television, so that was pretty satisfying.
The next day we flew back to the US, and that’s the end of the trip!