A Travellerspoint blog


Tripping to the Past and Future


On June 11th I left on a trip to Turkey and Portugal. It was more cost efficient to fly three return trips rather than multi destination, which meant I landed in Lisbon and had hours to wait. The flight to Lisbon had the feeling of a high school reunion from the 1950s - like I was flying to a different era and not a different country. The food on the flight was so awful that the woman beside me force fed me her homemade cookies. I was torn because I half wanted to sleep, which sugar doesn't help but I was also hungry (perpetual problem). I should have voted no.
By the time I landed for my stop over in Lisbon, I was ravenous as the cookie was not quite the satiating and delicious little something I had hoped for. I sat at the Spoon Cafe for hours eating toast and chatting with a Canadian Portugeuse family who were very kind and also fed me chocolate. I think the mother wanted to take me as her daughter in law because by the end she was hugging me and trying to pick up my phone number. I need more yenta in my life, so I soaked it up. Finally it was time to go so I headed off for my flight to Istanbul. In general, the best way to get from the airport to the city is by the Havatas but I arrived very late in Istanbul and took a shuttle to my hostel, Galata West, where I met my friend Kate. We went out to Istiklal Caddesi (close to Taksim) where people are partying on the streets until sunrise. In those few hours out having fun I noticed a few stark differences from my last time in Istanbul three years prior (when I still lived in Turkey): the increased presence of Arab tourists and refugees, and an increase in selfies (and selfie sticks). No correlation as far as I know.
The next day Kate and I decided to visit Büyükada, an island just an 1.20 ferry from Kabataş ferry terminal in the European side of Istanbul. One thing to be aware of when taking this ferry is that it will be overcrowded, so go early to board early and actually get a seat. You'll be kept entertained by the vendors selling things like lemon squeezers and potato peelers. One was so convincing he had the whole ferry clapping and laughing. By the time he was done his schpiel I was first in line to purchase the merchandise. Three weeks later and I have yet to use it but his memory remains.
The first thing that stood out when we arrived were the crowds - it was a gorgeous day and everyone clearly had the same idea to take a break on the islands. The houses were stunning, and there were some interesting sites to visit like an abandoned orphanage and the views from on top of the hills.
After returning to the mainland we walked by some winding streets leading to Galata and enjoyed some of the random activities like shooting pellets at balloons. We also walked by a brothel, which Kate explained is regulated by the state meaning the sex workers get tested regularly and receive pensions. They had more than enough business! We went out that night past Galata Tower to a Circassian restaurant called Ficcin where we were approached by an older lady who thought I was Turkish and proceeded to advise on where to go and what to do while in Istanbul. Serendipity dictated that we run into her again the following day! That night we went to a blues jazz bar called Kumsaati, followed by a bar on a fun corner called Narrdo. You can't beat a party on a street corner. You also can't compete with a rooftop terrace highlighting the mystery of the Bospherous and the beauty of Turkish men... Or vice versa.
On Sunday, we went to visit the Ottoman Banking Museum in Galata Salt on Bankalar Caddesi. They had a number of interesting facts about women and foreigners working at the banks, and also how the banking system worked in general. A benefit was that entrance was free. We then went to visit the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Beyoğlu. I had tried to attend a service there years ago and it hadn't worked out but I was welcomed into the Rabbi's house for a Seder meal. I love finding community in transit.
I went wandering Istiklal after and saw the massive influx of police, I then decided to retreat indoors in a restaurant called Ravouna - beautiful rooftop views of the city.
At about 1 am I went to play tavla (backgammon), before dancing at a fun old school bar on Istiklal called Eskici Pera.
I had yet another late night, in keeping with the theme of enjoying Turkey. One of the highlights had to be beating a Turkish man at tavla to which he commented: adamsın. Only took a simple game of backgammon to find out that apparently I'm a man... Or I'm the man. I'll take the latter.
Monday morning was another late morning, but I finally got ready to head off to Bebek and Ortaköy as per the instructions of my new guardian angel from the Circassian restaurant. I walked to Taksim to catch a bus there, but it's not as straightforward as you'd think catching a bus in Istanbul to go where you want to go. I chose to take a cab, and let the driver convince me to go to Rumeli Hisari instead of Bebek. He also promised he'd fight anyone on my behalf, if necessary. I'm not sure what about me screams damsel in distress, but I told him I'd take him up on the offer should the need arise (in the 20 minutes we had together). I'd never heard of Rumeli Hisarı before, but it was well worth a visit - it's a fortress from hundreds of years ago with a view of the European and Asian sides as well as the Bospherous. I was even able to see dolphins.
Afterwards, sweaty and famished, I took a taxi to Ortaköy where I ate kumpir (Turkish baked potato with all the fixings you could ever want), and ice cream and watched Spain's Top Chef being filmed. I thought about interrupting for my fifteen minutes of fame and then retreated back into my delicious food. I then walked back to Kabataş where I took the tram to Karaköy and strolled back to the hostel. I got ready and went out to the Hazzo Pulo Şarap Evi. It's amazing how many different sides of a city you can experience depending on who you're out with. I had already been in dive bars, hipster clubs and now a classy wine house...more in store!
On Tuesday, my conversations with strangers and friends continued to center around the Syrian crisis. It hit a head in a sense when I was having a meal with some Turkish men (the restaurant owner and his friends) and one of their friends walked by screaming in Arabic. He's Syrian and had been rejected from renting a room for that reason. The massive influx of Syrian refugees has been influencing local politics too. This is a nation that still has Gezi Park looming. There are serious implications in terms of how these refugees will be integrated into the society, and whether and how they'll leave. There are humanitarian considerations in addition to the economic ones that are often discussed. No one knows where this will go.
I sat with a friend and his girlfriend discussing these matters before strolling the streets and taking in what I could before returning to the world of politics through a newspaper.
Wednesday morning was departure time for Ankara - back to visit my old life. I decided to stay in Tunalı at the Ankara Gordion Hotel. The first place I wanted to go was Ulus for Iskender Kebap. As if life has any meaning without the decadence of meat, yoghurt and bread.
Mehmet and I went strolling around and I noticed that there have been some changes like a huge new mosque being built, but for the most part things remain the same like Luna Park. Change is a funny concept because throughout my whole trip I couldn't help but compare its present with my past there and wonder when things are identical why that is but question the changes at the same time. You can't step in the same river twice.
We went on the ferris wheel, bumper cars and haunted house. The highlight to me came at the end of the haunted house when finally something scary happened - the mechanical car broke down and we sat stuck when all of a sudden one of the employees came and put his hand on Mehmet's shoulder and said "boo". After that shock, we headed off walking through Sihhiye to Kizilay and finally Tunalı. Along the way we ran into Esat Kıratlıoğlu, a former Turkish politician. We then visited Kuğulu Park, which has become far more political in the wake of Gezi Park. Politics everywhere yet few swans to be found.
Thursday was a day of wandering around Tunalı. Everywhere I went I overheard people discussing the recent election (of early June) and the possible coalitions that may be formed in its wake. If only there were a crystal ball for us to see into the future. But then what fun would the challenges be?
I had the most delicious lunch at my favourite restaurant, Cafe des Cafes - pomegranate and fig sauce on a steak. Food could be my life. I continued wandering and shopping before stopping in at Elizinn where the wonderful management wished me well and provided me with some delicious food. Ramadan had just started so everyone everywhere was preparing fabulous meals to break the fast, Iftar. It's beautiful being able to celebrate it and watch the love and kindness people bring to the table.
Friday was a day of nostalgia. I spent the day visiting my former coworkers, neighbours and friends at the University I taught at in Turkey. I first spent the morning at Bilkent otel and spa, which is fabulous and has a special half price massage deal between 10am and 2pm Monday to Friday. After that was done I visited people and had long discussions about where we are, where we were and where we see the country going. A lot can happen in a few years and there are now babies and newly weds. I was encouraged by everyone to consider coming back to Turkey, maybe it's a sign? Most telling was the fact that almost everyone thought to ask: are you happy where you are? The area around Bilkent has changed considerably as they've developed a new entertainment complex called Bilkent Station. I was impressed with its development, but concerned for the businesses in Ankuva (the mall to its side) which seem to have been neglected. The waves of change, I suppose. Turkey is all about development, after all. Kate met Rob and I, and the three of us ventured into the city for a night out at Corvus, City and Puhu (three classic bars in the same building just off of Tunali). Along the way I tried to memorize the sights and reconfigure my memories so that when I leave, I can carry all this fun and life and absurdity with me... Dinosaurs included.
Saturday was spent in Ulus once more. It was my last day in Ankara and I wanted to visit the best hamam and also my friend, a carpet seller, before a night out in Tunali and Kizilay with a group of my old friends. It was great visiting my friend, he's still working hard and doing well - kind as always. While there a group of British tourists came in so once again I put my translator cap on and helped him make some business. In the hostel in Istanbul my help had been enlisted for some Spanish to Turkish to English translation, at least this was just a two way street: English to Turkish. After some tasty Elma Çay (apple tea) Kate and I set off for the Şengül Hamamı.
For 39 TL they sold us a package of kese (rubbing dead skin off your body), massage, and the flip flops/towels. Compare this to the same package being sold at a luxury hamam in Istanbul for 150 TL. You have to know where to go, I suppose. I liked this hamam because they're honest. They walk around smacking your bum and winking at every opportunity so that they can claim you as their own. I think they must make commission. At one point my woman was massaging me and getting her very own massage at the same time. She then told me we had to move to another part of the marble slab, so instead of me getting up she slid me across on my stomach. I was impressed with her strength but concerned for the spectators. After the hamam, I left Kate and the others (at a restaurant) so that I could head up to the castle for a view of the new Ankara (with Erdoğan's Presidential Palace).
That night we went to Retrox for dinner and also to celebrate Rob's birthday. I had a delicious güveç and had bits and pieces of others' meals too. We sang songs and joked around like old times before setting off for Bestekar and then IF. It was one of the best nights out I've had in ages - everyone was happy, and the places were fabulous fun. After everyone had left, it was just Yalin and I so we set off for Eski Yeni - my favourite old bar. The name of the bar is actually Old New, which was highly fitting. We somehow managed to engage a couple on the street in a debate about what it takes to have a double jointed finger. I have many. Ten to be precise.
Sunday I had to hop on yet another plane, this time to return to Istanbul. I was exactly halfway through my vacation and running on roughly four hours of sleep per night. This time in Istanbul I stayed at an upscale hotel in Sultanahmet, not a hostel in Galata. The trek to the hotel was arduous, and that's with my speaking Turkish. After getting a havatas to Taksim, I decided to hop in a cab. The first taxi driver told me he wouldn't drive to the area because of Ramadan - (hiç alakası yok) there's no connection, but I decided not to argue it. The second driver wanted to force me into paying 50 TL, which is exorbitant (şaka mı yapıyorsunuz?). The third said yes, but then the other two started fighting with him so a fourth appeared and I hopped in his cab (hadi gidelim). The third driver then started screaming at the fourth and made him help me exit the cab and get into the other (yeter ya!). When we finally arrived in Sultanahmet the cab driver made me get out, because he was unsure of where we were so I had to walk the rest of the way with all my bags. The hotel workers were very kind and helped me to print some documents like my boarding pass (I was leaving early the next morning). After some chatting and unpacking I set off for the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia. There were huge crowds because of Ramadan, and they'd even erected a makeshift shopping centre nearby.
The inside of the Blue Mosque never fails to amaze.
I bought some food and sat in a single solo chair on a sidewalk watching passersby. I couldn't have looked more out of place if I were wearing a t-shirt that said "yabanci". After that I bargained for some 2TL watermelon and left that area to set off for Istiklal. The walk was beautiful as the night fell. I can't get over the mystique of Istanbul - everywhere you go, you're surrounded by life, history and adventure! It was a difficult trip because I still felt like I fit in, but I knew that I had to return home. It did really raise the question of where I consider home to be, and whether home could ever have a permanence to it. I think this is the nature of growing up as an immigrant compounded with my personal forays into living in different lands. The cultures create you. I know that it was confusing for the Turks I encountered, because I spoke their language, knew the city but didn't live there. I love so much about the culture, but it's difficult to imagine myself in a city where I'll always be an outsider. I'll never be able to just go about my business without being asked where I'm from, why I speak their language and why I'm there...
The beauty of the city is overwhelming, the water is enticing. My walk was calming and allowed me time to think before meeting a friend and setting off on my final night out in Istanbul. I met him on Istiklal and we went to Nevizade - a party street. I don't know anywhere that could compare to the side streets of Istiklal at night and all there is to offer: from dancing circles to lentil delights!
Monday morning came and it was time for me to fly off to Portugal and my sister. I met her in Lisbon, dropped off my luggage and we headed off in search of bacalau. It was delicious! I had developed a taste for if when I lived in Spain in high school and missed its flavor and probably my memories too. Every bite is a journey. I then ate pastel de nata for the first time. I can declare that I am now addicted.
Tuesday was a day of learning about Lisbon. I signed up for two Grayline bus tours as it was an efficient way to see more of Libson in a shorter period of time. I learned about the Tagus River being the longest in the Iberian Peninsula; Chiado being the former entrance to the city; the company that built the 25 April Bridge being the same that built the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge; Lisbon becoming the national capital in 1256 and a huge earthquake destroying much of the city in 1755 with the Marques de Pompal later helping to rebuild.
I also wandered around Belem, and learned about the explorers like Vasco de Gama - I even saw where he was buried in the Iglesia de Santa Maria de Belem. In fact, there were a number of sites around the city devoted to Vasco de Gama, including a shopping mall, tower and bridge (on the 500th anniversary of his Maritime route to India in 1998). I can only hope that one day I'll have a mall named after me.
One of my favourite parts of solo travel is the people you meet along the way. That night my sister and I went out with one of the people I'd chatted with that day. The three of us went to Bairro Alto, which is where the greatest nightlife is in Lisbon. Bars line the streets, but the real party is outside on the cobblestone. We tried ginginja, a type of cherry wine. We also met a really great group of French tourists with whom we chatted and drank until the time came to be responsible and go home and sleep so my sister could wake up in time for class the next day. One disturbing aspect of the night was the fact that a man walked into the same bar as us with a tattoo of a swastika on his arm, and noone seemed bothered. I'd never seen something like that in real life, and it was definitely not something I want to see again.
Wednesday was my day trip to Sintra, which made me realize the value of planning ahead. Since I speak Spanish I thought I'd be fine just asking for answers wherever I went around Portugal, similar to my laissez-faire style in Turkey. I find whenever I speak a language that's local or close enough to local to get by that I tend to rely on just getting by rather than planning ahead. I try to embody go with the flow. In this case, I got lost with the flow and ended up hiking up a mountain for an hour and a half instead of taking a simple 20 minute path or a bus. By the time I reached el Palacio de Pena I was exhausted, but still motivated to learn more. It's one of the most breathtaking palaces I've seen because it's straight out of a fairy tale imagination. If a king ever proposes to me, I'd appreciate it being there. Who wouldn't want to be queen of that castle?
After descending back to the village in a tuk tuk, I sat in a cafe to eat some bacalau balls and a travesseira (the local pastry of Sintra). I took a train to Lisbon, and Sara and I headed to Castelo de São Jorge where we saw the Miradoura St. Luzia and some of the most beautiful views of the city. We then returned back to the centre of the city to eat at Da Vinci restaurant again, where they have the most delicious risotto I've ever had.
I feel like a huge element of any trip for me is the food - I couldn't have chosen two better destinations in that regard. The fresh vegetables, fruit and fish in Portugal were delicious and in Turkey I couldn't get enough of the meat, yoghurt and breads aka İskender kebabı.
Thursday I left Lisbon for Lagos in the Algarve (southern Portugal). I took a bus there, which was about 15 euro and 4 hours. I sat beside a chatty elderly Portuguese lady who wasn't bothered by my only understanding maybe a quarter of what she said (her accent was very different to the people in Lisbon). I found the hostel easily as it's a very small town. There were a huge number of tourists and some very kitschy artifacts, but the natural scenery was stunning.
I dropped my bags, met my bunkmates (three of them) and then began my long walk alone. Somewhere along the way I had been given a map, and for whatever reason I decided my destination was going to be Ponta de Piedade - the tip of the peninsula. I walked for hours past beautiful beaches and cute couples...
Thanks to the beauty, I was inspired to take endless selfies. It's like a disease. Part of the motivation was probably the deep feeling of being alone when you're surrounded by love at every turn - or at least couples who like to look like they're in love for a prime photo shoot opportunity.
I finally made it to Ponta de Piedade before the sunset, with beautiful glows on the water and rocks.
It was well worth the walk out there, but it was definitely quite a stroll back considering that I hadn't the foresight to realize that you can't just call a cab to the middle of nowhere... especially when you have no cell phone to make that call with. I ended up having dinner at Harley's, which came recommended by a bunkmate who happened to be sitting there when I arrived. We had a lovely dinner, but I realized that I needed to be with my sister. It's not worth being in a beautiful place, if you're not there with the people who you want to be with.
The next morning I went and bought a different ticket to Lisbon and told the hostel I wouldn't be staying the night (they wouldn't give me back the money, but that's not a huge surprise). I then settled in for a few hours of beach time at Batata Beach. It's very calming there. Not so calming was the fact that when I had left and was halfway to my hostel I got pooed on by a seagull. Let's hope the legends are true and good luck springs my way. When I did return to the hostel I chatted with a really cool Canadian couple who are travelling the world for a year. Hostels are prime locations for meeting great people, there's no doubt about that. I also managed to find time to check out the Science Alive Museum in Lagos and go to an art gallery. I was the only one cool enough to hang out in a science centre on a Friday in a beach town as I literally had the whole place (and guides) to myself. At one point a strange man appeared and asked if I was Spanish. I said no, but I speak it. He then proceeded to rave about Ibiza being paradise on earth before promptly walking away. This is who comes to a science centre on a Friday in a beach town: me and a 60 year old retired party animal.
My trip back to Lisbon was accompanied by a Master's student from Belgium who chatted with me in French about his fascinating thesis topic, while I tried frantically to contact my sister and alert her to my far earlier return to the apartment. I did manage to catch her and we were able to have a great debrief before going to sleep and readying ourselves for my last day in Portugal. We slept awfully as usual, which isn't surprising given that we were sharing a cot. I don't think a single overweight ten year old could have fit comfortably yet there we were head to toe clutching onto each other so as not to fall to the creaky floor.
We decided that for my last day we should do a trip to a beach near to Lisbon called Cascais. You can't go from Rossio Station, you have to walk a bit further, but it's still in the centre of town and it was only about 5 Euro return. The beach was pretty, but very small and crowded. It was a good opportunity for Sara and I to just relax and enjoy the scenery - to savour the fact that we were hanging out on a beach in Portugal on a sunny Saturday. She engaged in some pick up soccer while I managed gracefully to fall while climbing on some rocks. All I can say is that it was probably less embarrassing than the walk of shame back to my hostel after I was pooed on...
That night (my final night) we went out to Bairro Alto again, this time with Sara's friend Rachel too. We danced and drank and had a fabulous time. I knew I was tired when a man walked out to the street with a tray full of shots and I mistook it for free samples. The bachelor party of men were definitely amused... I suppose it's the proximity, but there was an abundance of Frenchmen. I got into conversation with one while my sister and her friend watched on, when all of a sudden another Frenchman interrupted just to say to me: t'as l'air trop sérieux. Why would it ever be a good idea to tell someone that? Furthermore, why jump into a conversation to share that useless bit of obvious? I've lived with my face 28 years. He thinks I wouldn't know by now? I'm in fact highly aware of the syndrome they call bitchy resting face. In fact that very same day I had done a "beachy resting face" photoshoot in Cascais on the playa. To add insult to injury, not a minute later another Frenchman wanders over and yells out (directed at my sister): t'es la plus belle fille qui j'ai vu ce soir. What did I learn? My sister is a beauty and I'm a strict headmistress.
Sunday meant time for me to leave this fabulous country, my beautiful sister and vacation life. On my journey back to my present reality, I watched an inspiring Turkish film, Kış Uykusu. I'll leave you with this: "A well-planned life doesn't feel like a real one".

Posted by madrugada 17:24 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey istanbul lisbon lagos portugal sintra ankara cascais Comments (0)

The West (South and North)

From kayaking in Kekova to oil wrestling in Edirne...

So, in the spirit of some of my other extended entries I've decided to tackle a number of locations in one long post - address all of my final wanderings around Turkey before our (hopefully temporary) break up. This means I'm going to be covering (superficially, I'm sure): Antalya, Izmir, Istanbul, Edirne and my mini tour around Kaş , Patara, Fethiye and Rhodes (the Greek island).

To begin with I should make it clear that my intention on these travels was nothing but seeking fun. At times I travel with the aim of learning about history, for example; however, with these trips I just wanted to enjoy myself. Along the way, fortunately, I did end up learning more about the fabulous cultures that co-exist within Turkey. The first trip I'll describe was over the weekend of the 18th of May, and to be frank I was dreading it. Associations are difficult to erase, and my last trip to Antalya was quite possibly the most hellish one of my life. Although the setting was the same, the conditions were different and that meant everything. Instead of traveling with a verbally abusive misogynist, I went with my three best friends. We had decided to stay in the old part of town, Kaleiçi, and it worked out great. After yet another night on an overnight bus we arrived fairly groggy, but extremely excited for the warmth of Antalya. The first wonderful surprise was that we had been upgraded - instead of small dorm rooms we had our own mini villa, complete with two floors, two living rooms, two bedrooms and a grand pool in our front yard. We had been accidentally appointed royalty. We decided immediately to set off for Termessos and Karain - the first being an ancient city (dated B.C.) housed inside a lush national park nestled in between the Taurus mountains while the second is a spectacular cave which has evidence of human life dating back to 200 000 years ago. Neither one is very far from Antalya, but we found ourselves in a flash thunderstorm that did delay us a bit. It also made for quite the mystical/magical feeling while hiking through the hills of Termessos, and especially when stumbling upon the theatre.
The rain and mist also made for quite a feeling of humility when I split from the group and wandering alone came across a number of tombs - decayed, but still balanced so delicately and beautifully on top of each other. Visiting ancient sites has to make one wonder about their place in the world, particularly when they're found in such stunning natural settings. What has our culture contributed to the world? What would my legacy be? As the world works it's the representative who's remembered; unfortunately it's not typically the builders who are honoured, but rather the king who commanded it be made. Travelling Turkey makes you really think about what you mean to people, because of the amount of history that's layered on top of itself there.
Speaking of layers, Karain cave was one of the more spectacular ones I've ever been in because of its height and the lighting. You could wander quite far inside, although still not nearly as deep as the cave cities in Kappadokya. The cave is clearly home to a number of bats, as well as a huge number of spiders and other creepy crawlers. Thankfully I didn't come into contact with any - only their sloppy trails. For anyone interested in caves, I'd actually recommend South Africa. Some amazing evidence of ancient civilizations has been found inside caves there, as well as being worth a visit for just being incredible - like the Cango Caves. In both cases, I really enjoyed wandering and climbing around the caves wherever possible - my only constraint is not wanting to run into massive spiders. I can try to understand how people can get claustrophobic, but I can't actually feel it myself - which is probably a positive thing. I remember when in the Cango Caves my dad almost had an apoplexy, because he and my mother get claustrophobic and the guide told us that there hadn't been an earthquake in a certain number of years and typically earthquakes happen every certain number of years so really there should have been one coming up. His humour was lost on them as they scrambled for exits through the tunnels. In any case, I feel quite at home underground.
For anyone visiting Antalya, I would recommend going to both Termessos and Karain, but also trying to do a tour of the ancient sites like Aspendos and Side (which I visited and wrote about last year). The city of Antalya itself is quite pretty, thanks to the multiple beaches (Duden and Lara), as well as the mountains but it's mainly the old part that I adore. On our second day instead of going white water rafting as planned we decided to spend the day wandering around the city, eating well and visiting the beach. This could be partially attributed to the night we had, which involved an intense round of the question game (every question must be answered with another, got it?), some delicious dinner given to us for free at the Yağmur Cafe by the owners who then serenaded us with Kurdish music and culminated in us swimming in our front yard's outdoor pool from about 1 to 2 a.m. I should point out that due to the earthquake in Van, which claimed many lives and ruined much of the city, many inhabitants have had to move on to other places. One of the men explained to my simplistic claim of, "well, lots of aid was received, wasn't it?" that indeed aid was sent, but that much of it was hoarded instead of being properly distributed so many people even now are still without essentials like blankets. It puts our problems in perspective. Complaints about a broken nail can't really measure up against a man asking for help because his daughter was killed, his house destroyed and he has not a penny to his name. Then again, it's not those situations we're thinking of when we become absorbed in our mundane issues, is it?
In any case, the second day we wandered around the beach, but it was far too cold to swim. We watched paragliders, while reminiscing about our own experiences last year in Fethiye. We also watched other people on the beach and then decided to bury Cynthia under the rocks. She became the legend of the rock. What I found to be hilarious at the beach was that a Turkish man approached me and asked whether I could take a photo, to which I said wait a second while I asked Cynthia (assuming he wanted a photo with the girl buried under the plethora of rocks). She agreed to it, and he handed the camera to another friend and then walked over to me. I, confused, asked what he thought he was doing. He responded that he wanted a photo with me, not for me to take the photo.
I can't say I understand a thing about Turkish men, but I can say that for some reason I seem to be appealing to many. That being said, I won't miss being mistaken for a prostitute, which happened on numerous occasions. My striking resemblance to Russians/eastern Europeans was apparently my "fault" in those cases. After the collapse of the USSR many women came to Turkey looking for work in the sex trade, because they couldn't find any "legitimate" work back home. Apparently, this has normalized the assumption that any Eastern European woman could be a prostitute. In addition, Antalya is basically the capital of tourism for Russians in Turkey, a subsection of whom come to Turkey for sex tourism. There's a whole dark underside to the tourism industry that I came to learn about while living in Turkey. I also befriended Turkish men who had worked in Alanya and Antalya, which permitted me insight into what it's like to be "exploited" in a sense by these tourists. However, these men did take advantage in every possible way themselves, so in reality it's more of a mutual understanding than anything else (from what I gather). The issues are complicated and nuanced. While in Antalya I was approached by a foreigner (European), who pretended to trip and fall onto me on the streetcar and then proceeded to invite me vehemently to his rented house, which I kept politely rejecting. There's a subtle feeling of sleaze that sits for a while after leaving these kinds of tourist spots sometimes, like Antalya and Bodrum. At times I felt more like a dismembered individual than a woman, because of the way my body would be analyzed by the men passing by. On the beach I took advantage of my body parts to use my legs as a frame of sorts to house the prettiest little rocks I could find.
For a few weeks I stayed in Ankara, before hunting bigger rocks in Kappadokya, but that journey I won't describe in detail here other than to say that it's amazing how small the world is. In November I went to Greece and befriended a fellow traveller named Jonathan, who then took Eilidh and I to Austria when we went to visit Munich in December. This same friend then came to visit me and we hiked about 40 km over a weekend, chatting about everything from Nepal's political system to the joys of eating kebap. Life really is beautiful.
The weekend after my hiking trip with Jonathan I went to Izmir with Eilidh, Cynthia and her boyfriend. It was sort of a disjointed trip in the sense that Eilidh and I went off to Çeşme and then Ilıca by ourselves only arriving in Izmir Saturday night at which point we met up with the two of them - although by that point everyone was tired and a couple of people were feeling sick, while I was burnt to a crisp.
I had been dying to go to Izmir even before I landed in Turkey, so it was kind of exciting for that dream to finally be realized. The city itself has an important legacy due to its position under the Ottoman Empire. It had been home to a thriving Jewish community, which is where my interests lay. On Sunday, while exploring the city we went in search of the Jewish quarter which amounted to nothing but an alley with some fishy looking fish mongers. I truly hope our sense of direction was off. While travelling I've taken to exploring Jewish sites from synagogues to graveyards - not once have I seen a community center that's in use, which is unfortunate as it says something about the lack of Jewish community in most of these once thriving cities.
Izmir on Sunday was so hot, and everyone was feeling so off (myself included, thanks to my burns) that instead of devoting hours to wandering we chose instead to have a very long meal. I had fish ("levrek" or sea bass), which came with some special vegetables from the sea that were delicious ("şevket-i bostan"). The food in Turkey is something I'm going to miss. Although quite frequently it didn't sit well, it was always tasty - the "mezeler" like "şakşuka" in particular. The picture is of the aforementioned lunch in Izmir, which lasted about 3 hours! The heat really was intolerable, for me it was because of the burns which covered about 30% of my body in the strangest patterns imaginable. I would post a photo of that too, but I'm not sure about how appropriate that would be, or how frequently I want people laughing at my distorted tans. Food will suffice.
Speaking of food, let's move on to my next trip and some of the best meat I've ever had - fried liver in Edirne (northern Turkey). At a friend's birthday party Jackie mentioned that she was planning on attending an oil wrestling event in Edirne, to which I chimed in that I had wanted to go since I witnessed camel wrestling the year prior. She urged me to join, and I did the same to Kate and suddenly we were a group of six - five girls and Rob. Yet another overnight bus was ridden, and another groggy morning lived, but this time we arrived to quite a sight - a number of animal statues contained in glass cases in the bus terminal. Afterwards, Jackie, Katie and I were the representatives who went to buy the tickets at the stadium while the others wandered the town trying to figure out how we would get to Istanbul that evening. It was one of the strangest things I've ever seen: shiny young men in leather capris everywhere, old men making bets, and cows roaming wild. After waiting for an old man in front of us to finally ante up the 20 TL he just didn't seen to want to pay, we each bought our 50 TL tickets. We opted out of the 70 TL seats, our reasoning being that a) we weren't knowledgeable enough to deserve those seats b) we were too cheap for them.
Essentially, Edirne is a sweet little Turkish town which used to be very important during Ottoman times as it was the capital prior to that honour being bestowed upon Constantinople (Istanbul). The history between Bulgaria and Turkey is quite interesting too, and one which I knew little about before moving there. This area forms part of Thrace or "Trakya" in Turkish. Many Turks had history in Bulgaria but were basically forced to move back to Turkey after numerous attempts at Bulgarisation, which resulted in them having to change their names and then ultimately being shifted out because of mounting violence toward the large Turkish population. In the 1980s hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian Turks left Bulgaria to move back to Turkey due to the increased violence and hatred they felt they were facing. A number of them settled around Edirne (supposedly), and are also presumed to look more European. I was even mistaken a few times as being a Turk of Trachian origin because of my unique accent and light features (by students in Ankara). In any case, contemporary Edirne has a beautiful river, pretty downtown and a number of nice mosques including the Selimiye Camii... The highlight of course though is Kırkpınar - the oil wrestling contest that dates back to the mid 1300s!
So the oil wrestling itself has quite a long and varied history. The prizes used to mainly be comprised of livestock; however, Ataturk changed all that. In order to modernize the event he decreed that the prizes should (in European fashion) be medals or trophies. In addition, over time the rules have changed a bit, like how long matches can last for. In the past, for example, they could literally go for days while nowadays there's typically a 40 minute limit. So how does this wonderful sport unfold? Hundreds of men all gather on the grassy areas of the Edirne stadium in order to get slathered in oil. There are professional yağcıs whose job it is, is to walk around and make sure the men are oiled up at all times. Unlike how this would probably unfold in North America (women in bikinis winking at cameras and being grabbed by men), in Turkey it's men who do this job usually and who wear uniforms and take it quite seriously. This was nothing like how I imagined it, trust me. As well, there are many different categories so you have everything from the BÜYÜK BOY for example, who are bigger and slower to the küçük boy who are more lively since they're smaller and typically more agile. What it amounts to is men grabbing frantically in order to get their hands down each others' pants so that they can get a grip and effectively pin the other to the ground. I can imagine given the tons (literally) of oil used that this is no easy feat.
I found this whole event highly entertaining, but unfortunately a lot of Turks don't see things the same way. Funnily enough I had people tell me they were disappointed that I gave into this type of outdated cultural farce of sorts. They don't see it as entertaining, but rather just an attempt to preserve a culture that's no longer in tune with contemporary Turkey. I don't see it the same way. I see it as a part of the Turkish history. The country was created in 1923, but it wasn't built from nothing. Anyway, I decided it would be worthwhile to try to catch the wrestlers from a closer angle, so with a friend we entered the wrestlers' gate (with no great fuss, really). While in there I started snapping photos and really just trying to take in everything I could, including the lacerations all over the backs of many of the wrestlers - it didn't look that painful from far away! At one point I noticed that there were no other women around, and soon after a female police officer approached me. The only thing she said was, "bayan yasak" - women weren't allowed (in that area). I smiled, took some more photos and then left. Getting up close with the wrestlers was worth it, no question. There are so many events and traditions in Turkey that are male dominated; it shouldn't be surprising yet somehow it still is. Even at night in the smaller towns, it's the men who are out playing tavla or drinking çay while the women are nowhere to be found. Gender relations - definitely something I'd love to look at in more detail in the Turkish context.
After we'd had our fill of sitting around for a few hours in the close weather in the stadium a few of us set off in search of meat. Wrestling will do that, won't it? Make you crave meat... This is the point at which I had the most delicious liver I've ever had, as well as an interesting dessert that looked like squash, but was actually a form of helva. Later on we went to Istanbul, which took 4 hours (normally it should take about half, or less that time). We had quite the night out - celebrating the streets, broken sidewalks and basically our first and last trip together. I made friends with a little green man who became my accomplice as I performed a number of stupid stunts like trying to jump onto a motorcycle which was behind a gate, picking up a metal road block pylon and trying to hand it to a man who was (at that time) riding a motorcycle or running away from the group desperately in search of magnums and cookies. Everybody seemed to enjoy my antics. The green man stayed with me the whole night, and I even took him on a tour of the Bospherous the next day (luckiest straw man ever, I'd venture to guess).
Later that night, when everyone had gone home after the bar/club except Rob and I we lived quite the strange events. I ended up getting into a minor fight with an employee at a bar, because I was offended that he wouldn't accept that we spoke Turkish and he had said something I took as very rude - I told him he had no honour. We then continued on our way past a very seedy neighbourhood, to which we then returned so Rob could eat something at a specific restaurant he had heard of. It happened to be across from a sex club. This meant that I sat there watching some disturbing stuff while Rob waited inside (for what seemed like forever) for his wrap. In the process I watched a North American man loudly yell that these women were too old; "where are the 12 year olds?" he earnestly asked. I held back my fists... and vomit, for that matter. After that perverse encounter, I then watched a prostitute do coke on the entrance counter of the club. What a night! Thank goodness my encounter only came as close as my creepy spying on these events from across the street, while Rob silently waited for his meat. Shortly thereafter we began the long trek home (to the hostel) near Galata Tower. We slowly walked the length of Istiklal, happily praising the beauty of Istanbul's never-ending nightlife. I've never seen such a vibrant city of such a size at night. Hvar, Croatia is a party island, but Istanbul is significantly larger and still has the same feel except amplified - from spontaneous street concerts involving accordians to people being carted around like sacks of potatoes, it's a crazy vibe. The next day was far more tame, but still fun. I'm going to reminisce about these trips and my friends, and the sites I've visited for decades to come (assuming I live that long). Sunday involved a series of thoughtful walks with Kate to some of my favourite sites, after a lunch with Kim (who had taught with us last year). Life moves on, people change but the memories remain.
A final anecdote I'll share about my last trip to Istanbul, that I thought was quite funny. Istanbul is a city of chaos - there's always people everywhere, and at times it feels that nothing ever stops. Nothing can ever be brought to a standstill. So, while walking down Istiklal Caddesi (the biggest and busiest pedestrian street of all), a dog caught our attention because it had stopped right in front of the tram to do its business. The best part was that the tram honked, so the dog moved two feet to the left and continued. Of course it didn't move out of the tram's way, so all those people on the tram and the crowd that had now formed stood and sat around waiting impatiently for this dog who clearly was experiencing performance anxiety to take care of his scatological matters. I couldn't stop laughing. People think themselves so important, and sometimes it takes a bit of dog poop to bring them back to earth.
So to conclude, I'll tell the tale of my final trip to Southwestern Turkey. Cynthia, Eilidh and I decided to tour around some of the more beautiful areas before leaving: this meant two nights in Kaş, one night in Patara and one night alone in Fethiye. It was one of the hottest trips of my life (temperature-wise, at least). We couldn't stroll much as the temperature didn't really allow for it, but we did swim and spend lots of time on the beach. At night the temperature cooled and we were able to go out.
The second day involved a day trip to Kekova, where we proceeded to kayak over a sunken city - more accurately beside the ruins of once important cities. We kayaked for hours, and my partner was the guide. I didn't realize how hard it was going to be on the forearms, wrists and thumbs - I expected to be a failure based on my lack of bicep strength, and nothing else - I was mistaken. We had a lot of fun kayaking around each other, and yelling out taunts. Eilidh and Cynthia had opted for the same kayak, which is why I was assigned to the guide. In kayaking, three's definitely a crowd. My guide kept me entertained by being critical of every single subject I broached. I mentioned his job, and how beautiful the location was - he asked how I'd feel if I had to do it every day. I then said that we had just come from Antalya, which was quite a lovely place too, to which he laughed and then railed on about its misgivings. He told me that apparently the Russians flock to this area, especially on Sundays because they come to see where St. Nicholas was born and grew up (nearby), and then also like to see the sunken city as a bonus. We were kayaking on a Sunday, and it was evident that this man was not a liar. As we kayaked along, boatloads of Russians would speed by, snapping photos of the ruins and us in the process - red faced and wet from their boats' waves. We finally settled for lunch in a town called Kaleköy, which has a Lycian half sunken necropolis around it and a Byzantine castle overlooking it. The view from the top was stunning, as I tried to capture in my many photos. It was one of those places where you arrive, and just stop. You can't do anything but sit and stare for a few minutes trying to come to grips with the fact that views like this can really exist.
We later moved on to Patara, which is famous for being the longest stretch of beach along the Lycean way (a gorgeous hiking trail all along Southern Turkey). It's supposed to be about 18 km of white sandy beach. The weather was so hot that even in flip flops walking along the sand was killer, so we settled in about 200 m from the boardwalk. There would be no exploration for us. We had fun playing in the water, while Eilidh waited on her lounger because she had fallen and cut herself as we were arriving. Cynthia and I attempted to jump high five each other and failed. We also played in the waves, and she laughed as someone walked by, smiled at me and then turned around and splashed me. It was great just playing in the water. The greatest part is knowing you have friends who you can basically have fun doing anything with: whether it's jumping over baby waves, dreaming up rap songs or discussing feminism. It makes you want to jump for joy ;)
I left the two ladies in Patara, and went off by myself after a very relaxing night's sleep in the Flower Pansiyon in Patara. I went to Fethiye and stayed at the same place as last year - Vgo's. It's a gorgeous location overlooking the marina, and also has a swimming pool. The hostel employee remembered me from last year, except that this time my Turkish was considerably better so we could have real conversations in Turkish. After chatting for a while with him, I went to the center of the town to wander alone. I ended up getting into quite a long conversation with a jewelry store owner who concluded that in spite of everything (all the politics and religion) we're all human. I love travelling alone partially because I can go where I want whenever I want, but moreso because I find myself more often than not involved in long conversations with people who typically have similar conclusions - they want to learn about others, and they want to share their stories. People who have time for others see life in a very awe-inspiring way. I like listening to them, because it makes me feel hopeful for the future.
I later went off in search of the castle, and some other ruins, which I never managed to find. I did find the theatre this time though, which I hadn't seen before! Dinner was spent alone, as was my quick stint at a bar after (mainly so I could watch the ships docking) and jot down some thoughts. Being alone shouldn't be seen as a shame, it should be embraced. I never understood that when I was a teenager. The thought of going to even a movie alone horrified me, and now I can better understand its function. That being said, I'm too social to be alone for long and when I went to Rhodes (the Greek island) I joined forces with some fascinating families.
I showed up to Rhodes feeling quite shaken, as the hydrofoil we took there had encountered really choppy waters. Even though I had drugged myself I kept coming to and then falling back asleep again because a loud German lady wouldn't stop yelling. Her son was busy vomiting and she wanted pills for him, but for some reason she was going about this in the most obnoxious way possible. It meant that she kept waking me up, which made me nauseous. In any case I arrived without real incident. I immediately found a synagogue, and linked myself up with an English speaking tour group. The tour guide it turned out was from Sea Point, which is where I'm from in South Africa (and everyone else on my dad's side too). He spoke to us about how the Jewish community was treated under the Ottoman Empire (very well), and then subsequently under the Italians before finally the Nazis invaded. The community was decimated, and at this point there are only about 10 Jewish families on the island, all of whom have been encouraged to move there from mainland Greece. It's amazing how vibrant these communities were, and how it's only symbols that are now left - a menorah, photos or tefillin. The Jews of Rhodes were quite varied, although mainly speaking Ladino there was a mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews which meant that traditions merged. I was fortunate enough to meet the one living survivor of the Rhodes Jewry, who had been sent to Auschwitz and then later lived in the Congo and Italy. He spoke to me in Spanish/Ladino, and because I was the only person fluent in it I acted as translator. It's really interesting being put in a situation where you feel comfortable asking a person about themselves without actually knowing them - formality disappears when you have that much admiration for someone and they're so humble. His story was incredible. It took so much bravery to be able to survive; not just physical strength, but mental courage. It took him decades to feel comfortable enough to share his experience, but now in his old age I think he sees it as a duty. We have to preserve culture, and more importantly share stories so that people understand the depths and dangers of ignorant hatred. Speaking to him made me miss my own family greatly; my grandparents including my granny who just passed at the age of 97 and also our family friends in Canada who have always been like family to me. It's true that with age often comes wisdom. After all the work I've done studying the Holocaust in Germany and Poland, you'd think I'd have become a little less emotional when faced with situations like this at the synagogue in Rhodes, but it never fades. The overwhelming grief of what happened never dissipates.
I spent the rest of the day in Rhodes with two Jewish families who were fascinating to talk with. We discussed business, and also human relationships in general - how people find happiness and meaning. I don't think I can find words to express how happy I feel while travelling alone to be taken in like this, to be included. As a lone traveller sometimes you crave silence and solitude, but when you find a group with whom you can instantly bond it's an amazing thing. As the jewelry store owner said, we're all human after all...
My mother has a suspicion that dolphins will one day show us up as the most intelligent creatures of all, but for now I think I'll rest comfortable knowing that there are many, many smart people out there - be it in a massive city like Toronto or a tiny town like Patara, there are people who shine as brilliantly as the night stars.

Posted by madrugada 15:01 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

East, West and Center!

The last 2 months...

all seasons in one day

So, I haven't been able to bring myself to update in a while; however, the frequency of my posts is in no way representative of my travel patterns. Since April, I've been to: Istanbul, Eskişehir, Trabzon, Fethiye and Beypazarı.
I've also taken to discovering more of my own city - Ankara.

Istanbul - I was once again reminded of its chaotic, yet intoxicating nature. The purpose of my trip was to visit my friend Derin, who was coming from Canada. The journey involved an overnight train, which was actually a fairly pleasant trip once the infants stopped wailing. I woke up around 5:30 am to a gorgeous view of hills that we were sliding our way through (it was quite misty out). From the time I left my house to the time I finally met Derin, it took a total travel time of 13 hours. I was exhausted yet there was no time to rest, and so I left my backpack and we travelled. We started off at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, which is worth a visit for the spectacular view alone! It looks like nothing special from the outside, much like a factory, but the permanent exhibition had some gems and we both really enjoyed strolling around the temporary exhibition which was about the loss of nature due to pollution and industrialization. The pieces all had gorgeous landscapes, but there was always garbage scarring it in some way. We continued on to wander through Ortaköy, with its wonderful mosques and beautiful cafes. I tried one of the typical waffles, while Derin chose a Turkish coffee. The highlight was when we wandered through a tiny plaza that was filled with campaigning posters for the AKP (political party), and a woman walked up and proceeded to bash the AKP as best she could. After that, she pointed to one of the volunteers and said that she hated those people. She explained to us that the only people who supported the AKP were religious and traditional - not the kinds of people she wanted anything to do with. We smiled and tried to edge away as we weren't interested in getting into a heated discussion with either of the women. At this point the volunteer had wandered over and explained that she too hated "the other", in this case the more modern segment of the population perhaps? It was a strange experience, but very illustrative of Turkish politics and society. The result of the June elections? AKP won. In any case, Istanbul was mostly about seeing my friend. Sunday, I attended a church service, which was a very spontaneous decision. It was a Catholic church, I think, and mostly attended by Filipino immigrants. I didn't speak to anyone, but the service was interesting from what I gathered. It was a rushed trip, and made me realize that unless I'm in top form it's not one I'd like to repeat too often.

Eskişehir - a student's paradise. I had already been here before, but this time Cynthia, Kate and I decided to go so that we could also travel on to Kütahya, a place known for its hot springs. We didn't succeed, as the trains were packed and so we had to leave later than anticipated. As it happens, we went during the city's street festival. We decided to stay the night - a wise choice! We had a lovely time wandering the streets and listening to the live music everywhere. There also happened to be a salsa show that night, so we saw a star performer live. While watching we also played truth or dare jenga, which involved some of the funniest incidents in Turkey thus far. Suffice it to say that this city is a wonderful weekend getaway from Ankara; not because it has historical sites or wonderful museums, but because it's calm, relaxing and really pretty. You can even take a gondola ride on the canal (which we did)!

Trabzon - This city was once important, but now it's the least appealing I've been to. It was beautiful at times, because of the green. Even throughout the dirtiest parts of the city there were always trees everywhere, which was wonderful. It is raining constantly there, so it's not surprising that it should be so fecund. Two friends and I travelled together. It's a 12 hour bus ride from Ankara, which we took together. These bus trips are tough, because they're exhausting. You arrive at your destination completely drained, but it's morning and you have such a short time that you need to get going immediately. We went off in search of the Russian market, which involved a lot of walking and a very minor reward. It was filled with tacky goods that could've been purchased in Kızılay markets in Ankara. Within the city proper the most beautiful sight we saw was the Ayasofya, which was built in the 13th century. The city itself has been of great importance at different points in time, like during Ottoman times, or beforehand even after ancient times as a trade port, but now it looks decayed. The main trade that's done there now is prostitution, from what I gather. Unfortunately my friends and I were exposed to the darker side of this, as it must have been assumed by many of the men there that that was our reason for being there. We were harassed orally, and my friend was also sexually assaulted, which was perverse. I have never felt so uncomfortable in Turkey as I did there. It was also surprising just how few women we saw wandering the streets compared to the number of men (in certain areas of the city). At night we went to a bar, and once again I was surprised to see that there were two sections: one for men and one for groups of people (mixed, men and women or just women). This was the first time I'd ever seen something like it, but I wasn't bothered. I did notice that although this bar was packed, the streets were fairly empty by around 10 pm, and that there was definitely a shortage of bars and night clubs in the city. This has now been confirmed by a friend of mine who lived there for 8 years. Anyway, the highlight of this trip was seeing Sümela Monastery, which made everything worth it - the horrible men and the depressing weather. This monastery was built into the side of a steep cliff above a valley, and it really is spectacular to see from far away and up close. It looks to not have much depth, but then once you climb to it you see that there are courtyards and it's quite something. It was built in the 4th century and has been through quite a few rough times, always to be restored again. The mosaics in the rock church were amazing, but I was unable to get the information I would have wanted. I was told that apparently the mosaics were moved, but why? And from where? They were still in amazing condition really. If I were to go to north eastern Turkey again, I would probably skip spending any time in Trabzon proper and instead go just to the monastery and some of the natural conservation sites a few hours outside of the city. Apparently Rize isn't a bad choice for a weekend either, particularly if you're a tea aficionado!

Fethiye - a place for beach, sand and wind! I don't think I'll ever forget Fethiye, because I went paragliding there. It was one of the strangest experiences I've ever had. I went to Fethiye with Cynthia, Eilidh and Brian (Cynthia's boyfriend). The four of us had discussed paragliding briefly before going, but none of us did any research into it. When we arrived (after an overnight bus) on the Saturday morning, we were exhausted so we relaxed at the hostel, which was incredibly luxurious, and decided we would try paragliding if at all possible as well as a boat trip to Kelebek Vadisi. We set off for Ölüdeniz, and by the time we got there I already wasn't feeling very well. When they decided to go on a boat trip for the day, I chose to stay put at the beach alone rather than be motion sick as well as full of stomach cramps. This was probably a wise decision as the waters were rough to start with they told me. I spent the day lounging on the beach, surrounded by bright red, topless and mostly overweight British tourists. I was genuinely surprised to see so many British tourists there, and also that they weren't wearing their bathing suits. I later spoke to a local about this, because I wondered how the Turks felt - this doesn't seem to really fit with their cultural habits after all... He told me that generally speaking the locals go to other beaches, but that they don't judge these people by the same standards because after all, they're from a different culture. It was a very diplomatic response. In any case, I had no problem with my neighbours for the day as no one even spoke to me really. I got to read "Dune" on the beach and occasionally brave the walk to the water (over a lot of very uncomfortable pebbles, stones and rocks). I should have worn sandals, but instead I wore sneakers. The temperature was hot - about 36 degrees. I tried to avoid the sun, but even so I was extremely burned by the end of the day. One of the times when I was trying to avoid the sun, I hid out in a bus shelter and ended up chatting with the Dolmuş coordinator for quite a while. By the end of it I had secured a sweet deal for my friends and I for paragliding, which we did Sunday morning. Since we went with the coordinator's friend's company, they reduced the price by about 30% for us. This is yet another reason why I love this country. If you speak any Turkish, they're so genuinely happy and appreciative. I'm not sure whether it's because so few people try, or whether it's because they recognize that it's a tough language to learn; but, I've found people really kind (usually!) when I try to speak with them in Turkish. That being said, one thing that I find difficult is when they comment on their perception of my level and I'm left unsure of how to respond. This can be both negative and positive at times. When comparing us yabancı to each other it usually results in frustration, as people are very vocal about how they think we should speak and who speaks how. At this point, having now lived in Turkey for 10 months I can say that typically I can carry conversations, but I've given up hope of fluency because I think I've lost my idea of what it means. Back to the beach! On Saturday night we wandered into town and had a nice dinner at the marina, watching the boats floating and the stars shining. Sunday morning we set off for our paragliding expedition. The scariest part was the drive up the mountain because the driver didn't seem to mind the curves or the lack of road guards. I spent the ride conversing with the instructor beside me. We talked about politics and tradition. We decided to do the jump together. He put me in my suit and gave me my clear instructions: you'll run off the cliff, and make sure you don't stop running until I tell you and then you can sit comfortably and relax. I did as I was told and we glided. I was in front, sitting there, with a complete stranger, 2000 metres above the Aegean Sea talking about Australia. We glided and it was gorgeous. It was an incredibly peaceful experience, not like the adrenaline I had anticipated. We sat and talked, and smiled and took photos. It was incredibly strange because it felt like I was suspended in time. The minutes passed but I couldn't feel them nor could I feel the movement until I took off my helmet, at which point the wind rushed by and I felt better. By the time we came to land, motion sickness had hit me (as always!). During the landing he had to pass me a bag for fear that I'd vomit all over. The pathetic part was that we landed on the beach strip where people were standing to watch the paragliders come down, and instead of landing gracefully and jumping up and down with joy or even waiting for my friends, I landed and then ran off to the office to lie down and settle my stomach. I was fine within a short period of time. We then went for a hearty breakfast - I had toast. Due to the number of British tourists everywhere, the restaurants all offer British food, which was kind of a bit of a treat. My friends were able to eat meat that they wouldn't normally have. In Ankara bacon costs 78 TL at the supermarket for a small package that would probably be 10$ at the most at home; so, that was a treat for them in Fethiye. We spent the afternoon at Kayaköy. It's a village that was basically abandoned during the population exchange of 1923 between Greece and Turkey. It was then quite severely damaged by an earthquake in the 1950s; however, the buildings are still fairly intact, particularly the two churches. There also seems to be a sort of small artist commune there. I can't really express why it was unique, but it really did feel like we were walking through a ghost town. There were hardly any other people wandering, and the houses were all half ruined, but still standing. Once we hit the top of the hill and looked down it was an especially eerie feeling. There were many experiences that struck me in Fethiye and its surrounding areas. I'll return at some point, I'm sure.

Beypazarı - this small town is about 1.5 hours outside of Ankara, or less if there's no traffic. For such a proximity to Ankara, it's surprising the number of local dishes they have including stews, salty cookies (consistency much like South African rusks) and its own special baklava. Basically the reason for coming to this town is the shopping. They're well known for their inexpensive but beautifully designed silver jewellery. It lived up to its reputation. It's also quite pretty because of its nicely preserved Ottoman style houses, which line the valley and its surrounding hills. It's worth a visit if you're in Ankara. I'll probably try to go back a few more times next year, but I'll make sure to take less money next time :)

Next post: more photos, and more descriptions of Ankara itself! This will have to wait though as I'll be heading to Canada, America, Poland, Germany and Croatia for the summer!

Posted by madrugada 12:07 Archived in Turkey Tagged beaches art cities istanbul trabzon Comments (0)


Southeastern Turkey

I spent the past week exploring Southeastern Turkey with Amy and a group of Turkish tourists. The tourists were all based in Istanbul and Ankara; however, some have been living in Germany and Holland, so it was an interesting experience. There were four non-Turks total: myself, Amy, and two men (one Australian and one American) - so we represented four/five different English speaking countries between the four of us.
I found that because of my foreignness and my desire to speak Turkish the group appreciated me like a toy or a pet. This affection increased even moreso when I fell ill. Basically, I'm not going to bother with chronological order; I just want to document some of the highlights for me.

Going East I had heard stories from my Turkish friends and colleagues about the dangers and the poverty, but what I found amusing was that most of them had never been. Regardless of this, I'm sure that in some way their comments had an impact on my perceptions. It's inevitable.
There is no question that the food is unparalleled. We spent part of Tuesday in Gaziantep, which is well-known for their dessert, specifically baklava, but there's a lot more to it too. In the city, we wandered through the market, where I've never been offered so much free food before. Everyone was kind and extremely generous, even when I repeatedly purchased nothing. Generosity is key, but gluttony is a massive vice.


I ate a considerable amount. Amidst my eating, I visited an extremely well designed museum, which had a history of Gaziantep as well as British and French occupation. There were signs in both English and Turkish, as well as nicely designed art. They chose to incorporate different forms of media like video, text and images. However, the lighting was quite dim and it was only one corridor, which isn't the best for circulation. Anyway, I found the text regarding Armenians particularly interesting - how the situation in the early 1900s was framed. In North America we hear it one way, here (obviously) it's written differently. In any case, the view from the top was pleasing to the eyes. One of the funniest parts of the tour was that it was all in Turkish; a language in which I am far from fluent, when it concerns ancient mythology, history in general or anecdotes - all of which are far too abstract for my functional abilities. I found it amusing half the time trying to listen and piece bits together, or ask the bilingual people for snippets; however, by the end I didn't bother and chose to wander freely instead. It's a bit of a shame as I didn't learn nearly as much as I could have, but on the other hand I had the experiences that I chose and wanted. I'm content with this taste test of the east and I know now where to return.


The highlights for me were: Gaziantep, Nemrut, Hasankeyf and Diyarbakir.

Gaziantep I've briefly described, and in addition to all of this I found it clean, which I like. Many of the places we went to, and the roads along the way were covered in litter. The roads themselves were often in awful condition, particularly as we got further east like toward Batman. It was quite comical as on numerous occasions the bus was held up in traffic jams caused by goats or cows. Far from the life I lead here in Ankara. We also saw far more beggars and street vendors than I see here; in Mardin, for example, I was followed by children who wanted money from me. The experience was unsettling. In Mexico Dave and I had experienced an attempted robbery by children, and it's awful. You feel angry with them, but pity them at the same time and then feel stupid for having those emotions. Anyway, this happened on Thursday, and I was extremely hungry, tired and dehydrated - compounded with the feeling that children were going to rob me I returned to chat with bus drivers, not entirely impressed with Mardin. I had walked the streets in the main area of old town, seen the buildings all made from the same material, and some beautiful views, but it didn't feel like it had much character to me. The conversation with the bus drivers centered around people coming from all different backgrounds in the east (Arab, Kurd, Turk and "foreign"), and how this affected their job-finding ability. The trip was filled with many interesting conversations actually. I feel really lucky that I went on it with Turkish people, as I was able to hear their opinions and stereotypes.


The day after Gaziantep (Wednesday), we spent the late morning in a tiny town where I was the only person to opt out of taking a boat cruise around a lake to a completely submerged mosque. I get motion sick. I, instead, chose to rent a bike and ride around town in my purple dress. I went up and down the same streets and hills (yes, the town was that small). In my wanderings I discovered my own mosque, which was half-submerged under water - I'm not sure why. It was eerily beautiful. I asked permission to enter and walked along the makeshift platform. Not such a bad idea, a half under water prayer area; almost seems more natural. I also met with some locals, with whom I discussed the dangers of children climbing on roofs. A hot topic of conversation, clearly. After returning to the bus, I ate a tiny bun. This infuriated the parasite, which had been squatting in my stomach and about half an hour to an hour after leaving the tiny town we had to make an emergency stop. The time had come. After a tedious afternoon, I ended up being taken to hospital in an ambulance. This is where they determined that I had a parasite (which I hope by now is no longer the case). My stomach still didn't let up, and it caused some pretty serious shakiness. I felt cold as ice, shaky and dizzy. They searched for my veins, found them and took blood. I was terrified that she had done something wrong, as it's never taken as long to draw blood; it wouldn't come. The surroundings weren't comforting. I've never been in a hospital, which looked like that one or a hospital toilet that looked quite as abandoned. The positive experience I can draw from this is that now I've seen a glimpse into public health care in one of the more developed eastern towns. They did the tests, and hooked me up to an IV in the meantime. Intermittently people walked up to look at me, due to me foreign appearance. Fortunately one of the tour guides was with me, so I didn't feel quite as bizarre as I'm sure I would have otherwise. The novelty factor for me was the age of all of the employees. The nurses and doctors all looked younger than me. Overall, I think that they were effective, but at the time I was deeply concerned. Maybe appearance isn't everything, after all? ;)

After taking pills the problem still wasn't solved, and the next morning I was highly afraid of taking the bus. Things worked out ok, and I'm still taking the pills (I will be yet for another week - so let's hope they get the job done). Bad timing is all. The trip itself was culinary based, unfortunately. I watched others eat the most delicious looking foods, while I had to stick with plain biscuits, bread, rice and powerade for the next 4 days. It was fine though; the trip was enjoyable in so many other ways that my biscuits definitely didn't put a damper on it. They just caused slight energy loss. It's surprising how tiring sitting on a bus can be.


One down side to the tour guide/bus tour option is that you don't determine how long you stay in a place for. Hasankeyf is one of the regrets. Ricky had mentioned it to me ages ago, as a must-see due to its future non-existence. The plan is to build a dam, which will cause the destruction of this town. It has an interesting history which includes Romans and Arabs; it was an important stop on the silk route. What I found stunning were the caves and the citadel. It has a massive river running through/beside it too, which also adds to its wondrous appearance. My plan is to go back and explore Hasankeyf, Batman and Diyarbakir - there's too rich a history not to. Diyarbakir I want to spend more time in, particularly talking to locals. It has a very reputation in Ankara. I had watched an interesting documentary prior to this trip about children from that area being arrested for throwing rocks at military; I want to look more into that. There's always something more to look into in this country, as it's so vast with so many different pasts and issues. There were also some entertaining arguments between fellow participants. At one point many of them wanted to change plans to visit the Syrian border, while the couple behind me was intent on visiting another site of ancient ruins. The Syrian border won. We arrived, got out, got back on and left. Slightly pointless, but then again so was my strong desire to take a photo of a sign just because the town is named Batman :)


After Diyarbakir we took a really enjoyable ferry ride across a small lake to our hotel. We slept all of 3.5 hours perhaps before waking up at 2:30 am yesterday to go up Mount Nemrut. Amy wore flats, which was quite a funny sight. It was extremely difficult to breath walking up to the top and I've never felt my heart beat so fast. I think my lack of sleep, food and motion sickness from the minibus combined with the elevation caused the issue. Amy and I both had our disabilities, which meant we sat down and waited for a while while all the old couples hobbled past us smiling as they went. We did eventually make it to the top, and it was worth it.


The sunrise over the mountain tops was gorgeous, and the status were quite a sight as well. It reminded me a lot of Massada in Israel, where I had also braved the early morning to watch the sun in its majesty. It wasn't nearly as cold there though; at Nemrut there was snow all over, and the walk up was actually quite icy at times. Amy in her flats had a time of it, but we made it back safely. The ride afterwards involved some discomfort, but I was fortunate to have a good who didn't mind having me as a companion in the front seat.

There's a lot more to say about this trip, because the more I think about it the more I remember. We visited ancient ruins, monasteries, bridges built by Roman emperors, world-famous mosaic museums and more. Everywhere we went there was a story, which most of the time I couldn't understand, but I tried to appreciate. Even with the language barrier, I was still in awe at times of the sheer distance between the times when these sites were built and their continuing presence.

In May I'll go to Istanbul and Trabzon, perhaps Beypazari as well. In June and July I think I'll try to return to Diyarbakir, Hasankeyf and Adana (which had a much more tropical and peaceful ambiance than expected). This country continues to amaze me. I wish my base wasn't in Ankara sometimes, due to its boring nature; however, it is a blessing for bus travel. I also wish my job wasn't to teach, but rather to travel. I suppose for that all I need is to find myself a Sultan :)


Posted by madrugada 12:35 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

The last two months

New year!

I haven't updated in a long time, clearly.
Since my last fall, I've gone on a number of trips. In November I went on a week long trip to Antalya and the surrounding areas.
It wasn't the best trip; however, the scenery was gorgeous and the people were wonderful.
Antalya itself isn't a very nice city, but the old quarter is and the views are spectacular as it has mountains as well as water (it's on the Mediterranean I believe).


Nearby there's a town called Olimpos, which we also visited. Near there we saw Demre, where Santa Claus is supposedly from. This kind of killed my childhood, but that's alright. The highlight for me was visiting the Chimaeara. Unfortunately I've been extremely lazy and haven't bothered to research most of the places I've travelled to - aside from looking briefly at highlights of where I should make sure to go. Apparently these flames (the chimaera) have been burning for thousands of years on this mountainside emitting methane gas; however, it's said that the source is unknown. There's a connection with ancient gods too, but that much I didn't get.


Funnily enough, I went on a mini tour, but it consisted of me and one other English speaker. There was a small Turkish family who also went, but they also seemed fairly confused about what this tour entailed. We arrived at the location and received no instructions or explanations, so we all just wandered up the hill, went looking for knowledgeable folks, couldn't find them, took in the sights and headed back down hoping that the van to deliver us to Olimpos would still be there (fortunately it was).

The woman at the hostel was surprisingly appropriate for me at the time, as I was quite upset and she ended up telling me some very personal story about having to overcome physical obstacles (being bedridden), and how she coped. It's amazing what people get through; it's also shocking how open people are to sharing when you're a stranger. In the long run though, wouldn't you rather divulge your most personal secrets to someone who you'll probably never see again?


I received a lot of advice on that trip, both solicited and not - as well as an impromptu marriage proposal from a waiter who I unfortunately burst into tears in front of. I also led my friend on a camel ride, since the worker decided I could clearly manage steering a camel on my own. It was a diverse trip, but I learned a lot about Turkish culture and actually improved my vocabulary two fold.


Side note: we also spent a day travelling to Side, Aspendos and Pergemmon which was well worth it. I suggest googling and looking into these sites, as it's really interesting.

From what I can tell, in Turkey, people are decidedly positive about the future, and when there's uncertainty there's a sense of letting things naturally fall into place. You hope for the best, but you deal with what you get. It's a similar experience regarding death. I've gone through an unfortunate series of events in the past 2 months, including a death in the family. I mentioned it briefly to a friend, since it was unavoidable, and she seemed slightly confused. Pragmatically, she told me to stop worrying and that death happens. You remember the deceased loved one, but you don't dwell. There are times here when I'm struck by similarities between cultures, whether it be Turkish and Mexican or any others. People are people in the end after all.


In December I went on some more enlightening and relaxing journeys. I happened to watch the Mevlana in Konya, which was an amazing ceremony. From what I gathered, it all began because of Rumi, who was like a philosopher monk but decided that instead of silence he wanted to use music and dance to inspire others and share his beliefs. His mentor at some point disappeared, reappeared briefly and then died leaving Rumi broken hearted. Quite possibly as an homage to him, he began spinning/dancing - in order to express his grief.
Again, this is what I took from the guide, but supposedly the ceremony as it's held now was initiated by Rumi's son. The idea is that the men take off their black jackets at the beginning, and begin spinning in order to let their souls ascend to heaven. When they finish the ceremony they put them back on, and are once again with the spectators. Everything is symbolic. It was mesmerizing. There was a feeling of unity, but at the same time each person was following their own pace and had no conscious need or desire to acknowledge those in the surroundings. Drifting through in waves, all following the same steps but at different paces.

"In anger and fury, be like the dead"... "Either appear as you are or be as you look" - these were the two quotes by Rumi which resonated with me. Maybe at a later date I'll explain why.


After Konya, I travelled to Pamukkale for Christmas with Cynthia. I was really glad to get away for a night, and it was appropriate that the two of us went together. I can say that I think it's the most relaxing vacation I've had in Turkey. The place was excellent for Christmas day, because there were no crowds and we scaled a small mountain which is covered in limestone and looks like the setting for a Father Christmas film. We spent our time wandering through ruins after walking up through the thermal springs, which were lacking in water and also not very hot (apparently it's best to go in Spring or Summer for that, although then you need to navigate through the sea of people). We discovered a path on a hill, and were led by a stray dog through some more ruins and past some tombstones. I found the church we saw really interesting, because of the symbols marked on it and also the way that the arches had managed to survive over time. We spent the night walking with some locals of the town, who we got into a bit of an argument with. I think occasionally cultural differences cause conflict when it relates to perception of gender roles. It was fine though, and in the end it provided some entertainment. We finished the night off with some tavla, a very common board game, which I had never played in Canada (backgammon, it's called in English). We also managed to visit another town nearby where we didn't see much, but we enjoyed our time wandering.


January 1st, I started off the new year with a trip to Eskishehir with two girlfriends from Bilkent. It was also a very peaceful trip. We spent the day wandering the pedestrian streets, looking at the river which ran through town and so on. We went searching for the museum; however, it was closed, so instead we wandered into an artists' studio and spent about an hour chatting about animals, cookies and war with the men who worked there while sipping on some tea. Their work was beautiful; they made limestone creations, including monstrous pipes, one of which I almost bought as a novelty gift for my father before realizing that it would just reaffirm his false belief that he is in fact Sherlock Holmes. We wandered through some more shops, and then headed to a nearby park which has a gorgeous vista of the whole city. I want to go back. It also helps that I met a really sweet medical student who lives there. Funnily enough, I had met him the night before, and then when I went to his city he stayed in Ankara, but I saw him that night before he went home again regardless.

Life has been a lot better. I think there are many factors, but one is going into the city more frequently, which also means meeting more people. When I meet Turkish people who don't speak English, it finally feels like there's some kind of challenge here. Life feels more like a game. I need to decipher, and so do they. What meaning can we share? It's gotten to the point where I've pretty much made up my mind that I'll stay on another year. I want to learn Turkish, and I've been saying this since I arrived, but I think now that CELTA is over I'll make more of an effort. I hope, at least. My new year's resolutions last year failed miserably, and I've already been doing horribly at a few of mine so far, but inşallah this changes.


Anyway, to sum up, my final trip (before France and Morocco next week) was to Ephesus and Selchuk. The point? To watch camel wrestling. This may seem odd coming from someone who for 5 years was a vegetarian (I gave it up about a month ago, which is a whole other topic for an entry). This trip entailed two overnight buses, and a lot of walking. I saw a mosque, ruins, museums and some beautiful little streets in the city of Selchuk. Ephesus itself is ruins; it's only about a fifteen minute bike ride away, which is what my friends and I did. It felt wonderful riding a bike on a Saturday afternoon.

So, I spent the morning wandering alone while the others slept. I then met some people at the hostel, partook in conversation while waiting for my friends, and then we headed off. I have to say by far the most impressive part was the library. The stadium was also incredible; it took about 60 years to built and could seat roughly 45 000 people. I can't imagine what it must have been like to watch gladiators fight. I'd rather not in any case. After our wandering, we headed off to find the Seven Sleepers. After this we ate the most delicious gozleme lunch I've ever had. It was tahini mixed with a variety of ingredients including walnuts and honey, but it tasted like rich peanut butter.


The next day was the most important, this was when we watched the camel wrestling. I was slightly skeptical about this whole spectacle as I thought there was potential for it to be cruel. In the end, I think it was alright. I mean, it was exploitative as any show involving animals performing for humans would be; however, the camels who didn't want to participate gingerly trotted off and that was that. There was one camel who had blood spewing from his nostrils and that was disturbing, to say the least. The camels were surprisingly agile. They typically wrap their necks around each other, get each other on their knees and then wrestle from that point. It's quite bizarre.


What I really appreciated was that this wasn't put on for tourists; this was genuinely a Turkish event. It felt like I had been placed in the middle of an entirely foreign culture, whereas I don't get that feeling often in Ankara (or particularly at Bilkent). It was predominantly older Turkish men in attendance, which some exceptions. They had brought raw meat, grills and garnish and spend the entire morning and afternoon out there picnicking on the hills while occasionally bursting into song or yelling at the camels. We also almost saw a human fight, but it rapidly ended when the one man's friends dragged him away.

This entry is ridiculously long, so I apologize to anyone who will read this. I'm sure I could have expanded on a lot more, but I just wanted to summarize some of my travels in recent months before I head off on my next adventure to France and Morocco on Friday.

Posted by madrugada 01:47 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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