Turkey - September 15, 2000
Merhaba and greetings from Turkey! Although unintentional, I saved
the best for last. My five weeks in Turkey have been phenomenal. It is
the perfect end to an amazing year of travel, and a dream come true.
Friends of mine who have traveled in Turkey told me wonderful things
about the country and people, but this still didn't prepare me for how
awesome it would be. The Turkish people are more warm, friendly, helpful
and sincere than in any other country I've traveled in so far. The
helpfulness was almost overwhelming at first, especially after coming
from Greece, the least friendly and least helpful country I've
The delicious Turkish food brought back a flood of wonderful memories
of meals with my Armenian grandparents. And, as my grandfather was born
in Kayseri (central Turkey), and lived there as a young child, this
stimulated a great deal of interesting discussion with people who asked
about my background. It also brought very sad faces upon the realization
that he left Turkey under terrible circumstances - war between the Turks
and Armenians - a war that no one wants to remember. The people today
really seem to promote peace among all nationalities and appear
genuinely sad and hurt to be reminded of the terrible wars in Turkey
that occurred years they were born.
There are many visible reminders that Turkey is a Muslim country, but
in the west, the young people are far more liberal in their religious
views and practices than I had expected. I didn't meet any that go to
prayer or follow the strict religious practices, but instead they say
they just believe in being a good person and just doing the best they
can to be kind to their families, neighbors and communities. I saw and
felt these beliefs acted out daily.
One of the most wonderful aspects about Turkey is the "soft sell"
approach the vendors have. They often seemed more interested in helping
me find my way somewhere, or just talking with me, than selling another
carpet or getting me to eat in their restaurant. This made the overall
experience of exploring a town or shopping in a market very pleasurable.
In addition to my fantastic experiences with the people and food,
there are many other memories that I will always have of Turkey... apple
tea, backgammon, carpet shops, barber shops, tea houses with colorfully
patterned pillows to sit on, Turkish baths, ancient ruined cities, warm
blue seas, gorgeous coastlines, unusual landscapes, large women in loose
patterned clothes wearing scarves to cover their heads, smiles, farms,
tractors, mosques, and the loud prayer calls five times daily in every
village, town and city.
The only thing I will not miss about Turkey is the constant chain
smoking. I've been shocked at how prevalent smoking is in most
countries, but I've never been anywhere as bad as Turkey. I constantly
wondered how much this contributes to their short life spans and aged
faces. Many young people told me their parents were on their "last legs"
at age 60 or 65 and that the average person lives only this long. I
don't even think they believed me when I told them how healthy and
physically fit my parents are, that my Armenian grandfather lived to age
90, and that my great-grandmother is going to celebrate her 100th
birthday next spring. I was also surprised many times when the subject
of age came up because I found that the men almost always look more than
ten years older than they are. Twice I was in conversation with a man
thinking he was somewhere between 45 and 55 only to find out he was 34
or 35. It was amazing, and sad. Both had a pack of cigarettes in hand.
Arrival to the Agean Coast
My brother Steve traveled with me for the first two and a half weeks of this trip. From the Greek island Samos, we took a ferry to Kusadasi, a pretty seaside town, but overdeveloped as a tourist resort and cruise ship port. But even here, in "package-tour central", every person we came in contact with was so friendly and helpful! Immediately after getting off the ferry and paying for our visa, one man tried to direct us to his hotel. We declined, but asked him where we could find a cash machine. He practically walked us there (the first instance of many like this during my next five weeks). He seemed to forget about the hotel proposition and just wanted to be sure we found the cash machine that actually worked. I took out 50,000,000 Turkish lira before I realized what the exchange rate was. It was only worth $77.00. Steve thought that was pretty cool to be a "millionaire" in an instant.
The next person we met offered to drive us the 20 minutes to his
pension in Selcuk, which was where we wanted to go. We asked "what if we
decide not to stay there?", thinking that he might charge us a fortune
for the ride (as we experienced very recently in Santorini, Greece). He
didn't even understand what we were asking! He said of course we didn't
have to stay there if we didn't like it. We were embarrassed for asking
and apologized, explaining that we had just come from Greece where
obviously things were quite different. From that point on, we started
letting down the guard we had built up in Greece and just enjoyed the
wonderful people, conversation and apple tea that was constantly being
offered. We were also continually grateful for the assistance everyone
gave us in our travels without our having to ask. My bag was always
being picked up and carried by someone and when we approached a new town
or bus station people would ask us where we were going or how could they
help us, and then point us in the right direction. Everything was easy
We really enjoyed this quaint town with so many outdoor cafes, carpet
shops and barber (berber) shops. Oh, and they are so clever - free
Internet access in many of these carpet shops. We didn't actually go for
that, but it was funny to be sitting at an outside cafe within a couple
of hours of our arrival and look over my brother's shoulder to read
"Internet access" on a carpet shop window. I couldn't help but smile.
Steve and I were hopeless nonetheless. We had both purchased small
carpets within three days of our arrival to Turkey. Now I'm pleased we
did as we knew it was the one souvenir we wanted from Turkey and we
really liked the woman who owned the shop. At the time, however, I
wondered if we should have waited a while.
Steve had the "berber" experience in Selcuk and said it was
fantastic. He got a perfect haircut, a neck and arm massage and complete
knuckle cracking. So many of the men just go in for a shave several
times a week and now we understand why! In addition to enjoying the
newness of being in Turkey and the pleasant town of Selcuk, we visited
the ruins of St. John's Basilica on the hill just outside of town (it is
believed that St. John came to Ephesus at the end of his life and wrote
his gospel here). Selcuk was also our base for day trips to Ephesus,
Pamukkale and the ancient settlements of Priene, Miletus and temple
complex of Didyma.
This site is phenomenal. It is considered to be the best-preserved
classical city on the Eastern Mediterranean. I think it is probably also
among the top places in the world to get a feel for what it was like to
live in Roman times. Unfortunately, it was also like Disneyland. High
season is not the time to visit. I've never been to a place with so many
people touring it. It seemed like 10 cruise ships must have dropped off
1000 or more people each. This made it difficult for me to fully
appreciate it. We later heard it is better to go at the very end of the
day just before it closes or on a Friday afternoon when the cruise ships
are usually gone. I also recently met someone who was there in October
and said he felt like he was the only visitor! That would be incredible.
Pamukkale is a three hour bus trip inland from Selcuk. This is the first
time we discovered how modern, comfortable and service oriented the
buses are in Turkey. There is an attendant that often serves water,
coffee or tea, and small cakes. He also comes around once in a while
with an alcohol-based liquid and pours it into the passengers' hands. It
has a wonderful strong lemon scent and dries almost instantly when you
rub your hands together. I guess it is just like our version of a
dry-wash hand sanitizer. It is especially nice because it helps mask the
body odor that can get bad on the buses.
Back to Pamukkale...its name means "cotton castle" and it does
resemble that. Actually, my first thought was that I was looking up from
the bottom of a small ski resort in late spring when the base is thin,
dirt is showing through in places and snow melt is flowing down in small
rivers. Even knowing that it wasn't snow, I was still surprised when I
took off my shoes and began walking up this "whiteness" barefoot. Rather
than feeling a cold slippery surface, the ground was fairly rough and
warm milky-white water flowed over my feet. Pamukkale was created by
thermal springs that left calcium deposits all over to form white ledges
with small pools cascading down a hill. It is so unusual - a natural
wonder - although a bit disappointing after seeing the postcards with
photographs taken years earlier when it was more beautiful. All the feet
trekking up and down the hill have certainly taken away from its
Priene, Miletus and Didyma
I read that Didyma is one of the world's most impressive temples and it
was my favorite of these ancient sites. Its massive marble columns are
spectacular. Miletus has a well-preserved theater and Priene has some
interesting ruins that are fairly spread out. It was nice to visit these
sites after being at Ephesus. They can't be compared, but at least they
weren't crawling with people. It was peaceful to walk around and explore
We stayed in Ilica because we wanted to windsurf in nearby AlaÇati.
It's a fairly quiet town and I especially liked it because it has a very
local feel compared to many of the towns we visited. It's in a pretty
seaside location with several hotels, but it doesn't have lots of shops
and tourist restaurants, and most of the people on holiday there are
from other parts of Turkey. It was easy to take a mini-bus to the
windsurfing area and also to nearby Çesme, much more of a tourist town.
(They call this type of mini-bus a dolmus, which means "full bus" and
they are almost always more than full!) I enjoyed this town enough to
return here at the end of my trip and do some more windsurfing before
returning home. Unfortunately the wind let me down, but I still really
enjoyed my stay.
The windsurfing area is about five kilometers outside the town of
Alaçati. It is a dry area with very a blue bay, and pretty in a
unique way. The water is very flat with a side shore wind. The reach is
only one or two kilometers, but at least that forced me to practice
jibes. When there was wind it was great and a perfect place for
practicing skills. It is also a fantastic place for beginners because
there is about 500 meters of shallow water. There are three windsurfing
centers, and I chose one of the two German centers by the advice of a
Turkish windsurfer who I met in Greece. The staff and equipment were
great, but sometimes I felt more like I was in Germany than Turkey. I
think I learned as much German as I did Turkish. We met a generous man
who owns a bar in Ilica and he took us on a tour of the entire area on a
day when the wind was bad. We visited several ruins, a small fishing
village, and the town of Alaçati, a well-preserved village of old
stone houses populated by Ottoman Greeks a century ago. Between the town
and windsurfing area is farmland. There are as many horse-drawn wagons,
loaded down donkeys, and men walking their goats, as automobile traffic
on these roads.
From Ilica I made a few trips to Çesme for a change of scenery, and
to find books and a cash machine. It is only six kilometers from Ilica
and is a cute seaside town full of shops and restaurants with a lively
atmosphere. It would be a fun place to stay for those who prefer some
night life. I enjoyed the local feel and tranquility of Ilica with short
visits to Çesme.
This is also a pleasant town and a perfect base for exploring the
Gallipoli battlefield. I didn't know much about this war and I've never
even seen the movie Gallipoli staring Mel Gibson so it was great that
our pension showed us a documentary before we took the tour. If we had
stayed longer we could have watched Mel Gibson's performance too, but
I'll have to catch that at home. In addition to the battlefield, we
visited the graves and memorials to the Turkish, Australian and New
Zealand soldiers, many still teenagers when they died. It was
heartbreaking to think about it, but the seaside locations are so
beautiful and peaceful I had a very difficult time even imagining a
horrible war happening there 85 years ago.
I typically dislike spending a lot of time in big cities, but Istanbul
is awesome! We primarily stayed in Sultanahmet, the heart of Old
Istanbul, and I absolutely loved it. It's a beautiful area and there are
so many fantastic sights. My favorites were the Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue
Mosque) with its intricately painted and mosaic tiled walls, and Aya
Sophya, the most renowned Byzantine cathedral. The smells of the
Egyptian Spice Market are incredible and the Grand Bazaar is huge and
fascinating. Although, we spent almost a whole day at the Bazaar and it
does get kind of old hearing over and over (like a parrot) "Yes please,
hello, can I help you, did I hear you say carpet?". I also thought it
was unique to take a small boat up the Bosphorus and realize that we
were between two continents, Europe on one side and Asia on the other.
Everywhere we went, people wanted to sell their wares, but they were
still so nice and used the same "soft sell" technique we found
everywhere else. Even in such a big city, people were especially
friendly and constantly helping us find our way around.
We owe the majority of our amazing experience in Istanbul to the
pension where we stayed. We were served a wonderful breakfast each
morning on the upper terrace, which had a great view of the Marmara Sea,
and the owners went above and beyond any service level I've ever seen.
One took Steve and me to his friend's wedding and then out with his
family afterwards. That was a great experience and a lot of fun. Another
took us shopping for a entire day to help us make final decisions on the
backgammon tables we were buying and to ensure we weren't paying too
much and buying them from an honest vendor. He also introduced us to one
of the most famous Turkish delight factories, which has been in business
since 1777. Steve also really loved Istanbul, so for him, this was a
great note on which to leave Turkey. From here he flew to London to
spend a week with his best friend and girlfriend before heading home.
From Istanbul I found an inexpensive flight to Nevsehir in the
Cappadocia region, which is almost in the center of Turkey. Unlike
Pamukkale, the postcards of Cappadocia cannot quite capture what a
unique and amazing place this is. It's famous for its amazing natural
rock formations. A thick layer of volcanic ash poured over the region
about ten million years ago and was eroded by weather throughout time,
turning into huge fantastic shapes (most memorable are the "fairy
chimneys" which amuse visitors because of their phallic appearance; they
even point straight up into the air). Throughout the centuries, people
have carved homes, churches, hotels, shops and even complete underground
cities into the soft volcanic rock.
I made my base in Gšreme, a small town that I really enjoyed and hope
to return to sometime. This was one of my favorite places in Turkey. The
weather was relatively cool and the landscape was fascinating and
beautiful. The pension I chose was on a hill, built into the rocks, and
I slept in a cave open on one side with a window. My room was awesome!
It would have been any child's dream room and was certainly mine for the
time I was there. The food was also awesome and the owner showed me how
to make mercimak, the lentil soup that is eaten throughout the country.
From Gšreme I visited a great deal of the region including other towns
such as Avanos and †rgŸp. My favorite places were Rose Valley, Ihlara
Valley and the underground cities, which are almost unbelievable. One of
these cities has eight different levels going deep into the ground. I
had a difficult time leaving and procrastinated for a couple of days
because I loved being there so much and probably a bit because I dreaded
taking an overnight bus to get to the Mediterranean Coast.
Arrival to the Mediterranean Coast
Turkey's Mediterranean Coast has some gorgeous coastline, beaches, and
bays with very clear water. It is also sprinkled with ruins. By this
time in my trip, however, I had visited enough ruins and castles for a
while. I just wanted to relax, read, enjoy the serenity and beauty of
the coast, swim in the wonderfully warm sea, and think about how to
maintain a more balanced life once I return home! Although my bus from
Gšreme arrived in Antalya, which is supposed to have a very beautiful
harbor, I immediately sensed "big city" and decided to move on right
away. I took another three hour bus trip west to the turn off to
Olimpos, where there are "tree houses" that sounded like fun. However,
it also sounded like a very young Australian party spot and I learned
from some of the locals of a very quiet and still fairly untouched place
called Çirali. So, I joined two Turkish women and we hitchhiked a
ride down the steep windy road to the beach.
Çirali isn't quite a village. It is mainly inhabited by farmers
and fisherman, who have recently started building pensions and
restaurants near the beach. There is a market, a couple of shops, and no
Internet access or cash machines. It is extremely quiet and beautiful.
This land is protected from big hotel development as the beach is a
nesting spot for the sea turtles to lay their eggs. The beach is long
and wide with nice waves. A short walk down the beach brought me to
Olimpos and I did enjoy wandering through its ruins. I also met several
young Australians there that morning, all very hung over. I think I made
a good choice. I hope to return to Çirali. It was awesome.
From Çirali I traveled west along the coast to Kas,
a fairly lively town with colorful fishing boats in its
harbor, a large town square and lots of teahouses, restaurants
and pensions. The tourists seemed to be from Turkey and
a variety of European countries. There are quite a few really
nice beaches within walking distance and short bus rides.
My best memories of Kas are sitting on the rocks just outside
of town, fishing with two very funny Turkish guys and watching
the sunset from there each night. I also took a really fun
boat trip of the area that went to some beautiful spots.
Fethiye and Ölüdeniz
traveled west along the coast again which had spectacular scenery,
especially from Kas to Kalkan. Fethiye seemed somewhat interesting, but
I decided to stay a few kilometers away in …lŸdeniz so I could be right
near its very popular beach. It is a fairly busy beach but fun to hang
out on because throughout the day there are paragliders landing there.
It's pretty watching them come down with the colorful spread of their
parachutes. I heard that ten years ago …lŸdeniz was a lot like
Çirali is today. It is now a very touristed spot full of hotels
and restaurants. It is still nice though, and fortunately I was there
in September, when many of the summer visitors had already left.
I found a great "backpackers haven" that was inexpensive, with fun
places for hanging out and a restaurant with fantastic food. From
Ölüdeniz I did another fun boat trip and tried paragliding (tandem) for
the first time. It was pretty cool, although it was just very peaceful.
I thought there might be some kind of adrenaline rush that I hear you
experience when skydiving, but it wasn't like that at all. The jump is
from 1760 meters, which is supposedly one of the highest paragliding
jump spots in the world. There are also good thermals there, ensuring a
long ride. I talked my pilot into taking me at sunset, so while the
thermals weren't as good, the views were excellent! The ride down was
still nearly 30 minutes.
From Ölüdeniz I traveled west again to Dalyan, another very
nice small town, partially on a river, with awesome Lycian rock tombs
all along its cliffs. It's a destination popular with Germans, so as in
Ilica, at times I felt more like I was in Germany than Turkey. My
pension had gorgeous gardens and a wonderful patio with tables along the
river where we had breakfast and afternoon tea. One day I took a boat to
the beach, about 10 kilometers down the river. This beach is another
nesting site for the sea turtles. I also joined six Turkish women on a
boat trip and enjoyed laying on the roof, visiting pristine quiet bays
and swimming in the very clear, warm water. Well, I definitely had lots
of time to relax, swim, read and think! Although I especially missed
Chris at this point, I enjoyed this part of the trip a lot as I was
constantly meeting interesting people and finally learning some Turkish.
Return to Ilica
After all the relaxation, I was ready for some stimulation
so I went back to Ilica with the plan to do more windsurfing
in Alaçati. I couldn't believe the warm welcome I
received from the staff at my hotel in Ilica and the windsurfing
center in Alaçati! Although the wind was non-existent
on some days and marginal on others, I still had a great
time with the locals I met and the other people who were
also there twiddling their thumbs on the beach.
My last memories of Ilica, and Turkey, will be sitting several nights
at a small "eatery" that sells Turkish pizza and Lahmacun (a very thin
layer of very fresh dough the size of a plate, covered with a mixture of
finely ground meat, tomatoes and spices, and toasted in a pizza oven).
The Lahmacun was wonderful and tasted exactly like I remember when I
often ate this with my Armenian grandparents. My grandfather was still
making it with tortillas when he was 90! The two cooks, waiter and I
managed to have conversations talking in our own languages and using
hand signals (like charades) and drawings on napkins to communicate. It
probably would have looked hilarious to anyone watching. I was fairly
used to this type of communication at this point because throughout my
travels in Turkey, I was constantly amazed at how people (usually the
women) would still want to carry on a conversation even if we couldn't
understand a word each other was saying! Smiles, nods and hand signals
go a long way. This time, the napkin drawings were a huge improvement.
What a perfect way for me to leave and remember Turkey. I couldn't ask
for a better ending to this fantastic year.
I hope you all have the chance to fulfill your dreams!
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