Turkish Delights

January 26, 2010 at 10:43 am 10 comments



I watched with interest Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Istanbul being aired on the Travel Channel this month. It’s the second episode of the new season of his popular No Reservations show.

It brought back fond memories of my trip to Turkey in 2008. I could say that going to the museums, ancient ruins, and historical sites were worth every penny that I spent. But, like Bourdain, it was the food, the culture, and the people that blew me away.

In Turkey, they have a saying that it’s god’s will that brings a guest to their home. Therefore, it’s their solemn duty to treat every guest with utmost respect and hospitality. I found this to be true especially in the small villages that we visited. The Turkish people are warm and friendly. They are very accommodating and try everything to make you feel comfortable. Interestingly, not too many American tourists come to this place in the world.

We met our tour guide in Istanbul. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world. It used to be called Byzantium and Constantinople in the past. It’s been dubbed the crossroad of civilization where the west meets the east.

We strolled around this ancient city and sifted through many layers of its past.

Among the places that we visited were the Blue Mosque, the old Roman Hippodrome and Cistern, the Byzantine Hagia Sophia Basilica and mosaic-covered Chora Church, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, the Grand Bazaar, the Egyptian Spice Market, and the Ottoman Topkapi Palace and Harem.

By the way, harem simply means the sultan family’s private residence. You can blame your wild imagination if it conjures up images other than that. And while we’re at it, the sultan may have hundreds or thousands of concubines, but he doesn’t have a say who he can bed with for the night. It’s left to his mother to make the choice.

We also went to the public market where locals shop for food and other basic necessities. While walking around stalls, we met kids eager to pose for pictures and telling us to mail them copies once we were back in the states.

Istanbul is so rich in history that building a new hospital or hotel can be problematic. Digging oftentimes reveal ancient ruins. When this occurs, the question arises on whether to move on or preserve the past. It isn’t an easy one to answer by any means.

On the third day, we took an overnight train to Ankara where we met our tour bus and driver. in Ankara, we visited the Anatolian Civilizations Museum and Ataturk Mausoleum. the Anatolian Civilizations Museum is one of the richest in the world. It proves that the Greeks, Romans, British, French and Germans hadn’t “stolen” everything and left something behind.

It contains artifacts as early as B.C. 8000. What impressed me the most are the displays from the Hittite period (B.C. 1750-1200). In my estimation, the collection of artifacts, tablets, and seals shows a civilization at par with the ancient Eqyptians.

From Ankara, we drove for about 6 hours to the Cappadocia region and stayed in Mustafapasa. It’s a small village of 500. We were probably the only American tourists during our stay there. We met with the local people and explored the countryside.

We visited early christian churches carved from caves. We hiked through a valley for four hours. It wasn’t a cakewalk. The trail was uneven and slippery and filled with lush vegetation. It involved climbing up hills using both hands and crossing creeks balancing on logs used as walkways. I slid once while going downhill. I should have worn shoes with better traction.

We had lunch at the home of an elderly woman and her daughter both widowed. Our guide met them several years ago when he was stranded in the area during bad weather. When he knocked at their door and told them that he had no place to stay, he was invited to spend the night. It turned out to be the beginning of a special friendship between them. Her house has now become a familiar stop on his tour.

We were served traditional food. Nothing fancy. But it was very good. Bread. A salad composed of tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers. Home-grown vegetables. Rice and beans. Very little meat. Fresh fruit for dessert.

Lunch was followed by having a conversation with the two women with the guide interpreting. We were impressed by their frankness and humor. We learned that both of them were born in the house where they now live. They want to visit America, but they think it’s impossible. They consider America farther than the stars. While they can see the stars, they can only imagine America. They lament that more and more young people are leaving the village for the big cities. Running water and electricity are modern life’s luxuries that they can’t live without now that they have them. And so with hot water made possible by solar power. Wearing a veil isn’t only a sign of modesty but it’s very practical. It offers protection from the sun, keeps the hair clean while working in the field, and prevents hair strands from falling on the food while cooking. Daughters choose their husbands, but, strangely enough, sons don’t have that privilege. The mother would have to choose their wives. Otherwise, they won’t be happy in their married life.

We also visited the underground city of Kaymakli that early christians used as hiding places from their enemies. It contains several floors and narrow tunnels that you can navigate only by crawling. If you’re claustrophobic, this one is not for you.

On our last night in Mustafapasa, we were treated by a luxurious dinner and entertained by local musicians. At one point, everyone in the group was asked to get up and dance with one of the musicians. When my turn came up, I pretended to strip. I smelled my armpit, pulled up my shirt, and slowly took off my belt. The audience roared. I didn’t expect my gyration would generate that kind of boisterous response. When I unbuttoned my pants, the noise got louder. When they realized that was as far as I’d go, things started to quiet down. I could hear some folks heaving a sigh of relief.

While still in Cappadocia, we proceeded to the village of Guyelyurt and stayed in an old monastery converted into an hotel. We had an opportunity to go around the village and interact with the locals as they went about their daily life.

We had an audience with the local imam in a christian orthodox church converted into a mosque. Incidentally, a lot of the christian churches were converted into mosques during the Turkish-Greek population exchange in the 1920s. The imam is young, clean-shaven, and dressed like a regular guy. He said imams receive their commissions from the Turkish government and get paid a salary. During our conversation, he reiterated that Islam doesn’t promote violence. Killing civilians is against the Quran. Suicide is never allowed. He dismissed the rewards of 72 virgins for martyrs in paradise. Why wait? he asked. Why not now?

By this time, more than a third in the group started feeling sick that included diarrhea. I had been fortunate not to be one of them. I took every precaution including using bottled water even when brushing my teeth. I also heard that beer and yogurt are good for fighting germs in your stomach. Since beer isn’t always available in a muslim country, I ate a lot of yogurt and drank ayran, a drink made of yogurt, milk, and water.

In any event, whenever you’re in a big city, it pays to be always on the lookout for Macdonald’s. Not to eat, silly, but to use their toilet facilities.

From Cappadocia, we drove to an old silk road Caravanserai and then headed to Konya, the most conservative city in Turkey, where we spent the night. We visited the Mevlâna Museum where the tomb of Mevlâna Jelaleddin Rumî is enshrined. It’s a place of pilgrimage for muslims because Rumî is a saint. It also displays a relic of Muhammed’s beard, encased in glass. I saw pilgrims poke their noses into the glass. I did the same but didn’t feel anything.

From Konya, we drove for six hours to Antalya, a city on the Mediterranean coast of southwestern Turkey. It was here that tourists started to show up in big numbers. They were mostly Russians, French, and Germans. There must be Americans around, but I hadn’t seen them. We spent most of the first day on the Mediterranean aboard our private boat and had lunch at sea. Those who could swim, swam, while the boat was on anchor. Those who couldn’t, watch.

After two days in Antalya, we took the 6-hour bus ride to Pamukkale, a tourist attraction in southwestern Turkey in the Denizli province. It’s famous for its unique geological formations, hot springs, and historical remains of the ancient city of Hierapolis.

After spending a night in Pamukkale, we took another 6-hour bus ride to seaside Kusadasi. Along the way, we visited the ancient site of Aphrodisias for the impressive Greek sculptures and city ruins.

From Kusadasi, we drove to Ephesus and marveled at the ruins of this ancient Roman city. it used to be the trade centre of the ancient world and religious centre of early christianity. It was here where the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, spent her last days on earth. It was around this area where St. John died. It was here where St. Paul started spreading christianity into the adjacent cities and regions of Asia. It was also here where he wrote four of his letters: Galatians, First Corinthians, Philemon, and Philippians.

I noticed a lot of stray dogs and cats among the ruins. They seem to be dependent on tourists feeding them. Each dog has a tag on their ears noting when it was last vaccinated. Just in case the dog bites you, the authorities would know right away if it’s lethal to you or to the dog.

In Kusadasi, some members of the group went to experience the famous Turkish bath. It’s interesting that women are required to go naked all the way while men can maintain their modesty by keeping their shorts. I didn’t go for it. It wasn’t because of the cost but it’s the feeling of being touched by another man somehow appalls me. I guess I still have a lot of growing up to do.

Tour ended in Kusadasi with a farewell dinner. The following morning, I headed to Izmir and took a plane to Athens where i stayed for four days before heading back to the u.s.

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. AC  |  January 27, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    awwww… makes me wanna go to turkey. nice shots! 🙂

    btw, what they do to stray dogs is quite interesting (tag-vaccination), i hope the same is done here in the philippines where we see a lot of askals.. dangerous. tsk.

    Reply
    • 2. plaridel  |  January 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm

      ac:

      you kidding? stray animals don’t last very long in the philippines. they always end up as pulutans. 🙂

      Reply
      • 3. AC  |  January 29, 2010 at 8:00 am

        madami pa din. sa north na lang naman ngayon pinupulutan ang doggie. here in manila maaarte na mga tao ayaw na ng doggie. hehehehe

        Reply
        • 4. plaridel  |  February 1, 2010 at 2:26 pm

          ac:

          ah, that would explain why so many askals are roaming in manila nowadays. pakawala ba ni lim o ni atienza?

          Reply
  • 5. fortuitous faery  |  January 28, 2010 at 12:11 am

    i saw that episode, too!

    wouldn’t it be great if every country had that same philosophy/mantra about tourism? that way, people would travel more and experience other cultures.

    Reply
    • 6. plaridel  |  January 28, 2010 at 12:01 pm

      fortuitous faery:

      in the final analysis, i think it’ll all depend on us. as long as we keep an open mind and realize that there are alternatives to things we’ve been accustomed to back home and that these alternatives aren’t necessarily better or worse, we’ll be alright. having said that, we still have to be careful. there are ruffians wherever you go.

      Reply
  • 7. Ruchi  |  January 28, 2010 at 9:55 am

    🙂

    WoW! you should start a travelog… It was wonderful and helpful description of place…

    And nice pictures too…

    Btw, tht yogurt drink called ayran..there is something similar that you get in india, except its sweet and its called lassi – one of my favs!

    Cheers,

    Reply
    • 8. plaridel  |  January 28, 2010 at 12:02 pm

      ruchi:

      turkey is a great place to visit. i don’t think i’d be back, though. life is short and there are other places i want to see before i kick the bucket.

      i’m familiar with lassi as it’s served in some local indian restaurants in our area. i like it, too.

      Reply
  • 9. onur  |  February 10, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Hi,

    This is a realy interesting story. I am trying to put up a website about Turkey. (iwasinturkey.com) It is about people’s experiences in Turkey.
    I just wanted to ask if you would be interested in publishing some of your articles on my website with referral links to your website.
    Let me know what you think via iwasinturkey@gmail.com

    Thanks,
    Onur

    Reply
    • 10. plaridel  |  February 10, 2010 at 6:17 pm

      onur:

      permission granted. feel free to use whatever you think will be useful to your website.

      Reply

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