cappadocia day 2 ~ imagination valley, fairy chimneys (& hakan takes cathy to the local hamam)

Tuesday, July 27:  The morning is quiet, and I feel I am the only person alive in this strange rocky netherworld.  I linger in bed, taking pleasure in last evening’s memories.  Freya Stark’s quote echoes in my mind: “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”  Yes, it’s quite pleasant.  Quite.

my cozy room at the Antik Cave Hotel

my cozy room at the Antik Cave Hotel

On the terrace of the Antik Cave Hotel, I’m alone.  I wonder where Bob and Sezen are, but they’re obviously “honeymooning” this morning. Why not?  They should be doing such. The waiter brings me my breakfast and asks what I’d like to drink.  He is tall, very thin, but extraordinarily handsome.  His eyes are dark and a little sad.

a black cat on the steps to the terrace

a black cat on the steps to the terrace

I eat my breakfast alone, the effervescent bees hovering over and lighting on my orange juice, the apricot preserves on my bread, my sugared coffee.  I’m afraid I am going to bite into one that has landed on my food; I’ve done this before.  Once while hiking, I bit into a cracker and cheese with a bee on it; the bee stung the inside of my mouth when I chomped on it.  I spit it out immediately, the crushed thing, but it had inflicted its final sting inside of my cheek.  Ouch.   If you have done this even once in your life, you’re always leery of doing it again when bees are nearby.

the courtyard of the hotel...another angle

the courtyard of the hotel…another angle

I enjoy my breakfast on the terrace.  How can everything be so lovely here?  Every moment is a treasure.  I finish, and Bob & Sezen have still not emerged, so I head down to the courtyard, collect my journal, and sit on a bench in a small alcove off the courtyard.  I write, absorbed in my own (mis)adventures.  I really want to capture last night, before it escapes me, but alas, the head waiter’s name still eludes me.  Memories can be so slippery.  Suddenly the handsome Antik Hotel waiter is there, asking me about myself.  Where am I from?  I say I’m from America, from Virginia, near Washington, D.C.

my 1st night's room is not in a cave but near the outer door

my 1st night’s room is not in a cave but near the outer door

He tells me his name is Hakan, and he sits in a chair beside my bench.  He asks if I am married and I say I’ve been separated for over 3 years.  We haven’t divorced yet, but we are separated.  He doesn’t understand and I explain it a couple of times, but he says, I’m sorry, my English is not good.  He says, so are you finished?  I say, yes, finished. He asks me if I have children.  I say yes, I have 3.  They are 17, 19 and 26.  He says, 26?  But I thought you are in your 30s.  I laugh.  Well, thank you, but I would have had to have my daughter when I was 10 years old!  I don’t think he understands.  Oh well, it’s like communicating in Korea.  I’m used to this.  He tells me that tomorrow he will accompany his brother on the bus to Istanbul.  His brother will fly out from Istanbul to Tokyo, where he promotes Turkish tourism to the Japanese.  He tells me he has two brothers, this one going to Japan is the middle one, and his older brother is Selim, our tour guide from yesterday (and today).  He tells me Selim is 36 years old; Hakan himself is 26, the baby of the family.

the courtyard at the antik cave hotel

the courtyard at the antik cave hotel

Hakan asks me if I’d like to go to a Turkish bath, a hamam, in the mountains, this evening after my tour.  It’s where the local people go.  He says for 60 lira (about $40), he can take me.  I say, what will I get for the 60 lira?  A Turkish bath, a massage?  He says yes.  He says about it’s 25 km away.  I haven’t yet done a Turkish bath, and I know that hiking today I’ll get dusty and hot and tired.  Maybe the Turkish bath will be a nice end to my day.  But, I hesitate.  I might want to go back to the Dimrit tonight, to relive last night’s experience.  Possibly I can go there after the hamam; it shouldn’t be too late.  This sounds perfect, so I say sure, I’ll go.  I also tell Hakan I would like to arrange to go on the balloon ride tomorrow morning at sunrise.  I say I am willing to pay 110 euros through Turista, so if he can arrange it, I’ll be happy.  He promises to take care of it.  I also tell him that my room last night never totally cooled off, despite the staff’s assurance yesterday that it would since it’s a cave room.  In reality, my room is near the outer door and not really in a cave.

I take off for today’s tour. Selim is again our guide.  But.  Sadly, the group has changed.  Except for Bob and Sezen, who finally surfaced from their honeymoon cocoon, none of yesterday’s group is here.  We have 4 new people.  There are two young ladies from Hong Kong and there are two women, possibly older than me (?), who are from Brazil.  Eight of us all together.  Where, oh where, are the Italians and Brazilians from yesterday??  The two ladies from Brazil just arrived this morning on the overnight bus, and they haven’t even changed out of their street clothes into something appropriate for hiking.  One of the women is Sylvia, the other’s name I can’t remember because I ended up not liking her.  (Haha, I’ll show you!  If I don’t like you, I’ll forget your name!) … Hmmm… but I LIKED last night’s head waiter, and I forgot his name….. a sad state of affairs.

our group today: 2 girls from Hong Kong, Bob & Sezen and 2 Brazilian ladies

our group today: 2 girls from Hong Kong, Bob & Sezen and 2 Brazilian ladies

Selim asks us today if we have ever tried rakı, the official Turkish drink.  I raise my hand since I just tried it last night at the Dimrit.   He says it’s a clear brandy made from grapes and raisins and flavored with anise.  When mixed with ice or water, it turns milky white.  Turks often call it Lion’s Milk because of its color and strong alcoholic punch.  It’s similar to Greek ouzo.  Selim says the belief is that if you have one rakı, it’s good for the stomach.  If you have two, you will do the samba in the street.  And if you have 3, you will fly home on a magic carpet.  I think about last night and know that, even with one rakı, I flew home on the magic carpet.

devrent imagination valley & fairy chimneys

We head off to the Devrent Imagination Valley, where the volcanic rock formations are of such unlikely and distinguished shapes, that you can imagine they are animals: a crocodile, a lizard, Snoopy the comic strip dog, a squirrel, a camel, a bulldog, a dolphin, and other reptiles.  It’s like lying in the grass as a child and looking for animal shapes in the clouds.  It is already hot, but the air is dry so it’s tolerable. Selim quizzes us.  What is that?  What do you see there?  I never know which rock he is pointing at so I can rarely guess.  I see the crocodile.  I never see Snoopy.

the resting camel rock formation

the resting camel rock formation

an alligator shape in the rock formations

an alligator shape in the rock formations

rock formations at Devrent Imagination Valley

rock formations at Devrent Imagination Valley

Imagination Valley

Imagination Valley

more unusual rock formations :-)

more unusual rock formations 🙂

Devrent Imagination Valley

Devrent Imagination Valley

more rock formations at Devrent Imagination Valley

more rock formations at Devrent Imagination Valley

me at the devrent imagination valley ~ a lunar landscape

me at the devrent imagination valley ~ a lunar landscape

Some of the rosy cone-shaped rocks have flat mushroom tops on them.  Apparently the mushroom tops are a harder stone, the rock underneath is softer, so it erodes in the weather.  Differential erosion. Eventually the mushroom tops fall off, and then the real erosion to the cone-shaped stem begins.  Eventually, all the rocks will erode away to nothing.

I say goodbye to a resting camel rock, and we head off to see the Fairy Chimneys.  Apparently, there’s a myth that someone came across a fairy inside one of the rock caves, thus the name Fairy Chimneys.  Geologists call them mushroom rocks, or some such, and they were formed when erosion wiped out the lava that covered the compacted volcanic ash, leaving behind these stand-alone pinnacles. Some are as high as 40 meters, have conical shapes, and have caps of harder rock on their tips.  This park is one of the most beautiful places here in Cappadocia.  We hike through lazily, linger and lollygag.

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

land of the fairy chimneys

land of the fairy chimneys

more fairy chimneys

more fairy chimneys

what geologists call mushroom rocks

what geologists call mushroom rocks

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

Fairy Chimneys

hmmm....

hmmm….

on traveling alone…

Selim is not in a playful mood today.  I don’t know why.  Maybe he is thinking of his “imitation” fiancé in New York.  Maybe he’s really in love with her and misses her.  Anyway, the group dynamics are different today.  There is some kind of conflict going on between the two Brazilian ladies.  There also seems to be tension between the two Hong Kong girls.  Sezen and Bob are happy as larks, but sensing this tension between the two pairs of women, I am happy to be traveling alone.

the lone traveler

the lone traveler

I was so worried before I came on this trip about traveling solo.  In May, when I took a trip to Seoul, I had a miserable time alone, and it was only 3 days!  Part of the reason for my bad experience was that I was going through a hard time over a messed up “relationship” I had been involved in.  The weather was dreary and cold and, of course, I was in Korea, where no one EVER randomly strikes up a conversation with you.  I was also depressed over losing that person who I cared about.

Here, in Turkey, I love traveling alone.  I am on a quest for an adventure of any size, shape or color. Being alone invites adventure my way.  Many of the things I’ve experienced on this trip would have never happened if I had been with anyone else.  I love it!  It helps that I’m in a culture that is outgoing, energetic and a little on the edge.  I am planning a trip to China in September, and admittedly, since China is an East Asian culture, I’m worried about finding myself incredibly lonely.  Frankly, Asian cultures are simply not open to Westerners, in my experience.  I’ve been to three Asian cultures, Singapore, Thailand and now Korea, and I have found this reticence, this passivity, this near-deadness, this lack of openness, in each of them.  This is why I’m hesitant, and worried, about going to China alone.  As this trip will only be 6 days, I hope I can survive it.  I am going, despite this hesitation, because there are some things I want to see there, The Great Wall for one, and because it’s a shame NOT to go when it’s right next door and cheap.

I see the tensions between the two pairs of “friends” on this trip and I wonder how long after they return home they will remain friends.  It is difficult to travel with anyone.  You must be of like minds, or of like temperament, for it to be pleasurable to both parties.  I know I could never travel with someone really strong-willed or moody or too serious.  I couldn’t travel with someone who is uptight and headstrong.  I COULD travel with my friend Jayne, or Nani or Pat or Lisa, or with either of my sons or my daughter.  Mike and I used to travel together nicely as well, but being married you can NEVER have these kinds of adventures…  Simply put, there are many people with whom I would NEVER consider traveling.  Making this trip alone was the best decision I could have ever made!

the sales pitch & lunch in a cave

We head to a pottery factory in the town of Avanos to see the process of pottery-making. Crossing over the Red River, Selim tells us that this river is the source of the red clay used to make pottery.  Here, we get the sales pitch.  Every tour involves some kind of sales pitch.  In a country where 26% of GNP is derived from tourism, I can understand it.  But it does get annoying, nonetheless.  Avanos is now, and was historically, famous for the production of earthenware pottery.

the pottery factory

the pottery factory

I love the ceramics and am almost temped to buy 3 pieces for $190!  But the shipping back to the U.S. is $160!  I back out of the purchase.  It’s just too expensive.

a potter at the pottery factory

a potter at the pottery factory

We go to a cave restaurant, Uranos Sarikaya, for lunch.  I have a delicious lentil soup and eggplant kebab.  Today, the group is boring.  I feel boring.  I try to talk to Sylvia’s friend, who is a lawyer, but she’s not very friendly and I lose interest.  Sylvia herself is a teacher and lively and fun.  During the course of the morning, I have messed up several times with the Hong Kong girls by asking them about their lives in Japan (!!).  I think they ignore my blunder the first couple of times, but the third time, one of them says, WE’RE FROM HONG KONG!  I’m so embarrassed.  How could I forget?  It’s funny, right before I came to Turkey, I finished a great book called The Piano Teacher that took place in Hong Kong during WWII and 10 years after.  The book made me want to go to Hong Kong.  I told these girls about this when I first met them.  How could I have been asking them questions about their lives in Japan?  How???  What an utter idiot I can be sometimes!

lunch at the cave restaurant

lunch at the cave restaurant

a waiter at the cave restaurant

a waiter at the cave restaurant

göreme open air museum and pigeon valley

After lunch we go to the Göreme Open Air Museum, one of Turkey’s World Heritage sites, to see a nearly infinite number of churches, chapels and monasteries mainly from the 11th century, carved in rocks.  The Chapel of St. Basil, The Elmali (Apple) Church, The Chapel of St. Barbara, The Chapel of St. Catherine: cruciform shapes, frescoes in red of mythological figures, Christ, Mary, the saints.  We climb, we explore the cool or stifling interiors (each varies), we kick up dust.

A huge church carved into the rocks

A huge church carved into the rocks

more rock-cut churches

more rock-cut churches

Finally, we go to Pigeon Valley where we see boatloads of pigeon houses carved in the rocks.  Pigeons were important in Cappadocia, as they were in many places, because their dung made fertilizer.  By this time, we are all tired and sweltering.  We meander through the open air shops, sit on a couch overlooking the valley, sit at another table and drink cokes and Turkish tea, and then head back to our respective hotels for the evening.

Comfortable seats around the rim of Pigeon Valley

Comfortable seats around the rim of Pigeon Valley

Pigeon Valley

Pigeon Valley

Pigeon Valley

Pigeon Valley

at the top of pigeon valley

at the top of pigeon valley

sitting at the ridge of Pigeon Valley

sitting at the ridge of Pigeon Valley

relaxing in the shade at the top of pigeon valley

relaxing in the shade at the top of pigeon valley

Selim, who knows that his brother is taking me tonight to the local hamam, says the bath, where the locals go (!), is fed with hot springs right from the mountain. He thinks I will really enjoy it.

hakan takes cathy to the local turkish hamam

When I arrive back at the Antik Cave Hotel, Hakan is waiting.  He has arranged for me to move into a larger and cooler cave room for tonight; I’m happy since my old room was so hot. After moving my belongings, I throw some things in a bag, including my purple knit dress in case I go afterward back to the Dimrit.  Hakan carries a plastic bag filled with mystery items.  I tell him we must make a stop at an ATM so I can get the 60 lira to pay him.  He stops in Avanos, his hometown, where several guys are sitting alongside the street across from the bank.  He speaks to them as I get money.  I find out throughout the evening that he either knows or is related to nearly everyone in the area.

hakan driving to the hamam

hakan driving to the hamam

We begin our long drive in his old and iffy car, through the countryside and quaint villages of stone and terra-cotta houses; it seems longer than 25 km. At one point early on, Hakan mentions that his mother is ill; he can’t explain it in English but it’s something with her pancreas.  I remember the guidebook admonitions about men in Cappadocia who strike up romances with foreigners and then ask for money for sick family members.  I brace myself for a question about money, but it doesn’t come.

the view from the car on the way to the turkish bath

the view from the car on the way to the turkish bath

It’s a little awkward at first because I think this is just business for Hakan.  I have paid him 60 lira.  But he’s being a little flirtatious, as much as he can be in his limited English.  He keeps asking me if I am happy.  I say yes, I’m happy, are you happy?  He says yes, he is happy.  He is smiling a lot and looking at me.  At one point I pull out my camera and snap pictures of the scenery from the car.  He says, take a picture of me.

I snap him driving.  We come to a beautiful town on the hillside and I ask him to stop so I can take a picture.  He says, take one of me.  I do.  Then he wants to set the timer and take one of the two of us together.

hakan in front of the pretty little town

hakan in front of the pretty little town

I wonder, is it really possible to fall in love with someone in one night, when you know it will only be for one night?  When you know there is no future, when the age difference is too great, when you live in different countries, when you can’t even speak the same language?  I don’t know if it is really possible, but in this one night, I think I fall a little in love with this sweet man.

When we stop to take photos of the lovely hillside town, I think, Oh! This must be where the hamam is.  But no.  We drive right past the town; things start looking a little shabby.  There are shacks, dilapidated farms; there is trash here and there.  Hmmm.   We finally drive into a dirt parking lot; downhill sits a long, one story concrete rectangular building; its bright yellow paint is peeling off to reveal big hunks of gray concrete.  Perpendicular, to its left is another smaller concrete building painted, just as shabbily, in royal blue. Women in floral headscarves wander about, along with kids in bathing suits and bulky local men.  I am a little nervous about this place.  We walk through a passageway in the yellow building, where Hakan shows me the pool in the back.  It’s a long, narrow rectangular swimming pool, but it has seen better days.  There are two sections to the pool, and it is filled with men, about 50 altogether.  Not a woman in sight, except out in the parking lot, wearing headscarves!  I say, Hakan, I can’t go in that pool!  There are all men there!

I am thinking: This is a Muslim country!  I am a westerner.  As a woman, wearing a bathing suit & no headscarf, I cannot go into a pool full of 50 men!

hakan and me

hakan and me

Hakan calms me down.  He has a calm & sweet voice.  He says, it’s ok.  No problem.  Soothing.  He says, you’re a westerner; westerners come here all the time, usually later in the evening.  It’s no problem.  He takes me to a small dirty and empty tiled room to change into my bathing suit.  Thank god I brought my tankini that covers my stomach, and not a bikini!  I would have never had the nerve to go in with a bikini.  I change in the small room and put all my clothes in my bag.  I brought a measly hand towel from the hotel; it’s grossly inadequate to use as a cover-up to walk out to that pool.  I come out of the room, holding the small hand towel over my front.   Hakan goes into the same room to change into his bathing suit.  I am left feeling over-exposed in the passageway.

Hakan up to this point has been wearing jeans and a long sleeve white shirt.  This must be his work uniform.  In his bathing suit, the sharp edges of his ribs are visible.  He is so thin he is almost not there.  The hair on his chest and legs is heavy and black. He seems shy.  I hold up my hand towel, say, this is all I brought.  I wish I had a bigger towel!  He pulls a large towel out of his plastic bag and chivalrously hands it to me.  He takes my hand towel in exchange.

Before going to the pool, I ask him what I should do with my bag.  I am worried about it.  He says, I’ll put it in the car.  I say, please lock your car.  This bag has everything in it, my passport, my money, my credit cards, everything. Most importantly, my camera.  He says, No problem.  He runs to the car and is back in a few moments.  I’m uneasy about my bag being in his car.  But he seems not the slightest bit worried.

We get into the pool.  The water’s warm and the night air is cooling, so it feels especially good.  We soak.  I’m still not sure if this is just a tourist service by Hakan.  I feel comfortable enough, now that I’m submerged in the water, that I could release him from his “duty.”  Maybe he has friends here he would like to talk to.  I say, Hakan, if you’d like to go talk to your friends or something, I’m okay now.  He says, No problem.  I stay here with you.  We float.  We are in the hotter pool and he asks if I’d like to go to the cooler pool.  We go and it is cooler but still warm and we float in that one.  We race across the pool.  I beat him and he says, you are younger than me… You won!  We go underwater and look at each other.  He says, let’s see who can hold breath longest.  We go underwater and I start to crack up, so I pop up for air.  We laugh.  I speak English to a Turkish boy in an orange inner tube, but clearly he can’t understand me, so I say nasılsın? (How are you?)  He says iyi (good).  I’m happy.  I’m learning a few Turkish words.

on the way to the hamam

on the way to the hamam

By this time I feel relaxed and happy and I truly enjoy Hakan’s company.  He can’t speak or understand much English, but he stays by my side the whole time; he is taking care of me in his way.  He has a gentle but persistent nature.

We go indoors to another pool, where I swim up and down the length several times; he chats with a solitary man.  I say, I may as well get my massage now.  Hakan changes back into his work clothes while I stand outside the door, and then he walks me over to the royal blue building.  The massage room is an old tiled room with a large tiled HOT bath and an enormous tiled ledge.  Hakan says, I’ll be in the car.  I sit in the hot bath, but no one shows up and I get out of the tub because it is so steamy; I’m boiling.  Finally, a hairy burly guy in an orange-flowered bathing suit comes in.  He motions for me to get back into the bath.  I protest: It’s too hot!  He waves me back to the pool and leaves the room.  I sit in the pool and sweat profusely.

When he returns, he motions for me to get out of the bath and then to remove my bathing suit.  I point to the bottom.  This too?  Yes, he emphatically nods.  I’ve never had a Turkish bath before and I figure, OK, I guess this is how they do it.  I take off my bathing suit and lie face-down on the big ledge.  He comes back into the room and proceeds to scrub me vigorously with a scouring mitten covered in soap.  He scrubs and rubs.  The whole thing is disconcerting.  I feel it isn’t supposed to be like this, me totally naked with this man scrubbing me down.  After he finishes with my back, he motions for me to roll over.  I feel really strange doing so, because here I am lying totally bare and open.  He scrubs me all over the front.  Then he says to me, You have sex with him (meaning Hakan)?  I say, NO!  He says, You have sex with me?  I say, With you? NO!  He smiles this weird smile:  You sure?  I say, Yes!  He keeps scrubbing and I can’t help but notice he is excited!  He keeps scrubbing, but he doesn’t touch me inappropriately.  I figure the minute he does I will scream and Hakan will come running. IF he can hear me from the car….

Rub-a-dub-dub.  Again, he says, You sure, no sex with me?  He winks.  I say, NO!  Thank you, but NO!  Immediately I wonder, why did I say thank you?  I am way too polite!!  I try to be calm and cool and collected.  And really, despite his totally inappropriate comments, he never touches me in even a remotely sexual way.  Other than of course scrubbing the entire front of my body. Finally, he says, Finished!  And he walks out the door.  I shower, wash my hair, and put on my purple knit dress.  When I open the door, Hakan is standing right there.  I motion with my hair dryer that I’d like to dry my hair.  He takes me to a ladies’ restroom where the only outlet is in the open doorway.  I dry my hair; it seems surreal, my white hair is flying all around my head and there is Hakan standing outside the doorway, mesmerized.  I say, Hakan!  You don’t need to watch me!  But he doesn’t understand and he continues to watch.

As we drive back, I tell Hakan what the massage guy said to me.  I explain it 3 times before he understands what I’m saying.  He says, Oh no. That is a problem.  He asks, Did he do anything to you?  I say, No, it was fine.  He asks me again to repeat what the guy said; he says again, That’s a problem.  Please don’t say anything to Ibrahim (who runs the Cave Hotel).  I say, Don’t worry.  I won’t say anything.   But I’m a very laid back westerner.  I think it would be scary to most other women.  I wouldn’t take other women there, Hakan.  He asks again if the guy did anything to me.

along the drive to the hamam

along the drive to the hamam

Hakan asks me what my shampoo is.  Is it Turkish?  I pull it out of my bag. I bought it in Istanbul: Clear.  He says it smells good.  Then we drive in silence. Hakan finally says, Are you happy?  I say, Yes, are you happy?  He says, Yes.  We drive through a dark and deserted area on the way to Avanos, and he says, Are you afraid?  I say no, I’m not.  Why would I be?  He says, because there are no lights and no people.  I say, If I was by myself, I might be afraid, but you’re here, so I’m not.  When he finally understands, I think he is pleased.

I ask him if he could drop me somewhere in Ürgüp to eat.  He says, No problem.  Would you like to eat in a restaurant or take food out to a park?  I say, either one is fine with me.  So. I guess he is planning to have dinner with me.  We get to Avanos and he goes into a little take-out joint and orders some kind of meat in a pita.  While they’re making it, he takes me to the mosque next door to use the bathroom and to watch the Imam, who is his friend, conducting a prayer service.  We drive to the Red River in Avanos, walk through a field of grass and mud flats to a bench and eat alongside the river.  He tells me he thinks I’m a very sexy lady. He asks me numerous times, Are you happy?  I say, Yes, I am really happy.  Are you happy?  He says, Yes.

the red river separates Avanos from the rest of cappadocia

the red river separates Avanos from the rest of cappadocia

After dinner, we walk by the river and he asks if he can kiss me.  I say yes, of course.  I am happy he finally asks.  Lovely.  He wants to go for a drive and we do, to a secluded spot along the river.  After stopping, he decides he doesn’t like the spot after all, but his car won’t start!  He tries several times, and finally it goes, but he says, I should go home and get my father’s car.  So we drive down a dirt road to a 2-story terra-cotta house surrounded by billowy trees and he gets out, invites me to get out of the car.  A breeze stirs the poplars and the weeping willows.  His father walks out carrying a little boy.  He is genteel and kind and speaks good English, asks me where I am from, tells me I am welcome here anytime.

We drive in the father’s brand new Jeep-like vehicle and I say, I like your father very much.  I ask him, Who was that little boy?  He says, It’s Selim’s son.  I say, Selim is married?  Yes, Selim is married and has two kids.  They all live together in the father’s house: Hakan’s parents, Selim and his wife and kids, and Hakan.  I am shocked.  I don’t say anything, but I wonder what was that whole story about Selim’s “imitation” fiance??  Was it all made up?  Just a goofy joke? Or is he truly hoping to have this woman from New York visit him, despite the fact that he’s married?

the red river in Avanos

the red river in Avanos

We drive further and Hakan says, Will you take me to America with you?  I say, What would you do there, Hakan?  He says, any kind of work, driving, waiting tables, anything, it doesn’t matter.  He says he is studying to improve his English.  I can’t help but wonder if this is what he wants from me, just a ticket to America… Everyone here, it seems, wants something from me.

We drive back near the river and the river swirls by.  The Red River with its red clay, clay shaped for centuries into vessels and tiles and plates and bowls.  Hakan is a sweet and kind man.  His eyes are sad, but he seems happy and I’m happy and we don’t need to talk anymore to know that we both enjoy each other.  We sit, along this Red River in Avanos, the longest river in Turkey, that separates Avanos from the rest of Cappadocia.  We are in a world of our own; really I am in Hakan’s world, but I feel welcome here.  I feel like I belong.  Here.  In this moment.

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**** reaching for the sublime ***

Friday, July 23:  The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia sit on a hill in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul; their minarets seem to be man’s hopeful attempts to touch the celestial. Reaching for God, either Allah or Christ, some glorious being.  Almost all hotels and restaurants have rooftop terraces.  Up, up, up, we all want to go, to the skies, to a place of beauty, serenity, love.  This is Istanbul.  Stretching into heaven.  Stunning.

Hagia Sophia ~ reaching for the stars ***

Hagia Sophia ~ reaching for the stars ***

The Big Apple Hostel:

My first morning I climb 5 flights of stairs to the terrace of the Big Apple.  I am getting a very late start; I have slept till 10:00.  The terrace view of the Bosphorus Strait is amazing.  I meet the Turkish owner of the hostel.  He is with a lovely Japanese young lady named Tomoko who is living and studying in Stockholm, Sweden.  We talk and I find she is quite the vagabond; she doesn’t even know her next destination.

I like her very much ~ she’s soft-spoken, mature, and self-assured.  She doesn’t know where she will go, but she will go somewhere, wherever her heart carries her.  My trip is already planned out.  Next time I want to be more open to going wherever the universe wants to take me.  I want to learn from other adventurers about how to travel…. Later that afternoon, after the girls from the Anatolia Congress check out, Tomoko becomes one of my roommates.

breakfast on the terrace of the Big Apple Hostel

breakfast on the terrace of the Big Apple Hostel

Two sisters from the U.S. also check into our room. Last summer, they backpacked all over Europe.  This summer, they are doing the Middle East: Israel, Turkey, Egypt…  I can’t say they are my favorites; they keep to themselves and aren’t overly friendly.

I wear jeans and a long-sleeve shirt because I plan to go to the Blue Mosque and the guidebooks say you should cover.  I have a scarf in my bag.  None of it is necessary, it turns out, because the mosques all give you pieces of cloth to cover with.  I regret my decision on the jeans; it is too hot and inside of each place is no air-conditioning.  Of course.  These are ancient places; why should I have expected otherwise?

Hagia Sophia:

I go to Hagia Sophia; it is beautiful but breathlessly hot and steamy. The mosaics are amazing, the history and immensity overwhelming.  Originally known as “The Great Church” of Constantinople, it was later called Hagia Sophia (“Divine Wisdom”) by the Greeks.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

The Turks call it Aya Sofya (the actual pronunciation).  Emperor Justinian built it between A.D. 532 and 537.  In 1453, when the Ottomans took Constantinople, Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror turned it into a mosque.  Now it is no longer a place of worship; it’s a museum. It contains elements of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires and their religions, Orthodox Christianity and Islam.  Like Istanbul, it represents both East and West, all tied into one.  It represents all I love about Turkey ~ its Middle Eastern and European two-sided personality.

Ottoman fountain outside of Hagia Sophia ~ mid 18th century

Ottoman fountain outside of Hagia Sophia ~ mid 18th century

Anyone can read any guidebook about Hagia Sophia, but here are the things that impressed me most:  (1) When you enter through the Vestibule of Guards, there is a mosaic over the door that somehow survived the Iconoclast era, when all human representations were destroyed.  In it, Emperor Justinian presents a model of Hagia Sophia to Christ.  What’s so amazing is that this version of Hagia Sophia doesn’t have the minarets and has a cross on the dome.  It is how it was originally, before it became a mosque;  (2) its pure immensity.  Apparently the Notre-Dame in Paris would fit within its dome;  (3) everything is symmetrical and the dust-filled light creates a surreal atmosphere; and finally (4) the Ottoman calligraphy on the 24-foot-wide medallions is quite impressive and startling.

Mosaic in the Vestibule of Guards

Mosaic in the Vestibule of Guards

columned arcade of Hagia Sophia

columned arcade of Hagia Sophia

Stained glass windows in Hagia Sophia

Stained glass windows in Hagia Sophia

What about the sublime?  I can’t find it here.  In Hagia Sophia, I feel small and human and insignificant.  The place makes me aware of my own human weakness but also imparts a sense of man’s striving to reach something higher than himself.  But I don’t feel a desire to worship here.  Why?  I don’t know.  Maybe because of the heat and discomfort.  Maybe because of the immense scaffolding erected for a long-term restoration.  The space is dark and bulky, the light is filled with dust and the air inside is stagnant and hazy.  I feel the urge to see as much as I can see and escape.  I don’t do well in heat, this I have always known about myself.  I hope for a sense of the sublime, but here I do not find it.

the immense nave of hagia sophia

the immense nave of hagia sophia

I leave Hagia Sophia and go to the Underground Cistern, a huge underground reservoir dating back to Justinian’s reign in the 6th century A.D.  It is beautiful, lit by little torches at the bases of the 336 columns, but impossible to capture with my little Canon point-&-shoot camera.  Modern glass sculptures hang from the ceiling, adding a delicate beauty to the space.

Carpets or kisses?

I walk out from underground and a handsome Turkish man asks me where I am from.  I tell him.  He goes through the usual routine they all do: oh yes, I have a cousin in the U.S…. blah blah blah.  He invites me to his Turkish carpet shop.  At this point, I am sticky with sweat, my clothes are pasted to my skin; I think maybe I can go relax in an air-conditioned shop! (We all want something, don’t we?)  So I follow him.  I decide if his shop isn’t air-conditioned, I will turn around and leave.  But it is cool and he offers me a cup of apple tea.  Another very handsome Turkish guy, Yussef,  joins us on the Ottoman-style cushions with his vegetarian lunch; he offers me some and soon I am eating off his plate.  He has the longest eyelashes I have ever seen!  Yussef is charming, easy to talk to, and so handsome, there is no way I will leave. Not just yet.  The other guy disappears and as Yussef and I chat about everything under the sun, he asks if I’d like a glass of wine.  I say sure!

a stunning turkish carpet way out of my price range

a stunning turkish carpet way out of my price range

By this time I am quite entranced and firmly entrenched:-)  We talk and talk, probably an hour or so.  I am feeling quite relaxed.  There is no discussion of the carpets.  We talk about our lives; I tell him my story of Ahmed in Egypt.  I tell him how the Egyptians I have met are such liars.  He says maybe we are all liars sometimes.  I say, yes, but lying seems second nature to Egyptians, a part of everyday reality. I think they don’t even believe it is wrong. I tell him of my marriage, my children.  He tells me of his desire to put off marriage as long as possible.  He is 33. I think at his age, he is probably already married, but pretending not to be. I tell him about meeting a Turkish engineer in Korea, Kemal, who designs airplane wings, and I tell him I feel Kemal to be astonishingly innocent and unworldly.  He thinks it is sad. We talk about food; he says he is mostly vegetarian but he also likes fish.  I also profess my love of vegetables and fish.  He says he knows of a great fish restaurant I should invite him to later.  Hmmm…

Sultanahmet Park

Sultanahmet Park

I have to use the toilet; would he mind showing me where it is?  I go and when I come out, he is in the hallway.  He catches me glancing into a room with some beautiful carpets and he pulls me in, introduces me to some of the carpets.  I say I should go.  He takes me downstairs in the elevator and he kisses me.  I am slightly startled, but not really; he has been obviously flirting.  I figure he just wants to sell me a carpet.  Yet.  After 5 months in Korea where no man has even looked twice at me, I enjoy the male attention and the kisses are quite lovely.  I participate fully and happily.  He then takes me into another room and has his guys pull out some more rugs.  I am captivated by the carpets; I love these designs.  But I have a house full of gorgeous carpets already in the U.S.  I say, Stop!  Please don’t show me any more.  I tell them although they are all beautiful, I am not in the market for a carpet, so they are wasting their time.  I have to leave.  I walk toward the door.  Yussef follows.  He doesn’t pressure me at all.  Doesn’t ask what price I am willing to pay.  He simply asks me again if I am going to invite him to the fish restaurant tonight.  I say, what time?  He says 9:00.  I say, are you kidding?  He seems serious.  I say, okay, I’ll come back at 9:00.  Are you really going to be here?  He says of course he will.  I say, if I come back and you aren’t here, I’m going to be really irritated.  He says, I’ll be here.  Okay. I say goodbye and leave.

I never go back.  🙂

It’s all too confusing.  Does he want to kiss me or does he want me to buy a carpet? Which is it?  Carpet or kiss?  Too too confusing.  Probably it’s both.  Carpet and kiss … and maybe something else?

Goods for sale

Caps for sale

The Blue Mosque:

On to the Blue Mosque.  I pictured it being a brilliant blue ~ royal or turquoise ~ inside.  But the ceramic tiles are white with a blue design, mostly 17th century Iznik tiles.  The mosque is also decorated with non-figurative art: geometric designs, calligraphy, painted floral patterns.  Arabic calligraphy is mostly excerpts from the Quran or from the hadith, or the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.  A wood railing blocks off the area for male worshipers in the center; the women are relegated to a small back colonnaded space on both sides of the main entrance.  Low hanging chandeliers that originally held oil lamps now hold electric light bulbs.  It is quite beautiful altogether, especially with the multitudes of windows and beautiful streams of light.  It is much more light and airy than Hagia Sophia.

Me in the park with the Blue Mosque in the background

Me in the park with the Blue Mosque in the background

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque in all its glory

The Blue Mosque in all its glory

The light and airy interior of the Blue Mosque

The light and airy interior of the Blue Mosque

inside the Blue Mosque

inside the Blue Mosque

A self portrait of me in the Blue Mosque

A self portrait of me in the Blue Mosque

I want a picture of myself in the mosque but when traveling alone it is embarrassing to keep asking people to take your picture.  So  I find a ledge and set the 10-second timer and take pictures.  The pictures I take keep turning out awful, so I keep trying.  Some guy watches these feeble attempts and keeps chuckling, but he never offers to take my picture!

I leave the mosque and go to the Hippodrome, but I don’t even realize it’s the Hippodrome.  I think it is just a park.  Because I had a late breakfast, all I eat for lunch is a rubbery corn cob (like they make in Korea!!).  I go to the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum and before paying the 10 lira entrance fee, I ask numerous people if it is air-conditioned.  It takes 3 people before I finally get NO for an answer.  I leave.  I am just too hot to go into another sweltering building.

I go back to the park and look at my guidebook and realize I’m sitting in the Hippodrome, built in the 4th century A.D. mainly for chariot races.  I take pictures of the Egyptian Obelisk, brought here from the Temple of Karnak on the Upper Nile in the 4th century A.D.  I also photograph the Column of Constantine, constructed here in that same century.

the egyptian obelisk in the hippodrome

the egyptian obelisk in the hippodrome

Column of Constantine

Column of Constantine

By this time I am exhausted.  I go back to the hostel and sleep for 3 hours, the air-conditioner turned on full blast.  At 8 p.m., I get up, shower, and put on a purple knit dress (again like pajamas!) and go to eat across from the Hippodrome at Sultanahmet Koftecisi, a place famous for its meatballs.  I order a white bean and olive oil salad and the meatballs, which are delicious.  Then I wander to an outdoor cafe where people are smoking water pipes and listening to 2 musicians.  I sink into the stuffed Turkish cushions and drink a cappuccino and am mesmerized by a whirling dervish.  After, I wander about looking at shops filled with lovely pashminas and silk scarves and scarlet and turquoise lamps.

whirling dervish at an outdoor cafe

whirling dervish at an outdoor cafe

making bread in the restaurant

making bread in the restaurant

Vibrant lamps and a walk by the sea….

I walk through some more streets and come upon a shop called Peace Art where a Turkish guy named Harun and two very young French boys are sitting at a table out front.  His shop has lamps I adore and I stop to admire.  Harun says, these are my friends! Do you like these boys?  I say, yes, they seem like very nice boys!  We all go into the shop and the boys buy a fez each; they put them on for a photo.  Harun wants me to buy his lamps, his ceramics. He is a practiced charmer.  I tell him I have 11 days of travel ahead and have decided not to buy anything until I return to Istanbul in another week.  Harun then says he likes me very much, he thinks I am such a nice girl, he would like to take a walk with me.  I say, what about your shop?

enticing lamps in haroun's shop

enticing lamps in haroun’s shop

more beautiful lamps

more beautiful lamps

Colorful lamps in Haroun's shop

Colorful lamps in Haroun’s shop

He says no problem; he has someone there who can keep shop.  So we go.  We meander through all the old town cobblestone streets and then he wants to take me to the Sea of Marmara.  We walk through a lovely park, Gulhane Park, where the tree trunks are a glowing white.  Absolutely stunning, even at night.  There are many stops for kisses along the way and he is quite nice but begins to be a little pushy.  He says he wants me to come home with him.  I say, no, that’s not what I’m looking for.  I want romance, I want to be courted, wined-and-dined.  I want to spend time with someone getting to know them and them getting to know me.  I should be afraid in this park with him, but there are other people about, and I don’t feel afraid of him for some reason.  This is my adventurous side.  Maybe it will get me in trouble someday.  My judgment can not always be trusted.

in haroun's shop with the two french boys

in haroun’s shop with the two french boys

So we walk, out of the park and along the old city walls, beside the Bosphorus Strait to the Sea of Marmara.  The sea is on our left, Topkapi Palace above us behind the city walls.  Finally we return to the part of town near the hostel and his shop.  He is irritated, I think, that I will not go home with him, but he says he wants to spend the day with me tomorrow, all day.  He says to come by his shop at 10 a.m. and we will do something together.  I tell him I want to go to Topkapi Palace.  Then we part and he doesn’t look back.  I know when he leaves that I will not return to his shop the next day.  He is too pushy, I feel, and I don’t feel comfortable ultimately.  I return to the hostel at 1 a.m. and fall asleep.

haroun

haroun

In the final analysis, I don’t know what I’m looking for but I feel I will know it when I find it.  Yussef is a confusing mix of carpet salesmanship and sweetness and physical desire, with a degree of cockiness thrown in.  Harun is after one thing, that is sure, but I know I want more than that.   He is more about what he wants than wooing me.

It has been a long time since I have had any male attention.  In Korea, no Korean man looks twice at me and frankly I have no interest in Korean men.  So it is a relief to me to find that someone still finds me attractive.  Maybe I’m not all washed up after all.  A nice boost to my little ego, this Turkish adventure.  And this is only Day One!  🙂

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