ancient ephesus, the virgin’s alleged home, the artemis column (& will the real turkish bath please stand up?)

Friday, July 30: In the morning, there’s a flurry of confusion as  I decide I want to relax an extra day in Kuşadası instead of returning to Istanbul tonight by overnight bus.  Kuşadası is a resort town full of blue sky and blue sea on Turkey’s Aegean coast, about 60 miles south of Izmir.   I’m burned out from touring and need a rest day.  I call my English-speaking tour guide at Turista, Marina, and she arranges it, but it involves me checking out of the Hotel Ozdelick and checking in at the Hotel Sozer right next door.  It may be right next door, but it is definitely a huge step down!

hotel sozer, a big step down from the hotel ozdelick

hotel sozer, a big step down from the hotel ozdelick

the beach in kusadasi

the beach in kusadasi

ephesus

The tour today is led by a cute Turkish girl named Gonja who warns us that it is easy to get lost in Ephesus; she’ll carry a white umbrella so we can always find her.  She also passes out earphones and transmitters that we hang around our necks like huge pendulums. We have, once again, the Pakistani family of 11 and another group of 6 from Toronto, Canada who were in Croatia for a wedding and decided to visit Turkey as well.  On the way to Ephesus, Gonja quizzes us on the capital of Turkey, which we answer correctly is Ankara.  She says many people mistakenly think  Istanbul is the capital; this historic city is the capital of commerce with 17 million people, but Ataturk designed Ankara as the capital because it’s centrally located.

gonja and her white umbrella

gonja and her white umbrella

Gonja tells us about Turkish “permission nights,” when a potenital suitor’s family comes to visit a girl’s family.  If the girl thinks she likes the boy, the family puts sugar in the Turkish coffee.  If she already has a boyfriend, they put salt in it.  If the girl says no way, under any circumstances, would she be interested in that boy, they put anything they can find in the kitchen into the coffee: laundry detergent, chili peppers, whatever.  They then serve this coffee to everyone in attendance.

Gonja warns that the sun will be unbearable, that we might want to buy hats and bottled water.  I don’t usually wear hats, especially because my head is so huge that most hats won’t fit. 🙂 But when we see a long array of outdoor shops, the first one of which has a sign “Genuine Fake Watches,” I can’t resist exploring this place.  I find a hat in the style of Neville’s hat from yesterday.  Sometimes I like to take on other people’s identities, and I think it will be cool to look a little like an Aussie around-the-world traveler.  So I purchase it and place it atop my big head.  Yes, the XL fits just fine.

Genuine Fake Watches

Genuine Fake Watches

the ruins at Ephesus

the ruins at Ephesus

in my neville-like hat at the amphitheatre

in my neville-like hat at the amphitheatre

Gonja opens her white umbrella and we follow her, only to become confused by another guide assuming Gonja’s identity.  He too is carrying a white umbrella.  Luckily, he is male and she female.  We recognize the we might become momentarily misguided, but upon finding ourselves so, we will quickly be able to rectify the situation.

a few of the Pakistani delegation

a few of the Pakistani delegation

The Ephesus ruins still retain much of their former glory.  Enough is still standing of the city to imagine it as it was centuries ago, and with its crowds of tourists milling about, it is brought to life for us modern-day interlopers.  We can see it as the bustling Roman city it once was.  I wear my hat for a while, but my head gets wet and sticky underneath and I end up removing it to cool off.  I remember now that this is why I don’t wear hats, or sunglasses, for that matter;  they make me sweat.  I hate to sweat.

the bustling city of ephesus

the bustling city of ephesus

Ephesus was an ancient Greek city, and later a major Roman city, on the west coast of Turkey. In the Classical Greek era, it was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League. In the Roman period, it was for many years the second largest city (behind Rome) of the Roman Empire.   More than 250,000 people lived in Ephesus in the 1st century BC, which also made it the second largest city in the world (Lonely Planet Turkey).

ruins galore

ruins galore

Ephesus acquired a sizable Christian congregation.  It’s said that St. John settled here with the Virgin Mary.  St. Paul lived here for 3 years around AD 60, where he organized evangelism missions into the outlying communities.  It’s believed Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus and later wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians while he was in prison in Rome.  The Gospel of John was possibly written in Ephesus around 90-100 AD and Ephesus was one of the 7 cities addressed in Revelation.

Ephesus

Ephesus

We wander through the Odeion, Curetes Street, water and sewer systems, the Temples of the Goddess Rome and the Divine Caesar, The Pyrtaneion, The Pollio Fountain, The Temple of Domitian, The Temple of Hadrian, The Roman Library of Celsus, the Latriana, the Gate of Augustus, the agora.  The Odeion is the small theater that used to serve as council chambers.  The Temple of Hadrian boasts a head of Medusa to keep out evil spirits.

Temple of Hadrian

Temple of Hadrian

The Library facade sits like an impressive exclamation point at the far end of the city.  This library once held 12,000 scrolls in niches around its walls and was temperature-controlled.  The Latriana was the public toilets, arranged side by side with no partitions.

Library of Celsus

Library of Celsus

The most impressive ruin is the Library of Celsus which was apparently built to look larger than it really is.  Of all the ruins at Ephesus, it truly takes one back in time to its Roman heyday.

We spend several hours in Ephesus and after, we all congregate and go directly to lunch.   Another covered open air buffet place, but the food and the atmosphere are better than the same type of place from yesterday.  I miss my friend Neville today, because all of the other tourists are grouped; I’m the only lone traveler.  The Pakistani family eats quickly and heads off for the nearest mosque for Friday prayers.  One of their party gets inadvertently left behind.  Seeing I am all alone, one nice girl from the Toronto party befriends me and invites me to eat with them.

Library of Celsus

Library of Celsus

After lunch I wander through a small shop and then sit at a table that catches the only breeze in the place.  I sit with the shopkeeper, the Pakistani guy, and Gonja.  We have to wait a good hour for the Pakistanis to return from the mosque; we amiably sip several glasses of hot apple tea and bask in the small whiffs of breeze that come our way.

me in front of the library of celsus ~ i love books:-)

me in front of the library of celsus ~ i love books:-)

After lunch we visit a tile factory where I am overwhelmed by too many beautiful plates, bowls, & tiles and I want them all desperately but they are expensive and will be too heavy to carry.  I am determined to stick to my original plan to visit the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul on my last day, and carry whatever I buy directly home to Korea from there.

the virgin mary’s house

We visit Meryemana, the Virgin Mary’s house.  Believers say the Virgin Mary came to Ephesus with St. John towards the end of her life (AD 37-45).  Pope Paul VI visited the site in 1967, unofficially authenticating it, and it soon became a place of pilgrimage.

the virgin mary's house

the virgin mary’s house

Here, places abound for prayers and wishes. Outside of the chapel, I light two candles: one, praying for my son Alex to find his way in his life and, two, for me to find true love in Turkey.  Next, there are four fountains that originate from beneath the floor of the house. Each one is supposed to have special curative properties.  I drink from the one that is supposed to bring love. ♥♥♥

the fountain where i drink the water of love....

the fountain where i drink the water of love….

Below the chapel a wall is covered in rags: Turks tie bits of cloth or paper (or whatever they have on hand) to a frame to make a wish.  On a paper tissue, I write a wish to find true love here in Turkey in July/August 2010.  Hmmm…. I always wonder when I make wishes such as these if I am asking specifically enough for what I want….

the wall of wishes

the wall of wishes

the temple of artemis

After the Virgin Mary’s house, we head to the Temple of Artemis, which was in its time the largest of its kind in the world, even bigger than the Parthenon. This got it listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Today, there is only one column left remaining.  The goddess of Artemis, for whom the temple was named, is the goddess of wildlife, hunting and moonlight.

the one remaining column of the artemis temple

the one remaining column of the artemis temple

The first incarnation of the temple was built in the middle of the 8th century BC; it was destroyed by flood in the 7th century BC.  Then a new temple of marble was built in 550 BC and then destroyed in an act of arson in 356 BC.  Apparently a fellow named Herostratus destroyed it so his name would be known through history; the outraged Ephesians sentenced him to death and forbade anyone to ever mention his name.  However, someone recorded his name so the arsonist got his wish for minor fame.  On the night Herostratus was killed, Alexander the Great was born.  The temple was later restored in 323 BC, after Alexander’s death; that reconstruction was also disrupted in a raid by the Goths.  Eventually the early Christians rebuilt the temple only to have it finally destroyed by a mob in 401.  The stones were all taken away and put to other uses.

leather

Our final stop today is at a leather factory where we watch a hip and fast-paced fashion show of stylish Turks wearing tight pants and leather jackets.  I am sitting nearest the door where the models come out.  After the show, the models pull people from the audience and they insist, despite all my protests, that I come up.  THIS IS SOOO EMBARRASSING!!  Especially because today I am wearing these baggy (read: frumpy) cargo shorts and a loose-fitting shirt.  They put me into this cream knee-length leather jacket, and I look like some kind of Bozo the clown.  It is so horrible!  Thank god these are people I will never see again in my life.  I try to be kind of funny about it, because I know there is no way I can pull of “stylish!”  Afterwards, I want to climb into a deep dark hole and disappear.

the models in leather....

the models in leather….

I wander through the showroom and come across a really cool black leather jacket with a belt.  The price tag says 900 euros, which I would NEVER pay, but the sales people are very pushy, insist on finding my size, demand I try it on.  Frankly, even with my stupid cargo shorts, it looks quite cute!  After much pushing and prodding, I say I MIGHT be willing to pay $350 USD.  WHAT AM I THINKING??  The girl from Toronto, who has befriended me and is watching over me, comes to the rescue.  She says, DON”T LET THEM PRESSURE YOU!   She admits the jacket is quite nice, very chic, looks good on me.  But she, the voice of reason, says, Do you really want to spend $350 on a leather jacket?  She and I go into the ladies’ room where she tells me to take my time.  As we walk out of the restroom, Gonja comes up and says, what did you decide?  I waver.  The Toronto girl says, NO!  And we bypass the showroom and the pushy salespeople, and get directly on the bus.  Whew!  Close call….. 🙂

will the real turkish hamam please stand up?

Back at the lovely (NOT) Hotel Sozer, I decide to sign up for a day-long boat cruise tomorrow.  The guy who runs the cruise, Birol, walks with me to the marina to show me the boat. I pay him and then ask him where I can find a Turkish hamam.  I want to have the normal experience of the Turkish bath while here, since my “local” hamam experience with Hakan was so bizarre.  The boat guy takes me to a lovely lower level spa at a seaside hotel;  it’s a modern spa much like one finds in the U.S.   I am naked but given a kind of checkered tablecloth covering which I keep wrapped around me the whole time.  A young lady in a bikini rubs me down with a soapy scouring pad.  She dips a towel into a bucket of lemony suds and waves the towel back and forth; the towel puffs up like cotton candy.  She squeezes the towel over me and I am covered in aromatic lemony bubbles.  She scrubs and scrubs.

turkish tiles

turkish tiles

I sit in a waiting room in a fluffy white robe, where I’m given ice-cold water. Then into a massage room, where the same girl, who has changed out of her bikini into tight overalls, gives me a fabulous, utterly relaxing, olive oil massage for a whole hour.  Ahhhh… heaven!  When I leave, I ask if I should shower, and they say No!!  Surprisingly, my body has soaked up all the olive oil and my skin feels softer and shinier than it has ever felt.

Will the real Turkish bath please stand up………?

An expensive Turkish plate I really want to buy but don't :-(

An expensive Turkish plate I really want to buy but don’t 😦

I am too relaxed. I eat a margarita pizza at a seaside cafe, accompanied by a glass of red wine, and then promptly go to bed where I dream of Turkish baths from days gone by, burly Turkish masseuses, and a sweet guy named Hakan taking me down that crazy road.

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pamukkale & hierapolis, an aussie fellow traveler, and the bus ride from hell

Thursday, July 29: My bus arrives at the Denizli bus station, 7 a.m., without incident.  A shuttle picks me up from there, and lo and behold, it is full of Koreans!  Of course none of them can speak English except one, and I tell her I am teaching English in Korea, in Daegu.  We all are excited to discover each other here in Turkey, at least on the surface.  Lately I have tried to adopt a slogan that I hope to believe (aka, in the style of The Secret): “I love Koreans and they love me!”  I try to tell this to myself repeatedly in Korea, especially when I’m on the metro or walking down the street and getting glared at by everyone.  But, in the end, I too often resort to feelings of irritation at so much of the culture.  I do try though, I try so hard.

the hotel poolside cafe where I have breakfast around Pamukkale

the hotel poolside cafe where I have breakfast around Pamukkale

So. On this shuttle, I’m happy to see these Koreans in Turkey, these people with whom I have been living for 5 months.   But.  On another level I think, Oh no!  I came to Turkey to escape Korea.  I cannot, please, I CANNOT, spend an entire day of my vacation on a tour with them.  We chat a bit more and then, relief, the shuttle stops and drops them all off at a Korean tourist agency, its windows covered in Hangul, the Korean alphabet.  I breathe easier, I admit, and immediately I feel bad that I feel this way.  Why do I have such conflict inside of me about this culture?  It is a clean and hard-working culture; many Koreans are fun-loving and truly kind-hearted.  Yet.  I am not comfortable in Korea even after 5 months.  Here in Turkey, I am comfortable in one day.  It’s NOT ethnocentrism, a feeling that American culture is better than all others, because Turkish and Egyptian cultures, which I love, are certainly not remotely like America.  It’s just that I feel more at home in some cultures than in others.

at least the poolside cafe is lovely... can't say as much for the room

at least the poolside cafe is lovely… can’t say as much for the room

I feel salty and dirty from my overnight bus trip and hold out hope of a shower before the tour starts.  I get dropped at a hotel in Pamukkale where the hotel owners allow me to use a filthy room to shower and change clothes. I don’t even care that it’s filthy; I’m happy to clean myself up. I can’t check into a hotel today because this evening, I will take a 3 hour bus to Kuşadası.  There, I can check into a hotel.  But here in Pamukkale, I’m in transit and have no place to call home.

After showering, I eat a lovely breakfast by the poolside.  I see a lone traveler about my age, but he seems engrossed in himself, and I get the feeling he’s not friendly.  After breakfast, I sit in the lobby waiting for the tour shuttle, and he introduces himself.  His name is Neville, he’s Australian and he’s on a 78-day around-the-world trip.  He’s a business/computer teacher in Australia.  Later in the day, he tells me he’s taking this around-the-world trip because he was stressed out about work and his marriage fell apart.  He needed an escape.  My first impression about him is most definitely misguided; he is friendly and easy-going, and we end up hanging out together most of the day.  There is no chemistry or anything like that, we are just companionable fellow travelers.  The rest of our group is composed of a family of 11 Pakistanis and 2 Korean girls who keep to themselves.  Neville and I just have each other.

the red waters of karahayit

Emre, our very young guide for today, takes us first to the Red Waters of Karahayit where Muslim men and women are bathing, fully clothed, and slapping mud all over themselves.  I wade in the pool.  These waters are considered to have healing properties.  I don’t really need healing, so I neglect to slap the mud on myself, but I do wander into some shops and buy a black onyx and mother of pearl ring for 25 lira.  I can’t believe this is my 7th day in Turkey and this is my first purchase!  I’ve been determined not to buy anything that I will have to carry with me.  Happily, I don’t think this ring will be much of a burden. 🙂

the red waters of karahayit

the red waters of karahayit

me at the red waters

me at the red waters

muslims bathing in the healing red waters

muslims bathing in the healing red waters

hierapolis

We then go to Hierapolis, an ancient Greek city on top of hot springs; it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The hot springs have been used to heal ailments since the 2nd century BC.  At the opening of the ancient ruins is the necropolis.  Odd that they put all the dead people at the entrance to the city.  The city was founded around 190 BC  by the king of Pergamum, and was a cure center used later by the Romans and even by the Byzantines.

emre our guide tells us about hierapolis

emre our guide tells us about hierapolis

The city lies along the crest of a hill.  We see the necropolis first, tombs galore, including the Tomb of the Gladiators; the slab above the entrance bears images relating to gladiatorial combat: an amphora for oil offered as a prize to the victor, a trident for combat, and a circular shield.  We see the marble sarcophagus of Marcus Aurelius, carved with garlands.  We see Tumulus, a subterranean funerary chamber.  We see poplar trees and a silvery ground cover.  We see Roman gates and the Basilica Bath, later converted to a church, and the main street, called Frontinius Street. Emre gives us a funny demonstration of how the public latrines were used and described how men were separated from women by a curtain.

the marble sarcophagus of Marcus Aurelius

the marble sarcophagus of Marcus Aurelius

one of the roman gates

one of the roman gates

pamukkale’s travertines

At the far end of the hill crest, we reach the travertines.  In the earth beneath Pamukkale and Hierapolis, there is a huge source of water heated by volcanic lava; it dissolves pure white calcium, becomes saturated with it, and carries it to the surface of the earth, where it flows out and runs down a steep hillside.  When the calcium cools, it solidifies and forms white calcium cascades that turn to stone.  These are the travertines. Pamukkale’s nickname is “Cotton Castle” because of these unusual stone formations.

neville the aussie at the travertines of pamukkale

neville the aussie at the travertines of pamukkale

Emre leaves us when we exit Hierapolis and tells us we can explore for an hour.  Neville and I walk down to the travertines, first removing our shoes as required.  Countless tourists wade in the ankle-deep pools, clad in bikinis.  It’s said that the travertines have been abused over time by people, and many of the pools are now restricted.  Visitors today only have access to the ankle-deep wading pools.  It’s difficult to walk barefoot over the gravelly surface of the pools.  The crowds of tourists look pretty tacky.  Neville says sarcastically, Everyone thinks they’re a model!  This is because girls in bikinis are posing in every sort of position for photos.  After we walk almost to the end of the pools, feet punctured with pebble marks, we backtrack to meet the rest of the group near the Antique Pool, where we could have taken a swim for 20 Turkish lira, but didn’t.  As we reassemble, Emre informs us that we have to walk all the way through the pools again to get to our lunch destination.  Everyone protests that we already took this walk, but alas there is no other way to get there.  So we walk again across all the travertines, gingerly trying to minimize the pain from the gravel on our bare feet.

tacky sunbathers at the travertines

tacky sunbathers at the travertines

Earlier, before we separated from Emre, he kept smiling and looking at me.  It was funny; maybe he was just trying to figure out where I was from or something.  As we take the long trek back across the pools, he walks beside me and we chat.  He asks me where I’m from and I repeat my story once again.  I tell him how difficult it’s been in Korea.  I also mention how nice it’s been to get male attention in Turkey, something I have sorely lacked in Korea.  He says, I’m sure you do get attention here.  You have such a soft voice.

the travertines ~ off limits to bathers

the travertines ~ off limits to bathers

I can’t help but laugh at this.  Everyone knows I have a really loud voice; I must, because people are always telling me to shhhh… Keep it down!  Anyway, maybe today I have been quieter than normal.  Sweet.

the view from the top

the view from the top

We go to lunch at a huge covered, but open-air, buffet place; the food is mediocre at best, as is the atmosphere.  It’s hot and still.  The two Korean girls sit together, as does the Pakistani family.  Neville and I, the non-belongers, stick together like two lost souls.  After lunch we stop at another onyx factory to get yet another sales pitch.

at the end of hierapolis before the travertines

at the end of hierapolis before the travertines

looking from the grassy area to the travertines

looking from the grassy area to the travertines

 

the bus ride from hell

When I get dropped at the bus station to take the 3-hour bus to Kuşadası, there is some confusion about my ticket, none of which I understand.  A 12-year-old boy is manning the tourist office and he finally prints me my ticket, after answering 3 phone calls. I sit fidgeting, bursting with impatience and irritation.  I think, this is sure to be screwed up!  Where are the adults??  On the bus, I get moved to several different seats like a pawn on a chess board, and finally I’m told to sit in the very back where the seats are 5-across.  My seat is flat up against the right window, and right behind one of the exits from the bus.  In front of me is a metal panel.  My knees are right up against it.

At first there are only 3 of us on this 5-person seat, but at the next stop, a mother and her two children get on, so there are suddenly six of us!  I can’t move with this metal panel in front.  The bus is stifling hot and we ride for 2 long hours without a break.  Finally, when the bus attendant comes by, I say, Toilet?  He doesn’t understand.  Toilet?  Toilet?  Are we going to stop for a toilet?  I guess I figure if I repeat it enough he will understand.  Someone finally does translate and he asks the driver to make a stop at a gas station. I get out along with about 20 other people.  I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks a stop is long overdue!

This is the most miserable 3-hour ride of my entire trip in Turkey.  As a matter of fact, this is my least favorite place, my least favorite group of people (except Neville), and my least favorite day.

i finally reach my destination after the bus ride from hell

i finally reach my destination after the bus ride from hell

Finally, we arrive at the Ozdelick Hotel in Kuşadası at 9 pm.  The hotel dinner ends at 9:30, so I drop my bag and rush downstairs to gobble down the buffet dinner.  I sit on the patio looking out at the Aegean Sea and have a glass of wine.  I see the Pakistani family at another table; surely they must have had a better bus trip than I did.  I am so exhausted and irritable, I go straight to my room after dinner and get comfortable.  Sleep.

cappadocia day 3 ~ ballooning over a moonscape, a tough hike, and another dreaded overnight bus

Wednesday, July 28: It’s 4:40 a.m. and someone is pounding on my door. Startled, I jump up, have the fleeting thought that it might be Hakan.  But it’s another guy at the hotel now wearing the bright green Brazil World Cup shirt that Cammilla gave to Selim. This shirt is making the rounds.  I have 20 minutes to get ready for my balloon ride; I am foggy from being out late the night before, but I’m excited about this.  I originally didn’t want to spend the 110 euros; it really isn’t in my budget… 😦  Yet.  Too many of my fellow travelers have highly recommended this experience and I cannot ignore the thrill in their eyes.  I have never flown in a hot air balloon, and if a person is ever to take one, this is the place to do it.  With the lunar landscape of Cappadocia, it will be like flying over the moon.

before the balloons are fired up... with my fellow balloon mates from brunei

before the balloons are fired up… with my fellow balloon mates from brunei

We arrive at the site and I meet Sylvia from yesterday’s tour and a family from Brunei.  These will be my fellow balloon compartment-mates.  Sylvia, me, the mother, father and two girls.  There are supposed to be 4 people in each of 4 compartments.  The middle compartment is for the balloon operator.  Because the girls are small, we will have 5.  Around 20 people altogether in this wicker basket.

the balloon is fired up

the balloon is fired up

When we arrive, the balloons are lying everywhere, like bloated beached whales that have been painted in rainbow colors.  They lie on their sides, bellies up.  Men are inside of the balloons, pushing them outwards from within.  The fires begin to roar.  Fires, blasting and flaming into these balloons, huffing & puffing like dragons.  It’s an amazing sight.  There are too many of them to count, but we’re told there are nearly 40 balloons altogether.

The balloons lie on the ground like colorful beached whales

The balloons lie on the ground like colorful beached whales

Finally, the balloons lift off.  The hot air is working its magic.  They rise slowly and the men turn the wicker baskets from their sides to upright positions.  They lift all of us into the baskets as there are no doors.  The fire roars over our heads.  I instinctively duck and cringe with the sound and heat of the flames.  We are airborne.  Right away, the operator demonstrates how we need to brace ourselves if we are in for a rough landing.  He will tell us if we need to do this when the time is right.

hakan's cousin the balloon operator

hakan’s cousin the balloon operator

Everyone is silent.  The experience of rising, feeling the land pull away, seeing the multitudes of other balloons in the sky, all at different heights, of different colors – it takes my breath away.  It takes everyone’s breath away.  We are awed into silence.  The only sound is the blast of the fire overhead, the rustle of people moving around in the basket to search out the best view.

our twin balloon on the right

our twin balloon on the right

As we relax into the ride, we make noises, exclamations of wonder.  We love the other balloons floating in the sky with us; they’re our companions.  Seeing them is the only way we can see ourselves.   Below are the white pinnacles of Cappadocia, the fairy chimneys, the pointed volcanic rocks, tufts of greenery.

up, up and away

up, up and away

Sylvia and I have a heart-to-heart as we float for the allotted one hour.  Her friend is in another compartment on the balloon.  They are keeping distance between them.  Sylvia says she can’t wait to return to Brazil just to get away from her friend.  Her friend is high maintenance, moody, irritable, difficult to be with.  Sylvia says there is always competition between them.  I know this from my own women friends of the past.  Not so much with my current friends, but with women who are now no longer my friends.  Women with whom there is always some kind of tension, some competition.  I cannot maintain friendships with these kinds of women, for whom everything is defined by who can one-up the other.   I like Sylvia very much and I have met her friend; I can see the difficulty.  Sylvia is fun and easy-going.  Her friend is uptight and insecure.  I can see this and I feel bad that Sylvia’s vacation has been ruined by this relationship.  I am relieved once again to be traveling alone.

Sylvia and me in our hot-air balloon

Sylvia and me in our hot-air balloon

astounding

astounding

The balloon operator, who I find out later is Hakan’s cousin, says that in 9 years of operating balloons, he has only landed in the same place 3 times.    We will go where the wind carries us and we will land when the air in the balloon is cooled purposefully by him.  We dip down into valleys and we rise up to 1000 meters.  I never feel afraid of the height, surprisingly, as I am always afraid of heights.  For some reason it doesn’t bother me.  The only fear I have is of the fire.  I keep thinking of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster.  I think of going up in flames.  It’s the fire that scares me.  I keep forcing the thought out of my mind, but when the fire roars each time, I cringe with the thought.

this balloon is stuck to the rock....

this balloon is stuck to the rock….

colorful balloons over a fantasy landscape

colorful balloons over a fantasy landscape

We float for a full hour and I take a million pictures, but none of them capture the experience.  They don’t even capture the actual view.  I wish I had a better camera, maybe with a wide-angle lens.  Maybe, I think, it is just impossible to capture these moments with a camera.  Any camera.  I finally give up and just enjoy.

looking down from above

looking down from above

view to the ground

view to the ground

shadows of our balloons

shadows of our balloons

We watch the sun rise.  We watch the other balloons rise and fall, like buoys bobbing in a transparent ocean.  One balloon seems to be pinned against one of the pinnacles.   Its operator is firing it up; it finally peels away from the rock.  In some moments, we feel we can reach down and touch the earth, other times earth is a distant planet.  After the full hour, we descend; the Ürgüp guys are below us with their flatbed trailer.  The operator tosses over ropes, we float right over a lamppost.  The ground crew pulls the ropes, guides the balloon directly onto the flatbed trailer.  We don’t even feel a bump as we land.  Smoothly done!

magical

magical

close to heaven

close to heaven

so gorgeous

so gorgeous

They have set up a table with glasses of champagne.  We toast each other and the  Ürgüp guys.  They award us balloon certificates.  As we leave, I say, “Thank you so much for giving us that amazing memory!”  The operator thanks me for that comment; he says it is really a nice thing to hear.

the family from Brunei

the family from Brunei

goodbye to hakan

Back at the hotel, Hakan pulls up in his car with an older woman wearing a headscarf.  I am surprised to see him here as I thought he was taking his brother to Istanbul today.  I realize then he must be taking him on the overnight bus.  I wonder if it will be awkward with him.  I become a little nervous wondering how it will be with him this morning.

pulling in the balloon

pulling in the balloon

Immediately, I go to my room and take a long hot bath.  After, I sit on the terrace alone;  Hakan serves me breakfast.  It’s quiet and peaceful and when he’s done, he sits down with me.  I show him my balloon pictures.  I’m sure he’s seen these same pictures countless times  before.  But I bore him with them nonetheless and he sweetly and patiently looks through them.  Another couple comes up to the terrace and he serves them breakfast.  Then he sits down with me again.  He tells me again that he hopes I won’t forget him.  He wants me to take him to America.  He asks when I will come back to Turkey.  I say, if I can get a teaching job, it won’t be until August, 2011.

me with my ballooning certificate

me with my ballooning certificate

Another couple comes up and I tell them about the balloon ride.  I subject them to my pictures.  Selim comes up and he and Hakan talk.  I realized I’ve exhausted my welcome with this new couple.  I can no longer think of a reason to linger on the terrace.

I walk down the stairs.  Hakan is suddenly behind me.  What will you do now? he asks.  I say, I don’t know, go to my room maybe.  He follows me inside.  Promptly, we immerse ourselves in rearranging everything that belongs to me, to him and to this hotel, and then he carries my belongings, by this time packed tightly into my suitcase, out into the courtyard.  I follow behind with my little heart inside of me.  He carries my belongings right out the gate and into the waiting shuttle bus, and I climb in and look at him out the window as we drive away.  He smiles, but it’s a sad smile, and my smile is sad as well, as we wave and watch and vanish from each other’s sight.

the third day tour ~ ihlara canyon

Today is my 3rd day tour in Cappadocia and since Turista Travel doesn’t really do a third day tour (even though I bought the 3-day tour through them!) I am added to a larger group that Turista contracts with.  Our guide for the day is named Sarcun.  There are 27 people on this tour and I’m not happy.  When I arranged this tour with Turista, I was told each group would be 12-15 people.  In addition, the entire morning of this 3rd day involves going back to the same underground city I went to on the first day.  We stop at the same Pigeon Valley overlook I went to yesterday.  I have no desire to go back to the underground city again, so I sit at a cafe table under an umbrella, where I write frenetically in my journal to capture all the stuff that happened in the last two days.  I sip tea and enjoy the time away from the group.

Ihlara Canyon

Ihlara Canyon

We then go on a 4 km trek through Ihlara Canyon.  The cliffs are sheer on either side of us.  It is hot, hot, hot, but a stream runs though and every once in a while we can cool our feet.  We climb partially up cliff sides to check out countless rock-cut churches, their inner walls covered in faded frescoes.   A couple of times, I sit out on a rock while the group explores the cave churches.  Sarcun asks if everything is ok, and I say I’m a little churched-out.  It is finally starting to wear me down, this tour packed with its many sights and hikes and climbs.

more frescoes in rock-cut churches

more frescoes in rock-cut churches

This is the longest and hottest of all the treks, but the scenery is breathtaking.  Through most of the day, I talk with a Chinese couple from Toronto, Canada and their college-age daughter.  In our group also is a bedraggled gray-haired father with his 12-year-old son.  The son keeps whining, Daddy this, Daddy that.

rock cut churches everywhere....

rock cut churches everywhere….

walking through Ilhara Valley

walking through Ilhara Canyon

more rock-cut churches with interior frescoes

more rock-cut churches with interior frescoes

following the trail

following the trail

Ilhara Canyon

Ilhara Canyon

At one point, we come to an area in the stream where there is a small waterfall and flat rocks.  People stop to wade in the stream and cool off.  The 12-year-old boy slips into the water and gets his shoes wet; immediately he throws a fit, wailing and screaming.  A young couple says, Someone is having a meltdown!  I reply, I think I’d kill myself if I had a kid like that…. I have three kids and they had meltdowns too, but when they were 2 years old!

a stream in the Ilhara Valley

a stream in the Ilhara Valley

cooling off in the stream

cooling off in the stream

a stream near our picnic lunch spot

a stream near our picnic lunch spot

almost lunchtime!

almost lunchtime!

We end up in Belisirma Village where we have lunch at an outdoor restaurant.  We are packed, those of us who didn’t get lost, around long tables; the air is steamy and close.  I order a vegetarian/mushroom casserole that is bubbling hot.  It is too hot to eat on a sweltering day such as this.  Bees and flies are swarming around and I’m so uncomfortable that I am having a slight panic attack.  I eat as quickly as I can and leave the table.  Across the stream from the outdoor restaurant is a little cave with some Adirondack chairs.  It’s refreshingly cool, so I sit there and look through the pictures on my camera.

lunch in belisirma village

lunch in belisirma village

selime cathedrale

After lunch we go to the Selime Cathedrale, the biggest rock-cut monastery of Cappadocia, carved in the 13th century.  It sits on an elevated site and is quite overwhelming.  After wandering around here for a while, poking into the caves and climbing up steep inclines, we leave and make another stop at a valley like Pigeon Valley (they are all starting to look alike by now!).  I am getting really worried as I’m supposed to take another overnight bus tonight to Pamukkale, and we are running late on the tour.  Sarcun knows I’m worried so he calls another van to pick me up and take me to the bus station in Goreme.  I don’t want to spend another day in Cappadocia because I think I would be bored with nothing to do.  Especially since I know Hakan is leaving tonight also on an overnight bus to Istanbul.

selime cathedrale

selime cathedrale

local kids at selime cathedrale

local kids at selime cathedrale

another dreaded overnight bus

I hope that maybe, if Hakan arrives early for his 8:00 overnight bus, I might see him at the bus station.  My bus leaves at 7:00, but at that time, Hakan is nowhere in sight.  I realize it would be difficult to run into anyone here, as it is not a centrally located terminal, but a sprawling array of different bus company offices outdoors.  I don’t even know which bus company he will use, and the chances are slim that I would see him anyway.  Oh well.  I realize I’m sad and disappointed to be leaving him behind.  I would have loved to get to know him better.

Selime Cathedrale

Selime Cathedrale

On the bus, my seatmate is Songul, a Turkish girl who lives and works in Stuttgart, Germany.  Songul, she tells me, means “last rose,” but she goes by “Gul.”  She’s the youngest in her family, thus the Songul.  She really wants to teach in a poor area where good teachers are desperately needed, possibly in eastern Turkey or in other villages throughout her home country.  She’s very passionate about her dream, that’s clear.

Her parents also live in Germany but have a home in Cappadocia where they live 4 months out of the year.  After we talk and I tell her how much I love Turkey and especially Cappadocia, she says I should come back and stay in her family’s home.  She gives me her email address.

The overnight buses are wearing me down, as is the constant touring.  I sleep on this bus, which is from 7 pm to 6 am.  But, religiously, at every rest area stop, I wake myself up, bleary eyed, and take myself to the bathroom.  I never have any idea when we will stop again, so I avail myself of every opportunity.  The rest areas are all wall-to-wall buses, people eating at shabby outdoor cafes under fluorescent lights, women in headscarves crowding the bathrooms and wash basins, burly dark Turkish men smoking.  Surreal, especially when you wake up, foggy and dim-witted in the dark of the night.

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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cappadocia day 1…cave churches, underground cities, & rakı under the stars

Monday, July 26:   I wake up on the rumbling bus at 6 a.m., roused by the bus attendant serving coffee from his cart. Out the window I get a sunrise view of central Turkey.  A large expanse of plains, no trees, soft dusty-green hills with gentle folds.  A huge body of shallow-looking water and mudflats stretch to the horizon on the right.  The road is fairly deserted and the ride is rough and bumpy.  I realize after drinking the coffee and jerking along the potholed road for a while that I suddenly need to pee.  The ride goes on and on.  I have no idea how far we are from our destination.  It’s bad.  I’m fretting, trying to get comfortable, trying not to think about having to go to the bathroom.  Why don’t these buses have bathrooms and why don’t they have a set schedule for stops?  What will I do?? What, what?

view from the terrace of the Antik Cave Hotel in Ürgüp

view from the terrace of the Antik Cave Hotel in Ürgüp

Suddenly the bus pulls up to a dilapidated gas station in the middle of nowhere.  I don’t see anyone making a move to get off.  I am in the front seat, so I jump up and say, “Toilet??” to the bus driver.  I jump off the bus, run in and use the filthy squat toilet.  I have never been so happy to see a squat toilet. 🙂  I run back to the huge coach, everyone looking at me as I get back on the bus.  What happened?  I never asked the driver to stop, but I certainly took advantage when he did!  Later I find it was another man who had asked for the stop; he must have relieved himself right outside the bus.  Anyway, I’m relieved, in more ways than one.   Now I can relax and enjoy the ride.

the terrace of the antik cave hotel

the terrace of the antik cave hotel

At 8:50 a.m., I arrive at the Antik Cave Hotel.  It’s too early to check in, but they let me shower and change in an empty room.  Breakfast on the terrace is Turkish style: feta and provolone cheese, a bologna-like meat, orange juice, coffee, fresh bread with butter, hard-boiled eggs, olives, tomatoes and cucumbers.  Bees are swarming around us.  I meet a newlywed couple from Pennsylvania: Sezen and Bob.  Sezen is Turkish and Bob is an American tobacco-chewing nice guy.  They came to Turkey to get married with Sezen’s family in attendance.  They will have another wedding in the U.S. for Bob’s family.  They have been together for 7 years after having met working in a plastics factory.

sezen & bob, the newlyweds

sezen & bob, the newlyweds

greek villages, roman ruins & cave churches

At 9:30, we head out for our tour with Selim, our fun-loving Turkish guide, age unknown.  I think there are 14 of us, all told, plus Selim. As soon as he starts talking, I am putting in my two cents’ worth.  He’s talking about Turkey and how it changed with Atatürk; since I just read about Atatürk yesterday, I know what he’s talking about.

Salim, our Turkish tour guide in Cappadocia

Selim, our Turkish tour guide in Cappadocia

Another cool Italian girl named Lisa is also chiming in.  Soon we are all chatting amongst ourselves.  I tell Lisa that I’m from America and am teaching English in Korea.  She and her boyfriend are Italian.  Lisa is very exotic; I love her style.  She has  a striped scarf tied around her black curly hair and some cool copper earrings with a turquoise design that she got at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  There is another Italian couple on board, and 3 good friends traveling together from Brazil: Cammilla, Andre and Bruno.  I mistakenly think Bruno and Cammilla are boyfriend & girlfriend, but I find out later they are all three just friends from college.  We also have in our group an older French couple (I say older, but they’re probably my age!) with two teenage boys, who for most of the day appear to be bored out of their minds.  Of course, Sezen and Bob are also along.

an old greek house in mustafapaşa

an old greek house in mustafapaşa

Selim teases me, says, What, are you telling them your whole life story?  I say, they’re telling me theirs too!  That’s not fair!  Selim tells us he has an “imitation” fiance; she’s from New York and he met her two weeks ago on his tour.  I ask why she is an “imitation” fiance.  I never get a straight answer from him, but through the day, I get the definite impression he met this girl, fell in love with her, and she is planning to visit him in Turkey.  He wants to know how much a flight from New York to Turkey costs.  As the day goes on, he is flirting with me and with the other girls.  He’s charming and funny and full of good information.  At several points he introduces me to various people as his “imitation” fiance.  How many of these does he have?

Selim on the cushions in the old Greek house

Selim on the cushions in the old Greek house

We make our first stop at Mustafapaşa, an old village where Greeks and Turks used to live side by side until the population exchange of Greeks and Turks.  This 1923 population exchange was based on religious identity and involved the Greek Orthodox citizens of Turkey and the Muslim citizens of Greece.  Nearly 2 million people were impacted, most of whom were forcibly made refugees and denaturalized from their homelands. The town is lovely, surrounded by apricot, apple and pear orchards, and vineyards.  The house where we stop is now a restaurant, but used to be a Greek house.  A popular Turkish movie, or TV series, called Asmali Konak (Grape Arbor House) was filmed here.

in the courtyard of the old Greek house

in the courtyard of the old Greek house

Next, we visit some sunflowers and an old potato farm; the potato farmer hit stone one day in 2008 and the state began excavation, revealing some Roman ruins, including baths, graveyards, and mosaics dating from 200 A.D., along with a Byzantine church which was built on top of the earlier church.

sunflowers beside the roman ruins

sunflowers beside the roman ruins

roman ruins ~ the hot bath

roman ruins ~ the hot bath

Selim then takes us to see the ornate door of an Ottoman-era medrese, but the school is no longer used since public medreses, or religious schools, were outlawed when Turkey became a republic.

Ottoman-era medrese

Ottoman-era medrese

We then take a  3k hike in Soganli Valley, first used by the Romans as necropolises and later by the Byzantines for monastic purposes.

Sognali Valley

Soganli Valley

Soganli Valley

Soganli Valley

Here we see rock-cut churches galore.  In the Snake Church, we see frescoes of Jesus, the apostles, the Crusaders and the snakes, which represent Satan.  Interestingly, there is graffiti carved on top of all the frescoes, some dating from the 1800s!  Selim says people carved graffiti who wanted healing from God from ailments or illnesses.  Some of the frescoes were deliberately painted over with black paint, possibly to protect them.

the church with snakes

the church with snakes

fresco of Christ in Yilanli Kilise, the Snake Church

fresco of Christ in Yilanli Kilise, the Snake Church

more frescoes in the cave churches

more frescoes in the cave churches

Sakli Kilise (the Hidden Church), Kubbeli Kilisesi (the Domed Church), Yilanli Kilise (the Snake Church), too many churches and caves and frescos to count.  It is a lovely day, sunny, hot and dry, fun.  I love our group of vagabonds, love our trek, love the camaraderie and laughs.  We walk down a gravelly path and I slip and fall, my leg with the bad knee collapses and crashes beneath me.  I have barely thought of my knee until this happens; after I am a little more careful and guarded, a little more protective of myself.

the hidden church... Sakli Kilise

the hidden church… Sakli Kilise

me inside of Sakli Kilise, the Hidden Church

me inside of Sakli Kilise, the Hidden Church

cave churches abound

cave churches abound

Cave churches

Cave churches

We hike to a lovely spot with tables under shady trees, the Soganli Cappadocia Restaurant, and I order an omelet that arrives still bubbling in a small cast iron skillet.  It is too hot for such a dish, but I let it cool and then enjoy it immensely.  I talk with Andre the Brazilian who is currently living in Lebanon, working for the Brazilian Embassy as a secretary for political affairs.  We chat about our laziness in learning languages; he’s been in Lebanon as long as I’ve been in Korea and neither of us has learned the language.  He gets by with French and English, I get by with English and my tiny bit of Korean. All of us are happy in a lazy sort of way; the conversation is easy and the food is good.  This is one of my favorite afternoons in Turkey.

Cappadocia Restaurant

Cappadocia Restaurant

At the Soganli Cappadocia Restaurant with my favorite group

At the Soganli Cappadocia Restaurant with my favorite group

our group at a companionable lunch.  The stylish Italian Lisa is in the foreground.

our group at a companionable lunch. The stylish Italian Lisa is in the foreground.

underground cities

In the end, we go to the underground city of Derinkuyu, where up to 10,000 people lived at various times, sometimes spending months at a time inside the earth.  People hid here for various reasons, to escape the cold & the wild animals; later the early Christians hid to escape the Persian and Arabic armies who set out to destroy them.  The air shafts were disguised as wells.  We walk through narrow walkways, through stables with handles used to tether animals, through churches with altars and baptism fonts, through wineries and granaries, and through kitchens with blackened walls from the smoke. According to some archeologists, these cities date back 4,000 years to Hittite times, although they were used earlier to store wine and grain.  Selim tells us the cities date back to 8,000 B.C., thus making them 10,000 years old.  The cities are now 8 stories deep… there were fewer floors in the earliest years.  Additional floors were added during the Byzantine period.  Numerous huge stone doors were rolled into place for self-defense.

one of the tight stairwells in the underground city

one of the tight stairwells in the underground city

Some 37 cities have been unearthed in Cappadocia, and guidebooks say there are at least 100 more!

In the end, I realize I have been touched by the exotic on this day.  Everything, the cave formations, the frescoes, the people, Salim, the landscape, yes, everything delights me. This place is most congenial to my temperament.  It promises happiness, romance, it seduces.  I long for love here and I find it in this place, with these people, these fellow nomads.

I also feel a sense of the sublime here.  Nature is at its best, and people over thousands of years have inhabited this place, fueled with a sense of passion for their beliefs in Christ.  They dug holes in these rocks, made churches where they could worship, where they could survive the onslaught by people bent on destroying them.  I find awe and inspiration thinking of these early Christians and their determination and faith.

another subterranean passage in the underground city

another subterranean passage in the underground city

This is also a place where I want to possess beauty.  I want it to be all mine; I want to take it with me forever, to hold it deep inside of me.  I take too many pictures to count, hoping to capture some of what I feel.  But the camera only snatches a weakened version of the real thing.  It doesn’t capture the feeling, the experience, not really.  Sometimes I think the camera actually makes me lazy, makes me not bother to notice things closely enough.

The tour ends and people are dropped at their respective hotels. Before she goes, Cammilla gives Selim a bright green Brazil World Cup t-shirt.  He’s very excited about the shirt.  I am sad to see this group depart.  It turns out it is the best group of all of my tours, but of course I only find this in retrospect.  I especially love the Brazilians and the Italians.  I very much like Sezen & Bob as well, but they will be with me tomorrow as well.

rakı under the stars

I find my room at the Antik Cave Hotel sweltering when I return.  I try to lie down and nap, but it is too hot and stuffy.

my room at the Antik Cave Hotel

my room at the Antik Cave Hotel

I instead sit on the terrace for an hour writing in my journal and watching the sunset.  While I’m up there, one of the guys who works at the hotel is watering the lawn.   Funny thing.  He is wearing the green Brazil World Cup shirt that Cammilla gave to Selim!  Selim sure passed that off quickly!  After a while, I shower, put on a blue and cream Moroccan-tile-print dress that I love and walk down the deserted hill to the Dimrit Restaurant, which Selim has highly recommended.

the terrace at sunset

the terrace at sunset

Oh my god!  How can I describe the experience of this place?  Two terraces, one overlooking the other, and both overlooking the town of Ürgüp below.  Quiet and peaceful. Celtic  music by Canadian Loreena McKennitt playing in the background.  The head waiter, absolutely adorable, brings me a tray of starters in white moon-shaped bowls.  I choose the cold mushrooms with fresh dill.   Cool, refreshing, like the cool moon on this breezy night.  Why is it that certain things stand out like an oasis in a parched desert?  That dill!  Every taste is like an aphrodisiac, enticing and delectable.  Dill like cool mint in my mouth, so fresh!  How, I think, how can I be so excited about dill?  Is it just the setting, the music, the breeze, the stars?

on the terrace of the hotel

on the terrace of the hotel

The menu prices are quite high, so I initially pass up a glass of wine, which I want dearly. Yet. Once I sit in this romantic spot, soaking up the view, feeling the ambiance, listening to this music, and tasting this unbelievable dill, I cannot resist having a glass of red wine.  A thought comes to me: This is such a perfectly romantic spot.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I was on a date with someone amazing, someone who set my heart on fire?

But.  I ponder.  Too many times, I have been out to such perfectly romantic places, and they didn’t deliver.  During my long marriage, my husband may not have been romantic like I wished he would be; instead of him talking of his love for me, his passion, he would talk of the kids, or the house, or some other mundane thing.  Or, later, after Mike & I separated, I would wish my date to be more romantic, or more into me.  So often, the other person dashes your expectations of what a place like this should be, how you wish the evening to unfold.   Sometimes, you are with a person who you’re unsure about and so you feel anxious throughout.

I think of R, and how everything with him was extraordinary, amazingly fun and romantic, how we connected on so many levels and how much chemistry we had.  We always laughed together, and got each other’s humor, and he was crazy for me and me for him.  To have him with me in this place during the time we were together would have been nothing short of astounding.  But.  We are no longer together and this is an impossible thing.

I think of Jacob on Valentine’s Day in 2009.  The night before he had gone to a meetup at a bar and he had an amazing time and I couldn’t understand why, when we had such a nice thing going, he felt the need to go to these kinds of meetups.  I figured he was always looking to meet someone younger.  We were driving to Jaleo in Bethesda, Maryland and we had a huge fight and our relationship almost ended.  But we didn’t end it then, we salvaged the night, and he was sweet and romantic and it finally felt like he was ready to fully let me into his life.  The night ended up being one of our best ever.  Yet.  The date ended, and we ended, three months later, in May.

I think of more awkward dates, where I wasn’t really attracted, or I was attracted but I couldn’t tell if he was, where I felt bored, anxious, unsure, awkward.  And it hit me that, so easily, a man can ruin a place like this.

I feel romance here, yet I am all alone, and it is still lovely beyond words.  Maybe, just maybe, I am beginning to love myself, beginning to love being in my own company; maybe I am learning to thoroughly enjoy myself even without having anyone else here.

me at the Dimrit Restaurant

me at the Dimrit Restaurant

Funny thing, this.  Because as I am sitting here in this place, all alone but incredibly happy, getting tipsy from the wine, the head waiter hovers around me.  He is asking me questions about myself, telling me he lives here in Cappadocia and he loves it with all his heart.  I finish my delectable dilled mushrooms, and when the sea bream arrives I am in full conversation with him and I am too distracted to bother pulling out the skeleton and its array of thread-thin bones.  I no longer care about the food, because a little romance has found its way to me.  He is interested, it is clear; he doesn’t leave my table-side except to bring me a CD of Loreena McKennitt.  We talk and talk, each equally fascinated by the other.  Soothing, delicious.  He asks me if I have tried rakı yet.  This is a non-sweet, anise-flavored spirit consumed in Turkey.  I say no.  He brings me some clear liquid in a small glass, and when he pours water in it, it turns cloudy.  It tastes like licorice. We reveal our secret lives to each other as I finish my rakı.  I am happy beyond what I have known in months.

We talk more, flirt.  He says he will drive me home; I protest that he has to work, I am fine, it’s only right up the hill, but, in the end, I don’t protest too much.  We get in his car and we drive up toward the Antik Cave Hotel and I see some lights up higher on the hill.  He tells me it’s a disco and we park and venture in; it’s deserted, but the lights and music are pulsing as if it’s full of dancers.  After, we take a drive.  I tell him that it has been so lovely to talk to him, that in Korea no one even looks twice at me; I tell him that in Istanbul, in two days, I surprisingly encountered three different guys who wanted to kiss me.  I told him they all wanted to meet me later but I never went back to meet them.  He looks at me intently: I want to kiss you.  You have beautiful eyes and I want to kiss your lips.  He pulls off the road.  We sit and look at the stars and he tells me he just came to this spot last week, all alone, and drank a beer.  We kiss.  We get out of the car and stand out under the stars and the stars are above and all around us in this place; they’re dancing.  Like the disco lights, like my heart.  The night is all around us, swirling around us on the breeze, there is a moon but I don’t know if it is full or not.  I just don’t know.  My heart feels as full as if there were a full moon.  We are here, in this land of cave dwellings and churches and rustling poplar trees and I am loving everything.  Everything.

Back in the car, his boss calls him and wants to know where he is.  He’s been gone from work a long time.  He has to get back.  I’m really fine with it. I go back to my now-cool room at the Cave Hotel and sleep, windows open to the world, to the elements, to the breeze.  I think of the romantic evening, the Dimrit, the dill, the head waiter and how sweet he was.  I realize I’ve forgotten his name. 😦

I sleep.  Bliss.

 

loving atatürk in the new district: taksim square, istiklal street, galata tower and the dreaded overnight bus

Sunday, July 25: I fall in love with Atatürk today.  I read about him in Rick Steves’ Istanbul as I travel to Taksim Square, where I see his statue, and here’s what I find:  His name was Mustafa Kemal but the Turks called him Atatürk: literally “father of the Turks” but in the context it stands for “Grand Turk.”  He defended Turkey from invaders during WWI and saved Turkey from the chopping block after the war.  He was a war hero, but not only that, he had a vision of what he wanted modern-day Turkey to be.  He wanted a European-style democracy.  In less than 10 years, he aligned Turkey with the West, separated religion and state, adopted the Western calendar, decreed that Turks should have surnames, changed the alphabet to Roman letters from Arabic script, abolished the sultanate and caliphate and polygamy, emancipated women and outlawed the fez and the veil.  He died at 9:05 on November 10, 1938 and each year all of Turkey observes a moment of silence on this day.

I am so moved by his story that I actually get all choked up and cry as I read this, while I am riding the crowded tram!

Tomb of Sultan Ahmet the First

Tomb of Sultan Ahmet the First

Before my journey to Taksim, I eat my last breakfast on the terrace of the Big Apple with Jessica and her mom.  After, I walk up through Sultanahmet Park and stop into the Tomb of Sultan Ahmet the First (1590-1617), who ascended to the imperial throne at age 13.  His greatest achievement was the building of the Blue Mosque, completed in 1616. He died of typhoid fever a year later at age 27.  He rests here with a dozen or so children.

the Han Restaurant, where I resolve to eat when I return to Istanbul

the Han Restaurant, where I resolve to eat when I return to Istanbul

Walking to the tram I come across a really cool Turkish restaurant called the Han, where I take pictures.  I resolve that I will eat here when I return to Istanbul on Saturday, July 31.  Tonight I cannot eat here as I will be taking the dreaded overnight bus to Cappadocia.

Taksim in the New District:

Off the tram and on to the funicular, up the hill to Taksim Square.  On the funicular I strike up a conversation with a nice Turkish family.  I tell them I LOVE Turkey, that I am teaching English in Korea, that I hope to teach in Turkey next year.  The husband gives me his email address and tells me he might be able to help me with this quest.  I am grateful.

Taksim Park

Taksim Park

Off the funicular, I am totally confused as streets are branching off in every direction.  I ask about Taksim Park, where I wander about for a bit.  Then I find the square with the Republic Monument, the statue of  Atatürk.  On one side of the 1928 statue is the military hero; on the other he is depicted as Turkey’s first president.

The Republic Monument at Taksim Square - Ataturk as President

The Republic Monument at Taksim Square – Ataturk as President

As I leave the statue and head toward Istiklal Street, I am shocked to see Tomomi, my Japanese friend who explored Dubai with me!!  We give each other a hug.  He is rushing to the airport to catch his flight home to Estonia.  I say what are the chances in a strange city the size of Istanbul that we would run into each other like this?  Sometimes it is such a small world.

I have come to Istiklal Street mainly to shop.  I am looking for some white capris; I have never been able to find any in Korea or at home in the U.S.  The only thing I buy is a pair of charcoal gray cargo pants.  After the long walk down the street, I stop for lunch at a lovely restaurant where I have an eggplant (they call it aubergine) kebab.  The restaurant manager and the head waiter talk to me in broken English, asking about my trip, where I am from.  They are very sweet.  This is just one of many times where I am eating and I think I am going to be lonely, but I’m not.  I have great company!

Galata Tower:

I continue to meander down the steep hill and stop at the Galata Tower.  This 205-foot-tall stone tower built by the Genoese dates from the mid-14th century.

Galata Tower in the New District

Galata Tower in the New District

It’s been used over the years as a fire tower, a barracks, a dungeon, and a launch pad for testing human flight.  I stand in line to go up to the elevator and think I will die of the heat.  Sometimes, in these situations, in close quarters where the air is at dead standstill, I have panic attacks.  I try to imagine myself somewhere else.  The elevator is hot as well.  Finally we are released and go out to the balcony of the tower.  The view of Istanbul is phenomenal.

The view from Galata Tower

The view from Galata Tower

I can see everything: the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, Asian Istanbul, the Sea of Marmara.  It’s amazing!  I enjoy as long as I can, dreading the trip back down (I have seen the lines going back down the elevators!).

veiw south from galata tower across the golden horn to sultanahmet

veiw south from galata tower across the golden horn to sultanahmet

The dreaded overnight bus:

I take the tram back to the Big Apple and though I’ve already checked out, they let me use a shower.  I change into my comfy “traveling clothes” and head for Turista Travel, where I am to catch a shuttle to the Istanbul bus terminal for my first overnight bus to Cappadocia.

On the shuttle, I meet an Italian girl named Marinella, who is an environmental researcher in Milan.  She says you do this kind of work for passion, not for money.  I say, oh well, as long as you can afford to travel, that’s what’s important, right?  She agrees.

me at the top of the galata tower

me at the top of the galata tower

We are in the shuttle heading into the bus terminal and we’re at a dead standstill.  There are two lanes of buses, heading up these huge convoluted ramps.  There are multitudes of buses!  Marinella tells me that according to the Lonely Planet, the Istanbul Bus Terminal is the largest bus terminal in the world, or at least in Europe.  I can believe it.  I have never seen anything like it.  Korea has an extensive bus system, but it is nothing like this!  We sit there for nearly an hour, in the queue up the ramps to catch our overnight bus.  Luckily Turista has built in enough time.

these shoes are made for walkin' ~ but i'm taking the overnight bus...

these shoes are made for walkin’ ~ but i’m taking the overnight bus…

I have the Lonely Planet Turkey Guide, but I can’t find this information to confirm it. I do a Google search but I find the largest bus terminal is the Preston Bus Station in Lancashire, England, though it’s about to be pulled down.  But I read in Tom Brosnahan’s turkeytravelplanner.com that this bus terminal, known as Büyük Otogar, has 168 ticket offices and gates, its own Metro station, shops, restaurants, hotel, police station, clinic and mosque.  Anyway.  It’s the biggest bus terminal I have ever seen!

In one of the lower parking levels, which we can see as we are going up the ramp, I point out to Marinella a guy in some black bikini briefs, changing his clothes from his bag in the bus cargo hold.  He is naked except for these briefs, but he proceeds to get dressed: button up shirt, nice trousers, tie, socks, shoes.  We sit on this ramp so long that we see him get dressed start to finish!

When we arrive at the top deck of the terminal, it is mass confusion.  We are to get on the Suha bus line.  None of us knows how the bus system works.  Do they have toilets on board?  No, we find out they don’t.  How often do they stop?  We can’t find out.  We all run up to Suha’s shabby and closet-sized office and climb 3 flights of stairs to use the squat toilets.  I have no idea what to expect.

The seats are relatively comfortable, though not as large as the seats on the Korean buses.   Once I settle in the very front right hand seat, and the bus begins its journey, we are served water, juice or soda by a bus attendant (like a flight attendant) pushing a cart.  I’m afraid to drink because I have no idea how long it will be before we stop.  It turns out there is no worry, because for the first two hours or so, we make too many stops to count.  I guess we are stopping at every bus station on the outskirts of Istanbul for this inland trip.  I write in my journal for a while and then settle into an uncomfortable and fitful sleep.

In the two seats directly across the aisle from me are a Muslim mother wearing a colorful headscarf and her three very young children.  How will these children do on this bus trip, crammed as the four of them are, on these two seats?   It is beyond me….

topkapi palace, archeology 101, the coke zero guy (& someone’s been into the turkish viagra)

Saturday, July 24: I get up early, ready to explore the world that is Istanbul.  But where is my towel?  Obviously someone has been a little zealous in their cleaning.  I throw on some clothes and run down to the front desk to get a replacement.  At the computer where I detour to check my emails sits a curly red-head girl named Jessica. Coincidentally, she has been teaching English in Seoul, Korea for 2 years!  And here she is in Istanbul!  She is having money problems.  Her debit card, which has worked without a hitch in every country she has traveled to, is being rejected by Turkish ATM machines.  She has absolutely no money but wonders if I will lend her some until her mother arrives that afternoon.  She says, I will give you my whole backpack as collateral!!  I am a little leery.  I myself have little money on me since no one would take my Korean won.  And I don’t know her at all.  She needs enough to get on the metro to meet her mother at the airport and wonders if she can have 50 lira.  I give her 10 and tell her that if she can’t figure something out through the English-speaking front desk guy when he gets in, I will give her more at breakfast.

in Sultanahmet Park

in Sultanahmet Park

After showering, I go to the terrace, where I join Jessica for breakfast.  She tells me much about her 26-year-old self; she elaborates on her travels to Vietnam, where I hope to go this winter.  She is a stand-up comedian in Seoul and her boyfriend is one as well.  I tell her my daughter is 26 and a red-head as well.   She eats a ton of olives and makes a sandwich from the breakfast buffet for lunch and she stuffs it in her bag. I give her the 50 lira she needs.

Alex, a lively guy from Sweden, sits near us and strikes up a conversation, telling us a harrowing story about how his bus was detained for 2 hours at the Syrian border.  He is reinventing his life; after working in the telecom business for years, he is now back in school studying psychology.  I tell him I was always interested in psychology but I never followed that dream.  He wants to go shopping to get some new trousers to replace the camouflage shorts he has been wearing for his entire 2-week journey. He is waiting for a friend who will join him in the afternoon from another country; they are planning to travel around with no set plan.  I am impressed that he is reinventing his life!  I feel we are connected in that quest.  I admire his adventurous & courageous spirit….

The Imperial Gate of Topkapi Palace

The Imperial Gate of Topkapi Palace

topkapi palace:

After breakfast, I head for Topkapi Palace.  After wandering around the lovely grounds and looking at the Divan Tower and Council Chamber, I head directly for the Harem, where there is luckily no line.  “Harem” refers to 2 things: (1) the wives, favorites and concubines of the sultan, and (2) the place where they lived.  I meander through about 20 rooms with rich tile-work, including the Courtyard of the Mother Sultan, the Courtyard of the Wives and Concubines and the Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs.

Hagia Irene ~ dating back to the 6th century

Hagia Irene ~ dating back to the 6th century

the council chamber under the divan tower

the council chamber under the divan tower

harem... they're for real!!

harem… they’re for real!!

Though the Arabic word “harem” means “forbidden,” it commonly refers to the part of a Turkish house that’s reserved specifically for women family members.  To the Turks, the word connotes respect and dignity, not sexual fantasy.  At Topkapi Palace, the harem’s role was primarily to provide future heirs to the Ottoman throne.  Every time the Sultan had sex with one of the women, it was carefully planned and recorded.

one of the rooms in the harem

one of the rooms in the harem

in the harem

in the harem

sitting room in the harem

sitting room in the harem

stained glass windows in the harem

stained glass windows in the harem

mosaics in the harem

mosaics in the harem

The Harem’s once opulent space is now a faded version of its former self.  But still.  I get a sense of its magnificence.  It sprawls.  It brims with endless long couches, low tables, ottomans, huge beds with elaborate canopies, royal blue gleaming niches in walls.  Candy for the imagination.  Of course, as always, nothing is air-conditioned (we are so spoiled in the U.S.!) and it is sweltering and close.

in the harem

in the harem

at topkapi palace outside of the harem

at topkapi palace outside of the harem

After leaving the Harem, I wander into the beautifully landscaped Third Courtyard, and sit for a minute to enjoy the shade.

in the 3rd courtyard of the palace

in the 3rd courtyard of the palace

on the Palace grounds

on the Palace grounds

on the grounds of Topkapi Palace

on the grounds of Topkapi Palace

I pack in with the crowds to the Imperial Treasury to try to look at some of the Sultan’s riches, but I admit I only do a perfunctory walk-through.  It’s just too darn hot!!  And sultry.  Outside, I stand on a balcony that looks over the Bosphorus, Bosphorus Bridge, Asian Istanbul and Sea of Marmara.

on the palace balcony overlooking the bosphorus

on the palace balcony overlooking the bosphorus

on the balcony of topkapi palace, the bosphorus below

on the balcony of topkapi palace, the bosphorus below

For 3 hours, I explore Topkapi Palace.  It’s funny when you travel, you feel a sort of obligation to see all of these historical sights; you hope you will visit this place again, but you fear that you may not, so you try to soak it in with all your might.  But.  In the end, what you remember are the moments of pleasure you experience.  For me, it is sitting in the shade in the courtyard; it is standing on the balcony looking over the Bosphorus and feeling the breeze.  It is drinking in the colors of the opulent blue and green tiles and loving the way the light streams into the rooms.  It is stopping in the bookstore near the entrance to discuss good Turkish books with a young bookseller and almost buying Louis de Bernieres’ Birds Without Wings because he is so enthusiastic about it.

on the other balcony of the palace looking over the golden horn into asian istanbul

on the other balcony of the palace looking over the golden horn into asian istanbul

Next, I walk to the Istanbul Archeological Museum and ask about air-conditioning.  Ha!  I am so kidding myself!  By now I am hot and exhausted… and hungry… so I walk away and away and am lured into a Turkish restaurant by a guy who specializes in luring.  What is this person called, who does this thing?  Is he called a “hawker”?  The definition is “one who sells goods aggressively, especially by calling out.”  I met many of these people in Istanbul, “hawkers,” maybe.  I think “lurer” is a better word because they don’t really shout.  They try to strike up unobtrusive conversations with you as you walk by and they suck you in like this.  Quietly but persistently.

Anyway, I am lured in because he can promise me air-conditioning.  I am so easy!!  I order cold meze, appetizers served in small portions, cooked in olive oil: stuffed grape leaves, eggplant salad (delectable!), and a mix of yogurt, cucumbers, and garlic with olive oil.  As I speak with an older couple from Argentina at a next-door table, I sip a glass of red wine.  The Argentinian man tells me you must either like Chile or Argentina, not both, because they hate each other; people who love one must necessarily hate the other!  Odd. He catalogs a whole series of hatreds: we like Brazil but they hate us; we hate Uruguay but they love  us.  He (who seems more British than Argentinian to me) raves about the Archeological Museum and goes into great detail about all the treasures there.  He insists I MUST go there.  They also say I should take a long walk to the New Mosque, where I might be able to see a Muslim service in progress.  The wife raves about that.

archeology 101:

After my wine, I feel fluidly loose (too relaxed really to go anywhere except for a nap!), but by gosh, those Argentinians told me I MUST see the Archeological Museum. So there I go.  A smaller version of the Egyptian museum, there are too many antiquities to count.  The grounds are green and lush and I fall in love with a little garden with ancient statues in it.  I wander around, feeling a little too tipsy to even bother reading the placards.  A huge sarcophagi collection.  The highlight, which the Argentinian raved about, is the 2,000-year-old Alexander Sarcophagus (Alexander the Great is portrayed in battle on the sides), though it was actually carved for King Abdalonymos of Sidon.  Greek and Roman sculptures abound.

statue in the garden of the archeological museum

statue in the garden of the archeological museum

inside the archeological museum

inside the archeological museum

the archeological museum

the archeological museum

mosaics in the archeological museum

mosaics in the archeological museum

in the garden at the istanbul archeological museum

in the garden at the istanbul archeological museum

Outside I go to another building that’s the highlight for me: the Tiled Kiosk … Why is it I am always drawn to beautiful colors and the decorative arts?  This pavilion contains a huge assembly of Selcuk, Ottoman, and regional tiles.  I fall in lust with the tiled prayer niches in the walls.  I am so nappy now.  In Korea, the Koreans are always telling me to “take a rest.”  Heeding the echoes of their repetitive advice, I go back to the garden with the statues and lie on a bench looking up through the leaves.  I drift off.  Ah, a slice of heaven.

a circa 1430 prayer niche in the Tiled Kiosk

a circa 1430 prayer niche in the Tiled Kiosk

the coke zero guy (& someone’s been into the turkish viagra):

After “taking my rest,” I walk along the street following the tram tracks toward where the New Mosque is supposed to be, asking directions along the way.  I stop to buy a Coke Zero and as I’m walking along sipping my coke through the crowds, a very young (read: cute & hot) guy appears beside me with a Coke Zero in his hand.  He is tall & medium build, has dark hair, an unblemished face, a sly smile.

He holds his Coke up as if to offer a toast, noting that we are both drinking the same drink.  He starts rattling off the regular Turkish guy talk: Where are you from?  What’s your name?  I’m Mesmut.  I study physical education.   Do you like physical education?  (I swear he flexes his muscles at this point).  Do you like me?  I like older women.  I say, how old are you?  He says, guess.  I say 21.  He says, yes, I’m 20 or 21.  Hmmm.  Doesn’t he know his own age?  He smiles, says, you want to have a fling?  We can go straight up to a my room and have a fling.  I say, I’m going to the mosque to see the service.  He says, let’s sit on this bench for a minute.  I am hot, so I sit.  I’m also curious to see how he operates.

Surprisingly, in the middle of this park, right next to the mosque and the spice market, crowds of people orbiting, he grabs me and kisses me!  I actually enjoy it for a split second until I realize how idiotic it is.  I’m embarrassed.  He is kissing me and then he is pulling my hair. Hard.  He is crazy passionate, or just plain horny.  I’m not a prude in public or anything, but he looks so young that the age difference is utterly absurd.  Ahmed in Egypt was young for me at 26, but he at least looked to be in his late 30s and had a mind of a 45-year-old!  I abruptly stand and tell him I’m going to the mosque, but first he insists on giving me his email address and Facebook name.  I tell him it is time to say goodbye. I pull myself away and escape to the mosque.

turkish viagra

turkish viagra

I swear, poor Mesmut has been into the Turkish Viagra.  This is a popular name for a spiced paste in the form of candy (made of nuts and dried fruits) which claims to restore health, youth and potency; it is more commonly known as Mesir Paste.  Apparently the “viagra” claim is based on the traditional link between nuts (with their vitamin E) and libido!  Hmmm… poor Mesmut ought to steer clear of the Istanbul spice market.

the new mosque, aladdin, & the flower & spice markets:

I walk, a little shaken, into the New Mosque, and sit in the courtyard to calm down.  I don a cloth skirt and scarf provided by the mosque and go into the mosque.  There is no prayer service at the moment, I have no idea when the next one will be, and I don’t want to wait around.

the courtyard of the new mosque

the courtyard of the new mosque

inside the new mosque

inside the new mosque

So I leave, wander through the flower market and then sit down to have a mango juice at a cafe where another crazy guy takes a bunch of pictures of himself with my camera.

at the flower market

at the flower market

the flower market

the flower market

the crazy guy in the cafe

the crazy guy in the cafe

I then explore the spice market.  This is a feast of sights and aromas: Turkish delight, lentils and beans, dried figs and apricots, pistachios and hazelnuts, saffron, henna, olive oil soap.

delicacies at the spice market

delicacies at the spice market

at the flower and spice market

at the flower and spice market

sweets at the market

sweets at the market

nuts and grains at the market

nuts and grains at the market

olives

olives

While taking pictures of some jewel-colored water pipes, I am apprehended by shopkeeper Aladdin, who strikes up the regular involved Turkish conversation.  He plans to study acting in New York.  🙂 He asks me if I will have a drink with him at 7:00 when he gets off.  I say I will see. Of course, I never go back.

aladdin's colorful water pipes

aladdin’s colorful water pipes

By this time, I am utterly exhausted and I walk the LONG hot road back following the tram tracks to the Big Apple, where I take a nap.  After showering and changing, I meet Jessica and her mom in the hallway.  Her mom, who is my age, is thankful that I helped out her daughter by giving her 50 lira, and she repays me immediately.  They invite me to have a beer with them on the terrace, which I do. The mother is a lawyer living in Ohio.  Every year she goes to a conference in London and has been rotating her 4 children, one at a time, through London and then to a country of their choosing.  She asks me what took me to Korea at this point in my life.  I tell her the long boring story.

I go to dinner at Lale Restaurant, the famous “The Pudding Shop,”  where, according to Rick Steves, “a generation of vagabond hippies started their long journey east on “The Freak Road” to Kathmandu in the 1960s.”

feeling a few moments of loneliness at the Lale Restaurant

feeling a few moments of loneliness at the Lale Restaurant

I am practically the only one in the restaurant, and despite the male attention I have had in the last two days, I actually feel lonely, probably for the first time on my trip.  I drink a glass of red wine, eat chicken orzo soup and a vegetable omelet.  I go back to the hotel early, and right before I get in bed at a pathetic 9:00 p.m., I meet my two new roommates, a mother and daughter traveling together from England.  The mother has to take the bunk above me because there are no more bottom bunks.  I go to bed happy to have met two older women also staying in a hostel.  Maybe this adventure I’m on is not so unusual after all.

On men (Turks, Koreans and expats):

Though I understand fully that these Turkish men have their ulterior motives, whether to sell me a carpet, sell me lamps or ceramics, lure me into their restaurant, or get me to sleep with them, it is still refreshing (& a relief!) to get some male attention.  In Korea, I’ve begun to wonder if I am grossly deformed, have the plague, or have bad body odor.  The only time men look at me is to give me dirty looks because my hair is white and I refuse to heed their dye-your-hair ultimatums.  Even the expat guys here seem to be looking for the submissive Asian girls.  These kinds of men, those looking for the submissive girls, hold no interest for me; and neither do the Korean men.  So.  As silly as it is, I am loving the attention I have gotten in 2 days in Istanbul. It is more than I have had in 5 months in Korea.  Hmm.  I’d say it’s more than I’ve had in the U.S. as well. Or anywhere. 🙂

the blue mosque with the fountain turned on

the blue mosque with the fountain turned on

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