TURKEY, THE LAND OF THE WELCOMING HAND at least that is how I think of the country. We arrive in Bodrum on the car ferry from Kos (ours is the only car) and after the “car” clears customs (which happens after a stern looking customs official has had his coffee break) we are greeted by the smiling faces of our friends whom we have come to stay with. We have two dates booked for the next three and a half weeks, one is a hotel in Cappadocia and the other is the ferry back to Kos. Our host has given us a route that he recommends that we follow and after a few days in Bodrum, which was very enjoyable, we head east. I have been to Turkey twice but this is Guy’s first visit. We are both very excited about the prospects ahead. Turkey has an interesting culture of modern and old that is trying hard to sit together. Old stone houses, and now the new highrise apartments scarring the countryside, which are not pleasing to the eye. According to a report on Turkey’s demographic structure and its future released by the Turkish Statistics Institute, Turkey’s population is expected to reach 94.6 million by 2050 so one can understand the need for new housing but I have to say whoever controls “planning” has not given one iota of time to blending these unattractive structures into the beautiful countryside….
Our route takes us via Milas and Mugla to Pamakkale. As we drive into the area we see ahead this incredible “cotton castle” (the Turkish meaning of Pamakkale) it is just “there” as we turn a corner. There are an abundance of hot springs and travertine which people have bathed in for thousands of years. The temperature ranges from 35 centigrade to 100 centigrade. It has now been declared a world heritage site which hopefully will save it from the thousands of tourists who come annually to dip their feet in the water. The ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis was built on top of the “white castle” and there are many ruins remaining.
Lady Jane our GPS lady, is having trouble finding Aphrodisias our next stop and consequently we end up in a tiny farming village which is not even on the map! We decide to park and take a look at things when we see several people heading towards the car with smiling faces. Women are working on their knees in the fields in front of us and there is a certain charm about the village. Within minutes there are children arriving on bicycles. Not a word is spoken between us all but the friendship exuding from these people was genuine. One of the adults immediately took out his phone and called someone who then arrived on a motor bike, the kids are getting quite excited at this stage and peer into the car, they may not have seen a car with a bright red license plate indicating another country before and quite likely they have not heard another language being spoken. We all discuss with “hands” a direction that we must take. As we leave the children pedal alongside the car giving us an escort out of the village and waving us goodbye.
By the time we reach Aphrodisias it is closed for the day. There is one rather grim looking hotel that we check out, we are greeted in French by the owner (we have a French license plate) but we think we can do better and decide not to stay. As we are leaving Guy notices a large pile of rugs and kilims and inquires as to what they are doing there, he is told that they are for sale…….Guy for those who don’t know, has been collecting Persian rugs and kilims most of his life and has, to say the least, a large collection of sizes and colours. This did not stop him buying three in Bodrum before we left….Of course we go and look at the collection and are then introduced to the owner’s mother and husband whose eyes are wide open at the prospect of a sale. The stories are many but basically most of the rugs have been in the family for many decades. The mother (Grandma we will call her) has six daughters (one is the owner of the hotel) her husband died a year ago so money is in short supply. She is a woman who looks far older than her years and she has a need in her eyes that says that she would be SO grateful if we would buy at least one. She pointed at one that she had recently finished making which was hanging on the wall. When we showed no interest in this one then the pile started to be dismantled. There is a ritual that Guy is familiar with but I was not. First a selection of rugs are placed on the floor, at this point tea is offered and believe me it is hard to say no to the hospitality. Sipping the (apple tea) we are then asked if the size of the kilim (which is all we are interested in buying, we definitely have enough “rugs”) is right, then the colour, no price is ever mentioned. Guy and I have decided on a plan at this point, we both seem to automatically know which ones we like but want to give little indication of our preferences, so we ask them to take away a selection and leave a few. The price of all the remaining kilims are then discussed. They start high and we start low, somehow there is a price that we all have in our heads. This procedure brings us down to three Kilims that we have chosen. We agree on a price and tell them that we will return in the morning with the cash. On the way to the next town where we stay the night (Nazilli) Guy tells me that he would also like to have one larger one that we looked at as well and he sorts out in his mind what he will offer when we return. I am really not sure if the family thought we would come back next morning but they were certainly pleased to see us. We took them some sweets and once the deal was done, handed them over. Grandma rushed into the house and came out with a scarf which she then tied on my head and gave me a beautiful small tapestry that her mother had made (see photo). We then went back into the house and paid them the money. Grandma took the money which she brushed across her forehead, breast and then the floor which I interpreted to mean a form of thanks. Two of the kilims we bought were part of her dowry so around forty years old, one of the other ones was made by her sister, she admitted that she could not have made it herself as it was a very difficult pattern. The fourth one belonged to her mother and is about seventy years old. In some ways it is sad to take these pieces out of any family but I think she knew how much we would appreciate them and will give them a good home. We met many “rug dealers” in Turkey and ended up buying many more kilims, some of the dealers were not at all pleasant so we tended not to buy from anyone who got upset with us if we couldn’t agree a price, but we did have one other wonderful experience when one day we bought some old donkey saddle bags and the vendor (while we drank our customary tea) asked if he could sing to us, of course we said yes and he then proceeded to sing in a most beautiful voice which lasted for about five minutes! It turns out that he was a singer with a “Whirling Dervish” group and while he sang he had an ornament of a Whirling Dervish in his hand that he spun around in time with the tune. I think we would both agree however that the experience with Grandma and her family stands out as being the happiest of all.
We eventually visited Aphrodisias later that morning. Aphrodisias was named after Aprodite the Greek goddess of love. The site has suffered many earthquakes over the years and excavations are continuing with many new discoveries annually.
From there we drove to Dalyan and found a charming hotel on the river which turned out to be full of English! This was Guy’s first experience of the “English” on holiday and we realized that a couple of places on the list ie. Fethiye and Antalya will be the same so we make an agreement that we will bypass them and find somewhere smaller, also on the list. This brings us to a small town on a hillside overlooking the sea called Kas. The streets are narrow and there is a buzz about the town, we find a hotel and decide to stay a few days. We both felt that the advice given to take a boat trip was certainly worthwhile and this trip brought out something in me that I have never experienced before. The boat passed close to a sunken city of which many theories abound. The trip began at 10am and we returned at 7pm.
On the return journey the captain chose to play some beautiful music. Much later Guy went down to find out what it was and was promptly handed the CD to keep! The music was by a Turkish group called Son Kopru and the album is called “The Last Bridge”. With this playing, the rocking of the boat, the extraordinary scenery, the warm air and soft breeze I found myself in a complete trance, I have never meditated so can only imagine that this was pretty close to some form of it but I have to say that this “high” that I felt stayed with me for the rest of the boat trip and it is something that I will never forget.
A few days later we go to Konya. This is a city that is the home of the Mevlana Museum. As you enter you immediately see the SEVEN pieces of advice from Mevlana written on a plaque….here they are:
l) In generosity and helping others be like a river
2) In compassion and grace be like the sun
3) In concealing other’s faults be like night
4) In anger and fury be like dead
5) In modesty and humility be like earth
6) In tolerance be like a sea
7) Either exist as you are, or be as you look
Now whether you agree with the above or not these words were written around the year 1200 by the mystic Sufi ‘Rumi’ this is something that I know Guy will enlarge upon. Konya is also the home of the Whirling Dervishes but unfortunately we had to wait until we got to Cappadocia to see them perform.
We went through our first police check going into Konya. I found it a very unpleasant place, and whilst waiting for Guy to collect something I sat in the car and had three people banging on the window which was a bit scary. I saw more Burkas and Mosques there than in any other part of Turkey and I feel it was a city maybe showing an unwilling attitude to change. I was certainly very pleased to drive on the next day.
We arrived in Cappadocia and were immediately overwhelmed by the unreal looking formation of the rocks. At first it just appears to be like a “Disney” set and it took sometime to get used to looking at the ‘structures’ all around. We had four fascinating days there, visiting two of the underground cities. I know that Guy has gone into great detail about our time there so I will not write more about it but I do urge all of you who have the opportunity in life to visit this area to go….
We drove on to Istanbul stopping in Duzce overnight. I have chosen to do most of the driving on this trip, and I cant begin to explain the complexities of driving in Turkey. Firstly, I would say that about 40% of the roads we traveled on were undergoing some form of ‘roadworks’. The main problem was that with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees C the tarmac was melting before it had time to set hence the surface was not only slippery but they then pour small stones on top of that….the bigger problem was that they (in many cases) did not have adequate signs out to show drivers that the lanes were either one way or two way and on several occasions there were cars heading straight for us! We made a point of only driving during the day as I just cannot imagine what could happen at night. The other problem with the roads is of course the drivers. Ego becomes a massive thing to the (mostly male) Turkish drivers and they simply become different people altogether as soon as they get behind the wheel. The drive from Duzce to Istanbul was one that I will remember for a long time. Lorries are in all lanes. At times there is a feeling of being completely hemmed in on all sides and I can tell you it is NOT a pleasant feeling. By the time we got to our hotel in Istanbul I was pretty exhausted. One of the reasons that we chose the hotel was for its secure parking (stated online) so we were not very pleased to be told that we would have to park on the road outside and give the keys to the porter to move when needed. We in fact ended up with a secure place, an upgraded room and kept hold of our keys! Enough said.
Istanbul was hot, steamy and crowded. We were able to walk everywhere from our hotel and did cover all the necessary tourist routes including visiting the “Harem” in the Topkapi Palace. We wandered off the beaten track a bit one day and ended up in a bazaar where all the locals do their shopping. Throughout our entire journey around Turkey we have been struck by the extraordinary kindness of the people. Istanbul was no exception and on this particular day we were standing in the shade outside a shop that sold of all things rubber bands. Within minutes quite unsolicited the owner came out and offered us each a bottle of water. Guy who bought a few items of clothing in the Bazaar had his hand shaken without reservation everywhere that we did business, not only in Istanbul but everywhere we went. Everyone wants to know where you come from, everyone wants to be friendly, and certainly the warmth shown when “America” is mentioned is very humbling. We had a wonderful experience with a waiter one night whose photos we have put on the blog, such a funny, cheeky banter emanated from him that he was able to entice people from all countries into his restaurant, done with apparent ease and sincerity.
We also took the ferry on the Bosphorus one day and stopped at a small fishing village for an hour and a half, we then got the ferry back and sat on the opposite side that we had traveled in the morning. The old mansions many of which have been restored stand out amongst the modern architecture of this historical city….A city rich with history and culture.
Our journey back to Bodrum included stops at Bandirma, Canakkale, Foca and Sirince Village. Guy has covered our time at Gallipoli, Ephesus and Troy.
Sirince Village was on our list of places to see. As we drove into this Orthodox village, a place where the Turkish-Greek culture of the 1920’s is in abundance we were approached by a restaurant owner who when we put our window down said “welcome to San Francisco” little did he realize what he was saying…..it was of course a joke but when we told him that this was in fact where we were from he was totally amazed. With the kindness that we had now come to expect we asked if there were any hotels that he could recommend and he gave us the name of one that he said was very special. This turned out to be our home for the next three days. Nisanyan Hotel is the home of Sevan Nisanyan the political commentator and travel writer. He has created in the hills above Sirince a place of peace and tranquility that is totally unique. The ‘place’ has grown over many years, it is full of his vision and one of the most beautiful places we have stayed. Everything that he has created there has been done with the aim of ‘blending in’ with the natural habitat from the cottages he has built to the swimming pool, including the main house which when you approach it has a fountain outside containing flower petals which are renewed daily, it was exquisite, romantic and quite beautiful.
We arrived back in Bodrum to stay with our friends full of enthusiasm for their country, full of stories of our time there and…………seventeen kilims!