July 25, 2014

Tunnels, Fairy Chimneys, Churches and the Evil Eye

Turkey- Day Three

For those of us who didn't get up 4am for the hot-air balloon ride, breakfast was at 7am. The tour started at 8am.

Cappadocia is a region in central Turkey dominated by three volcanoes, Erciyes, Melendiz and Hasan. The eruption of these volcanos thirty million years ago, and subsequent centuries of compression and erosion, created a landscape made of tuff, soft stone made of mud and ash. Not only is the region fertile but the unique land formations make it very inhabitable. Settlement occurred sometime before the Hittites arrived in 2000 BC.

The region was ruled by the Hittite Empire until its fall in 1200 BC. The name Cappadocia comes from the Hittites and means 'land of well-bred horses' (we didn't see any). After passing through several changes in reign, Alexander the Great arrived in 333 BC and left the region relatively independent for the next 300 years. Then the Selçuk Turks took over, followed by the Mongols and the Ottoman Empire.

Christianity was introduced sometime in the first century. To avoid persecution by the Romans and attacks by the Arab raiders, dwellings and churches were built into the soft-stone land formations  for protection. To this day they are still used as homes.

Our first stop was the Göreme Open Air Museum, a monastic settlement that dates back to the 10th century. It should be said that in the earliest years of the religion, Turkey was the most important region for Christianity in the Mediterranean. There are around 1000 churches in Cappadocia region alone.

The Outside
The Inside
Most rooms were empty but some had seats and tables carved out of the ground. The places of worship could be identified by the vibrant frescos on the walls and ceilings, a complete surprise given the rudimentary architecture from outside. We were not allowed to take pictures of the frescos so the image above came from the Goreme museum website, but it is exactly what we saw.

Along with churches and living quarters, the area also had graves carved into the stone. They were quite short and some still had skeletons in them.

After the museum we headed to Kaymakli to visit the underground tunnels.

Underground cities of Cappadocia were discovered in the late 50s. Kaymakli is considered the widest, 19 km long, and Derinkuyu is considered the deepest, 85m down. To give you an idea of the size, Derinkuyu can hold roughly 30,000 people. So far, 35 underground cities have been discovered in the region.

It's unclear who or when they were constructed but it's been suggested the Hittites built them for protection or the Christians built them to avoid persecution... or aliens lived in them.

The underground cities have churches, storage rooms, ventilation shafts and kitchens. Boulders were used as doors and rolled over the entrance ways. Tunnels between rooms are extremely short, narrow and sometimes long. When our guide brought us into Kaymakli he warned that we would be going 30m down into the earth in an extremely claustrophobic area that would take half an hour to get out of if we had a panic attack.

Entrance to Kaymakli Underground City
I did not want to go. Only four people out of seventeen put their hand up. Cam was one of them. So I went. Not because I must do everything my husband does but because in the event the roof collapsed and he was trapped for eternity, I didn't want him to be alone.

I was pretty nervous. Moving through the tunnel was like moving through a straw. I kept my distance from people to avoid claustrophobia and I was thankful we had arrived before another busload of tourists. For some idiotic reason a Japanese family brought an incapacitated, elderly women into the tunnel. One of our guides (we had two) left us to take her out before she got too far.

After the underground city we had an opportunity to shop. Everyone asked me how the tunnel was. I was grateful for the experience and thrilled I didn't die. So I bought myself a gift from a local artisan.

Turkish Water Carafe
This jug is decorated using a common technique but unlike a lot of ceramics for sale, the design included a tulip,  the national flower of Turkey. Tulips did not originate in Holland but in Turkey.

The Nazar is also a huge symbol in Turkey. It's found on houses, jewelry, artwork and even on trees.

The Nazar is a crystal, blue amulet in the shape of an eye supposed to protect against the evil eye. Our bus driver had several wrapped around the gearshift. I felt so much safer.

Our next stop were the Fairy Chimneys.

The fairy chimney rock formations are created when tuff (soft stone made of volcanic ash) erodes underneath hard rock, like basalt. Caps are left on top of columns that will one day collapse.

Looks like a valley of penises. Or Tatooine. Very popular with the tourists.

After lunch, during the hottest time of day, we headed to the town of Avanos along the Kizlirmak river. The river provides a vast source of clay (again from the volcanos) and as a result, a number of pottery factories are located in this area.

We watched as plates and bowls were being made. Popular Turkish designs are blue, red and green depicting motifs such as tulips and the tree of life. This pottery mixes the clay with sand to make it stronger. Some glazes are also mixed with borate so that the design glows in the dark.

Then, they let us make our own bowls. We needed a lot of practice.

We headed back to the hotel in time for a swim before another buffet dinner. Tomorrow would be another long six hour drive.

July 23, 2014

Ankara, Tuz Golü, Ürgüp

Turkey- Day Two

Our tour guide picked us up at the hotel just after 10am.

“I'm Natasha.”
“I’m Ufuk.”

There were four women already on the bus. It surprised and pleased me to see women traveling alone. Our first stop was the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.

picture of entrance to Museum of Anatolia Civilizations

Because of renovations we were only able to enter the exhibit that housed artefacts of 3000-2000 BC. Most of this exhibit was about the Hittite Empire, one of Turkey’s earliest civilizations dating back to 1700-1200 BC.

carved stone tablets of the Hittites


cuneiform correspondence from Egyptian Queen to Hittite Queen Puduhepa

Note: if you’re ever in Istanbul and looking for a history lesson, we were told the Istanbul Archaeology Museum is not to be missed.

model of Anitkabir
Model of Anitkabir

Our next visit was the Mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder and first president of the Turkish Republic ( the second president of Turkey is also buried there but outside at the back) who introduced policies that turned Turkey into a modern, secular country. He is revered by almost everyone we meet.

picture of Ataturk
Kemal Ataturk

Security at the Mausoleum was a bit of a riddle. We had to exit the bus to walk through a metal detector. While we stood in line, we watched the bus and all of our belongings, completely ignored, drive through the gate and wait for us on the other side. 

The area is vast, sparse and respectful. A Peace Park surrounds the grounds and has around 48,500 different trees and plants from all over the world, including Canada, in it.

Ataturk Hall of Honor
Ceremonial Plaza and Hall of Honor
The ceremonial plaza can hold 15,000 people and is set in travertine (limestone). It's decorated with 373 simulated kilims (Turkish rugs) all with a slightly different pattern. 

A 40-ton sarcophagus is placed in the back of the Hall of Honor and many people lined up to take pictures but, as our guide revealed, Ataturk is not in it. He is located ten metres below, in a bunker that only the president and chief military officer have keys to.

After the Mausoleum, we settled back onto the bus and prepared for a six-hour ride to Ürgüp, in the region of Cappadocia.

On the road in Turkey

Lunch was at a roadside rest stop. Turkish pizza called 'pide' and more Aryan was delicious.

Our next stop was Tuz Gölü, the second largest lake in Turkey.

Lake Tuz

Otherwise known as Salt Lake it wasn’t difficult to figure out why. Salt deposits stretched out for miles making it beautiful and challenging to walk through. 

Along the pathway to the lake were shops and advertisements promising miracles in their salt products. Instead of buying anything I scooped salt off the ground and stuffed it in a zip-lock bag. I hope that was ok. 

advertisement for salt products
someone needs a better translator

The last stop before Ürgüp was another café in the town of Aksaray. The view from the window was Mount Hasan, a now inactive volcano which once helped create the unique geological formations we planned to see tomorrow. 

We were pretty restless by the time we got to the hotel having spent a good part of the day sitting. Cam and I unwound with a swim at the hotel pool and Efes, a refreshing Turkish beer.

Dinner was an awesome buffet of Turkish dishes. 

We went to bed early. Tomorrow was going to be another jam-packed day.

July 22, 2014

The Most Magical Place on Earth

I’m talking Turkey, literally.

Last year Cam and I were invited to a wedding in Ankara, the capital of Turkey.

‘Are you coming?’ was how it was delivered.

Truthfully the idea intimidated me. I didn’t speak the language; I was completely unfamiliar with the customs and law of a secular yet predominantly Muslim country and there was heavy rioting. But this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so in our travel plans Cam and I booked a tour of the country a week before the wedding.

My family tends to sneer at tours, believing a guided group makes the experience less authentic. Having tried bus/walking tours, boat cruises and just wandering around on my own, I’ve found that tours, while restrictive, can save time and you tend to learn more about structures than just looking at them. They’re also better for the environment.

picture of tour bus

Our bus tour was five days long and covered over 1500 kilometres. The outside temperature peaked at 35 °C and inside the bus was about 28 °C. We travelled with seventeen other people; a Canadian couple and their son, a mother-daughter duo from Brazil, four South Africans, a six-member family from India, and two girls from Portugal. There was some dissension along the way but for the most part everyone remained respectful. And we all had a blast!

A map of turkey

Public toilets usually charge a small fee (about TL0.75) for use. A few may differentiate between büyük abdest (bowel movement) and küçük abdest (urination) and charge more for the former than for the latter, but nowadays it's mostly a flat fee for whatever you might need to do.

I brought A Rough Guide to Turkey and memorized the most important word I’d use, teşekkürler (tay-shay-kur-lar) which means ‘thanks’. We also packed enough Turkish lira to last a week.

Day One

We got up at 4:50am to catch a 6:50am flight with Turkish Airlines. Despite having plenty of time I was on edge, fretting over car accidents, urinary tract infections and kidnappings. Mostly, I hated being stuck in line behind people who were inefficient, scampering for documents despite having had plenty of time to get their shit together.

Aerial view of Istanbul

It took three hours to get to Istanbul followed by a two-hour layover in the airport. Boarding for Ankara was thirty minutes late and then, after pulling away from dock, the plane turned back. The temperature in the plane climbed as we waited on the tarmac. Finally an attendant announced that they were trying to fix the switch for the air-conditioner. She also mentioned it was the same switch to start the plane, which is why we hadn’t left. We sat and watched outside as a truck was brought over to ‘boosted’ the engine.

Ariel view over Turkey

The view was fascinating. In land were rolling hills, patches of red and yellow and occasionally craters that looked like scabs on a leg. I was moved by the beauty of the land and upset that my snack had a big piece of shrimp on top. I ate a bun.

From the air, Ankara looks methodical. Trees are exactly the same shape and distance from each other, houses look like monopoly pieces and there isn’t a hint of refuse in the street. We arrived late but our ride, Calgon, a childhood friend of the bride’s was still there waiting for us. Unfortunately he was at the domestic terminal and we arrived internationally. When he finally found us I said, “Take me away, Calgon”.

Calgon, born in Turkey, raised in Turkey, educated in Turkey, soon to be married in Turkey and would probably die in Turkey (his words exactly) worked for a German truck company. With classic Turkish hospitality, he took us out for dinner: beef skewers, bulgur and Turkish meatball (that don’t actually have meat in them). He ordered Ayran, a sour, foamy yogurt drink that’s cool and delicious. He told us about his pending marriage, how it is tradition to get permission from the bride’s parents and that typically, the couple receives gold from the guests. Sometimes the gift is pinned to the bride and groom. Our gift was a set of engraved Swiss Army knives.

We stayed at the Movenpick hotel. It was a walk away from the bus terminal, next to a huge commercial complex (Starbucks included) and just off the highway. In fact, everything seemed to exist just off the highway. Ankara is not the prettiest or the most accessible of cities.

The hotel was luxurious. We had a view of the highway from the tenth floor. The décor was dark wood mixed with red, purple and gold trimmings. Prices were half what they are in Geneva and the best part was the free hotel spa, equipped with a heated pool, sauna and hammam. And we were the only ones using it. We went to bed early. The tour was scheduled for the next day.

To be cont..

July 10, 2014

Indulgent Devices

Last Christmas my mother-in-law bought me this:

picture of Clarisonic brush

“A toothbrush?”

“It’s to clean your face,” she said.

“Hm.” Much less offensive.

It’s a gadget that, after looking up the price, I decided must be for protecting my delicately aging face. How thoughtful. A box of Clearasil would have sent an entirely different message.

The Clarisonic is cordless, rotating device that comes with various brush heads and sonicates about as much as a doorbell. It has a strict timer that makes navigating the face a little stressful —twenty seconds on the forehead and by the time I get to the cheeks suds are streaming into my eyes— but I have noticed a slight ‘glow’ in my skin. It comes with a recommended facial cleaner (also expensive) and they suggest you replace the brush every three months. Cars require less maintenance.
I can’t say for sure if my complexion is clearer. It definitely cleans better than splashing with soap and water. After using it for several months now I’m tempted to try it on my thighs. Cellulite anyone? In conclusion, I would never have bought one for myself. I use it almost daily but it’s mostly decadent. I’m self-indulgent when it comes to food but for the rest, I guess that’s what mothers-in-law are for.

July 8, 2014

Claude Monet

While I silently begrudge anyone with a garden, backyard, front yard, balcony or plant that doesn't die, I decided to take a trip to Claude's house, a dear friend (to somebody), one hour outside Paris. He was kind enough to let me stroll his garden, for a fee the miserly fellow, but didn't make me wait in a line, which I appreciated.

pathway from garden to Monet's house
The Path

Garden Archway
The Archway

A bridge over the pond
The Bridge
Monet's Pond
The Pond
Monet's row boat
The Boat

Monet's house and garden
The House
Monet's purple roses
Purple Roses
We got lucky as it was pouring rain just before and after we arrived. I had never seen purple roses before. I had never seen so many people in one garden. Behind those photos are six tour-buses full of people. It disrupted a bit of the serenity, but as you can see the beauty remained fully intact.