Archive for November, 2008

Our first Servas visit

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

We met our Servas host, Omer, after he finished work on Friday. We had planned to meet at the “Peace and Friendship” statue outside of the HSBC building where he works, but a security guard with machine gun was clear that we weren’t to wait there, so we moved to the sidewalk nearby. Fortunately Omer found us anyway. We quickly followed him to a company shuttle bus and were whisked away across the Bosporus (to the Asian side of Istanbul) to the neighbourhood in which he lives. Turkish law states that all companies with more than 1500 employees must provide shuttle service. This is true anywhere in Turkey, but is especially important in Istanbul, with people travelling to work in private cars the traffic congestion would be even worse than it already is. Instead, the worst congestion is on Friday nights and Saturdays. Seems like a great idea!

We had a quick, and delicious dinner at home with Omer, his mother, and two year old daughter Ilke. At dinner, Omer’s mother asked if we were married. Becky said “yes, for six years”. Her reply was “Where is the product?” We were amused and were able to use Friedel and Andrew’s suggested “Inshallah” (Allah/God willing) response. It is a much more effective response here than anything we’ve used back in Canada.

Band in Istanbul.

Band in Istanbul.

After dinner we were off to a performance of traditional Turkish music from the Black Sea region. Omer’s wife Evren was working late, but we picked her up on the way. The trekking and mountaineering group Omer and Evren belong to was doing a cultural meeting – for the first time getting together someplace other than a trail or mountain.

We were expecting some sort of club or similar venue, and were quite surprised when we arrived at a banquet hall. White table cloths, covered chairs, munchies on the table – it felt more like a Canadian office Christmas party than anything else. Fortunately people were not dressed up in fancy outfits, since we do not own any dressy attire. The room was full and two tables were reserved for the trekking group. We chatted with a few people, but only in English. Scott wishes his Turkish was better, but hasn’t succeeded in getting very far with it.

Ilke posing for a photo with mom Evern in the background.

Ilke posing for a photo with mom Evern in the background.

Included in the admission price was two drinks. We continue to be surprised at casual drinking in Turkey – it really is no different than at home. The stereotype of Turkey as a strict Muslim nation is clearly not true. We were also surprised that it is common to bring your children with you to these outings – there were many children at the party, mostly they sit with their parents and are exceptionally well behaved. We have friends in Ottawa from the Ukraine who do the same with their kids, and so we were not unfamiliar with the practice of just bringing the kids along when you go out.

The music was an interesting mix of modern and traditional instruments, with Tulum (like bagpipes), Saz (like a long-necked lute) and another bowed instrument mixed with guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. Not quite traditional folk music, but a recognizable derivative. Sort of like Spirit of the West during and after the Save this House album…

It was a late night, we did not get to bed until after 1 am, and we got up late on Saturday morning. We had both woken up early (7:30 am), but the house was still fast asleep, so we went back to bed and did not reappear until 10 am. Unfortunately, getting up late meant that we missed an opportunity to visit with Evren and Ilke as they were departing for a family visit in Bursa. Had we realized this, we would have gotten up shortly after they did to enjoy a short visit. Becky had a great time getting to know Evren a little bit at the party on Friday night.

The plan for the late morning was to go for a walk in the woods. Omer’s mother (who lives with them and provides childcare for Ilke while they are working) is an expert with local herbs. While we walked in the forest, she collected a variety of edible greens, some of which we enjoyed with dinner.

Muddy car, safely parked on the grass.

Muddy car, safely parked on the grass.

Our trip to the woods was not without adventure. There had been a fair bit of rain in Istanbul on Thursday. The path up to the woods was normally hard-packed dirt; however, when we approached it was soft rutted mud. It did not take long for the car to be stuck – attempting to climb a soft mud hill with two wheel drive and summer tires was somewhat ineffective. After several attempts at pushing, Becky got behind the wheel and helped to reverse the car out of the rut, down the hill, and park it on the grass. Driving on wet mud is a lot like thick snow with a layer of ice! Once this was done, we were able to enjoy a nice walk in the woods.

The walk in the woods was a similar tradition to at home; however, the woods had a lot of garbage in it. We were happy to see Omer bringing along a garbage bag, and Scott helped collect some of trash as we walked. After about an hour, it began to rain, so we made our way back to the car. We were both nervous about the ride out of the muddy fields, and we both felt a sigh in relief as Omer successfully navigated the car off of the muddy trails and onto pavement.

Wild strawberries.

Wild strawberries.

After the walk in the woods, we drove back across the Bosphorus to the Europe side. Omer was part of a football (soccer) team competing in an tournament against other HSBC teams. This was one of the elimination games. It was a 7 on 7 game, on a reduced-size field, and both teams were quite skilled to our Canadian eyes. (Scott played intramural soccer at Newbridge one year, but isn’t very good). The soccer field was covered, which was nice since it had started to rain. Unfortunately, it did not have full walls, so it was rather chilly sitting and watching. Becky went to get some tea, and she was successful in ordering three teas (oh-ch chai), although the folks behind the counter were amused with her pronunciation!

The soccer game turned out to be on the other side of Istanbul – north west of where we stayed on the Europe side. Unfortunately, the traffic was terrible on the drive home. It took us at least two hours to cross the bridge back to the Asia side of Istanbul. By the time we got home, we were all tired and hungry, but especially Omer, who got stuck with all the driving.

Initially Omer told us of a plan to go over to a neighbour’s house and watch a football match on TV after dinner. Immediately after dinner, we went upstairs to use the Internet to call and try to activate Becky’s new credit cards – a task in which we had limited success. By the time we had finished and returned downstairs to visit, Omer had fallen asleep on the couch, exhausted after not enough sleep on Friday night, and many hours of driving on Saturday. Not wishing to disturb him, we returned to our room to do some Internet tasks and reading. We were happy for the quiet night, but felt awkward not having communicated any plans. Since we were already on the Asia side of Istanbul, we decided to return to Izmir on Sunday.

Throughout our visit, we often felt a little lost and uncomfortable. We had several interesting conversations and a few cultural exchanges, but at the same time we were often unaware of what was happening or what was expected of us. At times, there was a lack of invitation that made us feel uncomfortable – this could be a cultural thing as well. We are discovering more and more about our Canadian behaviours – sit quietly and wait for an invitation, don’t ever ask for something you might need! We wonder if there was a cultural cue that we missed? In our reflections of our time with Omer and family, we noted that we were not questioned nearly as much as usual about our trip and our adventures or about our culture in Canada. Sharing our experiences and culture through stories is the only way we have to give back to our hosts (washing dishes doesn’t count in our eyes), so we left feeling like we were not able to contribute. We were often unsure if we were in the way or if we were doing something that was offensive. When we checked with Omer shortly before leaving, he assured us there was nothing he felt we should have been doing differently, so we hope we were able to leave the family with a good impression.

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Topkapi Palace

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Our day started with a visit to the Topkapi Palace. Becky was not too keen on the price (20 Lira + 15 Lira Harem tour + 10 Lira Audio Guide = 90 YTL), but we used the regret test. Is this something we would regret not doing? Our first answer was yes, and in the end we were very glad we went. For us, the palace had several must-see attractions. The palace was in use until 1924, so many parts are more modern than other places we have visited.

Fancy domed ceiling in the Hamam.

Fancy domed ceiling in the Hamam.

We began our tour with the Harem in an attempt to avoid any crowds. The Harem is the part of the palace where the Sultan, his family, and concubines, lived. The Harem had many incredible domed ceilings with amazing tile work that the pictures do not show well. When the sun shone just right, the gold in the designs shone.

Other than many groups of school children, the palace grounds were quite empty. We even had a few rooms in the Harem to ourselves – quite the contrast with what the guidebook told us to expect. A definite benefit to visiting on a cold day in late November!

We were very glad we had rented the audio guides (20 YTL for two). Scott felt a bit silly walking around with headphones on, but we found the explanations added a lot to our understanding, and the occasional music provided extra ambience.

Scott wearing goofy audio guide headphones.

Scott wearing goofy audio guide headphones.

After viewing the harem and walking around a bit, Becky was in need of a rest and we were both a little hungry. We did not really expect there to be so much to see, so we had not planned on being in the palace over lunch. Our visit to the palace kitchens and the explanation of the meals cooked for 10000 or 15000 people whetted our appetites even more.

We headed to the cafeteria to find a cup of tea and a snack. We were shocked by the prices (14 Lira for a donair which is usually 2-4 Lira on the street, and 4 Lira for tea which is usually 50 cents). Added to the horrible prices, the food was also pretty bad. We recommend that anyone planning a trip to the Topkapi Palace to bring along a picnic.

Huge pots in the palace kitchen.

Huge pots in the palace kitchen.

Our guidebook says that the treasury is an additional fee, but when we approached it was free. We were glad to be seeing the treasury with so few other people, as it is the habit here for people to stand as close as possible to the glass windows to view the items. This means that only one or two people can view them at a time. If you step back to allow more people to see them, someone inevitably just steps in front of you, blocking your view. Becky tried to be a polite Canadian, but found this to be rather frustrating! Scott quickly gave up and crowded up to the glass with everyone else.

Our vote for the most amazing thing we saw in the treasury were candle sticks made to sit outside the tomb of Mohammed. These did spent some time in Medina (Saudi Arabia) but were transported back to Turkey for protection during the first world war. They are about five feet tall and one foot in diameter and made of solid gold. If these items were in the Smithsonian in Washington DC, you would see armed guards very near. The security here seemed to be rather subdued given the value of the items on display.

Our second to last stop was the Sultan’s Palace containing holy relics of the Islamic faith. These include the turban of the prophet Joseph (Old Testament, Joseph and the coat of many colours – made famous in pop culture in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), the staff that Moses used to part the Red Sea, various vials of Prophet Mohammed’s hair, and an imprint of Mohammed’s foot. Adding to the ambiance of the holy relics, the Koran was being read and piped through this section of the museum. When read aloud in Arabic, the Koran sounds very poetic. We aren’t quite sure what to think of many of the relics – many seem to Scott like all the fragments of the “True Cross” which are found in Christian churches around the world. Prophet Mohammed’s relics seem most likely to be authentic, since Islam was a well-established religion by the time he died. Then again – what is real and authentic in this context? It was surprising to us to find all of these here, but Turkey is the successor to the Ottoman Empire, which was for many years the center of Islamic faith in the world. Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised us.

Becky standing in front of some fancy tiles in the Summer Pavillion.

Becky standing in front of some fancy tiles in the Summer Pavillion.

Our final stop was the Summer Pavillion, built in 1640 by Sultan Ibrahim and used for circumcision ceremonies for the crown princes. Becky took great delight in calling it the Circumcision Room, and watching Scott cross his legs. The whole area is decorated with beautiful tile works and we took lots of photos.

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Sending parcels home

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

Today dawned cold and wet. It was raining and the temperature was around 10-12 degrees. It was not really suitable for tromping around the Topkapi Palace, so we decided to leave that until tomorrow with hopefully better weather, and do some chores today.

Since we did not like our motel, we decided to move to one that was listed in our Rough Guide, the Hurriyet Hotel, that was close to the train station but still within walking distance to Sultanemet.

Before leaving the hotel, we made a stop to a couple of English bookstores in the Sultanemet. We were surprised at the number of books for sale on political Islam, secularism in Turkey and other political/religious topics. Since both stores had the same owners, they had the same selection of books.

Our chore for the day was mailing a couple of packages home for Christmas. This first required finding boxes and tape, which turned out to be more of a chore than we expected. The boxes were easy, but the tape required that we find an appropriate store. After much walking around, we entered a fishing store and asked. They did not have any, but they directed us to the general small appliance store next door, where we were able to get both packing tape and a permanent marker.

The funicular cable, with a reflection of Scott and Becky on the glass.

The funicular cable, with a reflection of Scott and Becky on the glass.

Once we had the boxes packed, we visited several different couriers. The cost quoted for mailing was much more than we were willing to pay (about 144 Lira – $120 Canadian), so we went in search of the government postal system, the PTT (equivalent to Canada post). There we learned that the larger of our parcels was over 2 kg, and so we had two options – split it into two or send it cargo (for around 50 Lira). The guy at cargo recommended that the box be split into two and he gave us two new boxes. Our other box was small enough, so Becky went to the kiosk she was led to and mailed the box. The box was just under 2 kg (the maximum for post) and cost 14 Lira to mail to Canada. After re-packaging, we sent the other boxes using the same method. We have no idea when or if they will arrive, but we have succeed in getting them posted.

For dinner, we decided to leave the Sultanemet area and check out Beyonlu – the neighbourhood that is popular with expats in Instanbul. We took the tram and funicular up to Beyonlu and walked from there to Taksim. We were surprised by the number of Starbucks and coffee shops along the pedestrian street. We stopped into another bookstore that has some English books. They also had a great selection of English magazines. We were amused that they had a section on “Islam” and another on “Other Religions and Myths”.

A typical hotel bathroom - note the lack of a shower stall.

A typical hotel bathroom - note the lack of a shower stall.

We discovered that Istanbul train systems are disjoint and challenging. To get from one place to another often requires different forms of transit (tram, subway, and funicular). You pay for each segment of your travel rather than paying for a length of time like most cities. For some areas this makes it less expensive and certainly less confusing to take a taksi (taxi).

Our room in the Hurriyet hotel has a funny smell. We are learning to leave the bathroom door closed, which reduces the smell but doesn’t make it completely go away. Possibly a combination of moth balls and stale smoke in the carpets.  The room is at least clean and free of visible mould, which makes it an improvement over the other guesthouse. Scott enjoyed the nice firm pillows. We were surprised at how quiet the place was given its proximity to the railway station – we did not hear any trains.

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Becky has had this foolish song going through her head since we planned our trip to Istanbul (lyrics from the They Might Be Giants version):

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Blue Mosque with ugly cables holding up the chandeliers

Blue Mosque with ugly cables holding up the chandeliers

We began the day with a trip to the Blue Mosque. When entering the mosque proper, the first thing we noticed was that the view of the domes is obstructed by the dark cables holding up the chandeliers. Unfortunately, that really takes away from the awe of the building. We also noticed many female tourists that did not cover their heads. Becky thinks that she would feel naked in a mosque without a head scarf. Fortunately, the buff (a tube shaped elastic scarf) that she bought in Patra works perfectly as a head scarf (as well as a neck warmer, head band, and light toque).

As we exited the mosque, there was someone collecting donations for its maintenance and upkeep. Scott put down a couple of coins, and he was handed a couple pieces of paper that looked like tickets. When we examined them, we discovered that we were give receipts for the exact amount we donated. We were rather amused with the process.

The tomb of Sultan Ahmet

The tomb of Sultan Ahmet

After we excited the mosque we made a stop at the tomb of Sultan Ahmet. Within were the tombs of many sultans, not just Sultan Ahmet. We were surprised to see the many small tombs (infant or toddler sized). Scott enjoyed seeing the tomb Murad IV (also known as Murad the Mad) – the sultan who reigned during the time of the 1632 books.

Our next stop was Aya Sofya (Haghia Sophia) “The Church of the Divine Wisdom”, originally built as a Christian cathedral in the sixth century and then converted to a mosque, and finally to a museum by Ataturk. From The Rough Guide to Turkey: “For almost a thousand years Aya Sofya, or Haghia Sophia, was the largest enclosed space in the world.” The 30-metre dome containing a tile mosaic was an amazing feat of engineering and architecture.

When we first saw the entrance fee: 20 YTL, we debated whether or not it was worth the price. We were surprised by it mostly because the mosque and tombs did not have any fees, and since Aya Sofya was a church we did not expect a fee – however, it is now actually a museum, so it makes sense. After a brief discussion and validation that we would regret not doing it (the regret test), we paid the fee and entered. We did not regret our decision, the Aya Sofya was Becky’s highlight of Istanbul.

Glowing Jesus mosaic at Aya Sofya

Glowing Jesus mosaic at Aya Sofya

At the Aya Sofya, the mosaics with gold glow when the light is just right. This is typical of Byzantine mosaics, which were designed to be viewed from flickering lantern light, and give the illusion of motion. As we were standing under the front dome mosaic with Mary holding a baby Jesus on her lap, the baby glowed. It was quite a spectacular site, that we would have been missed if the sun was not just right. We recommend seeing the church on a sunny day, and watching.

There is a large scaffolding in the main dome, which is in place as the mosaics of the dome are restored to their original glory. We like the suggestion to “Look at it from another point of view: over 120 generations of men and women have seen the interior, but very few have seen it this way.

Scott was reminded of Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Sailing to Sarantium”, a fictionalized account of the building of the Aya Sofya by Byzantine Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora, through the eyes of a mosaicist. Reading and loving that story made the architecture and mosaics of Aya Sofya much more meaningful and real for him. It’s unfortunate that we’re travelling to so many places that we couldn’t read the stories of each place before arriving. We have read some, and all the stories we have read have enriched our visits.

The Hippodrome, which also features prominently in the life of the Byzantine Empire would have been another high point for Scott, but unfortunately there’s nothing left but three columns and a park. The rest of the massive stone structure was used to construct other walls, houses and monuments in Istanbul. Recycling of stone in other structures is common, and much more noticeable here than in Canada – a much longer history!

After so much walking around, Becky was in need of a break. We had noticed a Starbucks, so we decided to indulge in a coffee. We have found that Starbucks provides a full size American style brewed coffee at a price much less expensive than the Turkish cafes. They also provide herbal tea at a more reasonable cost. Becky was extra delighted to learn that she could get her favourite Soy Chai Latte – and it even tastes the same as at home. In some ways it seems wrong to enjoy a taste of home while away, but when you have been travelling for many months, it is nice to enjoy an occasional comfort of home – and when that comfort is actually less expensive than the local equivalent, then it is a real bonus.

While walking between the Blue Mosque and the tram station, we noticed a new phenomenon – a cooperative call to prayer (Adhan). The muezzin (the guy that performs the Adhan) at the Blue Mosque would start the call, then the muezzin at a nearby mosque would start his call. It was almost like an echo, with each waiting for the other to finish a phrase before going on to the next one. As they progressed through the call, it almost seemed like a competition (Becky’s interpretation), with each adding vocal frills and holding notes longer. Perhaps that was just our western imagination. In any case, we continue to enjoy the musical beauty of the call, even though we don’t understand the Arabic. Similar to a Christian Mass in Latin or German, if it were in English, it likely wouldn’t be so mesmerizing.

In the evening, we decided to go for a walk and check out The Grand Bazaar. It wasn’t as grand or as teeming with people as we expected, probably because we arrived shortly before 5pm on a weekday. We spent most of our time in the indoor section, which is huge. It was very easy to get turned around while walking the twisty streets and narrow alleys. There were several shops where we looked at merchandise and no one came to talk to us – we ended up walking away rather than purchasing something. Eventually, we found a few things we liked and a person at the store to help us, so we were able to complete our Christmas shopping.

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Going to Istanbul

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Our first long-distance trip on a bus in Turkey was remarkably painless, mainly thanks to Mehmet, who was going to Istanbul for a job interview. We were able to tag along with him, which made navigating the ticket purchase, shuttle bus, and transfer very easy. Mobile phones are banned on long-distance busses in Turkey, which made for a quiet and relaxing ride. They use an excuse similar to airplanes – that they interfere with the brake system, which we find amusing. We can’t imagine what the ride would be like with everyone chatting on their mobiles – it seems to be a very common Turkish pastime, so a good thing they aren’t allowed. Because Turkish buses have assigned seating, loading is a much more civilized activity. There is no need to rush to ensure you have a seat next to your partner or friends. If per chance, your assigned seats do not match, you can always ask the bus attendant to re-assign seats, and he will oblige if it is possible.

The bus attendant serving drinks - civilized bus travel.

The bus attendant serving drinks - civilized bus travel.

Once we got to Istanbul, Mehmet got off at the first Asian stop, but we were going to Sultanamet, on the Europe side of Istanbul, across the Bosphorus. We had two choices: stay on the bus until the Europe-side bus terminal (Enesler Otogar) and take the Metro, or get off at Kadikoy on the Asian side and take a shuttle. We opted for the shuttle, but it got us only as far as Taksim. It’s on the correct side of the Bosphorus, but across the Golden Horn from Sultanamet. From Taksim we took a taxi, but the driver apparently didn’t know Sultanamet very well, and we weren’t able to convince him to look at our map, where Scott had clearly indicated the location of our hotel. Finally, after asking for directions twice, we just paid and got off – near the other Mavi Guesthouse which Becky had spotted as we passed. We confirmed our directions there, then walked the last 500m.

We’re staying at the Mavi Onur Guesthouse, which is inexpensive, has a simple ensuite bath, and has both heat/AC and hot water, and we are able to use the kitchen – nice features in this weather. Unfortunately, it has had enough water damage in the past that our room is quite mildewy. The mildew is not ideal for either of us, and it’s also not as clean as we’d like – Becky noticed that there was something in the garbage can, indicating that it was not emptied, and the towels that were hung in the bathroom looked used (there were clean folded towels in the room as well, which are the ones we used). We’ll need to be a bit more careful when inspecting rooms.

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Back in Izmir

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Saturday

We decided to make a quick stop at the carpet / souvenir store prior to taking the bus back to Izmir. We really enjoyed our carpet lesson and felt that Mehmet (2), Ali, and Harry have been very honest so we feel comfortable with making purchases from them. Our brief stop turned into two hours, as Mehmet (the expert salesman) needed to show us all the different options available us. After what Becky felt was a painful negotiating session, Scott was able to get us what seemed to be a good price, with our purchases shipped to Istanbul for us to pick up there. We will mail out our Christmas packages from Istanbul once we complete our shopping.

We decided to ride out to the Otogar in Kusadasi. This decision was based on an assumption that it was only 10-15 km away. The wind was blowing like crazy with gust over 50 km/hr. Mostly it was coming from our rear quarter, but occasionally we would get a cross wind that made it difficult to ride in a straight line. For the first 6 km, we followed a side road (dirt) that was somewhat protected from the wind by tall shrubs. Unfortunately, the side road ended and we needed to get on the main road. The main road was not that smooth – the surface seems to be made of gravel with a bit of tar to hold it together – so our rolling resistance made riding a little more difficult than on smooth asphalt. When we made it to the intersection and needed to turn into the wind, there was a sign indicating that Kusadasi was another 15 km away, and we were riding straight into the wind. It did not take long for us to decide that this was a bad idea, so we headed back to Selcuk to catch the bus from there.

The otogar in Selcuk only had the small Dolmus type buses – minibuses. The moment we arrived on bicycle we had many people surround us to see our bikes, and a couple of touts trying to sell us bus tickets. Once we showed them the bikes it did not take long to determine that they would not fit onto the mini bus. One of the drivers/touts said he could make it fit if we took the wheels off. We decided that rather than disassembling our bikes, it would be easier to call the large bus company and have them pick us up in Ephesus, where we were dropped off on Thursday. So, we headed back to the carpet/souvenir shop, and Mehmet called to make a reservation for us.

Since we had a little bit of time before the bus, and we were getting hungry, Scott went out (with Mehmet) to the Bakery to get some buns and to the market to get some oranges for the trip. Becky was tired from the windy 15 km ride, so she stayed sitting on the couch at the carpet shop relaxing. Scott decided to also get some baklava as a gift for our hosts back in Izmir, which took much longer than expected. Becky started to get nervous about missing the bus, and Scott and Mehmet ran back to the shop with less than 10 minutes before the bus pickup – which was at Ephasus 3 km away, not in Selcuk. So, we quickly said our goodbyes one more time, jumped on our bikes, and raced to the bus stop. At one point, we saw a bus approach, so we changed sides of the highway, so we would be on the correct side to catch the bus. The bus passed – it was a tour bus and not our bus. Scott rode ahead of Becky, and just as he reached the bus stop, the bus approached. Scott flagged the bus down, while Becky was still riding to catch up. The driver wasn’t too happy about loading our bikes, and tried to show Scott that the cargo bay was full, but he just pointed to the other side, and said “no problem”. In fact it was no problem – we’re getting much better at loading the bikes, and the longer, lower profile of the recumbent may even make it a bit easier than a loaded upright bike. We quickly loaded our bikes and hopped onto the bus. Arriving at the bus in the last minute seems to be a theme with our bus rides in Turkey!

Friends at Gul\'s party

Friends at Gul's party

We arrived back in Izmir on Saturday afternoon to preparations for a party at Gul and Metin’s place. We also had an invitation to a large home cooked meal at Mehmet’s (1) mother’s place. So, after a brief visit and some chores, we enjoyed a large home cooked dinner. Dinner involved more types of food with names that Becky can’t remember. The meal included a delicious corba (soup), dolma (stuffed green peppers), a spicy beef patty with potato and tomato served with Mehmet’s mothers famous rice, and several “olive oil” dishes. The latter were dishes where similar to some of the side dishes we had at restaurants. They included baked beans and a broad bean paste dish. Dinner was followed by a dessert of baklava and traditional Turkish tea. Since Becky was coughing during dinner – clearly her cold is still hanging on – Mehmet’s mother made her a special cup of herbal tea that helps with colds. It turns out this was the same tea that we served to us in Selcuk – Sage leaves with a squeeze of lemon.

After dinner, we returned to Gul and Metin’s place to a party of work friends from Gul’s hospital. When we arrived, Metin was peppered with questions about our trip. Some of them he answered immediately, and others he asked us to answer. We both felt like our ears were burning several times throughout the evening. We both observed the interactions between people at the party. Becky found herself needed to re-assess the lens in which she saw the different interactions. In Turkey, there is a much higher level of social touch between friends of the same gender. In North America, you would not see male friends put arms around each other on the couch or put a hand on their neighbors knee without it being construed as a sexual advance. Here is it just a sign of friendship and nothing more. It was also interesting to see that the couches were mostly gender-segregated, with women on one couch and men on another.

Sunday

Gourmet meatballs

Gourmet meatballs

Sunday there was a celebration in honour of Gul’s birthday. Nine of us packed into two cars and drove 100 km to a restaurant on a hill with an incredible view and a large variety of side dishes – sort of like appetizers that you eat before the main course. The restaurant was called “Kaplan”, or Tiger, and named after the village. It is apparently quite famous, and was at one point named one of Turkey’s top ten restaurants. Some of the dishes we had were similar to the ones we enjoyed at the fish restaurant, but others were a new experience. Our main dish was a “meatball”, which turned out to be a large patty of hamburger and onions. We both enjoyed the flame grilled burger – our first in Turkey. It was interesting to observe how the meal was ordered. A sample tray of side dishes was brought to the table, and various people from the group selected which ones we wanted. Once the selections were made, enough were ordered for the whole table. The main dish and desserts were also ordered for the whole table – so we all ate the same food. In North America, usually food is ordered by each individual with perhaps one or two shared appetizers.

View of Tire during our walk

View of Tire during our walk

After lunch we went out for a well needed walk. The restaurant was at the end of the driveable part of a road – the road continued but was not really passable by car. We walked along the road into the woods. We both found it reminiscent of our Thanksgiving walks in Canada, with the ground littered with fall leaves and the trees full of yellow leaves. We knew we were not at home when we could see groves of olive trees bursting with ripe black olives.
Walk in the woods

Walk in the woods


Most of the people at lunch were also cyclists, so it was interesting to discuss our trip, and compare notes with them on their travels within Turkey. They’re all interested in long distance touring to various degrees, so hopefully we’ve inspired a few more people. We left behind our Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook (http://www.amazon.com/Adventure-Cycle-Touring-Handbook-Worldwide-Planning/dp/1873756895) and Silk Roads guide (http://www.amazon.com/Silk-Roads-2nd-Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan/dp/1905864000). Scott has carried both since disembarking from MSC Alessia in Italy because he couldn’t bear to just abandon them somewhere, so he’s glad to leave them in a good home.

Neither of us are feeling 100% well and we are wondering if we ate something in Selcuk that affected our stomachs. Scott’s stomach started feeling iffy as we were leaving Selcuk, and Becky started to feel crampy and queasy after dinner on Saturday night, which unfortunately hampered her enjoyment of Sunday’s lunch. We had thought we might go spend a couple of days at the Iluca hotel enjoying the thermal baths and trying to kick Becky’s cold once and for all, but everyone said to us – why do you want to stay in a hotel? You can stay here! We do not want to impose on Gul and Metin for too long – they are such gracious hosts. That being said, with stomach uncertainties, an hour bus ride and soaking in public pools does not make the best plan, so for at least a day or two, we will stay here, relaxing while Gul and Metin go to work during the day. And we will try to ensure they are not worrying over us or feeling that we need to be entertained.

Monday

After a relaxing day of Internet and reading in the apartment on Monday, we decided that if we stayed in Izmir too much longer, we would both end up in sour moods and start to get depressed. We really need to get back to living our nomadic lifestyle, so we planned to head out to Istanbul on Tuesday morning. Not long after making the decision, we received an email from Mehmet (1) that he had a job interview in Istanbul on Wednesday, so he too needed to go to Istanbul on Tuesday. So, we again are travelling with the assistance of our friends from Izmir. It has been nice to not have to worry about how we will get to where we need to be, but we are also feeling that the challenge has been taken out of the experience – things have been too easy with friends to help. So, at least a part of us is looking forward to being on our own and working through the challenges of meeting our basic needs in a foreign country again.

In the afternoon, we went for a short walk over to the grocery store to pick up some fruit and snacks. We had noticed in the morning that Gul and Metin were out of dishwasher soap, so we bought a box of what we thought was dishwasher soap. It had a picture of clean dishes on the box! It turns out what we bought was salt that is used to soften the dishwasher water. This caused quite a few giggles when Gul got home.

Note on names:
Mehmet (1) is the Mehmet we met through warm showers, who has been an excellent tour guide and host in Izmir, and will be going to Istanbul with us.
Mehmet (2) is the brother of Ali and a host at the ANZ guesthouse and salesman at the carpet and souvenir shops.

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Ephesus, Selcuk and freighter update

Friday, November 21st, 2008
Becky and Scott at Ephesus

Becky and Scott at Ephesus

We actually got moving relatively early on Thursday, but did not leave for the bus until 10 am. Mehmet made the process immeasurably easier. First he guided us to the bus station, then talked to the various people to figure out which bus we needed and the logistics with our bikes. There are many Dolmus (small mini-buses) going to Selcuk, but they cannot take our bikes. The larger buses go to Kusadasi, which is about 10 km from Selcuk. Since the bus actually passes right by, Mehmet talked to them about letting us off at Ephesus (about 2 km from town). They also agreed to pick us up (as long as we make a reservation in advance) for the trip back to Izmir.

Upon arrival in Selcuk, we discovered that they had a lot of rain – the night before and more that morning. It was probably good that we did not come earlier, as the rainy morning likely would have meant that we did nothing. By the time we arrived, the rain had passed. It was not gloriously sunny, but it was nice enough to be out and about.

Running water Latrine

Running water Latrine

We headed up to the Australia New Zealand (ANZ) Guesthouse, choosing them from our guidebook and a few phone calls. We had the option of a double room with shower or a double room with a Jacuzzi tub for 15 Lira more. Given Becky’s cold, we decided that a soak in the Jacuzzi would be nice – especially after dark when it gets pretty cold. The ANZ Guesthouse is run by Harry, who has spent some years in Australia and speaks fluent English.

After a necessary nap, we headed up to Ephesus, taking advantage of a free ride from the guesthouse. Since it is winter, the site closes at 5:30 pm. We arrived at 3:30 pm, and unfortunately, it was too late for the audio self-tour. We decided the cost of a tour guide was too much at 60 Lira, even after we bargained down to 50 – so we just wandered around the site and read the various placards. The size of the site is quite amazing, more than 2 km long, and formerly one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire. The amphitheatre is quite impressive: it would be super cool to see a concert there – although you would need to bring a cushion, as the stone seats would feel awfully hard and cold within the first few minutes. Going near the end of the day, in the winter, meant that there were only a couple of tour buses. The site did not feel overcrowded, which we have heard is a real problem much of the time. The largest group of people were doing team building – rushing around the site in teams, answering questions and collecting puzzle pieces. An interesting idea!

Amphitheatre at Ephesus

Amphitheatre at Ephesus

After a nice dinner at the Amazon restaurant, we were both ready for bed. We planned on taking on nice hot soak in the tub. We also asked for the control for the heater in our room, as our afternoon nap proved to be quite cold. This turned out to be our saving grace. The hot water at the guesthouse was lukewarm at best – typical of solar hot water a few hours after sunset on a cloudy day. They do have a gas backup system, so Becky asked for some hot water. Unfortunately, the water never heated up.

On Friday morning, we took a walk around Selcuk. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, which is just on the outskirts of town. We went to see it, but were really unimpressed. At this time, it is just one pillar that has been resurrected from many small chunks. We can only guess how fabulous it was in the past. It is not much to see compared to the city of Ephesus – but it is definitely a stop on the tour bus circuit. When we arrived there were four bus loads of people looking over at the single pillar, with associated peddlers selling postcards, guidebooks and other trinkets. From the site of the Temple, there is a great view of the Isa Bey Mosque and Castle, so we took many pictures of the view.

Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders

Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders

Mosque in Selcuk

Isa Bey Mosque in Selcuk

After the Temple, we walked up to the Isa Bey Mosque. This mosque was built in 1375, and since then completely lost one of its minarets in an earthquake. The top of the minaret still standing is also missing. When you first walk inside, you enter a large outdoor courtyard. The mosque has a separate women’s entrance to the side of the main men’s entrance. The women’s area is separated from the men’s by a temporary wall. I guess they could easily adjust the size of the areas if necessary. Both the women’s and men’s areas are filled from end-to-end with Turkish carpets. We were there 10 minutes before the noon call to prayer on Friday, so we cut our visit short to avoid imposing upon prayer time.

Baptistry at St. John's Basilica

Baptistry at St. John's Basilica

We then continued walking up to the Saint John’s Basilica. The Basilica was an important church in the sixth century after Christ. If it were to be reconstructed, it would be the seventh largest cathedral in the world. At one point it was converted to a mosque. It is believed to be the burial site for the Apostle John. Today it is a rather impressive set of ruins. Becky was particularly interested in seeing the Baptismal area, which involved a walk in bath, similar to what is found in some evangelical Baptist churches. We were not able to continue up the hill to the castle, as it is closed for excavation work.

Ruins of St. John\'s Basilica in Selcuk

Ruins of St. John's Basilica in Selcuk

After lunch, Scott went to check out the Ephesus museum while Becky came back to the guesthouse to rest and write. We both wonder where the ancient ruins are best kept. Many have been moved to museums where they can be kept in a relatively safe environment. Those that are left in their natural state – or restored – are out in the open, subject to the natural environment and erosion. It is definitely more interesting to see them in their natural setting. Scott didn’t find the museum particularly inspiring, although it did have some interesting statues and other artifacts. There was also a special exhibit on gladiators in Ephesus during the Roman Empire, with analysis of 120 skeletons retrieved from the Ephesus gladiator’s graveyard.

Overall, Ephesus and the museum were interesting, but not stunning. Neither of us are finding great rewards in seeing ancient ruins – we’re getting much more out of meeting and talking with people, and learning about their lives and cultures.

On our return to the guesthouse, we passed a family making doughnuts on the street outside of their house. We were each offered one to try, and Scott was able to use some of his very limited Turkish “delicious” and “thank you”. They were warm and coated in sticky sugar – indeed delicious afternoon snack.

After an afternoon nap – still necessary as Becky’s cold is not improving – we went to visit Mehmet at the carpet shop. He taught us about the different types of carpet that are available and how to identify good quality. The shop had many different types of carpet with a variety of qualities – so you could definitely find something that matched your price/quality criteria. We certainly aren’t experts, but we can now identify: natural versus artificial fibers, kilim versus carpet, single knot versus double knot, and know to ask about chemical versus vegetable dyes. (If you’re interested: artificial fibers are sticky when burned, kilim is a flat weave, carpet has pile, double knot has loops visible if you know where to look, vegetable dyes age better).

Mehmet also mentioned that just outside of Ephesus is a “carpet factory” where the tour buses all stop. He said that the carpets there are much more expensive because the tour companies get a commission on everything sold. Also, the factories are not real operating factories, rather they are setup just for the tourists. The folks “making” carpets there are paid to be there only when tourists are coming through. The cost of all the sales people and carpet makers plus the commissions for the tour companies mean the prices are significantly higher (at least double) what is charged at Harry’s carpet shop. He also mentioned that the sticker price (no bargaining) is the price you pay if a guide brings you into the shop, because they must pay the guide 20%. Because we are staying at the ANZ guesthouse, we would get a discount if we wished to buy anything, and likely a further discount related to being here in the slow season. For some of the more expensive carpets, the prices are listed in US dollars, and we were offered the same price in Lira – seems a significant discount, especially with no bargaining on our part. Since we’re on our bicycles and not heading home anytime soon, no carpets for us though.

After another good dinner at Amazon, we tried out the tub again. The hot water was OK for a quick bath to clean yourself, but still not warm enough for a soak. We borrowed an electric kettle and used it to heat up several kettles of water. With the enhancement of some boiling water, we were both able to enjoy a luxurious soak in the tub.

General observations about Selcuk and Turkey

Selcuk is a small town in tourist Turkey, and somewhat similar to Cesme. It is full of little pansiyons and budget accommodations. In the summer time, it is packed with tourists, but in the winter most of the pansiyons are empty. Each evening we noticed an acrid tang as we walked about town, and soon discovered what it was. They use coal here, mixed with wood, to heat the houses. Electricity is expensive, so electric heat is only found in some of the guesthouses – fortunately, ours is one of them. The coal stoves, similar to wood burning stoves, provide a nice heat source, but the fumes from the chimneys are rather unpleasant.

In our wanderings today, we stopped by the grocery store. This was the first time we had been in a grocery store in Turkey – apparently we have been eating out a lot! We discovered that lactose free milk and soy milk are both readily available. Given the amount of smoking here, we were amused that the cigarettes are stored in locked cabinets and that there are signs saying that you must be 18 to buy them. It felt very similar to a small grocery store at home.

We have also found that the pharmacies carry most name brand medications that we can get at home. Becky was happy to discover that she could get the same brand of asthma inhalers here. We have recently discovered that mailing medication to us in Turkey, Syria, or Italy will be difficult (oops, we should have checked that before we left). Fortunately, so far we can get everything we want here in Turkey except Cold FX.

Where ever we go in Turkey, we have noticed a large number of feral cats. This has been especially the case in the smaller towns (Cesme and Selcuk). When you are eating at an outside restaurant or on a patio, they can be a real nuisance. At one restaurant, the owner had a small electronic device that he clicked and the cats ran away – we guess it was similar to a Dog Dazer, which emits an uncomfortable high frequency sound. He was very discrete in using it, but we were happy to not be pestered while trying to enjoy our meal.

Freighter update

The voyage of our ship from Naples/La Spezia to Port Kelang (Kuala Lumpur) has been cancelled. We are guessing that the economic downturn is causing shipping companies to their traffic between Europe and Asia. There are a number of other ships on similar routes and we are now looking into alternatives, which is actually giving us a little bit more flexibility and will likely cost us less than the ship we had originally booked. Such is the nature of freighter travel.

Celsus Library

Celsus Library at Ephesus

Model of St. John's Basilica

Model of St. John's Basilica

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Making new friends in Izmir

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

20 km across Izmir

How many people does it take to load a bicycle on a bus?

How many people does it take to load a bicycle on a bus?

On Monday morning, we packed up to move to Izmir. We had spend enough time in the Pensiyon in Cesme and it was time to move on. Becky still was not feeling 100% so we decided that it was best to take the bus, an 85+ km ride was a little more than she could handle at the moment. We loaded up and headed to the Otogar (the main bus terminal in Cesme). Fortunately, this did not involve climbing any hills. Becky was OK on the flats – although a little slow – but hills would likely have been a real challenge.

Upon arrival at the Otogar, there was some urgency in loading our bikes onto the bus. Five or six men helped Scott put the two bikes into the lower bays and we hopped on. We were confused at first, as we had not bought a ticket. They just shuffled us onto the bus and say later. The bus was empty – us and one other person. We took a nice front seat and we were off.

The first stop was the Cesme town center – just outside of our Pansiyon. We knew this, but figured it was easier with the bikes to go to the Otogar. As we approached, we were told our seats were 5 and 6 – apparently, all seats are assigned on Turkish buses. After 3 or 4 more stops, the bus approached the highway and we were on our way to Izmir. There is a person in addition to the driver, who is responsible for managing all the seats, collecting the fares, and handing out little cups of water. He will shuffle passengers if necessary to ensure that a women travelling alone need not sit next to a strange man. We thought this was all very civilized, especially for a 45-minute ride.

By 1 pm, we safely arrived in Izmir. Just was we were pulling up into the first stop, Scott noticed a cyclist with a helmet and clipless pedals – the first local we had seen with clipless pedals in Europe, and one of the very few with helmets. Upon disembarking from the bus, we discovered that it was our host – Mehmet – who we met through Warm Showers (http://www.warmshowers.org). Within a few minutes we had the bikes back together and we were on our way.

We are staying with Mehmet’s friends Gulistan and Metin. Like Mehmet, Metin is a mechanical engineer and Gulistan is an anesthesiology technician. They have a lovely two bedroom apartment, which is much nicer than most apartments back home.

Upon arrival, we were fed a wonderful assortment of home cooked foods. Our bellies happy, we sat down to visit. Becky was still not 100% and tired from the 20 km ride across Izmir (although it was flat), so she took a nap while Scott explained more about our bikes and our tour plans.

Our hosts brought us out to a wonderful Kebab restaurant (http://www.ramazanusta.com/ ) for dinner that served food that was traditional in the South of Cappadoccia. We had Kebabs that are from Adana and a dessert that was sweet and included cheese from Antakya. Scott really enjoyed the meal, but unfortunately, the primary source of protein is lamb. Fortunately, Becky mentioned that she could not eat lamb soon enough that a special plate of chicken and beef was ordered for her. We tried a drink called Shalgam, which was definitely an acquired taste – to Becky it tasted like the brine from an olive jar. We wonder if this is the same drink that Friedel and Andrew tried: http://travellingtwo.com/492? Scott was not too fussy on it either but he did enjoy the Ayran (a watery yogurt drink with salt). Becky gave up on the cultural experience from the beverage perspective and had a Sprite.

Mehmet at a teahouse in the Izmir Bazaar

Mehmet at a teahouse in the Izmir Bazaar

On Tuesday, after a lazy morning, we headed out to see the second largest bazaar in Turkey. We took the subway across Izmir and wandered the streets of the bazaar, stopping several times to try out some new treats. We discovered the original dessert restaurant the spawned a chain that can be found throughout Turkey (Ozsut) (http://www.ozsut.com.tr/).

Becky reflects that Izmir feels a lot like a Canadian city, except that all the food kiosks serve Turkish food – in Canada the kiosks would serve food from a variety of different places. Mehmet mentioned that the city is not too crowded, and that might be part of why it feels familiar. We do still see many couples holding hands in the streets, and it is completely acceptable to walk arm in arm with a friend of the opposite gender in Izmir.

Yummy little fish

Yummy little fish


For supper we went to a seafood restaurant a little out of town called Umit. Here, you purchased your fish directly from the fish store and then told them which restaurant to send it too. The restaurant prepared the fish and other courses, and provided the service. We had a wonderful meal that began with stuffed mussels (mussels stuffed with rice and spices), many different appetizers, a wonderful salad, and many grilled fish. With our meal we enjoyed Raki, a liquorish flavoured alcoholic beverage that is the national drink of Turkey. It is similar to Ouzo and Sambuca, but that’s like saying Scotch and Irish whiskey are similar. Don’t ever say they’re the same! Three other friends of Mehmet’s (also cyclists) joined us for dinner, so we were a large crowd of eight.

We had planned to leave for Ephesus on Wednesday, but by the time we got moving, and had consumed the wonderful breakfast Gul prepared, the weather had turned, and heavy rain was expected for the rest of the day. Oh well! We spent a relaxing day catching up on email and reading instead. Ephesus can wait a day…

The gang at dinner

The gang at dinner

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Resting up in Cesme

Sunday, November 16th, 2008
 
Who knew that Pizza Pizza was a Turkish company?
Who knew that Pizza Pizza was a Turkish company?

The last few days have been spent resting up and venturing out to find meals and Internet access. Becky’s cold got worse before it got better, but she is now on the mend. We have spent enough time in Cesme, so tomorrow we will venture out to Izmir, one way or another. The ride is supposed to be flat and pretty, so we will try riding along slowly. If that does not work, the bus is always an option.

So far the food has been good. We need to work on checking prices. We are not certain but we often feel like we are being ripped off. That might be because we are in a tourist town. The prices listed are confusing or are the lowest prices (bait-and-switch), so it is often difficult to tell if we are being ripped off or paying a fair price. We are pretty sure the ice cream folks were ripping us off. Otherwise, it may be more our paranoia than anything. Either way, the prices are still significantly less expensive than in Greece and Italy.

We have discovered that meal times here are much closer to the times at home. We have also discovered that we can get a solid breakfast at the bakery around the corner. They have an assortment of buns with a variety of savory fillings. The bagel shaped buns are particularly good, even if what Becky first thought was chocolate actually turned out to be black olive tapenade. (Scott remembered Friedel and Andrew getting caught by the same mistake in Turkey, so he wasn’t surprised).

We have enjoyed the baklava for dessert, but have found that the prices are rather creative. They list prices in kilograms often with a different price for each. When you ask for more than one type, they are all mixed together and packaged before they are weighed. Also, the price is then rounded up. So, if the baklava plus packaging weighs 385 g you pay for 400 g. At one place, we asked for baklava and some squares that were priced per piece. We were charged for the per piece price plus the weight of the entire package! So, we have learned to keep our baklava orders simple and stick to one type – which is absolutely delicious.

After supper on Thursday, we returned to the Pensiyon for a cup of tea and to eat our baklava. We were invited to sit down at the family table while they all watched the news on television from the couch. We learned that in the summer, Ali (the father of the family) is a carpet salesman while his wife runs the Pensiyon. Ali shared with us information about carpet manufacturing in Turkey. He says that the company he works for can sell their carpets for less because they are made by families in Cappadocia. There, the wife and children make carpets in their spare time to help the family. Some of the other companies have manufacturing plants, where they must pay workers to make the carpets, so those carpets are more expensive. It really had us wondering about which way is more socially responsible. Being able to choose your hours and work at home rather than a factory seems like a big plus, but are they being fairly compensated?

The main street in Cesme

The main street in Cesme

On Saturday, Scott ventured out on his bike to check out the different options for Thermal baths in Iluca (pronounce Ill-oo-jah). The family at the Pensiyon recommended the thermal baths when they heard that I had a cold. We wanted to go on Friday, but our investigations reported only the free outdoor pools where the water temperature was only 28 degrees and there were no changing facilities. That would be too cold and too adventurous for Becky with a cold. So, Scott rode out and explored a couple of the hotels – the Sheraton, and the Iluca Hotel. The Sheraton was 50 YTL per person and had 4 different temperature pools as well as a sauna, steam room, and hamam (traditional Turkish bath). The Iluca Hotel was 30 YTL per person and had two less pools than the Sheraton. In the end, we opted for the less expensive Iluca, which turned out to have exactly what we needed.

Getting to the hotel required that we take a local Dolmus or minibus. This turned out to be much less painful that we anticipated as our timing was bang on. We arrived at the Dolmus a few minutes before it left. There were still many seats available on the 12 seat minibus, so we hopped on. As the bus departed, we watched as the various people moved forward to pay, so we did the same. There does not appear to be someone collecting the tariff, so much as the people offering up the fee. It was also nice to see that the driver makes change, so if you do not have exact change, that is OK. As we approached the Iluca Hotel, Scott managed to say the something to get the bus to stop and let us off. He was imitating the last person who got off, saying something like “eeshee terra”. Neither of us know what it meant, but it worked! (According to our phrasebooks, “inecek var” or “musait bir yerde” are the phrases to use)

The Thermal pools consisted of a warm (33 C) swimming pool of very salty water, and a warmer (38 C) pool of heavily mineralized water. Becky was immediately surprised when she climbed into the pool and began to float. The whole time she was conscientious of where other women were and whether or not it was OK to be in the swimming pool with her bathing suit. It turns out that her worries were for naught, as there were several other women in much more revealing bikinis. Also, there was a photographer there taking pictures. He encouraged us to cuddle in the pool so he could get some romantic shots, presumably for a promotional brochure. We are slowly learning that the tourist areas of Turkey are not particularly conservative!

We took a look at the hamam, but it was co-ed and did not feel comfortable. It was a room about 20 foot by 30 foot all done in marble. It had sinks on the outside edge and a large marble for laying on in the middle – although the large marble in the middle was only about 6×6 so it would be difficult for more than two people to use without touching each other. We are guessing that this is something done just for tourists, and will save the hamam experience for someplace a little more authentic with gender segregated areas or times. It was possible to pay extra for access to a private hamam, but quite expensive.

We both luxuriated in long hot showers after the baths and steam room. It’s amazing how nice a shower can be when you don’t need to worry about running out of hot water or spraying water all over the bathroom! Most places we’ve stayed since arriving in Europe have not had shower curtains, or limited hot water, or both.

After about 2 hours at the Thermal baths, we were ready to head back to the Pensiyon. We walked out of the hotel to see the ocean and were amused that they had a thermometer indicating the ocean temperature – a cool 18 degrees. We then walked out to the road to see the Dolmus approaching. We waved and the dolmus stopped to pick us up. Again, we were amazed out how painless the experience was. We now fully understand why the tourist office agent said there was no reason to take an expensive taxi.

Scott is practicing Turkish with the help of some podcasts and a free guidebook given to us by the tourist office, but to little avail. Turkish is nothing like any language we have previously experienced. Scott says it is good that the spelling is phonetic, but Becky points out that many of the letters sound different than in English – for example the c sounds like a j. Thank-you in Turkish (Tay-su-kur eh-deh-reem) is just as challenging as it was in Greek. Fortunately, the Turks are very good at mime, so usually you can get your message across. We have not had much of an issue yet, as we are in a tourist town, so there is always someone who speaks some English close at hand if we run into significant trouble.

Our experiences so far in Cesme have been contrary to most of what we have read about Turkey. Here we see young couples holding hands, rather than people of the same gender. The women are clearly present in the streets and for the most part are not in hijab. Most women are covered in fashionable long pants and warm sweaters, but that I think has more to do with the temperature than anything else – it has been pretty chilly, and even Becky has wondered around with a bandana on her head at times. Our experience in the Thermal baths emphasized that it was acceptable for women to wear bikinis at the beach or in the pool, and the pools were not at all gender segregated.

Becky’s reflections on “The Islamist”

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

I have just finished reading the book, “The Islamist” by Ed Husain, which I picked up from an English bookstore in Athens. I was a little bit concerned about bringing the book into Turkey, but I should not have been.

The author’s definition of an Islamist is someone who believes in the “Islamic nation”. That is, there being only one nation, that of Islam.

The book contains a lot of information about the Islamists in Britain, which I found rather startling. I was surprised that the book gave the names of people involved. At the time of writing, the British government had not declared any of the Islamist organizations as terrorist organizations, but according to the author that is exactly what they are.

The book progresses through the authors struggle to leave Islamism behind and find an Islam that is real for him. His search takes him to Turkey, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. His reflections upon visiting these places are enlightening. It is especially interesting for me, as I read the book in Turkey and will be visiting Syria soon. One of the things it has highlighted for me, is that there are so many misconceptions out there. Until I experience it for myself, I will not really be able to appreciate it.

It also highlighted an observation that we have made in Çesme (the small town we are staying in while I recover from my cold). Çe?me is a tourist town, and at this point the only place we have seen in Turkey – so it is not fair to make generalizations. That being said, the books we have read talked about how it was inappropriate for members of the opposite sex to hold hands on the street, and that public displays of affection could get you arrested. That does not at all appear to be reality here in Çesme. We have seen many young couples holding hands while walking down the streets or along the ocean front. We have seen children of both genders playing video games together at the Internet café, and giving one another a cuff on the head – regardless of gender. So, the stereotype of segregation does not play out in this part of Turkey.

A note on the hijab – In Çesme it is worn mostly by older women and new mothers (there are of course exceptions). The interesting thing is that the older women look very similar to the older women in Italy and Greece who also where head scarves. The book mentions how the tradition is an old Christian tradition, that was adopted by Islam. The book also mentioned that when younger women start wearing the Hijab, especially in the west, it is a sign of the more extreme factions at play. In Turkey, Ataturk (the hero of independence in Turkey) around 1922 made it illegal to display outward signs of religion, including the wearing of Turbans and Hijab in public.

Today the hijab is legal, but still a symbol of the divide between the extremes of secular and Muslims thought in Turkey. Two examples: Prime Minister Erdogan’s daughters attend university in the United States because all universities in Turkey have banned wearing the hijab; in 2007, the Turkish president at the time, Ahmet Necdet Sezer declined to attend the wedding of Esra Erdogan because of the number of headscarves being worn.