Seems like ages and ages ago since leaving India. Coming to Turkey feels like a fresh start, maybe because out of Delhi's incipient summer, I'm suddenly thrust back into the beginnings of spring. Yesterday the apricot and apple trees in Cappadocia's valleys were starting to hint at blooming. Maybe today's' sunny weather and relatively warm temperatures will coax them into showing themselves.
I spent all of my first week in Turkey walking around the streets and alleyways of Istanbul. It must be one of the best big cities in the world for just wandering around. In the central tourist area it's nearly impossible to get lost. There is the Bosphorus River on three sides to use for orientation and going upwards means going to the center of things. Going downhill means going back toward the Bosphorus again.
European prices have been a shock to the budget after many many months spent in Asia. Paying high entry fees into places like Aya Sofia and Topkapi Palace has meant that I could afford to visit one sight a day and still be able to eat.
And by the way, Turkey is not the heaven of humus and falafel I had been misled into believing. I should be in Lebanon, Israel, Jordan or Syria... All the Turkish kebob shops in various countries that serve falafel and humus complete with posters of Cappadocia's landscapes on the walls... they lie! There was one place in Istanbul with falafel on the menu and it was frou-frou cuisine that had artfully arranged falafel on a plate, drizzled with yellow sauce and a side of pilaf. Good, but not good like Mona's food and, incidentally, the most expensive falafel ever. My quest for delicious falafel in its native culture will have to wait for a trip to the middle-east. Someday.
I'm hungry. When I sit down to write at the computer I think I'm usually hungry. That would explain the recent obsessions with food. Sorry about that - I'll try harder to eat first next time.
In Istanbul, seeing the inside of the Blue Mosque was overwhelming. So huge, so beautiful, so perfectly proportioned. I sat on the carpeted floor for a long time and tried to take it all in.
Another highlight was entering the Basilica Cisterna. The admission ticket was relatively expensive so I had put off going there. What would be so great about an underground reservoir? Then I read Mark Twain's description of his visit to it in the 1860's. He convinced me to cough up the money and just go.
"We visited the Thousand and One Columns. I do not know what it was originally intended for, but they said it was built for a reservoir. It is situated in the center of Constantinople. You go down a flight of stone steps in the middle of a barren place, and there you are. You are forty feet underground and in the midst of a perfect wilderness of tall, slender, granite columns of Byzantine architecture. Stand where you would or change your position as often as you pleased, you were always a center from which radiated a dozen long archways and colonnades that lost themselves in distance and the somber twilight of the place." The Innocents Abroad
The reality was even better. Opera music echoed through the chamber, along with the drip drop of water falling from the ceiling. Medusa carved capitals have been discovered since his time, and the columns have become a glowing underworld, thanks to a modern lighting scheme.
One of the best things about Istanbul was meeting lots of interesting people. Ali and Angelo, proprietors of Mavi Guesthouse were very gracious hosts who tried to help extend my budget by teaching me the intricacies of gambling on European League football matches. I lost. No beginners luck.
The McClure's are an American family who were also staying at the same guesthouse. Traveling around the world for a year with their two daughters, it turns out that we've been in many of the same countries and at similar times, but it took until Turkey for our paths to cross. We spent a lot of time talking in the lounge and then our last full day in the city we went off exploring together.
We found a post-apocalyptic flea market just outside the city walls. We came across plenty of stores selling Kinder Surprises. I hope the McClure's forgive me for introducing their daughters to the addictive world of Kinder Surprises. I gave one egg each to Morgan and Lily, and by the end of the day I think they had each purchased two more. Can't wait to meet up with them again, maybe this weekend, to hear about their further adventures and to see how the Kinder Surprise collection has grown.
Since leaving Istanbul, I've been in central Turkey. The area is made up of several small towns, collectively known as Cappadocia. I made my home in Goreme. There are over 60 guesthouses in the town, but since it's off-season, most of them are empty. People arriving on the bus have their choice of places to stay. I went into the tourist accommodation office and looked at the posters, seeing what the different guesthouses have to offer. In the end, I couldn't pass up Kose Pansiyon which prominently advertised Spotty the Wonderdog.
Spotty and I have spent most of the last five days together. He's standing next to me now, impatient to go out and walk around. Spotty is a guide dog and will walk guests anywhere they want to go. The first day we went out walking, it didn't take long to realize that he's not the bravest of dogs. When a group of elementary school children passed by on their way home from school, Spotty hid himself behind me. A few minutes later, he hid behind a construction truck when a bigger dog came along. The construction guys chased him out of the way and he used my body as a shield from the other growling dog. Thanks. Guide dog, but not guard dog. Our walk together abruptly ended when he found a female dog friend of his. He's a bit of a Casanova.
The next day I followed him through Pigeon Valley. He did a great job up until the end. Some erosion had taken place at the end of the valley and the regular upward climb was cut off. Spotty looked at me for help. I had no suggestions. He searched around and eventually found another route. I followed him and quickly got stuck on a steep crumbling hillside, high above the valley. A Turkish man came to investigate because his chained dogs were barking and going wild. First saw a cowering Spotty, and then he saw me. The man and his son picked their way down the slope, grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back up the hill. Rescued! Spotty repaid them by ravishing one of their female dogs.
The landscape of Cappadocia is unique. The stone is soft and erosion has formed bizarre rock spires and towers that people have carved into. Early Christians from the Byzantine era carved churches out of the rocks, painting beautiful frescos inside. People also carved houses, castles, and cities out of the soft rock. In places where the local populations were under seige by invading forces, huge underground city shelters were carved deep into the ground. Complete with false passages, escape tunnels, hidden pits, and ventilation shafts, they are fantastic and thousands of years old.
Tonight I'm headed out on an overnight bus to Pamukkale, near the ancient ruins of Hierapolis. Greece and its culture will become more and more prominent on the eastern coast of Turkey and I'll start obsessing over Greek ferry schedules. I have to figure out how to get to Athens by April 2nd to meet Chris. Only 15 days until I see him again, ferries willing.