WESTERN TURKEY TOUR 101
The Turkeys go to Turkey September 2005
By Virginia and Ben Henry firstname.lastname@example.org
With a hurricane pounding into Houston, and the city told to evacuate, Benry and I were determined to salvage our long and eagerly awaited trip to Turkey. Never mind that 2 sets of house sitters had left for higher ground, and the cat boarders had closed down, our mindset was to go at any cost. When my tennis partner graciously offered to tend the home and the herd, all that was left was to tame the weather and hope the airlines flew. Out of a dozen friends flying from Houston on our same tour, all had managed to find earlier flights, except for 4 of us (the “left-behinders”) who were being jostled around by the airlines. As soon as one of our flights was cancelled, an alternative flight was scheduled, only to be cancelled hours later. Finally a wee-in-the-hour flight was found which turned out to be the last flight out of Houston before the airport closed. Since all roads leading anywhere were clogged with folks rushing out of the city, and airport parking was NOT, one of our fearless foursome located a driver who was willing to brave the odds and successfully shuttled us to the airport, where we found a long queue of travelers whose times also had been changed a gazillion times and airlines merged and were equally as unnerved as we. A collective long sigh of relief was heard as our plane was finally taxiing down the runway to lift us high above the danger lurking on our horizon. We hoped that our house and cats and many friends braving the storm would be safe. It was a harrowing beginning but well worth the agony when we finally set foot on the magical shores of Istanbul.
If you can visualize the hills of San Francisco with its rows of neat homes tucked into every twist and turn that the mountains afford, interspersed with mosques whose rising minarets proudly call the worshippers to prayer, fish markets, rug dealers, and jingle-jangle shops whose cobblestoned streets beckoned us to visit (and buy!), then you can visualize Istanbul, a city whose population boasts 15,000,000 people. It is bounded by water and sits conveniently between Europe and Asia, where trade has been its main staple for thousands of years. Most of the people are Muslim, many of whom profess to Sufism, a philosophy of cooperative living and peaceful settlement of problems. Some wear scarves, many don’t, all are equally respected. Since the beginning of Turkish times, women have been worshipped as goddesses and continue to this day to be on equal footing with men (a feminist’s dream come true!). People stroll hand-in-hand with each other sorting out their troubles and celebrating their joys. Five times during the day came hypnotic calls to prayer broadcast over loudspeakers. In the early mornings one could hear drumming in celebration of the start of Ramazan, where fasting takes place from sunup to sunset, followed by a “break fast” and gathering of hungry followers with their picnics in the hippodrome and hundreds of food stalls to replenish their empty bellies. Taxi rides proved to be as harrowing as New York’s, but we were able to get glimpses of ancient walls and fortresses built to protect the city under siege from one conqueror after another. Mosques, palaces, museums, mausoleums, and even cisterns were elaborately designed in beautiful mosaic tiles and marble with stunning archways and columns whose architecture boggles the scientific mind. We got accustomed to having fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, an array of olives and cheeses with wonderful homemade breads, and yogurt with cherry and apricot preserves at every breakfast. Turkish coffee was a definite wakeup call with half of the cup chock full of finely ground beans and water poured over the top leaving a “tar” in the bottom and hair on your chest!! Thank heaven for “Nescafe” which most squeamish Americans were lusting for. In the tradition of “welcome,” a tiny glass of apple tea was served to weary shoppers haggling for a price reduction in everything from use of the public toilets to expensive 18-carat gold bangles and finely sewn leather jackets.
From Istanbul we traveled east and south by train and bus to Ankara and Cappadocia and several other towns, ending our journey at Ephesus on the Aegean Sea with its many resorts and ruins and cruise ships. The countryside was magnificent as we climbed mountains and winded our way through soil so rich that it yielded as many as 3-4 crops a season, visited an ancient cave home created by ash from volcanic eruptions, drifted in a balloon over this fairy town, had tea and talked with nomads herding their goats to a warmer clime, and viewed from natural springs the “Cotton Castle.” Turkish rugs were strewn over balconies drying from their twice-a-year scrubbing, cats roamed the streets, women donned brightly colored pantaloons and aprons, and bottles were placed carefully on chimney tops beckoning local men to call on an eligible daughter. Each home was outfitted with solar panels and many sported satellite dishes. How ironic it was to see a man in a cart pulled by a donkey talking on his cell phone!! One evening we followed the sound of music and came upon a local wedding in its second day of celebration. Not surprisingly we were graciously welcomed, marked with henna, and then invited to dance with the village grownups and children. The bride wore white and was adorned from wrist to elbow with gold bracelets as part of her dowry. On the third day the bride and groom would dress in traditional clothes and would wed in a civil ceremony, followed by more celebrating with family and friends. Another highlight was swimming in the Mediterranean Sea with our noodles (the “Noodlettes”) and putting together a spontaneous water ballet to the tune of “Do your Noodles Hang Low??!! And, how soothing was that Turkish bath at the end of a well-traveled day?
Meli, our charming and energetic guide was eager to share Turkey’s rich history to help us better understand the nature of its gentle people and the pride each feels for its enduring past. Turkey is a survivor, self-sufficient and able to support itself with its own products, short of oil. Meli explained customs of planting a tree for each child born and buying homes for dowries. Those who can afford them have summer homes on the coast and winter homes for the balance of the year. Muslims have 5 pillars of faith: worship Allah and acknowledge Mohammed as his messenger, give alms to the poor, pray 5 times a day, observe fasting during Ramazan, and make a Hajj …. beliefs that have allowed them to live peacefully with each other for many years, wary of change, but embracing a future role in our ever-unfolding world. Because of its productivity and philosophy, Turkey is growing at a remarkable pace. It is a country, not unlike its carpets and tapestries, woven of a blend of colors and textiles, rich with symbols depicting its beliefs, and able to survive a lifetime.
Thank you, Meli and Turkey, for opening our eyes to your history and beauty and charm. We shall watch you grow with enthusiasm and embrace our warm memories.
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