Feathered Aspen

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In and Around Goreme

Two things: again, I have no spell check, and who stopped following me? Seriously. I’ve been at a steady 20 followers for a while now, and today, I’m at 19! What happened? Did I fail my 20th follower in some way? – Your Concerned Blogger, Ellie

September 11, 2010

We ate a late breakfast of muesli and fresh bread with jam and cheese in the courtyard of our pension. Orham was quick to get us our drinks, clear our plates, and ask us if there was anything – anything at all – he could get for us. This man takes hospitality seriously.

After checking our e-mails and uploading a couple of posts, we set out for the day. One of my tonsils has retired from its hissy fit, but the right is still going strong. As we walked, I asked Joshua questions that I knew would have very long answers. For my part, the right tonsil has place a moratorium on any lengthy monologues.

The walk from Ufuk’s Pension to the Goreme Open Air Museum is about a kilometer, and on our way, we saw busloads of tourists being driven in. It’s a Saturday and a holiday which means that there are lots of Turkish visitors in the area too.

Just before we walked into the Museum, we passed a man and a boy with three camels. The boy approached me quickly, taking my hand and leading me in the direction of the camels, asking me if I might like to touch the camel’s head – for free, of course. Feeling a little bewildered, I agreed, and I touched the camel’s head, looking at her big, beautiful and heavy lashed eyes. The little boy was hovering, so I asked him what the camel’s name was, and he responded, Suzanne. Seeing that I had complied so far, the boy said, ‘ok, yes. You get on the camel now. Ok, yes. Here you go. One leg over. Yes, very good. No. More. All the way on. Ok. I take your camera now (he grabs my camera and lifts the strap from over my head). Ok. Good. Come here (he says to Joshua). That’s good. You too. Up and over. Ok. Hold on tight!’ Then, tutting at Suzanne, the boy supervised as the camel heaved herself to her knees and then her feet. All the while, Joshua and I were looking at each other, the camel, and the boy with total shock: how had we gotten here? How had this boy convinced us to do this?

Swaying atop our poor, beleagured camel, the boy assured us, ‘I am paparazzi. I take many photos.’ And he did. He flashed through the frames quickly, capturing our surprise, the camel, and the great fairy chimneys behind us. It was over before it began, and the boy tutted at Suzanne once more, urging us to hold on tightly. Suzanne plonked back down on the dusty Earth, and the boy handed the camera back to me and held up both hands with all of his fingers spread wide apart. ‘Ten lira for photos, yes please.’

Joshua looked like he was about to argue, but I know when I’ve been had. I handed him the 10 lira without arguing, and walking away, the two of us began laughing really, really hard. I’d never been so easily smooth-talked before. Remember when I said I’m no rube? Yeah. Well, I guess I’d never met cute little camel boy before. He had me on a camel’s back within 60 seconds flat. Joshua was still snorting, remembering the way I had looked over my shoulder at him – begging him with my eyes to come and rescue me – when we bought the tickets for the Museum.

Wandering around the paved walk, we explored the 12th century monastery. Although we had seen many of the fairy chimney homes and some chapels yesterday, the monastery is more concentrated: there are over 10 chapels, and rooms where the monks slept, cooked, and ate. Many of the chapels had very well preserved cave frescoes with Byzantine saints and illustrations of Jesus and Mary, and like the chapel we had seen yesterday, many of the faces had been methodically scratched out. Nevertheless, it was fun to see the various caves and chambers where these monks lived. One of my favorite rooms was the dining room where the rock had been carved into a long table and two strips of seats on either side. The seats were gently worn where the monks’ bottoms would have rested 🙂

When we had seen every last room, we left the Museum and walked towards Zumi Valley on a dirt road. We learned yesterday that the maps are pretty useless, so trusting our sense of direction, we just wandered. Like yesterday, the scenery was beautiful, and high up on the rise, we had the place all to ourselves. (You can see a picture of Joshua tossing sand on one of these rises through the shutterfly link.)

Descending into the valley, we caught up with the dirt path again and continued walking. At one point, a couple of teenage boys came up behind us, and we stopped to let them pass. They stopped too, and they asked us where we were going. The language barrier proved much to high for our communication, but we ended up pointing at everything around us and then pointing at them, asking them if we were on their property. The boys nodded, and we apologized and pointed back towards the road, telling them we would head back the way we came.

I’m pretty sure it was all a misunderstanding. Zumi Valley is a hiking area, so I don’t think the boys owned the property, and I don’t think that’s what they thought we were asking them. After we had been walking a little while longer, they came up behind us again and tried to tell us to keep walking in the direction we had been going. We told them it was ok, we were going back anyway, and then one of the boys asked us if we had anything to eat. We told them no, but then they walked up ahead and told us to follow them.

I’m not going to lie; this whole exchange made me very nervous. Although I had been enjoying all the privacy, I all of a sudden realized that we were all alone in this valley, and I had no idea how to communicate to these boys. For some reason, I remembered at that very moment that it was 9/11, and I felt vulnerable. We stopped to see where they were trying to lead us, and when they stopped under a tree with fruit and began picking the green globes, we followed hesitantly.

Crushing the green fruit between two stones, the boys handed us golf-ball sized cases and urged us to crack them. Inside them, we found enormous white walnuts. The boys watched us expectantly as we ate them and nodded in approval. Then they gave us 10 more. With our hands full of walnuts, we thanked them and walked away.

I still don’t know what to think about the whole experience. Clearly, they meant us no harm if they were so intent on giving us walnuts, but I still felt unsettled by the whole encounter. From now on, I think we’ll hike in more populated areas. I don’t want to be suspicious of people – especially when so many of them are so gracious and welcoming – but I’m also all too aware of this fear that I’ve grown up with. I don’t know if it is fear mongering or not; am I less safe in a Muslim country, or is this just what the media and other anti-Muslim crazies would like me to believe? I guess I’m just trying to distinguish between danger and ignorance. To believe that all Muslims are dangerous is clearly ignorant, but just as there are crazy fundamentalists in every religion, Islam has them too – what should I be nervous about? Where am I not safe? Turkey is a fairly progressive country, and we only have a week here, so I’m really only grazing the surface. In the end, I guess I just don’t know.

Back at the hostel, I plopped onto the bed and had a little siesta while Joshua infiltrated the blog and posted pictures. He thought he was being so sneaky. (Shhh… We won’t tell him that he’s not nearly as devious or clever as he thinks he is 🙂 ) After a couple of hours, I went outside to join him on the lovely covered patio. The little raised sitting area is lined with pillows made of turkish carpets and beautiful fabric drapping over wooden beams. Imagine an Ottoman porch (all we need now are hookahs and belly dancers).

As the sun began to set, we walked into town and browsed through some of the craft shops. I went into one of the Turkish Carpet stores, and I realized that this is a whole world I know nothing about: selling Turkish Carpets is almost as much of an art form as the carpets themselves. There’s tea and magnifying glasses involved, men who speak a dozen different languages, and of course, the carpets and kilims in every color and size. I will investigate and give you an update later 🙂

At Nazar Gloreme, we sat beneath another lovely Ottoman porch. Turkish lamps hung from the ceiling like multi-colored disco balls, and the tables were covered with lovely fabrics. The waiter brought us our menus, and as we selected our meals, he played music with an instrument that looked like a cross between a guitar and a banjo.

For dinner, we ordered a plate of spiral pastry with fresh village cheese and tomato sauce. I know it sounds a bit strange, but it was great: the pastry was savory, and inside, there was minced lamb. As we cut sections from the pastry, we dipped it in the ricotta-like cheese and then swirled it in the sweet tomato sauce. The other dish we ordered looked a little bit like naan with potatoes and cheese stuffed inside. To drink, we had fresh squeezed orange juice with lots of pulp (I like it that way 🙂 ).

When we’d finished we decided to head back to the hostel to read and write for a little bit before we went to bed. I’m trying to take it easy, after all 🙂

september 12, 2010

We took our time getting started, and it was nearly 11 when we finally left the hostel for our walk. Love Valley lies to the West of Goreme, and to get there, we walked through the town center and on towards Pigeon Valley. After a while, the cobblestone road turned to dirt, and after the road went through a tunnel, it became a dirt path. We walked along, appreciating the canyon walls and the strange rock formations, and then we suddenly lost the trail.

The hiking paths in Cappadocia aren’t really sign-posted. Some of the more popular walks are demarkated by arrows spray-painted onto the side of a canyon wall or maybe an electrical post, but otherwise, you’re on your own. After the first day of hiking in Rose Valley, Joshua and I figured that it didn’t really matter to us if we had the right trail or if we ended up getting a little bit lost. In general, we could always see major landmarks, and if we could get to those, we would be able to find our way back to Goreme.

So far, our laid-back method of navigation had treated us well, and feeling optimistic, we continued on a rough foot path along small, dry farm fields. Gradually, we worked our way up the canyon, and eventually, we found ourselves at the foot of the canyon wall. Some sure-footed farmer had clearly gone before us – his footprints were visible in the sand – so we took this as a good sign and forged on. Scrambling up the walls, we used divots and roots to hoist ourselves up, and finally, we made it to the top. It was one of those questionable hiking experiments that actually went ok. It was even kind of fun.

From the top of the canyon, we could see Uchisar, and across the road, we spied our next canyon: Love Valley. To get there, we bush-whacked across a brushy, arrid ridge, and then we found our trail. Taking the switchbacks down into the canyon, we were treated to one of the most beautiful views yet. Love Valley is surrounded on either side by Badlands-like, wrinkly walls and soaring fairy chimneys (which look like phalluses – let’s face it). In all, the white walls of the canyon and the broad footpath on its floor made for a wonderful walk. We stopped in some shade for a quick snack of chips, pears, and the last of the walnuts, and then we continued on our way.

That morning, I had woken up with my right tonsil still terribly swollen and angry. I made a fuss, and after reading a worried e-mail from my mom, I began spraying Thieve’s Oil in my mouth every hour or so. Hey – I’m game to try it, if she thinks it’ll work.

At the end of Love Valley, we rejoined the same dirt road we had taken from Cavusin back to Goreme on our first day. By then, we were very hot and thirsty, so when we arrived at our hostel, we both took naps and loaded up on water. When we were done resting, we headed into the village to browse through the craft shops and find a meal. Unfortunately, the sunglasses I had used for the bike ride (the ones Mandy so kindly lent me) had broken on the bus ride to Goreme, and with months of bright, high-altitude sun in my future, I decided to look for a hat. Finally, in one of the tourist shops, I found a simple cap with an all-around narrow brim. I bought it for 7 lira, knowing exactly what I would do to make it cute. The night before, we had popped into some of the craft shops, and in one of them, there were necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and brooches made from tiny lace-crochet. They came in all sorts of traditional designs, and I dragged Joshua back to the shop so I could choose a crocheted flower brooch to pin up one side of my new hat. (The flower brooch cost twice as much as the actual hat.)

After wandering through a few more shops, looking at carpets and picking out our favorite ones, we sat down to dinner at the Goreme Restuarant Red Red Wine. Choosing a low-lying table with cushions for seats, we ordered turkish tea and a selection of appetizers. When our plate came, it was stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, stuffed grape leaves, an eggplant and potatoe relish, a sort of thick gazpacho, and tzatziki with bread. We wiped the plate clean.

Back at the hostel, we sat outside until 8:45 PM. Earlier in the day, we had asked Orhan where we might see some whirling dervishes, and he told us that he would be happy to drop us off at a dervish house that evening. To get to the house, we rode in a car with Orhan, his wife, and his child, Evrim (one of the cutest little boys on Earth). Once we arrived, we went into an underground cave and sat around a circular stage. To begin, four men dressed in long black robes and tall straw hats came in, bowed towards Mecca, and sat with their instruments. I wish I could tell you the names of each of these instruments, but honestly, I have no idea. One looked like a very tall banjo, another looked like a dulcimer, and two others like wooden flutes. They began to play. Turkish music, much like a lot of the music I’ve heard at synagogue, is played in a haunting key, and it is completely lovely. At one point, the instrumental music stopped, and one of the men began chanting in Arabic – this, as we all know, is my favorite part.

After a while, six more men in the same attire came onto the stage, bowed towards Mecca, and then sat around the circle, listening to the man chant. When the instrumental music began again, they stood and began walking around the circle, bowing at each other in turn. Once they were finished sufficiently greeting one another, they took of their dark robes. Beneath, they wore white tunics with long, heavy white skirts. Again, they walked in a circle with their arms crossed over their chests, and when the music got louder, they slowly lowered their arms, then traced them up their sides and over their tall hats; finally, as they began to spin, their hands were poised above their heads.

One man, in particular, spun like a top. He was spinning so fast, he created a breeze, and with his head completely tilted to one side, he looked like he was in a trance. It was beautiful to see their skirts fly about them and their faces held in complete concentration. I can’t remember how long ago, but I once watched Hideous Kinky, an old film with Kate Winslet in it. It shows a seen with whirling dervishes in it, and I’ve known ever since then that I had to see them spin. I wasn’t disappointed 🙂

When the dervishes had stopped whirling, they formally retreated, and we were left sitting about the circle. After the all the music and dancing, it almost felt too still. In the upper room, they gave us hot juice, and then Orhan and his family picked us up to bring us back home. Evrim cooed at us in the back seat the whole way.

September 13, 2010

This morning, we set the alarm for 6:30 to see the hot air balloons ‘wake up’ (isn’t that a wonderful expression?). We quickly rolled out of bed, and ran towards the ridge next to our hostel. Guessing at the best trail up, we followed a dirt road and then scrambled up the ridge wall to reach the top. Once we got there, we saw a couple other tourists and Lucky, the woman from the bus.

From the top of the ridge, we could see the sun rise, and with a few clouds on the horizon, the sun lit them bright pink and yellow. In the valley, hot air balloon companies had rolled out their balloons, and they were using the flame to inflate them. For 30 minutes, we barely saw any action, and then – in less than 15 minutes – all the hot air balloons were rising up over the valley. There were nearly fifty balloons hovering over this arrid, strange landscape, and it was so much fun to watch them drift aimlessly.

while we waited for the balloons to wake up, Joshua chatted with a Slovenian student about the best hikes in and around Goreme while I talked to Lucky. In the past few days, she had managed to meet all sorts of people who had then invited her to their homes, on motorcycle rides around Cappadocia, and to underground cities. I told her a little bit about what Joshua and I had done, and then I asked her about the Rainbow Gathering. I was curious.

Apparently, the Rainbow Gathering has been going strong since the 70s, and Lucky tries to go every year. It’s held all over the United States in National Forests, and thousands of people come from all over. Usually, the Gathering is about an hour’s hike in, and once you’re there, you smoke pot (if you want to), commune with nature, hippies, and what else. There are massive kitchens set up to feed everyone, and they dig trenches to shit in. Every year, Sevensong, a hippie from the Northeast, leads people on a nature hike where he identifies medicinal plants and what-have-you. This year, the Gathering will be in Washington state.

On a roll, I then asked Lucky about her commune (because, although I may be judgy, I’m also endlessly fascinated, and really, doesn’t the Rainbow Gathering sound like fun?). She lives in a Catholic Worker community in Chicago, and she and her community partners work together to provide relief and aid to inner-city poor.

Noticing my supremely phlegm-y state, Lucky asked me what I was doing to cure my tonsil problems, and I told her that I had begun to take Thieves’ Oil yesterday. Today, I woke up for the first time without wanting to pluck out my own throat organs. She recommended Otia Root, ginger, gargling with salt water, and garlic. After my success with Thieves’ Oil, I’m game.

Once we had seen all the hot air balloons in the sky for a bit, we all parted ways and Joshua and I headed back to the hostel. I went back to bed for another hour while Joshua read, and then we showered and packed up. Stowing our packs with Orhan, we set off on a little hike up Pigeon Valley to Uchisar. This time, we found a trail that led us up the canyon, and we didn’t have to scramble the last few meters. In Uchisar, we wound through the village streets, and at the top of the city, we had a fabulous view of Cappadocia.

On our way back through the village, we browsed through some of the craft shops, and I found my first pair of Turkish earrings: pink chalcedony with turquise bobs on top. I bought them for 5 lira, and I love them 🙂 Still browsing, we found ourselves in a pretty fancy jewelry shop. The owner started talking with us, and although I’m pretty sure he knew we were way over our heads in terms of budget, he brought in some apple tea for us all to share. Talking over our tea, he explained (in a mixture of Spanish and English) that Uchisar doesn’t get many Americans or Japanese like Goreme, but instead, they receive hundreds of French tourists every year (this explains everyone saying, ‘Bonjour’ as we passed by… That, and Joshua says that my jaunty hat makes me look like a Parisienne). Uchisar and Urgrup, another Cappadocian village, tend to be a bit more fancy and expensive (which explained his prices).

Still undetered by our humble wardrobe and ourlack of purchasing power, the man then carried out a traditional hat, a bangly necklace, enormous rings, an antique tunic, and a turquoise belt. He refused to let up until I put all of it on, followed him into his carpet room, sat amongst pillows, and had a dozen pictures taken. I couldn’t stop laughing the whole time, and Joshua was looking at me like, ‘oh my god, what have you gotten us into now?’

After I had disrobed from my Sultan-ess costume, the man gave us his business card (as if to say, ‘come back when you have money’) and two little pins with a sequin and the Turkish eye on each (which he proceeded to pin to us). Walking away, we were still reeling, and we didn’t stop laughing until we had made it back to Pigeon Valley.

Our walk home was pleasant; the temperature is at least 10 degrees cooler than it has been any other day, and we chatted happily the whole time (on other days when we get really hot and tired, we put our heads down and ‘just do it’). When we got back to Goreme, we stopped at the Silk Road for a late lunch. Sitting on cushions, we ate more potato and eggplant relish, falafel, tzatziki, and cabbage salad. Joshua ordered a Turkish beer, and while we ate, we flicked through the pictures we’ve taken in the past few days.

Now, we’re back at the hostel. Orhan is nice enough to let us hang out here on his terrace until the bus comes at 8. Tomorrow: Istanbul and then off to India!


Istanbul to Cappadocia

No spell check!

September 8, 2010

Although my throat hurt so badly that my ears hurt too, there was nothing to be done. Today, we planned on wandering through Istanbul with our packs on and then catching the bus to Goreme; we didn’t have anywhere to relax, and doctor’s appointments are both extremely expensive and hard to come by. Besides, what is the doctor going to tell me? Rest. Drink lots of water. Etc. Drink lots of water I can do. Rest? Not today, anyways.

Before we left SoHo Hostel, I went upstairs to shower. It smelled a little like piss and there didn’t appear to be any locks on the door, but I wasn’t about to quibble. It had been two long days of travel since my last shower, and I did not smell good. Undressing quickly to beat any other early risers, I hopped in and started fussing with the knobs. No luck. I looked dubiously at the exposed plastic piping that had been duct-taped in several places. Down the line, there were more knobs. No luck. Up above me, there was a tank with a button. No luck. I tried to flush the toilet. Nope. I tried to turn the faucet in the sink on. No way. Getting dressed again, I retrieved Joshua who confirmed my suspicions: no water.

Now, not only did my tonsils feel like two ungainly toddlers, but I was also stinky. Excellent. We quickly packed our bags and left, I don’t think we’ll have many fond memories of SoHo Hostel. (Apparently, Joshua’s night had been even more traumatic: he couldn’t fall asleep until the disco music stopped, but almost as soon as it had, the Spanish girls came in talking loudly and turned on the lights. They poked him in the back to see if he was ready for fun, and seeing that he was not, immediately packed their bags and left (why?). Then, about a half hour later, Joshua heard keys in the door, and then he saw a very large man come in the door. Stumbling into the bottom bunk, this hulk of a human immediately fell asleep and began to snore like the train engine that could.)

Outside, Taksim Square was sleeping off a hangover, and we had the cool, sunny morning to ourselves. Stopping at a pharmacy, I purchase throat lozenges that are laced with Ibuprofen (what a wonderful idea), and then I proceeded to suck four of them down. Feeling much better, I began to tune into Joshua’s narration of our city tour. Heading South through Beyoglu, we stopped to take photos of the Galata Tower and Neve Shalom Synagogue.

Down on the Bosphorus, we headed East to Karakoy Gulluoglu, the very first cafe to sell Baklava in Turkey. I should tell you now that Joshua has a rule: if you see baklava, eat it. It’s a pretty simple edict, but given any extended period of time in a Middle Eastern country, it could have serious reprecussions. Namely, not being able to fit through doorways. Nevertheless, Joshua hopped in line while I sat an guarded our packs. Although the line was massive, most of the people waiting for their honey goodness were Turks, and they all looked at us bemusedly, especially when Joshua came back and we took a picture of our plate.

Sipping tea and eating really good baklava is kind of like a religious experience. It’s such an intense pleasure that you’re afraid that your spirit might actually up and leave your body, but you fight like hell to stay corporial so that you can extend the experience. If we carry out the metaphor, then I guess Karakoy Gulluoglu is kind of like the Vatican or – more appropriately – Mecca. It is worthy of pilgrimage and hajj.

It only took one cup of tea and two pieces of baklava each, but by the time we were finished, we were so in love with Istanbul. Walking across the bridge over the Bosphorus, we admired the fishermen with their impossibly long poles and Istanbul’s skyline, dotted with the domes and minarets of lovely, large mosques. On the other side, we made our way to Topkapi Palace.

In 1453, Constantinople was attacked and then subsumed by the Ottoman Empire. Topkapi Palace was built to house Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, and with each reign, the Sultan would extend or embellish the complex. Although many of us may think of the Ottoman Emprie as something of the distant past (ok, so that was my assumption, and now I’m foisting it upon you), the Empire was more or less alive until 1920. Within the Topkapi Palace walls, the Ottoman elite met with their military leaders, ambassadors, and foreign leaders, and today, you can see where they ate, walked, read, and… Well, you can see the harem, too. With three courts, the Palace becomes increasingly oppulent the farther in you go, and the two of us spent nearly 4 hours wandering the various rooms and courtyards. Like the Alhambra, Topkapi Palace had incredible tile work, and there was hardly a square inch of space that was not decorated in beautiful designs and colors. Unlike the Alhambra, there was very little three-dimensional decoration, and many of the walls were painted with frescoes and tromp o’lile. In some of the rooms, we could see the Sultan’s clothes that have been preserved, as well as many gifts and spoils they had collected from their foreign neighbors (and enemies). The room with the longest line had the spoonmaker’s diamond, the world’s fifth largest, and the Sultans’ sabers. In the Sacred Safekeeping Rooms, we saw Moses’ golden staff, Mohammed’s footprint, robe, and beard, and John the Baptist’s skull (or so they said).

In all, it was a massive and beautiful complex, and our favorite rooms were the library, the circumcision room, and the Baghdad room (when the Empire sacked Baghdad, they built a room to celebrate). After we exited the palace, we walked to through the gardens to a cafe overlooking the Bosphorus. Ordering tea, we sat for a while, appreciating the breeze and the beautiful view of Istanbul. We wrote a few postcards, and when the tea came, we practiced pouring from the infusion pot, the water pot, and then stirring the little spoons in our little glasses. After hours of hefting our packs through crowds, it was just what we needed.

Making our way back to Sultanhamet Square, we passed the Hagia Sofia and found the Blue Mosque. Sitting in the park between the two, we passed an hour reading and people watching. At one point, some sort of outdoor speakers began blasting a man chanting. In the distance, another man responded. Realizing that this was the Call to Prayer sounding from the minarets of the Mosques nearby, I closed my book. I looked around, hoping to see someone praying, but apparently, this isn’t the stop-drop-and-pray signal I had thought it was. Turks and tourists alike – veiled and unveiled – just kept walking. I suppose people must be used it; at five times a day, the Call to Prayer probably starts to sound as commonplace as church tower bells tolling the hour. Chills ran up and down my spine. This is my favorite thing about Turkey: listening to the Imam call the Muslim faithful to pray. It has to be one of the most beautiful and enchanting sounds in the world.

At 6, Joshua went in search of Jeton (tokens) to get on the Tram. Riding to Aksaray, we watched as the touristy part of Istanbul made way to neighborhoods and shops selling the oddest combinations: toe clippers, socks, orthotics, and hand-held sewing machines made out of old staplers. From Aksaray, we passed people selling polos, sunglasses, and levis spread out on blankets along the sidewalk. At the Underground station, we bought more Jeton and boarded the subway headed for Otogar, the Bus Station.

Beyond men shaving lamb and chicken for kebaps with long knives and tall hats, we entered an enormous square. On each side, more than 50 bus companies had little offices with bright colored signs emblazoning their names: Metro, Oncu, Suhir Turizm, Goreme, Nevsehir, Kapadokya, etc. Consulting our guide, we played ‘where’s Waldo?’ and tried to find the name of the four of five bus companies that run lines from Istanbul to Goreme, the town in Cappadocia where we have reservations. (Amazing Race, take note: this would be a fabulous road block.)

First, we found Goreme and went inside to investigate. No tickets to Goreme. All full. Next, we went to Kapadokya. Same story. Next, Oncu. Next, Metro. Next Nevsehir. Sadly, none of the bus companies had any open seats. It’s the last night of Ramazan (and no, I’m not spelling that incorrectly), and tomorrow begins a three day holiday called Seker Bayrami (Ede, elsewhere) where little children go asking for candy (kind of like Halloween, but religious) and people may finally break their fast and eat and drink in broad daylight for the first time in 30 days. (And Catholics thought no meat on Fridays was a big deal!) So, long story short: no bus to Goreme for tonight.

Seeing us with our noses deep in our guide book and looking up, squinty-eyed at all the signs, a couple of Turks tried to convice us that they could help us. One man took Joshua on a little scavanger hunt, trying to presuade him to catch a bus to Nevsehir or maybe Kayseri instead. For some reason, Joshua followed him, but don’t worry, grasshopper. I wasn’t about to fall prey to some bus scam that gets me landed in the middle of Turkish freaking no-where. I’ve read ‘Dangers and Annoyances,’ and I’m no rube. I deftly snatched Joshua and thanked-but-no-thanked the man. He may have been well intentioned, but I wasn’t about to find out. Back at Goreme, we bought the very last tickets for tomorrow night, and then we headed back to Sultanhamet Square.

On the way back, I was feeling pretty anxious. Not only would we have to forsake our reservations for a hostel in Goreme, but we didn’t have reservations for a hostel tonight. Our plans had been thrown off, and I didn’t want to feel like tomorrow was a waste, especially when we only have 7 days in Turkey. Joshua was feeling pretty anxious too, and that’s when we realized that the only things we had consumed all day were a pot of tea, four liters of water, and four pieces of baklava. All day long, I had been watching street artists create their culinary tricks, and in particular, I was intrigued by the red and white stripped stands with piles of corn in their husks. On one side, there was a small grill, and in the middle, dozens were boiling. For one Turkish lire (more on that later), you could buy a piece of corn doused in salt and handed to you on a piece of printer paper. Excellent.

Stopping at the first corn stand we saw, we ordered two grilled pieces of corn. The somewhat sullen teenager managing the stand bypassed the pieces of corn he had already grilled, carefully selected the best specimens, and slapped them on the grill, rotating them regularily. He asked us where we were from, and we told him the US. He told us he was trying to learn English, and that he was tired and hot and bored. Another man came over to buy a piece of grilled corn, and the boy handed him an already grilled piece. When the man asked him to warm it up, he said it already was, and the man, a little miffed, walked away with his piece of corn in hand. The boy looked at us, rolled his eyes and shook his head, mouthing ‘it wasn’t.’ He was pleased when we started laughing really hard.

It took about 10 minutes for the corn to grill until it was way too hot to eat. In that time, our sullen culinary street artist called over his English teacher. About the same age, this boy had a totally different demeanor. When he discovered that we were from the US, he smiled so big, I thought his ears might pop off. He then began speaking in rapid-fire, broken English, explaining that his adopted mom is from New Jersey (well, not really, but almost), that he was in his last year of school, that he wanted to go to college in the US, that he had been studying English for, like, 6 hours a day, that he had been teaching his friend here, but his friend was stupid, and the only word he knew for sure was, ‘shut up, that’s wrong.’ When our corn was finally done, they wished us a good night, and waved to us as we walked away. After a few yards, I glanced back at them, and they were both talking quickly and excitedly in Turkish. I think I know the feeling. After I’ve successfully spoken to someone in Spanish – AND THEY’VE UNDERSTOOD ME – I feel like a million bucks.

Trusting the old LP to lead us in the right direction, we wandered across busy Sultanhamet Square and into the tourist quarter. Here, it was quieter, a little bit more polished, and the only Turks were the ones managing the establishments; otherwise, the streets were lined with polite tourists, dining, chatting, and tinkling their glasses of wine. It was Istanbul, watered down and tamed for Western palates. These places aren’t bad for sleeping accomodations, but I wouldn’t want to spend any more time here than that. It seems a shame that some people would go half-way across the world to spend time with people who look and act and speak just like they do in places that all pretty much look the same.

First, we checked with Hotel Peninsula, recommended by LP. No room. Next, we check in with the Orient. Nope. Feeling vary anxious indeed (despite our pieces of crunchy corn), we checked in at the Mavi Guesthouse. No room there, either. Finally, at a hostel not listed in LP – Big Island Hostel – we secured beds. Although Joshua had sworn to never rent a bed in a dorm room again, desperate times call for desperate measures. We rented beds in a dorm room for 16 (yowzah).

Climbing the stairs to our sleeping pavillion, the music got louder and louder. Perfect. Inside the room, 8 bunks were crammed in side-by-side with barely any room to walk. Seizing the last two beds, we chucked our packs on top, and I immediately went in search of a shower. Although it was a relatively large hostel, there were only two shower stalls. Thankfully, I only had to wait for one person to finish showering. He must have been European, because he walked out and climbed the stairs to the 16 bed dorm in nothing but his whitey-tighty undies and his head wrapped in towel. (Be real. Would an American boy ever do that?)

After I showered, I dressed myself (I’m not about to go trapsing through the hostel naked) and went upstairs to find Joshua on the computer. Apparently, Yvonne had heard about a crazy-Christian-fundamentalist-Muslim-hater who planned on burning the Quran in Florida (where else?) on Saturday, in an oh-so-thoughtful commemoration of 9/11. In retaliation, fundamentalist Muslims around the world had promised to make life unpleasant for traveling Americans. Obviously, Yvonne was worried, so Joshua called to try to explain that we were ok. Turkey’s fine. We’ll be smart and safe. Just as a precaution, we promised to tell everyone that we’re Canadian. They all think we are anyway.

During Joshua’s call to Yvonne, the Call to Prayer sounded, and although I’m sure that it didn’t assuage any fears, I made Joshua hold the speaker up so she could hear too. I LOVE IT.

After talking to Yvonne, Joshua went off to take a shower, and while he was gone, I met a couple of our dorm-mates, Carolina and Raful. A married Polish couple, these two had just gotten back from three weeks of touring Turkey. They were really lovely (literally and figuratively), and we spent a long while talking. When Joshua got back, they told us a story about how they had tried to get a bus ride from Armasya to Istanbul last night, but that the bus had left them in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. The only other tourist was a woman from Thailand, and the three of them had been stranded at a strange bus stop. Thankfully, Raful took control and went to the police. He showed them their tickets and then explained their situation. No one spoke English, so they had to wait for a man who lived a few miles away (who had spent a year in the states) to come and translate. Finally, the police went to the bus company and demanded that the three tourists get a free shuttle into Istanbul. As a result, they hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. (Ok. Family. Don’t freak out. We are prepared! We have already read about bus scams such as these in ‘Dangers and Annoyances’ in the LP. They have a listed of trusted bus companies, and we will not be taking any buses from unknown companies.)

Although we had planned to go back out and grab a little bit of food, our conversation with the Polish couple had gone on so long, I was too tired to eat (I know!). Instead, we rolled into bed, and I discovered that my ear plugs were missing (TRAGEDY). Closing my eyes, I prayed for sleep to take me swiftly.

September 9, 2010

You know what? It wasn’t that bad. Although there were 18 people sleeping in one room (two couples were brave enough to sleep on one twin… We did that in college and swore to ourselves we would never do it again.) and 12 of them were boys, no one snored! The music stopped at a reasonable hour, and people were respectful at whatever times they turned in for the night. It was actually kind of cool to listen to all of them breathing deeply and mumbling in their sleep. Even the big-bad Euro guys looked like little babies with lines of drool coming out of the corners of their mouths. They were almost cute.

I slept better than the night before, but I woke up frequently to swallow and dope up on tricked-out throat lozenges (seriously. this is a BRILLIANT idea.). I was not about to go through the same agony as yesterday morning. Just before sunrise, drummers and chants in the streets sounded faintly, signaling the start of Seker Bayrami.

At 9, Joshua and I packed up and stowed our belongings in the luggage room. With our valuables on our backs, we headed towards the Grand Bazaar for a day of window-shopping. Following a walking tour laid out by the LP, we passed a number of Mosques and graveyards, and we stopped at each to take photos. When we reached the walls of the Grand Bazaar, we discovered that the place was closed for the holiday. Trying to squelch our disappointment, we promised ourselves a visit when we get back from Cappadocia and went to see if the Spice Market was also closed. Wandering through the empty streets of Istanbul was kind of eerie. No one was walking, no one was driving, and all of the shops were closed. At night, the place has been so crowded, but now it was empty.

Stopping at a Mosque, we entered the courtyard and watched as Muslim family members visited their dead. Apparently, that’s why all of the graveyards were open today: the first day of Seker Bayrami is used to visit the tombs of passed family members. Back on the trail, we found that the Spice Market was closed (surprise, surprise), and we went to peer inside the courtyard of the Yen Cami Mosque. In front, women in their veils and children were milling about and pigeons were flying all around them. Women would call to each other from across the crowd and then run to hug one another. It looked like a holiday anywhere.

On the other side of the closed Spice Market, stalls with pets, pet food, plants, and seeds were open and selling their wares. We walked through, cringing at the big jugs of leeches, and cooing over the new-born kittens (cats were Mohammed’s favorite, and they hold a special place here. In Spain, you could tell if the private courtyard was Muslim if there were little trays of catfood welcoming dozens of strays. On the other hand, dogs are considered unclean, and to call someone a dog is a horrible insult.). It was fun to browse through the enormous sacks filled with bulbs and seeds. One of the last Sultans loved tulips, and one of his legacies is the piles and piles of tulip bulbs available everywhere.

Feeling a little disheartened, we wandered back towards Sultanhamet. Spying another baklava shop, I knew what would cheer us up. Inside, we ordered one of every kind we could see: green baklava, chocolate baklava, backlava with spindly stuff instead of philo, triangle shaped baklava… We also ordered tea. Because it’s amazing.

Outside, we sipped our dainty glasses and divided each piece of baklava exactly down the middle. The baklava was so good, we ate them with our hands cupping our chins, just in case a rogue crumb or drop of honey tried to make a break for it. At the end of every half slice, we licked our palms. Don’t worry; this is good etiquette (actually, it’s probably not, but anyone who really loves baklava must understand).

Happy once more, we set off for the Hagia Sofia (or Aya Sofya). On our way, we stopped to peruse some of the more touristy souvenir stalls that had opened. In one of the stalls, I found a beautiful orange scarf shot through with pale yellow threads. It was light and airy, and when I asked the shopkeeper how much it was, he said, ‘5 lira.’ Done.

At another stand, we found a magnet with whirling dervishes, and wanting to expand our magnet collection (which doubles as bragging: ‘yeah. I’ve been there.’), we purchased that too (for 1 lira).

At the Hagia Sofia, we stood in a really long line for tickets. In front of us, a group of middle aged and older Americans were shuffling, bewildered. All of them had blue laniards around their necks that said, ‘Sea Side Cruises,’ and they were all wearing golfing bills (you know, the kind of hat without a top?). Their feet were all sensibly clad, and I whispered to Joshua, “there’s not a stylish flip-flop in the bunch!” It’s silly, because we’re just as American as every one of them, but somehow, their accents seemed louder, harsher, and we noticed all their stereotypically American mannerisms like bright neon signs. On the other hand, good for them. There aren’t many Americans who decide, ‘hey! Let’s take a cruise through the Middle East!’

Inside the Cathedral-turned-Mosque, we wandered through the hoards of people. The walls were covered in mosaics, and the ceiling had an odd motif of birds with faces. Large brass chandeliers had been hung from the ceiling, and they hovered low over the crowds, illuminating us all with a soft light. All around us, people were staring up at the dome and flashing their cameras in every direction. When we finished wandering around downstairs, we took an illuminated passageway to the second floor where we could see even better views of the famous Byzantine mosaics of Jesus and the Virgin and Child. Many of the mosaics have been painted over (In Islam, it’s disrespectful to have images of faces or animals in art), but some of the paint has been removed to reveal these historic mosaics. I heard some frustrated tourists, angry that the Ottomans had taken such a beautiful Cathedral and made it into the mosque. I guess I know how they felt; I felt the same way at La Mezquita in Cordoba. At least here, there was no polemic pamphlet literature to incite my wrath, and it’s not used as a place of worship anymore. It’s treated as a museum.

Back outside, we found stamps for our postcards and posted them, and hungry, we went in search of the real deal: kebaps. Outside Sultanhamet, one of the streets is lined with restuarants and cafes, and in the windows, the chefs are preparing their traditional meals. Women are rolling thin pitas; men are sharpening their massive knives and shaving meat of the spit for kebaps; boys are plunging enormous rods into steel barrels, lifting them, twirling the taffee, and then plunging them back into the barrels. As they work, they use their various implements to ring bells above their heads, and they shout, ‘kebaps! kebaps! kebaps!’ When tourists stop to take their picture, they look sternly over and say, ‘photo for 10 lire.’ The tourists look nervous, and then they toss a big smiles that seems to say, ‘just kidding!’

We bought two lamb kebaps (chicken or meat? they ask) and ate them as we walked back up to Sultanhamet Square. Passing the Hippodrome (the old arena), we saw an Eqyptian Obelisk (the Ottomans loved the spoils of war), and a very, very old bronze tower dating from the time of the Romans, when Istanbul was Constantinople.

Finishing our kebaps (and I’m not spelling that one wrong either), we entered the courtyard of the Blue Mosque. Although the Mosque is fully operational, the worshippers are kind enough to allow tourists to enter for free through a side entrance. We stood in line, watching as the tourists far in front of us took off their shoes, wrapped themselves in proffered blankets, and walked through a metal detector. To our side, worshippers were sitting at little individual spigots, washing their hands and feet for prayer. I have to admit; everything about Islam fascinates me. Just watching people wash their feet was more exciting than the Hagia Sofia (yeah, I know that’s hearsay for someone who has Art History degree).

Just as we were nearing the entry, the guards stopped and announced that the Mosque was closing for prayer. It would reopen again in an hour. The line dispersed, but Joshua and I decided to sit on the steps and read. After about 30 minutes, the call to prayer sounded from right above us, and we stopped just to listen.

After about an hour, people started to gather, and we were let in. Wrapping my new scarf about my hair and shoulders, I took off my shoes and entered. I love that Mosques are carpeted. How welcoming is that? The interior of the Mosque was lined in beautiful blue mosaic tiles, and in front, an altar faced Mecca. I watched as the stragglers finished their prayers, bowing from the waist, kneeling, touching their forheads to the ground. I felt so honored to watch. Women held their children and prayed. It was so much more alive than the Hagia Sofia.

Outside, we put our shoes back on, and I left the shawl around my shoulders so that we could go into the courtyard. Most Mosques are designed in the shape of a square: half of it is a courtyard, and half of it is where people pray. Surrounding the courtyard, there are often hamams (for bathing), libraries, and even schools. Mosques aren’t just for one day of the week; they are every day establishments meant to be used. In fact, one family was having a picnic on the steps (not that I would recommend that; the pigeons seemed to be uninvited dinner guests).

When we were done, we walked back through the square and into the tourist district to retrieve our bags from the hostel. Bumping into Carolina and Raful, we wished them a happy rest of their travels, and then we headed for the tram. Retracing the journey we had made the night before, we made our way to Otogar, and we got there about 45 minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave. In the mean time, I went in search of a little grub. I bought a kebap and a couple of pieces of baklava to share, and a banana each. By the time I got back, we were ready to get on the bus. We quickly stopped to use the restroom, and then we boarded.

Sitting in the very last seats, we congratulated ourselves on our extra elbow room and all around good fortune. Settling in, our seatmate arrived and introduced herself as Lucky. Lucky is from Chicago, she lives in a commune, and she was wearing (you guessed it) a tye-dye mumu and peace sign earrings. While we chatted, she told us that she intended to meet up with someone she had met at a rainbow gathering and that last night she had couch surfed for the very first time. In case you don’t know (and we certainly didn’t) couch surfing has got its act together in the past 5 years, and now they’re an official community (of sorts). They have a website, and if you have a couch, you can post it. If surfing is all you have to offer, that’s ok too. She and her couch host had been ‘very simpatico.’ We thanked her politely for her travel tidbit and stored it away in the we-will-never-use category. I don’t think we would find couch surfing very simpatico.

For the next 10 hours, I dozed. To call it sleeping is really a stretch. Every half hour or so, I woke up to a loudly complaining back muscle and had to reposition. Oh well. It was better than wasting 10 hours of daylight.

September 10, 2010

It just dawned on me where I got my tonsils/ hockey puck simile. You know when kids are making out and people our parents’ age call it ‘tonsil hockey?’ Yeah. That’s where I got it. Cute.

At this point, I’m having visions of taking a dull pair of scissors and just taking out the goddamn things myself. How messy could it really be? Aren’t they just unnecessary organs like your appendix and pinky toe? So I guess the answer to your next questions is, yes. They still hurt. And then, no. I won’t be undertaking any amateur surgery. Breathe easy.

When we arrived in Goreme, it was only 7:30. Hot air balloons were hovering just above the arrid landscape, and the sky was a hazy blue. Goreme is a very touristy place, and at first, I felt a little disappointed. There didn’t appear to be a non-tourist oriented home or business in sight. We got out the trusty LP and found our way to Ufuk Pension. The whole city was closed up, and we had the streets to ourselves. At Ufuk, Orhan, the innkeeper, greeted us and gave us a place to store our packs until our room opened up. Handing us a map of the area, he wished us happy hiking, and we set off. On our first stop, we loaded up on nuts, apples, a bag of chips, and 3 liters of water. Pausing to lube up with sunscreen, we tightened our shoelaces and set off.

Following the road out of Goreme, we passed the Open Air Museum (where you can see old cave churches and frescos) and the last of Goreme’s many hostels, hotels, and even camping villages. At the top of the road, we turned left onto a dirt track. It was here that my disappointment left me: I can draw parallels between Cappadocia and the Grand Canyon, Zion, and the Badlands, but the truth is, there’s no place like it. For the next 6 hours, we wandered throught the valleys and hills of this strange landscape, admiring the view around every turn. Like the Badlands, this is a landscape that is every shade of pink, yellow, and white sand imaginable. It too has folds and sculptural details with stretches of wavy sand that looks like wrinkly skin. Unlike the Badlands, the sand here has eroded into great conical spires that reach upwards into the clear, blue sky. Lining the path, tall, skinny trees reach their branches heavenwards as well. To make things even more surreal, people built their villages here. Even now, the valleys grow grapes, and huge, long sheets of plastic have bunches of drying purple sultanas. The rock has been carved to form caves for dwellings and monasteries, and higher up, dovecotes have been built to collect the guano for fertilizer (used to be, if you were a farmer in Cappadocia, you couldn’t find a proper wife if you didn’t have a decent dovecote).

As we wandered through the Rose Valley, we wondered how people ever would have climbed up into their homes, and when we stopped for an apple below one, Joshua decided to try and climb up. Apparently, the rock has well worn hand and footholds perfect for climbing, and in no time at all, Joshua was peering at me out of his rocky cave. I’m not nearly as brave, but I had to try, and I made it to the top too. Luckily, there was an easier way down out through the back, and I didn’t have to try to climb back the way I came.

We continued walking, passing some groups of guided tourists as we went, but mostly, we were alone. In one spot, we wandered off the path to explore more of the caves, and we found a beautiful chapel hidden behind a small vineyard. Inside, the 500 year old paintings were still in pretty good shape, except for all of the faces of the saints and Jesus had been very deliberately scraped off. That was kind of sad, but it didn’t ruin the fact that we had found our very own lost 15th century chapel. There had been no signs, and there was no one out there. Anywhere else, this would be a major tourist attraction, but here, it was just the two of us sitting beneath the ancient stone arches, looking out at the vineyard.

After a little rest, we puttered on, and eventually, we hit the village of Cavusir. Like Goreme, Cavusir has a thriving tourist sector, but at least here, we could see homes and businesses that had nothing to do with tourists. In one of the little shops, I spied hand made onyx dice, and I pointed them out to Joshua, telling him he needed to buy them or he would regret it. He bought 4 for 7 lire.

Above Cavusir, there is a ghost village in the caves and rocks that stretch high up and overlook the valley. We climbed up and wandered through the old homes, amazed all the while that we had the place to ourselves. At the top, we had an excellent view, and we listened to the Call to Prayer. It had gotten hot, so we decided to call it a day and head back along the dirt road to Goreme.

By the time we got back, we were absolutely weary. We had walked about 8 miles in the sun and heat, and neither one of us had slept very well the night before on the bus. Before we got to the hostel, we stopped to get more cash, and just to be on the safe side, we decided to buy our bus tickets back to Istanbul for Sunday night.

Well, that was the plan. There are five different bus companies at the Goreme Otogar, and all of them have at least two buses that go to Istanbul every night. All five of them were booked solid for Sunday night. Resigning ourselves to staying another night (and cutting it close: we’ll arrive in Istanbul at 7 AM on the day we’re leaving for India at 6 PM), we went down the line again. Finally, at the last company, we found the last two seats available. Thank GOD (or Allah or whomever) we decided to ‘play it safe.’ We would have been screwed, otherwise.

Back at Ufuk Pension, Orhan insisted on carrying both of our bags into our room (this man BELIEVES in hospitality), and we greatfully sank onto our bed. The room is simple, but it has a nice queen-sized bed and what Joshua likes to call a ‘shit ‘n shower’ ensuite (as you may have guessed, a shit ‘n shower is the space – and time – saving design that allows you to take a shower while you, er, use it at the very same time. Brilliant.)

While Joshua showered and… I laid on the bed and made an effort to catch up on my writing. We only just bought an adaptor yesterday, and I was afraid to waste battery power before that. As I said to Joshua, writing about Turkey takes more time too, because I can’t explain away vast swaths of time with ‘we biked. It was pretty.’

Showered, Joshua sat next to me on the bed, and within 30 minutes, were were both sound asleep. I woke up with my throat feeling like a gravel road, and I decided to take a shower. This might sound familiar, but rather than giving me relief, the shower made me feel like I was really going to pass out, and I stumbled out just in time to make it, dripping, on the bed.

I forgot to mention earlier that, although I had been doing ok, the tiny muscle in my eyelid had begun to stage a mini revolt. It twitched for three days straight and drove me absolutely nuts. It subsided this morning, but in its stead, my whole body has just informed me that it’s time to rest, m’dear (I tried to tell you nicely, but now I’m going to have to use the stick, etc.). We rested for the rest of the day in the hostel, napping, reading, and writing, and for a little dinner, Joshua went out to buy chicken kebaps and peachy jelly treats (which are actually pretty good). We’ll see what tomorrow brings.