Friday, August 19, 2011

Turkish Delight

After spending the whole summer traveling down under and then Asia, I had to go somewhere unexpected the next summer. Unfortunately, Rick had just started a new job, and all of my friends were busy, so no one was up for a trip. I started to dream about where I could go, and I found myself browsing through the Intrepid web site, since they travel to alot of great places, and joining a tour would allow me to get away. On a whim I booked a trip to Turkey, and informed my family and friends. One of Rick's friends was stationed in Turkey for awhile when he was in the military, and he thought I was nuts to go to a Muslim country, alone. The day before I left there was an attack on foreign tourists just outside of Ephesus, and everyone in the minibus died. It was claimed by a Kurdish separatist group.

Istanbul had been placed in my mind when I was just a kid playing Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? I arrived in Istanbul a couple of days before the tour began so I could explore the city a bit. It was really exciting, as it turned out that my hotel was a block away from Hagya Sophia and the Blue Mosque, two of the most famous sights in the city. The first morning I was awoken at 5 a.m. with the call to prayer, a sound that became familiar and comforting as the days went by.

On day three, I met up with the group. I was one of two Americans. My roommate was from Melbourne, and we became fast friends as our adventures unfolded. There were twelve of us, including our guide. Our group got along really well, and we enjoyed getting to know one another.

The itinerary was filled with one beautiful place after another, as we followed the Mediterranean coast most of the time, until the last few days. Ephesus was really neat, and I learned that wealthy Romans had running water, toilets with plumbing, air conditioning, and heating. The main road even had built in air conditioning and heating. Very impressive! We spent a few days on a private boat sailing along the Mediterranean. We were excited to escape a rooster getting us up at dawn, something we were all lamenting. Low and behold, the bays where we docked always had a resident rooster for us. It was charming as we sailed over ancient sunken cities and explored Lycian tombs on a seemingly remote island. We even enjoyed Magnum bars from an ice cream boat that sailed by!

One morning we were told to pack our swimming suits for the day, as we were going to hike down to a beach. We hiked through an abandoned Greek town at the top of a mountain, and it was crazy to imagine a vibrant group of people once lived in the empty ruins. The Greeks and Turks went to war with one another over territory over several hundred years. After World War I, in an attempt to fix the historical ethnic conflicts, there was a population exchange between the two countries. In 1923, all Greek villages in Turkey were abandoned. It was a beautiful hike along the edge of the Mediterranean, and to top it off, we hiked down to Oludinez, a really popular beach town.

My favorite place became Goreme, a town in the fairy chimney area of Cappadoccia. While I spent my evenings visiting carpet stores and drinking endless amounts of apple tea, days were spent hiking the valley floor, exploring the underground cities of the ancient Hittites, and checking out Byzantine churches carved into the hillsides. The area was a major battle site during the crusades, and due to the endless amounts of places to hide, the Byzantine Church was able to survive and thrive despite so many attacks. I did end up buying a flying carpet, and it is one of my most treasured items.

When the trip was over, a few of us still had a few days left to spend in Istanbul, so we stuck with each other. Again, the Kurdish separatists threatened tourists, and there was a warning to stay away from the bridge that connects the Asian side of the city to the European side. Due to the warning, we decided to go to an island about an hour from the city center, but still part of Istanbul. It was a really cool place, as no cars were allowed, so horse drawn buggies were the transportation of choice. We wandered around and ended up at a monastery at the top of the island mountain, with views of the city and sea. By the end of the day, an explosion had happened in a restaurant on the bridge. There were injuries but no casualties.

I miss Turkey, its lovely people, and delicious food. I hope to return some day soon. Most of all, I miss the rhythm that a group of twelve people can make in such a short amount of time when truly enjoying a journey.

All pictures were taken on my trip. 1) Scene outside of a mosque 2) Turkish tea on the Bosphorus Sea, Istanbul 3) Ephesus 4) Mediterranean Sea 5) Cappadoccia 6) Blue Mosque, Istanbul 7) Asian side of Istanbul

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