Not long after leaving Konya, the landscape took a dramatic turn. It was dry, flat and yellow— sort of our Kansas! Farming of wheat, barley, and sugar beets is the big industry here. This area was part of the Seljuk Turk empire and there were important stops on the Silk Route here. We stopped at one of them, Sultanahan. It looked like an old fortress out of the French Foreign Legion tales. Inside was an area to stay and trade if need be. There was also a huge area for the animals, such as horses and camels that were the long-haul trucks of their day! The inn dated back to around 1200 AD, and it was in remarkable condition for being about 1000 years old!
When we got to Cappadocia, we first stopped at a place called Saratle. The area is full of underground rooms and passageways that the Christians in earlier times used to hide from whatever marauding army was trying to find and kill them. The passageways are not for the claustrophobic! Nor, might I add, for anyone over 5′ 5″ tall!
However, all this was to pale in comparison to Cappadocia! It is an awesome place. The topography was formed by two vocanoes that left a deep deposit of ash over the area. Over time, this was compacted to a material called “tuff.” Later, rain eroded the lands to form these incredible conical- and mushroom-shaped formations. The early Christians, fleeing the Romans settled here and made their homes by carving rooms and churches out of the soft tuff material. The result was amazing.
At night a group of us went to see the Sufi Whirling Dervish program. The participants came out on the stage, the music started and they began their preliminary steps to begin the spinning that will bring them to closer contact with Allah. They spin with one hand elevated and the other in a lower position. The idea is that they are acting as conduits – accepting good graces and passing them on to us below. With the music it is indeed hypnotic. It was one of the things I wanted to see most in Cappadocia and I am so glad I got a chance to witness it.
The next day, we spent 2 hours at a carpet factory. Well, the guy who was displaying the carpets and discussing them in detail to entice us to buy, should have been on late-night Home Shoppers’ Network! He sounded like a character from a Seinfeld episode— one of those strange, off-the-wall people! Funny, but eventually, nice as they were, no sale for me. One person from our group did purchase a silk carpet for the low, low price of $60,000! Like I told her later when she was having second thoughts, “It’s an investment. You only live twice! One life to buy and another to work to pay it all off!”
That done, we resumed our trip through Cappadocia visiting the old hidden Christian community at Goreme. There are seven early Christian churches here carved out of the tuff material. There are other areas too that were used for residences and learning centers. They are fascinating to see, especially the ones with religious frescoes that are still in reasonably good shape. It was nice spending two days in Cappadocia.
Some of the group took hot air balloon rides early the second morning. I wasn’t one of them. At $200 for the hour where they were cramped into a small gondolla is not my idea of fun! But those that went reported that it was and well worth it.
The next day found us in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. By this time, several of us had been laid low by a stomach problem. They were able to get over it within a day or two, but not what you want to be dealing with taking a trip on the bus. It was pretty funny in a way to see how much medication people had brought on the trip just for that purpose! I was one of them— never leave home now without the Cipro in the bag!
In Ankara we spent some time at the Masoleum of Kamal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. He is revered! The monument is quite impressive and we got the chance to see the changing of the guard. Not as precise as you see at Arlington, but impressive anyway! In Ankara we also saw the National Museum of Ankara. The most interesting part for me way seeing the coins that went back to the times of the Hittites and Lydians, the first to use coins and have a standard for trade. That night we stayed in a very nice hotel that unfortunately needs to suppliment by charging their “guests” an outrageous $18 per day to use the high-speed Internet! I could live one night without it at those rates! Drink prices were also astronomical! I went to the supermarket next to the hotel to get what I needed. It was funny, I handed the cashier a 10 Turkish Lira note for the 4 1/2 lira I owed. He said something to me in Turkish that I took to mean “Do you have the half lira coin?” I had no clue what he really said, but I fished in my pocket and produced a coin. He smiled and said thank you in Turkish, so I guess I was right! He said something else to me as I was leaving… I guess it was, “Have a great evening” or “Go to hell,” how would I know? But I smiled back and waved as I left!
Our next stop after leaving Ankara on our way to Bursa was the town on Gordeon. This area has some very interesting buial mounds. We visited one of them, the tomb of King Midas– but not the one we know from legend. There is a story that I love about a Freisian king from Gordeon who tied a very complicated knot to a yoke of a plow. He said that whoever could untie the knot, would be a great ruler. Many came and tried, but none succeeded. Then along came Alexander the Great on his way to conquer the Persians. After hearing the story, he simply took out his sword and cut the knot! The rest, as they say, is history!
All of Turkey is celebrating the Feast of Eid El Fitr, or Kurban as they call it in Turkey. We learned the greeting, “Ee Bayram lahr!” which means “Happy Feast!” Whenever we used it during our time in the next city, Busra, everyone smiled and greeted us and shook hands. It is amazing how learning just a simple thing like that can really help you to make a connection! The feast celebrates the time when Abraham was going to sacrifice his son at God’s request, but at the last moment an angel appeared to stop him. As a result, the Moslems celebrate by slaughtering bulls and sheep and offering part of the meat to family, friends and the poor. We saw a lot of sheep and bulls being hauled off to sell. One sheep can go for about $400, so it is not a cheap thing to do. Many Turks these days also offer money to charities which sounds way more humane!
Bursa is a charming town. Built on hills it is fun negotiating around on foot as I did looking for the Citibank that was supposed to be in the area. I never did find it, but I had a lot of fun along the way! Everyone had an opinion, but no one knew for sure! I gave up and then I needed help getting back to the group near the bazaar. I stopped a traffic policeman who tried hand gestures to explain. As he did this and said it in Turkish, I started saying it in English. Then he started repeating my English much to the amusement of all within ear-shot! By some miracle, it ended up being right. It was amazing how crowded the bazaar was as everyone was out shopping for their Kurban celebration. While in Bursa, we also visited the Green Mosque, so named because of the green tiles inside. It was built between 1412 and 1419. Lots of people were there as many Turks head for the road, as many others do in their own countries every time there is a long holiday. Turkey goes to great lengths to be sure that church and state are kept separate, but many government offices and businesses were closed for the entire 5 days of the feast!
Then it was time to return to Istanbul to see the sights and end my time in Turkey. As much as I have enjoyed this tour and the people on it, I am anxious to get out on my own. I decided to spend two extra days in Istanbul in the old city near the Grand Bazaar and Haiga Sofia. Then on to Greece!