Our journeys in Turkey
10.07.2010 75 °F
We love Turkey! We didn’t have any real expectations, but we’ve come away knowing that it’s definitely a place we’d like to return someday. It’s a beautiful country with so much history and so much potential. Two days ago, we were in Kusadasi (“COOSH-uh-dah-see”) and Ephesus (“EFF-uh-sus”), and yesterday we were in Istanbul. I debated whether to split this into two reasonable entries or keep it as one huge entry, and decided on the latter, so I apologize for the length. I’ll try not to get so behind in the future!
Thursday started with our arrival into Kusadasi. We met our tour group at 7:10am, after a quick breakfast. Our tour guide was named Tan and did a phenomenal job of giving us interesting information, showing us all the critical sites, and making the day fun. On the bus, he pointed out several interesting features of the Kusadasi/ Ephesus region, including the beautiful 5-star hotels on the ocean that go for around $120/night. NICE ocean-side condos go for around $200K, and several wealthy Europeans use the area for their summer homes. In fact, the population of Kusadasi is 500,000 in the summer, and only 40,000 in the winter! It’s a quickly growing area, but because the government wants to make the “summering” experience as pleasant as possible for those who are funding the Kusadasian economy, construction is actually banned from April through September! We thought this was a little funny!
After a short bus ride, we headed to the House of the Virgin Mary. When Jesus was crucified, he entrusted the care of his mother to St. John, who took Mary to the Ephesus region around 40 AD and lived with her there until her death. This is believed to have been her house. As seems to be the trend in Europe in summer, there were considerable lines to get in, but the surrounding area was gorgeous so we didn’t mind. Unfortunately, you couldn’t take pictures inside the house, but it basically looked like a one-room, small, stone … house. It was still very cool to be standing in such an old structure – the bottom 25% of the house is still untouched from its original construction, the top 75% has been reconstructed. I lit a candle for the health of our families – especially Ama – here!
After the House of the Virgin Mary, we headed to Ephesus (as in the Ephesians from the Bible). What remains is a bunch of ruins and several marble roads, but there is still enough (especially after reconstruction efforts) to see the different areas of the city and identify the function of most buildings. The city was much bigger than we expected – and they estimate that 90% of it is still covered by a mountain (which was formed over the city after an earthquake in 614 AD). It was SO much fun to imagine people walking around in this village so long ago! Most of the standing structures date back from the 100s – 500s AD.
Here, you’ll notice a theatre (the “back up” theatre – you’ll see the Grand Theatre at the end), the goddess Nike with Kev, ruins of temples and stores (anything that looks like a cave inside of an arch was a store, mostly selling jewelry), and a marble ball – the ball represents Trajan (an emperor or other type of ruler) stepping on the world, showing that he was ruler and in control of it. How interesting that in the 400s, Trajan and the Ephesians knew that the world was round, far before Columbus!
The largest and prettiest standing structure in Ephesus is the Library that you see here. It was next to the house of prostitution, and there were underground tunnels connecting the two (“Honey, don’t worry, I’m just going to the library to educate myself…”)!
This street is called Arcadian Street or Harbour Street, and there is evidence that St. John, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, and others that we can’t remember have walked along it.
This is the Grand Theatre, which seats about 40,000 and again dates back from the 400s. Recently, they opened it up to people like Diana Ross, Elton John, and Sting for fundraising concerts. Unfortunately, Sting’s fans got a little rowdy and ended up doing more damage to the theatre than the money they raised!
Somewhere in there, I bought a pashmina – isn’t it pretty?
Last, we stopped at the tomb of St. John. St. John’s bones were actually physically here until a few years ago, when the Vatican barged in and claimed rights to them and took them to Italy. There was not a ton to see here, but it was a nice end to the day and again fun to see something to historic. By the way, if you’ve been noticing blue headphones, the guide talks into a microphone that is broadcast through those. Our tour groups have only been 20-30 people, but it still helps in case you want to go wander off away from the group but still want to catch all the information!
After the day’s tour, we headed back, grabbed lunch and did a little reading. We went to the gym and spent some time around the ship and on our balcony, and then headed to dinner. We started with soup (Red bean for Kev, minestrone for me) and salad, then Kev had homestyle chicken breast and I had Shrimp fra Diavolo (why do I always have trouble with shrimp dish names? This is probably wrong, but it was tasty!) Kev finished with a 4-layer ice cream cake and I had limoncello sorbet. Yum! After dinner, we entered a blackjack tournament (it was only $10 to enter), and lost miserably. You started with $1,000 (of “fake” chips) and only played 7 rounds. I ended with $3,200 and thought that was good, but the winner had $12,000! We spent some time playing real blackjack also, headed to a few more bars, and called it a night. It was a bit too long and “fun” of a night, because our 5:50am wake up call the next morning was not pleasant! …
Luckily, Istanbul is an amazing city, so we got over our desire to stay in bed quickly! We grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out. Unfortunately, the first half of the day was very rainy, so Rover had to hide inside more than we would have liked, but we still managed to get some good shots (thanks to the $5 clear umbrellas we bought on the streets!) Our first stop was the famous Blue Mosque, so called because it is lined with valuable, hand-painted tiles that are overwhelmingly blue on the bottom level. It was huge and absolutely gorgeous! The photos don’t show just how pretty it was. Our guide, Kemencan, used this first mosque as an opportunity to tell us more about the Muslims in Turkey. First of all, they are not fundamentalist Muslisms, and are in fact very tolerant and respectful of other religions. Turkey is full of Jewish and Christian history and artifacts, and they revere these artifacts just as they do their own (Muslim) ones. Turkey is not officially a Muslim state even though 95% of Turks are Muslims, so government is secular. Devout, practicing Muslims are required to pray 5 times per day, but unlike several other Muslim countries, the city doesn’t “shut down” at these times, so if you want to pray it is on your own time. Kemencan estimated that only 10-15% of Turks actually take the time to pray 5 times per day. A few other interesting notes on the Turkish Muslim faith. First, you must endure a physical cleansing (“ablution”) ritual that takes about 20-25 minutes before each prayer. Second, you must always pray facing Mecca, which is designated in mosques by the “niche” (similar to the Christian altar). Kev and I knew this, but we did not know why – it turns out that the Cabah is a large, boxlike building in Mecca that holds a very sacred meteor, which has been worshipped since the days of Abraham and was adopted by Muslims only after being worshipped by other faiths first. The meteor is located in Mecca, which is why Muslims must always face it while praying and hope to visit it someday. Lastly, Turkish Muslims are free to marry people of other faiths, and this is quite common. If the mother of a child is of another faith, the Turkish government dictates that the child should practice the mother’s faith without question, and is very accepting of this. The funniest custom that we learned about is the announcement of engagements – when a couple decides to be married, they tell the parents first, and the parents host a coffee party for the couple. The bride-to-be prepares the coffee for everyone, and instead of putting sugar in her fiancé’s coffee, she puts salt. He must drink the entire cup and pronounce “Dear, this is the best coffee I’ve ever tasted!” … getting him ready for a lifetime of agreement and compromise! Amazing!
OK, sorry for the detour/ rant, but this is all very fascinating to me! After the Blue Mosque, we headed to St. Sophia (or Hagia Sophia), which was initially built as a church in 360 AD but converted to a mosque in 1453 after the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople. This luckily involved covering up all the Christian symbols with plaster, which nicely preserved them. In 1923, when the Turkish Republic was founded, the government decided to keep Hagia Sophia as a museum (neither a mosque nor a church), and took off the plaster to re-reveal the Christian decorations. It is amazing now because there are both Christian and Muslim symbols everywhere, and it was very interesting to learn about them. The two buildings are set up similarly, so if you think of it as a church you’ll recognize the altar, the pulpit, etc., but if you think of it as a mosque you’ll recognize those same structures as the niche, the Sultan’s lodge, etc.
Next, we went to a carpet making demonstration. The art of carpetmaking is highly revered in Turkey, and they make gorgeous carpets. We got to see how they are made, learn about the different types (primarily tribal, wool on wool, wool on cotton, silk on cotton, and pure silk), and while the lecturer was speaking, he gave gestures to several helpers who tossed out carpets left and right in perfect order and timing! In the end, there were probably 100 carpets spread across the floor. It was fun! We also got a chance to head to the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’s most famous market. It is a bit of an unsafe (in the pickpocket sense) place, so we didn’t take Rover out inside, but it was a lot of fun to walk through and bargain. I bought another pashmina (blue, this time), and Kev tried to buy a watch – which he thought was fake, until the seller asked for 7,000 Euros! (almost $10,000) We took a pass
Later, we headed to a cruise of the Bosphorus River. The River actually separates the two sides of Istanbul, as well as two continents, Europe and Asia! Istanbul is the only major city that spans two continents, and they have a giant suspension bridge connecting the two sides. The cruise was one of our favorite parts of Istanbul, as it was a great way to see the whole city in a short period of time. The river spans 18 miles, and it is lined on both sides with GORGEOUS houses, palaces, fortresses, and condos. The nicest houses range from $70 million to $132 million! There is also a large downtown area, which we only saw in the distance. Istanbul is home to about 15 million people – much larger than we’d realized! It is the largest city in Turkey, although Ankara is the capital. Just take a look at several of the beautiful shots! On the cruise, we also had a delicious Turkish feast – in the true sense of the word! Appetizers included feta cheese, chicken salad, hummus, two eggplant dishes, and rice in grape leaves. The main course was beef wrapped in eggplant for Kev (which he wasn’t the biggest fan of), and chickpea stew for me (awesome!). Dessert was a sampler of baklava, dried apricots, Turkish delight, and some walnut-flour-honey mix. I was sooo full afterwards!
After the cruise, we headed to the Hippodrome, which was used as a racecourse for carriages in the budding days of Istanbul. It had several monuments, including one from Egypt that was over 3000 years old!
After the Hippodrome, we headed to Topkapi Palace, which used to house the Sultan but is now just a museum. It was full of gorgeous courtyards, well-kept grounds, and several interesting exhibits (photos weren’t allowed) – including an 84 carat diamond, several smaller (50-60 carat) diamonds, and many artefacts like thrones, armor, etc., used throughout Turkish history.
The Istanbul tour took the full day, and we were exhausted by the time we got back, but we decided to take a quick trip to the gym before relaxing at the bar and going to dinner. Dinner didn’t disappoint, as by now you’ve come to expect – we started with chicken and scallion soups (just looked like broth so we didn’t take a picture) and house salads (again, just looked like salads!). For the main course, Kev had surf & turf with shrimp, and I had grilled salmon – both were fantastic! We finished with 1812 Sacher Torte (chocolate cake) for Kev and a fruit plate for me. It was delicious, relaxing, and a great end to a fantastic trip to Turkey! We truly enjoyed our time there! Today we’re off to Mykonos, Greece, so look for a (much shorter) report soon! Hope everyone’s doing well!