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This is part two of my story about a month spent visiting Turkey, from the end of April until the end of May. I am still digesting the many events that transpired during my visit, the people that I met.
Most of the month was spent in Istanbul, enjoying different activities every day. I think almost everything was a new experience for me in some form or other. We took a side trip south to Izmir, Konya and the region of Cappadocia, after which we came back to Istanbul. We travelled by bus, which is what most Turks do. The buses are clean and a reasonably happy experience, and very inexpensive. For example, the 10 hour ride to Izmir from Istanbul cost $30 each. The buses have a little tray that lowers just like in the airplanes. From time to time someone would come around and offer various things – water – tea or coffee (if you can call Nescafe and coffee creamer “coffee”), some snacks that are not good for B non-secretor blood types, and a squirt of a cologne which is used as a refresher for the hands and face by almost everyone in Turkey. When the buses stop, all the smokers immediately get out to light up – and that’s almost everyone on the bus. I did meet some non-smokers, but they were in the small minority. Even 10-year olds smoke in Turkey, and except for the buses, they smoke everywhere. If you don’t live in Canada, you may think this is normal. It is not normal in Toronto, Canada. We have had anti-smoking by-laws in effect for quite a few years. Smokers are not welcomed in any public place any more. The workplace was the first to ban smoking, followed by restaurants, and now even bars. You can imagine how much the smoking affected me. I even had ashes on my shirt one day from the man sitting next to me in an open-air restaurant!
Sorry about that smoking tangent. Back to the trip to Izmir, Konya and Cappadocia. We had arranged to stay with a friend of a friend in Izmir while still in Canada. Our host turned out to be a policeman who wore his revolver at home while getting ready to go to work in the mornings! He and his family were incredibly hospitable. We said we’d wanted to visit the home where Mary, mother of Jesus, had lived her last days, to visit Ephesus, and to see the cave where 7 youths, early Christians, had slept for 200+ years and then walked out and spoke to people. We got so much more than that. I am still in awe of the special treatment we received, and all the many stops we did make in that one day. The peak experience of the whole trip was the visit to Mary’s home. I expected wild tourists interrupting the place, but found instead some very respectful and devotional people meditating, praying and reflecting. I lit a candle, said a prayer, and drank some of the water from a spring that had been there at the time Mary had lived, though not running out of the tap I used! Our host introduced us to a few other police officers, and they steered us through the area, including a museum with artifacts from Ephesus, a folk museum, a wonderful lunch in a lovely open air restaurant, etc., etc., etc. They would accept no payment for anything we did, not even a glass of tea! Ephesus is an old Roman city that has a LOT of marble ruins. At first glance it doesn’t seem to be much, but it keeps on going and going, ending in the library, several pillars and arches still standing. They are continuing to excavate in the area, and the end result will surely be very mind boggling. There is a huge amphitheatre which illustrates the size of the population of Ephesus.
While in Izmir, we met a man who owned a grove of olive trees and made oil. He said that they use olive oil to help to heal any small cut or bruise that is sustained. They just put it on immediately the injury happens, and healing is hastened. I quite believe that it is effective, since it is beneficial for all blood types. Izmir is located in a quite warm climate, so they are surrounded by fig, peach, olive and citrus trees for some distance. It was wonderful to see so many orchards in the vicinity.
After a full day and two evenings in Izmir, we set out for Konya. But not before the uncle of our host arrived early in the morning to give me a bouquet of beautiful roses and other flowers freshly picked from his garden. We’d visited the uncle briefly the night before, to have some tea and visit the family including a couple of daughters and grandchildren who arrived at the same time.
Konya is the home of Jelaluddin Rumi, the mystic poet, who lived in the 12th century. He is said to have starting the whirling practice engaged in by the Turkish dervishes. Revered as a saint, his tomb is also a museum, and visited by people from all over Turkey, who come to pray for his soul. It was an all-day trip from Izmir to Konya, arriving at 7 p.m. We stayed in a hotel near the tomb and were the first people in line the next morning, after getting breakfast nearby. As people gradually joined us close to the opening time, I opened my bag and produced my head scarf, a white handmade one with lace on the edges, to the vocal approval of all the people - men and women - around us. Some of the women adjusted it for me so that it covered all of my hair. The experience of being next to the coffin of Rumi was the second biggest “high” of my entire trip. He is very well loved, and the inside of the building is beautifully decorated with many rich colours, calligraphy and a lot of gold. There are many coffins beside him, his father, who was a renowned scholar and teacher, his son, who followed in his footsteps, and several of the chief students. In the museum area, one can look at some of his garments carefully placed in glass cases, with other artifacts. There were many ancient Qur’ans on display. Outside, we walked about downtown Konya and visited the mosque housing the shrine (body) of Alad-din, belonging to the Selchuk empire long, long ago.
Before leaving Konya, we visited a school connected to the one that my friend had attended as a student. They greeted us graciously, gave us tea, and found a contact person to see in Cappadocia, in the town of Nevshehir. The contact was a school residence, and although these people knew nothing about our imminent arrival, we were provided with a room in which we could stay. We were administered to by a student of hospitality and tourism. Coming back from a meal, we were told that the director of the residence wanted us to stay with him, so we walked over to his apartment, greeted by his wife, holding his infant daughter, about 6 months old. The two days we spent in Cappadocia were simply amazing. The director gave his car, a driver was found, and a young man who has one more year of study to go before being licenced as a tour guide went with us to explain everything we saw. His English was excellent, and he had a lovely sense of humour, so it was really a treat. The first day we climbed in and out of various caves, including down into the valley and then up to the highest part of Cappadocia. For those who know nothing about the area, it was created millions of years ago when three volcanoes erupted in the vicinity of each other. Natural erosion created a landscape that is a collection of conical shapes. Being constructed of lava, when the early Christians and other people in the are were being persecuted, they quickly discovered that they could easily carve spaces big enough to live in, which is what they did. They carved multiple dwelling caves with many rooms, and there are a great many Byzantine churches there as well. It is a very distinctive landscape.
The second day we went a little further north where the landscape has flattened out, and explored a couple of underground cities which were amazing in their scope. Water was brought from a distance and stored, food could be kept for many months, air shafts were incorporated. There were huge discs of rock that could be quickly rolled into place if invaders were entering the city, with holes in the centre through which a spear could be inserted to kill the unwanted attacker. The first city went four stories down into the ground, and the second went down eight stories. They were apparently connected by a tunnel under the ground. The really amazing part about Cappadocia is that there are some 3500 underground cities, all interconnected. They are beginning to excavate some of them at this time. We also visited a beautiful valley with a river running through it, and caves with churches inside them in various areas all along the river banks.
The trip back to Istanbul was undertaken overnight, so we boarded the bus at 9 p.m. and arrived back in Istanbul around 8 a.m., a little sleepy, and more than overwhelmed by the generosity of the people we’d met in those few short days. The total cost for the bus tickets was 105 Turkish liras each, give or take worth one Canadian dollar. A bargain beyond belief.
Our hostess in Nevshehir used a clay pot to cook supper on our second day. The food was so delicious that we bought a similar one in Istanbul before we came home. Our meals are beginning to taste as delicious as our friends!
And thus ends part two of the saga of my visit to Turkey.