End of a Long Hiatus

Well its been a long time since I’ve posted on this blog, and I mean a long time……For all you regular and long tme readers, if any are left I do appologize. To any new readers, welcome!!!!!

As to why I’ve revisited this lonely lost ship of a blog, that is complicated. My wife Lorien and I are currently wandering through the wonderful land of Turkey, and Turkey being Muslim, has mosques. Mosques have five calls to prayer every day, one of which is at 5:30 am. Now I am a morning person but some things are excessive even for me and I spend a lt of time lying awake thinking and philosophizing. I guess this blog is now an outlet for all that cogitating.

I have no intention of writing a traveloguem for that you have to visit the Frabjous blog, I make no claims to literary greatness or deep philosophical thought. I just hope you stop by, have some chai and look at the pretty pictures.

Turkey – Day Seven – Goreme (Sunday)

We were up early (again!) on Sunday morning as we were expecting our tour to get going fairly quick. We ooh’d and aaah’d over the early-morning balloon parade when — wait a minute — that balloon is going down! In the middle of town!

A pink&black checked hot air balloon looked like it wasn’t getting enough flame to keep aloft, and was slowly sinking below the horizon of the cliff edge, right into the middle of the built-up area of town. Lots of people were running to look at this strange phenomenon. It hung around, mostly flated, for about ten minutes before they finally brought it the rest of the way down. We hoped it wasn’t Lisa on that balloon as she had been able to get on a balloon at the last minute due to a cancellation. That would have added irony to injury.

As we sat down to another delicious breakfast, we found the kadi, Pakuze, had left a giant Paku-log on the couch! Not wanting her to ruin her chances at a good home, I found some paper towel in the kitchen and threw out the evidence. God knows what it had been eating in it’s semi-starved state, and it had been locked inside all night…

We were ready and waiting (after lukewarm showers) at 9:15am. We weren’t picked up until almost 10 by — surprise! — Adil, this time with a different, younger, driver. When we expressed our surprise at the lateness of pickup, Adil rolled his eyes and said he wished the hotel owners wouldn’t tell guests that they’d be picked up at 9:15… shhhhh… but it said so on the itinerary they gave us! Oh well.

It turned out that we were the only guests on that particular tour that day! We felt guilty, since we suspected they would be losing money on us, but also kind of happy that we’d have the tour to ourselves. When you conisder the cost of gasoline (2.86L/litre), the cost of admissions (usually 5-10L per person), lunch (10-15L per person) and the wages of guide and driver, they must have a pretty small profit margin.

Our first stop was a tiny little town called Mustafpasha which had some empty Greek houses: in the 1920’s, after Turkey’s succesful War of Independence, Turkey and Greece arranged for a population exchange. This was hard in many ways, as whole communities were torn apart. Also, more Greeks left than Turks that came, so many of th Greek houses stood empty. In Mustafpasha, we looked at beautiful, rundown Greek houses. You could tell the Greek ones because they had white and blue paint (I guess the Greek restaurant cliche is actually correct).

One derelict stone house had a ‘For Sale’ sign on it, and we asked Adil how much it would be to buy: he thought for a minute and replied $1,000 US dollars. Where’s the nearest ATM!!!?? Actually, it was more like $100,000 but still — what a project! Now we only have to win the lottery…

We walked down a back road in the town to look at some more ruined buildings, when a man whom Adil (and us) had greeted in Turkish, came running down the path to give us some apples he had just picked off his tree. Delicious! (Nefis!)

In the town square, Adil, who was already sadly aware of our propensity to take way too many photos, gave us 20 free minutes to poke around and photog to our heart’s content. After taking a bunch of pictures of a lovely little Greek church (not entry, I’m afraid), we were greeted — in French — by a random Turk in the town square. I’m not sure why he decided we spoke French, but he was delighted that we were able to respond in our slightly-more-advanced-than-our-Turkish-French. He had worked in France in Bordeaux in the wine industry, and came back to Cappadocia where they are trying to make a wine industry. When I asked how the wines were in Cappadocia, he replied with a very diplomatic ‘comme ci, comme ca’ which was more than fair, given the rawness of the wine sample Steve had yesterday at the pottery place.

From Mustafpasha, we went on to the Keslik Monestary, which was mostly ruined but still a lovely peaceful spot. The current caretakers had planted vines, trees, tomatos (domates) and other crops in the same areas the monks would have cultivated, which gave it a more lived-in air that was quite charming. I asked Adil if there was a washroom and no, there was not. There wasn’t going to be one at the next stop, either. I guess I looked a little wild about the eyes, because after some discussion, Adil informed me that the driver would take us to the last village to use the W.C. there, which was fine by me.

Much to my surprise, the driver informed me as we were entering the village that he was from that village, and would take me to the family home to use their bathroom… eek! Turkish people in their native environment! We drove up a dirt road to a house that looked like most other Turkish houses from the road: stone wall, solar panels on roof, dirt/rocksweeds in yard and people wrestling with a tractor in the lane. However, as we drove around to the front/non-road side, I was greeted by a lovely verandah and an incredibly verdant sea of flowers around the verandah. The driver (whose name I have forgotten) greeted some people and I recognized the words ‘tourista’ and ‘tuvalet’. I greeted them in my rather pathetic Turkish, and they seemed quite pleased. As I was taking my shoes off at the door, Grandma booked it into the house and I heard a toilet flush, which seemed like a good sign as I had been fully expecting an outdoor toilet.

Actually, the interior of the house was just beautiful: cool stone floors, and a central area off of which I saw rooms. The living room was furnished with red velvet upholstered wooden couches, very lovely, and the bedroom I saw had a dark wood bed frame and a serene white coverlet with white sheer curtains. Everything was spotless and tasteful, including the bathroom, which even had a sit-down toilet! I was most pleasantly surprised and incredibly grateful. Upon my return to the verandah, Grandma asked me, via the driver, if I wanted some plums (erik). I took one, and found myself on the receiving end of a stick of fresh bread and a big bunch of grapes, which Grandma made the driver wash. I was so surprised and pleased and embarrassed (can I take half the grapes? no, take all of them) but also so humbled. I wasn’t sure if I should offer money, and I didn’t want to offend anyone, so I just thanked everyone profusely and we got back in the van to meet up with Adil & Steve back at the monestary.

On the trip back, I chatted with the driver, who lived four days a week in Ankara. going to university to be a diplomat. The other three days, he came back to Cappadocia to drive for the tour company. In Turkey, the university tuition is paid if you attend a state school, but you have to pass an academic test to be accepted to the school. Fortunately, you have infinite chances to retake the test! The driver very sweetly asked if Steve was my friend or…? When I replied ‘husband’ he nodded wryly and I wondered if Grandma had told him to bring home a nice girl sometime.

At the monestary, Steve and Adil were sitting at a long table under a grape arbour, drinking tea and chatting with the two men who were apparently the caretakers. They looked very comfy. We were treated to more tea and a windfall walnut which one of the Turkish men opened by smacking it against the table with his bare hand. It was not bitter, but I’m still not a walnut fan. Over tea, the driver told Adil something in Turkish, and Adil told me that Grandma really loved me! Awww… I love Grandma too.

I think Adil recognized that sitting around playing sharades with the locals (and other means of communication, too) was more important to us than racing from sight to sight, plus we were much quicker to herd around than a pack of staring tourists, so he gave us at least 20 minutes sitting under the arbour, taking pictures of very cute kadiye.

We made our leisurely way to the newly-discovered Roman ruin of Sobesos, which is in its infancy of excavation. Apparently, a local farmer found a pottery sherd while plowing and called the government to advise them. Once the ruins were discovered, the local farmer got a new job as caretaker and security guard! It is estimated that, once completely uncovered, the scope of the ruins will rival Ephesus. For now, looking at some pretty mosaics and walking some rickety wooden walkways was the extent of it. Adil really lit up when he showed us this site; we got the impression that archeology was his real passion.

We had a longish drive to lunch, at which time Adil told us about the local agriculture (apricots, apples, potatoes, and melon seeds) and industry (pretty much tourism) and the rock formations we passed. Other times we were just quiet and enjoyed the lovely countryside.

Apparently the poplar trees look all planted in rows because they are: if a father had a boy baby, he would go and plant a row of poplars. That way, when the boy was grown and wanted to marry, he could cut down the poplars and sell the wood to pay for the wedding! That and they were and are used for boundary markers.

Lunch was in an exquisite walled orchard by a rushing stream. It was incredibly tasty: lentil soup with chicken stock, casserole served in piping hot metal dishes, fruit and yoghurt for dessert, and fresh apples picked off the tree! Lee and Buzz weren’t kidding when they said the lunch on this tour was amazing.

After we were stuffed like turkeys, we headed up the Soganli Valley to another Byzantine Snake Church (which is what the Turks call St. George churches, because the dragons he kills look like snakes). From that church, we went up the other side of the road and stream, and walked along the hillside to the Church of the Dome, which had a lovely light interior that really felt ethereal, and the Hidden Church, which had had half of its dome destroyed by lightening. These churches were the centre of monastic life, the other buildings of which were further down the hill.

On the path, we chatted with Adil about the cost and nature of Turkish weddings, since he is getting married in November. His wedding will cost some $15,000 US dollars, will take three days and have three hundred guests. The man plans the wedding (which he didn’t look all that happy about, but he’s been working seven days a week for seven months, as tour guides need to work when there are tourists). Poor guy! That doesn’t leave a lot of time for wedding planning!

Adil also confirmed that my instinct was correct: to offer the driver’s family money would have been insulting. They would have looked at my arrival as being a gift from Allah and it pleased them to be generous. Whew!

From the trail (it was a very gentle three kilometres; actually we think it was shorter), we wended down through a bunch of vacant rock-cut houses that were the old village of Soganli. People lived in these ancient dwelings until just a few years ago, when the threat of rockslides from earthquakes was too much, and the government relocated the village to further down the valley — a move that didn’t exactly delight the villagers. There were still a few holdouts in the lower houses.

As ever with tours, we were taken to an area of tourist shops before leaving. These stalls were run entirely by women selling a few handicrafts, mostly the little cloth dolls for which Soganli women are known. I have to say, the doll-sellers were the scariest vendors I’d seen in Turkey; the carpet sellers of Istanbul have NOTHING on these women. “You buy bebek, five lira. You buy! Buy BEBEK! BUY!!!” As soon as I reached for one of the pretty cotton headscarves on a table, I had three women rush me to put it on, then pose for a picture taken by Steve (jostling each other). As soon as I bought the scarf (five lira), the littany began again from all the other stalls: buy BEBEK!!! I fled, and we collected our van and left.

Another longish drive took us to the Kaymakli Underground City. Contrary to our assumption, these underground cities were not permanent residences. Rather, when the alarm was sounded for invasion (Mongol, Roman, Persian etc.), each house in the village had a bolt-hole that would lead to the warren of underground rooms — seven layers deep. There were rooms for eating, cooking, living, storage, livestock, as well as wells and ventilation shafts. When the invaders would turn up, they found the village deserted, and assumed the occupants had fled in the other direction. With nothing to loot or pillage, the invaders would move on, and after a safe period of time, the villagers would emerge and take up life in the houses again. The longest they would have spent in the underground city would have been three or four months.

Adil asked us pretty nervously if we were claustrophobic: fortunately no. He explained several times on the way in that it was impossible to get lost. You simply followed the blue arrows to get in and the red arrows to get out (or was it the other way round?). Based on the speed we went through Kaymakli, Steve and I figure that perhaps Adil was the claustrophobic one… but he was still thorough, and frankly there’s not much to see. Other than the shiver of horror based on “I could never live down here”, there’s not much to see, and really, that shiver is pointless. When you see the underground city, you are seeing bare rock; the villagers would have had their carpets, pots & pans, candles, kids, cats, dogs etc.: all the comforts of home. Their underground experience would have been much different from what we saw.

Heading back to Goreme, Adil asked us if we wanted to see a carpet weaving co-operative at work. We advised that, since we weren’t going to buy any carpets until later in the trip, and we didn’t want to waste anyone’s time, perhaps we could give the weaving a miss, though if they wanted to show us it, we were open to it. Adil gave a sigh of relief and dropped us off at the pension in Goreme, where we have both guide and driver good tips.

We would certainly recommend Rock Valley Travel to other tourists, especially the Green Tour.

Back at the pension, the temperature was dropping and the sky was clouding over so we decided to scamper out for some quick pide. As we were walking down into Goreme, two young men with three horses were at the water trough, allowing the horses to drink. One of the horses was heading across the road, so I offered to help and lead it down the road… they boys looked surprised but handed me the reins. I led it (a fiesty, tiny white perfect horse) along until we were out of the area thick with tourists, then the boys mounted up and led the white horse off into the night. I really hoped I would be able to go riding in Cappadocia, but hadn’t had the chance to talk to Jody at Rock Valley to make arrangements.

Pide was great, but heading back, the sky opened up. We ran up to the pension and managed not to get too wet.

We hung out in the covered area of the terrace, petting the kitty, Pacuze, who had been named (also a good sign). Midway through the evening, Andor doused her in the lemon cologne (kolonya) that we had met on the bus. When the kitty started barfing all ovr the place, Steve tried to explain that citrus is toxic to cats, but Andor didn’t seem to get it. I then explained that kolonya is like 90% alcohol, and when Andor thought she was drunk, he agreed not to put any more on her. The reality is that the throwing up was probably 3/4 due to the kitten eating more rich food in two days than she had in the past two weeks, and only 1/4 due to the cologne, but better Andor not put any more on her. Poor kitty! It was good to see him so concerned about the kitty, given that the Turks generally seem to look on animals pretty casually.

Satisfied the kitten was ok, we headed to bed.

Turkey – Day Six – Goreme (Saturday)

Since we went to bed so early the night before, we were up by six am. For those who know me – I know! Who would think I was capable! Actually, waking up early and heading out to the still-cool terrace in shorts and sweater to update the blog felt very good. The light was clear and we were delighted to hear the jets of the hot-air balloons coming over the ridge behind us to float over the town below.

A friendly stray dog decided I was its new best friend and cuddled right up to me. I was a little nervous about fleas, but decided it would be ok as I was having a shower later. Breakfast was served just after eight am, but we had lots of time as our tour was to pick us up at 9:15 or so. Breakfast was definitely better than the Ogulturk – the typical Turkish breakfast of egg, bread, sliced cucumber & tomato, sliced soft cheese, olives and, instead of rockhard cookies, slices of fresh peach and watermelon. Very nice!

The shower – not so nice. This was our first experience with the classic Turkish shower, which sprays water directly on the floor in the same room as the toilet. That in itself wasn’t a problem, but the upper shower head-holder was broken, and the hot water was not very, and the water pressure would make a weak-bladder’d gerbil puff up with pride. Not the best or cleanest I’ve ever felt. Oh well, it’s all part of the adventure, right!?

We took the opportunity of our first clear (though temporarily clear) WiFi connection to use Skype and call our various parents using Skype. I have to say, other than sitting around talking to a computer like idiots, Skype is very, very cool. Two half-hour calls to Canada cost all of $.60? Incredible. I love the internets.

Al, one of the Canadians, asked for a Skype lesson, which I was pleased to give. He was a mac-guy himself and looked a little envious of our portable technology.

A man came to pick us up in a van just as promised, and we were whisked away to the neighbouring town of Urgup to the head office of Rock Valley Tours. On the way, we picked up Buzz and Lee, two men from Seattle who were going to be flying out of Cappadocia after the tour today. They had been on the ‘Green Tour’ yesterday, which went to an underground city and an archaeological dig. We were doing the ‘Blue Tour’ today, and the ‘Green Tour’ tomorrow.

Rock Valley Travel’s office was beautiful: behind a high stone wall, we walked through a doorway onto a stone pathway between lush green lawns. At the end of the pathway was a lovely stone house where we met up with the other tour taker, a lovely girl from Argentina named Drinella? I’ll look it up. She was a recent Master’s graduate from City College in London and was taking some time to travel before heading home to work. We also met our guide, a young man named Adil who was also a recent graduate: in Turkey, to be an official tour guide, you need to take a four-year degree at an university. You study languages, Turkish history, crowd control and first aid, among other skills! You also do a practicum where you travel Turkey to see the most famous sights in person. Adil was very nice, as were our other tour takers. We also had a driver, an older man who didn’t speak much English.

Rock Valley promised small tours and five people definitely counted as small!

Our first stop was ‘Imagination Valley’, so called because the hoodoos are such strange shapes that you can imagine them to be all sorts of unusual shapes: llamas, camels, ships etc. Unlike other tours (in big buses) who just looked out at the landscape from either the upper or lower viewpoints, we actually got to take a little walk among the pillars and feel like we were getting away from the crowds.

Next we went to the monastery at Zelve. The stone, called tufa, of Goreme is very soft, covered in another layer of harder rock. This is why the erosion (mostly wind, according to Adil), has carved such interesting shapes, and is also why people were able to carve into the rock so easily. In early Christian times (which were pretty darn early; Turkey is fairly close to Jerusalem, and lots of important Biblical figures show up here), the monks, wishing to retire from a secular life (and also hiding from the Romans and other nasties), built their monasteries into the rock. We saw churches, store-rooms, dining halls, and kitchens (black smoke on the roof and fire-pits complete with draft channels in the floors).

I was very pleased at my camera’s performance, as it could often ‘see’ details in the dim rooms that I couldn’t see with my naked eyes.

Zelve was apparently still occupied by some villagers until the 1950’s. Crazy!

After scrambling around Zelve, we stopped by another area of fairy chimneys, called Pasabaglari. They were fun to scramble into and onto, and the stalls selling tourist stuff were extensive. One of the men from Seattle bought a little metal Aladdin’s lamp covered in ‘precious gems’. Awww – such cute gems!

We headed up across the river to Avanos, which is noted for the red clay that lines the river banks, and therefore for the red terracotta pottery they make there. We went to a ‘Kulture’ centre to watch a demonstration of traditional Hittite pottery making with a kick-wheel. This would of course be followed by a tour through their gallery and souvenir shop! Actually, the demonstration was quite interesting and our guide through this part, Ibrahim, was very kind and genuinely proud of the work they were doing. He also brought us samples of Cappadocian wine to try (well, I had chai, but I sipped Steve’s wine – it was ok).

Our Argentinean girl did the next demonstration, wearing a pair of clay-caked pants about 20 sizes too large. With the help of the first demonstrator, she made a pretty passable pot and was a good sport to boot.

We then went to look at a man free-handing the painting on a large plate that you could tell was going to be just stunning. We had the different techniques of painting (hand painting or painting over a carbon design) and the different levels of quality (detail vs. simplicity, richness of colour etc.) all explained to us, before we went to the showroom/shop. This was so that we knew that the expensive stuff was worth the money – truth be told, it was. Not, mind you, that I’m prepared to spend $1400 on a plate, but it really and truly is art. Ibrahim was very nice in showing us around some more, and he was genuinely happy to be able to show us what his country was capable of producing. At no time did we feel like we had a hard sell, and really, it was like walking around an art gallery. We got Ibrahim’s card for their store in Istanbul and he advised us we were to tell them that we were entitled to the 20% discount we would have gotten in their showroom for going around the tour. Since there were some very lovely mid-range pieces, we will definitely go there when we’re in Istanbul again.

Next we were off to lunch, which was… well, it was weird. It was in an underground restaurant, but one which was obviously brand new. It had mosaics on the floor and ‘old’ beams, but was completely and utterly for tourists. And speaking of tourists, the place was full of them! There were three ‘arms’ of tiered seating, and we were at the top of one of the arms. The food was good, and traditional, if mass-produced. A big production was made over the opening of a clay jar out of which came a very nice stew. The only thing is that traditionally, the clay pot would have been broken, not just opened with a flourish! Ah well, the uud player they had at the centre of the area was very good and was a joy to listen to. I even ate beans. And raw onions. Really, Turkey is no place for pre-conceived notions of what food is good. Except olives – I draw the line at olives.

Adil warned us that he had been told that our next stop, the Goreme Open-Air Museum, was incredibly busy. We headed over with trepidation and excitement. The Museum is another little valley full of beautiful churches carved into the stone, complete with monasteries and their accoutrement. The churches mostly date from the 400AD-ish time and have both Iconoclast paintings (all in red paint, and with no or very few renditions of Jesus) and 11th century frescoes (which are beautiful and look just like illuminated manuscripts of the time).

Adil wasn’t lying: the place was packed! We waited for five or ten minutes for the tour groups to clear the rooms before we could even go into the churches. Each tour guide was supposed to have three uninterrupted minutes to give their spiel but in reality, Adil spoke for about 45 seconds before the hordes shoved their way in. It was really challenging to look at everything, so Steve and I resorted to just taking pictures of the amazing frescoes so that we could look at them at our leisure later.

Our tour-mates were a little jealous of the results we were getting, so I offered to send them cds of the photos we took there. They seemed quite pleased, which is nice, because we liked them 🙂

Steve ran into the people he had chatted to outside the museum in Ankara and joked around with them and their tour guide. They were on day five? of their twelve day tour. What a whirlwind! We were ok with it being busy and in fact declined seeing the Dark Church (for which there is another fee) as we knew we could come back later in the week and see all the churches again. Adil seemed both relieved and disappointed. Mostly he was just frustrated: you could tell he took pride in giving a good tour and was being stymied by piles of people all over the place.

After being led through another gauntlet of souvenir and ice-cream places back to the tour bus, we had a bit of a wild ride to a lookout over Goreme and the Pigeon Valley (from the other side of the valley from our pension). There was a few trinket-sellers here and one of them had hung a vast number of blue-glass evil eye charms from the branches of a dead tree right on the cliff edge. The sunlight sparkled through the eyes and made them glow. Beautiful!

It was pretty windy, and Steve and I were standing at the far side of the lookout. An extended family with a rather serious young son came by and Steve mimicked being blown over the edge of the cliff. The mum of the family thought this was hilarious and began to play along as well, until we finally got the boy to smile. In gestures and our baby-Turk, they asked us where we were from and we told them ‘Kanada’ to which they responded with huge smiles and pats on the arm!

Back with the group, Adil and the Argentinean woman were enjoying tiny cups of Turkish coffee (kahve). I asked for one too, and was brought a much larger cup! I didn’t want to have everyone wait, so I took a big, warm, gritty swig. I had forgotten that Turkish coffee comes with grounds complete, so you have to wait a minute for them to settle before imbibing. Ah, fibre! I waited a minute before the next drink and it was actually very good. And cheap, too! only 1.5L.

Moving very quickly, we were back on the bus to drive five minutes up the road to the viewpoint for Uchisar Castle. We got to take pictures of the obligatory – and very, very patient – camel. Apparently they only charge you if you want to sit on the camel to have your picture taken. I got the impression that we would have gone right into the Castle except that we spent too much time in the Goreme Museum and drinking kahve at the viewpoint.

After that, we were dropped back at the pension’s door by just after five pm. All in all, we felt like we got our money’s worth: we had lunch, all entrance fees, our driver and guide in a comfy bus with three other nice people all for only 60L per person. What a steal!

At the pension, I was delighted to see that the kitten I had spied earlier wolfing back someone’s leftover breakfast cheese was being petted and loved in the common area. She was a very winning kitten but almost entirely skin and bones, but it looked like she might have found a home.

We made arrangements to move into the room that Al & Rene had vacated. It didn’t have much better airflow, but at least it was entirely above ground. The only non-cave room was right above our old room and Steve felt it would not have been much of an improvement in the moisture department.

We thought it would be a good idea to have a cheaper dinner, since last night’s dinner had been about 40L and we wanted to make up ground for our $150/day budget as the tours were a bit more than we had expected. We had decided not to do a balloon ride since getting the extra week off work as the cost of a one hour balloon ride would be almost that entire week’s travel budget ($180US per person for one hour!). Having a cheap dinner was no punishment, really. We asked the Russian man where he got the pide he was eating, as it looked so good. I thought he said ‘Expert Pide’ but when we walked into town, we couldn’t find a restaurant by that name. We found an ‘Express Pide’ instead, and the food was incredible and the bill less than 15L!

We headed back up to the pension after petting some cute stray dogs (though in Turkey it’s hard to tell if something is stray or just out on a spree). We petted the kitten a bunch and worked on the blog and headed to bed, exhausted but happy.

Turkey – Day 5 – Ankara to Goreme (Cappadocia)

Davut at Tur-ista had made reservations for us on Nevsihir Bus Lines under the name ‘Jennifer’ for the 11:00 to Goreme. We had to be at the train station by ten to pick up our tickets and pay, so we enjoyed a relatively late lie-in and were down at breakfast by just after eight. Breakfast was already laid out on plates; you picked your plate and your drink from one of the dispensers and had your breakfast.

Steve and I agreed that this was the most disappointing breakfast yet in Turkey – the items on the plate were quite stale and the things that might have been meant to be hot were most definitely NOT. We hypothesised that Seker Bayrami starting tonight might be the reason there were cookies of various kinds on the plate (a little slice of cake seemed fairly usual), and perhaps the breakfasts had been laid out before dawn (when religious persons would have eaten) which would explain the coldness and some of the staleness… but those cookies were like rocks. The only non-tea drink available was a fairly nasty Tang-like substance. It’s actually too bad, because I would otherwise unconditionally recommend the Otel Ogelturk.

The staff at the hotel were particularly helpful: when we asked which minibus to catch to the otogar (bus station), one of the porters actually walked us all the way around the block to the stop, waited with us for the bus and then instructed the bus driver where we were to be let off. I guess he must have been adamant, since when we got to the otogar, a couple of young men who had arrived at the same time as us told us with no small urgency that we were to disembark.

Once at the ‘asti’ (terminal), we went through the metal detectors and found the desk for the bus line – number 51 of some 90 bus desks! Tickets were cheap: some 18L each for a 4.5 hour bus ride! Greyhound could learn from Turkish bus lines. We kicked around the bus station drinking tea in a little cafeteria with a very grumpy waiter (I think he was mad that everyone only wanted tea).

When we got on the bus, we were pleasantly surprised by the spaciousness and comfyness of the seats. Apparently Mercedes has a factory in Turkey especially for the purpose of making excellent Turkish buses – again, Greyhound needs a lesson!

We rolled through Anatolian countryside, admiring the golden, rolling hills for about oh, fifteen minutes? before the porter came around with water. And tea. And Coke. And moist towelettes. And chocolates. And cake. And water again. And juice. After an hour, we stopped at a little roadside market for lunch. The Australian woman in front of me in line ordered a ‘borek’, a little cheese-filled pastry. She was charged 2.50L for her pastry. I ordered two borek, two water and two tea please (iki borek, iki su ve iki chai, lutfen) in my rather crappy Turkish. I was expecting to be charged at least seven or eight lira for this, but I was only charged five! I guess it pays to make an effort with the language.

The only problem with the bus tour is that after filling us up with lunch and all sorts of liquid, the bus didn’t stop again for a bathroom break for some three hours! Ack!

Unlike Greyhounds, there is no on-board washroom. Ah well, I guess there is no such thing as perfection.

To distract ourselves, we learned to count all the way up to five, and a few more important words (like ‘seftali’ for peach juice, instead of being limited to visne – cherry).

Once we arrived at the Nevsihir otogar, we weren’t sure if we’d be transferred to a little bus to take us the rest of the way into Goreme. I took the opportunity to dash for a tuvalet – five minutes! said the driver. That wouldn’t have been a problem except some bright mind turned out the light in the lady’s room (bayan salonu or bayanlar) while I was in there. Groping in the dark in a bathroom with a hole is not the best thing ever.

When I returned to the bus, everyone was waiting for me. Oh, well, it’s their own fault for not stopping earlier! Apparently the big bus was going to take us all the way into Goreme.

Goreme was only fifteen or so kilometres outside of Nevsihir, and even though we knew we were headed to a land of fairy chimneys and hoodoos, there were no signs of that magical landscape for the first 10 or so kilometres. Out of nowhere, in Uchisar, there appeared the ‘Uchisar Castle’, a honeycombed monolith of rock, accompanied, naturally, by a string of roadside souvenier stands and the requisite camel with a ladder standing beside it.

A few minutes later, we were plunging down the steep road into Goreme Village, which is a scene of wonder after wonder: fairy chimneys and houses cut into the rock and everywhere the signs of village life. The village of Goreme is located at the mouth of the Pigeon Valley, which looks as if someone stretched apart the land to create a fissure, in which are the houses and hoodoos and a tiny little creek that was left behind after the tearing.

The bus dropped us off at the otogar, where there were a few bus terminals, a little café, a bank machine and a tourist information booth. A man approached us asking if we had a hotel, and we replied we did. When presented with the name of the hotel, he went to the information booth, spoke in rapid Turkish to the man behind the desk and we were informed that the man was calling our hotel to have them pick us up. Awww! The helpfulness of Turkish people is a wonderful thing.

It seemed like seconds later that our host, Andor from the Panorama Cave Pension, pulled up in a little white car (there are lots of white cars in Turkey). He drove us rapidly up a narrow sidestreet on the eastern wall of the valley, turned a sharp right, and there we were at our new home.

Even though we had expressly asked Davut to NOT get us a cave room (being concerned about the state of my lungs since the wedding bronchitis debacle), we were in the last available room which was not only a cave, but one that sat some two feet below the level of the terrace. It was beautifully appointed with kilims, ceiling-tassel-decorations and its own little rock-couch covered in cushions, but it was still underground. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a choice on that night, but we resolved to get moved for the following night.

I need to reiterate here that there was nothing wrong with the room for a normal person: in fact, it was lovely and comfy. The problem is that the air didn’t feel entirely dry (though only one corner smelt even a tiny bit of must) and I just knew my lungs would object. We felt a bit silly being the only people in Cappadocia who didn’t want a cave room!

The terrace itself at the Panorama Cave Pansyion (also known as Yellow Roses, somehow, inexplicably) was absolutely amazing. They don’t call it the Panorama for nothing! The terrace itself was a beautiful mosaic of marble tiles and pieces, all in soft golds and creams. The low wall marked the edge of a little cliff that gave way onto houses below, and, looking out, showed a scene of the whole of Goreme town nestled in the entrance of the valley. As we were right below the cliff edge on our side, we looked right out over the cliffs on the far side of the town.

I immediately set up camp under the grape arbour (tiny little seedy sweet grapes) to play on the computer and get caught up.

We met a few other guests that night: Kevin, a very nice Australian man (from Byron Bay, which was Steve’s least favourite place in Oz); Al and Rene, two Canadians from Edmonton off on a tour of the Mediterranean, Cappadocia and Africa; Lisa, a Canadian from Barrie who was desperate for a balloon ride; and two couples, one from Thailand and one from Korea who we didn’t get to talk to much. We also met Andor’s wife, a Japanese woman named Magumi who met Andor at a hotel – they were married three months ago (ah, young love!). The other owner of the pension was a recaltricant Russian man, who seemed to not do a lot during the day, and his wife, who worked tirelessly but whose name we never learned. Their kids, a teenage girl and a younger boy were very cute.

Other than the terrace, there was also a common area/room which was a wooden structure built to one side of the terrace. This had couches, chairs and the family’s television.

Steve and I lingered over sunset on the terrace, and decided after dark to run down to the village for dinner. This sounds more difficult that it was, since it was only about a five-minute walk.

Consulting the Bible (Lonely Planet), we decided to have dinner at Alaturca, which came recommended. We did not, unfortunately, make reservations, and it was the first day of the Seker Beyrami holiday… but the kind (and busy) waiters found us a tiny table in a corner of the restaurant . We had the Turkish ravioli (in yoghurt sauce) and a lamb stew of some sort – both were delicious. The bread was free and frequent, and Steve also enjoyed a very good baklava.

On the way back up to the guesthouse, we – ok, I – stopped in a little shop where there appeared to be a number of plain cotton shirts without sequins. Jackpot! I was able to find a black cotton longsleeves shirt with nary a sequin to be seen. Yay!

Were I to come to Turkey again, I would be sure to bring a few more lightweight long-sleeved shirts as the plain (slightly low cut) tshirts I had made me feel a little uncomfy. I would also be sure to bring closed-toe shoes, as almost no Turkish people I saw were wearing sandals. Now, that may well be because it is October for them, and the time for wearing sandals is past, but…

We staggered back up to the hill, replete with purchases and good food, and fell into our very comfortable bed by nine pm. Another delightful day in Turkey!

Turkey — Day Four — Ankara (Thursday)

We awoke before dawn on the train. The clacking of the rails was a comforting noise as we woke up slowly. We watched the sun sneak over the golden hills under a clear blue sky. The air is much dryer in the interior, and we felt surprisingly well-rested.

After availing ourselves of the toilet conveniently located in our car (you think squat toilets are challenging when they’re STILL…), we walked up one car to the dining car at the insistence of our porter. Breakfast was incredibly good: the bread fresh, the cheese tasty, the olives given to Steve. Also, it was included in our fare — even better! Travelling by train is something I could become accustomed to. We were amazed at how civilized it was! Virtually all the patrons of the breakfast car were foreign — not Turkish. We realized that the reason the sleeper cars weren’t booked full is that they are probably too expensive for local people. That said, we found it incredibly good value for a good night’s sleep, a delish breakfast and a trip to Ankara, all for about $40 per person.

We went back to our car where the porter had put the beds back up. We drank our free water from the fridge and watched the countryside roll by. Ankara’s suburbs started miles and miles out of town. There is something like four million people in Ankara, which makes it the population of BC; Istanbul alone is some 12 million — three Istanbuls have more population than Canada! We arrived at the scheduled time of eight in the morning.

The train station in Ankara was nice though not nearly as impressive as Hydarpasa. The first-class passengers trickled sleepily out of the train cars and dribbled out the front door, where every single one of them (except us) got into a waiting bus, car or taxi. We were literally the only foreigners to leave the train station on foot.

Walking up to Ulus, the area in which our hotel was located, was remarkably easy. The boulevard was broad and clean, and we walked past a football stadium which had seen recent use. The Turks love their soccer! They had the ride-on vaccuum cleaners here as well.

At the first intersection, we found that looking at our Lonely Planet map in a rather gormless fashion prompted not one, but two simit sellers to come to our rescue. Simit was three for a lira in Ankara, and the sellers used some helpful sign language to direct us to the hotel. Too bad it didn’t really work: we turned in the appropriate place, and walked down the right road, but completely overshot the turnoff to the hotel. Realizing we were not in the right place, we asked a traffic policeman which way to go (new word: nerideh, meaning ‘where is’). He guestured us onward with perfect confidence, but it only took us a half block to realize we were even further from where we should be! We turned around and got us within a block of where we should go, when another passerby (recognizing gormless from across the street), told us exactly where to go. Again, street signs would have been Very Helpful Indeed. The hotel would have been only a kilometer from the train station if it hadn’t been for our roundabout route, but it was still only nine am.

Checking into the Hotel Ogulturk, we were asked for the first time for our passports in exchange for the room key. We were told by the nice lady at the front desk that we could do the reverse trade if we wanted to carry our passports on our way out. We were escorted upstairs by a porter, who introduced us to their very peculiar elevator: you opened a door, walked into the elevator, pushed the appropriate button, and watched the wall slide by on the door end of the elevator! When you reached your floor, you opened the door and went out into the hall. We spent a lot of time over the next day standing in front of that elevator waiting for the door to automatically open.

The room was very nice, and we see why it gets good reviews in the LP. Interestingly, the overhead lights wouldn’t turn on unless you stuck the key fob in a little slot. The bathroom had a tiny sit-down bathtub which frankly was a nicer than the shower stall at the Hotel Anadolu in Istanbul, where the shower head shot straight over the top of the stall into the sink.

We promptly crashed out for a nap and didn’t really wake up until noon. We decided to wash some clothes in the bathtub, and used our Campsuds to good avail. There was no plug for the tub, but the Nalgene bottles I bought for shampoo fit perfectly. The water became so filthy that I changed it twice… Istanbul is dirty! We laid everything out to dry in the warm breeze that came through the windows and hoped a pair of pants wouldn’t end up on the sidewalk below!

The street the hotel was on felt like an alley, but still perfectly safe. Ulus is described in the LP as ‘seedy’ and it definitely isn’t classy, but we didn’t feel even a little bit unsafe.

Feeling a little peckish, we decided to go to another Lonely Planet recommended eatery, the… well, I’ll have to look it up. Miraculously, it was just around the corner from the hotel. Despite there being a cooked sheep’s head in the front display case, we decided to give it a try (the cook in the window surrepticiously pointing at the sheep’s head and giggling made it seem ok). We were directed firmly upstairs to the ‘salon’ where we got a table that looked down over the restaurant. I ordered an ‘Iskender kebap’ which turned out to be lamb in tomato sauce over croutons, and was exquisitely delicious, especially for a fast food joint with a sheep’s head in the window. Steve had ‘pide’ which is turkish pizza — very thin flat bread with spiced ground meat on top. It was good, but mine won. The raw banana pepper they used as a garnish was much less delicious and my hurredly spitting it out caused great amusement with both Steve and the waiters.

After lunch we braved the streets to head up to the museum, but this involved first crossing the road. Ordinarily this shouldn’t be such a big deal, except that traffic lights have no meaning in Turkey, at least for pedestrians (and considering I saw a jeep actually drive the sidewalk in Istanbul, I’m guessing cars don’t pay attention either). The official signal to cross the road as a pedestrian is a little green man light. The unofficial, and correct, signal to cross the road is when the locals cross, so do you. We navigated the roads up to a cross-street absolutely full of people: we realized it was a market road, and headed up it. Initially we thought it was pedestrian-only given how clogged the street was with people, but every so often a car would inch down, proving us wrong.

The market street was incredibly vibrant, with people of all ages and walks of life: simit sellers, little old women in shawls and headscarves, smoking men, candy sellers and of course teenagers, dressed in fashionable clothes and too cool to care. Unlike in Istanbul, where the tourist is the goal, we were completely ignored in the market in Ankara. Even when I picked something up to look at it, nobody appeared at my shoulder to tell me the price and implore me to purchase. I did spend some time pawing through a clothing bin looking for a long-sleeved garment that was neither a sweater nor covered in sequins. I did not succeed.

According to the LP, this street should have a turnoff that would lead to the museum; typically, there were no signs. We wandered all the way through the market with no turns, and found ourselves in the antique district that is below the Citadel at the top of the hill. We knew if we could find the Citadel, we could reverse engineer our way to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, which was the lone comfort to this surprise stopover in Ankara. Frankly, we thought Ankara was a modern city, full of diplomats, and the one good museum was not a big enough draw to have us want to go there. However, with the vagrancies of holiday travel, this was our best chance to get to Goreme before Seker Bayrami, and we were taking it. After heading up the market and then the antique shop roads, which were narrow and cobbled and truly lovely, we were actually glad we had ended up in Ankara! Such a wonderful surprise!

I did see something I liked a great deal in Ankara, and that was a shop that had taps just like the ones I saw in the Baths of Lady Hurrem and the ablutions areas of the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. The problem was that they were large, and solid brass, and I couldn’t quite justify buying a pound of metal, however pretty, and hauling it around for the next month. *sigh*

Just in front of the Citadel, which is a 9th-11th century walled city which sits right at the top of the hill in the old area of Ankara, a tiny little women with two children (almost as tall as her), stopped and told us ‘gold moaning’. We told her good morning back, and she rattled off a string of Turkish we did not understand. Finally we told her thank-you in Turkish, and waved bye-bye. She and the girls all bye-bye’d back to us and off they went. Need more vocabulary!

We walked down a very steep street from the Citadel and went to the museum, which was fantastic. We got ‘little object overload’ in the first few minutes, but the Roman stuff downstairs and especially the huge stone relief panels in the main room were incredible. The building itself is a medieval ‘bedestan’ which is the secure centre of a marketplace. I’ll write more about the museum when the photos get uploaded, but it really was amazing.

We sat out in the courtyard for a few minutes to decompress, and talked to a group of American tourists who were on a package tour doing some eight cities in twelve days — it sounded exhausting! There was also a very cute orange & white cat lounging on the steps to the museum: the first cat I’d seen in Ankara.

After our rest, we headed back up the slope to the Citadel, and this time we went in. The area seemed very poor, with houses mostly in ill repair, but the walls were very thick and the streets were very narrow. It looked a lot like the shambles in York, where the upper stories of the houses are built further into the street. We went all the way up onto the top of the hill, where the houses became poorer, the broken glass more frequent, and we began to feel a little uneasy. The dead pigeon stuck to the side of a tower convinced me I didn’t want to go further, so we headed back down through the Citadel. Our feelings of unease were increased by a white van which seemed to have a deathwish for Steve. It kept barreling up and down the tiny streets, just missing Steve on every pass! Actually, in the lower area of the Citadel, the locals seemed quite nice (one woman joined me in rolling her eyes at the murderous van) and some of the houses had been restored to a beautiful condition.

When we left the Citadel, it was a good thing we were tired or I might have gone back for that tap! As it was, we walked down past the museum again and took the little street back onto the market street. Reluctant to have had so many shopping opportunities and not bought anything, I found a nice yellow facecloth for a lira. Funny thing is that none of the hotels we had seen had facecloths — lots of towels, but no little ones. Well, now we had our own!

We stopped for dinner again at the same restaraunt (and I’ll remember the name someday). We didn’t argue about being shown to the salon, as it was obvious there were no women at all downstairs. Steve had the Iskender Kebap and I had a regular lamb (kuzu) kebap, both of which were very good. The total for each meal was about 20L, including tea (chai) and water (su).

The restaurant was packed. There were a number of families who ordered food and just left it sitting on their tables. We didn’t understand until we heard the sounds of hte muzzein coming in the open windows, signalling the end of the fasting day of Ramazan. As soon as the lovely tones of the imam stopped, the families tucked in with great delight!

When we left the restaurant, we decided to help celebrate the start of Seker Bayrami (literally, sugar holiday) with a few sweets of our own. We crossed the street to a candy seller and had him help us pick out a handful of chocolates and chewy fruit candies (called toffe). With a bag full of sugary delights for about 2L, we walked the half-block down the alley (I mean street) to the hotel. After indulging in a few candies, we turned in for another early night, knowing we’d be up reasonably early to catch our bus to Goreme at 11 am.

Turkey — Day Three — Istanbul

** As of writing, in Goreme, we are having trouble uploading photos as the wireless internet is sporadic. We’ll try to get the photos all done in a few days, but for now it’s just words. Sorry!

Our second full day in Istanbul, and I slept through the first muzzein (call to prayer). We were up by seven all the same, and after packing up and getting ready, staggered down to another very good breakfast by about 8:30. We spent some time waffling over what to do: try to rush over to Topkapi Palace to see it before the big tourist crush or go to a travel agent to try and book bus or train tickets to Goreme.

Sense won out over unbridled enthusiasm and we went back up to the room to check out Turkey Travel Planner website to find out which travel agent was recommended. Fortunately, the recommended ‘Tur-ista’ travel agency was a short walk away on Divan Yolu Boulevard, right across from the Hippodrome. Davut at Tur-ista was incredibly, profoundly helpful. Mind you, he told us we were pretty much hooped for getting to Goreme on Wednesday night. Every single bus and train car was full due to the upcoming ‘Seker Bayrami’ holiday which marks the end of Ramazan. We could fly direct to Kayseri (about an hour from Goreme) for $150L each on Thursday morning? Yeah… a little rich for our blood. Davut suggested coming back in an hour as one of the companies was maybe going to add an extra bus.

We decided to head over to the Basilica Cistern, as it was only about half a block away and our friends Clay and Penny had highly recommended it. Except for the television in the corner playing a perpetual advertisment for ‘Miniaturk’ (which is exactly what it sounds like), the Basilica was incredible. The lighting was very sympathetic and the hush and murmur of the tourists and dripping water was incredibly peaceful. They were playing a mix cd of random classical music, some of which was very nice (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons), and some of which was a little overly atmospheric (Duh Duh DUHHHHH) vampire soundtrack music.

I read a couple of Australian ladies the entry on Miniaturk from the Lonely Planet and they thought it was hilarious — the LP is a little scathing on the subject. I chatted a bit to one of them who had been to the Rockies in Canada; she said her overwhelming impression of Canada is that it is full of water. For an Australian, I’m sure that’s true.

We enjoyed walking around the cistern — twice — admiring the Medusa heads and the shockingly fat carp. They had a few huge ones that looked just like little grey beluga whales. Since the water is only about 10″ deep, the fish are clearly visible. The occasional hint of golden or glittering white koi was very beautiful.

After the cistern, we headed back to Tur-ista, where Davut was sad to advise the bus was not forthcoming. He recommended, given that we had a month and were not in a big hurry, to instead take the sleeper train to Ankara that night, spend the day and night in Ankara, and catch a bus to Goreme on Nevsiher Bus Lines on Friday morning. Davut then booked the train, made reservations on the bus (under the name Jennifer), booked our hotel in Ankara (the Ogulturk Hotel), then booked two nights at a pension in Goreme and two tours of Cappadocia! We hadn’t been planning on taking tours, but Ugur from the restaurant the night before had recommended we take tours, and he had no vested interest in selling us one. Interestingly enough, the tour company we were booked with was the exact same one I had corresponded with over email during the summer.

Everything except the bus fare was included in the price of 285L per person: 50L per perso for the train (private first class sleeping car), 50E for the hotel in Ankara (100L), 60L per person per day for the tours so 120L for both days, and whatever is left over for the two nights in the pension in Goreme. The pension wasn’t listed in the LP but we decided to take a chance.

Davut needed a few hours or so to write up our vouchers, so we decided to head over to the Government Ministry of Tourism Carpet Shop which happends to be located in the exquisite Baths of Lady Hurrem, which is in the park between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. Just after arriving, I wanted a washroom, so I headed around the back where the tuvalet apparently was. On my way, a man with a shop stopped me on the street. When I indicated what I wanted, he asked me to follow him… to the Yesil Ev, which is a beautiful boutique hotel right beside the Baths. The guard unlocked the door to the basement bathroom (which was solid marble). When I emerged, the man with the shop asked me if everything was ok, and invited me to shop at his store when we returned to Istanbul.

I found Steve in the Baths, being given the stinkeye by the guards who were also minding the store. To say they were not doing a hard sell would not really describe it: they were almost completely uninterested in us. We walked through the baths, which were built by Sinan, Istanbul’s most famous architect, in 1556 or so. They were absolutely magnificent, with marble and arches and pierced ceilings that looked like stars. The carpets were nice too, but absolutely out of our price range.

From the Baths, we stopped in a cafe right next door called Dervish, where we thought we’d get a drink. In a fit of bravery, we decided to try ‘aryan’ which is a yoghurt drink which we were expecting to be much like lhassi, the Indian yoghurt drink we both like. Yeah, not so much — aryan is salty and bitter and not very nice. To add insult to injury, the young waiter came by and asked for 10 lira, when we knew full well the bill should be five. We insisted and he capitulated, but this was so far the only time we felt as if someone was trying to take advantage.

We left the cafe early and were going to wander back over to the Arasta Bazaar, when we were greeted by a tout who had spoken to us at the Blue Mosque the day before. He was very nice, and offered to take us to a carpet store. We explained (again) that we were not going to buy on this trip as we needed to determine what our budget would be at the end of the trip. Still, it seemed like a good idea to look at more carpets, and we had no other plans, so we assented.

We were led to a little store on the edge of the Arasta Bazaar where we met with the limpest salesman we had ever seen. Perhaps it was because we were up front about not buying, perhaps he was weak from hunger due to Ramazan fasting… perhaps because we refused tea (being unpleasantly full of aryan), but he was so languid it’s a wonder he didn’t slide right off the couch. (We suspect he was stoned.) We looked at some lovely kilims that were about 700L, but none of them appealed. There were smaller carpets like runners that were lovely and about 480, so it was comforting to know there were lots of pieces in a variety of ranges.

After fleeing the carpet store, we got ourselves our first ‘magnum’, an ice-cream-on-a-stick that was simply heavenly. We wandered the bazaar looking at the pretty things and eating our icecream. We chatted with a man with a shop full of the standard tourist fare — glass ‘evil eyes’, backgammon boards, jewellery — the usual. He brought out a little bowl with safety pins with tiny eye beads on them and asked us to each take one as his gift to us. After turning around at the back of the row, we bought an evil eye (they’re actually meant to protect AGAINST evil spirits) from the nice man for one lira.

The Arasta Bazaar was still full of kitties, and I could see why. Most shops had a little bowl of cat food and water out for the very sleek moggies. I only saw one that looked like it could have used some medical attention, which is pretty good considering they were mostly strays.

At the top end of the Arasta Bazaar, where the stalls were a little ratty, we found the most gorgeous silver-grey cat sprawled out on a silver and grey blanket. We couldn’t resist taking lots of pictures of him and after a while, a young man came out of the shop nearby.

“You like cat? I sell to you. Cheap shipping.”

It turns out the cat was the man’s special pet, and the cat’s name was ‘Jedi’ which is a very appropriate name for a cat, if you think about it. We chatted to the young man for a while, which was interesting as he had a huge air of sadness around him, though he was very friendly. He wouldn’t let us take his picture with Jedi, but handed the cat to me, so Steve took our picture. The man then took us into his shop to show us a photograph of him with his most favourite cat, who died eight years ago. It was very sad and strange and sweet. We bid Jedi and his owner goodbye, and headed across the park to Tur-ista.

Davut had come through, and gave us our train tickets plus vouchers for the various activities and hotels. We were back on the street in minutes (happy birthday, Davut!) and decided to have lunch. While perusing the LP for a likely spot, we realized we were right in front of #12 Divan Yolu, which is a little lokanta noted for its kofte, or meatballs. We sat down to a plate of very tasty, very greasy meatballs with banana peppers (which I gave to Steve). The meal was some 20L, which was quite reasonable for Sultanahmet, as far as we could tell. There were plenty of cheap (1.5L) doner places closer to the Grand Bazaar, but Sultanahmet seemed expensive to us.

After lunch and some people-watching in the park, we went back to the hotel, where they had kept our bags. Ugur greeted us by name as we headed up the street to the tram station.

We took the tram down through Eminonu and across the Galata Bridge. When we reached the far side, we followed the locals down some stairs into… a gun market! Guns, including machine guns, were laid out in shops just as ordinary as can be — we were quite surprised and more than a little nervous. We hustled out of there and ended up on the water’s edge on the west side of the bridge. Further along was a ferry dock (not the one we needed to cross the Bosphorus to Haydarpasha Train Station) and a bunch of stalls selling raw fish and seafood.

Needless to say, there were cats. Lots of hopeful-looking cats. I saw one cute moment where a suit-clad businessman, complete with briefcase, stopped on his commute home to pet a random hopeful cat.

As raw fish held little appeal at this point, we decided to see if we could find a snack under the bridge. The Galata Bridge is a car-bridge with sidewalks covered in fishermen who sell their catch to the fish-sandwich sellers. The lower level has restaurants and cafes. We walked up one side, and found the area… distasteful. The cafes were overpriced and frankly, a little scary. It felt like a rough neighbourhood, so we quickly went to the other side of the bridge, where our ferry terminal was.

At the terminal, we communicated with sign-language, our Turkish baby-talk and a pen & paper to the guy at the snack-shop in order to find out when and where the ferry left from. We also got some snacks for the trip, including cherry juice and simit to share. We noticed that the further you get from Sultanahmet, the cheaper simit was (two for a lira!). It was about six pm, and though our train didn’t leave until 10:30pm, we didn’t want to be making this trip tired — better to hang out at the train station for a few hours.

Getting on the ferry was nothing like the well-regimented Seabus, where you can’t even exit the building until all the ramps are in place. First, there were only two rather rickety wooden ramps. Second, everyone ignored them (except us lawful Canadians). People just jumped over the gap without a care in the world.

We took seats by the window, but the ferry filled up fast. Steve went out to the covered open area and took photos of the sun setting over Sultanahmet, which was truly beautiful. Too bad seagulls kept cluttering up his photographs! There are lots of seagulls in Istanbul.

The ferry stopped briefly, and it took us a few minutes to realize this might be our stop (we didn’t hear any announcements). We asked the guy across the aisle if this was Haydarpasa and he replied ‘evet’ which is yes. We grabbed our bags and ran off the ferry as fast as we could, leaping across the gap between ferry and dock just like a local!

The train station, Haydarpasa, is some 50 feet from the ferry terminal, and is unmistakable. It was a gift to the Turks from the Germans, who built most of the railways. (Guide books say that the Germans were paid by the mile, so the train routes tend to be very, very meandering.) The station is beautiful in a heavy, German neo-gothic way.

The information people told us that they wouldn’t know what platform to load from until 9:30, so we found an open restaurant in the train station in which to while away three hours. Even though we weren’t very hungry, having just shared some simit, we ordered meses (appetizers) from the menu. The waiter waived off our orders, and told us to go to the front display case and pick our choices. Why did you give us menus, then? We were getting a little tired and cranky.

The food was good; we ate slowly and drank many cups of tea until finally it was time to board. We got some extra water from a seller (water is ‘su’), and boarded the train on Platform 9 (not 9 3/4, unfortunately), and got our first taste of the sleeper car. It was great! There were two bunks that folded out on top of the very comfy seats. There was a little cabinet under a table, and another cabinet with tiny fridge that came stocked with crackers, juice, water and chocolate bars! There was also a little sink, with a sign saying ‘don’t drink the water’.

We stayed up until 11pm, watching the suburbs of Istanbul roll by. There was a brief break while men with flashlights ran up and down the track while we sat in the middle of nowhere; turns out the child of a passenger had pulled the emergency brake! Hee hee.

The bunks were too small to sleep together, but we held hands between the bunks while we got sleepy. We had changed the pillow-ends around so that we could look out the windows while we drifted off. A little gravol was used for its intended purpose, this time. We were asleep in our very comfy bunks, nestled in crisp white sheets, before midnight. A new train-travel convert! It all felt so darn civilized.

On our first day in Istanbul, we learned the most important words: tesekkir adirim for ‘thank you’ and lutfen for ‘please’. Today we learned visne for cherry juice, bir for one, semit for bread ring and a few other food-words. Need more vocabulary!

Turkey — Day Two — Istanbul

We were awoken at just before six in the morning by the call to prayer: after this time of morning, practicing Muslims won’t eat or drink until sundown during Ramazan.

We headed down for breakfast at eight and were pleasantly surprised by the very good breakfast: fresh bread, butter, jam, hardboiled eggs, a slice of cake, a slice of salami-ish meat, a slice of very nice cheese and… olives. A little pile of olives. I cheerfully traded my pile of olives for Steve’s egg, so we were both very happy at breakfast.

Even though Nazur had said he’d come at about nine, we were raring to go 20 minutes after eight. We made our apologies and left for the Hagia Sofia. When we walked by, it wasn’t yet open, though it already had a small tour group and a rapidly talking guide outside the gates.

We decided not to join the horde and wandered off around the Blue Mosque. Everything was so much more serene compared to last night. There were stray dogs sleeping everywhere and the city was out in force, cleaning the cobblestones and sweeping up garbage. They even had little ride-on vacuum cleaners complete with power-heads!

We walked around the mosque as well, which was much different without the throngs of people. We found the area where the men were doing their ablutions (ritual washing before prayer) which was stunning. The marble seats and drains were lovely, but the brass taps which looked like fans were even nicer. I covet these taps!

Just past the Blue Mosque is the Arasta Bazaar, which is part of the Mosque complex. Apparently the shop owners still pay rents to the mosque. Nothing was open or awake except for some kitties. There was one exceptionally cute pair with one in a store window, all over some no-doubt priceless carpets, which was playing with a black&white friend outside the window. Very cute!

We headed back to the Hagia Sofia for nine and entered with the crowds. We paid 10L each to enter, and this came complete with an x-ray machine that we had to run our bags and camera through.

The Hagia Sofia was built in the 6th century by the Emporer Justinian and was then changed to a mosque in the 15th Century with the arrival of the Ottoman Turks. Attaturk turned it to a Museum in 1925 with the inception of the secular Republic of Turkey. The name means ‘Church of the Divine Wisdom’ and the Turks call it the ‘Ayasofia’.

It is, without any doubt, the most impressive building I have ever seen.

Everything about it is beautiful and elegent and spiritual and steeped in more time than you can imagine. I was struck by the way the marble step into the nave is worn by the passing of countless reverent feet. The dome soars so high you can just hear the passing of pigeon wings. The marble floor is cracked but still glorious and the details of relief work, frescoes and mosaics made a millenium ago astonish the eye. Even the imperfections are beautiful: in some places upstairs there is marble on the lower wall and painted plaster meant to look like marble above; many of the marble railings in the gallery have graffitti — some modern, some Greek, some Norse! Those 9th century Vikings just had to scratch their little Johan Henry into the most impressive church in Christendom of the time! Ah, Vikings.

There is some restoration going on, but the scaffolding is remarkably unobtrusive.

Proving my point that Istanbul is full of kitties, there was a little church moggy just soaking up the attention.

We left the Hagia Sofia reluctantly, but the crowds were getting a little much.

The park between the H.S. and the Blue Mosque was a little more lively and the dogs were gambolling on the freshly cleaned grass. We had overheard a tour guide saying that the dogs are picked up by the city, given shots and ‘operations’ and let back out on the streets. They are the Sultan’s dogs and are never killed.

Since it was a tourist-time, we were allowed in the Blue Mosque without head coverings, though we had to take our shoes off and put them in little plastic bags. The interior of the mosque is beautiful, and people were busy vacuuming what seemed like acres of carpet. To be frank, I felt a little uncomfortable being in such a reverent place as a tourist, though Steve got some great photographs. There was a remarkable scroll done up, so lovely that a few young girls in full black garb were taking pictures of it with their cell phone cameras! I wished I could have read the scroll.

When we left the mosque, we passed all the people putting on their shoes in the area specifically designated as ‘do not put shoes on here’. The marble of the steps was cool and smooth on our bare feet. We were the only ones to give a donation to the mosque (admission was free).

It was still only mid-morning, so we decided to head down to the neighbourhood north of Sultanameht called Eminonu to try and buy a transit pass called an Akbil. We walked down where the tram goes, past huge city walls and more affable carpet sellers. No where did we find any pushy touts, much to our surprise. Everyone was really reasonable and, more often than not, really funny! There is a very clever sense of humour to most of the Turks we met in Istanbul.

About halfway down, the need for a bathroom became acute. Fortunately, there was a convenient tiny mosque with a small but impeccably clean bathroom. Mosques are a reliable source of public (pay) bathrooms. Make sure the stall has paper before you sit… I mean squat. Really, .50L is a small price to pay for the convenience of having a bathroom every few blocks (mosques are frequent).

We made it to Eminonu, which is at the south end of the Galata Bridge. The Galata Bridge is where Englishmen famously frequented the cafes under the bridge and bastardized the card game Whist into the more widely known Bridge.

Irritatingly, the man in the Akbil booth wouldn’t sell me an Akbil. He had no English, and I had no Turkish, so he spread his hands in a ‘no more today’ kind of way and I was unhappy.

We decided to go get some lunch as Steve was getting hungry, which was its own challenge. We wanted to go to a restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet (we are such slaves to the L.P.) called Hamdi which was highly recommended. Unfortunately, nothing is easy to find in Istanbul and we were a tiny bit lost. This wouldn’t have ordinarily been a problem except that we kept walking past fish-sandwich vendors. Did I mention Steve was hungry? Yeah. Fortuntely, a kind local looked at our map and directed us to the restaurant just in the nick of time.

The food really was very good, and the view from the glass atrium we ate in was superb. We were brought bottled water to drink, which we thought was very swish (before we realized that EVERYWHERE gives you bottled water with your meal). The bread is unlimited and free. The only problem with Hamdi is that there were a ton of tourists there, including large tour groups. Apparently we aren’t the only slaves to the Lonely Planet! Lunch was about 50L with tip, which was pretty good for such a classy joint. I don’t like it that the L.P. quotes in euros, which means we have to do math twice: once to get CA$, and again to get Lira.

From lunch, we headed a block over to the Spice Bazaar, which was lovely. When we first entered, a man held out a scoop of dried leaves:

“Here, this is apple tea.”
“Yes, it smells like apples.”
“This one, this is love tea!”
“Yes, smells like love!”

Apparently ‘Turkish Viagra’ is a big hit with shopkeepers (and tourists?).

We were given a sample of ‘lokum’ — Turkish Delight — with pistachio nuts. Yum!

I stood at a stall looking at headscarves. The shopkeeper was very funny and nice, and thanked me for wanting to be respectful when I went into a mosque. He didn’t give us much of a deal, however! I suppose 4L for a cotton scarf isn’t exactly breaking the bank, but we expected more haggling. The scarf-seller decided to have his photo taken with me, though in a very respectful way!

We found the bathrooms, which were out and beside the bazaar, in an area of pet and gardening supplies. The bathroom was downstairs, was wickedly hot, and was full of women pushing their way into four little stalls. A nice woman in a t-shirt came out of a doorway and, while patting and rubbing my arm, budged me into line in front of a few other women, none of whom seemed to mind. The tshirt women stood beside me, occasionally absently patting my arm, until I had made my way into the stall. Yay, paper!

When I emerged, I joined the crush for the sinks. Because this little bathroom is close to the Rustem Pasha mosque (which we’ll see when we’re back in town), there were women doing their ablutions. This involved washing hands (including fingers), arms (including elbows), and feet! (including toes, which involved removing shoes and stockings and lifting their legs right up into the sinks!). I felt very inadequate just washing my hands.

I came up into the light and found Steve waiting for me beside a plastic barrel full of leeches. Yes, leeches. They floated in the water and affixed themselves to the edges of the bucket. I wondered how you got them out… does the seller stick his arm in and whatever comes up attached to him is what you buy?

There were turtle sellers, white peacocks, doves, pigeons and chickens of all kinds, and a stall selling puppies (which looked to be in good shape). There were also food and containers for all manner of animal, and gardening supplies to boot.

Zehra, a young woman in a headscarf, offered (in English) to take us back to the Akbil dealer and figure out why he wouldn’t sell us one, but our desire to go back to the chaos of the bus station was pretty much nil. We thanked her and decided to head uphill to the Grand Bazaar. Not only did we want to see it, but I decided to get a shirt with longer sleeves (and not stretchy) as I did feel a little self-conscious last night. Mind you, the covered nature of the women in Istanbul could have been a) because it was Ramazan and b) because it is October in their world (24 Celcius!), but I still wanted a new shirt.

Getting to the Grand Bazaar involved hiking up a fairly steep cobbled hill, where the sidewalks were about 18″ wide and sometimes dropped into pits. The road was full of people and touts and simit wagons and cars — yes, cars. The cars barrelled down the hills with ill regard for human life. Virtually every car, van, motorbike and taxi I saw had serious dents and scratches on the front corners. I’m not surprised! given the driving conditions. I would never want to drive in Istanbul.

The Grand Bazaar was amazing: brightly lit and with goods glittering in every window. We were expecting lots of hard sell here, but actually everyone was really nice: “Come, let me help you spend your money.” When we replied with good humour, the shopkeepers laughed with us and we shared some banter. No-one was pushy or obnoxious and I gone one compliment on my tattoo 🙂

The only problem with the Grand Bazaar is that we kept not buying things! Every stall was piled high with interesting things, like (fake) designer leather handbags and (fake) Puma runners. The gold street was absolutely stunning, with a fortune in every window. However, there wasn’t a shirt to be found that wasn’t either a sweater (like I needed to be warmer!) or covered in sequins (not really my thing, and the object was to feel LESS selfconscious). Everything else we liked, we couldn’t quite face the thought of hauling it around for the next month. I also felt a little reluctant to look at anything too closely, as I was expecting at any minute to have the famed hordes of shopkeeps come and force me to buy many useless, heavy things. It didn’t happen, of course, but it might have!

We did locate the music store area of the Bazaar as Steve wanted to take a look at the available instruments. I believe it was Blaine who threatened bodily harm if Steve didn’t come back from Turkey with an uud… so we thought we’d take the temperature of prices and maybe learn a little about what to look for for quality in a Turkish instrument. We found a great stall staffed by a young man with an obvious passion for music. He told Steve the cheaper instruments were “only good for the wall” and I got the impression he mostly sells to tourists who want exactly that — a decoration. Steve flailed away on both a saz and an uud and made some rather pleasing noises (though he says it wasn’t music at this point).

In the Bazaar, I figured out street signs. They are about four inches by six inches, blue and white, and high up on the wall of the building on the corner of the intersection. However, the street name is often not the one on the map, so they weren’t very helpful.

We still got lost coming back to the hotel from the Bazaar, but not too badly. You’d think it would be easy to navigate, considering the tallness and prominence of several major landmarks, like the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque, but the buildings are all so tall (three or four stories), and so close together, that you never get clear sightlines.

Back at the hotel, we had a nap and woke up starving. We emerged onto the street, thinking to head back up to the Ramazan fray to find some more expensive simit, but were accosted by a very nice man from the restaurant on the corner who invited us to look at his menu. While we were looking, the man’s helper ran out with a piece of chicken doner for us to try. It was good, and we were hungry, so we sat down to a very good, plain dinner. We had flat breat (not pitas, more like tortillas), chicken doner (grilled on a rotisserie), yoghurt-garlic dip (like tzatsiki only better), spicy paste of tomatos and eggplant, chopped tomato and onion, and slices of tomato and lettuce. This is a meze platter and it was very, very good. The man, Ugur, spoke incredibly good English. Actually, he spoke good German, some Korean, Spanish, Japanese and god knows what else.

We had some great conversations about the US and Canada, and why he fasted (he was breaking his fast with his iftar as we spoke). He had some great insights and was funnier n’heck to boot.

He said that fasting… well, he didn’t know the idiom, but it killed four birds with one stone: first, it was good for the body to not be filled with crap every minute of the day all year; second, it made one more empathic to the poor by showing you what it is like to be hungry; third, it reminded you to give to the poor because you felt empathy to them; fourth, it was good to subject yourself to the will of something higher — it humbled you.

All good reasons, though I was glad I wasn’t fasting!

We stayed late chatting at the restuarant, and dranks lots of tea. Ugur offered that if we needed any assistance at all, we should call him, and gave us his card. Everyone has cards in Istanbul! Just like the kitties. Speaking of kitties, Ugur’s brother, who was his helper, brought a paper full of leftover doner for a politely waiting kitty. If that is the charity Ramazan brings, it is lovely indeed. Dinner was about 30L, but we had lots of extra chai and waters. Chai is not refillable!

We staggered, replete with talk and good food, back down the 40 or so feet to the hotel. We charged the batteries, and found enough stolen internet signal to give the ‘all’s well’ on the blog. One more gravol, and to sleep by nine.

Turkey — Day One — Istanbul

On Sunday afternoon, John drove us to the airport in plenty of time. Apart from the incredulity of the Lufthansa agent who didn’t actually believe that we didn’t have any checked luggage, and not having reserved seats (which meant we had to hold hands across the aisle during takeoff), everything was grand. We ate very mediocre lunch at the airport Milestones, and called my folks on Skype from the restaurant, which was cool. Ah, nerds!

We flew out as scheduled. Fortunately, the Nice German Lady who was sitting beside Steve gave us her seat an hour or so into the flight, so we were able to sit together after all. By the way, the food on Lufthansa was just delicious! It very much dispelled those rumours of horrible airplane food. The flight attendants tried to give us a bottle of wine to enjoy later (happy honeymoon!) but they realized we had a connecting flight so instead gave us a couple of tiny bottles to enjoy with… breakfast! We happily made mimosas out of our morning OJ and toasted the beginning of our trip. We also gave a glass to the Nice German Lady for giving up her seat.

The hop over to Turkey was just fine (and the food was good, too) but we were very, very tired. Veeeerrrry tiiiiiiired. We knew the flight to Turkey would be long and annoying, but you’re never really prepared.

Once deplaned, we got our Visas ($60 US each!) and entered the long and winding line for passport control. Fortunately it was a quick line, because it was also very warm.

As soon as we got through, we found ourselves facing a wall of people waving signs for ‘Mr. John Smith’ and ‘Global Something-or-other Convention’. It was liberating to walk on by on our way to the LRT train to take us into town. On the way into the station, the down escalator wasn’t functional: it felt much like Vancouver!

Buying a jeton was a little tough, as we kept waiting our turn and people kept moving in front of us. It took no time at all to realize we just had to barge in like everyone else and we had our jetons in hand. Rinse and repeat for getting our token into the turnstile, but we were through soon enough. Stupid Canadian manners!

Interesting fact – there are no maps or anything useful to give directions (in English anyway) on the LRT. However, this was made almost entirely irrelevant by the fact that there were almost no signs, either. We were able to figure out where to switch from LRT to tram (at the station starting with ‘z’).   Switching was easy too — out one door, onto a platform, into another door.  

Here is a map to make life easier for other people.

It was interesting to take the train in from the airport, which is 20 or so kilometres out of town: lots of new corporate buildings, with older residential buildings in various states of repair. Some looked completely bombed out, sitting right next to lovely brightly painted ones. There were mosques and minarets everywhere you looked, and there were Mercedes on the road and people camped under overpasses.

The tram ride was long and crowded, but the worst was the niggling doubt that we were on the right line. Finally! the sign said Sultanahmet, and we were assisted off the train by a nice man who told everyone to get out of our way. An English-speaking fellow at the back told Steve that he was a big man and should just push his way off!

Upon stepping out of the tram, this was our view: the Blue Mosque just on the other side of the Hippodrome.

Arriving at the Hippodrome in Sultanahmet was absolutely magical: it was just about six in the evening and we walked up a cobblestone walk and down some stone steps and over there and around the corner… and we were completely lost. Completely and utterly lost. There were beautiful old houses all around and narrow streets and fast, honking cars and no sidewalks. Did I mention there are no street signs? Street signs would have been helpful, since it’s hard to orient yourself when you don’t know where you are. Finally we asked a man playing backgammon to show us on our Lonely Planet map the way to our guesthouse but his friend came out with another map and showed us exactly where to go. It wasn’t far, but we were still weren’t where we thought we might have been.

The man asked us if we wanted to come into his shop to look around but we said we’d been travelling for seventeen hours. With a smile and an affable wave he said “Tomorrow then. If you can find us.”

We walked a short distance through the most interesting architecture. Some of the old wooden houses were just shells: when you looked through the windows, you saw the sky right through where the roof had been. Others were pristine and gleaming, freshly stained and well-loved. Everywhere we looked we saw kitties and beautiful little details like wrought iron grills and carved doors. It was amazing. And distracting, because we became – not lost, exactly – but a little disoriented.

We looked enough disoriented that another nice man offered to look at our map and told us our guesthouse was just around the corner. He offered that if it wasn’t to our liking, he could offer us a room for 20 Euros (since the room we reserved was 40, that sounded pretty good, especially as he was standing in front of a lovely hotel). We arrived at the Nayla Palace, and were told that we were a day late for our reservation, and they had rented the room. We were offered a room in the basement that smelled strongly of mould for the same price. We apologized for our error on the dates and declined the new room.

Back around the corner, we found our guy again. He asked how many nights we were staying and told us he had a nicer hotel in mind for us. He then took off at a run that didn’t look like a run, but we had to run to keep up (ok, I did). Man that guy moved fast! We ran up the road past the Arasta Bazaar, past the Blue Mosque, past the Hagia Sofia, past the Basilica Cistern (it was like having a very fast, silent tour guide) and finally to a little hotel called the ‘Hotel Anodolu’ on a steep cobbled street on the north side of Sultanahmet. He showed us a room with two single beds, and a double with a tiny little window, and then took us to the motherlode: a room with two singles and a double, and – best of all – a door to a rooftop deck with a view of the Golden Horn, the Hagia Sofia and a tiny perfect mosque just across a parking lot.

We haggled a bit and got the best room for just under 50 Euros a night, which was fine given our time constraints and the fact that we really, really liked it. The guy, Nazur, also said that he “had a brother in Cappadocia” who could give us a tour, and he wanted to see us again in the morning to talk about us booking some tours from him. Yeah, sure… Really, we’re only here for two nights, so worst case scenario was that we stay two nights and move on. Nazur did promise that if we came back in a month, he’d give us a much better deal.

We used some of the Lira (which are indicated by Y not $) we were given as a wedding present to pay our first night and said we’d be back with the next night later on.

When we were upstairs, in possession of the heaviest brass keyfob ever, we looked out over the view and knew we had made the right choice. There are only three rooms on the top floor, and we had it all to ourselves. The view of the golden light on the Golden Horn was just unbelievable and the lights on the bright white cruise ships glittered like diamonds.

After a quick shower, I felt refreshed, so we headed back to tourist central, stopping at a ‘bankomat’ for some cash, which worked no problem. We had been quite concerned, since our savings were in our Credit Union account, that we wouldn’t be able to readily access our money. Apparently our fears were unfounded, especially the fears about the safety of bank machines… this one, the Tourist Bank, was right next to the police station and had a young man in uniform holding an AK47 like it was no big deal.  We walked into the booth like it was no big deal, too, then grabbed our cash and sauntered away… like it was no big deal.

The Hippodrome was all very surreal as the area was just packed for Ramazan – people were out in force for prayer, picnics and promenading all over the grounds of the Blue Mosque. We were so dazzled by the food choices that we couldn’t decide, so we ended up with two fresh pretzels and a cup of pomegranite juice to share.

Note to self – don’t pet the rabbits. We were walking past a card table with a mum bunny and her babies. When I stopped to ooh and aww, I was handed a baby bunny to distract me while the man had the mother pick a little piece of paper from a tray of folded bits of paper. Apparently the bunny picked our fortune, and those fortunes were worth 2Y each! Fortunately they were good fortunes, and I got to hold a baby bunny. Cheap thrills!

We passed a number of police, though the crowd was very jovial – we felt incredibly safe walking around. The police carry their machine guns very casually!

There were kitties everywhere, playing and stalking, and a number of unleashed dogs, all on good behaviour.

Even at 8pm it was quite warm, and I was wishing I had brought another cotton long-sleeved top, since I felt quite bare in t-shirt and capris, compared to the other strollers. Bringing only one long-sleeved top and a polarfleece was not good packing: I’d have been better off with more lightweight long-sleeved clothes. Ah well, an excuse for shopping!

We walked by the Blue Mosque, which was full of the devout. We knew coming during Ramazan would be a little crazy, but this really had a festival feel.

I find it quite wonderful that the Blue Mosque is still actually used for its intended purpose.

We headed back to the hotel room, thoroughly dazzled, and brushed our teeth to the combined sounds of the call to prayer being amplified from every minaret in town and dogs howling at every minaret in town! It was eerie and beautiful and very, very funny. Awwoooooooo!

We took gravol to help us sleep and were in bed by 9pm. A very satisfying first day in Istanbul!

This was our view of the Hagia Sofia from our terrace:

Safe & sound

We made it! safe and sound in Istanbul, and we’ve had a wonderful first day of our honeymoon. This internet connection (purloined from some unsuspecting Istanbullus) is a little shaky, so no big upload today.

Hopefully we’ll have a chance at a real internet cafe tomorrow.

Everything is going great (better than great) so far, and we’re heading off to Goreme on the night bus tomorrow night. Next stop, fairy chimneys!