14 DAYS IN TÜRKİYE- A Travelogue by istanbullite.com
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Today is our final day in Istanbul, tomorrow at 1: 30 pm we will be flying back home to Chicago. We were on the run from day one and only in two weeks we have seen and done more than most people could do in a whole month. I have already recovered from the fall into the 1700 year old grave in the underground city in Cappadocia, but this time my lower back is killing me. I can hardly roll in the bed and have difficulty in sitting down but at least I can walk. As if this was not enough, while I was eating simit, the Turkish bagel yesterday, I broke a crown in one of my front tooth. In short I am a total mess, but still happy and trying to enjoy the last day here.
We packed our luggage this morning and went to the taxi station and reserved a taxi for tomorrow to take us to the airport. Next we went to the pharmacy to get a muscle relaxer for my back and to Diyar, the Baklava and dessert shop on Bagdat Caddesi, to get two boxes of baklava : one with walnuts and the other pistachios. Towards noon we stopped by at Starbucks to have coffee and also to use the internet on our Ipad. Turkish Airlines allows seat selection only 24 hours before the departure of the plane. I had never used internet in Starbucks in Turkey and had to register online to get my password which they send to your cell phone first. After trying to get the password to get online for almost an hour we asked one of the servers for help and we were able to go online with his password. I picked seats 18 A and 18 B , good seats from my previous experience. Having finished all errands and shopping we walked back home for a little rest.
Sitare is full of energy and wants to take the ferry and go the prince islands. To be able to do that we have to take first the dolmus ( shared taxi) to Bostancı ferry station. The ferry will take about forty minutes with stops at the four islands: Kınalı, Burgaz, Heybeli and Büyükada, and another forty minutes to come back. It is a lot of fun, breathing the fresh air sitting outside, watching the seagulls following the boat, then on the island renting a horse carriage, hiking in the pine forests, having a fish dinner and maybe getting some ice cream. But for the first time on this trip I don't trust myself, tomorrow I will be sitting in the plane for 11.5 hours. I am worried, what if my backs gets worse today. So we compromise with my wife, we decide not to go to the islands but to take short walk by the sea shore where we can still breath the fresh air and watch the Prince Islands in the horizon.
Our days in Istanbul coming to an end
"Our days went like a wind". Prince Islands in the background
We walked down the street crossing Bağdat Caddesi( Avenue) and from there between the apartment buildings to the seashore. There is a park here with a playground for children and a walk and a bicycle track starting by the beach and following the sea shore for miles. We found an open bench facing the ocean and sat there watching people playing with their children in the playground and others walking, running , cycling and taking their dogs for a walk. There were even some people swimming in the sea by the beach. A swimmer seemed to be practicing for competition, swimming back and forth parallel to the sea shore. At a distance in the blue waters of Marmara, a sailboat was sailing towards the Prince Islands. We sat there until the the sun started setting and the wind got chilly. We walked back to Bağdat Caddesi to Inegöl Köftecisi, the restaurants specializing in the spicy Turkish hamburger balls. Along with the traditional bean salad we had the delicious little köftes with french fries and ayran ,the yogurt drink. At the end of the meal we both had Turkish coffee, with medium sugar .When we were finished with the coffees Sitare flıpped the coffee cups over and set on the saucers to let the thick black coffee residue run on the saucer. Once the mud dried inside the fincan( tiny coffee cup), she turned it over to read our fortune. She said:
" I see a travel in the very near future." pointing to a figure with wings resembling an airplane. "And looks like it will be a long a long journey " , pointing to the bottom of the china looking like a big ocean.
July 25, 2014
Last supper at Inegol Kofte
Ozmeral Residence on 6th Floor
Yeni cami (New Mossque) in the back and the Galata bridge on right
A Day of shopping at the Grand Bazaar
For the first time in two weeks we are by ourselves today without any arrangements with friends. We still have some shopping to do and Sitare wanted to go to the Kapali Carşı, she has a gold chain of her mother, she wants to get repaired or if we can not find somebody who can repair it, she wants to trade in for new one. Grand Bazaar is a fun place where you can spend few hours and even if you don't buy anything just to hop in and out of the jewelry, carpet, embroidery, ceramics, leather goods, and spice shops and checking the prices of goods and items, bargaining with the shopkeepers is a lot of fun. Kapalı Çarşı, or the Covered Bazaar was founded in 1461 and is probably the world’s oldest and biggest shopping mall. On a given day anywhere from 300 000 to 400 000 shoppers visit the Grand Bazaar, which has over 4000 stores on 61 streets. Best way to go to the Grand Bazaar is to start in Eminönü district by the Yeni Mosque and to go through the the Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian Spice Bazaar) first. The Spice Bazaar is also a like a mall with several stores in it. The aroma coming from the stores in here will make you dizzy and hungry . While the smell of exotic spices, herbs, spicy and dry meats, olives, cheeses and fresh grind coffee will work on your nostrils, the different kinds of Turkish delights, halvas, candy, and dry fruits will appeal to your eyes. Once you are out of the Spice Bazaar all you need to to do is follow the crowd going up hill, on the cobblestone streets going through specialty stores lined one after the other on both sides of the streets selling school supplies and stationery items, kitchenware, towel and bath supplies and so on. The Grand Bazaar has twenty two gates and by walking up hill you will end up coming to either to the Nuruosmaniye or the Beyazıt Gate.
Nur-u Osmaniye gate of the Grand Bazaar
A Street in the Grand Bazaar
We entered the Grand Bazaar from the Nuruosmaniye Gate and immediately walked to the street were all the jewelry and Gold stores are located. We went into a “gold store” which did not have any customers for the moment and Sitare showed the shop owner the gold chain which had a broken link.The shop owner told her that they did not repair these, but he knew the right person who does and told his help boy to take us to Harun’s repair shop and tell him that we were his friends and not to overcharge us. The repair shop was close by on the second floor of a nearby building. We entered the shop which was no bigger than a cubicle and in there a young man with magnifying glasses and tweezers in his hand was working on a emerald men’s ring. There was a cylinder shaped hot pot on an electric stove with gold colored water in it, and several tiny beads, rings, valuable stones on his little work desk. Harun said he could fix the chain but it will take about twenty minutes or so because he was trying to finish another job first.This time Sitare showed him a single diamond earring, she had lost the other one of the pair and asked him if he can make a necklace out of the earring and attach it to a silver chain she had brought with her. Thirty minutes later we came back to the little repair shop and both the gold chain was fixed including a polishing gold bath in the pot over the stove and the diamond earring converted to a beautiful necklace on a silver chain. And all we paid was a mere 20 TL about $ 10. And that is the Grand Bazaar for you !
After buying few souvenirs we went out of the Covered Bazaar from the Mahmutpaşa Gate into the streets of the Mahmutpaşa shops. Mahmutpaşa is the other shopping district going down hill to Eminönü where we have first started. This is a crowded shopping area and probably per square inch there are more people here than any other place in Istanbul and eighty percent of the shoppers are women. The prices are dirt cheap and as you walk you hear the shopkeepers yelling and screaming advertising their goods: dresses , coats, hats, nightgowns, luggage, handbags, purses, you name it. Again all you do is follow the crowd and as long as you go down hill on the streets, you will end up somewhere in Eminönü close to the Yeni Mosque by the Galata Bridge.
A Gold Shop
Spices and Herbs
An amazing operation: Kuru Kahveci Mehmet Efendi's Coffee Shop
On the way going down the streets of Mahmutpaşa we stopped by at a fast food restaurant which had little stools and low tables on the sidewalk. Sitare ordered a vegetarian wrap, I had döner kebab and we had a nice late lunch. I noticed the American accent of the young waiter who was welcoming the tourists to the restaurant. I was not mistaken, he was an American kid, probably one of his parents was of Turkish origin . He was from Seattle and when we asked him what he was doing here, he said he did not know either. Small world it is, this was the third American we had met in the last two weeks in Turkey.
We came back to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar which seemed extra busy today, because the next day was going to be the first day of Ramadan. Here we had one last stop at the Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi’s Coffee shop. Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, the brand name referring to the dry coffee beans of Mr. Mehmet founded in 1871, is the most reputable and quality grinded coffee used in making the so called Turkish Coffee. For generations Mehmet Efendi’s shops have supplied the coffee to markets and shops all over Turkey and even into other countries in the same old little brown bags. My grandparents used to buy their coffee half a century ago from the same place at the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and everytime when I visit Istanbul, I make sure to stop by and get few bags of the finely grinded fresh coffee. They have an amazing operation with lines in front of the to go window as long as twenty, thirty yards at all times. They employ sixteen to eighteen year old kids who work super fast taking the coffee from the grinder, measuring and packing into 50, 100 and 150 gram brown bags with Mehmet Efendi’s logo on it, then stapling the bag and pushing it to the front window where customers pay and get their coffee. Having worked in restaurant industry over thirty five years I always admire a good operation and workers with good skills and urgency. Wendy’s standard for a customers wait at the drive through window is 30 seconds and they time their workers with a stopwatch. I did not have a stopwatch today, but I know we had at least fifteen people in front of us and we got our coffee within about three minutes. One of the two cahiers already had the change in his hand as I was handing the other cashier the bill. And now while we are back here in Columbus, almost every afternoon Sitare fixes us two little cups of Mehmet Efendi’s Coffee which we enjoy sipping on our deck outside.
From the grinder to the customer
A Street Cafe in Kuzguncuk with a real wood oven, Istanbul
This morning we got up early again, to go to the Bodrum airport and to fly back to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen on the Anatolian peninsula. Counting the Pegasus Airbus 320, we changed a total of six vehicles with our two pieces of heavy luggage. As I was helping the taxi driver in Kadiköy taking out the luggage from the trunk, I felt the familiar sharp pain in my lower back. The same pain I had a week before our trip to Turkey and had gone to physical therapy for it. It had returned although not too heavy initially, but was going to increase gradually the next two days.
What can we do for the rest of the day in Istanbul.? We decided to stick close where we were on the Asian side and visit this really cute area called Kuzguncuk, one of the few places on the shores of Bosphorus, still looking like old Istanbul from the nineteen sixties. Kuzguncuk is a twenty minute walk from Üsküdar where we arrived using a shared taxi. We first visited the newly renovated Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, one of master Architect Sinan’s landmarks. Next to the mosque there was this huge old building, which I could tell was a part of the Külliye( mosque complex), but I did not know what it was. The old building was renovated inside with glass ceilings and lots of people, mostly women, were sitting around a fountain surrounded by magnolia trees in the middle of the foyer. Sitare went to the information desk and found out that this was a charity hospital built in the late 16th century, financed by Mihrimah Sultan, Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent's beloved daughter. A good deed can go a long way.
We walked on the walkway by the sea shore passing several old yalı houses, the skeleton of the old State Monopoly building with four walls, tens of window holes, but no roof or flats in the building, strip parks where people were sitting on the grass and enjoying the afternoon and the huge water fountain of Hüseyin Avni Paşa. The Kuzguncuk Wood with the tall chestnut trees on our right was extending almost for a mile, all the way from Üsküdar to Kuzguncuk.
Mihrimah Mosque, Uskudar
Mihrimah Sultan Hospital
Old Monopoly Building,Pasalimani
Kuzguncuk is this old neighborhood with a main street called Icadiye Caddesi going all the way up on a very steep angle to the hills overseeing Bosphorus. The cobblestone streets have oak trees and old wooden houses with colorful fronts on both sides. Some of the side streets end up as dead ends and continue as stairs, painted with the colors of the rainbow further up the hill. Icadiye Street is lined up with bakeries, organic vegetable stands, barbershops, cafes, old fashioned coffee houses, art galleries, arts and craft shops, kebab houses and restaurants. Most of the shops have tables on the sidewalks with people sitting outside, eating, drinking çay, playing backgammon or cards or chatting in a neighborhood type of atmosphere. Kuzguncuk has always been the neighborhood, where people from all three major religions or people with no religion at all, lived together with mutual respect to each other. The best proof of this is the Kuzguncuk Mosque and the Surp Krikor Lusoroviç Armenian Church next to each other, sharing the same garden separated only by a low fence. There is also a Greek church named Ayios Pantelemion and a smaller church both on the Icadiye Street. Kuzguncuk is also famous with it’s vegetable gardens, supplying Istanbul with organic green leaf lettuce, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries.
I wanted to show my wife Kuzguncuk not only I like the atmosphere here, but also there is cafe on Icadiye Street called “Sitare” with the same name as her’s. After first taking her to what I call the Kodak Scenic Spot, a little park between houses by the sea shore and taking photos of the Bosphorus Bridge we crossed the street and started walking uphill checking the stores and restaurants. She was pleasantly surprised with Cafe Sitare, because not only for restaurants but also for girls names “ Sitare” is a very rare name. We went into the cafe and checked the store and the menu which looked more like a coffee and sweets place. Since we were getting hungry for dinner, we did not eat there, instead we picked a place across the street called METET,Kozde Döner. Döner is the gyro and közde means firewood (cooked by). There we had the best döner I had eaten since a long time, at a table not even on the sidewalk, but on cobblestones on the side of the building. Döner is usually cooked by the heat of a an electric open face oven next to the turning wheel of the meat. But Metet Restaurant had had an upright wood oven and the burning wood in it was cooking the meat naturally with the juices in it. It tasted like a like a mesquite grilled meat. I also drank şıra, a spicy non alcoholic Southern beverage, made from unfermented grape juice, and Sitare had ayran, the yogurt drink. The kitchen crew and the guests were watching the Germany- United States soccer game on the TV screen. While I was paying the bill, our waiter told me the good and bad news: United States was losing 2-1 , but if they kept the soccer they would still advance to the final sixteen.
Sitare in front of Sitare Cafe&Restaurant
Kuzguncuk Mosque and the Surp Krikor Lusavoriç church next to each other and in Peace
When we returned to Üsküdar by bus my back started really hurting . I wanted go home and rest for the rest of the evening, but Sitare had different idea.
“Lets take the vapur (ferry) to Istanbul and come right back to Kadıköy with the next one ! “
Sitare was referring to “Istanbul“ like a real Istanbulite in the old days would. When one was crossing the sea from the Asian side of Üsküdar or Kadiköy to the historic peninsula in Europe, they would say “we are going to Istanbul”. I thought it was a harmless thought since we were not going to walk and I said `lets do it`. And I am glad we did it . Istanbul looked beautiful in the night with everything illuminated from the blue lights of Bosphorus Bridge and Maiden Tower to the green lights of the Galata Tower. Yeni Mosque in Eminönü was getting ready for Ramadan only a day away, with a mahya ( lines with light bulbs hanging on them) being built between it’s two minarets.
When we got out of the ferry, to my surprise we learned that they had moved the Kadiköy Ferry Station to the other side of the Galata Bridge. So we had to cross the Golden Horn to the other side by walking on the bridge. The bridge has traffic in the middle and pedestrian walks on two sides and amateur fishermen with long rods trying to catch fish by the railings.There are numerous fish restaurants under the bridge full with tourists. We walked under the bridge in front of the restaurants trying to avoid the welcomers, then we went up and watched the fishermen and few women fishing. On the other side of the Galata bridge by the Kadiköy ferry station street vendors had laid down their goods on the sidewalks and were trying to make a sale to people rushing to the ferry. We bought a nice black and white drawing of the Galata bridge for 10TL. The sales lady was nicely dressed and looked like somebody who was trying to moonlight and make some money for her household.
On our back trip to Kadıköy we ordered two glasses of çay and enjoyed the wind blowing to our face, sitting on the seats in open air, on the sides of the ferry. At least for fifteen minutes I had forgotten about my back pain.
Istanbul at night
Bodrum, Carsi (Market)
A day for shopping and reunion with friends
Today is our last day in Bodrum and we have a relaxed day planned. We wanted to do most of the shopping here and leave very little to Istanbul before we fly back to Chicago.Then in the afternoon and evening we have planned to meet with our friends . After breakfast we walked to the small downtown of Turgutreis, while I was looking for a Türkcell store to buy more minutes for my cellphone, Sitare had already started walking the streets of the market area. We bought few things in Turgutreis, mostly for the two little granddaughters: bathrobes, peştemal towels, bracelets, shoes, a dress for Esra, our younger daughter, and other souvenirs for friends. After having lunch at a Börekçi ( pastry shop) we walked back to the condo, stopping on the way back by an art museum first, and buying some fresh cherries from a grocery store. After leaving the gifts at home we headed back to Bodrum to continue shopping. Of course there are a lot more things to do other than shopping in Bodrum, there are quite a few art galleries, book fairs, arts and craft shops and a lot of bars and night clubs. Bodrum is the entertainment capital of Turkey and since most of the celebrities and musicians are around here during the summer months, there are concerts and live shows in the restaurants and bars.I don't know if it still is, but the nightclub at the Halikarnas Hotel was always the number one choice of young people for decades. We went there few times in the past when both of our daughters were still in college. Most of these places have a cover charge which includes one drink, but they have all kinds of live shows from go go dancers to laser shows and dancing on bubble and smoke filled dance floors.Then there are bars with Jazz or Turkish music. The night in Bodrum belongs to young people and they say : Bodrum never sleeps.
The first of my friends we will meet today is Murat Ses and his wife Nihal. Murat is a classmate of mine from the Austrian Highschool of Sankt Georg in Istanbul. He is a very well known and internationally acclaimed keyboard player and composer who lives with his wife in Austria, Florida and Bodrum, depending on the season and his musical activities of the year. He is the creator of the Anadolu Pop style, a synthesis of Anatolian Music and Western elements that has been influencingTurkish music scene for decades.He is the founder of two famous bands: Moğollar and Ağrı Dağı Efsanesi in the late sixties and early seventies. He also worked in several other bands like Barış Manço and Kurtalan Ekspres, Cem Karaca and Dervişan to name a few. In the early 1990s Murat has developed amusical style he terms Electric Levantine and produced ten albums since then.
Some how I never get to see Murat in the United States since we live in Columbus, Ohio and they are down there in the South, but every time I come to Bodrum in the summer, there is a good to chance to see him because they usually spend the summer months in their summer house in the Torba district of Bodrum. The first day we came to Bodrum I had called him and made arrangements to spend at least few hours together. We had decided to meet at the center of Bodrum Municipality by the bust of Cevat Şakir, the famous author of Bodrum aka, “The Fisherman of Halikarnas”. It is a good place to meet since this is the entrance of the market with all the shops and Sitare is still shopping while I am waiting for them. Soon Murat arrived with his long time friend and drummer from the band : Ağrı Dağı Efsanesi ( Legend of Mount Ararat). Nadir Uygun is a nice guy about our age, he does not make music anymore, but lives and travels on his boat with his wife Süheyla. The ladies were still at the hairdresser and mine is still shopping, going in and out to the shops, while we three walk in a slow pace to the Mahfel Cafe. Murat is the same old Murat, always joking, laughing, making imitations and as happy as ever.
We sat down and ordered three bottles of ice cold Tuborg since everybody's favorite Efes was just put in the cooler. Sitare took the opportunity and walked across the street to check some leather handbags. Soon Nihal and Süheyla came with their great looking hair. After the usual hugs and exchanging pleasantries Nihal immediately went to the handbag store to see Sitare. Few minutes later they came out of the store with three leather handbags, two for our girls and one for Sitare herself.
“Nihal really helped with the bargaining and got the price down “ said Sitare. I was afraid to ask what the price was !
We sat down together for couple of hours, discussing the good old days, politics and all kinds of subjects and as usual, Murat stole the show and entertained us with his stories. But soon my cell phone was ringing, Erhan Telhan, my friend from Columbus was waiting for us with his car in the Bodrum Bus Terminal to pick us up and to bring to his house in Akyarlar for dinner.
I had met and became friends with Ertan about ten years ago in Columbus where he had just started living. We had found out that we had lots of things in common; he is an Üsküdar native, the same district on the Anatolian shores of Istanbul where all my father's family routs are from. We had lived in the same neighborhood of Kavaklidere in Ankara when we both were kids. He stayed and studied in Germany for a long period where I had lived for a year as a child and we both spoke German. He and his wife Nazan have a son,a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has a Phd degree from MIT where once my father had gone for his masters. Their other son who lives in Boston works for two different restaurants as an certified Sommelier while studying Wine, is a die hard Beşiktaş (soccer club) fan just like myself, who has spent 35 years in the restaurant industry.
Years ago we had invited Ertan and Nazan to our house in Columbus for dinner and since then every time he is in Columbus he visits with us and often we have dinner together with family and friends. Their residence is in Ankara where they live with Nazan's mother, but in the summer months they stay in their house in the Akyarlar district of Bodrum. Ertan an M.D is semi retired, travels in the area around Bodrum and does some contract work with several companies related to their medical needs. He also travels twice a year to the United States to see his two sons and stays a week in his Columbus condo. Ertan is also a nostalgia and Istanbul freak like myself, constantantly supplies istanbullite.com with new material and often corrects my editing errors in Turkish tests.
Ertan had emailed me before our trip to Turkey and invited us to dinner at their house in Akyarlar, Bodrum, so when we arrived here I had called him and made arrangements for him to pick us up. We met at the Bodrum Bus Terminal and he drove in his Chevy SUV on the road towards Turgutreis. Somewhere at the midpoint we took the shortcut and started climbing on the mountains surrounding the South part of the Bodrum Peninsula. We stopped on every single scenic spot on top of the cliffs taking pictures of the blue waters of the Bodrum’s archipelago. After a twenty minute drive on the hills we passed a huge hill looking like a midget mountain, with colorful wild flowers on it: the Hill of Aspat, the name familiar to me from a folk song. From there we went down the hill to the beautiful sandy beach of Karaincir ( Black fig). Karaincir got it’s name from the fig trees which are so common in this area since the time of Hittites and Carians. Ficus carica is the scientific name of this delicious fruit which is much bigger and tastier than we see seldom in the grocery stores in America. The Next bay is Akyarlar, a small town with another beautiful beach and with the white Bodrum houses on the hill above it. There on a hill overseeing the Akyarlar Bay and Island of Kos, home of Hippocrates only five sea miles away, they treated us to a wonderful sofra (dinner table) in their beautiful house. Nazan had prepared so many home made dishes which were all delicious. We enjoyed talking to our friends in their balcony, surrounded by red and yellow flowers and petting Ertan’s honey, ‘Balım’, a white three year old Kastre Terrier Maltese. After having Baklava with Turkish coffee we asked their permission to leave since we were going to fly back to Istanbul the next morning. Ertan drove us back to our condo which is only twenty minutes away from Akyarlar.
A Blue Trip in Bodrum
The Blue trip of Bodrum, our family tradition since 1985
It was a hot day in the summer of 1985 , I was in Bodrum after thirteen years, and this time with my wife walking by the shore near the Barlar Street. There, by the little dock close to the Halikarnas Hotel four young American tourists about our age, were trying to agree with the two boat owners about the conditions to rent the boat for the day. Looking for a boat tour ourselves, we asked them if we could join them and they immediately agreed, since the price per person went down to a mere 10 TL, approximately $3 in those days. We were the two Baton Rougeans then, a young girl named Deniz, born to a Turkish mother and American father living in California, three young men, and the two captains of the boat in their early thirties. We packed our own food: feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, black olives, water melon, bread, water and a six pack of Efes Beer. The boat had a sitting area for four peope in the back and another three could lay down on the deck on top of the little cabin.It was runing on diesel fuel and as we sailed out the harbour soon the sound of the motor was a like a music to our ears: ..tackk, tacck, tackk,.....
Our first stop was at the Aquarium bay, where the water was clear as water and turquoise blue. The younger of two seamen dived into the water about 15 feet deep with a newspaper. He secured the paper on the bottom of the sea with with few rocks, handed Sitare the googles and told her to read the paper while she was swimming in the water. It was amazingly clear, and no I am not joking. Afterwards we docked at the Poyraz Bay, named after the North wind, then at Tavsan Burnu, Kara Ada and so on. One after another we were diving into the turquoise blue water, swimming to the emerald green shore line, then swimming back to the boat again. In the afternoon we were sailing near the Karaada, (black island), a huge island with not a single trace of civilization on it. We stopped by a rocky part of the Island ; there were some caves in the rocks and a waterflow was coming out of the caves mixing with the sea water outside. It was the "Cleopatra's bath" and we were told that the it was thermal water and had healing powers in it. Sitare and I was the only brave ones along with the young captain to swim about 15 yards deep into the caves. Outside by the rocks there was also an area with a pitch black mud on it. The mud was called "Cleopatra's beauty cream", Sitare and Deniz immediately applied the smelly mud to their faces. Our next stop was at this most beautiful place by the Black Island: at the Meteor Hole. The captain had tied the boat to the rocks by the shore and we started walking on the sand and a rocks in the water to this big black area. We came standing to the edge of the ditch and looked inside. It was the darkest and deepest hole with no bottom in sight. Small fish were swimming on the sides. After some hesitation, I jumped into the hole and swam across where once a meteorite had fallen. On top of the hole about 40 feet high there was a diving platform on the cliffs.It was too high for anybody, but Sitare, always a good diver, went down from the rocks to about 15 feet and dived into the water in everybodies amazement.
We had had enjoyed our boat trip so much that day that we made the same trip over and over again with the same crew of eight for the next two days. On the third day the boat broke down in the middle of the ocean. There was a leak somewhere on the motor. The cellphones were not born yet,and we had no help or communication with land. The two talented seaman cut one of the beer cans and sealed the broken pipe with a piece of wire, turned the ignition on, and we heard the music in our ears again. : tackk, tackk. tackk. ...
Since our first experience with the blue trip in Bodrum in 1985, every time we visited this beautiful city we made sure to make the trip again. For us Bodrum without the boat trip was unthinkable. We,made it together with our daughters, with Sitare's father, with friends and alone by ourselves. Todays trip will be number seven, eight, or ninth one, who knows? Last time we made the trip in 2007 it costed us $ 25 each with lunch included, sightseeing swimming for seven hours. What a bargain.!
We came to the Bodrum harbour at 9 am when the ticket stand was just opening. We purchased two tickets for 35 TL($17) each, which also included the lunch. To our pleasant surprise our boat was named “Aslı Han 5” , not only Aslı is our older daughter's name but we had also used another boat named Aslıhan in 2004. Since the boat was going to depart at I0 am, we went to the Çarşı, the market place, where the shops were just opening for the day. We bought couple of simits and came back to the boat little early to secure a place at one of the tables on the sea side. The first thing you do when entering the boat is to take your shoes off even if they are flip flops and put them in the box on the back of the boat. So we did. The boat was specially made for this type of occasion. They construct these special boats in Bodrum, old fashioned long sailboats, called “Gulet”s. This was not a Gulet,but a derivation from it, where the back part of the boat is square shaped to accommodate tables for passengers. There were four tables for six on each side and an aisle in the middle going to the little bar area in the front of the boat. Most of the foreign tourists immediately went up to the deck and stayed there for sunbathing for the whole duration of the trip. We ordered two glasses of çay and started our breakfast with the simits we had just brought in to the deck, waiting for the boats departure.
A European couple joined us at our table soon, a young blond woman about thirty years of age, with a very fit body of a bodybuilder and a man in his mid forties. Sitare asked me in Turkish what language they were talking and I replied " Dutch or Flemenk or something." Little later on Sitare started talking to them in English and we found out that both were actually Britons from Yorkshire England.The woman had such a different accent or dialect that I had to give my whole attention to understand the words she was saying. They were our first group of friends on the tour, we had nice conversation with them during the whole trip. Drinks are not included in the price and when you are on the ocean, all you do is eat and drink. Sitare had at least three Nescafe's, I had the same number of çays and a bottle of Efes Beer.
The routine on our itinerary was the same: Aquarium Bay, Poyraz Bay, Tavşan Burnu, Karada, Meteor Çukuru, Tersane... We jumped into the ice cold blue water in each bay, swimmed to the shore and got back to the boat and had another glass of tea. Lunch plate consisted of baked chicken breasts and rice pilaf with salsa, green salad, and fresh loaves of bread. We also had a four o'clock tea service with plenty of petite beur cookies. The stop at Cleopatra's bath, brought memories back and we were saddened by the commercialization of the area. It was not the virgin place any more, we had visited once, they had built a quay for the boats to dock and surrounded the caves all around with walls in the water. There was also a wet bar serving alcoholic beverage in the little port. People were still swimming by the caves in the water, but we did not know if it still had the thermal healing power and the black mud, Cleopatra's beauty cream had long dried out. Sitare being always the magnet had made friends with several people again. We talked to a young Turkish couple, both Doctors and working at the Cerrahpaşa Hospital in Istanbul. The young man who was a brain surgeon was accepted to Harvard and they were planning to move to United States soon. Then there were these two young men with thick black beards, both working for a cafe in Bodrum, owned by a billionaire businessmen from Azerbaijan. They were really friendly polite young men, servicing our table is if they were working in their own cafe. When I was explaining to them about our visit to Cleopatra's bath in 1985 and how Sitare had applied the black cream on her face, one of the young men turned to her and said : "I think the cream had really worked. " Sitare had big smile on her face and thanked him for the nice compliment. You always meet nice people on your trips, make friends with them for few hours or days and never see them again despite living on the same planet. But now we were headed back to Bodrum and were running an hour late to see our dear friends, who were friends since a long time.
Mavi Boncuk Summer homes, Turgut Reis
We left Ürgüp bright and early this morning to drive to the airport in Kayseri. İt's an hours drive from Ürgüp and as usual Sezen was on the driver’s seat again .Kayseri is one of the fastest growing industrial provinces in Turkey with a population of over 1.2 million ın Central Anatolia.The city is built on the plains of Mount Erciyes, a distinct volcano 3916 meters in height. The province is well known for sports activities like skiing, trekking, rafting, balloon riding, has one of the most modern soccer stadiums in Turkey and was one of the host cities during the World Basketball Championships three years ago. Too bad, we could not allocate more time here to visit the city due to our limited days in Turkey. We kissed our friends goodbye at the airport, thanking them for their hospitality and help during our wonderful stay in Eskişehir and trip to Cappadocia. İlhan did not make a firm commitment but Sezen told us that she was definitely coming this September to Columbus for a visit.
Our destination was Bodrum, the famous resort city on the Aegean Sea .There are no direct flights from Kayseri to Bodrum, which should take only an hour, instead you fly to İstanbul first, change planes there and then fly to Bodrum. It is like flying from Columbus, Ohio to Boston to arrive in Charlotte for the final destination. It was a comfortable flight to Sabiha Gökçen, İstanbul's other airport on the Anatolian peninsula. There, after a two hour delay at the airport and eating cheeseburgers and french fries at Mcdonald's for a change,we boarded the Pegasus Airlines airbus again and landed at the Bodrum-Milas airport an hour later. Bodrum is about 40 kilometers, or half an hour away from the airport and the area called Turgutreis where we were going to stay is another 35 kilometers from downtown Bodrum. We did not want to pay an arm and leg for a taxi, at least $ 80-90, which would have been almost as much as the plane ticket. İnstead we took Havaş, the shuttle from the airport to Bodrum, changed to a shared minibus from there to Turgutreis and finally a to taxi to our time sharing condo. With two heavy pieces of luggage and three hand bags, going in and out of the vehicles was an ordeal, but we only paid $ 20 for the whole deal.
Our time share condo is in Turgutreis, a district in the peninsula West of Bodrum, which has the largest and most modern Marina in the Aegean Sea. During the last decade the small town of Turgutreis, named after a famous Captain of the Ottoman navy, has become increasingly popular among foreign as well as local tourists. Our condo in the Mavi Boncuk Sitesi is right by the Marina, has a small beach across the street and has a magnificent view of the ocean. We own the months of June and November and usually try to utilize it whenever we are in Turkey during the summer months. Rather than staying there a month in the past we always used it as a place to stay for few days and to travel from there to other parts of the Aegean. Since we can’t use the condo every summer, we usually rent it to other time sharers. It has two small bedrooms with two single beds each, a living room with a couch, a storage room, kitchen with all the amenities, a bathroom with shower and a terrace in front.. Not a luxurious place, but a clean place to stay.
The Mavi Boncuk Condos have a restaurant on a high terrace, run by a husband and wife team, who usually take orders for lunch and dinner for special requests like fish or certain dishes. In addition to requests, they also serve a “special of the day” and popular appetizer and meze items. When we arrived at the condo, while Sitare was taking a shower, I went to the nearby Gima Grocery chain and bought some groceries to put in the empty fridge: water, soft drinks, beer, cheese, bread, some fruit and snack items .Then in the evening after cleaning up and changing we went to the restaurant for dinner.
The lady owner gave us a warm welcome, she recognized us from years ago and asked about Sitare’s mother and our two daughters. The special for the day was Mantı, the Turkish Ravioli with garlic yogurt. May be it is not fair to Mantı to compare it with Ravioli, because it is a lot more difficult to prepare and it is not an everyday dish. It is usually prepared on special occasions by women of the house, not one but all of the girls in the house pitching in and helping, since it is so labor intensive. The dough is stretched from scratch as big as a wheel, paper thin, then cut in triangles to the size of a thumb, filled with ground meat and closed up. It is cooked on high heat like pasta, the water is drained and served with melted butter and sauteed crushed red peppers, topped with dry mint and yogurt with freshly minced garlic. There is not a single child, or a person that I have seen who does not like the Mantı. Mantı is even a favorite of American tourists in Bodrum, more than anyplace else they go to the Manti Restaurants for lunch. You guest it right, we had mantı that night, I had two plates of it, along with a çoban salad and a glass of the usual spirit.
Later we watched the sun setting over the masts of sailboats in the marina and then disappearing like big red fire ball behind the islands in the ocean. After having Turkish coffee we headed back to our condo to rest and to get ready for the next day.
A night out with "Candost" s (Dear Friends)
Semiray is my dear friend from Sankt George's High School in Istanbul. Both of us are from the Class of 65 and our friendship goes back a long way. She lives with her daughter Bikem, an internationally acclaimed photo journalist who had traveled from Sudan to Afghanistan and from Iraq to Iran all over the globe chasing turmoil and human suffering.Now she is doing some freelance work in Istanbul. They live in the Çiftehavuzlar district of Istanbul, a walking distance from our house. When we fly to Istanbul, whether I am with Sitare or myself, our first day starts with breakfast at Semiray’s, than a dinner during the midway at her house and a good bye visit on the last day of our stay.
As we were driving to Turgut Reis on the shuttle from the airport today my cell phone started ringing. It was Semiray, welcoming us to Bodrum; they were also taking their summer vacation here in Bodrum at their summer house in Mayaköy and she was asking us where and when to meet. After checking the schedule with other friends I called her right back. We decided to meet at the Berk Balık ( Berk’s Fish Place) on the Barlar caddesi by the shore the following day.
We met them the next day an hour later than we had planned, because our boat arrived late at the harbour, but we made up for the lost time at Berk Fish Restaurant. Berk specializes in Mediterranean and Aegean kitchen and is an authentic restaurant, not like the restaurants we are used to see who have the name Mediterranean on the billboard, but are not even close to their name. We ordered sauteed calamari, fried octopus, köpoğlusu ( fried eggplant with garlic and yogurt), deniz börülcesi (samphire) and semizotu (purslane). The ladies had Efes beer and I had my Yeni. The best appetizer on the table when old friends meet is laughter and quality conversation and we had plenty of both that night. Before saying bye to each other until next April, when we will have our 50. year graduation anniversary, I took photos of the three ladies together. And then the moments turned to memories.
This morning the driver of the tour van picked us up from our hotel and brought us to Ürgüp where we transferred to a larger minibus. There were ten more tourists in addition to us four, mostly very young people and all from Korea. Our tour guide had also changed, his name was Ahmet and he spoke English with a very heavy accent whom first even I had difficulty understanding. He had learned the language most likely by himself by reading books and pronouncing the words and letters the way they sound in Turkish. But soon after we got used to his pronunciation and I realized that he actually had a good volume of vocabulary, communicated well with the tourists and was very knowledgeable about his subjects. He was a good entertainer too, and tried to teach the tourists about ten Turkish words which they had to repeat after him while we were travelling. Our first stop was on a hill by the pigeon valley at a very scenic spot with gift shops selling artifacts and souvenir items. After fifteen minutes of free time we went back to our Mercedes minibus and headed to Derinkuyu, the biggest Underground city in the area.
Our Tour Van
DERIN KUYU UNDERGROUND CITY
There are a total of 36 known underground cities in Cappadocia, 9 of them are open to public : the biggest being Derinkuyu(deep well), followed by Kaymaklı. The underground cities were used as a safe heaven by the early Christians to hide from their enemies and to practice their religion. However it is believed that much earlier civilizations ,like the Hittites and Phrygians started excavating the underground cities and using the first first or second stories and then later civilizations adding more stories to them as the need arose. The Derinkuyu is eight stories deep, has a ventilation hole with dozens of shafts and is about 70 to 80 meters in length. As the name suggests, there was probably a well at the eighth storey, since the water wells were that deep in this area. Derinkuyu has a 9 km long tunnel going towards Kaymakli but the two are not connected. Typically the first floors under the earth were used as animal shelters, the second one as a kitchen and food storage area, the third and fourth stories as hiding areas . The doors to the hiding areas were closed with a round one piece stone, weighing about half a ton, which could be opened only from the inside. The lower floors usually had meeting rooms, wine cellars and water wells. On the eighth floor of Derinkuyu there is a church in form of cross, in the size of a large room and with eight feet high ceilings.
When we started going down from the entrance to the first story, the tunnel was pretty large and well lid. But as all fifteen of us followed each other one behind the other, the corridors got tighter, at places less than 5 feet in height, and the lights got dimmer. I was telling Sitare to put her hands above her head since we were constantly hitting our heads on the ceiling walls. The traffic going up and coming down obviously could not pass through the same corridor at the same time, so Ahmet our tour guide would yell at the foyer of each corridor:
" 15 coming down there, is anybody coming up.?"
And if there was, we would wait. In the church down at the eighth floor Ahmet demonstrated using Ilhan as a model leaning him to the cross shaped stone arch, how the early believers practiced crucification. In the same church there was a small hole big enough for one person to get in, with no lights inside and another exit hole about twenty feet on the other side of the room. Ahmet' s theory was that this was probably a confession booth. Sezen and I was the only brave ones to go into the hole, crawling on our knees in pitch dark for couple of minutes. After getting out, my thinking was, that the black hole was more likely a place for the monks suffering ritual. Next, we went to another room where Ahmet was explaining about the grave inside the room. I had the camera in my right hand ,hanging from my neck and I was moving forward to take a closer look when my right foot slid and I felt my self in the air falling down. I heard a big “aaahhh“ from the crowd in fear, my right arm hit the edge of the open grave hole and I landed both feet down in the four foot deep grave. Sitare and Ahmet pulled me out of the grave and I told everybody that I was OK, checking the camera which slightly hit the edge as I was falling down. The Canon Rebel was OK too. But then I realized that I had bruised my arm and it was bleeding. I didn't tell this to any body then, we were down on the eighth floor and nothing could be done there. When we went back to the earth level again, I told Sitare about the injury and the tour guide took me to the security station for first aid. What if I had broken my leg down there ?, how would have they taken me out to the earth again ? Probably as they did the miners through a shaft, through the 70 meter deep ventilation hole maybe??
Going down to second floor under earth
In the kitchen
80 meter long ventilation shaft
Sitare going into seventh floor
Ahmet demonstratiing the crucification to Ilhan
The grave Cem fell into and came out with a bleeding arm but the camera in tact
Our next stop was in Selime by the Aksaray province, a high and hilly hard rock area with a green valley and village underneath.There is one of the biggest monasteries on the high point of the region dating back the 8. Century, the Selime Cathedral. The cathedral which has two sets of columns and ten rooms inside with frescoes dating back to 11.Century, was also used as a military watch point not only by the Christians but also the Selçuk Turks in the centuries to follow. Sezen and Ilhan decided not to go up the rocky hill, but we started climbing on the hard surface all the way up to the Cathedral. Going down from top was more difficult than climbing up and required lot of concentration to prevent sliding and falling down. We met with our tour group down at the valley afterwards and went to the outdoors restaurant for lunch. The restaurant was in a camping ground by a little river with ducks swimming in it, a little bridge on top, and willow trees all around the area. The menu consisted of fresh baked country bread, bulgur pilaf, çoban salad, watermelon and sea bass baked in a clay dish. And of course Turkish coffee or çay at the end. It was yumm...
Up there on top of Selime
Unlus decided not to climb up
Coming down was more difficult
The so called ODA (Room) over village of Selime
Lunch time at the village of Selime
The other major place to visit on our itinerary today was the Ihlara Valley here in the Aksaray province, very close to the village of Selime. One of the most beautiful canyons in the world, Ihlara runs 14 kilometers in a rocky train between steep hills which are 100-150 meters in height. The Melendiz stream flows through the valley, merging to the Uluırmak (Great River) in Aksaray and eventually running into the Tuz Gölu (Salt Lake) between Ankara and Izmir.
Our minivan brought us to the top of the valley where we started walking down the road to the front entrance of the park. Scanning our museum passes on the scanner we went in and started walking down the wooden stairs from the highest point of the Canyon to the valley, where the Melendiz stream was flowing. At some points of the 400 steps going down to the river there were panoramic observation decks, where we stopped and took pictures of the canyon. Down in the valley we passed over a small bridge and went to other shore and started hiking to the midpoint of the 8 km long walkable trail. We walked up the hills and rocks by the river between acacia, willow and walnut trees, surrounded between yellow and blue wild flowers. Birds were singing on the trees, ducks were swimming in the river and we were following each other in a single row.
There were once 105 churches hidden in the Ihlara Canyon, most of them had disappeared under debris and erosion of centuries long neglect. Here early Christians were practicing their religion safely from all enemies and contrary to the monks, they were living by the river in communes together with other people. St Gregory known for his interpretation of the Holy Trinity, which was accepted at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., had lived here at the Ihlara Canyon. There are still 15 churches inside the rocks with beautiful frescoes; some with traces of oriental art, others with Byzantine touches. Among these churches, we visited the Ağaçaltı Church, or Church of Daniel Pantanassa, where Ahmet our tour guide gave us a very detailed information about the frescoes on it’s dome : Jesus’s Ascension to heaven, all of the Saints, the Annunciation, Baptism and Assumption of Virgin Mary to the heaven. Getting out of the church we kept walking down and then back climbing again by the river, on the rocks , off the hılls, and so on.... At this point everybody was getting tired from the whole day's activities, the temperature was reaching 90 F, although the humidity level was comfortable. Ahmet, who was blamed for the long walk, grabbed Sitare’s heavy handbag in an act of gesture and volunteered to carry it for the rest of the way. We stopped at the midpoint of the trail at a rest area and tea garden right by the Melendez stream. We enjoyed refreshments there, sitting on a low Ottoman sedir, watching ducks swimming in the water and later walked to tour our minivan, waiting for us in the parking lot.
Ihlara Vadisi (Valley)
Agacalti Church in Ihlara Valley 9-11 th Century
Hiking in the valley
Pigeon houses in Ihlara Valley
Last stop at Ortahisar
The day was fınally coming to an end but we still had about an hour’s drive back to Ürgüp and then back to our hotel. On the way back we stopped at another panoramic spot by Ortahisar, taking some final photos and selfies in Cappadocia we went back to the minivan. But we were not done yet. Our last stop was at a marble and gemstones shop, where a stone carver demonstrated how the stones were cut, formed and treated from a piece of rock. When he finished polishing the little egg figure he worked on, the sales lady asked our group of fourteen if anybody knew what the word " Cappadocia" meant. She was going to give the little marble egg on the pedestal to who ever answered her question right. Without hesitation I answered :
"The land of beautiful Horses. "
Congratulating me for the right answer she handed over the little gift.
"Once in a while your knowledge brings some benefits" said Sitare.
We had already planned tonights activity and dinner from a day before. Since we were going to leave next morning for Bodrum and our friends parting for Eskişehir, we wanted stay at the hotel and asked Oya Hanım to prepare some vegetable dishes and mezes for us. Oya Hanım, a master chef prepared not only delicıous mezes but also some meat delicacies too. We filled our plates from the Buffet Bar she had prepared and went out to the terrace and sat at the table on the balcony, overseeing the small village Mustafapaşa. We ordered a small bottle of Rakı and for the first time in her life Sitare joined us drinking the anise spirit instead of her regular glass of Cabernet. Oya Hanım had put soft Greek music on the DVD player and as she was dancing to the melody in the kitchen.
Stop at a marble and gem stone shop
Sitare and Sezen with Oya Hanim
CLICK FOR INFO FOR THE CAVE ART HOTEL
About the forming of Landscape and History of Cappadocia
“ Cappadocia is a region of volcanic tuff, basalt and andesite rock. When the volcanic activity ceased some 600 000 years ago erosion began to to abrade the softer soil and the harder stone started to emerge.During this process , in some areas layers of 100 meters of tuff were covered by occasional deposits of lava composed of of harsh basalt.Over thousands of years, rainwater draining through cracks began to wear away the soft layers of tuff, while the winds with the warming and cooling air, assisted the erosion. It was in this manner that cones embedded to mushroom like shapes eventually formed on the tops of hills that were not affected by the erosion.Today what we observe with such an admiration have been named “ fairy chimneys”. The layers of tuff that were not covered with basalt were subject through formation through erosion and were transferred into the valleys that extend one after the other, and eventually into canyons, one more beautiful than the other.....”
From the book, Cappadocia by Turgay Tuna, Bulent Demirdurak, Third Edition July 2013,BGK, Istanbul.
The Cappadocia region has a long history with the first findings about Human presence dating back to 10 000 BC in Çatalhöyük, and the Aşıklıhöyük near the Ihlara Valley in Nevşehir. Throughout it’s history the area was the home of several civilizations and the subject of invasion starting from Hittites, to Persians, Macedonians, the Byzantine and Seljuk Turks and finally to Ottomans. After Jesus was crucified, his apostles started spreading out and several churches, monasteries and underground cities were built in Cappadocia during the Byzantine era. Later when in the fourth century the persecution of Christians began these underground cities and monasteries carved in to the rocky hills of Cappadocia became a safe heaven for the believers. In the following century Cappadocia became the magnet of Christian activity and several of the priest who served there were to be elevated to sainthood.
View from "Panoroma"
Caves in Fairy Valley
With our Tour friends on first day at Pigeon Valley
To tour Cappadocia with your own car and not knowing where you are going and without the knowledge about the surrounding areas, is an impossible task. Typically you use the services of a travel agency with a tour guide and their transportation in mini vans. At first we thought it was a little pricey: around $ 60 per person per day, but then after finishing the first day’s tour we knew that every penny we spent was worth it. Hiro Tour Tourism & Travel Agency had so much to offer and so many things to show, that was difficult to believe we had experienced in one single day.
Bekir, our tour guide picked us up in front of a hotel in Ürgüp along with another Turkish family of four. A very nice couple, with two teenage children of a boy and girl. We immediately made friends with Gökhan, a former professional soccer player who has his own print shop, and his very friendly wife and their very well mannered children. We started travelling on the minibus, which was air conditioned and quite comfortable. We started by stopping in a plateau by the highway,called the ‘“Panorama” for the scenic view of the valleys and fairy chimneys. Later we went to other valleys like Cavusin and Zelve Valley, with homes and churches carved in rocks, often climbing on the soft hills looking like from another planet. There were thousands of tourists arriving with tour buses, mostly countries like Korea and Japan and also some native tourists from all over Turkey. Sitare the outgoing person of us all, immediately found a middle aged American tourist who was living with his Italian girlfriend in Italy, who took our picture for us in front of the caves. There was a lot of police and secret service presence in some areas because some Greek officials and their Ambassador to Turkey were visiting the sites before attending the sermon this evening at the old church in Mustafapaşa.
Sitare taking pottery lessons
Ceramic Master at Omurlu Ceramics
One of Six Buffet Bars at the Restaurant
Taking a little break from sightseeing, Bekir our tour guide asked the driver of the minivan to pull in front of the Ömürlü Ceramic Shop. There we were first taken to a private room with comfortable ‘‘sedir”s, the low seated Ottoman couches, and served Turkish coffee while a pottery artist showed us how pottery and ceramic plates were done from an initial stage. When he asked for a volunteer, as usual Sitare was the one who volunteered and took the stage putting the şalvar, the baggy trousers on top of her shorts. Under the directions of the master, she started spinning the wheel coordınatıng with the pedal under her foot, occasionally dipping both hands into the water bucket and forming the turning art object. The final product was an odd shaped coffee mug. She could not take it home, because the clay was too soft and the next procedure was heating it in the oven before the final touches of polishing and painting was to be done. After the show they took us to their sales galleries, where beautiful ceramic plates, vases, wine carafes and all kinds of other beautiful objects with Ottoman and Turkish desıgns were displayed. They were all so impressive and Sezen almost bought a huge ceramic plate costing about $ 250. After the ceramic shop we stopped at this huge restaurant, looking like in the middle of no where, designed for tourist buses with a capacity probably for over 500 people. There on the second floor, they had two sets of three huge buffet bars. One for meats and fish, second one for vegetables, soups and salads and last one for desserts and bakery items. We had just arrived before the rush and enjoyed the pleasant lunch with our friends for the day.
A tea break at Zehra Baci's Kavi hill top cafe
Zehra Baci, a self made Anatolian entrepreneur with Ilhan
Entrance of the Goreme Open Air Museum
Elmali Church In Goreme
Going into one of the 330 cave churches
After lunch we went back to Göreme Valley and climbed up the hills towards the top of the valley. On our way up we went in and out of cave homes, jumping and hiking on the rocks, and marvelling the landscape as well as the wild flowers here and there. We have seen so many valleys and cave cities on this first day that all the names are mixed up in my mind now. Were we in Cavuşin, or Pigeon Valley or the Fairy Valley, I don’t remember the name ? What I recall was that we finally climbed up to the top of a hill to an a open air tea garden on the peak. The little tea garden was built on the flat surface of the hill, with a deck top constructed from brushwood, few tables and chairs, a hammock and a little tea station with a small LPG tank. Zehra, a natıve Cappadocian woman, with bright green eyes, showing older than her age due to the effect of the sun over the years, was the owner operator of the place with her teenage son and their little black puppy named Mahmut. We sampled the fresh flat bread she had baked, sipping our tea under the shade of the roof and watched the amazing landscape with the fairy chimneys and rock formations down in the valley. She told us that her husband was not too much help to her and was spending all his time in the village, often hanging around the cafehouse down there. She had constructed the whole deck and roof of the tea garden by herself and decorated the Kavi Cafe inside the rock formations next to it. Her house was also inside the same cave by the Cafe. The place had no running water and she had to bring water every day from the village down the valley, in big water tanks. She was trying to convince the Mayor of the town to connect water lines to her facilities. I was impressed with the entrepreneur spirit of this Anatolian lady and started taking pictures of her when she leaned towards Ilhan and said:” take one with my big brother Ilhan Abi”, putting her arm over his shoulders. Ilhan who is usually camera shy could not resist her request.
Our next stop was the open air museum of Göreme. Tickets were included in the tour package and after Bekir purchased them we started climbing up to the hills again to the Churches of the Monks and Nuns inside the caves. At one time there were 330 churches in side these rocks and several of them are still intact today. Every little cave had an attendant at the door and it was strictly forbidden to take pictures of the centuries old frescoes on the walls: colorful images of Jesus, Mary and all of the Saints. The most famous of the churches in this area are the Elmali Kilise (Apple Church) with an inside in the form of a cross, the Church of Santa Barbara with it’s symbolic motives and the Serpent Church with it’s fascinating architecture. The area also had a very modern gift shop and cafe combination where we took a little break, had some percolator coffee and I purchased a book about Cappadocia while Sezen and Sitare had their pictures taken in Kaftans, the harem outfits of the Ottoman Palace.
Our tour of the Göreme valley ended with another surprise treat by the tour organizers. Bekir took us to the wine cellars of Turasan, the established producers of quality wines of the region since 1943.There, after visiting the production areas and wine cellars, we were taken to a separate room away from all of the bus tourists and served several wines for tasting. Anatolian wines like Öküz Gözü, Kalecik Karası and Boğazkere, and world classics like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Ilhan ended up buying a case of six samplers and I bought a bottle of Misket Domisec, a fruity white wine of the Aegean region, Sitare’s favorite. It was 5 pm when the minibus brought us back to or Cave Art Boutique Hotel.
Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church Bartholomew's visit
While everybody was taking a shower, I went up the terrace to have a bottle of water when I saw Oya Hanim, the owner operator of the Hotel, all dressed up and getting ready for the big event which was going to take place at the old church in town. The Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was going to conduct a sermon. I knew people were coming all the way from Greece for this event which was considered a pilgrimage and as the editor ofistanbullite.com this was a great opportunity to witness and take pictures of the sermon and his Holliness. Oya Hanım was going to take her car to the to church, so I asked if I can join her, letting my wife know where I was going .The Aios Konstantini -Eleni Greek Orthodox Church is in the marketplace of Mustafapaşa the old Rum (Anatolian Greek) village.The church was abandoned during the 1924 population exchange between Turkey and Greece and looked like no restoration was done since then. We went down the stairs to the Church which was under the street level. The place was already getting full when we arrived and we both went our separate ways inside,looking for seats. I found a seat at the back entrance of the church and started watching the priests in black robes, eagerly waiting for Patriarch by the door. Soon there were no seats left and I volunteered to give my seat to an elderly gentleman who had difficulty in walking as the Patriarch was entering from the door with a cortege of people around him. All three priests greeting him reached out and kissed his hand as he walked towards the table with candles which had Jesus‘s fresco next to it. He leaned and kissed the picture, moving towards where I was standing. Two priests helped him to put a black cloak over his head from the back towards his shoulders and then the ceremonial purple cloak with gold lining. He moved forward touching the old man I had just given my seat, by the shoulders and moved to the pulpit and started delivering his prayers in Greek. After listening to him for few minutes I waved bye to Oya Hanim and returned back to the Hotel. We had one more event scheduled for this long day.
There were not to many restaurants to choose from in the small village of Mustafapasa for dinner and Oya Hanim had suggested Uranus, a restaurant with live shows in Avanos , about 30 kilometers from the Hotel Cave Art. Ilhan called the restaurant and reserved a table for four, for the fixed price menu with all the cold and hot mezes, meat kebab as the main dish ,unlimited spirits and live entertainment for about $ 30 per person. Our tour guide had also volunteered to provide the transportation from and back to the hotel for a fee.In Avanos we arrived again in a place, like we went for lunch today, a huge Las Vegas style building with two restaurants inside.The first one was set with standard tables and a stage for the shows. The second one which we had reservation for was set in an arena form, with the round stage in the middle and stadium like stairs with long desk style tables going up with an isle in the middle .Although we were given the front seats, I felt claustrophobic by the wall which did not have an aisle, but as soon as soon as the shows and music started and servers started bringing mezes and drinks to our desk we were all happy. Two different folklore groups performing dances of several regions of Anatolia entertained us the whole night. There was also an excellent belly dancer who took volunteers from the guests and put on an excellent show. What we realized later on that all the performers were running in between the shows in the long hall way and doing the same show in each restaurant. On the way back to the hotel everybody was tired of the sightseeing and other activities of the long day and ready for a good nights sleep. What we did not know was, that our second day in Cappadocia was going to be even more tiring and eventful.
Ilhan, Sezen and Sitare in front of Cave Art Boutique Hotel
On the Road to Cappodocia
After a good nights sleep we woke up around 7 am to get ready for the trip to Cappadocia. Cappadocia is the name of the region in central Anatolia which includes the provinces of Kayseri, Aksaray, Nevşehir, Kirşehir, and Niğde. The area we are going to visit with the unusual landscape of fairy chimneys, underground cities, caves, valleys and canyons are in the small cities of Ürgüp and Göreme in the Nevşehir province. We opted to stay in the Ürgüp area at a small village called Mustafapaşa and had made reservations over the internet. We had discussed our plans and gave our friends three hotel names in the area we liked and they had decided on the Art Cave Hotel in Mustafapaşa, Ürgüp, a boutique hotel with only 9 rooms.
The distance between Eskişehir and Ürgüp is about 350 miles and we calculated with our breakfast stop and pit stops to arrive in Ürgüp in about seven hours.We left around 8:30, Sezen driving her BMW and Ilhan navigating without a GPS or a map. In about an hour, outside the city limits of Eskişehir we stopped at an outdoor restaurant by the highway. The breakfast was a typical village breakfast : Freshly made yogurt, so thick that you can cut with a knife and serve without spilling, crumbled village feta, kaşar cheese , (similar to Romano but not as sharp), pure honey in comb, almonds and tea to drink. Ilhan and I also ordered pan fried sunny side up eggs with the sucuk, the spicy Turkish beef sausage. Fresh homemade thin slices of pita bread accompanied the breakfast items. After refreshing myself in the restrooms, a funny thing happened while I was returning to the table. Sitare and Sezen had gone to the gift shop and Ilhan was still sitting at the table.In Eskişehir he had purchased our plane tickets for our return trip from Kayseri to Bodrum and I owed him 300 TL, roughly $ 150. I took the 300 TL out of my wallet and as I was reaching the table from his back I said : "Here is the money I owe you for the plane tickets", handing him the money. The man turned towards me with a strange look in his face, he had a similar plaid shirt on him just like Ilhan but he was not the man I owed the money to. Of course I apologized and put the money back to my pocket. Ilhan was sitting about four tables away. This time I made sure I was face to face with him before taking the money out of my pocket.
Our scheduled route from Eskişehir was mostly on two lane highways going towards Ankara, passing ıt’s environs like Gölbaşı in the South of the Capital city and merging to a new highway to Kayseri farther East and then taking the highway to Ürgüp. We were driving through the still green meadows of the Anatolian plateau, before the color was going to turn to yellow in a month under the hot sun, going through small villages and cities following the fast train tracks from Eskisehir to Ankara. We apparently missed the exit for the the new highway to Kayseri when the two way road became all of a sudden rough. We stopped at a small gas station in the middle of nowhere and found out that we were drıving on the old road to Kayseri. Oh well, the road was a little tough, but there was no traffic and no electronic or patrol speed control like on the new highway. While everybody was trying to use the alaturca restrooms ( with no seat, just a whole on the ground) of the gas station, I walked towards the fields to take pictures of the two poppies I had noticed while driving into the parking lot.When I was a young child there were open fields by the houses and newly built apartments, both in the suburbs of Istanbul and Ankara, full of red poppies. It is a natural, not a planted wild flower all over the Anatolian plateau and as young children we used to pick them, put them in a bottle of water and set it by the window under the sun for few days. Then we would mix it with sugar and put ice in it and drink it like ice tea. It must have been relaxing and refreshing and nobody had said anything against it to me to this day. But more than the taste, I love the red color of them and miss the fields of red poppies in waves under a warm summer breeze, the freedom of running in between them, picking them up and playing in them. The poppy season was over here by May, but there were still few left on the road side here and there often with their red colors fading to a yellowish orange.
Sezen was the solo driver of the BMW SUV
A village Breakfast, Yogurt, Honey, Feta and Kasar Cheese, Almonds, Cay and sunny side up eggs in pan
A village by the Anatolian mainland
Poppys on the fields
Not happy with the rest rooms on the last stop we stopped soon for a second time in a small city with a nice gas station with a convenience store and with nice clean bathrooms. Afterwards Sezen really started pushing the gas pedal hard and around 3:00 pm we passed through Ürgüp stopping at a nice restaurant for lunch and in another fifteen minutes later we were in Mustafapaşa searching for the Art Cave Hotel. Mustafapaşa is an amazing little town with almost a mountain like small peak and several hills full of caves and homes and hotels inside the caves. In the city center there were direction signs of the boutique hotels in the form of arrows, all with the same surname of " Cave" and a different first name. Ours read : Cave Art Hotel of Cappadocia and it was on top the highest peak with a gravel road of a 60 degree slope. There was no way a car going up and another one coming down could pass through the narrow road, let alone our SUV had difficulty going up without not trying to scrape the brick walls in the alleys. On midway to the top we made a wrong turn, there was a an old unused horse wagon blocking our way. Sezen was tired and understandably upset now and to turn the car back from the dead end she had to make at least eight or nine maneuvers before she drove it all the way up the hill to a small parking space. We got out of the car and walked down to the Art Cave Hotel about 25 yards down the hill.
As we went through the gate of the hotel we were pleasantly surprised and immediately knew that we had made the right choice. We had entered from the second floor level to a balcony or terrace welcoming us to comfortable canopies and arm chairs and a scenic view of the cave city. The walls and doors of the motel were decorated with colorful art and craft pieces with Anatolian motives, flowerpots and candlesticks were all over the walk ways. Soon Oya Hanım (Mrs Oya), the owner operator of the hotel came to great us and showed our rooms next to each other on the second floor balcony. The rooms built in a cave with vaulted ceilings were roomy, with a comfortable large bed, with a great view from the window, and a nice shower with all the amenities and hot water, and last but not least wi-fi. After putting our luggage away and refreshing ourselves we went to the terrace to have some coffee and tea and chatted with Oya Hanım about the city and activities around here before going to Ürgüp tomorrow. She told us the best thing at this time of the day was to go up to another nearby hill and watch the sunset, suggested some restaurants, a tour guide ( which we already had booked), and a big event tomorrow in the old Greek church in town.The Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was coming to town to conduct a sermon. It was like a pilgrimage for the followers of the Orthodox faıth who were even coming here for this event all the way from Greece. Of course as istanbulite.com, I made a mental note of this. I had visited the greek Patriarchate in Istanbul in Fener before and to see him, his All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the equivalent of pope in the Orthodox world was a dream for all Greek Christians and a very unlikely occasion for a liberal Muslim person like myself.
Lunch time in Urgup
Our Hotel ontop of the Hill
A look from the second floor of Cave Art Hotel
Wi- fi in a cave, YEEAH !
In Front of our rooms
View from the terrace to the city of Mustafapasa
We skipped the sunset since we were tired , made a small tour of the city: the caves of the village, the Greek Church, the Village Mosque with in addition to the minaret a bell tower looking extension on it's roof , the Asmali Mescit House; the place where the popular Turkish TV series was shot, purchased some extra time for my cell phone from a convenient store and finally settled down at a small restaurant in the back alley of the old church at Heleni's. We ordered some vegetable mezes and patates tava (french fries), wıth a small bottle of the usual spirit for three of us and a bottle of Efes Beer for Sitare. A huge Kangal type of street dog was laying quietly by us and watching the strangers in town.
Sun set from our room window
A light dinner at Heleni's restaurant
Our companion at Heleni's
Friends for Life
The Ayaz Comfort Bus
From the bus to the beaches of Eskisehir
This morning we woke up at 5:30 am for our bus trip to Eskişehir. Already packed from night before with two pieces of luggage and several hand pieces we took the elevator downstairs to wait for our taxi when the bus company called me on my cell.
" Good morning Cem Bey, from which pick up point are we picking you up this morning?"
" Waiting for taxi, will be in Atasehir - Dudullu terminal in 20 " ,I replied,
then I thought : what a service ! As expected the service on the Ismail Ayaz bus was great, not even comparable with the Megabus I sometimes take from Columbus to Chicago. 2 + 1 seats each row, individual TV screens on the back of seats, wi- fi, and a steward with a pushcart full of goodies: cookies, saltines, candy, soft drinks, tea and Nescafe. The bus also stopped at a nice rest area with a gift shop and a restaurant, where Sitare bought two clay oven dishes to cook fish, which later she was going to forget on the bus. The pleasant ride on the modern bus took about 4.5 hours and soon we were in Eskişehir's bus terminal which looked like a small airport with tens of buses arriving and leaving from the numbered gates. As we were stepping down from the bus, the flashlight of Ilhan's camera was in our face, we felt like celebrities coming to town. Both Sezen and Ilhan were there to welcome us, and we hugged and kissed each other twice, the Turkish way."
Reunion of friends in the rosegarden
It is the Magic Kingdom with towers of Turkiye
My choice for lunch : Eggplant Kebap
Sitare and Sezen are friends from Columbus, they went to school together at Ohio State and were best friends for long time. In the early nineteen eighties Sezen moved to Turkey and married Ilhan, both settled in Eskişehir and started teaching at the then newly opened Anadolu University. Both are professors at the same University still, Sezen in the Department of Communication and Ilhan in Architecture. The campus has grown to one of the most beautiful and large college campuses since then, just like the city has itself ; Eskişehir.
Eskişehir(old city) has grown to a modern city with a population of close to a million in central Anatolia between the midway of Istanbul and Ankara. Eskişehir’s fast development and rise to prominence is mostly attributed to one guy named Yilmaz Büyükerşen, an educator,sculpture artist and politician who was and still is the elected Head of the Greater Eskişehir Municipality. I always felt privileged to have met Mr. Büyükerşen almost 20 years ago at a dinner in Sezen and Ilhan's summer house in Marmaris, when he had first started to renovate the cıty. And what a city he rebuilt, a modern down town keeping the old but mixing with new architecture: with cafes, restaurants and bars. Tramways running in the avenues with gondolas on the Porsuk River running through the city, museums, art galleries, markets, childrens playgrounds, parks and the beautiful campus of Anadolu University. He even brought the sea to Eskisehir by creating huge ponds with sand beaches and swimming pools. And all industry moved out side of the city to industrial parks. Too bad because of our tight schedule we were going to spend only one night here ın Eskişehir..
Before going to lunch our hosts wanted to show us around a little. We went to these beautiful parks with man made green lakes, bridges on the water, rose gardens, sculptures, a man made sea- pool with blue waters and a sandy beach with umbrellas. In another park we went by a pirate ship by a huge lake and walked towards the magic kingdom like castle of Disney World, but the blue towers of this castle were all replicas from the towers in Turkey including the Galata and Maiden towers of Istanbul. When I saw all of the magic displays and shows inside the castle, I thought to myself that I didn't make to the family reunion in Orlando with my two little granddaughters two weeks ago, but I wished they were here with us today. Our next stop was at an outdoor restaurant nearby the parks where our friends treated us for a nice lunch. My choice was the patlican(eggplant) kebab with ayran, the yogurt drink. Again, a delicious lunch.
After lunch they took us to their house which they had built and moved in last year, we were going to be their house guest for the night and drive together to Cappadocia next morning.
The Ünlü* House
Ünlu is Sezen and Ilhan's last name and translates to famous in English. Photos by istanbullite's paparazzi :)
Their house ( Güle güle otursunlar/ may they live there happily ever after) is a luxury mansion with an inside elevator, a Turkish bath, a sauna, a two car garage,a swimming pool with artificially created seawater. Ilhan not only designed the whole house, but also some of the furniture himself. He told me that the optimum number of guests they invite to their house is ten including themselves and since it is difficult to find a comfortable table for ten he designed the table, chairs and the drink console next to it. Of course I immediately jumped into the pool, Sitare was a scary cat because of the cold water, instead they had drinks with Sezen by the poolside. Ilhan, (always camera shy and his photos will be on our next segment), kept busy with the house and getting the car ready for next day’s trip and I joined the ladies with a glass of cold Efes beer on the poolside.
Felekten bir Gece ( A night out)
Table side Fasil (Turkish music)
Night time they took us to one of their favorite restaurants in a garden setting with Roman musicians singing and playing soft classical Turkish music called “fasil”. We picked mostly cold vegetable dishes as mezes, drinking raki and enjoying fresh fruits afterwards. The musicians were playing next to our table and taking requests from the guests. I asked them to play one of my favorites songs which I used to listen from popular singers in a music hall /bar called Beyaz Saray (Whitecastle) in Ankara. The singer told me that in those years of early seventies he used to play the darbuka (drums) in the same place and he started singing:
Geçsin günler, haftalar, mevsimler, yıllar,
Let the days, weeks,seasons and years pass by
Sen gözlerimde bir renk, kulaklarımda bir ses ve içimde bir nefes olarak kalacaksın..
You will remain in my eyes as a color, in my ears as a voice and inside me as a breath...
It was the years of youth I remembered trying to hide the tears forming in my eyes. The melancholy of classical Turkish music and the anise drink will do this to me; it is a happy sad feeling. After the great night out we went back to their house and soon fell asleep on the comfortable king size bed in the guest room.
Kucuksu Kasri (Palace)
Kucuksu Kasri(Palace by the little water), Rumeli Fort seen on the European side
Entrance by the ocean side
This is the first night I slept more than 4 hours since arriving in Istanbul, 6.5 hours to be exact, and got out of the bed at 8 am. We made our simit and çay breakfast in the front balcony which is surrounded with glass windows on all sides and faces the front yard of a small skyscraper about 24 stories high. The large garden which extends a block long towards our apartment building has lots of greenery, tall chestnut and magnolia trees, and flower gardens of blue hydrangeas, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a half of basketball court and a gazebo. Looking to our left from the balcony there are four skyscrapers, newly build and still vacant ,each 48 stories tall and can be seen from every single point of İstanbul from Cihangir to Seraglio point in the historic peninsula all the way to the prince islands on the Marmara Sea. We took our time this morning, I read the Daily newspaper Hurriyet while Sitare was taking pictures of the friendly pigeons landing on the railing of the open balcony window. We got ready and left the house around 11 am to follow our agenda for the day, which I was sure Sitare was going to enjoy.
Public transportation in İstanbul is the best I have seen in any other city. With one card called Akbil passengers can scan their trip in buses, trolleys, tramways, metrobuses, metro, trains, motor and ferry boats and the Marmaray. There is discounts for people over sixty years of age, students and seniors over sixty five are completely free. The only ones which don't take “Akbil” (short for smart ticket) are the taxis and shared taxis called “dolmuş’. We took the middle row seats in a dolmuş, which is a minivan, dropping passengers on and off wherever is convenient for them. After a fıfteen minute rollercoaster type of ride we were in Kadıköy bus square and I started for looking for the bus number 15 going to Beykoz .
The bus had only three or four seats left , but all single seats and away from each other. Sitare took a single seat in the middle of the bus and I took a window seat ,four rows away from her. We were planning to stop by an area called Anadoluhisarı by the twin rivers of Küçüksu and Göksu and visit the Küçüksu Kasrı ( Palace by the little river). Although a 30 minute ride, I was thinking that the bus was going from the the scenic road by the sea side and we could enjoy the Bosphorus scenery, this time from the road side. I was mistaken, the bus started climbing the hills of Uskudar, stopping every three minutes and taking new passengers; mostly women with headscarves and overcoats with little children. Soon the bus got really overcrowded with the people standing in front of us, hot and stuffy and I lost eye contact with my wife because of the crowd. She had no idea how long the trip was going to take and since we only had one cell phone in Istanbul we could not communicate with each other.When we got off the bus finally 40 minutes later, I knew I was in trouble, but I told her I was going to make up when she saw the places we were going to visit.
Our first stop was at the little palace by the little river, Kucuksu Kasri. Built in 1856 during the reign of Sultan Abdulmecit ,designed by Garabet Balyan and his son Nigogoyas Balyan,the small the palace was used a recreation and hunting stop for the Sultans. Since the Sultan usually arrived by the sea from his palace on the European shores , the back side of the building by the ocean is more elegantly decorated than the front entrance by the land side. The two story palace also has a basement which was used as a kitchen and as living quarters for the servants. Both floors have a main hall with high ceilings and four large rooms in the corners. The palace had no heating system since it was not used overnight by the visitors, but has two fire places in the sea side rooms and one each in the back rooms on the land side, all made from Italian marble. The carpets are from the Hereke district and the large crystal chandeliers were brought from Bohemia.There are also several paintings on the walls brought from Vienna.
Sitare was really impressed by this tiny pavillion looking like jewelry box,especially the art work and carvings on the marble back facade and the fountain by the steps on the ground level. She would later tell me that this was the best place she had seen on her trip. After walking in the garden through flower beds of roses and hydrangeas and enjoying the view of the Bosphorus behind the white carvings of the iron fence railings on the sea shore, we walked out of the palace grounds to the next door cafe. The cafe which is managed by the Turkish Parliament’s National Palaces Department, has an excellent view of the Rumeli Fort on the European side and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge little farther away. A good selection of menu with sandwiches, kebabs, salads and desserts with reasonable prices but a mediocre service.
Anadolu Hisari (Fort) by Goksu River opening to Bosphorus
Goksu River inlet, homes, restaurants and boat docks
After a relaxing lunch, this time we started exploring the Göksu river area. Both of these rivers start running from the hills of Beykoz and end merging to Bosphorus by the ancient Fortress of Anadolu Hisarı.In the old days there was a greek village here near the valley of the river and and people made their living with fishing and farming the fertile land. It is said that the best seedless eggplants, then a rarity in theTurkish kitchen, was raised here. Several spring water wells were considered as holy water while the Greek community built the so called “ayazma” fountains around them the Ottomans constructed several çeşme (fountain)s including the one in the garden of the Küçüksu Palace. People used the river area as picnic grounds for leisure and entertainment on the weekends for centuries. While the Küçüksu Kasrı pavillion was used as the mansion of the woman of Baku in the popular James Bond movie "The World is not enough", the environs of Göksu river has always been a popular set for Turkish TV serials, like " Fatmagülün suçu ne" . We walked over the small bridge over the mouth of the river which is like a Kodak picture spot for the lovers in the TV shows, down to the inlet where there are several restaurants and tea gardens by the green water. Sipping our afternoon çay in one of these cafes we watched the newly remodeled yalıs(house by the water), the docked boats and the luxury yachts and speed boats slowly sailing out the river to the open waters of Bosphorus. Finally we wanted to visit the Anadolu Hisarı Fortress, the oldest Turkish structure built by the Ottomans in İstanbul. The castle, also known as Güzelce Hisar was built by Sultan Beyazıt “the Thunderbolt” in the year of 1393 while preparing for the second unsuccessful siege of the city. In 1453 Sultan Mehmet II reinforced the fortress and built a second one right across on the European shores, the Rumeli Hisarı, to safe guard the entrance from the Black Sea. I had tried to visit the Anadolu Fortress three years ago but it was closed to public for remodeling. Again today we learned that the historical site was still closed, although there were no signs of construction activity in sight. Disappointed, we walked down the alleys near the castle by wooden houses, with pink bougainvillea hanging from their walls, took some pictures of waves hitting the shore wıth the Fatıh Brıdge ın the background and returned back the bus station. This time we took the bus travelling to Uskudar from the sea side.
Tiraje and Sitare, even the names rhyme between good friends. And what a table !
Moda Ferryboat Station
Koco Restaurant, a Moda tradition
Moda as the name suggests (fashion) is the elite Istanbul in Asia, like Nişantaşı in Pera on the European side of the city. People here have always been well educated, artistic, aristocratic,stylish,well dressed and good mannered. A walking distance from Kadiköy, Moda is on a hill overseeing the bays of Fenerbahçe and Kalamış with the most scenic view of sailboats on the water, an old ferryboat station and the old lighthouse in the distance, which once gave the name to Fenerbahçe. Tiraje’s apartment building is on the same street as the Moda Deniz Club, opened in the 1930 ies,where Atatürk once entertained his guests King Edward and Mrs.Simpson. Although we came for tea, Tiraje had prepared us an appetizer dinner including stuffed grape leaves and stuffed green peppers, several böreks çöreks and simits, cheeses, lives and watermelon. All delicious...
After tea we went together for a walk; first up the hill for a scenic view of Old İstanbul‘s silhouette behind pine trees, later down hill to the iskele( ferry station). We passed in front of the Koço Restaurant which I remember coming several times in my earlier life. The historic Moda Deniz Club was no longer there, the old building was completely demolished apparently a new one, a complete replica of the original,was under construction. Tiraje accompanied us almost to Fenerbahçe on the scenic walkway to the little river of Kurbagali Dere where we thanked our friend and parted. Passing in front of the Fenerbahce stadium with the bus in the past, I always wanted to take a photo of the sculpture of Alex De Souza the super soccer star whose skills as well as his human side I always admired. Being on foot, this was my opportunity now to go into the Yogurtçu Park and to take few pictures of not only his monument but also the one of another Fenerbahçe legend: the late Lefter. After completing my task and walking towards the bus station,Sitare said “no more buses today!”, so we took the first yellow cab.
Sailboats and the Skycrapers on our street as seen from Moda
Alex De Souza sculpture, Yogurtcu Park, Fenerbahce
Kurbagali Dere, (River of Frogs), Fenerbahce
At the Yoros Castle , Bosphorus merging to Black Sea , the legs of the 3 rd bridge in the back by Symplgades
Istanbullite's plans for today is a ferry trip on the Bosphorus with our friends Beyhan and Selçuk. Sightseeing on the Bosphorus on a boat, the channel connecting the Marmara Sea to the Black Sea, is what I call a top ten priority and must see for every tourist visiting Istanbul. According to the myth Zeus transforms his lover Io into a bull to hide her from his jealous wife Hera. Hera in turn sends a wild wosp to bother the bull. Running away from the wasp with his love, Zeus opens a water way in between the hills to bring her to safety. Hence, the name Bosphorus, meaning the passage of bull is derived from this legend.
We took the 9 am ferry from Kadiköy and arrived in Beşiktas on the European shore at 9:20. When we called our friends from my cell, I realized that the boat leaving for Bosphorus was scheduled to depart at 10:40 but not at 9:40 , an hour earlier as I thought. Oh well, the jet lag does this to you, and what better way than having a glass of tea in a tea garden by the ocean and eating ay çöreği,a sweet pastry in the form of a crescent sold by a street vendor. Soon our friends arrived, we got our tickets and boarded the already full ferry, coming from Eminönü. To my surprise the boat was an old one, with very little seating on the deck in the open air and almost tilting to one side on the water. After finding few seats next to each other, I went downstairs to the railings by the water to take pictures with my camera.
The Bosphorus, although a sea , is like a slow running river, dark blue in color, green and glossy on the shores. There are so many currents in different levels and directions on and in the water that will take an experienced swimmer from one point to another within minutes like a sail boat. Both of the shores on the European as well as Asian side are decorated with palaces,mosques, forts, mansions, houses, and marinas. There are two suspension bridges connecting both sides, the Bogazici Bridge and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, the latter named after the Conqueror Mehmet II. And a third one in the making, but we will come to that later. On the European side there is the Dolmabahçe Palace and the Çiragan Palace in the Beşiktas district, the first one home of the Ottoman Sultans in the 19 th century, where also Founder of modern Turkey President Atatürk had spent his last days, and the second one a five star hotel now. The next area in Europe is Ortaköy by the foot of the first bridge with is famous neo gothic style mosque built by the Armenian architect Sarkis Balyan and several antique stores and cafes. Right across on the Anatolian side by the other foot of the bridge there are two more of master architect Balyan's jewels: the Küçük Su Kasri Palace by the Küçüksu and Göksu rivers merging to Bosphorus and the Beylerbeyi Palace where Sultan Abdülhamid II had spent his last days in exile. Going up on the Bosphorus towards North close to the second bridge there are two forts across each other: Anadolu Hisari in Asia and one of Istanbul's landmarks: Rumeli Hisarı built by Fatih the Conqueror. Liıttle further in Europe is the bay of Bebek (baby), resemblıing St.Tropez or Monte Carlo with the million dollar docked boats and restaurants on the shore. Istinye next, used to be a bay of shipyards , now hosts probably one of the worlds most ultra modern shopping malls. And on the hills of Istinye there is a humongous fort like building, several times bigger than the one of the Conqueror: the Consulate General of the United States.
Passing several modest “yalı”s, ( wooden summer homes), compared to the European side, our ferry first stopped in Kanlıca to get more passengers. Kanlıca was famous for it's yogurt, well before an Anatolian guy in America put the name “Greek” on the tub and made a fortune from the product. When I was a child we used to come to Kanlıca with the ferry boat and I loved to eat the thick pinkish white yogurt mixed with sugar or plain as it was. Our second stop today was on the other side in Sarıyer, known for borek, the pastry made with several layers of filo dough, with feta cheese, spinach or ground meat in between. Finally towards noon we arrived at our final destination on the Asian shore at Anadolu Kavağı.
Anadolu Kavagı, like her twin across the water; Rumeli Kavağı is a small fishing village, but this one lot more commercialized and with quite a few fish restaurants than the other. Even when we were reaching the dock, restaurant servers were waving flags and signs saying " come to us". The place is famous for pan fried oysters, which we wanted to try, but little away from the crowd and all that jazz of attacking restaurant crews. I convinced our crew to take the taxi, probably the only one in the village, to go up the steep hill to a place which I have been before. There on top of the hill is this Byzantine castle which changed hands to Genoise and Ottomans later, with a very scenic view of Bosphorus merging to the Black Sea. The view is really breathtaking and just like the first time here, I felt my self in the land of gaints wıth very little civilization in sight. On top of the hill standing on a cliff you are looking at the vast dark waters of the Black Sea and the green hills of Rumelia. Far away on your left in Europe by the mouth of Bosphorus are the Rocks of Kynea or Symplgade, Çarpısan Kayalar in Turkish. According to the mythology Jason and his crew of fifty sailed from Greece with their ship Argon to Bosphorus. They were in search of the Golden fleece in the land of Amazons by the Black Sea area of Pontus. An old wise man had warned Jason about the clashing rocks at the mouth of Bosphorus, which always crashed and swallowed all passing ships. The only way to pass thru was to let a sea gull fly thru the rocks and when the seagull was flying thru the rocks would open up and at that very moment he could safely navigate his ship through. Apparently Jason did what the wise old man had told him and on his return with the golden fleece, passing through the clashing rocks of Symplegade they docked at the Anadolukavağı , climbed up the hill where the Yoros Fort is now and built a temple in honor of Zeus and other eleven Gods: Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Hermes, Ephaistos, Apollon, Artemis, Hestia ,Ares, Aphrodite ve Athena.
I am looking all the way where the clashing rocks used to be, which I had searched and found a decade ago, there now rises the foot of the third Bosphorus bridge under construction and the second leg closer to us on the other side.”Too bad civilization has to destroy not only nature but legends”, I think. We walked slowly to the Yoros restaurant by the hill side following the path near yellow and blue wild flowers and raspberry bushes.The outside restaurant is on the other side of the hill on top of the fishing village by the small bay. All of us ordered the pan fried oysters, trying to leave some space for the big dinner coming up at Kumkapı tonight. After lunch one of the restaurant servers took us with his car down the hill to the ferry station.
Fort of Yoros (Orios)
Tracing Jason to Symplegades
On the peak of twelve Gods
It is said that, on a given summer day there are a minimum of 250 000 American tourists traveling in Turkey and we met and chatted to a couple of them on our trip back to Beşiktaş on the ferry boat. Meo and Bill from San Diego were travelling in İstanbul and Bill, a long distance swimmer who probably was in his early seventies was considering to enter the upcoming international Bosphorus crossing swimming race. During the whole backtrip we exchanged our experiences and I gave them some tips which places to visit in İstanbul. We arrived in Beşiktaş where we had first started close to 5 pm. Our dinner tonight was scheduled at 7:30 at the Southern shores of the Old İstanbul in Kumkapı. Having more than two hours to kill, we walked the short distance under the century old oak trees to Dolmabahçe. The ladies sat at the outside cafe by the Dolmabahçe Palace, this time for Nescafe instead of çay and I walked up the hill with Selçuk to my temple : to the construction site of Beşiktaş Football Club's Vodafone Arena. I am a die hard fan of the Black and White Eagles of Besiktaş, the oldest sports club in Turkey dating back to 1903. The stadium, probably with the best scenic view in the world was demolished last summer to make a new and modern one: the first smart stadium in Turkey, Besiktaş Vodafone Arena. Our efforts to go into the construction site was rejected by the security personnel of the site so we decided to climb more up the slope to the " freebee hill", where as a young fan I had watched several games without paying for the ticket from a bird's eye view. After taking several pictures we went down the çay garden, and of course once again I had a glass of tea with Selçuk.
Lunch at Yoros hill side restaurant
U.S Consulate General on the hills of Istinye
Besiktas Vodafone Arena as seen from Freebee Hill
A twenty minute ride in the crowded metro tram took us to the Beyazıt square where the main campus of University of İstanbul is located, and from there down on a 45 degree slope on cobblestone streets to Kumkapı. Kumkapı one of dozen or so gates of the city walls on the Marmara sea side ,is known for it' fish restaurants, Kör Agop,the most famous of them all which I had frequented several times as a young college student with my friends. There were only few restaurants then, but now there are streets of restaurants next to each other with tables running from the buildings to the walkways. It is like an Oktoberfest type of atmosphere here, people singing together, moving like the Mexican wave seen in soccer stadiums, while Roman musicians play their traditional instruments.
My brother Mustafa who lives in Chicago is also here today with his wife Kathy and teenage children Berk and Juilide, touring Istanbul and Turkey with friends; their number of group totaling twelve. Add to this number our Bosphorus group of four and four more from Istanbul; three of them my friends from 1975 Penn State days; we totaled to a group of twenty. Selçuk had made reservations for two tables of ten at the Neyzen Restaurant, one he frequented last 30 years. They agreed on a fixed price per person with cold appetizers called “mezes”, hot appetizers called “ara sıcaklar”, and grilled Sea Bass , the “Levrek” as the main dish. Of course unlimited Rakı, the traditional Turkish anise drink or wine, fruit and dessert and çay at the end. And what a night we had ! The groups soon started playing musical chairs, mixing together, discussing: travel, politics, sports and old days. I especially enjoyed talking to Selim who was my roommate in State College and Orhan also a friend from Penn State. We had so many adventures together on and off the campus and used to chase what young men would do at that time. Food was great but our togetherness and experience was even better at Neyzen' s that night. When we parted with our friends I walked with my wife together to the Marmaray station in Yenikapı, a fifteen minute walk from Kumkapı. Sitare first hesitated a little, like so many other people, but I the veteran who had made the intercontinental trip under the ocean at least ten times, assured her that this was the fastest and easiest way to go back home. When we went into a taxi fifteen minutes later in Kadiköy, she was saying to me: “today I have seen them all.”
Mixin tourists with locals
Buddys from Pennstate 1975
In between hotties
The main dish
In front of Blue Mosque aka Sultan Ahmet Mosque
It was past 2 pm when we completed our cemetery visits in Feriköy, where Sitare's grandmother and aunt were laid to rest. It had started raining but the sky seemed clear by the Historic Peninsula where we are supposed to visit next. Selçuk drove his car from Feriköy thru Tepebaşı down the hill to Kasımpaşa to Golden Horn and once again surprised us by stopping at the Social Facilities of İBŞB, (abbreviated for Greater İstanbul Municipality). Several of the white tablecloth family type restaurants of the Municipality are located in scenic parts of İstanbul. They have fast service, fresh fish with very reasonable prices, but no alcoholic beverages are served. I was familiar with the restaurant because Selçuk and Beyhan had treated me for supper last November at the facilities other locatıon on the opposite side of the Golden Horn in Balat , down the hill from the Sultan Selim Mosque and the Greek Patriarchy. All three of us ordered the restaurant's specialty: sea bass baked in a clay dish. İt was Deee -lish. After sipping the costumery Turkish tea from our glasses, once again Selçuk took the wheel and drove us across Haliç( Golden Horn) .There, in Eminönü by the Spice Bazaar we thanked him for all he has done for us and for the nice lunch and parted with him to go our own way for the rest of the day.
Eminönü, the district by the South end of the Galata Bridge which connects to Karaköy on the other side of Golden Horn , is probably the busiest place of İstanbul, with all kinds of people from street salesman, fisherman, shopkeepers and shoppers, to tourists. Old İstanbul is still alive here in constant movement by the Yeni Mosque, Spice Bazaar, Fish restaurants, Mahmut Paşa open bazaar leading uphill to the Grand covered bazaar, ferry and boat docks ,bus stations and tramway stops. You have to keep going your direction by ignoring people and kids trying to sell you something and the pigeons landing by your feet. And so we did. We walked towards Sirkeci to the train station of the once famous Orient Express and followed the the modern tram trains to the gates of the Gulhane Park.
Gulhane Park adjourns Topkapı Palace , the famous Istanbul landmark and museum where once the Ottoman Sultans lived at Sarayburnu or Seraglio Point on the hill overlooking Marmara sea. The place is an oasis coming out of the heat of the stone buildings and tens of thousands of people, constantly in motion on the narrow cobblestone streets. Here life all of sudden slows down under the shade of century old trees, flower and plant nurseries, pools and fountains, and playgrounds for children. The park had witnessed some historical events in the past, like the announcement of Tanzimant Fermanı ( Imperial Edict of Reorganization), the 1839 proclamation of reforms in the Ottoman Empire. Also in 1928 Atatürk had first introduced the new Turkish- Latin Alphabet here, replacing the Arabic Alphabet. A street up the hill within the park hosts İstanbul Archaeological Museum, comparable to the British Museum in London and probably with more number of civilization galeries , due to the countless civilizations who had lived in the mainland of Anatolia.
We walked up the hill in slow pace , stopping often, taking pictures and enjoying the colorful flower beds, plants, different carvings and art work on some of the trees. On almost every park chair and under trees in far away corners there were couples hand in hand and cheek to cheek. After seeing so many of them, Sitare turned to me and said: Maybe instead of Gülhane Parkı ( Roseland Park), they should change the name to Aşıklar Parkı ( Lovers Park). Makes sense, I thought. On the highest part of the park in the middle of garden of pink roses there stood the 15 meter high Column of Goths. The column was erected ın the 4. th Century A.D. ,to commemorate the victory of Romans over the invading army of Goths, the forefathers of Germans. After a brief explanation of the history of the column, also an article in one of istanbullite's books and taking pictures ,we walked to the slope where tea houses were situated next to each other on a thin strip overseeing Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea. We sat at a table of two by the scenic view and ordered a demlik ( tea pot). The view was breath taking: far away you could see the Bosphorus Bridge, the necklace of the channel, the shores of Üsküdar with it' s numerous minarets scraping the blue skies, the maiden Tower, the pearl of Istanbul in the Marmara Sea, the monumental Haydarpasa train-station and ferry dock in the East, and in between all of these on the water, ferryboats crisscrossing between continents, fisherman boats, a coast guard leading an oil tanker thru the Bosphorus, an ocean liner docked on the European shore. And on the shore just underneath by the city walls of Constantine the Great an electric train appears and disappears between the trees.
Four mini glasses of tea, we are done !. "Let's get up and go up to the hippodrome area, the so called Sultan Ahmet Square, to see some more history." Sitare agrees.
Now we are walking uphill following the tram rails towards Divan Yolu and Sultanahmet Square to the first of seven hills of Istanbul. Along the Divan Yolu, every square inch of land , every piece of stone or dirt has a long, forgotten and untold story. Under the foundation of Topkapi Palace there lies the ruins of the Mangana Palace of the Byzantium. Under Eminönü district lies the Phosporion Harbor. The Mangana Tower is no longer there at Sarayburnu but the Church of Hagia Sophia, converted to a mosque during Ottoman conquest and serving as a museum now, still stands tall fifteen centuries after it was first built. And so does another famous church; St.Irene nearby. Across Hagia Sophia, there is the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, or the Blue Mosque with it's six pencil like beautiful minarets. The Blue Mosque probably has some of the stones in his body transplanted from the Hippodrome and Imperial Palace of Constantine. The Philoxenos Cistern built by Emperor Justinian and the more famous Basilica Cistern right by the Million Arch are still attracting thousands of visitors every day. Every square inch in this area is filled with layers of civilizations and history.
It is almost 5 pm now and all museums are shutting down for the day ; there are not too many left which we have not seen before anyway. We keep walking lazily on the newly reorganized square passing by the Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain, the Pargali Ibrahim Pasa Palace, the Constantine and Serpentine columns and the Egyptian Obelisk. Then, we turn into the alley of the Blue Mosque and go inside marvelling the grandeur and beauty of it as if we have seen it for the first time in our lives. Mosques in Turkey are always open no matter what time of the day and always welcoming you. After spending few minutes inside and taking some pictures we step outside and move towards the much older landmark and marvel of Istanbul : the Hagia Sophia.
Hagia Sophia is closed now, but right across the street by the Hürrem Sultan Hamamı (Turkısh bath) we hear the music coming from a ney, the traditional flute like instrument of Sufi music. There right by the Hamam of Roxelana or Hürrem as she is better known, the beloved wife of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, a whirling dervish in his white dress is turning and spinning like a feather caught in a wind. Around the Hamam there is an outdoors restaurant with live Sufi music and a performing whirling dervish. We check the menu board and decide to go into the garden. Izgara köfte(grilled meatballs), sucuklu pide (sausage on pida) and ayran(yogurt drink) are our choices. As the sun starts setting slowly, we enjoy the music of three musicians in black robes, a female singer and the whirling dervishes performance. After topping of the dinner with çay, it is time to go again. Our first 24 hours in Istanbul has come to an end and we need to catch the ferry again and cross back to Asia.
From Europe to Asia with Love
Before landing at the Atatürk Airport in İstanbul after a 10.5 hour trip from Chicago, we were debating with my wife Sitare which way of transportatıon to take to get to our apartment building at the Çiftehavuzlar district on the Asian side of the Megapolis. An almost 3 hour taxi ride during the 5 pm trafıc crossing the Bosphorus Bridge, or using the ferryboat and two taxi trips for about 2 hours, or using the metro and the Marmaray underwater tunnel and still taking the taxi for little over an hour. The last one was the most unlikely, because of our three pieces of heavy luggage and several handbags.
When we walked out the airport with our luggage, to our big surprise my good friend Selçuk, istanbullite's chief correspondent and his wife Beyhan were waiting with their car to take us home. They took us first to their house in Cihangir, a 40 minute drive on the European side on the hills overlooking Bosphorus, so we can refresh and rest before the rush hour was over.
Cihangir, named after the son of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent is a hip area in Pera, where all the artist from movie and TV stars to famous writers live and Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence is close by in the Çukurcama area, where also once Dr. Oz lived as a child. Selçuk and Beyhan's five story shotgun type of house where his family members each share a flat ,is situated next to the Cihangir Mosque, and has a magnificent view of the Bosphorus, stretching from the Bogaziçi Bridge in the north all the way to Üsküdar(Scutari), the Maiden Tower, Kadıköy(Chalcedon), Prince İslands ,Topkapı Palace and Sarayburnu (Seraglio), Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in the south.
There on the top flat balcony where once five centuries ago Şehzade (crown prince) Cihangir enjoyed the view, Selçuk and Beyhan treated us to lahmacun (Turkish pizza) snacks accompanied by seagulls flying over our heads and the crisp Poyraz(northern) wind touching our faces. Later on when the traffic slowed down Selçuk took us to our apartment , crossıng the bridge to the Asian continent.
It is always nice to turn the key and go into your own house . It is a home away from home, where once my parents lived and now I own along with my other two brothers who also use it when they visit İstanbul. A nice warm shower and supposedly a good nights sleep in your own bed. But it is not meant to be, your time clock is all messed up, it is only 5 pm in Chicago , and you keep turnıng in the bed. As the sun starts rising I finally fall asleep hearing the Müezzin's call for prayer from the loudspeaker on the minaret of the nearby Göztepe mosque. A two hour sleep and I am up, full of energy and excitement .Sitare has already the teapot on the stove and set the table in the balcony with the modest continental breakfast items the apartment house keeper had purchased and put in our refrigerator. And then the doorbell rings, it is Necati, our doorman with the daily Hürriyet in hand and two fresh simits in a plastic bag. İf you ask any Turk which food they miss most abroad they will undoubtedly say it is “simit”, the Turkish sesame bagel, the bread in form of a big ring which is so delicious.
Day one, we will start with first things first. Selçuk drives us to three different cemeteries on the two continents where we visit and pay respect to our deceased family members including my mother father, Sitare's grandmother and aunt. And of course on the way to my mother's cemetery in Küçükyalı , I take Selçuk and Sitare to the open air Archaeological museum of Küçükyalı, to the ruins of Styros monastery from the 9. Century A.D., where Patriarch Ignatius of Byzantium is believed to be burriıed. Historical visits are always an istanbullite priority.