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Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

The rock formations of Cappadocia, in central Turkey, are unlike any others on Earth.  They’re not only strange natural sculptures, they have a human history that spans centuries. Millions of years ago, ash from erupting volcanoes slowly hardened to tufa, and that stone, eroded over time by wind and rain, became the erry, convoluted shapes I’m seeing today. The harder granite didn’t erode as easily, and the result was “fairy chimneys”–huge cones topped by granite boulders. But that’s only part of what has pulled me to Cappadocia. I’m marveling at the hundreds of dwellings and churches carved into cliffs, some still in use and even turned into cave hotels that tourists adore.

Turkey’s Goreme Open-Air Museum, about a mile from the village of Goreme, is a collection of cave churches carved out by Christian monks more than a thousand years ago. At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, I can see remnants of the Byzantine frescoes they painted on the stone, and the living and burial sites along hillside paths. There’s a fee to enter, and the best time to visit is early in the day (afternoon heat can be intense, and tour groups fill the place).

Then there are the underground cities, built and used from ancient times as protection from enemies. Early Christian churches began here, but even before that people were carving tunnels and spaces for living and storage. There are at least 36 of them in Cappadocia; the widest is Kaymakli and the deepest, nearly 280 feet underground, is Derinkuyu. Kaymakli goes down eight levels, four of them open to the public, with sloping passages and carved-out rooms and chapels around ventilation shafts. Thousands of people lived here with their animals, food from the crops they harvested, and wine. It is all quite amazing. The stony countryside seems dry and arid, but  water streams in  from surrounding mountains and creates fertile, life-supporting valleys.

Relaxing by the pool at our hotel, Lykia Lodge Kapakokya, is a sharp and, I admit, pleasant contrast to crouching in underground tunnels, following the guide’s flashlight. Lykia Lodge, in a park setting outside the town of Nevsehir, is modern and comfortable, and I recommend it. There are tree-shaded lawns, a tennis court and playground, a full bar in the lounge, and a restaurant serving traditional regional dishes. The excellent morning buffet has every breakfast dish imaginable: yogurt, cereals, fresh and dried fruits, egg and meat dishes, pastries. The place is favored by groups, but don’t let that deter you. There’s plenty of room for all.

One thing I’m going to skip is the famous hot-air balloon ride over Cappadocia. I am told the views are spectacular, but I have trouble with adventures that involve rising before dawn. Maybe next time I’ll admire the fairy chimneys and  twisted rocks from far above. 

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The expert who’s teaching me to make pides, the pita-like Turkish bread, is too polite to laugh at my  effort to wrap dough around a long wooden roller and flatten it into a big circle. How hard can it be? Harder than it looks. The thin dough tears, and she clucks and repairs the rips. Clumsy tourist, can’t even make a pide. She slides the circle onto a long-handled wooden paddle and the woman next to her, Ganja,  pushes it into the stone oven. It puffs and crisps as it bakes, and everyone watching gets a taste. Then we go to lunch.

This is part of our little group’s experience of life in rural Turkey. Overseas Adventure Travel makes it a point to give travelers a close glimpse of the reality of Turkey, not just the monuments, ruins and tourist spots.  So here we are in Ilicek, a village of blocky houses scattered along dirt roads. All have gardens. Our hosts’ garden is bounded by stone walls, and they have a fig tree, chickens and a turkey (the first one I’ve seen in Turkey). Upstairs, in the small living room, a table spread with a yellow cloth is set for eight. It’s a squeeze, but nobody cares. Ganja, our hostess, serves lentil soup with yogurt, barley and rice. Then a second course, a ravioli-type dish with meat, tomato sauce and yogurt. Fresh pide, of course, and sweet pastries.  These people – Ganja, her beautiful niece Ebru, and the grandmother Babaneh – are incredibly hospitable. They smile a lot and tell us (via our interpreter) that they’re honored  to have us. And we are honored to be here.  We offer gifts of food we’ve purchased in an outdoor market and say tessekur (thank you) and hashtakal (goodbye).

Further south is Akburun, a village on the shore of Lake Beysehir, the largest fresh-water lake in Turkey. Reeds from its marshy edges are stacked  by sheds and barns, waiting to be dried and, with poplar tree logs and thick layers of earth, used to make snug, well-insulated ceilings. Cows graze on grassy fields by the lake, and storks nest in high poles.  Akburun has one main road, a small mosque, a store, and a garden beside almost every home. We’re warmly welcomed by our hosts, a 4-generation family sharing two connected houses, each with simple, comfortable sleeping rooms with mattresses on the floor. And lots of blankets, because it gets cold at night. Dinner is a series of Turkish specialties: fabulous yogurt, chopped tomatoes, fresh bread, meat kebabs, glasses of tea. The yogurt and cheese come from the cows on the other side of the fence.

Huseyin, the family elder, is 76 years old and wears the cap that indicates he is a Hajji—one who has been on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Some members of this family are strongly religious, others less so, like most of Turkey, which is 98% Muslim, but not entirely devout. One of the pleasures of this aspect of the trip is the chance to talk frankly with ordinary people and ask and answer questions. Their English is limited and our Turkish non-existent, but Rana Erol, our guide, interprets and we get along beautifully. We present our gifts from home, they graciously accept and tell us how honored they are, and we all smile a lot.

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Mark Antony gave Cleopatra the entire Turquoise Coast of Turkey as a wedding gift, or so the story goes. As I loll in the ruins, I choose to believe it was the royal bath. Around it are the partially submerged remains of stone walls built by the Romans to enclose fresh water from a spring. Sailors, and maybe Cleo herself bathed here, a nice change from the sea’s salt water. The ruins are tucked into one of dozens of coves along this stunningly beautiful Mediterranean coastline.

The cove, where we jump in the Med for an exhilarating swim, is a stop on this 4-day cruise. Our group sails in a  9-cabin gulet, a type of boat once used by Turkish sponge-divers. Now gulets carry tourists, a more profitable and less dangerous occupation.  The Sadri Usta, made from mulberry, pine, and  teak, has plenty of space and cozy cabins, each with its own little bathroom. You couldn’t ask for a more skilled crew than our three sweet guys, Ali, Fatih, and Bayram (they’re good-looking, too, and what’s more, they can belly-dance). Our cook prepares fabulous meals: delicate sea bass, yogurt with watercress, bananas in honey, fresh tomato salads, custardy halvah).  This is true vacation. Also, we have a top-quality guide for our 17-day Overseas Adventure Travel tour of Turkey. Rana Erol loves her country and shares her extensive knowledge generously. And she’s great fun.   I’d travel with her again any time.

The cruise part starts in Fethiye Harbor and motors along the rugged, craggy coast to the Bay of Gemiler. Most of the group leaves the boat for a hillside hike up through carob and bay trees to the deserted village of Kayakoy. In the 1920s, its residents were relocated to Greece, a haunting reminder of the aftermath of Turkey’s War of Independence. There are more walks, in and to other coves, but I mostly stick with the boat, resting an injured knee. I just bask in the sun on my private yacht and listen to the splash of water against the bow while we sail to the next small bay.

One morning we cruise to Ekincik Cove and move to a tarp-shaded riverboat for a side trip up the Dalyan River.  The twisting green river is rich with fish, waterbirds, and turtles. An enterprising family tosses lines baited with blue crab so the big Loggerheads will rise for them and tourists can snap photos (and tip the kid with the baited line). Nearby is Istuzu Beach, the endangered turtles’ breeding ground, an environmentally protected area that was narrowly saved from resort development.  We dock at a cove, possibly close to where part of The African Queen was filmed, and walk up to the Lycian ruins of Caunos. The ancient theater is still impressive .Poppies grow around the tumbled stone and the only sounds are bird calls, buzzing bees, and the murmurs of a few tourists.

Upriver, boats line the walkway at the busy town of Dalyan. We stroll the streets and stop for a snack of salad and crisp pizza at the White Lotus, a place I highly recommend for its service and food. Ali Geneer, the friendly owner, chats with us on a terrace where pink oleander blooms under the palm trees. Across the river, high in the cliffs, are 2200-year-old Lycian tombs, with columns and arched roofs, carved into the face of the rock.

Back on the Sudra Usta, we glide north over the blue water to Marmaris, where the Mediterranean and Aegean seas meet. We feast on a final great meal, learn to play backgammon and the potato game (tie one end of a long string around your waist, the other around a potato; swing the hanging potato at a can and race your opponent to the finish line, no hands allowed—beer helps with this one), and dance to Turkish music. And we say fond goodbyes (“gule-gule”) to the gulet and the crew.  More adventures lie ahead.  (To contact guide Rana Erol: ranaerol@hotmail.com)

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