Wrapping up in Istanbul

In preparation for this visit to Istanbul, Pat and I have read another Barbara Nadel story about the Istanbul detective Cetin Ikmen. As we search for an elusive plaid carry-all bag, we accidentally tour around some of the parts of town mentioned in the book. Nadel describes the roads as being narrow, steep, crowded, eclectic – they are. But no plaid bag is to be found. This city used to abound in these cheap bags but they’ve disappeared. We’ve bought an incredibly ugly nylon bag instead. 

The bag is a requirement to stow all our purchases for the journey home. As good Silk Road travellers, we have engaged in the age old pursuit of shopping! Ie trading money for goods. Perhaps not quite in Silk Road tradition but as close as we can manage.

Our Istanbul shopping has taken us to markets older than Canada as a nation. The Spice Bazaar, where we roam every narrow alley, has been operational since 1664. The smells and sights of the shops under the high valued roof are evocative of everything exotic. I think it’s my favourite place in Istanbul.

Exhausted from our quest for the plaid bag, we refresh ourselves with coffee and cake then go to “our” hammam.

Pat spent over an hour yesterday painstakingly checking website after website and finally it popped up. When we find it, we realize we’d walked passed it at least once the day before but it is tucked in behind other buildings and only a small sign and doorway attest to its existence. The other challenge to finding it was the constant assurance from everyone we asked that such a hammam does not exist. As tourists we are always directed to one or other of two fancy expensive westernized hammam spas. More fuel for my Turkish lies theme.

The hammam – Tarihi Sifa Turkish Hammam – is just as special as we remember it from when we first went there three years ago. It was our first Turkish bath. After this trip, we have much more hammamming experience, yet this one retains the 300 year old charm that first attracted us. It intrigues us that people have been bathing there on the same marble slabs since 1777.  

We meet with Helen for dinner and just before we finish a young woman comes over to our table – she’s recognized us from the Caspian Sea boat trip. What a phenomenal coincidence! We chat for a few minutes before she and we head off into a rainy walk home to our respective hotels.

That was yesterday. 

Today it is cloudy and cool but dry. We continue our trip down memory lane with a walk over the Galata Bridge, crossing the Golden Horn near where it connects with the Bosporus. This is an exciting stretch of water as boats dash up and down the Horn, swing into and out of the Bosporus, churn up the Bosporus to the Black Sea or out to the Sea of Marmara – all this frenzied shipping can be seen from the bridge. Vehicles roar across, while people fish from the upper bridge deck. Over priced restaurants line the lower pedestrian level. Walking by is running a gauntlet of solicitations. “Come in. What is your name? Where are you from? Coffee.”

We do pause at one place – a call of nature giving us cause.

“Do you have cappuccinos?” we enquire.

“No Nescafé. Turkish coffee,” we are informed.

“Do you have cake?” we suggest.

“No. Fish,” we are assured.

“Do you have a toilet?” That’s after all what we really want.

The guy sighs but is gracious. Our need is met and we continue on our way.

One the other side is the fish market where we have lunch – an enormous fresh fish sandwich. Once again, our memories don’t let us down. The sandwiches are as delicious as they were three years ago. There is a bit of added excitement in the market as a tuna has been brought in. It rests in the middle of shinny red floor because it’s too big for any of the stalls. Some restaurant is going to be advertising fresh tuna on tonight’s menu.

From there we walk through a newly created waterside park then across a pedestrian/subway bridge. Then we walk up the hill and under the towering remains of a fourth century Roman aqueduct, on to a mosque and down through the Grand Bazaar. This place has been a Bazaar since 1461 and contains about 3600 shops. I consider buying a silk scarf to mark the end of the Silk Road but of the tens of thousands of “silk” scarves for sale in the Grand Bazaar, most are polyester, rayon or very cheap poorly woven Indian silk. Pat and I did get a couple of beautiful silk scarves in Samarkand and the Istanbul offerings pale in comparison. Instead we find an English book store and a couple of Silk Road/Istanbul related books are now added to the stack of luggage we have acquired over the past few days.

Tomorrow we will let the day unfold slowly as our trip home begins in the evening. With three flights and an overnight in Frankfurt, it promises to be a bit tedious. Still, our Silk Road journey hasn’t been as long or arduous as Marco Polo’s twenty-four-year odyssey. Our’s has involved less camel riding and hiking than we’d hoped, but it has been a rewarding adventure with enough horse, train and other odd escapades to make up for a lack of camel related excitement. Like Marco Polo, we’re returning home with silks and silver – unless it’s polyester and nickel – and with stories galore.

Once again, thank you for following our adventures. My apologies to all who so kindly commented but who didn’t get a reply. Word Press has been awkward to use after some updates – responding to comments is causing me grief. Please know I read and appreciate every one of your comments.

Onward to Istanbul

We’ve now decided that many Turkish men – at least those in the tourist or selling industry – don’t tell the truth, giving much credence to the adage about Turkish carpet sellers. I bought a Turkish carpet a few years ago so now find myself wondering how badly I was duped. On this trip we’ve met a couple of Turks who we think told us the truth, but too many have been full of BS. 

I wonder why they do it. Is it a deliberate deception? Do they just lie to tourists or do they lie to everyone?  Do they think it’s an acceptable way to do business? Whatever the answers are, our experiences are such that if a Turkish man tells me the sun is shining, I’ll put on my raincoat. When a Turkish man suggests one restaurant, I will go to another. 

So why, when a Turkish train ticket-seller at the Selçuk train station tells us a train trip will take one hour and twenty minutes and that there will be plenty of time to change trains, would we believe him? 

Exactly!

Scenario is this: We need to take a train from Selçuk to Izmir, change trains and take another train on to Bandirma.

The ticket guy has already sold us a train ticket from Izmir to Bandirma which departs at 0830 hrs, having led us to believe he was selling us a ticket from Selçuk to Bandirma. This is what we asked him for. He’s then told us we can catch the 6:50 train from Selçuk to İzmir. He’s a bit too flippant and we don’t believe him. So instead, we catch the earlier 0500 hrs train from Selçuk to Izmir and guess how long it takes? Just over two hours. Yes indeed, had we fallen for his shtick, and taken the later train we’d have missed the onward train for which he’d sold us tickets. Another lie. Another Turkish guy.

Four hours into the advertised six hour train trip from Izmir to Bandirma and we are a little more than a quarter of the way tour destination. That’s what gazing out the window at passing olive groves, snoozing – because 0400 hrs was very early to be rising and shinning, blogging and reading is for. Passing the time is as much a part of the journey as exploring ruins and enjoying cafes. Amazingly, the train picks up speed and we arrive in Bandirma on time. 

Our hotel is within spitting distance of the train station but getting across the road to it is not for the faint of heart. I’ll not get into what I think of Turkish drivers. The hotel is a beautifully maintained classic old building with nearly six metre high ceilings. While it’s lovely, what we see of the busy charmless town doesn’t impress us but we’re only here overnight. 

It’s another early morning as our ferry to Istanbul leaves at 0745. The hotel staff kindly ensure we get an early breakfast then we walk the short distance to the terminal. Crossing the road is less traumatic in the early hours.

Unlike B.C. ferries, these have designated seat numbers. Of course we have to move our seats as we don’t realized this when we first board. We’ve decided that arriving in Istanbul by ferry across the Sea of Marmara is a suitable way to wind up our Silk Road journey. The trip only takes a couple of hours and lunch time finds us having walked to our Ottoman era hotel in Istanbul, checked in, and walked back to a busy street completely given over to restaurants.

We spend the afternoon trying to find a hammam we went to three years ago. So far without success but we have another lead. We’ve avoided interacting with several persistent carpet sellers but have done some shopping – also a suitable activity for travellers of the Silk Road. Bargaining of course for hopefully realistic prices. We’ve met with Helen and enjoyed an excellent dinner. Now we’re sipping wine in our room and planning on sleeping in tomorrow.

Selçuk and Ephesus

Upon arrival in Selçuk we discover our tiny hotel is nearly under the ruins of a Roman aqueduct marching across the city on its way from the mountains to the ancient city of Ephesus. We are also surrounded by restaurants and pedestrian streets. What could be better?

We see a huge castle up on the hill above the city so set off to investigate. The heavens open, we spend most of our visit in heavy rain but discover something even more fascinating than the castle. The ruins of the Basilica of St John which was built over the grave site of St John the Evangelist grab our attention. We return to our hotel to dry out and begin researching Christianity in this area. Our theological questions pile up pretty quickly.

The next morning we visit Ephesus, taking a fascinating walk through history. We’d left our hotel immediately after breakfast by taxi to the upper gate of the site. Our aim: to enjoy the morning light and avoid the masses of narcissistic selfie-tourists.

Our taxi driver suggests taking us to Mary’s house which he tells us is on the way. Mary’s house is well past Ephesus. Not on the way by any calculation. Another lie. He’d more than quadruple his fare if we went for the ploy. Of course he doesn’t mention the added expense were we to fall pray to his deception.

As it is, we arrive at the gates of ancient Ephesus just after opening and are soon striding along a marble paved street that was originally laid down by ancient Greeks. All around us lie toppled marble columns and row upon row of broken marble lintels. The brick arches of a public bath stand firm against the ravages of time and earthquakes. An amphitheater rises into the hill above. Then, gleaming in the sunlight, the still huge and glorious facade of the Celsus Library. This is the iconic sight in Ephesus and we are walking down a street directly towards it with very few other people. 

There are however two young women doing the selfie thing on the steps in front of the library. Legs are being arranged, hair flipped, chins raised, arms extended, bosoms thrust out. How much posturing can a couple of selfies take? Five of us wait for the show to end. It seems endless so we cat-call in derision of the nonsense. The players in the pathetic little drama remain oblivious. Once they leave, an Australian couple, a young European woman and we, have our turns to take pictures of the nearly 2000 year old marvel. Our puny selves are  insignificant in comparison and unworthy of photographs.

We continue through the commercial agora and then to the Church of Mary and the Bishop’s Palace. We’ve now seen and read enough to be thoroughly captivated by the idea of this area being a popular destination for early Christian evangelists. We retrace our steps back up through the city. The streets now throng with bus loads of other tourists but we’ve taken our pictures and enjoyed the morning tranquility. Now we take our time to read all the explanations. We sit on the marble seat of an upper row in the amphitheater and chat with a man who has been in Turkey for twenty months teaching restorative justice ideas to lawyers and judges here. He tells us it’s been an interesting experience. We are left with the feeling that his efforts have been less effective than he might have wished. Looking across the remaining pillars of the state agora to the basilica which once held the Roman court, we decide some ideas might take a while to change.

Ephesus well visited, we grab another taxi and head up the hill to Mary’s house. Hefty admission paid, we visit the tiny church that now marks the spot. This is a place of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims alike. Muslims also revere Mary as the mother of a respected prophet. This makes me wonder – as I do frequently – about the animosity that prevails between some Christians and some Muslims. If people wanted to – they’d probably find more commonalities within the two beliefs than differences. At least in this place, people worship together.

Our taxi roars back down the hill to Ephesus. Of course the driver wants to increase his fare by taking us all the way to Selçuk. He seems to think it is impossible for us to walk.

We know better – there is a signposted walking trail. Does the local taxi driver really not know it exists or has he been telling a lie? 

The trail descends through olive and orange orchards. The trees are laden with ripe fruit but there are no pickers. Some oranges are rotting on their branches, both oranges and olives are strewn on the ground. We decide to pick a couple of oranges. We’ve both walked through many orchards and never before stolen a farmer’s hard-won produce, but these orchards show no sign of recent care. As we walk along, we see we aren’t the first to help ourselves – not that that makes our thieving right. We add our orange peals to those already on the trail and enjoy sweet juicy Christmas oranges still warm from the sun.

Back in Selçuk, we discover that the museum right across the road from our hotel is unexpectedly closed. We mention this to our hotel owner – who had highly recommended that we see it because it is so interesting. He explains why it is closed and assures us we are missing nothing as there isn’t much to see. So… which time was he telling the lie?

We enjoy a delicious meal in the restaurant next door then turn in for an early night. Our alarms are set for 4am.

So what really did happen?

We are in Selçuk for a couple of days.

Yesterday, Pat and I visited the extensive ruins of the Basilica of St John the evangelist – built in the 6th century – over St. John’s tomb – on a hilltop in Selçuk, near the ancient city of Ephesus. Ever since, we’ve been brushing up on our who’s-who and who-did-what of the New Testament. 

After Jesus was crucified, his mum is said to have come here to Ephesus with John, Jesus having asked his friend to look after her. It was probably a good idea to get out of Jerusalem for a while anyway as the Romans there were on an anti-followers-of-Jesus rampage.

Today when we were tramping around the extensive ruins of Ephesus, we visited the site of the Church of Mary built in 200 CE and dedicated to Mary after a council determined that she was the mother of god. 

Of course this promoted Pat and I to ponder the whole concept of a Virgin Mary. What was Joseph doing with a virgin wife? We gather he was much older than her, that she may have been married as young as twelve years old and – well perhaps the old guy had the decency to not consummate the marriage? So after Joseph doesn’t consummate the marriage, young Mary manages to get pregnant and have a baby and still remain a virgin? Really? You just have to question the physiology behind that miracle.

Just down the hill from Ephesus, the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers is supposed to have contained Mary’s sarcophagus – so proclaims one source. But the grotto was built by the Byzantines who held sway in these parts between 395 CE to 1308. Even my poor math is up to figuring out the improbability that Mary was buried within. Another story suggests her body was put into a whicker coffin and placed in a cave near her home. This strikes me as a more likely scenario. The Catholic Church generally proclaims her tomb to be in Jerusalem. Believe it or not, there are those who think she is buried somewhere in Wales or in Mary, Turkmenistan. Now Pat, Helen and I recently visited Mary, and I sincerely hope the poor woman’s bones don’t languish in that god-forsaken corner of the earth.

So if Mary came here to Ephesus after her son was crucified to live out her days, where did she actually live? Well not in town it would seem. The Romans were in charge in Ephesus during that time frame so perhaps that was good incentive for Mary to lie low. According to reliable sources – you be the judge of what the reliability may be – she lived in a little stone house – built by John himself – up on the mountain above the ancient city. Several Christian and Jewish families lived in the area so she would likely have felt safe.

Pat and I went to investigate Mary’s house. Today there is a church built over what is supposedly the original foundation.

True or not, we like this story and there are certainly some indications that it could be accurate. 

The Catholic Church, however, has very reluctantly and only recently accepted this as a possible location for Mary’s habitation in her senior years.

So here’s where we take the whole thing one step further. If you are a staunch Christian with set ideas on Christ’s ascension – please don’t upset yourself by reading this twist to the ancient fable.

Did Jesus really die on the cross? There is much learned conjecture that he did not. If he became unconscious due to dehydration, some blood loss, shock, pain – might he have revived after three days in a cool cave? It is a medical possibility. Might his mum and John have spirited him out of town and brought him to a remote hillside house to live his remaining days in secret solitude? Think about it – his possible tomb may have been found in Jerusalem but have his bones ever been found and positively identified? What a brilliant cover-up.

Many scholars of all faiths have spent their careers researching the death of Jesus and the birth of Christianity. Over the centuries millions of people have died because of their Christian convictions and beliefs. There have been wars waged and murders committed in the name of one belief or another. 

I like to imagine that the Romans didn’t manage to kill the socially aware, charismatic man from Nazareth. I like to imagine that he, his mum and his friend John outfoxed them and that Mary helped Jesus heal from his wounds under the olive trees and Christmas orange trees that grow on the sunny rocky slopes above Ephesus. I hope their bones rest peacefully and secretly in a hidden cave and that they will continue to do so.

Loving Bodrum

We thoroughly enjoy Bodrum. The town has no cliffs separating it from the sea. Here, waves lap at a beach lined with restaurant tables. Blue and white tablecloths flutter in soft breezes and lanterns flicker under a warm starry sky. Well-fed dogs lie beside the tables and sleek cats lurk beneath. They each seem to have their own restaurant where they receive scraps from the waiters and kitchen staff. The beer is cheaper than in Antalya and so is the wine. 

The town isn’t big but it sports a long pedestrian walkway along the shore. Lined with shops for both tourists and locals, it buzzes with an eclectic mix of people. The local men smoke but they don’t stare. The harbour is filled with fishing and cruising boats, sail and motor. Fresh fish fills the fish market stalls and we do our best to eat as much shrimp cooked in as many ways as possible.

We visit the castle and an interesting exhibit about ancient ship wrecks. The original castle was built during the time when the Trojan war going on up the coast. It has been added to several times especially by the Knights Templar in the early 1400s.

We climb a hill to see the ruins of 18th century stone windmills that were used to grind grain for the local population up to the 1970s. Today they stand as still white sentinels that can be seen from several nautical miles off shore.

We visit an amphitheater originally built by the Greeks in the 4th century BCE. Enlarged by the Romans in the 2nd century CE it could accommodate an audience of 10000. Unfortunately vehicles now roar along a busy four lane highway immediately in front of the theatre, but the view across the roofs of the town to the glistening bay beyond still is and must have always been a wonderful back drop.

We take a boat tour out to Black Island – where Cleopatra is said to have hid out for a year or so when she was persona non grata in Egypt – after her marriage to Mark Antony I think. She appears to have inhabited several islands here abouts. A swim at Cleopatra’s hot spring is on the day’s itinerary. We have bought bathing suits for the occasion. Pat braves the less-than-hot springs but upon her water temperature report, I keep my bathing suit pristine and continue reading my book.

Remember the story about our one-hour boat trip in Antalya that turned out to be 40 minutes.

When we asked about the duration of our Bodrum boat trip we specifically asked if five hours meant five hours. The guy acted so hurt. Well our Bodrum boat trip was lovely. We sat on the upper deck in the sun, enjoyed a beer, enjoyed the scenery, enjoyed an included lunch – for four hours.

After a cappuccino at a marina-side cafe, Pat digs around in her back-pack for her money. She usually carries her purse but we have towels and beach gear with us so she has her pack. We enjoy our day then return to our hotel after dinner. Where’s the key? The owner is grumpy but his sidekick quickly provides another. We let ourselves in but Pat has an idea as to where the missing key must be. The beach front invites another walk so armed with head lamps for the dark stretches, off we go, past the marina, through the pedestrian shopping ally, past the castle, along another marina to the place where we had that morning cappuccino.

“I may have left our hotel key here,” says Pat.

The waiter rummages around in a drawer full of left-behind bits and pieces and pulls out our key. Grateful we stay for a beer before heading back. A gust of wind batters at the palm trees and the stars have disappeared. Shortly after climbing into our beds rain begins a sideways deluge and the sky flashes with lightning. Thunder reverberates against the hills and we decide we’ll take a taxi to the bus in the morning.

Tourist beware in beautiful Antalya

Pat and I are sitting, bare feet, pants rolled to our knees, on the multi-coloured pebble beach in Antalya. The sparkling azure sea rolls to the shore, a succession of gentle breakers, foaming and sucking at the steep beach a few feet from where we’ve been pebble hunting. Up and down the beach, brown Europeans are sunbathing and swimming. It’s November 18th. The temperature is in the mid to high 20s and we are at the most southern place we’ve visited since leaving home.

Later …… We’re staying in the heart of Antalya’s old city. Ottoman architecture surrounds us, our tiny hotel is an original, with suitably creaky stairs. There are hundreds of European styled street-side restaurants and cafes. Wine and beer is served at the vast majority of them. The menus are varied, the seafood plentiful and fresh. Yesterday we sampled calamari twice. Today we are tasting shrimp. 

Antalya’s old city is perched on ragged rock bluffs rising out of the sea. Ancient towers of once strong fortifications still cling to the rock. Today they are occupied by mouse-catching cats. It maybe that the cats don’t bother with the mice as they – hopefully just the cats – also hang out at restaurants, putting the dogs to shame when it comes to shameless begging.

We notice tour boats taking people out in the pretty harbour and along the coast. That looks nice, so we investigate. Soon we are on-board an hour-long harbour tour. Forty minutes after leaving we are back.

“We paid for an hour,” we tell the ticket man. He pretends to have forgotten how to speak or understand English.

We point to the sign that clearly says, “one hour,” in several languages.

“No,” he insists. His English is magically recovering.

We point and I argue and he comes out of his booth, covers up the one hour portion of the English part of the sign with tape and goes back in his booth. He flaps a piece of paper at us that indicates 45 minutes.

I argue that we never got that paper. He shouts. I tell him to not shout and to listen. He gets more excited because there are now several people gathered around. I tell him I’m staying put until he listens. He listens then calls me a bunch of names. His English is getting better by the moment.

So the name of this blatantly dishonest boat tour company – just in case you are in Antalya or planning to go – is SS 200 NOLU AKDENIZ, Yelkenli Yatcilik Motorlu Tasiyicilar Kooperatifi. 

A few minutes later we stop by another ticket office of the same company and we ask for harbour tour details. Yes indeed, one hour tours is what they are selling. So we tell the guy what has happened.

Suddenly the story changes, “well yes, it is really 45 minutes.”

“45 minutes is not 60 minutes, even in Turkey,” I say.

The guy sheepishly suggests I talk to the boss. I do. Oddly this guy listens. I find myself wondering if he’s doing so because there are several police within hearing distance. Pat explains that the false advertising is misleading. I tell him this kind of thing gives Turkey – Turkish men in particular – a bad reputation among tourists. The boss agrees but insists that in Turkey things are done this underhanded way. He offers us a free 45 minute harbour tour in compensation. We tell him we’ve had enough harbour touring and go find ourselves a restaurant with excellent wine and a stunning view of the harbour. We look down and see the 45 minute one hour tour boat puttering by the cliffs below us.

The afternoon after visiting the beach and tramping around the city, we go to a 300 year old hammam. We’ve been to enough hammams to know they are supposed to be hot. The idea is to sweat before being scrubbed. This hammam isn’t hot. We aren’t shivering but there is certainly no sweating happening either. When we point this out we are told that Europeans don’t like it hot. 

“We’re not Europeans,” I say.

“This is a Turkish hammam in Turkey,” Pat says.

“The point is for it to be hot,” we both add.

“Don’t blame the Europeans because you don’t want to heat your water properly,” we mutter as we leave. Once again – misleading false advertising bites the unwary tourist where it hurts.

So the name of this establishment – in case you want to avoid a ineffective Hammam – is The Turkish Bath Antique Spa Hammam. It’s in the old town. 

That said, the beautiful young woman who scrubs and bubble massages us is from Iran. She came to Turkey with her mum and sister eighteen months ago. They have applied for visas to immigrate to Australia. Oh so much more of her story we want to know. We hope they are soon making new and wonderful lives for themselves down under.

What will we remember of our visit to Antalya? The warmth of the Mediterranean sun? Absolutely. The fabulous shrimps and calamari? Of course. The cold wine and beer and the stunning locations of the restaurants? Yes indeed. The glorious beach? Oh yes. The vibrancy? Again, yes. But we will also remember the dishonesties. Tourists should be double aware here – we are marks and subject to being scammed.