Sunday, May 10, 2009

Visit to Turkey - #1- Istanbul

I've been away for two weeks dear Readers, thus my silence. We visited Turkey and I'll be blogging about that visit these coming days.

Several years ago, while on a Mediterranean cruise, we stopped by Kusadasi and visited Ephesus. In particular we visited Mary's house and St. John's Basilica. Our ship was docked in Kusadasi and we had the chance to visit the Bazaar there where I found nice amber earrings and necklace. It was a very nice visit and we had made a note that we'd like to do a land tour of Turkey. I'm not sure what prompts one to say that - the place perhaps, the people certainly, but it seemed that Turkey would be a lovely interesting place to see.

It turned out that our friend, Elizabeth Allen, who had also visited Mary's house at around the same time, had come to the same conclusion about revisiting Turkey. We've traveled with Elizabeth and John Allen before - to Turkey and the Philippines, and so we planned a land trip to Turkey. We booked a 2-week tour via Grand European Tours. The tour included visits to: Istanbul, Gallipoli/Canakkale, Pergamon, Izmir, Ephesus, Pamukkale, Hierapolis, Antalya, Konya, Cappadocia, and Ankara. There were 43 of us in the American group, and our tour director was Yusuf Burak. The driver's name was Ilyas, and the assistant's name was Cadir. I mention them because they were all exceptionally nice and competent people who made our visit very pleasant. I should mention that the local tour company's name was Neon Tours; this was the company that actually took care of us in Turkey.

The Allens and we had visited Egypt together last year and the memories of Islam, dessert sand and long robes lingered with me. I had also retained in my head, pictures of Turks wearing fezzes and turbans, images similar to the turbaned Arabs,so that even though I knew (on an intellectual level) that Turkey was different from Egypt and other Arabic places, I expected long-robed, turbaned men there. I'd equated Islam with Arabic garb. I had to correct this misconception because men in Turkey wear regular western clothes,even though they are Muslims. Some women cover their heads and there were a few who wear burkas - visitors, our tour director insisted - because (our Tour Director emphasized) Turks are NOT Arabs. More women than men dress like other Arabic women - that is, they cover their heads.

The other misconception I had - this even though I had already visited Ephesus - is that Turkey would be arid. Wrong again - at least where we visited, the place was generally green and lush. I understand there are arid places in Turkey; the country is very large and offers different geographic features and sub-cultures. This is probably the only country I've visited that offers such a variety, and we didn't even visit the entire country.

The entire two weeks I spent rearranging images in my head, deleting the incorrect ones I had made up and trying my best to retain all the wonderful ones that presented themselves to me.

Istanbul: This is one of the most interesting cities I have ever visited. Even the drive from the airport to our hotel was a pleasure. It was a Saturday when we arrived and people were out enjoying themselves. The day was warm and pleasant, the sea shimmered to our right as we coasted down the highway, past ruins of ancient walls and buildings and fantastic blooming bulbs. The Conrad Hilton was a nice 5-star hotel, deserving of its five stars, although I would have preferred an hotel in the old city. There's something to be said about stepping out your hotel into ancient cobble stoned streets, right into the heart of things. But never mind, our room was great, with a view of a park, street, and buildings. The towels were the best ever - thick and lush, we all fell in love with the large European towels. The buffet breakfast was also nice - assorted olives, vegetables, fruit, a huge hunk of honeycomb, breads, sweets, the standard eggs, potatoes, mushrooms, and bacon. (The other hotels did not serve bacon - it's a Muslim country.)

Sunday we met our Tour Director, Yusuf, who bemoaned the fact that there were 43 of us, a large group, and it was raining to boot, and it seemed everything was just going to be awful. He was such a gloom and doom guy that we laughed, because really, we were all in a cheerful holiday mood. It was colder and wetter than I expected. I had the coat that I wore in Ireland - that was smart; but I wore sandals - that was dumb. At some point I had to put on socks.

In the old city, we saw the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Haghia Sofia, Hippodrome, and Cisterns. Click on this site for descriptions of these places.

(More later)

P.S. My cat, Kiki, survived our absence. She's gotten over her allergy but she still looks



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