Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Turkey 2014

We started the trip on Wednesday 27 August flying to Istanbul on Etihad business class.  Vivienne started the trip by suggesting our first day be an Alcohol Free Day.  As if I am paying for business class tickets and not drinking the wine.  That quickly got rejected.  We arrived on Thursday afternoon staying at the Ibrahim Pasha hotel opposite the Blue Mosque.  We then caught up with Anne &; Anthony Mayer and Ali &; Barry King on their hotel terrace.  That night we ate at the Cafe Rumali which had a 10% view of the Mosque from the 5th floor terrace.  The cafe is recommended in all the guide books but frankly it was not inspiring.

The next day we did the Bosphoros cruise and then had drinks on our hotel terrace.  100% view of Blue Mosque and then had a great meal at Amerdos which is recommended.

On Saturday we all flew down to Gocek and as the plane was late we had a late lunch at the Can restuarant on the harbour.  Not bad but then we went to our villa.  It was stunning with 6 bedrooms for the 8 of us.  There were 3 staff and we quickly settled into a routine of breakfast around 9, lunch out and dinner on the balcony willa.   Jan & Peter Arnold joined us on Saturday night and we had our full team on board.  The next day double tragedy our driver had to leave as his wife had appendicitis and the speed boat attached to the villa was broken.  So for lunch our new driver who was unfamiliar with Gocek area drove us over the hills to Boynuzbuku beach for lunch at the Yat Mola restaurant.  The setting was stunning.  Guess what the next day the boat was fixed and we returned for lunch.

Wednesday was visit Fethiye day.  We started with a 1.5 hour drive to Oludeniz which is a seaside hot spot on the Tourquoise Riviera followed by a visit to the empty former Greek village of Kayakoy. There was a restaurant serving the golzelme packages which we had for lunch cooked in a basic oven/hot plate.  We finally made it to Fethiye by 4 gave it 30 minutes on the harbour and retreated back to the villa for dinner and bridge.  Thursday we had a picnic on the water and Friday we used the speedboat again to visit a beachside restaurant.  By now I was getting desperate for a cappuccino and finally found a restaurant with the machine.  I pointed to it and was told "No problem".  It was an eats, roots and leaves moment because when I went to order she said "No.  (There is a) problem."

It was great week and we flew back to Istanbul rested if somewhat overdosed on Alcohol.  The plane was not late but the luggage took over an hour to appear.  On the way in we hit the notorious Istanbul traffic and finally made it to our hotel at 4:30 having left our villa at 10am.  Our tour was starting on Wednesday so that gave us 3 days to see the sights that we were going to miss.  We started our tour with a visit to the Blue Mosque.  We were approached by an entrepreneur/tout who after failing to sell us guidebooks to Istanbul said he jump the queue which was an hour long.  With what I think was only chutzpah he took us to the front of the queue.  The Blue Mosque is quite stunning and the major operating Islamic mosque in Istanbul. He then took us to his "uncle" who owned a carpet store in the Arasta Bazaar.  Of course we disregarded all the advice and ended up buying two kilims.  We then visited the Ayasofya or Little Hagia Sofia Mosque.  In the afternoon we went to the Rahmi Koc museum situated about halfway up the Golden Horn.
Vivienne had worked for Rahmi Koc in Istanbul back in the early 1960s for 4 months teaching his 3 sons English.  I had contacted the museum for her to meet him but he was in Europe on holidays.  However he did arrange for a guide to show us around and Zeynap Turkay did a brilliant job showing us around.  She graduated as an archeologist and now worked as curator at the museum.  The museum is worth a visit as I see it as Rahmi 's attempt to keep Turkey on the path laid down by Ataturk.

The next day we went to Pera or the European centre of Istanbul, we caught the tram across the  Galata bridge and then the Tunel funicular.  I bought some shoes and we tried to see the Museum of Innocence which was of course closed.  We ended up walking down to Karakoy having a simple mezze lunch and then going to the Spice Market.  On Tuesday we decided to visit the Chora Museum.  Chora means beyond the walls or boondocks and it lives up to its name.  It does contain the finest Byzantine mosaics in Istanbul but of course 1/3 of the church was closed for restoration.  On the other hand what was very impressive were the city walls built by Theodosis around 500AD.
We then caught a taxi to the Pera Palace hotel to see the Ataturk room but that was only open at 3 and it was lunchtime.  So we went to the Museum of Innocence built by Oman Pamuk who is the Turkish Nobel prize winner for literature.  I was reading his memoir of Istanbul and wanted to see it.  Even though it won the 2013 prize as the best museum in Europe Vivienne was very unimpressed.  I was able to get in for free as I had downloaded the Museum of Innocence on to my Kindle.  I must confess some doubts as the first exhibit was 4,213 cigarette butts.  The only really interesting part was on the top floor where you saw the hand written drafts of the book with an unbelievable number of corrections.  Computers and word processing have completely changed writing.
That afternoon we moved to our new hotel, the Darrussade on the other side of the Blue Mosque in the Akbiyik Caddesi where we also had a dinner at the Albura Kathisma.

On Wednesday our Byroads tour started with our guide Tarik and met our group.  There were eight us:  (Letterbox) Pat, (Stop and shop) Sharon, (Just one more photo) Jacki and John, and (Just one more red wine) Julie and Tony.  We started at the Mosaic Museum in the Arasta bazaar which has a good collection of Roman mosaics and then moved on to the Tokapi Museum along with 4 cruise ships of passengers.  We went around the Harem, saw the Golden Road where concubines went to visit the Sultan.  Sleeping with Sultan once graduated you out of the dormitory into a Favourite's apartment and if you got pregnant and gave birth to a male prince  you were made a wife with pension entitlements, etc.  The treasury is worth seeing with the 86 caret diamond, the basket of emeralds, and the Tokapi dagger with three huge emeralds.  In the afternoon we went to the Haga Sophia, one of the great buildings of the world. The dome is truly spectacular.  It  was formerly a Greek Othodox Church plundered by the Crusaders in 1204, converted to a Mosque in 1453 and is now a museum.  

Thursday saw us start at the Basilica Cistern which was used in From Russia With Love.  There are two Minerva heads, one upside down the other on her side used as props for the columns.  Then we went to the Archeological Museum where we saw the Head of Sappho and the Chain of the Golden Horn used to stop ships entering the harbour and preventing invasions.  We then went to the Spice Market, had lunch in Karakoy and then went up to the Pera Museum.  The exhibition of street art, ie graffiti was a waste of time but I went to the Ataturk room where I saw the prayer carpet which was a gift to Ataturk by an Indian Maharajah.  The clock on the carpet shows 9:07, there is a chandelier printed on the carpet with 10 lanterns in the centre and the border is chrysanthemum which were not only Ataturk's favourite flower but are the flower for November.  Ataturk died at 9:07 on November 10 and each year Turkey stops for a minute to commemorate his death at that time. Spooky or what?
The next morning we started the “Undiscovered” part of the Turkey tour.  We had an early flight to Izmir and then hopped on a mini-bus to go to Sirince, which is a pretty hillside village and which was also part of the Greek-Turkey population exchange which happened in the 1920s following the 1919-23 Greco-Turkish War.  Some 2 million people exchanged countries as they were forcibly made refugees.  On our arrival we went to a wine tasting which does seem strange in 99.9% Moslem country but we were beginning to develop a taste for Turkish wine.  The book Middlesex begins with this event. 
The next morning we were bound for Ephesus but first we had a fashion show at a glitzy shop name Rossini.  I needed a couple of belts and a new wallet.  Vivienne after telling me she never wore green bought a pale green leather jacket which I have to say was very stylish and light enough to wear in Sydney.  After lunch we then went Ephesus famous for both the church of the Virgin Mary and St John the Divine (he wrote the 4th gospel and Revelations) and the Greek/ Roman ruins which are truly spectacular.  The library is stunning as is the Amphitheater that seats over 30,000 yet you can hear a coin drop on the stage in the top tier.  We tested it and it's true.  Certainly the ruins are on a par with the Roman Forum even though many columns have been taken for such buildings as the Haga Sophia and the Basilica Cistern.

We then drove to Izmir and the wrong railway station before catching the train to Ankara.  It took some 15 hours and we did manage to get some sleep but frankly I have got too old for such hardships.  Nevertheless it was interesting to see the Izmir harbour and countryside and then the Antolian plain as we arrived in Ankara.  We were immediately taken to the Turkish National Museum which is really very impressive.  It contains items from all the various kingdoms that have ruled Turkey.  I liked the Hittite and Assyrian collections the best but it is both impressively laid out and easy to view.

After lunch we went to Safranbolu which as the name implies was built on the Saffron spice.  Tea, Turkish delight, rice you name it the saffron is every where.  It also was on the Spice route so became very wealthy.  It is regarded as the best place in Turkey to see Ottaman houses and we saw several both in Safranbolu and a village outside where we had golzelme pancakes and cherry juice for lunch.
The second evening we had a classic Turkish meal, walnuts on noodles, mini-dolmades, and an egg and tomato soft omelette.
The next day we had a 6 hour drive to Amasya which is a riverside city which has ancient rock tombs carved into the mountains above the city that are lit up at night along with the buildings along the river front.  It is a truly stunning sight and we had two great night time walks and dinners.  Why was the Ottoman Empire so successful?  Our guide Tarik gave us 3 reasons:
1.  Each sultan would send his sons out to govern the various provinces to gain executive experience. When the sultan died the sons would then fight it out to decide who would be the next sultan which was an effective Darwinian method.
2.  Better weapons.  They developed a short bow which could be used by Calvary  when mounting a charge and they were first army to develop cannons.
3.  They were just rulers who let their conquered countries keep their customs and did not impose onerous rules or taxes.
Amasya was one of the selected government areas for the potential sultans and along the riverbanks are statues of the various governors who became sultans plus a roll call of those who were sons but did not make the final cut.  It is a stunning town with one of the 3 mosques in Turkey with a spiral minaret.  I liked Amasya but I must confess that we arrived we climbed up to the tombs in the early evening but my vertigo prevented me climbing the final 5%.

On Thursday morning we set out on a long drive to Cappadocia.  On the way we stopped to see Hattusa, the former capital of the Hittite empire which existed 1700 - 1300 BC. The city was surrounded by a 3.3 km wall.  Many of the best relics are in the Ankara museum including the first known recorded peace treaty dated between the Hittites and Egyptians dated 1258 BC.  However it was pouring with rain so we cut our time here short and moved onto Cappadocia.

We stayed in Goreme in a cave hotel.  There are 70 ballon companies and 220 registered balloons and the early morning ballon rise is obligatory but well worth it.  The sight of over 100 balloons gently floating down the Cappadocian valleys among the amazing rock formations is quite amazing as is the experience of landing on the trolley.  There are various must sees such as The Dark Church at the Goreme open air museum, the Zelda Valley, the Kaymakli underground city, etc. We had some great meals particularly at the Dibek restaurant which according to our guide is the only one that serves true clay pot meals that are cooked for 3-4 hours in the pot.  Most are made as a stew in a big stainless steel pot and only poured in the clay pot in the last 10 minutes.  Two big clues as to whether the clay pot is real (and it tastes very different if it is not) is whether you have to make a reservation the previous day and whether the restaurant offers lamb clay pot.  If it does you know it is a con, lamb in clay pot goes off.  I also had a Turkish bath and a massage; another interesting experience.

We flew back to Istanbul on the Sunday.  One of our party's suitcase did not arrive.  Our guide, Tarik, nearly lost it when holding 8 luggage tickets discovered the women had ripped the luggage identifiers  off the suitcases so he not identify which of the 8 tickets was the missing suitcase.  Back in Istanbul Vivienne was able to finish he shopping and I got a haircut which was interesting in itself.  The ear hairs were burnt off with a lighter!
We did another Bosporus cruise and went to the Sadberk Hanim Museum, built in memory of Rahmi Koc’s grandmother and curated by his sister.  Quite an outstanding collecting.  We finished with a riverside lunch, then into the Central Bazaar which was nowhere near as bad as I had heard and then finished with a terrace meal with spectacular views of the Blue Mosque and Haga Sophia.
Turkey is a great country but I do fear for its future.  Recep Tayyip Erdogan who became president of Turkey the day we arrived is a charismatic figure who is moving Turkey from its secular status to a more Islamic country.  While repeatedly told this will not happen I am not so sure.  Hitler got 30% of vote in 1932 yet was running Germany two years later.  Erdogan has now won three elections and the last time was elected with 50% of the vote.  My recommendation is to go before it follows the other disasters in the Middle East.

Chris Golis Australia's expert on practical emotional intelligence website: www.emotionalintelligencecourse.com Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/chrisgolis Email: cgolis@emotionalintelligencecourse.com mobile: +61-418-222219

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