Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Finally, everything you ever wanted to know about Turkey

Oh my god. I was desperately trying to finish up a photo album project of our Turkey trip in time for Father's Day, spending my afternoons sifting through the 500 photos that I took (and I still haven't gotten the disc with my mom's photos, but I think my brain would collapse at the task of sorting through the 500 shots that she probably has on her disc. I don't want this to sound mean, but my mom? She takes photos of really stupid shit and then? She gets mad at me when I don't put those shots in the album or try to delete them off the computer. I know, I know. Who am I to judge?) ANYWAYS, the album still isn't done since it turned out to be impossibly long, ie too long to fit in the printers' guidelines so I am now doing some more severe editting. I want to get this done though before I leave for the States, so I have got to just finish it up. I have lost all my momentum now, and its harder to force myself to face the task. Saying that, Snapfish has a really great program for putting together albums and the printing is nice, based on the last album I did.

So, I decided that since I haven't any interest in doing the album today, I might as well do a bit of a blog entry, to get down some of the details of our trip. The first three days, we stayed in Istanbul and hit all the big tourist sights- The Blue Mosque, where we were harassed by a carpet salesman/tour guide, the Aga Sophia, with its stunning mosaics, and dinner at the Armada hotel, where we joined by a very friendly (and tenacious) seagull who sat in a pot of flowers and begged table scraps off of us for the entire meal. We discovered that Turkish wine is not half bad. The second day we visited Topkapi Palace, which is pretty cool- especially the Treasury with its giant bowl o' emeralds and the harem. It was very big and by the end of the day we were exhausted, besides which, I was getting freaked out because people would not stop trying to touch Ella. It was a Turkish holiday weekend so there were lots of big groups of Turks, maybe people from the country travelling into the city I suppose, but I was shocked that they would be so impressed by a blonde baby. She's not that blonde and I didn't think it would such a rare sight in Turkey where there are so many foreigh tourists. I'm just happy that I had the backpack to stick her in whenever the crowds got too rowdy for my liking. Honestly, all that I could think about was Madeline McCann, and the idea that it wasn't really that weird for a stranger to just want to walk off with a pretty little girl that caught his eye. That night we took a ferry across the Bosphorus to the Asian side and ate in a beautiful little resto in Uskander, out in the gardens under the stars.

We did a quick tour of the Grand Bazaar and we were totally scared off buying by all the aggressive salespeople. Its really intimidating. I mean, we hardly dared stop walking to fix a shoe lace because if you weren't moving, you were fair game for a hard sell. Yuck. I was also thinking that most of the stuff was probably just tat and couldn't be bothered to look. I think that might have been a bit of a mistake. Just before we were getting on our airplane, I decided to go and buy a few 'pashminas' to use as blankets for Ella. I thought that even if they were the fake viscose ones, it would be good enough for using on the plane. Once I got home, I realized that quality was fantastic and since I bought two, I got them for 7 euro a piece. If I had bought more, the per unit price would have been even lower! I was kicking myself for not getting about 6 more, since they would also have been awesome presents to keep in the Cadeau Cupboard for emergencies. So, let me error be a lesson for someone else.

The very very best part of Istanbul though was the Archeological Museum, which is part of the Topkapi Palace, but a separate entrance fee. I thought I would pop in for an hour or so before we had to leave for the airport and ended up going by myself. It was so amazing that I felt bad that everyone else missed it. Honestly, I knew that modern day Turkey encompasses a lot of important sites from the ancient world, but this just drove home the point. There are stunning sarcophagus from the Alexander the Great period. Amazing mosaic floors and walls, statuary from temples. The most incredible headstones from a Greek cemetary, with the original painted inscription still visible. I loved this place and it was practically empty, which I cannot even begin to understand. The comparative exhibits in Paris at the Louvre are crowded beyond capacity and they look like a 6th-grade science fair exhibit compared to what you will find at the Archeology Museum in Istanbul. I cannot wait to go back, and recommend it to anyone who visits the city. For the price of entry, its a steal compared to lots of the other sites.

So that afternoon, we hopped on a flight down to the coast to get on the boat. 'Hop' makes it sound like getting to the airport was no big deal. I don't want to give you that impression. I very very stupidly decided to save 20 euro per person and booked us a flight out of Sabbia Gocek airport, that may have actually been located in Iran, when I think about how bloody long it took us to drive there. Seriously, don't make this mistake if you are in Istanbul. Cough up the cash and use Ataturk airport. So much easier. We arrived at Dalaman airport, our driver was already waiting and he whisked us off to the boat, at which point we all just died with happiness. The boat was so pretty and the crew was so nice and the manager, Petra, did everything possible to make sure that we hadn't the tiniest unsatisfied desires, that it was like heaven. We motored out of the harbor at 6 in the evening , with a golden glow over the water, a glass of champagne in hand, nothing to do but wait for our crew to put dinner on the table. Heaven, I tell you.

Every day was like that- even the not great things seemed really good. We tried to sail lots but the wind was not perfect, which didn't make it any less fun for us, I think. The water was also pretty refreshing- not cold, but you definitely had to force yourself in the first time. We visited some really beautiful places along the coast, like Oludeniz beach, St Nicholas Island, and Fethiye (with a sidetrip inland to the ghost town of Kaya). We really just loved being on the boat and having such a relaxing time. It was a million times more relaxing for me than any of our beach holidays, and Ella was along, so that is really saying something. Speaking of which, Ella loved the boat. No, she LOVED the boat. I think it was so fascinating for her, with all the little cubby holes, and gadgets, and ropes, and you could climb up and over everything with no one getting angry, and she could lay in bed and nap and still hear us just nearby. There was no TV, and we only remembered the Ipod doc on the third or fourth day, so we all kept occupied with books and talking and eating- absolutely no electronic amusements. And it was really nice to do it with my family. There are times that I have been on holiday and thought, 'Oh, I wish my parents/sister/brother could be here because they would love this so much'. I know that it was a lot of work to organize, but before we got off the boat, I was already pushing my parents to come back next year, or the year after, and make all my siblings come along. Its pretty tight quarters on a boat and you can't plan a trip like this with just anyone, in my opinion. We were all in such a great mood the entire time that I can't remember a single tense moment from the entire 6 days. Thats weird. I mean, we get along, but still.

An amazing thing about this part of the Turkish coast (which may be true for other areas, but I wouldn't know) is that there are Roman and Byzantine ruins still standing everywhere you look. For an American, this is particularly thrilling, I know. I loved walking through these ancient cities, amazed that I cold still climb the stairs that people had been using a thousand years before I was born. But even B was impressed. France has old cities that you can visit, but nothing as old as this. I think that the fact that these areas were no remote had a lot do with it. In France, I think most cities have just kept being built over and over so that the oldest party just melts into the new and you don't have many places that were just abandoned in the 5th century, or the 12th centry. I stopped in a bookstore and bought some Turkish history books because I just got so intrigued but there is a lot of cutting off the heads in those books, so I am slogging my way through. If this were a slightly more academic blog, I might bore you with my more complicated theories about why these places still exist, but I won't. My poor dear husband got to spend the flight back to Paris getting an earful. I can promise you, he wasn't the most receptive audience, not having a great interest in urban planning theory.

After the boat, we were sad sad sad. Thought that the villa in Kalkan would be a dull interlude before climbing on our flights back home, but how wrong we were. Ok, the villa in Kalkan was not awesome since it was not so much in the middle of olive groves as in the middle of a suburban construction boom. We had another house about 5 meters from ours, blocking nearly the entire view of the sea. Our pool was miniscule and the staircase was just about as rickety a child-safety hazard as you can imagine. But the old town was full of nice restaurants. The surrounding area had some great sights to visit and the roads were really nice compared to other places we have toured around (rural Ireland, I'm talking to you...) The BEST thing we did was to visit Salkikent Gorge. We thought it was just going to be a little fenced in walking path along the river, as we gazed up at the narrow canyon walls. A slight language barrier had us accepting the offers of a guide who quite literally hauled our big out-of-shape American asses up the canyon, over boulders, through waterfalls, in the most icy cold water you can imagine- all of this with Ella strapped to B's back, screaming 'Don't like it! Wanna go home! NOW!' Honestly, when we realized that we would have to actually go in the water (and even then, we thought it was just going to be a little bit of rock-hopping) we hesitated. Then we decided, no. We drove all the way out here. Let's just walk up the river a few hundred yards. Thats when this little Turkish guy (cotton farmer in the off-season) grabbed my mom's hand after doing some sort of incomprehenible negotiation with her, and told us all to make a line. He started dragging her in the water and we didn't have time to think. We grabbed hands and plunged in. Up to our crotches. In water so cold, it literally made my leg muscles seize up. I don't even drink things this cold. It was like there was a glacier up at the top of the canyon and we were wadding in the arctic run-off. To put it mildly, I was not prepared for that. Well, our 'guide' took off at a brisk pace and I was left hopping around on the gravel, trying to get my feet to work. For the first half hour, I would say, I couldn't step in the water without it feeling like burning needles. Then, I guess my nerve endings went numb and it wasn't so bad. I could even appreciate the Indiana Jones-ness of it all. The water wasn't particularly deep, although it was running quite fast, but our guide told us just where to place our feet and jumped in to push or pull whenever needed. I went crazy with my camera because it was truly hilarious to see my fam frantically scrambling over ice cold waterfalls, with our tiny Turkish cheerleader egging us on harder, while dressed for a quite lunch on a terrasse. I think it took us about 2 hours, and we went loads further than any other group of tourists, although apparently not quite far enough to reach the mud baths- which surely would have been good for some practical jokes and photo ops.

Our trip back to Istanbul was a nightmare and so was our drive out to the airport the morning of our flight- and let me warn you, if you miss your flight DO NOT count of the kindness of Turkish Air staff to generously offer you a seat on the next flight. Just leave for the airport way way way ahead of time. Whatever. We'll definitely be back, probably on a boat, and I can't wait. And I brought back the best souvenir!
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1 comment:

Nicole said...

Hey I'm sorry for deleting the comment from fashion survivor so I'll just recap. She asked if the boat trip was expensive. In fact, I don't think that it was expensive at all. The boat rented out for 700 euro a day, with berths for 10 people; food was an additional 30 euro per day per person. The boat that we were on was completely fantastic but when I was booking the trip, I thought it looked much less luxurious than lots of the other expensive boats. I think that when you compare this to staying in a hotel and paying for meals separately and sightseeing separately, it is a complete bargain. You can do these gullet tours though for as little as 300 euro per person per week, everything included.