So, this will probably be one of the longest blog entries you have ever read. If the fancy strikes, I may just break it into two separate installments for your convenience.
As will be easily noted by the date of posting, it has been some time since I last wrote, about three weeks if I’m not mistaken. In my defense, for two of those weeks I was out of the country. Well, this country…and my country. Spur of the moment, as it were, I decided to go to Turkey with a group of friends from the branch here, much to the dismay of my bank account. However, I realized that were I to stay here, I would really not have much of anything to do, as my next block of classes doesn’t start till May 4th (incidentally I plan to miss the first one, but that’s another story.) So, four days before everyone else left, I decided I might as well, bought a round trip ticket to Istanbul, and was, as they say, “in.”
Now, I was in Turkey for two weeks, and I could go on for pages and pages. In fact, I already did, and if you would like the exhaustive account I would be happy to lend you my journal. However, in the interest of time, both yours and mine (I have a dinner appointment with my hometeachers in about an hour), I will attempt to give you the highlights while still keeping it entertaining, and I think the easiest way to do that is to give you a short synopsis of each of the stops we made along the way.
Stop 1: Istanbul
Arrived around 7 pm on the same flight as the Williamsons, and as we were walking to the hostel we had booked, were met by Lindsey and Daphne, who had arrived that morning, and they informed us that we all had a pending dinner appointment with some random Turks who owned a hotel (a bright blue one, no less). So we dropped our stuff off and rushed over to meet Ali and Mike (See if you can guess which is the Turkish name) who treated us to a traditional dinner of kebap, rice, and vegetables, awed us with Mike’s massive collection of “random stuff fromaround the world,” (most of which was hanging from the ceiling above our heads like the sword of justice), let us dress up in various ethnic costumes, and then invited us to eat breakfast with them the next day.
The morrow was our “Grand Tour of Istanbul Day.” After breakfast with Ali, we saw the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Museum, and the Basilica Cisterns, at a grand total of about $50, cause none of them gave student discounts. *insert angry face here* However, the massive swaths of blooming tulips in the park were free. And I got to visit a Harem. And drink Sahlab. And the Ali took us to a Kofta (Turkish meatball) restaurant that is very popular with the locals, and rightfully so since the food is delicious. It’s been around for, oh, about 200 years, and has the Ottoman business permit of the original owner hanging on the wall to prove it.
Went home and crashed, as the next day we were leaving early for
Stop 2: Cannakale
Which was a six hour and $35 bus ride from Istanbul, including the ferry over the Agean. It was also on the ride that we began to realize that this trip had not been very well planned out. All of the hostels had been reserved in advance, which meant traveling during the day, which meant about half the time to see the sights. This, though annoying, was not fatal, and was easily remedied by simply cancelling some of the reservations.
On our way there, we passed through Gallipoli, site of the famous WWI battle between the Ottomans and the British Empire, which used mostly Australian and New Zealand troops (The origin of ANZAC day.) I found it strange that the day they got the butts handed to them on a platter became a national holiday, but a New Zealander explained it to me. This was the time when they realized their own national identities. They wanted to be in charge of their own men, and not have some other person from thousands of miles away send them to their deaths, even if that someone was Winston Churchill (which, by the way, it was.) So, that piece of information goes in the little box in my head labeled “Oceania,” along with inflatable kangaroos, roodoo, a tribe of Aborigines, some Maoris, and several Foster’s beer commercials.
After our arrival at our hostel, we rushed off to Truva, better known as Troy, and arrived in time to see the ruins before they closed. It was fun traipsing about the ancient walls pretending to be Hector, Achilles, and various gods from the Greek pantheon. Actually, we just wandered, or rather, jogged about, after taking some time to shoot photos of ourselves in the Trojan horse. With windows in it. Who woulda thought there would be people in there? Nah. Let’s bring it into our city. Epic Fail… or, more appropriately, the Fail the wrote an Epic about…
And there was an awesome market full of wonderful Turkish people who let us try umpteen kinds of Turkish delight, and cheeses, and fruits, and whatever else we wanted, and whom we rewarded graciously by buying their wares. Twist my arm. That stuff is akin to the ambrosia of the gods.
Stop 3: Selcuk/Efes
Took the overnight bus and arrived early in the morning, after which we went straightway to the ruins of Ephesus. (Efes) I had been hoping to spend Sunday there reading the words of Paul, but after the first day I had really seen all I needed to. The library was especially gorgeous, albeit thronged with hoards of rabid tourists, and we had fun pretending to poo on the Roman toilets. And Aden juggled the girls in the theater.
After that, we wandered around looking for the temple of Artemis, and actually ended up finding the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers first. (strangely enough, the signs that pointed there, led there.) Legend has it that seven Christian youths wandered out of Ephesus one day and stopped to rest in this cave. Upon waking, they returned to the market to buy food, and found themselves hailed as martyrs. They had slept for 200 years. We climbed into the tombs cut into the rocks and took pictures, and then ate these little Turkish ravioli things with yogurt that were oh so delicious. Speaking of which, I don’t think I had any bad Turkish food. In fact, not much of it was even “good.” In large part, it was EXCELLENT, even the mini cakes imparted to us by the stewards on the overnight busses. Yes, they had a beverage and munchies service on the bus. How novel.
The 3rd wonder of the world consisted of…a large pillar. However, the magic of the place must still be fresh after 2000, for I saw no less than three different pairs of animals mating. Or maybe it’s just because it’s Spring. And Aden fell into a 3 hectare puddle of water.
That night, we broke into a castle. Ottoman, late 14th century. Known as “The Citadel,” it stands on a hill overlooking the plains of Selcuk, and has been closed to tourists for around 3 years due to the collapse of a wall. However, Mahmet, who works at the hostel, said he would take us, and he did so. A group of about 9 of us climbed to the castle, and slipped through a hole cut in the fence. It seems the castle is open to anyone who cares to enter, as long as they’re not a tourist, cause a ton of local kids were playing on the ruined battlements. So, we walked the broken walls, took pictures of the cisterns, and climbed to the top of the crumbling minaret of the central mosque, which, though it probably wasn’t safe, was oh so satisfying.
Stop 4: Pammukale
After a three hour bus ride, we all found our hostel and went to visit the famous "Cotton Castle" hotsprings. They're on the side of a cliff and because of the minerals in them, have made an interesting series of troughs and shelves of white gypsum which seem to cascade down the mountainside. In addition, at the top are the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Heirapolis, home of one of the largest Necropolises of the ancient world. Small wonder. Even today the springs claim to be able to heal everything from rheumatism, to asthma, to obesity. (Which explains the largely obese European tourists, most of whom were partial to nasty speedos.) In ancient times, those with ailments due to age or other problems would move here to try the virtues of the springs. Apparently, they can't cure death. With that many old people, there's bound to be lots of tombs. Hence the Northern necropolis, which stretches for several kilometers over the hills Northwest of the city. We spent several hours hiking through the hills, through crumbling Byzantine churches and mausoleums cut into the hillsides, then hurried back to see te sunset over the springs.
The next day we attempted to find the red rock hotsprings, but ended up going in the completely wrong direction, which was good, because after we returned and found them, they were rather unremarkable, and we would have been twiddling our thumbs wondering what to do for the rest of the day. However, as fate would have it, we were picked up in a rickety old car by an old gentleman which we know as Hace (whether that was really his name, only God knows, but he wrote it on a piece of paper.) We tried to explain where we wanted to go, and he was like, yes yes, and drove us down a winding side road. To his house. Which just happens to be next to a 75 foot waterfall. I looked overthe edge and took a picture for my mom, and we all took pics with Hace, too. He showed us a local plant used for toothaches. I ate some. It made my tongue numb.
To be continued...