Archive for February, 2013

Turkish Delight

February 27, 2013
Me!  In the balloon basket at Cappadocia!

Me! In the balloon basket at Cappadocia!

I recently returned  (Feb.2013) from a tour of Turkey. Why did I choose to go to Turkey?  It  seemed to be an exotic place to go.   I have kept a  file of travel stories for a long time.  In 2002, travel writer Alan Solomon wrote an article on  his trip to Cappadocia, and I had kept it all this time. I had been reading about World War I and the Ottoman Empire, and everyone knows that Turkey is where Europe meets Asia (& Istanbul is in 2 continents).  The price for the tour was excellent. I could not pass it up.

Gate One Travel is the company I chose. They offer many tours  to many places, their fees are  incredibly low.  Their guides are generally excellent, as was Metin. The hotels are also   3 star or better.  My first Gate One Tour was to Thailand, and I learned so much and had a fantastic time.  Indeed, I ask many of the people (there were 40 of us)on our tour how they had decided on this particular tour, and the response I got was: “It was too cheap to pass up!”  I paid slightly under $1500, which included airfares, for this “13” day trip  (your travel days are included in the number of days). The catch is that every day there might be a special excursion, and you usually have to pay extra for those.  Thus, the trip cost in the neighborhood of about $2500.

I am not the ‘beach vacation’ type, I want to see historical places, and a different landscape.  The trip exceeded my expectations.  Not only is there a lot to see in Turkey, the  economy (at least in the Western portion of the country) is vibrant, and the infrastructure good.

Photo taken from the bus, of izmir. you can see how dense the housing is (background)

Photo taken from the bus, of Izmir. you can see how dense the housing is (background)

I think that’s what struck me the most;  that  the economy seemed so robust, and all the cities we  traveled through had nice street scaping and very few vacant storefronts.  Virtually every building had passive solar hot water   processors on their roofs.  Another very interesting thing:  all the  housing in urban areas is multi-unit.  We didn’t see any single family homes until we were in the rural areas. Why is this?  The population in the urban areas is so dense that in order to provide  water delivery and sanitation services, they need the  water catchment  land and space for  treatment. Very impressive, especially if you go into most neighborhoods in Chicago!



The ‘peak experiences?   Coming into Ephasus was definitely  awe-inspiring.  I mean, you read about the Romans, and the great  empire, and  then you come across an ancient city, and you really get a feel for the place. So, what happened?  Wars, disease, over exploitation of the  environment. The usual.  But to be around the marble, and see the workmanship, and see all the  tourists  walking around, it gives you an idea  of how rich the  community was!

Balloons over Cappadocia

Balloons over Cappadocia

Then, Cappadocia.  The whole area is mind blowing.  Due to erosion, there  are all these odd rock formations. And the caves….
the cave ‘churches’ and  the cave city.    We got to see the Sufi ‘Whirling Dervishes’, and learned a bit about them.

Ceramics are a big industry in this area, and we got to visit a pottery studio.
We also  visited a rug cooperative and got to see weaving.   A few people bought rugs, but we have a very large Middle Eastern  and Persian communities here in Chicago.  As I have more  Oriental rugs than floor space, I did not buy any.

One thing you see all over is the ‘evil eye’ motif, and this is something that stretches from Morocco to India.    If you possess the ‘eye’, you can ward off the evil eye.  So every tourist vendor has  tchotchkes with evil eyes:  key chains, bracelets, glass pendants.  They are in plastic and glass.  Also, anywhere food is sold, there is ‘Turkish Delight’. This is a gelatin textured candy (when I was growing up, these were ‘jellies’ or ‘marmalade’ coated in sugar), sometimes with nuts, in various  fruit flavors—-citrus, pomegranate,, even rose being favorites, sometimes covered with chocolate.  Not a favorite of mine…and  a small grocer a block from my home always has it.

Turkey is also known for spices, and there is a very good spice market in Istanbul. It should be every tourist’s first stop—even before the Grand Bazaar, because  the prices are so low.  I’d be cautious of buying  Saffron, most of it is actually turmeric, but I bought some whole vanilla beans.  I  also bought some  herbal tea & a grinder.  I didn’t buy and other spices because there is a large Indian community shopping district a mile away from me, which also has outstanding prices  for bulk spices.

We also got to Ankara, and  a Turkish woman I met asked why we were going there.  I am glad we  did. We got to see  the Ataturk Museum, as well as a museum of Hittite Art recently returned from the University of Pennsylvania.  The Hittite civilization was as old  as  the Egyptian cultures, but  I do want to address Ataturk. He was the ‘father’ of modern Turkey. He also fought the Ottoman empire  during World War I (he was Mustafa Kemal at the time, and had offered the Arabs self-rule after the war), and the man really had a vision for his country. He instituted universal education, and changed the alphabet from Arabic to Latinic.  He had an economic development plan. He is probably the reason Turkey is  as it is.

I also got to visit  a forest sanctuary for  street dogs in Istanbul, and will blog about them next week.