Saturday, 9 February 2013

Getting Stuffed in Turkey

In the past few months, you have witnessed my slow transformation, shedding my identity as tourist for something more abstract, bordering on soul searcher. Having just arrived in Greece to start work on a farm, my transformation became complete. But not before climaxing in Turkey on a wild flourish of touristic attractions.

Thus, I present to you what may be the last touristy blog I will write. Warning - could cause you to stop everything and go to Turkey.


Turkey arguably has the richest history of any country in the past 2000 years. But take a wander 'round and you'll discover that it has a lot more to offer than just museums and mosques.
Inside the Aya Sophia - most gorgeous mosque in Istanbul
During this time period, Constantinople perched itself on top of the world, overseeing the dominant Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, accumulating mass riches and a wealth of architecture. It became Istanbul after the fall of the Ottoman Empire after WWI. I felt the history as I first stepped foot in the main square of Istanbul's historic neighbourhood Sultanahmet, centred by a large fountain and framed on both sides by the glorious Aya Sophia and Blue Mosque. There is so much to offer in Istanbul that I ended up staying 10 days to do everything imaginable, but mainly to enjoy it all in the company of good people. I went out in modern Taksim, stayed in, walked around, visited mosques, saw museums, fit in a boat tour and a day trip to a WWI site, and even sat in on a presentation about Islam.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum - Sean measuring himself up to a column capital from Temple of Artemis 
But my favourite experience was probably the Turkish bath, or Hamam. It sounds strange to say this, but the man who bathed and massaged me during the experience was very rough with me, yanking me around like rag doll – and I liked it. But what I definitely did not like was the pot-bellied Turkish man stalking me around the baths after my treatment, following me from the cool down pool to sauna, then to steam room, then the bath area, sitting literally a metre from me each time. Thankfully, he never got any closer.

Finally, when I strayed outside of the bustling metropolis I found an even more diverse and dazzling array of natural phenomena. I traded in my thinking cap for an Indiana Jones hat and Tomb Raider tights and explored Turkey's countryside like a pioneer in a new land.
Cappadocia - a place like no place on earth
Cappadocia, with its old and mysterious cave dwellings carved into even older “fairy chimneys” formed by erosion, feels like a land out of a fairy tale. Most travelers I met here took to the skies in a hot air balloon but I felt my experience was equally rewarding keeping both feet on the ground – and 100 euros in my wallet. I hiked tirelessly for two full days, descending valleys and ascending ridges over and over. Each viewpoint was more unbelievable than the next, provoking equally joyful and agonizing primal screams. In my hostel in Cappadocia I met probably the most positive guy on my travels. Michi arrived during breakfast, gave a friendly greeting to my group and indicated with a warm but assertive smile that he was going to sit down with us and become our friend. And that was the truth!
Rose Valley - like waking up in a dream
I settled temporarily back into city life with a couple of days in sunny Antalya. It’s the first Turkish city outside of Istanbul I visited and I really liked its vibe. People were quite helpful. I even played football with some kids in a park and joked around with them for a bit. Also, its placement between the Mediterranean coast and stunning mountains makes it the perfect place to admire a sunset.
"Oh wow, a stranger! Let's talk to him!"
A visit to Termessos ruins near Antalya came really close to topping Cappadocia. In a high mountain valley, navigating stone slabs scattered like sand among crumbled buildings, with hardly anyone else around, I felt like a kid in a playground with no parental supervision. The theatre with its magnificent ring seating overlooking the stage below and mountains above in all directions made you wish you were a spectator of a Roman performance back in the heyday of this abandoned ancient city.
Termessos - a theatre with a view
Next I spent a couple of days in picturesque Olympos, a ruins of a once thriving port city situated near pebble beaches and nestled in thick forested mountains. The area was dotted with numerous restaurants and pensions (a kind of accommodations) which would all be packed in the summer but, again, hardly anyone was around. The highlight was Chimaera, a site where natural gas vents into the atmosphere as fire. I wish I had brought marshmallows or raw kebabs. Back at the hostel, I shared my wooden cabin with two wonderful Americans, who I clicked with right away. We parted just after meditating on the beach.
Chimaera in Olympos -
imagine having a permanent fire in your backyard 
In Pamukkale, fire gave way to water but in a rare and spectacular form – travertine pools. Here calcium deposits achieved epic proportions, taking over the landscape, forming grand white cliffs. Water flows down these cliffs, forming pools, stepping down like classic rice paddies in China. And yes, there were ruins on site too.

Pamukkale - barefoot policy more than just for mosques

My final destination was Selcuk to see the granddaddy of all ruins in Turkey – Ephesus. But not before an unexpected scare. A screwup on my bus ticket took me to the wrong city at night. A smooth talking guy at the bus station convinced me to let him help me. But while he was trying to help, we chatted, and I slowly became aware that this guy had some issues. I learned his name was “Sanchez” which actually sounds Mexican, he works for the Turkish Service Service, and he fought in southeastern Turkey against the Kurdish, resulting in three bullets lodged in his left leg. The whole time he drank in public and even peed several times, waving around his wang in plain sight, and he kept telling me to watch his bag closely and don’t let anyone touch it or “kill them.” Needless to say, I excused my way out of getting help.
Ephesus - cat rejects me, then follows me up the theatre and curls up beside me 
The next morning I finally made it to Selcuk but by then I felt "ruined" out and was having trouble mustering excitement for my visit to Ephesus, 3 km away by dolmus (minibus). This actually helped because my expectations were exceeded once I began exploring the largest and most spectacular Greco-Roman ruins in Turkey. Surprisingly the highlight of the day was the cat that initially rejected my efforts to pet it, only to later follow me and curl up in my lap. Later on I managed to sneak outside the site limits and ascend to a high point with a bird's eye view of Ephesus and of Selcuk. I hiked along the ancient city walls straddling the top of the mountain, eventually descending back into Selcuk.
Ephesus - the library facade is the site's most famous structure 
After a pit stop in Istanbul I am now settled in at an organic farm in Greece, with an incredibly welcome family, and never more ready to get my hands dirty. And thus concludes 3 amazing weeks in Turkey! Despite my travel-weariness I was happy that I managed to see the best Turkey has to offer and had a really memorable time.
Overlooking Ephesus - thanks for reading!
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  1. as i read a tear crawls down my i see my little andrew become a man...

    however, these blogs are lacking some romantic intrigue. Please provide a dosage of some love andrew...growing up and learning is great and all..but what about your heart my man...tell me there is a woman or a man that has touched you both literally and figuratively

    1. Dear Andrew,

      I should call you nomad Andrew......Great writing from you again. Your blogs are like my eyes opening to see the world without leaving my couch. There is a Chinese saying that "reading thousands of books is not as good as walking thousands of miles" I wish I have your determination, maturity and will to actually do it. From a humble and shy little nephew Andrew that I once knew has grown to reach its full maturity like a bottle of fine vintage cognac. What you have experienced will forever be ingrained into your heart and soul, this is something that cannot be taught. What you have accomplished at such young age is amazing and enviable to many. Your life is certainly extraordinary and I know you will continue to do things to empower your thoughts and enrich your life. Have a safe journey wherever your next destinaton will take you.

      With love,

      Uncle Allan

  2. Thank you both for the diverse comments, united by the common reference to my once being "little." It really does underscore how much I've grown.

    Ali: sorry for not living up to expectations. My journey is hardly the short-stay party hard and hook up Contiki style trip. It is a lifestyle that really pushes romance to the side, replacing it with other fulfilling goals.

    Nor am I in tourist environments these days. Many of my recent destinations consist of empty hostels, and when there are people they are usually on similar journeys to myself. This is not to say I haven't met some amazing women on this trip who I hope to keep in touch with and maybe visit again someday.

    Uncle Allan: you were one of the relatives I admired back when I was young, so it's nice to hear these words from you! I like your saying too, it is a lesson I have repeatedly learned with each mile I walk.

    Glad I'm not letting you down.