Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Nevşehir Province Part II

Lunch, on this beautiful Tuesday, was in Avanos at a local, built-to-look-original caravanserai restaurant called Hanedan. I tried a local pastry of pastrami and cheese (called Paçanga Böreği, I think) and washed it down with some cherry nectar.  The building was very impressive, however I was more taken with their beautiful pottery (a little taste of what was to come later in the day)!

Our next stop was the Zelve Valley (Zelve Open Air Museum) with it's mushroom-looking rock formations.  Known as Hoodoos (or Fairy Chimneys here in Turkey), they "once housed one of the largest communities in the region in an amazing cave town, honeycombed with dwellings, religious and secular chambers."  Even their police station is in a rock!
Unfortunately, the police officer standing in the doorway
went back inside seconds before I snapped the picture...
He must have been camera shy.
We soon moved on to the historic site of Özkonak Yeraltı Şehri, an underground village probably built by the Byzantines.  In 1972 a local farmer discovered an underground room (he couldn't figure out what kept happening to his excess crop water) and further excavation revealed an entire village.  Özkonak had a ventilation system,  water wells, a winery, along with many other living rooms.  It also had many moving stone doors to block off areas in case of attack.
 We walked through quite a bit of what is excavated, albeit rarely walking upright; I believe there are 10 levels, but you can only visit 4 of them.  They claim it could hold almost 50,000 people for three months.  It was very extensive and quite impressive; but I definitely wouldn't want to be in hiding for very long.

Our final stop of the day was at Ömürlü Seramik, where they have been making pottery since 1807 (or so their sign claims).  Oh my word, the carpets were amazing, but the pottery was even more spectacular, in my opinion anyway.  The history of pottery in this region dates back to the Hittites.  According to their website: "Avanos has now become a place where the Turkish art of ceramic tile making, inherited from the Seljuks, and improving with the Ottomans, continued to be kept alive, in this city along the banks of the longest river of Turkey, Kızılırmak."  The river is known for its red clay, which has been used by many generations of potters.  This ceramics company has about 45 Master Artists and we had a demonstration of pottery made on the ancient kick-wheel and then proceeded to their spectacular showroom.

The potter was making a Hittite Wine Jug, it was rather fascinating to watch how it is formed.

Sadly for me, even their small pieces were over $500 (US); not that I needed any pottery, but their works were captivating and I found nearly every piece to be stunning.

Since I was not shopping I decided to treat the show room as an art museum, and it certainly did not disappoint.  They have samples of historic, contemporary, geometric, phosphorescent, and floral designs.  A nice young man chatted with me about the various pieces and designs as I wandered around (knowing full well I was not going to buy anything most of the other salesmen had moved on).  A few people bought pieces and with that the day was spectacularly book-ended and we returned to our hotel.

Nevşehir Province Part I

I hate when I have to wake up super early so my brain decides to skip the wake-up part and simply never lets me sleep.  The balloons have been unable to fly for the last five days, so although hopeful our fate would be different, we were very uncertain.  We were picked up at the hotel shortly before 5:30am and transported to the Royal Balloon Headquarters.  We enjoyed a buffet breakfast while waiting for the Turkish Civil Aviation Authority to give (or deny) permission to fly.  Once we got the OK we hopped in our van and headed to the take-off site.  The dusk was just beginning to fade as our balloon was inflated and we all climbed inside.

Our Gate1 group had the balloon to ourselves and our pilot Abdullah kept us laughing as we drifted up and over the valleys and in between the rock formations.  The balloons climb about 1000 feet and since they're moved where the wind takes you, no two flights are the same.  The views were marvelous and even my photos just don't do the experience justice.  The temperature on the ground was near freezing, but thankfully once up in the balloon we were quite warm.

The sun rose quickly and was shining brilliantly over the magnificent rock faces as nearly 100 balloons filled the sky.  It was an incredibly serene experience and one I'll not soon forget.

"There was that rare thing, novelty, about it; it was a fresh, new, exhilarating sensation...and worth a hundred worn and threadbare home pleasures."  The Innocents Abroad

Abdullah worked hard to get the balloon to land on the trailer; the truck driver had to keep moving as the wind has more control over where the balloon will land than the pilot does.  True to the Royal name we celebrated our journey with champagne, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and a medal around our necks.  I found out later that celebratory champagne after a flight is a nearly 250-year old ballooning tradition (way before social media and instagram).  Variations exist, but it seems that the first hot air balloon flights were started in the 1780s in France.  "As legend has it, pilots began landing in farmland with Champagne in hand. They brought bottles to area farmers in hopes of convincing them that they were human beings, not monsters. The bubbles served as a peace offering."

After returning to the hotel we joined the rest of our group and were off on a full-day tour of the region.  Our first stop was the Göreme Open Air Museum, a Unesco World Heritage site containing some of the earliest churches in history.  From what I remember of Serdar's introduction (before we wandered on our own), when the Arabs started the holy war the Christian people of the region carved hideaways and homes into the rocks.  This area was a fully functioning community of monks and Christian believers who were persecuted for their beliefs.  Sadly, because Islam considers pictures to be idols, the eyes, and sometimes faces, of all the frescoes were scratched out long ago.  In 1923, when the Cappadocian Greeks were expelled from Turkey, or exchanged if you prefer that term, the churches were abandoned.  The area has been under protection since 1950 and they're now trying to repair the frescoes.

We visited Aziz Basil Şapeli (Chapel of St. Basil - born in Kayseri he is one of Cappadocia's most important saints), and the 11th-century Azize Barbara Şapeli, carved by Byzantine soldiers.  Unfortunately, you are still not allowed to take videos or photos of the interior frescoes in any of the chapels (even though most modern cameras can avoid use of a flash that over time would damage the frescoes).

Our next stop was at the fortress and village of Uçhisar.  The region has a fascinating history (if Wikipedia can be trusted): First mentioned in the 14th century, the area was certainly occupied previously.  "The Hittites, who may have used the natural structures of the cliffs as refuges and strongholds against possible attacks. In the 5th century AD, the Byzantines created a 'buffer zone' in the area against Islamic expansion....After their conquest of the region, the Muslims also made use of the defensive possibilities of the area, creating small centers with caravanserais in the region."  Uçhisar Castle makes for a great photo and I believe it would have been fascinating to visit, but alas, we only had time for a photo stop.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Konya to Kapadokya

We were able to spend less time on the bus today, so that was a nice perk.  Our first stop, as we traveled along the route of the ancient Silk Road, was at Caravanserai Sultanhani. The name "serai" means "inn", so it was once a hotel for the caravans transporting goods along the Silk Road.  Touted as the best caravanserai of the seljuks, it was built in 1229, and after a fire they restored and enlarged it in 1278, making it the largest in Turkey.  It was under renovation during our visit and not incredibly awe-inspiring, but then again, hotels at that time weren't a luxury.  Despite that the carvings and designs in the rock walls were very impressive for such a simple structure.

At our rest stop I finally found a book (in English) on Nasreddin Hodja!  It contains humorous stories of his purported antics, and certainly helps pass some of my time on the bus.

Our next stop was the town of Güzelyurt for a home-cooked meal made by a local woman.  We ate in her home, there were 10 of us in one room and the food was simple, but very tasty and quite filling as well.

Lentil soup, salad, cooked chickpeas with cracked wheat in a sauce, fresh yogurt, and a special cake soaked in honey, topped with a bit of coconut.  Güzelyurt means "beautiful land", and it is known for its underground cities.  Serdar told us that Christians from the 1st Century fled from Caesarea to this region because of persecution under Emperor Domitian. In the interest of truth, there is debate on whether Domitian was actually a great persecutor of Christians.  Anyway, the fact remains that homes were built into the rocks in Cappadocia.
 By the 6th Century the people needed to hide themselves from wandering armies so they dug their cities underground. I've also found out that a historically large native-Cappadocian Greek population existed in the area until the 1924 population exchange when they were replaced with the Turks from Thessaloniki and Kavala.

After lunch we drove about an hour to the Matis Carpet Weaving Village.  The carpet weaving they do here is quite interesting.  The women use a chart, similar to a cross-stitch pattern, to create the rug's design and each of the carpet's threads, whether wool, silk, or cotton, and the dyes used to color them come from Turkey.  They say one of their carpets is in the Guinness Book of World Records (I think for being the most expensive sold at auction or something).

 The carpets can often take 1-2 years to create and they have over 700 knots per square inch!  They explained that you can tell if a carpet is hand-woven by turning it over.  If you can still see the pattern from the back side and you can easily fold it, then the carpet is hand-made.  We also learned that the geometric designs are from the early nomadic days of Turkey's history and the more flowery designs are from the Ottoman period.  The array of carpets was spectacular.  The colors, the patterns, the feel of them under your toes - it was a delight to the senses.  With even the smaller 2ft x 1ft wall hanging carpets costing over $200 I had no intention of making a purchase.  With such time-consuming effort and high quality you had to view them as works of art, hence the hefty price-tag.

My final event of the day was the Whirling Dervishes ceremony.  Performed inside the Saruhan Carevanserai, I found the entire thing a tad odd.  I have so many questions about the whole thing and how it is tied to Sufism ad Islam, etc..  Serdar said it is not a religion, or a sect, but is a philosophy.  The whirling is a kind of meditation, but the enter thing felt very ceremonial to me and I couldn't help but notice that the Caravanserai where they do this "practice" (Semâ) had the same Islamic prophet names on the walls as the ones you see in all the mosques.  According to the pamphlet, "the Semâ ceremony represents an entire mystical journey, a spiritual ascent through love, in which the dervish deserts his ego, finds the truth and arrives as 'The Perfect'".  One of Mevlanâ Rumî's metaphors about wind and the love of God (as paraphrased by Serdar) was quite good: "a soul without the love of GOd is purposeless."
After the meditation ritual we headed outside where they served us hot cherry juice with cinnamon and cloves (almost like a mulled wine) and then projected an animation of the history and culture of Turkey onto the stone walls of the caravanserai.  We eagerly headed back to the warm bus for the short jaunt back to the hotel where we had a quick dinner and rushed off to bed.  We have to be in the lobby at 5:15am tomorrow in hopes that the winds are weaker tomorrow and and our hot air balloon ride isn't cancelled.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Visiting the Seljuks

I slept with my door open last night (the hotel rooms are very warm and there are no sheets, just a duvet), and because we are right next to a mosque I was awakened quite early with the call to prayer.  After our incredible breakfast buffet we boarded the bus and set off for Konya.  The overwhelming majority of the day was then spent driving, as it takes about 5 hours from Pamukkale.  Our first rest-stop was in the town of Dinar, where I tried a special yogurt dish called Balli (I found out later it is often made from goat's milk, not sure about the one I tried).  The yogurt is strained so that it is very think, like Greek yogurt, and then they top it with honey and opium (poppy) seeds.
Although the seeds were brown, not black as I'm used to seeing them, it was a delicious treat.  You can find honey, and honeycomb, for sale in all sorts of varieties in most of the roadside stops we made.  On our drive we passed quite a few wind turbines and even a large solar panel farm.  We had some lovely snow-capped mountains to our right as we drove through a bunch of farming villages in the large valley.  You could sometimes see rows of women bent over, planting their spring crops in the fields.

For lunch we stopped in the town of Akşehir, known for the burial place of Nasreddin Hodja.  I had seen cartoon caricatures of Hodja on books in many of the shops (he's usually riding a donkey backwards), but none of the books were ever in English so I couldn't figure out the significance of this person.  It seems he was an imam and he became part of Turkish folklore because of his odd ways, funny stories, and witty sayings.

No, I still don't know why it's called "The City of Hearts"
After arriving in Konya we visited the Mevlâna Museum: the mausoleum of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a Persian Sufi mystic, and also the home to the former lodge of the Whirling Dervishes.  Rumi is known to the Turks as Mevlana (the Sainted One), hence the name ofthe Museum.  I really didn't understand what we were seeing, or why, but I looked around anyway.

A stunning copy of the Quran done in 1544 by Rumi's daughter Fatima

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The White Marvel

Our destination for the day, Pamukkale, was about a 3 hours drive from Kuşadasi.  Located in the textile capital of the country, Denizli (pronounced Den-iz-lay), is also home to the ancient city of Laodicia.  The region is well known for its pomegranates too, so at our rest stop we were served a mixture of fresh orange and pomegranate juice.  Also quite tasty were the samples of Turkish Delight, chocolate covered hazelnuts, and chocolate covered figs.  The boxes of those treats seemed a bit pricey, so I settled for trying once of their candy bars.  I didn't really look at the picture, the name sounded like coconut (at least the way I was pronouncing it), but I was delightfully surprised when it was similar to a hazelnut Little Debbie Nutty Bar!

Around 1pm we reached the hot springs, ironically, the glacial looking formations are flowing with hot water!  I couldn't say it any better myself, "the surreal, brilliant white travertine terraces and warm, limpid pools of Pamukkale hang, like the petrified cascade of a mighty waterfall, from the rim of a steep valley side in Turkey’s picturesque southwest. Truly spectacular in its own right, the geological phenomenon that is Pamukkale, literally "Cotton Castle" in Turkish, is also the site of the remarkably well-preserved ruins of the Greek-Roman city of Hierapolis. With such a unique combination of natural and man-made wonders it’s little wonder that Pamukkale-Hierapolis has been made a Unesco World Heritage site."  

I didn't quite understand how it was created, but it seems that, "when the water, supersaturated with calcium carbonate, reaches the surface, carbon dioxide de-gasses from it, and calcium carbonate is deposited. Calcium carbonate is deposited by the water as a soft gel which eventually crystallizes into travertine."  All the hotels in the area use water from the hot springs so that the tourists have thermal spas, but this means there isn't quite enough water for the Cotton Castle anymore.  Serdar relayed that during the dry months they change the direction of the water so that it keeps everything wet, which in turn keeps everything white.  

After wading around in the pools I headed into the thermal spa and food court to get some lunch.  A woman there makes a local dish called "Village Bread" and it was simple, but tasty.  It's a thin, crepe-like crust filled with potatoes, some spinach, and some cheese.
The thermal spa still has the original Roman columns, now lying prostrate in the pool. Since we still had some time before we were to meet up and begin our walk through the Necropolis, I decided to make the trek up the hill to see the remains of the theater.  From the bottom of the hill, viewing the back-side it did not look that impressive, but man was that view misleading! 

 Much like the facade of the library in Ephesus, the view of the valley behind the stage made the effect quite breathtaking (yes, that may have partially been due to the hike up the hill).  You were not allowed down on the ground level, you could only walk part-way down the stadium, but it was incredible.  Although I couldn't see it up close, "the theatre, which dates from the time of Severus, is decorated with an admirable frieze depicting a ritual procession and a sacrifice to the Ephesian Artemis."

At 3pm we started our walk through the ruins, and eventually through the Necropolis, back to the bus.  "Necropolis" is Greek for "city of dead", the site is the cemetery of the city of Hierapolis.  Hierapolis was established by the the kings of Pergamon at the end of the 2nd century B.C.  The cemetery extends a little over a mile, and I think Serdar told us it is the largest one in Asia Minor.

It was cold and windy, but thanks to the brilliant sunshine bestowing its beams on us all day the wind was much more bearable.  The sepulchers and tombs were quite interesting (according to the UNESCO website the necropolis "affords a vast panorama of the funerary practices of the Greco-Roman era"), but the fresh, green grass, dotted with bright red poppies and little yellow flowers, all around the pale stone remains made the area very picturesque.  We saw four different types of graves from various time periods, including Tumulus, Sarcophagus, Public, and Family.

Our hotel for the evening was the Doga Thermal Health Spa, so we all enjoyed the thermal spas and swimming pools before dinner.  

The dessert displays at every hotel are jaw-dropping, and no matter where we stay the food is so good (not that I'm incredibly picky, mind you).  This evening they had a special dessert called Tulumba.  It's a fried dough dipped in a sweet (probably honey-based since they seem to make anything into a dessert by soaking it in honey) sauce.  I would describe it as a cross between a donut and a churro (minus the cinnamon).  I learned later that they are sometimes referred to as Turkish Churros.  While they were tasty, I much preferred the baclava assortment.

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Wonder of the Ancient World

Happy Friday!  After another huge breakfast buffet most of us were back on the bus for the optional "Ephesus & House of the Virgin Mary" day tour.  The land in this area is very fertile because the sea has receded about 2 miles since ancient time, so they now grow lots of peaches, cherries, and pomegranates.  It started raining as we left Kuşadasi and then rained the whole time we were at the House of the Virgin Mary (or Meryem Ana Evi in Turkish).  It's located atop 'Bulbul' mountain and some believe she came and lived there because John lived in Ephesus while spreading the Gospel.  To be clear, there is no decisive historical evidence to support the theory that Mary spent the last years of her life in Ephesus.  I did find it curious that Serdar tells these "stories" of Mary as if they are facts.  I don't know if he does so because the Catholic and Orthodox churches teach them as fact, but it was interesting.

 For instance, one of the "proofs" for the location was because of a blind German nun having a vision that described the location.  They also point to the evidence of "the documented presence of St. John in Ephesus...In Selçuk, we can even see the tomb of St. John and his basilica. The second premise is the existence in Ephesus of the Church of St. Mary. It was the first temple devoted to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Additional arguments brought during the debate over the authenticity of the House of the Virgin Mary are the choice of Ephesus on the venue of the Council of Ephesus. It was convened in 431 to resolve the dispute concerning the determination of the unification of human and divine nature in Jesus Christ and the title of Mary as the Mother of God. Additionally, the Greek inhabitants of the nearby village of Şirince had the custom of pilgrimages to a place called Panaya Kapulu to celebrate the day of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary."  All that to say, I'm thankful we didn't stay long - it was raining and there wasn't much to see anyway.

Modern day Ephesus is known as Selçuk, and by the time we made our way there the rain had reduced to a sprinkle and eventually the sun was out in full force - we were even starting to shed our layers!  I'm told that Ephesus changed locations five times and that we were visiting the third location (I would surmise that Selçuk is the 5th?).  Regardless, I enjoyed our tour immensely - the remains were quite spectacular, back-dropped against the bright blue sky.  The Temple of Artemis once stood in Ephesus and is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  We walked along the 2,000 year old marble streets and through the Gate of Heracles, saw the Odeion, toured ancient bath houses (the ancient world afforded little privacy), climbed to the top of the Great Theater, ogled the Temple of Hadrian, and stood in awe of the amazing Library of Celsus (book-free, but stunning none-the-less).
Library of Celsus
Serdar even told us the story of St. Paul being expelled from the city (found at the end of Acts 19).  Demetrius made shrines to Artemis (also known as Diana) and started a riot because so many people were becoming followers of The Way and no longer needed his particular trade.
Artemis (Greek deity) or Diana (Roman equivalent)

Bizim Ev Hanimeli restaurant was our next stop - a delightful buffet of homemade Turkish food!  The owner told us the names of all the dishes they had prepared; the veggie fritters were delicious, as was everything else.

With full bellies we headed to our final stop of the day, the Basilica of St. John.  Some believe he was zapped by lightning and disappeared at the age of 106, and yet others believe the church stands over his burial site.  Constructed by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, thousands made pilgrimages here in the middle ages because of the tomb of St. John.  "But with the decline in importance of Ephesus, and after Arab raids, the basilica fell into ruins until the Seljuk Aydinoglu clan converted it into a mosque in 1330. The building was then completely destroyed in 1402 by Tamerlane's Mongol army. The ruined church was thereafter pillaged for building materials, but recent restoration enables visitors to understand its size and visualize its former splendor."

Upon exiting the Basilica a coin hawker called out to me, "Medusa, would you like to buy a coin?  It has your picture on it!" I gave a chuckle and said "No, thank you."  Earlier in the day, when Serdar pointed out Medusa on the Temple of Hadrian and gave her origins in Greek mythology, Frank had remarked about how they might have to start calling me that because my hair looked so similar.

Back at our lovely hotel, with time to kill before dinner, I wandered down along the cliff-side paths to explore.  I can imagine how lovely it would be here in the summer (despite the crowds) - jumping into the bright blue Aegean Sea would be so refreshing.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Eastern Turkey: Çanakkale to Kuşadası

"Heinrich Schliemann, the German archaeologist, was in Turkey in the late 19th century on an eccentric quest. He was excavating a tell—an artificial mound that covers long abandoned settlements. The site, known as Hisarlik, was familiar to only a few specialists. But as Schliemann dug, he was pinning his hopes on finding the ruins of the most famous city in classical literature: Troy. The trouble was that Troy might not even have existed....was Troy a real place?"
Hisarlik has been recognized as being Troy since ancient times and is actually 9-10 layers deep.  Each time the city was destroyed they would expand and rebuild on top of the old one, creating a man-made mound known in archaeological circles as a "tell".  "Scholars have noted that the topography of Troy as told in the legend does seem to generally match that of the real-life city and....people as far back as Homer's time also believed this to be Troy."  Despite taking an archaeology class in college (at Saints Bible Institute), our visit to the remains wasn't the highlight of my day.  Perhaps I need to have read "The Iliad" to appreciate the site and it's giant replica of the Trojan Horse (built especially for the tourists).

We drove through Edremit, a famous olive growing region in Turkey, on our way to Pergamum.  Now called Bergama, it was a powerful kingdom in the Hellenistic period and also once a Roman spa center.  "The Asklepion is a famed ancient medical center built in honor of Asklepios, the god of healing. It was also the world's first psychiatric hospital."
According to signs at the site "We are informed about the several treatment methods from the 'Hieroi Logoi' of Orator Aelius Aristides.  The applied treatment methods include accompanying the patients (with psychological problems) in the sleeping rooms to incubation and interpreting dreams by priest doctors (treatment with inspirational conditioning); hot, cold, and mud baths, treatment with healing herbs, diet treatments, massages, blood letting, emptying of the intestines and sunbathing for physical illnesses.  Also, when deemed necessary, surgical operations used to be applied".  They were quite advanced for their day it seemed and had some big-name patients (Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, and Caracalla).  Regardless, this site was more photogenic so I enjoyed it a bit more.

Our lunch stop was at Sağlam Restaurant where the owner gave us a little Turkish serenade during our meal.  The food here in Turkey is very cheap (partially due to the exchange rate).  From there we drove through Izmir, ancient Smyrna, on our way to Kuşadası for the evening (believed to be the birthplace of Homer).  The KoruMar Hotel was lovely and had one of the biggest dinner buffets I've ever seen!  We didn't arrive until about 8pm so it was a bit too late to fully enjoy the meal selection, but everything I tasted was superb.