. walking. He pointed up the street, waving me along, just up there, turn left, then right. I was so taken aback that they weren't arguing over who would get the fare, grabbing my bag, and shoving me into the taxi, the way it's been in every other country I have ever traveled to, that I just started walking. It was a fresh, cool morning, there wasn't much traffic, and it turned out to be only a 15 minute stroll from the train station. So, I saved some money, but I'm still confused over the taxi drivers' behavior.
I didn't do a lot that day, just went to the little Ethnological Museum and wandered around some Roman bath ruins in the middle of the city just down the street from the hotel. My roommate showed up in the afternoon: Kristel from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. She works for the government doing computer programming and software development, and this was her first trip abroad. She said most of her family and friends thought she was nuts. When she first told her parents she was going, her dad asked if she was going to take her car. She told him no, but if she did, she'd be sure to get the oil changed first. :-) She is around 30, as was everyone else on the trip (or younger), including the guide, so once again I was running around with a bunch of people who could be my children. This isn't a big problem, they were all nice enough, but I didn't form any long-lasting friendships
. We just didn't have all that much in common. It's interesting how different groups can be. In Nepal, nobody drank much and sometimes I was the only one having a beer at dinner. This crowd was into staying out late in the bars. There were 8 of us in the group: a Canadian couple who are 6 months into traveling the world for a year, an Israeli-born American guy from NY who is starting his MBA at Georgetown in the fall, a woman from Michigan who just finished her MBA and is starting a job with Kellogg's in August, a paramedic/fire fighter/student from northern CA who lives very close to where I worked at Ratna Ling, Kristel, me, and then Sharon. Sharon is Irish, very blond, blue-eyed, and pale skinned, and she is working for an aid organization in Sudan !!! Darfour, to be more precise. She joined us a couple of days late, and then left several days early because her boyfriend showed up in Istanbul earlier than expected. Apparently, you need an exit visa to get out of Sudan, and when it is issued, you don't wait around. You go. I really liked Sharon. She was a little scatter-brained and spacey, but living in a war zone for a year would probably do that to you. She was matter-of-fact about the dangers involved, said the NGO she worked for had a good reputation and so both sides had an unofficial agreement not to attack them. How reassuring. She's going back for another year after taking a couple of months break. I will be watching the news about Darfour more carefully now.
Anyway, we visited the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations (excellent!) and Ataturk's mausoleum before leaving Ankara. Then it was off to Cappadocia. On the way, we stopped at the 3rd largest salt lake in the world (Utah's is #1). You could walk way out on the blindingly white salt flats. Cappadocia is a region in central Turkey, known for its unusual geography and its cave-dwelling natives. If you have ever been to Tent Rocks in NM, then you know what Cappadocia looks like, but on a much grander scale. The sandstone has eroded into fantastic formations and the locals have dug cave houses out of the rocks for centuries. The early Christians built a series of cave churches in the 11th and 12th centuries that are still there, frescoes and all. We stayed 2 nights here, but I wish we could have stayed longer. It's a beautiful area - vineyards scattered about, apricot trees, cherry trees, lots of wildflowers. At $350, I could not afford the early morning balloon ride amongst the spires, but I got out and hiked around on my own a bit. After lunch, Kristel and I went to a little pastry shop and had chocolate baklava. To die for!
Day 4. En route to Konya, old capital of the Seljuk Turks, we stopped at Derinkuyu, the biggest of the remaining underground cities. The Hittites started these cities in 2000 BC, but they were enlarged greatly by the early Christians as a place to hide when their enemies showed up
. At Derinkuyu, they could live underground for 6 months! Shades of the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam. They had some ingenious methods for making life easier (or just surviving.) Food storage rooms had shafts that went up to the surface into the fields, so they could pour the wheat down directly. Wine-making areas had ventilation shafts to get rid of the poisonous gas released during fermentation. Huge granite "wheels" lodged in the walls at strategic locations they could push into place to seal off the corridors from their enemies. There was a hole in the middle of the wheel that they would put a log into to push it back.
Konya is the center of the Dervish sect of Sufism. We visited the mausoleum of Rumi, the famous philosopher-poet who also founded the Whirling Dervishes. Incredibly beautiful and peaceful place. It reminded me somewhat of the Sikh's Golden Temple, because soft music played continually and everyone was hushed and respectful. No picture taking inside, which is a shame because I never did find any good postcards, either. We watched the Euro Cup semi-finals at the hotel - Turkey vs. Germany. Germany won, but Turkey played well. It was close.
On to Antalya on the coast. We drove up and over the Taurus Mts., formed by tectonic plate action of Africa pushing into Saudi Arabia
. Turkey is moving NW a centimeter or so every 1000 years. So, Ugur (pronounced Ooor, no "g" sound), our guide, says in a million years, Turkey will be part of the EU no matter what! We filled the gas tank (51 liters, so that is like filling my Subaru) and it cost about $120!!!! No wonder the hiways are pretty empty. We stopped at Aspendos - big Roman theatre still used for performances - and Perge - Greco-Roman ruins - before getting to Antalya. Nice place, booming with tourist growth. Lots of wealthy Russians come here. The old town is all narrow, twisting streets and alleys, leading down to the sea. It has a nice feel to it. But the heat was oppressive. Next day we continued up the coast to Kas, stopping at Phaselis, an ancient Lycian city, and Chimaera, where natural gas escapes from the ground in eternal flames. Quite surreal. Long drive on narrow, winding roads. Slow going, but beautiful views of the rocky coastline, mountains, islands, and crystal clear water. We had a free day in Kas. There are lots of outdoor activites there, like paragliding, mountain biking, sea kayaking, scuba diving, etc. Most of those things are not my idea of a good time, and even the sea kayaking didn't appeal because it was so brutally hot. The idea of being out on the water in the sun all day almost made me sick thinking about it. So I ended up having a pleasant, if expensive, solitary day. Walked around town, had coffee and chocolate cake with cherries and pistachios at a café, lunch at another café with resident cats, one of which jumped in my lap
. Kas is full of cats, like Istanbul. And I went shopping. Found some good presents, pretty clothes, and earrings. We had dinner together overlooking the sea, being entertained by a wedding reception - dancing and live music. There was a folk music festival going on in town with fireworks at the end.
Day 8. Stopped at Saklikent Gorge for a short walk in the morning. It was the first time I'd been comfortable (i.e.cool) since I got to Turkey. It's a narrow gorge with towering rock walls. Initially you walked on a boardwalk but then had to cross the river, which was mid-thigh, strong current, and very cold. After that, continuing up the canyon, you only walked in a small stream. I don't have pictures of the canyon because I was afraid I'd fall in the river and destroy my camera. Long drive to Pamukkale (Cotton Castle.) We waited until 6:30 when it was cooler to go up to the hilltop ruins of Hierapolis. Quite extensive, and the late afternoon sun cast a golden glow over everything. Maybe that's why I liked these ruins so much. The walk down took us right thru the cascading travertine pools that look very much like Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone.
Next day we crammed both Aphrodisias (in the morning) and Ephesus (in the afternoon) into one day so we could have a free day in Seljuk, which was not worth it
. But to be fair, I felt like I had enough time in both sites, due to the heat. If it had been cooler, I would have wanted at least another hour at both. Ephesus was a center for the worship of Artemis and is one of the most famous ruins in the area. I think it is the biggest ancient city in Turkey. The pillars and walls of the library that have been reconstructed are huge. The whole city must have been breathtaking when it was new, especially as it was by the sea then. Now it is 25 km away, due to the silting in of the river. We got to go into the covered houses exhibit which just opened this year. There are a lot of original murals and mosaics left in there. You have to keep reminding yourself how old this stuff is, so you don't get jaded and just breeze past most of it. The one exciting thing that did happen during our free day was I ran into the French Canadian woman I met in Istanbul. We arranged to meet for dinner on the 4th when we would both be back in the big city.
Day 11, Bergama. Saw the Asceplion, an ancient medical center, and the Acropolis of Pergamon. Some very tall pillars reconstructed to give you an idea of how huge the place was. On to Troy. We watched the movie (with Brad Pitt as Achilles) in the van, which was more interesting than the ruins. There is not a whole lot left of Troy. There were actually 9 different cities built on the site over centuries, one on top of the other. An archaeologist's nightmare ... or dream come true, I suppose. Spent the afternoon wandering the harbor/old town area of Canakkale, across the Dardanelles from the site of the Battle of Gallipoli. The Trojan horse from the movie is here. It's pretty cool looking. We are all getting tired of long rides in the van and the sameness of Turkish food. There is no such thing here as "international" restaurants. Every place is Turkish food and most serve the same menu
. Being a vegetarian who doesn't like raw tomatoes or onions or eggplant leaves the choices slim. I will not eat anything resembling melted cheese on bread for a very long time. On the day-long drive from Canakkale to Istanbul, we stopped at a restaurant famous for its meatballs - oh, yummy! - but they did have a shrimp "goulash" that was pretty good. At least it was different. It cost about $18 for that plus a coke, but I would have paid anything to avoid another cheese on bread meal.
Back in Istanbul, I split off from the group, since I had already seen the major sights. Had dinner with Agathe on Friday, spent Saturday doing a little last minute shopping and touring the Dolmabache Palace. The Ottoman sultan built it to appear more European and left the Topkapi to move there. It is elaborate and lavish, and you have to take a tour, no wandering slowly by yourself. Sunday, it was off to the airport and back home at last. Now comes the challenging part - re-entry into my everyday life.
2 weeks on a mad dash thru Turkey doesn't leave you with much time in any one place. It is a big country, and although the roads are generally in good condition, we spent many hours driving from point A to point B. My GAP Adventures tour started in Ankara, so I took the overnight train from Istanbul. That was most enjoyable, even tho it cost twice as much as my 2007 copyright guidebook said it would. So did a lot of things. Turkey is not cheap, especially contrasted with India and Nepal. The train was right on time and my single compartment was spacious, like the deluxe Amtrak rooms. I even had my own little sink and a table with cupboards. Arriving in Ankara, Turkey's capital city, at 8 AM, I hoisted my pack and went out to find a taxi. I had a city map, so I knew the GAP joining hotel was not far, but I had decided to pamper myself and not walk. I approached a group of taxi drivers lounging by their cars, pointed to the map, pointed to the hotel name and address I had printed out, and asked do you know this place? After a bit of discussion, one man gave me directions for how to get there ..