a whirlwind description of terrific Turkey
Turkey: Eastern, yet Western; modern, yet traditional; secular, yet Muslim; beautiful and perpetually enchanting. A very abbreviated rundown of our exploits:
We spent our first few days bumming around Istanbul - drinking in the famous sites and a great deal more Turkish and Apple tea than any American bladder can accommodate. The Hagia Sophia is breathtaking, the Blue Mosque an equally stunning must-see (though the tacky poorly-clad Westerners tend to detract from its sanctity...if they give you a headscarf to wear...wear it!! geez!!). The city overall is a sprawling, intoxicating clash of centuries, continents, ideologies and influences. I've never seen such an incredibly harmonious mosaic of world culture and history. It's bizarre and mind-blowing to fathom the number and diversity of people to touch that stone before you. Some women scuttle down the street in full, modest, black robes and headscarves...others are in shorts and a tshirt. The towering skyscrapers and dozens of box-like apartment buildings contrast sharply against the palaces, mosques and stone structures of antiquity. We were utterly lost in the 4000 shops of the grand bazaar, in awe of the beautiful Bosphorus, and absolutely addicted to our hostel's rooftop terrace. After four busy days, we headed south for famous Cappadocia.
Cappadocia is ridden with rivulets of captivating rock sculptures - some like an ocean of stone, some like oddly shaped beehives, some150 ft tall and unmistakably phallic. I urge you to google image it... (try "goreme") What's most remarkable is the fact that people (both now and historically) use the rocks as homes, businesses and pigeon holes, even our hostel was carved from the stone. Although my mother wasn't terribly keen on spending the night in a cave, I thought it to be utterly adventurous. We even did an exhilerating four-hour trekk through a variety of rock-formation valleys. I've simply never seen anything like it. As a day trip, we explored one of the several enormous, ancient underground cities nearby...seven stories down makes virtually everyone a little claustraphobic. Entire civilizations would live in these collections of underground rooms, airshafts, churches, stables, and kitchens for months while hiding from invaders...absolutely incredible.
Shortly thereafter, we headed to the beach community of Olympos - right on the beach and near the Chimaera (spelling is wrong, sorry). At night, we hiked up the mountain to see the bizarrely natural flames spouting from its side. If extinguished, the flames will spontaneously re-ignite. Totally weird. I felt that the site was only slightly marred by the tourists cooking weiners over the flames and the western woman strutting around in nothing more than a brassiere. *sigh*
In addition to scrambling all over the most incredible ruins of the old city olympos, we were unbelievably charred crisp on the beautiful beach...damn that Turkish sun. White water rafting was a wonderful addition to our itinerary - the river water was a breathtaking turquiose and absolutely frigid. (so nice on the sunburn)
We next went to Kabak, and isolated community on another, virtually abandoned beach. The water here even more turquoise - more beautiful for lack of people. My sister and I hiked the mountains surrounding the water and swam in a sea cave (rather dangerously, I might add.) I discovered that I do not swim very well...yikes! Because the community was at the foot of a mountain, we had to take a tractor to the top when we were ready to leave. I paled at the thought of a very unfortunate death as I found my seat just above the tire to be a rather precarious perch. The drop from the road seemed utterly unfathomable. As the tractor rocked and bumped and swerved, I think I swallowed my tongue.
Pammukkale and its weird "travertines" was next - think of it as melty-looking white stone carved throughout the ages into rivulets and turquoise pools. Coupled with the ancient city Hieropolis, it was a wonderful day trip. The waters, after a bit of swimming, are said to cure arthritis, heart problems, and even obesity (after a great deal of swimming, i imagine...)
Now, we are in Selcuk - a wonderful little town of about 25,000. We spent our first day exploring Ephesus - the best preserved ancient town in the mediterranean aside from Pompeii. It was a huge, remarkable reminder of the times of old - it was so bizarre to see the remnants of a time so long past. We've also explored a small wine village nearby, took a side trip to a traditional hammam (there went my sunburn...wow!) and strolled aimlessly through the weekly bazaar/farmer's market. We have plans for a hot springs and mud bath later today - and our ferry for greece leaves tomorrow.
This is such a whirlwind explanation of our experiences, i cannot even begin to describe the charm and wit of the people, the true beauty and diversity of the landscape, the remarkable complexity of the history - or the fascinating current political landscape. I do hope, however, that you now know I have not dropped from the face of the earth, and that I am in fact adventuring through one of the most incredible places on earth.