2001.04.18, ilhara valley, turkey
the money in turkey is crazy. I had thought that it was bad in vietnam, where they have no coins and the largest bill I ever saw was worth only US$3.45. turkey has coins and at least somewhat larger bills (US$9.50). the problem here is that there are too many zeros: the US$9.50 bill is 10 million lira. you could easily chop off four zeros from the currency, maybe even five since the smallest denomination I've seen thus far is the 100,000 lira coin. in either country, changing a US$100 traveller's cheque gets you a thick, unwieldy wad of bills. it is often better to keep US dollars and use them to pay for hotels, etc.
shortly after arriving in istanbul, I felt 100% cured of the problems in my digestive tract. I am not sure if it was the change in diet, or just the time needed for my intestinal flora to reach a new equilibrium. instead, I am now suffering from the rapid change from hot-and-wet to cold-and-dry climates (chapped lips, severely dry skin) and a pretty bad case of hay fever. shortly before leaving to meet me, my father had to have an emergency tooth extraction which bruised his jaw badly. he was in a lot of pain, and could not eat anything more than five or six millimeters thick. what a pair.
istanbul was very interesting. I had been led to understand that it is very european but I was surprised at how much it reminds me of home. most of the houses, for example, are ottoman style houses. despite the fact that the ottoman empire reached its height in the 16th century, most of these buildings were built in the late 19th century. they are very similar in style and materials to the victorian era houses built at the same time in san francicso. the city is also very hilly, and is surrounded by water (the bosphorus and the golden horn). unlike san francisco, though, there are several buildings, city walls, cisterns, and religious buildings from over the past 1800 years or so. the streets throughout the city also show its pre-modern past: many are too small for a cart, let alone a car, and none of them run straight but rather curve along the hills.
most of our sightseeing time was in 'old town.' our hotel was at the bottom of the hill near the sea of marmara, and walking just up the hill we arrived at the blue mosque and hagia sofia, the church of divine wisdom. turning there and continuing up the hill, we arrived at the university and the 'grand bazaar.' this enclosed set of buildings has close to 5000 stores and cafes in it, with different sections for carpets, china, gold, silver, copper, leather, clothing, and 'souvenirs.' it is almost impossible to find your way back to a given shop once you've wandered away from it. in many cases this is to your advantage, since it is so hard to get away from the vendors to begin with. it is not that they are rude, exactly: often they are friendly and charming, always want to invite you in for a cup of tea and a chat. the problem is that this gets you into their store and they always want to keep you there until you close the deal. this is good if you want to bargain, bad if you are not at all interested in what they are selling. we accidentally spent an entire afternoon in the bazaar.
we also spent almost a full day at the topkapi palace, which is at the corner of the old town and commands a view of the bosphorus, the golden horn, and the sea of marmara. compared to the bustle of the city, it is very relaxing, with a lot of shady trees and fountains. there was a long line to enter into the harem, which we avoided in order to see the rest of the palace. by the time we returned, that section was closed for the day and we never made it back. we did however see several exhibits on the ottoman lineage, the weapons and technologies of the empire, the government chambers, and excellent views of the city. we also squeezed in a trip to a cistern built at the height of the byzantine empire. it is massive, perhaps 100x50x10 meters, very dimly lit. there is a recently-built walkway over the 30cm deep water, though it seems as though it could have been filled quite a bit deeper.
2001.04.20, antalya, turkey
did I mention it is cold? I have been having a really hard time sleeping, waking up shivering all through the night. my father thinks I am crazy, and has no trouble sleeping with only one blanket. I guess I was successful in adapting to a warm climate, which probably surprises those of you with whom I lived in tokyo. readapting is a bitch.
the food mostly makes up for it, though. I really needed a change from the food in vietnam, which I had been eating while sick. my faith that good bread exists elsewhere in the world has been reaffirmed. I love the desserts, the pungent cheeses, the nuts and dried fruits, and especially the olives. all meals include some sort of charred or stewed meat, though, which has been a difficult adjustment. I crave a veggie burrito. more mexicans need to move to europe and asia.
a moment of silence: I learned recently that taqueria maya has closed in my absence.
one night in istanbul we went to the local hamam, the turkish bath. this is a very different thing than that of the same name in thailand. it is basically a communal bath/sauna -- ahhh, warmth! -- and is a blending of the tradition of greek and roman public baths with islam's promotion of cleanliness. for a few bucks extra, you can get a massage: this includes being washed with a towel that feels like pumice, and then layed on a bloody great slab of marble and pounded like a piece of veal. very male-bonding, and not at all erotic, even I suspect if you go in for that sort of thing: you keep a towel on the entire time, and wash your own private bits. I prefer japanese public baths, though both are a dying breed as more and more people get good indoor plumbing.
we wasted a lot of time on our final day in istanbul: it took about 6 hours to get travellers' cheques changed and hire a car, in the rain. it was all made worthwhile, though, with liberal drinks at the pera palace hotel. it was designed in the early parts of the twentieth century as a hotel for passengers of the orient express, and has hosted all sorts of royalty and other high muck-de-mucks. it is posh and comfortable, the bloody marys were excellent, and the bill was less than a quarter of what it would've been at a hotel in san francisco. we rolled down the hill and back to our hotel for a nap, before heading out to see old town by night.
in the morning, we left istanbul and drove east, then north into the hills. we stopped after dark, 30km south of the black sea in a small town called saframbolu. it is understandable why it is not really on the tourist map, yet: there is a huge and ugly steel mill in a lower valley on the road leading to the town. it was spitting beautiful blue flames into the sky as we drove past. the town itself is nice, nestled at the intersection of three valleys with a stream running down at the bottom. these northern hills are heavily forested, and wooden houses in the ottoman style are mixed with older stone buildings along narrow and twisting cobbled roads. driving was a challenge, and finding our way out the next morning even more so.
we drove north specifically to see the black sea. what is the possibility that noah had been living on the shores of a much smaller (maybe freshwater) sea before the bosphorus had broken through and filled it to its current levels? the story of the flood is also accounted in the greek myths. we ate in amasra, on the coast of the clear cold water. we collected sand (of course), thinking about the ruins that might lie off the coast. then we circled back south and drove through the forested mountains up onto the central plains.