bye bye birdy

2001.04.22, mugla, turkey

actually, the name of this town is "moola." I can't figure out how to make this page display the letter g with a mark over it, which in turkish extends the sound of the previous letter. likely your computer could not display it anyway. although it uses a mostly-latin alphabet, turkish includes a few characters not found in any other european languages, and the pronunciation of letters is sometimes dramatically different than I am accustomed to. my father and I have not yet settled on whether to say a name as it looks in english, or as we think it should be pronounced in turkish. it can put a strain on the navigator/driver relationship.

I haven't learned much of the language beyond a few words, but it was clear that turkish is not at all related to other indo-european languages. I discovered that it is in fact in the ural-altaic family, like hungarian, finnish, and several central-asian languages. translated directly into english, it sounds like yoda: "in turkey travelling am I." compared to most other countries I've been visiting, very few people speak english here.

after leaving the black sea, we drove over forested mountains full of small towns that would look very normal in upstate new york or vermont. even the mosques looked like new england white wooden churches, except for a tall silver minaret standing alongside like a strangely designed grain tower covered with speakers. my father theorizes that someone must have made a killing selling loudspeakers to all the mosques in turkey at some point.

white mosque

it was a long drive to ankara, the capital, and we began to realize just how large of a country this is. it is amazing to think of caravans, or alexander's armies of hundreds of thousands, crossing this land only as fast as their supply carts could travel. it was also a difficult trip: the headlights stopped working, it was raining, ankara has no street signs, and a local-victory football match had just let out when we arrived. on the plus side, we eventually found an incredibly cheap hotel and traded up two classes in cars the following day. I almost immediately broke a front turn indicator on the new car by hitting a bird at 130km/h on the freeway. it was unintentional, of course, and I feel very guilty about it still, but by the time I could react there was just a cloud of feathers in the rear-view mirror.

bas relief

the museum of anatolian civilizations in ankara is beautiful. it has modern finishings, but the building is made of stone with high vaulted ceilings like many of the 12th century mosques we have seen. the displays begin with paleolithic artifacts--stone tools and eventually arrowheads--and continue into the hellenistic bronze and iron ages. there are several intact wall paintings showing early hunting scenes, with still-active volcanos in the background; and an incredible example of 2000 year old wooden furniture. the roman and byzantine cultures are almost completely absent, and nothing is mentioned of the seljuk or later turkish migrations into the region. there were hundreds of mother-goddess representations from pre-hellenistic cultures, and many intact bas reliefs from various tombs and temples. it is clear from these that many of the mythical animals passed to us through greek folklore are taken from the religions of other cultures they encountered.


from ankara we travelled into capadoccia, to göreme. the rainy weather turned into a beautiful sunset rainbow as we arrived. this part of turkey looks very similar at first glance to the us southwest, but is very different in its composition: the entire region was covered with combinations of volcanic ash and lava to a depth of several hundred meters. the ash, turned now to tuff, weathers much more easily than the basalt which in some places covered it as flowing lava. here, large mesas tower over the rest of the plains, and at the edge of these people have dug cave homes into the tuff for thousands of years. in some places, the mesas have broken up into tall pillars which are referred to as fairy castles. many of the caves are still used as homes, hotels, etc. in the centers of several towns are 'palaces' of rock with houses built into every surface.


we spent a few days in the region. very close to göreme, there is an open-air museum of cave dwellings which contains several early christian churches. many of these were painted in rich colors with pictures from the life of jesus, and stories from the old testament. at some point in the past, either during the iconoclast ("image destroyers") controversy in the christian church or later by muslim visitors, most of the faces were scratched off of the pictures. in more recent times much of the original greek writing has also been erased. one of the churches, however, must have been very difficult to reach: the images are still largely intact and I somehow forgot to see the 'no photos' sign outside the door.

church 1


church 2

due to some personal news, I was quite unhappy on our last day in capadoccia. my mind was drawn towards home, into the future, and I had a difficult time enjoying my present surroundings. I suspect I was an awful travelling companion, though my father is both patient and forgiving. the beautiful ilhara valley helped to bring me out of my gloom. it is a narrow canyon cut into the plain. along the sides are several more churches and other cave dwellings, and more modern towns lie at its widest points. the trees and flowers are lush, fed by a clear stream and sheltered from the wind of the plains. I sat by the river and realized that the frogs here really do sound like those in aristophanes play of the same name: "bra ka ka kax, ko koax." my mind then leapt a few thousand years ahead as I heard a donkey's bray echoing off the canyon walls: it sounds exactly like the sand people from star wars.


although I was eager to head south toward warmer weather, we decided to check out an obscurely mentioned ruin to the west. the road travelled straight as an arrow across the plains, and we stopped at a seljuk caravanasary along the way. more than anything else I had seen, this conjured to my mind scenes from the arabian nights. we stopped for dinner in konya which is described in our tour book as a very conservative muslim city; but we must have landed in the middle of the university quarter. for the first time in turkey, including our wanderings in istanbul, we began to see quite a few women out socializing. I found a tape store where I was able to finally buy some more music: turkish radio doesn't reach outside the cities, and I was going crazy listening to the tape of traditional vietnamese music I had gotten for free from the water puppet show in hanoi. konya seemed like a young and fun place to spend an evening, but our experience in ankara had poisoned me on trying to find my way about turkish cities. after dinner we pressed on to a hotel in the smaller town of beysehir in the lake region.


we travelled out of the steppes into much more mountainous countryside. here tall snow-capped mountains rise over shallow blue lakes, surrounded by small towns and orchards of apples, cherries, and olives. in egirdir, we went to a local market and got a huge lunch of olives, bread, cheese, strawberries, and raisins for about US$2. in the afternoon we turned off the main road and headed to sagalassos, a large city which has only begun to be excavated.

sagalassos 1

sagalassos sits near the top of a mountain, backed by steep cliffs on all sides except the road down into the valley. it was originally established by the 'sea people,' which might explain its defensibility since it is a long way into what they probably considered to be enemy territory. it became the number two city of the phrygean empire, after konya. it was conquered by alexander, and it must have been an amazing sight to see his army pour into the valley below. it once contained statues of the greek gods, and arches dedicated to various roman emperors. (there was also one arch apparently dedicated to my cat, tiberius.) the buildings are being restored, and thus far a spring-fed fountain and library have been rebuilt. the open air theatre is still largely intact, and the outlines of the squares and large public buildings are still visible from above. there was hardly anyone else on the site: the road is too steep and narrow for tour buses, and it doesn't appear to be well-covered in the tour books yet. the only problem with our visit was running out of 'film' while we were at the top of the ruins, and the car far beneath.

sagalassos 2

after sagalassos, we finally headed down out of the mountains to the mediterranean. we arrived in antalya and almost left when we couldn't seem to find our way around on a map at all! it turns out that we were looking at the close-up map of the old town, and had passed the entire area about 5 times by the time I got frustrated and decided that we were going to leave "after I get mcdonalds and use the internet." I guess times of stress bring out my vices. mcdonalds happens to be right on the edge of the old town, and the hotel we wanted to visit was 5 minutes walk away.

in antalya, I spent an afternoon looking at carpets. on my first day in istanbul, I had spent about an hour drinking tea in a carpet shop, but was overwhelmed by the whole process and the feeling that I was going to get ripped off. by antalya, I felt I could deal with the haggling. I ended up in a much larger store than I had yet seen, with an enormous selection. I like the traditional turkish patterns, but what I really wanted to see was 'pictures.' I thought I wouldn't find anything like that in a muslim country but in fact there are a lot of beautiful carpets with hunting scenes, greek myths, biblical images, all done in silk. I found a beautiful piece which I would love to own, but by that time I was in the several thousand dollar price range: I settled for a photo, just in case I win the lottery (which I never play: it is a tax on people who are bad at math). I did make a purchase, though, of a beautiful pattern in silk, for much much less money. even after long bargaining, I am not sure I got the best deal I could have: but I am happy with my purchase.


we stayed in a beautiful old building in antalya: the room was large, with a desk and small sofa and coffee table. given that we are travelling very early for the tourist season, we have been getting good rates on all the rooms. the luxury was a stark contrast to our next venue, where the rooms were all taken. we travelled a few hours west along the coast to the very small 'town' of olympos. this is a backpacker haven, in a deep wooded valley which leads through the ruins of the original olympos to the beach. we stayed in a dormitory at kadir's, in which most of the buildings are tree houses surrounding a central bonfire/common area. everyone mingled at the common meals, and the atmosphere was very friendly. I had a great time, and met some cool guys with whom I got far far far too drunk on our first night. never mix beer, irish whiskey, raki, and thai rum. much of the night is a blur: I don't remember taking the pictures that I have since found on my camera. I went to bed at 6 am, after losing the car keys and then finding them again in my back pocket. we did not leave the next day.


I eventually roused myself, and was nursed back to health by a strong dose of english-language satellite television. I made it down the valley to the ruins and the sea in the evening, so my pictures thereof have a spooky quality about them. mostly I just talked to people, listened to campfire songs, played cards, danced, looked at pretty girls. it was incredibly relaxing.